A Beautiful Edmonton


I think we can all agree that beauty is an essential feature of a strong and vibrant city. In our own homes, most of us hang paintings, lay out furniture purposefully, and generally keep an aura of cleanliness and beauty. We like to keep our front lawns neat and tidy for the most part, and for the green-thumbs among us, we even plant flowers, vegetables, and trees in an effort to beautify our spaces.

So why should our City be any different? More specifically, what do you want to see from your City in terms of beautification?

THE ELNA DOCTRINE

Many citizens have provided some fair criticism of our city for its public spaces and institutions being less than aesthetically pleasing. While the onus isn’t entirely on the City to change that perception, I think we can act as the catalyst. Edmonton has expanded significantly far out in each direction exemplifying how the urban planning decisions of the past have put a financial strain on the City and our ability to keep up with public maintenance. But we’re still trying. One of my most knowledgeable and vocal constituents, Elna, shared some great ideas with me over coffee recently. She holds kemptness as one of the most fundamental aspects of a beautiful city and I couldn’t agree more.

CRISP KEMPTNESS

In the short term, there are some simple things we can do such as hastening our mowing schedule, planting more flowers and native plant gardens, rethinking policies around the main roads entering the city and engaging businesses to buy into beauty. We can freshen the line paint on roads more regularly, and at the neighbourhood level, return to fixing sidewalks with concrete rather than asphalt and work more creatively to get old playgrounds spruced up and modernized. Capital City Cleanup is a great example of the right type of program for keeping our City clean and beautiful, encouraging environmental stewardship at the human level. 

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An example of something we can address is poor shrub-planting. Most of you have likely driven by a median and noticed shrubs planted on them, though you probably didn’t think much of it. While I am completely in favour of developing urban greenery whenever possible, I also believe there is a right and wrong way to do so. Often times the shrubs planted do little to beautify the spaces, are frequently damaged by sand and snow, and seem to be given little thought in planning. I think that as a City we need to look into strategies for urban green development that allows for noteworthy plants adding to the public space that can stand the test of time.

Another example of an issue in need of addressing is the Whitemud brickwork. The brickwork is featured along the sides of the roadway, and in recent years has fallen into disrepair. The bricks are now popping up out of place, cracked, and overall damaged. I would like to explore options to either replace the bricks altogether or provide an efficient refurbishing of them. These types of public spaces, while relatively small, are exactly what helps build an attractive and inviting city.

As a City we have invested heavily into communities through our successful Neighbourhood Renewal program, the first of it's kind in Canada. This program is a significant part of our commitment to making a safe and beautiful City that all ages can enjoy.

PLACEMAKING EDMONTON

Placemaking is the practice of developing communities around places. It’s a multifaceted approach to the planning, design, and management of public spaces. Placemaking utilizes a local community's assets, inspiration, and potential, in order to create public spaces that promote health, happiness, and well-being. There are a variety of options to go about placemaking in Edmonton, I’ve explored some of the most exciting ones below.

Pedestrian-only areas are a great way to make spaces more accessible and vibrant, a boon for both people and businesses. Critical to the establishment of pedestrian-only areas is pragmatic development; pedestrian-only projects should be fleshed-out incrementally to ensure success and safety. For example, a roadway can be converted to pedestrian only during specific hours and then evolve into a full-fledged pedestrian only area over time if successful. Setting up pilot projects for pedestrian-only streets is low cost, requiring little more than traffic barricades.

“It is better to create a small, high-quality pedestrian-only street than a large ambitious pedestrian-only street that doesn’t work.”-Slow Streets, Urban Planning Blog.

The decision to shut down the street between city hall and Churchill Square, while a small stretch, has made the whole area safer and more accessible and has allowed for it to become one of the most popular public spaces in Edmonton.

Here’s a great link on creating Pedestrian Friendly Cities: http://bit.ly/1bsX6Ow.

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Whyte Ave is an unofficial cultural hub in Edmonton, being arguably the City’s number one hangout area. Whyte Ave’s success is owed to a multitude of factors, from it’s plethora of unique and strong establishments to its centrality and accessibility in Edmonton. A large part of its success is also because of its incredibly walkable streets. Whyte Ave has been a beneficiary of a variety of beautification programs, and walking down the sidewalks you can see the fruits of those, with a variety of plants and trees in abundance.

Whyte Ave is a quintessential example of what we as a City try to model in our Placemaking efforts, everyone seems to know Whyte Ave and the distinct culture therein. Recently the City has made further strides in allowing for patio extensions for businesses, allowing for more street-front presence, and more capacity overall. In years past there have been explorations into making Whyte Avenue car-free (or partially) during peak hours, such as late night weekends. This would allow for more area for pedestrians, greater safety, and more opportunities for businesses. This proposal goes hand in hand with the increased late night bus service in the area.This idea has been met with positive reactions from Edmontonians, with 83% of people on a survey responding with either yes or maybe.

A friend of mine recently travelled through Eastern Europe and the pictures he captured were breathtaking, from bustling farmers markets to bright and attractive main streets. Main streets are often taken for granted because we use them so much, but they’re an ideal spot for beautification. A key to making attractive main streets lies in the walkability of the street; imagine the walkability of a Whyte Ave versus a Jasper Ave for example. Improvement can be achieved through a variety of methods; street-level retail bays (especially for small businesses) pedestrian and cyclist friendly pathways, and safe roadways.

