Planning for Starkman school


Esther Starkman School is in the news for being overcrowded, leaving Edmonton Public Schools with unpopular tough decisions. After some digging around in planning documents available online here is an overview of the development process, from an open field to school construction. Links are provided for readers that wish to dig around on their own.

The ‘plot’ of this post is this: it starts with an open field and a concept, then a plan, followed by implementation – funding and building new schools. In writing this, I see that planning is one thing and implementation is the other. But who is responsible for what?

It started with an open field and a concept

Prior to the formal planning that takes place to build new neighbourhoods, land owners and developers that want to build new neighbourhoods prepare a Servicing Concept Design Brief. It is not a statutory plan with legal ‘teeth’ but it does have a significant purpose to get the lay of the land before the specific planning of several neighbourhoods takes place in Neighbourhood Structure Plans.

I can trace the Esther Starkman school site back to the Terwillegar Heights Servicing Concept Design Brief, a “generalized framework for municipal infrastructure, servicing, planning and development guidelines and basic environmental requirements (p. 1)” for the area. The first draft of this document was prepared in 1990 and was adopted by City Council in 1992. It has been amended several times since, most recently in July 2012.

The Terwillegar Heights Servicing Concept Design Brief covers the following neighbourhoods: Haddow, Leger, Hodgson, McGrath, Mactaggart, South Terwillegar and Terwillegar Towne.

Plans in effect
Excerpt of Plans in Effect Map – City of Edmonton

Here are the highlights of the Servicing Concept Design Brief relating to schools:

  1. The City of Edmonton and developers are expected to work in cooperation with and the school boards to determine physical site requirements and future student attendance areas (p. 40). 
  2. An objective: “Schools are one of the basic focal points in the design and function of neighbourhoods. As such, careful consideration must be given to the configuration, size and location of school sites so that they can effectively serve community needs (p. 41).”
  3. Direction for the Neighbourhood Area Structure Plans to come for each neighbourhood relating to schools (p. 43-45):
    • Neighbourhood size and configuration. 6000 people will generate adequate number of students for a Public k-8 school. Larger population is needed for Catholic school. Elementary age children should not walk more that 1.2 km to a school site.
    • Access and circulation. The planning of schools sites and vehicular and pedestrian transportation systems needs to be coordinated.
    • Parcel configuration and frontage. Where possible, put Public and Catholic school sites, and park sites, together to make more efficient use of land and facilities. Dimensions of school sites are also articulated.
    • Soil conditions. When preparing the NSP, soil tests geotechnical information are required to avoid potential hazards.
    • ServicingThe developer is expected to plan how to provide services to the school sites (water, wastewater, gas, electricity).
    • Pipeline corridors / utility rights-of-way. Educational and recreational facilities need to be separated from these utilities. In some instances, they can be adjacent to take advantage of pedestrian corridors, but there must be adequate separation distance.
    • Site drainage. The developer is required to ensure water drains off the future school site.
    • Storm water management. Wet storm water management facilities (ie ponds) should not be located on or adjacent school sites.
    • Assembly of land and staging of site development. The land for school sites is assembled through the subdivision process – which does not happen until all the planning work is complete. The staging of development “will give high priority to the assembly and servicing of school/park sites.”  The Esther Starkman school site is named here as essential for early stages of development. A Catholic K-8 is named.
    • Commercial development. The school boards perceive that commercial and K-8 schools will create pedestrian/vehicular conflicts. Commercial development should be separated from school sites.

Three schools are anticipated in the Servicing Concept Design Brief for Terwillegar Towne specifically: two K-8 (Edmonton Public Schools) and an elementary/junior high school (Edmonton Catholic Schools).  (Please click here  and scroll to Map 12 on page 42. The official Development Concept can be found on Map 14, page 60.)

Esther Starkman is one of the two K-8 schools. Two schools are not yet built – a K-8 within Tomlinson Common to the west, and Edmonton Catholic’s elementary / junior high school adjacent to Ester Starkman.


Then a plan

To implement a Servicing Concept Design Brief, smaller and more specific plans are prepared for Council’s approval. These are called Neighbourhood Area Structure Plans. In the map above, these NASPs are noted in blue writing. Esther Starkman school is found in the Terwillegar Towne Neighbourhood Area Structure Plan, a document adopted by City Council as a bylaw first in 1995, and amended by Council most recently in 2003.

