Healthy Foundations Matter: Economic Well-Being

A healthy local economy is important to Spruce Grove. It is multi-layered and complex and often overlaps with many of the other areas of well-being simply because there is a cost (whether monetary or social) to each project.

There are many aspects to a healthy economy and so many I support. As a resident and a member of council, consider the following:

  1. Affordability- You can afford your taxes and feel you are getting good value for them. You are happy with the city’s approach to affordability that is driving residential  and business growth and retention, the permit and building process is clear and doesn’t nickel and dime you. You understand that the needs of a growing community are being looked after and budgets are reassessed to reflect emerging realities.
  2. SMART city– You are pleased to see Spruce Grove move towards being a SMART city and adapting to new technology and digital and well-managed city. You’re a big believer in broadband and know that opens the door to be a leader in the energy transition.
  3. Life Cycle asset management- You are glad the city is creating policies and planning budgets with life cycle asset management in mind. Aging infrastructure and assets are replaced in a timely and affordable manner. You appreciate the city won’t be caught off guard having to replace assets but with no existing plan to do so. (asset management, utility, building what we can afford).

Economic well-being is of course so much more than the three I’ve listed and I keep many aspects of economic well-being in mind as we develop the city. One of the critical areas we consider when looking at our budget is how we grow our non-residential tax base. New businesses means less reliance on the residential tax base. So how do we do that? With strong local economic development choices.

Local Economic Development is an approach that allows and encourages local people to work together to achieve sustainable economic growth and development thereby bringing economic benefits and improved quality of life for all residents in a local municipal area.
Erin Stevenson at a park with Westwind in the background

We cannot be stuck in our ways. We have to look at creative opportunities that come our way. Broadband is critical. Being part of the digital transformation will be a necessity for this community.

During my first term on council, I was a member of the Economic Development Advisory Council (EDAC), a council that meets every three months to provide recommendations to council. In 2019, I was selected to the Chair of the EDAC committee, a position I still hold now. We had a major revamp of the committee including mandate, make-up of the committee (who from our public and business community sits on the committee) and when and how we meet.

This is a committee filled with excellent members from our committee who have committed themselves to making our city and our economic opportunities that much better They present their 2021 work plan to council in March, 2021.

In addition, as members of the Edmonton Metropolitan Regional Board (EMRB), we are members that believe in the idea of “Shared Investment for Shared Benefit” or SISB. Big opportunities exist for the region that on our own, are unaffordable. But working together, and investing in each other, we can start to see the economic opportunities to grow within the Edmonton region and in turn, Spruce Grove. 

Spruce Grove is also a member of Edmonton Global, an organization started with Edmonton region municipalities to help drive foreign investment into our region. Again, we can’t do it alone, but together we can invest in opportunities to grow our brand and economic opportunities within the region.

But as it is with community well-being, economic well-being does not happen on its own, in a vacuum.

It takes commitment from council to stay the course, even when the course looks to be of no immediate benefit. As a councillor,  looking at the long term health of the community is necessary, but is often hard to defend to those who want the short term win.

And it takes looking at each of the other aspects of well-being to make our community thrive- the social, political, cultural and environmental aspects are just as important as we move into what hopefully amounts to the new roaring 20’s.

Healthy Foundations Matter: Social Well-Being

Covid-19 has done a number on nearly all of us. The extroverts- we were not okay! Many of us learned just how important relationships and socialization is. Having it taken away in one form or another, has done a job on us. Most of us did so willingly because we understood the greater good of keeping each other safe. Social wellness took a hit. Now we’re all looking at reconnections and socializing with friends, family and neighbours again as we see restrictions lift and vaccinations rates go up. However, how do we do so safely while infection rates continue to climb, but the desire to be with others feels like it’s at an all-time high? That’s a debate we’ll be having for a while, but regardless of approach, we have to consider, as a council, the social well-being of our community.

Social well-being can be defined as the sharing, developing, and sustaining of meaningful relationships with others. This allows you to feel authentic and valued, and provides a sense of connectedness and belonging.
Erin Stevenson swinging on a swing at Jubille Parking. She's smiling and looking off to the side.

Relationships are important and the supports for them are necessary. Leave no person behind. Our relationships come in many forms including the support systems set up to help us connect and share our experiences.

