Last week was the annual meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), held this year in Edmonton. Several members of council attended, and, as usual, there was a variety of learning opportunities, some in formal sessions, others through field tours.
One field tour that I found most informative was an alcohol enforcement tour that Councillor Miller and I went on. We accompanied staff from police, fire, liquor and building enforcement as they visited two bars, one in downtown Edmonton, the other a very large bar (capacity of 500 patrons) on the outskirts. The four city departments that go on this tour work together to manage crowds and activities. Both bars had software that allows them to check people's driver's licences as they enter. There are a couple of benefits to this. First, they can confirm who is in a bar at any time. Second, should someone cause a disturbance, they are then flagged, and refused admission in the future. This information can be shared with other bars that have the same software, helping to prevent incidents from even starting. The software was a city initiative, and I can see how it could really benefit Prince Albert, where so many of our weekend problems stem from relatively few individuals with alcohol problems.
One problem in many cities with an active downtown bar scene is the problem that happens after the bars close. People leave, but then find that they need to get rid of the liquid that they've been ingesting over the last few hours. Unfortunately, they can't go back into the bar to visit the washroom, so they tend to use the street - not too pleasant. Edmonton has put in public washrooms in the same area downtown as the bars. These washrooms have glass walls, so that people can see if there is anyone inside, and so that anyone with the bright idea to wreck the place can be easily seen. To prevent people from sleeping overnight, the washrooms are locked after a suitable interval after closing time.
Edmonton has recognized that bars are good economic drivers, that unfortunately can have associated problems. Rather than just shut down the economic opportunity, they have instead focused on finding solutions to those problems that still allow the bars to do what they do best.
I also attended an educational session on neighbourhood revitalization. Edmonton has developed a tax regime that is applied over the entire city, but which recognizes that some neighbourhoods have lagged behind others in infrastructure repair and improvements - funds are specifically directed at these neighbourhoods. I really liked that fact that they are trying to bring all neighbourhoods up to the same standards, and recognize that the city as a whole benefits from that kind of effort.
For the downtown core, the city borrows money from the province to revitalize areas and encourage development, then uses the increased taxes from these developments, such as large hotels, to then pay back the borrowed money.
In many ways, Edmonton seemed to be very similar to Prince Albert, and I think that we can learn a great deal about how they approach our similar problems. While we don't have the advantages of their much larger population, we should still be able to apply some scaled down solutions.
Every year, when the time comes to approve the upcoming expenses for FCM, we get questions from the media as to whether it's worth the cost. For those councillors who choose to take advantage of the many educational opportunities at FCM, both formal sessions and informal networking, I'd say that it's money well invested in our city's future.
"Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and diligence." - Abigail Adams