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Council does the backstroke

Let’s see ... does Red Deer really need a new aquatics centre, with a competition-grade 50-metre pool and associated amenities to make the centre useful to the widest possible number of users?

Of course it does.

That needs assessment has already been done. A $200,000 concept plan solving that question has already been completed — and rejected — by a city council more interesting in appearing to consult than in providing leadership.

So we have another 10-member ad-hoc committee, to add goodness-knows-what to the knowledge base Red Deer already has about swimming pools.

This committee will not even be able to report on what is to happen if the province shuts down the pool at Michener Centre, when it shuts down the entire Michener Centre complex.

But when it comes to deciding things, our city council prefers the backstroke.

I’m being more grumpy than I need to be about this latest decision to study an issue whose parameters are already well-known.

But that’s because just one day earlier, council backtracked on another project of importance to the future this city, by removing yet one more piece of its bike lane infrastructure — without really knowing why.

Readers know by now that I am quite biased on that issue. You would be forgiven if you discounted everything I could say about cycling infrastructure, for the reason that I happen to be an advocate on the issue, who for a time sat on the council committee that brought the doomed pilot project into being.

But today, I promise not to gripe about any of that. In fact, I firmly expect that what will replace the lost section of bike lanes along 39th Street will be better, more safe (though ironically more expensive) than what is there now.

Instead, I want to quarrel with the ethos of our current city council.

You cannot confine Red Deer’s future to guidelines in a policy book. Sooner or later, we expect our leaders to lead.

Mayor Tara Veer is still new to her job, but we are hearing too often that no decisions should be made until leadership for them is provided by the community, after all possible town hall meetings and online polling studies are done — in triplicate.

I agree with consulting. In fact, I spend a lot of time participating in public consultations.

But there comes a time when people who have full access to the facts have to go out on a limb and rely on the community’s trust.

Here’s what I believe is being ignored: Red Deer is growing fast and the future will not be a simple continuation of the past, just bigger. Plans are not made just for us, but for people who will be arriving to make our city grow.

The boomer generation has discovered (late) that sustainability matters. Gen X and Y already knew this, but their voice hadn’t been fully heard by decision-makers. Sustainability relates not just to capital projects and taxes. It also relates to environment and to culture.

Each year, Red Deer grows by 3,000 people (or more).

But this growth is culturally different than it has been in decades past. A higher proportion of new Red Deerians are more interested in personal fitness and recreation, in protecting our environment, and in experiencing culture.

This is in addition to wanting local government to keep its own costs reasonable.

My reading suggests Western society has reached “peak car.” There will be growth in our region, but that growth will include higher numbers of people wanting a city less designed on cars and parking, and more on human movement.

Every year, more people show a preference to walk, bike or take transit on commutes. Growth in these areas is faster than simple growth in population.

We will need more grocery stores, but there will be a faster growth in a desire for local food production than has been in the past.

We will not be able to “make do” with publicly-built recreation and fitness centres at levels we have now. Not if we expect to attract continuing growth.

People who advocate these position are not revolutionaries. The revolution has already occurred. A societal switch has been thrown and we cannot un-switch.

The consultation our city council needs is about how we can make already-known solutions work here, not whether.

The sustainable future that everyone talks about is already here. When government dithers and delays, the result is to quash the enthusiasm that people bring to the table — and that is a great sin.

Decide on what the future wants, not the past.

That’s real leadership.

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at or email

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