Baby Bumps

Many years ago, when my youngest niece was a baby, I took her out and about to give her mom — my sister — a break. It was then I learned how difficult it is to move around Edmonton with a young child.

We had the contraption where you strap the baby to your front torso and step out into the world as though you are a kookum out hunting moose (mine’s never hunted moose, by the way). But when my back couldn’t take it anymore I would bundle my niece up in a stroller. And then came the lessons.

Have you ever tried to take a baby in a stroller on an ETS bus? It is awful. People roll their eyes before (or if) they make room. Even worse, just getting to the bus stop can be difficult because you have to navigate puddles, people and deteriorating sidewalks.

So, between the clunky stroller barely fitting our often narrow, often poorly-lit sidewalks, the bus challenges and the cat calls — yes even while pushing a baby stroller — I came to realize that Edmonton is not designed with all women, mothers or caregivers in mind.

But who are cities like ours made for, then? It helps to look at who it works best for.

Mo Bot, an urbanist who works as a planner for the City of Edmonton, is passionate about the concept of universal design. Bot says different groups use city infrastructure differently. Take the bus, for example. “Studies [have] found that men tend to take the bus twice a day — to and from work,” she says.

Women, on the other hand, tend to use public transit with far more variance, and tend to make more trips on foot, too. Bot says they do something called “trip chaining,” which essentially means they often make multiple stops while riding the bus between home and work. You know, to pick up the dry cleaning, then the kids from school or the doctor, and then the groceries.

What matters here is whose life you make harder if you design, say, a transit system that works only for your city’s purely work commuters (a majority of whom, in this case, are men) and not its many other users.

I can already hear the “But-what-about-the-men?!” cries. Yes, parenting can be done by any gender, and there are more than two binaries to consider when discussing universal design. But the point is if you make a city accessible to everyone you’ll make it better for everyone.

The question is how. And this was Kalen Anderson’s point for her recent Pecha Kucha presentation on urban design.

Anderson is director of planning coordination for the City of Edmonton. She started her presentation with a quote from urbanist Gil Penalosa, that the best way to evaluate a city is to ask how well it treats the most vulnerable people — “The children, the older adults and the poor.”

She says core neighborhoods are the most important places in the city. “They need to provide holistic opportunities for people to live.” But, Anderson says, Edmonton’s core is not doing that well enough at the moment. “If you want to see how a community works look no further than the way it welcomes children,” she says — noting the core could well improve on that front.

My trips with my niece taught me about the importance of bus seating, wide sidewalks in good repair, better lighting. City design should serve those caring for children, or those with different abilities or of different ages, just as equally as everyone else.

Best in the Core

May we have the envelope, please? This is our third birthday, and our third time trying to define what makes Edmonton’s core sweet. As always the hardest part is eliminating great stuff that doesn’t fit.

Many of us love the bizarre, aquamarine pedway linking the legislature to Grandin LRT station, for example. Or that snake and woman airbrushed on the fence at 102 Avenue and 117 Street. But are these familiar, lovable oddities really the best of what the core has to offer?

To get to the best, we asked writers and residents to argue out their favourites. And we pushed whacky new categories at them, too. The Best WTF? to celebrate the strange. The Best Growth From Stall to Shop to celebrate businesses emerging from farmers’ markets and food trucks. And beyond that, we zeroed in on four core characters who made the core a better place in 2017. So let’s tear open those envelopes. Please.

Best Spaces


WINNER: Compound House in Oliver

Oliver’s Compound House (and we’re giving it this name) is a big WTF. Stretching an entire neighbourhood block, the house is what looks like should be trendy, expensive lofts, but the building is rumoured to be owned by just one reclusive person. The urban tales are rife as a result. One (con rmed) rumour has it that this massive compound used to be the Beth Israel Synagogue. Well, they moved out 18 years ago. 10205 119 Street.

RUNNER UP: Freemasons’ Hall

Don’t lie: Every time you walk by this gothic temple you wonder about the secret club inside. The Central Masonic Temple was built in 1930 and it’s still a gathering spot for Edmonton’s oldest fraternity. 10318 100 Avenue.

RUNNER UP: Shaw Conference Centre Funicular

Looking for a cheap thrill on a Sunday? This indoor funicular (think elevator on a hill) gives an excellent view of the river valley and costs nothing for a ride down to the river bank. 9797 Jasper Avenue. – BN

Best Urban Jumble

WINNER: Serenity

Serenity is density done well for Edmonton.
At 12 storeys, its human scale makes good use of a prominent Jasper Avenue corner. Residents get a high-rise feeling connected to Oliver while below pedestrians get an inviting facade and accent materials — and retail tenants at street level. Those disliking towers or fearing infill should look here for a good example of things done well. 10055 118 Street.

RUNNER UP: Mayfair

This sleek mixed-use building, completed in 2016 and inspired by active design principles, is setting a new bar for mid-rise rental downtown. The key to its goodness is Mayfair’s multiple uses. 10823 Jasper Avenue.

RUNNER UP: Central Court

This is a modest, older, affordable six-storey rental building that re ects — and adds to — its ‘hood. Steps from the 102 Avenue bike lane, retail is in the podium and amenities are a short walk away. 11212 102 Avenue. – DR

Best Place to Run Away

WINNER: Victoria Park

Be Alice and dive down the looking glass behind Le Marchand Mansion (100 Avenue at 116 Street), where a staircase leads to a magical trail. Whether you crave a peaceful walk or some seasonal Saskatoon berries to pick, escape is on offer here, as is access to Victoria Park, Ezio Faraone Park and Hawrelak Park. A great view to seek out is in Ezio Faraone Park, looking south, where you get the best glimpse of the High Level Bridge anywhere. 11523 100 Avenue.

RUNNER UP: Grant Notley Park

No stairs? No problem. This small park (named after a former MLA who fathered our current premier, Rachel Notley) offers a welcoming place to sit and take in the picturesque view of the river valley. In the summer, you can also feast on a food-truck lunch here. 116 Street and 100 Avenue.

RUNNER UP: Oliver Peace Garden Park

One of the best seedy nds on a neighbourhood stroll is this serene community garden. The inspirational space tended to by its users will have you wondering why there aren’t more gardens in the core. 10289 120 Street. – CS

Best Not-A-Main Street

WINNER: 104 Street

Edmonton has about nine designated main streets, but its best core streets are often smaller scale. The 4th Street Promenade, as few actually call it, links back to the city’s mercantile history in the early 1900s. On 104, you can spot the best and worst of Edmonton — from oversized parkades and for-lease signs to bustling subway entrances, a neon sign museum, a warehouse full of startup companies (and hipster haircuts) and a farmers’ market many cities would kill for.

