Architects propose park to connect downtown with Whyte Avenue

A local collective has a bold new vision for central Edmonton that includes a park that would connect downtown with Whyte Avenue.

High Level Line would include bike and walking paths, streetcar track

A bird's-eye-view looking north over expanded Ezio Faraone Park. (High Level Line Society)

A local collective has a bold new vision for central Edmonton that includes a park that would connect downtown with Whyte Avenue.

Architect Michael Zabinski, along with a group of young creative and design professionals, has been working on the High Level Line project for a year.

Their proposal includes a four-kilometre park made up of pedestrian paths, a cycling network, and a streetcar to connect downtown to Whyte Avenue, putting a fresh, user-friendly spin on the neighbourhoods between them.

"We are a city with two really awesome cultural centres, downtown and Whyte Avenue," said Zabinski.

"And for the longest time, people have gone to Whyte or they go downtown. What's missing is the link between the two — the urban thread that makes central Edmonton one place and one destination, that connects the city's two centres and creates a dynamic experience between the two."

The park would run from MacEwan University all the way to Whyte Avenue at 104th Street. The plan calls for a transformation of the North Saskatchewan River valley, and the neighbourhoods of Strathcona, Garneau, Grandin and Oliver.

Looking south on top of the High Level Bridge. (High Level Line Society)

People would be able to walk, cycle or take the streetcar from one end to the other. It's an ambitious idea that would require a significant amount of new infrastructure, Zabinski said.

"It's really about blending those three ways of moving, and creating an experience that doesn't sacrifice any one of them," he said.

The High Level Line collective on Wednesday made public a portfolio of its designs, including park-lined pathways atop the High Level Bridge, an expanded Ezio Faraone Park, and a new multi-modal bridge at Jasper Avenue and 110th Street.

Now that they've made their images and concept public, the next step for the project, Zabinski said, is to get people talking.

"Step 1, is we want to get the conversation going about what we want the city to look like. We want to keep working, take suggestions, incorporate them and keep this design process going."

The end goal is that in 10, 20 or 30 years, the project is realized in one way or the other, he said.

"Either the project, certain elements of the project, or the values that are embodied in the project — we'd like to see some of those implemented," said Zabinski.

"The presentation to the city, the general population, the design community, and to politicians, is really meant to get people talking. And hopefully that leads to influencing this discussion about how we do infrastructure in the city and how we spend money. It's about prioritizing a way of living, a way of experiencing the city that we don't have."