Here are the highlights of the Terwillegar Towne Neighbourhood Area Structure Plan relating to schools:

  1. Educational objectives of the plan: “To provide for appropriate school/park sites (p. 22).”  Bylaw amendment 12258 (March, 2000) added the following text: “the number of school sites and locations have been previously rationalized with the school boards to maximize the opportunity for inter-neighbourhood catchment and access (p. 26).”
  2. The land use concept (figure 7 on p. 51), in 2003, shows two K-8 school sites for Edmonton Public Schools – Esther Starkman school and a second site within Tomlinson Common. Adjacent to Esther Starkman is a site for Edmonton Catholic Schools’ elementary / junior high school.

The land allocation for three schools in the Neighbourhood Area Structure Plan is consistent with the Servicing Concept Design Brief.

Terwillegar Towne NASP Map


Followed implementation – funding and building schools

Implementation of the Terwillegar Towne Neighbourhood Structure Plan took place in many ways. The land was subdivided to reflect the plan. For schools, this process allows a legal description and title to school land, just as it does for developers and builders to build the homes we eventually buy. This process makes it clear who owns what land. Zoning further dictates what can happen on the land.

When development begins, land is graded, pipes are placed in the ground, roads and sidewalks are installed, parks are developed and buildings are built – homes, business and schools alike. For schools, the site is prepared for a building, which only happens when the funds are secured for construction.  Capital funding for schools in Alberta is administered by the provincial government.

Recall the Servicing Concept Design Brief. It expected in Terwillegar town, three schools: two K-8 for Edmonton Public Schools and one elementary / junior high school for Edmonton Catholic Schools.

In April of each year, school boards must submit a three-year capital plan for the following three years to the Government of Alberta, who funds the construction of schools. Esther Starkman officially opened on September 6, 2010. Edmonton Public Schools’ proposed Three-Year Capital Plan (2013-16), dated March 2012, still shows the need for a second K-9 school in Terwillegar Heights (presumably at Tomlinson Common). The Three-Year Capital Plan (2011-2014), prepared in 2010 also shows a K-6 school in Terwillegar Heights.  In at least 2010, Edmonton Public Schools asked the Government of Alberta for an additional K-6/8 school in Terwilligar Towne.


Planning is one thing; implementation another

Here’s what has happened in Terwillegar Towne:

  1. One K-8 school has been constructed (Esther Starkman School, opened September  2010)
  2. One Catholic high school has been built instead of an elementary / junior high school (Mother Margaret Mary Catholic High School, opened September 2012)
  3. One remaining K-8 school has yet to receive funding (at Tomlinson Common), from the Government of Alberta, as requested by Edmonton Public Schools – to be confirmed

The question is not whether Edmonton Public Schools adequately planned for the schools. It appears that they did.  What is lacking is implementation – the actual construction of the needed schools. For further investigation – did Edmonton Public Schools make the necessary funding requests of the Government of Alberta – and what was the Government’s response?

______ ______ _____

In a subsequent post I will examine the remaining NASPs in Terwillegar to Heights to confirm whether the number of schools planned for at a larger scale were provided.

Please chime in – let’s see what we can figure out.

______ ______ ______


Government of Alberta

  • School Capital Manual: approval process for new schools,  p. 15; school capital funding priorities, p. 16; school capital planning requirements of school boards, p. 17
  • As of January 21, 2012, the Government of Alberta funded four new school projects for Edmonton, one in Terwillegar: Mother Margaret Mary Catholic High School

City of Edmonton

Edmonton Public Schools


Cites: the result of our evolving interaction with our habitat

Figure A - City Emergence Dynamic

To organize ourselves to ensure our species is able to sustain itself, we need to fully contemplate the relationship we have with our work, and our work’s relationship with our habitat.  Figure A illustrates this relationship.

The development of cities is a survival skill.  When I say this, I mean the development of diverse and innovative work in cities is a survival skill.  It forms what Jane Jacobs’ referred to as our economic life – the force that creates and sustains cities.  The work we do creates our cities.  This post begins to articulate further the relationship between our economic life – our work – and our habitat.

Economic Life

At the center of the illustration is economic life – the sphere where we work.  Our work, at a minimum, is to ensure personal well-being of self and family.  It most often involves a relationship with something, or someone else.  If no one did any work, if no one ‘lifted a finger’ we would not exist. There is always work to do.  We have to make an effort to survive; it doesn’t just happen.  