Going forward, as we recover from Covid-19, our mental health , our physical health and social health key. As a resident and a member of council, consider the following:

  1. Support systems- You understand the role of FHSS and the critical part they play in social well-being. You believe in affordable housing, support for our not for profits and community organizations, our churches, the numerous associations and businesses who play a huge part in social well-being and taking care of each other.
  2. Socialization- You love community building. You desire neighbourhood block parties and wish to events within the community. You love the walkability and mobility of this city and popping off a cheery hello to those you pass. You value your health and the health of others. You enjoy volunteering and making this a better community to live in.
  3. Free to be you- You believe in seeing the beauty in the differences of those around you. You don’t discriminate against those that practice their religion, you accept with love and grace the LGTBQ2S+ community, our growing BIPOC community, welcome new refugees, new Albertans, and new Grovers. Accessibility is important for those with disabilities, our seniors and our young. You have compassion and empathy for your fellow neighbour and lend a hand with kindness and without judgement.

Spruce Grove is a growing community, one of the fastest in Canada. We aren’t the small city of 10,000 people I grew up with. We’re a medium-sized city on the verge of 40,000 people. Our problems are changing. Our demographics is changing. That means new ways of approaching some pretty wicked problems.

Healthy Foundations Matter: Cultural Well-Being

Covid has taught us many things, including how much we love our culture! And we miss it, a lot. With various levels of restrictions put on us by the provincial and federal governments to keep us health and safe, our culture took a massive hit. We know it, we felt it and we want it back.

We’ve had time to reflect on what was provided and what we need to provide in the future. It likely has most of the same elements, but it has shifted. How we support our community groups, from the library to the Horizon stage to our sports teams, art, dance, music and more, the desire to be a more cultural and livelier city is there.

We often hear that Stony Plain has more culture- more murals, more musical events, more connection to their creative community. That is a fair point and whether it’s a criticism or not, it makes me pause. What are we doing to support culture and what are the next steps to ensure Spruce Grove is seen as a vibrant, progressive and talented community?

This is my lens for cultural well-being. As a resident and a member of council, consider the following:

  1. Cultural vitality– You support the arts in many forms and appreciate the talent and the job it brings to our community. You understand there is broad number of interests that makes up a strong cultural community and appreciate that it takes investment, both public and private, to ensure a thriving and successful community.
  2. Sense of belonging– You feel you belong here. There is a place for you and interests you align with. Whether it’s sports, recreations, arts, music, social events, festival, public markets, the library or something we haven’t discovered yet, that there is an opportunity to participate and add to the cultural flavour in the community.
  3. History and building a history- We are who we were, and we will be who we are now. Spruce Grove has a rich history including an Indigenous history that we haven’t really explored. You support learning this history including support for our existing archives, our societies who work to keep our history alive like the Agricultural Society and know that we work on creating history every day here in the city. You recognize those who contribute to making this place a little better than they found it. (archives, ag society, buildings, new buildings, public markets

Cultural well-being is the vitality that communities and individuals enjoy through: participation in recreation, creative and cultural activities; and the freedom to retain, interpret and express their arts, history, heritage and traditions.

We have many great pieces already that provide a strong foundation from which we can build. We have an amazing central library with a proposed second location in the civic centre, we have an art gallery (currently co-existing with the library), the Tri-Leisure Centre, the arenas,  Fuhr Sports park, public markets, a new privately owned baseball stadium under construction, Henry Singer Park, pickleball courts, the Horizon Stage, Columbus Park (currently under major renovation), Jubilee Park, the Spray parks and more. As things open up, more programming is happening. More events will be offered. But can we do more?

The proposed civic centre, in its design stage, will provide a much-needed piece for our cultural well-being. No longer just focused on sports and potential trade shows, the re-imagined civic centre will be a bustling centre for culture. Two arenas are part of the design, with one being the home of the Spruce Grove Saints, and one a full-time community rink. There will be a black box theatre that can house a few hundred people for performances, event hosting and more. There will be the second library location, a new art gallery, more meeting space and more community space.

Erin Stevenson standing in front of a colourful mural comprised of two hummingbirds

The possibilities of what can be done, what can be hosted there, is in its early stages, but it is exciting on what doors will open to us as we move into the final design stage and vote on making this centre a reality (the current council has only approved funding for the design of the building, the new council will make the decision on whether the building is actually built). The most recent council decision was in April, 2021 and included a presentation to council to proceed with the design phase.

Healthy Foundations Matter: Political Well-Being

Politics (from Greek: Πολιτικά, politiká, ‘affairs of the cities’) is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations between individuals, such as the distribution of resources or status.

The idea of political well-being may be the hardest one to capture accurately or with certainty. The concept of political well-being is interdisciplinary and often overlaps with other areas like education, the economy, health and making progress.

In many ways, we are all part of the politics of our city, whether we choose to actively participate or not. Political well-being can mean having the ability to participate in the political process. We are a democratic country with democratic principles of governance at all three levels of government.

Debates on the good life and the role of individuals, society and the state, in promoting this date back at least as far as the ancient Greeks.

