Change, resilience, growth—these were just a few of the themes heard at City Council on September 14th.
Monday marked the beginning of the first in-person Public Hearing at City Hall in nearly six months. It arrived at a pivotal moment.
Amidst the waves of a global pandemic and a deluge of uncertainty, the city continues to chart its course for the future.
Its compass: The City Plan.
The City Plan is all about people, the people here now and the next one million who will call the city home. It will influence how every Edmontonian experiences their future city.
“The City Plan was fueled by Edmontonians,” said Kalen Anderson, Director of the City Plan. “People shared their voices to shape their city.”
After years of workshops, surveys, engagement sessions, open houses, Urban Planning Committee meetings and numerous revisions, additions, changes and tweaks, the City Plan was ready to be presented to City Council and the public.
“The heart of the City Plan is about planning for people,” said Charity Dyke, Lead Urban Strategist of the City Plan. “Each chapter represents the aspirations of Edmontonians.”
That’s what the Public Hearing is all about: it’s an opportunity to hear from the people who will live the City Plan.
Yet the road to get here wasn’t exactly smooth.
The Public Hearing was originally scheduled for mid-March. When COVID-19 swept through the globe, the City Plan work was temporarily put on hold while the City addressed the health crisis.
It’s exactly the kind of disruption that is built into the City Plan’s DNA and disruption, along with resiliency, were on display in person in City Hall.
Plexiglass barriers were installed to protect council, administration and the public. Bottles of hand sanitizer were placed along the staircases. A few speakers arrived in person, the majority joined virtually.
“Change will happen,” said Stephanie McCabe, Deputy City Manager, Urban Form and Corporate Strategic Development. “Some that we can predict. Some we cannot. There’s no better example of the need to be agile, responsive and imaginative in the face of disruption. We need to be bold, agile, smart and brave.”
From land developers to non-profit organizations, from architects and housing stakeholders to child and youth advocates, 31 Edmontonians shared their voices at the Public Hearing.
Edmontonians from a variety of backgrounds, all had something in common: they care deeply about the future of the city and future generations. The dialogue was respectful and appreciative, the conversations informative.
While the future may be uncertain, the speakers highlighted how important it is that we continue to adapt and evolve as our city grows.
“As 2020 has shown, there are many things we cannot predict,” said Michael Kohl from the UDI Edmonton. “Flexibility will be key.”
When it comes to future residential development, Mick Graham from IDEA emphasized how vital investment in infrastructure will be, especially for mature neighborhoods.
That means new pipes, new electrical systems, new Internet connections — the stuff we use everyday.
The City Plan aims to focus growth within the city’s borders with 50 per cent of net new housing units added through infill.
By investing in infrastructure, Edmontonians can have what they need to live, whether they’re in a condo, an infill development or a single detached home.
It’s that focus on choice that emerged as another key issue during the Public Hearing.
Some favoured the market shaping future growth. Others saw choice as one way to help make Edmonton more competitive in the future.
“The City Plan must act as an enabler for investment,” said Chris Nicholas from MLC Land.
Others, like Kirsten Goa, advocated for more diversity in those choices.
“We need diverse housing for diverse households,” Kirsten Goa said. “The market isn’t just a reflection of demand, it’s a reflection of supply and a reflection of what is marketed. We need to invest where we want to grow, and this plan shows us how to do that.”
Where we build, what we build, and who we build for are all complex and important decisions. They influence many areas of our lives: our ways of getting around the city, our feelings of connection to our community, even our physical and mental health.
“How we build communities for walkability, cyclability and transit access actually has tremendous impacts on people’s health,” said Dr. Karen Lee of Housing for Health. “We can also improve safety in the community, decrease social isolation, enhance our retail businesses and create more community connectedness.”
Though the city is in the middle of a pandemic, many speakers highlighted how important it is to not lose sight of the greater problems facing cities around the world like climate change.
“We need to start to put into place actions that can help to overcome this climate emergency in a proactive and meaningful way,” said Shafraaz Kaba from the Energy Transition Climate Resilience Committee. “We feel the City Plan will help steer our community in this direction by making climate a part of every decision as we move forward.”
As the days grow shorter and the leaves begin to change, focusing on community in all seasons now and in the future is more important than ever.
“We need to make the most of winter,” said Tammy Pidner of the Winter City Advisory Council. “Winter can be lonely, and we need to create physical and mentally safe places.”
Christy Morin from Arts on the Ave agreed.
“There is so much need for joy and magic and people and connectivity.”
For many, the excitement about what we are building for future generations was palpable.
“I truly believe the plan reflects the aspirations of many young people now and in the future,” said Stephen Raitz. “I think the City Plan helps plan for a city that works for young people, attracting and retaining them with housing affordability and diversity.”
“I’m just so freakin’ excited about this plan.”
The City Plan Public Hearing continues September 15th at 1:30pm.
Visit edmonton.ca/cityplan to learn more.