Why Kids Belong Downtown

Anti-child discrimination in housing comes into focus as group forms to fight it

 

Should our downtown and core neighbourhoods welcome kids and families? It’s a question that’s about to get messier than a playpen in Alberta.

As you may have read or experienced, in Alberta a landlord can still refuse to rent to tenants with children, and a condominium board can still evict an owner (yes, an owner) or resident who contravenes an adult-only building bylaw by having the audacity to get pregnant.

Ouch, right? Well, it depends who you ask.

Many Albertans opine that kids disrupt what’s apparently guaranteed to be a placid condo lifestyle — or so social media commentary suggests. And as these commenters often add, what parent would choose to raise their child in a downtown apartment or condo, when we have perfectly nice suburbs, exurbs and bedroom communities for that?

The conversation about where kids and families belong in Edmonton became heated this spring when, in April, the Child Friendly Housing Coalition of Alberta (CFHCA) launched a campaign to end age based discrimination in housing. The group had its eye firmly on areas like Oliver and downtown, which see large amounts of multi-unit apartment and condominium housing and often, child-blocking age restrictions applied to that housing.

The group has been spurred to act by a January 2017 high court decision that, by next year, will see Alberta become the last Canadian province to add age as a prohibited ground of discrimination. The province also has until next year to decide which age discriminations it will uphold (think needing to be 16 to drive, 18 to drink, and so on).

Some developers and industry advocates are hoping the government keeps adult-only housing as one form of legal age discrimination.

Aside from the laws, however, what many seem unable to grasp is the choice bit. Some of us choose to live downtown or in Oliver because we prefer that to other options. We’re not just saving up for the ‘burbs, and we might also want to have children while living here.

Imagine!

But when it comes to choice, there’s often little of it in downtown and Oliver for housing that’s usable for a family (three bedroom apartments, condos or townhomes) in Edmonton.

Why?

Raj Dhunna, CEO of Regency Developments, told the National Post in April that the cost to build townhouse units—for example, three bedroom, multi-unit housing—puts their price uncomfortably close to what a buyer can find a single-detached home selling for in a greenfield suburb. Dhunna said that made these units hard to sell, and that’s why he and other developers don’t really build them.

As a 30-something millennial who’s lived in an apartment her entire adult life, I’m always perplexed by arguments like Dhunna’s. They assume all consumers make housing choices based solely on economic factors, rather than a web of social, economic, transportation and lifestyle preferences.

They also assume we will always choose the suburbs in lieu of the urban life that we love, if they’re cheaper. Such comments also plunge me into selfdoubt. By still living in an apartment, am I pathetically trying to extend my youth? Do I lack the gene that allows other adults to enjoy lawn care?

Hard to say, but I don’t seem to be an outlier.

The City of Edmonton’s 2015 Growth Monitoring Report states that, “vibrant and attractive urban cores have begun to change the way in which we plan. Millennials’ […] movement into urban centres has helped shift investment from the suburbs, and developers and businesses have begun to follow, by building condominiums and locating businesses in these urban areas in an attempt to capitalize on this generation’s desired lifestyle.”

A shift to investment in urban areas like downtown and Oliver can only work if people of all ages are welcome. That must include parents, kids and families.

If you agree and want to end discrimination against children in housing, there’s now a group you can add your voice to.

Chelsey Jersak lives in one of downtown’s kid-friendly condos. She’s the founder and principal of Situate, a municipal planning and placemaking firm, and a founding member of CFHCA. For more information, see cfhca.ca.

Will the City of Edmonton Get Real on Sidewalk Hoarding?

