Inside the Core’s Live Music Revival

Over the decades, and especially over the last couple years, Edmontonians have watched Downtown music venues fade, leading to something of a winter for the local scene. But now, in the spring of 2016, new life is sprouting from the core. In the past seven months, the Needle Vinyl Tavern, 9910 and the Chvrch of John joined relative newcomers Bohemia, Rocky Mountain Icehouse and Stage 4 plus the mainstays like the Starlite Room, Brixx and OTR. It looks like the start of a live music renaissance, at least for the core.

In fact, the Edmonton Live Music Initiative—a new program endorsed by the municipal and provincial governments—is strongly considering designating it the “Live Music District.” Might we be witnessing the revival of something absent from this side of the river for the last 50 years?

Back in the 1960s there were no fewer than 15 venues on Jasper Ave. between 100th and 109th streets. They had names like the Old Bailey, the Shasta Upstairs, the Midtowner, the Embers and Tita’s. Each hosted musicians seven nights a week. They were so close to each other that bands could cross the street between sets to watch another show. Musicians flocked to our city to earn a living doing what they loved—no side job or supportive spouse required.

And it happened practically over night. The Edmonton of the 1950s was a dry city where men and women were expected to socialize in separate nightclubs.

“No entertainment was offered or, for that matter, necessary in these dismal establishments,” recalls Tommy Banks, who began his career in local clubs before becoming a nationally recognized jazz pianist, talk-show host and senator.

But to his and many other musicians’ fortune, Alberta broke away from prohibition. “Edmonton’s nightlife scene changed suddenly and dramatically,” he explains.

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission’s antecedent was created to maintain a tight and orderly nightlife. Part of this control included prompt midnight shutdowns every night of the week. But the 1960s was a time when dancing was the social function, so the liquor board said if a venue provided a band of three members as entertainment, it would allow drinking until 2:00 am. After some quick calculations, venue owners grabbed their telephones to hire as many bands a week as their rooms could hold.

But, as is apparent today, the gig didn’t last. Cliff Minchau, a bassist who has been gigging in Edmonton for nearly 50 years, says venues began replacing musicians with strippers and installing VLTs. He says it brought a seedy tone that turned audiences off clubs, and the payout from venue owners kept shrinking.

“Bookers wanted two guys who sounded like five guys that they could pay like one guy,” Minchau says. And with the advent of turntables, the DJ and disco movements overtook live music as abruptly as a record scratch.

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No downtown venues founded before the turn of the century remain. Modern mainstays, such as the Starlite Room (established in 2004), have continued to host performances every other day, but these hangers-on are the exception—the live industry decline is practically rote at this point, not only in Edmonton but also abroad.

London, England, went from 430 venues in 2007 down to 245by 2015. Austin, Texas—which often earns an Edmonton comparison as a similarly sized, liberal bastion in conservative, oil-soaked America—officially reported last year that the once-heralded “live music capital” was full of musicians living below the poverty line. Closer to home, the core’s Four Rooms, Sidetrack Cafe, New City Suburbs and the Artery (recently revived in McCauley as the Aviary) remind us that closing venues in this city is nothing new.

“From our conversations with a number of venues, promoters and musicians,” says Jenna Turner, communications director of the Edmonton Arts Council, “two [hindrances] arose: the red tape as far as zoning and development, and the not-so-simple issue of building a value and appreciation for live and local music.”

Bylaws, such as minimum parking and closing times, are currently being challenged by passionate citizens. But the latter? Local musicians have the talent, venue owners have the drive and our reinvigorated core is regaining its former glory.

Now all the music scene needs is an excited audience showing its support. This means going to see bands you haven’t seen before or buying an extra beer or meal to offset the venues’ costs and help increase musician fees. It means taking a photo of the band and posting it to your social media with a link to the band’s music and a shout-out to the club. It’s dancing with abandon when the moment hits. (It’s definitely not talking during a song.)

Really, it just comes down to truly enjoying music. And what could be easier than that?

