Election 2013 questionnaire response: Tish Prouse, 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.]

Tish Prouse, candidate for Ward 7

Thank you for your interest in the upcoming election, and for your questions. Be sure to get as many people out to vote, as this is an election the likes of which we have not seen in years, and one about which none can afford to be apathetic.

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

Many questions regarding our city’s growth, I know, can be more effectively addressed when these issues are placed upon the older communities. Ward 7 has lots of space for both residential and commercial projects. It also has fantastic access in and out of the different areas for ease of traffic flow. And, it has a functioning transit infrastructure that is effective and supportive within the area. This area of our city is also far more safe, secure, and pleasant a place to be than is currently portrayed. As a councillor, I would be tirelessly promoting this area for its wonderful assets, and marketing it effectively to young families, business owners, real estate advisory boards, developers, and arts and culture groups to seriously consider. A voice as constant and as authoritarian as a councillor’s regarding the potential of an area will be heard differently, especially since this has not been the case in our area for some time. With my experience in cultural and heritage preservation, I would tap into our city’s rich, but unknown, history in many of the older neighbourhoods, and use it as a focal point for community growth, to bind disparate groups together who live in the same area, and as expressions of pride and love for our areas among Edmontonians as a whole. 

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

Ward 7 has some amazing businesses, once you get to know them. We have farm-fresh butcher’s and grocer’s, with other cottage products like jams, coffee, and spice mixes, that are regularly sold at Scona’s market, but in shops that are open year-round, and daily. We have independent clothing designers, industrious and creative restauranteurs, some excellent service people, and a host of brilliant industrial manufacturing and production with local solutions to some building and agricultural industry’s questions. I would support this similarly to the promotion of our ward, by continuing to use these stores, talking with the owners regularly and understanding their needs (as I am currently doing through the course of this campaign), and ensuring they are aware of the programs available to help their businesses thrive. Several programs that would help locally-owned business have been used already to great success, such as the facade improvement program, which has helped local businesses present themselves more favourably to the community, and have become destinations in and of themselves (Mhyre’s Music, on 118th Avenue, is a good example). These improved facades also create a rippling effect, generating street-wide improvements, and thus the ability to attract new businesses that previously were not able to get good frontage on a more trendy area of town. Though this is a small start, it is extremely effective in our ward, and is the foundation of how I would encourage locally-owned businesses to survive and thrive in our growing city.  

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

The initiatives started by Sustainable Food Edmonton are brilliant, bringing communities together, helping to create green spaces in dense areas, instilling the concept of green community space in our suburban development designs with great success, and helping Edmontonians be more conscious of what they eat, how, where the food comes from, and how to live healthy, full lives with our natural environment. Their programs deserve much more ease of access, enabling more communities to be able to use these initiatives in their own areas without the incumbrance of bureaucracy (one community had to deal with five different city departments, and wait four years, to get approval for a community garden on community green space, when the entire community had already signed a petition saying they wanted it). Other similar initiatives, coupled with local businesses and entrepreneurs in the environment-agricultural sector, can find great strength with more awareness, again, issues that come from really regular communication as a councillor between the city, its departments, and the constituents, as well as incessant promotion and marketing to the communities, businesses, and developers. 

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

Now this is a topic of great interest to me, but I think you may be referencing a different group of people. My ward is made up of some of the oldest communities in our city, and many of the current residents in these areas are descendants of those who built the original homes. This makes my ward full of indigenous Edmontonians. But, you might be referring to the First Nations’ groups within our city, who also make the communities in my area their home, as many of the lodgings for rent are much cheaper than anywhere else in town, and many of the people of these nations are less economically able to afford a home in the suburbs. These are two groups which often are overlooked in favour of arts festivals, new-immigrant communities, and more prominent and affluent oil- or similar-industry working type people. For the former, many of them feel alienated from a community that their family created, their needs and their community ignored by the progress of the city and its various departments. The communication of city planning, projects, and demographics, is not properly or regularly done with this group, who put up fiery resistance to change, and are seen as an annoyance by the city’s planning committees, police, and, to an extent, councillors. The problem is there is no strategy of how to create a dialogue, what issues will bring these people into the greater context of city initiatives, and how to ensure that their needs are met, or responded to, without disrupting the growth of the city, or holding it back, as many developers and transportation planners think. I have tremendous experience bringing disparate groups together in a seemingly impossible situation, and having disparate groups work together for a common purpose. Someone with my experience is needed more than ever on council, and as this ward’s representative. Regarding the latter group of Edmontonians, much of this involves building trust, a thing that they have found has hurt them time and again by those in power. Trust from working with established organisations, trust by being able to show their cultural characteristics and habits clearly to others, so that negative reactions and judgements cease, and communities can better interact with them, because even though they have made up the fabric of Canadian society much longer than any other group in our city, they are quite different from European-based systems of social interaction and familial affiliations, and these differences are not well understood, and are the source of much of the animosity they face. An open line of communication is the best way to address the history and needs of these groups of people, and I would be that open source, which this ward lacks. 

