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.


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.

4 Downtown Events That’ll Inspire You in Spring



MARCH 12: Presented by SAMU Speaker Series, the actor behind Walt Jr. speaks about overcoming bullying, living with cerebral palsy while playing a character with the same disease, and life after working on the most critically acclaimed show in history. (Robbins Health Learning Centre, 10900 104 Ave.)

Photo: Habitat for Humanity Edmonton

Photo: Habitat for Humanity Edmonton


MARCH 10–14, MAY 26–30: Women Build Week Habitat for Humanity is recruiting more women to strap on hard-hats and get building. These two four-day workshops will train and equip you for every possible task expected as you, in turn, help hard-working families build a future. (City Hall)



APRIL 23: Don’t miss Edmonton’s first-ever Walrus Talk on how cities can honour their Aboriginal communities and help them thrive. Writer and Al Jazeera correspondent Wab Kinew, homegrown architect Douglas Cardinal and other co-panelists shed light on how Edmonton could embrace its indigenous heritage. (Shaw Conference Centre, 9797 Jasper Ave.)


MAR. 15: All ages and abilities are encouraged to get their walk on in support of the Seniors Assisted Transportation Society . A $5 registration and donations help it to continue delivering essential services to low-income seniors.  (City Hall)

Go West, Young Man

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Late last fall, filmmaker Trevor Anderson met with his sound guy to record narration of his new film The Little Deputy.

They spent the entire afternoon on the first take, before deciding to throw it all out and do it again. And again. And again. Nothing was working. The one voice that was clear to him was that of Werner Herzog, one of the world’s most acclaimed documentary filmmakers, telling Anderson that his previous voice-over work was flawed.

The two had met at a film school run by the Oscar-winning German director, which Anderson describes as a “a three-day master class that happens in whatever city in the world [Herzog] happens to be in, whenever he feels like it.” Anderson attended the 2012 class in L.A. Orientation was held at a pub, and that’s where Herzog, pointing to his heart and looking Anderson straight in the eyes, told him that his last film, High Level Bridge, was “very accomplished filmmaking.”

That part made the blurb on Anderson’s website, explains the 42-year-old Edmonton artist, sitting on a bench in Constable Ezio Faraone Park, surveying the river valley on a recent afternoon. The part that didn’t?

“The narration should be deadpan.” Herzog argued.

Anderson’s face goes blank as he imitates his own confusion: he thought the narration was deadpan. Apparently not enough for Herzog, whose own bone-dry voiceovers are so infamous that parodies are widespread, including in Dreamworks’ Penguins of Madagascar. So Anderson was determined to heed Herzog’s advice on The Little Deputy, a take on the Western with Fort Edmonton — which originally sat in the downtown perch currently occupied by the Alberta Legislature, not far from his Grandin home — filling in for the O.K. Corral.

Like his previous films, it’s a personal documentary about life in Edmonton, with a dash of big-budget Hollywood genres. His 2012 short The Man that Got Away, which won a short film prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, was a musical about his chorus-dancing great-uncle, while The Island, from 2009, used fantasy elements and tropical-themed animation to respond to homophobic “fan mail” Anderson received—all the way from the U .S. of A.

The Little Deputy begins in West Edmonton Mall’s old-timey photo studio, with flashbacks shot on an old RCA camcorder, and over the ensuing seven minutes travels back to 1880s Edmonton, as Anderson tries to recreate a real childhood photo as an adult. This, at least, is Anderson’s spoiler-free summary. There are at least two big reveals in the film that he doesn’t want ruined for audiences ahead of time. Anderson, who also serves as director of programming for the filmmaking non-profit FAVA, began his creative life in theatre.

“[Don Iveson] rode his bicycle down to Fort Edmonton Park, like the super-mayor he is and we put a big fake moustache on both him and his wife.”

After moving to Edmonton from Red Deer in 1992 to study at the University of Alberta, he produced Fringe Festival shows and directed five seasons of the improvised soap opera Die-Nasty. He’s also been an ongoing presence in the city’s indie-rock scene, drumming for the Wet Secrets, whose music videos he also directs. (For 2014’s “Nightlife,” Anderson even coaxed Joe Flaherty into reprising his cult SCTV character Count Floyd for a lovingly made-in-Edmonton clip.)

