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The Inclusive City: On Homelessness and Urban Design

In the summertime, I’m an early morning runner. As I pass through the streets, the city is still and quiet, making any activity stand out. One recent Saturday morning was oppressively hot. Passing through Ezio Farone Park the first time, I spotted a man sleeping on the park bench. An hour later, I made a loop back through the same spot. The man sleeping on the bench had moved too, 10 feet from the bench, now sleeping underneath a small bush, where he could escape from the run.

While walking to work, I pass a convenience store where most days, an elderly bearded man sits on a bench next to a shopping cart of belongings. I nod and say hi, and he reciprocates.

I notice these interactions ever since I started working in the housing and homelessness sector. I once took a vacation to Portland to combat burnout at work, only to find myself obsessed about the street homelessness you see everywhere in the city’s core. Similarly, while I seek to clear my head when out running, I’m always snapped back to reality by signs of homelessness or otherwise marginalized individuals.

My community has made great strides towards ending homelessness in a short period of time. As I think about the people I come across, I wonder if public spaces and urban design, among other things, can play a greater role in making this happen faster and more effectively.

You can hardly open a paper (or an iPad in my case) without seeing a case study of what not to do. While there are good news stories like Rhode Island’s Homeless Bill of Rights, and Denver’s efforts to use transit to connect affordable housing to jobs, good schools, and quality services, the bad can seem to outweigh the good. A restaurant owner in Montreal wants to chase homeless youth from the area (where will they go that is safe and appropriate, one might wonder?) Seattle debates whether to make a homeless encampment permanent (as if to say, this is the best we’ll ever do for you). A city in Florida removed all the benches in a park to discourage homeless people from gathering (can they not co-exist with others?), and other cities have installed benches with arm-rests in the middle or that are u-shaped, in order to discourage sleeping on them.

It’s becoming more common to talk about designing cities in a manner that promotes better public health, for one, which I strongly support. But I think we also need to talk about designing better for inclusivity, especially for the most marginalized among us.

Most important in this is talking about how we design not just to serve marginalized people, but to support changing their circumstances for the better.

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New Partners for Smart Growth: Day Three

The third and final day of the conference featured two plenary sessions (the first and last ones during the day) and two breakouts. The themes of the sessions I attended focused on diversity, social, and economic inclusion.

The Great Reset: Reshaping Our Economic and Physical Landscape to Meet New Needs
This session, featuring senior civic leaders, discussed the changing landscape, and the urgency to develop communities that meet the demands of consumers.

Kim Walesh, Director of Economic Development for San Jose, spoke to the demographic changes, and how this affects the market. She noted that development has targeted the 35-54 age group, but demographics are shifting to seniors, as Baby Boomers enter that demographic in large numbers, and young professionals, as Millennials come of age. They both want a more urban environment. Baby boomers want to be able to walk to restaurants/shops and medical appointments. Millennials have what she described as a “live first/work second” outlook, meaning they’ll choose a community/city where they’ll want to live first, then look for work second. She also noted that this group is 33% more likely than other demographics to want to live within 3 miles of a Central Business District.

Speaking anecdotally as a Millennial (and child of baby boomers), Walesh’s argument resonates with everything I see and hear amongst both my and my parents’ respective cohorts.

On the inclusion theme, Walesh made a powerful argument for the value of immigration, pointing out that 50% of CEOs of Silicon Valley tech companies are foreign-born, and 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or second-generation Americans.

Additionally, Mayor Mark Mallory of Cincinnati, who I’ve been a fan of since first hearing him speak at the Urban 2.0 conference, spoke about building on his city’s concentration of Fortune 500 companies and head offices, and the appeal of the old streetcar they’ve reintroduced. Officials from Portland and Seattle spoke as well about their respective initiatives. I was impressed with Seattle’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2050, and how they view green initiatives and goals as a key part of their economic strategy. They’re also building a more inclusive city by including the city’s thriving music scene in its economic development initiatives, and by increasing the diversity of housing types available for young people (such as 300 square foot “pods” that have shared amenities). As the speaker noted, for many young people, “home is not necessarily the place they want to stay”.

Slimpickins
Seattle sees its music scene as part of its city’s economic development and appeal. Pictured here: Slimpickins, busking at Pike Place Market.

Advancing Equity in Minneapolis/St. Paul: Action, Research, Advocacy, and Place-Making
This session put forward four perspectives on greater inclusion and equity in the Twin Cities.

ISAIAH, a community organization, organized the Healthy Corridor for All initiative, around the Central Corridor Light Rail Development. This development affected many low-income and minority communities, and the community wanted to ensure that the health of residents and communities was not adversely affected. The speaker also stressed the point that silos between public health officials, advocates, and planners need to be broken down. The link and impact planning has (for better or worse) on public health has been a recurring theme throughout the conference.

Louis King, founder of HIRE Minnesota, spoke powerfully to the need for economic equality. He began by stating that “the best social service program in the world is a job”, and noting that African-Americans were more than 3 times more likely to be unemployed than Caucasians in Minnesota. HIRE is an accredited educational institution, both advocating for equality, and providing training and skills development for individuals. He spoke to several principles that would foster greater economic inclusion.

Laura Zabel of Springboard for the Arts presented their Irrigate project, partnering local artists with businesses and community organization to create place-making. I was impressed with a number of things with this initiative, in particular the way it engages artists who are already in the community, pushes an understanding that the arts are a key part of – not extraneous – to the economy, and the way it expands the conventional notion of who, or what, is an artist.

I am incredibly impressed with the work Justin Kii Huenemann and the Native American Community Development Institute are doing. They are focusing on building equity and community along Franklin Avenue, where the greatest concentration of Native Americans in the Twin Cities is found. They’ve helped foster local ownership, from institutions such as a bank to arts initiatives such as a gallery and a festival. NACDI has put forward a powerful vision of Franklin Avenue as an American Indian Cultural Corridor, and are putting resources behind it to make it a reality, transforming from an economy of social service to one of entrepreneurship and growth. Living in Edmonton, which by the end of the decade will have the largest urban Aboriginal population in Canada, I see great value and opportunity to foster inclusion through initiatives like this in both my community.

Huenemann also spoke to the need for responsibility from the communities affected and involved. He passed on an old saying from an Elder, that when you’re pointing one finger at someone else, you’re pointing three back at yourself – meaning, you need to think about what you’re doing, rather than blaming others.

