Annexations in Edmonton

The City of Edmonton officially announced today its intention to annex a large area south of our current boundaries (you can listen to the press conference here). The plan would see 120 km2 west of the QEII highway annexed, an area which includes the Edmonton International Airport, and about 36 km2 east of the QEII annexed, which would include most of the area between Edmonton and Beaumont. According to Mayor Mandel, the new space would be used for both residential and industrial development. You can read much more about the news here, and be sure to check out the City’s page on the proposed annexation. It is estimated that the annexation could be completed in as little as two years. You won’t be surprised to hear that I’m less than enthusiastic about the news.

Edmonton’s Annexations

I’ll write more about that specific proposal in the future, but for now I thought it would be useful to take a look at Edmonton’s previous annexations. I have included the proposed annexation in the data below however, to give you a sense of where it fits in (I went with 2015 as the year). There have thus far been 31 annexation events in Edmonton’s history, according to a document prepared by the City’s planning department. That includes the incorporations of both Edmonton and Strathcona, as well as three temporary separations. Most of those annexations were relatively small, with an average annexation area of about 21 km2. Take out the 1982 annexation however, and the average drops to just 10 km2.

Here’s what those annexation events look like on a chart:

As you can see, the annexation in 1982 was unusually large – it doubled the size of our city. The proposed annexation in the south would handily come in as the second largest annexation in Edmonton’s history.

Here’s the list of annexation events:

YEAR DESCRIPTION CUMULATIVE AREA (km2)
1892 Incorporation of Town of Edmonton 8.7
1899 Incorporation of Town of Strathcona 10.8
1904 Incorporation of City of Edmonton 23.0
1907 Incorporation of City of Strathcona 37.9
1908 Buena Vista to Westmount, North Inglewood to Eastwood/Virginia Park 57.3
1911 Highlands, Amalgamation of Edmonton & Strathcona 59.9
1912 Belmont Park 62.9
1912 Kennedale 64.0
1913 Dominion Industrial to Quesnell Heights / Brander Gardens to Parkallen, Bonaventure to Belvedere, Forest Heights to Argyll 103.0
1914 Allendale / Duggan to Coronet / Papaschase 105.6
1917 Calder 106.4
1922 Separation of north Brander Gardens 105.8
1922 Separation of Papaschase 105.3
1947 Pleasantview 105.6
1950 Whitemud Creek 105.9
1951 Separation of part of Duggan 105.6
1954 Capilano / Fulton Place 109.0
1954 Coronet 109.6
1956 Gold Bar 112.1
1958 Davies Industrial 114.0
1959 Terrace Heights / Ottewell 116.3
1959 Terwillegar Park / Riverbend to Strathcona Industrial Park, re-annexation of separations 146.2
1960 Ottewell to Girard Industrial 149.3
1961 Beverly / Clareview to Dickinsfield 177.8
1964 Jasper Place and Southeast Industrial 221.6
1967 Clover Bar Power Plant 221.8
1969 Springfield / Callingwood 226.9
1970 Springfield – north 227.5
1971 Castle Downs / Lake District and Mill Woods 288.3
1972 West Jasper Place 314.4
1974 Kaskitayo 317.5
1976 Northwest Industrial 319.7
1980 Pilot Sound and Twin Brooks 331.1
1982 Northeast, Southeast, Southwest Urban Growth Areas 700.6
2015 Proposed South Annexation 856.6

Municipalities annex land for a variety of reasons – sometimes the goal is to acquire industrial land, other times its to start developing future residential neighbourhoods. Here’s what our land and population growth has looked like over the last 120 years:

The left axis and blue line shows the growth in Edmonton’s population, while the right axis and red line shows the growth in Edmonton’s land area. While our population has risen steadily, annexations have been much less consistent.

Impact on Population Density

When the Town of Edmonton was incorporated in 1892 it consisted of 8.7 km2 of land and was home to about 700 people, giving us a population density of about 81/km2. Today, with a population of nearly 818,000 and a total area of about 700 km2, we have a much higher population density of roughly 1,167/km2. That’s not the highest it has ever been, however. Edmonton’s population density peaked in 1958 at about 2,212 people/km2 and has been falling ever since.

(For comparison purposes, New York City’s population density is 10,430/km2, London’s is 5,206/km2, Toronto’s is 4,149/km2, Vancouver’s is 5,249/km2, and Calgary’s is 1,329/km2. Yes, even sprawling Calgary has a higher population density than us!)

