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Re: City Council Public Hearing, Agenda item 3.1 Charter bylaw 24000- District policy

2024 May 28

To: Members of City Council

Re: City Council Public Hearing, Agenda item 3.1 Charter bylaw 24000- District policy

The Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness (ECOHH) has offered input in a variety of ways in the development of major City of Edmonton actions such as the City plan and the zoning bylaw, as well as the district policy now under consideration, with the companion specific district plans.

But today we need to tell you we find the district policy disappointing. There is merit in ensuring that the scale and make-up of communities support people to live their lives interconnected and interdependent in a rich variety of ways. But creating such communities needs to happen in ways that honour the central importance of all voices being able to not only be heard but to participate.

The bylaws for district plans turn the process of the creation of a dynamic community upside down. Whether development of a district plan is dominated by groups like large developers with substantial wealth and influence or by professionals with academic expertise, it is not the same as when people create communities, while supported to design and create ways to live together well, learning from and sharing with each other for mutual benefit. Public processes and structures that are equitable and just, and reflect diverse views are ways in which the City can assist real community development.

What is being considered now, with its long term implications, reflects a lost opportunity for designing with the initiative and creativity of a diversity of people, perspectives, and ambitions. It feels like there is too much influence in the plan documents by those with non-local general theory about cities rather than the people who actually live along the streets.

The approach of the City with the bylaw now under consideration seems like a textbook template to be imposed to direct future development in line with a master plan, rather than an expression respecting the dynamics of real people finding ways to live together through sharing views and information, listening to each other, perhaps even debating vigorously with each other.

There are communities where there have been plans developed in this more organic way over time and ECOHH is not convinced there was adequate consultation with these parts of the city where a more organic process has been followed.

There are concepts in the district plan that have merit, such as supporting more people to live most aspects of their lives in a geographic area that is less dependent on travel. But the process of supporting the development of such a city should respect the often-messy way democratic choices and decisions are made, rather than a top-down approach where experts decide what will be best.

What is proposed now may have a superficial sense-- being able to meet most needs in a 15-minute walk/cycle/public transit for example. But, in the real world, blanket directives like this fail to respond to the real variety of people in a community, in this one example, those who have trouble to walk or cycle or use public transit. Planning of communities through complex interaction of those who really live there is more likely to capture local or unusual realities.

A comprehensive mapping at a point in time of corridors and nodes of various sorts with exact set distances bears little resemblance to supporting communities that will support a good quality of life for all in a real world. Communities should be expressions of people living together in ways that honour the human rights of all, not expressions of people living together as a benevolent authority has decided they should.

Respecting a more human approach to district evolution is especially important now, with so many people lacking any housing at all, and many more living insecurely in core housing need. Nurturing a wide variety of imaginations to address these challenges while creating better places to live will lead to better outcomes than the application of a formulaic approach that is little understood and widely suspected.

Communities are more too than all the diversity of people. Careful consider is needed to ensure the well-being of all components of our settled environment that are not human too. To give too little attention to this in the policy will, in the end, especially as we are more aware of the environmental challenges we face, have negative effects on people as well.

The approach the City has taken carries the danger of creating a surface overlay to where people are living but does not nurture growth from the roots up that is a true response to the full reality.

A public hearing when the bylaw product is essentially in a finished form provokes people to react to what is being proposed rather than to engage their energy in creative development of communities or areas/districts that support the fullest good lives for each person, with all their differences.

ECOHH encourages City Council to modify the proposed bylaw to be clear it is intended to be used to offer general suggestions about development of communities and districts in Edmonton; not a rigid design but a place for real people with a stake in real local areas to begin their own work.

Thank you for the opportunity to share our perspective.

Nadine Chalifoux, Chair

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