Election 2013 questionnaire response: Richard Feehan, Ward 10

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

Richard Feehan, candidate for Ward 10

1. In the context of our City’s growth, how will you support the development of existing communities as opposed to new neighbourhoods?


The issues of urban sprawl and increasing density have become important themes in Edmonton. At present, Edmonton has a density of approximately 109 people per sq/km as compared, for example to Boston which has a density of 4697 people per sq/km. It is evident that there is a lot of room for change. The arguments for increasing density are numerous. Increased density is important to the long term financial health of the city because it results in a reduction of unit costs for city services such as water, sewage, roads, sidewalks and snow removal. Fewer miles of roads are less expensive to maintain. But density is also beneficial because it can result in increased community interaction, decreased social isolation for vulnerable groups, increased health through ‘walkability’, increased sustainability and reduced carbon footprint and decreased destruction of agricultural land.

All of these are reason why we should support existing ‘mature’ neighbourhoods rather than build new ones. The Elevate report of the Community Sustainability Task Force has established nine recommendations for ensuring the wellbeing of mature neighbourhoods. These recommendations include: Bringing together all levels of government to assemble a new urban agenda, create a channel for collaborative community sustainability, create asset-based development plans, ensure good information, develop a collaborative regulatory environment, support local business diversity, foster healthy communities, enhance life-long learning, and provide innovative and sustainable infrastructure. As a city councilor, I would advocate for all of these recommendations and the specific proposals associated with each one.

2. How will you support and promote independent locally-owned businesses in Edmonton?


I strongly support small businesses because they employ local residents and foster local entrepreneurs. They also frequently focus on technological innovation and artistic development which stimulates a creative culture in Edmonton. The advantages of having small businesses extends from economic growth to social cohesion. New jobs are created which are local, responsive to the community and less likely to be moved away. Additionally, local business can be part of the environmental sustainability process because of the possibility of developing local supply chains and connection to municipal green technology systems as they are developed.

The Elevate Report of the Community Sustainability Task Force has already identified many of the appropriate strategies for the city in supporting small businesses. Recommendations 6.1 through 6.10 outline specific activities that a city can employ. These include; establishing research on community economic development, developing asset-based community plans, development of a Business Action Plan, Local area education plans, enhanced multi-modal accessibility to local business, and the elimination of restrictive covenants on commercial sites. As a city councilor, I would work hard to ensure follow through on these recommendations. 

I believe that the City of Edmonton has a responsibility to review and reduce the bureaucratic impediments that suffocate small business when the rules are not central to the goals of the City. For example, allowing small restaurant owners to use public sidewalks. Additionally, I believe that the Greater Edmonton Area needs to establish consistent business rules that allow expansion of businesses throughout the Census metropolitan Area. 

3. How will you support local food and urban agriculture in Edmonton?


Edmonton is developing a thriving food culture. We’ve got expanding farmers markets, restaurants serious about using fresh foods from local producers, an ever-growing fleet of food trucks, and a thriving local business community of small entrepreneurs who are butchers and bakers, growers and brewers. Edmonton, like Napa, California, is quickly becoming a destination for people who care about food– grow local, buy local, and eat local. There are other strong comparisons as well. Napa has the Culinary Institute of America and Edmonton has the world-renowned Culinary Arts program at NAIT. Both organizations graduate chefs who are transforming the food culture in their communities. Napa has incredible wineries, and we have incredible microbreweries. In fact, we too have a few wineries making delicious wine from our local Alberta bounty, like rhubarb, Saskatoon’s and raspberries. 

But there is one major difference. Napa and other communities in the Napa and Sonoma valleys build their cities around their great agricultural land. We bulldoze ours. Napa realizes that without the farms and dairies and greenhouses, there is no food culture that helps grow the economy. That’s smart zoning and smart business. We can learn from them.

We are a vibrant city that people want to move to and live in. Let’s be smart about it and work with developers to build around our best agricultural lands. Ask one of those new homeowners what they want to see outside their window: fields of wheat or a shopping Centre? I believe that we can work with groups like FarmOn and Sustainable Food Edm to establish good practices. The City needs to support Community Gardens, the Little Green Thumb program and needs to adopt an urban agriculture policy that preserves agricultural land within City limits. Ultimately, I believe it is important to support the new Edmonton Food council in providing direction to City Council so that our food policy reflects the community and its people.

