I am very excited about 2017. For 35 years I have been learning about the way our human race functions. Everything from how we create physical environments, build governance institutions and develop social / cultural networks. There is a way of doing this in an inclusive, consensus building, continuously evolving process that works for improving all of these environments, institutions and networks that builds on the best attributes of our species, empathy and reciprocity. I hope that we can embark on just such a journey with Vanier in the City of Ottawa.
Of the three traditional legs of sustainability, Social Sustainability is the least understood. There are also few methods of assessing social sustainability. Those that do exist can only be used at city, region or country scale. There are none specifically designed to apply to a neighbourhood of a city, a company or a village. Recently a new sustainability measure has been developed that uses “common good” as guidance to sustainability at a corporate level. Generally, sustainability tools do not measure participation in the development of social systems, urban planning and governance very well. The “Iterative Planning and Consultation Process (IP&CP)” TM uses traditional public consultation processes, “deliberative polling”, “gamification”, “Visual Preference Survey” and “geo-mapping” with a “new Social Sustainability Assessment Tool (nSSAT)” TM to engage participants in a consensus building and continuously evolving planning and visioning journey. Leading sustainability planning and governance processes with social sustainability results in more robust environmental and economic sustainability.
It is time to put social sustainability first when developing governance systems, urban and community plans, business models and environmental assessment criteria. This means giving much more weight to “traditional knowledge” compared to “western scientific knowledge”. Western scientific knowledge is by its nature generally reductionist. It uses complex algorithms to make sense of both huge data sets and complex relationships. While this kind of information is useful, it is not yet capable of translating feeling, emotions and other complex human natural instincts into usable knowledge. Sentiment tracking, polling and other word and word association computer analyses systems of social feeds can help in understanding current feelings of individuals and groups. Stories are an effective way of sharing traditional knowledge.
The physiological makeup of the human brain is naturally attuned to well told stories. MRI scans show that the pleasures centers of our brain light up when we have sex, eat something with fat, sugar and/or salt, engage with people and read a complex story. Not only do we enjoy reading a good story, we also remember it and are more likely to act on it. This reaction can be traced back to our survival as a species, where naked in the forest and faced with complex biological environments where threats and opportunities were hard to discern and with the most valuable foods having fat, sugar and salt, we needed to be able to trust our instincts to survive. Modern humans do some of their most complex problem solving in their subconscious and two important survival traits are empathy and reciprocity.
Our interaction processes and urban plans need to respect our nature.