VIU community planning students to host national conference

VIU Master of Community Planning student Sarah Foulkes is the director PLACE21. || VIU photo
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Vancouver Island University (VIU) will play host to a Canada-wide conference this November, thanks to a group of students in the Master of Community Planning program.

The conference, known as PLACE21, will take place virtually from Nov. 4–5 and feature presenters and students from across the country.

Sarah Foulkes, conference director and master of community planning student, said the goal of the event is to bring students and professionals together to talk about developing ideas in the planning and human geography sector.

“Canada’s a big country and we don’t get a lot of opportunities to get together,” said Foulkes. “There are lots of planning students doing interesting research across the country and the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) wanted to develop a platform where more of that could be shared.”

The conference is presented by the CIP, which invites a different student group to take on planning and hosting duties every year. And while CIP runs its own national conference, the PLACE conference came about after the organization expressed a desire to create opportunities for planning students to get more involved.

“PLACE21 is a student-led and student-focused event, and is an opportunity to bring students together from accredited planning schools all across Canada,” said Dr. Pam Shaw, director of the Master of Community program at VIU. “It is a great place to present ideas, but also provides a way of connecting to other future planners who will soon be part of their professional networks.”

This is the third incarnation of the PLACE conference, which has been held at the University of Alberta and Ryerson University before the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to it in 2020. The previous iterations were in-person.

“I heard about the director opportunity and I knew it was going to be a lot of work but it also just seemed like something really interesting to do,” Foulkes said. “How often does someone get to plan a national conference?”

She then enlisted the help of eight of her classmates and “we just went for it. It was a bit of a leap of faith, but it was also one of those opportunities that just seemed silly to let slip away.”

Those who attend this year’s event can expect a mix of student and professional presenters, which Foulkes said speaks to the importance of the PLACE conference.

“Planning is an ever-changing profession and people who are experienced provide valuable insights but we also really should value those new perspectives coming in,” she said. “We wanted to make sure it was a really interesting schedule and we’ve got a great set of presenters lined up. It’s been a lot of work, but at the same time, unbelievably rewarding.”

In total, this year’s conference will feature 17 student presenters and 13 professional presenters — all based in Canada — across 22 sessions.

“I commend the organizers of PLACE21 on putting together two days of exciting events and activities,” says Shaw. “The students have done a tremendous job in organizing this online event.”

The conference is free for any students to attend and Foulkes encourages them to do so, regardless of their field of study.

“Even if you’re not a planning student, come check it out,” she said. “Many people in my course have come from a variety of backgrounds. Planning is such a gigantic field.”

For Foulkes, who has an undergraduate degree in geography, the appeal of planning “is the possibility that you can make things better. You’re never going to make everybody happy, but at the end of the day you are trying to make life better for people.”

Registration for PLACE21 is open through Eventbrite until Oct. 29. 

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