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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

I live Here: A Commentary on Greisbach’s suburban model

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The growth of our city has been flourishing from the various family and eco-friendly developments occurring around its periphery. Hamptons, South Terwelligar, Lewis Estates, Windermere and more recently the promising realization of Griesbach Village. The above photographs are what did exist on the land-desolation: a series of military barracks that use to belong to the Department of National Defense.

The entire area has now been transformed into a newer, more environmentally-friendly model of the Edmonton suburbs. One that offers more connections on a human scale as well as on the landscapes it becomes occupied on. Although the development has left out typical suburban designs such as cul-de-sacs and large road setbacks that have been deemed inefficient and unsustainable, it still keeps me wondering as to why people would live there. Being still quite far from several main amenities with an inefficient transportation system servicing in the north, commuting into the city core still exposes numerous barriers no different than the other suburban models it has tried to separate itself from. And with rises in oil prices as well as people becoming more ecologically conscious, there has been more attention recently to divert developments back towards the city’s core.

Perhaps it may be too early to say what is to become of Griesbach Village. After all, there are plans to obviously create more shopping centers and services within the development’s large scheme of things. But would another “classically” pimped out shopping outlet really convince 12 700 residents to move there? Maybe I’m just afraid that it eventually will go back to what it was before: a series of abandoned facades.



  1. Two years ago I purchased a house and moved into Griesbach. Well it might not be the best place in the world to live, it is definitely one of the better neighbourhoods in Edmonton. I work on the north side, I wish my work place was more accessible to public transit but its not, I can’t change that.

    So left with the options of living in a condo downtown and having to commute to the north side of this city, or living closer to work, I picked the middle grown (Griesbach) half way to work, half way to downtown. I wouldn’t say Griesbach is serviced by inefficient transit (thats a matter of perspective), three of the four major intersections which surround Griesbach have transit centers (Northgate, Eaux Claire, Castledowns) with a fourth planned for the SW corner. The city is in the initial stages of planning an LRT extension which would border the west of Griesbach.

    Clearly its not an urban site, but as far as suburban goes, its about as good as it gets in Edmonton. Canada Lands Corp (a Crown Corporation) has done about as much as they can to make it as sustainable as possible. They have focused on making it as pedestrian friendly as possible, centered on a large central park. Well not perfect, it is probably the best example of new urbanism on a large scale in Edmonton.

    Thankfully CLC isn’t only concerned with the bottom line, having to report to the govt they have to balance public interest with their budget.

    I find it shocking that with all of the horribly designed subdivisions of Edmonton you’re worried that Griesbach may come abandoned again? I would focus my concerns else where, like Britnell or something. One of the areas where there isn’t a straight road, no commercial (even small scale), no sidewalks (or only on one side butting the curb so its useless in the winter), cookie cutter houses, isolate from any practical transit route, I could go on for ever.

    Instead every street in Griesbach has sidewalks (on both sides not butting the curb), commercial and office space (no developer would take on the commercial site CLC has planned because of the mixed retail and office space and walk able design, so they’re building it themselves), plenty of green space, recycled homes, onsite aggregate recycling, LEED Gold certification for Neighbourhood Design, design controls to prevent houses from looking the same, mix of detached, semi-detached, row (zero lot line) and medium density housing.

    Maybe an piece on the other 95% of less sustainably developed subdivisions.

    P.S. There are in fact a few cul-de-sacs in Griesbach, but they were designed around existing features (water, woodlots, roads extra) not as a goal to market low traffic streets.

  2. Thanks for your comment! I really enjoyed reading it!

    Don’t get me wrong… I’m not targeting or critiquing Griesbach as an inefficient or poorly designed community and yes in comparison to other suburb developments, the neighbourhood is of a better quality and I do enjoy visiting some of my friends there as well. I took the photographs above myself about 4 years ago and when I was there, I really felt like I was seeing this crazy underbelly of the city.

    I think the commentary was meant and written to provoke discussion into how is it that we have adapted these unused/dead spaces to our city- both good and bad. Do they become forever buried and memorialized by a statue? Do they become retrofitted into our modern designs and polices? Or do they become these standing relics themselves that narrate and record the movements of our city? I just find that there aren’t enough risks taken as designers in this city to really provoke change and to really re-visit the theme of “what does it mean to be called a city?” Which brings me to the point of how it is possible that even such a beautifully designed suburb can eventually succumb to a surrounding of default strip malls and retail “pimple” stores.

    Of course there are many factors that do shape how it is a design becomes implemented and what becomes of it as well, but as you simply have put it: “this is as good as Edmonton gets”, and my question is how come you don’t want it to be “this is so awesome!”

  3. Glad you enjoyed reading. Thank you for the thoughtful rebuttal.
    I normally don’t post on internet sites like this, but since spacing Edmonton is just getting starting and a bit sparse I feel a little compelled…
    The questions you raised above immediately made me compare to other surplus DND land in urban centers. I grew up in Toronto not far from then CFB Downsview (572 acres inside the city), the base was closed around 1996 and the federal govt declared they were going to make it Canada’s first National Urban Park with much fanfare. Initially Canada Lands Corp took on the project, but I’m guessing since it wasn’t in the realm of the developments CLC normally does, they created Parc Downsview Park Inc.
    The initial plans called for a massive urban park (in the suburbs), something to rival Central Park in NYC. The plans for the site were impressive they brought in world class architects and created a lot of buzz. They wouldn’t invest in anything physical until they had title for the property which took DND four or five years. The project had to be self funded, so they sold off parcels of land to raise money. On one of the sites they built a Costco, Home Depot and Best Buy. The site was pretty stagnant for years, in 2005 they actually started to do some substantial work.
    While the plan was awesome, it never materialized; the park is only a small fraction of the original site. The federal govt fired the board of directors earlier this year, and has given the project back to CLC (I’m guessing to generate more revenue from development).
    To contrast, CLC received the title for Griesbach in 2001 (I might be off a year or two here), had already developed a strong plan. Although bits and pieces of the original plan have been shaved off or scaled back, its still a good plan. The site hasn’t been developed as quickly as CLC wanted, first due to the hosing boom pre-2008 (labour shortages), then the economic downturn that followed. In the last year or so they have opened up the site to more builders, relaxed some of the design controls and are pushing hard to get over with the whole project.
    CLC has constantly had to push the city to accept its parks and green space which are more than an empty field. The city pushes for open fields that can be used for soccer and cheaply maintained with a large tractor. Community garden plots are also being built into one of the main parks. To be honest I’m surprised that CLC doesn’t develop the same way as private developers and just focus on the bottom line. I haven’t figured out exactly that is, but I am more than happy they put an honest effort in to ‘New Urbanism’.
    This sums up why I think ‘this is as good as it gets’ is good enough for now, vice ‘this is so awesome’. The federal govt went for the ‘this is so awesome’ approach in Toronto and almost 19 years later it isn’t much to talk about, just a mostly abandoned base with a nice pond and new trees. In Edmonton the ‘this is pretty good’ approach and in 10-12 years we have 2/3 of a neighbourhood which is quickly growing to be one of the nicest new developments in Edmonton. We didn’t win the war of revolutionizing suburban design in Edmonton, but we did win a small but important foothold. I think this is much better than how Downsview Park’s battle is going.