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

I have come to learn a great deal about our transit department in the short course of my campaign so far, and not much of it is positive. This city really does need to figure out what the priority of transportation and infrastructure is, because we cannot keep trying to, at once accommodate the full expansion of an LRT system, a cooperative bus link system within Edmonton and its neighbours, and at the same time, make our streets flow more smoothly, are repaired and built better for the volumes of traffic on them, and have them safer and more controlled. These are two opposite approaches and ideals, and our city doesn’t seem to be able to grasp that concept. There are several interesting blogs on this topic, ones which, combined with more research, really show how far Edmonton is away from a functioning transit system (Jarrett Walker’s “Human Transit” comes to mind instantly). On top of that, many of the communities within my ward feel that, even though it is in the bylaw that the transportation department must consult with the community leagues before carrying out any revisions and programs, they have not been, and have shunned any questioning, let alone opposition, to their plans, which often do not match what the residents, who are using the systems, want, or know to be true on their streets. I would, once again, be frontline in communication between the communities and our departments, so that, even though they may not agree with each other on a desired course of action, they both understand the opposition, and the reasons for making the decisions that affect them directly. I would also be most vocal in ensuring that the executive committee for transportation, as well as the planning division within the transportation department, are regularly aware of developments in other communities, communities that draw in a populous and tourists for its interesting and well-designed systems of access, frankly like Vancouver and Calgary. I know we will have a great system of public transit, but we really need to define, within the city’s operating mission, which of our values is more important (bus or car; LRT or arena development) because we cannot do everything, but we can include the citizenry more intimately than has been done in the past, and make sure that the efforts we do make are needed, appreciated, and understood.

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

This is not easy for a person in city council to address, as many of these institutes are quite separate from the city as a whole. They have their own functions, funding, spaces, communities, and many of their members see themselves as a part of the academic community first, who happen to live in Edmonton. Work and research in an academic setting also keeps one from regularly engaging in community activities, especially if you are not from Edmonton by birth, and come to work or study here from afar. I know this well, as I am an academic. I believe that this engagement should be on the initiative of the surrounding communities, to make special note of the students and faculty living in their communities with discounts, or academic days, or even simple invitations to clubs, sporting events, and community ventures. I believe that much of the engagement of the education sector of our town must come from us, through our own outreach, rather than anything specific, or a special initiative. The other angle that I would pursue is actually listening to the plethora of research knowledge we have at our disposal, research which highlights real solutions to the city’s problems of homelessness, housing, green initiatives, and transportation, that somehow doesn’t make it to any of the executive committees with any real weight. Again, I cite transportation as the best example of this, because many of our current decisions are twenty years behind what researchers, social anthropologists, and engineers are currently saying, many of whom receive government funds. So it is almost silly to watch both areas of money go to projects that don’t work the way they ought to, because the communication link between the academic world and the governing bodies isn’t there with any weight. My academic background makes me an excellent liaison between our city and the research groups in our institutions, to call on their expertise more regularly in our city’s planning, development, and growth. 

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

My ward’s biggest challenge is breaking out of the stereotype of a dangerous, unproductive, uninteresting part of the city. This is a perception of our area promulgated and perpetuated by people who do not live, work, or visit this area, it is dated, by almost two decades, is insulting, unfair, degrading, and counter-productive for the entire city. The challenge can be dealt with effectively with better promotion and marketing, on behalf of the councillor through the city’s various programs, which encourage growth in this area, but are stilted by reluctance from new arrivals who want to buy homes, people who come to Edmonton for business, developers, businesspeople, and, to a large extent, the arts community. As I have said before, I would tirelessly be in front of associations of realtors and developers, special interest groups, cottage industry associations, franchise directors, and tourism departments to ensure that we in the north-east are well-represented, well-presented, well-communicated, and well-understood by all outside of our communities. Yes, we have problems, but these are quite successfully being remedied, and we now need the support of Edmonton as a whole, championed by a voice of passion, education, and one with personal experience in the area with his family and business.

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

Come out to some of the wonderful events this autumn taking place in the north-east: Kaleido Festival, Delwood Fall Festival, Parkdale Spud Festival, in Rundle Park playing frisbee golf, or walking around the communities of Eastwood, Parkdale, Delton, Baldwin, Montrose, Alberta Avenue, Newton, Highlands, Bellvue, and Elmwood Park, with my wife and infant son. Conversely, I can also be reached through my website, tishprouse.com, which has all other contact information available. 

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