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.
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.