Top 20 City News of 2013

Every day of the year, stories about the City of Edmonton or the civic services we provide make up a significant portion of the news coverage by our local newspapers and broadcast media.

City staff are proud of the services we provide, and the role we play in delivering on the priorities of Edmontonians. But sometimes we face challenges. Thanks to weather, economic factors, funding challenges, or planning issues, we don’t always fully satisfy the people we serve. And we make the news. Other times, we capitalize on opportunities to advance community interests. From international sports events to local innovations, we sometimes make the news for all the right reasons.

Our communications team compiled a list of what we thought were the top 20 City of Edmonton news items of 2013. We want you to tell us which ones you think will have the biggest impact next year and beyond.

Also, please use the comments section to let us know what other stories about the City of Edmonton should have made our top 20 for 2013.

1. War on Potholes: As the previous winter’s snow melted for the last time, following a series of freeze-thaw cycles, potholes took over many Edmonton streets like never before. City Council boosted the 2013 roadworks budget by $21 million to accelerate extra rehabilitation work on arterial and neighbourhood roads, on top of the annual investments in place for thoroughfares and the Neighbourhood Renewal Program. Extra crews working night and day set a new record with approximately 750,000 potholes filled for the year. Potholes are sure to return in 2014 due to our climate and geological conditions, but 2013’s major repair season aims to reduce the roadway deterioration and turn around the infrastructure neglect of past decades.

2. Building an Iconic Bridge: Work began on the new Walterdale Bridge in downtown Edmonton, replacing an essential piece of infrastructure that has served Edmonton well for a century. The beginning of construction for the new signature gateway to downtown culminated several years of preparation to establish an iconic crossing of the North Saskatchewan River Valley that will serve Edmontonians for generations.

3. Downtown Arena District Moves Ahead: The final piece of funding for the downtown arena was approved by City Council in May, paving the way for the project to move ahead and contribute to the revitalization of Edmonton’s downtown. Council approved a capital profile (see backgrounder) for the arena project and associated infrastructure. The arena project is a centrepiece in continuing the momentum for downtown revitalization, which has included the 104 Street developments, the Capital Boulevard, The Quarters and the provincial project to build a new Royal Alberta Museum.

4. Community Goes Green: Edmonton’s first Green Neighbourhood opened in 2013. Oxford, in northwest Edmonton, is the first large subdivision where the City of Edmonton set environmental standards that apply to every home. Each Oxford home must achieve at least an EnerGuide 78 rating. Most new homes built in Alberta today meet an EnerGuide rating of between 65 and 72. The builder partners in Oxford must achieve a BuiltGreen silver rating as well as EnerGuide 78.

5. Smart Bus Pilot: The Edmonton Transit System (ETS) introduced Smart Bus technology in 2013, with enhancements to the ETS Control Centre and ETS inspector vehicles. Next, ETS rolled out a pilot of real-time bus location status for routes 111 and 128 and live departure boards at select transit centres. The pilot buses are equipped with technology to provide transit riders and staff with on-time status of the bus compared to scheduled time along the route; next stop announcements to assist customers with visual impairments and people not familiar with the route; and enhanced monitoring for response to emergency situations. The enhancements come as ETS marks a milestone of ridership nearly doubling in just over a decade, increasing from 44 million rides in 2002 to 86.7 million rides in 2013. ETS also celebrated 20 years of accessible bus service and 35 years of LRT operations in Edmonton.

6. Smart Growth Up, In and Out: Edmonton began a process aimed at securing a vital economic growth corridor along the QE II highway and ensuring strong core for sustainable regional prosperity, while focussing efforts to increase density in central areas. In March City Council announced a process to extend the City’s southern boundary to facilitate responsible growth in the region. As the first annexation process Edmonton has undertaken in 30 years, the process is expected to take two to five years. The City also launched Evolving Infill, a project to advance residential infill in the city’s established neighbourhoods. The first phase aims at creating a city-wide discussion of the need to build up within established communities, working in tandem with new density guidelines for new development across the city. The City also increased opportunities for highrise development with the closure of the final runway at the City Centre Airport. This final closure will remove height restrictions on development in the central areas of the City, continuing the trend of new growth allowed by the decision in 2009 to close the first runway.

7. Flooding Prompts Drainage Action: The torrential rains that created catastrophic flooding across southern Alberta clearly made the top news story for the province in 2013. Thankfully, Edmonton escaped the worst impact, and was able to send resources to help with flood relief and cleanup. The heavy rain storms did not leave Edmonton unscathed. Severe flooding in localized areas reinforced the urgency for implementing an enhanced flood prevention program. This fall, Council approved additional projects worth $4.7 million to expedite construction and design activity to deal with immediate needs particularly in Millbourne, southwest Edmonton and various locations throughout Mill Woods. An Expanded Flood Prevention Program worth $162 million will be reviewed for the 2015-2018 capital budget, next fall.