The Yards’ Guide to Live Music: Stages, People and Issues

Nightlife on ELM Street

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Spearheaded by musician Thom Bennett and supported by the Edmonton Arts Council, as well as advisors like Tommy Banks, the Edmonton Live Music Initiative (ELM) is a three-pronged approach to establish new venues, keep them open and help them thrive.

The first point includes establishing one or two “Live Music Districts,” and naturally, committee members are strongly considering a chunk of downtown for that designation.

The second part involves allowing music venues to stay open an extra hour, until 3:00 a.m., to help venue owners earn more and offset the cost of hiring a band. It’s been proposed that alcohol tariffs would be lowered for venues that close before midnight, allowing venues to keep more of the money that would normally go to government.

The third part to ELM is launching a marketing campaign to promote local music. “There is a huge talent pool in Edmonton and no audience engagement,” says Bennett. “I’ve been doing this 20 years, and there used to be a lot more.” Through these efforts,
ELM will build a web portal serving as a prime resource to bands, venue owners and other music professionals.

The initiative is the first of its kind to get endorsements from two levels of government—municipal and provincial—and so innovative that Bennett has been invited to speak about it in Toronto and Brighton, England. It’s inspired by some of the factors involved in creating Edmonton’s golden era of music.

Although some industry people have been critical of Edmonton Live Music Initiative’s strategies—some believe money is better spent on subsidizing the venue’s rental fees, equipment costs and renovations—it’s going ahead as planned.

The Yards’ Guide to Live Music: Stages, People and Issues

New on the Scene: Six New Central Edmonton Venues

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The Needle Vinyl Tavern
From the minds that birthed the Haven Social Club comes a 400-person venue in the old CKUA building. It features bands at every Happy Hour. 10526 Jasper Ave., theneedle.ca

The Aviary
The Artery took flight and former owner/operator Phil Muz is set to recapture the magic on 111 Ave., where you can expect a return of alt-rock, folk and all other genres. (Opening in 2017.) 9314 111 Ave., facebook.com/artery.edmonton

Stage 104
Formerly the Burg restaurant, this upstart blends craft cocktails, upscale casual fare by chef Mariano Rodriguez (formerly with Niche) and live music every weekend. 10190 104 St., twitter.com/stage104yeg

9910
If you enjoy the DJs at the Common, you’ll love what’s going on in their basement-turned-into music venue for touring electronic, punk, rock and folks acts. 9910 109 St., 99ten.ca

The Chvrch of John
Denizen Hall introduced its cover band shows to surprising success, so why not repeat the live music success downstairs? The new venue hosts original local and touring acts. 10260 103 St., thechvrchofjohn.com

Bohemia
It’s not brand new, but with Cara Carson overtaking management and Craig Martel of Wunderbar on bookings, Bohemia has been reborn. 10217 97 St., artmuzak.ca

The Yards’ Guide to Live Music: Stages, People and Issues

Live by Design: How Policy and Entertainment Intersect

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Can urban planning spur live music venues? Several cities across the world offer examples of how progressive policies can help musicians. For instance, in Melbourne, Australia, under the “agent of change” principle, new developments such as condos being built next to established music venues are now responsible for their own soundproofing, which keeps venues from having to close because of noise complaints.

Seattle musicians have priority loading zones in front of venues, which makes it easy to unload those awkward 30 kg amps before and after gigs. It seems simple, but it means the world when you don’t have to make six trips in the snow for a drum kit parked five blocks away.

And, of course, there’s the so-called live music capital, Austin, Tex. Earlier this year, it was proposed to the Austin city council that venues be given a two-year “entertainment” licence with a streamlining permit process. If it passes, the proposal will make it easier to understand whom in local government is responsible for enforcing venue regulations.

Right here at home, some say it’s Edmonton’s parking regulations that have stalled venues from opening. The Aviary’s opening, for instance, was twice delayed last year after a long battle over parking ordinances.

The Yards’ Guide to Live Music: Stages, People and Issues

Is the El Mirador the Next to Go?

El Mirador - No Blur - Final IMG_3480 I’ve lived in the El Mirador apartments for 10 years. A whitewashed complex with Spanish flair in the heart of downtown—the buildings are impossible to miss. What most Edmontonians don’t see is the courtyard, a unique space where residents have created a sense of community that’s unusual for apartment dwellers. We have communal barbecues and we relax together under the spruce tree on hot afternoons. Sometimes the courtyard draws strange visitors, but one neighbour with a great vantage point acts as de facto building security.

