Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

RMWB City Centre Action Plan - And Why It Needs You

Last Friday I heard that there was an open house at the municipality's new Planning and Development offices downtown on Franklin. These offices have been dubbed "Future Forward Place", and that name alone was enough to capture my attention. What really lured me in, though, was that the open house was about the future plans for our city centre - an area of Fort McMurray that desperately requires attention, people.

In recent years I've spent a lot of time in other Canadian cities, and what I find saddest are the downtown cores that are neglected and, as a result, dying. Businesses fold and are never replaced, leaving empty storefronts. As the core empties other elements move in - drugs, often, and crime, as those things prosper in areas with little foot or vehicle traffic. A vibrant city centre is possible, and some cities, like Saskatoon, have fought hard to keep their downtown active and lively. Without thought and planning, though, the retail community moves into outlying areas of a city, often leaving only offices downtown. This leads to a loss of restaurants, a place where the only activity is office workers from 9-5, and a very iffy after-5 atmosphere. This also means for residents in those city centres there is little to do and they need to seek entertainment and retail options in those outlying areas. The problem just grows and grows unchecked, until the city core is left empty and almost beyond hope for redemption.

I was delighted to see that the RMWB is taking a very pro-active approach and is looking at ways to both revitalize and develop our city centre. One of the city planners, Jeff, actually walked me through the entire display, which was laid out in a concise and clear manner. There are plans to develop our riverfront, which is clearly a treasure we need to protect, in a way that will encourage both business and community initiatives while still protecting it's natural beauty and allure. There are plans to make it easier for developers to get approval to develop certain things in certain areas while still maintaining a high standard for that development. To me, though, best of all is the involvement of the community in these plans.

I truly admire the way the RMWB is engaging the community in all these plans and ideas. They are holding open houses and information sessions, and they are seeking community input. The recognition is that residents are the ones who live in this community and as such should have significant input on these developments. All of this ties into the Municipal Development Plan, an initiative I have been following for some time. I have been both intrigued and delighted by the input from the community, and by the response from the RMWB. This type of collaborative effort is the ideal way to grow our community, and to see it develop in the way we wish it to.

Now, it takes some effort, people. If you want to be involved you might need to visit some websites, or attend some of these open houses. I've been to a couple now, and what I have found are municipal employees who are not only willing to listen to your ideas but are eager to do so. They seem to be thrilled to explain the process, and to exchange thoughts and ideas. This is an opportunity to be involved in the changes that are coming to our city - and changes, they are a-comin' people. According to all predictions we are looking at rapid population growth, and we need to be ready. We can just allow the municipality to change without our voices being heard - or we can be a part of the process, and we can help to guide those changes in the way we want to see them occur. If you've ever wanted to be part of something big - to be part of something that will affect the future - then this is it, people. Get involved. Get engaged. Get into the action and let your thoughts and opinions be heard. The RMWB is listening - so tell them what you think needs to be said, and help them to make this place the home you want it to be. Do it, Fort Mac - because this is, quite truly, our town.

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