What exactly are we cultivating here in St. Albert?

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I was so glad when I read the chamber of commerce is behind the Habitat for Humanity project on Arlington Drive, and that they recognized this was going to be a difficult dilemma to solve as the good of St. Albert as a whole is ‘pitted’ against Akinsdale.

There is a reason why the chamber sees the project affecting the city as a whole and why so many impassioned citizens have written letters about the subject. This issue represents so much more than it may seem at first and the chamber recognizes the face of what is really at stake. The development has stirred up so much passion because this issue is challenging the fundamental ideology of St. Albert. This ideology is something that I was not intimately acquainted with until I, a previously careless St. Albert dependent, left my childhood and found myself facing the reality of adulthood: a stack of unending bills. This in itself is no surprise — adulthood is facing the reality that ‘money makes the world go round.’ But my adulthood sprung upon me faster than I could keep up. I now see things very differently here in St. Albert, the beautiful place I still, though struggling, call home.

There is something lurking in the shadows of my beautiful hometown. It hides behind statistics that argue green space is really the primary issue. The true concern is not allowed to be named; no one will say directly that St. Albert doesn’t want to be associated with poverty. St. Albert is a place where the property taxes are so high, the mortgages so inflated, and rental accommodations so sparse that we never need to say we don’t want the poor here. Instead, we design a city where the poor cannot enter lest they penetrate this threshold of wealth only to join the rapidly aging, retiring population. This is the only population this city seems to be making concessions for (if you doubt this, just read through the classifieds — all the affordable condos with utilities included are 35-plus with no kids. Coincidence? I think not).

I do not judge the city for making it easier for its people to retire here. I just wish that it would extend the same courtesy to the young people that wish to raise their kids (grandchildren of the baby-boomer generation) in this beautiful city too. The reality is that one cannot at present be a child of St. Albert and live out an entire life here because St. Albert’s income threshold is keeping out the families just starting out (a stage we all must pass through) who are necessary to keep St. Albert a community that has breath, without which it will gradually hollow. To date we only know of two other young ‘starter’ families that have managed to thrive here. They have become like kindred family in a city where our demographic has been blocked from existence.

Each of our families work tremendously hard to make ends meet, with one or both parents extending themselves through overtime and overloaded semesters simultaneously to provide a solid financial future for our children. We are not the embodiment of laziness; we are the embodiment of educated, young people who believed in the honour of marriage, in the sanctity of life and in the value of family as irreplaceable to society. Our families would be the candidates for this housing development. The lines that strike at the heart of what I am saying fall here, where one Akinsdale resident voices her grievance: “I think a lot of the people in Akinsdale community would be quite content with maybe six or seven houses back there blending in with all the rest of us. All in all, I know none of my neighbours are against low- income housing and it really bothers me that people are conceiving it that way.” (“Proposal has too many problems,” Jenna Kress, Feb. 20 letter to the editor). The desire for everyone to have a white picket fence, a backyard, one dog and 2.5 children isn’t what makes St. Albert a place that cultivates life; this is what breeds the death of tolerance, understanding and empathy.

There is something wrong with the desire to only build what will blend in — St. Albert does not need more mansions, it needs more homes for the families that deserve the chance to live here and prove they have dignity too. If we live strictly to blend in then we must not be fighting for anything worthwhile, for the face of justice does not often blend in with its surroundings — it is usually detested for speaking truth where truth is not always a beautiful thing. What do we want St. Albert to be remembered for: mansions or tolerance? What is it exactly that we want to cultivate here amidst the beauty of our city? What are we living for — to acquire a nice house and a white picket fence or to give to others when we see suffering? I am not addressing the Akinsdale neighbourhood itself. I am addressing the ideology, the legacy we are teaching our children. Did we support or attack this housing project?

As I read over the articles written about this project I did not judge the writers when they raised concerns about green space. Instead, I wanted to provide awareness about why they are all reacting with passion. There is a reason why this issue is enflaming hearts (and it is a very good thing that people care enough to write) it is only in addressing the truth about something that change can come about. We must unmask the lie in order to rectify it. The lie I unmask today is that we, in St. Albert, those of us who are wealthy, need to use our privilege and our voices to leave a legacy that we can be proud of so that when we die, we will really leave something for others to remember us by. It is in giving that we receive, something my mom taught me and follows by helping build sustainable schooling in developing countries. But we don’t need to go to Africa to find people in need, it is rampant here in our own backyard.

I will be at the hearing March 15, and I hope you will too because this is about so much more than green space. This is about who we are, St. Albert, and I too believe in you. I believe that you want your kids to be able to afford to live near you when they raise their grandchildren. But even more importantly, we need to cultivate a St. Albert that will continue the legacy we as a community have an opportunity to begin: a place where wealth meets empathy. Money is not a bad thing in itself, but when we can use money to build up a haven for families in need we will have a reason to truly be proud of our wealth. I love this beautiful city, it runs in my veins; but what also runs in my veins is a thirst to see minds set free and to be a part of something that builds up, and does not tear down, those in need. Let’s see to it that this project becomes something in our backyard, for the act of building it will speak volumes about the truth of our hearts. It’s a truth we will not have to hide from — instead, we may celebrate together that we left this world, even just one backyard, a little bit of a better place.

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