Edmonton’s Downtown Changes Could Create Economic Sustainability

Posted by Gurpreet Ghatehora on Friday, June 24th, 2016 at 9:46am.

Vancouver and Edmonton could not be more different in terms of their housing markets. One continues to skyrocket, the other has enjoyed a brief break from prices climbing too high. One has made it all but impossible for even the upper middle class to find a quality home, the other has made the real estate market accessible to almost everyone. And one is on the verge of a complete economic disaster, while the other is setting itself up for future investment. And in the case of that last one, you may be surprised to discover that it’s Edmonton that may be in a better economic position instead of Vancouver.

Last week, a scathing report by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade and the Conference Board of Canada has argued that Vancouver’s real estate market could spell economic disaster for the city in the near future. The reasoning is simple: with such a spiking housing market that seems to have no end in sight, the real estate market has become something for the wealthy, and only the wealthy. The rest of the population has two choices: rent in a desirable area for exorbitant amounts of money, or find a less expensive place further away and fight with a degrading transit system.

The choice between these two poisons, the report argues, is making it harder for Vancouver to recruit and develop the next generation of workers and moneymakers, which puts Vancouver in a precarious situation. Without young professionals and workers, the city will suffer economic problems, and the money will follow elsewhere, leaving Vancouver with expensive houses, less opportunities, and a resulting collapse.

While today many Vancouverites are hopeful they can make things work, the likelihood that they’ll move elsewhere is increasing, and one of the best options may just be Edmonton. Ice District is already rejuvenating the downtown core, Edmonton’s appeal to the younger generation could help set it up for greater economic success in the future. After all, developing talent and keeping it is an important aspect of almost any city’s longterm plans, and that’s exactly what Chris Nasim, vice-president of asset management for GWL Realty Advisors, told a seminar on Thursday.

“What [the Ice District] has done is really rejuvenate the downtown core,” Nasim said, “You’re able to attract and retain your labour pool. The University of Alberta, NAIT, MacEwan University, they’re producing great skills sets. You want to keep those people.”

Part of keeping those people is tied to making a city an experience, one that offers residents something outside of simply job opportunities, and things they can do that are outside of their price range. Thanks to Edmonton’s continued development of its downtown, not simply as a place to do business, but as a place to live, this could help the city attract and keep its talented workforce. And with housing prices that don’t ruin every other expense, Edmonton could be poised to succeed where Vancouver is already failing.

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