April 19, 2017

Snapshot on Sustainability – City Surgeons

By Stacy Sinclair

In advance of MGBCE on April 20th I’ve been talking to keynote speakers about what’s on their minds and what drives their work, bouncing these ideas off other conversations I’ve been having.  In a previous blog I stated that cities are structured locally and that they are the engines of change in the world. I am thinking about how cities are always evolving, and how, like an organism, they turn to the muscles that are exercised time and again.  What are the muscles of our city and what can we do to strengthen our core?

Historically, when people exhibited challenges – health, crime, aging – we isolated them into hospitals, prisons, and housing facilities where teams were hired to provide care, control, and management. This image of a sanitary city where we only see those with certain characteristics is not that different from a modern city where highways and walls fragment the landscape and isolate people by design. Yet, like a surgeon, we can enter a neighborhood and change how it functions and feels.  We’ve all seen this done skillfully, and less so.

Projects are designed and implemented by those who have a seat at the table. To create a community that works for its residents, the key—and less obvious— stakeholders must get an invitation. But it’s more than asking someone to show up. How often do we collect data on the number of people or organizations invited? The input isn’t what matters. That person needs to feel authentically valued.  We need to learn how to invite a diverse community into the conversation, how to listen deeply to different ways of communicating, and reflect what we’ve been told in the outcome.

I spent many years as an educator, and evaluated programs for their effectiveness. In the field of education, we call these inputs, outputs and outcomes.  I remember a motivational speaker telling all of us in the audience to stop whining about the students we have, that parents aren’t keeping the ‘good ones’ at home, they’re sending us the best they’ve got. Our job as teachers is to recognize that no one shows up for school or work intending to fail. Everyone’s giving 100% of what they have to give that day. It’s just that the 100% looks different on different days, on different folks, so be gentle but firm.

Almost everyone I’ve spoken to since I began these conversations has talked about the need for education or training. People need sensitivity training, diversity training, tolerance, social justice, bias, health and wellness, LEED, Envision, and procedures on how to listen, speak, organize, energize, transform, engage and empower.  We are exhausted by all the classes we are taking, designing, organizing, and facilitating. In my heart, as an educator, I’m onboard with this cry for skills and knowledge on one level, but I went to the Women in Green breakfast on April 14th and I heard a low rumbling thunder underscoring every speaker – a plea:  “don’t wait for it to be perfect”. Do something. Stand up. Speak up. Contribute to what you believe in. Now.

How do we guard against our personal and organizational vulnerabilities in order for our work to fulfill the potential we strive for? We can begin by knowing ourselves and our organizations. Take those rating sheets that we’re going to use when we design a project and turn them inward. Look at your own beliefs and how they are manifested in policies, practices and culture.  Examine who makes decisions on your teams, who advises you, and who is or is not represented.

Consider walking your talk. When you bring on partners for planning, design, construction, landscape, interiors, etc., know why you choose them and whether their business practices are aligned with your values, not just your bottom line. Be transparent and own where you are on the spectrum of accomplishment. Make changes where they aren’t aligned. Be strategic. This doesn’t have to be invasive surgery. This isn’t about punishing yourself, but knowing yourself, finding synergies with existing resources. Ask clients and service providers the questions you are asking yourself.  Use data to inform and research to guide decisions. How can you tell a client to be equitable when you may not be yourself? Create a methodology to follow when making decisions and incorporate this thinking into your personal and organizational processes.

We all need to find where we fit.  Maybe we’re part of the same tribe, maybe not.  That doesn’t mean we can’t work and think together. In fact, the different perspectives build new muscles. I’m on an adventure to listen in unexpected places and be open to being changed by those courageous enough to speak up.  Please join the conversation by contacting me directly at stacy.sinclair@me.com or leaving your thoughts here.

Thank you to those whose ideas, innovations and unique perspectives are captured above:

Ben Stapleton, LA Cleantech Incubator

Eric Corey Freed, EcoDistricts

Eric Strauss, LMU-CURes

Evan Feitelson, Hebrew University

George Bandy, Interface

Heather Rosenberg, USGBC-LA

Heidi Creighton, Buro Happold

Jackie Cornejo, Partnerships for Working Families

Jennie Pasquerella, ACLU

Jennifer Berthelot-Jelovic, A SustainAble Production

Joel Ann Todd, HPD Collaborative

John Barton, SEIU

Maya Henderson, Kilroy Realty Corporation

Mike Bennett, Office Depot

Perrin Pellegrin, Innovative Workshops Consulting

Shane Murphy Goldsmith, Liberty Hill Foundation

Stephanie Pinceti, University of California, Los Angeles

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