Election 2013 questionnaire response: Ben Henderson, Ward 8

[We sent your questions to all the Election 2013 candidates. We are posting their unedited responses in the order that they’re received. – Ed.] 

Ben Henderson, incumbent candidate for Ward 8
Ben Henderson, incumbent candidate for Ward 8
1. In the context of our City’s growth, how will you support the development of existing communities as opposed to new neighbourhoods?

For the sustainability of the city we have to continue to encourage people t0 choose to live closer to our city’s core and take away the pressures to continue to depend so heavily on greenfield development both inside and outside our borders. This means using tools to make sure that our mature neighbourhoods are both attractive and affordable. 

I would like to see us use some tax tools to be able to do this, but we will need greater authority from the province over our own tax structures to do this.

We also need to start impressing on new buyers that although the land and home prices may be cheaper in the suburbs that when you factor in the cost of transportation the numbers change markedly.

We also need to work with our mature communities and those wanting to build infill within them to come up with a clear set of guidelines that make it much easier to build while at the same time giving communities surety that the infill will be carefully thought out and will leave them with stronger communities not weaker ones. I have long felt that if we do infill as carelessly as we have done sprawl that we run the risk of building communities that no-one wants to live in and we will be no further forward. Infill without planning undermines both communities and trust.

I believe there are now good examples of communities where good infill has been happening allowing families to be able to afford to move back into our core, refilling the schools and bringing vitality back to the communities. We need to build on those good examples.This can be done by putting more resources into planning change and planning it in a way that engages and involves both the community and those who are interested in building. If we can focus our resources on those neighbourhoods that clearly are under pressure for change and get out ahead of that pressure by engaging with those neighbourhoods then we can take away much of the legitimate fear that occurs when you feel out of control of your destiny.

2. How will you support and promote independent locally-owned businesses in Edmonton?
  The obvious answer is that each of us can take a role in supporting those businesses. 

More specific to the city however we need to continue to focus on a purchasing strategy that focuses on sourcing local products first. We have made some progress recently in making sure that gifts given by the city are made by local craftspeople and artists. I know I have always used my budget for such items to buy through the Alberta Crafts Council and I know a number of my colleagues have followed suit.

We have made some small progress in getting the city to use local sources for food and beer but this is still not true in our large facilities. The City of Edmonton has significant purchasing power and we should be using it to support local businesses. We must continue to push our purchasers and the policy that governs that purchase to use that power.

3. How will you support local food and urban agriculture in Edmonton?
  The city has taken some first steps along the road both of supporting urban agriculture and local food as well as creating a food and agriculture strategy for the city. There is much work still to be done, and there have been some failures already along the way (notably the vote not to protect our farmland in the north east). But out of that loss we did get a commitment to a food and ag strategy for the city that gives us the building blocks for some much more meaningful work. The food council has now been set up and is entrusted with moving forwards on all the recommendations in that strategy. We have to stay vigilant now to make sure that work has real teeth. This includes large things like making it possible to sustain local market gardens and farming opportunities both in our yet undeveloped areas and look for new opportunities within our existing urban neighbourhoods. 

It also means pushing forward with smaller initiatives like getting the bylaws changed to allow for urban hens and bees.

There is also a great deal of work to be done in understanding and facilitating our capacity to build local food hubs both for manufacture of local produce and for distribution. 

All of this work is now named both in the municipal development plan and in ‘Fresh’ the now approved food and ag strategy. The main push now is to make sure that the plans are actually followed through on. 

At the same time we must not give up on the battle to protect the ability for those still farming in our city, who want to continue to do so, to be able to keep their operations whole. We may have lost some battles in reclaiming land but there is still every opportunity to protect what we still have where those farmer/owners choose to stay in agricultural production. We must find ways to support them in that desire.

4. How will you address Indigenous Edmontonians’ history and needs?
  There are a number of initiatives currently underway to recognize the indigenous history and roots of Edmonton. Many of these can be found listed in the Monto initiative spearheaded by Lewis Cardinal and others. They include work on a new centre at Fort Edmonton, the new spiritual centre in the old Fox Farms site, opportunities in the redevelopment of the Rossdale Flats area among others.

There is also a commitment in the new Queen Elisabeth Park Master plan for an arts park focused on the work of aboriginal artists and also work happening through the Edmonton Arts Council to support and facilitate the growth of the aboriginal arts scene within the city.

Beyond the cultural and historical recognition, there is also a great deal of work to be done in supporting our urban aboriginal population within the city. Edmonton has the fastest growing urban aboriginal population in the country and will soon be home to the largest urban aboriginal population. First we must understand how diverse this population is. They come from all over the country, First nations, Inuit, Metis. They represent a huge and important population in our city, both one that has been here before european settlement, and many that are just new and arriving in our community. Especially for those arriving new, we must find ways to facilitate their healthy arrival in our city and make it possible for them quickly to find the tools to thrive. If we drop the ball on this we will be wasting an important human resource that is vital to our long term success as a city.

