Designing Density

Maybe you grew up playing with Lego. Or maybe you enjoyed – or more likely became frustrated with – designing cities using SimCity. Both teach us that good building requires good planning.

This fall, Edmonton City Council approved two significant tower developments—one in Oliver and one Downtown. In Oliver, council approved a 23-storey tower on two lots where single detached homes currently sit. And in Downtown, council approved a surface parking lot to be rezoned from allowing a density ratio (called the floor to area ratio, or FAR) of 8-10 to 17. The decision nearly doubled the allowed size of the two proposed towers.

The Oliver Community League and Downtown Edmonton Community League recently told council we’re concerned about its trend of approving tower developments with increased densities, and without consideration for market demand, the effect on surrounding land prices and the diversity of built form.

Why do our community leagues take issue now, after years of being generally supportive of tower developments? Because the applications being proposed are much denser than before and this has a real and lasting effect on the overall real estate market. We feel our communities are reaching a point where we need better city planning in order to build a healthy city.

Many of the rezoning applications being proposed are between 50 to 100 per cent denser than what currently exists. These proposals require more thought and reflection as a city on the effects on the neighbourhood and other redevelopments across Edmonton. Many projects are at stake when we don’t question excessive density bonusing at specific sites.

Land development in Edmonton is significantly regulated. It’s regulated by the city administration, through City Council, through development officers and through the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board. You can build what you want on your land as long as it adheres to the rules – called zoning. The city provides a suite of standard zoning. If you want to build something that doesn’t fit in one of those zones, however, you have the option to write your own – a ‘direct control’ zone.

In the last decade, most rezonings in Oliver and Downtown have been direct control. These direct control zones have often allowed developers to build far more height and more density than previously allowed. In some cases, the resulting towers don’t adhere to Edmonton’s own rules and guidelines, let alone good urban-planning and design principles.

For example: Council approved a direct-control zone for a development at Jasper Avenue and 114 Street. The zoning allows for a 45-storey tower with 273 units and a floor to area ratio of 12.4. The increase in density is vastly different than the single-storey commercial buildings in the area, and enables the developer to sell many more units from this parcel of land. And yet, the developer successfully argued they were not able to provide three-bedroom units to the community to house families or an underground parkade.

Theoretically, each zoning application must stand on its own. City Council is not required to make decisions based on precedence or past decisions. This leads to the belief that their decisions do not affect the land development market. But they do.

Allowing a developer to develop a tower with more density than neighbouring properties through a direct-control zone sets cascading reactions in motion. Land prices climb as landowners presume development opportunities are ever increasing with each approved upzoning. Land prices may not be a significant hurdle for a large tower development, but they can make developments in the “missing middle” form – row-homes, townhouses, low-rises and courtyard apartments – near impossible or overly expensive.

A community league must advocate not only for its current residents but also future residents. What will the next generation of Downtown and Oliver experience living in the core? What are the cumulative effects of haphazard approvals that don’t consider allocation of public amenities, like green space and recreation? That don’t examine impacts to sunlight penetration and wind tunneling? That don’t respect market forces on affordability and land speculation?

In Oliver, single-storey development and surface parking lots dominate Jasper and 104 avenues. Meanwhile, Downtown has surface parking lots covering almost entire blocks. While densification of our city is crucial, our two communities have many plots of land available for development. If this land is underutilized it makes our home less enjoyable, healthy and safe.

Planning our neighbourhoods properly requires understanding how many people we want to accommodate, and creating a framework to ensure a diversity of housing can be provided. Downtown has the award-winning Capital City Downtown Plan, which is due for renewal in a few years. But Oliver hasn’t seen an update to the Area Redevelopment Plan since 1995, well before the closure of the City Centre Airport that restricted building heights.

The City of Edmonton is currently renewing our Municipal Development Plan – “the City Plan” – and will look to shape our city to sustainably accommodate two million people. It’s likely that the populations of Downtown and Oliver will more than double within the coming generation. It’s going to take a lot of effort – and planning – to make sure we create vibrant urban communities. We need diverse and affordable housing choices, access to active and public transportation, and access to amenities like parks, libraries, local coffee shops and grocery stores.

Best in the Core: The Fourth Annual Best in the Core Awards

Your Best Ever Weekend in the Core in 5 Steps

1. EXPLORE Fall in love at delicious date digs (pg 14), audition to be a regular (pg 14), bring along your kids to a boozy brunch (pg 17), skate underneath magical light (pg 20), or just go stare at a wall (pg 20).

2. KEEP SECRETS Fetch some terrines at this super hushhush hookup (pg 15), descend into a Persian-influenced nook (pg 16), get your pants hemmed by a stitch magician (pg 16), or just go dance on a boat (pg 17).

3. GET MOVING Ride an autobahn built for bikes (pg 20), walk your dog in a pool (pg 20), hover around a hive mind (pg 19), sweat it out on some stairs (pg 19), or just snap a selfie in a great spot (pg 19).

4. FATTEN UP Sip espresso at a great family-biz (pg 16), eat a meal while you meet a senior (pg 15), eat a coddled egg (pg 14), or just go eat and drink for cheap at happy hour (pg 18).

5. STAY UP PAST BEDTIME Sing your heart out at karaoke night at a multiple-award winning gem (pg 17), move past salsa as something for your chips (pg 14), debate between scarfing pizza or shawarma to lull you to sleep (pg 18), or just go listen to loud guitars at a live-music institution (pg 17).

Best Guesses at 2019 Best in the Core Categories: Best in Cannabis, Best Tower over 75 storeys, Best New Dog Park, Best Vape Lounge, Best Grocery Store

 

Best in Business

Best Date Digs

WINNER: Bar Clementine

Keep your love flame burning bright long after the kitchen closes inside these intimate digs. The cocktail menu is fresh and the curated wine menu has big flavours from small vineyards. Share an assortment of adventurous dishes from the constantly changing food menu and admire the 20th-century French Art Nouveau. You might even be inspired to take a lovers’ getaway to France. 11957 Jasper Avenue barclementine.ca

RUNNER UP: On the Rocks Salsa Night

Suss out your date’s moves with a night of passion … on the OTR dance floor. Thursday night salsa at OTR is an Oliver institution. Chacha-cha. 11740 Jasper Avenue ontherocksedmonton.com

RUNNER UP: Bru Coffee + Beer House

You want coffee. He wants beer. You both want a nice bite as you inspect one another on your IRL date. Get the best here for a buzzworthy meetup. 11965 Jasper Avenue brucoffeeandbeerhouse.com

A Love Recipe by Bar Clementine “The setting was intimate and my partner and I enjoyed a romantic evening, despite our 30-plus years together,” says Lianne McTavish, of a recent date at Bar Clementine. Indeed, McTavish, who lives in Oliver, has a perfect birthday recipe: Take one quick walk to the nearby bar that’s ranked ninth-best in Canada. Add one friendly waiter, who delivers one Simone cocktail with notes of lavender and rhubarb. Stir in several small plates, such as the sourdough-rye pancake with Jambon de Paris, fromage blanc, smoked clover honey, sambal and Swiss chard. Finish with a hearty spoonful of romance. Feeds two.”

