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October 18, 2017
August 2, 2017

Edmonton Headlines: Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Downtown is for you?

Written by Jeff Samsonow

 

We just received a nice little boost to the local news conversation in the midst of a summer slowdown. Avenue Edmonton’s new issue is out and has filled its annual best neighbourhood issue with looks at where and how people are living. There are lots of relevant conversations to have about the topics covered.

The cover story is about Edmonton’s newest tallest-ever tower, the 80-storey Alldritt, planned for the top of the river valley east of the downtown in The Quarters. It’s a project that comes with a fair bit of contention, certainly over its height, but also over whether or not it’s the right kind of building to help get redevelopment happening in the stalled-out neighbourhood.

A reason The Quarters has failed to get going? I think it’s fair to say that the City’s planning energy shifted northwest to the new arena. This is the story that most interested me in the new issue of Avenue, since the balance of people who live downtown (or who will move there) and the tourism-centred revitalization is a juggling act most cities struggle with when they try to boost a neighbourhood, usually its downtown. The story focuses on parking, but that means we’re talking about who the arena is for. (One reason parking is a problem? The closest LRT station to the arena is basically useless for arena crowds.)

So far, our arena and downtown revitalization has followed all the usual steps seen in other places, including neighbours wondering if they will get enough of a say or benefits. This is a story that’s not yet finished though, since many other new buildings and towers are planned for our downtown, including the next phase of the arena district itself.  The combination of new office buildings and an economic downturn, however, has left a lot of our existing buildings emptier, introducing a new issue to the mix.

Ice District 2, north of the downtown arena. image: Ice District Properties

When I say that Edmonton has followed all the usual steps in downtown revitalization debates, I mean it. We didn’t invent this idea, and proponents only had to do a bit of homework to see how things went down in other cities. I’m continually drawn to an article from the urban-focused Strong Towns about the two ways these plans tend to go.

You can either build for livability or build for fleeting, often overrated promises of tourism revenue.

A lot of the surrounding issues we’re now dealing with – parking, success and failure of specific businesses, new office towers sucking life out of old ones, and who gets to live or stay in revitalized neighbourhoods – really seem to be the same as other cities have dealt with.

Speaking of changes that make a real difference, perhaps it’s actually something like our new downtown bike lanes that will encourage more people to live and spend time downtown throughout the year.

We’re still a few years away from being able to declare the downtown revitalized/not, and make conclusions on our successes and failures. Edmonton is a city about to take its important next steps, and the world is actually kind of watching us.

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Also in the new issue of Avenue, considering buying a house that pays back in energy savings. While net-zero houses are obviously not the hottest thing on the market, there could be some increased interest in adding solar panels to a home, since we’ve got more rebates for that now.

It’s just like a real house! photo: @YEGardenSuites

And, continuing a trend that the more I hear about laneway housing, the more I want to live in a garage or garden suite, there’s a good feature on this in the issue. These tiny houses are just the thing we need in mature neighbourhoods to help increase density without just tearing down houses to put up apartment buildings. If the City keeps moving forward with zoning changes to help build more of these, and since we’re getting our back lanes renewed, this option is just going to keep looking better. (So far, it hasn’t been for everyone though.)

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Oh, and check out the issue if you’ve followed Avenue’s Best Neighbourhood survey each year. There’s a new winner this year, ending three consecutive years of victory by Edmonton’s truly best neighbourhood, Strathcona. (Yeah, I live there and will fight you about this.)


Around the city

Edmonton’s Pride Centre is fundraising for its new and expanded space, where it will offer more programming and house its library.

Alberta has a new problem in its schools. There are too many students winning scholarships. Yes, this is a legit problem happening right now.

Who wants to head down to the river tonight and catch some crayfish? If you want to get outside, but you’re not into eating North Saskatchewan crayfish, maybe you can just hit up one of Edmonton’s outdoor workout spots.

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