RUNNER UP: 108 Street

Talk about waiting: Back in 1997, the city designated 108 Street as central to downtown revitalization. Construction began in 2011 and new street art arrived this year. The potential is still bigger than the result, of course, but the funky El Mirador apartments, food trucks, Federal Plaza fountains, Monument coffee shop, LRT access and pedestrian-first design make this a winner in, well, waiting.

RUNNER UP: 121 Street

This one is all about the experience — a street graced with the remaining treed-boulevard left behind by the former street trolley. The coming Oliver Mercantile Exchange, revamped Paul Kane Park and connections to the river valley and Brewery District make 121 an increasingly important street to walk. – TQ

Best in Business

Best It’s-A-Secret

WINNER: Grandma Pizza

Jakub and Jolanta Kulig moved to Edmonton from Greece 25 years ago and opened Grandma Pizza in the bottom of a residential tower. A few years ago, when the City of Edmonton came knocking and threatened closure, due to zoning regulations, neighbours rallied to keep the couple’s little pizzeria open. Customers love the family, the pizza and the location, which is a short walk from much of Grandin. 9837 113 Street.

RUNNER UP: Can Man Convenience

Looking for a quick light bowl of refreshing vermicelli for lunch? Or perhaps something a little toastier, like, say, bahn mi? Get it here for less than $10. And fast. 10240 124 Street.

RUNNER UP: Habitat Etc

Perfect for a little pick-me-up or a gift in a pinch, this artisanal YEG-centric gift shop is sure to have that something you’re looking for. 10187 104 Street. – BN

Best Growth from Stall to Shop

WINNER: Prairie Noodle

In 2014, five partners started perfecting ramen mixed with Alberta flavours in a series of pop-up restaurants. After a year of feedback they settled on the menu and a permanent location, and opened their doors. The space is intimate. You’re sure to interact with other patrons and at least three staff, most likely to discuss the remarkable ramen bowls — an ambiance those five partners worked to create. 10350 124 Street.


Macarons, meringues and other treats await you at this delightful, intimate retreat. Master pastry chef Arnaud Valade fills the place with baked goodness. Valade got his Edmonton start at our farmers’ markets, including City Market Downtown. 10038 116 Street.

RUNNER UP: Woodwork

One-of-a-kind libations like the House Sour and a menu of succulent eats (Brassica Salad, anyone?), mean nothing beats this intimate lounge — which got its start as the Nomad food truck. 10132 100 Street. – CS

Best in Threads

WINNER: Arturo Denim

This small but mighty team is slowly revitalizing Edmonton’s strong roots in denim manufacturing, which stretch back more than 100 years. Specializing in the best damn quality denim Japan has to offer, Arturo jeans are made to last. And they’ll repair ‘em like new if you damage them. 10443 124 Street.

RUNNER UP: Alberta Tailoring Company

With staff here paying special attention to how each garment should wear you’re sure to find the best fit. 10025 Jasper Avenue.

RUNNER UP: Swish Vintage

A time-capsule treasure, this hole in the wall holds some of the best memories in fashion from around Edmonton. 10180 101 Street. – BN

Best Regular Haunt

WINNER: Tzin Wine and Tapas

Regulars quickly get to know every inch of this intimate, seven-table space. Chef Corey McGuire’s crispy pork crostini, with maple balsamic apple compote and apple mayonnaise — called, simply, “Bacon” — is one of the best pork dishes in the city, period. The Patatas Bravas — fried potatoes with “angry” aioli — is also a favourite. Tip: Hit Tzin and say “Feed me!” The staff will understand. 10115 104 Street.


This dimly-lit, subterranean, neighbourhood gastro pub is known for its friendly service, tasty food and its Cheers-like re-creation of that downtown place where everybody knows your name. 10534 Jasper Avenue.

RUNNER UP: Remedy Café 124

There are many Remedy Cafés in Edmonton, where the original recipe chai and Indian fusion wraps delight patrons. But the warmest staff (and spot with the best patio) are in Oliver. 10310 124 Street. – LH

Best Mouth Burner

WINNER: Viphalay

“Mom,” as Vipha Mounma is called at Viphalay, uses chilies for almost every dish in her Thai cuisine. To heat up, spice addicts should try the Gaeng Ped (red curry with chicken or beef) or the Nua Na Lok (also known as Hell’s Beef). Water will not cool this burn. 10523 99 Avenue.

RUNNER UP: Khazana

Almost everything at Khazana is concocted with bold and aromatic spices — but you’ll truly meet the four-alarm heat within an order of hot beef vindaloo curry. 10177 107 Street.

RUNNER UP: Noodle Bar by Nomiya

Those in search of hot stuff should slurp up some spicy miso ramen noodle soup at Noodle Bar by Nomiya. This miso is a flavourful kick to the traditional miso (soybean and pork broth) bowl for heat seekers. 11238 104 Avenue. – LH

Best Community


Best Fam Jam

WINNER: Festival of Trees

Glitter glee galore. For more than 30 years, the Festival of Trees has started the holiday season with whimsy. It raises money for a good cause, but mostly the festival raises everyone’s warmth, with a stand of Christmas trees and scenes, and of course, the endless decorated cakes, ginger-bread structures and kids activities.

RUNNER UP: Cariwest

It’s Carnival but in Edmonton, and Cariwest has brought the vibrant sounds and colourful costumes of the Caribbean community to our city for 30 years. The parade is off the hook.

RUNNER UP: All is Bright

This festival is lit. Residents of the core love to keep the winter streets filled with life. All is bright lights up the night and warms up 124 Street with family- friendly activities, music and food.

Best Parks and Rec

WINNER: Oliver Community Pool

Admission was free this past summer (thanks, Canada 150), so many jumped in at one of the area’s best kept secrets. The facility, opened in 1924, is clean, and its excellent lifeguarding make it ideal for a family outing. But many others love it, too — from Capital City Athletics, which uses the pool for post-workout cool-downs, and even area dogs, who jump in at season’s end. 10315 119 Street.


A staple of the downtown community since 1908, though in its current building since 2007, “the Y” offers free swims for DECL members on Sundays, 1pm-6:45pm. 10211 102 Avenue.

RUNNER UP: Alex Decoteau Park

The off-leash dog run at Alex Decoteau Park, named after an Indigenous war and local hero from Edmonton, is perfect to help furry area residents get needed exercise. 10200 105 Street. – MHC

Best Art to the People

WINNER: Harcourt House

Harcourt is one of only three artist-run public galleries in Edmonton and offers some of its best contemporary-art exhibits. It also offers classes and workshops, where instructors can help you tap your creative side. The community of artists are friendly and welcoming to all. 10215 112 Street.

