Category Archives: Development

Automobile-Centric Development and Parking Requirements

Cross posted – also available at
Please consider following that blog if you want to keep up to date on my work at the Edmonton Community Development Company.


Strong Towns is an American movement that a colleague turned me on to the other day,  and it is not only a provocative movement, it offers an array of new thinking about the rules that cities and towns have when it comes to development, whether housing and business development or the inclusion of city services in an area like a recreational centre.

One thing that really caught my eye was the case made by Strong Towns to abolish parking requirements for new development.

One article provided a bit of a case study around thinking differently about parking in a town called Standpoint. A large bank wanted to build a branch in a neighbourhood that had historical significance. That development, according to the “rules” would have to provide 200 parking spots for the development to be approved. Alternatively, the bank could pay $10,000 per parking space not created. While such payment seems cost prohibitive to a development, the irony is that the parking requirement (apparently in place for the good of the community) could be bought off. This suggests that money trumps what is good for the community (according to the rules) or it could mean that this parking requirement was not all that necessary.

The bank bought a pizzeria and tore it down, but still did not have sufficient parking, so it began exploring buying a café and other businesses to meet the requirement. In other words city rules indicated that for the bank to be a viable development, other businesses (i.e. small businesses) would be torn down. Not really a desired economic development result, is it? And certainly not indicative of policy and rules that support small business development.

Interestingly there was a city owned parking lot a block away from the bank’s intended site, but that had no bearing on the rules. But my guess is that a bank and its patrons are not all that interested in customers having to walk a block to do their banking. As consumers, we want the convenience of parking right by the places we spend or, in this case, keep our money.

That said, in the Edmonton context, and our collective desire to foster more walkable neighbourhoods, shouldn’t we come to terms with how that goal might conflict with our conventional views of parking requirements? If our environmental concerns are to be actionable, don’t those concerns indicate that actions are necessary to reduce automobile-centric development?

In the end, to keep the story here short (read it all here), creative minds came up with an alternative solution. The parking requirements were reduced to the parking the bank had already created through demolishing the pizza business, without any in lieu payments, and instead the bank agreed to include a business incubator in its development, which apparently is so successful that the bank promotes it as part of its community programming.

This seems like a win-win-win from where I am sitting. The bank gets its development without destroying additional businesses, avoids paying the in lieu of parking penalty, and creates a needed economic service in the area that benefits local entrepreneurs.

While I am not yet decided on where I stand about the abolishment across the board of parking requirements, I suggest we need to tie together goals (like reducing reliance on automobiles and creating more walkable neighbourhoods) and also perhaps be more analytical about parking. For example, during the day many people leave their neighbourhoods to go to work and currently  the far majority do so in their cars. This frees up parking for business that operate during the day. At night these businesses close and the residents return home. In other words, the demand for parking changes with the time of day and should be considered by a municipal government in terms of the rules it wishes to put into place related to development.

Our current requirements of parking tends to favour large developments by large institutions that have the means to include the parking expense in their business development or expansion plans. They can, if necessary, buy up land to accommodate the parking requirements and sometimes in the process destroy other businesses. Small businesses cannot afford to do this. Not only that, small businesses become stuck at their current size because the cost of expansion, which includes creating a place for cars.

In a city where the goal is to improve environmental conditions, advance walkability, and foster more use of public transit, perhaps it is time to review and adapt parking requirements, if not abolish them altogether.

Perhaps seeing a development as a single entity subject to rules only about its own existence, we should be looking at shared parking requirements across developments and consider the demand for parking at various times of the day. Perhaps consumers need to change their expectations of parking at the front door of a bank or another business. And perhaps a rethink of parking requirements will actually foster more development that benefits a neighbourhood beyond the purpose of said development and increases the tax base for the municipal government.

Suggested Reading

What happens when you fill your city with parking? Lots and lots of low value land, and not much else.

Send this video to anyone who needs a crash course in why parking minimums are a major problem for American cities.

My city leaders keep insisting we need more parking. How can I, as a citizen, make the case for less?

We’ve built too much of the wrong stuff in the wrong places and market demand may never catch up or reinvent these landscapes.

Whether you’re a city staffer, nonprofit leader or just a strong citizen who cares, there’s something you can do to advocate for an end to parking minimums in your town.

Trickle-Down Community Engagement

Cross posted at

I waspreparing for the community engagement learning event Tamarack was doing in Ottawa last month called Community Engagement: The Next Generation. One of the workshops I wanted to do was on engagement of marginalized populations, in particular those living in poverty. My exploration of this topic led me to some provocative writing by Vu Le, who is a writer, speaker, and executive director of Rainier Valley Corps, a capacity building organization with a focus on leveling the playing field for people of colour as well as small, grass roots organizations.

I was particularly drawn to a piece he wrote on his blog about “Trickle-Down Community Engagement,” and his writing became the catalyst for one of the workshops I am doing, aptly called “Avoiding Trickle-Down Community Engagement of the Marginalized.”

