The old runways of Northwest Edmonton’s Blatchford Field Airport, which closed in 2013, are to be given new life. The city reports that the recycled concrete, asphalt, and gravel will comprise the streets of a sustainable, green neighbourhood that will hum with shared energy. The city will, once again, lead the world on a path to sustainability through environmentally friendly innovations. For a while now, there have been whispers in the Edmonton Journal and The Edmonton Sun about visions of a "green mecca", a "utopian" and "ambitious" plan. In 2014, pre-construction work commenced. This past year has seen excitement, anticipation, and massive developments: park territory, residences, and roads. Pond excavation also commenced. The community will likely be an ideal home for a diverse crowd, many of whom share the will to live intentionally in an environmentally sustainable community. The city promotes an active, recreation-based lifestyle.
Prime Location for Infill
A city report explains that airport hangars were slowly disassembled so that materials could be sorted for recycling. Likewise, the design of the new community has been a deliberate and careful process, marked by debate, innovation, and reflection. Builder Peter Amerongen explains to reporter Cheryl Mitchell that objectives for homes and public buildings include energy efficiency and low water waste. According to the city, Blatchford’s ecological footprint will be minimalized. The CBC reports that energy will be 100% renewable, shared using a DESS (district energy sharing system). Waste will be diverted; it is also being curtailed during construction. Soil removed to create two stormwater ponds will be recycled in the form of a community hill which will double as a sound and wind block. The city plans that Blatchford will work towards achieving carbon neutrality, through such efforts as solar panels, addressing the issue of climate change that Canadian environmentalists are anxious to resolve. Rainwater will be collected in cisterns and reused; the city has suggested nourishing the community gardens with reused water. Another goal is to have housing within walking distance of conveniences, one being the central park. Density of inhabitants will increase close to the LRT system.
A Green Community
Heat for bathwater is not the only type of energy that will be collective; there will be social energy as well. The city hopes that the development is "family friendly", and “enhances social interaction”, “offering attractive, welcoming and safe public spaces to convene”. Blatchford will be a solace in winter, a development at the forefront of the city’s new "winter design" proposals to block wind, maximize sunshine, light, and colour, as well as enabling winter well-being. In the summer, community gardens in park spaces will likely thrive. Greenhouses will also be an incentive to visit Blatchford parks. Planners embraced social priorities, planning for activities like tobogganing and city sightseeing. Residents will be sure to bump into each other as they congregate for winter sports. Maximizing potential for residents’ street surveillance will create a sense of security for pedestrians. Two stormwater ponds and the surrounding area are being designated as a central park, populated with abundant wildlife. A city report sums up the Blatchford dream: the district “will transform how people connect with each other, with their city and with the environment."
Plans which reduce walkability have been scrapped. A lake that would attract recreation enthusiasts in cars was vetoed; the stormwater ponds are to be the site of leisure walks instead. Bicycles and buses will be given preferential parking space; director Mark Hall says the plan is to “allow someone to not own a vehicle”. Driveways and garages will therefore be eliminated. The city promises that in addition to bicycle parking space twice as large as normally required, there will also be underground and rear parking for vehicles.
Some worried that the social housing initiatives would threaten green planning goals. In late 2015, those at City Hall discussed what the Edmonton Journal described as "aggressive" social housing aspirations alongside goals of achieving praiseworthy standards of environmental sustainability. Gary Klassen, general manager of sustainable development, recommended that these initiatives be withdrawn. While environmental living and sustainability seems to emerge as a priority, the city's website mentions “homes for all stages of life” and promises that the environment will be "inclusive". A promise of "20% affordable housing" remains posted. The prospect of housing for students at the NAIT institute, one of the city's many partners who provide sustainable development expertise, is on the minds of city planners.
Edmontians have had animated debates and offered thoughts and feedback to the city as everyone waits for the development to take shape. This year, lots will be sold to builders. The city will work towards achieving their goals of sustainability and it will be exciting to watch Blatchford begin to grow and reach its potential as a dreamland becomes a reality.
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