Going forWARD on Engaged Communities

9 May

It is probably no secret that this is the piece of my platform that I’m most passionate about. I know – based on my experiences and on the research evidence – that we are smarter together. I also know that the other commitments I’ve made as part of this campaign depend on my commitment to engagement. I believe that being a responsible leader hangs on my ability and willingness to engage. Borrowing from a number of sources, I define responsible leadership as the process of determining or clarifying goals for a group of individuals and bringing together the energies of members of that group to accomplish those goals; aligning those goals with an ethically determined notion of the public good in a “shared-power, no-one-wholly-in-charge world”; and building the capacity of others to do the same (adapted from Keohane, 2010; Cleveland, 2002; Crosby & Bryson, 2005).

In the spirit of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous quote, ‘What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say’, I have been trying to do responsible leadership and meaningful engagement throughout this campaign. After 5 weeks of knocking on doors and four weeks of community conversations, I’ve heard concerns and ideas from over 400 people of different ages, backgrounds, and beliefs. At our community conversations, we’ve discussed traffic-calming, development at the FREX, local food/community gardens, democracy, and more. These community conversations, combined with going to places ‘where people are at’ (e.g., their homes, their apartment building lounges), respect some key principles of citizen engagement, and model how I think we can work together in Ward 10 to identify concerns, develop possible solutions, collaborate with city officials, other councillors, businesses and community organizations, and other levels of government, and set priorities for going forWARD. The active engagement of many Ward 10 residents already is inspiring, and a great sign of things to come.

Engaging citizens in decisions depends on residents having access to reliable information. It also means ensuring that the decision-making process is clear, and the role of residents in that process is clear. Together, we are more than the sum of our parts.  In my platform, I committed to a number of engagement initiatives under the headings, Citizens in Decisions and Over to YOUth. Specifically related to citizens in decisions, I will hold community conversations quarterly, maintain an updated website to communicate with residents, explore participatory budgeting options as a way to involve residents in the city’s financial decisions, and report annually on my commitments.


Over to YOUth is my commitment is to actively engaging youth in community decision-making. For healthy development, young people need to have useful roles in the neighbourhood. They also need to feel valued by adults in the community, and have a sense of purpose. Youth who have these and other assets are more likely to do well in school, show leadership, help others, and become more connected to their neighbourhoods. Last week, I held an event with a group of 25 young people (aged 9-11). I invited the other Ward 10 candidates (one participated) because I believe that youth engagement is apolitical – it’s the right thing to do, not a way to win votes. We asked participating youth what they thought we could do to improve our community. They highlighted the need for better recycling, a dog park, and more activity equipment in Odell Park (they really want a zip line)! Below are a couple of pictures of the map that we used to identify what they’d like to see, and where they think we should put it. The participating young people were thoughtful, engaged, and able to discuss their ideas with each other. They have great ideas to offer. This activity is a step in meaningfully involving youth in neighbourhood decisions.

I am committed to continuing to work with schools, community organizations, youth, and others to actively involve youth in neighbourhood planning, especially related to environmental issues, and recreation and culture activities – areas where young people express particular interest in being engaged. People everywhere are starting to recognize the critical role that young people play in defining a better future. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives just released a great little book called, Power of Youth: Youth and Community-Led Activism in Canada. It contains 20 stories of young people who are engaging for change. Check it out here. We can support more youth and community engagement in Fredericton.

I offer you my commitment to responsible leadership, and my ideas for going forWARD on engagement in Ward 10!

Take care,

Leah

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