Best of The Yards

With five years under our belt, I felt that our annual Best in the Core issue would be a great time to explore some of the stories we have published in these pages over the last few years.

The Yards has helped instigate important conversations for Edmonton, such as our exploration of the Oliver community’s controversial namesake, Frank Oliver (Canada 150 and some tougher history for Edmonton, by Tim Querengesser), which highlighted the painful legacy of Oliver’s actions for Indigenous Edmontonians. Conversations around the proper way to confront this legacy continue, and The Yards will continue to be here to reflect the community’s voice.

Alongside discussions of the unique challenges of high-density political campaigning and service-journalism pieces on navigating condo boards, we have covered emerging controversial issues such as safe injection sites (Are Injection Sites Safe? by Mary-Helen Clark). With stories re-printed in Alberta Views and nominated as finalists for the Alberta Magazine Publishers Association (AMPA) awards, we have endeavoured to shine some light on the Downtown and Oliver perspective for a broader audience.

This last year, Yards writers Bashir Mohamed and Dustin Bajer were selected as AMPA finalists–Mohamed for his important article on a woman who challenged segregation in 1920s Edmonton, and Bajer for a defence of the value of heritage plants and the ongoing Goji-treed legacy of early twentieth century Chinese market gardens that once dotted our river valley.

With bike lanes generating civic debate, Yards writer Anna Marie Sewell looked into local cycling lore (The Legend of the Lane) to sketch out the history of Edmonton’s first guerrilla bike lane, a previously untold story of Edmontonians taking a DIY approach to active transportation that pushed the City of Edmonton to follow-up with an actual official bike lane.

The common thread in many of these stories? The Yards’ hyper-local focus on our neighbourhoods, which has allowed us to dig into key local issues that are often overlooked by larger media organizations, but remain crucially important to life central Edmonton.

We will continue to be the voice of Edmonton’s core neighbourhoods, and I want to hear from you when you have stories that need to be told. This is just a sampling of the past few years, and I encourage you to check out our archives here for more of our coverage. Thank you for joining us for our first five years!

It’s The Yard’s Fifth Anniversary!

Five years on – the Red Star pub was the only choice for a summit with the founding Publisher of The Yards magazine, Jarrett Campbell, to discuss the magazine’s creation five years ago.

“We had the first meeting here at Red Star. We launched in December, so it would have been March (2014) when we really started forming what this would be,” Campbell said, adding that the positive response from the community on the launch of this untested venture was heartening.

“A lot of people liked the idea of a community-focused nonprofit magazine.”

Before The Yards, OCL had a community newsletter that received content from unpaid writers and was distributed by volunteers to a number of buildings in the community, but was running into difficulty reaching many residents as locked front entrances to apartment and condo buildings gradually became the norm. As Campbell, then OCL president, looked at how to increase the league’s reach in the core, he reflected on the opportunity to create a larger partnership with the people who work, live and play in central Edmonton.

“Most people in Edmonton view the two high density neighbourhoods of Oliver and Downtown as one. You might live in Oliver and go to the bar Downtown, you might live Downtown and go to a restaurant in Oliver. These communities are intimately linked, have the same issues and should speak with one voice.”

OCL and DECL are now partnered with the Central Edmonton News Society, which publishes The Yards with professionally written articles by local journalists and distributes the quarterly magazine by mail to every single resident in central Edmonton. The reach of the magazine has grown further, with articles posted and shared online for the wider community to read about why Edmonton’s core neighbourhoods are so special.

As Jarrett set about determining the magazine’s funding and distribution model, Omar Mouallem stepped forward as the initial editor of the new magazine.

“What you see as The Yards – the voice, the tone, the look, the feel, and how it connects with communities and issue and people – that’s Omar’s vision,” Campbell explained, noting that engaging with motivated professionals like Mouallem who live in the area and participate in community league events has been key to the magazine’s success.

“Omar is an extremely talented person, and to have a guy like that step up to help create it, we’re very lucky.”

And The Yards’ luck continues as it changes and grows with its founding neighbourhoods. This fall’s issue was our biggest yet and we look forward to continued growth and success.

This December’s winter issue will mark the 5th anniversary of The Yards magazine.

Tech Sector hanging on

With Edmonton’s sixth annual Startup Week less than a month away, the city’s tech industries are maintaining cautious optimism about keeping their momentum in spite of a tax credit being frozen recently by the province.