RUNNER UP: iHuman Youth Society

Little wonder some of Edmonton’s most promising art talent is coming out of a place devoted to using art to build up youth. 9635 102A Avenue.


This non-profit printmaking powerhouse offers courses and exhibitions for a wide array of people, ranging from professional artists to at-risk youth. The parties are also great. 10123 121 Street. – MHC

Best Way to Move

WINNER: Downtown bike network

Now every day is your leg day, or just a great day. Stopping at Bodega Tapas & Wine Bar (103 Street/102 Avenue) for an after-work drink is now as easy as removing your helmet. The city imagined these lanes a decade ago, but heroes within and without (Stantec) pushed the 7.8-kilometre grid into reality. To be clear, that current grid is puny compared to the 500 kilometres imagined in 2009. Still, the future promises more lanes, when the Valley Line LRT is finished, and a connection to the river valley, via the Mechanized Access.

RUNNER UP: Railtown Park

A lush corridor haven that gives you urban nature atop your feet or a bike. People are always here walking dogs, commuting or lounging. Use this to link MacEwan University’s new Allard Hall to the legislature.

RUNNER UP: Pogo CarShare

Instead of walking (a long distance) to a transit stop, and then … waiting … we can now hike our neighbourhood, find a Pogo, drive it downtown, park for free and walk to whatever festival we desire. Same exercise without the same loss of time. – CS

Core Compentencies


Riza Kasikcioglu

In January, Riza Kasikcioglu saw fire and ran toward it. It was evening and Kasikcioglu was working at Maximo’s Pizza & Donair, on Jasper Avenue and 117 Street, which he co-owns with his wife, Yeter. Suddenly, he saw the orange flames spill out of an upper-floor apartment in the 17-storey Oliver Place building across the street. He called 911. And then 47-year-old Kasikcioglu, who was in the military in Turkey, where he immigrated to Canada from, ran across Jasper Avenue, bounded up Oliver Place’s stairs and screamed at residents inside to get out.


Kasikcioglu says he knew he could lose his own life but believed in that moment the lives of others were more important. “Everywhere, I was hearing children screaming for help,” he says. “As a Muslim, I can’t allow any children or innocents to lose their life.” Eventually he came across a woman in a wheelchair who was trapped because the elevators were not running. He carried her down the stairs on his back.

Kasikcioglu says he’s heartbroken one person died that night. But without his quick response, many others would have remained in harm’s way. Today, you can still find Kasikcioglu at his Oliver pizza shop, welcoming his regulars warmly.

Annaliza Toledo

Walking through downtown Edmonton is brighter, thanks to Annaliza Toledo. Walls formerly bare, dirty or depressing are now alive with colour. The reason is that Toledo, along with her partner, Trevor Peters, created a festival to liven up the grey. Toledo and Peters are both artists, and in 2016 created the Rust Magic Festival to make our daily walks a little more Instagram-worthy.

Rust Magic brings graffiti and mural artists from around the world to Edmonton each summer. Once here, these artists paint spaces in highly walkable neighbourhoods – Oliver, downtown, Strathcona. All told, since 2016, Rust Magic has added 35 new works of street.

Toledo says the results are obvious. “It adds so much to everyone’s day to have something beautiful appear in front of you, large-scale, on your walk to work or your walk home,” she says. “Something like that makes such a difference in people’s lives. You are a product of your environment, so why not surround yourself with beautiful, artistic things?”

Next summer, keep your eyes peeled for more from Rust Magic. “I think we’ll do more quality murals and not concentrate on the number of the murals,” Toledo says. “We hope people will appreciate it like they have in the past.”

Olga Messinis

The next time you ride your bicycle downtown, send Olga Messinis a silent thank you. Messinis is the project manager behind the downtown bike network and has worked to make the 7.8-kilometre system a reality since August, 2016. Behind the scenes, in boardrooms, Messinis has fought the hard fight.

The lanes, opened this past summer, help improve equity on the road among Edmontonians, Messinis says. They will also improve quality of life for residents in downtown and Oliver – neighbourhoods where many already commute by bike.

And, Messinis says, the lanes incentivize change. Having them “encourages people who are trying to reduce their carbon footprint and make healthier choices,” Messinis says. “Some people who have never chosen to commute by bike tell us that they are commuting by bike for the first time. One commuter, in her early 70s — a really well-dressed woman on a bicycle — told me that she loved them and this is the first time she ever thought she could ride a bike within downtown. That was a great feeling.”

Messinis bikes to her downtown office from across the river in Strathcona. If you see her out there, maybe don’t be so silent. Ding your bell in thanks.

Jordan Reiniger

Jordan Reiniger is helping people at the margins by changing the job market in their favour.

Many pushed to the streets in Edmonton’s downtown core are rejected by traditional employers. That’s where Reiniger comes in. He’s the director of development at Boyle Street Community Services. And over the last two-and-a-half years, he’s created social enterprise programs to create jobs.

Through Boyle Street Community Ventures, Reiniger has founded several companies, including a moving company, a cleaning company and a junk removal company. All told, these outfits employ about 25 people. The best part is that downtown and Oliver residents support the companies, with many calling on the moving company in particular. “It’s a really good service and a good way for people to participate in social change,” Reiniger says. “They’re spending money on something they would have spent money on anyways, but they are choosing to do so in a socially conscious way. There is a sense of community and the sense that we are in this together.”

Reiniger’s next step? Four Directions Financial, a community bank where people are not turned away from opening an account due to a lack of I.D., the most common barrier for people at the margins.

Best in the Core Awards by: Sydnee Bryant, Mary-Helen Clark, Linda Hoang, Brittany Nugent, Tim Querengesser, Dan Rose and Chris Sikkenga

The Line

“Hey John.”

“How are you, brother?” John Roberts replies, to each of the many men who greet him along the line.

Roberts is 50 and spends much of his time spreading needed kindness at the Boyle Street Co-Op. Today, he’s outside, walking along what he calls his community’s main street. To anyone not from Roberts’ side of downtown, this is an alley you dare not walk. But to hundreds of others, this line is their Jasper Avenue or 124 Street. Along this line are daily stops for many in the community: Boyle Street, Quasar Bottle Depot, Bissell Centre, and several other services to the east of the core. It’s also the place to connect, say hi, have a laugh.

