Grading Sustainable Transport: Scholarship A. Leadership C-

One of the often voiced claims of World Streets is that those who best understand the issues and priorities behind sustainable transport and sustainable cities are failing to command the high ground in the debate and the politics of decision simply because we are just not good enough at communicating our ideas, first to each other and then to the world. All too often when confronted with a decision issue, with our strong academic orientation and backgrounds, we prefer to turn to the familiar world of more research, fatter reports and that next great conference, while at the end of the day what we really need is a concise, credible, understandable presentation of our best ideas and the choices that need to be made.

You don’t need to look too deeply into the international agenda and accomplishments of the last years in our embattled sector to see that with all too few exceptions, sad to say, we may be getting A’s in scholarship, but at best we are getting low C’s in leadership (and communications which of course is part of the deal). So while we fail the dogs yap and the caravan moves on. Fossil fuels continue to be imported at groaning cost and burned at accelerating rates, with all the environmental and climate consequences that come with it, while at the same time our sector — transport, mobility, access, however you chose to think of it — continues to languish and do a poor job for all too many people around the planet (and most likely in your city too). But it does not have to be that way.

Bottom line: We do not have an information or knowledge problem – we have learned huge amounts about our sector. We do not have an experience problem — there are a huge number of examples of what we can to do face these challenges. Nor do we have a tools or technology problem – the world has never been richer in these respects. No, we have a communications problem.

We need to find ways to fix this debilitating shortcoming and if you check through the pages of World Streets you can see that we are working on it from this end with as rich media support as we can muster. And happily we are not the only ones.

Here’s one example of something that we might do well to look at together, for two reasons. First because of the topic and the good content — Dan Pinks’ striking presentation on what motivates people (like us). And together with this the lively RSAnimate presentation of the British Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA)

This RSAnimate format forces the idea person, the would-be agent of change — that could be you or me — to organize and present their thoughts in a manner which grabs the full attention of the viewer, and in the process focusing attention on the essentials that drive the presentation. This is a very demanding process. May we invite you to think of how you would prepare for such a presentation (while we do the same).

Now on to our striking example on this gray winter morning:

The surprising truth about what motivates us

* For more on Dan Pink click here. * And for RSAnimate, try here.

Dan Pink’s thoughtful presentation has particular relevance in the context of World Streets since we depend entirely on volunteers to do our bit, and to help us find the finances needed to keep going.

Remember that great Rutherford quote of the other day? “We have no money gentlemen, so we shall have to think.” Well, if I may, we have to think harder.

2 thoughts on “Grading Sustainable Transport: Scholarship A. Leadership C-

  1. Well I’ve long since come to the conclusion that there’s no point going to what one might call “generalist” conferences as the transport officers there don’t need to be told that public transport is a good thing, they are quite prepared to say so, but it doesn’t stop them axing it when real decisions have to be made.

    I don’t think that we are any worse at communications than the other side. There are just two problems: our message is intrinsically harder to communicate, and we don’t have access to the commanding heights of the communications network.

    Motor lobbies have a very simple message: “We demand the right to go where we like when we like at a price less than that demanded by public transport operators, and heaven help the politician who fails to heed this message.” By contrast we are saying something like: “Life would be much more pleasant if we could get rid of non-essential traffic and offer real cycling and public transport options”, but by the time we’ve explained what “non-essential traffic”
    and “real options” means we’ve used up several soundbites.

    It’s the same with the wider climate change message. We are saying: “Unless we make real cuts in emissions we’re heading for disaster” but cannot offer definitive answers to the question of what level of cuts is necessary and sufficient to avert disaster. Many campaigners are ignoring the sustainable transport issue because they do not believe the public will give up their cars and flights, but as one who has been involved in sustainable transport campaigning long before climate change became an issue I would attack on climate change grounds a compromise solution that failed to tackle transport issues unless it could be conclusively proven to be sufficient. Meanwhile they are
    saying: “Let’s continue our consumer binge and enjoy life, and hope that if disaster strikes we’ll be long dead.” Surely this is a much simpler message to convey, especially when backed by the saturation of consumer advertisements in the media ?

    Incidentally, in reply to Dave Brook, let me return to Paul Mees’s book, the central thesis of which is that we cannot afford to allow urban form to be used as an excuse for transport failure. Mind you I believe that urban form can be used as part of a solution — for example in a semi-rural area (such as the catchment area of my home city, Cambridge) one or more car-free “ecotowns” with a total population of just (say) 5% of that of the whole catchment area can have a significant effect in helping to rescue its transport network.

    Simon Norton

  2. Daniel Pinks books are very inspiring and this RSA animation is perfect! I also like his ideas on summaries. For his book ‘Drive’ he wrote a ‘twitter-summary’ and a ‘party-summary’. My colleague and I succesfully used the twitter-summary in a pitch for a project.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s