In Praise of Small Independent Retail

What would it take to have vibrant street retail Downtown? In the world’s many cities, small retailers scattered throughout their cores create streets with vivid sights, sounds and even smells. Downtowns are often pedestrian-scaled because buildings were built in a time before cars, when people walked from store to store for their daily needs. The benefits of well-designed urban centres are palpable as you walk along interesting main streets lined with small businesses.

Edmonton’s Downtown is recovering from a time when we cared more about how to park our cars than how to live and work together. But 104 St. is a prime example of collaboration by concerned citizens and the City toward improving a street with policies mandating good design. Those include main-floor commercial bays in new residential towers; wide, clean, well-lit sidewalks with generous street-scaping and greenery; transparent glazing, welcoming signage; and patios and planters that complement cafes and small grocers. Ultimately it all adds up to a better pedestrian experience.

A street lined with small retail bays is about more than creating vibrancy and convenience. It offers us an opportunity to support independent businesses, interact with our neighbours and contribute to the health and economy of our community.

Over the years, DECL has worked hard to ensure that our neighbourhood’s newest developments take vibrant, interactive and safe streets seriously. We encouraged provisions for recent proposals, such as a rental tower and student housing on the former sites of Augustana Church and Healy Ford, to include small commercial bays at-grade. Theoretically it would encourage small businesses to open; five hundred square feet or less could be the difference between a local entrepreneur taking the risk of starting up Downtown’s next shop or service—or not.

As we recognize some of our favourite businesses in “Best of the Core”, let’s remember to support small, independent street retail with our holiday shopping. Let’s also continue to insist small retail be included in future developments Downtown. Our city’s core will be a more exciting, pleasing, interesting and sustainable place for it.

Speaking of which, we’d like to invite you to the DECL Community Space—our own contribution to small and vibrant street retail—for our annual Christmas mixer on Dec. 10. Look for the “I Heart Yegdt” neon sign proudly shining for passersby. We’re also hiring a volunteer chair for our programming committee. Email us to apply.

DECL board of directors: Chris Buyze (President); Ian O’Donnell (VP); Milap Petigara (Treasurer); Jillian Gamez (Secretary); Erin Duebel; Laurissa Kalinowsky; Christie Lutsiak; Jarrett Mykytiuk; Lindsey Trufyn; and Chris Wudarck.

Email DECL or visit its website for more information.

Autumn Opportunities

Most people don’t realize it, but just as the fall is an important time for students, it’s also a significant season for most of Edmonton’s 157 community leagues.

That’s because September is membership renewal time. It’s when we, the Downtown Edmonton Community League, ask you, the residents, to continue your support. Downtown, being the unique community it is, here in the heart of our city, welcomes residents, visitors, local organizations and many other would-be league members to join our ranks and benefit from what DECL has to offer.

Your 13-member board of directors works hard to bring programming and events to you all season long. The fall of 2015 is no exception.

We celebrate being part of the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues Day with CornFest 2015 on September 19. This annual tradition in Beaverhills House Park (Jasper and 105 St.) is the site for roast corn, kids activities, music and the chance to meet new neighbours. It is our biggest membership drive and renewal opportunity.

Hallowe’en conveniently falls on a Saturday this year, and so does the return of our Spooktacular Scavenger Hunt. Last year’s inaugural event had a great turnout with members enjoying a well-crafted scavenger hunt throughout the downtown core. Best costume wins a prize, of course. Hopefully your costume idea can beat the Darth Vadar who joined us last year!

As the season hastens and the first snow-flakes hits the ground, we like to meet up with our membership and provide an update on the latest news and issues facing our neighbourhood. Look for a regular general meeting November 19 at 7pm.

For a complete list of DECL events, check out our website, follow us on social media or flip to page 9. Your neighbourhood and community is what you make of it. And just as they were 98 years ago, when they first emerged in this city, your community leagues are a way for you to discuss ideas, address issues and socialize with follow residents.

If you have a programming idea for Downtown Edmonton, an issue to raise, or if you just want to find out more about DECL, please email us. We hope you’ll help us make the next 12 months our best yet.

For information or to learn how you can volunteer with the DECL, visit decl.org or email my_decl@telus.net.

