State of the Neighbourhood – Connecting our communities with local public engagement

 

It’s been just over a year now since a lack of supporting ad revenue forced the closure of the Stony Plain Road Urban Revitalization Report. The community/business newsletter with a distribution of over 15,000, serving the Jasper Place area communities, the Stony Plain Road Business Association, and for which I had the privilege of serving as editor. With local revitalization efforts, streetscaping, the West LRT, and more going on, The SPURR was a highly effective way for community leagues, and other community groups and initiatives to distribute information to the community at-large. And through Canada Post delivery, that news was able to reach apartment mailboxes, places where community volunteers are unable to deliver too.

Here in Glenwood, we’ve lost a highly effective outreach tool that we’re now trying to replace as best we can. However, the things affecting our community, from the efforts of the Stony Plain Road BRZ to the creation of a statutory land-use plan for our community, are building. As is their impact on the quality of life and the future vision for our area.

As the City Liaison Director for my community league, the question for me became – how do we connect the community with all these things that are impacting it, that as resident stakeholders, they have a right to be engaged on?

The State of the Neighbourhood

I’m a political nerd and with a U.S. Presidential election on my mind, the name sort of stood out.

Last night we held the State of the Neighbourhood at Glenwood’s Community Hall. In what I hope can become a series of events in the neighbourhood’s future, we invited individuals and representatives of:

Councillor Linda Sloan – Jasper Place Area Redevelopment Plan – Stony Plain Road Streetscape – West LRT Project – Stony Plain Road Business Revitalization Zone – The Mustard Seed

The agenda and locale for the event was simple. For three hours we opened the doors of our community hall, with one hour of presentations, and two-hours in which residents had the opportunity to view and collect informative materials, ask questions, and converse in an intimate setting with each-other and our invited speakers & guests.

As a community deeply involved in West LRT discussions, we’ve seen the flaws in ‘big-box’ multi-community consultation events. From an inability for residents to connect in meaningful ways with decision-makers, to being crammed into a building well beyond it’s capacity, to trying in vain to pose questions to few officials in too large a crowd.

With a project that’s going to impact far more than traffic patterns and transit options, that’s expected to have a transformative land-use effect, I wanted to be able to connect the community one-on-one with more than just transit planners.

This is where I see the most success in the event we help last night. The community had more than just the opportunity to connect and ask questions in a comfortable environment in their own backyard. They had the opportunity to expand the discussion. To talk in person with a planner working towards a future land-use vision for the community. To hear from and speak directly with the executive director of the local business revitalization whose work crosses over that project boundary. The future vision for Stony Plain Road is focused in a large part on people, on accessibility, walkability and related amenities. And without the hustle and coldness of a packed large-scale meeting, residents could use their feet, walk-up to decision makers and ask their questions and receive answers in detail without being rushed, or overlooked, or having to stare at the clock.

And for a follow-up. One of the biggest annoyances I’ve seen and heard regarding the West LRT project is the lack of two-dialog and follow-ups. Residents make suggestions, do as they’re requested and leave behind their notes and suggestions. Where they ultimately end-up, no one often knows. How are they considered, how do they factor into the internal city discussion, we so often just don’t know with the city’s current engagement processes. And I’ve spoken before about the failings of mass, big-box style consultation events.

This is where there is benefit in going local. In going to the neighbourhood level and with an event like State of Neighbourhood, providing the community ownership of the process. As a community league we can take resident’s questions. We can put them in the hands of decision makers with the expectation that answers will be provided, that we can publicly post and relay to the community. We can lay out our own agenda for consultation, rather than continually wondering what’s going on within the city, or constantly having to be reactive to a top-down process.

We didn’t have the largest turn-out on a cold, snowy November night. But we did have a successful experiment and trail-run. We put the future of one community, it’s residents, stakeholders and the decision-makers impacting it, in our community hall – and the end result was what I hoped it would be. Engaging and comprehensive on a local scale. And I would take last night’s event over almost all of the cluttered, loud and cumbersome consultation and engagement exercises and events in which I’ve participated over my four years as a community volunteer.

There’s of course, still a place for the large-scale distribution of information and multi-community events. But if our city wants to develop a passion for citizen engagement and participation, then let’s go local, let’s put our community halls and local facilities to use and consult and engage residents, business owners and other stakeholders, where they live – where they’re comfortable – and where they’re most likely to set aside their apprehensiveness, let their guard down and open up on how they’d like to see their communities and city grow.

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