Putting neighbourhood recreation into motion

Despite being one of the highest density neighbourhoods in the city, Oliver residents have a challenge accessing recreation and green spaces in their own backyard. That’s why the Oliver Community League (OCL) has made advocating for recreation space a priority.

As of 2020, there are nine approved and nine proposed rezoning projects for the Oliver neighbourhood, none of which are outdoor recreation spaces. One approved project includes approval for an indoor recreation space.

“Our parks and streets in high-density neighbourhoods are our living rooms.”

Lisa Brown, Chair of OCL’s RecreACTION Committee

“Our parks and streets in high-density neighbourhoods are our living rooms. It’s where we stretch our legs, fill our lungs, exercise, meditate, and improve our mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing,” says Lisa Brown, Chair of OCL’s RecreACTION Committee, a committee that was created to advocate for more recreation space in Oliver.

There are some steps being taken in this direction—in January, city council passed a motion directing the administration to work with OCL on a 100th Avenue corridor analysis, and provide a report to the urban planning committee by the end of June with recommendations for meeting Oliver’s recreation needs.

“My office has pushed the city to recognize that Oliver is lacking green space and lacking recreation space. At the same time, the city council, unfortunately, has approved tower after tower after tower,” says Ward 6 Councillor Scott McKeen. He emphasizes that pressure and thorough planning will be needed to ensure the city follows through on the motion.

There are many areas where OCL sees potential for the improvement or creation of recreation space, including the possibility of widening sidewalks and improving the 100th Avenue corridor, adding dog parks to existing parks such as Railtown or Ezio Faraone Park, repairing the basketball court at Kitchener Park and more.

Derek Macdonald, OCL Civics Director, points out that there have been some positive developments already, such as creating bike lanes on 102 Avenue. “You have city furniture, you have new sidewalks, you’ve maintained that existing tree boulevard,” says Macdonald. “You can see that the areas where the city has invested in public infrastructure are being picked up by people and being more actively used compared to the areas that haven’t seen that investment yet.”

Dr. Karen Lee, a professor at the University of Alberta and the author of Fit Cities, explains the importance of adding recreation spaces to neighbourhoods, not only for health but for the overall wellness of the community.

“Places that were pedestrianised […] became safer in terms of injuries. When air pollution was measured, the air quality got better. Often retail sales would actually also spike. Because when people are stuck in their cars in traffic, they’re not necessarily going to businesses.”

One potential solution Lee suggested for Oliver can currently be found in New York City or Taipei, where pocket parks are used. Pocket parks are smaller parks that often include playgrounds and adult exercise equipment, and are a method of creating new open spaces without major redevelopment.

For continued updates on recreation spaces in Oliver, visit www.olivercommunity.com

Summer festivals postpone return to Churchill Square

This summer was supposed to mark the return of festivals to Sir Winston Churchill Square, the premier outdoor space in the heart of the city. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has forced the province to cancel all major gatherings while organizers reconsider their plans for summer 2020, postponing the return of summer fun to the famous city square.

Festivals were unable to use Sir Winston Churchill Square for almost two years, starting in summer 2018, when construction of the Valley Line LRT forced the square to close. The Edmonton International Street Performers Festival, Taste of Edmonton and other festivals were forced to relocate other venues.

Taste of Edmonton (2017)

The Street Performers found a temporary venue just north of Whyte Avenue, while the Taste of Edmonton relocated to Capital Plaza, north of the Alberta Legislature. This summer was meant to mark a return to their traditional home.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, festivals and events that previously called Sir Winston Churchill Square home were all planning to return to the square in 2020. Each of these festivals is now weighing their options within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and will make decisions related to their 2020 event in the coming weeks and months,” said Karen McDonnell, a spokesperson for the City of Edmonton.

Restrictions on gatherings of more than 15 people were still in place in early May, with the expectation that these restrictions will likely continue throughout the summer. The city’s civic events and festivals section was not accepting new event applications as of late April.

While large gatherings at Sir Winston Churchill Square are prohibited, organizers are looking at ways of moving forward while abiding by provincial restrictions.

“We are not cancelling the good that can come from the festival,” said Shelley Switzer, the festival producer for the Street Performers Festival. “We are going to adapt to still provide the fun, the connection, the ways to find some laughter and smiles to continue to be kind and good and find a little bit of good through this time.”

“We are not cancelling the good that can come from the festival.”

– Shelley Switzer Producer, Street Performers Festival

Switzer didn’t have specifics about what may come, but said they will be making announcements on their website, edmontonstreetfest.com.

