Making Space: building an Edmonton to love

Editor’s love note: This is the latest in a series of Transforming Edmonton articles to look at space, zoning, regulations and other planning topics that you might think are boring, but, no way, they really aren’t! In exchange for the gift of your time, we hope you’ll get a different perspective on space. 

Think about a favourite city. What do you love about it? In New York, tourists sport “I ❤️  NY” shirts. In Philadelphia, a public plaza is named Love Park. But what exactly makes these cities and others lovable? Is it the people? Architecture? Restaurants? Shops?

Love Park is one of Philly’s best-known landmarks. Photo: Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Back when The City Plan was being developed, Edmontonians were clear about what they loved about their city. The river valley and park spaces. The food trucks that line downtown streets for lunch al fresco. The housing choices and friendly neighbours. The coffee scene. The art galleries and creativity. The Edmonton Oilers. They said there’s a lot to love about Edmonton.

Distance makes the heart grow fonder

During the pandemic, Edmontonians’ love for the city was on full display. 

People rushed to support local businesses and lent helping hands to neighbours. Art installations and pandemic-friendly festivals were organized to boost areas of the city, including the downtown. Vacant spaces were transformed into temporary housing. Like cities around the world, Edmontonians wore masks to protect others, sang in unison on rooftops and balconies, flocked to green spaces. Students reached out to seniors in continuing care facilities, letting them know that they’re not alone. These were not just gestures. They were statements. And what they said was that Edmontonians share a desire to support one another, build connections and romanticize the city’s public spaces again.

Steinhauer Elementary students chalked up words of encouragement for residents of Shepherd’s Care Southside Manor, October 2020.

For the love of policy!

Beyond the pandemic, the City’s planning department is looking to rekindle residents’ love affair with Edmonton through plans and policies, like the Zoning Bylaw Renewal Initiative. They’re listening to what people love about the city and their neighbourhoods and finding ways to further enrich their experiences. 

“If we were to look at cities and how we plan them from a lens of love and care, we’d see a dignified place for everyone to live and call home, amenities and services within close walking distance and the ability to express one’s culture, beliefs and traditions in public space,” said Jason Syvixay, a planner with the City of Edmonton.

 “Building a city is an act of love. When we put love and care into our cities, they’re sure to reciprocate.”

City staff shared a round of high-fives on a rainbow crosswalk on 104 Street and 84 Avenue, June 2015.

Syvixay is part of the Zoning Bylaw Renewal Initiative, a project that’s rewriting Edmonton’s zoning rules, which determine what can be built where. His team is excited to be building a new zoning bylaw for everyone—one that welcomes inclusion and compassion by enabling more housing options, bringing neighbourhoods closer together through shared amenities and accessible spaces. 

So, how does the City plan and design neighbourhoods and cities to be more liveable—and lovable?  These are just a few ideas shared by Edmontonians on Twitter earlier this month:

Public spaces designed for taking in sunsets. Rainbow crosswalks. Public discos. More spaces for pop-up festivals. Big sidewalks for people to strut down. Shelter for everyone. Access to food and community gardens. Public orchards. Alcoves where lovers can hide for stolen kisses. 

Just like any relationship, building an Edmonton to love takes time and commitment. As the City continues to draft its policies, what needs changing to make Edmonton a city everyone loves? Share your thoughts this Valentine’s Day on Twitter with the hashtag #yegplan. 

“Love is about listening,” said Syvixay. “We’re listening.” 

Editor’s next love note: the pic at the top of the post shows Edmonton’s Walterdale Bridge, which a lot of people love.