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Month: March 2011

Guidelines & Actual Rules – Pt. 2

Part 2 – Will also be published in the April edition of the Stony Plain Road Urban Revitalization Report

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In March, I discussed civic policy and guidelines, broadly defined vision, goals, beliefs and ideals that should serve as a guide for future legislation and decision making.  For residents, volunteers, advocates and business owners, there is ultimately little to cling to when the former fail to become, or are underrepresented, in the latter.

From Edmonton’s People Plan “The Way we Live”:  The City of Edmonton – Provides and promotes innovative methods to reduce barriers to participation and engage citizens in local government.

Somethings are perhaps, universal.  As with Edmonton, Calgary’s choice of West LRT alignment was well criticized – the choice of alignment, the level of public consultation and access to decision makers, the transparency of the process were all called into question by citizens and local media.   The end result of course being a deterioration of trust between the city and its citizens/stakeholders.  Mistakes can happen, it’s how we recover from them, what lessons we learn and how we move forward that is so crucial to future decision making.

For Calgary, in preparation for the next phase of design following corridor selection, City Council directed its Administration to bring forward a report which was to include “a comprehensive citizen engagement and communications plan”.   Rather than working outward, from a public consultation plan drafted behind the scenes, they began with a “community summit”, soliciting public input and advice on the engagement process.  From a group of interested citizens, a “public engagement planning committee” was formed to develop the plan Council had called for, to identify stakeholders and many of the issues which would need to be addressed.  The end result was a process which included the hiring of a “community advocate” to address the issues and concerns of stakeholders with City Administration and the formation of “community advisory committees” for the six planned LRT stations along the route.  Ultimately, between 2006 and 2009, over 100 meetings were held between community members/stakeholders and the City of Calgary.  Following the process, the City of Calgary released a detailed document on the influence of public involvement and the changes which were ultimately made to the LRT plan because of public input.

In early 2010, following Council approval of Transportation System Bylaw 15101, which established several LRT alignments, the City of Edmonton began public consultation for the routes’ conceptual design.  For the West LRT, the public consultation plan developed by administration followed much the same template as that for corridor selection.  Following the internal development and approval of the consultation plan in February/March, representatives met with major institutions and large commercial property owners for the purposes of “Testing Ideas –  exploring possibilities of locating stations on their property”.  In March and April, meetings were held with Key Stakeholder Groups, Community Leagues, and institutions to advise on the project’s status, public involvement opportunities, and solicit input on areas of significant interest/impact to them.  In November, “Information Sharing” sessions were held with a smaller group of identified “Key Stakeholders”.   From May to June, information sessions were held for the general public, residents, business owners, etc. for “Information Sharing” and “Testing Ideas”.  These were in the form of large-scale workshops for four groupings of communities and business districts along the line from Lewis Estates to Downtown.  Following a City Council public hearing, the conceptual plan was approved without any significant additional changes.

The difference between public engagement between the cities, for a project of similar scope and scale are significant.  In terms of engaging citizens in local government, utilizing community volunteers to develop a public engagement plan, forming local committees to influence the effect and design of LRT expansion through their communities, and hiring a community advocate to represent citizens’ concerns full-time were indeed innovative and effectual steps – steps that could, and would have, significantly enhanced public involvement within our city, and for far more than just LRT expansion.

Information on Calgary’s West LRT project is available from westlrt.ca.  WLRT Public involvement plans for the City of Edmonton are available upon request from LRT Projects, LRTProjects@edmonton.ca.

Guidelines & Actual Rules

This is the first part of an editorial I’m writing for the Stony Plain Road Urban Revitalization Report.  Part 2 on Public Involvement will be printed in the April edition.

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There is a mass of policies and strategies that are written, approved, maintained and amended to guide and manage a city like Edmonton.  In my time as a community volunteer, I’ve read through policies for Transit Oriented Development, public involvement, and neighborhood infill, for recreational facility planning, top of (river) bank development, and community revitalization.  Plans, policies and strategies exist for pretty much everything, and while mostly well worded, can be a mixed-bag when ideas and direction become out-of-date, vaguely defined, or crafted without sufficient input and broader involvement. 

The top-level guiding policy and principles for Edmonton is the City Vision, “The Way Ahead: Edmonton’s Strategic Plan 2009-2018”.  The plan’s long-term goals are broken into six strategic areas:

Environmental Strategic Plan: The Way We Green
Edmonton’s People Plan: The Way We Live
Municipal Development Plan: The Way We Grow
Transportation Master Plan: The Way We Move
Long-term Financial Strategy: The Way We Finance
Economic Development Plan: The Way We Prosper

It’s frustrating when good ideas put to paper aren’t reflected in decision making.  We’ve seen it in our own backyard when the goals of neighborhood revitalization aren’t mirrored in a decision by City Council or the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board.   While the City Vision defines laudable goals and directions, it is implementation that takes us from paper to practice, goals to decision making, policy to statutory plans.

The SPURR doesn’t exist without community, without a population to serve and connect.  The same goes for a city.  For us, the residents of this city, the People Plan“The Way We Live” does cover ground.  It acknowledges the importance of municipal government to our day-to-day lives, it acknowledges that our population is aging, the importance of people services, programs, and facilities, of connecting people, communicating, and advocating.  It is well written, with the best of intentions, but a broad outline of goals and ideals is almost a world removed from the reality of school closures, aging infrastructure, and dwindling community involvement and voter turnout.  This is where implementation of the City Vision needs specific strategies, tools and political will to build, sustain, and revitalize communities from downtown to the city limits.  We need something for residents, volunteers, and community groups to rely upon and specific strategies and commitments for the City, Administration and Elected officials to stand behind.

The Way We Live defines a number of “strategic policy directions” – The City of Edmonton partners with community leagues, school boards, and other organizations to build community.  It builds, revitalizes and sustains Great Neighborhoods, provides and promotes innovative methods to reduce barriers to participation and engages citizens in local government.

Implementation needs to make these tangible to us, it needs to help turn broad goals into real action and decision making that benefits us and the places we call home.   Planning & Development, Public Involvement, Neighborhood Revitalization, Infrastructure Renewal, Enforcement, Partnerships – there’s a lot that can go into this.  In April, we’ll talk specifics, starting with some lessons for Edmonton from another city’s “West LRT”.