Recognizing child friendly businesses in Edmonton

Child Friendly Edmonton, a Council Initiative sponsored by Councillor Bev Esslinger, launched the new Child Friendly Business Recognition Program today at City Hall. The program “aims to promote businesses that are intentionally welcoming to children and their families.”

Child Friendly Edmonton
Councillors Esslinger and Paquette spoke at today’s launch event

“We want to share this new program with the city and highlight the current successes of local businesses who have become more child-friendly,” said Councillor Esslinger in a news release. “With more than 20 per cent of the population being under 18, it’s very important that kids feel welcomed and included in their city.”

Based on input from Edmontonians, Child Friendly Edmonton identifies three keys to being a child friendly business:

  • Attitude “is the most important way to become child friendly. Patient, friendly and understanding service from staff who take the time to greet and welcome their younger customers is a major factor in how welcoming a business feels to children and their families. A smile is a great place to start.”
  • Amenities “are generally for the benefit of the adult(s) accompanying a child. Amenities are choices that businesses can make to improve the experience for adults with children. Some amenities like providing seating for children and washrooms that can be used by all genders to change diapers are considered ‘must- haves’ for child friendly businesses.”
  • Activities “help occupy children throughout their visit. Children that remain calm and content make their, as well as their adults’ experience at the business more enjoyable. Activities can be anything from providing a coloring sheet to creating an area specifically for children.”

Nine different child friendly businesses were showcased at the launch event today, but there are already more than 65 businesses that have been recognized under the program. I was thrilled to see that they are all listed in the Open Data Catalogue! There’s also a map view which shows they are nicely spread around the city.

Child Friendly Edmonton

If you know of a business that is child friendly, you can nominate them to the program online. If you have visited a child friendly business recently, there’s an online survey you can fill out to share your experience.

Child Friendly Edmonton’s vision is “a welcoming city for all young Edmontonians; children are listened to, respected, and valued for their thoughts and ideas.” The new program supports all four of Child Friendly Edmonton’s goals, as outlined in the Working Plan: engagement, accessible spaces, inclusive city, and “downtown demonstration project.”

That last one is to use downtown as “a demonstration site to explore and showcase an urban area which is welcoming and supportive to children and their families/caregivers.” Ian O’Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association, spoke today about the DBA’s support for the program. “We want to improve the family-friendly nature of downtown and continue to work with our member businesses towards a downtown for everyone.”

Baby's first media event
Baby’s first media event

As a downtown resident with a new baby I’m obviously happy to see the push for child friendly spaces. But I know the outcome will benefit more than just families. Often the same considerations that make families feel more welcome apply to other demographics as well. This is well-illustrated in the similarities between strollers and wheelchairs, for instance.

You can learn more about Child Friendly Edmonton here and on social media using the #ChildFriendlyYEG hashtag.

Another tentative step forward for Edmonton’s Blatchford community

Edmonton’s Blatchford Redevelopment project took another step forward today with Council’s approval of the implementation strategy. Will it be the ambitious, carbon neutral, “world-leading” project that has been described over the years? Not necessarily. But it remains the most significant development project in Edmonton’s history, a sustainable and exciting community that will bring housing choice for families into our city’s core.

Blatchford

Today’s Motion

Here’s the motion that was passed today:

That the Blatchford Redevelopment Project implementation strategy be approved and include the following:

  1. The development of a Capital Profile and a funding strategy for Council’s consideration
  2. The implementation of the development approach as outlined in Scenario 5a of Attachment 5 to the June 10, 2014 Sustainable Development report CR_1123rev, including the following key features:
    • Medium density residential, with high density in direct proximity to LRT station
    • Town Centre
    • Institutional lands (NAIT, school sites)
    • Major park (18.8%)
    • Urban agriculture
    • Low impact development
    • Irrigation system
    • Custom designed streets
    • District energy: ambient loop with geo-exchange (preferred: requires further evaluation) or gas-fired cogeneration (in proforma)
    • High performance building envelopes
    • Fibre optic network
    • Affordable housing
    • Education program
  3. The development of a preliminary timeline for LRT extension into Blatchford and the construction of the Blatchford NAIT LRT station and the Blatchford North LRT station that will accommodate and facilitate the development of the east residential area
  4. A report to be provided to Committee on additional liveability and sustainability features that could be implemented in Blatchford, for example, ambient loop systems, solar photovoltaic panels for homes and/or supplemental to our district energy system, a recreation lake, and accessibility and age-friendly features.

