Time for cities to take the lead

11th October 2012 by

What a summer! The last time we checked in we were at the UN Rio+20 Earth Summit, tracking the negotiations around green jobs and green economy alongside the Adopt a Negotiator project. Since then, we have been schlepping around speaking to think tanks, councils, businesses, and even the Greater London Authority Economy Committee to share what we learnt from that experience.

What did we learn at Rio+20? That nation states are not up to the job of ensuring we make the transition to a green economy. The message we took away was that it’s time for cities to take the lead.

Nation states are not going to sort this out

Rio+20 was, in short, a total bungle. World leaders came, and world leaders went, but they were rarely in a room at the same time and, when they were, there was very little negotiating going on. Instead, what we saw was a race to the bottom, where countries took a fairly ambitious starting text and then deleted so much from it that what we were left with were the lowest common denominators.

This is what Nick Clegg said to the House of Commons after the summit, on June 26:

First, while the Rio Declaration was not all that we would have wanted, this was the first time a multilateral document expressing such strong support for the green economy has been agreed. That in itself is a major achievement, recognising that in the long term greening our economies should not conflict with growing them.

And this is the key paragraph from the Rio+20 “Future We Want” outcome document, relating to green economy:

56. In this regard, we consider green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication as one of the important tools available for achieving sustainable development and that it could provide options for policymaking but should not be a rigid set of rules. We emphasize that it should contribute to eradicating poverty as well as sustained economic growth, enhancing social inclusion, improving human welfare and creating opportunities for employment and decent work for all, while maintaining the healthy functioning of the Earth’s ecosystems. 

To be honest, it is not necessary to read through these paragraphs in full. You need only take note of the words I have made bold. Support, consider, emphasize. What is clearly missing, is action.

The role of cities

So, if nation states won’t step forward and take action, who will? This is whatICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability have to say on the subject:

Do cities have to step in where governments are failing to take effective action? Cities are cooperating internationally without borders, without customs, without military forces. They can address the issues of the future without the global power play that we see going on at intergovernmental level.

There are already examples where cities can claim much success as leaders of sustainable development. After the first Rio summit twenty years ago, Heads of States and Governments adopted Agenda 21, a ‘blueprint’ for sustainable development. All these years later, however, few countries can demonstrate a national success story of having implemented this agenda. It is Local Agenda 21, spearheaded by local governments that may be regarded as a global success story of moving towards sustainability.

It’s happening

As 10:10 have highlighted this week, the shift to a green economy is already happening. Solar panels are being installed, insulation laid out, bikes being taken out of the shed. And cities are taking the lead and stepping up to the plate.

Here, in London, there are so many projects out there showing that this city can do better. The UCU Greener Jobs Alliancethe GLA RE:NEW programme,Rubies in the Rubble – just a few examples of progress being made.

But, we need more action, and faster. That is why we are keeping on keeping on. Bringing people from all over our city together at the next Alliance meeting next week to explore how we can push the green economy agenda further. Let us know if you want an invite.

Significant Others

7th February 2012 by

Millions of couples will celebrate Valentine’s Day next week. Already this poses major issues for me:

1.  Isn’t this just another capital way to spend more money on stuff you don’t need? ie. roses… which in reality are sh*t.

2. On a general basis, there’s an assumption that you only have one heterosexual partner.

3. And is this only a celebration of partners? What about all the single folk? Surely nothing’s wrong with celebrating your singlehood, right?!

So it got me thinking – why not celebrate my love with an alternative celebration? Something a bit quirky, entertaining, and a bit of a challenge.

So I’ve been working on The Significant Other Festival, which aims to do just that.

The Pensive Federation asked seven writers to create a seven-minute play in seven days with the theme of the Significant Other. They handed the scripts over to a director and a company of two actors and gave them seven days to stage it. The result will be performed this weekend – just before Valentine’s Day.

By creating theatre in a confined period of time, they hope to capture what real people think and feel about love and relationships in the 21st century. Through this format, they were able to draw together a company of creative people from different backgrounds, and experience.

Full details and links for the shows at the foot of this post if you’d like to come and see.

Another element which is key to the company’s success are the volunteer participants. From writer to stage manager and even the poster designer, everyone is passionate about the festival and is keen to volunteer their time.

