For the Love of Vibrancy

Source: Facebook

Source: Facebook/Duncan MacDonnell

Always being on call for work has its challenges, but for public affairs officer Duncan MacDonnell the simple solution is to live downtown. Summer—or wildfire season—can be especially busy at Alberta government’s department of environment and sustainable resources. Luckily, when Duncan is needed, he’s rarely more than a five-minute walk from the office.

But living centrally means more than a quick commute to the civil servant, who doubles as a professional photographer. “Downtown is incredibly vibrant. I love to shoot film and I never run out of things to photograph.”

He adds, “I don’t buy the idea that downtown is the young, urbanite kind of place. … You’ve got this great diversity of both people and places and that’s a huge factor for why I live where I do.”

Here are just a few of his favourite highlights around his home and office.

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  1. Constable Ezio Farone Park, 11004 97 Ave.
    Duncan walks just about everywhere, so what better path to take than this one with sprawling trails and beautiful views of the river valley? He regularly heads to this popular park for exercise or to wander around with his camera and a roll of film. Weekends are his favourite time to visit because although it isn’t a big park, it’s usually alive with picnickers and athletes—a vibrancy that gives him a “special feeling.”
  1. The Common9910 109 St.
    This gastro-lounge is his go-to place to business lunch or unwind after work, especially on Wednesdays. He appreciates the vintage-meets-modern decor, including a wall of vinyl records and ’80s Hollywood portraits. It pairs well with their extensive single malt scotch menu. But his favourite is the fish and chips. Chef Jesse Morrison-Gauthier reinvents the tempura battered fish weekly with what’s fresh, so Duncan never tires of this constantly evolving plate. “I’m a huge fan…which is saying something from a guy from the coast.”
  1. The Metro10250 106 St.
    Friday nights see Duncan shooting pool with buddies at this billiards lounge. The laid-back bar never makes them feel old or uninvited, even though it’s weekends are heaving with young adults. “We’re just these harmless old guys that love to play pool and the Metro is very welcoming to us.”
  1. City Market Downtown104 St.
    Some come to shop; Duncan comes to shoot. He loves starting Saturdays with a jaunt to the farmers’ market to capture some photos of the bustling environment, and immerse himself in it. On his way out, Duncan will pick up ingredients for the night’s supper from such suppliers as Edgar Farms (the asparagus are legendary) and Irving’s Farm Fresh (whose sausages are delicious and dizzying in their variety).
  1. Rose Bowl Pizza & Rouge Resto-Lounge10111 117 St.
    Duncan often frequents “the best pizza place in town” with work friends and associates, and savours the carne pizza so much that he rarely tries anything new. The authentic thin crust pizzas are hard to decline, but he also comes for the brief time-travel one experiences lounging in its retro and funky ’70s-style bar.

Do you live and work in Central Edmonton? Tell us your favourite highlights in The Route. Email editor@theyardsyeg.ca.

 

Riding the Corridor

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Me and my trusty ride, passing by Robertson-Wesley United.

Until you’ve done a mile on somebody’s tires, you can’t appreciate where they’re coming from—or going. While I regularly ride through downtown, I don’t often cover 102 Ave. in its entirety. But to write about downtown cycling tracks (see “Cycling of Change” and “The Tao of Tooker”) I literally needed to put rubber to road.

So, on a warm May afternoon, I set out east from 146 St., charting a straight(-ish) line that was almost 50 blocks from one end of 102 Ave. to the other.

My trusty old grey roadie and I were going to test some cycling assumptions. What is downtown car and bike traffic really like? How forgiving are curb lanes? Will this thing even work?

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A passing cyclist in Oliver, between 116 St and 102 St.

Because I live south of the river, my travels rarely take me west of 124 St., to the Glenora and Westmount neighbourhoods that will be serviced by the $8.8 million bike lane, which begins construction in 2016. So, to me, that end of 102 Ave. is unfamiliar terrain. It’s also, from a cycling standpoint, least pleasant.

Growling one-tons, rumbling delivery vans, youth hockey player-toting SUVs and cocky Audis regularly whip by me and leave scant cushion for this cyclist. Potholes, heaves and unswept debris rattle my frame.

Construction on Groat Bridge forces me to stray from the faithful path, but by 124 St. I’m back on track. Past the steeple of Robertson-Wesley United Church, everything changes. In Oliver, 102 Ave. becomes a residential thoroughfare lined with doting elms. Cars seem a little more accustomed to sharing the road, perhaps through habit as more cyclists appear to frequent this part of the route.

Once in downtown proper, it’s clear from their body language that cyclists here are tense and wary. Cars, cabs and buses merge in and out, in and out, in and out—intersection by intersection until the congestion around Churchill Square sends them astray. But east of 100 St. the street is drastically less busy.