-Sydnee Bryant

 

Best Place to Be a Regular

WINNER: Bar Bricco

Bricco’s low light and chic atmosphere invite everyone to be a regular. Relax with a glass of wine and marvellous spuntini, or explore a new pairing – the staff are experts on the wine list. Or attempt to try all the salumi and formaggi, which you’ll need to come back several times to experience. The best tip a regular could offer? Get the egg yolk ravioli – which is smothered in burnt butter and a pile of Parmigiano Reggiano – every damn time. 10347 Jasper Avenue barbricco.com

RUNNER UP: District Café & Bakery

A bright open space makes this an ideal spot to work during the week (though make sure your laptop’s fully charged, as there’s a lack of plugins). Stop in often enough and the attentive staff will memorize your coffee order, and you’ll be able to snag the delicious pastries before the other customers. 10011 109 Street districtcafe.ca

RUNNER UP: Tres Carnales

Regulars know to stop in before the lunch and dinner rush so they don’t have to wait long for some authentic Mexican tacos, fresh guac and chips and ambrosial Sangria. 10119 100A Street (AKA Rice Howard Way) trescarnales.com

-Matthew Stepanic

 

Best Off-Sales

WINNER: RGE RD

For only three days a month, the Butchery at RGE RD offers freshly prepared terrines, rillettes, sausages and cured meats – along with breads baked in a wood-burning oven – to vigilant and/or lucky customers. You can phone ahead to reserve a large order, but be sure to sign up for their event updates to stay on top of this pop-up paradise of finely crafted breads and meats. 10643 123 Street rgerd.ca

RUNNER UP: Yellowhead Brewery

Take home the fun of that event you just attended at this picturesque downtown craft brewery, but in a bottle. Yellowhead’s traditional lager is available in bottles or refillable growlers. You’ll be pleased when you come in from work and remember you have refreshing beer waiting in the fridge. 10229 105 Street yellowheadbeer.com

RUNNER UP: Careit Deli

Need to please a crowd at a long staff meeting? You’ll want to order in a delicious and healthy lunch from here with hot soups, seasonal fruit trays, and a variety of sandwiches and wraps. You can even do a festive lunch with turkey, stuffing and all the fixings in December. 10226 104 Street careit.ca

 

Best Place for Something Fresh

WINNER: Hideout Distro

Owner Tory Culen moved her cute, oddball general store out of the basement in the Mercer Building into a full-sized bay just off 124 Street. Find the coolest prints, ceramics, clothes, jewellery, music and books from local artists, designers and makers. Culen personally curates. Her tastes go beyond unique goods, as she has also crafted a space that feels hips and begs you to hang out a while on its long, green comfy couch. 12407 108 Avenue hideoutdistro.com

RUNNER UP: Hawkeye’s Too

With its authentic retro feel, this unpretentious pub serves up some tasty pizza, makes you feel at home with friendly staff and invites you to get a little (okay, a lot) wild on its epic karaoke nights. 10048 102 Street

RUNNER UP: Beaver Hills House Park

Retreat from the urban jungle by moving your lunch break to this beautiful park where the public art – including Destiny Swiderski’s Amiskwacîw Wâskâyhkan Ihâtwin of beautifully sculpted waxwings – will relax you. 10404 Jasper Avenue

– Matthew Stepanic

 

Best in Public Service

WINNER: SAGE

The Seniors’ Association of Greater Edmonton is here to help if you’re a senior or caring for one. Their most remarkable endeavour? The Seniors Safe House, which provides at least two months’ housing and support for abused seniors. SAGE also offers free therapy sessions, help with income taxes and a hoarding-control program – among other services. And if SAGE alone can’t help you with your situation, they’ll find you someone who can. 15 Sir Winston Churchill Square mysage.ca

RUNNER UP: Passport Canada

One neat thing about living in the core is how simple it is to keep your travel documents up to date. We dream of jetting off to who-knows where, just like everyone else, but those who live in the core can walk to the office and get the little blue book that lets us do it. Others, from far and wide? Not so much. How neat is that for a public service? 9700 Jasper Avenue

RUNNER UP: STI Clinic

While nobody much wants to go to the STI Clinic it’s a smoothly run, compassionate and efficient operation geared toward providing some needed answers. It also makes use of the Edmonton General, a woefully overlooked historical building. 1111 Jasper Avenue

– Staff

 

Best in Threads

WINNER: Red Ribbon

High Street wouldn’t be the same without this subterranean clothing goody store. The clothes range from mountainy hipster to super bougie to everything in between. The staff are super attentive and the selection offers treats you don’t find elsewhere. 12505 102 Avenue redribbon.ca

WINNER: The Helm

Bank accounts owned by men with refined tastes for Italian blazers fear The Helm. Owner Chad Helm has made it his personal mission to offer Edmonton some more class. He’s succeeding. 10124 104 Street thehelmclothing.com

WINNER: Arturo Denim

Edmonton has a long history of making denim thanks to the former GWG factory. Well Arturo is bringing it back. And aside from the new (and ethical) jeans and clothes they sell, they’ll fix your damaged jeans, too. 10443 124 Street arturodenim.ca

WINNER: Alberta Tailoring Company

A place with a well-earned reputation for being good at the craft of stitching, fitting, hemming, resizing and reworking your expensive clothing. Need a dress re-fitted? Go here. 10025 Jasper Avenue

– Tim Querengesser

 

Best Family Biz

WINNER: Credo

A love for Edmonton’s artsy vibe drove the Linden family to open the first Credo location, on 104 Street, in 2009. Credo’s website says the shop’s mission is to be “a place to connect, to relax, to discuss, and to feel at home.” The growing chain of local shops have been eminently successful in this. Cozy is the word that comes to mind to describe the locations, from the original 104 Street spot to the newest in the Kelly Ramsey building. All are located in the core and all have great patios, too. A lovely place to be. 10134 104 Street; 10350 124 Street; 10162 100A Street credocoffee.ca

RUNNER UP: Kunitz Shoes

If repairing your shoes with goo doesn’t appeal, you can get your footwear fixed here. The Kunitz family’s love of tailor-made shoes and, yes, also of fish tanks (just check out the store), makes their business a true stand-out. 10846 Jasper Avenue kunitzshoes.ca

RUNNER UP: The Colombian Mountain Coffee Company

With roots in Colombia, the Lopez-Panylyk family moved past tragedy (the murder of owner Santiago Lopez’s grandmother) to beauty in Edmonton. This local shop will ship their directly-sourced beans right to you. 10340 134 Street the-colombian-mountain-coffee.myshopify.com/

– Ana Holleman

 

Best Buried Treasure

WINNER: Cafe Lavi

If you seek hidden, here is hidden. You first notice the lights, artfully hung against the exterior brick, beckoning you down into a delightful café with Persian undertones. The interior is equally charming, with minimalistic décor in soothing white tones. If curiosity brought you here, the organic lunch items like Persian ash soup, chicken Caesar salad and sliders will make you stay. And the direct-trade coffee and sweet treats will bring you back. 9947 104 Street facebook.com/cafelavi

RUNNER UP: Chicken For Lunch

Tasty chicken dishes down in the pedway, served quickly by Amy Quon of The Quon Dynasty show – we don’t mind if you use that bit of TV trivia at your next party. 10060 Jasper Avenue facebook.com/CFLEdmonton

