Green Light for Winter Green Shacks

green-shack-1

You’ve seen them: the green sheds that mysteriously appear in nearly every community park across Edmonton each June—bringing kids crafts, sports and good cheer—only to disappear in September. If only these “Green Shacks,” a collaboration between the City of Edmonton and the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (EFCL), operated year-round. Well, that could soon be the case.

Thanks to a 2015 pilot project they’ve extended the free recreational programming of eight shacks, including Oliver’s, well into the winter months. According to Cara Rose, a municipal recreation programs manager, the winter activities come as a part of Edmonton’s long-term vision to animate local community playgrounds year-round, and encourage children to appreciate the outdoors even in the colder months. That’s why you may have noticed kids frolicking at Oliver Park during 2016’s first snowfall.

City officials who coordinate the Green Shacks Program—which boasts about 275,000 visits a year—worked with leagues to determine the best places for winter programming. They considered factors like the child population of each area, past attendance and how much access to recreational programming each neighbourhood had already. “The City works very hard to ensure we are meeting the needs in a neighbourhood and providing varied and accessible recreational opportunities for families,” explains Sheila Muxlow, a community relations coordinator with the City.

In addition to regular programming, such as free-for-all dodgeball, painting and hide-and-seek, Green Shack coordinators had the chance this year to focus on winter-based activities like tobogganing, outdoor cooking and educational games. The fun took place during those chilly, darkening afternoons, but focused on light. For instance, kids had an opportunity to enjoy stargazing and then learn about diferent constellations around a warm fire. As Oliver Green Shack coordinator Ezra Comeau puts it, “Good programming can’t be restrained by weather. Children will always find a way to play in any conditions, and this winter programming gives children a perfect outlet for activity during our longest season of the year.”

The City is currently in the second year of its three-year budget programming, ending in early 2018. Oliver’s Green Shack can be found in Oliver Park (118 St. and 103 Ave.) from June till August, then again through October and November. For hours and activities, or to find another Green Shack near you go to efcl.org/2016-green-shacks.

Renovating Jasper Avenue, Oliver’s Living Room

Courtesy of Kurt Bauschardt/Flickr

Courtesy of Kurt Bauschardt/Flickr

It’s been a year since the City’s open house invited us to help dramatically makeover the west side of Jasper Ave. Another round of public engagement is in the works before the 18-month planning process, branded as Imagine Jasper Avenue, concludes with a finalized concept plan, tentatively in February 2017. Once approved, construction will take some years to start, says Edmonton chief planner Peter Ohm.

The project’s true purpose is to reconstruct Jasper’s road base, but under immense pressure from Oliver residents, council asked the transportation department to rebuild it as a “complete street”—one that will not exist entirely for the benefit of motorists, but also for pedestrians, cyclists and residents as a whole.

The project’s $19 million budget is approved, but it’ll only cover the roadway replacement. Streetscape work will require additional funding from the next capital budget once the concept plan is complete.

“Jasper Ave. is Oliver’s living room,” says Ohm. In the City’s most recent survey residents have made their top priorities clear: more sidewalk cafes and patios, street trees and landscaping, broader sidewalks for better movement and mingling, and more support of nighttime activities with better lighting.

“Certainly the question has to be asked, Where do we get the room for that if not from the traffic lanes?” says Ohm. “The answers will be coming.” In other words, they don’t know yet. But he acknowledges that sacrifices to car commuters will have to be made to find the right balance for the project as a whole.

TOP ANSWERS FROM A CITY SURVEY

What do people like most about Jasper Ave.?
1. Connects the community
2. Represents Edmonton’s history
3. Close to the River Valley

What do people dislike about Jasper Ave.?
1. Not visually appealing
2. Sidewalks too narrow
3. Doesn’t connect well to destinations off the avenue

Will the Emerald Tower Be Oliver’s Crown Jewel or Royal Pain?

emerald

One floor of street-level retail, three of parking and 41 of condominiums. Stack them in that order and you’ve got the Emerald Tower, coming soon to Jasper Ave. Without the invisible ceiling once imposed by the City Centre Airport, such grand buildings like the Emerald could become the norm in Oliver. So what could this evolution in our skyline mean?