The Taste of Edmonton has also postponed their 2020 festival, looking to return stronger in 2021. After two years at the Alberta Legislature, Events Edmonton General Manager Donovan Vienneau said they were excited to make the return to Churchill Square.

It was supposed to be an exciting year implementing learnings after two years away from their traditional location, trying some new layouts back at the square. Unfortunately, Vienneau said they will have to postpone Taste of Edmonton until 2021.

“We are open-minded to try to do something [online], but with us being a non-profit organization, we have to be fiscally responsible,” said Vienneau. “It would need to be very strategically implemented for us.”

Through depressions and pandemics, Edmonton Downtown Farmer’s Market has staying power

The Edmonton Downtown Farmer’s Market (EDFM) is older than the city it’s named after. Originally founded in 1903 as the Rice Street Market, Edmonton’s original farmer’s market has been a fixture downtown through world wars, depressions, and most recently, COVID-19.

And for Dieter Kuhlmann, chair of the market’s board of directors, knowing where your food comes from is more important than ever.

“People today are used to hearing about a lot of the contamination of food coming in from far away that they have no control over. If they come to [EDFM], they get to know the person that they’re dealing with, they get to find out their pedigree, what they do and how they handle things,” says Kuhlmann.

The EDFM, which recently relocated to the Great West Garment (GWG) building (10305 97 St.), is home to more than 80 vendors selling produce, meat, alcohol, and merchandise. Sherry Horvath, who sells meat and eggs at her Sunshine Organic Farms booth, echoes Kuhlmann’s sentiments about the important role the market plays in the community.

“You don’t get to meet the people who are growing your food. If you ask a [grocery store] employee how long it takes a baby chick to turn into a hen, they would look at you with a blank stare,” she says. Horvath firmly supports a farm to table relationship, especially during a time when transmission potential is on everyone’s mind.

This isn’t the first tumultuous time for the market, as it’s endured a previous pandemic, world wars, and several moves over the decades. When it first opened in 1903, vendors would erect stalls every Saturday on the lot where the Edmonton Public Library’s Stanley A. Milner branch now stands. In 2004, they moved to their 104 Street location, and in 2011 the market became a year-round fixture, moving inside City Hall during winter months, which continued until the move in 2019.

“It was quite an upheaval. We had a very successful, very busy market on 104 Street,” says Kuhlmann, who has been with the market since the 1960s as a vendor, as one of the co-founders of Kuhlmann’s Market Gardens.

The EDFM’s transition to its new home in the GWG building was rocky—issues with permits led to the market’s grand opening being delayed for several weeks. But the move wasn’t without benefits. The EDFM’s new home is within The Quarters, and as that area of Edmonton continues to be redeveloped, the advantage of the market’s new home will be evident.

“We are probably just a little ahead of the crunch,” says Kuhlmann. “Eventually, this is going to be a very beautiful area, with parks and everything. Next to our market, we have 1,000 parking spots that are free of charge. Parking downtown is like antiques: you can’t find it.”

He also stressed the importance of having a grocer within walking distance; the area around the farmer’s market doesn’t have many supermarkets.

The EDFM remains open during the COVID-19 pandemic but is working with Alberta Health Services under strict sanitation regulations. The EDFM is open Saturdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sundays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For Horvath, continuing to serve the community even during the pandemic goes beyond food.

“Farmer’s markets are really social gathering places,” says Horvath, who says she isn’t worried about the temporary elimination of buskers and social distancing protocols. “People are socially distanced, and there aren’t any places to sit and stay. That’s one thing that is different, but people understand and respect that. People are happy— they’re enjoying their time here.”

Ghostly grub

Are ghost restaurants haunting our neighbourhoods, or scaring up business for entrepreneurs?

Blue Plate Diner has been serving the community for more than 15 years with favourite dishes such as mac and cheese and meatloaf. But the restaurant has experienced more than its share of changes recently, from a new location (12323 Stony Plain Rd.) to the mandated closure of its dining room due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But for John Williams, co-owner, adapting to change is par for the course in the restaurant industry. Their latest adaptation due to the pandemic is utilizing third-party delivery apps for the first time to cater to consumer demand. Williams has even considered taking this further and creating a “virtual kitchen” using Blue Plate Diner’s kitchen space.

“You have to be able to adapt and survive, and ghost kitchens might be a way to do that,” he says.

Also known as virtual kitchens, ghost kitchens offer multiple food-delivery options from a location that may or may not offer dine-in. Chefs often prepare food for multiple restaurants and cuisines and fill online orders placed through popular third-party delivery apps such as SkipTheDishes, Uber Eats, and DoorDash.