The location of work varies greatly: it can be at home, out in the fields or the barn, on a construction site, in an office, or on a train.  Our work is generally a transaction for something in return.  When times are tight, work may be building shelter and growing food for family.  If the skills to do this are not on hand, we work for others in return for those skills, or do something to barter for those skills.  Moreover, the work done in cities is a transaction that results in money for the worker that is exchanged for shelter, food, clothing.  And, if affluent enough, the worker purchases additional things for enjoyment.  Or we may make work transactions with no money changing hands and instead a service changes hands, such as when we volunteer for a community event or work in our homes.  There are paid and unpaid jobs everywhere.

The common thread in our work lives is a transaction with others.  Very rarely, as a species, do we live alone.  We are regularly in contact with others and we have chosen to live in communities, towns and ever-growing cities, and the source of our contact is in the exchange of work.  Our economic life, the sphere in which we exchange our work with one another, is at the heart of the dynamic from which cities are created and recreate themselves.  But it is not as simple as being in contact with each other.  New work must be generated.

At the scale of the city, our economic life is the accumulation of all our work, combining and interacting, transacting.  Our work creates our social, physical and economic worlds; this is what builds our cities.  We inherit our physical habitat, but our work changes our habitat.  We build settlements, roads, swimming pools and airports.  We all build and create: individually we plant flowers, maintain our homes, build garages; collectively we build highways, schools, and businesses.  The outer ring of the illustration is our physical habitat, which is both the habitat we are given and the habitat that is physically created by our work.

Physical Habitat

The outer ring of this illustration is the physical habitat in which we live.  A city’s very existence hangs on its environmental (physical) context.  Our economic life is very connected to our physical habitat. A settlement begins with the inheritance of a resource.  As I write from Alberta, Canada, I am compelled to notice that my province’s economic life today relies on the oil and gas resources within our boundaries.  As we have developed this resource, our physical habitat has changed along with our activity.   Oil wells, mines, equipment and roads cover the landscape.  We have grown cities and built new cities to accommodate the extraction of oil and gas for cities across the planet.

Our physical habitat also includes the spaces we do not include as traditionally being within the city.  It must include all of the land that supports the city: the land and water from which food is grown and water is provided for citizens.  It includes these resources and others that allow us the life we have: transportation, buildings, recreation, business, government, etc.  It includes the impact of our activity, individually and locally, as well as collectively and globally, on our planet.

At the outset of a settlement, the physical habitat gives us the opportunity to develop new work with a resource.  We have also, historically, created new work to accommodate a changing climate.  New work in the context of our habitat continues to be an operating principle today.  The habitat for most humans is now the city, which generates the conditions for more diverse work, which means we generate more change to which we must adapt.  The physical habitat we build – cities – generates the conditions for more new work, which grows our cities.  In the middle of these two elements is our social habitat, the connective tissue between our economic life and our physical habitat.

Social Habitat

From our African ancestors until now, it is clear that we are social creatures that gather and work together to ensure we do more than simply survive.  Whether implicit or explicit, the reason we gather is that it affords us the ability to create the conditions to find new and improved ways of doing things.  Together, rather than alone, we best face the challenges put to us.  Not only do we physically create cities to face our challenges, but we also create a social habitat conducive to this.  The quality of our social life – our social habitat – has an impact on our economic life and our ability to create the conditions to thrive.  Cities are where we organize ourselves with social structures to create the world we live in, and, of course, be recreated by what we create.  Cities are the world in which we look after self and other.

The City Emergence Dynamic

Our economic life is at the heart of our ability to create and recreate cities that respond to our changing world.  Our social and physical habitats are always in flux and we shift and adjust our behaviour – our economic life – to learn and evolve.  Building cities is a never-ending quest to do much more than survive.   This quest takes place at many scales in the city, in what Marilyn Hamilton has articulated as a nest of city systems (Figure B).  Moreover, our very work to adjust (at any scale) creates new conditions to which we must respond again, and again, and again…  Cities are the result of our evolving interaction with our habitat.  

In this week’s posts, I will explore:

    1. the relationships between economic life and habitat in more detail; and
    2. how these relationships show up at scale (self, neighbourhood, city etc.)





