my edmonton: challenges facing the core.

Yesterday I wrote about the changing face of downtown Edmonton. Today I focus on a few of the challenges facing our City’s urban core.

When did Edmonton become the Baltimore of the North? Three murders in one week. It is beginning to feel like there is a murder or stabbing almost every week. While this kind of violent crime can happen anywhere in the city, the recent duo of stabbings near Churchill Square in front of the Stanley Milner Library and the City Centre Mall does not help create a welcome environment. I am not sure what the solution is, but it is clear that something serious needs to be done.

City Council, Densification, & Urban Sprawl
There has been a noticeable tone shift on City Council in support of infill in the urban core, but there appears to be little hard action being taken to stem the outward sprawl of new neighbourhoods (now being constructed outside the Anthony Henday ringroad). A lot of the difficulty rests in balancing increased densification and infill with a market demand for more single family housing. The reality is that the farther our city sprawls, the more expensive it will be to provide the kind of services that are idealized for these neighbourhoods. Put simply, urban sprawl is unsustainable.

Some difficulty lies in the sprawl in a number of municipalities surrounding Edmonton. While the Capital Region Board has made progress since its creation there is still a lot more progress to be made in building a smarter region. Is amalgamation far off?

Not Family Friendly
The recent closures of school programs at Eastwood, McCauley, and Parkdale schools will create a more difficult environment to attract families into the urban core. Proximity to educational institutions is a critical key to convincing young families to settle in the core, but so are expenses. Many apartment and condo buildings in the downtown area have not created a friendly atmosphere for families and many are listed as ‘Adult Only.” This unfortunately creates a situation where many young Edmontonians who are already living in the core need to relocate in order to start a family (many to more affordable areas in sprawling suburban neighbourhoods).

There is a noticeable divide in our city around the 100th Street area. West of the divide is the business district and much of the upscale downtown residences. East of the divide are many of Edmonton’s homeless shelters and many lower income areas. There are homeless people all around our city, but the number of homeless becomes more evident to the naked eye when driving through the eastern streets of downtown.

The 2008 count revealed that there were 3,079 homeless people in Edmonton (1862 were absolute homeless (having no housing alternative) and 1217 were sheltered homeless). The Municipal and Provincial governments along with some very dedicated non-profit groups have made a positive impact. As accomplishable as it may sound, the Government of Alberta’s 10 year plan to end homelessness sets some ambitious goals and has thus far resulted in the funding and construction of a number of new housing units in Edmonton.

Lack of Imagination
There are some people who appear to simply refuse to see beyond what downtown Edmonton was in the past and what it has become in 2010. The rail yards and warehouse districts have heeded to the construction of Grant MacEwan University, Railtown residential area, Oliver Square, and some of the projects I highlighted in yesterday’s post.

White Elephants
University of Winnipeg academic Christopher Leo uncovered a classic example of how clever developers have mislead Edmonton City Council in the past. He uses the example of the former Eaton Centre (now the western section of City Centre Mall):

My research shows that developers found it easy to manipulate Edmonton’s city council again and again, and to put taxpayers in the position of paying for a development over which their representatives exercised no meaningful control. They used a bait and switch tactic which, though blatantly obvious in retrospect, is not always easy to spot before it is too late. Edmonton’s story is a cautionary tale. It ought to be required reading for city councillors throughout North America, and for anyone concerned with democratic control over the development of our cities. Read more…

It is a cautionary tale for Edmontonians to keep in mind when approached by potential rainmakers in the future.

18 replies on “my edmonton: challenges facing the core.”

Great article Dave, don’t know how you found it but what a good read. I laughed when I read that one of Triple Five Corp’s failed promises was a rooftop garden. Sounds exactly like the current BS our City Council is being fed as part of Katz’s arena proposal. I’m sure the garden, the towers, etc will suffer the same fate, and we’ll end up with just the arena, paid for by taxpayers, owned, operated and paying full profit to Daryl Katz.

Dave, after reading the Christopher Leo article you linked to, there’s not a chance that I’m going to support the downtown arena proposal in its current form. When you mentioned the phrase “potential rainmakers,” Daryl Katz immediately came to mind. Thanks for posting!

Thanks for this, Dave. Makes you wonder if our elected officials are really that naive or have their own agenda. Do we Edmontonians walk around with a big “M” for Mark on our foreheads? I am sure that Triple 5 and others of their ilk are laughing at us too. Probably at Albertans as well, remember deregulation and the $12mil that Pocklington still owes the province. I am sure Mr. Pocklington still has a few chuckles over what easy marks Albertans are.

