Professor David Sanderson – Building Resilience into our Cities

Professor David Sanderson specialises in urban disaster, urban resilience and humanitarian aid. We hear almost on a daily basis about a disaster going on somewhere in the world, David weighs in on why we are seeing so much of this happening and what actually constitutes a disaster. He also talks about the role of aid and what actually is effective humanitarian aid, and how our environment directly influences our health.

Professor David Sanderson – Building Resilience into our Cities Introduction

Living in the city. Well, it’s a fact of life for many of us and how comfortable we are in it is also important to our health and the health of the planet. There are many factors about city life which have the potential to cause stresses and strains from life in the city even at the best of times. But what about when disaster hits an urban environment? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities? My guest today is Professor David Sanderson who has specialised in urban disaster, urban resilience, and humanitarian aid.

And we’re so often confronted in our news with disasters. It seems that it’s a nightly event and my conversation with David raises some of those drivers for those supposed natural disasters. He’ll challenge that concept and some of the challenges and guiding principles in delivering meaningful aid.

David has over 25 years’ experience working across the world in development and emergencies. He’s worked as project manager at the Oxford Centre for Disaster Studies in the early 90s. Then for eight years with the NGO Care International UK as head of policy and then with CARE as regional manager for Southern and West Africa.

From 2006 to 2013 David was Director of the Centre of Oxford Brookes University focusing on development and emergencies. Between 2013 and 14 he was a full-time visiting professor at Harvard University where he taught a course “Design For Urban Disaster”. And from 2014 and 15 was at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. In 2016 Australia was fortunate enough to have David appointed to a chair of architecture at the University of New South Wales – UNSW.

So, when it comes to humanitarian aid in urban settings and the lessons we can learn from it David is well qualified. I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Professor David Sanderson.

Podcast Transcript

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Hello and welcome to “Unstress” where we explore what stresses us as individuals and the planet the two as we know are inseparable. I’m Dr. Ron Ehrlich.

Living in the city. Well, it’s a fact of life for many of us and how comfortable we are in it is also important to our health and the health of the planet. There are many factors about city life which have the potential to cause stresses and strains from life in the city even at the best of times. But what about when disaster hits an urban environment? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities? My guest today is Professor David Sanderson who has specialised in urban disaster, urban resilience, and humanitarian aid.

And we’re so often confronted in our news with disasters. It seems that it’s a nightly event and my conversation with David raises some of those drivers for those supposed natural disasters. He’ll challenge that concept and some of the challenges and guiding principles in delivering meaningful aid.

David has over 25 years’ experience working across the world in development and emergencies. He’s worked as project manager at the Oxford Centre for Disaster Studies in the early 90s. Then for eight years with the NGO Care International UK as head of policy and then with CARE as regional manager for Southern and West Africa.

From 2006 to 2013 David was Director of the Centre of Oxford Brookes University focusing on development and emergencies. Between 2013 and 14 he was a full-time visiting professor at Harvard University where he taught a course “Design For Urban Disaster”. And from 2014 and 15 was at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. In 2016 Australia was fortunate enough to have David appointed to a chair of architecture at the University of New South Wales – UNSW.

So, when it comes to humanitarian aid in urban settings and the lessons we can learn from it David is well qualified. I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Professor David Sanderson. Welcome to the show David.

David Sanderson: Thank you, Ron, very nice to be here.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: David you are in the University of New South Wales School of built environment which I think used to be called architecture, but your journey is a varied one. I wonder if you could just share with our listener that journey part of that journey.

David Sanderson: Well, I’ve been involved in the built environment I suppose for going on 30 years I trained as an architect but in the very early 1990s fell into the aid world doing a course on development and emergencies mostly in poorer countries, in Africa and Asia and Latin America was my first experience and I’ve been working in that ever since.

And so, I worked for nearly 15 years in operational organisations and like many people in that world got very tired and took extended sick leave. And dozen or so years ago I entered into academia in the UK and then worked in a number of places, moved to America and then to Norway and I’m extremely happy to say, the last two years living in Sydney Australia with UNSW.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Fantastic and welcome to the country. I’m sure there have been many official welcomes but let this be another one.