Restoring the American City: Augusta, GA and Laney Walker/Bethlehem

Laney Walker and Bethlehem are traditionally African-American communities adjacent to downtown Augusta. Vibrant communities from the 1920s to 1970s, they’ve experienced significant decline over the past 40 years. In Laney Walker, 33% of housing was in poor condition or dilapidated; the number in Bethlehem was 70%. The areas had hollowed out; while 1000 acres in size, and home to 3500 parcels of land, it was home ot only 4700 people.

Beginning in 2007, revitalization efforts sought to build on its character and proud history as an African-American community. As Chester Wheeler, one of the leaders of this initiative noted, “Government could not come in and plan for the people. It would never work”. Government did, however, need to mitigate the risk of private developers to encourage investment. The project has been sensitive to existing residents, including them in the consultation and planning from the site, and ensuring any tenants that are displaced are successfully relocated to a home in their existing community. Impressively, they have yet to acquire a single property through eminent domain, respecting local ownership of each property. The project has focused on preservation and reuse (where the former is no longer possible). As one resident said, “it’s important to keep these buildings so they can continue to tell their story”

This effort receives a public investment through a hotel/motel surcharge, and is using it to leverage private investment at a 5:1 ratio. It builds on the area’s history by creating a Heritage Trail, which identifies 150 sites of significant recognition of African-American people and places throughout the city. This speaks to one of the best strategies I see for urban development, building on your own city’s character and making them strengths, rather than copying the trend of the day.

Community Design and Urban Innovation for a Knowledge Economy
Michael Freedman, Principal at Freedman Tung Sasaki in San Francisco, closed out the conference.

He covered the evolution of the smart growth movement over the years, noting that we now know what the problems and solutions to them are. The key challenge he identified is to create “a broader consensus for the coming prosperity”. It’s a well-found point, that the coalition of smart growth/new urbanist advocates needs to grow. I’m reminded of a speaker yesterday who asked, “how can you create an environment where people see a reflection of themselves in your work?” I see this as important to any successful movement, that people can relate, and see a place for themselves as part of it.

He also noted that, “when the nature of work changes, the city is entirely transformed”. He followed by pointing out that transportation changes follow changes to work, rather than influencing the change itself as many assume.

Freedman covered the evolution of cities since the industrial revolution, noting where we have arrived at today, a place where creativity and innovation are the primary wealth-generators of the new economy. He tied this back to cities, focusing on the need to develop cities (physically and otherwise) that foster innovation and creativity, and talked about what the city of the future might look like (hint: the business park is dead).

This is the challenge for smart growth and new urbanist advocates like myself. To articulate a vision and a road map to create cities that respond to the economic, social, and environmental needs of the 21st century. With the work being done by people like Freedman, and many of the speakers and attendees I’ve met in the past three days, I feel like this future is closer than many of us might think.

New Partners for Smart Growth: Day Two

Following on my post from the first day of New Partners for Smart Growth, here is a quick recap of Friday’s sessions:

Building a Powerful Regional Equity Coalition to Deliver on Sustainable Communities
Building on what I noted in the East Baltimore project, three organizations spoke about how they’re ensuring smart growth and redevelopment is inclusive of all residents, particularly marginalized communities. Urban Habitat, out of San Francisco, has developed a Board and Commission Leadership Institute, where they prepare and encourage members of marginalized communities to participate in civic boards and commissions. They’ve gone, in the words of CEO Allen Fernandez-Smith, from “the goal of influencing decision-makers to the goal of being the decision-makers”. San Francisco is also leading the way with a Local Hire Policy for public works, including a provision for employing residents from disadvantaged communities.

Farmers’ Market

For lunch we went to the Farmers’ Market at Cancer Survivors’ Park, adjacent to the conference hotel. California is leading the way with more than 700 farmers’ markets across the state, and this ties in well with San Diego’s thriving local food culture I noted in the Thursday recap.


Little Trips, Big Difference: Predicting Traffic for Mixed-Use Sites

As someone who values metrics and analytics, I was interested to see what’s being done to measure the efficacy, and continue to build the case for mixed-use developments (MXDs) and transit-oriented developments (TOD).

The speakers focused on 7 ‘Ds’ that reduce demand for trips and vehicular traffic:
– Density
– Diversity
– Design
– Destinations
– Distance to travel
– Development scale
– Demgraphics
– Demand management

Tools now can predict number and types of trips from factors such as how many jobs are available within 3 miles of a location. I see a real value in being able to demonstrate the value of MXDs over traditional suburban development in terms of environmental impact and infrastructure cost. I’m thinking some universal metric like baseball’s Wins Above Replacement.

Jobs, the Workforce, and the Economy: Rethinking the Role of Smart Growth and the Economy

Speaker Larry Fitch began by noting that economic growth is often seen as separate from the smart growth agenda, when in reality they’re heavily intertwined. This point is well-found. Smart growth and new urbanism need to be about more than a built form. The inherent economic benefits, and the potential economic opportunities for citizens, need to be a conscious part of this effort, and well-articulated as part of the vision as well. He also focused on the issue of transit and accessibility, and how without it residents can become marginalized. He used the example of his guitar instructor in San Diego, who has to take the bus an hour and a half to teach his 30 minute lesson.

Hop Hopkins, a community organizer in Los Angeles, spoke about what the Conservation Corps is doing to train workers from disadvantaged communities in emerging green industries. Programs like this point to the possibility of greater economic benefits, while also ensuring that residents of marginalized communities benefit, rather than are displaced from these efforts.

The State Center project in Baltimore is another example of this. An infill project just north of the Inner Harbor, development is filling in a suburban-style government office, providing affordable housing and community resources, and delivering economic inclusion by ensuring local hiring in the development process.

These are just two examples of how smart growth and new urbanism can be part of a new, more sustainable, economic agenda.

New Partners for Smart Growth: Day One

I’m at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in San Diego, which started Thursday and ends today. When I have more time following the conference, I plan to write more in-depth on what I learned, but my writing on the conference will begin with a quick recap of each day. Here is a brief overview of what I attended on Thursday. You can read full descriptions of the sessions here:

Restoring Prosperity in America’s Legacy Cities
Feeding my current Rust Belt obsession, I attended this session to learn what former industrial centers are doing to ‘right-size’ and adapt.

In East Baltimore, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has been involved in facilitating redevelopment that is sensitive to the existing residents. With Johns Hopkins University expanding, the Foundation played a key role in ensuring residents were included, and benefited (such as having priority to send their kids to the new school, and economic inclusion agreements for redevelopment work). Where relocation happened, due to eliminating unsuitable housing, support was providing for tenants to relocate. One of the dangers of revitalization/gentrification, a theme that has come up a lot this conference, is that it will exclude and displace residents in an area. Revitalization that is inclusive of all community members will deliver more value to both residents and the city/region as a whole.