Yet it’s Anderson’s short films that have brought him the most widespread attention and honours, not despite their specificity—he describes the films as “pretty local, pretty gay” — but because of it. The High Level Bridge, for example, is a sharp and provocative short about suicide. It screened at the Sundance Film Festival and South by Southwest, and generated positive reviews from the likes of the late Roger Ebert and Simpsons creator Matt Groening. Like the rest of his filmography, it drew from personal experiences. That is, lost friends. But, most notably, it threw open the door for a much-needed discussion about the bridge’s dark side. Soon after The High Level Bridge premiered, the veil of taboo started to slip, leading to in-depth media coverage, public engagement and a recent decision to install a $3 million barrier.

The Little Deputy marked his return to Park City, Utah, for another run at Sundance this past January. It played to four full houses, plus 100 high-school students through the Sundance Institute’s Filmmakers in the Classroom program. “It was very well received,” he says.

The movie came together quickly. He cobbled his crew together in September, shot everything over three days, and less than a month later, it was finished. A staple of the Edmonton arts and culture scene, Anderson, says that ramshackle, can-do spirit is one of the things he loves most about the city. “It’s that right size of a city,” he says, “big enough that there’s stuff happening, but small enough that you either know the person you have to get to, or you know the person who knows the person you have to get to.”

That sense of community spirit also helps explain how Anderson convinced Mayor Don Iveson and his wife, writer and teacher Sarah Chan, to play extras in the Fort Edmonton section of the new film. “[Iveson] rode his bicycle down to Fort Edmonton Park, like the super-mayor he is,” recalls Anderson, “and we put a big fake moustache on both him and his wife.” Chan’s whiskers, he adds, were all her idea.

Another familiar name in the credits is, of course, Werner Herzog. But it’s not for the voice-over lessons. Because after countless takes at the narration, trying everything and sounding like everyone from Snagglepuss to HAL from 2001 in the process, Anderson finally thought, What would Herzog do?

“He would say to put everyone and everything out of your mind, and to follow your instincts. So I went in and did the voiceover as authentically and truly as I could.”


“And it sounds just like the f—–‘ High Level Bridge,” he says, laughing. “It’s the exact same goddamn voiceover that he criticized in the first place.”

Community-building is Contagious

Community is contagious. We build it through recreational, social and environmental activities.

The Oliver Community League offers neighbours ways to create and participate in their own community experiences. This is why so much of our effort is spent advocating for the future of Oliver. These efforts include the League’s Civics Committee successful presentation during City Council’s 2015 budget deliberations, to ensure that Jasper Ave. be reimagined as safe and accessible for everyone. It is, after all, the most prominent street in our neighbourhood.

Members of our Civics Committee were able to convince City Council to fund a complete streetredevelopment, that includes widened sidewalks and landscaping, benches and pedestrian lighting, like the east side of Jasper Ave., rather than the original proposal that would have put it back together to look just like it does today, with fewer cracks in the pavement. A big thank you to our Councillor Scott McKeen and the rest of City Council, who unanimously passed the redesign!

We also work to build community by bringing people together. Recently, we’ve begun hosting winter socials every second Sunday in Kitchener Park (11411 103 Ave.). They’ve been a huge success. Neighbourhood spirit was welcomed with a bright bonfire, hot chocolate and new community connections. Our monthly games nights hosted at the OCL Hall (10326 118 St.) also provided a mid-week break and friendly competition.

Community programs address the needs for busy families to meet. The Ollie’s Treehouse Playgroup at the hall every Sunday is a great way for little ones and their caregivers to connect and play. And for fitness enthusiasts, the longstanding Oliver yoga program has been a wonderful way to stay warm and make friends this winter, and will continue in the spring (view calendar).

We’re always looking to promote the involvement of Oliver residents. They’re invited to participate in our Annual General Meeting on April 29 at 7:00pm at the Hall (10326 118 St.). The strong turnout in the last several years reflects Oliver’s interest in the League and its activities.

