It's time we use our city plans to decide our budget by Tim Querengesser

As I listened in on yesterday’s budget meeting at city council, where more than 100 people signed up to advocate for Edmonton to continue to spend on an amenity they care for, I couldn’t help but think about individuals and collectives.

Using a hypothetical person and their car, let me explain. To this pretend person, their personal car is great. It gets them places, keeps them warm, makes them feel connected. But to a collective, like a city, this car and a person using it is less great. It creates congestion, a need for vibrancy-killing storage and all sorts of support services. And if we scale it up to where many people are doing the same thing as our hypothetical friend, we see many negative outcomes, from pollution to pedestrian deaths to social isolation to infrastructure that creates winners and losers.

 Flickr/Kurt Bauschardt

Flickr/Kurt Bauschardt

Edmonton is a collective. But at council, during budget time, most feedback that decision-makers will receive will come from the individual perspective. If you cut this proposed rec centre, individuals will tell council, this will be the outcome for my family. If we don’t have this program in this preferred spot, we will have to drive this much farther to take our daughter or our son to this or that lesson or activity.

It’s all fair. Faced with losing something we value or that enriches our lives, we naturally try to protect it. I would do the same thing. In fact I have. I advocate for things that I feel would make Edmonton better, but also make my individual life better.

Trouble is, Edmonton is a collective that can struggle to think of itself as one (I thank the city’s settler, individualistic roots for that). Budget time is a great example of this tension. To assuage individual concerns, council must always take from the collective. Build or cut a recreation facility here or there, for example, and you benefit or harm certain corners of the city yet, on the whole, not all of it. But do this balancing act enough times, mollify the loudest voices while ignoring the ones that can’t spare the time to speak up, and you start to chip away at the overall benefit for the collective.

When looking where to shave spending, as Edmonton definitely is, what is the best for this collective? What decision will positively affect the most or negatively affect the least? These should be the central questions we’re asking in the age of purported austerity. Thankfully, we created some guidelines to answer these questions. They’re our ‘The Ways’ documents and other city plans that spell out our vision and goals. They tell us that we aim to be a compact city. A vibrant city. A connected city. A walkable city. A safe city. An affordable city.

As I listened in yesterday, as individuals talked of how they needed investment to remain in their corner of the city, I couldn’t help but thinking: Okay, but how will this benefit the entire city?

Our council has a challenge before it. They have a road map that has a route on it to our collective goals. With fewer dollars to spend, council will be forced to decide if some of us get more and others get less, or most of us get what’s best for the whole. Thankfully, they have that road map. Let’s hope they use it.   

How Edmonton is quick to words but slow to action by Tim Querengesser

On September 10, Calgary will debate a motion to adopt a 30km/h speed limit on its residential streets. For anyone in Edmonton – a city that has bragged about being the first major Canadian city to adopt the principles of Vision Zero, which it did in 2015 – this debate and the widespread support the proposal appears to have within Calgary's council should be instructive.

You see, Calgary has not declared itself a Vision Zero city in the way Edmonton has. Those advocating for improvements under the Vision Zero banner in Calgary are not city employees beholden to the bureaucratic maxim of not rocking boats while trying to make change. 

They are just advocates.  

 Flickr/Allain Rouiller

Flickr/Allain Rouiller

This distinction is important. Reaching the very necessary goal of Vision Zero, which is to see a road design that results in zero deaths from collisions, will not be achieved through pain-free information campaigns that urge us to slow down, or tell pedestrians to pay more attention, or suggest those on their feet wear reflective tape, or have people with flags announce their presence at crosswalks. And it won't be achieved through having police ticket speeders (though this does help slow people down somewhat).

Instead, it will require a rethink of our streets and how we design them. Design a street for speed and you will get speed.   

While Edmonton has made some progress to protect active-mobility users on our streets, including the bike-lane network, creating some actual Vision Zero targets, adopting Complete Streets as a design standard and contemplating banning rights on red, what we have right now is a bit of city council contradicting itself. It has done this by voting in Vision Zero but then choosing to postpone a vote on one of its many necessary steps, which is 30km/h speeds in residential areas.

Speed is central to Vision Zero goals. As one Swedish Vision Zero expert visiting Edmonton said, as reported by the CBC, "To my eye, you have very high speed in your town compared to what we see in Sweden. We are giving higher priority today to cyclists and to pedestrians, getting the speed of cars down, making the city a lot of livable."

Ouch.  

In Edmonton, real, hard, often unpopular decisions will have to be made for us to even come close to achieving Vision Zero. Political will, well, will have to be shown. Emails from angry drivers will have to be either ignored or absorbed or balanced, rather than used as reasons to postpone decisions. 

The boat, in short, will have to be rocked. Thirty will have to become normal in neighbourhoods.

I find it highly interesting that Calgary has gotten to this point and, after September 10, if all goes the way advocates hope, may in fact overtake Edmonton in putting some basic Vision Zero principles in place. All despite Edmonton having a dedicated office, budget and staff charged with that very task. 


 

Freedom of Information needs to earn its name by Tim Querengesser

On June 12, I filed a Freedom of Information request with the City of Edmonton as part of a story I'm working on. 

Under the Act, which came into force in 1995, the city has 30 days to respond to a Freedom of Information request. The city did this – only to tell me there was going to be a delay for an unspecified period. The staff that oversee these requests to the city have been mildly pushing to find a way to get me the public information I have requested. They have suggested ways to streamline the language of my request and reduce the people identified in it in order to shrink the amount that's caught in the inevitable net. They have been helpful, if requiring me to keep checking in on something that, ostensibly, they're supposed to be getting to me on a deadline. 

 Flickr/IQRemix 

Flickr/IQRemix 

Still, none of this has resulted in documents in my hands or even a firm date of when I can expect my information request to be honoured. This means today, August 23, is 71 days since the request was filed and 41 days beyond the timelines the Act spells out as its target response times.

It's a convoluted and incredibly time-consuming process to do much about this, like file a complaint. And given the discussion about Freedom of Information with the city, it's something we need to discuss fulsomely.  

Ep. 01 – Elevating Edmonton: The launch of a podcast about architecture in Edmonton by Tim Querengesser

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The first episode of Elevating Edmonton is here.

In our first round-table talk about architecture in our fair city, not-at-all experts Dan Rose, Dave Sutherland, Tim Schneider and me, Tim Querengesser, join actual architect Shafraaz Kaba to discuss Edmonton identity, proposals such as Manchester Square and The Grand, old hits like Peter Hemingway's pool and the CN Tower, and ongoing issues, like our constant identity crisis, our frontier thinking and our lack of an architecture school. Some coffee is sipped in the background; it may have contained Baileys.  

Credits:
 
Music: Komiku - Mall
From the Free Music Archive
Licence: CC

Photo: Flickr/eng1ne