Individual action is important for sustainability transformations, but the degree, scope, aggregation and associated mechanisms relating personal participation with systemic change are not always as clear. To explore this issue while creating a space to link individual actions with sustainable policy decision-making, MOTION’s 2021 Citizen Engagement Event on November 25, 2021, focused on listening to citizens themselves and then incorporating those voices into the policy discussion.
A call for sharing audios was released from 18 October to 12 November 2021, through the projects’ associated universities and partners. The question, which was translated into several languages, was the following: what are you doing to contribute to a more sustainable city? The aim was to recover personal experiences and reflections from a variety of European cities and integrate them into a sample that could show the diversity of actions and topics in which persons are involved.
Fifty people from eleven cities in five countries sent audios to share their actions. The compilation can be listened to here. The most relevant results are illustrated below.
Figure 1: Results of audio compilation
While coming from different European contexts, most people promote sustainability through three main actions: transportation, eating habits and adequately separating garbage and recycling. Different voices, accents, ages and experiences were presented through the audios. Public goods such as better alternatives for pedestrians and bicycles, or better garbage organisation and disposal seem to be of interest.
Listening to people narrate their own perspectives was truly motivating and inspiring for researchers and practitioners during the event. To make it more interactive, the audio was divided into three parts and incorporated at three different moments of the event: before and after the presentation of SuSMo (Sustainable Shared Mobility), and after the presentation of ACT on NBS (Activated Cities through Integrated Nature-Based Solutions). Audios were surrounding the discussion about city solutions for climate change and thus reminding the audience how relevant it is to have personal commitment and participation in sustainable life choices.
Figure 2: Cities where audios came from
After listening to the first part of the audio, the dialogue about Sustainable Shared Mobility (SuSMo) started. The following speakers participated:
- First presenter: Francesco Guaraldi, Project Manager and Mobility Expert, SuSMo (Sustainable Shared Mobility), AESS – Agenzia per l’Energia e lo Sviluppo Sostenibile
- Comments about citizen engagement: Antonella Tampellini, President of FIAB (Federazione Italiana Ambiente e Bicicletta)
Francesco Guaraldi presented the guidelines and tools for Sustainable Shared Mobility. He started by discussing the best mean of transport for urban commuting depending on the distance and then continued by reflecting on the pathways the project developed in collaboration with MOTION. A toolkit of four themes was mentioned with different guidelines and key factors for policy, influencing behaviour, collaborative working, and using real-world data to estimate CO2 emission reductions from shared mobility. Support for shared mobility needs to come together with investment in public transportation and cycle lanes. An experiment using cargo bicycles is taking place to test whether other cycling uses are possible.
Antonella Tampellini presented what FIAB is and how it congregates over 20.000 members throughout Italy. She explained that there has been a positive Covid effect in cycling infrastructure in Italy, and how incentives for bike purchase have now become the largest in Europe. A 30% increase in cyclists in Italy can be seen as a result.
A second part of the audios followed the presentation, and after it, the two presentations related to Adaptive Cities through Nature-Based Solutions (ACT on NBS). The following speakers, partners of ACT on NBS, were present:
- First presenter: Maria de las Nieves Mestre, Innovation and Technology for Development Centre (itdUPM) in the Madrid Polytechnic University
- Comments about citizen engagement: Manuel Almestar, Innovation and Technology for Development Centre (itdUPM) in the Madrid Polytechnic University.
Maria de las Nieves Mestre detailed how the concept of Nature-Based Solution (NBS) has increased in scientific literature and regulations while also becoming a trending topic. One of the objectives of ACT on NBS was to amplify narrow understandings with unconventional actors. Nieves also commented on how this logic is noticeable in collective intelligence and co-creation for NBS. A handbook was developed during the first year of the project to showcase the benefits of collective work towards a common dissemination goal. With the MOTION team, ACT on NBS identified three transformative pathways that could reflect the most significant work that the partners are doing. Nieves shared that three pilot projects exist that relate to each of the transformative pathways. The Cyborg Garden is a project related to the Networking and Learning Pathway, the User Pathways is related to the Circulation and Replication Pathway, and the Metropolitan Forest can relate to the Upscaling and Institutionalisation Pathway. Each of the pilots has a larger scale than the previous one and they are all meant to increase the visibility of climate change and to showcase specific urban solutions.
Manuel Alméstar explained how the co-creation process took place in the three pilot projects mentioned above for the last three years. Different relevant actors have participated in a variety of activities: the city council, the research community, artists, architects, urban planners, interdepartmental groups, writers, district boards, anthropologists, biologists and historians. With all of them, a network of relevant promoters of a deeper conversation has emerged.
During the four presentations, SuSMo and ACT on NBS project partners detailed the most significant learnings and reflections from their experience with citizens. Several comments and questions were received through the Zoom chat. Participants reported enjoying the experience and commented positively on the audio compilation. To finish the session, participants were asked to share one word that comes to mind when thinking about sustainability. 33 attendees responded with a variety of ideas presented below.
This event has been a reminder and affirmation of the fact that individual action and citizen participation are important in sustainability transformation. However, it is only the first step in a wider conversation. Having time and space to listen to what citizens have to say about sustainability in their own lives, in their own experiences and in their own words has been a path towards recognizing how local actions contribute to tackling global challenges. The more we listen, the more inspiration we might acquire from the micro perspective of the changes that cities need.