The power in consultation

What on earth is “true public consultation”?  This question begs to be asked after reading an article in the January 8, 2012 Calgary Herald.  Reporter Clara Ho’s first two paragraphs:

An environmental group is demanding a ‘true public consultation’ after learning of pro-posed plans to clear cut more than 700 acres of trees in the west Bragg Creek are in Kananaskis Country.
Sustain Kananaskis – comprised of Bragg Creek residents, trail users and outdoor enthusiasts – is calling for Spray Lake Sawmills and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development to hold a ‘transparent approval process that includes facilitated, accessible and meaningful public consultation in regards to logging activities in Kananaskis Country’.

A little more on the dynamics of the situation, as I read it:

  • The Government of Alberta (through Alberta Sustainable Resource Development) approved a 10 year logging plan that delegates forest management activities to Spray Lakes Sawmills.
  • Spray Lakes Sawmills has conducted ongoing public consultationover the last 10 years on various forest management activities.
  • Specific to west Bragg Creek, Spray Lakes Sawmills has consulted with stakeholders.  The next opportunity for the public to learn more and share concerns is at an open house January 26.
  • Sustain Kananaskis’ mission is to hold Spray Lake Sawmills and ASRD accountable to all Albertans affected by the proposed logging.
  • 90 percent of the trails will be affected in some way by the logging, including 30 km of new trails.
  • Sustain Kananaskis is advocating for a transparent approval process that includes public consultation, not just stakeholder consultation.
  • Sustain Kananaskis is demanding full public consultation so that dialogue can occur.

On the surface, the conflict appears to be about citizens (in the form of Sustain Kananaskis) demanding true, meaningful and full public consultation.  On their web site, Sustain Kananaskis defines ‘proper’ public consultation in three stages: let people know what’s going on (notification), seek their opinions (consultation), and involve them in the formulation of objectives, policies and approaches (participation).  By their own definition, they are getting consultation; they have been and are being asked for their opinion.  Whether they like the decisions made with their input is another story.

Sustain Kananaskis is actually looking for one of two things.  In the realm of consultation, Sustain Kananaskis is looking for evidence that their opinions and input affect the decisions of the decision-makers, in this case Spray Lakes Sawmills and ASRD.  In the realm of participation, Sustain Kananaskis is really seeking a role as a decision maker to shape the future of Kananaskis Country consistent with their vision.

The underlying issue in Clara Ho’s article is about who has the power to make decisions.  As is often the case, those without the power would like to have some.

The question I am left with:  Under what conditions can power be shared while maintaining our expectations for accountability?

Circle Tale – Habitat for Humanity in St. Albert

Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea,wonderful leading spirits in Circle work, asked my mom, Margaret Sanders, to share our story of our work with the City of St. Albert.  A wonderful tale of how Circle can bring community together around much more than what the conflict is about.  As I think about it, it was a wonderful experience that deepened a design charrette experience for participants.

Here it is:  PeerSpirit Circle Tale

Pondering the purpose of a city/town

How we create our cities and towns has an impact on the quality – and longevity – of our existence.  While this may feel far off, irrelevant and easy to dismiss, there is a simple and familiar metaphor that highlights our individual and collective situation: it’s our bed, we have to lay in it.

Two examples from headlines one October day in 2009 in the Edmonton Journal:

  1. Cities tapping out our rivers, report warns: tampering with flow regimes has put ecosystems at risk; and
  2. Proximity to quality transit, parks may cut diabetes risk: healthy neighbourhoods are 38% less likely to develop disease.

People need to water to survive, let alone be healthy and thrive.  Further, “people who live in neighbourhoods with safe sidewalks, ample parks, good public transportation and ready access to fresh fruits and vegetables are 38 per cent less likely to develop diabetes.”   The point: as we create our cities and towns, we make decisions everywhere, big and small, that have an impact on our well-being.  We decide whether we wish to have a habitat that supports our well-being.  We decide whether or not we wish to make it easy or hard for people to exercise and eat right.  We decide whether we care or not if collectively we look after the places and people we live in and with, and rely upon.

I am not in support of or in opposition to the arguments in these pieces of journalism.  Rather, my intention is to highlight the often unconsidered consequences of our choices as we create and recreate our cities, towns and communities.  In choosing to leave with each other we have made implicit commitments to each other.  In choosing to create and live in larger and larger settlements (and even the small ones), we specialize what we do for each other and we advance what we are capable of.  We are growing and evolving as a species.  Because of this specialization, we have made great advancements in health care, in communication technologies.  None of this would have happened without the creation of cities.  We live together so we can grow and evolve as individuals and together.