The line extends 105 Avenue eastward, in the form of a multi-use pathway from where the paved avenue essentially ends, at 101 Street, to where it resumes again at 96 Street. And back here, life is bustling. Several men huddle near vents that blow heat from within the Epcor building’s massive parkade. Nearby, a few couples tend to waist-high piles of belongings and supplies outside their tents. The view is standard downtown Edmonton but with bleak additions. To the south are downtown’s glittering towers, but there’s also a deep, open pit behind the CN Tower. Nearby is a cold, doorless, north-facing back wall at the new Royal Alberta Museum.

Also here is what Roberts describes as a message that’s wrought in steel. It’s a multi-layer wall of chain-link fencing topped with barbed wire, and it stretches six blocks, often on two sides. Here, where the train tracks once split the city, colder, sharper steel now divides.

Roberts says the line is a recent demarcation between the street community he’s come to call his own and the people who are coming — developers and gentrifiers, working to take this space and make it palatable, unthreatening and commercial.

The line is invisible from downtown, but it’s all you see, walking along this community’s main street. “It looks like a prison back here,” Roberts says.

“From a business point of view it’s a gouging to push those people out. We have to admit and there’s no hiding it: Poor people do not bring much to a city. There’s places in the ‘States where they forbid helping homeless people. But hopefully we don’t ever lose our willingness to help others out. Once you put a culture like that with a culture like the one at Boyle Street, it doesn’t look good. And it doesn’t look good for us at all. It’s got a prison like effect. We’re a province that’s supposed to be rich. But we don’t look after our own very well. This shouldn’t be happening.”

“You can get a fine for leaving your dog in the car. But to line up 250 men while it’s blowing at their ears at 35 below, it seems people think, ‘Let’s just push that aside — let’s just build some fences around so those people don’t get in. Let’s put up cameras so others don’t have to see it.’ You have to look at it from the people who are investing in their business. People are protecting their investments. But they set themselves up, in my view, by putting a culture into something that doesn’t work with it.”

“Things here have changed drastically for us. The result [of new developments downtown backing onto Boyle Street] is the police are picking out my Aboriginal friends because they drink and they have problems. They’re carding them, asking them questions, harassing them. If they carry a backpack they want to see in the backpack. They have no reason or rhyme. It’s just another way to make their life miserable so they’ll hopefully move away. I used to cast these people off — ‘You can do something with your life.’ But when you get educated about the Native people and the schools we ran, we created a tidal wave impact into the culture.”

The Legend of the Lane

In 1990, a group calling itself simply ‘The Road Doctors’ painted Edmonton’s first guerrilla bike lane. Soon after, the city removed this lane and repainted it, creating the first ever official, on-road bike lane in Edmonton. To this day, nobody knows exactly who The Road Doctors actually were. But 27 years after the fact, one is breaking his silence.

Back in 1990, David Boroditsky—who’s now a business owner—was an avid environmentalist and active in Edmonton’s cycling community. As Boroditsky tells it, some “enterprising” city bylaw officers had been giving students tickets that summer for riding the wrong way down 88 Avenue (between 109 Street and the University of Alberta, 88 Avenue is an eastbound one-way). The tickets irked a lot of people. “It seemed like monetary injustice, preying on poor, defenceless university students, and the road was amply wide to enable cars, parking and bikes,” he says.

So he and two friends decided to act. “With paint rollers, duct tape and hockey sticks—and we had some stencils for ‘bike lane’ and ‘bikes not cars’—we took a trip down there on a Saturday night,” Boroditsky says.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of people out that night, so the trio hit—what else?—a frat party, where they drank beer and recruited a fourth member. Then, later that night, “we went back and laid down a line,” he says.

Later, Boroditsky anonymously wrote a press release from The Road Doctors about the lane. “We apologise (sic) for the wigglyness of the line,” it read, “but owing to our budget of $7.42, we were unable to employ state of the art straight line application technology.”

Boroditsky also gave a local radio station an anonymous interview, from a phone booth.

And then, magic. “There was a nasty editorial in The Sun, an article in The Journal and the city scraped the paint off, and threatened us with an $800 cleaning bill,” Boroditsky says. “But then they came back a few days after and actually put in a proper bike lane.”

The Yimby Hero

MICHAEL PHAIR PULLED ON THE BUILDING’S ugly tin cladding and saw red brick underneath. This building was worth saving. “No one knew — including me — that it had any architectural value at all, until a couple of people working there dragged me over,” Phair says.
“I pulled back a little bit and I was like, ‘Oh my God, look at that — that’s brick.’”

It was 1999. Phair was peering at bricks of the Phillips Building, on 104 Street in downtown Edmonton. Midco Equities Ltd., owned by Bill Comrie of The Brick, had purchased the building and adjacent parking lot in 1981. It first wanted to erect a 25-storey of office tower, but the economic crash of the early ’80s erased those plans. By the mid-’90s, Midco next wanted to demolish Phillips Building and replace it with a surface parking lot.

Local residents wanted the building to remain. So they contacted Phair, who was a city councillor at the time, and asked for his help to save it. And he did. Preventing developers from demolishing the Phillips Building became one of Phair’s first major YIMBY wins. He’s had dozens more since.

What’s YIMBY? The acronym stands for ‘Yes in My Backyard’ and it’s the opposite of the far more well known NIMBY (Not in My Backyard). Proponents of YIMBY actively seek to obtain or keep things in their neighbourhoods instead of trying to keep them out. From tangible YIMBY successes like the Icon and Fox tower developments on 104 Street, to the new downtown bike grid, to less obvious achievements like establishing the AIDS Network of Edmonton, Phair has made a career out of saying ‘Yes.’

One cheery July afternoon, Phair sat in his eponymous park on 104 Street to reflect on what the street was like before he and other YIMBYs got involved — and how people who want to become YIMBYs can learn from his approach.

“Most people forget that this was all empty here,” he says, gesturing at the high rises surrounding us. “There were no buildings here at all, except on the corner.” That corner, on Jasper Avenue, was occupied by the ruin of the Cecil Hotel. Running north from the Cecil were empty lots, derelict properties and a few historic structures, such as the Birks, Metals, Phillips and Great West Saddlery buildings. Some had businesses but many were empty or partially vacant.

Saving the Phillips Building — Worthington Properties bought it in 2000 and converted it into loft apartments — was an early victory for 104 Street and also Edmonton in a broader sense. It marked a slow shift in local thinking and proved that a small group of dedicated citizens could shape the future of their neighbourhood.

After the Phillips Lofts were completed, in 2002, developers next proposed several high rise towers on 104 Street — the Century first, then the Icon towers, and later the Fox towers. But the original plans for these towers looked a lot different than what developers eventually built. That’s thanks, again, to the YIMBYs.

