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Contribution to E-Conference

From: David Thorns, New Zealand
Category: Category 2
Date: 20 Mar 2000
Time: 13:00:50
Remote Name:


Subject: Contribution to E-Conference

Date: Mon, 20 Mar 2000 08:56:09 +1200

From: David Thorns

To: Frhs List <>

FRHS E-Conference. David C. Thorns Department of Sociology University of Canterbury

There are a number of points I would like to contribute to the present debate and the background paper.

1. Regarding the discussion of role of people in urban development. Here one of the challenges is to look at forms of government which enable people to be actively involved. Many studies show that people feel disempowered at present from the decision making process. One example of a new initiative may be of interest. This is the development of a local community Web in Christchurch site to encourage local debate. This has stimulated much greater involvement and a sense of ownership of local issues. It has led to improved dialogue with the Local City Council and a much greater awareness of the intersection of social, political and environmental issues. A key question here has been how to give greater voice to the environment so that people appreciate that there local actions have global consequences.

2. A second related issue is building some understanding about the wider issues of sustainable urban development. This is both a global and local issue and there is a need to build greater linkages. How can this be achieved. There is at present differing emphases as to what are the core concerns. The question here of the “brown “ agenda re poverty wastes, pollution, housing and the “green agenda” of global warming and ozone depletion and climate change. At present these tend also to differentiate the ‘north” from the “south globally. So not only are issues understood differently by various groups – gender age etc (point c) but also with respect to the global location of the particular society. There needs to be linkages here between the set of concern arising from the Habitat Agenda and Agenda 21. Issues in both cases of social justice ( social exclusion and inclusion) and global development are crucial.

3. Re theoretical, methodological tools. One of the challenges here is to find ways of:

a) Building new understandings/models/theories which span the natural social divide. Without an embracing of the environmental and social consequences of urban development any shift towards a more sustainable urban future will be fraught. Here major challenges to social researchers lies in trying to understand better ‘ what constitutes sustainability – ie what are we trying to sustain – what we have or some different future. If so what are the social, political and economic challenges here. The Habitat agenda here needs to engage with Agenda 21.

The generation of indices of sustainabiilty and unsustainability could be a major step forward.

b) The building of improved linkages between researchers (social and environmental) policy makers and NGOs. In New Zealand over the last two years we have developed two workshops which have attempted to bring these groups together in a greater dialogue. These have been organised around Urban Sustainability (1998) and Forging Links- Social and Environmental Sustainability (1999). Report from these are available (New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO).


Professor David C Thorns Department of Sociology University of Canterbury Private Bag 4800 Christchurch New Zealand

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Last changed: March 13, 2002