Two Cases Where Knowledge Sharing is Working to Advance Solutions

Global Becomes Local

Jeanette Southwood, Principal and Global & Canadian Sustainable Cities Leader, Golder Associates Ltd.


Gordon Feller

Well you’ve been extremely patient, and you know the principle of these conference organizing activities is to save the best for last, so we’re moving here with best; we’re going to come to even better now with a case study approach to show you how these kinds of principles and these kinds of practices are being developed in real cities in the real world. We’ve talked about some case studies, we had that opportunity, so now I’m going to ask Jeanette Southwood to come up and share two case studies that demonstrate how the learning and the knowledge sharing actually takes place with cities on the path to sustainability. Thanks, Jeanette.

Jeanette Southwood

Thank you, Gordon.

So as Gordon mentioned, my name is Jeanette Southwood. I’m with Golder Associates. Golder is a consulting company of about 8,000 around the world. And you’ll see in a moment how that global perspective fits into the case studies that I’ll be sharing today.

Now, some of you may be familiar with the term Pecha Kucha; we had several Pecha Kuchas earlier today. When Gordon and Jesse talked to me about the Pecha Kucha they had a few tips, and the tips that they said were: tell a story, make it personal, show your passion, and stick to the allotted time. So I’m going to attempt to do all of those things over the next few minutes.

I’ll take you on a brief global journey from South Africa to Canada, Canada to the U.S., and from the U.S., who knows where we’re going to go? And you’ll see what I mean by that as we get to the last case study. You’ll see some examples where local solutions have become global solutions, and then have gone back to become local solutions in different places where knowledge has been shared; where potential has been unlocked and tapped. The case studies that I’ll be speaking about today are case studies that have come across, or come from, pressing decision-making issues that needed to be made in these places that I’ll be talking about with respect to changing climate, food security, housing, sustainability solutions, energy, specifically renewable energy, and marine coastal spatial planning. And I managed to weave in a few concepts from this morning also and you’ll recognize some of the terms: the barrier busting through hand-shaking, the peer-to-peer transmission of innovations, and innovation as a team sport. And you could probably guess given that there’s a slide here from this morning that the A/V people were kind enough to allow me to submit an updated presentation so thank you very much to the A/V people for this afternoon.

So why decision making? Well, this is where I’m going to springboard off a personal story. And that personal story begins in South Africa.

I was born in South Africa. I spent the first few years of my life there. And the story that I’m going to tell you is not necessarily specific to South Africa; I know it’s happened many places around the world. But because it’s a personal story, I’ll share it with you. So you’ll see a picture on the slide here, it’s a picture of myself (the small child who’s just a little bit shorter than the boat) and my grandfather. My grandfather grew up in South Africa, spent all of his life there. This is the two of us on a beach in South Africa. He started a lifeguard or life-saving club there. When I was young, every week we would go out with myself and my grandfather, my dad. And my dad and my grandfather would be part of the club and they would save people who ventured too close – although you can’t see it in this picture, there are sharks in the water there – who ventured too close to the sharks or couldn’t swim well enough or were pulled in by various kinds of currents. They participated in competitions of various kinds, one life-saving club against another, international competitions against Australia and other teams in the Southern Hemisphere. So overall, for my grandfather, it was a wonderful existence. He’d grown up in the same community that he was born in. This is a picture from one of the dances that he would have been at. He had wonderful friends. He participated in volunteer organizations in that community and he raised his family in that community.

He had a wonderful life there until he was slowly starting to enter his senior years. At that point, the government identified the community where he was living, which is a community that was very close to the waterfront – probably great real estate values, probably of great value to, or the government imagined that it would have been of great value to whoever they envisioned should have owned it. So my grandfather and all of his neighbors and their families and their businesses were forcibly removed from that community and they were moved somewhere else. Their houses were demolished. Their businesses were demolished. And slowly, that community disappeared until there was nothing left in that was lost.

Now, what happened to my family? Well, my family moved to Canada and in Canada, we ourselves had a wonderful life, or still have a wonderful life. We kept up our personal ties; not all of our family moved from South Africa to other places. We kept up our personal ties there. With the advent of email, that became much more easy. We could understand what was happening there. We knew that South Africa had changed over the years. Then when I began working for Golder, I – because of the team that I’m on, which is called the Global Sustainable Cities Team – got in touch with, or they got in touch with me, the climate team in Durbin, South Africa.

You’ll see from the slide that Durbin, South Africa is a beautiful city. It’s waterfront. If any of you follow soccer, maybe I could see a show of hands, people who might have watched the World Cup last year? So I see quite a few people who watched the World Cup. Well, it’s one of nine host cities for the World Cup, and it’s the largest city on the East Coast of South Africa. Because of its climate, it’s a tourist attraction and Durbin realized early on that because of its waterfront location, because of its dependence on agriculture, because of its dependence on tourism, it was going to be very susceptible to what it was observing as the changing climate and changing weather patterns. It was observing, for example, that there were more extremes in wind speeds. It was observing that storms were a little bit more frequent. It was observing that temperatures were changing, although ever so slightly. People generally refer to this as climate creep.

