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September 21, 2017
September 8, 2017

Edmonton Headlines: Friday, September 8, 2017

Housing? What housing?

Written by Jeff Samsonow

Image courtesy @InfillEdmonton via Twitter

Edmonton got an update on how it’s doing filling in our “missing middle”. We aren’t doing great.

The missing middle refers to middle types of housing, between single family homes and highrise towers. This could be smaller houses on a single lot (often these are “skinny”), townhomes, walk-up apartments, and other multi-unit homes. This is particularly needed in our city’s “middle” ring of mature neighbourhoods, particularly those outside of the downtown-Strathcona areas of oldest Edmonton, where we do see plenty of towers going up (and more than a fair share of other multi-unit housing).

Unfortunately, most mature neighbourhoods see a lot of pushback against anything that’s not single family homes. The reasons vary depending on the neighbourhood, but include complaints about how many people new developments will bring to the community, what the buildings will look like and, sometimes, just plain old NIMBYisms about what kind of people will move in and fear of change.

But! Even when a neighbourhood is welcoming of new people, and more people (and potentially more businesses and services), the City’s multiple layers of zoning and approvals can be a hindrance. That was what really came out at this week’s update at the Urban Planning Committee.

The length of time it takes to get new housing in old neighbourhoods approved means costs go up. That’s on top of land that’s more expensive than empty lots out in the suburbs (or yet-to-be-suburbs). This means that not only is Edmonton struggling to get infill housing built, we’re struggling to make this housing affordable for people to buy or rent.

Like I said, we’re not doing so great.

We can do better though. That’s where this process is going. City staff are going to try to come up with a way to make it easier, faster and cheaper to build infill housing.

It’s not going to be a problem that’s solved soon though. The new plans aren’t expected before next summer. Until then, we’re going to have to hope for the best kinds of construction in older neighbourhoods. And hopefully neighbours can find more ways to be supportive of projects they’d like to see built (faster).

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Also being kicked around is an idea to have a new non-profit corporation develop millions of dollars in empty land. This one is up for discussion at next week’s city council meeting, and it’s not clear if the plan will go ahead to sell the Community Development Corporation the land for $1. The land in question is city-owned, and the CDC would work to see housing built, but also space for commercial and social enterprises.

source: Homeward Trust

Housing was definitely on the agenda at committees this week, and is a justifiably important topic to be talking about as this city council concludes its four-year term.

Along with that update about infill housing, we’ve got an update on Edmonton’s (new) plan to end homelessness. Also not doing so great.

While the City is continuing to support Homeward Trust and all the new goals from a revamped plan to get people into homes, all the money that’s needed to actually build homes remains missing. The plans to get people off the street as quickly as possible, and create more systems to support people as they transition from homelessness are all ready to go, and would likely succeed in ending homelessness. But there’s not enough money yet.

Edmonton is continuing to push higher levels of government to fund the program. We definitely need to see the provincial and federal government step up with more money for a plan that is already seeing results in its pilot and test phases.

I’m just worried about what Edmonton does if all that money doesn’t show up. It doesn’t sound like the City is willing to take on the full cost of ending homelessness. Without extra money over the last decade, Edmonton’s failed to meet its targets from the last plan to end homelessness. This might be something we have to start considering is worth additional municipal tax dollars, and even some borrowed dollars.


Getting around the city

With school back this week, everyone is being reminded about slowing down to 30 km/h around elementary and junior high schools and trying not to plow their truck into a row of children. So far, so good.

In more good news, the 30 km/h speed limit could be expanding to more places, for more hours. If city council keeps up the momentum, the lower speed limit will be expanded to all playgrounds, and both new playground zones and existing school zones would have extended hours of 30 km/h too.

This is great news for people who don’t want to get hit by a driver doing 50 or 60 km/h and likely killing them. It’ll be even better if it helps convince everyone that a speed limit of 30 km/h is needed on all neighbourhood roads all of the time. (Of course, the bad news is that some councillors are really fighting this because…I don’t know why actually. They have a need for speed, maybe.)

One of the reasons a lower speed limit is a good idea is that it won’t pit neighbours against City staff who won’t listen to them about dangerous driving conditions. Too often we hear about changes to a road, intersection or crosswalk after someone has been seriously hurt or killed. More improvements to road safety before that happens is a much better planning option.

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Edmonton Transit is not a good option for tourists. Visitors to our city need cash in some places, might not know how our transit centre system works and don’t have enough touristy connections to the bus. It’s now on the City’s agenda to consider how to make the experience better for someone new to Edmonton. (Which, of course, will make the transit system better for anyone using it.)

Along with improvements to the transit connections from our airport, we need to consider how visitors arriving in Edmonton by Greyhound can get to their destinations. That, too, has been a failure since the bus station moved for arena development in the downtown. Sounds like there might be some hope there this year.

I think how visitors get around our city is an excellent segue to the discussion that seemed to capture a lot of attention this week. I’m talking about that Lonely Planet entry about Edmonton.

Did that get ever get keyboards fluttering!

Instead of complaining about whether or not the writer of the entry had been to the city recently enough to enjoy our revitalized downtown we should look again at how we’re failing visitors. If people coming to Edmonton can’t easily get into the city, or use transit to connect to our tourist destinations (or the mountains) we don’t necessarily deserve accolades in a tourism guide.

We also shouldn’t care so much about whether or not this travel guide or that one lavishes Edmonton with praise, but that’s probably a rant for another day.

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“If you want to kill somebody, get into a car.”

One more thing to mention about how we get around Edmonton. There’s a new episode of Walkcast out this week and it’s about how we talk about people who are hit or killed on our roads.

It’s a mustlisten if you’re interested in transportation and traffic planning and issues. And it’s a must/have to/you better listen for journalists who write all the stories about people getting hurt and killed in crashes. How we talk about the people involved is important for how seriously we actually take the risk and danger of our roads, and how seriously we’ll push for change to save lives.


Around the city

Edmonton’s problem property team is reporting many more tickets being issued, but people who initiate complaints, including those who helped spark the team itself, aren’t very happy with how things are going.

A new health incubator is among the first real signs of both “Health City” and “Innovation Corridor” initiatives the mayor’s been pushing. Maybe Amazon will be next? (Amazon won’t be next if we can’t even get people from the airport to our city without a car.)

On top of a major new retail experience and the world’s largest legal marijuana production facility, the airport will also be home to a new truck training facility unlike anything else on the prairies.

Edmonton is moving ahead with new plans for off-leash parks and other public spaces dogs can just do doggo things. A lot of the work will happen in our existing dog parks, but the amount of change will depend on funding in the next budget cycle.

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