It took two years!
I am so excited to have been able to play a major role in bringing the Sustainability Street Approach within the reach of every iPad on the planet!
“But what do you have do with Sustainability Street, Ian?” I hear you ask …
Well. It changed who I am. And it might just do the same for you. After you download it of course :-)
In 2002 I was an environmental engineer with two years of work in the fields of waste reduction and cleaner production under my belt. I was standing, unemployed, next to a pile of recycled timber in Coburg when Francis Fitzgerald Ryan (Frank) founder of Vox Bandicoot appeared next to me. The very next week I started work at Vox Bandicoot and began five years of following Frank, learning like a sponge.
The Vox put me face to face with 20,000 people. We delivered the famous theatre program to 10,000 people at schools and festivals. We delivered workplace culture change training to 6000 people in manufacturing and local government. I wrote interpretation, developed theatre scripts, state government education curriculum, published picture story books, was MC for state government environmental awards ceremonies, launched a hundred local government programs, worked in three states, managed staff and helped manage the business all the while going through a personal learning journey and transformation like no other.
And all I had to do was follow Frank around.
Frank would say goodbye to twenty people at the end of a workshop by name when he’d met them only two hours before. He would connect on a beautiful emotional level with them all. Through Vox Bandicoot he enabled people to reconnect deeply with the earth and all it’s wonders. Frank is a perfectionist and a clown and a poet and educator like no other. He taught me the power of now, the power of relationships, the power of the spoken word and the power of the whoopee cushion - the power of laughter and fun. And all the while the message was the same: we need to fundamentally change our relationship with the earth.
Just before I started at Vox Bandicoot, Geraldine Doogue from Radio National had bought Robert Putnam the sociologist to Australia with his book ‘Bowling Alone’. In it, he talks about the 21st century need to create new ways of coming together as communities; how we need a new era of civic invention. For Frank, it sparked a synthesis of his 20 years of environmental education with his sociology background and his deep passion for bringing people together. Sustainability Street was born.
My task that first week at Vox Bandicoot was to find some money to add to a $3000 City of Moreland grant. That grant had been made based on a powerful seven words from Frank: “Sustainability Street - It’s a village out there.” Not a jungle!
So we potted around and found $24,000 to add to the original grant. We found two “streets” in Coburg to be the first Sustainability Streets and then worked with them for 18 months.
By the time I left the Vox in 2006 to set up Live ecoLogical I had worked with 150 Sustainability Street villages across Melbourne and Sydney. I am fortunate to have been a part of one the most successful and profound environmental education programs ever created. I’m not sure that any other program has ever matched Sustainability Street in the university confirmed 30% reductions in water, waste and energy achieved across the board. The incredible leap in social cohesion, capacity and wellbeing that Sustainability Streets also achieve amongst participants would be hard to match too.
But for me, it is the intangibles that were the real highlights. As I sat in lounge rooms, bus shelters, back yards, cafes, parks and community halls I witnessed the first slightly anxious and awkward coming together of strangers meeting people in their local places. They might have met previously if a tree had fallen on the road or seen each other once when a cat was stuck in a drain; or spoken briefly at an auction. Now they were sharing tea, cake, wine and veggies. They were laughing and planning and dreaming and learning together. They were becoming comfortable to let their kids walk down the street without an adult. They were digging together and joining a local carbon choir and presenting on the radio and changing their careers and swapping recipes. They were installing solar, buying bikes, setting up street notice boards and planting the nature strips. They were supporting each other through personal tragedies and watching one another’s homes when holidays came round. They were carpooling, swapping worm farming tips, holding eco film evenings and becoming friends. They were getting frustrated at the trials of incorporating so that their community garden could begin. In some cases blood pressure returned to normal, bad backs disappeared and depression reduced. They felt wonderful.
And I felt wonderful. I learnt how to be a ‘Guide Beside’ rather than a ‘Sage on Stage’ as Frank taught. I learnt how to encourage a community to emerge and learnt how and when to butt out and let them to blossom into who they are themselves. I saw the long term power of local people doing it for themselves over the fence. Sustainability Street is driven by and thrives upon the people involved. I saw people of every political persuasion working together, having fun together, planning together and celebrating together. I realised that the big political ideologies are just spin and shadows, and I now know that there is a way to move beyond them. I learnt that all of us, at a deeply human level, want to look after each other and want to look after the earth.
Sustainability Street was created and authored and guided by Frank Ryan. It is now so much a part of me, my work, my community life and my spirit that I have no idea what’s me and what’s Sustainability Street anymore.
A few years ago I pitched the idea of a Sustainability Street iBook to Frank and he was excited. Since then we have been plotting and planning, writing and creating, editing, animating and video recording our way to publishing our first iBook. Frank as the author, and myself as publisher and editor.
It’s now in the iBookstore and anyone with an iPad and a spare $10 can download it, immerse themselves in it and then knock on the friendliest neighbour’s door and begin the journey. At it’s simplest, you will reduce water, waste and energy together. At it’s most complex it will change who you are. At it’s most meaningful is the knowledge that all change begins at the most local level - if enough Sustainability Street Villages form around the world …
I’m a little bit proud of our iBook and I’m very happy for Frank as he deserves to be recognised for his amazing life’s work. I’m so excited to think about communities everywhere learning from the Sustainability Street iBook to set up their own streets or to use it to inform and enhance their existing community sustainability programs.
I can just see the smiles as they create the future together …