Transforming Edmonton: Shifting our focus from plans to implementation

Toward the end of 2006, the City of Edmonton started to look at refreshing its visioning and planning efforts. A number of major City plans were about to be renewed, including the Municipal Development Plan, the Capital City Downtown Plan, and the Transportation Master Plan. Administration explained the importance of these reports in an update to Council:

Major plans are plans of city-wide or corporate-wide significance.  Major plans act as foundation blocks for Administration decisions and recommendations to City Council.  They are also a fundamental building block for future Council decisions.  These plans are meant to be in place for multiple years, and the review of these plans takes significant time and resources by both Administration and Council.

A report published in early 2007 provided a more detailed update and proposed a method for developing a “Vision for the City of Edmonton” that would kick off a full planning cycle. The report also included a Strategic Planning Brief. Here’s a look at the proposed strategic development cycle:

And here’s a look at the proposed framework process:

Writing in the Edmonton Journal about public information sessions held by the City in October 2008, Todd Babiak noted:

This process, which also includes the City Vision for 2040, the 10-year strategic plan, the Ecovision, and the plan for downtown, is broadly called "Transforming Edmonton." We’re admitting, as a people, that we have made expensive and dangerous mistakes for a generation or so.

Mary Ann McConnell-Boehm, who managed the Municipal Development Plan at the time, said:

"This is what we heard from our stakeholders in 2006, about the direction they wanted our city to take. A different approach, more integrated, a little braver."

That more integrated process ultimately led to the creation of the City Vision, the City’s Strategic Plan for 2009-2018 known as The Way Ahead, and the associated “Ways” plans:

Many Edmontonians have noted that the last plan to be approved, The Way We Finance, is the one that’s supposed to help us pay for the rest! Still, when its approval finally happens later this year, it’ll bring the most ambitious planning cycle in the City of Edmonton’s history to a close.

There were previous efforts at establishing a city-wide vision of course, such as the “Smart City” initiative of the late 90s, but none stuck. Why did Transforming Edmonton succeed at getting off the ground when other initiatives had failed? I think a big reason was Mayor Mandel. After winning re-election in October 2007, Mayor Mandel told the Edmonton Journal:

“The vision we have is of Edmonton being a city of the world. A city that is vibrant, environmentally sensitive and attractive. And a city that cares about people and opens its arms to them, wherever they came from.”

The importance of Mandel’s victory did not go unnoticed by the Edmonton Journal’s Scott McKeen, who wrote:

Mandel’s win, though hardly a surprise, was much more than a ho- hum victory over the fringers, fanatics and languid Koziaks who ran against him.

His approval rating on Monday narrates a turning point in Edmonton’s history. If Mandel’s first term stood for anything, it was a shift away from historic nickel-and-dime civic politics.

Edmontonians, it seems, embrace Mandel’s big-city vision.

The success or failure of an effort as broad and ambitious as Transforming Edmonton cannot be attributed to one person of course, but under Mayor Mandel’s watch, the City became a bit more integrated and much more strategic.

Edmonton’s efforts at improving the visioning and planning process are not unique. Vancouver’s CityPlan was adopted in 1995 and is slated to come to a close in 2015 (to be replaced with Green Vancouver, I think). Toronto’s Strategic Plan was approved in three stages from 1999-2001. Ottawa adopted its Official Plan in 2003 to guide the city through 2021. Montreal’s Master Plan was adopted in 2004. Calgary adopted imagineCALGARY in 2006, which sets out a 100 year vision with targets every 30 years. Winnipeg replaced its previous Plan Winnipeg 2020 initiative with OurWinnipeg in 2011, presenting a 25-year vision for the city. Long-term planning seems to be the norm for Canada’s major cities.

Today nearly every aspect of the City of Edmonton’s operations have been affected by Transforming Edmonton. For example, every budget item references one of “The Ways” and/or the strategic goals, and internal structures have changed to match the new approach. We’ve also seen efforts to describe progress, such as the new Citizen Dashboard.

While some implementation has occurred, the focus of the last five years has unquestionably been on the creation of Transforming Edmonton’s plans and associated documents. The approval of the final major plan, not to mention the expected retirement of Mayor Mandel next week and April’s unofficial kickoff of campaigning for the October municipal election, should signal a shift toward more concerted implementation efforts.

A shift in focus from planning to implementation won’t just happen, however. Edmontonians need to demand it. We as citizens need to do a better job of asking how things are going, not just how things are going to be.

3 thoughts on “Transforming Edmonton: Shifting our focus from plans to implementation

  1. CityPlan, like a lot of other plans in Vancouver, isn’t going to end suddenly, nor is it necessarily going to be refreshed in anything like its current stage. Rather, future plans tend to overlay certain pieces, like 2007’s EcoDensity and the suite of plans referenced on that webpage (2011’s Greenest City Action Plan and Economic Action Strategy, along with the future Healthy City Strategy, i.e. the three pillars of sustainability). Land use planning out here doesn’t really look the same either.

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