It’s easy to give up. Just yesterday, as the driver delivered Marc Workman’s groceries at his Oliver apartment, Workman got an unsubtle reminder he’s different.
He’d sent a note in advance, like he usually does, which gave the driver a friendly heads up to avoid an awkward interaction—like offering a pen and Workman not noticing. He never knows how these quotidian interactions will go, and he’s met all kinds of people in Oliver—some judgmental, some clueless, some concerned, some compassionate. Who will it be today?
The driver handed him his groceries. “You do okay for yourself,” he said to Workman, as he turned to leave, before adding: “Considering you’re blind.”
Workman is used to these comments— that’s why giving up can seem appealing. At 37, he’s slender and clean shaven, and smiles frequently below his friendly cheekbones. It’d be easy not to notice he’s blind, unless you met him walking with his cane or with his Labrador Retriever guide dog, Bella. He sits on the Oliver Community League board and chairs its social advocacy committee. He used to work as manager of advocacy for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, a job he moved to Oliver for in 2013, and he joined the board of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians when he was 27. He’s also been involved with Barrier-Free Canada, which advocates for federal disability legislation, and he was part of the push to get Edmonton Transit System buses equipped with automated stop announcements, in 2015. Now he works as a policy analyst with the Alberta government. All that to say: Comments like “You do okay for yourself” don’t surprise Workman anymore, because he’s spent his life thinking about why they occur.
“Common among all minorities is the fact that you have to work harder to be seen as competent,” Workman says. “He was saying, ‘I’m impressed by you only in the sense that I expected less, and you exceeded that.’ I’ve heard it many, many times.”
It’s complicated, though, because Workman is doing okay for himself. In Canada, he says, a blind person living independently is rare, and in many cultures it’s unheard of. Workman, in contrast, lives on his own. He subscribes to a visual-assistant app called Aira, and uses his iPhone’s screen-reader, called VoiceOver, to navigate his smartphone. He has a sister he’s close with who helps him with tasks, like updating his wardrobe. Around 70 per cent of blind people are unemployed, and half live on less than $20,000 a year. Workman is different.
Still, although he has a career, it took more than 100 applications and 22 interviews. “I don’t want to say that I could have gotten every single one of
“These things aren’t inevitable. That’s why we have to change our environment to make them less likely. That’s evidence for why we need to act.”
those jobs,” he says, “but it’s equally ridiculous to say blindness played no role in any of those decisions.” In 2015, he was denied service at a restaurant in Red Deer, which is illegal under Alberta’s Service Dogs Act. (He happened to be with the CNIB’s director of public affairs; they filed a complaint with the Red Deer RCMP and called the Red Deer Advocate.) Even as he lives independently, the world insists on seeing him a certain way.
Workman has a genetic condition called retinitis pigmentosa, or RP, and it progressed quickly. He was five years old when he was diagnosed. He figures he was legally blind by age 10. (“Legally blind” means he had 20/200 vision; he could see at 20 feet what someone with 20/20 could see from 200 feet.) Although he has light perception in his right eye, he has no vision at all in his left.
While blindness has been a part of him almost his entire life, it wasn’t until university that he thought about it philosophically. It started with a course on equality and social justice. “There was nothing about disability in there,” he says, “but it felt familiar.” He Googled “philosophy+blind.” The U.S. National Federation of the Blind (NFB) came up. Before, he’d seen disability as something unfortunate that happens to people. “The NFB talked about how the problem isn’t the inability to see—it’s the attitudes, social situations and environments that make it harder for someone who’s blind.” With a master’s degree in political science already in his quiver, Workman pursued a PhD in philosophy. But soon he learned he’d rather be advocating in the non-academic world. He wanted to see his community change—so he set out to do it.
It’s two and a half blocks from Workman’s apartment to the Grandin LRT station – north a few steps, then along 99 Avenue past Grandin Elementary School, where children almost always shout “Doggy!” at Bella. He recently started a new position with the government, where he’s worked for almost four years, so he can walk to his job now. But the train is still vital for getting anywhere else in the city. He has a few strategies for walking: He remembers if the last number of an address is even, the building will be north of the avenue. The grid setup downtown
“For the visually impaired, the giant parking lots can be dangerous and disorienting”
helps him navigate, just like numbered streets. When he feels he’s about 20 feet from the intersection, he begins listening for cues that tell him when to cross, like which direction traffic is moving in, or the beep of audible signals. Not all intersections have them, of course, so he’ll pay attention to stationary vehicles, too. If this idling vehicle had the opportunity to turn right and didn’t, he thinks, it must be turning left or driving straight through.
But every walk has its obstacles – often the kind with four wheels and an engine. According to the City of Edmonton, a pedestrian’s chances of survival are only 45 per cent if hit by a vehicle moving at 50 kilometres per hour, so he has to be especially vigilant. Quiet vehicles are a problem, too: According to the Guardian, compared to conventional vehicles, quiet-running electric cars are about 40 per cent likelier to hit a pedestrian, and 93 per cent of blind and partially sighted people have had issues with them. Still, Oliver is more accessible than most neighbourhoods in Edmonton, Workman says, but it’s missing things like the yellow tactical strips so prominent in San Francisco, or the prevalence of audio signals at intersections in Vancouver. “I’ve probably had a few close calls, but I wouldn’t necessarily know,” he says, chuckling. “There have been a couple times where I ended up on a totally different corner than I intended to.”
Even the train he’s arriving for can be challenging. In August 2012, a blind woman named Zaidee Jensen, whom Workman went to university with, died after she fell from the ledge of University station. The station’s platform didn’t have the same kind of bumps, which warn people who are visually impaired, as other stations did. The warning strips were upgraded about a year later, but there are still impediments. Edmonton’s LRT has two kinds of trains, and the buttons on each one are located in different spots. And neither of the two train types have doors that open automatically. To decipher which one is approaching, Workman has learned to differentiate them by an almost imperceptible difference in pitch. “I don’t get it 100 per cent of the time,” he says. Workman has inquired about making the doors open automatically but the City rebuffed him. The next step would have
“While much of Oliver is fairly accessible, Oliver Square and the Brewery District are outliers”
been to take the issue to city council, and he knows there would have been resistance. “That’s one I considered fighting more for,” he says, “but I kind of let it go.”
Pick your battles, he learned.
While much of Oliver is fairly accessible, Oliver Square and the Brewery District are outliers. For the visually impaired, the giant parking lots can be dangerous and disorienting. It’s difficult to tell which direction vehicles are moving in, and slower driving makes them hard to hear. Workman avoids these spaces altogether.
