Last week, Pro Walk / Pro Bike / Pro Place converged upon the Sheraton Wall Centre in downtown Vancouver, BC. If you’ve never heard of it, PWPBPP is the foremost active transportation conference in North America, bringing together city planners, engineers, advocates, and urbanists from all across the continent for four days of sessions, trainings, and workshops around placemaking and active transportation.
As a few of you know, I was pretty excited about the conference. But even reading and re-reading the workshop schedule couldn’t have prepared me for how inspiring it is to be in a room with 1,000 other people who all genuinely care about and are interested in the same things you are.
When I get home from work and I try to chit chat to my roommate about protected intersections, I’m usually met with a polite but disinterested “cool Hil, sounds great.” But wandering around the Sheraton Wall Centre during PWPBPP, all anybody wanted to talk about was protected intersections, road design, or open streets programs. It’s an urbanism geek’s dream come true!
The conference was based around the general themes of Mobility, Health, and Resilience. At a plenary session each morning, we heard from speakers like Charles Montgomery of Happy City, Mindy Fullilove from the Pratt Institute, and urban planner Brent Toderian. Workshops and trainings ranged from the technical (low-cost or speedy engineering solutions) to the social (diversity, inclusion, and advocacy) to the anecdotal (how one town got it right).
In a time of considerable uncertainty, it was the theme of Resilience that really caught me. Moving beyond sustainability, resilience looks at how we can build our societies to not only maintain and manage themselves in a business-as-usual scenario, but how we can build them to thrive and prosper in the face of considerable shocks to the system.
“The question is not are we going to experience future disruptions, we most certainly are,” said Mark Plotz, conference organizer, at the closing plenary, “The question is what are going to do about it.”
While the question of what we’re going to do about it is intimidating in its immensity, spending the week at PWPBPP was the first time in a while I felt confident we’ll be able to find the right answer. It was four days of hearing from so many passionate, intelligent people working hard to make cities and towns more adaptable, sustainable, equitable, and happy. It was not just lofty ambitions or unrealistic visions, but real, tangible solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.
Throughout the week, I kept accidentally referring to the conference as a festival. And while it is decidedly not a festival, there was a familiar air of optimism in the room as so many minds met to discuss and plan for the future of our cities and towns, a future which I now feel a renewed sense of confidence in.
Whether you think about it on a daily basis or not, the fact of the matter is that the spaces we live in have an enormous impact on our lives. Our health, our happiness, our ability to thrive and prosper, all of these are intricately and intimately connected to the places we live.
As urbanist Mary Rowe mentioned, more infrastructure will be built in the next 20 years than in the previous 200. That is both a hugely intimidating prospect, and an incredible opportunity. Let’s make sure we get it right.
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If you want to join the party, the next Pro Walk / Pro Bike / Pro Place is taking place in New Orleans, Louisiana in 2018. See you there!