Downtown Edmonton Community League president Chris Buyze noted office vacancies decreased in the first half of 2019.

“The vacancy rate is actually lower downtown than it is in other parts of the city right now,” he said.

Growth in the tech sector surged in Edmonton over the past few years with heavy support from all three levels of government, but the city’s roadmap to the future has hit a few bumps of late.

Last October, city council paused both the Innovation Hub in the new Enbridge tower and plans to establish an Innovation Corridor between NAIT and the University of Alberta. Then in August the UCP government froze the Alberta investor tax credit , pending a financial review. The NDP program was launched in 2017 to help get new businesses off the ground. However, Buyze said so far the sector has weathered the disruptions.

“Ironically, it seems downtown is still attracting investment in tech startups. A lot of the private investment is going ahead regardless of what’s happening at the provincial government level and I think that’s going to continue to be the case.”

Chris Buyze, DECL President

However, he also cautioned pulling the tax credit permanently could hinder new startups, create uncertainty and slow growth.

“We have this private investment. Why is there a possibility of withdrawal of tax credits in the provincial government?”

StartupBlink, a Swiss company that ranks cities for their startup-friendliness, named Edmonton 95th in the world in its 2019 Global Ranking of Startup Ecosystems, up 35 spots from 2017 and surging past Calgary, which dropped from 108th place to 111th. Edmonton is home to nearly 400 tech companies and the University of Alberta is counted among the best A.I. research facilities in the world.

Buyze added another benefit making downtown more startup-friendly has been a jump in renovations of older office space to attract new tenants and retain their current ones.

“We’ve got a lot of capital investments, we’ve just got to make sure we’re also doing the little things like keeping it a clean, safe and welcoming place for people to work, invest in or even live,” said Buyze. “We’re competing with jurisdictions across the world. How do we ensure the talent coming out of our universities stays here?”

Noting Edmonton has a much more diverse economy than Calgary already, Buyze said it was important to continue to push for more economic drivers than simply oil and gas.

“(A stronger tech sector) would poke some holes in that boom and bust cycle we sometimes experience.”

Startup Week runs from Oct. 21 to 25, with the city’s 10th annual Launch Day set for Oct. 24.

Offering over 50 workshops for entrepreneurs alongside networking and brainstorming opportunities, Startup Week is the extension of Launch Party, a celebration of innovation in its 10th year.

DECL: Summer Events 2019

DECL Community Space, 10042 103 St.

June 20
Join us for a discussion on accessibility in the core.
The Hendrix Roof Top Patio Doors at 6:30pm, Speaker at 7:30pm.

Read more on our Facebook event page

June 15 9am-11am
Join us for our Annual Pancake Breakfast. What better way to start the day than with pancakes, sausages, coffee and juice. Only $2, proceeds go to support our programming efforts.
DECL Community Space, 10042 103 Street

June 22nd, Time TBA
Join us for a DECL social night. Watch for details on our Facebook page. Location TBA in the coming weeks.

July 25, Time TBA
Join us for our annual patio crawl. Watch for details on our Facebook page.
Location TBA in the coming weeks.

Every Friday, 10am-11am
Urban Kids Playgroup for downtown parents and kids 0-5 years of age! Join us for snacks and free coffee.
DECL Community Space, 10042 103 Street

Third Friday of every month (June 21, July 19, August 16), 6:30pm
Bring your kids to a family-friendly board games night and meet other Downtown families.
DECL Community Space, 10042 103 Street

Last Thursday of the month (June 27, July 25, August 29), 7pm
Join us for a discussion on the latest development proposals and city planning.
DECL Community Space, 10042 103 Street

First Wednesday of the month (June 5, July 3, August 7), 7pm
Join us to discuss and plan our downtown programming and events. Please email if you plan to attend.
DECL Community Space, 10042 103 Street, or other locations when required.

July 3 – August 22 Tuesdays & Fridays, 2:30pm-6pm
The City’s back with children’s programming. Additional information here.
Alex Decoteau Park (10204 105 St. NW)

What’s a Community League?
Community Leagues are unique to Edmonton. They’re inclusive, grass- roots, community-based organizations found in each of this city’s 150-plus neighbourhoods. They facilitate healthy, safe, informed and connected communities by promoting participation in recreation, social activities and civic advocacy at the sidewalk level. They’re volunteer-run and promote volunteerism because getting involved is a great way to learn more about your neighbourhood and city. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to learn valuable professional skills, meet your neighbours and have fun. Join the movement today!