“We’re going to see housing take different kinds of forms, shapes and sizes,” says Kalen Anderson. The City’s director of planning coordination says towers like the Emerald and 2015’s the Pearl, which share a developer, are a natural part of any Canadian city’s growth. “We have to stretch ourselves to think differently about urban living,” says Anderson, citing the influx of residents, new commercial space and neighbourhood vibrancy as reasons to grow to such great heights. “It’s up to us to see what we can achieve with these tall buildings.”

Not everyone is pleased about the project in its current state. Dustin Martin, the OCL’s civics director, wished the project were altered before it was brought before city council—and approved—in June. “From the urban design perspective, it’s better to have more eyes on the street, more active uses, more vibrancy,” says Martin. And while that’s achieved by street-level retail, he explains, the same goal is hindered by the podium’s three stories of coloured glass with little inside them but empty cars and storage. This model drives down the price of each condominium unit (a win for proponents of affordable housing) but does nothing for Jasper’s safety or image, he says.

But from the perspective of Regency Developments, below-grade parking would add about $50,000 to each residential sale, thus pricing out a lot of homebuyers. The Pearl, which has underground parking, hardly broke even, developer Raj Dhunna told the Edmonton Journal.

Martin is also concerned about its enormous shadow. “We don’t want to see a wall of towers shadowing our public parks.” That impact could be somewhat mitigated by a $200,000 donation to the OCL by Regency.

“That’s not something that we asked for; it’s something that they offered,” Martin says of the cash, which could go toward beautifying parks, upgrading playground equipment or a new community hall.

According to Anderson, donations to affected communities are a normal means for communities to redeploy resources and mitigate the upheaval caused by large-scale projects. But the OCL would rather have seen their concerns addressed more concretely. “I like to think that city council takes the input of communities seriously,” says Martin, “but in this scenario it didn’t seem to go that way.”

The Future LRT is Nostalgic

102 Street Stop

(Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected for errors. See footnote.)

Breathe easy: Downtown’s treasured summer festivals, such as Taste of Edmonton and Cariwest, won’t be displaced from Churchill Square by Valley Line LRT construction until next year, when major construction on the line begins in the core.

After the Mill Woods-Downtown line is finally completed, in 2020, expect to feel a touch of nostalgia. Rather than the underground stations Downtowners have grown accustomed to, the new line will operate at-grade, alongside traffic with platform access from the sidewalks, like an old-fashioned streetcar.

But don’t expect a quaint and boxy car with a uniformed conductor ringing his bell, either. The new line’s primary contractor, Bombardier, which has developed similar light rail systems throughout Europe, promises spacious trains with low floors, sleek bodies and easy access. This change, simple to many, radical to others, isn’t just less costly—it helps animate the streets with people coming and going.

The line will run alongside a single eastbound lane of 102 Ave. traffic and newly developed bike lanes, with stops (not stations) at Churchill Square and 102 St.

But until then, it’s business as usual in Churchill Square this summer: food trucks, festivals, basketball games and relaxing in the sun, free of noisy construction.

(Corrections: An earlier version of this story stated that major construction around Churchill square was to begin in 2016, not 2017; that the line wouldn’t break ground until 2018, when in fact it broke ground in April 2016; and that construction was delayed. The Yards sincerely regrets the errors.)

The 102 Ave. Bike Lane’s Long Journey

A downtown Vancouver bike lane (Paul Krueger/Flickr)

A downtown Vancouver bike lane (Paul Krueger/Flickr)

Edmontonians have been asking for a bike-friendly core since the ’80s. This summer brings dream closer to reality.

Expect to see construction start on the Glenora section of the 102 Ave. Bike Lane, which stretches from 136 St. to Connaught Dr. It will become a “shared-use path” (a widened sidewalk with one lane for cyclists and one for pedestrians). Disruption to vehicular and foot traffic will be minimal and during off-peak hours.

The Oliver section, from Connaught Dr. to 111 St., will see the lane transition into a cycle track on the north side (a two-way painted road that’s separated from both cars and pedestrians) that continues through the “City Centre” portion of Downtown from 107 St. to 96 St.