(Allin and Hand 2014, p3)

At the local level, political well-being means our residents can participate in the political process, have their voices are heard, and feel they’ve been listened to, even when decisions may not go their way. Decisions are made to benefit the collective, not an individual. Council is secular secular- we accepts facts, not just strong opinion. We have healthy debate and conversation. We communicate with our residents.

Erin Stevenson speaking with a local resident at Jubilee Park. Sitting at picnic table discussing.

And we value relationships, understanding we cannot do it alone at the local level. We maintain working relationships with our regional partners, our provincial government and federal government. We don’t accept interference from other levels of government when it’s inappropriate and we’re not afraid to defend that position.

Local council is busier than ever and there is a lot of complexity to the issues before us The committee work is intense but council is at the table to represent Spruce Grove to other levels of government, fellow local governments and associations.

Being a councillor means being politically active but maintaining a non-partisan point of view while representing the city with the best interests of the community in mind.

As a resident and a member of council, consider the following:

  1. Collaboration and partnership– You believe in collaboration and partnership. You agree that it best to work with all levels of government without prejudice. You respect the city’s administration as subject area experts and to make appropriate choices to run the operations of the city. You believe in working with our regional partners because we are stronger as a region. You believe in partnership with our local associations and organizations like the Rotary, CCBA, the Chamber, our volunteer groups and more.
  2. Keep municipal politics local and non-partisan– You believe in the democracy set out and while local government is a creature of the province, that we must be able to govern without interference. You believe in proper consultation and that local governments understand the local issues best. You understand partisan politics has no place locally and that council members make decisions based on what’s best for the residents, and not party policy. You understand that we are a secular government and are not to be influenced otherwise.
  3. Healthy government– You believe in transparency and accountability.  You believe data should be accessible.  You believe privacy should be respected. You support your local government doing all they can to secure sensitive data from hacking or theft attempts. You respect a government that takes healthy risks and is not risk averse. You understand that not all debt is bad debt and a healthy government makes decisions not just for today’s residents, but those 20 years from now. You believe in public participation. You agree that residents are free to share opinion with their council. You agree decisions should be made publicly, not behind closed doors. You believe in healthy debate and respectful political discourse.

Healthy Foundations Matter: Environmental Well-Being

Climate change is real, and our city needs to be a leader in climate resiliency. Our summers are hotter, our winters colder. The extremes are becoming nearly unbearable. The smoke coming from forest fires throughout western Canada is becoming a common occurrence in the summers. Increasing powerful weather systems are bringing the 1-in-100 year storm more often. We hear of streets and basements flooding in older neighbourhoods that weren’t built to handle these types of storms. Are we a city prepared to deal with climate change in 2021 and 2031 and 2041?

After lengthy consultation with our businesses, a single use plastics ban goes into effect on January 1, 2022. Local businesses understand they too play a part in reducing waste. We have an excellent waste management program with garbage, compost and recycling well established here in the city. We can do more to use our compost bins and we have to work with other levels of government to create more opportunities to decrease our waste.

Currently, our waste is buried in landfills- not an ideal situation. Our recycling is shipped overseas, often creating environmental disasters there rather than truly addressing recycling. Closed-loop recycling needs to be considered. Waste-to-energy for the region needs to be explored further. The provincial government has to implement “Extended Producer Responsibility” (EPR) in the province, putting the costs (physical or monetary) of recycling on those that create the product rather than on the municipalities, who bear the costs now.

Environmental wellness is a process that involves learning about and contributing to the health of the planet. This involves establishing a sustainable lifestyle, protecting natural resources, and eliminating pollutants and excessive waste.  Environmental wellness also includes having respect for and awareness of your surroundings and playing an active role in your community.
Erin Stevenson in the sitting on the edge of a garden in the community gaden

We act now so that we can continue to enjoy the wonders of our natural systems here in Spruce Grove. We have amazing trails that meander through our beautiful parks and neighbourhoods, near storm ponds, through Heritage Park and near environmentally sensitive areas. Our city is green and we want to keep it that way. A lot of effort has gone to creating a city that blends with our natural systems. We don’t want our residents to have to leave the city in order to enjoy nature. We want to live within it.

And opportunities abound. More community gardens, orchards, edible fruit trees planted around the city (free food), naturalization processes around storm ponds and ditches and more. The city has a responsibility to maintain a system that works for all of us. New developments can change the way a wet area of the city drains so we have to consider all the impacts development, and the types of development we allow, so we are not exacerbating existing concerns or creating new ones. Development and the environment is a very complex issue.