RUNNER UP: The Sunshine Cafe (at SAGE)

Hidden near City Hall. Come here for the Salisbury steak and live piano music. Stay for the wise words from seniors. 15 Sir Winston Churchill Square mysage.ca/at-sage/food-services/the-sunshine-cafe

– Sydnee Bryant

 

Best Bar for Responsible Parents

WINNER: Local

Whether your game is bocce ball, ping pong or shuffle board, you can pass on your skills knowledge to your kids while enjoying a beer on the patio. Bond over the family-friendly entertainment, then chow down on grilled chicken tacos – something kids and adults always agree on. Local’s brunch game is on point, too, meaning you can gulp mimosas while your brood plays outside. They might
even make new friends. 11228 Jasper Avenue localjasperave.com

RUNNER UP: Craft Beer Market

One of the few bars with a kids’ menu – with mac ‘n’ cheese that puts yours to shame. 10013 101A Avenue (AKA Rice Howard Way). craftbeermarket.ca/edmonton

RUNNER UP: Urban Tavern

Load up on brunch poutine at a spot that serves tater tots and mimosas. 11606 Jasper Avenue urban-tavern.com

– Sydnee Bryant

 

Best Live Music

WINNER: The Starlite Room

The Starlite Room is under new management but remains one of Edmonton’s premier live music venues, hosting 20 different events in November 2018 alone. Big-name acts and underground groups alike play the haunt, which opened as the Bronx in the late ‘70s. Not only does that mean the place is a major player in the local (and national and international) music scene, but it means there’s something for everyone, too. 10030 102 Street starliteroom.ca

The perfect live show, as explained by Starlite Room’s Tyson Boyd

What goes into a perfect show at the Starlite Room? “It really depends,” says manager Tyson Boyd. The venue, which was originally a Salvation Army Citadel, built in 1925, hosts all types of performances: electronica, hip-hop, punk and metal shows. To help accommodate that diversity, Boyd says the Starlite Room talks with tour managers to assess each performer’s technical needs. Some events are what Boyd calls “throw-and-go” shows – the performers basically bring their equipment, throw it on stage and go. Other artists require more time for stage plotting and, for instance, instrument fine-tuning. “Every show is different,” Boyd says.

RUNNER UP: On The Rocks

Do alcohol and salsa dancing mix? Find out at On The Rocks. But if it’s live music, the live bands every weekend might satisfy. Or you can provide your own on Wednesday karaoke
nights. 11740 Jasper Ave ontherocksedmonton.com

RUNNER UP: The Edmonton Riverboat

Three-and-a-half months of local live musical talent on the North Saskatchewan River. Beautiful. Also, that view – both inside and out. 9734 98 Avenue edmontonriverboat.ca

– Ana Holleman

 

Best Late-Night Eats

WINNER: Hawkeyes Too

Oh Hawkeyes Too, you’re so good. There’s no feeling quite like the camaraderie when a crew of us share an extra-large pizza, a pitcher and some wings under your tri-colour LEDs – all while being serenaded by Jungle Jim. You’re a safe haven for karaoke aficionados on Fridays and Saturdays. You’re a place that’s just dimly-lit enough for tired eyes. Your half-circle booths always have a spot for one more person. Your servers are sweethearts. Your bathrooms are weird but clean. Your pizza has never let me down. Ever. When I want a cheezy mushroom pizza fix, You’re my go to. I don’t know when your kitchen closes; all I know is that you’ve always been there for me. 10048 102 Street

– Sydney Gross

WINNER: La Shish

I don’t preach about much but selecting the best place to break bread after a night out strikes a religious fervour in me. At La Shish there’s a ritual to it: I always get a combo plate and a Coke because the sugared acidity tenderizes the meat as you feast. If you’re feeling temptation, you can’t go wrong with the baklava: its sweet-snacky crunch is a thing of bliss. This isn’t some dimly-lit dive for you to hide your shame in; it’s a temple of sensory experience. Gleaming white columns. Bright lights. A beacon in the night. I live downtown now but I used to live across the street from La Shish and it still holds a sacred place in my late-night heart. I always leave feeling full, happy and ready for slumber. Do yourself a kindness – when you’re seeking latenight salivation, go to La Shish. 10106 118 Street lashishshawarma.com

– Tim Schneider

 

Best Hour of Happy

WINNER: Baijiu

For its happy-hour specials, Baijiu expands off its high-class cocktail menu and offers themed drinks and food, which you won’t experience any other night. On Wakiki Wednesdays, tiki drinks are on the menu, such as the “I Only Smoke on Vacation” – Reposado Tequila, Mezcal, Green Chartreuse and honey. Bao Tuesdays allow you to enjoy a soft bao stuffed with non-traditional toppings such as donair or Montreal smoked meat. So be happy. 10363 104 Street baijiuyeg.com

RUNNER UP: Grandin Fish & Chips

This happy hour is the catch of any day with the chef’s choice of fish and chips, on special for only $12 from 2 pm – 5 pm. Plus you can enjoy a pint for only $5. A tasty and cheap meal for those early enough to hook it. 9902 109 Street grandinfish.ca

RUNNER UP: Earls

From 3 pm – 6 pm, and 9 pm to close, every day, the mix of low-price food and drinks here will please every friend (think street chicken tacos, garlic fries, and that Millennial favourite, avocado toast). Wash it down with the poison of your choosing. 11830 Jasper Avenue earls.ca

 

Best New Social Enterprise

WINNER: Boyle Street Eats

There’s no need to count calories when they’re all for a good cause. Launched this past spring, the new Boyle Streets Eats food truck serves up more than burgers and fries – it’s staffed by members of the Boyle Street community experiencing homelessness or poverty. And it provides them a living wage, valuable training and work experience. All over boylestreetventures.com

RUNNER UP: Hallway Café + Takeaway

A revitalized version of the Kids in the Hall Bistro, this new café in City Hall focuses on sustainability in its scratch-made foods created by at-risk youth – including freshbaked breads, braised meats and soups. It also focuses on food security by donating leftovers each day to the Women’s Emergency Accommodation Centre. 1 Sir Winston Churchill Square (in City Hall) hallway.cafe

RUNNER UP: Indian Fusion

Owner and chef Parkash Chhibber not only serves his flavourful curries to the customers inside his restaurant, but also serves those in need who knock on his back door. A sign there directs hungry friends to knock for a free meal or coffee, anytime. Chhibber donates nearly 1,600 meals a month. 10322 111 Street indianfusionrestaurant.ca

– Matthew Stepanic

 

Best Bee Buzz

WINNER: Manasc Isaac

Edmonton changed its bylaws in 2015 to allow urban beekeeping and the city’s been buzzing since. Bees make honey but also increase pollination, making them key to urban agriculture. Growing food in the core promotes sustainability, which is why the hives at Manasc Isaac Architects are so important. If this architecture firm is leading on buildings and bees, others will surely follow.
10225 100 Avenue manascisaac.com

RUNNER UP: MacEwan University

Not only do the bee hotels help create a sustainable campus but they also provide an opportunity to educate students and the community about the crucial pollinators. 10700 104 Avenue macewan.ca

