Behind the Scenes

Making Strides: Look Twice When It Comes to CSR Activities

When it comes to the benefits that meeting attendees can bring to a community we need to walk the talk. And no, this isn’t another column about our economic impact.

I play a counting game when I walk my dog, Cocoa, in my small New Jersey town. When we step into a certain crosswalk on a busy street — marked with a can’t-miss “STATE LAW: STOP FOR PEDESTRIANS WITHIN CROSS- walk” sign — I mentally tick off how many cars pass us by without slowing down. The average is 10. I usually end up waiting until the coast is clear, because it’s rare for drivers in both directions to stop so we can cross.

The thing is, I really don’t blame them. In towns like mine, cars rule. The suburbs sprang up because of the automobile, and were laid out to accommodate wheels, not walkers. And the law changed in my state only three years ago. It used to be that drivers were required only to “yield” to pedestrians at the crosswalk, which left things more open to interpretation (and more dependent on a sense of courtesy).

Cities were built for walkers. But most convention centers, even in cities, seem to have been built with a cars-first suburban mentality. Attendees’ desire to walk to and from the center — to feel like they’re experiencing the city itself — has not, until recent years, been taken much into account. When Senior Editor Barbara Palmer interviewed Walkable City author Jeff Speck for this month’s Bookings series, he expressed amazement at “how many cities are essentially leaving money on the table by the way that they fail to integrate [convention centers] into their community.”

Speck has been in high demand on the speaking circuit since Walkable City was published last year, so he’s visited his share of convention centers. His unique perspective on how these buildings can better weave themselves into the fabric of the community is informed by his expertise in urban planning — a field with which the meetings industry needs to establish stronger ties — as well as by his experiences stepping into our world.

In other words, he’s an outsider looking in, offering the kind of enlightening viewpoints we seek out in Convene. This month’s CMP Series also features two industry outsiders, who, in their case, bring their research and knowledge about charities to bear on the volunteer community-service activities included in many conference programs. 

What they have to say is sobering, but can help point the way to more meaningful giving-back efforts. In order for that to be the case, meeting professionals will need to invest time in researching and choosing CSR initiatives that will have the greatest impact on a cause — not necessarily on the volunteers.

Think of it as looking both ways before you cross.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.