Why He’s a Top 40: For proving you can change city hall – with lots of persistence, patience and non-partisan bridge-building
Maybe it’s because Don Iveson is a Star Trek fan. Maybe it’s from his early taste of influencing bureaucracies as advocacy director with the University of Alberta Students’ Union and managing editor of the university’s Gateway newspaper. But the energetic Iveson chose to boldly go where most Gen-Xers would really rather not – into the often mundane marshlands of municipal politics.
He’s now two years into a position that began as a somewhat joking challenge from friends to run for city councillor to ensure city council approved a Universal Transit Pass for university students. When Iveson tidily won the second Ward 5 seat over incumbent Mike Nickel in 2007, he also took on the expectation-laden mantle of being Edmonton’s youngest councillor.
Some may feel disappointed that this newbie hasn’t radically transformed city hall (yet) but Iveson went in with more realistic expectations. He’s not about hype and 15-seconds-of-fame flash. Instead, he knew from experience that the wheels of the democratic process can turn slowly, and he’s pleased with what he has achieved so far. “When you rush important change, you often get it wrong,” he says. “I value the process – dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, making sure everyone is heard for a reasonable, instead of a rash, decision.”
After listening to Iveson describe the satisfaction of “pure civic duty” – little victories like helping a neighbourhood reconfigure a crosswalk for safety – one needs to connect the thoughtful, measured voice with his handsome, six-foot-four-inch athletic frame to remember he has just turned 30. Wise beyond his years, he understands the long haul, notably council’s recent labours in forging a new municipal plan, the impact of which probably won’t be realized for decades. He wishes parts were bolder, but he’s proud that “the plan has my fingerprints on it, as part of a very collaborative process. I believe the city is moving toward its phenomenal potential of being an even better place than it already is.”
Making Edmonton a better place is the goal of Iveson’s environmental portfolio, by first concentrating on making the city a greener place. While sticking to his principles, he’s also doing what he calls the “bridge-building” necessary for consensus with other councillors. A more liveable but more urban Edmonton, with better LRT route-planning, less reliance on cars and more on human-powered transportation within an infrastructure that encourages mobility, fewer greenhouse gases, including city hall’s – that’s the time-consuming, behind-the-scenes work Iveson is committed to.
Young enough to push for significant change, he’s also mature enough not to expect instant gratification.