RUNNER UP: The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald

The bees provide honey to the hotel’s kitchen. And they help maintain the fabulous gardens behind the hotel. 10065 100 Street fairmont.com/macdonald-edmonton

– Chris Sikkenga

 

Best Selfie Spot

WINNER: Happy Wall

Wooden pixels: 1,040. Potential word combinations: Millions. Selfies taken: Priceless. The Happy Wall is 17-metres of selfie heaven, laid out in Churchill Square for everyone to enjoy. Made from reclaimed wood, the Happy Wall can do anything – promote your event, propose to your partner, proclaim your undying love of … well, anything. What more could a selfie connoisseur want?
Churchill Square thomasdambo.com/happy-wall

RUNNER UP: River Valley

Show off your rustic, natural side with a scenic selfie during Magic Hour. Along the North Saskatchewan River

RUNNER UP: PichiAvo Mural

At four storeys tall and 36 metres wide, Edmonton’s largest mural is a splendid selfie backdrop. 106 Street and 103 Avenue facebook.com/rustmagic

– Sydnee Bryant

 

Best Hidden Heritage

WINNER: Mountifield Residence

Built in 1905 and designed by architect James E. Wize, the Mountifield Residence is one of only two buildings of the Second Empire architectural style that remain in Edmonton (the other is the Gariepy Residence, at the southern end of 104 Street downtown). The house was built for Henry Mountifield, whose daughter, Eleanor, captained the famous Edmonton Grads basketball team. Extensive renovations have returned the house to its original splendour. It was designated a Municipal Historic Resource in 2015. 9850 112 Street

RUNNER UP: Canada Permanent Building

This Edwardian Baroque building from 1910 is pure Accidental Wes Anderson. It will also, hopefully, find new life soon. 10126 100 Street

RUNNER UP: Derwas Court Apartment Building

Escape to New York City, or maybe Montreal, with this old-school walkup. Its exterior of red brick and its staircases makes this a unique gem. 10146 121 Street

-Derek Gagnon

 

Best Sweat During Your Workday

WINNER: Legislature grounds

The 800-metre loop on the south side of the grounds is the ideal distance for your lunch break – just more than 1,000 steps, or one-tenth of the way to crushing your daily Fitbit goal. Walk briskly and you’ll be done in less than 10 minutes. Or, take your time and enjoy the view and you’ll still be back in time to grab a quick bite before getting back to the grind. 10800 97 Avenue assembly.ab.ca/Visitor/index.html

RUNNER UP: Funicular Stairs

The funicular may stop sometimes, okay, a lot of the times, but that shouldn’t stop you from mastering 201 steps of sweat and glory. The hours are a tad ridiculous though, stopping at 9PM. Still one of the best views in all of Edmonton. 10065 100 Street

RUNNER UP: The Victoria Stair Circuit

Earn that after-work beer by climbing the hundreds of stairs here in one of the prettiest parts of the city. 11004 97 Avenue

-Sydnee Bryant

 

Best What-The-F***?

WINNER: Copious Sidewalk Closures

Construction crews in Edmonton are more safety conscious than helicopter parents with their first child. All over the core these crews block both sides of the street, forcing people to travel a block out of their way, or just walk on the street. “Sidewalk Closed” signs often go up before any construction starts and remain up long after the work is done. It’s especially frustrating when the sidewalk is used by contractors as parking.

RUNNER UP: Crosswalk Inconsistency

After a detour around closed sidewalks, it’s time to hit Edmonton’s city version of the slots! Press the crosswalk button (known, unflatteringly, as the beg button) and gamble with your time. Your child will potentially graduate grammar school before you cross.

RUNNER UP: Missing Rec Facilities

After all the extra steps, do some jumping jacks as you wait at the crosswalk. Who needs a rec centre downtown? The community centre is now every intersection!

-Chris Sikkenga

 

Best Excuse to Stare at a Wall

WINNER: Rust Magic

The International Street Mural Festival allows Edmonton to not only embrace artistry but to become art itself. These unique murals, many of them downtown, bring colour and vibrancy to the brutal architecture of the city. Rather than constructing new art projects, Rust Magic celebrates creativity by re-imagining what walls and public spaces can be. Stare much? All over the core rustmagic.ca

RUNNER UP: Vignettes

Why simply embrace art when you can even be a part of it in Vignettes? The Instagram-friendly exhibitions that activate oft unused or under-used spaces in the core allow you to not only view interesting creative works but create some of your own. vignettesyeg.ca

RUNNER UP: SNAP

Creative spaces like SNAP have an energy that can be felt in your bones. See the art and see behind the scenes. Or attend one of the arty parties and talk to the artists. 10123 121 Street snapartists.com

-Chris Sikkenga

 

Best Outdoor Tradition

WINNER: Victoria Park Iceway

Like many great things in Edmonton, the Victoria Park Iceway was created amid controversy – including allegations by the student designer that the city stole it. Here’s what you need to know: The Freezeway, err …  Iceway … may not be the urban skate-to-work brilliance it was supposed to be, but an hour on your skates at night in the warm glow of Dylan Toymaker’s lanterns, peering up at downtown’s twinkling skyline, is still like stepping into a Dickensian winter village. Make it a tradition. 11004 12004 River Valley Road

RUNNER UP: Dog Day at Oliver Pool

The poor souls who have to clean the filters after this feast of beasts in chlorine in September are, well, they are heroes. The idea is a lovely nod to Oliver’s plethora of urban fur babies, who enrich our lives. It is also likely a smelly thing for anyone without a dog. 10315 119 Street

RUNNER UP: Wintering It On a Downtown/Oliver Patio

There’s something about the warmth of street vibrance that makes patio drinking well into the winter months more possible. So get to one of 104 Street’s many patio establishments – Tzin, Kelly’s, Cask and Barrel, The Station and The Great Canadian Ice House – and order a bevvy. Your city needs you out there.

-Tim Querengesser

 

Best ‘Hood Recreation

WINNER: The Oliverbahn

Riders of the Oliverbahn have no fear. They don’t fear popular opinion, since bike lanes have been contentious in Edmonton, yet Oliverbahners keep riding. They don’t fear bylaw enforcement, either, since a look at #Oliverbahn on Twitter shows the handiwork of a person (or people) dedicated to affixing the ‘Oliverbahn’ name to city signs along the beloved, protected bike route, which runs from Connaught Drive to 111 Street. Oliverbahners fear nothing, except maybe a lack of more routes like this being built.

RUNNER UP: Royal Lawn Bowling Club

Everything about this club, from the very idea of a lawn-bowling club’s ongoing existence to the early-’00s-style website, is remarkably quaint. Camaraderie-building rules that stipulate you must “compliment your opponent as well as your teammate on a good shot,” make it even better. Regal, even. 9515 107 Street royalbowls.ca

RUNNER UP: Victoria Park Cross-Country Skiing

Cross-country skiing in Victoria Park blends Edmonton’s urbanity and naturalism splendidly. There has been and will be snow in Edmonton this year (and next), no matter what. So why not use it
for something beautiful? 12030 River Valley Road

– Ana Holleman

Are You Experienced?

