Cleaner, greener, safer, faster, cheaper. This is the mantra that the city of Edmonton has embraced as it encourages individuals and organisations to be part of its innovation and economic diversity.
Alberta's capital city has proven that for an ambitious and fast-growing region of about 1.2 million people, sustainable development is not only possible, it is a must - and the numbers show why.
Last year, Edmonton's economy outpaced Canada's average, and every other city in North America, with a gross domestic product that grew by 4.3 per cent from C$78.3 billion (HK$550.5 billion) to C$81.7 billion. Local workers earned an average annual salary of C$50,000 to C$60,000, and employment growth meant that one in every 10 jobs created in Canada were based in the Edmonton region.
Much of the city's growth can be attributed to new jobs created across various sectors, led by energy, manufacturing, logistics, construction and professional services.
This year, as Edmonton celebrates its 110th anniversary, it is poised to reach new milestones. With economic growth projected to be just under 4 per cent, the city's continued economic momentum means it will again be Canada's growth leader.
"The numbers are phenomenal and the efforts behind them are awe-inspiring, but the city is nowhere near stopping from moving forward - faster and with even more hard work. Edmonton's vision is to become an international city of the future, where there is a balance between a flourishing economy and high-quality environmental, health and living conditions," says Gary Klassen, Edmonton's general manager of sustainable development. "We benefit from the energy industry and the opportunities it provides, but we also value environmental consciousness and quality of life. We believe the key to success is moving forward in a responsible way."
The way ahead
In a 30-year strategic plan called "The Way Ahead", Edmonton's sustainable future is based upon its strong economic base as an "energy city" - a vision that extends well into the city's future. But that's not the whole story.
Edmonton is a city of art, ideas and culture, with origins across the world becoming part of a strong multicultural mosaic. It is also a city of innovation and learning, home to one of Canada's largest and most successful post-secondary research communities.
Edmonton plans to build on the energy and innovation of its citizens with plans for smart infrastructure, accessible urban transportation systems, and increasing use of green energy to power a growing city.
"When we talk about sustainable development, we look across the board - from the environmental agenda to the economic development side," Klassen says. "Edmonton is one of North America's green leaders and sustainability is important to our citizens, but we are also economic leaders and experienced at developing both in tandem. Sustainable development needs to blend success on the economic front with success on the environmental front, the social front and the services front in a well-designed and well-built city."
All of these principles come together with the city's new Blatchford development, a mixed-use urban community being built on prime central land, just minutes away from downtown Edmonton. The city's ambitious 30-year vision will take shape in this signature community - one that is walkable and transit-oriented, and designed to be near zero impact in terms of an environmental footprint. With room for potentially more than 20,000 new residents and for commercial opportunities, Blatchford will offer a rich array of opportunities to modern urban dwellers by combining residential, commercial and retail spaces.
"Blatchford represents Edmonton's vision in the way that it aims to provide residents a great environment to live in with all the support services - from grocery stores to great places to eat - that all come together in a responsible, dynamic and exciting way," Klassen says. "These are the kinds of vitality that we hope to bring more of to our city."
Another upcoming attraction to residents, tourists and emigrants is the new downtown Arena and Entertainment District, which is slated for groundbreaking in the spring.
The new Rogers Place will be an integral part of Edmonton's broader downtown revitalisation programme. Designed to accommodate 20,500 people, it will host various events including Edmonton Oilers hockey games. Targeted for completion by 2016, the building will be one of only two other National Hockey League arenas to receive a Silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, for a striking oil-drop design honouring the hockey team, which the building will host, and the city's overall close ties to the oil and gas industry.
Selling Edmonton's opportunities to the world
At the forefront of Edmonton's economic growth strategy is the not-for-profit organisation Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) - a key partner to the city responsible for keeping it aligned with its economic objectives.
Apart from helping with industry growth and diversification, it also boosts the city's image in target markets to stimulate entrepreneurism and innovation led by Edmonton's mayor, Don Iveson, and the city council.
"We are a very driven, entrepreneurial community, which offers support and resources for businesses in the city," Klassen says. "Our goal is to build a sustainable community with a long-term view and sustainable innovation, which can also be marketed to other parts of the world."
Taking a step further to promote sustainable development, the city has begun to market its world leadership in municipal waste management. Edmonton will be the first city in North America to reach a zero-waste milestone without burning waste. The city has increasingly used its world-leading expertise as an opportunity to promote advanced urban sustainability, with potential projects under development in Eastern Europe and Asia.
This commercialisation programme is led by the city-owned Waste RE-solutions Edmonton, which uses the city's waste-management expertise to underline these efforts. "Our waste-management programme is applicable in various cities, and we take great pride in being able to adapt it into different contexts building both local effectiveness and community support along the way," Klassen says.
Edmonton also creates other initiatives that benefit businesses in Edmonton and overseas. One of Edmonton's more recent initiatives in China involved bringing a delegation of five sector-specific companies looking to learn how Chinese systems such as banking and law work. Apart from helping them enhance their export readiness, face-to-face interactions also enable Edmonton firms to meet directly with Chinese suppliers and clients for potential business.
"Whether the communities are in Asia or other parts of the world, we always find that there are learnings that can be important to us and to a community seeking success," Klassen says. "Be it for exchange of information or exchange of investment opportunities, Edmonton looks forward to collaborating with partners worldwide as we move forward."
City of Edmonton / Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC)