I spent an intense few days in Fort McMurray last week participating in “Nexus Week” amongst other things. I got a real sense that there is a new reality for Fort McMurray that is emerging. The region is showing signs of positive progress towards achieving the aspirational and transformational goal of becoming “a global model for sustainable living in the North.”
I heard focused conversations on culture, community resiliency, sustainability and mobility issues. I saw engaged people looking at what is currently happening and what could be and should be happening to make that aspiration of the citizens, and denizens, of Fort McMurray a living reality. I heard a much more encompassing conversation about the needs of people in the entire region too.
I heard about empowerment, engagement and co-creation of approaches that will add to the region’s quality of life and livability all in the context of a kind of 21st century pioneering. I saw a Strategic Road Map used effectively because it was developed collaboratively by community stakeholders focused on creating a responsive and resilient sustainable community.
I sat in stakeholder meetings that talked about incubating ideas and accelerating the growth local businesses. I heard about plans to do a study of resident’s impressions of community well-being based on the Canadian Index of Well-Being that would dare to compare life in Fort McMurray and region to other places in Canada. I saw plans developed on how to tell the world about the amazing Zero Waste project that uses gasification of municipal solid waste to generate electricity. Then I heard more about how to capture the heat and CO2 created bu the gasification and use it in aquaponic greenhouses in shipping containers to grow local food…year round.
I heard of the start up of a Collective Impact initiative called FuseSocial that will operate as a backbone organization to help the social profit sector meet the social and community service needs in the region. I was even told that the number of dry cleaning businesses had recently double. There are two dry cleaners now, so some challenges still exist (sic).
There are hopeful signs that outside media is finally starting to see beyond the old demeaning and distorted boom town stereotypes of the past. Robin Tress writes in the Toronto Star, saying ” This town is full of surprises. The urban legend of Fort McMurray as a wasteland of oil-rich people speeding down highways while high on drugs turns out to be a small part of what this town actually is. What makes a much stronger impression is the burgeoning arts scene.”
The Vancouver Sun adds to the enlightenment with a story of a study done by a Simon Fraser University Criminologist saying “Oilsands Capital of Fort McMurray not crime-ridden.” He notes, …while crime is decreasing across Canada, it’s falling faster in Fort McMurray…figures show the amount of all Criminal Code violations fell by 47 per cent between 2003-2012 in Fort McMurray. The Canadian average was 28 per cent.Violent crime in Fort McMurray dropped 44 per cent over that time…while falling 17 per cent in the rest of the country.
Housing prices are still ridiculous in Fort McMurray and traffic is still problem but it is getting better with the new bridge capacity across the Athabasca river. Highway 63 twinning is far from finished but the work is on-going. With recent land releases from the Province of Alberta and collaborative efforts at regional transportation planning happening maybe one day these barriers and frustrations of living in Fort McMurray and environs will go away too.
As the development of the oil sands moves forward to include more workers in maintenance and operations, and we see new professionals and technicians in reclamation and remediation services Alberta needs to be sure the regional infrastructure for health, education, culture, recreation, housing and retail is ready for new families and a different kind of community-based resident labour force. It will be very different from the fly-in and fly-out that dominates the construction model of today.
I love Fort McMurray and admire the communities throughout the region. As an Albertan I want to be proud of the oil sands. I expect my resource to be developed in a comprehensive and integrated in a responsible and sustainable way. That means it has to contribute to prosperity, now and well into the future for generations yet to come. It has to be a continual improving and cutting edge model that applies the best of environmental stewardship on land, air water and habitat. It must also serve a greater-good social purpose that is grounded on the principle of the well-being of people.
The achievement of that triple-bottom-line approach to the development of our oil sands resource is the table stakes of the oil sands industry I would entrust with development. This approach is a must, especially for those Alberta-based supply chain enterprises that must show the way towards a triple-bottom-line enhancement of responsible and sustainable resource development. As Alberta companies, they have the most to gain and the biggest obligation to set an example for the world to see how this can be done right. They are the best able to assure the rest of Albertan that we have a reason to be proud of the oil sands, along with them and through them.
The boom town is not yet enough of a home town….but it’s coming!