Ward Gathering Recap: Celebrating our communities and our neighbourhood schools

First Ward Gathering a success:
How do we increase the number of families living in our mature neighbourhoods?
This very important question was the trailhead into a wide-ranging discussion hosted April 7th by myself and Ward 10 Councillor Don Iveson. Approximately 40 local community leaders gathered to discuss community revitalization, keeping schools open, family and seniors friendly housing and much more.
School Closures are still a hot topic in the media and our ward gathering was mentioned in Metro, the Examiner, and on inews880/630CHED.
Discussion was wide ranging and leaders present were given a homework assignment to continue the conversation at their school councils and community leagues. We asked each of the participants to take back to their organization two questions:
If it meant your neighbourhood had a greater chance of retaining their school:
1. Would the community be willing to encourage more density and infill?
2. What would that infill look like and where would it be?
As our city continues to sprawl, the pressure for providing new services, libraries, parks, roads, and schools for new developments continues to reduce the funding available for maintaining infrastructure in the core. The city has started to signal an intention to move towards a more compact, walkable, urban city, but last year only 7% of new developments were in the core. Low enrollment continues to put schools in mature neighbourhoods at risk of closure or consolidation. Leaders present stressed the need for complete communities with vibrancy, ammenities, and the need for us as residents of mature neighbourhoods to tell the story about how our communities are safe, desirable, and worth investing in.
This was the first Ward Gathering and I found it to be an empowering and engaging experience. The next gathering will be focused on student health and wellness and will be taking place in Riverbend in early June. They will always be an open invitation so bring a friend!

General Feedback:

This is an abridged summary of the 6 different discussions held April 7th, 2011. I couldn’t type out all of the feedback verbatim, but if I missed something please leave a comment below and I’ll update the lists.
- Complete communities are important with a variety of housing types, transportation options, access to learning and shopping, and recreation.
- Strong schools make for strong communities.
- We need to embrace family and senior friendly infill that will open up new opportunities for families to move back into mature neighbourhoods while allowing other segments of the population to age in place. More infill can help revitalize and bring new energy to neighbourhoods in need of revitalization.
- Social isolation and the aging population will increasingly mean we need to do more to support our aging populations and ensure they are not living in auto-dependant suburbs.
- Residents of mature neighbourhoods love our communities and need to do a better job of celebrating why they are so special. The old comfy pair of jeans that is ‘broken in’ is much better than the
- Edmonton should embrace progressive taxation and incentives to encourage infill to encourage more families to move into the core. Offsets should be placed on new and proposed neighbourhoods like Mayor Nenshi has proposed in Calgary.
- Incentives must be found to help increase the number of families in the core
- Choice programs and open boundaries can be both a blessing and a curse as in some cases the children do not go to the neighbourhood school, while in other cases a program of choice keeps the school open.
- If the city does not densify and continues to sprawl, the tax burden to build new schools, roads, and infrastructure will become unsustainable and might tax more seniors and families out of their homes. Increased population density is economically efficient and will help keep taxes down.
Question one: What attracts families back into the core?
- Schools, parks infrastrucutre: BIG TREES!
- Close to parks and schools so shorter commute times
- The broken pair of comfy jeans is better than breaking in a new one
- Save money by driving less and living closer to libraries, recreation, shopping and other amenities.
- Lower property taxes and financial measures to help make the neighbourhoods more desirable
- Abandon the mexaplex model for recreation centers and focus on smaller, more widely distributed pools and recreation centers.
- Attach costs of new schools and infrastructure to new developments so they don’t deplete dollars from existing infrastrucutre
- How do we promote our neighbourhood schools?
- How can we increase and promote the early childhood education, preschool and childcare programs in schools?
- If parents are driving their kids to school and many work at the U of A or downtown, how can we make our schools desired destinations?
- How can we increase the variety of housing available in mature communities?
Question two: What can CITIZENS do to?
- Sing the praises of our mature neighbourhood through block parties, celebrations, and other events that showcase the community. Especially showcase safety- our neighbourhoods are safe!
- Ensure that we work together to ensure our neighbourhoods are clean and presentable and just as attractive as a new neighbourhood.
- Instead of opposing new developments, working to ensure they are family-friendly, seniors-friendly that can help revitalize our neighbourhoods.
- Understand that our city is constantly in flux and change and that we need to think holistically about our advocacy when it comes to new developments
- Vote, and engage our communities in the electoral process.
- Join their community league, work to strengthen the relationship between their neighbourhood and their local school.
- Co-housing was raised as an innovative new initiative that is starting in Edmonton. It might be coming to a community near you.
- Shop local, help to increase your communities walkability and safety.
- Get further involved in the EFCL through initiatives such as community league day and the Living Local campaign.
- Start a neighbourhood e-newsletter and hold regular potlucks and block parties. Vibrant communities attract more families!