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October 2010

What if we aren't planning to survive??... and who is planning our future anyway? Part 2

Oct 31, 2010 9:18 PM
Craig Applegath

  Craig Applegath, Moderator ResilientCity.org

Following on from my last blog post of October 24, and my initial thoughts on the APPI 2010 Conference, one of the very productive breakout groups that I took part in was energized by a very insightful observation made by Hani Quan, one of the APPI Conference facilitators who had joined our group. The group had formed up to tackle the question of how the key conference insights could best be recorded, digested, and then made useful to Alberta Planners. Hani observed that it had been his experience in previous sessions, that as participants worked through the various “burning questions”, they would inevitably have to deal with the three overlapping concerns of “process”, “content”, and “relationships”, and that the most productive and useful ideas would emerge where all three of these three concerns overlapped.

So using this Process / Content / Relationships triad as a lens, I have outlined below, in a very distilled fashion, the processes, content and relationships that had the greatest resonance for me at the conference, and had, to my mind, the greatest potential to help the planning community work through the important questions that now face us as we look for opportunities and strategies for planning and designing more resilient cities.

Process:


The central theme of he conference focused on “building resilient people and resilient communities … in a world that is constantly changing.” To explore this theme the APPI conference leaders took the bold step of departing from the usual conference format, and instead of organizing the conference around the typical “talking head” style lectures, they threw the conference wide-open to their membership by holding an “un-conference” - a conference using a combination of Open Space Technology and World Cafe to explore all of the “burning questions” that conference participants really cared about.

For those unfamiliar with it, Open Space Technology is a process originally conceived of by Harrison Owen and designed to allow organizations, groups and communities to explore important questions, issues or problems through a self-organizing set of discussions. Its method allows leadership and structure to emerge from the group, and has the intent of stimulating meaningful planning, and initiating inspired performance. (source: The Art of Hosting, http://www.artofhosting.org/thepractice/coremethods/openspace/ ).
This was definitely a risky approach by the APPI conference organizers, but as it turned out, one that produced a great many thoughtful explorations, and a great many insights into both the question of resilience, but also of what the APPI members really cared about.

Content:


What sort of ideas emerged from this conference? The conference was rich in ideas, strategies, and possible avenues for further exploration. Of the close to 60 “burning questions” that emerged over the two and a half days of Open Space breakout groups, to my mind the questions that shed the most light on the issues of urban and community resilience included:

  • How do we plan and design our cities to make them more RESILIENT to the future shocks and stresses associated with climate change and peak oil?
  • Is Transit Oriented Development the future of urban planning? If not, are electric cars the solution to auto-centric cities?
  • How can we see the city as a whole living system?
  • Affordable housing. How? Why? What? Who? Where?
  • How do we take the global understanding that humankind is in peril to planning at the local community level for a sustainable future?
  • Roadblocks to sustainable communities. Why is the shift so hard?
  • How can we promote better urban design in "extreme" suburban context? Is it really worth it?
  • "Complete communities" How do we put the theory into practice?
  • How best can we plan for non-renewable resources?
  • Is there a place for nature in the built environment?
  • How can we be more innovative as planners or how can we be more effective diversity bees?
  • What is the future of/for agricultural land in Alberta?
  • How do we more actively engage the public in the planning process?

The content of these breakout groups is now being posted on the APPI Conference Wiki so if any of these questions interest you, you should further explore them at http://conf2010spokenherd.wikispaces.com/

Relationships:

The Conference Leadership Team* did a great job of organizing the APPI 2010 Conference, and I think that one of the reasons they were so successful in pulling off their Open Space “un-conference” was that they really understood and honoured the importance of how chemistry and relationships between attendees would have the potential to make the conference succeed, or potentially sewer it. As it turned out the shear goodwill and positive energy of the conference leaders might have allowed any conference structure to succeed, but it was particularly effective in making this Open Space conference work. I was also very impressed by the openness and goodwill of most all of the attendees who not only generated a compelling set of burning questions, but also developed equally thoughtful responses.

My net take-away from this conference was that it was a complete success in both its method, and its results. It is to be hoped that the APPI will take this success and look for future opportunities to leverage the questions and ideas that emerged out this conference as they continue to explore “building resilient people and resilient communities … in a world that is constantly changing.” Congratulations to the organizers and all who attended for making it such a great event.


Note:
* The leadership team who organized and led this year’s APPI Conference included:


• Beth Sanders (POPULUS Community Planning Inc.)
• Dnyanesh Deshpande (City of Edmonton)
• Hani Quan (City of Edmonton)
• Jeremy Schiff (Municipal Affairs)
• Marilyn Hamilton (Integral City)
• Michelle Hartlaub (City of Edmonton)
• Njeri Mbajiorgu (Municipal Affairs)
• Peter Lehner (Plasser West)
• Rick Stuckenberg (Stuckenberg and Associates)

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