Vital communities

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St. Albert was my hometown from birth to university graduation. I traveled abroad, then settled in Edmonton where I met my St. Albert-born future husband. We moved ourselves back home with the arrival of our first daughter in 2003. It has been a wonderful fit for our family.
We love the trails that connect us all to the sweet Sturgeon River valley, the many natural spaces which rejuvenate us and the active, creative community that brings connection and vitality. I was tickled that I could write letters to the editor, which were actually published and that our mayor was accessible and approachable. It became clear that we could participate, contribute and create our family story. So, as a house can become a home, this city became our community. The “small town feel” so commonly described by St. Albert’s citizens demonstrates this experience is widespread.
John McKnight and Peter Block, authors of the book The Abundant Community wrote:  “A competent community knows that we are not only individually, but collectively responsible for the things that make a full and connected life.”
Our city puts great value on eliciting input from its citizens rather than subscribing to values and actions of an external model.  We are ‘cultivating’ St. Albert as we articulate and create our own vision. We take ownership as we clean up the river valley, plant trees, grow food in community spaces and host block parties together.
We invest in our quality of life when we fund transit, libraries, community spaces and events. The spreadsheet might not reveal the true gains made when we subsidize such community-building endeavours. It is challenging to measure the many returns such self-responsibility offers. The benefits of mutual care and an educated population are innumerable. Nowadays many companies scouting a new location seek not only tax breaks but also an arts and cultural life and sports amenities which will attract desirable employees and their families.
When we have questions, insights, needs and ideas, we must feel that safety net of a benevolent community surrounding us. That sense of belonging and feeling of respect allows us to have our needs met within our locality. We each have our own talents, perspectives and ideas to contribute. Having a space and place to share our gifts brings a sense of meaning and purpose. It has been demonstrated that these elements foster health and longevity even in the face of other stressors. Our Neighbourhood Network program is based on the work of these authors. Block wrote “(Connection) brings value to municipalities including: less need for by-law enforcement as neighbours solve their disagreements, seniors experience less isolation, people who have a disability are included, safety increases as crime decreases, youth find mentoring relationships, disaster preparedness increases, neighbours experience better mental health, reduced poverty and localism is fostered, reducing environmental footprint.”
Connection is our greatest value as a city. Through our own contributions, we become solution-oriented, nourished, connected and protected. How wonderful to live in such a “small town” city.

Jill Cunningham grew up in St. Albert, has a Bachelor of Education from University of Alberta and is passionate about nature, the environment, and building community.

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