Wednesday's forum for Ward 7 candidates offered a broad range of (hard!) questions
A forum hosted by Crescent Heights Community Association in conjunction with nine additional community associations brought in many Ward 7 Councillor candidates and almost a hundred residents.
As an online forum, time for answers was extremely limited and so a few lengthier answers follow to provide more context than 2 minutes allow!
Downtown Revitalization Strategy
The City approved a Downtown Strategy just months ago, with most of the excellent work going into it completed pre-pandemic. And so while the strategy is underway and will make inroads on the downtown vacancy issue, there will be much more to do as we recover from the pandemic.
Here are additional ideas for Downtown that I will champion:
- Use lessons learned from a year of pivoting and making fast changes: Quicker experiments with Downtown activation -- ideas without capital cost -- should be invited and tried as our post-pandemic patterns emerge. We don't know now how many people will return to downtown to work, and whether there will be different patterns of coming and going. A variety of short-term projects and ideas, ideally sourced from many different groups and communities, can allow for fast learning with investment in those that gain traction.
Work with businesses and be ready to respond to their needs: Corporations with downtown office space may change their use of space even further. Finding ways to facilitate their continued use, and changing use, will be important.
We can't just hope they will return. There are new and creative ways of thinking about office work -- like corporations reducing leased space and creating a second location, perhaps in a warm climate, to offer a perq to employees to work for two weeks a year at the second, tropical location. Could the City facilitate these new ways of working, by bringing WestJet to the table?
Creating campuses for team meetings rather than traditional office cubicle use is another forecast for how we will work post-pandemic. We need to respond to changing needs and be ready to see working Downtown in new ways. If we do, we can attract businesses compared to simply hoping they'll return to pre-pandemic work patterns.
Elementary, junior and senior high schools: With full family-oriented amenities Downtown, and living spaces that accommodate adults and children, we can create a neighbourhood Downtown. With schools in place, there's the opportunity to emphasize arts education with schools able to leverage relationships with Downtown-based folk and film festivals, Arts Commons, Glenbow Museum, plus all of the post-secondary already positioned Downtown. While many buildings likely can't be retrofitted to condominiums, they could easily become schools.
Small projects that leverage large capital projects already approved: By offering small, interesting projects and spaces in and around the larger Arts Commons and Glenbow Museum projects, we can add interest that would invite people to not just be Downtown for a 2-hour play or concert, but to make a day of it, and frequently. We have to add the day-to-day interest, not just the special, twice-yearly visit.
- Hop-on, hop-off bus: If a bus circulated the surrounding communities (Kensington, Bridgeland, Inglewood, Sunaltaz), residents and tourists would be able to go in and out of Downtown, and in and out of our neighbouring communities with ease -- and without their cars. This could encourage greater tendency to use Downtown as part of day-to-day living. As well, this kind of project is not expensive to pilot and test - no infrastructure needs.
Crime and Growing Social Issues
Our inner city communities are feeling the effects of a prolonged downturn in addition to the pandemic and increased crime is noticeable, particularly in specific areas like C-Train stations.
It's refreshing to hear from residents that they understand the complexity of the issue, that the causes are many, and that there aren't simple solutions.
One idea that could be managed cost-effectively, is to place a multi-disciplinary team of social supports plus police near specific concentrated areas so that the teams can be on-hand and responsive. These teams can be at a site for an extended period, like six months, actively responding to people. Then, the team could move to a different location where issues are intensifying. The presence of a team out and about in problem parks and areas would give residents improved feeling of safety while also being the right response in a timely way.
Ideas, Costs, Maintenance -- and Balance
All candidates on the forum -- including me! -- were quick to support projects and investments needed in our inner city communities. But it's important to understand that not all of our needs can be addressed at once and we absolutely need careful attention to the budget.
I anticipate tight budgets from all three levels of government for years. If we manage well and set priorities clearly and carefully, I believe we'll recover well over the next years. But we have to be willing to prioritize, which also means postponing and saying 'no' to lower priorities.
Neither businesses nor residents can manage increasing taxes and the careful stewardship of City resources, without agreeing to every request and idea, will be necessary.
Campaigning and engaging with residents have been rewarding experiences and generate interesting ideas and solutions. It continually reaffirms that residents are the experts in their neighbourhoods and a healthy, active communication link between Councillor and residents will benefit our communities and our City.
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