Friday, October 17, 2008

Understanding, Identity, Vision: Lessons from the GTDI Conference

To create great communities and nurture those in OUR care for future generations requires meaningful information, a sense of context and identity, and a vision that transcends current reality.

On October 17, 2008 these topics were addressed by speakers Dr. David Foot, Dr. Greg Baeker and Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson, under the theme of "How Place Matters" at the Georgian Triangle Development Institute’s Conference

Dr. Foot ("Boom Bust & Echo") presented updates on his continually insightful work of examining social and cultural mega-trends "through the lens of demographics". The Planning implication of Dr. Foot’s findings is unquestionable; however, I wanted to highlight his approach to information design because it is in this area that equally as much can be learned.

The success of communication is measured by the listener; and through Dr. Foot’s use of graphics, complex information was distilled and disseminated to the audience skillfully. His presentation gave listeners a sense of empowerment and inspiration that comes with newly acquired knowledge, and will undoubtedly influence their future endeavors.

When working with communities, asking them to gaze into the mirror for self reflection can elicit blank stares or Narcissus like self admiration. Dr. Greg Baeker explained how he uses the mirror of Cultural Asset Mapping to gain uncompromised access to the souls of communities, upon which future plans can be built and communities can “create urban wealth”.

Dr. Greg Baeker (Senior Consultant with AuthentiCity of Navigator Ltd.) is nationally recognized for his Cultural Mapping and Community Engagement leadership. Dr. Baeker’s anecdotes illustrated how cultural asset mapping can be more than just an exercise in reflection but a powerful Planning tool to foster heightened awareness of community identity, and strengthen cooperation. Most profound was the way that his projects have had the surprising ability to enlighten communities about themselves.

This marriage of the heartfelt collective memory with understanding of spatial relationships is empowering and can influence municipal Planning in ways that traditional engagement methods are incapable of. As Dr. Baeker spoke I was happily reminded of architect Aldo Rossi’s work and the necessity of urban artifacts, in both their physical and mental forms, to the health of communities.

Dr. Baeker’s work takes these concepts, meshes them with participatory planning techniques and technology; imbibing digital maps with the life of the community. His approach is both cultural mirror and monocular. He shows US the lines life has imprinted on OUR faces, while allowing US to gaze out and image a wonderful future.

Mayor, Dan Mathieson described the future he is helping to champion for his home of Stratford that includes a new partnership with the City, Open Text Corporation and the University of Waterloo. This will involve the development of a new campus dedicated to research and innovation in digital media.

Mayor Mathieson highlighted that the unique skill of those involved was in their ability to see the challenges of many different parties as potential opportunities for mutual benefit. The University of Waterloo and Stratford see answers in things that do not yet exist; they trust in a path chosen in partnership and they trust in what the future holds.

Place mattered in identifying the opportunities that led to this partnership. It will also matter as this project evolves and integrates into the fabric of Stratford. The place that mattered most to the Conference attendees when Mayor Mathieson spoke was right there, right then, so that they could see the power of inspired vision.

The Conference was an excellent event, merging many different interests. The themes I saw and heard will undoubtedly differ from others in attendance. However, everyone I spoke to agreed on the value of having spent the day together. Perhaps someone heard the same subtexts I did, and the next GTDI conference will include online content such as pod casts, live blogging, and post event access to information?

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