ACE Volunteer Experts in Thorsby/Warburg

In my work with ACE Communities ( I had the pleasure last night of facilitating a workshop with volunteer experts – the people who showed up to learn about how to recruit and retain volunteers.
With ACE leaders at Leduc County, we designed an experience that brought out the experts in Thorsby and Warburg. Here is their work and what they concluded at the end of the gathering:

The value of the conversation and commitment:

Sharing it all, networking
We know more than we thought

We renew positive
Remembering why
With inspiration
To appreciate

Encouraging community
Still cares
We don’t let the nay-sayers get me down
We keep trudging along
Walking with more support
With people like me
Not alone

What wonderful work we do
As volunteers
We do all those things!
It’s nice to hear once and a while!

We will appreciate volunteers more
I will appreciate myself more

Good to hear what others are doing
Hearing from other volunteers
I have taken in a lot
I can’t say just one thing

We are out of the box
With 39/20 networking
When we need it
We are out there

We are impressed
So many with similar ideas
We know what works
We’re on to something

We will find more people
That don’t know the word no
Always the same faces
But there are lots of kinds
Of volunteers
Worker bees and people like us
Start saying no to no!

We have lots to take home
Actions to remind myself
Once and a while
Fanning connections
What everyone said is what I was thinking

Try harder
The Terry Fox run will be running
Playing off one another
Making the connections between us

Here’s Jessica


Last week I joined a decade-long conversation about values, culture and leadership in Dallas, Texas.We were 35 people from Canada, South Africa, Mexico, Iceland, the United Kingdom and across the United States.With the sweltering weather outside, we found ourselves creating some cool experiences. Top of mind is Jessica Roemischer’s contribution: prior to gathering, she asked us what music is most meaningful to us.Once gathered, she sat down at a piano to describe what she has been exploring – the connection music has in culture, using us as examples. (For more on Jessica, see or

Below is the meaning I made of the experience…

Here’s Jessica

Heeeeeeerrrrrrrrre’s Jessica

with culture

from who we are

from where we are

Enlightened epiphany

personal and universal

as one

Musical meme spirit

intangible power


to divinity


Music reveals

dynamic human nature


forged to future

Old Joe in the room

in the world

in the garden

in a house like I have


Improvising voice

and crawling skin

crazy love

in lineage

an unchained melody

loving loch lomand

This is called trust

new consciousness

without fear

makes possible

single notes

in twinkling melody

played perfectly

flying free

Improving life conditions

makes music possible

frees deep spirit

catalyzing beauty

I’m Jewish by birth

don’t know What by life

What women are we talking about?

You can watch anything on YouTube

Nonlinear blend


Palestinian purple sparks

my dear beloved


How are we doing for time?


I’ll add something

then let it be


We will all be

as one

Wherever I go

I feel at home

in transition

in harmonic exodus

Fearless Planning Practice in Service of Community


Over the last few weeks I have been working with colleagues who have chosen to put themselves and their work out into the community in an unusual way.They have openly asked the public, stakeholders, and their peers to scrutinize their work.Moreover, they have the intention to let their work be changed (and take longer to get to their political masters) by what they hear in conversation with these folks.

The City of St. Albert is seeking a new way to develop its physical environment.Instead of conventional methods and densities that are not fiscally, socially or environmentally sustainable, they are aiming to create a place that puts people, and design for people, first.They are seeking a new win-win-win.But to do this, they recognize that they have to get there without using the traditional methods.They have to be willing to ask for help.They have to accept (and tell others) that they do not have all the answers.This is not a usual practice for municipal staff.But it is a good practice. dsc05870

The other good practice is to take the risk to propose something different – to get a new result you have to try new ways of doing things.For St. Albert, it is a hybrid of conventional and form-based zoning, to be found in their draft Form-Based Zoning Regulations, a document quite different from what people (planners, developers, citizens, builders and politicians) are used to using to guide development.

St. Albert invited the wisdom of the people that will be using the document, external to the City of St. Albert, to test how it will work.Does it make sense?Does it contribute to improving quality of life for residents? Planners, engineers, technicians, a land owner and developer, a landscape architect, and a builder, rolled up their sleeves. St. Albert’s next endeavour – pull in the stakeholders with whom they need more conversation. Though counterintuitive, their intention to be willing to change will get them far.