4. How will you address Indigenous Edmontonians’ history and needs?


Edmonton is located in the Treaty 6 area and has one of the fastest growing urban aboriginal populations in the country. It is a reality that more aboriginal people live in urban centers than on reserves and it is time that we recognize reality and plan for the future. This means that the city of Edmonton needs to establish policy with the explicit intention of enhancing aboriginal participation in every aspect of the city. Winnipeg has established policies on education, training, employment, economic development, health and housing as it related to their indigenous population. We can do the same. The goal of these policies needs to be to reduce barriers to participation and to celebrate Indigenous culture and contribution in our history. This means we need to identify joint ventures between aboriginal peoples and the private sector to increase job opportunities, including aboriginal internships and community-youth partnerships. It can also involve specific aboriginal culture and heritage tourism, historical sites and culture experience programming. Overall, I support the tenets of the Urban Aboriginal Accord and the Aboriginal Declaration. But most importantly, it is essential that policy and program development not be unilateral and imposed on the Indigenous community. The relationship between the City and the Aboriginal community must be peer to peer. All decisions need to reflect the needs of both parties and must respect the underlying relationship between them.

5. How do you envision the public transit system evolution?


Public transit is essential to both the economic and environmental goals of cities. Good transit systems lead to less traffic congestion, reduced pollution and improved public safety. Economics are tied to the reduced use of roadways and the relationship between public transit and urban density. If we have more people in walkable, transit oriented neighbourhoods, we reduce the per unit costs of roads and other services. Studies show that agglomerating people in downtown areas through increased public transit can provide millions and even billions of dollars of value to the downtown and to the city at large.

Even so, we know that transit will never be self-sustaining in Edmonton just as it is not in any city across the country. Therefore, we have to be committed to supporting transit as an expense into the future. I believe that we need to expand the LRT as a high priority and we need to ensure that bus routes are simple, direct and consistent. My priority in establishing routes for either LRT or buses is to increase ridership. This means that we need to put an emphasis on accessibility through keeping fares down and keeping frequency of service up. It also means that when we build the system, we need to look at how the system links with the surrounding community. For example, the LRT station at Century Park is great, but it doesn’t have adequate parking, a proper place for ‘kiss and ride’ and insufficient bus linkage at later hours. 

6. What will you do to better engage post-secondary research / students / faculty with the rest of the community?


The Universities, Colleges and Technical Institutes in Edmonton are an essential part of our city. They contribute to the definition of the city as a ‘Smart’ ‘Creative’ and ‘Future-focused’ center of growth and innovation. As an academic, I understand that research is essential to building our knowledge and that research that stays at the University is not as useful as research that moves into the community and enhances our experience of everyday living. While in my present position, I have had the opportunity to visit the Knowledge Utilization Studies Program in the Faculty of Nursing at the U of A and have complete work with the Community-University Partnership. I strongly support the philosophy of creating active partnerships between the public and researchers rather than using people as ‘subjects’. Where possible I support the use of Participatory research which allows community members to assist in identifying the problems, the research questions, and the study designs. I also believe that knowledge once acquired needs to be translated into the public realm through training, implementation and local participation. I would actively seek to build relationships between the City of Edmonton service delivery sectors and post-secondary researchers. Whenever, we establish new programs, researchers should be invited to help us make critical assessments of strengths and weaknesses. In addition, I support the work being done by the Centre for Public Involvement and the City Regions Studies Centre at Enterprise Square.

7. Councillor candidates: What is the biggest challenge your Ward faces? What solutions would you seek?


Ward 10 is a wonderful collection of mature communities. Going door to door, I have met a great range of wonderful people who bring so much diversity and energy to the Ward. However, the community in many ways is a suburb within the city. Many of the neighbourhoods boast excellent housing but not a sense of ‘place’ where the community can interact. Most of the businesses of daily living are a car ride away. There needs to be a greater emphasis on creating livable, walkable centers throughout the ward. Each of the communities needs to be seen as a Centre of living in itself. If you have to leave your neighbourhood to do everything, then the neighbourhood is not sufficiently established. Again, I return to the Elevate report as a starting place. It is time to stop pondering and to act. The recommendations are there for taking up.

I also believe that the City of Edmonton needs to address the issue of Community Consultation. Too often good ideas such as bike lanes and LRT are spoiled in the implementation because the City has failed to involve the people from the beginning and has imposed cookie cutter plans instead of working with local knowledge to achieve satisfactory outcomes. In many neighbourhoods, the present bike lanes have created enemies instead of supporters. That’s not a reaction to bikes; it’s a reaction to poor consultation. It is time to create a new style and level and of public involvement. As such, I met with the staff of the Centre for Public Involvement and they indicate that a new plan is possible and that they can work with communities to develop one. I have met hundreds of engaged citizens throughout the ward. The problem is not the enthusiasm of the people it is the structures of engagement. If elected, I will create a Ward 10 Citizens Board with representative of each neighbourhood to meet with me on a monthly basis to help set priorities and help create solutions.

8. How can our readers learn more about your platform, contact you with questions or concerns, or get involved in your campaign?


My campaign can be reached in the following ways:

Website: feehanward10.ca

email: richardfeehan.ward10@gmail.com

Facebook: feehanward10

Twitter: feehanward10

Thanks for the opportunity to answer your survey.