Looking to the past can help us plan for the future

Part 3 in the ongoing City Plan blog series

It’s interesting to look back at historical documents or books to see what early City leaders thought about planning, and how they imagined Edmonton would, or should, develop over time.

Some of the findings seem prescient. Others make you think “whew, I’m glad they didn’t do that.” When people look back on the City Plan we’ll be developing over the next two years, we’re hoping they will think we were far-sighted and be glad for the recommendations we made together as a community.

The City Plan is being developed as a tool to help Edmonton chart how to get to a future city. It’s about building a connected community so Edmontonians can adapt and succeed together in a city of two million that still feels like home. Learn more at edmonton.ca/TheCityPlan

According to the report Edmonton’s Urban Neighbourhood Evolution Evolving Infill published by the City in June 2018, Edmonton didn’t create its first municipal plan until after the Second World War. The planners at the time recognized the major impact oil and gas would have on the city. They called for more suburbs and started dreaming about building a light rail transit system. Those plans also called for a major freeway to be built through Edmonton — right through the river valley. Thankfully, forward-thinking folks at the time managed to change the conversation and the result.

Before the Second World War, homes in the city were built one-at-a-time on speculation for individual clients. But in the late 50’s, developers starting buying large parcels of land to build complete neighbourhoods, giving way to more urban planning and creating more systematic grid systems for roads.


Reading the 1963 version of the General Plan for the City of Edmonton, it’s obvious that the First Nations origins of what is now Edmonton was not viewed as important. The history portion of the plan reaches back only as far as the arrival of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Edmontonians today better understand that the Indigenous relationship to the land – historically and in the present – needs to be part of any future development plans. We want to acknowledge and reconcile with our past while building our future in Treaty 6 in a way that benefits all Edmontonians.


The 1963 plan also talks about how Edmonton could be built to a higher density, but that there was no shortage of land for the city to spread into. The plan discusses the need for improved transit. They weren’t sure at the time what that might look like, but they imagined building a subway and even called for a transit tunnel to be dug under 102 Avenue.

In the 1963 plan there is no mention of historical preservation. It seems like in this post-war boom period, there was a strong feeling of out with the old and in with the new. That’s borne out by an Urban Renewal Concept Report created in 1967, which calls for the “demolition of old neighbourhoods for new buildings and uses.” *

However, the Edmonton General Municipal Plan of 1980 recognizes and decries the past destruction of the historical buildings. It encourages the city to work harder to preserve our history. This plan also mentions the city is running out of residential land — quite the change from 1963.

The 1980 plan was one of the first to suggest that citizens should be more involved in decision-making processes, something we now take for granted. This plan also calls for expansion of the LRT network and for parking rates to be raised to encourage people to leave their cars at home and use transit.

It’s obvious that planning for the city of the future is no easy task. One can do a lot of extrapolating and making educated guesses, but even in 1980 planners would have had no inkling of the massive impact technology, immigration and national and international trade would have on future development in Edmonton.

As we work together over the next two years to develop the The City Plan, we need to recognize and highlight the things we cherish today and to reconcile lessons we’ve learned, while trying to decide what we think future Edmontonians will require.

Edmontonians of the past did the same for us.

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*Edmonton’s Urban Neighbourhood Evolution Evolving Infill June 2018