Inside Spruce Ave Community League hall, more than 20 residents worked hard with City of Edmonton staff to determine the future of their much-loved neighbourhood.

Spruce Avenue became the focus of attention after the City reviewed some 2,000 sites in its land inventory looking for the best option for development of infill housing. Five conjoined lots at the northeast corner of 112 Avenue and 106 Street in the Spruce Avenue neighbourhood were chosen and are now the focus of the City’s 2018-2019 “Missing Middle” Infill Design Competition.

The object of the competition is to determine what to do with these lots. The result will be medium-density housing, but what will it look like? How will it fit into and enhance the neighbourhood?

Verna Stainthorp (left) and Elke Siebels (right) post ideas for the Infill Design Competition. | Constance Brissenden

The last infill design competition in 2016 featured a hypothetical site. More than 100 submissions were received.

After such a strong response, the City decided to take the next step: choose a real community, and hold a second competition for multidisciplinary teams of architects and builders/developers. The winner will have the opportunity to buy the site and build their design.

At the heart of the new initiative are the community members. In addition to the workshop, two local residents will be chosen as advisors to the City. The advisors will receive an honorarium for their work. Residents are invited to apply by way of the City of Edmonton website (see below). The deadline to apply is Nov. 9.

The three-hour workshop on Oct. 20 gave Spruce Ave residents the chance to share who they are, how they feel about the area, and what they want to enhance.

The outcome of the workshop will be a welcome page/message from Spruce Ave to be incorporated in the competition brief itself. The workshop will also provide the design community (both local and international) with criteria straight from the residents.

“Things have changed. We’re a neighbourhood in transition,” said Verna Stainthorp. A Spruce Ave homeowner for over 51 years, Stainthorp wants to see a community-friendly development on the five lots, one that is “unique as well, and that helps our area to develop, and develop nicely.”

Elke Siebels posts an idea at the Infill Design Competition workshop. | Constance Brissenden

Among the “likes” for their neighbourhood, residents noted convenient services, transit, proximity to hospitals and shopping, mature trees, green space suited to recreational activities, attractive front yards (some featured in Front Yards in Bloom), and informed and interested neighbours.

As for changes they don’t like, residents are not impressed by the above-ground LRT line to NAIT with its long delays and resulting traffic congestion. They find that streets are often difficult to access.

Residents have seen an increase in break-ins and petty crimes. They don’t want to lose trees or green space. Noise has increased. Better access to Kingsway Mall is needed. “No more parking lots, please,” notes resident Zygmunt Klakowicz.

Participant Don Pattie echoes many local voices when he said: “In dense residential areas, it seems that the common recreational areas are the first to go. We need green areas like the playground across the street. Families need to get out together. Kids should have a place to play.”

The City has outlined an extended plan for the development of the five lots. The two Spruce Ave advisors will be chosen by Nov. 16. The design competition opens on Jan. 1, 2019. Submissions will be chosen, and online voting will be held in April. The final design will be honoured at an awards reception on May 29, 2019. The remaining months to Dec. 31 are allotted for the sale and transfer of the land and rezoning.

Josh Culling is the civics director for the Spruce Ave Community League. “Our neighbourhood makes sense because of the closeness to transit and amenities,” he said. “We have a high profile.”

Jason Syvixay, the City’s principal planner, looks forward to the results. As he told the workshop participants, “There is pride and passion for this neighbourhood. This workshop proves that Spruce Ave wants to create something new that will be beautiful and fit in. They want the development of the five lots to do it right.”

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