We look forward to presenting our Oliver Strategic Plan at the AGM, a document we’ve worked hard on producing for the past year. It explores questions related to the League’s purpose, goals, and the way we involve residents. Stemming from our values and goals, we will be creating an Advocacy Plan to best articulate the needs of Oliver residents.


MAR. 15 — “It’s Snow Wonder” invites families for an afternoon of snow painting and snowshoeing. (2 pm, Kitchener Park, 114 St. and 103 Ave.)

MAR. 25, APR. 29, MAY 27 — The ever popular BYOB(oard game) night. (7 pm, Community Hall, 10326 118 St.)

APR. 29 — Oliver Community League’s annual general meeting and board director elections. (7 pm, Community Hall, 10326 118 St.)

MAY 30 — The annual Oliver Community Festival closes the street for an artisan’s market, rummage sale, historical church tours and more. (102 Ave. between 121st and 124th streets.)

Kids ‘n’ Play


The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup will put a spotlight on Edmonton in June, but there’s another beautiful game this summer: Urban Kids U4 soccer club. For six weeks starting in May, Oliver and Downtown kids (ages 3–4) can train for future gold close to home. Urban Kids team is seeking players, coaches, assistants and business sponsorship. Contact Heather Mackenzie.

The cost of taking the kid for a Sunday swim? Nothing after 1:30 pm at Don Wheaton Family YMCA. That is, for DECL members. But at $5 a pop, memberships pay for themselves in a single splash. Buy them online. It also comes with a two-week YMCA pass.

Brunches at the Century Palace (9700 105 Ave.) or Urban China (10604 101 St.) are the perfect ways to broaden kids’ palates. Watch their eyes widen when they’re allowed to pick and choose treats like pork and scallion dumplings from a constant stream of rolling carts. The kid-sized portions are a bonus.

The AGA’s BMO World of Creativity room is just for kids. Until April 16, they can hop around the world with a rabbit named Boo by artist Jason Carter. Kids under seven get in free—and so do you every last Thursday evening of the month. Don’t forget about free family art activities every last Sunday of the month, plus weekly drop-in classes (ages 6–12, $15) on everything from pop art to movies.

The popularity of community gardens means you don’t need your own yard to enjoy the virtues of gardening. Peace Garden Park (10259 120 St.) or our Urban eden (9910 Bellamy Hill Rd.) are a short walk away. And while you tend vegetables and beautiful flowers, they get to play with the worms. It’s win-win. Bringing home freshly unearthed carrots might even get them interested in meal planning.

It’s one of the best things you can do to connect with other parents nearby, especially in a neighbourhood with few schools. While your kids discover new friends and toys, chatting with other parents reminds you that it’s more than possible to live in smaller quarters with an active toddler or two. Ollie’s Treehouse meets every Sunday afternoon at the OCL Hall. DECL also organizes a playgroup, urban Kids Board games’ night, every month.

Editor’s Note: Getting the Point

As budget day dawned last November, central Edmonton residents, avid cyclists and community league representatives arrived to council chambers prepared to defend the long-overdue and eagerly anticipated 102 Avenue bike lane. They should have slept in.

Not only did it pass unanimously (?!) at a generous cost of $8.8 million, it was one of several strongly supported investments in our core neighbourhoods. Just check out these 2015-2018 Capital Budget items: $18.9 million to renovate (not re-do) west Jasper Ave.; $16.3 million for the Green and Walkable Downtown project; $7 million for a new community rink; $4.8 million to reactivate a near-by fire station; $4.3 million for forthcoming Alex Decoteau park; $43.2 million (up from $3.9 mil-lion) for phase two of the Quarters revitalization; $78.2 million for the Capital City Downtown Plan, going beyond 2019; $61.5 million for a Stanley Milner Library facelift.

I’ll stop. Just run a search for the word “downtown” in the last three capital budgets and you’ll count eight mentions in 2009-2011 (215 pages), nine mentions in 2012-2014 (39 pages) and 42 mentions in 2015-2018 (73 pages).

