A New Urbanism
Ursula Franklin, eminent Canadian geologist and museologist, at a Canadian Museums Association conference in St. John, New Brunswick, noted that poverty was the best preserver of heritage. By this she meant that wealthier provinces tore down their stock of historic buildings in downtowns while poorer cities such as St. John that had suffered from recessions for years had an excellent stock of historic buildings.
Cities in the Western democracies have been struggling with a range of challenges including aging physical infrastructure, urban sprawl, and also a range of inner-city social issues. The development of the automobile impacted on the footprint of North American cities by making suburbs and even separate, nearby towns accessible to those who worked in the city. The garden city movement promoted the notion that cities needed to be surrounded by "green belts" and that families lived on the outskirts of cities in bungalows surrounded by gardens with easy access to services. Thus, families ceased to go into the downtown for many amenities. It became a truism that only the poor and the disadvantaged continued to live in the downtown core. The development of industrial parks also drew away small and large businesses to areas outside the city. The building of shopping malls covering large terrains on the fringes of the city surrounded by extensive car parks, further impacted on the city.
Beginning in the 1950s, city planners were focused on moving traffic in and out of the downtown core in the most efficient manner possible and this resulted in the creation of concrete freeways and overpasses that required the tearing down of old buildings, further denuding the downtown core of historic buildings that gave it identity as well as visual beauty. The result of all of these trends was a downtown core denuded of significant residents and businesses that gave it a purpose. For many city residents, there was no longer any reason to go downtown other than to complete transactions with governments since public buildings remained in the downtown.
All of these trends happened without significant planning on the part of cities. It would appear that neither civil servants nor elected officials were aware of these trends in a mad dash to modernity. In the US, beginning in the 1950s, historians, curators, and some architects saw that the loss of traditional neighborhoods meant that important aspects of the cultural patrimony were being lost. Initiatives then began to preserve colonial and federal structures many of which were situated in the downtown core. In many cities, these efforts were too little, too late but champions such as Jane Jacobs made it possible to state the value of historic buildings in ways in which the larger community could become involved. The Death and Life of Great American Cities, like Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, made people aware of the negative impacts of modernity and an unchecked progressivist ethic. Jacobs and her husband had moved to Toronto to ensure that their sons would not be conscripted to fight in the war in Vietnam, and Toronto became the base of her operations. It became the crucible for testing her ideas about city life and urban values. The values of small communities and communal governance, such as the New England town hall meeting were espoused by Jacobs and others, and ordinary citizens were encouraged to take back the city from developers and civic politicians and others captivated by the "edifice complex."
By the 1980s onward, building preservation was firmly linked with urban revitalization and the arts and culture were seen as a tool for making this happen. There are many American and some Canadian examples of efforts and successes in this area. Examples include Baltimore, Philadelphia, Seattle, Portland in the US and Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver in Canada. Philadelphia for the Arts was a major urban revitalization project that saw the preservation and adaptive re-use of historic buildings; sadly, great swaths of the downtown were also razed to create a new convention centre complex and new cultural flagship facilities. This also happened in Seattle and Baltimore. Ursula Franklin, eminent Canadian geologist and museologist, at a Canadian Museums Association conference in St. John, New Brunswick, noted that poverty was the best preserver of heritage. By this she meant that wealthier provinces tore down their stock of historic buildings in downtowns while poorer cities that had suffered from recessions for years, such as St. John, had an excellent stock of historic buildings.
Edmonton and Calgary, in relation to other North American cities, are relatively new. They had their beginnings at the end of the 19th century, and their first building booms happened at the beginning of the 20th century. The establishment of the Province of Alberta in 2005 heralded a major building boom that saw a range of public buildings such as the Alberta Legislature built. The architectural style of public buildings was largely Neoclassical in nature. The building boom ended with the coming of the Second World War. After that, building continued at a slow rate until the coming in of Leduc #1 in 1947. Since then, while there have been some recessionary periods, the economy of Alberta remained largely buoyant and building continued. In terms of the building stock of the cities of Edmonton and Calgary, there are the few building jewels from the first part of the 20th century and, then, the significant building stock from 1947 onward, largely Modern in style. The recently completed City of Edmonton Modern building inventory is evidence of the building boom that the City experienced in this era, and some of these buildings are of international significance.
