Edmonton behind Calgary
Our downtown has pulled ahead in last 30 years
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.