David Sanderson: Well thank you, it’s a huge privilege first to be here.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Now you mentioned I mean the architecture connection to aid work is a very interesting one because we always think of architecture as designing wonderful houses and I guess it’s a reflection on the society in which we’re living but you took that skill into aid work. How did that work?

David Sanderson: What a great question.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Thank you I’ve been practising.

David Sanderson: Its serendipity is that reality of that a right place the right time or something to say the wrong place at the wrong time. I was doing my architecture and I’d done seven years and you do two courses now that I’d love that and I’d worked in London and practice as the most junior of the most junior but loved it. I did a new course with a fellow from the US who moved to the UK and he really challenged what it means for architects working in the built environment.

So, of course, the built environment needs architects, engineers, builders, surveyors, all those people being involved in that and that works and if you like that the formal parts of most of the cities.

And then, of course, there are a huge number of people living in informal areas that’s not a small number. It’s nearly 1 billion people around the world mostly in poor countries living in informal settlements or what some people call squatter settlements, although that seems unpleasant praise. And the challenge from the fella who’s leading the course was what are the skills it takes to work in that and most people, a lot of people living in informal areas when they come across professionals so-called and the authorities is when they come to evict them forcibly and sometimes violently or push people off.

And so, it takes a long time to unlearn a lot of the important skills that architects are taught for working in the formal sector because the informal sector it’s often the opposite. You’re taught to listen, not to tell if you like, to realise that complexity is what happens, that you won’t understand, that whatever it is won’t work, that frankly corruption and mismanagement are rife and so how do you work in that? If the tools you have been assuming the systems around you work? What if none of them work?

And so, that’s the big challenge and so the summary that is architects have a careful and clear and important role but working in places like that and also in places where there are disasters, I guess we’ll come on to that, they often need different skills or complementary skills I suppose.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: And you mentioned burnout which I can just imagine in any humanitarian aid disaster area. I mean I’m in awe of those people that put themselves out there to help in these situations, but you mentioned burnout I imagine that is a major problem?

David Sanderson: Yes, I think it is, my own personal story was it was a dosing of that after some years running around not in emergency settings too much, but actually in development but yes, a lot of colleagues I work with who have been through terrible things who were the worst of what you can imagine. And then some and I used to run a course in the UK and it was for practitioners.

And each year we’d have among that cohort two or three people and I have a very, very strong memory of that person whose eyes staring gaze and may have come actually into academia in midlife in order to actually process traumatic events of especially conflict of course in violent situations. And yes, yes, not an unusual thing I think.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: And of course, your own journey into academia?

David Sanderson: Yes, yes, yes, I was 15 years non-stop traveling and that’s a privilege that’s not a… of course it’s not but after a certain amount of time. I mean, of course, I was based in southern Africa rest covering 11 countries three of which were the poorest in the world at that time in the early 2000s.

And I mean, of course, I was running around coming and going so I wouldn’t claim for a microsecond to be on the front line of these things but yes, I suppose things accumulate in anybody’s minds and souls I suppose. I was fortunate to be able to spend a few months at home and getting support if you like and that’s when I fell into academia. So, maybe that was a good training.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Now let’s just talk about disasters because we hear almost on a daily basis the disaster going on somewhere in the world. I mean apart from the obvious that it’s the media that are pushing this but they’re real events and they’re happening. Why are we seeing so much of this happening now and actually what constitutes a disaster?

David Sanderson: Great question.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Go on. No, but these are obviously very serious questions.

David Sanderson: Number of thoughts on that this brings to mind is you’re right there is a lot going on right now, unfortunately. There are there are more people in more dangerous places with more things happen in climate change is a reality, city growth around the world is you might not believe this but over a million people per week. A million people.

A week for a lot of those people as people living in dangerous places a lot of cities are in low-lying areas of course and with sea level rises and increased flooding. There are more disasters like that. Landslides. The heat of course is a terrible thing and not least, you know the experience in Australia of course with real severe heat which is only increasing, and all the projections are they will continue to increase.