Last week Paula Simmons wrote an article about the life of the young man who was stabbed near the McDonald Hotel. She pointed out the struggles and complexities of this young man faced during his short life. I suspect that whoever was responsible for his death faced similar issues. The crime that you mentioned starts long before the crime is committed and involves difficulties parents face in raising and protecting their children, challenges kids have within our school system, in the Child Welfare system and in feeling connected to others and in seeing themselves as being part of our community.. . Until we pay attention to these issues and get at the root causes of crime,,we will forever be dealing with the end results of crime.

Thanks for the link to the Lee article, Dave. I’ve made this point about Edmontonians being “marks” for developers here and other places, but I didn’t do the research to back it up, relying instead on my memory. It’s nice to be able to validate those memories with (someone else’s) hard research!

The Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues has started a working group to imagine possibilities for green, family-friendly infill housing in established neighbourhoods. The Globe and Mail recently reported that similar efforts in Vancouver more than doubled the number of children living in core areas during the last decade.

There’s a chicken and egg effect between crime and age of population. When families leave, incidents of violence increase, and naturally high rates of violence cause more families to migrate to the suburbs. Projects such as the Quarters will have greater chances of succeeding if designed to nurture demographic diversity.

Thanks for the article Dave. Although I think that your points are pertinent and important, I think that you are pointing at symptoms, not an actual illness. I think the illness is a basic lack of vision for Alberta, and the Edmonton – Calgary region.

My thinking:
In the past Canada has been a resource exporter where we mined raw materials and sold those materials to the US for the processing. We then bought back the refined materials. For instance, bauxite was mined in the Canadian Shield, and then we bought back cars, and other products made of aluminum.

Some regions of Canada (Toronto – Montreal corridor, Vancouver – Portland corridor) have re-envisioned themselves beyond sellers lumber and raw ore and are becoming hubs of creativity and innovation (finance, tech, arts, etc). Our bigger problem is linked to a lack of a broader vision for Alberta beyond sellers of oil. Imagine what our downtown would look like if we had a core of people (beyond the small group that already exists) who were great innovators, researchers, etc, helping build the city we want by providing creative solutions. The more people thinking of the problem, the better.

I feel that we need a government that will provide core funding for our Universities, Arts, and Tech sectors such that we are pulling in smart young people who want to create a dynamic region that includes Edmonton, and the greater Edmonton region, to embrace Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge as an Alberta region. It is through centers of innovation and creativity that we attract new people, and new ways of thinking, that will change to fabric of our city and province.

Back in the 80’s the Government of the day took a risk and invested heavily in the oil sands, at that point an unproven reserve, that required unproven technology, with hopes for the future. What happend to that thinking?

Matt, I’m not sure we can ever hope to compete with the likes of the Toronto or Vancouver coridors you have mentioned. Creative people are drawn to those larger cities with their established communities for arts and urban living. The weather alone is a huge barrier here. It’s hard to live an urban lifestyle when it’s often -30 degrees outside.

I think that Albertans will continue to be a group that leans heavily on natural resource extraction, and quite frankly there is nothing wrong with that, so long as it is done in a sustainable manner. Our energies would be best directed into such persuits. Our post-secondary schools should become beacons for science related to the energy industry. Let’s figure out how to run our oil sands better, and let’s do it here, with public investment into the science.

We can’t try to be what we’re not. Sometimes talk of urban centres flies in the face of reality, that this is a cold harsh climate and most of the productive people that are willing to endure said climate want to do so with certain benefits, like their own houses and a multitude of vehicles and other modern toys. Not everyone wants a tiny condo in the frozen heart of our city.

Thanks for all the comments.

Karen E: I agree that these are some pretty complicated issues. On homelessness, I don’t think I fully understand it now, but after volunteering for the Homeless Connect event last month, I sure got a better appreciation of how complex the challenges facing a lot of Edmontonians are.

Great post, Dave. Thanks for finding the link to Leo’s research about the Triple 5 scam. Good information for Edmontonians.

A lot of the difficulty rests in balancing increased densification and infill with a market demand for more single family housing.

I am not at all convinced that single family housing demand is real. It is all developer driven, and the city council bears all the responsibility for capitulating so disastrously to such interests.

I feel that we need a government that will provide core funding for our Universities, Arts, and Tech sectors such that we are pulling in smart young people who want to create a dynamic region that includes Edmonton, and the greater Edmonton region, to embrace Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge as an Alberta region.

What you need is more simple than that: the electoral system in Alberta is such that an urban vote sometimes it is worth 1/3 of a rural vote. This is the main culprit for the lack of centres of innovation. Until this is remedied Alberta will remain a province of ‘drawers of water and hewers of wood’.

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