This gets to something fundamental about how we build our neighbourhoods. Whether it’s the noiseless electric vehicles or oceanic parking lots, there’s a continuous rivalry between drivers and pedestrians, between making our communities more walkable and encouraging urban activity, or making them more drivable and easier to park in. The issue of accessibility highlights this opposition, because people with disabilities are adversely affected. When build more parking lots, when we favour cars over pedestrians, we should ask: Who benefits, and whose lives are we risking?
Workman, with Bella at his left, heads to his tailor’s. Rather than turning off Jasper Avenue at the stairs, the pair walk to the end of the block and turn around so he can count the steps. A man across the street yells at no one in particular and Workman turns his head. A piece of sidewalk sticks out skyward, threatening to trip someone who’s distracted or, for that matter, visually impaired. Here, by 112 Street, with five lanes of traffic whirling by, it can be disorienting for anyone.
But Jasper is actually easier for Workman to navigate. Downtown cores usually are. The traffic signals are more accessible, and he has a better sense for which direction vehicles are moving in. More than that, though, is how dense the avenue is, and how different that is from areas like Oliver Square and the Brewery District. It’s easier to find stores, which are right along the avenue and unencumbered by parking lots.
“A community that makes it harder for blind people to interact will naturally create blind people who feel more isolated”
Jasper Avenue represents our city in full. The cacophony isn’t a bug but a feature. The density, walkability, abundance of businesses, the fact that 20,000 people residents share the space is what makes our neighbourhood livable. That’s part of why Workman moved here, but it’s also part of what brings thousands of us here from other cities, or from rural and suburban communities. Downtown, we’re connected by what we have in common; what makes it livable for Workman makes it livable for the rest of us, too.
Of course, cities can be lonely, too— and more so for people with disabilities. People who are blind are more than three times as likely to experience depression. A community that makes it harder for blind people to interact will naturally create blind people who feel more isolated. “But these things aren’t inevitable,” Workman says. “That’s why we have to change our environment to make them less likely. That’s evidence for why we need to act.”
It’s difficult to build better communities, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be as simple as automatic doors and tactical strips, or not assuming someone with a disability is less capable. Oliver, the centre of a flourishing, young, multicultural city, is more than just a neighbourhood: It’s a promise to be inclusive and respect each other while living in close quarters. Someone saying “Considering you’re blind” breaks that promise. When Workman advocates for a more accessible neighbourhood, or when he responds to a crass comment, he’s not asking anyone to bend over backwards to accommodate him. He’s reminding us that every citizen, without fail, has a right to these streets, these services, this community, and the dignity that comes with it—and that once we realize we’ve broken that promise, we have two choices. We can give up, but it’s easy to give up. Why not live up to it instead?
DECL Community Space, 10042 103 St. decl.org (all events at the DECL Community Space)
DOWNTOWN DINING WEEK POTLUCK March 12, 6:30pm Celebrate Downtown Dining Week with a community potluck.
INFO SESSION ON SOLAR POWER FOR CONDOS March 23, 2pm-4pm Join us and the Oliver Community League, in partnership with Alberta Green Energy Network, for an information session on condo energy efficiency and solar power for condos.
DECL ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING April 25, 7pm Join the DECL board and your fellow community league members for the 2019 Annual General Meeting. Come down to vote for your new board members and hear what’s in store for the year ahead.
DECL SPRING CLEANUP May 5, 10am Join us for our Annual Spring Clean- Up in conjunction with River Valley Clean-Up. Get some exercise and keep our community clean!
DECL URBAN KIDS PLAYGROUP Every Friday, 10am-11:30am Urban Kids Playgroup for downtown parents and kids 0-5 years of age! Join us for snacks and free coffee.
DECL DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE MEETING Last Thursday of the Month, 7pm Join us in discussion on the latest development proposals and city planning.
SUNDAY DINNER POTLUCK April 14, 6:30pm Let’s eat together! Join your neighbours for the start of a regular Sunday dinner series.
DECL board of directors: Chris Buyze (President), Laurissa Kalinowsky (VP), Chris Wudark (Treasurer), Rainer Kocsis (Secretary), Erin Bayus, Edmond Chui, Jason Gold, Christie Lutsiak, Andrew MacIsaac, Michelle McGuiness, Glenn Rowbottom, Tim Schneider, Xiaosu Zeng
Downtown Edmonton Community League 10042 103 Avenue Edmonton, AB, T5J 0X2 web: decl.org e: firstname.lastname@example.org Facebook.com/declorg Twitter: @DECLorg Instagram: @declorg
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 valua able professional skills, meet your neighbours and have fun. Join the movement today!
OLIVER READS March 4, April 15, May 27 6pm Oliver’s next book club meeting will discuss “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith. Get your free membership to the Edmonton Public Library for a hard copy or e-book version. Club meets to discuss a new book every 6 weeks. Join the club by emailing us at email@example.com MEC community room, 11904 104 Ave
WALKING PUB CRAWL OF OLIVER March 15, April 19, and May 17, 8pm Join your neighbours, meet with new and old friends and explore some local pubs. Locations TBD; please check up on OCL’s Facebook page. 118 St. and 103 Ave, by the playground
OLIVER PARK ENGAGEMENT SESSION March 28, 6pm-8pm Open house to see community member drawings of possibilities of community use of the former St. John’s School Site and Oliver Park. Help choose a winner from the drawings. Grace Lutheran Church 9907 114 St
OCL AND SNAP GALLERY PRESENT: OUR OLIVER March 15, 7:30-10:30pm A drop-in community printmaking event! Inspired by input from Oliver residents, local artist Kiona Ligtvoet has created a piece that you can print and take home. Suggested donation $10. SNAP Printshop, 10123 121 St., Jasper Avenue Entrance
CIVICS COMMITTEE April 8, May 6, June 10, 7pm This highly engaged committee meets on the second Monday of the month (unless otherwise posted) to discuss developments in Oliver. Please enter through the parking lot entrance (grey door). Grace Lutheran Church 9907 114 St
OCL ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING April 24 Review financials, vote in new directors, learn more about OCL and what we’re up to. Mix and mingle with neighbours. Registration starts at 6 pm, program at 7pm, Grace Lutheran Church 9907 114 St
OLIVER BLOCK PARTY May 29, 4-8pm Party at the “new” Grandin Lookout. Everyone welcome! Corner of 114 St and 99 Ave.
DROP-IN BASKETBALL Tuesdays, 7pm Enjoy a pickup game or just shoot some hoops at this regular basketball drop-in open to the Oliver Community. In the gym at Grace Lutheran Church. Grace Lutheran Church 9907 114 St
OCL board of directors: Lisa Brown (President), Luwam Kiflemariam (VP), Erin Wright (Secretary), Robin Paches (Treasurer), Ilya Ushakov, Courtney Rippin Kaufman, Keltie Gower, Justin Keats, Blaine Kovacik, Jade Arnaout, Sanjana Sharma, Mark Workman, Simon Yackulic, Derek MacDonald
Oliver Community League 9907 114 St NW Edmonton, AB T5K 1P7 web: olivercommunity.com e: firstname.lastname@example.org Facebook.com/OliverCommunityLeague Twitter: @OCLYEG Instagram: @oclyeg
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.
