Thoughts on Connections 2010

On three Thursday evenings in April the City of Edmonton hosted an event called Connections 2010, designed to connect residents with City staff to learn about programs, services, and projects. Organized by the Office of Great Neighbourhoods, Connections 2010 brought more than 40 City departments and programs together under one roof.

The first was held on the southside on April 15 at Taylor University College. The second was held on April 22 for westside residents at the Mayfield Inn & Suites. The third and final event was held on April 29 at the Alberta Aviation Museum, and that’s the one I finally made it out to.

Connections 2010Connections 2010

Upon arriving I was greeted and given a quick rundown of what to expect: booths spread throughout the venue, and a stage in the back corner that would have different presentations every half hour. I missed the first on Capital City Clean-up, but arrived just in time to hear Councillor Batty speak about EXPO 2017. There were about a dozen people who listened to the brief pitch.

Next I walked around the museum, stopping at a number of the booths to chat with the City staff who were present. There were some really great displays – my favorites were the one explaining where your tax dollars go, and the Safe Communities one that featured a speed gun and display to see how fast you were walking. I also had a great chat with a young lady from the Waste Management branch.

Connections 2010Connections 2010

Eventually I made my way to the garbage can that a number of people were painting. It was destined for the African Centre, part of a program to beautify trash receptacles at community centres around the city. I’m really not an artist, but I was convinced to help paint a small part of it:

Connections 2010

It was kind of fun actually!

In total I probably spent about an hour and a half at the event. I thought it was a decent event, but there’s lots of room for improvement. Here are my thoughts:

  • Attendance was pretty disappointing. Maybe 100 About 210 people attended the evening I was there, and I’m told that was the busiest night of the three.
  • The silver lining to the low attendance was that City staff from various departments had the opportunity to learn about one another.
  • I found out from Treena Schmidt, one of the event organizers, that the booths were laid out according to the Transforming Edmonton themes – the way we move, the way we grow, etc. I thought that was pretty smart! It’s great to see more City events/programs thinking in the context of the bigger picture.
  • I’m not sure the venue choices were particularly good. I would rather have seen one closer to downtown, maybe at the MacEwan campus or in Enterprise Square. Another idea would be to host one of the nights at a high traffic location, like a shopping mall or something.

I also asked Treena if her team had consulted with any other similar events, and she said was very honest and said no. I mentioned Everyone for Edmonton, which I immediately thought of as I walked through Connections. I think the thoughts I wrote about how to improve that event are all relevant for Connections as well, in particular the need for a “hook”. Why not showcase local artistic talent at the event? Local performances can be a great draw. You can get information on all of the City’s programs and services online. I think there needs to be something else to attract people.

There’s probably also something to be said for improved promotion. I think the Great Neighbourhoods team organized this year’s series of events pretty quickly, so hopefully they’ll have more lead time next year. I think there’s a solid base they can build upon, and I look forward to an improved Connections series next year!

You can see the rest of my photos from the event here.

Recap: Community Evening with Jim Diers

Last night Sharon and I attended the West Community Evening with Jim Diers, the second of three events taking place in Edmonton this week (the last one is tonight in the south service area). Jim is a community organizer best known as the former director of the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighbourhoods, a position he held for 14 years. Some of Seattle’s most successful and well-known community initiatives, such as Little City Halls and the Neighbourhood Matching Fund, started and prospered under his watch.

Now Jim spends his time teaching at the University of Washington, and travelling all around the world speaking about what he calls “neighbour power”. In fact, he wrote a book on it! That’s what brought him to Edmonton this week, at the request of the City of Edmonton’s Great Neighbourhoods initiative. Last night was the second time I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Jim speak – he was in Edmonton back in 2006 for the Walkable Edmonton initiative.

Jim is probably best described as a motivational speaker. That’s what he did last night, sharing stories about the amazing things happening in communities all around the world. Here are some of the key takeaways for me:

  • You can have a neighbourhood without community! A neighbourhood is a place with which we identify, whereas a community is the extent to which we identify with and support one another.
  • There are four key ingredients for community: common identity, manageable scale, gathering places, and a vehicle for collection action.
  • Jim says that community is the key to so much of what we care about, and highlighted four main types of community power:
    • Power to care for the Earth
    • Power to prevent crime
    • Power to care for one another
    • Power to demand justice
  • So what does it take to build community?
    • Have fun!
    • Start where people are (their block, their language & culture, their networks, their passion, their call)
    • But don’t leave them there – strive for results!
    • Focus on assets rather than needs
  • Discover the buried treasure in your community!

His presentation was incredibly high energy, and he had the audience frequently do a cheer – one half yelled “neighbour!” and the other yelled “power!” Jim himself would let out a Howard Dean-esque “Yeah!” after each cheer.

My favorite stories were actually two that I heard back in 2006 – one about the Fremont Troll, and the other about the terraced community garden known as Billy Goat’s Bluff. All of the stories were really interesting, and I’m sure they motivated the more than 200 people in attendance to want to do similar things in their communities.

As I mentioned, Jim was here for the Great Neighbourhoods initiative. Everyone received a Neighbourhood Engagement Application last night. A total of 15 will be selected to attend an action planning workshop with Jim in February 2010. After the workshop, the City of Edmonton may provide matching funds of up to $2500 for projects. All projects need to be put into action by September, when Jim will return to check in.

I really enjoyed Jim’s talk, and I’m excited to see the projects that will happen in Edmonton as a result (but don’t forget there are already many amazing things happening).

For more on Great Neighbourhoods, check out the official website and also this article on Connect2Edmonton.

For more on last night’s event, check out posts from Tamara Stecyk and George Watts.