Edgemont represents development where the car — not the person — was the priority

Real estate agents probably don’t have too many problems selling homes in Edgemont. After all, the northwest community is full of ravines, schools, views of the mountains and expansive lots; the 16,534 residents in the community have a median salary of $102,950 per year.

But one thing that might not be noticed by new homeowners is an absence of sidewalks in the community. All main streets sport the urban feature, but many secondary roads are missing sidewalks on one — or in some cases both — sides of the street.

Concrete necessity

This may not seem like a major issue but, for Lance Robinson, a research assistant at the University of Calgary’s Urban Lab, the lack of footpaths in the 33-year-old community is an urban-planning problem that needs to be examined.

“There’s a strong correlation between the availability of sidewalks and how you can build strong, cohesive communities,” said Robinson, who lived in Edgemont for 20 years before moving to the Beltline.

“If there’s a lack of sidewalks, how can I walk to your house if we’re going to play street hockey or get together to watch a movie? If I’m younger, I’ve got to rely on mom or dad to drive me there.”

Robinson also said, the sense of community vibrancy and cohesiveness is dependent upon the number of people walking, shopping and milling around, which sidewalks facilitate.

“With a lot of the newer communities like Tuscany and Copperfield, you have to drive a huge distance,” he said. “You can’t just get out and go for a walk with the dog and go to the corner store like you could in Mission or Kensington. That’s a real issue.”

Beverly Johnson of the Edgemont Community Association said the lack of sidewalks hinders her ability to walk around the neighbourhood.
Photo by: James Wilt

Driving away community

Unlike those inner-city communities — which feature wide sidewalks accompanied with trees and streetlights — Edgemont was developed with a focus on the car. The social standard of having two sidewalks was largely forgotten by 1978, which is when Edgemont began to be built. Developers also saved money by not having to pay for sidewalks.

“If you’re a developer, you want to build a product and get it out there and not spend a ton of money on the front end,” Robinson said. “You want to sell it and get out of there. You don’t want to spend a lot of money putting in sidewalks.”

For Beverley Johnson, the head of urban planning at the Edgemont Community Association, this reality has limited the amount of time she spends walking around her community. She explained that exercise would be the only motivation for walking to the Superstore by her house to get groceries.

“We [at the community centre] have always thought that Edgemont was designed to get in your car and drive somewhere. It hasn’t been designed as a village,” said Johnson, a resident of Edgemont for 28 years.

However, Johnson pointed out that there are “pockets of vibrancy” present in Edgemont. Many cultural and seniors groups meet at the community centre frequently. The Foothills Alliance Church also provides free ESL courses and space for other community groups to meet.

Tim Haney, a professor of urban sociology at Mount Royal University said: “You can put sidewalks in all you want to, but people need a concrete place to go. That’s where we get into mixed-use communities and things like that.

“If there’s really nowhere to go and nothing to pull people out on the streets, they’re probably not going to use the sidewalks anyway.”

 “There’s a strong correlation between the availability of sidewalks and how you can build strong, cohesive communities,”

— Lance Robinson,
University of Calgary’s Urban Lab

Sidewalk solution

Robinson of the Urban Lab said he doesn’t believe the community needs to be abandoned. Rather, he suggested retrofitting Edgemont as the city is not in an economic position to start over. He suggested the addition of sidewalks, the removal of some housing units and the changing of zoning laws to increase density could all lead to fulfilling the vision of the “village.”

Similarly, Johnson mentioned residents have brought up the idea of enhancing the landscape of Edgemont with a $50 fee paid annually by each resident. This would enable the City of Calgary to “beautify” the community by installing things like park benches and planters, which would hypothetically give people more of a reason to walk around.

Money is certainly an issue in regards to sidewalks, considering the fact that the City of Calgary requires residents to pay the entire cost for them. An average footpath would cost just under $6,000 to install, according to the City of Calgary’s local improvements website.

But Robinson said that Edgemont can be turned into a more vibrant and walkable community.

“It just requires citizens getting active and getting vocal,” he concluded.

jwilt@cjournal.ca