Home Regular Contributors Elan MacDonald Building a Prosperous City Means Building an Inclusive City

Building a Prosperous City Means Building an Inclusive City

Elan MacDonald

A decade ago, Alberta was the country’s poster child for prosperity. We had experienced our strongest period of economic growth; I am confident that we are on a path to prosperity once again with our focus on economic diversification, training tomorrow’s talent and attracting investment.

As cities like Edmonton and their business communities reimagine themselves in a post-COVID world, it’s worth taking a critical look at the idea of prosperity. One thing is certain: a society is not truly prosperous when not all of us enjoy well-paying jobs and good quality of life. Opportunity must be available for all.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, City of Edmonton and, most recently, the Business Council of Alberta, have made diversity and inclusivity necessary ingredients for this advanced idea of prosperity.

In June, the Business Council released “Define the Decade: Building Alberta’s Future – Together.” The economic blueprint, a result of consultations with a cross-section of community and industry leaders, including University of Alberta President Bill Flanagan, calls for a more equitable and inclusive province. It envisions a place “where who you are as a person won’t hold you back — it will be your largest asset.”

The report acknowledges “not everyone has shared in the province’s success to date,” naming women, Indigenous peoples, racialized groups and 2SLGBTQ+ people as examples. But it also offers solutions. The report lays out extensive plans to create a province that will offer a good life for all, economic expansion and long-term sustainability in the future. The how-tos of the plan include everything from rethinking our revenue model to incorporating Indigenous knowledge in environmental protection and ecosystem management.

At the same time, the City of Edmonton’s “City Plan” plots a path forward to the doubling of our population over the coming decades. Spearheaded by a U of A grad Kalen Anderson, it’s an aspirational document that aims to honour the values of today — economic diversification, social inclusion, environmental responsibility, artistic opportunity — and build a community that feels like home to all of its residents.

Sandeep Agrawal, professor and the first director of the U of A’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, which conducts research and provides policy direction on everything from climate adaptation to citizen engagement to transportation safety, says he is hopeful we will see a leap forward in accessibility and equity as our cities of the future develop.

“Imagining the future is very difficult, and yet, it is upon us,” says Agrawal. “It has the potential to bring the most significant change that has happened to our cities, ever.”

His new book Rights and the City: Problems, Progress and Practice is about how cities can improve human rights, whether by removing discriminatory zoning rules that keep certain kinds of housing out of a neighbourhood or by keeping the price of a bus ticket affordable. For him, changes, like autonomous vehicles, are coming at us quickly and have the potential to make our cities not only more livable, but also more equitable.

The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals – based on which the U of A was named the 11th most sustainable post-secondary institution in the world – stress the importance of our cities. Goal 11, “Sustainable Cities and Communities,” focuses directly on the importance of convenient access to public transportation, open public spaces and implementation of forward-looking urban plans.

Cities like Edmonton, and the communities within, are rich with culture, diverse lived experiences and unique ideas — all the ingredients we need to create prosperity and opportunity for all.