Yes In My Backyard: Growing More Sustainable Cities With Garden Suites

Cities across North America are facing mounting pressure to curb outward expansion, reduce carbon emissions, provide residents with affordable housing, and attract investment; all the while helping to create vibrant walkable communities that foster health and well-being. 

In the Edmonton context, our mature neighbourhoods have experienced a dramatic loss of population over the last 40 years as residents moved out to more suburban neighbourhoods (see Figure 1). To regrow these areas, and turn them into sustainable, healthy and compact communities we must densify. Furthermore, it is well known that inefficient land use patterns are one of the major contributors to climate change. In order to address climate change, land use needs to be one of the first places we look. 

[See Figure 1]

To deal with this challenge, Edmonton (like many other North American cities) has begun to prioritize residential infill development, which can be defined as, “...the development of new housing in established neighbourhoods” (City of Edmonton, 2019). Infill is an alternative to greenfield development which is the development of new housing in new neighbourhoods, typically on former farmland or greenspace on the outskirts of a City. 

Residential infill can take many forms including duplexes, basement suites, row housing, or apartments. In Edmonton, backyard homes, known as garden suites, are becoming an increasingly popular form of homeowner-driven infill development (see Figure 2). Note that garden suites are being built in the areas where density is most needed. Typically, garden suites are located above a garage, but they can also be a single storey, or have living space spread over two floors. They range in size from 400 to 1,400 square feet. 

[See Figure 2]

Whether they are used as a rental unit, or to house a family member or friend, garden suites are a flexible form of housing that offers homeowners a number of benefits including opportunities for: 

  • Downsizing

  • Multi-generational Living 

  • Additional rental income 

  • A mortgage helper

  • Aging-in-community

As a city, garden suites allow us to benefit from:

  • More efficient land use as we capitalize on existing infrastructure and servicing, as opposed to building new roads, sewers, and utility lines to serve new communities. 

  • More demographic diversity as new families and residents move into largely homogenous single-family home neighbourhoods. 

  • Eyes on the lane which contributes to increased safety and security. 

  • Reducing our environmental and carbon footprint by building in, instead of out. 

  • Affordable, high quality rental housing. 

  • Replacing derelict garages with attractive architecture. 

  • A population injection into existing neighbourhoods, which helps keep local schools, businesses, and transit viable. 

  • Increased tax revenue. 

The mutual opportunities for citizens to benefit, while resolving serious challenges facing our city, and civilization, is a compelling reason to support garden suites and infill more generally.

It’s also important to remember that homeowners are the largest landholders in many cities across North America. So, when we think about the challenges cities are facing, and how we must transition towards more sustainable land use patterns, it would be a mistake to overlook homeowners as important agents for change. 

Although, very few homeowners are in a position to demolish the house they live in, and replace it with a higher density development, garden suites are a feasible alternative. They enable homeowners to maintain their current homes while gently add density to our cities, thereby helping us build a more compact urban form.

One problem remains: Typical homeowners do not know about the process to build a garden suite, or the relationships necessary to take a project from idea to completion.

That’s where YEGarden Suites comes in. YEGarden Suites is Edmonton’s only independent, non-profit advocacy and education-based organization that promotes the development of garden suites in our city. We act as a resource to Edmontonian’s by providing them with the knowledge and confidence they need to move forward with their own garden suite projects. 

YEGarden Suites organizes workshops and tours, consults with homeowners and connects them with experienced industry members, all while advocating for better policies to make it easier for citizens to be city builders in their own backyards. 

Although garden suites are just one part of the infill conversation, they are a significant and tangible step everyday homeowners can take in the remaking of their city. To learn more, visit www.YEGardenSuites.ca

YEGarden Suites also has a day-long Garden Suite Workshop coming up on November 16th, as well as a Garden Suite Tour on November 23rd

Learn everything you need to know about garden suites: process to build, rules and regulations, design considerations, how to finance a suite, and more. Attendees will also have an opportunity to meet with experienced builders and designers, and hear from current suite owners about their experience building. Cap off the workshop with YEGarden Suites Tour where attendees will have an opportunity to see 5-6 unique suites inside and out!

This Blog post was kindly written for us by Ashley Salvador, Co-founder & President of YEGarden Suites.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 2

#ScrambledYEG intersections a solution to Edmonton’s congestion headache

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I haven’t crossed one of Edmonton’s new “scramble interactions” yet (located at 104 Street and Jasper Avenue), but I’m hungry for more of them. These could be a cure for YEG’s neverending congestion hangover.

If you’re a little perplexed by the name of this infrastructure, that’s okay. The name is confusing. Scrambling indicates chaotic movement. You scramble eggs. You scramble when you go off-trail to climb a mountain. But now, we’re scrambling intersections?