You can thank the community revitalization levy for that. Without this tool that funnels some new and grow-ing property tax revenues into downtown, the core would probably be underfunded. If the CRL doesn’t perform as well as hoped, future councillors will have to look to different, more innovative financing tools.

Regardless, there’s a lot coming down the pike. This took a lot of hard lobbying. Many don’t realize how much of a role community leagues have had in this. People often think of playgroups and barbecues when they imagine their leagues, not their efforts in city planning, which comes with a host of complications. (Read about the challenges and triumphs in “Community By Design.”)

David Staples of the Edmonton Journal described the downtown budget focus as Council’s efforts to please “Yeddies” (Young Edmonton Downtown Dwellers). We were hoping “Yardies” would catch on because, as our list of family activities show, the demographics are more varied. But that’s beside the point. Both Yeddies and Yardies are getting some much needed love.

But we also need to spread that love to the surrounding mature neighbourhoods that make up the downtown ecosystem. When condo dwellers in the core outgrow their homes, they’re often forced to move far away to an affordable house. They become detached from downtown. The convenient lifestyle vanishes.

Should we have to give that up just because we want a family or yard?

High Life

When the Pearl’s buyers took ownership in February, they became residents of Edmonton’s tallest residential tower. But not for long. As many as 15 towers are planned, proposed or already in production. Here’s how a few of them stack up.



OLIVER: $310,104 (+$26,122 from previous Nov–Jan)
Difference from listing price: -$11,346
Days on market: 48 (-13 from previous Nov–Jan)

DOWNTOWN: $361,205 (+$63,869 from previous Nov–Jan)
Difference from listing price: -$11,893
Days on market: 53 (-26 from previous Nov–Jan)

Provided by the REALTORS® Association of Edmonton

Journey Man


Patrick Nybakken doesn’t just live downtown; he’s helping rebuild it, as a plumber on the City’s new $300 million office tower in the Edmonton Arena District. After having lived close to the Oilers’ current home, Patrick made the move downtown last year and now enjoys a 20-minute morning walk to the site on 104 Ave. and 101 St. It has come with a connection to his neighbours that he’s never felt in other parts of the city. “I am bound to run into a friend, or see a person I have never met but passed many times. We give each other ‘the smile and nod.’” He adds, “And more and more interesting places are always popping up.” Many of these new additions have cropped up along his commute to work and, best of all, have made it easy for him to be a conscious consumer.



Patrick’s made a lot of lifestyle changes in the last year, including taking supplements and vitamins. For those, he visits Earth’s General Store and stocks up on Vitamin D, probiotics and shea butter for the cracks in his hands—a side-effect of his labour.


While some days his job is exercise enough, other days the YMCA picks up the slack. “When I started going, I was going to spin classes,” he says. Now Patrick has added more routines: squats, lunges and push-ups. Since going, he’s made friends with other fitness-minded folk.


Patrick’s go-to meeting place is Transcend’s newest location, a minimalist-designed cafe inside the basement of the Mercer warehouse. He says it serves Edmonton’s best long black coffee (double-shot espresso in hot water). He’s fond of its variety of locally roasted beans, along with its clover machine method of brewing, which rescues the single-origin beans’ inherent flavours. It’s even helped educate his palate. “I’ve come to learn I’m a fan of the lighter roasts. Sweet notes…even a little sour.”


Patrick loves hunting for interesting vintage pieces while knowing his money is going towards a good cause. At this little-known thrift store, proceeds help victims of disasters such as fires and flood. “I usually look for unique knick-knacks for the house.”

5. MOTHER’S MARKET, 10251 109 ST.

On Friday evenings, Patrick stops by the weekend indoor market for fresh produce and meats. “I have a vehicle, but it’s nice not to have to drive sometimes for groceries.” He eats healthy, never forgetting some fresh garden carrots from Lund’s Organics, but can’t resist wild boar bacon from Foremsky’s Market Meats and Irvings Farm Fresh pork shoulder for his pulled pork recipes.