Urban Minds
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Urban Minds

Our Experiences Presenting at the OPPI Conference 2022

This is a special edition of the Urban Minds blog, co-written by Matthew James (left), Catherine Caetano-Macdonnell (middle) and Patrycia Menko (right).

Matthew James, Growth Coordinator

YEP. Now, how?

As I reflect on my experiences with Urban Minds, I have to smile, because oftentimes in hindsight we never really know what we’re signing up for. A few short hours await Patrycia, Catherine and I before delivering our presentation, YEP. Now, how?, at the annual OPPI-OALA conference in London. Like much of the consultancy work within Urban Minds, planning for the conference took place through a series of virtual meetings after our school and work days — yet here we are, after months of planning, meeting for the first time in-person in the lobby of our hotel.

I was first introduced to Urban Minds in my senior year of high school through a simple Google search: “Youth opportunities urban planning Toronto”. To my surprise, Urban Minds was a leader employing strategies for youth engagement in the GTA through a series of initiatives every year for like minded youth looking to break into the city-building industry. That year, I attended my first 1UP Toronto Youth Conference (pre-pandemic era), and struck up a conversation with co-founders Ryan and Angela to learn how I could help contribute to their mission. Through that moment, I soon gained the opportunity to work with the UM team, later being on-boarded into the 1UP Youth city-building program as Director of Engagement and as a Growth Coordinator.

My experience working alongside Patti and Catherine was second to none. During the planning process, Patrycia and Catherine shared ideas and anecdotes which made the process of collaboration seamless, yet very educational for me as a first year college student. Although Patrycia, Catherine and I are at different stages in our respective academic and professional careers, our personal and professional experiences gave us the confidence to connect with the presentation material through fresh and unique perspectives. I am proud of the presentation delivery. I’m equally grateful for the trust and encouragement of co-founders Ryan and Angela in giving our team the opportunity to represent Urban Minds at the OPPI-OALA. In attending the conference, I gained perspective and understanding on governance, the applications of policy, planning and the design of municipalities to compound on my education in planning school.

As I progress in my journey, I am hopeful to encounter similar challenges, lessons and opportunities that mirror the day we asked,

YEP, Now, how?

Catherine Caetano-Macdonell, Outreach Coordinator

On September 21st, I had the opportunity of representing Urban Minds at the 2022 OPPI conference along with two of my Urban Minds colleagues, Matthew and Patrycia. We were presenting our Cities for Youth Toolkit with the goal of getting planners excited about youth engagement and show that these strategies don’t need to be intimidating. Since starting to work for Urban Minds in October 2021, I really appreciate all the opportunities I’ve had to present, participate in their projects, and contribute to their mission of creating meaningful ways for youth to shape equitable and sustainable cities.

Our team for this presentation was really strong, with each of us contributing our individual backgrounds and skills. The months that led up to this presentation gave us time to review the Toolkit and refine our shared vision for the presentation. I am grateful for such a talented team, as we organised our presentation completely remotely, meeting for the first time in person the night before the conference. On the morning of the presentation, I started to feel slightly nervous about presenting in front of a room of professionals, but once the three of us got setup in our presentation room I realized that we had prepared very thoroughly. During our presentation, our audience seemed very engaged and interested in how we approached youth engagement. I believe our presentation inspired some people to take a closer look at youth engagement in their professional practice and really consider youth as vital stakeholders in city building for the future.

After our presentation, I stayed in London to attend the Conference on September 21 and 22. It was very exciting attending different presentations and meeting people; I loved learning about the various initiatives and innovations presented. This was a great start to my journey into urban planning because I started my graduate studies in Urban and Regional planning at the Toronto Metropolitan University this September. I think learning about the best practices and trends in the planning industry, while surrounded by planners from all over Ontario, has inspired me to grow as a planner. Talking to experts and practitioners helped widen my understanding of the planning industry and where this industry is going. Attending the conference and meeting so many inspiring planners who have valuable perspectives and who are doing innovative work got me even more excited about my future as a planner.

Patrycia Menko, Project Coordinator

This past September, I had the great pleasure of presenting at the OPPI conference alongside two colleagues from Urban Minds, Catherine and Matthew. Titled YEP: Now, How?, the goal of our session was to highlight best practices in youth engagement, drawing on the experiences of our own work by sharing our Cities for Youth Toolkit and reflecting on a successful case study. We hoped to inspire the room full of planners and those joining online to more consciously and effectively incorporate youth engagement in their work, a group still too often sidelined in planning processes.

Now that I’ve had the time to digest my thoughts and feelings about our presentation, I can confidently say that my experience presenting at OPPI was overall positive and filled with lessons I’ll carry throughout my planning career. It was all of our first times presenting at a conference, let alone without the in-person support of Urban Minds’ founders, Ryan and Angela. The two were with us in spirit but enjoying a well deserved vacation in Iceland. Their trust in Catherine, Matthew, and I to represent Urban Minds unaccompanied was fundamental to how confident and excited I felt speaking at the conference. Likewise, I felt more than prepared knowing how much time and effort we 3 put towards this presentation.

Catherine, Matthew and I each brought different, yet complimentary, perspectives to our session, creating a cohesive sense of teamwork and years of experience between us. Matthew has been with Urban Minds the longest, and was able to speak on his experiences directly working with youth through the 1UP program. Matthew and Catherine are also first-year post-secondary students studying urban planning in each of their respective programs, and were keen to jump head first into the planning world. On the other hand, I graduated last year from my Masters in Planning and was on the cusp of starting my professional career. The opportunity to engage with colleagues and like-minded landscape architects was every bit inspiring.

While we may not have allotted as much time as we planned for questions at the end of our presentation, we felt we at least delivered an engaging session that grounded youth engagement as an incredibly valuable tool for planners in all sectors as they plan for inclusive, equitable, and sustainable cities. If granted the opportunity to speak at future events, I know we’ll make a greater effort to allow for productive conversations between us and our audiences. Nonetheless, participating at conferences is one of many ways I enjoy continuing my education through planning practice, and I cannot be more grateful to OPPI, Ryan, and Angela for awarding us the space to share our work and to Catherine and Matthew for their commitment and thoughtful input towards our presentation.

This is a special edition of the Urban Minds blog, co-written by Matthew James, Catherine Caetano-Macdonnell and Patrycia Menko.

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