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Intersection at 102 Ave and 103 Street.

At a relaxed pace, the entire journey takes 25 minutes or less. A little longer than it would take me in my mini van, but not nearly as enjoyable.

I reach the end feeling that the potential is great, and so is the need. Here, along this every changing and busy urban corridor, there could be an oasis—a slower, sweeter way to drink from city life.

Perhaps that’s just what Edmonton’s diesel-driven pace needs.

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Looking onto Churchill Square.

 

3 Ways to Better Yourself and Business This Summer

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Alyson Connolly, who will be guiding this workshop.

PAINLESS PUBLIC SPEAKING
June 14: Public speaking doesn’t come naturally to everyone. This three-hour workshop with voice and public speaking coach Alyson Connolly shows how to master the craft with proper preparation and breathing techniques, plus an understanding of the psychological dynamic of speakers and audiences. (Chateau Lacombe Hotel, 10111 Bellamy Hill)

WORDPRESS FOR BEGINNERS
June 20: 
Whether you’re a blogger or business-owner, WordPress is as important a computer skill as spreadsheet-making. This workshop shows how to install WordPress, navigate it, and edit a theme that’s right for you. (Startup Edmonton, 10359 104 St.)

ARE YOU READY FOR ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
Aug. 17: Starting a business can be overwhelming, but it could also be an exhilarating challenge. This two-hour introductory workshop offers women entrepreneurial advice to help decide if business-ownership is the right call for you. And if it is, Alberta Women Entrepreneurs organization will set you up with some of the resources you need for this next chapter in life. (AWE Head Office, 10310 Jasper Ave.)

Q&A With Outgoing Rapid Fire Theatre Director Amy Shostak

Photo by Marc-Julien Bjois

Photo by Marc-Julien Objois

June 17–27: After five years as comedy institution Rapid Fire Theatre’s artistic director, Amy Shostak is hanging up her clown shoes—but not without first flooding the city with dozens of international “alt” comedians during the 15th annual Improvaganza, a 10-day festival from June 17-27 of improv, stand-up and sketch masters that’ll make you laugh in ways never thought possible. (Citadel Theatre, 9828 101A Ave., rapidfiretheatre.com)

The outgoing leader and downtowner Amy Shostak tells us all about the upcoming festival and her fondest memories.

Q: WHAT WILL YOU MISS MOST?
I loved collaborating with such a passionate, skilled ensemble. Becoming a solid improviser takes time and dedication. It’s been an honour to watch them grow and take risks together. They’re also just so fun to be around.

Q: WHAT’S THE BIGGEST RISK YOU TOOK?
Moving us in 2012 from the Varscona Theatre in Old Strathcona to the Citadel Theatre downtown. We took a leap of faith, uprooted our whole community, in the hope of growing our programming. It’s been Rapid Fire’s goal to buy our own theatre for the last 15 years, and I knew if we wanted to do that, we’d need to produce more.

Q: WHAT CAN WE EXPECT AT IMPROVAGANZA 2015?
It’s sincerely my favourite time of the year. The weather is gorgeous, Churchill Square is alive, and then we parachute in 45 of the most charming people from across the globe. Some of our visiting performers are improvisers from Argentina, Germany, or Norway, who find creative ways to communicate without language. Every night is different, and there is something for everyone.

Issue 3 Launch Party & Salon

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Fri, Jun 12 2015 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM
Guests: author and professor Heather Zwicker and human rights advocate and LGBTQ leader Murray Billet
By Tickets now!

The Pride Week party promises great food and music, plus thought-provoking discussions on the past, present and future of downtown’s LGBTQ community. Proceeds from the tickets help to pay for start-up costs and fund future issues.

6pm – Doors Open

7pm – We’ll be joining forces with professor Heather Zwicker and human rights advocate Murray Billett, speaking on a panel and live podcast recording about Edmonton’s LGBT history and 35 years of Pride!

7:45- Onwards – Stick around for an evening of conversation and cocktails. Music by NVS to keep the night going.

Should you have any inquires about The Yards events or advertising please don’t hesitate to contact us at sales@theyardsyeg.ca.

The Yards is hyper-local quarterly magazine focused on urban, cultural and social issues in central Edmonton. Published by the non-profit Central Edmonton News Society in partnership with the Downtown Edmonton and Oliver Community Leagues, it’s the voice of these two communities and mailed to their residents four times a year.

The Tao of Tooker

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This article ran in the Summer 2015 issue, alongside Cycles of Change.

Angela Bischoff smiles fondly as she recalls how the late Tooker Gomberg, former City Councillor and her longtime partner, triggered the original pilot for bike racks on Edmonton transit buses.

