The first time I heard ‘Yes in my backyard’ was at a workshop for the proposed rezoning of the Molson Brewery site. It was 2013. I had just moved back to Edmonton from eight months in the United Kingdom, where I had fallen in love with narrow roads, centuries-old buildings and the pubculture. But within a few weeks of being home, the Oliver Community League hosted a workshop in response to the Molson Brewery proposal, which was essentially a higher-end suburban strip mall.
The workshop catalyzed OCL’s strategic plan, as the 60-plus attendees determined what we value in Oliver. Little surprise, then, that at the City of Edmonton’s public meeting for the Molson site proposal, hosted a couple months later, resident after resident stood up and rather than saying “No,” instead asked the developer for more. Some literally said “Yes in my backyard.”
“Give us mixed use development,” some said.
“We’re fine with high-rises — this is the perfect site for them,” others said.
“Give us less parking, we actually don’t want surface parking lots at all,” some said.
“Give us high quality pedestrian access and amenities. Give us buildings that face both the Oliver and Queen Mary Park communities. Give us a development that allows better connection between the two neighbour- hoods,” many said.
They said yes.
Then those with power said no.
The Brewery District officially opened more than a year ago and new businesses continue to open there. But while we are thrilled to have another grocery store in our midst, for me the development falls short, for all the reasons I’ve just discussed. The Oliver Community League certainly welcomes all of the businesses into our community and we wish them every success.
It represents a missed opportunity. The community’s vision for this significant development was shared, and ignored. Having the community stand up and ask for more, ask for the envelope to be pushed, even ask for more density and less parking, was unique. And was ignored.
Still, while saying “Yes in my backyard” did not produce the results we were looking for, this time, that Oliver spoke of what it wanted in unison started something. Residents have become more active in shaping the change in their community. And yes, that’s exactly what OCL wants to foster in our backyard.
President, Oliver Community League