Construction on the Oliver section begins in 2017; the City Centre track is to be completed alongside the new Valley Line LRT, which is at least four years away.

A completed bike network in 2022? That’s longer than many are hoping to wait. “Oliver has one of the highest percentages of bicycle commuters in the city,” says Dustin Martin, civics director for the OCL, which has advocated for it for years.

He would like to see delays remedied with temporary solutions such as plastic bollards or moveable concrete barriers. “[They] can be constructed quickly and cheaply and this has been done in cities across North America including Calgary.”

Go to Edmonton.ca/cycling for further updates.

The Renter’s Revival

A vision of J22, one of several forthcoming rental apartments, atop Planet Organic's new home. (Image: DIOLG)

A vision of J22, one of several forthcoming rental apartments, atop Planet Organic’s new home. (Image: DIALOG)

Apartment-hunting in Downtown used to feel like job-hunting. You had to pound the pavement, make repeat calls and offer up references
 to make the cut. Over the last decade, a large influx of migrants has driven vacancy rates down and rental fees way up, so with limited options rental costs across Edmonton have nearly doubled since 2005, to $1,259 for
 a two-bedroom. But the tables are finally turning in the renter’s favour.

In the last year, vacancy rates have risen from 1.7 per cent to 4.2 per cent and landlords are now offering all kinds of incentives to anyone willing to sign a one-year lease, including a free month’s rent. Developers have finally responded with new apartment buildings. Not only has this freshened up the outmoded existing stock, predominantly built in the 1960s and ’70s, but according to City of Edmonton chief economist John Rose, it’s resulting in a soft decline of rental fees.

“We are near record levels,” he says, pointing to the most recent Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation rental market report showing that more than 2,500 city-wide apartment units were under construction last year—double 2014’s already promising construction numbers. Many of these new residences are in the core: Mayfair Village North on 109 St., the Hendrix tower and row-houses in Oliver or the 10 storeys atop Planet Organic’s new home. Even more are proposed around MacEwan and the Ice District. “The important thing here is that a lot of it is dedicated rental. They tend to be less expensive than [repurposed rental] condos,” he notes. “Dedicated rental is a factor in preserving affordable housing.”

The waning economy is also a
 help to renters; new workers tend to ease into cities through rentals first before homeownership, but with job growth slowing in Edmonton, so too is demand. This slope might give some apartment developers cold feet, says Jandip Deol, Colliers International Canada’s associate vice-president
of multifamily. Towers that up until now were likely to open as apartments may, in the end, revert to condos. As well, buildings built in the last decade have the most vacancies, according to the CMHC. Unsurprisingly, they’re also about $450 more per month.

But Deol thinks the Downtown apartment market will grow because of its burgeoning amenities and appeal to young professionals willing to pay more for something they’ll never own—so long as the finishes are good as new. “A lot of people my age understand the value of renting—cash flow is king,” says the 31-year-old. “Living Downtown and walking to work, to the corner store for groceries, is appealing. But you can still get up and leave if you’re sick of the place, as opposed to being forced to hold onto your place because it’s not feasible to sell today.”

Spreading the Peace

Photo 2016-01-06, 6 09 33 AM (2)

As black dirt peeps through melting ice and dormant branches stretch upwards toward
 the sun, gardeners are beginning to envision what their flowerbeds and vegetable patches might look like come summer. But not all of those gardeners will get to make their vision a reality, as the limited garden space in Oliver’s Peace Garden Park can only provide plots to 87 residents.

But what is spring without hope? Motivated by the success of Peace Garden Park, Oliver’s most popular community green-space, the OCL’s garden director Justin Keats and other members of the league are
 on the lookout for a second garden location in the neighbourhood’s Grandin area. “The ideal space would be a field or undeveloped lot, bordered with trees, and with a slice of sky that is generally untouched by the shade of highrises,” says Keats. “It’s a chance to naturalize a concrete lot.”

The current waiting time for a plot is two years. Another site, says Keats, “would serve more individuals who otherwise lack the space to garden.”

Cliff Balog, who’s planted in Peace Garden from the start, in 2009, agrees. “Having another garden in the Oliver community will bring people out of their condos and highrises and develop a sense of belonging,” he says. “Even those who don’t have plots already come to talk to gardeners.”

