The real issues

What the League did was born out of the confluence of a number of issues including the proposal of Boyle Renaissance Project, the decision to end homelessness, ideas about how to revitalize downtown, and an increasing recognition for the need for sustainability in Edmonton. The League became mobilized when it became apparent (very early on) that rather than tackle the hard issues on a city wide basis using research such as that done on the spatial concentration and its negative impacts (on health, education, crime), millions of public dollars would be poured into continuing what many of us saw as an extremely negative and harmful trend – placing housing and care facilities in an area that was already disempowered and distressed.

McCauley has a great character derived from its history and I truly believe we are the best neighbourhood in Edmonton because we are inclusive and social minded, but some of us saw that character being fundamentally altered by the built form of projects. (There was money to be made by buying up strips of our housing stock, letting it fall into either chaos or disrepair, demolishing the houses, bundling the lots, and selling them at huge profit to housing providers). A photograph taken from above our neighbourhood would reveal the beginnings of what could look like a giant mobile home park if the trend continued. Further, and more importantly, the trend was harmful demographically.

The McCauley Community League became vocal as it became aware of 11 proposed housing projects said to be good for the community. These were being developed outside an impact assessment framework that would have allowed for the careful weighing of the potential positive benefits of those projects against the potential harm that they might cause to everybody involved. While the intentions may have been good there was a failure to consider unintended consequences. Simultaneously, we were facing school closures and the demolishment of one of our great assets – one of the churches on Church Street. We also had a business district that appeared to be in great decline.

An early way to respond to our legitimate concerns was to malign us or dismiss us as gentrifiers or NIMBYS – as people recently arrived, who bought houses cheaply and wanted to benefit by changing the community. However, it must be pointed out, that it was not us who sought neither to change the fundamental nature of this community nor to make a lot of money out of doing so.

The ultimate goal is to make it all go away, make it like it used to be, or, barring that, at least trying to manage and contain the challenges to the way things are.

Any system wants to maintain the status quo and replicate itself – it is called functional balance. However, if any one part of the system is changed all the other parts will need to change to make the system make sense and to recreate a new integrated equilibrium. This is why real structure change in any area is generally resisted at the organizational and human level. It is a huge task and it is costly!

Instead, rather than systemic change, some parts of the system (could be any part, potentially some branches of a city, some agencies for example), will try a number of mechanism to make the challenge to the status quo go away. These include: easy mitigation measures which don’t fundamentally work; creating the appearance of doing something about the problem; occasionally letting people vent their frustration so they go away; creating diversions from the problem so people lack focus; downloading very large societal problems onto small communities to try to fix; attempting to re-educate to a version of the old status quo; dividing groups of individual who have been united in a common cause; implementing a system of rewards (monetary or psychological) and punishments (including public shaming, embarrassment and exclusion); and, creating fatigue.

The ultimate goal is to make it all go away, make it like it used to be, or, barring that, at least trying to manage and contain the challenges to the way things are. Those studying changes in social structures look to what are referred to as natural or created lines of cleavage. We have many here. Usually the strongest opposition to any challenge to the status quo comes when the movement has the potential to achieve some of its goals and the hard work of actual structural reform lies ahead or is just starting. That challenge is up to politicians and public servants at the civic, provincial and federal levels who hold real power. The City of Edmonton has now developed great policy. Many people there have listened patiently to us and worked with us. The same may be said about the EPS. Our job now as residents and citizens is oversight: to see that whatever change is actually implemented is done well.

How all of the above issues have played out in the McCauley case is fascinating and worthy of study. A rink site, who could have guessed? Now, let’s talk about the real issues like who owns the rink tractor and why.

_- Wendy Aasen
Resident of McCauley_

More in this issue

Janis Irwin MLA
TONYS PIZZA PALACE

Neighbourhood Views

Around the Neighbourhood

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