What I'm Hearing About the Old Strathcona Public Realm Strategy

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been meeting with several different organizations, attending meetings, door knocking, and responding to emails about the Old Strathcona Public Realm Strategy.

I wanted to share a bit of what I have been hearing and manage expectations about timelines. You can read and review the full draft plan here: https://www.edmonton.ca/sites/default/files/public-files/Old-Strathcona-Public-Realm-Strategy.pdf?cb=1713376450

Many folks have been excited, and concerned, and I get it. I have to say that this feels very personal to me too. My family and I are regulars at the Market on Saturday morning, we love walking in the sun in the afternoons and taking in the arts community in the evening, and we chose to make Whyte Avenue our home because of the community. I championed a renewal lease for the OSFM that would enable activation of the market space for more days of the week because I want “more market more often”.

With the renewal of the lease with the Farmers Market, the City has retained ownership of the parking lot (April 2025), providing the city with a valuable civic revenue stream and the opportunity to use public land for public benefit.

TIMELINES

I think it’s important to clarify immediately that the proposal is a long-term plan, likely to guide development over the next fifty years. You can still make your voice heard by emailing me, and I will present your feedback. The plan does not come before the council until August. 

Further to that, any changes requiring funding would likely be another two years until it could be debated and funded in our 2026 capital plan at the earliest, and it would be likely years after that until the key catalysts (Bus Rapid Transit, for instance) could be developed. 

Prior to any changes or reductions in the parking lots, for instance, we must have suitable alternatives in place, both for transportation and parking. In other words, the parking lot will remain a parking lot for the next four years, at least until 2028 or I’ll eat my hat/bike helmet.

ARTS COMMUNITY

The arts community has not recovered from COVID-19, and no steps should be taken to prevent its recovery. Now more than ever, we must buy tickets, subscribe, donate, attend shows, and celebrate our artists. The city should be incredibly mindful of how we can engage and support future audience attraction. If we don’t use it, we will lose it.

BUSINESS

We must facilitate smooth, seamless visits to the Whyte Ave area and make it a destination where people stay, shop, play, love, laugh, and recreate. Whyte Ave should be our main street, especially during festival season. Let’s make it easy to bus, walk, wheel, shop, and, yes, park. We know more people equals more customers, and that business begets more business. We want you to arrive easily and stay late.

PARKING

We need to invest in wayfinding, preferably digital solutions that easily share stalls and parking information in the area. I would like to better understand how we could add parking to Gateway or Calgary Trail during off-peak hours, for instance. Similarly, I have heard loud and clear the need for safe, secure bike parking. We need to make sure that goods can be easily unloaded/loaded, deliveries can be made, and commerce is smooth.

THE PARKING LOT (83rd to Tommy Banks Way)

Surface parking alone is not the highest and best land use in the area; however, in the future we can be more creative by building up housing or commercial space that also has a requirement for underground public parking. 

Earlier drafts of the plan included the potential of housing (market or affordable) with required paid parking opportunities on the main floor or underground. This could apply to the Ritchie Mill parking lot or the OSBA lot, or some combination of some or all of the above. Housing could be provided with a few hundred stalls of parking required to replace the lost opportunity on the lot.

Providing housing in this incredible location helps us respond to the municipal housing emergency, bring customers and workers to the area, and help improve year-round vibrancy. I know there is great interest in both market and non-market/affordable housing at this nexus. There are ways to ensure that the land and space can be used to benefit better, and the parking revenue generated can be reinvested in the local community or housing. Naturally, I would want any development to help facilitate East/West connections between the community, and of course to try to blend with park space.

At Whyte avenue, the current car dealership is leased land that the city could obtain and operate as a city parking lot—adding another hundred stalls in the area—until it can be developed as a plaza. The ease and proximity of this parking are key for some of the arts clientele, especially during special events.

"It is not what you take away; it’s what you leave behind." While there's a lot to be liked in the plan, I’m not convinced that a combination of housing (which could preserve parking) has been adequately considered between 82nd and Saskatchewan Drive in this second version of the plan.

 

GREEN SPACE / PARKS

This is important and should be considered and integrated in some form into the broader Scona District planning conversations. I hear the concerns about larger festival and event planning space and better utilizing opportunity to grow and expand the Fringe and other new offerings in the area. I hear the West Ritchie residents loud and clear that they need green space that is accessible. I will continue to work with our administration to open up the 80th Ave connection across the railroad tracks. 

The existing park spaces in the studied area could be more welcoming and exciting, as they should be. I have not seen a mention of a fenced, off-leash dog park near the End of Steele Park, which numerous residents have contacted me about. I do think open spaces in this area are essential for our festivals and outdoor gathering places. Still, in our housing emergency, increasing location efficiency for new residents living, working, and playing in this context could be highly appealing.

What are your thoughts?

Ultimately, I think there's a lot of good here that could be improved from the status quo over the next fifty years as our city grows and changes and I want to express my gratitude to everyone who has participated, supported, or worked on this initiative.

Please let me know before this item returns for discussion in August. [email protected]

 

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Challenging the U of A: Leading with purpose in housing and land use planning

City Council recently approved a rezoning across the street from the U of A and it got me thinking about all the underutilized or unused space on the U of A main campus.

The expression I often hear at city hall is “highest and best use of city land” – in other words, land that brings benefit to the community (eg, a park or public space) or land that generates revenue for the city to offset taxes and pay for services (Industrial, commercial, residential in that order) 

But what if the University of Alberta could generate revenue and mitigate the housing and climate crisis? The university already has the vehicle: the U of A Properties Trust, an arms length development corporation that pays dividends back into the U of A through innovative developments and land leases.

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Address: 1 Sir Winston Churchill Sq, 2nd Floor, Edmonton, AB T5J 2R7