Dan Kildee of the Center for Community Progress spoke of the need to ‘right-size’ communities that were built for a much larger population than they support now. He made a profound point around one of the challenges we face in accepting this. It’s a distinctly (North) American view that growth is inherently good, and ipso facto, that any city/region that is not growing is inherently a failure. A large part of New Urbanism and Smart Growth, for me, is rethinking what we view as a success, and Kildee’s points speak to this.

Seeds of Change: Creative Urban Gardens and Edible Parks
This session focused on urban gardens, local food, and green initiatives in San Diego County and Los Angeles. San Diego has turned its plentiful farmland into a local economic asset. San Diego County has more farms than any other county in the US, more than 7000 in total (343 of which are organic). The farms supply everything from popular local restaurants, to public schools. There are also creative ways to reach populations not usually connected to the local/organic food movement. At a youth center, consumers wanted to get outdoors, so they worked to convert two batting cages into gardens. In the County, there is also a boarding school for foster teens built on an organic farm, where the students participate in tending to the farm, and learning key skills.

Charrettes and the Next Generation of Public Involvement
This session focused on creative new ways to engage the public. As someone who feels like the public consultation process is deficient, if not broken, it was great to hear of new ways to engage greater numbers of people. CrowdBrite developed an online tool to compliment the in-person consultation. In one case, 600 people used the online portion, contributing over 100 ideas. The amazing thing is that none of the online participants had, according to the records of the city in question, attended a public meeting in person over the previous 10 years. Initiatives like this point to ways to greater engage a larger number of people in consultation.

Essential Components of the 21st Century Community: Housing for the “Missing Middle”
This focused on (primarily infill) medium-density housing types, such as row housing, bungalow courts, and duplexes. While the speakers didn’t indulge my obsession with brownstone row housing, they did promote a form-based code, of which I am a big proponent. Richmond, CA, has used a form-based code to facilitate the development of affordable housing and other land uses that often encounter opposition from communities.

Brick Houses
Medium-density row housing in the Capitol Hill area of Washington, DC.

One of the speakers also made a great point about how multi-unit buildings often give up the amenities people like in single-detached units, such as having both a front and back door. I see a lot of potential in medium-density housing (I would love to be able to get a brick or brownstone row house in Edmonton), but I recognize that to appeal to a larger demographic, it needs to incorporate in some form things that people like about their single-detached family homes – front doors, back doors, garages, and yards. It’s great to see cities making advances in these areas.

A Model City? Why My City (and Yours) Might Find Inspiration in Pittsburgh

In my hometown of Edmonton, one of the biggest issues of debate over the past few years has been that of whether to build (and how to fund) a new hockey arena on the north edge of downtown. Proponents have held up a few examples of what they consider successful arena districts, but in particular have focused on Columbus, Ohio.

With the announcement this week that a builder and (probably) an architect have been chosen, the project continues to move closer to reality (all that’s missing is $100 million in funds).

Though I’ve been critical of whether an arena is the best way to increase activity in the area – and I think the promised economic benefits are overblown – if it’s going ahead, I want to see it happen in the best way possible. Again, the Columbus model was cited as one Edmonton should follow. I have two questions, or reservations, about this:

1. An arena (district) is just one part of a downtown, never mind a city, so looking at that area in isolation is limiting.
2. A ‘Made in Edmonton’ (or insert name of your city) solution is cliche, but behind it is a truth that you can only draw ideas and inspiration from other cities, you can’t replicate and expect the same result.

6th Street Bridge

Cited as another possible model for the arena itself is the new Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, which got me thinking – I’ve never been to Columbus, but I have been to Pittsburgh. If I know anyone who’s been to Columbus, they have certainly never felt the need to tell me about it. Meanwhile, the handful of people I know who have been to Pittsburgh all left impressed. And it’s getting plenty of accolades from academics, advocacy groups, and major newspapers, to name three places. On Sunday, I called it a seriously underrated city, which experts with more knowledge than I have concur with.

And finally, it tops multiple different lists for most livable cities in America.

Next week, I’ll be introducing a concept around how I see cities becoming successful, particularly in respect to other, potentially competing, cities. A lot of it has to do with the size of a city. Comparing major metropolises to medium-sized cities is comparing apples and oranges. For Edmonton, with a metro population of over 1 million people, I’d pick Seattle (at 3.5 million) as the starting point, population-wise, for a city Edmonton might start to have legitimate comparisons with. Of American metro areas, I’d say the 15th (Seattle) to 51st (Rochester) – all anywhere from 3.5 to 1 million residents, could be considered in some way analogous.

The purpose of this, though, is to put forward the idea that when looking for inspiration, we need to look at a more macro level. Columbus’ arena district might work for that city, but there are different macro-level considerations for mine and yours. But while we don’t need to replicate everything Pittsburgh did, every medium-sized city can draw lessons and inspirations from some of the many things it has done well. If we’re going to take best practices from other cities, that’s the way to do it best.

Jasper Ave Blues: A Preamble

P1150262

Over the next…indeterminate period of time, I’ll be undertaking a series of posts about Downtown Edmonton. Readers will have surely noticed my interest in cities and urban environments. The urban core – in particular its downtown – is at the heart of any successful city/region.

I spend most of my time right now downtown and nearby. I work downtown, and live three blocks west of its technical boundary. When I’m home, I’m downtown at least 6 days of the week – every work day, plus at least one day on the weekend, whether it’s working out at the Y, going to a concert at Starlite or the Winspear, having dinner or drinks with friends, or of course, the market on Saturday mornings in the summer.

On the bright side, interest in downtown’s future and well-being is the highest in the decade I’ve closely followed Edmonton civic affairs. On the media front, CBC AM is in the middle of a series called Downtown at a Crossroads, and several Edmonton Journal writers (particularly David Staples) have focused heavily on downtown. City Council, the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, and the Chamber of Commerce are all active champions. The Downtown Community League is doing excellent work, and I see a real pride among many citizens in what’s happening. On the downside, interest doesn’t automatically lead to progress. Done poorly, it could end up having an adverse effect, and there’s also a danger that boosterism and the desire to see something – anything – happen, may override due process and judgement on what is truly beneficial. This series will be my contribution to the discussion, analyzing downtown’s current state, proposals for new ideas that come forward, and putting forward my own ideas about what can make our downtown even better. I hope others will respond, engage, and contribute.