Downtown Edmonton Community League Events

Sept. 18—Urban kids board games night. (6–9pm, Community Space, 10042 103 St.)

Sept. 19—OCL and DECL co-host the neighbourhoods’ chapter of Edmonton Federation of Community League’s Community League Day, a fun-filled afternoon for families to relish in park games and barbecue, before heading to the beer garden for the evening. (2pm–12am, Oliver Park, 10326 118 St.)

Sept. 19—DECL’s annual CornFest. Enjoy free corn on the cob, crafts for kids and bands. (11am–3pm, Beaverhills House Park, 10440 Jasper Ave.)

Oct. 31—Spooktacular Scavenger Hunt around downtown, prizes for the winning team and best costume. (7pm, Community Space, 10042 103 St.)

The Downtown Edmonton Community League board is: Chris Buyze (President); Ian O’Donnell (VP); Milap Petigara (Treasurer); Jillian Gamez (Secretary); Erin Duebel; Laurissa Kalinowsky; Christie Lutsiak; Jarrett Mykytiuk; Lindsey Trufyn; Vikki Wiercinski; and Chris Wudarck.

Tidying the City’s Living Room

As the weather warms and people turn out in droves, we’re faced with one of our great challenges: cleanliness. Especially after winter. The amount of garbage, sand, and debris left behind from the “big melt”can be discouraging. Add to that a short but sudden injection of festivals and outdoor activities and you’ve got the recipe for a mess.

In Downtown Edmonton, where a large number of us walk, this mess detracts from the liveability of the neighbourhood. Equally unpleasant is the airborne sand and gravel kicked up from the roadside curb by passing vehicles and busses, and thrown into our eyes. Although we organize a spring cleanup that sees dozens of volunteers dedicating hours to the cause, a single day just isn’t enough.

Let’s do better to ensure it’s cleaned faster, kept at a higher standard of tidiness and presentable year-round. Here are a few ways to do that.

Year-Round Street Sweeping

The amount of concrete and asphalt Downtown causes winter snowfalls to melt quickly, and the sand and gravel applied for ice control erodes to street side within days of application. And that’s where it remains for half the year. It’s filthy. That’s why we’re advocating to sweep our core streets on a year-round basis, instead of only in the late spring and summer, as we’re doing now.

Prioritize Pedestrian Areas

Edmonton has few areas where people are just as likely to walk as drive, and Downtown is one of them. Let’s all work together to improve the level of cleanliness on our main streets, along high-use transit corridors, near bus stops and everywhere else where people congregate. Pedestrians don’t have the benefit of being sheltered by their vehicles. So in order to make the city walkable, we have to prioritize street and sidewalk cleaning in pedestrian areas.

If You See Litter, Pick It Up

A little bit of effort here and there can go a long way to improve Downtown cleanliness. If you see a piece of litter don’t walk over it, don’t ignore it; take a second to pick it up. It’s a simple act that goes a long way to improving the Downtown experience for everyone.

As of May 12 the DECL board is: Chris Buyze (President); Ian O’Donnell (VP); Milap Petigara (Treasurer); Erin Duebel; Jillian Gamez; Laurissa Kalinowsky; Christie Lutsiak; Jarrett Mykytiuk; Lindsey Trufyn; Vikki Wiercinski; Scott Winder and Chris Wudarck.

Downtown Edmonton Community League Events

June 11 & Aug. 13 — Monthly board meeting. (7 pm, Community Space, 10042 103 St.)

June 19 — Urban Kids Board Game Night. (6 pm, Community Space, 10042 103 St.)

July 9 — Barbecue social. (6 pm, Community Space, 10042 103 St.)

Aug. 22 — Annual pancake breakfast before Al Fresco festivities. (9 am. Community Space, 10042 103 St.)

5 Ways You Can Better Downtown

As Edmonton thaws from winter’s grip we’re greeted with a new reality: construction season.

Downtown is seeing unprecedented investment and renewal projects, both big and small, that were years in the making. With budgets in place to realize our downtown vision and much of the work well underway, we should focus on the “fine grain” elements that will really make it a place where people want to be and that visitors will remember.

