Do you want to Inspire a different view of community?

Speaker series that engages public in ideas for change looking for upcoming speakers

ElizabethBalderston_newSiteInspiring people to look at their city in a different way — this feedback deepened the resonance that Elizabeth Balderston felt about a speaker series she was part of last year in Edmonton. Elizabeth, who is a landscape architect, talked to members of the community on how sustainable storm water practices and green infrastructure can make communities more livable and vibrant. The group was quiet and the true level of their engagement and interest surfaced after the presentation.

“I had lots of comments and questions from people afterwards,” Elizabeth says. “Different people were interested in different aspects. I thought it was a great response. It was very gratifying because you never know if what you’re presenting to people is of interest, and it turned out it was.”

The series, called the Creating Vibrant Communities Speaker Series, is being offered to the public again this summer after its inaugural run last year with Elizabeth and several other presenters who shared an interest in initiating positive change. Signs of the vision for the series — to inspire community members and spur their involvement in upping the resiliency and vibrancy of their community — bubbled up, and Elizabeth sees value in the series for all participants.

“It creates a forum for people to discuss issues that are of interest in their community,” she says. “If this event wasn’t happening then these people wouldn’t be getting together, they wouldn’t be learning something and they wouldn’t be discussing an issue with people that they may or may not know. And so it does contribute to community vibrancy in that way — we have people talking and connecting to each other around an issue and I think that’s really important.

“And if there are enough people to create some momentum, someone might say, ‘Let’s do something about this,’ and they might form a group and do it.”

The speaker series is one way of generating public energy and engagement around ideas for change, Elizabeth notes. She points, for example, to community construction initiatives in Vancouver and Kelowna that created temporary community hubs in empty public spaces based on ideas from professionals. The public then had the opportunity to enjoy these repurposed spaces. In the case of Kelowna, where the project was driven by landscape architects like Elizabeth who live and work there, the city is looking at creating a permanent hub as a result of the successful engagement and feedback.

“It’s about working together and sharing ideas that create discussion and interaction,” Elizabeth says.

The speaker series is presented by Urban Systems, which is welcoming potential speakers to pitch their ideas for this year. Elizabeth encourages people to make submissions. She sees the series not only as a potential pathway towards change, but also a valuable professional development opportunity.

“It has an educational component. It’s a great opportunity to develop public speaking skills; listening to professionals speak is a very good learning experience for people like us at Urban Systems,” Elizabeth says. Pointers for presentations, for example, could be picked up.

The series was suggested by an engineer-in-training working at Urban last year, and there was enthusiastic support from the Edmonton team throughout the process. “It’s great to see staff come up with these initiatives and run with them. It shows if you have an idea that has merit, you will be supported,” Elizabeth says, adding the experience of bringing a concept to life enhances career development and provides an outlet for people to act on their passions, like catalyzing change.

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