Lindork’s Lists – Q&A #26: Stephen Raitz
Note: this is the public version of my email newsletter Q&A that gets sent to paid subscriber inboxes first every other Sunday. You can get these Q&As in your inbox first by becoming a paid subscriber.
Originally published to newsletter subscribers on Mar 27, 2022
The twenty-sixth person I’m profiling in my newsletter subscriber Q&A series is:
Chair of Paths for People: Stephen Raitz
Getting to know Stephen Raitz:
Stephen Raitz is a Registered Professional Planner who has worked as an urban and regional planner and is currently studying to be a lawyer. He is also the current Chair of Paths for People, an advocacy group working to make Edmonton a friendlier place to walk, roll and cycle.
I had the pleasure of working with Stephen last summer when I partnered with the Old Strathcona Business Association and Paths for People to host scooter versions of my Instagrammable Wall + Food Crawls.
I rely very heavily on my vehicle as my main mode of transportation, and frankly my work + play are not conducive to only walking or cycling based on the current infrastructure of Edmonton and surrounding area. But I think the work that Stephen and Paths for People are doing is so important—and that notion of building multi-modal cities with active transportation where people don’t need to rely on vehicles to get around, will create a better city for all.
Let’s Dive Into the Q&A with Stephen Raitz:
Can you describe the work you do for Paths for People, how long you have been doing it, and what Paths for People is for those who don’t know?
Paths for People is a non-profit in Edmonton that is focused on building safer, more liveable streets in our communities!
As Chair, I lead our volunteer board in producing programming and running advocacy campaigns focused on making Edmonton a safe and fun place to walk, roll, and bike.
I get to connect with our membership of 1500 Edmontonians across the City and amplify their ideas and aspirations! It’s a lot of fun! I’ve been on the board since 2018 and have been chair since mid 2020.
Can you talk about some of Paths for Peoples’ different initiatives and the impact these projects have on the city like the 15 min city challenge, GPS draw challenge, A Taste of Open Streets, even partnering with me and the Old Strathcona Business Association to put on scooter tours!
Paths for People places a big focus on encouraging Edmontonians to see our city a little differently. It’s no secret, we currently live in a very car-centric city. Fun experiential challenges like our 15 Min City Challenge or GPS Draw Challenge were great ways for Edmontonians to get out and be active so that they could experience their city safely during COVID, while learning a bit about transportation systems and urban planning. Open Street Festivals and Scooter Tours are fun ways to meet your neighbours and explore vibrant parts of our City.
These initiatives are all about connecting Edmontonians with their city and their neighbours to show them that their transportation system can look different. More space for people on our roads means more vibrant main streets and safer active commutes.
Can you talk about the municipal election surveys Paths for People did and why that —and other advocacy efforts—was important to do?
A large part of our work is advocating that we actually build that better city to the City. Lots of people feel detached from politics and the government because they feel like their perspective doesn’t matter. But, focusing on municipal issues, it’s really possible to push and actualize change. We’re not always going to get everything we want. But, it’s possible to make your community safer by adding a crosswalk. Building a Vision Zero Street Lab with your neighbour.
We got pretty involved with this last election by reaching out to all candidates and informing our members of the ideas candidates were running on. We’re feeling pretty hopeful about the next four years. There is diversity of perspective, background, and expertise on Council, which I think is a good thing. Less old white guys, woohoo!!! Not that there’s a problem with some old white guys, but they just shouldn’t make up like 1/2 of our council if our city is not ½ old white guys.
We’ll have many difficult conversations regarding the upcoming 4-year municipal budget, but we’re excited to push for prioritizing building a more climate-resilient, sustainable city with safer, more liveable streets with our infrastructure investments. It’s what we deserve.
Can you share about what it’s like to be an urban planner? What does that entail for someone who doesn’t know? What might a day to day look like? What does “success” for an urban planner look like?
I did my BA in Urban Planning at the U of A and graduated in 2019! Over my degree and after it I got to work as an Urban Planner in several different settings. I usually summarize the job description as one where you’re working on policy writing and land development. It’s a lot more exciting than that though.