Here’s what our population density looks like on a chart:

There are a couple of key events to point out. The amalgamation of Edmonton and Strathcona in 1912 is noticeable thanks to a jump in the population. The annexations in 1959 of Terrace Heights, Ottewell, Terwillegar Park, and Riverbend marked the start of our population density decline. The jump back up in 1964/1965 was due to the annexation of Jasper Place, which brought about 38,000 residents to Edmonton in addition to more space. The large drop in 1982 is extremely apparent, and while the population density has slowly been creeping back up, you can see that the proposed annexation would cause it to decline once again.

Looking at the Capital Region

I absolutely agree with Mayor Mandel that a strong Edmonton is a strong region, but I don’t necessarily agree that Edmonton needs to acquire more land in order to remain strong. Supporters of annexation may suggest that Edmonton’s declining proportion of the region’s population is proof that buyers are not finding what they’re looking for within the city so they’re going elsewhere.

Here’s a look at the percentage of people in the Edmonton CMA who live within the city limits:

What’s clear is that there has been a decline in the proportion of people living in Edmonton-proper versus the surrounding areas. What’s less clear is why that has happened.

While Edmonton has not annexed any land since 1982, there have been 6 annexations by other municipalities in the region in the last 15 years.

Other Resources

Annexation is a big topic. Here are some additional resources that you may find useful:

We need to hold downtown parking lots to a higher standard

I’m no fan of surface parking lots downtown, but even if we succeed at getting rid of some of them many will remain. We’ll always have a need for parking downtown, and it won’t always be in a closed structure like a parkade. If you believe the mantra that “as goes your downtown, so goes your city” then you should care about these parking lots. Parking lots take up lots of space and directly impact how clean, safe, and vibrant downtown is or is perceived to be. We need to start holding our parking lots downtown to a higher standard.

Example of a bad parking lot

The parking lot on the west side of 103 Street just south of 103 Avenue is one of the worst parking lots downtown. You can see it on maps.edmonton.ca here. Here it is on Google Street View – it has not changed since the imagery was recorded.

There’s a lot to dislike about this parking lot. It is not paved, resulting in a huge mess whenever there’s rain or snow.

Parking Lot

There is no landscaping around the lot. It looks ugly from every angle. The empty wooden box along the sidewalk has potential but instead is an eyesore. There isn’t a clear separation between the parking lot and the sidewalk.

Parking Lot

Parking Lot

There are no cameras in sight, no theft prevention signs anywhere. You don’t get the sense that someone is looking after this parking lot.

Parking Lot

At night, the lot feels incredibly unsafe. It has very poor lighting – the bulk of the light that does exist is actually from the Pattison advertisement.

Parking Lot

Parking Lot

Example of a good parking lot

The parking lot at Jasper Avenue and 99 Street, beside the World Trade Centre building, is one of the best parking lots downtown (except for the fact that it is located on Jasper Avenue, which I really don’t like). You can see it on maps.edmonton.ca here (plus adjacent plots of land). Here it is on Google Street View, and you can see that it has actually been improved since the imagery was recorded. That itself is a positive thing about this parking lot – someone is looking after it!

There are a bunch of things I like about this parking lot. I like that it is paved and that the parking lines are clearly marked.

Parking Lot

I like that there is some landscaping around the parking lot. It makes it look much more attractive, and the transparent fencing results in a nice blend of vehicles and pedestrians on the sidewalk.

Parking Lot

You’ll note on the far wall, the side of the World Trade Centre building, that there are cameras. Activity in this parking lot is being recorded. There are also signs about preventing theft throughout the lot.

Parking Lot

At night, the parking lot is very well lit. There are no dark corners. You feel safe walking in this parking lot at night.

Parking Lot

Parking Lot

Most of downtown Edmonton’s parking lots are bad

The list of positives might actually be longer than the things I have pointed out above, but I think there are a few things that all good parking lots must have:

  • Paved aisles and entryways (at least)
  • Bright, evenly distributed lighting
  • Landscaping and trash receptacles
  • Some separation between cars and pedestrians (a non-opaque fence, for example)
  • Monitoring, by security camera or guard or both

If you walk around downtown, you’ll quickly realize that there are very few parking lots that meet this criteria. Most are gravel lots, with no landscaping, limited lighting, no fencing, and no sense that anyone is looking after them. They are eyesores, and they contribute to the feeling that downtown is dirty and unsafe.

What can we do about it?

I think we need to start holding land owners accountable. If you want to have a surface parking lot on your land, fine, but you have to look after it! Especially if you’re producing revenue from that parking lot. Obviously we as drivers can choose to avoid parking in lots that are not compliant, but I question how effective that would actually be. I think we need the City to start enforcing these things, to make a statement that we care about downtown and that these ugly and unsafe parking lots are not helping. Give land owners 180 days to get compliant, and put up jersey barriers if they don’t.

You can see more photos of these two parking lots here.

What do you think?

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.