At times, as you walk along those wooden pathways reminiscent of old-timey boardwalks, downtown Edmonton feels like Fort Edmonton. Construction hoarding—especially those dead ends with bright orange “Sidewalk Closed” barriers—permeate the core. The list of downtown sidewalks that have become adventures in detouring is too long to name, but a few stand out: the 7th Street Annex, whose glacial construction on 104 Ave. has frustrated MacEwan students from junior year to graduation; or the City of Edmonton’s own new office tower which hogged the sidewalk for most of its construction, forcing pedestrians to criss-cross through the Ice District or (illegally) walk with traffic. But with more people living downtown—and intent on using their feet—the City is finally ready for change. A proposed policy in 2015 could force builders to keep sidewalks open or relocate them in the streets, whenever possible. It’s the first attempt to balance pedestrian needs with traffic flow and construction work.

hoardingPrior to the proposal, and amidst the downtown construction boom and residential resurgence, hoarding became a major issue. The Fox Towers on 104 St. were the breaking point for residents. Construction consumed one of two laneways, but also made it impossible for people to walk along what’s supposed to be a key downtown attraction. “When you see a sidewalk that you use all the time disappear, you’re more likely to raise a fuss about it,” says Ward 6 Coun. Scott McKeen. In the summer of 2014, McKeen, on request of his constituents, asked administration to investigate a better way.

Up to that point the city had no policy on how sidewalk hoarding affected pedestrians—only on how it affected traffic. “It’s a symptom of regulations that don’t fully consider people,” Max Amerongen from Paths for People, an advocacy group for active transportation, explains of the policy currently on the books. The closed sidewalks aren’t just an inconvenience but evidence of a disconnect between the pursuit of walkability and the reality on the ground. Instead of squeezing a lane of trafc to open a pedestrian path, it’s been easier for the city to shut down the sidewalk. “[The policy] was a fairly small decision to say we have to look at ways to ensure there are still safe sidewalk areas for people,” says McKeen. The investigation into practices revealed an internal communications failure. Project approvals require numerous departments in the process. Building permits in sustainable development evaluate the developer’s need for space and ensures the permit works with Alberta Safety Codes standards, while transportation evaluates access for pedestrians and vehicles. Yet the two didn’t communicate effectively, so as construction plans were approved by sustainable development, there was little opportunity for other departments to include pedestrian and transit access. Hoarding would obstruct sidewalks and bus stops. The main result of the 2015 policy proposal is that it would make departments aware they had to talk to one another and, hopefully, do better.

“We recognized that we need to circulate [information] to a lot of areas—parks and rec, overhead power lines, transit,” says Roger Clemens, who oversees building  permits in sustainable development. Previously, his department would overlook how construction affected a bus stop or alternate walking routes. Now there is some advance communication to prevent some of these oversights.

It’s still hard to detect real change because many of the construction boom’s developments were approved before 2015. Soon, however, we’ll see much more consideration given to the pedestrian experience, as builders are now encouraged to consider pedestrians more. It’s the best the City can do until policy approval, but the proposed laws could go further. In cities such as Toronto, developers are required to use vertical space, building space up instead of out, to hold construction equipment and worker space. Edmonton’s future doesn’t encourage this option, nor does it charge a fee structure that would penalize contractors using sidewalk space, a major incentive to overlook pedestrians. There is also no way to measure if a balance between pedestrian needs and traffic is being met.

Brad Vanderhoek, with traffic control, says that as the City emphasizes walkability in more planning processes, the solutions to sidewalk obstruction could become easier. Initiatives such as the recently passed minimum grid for bike lanes and Vision Zero (a pedestrian safety initiative) will begin to integrate pedestrian and cyclist access everyday, he says.

But for hoarding specifically, design requirements could set minimum standards for pedestrian-friendly detours and could lessen the amount of public space that’s hoarded. Perhaps most effectively, a fee structure that charges companies more for using sidewalk space as much as it does roads would help to keep companies accountable. One suggestion made in the early stages of the development of the 2015 policy was to discount fees for companies who created visually appealing hoarding.

