When a conference is more than a conference

When a conference is more than a conference


I spent last week at Gaining Ground’s Resilient Cities conference in Vancouver, BC.  Four years ago, Gene Miller—founder of this remarkable conference series, drew Bill Reed and me into a series of conversations about his new vision for conferences, one that broke away from the talking heads phenomenon to actually foster dialogue and thinking. A radical thought! I’d long before given up on conferences, finding most to be about “thoughting not thinking”—promoting old thoughts vs. developing new thinking.

Gene’s vision, and his passion for promoting urban sustainability when it was barely a blip on the horizon overcame my reluctance. So when asked to present at this year’s conference, the 6th in the series, I didn’t hesitate. Once again, the range of subject material was rich and deep.  But while most people will remember the content, it was the process design that really caught and captured my attention and admiration. Gene and More

Dating Nature



At a recent conference, I heard David Orr express the need to ‘fall in love with nature.’ His point was that without a relationship of love and kinship, too many of us will continue to see nature as an enemy to be subdued (tornados and tigers), a nuisance (mosquitoes and poison ivy), or provider of a functional service (delivering clean water and food.) He went on to state that we need to focus on helping children experience this connectivity.

I thought, what about the adults? Have we given up on the people who can activate the change that we need right away? We might not have time for these children to move into positions of authority. Throughout their lives, people fall in love with one another. Adults marry at all ages, and elders experience profound love for their grandkids. Can this pattern be extended to love for nature?

We know that More

Problem or Solution?


Current world trends indicate that increasingly the health of our Earth and its inhabitants are inextricably tied to the future of our urban centers.  According to the United Nations, the year 2005 marked the first time in our planet’s history that over half of the entire human population lived in cities.  In western countries, this percentage is even higher, with 80 percent of the population living in urban areas.  In addition, these trends of urbanization are on the rise, particularly in developing countries.  Between 1990 and 1995, 263 million people were added to cities in developing countries.  This is equivalent to the formation of a new Los Angeles or Shanghai every three months.

With such growth trends occurring in our urban settlements, it is disconcerting to consider the disproportionate impact that cities now have on our planet.  Cities today take up only two percent of the world’s surface, yet they consume More