The kitchens, which have become increasingly popular across the country, were first introduced to Edmonton in 2019 and are disrupting the traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant model. Now there are five permanent-structure and nine mobile kitchens that are licensed in the city, according to Alberta Health Services, with at least seven of them located in the core.

“It’s almost like a mini food court, so to speak,” says Marc Choy, president of Ghost Kitchens Canada. “If people can get the convenience of offerings from six different brands all from one [delivery] fee, then all of the sudden that makes their life much more convenient.”

How do you have one kitchen doing nine different types of food with any authenticity?

Glenn Quinn, co-owner, Tzin Wine and Tapas

Ghost Kitchen Canada’s business model involves having a physical location that offers dine in, take-out, and delivery. The Toronto-based company has three locations in Edmonton, including one on 117th Street and Jasper Avenue. Each location offers food from multiple brands and a range of cuisines.

Other companies, such as Miami- based REEF Technology, don’t offer dine-in at all. The company, which operates Impark, uses parking lots to station trailers that provide kitchen space to virtual brands including Red Corn Taqueria, American Eclectic Burger, Breakfast All Day Everyday, and Rebel Wings.

The kitchens don’t rely on foot traffic for business, allowing them to operate in locations with lower rental rates. “You don’t need to be on a main street to be able to deliver,” Choy says. “As long as the driver can find you and as long as you have a presence on an online platform, then you don’t need visibility, access, signage—all those things which are typical to the restaurant industry.”

The savings on overhead might allow current restaurateurs the opportunity to be innovative and experiment with different sub-brands. This is what draws Blue Plate Diner’s Williams to the idea, especially during the uncertain times of a pandemic.

“Say this continues on for us for months—we can always make another virtual restaurant and have that available through one of the third-party delivery apps or our own delivery,” he says. “I would consider doing something completely different than what we’re doing now just to give that distance from the Blue Plate brand.”

Convenience vs. dining experience

The popularity of third-party delivery apps has certainly risen over the past few years, and with it, the existence of ghost kitchens. Canadians spent more than $4.3 billion in 2018 on online food delivery, which was a 44 per cent increase from 2017, according to Restaurants Canada. An Angus Reid Survey in 2019 found that 29 per cent of Canadians had used a food delivery app at least once. This same survey predicted growth to slow from 2019 to 2021, with the possibility of an additional peak in 2022.

While ghost kitchens offer consumers convenience, some restaurant owners are skeptical of their longevity and ability to build brand loyalty.

“I think consumers have lots of options when it comes to food and delivery, and I’m not so sure that, in the long run, ghost kitchens will be able
to create the brand that’s necessary and get the repeat business that’s necessary to be successful,” says Gavin Fedorak, co-owner of Love Pizza (10196 109 St.).

His restaurant tried third-party delivery but eventually opted out due to the large cuts the apps take, which can be as much as 30 per cent, and issues with service quality of the drivers. “We put a lot of work into our restaurant, making the food from scratch, making the pizza, getting the order right, then we were handing it over to somebody that didn’t care,” Fedorak says.

Glenn Quinn and Kelsey Danyluk, co-owners of Tzin Wine and Tapas (10115 104 St.), have seen how both ghost kitchens and the business model of third-party delivery have disrupted the restaurant industry, but have chosen to focus on providing customers with a unique dining experience.

“You can equate meal-delivery disruption in the restaurant industry to Amazon’s disruption of the retail industry. We want convenience. We want everything without having to go and get it,” Quinn says. “I would like the consumer to be aware of where the money actually goes.

If people can get the convenience of offerings from six different brands all from one [delivery] fee, then all of the sudden that makes their life much more convenient.

Marc Choy, president, Ghost Kitchens Canada

“[This is a] big disruptor to experience-driven restaurants who make their business on food, service and atmosphere,” Quinn continues. “I understand it because it makes sense to some people to save on brick and mortar and things like that, but how do you have one kitchen doing nine different types of food with any authenticity?”

Neighbourhood specters

For those who care about neighbourhood walkability and supporting local, ghost kitchens have raised eyebrows for other reasons. Ian O’Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association, questions the appropriateness of having ghost kitchens located on high streets such as Jasper Avenue.

“It’s important that we keep those spaces for their intended purpose, and that’s to front our walkable, inviting main streets,” he says. “Those retail bays and restaurant bays are meant to be people- forward [and] provide activation and add to the vibrancy of our streets.”

Because ghost kitchens can partake in a variety of activities, there is a range of use classes under zoning bylaws in which they might fit. Factors such as customer seating or whether the location is used for strictly food preparation all contribute to how a kitchen is classified.