McKeen is skeptical that the fee structure in place is adequate. The problem, he argues, is largely an issue of cars being prioritized for so long. “As a community we’ve put cars, in a hierarchy, [to be] much more important than the pedestrian. We’re at a stage of maturation that other cities probably went through far earlier.”

Will Edmonton Seriously Enforce Noise Bylaws Against Loud Motorbikes?

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Living in the core, you expect a little noise. But Edmonton’s roads can sound like a speedway when drivers, and especially motorcyclists, feel compelled to stunt with pimped out rides, leading recreational vehicle users to clash with patio patrons.

As Edmonton improves the core’s walkability and street life, community members and a determined city councillor want exhaust pipes to pipe down. “Patio culture can add so much to an urban area,” says Coun. Scott McKeen. “If cruising noisy vehicles take away from that it’ll impact the area and it success.” Loud vehicles aren’t just disturbing the patio peace, but young families, seniors residences and those catching sleep after a night shift, he says.

Edmonton implemented a noise bylaw for motorcycles in 2010. Vehicles must not be louder than 96 decibels while driving. EPS has a sound level meter that captures levels provable in court.

But enforcement of noise complaints is not an easy process. Police are aware of the problem spots, such as Jasper and Whyte avenues, but they can’t respond to individual complaints, and instead will set up zones to test vehicles. “There [needs to] be better enforcement of noise issues on Jasper,” says Dustin Martin, civics chair with the OCL.

In a presentation to the police commission in January this year, Insp. Dennis Storey admitted the major collisions investigation unit, which was conducting noise enforcement, didn’t have the resources to address noise, let alone the unit’s main focus of major collisions. Only 175 violations were enforced by police in 2015. This year, EPS trained 25 more officers to deal with noise violations and has stationed those officers throughout the city, which shifts enforcement to a neighbourhood-level approach.

McKeen says this shouldn’t be a police priority. Instead he’d like to see bylaw officers’ powers expanded in the Municipal Government Act. “Any patrol officer or peace officer should be able to write an order on the street to say you have to appear within the next two weeks and have your bike tested,” says McKeen.

Many motorcycle riders argue that loud pipes are necessary for safety—to let bigger vehicles know their comparatively small presence—but not all will agree that noise is a necessary part of riding. “High visibility trumps loud pipes for safety,” says Ricardo Dominguez, a local rider of six years. He says the pipes are useless because they point backwards, not forwards, toward the traffic it’s approaching.

The Oliver Community League and Downtown Edmonton Community League would like to see a public education campaign on the effects of noise. They also want traffic planning to constrain riders’ speed in the core—and thus their noise—by timing street lights in a way that doesn’t turn them green for blocks on end, and by better emphasizing cyclist infrastructure and pedestrian crossings as road-calming measures.

How Community Groups Can Help Refugees Settle

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Over 1,400 Syrian refugees have moved to Edmonton since November and at least 1,000 more are to come. To help them settle, community-based groups like DECL and All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral are pitching in. “In dire times, we’re called to help [anyone] regardless of race, religion or anything,” says Chris Pilon, community engagement coordinator of All Saints’.

All Saints’ will soon assist one Syrian family. The church formed a sponsorship steering committee, and has raised about $45,000 to sponsor the family for a year. Equally valuable are the dozens of volunteers ready to greet them, arrange medical appointments, help with job hunting and so on. DECL also informally approached the church in fall 2015 about its planned response to the Syrian crisis; it’s committed to participating in any suitable capacity.

The chief concern for arriving refugees isn’t integration but navigation, says Pilon. Understanding housing, utilities, transportation, banking and schools in Canada’s comparatively bureaucratic society is complex. These hurdles can overwhelm anyone, and immigrants often have a limited grasp of English, which makes navigation harder. Even after short-term necessities are managed, refugees face ongoing challenges. They may worry about how to support their families after the sponsorship ends.

Pilon, who is also a DECL board member, says community leagues play a vital role in assisting refugees because their members are naturally passionate about their communities and want to share them with newcomers, whether from Syria or St. John’s. They also have connections to organizations, business owners and other resources that make them valuable sources of knowledge.

