Time to get involved

Building a new social blueprint for St. Albert plan requires citizen participation.

Since late 2011, the City of St. Albert has been developing a Social Master Plan, a strategic guiding document that will frame and determine decisions about social matters in the city. In April and May, residents and service providers were invited to participate in surveys and discussions to contribute to this plan. In the coming weeks, residents will have another opportunity to participate in this process and I’m asking you to get involved.

Upon closure and analysis of the spring survey results, it was intriguing to discover that only 500 people completed the survey. For a city with of 61,466 residents, there must be more than 500 who have opinions on social issues. While these participants’ input is valuable and appreciated, it is insufficient. As it stands now, the Social Master Plan will be used to make major decisions, based on input from only 0.8% of the population. Ironically, among the feedback on the survey was the response that having an opportunity to provide input into civic decisions is an important element of living in this community.

Issues such as mental health, the aging population, housing, access to health care, and safe neighbourhoods are concerns relevant for everyone who lives here. Family violence doesn’t stop at the city limits, nor does substance abuse, bullying, the need for supports for youth, and (dare I say) issues of cultural diversity. Another round of discussions available to all residents will take place in September.

To some people, the words, “social supports” and “St. Albert” don’t fit in the same sentence. It is well known that St. Albert’s average income is higher than that of other nearby communities, but wealth does not directly represent quality of life, and social issues are not all directly correlated with poverty. Despite higher income levels, and at times because of them, significant and alarming problems exist behind our closed doors. Community does not come from free sidewalk doggy bags and synchronized streetlights. It comes from a sense of trust between neighbours. This trust is built on the sometimes inconvenient act of taking the time to get to know each other and get involved. If we cannot choose to be caring and supportive of each other, we will be needlessly allowing avoidable issues to gnaw away at us while our newly paved streets and decorated cable boxes only give an illusion of beauty.

The lack of paupers, poplars and potholes does not necessarily equal a healthy community. We still have concerns, and it is imperative to speak about them to the group of people who will be making the next decade’s worth of decisions. There is only so much money that municipal taxes can squeeze out of our pockets, and if the decision makers assume that social infrastructure is satisfactory, then the money in the next ten years will be directed to roads, recreation and reservoirs. Is that truly what residents want?

There are five meetings planned in the month of September to allow residents to discuss the needs raised in the survey and how to address them. Details can be found on the city website. If you cannot make these meetings, the city has an excellent framework for a table talk focus group, in which 8 to 20 people can meet together and share their views.

For those of you who participated in the first round of surveys, thank you for investing that time and consideration. For the 60,966 others, I urge you to set a couple of hours aside next month to help shape this plan. I hope to see you there.

Dee-Ann Schwanke is a 13-year resident of St. Albert and a member of the Citizen Committee for the Social Master Plan.

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