I lived in Oliver for more than seven years before I knew we had a pool. It isn’t really advertised. Instead, it’s tucked away in the middle of our neighbourhood. If you were walking by Oliver Park, the pool would be easy to miss.
Even though it’s hidden, Oliver Pool is a gem – especially in a city where we don’t have a beach to flock to on a hot day. When outdoor pools became free over the past two years, Oliver Pool became accessible to so many more.
Oliver has the most residents of any other neighbourhood in Edmonton, more than 18,000. Our population spans all ages, from babies in apartments to seniors in our many seniors residences. It spans abilities, incomes and cultures.
Our community has a potential hub in Oliver Park. We have the pool, unless City Council decides to close it, and the Oliver Community League is working hard to move through the city’s process to replace our hall on our land at Oliver Park. Our arena will not be replaced, which gives us space to develop a small facility to serve the needs of our community. We can preserve the playground, mature trees and green space. Imagine Oliver Park having something for everyone.
You’ll read more about the proposed land swap between Oliver Park and the former St. John’s School site, to allow the construction of a 24-storey tower on Oliver Park, in this issue of The Yards. The Oliver Community League recently voted against this proposal and will advocate for city council to do the same.
Personally, I think it would be a shame to lose Oliver Park, the pool, and the overall potential of a community hub. There are so many other spaces to build towers along 104 Avenue.
My engineering background and passion for sustainable built environments drove me to the Oliver Community League, and I’ve relished the opportunity to shape what’s built here. But what these past five years have shown me is that infrastructure means nothing without a community. We need to invest in our public places, in our recreation spaces, in our complete streets. This is where we connect with our neighbours. And it is these relationships that build our communities.
Carl* stepped on top of the 100,000-barrel tank at the oilsands site in Fort McMurray. It was toward the end of his shift. As the head of a work crew, he went on the tank to check that his grunts were off the site and that he could head home. Carl looked from his perch, nearly 15 metres in the air, and confirmed his guys were gone. Quitting time. He walked to the edge of the tank, where scaffolding was rigged to its edge, and stepped onto it.
*Carl’s full name has not been used to protect his identity
“The next thing you know – I didn’t realize they were taking the north side of the scaffolding apart – it just tumbled,” Carl says. “I came down with it. Four storeys.” Carl’s next memory from that day is being in a helicopter, struggling to breathe. Memory two is coming to in a hospital bed, feeling tubes in his mouth. He tugged at them. Number three is his doctor, who stood at his bedside and told him he was lucky to be alive. Then came the news. “He said, ‘I’m sorry but I have inform you, you’re paralyzed from the waist down,’” Carl says. “That was a shocker.” After his fall, which happened about two years ago, Carl fought to walk again. One day, he says he suddenly felt one of his toes. Later, friends put him on a treadmill, almost willing him to walk. Three months later, he says he walked out of the University of Alberta hospital, shakily, but on his own two feet. But from there, life didn’t much return. He couldn’t walk well or work. The pain from his injuries was overpowering. He was still mourning his wife, who had died a few years earlier. He treated his pain, in part, with a doctor-prescribed supply of hydromorphone, a powerful opioid. But challenges overwhelmed him. Recently, he ended up on the street. And since March 2018, when Boyle Street’s supervised consumption site opened, Carl has been a regular client. At last count, nurses at the site have resuscitated Carl five times.
A man rings a doorbell and staff inside beckon him through the door. When Erica Schoen, director of supervised consumption services at Boyle Street, sees him, she scrambles across the room. “We’ve been worried about you,” Schoen says.
“At last count, nurses at the site have resuscitated Carl five times”
“We didn’t know what was happening. How are you?” says another nurse, on her way over. The man keeps his eyes low. He’s white, wears a black coat and jeans, and a woman is with him. The woman says nothing but keeps looking at the man, as if she’s worried. “I’m okay,” he says, to everyone, not making eye contact. He just needs to use today. And some food. The man has walked into a controversial space. On the right side of the hallway at Boyle Street Community Services is an unlabeled white door without a window. One must ring a doorbell and be beckoned through this door to enter. Like a faberge egg, what you find on the other side is the first of three inner rooms that form one of Edmonton’s four supervised consumption sites.
Here, in room one, nurses ask questions, like: What are ways we can identify you? What are you consuming today? What drugs have you used in the last 12 hours? Have you had any lapses in use recently? Do you need any other supports, like mental health, shelter, first aid? How are you feeling? And also, more warmly, what’s new?
Deaths linked to opioids climbed from 443 in 2015 to 714 in 2017. It took years of these numbers increasing, and outrage from advocates, for this space to exist. In 2018, harm-reduction proponents in Alberta successfully pushed the federal government to allow agencies to apply for an exemption to the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, for one year. Four have been granted this exemption in Edmonton. This means nurses can legally sit beside someone injecting drugs and keep them alive if they overdose. Advocates say the four sites – at Boyle Street, the George Spady Centre, the Royal Alexandra Hospital and, as of November, the Boyle McCauley Health Centre – lead to fewer deaths and fewer needles on the ground.
But critics say much the opposite. They say the sites are increasing needle debris as well as crime. In Calgary, crime statistics show that a site there has, in fact, been linked with a spike in criminal activity in its vicinity. This led the Alberta government, in January, to hastily commit $200,000 toward crime deterrence. Meanwhile, in Edmonton, a national columnist has argued the downtown sites are leading to increased needle debris in his neighbourhood, while the Chinatown Business Association, part of a community that hosts several of the sites, has taken its opposition to the sites to the courts (see sidebar).
Within this push and pull is a larger truth: the sites save lives. Between March 23, 2018 to January 31, 2019, Elliott Tanti, spokesperson for Boyle Street, says visits at the three community sites (the fourth, at the Royal Alex hospital, is run by Alberta Health Services) in Edmonton totalled 34,990. At the Boyle Street site and the Boyle McCauley Health Centre sites, nurses saw 1,257 unique individuals, referred them to other services 13,416 times and, staggeringly, reversed 221 overdoses. Back in the site, and after answering questions in room one, a client is next welcomed into room two: the consumption room. This is the area few people are allowed to see while clients actually use it. Today, I’ve been allowed.
I stand at the cusp, just outside the door, to give the two clients currently inside some privacy. To my right is a cart with metal trays filled with blue and red elastic straps, plastic-wrapped syringes, cotton filters, hand wipes and other tools to work with opioids.
