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Tower Over Me

City council at odds over cell tower bylaw

“We get a lot of push back from communities,” he said. “But I haven’t heard of anyone giving their phones back.” – Stephen Mandel

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I spent my morning at City Hall for the Exec Committee discussion on cell tower policy, helping to give the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues’ presentation. In that vein and based on some of the comments made by the Mayor and members of Council, I’ve got a bit of a rant to go on:

We all need a roof over our head. And we have policy and bylaws to manage built-form, land-use and public consultation. Wanting these processes to be clear, consitent, and enforced by the powers that be doesn’t make one a hypocrite, or opposed to housing in Edmonton.

We need roads and sidewalks in our communities. And when rebuilding them through neighbourhood renewal, the city has a process to consult with and hold a dialog with the community on the work being undertaken. Wanting that process to exist, and to be a part of it sure doesn’t mean that residents want that work stopped or held up.

We all put trash out, but it’s disposed of properly. Not say, dumped at the end of an alley where if you come out to complain, someone is there to say “Hey, it’s your trash. What are you complaining about?”.

Because you have a cell phone, or a tablet, or an air-card, or plan to use one or more in the future, it doesn’t mean that you’re out of place asking that your municipality have a clear and consistent plan to address land-use & consultation in it’s response to demand for cell tower locations and their integration and design. Even though, yes, the City does yield the final decision in the process to Industry Canada. It’s not “NIMBY” or an attempt to “slow the process” to ask that the most local form of government give this issue that same consideration and attention that it does to other local infrastructure, amenities, and other forms of land-use. That the policies involved be consistent, navigable, and that they don’t provide civic administration with overly broad discretion to alter the process as they see fit.

I hope to see a higher level of debate when this issue returns for a final decision.

/End rant

Community Day

“Very quickly however, the community league’s focus advanced beyond its district infrastructure to include social and recreational needs. The league organized social functions and conducted sports events that brought residents closer and fostered their sense of being part of a community” – Ron Kuban (Edmonton’s Urban Villages – The Community League Movement)

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Car shows, corn roasts, BBQ’s and more, over 90 communities held events across Edmonton for today’s iteration of the now annual Community League Day. This on top of events such as Glenwood’s Party in the Park which have already or will take place as summer comes to a close.

The Community League movement got its formal start with the creation of the Crestwood Community League in 1917. Community and resident groups are a staple of community life in cities and municipalities across North America, however few can claim the uniqueness and the role in the creation of a city, the way Edmonton’s Community League system, and the thousands of volunteers over the past century can.

Events like those today, help foster community. They’ve always done so, however when the demands on our time are greater than ever, when volunteer ranks and connectivity between neighbours in a community easily can and do become strained and detached, their importance can only increase. In the early days of our city, these events helped to build neighbourhoods. Now they serve to reconnect and even revitalize the same.

So as Edmonton’s population inches ever closer to the million mark, as new neighbourhoods develop, as older ones find themselves in need of care, revitalization, and reinvestment, and as the City of Edmonton finds itself having to adapt and provide a greater number of programs, projects, and services; How does a community league system with a century of experience mold itself to these changes and a new generation of Edmontonians?

The value of community leagues in advocacy and reaching into politics from the grassroots level is unchanged, and perhaps carries even greater importance with current public policy being pulled upon in multiple directions by more entities than ever before.  The role, the duty of civic government, for both elected representatives and public servants is that of openness and transparency. If volunteers hit a wall, if public consultation is neither accessible, proactive and rewarding, volunteers will burn out and fade away. The same is true if that grassroots voice finds itself unheard, rather than represented in civic governance and direction.

For league’s themselves, the cost of building and maintaining amenities, and providing services to a community cannot be done without municipal support. It’s not just capable Community Recreation Coordinators to work with and support volunteer boards, but making resources to repair, revitalize and if necessary help rebuild older halls, or facilities in new communities. As well as to allow the EFCL to explore avenues such as volunteer training, and new methods of connecting with Edmonton’s now 150+ leagues.

Finally is the outreach at the most local of levels. For individual boards, the tools for doing so have never been more plentiful. Digital outlets; a website, Twitter account and Facebook are simple to use, require diligence but minimal time to maintain, and are wide reaching. It’s hard for a community member to become engaged when information is limited, out of date, or just simply unavailable altogether.

And when community residents do make the decision to volunteer, whether it’s for a special event or by making the commitment to join the board or a sub-committee, it’s so important to offer a welcoming environment.  I joined the Glenwood Community League as it’s Civics Director with no first-hand experience with the community league system, and with the support and encouragement of my board, within the year I was representing the league at public hearing, maintaining our digital presence and moderating town hall meetings. It’s a privilege to be able to serve one’s community and all voices, ages, and backgrounds should be allowed and warmly welcomed at the table. Differing opinions are a fact of life. They should be respected and lead, not to closed doors, but to healthy debate within a league and/or between the league and civic government.

The community league system is strong, but fragile. Experienced but having to continually adapt itself to the times. Blessed with numerous dedicated and excellent volunteers but always open and need of more. Community league day is a snapshot and a reminder of the value of this movement, lets make sure its future is sustainable, and its value as a service provider, as an advocate, and as a city builder isn’t forgotten or allowed to wither.

District E

It was a great turnout and a full agenda at the EFCL’s regular general meeting on Monday.  You can visit efcl.org to download the agenda, the Planning Committee update is on pg 34.  I was appointed as the District E representative on the Planning & Development Committee, thank you to the Meadowlark Community League for nominating me for the position.  The following communities fall within the district:

Britannia Youngstown – Canora – Crestwood – Elmwood – Glenora – Glenwood – Grovenor – High Park – Jasper Park – Laurier Heights – Lynnwood – Mayfield – McQueen – Meadowlark – North Glenora – Parkview – West Jasper/Sherwood – West Meadowlark

Family-friendly multi-unit housing, zoning bylaw amendments, transit oriented development, and living local recreation facility planning currently top the committee’s agenda.  We recently held a well attended workshop for the family-friendly initiative and are currently reviewing the feedback from participants.   The proposed Urban Character Row Housing Zone is one of the areas relating to zoning bylaw which the committee is focusing on.  With the Residential Infill Guidelines recommending the development of row housing across from schools and parks, we are working to ensure that the zone allows for appropriate amenity space for families, with a pedestrian friendly street orientation.  We have been attending key stakeholder workgroups for the proposed Transit and Land Use Framework, which when completed, will guide land-use around transit stations and corridors.  We are hopeful that public feedback will be solicited for the next draft version in November.

November 4th Update:

There are two stakeholder group events for the TOD framework scheduled for December, but still no word on public involvement events.