Draft proposal to the Principal Voices team
Wednesday, December 22, 2004, Paris, France, Europe
Dear Sustainable World Colleagues,
I intend to post the following, or some version of it, tomorrow to the Principal Voices team -- http://www.principalvoices.com -- with whom we now appear to have found an effective communications channel in the person of Stan Stalnaker of Fortune. As you will possibly note, it is along the lines of a ‘gate crash’ as suggested by the indomitable Dave Wetzel of Transport for London.
If you have any thoughts or suggestions to modify or improve on this, I would be most grateful to receive them at your first convenience. I have tried hard to be a good representative for what I believe to be our shared philosophy, and as you will note I have put myself further as our ‘voice’, which may or my not be the best idea. I am as always open to better ones.
You know, it is my personal philosophy that occasions like this do not pass twice, so when they come up we must reach out and seize them. And so it is here.
Salamaat, Shalom, Merry Christmas, and Peace on Earth,
Reminder: About Principal Voices: Principal Voices - www.principalvoices.com - is an international project aimed at provoking discussion on some of the more compelling challenges confronting our world today. Over the next 12 months TIME, FORTUNE and CNN, in association with Shell, will be presenting a series of videos, articles and round-table discussions. Themes covered will include the environment, business innovation, economic development and transport.
I appreciate your friendly note of Mon 12/20/2004 and in particular your volunteering to serve as a channel of communication in the event that we have anything of interest to convey to those people who are making your program work. Since time is short with your January start-up date barely ten days away, I should indeed like to get the following comments and suggestions to your team without delay.
1. Principal Voices Problem – The Transportation dialogue
In short and speaking in the name of more than one thousand professionals from more than fifty countries with a long term interest and true hands-on experience and competence in matters of transportation policy and practice internationally, I would like to draw your attention to what we regard as two significant shortcomings in your important project as currently framed. I address you here specifically on the matter of your transportation section and would like to propose a couple of simple fixes, which I might add I have shared worth our several peer networks just to be sure that there is no major objection in principle to what follows.
First, you need at least one more transportation voice, possibly two, to have full and competent coverage of the field as it is now defined (we call this New Mobility, as opposed of course to old mobility, but more on that just below). Does this imply that I think there is anything wrong with having Mr. Ellatuvalapil Sreedharan as leading voice? Not at all. To the contrary I think it is most exciting to have him willing to join in here as a representative of contemporary thinking and expertise on one side of the sustainable transport debate – after all a truly remarkable man: “one of India's greatest civil engineers, the architect of the supposedly unbuildable Konkan Railway linking Mumbai and Mangalore, and, more recently, designer of the Delhi Metro system”. I think it is fair to say that his expertise will do honor to the primarily supply oriented, engineering, build it and they will come perspective of the transportation challenge, but that is at best only half the story. The rest of the story is if anything in this day and age even more important, so in a moment I will get to our suggestion as to how this might be quickly remedied.
The second shortcoming of the current plan is your utter lack of a true feedback and open debate forum – this is definitely going to limit the profile, reach, usefulness and contribution of the final product. (Not only that you are going to limit the newsworthiness of the whole thing, which I imagine is also a factor that need to be brought into the picture, especially given who you people are.) True enough Time, Fortune and CNN are all three at heart basically broadcast media, and true too each is increasingly interactive – why so? because it’s cheap, can get valuable content, greater variety of views, and via its vigor and lively debate bring each of you more faithful customers. But in this case you seem to be pretty lagged in that department, and what you present thus far is a crystal clear example of one more of those tiring ‘managed debates’ of which we have seen far too many. We see this all the time in transport and environmental circles, and if you chose to persist in this in the end you always have a dead product… which I am sure is not what you folks want.
2. Background – The missing half of the mobility story
While the author of your transport issues paper has made a fair stab at integrating the more complex sustainability issues in the introduction – and in particular is to be commended for his choice of External Links which really does provide a pretty good coverage of the various and quite different points of view – the bottom line of your piece is that it is a plea for (a) more supply, (b) waiting for the right time to do better, and (c) tempering ‘calls for reason’ about not doing anything reach that might render the plight of the hard-pressed existing suppliers of products and services any worse. But dear friends, this is only one point of view, and if you are indeed to live up to your promise of a wide international debate, you have to reach far broader than that.
One starting place to turn for more and better is The New Mobility Agenda and its extensive international network of practitioners and proponents. You can find extensive background on the philosophy and accomplishments of this informal, independent but not ineffective international grouping if you go to http://newmobility.org. You may also find good value in the handful of international ‘conversations’ about and expertise on these matters which feed into this movement: via our own New Mobility Cafe at NewMobility@yahoogroups.com, the Sustainable Transport Action Network for Asia and the Pacific (SUSTRAN Network)at http://www.geocities.com/sustrannet/, the Universities' Transport Study Group. at http://www.utsg.net/, and Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, the http://www.itdp.org/
These fora and the individuals and groups behind them offer a clear cut, leading edge, world level state of the art, 21st century awareness of the issues and the full range of solutions -- and while there is no aversion on the part of most of us to building new systems and expanding infrastructure in specific cases, we tend to be far more reserved and I would like to say sophisticated, and indeed practical, when it comes to better management of the infrastructure and systems we already have in place. Moreover, we tend too to be rather ambitious when it comes to the creative integration of new communications technologies into the overall systemic infrastructure, and that too might be one of the more promising avenues of the discussions and debate.
