A tale of two Albertan cities
Comparing urban centres of our ‘big two’
During the past few years I have written this column, I have compared downtown Calgary as a place to live, work and play with everywhere from Vancouver and Denver to the French cities of Paris and Lyon.
But until now, I have never compared Calgary to its Alberta neighbour — and rival — Edmonton.
Having recently spent time in our sister city, I have gained some new insights.
It is very interesting to compare and contrast two city centres that have developed over the same time under the same provincial legislation and the same economic booms and busts.
I have been visiting Edmonton off and on since I first moved to Alberta in 1980.
After living in Hamilton, Ont., and Winnipeg, Man., I was impressed to see how vibrant the downtowns of Edmonton and Calgary were in the early ’ 80s.
In Edmonton, the shops on Whyte Avenue, the galleries on 124th and the summer festivals appealed to the bohemian in me and my wife.
There were also the wonderful condos along both edges of the North Saskatchewan River.
The downtown Churchill Square — with its plaza surrounded by theatres as well as a library, art gallery and the iconic Woodward’s department store, now defunct — had a nice urban prairie charm.
Edmonton has accomplished something that many Calgarians would like to see happen in Calgary: removal of the railway tracks from its downtown.
For Edmonton, this has been a catalytic project that has made an enormous tract of land available for the development of the new Grant MacEwan University campus and the proposed new downtown arena.
It also meant the end of the ugly railway underpasses that used to cut off communities north of Edmonton’s downtown from its city centre.
Imagine how pedestrian traffic patterns would change in downtown Calgary if there were no railway underpasses separating the Beltline from the Olympic Plaza Cultural District, Stephen Avenue and other downtown amenities.
Edmonton has also recently completed its iconic new Art Gallery of Alberta (formerly Edmonton), while Calgary still doesn’t even have a civic gallery.
Edmonton has also successfully attracted the University of Alberta to open a downtown campus in the historic Bay building on Jasper Avenue.
Like Calgary, Edmonton has expanded the capacity of its downtown convention centre, although the Shaw Centre tops the Calgary Telus Convention Centre due to its dramatic location on the river bank, with dramatic views of the North Saskatchewan River valley.
Another interesting differ- ence between the city centres of Calgary and Edmonton is that Edmonton’s LRT is underground in its downtown.
This means that they have three pedestrian areas: underground, sidewalk and skyway (their name for their Plus-15 system).
Unfortunately, with less than half the number of people working and living in Edmonton’s downtown compared to Calgary’s, it means the provincial capitals streets are empty of pedestrians most of the time.
I know you won’t believe me, but I missed the urban ingredient that our LRT trains give our downtown by being at street level. I am also not convinced Calgary can support three levels of pedestrian activities.
Calgary is not without its mega projects.
The iconic Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton, which was recently completed in the provincial capital.