Online shopping is booming but so is Downtown, due in large part to retail expansion, including 300,000 sq. ft. in the Ice District alone. What, then, will get the neighbourhood’s residents – 40 per cent of whom are Millennials – off Amazon and into stores?

Experts say it’s experiences. The role of bricks-and-mortar locations is changing in the retail world. Storefronts are less points of sale than places to entertain and make customers feel an emotional connection to products or brands.

According to a report by the Downtown Business Association, called The Future of Retail in Downtown Edmonton, Downtown residents value such experiences and frequently seek them out, often for some ‘try before you buy,’ before returning home to their laptops and clicking ‘Proceed to Checkout.’

“We don’t buy things anymore,” says Jimmy Shewchuk, business development, trade and investment manager at Edmonton Economic Development Corporation. “We buy experiences. Even if we are buying things, we’re buying an experience. The concept of selling things out of four walls as a business model, if it’s not dead, is on life support right now.”

The DBA report says this falls into the growth of so-called omnichannel retail, or the integration of online shopping with experiences and entertainment in physical locations.

Shewchuk says global brands like Burberry have been hitting the mark with converting real-world experiences into sales. “That bricks-and-mortar piece is part of their very robust business model that sells online and engages with its fans,” he says.

The new retail experience often starts with social media and continues when a customer enters the store, is greeted by staff as well as some less obvious cues – lighting, music, atmosphere, aesthetic. If the in-store experience is successful, many shoppers still leave empty handed, preferring to finish the transaction from the couch, after reading reviews and comparing prices.

Shewchuk says Downtown has yet to see much of this new trend in its retail environs. That’s likely to change.

“The onus is on a retail location to create that experience and it works kind of symbiotically with a city that’s going to create the greater experience of walking the area,” he says.

The City of Edmonton has invested heavily in downtown revitalization, including public dollars to subsidize parts of what’s become the Ice District. But some locals are raising concerns that area’s focus on entertainment and retail giants is pushing out small businesses.

Glenn Scott, senior vice president of real estate for Ice District Properties, doesn’t share these concerns.

“We’re trying to make it a mix, so people will have the amenities they want to live in our area, in the Ice District, and to work there,” he says. “That’s really what we’re trying to provide, so hopefully we’ll hit all or most of those needs. We’re helping, we’re not hurting.”

Scott cites taxes, a higher minimum wage and competition with Amazon for the reason some retailers in the area are struggling.

Still, the Ice District has a lot of retail space to fill and recently had to redesign one of their yet-to-be-built towers, after a major tenant pulled out, so their ultimate effect on retail in the downtown won’t be immediately clear.

Scott says he’s confident the growing downtown population will have all their needs taken care of.

“There’s going to be thousands more people living downtown which will be a great thing for downtown. It’s got to be a place that can work for everyone,” he says. “West Edmonton Mall kind of created a big hole [downtown] and now there’s a counter trend and I think it’s really exciting for Edmonton.”

– With files from Tim Querengesser

 

Downtown retail, by the numbers

86 Percentage of downtown residents who say they would like another grocery store in the neighbourhood

20 Percentage that Albertans spend dining out over the Canadian average

11,600 Number of residential units downtown under construction or proposed for the next decade

– Source: DBA

The Upside of Upzoning

A recent policy shift that spells out what and how much developers must contribute to a community in order to gain rezonings when they propose tall towers in them could have a profound effect on future developments in Oliver.

In June 2017, Westrich Pacific, a Vancouver-based developer, proposed a 28-storey residential tower in the Grandin area of Oliver. But the Oliver Community League spoke out against the proposal, and then council rejected it – the first tower council turned down in eight years. The lot, council said, was too small for the proposed structure and its height would compromise its neighbours’ view.

Fast-forward to September and Westrich Pacific returned to council to pitch The View, a 23-storey tower with 178 units on the same lot. This time, council approved the revised proposal. The main changes? Westrich Pacific had worked with the Oliver Community League and also within new rules that govern community amenity contributions.

In July, council passed Policy C599, which establish that when a developer wants to upzone a property – that is, when the proposed building is larger than what’s allowed by the existing neighbourhood plan – they must contribute community amenities that benefit residents of that neighbourhood.

Community amenity contributions can include new parks or upgrades to existing parks, as well as sidewalks, trees and benches. They can also include family-oriented housing with three or more bedrooms, public art by a commissioned artist, heritage preservation and upgrades to community league facilities. A developer’s contribution amount is determined by the increase in floor area proposed through rezoning. For 2018-2019, each additional square metre of floor area prompts an amenity contribution of $37.50. This amount is updated every two years.

How are amenities chosen for a neighbourhood? According to the City, multiple stakeholders, including the community league, the business association and nearby residents are consulted. Community members put together a wish list of amenities, which is then reviewed by city bureaucrats, and followed by a public hearing. The developer creates their own list of amenities that they’re willing to contribute, and submits that as part of the rezoning process. Council eventually votes whether or not to approve the rezoning application, and this list of community amenity contributions is part of their deliberations.

The View proposal includes a clause that the developers must pay at least $100,000 to the Oliver Community League for “the creation of a community hall, community garden, and/or another amenity within the Oliver neighbourhood,” in addition to spending a minimum of $54,800 on public art for the property. There also must be a minimum of 11 three-bedroom units in the building.

That alone is a plus for a neighbourhood where, at the moment, “there aren’t enough family units,” says Oliver Community League President Lisa Brown.

Brown says the new policy will ensure developers aren’t making extra money by building bigger towers – which put additional strain on a neighbourhood’s existing amenities – without giving back to the community. “It needs to improve the services in the neighbourhood,” she says. “You’re adding to the density and the developer needs to contribute in some way so that there isn’t an overall decrease in services available for all residents.”

OCL Winter Events

Tuesdays (except December 25 and January 1), 7-9pm | Drop-In Basketball

Enjoy a pickup game or just shoot some hoops at this regular basketball drop-in that’s open to the Oliver Community. Grace Lutheran Church, 9907 114 Street

 

December 10, January 14, February 12*, 7pm | Civics Committee

This highly engaged committee meets on the second Monday of the month (unless otherwise posted) to discuss developments in Oliver. Grace Lutheran Church, 9907 114 Street *Tuesday after a stat holiday

 

December 10, 6pm | Oliver Reads

Oliver’s book club meeting will discuss Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. Get your free membership to the Edmonton Public Library for a hard copy or e-book version. Join the club by emailing us at events@olivercommunity.com MEC community room, 11904 104 Avenue

 

January 18, February 15, 8pm | Walking Pub Crawl of Oliver

Join your neighbours, meet with new and old friends and explore some local pubs. Locations TBD; please check up on OCL’s Facebook page. Meet at Oliver Park, 118 Street and 103 Avenue by the playground. No pub crawl in December.

DECL Winter Events

December 13, 7-10pm | Annual Holiday Mixer

Come celebrate the season with your Downtown neighbours, partners and supporters! Light refreshments and beverages will be served, cash bar available. 10042 103 Street

 

Every Friday, 10 -11:30am | Urban Kids Playgroup

Our playgroup meets weekly for parents and tots up to 5. Coffee and snacks provided! 10042 103 Street

 

January 17, February 21 | DECL Socials

Meet your neighbours! Times and locations TBA Check on our Facebook page or the monthly DECL newsletter for more details as dates draw near!