"Smart" Hands at Work
"Smart" Hands at Work

Change, of course, is difficult, and the jury is still out on whether the initiative will fly. Whether it will be practical and marketable.Whether the political will is in place to allow change to occur.What is meaningful here, is that staff have taken the risk to create something new.They have also taken the risk to seek conversation about what they are doing.Their intention is to prepare for Council and the community the best tools to ensure quality of life for their residents.To do this, they balance their ‘expert’ role with acceptance that they do not have all the answers.They expect their work to be changed, and being open to criticism, without fighting it, is fearless.This is essential to a meaningful professional practice, and they embrace this.

More information about St. Albert’s initiative can be found at –

Design to Plan, Plan to Design

Last night I moderated a public session on behalf of the University of Alberta City Region Studies Centre.  The speakers were George Crandall and Don Arambula, and architect and landscape architect from the firm Crandall Arambula out of Portland, Oregon.  The topic – Regional Transportation: Lessons from Portland.

Regional planning is regional planning, wherever it occurs.  And there are some lessons for Alberta’s Capital Region and the government of Alberta.  The lessons I drew out for Capital Region planning as well as the Land Use Framework:

  1. There is a place for provincial government to ensure that local governments are  not only cooperating, but ensuring that they are producing a plan that is useful in the end.  This means what is “useful” needs to be well defined.
  2. Creating a growth management plan is not about just creating a plan, it is about creating ownership for a plan.  This occurs by working with the public.  Not just polls and workshops, but engagement where people roll up their sleeves and have an impact on the outcome.  Particularly if this process marries the interests of builders and developers (ie practicality) and citizens.
  3. Mechanisms to make a regional plan a reality are essential.  It is not enough to have a big plan and leave it up to local governments to implement.  Sample mechanism – public transportation authority, regional waste disposal strategies, regional land use design expectations and authority.
  4. Clear implementation plans and commitments are as much as the plan itself.  This implementation must factor in design front and centre to ensure the product created is what is desired.  A design purpose is front and center.
  5. In times of growth, we rely on Silver Bullets, to “just get us through”.  What we need is an overall plan.  That plan, must indicate what is to happen where.
  6. A plan that indicates what will happen where clearly delineates priorities for public infrastructure investment – best use of tax dollars.
  7. A plan that indicates what will happen where offers predictability and stability for developers and builders.  This will work well for some, and not well for others, but the direction must hold.
  8. It all revolves around great political intrigue – the creation of any plan is necessarily messy.  If it isn’t tough to create, then that is a sign that it isn’t the right plan.
  9. Imagine a jigsaw puzzle – each piece comes with a shape and a piece of the picture – is that clearly articulated for each piece of the region, or will it be for each region of the province?

In the end, we must design planning processes with the above expectations.  Then we must plan to work in design to make it work.

Creating a Solid Foundation for Community Conversation


On Friday May 1, 2009, I offered a workshop in Calgary as part of the Alberta Association of the Canadian Institute of Planners’ AGM.   The subject was public engagement.  Below are the participants words in answer to the following question:  What is the value of today’s conversation.  Enjoy.

New faces and players

This is my passion


Municipal planner

New tools

I see in new ways

Ditto ditto

I am on the learning cliff

In a new world

My gut applies

An open house is one component

Other things to integrate

Looking for the silent majority

Looking for ways in

Different backgrounds

Similar issues

Under lying threads

Risk management

Practical strategies

Solve problems

Constant learning

Student of life

I’m glad I’m not sitting over there

My intuition is correct

I learn by doing

I appreciate

An evolution is going on

Engaging more

Perhaps better decisions

Develop and show respect

Develop trust

Reinforced for success

Values and strategies

I think about why

Engagement differs

From person to person

The constant:

Open, honest communication

With room for a voice

Engagement is the new norm

Bricks and the mortar

Passion to collaborate

Processes are valuable

I share experience

With many backgrounds

New ideas

I have to check my assumptions

How do we know where they’re at?

Not what they say, what they do

Always a student

Gaining perspective

What works with one

Does not with another

More learning

Understand audience

Appropriate approach



Thinking about where I am

Where are the people coming from?