And of course, we see on the other side of things humanitarian responses to conflict and violence I hope I don’t sound like doomsday because I’m actually not that. There has been a decline in some conflicts in recent years although they are slightly on the incline again this time it’s more people in more dangerous places but of course there’s no such thing as a natural disaster, a natural phenomenon like an earthquake or a tsunami or whatever might trigger a disaster, but you need people in the wrong place and also at the wrong time.

And what underpins a lot of this actually is corruption. The correlation between corruption and disasters is established and very obviously it’s people being in buildings that are poorly designed, or they’ve been short-changed on the cement mortar mix and they fall down. And we see that in a number of poor corrupt countries around the world.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: You know, it’s interesting you should mention that because of course in the UK itself in the middle of the city of London in a very affluent place there was this Grenfell tower disaster and one could argue that corruption or lack of regulation was responsible in a very graphic way for the death of those people. So, if we needed a reminder of what was possible that was one very stark reminder, wasn’t it?

David Sanderson: Yes and the inquiry into that began a few weeks ago I think, and it was either 72 or 73 people who died what was the most horrendous tragedy. It was the worst post-war tragedy there’s been in the UK that’s been 150 years ago running point, but this was a terrible one and it’s to be found out what happened but certainly the recladding of the building and materials that were substandard in which caught fire the way they should not have done is an established given the fact already.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Of course, that’s going on globally in a lot of countries developing countries not just developing countries clearly and that’s a big factor. Corruption is not just climate change corruption.

David Sanderson: There is absolute correlation and if you look at the work of transparency international they call it the corruption perception index if you look at the poorest countries and you align those all the most corrupt I should say and align those with natural phenomenon the disasters were so tragic for example is Haiti where well who really knows it’s actually between 49 and 220,000 people no one actually knows died in what was a terrible disaster earthquake in 2010. A similar well a much bigger earthquake in fact which was slightly fewer people whatever which were a bit deeper excuse me in Chile killed 700 people still a disaster still the tragedy. But the correlation is there I’m afraid.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Should we be like you’re saying that it’s not just… I mean the natural event isn’t an unnatural event it’s the fact that people are in the wrong place. There’s a problem there with our urban planning there.

David Sanderson: I think there is. Yeah and in cities around the world of it overwhelmed as I say city growth a million people a week and that’s mostly people being born in cities. But also, migration informal settlements nearly a billion people that I think I mentioned. One agency of the UN thinks there might be 2 billion how you even get tools that are responsive and quick and nimble in situations like that. It is an enormous challenge for planners for the policy and decision makers. It’s a huge challenge.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: There seem to be so many organisations involved in providing aid. What is there a sort of world standard protocol for dealing with the disaster like, you know, disaster occurs this is the protocol we should be following? Is there some kind of a standard or is it very ad hoc how does it work?

David Sanderson: It’s emerging. I think it things are pretty advanced is there without getting to sort of techie there’s a system called the cluster system organised by mostly the UN in fact but the Red Cross as well. It’s a very simple idea a disaster happens and often you’re flooded with external aid organisations.

And so, they need to coordinate first and foremost with local and national governments because it’s their disaster and be subservient to them because that’s how it should be. Often that doesn’t play out very well but there are tremendous efforts to make that better and then there are different systems and approaches there’s well one called the standard of minimum responsive standards.

So, it may look chaotic an ad hoc but there’s a lot of effort but if you imagine these disasters happening some of the poorest parts the world where things fall down and it’s not like it worked well beforehand, it’s understandable it might look chaotic. So, there’s a lot of work in that area and I think everybody involved in it would acknowledge there’s still a lot more to do.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: What constitutes effective humanitarian aid?

David Sanderson: I think what my answer to that is that people themselves at the receiving end of this is felt as though they’ve been heard and supported. Of course, there are metrics of life-saving obviously and recovery around buildings and the rest you know what dignity is a word that often gets to forgotten in the rush to help and don’t just take my word for it there’s a very famous report called ‘Time to Listen’ by Mary Anderson is free online.