However a sense of dread has always hung over us. How much longer can a modest three-storey building hold its ground in a rapidly revitalizing neighbourhood? The answer came in late November when we learned that the owner’s representatives had met with the Downtown Edmonton Community League to discuss future redevelopment. They’re currently in the pre-application stage for rezoning several adjacent lots on 101 Ave. and 108 St., including the 75-year-old Rochester Apartments, a small brick building next door. If approved by city council, redevelopment will mean bulldozing our homes and replacing them with mixed-use retail and residential towers.

The owner, developer and lawyer John Day, is celebrated for rehabbing and reinventing such heritage buildings as the Garneau Theatre and Kelly Ramsey. But there are no such plans for El Mirador, which sits on Capital Boulevard, the recently revamped street between the Alberta Legislature Building and MacEwan University. Property owners in the area are sitting on veritable gold mines, so it’s hard to blame anyone for wanting to redevelop, but tearing down El Mirador means yet another loss for the city’s architectural tapestry.

Edmonton seems to have the same debate every year. A historical structure is threatened; there’s public outcry. Sometimes the building is saved, like the McDougall United Church in late 2015. Many times, it’s demolished, like the 117-year-old Etzio building on Whyte Ave., which earned a spot on the National Trust for Canada’s “worst losses” list last year. These historical buildings tell stories about the city and its communities. They are part of our shared memory, but they’re also owned by people with very real property rights. Their existence is precariously balanced between public and private interests. The question is: When does one outweigh the other?


El Mirador has been part of the city’s landscape for 80 years. According to documents in the City of Edmonton archives, a building permit for R. H. Trouth was approved in July 1935, and he built the first 12 suites by the end of the year. Subsequent permits allowed Trouth to build more suites and the Patricia Annex, which was completed in 1954.

The apartment complex is listed on the city’s Inventory of Historic Resources, a classification that offers little protection for the building; it’s simply an acknowledgement of the building’s historical significance. Owners of inventoried buildings can apply to have their properties added to Edmonton’s Register of Historic Resources and, if approved, the buildings are officially designated and owners agree to maintain them and protect them from demolition. In exchange for choosing to designate their buildings, owners can receive financial incentives. This official designation was crucial to saving the Molson Brewery and United McDougall Church.

Edmonton allocates $1.5 million per year to its Heritage Reserve Fund, which is primarily used for rehabbing buildings new to the registry. The department receives about six applications for historical designation per year, each one vying for a piece of this very modest fund.

Heritage guidelines vary across Canada, but Alberta’s Municipal Heritage Partnership Program assesses properties by looking at their eligibility, significance and integrity. With rare exceptions, properties must be at least 50 years old and in their original locations. Historical significance can come from the people or groups that once occupied the building, activities performed in it, or its design. Above all, says the City’s principal heritage planner David Johnston: integrity is key. Do most of the original building materials remain? Have significant changes been made to the structure? Was the original construction up to snuff? If the answers are no, it’s enough to sink a beautiful old building with an important story.

Even if buildings meet these requirements, many owners aren’t interested in designation, which becomes permanent on the property title and transferable to every owner thereafter. Some owners worry that such an inflexible property could be very hard to sell when the time comes. Beyond that, it has to be maintained to the City’s standards.

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Two of my friends in El Mirador have a shabby piece of plywood reinforcing their bathroom ceiling, and they still experience the occasional leak when their upstairs neighbour takes a bath. My windows don’t open all the way. Each winter, the heating fails at least once or twice, and some apartments are icy-cold until April. Each issue can be seen as yet another disincentive for designation.

Upgrading and maintenance are easier— and cheaper—said than done. However, once an owner chooses to officially register a building, the City attempts to balance the financial scales. Rehabilitation grants for residential buildings cover up to half of approved costs to a limit of $75,000, and owners can apply for $10,000 for maintenance every five years thereafter. There are some things the grants won’t cover, like heating or electrical upgrades. But apartments like El Mirador are technically commercial properties and, as such, they are eligible for more generous grants. The City contributed $225,000 to the Phillips Lofts building, $260,000 to Westminster Apartments and $548,000 to the McLeod Building, according to Johnston.

