Book Review: Edmonton’s Urban Villages

Through my volunteering at the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues, I obtained a copy of a book that talks about the concept of community leagues and its impact in Edmonton, named Edmonton’s Urban Villages, written by Ron Kuban. This is a review of the book.

A Comprehensive and Digestible Overview of this City’s History

A city that existed for over a hundred years has a fairly lengthy history, one that would have pretty decent documentation as well. It is safe to say that the volume of information can be overwhelming, particularly for someone like myself who doesn’t describe themselves as a ‘history buff’. What I appreciate about this book is in its pages, combined with narrations, photos obtained from archives of the organization and from the city, the book is a neatly organized overview of the city’s history that is easy to read.

I have heard about how the city evolved, how it expanded and merged with neighbouring towns, how roadways are planned and utilities are managed, how recessions and wars impacted the economy and day-to-day living. Though other events or forms of media, I learned about the different social, political and economic eras that our city had, and I appreciated how it was presented in the book.

Community Leagues and EFCL had been an incubator of many initiatives that flourished into independent organizations. When I encounter city-wide organizations that focus on a particular activity, like soccer or hockey, I am now more likely to probe on whether this is something that the community league movement had initiated on a neighbourhood level.

Familiar Names and Places Given Deeper Context and Appreciation

People whose names I see in street signs, news articles, historical videos and hall of fame galleries popped up numerous times in all the book’s pages, which for me is quite delightful. As I personally never had a formal class about Edmonton’s history, opportunities like this book, which is a light read, is a chance to understand who, when and what happened at certain times. Some of the names in the book were individuals I have met in person recently, and it’s incredible to witness what they have accomplished in decades past, that is impactful enough to be documented in such a fashion.

From war veterans to business owners, from politicians to women to broke the glass ceiling in their own right, witnessing how they did their part to make an impact at a local level (the neighbourhood level) is valuable in knowing why our city works the way it is now. The events were not always pleasant, and even the people were far from perfect. The chapters talked about differing views, burnout, conflict, and missed opportunities to work together, but there seems to always be a positive turn of events afterwards.

Motivation for Greater Involvement in the Community

My community involvement has a slightly selfish goal, to address my level of disconnectedness from not being born-and-raised here. At the same time, I feel deep meaning in making a contribution of my time and energy to the community at large. My personal involvement with community leagues is fairly recent, just when we moved to our house about five years ago. Learning about the concept of community leagues, an idea that originated in the US that had a Canadian and Edmonton-based modifications to it is quite remarkable.

I understand and appreciate better the idea that there are different levels of involvement: from the volunteer who comes at events to help set up and take down the furniture at the hall, the volunteer who tracks the mail for the organization and pays the utilities, the one who helps with fundraising and financial grant applications, the big-picture people who helps with decisions and bylaws, and more. The book repeatedly talked about the “unnamed volunteers”, thousands of them, that are the real heroes of this movement. I hope to do the same in my own way.

100th Anniversary of the Featured Organization

2021 is a significant year, as it is the 100th anniversary of the organization featured in the book, the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues. There has been some projects that are in progress to memorialize this milestone. Discovering this book could not have come at a better time. An update of this book as it written in 2005, is a great idea for sure, since the past 15 years had made a lot of changes in Edmonton and how people and communities function.

How Romance and Community Service Intertwine

By: Giselle General

My significant other is born-and-raised in this city we call home. He hasn’t experienced living anywhere else, not counting the times he had to go out of town for work, his travels, or when he came with me to visit and tour the Philippines. Staying in those places are temporary and that was very clear, and at the end of that short timeframe, it will lead to going home again to Edmonton.

While in my case, I grew up in a small mining village in the Philippines, and even continued to live there after my parents and sister passed away. It was unexpected circumstances that prompted me to move to the nearby city to finish high school, and then I was told I’m moving to another part of the world. When I came to Canada, I thought that I will be able to build relationships and set roots in St. Catharines, Ontario, when an abrupt move to Edmonton changed things again.

We had conversations about our future. and it is established that we will be in Edmonton for the rest of our lives. This is not something I wasn’t “over the moon” about exactly, but I’m not actively opposed to it either. It is a good city to live in, with decent opportunities and ways to have an enjoyable life, and I get the benefit of being with people who have lived here for much longer than me. I know that for some couples, location and mobility are key factors in their relationship, and I’m more than happy to be swayed by his desire to build roots here, or in his case, keep and grow the ones he already had.

I guess it is good to do things from a place of love. Because I associate my spouse as being part of this city, I feel more inclined to actively love and care for this place as well.

I told him, if we are going to live here forever, might as well do something to make improvements or keep the good things as they are. In my younger years, getting involved in clubs is something I always enjoy. It is pretty rewarding to be part of a group, with a positive and productive goal, even if it sucks up part of one’s spare time. Turns out, finding ways to do community service here is very easy, given that there are lots of choices. In fact, it can be too easy to get overwhelmed!

That is what inspired me to volunteer for the community league. It is pretty neat that there is a formal organization, that has a structure, funding mechanisms and established processes, for people whose affiliation is just one thing: that they live near each other and want to do good things for their neighbours. It has been three years since I started volunteering, and my spouse and I have a specific tasks that we diligently fulfill.

That is what motivated me to find my happy medium of getting involved in my cultural community, and with the city at large. He knew that writing and journalism is an interest of mine, and he cheered me on when I started writing columns for a provincial cultural newspaper for the Filipino community. He has even helped me with topics or phrasing, when the annoying ‘Writer’s Block’ hits me at unexpected times.

Being conscious of how your significant other navigates your city can encourage you to speak out in ways you haven’t anticipated before. For example, my spouse was very concerned about the changes in the transit system because of how it will affect me, as someone who does not drive. While a typical person who drives might not care as much, he was inspired to answer the online surveys, come with me to the in-person engagement sessions, and half-jokingly asks me whether we should sell the house so I get the same frequent bus access that I currently have.

The River Valley System of Edmonton is a huge part of our relationship. A few of our first dates consisted of walking through these beautiful natural trails. A longer hike is an annual tradition for us. Naturally, when we discovered that there is a formal organization that focuses on preservation of the River Valley, I considered participating. Oh, if only I have more hours in the day! Or maybe, there will be an opportunity or schedule when this will work better in the future. For now, when we are wanting a more casual date, we’ll continue to use this network of trails and doing our best to be responsible users of this incredible natural resource. We are subscribed to the newsletter of this conservation society, and we try to keep up to date on relevant news and research.

I guess it is good to do things from a place of love. Because I associate my spouse as being part of this city, I feel more inclined to actively love and care for this place as well. I hope that more people feel the same way about where they are living right now.