Downtown Edmonton Community League
10042 103 Avenue Edmonton, AB, T5J 0X2
Facebook: DECLorg
Twitter: @DECLorg
Instagram: @declorg

DECL board of directors: Chris Buyze (President), Laurissa Kalinowsky (VP), Glenn Rowbottom (Treasurer), Rainer Kocsis (Secretary), Jason Gold, Christie Lutsiak, Michelle McGuiness, Fardoussa Omar, Cheryl Probert, Tim Schneider, Cameron Smithers, Bronte Valk, Xiaosu Zeng

Go Fourth and Prosper

With the loss of City Market, 104 Street looks at what to do next

People may still picture 104 Street in downtown Edmonton as a street teeming with Saturday farmers’ market shoppers weaving between white-capped stalls holding samples of fresh baking in their hand. But all of that will change this year.

In March, the downtown community learned its weekly (in summer) City Market was disappearing, at least on 104 Street, at least for now. The Market needed a slightly larger year-round home and found one in the historic GWG (Great Western Garment) building, at 97 Street and 103A Avenue, where it will now open Saturday and Sunday every week, rain, sun, or snow.

But while some have worried aloud with concerns about what the future holds for downtown’s most important high street and its businesses, many on the actual street remain sanguine.

“We were doing Jim Dandy before the market came,” said Ed Fong, co-owner of deVine Wines and Spirits on 104 Street.

Fong agrees that the City Market, which moved to 104 Street in 2004, gave some of his neighbours a boost, like coffee retailer Credo. But for his business and others, “it was at best revenue neutral,” he said. “We lose the people that park in front of the store and buy three cases of wine because they think there’s no parking.”

Still, some with a stake in the future of 104 Street see the street as a venue. For them, the City Market’s move requires thinking to create new opportunity.

The 104 Street Action Committee met the first week of May to lay out the options for future programming. As The Yards went to press, the group was floating ideas of a smaller market, a night market, performing arts, a series of mini al fresco events, more car shows or block parties. The Downtown Business Association was also in talks with the organizers of 124 Grand Market, who have been keen to gain a foothold downtown.

Whether this planning means the street will continue to close to vehicular traffic remains to be seen until a proposal is submitted to the City, Fong said, adding there’s “no rush” to close a deal.

Ian O’Donnell, executive director of the DBA, sees the City Market move to The Quarters as a win-win for 104.

“Let’s create something new on 104th that’s going to be great and bring in a new crowd,” he said. “But let’s support the decision [City Market made] and ensure we have a great downtown, year-round farmers’ market that’s open two days a week now.”

O’Donnell believes the City Market’s new building is a positive as well, but will take some leg work to rebuild their brand in their new home.

Plans are already coming together for complementary programming nearby, in Churchill Square, where arts groups—including the Art Gallery of Alberta, Citadel, and Winspear—are looking to expand their presence.

“The question is really, how do you replicate some of that more urban experience along 103A Avenue when there’s not much east of that at the moment?”

Ian O’Donnell

Beyond the aesthetic of the 118-year-old GWG building, City Market spokesman Dan Young said the move will take time to catch on, but said there’s opportunity in the area.

He believes development similar to what 104 Street saw during the market’s tenure there could now be in store for The Quarters. The idea isn’t to replicate that, he said, but to build a new atmosphere in a less developed part of downtown.

The market running two days a week is going to make it happen all the faster, he added.

Fong said the City Market move was all for the best — construction was starting to limit the street’s capacity for the market and retailers alike.

“Their ability to stay on this street, the time was up,” he said.

A Big Green Win

This last year has been significantly different than before for the residents of the Warehouse area and those who live particularly along 104 Street. Alex Decoteau Park has made a big impact on the lives of residents of the area as a gathering place. Since its inception and continued updates, the award-winning Capital City Downtown Plan has contemplated more green space and parks. Many of the city’s own documents over the years have
acknowledged a lack of green space for residents Downtown. Sure the river valley is nice, but it’s not right outside our door.

This past fall, city council approved funding for design and development of a large ‘District’ park in our Warehouse area. Just this past January, council affirmed this decision to move forward with acquiring the final sites needed for this park, north of Jasper Avenue, from 106 Street to just beyond 107 Street. At over 1.4 hectares, this park is already proving to be a huge catalyst for further residential development in the area, with several towers proposed. Much of this will cover the undesirable surface lots that have plagued much of the Warehouse area for decades.