Former historian laureate Shirley Lowe doesn’t express much sympathy for owners who argue that their buildings have fallen too far into disrepair to be salvaged. In some cases, lack of maintenance is intentional — “demolition by neglect,” she calls it. “Usually the reason you want to demolish it is because you can reap a reward, an immediate reward, perhaps at the expense of the community.” The only thing that matters to most developers is a cost comparison of upgrading a building versus tearing it down to build anew. In strictly economic terms, the answer is rarely in favour of the former, so long as city council approves rezoning the site. Once zoning changes, explains Johnston, property owners have a “massive economic opportunity sitting in their lap. … They can sell the land with this additional opportunity now enshrined.”

City council has to balance many interests, and sometimes those priorities are in conflict. Infill and density in the core are important goals, but they don’t necessarily align with historical preservation, as demonstrated by the fate of El Mirador. Upzoning—changing the zoning to allow for larger structures or retail space—is a significant barrier to saving heritage buildings. “And every time we do that,” says Johnston, “it’s just another death blow to our ability to try to retain these historic buildings.” And while the costs of maintaining a historical building can be significant, there can also be an economic benefit, says Dan Rose of Heritage Forward and member of the Edmonton Historical Board. Rose offers the example of 104 St., which was practically derelict 15 years ago. “You can basically quantify the value of historic character based on the foot traffic, the retail spending, the economic activity of Old Strathcona and 104 St,” says Rose (who is also involved in the Yards and OCL).

Despite its beautiful street renovations, Capital Boulevard isn’t exactly Whyte Ave. or 104 St., so what will happen to El Mirador? If it’s demolished, the planned redevelopment will consist of two mixed-use high-rises on three-storey pedestals—similar to owner John Day’s new Kelly Ramsey Tower—and 276 underground parking spaces. Day, like many councillors and people living within the core neighbourhoods, is a champion of density. His two towers, alongside two more proposed towers on the adjacent land owned by Maclab Enterprises, would each be up to 90 metres and could ultimately add 800 units, perhaps doing for the street what the Icon Towers did for 104 St.

Historical buildings often lose out to new developments; their chances are even worse when the proposals tout principles from Edmonton’s planning documents, like increased downtown residents and street-level retail. Ultimately, when it comes to heritage preservation, Lowe says we need to ask ourselves one question: “As a city, do we care?”

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El Mirador has been living on borrowed time for decades. According to an Edmonton Journal article from August 1978, the landlord at the time told the paper, “I don’t think El Mirador will be around in 10 years. It may be even shorter.” The building’s existence was precarious then for the same reason it is now: the land would be even more valuable with something bigger built on it. While bylaws and zoning influence the city’s development, market forces have shaped Edmonton’s urban fabric since its inception, and the oil industry’s peaks and valleys have been imprinted on our cityscape over the last half-century. “The booms have quite often taken the buildings that were significant,” says Lawrence Herzog, who co-authored The Life of a Neighbourhood: A History of Edmonton’s Oliver District with Shirley Lowe.

Even Herzog seems surprised that El Mirador has lasted. He attributes its longevity to its place on the western edge of downtown, away from much of the past demolition in the city centre. In the last decade, however, development has spread outward from the downtown core, putting the building in the path of the wrecking ball. But demolitions also tend to be put on hold during busts, so El Mirador may be given a reprieve.

“The economy has obviously slowed down, so I think it’s going to slow down a lot of projects,” says John Day. It could be four to five years until redevelopment is underway—if ever. But that doesn’t change his mind on salvaging the building; he insists some sort of redevelopment is inevitable.

It’s unsurprising, but saddening for me to hear this confirmation. El Mirador is Edmonton’s only example of this architectural style.

