Making Space: City of Edmonton planners help create opportunities “to connect, celebrate, belong”

Editor’s note: this post is the first in a periodic 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 so aren’t! In exchange for your time, you’ll get a different perspective on space. 

Samantha Buccino has known for awhile what Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have now proclaimed to the world: the goal is to find ways for human beings to flourish in space.  

Space for Buccino, however, is less Mars than it is, say, Hawrelak Park. Or 107 Avenue. Or the corner of 103A Avenue and 101 Street in Edmonton. 

“In Edmonton, the self-proclaimed festival city, artists, entrepreneurs and creatives alike are finding ways to reclaim space and create meaningful opportunities to connect and celebrate and build a feeling of belonging,” said Buccino, who is a Planner with the City of Edmonton. 

“Our own version of the space race is much more down to Earth,” she said. “Actually, it’s much more down to neighbourhood.”

Space happens

Planners like Buccino and colleagues see things a bit differently. Take Edmonton’s wildly popular Heritage Festival in Hawrelak Park, for instance. Most people who love it and return year after year see it as a colourful pageant, a celebration of Edmonton’s cultural heritage and, maybe, a bit of a sign to the world that we can all get along. 

Planners see all of that, too. But they also see how the space—the 68 hectares of Hawrelak Park—is enlivened by the festival and the people it attracts. 

Heritage Festival is a space to celebrate traditions and cultures. 

Space happens there.

In August, the Heritage Festival made its return to Hawrelak Park, re-debuting with a slightly scaled-back operation to meet public gathering restrictions. Courtesy:

Space also resonates with Livia Balone, who is the City of Edmonton’s Director of the Zoning Bylaw Renewal Initiative. 

“Festivals are a way to carve out space to experience art, music, culture, and film,” said Balone. “Heritage Festival is but one of many festivals that help to celebrate traditions, express meanings that places hold for people and to connect people and bridge divides.”

Those three words from Balone—carve out space—point to an art behind the actual art of the festivals. This is the art of knowing how to creatively, imaginatively, innovatively and safely use space, whether parks and green space or streets and alleyways, to make life better for Edmontonians.

The Backyard was founded in June and ran through the fall. We hope it’s back next year! Courtesy: Linda Hoang.

The Backyard, Root 107

Independent urban planner and designer Amos Kajner-Nonnekes sees the city as a blank canvas for community connection. Born and raised in Edmonton, Kajner-Nonnekes works with businesses, non-profit organizations and the City to host events and installations to celebrate art, architecture, people and places. His recent ventures, The Backyard and Root 107, transformed bare parking lots into gathering hubs for people attracted by events from yoga classes to concerts, as well as food trucks and other vendors. 

“These types of spaces are easy for someone like me to plan and execute because I have a background in urban planning and design,” said Kajner-Nonnekes. 

“There are many non-profit organizations, artists and neighbourhood groups who want to host events in their communities, to animate public and private spaces, but lack the resources and knowledge to develop plans and to go through the City’s permitting process.”

Taking root downtown: From April to September 2021, Root 107 transformed a downtown parking lot as part of Downtown Spark.

City streamlines

The City has made that space easier to navigate. Permit us some quick background. 

There are two types of permits that might apply to special events—a development permit and a building permit. The development permit looks at whether the proposed activity meets zoning requirements and applies to both public and private property. Simple criteria for building permits also help to ensure structures are designed and built to be safe.

Katherine Pihooja, a planner working on the City’s Zoning Bylaw Renewal Initiative, has worked to  streamline zoning requirements for events on private property.

“For events that are short-term in duration, that is, less than seven days,  we removed the need for a development permit,” said Pihooja. “The changes we made provided a clear framework for temporary special events, helping applicants know when a development permit is required and the rules to help mitigate potential impacts to neighbouring properties.”

A roaring success: Child Friendly Edmonton and Winter City Edmonton hosted the first Downtown Winter Play Street in December 2017 on 103 Avenue between102 Street and 103 Street.

Pihooja explained that the definition for Special Events in the Zoning Bylaw was left intentionally broad to accommodate a range of temporary events, including backyard weddings, garden centres, community celebrations, pop-up shops, farmers markets and temporary patios on private property.

“The changes were intended to reduce barriers and make it easier to run a special event without all the regulatory hurdles and development processes typically involved in the development permit review process, and to help support a more vibrant city for all Edmontonians,” said Pihooja.

Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows a scene from the Flying Canoë Volant Festival from February 2017. To learn more about the Zoning Bylaw Renewal Initiative, how it can add to a sense of belonging here, to share your ideas, or to let us know what festival in your city is your favourite, contact