What Edmonton can learn from cities that already have 2M people

In early December, council officially signed off on Edmonton's city plan  — a 181-page document laying out a roadmap for the city as it grows toward two million people over the next 45 years.

Turkish baths, a train to the airport and colourful buildings make the list

What Edmonton can learn from large international cities

CBC News Edmonton

25 days agoVideo
Edmonton is home to people from all over the world — including cities with populations of two million. CBC News asked some of these Edmontonians what advice they would give city planners about becoming a city that size. 2:54

In early December, council officially signed off on Edmonton's city plan  — a 181-page document laying out a roadmap for the city as it grows toward two million people over the next 45 years.

The document addresses the future of developments, transportation, as well as environmental, social and economic planning..

Edmonton is home to people from all over the world — including from cities with populations of two million.

CBC asked some of these Edmontonians what advice would they give city planners about becoming a community of that size.

Some pointed to ideas presented in the plan — including increasing density and expanding the transit network — while others were inspired by design and community gatherings which reminded them of home. 

While their home cities differ in geography, climate, history and culture, these Edmontonians had a lot to say about what their current city could learn from their hometowns.

Havana, Cuba

Edmontonian Daniel Peña Quesada is originally from Havana, Cuba. (Submitted by Daniel Peña Quesada)

Graphic designer and artist Daniel Peña Quesada said Edmonton would do well to take inspiration from the colour that adorns many of the buildings in the Cuban capital. Edmonton can look a little bland, he said, and initiatives to encourage more colourful design could create some cheer. 

"Particularly because winter is very harsh here, if we have colourful buildings, I think that psychologically it's going to help people to feel happier," Peña Quesada said. 

While Edmonton's arts festival scene is strong in the summer, he'd like to see more opportunities for live music or a version of the Art Walk festival in the winter.

More cultural activities, including an event like the Heritage Festival, could brighten the long winter, he said.

"It would be nice if there was more opportunity for live music in the city, and ethnic activities. So people can see some other culture, performing arts … music, painting," he said. 

Amman, Jordan

Randa Alhijawi, right, and her children at the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 in Edmonton. Alhijawi grew up in Amman, Jordan. (Submitted by Randa Alhijawi)

Randa Alhijawi, a single mother who raised three children and started a driving school business after moving to Edmonton in 2007, said she loves the city, but misses the liveliness of her hometown of Amman, Jordan.

"It's not a boring city. You can do anything you want to do," she said of Jordan's capital.

She said Amman offers activities for everyone that run late into the night — unlike Edmonton's nightlife which she finds focused on bars and clubs. In Amman, families spend evenings at the souk — which she describes as being a bit like a farmers market or the Taste of Edmonton festival, but with a wider range of goods and services, and open year-round.

Most of all, she misses the food. 

"Everything is available here but you have to go to a restaurant and sit there and order. It's a different kind of experience. I want to see more, similar to food trucks but more like street carts. People will interact more with each other and bring life to the city," she said.

She'd also love to see Turkish baths — spas and steam rooms — open in Edmonton. In Amman, they are very popular.

"It's a very beautiful experience and it's affordable too. Here, you can go to a spa, but it's really expensive," she said.

Isfahan, Iran

Edmontonian Mohammad Pour is originally from Esfahan, Iran. (Submitted by Mohammad Pour)

Chemical engineer Mohammad Pour grew up in Isfahan, a city in central Iran known for its impressive architecture and historical sites.

"There's a lot of monuments, mosques, historic bridges, architecture that is of great importance to people," Pour said.

While there are some historic attractions and tours around Edmonton, he thinks more could be done to help people connect with the city's past. 

"Edmonton also has great history, but I don't see a lot of emphasis or work that has been done on ... trying to educate people about its culture."

He also said that train or LRT service is still in the works for Isfahan, but in the meantime the city's transit service is complemented by taxis that work like buses by following specific routes and picking up people along the way who hail a ride.

"This strategy works for a populated city, where you want to save space and transfer as many people as you can," Pour said. 

Edmonton is getting ready to roll out a version of on-demand transit in mid-2021, with shuttle buses that will only operate on demand when users book a ride with an app. 

Tijuana, Mexico

Katya Castillo, third from right, and colleagues pose in front of the Stanley Milner Library while it was under renovation. Castillo is originally from Tijuana, Mexico. (Submitted by Katya Castillo)

Katya Castillo, who spent much of her time growing up in Tijuana, Mexico, said Edmonton could learn about density from that city on the American border.

Castillo, who works for the City of Edmonton but was not involved in the city plan work, said that running utilities out to far -flung suburbs as Edmonton grows is expensive, and that focusing on centralization can have many benefits.

"Not only environmentally does it have an impact when we develop outside the core . . . you also don't have that sense of community," she said. 

Castillo said that she'd also like to see Edmonton take up recycling construction materials in ways that other countries and cities like Tijuana have had to do by necessity.

"They get very creative with materials from larger sites," she said. 

Still, she is glad that Edmonton is focused on planning in a way that Tijuana wasn't as it grew rapidly, which has created issues when natural disasters strike.

"I think the City of Edmonton is doing a lot of things right in that sense, making sure we are building things safely," she said. 

Perth, Australia

Edmontonian Ricky Mitchell is originally from Perth, Australia. (Submitted by Ricky Mitchell)

When Ricky Mitchell was growing up in Perth on Australia's west coast, he said a mining boom led to the city expanding from just over a million to nearly two million over 23 years.

Mitchell said Perth wasn't prepared and it caused a lot of growing pains, particularly with road design that led to bad traffic. He said it's good that Edmonton is making a plan now.

But, he said, one thing Perth nailed that Edmonton should adopt? A train to the airport.

"Which I think every city should have, a rail line that goes to the airport, that just makes things a lot better," he said.

Mitchell, a pipefitter/steamfitter with a young family, said he's lived in Edmonton since 2013 and it feels more like home now than Perth does, but he does think nightlife could use a bit of a boost. 

"Perth had a really good downtown life, especially like a party scene. Whyte Ave., I think they could really do with making that a walk-only street. [That] would be really, really cool," he said.

About the Author

Paige Parsons is an Edmonton-based reporter and web editor. She can be reached at paige.parsons@cbc.ca.


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