Our city hasn’t always done a good job of preserving its heritage buildings, but there’s a change in the atmosphere, says Herzog. Young adults are promoting awareness about our heritage and Baby Boomers are growing nostalgic. And that, he hopes, will be true of property owners too. “If the sole motivation is to flip or to make money, then historic buildings are always going to lose,” he says. “But if owners have got a motivation to preserve a landmark, to leave a legacy, to do right by the community, to make the tapestry of the block stronger by doing their part [and] taking care of their property, then there’s more pride connected to that.”

Few apartment residents are as proud as El Mirador’s, and our sense of community is by design. The courtyard is a central gathering place and our windows face our neighbours, not a street or a parking lot. When I first visited the building at 17 years old, I sat on the floor of my apartment, hoping desperately that my rental application would be accepted. I still smile when I walk up to the building and someone excitedly asks if I live here. It’s an irreplaceable feeling.


The Endangered List: Four Beautiful Buildings That Might Be Doomed

Photo by Simon Law/Flickr

Photo by Simon Law/Flickr

Paramount Theatre
10233 Jasper Ave.
The National Trust for Canada considers the dormant cinema, built in 1951, at risk, and rumours about its doom have been swirling in the news for two years. With a lease sign up again, don’t expect ProCura’s plans for a glass residential tower anytime soon.

The Royal Alberta Museum
12845 102 Ave.
Nothing proves our disposable outlook on architecture more than the fact that mere months after the museum moved out of its original home, a Provincial report stating possible demolition emerged. The National Trust for Canada listed it as one of Canada’s top 10 endangered buildings in May.

The Graphic Arts Building
9523 Jasper Ave.
The quaint art-deco commercial building was hotly debated because the owner slated to demolish it was none other than the City of Edmonton itself. It’s now seeking a buyer or considering dismantling and storing the building for future reconstruction.

The Rochester Apartments
10125 108 St.
El Mirador’s brick neighbour (built c. 1941) is also owned by John Day and part of the same plan to construct mixed-use towers on Capital Boulevard. —Staff

Snapshots from Spring Community Events

 

City of Edmonton’s chief planner Peter Ohm and planning director Kalen Anderson at The Yards Spring Salon (March 10/16)

City of Edmonton’s chief planner Peter Ohm and planning director Kalen Anderson at The Yards Spring Salon (March 10/16)

Journalists Andrea Ross and Otiena Ellwand at The Yards Spring Salon (March 10/16)

Journalists Andrea Ross and Otiena Ellwand at The Yards Spring Salon (March 10/16)

Event planner Caitlin McElhone, City Hall School teacher Linda Hut and blogger Mack Male at The Yards Spring Salon (March 10/16)

Event planner Caitlin McElhone, City Hall School teacher Linda Hut and blogger Mack Male at The Yards Spring Salon (March 10/16)

Special thanks to all the OCL members and friends who came out for the Spring Clean Up of Oliver Park (April 23/16)

Special thanks to all the OCL members and friends who came out for the Spring Clean Up of Oliver Park (April 23/16)

A final send-off to longtime OCL board members James Eastham, Leah Hilsenteger, Danny Hoyt, Jarrett Campbell. (April 20/16)

A final send-off to longtime OCL board members James Eastham, Leah Hilsenteger, Danny Hoyt, Jarrett Campbell. (April 20/16)

DECL parks coordinator Christie Lutsiak at the City Market Downtown (April 30/16)

DECL parks coordinator Christie Lutsiak at the City Market Downtown (April 30/16)

Thousands came out to a DECL-sponsored Pancake Breakfast fundraiser in Churchill Sq. in support of Fort McMurray evacuees (May 6/16)

Thousands came out to a DECL-sponsored Pancake Breakfast fundraiser in Churchill Sq. in support of Fort McMurray evacuees (May 6/16)

Architect Vedran Skopac and environmental planner Robyn Webb tend to urban beehives atop Manasc Isaac’s offices (May 11/16)

Architect Vedran Skopac and environmental planner Robyn Webb tend to urban beehives atop Manasc Isaac’s offices (May 11/16)

The Kindness of Strangers


nadineNadine Riopel
Author of The Savvy Do Gooder: Giving That Makes a Difference

“When CityTV was still downtown, I was on my way in to do a TV segment one early morning and had a ton of stuff and a baby in tow, struggling along from the nearest parking spot a block away. A very kind passerby intercepted me and took my box of stuff, accompanying me all the way to the door of the studio even though it was in the opposite direction from where he was headed.”

oliviahughesOlivia Hughes
Arts student at MacEwan University

“Working as a Team Director for Homeless Connect, I see homeless people standing off and alone, ignored by others who are maybe too afraid to reach out and help, or who don’t know how. That’s why I tell everyone to carry granola bars in their bags. It’s a way to give, and a way to open yourself up to sharing respect with an equal. All because of a granola bar!”

