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2016 INSS Meeting Report

by Jonathan Hankins [1], 22 June 2016

The Integrated Network for Social Sustainability (INSS) 2016 conference [2] took place between 8 and 10 June, and was once again held at multiple sites across the USA and Europe. The London site was hosted at University College London (UCL), with Foreign Correspondent Jonathan Hankins attending on behalf of the Foundation and presenting his work looking at alternative provisioning networks in Italy and the USA.

Following a sucessful trial last year, the 2016 conference was once agin hosted across several sites, with many addresses and events available via video link to all participants including those independently registered online. The 2016 US sites were Atlanta, Bend, Charlotte, Chicago, Oxford and Washington, with London acting as the centre for European participation. As readers may recall, this is the third time that the Foundation has participated in the annual meeting, with posts available on the 2014 event here [3] and last year's event here [4].

The London event was held on 9 and 10 June, and after a meeting and greeting lunch Dr Sarah Bell presented the work of the UCL Engineering exchange [5]. The aim of the Exchange is to match community groups with engineers, working together to find answers and solutions to both technical and social issues. The group specialises in problems related to technology, infrastructure and the environment, including issues like energy, water, waste, information and communications technologies, noise, pollution, buildings, transport, mapping, etc. The exchange work very much provided a framework for the unfolding conference, bringing together an array of experts, activists and associated parties to share their expertise and opinions with participants.

The introduction was followed by a projects showcase. These included an outline of student projects on the London Carpenters housing estate [6], a look at water metering issues and experimentation in London, the presentation of Oxypod [7], a mechanical system that improves heating systems, a study into pelican crossing efficiency and possible modification in terms of waiting times and their effects upon padestrians'actions, pollution reduction due to the problem of the multiplication of delivery vans, and a push to re-using the canal network in and around London for transport purposes. All of the presentations were very interesting.

The first key note speaker was hosted at Charlotte and shared across the sites. In The Promise and Potential of the Global Biophilic Cities Movement, Dr. Timothy Beatley [8] described how nature provides many emotional, spiritual and health benefits to residents of cities. He argued that we have co-evolved with nature, and that we have a deep need to affiliate with the natural world, while raising the question of how that connection to nature can happen in in an increasingly urbanized world.The stressed the importance of birdsong and water to human development and happiness before offering some examples of how butterflies and birds have been introduced or encouraged in cities and the social benefits that have grown out of these events.

Beatley argued throughout his talk that we need to shift towards a vision of ''biophilic'' cities, outlining some of the important ways in which cities can be thought to be biophilic. He described the ongoing Biophilic Cities Project, and some of the things that emerging leaders and partner cities are already doing in this arena.

The early evening session was also shared between sites, with London hosting Des Gasper, well known for his work on Human Security Analysis.

Gasper delivered a fantastic presentation that led to an informative panel discussion. He argued that human rights are being systematically violated due to climate change problems, and that a new language needs to be introduced, that of human rights and not of economics, to talk about climate change. He argued that moral indifference reflects a lack of sympathy and attention, before offering a series of remarks for debate and expansion:

1. Vulnerability / insecurity is produced by the intersection of many factors
2. Narrow frameworks of analysis miss these intersections and marginalize many of the real insecurities of vulnerable people
3. ['The world has problems, universities have disciplines']
4. 'Human security analysis' of the impacts of global environmental change on real people counters this
5. Human security analysis needs partnerships
6. We need ethical analysis to focus scientific analyses, in order to duly remember and respect people

This was a thought provoking speech, which led to animated discussion in the following panel session. Slides from the speech are available here [9]. Further reading in the form of an outlining article is available here [10].

Friday was another full day that started with the Community Engagement with Sustainable Drainage roundtable: speakers included Abbey Crisostomo, KLH Sustainability; Anita Konrad, Groundwork; Clare Donnelly and Joseph Bazalgette of Tideway and Roy Tindle from Just Space. The event was chaired by Dr Sarah Bell from UCL's department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering and addressed many issues surrounding water management in the capital.
The centrepiece project discussed was Tideway [11], a huge engineering project that will join the so called lost rivers of London and the now outdated Victorial sewerage system using a huge 7.5 Meter pipe to take the city's waste and rain water for treatment and disposal into the sea.

