A few weeks ago I was invited to check out a workshop for stakeholders of The Way We Green, part of the public consultation process for the project. It took place on a Thursday evening in a conference room on the top floor of the Holiday Inn Express downtown (great view). I arrived roughly halfway through the session, and found two tables of about ten people deep in discussion.
The workshop I attended was the last of four in the second phase. In the four workshops of phase one, which took place during the first week of June, participants identified what sustainability means for Edmonton and what key environmental challenges we face. In the second phase, participants discussed the policy options for eight broad categories: energy, water supply, food, ambient air, biodiversity, water quality, extreme weather, and waste management.
The table I sat with was just finishing up a discussion on energy when I arrived. Each participant had a sheet of paper with three or four sections to drive the conversation. There was also a moderator and a designated note-taker. Very shortly after I sat down, the group started talking about food. Everyone around the table had the opportunity to talk about why they thought protecting Edmonton’s local food system is important. They also completed the exercises on the sheet, which asked for a proposed goal, for their thoughts on what the City of Edmonton has done thus far, for a recommendation that the City of Edmonton should do more, less, or retain the status quo, and to identify any barriers to achieving the goal. Everyone in the group agreed that we need to do more to protect and strengthen Edmonton’s local food system (which I agree with), and highlighted public awareness as a major barrier (which I disagree with).
I’m really interested in how the City’s public consultations work (and how they might be changing), so it was a great opportunity to see one aspect first hand. Even with all of the technology available to us, there remains a place for face-to-face discussions. I felt there could have been more discussion between participants at the workshop I attended, however, instead of just answering the questions provided. Another thing I noticed was that while there was diversity in the ages of the participants, there wasn’t much ethnic diversity. It’s important that immigrants and newcomers have a say in the strategic direction we take as a city (something that City staff acknowledged is a challenge when I mentioned it after the workshop).
More workshops are being scheduled for September, including some that will be open to the public. Forums and other information sessions are also scheduled to take place, after which the draft plan will be written and presented to City Council (sometime before February 2011). You can learn more about the project timeline here. You might also want to read the EcoVision Annual Report, which was published last month.