#lockdownSA: Life & Learnings

#lockdownSA: Life & Learnings

Since the lockdown started more than 5 months ago, Adrie Fourie, like so many others, has had to move her entire life online. Here she shares her experience and insights around the online learning events that she has attended to date.

Luckily, I found the transition to online to be seamless. Working, socializing, and even ordering groceries was just one click away. I was able to make the necessary changes while not skipping a beat, delivering outcomes at the high standard that my clients have come to expect from me. But the whole ‘living-and-working-online’ phenomenon brings its own challenges – load shedding creating pockets of time when I am just not able to function optimally; being much more aware of thermal comfort issues spending all day at home; and also learning that Zoom fatigue is real.

During those initial days, it seemed that I had so much time on my hands as my commute had been reduced to a mere minute – walking to the office in my house after making a mug of tea – that it felt fitting that I had to find appropriate ways to use that additional time constructively. People and organizations from across the globe were reaching out online, eager to share the challenges they were experiencing because of #covid19; looking for answers on how we should shape our responses to create better cities and spaces; and sharing the realization that this might just be the ‘new normal’ we need to plan around. There were webinar invites coming in at a constant pace, and I signed up for all the ones that linked to private and professional interests.

The golden thread running through all the sessions seemed to be the focus on health, climate change, the challenges communities are experiencing in our cities, and the need to develop socially and environmentally just responses beneficial to all.

Emphasis was placed on how built environment design professionals must do better in creating spaces that support improved public health outcomes through the provision of connections to nature, healthier indoor environments with great access to healthier transport options. Significant emphasis was also placed on collaborative governance that supports improved interaction with communities through appropriate online channels to provide opportunities for people to help shape the cities they live in through meaningful engagement.

Another theme focused on public transport and how the pandemic was already having an impact on the longer term future of this sector, noting the significant reduction in carbon emissions usually associated with transport during the height of the lockdown; discussing how the absence of private vehicles meant pedestrians were no longer competing with vehicular traffic in our cities; but, more crucially, highlighting that the majority of people rely heavily on public transport to move between work and home.

There was also a significant focus on how people can improve their houses now that they are spending more time there – reducing the risks associated with load shedding, improving thermal comfort, and creating a work space separate from home life. The current crises also highlighted the plight of our homeless communities and their increased vulnerability to various shocks and stresses, and the need for more permanent solutions to these challenges. There is also increased pressure on government to put basic services – especially water and sanitation – in place to support and protect our communities.

To date I have attended close to 80 webinars; completed at least 5 courses managed by the Green Building Council of Australia; completed the EcoDistricts™ training; and served as a mentor to 17 participants in the first ever online global training event hosted by the Climate Reality Project, after having been trained as a Climate Reality Leader myself in 2014.

I have also had to become fluent in ‘reading the room’ by only watching people’s faces on a screen and adjusting to the limited use of body language to both send and receive non-verbal communication.

Like many people, the initial enthusiasm I had for increased access to learning and interaction has since waned slightly, and I am now more selective with the online content in which I participate – focusing on sessions that will leave me with a concrete skills set to apply to local projects instead of just hearing about what worked elsewhere. Not all the webinars aimed at international participants provide useful content for the South African context, and many of the questions we need answers for are largely still being formulated. But one thing is clear – we need local ideas and solutions to drive our responses.

So, for anyone who is still eager to participate in online learning, my recommendation would be to consider signing up for the second round of the Climate Reality Leadership training event. The first event, hosted at the end of last month, included 10,000 trainees from around the globe all being trained as climate activists by former US Vice President Al Gore. The Climate Reality Team and the trainees were supported by over 500 mentors and the message throughout the training was clear – climate change is real and it is manmade, but there are actions we can all take to respond effectively. We just need to take a collaborative approach to finding suitable solutions for our communities.

Those of us who have a voice and a platform to spread the message must advocate for appropriate and consistent change, including a move away from our dependence on fossil fuel; and we must give a voice to those communities most affected.

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