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A photo of Edmonton.

October 23, 2018

Building resilient cities: Q&A with Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson

Mayor since 2013, Don Iveson has boosted Edmonton's urbanity and propserity, piloting an innovative vision for this city. Under his leadership, Edmonton has invested in transportation, spaces for all ages and an open government. 

Ahead of his talk at the Future Cities Canada Summit  entitled Constitution 2.0: Time for Cities to Grow up, we spoke with Mayor Iveson about his vision of a future Edmonton. 

A headshot of Mayor Don Iveson.

What are three words that best describe your vision for a future city?

Uplifting, resilient, prosperous.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for Canadian cities in making this vision come to life?

Sustainable, predictable funding is one of the biggest challenges for cities. Local governments are responsible for 60 per cent of Canada’s public infrastructure and an expanding suite of public services—all powered by barely 10 cents of each Canadian tax dollar. This is why visionary community-building so often depends on investment from other orders of government. And because local governments generally cannot run deficits, they have learned to squeeze maximum value from every dollar and every tool available.

If cities are going to continue to be the engines that propel our country forward, creating local jobs and growth, we are going to need new tools to help pay for the potential that cities provide.  

What’s the measure of a healthy city?

A healthy city is a connected city with community wellbeing at its core. It embodies and promotes equity for all, values social inclusion and provides opportunity for recreation - no matter your age, ability or income.

What can Edmonton offer as a source of inspiration on how to transform cities to benefit us all?

Over the last year, the City of Edmonton has been working with residents, businesses and government to develop Recover: Edmonton's Urban Wellness Plan. The Plan is using a social innovation framework to promote and sustain the conditions for people in some of Edmonton’s most vulnerable neighbourhoods. This framework involves testing, learning and adapting solutions while considering their cumulative impact in real time - rather than coming up with one, winner-take-all strategy. It’s about testing small solutions to improve urban wellness and find ways to align and better collaborate across different orders of government, social agencies, local businesses and the community. We’re hoping Recover becomes a model for collaboration between service providers that produces better, longer term solutions for vulnerable Edmontonians - and a model that can be replicated by cities across Canada.

How do you see innovation, and an innovation corridor, playing a role in the future of Edmonton?

In the past, two factors have helped shield Edmonton from the global economic downturn: as the provincial capital, we benefit from a lot of public sector employment; and we’ve been a major service provider to the oil and gas economy. But being a government town is not an economic development strategy and the oil sands are not likely to see a return to the frenetic expansion of the last generation. So it’s imperative that we shift Edmonton’s economy to the sectors of the future, sectors where Edmonton can compete and win. These include artificial intelligence, logistics, advanced manufacturing, health innovation, and food and agricultural technology. Through the formation of an innovation corridor, we can link the series of places where innovation, entrepreneurship, the arts, creativity and vibrant urban life intersect.

Are there particular projects in your city or others that motivate you?

Our city’s Open Data work is consistently inspiring to me. Edmonton has consistently been recognized as one of the most open cities in Canada, and indeed the world. We are only beginning to understand the impact of open data in our decision-making but already we’re seeing the benefits of analytics in our operations, our social service delivery and our funding decisions. It’s also amazing to see how Edmonton’s technology community uses this data in its hack-a-thons - called BetaCityYEG - that have resulted in some incredible projects like visualizations around the city’s growth patterns and the diversity of our communities. It’s the kind of work that motivates me to look deeper into our challenges and understand the motivators and drivers behind them. I’ll admit I’m a bit of a data nerd, but I truly believe data is the next frontier for governments.

Register today for #FCCSummit2018 to hear Mayor Don Iveson and other national and international city builders talk about the future of our cities.