The City has already made significant strides through helping the founding of organizations like Wichitowin and through our Urban Aboriginal Declaration. There are also some strong partnerships available to us with other groups that are doing amazing work in our community. The work is not simple but the rewards if we can get it right will be enormous.

5. How do you envision the public transit system evolution?
  If this city is to continue to thrive then we must move our focus on the movement of people towards public transit and other less intensive modes of transportation like walking and bicycles. We know from the experience of other cities that you cannot cure congestion by building more roads. All you do is create more demand and more congestion. By shifting to quality public transit you can take that same traffic corridor and significantly increase its capacity. 

This means a commitment to moving forward with LRT as fast as possible, but also to continuing to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, comfort, speed and affordability of our bus service. This means having enough buses that we no longer push people off the system because the buses are too full and pass them by. It means giving buses a good right of way so that they are not stuck in traffic with single occupant vehicles. It means having a frequency of service so that trips do not take significantly longer or are less convenient than the private auto.

This is not to say that we wage war on the car. If we can create a more convenient mode of travel for those who can use transit, then there will also be less congestion for those who cannot make that choice.

We also need to ensure that we do not price transit so high that it does not compete. Our first objective should be greater ridership, not greater revenue.

And finally, the most effective way to make transit convenient and easy to use is to understand that with better neighbourhood design it is possible to feed high quality transit with other active modes of transportation (walking and biking) and not necessarily feed it with the car, feeder buses or park and ride.

6. What will you do to better engage post-secondary research / students / faculty with the rest of the community?
  I am not sure it is necessarily up to the city to find ways for our post secondary populations to engage with the larger community. In many ways that challenge is up to them. What I do feel is our responsibility as a community, is to understand the critical importance of post secondary education to our long term prosperity as community.

And I would argue strongly that if we think that means coming up with specific training streams and research to feed our communities perceived needs then we are hugely misunderstanding the vital role that post secondary study and research plays in that future. The great learning and discovery comes not from specifically targeted work but from inquisitive study. Our universities are not training schools. They are places where students learn to think, and researchers get to explore. 

Our success as a community will depend on those well educated graduates who know how to think, and the discoveries that come, sometimes unexpected out of the true search for knowledge. That is the critical gift our post secondary institutions give to this city and we must continue to fight tooth and nail for their ability to do it unfettered. 

In terms of better engagement, it is their responsibility back to us, as the society within which they exist to share what they learn, understand and discover. But I caution that there is great danger in making that bond to rigid and prescriptive.

7. Councillor candidates: What is the biggest challenge your Ward faces? What solutions would you seek?
  There are a number of challenges in the ward. The first is tied into my first answer, how do we allow our neighbourhoods to continue to grow and flourish without undermining the very things that make them attractive and special. The real challenge is to allow them to welcome more people without losing their sense of community.

The second challenge is linked and is about the effect of traffic. For all the suburban neighbourhoods, traffic is about how fast can I get to where I am going. For the mature neighbourhoods in ward 8, the main challenge of traffic is in mitigating the effects of traffic rushing through it. This manifests itself in problems with cut through traffic, impediments to walking and bicycling where the commuter traffic is allowed to take precedence over the ease of safe movement of the people who live in those neighbourhoods, and the problems of speeding that come with both of the above. 

The new ‘complete streets document’ that was recently approved by the transportation department, suggests a change in planning parameters that should help with these issues, but again the real challenge is not in the writing of a document like that but in making sure we follow through on its execution. I expect there will still be many uphill battles with our transportation department to change the long entrenched habits of facilitating auto traffic movement above all else.

There is also a continuing challenge with crumbling infrastructure. We have now managed to rebuild most of the neighbourhoods in the eastern half of the ward, but the western half of the ward, with the exception of Windsor Park is in a state of collapse. All the neighbourhoods are now on the list for rebuilding but it will still be a few years before we can catch up fully. We must find a way to either further expedite this work or find temporary solutions for the worst areas.

And finally there is also a real problem with shortage of seniors housing particularly in the eastern part of the ward.

8. How can our readers learn more about your platform, contact you with questions or concerns, or get involved in your campaign?
  The best font of easy information is on my web page: www.benhenderson.net. You can also reach me at electben@benhenderson.net or phone my campaign office at 780 438 1220.

I also monitor my twitter at ben_hen and facebook at facebook.com/benhenderson8 but email is the safest electronic way to reach me.

and finally you can drop by the campaign office at 8216 104 street (just north of Whyte Ave on Calgary Trail)
office hours are usually noon until 8ish.

3 thoughts on “Election 2013 questionnaire response: Ben Henderson, Ward 8”

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