While Calgary, consistent with its being the corporate centre for Alberta's oil patch, saw a building boom spurred by "big oil" in the 1970s and 1980s, Edmonton did not. It was in this period as well, under the premiership of Peter Lougheed that Edmonton's position as the provincial capital was eroded, a process completed under Premier Ralph Klein's leadership. Under Minister Steve West, many services traditionally housed in the capital city, were decentralized to communities throughout Alberta. In addition, there were major cuts to the Edmonton-based provincial civil service. The loss of these offices and reductions to the Edmonton-based provincial civil service impacted significantly on Edmonton. It was the potential threat to the loss of Edmonton's International Airport that finally galvanized City Council and public opinion to challenge the province on the erosion of the power base of the Capital City. Under Mayors Bill Smith and Stephen Mandel, Council has shown leadership in this area but the battle has not been won.
The work begun by Jane Jacobs has been continued by others including Roberta Brandes Gratz and Norman Mintz. In their Cities Back from the Edge: new life for downtown, they analyze failures in urban planning as well as suggesting how to remedy them. They make the important point that cities can be rebuilt but not reborn and explain this notion as follows:
The ones rebuilt, but not reborn, have done so according to expensive plans, bankers' plans, planners' plans, politicians' plans, developers' plans—all Project Plans. The result is a collection of expensive, big activity places—tourist attractions—connected to each other and the suburbs by a massive auto-based network. When the elusive goal is merely tourism, efficiency, and big copycat civic projects, little real energy and downtown life follows, just single-activity places. The complex, multidimensional urban fabric has been effectively replaced. A collection of visitor attractions does not add up to a city.
Gratz and Mintz note, as so many others have done, that communities and cities are about the sense of place. In order to rebuild our cities, we need to define space through public discourse that focuses on "strengthening family values, rebuilding community, integrating people, building secure communities, and eliminating crime." The process required to succeed in a "multi-benefit way" is:
...across the country, efforts abound to recreate destroyed public spaces, rebuild undermined downtowns, stimulate new entrepreneurial opportunities, and repopulate the stores on Main Street and their upstairs apartments. Groups diligently repairing, restoring, reweaving, and replacing those communities, Main streets, public meeting places, small businesses, parks, cultural landmarks, and historic buildings are actually repairing democracy itself.
They note that there are no formulas for success but, throughout the book, they provide positive US examples of urban redevelopment. Time and again they demonstrate that historic buildings can be rescued and restored to be the centerpiece of developments with a range of community and business uses. They are also advocates for small is beautiful and communities leading such projects rather than developers in "distant corporate headquarters." Principles include norms such as "incremental development builds on local character" and the organic model of gardening. Frequently, a small project serves as a catalyst. Downtown is seen as needing cars to bring people in and out but not at the expense of other community values since transportation can destroy neighborhoods. They also note that superstores and national chains can locate downtown, even in historic buildings. They do not need to be in big box developments. Finally, they advocate a "back to basics" approach:
Many communities, big and small, wait for a private owner or public agency to create the new attraction. Farsighted residents don't. They recognize a need, seize an opportunity, and get something started without waiting for public officials to move. Community-based investment, in fact, has the greatest chance for success, simply because local people treasure and nurture their own ownership role.
Project for Public Spaces, Inc. (PPS) is a non-profit organization established by President Fred Kent in 1975. They have developed expertise in the area of the social and spatial issues that challenge cities and focus on helping citizens to rebuild their communities. They have created a handbook titled How to Turn a Place Around: A Handbook for Creating Successful Public Spaces. They were brought in by the City of Edmonton to advise senior staff and community volunteers in November 2007. The workbook echoes many of the same principles noted by Gratz and Metz but puts into a "how to" format. Their mission is "to create and sustain public places that build communities." They have chosen public places as their focus for the following reasons:
Public places are a stage for our public lives. They are the parks where celebrations are held, where marathons end, where children learn the skills of a sport, where the seasons are marked, and where cultures mix. They are the streets and sidewalks in front of homes and businesses where friends run into each other and where exchanges both social and economic take place. They are the "front porches" of our public institutions—city halls, libraries, and post offices—where we interact with each other and with government.