And Mary Anderson and her team five-six years ago interviewed about 6,000 people you and I and others have feel better caught up in disasters around the world. And it was what was your experience of the aid response. And a lot of it is of course very good, of course you know thank you it’s very good but then so much more needs to be done. And you know the summary is listening and time to listen is a good summary. We get quick at responding and we forget to listen enough to go at the pace of people. People are helpless victims people are survivors and that might seem obvious but that’s actually really important.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: I mean this is interesting to hear you say listen because in the health sphere a patient-centred approach to health care very much involves listening to the patient and here we are in the built environment in the urban environment having to listen because sometimes we make assumptions about what people need and may not always be the case.

David Sanderson: Exactly and that’s the challenge and I think the ADA will draw a lot from the medical world there’s another one do you no harm. I think I could be wrong.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: No that’s a good one. That’s still holding up.

David Sanderson: Reduce the capacity to do harm again, you know, thinking we know the answers and sorry to say there are plenty examples where well, yeah, harm has been done by either wasting money or just getting it wrong. A classic one is sheltered in fact you mentioned the built environments where the assumption after a disaster is people need houses to live in and well of course they do but then how you do that?

Do you provide flat-pack things that you’ll fly across the world a great cost or do you provide money to allow local builders and pay local builders to use local materials? Of course, it needs to be the second one we have an aid system that is still designed for the first one and that often is really inappropriate.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: It’s kind of a very paternalistic approach to aid.

David Sanderson: I think it is. The helpless victim thing and I think yeah, I mean you know it if you think I mean for example think of the word Africa for that and for their starving and you might conjure up in your mind media images of children, in terrible stages of life and aid agencies are blame to that the media to blame for that.

One would hope things are better now, but you know what? I’m not sure they are about 20 years ago there’s a lot of push to not use images like that but now they seem to be back I mean I think it’s no surprise that by and large there is a paternalistic, a view hopefully out changes the social media the globalised world around when it comes to communications on the internet.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: The aid that is given, when we look at it at home how should we be reacting to that in our, you know, as we sit, and we look at these stories and you’ve been out there, and you’ve been involved. If we had a message for our listener you know who’s viewing this disaster and being asked to participate, what is the best aid?

David Sanderson: Well the definition of disaster if you’re overwhelmed so you need outside support. And this is extraordinary there’s something in human nature and humanity to support and help people and especially for those we might not know and that’s an extraordinary capacity I think human beings have I suppose I’ll be stating the obvious to say that it’s money and it’s money to good organisations with a good track record.

And often those are the ones that are less good at the media and I’m not knocking those who use the media well because that’s what we’re doing you know, good for them. But those who I mean the biggest thing right now is probably giving people money rather than goods so it’s called giving people cash it’s rather obvious so after a disaster would you rather be given something other people think you want or would you rather be given the money to choose what you want, do you want food or do you want to pay for your life-saving operation for your daughter? So, for me, it’s the second. I think for almost everybody it’s the second that’s hard to photograph hard to see.

So, I suppose my thought on that is aids can be one step away from the obvious and more effective and that’s the hard story to tell when you’re telling people you know, who are busy it may not have time to understand that.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Because I heard you use the term fatigue. You know disaster fatigue or aid fatigue where we’re being asked constantly. It’s interesting to see so many refugee crises is another one that’s going on that appears to be it at its worst ever. Is that its historical terms is that the case do you think that?

David Sanderson: Certainly, since World War two it’s the biggest number, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR thinks it’s something like 66 million it’s probably more than that so more than world war two was since the biggest since World War 2. So, it is enormous and yes fatigue of course because people give money or support to agencies and think well and it should be fixed now I remember well, it should be fixed now I remember was a teenager watching live made in 1984 thinking well the Ethiopia sorted now because this great outpouring of love and giving.