RicardoBritoRicardo Brito
Realtor with Royal LePage

“My girlfriend Natasha continues to amaze me. Whether it is a homeless person or an elderly person, she always tries to help them. She truly believes it’s her job to spread love, kindness, and hope. This year, around Christmas, she took $500 from the bank, all in twenties, and randomly gave it out to anyone she felt was in need.”


MichelleMark.jpgMichelle Mark
Laboratory Coordinator at the Royal Alberta Museum

“My friend has a teenage son who recently ‘adopted’ an old man he met on his daily bus ride to school. He learned that he had almost no family in Edmonton. Since then, her son has had him over for a family dinner, and even took him out to a movie. It was refreshing for me to hear about a young person who cares, and who is brave enough to reach out to a total stranger.”

NeerajPrakashNeeraj Prakash
English professor at MacEwan University

“I was pumping gas at a station near MacEwan, when I saw a young, well-dressed man step outside with a plastic bag and a tray of four coffees billowing steam in the cold air. Without so much as a pause, he walked over to three men—possibly homeless—sitting on the curb and said, ‘I just got off a hard day of work, I have no plans and no one to go home to, and could use some company.’ For me, it wasn’t the shared coffee or fried chicken, but the talking and laughter that ensued afterward that brought warmth to my heart.”

The Fight Against Surface Parking Lots Isn’t Over

Photo by Mack Male/Flickr

Photo by Mack Male/Flickr

If you spend a lot of time walking around the core, you’ve probably come to loathe surface parking lots. They disconnect the urban landscape, create grey dead zones and are a dirt storm’s best friend. But there’s a reason landowners love them: it’s cheaper to leave them as they are than to create livable spaces. Despite Downtown and Oliver’s progress to build on and up, the economic downturn may encourage landowners to leave parking lots fallow.

It’s happened before and it’s beginning to happen again. A parking lot at 99 Ave. and 104 St. was recently approved through an appeal process, adding 15 parking stalls where there once were residents. As well, owners of the International Beauty Salon building on 105 St. and 103 Ave. have applied for a demolition permit with no foreseeable plan to rebuild. (Editor’s Note: After publication, it was learned that the Katz Group, which had filled in a swath of parking lots for the Ice District, applied to rezone land into 800 new surface lots.)

“The challenge,” explains Mayor Don Iveson, “is that our tax system incites people to demolish properties that might have some economic life to them. That’s not useful to the neighbourhood in terms of streetscape, eyes on the street or even temporary arts [and] pop-up business space.”

The current property tax structure, mandated by the Alberta Government, is based on a property’s market value. If a developer has been granted a permit for future development, or holds land with an older building or warehouse, it can, to paraphrase Joni Mitchell, become more rewarding to pave over paradise and put up a parking lot than to a pay tax on the pink hotel.

It’s what happened in the ’70s and ’80s and the reason downtown is still riddled with surface parking lots.

During the first oil boom in the 1970s, developers purchased low-rise buildings and obtained permits for high-rises as they attempted to create a more cosmopolitan city. But not all of those permits were used: “When everything crashed in the early ’80s it was expensive to maintain the buildings that hadn’t been taken down for high-rises,” says historian Shirley Lowe. It made financial sense for landowners to tear down useful buildings and create cheap parking lots.

“Instead of a warehouse district you have created a parking lot district,” says Lowe. “We did that to ourselves.” The city is working to change the environment of the core with the 2010 Capital City Downtown Plan. In part the plan considers how to reduce surface lots by 20 per cent through the only tool at the city’s disposal: zoning. There has been progress on 104 St., especially with the development of the Fox Towers and the Ice District. The current economic climate threatens to undo that progress.

