Where council chambers is more than a meeting room.
By Don Iveson | May 1, 2011
Admittedly, back when our new City Hall was being completed in 1992, I didn’t really get the design. It was unlike anything else in a city not known for having a sense of architectural adventure. It seemed odd, and so it was.
I’ve since discovered a deep love for the place where I work. The building, of course, is a fascinating postmodern expression. It is awash with light when the sun is up, and the glass casts a colourful glow when it’s dark out. The atrium also functions as an indoor town square. It’s used for everything from Chinese New Year celebrations to Remembrance Day ceremonies.
My favourite part of the building, though, is council chambers. Council sits in a horseshoe formation at one end in a non-partisan, non-adversarial arrangement. Sitting across and down one step from council is City staff. This difference in height subtly indicates who works for whom. Appropriately, the public gallery rises above both the elected and non-elected public servants. (The press sits at the top, and you can read into that whatever you want.)
I developed a sense of awe for this room and what it stood for before I had decided to run for one of those seats. I was a community league volunteer, advocating to council at a public hearing where my neighbours and I were able to present our case – and we were heard! It is often said that municipal government is the one closest to the people and most transparent, and I think that’s true.
Two days after my election in 2007, I arrived to claim my keys and access cards. My first stop, before even seeing my new office, was the chambers. I entered through the back way. The lights were down and it was solemnly quiet. I took a few moments to reflect on the history of leadership and tough decision-making in our city’s past, and the humbling enormity of my new responsibilities. It was a meditation of sorts, a ritual I repeat from time to time.
Some days it’s just a meeting room. But, on some special occasions, when I really stop to think about it, the seat of democratic governance in Edmonton is a very special place.
Don Iveson is the Councillor for Edmonton’s Ward 10, the area around the University of Alberta’s south campus, Southgate and Century Park.