Infill Edmonton

I love the city of Edmonton, Alberta. And I’m perplexed by it. It’s this sprawling, squat homunculus of a city, full of one-story block-buildings and Soviet-era bunkers. I’m told Edmonton experienced its major construction boom in the ’70s, during the height of the Cold War; I can’t help but feel the majority of the structures in the city were built by people who expected everything they constructed to be blown to bits by an atomic bomb within ten years, and correspondingly they didn’t spend a great deal of time designing beautiful, interesting offices and homes that people could look forward to inhabiting for generations. So much of the city seems built like a bomb shelter. And now of course, there’s the ever-increasing sprawl of cookie-cutter houses expanding in all directions, away from the core, away from any hope of creating diverse communities with pedestrian traffic and independent shops, towards the further expansion of huge block-building department stores and their corresponding two-hundred-stall parking lots.

My very amateurish interest in architecture and urban planning is a function of my sort of inexhaustible interest in people. How people choose to structure their lives; the spaces they choose to inhabit; they way they choose to get around; where they decide to send their kids to school – in modernity, these choices all say a lot about the core values of a society. And these values are constantly changing, generation to generation.

Recently I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Tegan Martin-Drysdale, an engineer by training who now co-runs a start-up real estate development company here in Edmonton called Red Brick. She introduced me to the concept of infill: “the use of land within a built-up area for further construction, especially as part of a community redevelopment. (Wikipedia)” Tegan and her business partner Paul Gibson have a number of infill development initiatives on the go, and the challenges to these sorts of developments in Edmonton are apparently legion, for a number of reasons (largely laziness, it seems to me, an attitude of “well, this is the way things have always been done, and so this is how they’ll continue to be done”). Tegan asked if I’d be interested in documenting some of the process as Red Brick continues to push infill projects in the Edmonton core in the hopes of raising awareness about infill and to potentially aid in destigmatizing the issue to a degree. I told her I’d be thrilled.

I’m not sure of the exact shape this project will take over the coming months, but I know that this an issue that gets people talking, especially in this city. Resultantly I feel confident that there’s an audience out there for a documentary project about the challenges of infill development in a city like Edmonton, and what those challenges say about the predominant cultural attitudes of Central Alberta in general. Why are we as a people willing to accept lowest-common-denominator bullshit when it comes to the homes we live in, the shops we frequent, the communities we raise our kids in? Why don’t we demand, or at the very least expect better? These are questions I’m interested in, and I think that working with Red Brick and their friends in the development community here will provide me with an opportunity to explore them at length. Today we conducted an interview with the architect who lives in the house in the picture above, Ron Wickman. I’ll just say this: I’m not sure I know the answers to any of the questions I’ve mentioned here, but if people like Ron are out there continuing to design and build homes and businesses, there’s the potential for a bright and interesting future in this city. I look forward to seeing it grow and change. And taking a few pictures along the way.

Until next time.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB