Part futurist, part philosopher, part pragmatist. I’m a creative human with deep social and entrepreneurial roots. Always trying to use my superpowers for good. My beliefs are rooted in compassion and justice. Through reflexive practice I try to gently hold a space open for careful inquiry about the meaning we create in the space among ourselves — how language, thought and spirit shape our present, give movement toward our future, and colour our past. Life is good — travelling companions are essential. I believe that the universe invites and unfolds at the same time. To embrace uncertainty and to be profoundly curious helps me be present and hopeful.
Paul Harris is one of Central Alberta’s most influential and innovative personalities. Paul is a successful business owner, community leader, social entrepreneur, author, housing developer, and visionary. His ability to think both critically and creatively has extended its reach beyond his own endeavours to foster a culture of innovation and excellence in the non-profit and arts communities, and in Red Deer. His reflexive practice helps him invite organizations, local government, and individuals to consider their purpose and their possibilities.
After being asked a number of times by citizens, in 2010 Paul ran for and was elected to Red Deer City Council. Subsequently he was elected to serve as a board member for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, a national organization which represents approximately 95% of Canadian municipalities. FCM is influential in setting Canadian policy and sharing effective practice among municipalities in Canada and internationally.
As part of his efforts to revitalize downtown Red Deer and contribute to cultural life Paul developed and now operates a number of businesses.
Sunworks, practitioners of good taste, is a boutique specializing in lifestyle products, from books to music, interior and garden furnishings to the culinary arts; it’s been serving the hip and trendy since 1995. It’s recently expanded to include The Coconut Room, a cafe serving homemade baking, Maui coffee, and healthy and hearty food. Its design encourages community conversation, the sharing of culture, philosophy and great ideas — it’s a modern day Parisian salon.
Attached to the space is the Harris-Warke Gallery which he and his partner established 10 years ago to fill the growing need of the arts community for uninhibited, free, visual arts space.
In addition to the Harris-Warke Gallery emerging artists and new business owners have been encouraged and assisted through space and partnership within Sunworks’ buildings. This has had a transformational effect on the main street in Red Deer. The street is now considered the informal cultural centre of the community.
Paul recently embarked on the development of downtown living and small business spaces through innovative housing projects and the restoration of underutilized buildings in the heart of Red Deer. The philosophy of these projects is to balance the needs of the community, with those of individuals, and the earth.
Once completed these spaces become an exemplar of sustainable multi-family living that enhances the streetscape through small business, public art and functional design.
Paul’s belief in the symbiotic relationships between business, community and the environment has led him to participate in several community initiatives which focus on quality of life. He has been active on the board of the Red Deer and District Community Foundation for seven years and served as Chair. He previously served as Chair of the Cultural Development Association of Red Deer, President of the Downtown Business Association, and a member of the Mayor’s Task Force to End Homelessness.
What is important to Paul now is to continue to develop his reflexive practice through networks in Canada and in Europe. He is particularly interested in the exploration of organizational purpose, and the careful crafting of questions that both invite us into a better future and give us energy to move into that future.
Paul recently led the community inquiry which culminated in the Red Deer Community Culture Vision and Plan for Action 2008. This work was adopted as one of four documents that guides the City of Red Deer’s work in the urban landscape.
He was lead facilitator in Envision Innisfail that helped that community explore its identity and future direction during a period that called for transformation as the downtown was dying and the suburbs growing.
As a City Councillor, Paul was deeply involved in the City’s Strategic Direction which has resulted a in dramatic shift in the community toward healthy neighbourhood design and sustainable practices. It’s helped shape a conversation about the human purpose of municipalities and the role of inclusive governance.
Paul is currently writing about reflexive practice in community change and the complex issues that interconnect all of us. His belief is that community dialogue can be positive and visionary and, if encouraged, enables people to co-create beautifully enriching places for community to flourish.
In 2005 Paul was honoured with both the Mayor’s Recognition Award and the Alberta Centennial Medal for his outstanding leadership in, and contribution to, his community.