Local or Global Agenda?

The Tech Valley Infrastructure Forum brings out some smart-growth ideas, but also raises controversy.

by Michael Bielawski on November 14, 2013 (originally published in Metroland Newspaper)

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Pic by Mike B.

Albany NY – The Tech Valley Infrastructure Forum came to the Capital Region Oct. 30-31 at the Desmond Hotel in Colonie, co-sponsored by National Grid and the Center for Economic Growth. Hundreds of local leaders participated on drawing boards, presentations and idea sharing about how to develop infrastructure in a way that benefits citizens, the economy and the environment.

“It’s about trying to figure out how we as a region are at the ready for growth. And there’s been a lot of attention paid to making sure that we create opportunities and having the intellectual infrastructure to grow New York state,” said Linda Hill, lead economic developer for National Grid. “But the premise of this is that unless you have the physical infrastructure at the ready, while you may have created those opportunities, you may lose those opportunities because they are going to go forward at the speed they need to go forward.”

One of the event’s hosts, Dr. David Cooperrider, has been working to promote sustainable development for more than 25 years. He’s a professor of organizational behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, and faculty director at the Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit. “I started creating this Appreciative Inquiry summit methodology in about the early 1980s,” he said.

Appreciative Inquiry refers to the conference format which stresses that all people involved in a process are brought in for participation and input. He’s also done work with the Navy and United Nations. “Especially regions that want to prepare for the 21st century infrastructure of our digital world, sustainability and going green, and that’s what’s happening here,” he said.

He added, “We did something like this with the city of Cleveland in [2011]; the topic there was designing a green city on a blue lake. They came out of their summit with 27 initiatives like creating the first freshwater offshore wind energy system. Following the teams that imagined that effort, they continued and they formed a corporation to guide that effort and then they got a five-and-a-half-million-dollar grant to do the engineering study. And now they are about to get a $47 million grant to carry out the first pilot.”

Listening to Cooperrider, it might seem like all of these initiatives are noncontroversial. However, one representative of participating sponsor CEG (Center for Economic Growth), who did not want to be named, was adamant that this conference was not about “smart growth” but rather was an “infrastructure forum.” She added that National Grid (not CEG) contacted Cooperrider. National Grid’s Hill also stressed that this was a locally initiated conference.

Why is the distinction between “infrastructure forum” and “smart growth” so important? The phrase “smart growth” is interchangeable with many of the buzzwords from the conference, such as sustainable development, going green, economic regions, etc.

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