The environment is a key pillar to what we do and how we do it going forward. Environmental well-being is one of give aspects that make up our community’s well-being. As a resident and a member of council, consider the following:

  1. Climate Resiliency– You believe in climate change and understand the impacts human activity has had on the environment. You are committed to doing your part, even if it’s just small change at a time. You conserve water and energy. You recycle and compost.  You minimize your waste.
  2. Natural systems- You understand the use of storm ponds but appreciate the nature it attracts. You see the impact climate change is having on our systems and agree with maintaining a system rather than fixing broken ones. You see the complexity that is our storm system— sewers, ponds and ditches and the work it takes to maintain them. You understand the number one natural disaster threat to us is fire. You understand why we don’t use harsh chemicals on fields to fight weed as we learn to change our way of thinking of lawns, and plants and naturalization efforts.
  3. Delight and enjoyment- You love our parks and trail systems and enjoy the beauty found amongst our neighbourhoods. You’re impressed with the community garden and would like to see more. You understand that planting edible fruit trees means free food for those who might not be able to afford it. You love trees- all the trees! You delight in nature and appreciate the work gone in to creating and maintaining these natural areas. It bring you joy knowing this is in the city you live in.

Healthy Foundations Matter: Community Well-Being

Community well-being matters. We all have our values, ethics, principles and tenets we tend to adhere to. They are guideposts on how we act, react and make decisions. They’re all foundations for who we are as an individual.

When you represent your community, healthy foundations are as essential. Healthy foundations provide us with the basis for which we create our policies and bylaws.

To have excellent policies and bylaws that reflect the needs and wants of the City of Spruce Grove, it should be clear how those elected form their decisions.

I am a fan of informed opinion. I want to know what our residents want, what they think, what their vision for the city is. I follow the facts and forms my baseline for decision-making. The decision I makes impacts an entire City, so I take my role very seriously.

But I have a lens that I choose to see our community through and it is the concept of community well-being.

Community well-being is the combination of social, economic, environmental, cultural, and political conditions identified by individuals and their communities as essential for them to flourish and fulfill their potential.” … We can explore each of these attributes for factors that contribute to community wellbeing.

(Wiseman and Brasher, 2008: 358)
Community Well-being framework
Image credit: Dialog

The running of any city is a complex one, with issues intersecting each other all the time. It is difficult to look at one issue on its own. You have to consider many factors and what effects certain decisions have. Some times all the facts are known, sometimes they’re not. But if you have a consistent lens of which to base your decision-making on, the decision is defendable and done with the right intentions.

Community well-being is the overall concept when you look at what makes a community live up to its potential. It’s the middle of the circle if you will. Dialog created this wonderful image to illustrate just that.

There are five areas of well-being that make up community well-being:

  1. Social
  2. Economic
  3. Environmental
  4. Cultural
  5. Political

My goal is to show you how I analyze ideas, policies, bylaws and other concerns that arise for council. I’ll explore each one a bit further and try to encapsulate the main points of each. It doesn’t capture everything as each area is a complex idea of itself, but hopefully enough that you appreciate my approach.

As a councillor seeking re-election, I can describe myself as a caretaker of our community. There are very few others jobs that I can think of where you have power and influence and you’ve been entrusted to make the best decisions with that power and influence by your community.

If we want a happier society, we have got to approach our own lives in a way that prioritizes the things that really matter-including happiness of those around us’.

(Wilkinson, 2011)
Erin Stevenson standing in front of Jubilee Park Spray ark

In 2011, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution to encourage member countries to consider happiness and wellbeing in their measurement of social and economic development with a view to guiding public policy. This non-binding resolution further asserted that the ‘pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal’.

As a resident and a member of council, consider the following:

  1. A sense of pride- You love this city, you feel you belong to a community, you’re happy and flourishing regardless of your social or marital or income status etc.  You feel represented. You know belong here because you matter.
  2. Feeling safe- There is low crime, you know your neighbours, you feel the city is adequately equipped for any emergency- fire, police, ambulance and enforcement, you can enjoy the outdoors and what the city has to offer without worry.
  3. Supporting local- You support local businesses, schools, and organizations to keep the community healthy and thriving. You appreciate those who take a chance and open up a business here to bring jobs and new opportunities here. You find ways to explore the different restaurants, shops and areas to experience what makes Spruce Grove truly unique.

The five other healthy foundations of community well-being are important and I hope you take a moment to read about them. Together, they will make our community healthy and happy and resilient. Community well-being is the heart of them all. Just like our city centre revitalization project, the heart of any community has to be strong and purposeful. Just like the city centre, we’re not starting new, we are building upon what was already there. We have an amazing community, and we will continue to build upon its amazingness as we prioritize well-being for each and every one of you. What well-being means to you might differ slightly from mine, and that’s okay. We’ll find a lot of crossover and intersectionality between our ideas. More ideas make better opportunities which in turn create a healthier community.