Last year we took a deep dive into the Sustainable Development Goals to understand what they meant for Middlesex-London. On top of the local indicators, the core message that emerged from our research was INTEGRATION.
In order to solve our wicked problems, we need cross-sector collaboration, multiple levels of government working together and an understanding of the interconnectedness of our society and our life here on this planet. We are at a point in history where there is an appetite to pivot. We recognize that things could be different and our relationships, how we do things together, can be vastly improved as well.
If you are not familiar with SDGs yet, here is a two-minute video with a quick overview of the seventeen goals:
Even though integration might seem to point to megaprojects and macroscales, it is at the local level that those changes happen, where we can truly address our environmental, social and economic crises. Place is a fundamental component of this re-connection. Whether we are talking about experiencing life socially in a public space rather than isolated in private spaces, being in close contact with natural environments, choosing the real world over the virtual world, choosing to ride a bike rather than see the world behind a wheel.
Our community is a big part of our experience of life. The lack of community or siloed communities (virtual or interest-based) is one of our biggest challenges. Place-based communities foster diversity. And diversity enables the integration of people, ideas and purposes. By truly experiencing our neighbourhood, we can connect, get inspired and take action.
That was one of our reflections during our SDG Leadership journey in 2020 who brought together several local leaders from multiple sectors in our city.
To put this idea to the test, we built a prototype to explore ways to:
- Raise awareness about SDGs
- Promote local initiatives doing good work
- Identify and demonstrate the interconnectedness of our challenges
- Create an experiential learning opportunity to foster belonging
So, we embarked on a series of neighbourhood conversations and some of the takeaways from our chats are:
Seeing the Connections
People already see a web of relationships. They might not call them SDGs but they understand the social, economic and environmental integration. The SDGs are very useful as a framework to start those conversations, to map out different initiatives into an integrated network and help make long term plans. But our daily practice needs to be more experiential.
The people we talked to feel connected with their community because they experience it. The act of being in a space and meeting people engages all our senses and it triggers an emotional response. This is a much stronger bond than an intellectual one. It is a deeper understanding conducive to taking action.
“The intellect divides us into our separate selves,… Only the heart can make the social bond. True community rests in the free acknowledgement from person to person, so that the individual grows in his response to his fellows”Francis Edmunds
A neighbourhood conversation might seem trivial or small, but once they are re-normalized their compound effect is astronomical and a precondition for successful collective work. Gracy Olmstead reminds us that “an immodest solution rarely leads to the happy ending we envision.”
And the guide to the 2030 Agenda in my municipality shows how “Cities are where the battle for sustainable development will be won or lost”. It is at the municipal level that implementation happens and also much of the solution designing. To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to be connected to our place.
The right scale in work gives power to affection. When one works beyond the reach of one’s love for the place one is working in, and for the things and creatures one is working with and among, then destruction inevitably results. An adequate local culture, among other things, keeps work within the reach of love.Wendell Berry