Lessons from the Local: How are Calgary and Edmonton responding to urban challenges?

Featuring Ashlyn Bernier, COO, SamDesk; Mohamed Elsaghir, Senior Manager C5 Northeast Community Hub; LeeAnne Ireland, Consultant, LeeAnne Ireland Consulting; Mayor Don Iveson, Mayor of Edmonton; Mayor Naheeh Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary; and Irfhan Rawji, Founder and CEO, Mob Squad.

5 Key
Takeaways

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

“Times of great tension can be followed by times of great transcendence.”

Naheed Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary, speaks of our current situation and the five crises happening simultaneously, “the public health crisis, mental health and addictions crisis that was always here but was exacerbated by the public health crisis, a deep economic crisis, an environmental crisis and coming to a reckoning with the reality of what climate change means not just to our environment, but to our economy. And probably the most important and the hardest one is a conversation about equity.”

While any one of those on its own is a massive crisis, it’s also an opportunity for “great creative potential.” There’s been tremendous work done to map out strategies to respond to each of these crisis’, however, Nenshi notes, “none of this means anything unless we actually do it.”  Warning against the complacency of returning to ‘normal’, Nenshi declares, “I don’t want to return to normalcy. I want to take the lessons that we’ve learned in this last year about what works and what doesn’t work in our community and build something stronger.”

A holistic approach is required to unlock the potential that exists in everyone

Ashlyn Bernier, Chief Operating Officer of tech start-up SamDesk, wants city builders to think of talent much more broadly than post-secondary graduates. She implores us to consider talent as diverse as the populations that inhabit our cities and to take a more holistic approach to considering talent. She warns that, “talent cannot meet its potential if that individual is persecuted, if they do not have food security, if they do not have a home, if they do not have their health, mental or otherwise, if they are a target.” Removing the impediments to full participation in our cities will open up new avenues for residents to shape their communities for the better, utilizing lived experience to inform planning processes. 

The recognition of truth must come before real reconciliation

The Kamloops residential school tragedy has brought Indigenous pain and grief to the national spotlight. LeeAnne Ireland, Executive Director of the Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth, calls on non-Indigenous Canadians to join Indigenous peoples in holding space, to process uncomfortable truths about this country together and to carry some of this burden. Nenshi says, “You can’t just lump truth and reconciliation into anti-racism. This is an incredibly important moment for Canada to acknowledge the worst part of what we have been.”

In addition to holding space, non-Indigenous people need to begin the work of “decolonizing our brains,” according to Iverson. In response to the Truth and Reconciliation report, the City of Edmonton revitalized Edmonton’s central libraryThe Thunderbird Houseto provide a dedicated space for Indigenous ceremony and gatherings, as well as an Elder-in-Residence program. Similarly, Fort Edmonton’s museum history programming now begins with the pre-colonial Indigenous experience, as oppose to the arrival of European settlers that we have been traditionally taught. These experiential learning opportunities provide non-Indigenous Canadians the means to educate themselves.  

Calgary and Edmonton lead the country in leveraging social infrastructure

Calgary’s Community Associations and Edmonton’s unique Community Leagues are indicative of urban Albertans’ spirit and tradition of grassroots collaboration. Mohamed Elsaghir is the Senior Manager of C5 North East Community Hub.  C5 is the “the future of inter-agency collaboration,” and includes five agencies who banded together and pooled their resources to provide effective and holistic services in what was once considered a “service desert” in northeast Edmonton. They collectively serve 30,000 people and support families who are often overwhelmed by the system and connect them to the services they need.

According to Elsaghir, they developed the hub to enable community groups to come together in an inclusive space to destigmatized the notion of the other. Collaboration is fostered through formal and informal linkages resulting in greater inclusivity for everyone.

Albertans’ clean tech prowess is slated to drive the next round of prosperity

Aurum Energy Park in Edmonton will become the hub for Western Canada’s hydrogen economy. Blue hydrogen production utilizes natural gas, carbon capture and storage technology. By leverage Alberta’s existing needs, the project aims to capture 95 percent of its carbon emissions. With $1.3 billion of investment and 2,500 construction and engineering jobs created, the hydrogen production facility will provide a clean energy source to supplement Alberta’s energy grid and fuel every provincial transit agency.

Mayor Iveson is confident that, “this region [Edmonton] can punch above its weight and be a global player in the energy economy.” Edmonton is also the first Canadian municipality to include a carbon budget within its development and transportation master plans. 

 

Resources 

Edmonton’s Aurum Energy Park https://www.focusequities.com/aurum-energy-park/index.html 

New blue hydrogen energy complex in Edmonton announced with $1.3 billion investment https://edmontonjournal.com/news/politics/new-blue-hydrogen-energy-complex-in-edmonton-announced-with-1-3-billion-investment 

Stanley A. Milner Library – Thunderbird House https://www.epl.ca/milner-library/thunderbird-house/ 

Calgary On Purpose https://www.calgaryonpurpose.com/ 

CUI – Calgary Transforms https://canurb.org/publications/calgary-transforms/ 

CUI – Edmonton Activates https://canurb.org/publications/edmonton-activates/ 

C5 Northeast Community Hub  https://www.edmontonnortheasthub.com/ 

Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth https://usay.ca/