By CHERIE KLASSEN
Highlands resident and Director of Civic Affairs, Highlands Community League
August 5, 2016 – When the Northlands Vision 2020 flyer hit my mailbox, I quickly scanned it and was somewhat unimpressed. But since I live in the area, I wanted to learn a bit more about the proposal, so I started reading and inquiring. It wasn’t until I attended a Northlands Neighbours meeting that I fully understood the proposal and the impact of the change. It became clear to me that this is more than just a site redevelopment. The Vision 2020 plan is about building a new vibrant community and organization, while also contributing to the economy in a very different way.
When I volunteered with Highlands community league over 10 years ago, one of the first initiatives I supported was repealing the restrictive covenant on the old Safeway site on 66 street (still ongoing). I see a lot of similarity between that site and what could happen to Northlands if Vision 2020 doesn’t move forward.
Vacant property = higher crime = lower property values
Northlands has 160 acres of property, which employs nearly 2,000 people and more importantly, maintains the property. If city council won’t invest in the proposed strategy, the land will sit vacant until a plan is developed for the area – much like what we’ve seen at the Safeway site. The barren property will sit wasting, attracting crime while we’re waiting for development. As a resident and property owner in our community, this scenario is unacceptable to me.
So what is the opportunity that Vision 2020 touts?
The strategy hinges on several key components. The community ice rinks will bring a much needed sports amenity to northeast Edmonton, the newly developed residential and commercial district will bring density and much needed retail, the urban festival site will bring a new vibrancy and has already attracted the attention of several existing festivals, and the organization’s agriculture mandate will have a whole new focus on food sustainability and education.
While there are still a few gaps in the strategy, the most compelling part to me is the transformation of an old agriculture society into a leader in food education and diversity. Its FEED (Food + Events + Education + Diversification) strategy includes: connecting rural farming with urban consumers, supporting local agri-food startups with the development of a kitchen incubator, education and support of food diversification, and even an onsite brewery incubator.
This part of the Vision 2020 strategy alone will have an enormous impact on our economy through small business development – which, in Alberta makes up over 90% of our business.
As someone who has worked in a leadership role on non-profit boards and in non-profit organizations for years, this is where I see the most potential for Northlands to make a real impact.
Beyond land development
Sure, the city could redevelop the land into a transit-oriented community, much like Clareview, but what is missing is the opportunity for so much more. This isn’t just about land development; it’s about looking to the future and investing in a new, innovative concept that has such huge potential for growth and positive impact on the economy.
It’s about supporting an opportunity to educate our kids on the journey from farm to fork and food sustainability. It’s about giving local startups a venue to learn, grow and expand. These are impacts way beyond a 10-day festival site or professional hockey arena. And this is where I see Northlands, as an organization, having so much more impact in our city that some land developer could ever provide.
So, if I have to choose where to put my faith – I choose a local non-profit that’s been serving our city since 1879, who is already invested in the community and who is willing to innovate and make a positive impact, over an unknown land developer who may just be in it for the money.
If you’re ready to take a deeper look at Northlands’ Vision 2020, beyond the media articles, like I did, you may discover more than a story of land redevelopment, you may discover a positive future in northeast Edmonton.