Edmonton has long been characterized by vast suburbs and highways where F-150s roam free — it’s a city many say you need a vehicle to experience. However, a new initiative aims to change this by promoting neighbourhoods that make walking a realistic and enjoyable transportation option.
Enter WalkableEdmonton.com, a hub that connects all of the most walking-friendly areas in Edmonton.
“(Originally) everyone I met who wanted to buy houses in (Edmonton’s) core had a really hard time describing what they were looking for, like ‘We want something that’s really central with a coffee shop close by,’” says local realtor Sara Kalke while sipping on a Cafe Leva cappuccino. “Pretty soon the conversations changed from ‘I want to live somewhere that’s central’ to sitting down and saying ‘I just want somewhere that is walkable.’”
Walkability is a characteristic of neighbourhoods that are designed to make walking both a pleasurable and practical means of getting around — basically, a place where you don’t need to own a car. With her 10 years experience as a realtor, Kalke started to recognize that walkability was becoming more and more important “from a city planning perspective, but also a lifestyle perspective.” Despite this, she still had difficulty pointing her clients to resources that could assist them in their search for walkable areas in Edmonton, so she created her own in the form of Walkable Edmonton.
Ask Kalke explains, walkable neighborhoods are ones that provide a diversity of services in a small radius, an interesting environment to be in, and most importantly, a safe place to walk. She cites downtown’s Oliver as a prime example. “When you go to Oliver’s Victoria Promenade, you have a sidewalk, a row of benches, trees, a bike lane, and one-way traffic. So when you’re walking there, you feel like you’re just walking in nature and feel very sheltered. You forget the cars, you forget the noise, and there you are just relaxing and walking,” Kalke says.
Oliver, Downtown, Old Strathcona, Westmount, and Garneau are the neighborhoods she started the website with, identifying them as the “five most recognizable neighborhoods” in Edmonton, but she explains that plans to expand the website are underway.
As a tool for researching neighborhoods, Kalke assures Walkable Edmonton is more than just a hipster business directory. Aside from highlighting businesses, the site shows off the parks, landmarks, and events that make each neighborhood truly unique and enjoyable to walk in. Everything’s done with “a huge amount of neighbourhood and city pride built in,” she adds. Kalke also notes that walkability is so much more than a characteristic of trendy neighborhoods, but rather as an alternative lifestyle of urban living.
“Walkability is for people who believe in living within a short proximity to everything in their world. Kinda like the antithesis of this Urban Sprawl phenomenon — where you live super far from everything and you drive 45 minutes each way,” she says. “A lot of people (who value walkability) would never get into a car, and if they had to get into a car it’d be a car-share car.”
While this concept may seem ludicrous in a city where it’s minus thirty outside for much of the year, Kalke still believes it’s preferable to winter-driving.
“I think in such a harsh climate, where you live becomes even more important,” she begins. “Because, if you live within a few blocks to everything in your world, you are still going to go out and walk. If you live where everything is around a 20 minute walk or everything is on the outskirts of your neighborhood… you’re basically not going to go outside. And we all know how you feel after you’ve been inside for three days straight; you start losing it a little bit.”
The launch of Walkable Edmonton took place recently in a repurposed warehousing site near Ritchie. There was a live DJ, food and drink from a variety of local Edmonton businesses, and photography of our city’s most beautiful areas. In a lot of ways the party was the physical manifestation of Kalke’s website, a hub of all of the most unique and interesting parts of Edmonton, all intended to promote something a little greater than a hidden-hipster espresso bar.
“I think the biggest hidden gem that people don’t do a lot is to try and take just a different walk every day. You start to meet the people in your neighbourhood and you gain connection with people that you maybe wouldn’t know otherwise. We kind of are in this culture where it’s tempting to drive into your garage and go straight into your house and watch TV and not really interact with people. But walking gets you out of that space to meet people and feel like you’re part of a community.”