Leagues can also waive membership fees, supply information on their services and programs, and provide a liaison to connect families to programs directly. “If there are cultural issues happening, [leagues] could help to explain things to the families in a non-confrontational way,” says Elizabeth Nash. She recently formed the Refugee Response Group with members of the North Glenora Community League and Robertson- Wesley United Church. “These families come from very close-knit communities, and feeling welcome in their new neighbourhoods is very important for their integration.”

The North Glenora-sponsored family is a multi-generational family from Aleppo— four adults, three teenagers and six young children. They lived in a Lebanese camp for over two years after fleeing Syria in 2013, following an explosion outside their home. Laws restricted the adults from working, so the young boys took to selling paper on the street to support their extended family. They arrived in Edmonton in February, but the eldest daughter, her husband and their two children remain in Lebanon. Nash’s group is working with another community-based group in Glenora to reunite them. To show their appreciation, the family recently bought, butchered and cooked a goat for a thank-you dinner.

Pilon looks forward to the day he can see All Saints’ sponsored family comfortable, confident and beginning to feel at home in Edmonton. He hopes to meet them at a local event, not as refugees that the church sponsored, but as “fellow Edmontonians” who ventured out independently to enjoy their community.

Grey Area

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Source: Wikipedia Commons

(Editor’s Note: In March 2016, Greyhound officially announced that it would move alongside Via Rail’s northwest station.)

After two failed attempts at securing a new home, Greyhound is attempting to lease space from Via Rail’s northwest location, an area without transit service. As the city has increased its focus on accessible transit, the relocation of central Edmonton’s intercity transport hub has some thinking that it’s a move in the opposite direction.

“I’m worried about people who would be stranded,” says Coun. Bev Esslinger. Greyhound customer surveys show that 40 per cent of riders have daily access to cars, and the same percentage of riders are from households with an income under $25,000. The Via Rail site would leave passengers with cabs or Uber as their only options.

“When you move it away from major bus routes, of course you make it a lot more difficult for people to catch the bus,” says Boyle Street Community Services outreach worker, Colin Inglis, who has worked in the core for five years. He says the lack of intercity transit affects people’s ability to access treatment centres outside the city and for low-income people in rural areas to access services such as health specialists, or to simply visit family.

Downtown Business Association executive director Jim Taylor agrees that the biggest hit to moving the station is to riders in need of service, but not surrounding businesses, who could take advantage of transportation or courier services. “It’s going to be a difficult thing for Greyhound riders to facilitate the kind of connection they need once they get in the city,” says Taylor, who says most business people travel on Red Arrow.

The move is in line with an overall redesign of the neighbourhood’s demographics, says Taylor. “Even if the Greyhound station were going to stay there, the stuff that’s being built—the residential and commercial—would change the nature of the street anyway.”

“It’s going to be a difficult thing for Greyhound riders to facilitate the kind of connection they need once they get in the city.” —Downtown Business Association executive director Jim Taylor

Greyhound itself would prefer to stay downtown. But increasing rent and the required footprint makes it impossible, says Peter Hamel, Greyhound regional vice president.

The company sees its Winnipeg location as a model in creating a “downtown touch point.” It maintained a satellite passenger drop-off point downtown since moving the station to the inter-national airport, seven kilometers away.

Esslinger says any new location should have a downtown shuttle service. But right now there’s no consideration for public transit. Esslinger says the city can’t prioritize it over other projects. “We have a whole long list of people in new neighbourhoods waiting for transit sites,” she says.

Inglis hopes the city plays a role in improving intercity transport access. “As a society, we have to think about how we cover those bases for folks when it’s no longer commercially viable for Greyhound to run them.”

Greyhound is currently dedicated to partnering with Via Rail on location, says Hamel, as well as with the City on downtown kiosks or drop-off locations.

