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Communication is the key to translating competition into collaborations

Davina Jackson
Catalyst and Director, D_City, Australia

D_City is promoting the emerging Digital Earth movement, to accelerate applications of post-Google Earth and aerospatial technologies to the challenges of managing our planet’s societies and environments. Its catalyst, Davina Jackson, talks about the importance of media and communications in connecting global intelligence towards eco-smart solutions for cities.

Can you brief us about D_City initiative?

It”s a proposal that was initially discussed among some professors of architecture working in Australia in the early 2000s, to set up a ”national and global digital cities network” of experts collaborating to try to accelerate applications of 21st century technologies to the complex challenges of managing urban environments. We now see the digital cities network as a subset of the GEOSS (global) project that launched in Europe in 2005 (when the D_City project got its first round of Australian funding and when Google Earth was launched in the US).  The trademark D_City has been registered to underpin the media and communications needs of the network. D_City is the brand of a venture to help promote and record timelines of major advances across all the different activities involving digital cities.

The network was launched in 2008. What are the achievements and contributions of this network since the past 5 years, in terms of creating awareness on sustainable development?

The network of participants in Research, Government, Commerce and Commons (citizens and communities) has achieved massive advances in developing solutions for environmental challenges. But these participants are not asked to be ”members” of any organisation called D_City … it is up to D_City the media and communications service, to discover and  promote the participants. Our brand has various mottoes … the main one being ”connecting global intelligence to accelerate solutions for cities”. This is a long term project that has a long way to go.

One of D_City goals is to help governments, academics and corporations to cooperate on eco-solutions. How does D_City play this advocacy role?

By communications. As the ”catalyst” I have evangelised many potentials to many international organisations but in future the role of D_City will need to be more seriously and diversely operated via one or a number of global media organisations. We envisage the idea of a loose network of media organisations contributing to the vision according to their own special capabilities and audiences … Geospatial World conceptually already is one of the media companies contributing to the vision.

D_City is active in promoting the emerging Digital Earth movement. Why do you think this movement is important for the future generation?

Digital Earth is the term given by Al Gore in 1992 for a vision that is now being led by the ISDE secretariat at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, co-ordinated far more broadly by the Group on Earth Observations in Geneva (via its GEOSS project) and most recently includes the Future Earth project launched by the International Council for Science in Paris, with many co-operating organisations involved in all these projects. And Google Earth is the best known commercial platform contributing to the vision. It”s inevitable and essential (for humanity”s survival) that next generations of internet-enabled citizens understand much more than their elders about how the whole Earth works. They will need to reform existing systems of planning and managing environments and resources … including human resources of course.

Developing countries in Asia Pacific are facing rapid urban growth to cater to the increasing urban population. What is the strategy of D_City to reach out to less developed countries?

D_City does not aim to control or organise strategies … we aim to promote the organisations and individuals which are appropriate to thought-lead each case, issue, challenge and/or solution. In the case of developing countries, global alliances of public sector agencies are at the forefront … various UN agencies, the OECD, ICSU, the Group on Earth Observations consortium, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Metropolis World Association of Major Cities, the disaster relief agencies, etc. In our new D_City report, there is a section of nearly 30 pages summarising some of the major concerns of the world”s six major regions … the most serious environmental challenges and noting some cases where geospatial technologies have accelerated significant improvements.

Environmental degradation is a major issue in urban development. How can geospatial technology contribute in environment and urban sustainability?

The only way to clarify, understand and effectively tackle land degradation is by systematically  monitoring, visualising and publishing the data and the images recording exactly what is happening and where … also by taking both carrot and stick measures to improve each situation… individually and as international projects.

D_City is also working towards establishing a Global Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI). What do you see is the main challenge in getting diverse organisations to share data?

D_City”sframework for the global network has a Research Theme called Virtual Nations and Networks. This is promoting the GSDI idea of networking together all the national SDI systems that are in various stages of evolution. The GSDI Association and the UN-GGIM are the organisations most focused on this VNN theme — with their leading members mostly employed in government funded research organisations. Because they all compete against each other for government funding, prestige and power, they are less collaborative than would be desired in principle. That is one reason why we position ”media and communications” at the centre of the participants and the activities in our network concept … communication is the key to translating competition into collaborations.

In D_City manifesto, there is a mention of 5 research themes that include Natural Systems Modelling, City Information Modelling, Building Information Modelling, Virtual Nations & Network and Planetary Systems Modelling. These themes involved highly-advanced technology adoption. What kind of technology transfer activity do you have in mind, especially for less-developed countries?

For less developed countries, the best potential will be to communicate critical information via geospatial maps that can be accessed on mobile devices … these are becoming increasingly ubiquitous among young people in developing countries. Again, improving media and communications systems — targeting developing countries and their next generations” problems — is key. Also important is that people in developing countries are able to communicate their thoughts, needs and activities to the rest of the world … which is increasingly happening as we see in the Middle East most notably these days.

AsiaPacific is known as disaster-prone region. I believe this is also the key issue identified by D_City. What is your view on the level of geospatial adoption in this region for disaster management?

Asia-Pacific disasters are not my personal area of specialty but this is a most important arena for science-led solutions … and the way is being led via the organisations contributing to GEOSS through various collaborative projects focused on ocean modelling, atmospheric modelling, volcanic activity modelling, etc.