Community and cultural vision: diversity and quality of life

By Craig Curtis

Economist Richard Florida continues to have a significant impact on municipal planning and development across North America.

His book The Rise of the Creature Class argues that a community’s creative or cultural ‘index’ is an important consideration for the location of business and economic development in general.

The City’s 2008/2011 Strategic Plan highlights the importance of our cultural facilities as key elements in defining our distinctive character and quality of life.

The City has a strong history of being at the forefront of cultural policy and planning.

The first cultural policy was completed in 1989 and cultural groups came together to sign a declaration for cooperation and mutual support.

The federal government designated Red Deer as a ‘Cultural Capital of Canada’ in 2003.

In 2007 extensive community dialogue was undertaken to build upon and update the Cultural Master Plan and a new vision was established.

This plan entitled ‘Red Deer Community Cultural Vision and Outline for Action’ was approved by Council in 2009.

The cultural vision is an overarching document for community planning and takes a very broad view of culture which relates to the formal and informal interactions of many forms of cultural expression. In short, it supports the concept that culture is an essential component of a city’s ‘quality of life’ which in turn gives the city a competitive edge.

The recommendations in the Cultural Vision are grouped around five themes: diversity, green space, agora space, built space and activities.

Research indicates that the most vibrant and growing communities are those that value visible and invisible minorities, have a multicultural perspective and are open and welcoming to both newcomers and visitors.

The diversity of Red Deer’s population has increased significantly over the last 20 years and many new initiatives have been undertaken to serve the changing needs.

The City has supported multicultural programming in a variety of ways as well as becoming a member of the Coalition of Municipalities Against Racial Discrimination (CMARD).

Interpreters are available to communicate with residents with language barriers. This is especially important for police and emergency services.

Planning has also adjusted to respond to specific cultural needs such as the modification of the design of Alto Reste Cemetery.

Green space, agora space and built space relate to the spaces that we visit and how we interact within them.

The extensive Waskasoo Park system and trail network gives Red Deer a unique natural setting along the river valley and creek system. The trail system links the parks together and extends into our residential neighbourhoods.

Open spaces, parks and trails are often listed as Red Deer’s greatest asset.

Agora spaces are defined as places where people come together and interact both formally and informally. The Greater Downtown Action Plan (GDAP) has been the catalyst for creating a number of new well-used agora spaces in the downtown including Veteran’s Park, the Ross Street Patio and the new pedestrian spaces along Little Gaetz used for the weekly Downtown Market.

A new public square is also proposed along the river at the heart of the new Riverlands development. The City also developed a new stage at Bower Ponds which is used for a variety of events including summer concerts as well as the annual Canada Day celebrations.

As far as cultural built spaces are concerned, the City has made a number of major advances since the adoption of the plan.

These relate primarily to projects which are being developed as part of the City’s Centennial celebrations. The Museum and Art Gallery (MAG) building was remodeled and upgraded in 2011.

An outstanding new permanent exhibit entitled ‘Remarkable Red Deer’ has recently opened which will become a major attraction for residents and visitors.

Planning is also underway to upgrade the exhibits at Fort Normandeau and the Kerry Wood Nature Centre as part of the Waskasoo Park Interpretive Master Plan.

The City has well-established partnerships with the Red Deer College and the Westerner.

This year, centennial funding was granted to assist in the expansion of the Centrium to host larger sports and cultural events.

The City also made a financial contribution towards upgrading the Arts Centre and Library at the College as well as the Donald School of Business in the downtown.

Heritage buildings are recognized as an important component of our built environment.

In June the City will unveil new interpretive signage and new walking tours of the historic downtown area.

These will focus on the unique heritage buildings such as the CPR Station and the court house as well as the unique ‘ghost’ sculptures which populate the area.

On the programming side, the City primarily plays a facilitation role in support of the cultural groups in the City.

Funding for the fee for service program has recently been increased, and ongoing funding for special events and programs has been established.

This year the City will host the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Distinguished Artist Awards Gala in June, which is preceded by a weeklong community celebration of arts and heritage.

The ‘Best Summer Ever’ program will also include concerts at the Ross Street Patio in the downtown and on the stage at Bower Ponds.

As Red Deer nears the midpoint of its Centennial year there are numerous cultural events happening throughout the community.

Step by step the Community Cultural Vision is becoming a reality.

Craig Curtis is Red Deer’s City manager.

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