“Administration came back saying they thought it was a great idea but they didn’t have any budget for it,” Bischoff recalls. “So right in City Council, when they were having this public conversation, Tooker said, ‘Well, what would it cost?’ And the head of transportation said, ‘Not very much, maybe $5,000.’ And Tooker said, ‘So if I paid for it, you would do it?’ And he said yeah. So Tooker said okay, I’m happy to pay for it. From then on, on the transportation budget there was a line item for Tooker’s bike pilot project.”

The story epitomizes how Gomberg would sacrifice himself to a cause. He was restless and rarely looked back. “Tooker was always pushing his agenda,” says Bischoff. His methods could be controversial—he famously refused to wear a tie at council meetings, and he once locked himself in a vault in Ralph Klein’s office and faxed out media releases on Klein’s own letterhead.

But he was a dedicated activist who sought creative ways to push for causes he believed in. On Edmonton City Council, he advocated for environmental improvements beyond the Bicycle Transportation Plan and into waste management and recycling initiatives. Gomberg eventually moved to Toronto and continued his activism.

However, his restless advocacy took its toll and he was overcome with severe depression. After his anti-depressants stopped working, his doctor increased his dosages—despite side-effect warnings—but his demons continued haunting him.

Gomberg’s bicycle, helmet and a suicide note were discovered on the MacDonald Bridge in Halifax in 2004. His body was never found. He was 48.

Bischoff continues to work in the environmental movement in Ontario.

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.)

Make Oliver Yours With a Microgrant

In the past few years, Make Something Edmonton has embarked on a new branding exercise for the city. The primary idea behind the city-funded campaign is that Edmonton is “an unusually good place to make something, from the ground up.” Born from the idea that some of our most cherished services and institutions—the Fringe Theatre Festival, Canada’s first mosque and first food bank, Bioware—were conceived, born and nurtured here, the initiative encourages residents to also build something from nothing. Learn more about it at makesomethingedmonton.ca.

We at the Oliver Community League think our neighbourhood is a pretty good place to make something, too. So, we’re exited to unveil “Make Something Oliver.”

We want to financially support activities and projects benefitting the community and aligning with our strategic goals, especially building partnerships within the community. Both individuals and groups are welcome to apply for a Make Something Oliver micro-grant. Individual applicants must be current residents of Oliver or a member of the Oliver Community League; groups must include at least one member who’s residing in Oliver or holding League membership. All applicants must be at least 18 years of age.

Successful applications will receive up to $1,000 per initiative after adjudication by the League’s the types of initiatives, activities or projects that may be funded include:

  •  Skill swaps or skill-sharing workshops
  • Community activity nights (e.g. board game or craft-making nights)
  • Advocacy groups (e.g. bike lane advocacy)
  • Drop-in sports nights (e.g. badminton, basketball, etc.)
  • Festivals and celebrations
  • Public/guerilla art
  • Educational or fitness programs (e.g. bootcamps, yoga)

Find out how to apply for a Make Something Oliver micro-grant, or how to get involved, at olivercommunity.com. We encourage you to dream big as you come up with a way to make this neighbourhood yours!

As of May 1, the Oliver Community League board of directors is: Lisa Brown (President), Jarrett Campbell (Past President); Danny Hoyt; Simon Yackuli (Secretary); Leah Hilsenteger (Treasurer); Amanda Henry; Hossein Zahiri; James Eastham; Justin Keats; Curtis Boehm; Luwam Kiflemariam; Erin Wright; Dustin Martin; Marija Petrovic; Rowan Kunitz.

Oliver Community League Events

June 13 — Pride Family Picnic afternoon offers all-ages activities and opportunities to meet neighbours. Bring a blanket and lawn chair. (12 pm, Community Hall, 10326 118 St.)

June 17 — Programs and Events committee meeting. (6:30pm, Community Hall, 10326 118 St.)

July 1 — Monthly board meeting. (7 pm, Community Hall, 10326 118 St.)

Aug. 5 — Monthly board meeting. (7 pm, Community Hall, 10326 118 St.)

Editor’s Note: Who are Bike Lanes For?

Shortly before summer, I tiptoe past the accumulative junk on my balcony to a crowded corner and whip off a wrinkled plastic tarp with the flair of a magician. Beneath it a blue, upright bike that performs one trick: it gets me around for the next six months.

But the freedom and delight I get from cycling also opens up a minor domestic tension in my house.

My wife, who owns a little red cruiser she named “Scout,” is too scared to ride it on most roads, so we constantly negotiate how we get to places as a couple—often separately in summers. For Scout to touch the pavement, a practically interstellar alignment of good weather, low traffic and clear side-walks must occur. By contrast, I mostly avoid the sidewalks—partly because it’s law, partly because it’s statistically less safe—and get a passive aggressive kick out of taming traffic with my two-wheeled presence.