“The city is currently reviewing the permitting and licensing for ‘ghost kitchens,’” said Karen Burgess, a communications advisor for the City of Edmonton, in a written statement. The statement explains that the kitchens are permitted and licensed on a case-by-case basis, depending on their location and on-site activities.

“It’s hard to say what their classification should be, and I think that’s where we wanted to make sure that there’s clarity, that there was an even playing field,” O’Donnell says, emphasizing that he believes the kitchens should follow the same regulations and requirements as anyone else would in the restaurant industry.

“We need to make sure that ghost kitchens, or whatever iterations there are of that world, have a proper classification, have proper zoning required, have areas that they are permitted and others that might be discretionary or not permitted.”

Ghost kitchens must meet all food safety regulations under the Public Health Act, says Alberta Health Services, and must be inspected and have a valid food handling permit.

Delivering the future?

With COVID-19, both third-party delivery apps and ghost kitchens seem here to stay as the restaurant industry innovates to survive. Even with his concerns, O’Donnell agrees that ghost kitchens may offer entrepreneurs a unique opportunity.

“Innovation in industry is great. It allows other businesses to shift and other ways for businesses to deliver offerings in new and innovative ways,” he says. Blue Plate Diner’s Williams agrees, especially as restaurants face COVID-19 and the impacts of the pandemic on their typical business model.

“These days, since the future is so uncertain, you need to be able to [pivot]. You have to be able to reinvent yourself, be flexible and change with the changing environment,” Williams says.

Greening your space, inside and out

Our guide to gardening in the core

Whether you’ve got a tiny yard, a balcony, or you’re a condo-dweller with no green space to call your own, anyone can have beautiful blooms and a delicious source of food right in their own kitchen. There are many reasons to make plants a permanent part of your life, no matter the season. Plants provide oxygen, beautify your space and reduce indoor air pollution by acting as mini green air purifiers. All you need is the right tools and a little know-how to get started.

Taking your houseplants from surviving to thriving

We all know one. Maybe you are one. The houseplant killers who bring home an armful of plants, keen to bring some green to their space, but despite their best efforts see their money and time wasted when their new babies inevitably shrivel up and die.

One thing you may not have considered? Light. The more light, the better. If you have south-facing windows, those are the absolute best spot for more houseplants. Putting your new plant babies there just might bring your killing streak to an end. West-facing spots are second-best. You can pretty much choose any plant you want for these locations.

“If you have lots of light, the world is your oyster,” says Miranda Ringma, co-owner of Zocalo, a nursery and florist in Little Italy. If you’re a fan of tropical or flowering plants, south-facing exposure is mandatory. Ditto for fans of cacti and succulents—while some of these plants can adapt to lower light conditions, they won’t thrive unless they get a lot of sun.

Low light will limit what you can grow successfully. Rooms that face due north receive the least amount of light and are best avoided unless you have no other options. Eastern exposure is better, as these spots catch the morning sun.

“If you look at the plants that grow in the mall, those are low-light plants,” Ringma says. “They’re not usually as sexy.” Nonetheless, she says there are still options for dim rooms. Bromeliads offer a great colour pop in low light, while spiky sansevieria and vining pothos provide interesting interior design opportunities.

Aside from proper light, house plants need water and fertilizer to thrive. Many people kill plants with kindness—too much water is often worse than not enough, as this causes the roots to rot and is almost always fatal. If your plant starts yellowing and dropping leaves, often that’s a sign of root rot. Let your plants dry out between watering—the top of the soil should feel dry to the touch. Just don’t let them get bone dry: if they start to wilt, they need water. In the summer, house plants usually need watering about once a week or more, depending on how hot and sunny it is. In the winter, plants can often go two or three weeks (or over a month for cacti and succulents) between watering.

Sun-loving houseplants: monstera3, ficus, succulents2, cacti1, any flowering plants

Shade-friendly houseplants: sansevieria (snake plant)4, peace lily, bromeliad, pothos5

Outdoor oasis: Plants on the balcony

You aren’t the only one who likes to enjoy the summer sun on a patio—your plants want a sunny holiday, too. Balconies are inevitably brighter than any room inside, even if you’re facing north or east, and even house plants love the opportunity to grow outdoors.

“Many houseplants are actually happy to photosynthesize outside with sunlight,” Ringma says. “Most plants will do quite well outside, except for the ones with big, sensitive leaves that are going to catch the wind.”

To get your houseplants used to the cooler night temperature and more intense sunlight, start by putting them outside for a couple hours on one day, then a couple more the day after that— ideally starting in a shady spot and then moving to full sun—and continue for at least a week, preferably two.