One of the people inside, a lean, white man, wearing steel-toed work boots and a blue coat with reflective tape, works away in one of five booths, which have sharps container and a mirror. He’s grinding pills he’s brought, preparing to inject them. This make a loud “crunchcrunch” sound. To his right, a 20-something white woman is several steps ahead in the process. She releases the elastic around her arm. Moments later, she transitions from chatting with a nearby nurse to resting her head in her arms. The nurse sits on a chair at an arm’s length, checking in to confirm she’s okay. She is.
Schoen, who has stayed back to let me observe, next shows me room three, the monitoring room, where clients are asked to stay for at least 15 minutes after using, so staff can continue keeping tabs. This is an important spot. It’s also here, Schoen says, where referrals are often made. Mental health supports are a big one, as is housing. One client, who staff had helped find housing – which in turn led to the woman reducing the amount of drugs she uses to a trickle – also has an upcoming operation at the hospital for a long-standing injury. One of Schoen’s staff is going to go with her, like a friend would.
It’s this part of the consumption site – the relationships, empathy and knowledge of the healthcare system – that’s lost in the debate about whether they should exist or not. And it’s the part that Schoen says is powerful. “We instill hope for people,” she says. “If you want everyone to go to detox or treatment and for them to make all these changes, and at the same time we’re kicking them while they’re down, how will people have the motivation to do this? Sleeping in the shelters is difficult. Living on the street is extremely difficult. These people are dealing with so much stuff and then, on top of things, we’re going to blame them for trying to treat mental health, emotional and physical pain? I think we could be doing a better job of supporting people with that.”
Consumption sites were never about solving the opioid crisis, Schoen says. Instead, they’re just one of many tools. “There are many other things we could be doing, including decriminalization, providing people safe drugs, giving people alternatives to having to buy poison off the street,” she says.
Outside the focus on the drugs and consumption, these tools lead to shifts, she says. “I do believe someone who has a sense of purpose is less likely to use drugs. If they have something better to do, or they get tired of the chase, it’s not necessarily because they did what we wanted, go to detox and go to treatment. There are people who have gone to treatment 30 times and it hasn’t worked for them. And then there’s people who have been housed and say, ‘Oh Erica, I have my own space now and I don’t feel so hopeless and I’m decorating and now maybe I want to do something else.’”
But fentanyl, the poison Schoen refers to, is a powerful force. When the Boyle Street site first opened, she says it was common to “hit” a person who had overdosed once or twice with naloxone. But recently, they’ve had to hit people with up to eight doses to bring them back, she says. “The overdoses have got worse since we opened.” I ask Schoen why she showed so much concern for the man who appeared at the door earlier. The stigmatization of drug use creates barriers for people like him to get help, even though the underlying issue is mental-health related, she says. “We’ve just been very concerned with his mental health. If we build those relationships, people feel welcome and they keep coming back and they know they can trust us. I’ve seen him in the hallway before, and he’s like ‘Do you have any food?’ and I’m like, ‘Come on in, I’ll try to find you some.’ He knows our faces and trusts us.”
People like him often fall through the cracks, she says, because drugs create barriers to addressing what’s really leading to drug use. “Regardless of what the behaviour is, regardless of what’s happening with them, if they’re walking out into traffic, people think it’s because of the drugs. If they are barefoot in minus 35, it’s because of the drugs.”
It’s an easy scapegoat, she says, and a barrier to making real change.
Carl sits in the office at Boyle Street Community Services. He’s white, in his 60s, wears a beige puffy parka, an orange baseball hat that says ‘Netherlands’ and dark blue jogging pants. He walks deliberately with a walker, and grunts and clenches with pain whenever he sits. His face can look somewhat ragged, intimidating, but that’s only if he doesn’t know you. If he does, and he likes you, Carl shifts dramatically. His eyes can almost smile. If Carl likes you, it’s hard not to like Carl back.
The thing you need to know about Carl is that he used heroin, daily, for nearly 40 years. He’s proud of this record. He suggests it shows how deliberate he has been, how he scrutinized suppliers, injected test shots, lived with deep respect for his drug’s potency despite his strong tolerance for it. This approach, he says, allowed him to maintain a marriage, raise his kids and run a wildly lucrative construction business while also using.
“In all my years, from 1982 to 2017, I never dropped once,” he says. What took Carl down was fentanyl. After falling from the oil tank, fighting through his paralysis, and after fentanyl came to push heroin out of the drug supply in western Canada over the past few years, Carl found himself forced to use it, as an additive to his prescription opioids – which was either not strong enough or something he sold for his pre ferred fix, heroin. His addiction requires he feed his body lots of opioids, daily. If he doesn’t, he says withdrawal can be so powerful it could eventually kill him. And so in recent years, Carl couldn’t find heroin and had to use fentanyl. He did this at the consumption site close to where he spends his time on the streets. “I came here, and you can ask the staff – I think in one day I dropped five times with fentanyl. I wasn’t used to it,” he says. “I can do heroin all day long. They had to give me the oxygen mask, NARCAN. Unbelievable.”
Few things about drugs really scare Carl. What does is a situation he describes as an epidemic, with meth flooding the streets on top of the existing opioid crisis. “Until you realize that and start dealing with the problem, it’s going to be worse and worse,” he says. “It’s already in middle-class suburbia and the schools. I’ve seen people from schools come down and buy from people off the streets here. So it’s here, it’s here to stay, and as far as us having injection sites, it’s important. More crystal meth users are
“Until you realize that and start dealing with the problem it’s going to be worse and worse”
coming in, but in turn that pushes opioid users out. And there lies your dilemma. We have four sites that are here within the city now and all four are to maximum capacity. It has to be enlarged. You’ll start turning people away. And when you turn people away then it engrains in them not to even go near it. And they’ll just go out and use in back alleys and public places and bathrooms.”
But Carl is most concerned with Edmonton itself. He says it’s a place with a drug problem that doesn’t want to look at it very often or work to fix it. Having lived in Vancouver, eastern Canada and spent time with users in different parts of the country, he has some wisdom about the situation. “I say this sincerely,” he says. “I’ve been to a lot of cities, and I’ve never seen it like it is here in Edmonton.”
You can read Mohamed’s nominated story, Finding Lulu, here; you can read Bajer’s nominated story, Family Trees, here.
This year’s nominations continue a long tradition of The Yards being recognized by AMPA for excellence in magazining. Despite our small size and budgets, our hyper-local nature and dedication to community journalism have allowed The Yards to produce a magazine that shines. In 2017, we won several AMPA awards. Last year, we received two nominations for our writing work as well.
We want to thank all our readers, advertisers and supporters, and we wish our two contributors the best of luck.
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.
1. EXPLORE Fall in love at delicious date digs (pg 14), audition to be a regular (pg 14), bring along your kids to a boozy brunch (pg 17), skate underneath magical light (pg 20), or just go stare at a wall (pg 20).
