When Christy Morin moved from Greenfield in Edmonton's south to Eastwood on the north-side 27 years ago, she found the quality of life differences between the two communities "shocking."
"The ability of the (municipal government) to turn their eye from the inner city was horrible as a tax-paying citizen, and seeing the disparity was intense," Morin told participants at Taproot's second People's Agenda listening session on March 18.
Morin has been instrumental in transforming the neighbourhoods of Alberta Avenue and Eastwood. She has helped to secure improvements from the city like wider sidewalks and improved streetlights, hosted festivals, and fostered the now bustling arts community, including founding Arts on the Ave.
"Our theme should be that it just keeps getting better and better in Eastwood and Alberta Avenue," she said.
Morin was the featured speaker at the listening session, where more than 20 Edmonton residents participated in a discussion about quality of life in the city. The event was prompted by Taproot's People's Agenda, a document that’s being compiled based on responses to this question: What key issue do you want the candidates to talk about as they compete for votes in the 2021 municipal election, and why?
The disparity in quality of life between neighbourhoods, such as what Morin experienced, was one of the main topics discussed. Participants noted that differences in property values, density, and location lead to neighbourhoods looking and feeling very different from one another because of resulting differences in income and access to amenities and public services like transportation.
Several people mentioned that improving mass transit and active transportation networks would go a long way towards equity. One said that this is because increased mobility helps to "break down barriers" between neighbourhoods.
Participants also want to see more accessibility in the river valley to help those who don't drive enjoy the green space and move between the two sides of the city more easily. One specific idea that was brought up was a pedestrian bridge over the river valley between downtown Edmonton and McNally. Others mentioned better infrastructure for people with disabilities.
The lack of public restrooms was another concern on the topic of pedestrian infrastructure. Residents generally agreed that more public restrooms, or greater access to private ones, would be a huge quality of life improvement for those who walk or bike around the city.
Besides mobility and public restrooms, residents wondered how the next council would address disparities in poverty and safety. Morin said that the City of Edmonton has been neglecting some of the areas around downtown, as an example.
"We are not taking care of our inner city core," she said.
One participant mentioned Chinatown as another area with unique safety issues and where many businesses have closed in recent years, saying the area's challenges would require special attention from the government to solve.
Considering each neighbourhood has different needs and desires when it comes to quality of life, Edmontonians also wanted to know how the new councillors and mayor would carry out community engagement, especially regarding the Neighbourhood Revitalization initiatives.
One participant described the current council's engagement process as "a checklist model," and would like to see the city take more time to talk to residents about what they actually want for their neighbourhoods.
More than a few participants mentioned the importance of the arts, and wanted to know how the city would facilitate and support community-led arts groups.
Morin also stressed the importance of community-led initiatives and engagement from the City of Edmonton.
"Citizens know their neighbourhoods pretty well," she said. "I wish that there would be a greater ability to hear the citizens and a quicker turnaround (on the approval and support of community programs)."
When it comes to making the city more welcoming and inclusive, a few participants also brought up ways council could and should improve quality of life for Edmonton's most vulnerable residents. Specifically, people pointed to the hostile architecture that prevents citizens from sleeping on public benches, and the affordability of critical services like transit.
Resoundingly, participants agreed that quality of life is a broad topic that means many different things to different people.
"What is it that keeps people here in Edmonton?" asked one participant, noting that nobody would have the same answer.
Taproot’s People's Agenda listening sessions are happening weekly through the end of April. The next session on March 25 will explore: Will city council have integrity? Those interested in participating can register online.