The motion passed 10-2, with Councillors Caterina and Nickel voting against it. Councillor Nickel said the motion didn’t do enough to “hold on to that original vision of being world-class.” Most of the yes votes cited the importance of point 4.

The target for Administration to return with the requested information is October 28, 2014.

What does it mean?

In short, Council decided today that maybe it didn’t need everything that was suggested in the original, award-winning design. The recommended scenario “includes all of the key design elements from the Perkins+Will concept plan and it optimizes investment in environmental and social sustainability features.” By “optimizes investment”, they really mean that features like the ambient loop, geo-exchange district energy system, and pneumatic waste collection system were cut to save money. The recommendation also reduces the size of the major park by about 10% to allow more room for housing. It results in a net profit of nearly $45 million, and would be built-out over 25 years.

The City argues that the modified plan will still provide family-oriented housing, create mixed-use and employment opportunities, and will accommodate NAIT expansion. It still positions Edmonton as “a leader in achieving sustainability” even though it doesn’t go as far as Perkins+Will originally envisaged.

A reasonable compromise

Mayor Iveson has written about the project twice in the last week. Today he shared his thoughts in advance of the Council meeting:

“I don’t think the recommended scenario for Blatchford is a compromise. In fact, I’d say it’s as close to a balanced triple bottom line – social, financial and environmental – as we could hope for. We’ll achieve the ambitious principles set out by council and still produce a reasonable return on our investment.”

That follows his earlier comments:

“Some of the grief Edmonton has endured for poor urban design over the last 50 years can be countered with a project of Blatchford’s scale. This is a story we can share with the world; as good of a reputation-smasher as we’re ever going to see.”

It was great to hear the rest of Council share both his desire to stick to the principles set out by the previous Council and his desire for something impressive.

In voting to move ahead with the modified plan today, Council reached a reasonable compromise. It’s not uncommon for projects to start out far more ambitious than they end up, and it’s Council’s job to try to find the middle ground between citizens’ ambition and Administration’s risk aversion. I think that’s what they did today. No doubt communication about the plans could have been much better, but that could be said of just about every City project.

What happened with Perkins+Will?

Clearly there were issues between Perkins+Will and the City during this process, resulting in the firm attending today’s meeting. Director of Urban Design Joyce Drohan did not mince words once prompted, saying that her firm was “extremely disappointed.” She also called the process “extremely disrespectful.” Before she could get too deep into her criticism, Mayor Iveson stopped her, saying there were other issues at play. He later said that Perkins+Will had “not been cooperative.” There was definitely some animosity present during the meeting today.

Is it just a case of two partners trying to find a way to work together on an ambitious and stressful project? Perhaps, except this isn’t the first time that issues have been raised about the City’s process. Where there’s smoke there’s generally fire. And as Tegan quite rightly pointed out today, “the problem is that the world is watching on this one.” For some reason, Perkins+Will felt they had no choice but to show up in person to publicly defend their work. That’s concerning.

A few Councillors expressed concern today at how the modified Blatchford plan would be received by the public. There’s no question that there’s a communications challenge ahead of Council and the City, but I don’t think it’ll be too difficult to get Edmontonians onside with a pragmatic approach to city building. The bigger challenge is ensuring future partners aren’t turned off working with Edmonton because of the way things were handled with Perkins+Will and the other firms that competed in the international design competition.

Bringing families into the core

Closing the City Centre Airport was a pivotal moment in Edmonton’s history. Finishing the consolidation of air traffic at the Edmonton International Airport, removing the height restrictions imposed on downtown by the Airport Protection Overlay (which could be official as of June 24), putting a distracting and wasteful discussion behind us – those were among the many reasons to support the closure. But the most important reason for me was always the opportunity to increase the density of our city’s core.

I’ve long seen Blatchford as an opportunity to enhance housing choice. It’s a project that will make it increasingly viable for families to live in the core. Imagine the impact of another 30,000 people living just a short train ride from downtown! We’ve already seen what can happen when you increase the number of residents.

Would it be ideal if the project were highly profitable for the City of Edmonton? Sure. Would it be great if the community was carbon neutral? Yes. Would I be thrilled to have cities around the world look upon Blatchford with admiration for its leading edge sustainability? Absolutely. But those things are all secondary for me.