“There were a number of people living in the area who met with me and formed a kind of coalition group to push the city and developers that high rises were fie, but we don’t want ugly buildings — this is a historical area,” Phair says. “And, we don’t want this parking that you see everywhere. And we want podiums — which was not in the plans.”

But Phair knew fighting for improvements on individual projects was always going to be a losing battle. The key was zoning. Phair recognized changes were needed to prevent developers from proposing to build whatever they wanted on 104 Street. “The importance of the zoning, in the end, is probably what ensures that you are getting kind of what you’d hoped and wanted,” he says. Eventually, Phair and others got city council to change 104 Street’s zoning, in 2004.

But because council makes zoning decisions, Phair says, YIMBY groups seeking influence over what needs to be added to development proposals will need to make their case before that body. “It’s important that you have connections with the local councillors or MLAs, depending what the situation is, so they know what’s happening,” he says. “Even if they don’t agree or don’t push for anything, it’s always better if they know – but hopefully you can make allies out of them. Many members of council — hate to be blindsided. I’ve been that way a little bit, too.”

To become an effective YIMBY, then, Phair says you’ll need to get in touch with city administration to discuss zoning options in your neighbourhood, inform your local councillor and then meet with developers, property owners and other stakeholders about any proposed development. Developers usually aren’t keen to make changes to their plans, Phair says, especially ones that cost more money. This is why he says it’s critical to gain allies with positive voices — you can always find someone to oppose something, and often that negative voice is the loudest.

Phair says compromise is also key.
The zoning changes council made on 104 Street — which requires towers to have podiums for retail and commercial space, design elements reflecting the area’s historic nature, and parking set backs — doesn’t have everything residents asked for, Phair says, but it was a good compromise. “Quite frankly, 104 Street would not be what it is today if that hadn’t happened,” he says. “It made just this huge difference.” But sometimes YIMBY voices can’t make compromise actually happen. Chris vander Hoek, a former board member of the Oliver Community League (OCL) and intern architect with NEXT Architecture, says the Brewery District, in Oliver, is a good example of that. Vander Hoek was on the OCL board in 2013 when First Capital Realty and Sun Life Investment presented its initial proposal for the site. He says he remembers feeling alarmed when he saw it.

“Everything was internally oriented around the parking lot,” vander Hoek says. In response, the OCL worked to amplify the community voice. It hosted open houses and charrette sessions so residents could provide feedback to the developer. Initially the tone was optimistic, vander Hoek recalls, but that changed after the OCL met with the developers. “It became evident that they weren’t interested in compromising at all,” he says. “Their whole attitude was simply, ‘Let’s just build it now. Let’s build this hybrid suburban model and then when the LRT comes and when it becomes more urban, then we’ll just knock it down and build a new version that’s more urban.’”

Today, vander Hoek says Brewery District is not a walkable space, as Oliver asked it to be, because nobody likes walking across parking lots or among blank façades, “We saw that in the plans early on,” he says. But the YIMBY voice could not change it.

It should go without saying, then, that effective YIMBY campaigns require patience — often, a lot of it. Phair says Edmonton’s bike lanes are a perfect example of a project that required not just compromise and political support, but also heaps of patience.

“I live on 102 Avenue and we’ve been wanting a bike lane and arguing and yelling at the city for years to get that,” he says.

Phair chaired a working group on the downtown bike lane project that the OCL established five years ago. Things got bogged down due to the costs involved, and then delayed by the 2013 civic election. Phair remembers endless meetings with city administration trying to push them to take action, to no avail.

Meanwhile, though, the number of people working on bike lanes continued to grow. Paths for People, a nonprofit advocating for better cycling and walking infrastructure in Edmonton, formed in 2015; Phair is on the board.

The process seemed permanently stalled, Phair remembers, until a couple things happened. First, almost all of the senior management team at the city’s transportation department either retired or was let go. Second, Stantec offered to cover half the cost to trial downtown bike lanes.

“All of a sudden, very positively, it’s all happening,” Phair says. “We are busy now putting together some information for candidates running for city council and for the school board members, because there needs to be some work done on schools, encouraging bikes.”

The thing about YIMBY projects is that they can be about more than just buildings and bike lanes. They can be about building community supports for things that some in the community may even be fearful of. Phair has done that YIMBY work, too. In the early 1980s, he helped establish the first version of the Edmonton Pride Parade, as well as the AIDS Network of Edmonton (later renamed HIV Edmonton).

When the AIDS crisis hit Edmonton—the first case was identified on July 1, 1984 — no one was working on the issue locally. Phair formed the AIDS Network in response. The group worked out of his house at first, because no one would rent them office space. At the time, sexual orientation wasn’t protected under the Alberta Human Rights Act.

“There was a great deal of hatred —‘You deserve it; this is God’s scourge’ — every Bible verse that you could use, twisted,” Phair remembers. “We called ourselves the AIDS Network. We chose that name because we were clear that it needed to be more than just members of the gay and lesbian community. There needed to be other players. I think that was critical, knowing that in order to get what you want, and when you’re dealing with a situation that’s negative or difficult, is you look for others that need to be part of it.”

Some of those other players included local unions and churches, who were friendly to the cause, as well as contacts with the police and media. Savviness with media is critical to YIMBY, Phair says, especially when the issue at stake is contentious.

“Any major story about AIDS, we always got called for the local angle, and learned that you need to respond,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to put forward what we would think as the best foot, to put forward how we saw it and what we were doing — which then got through the media, got out that there were local people that had AIDS, there were local groups that were working on it to try to do things. We tried to sound reasonable.”

Sandeep Agrawal sees the YIMBY and NIMBY conversations through a planning lens. Agrawal is a professor and inaugural director at the University of Alberta’s Urban and Regional Planning Programs, where he focuses on the inclusion of human rights in urban planning. He is pushing Edmonton planners to look not only at planning legislation, bylaws and policy, but also to consider the Charter and human rights legislation, when dealing with NIMBY/YIMBY issues, like safe injection sites, supportive housing and potentially even adults-only buildings.

“Eventually, something that’s intangible becomes quite tangible in the form of use of land and a building and such — and then it becomes a planning issue,” Agrawal says. “Frankly, so far planners have yet to understand how these things affect their thinking, their practice and obviously their policies.”

The University of Alberta doesn’t have a course on NIMBYism specifically, but Agrawal teaches a course on land-use planning and policy that discusses it. “Land-use planning is all about uses of land and zoning, and when it comes to any kind of development, you have to deal with NIMBYism,” he says.

Awareness and education are ultimately what overcome NIMBYism, Agrawal says, since it’s often a knee-jerk, emotional reaction to change. Once people become aware of an issue and are exposed to it, more people come to accept it. Consider how absurd it seems today that someone could be denied office space based on their sexual orientation. This will undoubtedly hold true for everything from safe injection sites to bike lanes – it just might take a while.

