Election 2013 questionnaire Response: Mimi Williams, Ward 7

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

Mimi Williams, candidate for Ward 7
1. In the context of our City’s growth, how will you support the development of existing communities as opposed to new neighbourhoods?
  Basically ignoring The Way We Grow, Municipal Development Plan, and Growth Coordination Strategy, council approved 8 Neighbourhood Structure Plans and ushered the Horse Hill Area Structure Plan through approval before the GCS and Annual Growth Monitoring Report – 2 key tools in managing sprawl – were established. 

Horse Hill, barely meeting the Capital Region minimum density requirement, is slated 4.3% non-residential. If we want to increase or maintain our current 25% non-residential assessment & create multi-use communities with a healthy residential/commercial mix city-wide, this is the wrong path. We need a U-turn.

At the end of 2012, 62,500 low density residential lots were available in 51 incomplete neighbourhoods (under development or at the planned stage). At absorption of 3,674/year, that’s 17 yrs stock. Council committed to focus development activity and infrastructure provision on approved and developing neighbourhoods until a strategy could be worked out and then plowed ahead before that work even started. We need to pause approval of new NSPs until the GCS is functional. Developing that strategy and a long range plan has to involve close collaboration with school boards and the province (not photo ops for politicians – all we’ve seen to date).

I support mature community infill development including attached housing to increase density. Residents of mature communities, though, grow tired of the same bland beige triplex repeated on every corner lot. I’m a big fan of street level retail/commercial with housing above. 

Neglecting established communities fuels suburban flight. I’d like to accelerate the Mature Neighbourhood Renewal program. Young families share needs with seniors/folks with limited mobility. 

Multigenerational, multi-use, walkable, chair-accessible communities – we also need to retrofit suburbia – which are home to both buildings and people of varying ages and conditions rejuvenate themselves. This needs to be our focus.

2. How will you support and promote independent locally-owned businesses in Edmonton?
  Supporting locally-owned businesses and purchasing Canadian-made means more local jobs and more dollars spent here. As a consumer, I rarely shop at big-box stores and if I do, I shop union first. Well-paying jobs that employ our neighbours puts money directly back into our local economy. On their website, absolutely edibles (one of my favourite Ward 7 places to gnosh) describes their similar commitment to shopping local as “kind of like composting”. 

Non-residential assessment contributes approximately 25% of the total tax base, we need to maintain that and grow that. Preferably we do that in a way that both grows our tax base and keeps our best talent here. I won’t curry political favour by saying the city will favour local contractors. We’re bound by various trade agreements; we can’t do that. Saying we can or might is political posturing at worst; ignorance at best.

As a city, we can’t favour them but we can help local business sell themselves. There is a flip side to protectionism. Free trade/labour agreements open up markets for our local companies and artists to sell their wares elsewhere. By investing in promoting and marketing the best of our local talent – whether that be in arts or technology – we can present our best and brightest to the world stage without picking winners or losers. Restrictions in our procurement practices doesn’t mean we can’t promote our local businesses both locally and globally.

We’ll grow our local economy by creating a climate that sees local entrepreneurs nurtured and youth employed with hopes for a path to a productive and meaningful future. Food deserts can be filled with thriving small to medium independent local businesses as part of a healthy urban food strategy. Mixed use pedestrian-friendly zones with butcher and baker are better able to sustain a neighbouring artisinal candlestick maker. Without picking winners & losers, we can do much to encourage sustainable, locally-driven business and residential development.

3. How will you support local food and urban agriculture in Edmonton?
  With our vibrant and growing food community, we can be leaders in urban agriculture and make food security a local priority. I supported the first 2 recommendations of the Food and Ag Strategy citizens’ panel report: 1) Prohibit development on good fertile agricultural land, particularly northeast farmland; 2) Maximize spaces & places for urban growing & food production. Adopting the food strategy was a prerequisite for Horse Hill approval, compromising a process which had little support from council from the start. The councillor leading the project refused to attend open houses, lashed out and called the Greater Edmonton Alliance a “special interest group” and didn’t bother to show up at the final report’s release. Ward 7’s incumbent was against holding a public hearing on the strategy, stating if citizens didn’t have “skin in the game”, they should “get the heck out of the way.” Council’s priority was clearly approving Horse Hill, not developing the best food strategy possible. I hope the newly appointed Food Council revisits the strategy to address, at very least, the conspicuous exclusion of key players like Operation Fruit Rescue, River City Chickens Collective and the Food Bank. I’ll work to ensure they are given the resources they need and ability to make recommendations directly to council.

Food deserts remain a problem. Big box stores far from residential areas and with limited bus service pose real challenges to lower income folks with no cars. Farmers markets help but what of the winter months? We need to pursue ideas like food hubs. I would support incentives for food producers and entrepreneurs to address food security issues in the most beleaguered areas.

New to the world of permaculture, could the city adopt it as a principle of development? Let’s find out! I’m excited by efforts to turn abandoned spaces into farms, happening to a small degree now. This could be a good economic development strategy & address of our food security challenges.

4. How will you address Indigenous Edmontonians’ history and needs?
  I express thanks every day for the opportunity to live on Treaty 6 territory and I’m troubled at the lack of attention the city pays to acknowledging the rich Indigenous history of this place and the lack of concern it shows to improving the opportunities for First Nations people to participate fully in our social, economic and cultural life. I met with Lewis Cardinal several months ago to express these concerns and concluded that, like addressing urban sprawl, this council has offered little more than lip service to addressing this ongoing and historic injustice. My concern about the matter and commitment to improve it led to Lewis honouring me with his endorsement of my candidacy.

