This blog is contributed by Beth Sanders MCP RPP, Founder of Populus and Meshworker of the Year 2013, Leader in Integral City Core Team and Global Constellation.

How do we welcome more people and new homes in our older neighborhoods?  This is the question behind a project in Edmonton, Canada, to develop an action plan for city government to support the city’s efforts to grow “up” instead of “out”, to make the city more densely populated and be more fiscally and ecologically responsible.

While research was done to see where people wanted to live, the kind of housing they wanted and what they wanted to spend (the housing market and affordability study), and the tools available to city government (municipal tools review) a particular challenge of the project was engaging Edmontonians—as representatives of the full city system—in a conversation about sharing their place with additional neighbors and the role of city government.

Neighborhoods evolve and shift and change with the times, always accommodating newcomers. The story of housing at this place now called Edmonton, starts with the portable homes of the Plains Cree and Blackfoot, the people indigenous to this place, and the waves of colonial arrivals in the form of immigrants many generations ago and now. And with these waves of arrival, and the changing times, the physical form of Edmonton changes shape.  For the first time, the evolution of Edmonton’s neighborhoods was made explicit (Edmonton’s Urban Neighborhood Evolution). Edmonton’s neighborhoods have always been experiencing infill.

With this latest wave of infill, city government chose to involve the wider city system to ask what action it should take.

Over 20 months, conversations took place among and between citizens, civic managers, community organizations and the business community.  The first round of conversations revealed desired outcomes and possible actions to make those actions a reality. The second round involved identifying the actions that made sense—from the perspective of citizens, civic government, community organizations and the business community—then fine-tuning them. Along the way, a document grew with the project, revealing the city systems and what they had to say (What We Heard).

The conversations began with processes to hear each Integral City voice specifically, then process to find the actions while integrating the perspectives. Citizens, community organizations, city hall and the business community could see what each other was looking for – and what city government was committed to do (and not do).

And when the action plan made its way to Council, the four voices appeared to speak to the process and the product. A sampling of what they said:

  • Citizens: I went to many stages of the process. Ideas, themes, and ideas at each stage. It was valuable for Edmontonians to share information with each other. I learned from Edmontonians and planners themselves, and therefore I gave informed information.
  • Development community: Thanks for the quality and depth of these reports. Thanks for the diversity of actions, a wide range of steps that will move our city building efforts forward.
  • Civic managers (Council): This is a significant body of work, and its implementation will transform the city significantly. This makes our city more inclusive by making our city more inclusive.
  • Community organizations: The process was welcoming, inclusive and allowed us to learn from others’ perspectives. The range of methods used generated positive commentary that was used. The time, money and energy spent on this was worthwhile.

A solid, responsive action plan is now being implemented that will change, once again, this place. This time with more consciousness from a wider range of the systems of the city.

Reading materials

Five documents are available on the City of Edmonton Website for your perusal:

  1. Infill Roadmap 2018 documents the 25 actions to which Edmonton’s city government is committed, including a description of the action, and outcomes.
  2. Evolving Infill: What We Heard describes the engagement process and what the Integral City voices had to say about infill.
  3. Evolving Infill: Edmonton’s Urban Neighborhood Evolution describes the evolutionary story of settlement in Edmonton.
  4. Evolving Infill: Municipal Tools Review lays out the range of tools available to city government.
  5. Evolving Infill: Market Housing and Affordability Study conveys the market conditions and infill development trends.

This blog is contributed by Beth Sanders. She is a fourth-generation settler in Treaty 6 territory in Canada, a resident of Amiskwacîwâskahikan (Edmonton). She is a professional planner and president of POPULUS Community Planning Inc., one of the lead consulting firms that worked with the City of Edmonton to create Infill Roadmap 2018. Beth is a leader in the Integral City Core Team and Constellation.