8. Serving up on Sidewalks: The City took steps to streamline approvals for sidewalk cafes, to allow more people to enjoy the wide variety of dining opportunities while enjoying Edmonton’s fantastic summers. A complicated process restaurateurs face include approvals from Alberta Health Services, Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission and two City departments: Transportation Services and Sustainable Development. The City divided applications for sidewalk cafes into two categories to deliver City permits faster. Fees for patios were also reduced for the 2014 Budget with a decrease by 69% for large cafes and 92% for small cafes. Also in 2013, the City revised policies that allow food trucks and street vendors more flexibility in where they park and the hours they operate.

9. LRT System Expansion Made Top Priority: As construction neared completion on the Metro Line and preliminary engineering wound up for the Valley Line, the newly elected Mayor and Council identified LRT expansion as the City of Edmonton’s top priority for new infrastructure investment. The City has already committed $800 million to building the Valley Line, and the push is on for partnership funding for the project’s $1.8 million southeast to downtown portion from the provincial and federal governments. Earlier in the year, the Government of Canada and City of Edmonton announced a Public-Private Partnership (P3) to speed up Light Rail Transit access for Edmontonians. The financing strategy announcement followed news earlier in the year about the new names for the five current and future LRT lines.

10. Demand for Digital Delivery: To improve accountability and openness, the City expanded its Citizen Dashboard with performance indicators on a range of services, from Fire Rescue response times to tree pruning, from 311 call time to greenhouse gas reduction. At the same time, more City services were made available online to provide greater convenience to Edmontonians, from the new election app to a web process to apply and pay for temporary sign permits, to an app for finding lost pets. Use of the main City website edmonton.ca rose by 13% in 2013, with 10.8 million visits compared to 9.6 million visits last year. The City also released a beta of its next-generation map site for easier use and expanded layers, as well as the enhanced Construction on your Streets map. Edmontonians can now subscribe to receive all news releases by email or through the growing list of social media sites. As part of economic development initiatives, a one-stop-shop website was launched to inform potential investors and developers about the City’s industrial areas, development processes and contacts. The City also teamed up with the Writers’ Guild of Alberta to launch the city’s first Writer-at-Work project. Professional writer Shirley Serviss was selected for the six-month pilot project to write for the City’s Transforming Edmonton blog on City employees and the work they do to deliver civic services to Edmontonians. Serviss will also provide writing workshops and one-on-one sessions for City staff.

11. Infrastructure Construction Tops Investment: The City of Edmonton wrapped up one of the largest construction seasons on record in 2013, with over $224 million spent on the Building Great Neighbourhoods program and more than $265 million invested in roadworks across the city. The Building Great Neighbourhoods initiative coordinates three city programs to renew and replace neighbourhood infrastructure and enhance the overall livability of mature communities across Edmonton. The work on drainage systems, community needs, and neighbourhood roads, sidewalks and streetlights, includes funding unique in Canada to revamp or rebuild full neighbourhoods. The reopening of Jasper Avenue capped of the robust road works construction season that saw the completion of reconstruction on 25 major arterial roads, five major rehab projects for bridges and interchanges and 32 projects for asphalt overlay on arterial routes. 

12. Edmonton City Centre Airport Closes: Edmonton City Council directed city administration to request that the Edmonton Regional Airports Authority (ERAA) close the remaining runway at the Edmonton City Centre Airport on November 30, 2013. The move allows the City to move ahead on the Blatchford Redevelopment, which will create one of Canada’s largest sustainable mixed-use developments that offers a walkable, transit-oriented and family-friendly community. Construction of underground infrastructure is slated to begin in 2014. The project team will begin pre-construction work, which includes removal and recycling of the existing runways and other hard surfaces to supply aggregate for future roads. Blatchford will be home to up to 30,000 Edmontonians living, working and learning in a sustainable community that uses 100% renewable energy, is carbon neutral, significantly reduces its ecological footprint, and empowers residents to pursue a range of sustainable lifestyle choices.

13. Waste Not, Want More Recycling: The City of Edmonton celebrated 25 years of recycling services, making Edmonton a world leader in sustainable waste management. Edmonton was the first major city in Canada to implement curbside recycling, and since its inception in 1988 Edmontonians have set out enough recycling to form a convoy of trucks from Edmonton to Lake Superior, Ontario, a distance of approximately 2,500 kilometres. Through recycling alone, Edmonton diverts close to 20 per cent of residential waste from landfill through recycling. The City of Edmonton also celebrated 2 million visits to its Eco Stations in the spring of 2013, resulting in the diversion of 16,093,483 litres of household hazardous waste out of landfill. The first Eco Station opened in 1995 and since then the stations have received: 98,840 tires; 4,773,600 litres of paint; 5,494,443 litres of oil; 5,304,800 litres of household chemicals; 403,349 fluorescent bulbs; 191,144 TVs and 221,392 computer monitors, among many other items.