(Editor’s Note: In March 2016, Greyhound officially announced that it would move alongside Via Rail’s northwest station.)

Editor’s Note: Textbook Scenario

As the summer sun sets, the crowds that blossomed in Churchill Square blow their seeds west, to an L-shaped strip that comes alive every fall with the vast majority of downtown’s 30,000 students. Following the marketing trend of “district-ifying” downtown (Ice District, Warehouse District, etc.), Norquest College, one of 10 post-secondaries within this region, has nick-named it the Education District.

But you don’t need official demarcation to see this district take shape. These colleges are quickly developing new campuses, parks, student housing and parking garages to accommodate a student population set to grow by nearly 40 per cent, according to the Downtown Business Association.

What’s this mean for the future of our neighbourhoods? Find out on p. 19, where recent MacEwan graduate and VICE Media writer Mack Lamoureux investigates. As a bonus, he shares with the next cohort of Oliver and Downtown pupils what he knows about finding cheap rides, food and beer.

Even if your keg-stand days are over, it’s never too late to pursue some form of learning. This fall begins the lengthy process of remodelling the Oliver side of Jasper Ave. and potentially transforming it from a seven-lane thoroughfare to a pleasant promenade. I say potentially, because it depends on what residents want. Our cover story (p. 14) looks into the problems and possible solutions for our main street. 

Maybe civics isn’t your cup of higher education. What about whiskey tasting and printmaking? I doubt you’ll snooze through the list of casual classes assembled for you on p. 8. It’s written by Brittany Nugent, who, like Lamoureux, is a MacEwan talent and downtown neighbour. Same goes for Jyllian Park (“Man About Downtown”; p. 7) and Allison Voisin (“The Human Touch”; p. 12). These four writers—pulled to our neighbourhood for an education, now helping us see it differently—show how making Downtown and Oliver a student destination could enrich it for everybody.

That’s probably not what comes to mind when you think of the students next door. One’s more likely to wince at the late-night revelry and fast-food restaurants that will follow—and no doubt they will, and already have. But I, for one, welcome the next generation to our core neighbourhoods. Not just because they’ll offer much needed vivacity to our public streets at night, but because they may also be the next generation of Edmontonians.

Maybe by immersing themselves in the city centre, instead of being segregated in a traditional university campus, they’ll see Edmonton’s inner-workings, grow attached, and stick around. In a world where cities compete amongst each other for global talent, creating an environment in which they want to hang up their hats—and degrees—could be to all of Edmonton’s advantage.

To The Polls

You’ve probably already heard their leader’s gospel and how they might tackle the headline issues—a slumping economy, pipelines, ISIS. But what about the Edmonton-Centre candidates themselves? And how will they take issues in your community to the highest office? We surveyed the would-be representatives for Canada’s four major parties (Conservative candidate James Cumming didn’t participate) on three topics you can see out your window.

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Randy Boissonnault, Liberal Party
Business management consultant

Q1: What should be in the federal budget for young adults?

They can fall into several categories: students, parents or soon-to-be, unemployed or underemployed, lower income or middle-class earners, entrepreneurs. We also know that in Edmonton they care about our environment. A well-rounded budget should contain fair policies and investments, such as investment in post-secondary, a tax structure making it easier for the middle class to start families, investments in jobs and training, a reduced carbon footprint, and more.

Q2: Edmonton’s urban aboriginal population may soon be Canada’s largest. What are your ideas for Reconciliation?

I’ll work with my party colleagues to implement all 94 recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, starting with supporting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Locally we need to develop and fund a robust and detailed urban aboriginal strategy bringing together all orders of government to map out Edmonton indigenous people’s immediate and ongoing needs. We must engage with [them to] understand where healing can begin.

Q3: Light-rail transit is core to sustainable urban growth. How can Edmonton work with Ottawa to steadily serve and expand public transit?

