Building in the river valley: yes to washrooms, no to restaurants

David Staples, ever the supporter of getting more people into Edmonton’s river valley (a noble goal), wants more restaurants and washrooms in the valley.

Although I agree wholeheartedly about adding washrooms — many popular trail heads lack washroom facilities — I disagree about the restaurants. 

It would be nice to have some places to eat in the river valley, for sure. Adding a restaurant with a large patio to Louise McKinney Park, for example, would be awesome. But that’s a very developed, “groomed” park space where adding infrastructure would make sense.

Making sure that you’re never more than 1-2 kilometres from a restaurant, anywhere in the river valley? That’s extreme and risks destroying the sense of being completely immersed in nature and the ease with which you can forget you’re in the middle of a major city while hiking in the valley.

If you’re planning a walk, hike or bike ride in the river valley, bring a snack. Pack a picnic. You don’t need easy access to restaurants. Water bottle filling stations at trail heads would be nice, but that’s really all that’s needed.

Of course, it would be kinda nice to have a cold pint after a long hike…beer gardens at all major trail heads? 😉

Edmonton Politics

Helping people without homes

Small business owners are taking care of the people who live on our streets. These are heartwarming stories, and I am familiar enough with most of the businesses mentioned to be fairly sure that the owners are all genuinely trying to help people.

But I think it’s worth remembering that this sort of narrative subtly ignores the fact that government is failing in its duty to house people[1]; if housing is a human right, as the prime minister has stated, then we as a society — represented by the state — have a duty to house people. Rights that exist only on paper might as well not exist at all.

Social housing built from shipping containers

This isn’t to say that the state needs to providing housing stock for the entire population but providing state-funded housing with low (or no) rent for the hard to house seems entirely reasonable. It’s the moral thing to do but, in case that’s not enough, remember that it’s also the economically sensible thing to do.

And, let’s not forget that governments in liberal and social democracies around the world used to build social housing — and they still do in some places. It’s only since the neoliberal turn that politicians have decided it’s up to private developers to provide affordable housing (something which is obviously not working, given the number of people who still don’t have homes).

This post has been edited since it was originally published, to correct minor typos.

[1] I’m not suggesting that this is the intent of the author or even an editorial decision the paper has made. I’m talking on a more macro scale about how our narratives about homelessness often mask the root causes of the problem.

Edmonton Food & Drink

El FogĂłn Latino

This little restaurant is in my old hood (which is pretty close to my new hood), and sounds like a bit of a hidden gem. I’ll have to check it out soon!

Let’s Eat YEG – El FogĂłn Latino

Edmonton Politics

Colby Cosh: Of course we “stand together” with Muslims

National Post columnist Colby Cosh’s take on the ways in which Saturday’s alleged terror attack has affected Edmontonians (or, more to the point, hasn’t really affected anyone not directly injured) is spot on.

Edmonton has not just been home to Muslims for many decades (it had a mosque 30 years before Toronto did); Muslims have been an accepted part of its cultural and political life for longer than anyone can remember. I will happily bet you that there are still northern Alberta farmers who have never exchanged two words with any black person, but who go to the same Muslim accountant of Lebanese or Syrian origin that their father did. There was a time when the possibility of a “division” in my world, with Muslims on an opposite side of it, would never have occurred to me as an Edmonton native.

He’s right. Muslim people are not, among most normal Albertans, seen as some exotic other. They’re our neighbours and have been here since practically the start of settler-colonization. They’ve been some of the biggest builders of our community, at least in Edmonton.

To see Canadian Muslims as an enemy is a concept that does not compute for many in this city. And that’s a good thing. That’s how it should continue to be and how it likely will remain.

Cosh concludes the column with a good summary of why this is:

Of course we “stand together” with Muslims. Much of the time Edmonton, cold and utilitarian, presents itself to us as a laborious, common predicament, even a trap. We do not just stand together: we are huddled together against Nature, practitioners of a civil religion involving block heaters and boot rooms and thermoses full of coffee. If you live this way, explicit talk of togetherness and community can feel like a faux pas. No doubt the truth is that I would just prefer to fast-forward to a time when we can do without it again.


This is one of my favourite local hiking trails

The Kinnaird Park Highlands Trail is one of my favourite hiking trails in Edmonton.

It’s a very easy trail with some great views (though, because I’ve only attempted it with a toddler in tow, I’ve yet to hike the whole thing). It’s one of those places that lets you quickly forget you’re in the heart of the city.

I also appreciate the art wall on the Kinnaird half of the trail. The paintings and murals created by inner city and at-risk youth really liven up the trail (and are a bit surprising if you don’t already know they’re there).


Edmonton considering reducing minimum parking requirements

Funny no parking sign
Would you shop at a business with no parking?

The City of Edmonton is about to review parking requirements and there’s a possibility there will eventually be no minimum parking requirements, at least for businesses.

It’s about time. While minimum parking requirements might be needed in residential neighbourhoods, to ensure roads aren’t overcrowded with parked cars, I don’t think they make much sense when dealing with retail and commercial spaces.

