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For close to a century, Edmonton’s form of volunteerism and community involvement has been unique.  Channelled through the community league system, many, many volunteers have helped to build amenities, provide programs and guide community development, from Edmonton’s first Community League (Crestwood) to its most recent addition (Griesbach).

Individual Leagues and the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues have changed, adapted, and even when necessary, cleaned house in order to serve the needs of edmontonians and community.

The Community League movement has reached another transition point in time as the EFCL reaches out to a younger generation, while the demands of day-to-day life continue to slowly deplete local volunteer ranks.

It isn’t just volunteers and board directors that are needed, it’s the broader direction, inspiration and sustainability that can only come from a League’s membership base, lest a movement that’s contributed so much to Edmonton’s growth, sees its resources, and its capabilities, go underutilized, undermanned, and undirected.  While the talents and abilities of so many Edmontonians, which could be directed towards improving their neighborhoods and city, go untapped.  We need Edmontonians to see the value in this unique system, we need the support and encouragement of the community at large, and we need local Leagues to be open, warm, and welcoming places for residents, ideas and new volunteers.

The Matching Under 40s and Community Leagues events are a great and innovative step in this renewal process.  I believe however, the opportunity exists here to do far more.

We live in a time of decreasing involvement in the political process, where voter turnout, particularly at the civic level is unfortunately, and perhaps even dangerously low.  While at the same time, the next generation goes forth needing more and more skills to meet the demands and challenges placed upon them..

The Community League movement isn’t just a way to help your neighborhood and city, it can provide a gateway to public policy, governance, civic involvement, and even an education all it’s own.

My story, I joined the Glenwood Community League, was elected as its civics director, and encouraged by fellow board members, who despite my inexperience, pushed and supported me to advocate on behalf of our neighborhood with city administration and our civic and provincial representatives.  I went from someone apathetic about government, who rarely voted, to someone who ran for elected office, and became passionate about governance and public policy.  Along the way I’ve met so many wonderful people and learned far more than I could have hoped for, all while being able to give back to the community I call home.

For Leagues, here is the opportunity.  To welcome and encourage Edmonton’s next generation by inviting new talent, new ideas, and creating welcoming volunteer opportunities.  In particular, in the role of civic advocacy and involvement.  Our neighborhoods are changing, our city is looking to grow inward, mature neighborhoods are undergoing revitalization efforts, and residents are looking more and more to live locally through new and revitalized amenities, and alternate modes of transportation.  Perhaps, a perfect opportunity for a new generation of residents and community volunteers to jump into.

Livin’ Local

Last week I attended a follow-up of sorts to the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues’ Living Local summit last fall.  The summit itself was indeed a learning experience, both in terms of the knowledge and expertise brought to the table, and the lens it encouraged participants to view their home neighborhoods through.

Participants, citizens-at-large, city staffers, and politicians in attendance have had several months now to digest the information.  Discussion has involved building walkable communities, promoting a more compact urban form which better takes advantage of Edmonton’s sprawling infrastructure, sustainable local food sources, economies, and Edmonton’s long-term fiscal and sustainable health.  The questions now, and ones we put a good deal of thought and debate into  are; where do we go from here, what are the next steps, how do we judge success?I’m a policy nerd and a Community League volunteer, and as such my responses to the above,  tends to focus on civic policy/planning, and potential projects and resources that local volunteers can use to enhance the quality of life, amenities, and activities in their communities.On the policy side, I’ll be judging success, to an extent, by what kind of consideration is given to the principles of living local in several pieces of upcoming City of Edmonton policy.

The Elevate report, and it’s recommendations for revitalizing mature communities. The currently under construction Growth Coordination Strategy, and the New Neighborhood Design Guidelines. What ultimately becomes of these, will to me be the barometer of support for living local concepts within City Administration and Council.

To what extend will the Elevate report be endorsed by Council and adopted by Administration. And what initiatives, and policy changes will come as a result?

Will the design guidelines for new communities incorporate greater inclusion of walkability, and local amenities that allow residents to do more close to home, and allow them easy access through alternate modes of transportation?

The Growth Coordination Strategy.  Another blog post could perhaps be dedicated to a reference in a previous draft of this document, to older communities hindering new development through opposition to all new proposals.  Those two-to-three lines were most definitely offensive, and placed without any backing evidence or citations.  However, I reference this because of the positive impact this strategy could have at the community level. Rather than taking potshots at community volunteers, it could pull from the feedback provided by the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues Planning & Dev committee and incorporate strategies such as the following;

Focus development on vacant sites in established areas of the city (brownfield, underutilized surface parking lots, vacant store locations with restrictive covenants, and so on.

Suggestions that could bring life and local amenities to dead space across the city.

At the Community League level, I’d suggest a role for the EFCL as a broker between communities and the City.  Serving as an advocate for Leagues and other organizations/groups that are trying launch local initiatives, such as a community garden. The process in arranging something like this can easily overwhelm a volunteers time and resources. The Federation could be a champion or a facilitator for improvements to the bureaucracy, making these sorts of projects easier to achieve.  This of course, in addition to the inevitable lobbying for funds and resources to drive local projects.

I’ve told this story before, and I’m going to tell it again.  Personally witnessing a pedestrian struck by a vehicle at a poorly marketed and difficult to cross intersection here in Glenwood (156st & 97 ave, part of the bike path through the area).  The Glenwood Community League went out and pushed for improvements to the pedestrian crossing, namely the painting of new lines and the installation of crossing lights.  The response, there’s a signalized crossing at 98 ave and an intersection at 95th avenue, any more lights would confuse drivers (yes, this is what I was actually told).  If walkability and local improvements are indeed a priority, then this type of issue requires a far better response from civic government to residents, and the bureaucratic barriers and red-tape, need to lessen.

As a final thought, let’s be vocal about the positive.  If something is being done in the city or in your community that you like, that you support, that you’d like to see more of, then feel encouraged to speak up.  Councillors, their staffers, and city admin hear plenty when folks are upset, but feedback on popular and positive projects can often be mute.  Particulalry close to home, a warm note or positive feedback to your community league or a local group for a job, event, project, etc, well done can go a long way.

Anyway, enough from me.  This is a subject with no shortage of branches and directions.  For some more info – Some resources posted by attendees, the agenda, links and presentations from October’s summit, and Live Local Alberta.