Community Development, Community Engagement, Poverty

What does community development mean for Edmonton?

Elsewhere on our website, you will find this definition:

Community development islocal action that creates economic opportunities and enhances the social and environmental conditions in communities. It understands that sustainable development requires an integrated approach to complex community problems. Strategic priorities include structural economic change, local ownership of resources, social development, environmental stewardship, labour market development, and access to capital. CED encourages people to take charge of their future through systematic renewal that is conceived and directed locally (Source: The Canadian Community Economic Development Network).

Typically, non-profit organizations – whether social service, arts and culture, or housing groups – are not in the business of community economic development or neighbourhood revitalization. Their services and capital development initiatives may offer some benefits to the residents in which their services and developments are situated, but the ECDC was formed because its purpose is solely focused on renewing and strengthening neighbourhoods that have a high incidence of low income workers, unemployed and often under-skilled workers, aging and unsafe housing, as well as higher rates of poverty than other Edmonton neighbourhoods.

These communities are often labeled as “distressed,” “impoverished,” “distressed” or even “undesirable” areas of town. We have used some of these terms ourselves in our descriptions of the neighbourhoods we are committed to work with.  The challenge in using these words is that a picture is painted that appears to suggest that not much good goes on in these neighbourhoods or are seen as neighbourhoods that offer the prospect for development that overpowers these “negative” characteristics and in the process leads to gentrification that displaces those currently living in these communities.

The ECDC is interested in community development initiatives that improve the lives of residents and the conditions in which they live. If the work we do with community and community partners increases incomes and the choices people have in terms of where they choose to live, whether within or beyond their current neighbourhood, we suggest this is a desirable benefit over displacing residents by simply making these areas of town more attractive to the affluent who live elsewhere.

As the Executive Director of the ECDC, my mandate includes focusing on the following:

  • Combating low income and poverty’s many effects using a community economic approach through the commercial or mix-use development that allows for increased local business development, increased jobs for residents, and developing the types and range of affordable housing that benefits current residents or other low income individuals and families from across Edmonton looking for a better life than they are living currently.
  • Engaging  with community residents and stakeholders in authentic and optimally inclusive ways to ensure that the developments undertaken are connected to the aspirations and needs of residents.
  • Partnering with community groups, associations, local entrepreneurs, non-profit groups, funders, and others to create sustainable development.

Simply put, our niche is working on creating resident and neighbourhood focused impacts and benefits that are not being addressed by other organizations.  This is important and well-needed when considering the following:

  • Non-profits are, as mentioned above, typically not in the business of Community Economic Development or neighbourhood revitalization. They are focused on serving their clients first and foremost, not an entire neighbourhood.
  • For-profits typically do not locate their businesses in low income areas unless such a location is easily accessible to the larger population.
  • Local community (voluntary) organizations  may lack the mandate, not to mention the skills and access to financing required to develop properties that are focused on the aspirations and needs of the neighbourhoods the ECDC will be working with.
  • BRZ’s are, generally speaking, focused on existing business promotion more so than new business development and the capital development required.
  • Revitalization efforts are much more likely to emphasize streetscape improvements than they are interested in or able to lead or finance large scale efforts that revitalized housing stock or that create living wage jobs.

Clearly, the ECDC recognizes the need for the organizations described above and we know that to deliver on our mandate we will partner with many of them, looking for ways to add value to one another’s work and impacts.

I do realize that some neighbourhoods have issues with how many social service agencies and how many social housing projects exist in their area –  typically far more than the city norm for other areas of town. Tensions exist among the various players who actually need to come together to benefit the communities in which they operate. I am hoping the ECDC can be helpful in bringing groups together to find win-wins for all involved.

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