Connection, cities, and being an effective ‘jigsaw piece’

1 month of the New Story Run is complete! A solid 630km – not a huge distance, but exactly as planned for taking it steady.

This post is a culmination of ‘snapshots’ from people over two cities. I hope it makes sense – it was also written over at least 10 benches /locations! But it has an important end message that involves YOU!

On my (25th) birthday, 5th September, I ran into Nijmegen to meet Michiel Hustinx. Michiel had helped lead the campaign to win the title of Europe’s Green City in 2018.

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Michiel: “For a small city like Nijmegen it took a few attempts; we had to get our name out there – most had never heard of us! But it was always about the people for us – you can’t just communicate with numbers, it’s about connecting to people and showing our personality, who we are as a city.”

“We have 4 windmills, providing power for 7000 people, and we hope to soon have more. We want to be energy neutral by 2045.
Every year we choose a grey patch of the city, for example a car park, and turn it into a green space (permanently)”.

“You can see the buses below us; these are all biomass buses (powered by waste used to generate electricity).” We were looking from the beautiful De Bastei museum, out over the river.

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The award isn’t just given on what the city already does, but its planned program for the whole year.
One amazing examples was that they celebrated the start of Green Mobility Week with shutting the main car bridge into the city (50,000 cars per day!) for 24 hours, and served a free picnic for 6000 people! YES team!

Every initiative involved local people and businesses. There were challenges and competitions people could take part in. In essence, winning the Award helped mobilise the whole city in a celebratory way, as well as inspiring change. It gave an excuse to connect people, give them an empowering sense of pride and a motivation to do more. Celebration activism – it works!

In Bonn, the same focus on connections kept popping up. I met Johanna, a young woman who set up BonnLAB, a co-working space for groups to hold meetings, events and collaborate.

There was Ute, who had dramatically readjusted her life towards ‘New Work Movement’ philosophies; of treating work as something to be passionate about and to enjoy. “There is no work-life balance, because work IS life. I work 20hrs per week for the money I need – the rest, I do for pleasure. I might get paid, some I might not, I help my community… But it is all enjoyable and part of living a richer life!”

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Dietrich volunteers in urban gardening, and has become known as the ‘grape man’. He highlighted how previously, they wouldn’t have been able to grow grapes here, but due to changing weather patterns they could. A ‘sweet silver lining’ of climate change? Not when it was 42 degrees in the city that summer! It seemed patches of gardens, vines, fruit trees etc were hidden everywhere. Flat roofs are a huge potential for this… As they are for solar power!

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Fitz, involved in the Solar Solutions Network, showed me the first citizen owned solar power plant, emphasising it was simply a core group of 12 people wanting to be part of the energy transition. He’s also involved in his Church’s Environmental Management group – who will be supporting the International Fridays 4 Future strike on Friday 20th (tomorrow!) with a bell ringing at 11:55.

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Sandra is a journalist, a ‘Parent 4 Future‘, and the most connected person I think I’ve ever come across! She had a bunch of ‘climate red cards’ which she attached all over swanky display cars as we walked!

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All of these people focused on the connections between people as a way of being stronger. All trying to help and work with the communities they’re part of (work and home). Effectively, being the best jigsaw piece of the climate solutions puzzle that they can!

I stayed with Annette and Thomas, who shed light on the consequences of lacking connections – after YEARS of roadworks and disruption to make the new trams, the gap and bump involved meant Thomas still couldn’t get on them with his wheelchair. It seems ridiculous that this would be the case: “like who was advising them, on how to make this accessible?! Anyone who has small wheelchair wheels, and/or can’t use their upper body to lean and create momentum, can’t get over that gap”. It’s 2019, guys!

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Just before leaving Bonn, I met Martin Frick, a big deal from the UNFCCC (heard of COP – that’s these guys!). All of our conversations kept coming back to this: people have the power to create change.

“We’re dealing with politicians – what they care about is their election, so they need to know enough people care about an issue before they will act! Traditionally we’ve always heard this ‘jobs or sustainability’ debate, and its a load of rubbish, it’s a myth! We need to show that sustainability = jobs, and we also need to show that whether they take the climate crisis seriously, THAT will affect their votes.

The Fridays for Future movement is the best thing thats happened in the last 12 months, its just amazing, I’m so glad it’s happening.”

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There’s a few strands here:

1) Movements, campaigns, and organisations working in the climate crisis work better when they connect and support each other. One way of doing this is joint celebrations that involve everyone!

2) These connections need to get to a level where they reach and inject into every area of society – they recreate the mainstream. E.g. No transport or urban planning course should exist without sustainability and accessibility as the core focus. In fact, THE question in this case should be ‘how do we transform into a sustainable mobility system ‘. Cmonnnn its the 21st Century!

3) We need a LOUD movement. And the best way of doing this is TOMORROW! You don’t necessarily need banners, or even to say a word if you don’t want to… You just need to show up. Be a body in the crowd. Make the crowd bigger and bigger until it cant be ignored. This is the most effective thing you can do to make an impact, right now! Click HERE for more info!

SEE YOU ON THE STREETS as Greta would say! 😃

Now to run on towards Koblenz, to take part in the strike – plus , I get to make a speech! Wooooohooo!

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