Photo Credit: Jessica Barratt

“You Good?”: Finding Edmonton’s Good in Isolation

With something as large as a human-wide health crisis on our doorsteps, it can be difficult to hold on. The things we once thought to be solid have been shaken to the core. Some things have been broken forever. Business is different. Everyone’s at home. The streets are empty and our media feeds are full. But what if, somehow, we’ve become better in our breakdown? What if the wreckage is being salvaged at the same time it’s being destroyed?

Being a community organization during this epidemic, The Local Good has seen both the dark cloud and the silver lining. We’ve interacted with everyone from businesses and individuals, to community members and leaders—from the most vulnerable to the most affluent. We are having our eyes opened alongside our neighbours to what the future of this community (and city) could be, and specifically, what it could look like in Edmonton if the “good” we’re seeing erupt under the pressure of restriction was to stick around for…well, good.

That’s why we at the Local Good want to offer some positive predictions about how this epidemic could affect our potential as a city, a community, and a province.

We’re not saying, “forget your worries!”, but instead set out to balance them by pointing to what has become possible for Edmontonians almost overnight. Things that only a few months ago were among the biggest topics of disagreement on Edmonton’s cultural and infrastructural stage are now points of collaboration and bipartisanship.

Disclaimer: we’re definitely not saying this will be easy. In fact, we would be lying if we said that each of us hasn’t experienced a panicked, “we’re doomed”, or what’s going to happen next?”. But with all of this (sudden) time on our hands, it is important to spend at least some of it seeing a future beyond all this. Doing so might just help us stay present and together in an atmosphere rampant with anxiety and fear.

So, what are the positives we can point to amid a crisis that’s closing businesses, eating up funding, and putting renters and mortgage payers in a (more than) sticky situation? What’s changed so much in as little as a week that we have enough “good” to go around?

We’ll tell you what’s changed:

Care instead of Competition

 Back in 2019, we could already say that Edmontonians cared for each other. It’s something we’ve always done well. Yet there was an underlying feature of that care which many had felt was easy to ignore: that marginalized and minority communities were continually not being prioritized. That they were in a constant competition with development, business, and funding enterprises to simply survive. Continually, those “others” were more affected by city-wide changes to social assistance and demographic shifts than the affluent. In Edmonton, there was a line where care stopped.

And then comes the beginning months of 2020, when our entire population began to feel the very same disruptive effects that frequent the lives of Edmonton’s most vulnerable every day. I’m talking about sudden joblessness, fear of illness, having to move out of public living spaces on short notice, or even the simple task of finding enough food at the grocery store. Very suddenly, in the wake of change, there has been a real effort from companies and individuals from across the board to broaden safety nets for those affected by any of the above; now, or in the near future.

For instance, an Edmonton grocery store spurred a nationwide movement for creating special shopping hours for senior and at-risk populations. Small service businesses like the Grizzlar Café and the Glass Bookshop have found ways to provide contactless ordering and delivery options, developing innovative, community-care tools to bring products to pent up or affected customers. Breweries in town are making hand sanitizer to augment supply, and Skip the Depot has promised 100% refunds on bottle deposits through their home pick-up service. Local business collectives are finding ways to bring their knowledge-building services online (for free!) and even Epcor is offering 90 days of utility respite for its customers, while Telus has cancelled travel and roaming charges until April 30.

Want some more? Neighbours are volunteering to grocery shop for neighbours. Businesses are making care packages for employees losing out on work. With the City recently taking immediate feedback from transit patrons, adding extra buses and expanding routes as of March 19, and more recently giving the go-ahead to use Edmonton’s Expo Centre as a point-of-care station for long-time or recently homeless members of our city, it’s becoming clear that we have always been flexible enough to not only withstand sudden and pervasive social change, but to do so together, business beside business. Government beside government. Citizen beside citizen. Small acts of goodness growing into bigger and more comprehensive support for every member of our community.

The lesson here is that when we try to be broad and community-minded about our service offerings, our volunteer capacity, and our willingness to give, the people who most benefit are those in the most compromised of situations. Like a vaccine, increased protection provides immunities for those more susceptible to societal ills. And as far as community is concerned, any wide-spread change that levels the playing field for all members is considered a good—at least, in our books.

In short, as a city we’ve been given a profound opportunity to not only experience a wide-spread socio-cultural change surrounding care vs. competition, but also to redraw the line where care in Edmonton ends.

Putting People Over Profit

In fact, there’s a word for how these types of changes breed a whole new type of social infrastructure: the social enterprise. Social enterprises are community institutions and businesses who place profit goals and social goals side-by-side, ensuring that—for one—they provide income generation opportunities that meet the basic needs of their customers, local populations living in poverty, as well as those they employ.

Contextualizing this again in our present situation, we can point to the countless examples of businesses, schools, and governance bodies responding to this epidemic by becoming digital almost on-the-spot, opting to have their staff work from home. Businesses are beginning to put their attention into local well-being and healthcare, reducing barriers to accessibility as people are laid-off or lose their income. They’re are donating excess food instead of throwing it away, while others have asked employees to donate hours or funds to Edmonton Food Bank and other community-supporting organizations.

Everyone benefits from improved compassion and care. And now more than ever, those who drive our city’s culture and infrastructure are seeing how much they and their cities benefit from accommodating to the lives and social realities of the communities of which they’re a part.

That’s another Good: when all of this passes (and it will, one way or another), we’re not so sure it will be possible to forget the new accessibility measures to which Edmonton businesses and local government—even small businesses and entrepreneurs—have shown us they can adapt. In less than a week, they have learned what it means to become a social enterprise. Those on the fringes of unemployment and beyond are suddenly seeing a whole new scope of possibilities and resources available in support of end-to-end community care, and they’re coming from Edmonton stores and workers and organizations who have renewed their commitment to social resilience and wellbeing.

Keeping it Good

So yes, right now, many of us are just trying to grasp at the threads and orient amid the chaos.

I mean, of course we are: we’re all human (we think), and our first instinct is to try and sort everything out. But when things are changing as fast as they have been, and there’s almost no time to stop and think, it can put a big pause on the panic to sit back, take a breath, and see exactly what we can do in the face of fear and change. The answer? Turns out Edmontonians are smiling and asking everyone they know: “You Good?”

The important thing, then, is to Keep It Good. To remember, and hold onto the standard that our social institutions, government policies, businesses, and employers are keeping to right now. No longer do any of us have the ability to make excuses for “why we can’t” provide comprehensive social supports through employment, assistance and otherwise—since we so obviously can. In fact, as a city, we’ve been shown that we can make quick and necessary change in the face of dire emergency. And in response, we’ve learned to cut a different path to success amid crisis. We’re filling service gaps with everyone willing to help, and it’s working: we’re coming together through this, one massive pivot at a time.

So, hold on tight, closed in between the walls, and know that while you do your part there, many others are doing their part all around the city to make Edmonton’s community a much better, more caring place.