Phair agrees. “I think in another eight or nine years, having bike routes will be so commonplace that they’ll just automatically happen, but it’s still going to take that time,” he says. Until your YIMBY victory has become permanent, he says, you just have to keep working on shifting the narrative.

“I can’t tell you how important I think it is to find some either positive voices or at least positive compromising voices,” he says. “As opposed to those that just don’t want it, period – and let them run the show and be seen as what everybody thinks and wants.

“Easier said than done,” he adds, with a laugh. “I wish it was that simple.”



SOCIAL MEDIA AND PRINT MEDIA: Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook can help you nd and connect with people interested in working together, as well as to make you aware of what others are working on already. Consider physical newsletters, posters on bulletin boards in local businesses and ads in community newsletters, and local newspapers to reach community members who aren’t online.

CROWDFUNDING SITES: Kickstarter, GoFundMe, Indiegogo and other crowdfunding sites can help grassroots organizations and startup dollars and help cover costs associated with public outreach and consultation.

CITY OF EDMONTON ZONING RESOURCES: There are zoning resources and information on the City of Edmonton website. Contact the planner who works on your area of the city for detailed information.

EDMONTON FEDERATION OF COMMUNITY LEAGUES: The EFCL can put you in touch with local community leagues and other associations and organizations who may be interested in working on YIMBY projects in their area. The EFCL also hosts seminars and work- shops on community issues.


YIMBY asks for DECL and OCL

MORE DENSITY DONE RIGHT: The design of developments is more important than just density or height. Still, increased density can bring more people to live downtown, and more amenities, which will make the area more sustainable in the long-term.

BIKE LANES: If built correctly, bike lanes can benefit all people. It’s all about offering more mobility options to engage a younger population who doesn’t want to own vehicles, and this can be augmented by car-share and ride-share.

MORE GREEN SPACE, LESS PARKING: Surface parking lots don’t make for the vibrant downtown we want. Some empty lots should be reserved for open green space and parks. Parks are people’s living rooms when they don’t have their own yard.

BETTER STREETSCAPING: Well-considered streetscaping is critical to the success of downtown for people as well as local pedestrian-oriented businesses.

REC AND COMMUNITY FACILITIES: Oliver has the population of a small town, yet many don’t drive, so we need recreation facilities close by. The Stanley Milner library in central downtown is out of reach for many Oliver residents, as are downtown rec facilities like the Don Wheaton YMCA.

SUPPORTIVE, AFFORDABLE AND FAMILY HOUSING: Oliver needs greater housing diversity to support inclusive, long-term human investment through socially responsible development.

FAMILY INFRASTRUCTURE: The downtown core lacks physical supports as well as services for families, like all-ages buildings, appropriate recreation facilities, affordable child care and even public washrooms.

Knock-On Effect

Coun. Andrew Knack is at a grey bungalow in Crestwood saying nothing much at all. Knack is campaigning for re-election in Ward 1 but tonight, the older female homeowner he has summoned with his knock to her door is not a supporter. Knack stands wordlessly absorbing views on subsidized housing (does not belong in Crestwood, she says) and property taxes (too high, she says) while, nearby, three boys play catch beside a white BMW. Crestwood’s average household income is $165,668, or nearly double Edmonton’s average, and it will be a central door-knocking target for Ward 1 candidates. Finally, after 15 minutes, Knack bids the woman goodnight. “I kind of make a terrible politician because I listen, even if I know, like her, they aren’t going to vote for me”, he says, once at the sidewalk.

Knocking on doors can win an election. In 2016, an unpopular Ted Cruz beat a popular Donald Trump in the Iowa Republican Party leadership primaries by hitting more front doors. For municipal politicians, who lack the political parties that help voters navigate toward or away from candidates and platforms, door-knocking is doubly-important. Fittingly, Knack is door-knocking tonight primarily to re-win his seat. It is serious business. As we walk, Knack opens Canvasser, an iPhone app he pays $100 a month for to organize his plan to knock on all 18,000 or so single-family, row-house and duplex doors in his ward, and crosses the woman’s house off the list. But Knack says there’s more to it. Door-knocking gives him a too-rare chance to hear peoples’ concerns face to face. It is a democracy moment with the purity of apple pie. “I care whether you can vote or whether you can’t—I talk with permanent residents who can’t vote, and I care equally as much about their opinion as someone who can go vote,” he says.

Let’s assume Knack is right, and that door-knocking is essential for potential city councillors to hear the concerns of residents. What does it mean, then, that up to half the doors in our city will likely not get a knock? According to Statistics Canada, about 49.3 per cent of Edmonton’s housing is multi-unit, from condo towers to low-rise apartments to mid-rise rental buildings. But these doors and the people who live behind them are effectively terra nullius during a campaign. According to Knack and several other council candidates I spoke to, it is hard to get inside multi-unit buildings to meet people. Once in, many residents—leery of marketers—do not want you there. And what is worse, Alberta’s election rules only allow you there for a short period, anyway.

Add these factors up and you understand why one candidate who is aggressively targeting multi-unit housing puts his odds at getting inside buildings at less than one in three. Knack, who lives in a multi-unit condo himself, says he has not had a candidate knock on his door during any election campaign. And as he walks toward his next door to knock on, he says his 18,000-door tally does not include multi-unit doors and that the pattern concerns him. “It’s a struggle. You actually technically can’t access [a multi-unit] building until nomination day [on September 18]. Think about that. I’ll be lucky, having started door-knocking at the beginning of July, to hit every door once—and that’s just every single-family house door. You add in all of the multi-unit dwellings and the ability to try and hit every door in four weeks, it’s impossible. You won’t connect with everyone.”

For candidates to come first, Knack has sketched out why those living in multi-unit housing in downtown, Oliver and throughout Edmonton could be coming last. Given so many of us live in buildings with multiple doors, how can it change?

Back in August, on another door-knocking night, Knack says he came to see what disengagement really looks like. He was in the Canora neighbourhood, where the average household income $59,976 and where many rent, often in multi-unit housing. At the doors, he says three individual people living in rental housing shared that they feel invisible. Knack says one resident told him, “as a renter,” she was “not allowed to vote”— (“I have no idea where she was taught that,” he says)— while two others told him their opinion did not count. “They said, ‘I just rent, so I don’t want to waste your time.’”