Yet these articles point to a bit of a conundrum: what if the choices we are making in how we create our cities is undermining our very evolution?  What if we harm our ecosystem to a degree where our existence is threatened?  What if we design our cities to ensure people are nowhere near as healthy as they could be?  Is the purpose of a city to harm humans or to support humans’ growth and evolution?  Which purpose do the choices we make as citizens, community organizations, NGOs, businesses, developers and builders,  and public institutions serve?


Inviting the elephant

I am part of the design team leading the 2010 Alberta Professional Planners Institute conference October 17-20, 2010 in Lake Louise.  We have chosen questions to guide a big conversation, rather than in speakers.  We have done this with the express purpose of surfacing the elephants in community planning.  It is easy to hide when we sit and listen to experts.  A new possibility we are designing for: explore the untapped expertise and wisdom we already have amongst us.  The metaphor we are using to guide our design: the elephant.

Either the metaphor of the elephant is resonating with people, or it is an elephant itself.  We get comments about the questions that will be guiding our inquiry about planning and where it fits in the scheme of things.  The questions are too big.  What do you mean by the questions?  Of course I am planning to survive, aren’t you?  The questions are too big!  The questions lead to so many other questions? Boy, do those questions ever stop to make me think…

In a way, one of the elephants in the room are questions themselves.  How often do we think we have it right, without even asking questions.  John Godfrey Saxe’s poem is in our consciousness as we design, and we are curious about how this relates to community/town/city/country/northern/rural planning:

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me!-but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried: “Ho!-what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me’t is mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

Stirring Titles

I am cleaning my office and noticing the magazines sitting here before I put them away.  The titles, from Plan Canada and AACIP Planning Journals in the last several months, cause a stir in me…

  • Planners’ perspectives on art and culture
  • Rethinking infrastructure: going green
  • Planning for the homeless
  • Aging in place
  • Planning for changing demographics
  • Okotoks: staying within its limits
  • Welcoming communities: planning for diverse populations
  • Making it work: making it last; making it home
  • Food security: a growing concern
  • Planning without a net: the international experience
  • Looking to our past to plan our future

The stir?

Planners’ work covers a range of questions and matters that are deliberated widely in our communities – art, infrastructure, homeless, aging, sustainability, cultural diversity, food – and all of this on the home and international fronts.  And then there is the conversation about how to accomplish what we are aiming for.

But who is the “we”?  The perspectives offered are about how planners contribute to these questions, and these perspectives are offered to planners.  It is tempting to drift toward an assumption that it is the planners who are going to make the difference and that others get in the way.  What, however, if the “we” is planners along with the various stakeholders in our communities.  What if our technical expertise is not where our power of influence lies?

This spring I had an opportunity to run APPI’s Professional Practitioners Course with Gary Buchanan, an alternative written examination format for prospective professional planners where candidates demonstrate their mastery through conversation and writing.  The surprise at this particular gathering was the responses of planners in response to a question about the scope of planning today.  The candidates did not reveal technical aspects, but rather interpersonal.  To be able to do our jobs well these days, we need to be good communicators, negotiators, conflict resolvers, facilitators, coaches, and synthesizers.  All this with a bold courage to take leadership roles in unconventional ways.

Reflecting then on the titles above, I recognize the value of planners.  We offer technical skills to make contributions to our communities’ dreams.  Our value is no longer just  conventional technical skills.  Our value is in cultivating the conditions for all the players and stakeholders involved in these complex issues to clearly articulate where they are going, why and how they will get there.

From time to time we’ll employ our technical know-how, but these are not front-seat skills by default any longer.  Not if we want to make a difference.

Being Host(ed)

We explored how conversational leadership takes place, and how through conversational leadership, the doors open to co-create wise action and change in our organizations and communities.

Last week I relished the opportunity to show up and be hosted, rather than be host at the latest Art of Hosting gathering in the Edmonton area.  While I worked hard to get the word out to people I know who are searching continually for ways to be well with others, it was wonderful to arrive without having to organize anything. Rather than attending to the details of the venue, process design considerations etc., I was able to arrive in a different way: most fully and selfishly expecting to learn at every turn.  As host, I expect to learn at every turn, but there is a slight but meaningful distinction when being hosted – a bit more freedom to explore and invest in self.  It is a marginal distinction with significant implications.

The implication – and gift – for me is remembering how difficult it can be for me to be hosted.  Hence, I have been pondering the difference between being host and being hosted.