When cities and neighborhoods have thriving public spaces, residents have a strong sense of community; conversely, when such spaces are lacking, residents may feel less connected to each other.
PPS has focused on what others describe as Iconic Space and note that such places have the following benefits:
- Give cities their sense of identity
- Benefit cities economically
- Help the environment and
- Provide settings for cultural activities
As a result of researching more than 11,000 public spaces, they have created a visual that demonstrates the Key Attributes (i.e., Intangibles Measurements of successful public spaces):
- Accessibility (Access and Linkage)
- Activities (Uses and Activities)
- Comfort (Comfort and Image) and
Each of these Key Attributes results in positive feelings and, in turn, relates to specific civic functions. For example, Comfort and Image, encourages positive feelings such as:
In turn, these impact:
- Crime statistics
- Sanitation rating
- Building conditions and
- Environmental data
PPS also indicates why many public spaces fail:
Today, many public spaces seem to be intentionally designed to be looked at but not touched. They are neat, clear and empty—as if to say, "no people, no problem!" But when a public space is empty, vandalized, or used chiefly by undesirables, this is generally an indication that something is very wrong with its design, or its management, or both.
The principles outlined for developing and managing a successful place are as follows:
- Underlying Ideas:
- The community is the expert
- Your are creating a place—not a design
- You can't do it alone
- They always say it can't be done
- Planning and outreach techniques:
- You can see a lot just by observing
- Develop a vision
- Translating ideas into action
- For supports function
- Start with the petunias
- Money is not the issue
- You are never finished
Urban Revitalization: Edmonton Examples
While many consider that the issue of urban revitalization is a hot issue today, it has taken about 30 years to get here. When experts such as Roberta Brandes Gretz visit Edmonton, they present success stories from largely American sources and do not have a background in what has been happening in Edmonton. In fact, there have been a number of successful projects and it would appear that there is now a critical mass of community and civic understanding of the importance of such projects to the life of the City viewed broadly and not simply from the lens of culture or heritage. The following discussion provides some case studies and analyzes the history, motivation, processes, and successes and/or failures of each.
While Edmonton has done nothing of the scale required to ensure the complete revitalization of its downtown centered around Jasper Avenue, it has undertaken some successful projects. Ironically, the most successful is in Old Strathcona, which started its life as a separate incorporated community on the South bank of the North Saskatchewan River. This urban redevelopment project fits many of the criteria set out by Gratz and Mintz, and the PPS. In fact, it was one of the earliest urban revitalization projects in Canada centered on a historic precinct and received funding support from the Heritage Canada Foundation, a national agency that promotes the preservation of the built heritage. The initiator of this project was the Old Strathcona Foundation, incorporated on 13 November 1974.
After its annexation by Edmonton in 1912, Strathcona ceased to be a centre for business and became largely a residential area. Its main street, Whyte Avenue, declined as the prestigious shops, businesses and offices were concentrated in Edmonton's downtown on the North side of the River. The area is an example of a very successful mixed use urban revitalization project. For the past 33 years, the Old Strathcona Foundation has raised funds from all levels of government for the preservation work, as well as masterminding street beautification and façade restoration projects.
At the heart of Old Strathcona is a classic Alberta Main Street with historic buildings dating back to the early part of the 20th century. Some have received municipal, provincial, or federal historic designation. It is a living, urban neighbourhood with historic homes, character buildings, and a range of activities that draw people to the area. The buildings house restaurants and cafes, pubs, a library, jazz club, shops, bookstores, cinemas and offices. Infill concrete buildings have now been given some character and one has become a boutique hotel. Some new constructions have been designed to fit in with the historic frontages. The City of Edmonton's old Bus Barns and the complex of buildings around them include a market as well as performance space for the Fringe Theatre Adventures. The old firehall became the Walterdale Theatre. Besides shopping and entertainment venues, the area also houses a range of non-profits that undertake programming to attract visitors. Old Strathcona was so successful that it became the model for the Province of Alberta's Mainstreet Programme, which provides funding support for revitalization projects in municipalities throughout Alberta.