The importance of this park, and other future parks in the Downtown can not be overstated. They directly contribute to the health and wellbeing of residents, providing respite, a chance to socialize with neighbours, and a way to ensure Downtown is an attractive and desirable place for people to live, visit and do business.

At the public hearing this spring, which required city council to approve an
expropriation of the final site to realize the vision of this large recreational park, I was impressed by the consensus around the room from administration, planners, residents, business and developers alike, about the need for this new green space. It re-affirms for me the priorities our board has advocated for over the last 10 years. Those are that more parks and recreational infrastructure Downtown is important to a lot of folks.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store for this large green space. We hope to see you participate in consultations regarding its design, (hopefully) later in 2019.

Chris Buyze

Designing Density

Maybe you grew up playing with Lego. Or maybe you enjoyed – or more likely became frustrated with – designing cities using SimCity. Both teach us that good building requires good planning.

This fall, Edmonton City Council approved two significant tower developments—one in Oliver and one Downtown. In Oliver, council approved a 23-storey tower on two lots where single detached homes currently sit. And in Downtown, council approved a surface parking lot to be rezoned from allowing a density ratio (called the floor to area ratio, or FAR) of 8-10 to 17. The decision nearly doubled the allowed size of the two proposed towers.

The Oliver Community League and Downtown Edmonton Community League recently told council we’re concerned about its trend of approving tower developments with increased densities, and without consideration for market demand, the effect on surrounding land prices and the diversity of built form.

Why do our community leagues take issue now, after years of being generally supportive of tower developments? Because the applications being proposed are much denser than before and this has a real and lasting effect on the overall real estate market. We feel our communities are reaching a point where we need better city planning in order to build a healthy city.

Many of the rezoning applications being proposed are between 50 to 100 per cent denser than what currently exists. These proposals require more thought and reflection as a city on the effects on the neighbourhood and other redevelopments across Edmonton. Many projects are at stake when we don’t question excessive density bonusing at specific sites.

Land development in Edmonton is significantly regulated. It’s regulated by the city administration, through City Council, through development officers and through the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board. You can build what you want on your land as long as it adheres to the rules – called zoning. The city provides a suite of standard zoning. If you want to build something that doesn’t fit in one of those zones, however, you have the option to write your own – a ‘direct control’ zone.

In the last decade, most rezonings in Oliver and Downtown have been direct control. These direct control zones have often allowed developers to build far more height and more density than previously allowed. In some cases, the resulting towers don’t adhere to Edmonton’s own rules and guidelines, let alone good urban-planning and design principles.

For example: Council approved a direct-control zone for a development at Jasper Avenue and 114 Street. The zoning allows for a 45-storey tower with 273 units and a floor to area ratio of 12.4. The increase in density is vastly different than the single-storey commercial buildings in the area, and enables the developer to sell many more units from this parcel of land. And yet, the developer successfully argued they were not able to provide three-bedroom units to the community to house families or an underground parkade.

Theoretically, each zoning application must stand on its own. City Council is not required to make decisions based on precedence or past decisions. This leads to the belief that their decisions do not affect the land development market. But they do.

Allowing a developer to develop a tower with more density than neighbouring properties through a direct-control zone sets cascading reactions in motion. Land prices climb as landowners presume development opportunities are ever increasing with each approved upzoning. Land prices may not be a significant hurdle for a large tower development, but they can make developments in the “missing middle” form – row-homes, townhouses, low-rises and courtyard apartments – near impossible or overly expensive.

A community league must advocate not only for its current residents but also future residents. What will the next generation of Downtown and Oliver experience living in the core? What are the cumulative effects of haphazard approvals that don’t consider allocation of public amenities, like green space and recreation? That don’t examine impacts to sunlight penetration and wind tunneling? That don’t respect market forces on affordability and land speculation?

In Oliver, single-storey development and surface parking lots dominate Jasper and 104 avenues. Meanwhile, Downtown has surface parking lots covering almost entire blocks. While densification of our city is crucial, our two communities have many plots of land available for development. If this land is underutilized it makes our home less enjoyable, healthy and safe.

