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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Sense of Place in the River Valley through Cycling

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While talking with my friend one night after an autumn bike ride through the River Valley he said “Edmonton would be the worst place in the world if there was no River Valley, literally.”  I have to agree.  Riding through the River Valley in the summer or early fall on any weekend or even on a weeknight it would seem odd for Edmonton to have earned the nickname “Deadmonton.”  The River Valley is busy, teeming with activities of all sorts.  Edmonton has one of the largest linear urban parks in North America.  In terms of a space for sport and recreation, nearly right at your doorstep, Edmonton is one the best places in the world.

But what about the River Valley makes Edmonton one of the best places in the world?  For cyclists, the River Valley offers up a fun mix of terrain to explore and experience.  The River Valley exists as both a natural place and park place.  A natural place implies a more wild space with a wealth of biodiversity relatively untouched by humans.  Terwillegar or Whitemud Park in the southwest of Edmonton can be considered wild places in comparison to more manicured parks such as Gold Bar or Rundle Park in the northeast.  A park place, such as Gold Bar, has fertilized turf and paved paths where as Whitemud only have small gravel trails and a vibrant understory to the forest.  The River Valley is an incredibly unique space where Edmontonians are interacting with the space, with each other and with the wildlife that lives there.  This is one way in how sense of place develops, through social experiences in a particular space and time.

Within these park places and natural places, cyclists are creating a deep sense of place.  Local cycling clubs organize and map out races weekly.  The interesting features of the River Valley, that are appropriate to the sport, are incorporated into each course.  People gather and interact.  They talk about the course, where it goes and what the surface is like.  The River Valley is important for many reasons but what stands out is Edmonton’s ability to use this massive natural feature that contributes to people’s sense of place.  As a space to use for sport and recreation it is perfect.

There are unique elements of the River Valley and social interactions within it, which contribute to and build user’s sense of place.  With autumn coming you may just see cyclists in the Goldbar and Capilano parks, at play, racing on Tuesday nights.  Even the smallest features of the park are used for the racecourse. They will follow a twisting course through the park with sharp corners around trees and steep climbs.  At the end of the race, blinky lights will be affixed to handle bars and seat posts and groups of friends will ride home in the dusky evening taking to the trails that make Edmonton the best place to live in the world.

Here are some beautiful images and scenes from a couple years ago of the last Tuesday nighter of that year.