By KENDALL KING on April 14, 2023.
The City of Medicine Hat is partnering in a new initiative which aims to support creation of new neighbourhood associations and thus, enhance community connection.
Earlier this year, the city’s Community Vibrancy Advisory Board voiced support for the creation of new neighbourhood associations to represent and service the various, unique neighbourhoods within Medicine Hat, declaring the item a priority.
Shortly thereafter, city staff began working with a handful of community partners to determine how best to support and encourage the creation of such.
Shantel Ottenbreit, community resource worker within the department of Community Development, said the city and its partners ultimately decided to focus their efforts on simplifying the creation process through information sharing, community engagement and mentorship opportunities.
“We’re letting people know that if they’re interested in starting a neighbourhood association, that we have some information which can help … and we can offer some support,” Ottenbreit told the News.
A digital information guide is now available on the city’s website, and Ottenbreit says more is set to come.
While the city and its partners are leading the initiative, they will have no role in the management of future associations, but rather will be led by residents, with the term ‘residents’ including individuals, businesses, public institutions or clubs and organizations.
As well, initiative partners are leaving community members to determine the boundaries which constitute their neighbourhood, as some are quite expansive and may require two distinct associations so to not overextend resources.
Ottenbreit acknowledges it could take time for new neighbourhood associations to reach fruition, but hopes they will for the benefits they would provide community members.
“When people are investing back into the space where they live, and also getting to their neighbours, we find that there’s a lot of community pride that happens,” said Ottenbreit. “What we see is that people feel safer in their neighbourhoods because they know others they can reach out to; there’s more volunteerism that happens and people look out for one another.
“Sometimes we see a reduction in crime; sometimes (residents gain) an ability to identify any issues that might be happening in their community and come together for some solution and problem solving … So it really builds those community connections.”
Jennifer Mah with Medicine Hat’s Local Immigration Partnership – one of the organizations involved in the initiative – believes Hatters also recognize the importance neighbourhoods play in fostering a sense of community.
“We did a public survey (in April of 2022) in which we asked, ‘Which (setting) would you be the most interested in to interact with immigrants and people new to town?'” said Mah. “We thought that people would want to interact through sports or recreation activities, or whatever, so we were kind of shocked that, actually, by far, it was through neighbourhood activities.”
While the city has, in past, had several neighbourhood associations, including a long-running one in the North Flats which fell victim to a loss of provincial funding, the only one that remains in operation is that of the South East Hill, which is also lending hand to the new initiative.