Spring Forward With 4 Events For Self-improvement

Mar. 25:
Spring is ripe with new beginnings, but if you need help starting a new career—start here, at the library’ s free 90-minute drop-ins teaching you how to create strong resumes and upgrade your skills with e-Learning courses. (Stanley Milner Library, 7 Churchill Sq.) 


Apr. 13: The monthly Make Something Mondays series invites professionals to navigate the digital landscape and learn from tech-savvy pros about how to make your mark online without breaking the bank. (Startup Edmonton, 10363 104 St.)


Apr. 13, May 11: Every second Monday of the month, early risers come to this free event to learn what Edmontonians are making. Come to connect, leave inspired.  (Startup edmonton, 10363 104 st.)


Photo: Habitat for Humanity Edmonton

Photo: Habitat for Humanity Edmonton


MAY 26–30: Women Build Week Habitat for Humanity is recruiting more women to strap on hard-hats and get building. These two four-day workshops will train and equip you for every possible task expected as you, in turn, help hard-working families build a future. (City Hall)

3 Downtown Events to Whet Your Spring Appetite


Photo by Mack Male/Flickr



Mar. 13–22: Foodies unite! Edmonton Downtown Business Association’ s annual event showcases some of the city’ s best eateries. Restaurants in the core aim to impress and deliver, showcasing special dishes in multi-course meals for $15, $28 and $48 at various restaurants.


Mar. 19, APR. 2, MAY 7: There’ s lunch at Edmonton Seniors Centre for every special occasion— even St. Paddy’ s. The Irish celebration is followed with lunches for Easter and Mother’ s day, too. All are welcome. (Edmonton Seniors Centre, 11111 Jasper Ave.)


Apr. 1: Chef and educator Gail Hall invites you into her home for a fresh spring meal with locally sourced ingredients. The express class shows you can make delicious dishes with just what’ s in season. Registration required.  (Cobogo Lofts, 10249 104 St.)

8 Places To Improve Your Connections This Spring


Ted Bishop, author, presenter at Creative Mornings


Mar. 20, Apr. 17, May 15: On every third Friday of the month, 99 cities explore one theme. In March, Ted Bishop, author of The Social Life of Ink speaks on the theme of (what else?) INK. With stories of his world travels, he’s sure to spark your creative curiosity. The breakfast series is free, but you must register online to attend. (Iconoclast Coffee, 11807B 105 Ave.)


MAR. 21: Back to the future AGA’ s popular late-night party returns with a future-themed dance party to celebrate the opening of Future Station: 2015 Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art, an exhibition inspired by Edmonton’ s hidden LRT station. Tickets are limited (18+).  (AGA, 2 Churchill Sq.) 


APR. 1, MAY. 6: Blog and non-profit group the Local Good brings together environmentally-conscious people who value all things local, sustainable and green. This season’ s themes are Greening Your Closet and YEG Hidden Gems.  (Yellowhead Brewery, 10229 105 St.)


APR. 3, MAY 1: Artists and art-lovers gather on the first Friday of every month for a night of creativity and community-building. Some artists bring work to sell or trade, while others hit the open stage. Free for members of the Boyle Street Community League—or buy a $5 membership at the door. (Boyle Street Plaza, 9538 103A Ave.) boylestreetcl.com


Apr. 13, May 11: Every second Monday of the month, early risers come to this free event to learn what Edmontonians are making. Come to connect, leave inspired.  (Startup edmonton, 10363 104 st.)


Apr. 18: Preview Pride Festival’s 35th anniversary with a night of mixing, mingling, and dancing with the LGBTQ and allied community.  (Yellowhead Brewery, 10229 105 St.)


Apr. 19, May 17: Children, caregivers and Oliver community league members alike love this weekly event. It’s more than a free playgroup and potluck—it’s a multi-generational meet up. Email Mackenzie.Heather@gmail.com for more details.  (4-6pm, Oliver Community League)


May 28: If you want to get closer to Edmonton’s marketing and communications community, or just meet some of the creative class, they’ll all be there at the local chapter of the International Association of Business Communication’s annual awards. Cocktails are followed by dinner and a celebration of the city’s talented communications professionals and graphic designers. (AGA, 2 Churchill Sq.)

4 Spring Shows You Won’t Want to Miss

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 9.47.41 AM


APR. 1: Can’t wait for the bloodbath of Lucia di Lammermoor? Edmonton Opera invites you for drinks, food and a casual conversation on the history, political science and music theory of the Italian tragic opera. (Mercer Tavern, 10363 104 St.)


