Alberta Politics

a narrow focus on downtown won’t help edmonton.

City of Edmonton Mature Neighbourhood Map
City of Edmonton’s Map of Mature Neighbourhoods.

A new report released by Edmonton’s Downtown Business Association shows the downtown may potentially be on the verge of some significant development. The report, which included speculation about rumoured investment, also noted potential residential development.

I have always been very supportive of Edmonton’s downtown and I was pleased to see some discussion around the report revolve around residential development. In my opinion, too much focus has been placed around entertainment mega-projects, like the inevitable downtown arena, which will only bring Edmontonians into the core of the city for limited periods of time. The key to creating a vibrant downtown has always been people.

As a former resident of the Oliver neighbourhood and a current resident of a mature neighbourhood not far from downtown, I have always felt that too much attention, both positive and negative, has been narrowly focused at Edmonton’s official downtown commercial core. Although not officially considered part of “downtown”, the Oliver neighbourhood is a vibrant part of Edmonton, and despite being severely under serviced by the city’s light-rail transit system, is growing into an increasingly vibrant community.

Increased residential development “downtown” is positive, but increased density, rejuvenation, and growth in Edmonton’s core neighbourhoods should be a larger goal (I use the terms “core neighbourhoods” and “mature neighbourhoods” interchangeably – the City of Edmonton defines a mature neighbourhood as being developed and well-established by 1970). The Quarters project and the Boyle Street Renaissance to the east of downtown are positive and the revitalization of 118 Avenue has brought new life to the Alberta Avenue area. Edmonton’s mature neighbourhoods provide an excellent opportunity for infill and single-family dwellings that currently draw hordes of Edmontonians to sprawling suburbs on the outskirts of the city.

Investments have already been made into these mature neighbourhoods – which include existing infrastructure, like schools, community halls, parks, and public transit. The duplication costs of constructing new schools in suburban neighbourhoods when already existing schools, with open spaces, exist in Edmonton’s mature neighbourhoods raises significant questions about the way our city is growing. Some of these concerns were raised in the recent ELEVATE report from the city’s Community Sustainability task force, which also looked at the potential for creating ‘School Revitalization Zones” in mature neighbourhoods.

While looking at a very different urban context, a recent report from the Pembina Institute showed some interesting attitudes among suburban dwellers in the Greater Toronto Area (via The Urban Scrawl)

“A survey released this week by RBC and the Pembina Institute concludes that homebuyers in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) are looking for affordable alternatives to living in the sprawling suburbs. Although most respondents identified a detached single-family home as a top consideration when choosing where to live, 81 per cent of residents surveyed in the GTA would give up a large house and yard for a townhouse, condo or small home on a modest lot with walkable access to amenities, rapid transit, and the option to spend less time behind the wheel.”

7 replies on “a narrow focus on downtown won’t help edmonton.”

Totally agree. On a technical point, that report does count the Quarters (Boyle Street) area in its downtown development numbers. But I agree with the broader point that the city’s core goes far beyond downtown’s technical borders.

Some of our mature neighbourhoods needs more vision and coordinated planning. Various different and unrelated planning processes in Edmonton are leading to uncoordinated and disappointing developments in mature neighbourhoods. Currently, a community near Southgate is impacted by Transit Oriented Development, a large DC2 infill, and potential south campus and Michener Park developments. These are largely happening independently of each other.

An overarching community guided vision could help coordinate these developments leading to desirable and vibrant communities. However, a lack of vision championed by the city, could lead to wasted opportunities and disappointing developments. Development leadership in mature communities, not just the downtown/arena/airport areas could lead to some significant results.

Ia m in one of the mature neighbourhoods, which I love! What I have noticed is that Planning and Development doesn’t really do planning. They have done a hodge podge of development and reports as council sees fit. Yes, there has been revitalization in some communities, mine included, yet development is approved with so much as a “consultation”. Often we are told this is good for your community and I could tell you in many cases as why it isn’t good.

We are told that we need medium to high density developments to revitalize, yet the infrastructure is deplorable. I mean just walk down 115 ave or 109 st and you can smell the sewage. I used to go to school across from the new Mayfair building, now you can just smell the sewage after the building has been built. Makes you wonder….

I agree with your sentiments here, but a few things should be mentioned.

The DBA is merely pointing out the projects that fall within their mandated boundaries, so you can’t fault them for that. The majority of the big-ticket civic or provincial projects just happen to be in the downtown, the ‘heart’ of our cultural, artistic, political and commercial life.

Unfortunately for infrastructure projects in general, the majority of our Council is suburban-minded and money does not always flow to the core communities. There is only recent attempts to right this balance. For the current Council, these few ‘big ticket’ items are where the majority of dollars are proposed to be spent, with spill-over effects for other potential downtown catalyst projects. Projects like the arena and RAM, executed well, have the potential to positively affect surrounding communities but will not help them in other needs.

How we get a Council, with their own ward priorities, to redirect funds to our existing core from the suburbs is a large challenge.

The inner city neighbourhoods that surround the downtown core have shown to be part and parcel to the health and vibrancy of a downtown core. Calgary is a nearby example; it was the movement of young families into older houses, using sweat equity as needed, that was the real turning point (almost 15 years ago). To support that movement, effort at that time was placed into dealing noticeably with the street substance abuse culture that otherwise would have prevented it. Signing up to restore long neglected housing is a big enough task for enthusiastic starter families to contend but it does come with a believable and tangible outcome; to expect them to, in addition, somehow be souped up agents of social order on the streets is obviously not based on any reality. Not their individual private job for reasons that can’t really be wished away. Their job is to invest (a very important job!) and “live” (aka shop, eat and walk those main streets, kids in schools and playing in the parks, etc…); civic leaders’ jobs are to strategize and support that energy into the city we want and the city that works well.

I love the downtown area and I swear I get hives whenever I venture into the great sprawling suburbia that is devouring the best farmland in Alberta. The money that the city is pouring into these new developments is staggering when you think of all of the infrastructure that needs to be put into place. Elementary schools that are put into place and then in the first year they are too full and require extensions, while inner city schools have so few students that they are closing. The program that what laid out by Calgary would work wonders in Edmonton. Give young families huge tax incentives to invest in an old home in the core, or a large credit back after improvements have been made in a 5 year time period. Give builders greater incentive to redevelop in mature neighbourhoods. And by all means, hike up the taxes for those who want to live so far away for it all that cost the city half a tank of gas to plow their roads in winter. Our city could really shine if we caught the vision.

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