July 10, 2016
By James D. Brown
Summer 2016 is proving to be a fruitful time for Edmonton and its continuing dedication to embracing its urban ecological landscapes. Beginning with Environment Week Edmonton, the summer has seen the kickoff of Breathe: Edmonton’s Green Network Strategy that looks to broaden where and how Edmonton residents and visitors experience nature and wildlife within the boundaries of the city. Associated events include an open-space Twitter scavenger hunt where participants will scour the city in response to weekly questions. This imaginative event coincides with the city’s implementation of a citizen survey on the future of Edmonton’s integrated open-spaces.
One foundational building block for this heightened focus on understanding Edmonton’s urban ecology and its use by residents is the city’s recent decision to join the Biophilic Cities Network. On May 3, 2016, Edmonton City Councillor Ben Henderson presented a motion for Edmonton to join the Network that was carried by all Councillors present. In presenting the motion, Councillor Henderson identified the importance nature plays in city neighborhoods and the high quality of life for Edmonton citizens: “Conservation of nature is central to the design and planning of our city as we create opportunities for our citizens to learn about, celebrate and connect with nature.” Edmonton’s application for membership in the Network voiced the pride that Edmontonians have in protecting the city’s natural heritage and in understanding the immense value of the city’s natural landscapes, both in their own right and for the ecological services they provide to people and the many other species which share the landscape.
Biophilic Cities Project Director Tim Beatley joined the city in celebrating Edmonton’s membership at a June 2 event at the Edmonton Stanley A. Milner Library Theatre where Beatley spoke on the process for becoming a biophilic city, as exemplified by Edmonton: “The City of Edmonton has made a name for itself nationally, and internationally, for its efforts to grow in ways that ensure space for both wildlife and people, and in many ways their evolving approach tracks well the necessary shift that cities everywhere must begin to take.” In particular, Beatley draws attention to Edmonton’s position as an innovator in its vision of an ecologically connected city.
Edmonton has nature in its genes. At its beginnings, landscape architect Frederick C. Todd envisioned a river valley park system that would create an ecological network linking the city’s mature forests and making them accessible for residents to experience nature as part of their daily lives. This early vision saw its realization in the River Valley Parks, which link urban parks along the North Saskatchewan River and twenty-seven connecting ravines through the heart of the city. At 18,000 acres in size and covering thirty miles, it is the largest municipally owned park in Canada.
The city has continued this legacy through a variety of complementary planning efforts aimed at conserving and promoting the city’s urban ecology. The city has adopted Natural Connections, a strategic biodiversity conservation plan, along with The Way We Green, an environmental stewardship plan, that aim to concentrate government and community efforts on maintaining a healthy and functioning ecological network that includes both core natural areas and the habitat connections in between. Edmonton’s Breathe campaign seeks to enlarge its residents’ understanding of urban ecology and extend the city’s open spaces so that they are accessible for neighborhoods across the city. As the city continues to grow, planning for nature needs to be a primary consideration at the inception of the planning process.
This concentration on maintaining functioning ecological networks is well illustrated by the city’s installation of twenty-seven purpose-designed wildlife passages throughout the city. These wildlife passages range in design and size relevant to the intended wildlife served by the passages, which include species as large as moose to those as small as the Canadian toad. The city has developed Wildlife Passage Engineering Design Guidelines for use in the design of transportation infrastructure projects to maintain habitat connectivity and reduce wildlife collisions. The result has been a more than 50% decrease in wildlife collisions within the city.
As it continues to forge connections across the natural landscape for its human and wildlife residents, Edmonton is now establishing connections with other global cities through the Biophilic Cities Network. As stated by Councillor Ben Henderson in his May 3 motion, Edmonton has “join[ed] the Biophilic Cities Network to connect, and learn from, cities and experts from around the world that endeavor to protect, grow, and celebrate nature.” Grant Pearsell, Director of Parks and Biodiversity, City of Edmonton, who has been central to moving Edmonton’s Network membership process forward, comments: “The network presents a great opportunity to collaborate with other like-minded cities throughout the world.” Pearsell states further that “joining the Biophillic Cities Network recognizes the importance nature plays in creating resilient neighbourhoods and providing a high quality of life and ultimately aligns with Edmonton’s Way We Green strategic plan.”
About biophilic Edmonton: see Biophilic Cities recent article on the winter wonderland that is the Edmonton Freezeway.