“Some people said very clearly it’s a business decision,” Stevenson said. “If a business thinks they can survive without parking, all the power to them. Many people said I wouldn’t go to that business but if they think they can make a go of it, we fully support it. That’s a really big step from where we are now, but it is a way some cities are choosing to deal with minimum parking requirements.

I agree. If a business thinks its customers don’t care about access to parking, they should be able to open in a location with little or no parking. If the end result is that the business fails, because Edmontonians really are as car-obsessed as everyone thinks, so be it.

I’m skeptical the City will actually go as far as eliminating parking requirements, but even reducing them would be a great start. Some businesses, in some areas, really don’t need a minimum number of parking stalls. Bars are a great example.

Why on earth do we have minimum parking requirements for drinking establishments? If we’re serious about trying to reduce instances of drunk driving, making it super easy to drive to and park at a bar — by literally requiring a minimum number of places to put cars — is insane. Luckily, the City seems to be looking seriously at the idea of reducing the parking requirements for eating and drinking establishments.

Neighbourhood convenience stores are another good example. Most of the customers for these stores live within short walking distance and don’t bother to drive to get there. I think of the corner store in my area. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than a single vehicle in the parking lot at any given time (and I suspect that belongs to the business owner). Essentially no one drives to this business, yet they’re still required to have a parking lot out front. It makes no sense.

I admit, of course, that my example is purely ancedotal, and there are certainly examples of convenience stores that require ample parking. But, again, I think it should be a business decision. If you think you’ll need a lot of parking, choose your location accordingly. If you think you can run a profitable business without any parking, you should have the option to do so.

What do you think? Should Edmonton ease minimum parking requirements, particularly for businesses? Would you patronize a business that doesn’t have parking?


A love letter to the people of Edmonton

John Richardson loves Edmonton. That’s the obvious impression one gets when reading his essay “Acting As If.”

This city is absolutely bursting with imagination, and, perhaps to a similar extent, is filled with profound social vision.  And the most powerful force in Edmonton right now is an unusual urgency in many citizens, from regular working people right up to the Mayor and Council to behave every day As If their dreams for their homes, their neighbourhoods, and their city were Reality.

Really, like so many of us are starting to do, what Richardson realizes is that it’s the attitude of the people here that makes Edmonton great. People in the city do—and probably always have—live as if Edmonton is a bigger city than it is, as if we’re worthy of more than we are, as if anything is possible. And, by acting as if they already are, those things become true.

I can’t possibly do justice to Richardson’s piece, so I suggest you head over to his site and read the whole thing.

Edmonton Personal

A love letter to Edmonton’s poetry scene

I recently received an email from Ben Dextraze asking my consent to use a portion of a YouTube video I’d posted years ago (in which I’m performing with the Raving Poets) in a short film he’d produced. He gave me a link and password to the private video. I watched it, loved it and immediately gave my permission.

The clip isn’t in the version of the video I’ve embedded below, because Ben is still collecting all of the permissions he needs to publish the version I’ve seen, but the core of the video is there. “Edmonton’s Poetics” features interviews with people I’ve known for many years, some of whom I’d even called mentors (though they probably didn’t know it), talking about Edmonton’s poetry scene.

I haven’t been active in the scene for quite some time, but Ben’s video has reminded me how much energy Edmonton’s poetry community has. Maybe I should start putting myself out there again.

Edmonton’s Poetics from Iconochasm Media on Vimeo.


Edmonton is awesome

Edmonton Politics

Central Canada still perceives Alberta as a bastion of bigotry, but they’re wrong

In an article about Olivia Chow’s mayoral campaign, the Toronto Star—apparently trying to show that, while racism can be an issue for foreign-born political candidates, it’s not enough to cost them an election—dropped this gem:

Naheed Nenshi, a Muslim, is mayor of Calgary, of all cities.

Shocking, right?! Calgary elected a Muslim! That’s weird because Albertans are a bunch of racist rednecks!

I’d let out an audible sigh, but this is a blog so you wouldn’t hear it. Instead, I’ll just do this: *sigh*

The line about Nenshi, though probably not intended as such, is condescending in a way that only the Toronto media can manage—like the time they said Edmonton was cool, but it would never be Toronto cool.

The thing that a lot of people who aren’t from Alberta, and who haven’t spent a significant amount of time here, don’t understand is that we don’t care what your religion is. We don’t care what your race is. Most of the time, we don’t even care where you went to school. We care that you can work hard and contribute to the community.

This isn’t to say that racism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry don’t exist in Alberta. They do. But time and time again,  both statistics and anecdotes show that Albertans are incredibly tolerant—possibly the most tolerant people in Canada.

We’re not perfect, and our rural communities do tend to be more conservative than our urban centres, but that’s true of the whole country.

At its best, Alberta is a meritocracy that doesn’t care about your pedigree or the fact that you have a degree from the “right” school. At its worst, it’s no different than the rest of Canada. I just wish people from outside the province would realize this.