Charlie Clark is a really great guy.
I first met him in grade 11 when he taught me in the Outdoor School Program at Marion Graham. He’s since gone on to be voted Saskatoon’s best city councillor in Planet S magazine four years running.
To say Clark is “involved” in the community would be a fantastic short-selling of one of the city’s most committed and ambitious residents; he sits on enough committees and boards to fill half this page, and has a diverse education background that spans conflict resolution, environmental studies and education. He is as smart as he is friendly, and if you are lucky enough to live in Ward 6 and have him representing you in council, consider yourself blessed. If not, you should probably move.
Clark never intended to get into politics.
“At first I said ”˜no way.’ It was kind of frightening to have that degree of accountability,” he said.
He was pressured into it by friends and relented when he noticed that city councillor positions were frequently going practically uncontested, with vote shares of 10 to one. Nevertheless, he was realistic about his chances of beating the incumbent.
“It was a long shot — I wasn’t predicted to win, that’s for sure.”
Clark emphasizes a strong need for gathering places in Saskatoon’s design. These, he argues, are good for the formation of partnerships, entrepreneurialism, creativity and social connectivity, all of which positively impact the economy and give way to innovation. Without such gathering places, he said, “you can live within the same city, but not really know or see one another.”
Clark points to the fireworks festival held in early September as an example of the positive social dynamic formed when citizens gather together.
He argues that more creative usage of existing trails, hills and bike paths along the riverfront — such as using a portion of the river as a massive skating rink, similar to the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa, or the construction of additional shelter structures along the Meewasin trail — could help to foster this positive social dynamic and breathe life into the city during the long and harsh winter months.
He also notes that the city’s changing demographic — a rapidly expanding Aboriginal population and reinvigorated influx of immigrants — brings with it an opportunity for positive cultural exchange, innovative economic partnerships and the need to ensure that Aboriginal youth feel involved and “at home” in Saskatoon. A key element to this is involving the city’s large Aboriginal population in the political decision making process.
He points to the Urban Reserve Program — first implemented with Muskeg Lake Cree nation in 1988 near the corner of College Drive and McKercher Drive — as a model of such an inclusive and innovative partnership.
Clark’s initiatives in council frequently reflect his background in environmental studies. As a winter city undergoing a period of rapid development — and a city which draws much of its power from an outdated coal-driven power grid — Saskatoon has a significantly higher than normal consumption of energy. He believes we must look for ways to reduce our carbon footprint, but in a manner which does not use guilt or scare tactics.
For example, Clark suggests that a stronger partnership between the city and the university would ensure that the vast pool of talent and innovation cultivated on campus is incorporated into the city’s infrastructure and design.
“I think we’ll be successful as a city if we have a strategy that allows for meeting multiple goals, including infrastructure, public transportation choices, design which acknowledges that we are a winter city, creating a strong relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal residents, while at the same time welcoming a growing immigrant population.”
The next time you spot a tall, smiley man in Caffe Sola hunched over a Mexican hot chocolate and a stack of pie charts, give him a high five for doing the groundwork for us — and for doing it really, really well.
This profile is part of the Sheaf’s Saskatoon special. Click here to see the entire section (pdf).