Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tamarack & Six Thinking Hats

No, I didn't fall off the face of the earth! After just two blog entries about the fabulous Tamarack Communities Collaborating Institute, it seemed like every moment was taken up and there was little time for writing. Sleep became more important.

It was a great week in Kitchener and I'm so grateful that I was able to attend. There were so many connections made with people who are working for change in their communities.

Learning about the work that Hamilton's Roundtable on Poverty Reduction is doing was a particularly inspiring, but there were so many community movers and shakers from a wide variety of organizations, including United Way and community foundations, a credit union, immigrant organizations, Vibrant Communities (including Vibrant Edmonton and Vibrant Calgary), and many more.

Of the 80 participants, I think I was the only elected official, but the new executive director of Vibrant Edmonton is a former City of Edmonton Councillor, so we had lots to talk about.

A number of Albertans met at the end of the Institute to figure out how we can keep the momentum going in our province for creating change through community collaboration. More on that as we have a chance to process all we learned and to get back in touch with each other.

Following the week in Kitchener, I travelled to Ottawa for a 2-day workshop on Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats tool. De Bono coined the concept of "lateral thinking" and has written dozens of books on thinking and decision-making. The workshop was an excellent opportunity to build on things I learned at Tamarack;

and the idea of parallel thinking using the six hats, along with the creativity activities, will be of much use in many areas of my professional, public, and personal life.

Next week, Mayor and Council are in Edmonton attending the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) convention. If I get a chance, I'll post updates.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Communities Collaborating Institute Day 2

The morning started at 8:00 with a session on community planning processes and tools where Tamarack coach Garry Loewen gave us some excellent information and tools for future work.

This was followed by a dynamic presentation by Brenda Zimmerman on "community, complexity and collaboration." Brenda teaches at the Schulich School of Business and is the founding Director of York’s Health Industry Management Program. As well, she is one of the co-authors of Getting to Maybe: How the world is changed.

The evaluation workshop I attended in Calgary in June featured the other two co-authors, so I feel very fortunate to now have heard each of them speak. They have tremendous messages for practitioners, funders, and evaluators, on how we need to change how we approach complex problems like poverty, homelessness, etc. Read more on the link above.

In the afternoon, I attended a second session by Garry on "comprehensive strategies for renewing communities," which again yielded good information and some useful aids. Garry brings a wealth of community experience and practical help for community development work.

I was sorry to miss the concurrent session by Mark Cabaj on "capturing and making sense of collaborative outcomes," but managed to get the handouts and will confer with others who attended. Mark lives in Edmonton so I might have the opportunity to hear him another time. And as an evaluator, I have worked on this issue of how to work with complexity and uncertainty and to surface and document the really interesting parts of a project while attending to measuring the outcomes it was supposed to attain. This all has application to the work done by municipalities when they develop or participate in collaborative efforts.

The days are long but the sessions and conversation are highly stimulating. With these long days packed with so much learning from the sessions and from other participants, it reminds me of the modules I attended during two years as a SEARCH participant--exhausting but invigorating.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Communities Collaborating Institute Day 1

I'm in Kitchener, Ontario, attending the Tamarack Communities Collaborating institute. Last night I had dinner with a group from Alberta--Calgary United Way and City of Calgary--and one woman from Grand Forks, BC. Interestingly, one of the people at the table was not only familiar with Peace River, but was born and raised there.

We had a long day of getting to know each other (there are nearly 80 of us from across Canada and a contingent from New Zealand), hearing about what we'll be doing over the week, forming our learning "pods," and listening to some excellent presentations, including one by Sherri Torjman of the Caledon Institute of Social Policy.

Sherri spoke about her new book, Shared Space: The Communities Agenda and discussed the framework from which she looks at the very complex work that needs to be done in communities to improve the lives of people. I read the book prior to coming to Kitchener, but it was wonderful having a chance to hear the author, an inspiring speaker as well as writer, talk about those ideas and to draw on her vast knowledge of the exciting collaborative activities that are happening around the country and the world.

After dinner with my learning pod at a Vietnamese restaurant, we met with other participants for coffee and dessert at a social enterprise called the Queen Street Commons, a cafe and kitchen that is an extension of the Working Centre's Urban Agriculture Program (which "aims to reconnect city folks with the local food system").

When we returned to the hotel, there was a huge tour bus sitting outside with a police car, lights ablaze, and inside, lots of activity and quite a buzz. It appears that the Prime Minister and his campaign team are sharing our hotel tonight.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Virtual Learning Opportunities

Even those of us in rural and remote areas can get connected. There are two opportunities coming up that readers might be interested in.

Community Capacity Building in Small Rural Alberta Communities

Wednesday, September 17, 8:30-12:30

Where: Community Futures office, Peace River
9816-98 Avenue (780-624-1161)

The workshop is presented by the Rural Team Alberta (RTAB), which is a a network of federal, provincial and non-government agencies. The team meets throughout the year to share information and ideas on rural opportunities and issues.

The morning looks like this:

  • After registration and introductions, there are presentations by the mayors of three small communities (Village of Edgerton, Town of Swan Hills, and Town of Foremost).
  • After a coffee break, there is a session called "The importance and advantages of Community Capacity Building" by Sharon Matthias and Kirby Wright.
  • Following that, there is a facilitated, multiple-site discussion on best practices for delivering services and enhancing community capacity in small communities across Alberta.


