Simon Fraser University (SFU) Public Square presents City Conversations every first and third Thursday of the month. The conversations range from housing, transportation, and social issues to urban design, planning, and architecture. You probably already know that we at Delaney + Associates are passionate supporters of conversations that give us an opportunity to share our views, but also see other points of views, stretch ourselves, and learn about what and how others think. We believe a willingness to engage in a dialogue is an initial step for any solution, no matter how insurmountable the issue might seem. The willingness to participate is the first step.Needless to say, we attend the SFU City Conversations whenever we can. We learn from them, we blog about them, and by attending their events, we are generally inspired to dig deeper and ask further.
Yesterday, the City Conversations event was co-hosted by the SFU’s Centre for Dialogue, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Big City Mayors’ Caucus, SFU Vancouver, and SFU’s City Program. And it was a Federal Election Forum on Urban Issues. The event was very well attended, the audience was greatly engaged, and the urban issues brought up by both the federal candidates and the members of the audience were very relevant, important and in need of a discussion: transportation, housing, in particular Aboriginal urban housing, infrastructure, intergovernmental collaboration and culture of consultation, immigrant and refugee strategy, arts and culture. Mayor Robertson set the tone for the conversations by highlighting the key urban issues, and the discussion was focused. The questions from the audience were also very informed and interesting.
The time flew, and I’m sure the majority of people present would have liked to continue with the conversations – the appetite for more was there.
We heard the Green representative, Wes Regan, talk about the housing crisis in Vancouver; the Liberal representative, Dr. Hedy Fry, made us hopeful again about the possibility of different levels of government working collaboratively together; and we also heard Kennedy Stewart commit on behalf of NDP to a housing strategy with support for new rentals, social housing and co-ops.
And what did we hear from the Conservative representative? … Nothing. Not a peep. The Conservative candidate was a no-show. Shauna Sylvester, Director of SFU’s Centre for Dialogue, kindly explained that they had extended the invitation to the Conservative party, and tried to repeatedly confirm the candidate attending, but no candidate was sent to take part in the conversations.
This, of course, made us – public and stakeholder engagement professionals – think about the basic requirements needed for a successful conversation. As well as the first and foremost requirement for a community, organization, or a nation to be able to build and foster a culture of dialogue, conversation, public participation, and ultimately, participatory democracy. And the bottom line is quite simple. The rule number one is – you need to have stakeholders, parties, or people who are willing to … show up and participate!