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Rethinking inclusivity, public participation and climate crisis with Sally Hussey

People in a park in front of a city

Sally Hussey | Principal Writer and Editorial Director, Granicus

Climate chaos as a public participation issue has gained much ground. It has featured prominently in calls to climate action and key international statements[1] and, more recently, in the rise of international and corporate net zero commitments. The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on impacts of global warming above 1.5°C identified public participation as a way to increase ability to adapt to climate change. Not limited to climate change adaptation, increase in public participation is also necessary in mitigation to prevent existential outcomes.

Equally, community members increasingly contribute to global climate conversations championing community-led solutions and initiatives to transition to a low-carbon society. This is in tandem with the salutary efforts of municipal and local governments. Indeed, climate crisis is a deeply challenging issue for governments across the globe and, as I have demonstrated elsewhere, has inspired effective action. Overriding the seemingly insurmountable barriers around silence and urgency that mire policy discussions on climate action, local governments are engaging communities in public decision-making – an issue that increasingly embraces a relationship to deliberative democracy. Yet, despite community involvement and governments’ spearheading engagement in decision-making, questions around inclusivity remain. How, then, do we articulate climate crisis through an inclusive and equitable engagement?

Urban mobility and decarbonising built environments

In my third ebook collaboration with urban scholar and economic geographer, Shauna Brail, pivots this crucial question through the lens of urban mobility. Twenty-twenty was flagged by the United Nations as “the climate turning point”. That is, as Brail puts it, “the point at which if carbon emissions continued to rise, would set the stage for permanent and widely destructive climate change.” Indeed, this ebook shows just how imperiling that continued rise would be – not through existential outcomes – which I have written about elsewhere – but where certain groups of society are made un-equally vulnerable to climate instability – a vulnerability that has been redoubled by the coronavirus pandemic. For COVID-19’s impacts on densely populated urban centres, have redoubled the inequalities of urban cities – amplified homelessness, overcrowded living arrangements, underemployment and food insecurity.

Climate Crisis, Equitable Engagement, Inclusive Cities: Rethinking Urban Mobility directs an array of questions against any conventions that might mitigate against inclusivity. What if we rethink climate change through inclusive urban mobility? Moreover, what if we rethink the grand challenge of climate change through inclusive public participation?

To be sure, urban mobility is a key contributor to climate change. (Transportation emissions account for 20 percent while cities are responsible for 70 percent of global CO2 emissions.) But it is also essential to urban life. Not having access to reliable, affordable and accessible mobility, moreover, determines the inclusivity of urban forms. As Brail points up, inaccessibility “can result in low incomes, health disparities and social isolation.” Furthermore, access to adequate and affordable mobility options, along with appropriate placemaking efforts, play a crucial role in serving racialised, marginalised and low-income communities. The increasing “suburbanization of poverty”, as Brail points up, “means that mobility choices are most limited for those who would benefit most from more choice.” Here, Brail sites city-based responses to the pandemic, where the augmentation of public space for non-automobile use has veered toward privilege. Bicycling, for instance, has been “called out” as it markets to white males as a lifestyle choice rather than “a decision forced by poverty or necessity.” For, she asserts: “Connecting race and poverty to mobility, is key to managing future changes.”

Transport equity, urban inclusivity and public participation

Attention to mobility provided one of four strategic pathways to local recovery for governments responding to the challenges faced in rebuilding communities in our former ebook collaboration, Coronavirus and Engaging Cities: Toward Community Recovery, which I have also summarised and can be downloaded here. Where previously Brail identified urban-level approaches that characterise municipal responses to rebuilding and engaging communities beyond the coronavirus pandemic, here she provides a roadmap for radical change. This is undergirded by the recognition of “transport equity” and access to reliable, affordable and accessible mobility.

Without question, this e-book demarcates salient shifts in moving away from auto-centric urban form. (In the US alone, there are more cars than drivers.) From prioritising cycling and pedestrianisation to expanding transit networks and on-demand transit, it steps through fundamental shifts in urban planning that have carved out space for the private automobile and the proliferation of ownership. It resets the high cost and inequities that result from the “car-dependent built form” requirements to the current focus on the interrelationship between urban form and mobility, such as the 15-minute city.

Presenting ten initiatives to help deliver on the promise of a sustainable – and resilient – future – the prioritisation of people is paramount: as cyclists, pedestrians, passengers and participants. But public participation evermore necessary. Alongside a focus on innovation and political leadership, Brail identifies community engagement as a pillar of decarbonising built environments. For “given the complex and multi-layered challenges that mobility poses, over and above the need to reduce carbon emissions, consultation and engagement is all the more necessary.”  Provision of equitable access to transport options, particularly for vulnerable communities – or “transport equity” –  makes crucial the role of policy makers in establishing and maintaining the inclusiveness of cities. Key to inclusion “is public consultation and shared decision-making power that begins at the earliest stages of planning for mobility and extends throughout.”

The heightened role of community engagement and public consultation in decarbonising built environments not only responds to the twenty-first century clarion call for inclusivity, but it just might deliver on the promise of a truly sustainable and equitable urban future.

Climate Crisis, Equitable Engagement, Inclusive Cities: Rethinking Urban Mobility is freely available to download here.

[1] The Rio Declaration, developed at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, “included explicit goals for citizen participation and engagement in climate actions (Principle 10)”. Hugel, Stephan & Anna R Davies. ‘Public participation, engagement, and climate change adaptation: A review of the research literature,’ WIREs Climate Change, vol. 11, issue 4, July/August 2020: https://doi.org/10.1002/wcc.645

Sally HusseyAuthor Bio: Sally Hussey is a Melbourne-based writer and researcher. Currently Principal Writer and Editorial Director, Granicus, she interrogates global challenges in public engagement and commissions evidence-based research by experts to inform the wider community on insights into global issues in public engagement. She has an extensive background in the publishing, academic and cultural sectors. She is also recognised by the Who’s Who of Australian Women.