The City would like stronger tools to combat the resurgence of surface lots and to encourage development. This can only happen if changes are made to the Municipal Governance Act, which is currently up for review. The City has made suggestions for revising the property tax structure so that it is not based on market value. If the City could adjust tax rates for underutilized properties, says Mayor Iveson, then property owners may have more incentive to build.

“That way there’s no tax upside for demolishing a good building,” he explains. If an empty property continues to be used as a lot, a higher tax rate would go into funding alternative transit options. It would provide a new tool to put an end to these eyesores.

Infographic: Central Edmonton’s Trees

Fraxinus pennsylvanica. Prunus virginiana. Ulmus americana. You probably don’t know these plants by their cryptic scientific names, but you’ve definitely seen them.

According to the City of Edmonton’s open data portal, there are over 15,000 trees rooted on public property in the downtown area, including over 500 fruit trees. They contribute to flood mitigation, air pollution control, beautification and food security. They all require different maintenance, so leave the pruning, trimming and removal to City staff.

But there’s one easy way residents and business owners can be better urban stewards: Point your hoses and sprinklers at nearby trees during drier seasons—especially after such a mild winter. Not everything has to be so complicated.

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Inside This Oliver Resident’s Micro-home Miracle

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Murphy bed, custom sofa and cabinetry around murphy bed ($7,000) from Wallbeds Etc. (wallbeds-etc.com, 780.468-7088)

Fit your life into a space equivalent to four parking stalls. It seems outrageous, but environmental engineer in-training Laura Creswell did just that. She’s been living gracefully—and tastefully—in 335 square feet for almost a year.

When she set out to find “the tiniest place in the city,” her realtor (and her mother) thought she was crazy. “I love the creativity that a small space provides, not to mention the obvious economic aspects of living tiny,” says Creswell. Last September, after looking at over 40 tiny properties, she walked into an “empty shoebox” of a condo in Crestview Tower in Oliver, and instantly felt at home.

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Living room cabinetry ($2,000) from IKEA (Besta Shelving Units Djupviken) • Living room chairs ($500/ea.) from Mobler Modern Furniture (13519 156 St., mobleredmonton.ca)

That was the easy part. Now everything needed a place. Thanks to her careful engineer’s eye and modern style even her 20 pairs of shoes fell perfectly into place in the micro-condo. “A lot of people call me a minimalist, which I am totally not,” says Creswell, pulling back a curtain to reveal a closet over-flowing with colour-coordinated clothes. The apartment is immaculately organized—even her stools have a wall mount.

Every inch of the $154,000 condo is precious. The gap beneath her pantry is used for hidden “junk trays” that appear at the pull of a tab. A mystery door at the bottom of her murphy bed stores the couch cushions that are displaced when the bed is lowered from the wall. Her 12th-storey window seat creates a cozy spot to curl up with an unobstructed view of the High Level Bridge. “I can make this [condo] a movie theatre for 10, a breakfast bar with a view, a dining room for six or a full master bedroom,” says Creswell, a perennial host who loves the astonishment on guests’ faces when they enter.

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Flip-up desk ($250) from Wallbeds Etc.

Her biggest struggle with living tiny isn’t the space, but the perception of it.

Friends often ask when she’s moving out, as if her home were a short-term experiment. But Creswell believes that this is the future of housing. Smaller spaces, she says, encourage tenants to explore the outside environment— to reside in their community as much as in their home. (Creswell consults on tiny living and design. Email condominidesigns@gmail.com.)

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Pop-down dining table ($250) from Wallbeds Etc.

MEDIAN SELLING PRICE FEB 2016 – APR 2016

Oliver: $275,500 (+$24,833 from Nov ’15–Jan ’16)
Difference from listing price: -$12,433
Days on market: 38 (-22 from Nov ’15–Jan ’16)

Downtown: $340,037 (+$10,121 from Nov ’15–Jan ’16)
Difference from listing price: -$7,496
Days on market: 35 (-34 from Nov ’15–Jan ’16)