Today, Old Strathcona is a victim of its own success. While the mix of cultural programming, retail, and entertainment continues, the bars and clubs attract not only responsible but also irresponsible drinkers who annoy law-abiding residents. Individual acts of violence had occurred in earlier years but residents of the area, and Edmontonians, were shocked when good times around Canada Day celebrations in 2001 turned into a violent rampage in the small hours of the morning. Drunken hooligans, only a minority of the 10,000 estimated visitors to the area, vandalized property and assaulted police officers who tried to contain them.
Another urban redevelopment case study is offered by Churchill Square. The City of Edmonton initiated an important community consultation process with respect to probably the City's most important Iconic Space/Place, Churchill Square, in 2002–03 for the City's centenary in 2004. Representatives from various arts, heritage, and cultural organizations as well as businesses took part in a series of envisioning sessions aimed at the renovation of the Square based on functional design. At various times, the City had looked at the redesign of the Square, renamed in 1965 to honour war-time British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. Some wonderful early designs exist that, had they gone ahead, would have given it an impressive Neoclassical look.
Sadly, Edmonton's downtown went through the same process as all North American cities in the throes of booms undergo when the adage of "out with the old and in with the new" ruled. Thus, beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, the City replaced its old city hall and central library, and eventually the civic square was ringed with a new art gallery, concert hall, and shopping mall construction. The only historic buildings left on the Square were an old Ed Tel Art Deco-style building which is now a condo development; the building occupied by the SAGE (Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton) and the Edmonton Art Gallery. The Churchill Square revitalization project was an envisioning process in the nature of processes described by Gratz and Mintz and PPS. The revitalization, to the extent that it has occurred, finally happened because there was both civic and community involvement. Key to this was the fact that various festivals had made the Square the base of major activities including a Taste of Edmonton, the Works, the Street Performers Festival, CariWest (Edmonton Caribbean Arts Festival), etc. They were tired of dealing with cabling, set-up and take-down, cleaning, and policing issues. Simultaneously, there was the desire, on the part of Mayor Smith and City Council, for an Iconic Public Space.
Having put in all of this time and effort to plan, what did the City and citizens of Edmonton get? The vision documents are excellent and all participants gave of their knowledge and expertise freely. These are hallmarks for city/cultural sector/community engagement processes around redevelopment. Sadly, the project price tag of $12.3 million could not buy all of the features envisioned or the quality of materials required for an Iconic Place/Space. There is a reason for this. The City of Edmonton, sadly, has a history of conservative councils characterized by fiscal conservatism. Unlike cities such as Calgary and Vancouver, which have a history of significant building projects that are city-building, legacy pieces, Edmonton does not. In addition, as has been noted, the provincial government has not been generous to its capital city even allowing the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor to deteriorate resulting in the wrong-headed decision that it was unsalvageable and needed to be torn down.
Under Mayor Jan Reimer, the City focused on social agendas though she was also supportive of the arts and the significant Task Force on the Arts, which resulted in the establishment of the Edmonton Arts Council, occurred within her tenure as Mayor. It was Mayors Bill Smith and Stephen Mandel that made the erosion of the City's power as the provincial capital a primary agenda for City Council. They began to attempt to remedy this with direct appeals to Premier Ralph Klein for additional funding for the Capital Region and even proposed a beautification process for 109 Street as a ceremonial entry-point to the Legislature. This has not, to date, borne significant fruit and is an ongoing focus of the Mayor and Council. There are also other complicating factors. For any major project, there needs to be Council consensus and this has not always been easy to reach. In addition, proposed expenditures on the Square were viewed as taking money away from social projects as well as from taxpayer pockets. This attitude bedevils any proposal that is not related to infrastructure and public safety.
