"Stationarity is Dead" (Blog Post #4)

On November 29th, 2018, Dr. Patricia Grober from Arizona State University gave a distinguished lecture to the Geography department at UCSB titled “Building Resilience for Uncertain Water Futures.”

Ah, how appriopriate, that I am currently writing as series of blog posts on such a topic!

Admittedly, I am not a geographer who studies urban resilience full time (gasp!), but I am intrigued by the topic because I love water. Drinking it, surfing it, paddling on it… water is great. Jokes aside, water affects us all, and whether we study it directly or not, it is important to understand the role of water in our delicate environment.

Dr. Grober mentioned one term that was central to her discussion on resilience, which was “social infrastructure.” She argued that given today’s view of climate change, we must bolster social infrastructure to respond to the challenges we face. She advocated putting more money into the social sciences to develop shared social practices for addressing climate change.

One difficult aspect of creating sociality around climate change is that stakeholders must be brought together to agree on the terms that are important to them, one being the idea of uncertainty. The definition of uncertainty differs between a water resource manager and an hydrologist. We need to create an enabling environment in which we establish the social practices involved in each step of water resource management.

Dr. Grober stated that water science modeling has traditionally centered on prediction and planning. The problem with this paradigm is that as Dr. Grober claims, “stationarity is dead” because of climate change. Though we can observe broad trends in climate data, it remains difficult to make sound predictions for the future. But Dr. Grober mentioned that one way climate scientists can help build the social infrastructure of resiliency planning is by engaging stakeholders in discourse and the coproduction of knowledge. Furthermore, they can create tools that incorporate those factors that water resource managers care most about.

One of these tools is a decision theater where multiple parties can meet and use dashboards and visualizations to create shared interpretations of a certain problem. The idea is that if you can show people what you’re doing, they are more likely to agree with you, and to act appropriately.

Islais Creek
Dr. Patricia Grober gives a talk at UCSB on November 29th, 2018.

Within the space of the decision theater, I can imagine that social infrastructure is continually created and reified. But the “social” aspect of social infrastructure is interesting, as it seems that only in its practice is it expressed, but once the affordances of space (physical or virtual) are gone, action becomes individualized and follows its own path. The scientists go back to their labs, the water resource managers go back to their organizations. If it is truly to be social, it should be a never-ending process. No wonder climate change is so hard to tackle.

I wanted to use this blog post to write down these thoughts. I think there can be different ways to create social infrastructure in regard to urban resilience. Discourse is always a good starting point. But how do you sustain discourse? How do you make the shared practice of engagement and collaboration resilient? Trust and dependency between all stakeholders is deeply embedded within the answer, but it’s not entirely clear how trust among people can be maintained when trust in data is so variable. Stationarity is dead, remember?

What do you think?

Written on December 3, 2018