I don’t think we can buy the argument anymore that we deserve special dispensation just because we think what we are doing is worthwhile.
Let’s see. At last count there were already well more than seven billion of us sharing this suddenly very small planet. And let’s say, just to get a crude handle on this, that each of us, whether in Mali or Malibu, makes something like a hundred “personal planet action choices” each day, leading to specific actions which when we had them all up have quite a potential impact on our earth.
Everything you always wanted to know about global warming. But were afraid to ask.
In the city, as in life, as we make our way around it we normally register only what we set out to look for. The anomalies, the absences, the troubling, somehow escape our attention. Consciously or not. But when it comes to matters of transport and public spaces, everywhere the eye might wander there are valuable clues, both visible and invisible, for planners, policy makers and the concerned citizen. However, if we fail to use our eyes we miss out on valuable information. And as a result our cities do just that much less well.
With this in mind we have made a selection of fifty wildly different photographs from the working archives of World Streets, which have been culled from more than three thousand images and which one by one can help us to better understand the almost infinitely variable challenges of sustainable transport, sustainable cities and sustainable lives. I call these “Invisibilities” reminding us to all of the many things that go on in our sector which we often fail to look at. This is a universal problem, and my hope here is to encourage us all, myself included, to be more fully attentive to the human side of transportation.
(We propose that you look at this with the full screen setting bottom right just above.)
Somebody organizing a conference in the coming months on the future of transport in cities called in this morning to ask me, for the nth time in the last two decades, why is it that what appears to any thinking person as an excellent, even more than that, vitally necessary concept such as sustainable development in all of its many forms is proving so notoriously ineffective — to the extent that despite all the articles and books published, conferences held, agencies created, university programs, scientific progress, and even convincing real-world innovations, actions and projects, the bottom line indicators of our gross UNsustainability (greenhouse gas production, climate change and its devastating impacts, continuing mindless resource bulimia, etc.) continue to progress steadily in the wrong direction. By many indicators we seem to be getting smarter, at least at the leading edge. So why are we losing the war?
I hesitated to roll this around in my mind and then told my respected colleague that I would have to have a second cup of coffee and stare out into space a bit, and promised to ring back in an hour or so if that was okay by her. (It was.)
In the context of ongoing work on a new book, “Toward a General Theory of Transport in Cities”, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that the starting point for policy and political decisions in the field often described as “urban transport” absolutely has to open up with considerations not of vehicles and infrastructure, technology and entrepreneurship, nor even of people and cities, but on the very bottom line our starting place must be climate and GHG emissions. And the other half of the climate coin is energy, and in fact equity.
So may I suggest that this could be a good time for us to have another look at Illich’s incisive and important 1974 book “Energy and Equity”. And I ask you, how do you think these remarks and views stand the test of time? We need to bear in mind the political (Vietnam, Cold War, Allende, voter registration, 1968, etc.) currents of the time, along with the Oil Crisis, Club of Rome, The Limits of Growth, etc., discussions, concerns and panics of the early seventies. But none of this detracts from the singular vision that this exceptional observer and finest of men has given us.
So here you have it. The whole thing. Print it out. Mark it up. Share your thoughts. Let me take a single phrase from the book to get the ball rolling: “Participatory democracy postulates low-energy technology. Only participatory democracy creates the conditions for rational technology.” (And this almost two decades before the phrase “sustainable development” first appeared on the radar screen. So off we go through the looking glass and into the future with Illich as our guide!)