With minor paraphrasing here is what Vu Le wrote:

Trickle-Down Community Engagement is when professionals bypass the people who are most affected by issues and instead engage and fund large organizations and systems to tackle these issues, and hope that miraculously the people most affected will help out in the effort, usually for free and on our timelines, within our rules of engagement and end up grateful for our largesse.

aace4It’s hard-hitting criticism but also too often the truth. I encourage you to read his postings on the topic. I did some thinking on the topic and I asked myself what causes trickle-down community engagement; why does it happen? I reflected on my own varied experiences of engaging people who are poor, homeless, and further marginalized by an illness or disability, lack of education, or by racism. Here are some of the reasons I came up with: Continue reading Trickle-Down Community Engagement

Affordable Housing is a solution not a problem

The City of Edmonton has launched a new website about the need for more affordable housing located across the city in order to ensure that all citizens have a safe and affordable place to live.

When people have to spend too much of their income on housing, they are forced to let other things go. Often they have to reduce the quality and quantity of their food, for example. They may have to reside in run down housing operated by uncaring landlords, which can pose safety and health risks. Fear for one’s children’s safety can keep kids from participating in recreational activities. In extreme cases, people end up losing their housing and end up on the streets. The average costs of a homeless person in our community is around $100,000. That’s what it costs to feed, clothe, shelter and attend to the health and mental health issues of one homeless person.

Contrary to what people tend to believe, affordable housing initiatives do not have a negative impact on property prices, and there does not appear to be any correlation between affordable housing and crime rates.

While the city website is silent on other needed housing types like supportive and supported housing, this is a very good beginning and hopefully is one more tool in the community’s tool box to use to foster more interest and acceptance of affordable housing in all neighbourhoods across our fine city.

Visit the site at

The site’s short video is below:

We Need More “Human” in “Development”

In an Edmonton Journal article written by David Staples on May 9th, he asked:  “Is Edmonton suffering from a bad case of Big-Shiny-Thing-itis? Often the answer is in the question, isn’t it?

Our community spent $90 million on the Art Gallery. The Arena and the Museum will cost $820 million. Add to that all the other development Staples mentioned and we are looking at another $1.25 billion financed through private investment and of course tax dollars from the city and province. Add the total cost of the city’s office tower and additional development promised as part of the deal and we hit $2 billion  – that’s $2,000,000,000.

Staples didn’t even mention all of the development in the Quarters or the City’s plans to lease an office tower being built by the Edmonton Arena Development (EAD) (a partnership between WAM Development and the Katz Group). It looks like it will save the City of Edmonton substantial money (by 2039), and the deal includes the EAD investing another $500 million in development surrounding the Arena by 2021 although they can buy out of that commitment for $10 million.

And to be fair Staples did not mention the significant dollars the city and province have been and will putting into public transit – perhaps the only major development that will also benefit low income people.

In general, I support development – not all of the above, but much of it.  But where’s the balance in terms of investing in human development, especially with respect to addressing poverty, homelessness, and rising tide of economic vulnerability experienced by nearly half our local population. Continue reading We Need More “Human” in “Development”


“Hey Maureen, what do you think about the new hockey arena?”
“I don’t think about it. I am too busy. Besides I can’t afford to go to hockey games.”
“There’s going to be a lot of big restaurants and a big outside area for eating food and stuff.”
“Yeh, I read that.  Can’t afford doing that either.”
“What about the new arts district and the museum?
“I suppose it’s nice for folks who got some extra money. I have never been in a museum.”
“Everybody’s saying all of this will change the landscape of the downtown area and make us a world class city.”
“Sure. Look, I focus each day on getting by and feeding my kids. Nothing you are telling me will be good for me and other poor families.”
“Do you think Edmonton shouldn’t have places like that?”
“Not saying that. Just don’t pretend it all will be good for Edmonton unless poor folk are not considered as part of Edmonton. This all will be good for people with money.”
“I see. Anything else you want to say?”
“I wonder how long it will take after all of this opens before my landlord raises the rent and I have to move again.”
“How do you know that will happen?”
“I live in a basement suite a few blocks away. I am poor not stupid.”
“All of this new development will drive up prices and my landlord will sell his place for a big profit.”
“You think you might lose your place because of all of this?”
“I hear local families will get some free ice time at the arena.”
“That’s great. I will spent my food money on ice skates for my kids. Can’t wait for the arena to open so I can get us some of the free ice time.”
“You are being sarcastic.”
“Why are we talking about this?”
“I just wondered what you thought.”
“Look. I work hard and make small money. I get by and don’t blame anyone for my life. But let’s tell the truth. All of these millions of dollars being spent won’t do anything good for my family. Won’t help my kids learn anything. Won’t help make child care cost what I can pay.  So yeh, I am being a bit sarcastic.”
“I see.”
“Let me ask you something.”
“When all the big shots in their suits go on about how great this is for the City of Edmonton, do you think they are being sarcastic?”
“Not really.”
“Me either.”
“What is it then? You think they are lying?”
“No. I imagine they are good people.”
“Well, then. What? You think they don’t care?”
“I imagine some don’t. But truth is the worst of it is that folks like me don’t cross their minds. I am invisible and the arena and everything else will just make that worse.”
“That’s pretty harsh.”
“Yes it is – at least we agree on that.”