Open Streets

It’s a question some cities have pondered, only to arrive at a similar answer: streets are open when they’re for people, and closed when they’re exclusively for moving vehicles. While many European cities now aim to open their streets by closing their downtowns to private vehicles in the near future, we aren’t even close to that here in the car-crazed Americas. But Edmonton could still learn a thing or two from other cities in our own backyard.

CITY Bogota APPROACH Cyclovia

Imagine 1.7-million people showing up for anything. Next, imagine this happening every Sunday. That’s the success of Cyclovia, the world’s most popular public recreation event. It all started in 1974, when Bogota did that most basic of things and opened streets to people and closed them to automobiles. Today, 122 kilometres of streets are returned each Sunday to a staggering 1.7-million (a quarter of the city population) walkers, cyclists, joggers, strollers, crawlers, rollerbladers, dancers … well, you get the point.

CITY Ottawa APPROACH Bike days

Ottawa’s Sunday Bikedays see Colonel By Drive—which meanders its way to the footsteps of Parliament Hill—closed to anyone who isn’t using active transportation. And this has been happening since 1970. Today, each Sunday, more than 50 kilometres of roadway in Ottawa is opened to anyone but those in automobiles. And it’s become a centrepiece of the city. “The Sunday Bikeday program is the National Capital Commission’s longest standing program, a staple in the quality of life for local residents,” says Jean Wolff, a spokesperson with the NCC.

CITY Montreal APPROACH Pedestrian only

Montreal has a staggering 56 streets that are pedestrian only during the summer months to increase its already mesmerizing street vibrancy. Streets and businesses are competing to be added to the tally. The latest are in The Plateau, Saint-Laurent and La Petite-Patrie. One of the originals, on Saint Catherine in the Gay Village, has helped revitalize the area and has become iconic, with the Rainbow Ball art installation that hangs above it becoming known internationally as “Montreal.”

 

Downtown Chinatown

Have you been to New Chinatown? That’s what I’m calling Jasper Avenue and 109 Street. Within a block of this intersection nearly a dozen shops now serve Asian food. Stretch a few more blocks and the count jumps to include even a takeout shop that specializes in bite-sized duck necks.

Old guards like sushi-joint Kyoto, at Canterra, remain in New Chinatown. But what’s new are fast-casual and dessert places, some unique to Edmonton. Chinese Crepe sells jianbing, or Chinese crepes—and it’s the only jianbing shop in Alberta. Tsujiri, a Japanese chain for all things matcha, opened its first Canadian location outside of Toronto across from Save-On-Foods.

In Any-City-Asia, snacking is social. Snack places aren’t so much spots to share dishes but stories. And this is what’s so interesting about New Chinatown. Traditional Chinatowns in North America often cater to non- Asians, but New Chinatown doesn’t. Instead, it unapologetically brings Asian snacking culture to Edmonton. The shops are smaller, the colours are pastels, the fonts playful. The menus offer English but require experience. The staff will explain what, say, tapioca pearls are, but expect some serious side-eye if you ask.

So why this intersection?

To start, our first Chinatown is disjointed. Sunny Bong leads tours of it and says the first Chinese community was displaced and its buildings dismantled. Then, through the course of history, an influx of Indochinese refugees, and mismatches between planning and settlement meant that Edmonton’s Chinatown split in two, east and northeast of downtown. (You can learn about this and much more on his tours.)

Another factor is the North America-wide trend for urban Chinatowns to be overtaken by car-centric, suburban Chinatowns. Asian snacking culture is alive and well in Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver; Markham, a suburb of Toronto; and in the 626 area-code of suburban Los Angeles. But unlike the ethnic ghettos created by racist policies from the past, these areas are statements of affluence. In Edmonton, there are a few pockets— roughly wherever there’s a T&T—but none has the concentration to be Edmonton’s Richmond.

Despite being downtown, New Chinatown is relatively car-friendly— another central factor. San King, who lives in the suburbs, says she’s constantly scouting good eats and has tried many places in New Chinatown. “Access is important,” she says. “Jasper and 109 are main roads. And there’s parking. Might not be free, but there’s parking.”

Demographics also play a role. New establishments are increasingly Mandarin-speaking, versus the Cantonese dominated Chinatown to the east. Hoi-Yee Wong attributes this to the “fourth-wave” of Chinese immigration. This is people, mainly from mainland China, and many are students. Indeed, 2016 census data for Edmonton shows there were nearly as many people speaking primarily Mandarin at home as Cantonese. And students like the New Chinatown corner. “This is a very convenient neighbourhood, especially for students,” Wong says. “A walkable area with LRT access.”

All these factors have given rise to New Chinatown. But San doesn’t like that name. “Many of these [shops] aren’t even Chinese.”

She’s right. From Korean bingsoo (shaved ice dessert) to Thai gai-yang (grilled chicken), New Chinatown is pan-Asian. Indeed, it’s not unlike the mix of food you’d find on offer in Any- City-Asia.

Maybe I should call it “Asian Corner” instead?

BY: JACKIE LEE

Jackie Lee lives, works and eats downtown. He is originally from Hong Kong and has snacked his way throughout Asia.

A League of Their Own

Go to any city council meeting or peruse the newspaper and you’ll undoubtedly find a community league representative advocating for what’s best for the neighbourhood. While this may seem normal here, even banal, the community league as an idea is a uniquely Edmonton creation.

Some say community leagues have shaped our city, provided first platforms to several political leaders and built a culture of civic engagement that other cities lack. But just how and why did Edmonton’s community leagues start? And where are the leagues going in the future?

The answer requires a look back into the past and into the future.

Boom Bust City

In 1917, residents of Jasper Place created a unique movement. The setting was a population boom. Edmonton had grown—from a sleepy town of 700 people, in 1892, to a thriving capital city of 67,243 in 1913. Edmonton had also, by 1913, amalgamated the City of Strathcona and the Village of North Edmonton. Wooden buildings were replaced with Edwardian brick and stone structures; utilities, bridges and roads were constructed; schools and hospitals were in place; business was booming. Land prices and real-estate investments were at an all-time high.

But not all was well in the booming city. Between 1904 and 1913, the City of Edmonton approved 274 subdivisions and moved its western municipal boundary from 142 Street to 149 Street. That carved out the community of Jasper Place (Crestwood) from the larger unincorporated community, now West Jasper Place. 1913 then ended with an unexpected economic collapse. Real estate speculators cut their losses. Subdivisions were left undeveloped.

Enter George M. Hall. Hall was an American journalist who came to Edmonton in 1912 as the Industrial Commissioner for the city. By 1913, however, Hall’s position was abolished. Regardless, he and his family continued to live in Jasper Place, which was isolated and had little infrastructure. Upset by this, Hall and the neighbourhood formed the Jasper Place Ratepayers Association (JPRA) in 1917. Hall travelled to the United States to research the Social Centre movement, which had formed Community Clubs in American cities, and the idea intrigued both the JPRA and the Horticultural Society. The University of Alberta provided an expert on the Social Centre Movement to speak when the two organizations held meetings with residents – and on March 3, 1917, they merged to form the 142nd Street District Community League.