Knack has a compelling theory for why. To win elections, politicians door-knock and engage voters predominantly in areas with a history of high voter turnout. Those high turnouts are, traditionally, clustered in the high-income areas of wards where the doors are easily reached. And to Knack that embeds the cycle. “It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he says. “The spots where we have, by far, the largest voter turnout are some of the wealthiest communities with some of the highest percentages of detached-home ownership. And so if you’re a candidate, it’s not that you want to ignore areas [with multi-unit renters and owners] but you’d better go to where the highest voter turnout is first.”

Next, add the time-crunch created by rules that limit legal protection from being told to leave multi-unit buildings until a month before the vote. That amplifies things, he says. “If you’re short on time, something’s not going to get done, and often times it’s those areas that have low home ownership or low voter-turnout. Because nobody engages them, very few people go out and vote, which means the turnout is low, which means the next crop of candidates see that and say, ‘Well, why would I go there first?’”

“They said, ‘I just rent, so I don’t want to waste your time.'”

Edmonton historian Shirley Lowe says there are other amplifications of the pattern and that they link to historic election laws. Lowe points to Jack K. Masson and Edward C. LeSage’s book, Alberta’s Local Governments, where the authors write: “Election rules are seldom neutral; they operate to the advantage of some people and the disadvantage of others.” In Alberta municipal elections, the authors argue advantages have been created by laws such as one that allowed British citizens living in Canada to vote in municipal elections even if they were not Canadian citizens. Another, dashed only in 1983, discriminated against non incumbents by allowing a candidate’s occupation to be shown. Incumbents would simply write, “Mayor,” or “alderman,” as their job and look far more electable on the ballot as a result. It made incumbency then—and arguably now—an iron-like qualification for Edmonton City Council.

But it’s rules around property ownership that Lowe points to as we talk about the multi-unit engagement gap. Up until 1977, a bylaw explicitly favoured people who owned property over those who did not by allowing only them to vote on council candidates and fiscal rule changes. While the rule now only requires a voter to be a resident of your municipality on election day, and to have lived in Alberta at least six months prior to it, some of the property sentiments linger. And they disadvantage people in multi-unit housing. “It’s systemic,” Lowe says. “The City of Edmonton still sends out notices about developments, but they don’t do it for renters. That means even a temporary land owner, like a developer, has more rights than someone who’s lived around that property for a long time.” As a result, she adds, renters have long been “second class citizens.”

That feeling, directly expressed to Knack on the doorstep in Ward 1, is something being thought about in wards across the city as politicians campaign. That includes Ward 6, which covers downtown and Oliver.

The ward’s incumbent, Coun. Scott McKeen, says he’s run up against the barriers to door-knocking in multi-unit condo buildings similar to the one he lives in. In 2013, he says, he had volunteers inside a multi-unit building knocking on doors when they were challenged in the halls. “The resident told them they had to leave, but it turned out one of the volunteers was a former city hall lawyer,” he says. “He knew the legislation and explained it. The resident grudgingly let the volunteers continue.”

“If people are not voting, you’re caught in this silo of making decisions based o a very select group of individuals”.

Is this unexpected? No, McKeen says. “I don’t think this [reaction] is unusual. Most buildings don’t allow people in to canvas door to door. The election rules allowing entry are not widely known and so people can be upset with the intrusion. I live in a condo building and it’s weird to have someone knock on your door. As someone once said, the door to your apartment is unlike the door to a house. It’s more like opening your bedroom door to a stranger. You feel more vulnerable.”

One of McKeen’s main challengers in Ward 6, Tish Prouse, says he has encountered anger from people while trying to engage residents in multi-unit buildings and has resorted to different techniques as a result—from simple social media discussions to a series of barbecues near the larger buildings that people can come to and meet him at. He says that he recognizes candidates over-emphasize door-knocking on single-family homes and that it skews their take on what matters to their ward. “You want to have proper representation of a demographic,” Prouse says.

Voter turnout in Edmonton is low compared to the Canadian average, at less than 37 per cent in both the 2010 and 2013 municipal elections. And the least likely age block to vote is the 18 to 29 bracket. Matthew Redfern, who is running for council in Ward 7, has a term for that group. “Those are what I associate with the rental years,” he says.

For some in Edmonton, the rental years are transitional, while for others they are a lifestyle choice. Regardless, for a city where the median age is just 35, renters are a significant number of voters. Indeed, according to Edmonton’s 2016 census, 49 per cent of residents own their housing while 29 per cent rent it (though, a whopping 21 per cent provided no response to that census question). For context, the 2011 federal census put the owner-renter spread in Edmonton at 65 per cent and 35 per cent, respectively.

Redfern feels connected to the people living as renters in multi-unit voters. He identifies as Dutch and Cree (his mother, a residential school survivor, was born on a trapline near Moosonee, Ontario) and for much of his 20s and 30s lived as a renter in multi-unit apartment buildings. And this meant that he never interacted at his door with a municipal politician, he says. “It didn’t enhance my engagement in democracy and local politics.”

So, like many in the 2017 campaign, Redfern is trying to work around the traditional engagement gaps. His approach is to venture into Beverly Heights, the lowest income portion of Ward 7, to knock on doors and meet people. Many of the people living in the neighbourhood live in older detached housing, which they rent, though there are some low-rise apartments, too. The average household income in Beverly Heights is $68,749.

Redfern says the feedback can be stark. “I haven’t met a single person yet that told me they’ve had someone knock on their door [in Beverly Heights],” he says. “I’m the first candidate they’ve seen in any election— municipal, provincial or federal. In Beverly, it’s a lot of rental houses, a lot of…”— here, his voice changes and he grins—“…indigenous type people. They don’t get much attention. We’ll find out if it works. Those are home owners, renters and definitely voters.”

How can the engagement gap for Edmonton residents living in multi-unit housing change?

McKeen says it is “critical” to door-knock in multi-unit housing. “Though some buildings do a terrific job at creating a sense of community, apartment living can be isolating. So it’s important that candidates take on the challenge of getting in those buildings, knocking on doors and meeting people where they live.”

His solution is simply perseverance.

Redfern is actively seeking to engage a voting group that others have ignored, but is not sure it will lead him to victory. He admits he is doing it out of principle. “We’re missing their voice, a whole different perspective—people who are living a different life than your detached home homeowner,” he says. “Not everybody has a house and a dog and a wife and 1.8 children, whatever is ‘normal’ now. Most people in their renting years don’t vote, which is a shame because they use a lot of city services.”

He also says there is a need for more open venues for voters to engage with candidates, and laments that some community leagues have stopped offering candidate forums.“Maybe the elections office could hold forums,” he says. Knack says he has also thought about how to fix the situation but has not hit on the magic bullet. “There’s several things” to try, he says. “Could we open up the rules to allow candidates to get in [to multi-unit buildings] earlier?” But, do that, he says, and “you would run up against the issue of people just not feeling comfortable answering the door.”