Another thing that does great on the balcony or in a small yard during the summer months is annual bedding plants. These beautiful blooms can add a pop of colour and cheerfulness to your space, and you can go as big or small as you’d like with your arrangements. Make sure you choose plants that are best-suited to the area’s light availability.

No matter what you choose, Ringma offers some simple advice. “I always tell people to try things and experiment. For any gardening, whether it’s inside or outside on a balcony, just try it. Do you like the idea of that thing being there? Then try it—it’s fun!”

Shade-friendly bedding plants: hostas², ferns, impatiens, ivy

Sun-loving bedding plants: everything else! geranium, marigold¹, zinnia³, petunia, begonia

Eat your greens: Growing your own veggies

You can grow plenty of vegetables in a small apartment or balcony. The easiest place to start is a container of sprouts on your kitchen counter—there are many types of sprout- growing containers you can purchase to grow your own alfalfa, radishes, lentils and other sprouts from seed. A sunny kitchen windowsill is also a great place for herbs like basil, parsley, oregano, thyme and rosemary. Herbs can be started from seed though this is a bit tricky; it’s easier to buy seedlings—nurseries will have these, but you can even find them in many grocery stores.

Balconies are also perfect spots to try your hand at growing some more substantial veggies that will make a tasty addition to your summer dinners. For beginners, a tomato plant can be a good place to start, especially if you have full southern exposure, but avoid those labelled “indeterminate” or “vining” as these tend to get too big for a container.

When choosing vegetables for containers, select smaller plants. Lettuce, spinach and any other type of salad greens do very well in containers and they don’t need as big a space. Root vegetables aren’t a great choice for containers as they need a deep space to grow, though radishes are small enough for container growing.

Unless you get a jump on the season by starting them indoors in early spring, it’s best to buy veggie seedlings. Choose a large pot—as big as your space will allow—and water them very frequently, whenever the soil becomes dry to the touch. If they are in a very hot and sunny south-facing spot, you may have to water container veggies every day (keep this in mind if you have any vacation plans).

No matter which direction your balcony faces, there are veggies that should work for your light. Take a look at the tag that comes with your plants, or the seed packet, to get an idea of what might work for you.

Sun-loving veggies: tomatoes, peppers (bell and hot), strawberries, herbs

Shade-friendly veggies: lettuce, spinach, green onions, chives

Community gardens

For those who want to dig in the dirt free from the constraints of containers and grow a larger crop of veggies, central Edmonton has several community gardens. To get involved, email the garden coordinator.

  • Oliver Peace Garden Park (10259 120 St.)
  • Urban Eden Community Garden (9836 Bellamy Hill Road)
  • Alex Decoteau Park Community Garden (10230 105 St.)
  • Central Community Garden (in front of the Prince of Wales Armouries)

For a map and contact information for all of Edmonton’s community gardens, visit Sustainable Food Edmonton

Slower Means Safer

When It Comes to Our Streets

Spring and summer bring Edmontonians out to enjoy the warm weather walking, rollerblading, and cycling. But as anyone who has gone cycling on a busy roadway knows, sharing space with cars can feel dangerous. I avoid walking on Jasper Avenue because the fast-moving cars exfoliate my skin with sand. Is sharing the streets alongside vehicles safe at the current speed limits?

On March 11, city council voted 8-5 to reduce the core zone speed limit to 40 km/h on residential streets, with the exception of arteries like 124 Street, 116 Street, and 104 Avenue. However, some citizen advocates and organizations felt that 30 km/h would have been a better choice. So is the reduction to 40 km/h enough?

In order to respond to the question, we must ask: who do the streets serve? The answer is everyone. All of us need to move freely in the city. Our streets are shared spaces between pedestrians, bicycles, wheelchairs, walkers, cars, and strollers.

“The data shows that the people that are walking, riding their bikes, people that have a stroller with them, or are using a wheelchair or a walker, all of them have a 90 per cent chance of surviving a car running into them when the speed is 30 km/h or lower,” said Sarah Hoyles, executive director of Paths for People, a non-profit dedicated to better infrastructure for bikes and pedestrians. This data was reported in a 2004 report from the World Health Organization, which also states that an increase in speed from 30 km/h to 45 km/h reduces the change of surviving an impact from 90 per cent to less than 50 per cent. In 2015 the City of Edmonton adopted their Vision Zero policy—a goal of zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries—and there is no doubt 30 km/h would have gotten us closer to that target.