Blatchford

Blatchford, opening 2016?

The expectation is that builders will start to pre-sell homes in 2016, with the first moving moving in late that year or early in 2017. There’s a lot of work to do before we get to that point, but it’s exciting to know that Blatchford will be a reality sooner rather than later.

You can keep up-to-date with the project here.

Central State of Mind: Judd & Linda

This is the second entry in the Central State of Mind series. To read the first entry, click here. Sharon and I visited Judd and Linda in early October to learn about why they chose to live centrally.

Judd and Linda live in Oliver, though like most people who call the eastern part of the neighbourhood home, they would say they live in Grandin. A short walk from the Grandin LRT station, their 1000 square foot condo is certainly cozy but its location more than makes up for its relative lack of space. The couple moved to the neighbourhood four years ago because they were ready to start a family and their previous home downtown was adult-only. Their daughter Zoe was born two years ago.

Linda, Zoe, Judd

Avoiding or at least reducing their commute played a big role in Judd and Linda’s decision to move to Grandin. Judd works downtown as a mechanical engineer, while Linda works part time in social services in Central McDougall. They’re a one-car household, and they use their vehicle as infrequently as possible. Judd usually walks to work, though he has experimented with a variety of transportation options. Biking to work consistently takes about ten minutes, while taking the train can be quicker or slower depending on whether he misses the train or not. Judd has even ridden his longboard to work, though he says “it’s a lot more work because I have to dodge people on the sidewalks, and I usually end up walking anyway.” Linda used to walk to work, a trip that would take about 30 minutes. “We have friends that get up at 5 in the morning just to get ready for their commutes,” Linda said, as she reiterated the importance they place on living close to work.

Grandin

Location is about more than just commute times, however. “I love being able to just go out for a walk,” Linda said. Judd agreed, adding that proximity to amenities is another reason why they liked the area. “Everything is within walking distance,” he said. Ezio Faraone Park is a short walk away, as are the Legislature grounds, both among the best urban green space that Edmonton has to offer. Grandin is also perfectly situated between Downtown and Garneau, which means favorites like Blue Plate Diner and Transcend Coffee are just a short walk or train ride away. “I love going to the City Market on Saturdays too,” Linda told us. “I try to go a little earlier, it’s a nice walk to get there.” Location wasn’t the only thing that attracted them to the Grandin area, of course. “It’s quiet, tree-lined, and pub free!” Judd quipped when I asked him for additional reasons.

Their current living situation does have its challenges, however. “It would be nice to have a little bit more space,” Judd admitted. Entertaining is difficult with Zoe’s play area concentrated in the living room (she had a very cool toy kitchen that made Sharon jealous). The family is casually looking for something central with a bit more space, but it has to be the right fit. “To get something bigger, it has to meet all the requirements that are met now,” Judd said. “If something bugged us so much, we’d have a realtor!” One of the biggest issues with the smaller space is the layout. Sound seems to travel right to Zoe’s room, often waking her up. She is getting better at sleeping through it, however. Communities they are looking at include Westmount, McKernan, and Bonnie Doon. They’re intrigued by the City Centre Redevelopment, but that’s a bit too far into the future.

Grandin

Another challenge is the lack of shops and restaurants in the area that cater to families with young children. Linda wishes there were more kid-friendly cafes, and mentioned Café O’Play in Riverbend as an example. “In the summer it doesn’t matter so much, but when it gets cold, there aren’t as many places to take Zoe.” Similarly, many of the new restaurants that have opened nearby are focused on attracting adults, not families. Interestingly, grocery shopping has also been a challenge. “Downtown shopping is not baby-friendly,” Judd declared. Grocery stores in the area either don’t carry the items they need, or when they do, often charge far more than at other locations. On one trip to Sobeys for instance, Judd found just one brand of diapers and one brand of baby wipes. “When she grows out of diapers, it won’t be such a big deal,” he said. They usually shop at Save-On-Foods for smaller items, and now are able to make the short trip to Superstore on Kingsway Avenue for baby stuff. They also walk to Planet Organic occasionally.

Much of our conversation revolved around the challenges of having a young child in the core. “We kind of got into a pocket of timing with Zoe,” Judd said, realizing that the things they need and want now will change. “The less she is an infant, the easier everything gets.” Something that is very top-of-mind for Judd and Linda at the moment is wheelchair access. “Having a kid downtown has given me an appreciation for people who are in wheelchairs,” Judd said, noting that strollers and wheelchairs have similar needs and challenges. “If one elevator breaks down, then you’re often having to go quite far to detour,” Linda explained. “That’s why malls are so friendly to parents,” Judd concluded, because they offer multiple seating areas, big washrooms with change-tables, and excellent access.