2. KEEP SECRETS Fetch some terrines at this super hushhush hookup (pg 15), descend into a Persian-influenced nook (pg 16), get your pants hemmed by a stitch magician (pg 16), or just go dance on a boat (pg 17).
3. GET MOVING Ride an autobahn built for bikes (pg 20), walk your dog in a pool (pg 20), hover around a hive mind (pg 19), sweat it out on some stairs (pg 19), or just snap a selfie in a great spot (pg 19).
4. FATTEN UP Sip espresso at a great family-biz (pg 16), eat a meal while you meet a senior (pg 15), eat a coddled egg (pg 14), or just go eat and drink for cheap at happy hour (pg 18).
5. STAY UP PAST BEDTIME Sing your heart out at karaoke night at a multiple-award winning gem (pg 17), move past salsa as something for your chips (pg 14), debate between scarfing pizza or shawarma to lull you to sleep (pg 18), or just go listen to loud guitars at a live-music institution (pg 17).
Best Guesses at 2019 Best in the Core Categories: Best in Cannabis, Best Tower over 75 storeys, Best New Dog Park, Best Vape Lounge, Best Grocery Store
Best in Business
Best Date Digs
WINNER: Bar Clementine
Keep your love flame burning bright long after the kitchen closes inside these intimate digs. The cocktail menu is fresh and the curated wine menu has big flavours from small vineyards. Share an assortment of adventurous dishes from the constantly changing food menu and admire the 20th-century French Art Nouveau. You might even be inspired to take a lovers’ getaway to France. 11957 Jasper Avenue barclementine.ca
RUNNER UP: On the Rocks Salsa Night
Suss out your date’s moves with a night of passion … on the OTR dance floor. Thursday night salsa at OTR is an Oliver institution. Chacha-cha. 11740 Jasper Avenue ontherocksedmonton.com
RUNNER UP: Bru Coffee + Beer House
You want coffee. He wants beer. You both want a nice bite as you inspect one another on your IRL date. Get the best here for a buzzworthy meetup. 11965 Jasper Avenue brucoffeeandbeerhouse.com
A Love Recipe by Bar Clementine “The setting was intimate and my partner and I enjoyed a romantic evening, despite our 30-plus years together,” says Lianne McTavish, of a recent date at Bar Clementine. Indeed, McTavish, who lives in Oliver, has a perfect birthday recipe: Take one quick walk to the nearby bar that’s ranked ninth-best in Canada. Add one friendly waiter, who delivers one Simone cocktail with notes of lavender and rhubarb. Stir in several small plates, such as the sourdough-rye pancake with Jambon de Paris, fromage blanc, smoked clover honey, sambal and Swiss chard. Finish with a hearty spoonful of romance. Feeds two.”
Best Place to Be a Regular
WINNER: Bar Bricco
Bricco’s low light and chic atmosphere invite everyone to be a regular. Relax with a glass of wine and marvellous spuntini, or explore a new pairing – the staff are experts on the wine list. Or attempt to try all the salumi and formaggi, which you’ll need to come back several times to experience. The best tip a regular could offer? Get the egg yolk ravioli – which is smothered in burnt butter and a pile of Parmigiano Reggiano – every damn time. 10347 Jasper Avenue barbricco.com
RUNNER UP: District Café & Bakery
A bright open space makes this an ideal spot to work during the week (though make sure your laptop’s fully charged, as there’s a lack of plugins). Stop in often enough and the attentive staff will memorize your coffee order, and you’ll be able to snag the delicious pastries before the other customers. 10011 109 Street districtcafe.ca
RUNNER UP: Tres Carnales
Regulars know to stop in before the lunch and dinner rush so they don’t have to wait long for some authentic Mexican tacos, fresh guac and chips and ambrosial Sangria. 10119 100A Street (AKA Rice Howard Way) trescarnales.com
WINNER: RGE RD
For only three days a month, the Butchery at RGE RD offers freshly prepared terrines, rillettes, sausages and cured meats – along with breads baked in a wood-burning oven – to vigilant and/or lucky customers. You can phone ahead to reserve a large order, but be sure to sign up for their event updates to stay on top of this pop-up paradise of finely crafted breads and meats. 10643 123 Street rgerd.ca
RUNNER UP: Yellowhead Brewery
Take home the fun of that event you just attended at this picturesque downtown craft brewery, but in a bottle. Yellowhead’s traditional lager is available in bottles or refillable growlers. You’ll be pleased when you come in from work and remember you have refreshing beer waiting in the fridge. 10229 105 Street yellowheadbeer.com
RUNNER UP: Careit Deli
Need to please a crowd at a long staff meeting? You’ll want to order in a delicious and healthy lunch from here with hot soups, seasonal fruit trays, and a variety of sandwiches and wraps. You can even do a festive lunch with turkey, stuffing and all the fixings in December. 10226 104 Street careit.ca
Best Place for Something Fresh
WINNER: Hideout Distro
Owner Tory Culen moved her cute, oddball general store out of the basement in the Mercer Building into a full-sized bay just off 124 Street. Find the coolest prints, ceramics, clothes, jewellery, music and books from local artists, designers and makers. Culen personally curates. Her tastes go beyond unique goods, as she has also crafted a space that feels hips and begs you to hang out a while on its long, green comfy couch. 12407 108 Avenue hideoutdistro.com
RUNNER UP: Hawkeye’s Too
With its authentic retro feel, this unpretentious pub serves up some tasty pizza, makes you feel at home with friendly staff and invites you to get a little (okay, a lot) wild on its epic karaoke nights. 10048 102 Street
RUNNER UP: Beaver Hills House Park
Retreat from the urban jungle by moving your lunch break to this beautiful park where the public art – including Destiny Swiderski’s Amiskwacîw Wâskâyhkan Ihâtwin of beautifully sculpted waxwings – will relax you. 10404 Jasper Avenue
– Matthew Stepanic
Best in Public Service
The Seniors’ Association of Greater Edmonton is here to help if you’re a senior or caring for one. Their most remarkable endeavour? The Seniors Safe House, which provides at least two months’ housing and support for abused seniors. SAGE also offers free therapy sessions, help with income taxes and a hoarding-control program – among other services. And if SAGE alone can’t help you with your situation, they’ll find you someone who can. 15 Sir Winston Churchill Square mysage.ca