There’s a huge focus on community engagement. When you’re building a city, it impacts the people already living there. They have a wealth of knowledge regarding how their communities work. This information can help shape the decisions we make regarding policies, bylaws, and development applications. If we help citizens understand what’s going on and we listen to what they have to say, we can safeguard what we love about our communities and improve what we find lacking as we grow and change. To me, that community engagement aspect is where we can find success.
Finding a way to build the community for people, in a way that the people understand and want to help contribute to. Ultimately, cities are for people.
Urban planners should be advocates for their communities, taking their expertise in city-building and harmonizing it with community perspectives and aspirations.
Can you articulate why you do what you do? Why do you want to advocate for an Edmonton that is a friendlier place to walk, roll and cycle?
It’s very fundamental. Every trip starts with a walk or a roll. If you find a way to make it easier and more fun to walk or roll, you literally improve everyone’s day. Having grown up in Leduc, I very much felt like transportation freedom meant getting your driver’s license. Walking was something you did before you were 16. Driving was something you did after you were 16.
After studying transportation planning at the U of A, I learned that it shouldn’t be that way. When we build everything around the car, we force everyone to spend thousands on their own personal vehicle and we leave a lot of people out who have more limited mobility.
Finding ways to make walking, rolling and cycling easier and more fun in Edmonton is, in some ways, really easy because there are SO MANY ways we can improve! There’s nowhere to go but up.
Haha, yikes. But honestly, there’s a great community of advocates in Edmonton who are positive and solutions-oriented. It’s great to work with them and I’m excited to see where we go.
My understanding is you’re now studying to be a lawyer—would you like to share about that decision? What kind of law did you want to practice? Would it be tied in to the work you’ve done in urban planning or advocacy a round more walkable, rollable cities?
Yes, I’ve just completed my first semester of Law School! When I graduated, I knew I was interested in going back to school.
My interest in law was sort of initiated in 2018 around the 20th anniversary of the Vriend Decision, which was a landmark decision for LGBTQ rights in Canada. As a gay man, I hadn’t realize how much that decision had positively shaped my life by reducing the discrimination that 2SLGBTQ+ people may face. The Law is a really friggin’ powerful tool that can be used for good.
Through working as a planner, I definitely became really interested in the intersection between community development and the law. It’s certainly a niche area, but I’d love to become an expert in it to positively shape community building in Alberta.
There’s a legal aspect to questions like—what does housing look like, who gets to live in our neighbourhoods, what kinds of transportation options are available? I’m hoping that through wearing two hats (that of a planner and of a lawyer), I can work with others to positively shape the future of our communities!
Can you share a memorable moment or ‘successes’ in your urban planning experience?
Seeing the City Plan get passed was really powerful. For those who don’t know, the City Plan is our main transportation and land use planning document for Edmonton. It provides the recipe for how we grow and change. I got engaged throughout the process and spoke in favour of it when it went to Public Hearing. It’s a strong plan that will help our communities become more liveable and vibrant.
I am really excited to see it implemented, we should all be excited about it. It’ll mean that our communities are places with adequate housing for everyone, where everything you need is only a 15 minute walk, roll, bike, or bus ride away. It’s also a city that will be less expensive to operate and renew over the long term, which is really important to me because I’m super cheap. It’ll be important for the council to use City Plan as their North Star when making decisions. Many councillors are already talking about how this should impact our budgeting decision. These will be tough decisions to make, but they’ll be worthwhile in the long term.
Can you share a challenging moment, obstacles or failure in your urban planning experience—and what you may have learned from it?
The big challenge once you become experienced and well-versed in some type of knowledge or work is trying to explain the complicated nature of your work to everyday people. Once you learn something, it’s tough to unlearn it in a way. I’ve done this a ton where I’ve been trying to explain some concept to normal people and have completely missed the point of what we are talking about.
