Integrating Sustainability into Infrastructure Projects

Cities, Civil Engineering, Community, Conference, Regulation, Sustainability, Urban Living, UrbanWorkbench News, Water

Earilier this month I had the pleasure of being invited to the FCM Sustainable Communities Conference in London, Ontario. Working with a great team of presenters I helped develop a one-day workshop for about 45 delegates on the topic of Sustainable Asset Management. This is a fairly new area of influence for FCM, and the workshop coincided with the announcement of a new branch of funding under the Green Municipal Fund called the Leadership in Asset Management Program, which is exciting news for municipalities looking to innovate in Asset Management.

My presentation developed the idea of Sustainable Infrastructure Decisions, using the Envision Infrastructure Rating System as a project guide, and I received some great feedback from delegates that had not heard of the rating system before and were keen to introduce it into their municipalities. During the presentation, I asked the delegates to consider how the infrastructure projects that their communities are doing every year could be done better, and specifically, to challenge their engineers to consider sustainability in all aspects of infrastructure projects. [click to continue…]


FCM Sustainable Communities Conference 2015

Canada, Civil Engineering, Conference

I am honoured to be speaking at the 2015 FCM Sustainable Communities Conference in London Ontario in a couple of weeks time.



I am currently putting the final touches on the afternoon presentation for the one day workshop on “Asset Management and Sustainability” that links Asset Management practices with developing sustainable civil engineering projects in the municipal sector.  If you are planning on being at the FCM conference, drop me a line, I’m excited to be presenting, and really looking forward to meeting new people and learning from Canada’s sustainability experts.


Attracting and Retaining Municipal Engineers

Civil Engineering, Governance

As I read various small town articles around North America about municipal engineering, there is frequent news of municipalities that have just lost their city engineer and are looking for a replacement, or are trying to work out how to do without.

Having been subject to the brunt of one municipality’s decision to reduce technical engineering staff (to zero), and now being responsible for an engineering department in a (not quite as) small municipality, I understand the pressures faced with budgets and decisions that need to be made.

One article that caught my eye comes from Niagara Falls, NY:

The top engineering post in Niagara Falls municipal government has been vacant since the departure of former City Engineer Jeff Skurka in April of 2013.

In the interim, Mayor Paul Dyster’s administration has used a combination of department staffers and private engineering consultants to tend to projects that fall under the city’s responsibility.

Via: Editorial: Engineering void speaks to bigger issue

Niagara FallsReading on in the article, it seems that there are two issues at stake. The first is the residency requirement for the position, apparently intended to drive a larger portion of taxpayer-funded salaries back into the local economy. Policies such as this may drive away talent who may already happily live nearby, but may not wish to relocate for the position. I heard of similar policies in some municipalities in the West Kootenays of BC when we moved there in 2007. When offered a position in a neighbouring municipality, I was informed that I wouldn’t have to move there – I was surprised that it could even be a condition of employment!

The second issue raised in the article is one that is faced in all levels of government and particularly in municipalities across North America – politics and the longevity of the position. This may be one of the biggests issues that drives many talented professionals away from the government sector.

In the case of the city engineer job, council members were right to think a sitting mayor entering the final year of his term would struggle to find a qualified engineer willing to move into the city without a higher level of confidence about the longevity of the move.

The net result is a city of over 50,000 people (wikipedia) without a City Engineer for almost two years, relying on in-house staff and likely expensive consultants to cover the shortfall, costing the community financially and placing them in a leadership void. City Engineers are the infrastructure heros of our communities, we need to do more to attract and retain  top talent into the sector to ensure that the infrastructure foundation of our communities are sound.




70cm of Snow in 48 hours – Revelstoke

BC, Community, Photos, Revelstoke

Last week the City of Revelstoke received about 70cm of snow in 48 hours, causing all sorts of havoc on the Trans Canada Highway…

Off the highway, city crews were out cleaning up the snow, (apparently a 25-year high single snowfall event), for days after, and the arterial and collector roads were passable through the whole event. While communities like Kamloops, Vernon and Kelowna called a snow day, Revelstoke kept on working, schools were open and sidewalks were plowed, with the only disruption to service being to the transit bus service for a few hours.

Snow Removal Revelstoke

Revelstoke Snow Blower

Downtown Revelstoke

In winter, Revelstoke thrives on deep powder, drawing crowds from around the world to enjoy some of the best terrain in the world. That’s one of the reasons we love being here, (and yes we did get out to enjoy some amazing knee-deep powder last Monday!)



