Saturday, May 28, 2016

Children and Nature Network 2016 conference debrief

I've just returned from the Children & Nature Network International Conference and it was just love all around. It is always validating and inspiring to be among people who share your values and ideals--particularly when those people love children and animals. I feel energized and focused personally and professionally. I think the main takeaway is The Future is Here. To whit:

1) Buildings don't have to keep doing things the same way. Conventions don't have to keep doing things the same way.

The location of the event was the St. Paul RiverCentre, a model of sustainable practices. Think about the last time you went to a major convention or conference. Did you notice all the horrible waste? I always do. Paper programs, plastic bottles, cups, and utensils, no recycling, over-air conditioned rooms, lights on everywhere. The RiverCentre uses windsourced energy and green cleaning products. They have recycling and composting receptacles everywhere. Their "plastic" cups and cutlery are compostable! They capture and use natural light. They are LEED, Green Globe, and APEX/ASTM certified. Of course, all this saves them an immense amount of money, now that it's in place, in energy savings, trash hauling, and other factors. Buildings don't have to keep doing things the same way. Conventions don't have to keep doing things the same way.

2) Mayors must be responsive innovators. People who elect mayors must expect responsive innovation.

St. Paul's mayor, Chris Coleman, is no-b.s. serious about doing things in a reasonable way that makes sense with today's world. "Good things happen when you put children at the center of policy," he said in the opening plenary--and by all accounts, it looks like he means it. He outlined seven additional principles, starting with "Cities are leaders and innovators." Chicago, I'm afraid, seems to do its best in many matters NOT to innovate.

Other Coleman principles include: All city departments play an important role; public input is important; partners are crucial to sustaining impact; all the levels of government need to be involved; equity, sustainability, and greenspace have a role in design; and you need vibrant spaces and places for people of all ages. How many of these does Chicago's leadership do? More importantly, perhaps: How many of these do we Chicagoans expect of our leadership?

3) The environmental movement might finally be getting smart about authentic transformation that puts forward a diversity of young environmentalists as leaders and partners, not as "inclusion goals."

CN&N's Natural Leaders is a diverse group of young, talented, charismatic, and dedicated conservation leaders. They featured prominently in the event on a number of levels, and the difference in the level of conversation about youth and diversity, about the movement's present and future, was clear in comparison with other conferences I've been to. Not that there's not more work to do, a lot more work. But I feel like CN&N has made some smart moves in this realm. The tired, somewhat colonialist talk of "inclusion" is being retired to make way for notions of partnership, connecting, and capacity building.

4) The future is not top down, nor bottom up--it's a living, changing network.

CN&N focused a lot on networks -- not just "networking," but on the power of network weaving for collaboration, support, resource mining and sharing, and planning among organizations. In our resource-poor field (current America doesn't care a ton about children or nature) in our super-connected world, learning and leveraging these tools will be very powerful.

I've brought home with me a ton of ideas from the conference. I can't wait to get started.

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