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June 25, 2017
April 27, 2017

Edmonton Headlines: Thursday, April 27, 2017

Build up, up, up not out

Written by Jeff Samsonow

Courtesy Kennedy Create architects

Edmonton City Council has approved an 80-storey tower at the top of the river valley. While the conversion of public land to private isn’t sitting well with some people, and the height of the tower isn’t winning over others, this raises a lot of questions about the City’s processes and goals.

Rules are constantly changing. The City doesn’t seem to stick to its own zoning rules, and continually amends documents like neighbourhood area redevelopment plans (ARPs) that are supposed to give people guidance. This makes things difficult for someone trying to figure out where or what they can build (at least, when we’re talking about smaller projects, the big guys all know they can just ask council for amendments). And it makes it incredibly difficult for a neighbour or groups like community leagues to challenge what they believe to be a bad plan, because if councillors won’t pay attention to the current rules all arguments are rendered pointless.

We’re masking our density failures. With our density targets in older parts of the city only being achieved because of a few major projects like these towers in the core communities (downtown, Oliver, Old Strathcona neighbourhoods), we are setting up the rest of our mature neighbourhoods for a big surprise in 10-20 years. Those neighbourhoods fighting a few skinny houses and townhomes right now will have to take on big projects and maybe even towers because most of our current infill is sitting in the centre of Edmonton, leaving a sparsely populated middle.

Condos, condos, condos! All these towers are going to be privately sold, which definitely starts to create a glut. And without rental buildings being purpose-built in Edmonton we will not put a dent in the long-term outlook of ending homelessness or lifting thousands of people out of poverty.

What’s the vision? The Quarters is not seeing the kind of momentum that was expected of it in efforts to rebuild a walkable portion of Edmonton’s core. Downtown investments have gone toward the arena the last few years. So, it’s not surprising to see City staff and council jump on a project that is seen as a “catalyst” for the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, it sounds like the tax benefits of the project will benefit the arena and downtown area, not The Quarters. That would be quite the metaphor for what has happened with downtown and surrounding development since the city became captivated by a new arena.

It’s a public engagement fail. For the second time this month, some councillors have asked for more public engagement in the middle of a major vote, only to be ignored. It happened with the $1 billion sell-off of drainage assets to Epcor too. Both times the public was left without another chance to share their voices. On this tower, the sale of the land also came after a closed-door session of council, so we don’t know all those details either.

Courtesy Kennedy Create architects

Alright, I kind of enjoyed all that ranting, but where do we go from here?

If you think Edmonton’s plans for density, infill and zoning are out of whack or being ignored, get in touch with your councillor. Also get in touch with not-your-councillors. If you think someone on council is voting in a way that’s detrimental to our city’s future, let them know.

You can get involved with campaigns for the October election. If a candidate matches your values on how we’re growing and building as a city, help them knock on doors or make a donation. This can absolutely apply to our current councillors, even those that voted for this 80-storey tower (we don’t have to agree on the outcome to all want a better city).

Join or support community groups that align with your values. Whether it’s your community league, or groups like Paths for People, there are like-minded folks in Edmonton where you can help build the kind of city you want to see.

Take solace in the fact I won’t rant like this every day and most Edmontonians are just the best kind of people trying to make this city a better place to live.


In our schools

Edmonton’s two school boards are talking about new sex education tools and curriculum. The public school board approved a motion to ask the Alberta government for new information to be added to the program, including lessons about consent, sexually transmitted diseases and more support for LGBTQ students.

The Edmonton Catholic School District didn’t end up supporting a similar call from one of its trustees. That’s too bad, since Alberta Catholic schools could have used a win on the sex education front after some upsetting news.

Sticking with Edmonton Catholic for a moment… students who haven’t completed some religion classes might not be allowed to collect their diploma on stage like a high school graduate should.

This seems like a bit of bad PR the school district could have avoided had it discussed the option as one trustee proposed.

In better school news, teachers might have quickly found themselves with a new contract, which is good to hear in a year when a lot of unions are up for negotiations with the Alberta government.


Around the city

There will be two open seats for Edmonton City Council in the fall election. Councillor Ed Gibbons is officially out, after five terms. Previously, Bryan Anderson announced he wouldn’t run again.

The City is kicking in some extra money, to be matched by homeowners, to fix sidewalks in a number of neighbourhoods.

Shaw Edmonton is going to be shut down. I don’t know how I feel about this… As someone who had a show on the local channel a couple of years back, it feels like the community is losing an opportunity to have a voice. That said, Shaw could always throw some of that government mandated-money into programming like Telus has done through its Storyhive projects. But there’s no way I believe Corus/Shaw will actually put community-access style shows on Global TV.

I make fun of the Edmonton Sun more than the rest of the local news outlets, so credit when credit is due. I actually agree with something from their opinion pages.


Public engagement

Tonight at the Confederation Leisure Centre, there’s a workshop for the Confederation Park Master Plan, 6-8 p.m.

There’s a public information session for Elmwood flood mitigation and sewer upgrades, tonight at the Elmwood Community Hall, 6:30 – 9 p.m.


This post was updated April 27, 2017.

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