The title of this series might imply a strictly negative view of downtown in its current state. Nothing could be further from the truth (I just liked the title, thought it was catchy, and don’t have any better ideas right now). While our downtown isn’t the best, or maybe even in the top 10 downtowns I’ve visited in the past few years (to be fair to Edmonton, I’ve been to a lot of cities in that time), there are a lot of positive things happening. Edmonton’s downtown has made tremendous strides in the 15 years or so that my memory extends back. New residences are popping up, ranging from the higher-end Icon Towers to the Mayfair Village affordable housing development. 104th Street has exploded, boasting a roster of coffee shops, wine bars, restaurants, and shops that rivals High Street or Whyte Ave – in quality if not in quantity. Nothing beats spending a Saturday morning during the summer at the outdoor market on 104th. A couple of years ago, none of Moriarty’s, Tres Carnales, Corso32, or Pampa existed. Now, we have a strong restaurant scene downtown. Our downtown would be virtually unrecognizable (in a good way) to someone who left two decades ago and had yet to come back.

Anecdotally, the strongest point for downtown I can say is this. When I moved back to Edmonton 6 years ago and for a while afterwards, I couldn’t imagine I would choose to live downtown over other areas in the city. When I last moved just under 2 years ago, the downtown area was by far my preferred area to end up. That’s somewhat due to having worked downtown for the past 5 1/2 years, and having gotten to know the area better. But mostly it’s because of the improvement I’ve seen in that time. But our downtown can still be so much more. This series is one way I’m aiming to help make that a reality.

Building Capital in the Inner City

The first panel session was titled ‘Community-Based Capital for Small Business Financing’. In the introduction, moderator Matt Reilein of JP Morgan Chase noted that an ICIC study found that 70% of inner-city businesses are undercapitalized, which provided excellent context for the discussion that followed.

Two ideas brought up by the panelists jumped out at me – Mary Houghton of ShoreBank’s talk about ‘social investment’, and Jonathan Brereton of ACCION Chicago’s discussion of the role, and challenges faced by, non-profit organizations.

ShoreBank, now part of the Urban Partnership Bank, emerged from Chicago’s long tradition of neighborhood-based political organizing. Founded in 1973, it believed that local deposits ought to be used for local loans. Interestingly, it found that the size of loans requested by small and new businesses was the biggest barrier to accessing capital for inner-city businesses (race and perceptions of poverty were second). The issue of size of loans was brought up later by another panelist, mentioning that conventional banks have generally not been interested in anything less than $25,000.

Houghton mentioned that ShoreBank eventually found a market amongst what she called ‘socially-oriented investors’, people interested in not just a financial bottom line, but a social (and environmental) return as well. Picking up on the theme of social good, Brereton talked about the problems non-profits faced. First, that many people don’t view them as businesses (for example, many loan programs exclude non-profits). Second, there is a stigma in many minds because they are government-funded (he made a great analogy debunking this by pointing out that Boeing’s biggest customer is the government). Finally, the lack of assets non-profits have makes it hard to access credit.

The related idea I take from these two is that an interest in social good can translate into an investment in the inner city, and low-income neighborhoods. My mind goes to the question of ‘how do we harness social good to build capital in the inner city’? Certainly, as citizens we all have a role to play. We can support financial institutions that practice good corporate social responsibility. We can invest in and support non-profits that work in community development, and in marginalized areas. Leaders and funders in non-profit organizations can take on capital and equity-building initiatives and social enterprises (and government programs can adjust to encourage this).

The role of credit unions and other Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) is essential – co-operatives too. There’s precedent in my home province of Alberta (in Western Canada), which has a strong history and presence of credit unions. Credit unions and co-operatives really took root during the Great Depression, when the big banks wouldn’t fund farmers and other small organizations. Many large, locally-owned financial institutions trace their roots to the early decades of the 20th century, and their legacy continues today. The United Farmers of Alberta, along with Servus and FirstCalgary Credit Unions, show up amongst the province’s highest grossing private companies.

Community Development Banks, and CDFIs (including credit unions) can employ this approach to build capital in the inner city. Between an existing customer and business base in the neighborhoods, and a growing number of investors (myself included) who want to support companies that do social good, most markets should be able to support one, if not more, of these institutions.

There will, obviously, need to be a lot more done. But I see the under-capitalizing of inner-city businesses and neighborhoods to be something that we can start fixing right now, building on successful models, and people’s interest in doing social good (even while making money).

Cross-posted from the ICIC Blog.

Thoughts Prior to Urban 2.0.

I have the pleasure of spending the next day and a half at Urban 2.0: The Next Generation of Jobs. As someone with a long interest in cities and urban spaces, and as someone who follows the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City’s work, I’m very excited to be attending and writing about this event.

With the (north) American economy stagnant, and business and industry in transition, it’s an interesting time to be discussing the future of cities, and their role in the economy. Most would say that cities have made a comeback in the last 20 years, after experiencing a decline in the previous four decades. Thinkers like Richard Florida have argued cities (and mega-regions) attract and hold on to the best talent. Christopher Leinberger has predicted the suburbs will be tomorrow’s slums. Yet, there is still evidence that suburban growth (economic, not just population) outpaces that of cities. And even in the core of most cities, you’ll find empty storefronts with remnants of businesses that have fallen apart (I think I’ve seen a closed or closing Borders in every American city I’ve been to the past two years). New developments are half-built or stalled before ground is broken.

Cleveland Public Library
Downtown Cleveland, Ohio.

With that as a context, here are five questions on my mind, and the themes that will frame my posts over the next two days.

• What are the industries of the future that will drive urban (and economic growth)? Is there a place for industry and manufacturing? Is there a place for agrarian pursuits, traditionally found outside the city core?
• How do we build economic capital in lower-income neighbourhoods, and empower traditionally marginalized groups to reach greater economic success?
• How does a(n inner) city interact and relate to a larger regional economy?
• What’s the role of business, government, NGOs, and every day citizens in making this happen?
• What will the city of the future look like?

Some of the brightest, most talented urban thinkers are in the room today and tomorrow. I can’t wait to hear what they have to say.

$100 Million for Downtown Edmonton

Much has been made in recent days about Premier Stelmach’s statement that provincial Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funds could potentially be used to cover the $100 million missing in the arena funding puzzle. Many prominent Edmontonians, notably Edmonton Journal Urban Affairs columnist David Staples, have been vocal champions of the downtown arena project. Last Friday, David promoted the #GoDowntown hashtag on Twitter, encouraging people to use it and tweet their support for the project.

In response, I posted the following two things:

Fortunately, as you can see, David agrees with my statement in the second post.