And of course, sad to say it wasn’t because the issues are systemic and of course the refugee movements are seeing right now because that awful man and his crowd is in charge in Syria primarily but also the terrible things happening in Yemen and you know different well a number of countries Central African Republic, Democratic Republic Hungary. You name it. So, not a lot going on which comes down to terrible leaders to corruption to come back to that and desktops in power place. So, yes, the refugee things are really attractively complicated.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: And it seems a very frustrating one too because almost concurrent with that is this rise of nationalism. We’re protecting our borders we hear it in Australia and it’s awful but there we are we hear it and of course in America now too. You know where is that what is the answer to this? I mean, we on the cusp of an enlightened period it doesn’t seem like it at the moment.

David Sanderson: I know I couldn’t agree more. I was listening to someone the other day talking about these thoughts thinking that it’s a good idea now to reassert national interests such as the Trump examples recently versus the idea of us being more collaborative. I suppose the post-world War II consensus and I’m from Britain so the whole European thing. Well, there has been of course the Balkan wars in the 1990s but apart from that, not a major war in a part of the world that’s been endlessly centuries if not millennia who knows at least centuries. So, I share your viewing.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: But when we have a disaster and aid is given and if it’s given well it’s an opportunity too, isn’t it? An opportunity for change.

David Sanderson: Cool it really is and you know what the number of poor people around the world has dropped massively in the last 30 years. Now it’s not the case that it is attributed to aid it’s actually most of the growth of the middle class in China and that’s something to celebrate. So, poverty closely linked to aid and disasters because almost always the poorest people are most vulnerable. Not always but very often so that’s the link to disasters and conflict.

There has been a lot of good news actually. I mean I suppose I’m sounding especially gloomy I don’t mean to but there is a lot that can be done. There’s a lot of activity this idea of giving people money has been very powerful and there’s, of course, an awful lot of systemic change. Also, good governance if you like. You know better and stronger government better and stronger accountability there have been fewer conflicts a great outbreak of democracy if you seemed if you think that’s a good thing in Africa sub-Saharan Africa and an awful lot less conflict in that part of the world. So, there’s not a lot of good news that’s been happening actually in recent decades.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yeah. When those things change when we reflect back on that in our own society in the UK, in Australia, what are the lessons we can learn from those disasters? I mean I guess corruptions one of them, isn’t it?

David Sanderson: I think so it’s the underlying issues toward transfer, I mean its politics. It is the transparent government, it’s accountable leadership, it’s as a functioning democracy where governments are held to account by what we call civil society by individuals and organisations held in tension and media. There’s transparent where fake news is seen for what it is, fake news and then we listen more to people we don’t agree with. I’m stating the sort of obvious is obvious things of society, but all the evidence is a stronger clear and transparent society is a less disaster-prone one. And of course, one when a conflict is a much less risk for breaking out.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: What are the things that you’re doing now in the Department of the built environment? What are you teaching at you at the University now?

David Sanderson: Yeah well, a few things doing some research in bits and bobs for architects, in fact, we’re running, me and my colleague and Mark Cebiche who runs his own practice, we’re running a studio called Resilient Neighbourhoods and we’re working with Wayside Chapel based in Sydney and they’re based in Kings Cross of course with a long history of working in that area. They are thinking to work in Bondi and in fact, are already there and we’ve been very lucky that they said to us can you help us rethink the use of some buildings that we have there.

And so, we have 37 final year architect students so people in their fifth year who are working with us for the whole year, the whole of their final year around how can you engage people who are often more marginalised in society? Now Bondi is, you know, good for Bondi not particularly poor area which is great and yet there are always people who are more vulnerable there who may be elderly or differently-abled or whatever it might be or passing through or homeless, some people choose to call people like that or addictive in some way.

How does society work in engaging? The studio we’re running is we hope to complement traditional architecture skills with a skill set around enquiring, about listening, about engaging, about not rushing to the design, about spending time asking the questions and actually putting people who may not always be heard in the center of a design process.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Because I think one of the things that have often been said in architecture is that you know, is the architect expressing himself or is it the architect expressing the client’s needs? And that’s a tension that must go on all the time between. I haven’t worked with a lot of architects in my life, but I imagine that’s a tension that goes on.

