Award-winning design firm has more city-shaping work ahead

· The Pulse

After receiving significant recognition at the recent Edmonton Urban Design Awards, EDA Planning + Urban Design is set to continue shaping Edmonton's neighbourhoods, with projects in Garneau and Oliver, as well as downtown on 103A Avenue NW.

Jason Pfeifer, senior urban designer and landscape architect with EDA, told Taproot that his firm works on urban design layers by considering culture and community. "It's how do you recognize, celebrate, and enhance community, culture, and infrastructure?," Pfeifer said. "Along with that, it's being sensitive to the social issues in the areas that we're working in."

At the design awards, held on Nov. 24, EDA received honourable mentions in the urban design plans category for its Boyle Street and McCauley analysis and preliminary design, and in the civic design category for its Jasper Avenue New Vision.

EDA also received an award of excellence in the sustainable urbanism category for its work on the Strathcona Backstreet Neighbourhood Renewal.

The Strathcona backstreets project was essentially an addendum to EDA's work on Strathcona Neighbourhood Renewal, which dates back to 2017. It was funded in part by the Old Strathcona Business Association, the city's Neighbourhood Renewal Program, the city-funded Low Impact Development program offered by EPCOR and a Green Municipal Fund grant from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

"With that project, there's a lot of credit to share around," Pfeifer said. "By piecing together every bit we could, and overlapping different programs and working together with a lot of different people in a collaboration, we were able to maximize the outcome we can get out of the space."

A critical part was transforming two parking lots into pedestrian plazas. That's one way EDA made navigating alleyways more safe and inviting.

Though parking can be a hot topic with folks who rely heavily on cars, Pfeifer said attitudes are changing.

"We've worked on a few projects where we're reducing the number of parking (stalls)," he said. "It's easier and easier, year after year, to get people on board with that. It's an easier case to make when you're asking the business, 'Would you like to have one parking space for one, potentially a few, customers to visit your business? Or would you like to have a patio space that could fit 10 people?'"

A large public square with trees and murals spills from the street into an alley.

EDA Planning + Urban Design received three Edmonton Urban Planning Awards this year, including for the Strathcona Backstreets Neighbourhood Renewal. A few projects coming up next for the firm include improvements to Garneau, 103A Street NW, and Oliver. (Supplied)

Will Packolyk, a colleague of Pfeifer's at EDA, said converting unlicensed surface lots into active spaces could help improve vibrancy downtown, but there's a balance to walk.

"We need to provide utility for transportation," Packolyk said. "But if you're going to keep a safe, activated, vibrant city, you can't have missing teeth in the core. You can't have an alley that isn't activated. There's no reason to go there. There's no reason to be watching that space. To have safe spaces, you need to have that proper activation."

EDA's backstreets work was recognized in the sustainable urbanism category (and received the aforementioned grant) in part because of the way partners handled drainage issues. With EPCOR's support and a consultant supplied by the city, the team installed soil cells that mitigate flooding while also pre-treating the water.

"There's those climate-resilience impacts that the project has, and economic impacts that could impact some of the businesses around there if the sites were to flood," Pfeifer said.

EDA's Jasper Avenue New Vision project, completed in 2022, aimed to stimulate commercial development by revitalizing one of Edmonton's central boulevards and making it more friendly to pedestrians.

"It's about creating a higher standard of public infrastructure … If you have high public infrastructure, you start creating a destination," Packolyk said. "You want to have something that people in Edmonton can be proud of, and is responsive to all sorts of different activation and programming, whether that's the parades we see in the summertime, or when we close the street and people can walk to festivals."

EDA supervised detailed construction design on segments along Jasper Avenue, from 100 Street NW to 97 Street NW, and on 97 Street NW from Jasper to 102 Avenue NW. A key goal was to ensure the area is maintainable. EDA accomplished this by using local manufacturers, including for paving stones.

"We wanted to be able to have things that are readily and easily replaced," Packolyk said. "You can have the highest-end material at the time of install, but if it's not maintainable, not repairable, then you're going to have something that's going to lose its value fairly quickly. I think that was one of the more successful outcomes on Jasper Avenue."

The final EDA project recognized is in Boyle Street and McCauley. Pfeifer said that preliminary design starts with understanding a community.

"Boyle Street and McCauley, as the oldest part of urban settlements in Edmonton, has a lot of different culturally unique areas," Pfeifer said. "Part of the original design analysis picked up that we have Little Italy, we have Chinatown, we have also now have Okisikow Way."

The Boyle Street and McCauley project has moved into construction, with work in Boyle Street ongoing and slated for McCauley next year.

Correction: This file has been updated to correct the name of Will Packolyk.