Life is better for families in central Edmonton these days. The city’s bike network has made cycling much safer. The Alberta government brought in a new law ending the practice of adult-only rental buildings. And this summer, we saw the first public playground open in downtown Edmonton at MacKay Avenue School (which closed to students in the 1980s and now operates as a museum.) All of these changes are making the core more attractive for families, although without a working school the Downtown still lags behind Oliver, which hosts two elementary schools.
“In our highrise there are 13 other kids. Playdates are plentiful and coordination is easy”Heather MacKenzie
Heather MacKenzie lives with her two children in a highrise in Oliver. She supported the move to end bans on kids in apartments. She talked to The Yards about the joys and challenges of raising a family in the highest density community in the city. Asked if allowing kids in apartments has made a difference, MacKenzie says there are more children attending Oliver school – and more children walking to school – than ever before. The city’s Green Shack programs in the core are well attended. “We were literally kicking kids out of the core and now that we’re not, there they are. It’s amazing. It’s wonderful.”
MacKenzie says, “In our highrise there are 13 other kids. Playdates are plentiful and coordination is easy – they can just head to see if second floor Leo or eighth floor Leo is home. We are able to host family events together – we have a Halloween Party; carolling at Christmas in the lobby together. A lot of really special things happen when a number of families choose the same lifestyle in a highrise together.” Lots of nearby amenities makes it work for Heather’s family: “Within a 10-minute walk we have skating after work, sledding, skiing, swimming… three playgrounds within a 15-minute walk. The legislature grounds are our front yard and the river Valley is our backyard.”
Heather’s biggest frustration? “Jasper Avenue is a big challenge. It’s clear to my kids that they will never be able to just run off to school the same way another nine-year-old might. They’re frustrated by having to be escorted.” Families living downtown may have a slight advantage over the Oliver kids in this regard – they can use the downtown’s extensive pedway system to avoid traffic dangers. The public library, the museum and the art gallery are all connected via the pedway system, which runs under Jasper Avenue in several places and provides two points of access to the river valley: Canada Place and Telus Plaza. The Downtown Edmonton Community League offers drop-in playgroups on Friday mornings, and the Library has also offers programming. The funicular is also a welcome addition for those with mobility challenges, including families pushing strollers. Mackenzie says the new MacKay Avenue playground is a welcome addition.
Oliver and the Downtown are close enough together that, “any service or amenity that pops downtown has a direct benefit for our kids and vice-versa.”