I work downtown, and live downtown-ish (three blocks west of its technical boundary). I live here by choice. I enjoy the proximity to amenities (like the river valley trails for running and biking), the ability to walk to restaurants, pubs, and shopping, and the diverse, interesting neighbourhood that surrounds me. I’d like to see our downtown area continue to flourish, but I recognize there’s lots of good things going on, and it has made tremendous strides over the last decade or two. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and downtown Edmonton is heading in the right direction.

Getting back to my statement about the best use of $100 million, my issue with this funding going to the arena is not that project in and of itself. Rather, it is my belief that $100 million could do so much more for our downtown spent in other ways. I spent a few hours last night brainstorming how that could happen. As a caveat, some of the costs are estimates, but this gives you an idea of what $100 million could go towards.

Housing
– 1500 New Housing Unit Grants at $10,000/unit ($15 million)
– 400 New Family Housing Unit Grants at $25,000/unit ($10 million)
– 150 New Live-Work Spaces Grants at $25,000/unit ($3.75 million)

In the Capital City Downtown Plan, one of the strategies set out is a $10,000 per unit housing incentive grant in the Warehouse District. This could be expanded to the whole downtown, and help kickstart proposed projects. The Aurora project has long been on hold, and recent Edmonton Journal articles mention a proposed development in Chinatown, and interest in 40 and 50 story towers on 104th St.

Additionally, this grant could be used to encourage development of different types of units. Family units (2 or more bedrooms) are scarce, and a higher level of subsidy could encourage more family-oriented housing to be developed. Similar, live-work space is identified in the downtown plan for artists, but it could just as easily be used by any number of professions. Both would compliment and diversify the housing options available downtown. Most importantly, I estimate more than 3500 residents move in to those units (based on 1.5 per regular unit, 3 per family unit). That’s 3500 people living downtown, shopping and using amenities every day.

Preservation and Conversion
– BMO’63 Building and Odeon Theatre ($12 million)
– CKUA Building ($5 million)

While it was lamentable that City Council chose not to pursue any action in trying to save BMO’63, it’s not too late. While “demolition” may begin shortly, it’s unlikely to affect the structure for a while, as the asbestos must be removed first. So suffice to say, MSI funding could be used to compensate the owner, or purchase the building outright if action was taken quickly.

What could be done with these properties? Well, Magic Lantern Theatres, which until recently operated the Garneau, contacted GE Capital about taking over the Odeon Theatre. And with BMO’63, you could probably fit around 200 FTEs into renovated office space (similar to the Empire Building), and a restaurant/lounge on the main floor. In conversation, Martin suggested a ‘Corso64‘, which I think is a brilliant idea.

What about other ways to increase employment downtown and activity on Jasper Ave? Well, the CKUA Building is for sale, with its current tenants set to move shortly. Having been in that building, I recognize that it may be problematic to renovate for some purposes, but it does have a decent stock of office space already. There is also the space to renovate the main floor and put a restaurant/shop of some sort in. The property lists for $3.2 million, so an additional investment from the City and other investors could turn it into some form of office space for small companies or startups, or studio space for artists, to name two possible outcomes. You could probably fit another 200 or so employees in there.

Capacity Building
– Start-Up/Tech Space ($500K)
– Non-Profit Centre ($5 million)

The Edmonton Champions project calls for:

establishing physical creative and entrepreneurial hubs where the collision between great ideas and people can happen. Places where startups grow, events happen, and community gathers.

A grant to secure and convert space in the downtown core would help accomplish this. The DIY attitude of entrepreneurs would likely lead to them raising additional funds or completing additional work themselves. This space is key to growing our tech economy.

In terms of additional capacity-building, space for non-profits can be hard to come by. Providing affordable office space where they can be housed, and can learn from one another is a strategy that can strengthen Edmonton’s non-profit centre. There is an existing model too, with the Percy Page Centre, which houses many of Alberta’s sporting organizations.

Public Spaces
– Signature Art Piece for 105th St Park ($5 million)
– Renovation of Churchill Square ($10 million)
– Indoor Market and Community Centre ($7.5 million)

The downtown plan calls for a new park in the Warehouse District, and I’m told it will be going in by early next year at 105th St and 102 Ave. Commissioning signature art and attractions is a way to generate interest and activity. There’s a lot of synergy with the growing residential population, and attractions like the City Centre Market and MacEwan nearby. In terms of art and attractions, I’m thinking something unique like Avnish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate at Millennium Park in Chicago.

The renovations to Churchill Square could take many forms, but would be designed to increase activity and make it a year-round space. And if nothing else, the concrete would go.

Riding By

The City Centre Market, which operates on 104th St from May-October, has been looking for winter space. With the Ford dealership vacating its old space on 106th St and 103 Ave, there is a possibility to convert its old showroom into a market and community centre. I’m imaging a development like Reading Terminal in Philadelphia. The Saturday Market could remain the focus, but it could also feature a series of permanent vendors open every day, with the market space being used for different purposes outside of Saturdays in the winter.

Streetfront Initiatives
– 25 Storefront Conversion Grants at $50,000 each ($1.25 million)

An identified challenge is that many street level spaces are not pedestrian-friendly, or not being used at all. These grants would encourage development of streetfront retail space, converting shops in places like City Centre Mall outwards, and filling in empty ground-level space in many highrises along Jasper Avenue. This is another priority outlined in the downtown plan.

Green Energy
– 50 Green Energy Grants at $50,000 each ($2.5 million)

These grants would be used to encourage residential and commercial buildings to invest in green energy – solar panels, geo-thermal (if possible), green roofs, etc.

Infrastructure and Transportation
– 3 Pedestrian Bridges over 104 Ave ($15 million)
– SmartCard system for parking and services ($5 million)
– Bike Lanes, including North-South and East-West main arterials ($1.5 million)
– Bixi Program for City Centre ($1 million)

I do agree with David Staples that connectivity over 104 Ave is a problem. I don’t think we need a winter garden to be the focal point, and to draw activity away from the street, but strategically placed bridges could help connect the North Edge to downtown, increase pedestrian safety, and add a nice architectural touch to 104 Ave. Think one around 102 Ave, 105 Ave, and 107 Ave (near the future LRT stop in front of MacEwan). In terms of design, the three could all be linked, or similar, like a pedestrian version of the Three Sisters bridges in Pittsburgh.

An additional amenity for residents and visitors alike would be a Smartcard system. This could replace parking meters and also be used at other city facilities. Philadelphia has largely done away with metered parking. The Smartcard system is similar to Impark, you have one terminal on each block, and you pay with your card and print a ticket.

