Are School Trustees Urban Planners?

Are school trustees urban planners? No.

Do decisions made by school board trustees impact city planning? Absolutely.

Twitter: Nov 7th 2012: “@michaeljanz: For the record- last tue at #epsb I argued to include new schools in our capital plan. There are kids in the SW #yeg who really need them.”

Part of the reason I ran for the school board was that I wanted to see a more integrated approach to how we build our communities– with the provincial, municipal, and school boards working together. Although it doesn’t get the same headlines as school closure related issues, I’m thrilled that our board has been working hard on many initiatives for kids like the anti-bullying work, special needs task force, and district priorities. 

I’m glad our board had the opportunity to participate in the community sustainability task force and I hope it leads to more collaborative planning in the future. I look forward to a more coordination and discussion in the future!

Like city council, we need to understand that a city is a complex organism and decisions made by one level of government have dramatic effects upon other entities. Political decisions made in isolation can trigger trickle-down effects that severely impact the work of other levels of government.

If the School Board decides to open a new school, change a neighbourhood school to a magnet site, move yellow bus service, or close a school, all of these decisions have urban planning applications for the whole neighbourhood. Conversely, if the city is going to make transportation decisions that lead to unsafe streets around schools, even though that decision isn’t the jurisdiction of school trustees, you can bet that they should speak up!

Edmonton’s growth plan (in practice) continues to be sprawl-baby-sprawl and has not made family and seniors-friendly infill densification a priority. There’s some nice language in The Way We Grow but in reality development continues outside rather than inside the Henday.Continuing to green-light more sprawl neighbourhoods creates enormous pressure on school boards to meet the educational needs of families who are living further and further away from existing schools.

In the short term, I do support new schools in areas of need. In the long-term, I hope that we will be able to incentivize more families to return to existing neighbourhoods where we have already paid for services. But this won’t happen overnight, and the buck stops with the city of Edmonton and the capital region board on growth decisions. Until then, wherever the children live in Edmonton, we have an obligation to ensure they receive a top-notch Edmonton Public education.

If the city changed its development priorities we could get more families back into our mature neighbourhoods, keep schools open, and save money. The school board could save on transportation and hire more teachers instead. It’s the fiscally prudent thing to do.

If established communities want to keep their schools open— Separate or Public—then we need to make it easy for the kids to live where the schools already are.

The Mayor is right, we do need a variety of housing choices in the city, but we also need a variety of housing choices in the neighbourhoods we have already built! We’ve already invested billions of dollars in the core of our city in our schools, playgrounds, parks, and pools, let’s not let it waste and crumble!

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