Using Rural Connections to Support Alberta's Rural Development Strategy

This all-day virtual conference is on October 31, again at the Community Futures office. It looks like there will be sessions of interest to many of us living in the north, whether we're in an area underserved by broadband or not. Check out the program and see if there's anything of interest.

You'll need to register at the Communities Without Boundaries website.

CwB Advert

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Alternate Sites for Housing in Peace River

The open house sessions held by the Town and the results of the online survey provided great feedback on the proposed sites for the affordable housing project and also resulted in many suggestions for alternative sites--ones that wouldn't involve the project either being in a commercial area behind a bar, or losing the BMX track.

Unfortunately, the Town owns little land, and other than one suggestion for using the picnic area of the Kinsmen Funland Park (which IS town-owned), all other sites suggested are held privately, and most are not ready for development in the near future.

Locations on the West Hill were suggested with good reasons offered (close to employment, NAIT, the hospital, etc.), but that is all privately owned land.

The old hospital and old Forestry sites were mentioned quite often. These are also privately owned, and if you've walked by the old hospital site recently, you'll realize that it will not be ready for housing or any kind of development for quite some time.

The land beside the Belle Petroleum Centre as well as the former propane sales site across the street and the land in front of the Town shop were all mentioned as possibilities. It would be wonderful to see these empty lots with something on them, but they are "brownfields," which means they are contaminated and require considerable rehabilitation before development is possible. The owners of these lots would need to undertake that rehabilitation, which is the process that we've seen recently during the construction of the new roundabout (the lot across from Boston Pizza was once a gas station), and also at the site of Danberger's store beside the Town office.

But it's great to see the interest in these empty lots--I share that interest and am hopeful that over the coming years there will be programs to help companies and municipalities get this type of land back into use.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Affordable Housing Project: Land Donation Approved

What an exciting Council meeting last night--we passed a motion to donate a piece of Town-owned land towards an affordable housing project. The proposal is being spearheaded by the North Peace Housing Foundation and the Town of Peace River and the application to the province for funding will now be submitted for the September 19 deadline.

In the spring of 2007, a regional housing coalition (called the North Peace Housing Coalition) was formed to bring attention and action to the dire housing situation that many Peace River and regional residents experience. This group has been an important driver for the project.

It was a sub-committee of the coalition (Tanya Bell from the Town, Richard Walisser from the Foundation, and myself) that did the developmental work on the proposal.

This Peace River project is just that much more feasible because land does not have to be purchased. Now the money received by the Town from the province for affordable housing (about $430,000) can go towards construction and will help keep it affordable.

There's a downside to the land donation, however, as there often is with big decisions. There were few choices because the Town owns so little land. If the project receives funding and goes ahead, we'll lose our BMX track.

The track is not well used and the property is an R3 district, which means high-density housing can be constructed. So despite the loss of a recreation area, it seemed like the best of very few options. (I'm going to do a separate blog entry in the next few days about the ideas for other locations for the project that residents brought forward during the consultation.)

Many thanks to all the people who took the time to come out to the open house sessions and to fill out the online survey (123 of you; 115 finishing the whole thing). The discussions and survey feedback were very valuable to our committee and to Council.

If we'd had more time (the project really just started to coalesce over the summer), we could have provided more notice and print copies of the survey for residents who aren't comfortable with computers. Despite the short notice, though, we got an excellent response from a fairly wide variety of people, including business owners/managers (perhaps because the other proposed location was downtown), seniors, and people living on low income or who once lived on low income.

The application for funding will now go into the province. Fingers crossed it is viewed favourably and there will be a sod turning in the spring!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Update on Affordable Housing Open House & Survey

Yesterday the Town and North Peace Housing Foundation held two open house sessions on the housing proposal that will go to the province later in September and the two possible Town-owned locations for Council to consider on Monday.

There were about 25 people in Council Chambers at noon to review the information, to talk to those of us in attendance who have been working on this project, and to complete an online survey. In the evening, there were around 10 more and as of this morning, 35 surveys have been completed.

The survey is open till Monday at noon, so I encourage anyone with an interest in housing in Peace River and this project in particular to read the background materials on the Town's website and then to add your voice.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Affordable Housing Project Open House Today (September 4)

The Town and North Peace Housing Foundation are holding two open house sessions today so residents can discuss the proposal that Town Council donate a piece of land to support the funding application going into the province later this month.

Details about the time and place for the open house sessions and background information on the housing project, proposed sites, and a link to a survey are on the Town of Peace River's website.

We're hoping for a good turnout and lots of responses to the survey, which will stay open until Monday at noon. The item is on Monday night's Council agenda.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

New Historic Mackenzie Highway Park & Tom Baldwin Arboretum

Last week I attended the grand opening of the new park and arboretum in Grimshaw. What a beautiful space, and as those trees grow and are added to, it's really going to be spectacular.

Congratulations to all those involved (and it was a long list read by Mayor Brian Allen) in seeing this park and the memorial to Tom Baldwin to fruition. 

Photo left: Grimshaw Mayor Brian Allen

Photo right: Jeanne Kalyn, Peace River Deputy Mayor Berry Heinen, Mayor Brian Allen, and RCMP officers.

The memorial to Tom Baldwin is behind, waiting to be unveiled. Note the variety of trees in the arboretum. The park also features a cat train that was used on the Mackenzie Highway in the old days before pavement.