Still, as he walks to knock on doors in Crestwood, Knack says he hopes to work to change the situation. “How do you start to break through it,” he asks. Canora, he notes, has a voter turnout below 20 per cent, which could mean as little as 10 per cent of households (some have more than one resident) are reaching the ballot box. Voter turnout in Crestwood, on the other hand, where he has just gotten an earful from a resident about taxes, is way higher.“You have to be careful to expand who you’re hearing from,”he says. “If people are not voting, you’re caught in this silo of making decisions based on a very select group of individuals.”

DECL Fall Events

Cornfest 2017
Experience the new Alex Decoteau Park,
at 105 Street and 102 Avenue, with some
free corn on the cob, kids and dog activities,
and a chance to grab your new 2017-’18
DECL membership ($5). Starts at 11am
and runs until 3 pm.

Alex Decoteau Park Dedication
Join DECL President Chris Buyze, Mayor
Don Iveson, members of Alex Decoteau’s
family, police, military (on horses!) and
local residents for the official opening of
our first new downtown park in 30 years.
Starts at 11 am.

BreakOut West Festival
The festival takes over downtown Edmonton
and our community space with local and
Canadian talent. Enjoy all venues for only

SEPTEMBER 6, 13, 20, 27
Free noon-hour yoga at DECL
Take a break to breathe and relax your mind
with Irma and Jessica, enjoy some flow and
Hatha practices at lunch. All levels welcome.
Beginner friendly. Runs 12:10 – 1:50 pm.
Space is limited so please register at irma.

Up+Downtown Festival
The festival returns for a third year at DECL,
with performances by Woodhawk, Chron
Goblin, Weaves, the Garrys, Ia Am Machi
and others. for more info. 18+

Edmonton Election Day
Don’t forget to vote.
Polls are open until 8 pm.

Urban Kids Family Night
Our monthly family night returns for kids and
parents. Join us for games, talent shows and
more, from 6-8 pm.

OCL Fall Events

Walking Pub Crawl
Meet with friends new and old, and walk
to pre-determined pub location to enjoy
the Oliver nightlife. Starts at 8 pm, meet in
Oliver Park by the playground. (note: no
pub crawl in December).

Municipal Election Forum
Ward 6 forum runs from 7-9 pm.
St. Joseph Catholic High School,
10830 – 109 Street.

Holiday Craft Market
Get your holiday shopping done in one place
and have league volunteers wrap your gifts in
exchange for donation to our hall redevelop-
ment. 9am-2pm, Location to be announced.

Holiday Potluck
Bring your favourite holiday dish and join
friends and neighbours for a hearty meal.
Eating together is a wonderful way to build
community and celebrate the season. Runs
5-8 pm at Grace Lutheran Church gymnasium,
at 9907 – 114 Street.

Civics Committee
This highly engaged committee meets on the
second Monday of the month to discuss develop-
ments in Oliver. Runs from 7 pm. Grace Lutheran
Church social room, at 9907-114 Street (enter by
east grey door).*changed to Tuesday for October.

Events and Programs Committee
If you like event planning, this is the committee
for you. Runs at 6:00 pm, Nosh Cafe, 10235
124 Street.

Alex’s Park

Every community needs green space. These spaces help connect us to nature, offer a quiet spot to relax or a place to meet our neighbour. And downtown is finally getting one. After 10 years of steady effort and planning by the community league, and support from city council, downtown is opening our first new park in 30 years — Alex Decoteau Park.

Our downtown population continues to grow. As it does, green spaces become even more crucial to the everyday lives of residents. When you live in a condo or apartment, parks within walking distance are important and necessary parts of a healthy neighbourhood.

But Alex Decoteau Park is not only downtown’s first new park in decades, it’s also a first for our city in many ways. It was designed with community input and features many ‘active’ uses that residents can participate in and enjoy. These include a community garden (complete with raised beds, shed and composting); a fenced, off-leash dog area for our furry friends (a first for Edmonton); grassed areas; lots of seating and meeting places, and push-activated fountains that every kid (and parent) will doubtlessly enjoy on hot summer days.

The park is significant for what it brings our community, but it’s also a reminder of the life and legacy of Alex Decoteau, its namesake. Decoteau was the first indigenous police officer in Edmonton, working on the beats right around what is to be the park named after him. He represented Canada at the Olympics in 1912, and died in the Second World War at the second battle of Passchendaele, in 1917.

While Decoteau is no longer with us, his legacy will live on. I invite you to join us for the opening of the park, at our annual CornFest, on September 9. Or you can come to the the official dedication on September 16. We have talked about the park for a long time. Now it is time to enjoy it.

Chris Buyze
President, Downtown Edmonton Community League

My Journey to YIMBY

The first time I heard ‘Yes in my backyard’ was at a workshop for the proposed rezoning of the Molson Brewery site. It was 2013. I had just moved back to Edmonton from eight months in the United Kingdom, where I had fallen in love with narrow roads, centuries-old buildings and the pubculture. But within a few weeks of being home, the Oliver Community League hosted a workshop in response to the Molson Brewery proposal, which was essentially a higher-end suburban strip mall.

The workshop catalyzed OCL’s strategic plan, as the 60-plus attendees determined what we value in Oliver. Little surprise, then, that at the City of Edmonton’s public meeting for the Molson site proposal, hosted a couple months later, resident after resident stood up and rather than saying “No,” instead asked the developer for more. Some literally said “Yes in my backyard.”

“Give us mixed use development,” some said.

“We’re fine with high-rises — this is the perfect site for them,” others said.

“Give us less parking, we actually don’t want surface parking lots at all,” some said.

“Give us high quality pedestrian access and amenities. Give us buildings that face both the Oliver and Queen Mary Park communities. Give us a development that allows better connection between the two neighbour- hoods,” many said.

They said yes.
Then those with power said no.
The Brewery District officially opened more than a year ago and new businesses continue to open there. But while we are thrilled to have another grocery store in our midst, for me the development falls short, for all the reasons I’ve just discussed. The Oliver Community League certainly welcomes all of the businesses into our community and we wish them every success.

It represents a missed opportunity. The community’s vision for this significant development was shared, and ignored. Having the community stand up and ask for more, ask for the envelope to be pushed, even ask for more density and less parking, was unique. And was ignored.

Still, while saying “Yes in my backyard” did not produce the results we were looking for, this time, that Oliver spoke of what it wanted in unison started something. Residents have become more active in shaping the change in their community. And yes, that’s exactly what OCL wants to foster in our backyard.

Lisa Brown

President, Oliver Community League