The historic 2005 Edmonton Urban Aboriginal Accord seemed like a good start but it’s difficult to find any evidence it’s had any practical effect. The establishment of the Wicihitowin Circle of Shared Responsibility is encouraging but that it had to cancel it’s annual gathering because of funding uncertainty is not. We create offices, publish reports and issue press releases. And then we go back to business as usual. This can’t continue. The municipal-provincial pact announced by the Mayor and Aboriginal Relations Minister Robin Campbell in May of this year is likely to suffer a fate similar to previous initiatives. There’s no budget for programs to be created under the pact and neither elected official could offer any examples of specific action that might result from it.

Just as I stood in the freezing cold with Idle No More protesters, I will stand with my indigenous brothers and sisters to ensure that council begins to correct past wrongs. For example, I’ll work to have the city move towards reconciliation with the Paspachase, the band that was stripped of its reserve in Mill Woods in 1887. Trust built through personal relationships is key for First Nations peoples and it takes time and effort to build relationships. I’ve done that work and look forward to continuing to do so.

5. How do you envision the public transit system evolution?
  I am a strong proponent of public transit but have grave concerns about decisions made by this council to both build and operate the LRT expansion as a P3. While it may be true that I have ideological issues with privatization, I think that anyone can see that this decision is going to cause some problems down the road when it comes to integration with the current LRT and expansion we might want to pursue down the road. In the shorter term, we’ve got to ensure that councillors don’t hide behind the privatization when the inevitable service concerns arise. Elected representatives are accountable to citizens, not corporations. I’ll be diligent in ensuring that remains the case.

That said, I’d like to see transit planning done in concert with the development of a larger urban plan. I’m concerned that the final draft of the Growth Coordination Strategy removed a commitment to transit oriented development. Coordination is the key here. So, we need to coordinate.

A lot of focus is paid to expanding LRT and getting bus service to new areas while terrible over-crowding on existing routes and really poor late night service gets a pass. Late night transit would serve to alleviate the number of impaired drivers on the road but I’m just as concerned with the financial burden placed on low-income workers in the hospitality industry, along with many shift workers in other industries, who are forced to spend a good chunk of their earnings on taxis because there isn’t transit available for them. If transit is to be a viable choice for Edmontonians, we need councillors who understand transit is about more than LRT.

Another area that doesn’t appear to be much of a priority is the city’s shortage of taxis, particularly late at night. I’ve consulted rather widely with members of the industry and consumers and think the city needs to re-examine its lottery method of licensing which has done to make a small group very rich while doing little to improve service to Edmontonians.

6. What will you do to better engage post-secondary research / students / faculty with the rest of the community?
  Like some of your other responders, I guess I’m a little puzzled about this question. While I have no doubt some post-secondary researchers/grad students/faculty might feel disengaged, is their disengagement because they are researchers/grad students/faculty or due to some other factor?

As to more fully embracing our role as a city blessed to house so many quality post-secondary institutions, I’m encouraged by a lot of recent developments that indicate the city is reaching out to take full advantage. The creation of the Centre for Public Involvement, dedicated to “leadership and excellence in the theory and practice of public involvement” was created to help improve public participation in decision-making at all levels. They skillfully facilitated the Citizens’ Panel on Edmonton’s Energy and Climate Challenges and I look forward to their future involvement in other public consultation processes. 

I would fully support future efforts to work with our academic community to help advance their research while improving the way our city operates.

7. Councillor candidates: What is the biggest challenge your Ward faces? What solutions would you seek?
  I can’t name one. It’s more like several interconnected ones. Ward 7 is comprised of a number of established communities, some built over 100 years, others which emerged post-WWII. We’ve got a very diverse population, including a large number of First Nations peoples and many, many new Canadians. This has led to pressures and I believe we need to take a proactive stance on improving inclusion in this city and making sure that all of the voices that deserve to be heard are heard. 

Ward 7 is home to some of the most economically disadvantaged citizens as well as some of the most prosperous, with the vast majority of us falling somewhere in the middle. With some of the best real estate deals in the city, Ward 7 continues to attract young families and professionals. We’ve closed a lot of our schools which is going to be a problem pretty quickly as mature neighbourhood rejuvenation picks up speed following relaxation of infill guidelines. As numbers demand, can we look at reopening schools instead of closing them? As mentioned above, collaboration with both the school boards and the province must take place.

Ward 7 residents are concerned about the fate of the Coliseum and want to see efforts to improve 118th Avenue continue. As one of the original community members of the ad hoc working group which grew into the Avenue Initiative, I’m an enthusiastic supporter of plans to turn the old Alberta Cycle building into an Arts Common and look forward to seeing that project – a partnership between the city, Arts Habitat Edmonton and Arts on the Avenue – realized.

I mentioned food deserts above. Speeding, short-cutting through neighbourhoods and safety on and around the Yellowhead are also of major concern to residents. I’ll work hard to encourage Transportation to be more responsive to residents and communities. We can’t plan our roads using Google maps; we need to improve the way we listen to the pedestrians and cyclists and drivers who actually use them each day.

8. How can our readers learn more about your platform, contact you with questions or concerns, or get involved in your campaign?
  They can visit my website at mimiwilliams [ dot ] ca
or find me here facebook.com/ElectMimiWard7
and here: twitter: @willmimi
Phone: 780-851-1994 
E-mail at info@mimiwilliams.ca 
Campaign office (opening soon): 8624 118 Avenue 

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your questionnaire. Your questions were thought-provoking and I hope I’ve done them justice.

I’ll leave you with this Jane Jacobs quote that is guiding me throughout this campaign and will do so if I’m so honoured to be elected on October 21st: 

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

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