But what about the argument that a higher speed limit allows us to get where we need to go more quickly? Would automobiles lose time if speed limits were lowered? “In some cases, no and in some cases, yes. But 20 seconds, 30 seconds, maybe a minute,” Hoyles said, noting that most commuters are using the arterial roads where the speeds would not have changed. Hoyles continued, “The time lost are lives gained. And the time that’s lost are truly seconds.”

There is an economic argument to lower speed limits as well, particularly on high streets or areas with shopping and restaurants. People drive our core economy, not motor vehicles. “People that are walking and biking actually make more unplanned stops because they have the ability to do so. They don’t have to find that parking spot. They are able to stop, go in, do some window shopping and make more purchases. So walkability actually builds our economy,” said Hoyles.

The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated how little space we have in the core, when residents of dense communities struggle to leave their homes and still safely practice social distancing. In April, the city opened lanes of Saskatchewan Drive and Victoria Promenade to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists. These changes were made for the benefit of all users and all ages to safely use the streets, but it shouldn’t take a pandemic for us to increase the shared use space in our communities. Let’s make the streets safer and more accessible for all by continuing the push for a 30 km/h speed limit.

Chris Sikkenga is an artist, writer and podcaster who enjoys bad movies and any restaurant sandwich named after Elvis.

The history of the Alberta Block

THEN (1909-2012)

The Alberta Block (10524 Jasper Ave.) has a long history of housing entrepreneurs and creators, with tenants such as dressmakers, cigarmakers, and music teachers calling it home since its inception. One of its longest-running tenants was CKUA Radio, which called the Alberta Block home for more than 50 years. As the building aged, facility problems such as flooding, plus allegedly being haunted, meant that it slowly lost its tenants. The building was left empty in 2012 and in need of a massive infrastructure update.

NOW (2015-Present)

In 2015, RedBrick real estate service purchased the building and revived it, retrofitting the building with necessary modern systems while also working to retain its historical character and significance. The result: a building with a mix of styles including modern, mid-century and art deco vibes, with a distinctive cedar facade. It re-opened in 2015 and now has a full suite of tenants, including Homestead co-working, Station on Jasper and many others, continuing its tradition of being a place for makers and creators.

Around the (Virtual) Core

We usually share traditional summer events around the core in this column—music festivals, art walks, open-air markets, and other gatherings that would involve lots of people coming in close contact with each other—but most of these have been cancelled for the foreseeable future as we grapple with COVID-19. What we’ve also seen in response to this situation is ingenuity, resourcefulness, and a sort of intentionality to connect as a community. In other words, we’re taking it in stride and making the best of a not-so-great situation. So, here’s a list of socially-responsible, physically-distanced events going on in the YEG core this summer.

FOR THE FOODIES

If you miss going out for dinner with your friends, you still can–just at your own kitchen table. #EatWithMeYEG is helping connect Edmontonians while spotlighting local businesses. The group hosts weekly Wednesday lunches (12 to 1 p.m.)—all you have to do is RSVP for the free event, order take-out from a local business in the neighbourhood they are highlighting that week, and then join the teleconference. Each event features local business owners and entrepreneurs and includes an opportunity to talk about how we can support each other. You can keep up with what’s coming up next by following the hashtag on social media or by keeping an eye out on eventbrite.ca.

Another idea is to organize your own virtual party with your buds via FaceTime, conference call, or Zoom. After all, it’s more fun drinking together than alone. Everyone could order from the same local brewery, say, Odd Company Brewing, and then have a howler (or growler, since you won’t be driving) and catch up. OCB is open daily from 12 to 8 p.m. for pick up, and they’re also on the road slinging deliveries from 4 to 9 p.m. Other central breweries still open for your beer needs include Campio Brewing Co. and Brewsters.

photo: Gerrie van der Walt

CULTURE & CREATIVITY

If you’ve ever wanted to handle a fossil or jump inside a museum diorama, then now’s your opportunity! The Royal Alberta Museum has begun digitizing its collections and sharing them on Sketchfab, an online platform for 3D and VR content. You can get up close like never before by seeing every nook and cranny of their 3D collection. If you have a touch- screen device, the experience is especially unique and engaging. They’ve also got at-home activity suggestions for kids and live shrimp and turtle cams.

The Art Gallery of Alberta is helping bring art to your home with virtual exhibits, live discussions, videos, and more. Visit their website or follow them on social media for their latest offerings.

On that note, if you are looking for the chance to get creative, get some friends together (virtually) to join Kay Rose Creative in weekly Saturday evening painting sessions. Kaylee Rose has taught painting to over 15,000 people, and her art has found its way into the homes of more than 40,000 people across North America in its various forms. You can join her free live painting lessons on Facebook or Instagram at Kay Rose Creative and KayleeRoseWray, respectively. Each Saturday features learning to paint a different animal, so by the time summer is over, you’ll have a full menagerie in your living room.

