Planning, with flexibility

Red Deer is a city that likes to plan. And people like me complain that city council spends millions building plans and charters — only to back away from them when the grouches start barking. It’s pretty hard for good ideas to get planted under those conditions.

Red Deer is a city that likes to plan. And people like me complain that city council spends millions building plans and charters — only to back away from them when the grouches start barking.

It’s pretty hard for good ideas to get planted under those conditions.

But I have to confess that I benefited from living in a neighbourhood where the grouches were able to intimidate City Hall into backing away from changes planned for my part of this city.

Reading Tuesday’s Advocate article Affordable housing rejected, I had to remind myself that people in Clearview Ridge are citizens and ratepayers. They have a right to influence how our cherished city plans unfold.

After all, citizen influence worked for me. In the big picture, it’s not about the plan anyway. It’s about the goal.

The Red Deer Native Friendship Society supports aboriginal people who live away from the reserves in an urban environment, to ensure that everything they know and understand about their culture is not stripped away. Both goals are worthy: helping people survive away from the antiquated and often violent reserves, while keeping all the good parts of their identity.

If the current plan doesn’t help everyone reach their goal, we’ll build a new one. Otherwise, someone will just have to compromise.

When we bought our house in 1978, we didn’t check the area’s master plan. We just wanted a house we could afford.

On moving day, we were greeted by the president of the Waskasoo Ratepayers Association, who asked me for a dollar membership fee. He loaned me an engraver to put my driver’s licence number on our appliances, in case thieves broke in. Red Deer was worried about appliance crime in the boom of the 1970s.

And he promised me the association would pack city council chambers with angry ratepayers, to keep apartment projects out of our neighbourhood. Renters and crime, you know.

Today, a new generation of owners is redeveloping Waskasoo, one home reno at a time.

In our early years, there was a plan to make a house in Waskasoo into a group home for former Michener residents. Neighbours objected, not even knowing there was already more than one group home in our area, operating peacefully and under everyone’s radar.

De-institutionalizing the handicapped ran the route identified by other observers regarding all new ideas in cities: first, it was considered stupid, then radical, then progressive — and at last, obviously necessary.

The fearmongering then included outright lying about the dangers handicapped people represented. Plus, parking would become non-existent, property values would plummet. Today, we simply accept that group homes are obviously necessary.

Red Deer had to be publicly shamed into finding a location for a detox centre for people seeking to get off drugs.

Last Sunday, CBC Radio aired a story about Baba Yaga House. It’s a six-storey housing project for women between 60 and 80 in Paris, where the residents do the home care themselves. They make their own rules, cook and clean, help disabled residents — many of the tasks that government pays staff to do. They keep their dignity and independence deep into their final years.

This kind of residence is not in any city plan here. Therefore, if we listen to some city councillors and some potential neighbours, Red Deer should never have the like.

The goal is for Red Deer to be a modern, efficient, caring, clean, safe city. That’s not negotiable. But the plans are negotiable. The game should not be primarily about what we oppose, but what we support.

Greg Neiman is a former Advocate editor.

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