1. A safe core is a clean core.

Safety is part reality, part perception. Having eyes on the street and identifying problem spots helps us work to address these concerns with downtown’s beat cops. But, least of all, keeping downtown streets clean makes for a place that’s attractive to many and, therefore, feels safer.

2. A clean core is a friendly core.

Most of us downtowners walk. When we do, we’re more likely to notice litter. The City, businesses and residents must all do their part to keep streets and buildings tidy. And not just on the inside, but the outside too, as they are part of our “outdoor living room.” A clean downtown isn’t just expected, it’s necessary.

3. Plant more trees and greenery.

While Edmontonians have started understanding the necessity and value of investing in street-scaping, we have a long way to go. A healthy, mature tree canopy on a pedestrian street has real health benefits to its citizens. Plus, it’s good for private investment (104 St. for example) and it’s the kind of amenity you want in a dense urban core.

4. Offer more retail opportunities.

We need more small retail bays at the base of new and existing buildings. As you travel to other cities with vibrant urban cores, you quickly realize the value of small retail. On a street with few existing shop, developers might not understand the potential. But small street-facing spaces of 500 square feet or less give entrepreneurial Edmontonians a place to experiment with new businesses and meet a demand I believe is untapped.

5. Remember the long-term gain.

We all knew it was coming — closed roads, construction headaches, painful commutes. Downtown is increasingly a maze of barricades, construction hoarding and temporary signage. The City is forming a strategy to communicate that Downtown is still “open for business.” Citizens, however, can also be ambassadors. After all, we wanted this change, so now it’s time to remind people of the long-term vision. But let’s minimize inconveniences for pedestrians and drivers. We all have to work together to minimize the impact on our existing downtown as we look to build for the future.

DOWNTOWN EDMONTON COMMUNITY LEAGUE EVENTS

MAR. 12 — General meeting, featuring the finalized Alex Decoteau Park design, update on the capital budget by Councillor McKeen and more.   7 pm, DECL Community Space, 10042 103 St.

MAY 3 — Spring Clean-Up at “Gazebo Park.” Bring work clothes and gloves. The community league provides the rest.   10 am, starting in Dick Mather Park (“Gazebo Park”)

MAY 12 — Downtown Edmonton Community League’s annual general meeting with guest speakers from the Edmonton Galleria project.   7 pm, Community Space, 10042 103 St.

Evolving Needs

A news magazine for Central Edmonton is long overdue. I’ve seen our neighbourhood transform since becoming president of the Downtown Edmonton Community League (DECL) in 2007. Having celebrated our 10th anniversary as a league last year, The Yards is part of DECL’s evolution in that it underscores the growing desire to live downtown. A more vibrant downtown.

This new partnership with our sister league to the west, Oliver, is a chance for us to express and explore issues in our communities. A news magazine gives us the opportunity to showcase why living centrally is not only possible but favourable— and not just for students and young people, but for all walks of life. It also focuses on why the successes of Downtown and Oliver are vital to the prosperity of our city as a whole.

It has and continues to be one of the fastest growing neighbourhoods in the city. Living downtown in the late 1990s as an “urban pioneer,” I was proud of my early and continued contribution to the revitalization efforts on my street of old warehouses. As our community grows, so too do the efforts of DECL.

Last year the opening of our first community room, an inviting and previously under-utilized retail space in a parkade, was a major milestone. We adapted the traditional idea of a community hall for our urban reality, created a hub and helped animate the street.

In the years to come, we hope to celebrate the building of a new community park for the Warehouse Campus Area, a project DECL has been advocating for five years.

Alex Decoteau Park is named after Canada’s first aboriginal police officer, Olympic athlete and First World War soldier. He walked the “beat” in the very area the park will soon exist, on the northwest corner of 105 St. and 102 Ave. Located directly north of a future LRT stop, it will be home to many amenities serving residents’ needs with plenty of grass and seating, a community garden, water feature and fenced dog area.

So much of what is now being built are projects and issues we’ve had the privilege (and often frustration) of working hard to realize. Whether we’re talking about the Edmonton Arena District or The Yards, there is a lot of exciting changes coming. That’s why I continue volunteering with DECL.

The Yards staff and editorial board are just as committed to Edmonton’s core as we are. This is our way to connect with residents, businesses, civic leaders and regular Edmontonians about the special place we call “home.”