This also opened another door for service exchanging. Calu Lema (superhero Otesha cycle tour co-ordinator) so kindly offered her services to design the poster. This tied in incredibly well to her own blog, which challenges her to take on 12 new tasks for 2012. You can read all about her gift economy ethos as well as how The Pensive Federation poster design was Task number 1.

I leave you with something to chew on:

‘Significant other’ is colloquially used as a gender-blind term for a person’s partner in an intimate relationship without disclosing or presuming anything about marital status, relationship status, or sexual orientation.

So what does the significant other mean to you?

Come and see the show!

Dates: 11 and 12 February
Times: 3pm and 7:30pm daily
Tickets: £7.00
Location: Camden People’s Theatre, 58-60 Hampstead Road, London NW1 2PY

For more details, click here and to purchase tickets click here.

Calling all London bike art lovers!

2nd August 2011 by

If  you’ve been a follower of Otesha for any length of time, it will be no secret that we are kind of obsessed with bicycles, think art is great, and generally love a good party.

So we were super delighted when the crew over at ARTCRANK asked us to be their charitable partner for the second year in a row. ARTCRANK, an affordable art poster party for bike people, happens all around the world and supports local artists in each city – in this case, the exhibit at Look Mum No Hands will feature the work of 24 London-based artists. The opening night party is also generally a really good time. All excellent things, we think you’ll agree. And they’re donating some of their proceeds to support our educational work – even better!

This means that on August 19th, you’ll find us ensconced in the depths of uber-trendy east London, wearing our most fashionable cycle caps & wielding the tongs at an (ethical) BBQ, all in the name of a good cause and a good time. Come join us at the opening night party - whether you’re a high-vis honey, a brompton bomber, a fixie hipster or even a tube traveller, you’re more than welcome!


Activate your money for Living Wages

31st May 2011 by

Guest post by Juliette Daigre from Fair Pensions

When was the last time you contacted your bank? I’m willing to bet it was for something pretty head-ache provoking – finding out why the bank has inexplicably stopped sending you statements, or how some one appears to have been able to use your bank card to buy furniture.

It’s time to make conversations with your bank a whole lot more interesting. When you pop into your local bank branch, do you know how much the cashier is getting paid? What about the security guard or the cleaner? Next time you visit, why not ask them?

Across the country, workers at some of the best-known high street banks struggle to survive on poverty wages. Whilst these banks award their top executives bonuses worth millions of pounds, they continue to employ people – in particular contract workers such as cleaners – on minimum wage, making less in a year than those at the top make every week.

And at a time when Britain is facing massive public service cuts and inflation is on the rise, it is becoming ever more difficult for low paid workers to get by. Despite working several jobs – keeping them away from their family and communities and often at cost to their health – workers still struggle to meet costs for housing, food and other basic needs.

I work for shareholder activism charity FairPensions, and we’re trying to curb the shocking pay gap by pushing for the adoption of Living Wages by some of the UK’s biggest and best known companies – starting with the banks, but we’ve got our sights on some other high-street names too…

You might feel cash-strapped, but the money – no matter how little! – you hold in your bank account gives you real power to influence companies’ behaviour. Banks want you – they want your student overdraft, and most importantly they want your loyalty. And so as their customer, when you speak, they will listen. If together we organise our money by asking banks to pay their workers a Living Wage, we have a real chance to lift families out of the grim reality of working poverty.

Ask your bank to pay Living Wages at: www.activateyourmoney.org

The Cycle Challenge

26th May 2011 by

This month Transport for London are launching the 2011 Cycle Challenge. We’re challenging you to cycle your commute, persuade friends, family and workmates to join and get competitive about your mileage.

You can sign up as a team of friends, a school, workplace, family or even a team of total strangers. There are prizes (and fame I presume) for the teams who clock the most miles. All journeys made by bike between 9am 18 June – 11.59pm 15 July count (including work and leisure, in and out of London).

The Transport for London online calculator tells you how may calories you’ve burnt and how much carbon you’ve saved. You can also watch your progress on real-time leaderboards.

We’ve got a team, surprisingly named ‘Otesha Project‘. If your team beats us we’ll send you a prize (email jo@otesha.org.uk with your team name and we’ll race you up and down the score boards).

Gears and Gastronomy

6th May 2011 by

The much-loved Otesha Wild Food Cycles are back!

The Wild Food Cycle is taking place on the 4th of June from 10.30am to 2.30pm. Join us and you can expect a day in and out of the saddle learning, discovering and eating all the different shades and shapes of wild food that are on offer in London. The ride will end with a communal meal prepared from all the lovely wild food that has been collected throughout the day, and it will be guided by Ceri who runs the Invisible Food Project.