The Art Gallery of Alberta
photo: IQRemix via Flickr

MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORTS

Let’s not forget to talk about our mental health during this time. If you or someone you know needs immediate mental health help, then call Health Link at 811 or Alberta’s Mental Health Help Line toll-free at 1-877-303-2642. Being isolated, especially during a time of crisis, can lead to serious mental health concerns. Try getting involved in virtual events—it’s a way to stay connected while staying physically distanced. Staying connected will help us all maintain our sense of community and bolster our mental health. You can also text COVID19HOPE to 393939 to subscribe to AHS’s Text4Hope program. By subscribing, you’ll receive daily messages of hope, advice, and personal coping skills.

SHOPPING LOCAL

Summer vibes mean market vibes and while they’ve faced some significant changes, as essential providers of fresh and local food products, farmer’s markets in the core are still operating. The 124 Street Grand Market operates on Thursdays and Sundays, and the Edmonton Downtown Farmers Market is open on Saturdays and Sundays. With physical distancing measures in effect, that means that only so many vendors and shoppers will be allowed in at one time. Customers are encouraged to plan their list and trip out in advance. Get in, support local, get out. Also, designated shopping times will be provided for the elderly and immunocompromised. It also probably wouldn’t hurt to wear a mask and bring your sanitizer if you happen to have some on hand (pun intended).

Many local vendors and restaurants also offer contactless delivery and pick-up. Just shop online and then arrange for a rendezvous either on your doorstep or theirs. Plum Home, Paper Doll Clothing, Table Top Cafe, Normand’s Bistro on Jasper, Remedy Cafe, deVine Wines and Spirits, and Audrey’s Books are just a few local vendors that are trying to make it through this time and could use support if you can give it. You can visit Shop in the Heart and Things That Are Open to find merchants that are open for business.

124 Street Grand Market
photo: Mack Male

KEEPING FIT

Just because gyms are closed doesn’t mean that working out isn’t possible. In fact, exercise can be a great source of stress relief during this time. If you want to try out a training program, check out Edmonton-based F.R.E.E. Fitness to find a variety of free courses from personal trainers to help you reach your fitness goals at home. XTherapy Athletics is offering live classes on Instagram every day of the week except for Mondays and Fridays, including HIIT classes and spin classes with limited bike rentals available.

FOR KIDS

With playgrounds being roped off and sports being cancelled or postponed, our kids are in need of some entertainment. One event that is tackling this challenge head-on is Free Footie TV, which occurs every weekday at 4 p.m. Free Footie is a free after-school sports program that targets kids in need in local communities across the city, including at Grandin Elementary School. However, with school and events being cancelled, they’ve moved their programming to an exclusively online format, with live interviews and training that your kids can take part in from home. Past topics include fitness for families, soccer skills, basketball skills, goalkeeping, and a drumming lesson.

Learning never stops, not even during self-isolation. That’s why Edmonton Public Library is continuing its programming with EPL From Home. Parents will find regular classes like Sing, Sign, Laugh and Learn as well as activities like building your own Rube Goldberg Machine, tips on learning a new language, and virtual library tours. You can find content by following Edmonton Public Library on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube or by subscribing to their email newsletter from their website.

Core residents find ways to cope with physical distancing

As the COVID-19 lockdown heads into its third month, you’ve probably finished watching Tiger King, you’ve exhausted your reading list, and you’re getting sick of living within the four walls of an apartment.

Living in a high-density community during a time of COVID-19 physical distancing measures offers unique challenges. Many have little private green space and may share elevators or laundry facilities, adding stress about the spread of the virus. The societal pressure to remain productive can become another source of stress. It is more important than ever to take care of our mental health. Here are some tips on staying healthy from an expert and two residents of the core.

Dr. Karen Lee – Venture outside safely

Dr. Karen Lee is a University of Alberta professor and author of Fit Cities, whose work has focused on how to improve health in large urban populations. Lee’s recommendation? Get outside, but do so responsibly. “One of the ways to stay healthy is to go out into the public spaces that have enough space for us to socially distance,” said Lee. “For example, in Oliver, we have Railtown Park with the multi-use trails.”

Although this strategy may seem obvious, some are understandably hesitant to leave the house. There are other healthy coping methods that don’t require leaving home.

