2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for ARDNOne! We’d like to thank everyone who took the time to read about what ARDN has been working on, what its goals moving forward are, and we look forward to an exciting 2016!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,300 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 22 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Why “Rural” Matters to Us (and You)!

Part 1:

This may come as a surprise, but I have never lived in a rural community; on the contrary, Edmonton is the smallest city I’ve ever lived in. Since I started volunteering for the Alberta Rural Development Network (ARDN), some of my friends and family have asked why I would focus my energy on better communities in rural Alberta.

As I was born and raised in an urban centre, I know firsthand how easy it can be to overlook the importance of having strong rural communities. Luckily, I had the opportunity to work in rural Alberta at my previous place of employment. Due to Alberta’s growth, most of our projects were located in rural communities.  Millions of dollars were spent on these projects in rural communities, but with most of the services and materials to build the projects coming out of urban centres like Edmonton and Calgary. So I was not surprised to learn that rural Alberta’s total economic contribution was $77.4 billion in 2009. Additionally, rural Alberta contributed roughly 270,000 jobs and $28.5 billion in economic activity in Alberta’s urban centers.

Based on the numbers, it’s clear that the success of rural communities should be important to everyone because of their tremendous contribution to our province and country’s economy. Regardless of where you live in Alberta, we all benefit from the commercial and industrial actives that are happening in rural communities. Simply put, without the Forestry, Oil and Gas, Agriculture and Fishing industries, we would not have the same access to everyday essentials, like the wood we use to build our homes, the fuel we burn to heat our homes and drive our cars, and food to eat. In 2014, the Alberta Forestry Industry shipped $5.4 billion in products, with exports of $2.7 billion, while Alberta’s Oil and Gas industry produced 78 per cent of Canada’s crude oil and 67 per cent of its natural gas, and Alberta’s farm cash receipts totalled $12.9 billion, representing 22.4 per cent of Canada’s production.

Despite the economic achievements of rural communities in past years, they face many challenges,  including an aging population and inadequate access to services and affordable housing. We desperately need the provincial and federal governments to make real and meaningful investments in rural communities and the organizations that support them so that rural Alberta can continue to contribute to the growth of our province and country.

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Affordable Housing in Rural Communities Can Grow Economy and Address Homelessness

What is the Sustainable Housing Initiative?

The Sustainable Housing Initiative (SHI) is an initiative of the Alberta Rural Development Network (ARDN) that aims to address homelessness in Alberta by building innovative, sustainable, affordable housing in rural communities. The housing units will be built from re-purposed shipping containers at a lower cost than traditional construction techniques, which will help keep rent affordable to low-income earners. Besides being cost-effective, the SHI will help rural communities thrive and grow while addressing the needs of their most vulnerable citizens.

Who will use the housing?

Depending on the specific needs and demographics of the community, low-income housing is needed for a variety of reasons. Groups that may benefit from access to affordable rental accommodations include students, seniors, single-parent families, people who have disabilities, and seasonal workers. This housing can also work as transitional housing, for short term stays for seniors in the process of moving into care, for individuals and families requiring temporary shelter for a variety of reasons, and for students taking short term courses.

Why do we need affordable rural housing?

Rental accommodations are hard to come by in Alberta, and affordable rental accommodations are even more rare, especially in smaller cities and rural communities. Not only does everyone need a place to live that’s within their budget, these people make valuable contributions to our communities and economy. Without housing for low-income people, communities cannot attract new residents and grow their economy. Furthermore, when people in rural communities struggle to find affordable housing, they may be forced to move to urban centres where they can more easily access accommodations. When they move, they often lose their link to the rural community, and the community loses a resident.

What’s next?

ARDN plans to pilot a sustainable housing project in a rural community. ARDN will manage the project, creating partnerships with rural municipalities, service providers, and construction companies. Community partners will donate the land and provide on-going management services. Construction partners will construct the units off-site and assemble and finish them on-site. In order to see this project to fruition, ARDN is seeking a one-time capital investment from the Government of Alberta. The pilot project will serve as a model to inform future sustainable housing development projects in other communities.
For updates on the project, follow the Sustainable Housing Initiative on Twitter (@ARDN_SHI) and Facebook (facebook.com/ARDN.SHI), or contact Nick directly at communications@ardn.ca.