The league advocated for modern sewer systems, better roads and sidewalks, and for social and recreational events to bring people together. The principles the league adopted ensured the organization was open to all regardless of class or ethnic background; that it would not be affiliated with any political or religious order and that members would be both men and women. Hearing all community voices was a central value.

The 142nd Street league’s work did not go unnoticed. In 1918, Bonnie Doon created its own league, advocating for water services and transportation. Strathcona organized in 1918 as well, and then came Westmount, in 1919. West Edmonton (now Calder), Riverdale, Terrace/Forest Heights, Calgary Trail (now Allendale), and Bennet School (now Cloverdale) all formed leagues in 1920.

The communities identified their individual needs but soon realized they were competing for limited resources. By 1921, The Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (EFCL) was formed. The first act of the Federation was to negotiate land for parks and recreation.

Through property tax defaults resulting from the earlier real estate crash, the City of Edmonton had become the owner of almost half of all the land in the city—between 1918 and 1920, the City of Edmonton took ownership of 70,000 lots. In 1922, the city happily leased a block of land to each community league, for one dollar per year; the understanding was that it would be developed and used as parkland.

Leagues Arrive in Oliver and Downtown

The West End Community League was formed in 1922, in time to take advantage of the parks promise. By 1923, the league developed Kitchener Park, convincing the Gyro Club, a volunteer service organization, to install playground equipment, the EFCL to provide trees and the Horticultural Society to contribute plants and expertise. An Edmonton Journal ad on May 10, 1923, asked that “all citizens having the good of the community at heart and desirous of providing a beauty spot…arm themselves with spades.” An army of spade toting citizens answered and 150 trees were planted.

On March 20, 1923, the call went out in the Edmonton Journal to “Citizens who have stubbed their toes and lost heels on worn out sidewalks, housewives who have moaned the dust of cinder walks, parents who want swimming pools and playgrounds in their district and all the public spirited citizens of the District of Oliver School.” At the first annual general meeting that year, further consideration was given to “the elimination of unnecessary noise, particularly at night, including domestic cats, shunting engine and trains, rattling street-car horns and whistles and crying babies in public audiences.” It’s unknown how successful the league was controlling cats and babies, and the community would be bordered by trains for decades to come. But the playground and swimming pool initiatives were resounding successes. The West End pool opened in 1924, following the openings of the South Side (now Queen Elizabeth) pool in 1922 and the East End (now Borden) pool, earlier in 1924.

In the 1930s, the league built a skating rink and clubhouse at 114 Street and 107 Avenue. Then, in 1961, Molson’s Brewery donated a building that was moved to 118 Street and 103 Avenue, to be retrofitted and used as a clubhouse. The building served as a meeting and social hall for the league until its recent structural failure last year.

In 1937, the West End Community League changed its name to Oliver Community League. The neighbourhood had taken the name of the school district and “West End” was no longer an appropriate description.

The 1930s and the Second World War slowed community league activities, but afterwards, returning veterans and the resultant baby boom reactivated things. Population growth saw major change arrive. From 1961 to 1966, 13 high rises were built in Oliver, and by 1973 there were 38 more. The family homes that originally stood through the community were being demolished, and families were leaving. Young, single people filled the smaller living spaces. Most saw themselves as temporary residents and a community league did not appeal to them.

Jasper Avenue – taken December, 1942

Development also overtook downtown—only most of the new buildings were offices and commercial towers. The once diverse community, which originally featured houses and apartments on both sides of Jasper Avenue, was razed and rebuilt as a centre of government and commerce. This development was fueled by an oil boom, and the vision was to become a modern metropolitan city. At the time that meant building single use communities—a commercial downtown connected to the suburbs by freeways.

Downtown residents during this period were still part of the Rossdale Community League. That league started as the Ross Flats Community League, in January 1929, and served the flats as well as the people on the hillside. There was no league for the top of bank community until 1931, when the new Rossdale Community League expanded its boundaries north to 104 Avenue, west to 109 Street and east to 97 Street. Construction of the James MacDonald Bridge, in 1970, spelled the end of the Rossdale and city centre connection. Although the Rossdale Community League revived itself, in 1974, the downtown neighbourhood had changed so significantly that it could not form a community.

Then, in 1982, history repeated itself: the oil economy crashed. Downtown, only half rebuilt, died—and this time, there was no diversity to regenerate it. The residential and small business communities were gone.

Fast-forward to 1997. The Capital City Downtown Plan identified an urgent need for a residential community and a budget for financial incentives to create housing. Bev Zubot and Mary Jane Buchanan were hired as Downtown Community Coordinators and tasked with seeking out and connecting the isolated residents of the towers. Posters inviting people to “Come Create Community Fun” led to a plan for Cornfest, now an annual event. In 1999, the organizing group formed the Downtown Edmonton Community Association (DECA) and, in 2003, they became an official community league.

“The community development program created opportunities for neighbours to interact, discover common interests, and work together to shape their neighbourhood,” Zubot says.

Future friendly

Chris Buyze moved near the newly improved 104 Street in 1999. He was attracted to the “cool heritage buildings” and the opportunity to live and work in the same neighbourhood. But he says the lack of amenities and places to meet people made him realize creating community was needed. For Buyze, the community league was the answer.

Today, Buyze has been the president of the Downtown Edmonton Community League for 10 years. He says his friendships and long-term connections have all been made through the league. And, now, thanks to a population that has grown from 5,300 in 1997 to close to 14,000 today, the league is healthier. There are 200- 300 active members; 13 are board members, others sit on committees. Buyze says many are there to enjoy the social events. DECL also involves itself in new developments, park planning, block parties, Christmas mixers, community clean ups and programs for kids.

“The community league is able to provide services and programs that the city cannot,” Buyze says. “It is a platform for people to achieve community needs and it leaves room for evolution.”

Like Buyze, Luwam Kiflemariam is a young professional who’s dynamic and articulate. She has lived in Oliver for four and a half years and she, too, is a board member. After volunteering with a number of organizations, Kiflemariam says she has found her niche with the Oliver Community League currently as vice president. Most importantly, she says it gives her a voice in her community, the opportunity to make friends, and a way to give back.

“I truly believe that human beings look for meaningful ways to contribute to society,” Kiflemariam says. “I think that Edmonton community leagues, such as Oliver’s OCL, offer residents a platform to connect with their communities in a safe and engaging way.”

Both leagues concede that urban isolation is real and wish more people knew that the league was there for them. And both leagues face the challenge of communicating with the large number of residents who live in secure buildings. The old method of door-to-door introductions is impossible.

Buyze says he would like more seniors to get involved, as well as people new to the city. He says he would like to hear more from the diverse populations that are coming to live downtown.

Nevertheless, Laura Cunningham- Shpeley—the new executive director of the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues and the former president of the Ritchie Community League—says leagues like DECL and OCL are becoming more important today, not less.

“Demographics are shifting,” she says. “Now, a new and even more diverse population has the opportunity to influence the shape of neighbourhoods in Edmonton.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

Jasper Avenue looking west – taken November 24, 1962

The Neighbours in the Hood

Edmonton is full of these people. On the news, we most often hear stories about those who make big changes to our city. But outside of that, there are also thousands of little stories of people working in their community to make life better responding to need.