Government should develop a sustainable, predictable and long-term funding model allowing municipalities to plan and develop such critical infrastructure. For situations where offering shorter term, one-time financing makes sense, the federal government must build out reasonable timelines and converse with municipalities well before application deadlines, allowing Edmonton enough time to review its priorities, draft proposals and secure local buy-in.


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Gil McGowan, NDP
President of the Alberta Federation of Labour

Q1: What should be in the federal budget for young adults? 

Since visiting the homes of 15,000 voters in Edmonton-Centre, many parents told me they want proper funding for child care. For some young families child-care costs are comparable to their mortgage. This has to stop. After broken promises and inaction on child care from both the Conservatives and Liberals, it’s time for a government that will actually give families the kind help they need. Only the NDP will introduce an affordable, universal $15-a-day child-care program.

Q2: Edmonton’s urban aboriginal population may soon be Canada’s largest. What are your ideas for Reconciliation?

The NDP is committed to implementing recommendations laid out in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report. We’ll engage with the indigenous community and ensure that their perspective is central to our actions. It’s also time for an inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women, repealing Bill C-51 and its unconstitutional attacks on First Nations activists engaging in legitimate peaceful protests, and to enact Jordan’s Principle.

Q3: Light-rail transit is core to sustainable urban growth. How can Edmonton work with Ottawa to steadily serve and expand public transit?

The Harper government has told cities like Edmonton that they can only access federal funds for infrastructure projects like the Valley Line LRT by using Public-Private-Partnerships. Research shows this form of privatization can lead to slower construction, increased public costs and restrictive contracts benefitting the corporate partners. The NDP is committed to providing adequate and predictable transit funding to municipalities with no ideological strings attached.


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David Parker, Green Party
Engineer and retired college instructor

Q1: What should be in the federal budget for young adults? 

Invest heavily in new industries that will propel us into the new future: Renewables, home retrofits, sustainable farming, alternative energy production, feed-in-tariffs—carbon taxes to be reinvested in all of the above. Restart the Katimavik volunteer service program and other opportunities for youth to aid the less advantaged in Canada and overseas, and give them free education for as far as they wish to go, as I received in the UK back in the 1970s. I’m sure that, if consulted, young people will give even more examples.

Q2: Edmonton’s urban aboriginal population may soon be Canada’s largest. What are your ideas for Reconciliation?

Reconciliation has been long overdue but it is time to put actions into place. Indigenous Peoples are entitled to all the rights that the rest of us are accustomed to—clean water, affordable housing, education. Enhancement and respect for their (almost) lost culture is essential to restoring the pride they have lost from the residential schools experience.

Q3: Light-rail transit is core to sustainable urban growth. How can Edmonton work with Ottawa to steadily serve and expand public transit?

Sadly, the present government does not seem interested in anything progressive in most of its policy projections. Edmonton desperately needs alternative means of transportation especially in times of environmental crisis, as we are in currently. All we can hope to do to influence the feds is increase the support for LRT systems.

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.

Hollow Temples

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Musician Jim Whittle at All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral for a Taizé service

On a walkabout through my neighbourhood early this winter, I had taken note of the number of places of worship between Oliver and Downtown. I wondered, had these communities of religious citizens come to terms with the area’s drastic change in demographics and topography since they had first opened their doors a century ago? And how do the heads of these central Edmonton churches view their neighbourhood today?

For instance, according to the 90-year-old Grace Lutheran Church on 114 St., “the absence of focus on the unchurched and dechurched in the neighborhoods surrounding Grace” has resulted in a 10-year stagnation in membership, dwindling Sunday worship attendance and a Sunday school class one-third the size it was in 2000.

And then there’s the substantial, even hulking, brick presence of McDougall United Church that had seemed an incorruptible and timeless artifact of our history—social and artistic as well as spiritual— until last February. That’s when a report to City Hall estimated a repair and renovation bill of $18 to 25 million, citing a congregation reluctant to commit spending millions on urgent repairs for a building without provincial heritage status. Even more distressing was the conclusion of a separate consultant’s report that there existed no community or philanthropic “will” to save McDougall United.

