Building the City of Tomorrow – The City Plan Public Hearing Day #2 & #3

Stephanie McCabe, September 15, 2020

“This is a plan for Edmonton, its future, and for all Edmontonians.”

Mayor Don Iveson

The City Plan Public Hearing continued its second and third day of deliberations this week. 

At stake: the future of Edmonton’s growth, the future of where we’ll live, how we’ll move around, how connected we’ll feel to each other and to opportunities; the future of Edmontonians here today and those yet to arrive.

City Council and administration heard from 33 speakers during the Public Hearing.

They listened to speakers’ concerns about the growing competition from Edmonton’s regional neighbours.

They considered the speakers who believe growth should be entirely market driven.

They heard how infrastructure investments — like new pipes, roads and sidewalks — will be vital for driving future residential and employment growth. 

They agreed that many Edmontonians support 15 minute neighborhoods — neighbourhoods that are like small towns within a big city, communities within communities — where people can meet many of their daily needs, locally. 

They reinforced the critical need to make Edmonton a more inclusive city, by supporting youth, by providing accessible child care, and by applying a GBA+ lens to city-based services and programs.

They acknowledged the important and unique role community leagues play in the city and added wording to the City Plan to highlight this.

Overall, the amendments were diverse, the discussions constructive.

While much of the debate focused on areas like suburbs, infill and industrial lands, Councillors also asked administration to reinforce the importance of downtown revitalization.

“We’ve expanded the centre city node [in the City Plan], more than doubling the population and jobs,” said Kalen Anderson, Director of the City Plan. “It’s a core value we heard from Edmontonians…downtown is valuable to everyone.”

Overall, day two and three of the Public Hearing were all about focusing and finessing the City Plan’s details.

And there was more work to be done.

Councillor Michael Walters, September 15, 2020

Removing barriers

As with day one, several speakers and Councillors questioned if the City Plan might create barriers to development, especially in newly annexed areas near Edmonton International Airport.

A few speakers advocated for more investment and growth in the annexed areas, and they argued that development should not be restricted there.

Administration responded by reassuring Council that the City Plan does not strictly prohibit growth in those areas.

“Nowhere near the airport are we saying we won’t have non-residential growth,” said Kalen. “In fact we want to strategize around the area. We know there is a lot of economic potential around Edmonton International Airport to be realized.”

Moreover, whether with infill developments, commercial or industrial projects, the City Plan aims to streamline the approval process, in alignment with the city’s focus on removing barriers and increasing accessibility.

Administration also reinforced that collaboration with Edmonton’s neighbours will be key. Working with organizations like Edmonton Global, the City and its regional partners can attract new investment and new people to the whole region — a win-win for all.

“We’re stronger when we work together to attract investment and talent,” said Kalen.

Kalen Anderson, September 15, 2020

Building choice

But what happens if we don’t implement the City Plan? What are the consequences? What does business as usual look like?

The City did extensive research on different future growth scenarios.

In essence, the City Plan will help save money — about three billion dollars in capital costs — over time.

Many speakers said that the status quo does not serve Edmonton well. 

“Patterns need to change,” said Mick Graham from IDEA. “Costs have increased. Sprawl has increased. We need to concentrate resources on infill including upgrading old infrastructure. The City Plan and the courage to pass it is what’s going to get us there.”

When cities focus on density, not only do they save on capital costs, they also build what people want.

During the public engagement process, Edmontonians said they want to live in a city where they spend less on their household and transportation.

Edmontonians said they want to have more housing choices, like the missing middle — multi-unit housing types such as duplexes and fourplexes.

Edmontonians said they want to see more growth in mature neighbourhoods where they and the city have already invested.

“Any time you build low density, you’re in a bad fiscal situation unless you want to increase residential taxes which people don’t want,” said Bob Summers.

“Growing out is also not viable in the long term. The City Plan helps people live in more dense neighbourhoods and makes use of public and active transportation.”

“Density allows for that corner store, that transit stop.” 

“This plan will make Edmonton more competitive and efficient for new residents, businesses, and investors.”

Councillor Scott McKeen, September 16, 2020

Staying the course

Concerns about COVID-19 continued to influence the Public Hearing. Since the City Plan was written before the pandemic, Councillors asked whether it should be highlighted in the plan.

Ultimately, council passed an amendment adding a new message — a “COVID context” statement — to be added at the end of the document to acknowledge our new reality:

This Plan was written pre-pandemic and adopted by Council as Edmonton was responding, relaunching, and reimagining in light of COVID-19. It is a testament to not deviating from an optimistic outlook. We should not alter our course.

“Our context has been altered, but I appreciate that we still need a north star to plan for outside the pandemic,” said Mayor Don Iveson. “The City Plan is our north star. We don’t want to lose focus on it.”

Councillor Ben Henderson, September 16, 2020

A confident step into the future

As Councillors prepared to vote, they gave their closing remarks.

Some appreciated the extensive public engagement process.

“This plan is for the people, by the people,” said Councillor Bev Esslinger.

“This plan was built with cooperation and collaboration with the people of Edmonton,” said Councillor Aaron Paquette. “When we can attract young, energetic people to our communities, our communities get better. More energy means more growth in the right ways. This plan gets us there.”

Others remarked about the plan’s ambitious, aspirational goals.

“Aspiration creates imagination. And that’s what this plan does,” said Councillor Michael Walters.

Other Councillors understood that the City Plan paves the way for a future with more choices for Edmontonians.

“To me, this plan is all about providing real choices that have never really existed,” said Councillor Andrew Knack.

“The best time to build complete communities is twenty years ago. The second best time is now. It’s time to have a foundational plan that addresses what Edmontonians have been asking for.”

“This plan would create a city that so many Edmontonians want. Let’s not wait. Let’s do this sooner rather than later.”

Mayor Don Iveson, September 16, 2020

An emotional Mayor Don Iveson remarked on the historic nature of the moment.

“This city’s future prosperity, and our ability to contribute to Alberta and Canada, rests on our ability to grow smartly in an orderly and planned way.”

“I want to thank Edmontonians for choosing this city and building it together through the extraordinary public engagement.”

“All of this work has been for my kids. Because my key performance indicator will be a city they’ll be proud to call home.”

“An affordable and efficient city, a competitive and prosperous city, a sustainable and green city, a compassionate city, and yes a fun city for future generations.” 

Councillors voted. The City Plan passed.

City Hall, September 16, 2020

What Happens Now?

The City Plan is in the home stretch.

It will now be forwarded for a technical review through the Regional Evaluation Framework before being sent to the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board. After this check-point, The City Plan will be ready for third reading and final approval by City Council.

This is city building in action.

The City Plan will inform all of the City’s Reimagine work in the months and years to come. 

Right now it’s words on a page, policy numbers, charts, graphs and maps.

Soon it will be in the streets we walk, the shops we visit, the new homes, the new neighborhoods we’ll live in. It will be in the feelings we get when we’re in our community.

It’s that future the City Plan has been envisioning and preparing for.

And it’s almost here.

Visit edmonton.ca/cityplan to learn more.

Several members of the City Plan team and administration, September 16, 2020