Warning – Email Wideload

Business, Software, Technology

Last week I saw an email that was approximately 600 words that I was able to sum up in 3 sentences:

I may have misinterpreted your instructions, but I’m concerned that you are expecting x, y and z from me. I’m stretched a bit thin right now.  I may need some assistance if I am responsible for completing x,y and z; please confirm your expectations.

Oversized Load

That’s 44 words – more than 90% less words than the original.

The lesson here – Keep it simple – if you feel that it needs to be longer due to complexity, write a report, letter or make a phone call or see them recipient in person. Email overload is compounded by unnecessarily complex content.



UrbanWorkbench News

I write, and I’m an engineer – but the number of times that I’ve been told that engineers don’t write, combined with the simple fact that while growing up I recall having loathed writing, it seems an odd combination. This resonated with me this week:

The urge to convert experience into a group of words that are in a grammatical relation to one another is the most basic, ongoing impulse of my life. It is a habit of antiphony: of call and response. Most days begin with sentences that are typed into a journal no one has ever seen. There is a freedom to this; freedom to write what I will not proceed to wrestle with. The entries are mostly quotidian, a warming up of the fingers and brain. On days when I am troubled, when I am grieved, when I am at a loss for words, the mechanics of formulating sentences, and of stockpiling them in a vault, is the only thing that centers me again.

My Life’s Sentences – By Jhumpa Lahiri via New York Times

I’m often brooding over the words as I plan out the structure of an article, hearing phrases form in the back of my mind while the kids chatter at the breakfast table, a sentence completed while shaving, scribbled down for later insertion, words swirling behind my eyelids as I fall asleep at night.

I’m reminded of my own post from a lunchtime in Langley, BC, where I contemplated the deliberative act of writing…

Almost no-one writes by hand anymore, particularly not in cursive, the very act almost counter cultural, not in some strange Winsten-esque 1984 moment, but more an act of patience and deliberative effort in an age of speed and information overload.

Writing and journalling has been taking a backseat recently, but I miss it. I’ve been busy with other creative endeavours including music, but in 2015 I’m planning on writing more, both on the blog, professionally, and maybe even some creative writing in there too.Writing by Hand


Climate Adaptation

UrbanWorkbench News

Tom Fletcher hits the nail on the head in an opinion piece on two of British Columbia’s biggest challenges in 2015 – both relating to climate adaptation.

On Wildfire Management:

The report calls for fuel management beyond community boundaries to stop “mega-fires” by creating landscape-level fuel breaks, with targeted harvesting, prescribed burning and new silviculture practices… The costs of preparing are huge. The costs of not preparing could be catastrophic.

On the future of the Columbia River Treaty:

The U.S. has no more dam capacity to exploit, and needs us more than ever, for flood protection and water supply.

Two sobering topics requiring strong provincial leadership that will have a long-term local impact in Revelstoke. Read the article here.

 Revelstoke Dam


Seven Things I’ve Learnt in 2014

Blogging, Management, Productivity, UrbanWorkbench News

Sometimes we need to pause and consider what we’ve learnt and achieved. This serves not just as a reminder, but as a focus for continued improvements and learning in 2015 and beyond. While this list is not completely work related, sometimes life has a way of permeating all aspects, and family, health and fitness are an important part of being a balanced leader.

Lessons Learnt

  1. I can still classic ski hard for 15km. This may not seem like a big deal to some people, but with 15 years between races and a couple of injuries, completing a loppet earlier this year was a buzz.
  2. I probably beat my eldest daughter in a 5km classic ski race for the last time this year. Another tipping point has been reached.
  3. Eating better is not that hard. And has its rewards, this year I lost 20 pounds in eight weeks. (Thanks to The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman by Tim Ferriss)
  4. Mindfulness improves every aspect of your life. I’ll write more on this in 2015, but there are lots of great articles on this topic out there and the links to leadership.
  5. Authentic wins every time over attempts to be smooth or “skilled”. People are willing to listen and learn from you when you share your passion – passionately and authentically! (A great book on this topic is Be the Best Bad Presenter Ever: Break the Rules, Make Mistakes, and Win Them Over by Karen Hough).
  6. You can’t enjoy it if you don’t get out there. The hardest part is getting out the door.
  7. The little wins are important. Celebrating these with staff pays big dividends and promotes seeking out more opportunities.

Work life balance

I’d like to wish all our readers a productive New Year in which you learn something truly meaningful – Happy New Year!