If you drive around downtown Edmonton right now, there is one thing that everyone can see: the new Ice District. The area is being heralded as a brand new chance for Edmonton’s North Downtown area, a chance for revitalization and an opportunity for people to help downtown become more than a place for the nine-to-five workers.
The Ice District is the result of quite a few different things to happen in Edmonton’s downtown and urban planning over the past few years, and it could bring something the city has desperately needed for some time now: effective, medium-to-high density areas that can help contain the city’s urban sprawl.
Many people are unaware of the restrictions that the downtown airport put on the city, but there was a height restriction on buildings that curbed the chance for a larger downtown. The Airport Protection Overlay, a bill passed when the airport was built, limited building heights quite severely compared to other Canadian cities. It varied by area, but in general buildings weren’t allowed to exceed 150 metres. To put that in perspective, Calgary’s Bow building is 236 metres tall, something that was beyond impossible for Edmonton until just two years ago.
With such restrictions, Edmonton grew outwards instead of upwards. Now, it takes up more space than Toronto but with less than half the population, and this has led to issues felt by all of Edmonton’s citizens every day. Long commute times, a city transit that can only effectively connect certain neighbourhoods, and severe urban sprawl are all issues facing the city. But with the height restrictions gone and promised housing in the downtown, people could be on their way back into the city proper, and that can be a good thing.
Not only can medium-to-high density housing in downtown Edmonton help the core be economically viable, it can help the city’s infrastructure as well. The downtown ill see a longer day in terms of economic activity, with people living, working, buying, and selling in the area (which means more places will be open past 6, a rare occurrence right now). It could also mean less traffic overall, as people will walk or rely on city transit for their morning commute. And with increased public transit activity, the city could have the money to start making real changes to the system, and get people moving in a way that isn’t happening at the current time.
Edmonton’s history has been one of spreading out, but Ice District could mean a city that’s a little bit smaller, more economical, and much easier to navigate. As the sprawl is being felt by every citizen, having people move back to the downtown could help Edmonton’s future, both as a place to live and a place to do business.