Edmonton Early Years Coalition Survey
The Edmonton Early Years Coalition has sent out a survey to all municipal candidates. You can find everyone's answers here: http://www.earlychildhoodedm.ca/ (scroll down for links to Mayor, each Ward and School Trustee answers).
You can also read mine here...
If elected, how will you champion the Early Years in your governance work on Council?
I have spent most of my adult life working with young people and families and raising my own five children. Creating places, spaces, programming and supports for children and their caregivers has been a priority for me during my tenure on the City of Edmonton’s Council Initiative on Public Engagement, and a primary focus in my role as a Leader and chair of La Leche League Canada, my work as an editor for both Birthing and Birth Issues magazines, and my leadership with the Breastfeeding Action Committee of Edmonton.
Our culture has become increasingly siloed, to the point that seeing children in public is sometimes frowned upon and many parents (especially if they are younger, newcomers, indigenous or LGBTQ) feel very fearful of how they will be judged in public when their children, behave like children.
Shifting our culture starts at the top -- with Council. It’s been refreshing to occasionally see younger children of current Councillors and the Mayor involved in activities, but children are still primarily invisible in decision making. With only one woman on council we are not seeing experiences of caregivers or their children reflected in many of the conversations about how we build our city. For example, in the discussion about the first mile/last mile for transit, the discussion related to ride-sharing services spoke about issues for seniors and those with limited mobility, both important demographics, but completely ignored the fact that a parent or caregiver travelling with young children is likely going to need more than one car seat!
My campaign office is now open and the first thing we set up was a play area for children. We’ve had children in the office most of the time all weekend. Creating a child-friendly and welcoming place that makes it possible for all ages to participate in the campaign and for caregivers to help out too. I am often door-knocking with small children! Creating inclusive spaces will continue when I get elected. I will create an office that is welcoming and expects children, and my intention is to hire staff in job share roles, so that their capacity is not overlooked simply because they also have caregiving demands.
We are often focus any conversation about the Early Years into silos such as playgrounds, childcare and education. All of these are deeply important and need to be integrated into the broader discourse, but the society our children are growing up in also goes far beyond these issues.
In the spring, I was asked, during the Executive Committee meeting about the new Public Engagement policy, about including children in Public Engagement (because of the story I told about my daughter presenting to City Council when she was 8 years old). In that conversation, I made it clear that we need not only to provide activities for kids and make kids feel welcome at these events, we need to engage them – at all ages – and not just on issues related to parks and schools. Children take transit, children live in housing and use our infrastructure every day (and so do their caregivers).
One of the major issues related to the Early Years is affordable market and non-market housing. We want to increase density in order to address our infrastructure deficit, but we continue to completely avoid building three bedroom apartment and condo units, townhouses or stacked row housing. If we continue to substantially increase the number of housing units while building almost nothing that can accommodate young families, we will exacerbate the existing silos in our communities and isolate children from our society even more. Our Municipal Development Plan has policy that states that 25% of all large-scale infill in mature neighbourhoods should be family oriented housing, but 3% is currently seen as a concession being made by developers on current projects. This doesn’t work for our communities, but it also doesn’t work in the long run for landuse planning.
I’m currently working with my Community Leagues on the Neighbourhood Renewal Committee. We are taking a significant departure by reimagining what our streets can look like in a way that increases safety and walkability. Focusing the design of our streets, sidewalks and open spaces on pedestrians and cyclists and those with limited mobility will help us make our neighbourhood more accessible for everyone. I know I won’t be as worried about my kids biking and walking to their friends’ or to school once this is done. Given that we have multiple schools, daycares and playgrounds in the neighbourhood as well as five major thoroughfares, making our streets safer will increase options for families and children.
I am also advocating for a city wide policy of 30km/hr in all residential neighbourhoods. Almost everyone is only 30 seconds from a major thoroughfare, I think 30km/hr for 30 seconds is a reasonable compromise to keep our kids (and others) alive and safe.
As an extension of this, I would like us to require that we design our streets for appropriate speeds instead designing for faster than posted speed limits. Even if we lower the posted speed limits, the roads aren’t really safe if they are designed for much higher speeds. We can slow traffic and increase safety by using design principles that naturally slow us down when we are driving.
When my children were young (I have five children, including two sets of twins), I found myself quite isolated, either because I had to drive and my kids screamed in the car, or because just leaving the house was a monumental task. I was fortunate to have deep family connections and a strong community that helped us get through, but I’m very aware of the demands and intensity of caregiving in the early years and everyone I see in public with small children has made significant efforts to get out of the house. Making our public spaces more supportive, is essential to making this easier. I’m excited about the Abundant Communities program which connects neighbours right at their doorstep and on their block. This can support so many more families and young children to connect to their communities.
How will you support Council’s current initiatives focused on young children and their families?
I think these are very important initiatives but need to be taken further and integrated into the work of the City as a whole. Because of the stratification that has occurred we need to be very intentional in how we invite children and their caregivers and their communities into our public spaces and public life in a much broader way.
There are many excellent ideas in the work of the Childfriendly Initiative. So far implementation seems to focus on activities for children, which is an important service, but I’d like to see a multigenerational focus as well. As an example Strathcona Seniors 55+ Centre as 15 multigenerational programs right now. This type of intergenerational connection is how we begin to weave together the natural community supports we all need at different stages of life, including when we are children and caregivers.
We need to make sure the work being done to support our most vulnerable families is also integrated into the community and connected with the broader community so that the support can expand to natural supports. Supporting the community around families and around children is essential to creating an environment where kids can thrive.
Do you have any new or different initiatives to propose that will improve the early childhood development results for young children? If so, what are they?
We need to raise the bar on design in Edmonton. This includes transportation, public buildings, playgrounds and parks, housing etc. One of the ways we need to do this is to consider the implications of our design choices on a broader range of demographics and make sure that those making the recommendations aren’t only from a narrow range of experiences and perspectives.
Implementing “8 to 80” design principles in building streets/roads/public spaces, would make them safer more enjoyable and accessible for all of us – but it will have a particular impact on children, their caregivers and seniors. The goal of “8 to 80” is to make these spaces safe and accessible for 8 year olds and 80 year olds. When we plan for children and seniors in mind, it usually works better for everyone else.
Ensuring more diverse housing options (in terms of income & built form & bedrooms) will invite more diversity into our communities, making them more resilient and safer.
Including Gender-Based Analysis + (GBA+) in our decision making will make our communities safer and more inclusive. Making our City more inclusive of women, will require that we also consider children in a way that we aren’t right now.
One specific way we can be more welcoming is to support and encourage breastfeeding. I was involved with the Breastfeeding Action Committee of Edmonton when we first were successful in changing City policies on breastfeeding in and around public pools. However, we have a long way to go in normalizing breastfeeding in public. Harassment, shaming or even the expectation that you can’t do it, is one of the first ways we isolate parents with young children in public spaces. This is more common if the breastfeeding parent is young, poor, single, indigenous or other visible minority. Discrimination against parents breastfeeding/chestfeeding is another way that we penalize caregivers and children for being in public spaces.