THE CITY OF TOMORROW

Imagine enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning, grabbing lunch with friends in the afternoon, and having a glass of wine in the evening, all within reaching distance of the River; the Edmonton River Crossing projects can make this dream a reality. Edmonton’s primary River Crossing projects are the Touch the Water Promenade and the Mechanized Access project. These are small important pieces connected to the overall aspiration for West Rossdale and our river valley.

This area has amazing potential but is being stalled by us holding onto the projects in the planning stages for far too long. We can plan all we want, but eventually we need to more deeply and expeditiously involve the private sector here. There are an array of great private works being developed in our City right now, so we have more than enough reason to trust them. Public and private partnerships are the backbones of great city building and these projects are no different.

The Touch the Water Promenade will connect the new Walterdale Bridge to the north bank and creates a place where people can use the riverfront in ways that haven’t been possible. Mechanized Access will see the construction of an inclined elevator on McDougall Hill. This would link the top of the valley to the bottom of the valley and increase the accessibility to the river valley for users of all abilities.

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As I have touched upon many times in my blogs, I am a firm believer in the 8-80 City concept; “that if everything we do in our public spaces is great for an 8 year old and an 80 year old, then it will be great for all people.” Using this lens for future developments will assure that we are planning for both the here and now and the distant future. 8-80 cities incorporate both safety and accessibility into their design, allowing for a city friendly to all of its citizens.

Edmonton's river valley is it's crowning jewel, as anyone walking along its beautiful pathways can attest to. With the exciting Rossdale projects to come and a focus on 8-80 development, we are set up well for the long term.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The City has a number of exciting projects in the coming years, check out this definitive list: http://bit.ly/29Gy6pc for all of the developments to come. It really is an amazing time to be an Edmontonian, with all the tools and big projects in place, it’s now up to us to seize upon them, and truly make an Edmonton that we can be proud of.

“Active participation and leadership of city residents in enhancing green spaces enhances mental, physical, and community health and builds financial, human, social and natural capital in unique ways.”

What do you want to see?





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  • commented 2016-07-27 10:52:57 -0600
    Could not agree more Michael. Strategically speaking, I think this is among the largest issues the city faces. Edmonton is generally perceived as being ugly, and not without reason—get a few hundred metres away from the river valley and beauty in this city can often be in pretty short supply.

    I think you’ve hit on a really key issue with your points about landscaping. This issue has two components: one cultural (“kempness”), and one related to design. Regarding the latter, so much of our landscaping and urban design is convention imported from other places (mainly the U.S.) with different climates than ours. As you quite rightly point out, the result of this is often well-intentioned improvements that ultimately fail. You identify a few of exactly the type of questions we should be asking: how do we do meridians in a winter climate? What tree species bloom early here? How do we design a street section that accommodates snow removal? Etc. etc. etc. I’d love to see the City do a few pilot projects on this: take a few blocks that are due for improvements, hire some innovative consultants (maybe via competition), and let them go at it. By just improving our landscaping—something our municipal government has a large degree of control over—we could drastically improve the “beauty” of our city without changing a single building.

    Urban design is another huuuuge issue in this city that you touch on in the “placemaking” section. Much more important than creating pedestrian-only streets (which have a mixed record in North America) is simply improving the pedestrian experience on our streets which is right now, in a word, miserable. The main reason: our roads are vastly too wide. Even a street like Whyte Ave feels like a freeway: there are too many lanes of traffic, the lanes aren’t adequately separated from the sidewalk, and the lanes themselves are too wide, so cars go too fast. Jasper Ave and 124 Street are similar, and even worse is something like 104 Avenue or 109 Street, the latter of which could be a pedestrian street on par with some of the best in the city if it didn’t have a 7 lane tarmac running down the middle of it. I know that many of the streets I mention above are currently in the midst of redesign/redevelopment projects, but I think this critique holds true for virtually every road in the city. Transportation needs to systematically revamp its design guidelines to acknowledge that we don’t use streets the same way we did in the 1960s. People still drive, yes, and will continue to drive, but it’s no longer the only thing the citizens of the city are asking of these corridors. Again, I’d love to see some pilot projects that challenge this orthodoxy.

    The one thing you don’t mention is architecture, which, along with landscaping and urban design, is the final leg of three legged stool that is city beauty. I think the City is actually doing a great job in this regard, but the private sector and other orders of government continue to lag. It would be great to see the City give the province some guidance on architectural procurement for provincial projects being built in Edmonton, for example. However, this issue is quite diffuse, and, at the end of the day, cultural. As long as people here will buy units in ugly condo buildings, we’re gonna keep getting ugly condo buildings. As a city, we just don’t talk about architecture and design enough, and that is frankly tough to change. Of course, there are a few things that would be a good start. I’d love to the City increase sponsorship of groups like M.A.D.E. to organize events and bring in speakers, and in my heart of hearts I desperately hope we will one day shed the mantle of being the largest city in Canada without an architecture school…

    Anyway, it’s great to know that someone on council is thinking about this stuff.
  • commented 2016-07-20 16:39:40 -0600
    I would love to see the city repaint the old advertisements on the brick buildings downtown as an art feature. The neon sign museum has become a FAVOURITE art installation for my family and we go by it on a weekly basis. I think repainting some of the historical adverts especially around the ICE district would be a great.