Mayor Laura Cabott spent much of the past week comparing notes with leaders of other northern communities during a conference held in Norway.
Cabott was one of the Canadian representatives who visited the cities of Oslo and Tromsø for the first meeting of Arctic Urban and Regional Cooperation. The meeting ran the week of Jan. 29. The program is sponsored by the European Union.
Most of the communities at the meeting were Scandinavian but there were also representatives from Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Alaskan towns. Whitehorse was one of 15 municipalities represented. The communities ranged in size from tiny remote settlements like Utqiagvik, Alaska to Oulu, Finland with more than 200,000 inhabitants.
Cabott said that this was the first meeting of the group, so it was largely spent getting to know each other and discussing the shared challenges of sustainable development in communities in or near the Arctic.
She said the shared goal seems to be the creation of inclusive communities where everyone has a place to live and economies thrive.
Whitehorse shares some obstacles to this goal with the other communities. Cabott spoke about the challenges of moving away from fossil fuels in the north due to extreme temperatures that can make electric cars less effective.
She added that there was also an emphasis on preparedness for natural disasters, with communities progressing towards resilience at varying rates. Cabott said this discussion was emphasized by a powerful storm that swept Norway the week of the conference. International media reports suggest that “Storm Igunn” is one of the strongest to hit Norway in decades. It left tens of thousands of people without power and disrupted travel.
Some challenges common across many of the other northern communities do not apply to Whitehorse. Cabott noted that many of the other communities complained of challenges attracting people to live there. Whitehorse’s population growth has been nearly two per cent annually in recent years according to the Yukon Bureau of Statistics.
Speaking about Oulu, Finland, which sits near the edge of the Lapland region, Cabott said it is valuable to see how a larger city attracts residents in a sustainable way. She also noted that Oulu is a global leader in year-round active transportation. It has been called “the winter cycling capital of the world,” and proudly trumpets the fact that even in the dead of winter, about 12 per cent of citizens’ trips around the city are made by bicycle.
The mayor’s trip to Scandinavia coincidentally precedes some representatives from Oulu making a cycling-focused appearance in Whitehorse. The Cycling Association of Yukon is organizing a free public talk by Oulu city employees Hari Varaala and Pekka Tahkola. The discussion will focus on winter cycling route maintenance and “the joys of winter cycling for daily mobility.” Those interested can register to attend the talk in-person or online at yukoncycling.com.
When it comes to areas where Whitehorse excels, Cabott spoke favourably of the city’s snow and ice clearance compared to what she observed in Norway and also said there was a lot of interest in the city’s efforts towards reconciliation. She said the Europeans were keen to hear about Whitehorse’s efforts at involving Indigenous people in decision-making and initiatives such as the addition of Southern Tutchone place names to city buildings.
According to Cabott, a shared feature of life for the northern communities represented at the meeting is regular lobbying for funding from regional and national governments for important projects. She spoke about the need for creative solutions utilizing local resources in cases when that money doesn’t come through.
Cabott said the Arctic Urban and Regional Cooperation group mainly exists for the sharing of input as each community tackles its own challenges in a focused way over the next year.
Contact Jim Elliot at email@example.com