In short, the final Churchill Square project was not the project as envisioned by stakeholders. While the space certainly functions better than it did for festivals, it has been criticized for the following reasons:
- The utility corridors in the cement under-structure of the Square cannot accommodate all cabling; thus, for larger festivals, power cables still litter the Square (this was the direct result of City staff's ignoring the recommendations of Festival stakeholders as to the needs)
- The cement surface of the Square is showing cracking and staining resulting from food service
- There are not enough trees or grass (the City wanted to avoid re-grassing required after each festival and chose a cement surface with landscaping around the borders of the Square) and the water feature was not built
- Permanent "furniture" on the Square (tables, benches, etc.) are not aesthetically pleasing
- The glass structure occupied by a café blocks the view of the Central Library
- The Square, when programmed, is a vital and happening place but, when it is not, it is empty and bleak
In conclusion, the Square can only be considered "half built" and will require some major "fixes" in the future.
Arts, Heritage and Culture and the City
As has been noted in both the Old Strathcona and Churchill Square case studies, arts and heritage elements are necessary to urban revitalization projects. Successful urban revitalization projects require not just facilities but also a range of cultural organizations that undertake cultural programming that draws people to the area. As has been noted, Old Strathcona followed the lead of the Heritage Canada Foundation in using preservation of heritage buildings and adaptive re-use (i.e., non-museum or heritage-specific uses) as a basis for re-development. The success of this project, both in terms of revitalization and increased tax base, would serve to inspire community leaders to want to do more. It was also, effectively, the City's first Arts District.
The City of Edmonton Cultural Futures Project
In 1988, the City, led by the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Advisory Board, began a cultural futures envisioning process. For a period of 11 months, over 100 volunteers representing 21 sectors of the community worked with Project Manager Donna Cardinal, volunteer Project Chairman Terry MacDougall and Consultant Warren Ziegler of Futures-Invention Associates to develop what, in effect, was a cultural plan for the City.
The project involved many of the same steps as the current Cultural Planning Process and the process and recommendations were ahead of their time. The same enthusiasm and some of the same people involved in the Old Strathcona project participated in the envisioning process. In the end, while the City did not ratify the recommendations, officials did permeate the next generation of thinking on the importance of culture to the City. They may also, directly or indirectly, have resulted in the Mayor's Task Force with its recommendation to create the Edmonton Arts Council.
Never let it be doubted that a positive press can make or break a project. As a participant in the process, I can testify to the fact that negative articles by Edmonton Journal columnist John Geiger turned City Council and the public against the Report. He ridiculed the envisioning process and the futurist language and influenced City Council. The result was that the Report did not receive approval. It is interesting to speculate how much further ahead the City would be, if the report's recommendations had been approved.
In 1995, the Edmonton Arts Council moved into a very important area by partnering with the Edmonton Downtown Development Corporation (EDDC) to invite Jeremy Alvarez, Executive Director, Central Philadelphia Development Corporation, to present on the theme "Arts Districts – Economic Development Initiatives of the 90s." The presentation was a part of the AGM of the EDDC and the flyer stated:
According to the International Downtown Association, arts, culture, and entertainment will be a major economic development activity for downtowns in the 90s. Philadelphia's four-mile Avenue of the Arts houses 16 cultural and educational organizations. It will generate $2 million in economic activity over the next ten years, including $291 million in capital redevelopment, $4.6 million in new tax benefits, and $5 million in wage taxes during the construction phase. The Central Philadelphia Development Corporation (CPDC), under Mr. Alvarez's direction, has been instrumental in making Avenue of the Arts a focus for Philadelphia and that city's top economic development strategy.
The flyer further notes that the EDDC is advocating the development of an arts district centred around Churchill Square in Edmonton's downtown. Another benchmark study, the Mayor's Task force on the Heart of the City is cited as having initially suggested the development of Sir Winston Churchill Square and the surrounding arts and cultural facilities as a major project for the downtown. The arts district concept had come to Edmonton!
The subsequent envisioning process did not bear the fruit that the stakeholder groups had hoped for and only a small pilot was realized. This was ArtsHab - the Arts Habitat Association of Edmonton, a not-for-profit organization with the mandate "to provide safe and affordable space where artists can live and work." The time was not right and the appropriate vehicle had not been established to undertake even a "scaled back" version of Philadelphia's Avenue of the Arts. As the flyer further notes:
Businesses and developers also benefit from the development of an arts district. The arts' biggest asset in the "real estate game"' is the ability to draw people. Businesses want to be where people are. A special synergy occurs when commercial and artistic uses exist side by side. Together they create a greater drawing power than they would separately. An arts presence can contribute to greater property values for neighboring properties, and as a result of an arts presence, developers are finding vacant space can be rented quicker, at a higher rate and to a more upscale clientele.
