If Edmonton really hopes to continue to be a vibrant, growing, prosperous city, downtown needs to be part of that. “There are no strong regions that don’t have strong cores,” says Tracy Hadden Loh, a data scientist and fellow with the Brookings Institute. Hadden Loh researches downtowns across the United States and has focused on how they are recovering after health restrictions were lifted. “It’s the single most central location in a region, the highest accessibility served by the most infrastructure,” she says. “That’s the core value proposition and that’s still totally intact.”
Hadden Loh has argued that America’s downtowns have not come back to what they were before the pandemic and never will. Office work has fundamentally changed. Workers will be a part of future downtowns, surely, but the rest of the life will have to come through investments that bring more residents and tourists.
Her research looks at countless examples of cities getting it right, and wrong.
So, here are five ideas that are working that Edmonton could, or should, follow.
ONE: Downtowns Must Become Neighbourhoods
This is the biggie, Hadden Loh says. “If the customers aren’t going to be office workers then they have to be people, they have to be residents,” she says. “So, this is just about creating that base for vibrancy.”
Many North American downtowns are scrambling to repurpose emptied office towers into housing. Edmonton faces a triple challenge on this front. Many of its ageing, 1980s-era towers had a low occupancy rate before the pandemic. Endless vacant lots beg for development. And, as Thompson points out, the generation that should be moving to downtown Edmonton isn’t.