— Neighbourhood Gems —

Making space into place

We talk to an urbanist about why festivals matter so much to downtown Edmonton.

When it comes to festivals in downtown Edmonton, change is coming. In 2018, construction of the Valley Line LRT will close Churchill Square, and big events like the Street Performers festival and The Works festival will find temporary homes, while Taste of Edmonton is working with provincial authorities to use the grounds beside the Alberta Legislature.

The shift got us to thinking: Just what do festivals create for downtown? We asked Doug Carlyle, who specializes in designing public plaes, like the new Centennial Plaza at the Legislature, what he thinks festivals bring to the core. Carlyle works for design firm Dialog.

Q: What’s your favourite downtown Edmonton festival?

A: It has to be Taste of Edmonton. It’s great to go to a place where there are lots of people. I think what festivals have done is allow Edmontonians to experience being in a scene with lots of people. The festivals have created that opportunity to come together.

Q: How does downtown benefit from hosting festivals?

A: Festivals have made us all aware of downtown and what a great place it can be. The other thing is it’s starting to create a momentum to transform public places. Churchill Square was once a green lawn surrounded by streets, but it has been transformed into a destination. Churchill Square continued to evolve as the street between it and City Hall was closed to accommodate pedestrians. Soon, the Churchill LRT station will be home to the Capital and Valley Lines making the square a transportation hub as well. We’re starting to think about streets as livable places.

Q: Streets as livable places?

A: Yes, and 104 Street is a great example. You aren’t just going to a single establishment, you’re actually going to a place. That street is not about cars traveling up and down. It’s about a market. It’s about a street performer. It’s about hanging out and having lunch. Festivals and events like the Saturday market create opportunities to see the world in a different way.

Q: You’re hopeful for the future of festivals downtown. Can you explain why?

A: Yes. But what’s that going to look like? The city is trying to operate and program Churchill Square so it has life almost all through the year. The other plaza that’s coming into place is the Ice District. So there’s going to be a second major public, or community venue there. Then, there’s the plaza at the Legislature. So there are three major public outdoor spaces that can start to flourish, given the chance. It’s very exciting.

Chris Sikkenga is a writer, video editor and podcaster who enjoys bad movies and any restaurant sandwich named after Elvis.