Here are three of them. We call them Community Champions.

 

MARYANNE WIEBE

Ten years ago, when Maryanne Wiebe lived in St. Albert, she says she would never have to pick up garbage. But living downtown is a different story. Now she’s out cleaning litter so often that many core residents recognize her.

“They call me ‘the garbage picker’ or ‘garbage lady,’ but I prefer to be known as their neighbor—because that’s what I am,” Wiebe says.

After raising their children, Wiebe and her husband decided to move to central Edmonton and embrace downtown living. “We walk almost everywhere,” she says.

She walked about 20 blocks to work every day. And that’s where everything changed.

“So, I am walking around downtown, minding my own business and I think, ‘Boy there’s a lot of garbage here,’” Wiebe says.

For the first year it bothered her. “I was just angry,” she says. But after that, she wanted to make a difference. Wiebe signed up for Capital City Clean Up and adopted blocks of the city to clean—14 of them along 100 Avenue.

Wiebe says she felt self-conscious the first time she took out garbage bags. But in the seven years she’s been part of the Clean Up, she says she’s become so adept using her trash grabber that she can swipe a floating paper bag out of the air.

She goes out once a week. In just two weeks’ time, she collects two large black garbage bags of litter from the streets. Over the years she’s finely tuned her routine. She knows where all the city garbage cans are, so she can empty as she goes. The worst thing she’s ever picked up? A jar of urine by the Edmonton General Hospital.

“Some people think I am doing community service. People stop to say they hope my parole officer knows I am doing a great job. Or they stop and ask me why I am doing this.”

So why is she? “I’ve always said it takes a village to make things work and I am a part of that village.”

Her route takes her by the Edmonton General where she has gotten to know some of the long-term residents. “Oliver is Edmonton’s best kept secret,” Wiebe says.

CURTIS BOEHM

Curtis Boehm’s work as a pastor at Grace Lutheran Church is all about connection.

And he sees a lot of them. Outside, he says he notices who’s on the street. “The walking traffic in this neighbourhood is incredible,” he says.

And it’s through his proximity to the church building— he and his family live beside it—that he gets a chance to speak with some in the community who are homeless. He takes time to learn their stories.

“Many people have a route that they take every day, and Oliver is a refuge from some of the issues that happen in the inner city,” he says.

Boehm has worked at the church since 2016 and is an active member with the Oliver Community League. Boehm also managed the Oliver Bike Club for a bit. Badly, he says, as he has three school-aged children. He remains an avid cyclist, and often bikes to his visits around the city.

Many of the connections Boehm makes are through church programs like the basketball game nights that they host or the summer garage sale. But the church is also a space for groups to meet. Everything from Alcoholics Anonymous to condo board AGMs. Even the Oliver Community League now meets at the church.

Boehm says being a part of the OCL is a chance to learn what people in the core care about and how it aligns with Grace Lutheran’s mission. He says issues like walkability, challenges for seniors and combatting urban isolation are shared concerns. “When I started here we thought this would be an ideal way to be a part of our community.”

Recently, the church combined their potluck with one held by the community league. “It was a great chance for the church people to meet the community league members,” he says.

Although not everyone who comes to the church is from Oliver, the community has many elderly people who choose to live in the area because they are close to services, he says.

Boehm says Oliver is a small corner of the city but that there are many opportunities to connect with its people. “All those things are part of what drew me here.”

 

ELLIOTT TANTI

Elliott Tanti wanted to be an actor but ended up helping his community instead. After he finished his political science degree at the University of Alberta, he moved to Vancouver to pursue acting.

But, “I wasn’t very good,” Tanti says.

Today, Tanti works to help the homeless. He serves as a communications representative at Boyle Street Community Services. Aside from this, he has also volunteered with Edmonton Homeless Count and worked as a staffing clerk at a continuing care facility.

Tanti lives in Oliver and is a strong advocate for the work people do at Boyle Street. “It is one of those places that you walk in a room and you immediately feel a sense of belonging, and there’s an aura about the place that is really incredible,” he says. “Some of the most abused people in society are coming through our doors every day.”

He says he feels blessed to do the work that he does. Not only for the chance to help people but also the sense of purpose it gives him.

“I think a lot of it has to do with my own privileges,” he says. “I’ve had lots of opportunity in my life – beyond being a white straight male.”

For example, he recounts a meeting with City of Edmonton officials about public spaces, where he brought some of the Boyle street clients with him.

“I had no fear about going through the front door, but our community did,” he says. “I see my work as a way to open doors for other people who have not had the same opportunities.”

Working in communications was something Tanti says he sort of fell into. With his varied background he found himself drawn to work in the inner city. And he credits his father, who has a career in communications.

Today he uses his skills to tell stories of people who often are kept invisible, often with social media. He uses it to shift perception.

“I really enjoy changing the hearts and minds of people in the community— whether it is my condo board or my friends who have also moved into Oliver.”

Though he tries to make change, Tanti says the front-line workers at Boyle Street are the real heroes.

 

4 Ways You Can Become a Core Hero

Who doesn’t want to be a hero? Well, if you engage in your community it’s easy to become one—with or without a cape. Here are four big ideas to set you on the path.

1. VOLUNTEER

Half of all Albertans volunteer. And each year, this chunk of volunteers offers Alberta the equivalent of $8.3B in time and energy. Indeed, in some ways, volunteerism is an essential part of our society. But why is volunteering critical to becoming a core hero? Karen Link, executive director of Volunteer Alberta, says it comes down to a “beautiful mathematical equation.” Volunteering helps your community, but also boosts your personal mental health, which trickles back into your community. In short, the good multiplies. “Volunteering is about community and individual well- being,” Link says. “There’s a direct correlation. It’s that pathway to feeling connected and belonging.”

2. SHOP LOCAL

This one can be counter intuitive. After all, shouldn’t you just do things yourself to better your community? No. You should also spend in your community at local shops, because local businesspeople are aiming to better your community, too, as well as keeping the money they earn within it. Discover more of them and it’s another win-win. “Simply put, shopping local means that people have taken the time and effort to explore our community and discovered something unique and local,” says Ian O’Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association. “Imagine if we all explored a little more of this city.”

3. TAKE A CLASS

Throughout your community are dozens of organizations offering classes for people with varying skills, from amateur to pro. If you want to become a hero in your own ‘hood, take one. For the reasons why, we asked Amy Leigh at the Society of Northern Alberta Print-Artists (SNAP), in Oliver. “Taking a class at SNAP not only directly supports a local, not-for- profit, artist-run centre but it allows one to connect with folks within their community,” Leigh says. “Beyond it fosters ongoing conversations and capacity building in addition to igniting possibilities for future collaboration, knowledge and skill-sharing.”

4. START AN IMPROVEMENT PROJECT

Oliver Community League features several projects, like the Abundant Communities initiative, Make Something Oliver, Free Little Libraries, and the Mitten Tree. Want to be a community hero? Take a page from OCL and start a project that makes your community stronger and people will get behind. “Oliver may be a challenging community because of our diversity and our size, but it is those very things, and our vibrancy and connectedness, that make it possible to just try something out,” says Lisa Brown, president of the Oliver Community League. “If you positively impact just a few people, it’s certainly worth the effort.”