On November 24, Edmonton City Council held a public hearing on the Quarters Downtown (Downtown East). I presented to the hearing on behalf of the Edmonton Social Planning Council. Since the presentation isn't overly long, I've re-printed it below.
Funny thing was the only thing the media considered newsworthy about the public hearing was a pitch for a new downtown arena by local architect Gene Dub. Of all of the sites proposed for the arena downtown, the worst one would be the one proposed by Dub. As many as 50 units of affordable housing would need to be demolished to make way for an arena in this location. A massive arena complex is not part of the current vision for the Downtown East, nor should it be.
After questioning from City Councillors and later the media, it appears a certain amount of self-interest is involved. Apparently, several of the Downtown East properties on which Dub proposes to locate the arena are owned by - you guessed it - Gene Dub.
The media's eagerness to give prominent play to Gene Dub's "giant wok" arena proposal does prove one thing. Generating sensational headlines is way easier than coming up with a sensible plan for the Downtown East.
Presentation to Edmonton City Council on the Quarters Downtown
Thank you for the opportunity to make these brief remarks. I am appearing today on behalf of the Edmonton Social Planning, a non-profit social research organization that focuses on issues of poverty and low income.
The Edmonton Social Planning Council actively participated on a Community Action Planning Group (CAPG) on the Quarters Downtown, and we support its recommendations.
The Council participated in the Quarters initiative to ensure that the needs of existing low income residents are met, while also ensuring the goal of healthier, more inclusive neighborhood is achieved.
At least 40% of the developable land in the Quarters is currently used as surface parking by commuters working downtown. As pointed out by the City Administration, this is not a good long-term use for land so close to Edmontons downtown.
Significant redevelopment opportunities do exist in the Quarters. These development opportunities can be pursued without displacing existing low income residents and related support services.
There are many good aspects and attractive features to the proposed urban design plan for the Quarters. The urban amenities, infrastructure improvement, and increased residential densities have the potential to transform the Quarters into an inclusive community with a vibrant mix of incomes, ages and cultures. There are, however, a few aspects of the proposed plan that the Edmonton Social Planning Council believes can be improved.
While supportive of attracting a wide range of market housing to the Downtown East, the Council supports the Community Action Planning Group recommendation that a significant percentage of public investment in the Quarters be used to acquire sites for a diverse range of affordable housing, and that 20 percent of all new housing be affordable.
Relying on simple percentages to determine an appropriate concentration of non-market housing in the Quarters can be misleading. Approximately one-half of the existing non-marketing housing is the Downtown East is for elderly seniors, and for persons with disabilities, not for those hard to house. Most of the non-market housing is relatively new, well managed and well-maintained.
By contrast, much of the existing market housing is very low end, located in buildings that are near the end of their life cycle. Some of the existing market housing is poorly maintained. As these buildings close over time, instead of displacing the residents, it would be better to re-house those who wish to remain in the area in safe, newly-constructed, and well-managed non-market housing.
It also seems inconsistent to oppose additional non-market housing in the Quarters while simultaneously supporting an even higher concentration of non-marketing housing in the Boyle Renaissance immediately north of the Quarters. Some members of the Community Planning Action Group myself included are of the view that it might be better to reduce the proposed concentration of non-market housing in Boyle Renaissance, and instead relocate it in a more dispersed fashion in the Downtown East and other nearby areas.
A major flaw of the Quarters plan is the proposed design of the Armature, in particular, the two blocks between 102A and 103A Avenues. The demolition of 50 units of existing affordable housing on the east side of 96 Street - Batoma Place and the Gold Nugget Suites - is both wasteful and unnecessary . The resulting green space is too massive and out of proportion for the character of the rest of the area.
It is unwise to completely close 96 Street between 102A and 103 Avenue to vehicular traffic, as is proposed on page 85 of the Urban Design Plan. Road closures will make policing such as a large green space more difficult. Reducing the width of 96 Street to one or two lanes (similar to what has been done with Rice-Howard Way) would still allow for a dedicated bike lane and for plantings of flowers, shrubs and trees. This will result in many more eyes and ears on the street than a large green space.
The number of one-way streets in the Quarters should be reduced. As noted by Dan Burden, an expert on walkable communities, one-way couplets stifle street life by giving preference to vehicles looking to make a quick entry or exit into downtown . Several years ago the City restored two-way traffic flow on 102 and 102A Avenues between 97 to 109 Streets. Two-way traffic on 102 and 102A Avenues should be further extended east to 95 Street. Two-way traffic should also be maintained on a narrowed 96 Street and on 101A Avenue.
Finally, the McCauley Quarter should be renamed. Its not in the McCauley neighborhood and is south of the proposed Boyle Renaissance. This is very confusing. It should be re-named the Boyle Street Quarter to better reflect and respect the neighbourhood it is actually located in.
In conclusion, the Edmonton Social Planning Council believes that, properly planned and with a few changes, the Quarters can become a healthy, mixed income community and a source of pride for our City.