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WANTED: A Strategy for Rural Alberta

When it comes to access to services such as healthcare, justice, education and housing, things are different in rural Alberta.  But before I go into that, I should define what I mean by rural Alberta.  There is no single definition; however, ARDN tends to focus on communities with a population of less than 30,000, and this seems like a reasonable option.  Communities with less than 30,000 residents include all but the ten largest centres, meaning there are 1,308,795 rural Albertans – that is, 1 out of every 3 Albertans.  And contrary to popular belief, this number is increasing, not decreasing; it’s just not growing at the same rate as urban populations.  And yet, there does not appear to be a cohesive provincial strategy for rural Alberta.  Rural development has disappeared entirely from the name of any government Ministry (it used to be the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, which is now Agriculture and Forestry).  You may be surprised to learn that I welcome this change; rural development encompasses so many Ministries that to lump it in with Agriculture seems limited and misleading.

To best address rural issues, Alberta could have a whole Ministry, or at least a Secretariat, devoted to Rural Affairs.  Alberta needs leadership at the government level to create a comprehensive cross-Ministry plan for rural Alberta.  This plan must tackle everything from the aforementioned access to healthcare, justice, education and housing, but also emerging issues, such as business retention and expansion, homelessness, youth retention, and ageing in place.  It must set the stage for success in rural communities, identify the challenges and opportunities, and create clear pathways to success.  It must help coordinate efforts and provide access to adequate tools and resources (like urban dwellers have).  In my estimation, every dollar spent in a rural community has far more impact than that same dollar spent in a large city.  New investment in urban centres can yield only incremental results, because governments are already heavily invested there.  On the contrary, even small new investments in rural communities can reap huge dividends, because mostly there is so much room for improvement, and our rural citizens know how to do a lot with a little.

Some work is being done to help ensure adequate infrastructure is available in rural communities, but who is supporting the more intangible, but still critical element needed for success: the social capital?  Who is helping community champions articulate their vision and find and access the resources they need to implement the ideas that are going to make their communities grow and thrive?  Who is helping to ensure these community leaders even know about the opportunities that exist?  Who is facilitating the measures and long-range plans that will bring about the conditions needed to have the critical mass of businesses, of professionals, of youth to make possible their long-term success?  Who is looking at the big picture and making sure that adequate resources are available and being utilized?

When leadership emerges, replete with a plan to mobilize rural Alberta’s social capital, the result will be a collective, united, systematic effort by well-focussed community stakeholders.  The future of Alberta’s rural communities will no longer be left to chance.

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Law Across Alberta

First, after a long period of silence, the ARDN team is excited to be relaunching the ARDNOne blog. Each of us, Dee Ann, Chelaine, Josh and I, will take turns sharing the things that are keeping us busy and excited! I get to start, so here goes.

Wow. September has flown by, maybe even more quickly than August! The past two months have seen a lot of changes and improvements in the Rural and Regional Access to Justice project, and I finally got to meet in person a lot of the people I’ve been corresponding with and working with virtually over the past seven months. I was invited to attend regional summer BBQs and Student Send Off events in Medicine Hat and Red Deer. These events, organized by members of the local bar associations, were an opportunity for students and lawyers in regional centres to get together. At these events I met members of the local bar, students from the community headed off to law school, members of the judiciary, those articling in the community, as well as members of the legal community from further abroad, such as the Canadian Bar Association – Alberta Branch President, and the Deans of Law from both the University of Alberta and Calgary! These informal gatherings allowed for the chance to make new connections and perhaps most importantly, remind students who were leaving for law school of the vibrant and strong bar associations in their home towns.

