Thursday, March 11, 2010

Listening to children

Journal of World Transport Policy and Practice
Volume 15, Number 1. March 2010

Editorial - John Whitelegg:

This issue contains two articles that on first reading may appear totally unrelated. This is not the case. The Kinnersly article – "Transport and climate change on a planet near you " - is a comprehensive reflection on the links between economic growth, poor quality democracy, lack of will to deal with sustainability and biodiversity and the perversity of reckless decision taking that supports a business as usual (BAU) model of the world.

Tranter and O‟Brien in "Positive psychology, walking and well-being: Can walking school buses survive a policy of school closure?", show convincingly and persuasively that a child-centred policy based on listening to children, thinking about the wider issues around children and the journey to school can bring about a very different outcome to the ones currently on offer.

Kinnersly‟s well-founded worries about BAU are neatly dealt with by the child-centred model (CCM) advanced by Tranter and O‟Brien. Equally there will be other non-BAU models that raise alternative visions and perspectives and this journal want to hear from older people, those with mobility difficulties and those who live in the accessibility poor “facility deserts” that we have created in many British cities.

It is clear from both articles in this issue that we cannot expect intelligent, ethical, human-centred, quality of life outcomes from our expert led, neo-classical economics, “bean counter”, top-down perspectives.

The failure of the Copenhagen climate change summit last December which is dealt with by Kinnersly captures these points in a rather dramatic manner. It is clear that whatever was going on in Copenhagen it was nothing to do with a human-centred, ethical view of the world and nothing to do with precautionarity or quality of life.

We are lucky that the politicians and world leaders who drew up the failed “accord” in Copenhagen last December were not around in the first couple of decades of the 19th Century. If they had been around they would have presented a wonderful story in favour of continuing the business known as “slavery”. Slavery is after all very good for the economy, it would be disruptive to ban it, any ill-informed criticism of slavery can only result in “foreigners” benefitting from the desirable business model and it will still be there anyway. Abolishing slavery was not easy but luckily there was a different mood around and it was done.

Kinnersly also represents a valuable tradition in the development of so-called western civilisation. Like David Engwicht in Australia (see end note) he has thought about his subject matter very deeply and produced a fine intellectual product with a strong policy resonance.

This is lacking in the ranks of professional planners, economists, traffic engineers and others and highlights the need for “citizen science” or productive engagement between the professionals and those who have something highly intelligent to say. This productive engagement does not exist at the moment. Our professional world of science and expert evidence has produced an arrogant, dismissive model of the universe.

The dismissive model applies to children. Asking children about the journey to school as described in Tranter and O‟Brien is a brilliant way of sorting out what we should be doing for children and is more likely to produce more active travel, less obesity and happier children than high-blown waffle in official documents.

Clearly we do not listen to children and like Tranter and O‟Brien. I have heard
children speak eloquently about roads and traffic and against the closure of their school and seen a completely dismissive response. The roads and traffic policies continue to ignore children and to prioritise the needs of the person in the car to the detriment of the child on foot or bike and a very fine secondary school in Hornby (Lancashire, UK) much-loved by its local community, was closed in spite of massive protest and a unanimous vote by a group of councillors to keep it open.

This is now being repeated in the decision to close Skerton primary school in a deprived community in Lancaster UK which will produce the result of exposing children to severe traffic danger as they travel to more distant schools.

This issue contains important messages about a desirable future, the real need for alternatives to BAU and the importance of other voices, and we look forward to more of this in future issues

John Whitelegg Editor
Engwicht, D. (2005) The smarter way Envirobook, Annandale, Wales, Australia

Abstracts & Keywords

Transport and climate change on a planet near you
Patrick Kinnersly Creating a sustainable transport system requires more than merely reducing carbon emissions from vehicles. A superficial greening of transport is essential to the continued expansion demanded by a market-driven model of unlimited growth, inducing further carbon emissions and resource conflicts and preventing the sustainable development required to avert climate crisis.

Keywords: Transport, climate change, carbon emissions, economic growth, environment

Positive psychology, walking and well-being: can walking school buses survive a policy of school closures?
Catherine O‟Brien and Paul J. Tranter Children provide an insight into our understanding of the link between walking and happiness, as walking is a playful experience for them. Many adults make trips simply because they are focussed on getting to a destination. Children on the other hand, are more often able to enjoy the “places” along the way, rather than being focused on the “next task.” Evidence from positive psychology indicates that happiness and positive emotions contribute to our health and well-being. Slowing down, enjoying life's pleasures, and appreciating our friends, community and environment are all linked to enhanced well-being. Despite an awareness of such benefits, government policies can often be seen as undermining well-being, even by discouraging walking to school by children. This paper examines the impact of a policy of school closures on the viability of walking school buses.
Keywords: positive psychology, walking school buses, children, community, environment

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About the authors:

For the past decade Catherine O'Brien has been leading efforts in Canada to create child and youth friendly communities and Catherine is currently developing child and youth friendly land use and transport planning friendly guidelines for every Canadian province. More recently, she has been exploring how sustainability and happiness studies can contribute to a more sustainable future. Catherine is an education professor at Cape Breton University where she developed the first university course in the world on sustainable happiness! Articles on sustainable happiness can be found at Catherine lives in Sydney, Nova Scotia with her husband, two teenage children, a dog, a cat, and a turtle.

Paul Tranter is Associate Professor in Geography in the University of New South Wales. He writes: "Creating resilient cities? It’s child’s play! Paul’s research in the areas of child-friendly environments, effective speed, road safety and sustainable transport, has led him to the realisation that if we can create environments where children can playfully and safely explore their neighbourhoods and cities, we will also be creating places that are happier, healthier and more livable for all city residents, both now and in the future."

Patrick Kinnersly describes himself as follows: "Patrick blames Mrs Thatcher for turning him into a transport activist. After two decades campaigning against the hazards of work he escaped to write a novel, but wherever he went one of her ‘roads to prosperity’ was heading for the place. In 1993 he helped form an alliance of local groups that dismantled government plans for a ‘superhighway’ between the M27 and the M4. They had to do it again as local councils revived dead schemes for their own ‘strategic corridors’. It took ten years and a fortune in professional fees to make ministers reject the last of these ‘undead’ roads. Such victories are rare. Expanding roads, runways and ports still dominates transport policy - and the lives of objectors with better things to do. But the folly is so obvious it may not need a novel to expose it!"

John Whitelegg is visiting Professor of Sustainable Transport at Liverpool John Moores University and Professor of Sustainable Development at University of York's Stockholm Environment Institute, and is founder and editor of the Journal of World Transport Policy and Practice. John is a local councillor in Lancaster, and Leader of the North West (of England) Green Party.

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