David Sanderson: I think it can be. I mean it used to be in times gone by that I’m probably speaking my own experience but as a long time ago in another country. The summary is you are taught to defend why you’re right and to see yourself as the great artist. And of course, architecture has an art to it of course it is, it’s an art based discipline, many would say design based but I think their lessons have long been learned that good architects, good architecture engage people, listen and understand to have an empathy to it and design great stuff.

Certainly, there’s this strand I’m involved in within our faculty called Social Agency and it cuts across all the strands I should say but Social Agency, in particular, seeks to listen and to hear and design based on that. But I think that defines good architects now, one would hope this gone off, you know, from the what some people call the starchitect. Maybe they have a real society where they should be over the small minority, especially driven people.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Well it’s interesting to hear the UNSW. You know I’m sure I know this happened many quite a few years ago referring to it as the built environment now rather than architecture and I think that’s a very interesting choice of terms isn’t it?

David Sanderson: I think so. It cuts across a number of disciplines so this landscape architecture, engineering and others and I think is the recognition that good built environments are a combination and different people engaging in different ways to make something that’s more than the sum of the parts. And that’s got to be our futures with cities growing as they are so we have a bit equals city futures and that’s all about understanding what they call smart cities that anyone can get to work in time. You know not sitting in four hours of traffic but actually can move quicker.

So, things like that I think that there’s a lot to be done to improve our cities especially given the world now is mostly urban and it’s going to be way more open in the next thirty years.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yes, you mentioned that trend. Can you share that with our listener I mean I think you said something like go on you tell us 2025?

David Sanderson: Yes it’s well it’s beyond imagining it says city growth may I check this very frequently the UN world prospects 2018 citizen impact by something like 1.4 million people who accept more than I said it’s something like two hundred thousand people a day and that’s people mostly in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa who have been born into cities. That actually reflects very good news that a lot of people who would have died only even a few years ago decades ago and now not dying in childbirth.

And so, we’re seeing a demographic growth it where what the world’s 7.2 billion right now something like that it’s almost there’ll be going to be something like 9.6 billion certainly long before the end of the century. The vast majority that will be taking place in cities and towns and you can take the view whether you think that’s a really good thing a really bad thing and I think it’s well I do you know I think it’s certainly more good than bad the fact that people are dying and the cities are hubs of growth and Industry and Commerce and competition and life and vibrancy where democracy takes place where people listen to each other.

Now, of course, there are downsides relating to production and food and the rest, but what humanity has always risen to the challenge of population growth at times where I thought it wasn’t going to. There’s no reason to think it won’t but you know it is a grand challenge if you like which is in fact what UNSW is looking at the next few years a grand challenging in urbanisation to think about how we tackle these things in a joined-up way.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Well, the step up from that is really the instance of population growth. That has all sorts of challenges to it too, doesn’t it?

David Sanderson: Certainly, does and in fact, density is a good thing because it’s more efficient a greenhouse gases are reduced of course movements of people are reduced which is a good thing. So, good cities many people would argue are thought to be density to avoid the sprawl that you might see in a lot of North American cities for example you know that sort of go on forever because then you rely there on cars and vehicles and then that’s extremely inefficient and bad for the environment. So, dense cities are good city’s. The question of how dense they can get I mean I think remains to be seen actually.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Londons an interesting case in point isn’t it? Because as you fly in and out of London you see a very dense population and a terrific public transport system. And health-wise that has a very big impact on people’s health doesn’t it? The time-traveled.

David Sanderson: Yes, it really does for me. Yes, for medical people who know far better but the idea of total exhaustion through the commute absolutely. Yes, there’s London, then you take a city like Dhaka capital of Bangladesh which is just a phenomenon 27 million people, it’s something like that expected to grow even more vast numbers of low-income people sprawling and dense congested to go to miles when I take you 2 hours in the vehicle. You know cities like that Manila or I choose you, you know, to choose your busy city of choice. It’s a big stressor so yes.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Is there a city that you would hold out as a good example?