In fact, the City of Edmonton already had an "arts district"—Old Strathcona. It was simply not described in those terms. The downtown arts district has yet to be fully developed but it is well on its way.
Iconic Arts Spaces
As is noted by Gratz and Mintz and PPS, urban revitalization projects require Iconic Spaces/Places and, frequently, in such projects, they are arts spaces. Philadelphia for the Arts is an established model. With respect to Edmonton, the downtown, at present, has a partially re-vitalized Churchill Square surrounded on two sides by cultural flagships: the Art Gallery of Alberta (formerly the Edmonton Art Gallery), the Winspear Centre for Music and the Stanley Milner Library.
The Art Gallery of Alberta
The AGA is an excellent case study with reference to Iconic Space/Place. It was positioned in this way from the outset by Director Tony Lupino, a shrewd communications specialist. When he became the Director, the Gallery had been stuck in a planning mode for at least 10 years and seemed unable to move forward. The Director and Board realized that they needed to launch a major offensive to win not only government and corporate support but also that of the citizens of Edmonton. Luppino chose the technique of an international design competition and getting the community involved in the choice of design. It was a process that engaged the community in a variety of ways culminating in presentations by the short-listed architects. At the center of these presentations were trenchant analyses of Edmonton's less-than-stellar buildings around Churchill Square. The criticisms gave offense to many civic-minded individuals and whipped up a frenzy of interest in developing a building that would make a bold statement. The design by winning architect Randall Stout is controversial but will certainly bring the Square into the 21st century. Reference points for the process were the art museum in Bilbao, the Tate Modern in London, and the addition to the Royal Ontario Museum. While preservationists were disturbed by the rejection of the Modern building, the futurists won out because the design was sold on the vision of a revitalized Churchill Square posited on flagship cultural institutions.
The Royal Alberta Museum
While the Royal Alberta Museum (RAM; formerly the Provincial Museum of Alberta) is not located in the area of Churchill Square, it is a part of Ward 4, which is the City's arts ward including not only the Square but also Grant MacEwan College, the gallery district along the end of Jasper Avenue as it becomes124th Street and down the top of Stony Plain Road. The Museum is also an important case study of Iconic Space/Place though its redeveloped facility is yet to receive the full funding support required to complete it.
At the time of HRH Queen Elizabeth II's visit in May 2005, the vision of the new facility was launched, including architectural models. The facility had seen no serious enhancements in the fabric of the building since it was opened on 6 December 1967 as a federal centenary project. It received a grant of $2.5 million as a Confederation Memorial Project. This funding was more than matched by the Government of Alberta, which contributed $5.1 million. When the Museum opened, it was considered state-of-the-art but the permanent exhibit galleries received no updating for more than 20 years. In the 1980s, a series of exercises to update exhibits and the facilities began but with the economic downturn, it was never the right time for the Government of Alberta to commit dollars.
Unlike the AGA's redevelopment process, which was used to build public awareness and support, the Museum worked in secret and appointed Alberta architects Cohos Evamy. They did, however, have a series of consultations and focus groups with experts and citizens. Museum redevelopment became a major provincial centenary project and was unveiled at the time of the Queen's visit. The Province's commitment of $170 million was, according to Director Dr. Bruce McGillivray, likely the largest-ever provincial contribution to a museum in Canada. The proposed redevelopment would result in a 21st century museum with major new gallery space, including a new gallery that looked out onto the river valley, classroom and other programming spaces, a new parkade to minimize the impact on the wealthy Royal Glenora neighbourhood where the Museum is located, as well as a range of other public spaces.