Like all churches, Grace Lutheran and McDougall have their C & E (Christmas and Easter) adherents. Last year, 125,000 people went to Christmas Eve services in Edmonton who may never be seen until April, if not for another 12 months. But what counts to deans, bishops and pastors is who fills their pews the rest of the year.

During Edmonton’s original “boom,” All Saints’ was a “rich person’s church,” according to Dean Gordon. Then came the crash, the Great Depression, and the focus of the parish’s activities turned from fundraising for nice things for the church to relief projects.

All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral on 103 St. and Jasper Ave. is an imposing structure with a grand nave, but on Thursday mornings coffee and muffins are laid out in the Cathedral Common before a tax clinic opens for low-income Edmontonians. They arrive mainly from east of the Coliseum and Alberta Avenue and are then invited to Holy Eucharist and Soup and Sandwich Lunch in the lounge. It’s free and “everyone is welcome,” Dean Neil Gordon told me (a Dean is a Cathedral’s head while its Bishop leads the whole diocese). I arrived in his Cathedral office to find out what these modern ’hoods look like from the perspective of the parish office.

Downtown’s new condo dwellers come too, to bake muffins or drop by for an hour to chat with visitors who wait their turn for tax assessments. They’ve discovered the cathedral because of the concerts it hosts, such as Pro Coro, or for Choral Eucharist and the incomparable Jeremy Spurgeon on the massive organ. “We’re not just handing out food,” declared Dean Gordon. “We talk and learn stories.” The participation of young volunteers is key. They want to do more than just worship; they want face-to-face, hands-on service, whether it’s serving the Friday morning breakfasts or collecting clothes for the homeless. “They also join us in worship,” he noted, “but their primary religious energy is in outreach. I love millennials!”

All Saints’ is metres away from Bay/Enterprise Station—a “gold mine” when the arena opens up for business and downtown parking spaces disappear, he said. Many people come to All Saints’ from Cromdale and Southgate because of LRT access. The church even advertised its Christmas Eve services in the stations. But these commuting parishioners in fact represent a dispersed congregation and a new chapter in the cathedral’s history.

During Edmonton’s original “boom” before the First World War, All Saints’ was a “rich person’s church,” according to Dean Gordon, who invited me to think of the remnants of the grand old homes that lined the residential streets along 100 Ave. Then came the crash, the Great Depression, and the focus of the parish’s activities turned from “fund-raising for nice things for the church” (processional crosses and clerical vestments) to relief projects, especially at the outreach mission church in Rossdale Flats. In Dean Gordon’s vivid image, it was “literally the cathedral on the hill, with a commitment to the people living down below.”

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Dean Gordon said by the 1940s wealthier Anglicans had moved out of downtown to Glenora, while others from further away began commuting to All Saints’ “for the choir, the organ, the bells and incense”—the liturgical flourishes on offer in a Cathedral setting. In the 1960s, the parish became more “activist” hosting a women’s shelter and, for a few months, the Middle Earth cafe. “Imagine a folk cafe, as in Inside Llewyn Davis. But not everybody was happy with just coffee.” (It was raided for drugs.)

And today, the evolution continues: Sunday afternoon worship services in the Dinka language for South Sudanese Anglicans and, every third Sunday, First Nations services tie the Gospel narrative with Aboriginal storytelling.

I came away exhilarated from my conversation with the very animated, emphatic Dean, with a vision that swoops all around central downtown, from the cathedral steps to the empty lot across from the once Greyhound bus station he hopes will be cleaned up and made safer for Aboriginal women. I also took note of other churches dotting central Edmonton that have found novel ways to fill their pews: MacDougall United’s “rainbow” inclusiveness, Robertson-Wesley’s free yoga classes and art therapy, Grace Lutheran’s open music stages. But these chapels have been around for a century. What about the rare places of worship that have emerged in the last decade? I wondered what spiritual void were they filling?

