Caitlin Purvis, a BCIT student, presented at a previous Ecocity World Summit. I asked Caitlin to share her experience as a presenter and any words of advice she would like to share with people who are planning to attend the upcoming Ecocity World Summit 2019.
Jennie: What inspired you to present at the Ecocity World Summit in 2011 in Montreal?
Caitlin: Sustainable Cities International, who had hired me through the Canadian International Development Agency’s (now DFAIT’s) International Youth Internship Program to work in Mexico as a Community Development Project Officer, continued to employ me upon my return to Canada as a Human Resource Consultant. It was during this time, that my boss Eric Brown informed me of the opportunity to present at the Ecocity World Summit in Montreal. As I was still very much pursuing a path in International Development, I jumped at the opportunity.
The project I designed and implemented, with a great amount of help from the Planning Institute of the City of Colima and Sustainable Cities International, Community Development Around Public Spaces, was a participatory planning initiative that took place in 8 expanding, marginalized communities which were previously excluded from planning initiatives and lacked desirable public spaces.
Along with conducting a needs assessment, the objectives of the project were to foster a sense of belonging and ownership among residents in their public spaces, to facilitate the creation of a community vision by reimagining these spaces and to assist the community in taking action sustainably. The project also addressed the need to change a culture of planning and government-community relations which were characterized by a top-down approach.
I witnessed many people, including youth in gangs, who’d felt abandoned and neglected by the city for a long time come out create the change they wanted to see.
This project, and those of the other interns in Mexico, had great momentum and a profound impact not just on the residents and we, the interns, but on the city as a whole and all stakeholders involved.
I experienced first-hand that impactful and sustainable change is possible and can begin and gain momentum at the grassroots level. Wanting to share this knowledge and the projects of the interns as case studies, is ultimately what led me to the Ecocity World Summit in Montreal.
Jennie: What was your presentation topic?
Caitlin: I memorized a timed 7 minute powerpoint presentation that outlined 3 projects CIDA interns, hired by Sustainable Cities in collaboration with the Planning Institute for the City of Colima, completed. There was mine and also those of two other interns in Colima: Emma Cohlmeyer and Andy Freidman. Each of our projects placed great emphasis on youth engagement and the inclusion of women. All were community development driven. While sharing the successes of each project was important, speaking about the challenges was also necessary as this is where problem solving occurred and important lessons were learned.
Jennie: How was the conference experience overall? It is a big conference so there was a lot to see and experience. Would you do it again?
Caitlin: Yes, it was big indeed! For this reason, it helps to be strategic. Perhaps there is a particular topic that interests you or perhaps you want to be exposed to an array of sustainability initiatives taking place – either way, there will likely be a booklet given out or for sale that I recommend reviewing so you don’t feel overwhelmed and can plan according to your interests.
And yes, I would absolutely do it again. The Ecocity World Summit 2019 in Vancouver will be the place to go if you want to be inspired and engage in meaningful conversation about improving our impact in cities around the globe, building cities in balance with nature, and creating cities that are socially just.
Jennie: What was the most important thing you learned or experience you gained as a conference participant?
Caitlin: Well, it was many years ago so this is a little tricky to recall now. I would have slowed down how quickly I spoke during my presentation, haha, but in all seriousness, when you attend something like the Ecocity World Summit, you are surrounded by an incredibly large number of people dedicated to building a better world, a world we can live in more sustainably, a world that is more inclusive, a world that looks at the environment as being intricately tied to our well-being. Thought provokers, researchers, interns, leaders of sustainable businesses and so forth from around the globe attend this summit and demonstrate what is working in their community or city, what challenges they’ve faced, and really, get the dialogue going. I not only learned about sustainability initiatives outside of the realm I worked in, but I met many influential, dedicated and driven people and I left feeling very inspired.
Jennie: Would you recommend presenting at Ecocity World Summit to other students?
Caitlin: Absolutely. You will come out more informed for simply attending, but to put a presentation together, to solidify your thoughts, to have the opportunity to present to people from so many fields well, it could jumpstart your career and/or simply be a great opportunity to network with an array of experts and to expand your knowledge base. Not to mention, it’s in Vancouver so you don’t have to travel far ;).
Jennie: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Caitlin: I am grateful to BCIT for the opportunity to be interviewed and share what little I can about the Ecocity World Summit. I could have never imaged that the work I did 8 years ago would have me being interviewed today, here in the joinery department at BCIT. This opportunity has allowed me to revisit a career and subject I was incredibly passionate about, but have not been active in as of late.
To the students at BCIT, I want to say, that everything we do in life has purpose and the more we learn and continue to educate and chall
enge ourselves, the more we are able to be engaged citizens and create a positive and lasting impact on the world.
Education plays a key role in deciding how cities are built. To be able to educate and also be educated by leaders in their field at the Ecocity Summit is an opportunity one shouldn’t pass up.
Not to mention, Vancouver is a relatively young city with great potential to build sustainable structures, to become more socially just, and to be at the forefront of this dialogue. You, could be at the forefront of this dialogue. Grasp this opportunity for it will be worth it.
And a final footnote about Caitlin: she plans to build on her foundation education with an apprenticeship. She hopes to build sculpted furniture that combines beauty and functionality, and she would eventually like to become an instructor helping people through hands-on learning to experience the joy of creation and the healing of physical activity, building their own designs. Caitlin is active on social media through Instagram: caitie_alexandra and Facebook: Caitie Alexandra.