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article imageScott McKeen: Leading a ward 'on its way up' Special

By Paula Kirman     Sep 15, 2014 in Politics
Edmonton - Scott McKeen is Edmonton's City Councillor for Ward 6. He was elected to office for the first time in the civic election in October of 2013.
Ward 6 covers a large cross-section of the city and includes some mature neighbourhoods, both affluent and less affluent, as well as the downtown core. Scott McKeen recently took some time to answer questions about his first year in office, his goals, and challenges.
It's been almost a year since the election. What is your take on your first year in office?
People keep asking me if I'm having fun on council. My answer? Election to public office is a privilege. It is fulfilling. It is intellectually challenging. But it is rarely "fun." To be honest, it can be frustrating and even heartbreaking when I can't help a constituent or constituents. I'm still coming to terms with infuriating people with my votes on issues - votes, that I swear are well thought out. Who likes to make people unhappy? Not me. I remain the same slightly neurotic guy I've always been and prefer it when people like me. Yet every decision council makes tends to upset some, unfortunately.
What are some of your current goals and ambitions?
Communities in Ward 6 aren't all alike. Downtown and a couple of others get a lot of attention. But it's the more challenged communities that keep me awake at night. If we can uplift these core communities, and reduce the disorder and poverty, I'll be over the moon. We are never going to hit perfection, but Edmonton is a prosperous city and in our headlong rush to keep up with growth, we can't forget the vulnerable, nor the communities that put up with more than their fair share of what is colloquially called crime and grime.
I'm also pushing for higher standards on upkeep and cleanliness. My message to the landlords, building owners, and businesses is that they, too, must join in the effort to spic-and-span our public realm. So far, I've received nothing but positive feedback.
I will continue to ask/plead/invite Council to consider the greater downtown as part of their wards, too. The greater downtown is for all Edmontonians. The number of projects on the books is great. But we've got unfunded renovations planned for The Winspear and Stanley Milner Library. These are so exciting and will add so much to Edmonton's inventory of world-class facilities that it would be a travesty to miss these opportunities.
What do you see as the future of the community you serve?
Ward 6 is seriously on its way up. Set aside downtown revitalization for a moment. The mature neighbourhoods in Ward 6 will be more in demand by millennials. The emerging generation wants to live in or near downtown. So we've got to get our infill strategy right. Communities are leery and, at least to some extent, rightly so. The City has engaged with communities about infill but has not done enough to communicate the importance. Infill will provide more affordable housing, while helping City Hall's finances. Putting additional taxpayers in areas with existing services and infrastructure makes good sense. But in getting this right, it is incumbent on council and the City to ensure high-design, quality infill is done in their communities. We must do all we can to block what Stephen Mandel famously called "crap" development. Council will be discussing and debating how to do more with infill in coming months.
In a recent video posted at the Edmonton Journal's website, you listed Chinatown and Little Italy as your favourite parts of your ward. Yet these part of the city often get a very bad rap about being unsafe or unclean. How do you think the inner city can shed its negative image?
My proposal for a managed alcohol facility addresses some of this issue. Little Italy and Chinatown can and must be uplifted to status as regional tourism gems. Managed alcohol facilities in other cities have successfully housed vulnerable and chronic street alcoholics. These facilities offer shelter, food, and support services to residents, along with a social room where drinks are allotted on an hourly or 90-minute schedule. The residents do not drink to intoxication. Instead, the measured amounts keep withdrawal at bay while allowing these men and woman a chance to live with dignity. At the same time, much of the disorder is removed from communities. Calls for emergency services and intake at hospital also drops. Many in this population were once housed in large provincial mental health hospitals. The closure of those facilities was supposed to be followed by community supports. The latter did not happen. We ended up with vulnerable people living horrible lives and by their actions dragging down inner-city neighbourhoods. It's high time we dealt with this issue in practical ways, with the funding support of the provincial government.
What else would you like our readers to know?
It is intimidating many days to be the city councillor for a ward with so much importance to Edmonton as a whole. I've been blessed to meet so many great citizens and volunteers whose only desire it seems is to help Edmonton reach its full potential. It is a fabulous time in Edmonton. The growth will bring with it growing pains. But communities are being revitalized, major facilities are being built, and there's so much more coming all the time. Imagine a 62 storey tower downtown. Stantec has long been a wonderful Edmonton success story. We'll now see that story writ in skyscraper light. I'm excited and I hope the citizenry shares that excitement. I could go on about neighbourhood renewal, the plans in Chinatown, the bright future of 124th Street, and the soul and spirit demonstrated in neighbourhoods like North Glenora, which is working with proponents on two significant and welcoming housing projects. But I better stop.
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