The results of the 2016 Best Neighbourhoods Survey show us that we’re a conflicted city. Each of the 10 top communities are mature neighbourhoods. Many of them are close to the core of the city.
So, it’s a sign that Edmontonians are ready to embrace the urban lifestyle. Correct? Well, not quite. Take a look at these numbers:
61.8% say car/personal vehicle is their preferred mode of transportation
20.1% say walking
8.7% say bicycle
7.4% say transit
60.4% of us say they NEVER use transit (0 trips per week)
58.9% say they NEVER ride bikes
“It is really confusing,” says Ian O’Donnell, the vice-president of the Downtown Edmonton Community League (DECL) and Top 40 Under 40 alumnus. “This city can be the most frustrating place in the world. People want an urban, vibrant city – but not at the expense of the lifestyle they’ve come to know.”
The poll asks: Is it important to have grocery shopping available in your own neighbourhood?
Eighty-one per cent of respondents said that they do their grocery shopping in their own neighbourhoods or neighbourhoods very close to where they live.
But, even though we like to shop close by – we want to be able to drive there. When we asked if availability of parking was important to grocery shoppers, only 12.9 per cent said no.
So, what does that tell us? That Edmontonians like to do their major grocery shopping in places close to home, and they want to be able to drive there and park for free. This is understandably ironic because driving to a store that’s only a few blocks away defeats one of the most important aims of urbanism – which is to be able to leave the car at home, or not have a car at all.
O’Donnell says that because Edmonton has been such an easy city to drive for so long, many of us aren’t ready to loosen our grips on our steering wheels.
Basically, he feels that a lot of people want an urban lifestyle, we’re just not sure what that it is.
“We’re kind of at the puberty stage of urban life. We’ve gone through infancy, now we’re transitioning from a small city to a city of over one million. We’re not a small city anymore.”
He says that urban dwellers to truly embrace the car-less lifestyle, they need to know that all the necessities – grocery store, a pharmacy, doctor’s office – are within five blocks of their front door. And, Edmonton’s core neighbourhoods are short on services – especially when it comes to groceries. We don’t have those corner fruit markets like you see in other major cities.
“Your neighbourhood will be disparaged if you get in your car and head to Superstore,” he says. “Condos appreciate – cars depreciate.”
So, to shift the balance, we’d need more amenities downtown and in the first-ring neighbourhoods that border the core – not just weekly farmers’ markets.
URBAN AREAS NEED TO BE FAMILY-FRIENDLY
According to David Shepherd,the New Democrat MLA for Edmonton Centre, Alberta is the last province standing when it comes to allowing for adults-only buildings. But, while he understands that organizations like the DECL would like to see the brakes put on adult-only developments, he says that the provincial government is not currently looking at making amendments to human-rights legislation.
But, as an MLA and a condo-board president, Shepherd says he understands that changes need to be made to downtown’s housing mix.
“People get married, or they find partners and then they want to have children and then, all of a sudden, start running into a number of difficulties,” says Shepherd. “Sometimes it’s something simple like there being a very small amount of three-bedroom suites. There are certainly buildings that have adult-only or other age-restrictive policies. And, just in general, the challenge of older wood-frame buildings which just don’t have very good noise control.
“I really want to see downtown thrive not only as a place to visit and as a place to recreate, but as a place to live.”
“And, within that, for communities to really thrive, you need to have diversity in those communities. That’s diversity across income brackets, and that’s diversity of ages. I want to see our downtown core be a family-friendly place for people to live.”
So, will we see more three-bedroom condo options in the future? Shepherd thinks so. He says both the Downtown and Oliver Community Leagues are having discussions with developers about making more family-friendly units available. He says that indications are that new developments in both downtown and Oliver will have more of the larger units.
As Shepherd hopes for more family-friendly housing, the city’s administration told council in late June that the new 45-storey Emerald tower did not “consider the need for family-oriented housing and the infrastructure necessary to support families with children in the preparation of land-use plans in established neighbourhoods.”
But, on June 27, council voted to approve the tower – to be located at 114th Street and Jasper Avenue. The conditions included a clause for the city to buy five per cent of the units at 85 per cent of list price to be reserved as affordable housing. As well, the developer will be required to hand over $200,000 to the Oliver Community League for public-park enhancements.
“What we need is inclusive housing,” says O’Donnell. “We will never develop as a city if we don’t have inclusive housing.”
And that’s why the DECL would like to see a future where there are no “adults-only” buildings. If a young couple decides to have a child, then housing options grow limited. Single parents face uphill battles to find housing close to the core.
More options for families need to exist in core neighbourhoods. Children and their parents must feel welcomed – not like they are inconveniences. No, this doesn’t mean that Corso 32 has to provide a kids’ menu and crayons; but it means there need to be more urban spaces that are family friendly.
O’Donnell says the $4.2. million Alex Decoteau Park, currently under construction at 105th Street and 102nd Avenue, will offer one such option.