The project is part of Edmonton’s oft-discussed Vision Zero Strategy. The scrambled intersections at these two locations are part of a pilot to see if this works for Edmonton. The premise is as follows; scramble intersections allow for vehicular and pedestrian traffic to move within their own distinct phases. Instead of pedestrians heading east or west when cars move east or west, they now cross the intersections in any direction within their own phase. Then there’d be a phase for cars heading east-west, then one for cars heading north-south. After that, the cycle starts again. Check out this video to see it all in action. Overall, providing phases for modes of transportation through scramble intersections means users can utilize infrastructure more safely and efficiently because they don’t come into conflict.

Scramble intersections aren’t even a brand new idea for Edmonton. There’s been one at 100A Street and Jasper Avenue since 2012. However, that’s a minor intersection. The new projects are remarkable because they’re located on major intersections for both cars and people. You know where else there are major intersections for both cars and people? The University of Alberta.

Most of our campus is pretty friendly for pedestrians. Wide sidewalks and limited vehicle access make for a place where getting around on foot is the best option. It’s always funny to see a car timidly drive through campus. The typical roles of traffic, with cars reigning supreme, become subverted. Just get back to where you belong, you Toyota Corolla!

But then there’s 87th Avenue. The street does a superb job of slicing campus in two, creating an island of medical studies buildings to the south and a continent of everything else to the north. Because of this, there’s often herds of people crossing during the day. This both creates a headache for commuters in cars and puts pedestrians in danger. I’ve almost been hit so many times, I feel like it’s a U of A right of passage.

87th Avenue at 112 Street and 114 Street could be sweet locations for scramble intersections. People could cross safely and in whichever direction they want. Cars wouldn’t have to wait for pedestrians crossing to make turns. It would’ve made the Students’ Union’s protest more efficient when a horde of students chased President David Turpin from ECHA to his Office in SAB. 

But the key word is “could.” This idea is efficient if it’s the right situation. Will campus’ daily and seasonal population swings fry this plan? Will it really make left and right turns over-easy for cars? Will it really fix congestion problems, or just hard-boil Edmontonians’ nerves? I’m not sure yet, all I’m saying is that it’s worth a crack!

By Stephen Raitz

Blog Post courtesy of The Gateway (University of Alberta)

Arts on the Ave: Taking Up Street Space

Arts on the Ave: Taking Up Street Space 

As a proud Edmontonian, I like to think that we have a vibrant and ever-growing arts and culture scene here in our city. The International Fringe Festival, Heritage days, and the Edmonton Folk Festival get a lot of attention and bring in the biggest crowds. While I can confirm that they are definitely worth the hype, there are so many other festivals in Edmonton that I feel deserve the same kind of attention. The Kaleido festival is one of those hidden gems.

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The Kaleido Family Arts Festival is a local, community-oriented festival held at the beginning of every September. The usually busy, traffic-filled 118th Avenue, located on the North-Side of downtown, is closed for the weekend to host singers, dancers, drummers, painters, actors, stilt-walkers, sculptors, wood carvers and more. Brought to life by the community organization ‘Arts on the Ave’, the festival was started 14 years ago and it continues to grow every year.

The Kaleido Family Arts Festival uses their space to its capacity. You cannot walk more than 5 steps without running into the next piece of art or a jamming musician. Every alleyway, green space, parking lot, and wall is being used for something or other. The sounds of Jazz music streams out of the Jazz Alley between 93rd and 94th street while the Unity project, an interactive art installation, sits on a usually empty lot on the corner of 92nd street. Walls are being muralled or filled with photographs of people and the street itself is covered in chalk art. 

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Artists mural the walls of a building on the corner of 91st and 118th avenue.

The Jazz Alley features many different musicians. Bare Bones Brass Band, Ethan Tonack and Jamie Philp were some of this year’s Alberta-based musicians playing. This particular venue is tucked between two buildings and creates an oasis of Jazz separate from the energy of the rest of the festival. At night, the music continues and the walls are lit up to create a beautiful light installation. 

The Unity Project [pictured below], sponsored by ATB Financial, is an interactive installation that invites people to come and use yarn to string together their story while relating to others in the process. Picture a giant knitting loom that people are constantly adding to throughout the weekend. The idea is that people start in the center, then weave around the labeled posts they relate to on the edge before returning back to center - creating a beautifully mismatched canopy of yarn. 

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The Unity Project

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Kaleido is the perfect example of local pride. Many of the businesses bordering 118th Avenue are involved and engaged with the festival. The Carrot Community Arts Coffeehouse has set up couches outside of the café to serve people treats and coffee. Bedouin Beats has a stage set up on 94th street to showcase their belly dancing performances. The Nina Haggerty Art Space has shared their walls to create a collage of faces while their inside space hosts performances throughout the weekend. The whole community seems to either spill out onto the street, or welcome people to discover, create, and celebrate.

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A belly dancer at the Bedouin Beats stage

Cindy Paul [pictured below right] is a Cree/Metis artist that performed at the Takwakin Village Stage on Saturday. 