Last year’s wild food cycle

The ride will cost £10 which includes food and drink, with all proceeds going to Otesha and to the Invisible Food Project.

Participants should be comfortable riding on the road and need to bring a bike helmet. If you don’t have your own bike don’t worry – the meeting point is near a Boris bikes stand so you can use a blue bike from the cycle hire scheme instead.

If a Wild Food Cycle sounds like your kind of thing, email james@otesha.org.uk to book your place.

Voice Cafe @ the Bonnington Cafe

26th January 2011 by

For everyone who lives in London or who likes to visit sometime, we cordially invite you to an afternoon tea of cakes, poetry, short stories and plays.

Book a seat at a table and be served by waiters and waitresses who will also perform writings from artists past and present and even from members of the audience!

Where: The Bonnington Cafe, Vauxhall
When: Sunday 20th and Saturday 26th Feb at 3:00pm
Tickets: £5 book at www.virginmoneygiving.com/voicecafe

Please do contribute and send your writings or writings you admire to Thomasin, thomasin_marshall@hotmail.co.uk (or put them in the comments here!)

Mohamed On The Big Screen

24th August 2010 by

In June I took part in a short TFL film that promotes cycling, here is a previous post that I have written during the filming. Last Friday, 20th of August, was the big launch of these short films. I featured in 2 films, that are both on YouTube and the TFL cycle site. One is my personal story and the other is the group video. The group video is also been screened at Cinema’s across the UK before the feature film (during the adverts). This is the video.


Read the rest of this entry »

Banking, bikes & bombs

5th August 2010 by

After so much anticipation it seemed they arrived quite suddenly, this swarm of Barclays branded bicycles. Every day for a week a new rack of docking stations appeared at different points on my route to work. By the weekend people were riding the things. I don’t know why, we’d been talking about London’s new cycle hire scheme for ages, but I was surprised to see people actually using it. I like the scheme, I think it’s a practical transport solution with ambitious aims (to create 40,000 extra cycle trips a day in central London), but I imagined it would take people a little longer to get into the seat of the idea.

What took even less time though, was the subvertising of the scheme. The night before the launch Anti Arms Trade activists covered the bikes with stickers proclaiming Barclays involvement in the global arms trade. There are 6,000 Barclays bikes, almost 4000 of which got stickered with messages about Barclays activities: “INVESTS IN CLUSTER BOMBS. OFFERS LOANS FOR NEW LIMBS” – “DOESN’T GIVE A **** ABOUT YOU” – “£20M INVESTMENT IN BIKES. £7300M INVESTMENT IN BOMBS” – “FUNDING DEPLETED URANIUM BIRTH DEFECTS IN IRAQ” and “INVESTS £7.3 BILLION IN THE ARMS TRADE”.

At the Press launch the following morning Barclays (who along with HSBC and RBS, also invests in the Tar Sands) chairman Magnus Agius had “nothing to say” about the stickers. It might be unfair to ruin Magnus’ big day, but it does raise the question can you do good with bad money?

The bike hire scheme is a great, progressive thing that all big cities should boast. In this era of public funding cuts it would’ve been much harder to achieve without corporate sponsorship. But no other city in the world with similar schemes has taken full sponsorship from one company. The hope is that the stickers will raise awareness of Barclays position not only as the cycle hire sponsor, but also as the largest investor in the arms trade in the world.

Thanks for the 5000 bikes Boris, but we weren't expecting 30,000 cars too

4th August 2010 by

Written by Lewis Merdler, cross-posted from the Client Earth blog (check them out, they’re cool)

If you are one of the 12,000 people who have already signed up to London’s shiny new Barclay’s Cycle Hire scheme I’d recommend a crash helmet is not the only bit of safety gear you invest in. You might want to think about picking up a gas mask too.

As thousands of novice cyclists join their more seasoned two wheeled travellers on the streets of London they are being exposed to a risk from traffic in more ways than one. Road congestion in the city is contributing to some of the worst air pollution levels in Europe, ready and waiting to be breathed in during all that puffing and panting on the saddle. London scores particularly badly on amounts of dangerous particulate matter (PM10) and oxides of Nitrogen (NOX), with levels of both breaching EU air quality laws. Read the rest of this entry »


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