Monday, April 20, 2009

World Streets Sentinels - Eyes on the Street
(A wide-open world-wide peer observatory)

Sentinel n. – "A person or animal that watches over, guards a place or group from unwanted surprises."

We live in a world and work in a sector in which not quite reliable information and rather too easy thinking often abound. Thus while the main objective of World Streets is to provide reliable access to what is going on at the leading edge of thinking, policy, and practice in the field of sustainable transportation worldwide, we also at the same time have an obligation not to lure our readers into thinking too simply about these issues and falling for what they may at first glance think to be "solutions" to their problems and aspirations. The challenge to sustainable transportation reform is already tough enough, without being encumbered by half baked ideas and wishful thinking. We can do better than that.

And that is where our worldwide network of correspondents/World Eyes on the Street Sentinels project comes into play. Since each of these colleagues are not only knowledgeable about the sector, including from the vital sustainable transport perspective, but are also close to the cities and streets in question, they help us to develop a more balanced, better informed approach to reporting on the sector. We count on them for this, and indeed they have been invited to participate because in every case we know them to be independent critical thinkers

It is hard to make the point more vividly than the map you see here thanks to Google - the globe, that is the world we need to band together to defend. And in parallel with this a mapping of people and cities ("eyes on the street" in the unforgotten words of Mrs. Jane Jacobs), which is where we have to face and solve the challenges of our cities, one by one

Geographic coverage: While much of the leading edge innovation is taking place in Europe and Japan, and to a lesser extent North America, there is a lot more to the world than that, with good ideas coming as well from cities in other places. It is important that Streets goes for more than the low-lying fruit, and we intend to make an especial effort to get strong coverage in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, the former Soviet Bloc countries, and all of Asia. And without good coverage of China and India, the whole thing would be just one more truncated exercise

Women: World Streets is committed to a policy of full gender parity as an essential motor for the fundamental cultural change that is necessary to move to a policy of sustainability and social justice. We are trying very hard to engage female correspondents, leaders and change agents in cities around the world with a wide variety of backgrounds, resources and cultures. (And if you have canidates for us, please please do let us know. It's important.)

Youth: We are committed to working with younger people in all programs and activities under the New Mobility Agenda, and in the process help through our association and exchanges further prepare them for future leadership positions in a world that badly needs their energy and commitment. If you check out the short profiles that appear in the Correspondents rubric you will see the result of this push.

Groups: We like the idea of bringing in groups of people and actors as "World Eyes", and if you check out the latest map you will spot a number of them reporting on street life in their city. The door is wide open for others

Location: For reasons of discretion (not a strong point on the net) we are inviting our Eyes volunteers to chose some public place to be located on their city map. It’s all part of our global/local orientation. Even here at the beginning we already have a nice variety, for example our friend Adhiraj Joglekar in Mumbai can be found at the Opera House, while in Bilbao Mikel Murga will meet you on the front door of the Guggenheim Museum and in Boston Michael Alba is waiting for you just inside left field in Fenway Park. I am available right next to the children’s pond in the Luxemburg Gardens a short walk from my office. The idea is to open up the city and make it a human space and not just one more virtual abstraction. So it will be good if we can meet in your favorite place in your city.

What else? For the rest all we need from our colleagues on this is (a) their approval, (b) name and email as they wish it to appear, (c) a URL taking the visitor to a program of particular interest to them, and (d) a small photo which we can then paste into their entry. And of course the location in which you wish to "receive" your visitors. (If for some reason you prefer to remain anonymous to the world in any or all of these respects, no problem, we can also work that one out I am sure. The important thing is those hundreds, eventually thousands of lively eyes on the street. Mrs. Jacobs would have been proud. I can promise you that)

Map: For the current version of the Sentinels map click here.

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