Edmonton Needs a New Approach to Building in the Suburbs

He says Edmonton is losing money on every suburb it builds and won’t solve the housing affordability problem for its residents either until it embraces a different style of neighbourhood.

“We’re repeating the same prototype for half a century,” said Friedman, a popular speaker and McGill University professor who is speaking at the St. Albert Housing Society’s annual fundraising breakfast Today.

Edmonton currently counts on increasing its industrial base to offset residential taxes because each new suburb adds more expense that it yields in taxes. That only changes when you build neighbourhoods at a higher density, Friedman said. A city needs at least the density that comes from predominantly townhouses, low apartment buildings and narrow roads to make it pay.

Those neighbourhoods can also be easy to walk and support efficient, well-used transit.

But most North American cities are resistant to major change. “When I talk to officials in Canada they say, ‘Hmm, how will the fire truck arrive? How will the ambulance arrive?’” Friedman said. “I don’t think in Finland or Denmark they place citizens at risk at all (when they design differently). They simply figure it out. … In my opinion, we need to start to think outside the box.”

Edmonton is making changes. Its new suburbs are still built around the car, but they are at far higher densities than those built in the 1980s.

The city-led Blatchford development on the former City Centre Airport aims to present an alternative with predominantly townhouses in easy walking distance of the LRT. But leaders in Edmonton would benefit from seeing what’s being accomplished in other places, said Friedman, describing new suburbs without roads and, others where light rail transit has been built first. In Copenhagen’s new Ørestad City, the new rail line is being surrounded by condo buildings with the attributes of a house, one built like a mountain rather than a tower so everyone has a large, outdoor terrace and another with a bike path right up to the tenth floor penthouse.

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(Source: Edmonton Journal, November 3, 2015)