Ed­mon­ton be­hind Cal­gary

Our down­town has pulled ahead in last 30 years

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

Last week, I looked at how Ed­mon­ton and Cal­gary have evolved as vi­brant ur­ban cen­tres in terms of cat­alytic projects — those that spark needed in­no­va­tions and pro­mote pos­i­tive changes — and as places to live.

This week, I will look at them as ur­ban play­grounds.

Ed­mon­ton’s city cen­tre has all the shops you would ex­pect of an indoor down­town or sub­ur­ban shop­ping cen­tre.

But the ar­chi­tec­ture is very dated. Ac­tu­ally, I am not sure it ever was in style — for ex­am­ple, I no­ticed things such as a stucco box­like re­tail out­let with tacky signs and no grand en­trance.

Ed­mon­ton’s down­town Bay store looks like a quin­tes­sen­tial ’70s depart­ment store in a sub­ur­ban mall, do­ing noth­ing to cre­ate a sense of place or ex­cite­ment.

The pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal has noth­ing in its down­town to match Cal­gary’s new Holt Ren­frew store or the new Core shop­ping cen­tre — nor does it have the street shop­ping of­fered by our city’s Kens­ing­ton, De­sign District, Mis­sion, In­gle­wood or Up­town 17th.

Ed­mon­ton’s city cen­tre also lacks a his­toric district. There is noth­ing to match our Stephen Av­enue or In­gle­wood.

While Ed­mon­ton has some great restau­rants, there are no real res­tau­rant rows like those of Stephen Av­enue or 4th Street in Cal­gary.

In the en­tire Ed­mon­ton city cen­tre, there is not one block where pedes­trian-ori­ented shops line both sides of the street. The frag­men­ta­tion of the few re­tail­ers, restau­ra­teurs and cafes that do ex­ist make for a poor pedes­trian ex­pe­ri­ence.

On the flip side, Cal­gary has noth­ing that can match Ed­mon­ton’s iconic new Art Gallery of Al­berta.

But from a mu­seum per­spec­tive, Ed­mon­ton’s Pro­vin­cial Mu­seum, Sci­ence Cen­tre and Fort Ed­mon­ton are both lo­cated out­side of its city cen­tre.

While Cal­gary’s Glen­bow Mu­seum is not in an iconic build­ing, it cer­tainly has the art col­lec­tion and pro­gram­ming to match the Art Gallery of Al­berta.

When you add in the Art Gallery of Cal­gary and Triangle Gallery — as well as our three artist-run cen­tres and pri­vate gal­leries — Cal­gary’s gallery and mu­seum scene is on par or per­haps stronger than Ed­mon­ton’s.

From a the­atre per­spec­tive, Ed­mon­ton has both the Ci­tadel and Win­spear The­atres, equiv­a­lent to Cal­gary’s Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre.

But it lacks The Grand, Ver­tigo, Lunch Box and Pump­house The­atres spa­ces.

Granted, Ed­mon­ton does have sev­eral other the­atres, but all are lo­cated on the other side of the river near Whyte Av­enue, home to Ed­mon­ton’s Fringe fes­ti­val (the sec­ond largest in the world).

Speak­ing of fes­ti­vals, Ed­mon­ton calls it­self the Fes­ti­val City. While it cer­tainly has plenty of large sum­mer fes­ti­vals, Cal­gary has a grow­ing num­ber of ma­jor cul­tural fes­ti­vals year-round.

The Cal­gary Stam­pede cer­tainly out­shines Klondike Days, which I think they now call Cap­i­tal EX.

We also boast ma­jor win­ter arts fes­ti­vals like Ho­nens In­ter­na­tional Pi­ano Com­pe­ti­tion as well as the High Per­for­mance Rodeo and En­bridge playRites the­atre fes­ti­vals.

Cal­gar­i­ans liv­ing in the city cen­tre also get to en­joy all of the year-round pro­gram­ming at Stam­pede Park and the en­ter­tain­ment at the Sad­dle­dome.

