Week in Review - March 13/20, 2017

This past week was a busy one in Council Committee meetings. I’d like to focus on three items that could have impacts in Ward 10, and an update on the plan for redeveloping the South Park site on Whyte Avenue.

ELEVATE Initiative

The goal of the ELEVATE Initiative is to help create thriving mature neighbourhoods by reinvigorating community schools and local businesses. This initiative goes hand in hand with Council’s work to promote residential density in mature neighbourhoods. We can’t hope for renewal without an influx of people into these shrinking neighbourhoods.

I’ve been working on ELEVATE since 2013 with slow progress at times, but this week, we took a significant step forward with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City, the Government of Alberta, the Edmonton Public School Board, the Edmonton Catholic School District and the local french school board. Representatives from each of the partner organizations have come together to form the Edmonton Community Sustainability Coalition.

One of the principles in the MOU asks us to acknowledge reality.  That reality in Edmonton’s mature neighbourhoods is that the populations of school aged children have declined significantly over the years leaving too many schools with too few children in them. Replacement schools and school consolidations are the way of the future for Edmonton’s mature neighbourhoods because of this declining student enrolment and aging buildings. This decline, coupled with the reality that most of the demand for new schools is in newer suburbs, creates a stark reality we all must face together and in earnest.

We’ll be working to develop a joint action strategy for the next two years. That strategy will facilitate more resource-sharing between the different school boards and more effective planning between all three orders of government. During the next phase, we will be committed to the principle of providing strong and well-funded public education systems, and to taking a realistic approach to revitalizing Edmonton’s neighbourhoods, one that is grounded in data and facts.

I’m excited about the direction this initiative is taking and I’m eager to be involved in the next steps. I believe that with the right pieces in place, this work can create real change in Edmonton’s communities.

Pedestrian Safety

In 2015, 68 per cent of Edmonton’s pedestrian injuries and fatalities occurred in marked crosswalks, on street corners or at traffic lights. These types of intersections naturally have a higher number of pedestrian crossings, but that statistic is still staggering.

The City typically upgrades the signalling on about 15 intersections a year. There are 380 arterial road crossings waiting for upgrades, and another 1,000 collector and local intersections being assessed for upgrades. At the pace we’re going now, it will take until the year 2109 to upgrade all the intersections on the list.

To address the backlog, Community Services Committee decided to add $4.8 million from the photo radar reserve to the $4 million already budgeted for signalling upgrades. The combined $8.8 million will allow the City to upgrade 70 priority arterial intersections within the next three years.

This boost for pedestrian safety is a component of our Vision Zero strategy, our guide to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities and create a safer city. But I will note this is just a piece of that plan. Vision Zero isn’t about quick fixes - it’s about purposeful steps that build on one another to create holistic change.

Minimum Parking Requirements

The Urban Planning Committee had a much-anticipated discussion about the minimum parking requirements for single-family homes. Currently, the zoning bylaw requires that single family homes have two parking spaces on the property, not including street parking.

But in a city where we’re trying to create density, does this regulation make sense? Our last municipal census found that 30 per cent of Edmonton households are made up of a single individual, so the two-spot requirement might be overly restrictive. Most large cities, like Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver only require one on-lot parking spot.

This policy discussion will go to an upcoming public hearing, where Edmontonians will have an opportunity to share their thoughts about the change. I’ll look forward to receiving feedback from residents at that hearing on this important decision.

South Park on Whyte Avenue

View of the proposed Southpark on Whyte project looking west on Whyte Avenue.

Finally, an important item went to Public Hearing yesterday. A developer has submitted a request to rezone several lots between 81 Avenue and 82 Avenue on both the east and west side of 106 Street to build large scale residential and commercial buildings. Yesterday, we heard feedback on passing changes to the Strathcona Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP), changes that would allow construction on these sites to go forward

This redevelopment proposal has been controversial, as many people feel building towers just off Whyte Avenue will change the neighbourhood’s character. I certainly hear these concerns; Whyte Avenue is a beloved area in our city and we have a responsibility to protect its unique character.

But I haven’t seen evidence that adding more density to the area will have a destructive effect on this area’s cache. Whyte Avenue is already both a commercial and transit corridor, with services to services in place to meet the needs of higher residential density. If we as a city are truly committed to sustainability, we can’t ignore the fact that Whyte Avenue is an ideal place to build in more residential density. Council voted in favour of amending the Strathcona ARP to allow for this redevelopment, and we will be keeping an eye on this project as it continues to unfold.