A hundred years ago, Oliver was called the west end of Edmonton. Today, Jarrett Campbell, president of the Oliver Community League, calls it an extension of downtown, which applies to both the neighbourhood’s location and its diversity. A mix of condos, high rises, houses and both big-box and independent stores fill the spaces where many young adults but hardly any children live. You can go from looking at a sweeping view of the river valley to walking through rows of century-old homes on streets canopied by elms. Then, you could walk through a community garden and up to 104th Avenue, past the huge parking lot of Oliver Square and over to the independent shops on 124th Street – all without wearing down your soles.
While the community is gaining an increased sense of vibrancy with the development of 124th Street and new businesses, Campbell is the first to admit it’s not perfect. “It has a legacy of poor urban design,” says Campbell, who’s lived in the area for almost eight years. “On Jasper Avenue, you have this massive freeway that actually tears it in two; then you have 104th Avenue just a few blocks away doing the same thing. Look at Oliver Square; it’s only friendly towards those in cars,” he says.
But right now, Oliver’s on the cusp of change – the future could mean more widespread parking lots or more young people and thriving businesses. Or, maybe both. That’s because 14.2 acres of the community – the old Molson and Crosstown Motors sites – will eventually become retail and residential space. It’s just not clear how that will look yet.
One thing is certain, community members are invested in the neighbourhood’s future. If they’re not happy, they’ll speak up, as was the case with the current plans for the site. “The plans point towards a car-oriented power centre,” says Campbell. “If the LRT centre goes there, that wasn’t factored in.” So, community league members met with the developers, and Sustainable Development. While Sustainable Development recommended the proposal go forward, community members are hoping their concerns will result in changes to the plan, or that the city won’t approve the rezoning plans on August 26.
But no matter what happens, it’s hard to argue Oliver’s strong points. The river valley’s right there, character homes abound, downtown is just minutes away and many bars, businesses and restaurants are within walking distance. In the middle is the beautiful green space of Paul Kane Park. While the neighbourhood, according to Campbell, has one of the highest densities in Western Canada, it still has a strong sense of unity that’s arguably different from downtown. It might be an extension of the core, like Campbell says, but it has a mind all its own.