Kuban, Ron: Edmonton's Urban Villages: The Community League Movement.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Lightbody, James
Pub Date: 01/01/2006
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2006 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Wntr, 2006 Source Volume: 15 Source Issue: 2
Topic: NamedWork: Edmonton's Urban Villages: The Community League Movement (Book)
Persons: Reviewee: Kuban, Ron
Accession Number: 167253624
Full Text: Kuban, Ron Edmonton's Urban Villages: The Community League Movement Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press, 2005. 249, xxi, appendices, index. ISBN: 0-88864-438-8 pbk

Edmonton's community league movement has been a remarkable, 87-year, success story. Its roots are found in the city clubs of eastern American cities--specifically Rochester, NY--in which prominent men would meet to discuss local issues over lunch. Introduced to Edmonton by city commissioner George Hall in 1917, community leagues were neighbourhood umbrella organizations combining established ratepayer groups, social and recreational clubs, men and women, with an eye to using school buildings as social centres. About 150 of these are still very active today. Over the years the leagues sought not only to have land dedicated for recreational use but also to have local improvements (sewers, sidewalks, street lighting). From time to time they lobbied loudly to limit and to humanize the insatiable commercial boosterism of successive Chambers of Commerce. Not infrequently this has placed the movement at odds with city hall.

Edmonton's Urban Villages can be read as an interesting snippet of local social history and an uneasy combination of Horatio Alger stories and Sarah Binks (pseudonymynous and malaprop-prone "poet laureate" of small town Saskatchewan). In the late 1940s for example, after acquiring new street lights, trolleys, Japanese-built buses, a bookmobile and a downtown Greyhound bus depot, Edmonton became "an exciting place to live, work, and play" (74-5). Who could possibly want to live in Red Deer? Kuban finds Edmonton by 2005--having been abetted by community leagues--to be "a unique major cosmopolitan city that is unlike any other in North America or perhaps the world ... [that] maintained the values often seen in villages or small towns" (189). Presumably this is desirable.

There are few if any clouds in his blue skies: For instance Edmonton's infamous grafter, Mayor William Hawrelak, established his civic power base among the community leagues. Partly due this, and in part to the ethnic myths of his own personal socialization (like Hawrelak, Kuban is Ukrainian-Canadian), the author dismisses the extensively detailed judicial inquiries which twice led to Hawrelak's removal from office as mere "Allegations of impropriety ..." (76). This is nonsense.

Dr. Kuban is a city booster of the sort associated with the ambitious promotion of unbridled economic growth. He is also a recent president of the city-wide Federation of Community Leagues and a self-confessed 'crisis management' specialist (174). This background contributes to the last three chapters being as something of a vanity project that attempts to clarify the public record and settle old scores. The 20-year community league president frequently, but unintentionally, reveals the dream of the type: The institutionalization of the organization into the formal policy-making process. What Kuban calls a "monumental milestone" in 1980 was a puff resolution by a city council committee "supporting the EFCL as the [leagues'] representative and coordinating body" (129) and, in 2004, it "received a tremendous vote of confidence from city council--receiving its own line item on the city budget" (194). The latter would give the federation "the opportunity to soar to even greater heights."

The book is organized into eight sequential chapters, each covering roughly a political generation and recounting, far too often and in excruciating detail (eg. 64 ff, 150-62), the leagues' annual concerns and achievements. Each chapter begins with several pages of historical setting, written essentially in the oral tradition of campfire story-telling, in which reference to conventional facts serves only to set the markers for broader, community-known, truths--rather along the lines of a John Milius movie script. The troubadour's occasional error can be forgiven. However, Sir Wilfrid Laurier is generally agreed to have become Prime Minister in 1896 not 1886 (10); the name of Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore really should be correctly spelt (133).

Urban Villages is a homage to the many thousands of citizens who, through their energetic volunteerism, organizational efforts and unrelenting fund-raising, made Edmonton an adequate community in which to live. While not a compulsively readable book it does merit a passing browse.

James Lightbody

Political Science

University of Alberta
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.