Planning our neighbourhoods properly requires understanding how many people we want to accommodate, and creating a framework to ensure a diversity of housing can be provided. Downtown has the award-winning Capital City Downtown Plan, which is due for renewal in a few years. But Oliver hasn’t seen an update to the Area Redevelopment Plan since 1995, well before the closure of the City Centre Airport that restricted building heights.

The City of Edmonton is currently renewing our Municipal Development Plan – “the City Plan” – and will look to shape our city to sustainably accommodate two million people. It’s likely that the populations of Downtown and Oliver will more than double within the coming generation. It’s going to take a lot of effort – and planning – to make sure we create vibrant urban communities. We need diverse and affordable housing choices, access to active and public transportation, and access to amenities like parks, libraries, local coffee shops and grocery stores.

DECL Winter Events

December 13, 7-10pm | Annual Holiday Mixer

Come celebrate the season with your Downtown neighbours, partners and supporters! Light refreshments and beverages will be served, cash bar available. 10042 103 Street


Every Friday, 10 -11:30am | Urban Kids Playgroup

Our playgroup meets weekly for parents and tots up to 5. Coffee and snacks provided! 10042 103 Street


January 17, February 21 | DECL Socials

Meet your neighbours! Times and locations TBA Check on our Facebook page or the monthly DECL newsletter for more details as dates draw near!

Downtown’s Future Is (Still) Residential

Our fall issue delves into the history of community leagues. But if we look ahead into the future of our own league and downtown community, it’s clear there will simply be far more residents living here.

DECL is responding to an unprecedented number of new development applications. Many of these proposals are developments that will house hundreds, if not thousands of new residents. Many boosters talk about “20,000 in 2020,” and if these new proposals go ahead, we will be a little behind but not far off from those numbers. Urban planning experts say these are the sort of population numbers necessary for downtown to be sustainable, to encourage walkable retail and to retain offices and workers.

The first significant push for new residential housing downtown was in the form of the new Capital City Downtown Plan, in 1997. An update to that plan, in 2010, saw a confirmation that a significant future for our downtown was having people live here. Since that first plan, we saw an approximate doubling of our population, from 6300 in 1997 to about 13,000 people today. Downtown Edmonton has been one of the fastest growing neighbourhoods during that time.

Much of proposed development for the future comes from a new confidence in downtown due to recent investment, both public and private. New residential towers combined with public money flowing into parks and streetscaping are spurring results. The most significant ‘catalyst’ project downtown, Rogers Place, is now being augmented by western Canada’s tallest towers. Alex Decoteau Park has given residents a place to meet neighbours and be proud of the place we call home.

Some of the new proposed residential towers are pushing westward, into the warehouse area west of 104 Street. These proposals are a direct result of the proposed ‘Central Park’ planned for 106 Street to 107 Street, on vacant land between Jasper Avenue and 102 Avenue, an area at least four times larger than Alex Decoteau Park, which would serve the recreational needs of much of our neighbourhood.

The city is actively working with landowners in the area to purchase land, and developers are hedging their bets that this new catalyst will bring new opportunities and life into what is currently mostly gravel parking lots.

But this revitalization could stall. It will require Edmonton City Council to continue to invest in our downtown, particularly to make the development of this park and other important catalyst projects like streetscaping a priority in the upcoming fall budget. Continued momentum in both public and private investment downtown requires us all to work together and come to consensus on the type of community we want to see.

If you want to learn more about how our downtown is changing, what’s proposed, and share what you’d like to see develop, our development committee we would love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at

Chris Buyze

President, Downtown Edmonton Community League

DECL Fall Events

CornFest 2018 | September 15, 11 – 3pm

Join us again this year at Alex Decoteau Park for free corn-on-the-cob, kids activities, community-garden tours and more!


Urban Kids Playgroup | Fridays starting September 21, 10 – 11:30am

Our playgroup meets weekly for parents and tots up to 5. Coffee and snacks provided!


Sunday Yoga | September 9 to October 28, 11am

Register at Free for DECL members, $10 for others.



Meet other DECL members, meet your neighbours!

September 20Pub crawl | locations to be determined, stay tuned!

October 19, 6 – 9pm | All ages board games night | DECL HQ.

November 15 Pool night | All abilities welcome, Metro Billiards, 10250 106 Street. Details TBD


As of September 1, DECL Memberships are FREE. Yes, FREE! Join once and that’s it! Sign up at one of our events or visit us at the City Market on 104 Street on September 22 for more info.