The Choice to Stay
Lead by Gary Lawrence, AECOM
Title: The Choice to Stay
March 25-26, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Register HERE - $20 covers both days including lunch and refreshments. The workshop will occur in GIOS on the ASU Tempe campus. Further information will be forwarded to you closer to the event.
Sea levels are rising, temperatures are increasing, water shortages are an increasing risk and extreme weather events are becoming more common. All of these climate change consequences, framed in the variables of time and degree, have impacts on the health and safety of our societies, ecosystems and the stability of our economies. Can anyone really say that they fully understand the present let alone the future? How, given uncertainty, do we best address risk in a manner that optimizes the value of our investments and maximizes community energy on a coherent path to create a future we would prefer to have? What will need to be true in the future if people are to choose to stay and help communities be resilient and adaptive? What are the things that really matter?
Develop a new framework for decision making that recognizes city planning is first and foremost a social and political problem – not a design problem.
Our citizens have a choice about where they live.
From our perspective as engineers, designers, artists and economists, working with resilient cities around the world there is no doubt that you we have to be thinking about how to redesign so that people can move back off the coast so they’re at less risk. How can any politician build a career on telling people they have to move?
We can design the solutions. We can make a rational argument based on science, fact and current examples – but people do not make decisions based on rationality, they make decisions based on personal beliefs, tribal beliefs, nostalgia, fear and a whole host of other emotional factors. The big question for the design community is:
“When are we going to realize we’re in a political situation and stop believing that better design will be compelling enough to create massive change?”
The world’s most developed societies are failing to respond to the warnings. The choice to act is a political one – and cities are forgetting their social contract.
A survey conducted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the United States revealed that if residents of Houston, Texas could be guaranteed the same job with an equitable salary in another city, 60% would choose to leave rather than stay and fight for the future success of their city.
How can a City ensure that the people it nurtures and educates choose to stay and invest in the successful future of their City?
Four Step Process
Clarity about the problem or the opportunity
Around the world there are an increasing number of high value fixes being proposed for the problems of climate change. Building physical resilience in cities often focuses on massive engineering projects, expensive retrofits and additional infrastructure. Building social resilience in cities is less often recognized as the critical issue it is. Too often it is simply discussed in terms of higher costs – higher healthcare costs for ageing people living longer, the pension fund deficit, the shortage of affordable housing.
- Understand the difference between solving the attributes of a problem and identifying the fundamental issue.
- Understand the critical intersections between the spectrum of systems (human, social, natural, economic, physical) upon which cities are built.
Agreement that the problem or the opportunity needs to be addressed
In almost every case, any proposed high budget solution meets with strong public resistance. This is inevitably because investments can only be made in one area of concern at the expense of another.
It can be all too easy for professionals to propose solutions to problems that stakeholders either do not think need addressing or are of lower priority than other issues cared about. Part of this is the result of not getting the question right. Part is what is referred to as “the tyranny of experts” where the public is expected to simply defer to the intellectual superiority of others when experience is clear that this is often a path to heartache. Part is a failure to appreciate and incorporate the wisdom of the masses when they are provided unbiased information that is accessible to them, not just to the experts. This is not to suggest that majority must rule. The literature is pretty clear however that if institutions and individuals that the majority trusts and for whom they feel some kinship are not convinced that the problem at hand is a priority then the majority will withhold their permission.
- Understand how to engage the “hive mind”.
- Identify all the stakeholders in the project and understand what their motivations are.
Knowing what can be done and what this might achieve
There can be greater confidence (and influence) in addressing attributes of problems rather than fundamentals. Design can go a long way towards addressing aspects of some problems, but it cannot address the fundamentals. The fundamentals are political.
Is the money we’re spending today going to be value added given what we can reasonably predict? How are we going to ensure that our investment in the future is actually based upon a strong foundation and an integrated approach to the future of communities? How do we understand the whole range of risks and how do we optimize available resources so that every investment we make helps address risk across the whole spectrum? What is the opportunity cost of not addressing the future?
Be able to answer the following questions:
- Have we defined the problem correctly?
- Can we achieve more than one purpose at a time?
- Are we organized to realize value added opportunities?
- Is this just a cost, or is there a return on investment?
Choosing to act differently
Without the choice to act differently, conventional wisdom will dominate and we will make much less progress than would otherwise be possible. The choice to act differently is a risk management issue – political risk, financial risk, resource management risk. Good design and good science can help reduce the risk of different choices of course. More fundamental however are culture, nostalgia, aspiration, fear and what Frances Bacon described as the preference for truths that we would rather believe.
How can we communicate honestly and openly with the public about the levels of confidence we have in the decisions being made, and the limits to their impact?
- Understand the sources of conflict that shape our choices towards a more resilient, sustainable future:
- human centered vs. environment centered
- faith vs. doubt
- present vs. future
- optimism vs. pessimism
- equality vs. equity
- security vs. risk
- self interest vs. public interest
- direct costs vs. externalities
- market freedom vs. market constraint
- Articulate the basis for a public relations campaign that empowers political leaders to make better decisions about investments that allow them to solve fundamental problems across a broad spectrum of interests with fewer resources.