Apr. 7–11:The fourth annual laugh-fest explores the bold world of long-form improv. With little more than a couple of audience clues, the Rapid Fire Theatre ensemble embodies new characters for 30 to 45-minute stories—without a page of script. (Citadel Theatre, 9828 101A Ave.)


Photo: CBC.ca

Photo: CBC.ca


APR. 9–MAY 23: BC print artist Briar Craig is known to comment on consumer culture and everything else in our peripheries demanding our attention. Using ultraviolet and rich, tactile surfaces, Craig brings language from two or more worlds together to create “accidental poetry” in visual arts. (SNAP Gallery, 10123 121 St.)


Photo: Edmonton Story Slam

Photo: Edmonton Story Slam


APR. 15, MAY 20: Wordsmiths, poets and animated storytellers are invited every third Wednesday of the month to this competitive story-telling night made famous by The Moth Podcast, giving performers all the creative freedom and just five minutes to weave a tale. The winner takes home the cash from the passing of a hat.  (The Mercury Room, 10575 114 St.)

By the Numbers: Red Bull Crashed Ice

Marco Dallago (AUT), Miikka Jouhkinmainen (FIN), Denis Novozhilov (RUS), Tyler Roth (USA) - Action

On March 13 and 14, embrace winter with an ice track, adrenaline buzz and a whole lot of speed at the Ice Cross Downhill World Championships. It’s Edmonton’s first time hosting the extreme sport blending hockey, boardercross and downhill skiing on a track long enough to snake from City Centre to the river valley.

Here’s a look at the numbers behind this free spectator sport. (March 14, City Centre, redbullcrashedice.com)

• 3 WEEKS to build the course

• 38,500 KILOGRAMS of crushed ice used

• 1,000 METRES of spectator boards

• 460 METRES length of track

• 2,500 SQ. METRES of ice

• 60 KM PER HOUR competitor track speed

Stimulating Conversations at Yeg Coffee Week

For centuries cafés and caffeine have inspired transformative ideas, but it’s time to turn our attention to them for seven days. Organizer Sarah Jackson spills the beans on what’s to come at YEG Coffee Week. (March 7 to 15, Various locations)


Why do you think Edmontonians need a coffee festival?

Coffee is a mainstay in many lives, but it also has a unique place in our society. And Edmonton has a passionate coffee culture, but it’s a young coffee culture, a growing coffee culture, and a coffee culture that should be shared and celebrated.

What do cafés contribute to communities?

They’re hubs of connection, bringing people together and acting as a meeting point. Historically they were a hub for politics, religion, art and science. There’s a revival now because being disconnected from others these days is so easy. So cafés are an opportunity for personal bonds—if only for a moment.

What can we expect at coffee week?

It launches with a documentary, A Film About Coffee, followed by a panel discussion on coffee and community. All week-long, cafés like Transcend Mercer will host different events, tastings and latte art workshops, community-building events like live music and knit nights.

How the Bay Building Was Built to Last


53.53° N, 113.52° W | 10230 Jasper Ave.

The “Bay” building, as it’s affectionately known, tells a story just by looking at it. It’s the finest example of moderne architecture in Edmonton, with architectural “clues” that define the period as well as the prominence and power that the Hudson’s Bay Company had in 1939. The streamlined details—curved corner details and horizontal lines—evoke the speed of the Machine Age and reflect austere economic times.

Look at the materials: The base is polished black granite, also known as Cambrian Granite, one of the few Canadian granites quarried, mostly in Ontario, for decades. Tyndall stone, from Manitoba stands above it. Trims around windows and door frames, all original, are of fine stainless steel. Main floor windows were designed for elaborate store displays, attracting pedestrians who animated the street and enjoyed the intriguing merchandise.

The engraved images above each entrance tells the story of how the First Nations people on the Prairies came into contact with the company’s exclusive fur traders, and ultimately transformed the economy into an agrarian focus. The words “Pro, Pelle, Cutem” mean “a skin for a skin.” Edmonton was recovering from the depression when it was constructed.

Few buildings were completed between 1914 and 1950. By contrast, the Winnipeg architectural firm Moody and Moore’s design was extraordinarily refined, and therefore optimistic about the city.

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.

Community By Design: The Citizen’s Role in Urban Planning


Amanda Henry, Oliver Community League membership director and Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues assistant executive director.

Since the first drawings of the Molson Brewery redevelopment were unveiled in early 2013, the Oliver Community League tried to stop it. Not because it didn’t want development on the troubled district. Far from it. But because a pending rezoning of the land would allow more of the same car-oriented power centres like Oliver Square to the east of it. And that, they argued, would undermine the community and City’s plans for a sustainable core.

