And it’s about more than downtown.
“It’s absolutely city-wide. We have encampments in basically every neighbourhood in Edmonton. And no one dismisses my issues as downtown issues. I think it’s well-recognized that the heart of our city has a huge impact on our entire city. And, homelessness is in every neighbourhood. The mental-health crisis is in every neighbourhood.”
While homelessness is top of mind, Ward O-Day’min also needs a boost in people. After hours, Edmonton Centre is empty. On weekends, many stores aren’t open. The new hybrid working model — which was hastened along thanks to COVID — means that downtown isn’t as busy. Office workers aren’t coming back, and lack of foot traffic hurts businesses. It also hurts the perception of public safety.
According to the 2019 City census, 12,423 people lived downtown. While that number has increased thanks to the completion of some rental-unit towers, it’s still far short of what Stevenson and the rest of her council want to see. In her mind, downtown’s vibrancy will be improved by more people who live in the core, rather than those who work in the core or visit the core.
“I think the energy is coming back, for sure. But I think it highlights the structural issue we have downtown, which is the lack of residential units compared to commercial. It’s a good call to us that we need to rebalance that, particularly given changed working environments.”
Last year, the City ran the Development Incentive Grant program, which provided support for builders of residential buildings with values of at least $10 million, and had 50 units or more. Stevenson points to the new Warehouse Park development; ground has just been broken on the first building, a 36-storey tower that will house 360 units. If the developers — John Day Developments, Maclab Development Group, Pangman Development Corporation and Probus Project Management — are successful in attracting leases, they’ll proceed on the next phases of the project, with a potential for 1,000 units.