Ed­mon­ton’s coun­ter­part North­land’s Park and Coli­seum is lo­cated too far away to be part of its city cen­tre en­ter­tain­ment mix.

Film buffs in Cal­gary en­joy hav­ing three art house cine­mas lo­cated in our city cen­tre — The Plaza, The Up­town and The Globe.

Ed­mon­ton’s city cen­tre has none (while they have the Princess and Garneau the­atres, these are on the other side of the river in the old Strath­cona/Whyte Av­enue district).

For reg­u­lar film­go­ers, Em­pire 9 in Ed­mon­ton’s City Cen­ter mall is on par with Cal­gary’s Eau Claire Mar­ket Cine­plex.

Like Cal­gary, Ed­mon­ton boasts a new YWCA, al­though it is lo­cated in the heart of the down­town core rather than along the river (mak­ing it less con­ve­nient for run­ners).

How­ever Ed­mon­ton’s Kins­men Cen­tre, the equiv­a­lent to our Tal­is­man Cen­tre, is right in the river val­ley, which is full of run­ning trails.

Ed­mon­ton also has a base­ball park in the city cen­tre as well as three golf cour­ses — in­clud­ing the May­fair Golf and Coun­try Club — in the North Saskatchew­an River val­ley.

On the other hand, Ed­mon­ton has noth­ing like Cal­gary’s Shaw Mil­len­nium Park or our prom­e­nade along the river.

We mustn’t for­get ho­tels as places to play.

Ed­mon­ton’s Fair­mont Ho­tel Macdonald, lo­cated on the edge of the river val­ley, has a much greater pres­ence than Cal­gary’s Fair­mont Pal­liser Ho­tel.

Ed­mon­ton has the more charm­ing small bou­tique ho­tel — Union Bank Inn — ver­sus our River­side Inn.

But Cal­gary comes out on top due to how our Sher­a­ton Eau Claire links to the river and down­town, the Hy­att links to our con­ven­tion cen­tre, and Stephen Av­enue Walk and new uber-chic Ho­tel Le Ger­main pro­vides an unique ur­ban ex­pe­ri­ence in Al­berta.

As a place to live, work and play, Ed­mon­ton seems to lack the ur­ban place-mak­ing that Cal­gary has fos­tered dur­ing the past 30 years.

While Ed­mon­ton does have the tra­di­tional main street (Jasper Av­enue) that Cal­gary lacks, it strug­gles to be the sig­na­ture street you would ex­pect in the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal city of one of the most pros­per­ous re­gions of the world.

Ed­mon­ton also has noth­ing to match Stephen Av­enue Walk, Bow River Prom­e­nade, Shaw Mil­len­nium Park or Prince’s Is­land Park.

Ed­mon­ton also lacks the dis­tinct bobo (bo­hemian/ bour­geois) res­i­den­tial neigh­bour­hoods that Cal­gary has — Belt­line, Mis­sion, Hill­hurst Sun­ny­side, In­gle­wood or Bridge­land.

De­spite this be­ing a very sub­jec­tive com­par­i­son, I have tried hard to be fair. I am not one of those who likes to pit Ed­mon­ton against Cal­gary.

But when I take an hon­est look at how Ed­mon­ton’s city cen­tre has evolved dur­ing the last 30 years, it has fallen be­hind Cal­gary’s. It seems more on par with Win­nipeg.

Per­haps this is be­cause Ed­mon­ton and Win­nipeg’s “ur­ban DNA” is linked to be­ing pub­lic, govern­ment, pro­vin­cial and com­mu­nal, rather than Cal­gary’s pri­vate, busi­ness, en­tre­pre­neur­ial and in­de­pen­dent.

Given the his­toric ri­valry be­tween Cal­gary and Ed­mon­ton, I await and wel­come some in­ter­est­ing read­ers’ e-mails this week.

Ed­mon­ton’s dull down­town Bay build­ing lacks a sense of place.

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