Town? City? What should we call Cochrane, and does it matter?

Town Councillor Susan Flowers wants to know. She is interested in bringing forward a notice of motion in the New Year to have the town administration prepare a report on the pros and cons of becoming a city.

Now rapidly rising towards 40,000 residents, Cochrane is clearly a city by the Alberta definition. But then again, so is the hamlet of Sherwood Park--population 70,000. So, in this day of age, does it matter?

It's not as simple a question as it may appear. It does not directly come with any financial benefit, yer some believe it will give us more clout in obtaining funding to deal with our growth from higher levels of government and catch the attention of more businesses.

READ MORE: Campaign proposed to involve residents in advocacy efforts

Cochrane Now reached out to the mayor and town councillors for their thoughts. We asked two questions. 

  • Is it something you would entertain discussing?
  • Have you any thoughts on the pros and cons of such a move?

In alphabetic order, here's what the councillors said, followed by the mayor.

marniCouncillor Marni Fedeyko

Councillor Marni Fedeyko

"I personally don’t have an opinion either way. Cochrane is already part of the mid-sized cities group, and likely, most community members think we are a city. I grew up in Sherwood Park and it is still considered a hamlet.

I don’t see a name change as being a catalyst for advancing any initiatives, that is up to us. I also don’t want to burden taxpayers with additional costs to rebrand.

Most people, I assume, just say I live in Cochrane- town or city is irrelevant."

susanCouncillor Susan Flowers

Councillor Susan Flowers

Yes. I am interested in bringing a notice of motion in the new year to ask administration to prepare a report on the pros and cons of becoming a city.

I think Cochrane’s needs would be taken more seriously by the province if we were designated as a city. There also may be more businesses interested in locating in Cochrane. We would need to work hard at keeping our small-town feel, but we can do that with the help of residents.

morganCouncillor Morgan Nagel

Councillor Morgan Nagel

I don't want Cochrane to grow into a big city. I think the majority of people who live here, do so because they want to live in a smaller community.

While growth is a sign of good things and economic opportunities, it also comes with a lot of challenges.

In order to deal with the challenges created by growth pressures, we have to be honest with ourselves about the reality that we are growing out of our small-town status. I think if we pretend that we aren't going to continue growing quickly, there is a risk that we won't plan properly.

Even though myself and many others in our community want Cochrane to remain small, we have to be planning for the future growth that seems to be coming to the entire region whether we like it or not. 

Here are some direct answers to your questions:

1) I want to protect Cochrane's small and friendly community identity, but I am open to discussing the pros and cons of technically changing our status.

2) My biggest concern with the shift towards city status is that it would mark an end to Cochrane's small-town culture. I don't think the families in our community are asking for that shift. However, I think there's no harm in discussing what potential benefits it might have. This should probably be a long community-wide discussion. 

TaraCouncillor Tara MacFadden

Councillor Tara McFadden

The conversation has shown up before. There's really there's no actual benefit beyond, generally speaking, a marketing benefit.

I think the branding of whether we call ourselves a town or a city doesn't really reflect that. I think what attracts people to Cochrane is location, location, location.

We're close to the city, close to the mountains, and we do a good job offering a high quality of life for our residents. We've got good schools. It's a safe community. We're actively investing in our in our infrastructure. It's a valuable place to be, and I don't think whether we call ourselves a city or a town or a hamlet or a special district is really going to have an impact.

From a funding level, we make those applications and I trust that the government authorities who look at our grants understand that a population of 40,000 is a population of 40,000, regardless of what we call ourselves. 

I think there are some bigger things to focus on than a conversation that is really more about marketing than anything else.

AlexCouncillor Alex Reed

Councillor Alex Reed

"You are right, council has been talking about this for awhile, but only more recently have we had some thoughtful conversations.

Admittedly, there is an appeal to the image of the 'Town' of Cochrane and its historic legacy, but the reality is that we are, at the very least, a mid-size city.  Likewise, I am uncertain what the financial advantages there are of being a city versus a town, but I do know that those unaware of our growth are often shocked by our new reality.