On the cyclist spectrum identified by American transportation engineer Roger Geller, I’m in a small category of “enthused and confident” riders. My wife, however, belongs to the largest subset, “interested but concerned.” Fifty-four per cent of Edmontonians surveyed characterize themselves like this and, as Jeremy Derksen writes in “Cycles of Change” (p. 11), that is for whom the 102nd and 83rd avenue bike lanes are being constructed.

If your imagination can’t conjure why this city—sprawling, affluent, 53rd parallel north Edmonton—needs a multimillion-dollar segregated bike lane, think of it as a service road. Service roads separate local traffic from commuter traffic, and in a neighbourhood like Oliver, where 80 per cent of households own bicycles, there’s potential for a lot of local traffic.

Potential, of course, because only a sliver of people in the ’hood commute by bike—just 1.37 percent according to the municipal census. (However,these surveys are deeply flawed because they don’t account for multimodal people; I once argued with a census taker who tried to put me down as a driver because it was one of the several ways I get around.) And so the hope is a 40-block segregated corridor along 102 Ave. will induce more cyclists, just as adding a lane to a freeway is guaranteed to induce more drivers.

I hope my wife will be one of them.

On another note, this is our first issue designed by Jennifer Windsor, who joined our team in March. We’re so thrilled to work with Jennifer, a veteran designer with 20 years experience. We’re ever thankful for the great work of past art director Vikki Wiercinski, to whom we wish the best for her many design endeavours, which you can see at veekee.ca.

The Kids Are Alright

A woman stood at my neighbour’s door, screaming at his face. “When I moved in here, I thought no children were allowed!” He’s a young father with an energetic two-year-old girl that I often hear through our styrofoam-strength walls, often laughing, sometimes crying.

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 10.16.21 PM“You’re going to have to move to another place, then, because children are allowed here,” he responded with equal fervour. “This is the first time I’ve met you. I don’t know your name, I don’t know anything about you. Have a good day!”

Slam.

Despite my condo’s poor sound-proofing, the man had a point — that is unless the condo board can be swayed to change its bylaws and restrict who can live here, like many other multiunit homes in central Edmonton. If my angry neighbour can convince 75 per cent of condo owners to place age restrictions on residents, a court will support it. There will be zero legal recourse. Alberta’s human rights laws are the only in Canada that don’t protect tenant’s from age discrimination.

Despite our many playgrounds, pools and summer festivities, few kids live in Edmonton’s densest neighbourhoods due to a cluster of forces: allowance of age-restrictive bylaws, backwards human rights laws, a lack of three-bedroom-plus units, buildings with thin walls and floors and, one suspects, a lingering culture of believing families belong in suburbs. Bev Zubot, planning advisor with the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues, says the problem is well-known. Migrating families find a condo close to the core and realize, to their shock, they’re unwelcome. “They’re not accustomed to this discrimination, whether they be from B.C., Eastern Canada or other countries,” she says.

But that’s the legal side of the coin. If buildings in Edmonton were better designed, a lot of these disputes wouldn’t happen. Zubot says that poor regulations and building codes are the crux of the problem. “We still don’t have the proper sound-proofing between floors … in hallways.” Fix these, she says, and conflicts between neighbours that lead to age restrictions dramatically decrease. “We’re setting them up for disputes.”

This is less of a problem in the United States, thanks to federal legislation that forbids tenancy discrimination based on age amongst other things. Even in Ontario, the human rights commission is cracking down on housing ads that are remotely discriminatory, such as “ideal for quiet couple” or “suitable for single professional.”

But in Alberta, says Roberto Noce, a lawyer with Miller Thomson, age restrictions baked into condo bylaws are usually upheld in court, though they’re not common in Edmonton. Age-restrictive bylaws are “the exception, not the rule,” he says. It’s the same thing for when you want to bring home something that walks on all fours. In fact, theoretically condos could restrict those with blond hair and blue eyes, though whether our court would uphold that is another question. “I was approached by one condo corporation who inquired whether they could create a bylaw saying only those aged 60 and under can live in the building.”

But why would someone want to restrict seniors? Or children, or any other demographic for that matter? Sure, they’re loud, they’re annoying. But the best part of living in a city is its diversity and living among people unlike myself. What galls me is that Alberta recently revised its condo legislation, and age restrictions were left out of the discussion. Nothing’s changing without stronger human rights laws.

More worryingly, our biases toward families seem to replicate themselves in what developers want to build. There are few family-oriented buildings on downtown’s horizon. Zubot has made the problem known to city council for years, leading to a market study on the demand for multi-unit family-oriented housing and, pending results, a possible zoning amendment could pressure developers to increase the offerings. She’d like to see them take cues from Toronto’s city council, which recently required all new downtown developments to have some family-friendly housing.

But until the change comes at cultural, municipal and provincial levels, the young family I share a wall with is going to continue worrying about their kid pissing off the building.