14. World Comes to Edmonton: In January 2013, Edmonton learned it won a bid to host the 2014 ITU Grand Final Triathlon. The Grand Final, triathlon’s largest race on the International Triathlon Union (ITU) calendar,  will attract more than 5,000 athletes and a worldwide television audience of 21 million in 160 countries in September 2014. Then Edmonton learned FIFA – the world governing body for soccer – named our city as one of four Canadian cities selected to host matches in next year’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Canada 2014.  The announcement added to the excitement of a spring decision to name Edmonton a host for the elite competition in 2015, when Edmonton is to host 11 games during the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015, including the opening match, the bronze medal game, a semi-final, quarter-finals and group matches. To top it off, in September 120 top level professional cyclists from around the world, including Peter Sagan – points winner of the 2012 and 2013 Tour de France, descended on Edmonton for the opening leg of the first Tour of Alberta cycle race. The six-day, 900 km race across Alberta showcased vistas of the Capital City to viewers around the world.

15. Canadian Women’s Basketball Team Calls Edmonton Home: City Council has cleared the way for Edmonton to become the home of the Canadian Women’s Basketball Team. This decision supports the city’s ongoing efforts to affirm its reputation as a centre of excellence for sport development, while also aligning with Canada Basketball’s goal of expanding its operations.

16. Food (Council) for Thought: The City launched its first Edmonton Food Council of 15 citizens who will advise City staff on food and urban agriculture matters and will support the implementation of fresh, Edmonton’s Food and Urban Agriculture Strategy.

17. Election Brings Change to Council: Edmonton’s new Council was officially sworn in October 29, following a municipal election that brought change to half of the 12 council members. Former two-term Councillor Don Iveson became Edmonton’s 35th Mayor. Voter turnout of 34.5 per cent (213,585 people) was a slight increase over the 2010 election, likely due to a raft of issues, from roads and transit, to the Arena and city growth. Despite having six new members, the first major business of Council – the 2014 City Budget – was reviewed and finalized in the shortest amount of time in the last decade.

18. Renaissance in Boyle Street: The City of Edmonton and the Province of Alberta joined community funders and supporters to open the $42.2 million Boyle Renaissance Phase I development, which includes housing, services and shared public space that the community needs. The project is a special planning area within The Quarters Downtown Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) Area Plan. Boyle Renaissance Phase II, consisting of a 90-unit seniors’ facility located on 95 Street between 104 Avenue and 105 Avenue, is scheduled to open in early 2014.

19. Economy Shines Brightest: The City of Edmonton’s Chief Economist, John Rose, kept close tabs on the economy in 2013 to help ensure the City plans wisely for population growth, economic activity and social needs, and along they way he helped identify what so many national economists missed: the Alberta capital is Canada’s economic engine.

  • Employment growth is estimated at 3% for 2013, with 18,000 new jobs added to the Edmonton region’s job market, which is significantly higher than the national average.
  • Net in migration to the City of Edmonton due to the promise of employment and other opportunities such as investment and education, is estimated at 10,000 in 2013, which works out to just about 30 people coming to Edmonton every day this year
  • Inflation in the Edmonton region has remained unusually low with an average of 1% for consumer products in 2013. CPI will move up in 2014 to the 2% to 2.5% range
  • home construction activity in Edmonton has surpassed the total annual level reached in 2012—which was the best year on record since the financial crisis of 2008, with over 9,700 starts recorded from January to November 2013. That is an increase of almost 10% from 2012.
  • Unemployment is expected to average 5% in 2014, which is virtually full employment

While most of North America and Europe are handing in disappointingly tepid results, the Edmonton region’s economy experienced robust growth throughout 2013, setting the pace for solid gains in 2014 and continued promise to outperform Canada’s levels throughout the year ahead.

20. Light the Bridge: City Council decides to support the community-led project to illuminate the iconic High Level Bridge. Funded entirely by donations from private citizens and corporations, the $2.5 million dollar Light the Bridge project remains on track to have approximately 60,000 energy-efficient, coloured LED bulbs installed on the century-old bridge by July 1, 2014.

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About the Author
Jason Darrah
Jason (Jas) Darrah Jas has jumped to the "dark side" several times. He started his career in provincial politics following a "career" studying political science. Frustrated by working inside a political machine, he headed back to school to join the "dark side" - Journalism - to report on politicians and other matters. After working for a decade in business magazines and daily newspapers as a reporter, then editor, he moved to the "dark side" - Corporate Communications. For almost two decades, Jas has reveled in serving his community, first in Economic Development, then at the University of Alberta and TEC Edmonton, and finally with the City of Edmonton since 2007. Finding new ways to inform, engage and help Edmontonians is what gets him up in the morning. Jas wants to know: how can he help you?
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