Good decisions are rooted in good policy and good policy is built on a foundation of meaningful public engagement. In my first term on council nothing has received more of my attention than my focus on improving public engagement in Ward 10.
Here are a few examples of how better engagement has achieved better outcomes for the communities throughout Ward 10.
“COMMUNITY” BIKE LANES
I am a supporter and user of active transportation- bike lanes included. However, I support bike lanes that are built with the community, and not for the community.
When campaigning during the last election I heard loud and clear that the bike lanes on 40th Avenue and 106th Street were not working, and you were upset that they were put in with little to no consultation. I knew something needed to be done. I promised that if elected I would hold a meeting to discuss the future of these lanes within the first 30 days of being in office, and I. Out of this meeting and out of numerous other engagements over the following year it was determined that these lanes needed to removed and that if they were to be replaced, proper engagement needed to happen with the affected communities.
Throughout the summer of 2015 school pop-ups and many community workshops were held, and a survey was distributed to the surrounding communities where over 600 Ward 10 residents shared their insights over the course of the summer. Additionally, a Stakeholder Input Panel comprised of community members, both cyclists and non-cyclists was created to further discuss and hone the options for the community.
Fast forward to today- the bikes lanes on 40th Avenue and 106th have been removed as a result of your feedback, and the 40th Avenue lane is being replaced along the 43rd Avenue utility corridor as a result of the extensive consultation alluded to above. In fact, construction is underway as I write this. It is this community supported lane that connects to many of our local schools and will provide a safe route separated from vehicle traffic for cyclists of all ages. Community engagement on the replacement lane near 106 street will begin prior to the next capital budget.
SURPLUS SCHOOL SITES
I am committed to ensuring that our city is built in a way that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. I believe the development of surplus school sites throughout Edmonton can play a role in achieving this outcome. That being said, I acknowledge the contention around these sites and the lack of engagement that was afforded to the communities when these sites were originally slated for development in 2006, so I have tried to be flexible, pragmatic and creative when it comes to their location and build-out.
Take Skyrattler for example. As surplus school sites go, it’s pretty small, and Skyrattler is a fairly dense neighbourhood: 84 percent of housing in Skyrattler is multifamily. While the First Place surplus school site in Skyrattler was never intended to be a park - in fact, none of them were - that’s how the community uses it. The proposed development was too big for a small park. It makes sense that they were concerned - and these weren’t NIMBY concerns. Rather, the questions and concerns were coming from reasonable and engaged community leaders who were not opposed to infill development. They, like most Edmontonians, recognized the some of the benefits of the First Place program, namely that it gives new young families the option of buying houses in existing neighbourhoods.
But, for the First Place Program to be successful in Skyrattler, the community’s voice needed to be heard, which is why one of the first things I did on Council was make a motion directing Administration to defer the build-out of the site to the last phase of the First Place Program (year), and to explore alternative options such as the approaching the landowners of Taylor College or examining the road right-of-way at the south end of 119th Street on 23rd Avenue.
Similarly, in Blue Quill I committed to finding an alternative site for the First Place program and after a better engagement process we were successful in moving the development to the north side of the park near Saddleback road. While not everyone agreed on this location, we did create the best outcome possible, one that keeps important sports fields intact.
In Keheewin, which was designated for affordable housing, a new engagement plan is being piloted where a community lead advisory group is working hand in hand with the city administration to essentially decide upon the kind of housing and housing provider that will align with community needs and what the community has collectively asked for at various open houses. Read more about this project here.
SMARTER GROWTH AND INFILL
This was a major tenet of my last campaign and will remain one in this campaign. I have always committed to the residents of Ward 10 that if there were to be any changes to policies related to increasing density, I would come to your neighbourhood to provide you with the information, hear your concerns, answer your questions and gather feedback on the proposed policy changes. This is exactly what I did when our City Planners recommended reducing the minimum lot width for RF1 (single-detached residential) lots, allowing more lot subdivision to occur in addition to allowing garage and garden suites to be built on more lots in RF1 neighbourhoods.
I hosted meetings in all neighbourhoods throughout Ward 10 on the proposed policy change, and I learned a lot from thosemeetings. I learned what you love about your communities - mature trees for example - and gained a further understanding as to some of your frustrations stemming from the construction of homes in your neighbourhoods; the knowledge gained from these meetings eventually turned into policies that incentivize builders to protect mature trees and a new Infill Liaison Team and Infill Compliance Team was created to address construction related issues.
WALKING THE TALK ON LISTENING
While the items above have received a fair bit of attention, much more work has been done to engage with the residents and communities of Ward 10.
I brought together the Principals and parents at Westbrook and Vernon Barford to help reduce the traffic chaos they face each school day, and have organized and facilitated a Ward-wide School Traffic Safety Summit with parents and Principals across Ward 10.
We have workedwith many residents in Ermineskin and the owners of the Century Park site to get that development back on track, to ensure that Ermineskin and the surrounding communities are not negatively affected by the eventual build-out of the site and that there is a plan in place to address the parking issue.
I’ve brought together the communities of Lendrum Place and Malmo Plains and our Administration to address issues caused by the elimination of bus route 55 where together we created a new community route to ensure seniors, in particular continued to have access to public transit in their community.
When the Capital Region Housing Corporation proposed to build a 200+ unit affordable housing project in Lendrum I slowed the usual (not very citizen friendly) process down. Then, I worked with the Community League to create a new citizens panel of community members to have a richer conversation about how this project could fit in and how the future residents could be more successfully integrated into their new neighbourhood.
And most recently my office organized a roundtable discussion with dozens of community leaders and residents from across southwest Edmonton to discuss challenges related to transportation, planning, homelessness and opioid addiction in our part of Edmonton. These are all issues that require many voices, many experiences and the collective wisdom of people from across my Ward to solve.
COUNCIL INITIATIVE ON PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT
Ward 10, and the rest of Edmonton, are filled with some incredible leaders and community groups who are actively engaged in their communities; I have always had a deep appreciation and respect for the time and commitment these leaders and community groups show and give to their causes, which is what drew me to co-lead the Council Initiative on Public Engagement alongside Councillor Henderson.
The Council Initiative on Public Engagement, developed with input from hundreds of Edmontonians and a core group of volunteers, has guided the development of needed internal policy improvements when it comes to how we, as a City, engage with Edmontonians and best align and achieve the expectations of the public with that of Council and City Administration.
The development of this policy was, and still is, critical to the overall functioning of the city as a whole. The energy and investment a city makes towards increasing the vitality and efficacy of our civil society, volunteer sector and the general public as a whole is returned tenfold for its citizens. If everyone has a sense that their input is meaningful, their role as city builders increases and our city becomes a better place for it.
I have been committed to these ideals throughout my career. I believe I have practiced and shown this commitment in the last three and a half years, and I will continue to be as committed in the next four years.