Sir Robert Harvey, also known as “Mayor Bob,” former mayor of Waitakere, New Zealand's first Eco-City, was in the Washington, D.C., area recently to meet with government officials in Virginia and Maryland who are fostering sustainability in their communities and to give a lecture at the Artisphere in Arlington. 

For the past 25 years, Harvey has infused the diverse dimensions of sustainability throughout his work as an elected official, international peace envoy, president of the New Zealand Labour Party, and businessman. He currently serves as chairman of the Auckland Waterfront Authority, responsible for greening the waterfront by transforming inaccessible wharfs to inviting public spaces.

Harvey’s visit was hosted by the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech

“We were excited to have Mayor Bob back in Alexandria to share his wit and wisdom on sustainability leadership. His inspirational story of building the Waitakere Eco-City offers many lessons for policymakers and practitioners here in the U.S.," said Joe Schilling, research assistant professor and interim director of the Metropolitan Institute. Harvey and Schilling have collaborated on several international sustainability exchanges starting with the Mayors Asia Pacific Environmental Summits in 1999 and 2001.

Harvey returned to Northern Virginia five years after guiding the City of Alexandria in the development of its 2008 Eco-City Charter modeled after his success in Waitakere, where he served as mayor for 18 years. A resident of Alexandria, Schilling led a team of Virginia Tech professors and graduate students in partnering with the Environmental Policy Commission and city officials to develop the Eco-City Charter and subsequent Environmental Action Plan in 2009.

Both Harvey and Schilling spoke at a City of Alexandria Environmental Policy Commission public meeting to reflect on what has been accomplished thus far. Although Harvey was “delighted at the progress Alexandria has made in the past five years,” he urged the commission to “reignite the spirit that led to the charter’s adoption by launching a creative eco-city campaign where local residents can test new approaches to neighborhood driven sustainability.”

Harvey's trip to the area included additional meetings with City of Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille; Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette; and The Baltimore Waterfront Partnership. Harvey says he hopes to adapt important lessons from Baltimore’s successful transformation of its Inner Harbor to Auckland’s waterfront.

Harvey also participated in the Sustainability Leadership Forum co-sponsored by the Metropolitan Institute and Virginia Tech’s new Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability. Hosted at the Virginia Tech Research Center — Arlington, more than 50 sustainability leaders representing federal agencies, local governments, national and regional nonprofits, academia, and private businesses shared their insights and experiences in building and maintaining partnerships, facilitating collaboration across sectors, and building the next generation of sustainability leaders. Lessons from convening this group of experts will help the Metropolitan Institute and the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability as they develop future research projects and outreach activities.

At the Artisphere in Arlington -- where he was introduced by New Zealand Ambassador and former Prime Minister Mike Moore -- Harvey gave a presentation on “Leadership Through Landscape: Exploring the Power of Place and Its Influence on Public Leadership and Sustainability Policy.” The public event was sponsored by Virginia Tech and Arlington Economic Development which is under the leadership of Executive Director Terry Holzheimer, also a professor of practice with Virginia Tech’s Urban Affairs and Planning Program.

Before a group of about 150 people, Harvey traced his 40-year sustainability quest, starting with the battle to keep the Waitakere Ranges, the backdrop to New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland, free from rampant development and protecting the natural rain forest for future generations.

“We demonstrated that local leadership is key to success,” Harvey said. Leadership through landscape goes beyond political acts to protect and preserve natural environments, but encourages leaders to have a dialogue with nature and leverage its special attributes as a place for reflection and refuge when confronting difficult issues, he said.

“Bob’s lessons on how his beloved beach of Kare Kare served as his spiritual compass that grounded many of his most important decisions can help today’s leaders engage in a more robust relationship between place and policy,” observed Schilling.

Schilling said that in the coming weeks, as Virginia Tech explores new opportunities for facilitating further research and dialogue on sustainability leadership between U.S. and New Zealand communities, the Metropolitan Institute will unveil a series of Web pages devoted to Harvey’s notions of leadership through landscape 

 

 

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