David Sanderson: You’ve got me there.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: London? London doesn’t fit into that?

David Sanderson: I suppose I declare a bias though.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: I mean I’ve always been so impressed by how quickly you can get around this incredibly busy and big city.

David Sanderson: I think so. I think any city with good, good public transport systems and there has to be that. And it’s funny since you mentioned that doing a studio in these last few years here at UNSW an assumption with students that you build car parks. And I think any future and current thinking about cities in new buildings is don’t build car parks because of its field of dream stuff. If you remember the Kevin Costner movie if you build it they will come and we don’t want to build that. You mentioned London the infamous n-25.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yes, not a good example.

David Sanderson: The biggest car park.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yes, yes, I’ve been stuck on it too.

David Sanderson: Yes, me too. So, building public as of course is happening right now in Sydney with building the light rail that that has to be the future of us giving up our vehicles and public transport. It’s we have no choice, many would argue, and I think they’re right around movements of people we need to give our cars up.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Well, I think this whole ride share and uber and all this is and maybe even the AI of over driverless cars will allow us not to own one just pick one up and call one and it’ll come.

David Sanderson: You would have thought so.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Just before we go I just wanted to ask you take a step back from your role in architecture in the built environment there and in humanitarian aid, we’re all on a journey human journey through life and what do you think the biggest challenges for people on their journey through life as they try to balance their health out?

The Biggest Health Challenge

David Sanderson: Well, goodness speaking as someone who’s ill-equipped.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: We’re all on that journey. What do you think your biggest challenge is?

David Sanderson: My biggest challenge. I hope not to be sidestepping your question but if it was the biggest challenge if I could just jump in I think and then hopefully maybe come to the second one. I think that word dignity you know, for me that’s the recurring theme I’ve been involved in aid for twenty years now and where it works there are dignity and respect and listening.

And where it doesn’t there’s not and people may be well-intended but assume what others what we were talking about you mentioned not about patronizing approaches. Well, intended but wrong and I think there’s a lot around that one word that I think I think we easily forget it in the rush to do something important for others and then we trample over what actually really matters.

So, I think listening. I hope a challenge for me is that I might learn that listening skill because you know we’re busy and rushed and all of us are busy all of us got stuff on time and listening and dignity I mean I think that’s a big one.

Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Thank you so much for joining me today. That’s been it’s been terrific to talk to you.

David Sanderson: Well, thank you. What a privilege and thank you very much, Ron.


Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Because urban life is a fact of life for so many of us and with it comes some real challenges this is a theme I’d like to explore more in the coming weeks and months. It’s a bit like home biology. How does your home environment challenge us or for that matter make us better? Challenge our health? It’s surprising the factors that are involved in home biology. I think the issues in the urban environment are equally if not more challenging. And let’s face it 1 million people per week moving into cities around the globe. This is clearly an important issue particularly with the refugee crisis going on globally and the way refugees are treated and greeted.

There are some recurring themes that cut across all of our subjects whether we’re talking about health whether we’re talking about urban health home biology whether we’re talking about gut health mental health. Words like synergy and collaboration come to mind.

I mean billions of years ago a single-cell organism came together to form multi-cell organisms and developed in what we see around us today. I mean the next time you look in the mirror think about that and think about what great things have been achieved with synergy and collaboration. That’s the 50 trillion cells that make up the human body and add to that the 500 trillion cells that also occupy this body of ours.

I think they are too powerful words that the people communities and countries could aspire to and think what we could achieve if we really all focused on synergy and collaboration. I think other words that David used which I found really relevant as a health practitioner was listening, respect, and dignity. He used that in the context of delivering aid but they’re words that resonate with any health practitioner delivering advice to a patient.

So, there are messages that cut across urban challenges and humanitarian aid which bring us back to our own urban environments. The importance of transparency and better governments. Hey, they’re all concepts we could all subscribe to. Urban issue is a theme we are definitely going to be revisiting in the weeks and months ahead. So, until next time this is Dr. Ron Ehrlich. Be well.


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