A moment in history: Oct. 7, 1965

A moment in history: Oct. 7, 1965

· The Pulse
By Scott Lilwall
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On this day in 1965, the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce was showing tentative support for the city's grand urban renewal plans.

The 1960s were a time of upheaval for many cities in Canada, but especially for Edmonton. The city was experiencing explosive population growth and, like many other places in Western Canada, was gaining more of a profile. While the city had experienced population surges before, the post-war boom came with one added element - the dominance of the automobile.

Edmonton urban planners were early to start shaping the city around personal vehicles, with planned suburbs and commercial areas built to accommodate car traffic. The idea of a central downtown core acting as an anchor to the city fell out of favour - instead, planners envisioned decentralization, with smaller centres spread out through neighbourhoods to take advantage of the convenience vehicles offered.

Residents flocked to the suburbs, leaving downtown and the neighbourhoods around them to whither. This wasn't just an issue in Edmonton. Fears over "urban blight," both aesthetic and social, were a concern across the country. Canadian cities were swept up in a wave of urban renewal, and Edmonton was no different. In 1967, the city released its General Plan, which aimed to fight blight and revitalize the city's core, mostly through the "demolition of old neighbourhoods for new buildings and uses."

With the benefit of 70 years of hindsight, the concept plan was - at best - a mixed bag. The plan was likened to a bulldozer because much of it relied on the demolition of downtown and the neighbourhoods to the east (where residents were primarily lower-income and often elderly). Many of Edmonton's oldest pre-war buildings fell to the wrecking ball to be replaced with new structures.

As well, many of the core's dense streets, built for pedestrians at the time, were widened and new freeways were put in in the hopes of luring suburban drivers into downtown. Edmonton was a city brimming with confidence, and the urban renewal craze came with an interest in innovative mega-projects, like the gargantuan Omniplex or a system of freeways threading themselves through the city (neither of which happened).

The urban renewal trend also saw a greater emphasis on subsidized and affordable housing, as well as seniors housing, to deal with homelessness.

The urban renewal push during the 1960s was seen as a modern and innovative approach to urban planning. Now in 2021, downtown revitalization is still a major issue for the city - earlier this summer, the city approved a $5 million investment to try and breathe more life into the core. And the 60s obsession with decentralization shares some similarities to Edmonton's shift to 15-minute cities, although the two ideas are wildly different in the details, especially on what role vehicles should play in the city's future.

This is based on a clipping found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse — follow @VintageEdmonton for daily ephemera via Twitter.