Host - Hosted

The smililarities between being host and being hosted are striking: both require welcoming the stretch of learning together, offering self fully and deeply to each other, and engaging together around a passionate call.

The distinction between host and hosted lies in the invitation, intention and the design.  Being host means noticing and responding to a burning question, the passionate call to gather.  Being hosted means responding to the resonance of that call. Being host means holding space (the physical and metaphysical) for the invitation and the gathering itself.  Being host also means designing process to create the conditions to release holding the space to allow those hosted to co-create space.  Hosting means intentionally letting go.  Being hosted means following resonance and choosing where to place attention.

In the setting of an art of hosting gathering, the hosted have an opportunity to become hosts.  The hosts also welcome being hosted.  In this relationship, both the host and hosted are actively engaged in co-learning.  Around the right question, this learning relationship takes place in connection to meaningful work.

Beyond the setting of an art of hosting offering, living the conundrum of being host and being hosted remains alive.  To host well, I must be willing to be hosted.  Willing to be hosted, I am open to surprise, willingly receiving what is offered.

Last week I recognized that I have been “holding” the art of hosting in Alberta for quite a long time with a couple of others – Marg and Hugh.  It is hard to hold space – even with mates.  It isn’t something that can even be held.  It can only be.

The art of hosting is about co-creating space, and opening space.  It isn’t something to hold long.

For wonderful details of the gathering, please see Tenneson Woolf’s harvest of the harvest of the harvest (photos, work/co-learning/relationship social movement piece on YouTube, blogs) here:

City By Design

Edmonton's children: Where they live, where they learn (Share Edmonton)The Edmonton Journal’s Sarah O’Donnell and Edmonton programmer Mack Male, have painted a picture for Edmonton residents and decision makers about how our city is growing, especially in light of recent Edmonton Public Schools decisions to close inner city schools.

The article and mapping show us where young families are living, and by implication where schools are needed based on the numbers of children nearby. Using this logic, it makes perfect sense to close schools where there are fewer children.  Need is based on numbers of children, no more no less.  Families move to the suburbs and school trustees follow the families. It’s that simple.

Or is it?  This conversation seems to make several assumptions.  I offer several below to test if they are the assumptions we are using, and /or if we wish to consciously create a new set of assumptions.  They drive how we build and adjust the city we live in, the city we are designing while living in it.

Assumption 1:  Growth just happens. Growth happens where we choose to make it happen.  Cities choose where growth will happen and has a legislative framework to guide growth.  Ultimately, the decision makers are City Council.  There are, however, many other decision makers that influence how and where we build: home buyers, developers and builders, school boards, health providers, realtors, etc.  We spend a lot of time and energy designing and building infrastructure to accommodate us living in this place together, and it is not haphazard. It takes years (and decades) to plan for Anthony Henday, LRT routes, water and wastewater systems, electricity, gas and our extensive roadway system.  We build all of this in the public eye.  None of it “just happens.”

Assumption 2:  We have unlimited funds for infrastructure now and in the future. We expand our city without contemplating the full costs of doing so.  We let school buildings close.  We let vacant land remain vacant when servicing infrastructure is near by.  We let land, and all the utilities serving that land, remain underutilized.  If we are not able to maintain our current infrastructure well now, how do we expect to do so in the future?  City Hall, for example, faces huge capital and operating budget challenges, yet we continue to spread ourselves thin.  We behave as if we have unlimited revenue now and in the future.  Are our pockets (as taxpayers) that full?

Assumption 3:  We need a lot of space from our neighbours. It seems that having oodles of space – in our yards and homes – drives Edmonton’s design.  Why are we afraid of being close to other people?  Or sharing park space instead of large private yards?  What is behind this?  What makes neighbours bad, especially if there are a lot of them?  Perhaps the devil is not in the density, but in the design of how we build the buildings and the space around them.  What if we built exciting spaces and ensured the services were on hand – like schools, LRT – to create viable neighbourhoods.  Viable from a social, environmental and fiscal perspective.  We have yet to really pay for all this space we are enjoying.

Assumption 4:  School boards don’t build cities – City Hall does. Schools have an absolutely critical role to play in physically building cities – look at the schools and green spaces everywhere.  They also play a key role in supporting the well-being of neighbourhoods. Schools are critical formal and informal gathering places that help make a neighbourhood healthy.  A school board’s decisions are critical.  They are not isolated from everyone else’s actions.  Our city builders include school systems (secondary and postsecondary), health systems, energy and water systems, city hall, and our builders and developers.  No one entity or initiative works completely in isolation – they all have a piece of the neighbourhood puzzle.

