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

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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

All Aboard!

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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.