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Back in the 1980s, there was a lonely stretch of green space in Hazeldean. Originally home to some of the city’s many railway tracks, and later the site of a planned multi-family development, some well-timed community resistance made sure the open land was preserved — not officially designated parkland but not really used for anything else, either.

That’s where Donna Gannon came in. “What I’m about to tell you is a textbook example of how public engagement can work,” she says.

About a decade ago, the City decided the Hazeldean green space would be a good fit for its system of high-speed commuting trails for cyclists. Donna and a group of her fellow community members agreed, but they wanted a say in how the track was laid. So Donna, a long-time arts administrator with the City and at Grant MacEwan, offered to run a public engagement session where community members imagined how the site would look if all of their ideas and concerns were addressed. “We felt hugely respected by the transportation department,” she says, “and more than a little surprised that they put the trail where we envisioned it.”

Looking back, she considers the process a near-total success. And since the development of the cycle track, Donna and her greenway committee have only kept going, raising funds to install a gazebo, as well as a sculpture that pays tribute to the site’s original use as a rail line.

Donna encourages all community members to make sure their voices are heard, so that they, too, can change their surroundings for the better. “Everyone has unique ideas about how the city they live in can be transformed into a more nurturing and joyful place,” she says. “But if you don’t give the unique gift you have, then it isn’t there. It isn’t folded into how the city develops.”

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