Bottom line: Unless you find a way to factor in not only the points of view of the people and groups who constitute this new leading edge in transport thinking and policy, you will end up with a tame kitty. It’s that simple.
Now how to get the structure in shape to do this job. Well there are a number of possibilities as you may well image, but here you have my no-wait proposal.
3. Solution proposed
First and with characteristic modesty, I propose that you add my name as a ‘voice’ to your transportation component to ensure that the New Mobility Agenda approach is also fairly and fully represented. My thought is that I can then act as a relay to ensure that our collective voices, principal too, are heard. Why me? Well, because I am here, generally competent from this perspective, pretty much able to work the network that you need to bring in, and ready to do to work on this because I think it’s important. Also since time is short, I would save you the beauty contest to find someone better.
Who else? Well, you have three slots for the Environment and Business ‘Conversations’ and I think we should have three for our critical transportation dialogue as well. I know several dozen each of whom could do a fine job at this, but time is short so I have to work with what comes most immediately to mind in this specific context. Here you have three eventual candidates each of whom with deep qualifications and records of accomplishment, a strong international reach, with ideas that often diverge from my own, who might do very well indeed here (maybe better than me in fact but forget I said that):
· Walter Hook, who is Executive Director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, a Non-governmental Organization dedicated to promoting environmentally sustainable and equitable transportation policies and projects in developing countries and Central and Eastern Europe, and whom you can reach at whook@...; and/or
· Lee Schipper, who currently is Co-Director, of the EMBARQ project of the World Resources Institute, and who has done quite a lot with your Shell sponsors (which might help ease the pain). schipper@.... Moreover since the closing transport debate is slated for Mexico City, a place where Lee works pretty extensively, it might be good to have him there to factor in his competence and presence for the physical events. That’s schipper@...
· Wendell Cox, a lively and informed world-level critic of what he regards as sloppy thinking and sloppier yet policy and practice, whose goal is “To facilitate the ideal of government as the servant of the people by identifying and implementing strategies to achieve public purposes at a cost that is no higher than necessary.”
For an important high profile debate like this, we should be looking for both knowledge and critical differences. And a bit of courage and stating power for the long term would not help either.
The Debate Forum/Discussions:
We will be pleased to work with you to set this up in a way that will do the job. The idea is that it should be wide open, lively, well plugged in to the full range of expertise and views, and that it be well managed to stay on topic. Also since the web technology on all this is moving along quite smartly, this could be a good occasion for us to work with your best technical people to find a really strong, readable, appealing way to handle this.
Other Technologies to integrate into the debate and exchange process.
- Have a look at http://newmobilitypartners.org and see if any of the dialoguing and conferencing options set out there might be put to good use in this context. It is worth at least a thought.
4. Why is the transportation sector a particularly important one in this context?
Before leaving you on this, I would like to share the following reflection with about yet one more reason why the transport sector is well chosen in this broader context of the Voices program. Recall that their raison d’etre is: “… to explore the key issues, offering their ideas and opinions on how to meet the challenges facing the planet as we move forward into the 21st Century”. Hmm, fair enough but if that’s the case in this world of many problems why select transport as one of the four areas to be queried. Here are what I believe to be the very strong reasons justifying this choice:
· Because the sector is ubiquitous, a major building block of our daily lives no matter where we live, and because – and this may possibly give you pause – BECAUSE IT IS SUCH AN EASY ONE TO DEAL WITH.
· The truth is that the main shortcoming of our existing policies and practices is one of a failure of imagination and leadership. It is not a matter of $$ nor lack of technological or organizational competence, it is above all that we have locked ourselves into a labyrinth of patterns and traps which are impeding the kinds of adjustments that we could be making in order to make very large improvements and differences.
· Because of its extreme level of inter-dependency – well more than half of the decisions and adjustments that need to be made to move ahead boldly in this agenda, are altogether outside of the traditional technical, jurisdictional and engineering focus of the transport sector. (Yet another good reason why we must make sure that the Voices transportation panel represents this full spectrum and does not fall into the old mobility trap of looking for transportation solutions in bits of hardware or physical infrastructure.)
· Because once we have found the imagination and courage to solve these after all relatively easy problems, we will have learned how to organize ourselves for problem solving in many other much harder challenges: a planet that is quite literally away day by day, international migration, terrorism, youth disaffection, aging populations, the restructuring of our educational systems, social justice, the failures of the international community, and the long list goes on.
So if we can somehow get together solve these relatively easy problems of our sector, we will have found new ways to organize ourselves, new confidence in our collective abilities to make a difference.
* * *
There you have it Principal Voice friends. We invite you to respond to this and work with us, because we think it is important. And because if you truly believe in sustainable development and social justice, it’s just the right thing to do.
Convener, The New Mobility Agenda at http://newmobility.org
Free video/voice conferencing at http://newmobilitypartners.org
The Commons: Open Society Sustainability Initiative at http://ecoplan.org
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