Grandin

Judd and Linda often compare their situation with friends who live in the suburbs. “It’s the commute, that’s the difference,” Judd said. “We don’t have the 20 minutes stuck in traffic, but we have a smaller space.” He does recognize there’s a tradeoff, in that having a car means you don’t have to think as much about where you’re going. “A car gives you options.” Less stress is just one the benefits of avoiding the commute, however. “Living centrally gives you more time to do other things,” Linda said.

The couple would like to see more families living centrally. “It should be more affordable for younger families,” Linda said. She likes Oliver, but says there needs to be more options for family-friendly housing in central neighbourhoods. That means three bedroom condos, as an example. “Having two kids tips the balance,” Judd said. They are confident they have made the right choice, though even they question the centrally-located/smaller-space tradeoff from time to time. “We are in the minority here. Everyone else in the world does it,” Judd said. “Why does it feel so hard sometimes?”

About Oliver

One of Edmonton’s oldest neighbourhoods, Oliver is also the city’s most populated. According to the 2009 municipal census, more than 18,000 people live in Oliver. Roughly 27% of the population is under the age of 20 and nearly 65% of the population is under the age of 40. There are more than twice as many renters in the neighbourhoods as owners. Accordingly, there are significantly more apartments than single-detached homes. Development began in the 1880s, according to the City of Edmonton, though it wasn’t named Oliver until the 1950s.

Oliver scores an impressive 83 on Walk Score, which is “very walkable.” It also gets a Transit Score of 63 thanks to the Grandin LRT station and 45 nearby bus routes. You can learn more about Oliver at Wikipedia and at the Oliver Community League website. The community league is one of the city’s most active on Facebook and Twitter.

Central State of Mind

Would you like to be featured in the series, or do you know someone else who might like to be? If so, please get in touch!

Central State of Mind: Dan & Kathryn Friesen

Introduction

“Yeah, but you don’t have kids.” Without question, that’s the most common remark Sharon and I hear when we talk about living in the core. Obviously there are families living in central neighbourhoods (32% of the downtown population is under 20 years of age, for instance) but you don’t hear about them as often as you hear about families in new suburban neighbourhoods. That’s one of the reasons that we’ve embarked on a new series we’re calling Central State of Mind. Our goal is to feature Edmontonians who have chosen to live centrally, and we’re kicking it off with a young family that selected King Edward Park over the new neighbourhoods in the south. Certainly we have been inspired by Elise Stolte’s excellent summer series, Living on the Edge, but we think the stories of Edmontonians who have voted with their feet and their money to help Edmonton become a more compact, financially sustainable city deserve to be told as well.

Meet Dan, Kathryn, and Sam

Dan & Kathryn Friesen live in King Edward Park, though when people ask they usually say Bonnie Doon because most don’t know where King Edward Park is located. They’ve lived in their current home for four years now, after moving from a condo in the heart of Old Strathcona near 80 Avenue and 105 Street. Choosing a mature neighbourhood was an important decision that Kathryn & Dan put a lot of thought into. Newer neighbourhoods in the city seem to get most of the attention, but not everyone chooses to live there. Sharon and I sat down with Kathryn & Dan at their home in early August to learn more so that we could share their story.

Kathryn & Dan

One of the biggest factors that went into their decision was commuting and their desire to avoid it as much as possible. “It seems like a waste of resources and a waste of time,” Dan said. The location they chose is split between Kathryn’s office downtown and Dan’s office in the south side (they both work in social services). Each can get home from work in less than 20 minutes, even in heavy traffic. “The time commuting takes away from time you can spend with your kids,” Kathryn told us as we watched her two-year-old son Sam play in the backyard. Before Sam was born, Kathryn would either bike or bus to work, but now she drives so that she can take him to daycare. Dan usually bikes to work. They’re a one-car-household, though they do have access to their parents’ vehicle if necessary.