I find Edmonton has pretty good bike paths, but outside of the Railtown path, is missing dedicated lanes. A need for dedicated North-South and East-West axis was outlined in the downtown plan, and this would improve commuter cycling within the downtown core.

Additionally, for those who live in the downtown core, or spend time there, a Bixi system would be beneficial. It would encourage short-term trips, providing an alternative to car transportation for meetings and errands.

Next post: I attempt to quantify the impact of $100 million for an arena vs the $100 million investment I laid out above.

15 Steps to a Better Edmonton

In March 2009, I gave a talk at an event called IdeaFest (well covered by Daveberta and Chris LaBossiere). At Andy’s suggestion, I did a session called “15 Steps to a Better Edmonton”. The title is fairly expository.

It was well received enough that a few people asked me to send them a copy of my presentation. After looking at the PowerPoint again, I realized it didn’t really provide much information; aside from a few bullet points, most of what made it into the presentation was my speaking extemporaneously. A few months later, I began turning it into a blog post. I’d write some, then get sidetracked by more timely things. Then I stopped blogging regularly, and it sat in limbo. Chris would constantly remind me about this, and after seeing him last weekend for the first time in months, I felt compelled to finally finish it.

With the recent civic election having passed, and the new City Council settling in for the start of its three-year term, it’s as timely as ever. This post is light on specific policies, focusing more on high-level goals and strategies. But these are all steps we – both individually as citizens, and collectively as a city – can take to make Edmonton an even greter place to live.

It should be noted that my thinking has, of course, changed some over the past 18 months. The details of this post reflect this to a degree, though for consistency the 15 steps have stayed the same.

So without further ado, here are one Edmontonian’s thoughts on how to make our city even better. It’s broken up into three parts – ‘Getting Started’, ‘Mastering the Basics’, and ‘Making the Leap’.

Downtown Edmonton Skyline

Getting Started
Before we get into direct actions, there are some broader contextual and high-level issues that must be discussed and understood. Together, they provide the framework for identifying and achieving ways to make Edmonton even better.

1. Understand Our Challenges
Let me start by saying that I love Edmonton. I’ve spent most of my life here, and I’d be very happy to live here for the rest of it. The city has many strong points (I’ll cover some of them later), but to become the city I believe it can be, there are some challenges that need to be conquered.

There are more than just these one at play, but I’ve picked three to focus on. The broad challenges I see are:

Identity Crisis – What kind of city is Edmonton? What kind of city do we want it to be? If we don’t understand this, and have a clear vision citizens can buy into, it’s that much harder to move forward.

Decreasing Faith in Traditional Institutions – Esteem for government and politicians has been consistently falling across the country. How do we address this, and adjust our institutions or methods of engagement accordingly?

Planning and Sustainability – Is our city and communities sustainable – ecologically, socially, and financially? If not, how do we get there?

2. Understand Why People Stay or Go
We often lament that people, especially young people, prefer to move to Toronto, Calgary, or Vancouver, rather than staying in Edmonton. But how much do we really know about why people come, stay, or go. Asking these questions will help us understand:

What brings people to Edmonton?
What makes them stay?
What makes them leave?
What can be done about people leaving?

The last question is particularly important, as developing a strong identity will depend on our ability to successfully attract and keep people that help us achieve our vision of Edmonton.

3. Accept That Our Challenges Aren’t Just About Policy and Legislation

Government can take some steps, but the biggest challenges stem from culture and from people’s attitudes. In some instances, Edmonton is doing well. Our level of volunteering and community involvement is relatively high; our voter turnout, on the other hand, is nothing to brag about. We also have a challenge in that Edmontonians often get down on their city, and feel a need to have a perception that it stacks up to certain others. We tend to dwell on the negatives, and don’t promote our city the way we should. Initiatives like edmontonstories.ca help, and I believe a cultural shift is happening in some circles, but we still get trapped in this.

We have to stop worrying about comparing ourselves to Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. We’re different types (and sizes) of cities. Of course a region of 3-5 million people will offer amenities and attractions our million-large region can’t. But a city and region of our size offers a different vibe, and can still offer many things that will appeal to people. The cities in Canada we are most comparable to are Ottawa, Calgary, and Winnipeg – medium-large cities that offer a high quality of life, a lot of amenities, but also a pace and feel that many find more amenable than that of the biggest cities.

We need to focus on building a city we are comfortable with and proud of, critiques or pejoratives from outside critics be damned.

4. Take Ownership of Our City
This is the corollary to point 3. Success depends upon an engaged, informed citizen body. For Edmonton to continue moving forward, we need citizens to become informed, participate in government and the community, and to hold their representatives accountable. We need people to understand the facts, and to make and support informed decisions based on them. I believe that in most situations, people get the government they deserve, either through our action or inaction; taking Edmonton to the next level requires more than a few legislative actions. It requires the regular engagement and participation of Edmontonians.

The Basics
There are basic expectations and functions that any city needs to meet. They matter a lot. They represent people’s most common interactions with government. We use roads, sidewalks, and transit on a daily basis.

It also says something about our city; a well-kept, clean city shows to residents and outsiders alike that we care about our city, and that we are serious about keeping it up.

5. Take Care of the Fundamentals
As mentioned above, these basic activities represent the most regular interaction of citizens with the services their government provides. Most people are going to experience the snow removal, street cleaning, and transit service provided more than they will any output of a public art levy or a publicly sponsored cultural program, for example. This isn’t meant to diminish the importance of the latter two – they are integral parts of a successful city, but rather to emphasize that basic services and infrastructure are as well. Debate often devolves into a false dichotomy about whether to support arts and culture, or to support basic infrastructure and services. The former matters because what make cities great goes beyond the basics; the latter matters because the term ‘basics’ is fairly expository – they’re the things you’re expected to do well before moving on to more advanced objectives.

Most importantly, in order to successfully pursue grander projects, citizens must buy into them. They won’t buy into them if they don’t have confidence in government. Doing the little things well earns governments the political capital, and most importantly, the trust, to pursue larger-scale goals. For the lack of a better term, customer service, in this respect, matters a lot. If you hired a company to paint your fence and they screwed it up, would you hire them to paint your house? Would you promote someone within your office if they didn’t deliver on basic responsibilities, or would you hire someone who proved themselves at another organization? You can’t shop around with government, but the same principle applies. Why trust someone to deliver on a big project if they can’t take care of the basics.

