The Downtown Business Association says Edmontonians are starting to feel more optimistic about the city’s downtown.

In his report for the DBA – titled “Realities of a Revitalized Downtown: A Look at the Negative Perceptions and Why They are Outdated” – MBA student Luca Petryshyn looked at how Edmontonians think about the city core.

Petryshyn surveyed 1,400 people living across the city and from a variety of backgrounds, asking questions about downtown safety, business, culture, nightlife and livability.

DBA report

The report released by the Downtown Business Association addressed transit, walkability, night life, safety and parking, among other things. (CBC)

“Downtown is a brand and negative perceptions are hurting it,” Petryshyn said on Wednesday morning.

Of the people surveyed, 75 per cent said concerns over safety was the main thing discouraging them from coming downtown.

But Petryshyn said many of the negative perceptions people hold about the city core date back to 1995 – a period he called “a commercial and cultural rock bottom.”

“It was a very dark time for downtown and it colours today’s perceptions in a big way,” he said, noting downtown was more dangerous and with fewer businesses and recreational activities available.

“It’s much more vibrant today – it really is.”

By the numbers:

  • 54 per cent of Edmontonians have a positive impression of downtown overall; this dropped to 38 per cent during the winter
  • More than one third of those surveyed said downtown was welcoming to women and multicultural diversity
  • While 44 per cent of those surveyed said downtown was a good place to work, only 36 per cent thought it was a good place to live.
  • 26 per cent said downtown was friendly to senior citizens
  • 45 per cent agreed downtown is walkable and is easy to get to via public transit
  • 38 per cent said downtown is improving every year
  • 33 per cent said downtown is the heart of the city

(Source: Luca Petryshyn/Downtown Business Association)

Living vs. working downtown

“The biggest surprise that we found in our current research on negativity is that people who live downtown see it completely differently than people who might just work there,” Petryshyn said.

In particular, Petryshyn said the people most worried about safety are those that work – but don’t live – downtown.

Around 70,000 people work downtown but only about 13,000 call it home. Of those who live downtown, 60 per cent are under 35.

That disparity in opinion between those that work downtown and those who live there causes an imbalance in opinions about the core, he said, with those that leave being more out of touch with downtown’s dynamic nature.

“In my opinion, people who live and work downtown have arguably the best understanding of safety at any time of day,” he said.

And that imbalance extends beyond concerns over safety and policing, he said.

"Some of the biggest myth perceptions around downtown Edmonton is that it is dead after five,” said Petryshyn.

“For those of you who know there's been a 67 per cent increase in late night premises – including restaurants and clubs downtown. And its fast becoming one of the most vibrant nightlife economies in Edmonton."

“The people who live downtown are incredibly, shamelessly positive about what kind of place it is – and I think that’s an important message to hear,” said Petryshyn.

‘Downtown has changed’

That opinion was seconded by city councillor Scott McKeen, who has been working downtown since 1986, and now calls it his home.

“[The report] confirms a lot of what those of us that live and work downtown already know,” he said. “Downtown has changed.” 

The challenge now will be to get people who had previously ruled out downtown to change their minds, he said – especially those who don’t often visit the city core. 

“I think the arena is going to be the biggest marketing plan the downtown has ever had,” he said.

The planned Galleria project will also bring new interest, he said. 

Scott McKeen

Coun. Scott McKeen, who has been watching downtown change since 1986, said upcoming projects like the Galleria and Rogers Centre will draw new crowds to downtown. (CBC)

“I expect that experience is going to be eye-opening for a lot of people. They’re not going to get stabbed, they’re not going to trip over litter. They’re going to see restaurants and museums and clubs they’ve never seen and go ‘I think we should come back on the weekend.’”

“The reality is that downtown is attracting entrepreneurs and businesses in a way it hasn’t in years,” Petryshyn said.

“In 10 years, I think downtown is really going to be an amazing place. I think you’re going to see vibrant streets, you're going to see a lot of business activity, starts ups, entrepreneurs, settling in and choosing downtown as the place to be.”