Perfect example of this was one time I was chatting with a resident about a small bridge for people walking or rolling that was in serious need of some maintenance. The resident was asking what we could do to fix this. I went down this rabbit hole, explaining all the high level plans and policies we had that would encourage us to do this kind of work. I talked at length and some of the long term initiatives we had that aligned with this work. At the end of my soliloquy, the resident simply said, “that’s great, but how can we actually fix this.” It’s important for planners to be able to connect their work on long-term change with the shorter term issues and opportunities residents experience!
Can you share advice for others who might be interested in getting into urban planning—or what any resident can do to build better cities like you do?
WE. ARE. ALL. A. PART. OF. BUILDING. OUR. COMMUNITY.
We all need to realize this. How we all use the city streets and sidewalks in certain ways. We have opportunities to demand that we have better roads and public spaces. We just need to act on it. Attending an engagement event, writing an email to your councillor, or chatting with your neighbours is a great way to do this work.
A lot of the time, people first getting involved in urban planning are unhappy with something. Maybe it’s too much density in a potential development, poor transit service, or the closure of a recreation facility. My key recommendations are; stay positive and find solutions.
City-building is a team sport and there are many different players involved. Collaborating with someone who is anti-everything is difficult. Try to be for something, and push for better. Keeping upbeat makes you fun to work with and attracts more positive people.
Can you tell me about your hobbies! What do you for fun?
Most people loath both of these hobbies, but I love to run and I love to perform improv theatre. Running has always been such a great way to explore Edmonton. I’ve been running consistently since grade 6, so I’m over the hump of stressing about running and can just turn off my brain and chill. I perform improv as a cast member at Rapid Fire Theatre. I still find speaking in front of a crowd nerve-wracking, but improv is such a safe way to exercise that public-speaking muscle. You’re constantly supported by your fellow players and there is just so much joy that can be provided by putting on a show.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work professionally, personally, or anything that I’ve missed that you’d like mentioned as part of this profile on you?
I am pretty avid on most social media platforms. But, recently I’ve found some success with posting funny stories and jokes on Tik Tok. You can find me there at @lilbabysneakybitxh. I definitely feel like it’s my alter ego. It’s a very fun platform to work with and there’s incredible communities on the app that congregate over many different interests.
Wrapping up our Q&A:
What show would you recommend people watch on Netflix?
I am not a huge TV person! My classic go-to recommendation is Mantracker (basically it’s like a giant game of tag in the wilderness and the guy who is it is this CLASSIC Canadian Cowboy).
The show hasn’t been on since I was a kid, but I just love it so much and wish more people could watch it because it’s a great way to see how impressively wild and remote most of Canada is.
Is there a book or podcast you recently read (or doesn’t have to be recent) that you would recommend to others and why?
If you live in Alberta, your podcast should be Real Talk with Ryan Jespersen. That is my go-to podcast to stay on top of current events.
As for books, I am reading a lot of law textbooks. I find them interesting, but I really think it’s an acquired taste.
What is one of your favourite local restaurants or stores you’d recommend?
I’m a big fan of OTTO Food and Drink on 95 St. They have great beer and sausage. I love, love, LOVE beer. And I love sausage too. They also kind of have a bike vibe going. So, it’s a match made in heaven.
What’s something about Alberta you love or recommend others check out?
In my opinion, everyone should have the opportunity to go to someone’s lake lot for the weekend in the summer. There is nothing quite like living it up at a Summer Village on Pigeon Lake or something like that. It is a widely accepted fact that most lakes in Alberta are gross. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun at the lake. There’s this saying, “Country Boys Make Do.” I think being Albertan means we make do with what we have, so we should have an uproariously good time at a lake that may have questionable water quality.
My family has never owned a lake lot, but I’ve been very privileged to have had family friends and buddies extend the invite out to their cabins at classic central Alberta lakes like Pigeon, Wizard, Gull, or Sylvan Lake.
If you own a Lake Lot, SHARE THE EXPERIENCE WITH SOMEONE WHO HASN’T GOTTEN THE CHANCE YET. If you haven’t been at a lake lot, ASK AROUND. It is truly a classic central Albertan thing to do!
Thanks Stephen, for sharing your story!
You can connect with Stephen and Paths for People on:
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