Circumstances prevented this plan from coming to fruition. The economic boom, which intensified in 2006, meant that construction costs were projected to come in well above the monies committed by the Government of Alberta, the Government of Canada ($30 million), and other donated funds. Rather than biting the bullet, the Government of Alberta instructed Museum staff to go back to the drawing board and make cuts that involved a scaled-down building as well as no enhanced parkade. At a time of huge budget surpluses, this action has enraged Edmontonians and museum supporters throughout the province. This has slowed down the process and also opened up the debate around relocation. Some wanted the Museum to go into the downtown to complete downtown revitalization while others want to see it relocated to the current site of the Terrace Building below the Legislature to strengthen the government precinct. This idea came about as a result of Alberta's successful partnership with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington in 2006 which showcased the arts and culture. In Washington, most of the National Museums are grouped together along a great Mall. While government sources have indicated that the cost of relocating the facility to the Legislature grounds would be astronomical, the Government of Alberta has not totally rejected this option. RAM has reconfigured its design to remain within budget but this has not been made public as yet.
Non-Downtown Arts and Heritage Districts
It is worth noting that not all cultural developments occur in the downtown. This is a normal occurrence since such developments usually happen in historically older areas of cities where, frequently, real estate values are depressed. There are three important examples in Edmonton.
Edmonton's Francophone Quarter
Edmonton's Francophone Quarter, located in the area of Bonnie Doon, on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River is a well-kept secret. As a part of the fur trade legacy, Edmonton is a Francophone community and today, next to Toronto, it is the largest Francophone city outside of Quebec. At the heart of the Francophone Quarter is the complex of buildings that began as the Junioriat, the Oblate college for young men intending to join the priesthood. Situated on the west side of Rue Marie-Anne Gaboury, the College was founded in Pincher Creek in 1908 and moved to its present location in 1911. In 1970, it became a junior college affiliated to the University of Alberta and a full-fledged faculty of the University in 1977, when the Oblate Fathers gave up the ownership to the University. Besides a range of classrooms, libraries, offices, and student residences, Campus Saint-Jean houses a Salle du Patrimoine (museum) and archives. Various Francophone organizations have found a home in the area, a historic precinct located on either side of la Rue Marie-Anne Gaboury (91 Street). The street constitutes the heart of Edmonton's Francophone Quarter. In 1988, 91 Street was renamed in honour of Marie-Anne Gaboury, the wife of Jean-Baptiste Lagimodière and Louis Riel's grandmother. The project was sponsored by a Francophone youth group, Les Jeunes Entrepreneurs Francophones.
A purpose-built cultural centre, La Cité Francophone, is situated on the east side of Rue Marie-Anne Gaboury and houses a large number of Francophone associations. The idea of a French cultural centre was first discussed in 1944 but the project was only realized in 1996. Tenants include L'Unithéâtre, the French newspaper Le Franco, La Librairie le Carrefour Bookstore, the offices of both the provincial and the regional Association canadienne-française de l'Alberta, the Centre de développement musical (CDM), the Conseil scolaire Centre-Nord, L'Alliance française d'Edmonton, la Fédération des ainés francophones de l'Alberta (FAFA), Francophonie jeunesse de l'Alberta (FJA), l'Institut Guy-Lacombe de la famille, le Centre d'expérience préscolaire (CEP), and a medical clinic.
Alberta Avenue/118 Avenue
The most recent potential arts district is the proposed Alberta Avenue/118 Avenue project. The area is down-at-heels, businesses struggle to survive, and there is a higher crime rate than other parts of the city except for the inner city. Rexall Place and Northlands are located there and crowds come in only for special events such as hockey games, concerts, CapitalEx and other trade shows. The housing stock comprises small, older bungalows (from World War I onwards) and is, therefore, affordable. It includes the neighbourhoods of Delton, Westwood, Spruce Avenue, Central McDougall, McCauley, Eastwood and Parkdale. The average income of residents in less than $20,000 per year; thus, it is definitely a working-class district. The business area was, at one time, the main street of the Town of Beverley, which amalgamated with Edmonton in 1961. The area is ripe for redevelopment and is sufficiently edgy to attract young Indy artists and potential young entrepreneurs.