So what did Durbin do? Well, Durbin decided that it was going to be proactive. It retained a company, specifically my company, Golder, and we developed a tool called the Integrated Assessment Tool for Climate Change. And the tool was meant to assist decision-makers: people who are making decisions about land use, people who are making decisions about water use, people who are making decisions about food and what’s going to be happening to farmland, whether it’s going to be redeveloped for residential or for industrial or whether perhaps it should be left untouched. Now this worked out very well for Durbin and as you may know there are going to be global climate meetings in Durbin at the end of the year.

But it also worked well for other communities in other places aside from South Africa. Specifically, in Canada, through the barrier busting through hand shaking, through the peer-to-peer transmission of innovations, through the innovation as a team sport, there was an opportunity for South African climate team to meet their Canadian colleagues and to talk about the work that they had done with the city of Durbin. Our Canadian colleagues then met with other colleagues as well, met with other clients and those clients have started to incorporate the concepts that grew up in Durbin in their own plans for how to be proactive about climate and how to adapt to some of the changing weather patterns that we’re all observing.

Let’s stay in Canada for a moment. I’m sure many of you have seen the corporate social responsibility reports and sustainability reports that organizations have been producing for the past number of years, that talks about how is sustainability being incorporated into their day-to-day or month-to-month or year-to-year operations. One of our clients approached us to ask us about how can they balance the concept of sustainability; how could they balance the economic, the environmental, and the social into their decision making, specifically about contaminated real estate? They wanted a transparent process that could be used with stakeholders from all over. They wanted a process that could be used with the public, that could be used with their colleagues, that could be used with various land owners and others. And they wanted a way of communicating these decisions and results that was very clear and transparent.

So my colleagues developed a tool called Gold Set which I won’t go into a whole lot of detail here about. I’ll be around after today’s meeting, I’ll be around tomorrow. I’ll be happy to answer questions about it. But let’s just say that it’s a very simple process, very easy to understand. It includes a lot of discussion with stakeholders to develop benchmarks and criteria to evaluate various options against. But in the end it comes out with a way of communicating the results that are graphical and very easy to understand no matter what the background of the stakeholder is.

Now the story doesn’t stop there for either the client or for my colleagues because that tool was so successful for that client that they won a Canadian Urban Institute award for it as well as a number of other awards, and then another organization, seeing the success of application of that tool, asked if that tool could be applied to their properties. And here once again we get the hand shaking, we get the peer-to-peer transmission.

That particular land owner wanted it developed not only for use in Canada but also across North America so here we see some of that knowledge transfer coming into other places in North America; coming over to the U.S. And within the client organization, they see that the tool could be applied not only to contaminated sites but also to the decisions about other aspects of sustainability. Right now they have a project to apply it to how they’re managing their wastewater.

So from Canada to the U.S., and this is the last of the three case studies, and specifically planning for multiple uses in the ocean, and once again, more specifically, looking at what happens when tidal energy starts to come into play in a place in the ocean where there are a whole lot of other uses already. So perhaps I could ask another question: are any of you from waterfront communities? Waterfront where there’s some tidal opportunities? So those of you who are will know that there are many different types of aspects that come into play when these decisions are being made. First of all, there’s the power potential, technology constraints, the site characteristics and proximity to the grid. There’s ecosystem, there’s human health, and then there are a multiplicity of agencies; government agencies, NGOs and others, all who are interested in how are the decisions being made about the use of these marine and coastal areas.

Once again, a decision making tool was developed. In this case, it’s called – and it’s I guess the most transparent of names – the Integrated Decision Support System. Specifically for this opportunity to share with stakeholders, how can this marine and coastal area be used to benefit the citizens there but also more broadly the citizens in general in the State of Washington.

This project is only in phase one. Already in phase one there have been some benefits that have been observed: data and map visualization, data access, and decision support. And again, it’s a team effort. There’s been the barrier busting, there’s been the hand shaking. But because it’s only at phase one we don’t know which country this might take the team to or which country might adopt this type of decision analysis.

So what is the outlook? Well, earlier this morning we talked about global sharing. You’ve seen some examples about global sharing in my presentation today. You may wonder once again about why decision making is so important. Why is it that we need to make decisions in a way that’s transparent, that includes a lot of parties, that touches upon the key issues? And again I would go back to: if there is no innovation in decision making, well, what might be lost? Might it be some of the communities that we currently have in place? Might it be potential other innovations that those communities might make?

Before I wrap up, I’d like to acknowledge a few people who contributed their thoughts and efforts to my presentation today. First of all, Rob Hounsome and Catherine Hughes of South Africa, Benoit Bourque, Lea Chambers, Brad Kuchera, Robert Noel-de-Tilly, Lisa MacKenzie, Glenda Tanchez, and Suzie Williams of Canada, and Ken Connell, Patty Kamysz, Phil Osborne and Karen Raihill of the U.S., and finally my family for sharing their photos with me.

Thanks very much.

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