Could the problem be democracy?

The missing link: activists

Sharing experiences of urban improvement with each other is what makes us a “traffic expert”, collectively we have most of, if not all the answers. An excellent understanding of the subject is a useful foundation in every branch. But the purpose of this collective knowledge in our branch must be to be able to change the urban environment for the better before we run out of planet.

Message from Ian Fiddies, Friends of the Earth. Sweden.

Please correct me if I’m wrong on this. We know quite well what needs to be done but a quick look out of the window suggests that we still have a long way to go. We know what to do, but how do we do it?

Having the ear of the decision makers is one of our obvious duties, and I think we’re doing pretty well at that. Another quick look out of my window, why isn’t it working? The politicians all have access to and usually are aware of state of the art urban thinking.

Could the problem be democracy? Politicians are scared of losing elections if they flaunt conceived public opinion. Could the solution be more democracy? Politicians are scared of losing elections if they flaunt…

This is where civil society comes in, NGOs, active citizens, all the people who play out their lives in the places affected. My belief is that without a vocal civil moment the most obvious evidence will continue to be ignored. We, the expert, need to connect better with the activists on the ground.

What is it we should be saying to potential activists?

My reason for picking up this chain of thought just now is an up and coming event being planed for June. I have been asked to come up with a program suggestion for an afternoon session on transport and a number of smaller transport related activities in side rooms or out in the real world. Transport is the subject of the first day’s main session and the smaller activities can take place spread out over the the next four days.

The setting is a five day “climate camp” in a converted barn about 10 km outside of Gothenburg, Sweden. The event is being organised by Friends of the Earth Sweden among others. The public target group is environmentally enlightened people from all over Sweden. (not traffic professionals)

I’ve been to this type of event many times before, I’ve organised this type of event a few times. I know what is expected of me. A mixture of excellent inspiring speakers combined with discussions and workshops where everyone has an equal chance to participate. The first few times I’ve been to this kind of thing I’ve found them both educational and inspiring. I take another quick glance out of my window.

I’m sure most of you reading this have got a pretty good idea about the sort of thing I’ve been asked to put together. Putting it together isn’t all that hard.

My problem is that I think it would be very interesting to do something completely different. Use the time and the resources to create a “road to Damascus” moment for the participants. Afterwords the participants should leave not only educated and inspired but convinced that the transition towards a sustainable future is not “rocket science”. When it comes to sustainable transport in cities the participants should clearly see that positive change is something they can help to affect, that it is their duty to push for that change and perhaps most importantly want to make a difference. And of course, the easy bit, how to do it.

Maybe I’m overly ambitious, that might even be bad, but here’s my question.

Has anybody any ideas how I to do this “road to Damascus” thing?

I have the main stage for first day of a five day event. All the AV stuff is fixed, real time video links are possible. On the following four days I can fit in up to four smaller sessions for around 20 people. There is inside space for this. But also the bus stops outside the event every 30 minutes and drives direct to the centre of Sweden’s second city. So I even have an half million city packed with plenty of both good and bad examples at my disposal. I don’t have to use any of this but it’s there if I want it.

Please don’t be shy to share any ideas on this. How to connect with the activists matters.

Ian Fiddies
Proud member of
Friends of the Earth Sweden
+46(0)739 24 23 41
Skype- ianfiddies


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