Jasper Ave Blues: A Preamble

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Over the next…indeterminate period of time, I’ll be undertaking a series of posts about Downtown Edmonton. Readers will have surely noticed my interest in cities and urban environments. The urban core – in particular its downtown – is at the heart of any successful city/region.

I spend most of my time right now downtown and nearby. I work downtown, and live three blocks west of its technical boundary. When I’m home, I’m downtown at least 6 days of the week – every work day, plus at least one day on the weekend, whether it’s working out at the Y, going to a concert at Starlite or the Winspear, having dinner or drinks with friends, or of course, the market on Saturday mornings in the summer.

On the bright side, interest in downtown’s future and well-being is the highest in the decade I’ve closely followed Edmonton civic affairs. On the media front, CBC AM is in the middle of a series called Downtown at a Crossroads, and several Edmonton Journal writers (particularly David Staples) have focused heavily on downtown. City Council, the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, and the Chamber of Commerce are all active champions. The Downtown Community League is doing excellent work, and I see a real pride among many citizens in what’s happening. On the downside, interest doesn’t automatically lead to progress. Done poorly, it could end up having an adverse effect, and there’s also a danger that boosterism and the desire to see something – anything – happen, may override due process and judgement on what is truly beneficial. This series will be my contribution to the discussion, analyzing downtown’s current state, proposals for new ideas that come forward, and putting forward my own ideas about what can make our downtown even better. I hope others will respond, engage, and contribute.

The title of this series might imply a strictly negative view of downtown in its current state. Nothing could be further from the truth (I just liked the title, thought it was catchy, and don’t have any better ideas right now). While our downtown isn’t the best, or maybe even in the top 10 downtowns I’ve visited in the past few years (to be fair to Edmonton, I’ve been to a lot of cities in that time), there are a lot of positive things happening. Edmonton’s downtown has made tremendous strides in the 15 years or so that my memory extends back. New residences are popping up, ranging from the higher-end Icon Towers to the Mayfair Village affordable housing development. 104th Street has exploded, boasting a roster of coffee shops, wine bars, restaurants, and shops that rivals High Street or Whyte Ave – in quality if not in quantity. Nothing beats spending a Saturday morning during the summer at the outdoor market on 104th. A couple of years ago, none of Moriarty’s, Tres Carnales, Corso32, or Pampa existed. Now, we have a strong restaurant scene downtown. Our downtown would be virtually unrecognizable (in a good way) to someone who left two decades ago and had yet to come back.

Anecdotally, the strongest point for downtown I can say is this. When I moved back to Edmonton 6 years ago and for a while afterwards, I couldn’t imagine I would choose to live downtown over other areas in the city. When I last moved just under 2 years ago, the downtown area was by far my preferred area to end up. That’s somewhat due to having worked downtown for the past 5 1/2 years, and having gotten to know the area better. But mostly it’s because of the improvement I’ve seen in that time. But our downtown can still be so much more. This series is one way I’m aiming to help make that a reality.

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6 Responses

  1. Looking forward to reading more. Cheers

  2. Alex, the title of your series is still apt. Downtown is very much a work in progress and the work has barely started. My major complaint about downtown — some people are sick of me pointing this out — is how it remains largely hidden away indoors. Not just in City Centre, Manulife and Commerce Place, but in numerous buildings and blocks offering little or nothing to engage the sidewalk stroller.
    Unless these existing buildings and complexes open themselves up to the sidewalk — more entrances, window treatments, kiosks and stores available to the sidewalk — downtown will blossom west of 104th Street and north of Jasper Avenue. New buildings in the warehouse district — sparked by the arena development — will likely be far more likely to engage the sidewalk.
    The other thing we must improve on are the social and safety concerns. We must continue to improve housing and services for the homeless. And we must convince this or some future chief of police to put visible beat officers on patrol on Jasper Avenue and its side streets.
    Some people are simply fearful of being downtown. Visible cops would go a long way to improving the sense of security.
    That’s it for now. Good work, Alex.

    Scott

  3. Same here, looking forward to the rest of the series!

  4. Thanks Mack!

    Scott – thanks for the kind words. I completely agree with your point about the indoors and lack of street-level engagement. Will write more about this in the future. An additional problem is that many of the street-level businesses right now are, by their nature, not the type to engage pedestrians either (banks, travel agents, dentists, etc).

    There’s a perception of crime that needs to be addressed, but nuisance behaviour must be as well. Starting with the Oil City Roadhouse block.

  5. Looking forward to the series — and of course I love the opening photo.

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