RUNNER UP: Passport Canada
One neat thing about living in the core is how simple it is to keep your travel documents up to date. We dream of jetting off to who-knows where, just like everyone else, but those who live in the core can walk to the office and get the little blue book that lets us do it. Others, from far and wide? Not so much. How neat is that for a public service? 9700 Jasper Avenue
RUNNER UP: STI Clinic
While nobody much wants to go to the STI Clinic it’s a smoothly run, compassionate and efficient operation geared toward providing some needed answers. It also makes use of the Edmonton General, a woefully overlooked historical building. 1111 Jasper Avenue
Best in Threads
WINNER: Red Ribbon
High Street wouldn’t be the same without this subterranean clothing goody store. The clothes range from mountainy hipster to super bougie to everything in between. The staff are super attentive and the selection offers treats you don’t find elsewhere. 12505 102 Avenue redribbon.ca
WINNER: The Helm
Bank accounts owned by men with refined tastes for Italian blazers fear The Helm. Owner Chad Helm has made it his personal mission to offer Edmonton some more class. He’s succeeding. 10124 104 Street thehelmclothing.com
WINNER: Arturo Denim
Edmonton has a long history of making denim thanks to the former GWG factory. Well Arturo is bringing it back. And aside from the new (and ethical) jeans and clothes they sell, they’ll fix your damaged jeans, too. 10443 124 Street arturodenim.ca
WINNER: Alberta Tailoring Company
A place with a well-earned reputation for being good at the craft of stitching, fitting, hemming, resizing and reworking your expensive clothing. Need a dress re-fitted? Go here. 10025 Jasper Avenue
– Tim Querengesser
Best Family Biz
A love for Edmonton’s artsy vibe drove the Linden family to open the first Credo location, on 104 Street, in 2009. Credo’s website says the shop’s mission is to be “a place to connect, to relax, to discuss, and to feel at home.” The growing chain of local shops have been eminently successful in this. Cozy is the word that comes to mind to describe the locations, from the original 104 Street spot to the newest in the Kelly Ramsey building. All are located in the core and all have great patios, too. A lovely place to be. 10134 104 Street; 10350 124 Street; 10162 100A Street credocoffee.ca
RUNNER UP: Kunitz Shoes
If repairing your shoes with goo doesn’t appeal, you can get your footwear fixed here. The Kunitz family’s love of tailor-made shoes and, yes, also of fish tanks (just check out the store), makes their business a true stand-out. 10846 Jasper Avenue kunitzshoes.ca
RUNNER UP: The Colombian Mountain Coffee Company
With roots in Colombia, the Lopez-Panylyk family moved past tragedy (the murder of owner Santiago Lopez’s grandmother) to beauty in Edmonton. This local shop will ship their directly-sourced beans right to you. 10340 134 Street the-colombian-mountain-coffee.myshopify.com/
– Ana Holleman
Best Buried Treasure
WINNER: Cafe Lavi
If you seek hidden, here is hidden. You first notice the lights, artfully hung against the exterior brick, beckoning you down into a delightful café with Persian undertones. The interior is equally charming, with minimalistic décor in soothing white tones. If curiosity brought you here, the organic lunch items like Persian ash soup, chicken Caesar salad and sliders will make you stay. And the direct-trade coffee and sweet treats will bring you back. 9947 104 Street facebook.com/cafelavi
RUNNER UP: Chicken For Lunch
Tasty chicken dishes down in the pedway, served quickly by Amy Quon of The Quon Dynasty show – we don’t mind if you use that bit of TV trivia at your next party. 10060 Jasper Avenue facebook.com/CFLEdmonton
RUNNER UP: The Sunshine Cafe (at SAGE)
Hidden near City Hall. Come here for the Salisbury steak and live piano music. Stay for the wise words from seniors. 15 Sir Winston Churchill Square mysage.ca/at-sage/food-services/the-sunshine-cafe
– Sydnee Bryant
Best Bar for Responsible Parents
Whether your game is bocce ball, ping pong or shuffle board, you can pass on your skills knowledge to your kids while enjoying a beer on the patio. Bond over the family-friendly entertainment, then chow down on grilled chicken tacos – something kids and adults always agree on. Local’s brunch game is on point, too, meaning you can gulp mimosas while your brood plays outside. They might
even make new friends. 11228 Jasper Avenue localjasperave.com
RUNNER UP: Craft Beer Market
One of the few bars with a kids’ menu – with mac ‘n’ cheese that puts yours to shame. 10013 101A Avenue (AKA Rice Howard Way). craftbeermarket.ca/edmonton
RUNNER UP: Urban Tavern
Load up on brunch poutine at a spot that serves tater tots and mimosas. 11606 Jasper Avenue urban-tavern.com
– Sydnee Bryant
Best Live Music
WINNER: The Starlite Room
The Starlite Room is under new management but remains one of Edmonton’s premier live music venues, hosting 20 different events in November 2018 alone. Big-name acts and underground groups alike play the haunt, which opened as the Bronx in the late ‘70s. Not only does that mean the place is a major player in the local (and national and international) music scene, but it means there’s something for everyone, too. 10030 102 Street starliteroom.ca
The perfect live show, as explained by Starlite Room’s Tyson Boyd
What goes into a perfect show at the Starlite Room? “It really depends,” says manager Tyson Boyd. The venue, which was originally a Salvation Army Citadel, built in 1925, hosts all types of performances: electronica, hip-hop, punk and metal shows. To help accommodate that diversity, Boyd says the Starlite Room talks with tour managers to assess each performer’s technical needs. Some events are what Boyd calls “throw-and-go” shows – the performers basically bring their equipment, throw it on stage and go. Other artists require more time for stage plotting and, for instance, instrument fine-tuning. “Every show is different,” Boyd says.
