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  • April 12 2007 - Peter Singer keynote speaker at at Port Phillip Speaks Community Summit, Saturday April 28 2007. Singer, who was nominated by Time magazine in 2005 as one of the world’s top 100 influential people, will talk about building sustainability, both on an environmental and community level. Port Phillip Speaks will result in a new community plan to guide the council’s and the community’s work for the next ten years.


Singer, who has lived in St Kilda (when he’s in Australia) since 1996, says he was attracted by the council’s innovative experiment in participatory democracy. "I’ve had a long term interest in making the world more democratic. In fact, my very first book was on the subject of democracy and disobedience, and emphasized the importance of real participation in the democratic process." "The way Port Phillip Speaks is organised is a big departure from the traditional town hall meeting where sometimes the loudest voices dominate. I’ll be interested to see if it does actually allow more people to have a say. I’m also keen to see how participants handle the technology of key pads, laptops and big screens."

According to Singer, more local governments should follow Port Phillip’s lead in finding a variety of ways to measure community progress other than simply economic indicators. "How much waste our households generate, whether our kids walk to school or how many people in our block or street we regularly talk to also tell us how we’re traveling as a community and as a society more generally." Singer has written a forthcoming article for Project Syndicate, an international syndication service, about the council’s street party and ‘smiles per hour’ program which encourages people to smile more often on the street.

Singer says Port Phillip is serious about being a good global citizen, because instead of seeing a high rate of private car ownership as a sign of prosperity, the council regards a decline in the number of cars owned in the city, and an increase in the usage of public transport, as a sign of progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and encouraging a healthier lifestyle. The column, to be released on April 16, praises the City of Port Phillip for not seeing its role merely as providing basic services like collecting rubbish and maintaining the roads, but also taking a broader view, looking at the next generation’s opportunities for living a life of good quality, as well as at the quality of life of today’s residents. Singer notes that preventing crime is a high priority for governments everywhere, and often encouraging friendship and cooperation comes much lower on the list. But he points out that encouraging friendship and cooperation can be easy to do, uses few resources, and can have big payoffs.

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