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Alberta Enterprise Group Edmonton City Centre Airport Stephen Mandel

edmonton city centre airport debate.

Anyone who has paid attention to the recent debate about whether to close or continue operations at Edmonton’s City Centre Airport (ECCA) likely will have noticed how much the debate has been based on anecdotal arguments and testimonials.

Supporting the ECCAs continued operation, the Alberta Enterprise Group (AEG) has proven effective at collecting stories from local business people in support of the ECCA. While the buzz AEG has been able to generate is impressive (with the exception of a cheesy media stunt), their arguments have yet to contribute objective figures or solid facts supporting the continued operation of the ECCA.

On the other side of the debate, many of the members of a facebook group supporting the closure of the ECCA have provided the same style of anecdotal evidence, and weighing in with some needlessly adversarial responses to AEG and ECCA supporters.

While it’s hard to have sympathy for the company President or CEO who would be inconvenienced by an extra fifteen to twenty minute drive to his or her private company jet, I am still waiting for the City of Edmonton’s ECCA assessment report (which will hopefully include actual facts and numbers) before I decide whether to take a side in this debate. The report is due to be released in June 2009.

Last week, in his State of the City address, Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel challenged supporters of the ECCA to come up with better arguments.

“Please understand that environmental costs will have to be paid either way. Don’t tell us that your business status entitles you to special consideration, and that treating you like every other Edmontonian is somehow an affront.”

I agree with Mayor Mandel’s point, but it’s hard not to notice that he doesn’t appear to apply the same argument to other controversial development proposals (including the proposed construction and public financing of a new downtown arena for the Edmonton Oilers).

I recently attended a presentation by hosted by the City-Region Studies Centre at the University of Alberta where two American city planners talked about the creative regional transportation planning used by planners in Portland, Oregon. While learning about Portland’s approach to planning, including the heavy role placed on the balance of quality of life and economic development (never one at the expense of the other), it occurred to me that, if closed, the 217-hectare land sitting below the ECCA could present Edmonton a unique opportunity.

While I haven’t decided whether or not I support the continued operation of the airport, new development that included mixed-income walkable communities could provide a smart counterbalance with distinctive character to the endless cookie cutter suburban neighbourhoods that have become an increasingly normal sight on the now sprawling edges of Edmonton’s city limits.

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