The OCL initially engaged the developers, Sunlife and First Capital, directly. It held a charrette for residents of Oliver, Westmount, Queen Mary Park and other surrounding neighbourhoods. It organized them to demand a pedestrian and transit-friendly development at City Hall’s hearings. It filed a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy request to retrieve internal City of Edmonton files that revealed dissenting views from planners whose opinions were in line with the league. Finally, the league hired a lawyer and went to court at a cost of almost $24,000, asserting that councillors were misled by one of their top city planners. The judge disagreed.

On Dec. 8, after 21 months of negotiation and debate, the OCL’s fight came to an end. The case was rejected.

Few community leagues would go to these lengths for matters of urban design and, surely, few Edmontonians would join one to get entangled in law. When we think of community leagues it’s usually sports clubs, pancake breakfasts, hockey rinks and Christmas parties that come to mind. “That’s where you get the good vibes,” explains Bev Zubot, planning advisor for the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues, which provides advisory support to all 157 leagues. But she’s noticed a change. “There’s a movement of people expecting to have more control over their immediate environments.”

And community leagues are often the means through which they mobilize. But what is their role in planning matters, and should they have one at all? It calls into question the value of expertise, egalitarianism and fair representation.

At worst, the league itself could serve as a sounding board for a vocal minority opposing anything that threatens the existing state of affairs, perhaps social housing or LRT, or limply serve as a token box for the city to tick on consulting the community.

“We’re not really in the business of blocking things. The fact that you want to build here is great. Welcome to the neighbourhood, but here’s our handbook for how you can be a good neighbour.’” —Amanda Henry

But, at best, a league that busies itself with planning and urbanism issues, while actively recruiting diverse membership, plans for a future most residents want.

It’s easy to think of examples of the former (just picture the last screaming match you witnessed at an open house). In fact, not long ago Oliver’s league opposed high-density infill, like The Pearl tower. “They were trying to preserve and un-preservable reality,” says Amanda Henry, “an Oliver that looks like Aspen Gardens.”

Henry joined the OCL in 2012 during an especially drawn out and infuriating AGM. Her first AGM, in fact. After speaking out against its dysfunction, she excused herself for the washroom but couldn’t get far without other members begging her to volunteer as secretary. Now, not only is she the league’s membership director but she’s become an assistant executive director for the EFCL. All she knew about leagues three years ago was that most had a hall. Now she says, “They offer a really unique opportunity for immediate and tangible community-building. ”

In the case of the Molson Brewery redevelopment (opening late 2015 as the Edmonton Brewery District) engaged residents and, evidentially, some silenced city planners pressed for a walkable mix of stores and residences interacting with the streets and future West LRT Line. “We’re not really in the business of blocking things,” says Henry. “The fact that you want to build here is great. Welcome to the neighbourhood, but here’s our handbook for how you can be a good neighbour.’”


Ian O’Donnell, Downtown Edmonton Community League vice-president and development committee chair

Last year saw other examples of other leagues also attempting a more collaborative than combative approach: Queen Alexandra Community League took to social media with its “Cross-roads” initiative hoping to guide its inevitable neighbourhood renewal project to be more “walkable, bikeable, liveable;” a conglomerate of the Oliver, Westmount, Downtown Edmonton and Glenora leagues organized a pop-up bike lane on 102 Ave. to prove it wouldn’t be the boogeyman some feared; and when Daryl Katz made a major arena announcement at City Hall last year, he was joined by Downtown Edmonton Community League’s vice-president and development committee chair, Ian O’Donnell.

“It was nice to be recognized for the amount of work the community league did to help shape the new design,” says O’Donnell, who works for an architectural firm. He wouldn’t have expected it four years ago when the Katz Group showed DECL its preliminary designs. It was too inward-focused, he says, standing as a monolith rather than integrating with the present urban fabric. “We told them we were a little disappointed,” he says. “At that point, we became even more involved with the city and the Katz Group.”

“There’s been a lot more attention towards urbanism and there’s a lot of interesting people in the city bringing new ideas,” says Erik Backstrom, a senior city planner on transit-oriented development. Like Zubot of the EFCL, he’s witnessed an awakening of urban planning interests within the public sphere. But unlike them, few armchair urbanists have professional civic experience—especially not Backstrom’s nine years of education and 15 years with the City. Still, he welcomes it and finds it invigorating.

