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COMMUNITY HUBS BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER

Community Hubs are places like local restaurants, religious institutions, parks, community halls, or community gardens. The best neighbourhoods in Edmonton are the ones that have well-developed community hubs like the Farmers Market in Strathcona or the three playgrounds in Greenfield. One of my primary commitments heading into this fall’s Council election is to establish a new funding program for the creation of more Community Hubs to create more walkable neighbourhoods for bringing people together.

Throughout my time as a City Councillor and before that as a Community Organizer, I have steadfastly worked on supporting and creating Community Hubs. Now it is time to think even more ambitiously.

WALKABLE COMMUNITIES ARE SAFE COMMUNITIES

Community Hubs make neighbourhoods more walkable, safe, beautiful, enjoyable, and inviting. All of these features are interrelated when it comes to Community Hubs. A new playground in a community will make residents more likely to walk through their communities to get to the playground. What comes with this increased community engagement is then a more safe neighbourhood with more eyes on the street, which in turn makes the street more inviting for families and individuals, creating connection and enjoyment in communities. When more folks are out and about, engaging with one another and their community infrastructure, they will be more apt to take care of their communities and ensure that they are beautiful and accessible for all kinds of folks. This truly is a virtuous cycle and one that can be kick started by any number of community hubs, whether that hub is a playground, business centre, community garden, recreation facility, or anything else that fits the bill.

WE TRY BUT WE CAN TRY HARDER

We currently have a variety of grants and financial assistance programs in our City that support various forms of Community Hubs in some way or another. However, taking advantage of these programs can be a bureaucratic headache and a daunting challenge for volunteer driven community groups. Additionally, these programs do not usually cover the whole cost of building a new playground for example or revamping a derelict strip mall. This is where the Community Hubs initiative comes in.

With this initiative, I want to provide a single place for community groups, entrepreneurs, and passionate citizens to come to in order to make their communities better. Take the Petrolia Mall redevelopment, for example. This passion project of mine (and many others) has been years in the making. Through a variety of programs such as the Petrolia Streetscape Enhancement or the Facade Improvement Program, the strip mall is slowly being revitalized. This model stands as an inspiration for Community Hubs everywhere, whether that means Allendale’s own strip mall or the creation of a new playground in another community. Taking what we have learned from examples like Petrolia, the Community Hubs program would provide a common source of funding for all those individual programs, making them less precarious and more efficient and easy to access.

RED TAPE IS LIKE A BAD WEED

Imagine that you wanted to build a community garden in your community. With the current model of doing things you would have to find out where you can build the community garden on the community league’s behalf, get approval for the spot, strike up a committee to establish the garden, work through a variety of consultations, create the plans from scratch, fill out many pages of applications to the City and to various grant groups like the wonderful Sustainable Food Edmonton (which even then will only cover a portion), and then, upon approval, construct the entire garden with volunteer help (unless you can afford to hire workers). This process takes many communities years to go through and, while certainly far better than having no opportunities for creating a garden, is asking too much of our volunteers. Sustainable Food Edmonton, which provides grants for community gardens, is currently the primary group for supporting community gardens and it does an excellent job of doing so, but it can only do so much.

Now imagine instead that there was a Community Hubs program that existed for the explicit purpose of helping creating sites like the community garden you want to start up. Instead of going through the hassle of applying to multiple organizations and having to devote dozens of volunteer hours all largely self-directed, you could now get the devoted expertise of the Community Hubs program. The expertise and resources of the various city programs and grants that could serve your project would now all be available in one place. This means more funding available from a single source, although Community Hubs would have several divisions and just a single set of documents for application. This wouldn’t guarantee that your project would be easy to get through, not by any means, but it would mean a simpler more volunteer-friendly process. Less paperwork, one application per project, well-trained advisors, and devoted, consistent funding would be the hallmarks of the Community Hubs program. 

With a pragmatic approach to building the program and a clear-eyed vision of the incredible gains that can be made through it, we will be able to do this as a City. I am dedicated to creating this program should I be honoured with re-election in fall. I hope you’re with me.

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