BlogLocal has spent a lot of time writing about online local communities and the fascination with writing about your hometown or place, but last week I had the opportunity to take my online experience with local places offline. The Great Lakes Urban Exchange (GLUE) held its fourth annual conference in Pittsburgh and the BlogLocal team was there to represent, absorb, and report back on everything we experienced during the three day conference.
Going into the 4th annual GLUE conference, I had no idea what to expect. If you have never heard of GLUE, it is a community of different people who come together from the 16 rust belt cities who are interested in sharing ideas and initiatives about community revitalization. This year’s GLUE conference focused on sustainability in our neighborhoods, jobs, and cities. Before the conference, I had been versed on what GLUE was, past conferences, and the gist of what to expect, but wasn’t exactly sure what I would get out of it in the end. Would anyone actually care about what I have to say considering I don’t know much (or anything at all) about the rust belt cities? Would it be worth waking up at 8 a.m. on a Saturday for?
And my answer to those questions would be a definitive yes.
The conference began Thursday afternoon with a bus tour of Pittsburgh. Chris Koch, a co-founder of GTECH, was our tour guide and explained the city to first time visitors and newcomers all the while making it fun and interesting for the natives on board, too. Our first stop was at the Pittsburgh Green House; an old house turned training facility where you can learn sustainable and affordable skills to make your home a greener place. The Green House is just one example of Pittsburgh’s efforts to go green and educate the public about a sustainable lifestyle.
Following the tour, it was back to the Holiday Inn in Oakland to learn more about the neighborhood this year’s conference was held in and centered on, Larimer. Three speakers spoke to the group about the need for change and community organization in Larimer, and what people can do to turn these ideas to fruition. Through excellent use of design and graphics, Larimer’s efforts to go green were highlighted and explained.
Day two of the conference began at the Kingsley Association in Larimer, a community center that has outstanding facilities (including a gym, pool, and exercise room) and resources for locals. The first panel of speakers for the day spoke about protecting our water and transforming our communities. The panel talked about the importance of water preservation, how water is our most precious asset, and the ways we can preserve it for the future. From rainwater harvesting to green roofs and porous pavement–many different plans and ideas were introduced, but with emphasis on preserving the environment and improving water quality.
After the first panel, we broke out into smaller discussion groups where we shared best practices, ideas, challenges, and solutions on what we could do together to positively influence Larimer and the rust belt cities. The discussion groups were my favorite part of the conference, it was really a time to collaborate and communicate with other attendee’s. Through the discussion groups, I learned about people and the importance of place on a more personal, one-on-one level. Without these groups, I wouldn’t have had the chance to talk to so many different people at the conference and learn first hand what their interests, involvement, and ideas were.
The second panel of the day focused on rebuilding our communities and how community development is evolving through sustainable practices. The panel spoke out about preserving our communities and helping those areas in need of special attention, by using green practices, an affordable budget, reliable people, and the appropriate planning. Andrew Butcher, co-founder of GTECH, gave an example of how his non-profit is seeking to better the community by taking abandoned land and fields and planting sunflowers there. Creating these green spaces make the land more appealing to locals, businesses, and future residents. After the panel, we had another discussion group to reflect on what we had just learned, followed by a site visit to the place of your choice.
Day 3 began with a panel on greening our jobs and the promise of sustainable jobs for local residents. The efforts these green businesses take to ensure job training, job placement, and sustainable, healthy communities for residents was admirable to hear about. I learned that by switching to a greener lifestyle, we won’t only help the planet and our future resources on earth, but we can also teach skills and create jobs. I unfortunately had to leave the conference after the last discussion group and before the panel on youth voices, but the information, people, and wealth of knowledge I learned were more than enough to keep my brain stimulated and churning with ideas.
The GLUE conference to me was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It was a meeting of smart and creative minds working together to learn from each other and make our local communities a better place. It was a place to share ideas and collaborate with natives, out-of-towners, and panel speakers. But most of all, it was a three-day conversation about how great certain places can be with the help of dedicated people, organizations, and businesses. GLUE highlighted the people who want to make the best of what their community has to offer and show others the pride that comes from one’s place.
Stay tuned for even more coverage on the people, blogs, and places we learned about at the conference. And tomorrow for our Cities in 10 post we will be featuring Cleveland, a rust belt city.