Other cities’ versions of community leagues don’t have as many privileges. Toronto, for example, has “ad hoc” neighbourhood associations, says Sandeep Agrawal, inaugural director of the University of Alberta’s planning program. “Here, it’s more organized and recognized.”

Edmonton has a rich history of community organized activism. In 1917, residents of the Crestwood neighbourhood had grown tired of their infrastructure needs being ignored. At a time when municipal power lie more with developers than governments, the neighbours banded and formed Canada’s first community league. By 1921 there were nine. It kept growing.

But somewhere around the mid-20th century, explains Zubot of the EFCL, leagues started diverting from the planning needs of their neighbourhoods and started focusing more on recreational and social initiatives. “[They] got away from the basics.”

Worldwide, but especially in booming Edmonton, a post-modern school of thought shifted control to city hall. There, new neighbourhoods were drawn up and executed with developers based on a modern vision centred around personal vehicles. This method of “urban renewal” meant clearing large swaths of areas for redevelopment, usually resulting in pristine yet sprawling and car-reliant communities. “We all believed this was progress,” says Zubot. “Only after cities lost their human scale, became less ‘liveable,’ was there a backlash.”

BEVZUBOT-YARDSPRING2015 Bev Zubot, Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues planning advisor

The backlash has a word: advocacy planning. Whereas urban renewal was “a top-down approach from those in charge, commissioners or planners, leading the way with no input from the public,” Agrawal says, advocacy planning meant “planners should be able to advocate everybody’s point of view.” It put our community leagues, emboldened by decades of experience, in a powerful position, which the EFCL recognized quickly. In 1977 , then-president Don Eascott challenged City Hall to give leagues more power. “There is a popular trend in the city for citizen participation and citizen involvement,” he wrote in a municipal report, “and it is naive to think the community leagues should exist only for hockey programs.”

Locally, this movement saw the formation of Area Redevelopment Plans in the 1980s. Mature neighbourhoods like Oliver started forming these neighbourhood blueprints with city administration, leagues and any interested parties. These collaborative plans were a tool for leagues to dictate what could be or couldn’t be built in each neighbourhood. But, mostly, it leaned toward the latter, putting public servants in a tight spot, especially as Edmonton climbed out of a recession and development picked up again in the late 1990s. Suddenly ARPs weren’t so easy to honour.

“There was feeling on council like, ‘Why are we doing these ARPs if, when a development proposal comes up, they’re not relevant?’” explains Backstrom. “And it left the community wondering, ‘Well what was the point of all this work we put into it for the past two years, if council is just going to ignore it?” After a reorganization of the planning branch, the ARP department was effectively shut down. Today, they exist more for corridors than communities, such as that for 104 Ave., and are amendable as ever.

“The advice and recommendations of planners are frequently overridden by neighbourhood residents who know very little about the range of topics that underline the profession, but feel they know better because they have lived in a community for so many years.” —Michael Geller, architect (Vancouver Courier)

Henry believes that neighbourhood ARPs were ineffective tools, often abused to maintain status quo. “It would be reckless to try to constrain the natural progression of development as an LRT goes through it.” She much prefers that her league be agile, educated and active conduits between developers and planners.

O’Donnell of DECL echoes this. “We want to have a win-win, and not be adversarial in how we approach it,” he says. “It’s not about how much or little input people have, but the quality of input, review and feedback that is provided.”

Whether you’re interested in urbanism, crime-prevention or just grilling smokies—now’s the perfect time to get involved.
Oliver Community League AGM: Apr. 29 at 7pm, OCL Hall (10326 118 St.)
Downtown Edmonton Community League AGM: May 12 at 7 pm, DECL Community Space (10042 103 St.)

To that end, DECL and OCL allow for some interested members to attend the City of Edmonton’s Planning Academy, one and two-day courses for the public to brush up on issues like urban design and land use. Others educate themselves online or by travelling.

But without education, decentralized planning can be detrimental. In a provocative Vancouver Courier op-ed last year titled “Is it time to say goodbye to the experts?” architect Michael Geller wrote: “…the advice and recommendations of planners are frequently overridden by neighbourhood residents who know very little about the range of topics that underline the profession, but feel they know better because they have lived in a community for so many years.”

Further, it can burn people out, especially in neighbourhoods like Downtown Edmonton and Oliver, home to 13,000 and 20,000 people, respectively, and growing faster than anyone 20 years ago would have imagined. Being an active participant in so many developments at once is tiring and could potentially drive away people from joining leagues for noble neighbourly affairs they’re better known for. “As a volunteer, trying to keep on top of all that can be draining,” says Judy Allan, the City’s revitalization coordinator who helped facilitate 118 Ave.’s renewal plan. “Especially as the city is really booming right now.”

