I love Edmonton. I am proud to call myself an Edmontonian. I love living in a downtown core neighbourhood. I also have no patience for the kind of blind boosterism that sometimes envelopes the business and political community in this city.
I am referring to the kind of boosterism reflected in letters this week from the ONEdmonton Downtown Revitalization Task Force and the YES! for Edmonton group that endorse the zoning of a downtown arena district. A quick read of these letters will reveal that the endorsements are not backed up by clear arguments supported by urban planning ideas or constructive arguments. I would not have an issue with these letters if they included reasonable arguments or event justifications. Like the Katz Group itself, I have heard a lot of talk about how a Katz Arena District could revitalize Edmonton’s Downtown core, but I have not seen a lot of evidence.
Before I jump on the Katz Arena District bandwagon, I want Edmonton City Councillors to demonstrate some serious diligence and provide arguments based in reason. Although I am not opposed to the construction of a new arena, I have not been convinced that the construction of a mega-project like a new NHL Arena will result in the kind of vitalization for the downtown core that its proponents suggest.
Is an Arena the only future for downtown?
No. I have little doubt that a new Katz Arena District would bring a lot of Edmontonians downtown a few nights a week, but I believe that we can do better than that. In my mind, the centre of a revitalized downtown is people, but not people driving in from the suburbs – people actually living there. This would require creating an urban environment that is not dependent on large events, but through everyday life. This is not something that requires expensive mega-projects like the Katz Downtown Arena District .
The debate around the development of a Katz Arena District has also avoided raising questions about the future of the dozens of social agencies already present that area of downtown. The Hope Mission, the Herb Jamison Centre, and the George Spady Centre are all within a few blocks radius of where the proposed Katz Arena. These centers provide shelter to hundreds of homeless Edmontonians each night. Successful programs like Housing First have helped provide stable housing for over 1000 Edmontonians, but there are still thousands of homeless Edmontonians who could displaced to other neighbourhoods if the Katz Arena District were built.
Let us improve the quality of life in the core and attract more people – and families – to live in the downtown neighbourhoods by building things and attract business that people will love to live beside everyday.
Financial risk is a factor that is too important to be let pushed aside by boosterism. Should municipal governments be responsible for subsidizing professional sports?
If Canadians believe that professional sports clubs are a business sector in need of public financial support then this is a role that the three main levels of government – federal, provincial, and municipal – need to discuss. Leaving the responsibility to the level of government with the smallest tax-base to assume the role of subsidizer and risk-holder for a private financial venture such as building the mega-project Katz Arena District is simply irresponsible.
Before we zone, before we decide to spend a public penny on building a new arena, let’s not miss an opportunity to debate these important questions that could shape our downtown core for generations to come. Let’s avoid the white elephants and build our downtown into something we can be proud of.
Readers of this post may also be interested in reading My Edmonton, a two-part series on the opportunities and challenges facing Edmonton’s downtown core.