The state of the current system was a little shocking, as participants learnt that a relatively small amount of rain leads to the opening of a safety system that releases the contents of the overflowing sewers untreated into the river Thames (about 50 times a year).

Further solutions discussed included the re design of garden beds in order to hold excess water within the ground, and the promotion and installation of Suds and other water control and collection systems, again to avoid rain water being dumped directly into the sewerage system. All of the participants agreed that an integrated mixed system is needed, and many of the problems that such projects bring in terms of public participation were addressed from several different standpoints.

The roundtable was followed by the Water-Energy-Food-and-Faith workshop co-hosted with the London Sustainability Exchange. This was an interesting discussion forum within which various projects were presented and their results, methodologies and approaches analysed. Projects involved attempts to bring members of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities into a debate about water use. The group included people of different faiths, and it was immediately clear that a great deal of insider knowledge was necessary in order to access and discuss a resource that has so much and such widely diverging symbolic meaning across a range of faiths and communities.

Digital poster presentations followed the workshop, with Foundation Foreign Correspondent Jonathan Hankins presenting his research on alternative food procurement practices in the USA and Italy. Hankins compared models of Community Supported Agriculture found in Massachusetts to models of Solidarity Purchase Groups (GAS) in Italy, arguing that the Italian models were much more geared to social participation and community building than their US counterparts. Slides of the presentation are available below. The presentations were streamed live to the other sites and across the Internet.

The final panel was hosted in Charlotte North Carolina, once again a shared event. In the Invisible Disasters panel, participants explored the role of communities and local informal networks in identifying and addressing disasters that, for multiple reasons, fail to attract the attention and action of central authorities.

These types of disasters can have with origins and consequences that are either diffuse or overlooked by responsible entities. Sometimes the origins of "invisible disasters" grow apparent long after the disaster has taken its toll, and sometimes handling the consequences of such a disaster eludes traditional public authorities. Recent tragedies like contaminated water supplies in Flint, Michigan, the great invisible methane gas leak of Los Angeles, and the increasing frequency of life-threatening heat waves challenge traditional, centralized detection systems. The panel will discussed how proactive community development can help avert future disasters.

Closing remarks were deliverd from Charlotte, drawing the curtain on 2 extremely interesting days.

Once again the conference was extremely well run, and pushed the boundaries, expectations and logistics of an event of this size over such a large geographical area. On behalf of all at the Bassetti Foundation we would like to congratulate all those involved in the INSS project as a whole, the organization of the conference across all of the sites and in particular the London team. We look forward to participating next year.

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Links in this document:

  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Jonathan Hankins
  2. 2] https://clas-pages.uncc.edu/inss/annual-meetings/2016-conference/2016-agenda/agenda-london/
  3. 3] /en/focus/2014/04/a_review_of_the_inss_meeting.html
  4. 4] /en/focus/2015/05/INSS_annual_conference.html
  5. 5] http://www.engineering.ucl.ac.uk/engineering-exchange/
  6. 6] https://www.newham.gov.uk/Pages/ServiceChild/The-Carpenters-Estate-Stratford.aspx
  7. 7] http://www.oxypod.me/
  8. 8] http://people.virginia.edu/~tb6d/
  9. 9] https://clas-pages.uncc.edu/inss/wp-content/uploads/sites/568/2016/06/Gasper_Future-Global-Ethics_JGE-2014_online.pdf
  10. 10] https://clas-pages.uncc.edu/inss/wp-content/uploads/sites/568/2016/06/Gasper_Future-Global-Ethics_JGE-2014_online.pdf
  11. 11] https://www.tideway.london/
  12. 12] //www.slideshare.net/FondazioneBassetti/how-can-the-alternative-economy-contribute-to-environmental-and-economic-challenges
  13. 13] //www.slideshare.net/FondazioneBassetti
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2016 INSS Meeting Report
Articles by:  Jonathan Hankins
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