A tale of two Albertan cities

Com­par­ing ur­ban cen­tres of our ‘big two’

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - New Condos -

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.

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