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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

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Main Street Programme

Before the refurbishment of heritage buildings on the north side of Whyte Avenue, in the 1980s.

Alberta's main streets are the traditional heart of community life. Older commercial areas have shaped Alberta's development and are a valuable record of our past. Many downtown buildings are important architectural legacies from the late 1800s onward.

The role and appearance of main street areas has evolved dramatically, from the ravages of early fires to the impact of suburban mall development in the 1950s and 60s and, more recently, the emergence of "big box" retailing in the 1980s and 90s. Increased mobility, primarily through use of the automobile, and changing work and leisure patterns have reduced downtown traffic, business revenue and property values. To combat the decline, many downtowns have taken ad hoc measures to physically vitalize building fronts, often in ways which eroded their historic and architectural assets and which failed to produce lasting positive economic or community impact.

Since 1987, the Alberta Main Street Programme has assisted some 23 communities in reversing this trend by renewing historic and architectural character and restoring the economic vitality of the main street, and importance as a source of community identity and pride. Check out their newest website here.

Locals and visitors alike enjoy Old Strathcona on a sunny day.

One of the best-established "main streets" in Alberta is Edmonton's Old Strathcona. This successful urban revitalization project received little or no funding from the senior levels of government. It was an initiative of the Old Strathcona Foundation, which wanted to preserve the integrity of Whyte Avenue, which, as a result of economic depression, had maintained its stock of prairie architecture buildings including both brick and wooden frame. The density of historic buildings and their preservation and adaptive re-use is remarkable. Old Strathcona is a "happening place" and has the highest retail values in Edmonton. It's success as a destination for shopping and clubbing is threatening to undermine the very experience of place that it offers. Vandalism associated with drunkenness is affecting historic buildings and old-time residents are no longer comfortable with the number of clubs and bars. The City of Edmonton is attempting to address the needs of business owners and residents to ensure the long-term survival of this important community.

The preservation of historic buildings led to the success of the district as both a shopping and entertainment venue. Inspired local leaders created activities, such as the Fringe Theatre Festival to give life to the range of under-utilized buildings. While there are now no such buildings in Old Strathcona, the major preservation and adaptation of the Old Bus Barns as both a Saturday market location and the home of the Fringe, is adding significant purpose-built space to support the range of cultural programming.

Main Street Programme preservation efforts are promoting this kind of economic development based on arts and cultural programming rooted in the sense of place that historic buildings provide.

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