RUNNER UP: On The Rocks
Do alcohol and salsa dancing mix? Find out at On The Rocks. But if it’s live music, the live bands every weekend might satisfy. Or you can provide your own on Wednesday karaoke
nights. 11740 Jasper Ave ontherocksedmonton.com
RUNNER UP: The Edmonton Riverboat
Three-and-a-half months of local live musical talent on the North Saskatchewan River. Beautiful. Also, that view – both inside and out. 9734 98 Avenue edmontonriverboat.ca
– Ana Holleman
Best Late-Night Eats
WINNER: Hawkeyes Too
Oh Hawkeyes Too, you’re so good. There’s no feeling quite like the camaraderie when a crew of us share an extra-large pizza, a pitcher and some wings under your tri-colour LEDs – all while being serenaded by Jungle Jim. You’re a safe haven for karaoke aficionados on Fridays and Saturdays. You’re a place that’s just dimly-lit enough for tired eyes. Your half-circle booths always have a spot for one more person. Your servers are sweethearts. Your bathrooms are weird but clean. Your pizza has never let me down. Ever. When I want a cheezy mushroom pizza fix, You’re my go to. I don’t know when your kitchen closes; all I know is that you’ve always been there for me. 10048 102 Street
– Sydney Gross
WINNER: La Shish
I don’t preach about much but selecting the best place to break bread after a night out strikes a religious fervour in me. At La Shish there’s a ritual to it: I always get a combo plate and a Coke because the sugared acidity tenderizes the meat as you feast. If you’re feeling temptation, you can’t go wrong with the baklava: its sweet-snacky crunch is a thing of bliss. This isn’t some dimly-lit dive for you to hide your shame in; it’s a temple of sensory experience. Gleaming white columns. Bright lights. A beacon in the night. I live downtown now but I used to live across the street from La Shish and it still holds a sacred place in my late-night heart. I always leave feeling full, happy and ready for slumber. Do yourself a kindness – when you’re seeking latenight salivation, go to La Shish. 10106 118 Street lashishshawarma.com
– Tim Schneider
Best Hour of Happy
For its happy-hour specials, Baijiu expands off its high-class cocktail menu and offers themed drinks and food, which you won’t experience any other night. On Wakiki Wednesdays, tiki drinks are on the menu, such as the “I Only Smoke on Vacation” – Reposado Tequila, Mezcal, Green Chartreuse and honey. Bao Tuesdays allow you to enjoy a soft bao stuffed with non-traditional toppings such as donair or Montreal smoked meat. So be happy. 10363 104 Street baijiuyeg.com
RUNNER UP: Grandin Fish & Chips
This happy hour is the catch of any day with the chef’s choice of fish and chips, on special for only $12 from 2 pm – 5 pm. Plus you can enjoy a pint for only $5. A tasty and cheap meal for those early enough to hook it. 9902 109 Street grandinfish.ca
RUNNER UP: Earls
From 3 pm – 6 pm, and 9 pm to close, every day, the mix of low-price food and drinks here will please every friend (think street chicken tacos, garlic fries, and that Millennial favourite, avocado toast). Wash it down with the poison of your choosing. 11830 Jasper Avenue earls.ca
Best New Social Enterprise
WINNER: Boyle Street Eats
There’s no need to count calories when they’re all for a good cause. Launched this past spring, the new Boyle Streets Eats food truck serves up more than burgers and fries – it’s staffed by members of the Boyle Street community experiencing homelessness or poverty. And it provides them a living wage, valuable training and work experience. All overboylestreetventures.com
RUNNER UP: Hallway Café + Takeaway
A revitalized version of the Kids in the Hall Bistro, this new café in City Hall focuses on sustainability in its scratch-made foods created by at-risk youth – including freshbaked breads, braised meats and soups. It also focuses on food security by donating leftovers each day to the Women’s Emergency Accommodation Centre. 1 Sir Winston Churchill Square (in City Hall) hallway.cafe
RUNNER UP: Indian Fusion
Owner and chef Parkash Chhibber not only serves his flavourful curries to the customers inside his restaurant, but also serves those in need who knock on his back door. A sign there directs hungry friends to knock for a free meal or coffee, anytime. Chhibber donates nearly 1,600 meals a month. 10322 111 Street indianfusionrestaurant.ca
– Matthew Stepanic
Best Bee Buzz
WINNER: Manasc Isaac
Edmonton changed its bylaws in 2015 to allow urban beekeeping and the city’s been buzzing since. Bees make honey but also increase pollination, making them key to urban agriculture. Growing food in the core promotes sustainability, which is why the hives at Manasc Isaac Architects are so important. If this architecture firm is leading on buildings and bees, others will surely follow. 10225 100 Avenue manascisaac.com
RUNNER UP: MacEwan University
Not only do the bee hotels help create a sustainable campus but they also provide an opportunity to educate students and the community about the crucial pollinators. 10700 104 Avenue macewan.ca
RUNNER UP: The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald
The bees provide honey to the hotel’s kitchen. And they help maintain the fabulous gardens behind the hotel. 10065 100 Street fairmont.com/macdonald-edmonton
– Chris Sikkenga
Best Selfie Spot
WINNER: Happy Wall
Wooden pixels: 1,040. Potential word combinations: Millions. Selfies taken: Priceless. The Happy Wall is 17-metres of selfie heaven, laid out in Churchill Square for everyone to enjoy. Made from reclaimed wood, the Happy Wall can do anything – promote your event, propose to your partner, proclaim your undying love of … well, anything. What more could a selfie connoisseur want? Churchill Square thomasdambo.com/happy-wall
RUNNER UP: River Valley
Show off your rustic, natural side with a scenic selfie during Magic Hour. Along the North Saskatchewan River
RUNNER UP: PichiAvo Mural
At four storeys tall and 36 metres wide, Edmonton’s largest mural is a splendid selfie backdrop. 106 Street and 103 Avenue facebook.com/rustmagic
– Sydnee Bryant
Best Hidden Heritage
WINNER: Mountifield Residence
Built in 1905 and designed by architect James E. Wize, the Mountifield Residence is one of only two buildings of the Second Empire architectural style that remain in Edmonton (the other is the Gariepy Residence, at the southern end of 104 Street downtown). The house was built for Henry Mountifield, whose daughter, Eleanor, captained the famous Edmonton Grads basketball team. Extensive renovations have returned the house to its original splendour. It was designated a Municipal Historic Resource in 2015. 9850 112 Street
RUNNER UP: Canada Permanent Building
This Edwardian Baroque building from 1910 is pure Accidental Wes Anderson. It will also, hopefully, find new life soon. 10126 100 Street
RUNNER UP: Derwas Court Apartment Building
Escape to New York City, or maybe Montreal, with this old-school walkup. Its exterior of red brick and its staircases makes this a unique gem. 10146 121 Street
Best Sweat During Your Workday
WINNER: Legislature grounds
The 800-metre loop on the south side of the grounds is the ideal distance for your lunch break – just more than 1,000 steps, or one-tenth of the way to crushing your daily Fitbit goal. Walk briskly and you’ll be done in less than 10 minutes. Or, take your time and enjoy the view and you’ll still be back in time to grab a quick bite before getting back to the grind. 10800 97 Avenue assembly.ab.ca/Visitor/index.html
RUNNER UP: Funicular Stairs
The funicular may stop sometimes, okay, a lot of the times, but that shouldn’t stop you from mastering 201 steps of sweat and glory. The hours are a tad ridiculous though, stopping at 9PM. Still one of the best views in all of Edmonton. 10065 100 Street
RUNNER UP: The Victoria Stair Circuit
Earn that after-work beer by climbing the hundreds of stairs here in one of the prettiest parts of the city. 11004 97 Avenue
WINNER: Copious Sidewalk Closures
Construction crews in Edmonton are more safety conscious than helicopter parents with their first child. All over the core these crews block both sides of the street, forcing people to travel a block out of their way, or just walk on the street. “Sidewalk Closed” signs often go up before any construction starts and remain up long after the work is done. It’s especially frustrating when the sidewalk is used by contractors as parking.
