The City of Edmonton is moving ahead with plans to build housing on green space in the Bulyea Heights (Brookview) and Haddow neighbourhoods. The plan was first approved by City Council in November, 2006. A provincial Order in Council the same year allowed the City to proceed with the development plans without following their normal community consultation procedures. The First Place Implementation schedule posted on the City website shows that the Haddow site is scheduled for the Soil Tests and Resiting Review this year, with construction to follow in 2015. Bulyea Heights is scheduled for Soil Tests and Resiting Review in 2015, with construction taking place in 2017.
Both of these sites are now large expanses of green space that are actively used for both spontaneous recreation and organized sports such as soccer. The Terwillegar Riverbend Soccer Association (TRSA) schedules U4-6 games on open areas and U8-10 games on the rectangular fields with fixed goal posts. Our annual U10 tournament and U4 wind up party are held at the George Luck fields and there is soccer as far as the eye can see! With the playground, tennis courts and rink, the George Luck fields are truly a community gathering space for sports, walking, playing and visiting with neighbours. The same can be said for the Haddow fields, which now boasts two U8-12 fields and three U14-18 fields, as well as being the location for U4-6 games with pop-up nets.
A portion of each of these fields was originally designated for school sites back when the community was first developed. Since that time, the city has given up plans to build schools on the designated sites, which were declared surplus. Surplus sites can either be turned over to the community or disposed of by the city. The city has chosen to dispose of the fields by making them available to housing developers in support of the First Place program for first time home buyers.
We can expect to lose the two U8-12 fields at Haddow. In Brookview, the new housing is planned for the area between the four-way stop and the Brookview Community Hall. This site is currently home for our U4-6 fields and is also home to one U8 field with posts.
While the loss of these fields will be detrimental to TRSA, it will also be a loss to the communities of Brookview and Haddow. Many homeowners chose to buy in these communities because of the ample green space and the recreational and social opportunities that they afford. While the original purpose of these now surplus sites was to house a school, it is one thing to lose green space to a school, and quite another to lose it to row housing. While a school is a community hub that benefits everyone, the same cannot be said of row housing.
Numerous studies point to the physical and mental health benefits of outdoor recreational space. We are all aware of the importance of physical activity for everyone, but especially for our children. The proposed location of the housing will not only reduce the amount of green space, but it will also fragment and impede access to the remaining green space. The possibility of re-siting the planned projects to different locations within the fields could reduce fragmentation and maintain access to recreational areas.
The nature of the First Place Housing project, and the absence of community involvement and consultation, have led to a lack of public support in Riverbend and Terwillegar for this initiative. At a meeting of the City Council Executive Committee held on May 20, 15 members of the public spoke against the project.
In these days of social media, there are many opportunities for the public to weigh in on a topic. This has given rise to a new concept, “social license”, which can be thought of as public acceptance or permission to operate. If the City of Edmonton wishes to pursue these projects in Terwillegar and Riverbend, there a few things they must do to obtain their social license to proceed.
The city must work closely with community and sports groups- the ones that are using the green space and will be most impacted by its loss. Sitting down with community leaders to discuss options would go a long way to restore lost trust. These discussions must centre around meaningful and significant aspects of the project, such as size, location, parking, roads and other infrastructure. The city must be willing to listen and consider the viewpoints of the community, and most importantly, be willing to compromise.