In the Fall of 2010, my husband and I took a break. Not from each other: we decided to steal from our retirement and sell some stuff so we could take time off work to focus on our creative projects and family.
I spent time writing, Mat spent time singing. During that time I wrote a piece about living in our community- Alberta Avenue. It's a 'revitalizing' neighbourhood- a place of tension and transition- and I wanted to capture, on paper, my experience living in this unique place at this unique time. This month, Alberta Views published it as a feature-- please see it here and consider buying a subscription to a fantastic, progressive magazine.
But back to my community... I've read that communities go through a change every 50 years or so... 50 years ago, Alberta Avenue shifted as many homeowners left for the suburbs and it became more re-known for it's illicit activity than for it's working class neighbourhood. But in the last ten years, artists and young families are moving in. It is an exciting and vibrant time to live here. It's also a time that inspires some anxiety about our future. Will many of the new homeowners all move away in ten years- make a lot of money on our homes- and the community be left increasingly less affordable... and much more homogenous?
I don't believe that revitalization will inevitably lead to gentrification (the expelling of all poor and untouchable people and activity). But I believe that revitalization, without some planning and advocacy for mixed housing stock, can lead to a perhaps more clean, but much blander community I probably wouldn't want to live in.
I love the diversity of our neighbourhood: the incredible variety of restaurants, the adrenaline of riding No. 5 bus, the great parks with many colours of kids, my block with people from every decade represented. Even the illicit stuff makes me think. I understand that the sex trade has all sorts of links to the drug trade and gang life... but I also know that if it didn't exist in Alberta Avenue it would just exist somewhere else. [Plus, I think that the women on the corners keep things real for me. Prostitution effects every area of the city and I would prefer to live where the women live, than where the Johns live in anonimity!). I also love the energy of revitalization- the question is- when does a community stop 'changing' so that it continues to remain 'vital'? Revitalize too much and a community runs the risk of becoming just a cookie-cutter community of the same people with same ideas and same income and same same same same... blah.
What I do wish is that Edmonton city council could not just put money into revitalization, but also into preventative action for neighbourhoods at risk of 'devolution'. What wisdom is there in constantly revitalizing? Where Edmonton's Community Services department just follows the poor from neighboourhood after neighbourhood to 'tidy it/ liven it up'? The process in Alberta Avenue and many other 'revitalizing' neighbourhoods is not sustainable; it is reactive not proactive. Surely there is a more progressive approach to PLANNING healthy communities- and protecting aging communities from the kind of gutting that McCauley and Alberta Avenue experienced when many of their homeowners left for the suburbs post-war.
Oh God, that thought- what will our suburbs look like in thirty years, exactly? When people have to afford fixing up not just 1100 square feet of space, but 3000?
I believe that new and old communities need to have a good mix of people: rich, poor, immigrant, seniors, youth, young families, corporate and union workers. I think city council could help this process through zoning for mixed housing, affordable housing spread throughout the city, incentives for cooperatives and mixed-use developments and better plans for reducing impacts of poverty... there are many possibilities .
Alberta Avenue doesn't have to be a gentrified neighbourhood in 20 years. Beverley doesn't have to be on the 'revitalization' list in 10. But that takes some forward thinking and willingness to embrace community diversity- something that I believe our city and council is fully capable of.