FCM Sustainable Communites wrap-up

The FCM’s 2011 Sustainable Communities Conference is over and all the delegates have gone home. I thought I would post a few more thoughts about the conference:

  • I had a great “corridor conference” with a number of people, including Nicole Tomes, from the City of Cochrane, AB. I met her at Gaining Ground 2010 (a conference which got volunteering right – see below), so it was great to run into her again. She is doing great things with the Cochrane Sustainability Plan, a well-written and well-designed piece of work.
  • I went to the session on the Green Municipal Fund and I was pleased to see that the FCM is now taking implementation seriously. They have a push to actually fund projects with shovels and all that, not just creating additional places for dust to collect.
  • It was amusing to hear discussions of how to fund sewage via a user-pay method. It had never occurred to me that this wasn’t the norm now. (For context, Oak Bay just changed so that 80% of the sewage bill is per-unit and 20% a fixed cost per household)
  • The recent push by the big disease-specific charities to target the causes of their specific illness was out in evidence here: Heart & Stroke Foundation has a big campaign about changing community design to keep kids and communities healthy. Their session on Thursday was packed and filled with great info. (This ties in well with the recent push by the Canadian Cancer Society to advocate for cosmetic pesticide bans.)

And now the bad: volunteer management. I have volunteered for a lot conferences, festivals, and organizations. While I was working for Luminara, my production coordinator duties meant helping manage volunteers. So it is with this knowledge that I say that this amongst the least-well organized conference for volunteers that I have seen.

An example: When we arrived, we were told we weren’t going to get into the conference for free, the usual reward for providing free work. They later relented and “offered” us one free day, “a value of $300”. Apparently they had no experience with actual volunteers. FCM thought we were municipal staff who were getting paid to be there. Sorry, but no. All I can say is that I truly hope that this wasn’t anybody’s first conference they had volunteered at. One bad experience could put them off for life. Overall, I got the impression that FCM had very little experience dealing with volunteers.

Still, even with the issues with the volunteer management,  this was a great conference. It was a great mix of people from the public and private sector. And the energy was great.