Around the corner from All Saints’ Cathedral on Jasper Ave. stands the now-doomed Paramount theatre building that until recently sported the emphatic lettering of City Centre Church. The church now meets Sundays three blocks away, at Landmark Cinemas in City Centre Mall, or at the Cineplex Odeon in South Edmonton Common. I chased down one of its staffers, Kevin Machado, who is also a pastor at the downtown “campus,” for an interview at the Milner Library Second Cup.

Despite its preference for large auditorium venues, City Centre Church (CCC) is not a megachurch such as those established by evangelical Christians in newly-minted suburbs. It has origins in a church-planting movement, which Machado told me “seeds through communities” like our own.

Machado emphasizes that they are neither counsellors nor psychiatrists, but simply people who have “spiritual awareness.” People who “burn for community.” “I’m passionate about people who come from dark places where your soul is brittle and cold,” he told me. People like he and his wife not so long ago.

But, as with so many denominational churches in the 21st century, the McDougall United Church congregation cannot sustain the building on its own and must force a “community partnership.”

It’s the hope of healing that the CCC offers those who join them, even temporarily, at prayer, Muffin Sundays for families, at Hope Mission or Mustard Seed volunteer commitments, or (when they were still in the Paramount) potluck meals in the theatre lobby—often the warmest place for the CCC community on a Sunday night. “People hear about us by word of mouth, or from a friend’ or they walk by our sign. They meet us and it’s okay not to have all the answers. We don’t yell at people while we’re feeding them. We have conversations. They are welcome to stay and pray.”

But there is also this important difference: the CCC is a young church and still “spontaneous,” building itself as it goes along, not proclaiming any special understanding but just coming together, “normal people who have a shared experience,” in Machado’s words. No pews or chandeliers, order of clergy or choirs, not a church “that says, ‘this is what you need to do’” with all the structures that go with it.

Yet, along with All Saints’ and the others, the City Centre Church could be part of a movement, bringing central churches to the ‘hood.

That’s what Jodine Chase hopes will happen for the 1910 McDougall United Church. The congregation member started campaigning to prove that there is a will to save it among the church’s most “feisty” members, plus supporters in the downtown arts’ community. “Right off the bat, we had a dozen ‘Friends of McDougall,’” Jodine Chase told me. Friends of McDougall’s efforts to save the building began with fundraising, accepting donations from $20 to $20,000, “to capture our support and translate it into meaningful dollars.”

church 1

This was not a heritage that could be “preserved” simply by renovating the facade and demolishing the interior for condos. For one, the interior, built to seat 2,000, is in good shape and still an ideal acoustic environment for musicians and performers. For another, the building has long been the site of historic developments, as the original home of the Edmonton Opera, site of suffragette rallies in the 1900s, University of Alberta convocation venue, and the auditorium before the Northern Jubilee opened in 1957. “It has been a ‘tool’ for the whole city,” Chase argued. “And all users needed to be at the table with their contributions.”

Then, on April 1, 2015, the provincial Culture Minister announced formal intent to seek provincial heritage status with a contribution of $750,000 towards restoration (the City may be good for another $500,000), enough to complete the most urgent repairs to the exterior. The interior will be preserved as a “vintage” performing arts space and community centre, subject, of course, to the affirmation of the congregation.

Ah, yes, the congregation. This is, after all, a place of worship. Its inclusive ministry—ordination of women, support for LGBTQ—is what attracted families like Jodine Chase’s. But, as with so many denominational churches in the 21st century, the congregation cannot sustain the building on its own and must force a “community partnership,” she said. “The congregation is an integral part of the vision but we cannot be the sole steward anymore … We’re ready to walk the talk.”

Editor’s Note: Getting the Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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