Edmonton is a unique city, and managing its growth will require a unique solution.
In our brainstorming session with our Top 40 Under 40 alumni, we tried to compare Edmonton to other cities in the world, and found that to be the hardest task of all. Edmonton can’t be compared to cities with dense downtown hubs. We are not a city that has a large number of corporate head offices, and our downtown doesn’t attract hundreds of thousands of office workers to looming office towers. In fact, only a fraction of our workforce works downtown.
So, our city has moved outwards, spreading out as a series of neighbourhoods located across an area greater than that of Toronto. Short of dividing it into other municipalities, that isn’t going to change. We can’t invent a time machine, climb in and start over.
Neither can we compare ourselves to the newer American cities that have emerged in the last 100 years, such as Los Angeles and Phoenix, which have grown more out than up. Because of our winters, Edmontonians are more likely to drive than use transit (though public transportation usage is steadily growing). We typically shop at indoor and outdoor malls rather than go from shop to shop on a commercial street.
So, the challenge begins at the neighbourhood level. We need to make our communities more appealing and walkable. We need to embrace our winter, not gripe about it. We need to encourage our communities to be self-sufficient – so we can shop close to where we live and find services close to home.
Our communities need to act as hubs, all plugged into a bigger grid like a web. In that way, we can try and make a city that’s spread out feel more interconnected.
The downtown is the head, but we have to understand that there are vital businesses and industries throughout the city. We need to make it easier to get from hub to hub, to connect the various neighbourhoods. And each of these hubs needs to be self-sufficient, so their residents don’t feel the urge to drive across town when they need to run their errands.
Tegan Martin-Drysdale, our 2010 Top 40 Under 40 cover person, said it best: “In Europe they have cafes and grocery stores that are so accessible and within walking distance of each other. That creates a sense of community.”
As Edmontonians, we should build that great sense of community, and then plug that community into the big grid.
The city then becomes a great collection of neighbourhoods that we celebrate for their distinct characteristics.