A second garden space won’t come easy: There are the issues of finding
a site, of purchasing the land and of submitting a proposal to the City for redevelopment. “A new space would have to be facilitated by a new group of volunteers who would step forward to lead with the garden’s development,” adds Keats, who’s currently trying to source committed volunteers.

But for Hilda Sucre, all that work is worth the effort of building beautiful neighbourhoods. “When you close your eyes, it’s warm, peaceful, you can hear the birds chirping, smell
the earth’s aroma, near the rose
beds you can smell their fragrance,” says the avid Oliver gardener. “The community really needs more garden spaces, as there is always a waiting list.”

Are you interested in helping start another much-needed garden? Join other community members on April 10 (details above) to see how you can help.

Where’s my nearest community garden?

  • Peace Garden Park (10259 120 St.)
  • Our Urban Eden Garden (9910 Bellamy Hill Rd.)
  • COMING SOON: Alex Decoteau Park (105 St. & 102 Ave.; if you’re interested in joining the garden committee email info@decl.org)

All Aboard!

all aboard1

The grand opening of the new and improved Kitchener Park, on Oct. 4, included a neighbourly potluck and jubilant kids crawling all over the park’s new steam-engine themed jungle-gym. While the installation of the core’s coolest playground took five months, the redevelopment involved 12 years of hard work on the OCL’s part.

“People think that because we’re in the heart of the city, you’re going to have a transient community. But the OCL continues to prove that wrong,” said MLA David Shepherd, who, along with Coun. Scott McKeen, arrived to support the community’s long-standing dedication to the park.

The Park was established by community groups in 1923. The OCL later planted today’s mature trees.

In 2003, public consultation and a needs assessment inspired the OCL to raise $500,000 for major upgrades—including the railway mural, heat-beating spray park and, finally, new playground.

In addition to private donations, funders include the Province of Alberta’s Community Facility Enhancement and Community Spirit Grant funds, as well as the City of Edmonton’s Neighbourhood Parks Development Program. Check it out at 11411 103 Ave. And don’t miss the community socials, with hot chocolate and toasty fires, every other Sunday.

Urban Eden Garden Future Facelift

urban eden garden

Renovations are coming to Downtown’s Urban Eden Garden, located at 99 Ave. and Bellamy Hill, thanks a $10,000 award from Toyota’s “Tundra Tough” competition for revitalizing green-spaces.

Garden coordinator Tyler Dickerson says the winnings will help replace the 28 rotted beds and rebuild the feature flower plot into a multi-tiered perennial garden, thereby sweetening the ways in which Urban Eden brings people together who would otherwise remain strangers.

Dickerson hopes to begin renovations in the spring.

Decoding the 104th Ave. Area Redevelopment Plan

104 Ave, web

Armed with public feedback, the City of Edmonton is reimagining 104 Ave. as a great street closer in look and feel as Jasper Ave. We all know a good street when we see one, but we’re not always able to find the worlds to explain what sets it apart. These are some technical terms you might hear to describe the future of 104 Ave., and other building projects around town.

1. Active Frontage (or “active edge”)

When a building’s ground floor has windows and doors facing the sidewalk. Passersby can window shop, and customers, staff and office workers can see outside. It all adds up to streets that feel less isolated and more interesting.

2. Street-oriented
Buildings that are flush with sidewalks, without parking, lawns or fences in front. These buildings help define the street, making it more comfortable for pedestrians and ensuring that cars and parking stalls in front of it aren’t the most prominent feature.

3. Front setback
The distance between a building and the sidewalk. In commercial areas, minimum front setbacks of 3 to 4.5 metres are usually required in Edmonton’s zoning bylaw, but they can be reduced to zero along street-oriented shopping streets. Many buildings along 104 Ave. today, like Longstreet Plaza (think: Red Robin west to Edo Japan) have large setbacks with parking out front.

4. Mixed-use
A combination of activities in a single building or area. For example, a building that has a café (commercial use) on the ground floor and apartments (residential use) above. Mixed-use can also describe an area where separate stores, offices and residences are closely mingled together and easy to walk around (like 124 st.). A mix of uses encourages people to be present at different times of the day.