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The festival has different venues scattered throughout the five-block area, ranging in size and shape from the Avenue Central Stage to the Kaleido Yurt – no two venues are the same. 

Kaleido creatively incorporates the neighbourhood and community in a way that I have not seen before in their Front Porch Music Series. With 7 different musicians and 4 different front porches, people gathered at pop-up locations on friendly neighbourhood porches to enjoy an intimate and unique music session. 

The Kaleido festival is a great example of a festival that unifies the community while spotlighting diverse artists through opportunities for expression and performance. Kaleido uses all that 118th Avenue has to offer, highlighting the cultural richness and community strength while breaking down the often-negative outlook the public holds towards the Ave. They provide opportunities to local artists and engage local businesses. Kaleido Festival is only continuing to grow and it deserves recognition and kudos for all they have accomplished so far. 

You can find more information on the Kaleido family Arts Festival website here http://www.kaleidofest.ca/ or at Arts on the Ave website here http://www.artsontheave.org/. Arts on the Ave also hosts the Deep Freeze festival in January, a Byzantine Winter Festival in the same space as Kaleido. Be sure to check that one out for a lively remedy of the winter blues. More information can be found at http://www.deepfreezefest.ca/.

By Bronwyn Neufeld 



Is Edmonton Ready for a Vertical Farm?

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Could vertical farming be a vital step into Edmonton's sustainable future? 

What is Vertical Farming?

Vertical farming is the method of generating food, by implementing advanced technologies in order to maximize the farms output. Overall, making it an efficient form of farming.  This can be located on vertically inclined surfaces, thus this progressive method of farming is unique as it can be integrated within the city core. 

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Better Bussing: A Bright Future for Edmonton's Transit System

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Some thought it would never happen, but somehow, it has! The City of Edmonton has finally heard our cries and a major bus route revamp is taking place, set to hit the streets in mid-2020. The Edmonton Transit Strategy outlines the goal for Edmonton to modernize its transit and ultimately lead to more people choosing to take transit as it becomes better serviced and more accessible to users. The changes made include having 5 specific route types, including frequent bus routes, rapid bus routes, crosstown bus routes, local routes, and community routes. These 5 routes have been specifically curated to service the diverse needs of Edmontonians in all areas of the city. Click the link here to see the new routes and how they will affect you. The suggested changes have sparked a conversation around public transit in Edmonton, and it is believed that the potential benefits of these new routes outweigh the challenges. Ultimately, like many things, it will take some getting used to.

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You are writing a report, creating some slides, doing a map, a 3D model or even designing your resume or portfolio for that summer job, you know the drill. You try to do something pretty but snapchat doesn’t have any filters in Google Docs to help you get out of your misery, yet. You don’t know how to make things visually appealing because you are a social scientist who is supposed to be good with words, maybe memes, but layouts, illustrations, diagrams, infographics, or renderings? Save us all Jane Jacobs! But say no more, lucky you I have experience in architecture and graphic design (remember PLACE 18?), to guide you through these dark times. Remember, these are skills anyone can learn putting the time and effort.

Here are my top ten websites to help you get inspiration, get you out of your Times-New-Roman comfort zone and start improving those graphic skills! Summer is coming!

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North American’s seem to hold an idea that all Europeans cities, of any size and growth pattern, have phenomenal public transportation and ridership. Let’s dismiss this idea. Up until 2015, Public transportation only represented 5 percent of total trips in Dunkirk, and biking representing 1 percent of total trips. This figure is easily surpassed in Edmonton.

This was until one Mayor was determined to raise public transportation ridership, and wage a campaign against Dunkirk’s dangerous population stagnation, enter Mayor Patrice Vergriete.

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f you frequent Urban Planning circles or local new's headlines, you've probably heard the term "Restrictive Covenant" come up, especially with Edmonton's new focus on infill.  If you're from a small town, like me, with no exposure to development-law whatsoever, you’ve probably never heard of it.

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Winter doesn’t have to be terrible. The Canoë Volant is a wonderful, free winter event that provides interactive activities like bannock making, rolling up maple syrup on a popsicle stick, ski racing, and even a free dance party outside of La Cité. Events like Canoe Volant truly show that Edmonton is a year-round festival city and that our winters don’t suck.

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Friction of Distance Made Me Sleep at Lister for a Night

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Sprawl, growth, and suburbanization are all words used to describe an expanding city, and they are also used interchangeably, as to be synonymous with one another. When these words are used to address change in Edmonton, they are often meant pejoratively to address a personal disapproval of the pattern, style, and even the pace of the introduced built-form. This discussion is dominant in the discourse of the outermost suburbs, think any development exceeding the Anthony Henday.

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I would say that I have done my fair share of traveling, which means I have also had my fair share of car rides to the Edmonton International Airport. On my way to EIA recently, I was shocked by freshly poured cement beams and an endless line of construction equipment along the Queen Elizabeth Highway 2. The massive QE II is expanding even more. 

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