Everyone seemed to agree that “sustainability” has become over-used and often creates a negative reaction to many, so looking at things in new ways is increasingly important. Cutler said, “Sitting in a room figuring out how to get a bus from Point A to Point B is no longer the way. We need to be relevant to our customers nad what Congress wants, because they hold the purse strings.
“We need to think of ourselves as providers in a different way.”
One of those ways is the health-obesity-transit connection. Cutler said the city has been looking at their food deserts — where there aren’t any grocery stores in the neighborhood, and they saw people were going to corner convenience stores and getting less healthy options than fresh produce.
Burnfield said, “Sustainability is about relevancy going forward. Transit needs to prove it has an important role to play …” and he explained why SEPTA has a role in farmers markets.
With the access to healthy food issue that the city was facing, it is an issue that is critical to the sustainability to the region. “Farmers markets at our stations provides an opportunity to our neighborhoods to have access to fresh, good produce.” He stressed, “We make those transit hubs important.”
Rephrasing the Conversation
As a concept, sustainability is a framework for their long-range planning, Seymour said. As the MPO, he said they look at the environmental resources of the region and how they can provide social equity: access for everybody.
When talking out in communities he stressed how words are really important. Five years ago they did a lot of work looking at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but now, he explained, they talk about “energy savings” and “reducing costs.”
“It’s the same results down the line,” he explained, “but you’re selling it on their self-interest. Choice of language is very important.”
Cutler said they found through research while most people are supportive of the pieces of what they want to accomplish, they hate the word “sustainability” because they think of “Big Brother”-like government.
With 350 local governments in his region, Seymour provided some thoughts on how he works at getting buy-in for what they do. “Their world view is that local community.”
Cutler added, “All politics are local. You need to make it relevant at the local level.
“You have to engage in a conversation with your stakeholders and community. If you’re not providing with what they’re looking for, you’ll never be successful.”
Everyone agreed that the politics of transportation has become political and it’s become a part of the partisan “big government” vs. “small government.”
Cutler said NIMBY was the first time someone looked at that and it was the general thought, “I don’t want people who take buses to come into my community.” The next generation of that while she was on the West coast, she said, is BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing, And Near Anybody. Coming back East, it was NOPE: Not On Planet Earth and she ended with, “It’s sad to say there’s now CAVE: Citizens Against Virtually Anything.”