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In most metropolitan areas computing professionals can participate in a broad range of professional organizations and user groups. Those organizations typically hold monthly meetings featuring a speaker or a panel discussion on a topic of interest to the membership. Most of the meetings are held after working hours and provide food ranging from a light snack to a full dinner.
Depending on the size of the organization those meetings are held in conference rooms, classrooms, or auditoriums either provided gratis by a host organization or rented from a hotel, a restaurant, or a conference facility. Universities have been especially hospitable.
A distrubing trend
For the past decade or so more and more of those meetings are being held in remote locations accessible only by private automobile. Participants who don't own a car, who don't wish to get mired in rush-hour traffic, or who can't find a ride with a colleague have to miss hearing an interesting speaker or a learning about a relevant topic.
It's environmentally hostile when a private party holds a wedding reception in an inaccessible location, but it's inexcusable for a responsible professional organization to do so month after month.
Why are they doing this?
To be fair, we have to note that meeting rooms, especially free ones, are getting harder and harder to find. Universities are scheduling more evening classes and converting their meeting rooms to class rooms. Corporations that offer their facilities are moving to the remote suburbs. (Those corporations are the really environmentally hostile institutions.)
I was inspired to write this little essay this morning when my E-mail brought notice of an IIBA meeting that not only looked interesting but also would present a topic that I need to know more about in my consulting business. It was scheduled for the same night as the next C-SPIN meeting, but I don't have to make that tough choice: Both of them are in God-forsaken locations accessible only by private car through peak rush-hour traffic. I shall attend neither.
By contrast a number of envirnomentally friendly Chicago-area organizations hold their meetings in locations easily accessible by rapid transit, bus, or commuter train. They include ACM Chicago Chapter, the Chicago Java user group, and the Association of PC Users. In New York the SPIN organization meets in lower Manhattan and draws steady attendance.
You'll find a similar split around other major cities.
In defending their meeting sites, a few organization officers cite their membership demographics: "Most of our members live or work in the suburbs," they point out, "and they don't find our meeting site inaccessible at all. In fact, they love it.".
I even once heard a membership survey taken at a northwest suburban meeting! Not surprisingly it showed a strong preference for meeting in the northwest suburbs. The principle that they overlook is obvious when you think about it:
It's a lot easier for people in the suburbs to attend a downtown meeting than for people in the city to attend an evening meeting in the suburbs.
In major metropolitan areas, commuters can leave their cars at a suburban train station near their homes. Commuter trains leave the city for suburban destination in mid-evening right after the meeting. Get on the train and relax with the newspaper or a professional journal.
And for the few who have to drive, they still avoid the worst traffic, which is outbound around 5:30 P.M.
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Last modified 25 September 2009