Recap: Edmonton NextGen’s Up{date}

Tonight Edmonton NextGen hosted an event called Up{date} at the Art Gallery of Alberta. Here’s what it was all about:

Up{date} 2011 brings together city councillors and key civic leaders in a speed dating style format for you to directly ask how their visions for Edmonton’s future are coming to life a year since the election. First introduced in the 2010 municipal election, Candi{date} is a made-in-Edmonton NextGen event that connects Next Gen voters to election candidates. Candi{date} is a casual, informal and fun way for voters to meet candidates, find out who they are and what they stand for, and to ask the questions that matter to them.

I wrote about the second Candi{date} event here. I think it is great that NextGen is creating opportunities to connect with our civic leaders, so I was excited to check out Up{date}. I was disappointed in the turnout tonight though, with only 20 to 30 people in attendance. I’m equally disappointed that more of my peers don’t seem to take advantage of opportunities like this (though tonight there was stiff competition from the Crate & Barrel grand opening at Southgate, with catering by D’lish, that’s where Sharon was). Clearly there is work to be done!

Up{date}

Mayor Mandel came for a brief period, but Councillors Batty, Henderson, Iveson, Krushell, and Sohi were in attendance most of the evening. Also joining them was Edmonton’s Fire Chief Ken Block. Here are my notes from the discussions I had!

Councillor Henderson

  • “Our long-term health depends on building a city that people want to live in, not one they have to live in.”
  • Unsurprisingly, his least favorite issue right now is the arena. He talked about the issues that people like to focus on – potholes, taxes – and said that “they are important, but they often get in the way of city building.” He made the point that “no one moves to a city because it has no potholes.”
  • He also spent some time talking about aboriginal issues in Edmonton, and the need to make progress. He mentioned Edmonton’s Urban Aboriginal Accord (PDF) and called it “an important document.” Another point he made was that we haven’t done a lot to recognize or celebrate that aspect of our city’s history.
  • On the topic of urban sprawl, he expressed concern that “maybe we don’t mean what we say.” He said that Council has said they want to stop urban sprawl, but have actually done little to achieve that.
  • When the discussion turned to crime, he mentioned that “putting more police on the street is just a band-aid solution” and that we need to focus on making changes for the future.

Councillor Krushell

  • On downtown: “it needs work.”
  • We talked quite a bit about the proposed Shaw Conference Centre expansion. Krushell was on the expansion committee that evaluated the business case. “I disagree with the Mayor on this one” she told us, explaining that her preference is to have the SCC expand into the river valley rather than across Jasper Avenue.
  • “We somehow haven’t figured out how to utilize our riverfront.”
  • We of course talked quite a lot about the City Centre Redevelopment. “When we say to young people, ‘don’t spread out and buy single family homes in the suburbs’, what product do we offer as an alternative?” She sees the ECCA lands as an opportunity to provide that alternative product.

Up{date}

Councillor Sohi

  • He started out with a couple of stories about his days as a bus driver with ETS. On his very first day, he was driving route 30 and on the 3rd or 4th stop the door wouldn’t close. He managed to get it closed but it kept happening! Ultimately he had to call control and they sent a a new bus, but it was a stressful start! “Be nice to the drivers!” he told us.
  • I asked him about the arena and if there was anything Council could have done differently. His response: “In hindsight we should have been in the driver’s seat rather than letting the Katz Group drive the process.”
  • Sohi said he believes Edmonton can become a centre of excellence when it comes to diversity, and he hopes to see more coverage of multicultural issues in our city. “We also can’t forget that we will soon have the largest aboriginal population.”
  • “I always look around at events like this and ask, ‘is Edmonton being represented?’”

Chief Block

  • “It’s an absolute honor to be the chief.”
  • He started at Fire Rescue Services in 1980, so he’s certainly a veteran!
  • Block mentioned he was particularly proud that Edmonton Fire Rescue was approved by The Commission on Fire Accreditation International as an accredited agency last year. “We were the 138th out of around 36,000 fire services across North America to get full accreditation, and just the 3rd in Canada.”
  • On a day-to-day basis, budgetary issues are one of the major challenges. He praised Council however, telling us that two additional stations are opening at the end of the year.
  • Fire Rescue Services responds to 34,000 events per year, about 65% of which are medical events. There are typically between 900 and 1300 fires per year, but there’s a lot of variation with regards to when and where.
  • I asked him about succession planning, and while noting that there are a large number of firefighters close to retirement, he did say they were having success with recruiting. “We see between 900 and 1400 applicants per year.” He explained that there’s not a lot of movement out of the department – firefighters generally remain firefighters for their entire careers.
  • Another long-term challenge he talked about was building codes and building materials. “There are almost no solid wood products anymore,” he told us, and explained that the newer combination products burn faster and hotter.
  • Arson accounts for roughly 30% of fires across Canada, and that’s no different in Edmonton, he said. “We’re trying to work closer with police, because there are very few convictions with arson.”
  • Another interesting point he made was about the need to serve the river valley. “The public is being invited to make use of the river valley more and more, and we need to be able to handle emergencies there.”
  • On getting information to citizens digitally: “That’s an area we need to improve upon.”

Up{date}

I enjoyed talking to Chief Block most tonight. It was great to connect with one of our civic leaders who isn’t always in the spotlight. I think it might be interesting to have similar events in the future with other less-visible civic leaders.

Kudos to NextGen for creating the opportunity – now we need to work on getting people to take advantage of it. If you haven’t already done so, check out Edmonton NextGen’s annual report for 2010. You can also subscribe to the NextGen newsletter to stay on top of events like Up{date}.

2 thoughts on “Recap: Edmonton NextGen’s Up{date}

  1. Thanks for filling in this non-dating guy on what happened last night. Great report!

    I also found some of the comments from the fire chief most interesting. Perhaps if NextGen does an annual “date” they can do a mix like this again which brings in councillors and at least one other department head. If I had paid more attention I would have known he was going to be there…

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