There is a raging debate going on in Edmonton these days, not unlike many other Canadian prairie cities – how should we be planning and building to accommodate the ever increasing number of people moving here? Should we be focusing on suburban expansion at the edge or concentrate on redevelopment and densification of mature neighbourhoods?
In order to answer this question, it is appropriate that we first define “growth.” Expansion does not necessarily equal growth. We are caught in the idea that growth is purely physical but growth is also about improved quality. This can be likened to someone becoming educated, gaining experience at their job or refining their ability to master a piano piece.
In the case of cities, growth is as much about the quality of experiences and offerings as it is about physical expansion. Regardless of what part of the city we’re talking about (e.g. downtown, inner ring mature neighbourhoods or new suburban fringe) this is created through diversity.
Diversity is then manifest through multiple uses, various building typologies & variable densities. In turn, growth is seen through the refinement of design, reinvestment in community development and the continual renewal that results.
However, no matter how suburban development positions itself in these terms it will always be missing a piece of this puzzle. That missing piece is the evidence of refinement and renewal. This is seen through mix of old and new, large and small, expensive and affordable – in close proximity – even on the same street.
If an area is all new and different or all old and the same, it is, in essence, a sterilized theme park.
In Edmonton and other cities like it grappling with the same questions about how to grow and expand, a quality urban environment is not about densities or building heights – it’s about the relationships afforded by the built environment.