One of my favourite memories from the Medicine Hat BBQ involves Wayne Barkauskas, President of the Canadian Bar Association – Alberta Branch (CBA – AB). I was enjoying the views of the South Saskatchewan River afforded to us at the beautiful Medicine Hat Golf and Country Club and talking with Maryanne Forrayi of the University of Calgary and Pat Neil from the University of Alberta, reviewing how our day of meeting with firms had gone. Wayne approached us, and by way of introduction said to me, “are you Kyle Miller? Maureen Armitage [CBA – AB’s Executive Director] told me I needed to meet you. She said you’re working on regional access to justice.” And that was Wayne. He reinforced with me the importance of the various issues facing the legal community in rural Alberta, and the need to reverse some of the negative trends that have been observed. That, of course, is why ARDN was able to secure funding and support from Justice Canada, but to have senior members of the legal community seek me out to talk about access to justice was unexpected.

The legal community has welcomed me with open arms and done everything in their power to help me, guide me, and offer advice along the way. I gratefully acknowledge everyone who has lent their time, expertise, and advice, but I owe a special debt of gratitude to Maryanne Forrayi, Director, Career and Professional Development Office, at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law. She has spent countless hours helping me get this project off the ground, connecting me with students and alumni, being a sounding board and so much more.

Stay tuned for more!

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Partnering for a sustainable pathway in rural Alberta

ARDN’s Creating Rural Connections 2014 holds lessons for organizations interested in supporting growth

The Alberta Rural Development Network’s (ARDN) “Creating Rural Connections” event series addressed concerns facing Alberta’s rural communities with practical solutions, helping prepare stakeholders to meet challenges and enhance the best of our rural communities.

“Municipal Sustainability”, held May 26th at MacEwan University, brought stakeholders together to discuss policies and planning, social equity and diversity, and access to sustainable services and resources in Alberta. More than 20 speakers shared their knowledge with nearly 100 delegates from across Alberta, on topics such as economic development, renewable energy and clean waste, community engagement and local financial investment.

Besides the connections and networking that occurred and the learning opportunities and knowledge shared by the presenters, the event generated ideas and solutions that delegates could apply to their own organizations. At the end of the event, delegates identified issues and problems, which ARDN will help refine and ultimately connect organizations and communities to conduct research and bring into action new projects for rural Alberta communities.

“Creating Rural Connections” is the result of one of ARDN’s processes by which new projects are started on behalf of our rural communities. As Dee Ann Benard, ARDN’s Executive Director, tells us, “It’s all about the people and their personal, professional and economic growth. Through their empowerment we build thriving rural communities which can develop within a framework of respect and responsibility for the land and people.”

Pathways to social changeSolutions to the problems facing rural Alberta are all around us. With “Creating Rural Connections” events, ARDN brings people together, facilitates discussion and creates opportunities to work together to start solving the problems we all care about in rural Alberta, says Dee Ann Benard, ARDN’s Executive Director.

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Rural Economics & Aboriginal Community Engagement: A Sneak Peak with Allen Benson

ARDN spoke with Allen Benson, chief executive officer of the Native Counselling Services of Alberta, about the role of the Aboriginal community in rural municipal economics – the focus of his upcoming keynote presentation at the Creating Rural Connections 2014: Municipal Sustainability event on May 26 in Edmonton. Take a read!

Photo credit: Native Counselling Services of Alberta

Photo credit: Native Counselling Services of Alberta

ARDN: Can you tell our readers about your background?

Allen: I have 35 years of experience in working provincially, nationally, and internationally in areas of social justice and building bridges between the aboriginal community and mainstream societies. For example, I have worked in corrections and involved offenders in construction projects, engaged communities in taking responsibility for local crime issues, such as gang violence, and highlighted the importance of reintegration in community economics.

ARDN: How can First Nations communities contribute to the sustainability of municipalities in Alberta?

Allen: There is an opportunity for First Nations communities and municipalities to recognize shared responsibilities, find potential opportunities, explore partnerships, and share resources for projects that can improve services and outcomes for both First Nations and municipalities. My presentation will explore those potentials and provide examples of local and global successes. Continue reading

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