RUNNER UP: Crosswalk Inconsistency
After a detour around closed sidewalks, it’s time to hit Edmonton’s city version of the slots! Press the crosswalk button (known, unflatteringly, as the beg button) and gamble with your time. Your child will potentially graduate grammar school before you cross.
RUNNER UP: Missing Rec Facilities
After all the extra steps, do some jumping jacks as you wait at the crosswalk. Who needs a rec centre downtown? The community centre is now every intersection!
Best Excuse to Stare at a Wall
WINNER: Rust Magic
The International Street Mural Festival allows Edmonton to not only embrace artistry but to become art itself. These unique murals, many of them downtown, bring colour and vibrancy to the brutal architecture of the city. Rather than constructing new art projects, Rust Magic celebrates creativity by re-imagining what walls and public spaces can be. Stare much? All over the core rustmagic.ca
RUNNER UP: Vignettes
Why simply embrace art when you can even be a part of it in Vignettes? The Instagram-friendly exhibitions that activate oft unused or under-used spaces in the core allow you to not only view interesting creative works but create some of your own. vignettesyeg.ca
RUNNER UP: SNAP
Creative spaces like SNAP have an energy that can be felt in your bones. See the art and see behind the scenes. Or attend one of the arty parties and talk to the artists. 10123 121 Street snapartists.com
Best Outdoor Tradition
WINNER: Victoria Park Iceway
Like many great things in Edmonton, the Victoria Park Iceway was created amid controversy – including allegations by the student designer that the city stole it. Here’s what you need to know: The Freezeway, err … Iceway … may not be the urban skate-to-work brilliance it was supposed to be, but an hour on your skates at night in the warm glow of Dylan Toymaker’s lanterns, peering up at downtown’s twinkling skyline, is still like stepping into a Dickensian winter village. Make it a tradition. 11004 12004 River Valley Road
RUNNER UP: Dog Day at Oliver Pool
The poor souls who have to clean the filters after this feast of beasts in chlorine in September are, well, they are heroes. The idea is a lovely nod to Oliver’s plethora of urban fur babies, who enrich our lives. It is also likely a smelly thing for anyone without a dog. 10315 119 Street
RUNNER UP: Wintering It On a Downtown/Oliver Patio
There’s something about the warmth of street vibrance that makes patio drinking well into the winter months more possible. So get to one of 104 Street’s many patio establishments – Tzin, Kelly’s, Cask and Barrel, The Station and The Great Canadian Ice House – and order a bevvy. Your city needs you out there.
Best ‘Hood Recreation
WINNER: The Oliverbahn
Riders of the Oliverbahn have no fear. They don’t fear popular opinion, since bike lanes have been contentious in Edmonton, yet Oliverbahners keep riding. They don’t fear bylaw enforcement, either, since a look at #Oliverbahn on Twitter shows the handiwork of a person (or people) dedicated to affixing the ‘Oliverbahn’ name to city signs along the beloved, protected bike route, which runs from Connaught Drive to 111 Street. Oliverbahners fear nothing, except maybe a lack of more routes like this being built.
RUNNER UP: Royal Lawn Bowling Club
Everything about this club, from the very idea of a lawn-bowling club’s ongoing existence to the early-’00s-style website, is remarkably quaint. Camaraderie-building rules that stipulate you must “compliment your opponent as well as your teammate on a good shot,” make it even better. Regal, even. 9515 107 Street royalbowls.ca
RUNNER UP: Victoria Park Cross-Country Skiing
Cross-country skiing in Victoria Park blends Edmonton’s urbanity and naturalism splendidly. There has been and will be snow in Edmonton this year (and next), no matter what. So why not use it
for something beautiful? 12030 River Valley Road
Online shopping is booming but so is Downtown, due in large part to retail expansion, including 300,000 sq. ft. in the Ice District alone. What, then, will get the neighbourhood’s residents – 40 per cent of whom are Millennials – off Amazon and into stores?
Experts say it’s experiences. The role of bricks-and-mortar locations is changing in the retail world. Storefronts are less points of sale than places to entertain and make customers feel an emotional connection to products or brands.
According to a report by the Downtown Business Association, called The Future of Retail in Downtown Edmonton, Downtown residents value such experiences and frequently seek them out, often for some ‘try before you buy,’ before returning home to their laptops and clicking ‘Proceed to Checkout.’
“We don’t buy things anymore,” says Jimmy Shewchuk, business development, trade and investment manager at Edmonton Economic Development Corporation. “We buy experiences. Even if we are buying things, we’re buying an experience. The concept of selling things out of four walls as a business model, if it’s not dead, is on life support right now.”
The DBA report says this falls into the growth of so-called omnichannel retail, or the integration of online shopping with experiences and entertainment in physical locations.
Shewchuk says global brands like Burberry have been hitting the mark with converting real-world experiences into sales. “That bricks-and-mortar piece is part of their very robust business model that sells online and engages with its fans,” he says.
The new retail experience often starts with social media and continues when a customer enters the store, is greeted by staff as well as some less obvious cues – lighting, music, atmosphere, aesthetic. If the in-store experience is successful, many shoppers still leave empty handed, preferring to finish the transaction from the couch, after reading reviews and comparing prices.
Shewchuk says Downtown has yet to see much of this new trend in its retail environs. That’s likely to change.
“The onus is on a retail location to create that experience and it works kind of symbiotically with a city that’s going to create the greater experience of walking the area,” he says.
The City of Edmonton has invested heavily in downtown revitalization, including public dollars to subsidize parts of what’s become the Ice District. But some locals are raising concerns that area’s focus on entertainment and retail giants is pushing out small businesses.
Glenn Scott, senior vice president of real estate for Ice District Properties, doesn’t share these concerns.
“We’re trying to make it a mix, so people will have the amenities they want to live in our area, in the Ice District, and to work there,” he says. “That’s really what we’re trying to provide, so hopefully we’ll hit all or most of those needs. We’re helping, we’re not hurting.”
Scott cites taxes, a higher minimum wage and competition with Amazon for the reason some retailers in the area are struggling.
Still, the Ice District has a lot of retail space to fill and recently had to redesign one of their yet-to-be-built towers, after a major tenant pulled out, so their ultimate effect on retail in the downtown won’t be immediately clear.
Scott says he’s confident the growing downtown population will have all their needs taken care of.
“There’s going to be thousands more people living downtown which will be a great thing for downtown. It’s got to be a place that can work for everyone,” he says. “West Edmonton Mall kind of created a big hole [downtown] and now there’s a counter trend and I think it’s really exciting for Edmonton.”
– With files from Tim Querengesser
Downtown retail, by the numbers
86 Percentage of downtown residents who say they would like another grocery store in the neighbourhood
20 Percentage that Albertans spend dining out over the Canadian average
11,600 Number of residential units downtown under construction or proposed for the next decade