Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Week in Quebec

Yes, I've been away. Andrea and I took advantage of the opportunity to attend the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Annual General Meeting in Quebec City. We went a few days early for a bit of a vacation, which gave us the chance to better explore the city on our own.

I'd never been there before, and it is a fascinating city, very aware and proud of its history, which they have built their entire tourism industry around. Thanks to the foresight of one of the governors in the 1800s, the walls around the old city have been preserved, and within them it's like stepping back in time, with old buildings and churches carefully preserved, and countless markers pointing out where buildings were previously, or where historic events happened. Even recent history, such as the house where Rene Levesque lived while he was Premier (just a small row house in the old city), is noted with a marker.

The city was remarkable for being pedestrian and bicycle friendly, with bike paths, streets closed to motor vehicles, and pedestrian-activated cross-walks at most intersections. Lots of benches were available for resting (which was often necessary after hiking up the steep hills), and there was very little garbage. Despite the more relaxed liquor laws there (lots of corner grocery stores, which survive because they can sell wine and beer), and the many open patios attached to restaurants, there didn't seem to be much rowdiness, and we were quite comfortable walking about day and night.

Our hotel was next to the Plains of Abraham, and quite close to the Citadel, which we toured, and we spent our days wandering about both the tourist areas and other residential parts of the city. For the most part, my distinct lack of French wasn't a problem, although it was certainly a different experience to be surrounded constantly by people speaking a language that I couldn't understand.

The conference itself, which had about 3,000 people attending, had a mixture of tours of the city and surrounding area, and technical sessions which provided information about new ways of doing city business, such as having new technology in water meter reading devices. Currently, our system requires that the meter reader go right up to the house to read the meter. Some municipalities are using radio frequency meters, which transmit a signal that can be read from a truck passing by, or in some cases, read through a local area network, which could read hundreds of meters simultaneously. These kinds of innovations have the potential to save the city thousands of dollars, while providing more accurate information.

As always at these conferences, it's the connections that I make with new people from other cities that I find most valuable, sharing our concerns about dealing with aging infrastructures or increasing fuel costs, and hearing what other communities are trying. Being able to do this in such a beautiful city made it a truly exceptional experience.

"Those French - they have a different word for everything!" - Steve Martin

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