Hope Docking – Engage in a virtual social life

Hope Docking, a downtown resident, has found solace by staying socially active through virtual means. “I’ve begun playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends,” said Docking. “It takes some pushing to get everyone to choose a time but it’s really helped me get some sort of social time in.” Being able to maintain a healthy social structure may make the lockdown bearable, or even pleasant. Docking also has some  external motivation: “There is also a magpie building a nest outside my window so I have to check in on her every day.”

Kali Wells – Go easy on yourself

Kali Wells, an Oliver resident, has adapted to quarantine in high density through a modified version of her normal health routine. “’I’ve been working out, doing so much yoga at home, and meditating,” said Wells. A mental health strategy that Wells said has helped is self-forgiveness. “When you’re living a life where you are constantly going, there’s always so much stimulus in your life,” said Wells. “When there is so little stimulating you in that way, when the new normal is to wake up and move to the couch, it can be difficult. But I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job of it.”

Be good to yourself, stay mentally healthy and physically active, and remember: physical isolation does not have to mean social isolation.

Best of The Yards

Omar Mouallem was the founding editor of The Yards magazine–he worked with the initial team to create and put in place many of our magazine’s well-known features: Best in the Core, Front Yards, and our focus on accessible urbanism.

Omar Mouallem

Since his days with The Yards, Mouallem has been busy. He has edited numerous magazines in Alberta while contributing stories to The Guardian, WIRED, and NewYorker.com while co-authoring the national bestseller. As editor, Mouallem brought to The Yards his vision for what a magazine covering life in central Edmonton could become and what stories it could tell.

I met with Mouallem in the sleek new JW Marriott hotel lobby in the heart of Ice District. Five years ago this was a construction site sitting on top of a recently demolished Staples big-box retail store and its surface level parking lot. As Edmonton’s media has evolved over time, so has the city landscape that we cover.

Mouallem told me how his vision for the magazine was conceptually birthed from an article he wrote for Vue Weekly about the controversy surrounding the Brewery District development. The community’s push for a higher-density, transit-oriented urban development seemed to be running up against an immovable wall.

“It was kind of the first Yards piece, in a way,” Mouallem explained. “That story showed people in Oliver what they were up against, because here was something that seemed like a slam dunk – neighbours, residents were all for it one way, and pushing for it one way, and yet that formula for how we develop in Edmonton which was created and set into motion 20 years or so ago was too strong.”

“Administration went out of their way to demote the opinions of high-density urbanists and promote the opinions of the status quo.”

There was a clear need for a new voice to speak out on behalf of core residents. Mouallem explained how he set out to ensure every issue of the fledgling publication had an article exploring an urban issue issue impacting our neighbourhoods, bringing accessible urban planning discussions to residents for developments like the Brewery District.

“That article, I think it showed the kind of voice that the community can have in journalism if the time is taken to write it,” Mouallem explained.

“The Edmonton Journal cannot justify putting one journalist on that story for one week to investigate and interview, the stakes aren’t high enough. But a publication whose only stakeholders work and live in that area can and should.”

Mouallem noted with approval that there has been a consistency in the magazine’s structure, yet a gradual change in focus since Winter 2014, responding to shifts in both local and global trends.

“It’s cool to have been a part of inventing, with the team, institutions such as Best in The Core – but the essence of the stories now have become more human focused and less about architecture, design and urbanism, and more about things that people are concerned about today, post 2016,” Mouallem said, highlighting some of the issues that he felt really resonated with the current socio-political climate.

He noted a number of articles managed to take larger issues and localize them – the Frank Oliver article as a story on reconciliation and about rethinking our icons, an article on Me Too in the core, a historical story about racial segregation. Mouallem pointed out that the power of a hyper-local magazine can be seen in how you tackle these large issues, such as with the climate change article in Fall 2019, and make them relevant to people in their communities.

“I think it is the kind of story that you really need to publish in 2020 to keep people interested. That’s what people are thinking about, and there’s this anxiety and dread about the future of the planet. Even though it’s this hyperlocal magazine, you can take those global issues and localize them – and you should, because then it makes these really big and abstract, intangible issues suddenly concrete and in front of you and maybe even resolvable, manageable.”

In naming this magazine, the moniker had to advocate for those living here, while speaking to Edmontonians from every corner of our exploding city that rely on the city centre for work or leisure. It had to portray the positive changes and the new faces of downtown, without abandoning the inner city’s seniors, families, working poor and homeless. It had to look ahead, but it couldn’t ignore the past. That’s how we landed on “The Yards.” It harkens back to the old Canadian National rail yards along 104 Avenue, while symbolizing what downtown is to us: a place that you invite people into, but also must protect and maintain.

Omar Mouallem, Winter 2014 Issue