Equally important as large volunteer bases are varied ones, with many roles, goals and active volunteers representing the spectrum of interests. Otherwise, it’s easy for decision-makers to dismiss leagues as lacking representation.

“The community league is the most barrier-free entry to organize citizen action in the city,” says Henry. “It’s dead easy. … And then you go forth and make that thing happen.”

An Inconvenience Truth

This November my mom, Dianne, visited from Ontario, and one day left my 124 St. condo on foot in search of a grocery store.

headshot 2At 72, she skipped the nearby organic premium store for something run of the mill, but from the Jasper Ave. sidewalk she couldn’t see the street’s lone supermarket, since it’s hidden behind an arena-sized parking lot. She did discover Foodland, though.

Back home, Foodland is a grocery chain, but on Jasper and 111 St., it’s a little mom-and-pop shop selling (amongst its countless snacks) milk, produce, pet food and other essentials at extended hours to mainly pedestrians. In other words, it’s a bodega.

And it occurred to me, in light of downtown’s disappearing and struggling grocers, that bodegas are rare around here. Most cities have nicknames for them: Edmontonians might call them “corner stores,” but that doesn’t do their inventories of semi-fresh food and pantry goods justice. In Toronto they’re called fruit markets; in Montreal, depanneurs (or “the dep” to Anglophones); and in New Y ork, bodegas (it means “grocery store” in Spanish). Regardless of its nickname, a bodega can help resolve a food desert while also build street vibrancy by catering to pedestrians.

It’s estimated there’s one for every 1,500 Montrealers and one for every 600 New Yorkers. Compared with many similarly sized cities, the convenience of buying essentials from an independent shop just down the street is rare in Edmonton. The exceptions are 107 Ave., where there isn’t a single grocery chain but a dozen bodegas selling to primarily ethnic patrons. But a walk down Jasper Ave. in Oliver, both the city’s most populated and densely populated neighbourhood, reveals just four bodegas. Within its residential streets, where many of its 19,000 residents live in walkups and lowrises, there are just a handful more.

In their place are dentists and hair salons — businesses that cater to motorists from across the city and, in turn, force residents to drive, rather than walk, to get groceries.

“There’s always people who will drive to those stores—it doesn’t matter if they’re one block away or five blocks away. We have to make sure they have places to park.” —Livia Balone, City of Edmonton

Given that the grocers remaining in Oliver have parking lots the size of a soccer pitch, I wondered, is one contributing factor Edmonton’s parking minimum bylaws? In the past, Oliver Community League was complicit in preventing businesses that cater to foot-based traffic.

Minutes from 2006 and 2009 meetings reveal it opposed new businesses seeking relaxations of parking minimums (it no longer does). The minimums are only relaxed through special request, regardless of whether a business targets pedestrian clientele. Why?

“There’s always people who will drive to those stores—it doesn’t matter if they’re one block away or five blocks away,” says Livia Balone, director of development and zoning services with the City of Edmonton. “We have to make sure they have places to park.”

So it’s no surprise that we turn to power centres like Oliver Square with our shopping lists, what with its vast parking lots. This isn’t unique to the core; neighbourhood retailers struggle across Edmonton, hence the City’s “Corner Store Pilot Program” to revitalize mature neighbourhood shopping sites.

But parking minimums aren’t why bodegas are rare in Oliver, according to former city councillor and Oliver historian Michael Phair. For one, he says, the majority of bodegas outside Alberta thrive because of their ability to sell liquor (however, this doesn’t explain their ubiquity in Toronto). More importantly, though, retail pads were included in the initial Oliver residential towers of the ’60s and ’70s, and envisioned to sell food, but they’re more likely to house offices than bodegas because business is lean. High rent and competing drug store chains and gas stations don’t help. “If you talk to [bodega owners] they’ll tell you it’s been a really tough go.”

Pratap Thapa owns Mini Mart Plus, north of Jasper and 112 St., which sells produce and clothing from his native Nepal. He agrees with Phair. Unlike him, the offices and salons filling the small bays envisioned for food retail have far less overhead. “Here it’s just a fight, a struggle,” he explains, a basket of fresh bananas beside him on the counter. “You have to bring everything into one room. You’re not making money.”

Thapa said his biggest sellers are cigarettes, junk food and produce. He plans to bring in more fruits and vegetables in the future to meet demands.

While it’s nice to know I can whiten my teeth within a short walk, given the shortage of affordable groceries I can only hope Thapa and others are more successful.