“The links between health and the environment are as old as human culture. Human evolution takes place within ecosystems, and there are deep psychological, social and cultural connections to ecosystems that go well beyond mere physiological needs.” - Addressing the Ecological Determinants of Health report, Canadian Public Health Association, 2015
In looking at what Edmontonians said during the dozen listening parties we hosted across the city, ‘River Valley’ was a consistent answer across the board. It is one of the things that people most appreciate about living in Ward 11 and in the city, along with clean water and air, and ample green spaces.
This appreciation resonates with me. Part of the draw when my husband and I moved to Edmonton was the continuous natural/wild space that is unparalleled in any other major city we have encountered. This Ribbon of Green is treasure in our city, and I have therefore dedicated my time to river valley conservation by serving as a board member of the North Saskatchewan River Valley Conservation Society.
Green and natural space determines our health and wellness. Changes in our environment such as development and urban sprawl, along with climate change and natural disasters, have deep impact on our wellbeing.
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Environmental stewardship is a major responsibility for our city government. It can advocate and interface with other levels of government to develop environmental policies at the city level. In fact, the provincial government has delegated more power for environmental stewardship to Edmonton through the Big City Charter. The City has also delineated its broader vision in ‘The Way We Green’ Strategic plan, which helps to identify environmental priorities. These larger, overarching policies help to guide the City’s work on the ecological front.
To promote environmental stewardship and specifically curb climate change, we need to coordinate and synchronize changes and improvements on several fronts. Curbing climate change is not something we can do in the next four years, but 100 years. It requires long-term, smart planning in infrastructure and city building.
- We need a strong transit system that connects multiple modes of transportation (e.g., train, LRT, bus depots, buses, taxis, rideshares) to support a car-free culture, even in the suburbs, and reduce carbon emissions.
- In many major cities, a 24-hour pass is included in the connector transport ticket between the city and the airport (e.g., bus, LRT, train). This pass allows for multi-use and companion use (up to four people in a family).
- The future Valley Line LRT that will connect the ward from north to south to promote interconnectedness. A minimum bike grid in Mill Woods, secure bike cages at LRT stops, and more flexible bike policy on the trains will reduce the need for expansive park and rides and lower our carbon footprint. This way, people will not all have to drive to the LRT.
- We need densification in central neighbourhoods to discourage urban sprawl. The more dense our neighbourhoods become, the more people we have, the more vibrant our communities will be with shops, restaurants, and other amenities, and the more likely they will be connected with transit and active transportation infrastructures.
- Infill development can be thoughtful and does not have to be contentious. However, it requires negotiation among stakeholders (e.g., developers and community groups) and is not always an all-or-none approach.
- We need a fairer taxation system to discourage urban sprawl. Currently, those living in denser central neighbourhoods are supporting sprawl where people move to because it is cheaper. But property taxes should be fair and reflect the true allocation of resources and disincentivize people from moving to the suburbs.
- Businesses are taxed on parking; instead, we can promote healthier transportation by crediting businesses back on the number of bike racks or secure bike cages they have on their properties.
- We can incentivize businesses to develop and thrive in all parts of the city, not just downtown. More businesses in neighbourhoods will promote walkable communities, connectedness to transit and active transportation infrastructures, and reduce the need for cars.
- Environmental policy does not have to only benefit the rich. Edmonton’s Plan to End Homelessness proposes affordable housing. In the building of these units, we can include green design, which can lower cost in the long run if we consider the life cycle of housing cost. Habitat for Humanity for example, a not for profit organization that builds houses in developing countries, incorporates green design principles in their constructions.
- Environmental stewardship needs more voices to be heard, including immigrant and ethnocultural communities, as well as the marginalized and homeless who access river valley and ravine like other Edmontonians.
The City can advocate innovative ideas to the province:
- Piloting an electricity grid to support various forms of renewable energy (e.g., solar, wind, biomass) to establish a foundation that can eventually support electric cars down the road.
- A hydrogen facility to harness the hydrogen emitted by the surrounding refineries for electricity use. Currently, this source is coming from nonrenewable energy, but instead of letting it go to waste, we can use it in a positive way.