Another factor was walkability. “I love that we can walk to so many places,” Kathryn said. “It was important to incorporate that kind of physical activity.” The Safeway at Bonnie Doon is within walking distance, as is a Korean restaurant that the couple enjoys (they lived in Korea for a time). There are also plenty of playgrounds within walking distance. “There’s a great playground with a spray park less than a five minute walk away,” Kathryn told us. King Edward Park, Duncan Innes Park, and Avonmore Park are all within walking distance, and Idylwylde Park is only a little further away. Additionally they have good access to bike trails and can get into Mill Creek Ravine easily. The day before we visited, they had biked to Heritage Days at Hawrelak Park.

Backyard

As a new mom, access to programs, services, and other families was important to Kathryn. She was part of the New Moms Network at the Bonnie Doon Public Health Centre, just a ten minute walk from home. The moms group she is a part of now has 30 people – Kathryn & Dan told us there are a lot of families in the area. “There’s a lot of play in the front yards, it’s not all hidden in the back,” Kathryn said. She said that families in the neighbourhood often join each other for walks. In addition to spending time in the neighbourhood, Kathryn also frequents Kinsmen, within biking distance (or a short drive), and the downtown library, which she takes the bus to get to. “I talk to other new moms living on the outskirts, and they talk about the need to drive to get to those programs.” She has a lot of praise for EPL and its drop-in programs, such as Sing, Sign, Laugh & Learn. “I have no idea what I haven’t given up because I just look at all these things I have access to that are free!” She said that similar programs in the south side (in the newer neighbourhoods) are usually for-profit.

Dan was comfortable choosing an older home, even though there’s a lot of upkeep. “I could make a list of things this house needs that is pages long,” Dan mused, though he pointed out that newer homes aren’t problem-free either. “With newer homes you often have to fight the developers or builders.” Their house had been updated in recent years, with new windows, a new roof, a new hot water heater, etc. “All of the essentials were done,” Dan told us. He thinks there is certainly some truth to the notion they don’t build houses the way they used to. “The structural elements of the house are solid,” he said. “But you still have to look for a house that has been kept up and looked after.”

King Edward Park Home

Of course, Kathryn & Dan were thinking about the future when they chose King Edward Park as well. The neighbourhood has two great schools – Donnan and St. James. Additionally, Avonmore School is only a few blocks to the south. “Schools in mature neighbourhoods seem to have more unique programs,” Kathryn told us. The family is also excited about a new LRT stop as part of the Southeast LRT to Mill Woods line. In addition to Bonnie Doon, a stop has been proposed for 73 Avenue and 83 Street.

Living in a mature neighbourhood that doesn’t require as much driving has had a positive impact on the way the family goes about its day-to-day activities. Kathryn calls it “slowing down” and finds she has to choose to do one or two things, instead of many. “When you live in the suburbs and you’re driving places anyway, you end up packing more into your day.” It might take more time to choose the bus, but Sam loves the ride and Kathryn doesn’t feel like she’s dragging him from place to place. “Less lugging, more hugging,” she said. “I find we’re just so much more relaxed.”

King Edward Park

Dan & Kathryn are certainly happy with their decision to live in a mature neighbourhood, and they suggested the choice is more common than people think. “We’re not an anomaly,” Kathryn declared. “People think we’re an anomaly, but we’re not.”

About King Edward Park

According to the 2009 municipal census, nearly 4400 people live in King Edward Park. Roughly 32% of the population is under the age of 20 and 64% of the population is under the age of 40. The neighbourhood is split evenly between owners and renters. Single-detached homes are the most common type of structure, followed by low-rise (under 5 stories) apartment buildings and duplex/triplex/fourplex buildings. According to the City of Edmonton, the neighbourhood was annexed in 1912 but most development didn’t occur until the 1950s.

King Edward Park scores 72 on Walk Score, which is “very walkable”. The neighbourhood is included in the Mill Creek South Community Walking Map. It gets a Transit Score of 60 which is “good”, thanks to 41 nearby bus routes. King Edward Park is one of six neighbourhoods in Edmonton to take part in the speed reduction pilot, with speed limits lowered to 40km/h.

The neighbourhood is scheduled for reconstruction as part of the 2012-14 construction program (work will include roadway construction, street lighting upgrades, and sidewalk, curb, and gutter reconstruction). It was part of the drainage renewal program last year.

Central State of Mind

Would you like to be featured in the series, or do you know someone else who might like to be? If so, please get in touch! And if you haven’t already read it, David Thompson’s column on the cost of urban sprawl in Edmonton is definitely worth your time.