6. Build On Our Strengths
Edmonton has a lot going for it. We need to always remember that, and celebrate it. A first step, then, should be to identify our strengths, and think about how we can build on them. Here are a few of Edmonton’s biggest strengths.

Public Sector: Universities and Colleges; Government
We are home to two Universities, a large technical institution, and many smaller University Colleges. As thinkers such as Richard Florida have pointed out, universities are drivers of the new economy. There is also evidence they provide more economic stability – they are less prone to fluctuation than other industries (a big plus in a province where natural resources make up a big part of the economy). Post-secondary institutions provide a number of stable, largely professional jobs, they bring in a steady stream of young people, and the ideas and products developed in the classrooms and labs can lead to spinoff and related industries (just look at Waterloo and UW’s synergy, or the creativity at schools such as Stanford that helped fuel Silicon Valley’s rise, or the companies that have been incubated at the University of Texas in Austin).

We also have a large government work force. We are the seat of the provincial government, the City of Edmonton is a large employer, and we have a large presence of federal government employees as well, both in the civil service and the military. Like post-secondary institutions, government tends to provide good jobs, and more stability.

Outdoor Recreation and Amenities
Owing in large part to our well-preserved river valley system, the capital region offers a lot of opportunities for outdoor activity and recreation. Go an hour or two outside Edmonton, and you find many more. Drive west for a little over three hours, and you find yourself in Jasper National Park. Drive south and west for 4 hours, and you’re in Banff National Park.

Snow on the Valley

Lifestyle and amenities are important in attracting and retaining workers. The number of high-quality outdoor amenities in and around Edmonton is hard to match.

Festivals: Arts and Culture
In 2007, Edmonton was designated one of Cultural Capitals. Now, these titles are given out on a nearly annual basis, and most cities probably get their turn at some point, but the title seemed appropriate. For a city of our size, Edmonton has a lot of cultural amenities. We attract a steady stream of concert acts, and Rexall Place and Commonwealth Stadium continue to attract the biggest touring acts. The former has ranked among the world’s top concert venues over the past few years.

Our culture scene especially manifests itself in our festivals, which run pretty much non-stop through the summer months. Ask any Edmontonian, and they can surely name their favourite – probably Folk Fest (which is mine), the Fringe (one of the largest in the world), or Heritage Days. This doesn’t include the two dozen or so other smaller festivals; plus events throughout the year such as the Edmonton International Film Festival and the emerging Winter Light Festival. Suffice to say, there is a lot going on.

Hosting Major Events
This is another area where we punch above our weight class. Edmonton has an enviable track record of hosting major events; in recent years, we did an exempliary job of hosting the World University Games and the World Masters Games.

While I’m not usually a proponent of mega-projects or mega-events, when chosen strategically and executed well, they can add a lot to our city.

Our Public School System
Our public school system is world class. As much as I hate that term, in this situation, it’s warranted and well-deserved. School quality is a major consideration for families, and our strong system is a huge advantage for our city. First, it is a huge attraction for families; while I haven’t found Canadian data, Anthony Flint covers at length the data from the US that shows that school quality is the top determinant of where people live. There’s no reason to think it’s isn’t a major driver here. Second, quality education benefits us all; society reaps the benefits of well-educated and trained workers and citizens.

The Mall
Using the definition of world class, West Edmonton Mall definitely fits the bill.

The People
A common refrain I hear from friends and family who have moved away is that they miss the people more than anything. I can empathize with this, having lived elsewhere for a time. It’s hard to quantify, but the people here are great.

7. Better and More Diverse Design
One of the things I’ve noticed about Edmonton is that, leaving aside the very oldest ones, all of our communities tend to look the same. We have roughly three types of communities. Going outward from the core, you see them no matter whether you go east, west, north, or south.

The closest circle consists of the post-war communities: sprawling lots with a smaller single-story (or sometimes a two-story) house on it, and a detached garage connecting to an alleyway behind the house, almost uniformly on number streets found on a grid system. Commercial activity is separated, but still intertwined with the community. Houses and businesses face the major arterial roads.

Next, we find communities of the late 60s-early 80s vintage. They have slightly smaller lots that hold bigger two-story (and some one-story) houses. Streets are still numbered, and generally on something resembling a grid, but you start to see more cul-de-sacs and winding roads. Commercial activity is adjacent to, but separate from the community. Instead of housing facing major arterial roads, you’ll get the parking lot of a commercial centre, or more commonly, tall fences and backyards that create a feeling of isolation as you pass by.

Then we get to the communities built since the 1990s. They have bigger houses on even smaller lots. The streets aren’t on a grid, and they have names that are interchangeable, similar, and utterly confusing. Commercial activity is separate, and a passerby on arterial roads gets a nice view of tall fences that isolate the community from the road. Now, there are a few exceptions in each case, but in general, our communities fit one of these three archetypes.

Art Gallery of Alberta

Now, this is a problem in that it doesn’t offer much choice for residents. Only a handful of communities are truly walkable (as in, you can go about your daily business on foot), and distinguishable in design. A key to success is diversity, being able to offer different options to people at different stages in their lives (often all within the same community), and to appeal to different types of people. Our focus on segregated uses of land is a challenge.

Not only are the communities laid out in three types, but most of our buildings tend to look generic at best, mundane at worst. Good design is inspiring; we need more of it in our city – decision-makers, architects/developers, and citizens alike have to demand better.

Preserving our history is important. It adds character, diversity, and is a reminder of where our city comes from. I see a shift happening (through preservation of buildings such as the Garneau Theatre), but we are still too quick to discard aging buildings or neighbourhoods in favour of the next big things.

8. Make Public Places Interesting
Following up on the previous point, many areas suffer from a lack of activity. There is an onus, of course, on citizens and civic leaders to create activity in the public space, but design of spaces will also affect this, for better or worse.

When people talk about their favourite places, these places are either bustling with activity, or dead quiet. The latter isn’t really compatible with most of a city – except for a quiet spot in our river valley system or a park. Rather, the city is designed to be full of activity. Whether it be gatherings in major public spaces, or simple, informal interaction at the street level, activity is what makes a city tick. Activity also breeds interest, which will then breed more activity (and so on). Places also should be designed to promote a mix of compatible activities, so that they’re being used throughout the day, not bustling for periods and dead for others.

Design is important, but it’s also up to people to bring activity to the public sphere. We’re all guilty of spending time on our balconies, not in parks, or in our backyards, not our front yards. If we’re committed to interesting public spaces, it’s incumbent on citizens to take initiative and use them.