What if we switched those assumptions for the following principles in decision making at many scales (from citizen up to a large city network of organizations):

  1. Use current infrastructure before building new
  2. Create and design for exciting spaces where people want to spend time
  3. Bring nature to the people and people to nature
  4. Create and support a transportation system that moves people and goods efficiently (rather than the most cars/trucks efficiently)
  5. Integrate the interests and dreams of citizens, community organizations, our city institutions and our city builders
  6. Consider the cumulative costs of our city design choices – actively seek feedback on our choices

I suspect that these principles seem innocuous, but they are not when we  have the feedback systems in place to truly understand if our actions are in line with our goals.  The City of Edmonton, in creating and providing open source data, is providing a critical feedback loop for Edmontonians to understand how the city we are creating works.  There are exciting conversations ahead in Edmonton’s future.

Our collective actions -as  citizens, community organizations, school systems, business owners, city government, health providers, developers, builders, realtors, home buyers, etc.  – create our city.   Is it the one we want?

I wonder if the evidence shows that we are getting what we want, or if we are getting what “just happens.” ttp://

Elect a President

There is an election for my professional association, the Alberta Association of the Canadian Institute of Planners.  I have put my name forward as candidate for the position of president-elect. The successful candidate will serve one year as president elect, 2 years as president, and 2 years as past president serving as AACIP’s representative to the Canadian Institute of Planners.  This is a significant commitment to the profession, one that asks me to consider completely why I would wish to take this role on for the profession.

As I look back at what really interests me about the planning profession, it is about how we as a collective are in a position to support our communities as they strive to thrive.  We are in service to something far larger than our individual jobs, or even the planning profession.  Collectively, we work in service to the fullness of community.  To best do that, we need to continue the evolution of our professional association while holding two distinct priorities: the development of our profession as technicians and effective practitioners, and the development of the health of our communities.  This involves a new era of professional practice where we acknowledge that we offer so much more than technical services to communities, or technical learning opportunities for ourselves.

The October 2010 AACIP conference is focusing on 2 questions:  What if we are not planning to survive? And who is planning our future anyway?  These questions can relate to both our professional membership, as well as our communities.  As a profession, we need to explore these questions – among ourselves and with our communities – in order to fully respond to what we are called to do.  It is time for us to notice what we, ourselves, are planning for and what we need to do to get there.

As I reflect about why I put myself forward in this way, the answer I keep coming back to is about my passion for the development of our professional practice that is in tune with what our communities need from us.  I see I have a role to play in this.  So, for your consideration:

The skills I offer for my colleagues’ consideration:

  • Executive leadership – senior leader in municipal/regional government, University Board of Governors, numerous community boards
  • Effective resource management – $17 M operating and $250M capital budgets
  • Strategic leadership focus amidst competing demands
  • Strategic alliances and relationships with government, stakeholders, and other professions
  • Appropriate balance between confrontation, cooperation, and collaboration
  • Meaningful processes for conversation – between ourselves, our professional colleagues and our communities

The platform I offer for my colleagues’ consideration:

A leader these days needs to be a host – one who convenes diversity; who convenes all viewpoints in creative processes where our mutual intelligence can come forth. ~ Margaret Wheatley

Without collective intelligence and wise, effective action, the future of our organizations, our communities, and our planet remain imperiled. ~ Thomas J. Hurley and Juanita Brown

After 50 years, AACIP is transitioning into something new: the Alberta Professional Planners Institute (APPI). Along with the name, the planning landscape has changed as well: now over 800 members, a diverse collective practice, and communities facing complex economic, social, ecological and governance challenges. Under the legislation creating APPI, the profession now has an explicit relationship with the public interest.

For the next 50 years, the world will continue to change.  To be effectively in service to our communities, it is time to engage with each other and the larger community to ponder the following questions:

  1. What is the public interest?  What is APPI’s relationship with the public?  What could it be?
  2. How can the collective voice of APPI serve the public interest?
  3. What skills do APPI members need to support the communities we serve?
  4. How can APPI collaborate with other organizations to serve both its members and the public?
  5. What values are at the core of our work?
  6. What is our unique service to the public?
  7. What are the emerging qualities of a new standard of professional practice?

Please cast your ballot.