In early May, I attended what I suspect may have been my 20th OSUM conference. For those who don’t know, OSUM is Ontario Small Urban Municipalities. It’s not a huge conference, but I continue to go because it’s authentic – it provides me with an opportunity to talk one-on-one with leaders from small urban communities, to learn about their challenges – and to hear their success stories. The conference organizers are also consistent in delivering top-notch presentations and speakers. This year’s conference, hosted in Stratford, Ontario, was no exception.
Jeff Brugman, author of Welcome to the Urban Revolution (How Cities are Changing the World) was among the impressive line-up of speakers this year. He talked about the new economic landscape, and how small urban centres can work to leverage one of their key assets: sense of place. What’s needed, says Brugman, are development strategies that recognize and renew these communities as unique places that offer unique, niche advantages, not only in terms of being great places to live and do business, but also as tourist destinations.
Also speaking at the conference was Avi Friedman, professor of architecture at McGill University. Friedman gave a captivating presentation on sustainable design principles that take into account the economic, social, environmental and cultural impacts of human activity, showcasing best practices from around the world.
Gord Hume launched his new book, The Local Food Revolution (published by Municipal World), at the conference, presenting the first copy to Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson, whose city was featured in the book. (Detail about the presentation are shared in an earlier blog.) Copies were also presented to Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs Jim Bradley, and to OSUM chair Norm Sandberg. Sandberg said the book will be a must read for every municipal and provincial politician and policy advisor. “Gord delves into important challenges such as eating locally grown food, downtown revitalization, subdivision design, and community health issues,” he said.
Hume later participated in a panel on the importance of the local food movement, with co-panelists, Danielle Brodhagen of the Stratford Tourism Alliance; Martin Ritsma, President Stratford and District Agricultural Society; Robert Chorney, Executive Director, Farmers’ Markets Ontario; and “The Manic Organic,” Antony John, who is also a farmer in the area (this guy really knows about food – check out a Manic Organic video on YouTube and read his blog on the role of “terroir” in food).
Other sessions at the conference included workshops on climate change, community engagement online, integrity commissioners and codes of conduct, and legal issues for municipalities.
Sandberg commended Conference Chair Paul Grenier (Councillor, City of Welland) on the tremendous program put together by the committee, and also offered his congratulations to Grenier as the new OSUM Chair, to Vice-Chair Jim Collard (Niagara-on-the-Lake), and to the incoming Board.
Plans are already underway for the 2011 conference, which will be held May 4-6 in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake.