Future of Michener key to future of city
Red Deer now has a legitimate leading issue to drive the civic elections this October.
It’s not the formation of Red Deer First (a candidates group with a common platform, not a party — you guess the difference). It’s interesting enough that a corps of fiscal conservatives wants to hold every seat on council, but the real prime issue will affect Red Deer’s future long past the time anyone remembers Red Deer First.
The 300-odd acres of Michener Centre land just above the escarpment of the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary are as vital to our future as the reclaimed land of Edmonton’s former (or soon to be former) municipal airport is to that city.
Couple this with the redevelopment of the Riverlands area on the other side of downtown, and it gives Red Deer the opportunity to re-invent itself in a way no other city in Canada will ever have.
And we will only have one chance to do this right.
The first order of business is for this city to see that the 125 aging, frail and vulnerable residents remaining at Michener find secure, comfortable and supported places to live.
That won’t be easy. Just recall the growing pains in relocating 200 seniors in long term care. This job will be harder; I really cannot see the government accomplishing this task in one year.
No doubt a vigorous, detailed plan has already been set.
A whole string of government ministers and MLAs swore on stacks of Bibles that the remaining Michener residents would be able to finish their years where they were, in an environment they could understand and cope with. That alone would indicate the writing was on the wall for Michener.
But no government minister would abruptly announce the centre’s closure in a year’s timeframe without having a complete, detailed plan for the residents. Right?
Even so, unless they have been secretly building community capacity for people who need an awful lot of personal car and support, I can’t see how they can be adequately relocated under the announced timeline.
Very little that government does happens on time. So that gives us some breathing space, and time for community groups to organize, and to assure that people we have sworn to take care of, are indeed properly cared for.
Only after that will anything change on the landscape. But those changes need to be planned, and planning requires policy.
For instance, will a new city council, with a majority vote of hard-core fiscal conservatives, decide the city will not exercise its option of first refusal and buy the land? Will a new council decide the entire area should simply left to the mercies of a free market?
Will we then fill the Central Alberta’s most parklike urban area with homes on scenic closes with nearby shopping centres?
Or will we take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to include ideas that can create a legacy, something other cities will envy and even copy?
For instance, early on, a future city council could designate space for the cultural centre that Red Deer’s Native Friendship Society is planning to build. If it’s in the plan, potential neighbouring home buyers will be able to make decisions based on the plan.
Early on, the city may wish to designate a supported housing project for homeless people, which would be away from the downtown core, but still easily accessible to the downtown services this group of people needs.
Red Deer also needs a new major performance centre. There are parts of the Michener grounds that would be an excellent environment for that. Would that be a priority for a new city council?
Rethink Red Deer already has plans for an urban homestead at the old cottage-style home sitting on about six acres of land between the north and south campuses of the Michener Centre.
They have already begun training people in techniques of sustainable urban agriculture and natural landscaping, which will be demonstrated at the Michener property for all to come and see.
They plan to refurbish the house, with its wrap-around veranda, for which I can foresee no sweeter place on earth for an afternoon coffee or tea. I intend to enroll in their 2.5-day course myself, which is being offered at the end every month until August.
If this plan is derailed by the minister’s closure of Michener, it would be grounds for revolt.
The whole Michener Centre area is ripe for building a community with close physical ties to the downtown. There is room for thousands of new residents who will not have to drive a car for every conceivable family errand — some of whom may not need (or could afford) a car at all.
It also has proximity to the proposed ring road, making travel in an out of Red Deer very simple indeed.
But we have to decide what it is we want our city to be — generations from now, over and above being a commendable place to live and work.
But first, we have a sacred commitment to fill, to 125 current Michener residents, their families and their caregivers.
That should be meat for any number of election forums.
Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at www.readersadvocate.blogspot.ca