9. Diversify Our Transportation Options
Despite the advances we’re making with LRT expansion, Edmonton is still designed to be a car-centric city. While there will continue to be a role for automobile travel, it’s imperative to build our infrastructure in all areas of transportation.

Other forms of transportation – public transit, walking, cycling, etc need to be treated as legitimate means, not alternatives for eccentrics and people with no other choice. It’s not enough just to build it, but it needs to be high quality, and desirable.

Public transit, in particular, is an undercapitalized area. The emphasis needs to be on making it competitive with car travel, time-wise and amenity-wise. The more we pamper transit users – through perks like comfortable, well-maintained transit centres, and amenities such as Wi-Fi, the more uptake we’ll see. If we treat the transit experience like an afterthought, that’s how people will experience the system.

There also needs to be a culture shift towards sharing a transportation system. Drivers need to respect the speed and nature of buses, and always be accommodating of cyclists and pedestrians. Cyclists, however, also need to be well versed in the rules if they’re sharing the road. We all need to recognize that there are several legitimate forms of transportation, and we have a duty as citizens to respect and accommodate that.

Making the Leap
Beyond the basics, I see 6 steps – strategies, really – that will help make Edmonton an even greater city.

10. Grow Up, and Say No to Growing Out
I live a very urban lifestyle right now. I work downtown, live just west of there, and spend most of my time in the downtown/Oliver/Garneau/Old Strathcona area. While I strongly support a more compact urban form, where I live is as much based on where I am in my life, and my general dislike of commuting, as anything else. I see the appeal a more suburban environment has for people, and having grown up in that environment, I can attest that it has many positives.

Stony Plain Road

That said, there is mounting evidence that continued, unfettered growth outwards is unsustainable – both environmentally and economically. The cost of servicing low-density areas is much greater to the municipality than the cost of servicing a high-density core.

Continued, unfettered growth outwards creates a drain on our resources. This is not to say we should never convert green space to living space, but that our focus should be on optimizing existing infrastructure and developed areas. Edmonton is taking steps in this direction, with the new Municipal Development Plan setting a target of 25% of population growth occurring within the existing footprint. The Capital Region Board is establishing limits to growth, but until this is tested, we don’t know if there is the will to enforce it.

We still have a culture where growth outwards and abundant single-family homes are seen as a right. There needs to be the will from both the public and government to say no when the situation calls for it. Right now, we’re not even having the conversation.

11. Embrace What Makes Us Different
Seen one way, where you live is a consumer choice. Most people have some options, and they will compare and choose the one they like best, be it within a city (comparing homes and/or neighbourhoods), or by choosing between different cities to live in.

We’re competing nationally and internationally for people, and we have to be aware of what our advantages over other cities are. More importantly, we need to stand out in some way. What makes Edmonton different from Calgary, Saskatoon, or Vancouver? Or Toronto or Montreal? Or Seattle, Portland, or Austin?

Good transportation, urban design, and basic services have all been covered, but great cities also have attractions that make them unique. Whether it’s restaurants, businesses and shops, or entertainment options that aren’t replicated or available elsewhere, the best cities are known for these things. We have some aspects of this in Edmonton; we need to nurture them, and continue to build a unique local culture in these three spheres.

12. Build Our Social Infrastructure
In hindsight, this should have been listed as a basic. There is an aspect that overlaps with basic services, in that I view social services as something a city needs to offer well. With this point, I’m getting at something else.

Earlier, I mentioned the decreasing faith in traditional institutions and government as a challenge for Edmonton. This doesn’t mean that people are apathetic, but it means that we require different methods and avenues for citizen engagement, and government and other institutions need to be responsive to this.

Morning Session

People might not attend a public meeting on a proposed development in their neighbourhood, but they might discuss urban design at ChangeCamp. They might not volunteer for their community league, but they may use the web to connect with neighbours and mobilize around a common concern. Citizens, institutions, and government alike need to be committed to fostering a culture of engagement. Essential to this is being flexible and open to new and different ways of engaging people and groups. Sometimes it’s not that people don’t want to be involved, it’s that you’re not reaching them where they are, or where they’ll be comfortable participating.

13. Embrace the Region and Mega-Region
In recent years, we’ve taken great strides regionally, with the establishment of the Capital Region Board, and a corresponding move towards collaboration, not competition between Edmonton and its neighbours. This is a good thing, and essential to future growth. Economic cooperation is important, and there is also an economy of scale to some services. Furthermore, a well-coordinated region can offer different living options and neighbourhoods, important in attracting and retaining people with different interests.

Beyond regional cooperation, economies are being organized more about what are referred to as “mega-regions”. These clusters of regions/municipalities are economically linked, and can work to benefit each other. The Edmonton-Calgary corridor has the potential to develop as a strong mega-region in the future, and we should be taking all steps we can to encourage that. Infrastructure investments like high-speed rail to move citizens would be big steps forward.

14. Plan for a Post-Carbon Economy
I’m not going to touch peak oil here, except to say much of what follows in this point is exacerbated if/when oil supplies noticeably decrease, then run out.

Our economy is very much natural resource-driven, and so is our infrastructure – our transportation relies heavily on cars and trucks, buses, and other fossil-fuel powered machinery. Renewable energy use is growing, but still just a small share of production.

No one can predict how our energy production – by design, innovation, or necessity – will change in the next 20-30 years, but Edmonton needs to be well poised to respond to any changes. Key steps include diversifying our transportation system, encouraging research and economic development in energy – especially renewable energy – systems, and implementing policies that will encourage lower energy use.

15. Self-Determination
One of the biggest challenges for cities across Canada is the limited power they actually exert. They’re creatures of the provinces, have no status or recognition beyond that, and could conceivably lose their taxation, or even be amalgamated/dissolved through an act of the legislature. If that happened, it would be an extreme case (and is unlikely), but for the role they play, cities do have a shocking lack of authority.

In order for cities to fulfill their potential, they need more freedom and authority, to raise revenue in different ways than just property taxes, to bargain with the other orders of government, and to have secure, longer-term funding in place.

While some on City Council, notably Don Iveson, raise this issue regularly, it hasn’t caught on in the public. We all want, and expect, great services from our city, but we don’t appreciate the limitations it faces in trying to deliver that. Greater authority for cities must be a cause everyone takes on.

I’ll stop at the original 15. Were I starting this from scratch today, I would probably add a few more. There are a lot of good things happening in Edmonton, and I see the potential for a lot more. I’d also love to hear from readers about what you see as strengths, challenges, and where we need to go next. Building a better Edmonton is a collaborative effort, and I hope this post can help move it along a little bit.