The Alberta Avenue Business Association (AVBA) came up with a number of ideas including theming the area around sports champions. Metal cutout figures representing various sports were installed on light poles to give the Avenue flavour. In fall, 2004 the AVBA approached City Council for funding to install pedestrian-level lighting along 118 Avenue from Northlands to NAIT (the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology). Rather than approving the funding immediately, the City requested a planning study.
What is different about this project is the fact that the City is incubating it. An Advisory Committee was struck that includes representation from City Council, the AVBA and community representatives. Studies were commissioned and consultations were held with stakeholders. These meetings were held at facilities of some of the key stakeholders including the Alberta Avenue Community League, Eastwood Community League, Parkdale/Cromdale Community League, and NAIT. The vision and some strategies are contained in the Avenue Initiative Revitalization Plan.
While artists had begun to move into the area already, the revitalization project was given a major boost when the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts, a non-profit society that provides studios and places to make art and exhibit for people with developmental disabilities, struck an agreement with the City of Edmonton to relocate to 118 Avenue. The Centre was established in 2003. A plan was approved in August 2007 that would see the City purchasing ArtsAve Place from the Edmonton Inner City Housing Society and sell it to the Nina Haggerty Centre. The Centre would need to raise $1.7 million.
Groups in the area held a very successful arts festival/open house in fall 2007 and there seems to be a buzz about the potential of this area to become a successful arts district. Commentators have already made comparisons to Whyte Avenue in the early 1980s.
There is a potential problem in the redevelopment of the area. Mayor Mandel and business influentials are pushing a major arena development for the Canadian National Railway (CN) lands adjacent to Churchill Square. This would mean that Rexall Place might be at risk. The downtown arena project is currently being studied by a City-appointed committee and was given a boost by an announcement by prominent pharmaceutical multimillionaire Daryl Katz. On 14 December, in a lead article in Edmonton Journal, Katz's most recent offer to buy the Edmonton Oilers is discussed, as w as his offer of $100 million towards a new arena. There is some City Council resistance, including Councillor Kim Krushell, who sits on the Board of Northlands, and who believes that this decision would require a plebiscite.
The premise for the move would be to aid downtown revitalization but, while some American cities have gone this route, arenas in downtown areas present problems. They are monolithic structures that dwarf other buildings and are not "people friendly." In addition, their usage is limited to major events, such as games, which means that there is not the continuous street traffic that creates a vital downtown. A well-thought out plan for the facility and excellent architects could help to address these issues. Locating a sports hall of fame and museum, including hockey, at ground level could be one solution. Other "creative" space would also enhance the proposal.
The University of Alberta and Other Educational Institutions
The University of Alberta is a category unto itself and its importance is enormous not only as a centre for arts, heritage, and cultural activity, but also as the primary educator in many cultural areas in the province. The University, the oldest institution of higher learning with a provincial mandate, celebrates it official centenary in 2008. It is a cultural precinct in its own right and has a wonderful stock of historic buildings, over 40 museums and/or collections and, within the Faculty of Arts, Bachelor, Masters and PhD degree programs in almost every cultural discipline. The Art Department has provided training for many renowned painters and it also started art instruction in Banff, which ultimately became the Banff School of Fine Arts. Grant MacEwan College's development of arts disciplines, includingdiploma and/or degree programs in Arts and Cultural Management, Design Studies, Fine Art, Journalism, Theatre Arts and Production, and Applied Communications in Professional Writing further enriched the City. NAIT, Grant MacEwan, and the University of Alberta each provides instruction in new media.
There is evidence that activity in specific cultural disciplines in a city is very much tied to whether training is available in that city. As can be seen, there has been strong instruction in the visual, literary, and performing arts and, now, in new media, and this has supported these disciplines in the City. It can be categorically stated that, without the drama program at the University, we would not have a strong theatre community with flagships such as the Citadel and Walterdale Theatres and the range of other companies and performing venues. Bioware, the internationally ranked electronic entertainment company, was made possible because of the entrepreneurial spirit of its founders but also initially drew on a local talent pool. It was founded in 1995 by Dr. Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk (both medical doctors) and Augustine Yip. Its successful role-playing computer games, such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire, have catered to the fascination that young and old have with fantasy, sword and sorcery giving them cult status.