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Green Spaces Are The Best Spaces

The 2021 Edmonton Municipal Election on October 18th hinges on several key issues including the current state of public green spaces.

Edmontonians want to know what prospective councilors plan to do about protecting green spaces like the River Valley and creating new ones for city residents to enjoy. 

We decided to dive into the topic of urban green spaces; why they matter, where to find them, and plans for the development of more in the future.

What Are Urban Green Spaces?

Urban green spaces are open-space areas in cities. They’re typically reserved for things like parks, playgrounds, off-leash dog areas, and other spaces that make use of the natural environment. 

Why Are Urban Green Spaces Important?

Urban green spaces are important for many reasons. Not only are they one of the biggest things urban centres can do to combat climate change, but there is also growing proof they are essential for the mental and physical health of people living in highly populated cities.

#1 Green Spaces Curb Fossil Fuels

Having access to urban green spaces close to home reduces the need to drive long distances, which reduces our need for vehicles that rely on fossil fuels.

Instead of city residents having to drive long distances, urban green spaces give people the opportunity to access nature more easily.

#2 Green Spaces Improve Health

Living in big cities is often romanticized; proximity to active cultural and business hubs is great for people’s social and professional lives. But modern downtown living has also been linked to a host of health problems, like chronic stress and fatigue.

The World Health Organization (WHO) found that urban green spaces have been effective in alleviating stress, promoting relaxation, and giving downtown dwellers an opportunity to be more active outdoors. 

Research also shows that access to urban green spaces is also correlated with improved social interactions, higher cognitive function, and better mental health. 

#3 Green Spaces Are Good For The Planet

The more urban green spaces cities build, the more opportunities people have to access ones close to home. That means less vehicle use and reduced carbon emissions. Research has also found that green spaces reduce the likelihood of flooding and air pollution. 

#4 Green Spaces Help Us Live Longer

The WHO recently conducted a study establishing a link between access to urban green spaces and reduced mortality. They found that for every 0.1 increments closer to the natural environment, there was a 4% reduction in premature death. 

#5 Green Spaces Improve Equity 

People have unique needs and challenges when it comes to accessing healthy outdoor environments. Creating and protecting easily accessible urban green spaces helps make environments more equitable for everyone. Especially for people who rely heavily on public transportation.

Current Urban Green Spaces in Edmonton

So how does Edmonton stack up when it comes to public urban green spaces?

Currently, there are over 875 park areas within 388 city neighbourhoods, and that list is continually growing.

But is it growing fast enough?

A 2021 report found that there are at least 350 sites across the city that could be turned into green spaces. These sites lack landscape, trails, and for most, any type of recent development. In fact, some neighbourhoods have been waiting almost 25 years for the city to invest in these areas.  

To address this issue, the City of Edmonton released plans to update several parks in 2021, including  Emily Murphy Park, Gold Bar Park, and Glengarry District Park. The City council also voted to begin adding new green spaces, particularly in the downtown core, in addition to a city-wide plan to plant over 6,000 trees. 

Also Read: Botaniful: A YEG Plant Loft

Edmonton River Valley

When you think of Edmonton green spaces, chances are the first one that comes to mind is the River Valley.

And, rightfully so.

The Edmonton River Valley is the largest continuous urban green space in Canada, spanning more than 160 kilometres (18,000 acres) and includes 20 major parks. 

With everything from walking trails to picnic spots, the River Valley is probably the most important green space in Edmonton. Not to mention thousands of Edmontonians visit it every day.

But with popularity comes certain issues, including over-crowding, forest degradation, and increased waste. 

While there has been community-led initiatives in recent months to address some of these issues, city residents are wondering what their city councilors’ plans are for protecting the River Valley for future generations. 

Papastew city councilor candidate Byron Vass believes that protection initiatives are just the beginning. 

“Saying we need to protect it is the bare minimum of any city council,” says Vass. 

“Beyond that, we have to start restoring the River Valley in some areas to get it back to its original state.”

Fellow Papastew ward councilor candidate Kirsten Goa agrees. 

“We’re seeing a lot of development pressure. We need to make sure that we have green spaces to meet everyone’s needs,” says Goa. 

“We need to do some comprehensive planning that takes into account our changing climate, and the extra pressures we’re seeing on these park areas.”

Edmonton’s Green Network Strategy

The issue of public green spaces and increased access has been increasingly important for Edmonton City Council, particularly as the city continues to grow.

The Edmonton Metro area is expected to double in size in the next 30 years, with a projected population size of over 2.1 million people by 2050. 

To ensure that green spaces grow in tandem with urban growth, Edmonton launched Edmonton’s Green Network Strategy in 2016. lt’s a comprehensive plan to ensure connection and integration of open space at the site, neighbourhood, city, and regional levels.

The plan includes all public outdoor land and water spaces like Mill Creek Ravine, Jasper Avenue, Hawrelak Park, and publicly accessible gardens like the Government House Park.

Why Are Urban Green Spaces a Hot Topic For Edmontonians?

The pandemic changed so much about our lives. When lockdowns came into effect, Edmontonians were spending more time than ever before in public green spaces.

Need proof?

The shared pathway on River Valley Road saw 199,196 users from June to September 2020, compared to 91,948 during the same time frame in 2019.

That’s more than double the amount of urban traffic.

It’s these types of numbers that have made many realize how important access is to shared green spaces.

The Edmonton municipal election on October 18th is a chance for you to make your voice heard. Help elect leaders that are making urban green spaces a central part of their policies. 

What are your councilor candidates saying about public green spaces? Find your ward and councilors here. 

Want to hear more on the issues that matter most to you? Tune in to our stories every Thursday at 12:30 MST where we interview ward candidates about their plans for Edmonton in the coming months.

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