Downtown Edmonton requires infill development

One of the things I’ve heard time and time again during and since the City Centre Airport debate earlier this month is the argument that closing the airport and making the lands available for redevelopment threatens the infill that is required throughout downtown. If you highlight all the surface parking lots, downtown Edmonton (97th Street to 109th Street, 99th Avenue to 104th Avenue) looks something like this:

That doesn’t take into account parkades or any lots that I missed (I put it together pretty quickly just looking at the satellite view). It’s also a relatively small area (there are far more on the other side of 109th and 104th) I don’t think anyone would look at that and say, “it’s fine the way it is.” The fact is, we definitely need infill development if we want to have a sustainable, vibrant city. I would suggest that the individuals who supported closing the City Centre Airport likely also strongly support infill development. Both are steps toward the same end.

The first and probably most important thing to consider with this issue is that the whole of the ECCA lands did not go on the market the day Council voted to close the airport. It’s a long-term proposition, and redevelopment will take time.

The second thing to consider is that we may in fact need that space eventually, even if all of the current infill development happens. A few questions were asked about this very topic in Council’s Q & A. Here is the key response, prepared by Gordon Easton from Colliers:

Development pressure in the City of Edmonton is coming from the dual processes of population growth and population change. The population of Edmonton is expected to increase by approximately 400,000 people by 2041. The population is also aging, which creates demand for additional dwelling units, including high density. Our housing demand report showed that between 2016 and 2041 there will be a minimum of 45,107 apartments and 16,212 other multi family homes required to house the expected population. Certainly there are other developments and other sites that can and will accommodate some of this growth. Armin Preiksitis & Associates estimates that the current major development sites underway or expected in the City will contribute almost 35,000 multi-family units. If no other developments come on-line, those units will be completely absorbed in 2019, and there will be 2,453 multi family units needed each year thereafter. That is the equivalent of over 8 30-story condo towers and 650 townhouses per year. As part of the City’s multi family dwelling supply, the ECCA lands would reduce the rate of absorption at competing properties and lengthening the development timing. If ECCA were not developed with multi family residential, the rate of absorption at other sites would be higher, and development pressures (prices) on other sites throughout the city would increase as the market responds to the demand.

We need infill development in downtown Edmonton whether the airport disappears or stays. Closing the airport doesn’t mean that such infill development can’t or won’t happen, and to suggest otherwise is misleading and dishonest.

5 thoughts on “Downtown Edmonton requires infill development

  1. I just made a FANTASTIC mashup of Infill development requirements and the fear-o… Edmonton police Crime map.

    Too bad I’m scared of what would happen if I “share[d] the information found on the website with others other than with members of the Edmonton Police Service or other law enforcement agencies”

    Don’t want to go to jail, but seriously, it’s cool 🙂

  2. I happen to quite like the number of parking lots, especially after I’ve spent time in Calgary, where it costs $40/day to park. If anything we need more parking lots.

    (Sorry; just a little hippie flamebait.)

    But seriously, probably half of the people who work downtown commute by car. Even in your wildest, bike-paths-down-every-avenue-and-LRT-to-Leduc dreams, there will still be a ton of people commuting downtown by car. 50 year-old accountants and engineers and assistant deputy ministers and lawyers are not going to ride the bus from Sherwood Park. (Oh, I’m sure you can think of counterexamples, but don’t lie to yourself: these people are the exception. The bus sucks, and people will pay big to avoid it.) Where are they all going to park? Let’s hope a few good multi-level above- and below-ground parkades are mixed in with the residential infill.

  3. Sometimes people interpret comments about an aging population to mean that there are fewer children. In fact, the birth and immigration rates in metropolitan Edmonton have increased steadily over the last decade. Alberta Education estimates that they’ll be 20,000 more children enrolled in the province’s schools by 2029, and that the majority of this growth will be in cities.

    Edmonton has the infrastructure to accommodate its share of these additional students, but since 1996 the number of children living near existing schools has declined at a breathtaking paces. Fully 25 per cent of Edmonton kids now live in new sprawl neighbourhoods that do not have any educational infrastructure.

    As part of densification, we need to create attractive green housing options for young families in established parts of the city. The Colliers study, cited by Mack, seems to suggest most new buildings will be adult-oriented. I wonder how that approach would meaningfully address the problem of sprawl, when the people attracted to life on the outskirts are young parents. I wonder also how many hundreds of millions of dollars it will cost to build new schools, soccer fields, playgrounds, skating rinks and other infrastructure on land formerly used for agriculture, while existing schools, soccer fields, playgrounds and skating rinks slowly deteriorate because they are seldom used.

    According the Edmonton Public School Board, only 2.7 per cent of people living in completed redevelopment projects are school-aged children, K-12. To sum up the city’s current smart choices efforts in one hashtag: #fail.

    None of this means we shouldn’t pursue good densification policies. Indeed, we must. But if the essence of revitalization is adult-living condos, Edmontonians are taking the wrong medicine. Our sprawl sickness will get worse, with a core full of old people and a rim made up of the very young.

  4. I was talking to a guy on my team at work this week about his recent visit to Montreal. He was born in Europe and had not been back to an old-world city since he came to Canada as a 20 year-old.

    He’d heard much about Montreal and this month he visited the city. He was staggered and amazed by the city — alive, vibrant, and picturesque with both historic and modern architecture everywhere. A true arts block with museums and galleries. Ste. Catherine street closed for Sunday shopping. A stunning farmers market that makes our two attempts seem, ah, well, weak…

    But most of all it was the people. Spilling out into the streets, talking over each other on sidewalk cafes, playing cards and dominoes in the parks, bustling in and out of the metro stations. Helping tourists. Cycling with potted plants in the front basket. Munching bagels. Patting wee children on the head. Living.

    Myself, I’ve spent time in London, Montreal, Rome, Havana and a few other great, old cities and the appeal is very much the place and how it encourages the people to live. What these places have in common is commitment to urban living, a commitment to art and architecture, and a refusal to cater to the needs of the car.

    Do we have the vision and courage to create an urban centre that lures the people out of their cars and into the streets?


  5. Mack, Be sure to let the folks at Stantec and Frost and Associates know they are being dishonest.

    To suggest that opening up hundreds of acres of new land a distance away from the downtown core won’t impact infill development in the core is naive, and perhaps a little dishonest.

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