Obviously, I would need to learn more in order to make an informed decision."

patrickCouncillor Patrick Wilson

Councillor Patrick Wilson

" I’m personally divided on it. Here’s my rationale as I see it currently.

To rebrand ourselves the ‘City of Cochrane’

Pros - possible additional attention and action given to provincial and federal funding requests as a city's needs are well understood at both levels to be higher than a town's needs. (Titled a ‘Town’ forces us to continually educate others of our actual size and growth rates and needs).

Cons - possible erosion of our community’s small-town psyche (and values), which I've experienced to manifest in friendlier social interactions, volunteerism, and a general belief in each individual’s ability and responsibility to contribute towards the success of the community — a good antidote to civic apathy in a way. 

Growing up in Cochrane, this small-town psyche has long been a tremendous virtue of ours and I fear its loss."

JeffMayor Jeff Geung

Mayor Jeff Genung

It's a huge conversation and it's funny, because it comes up almost every time I have a conversation.

Yesterday I was at Seniors on the Bow and the question about when are we going to become a city came up. The day before, I was at the Cochrane Christian Academy speaking to kindergarten to grade 7s. The same question was posed by someone in grade 6 about why are we still a town and why are we going to become a city? So it's on people's minds and I think they're more curious about why we have remained a town.

There is something to what Susan is saying, and that is when I'm entering into conversations at a provincial level about what Cochrane needs, we always start by telling Cochrane's story and that is we're the fastest growing community in Alberta. And. that's like, Oh yeah, yeah, yeah you are. OK. So, the next one is we have a population of close to 36,000 people and they always go, "What? Cochrane? Oh, I thought you guys were a town. The Town of Cochrane is only, you know, seven-eight thousand people.

So I think some of those provincial decision makers, if they haven't actually physically been in our community within the last five or 10 years, aren't aware of what Cochrane really is. And I think it might be some of that to do with the titles, so we're slowly trying to shift that narrative with people. But it is a bit of a barrier when it comes to, hey, we need another highway minister, we're growing, you know, we're 36,000 people on our way to 40,000 with the trajectory we're on. Having them recognize that before we get to the table would be easier, but I think that's a long conversation.

MikeTown CAO Mike Derricott

Town CAO Mike Derricott

We reached out to Town CAO Mike Derricott to add an administrative perspective on the question.

Throughout the conversation, he made it clear city status isn't being actively pursued by the administration, but that they speak genuinely about the size of the community while advocating on our behalf.

He says Cochrane is a city in terms of population, amenities, and infrastructure but there is no direct financial advantage to changing our status.

To eliminate the question entirely, they have more often simply referred to us as Cochrane.

"Do we need to be called either a town or a city, or can we just be Cochrane, and people can perceive that however they'd like?

"We have become more comfortable just using the name Cochrane itself rather than specifying the Town of Cochrane in some of our communications. As we go forward, town or city has been removed from how Cochrane is branded."

"The fact that we are formally referred to as the Town of Cochrane can be misleading and doesn't necessarily give people the appropriate context for what our community is, and so I think something that we do need to be mindful of is how other governments perceive Cochrane does matter, and it does have an impact on how the province views the issues that we have. So we need to just continue to be aware of the realities of how we present our community."

At the same time, he believes it's important to focus on maintaining our close-knit, connected community, no matter our size.

"Mainly, it really is closely tied to community identity, and I think that's what we've experienced here in Cochrane. Many people who've moved to Cochrane in the last four or five years, like myself, have moved to what we probably consider a small city. But beyond that, and historically, there's been a really close connection with the identity of Cochrane as a close-knit small connected community. And so I think we want to keep that part of Cochrane's identity alive, and I've always been a proponent of it."

He says maintaining a rich community spirit isn't directly associated with the number of people that live here and is more about the type of community we are trying to build.

"There is no direct financial benefit, but I do think that it may change the way that other entities, other governments, other communities perceive Cochrane and there's likely some conversation to be had about whether or not that's a benefit that outweighs the other things that come with remaining in our current status."

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