City talks 'paved parks' to bring Edmontonians together

City talks 'paved parks' to bring Edmontonians together

Edmonton's city council is paving the way for pop-up parks, a plan that would temporarily transform stretches of street into pedestrian zones.

A non-profit group called Paths for People introduced the "Open Streets" idea to council about a year ago. The organization advocates active transportation such as cycling and walking.

"Streets become 'paved parks' where people of all ages, abilities, and social and economic backgrounds can enjoy healthy and fun physical actives and community interaction," the group's proposal says.

"Citizens are given opportunities to explore and connect with their communities in new ways, helping to combat isolation, loneliness and mental health issues."

Other cities including Winnipeg and Ottawa already host regular Open Streets events in all seasons.

"We think Edmonton is ready," said Dave Buchanan, a Paths for People board member.

"Edmonton is a place full of people who love to be outside, who love to take advantage of the good weather — in the summertime, especially — and love to be active."

Vibrant downtown streets that connect north and south Edmonton would be ideal for the project, Buchanan added. Even if a street closes to traffic, he said its major intersections could remain open during an event.

On Wednesday, the group proposed a 2018 pilot project with three suggested ways of testing the idea in Edmonton. 

For about $149,000, Paths for People could organize a one-time event by turning a 10-kilometre stretch of roadway into a temporary park. 

Alternatively, three separate events with shorter five-kilometre routes would cost about $271,100 altogether.

If the city decided to take over the initiative from Paths for People, three five-kilometre routes would cost $471,600 — the additional $200,500 would pay for internal resources.

Each of the three pilot projects is designed to accommodate about 2,500 people. Paths for People also plans to involve 20 community groups and businesses.

Costs include staff, security, road closures, bus route diversions and emergency medical services.

Coun. Andrew Knack, who represents council in a city initiative for active transportation, is working with the group.

"This is something that's hasn't happened in Edmonton," Knack said. "For a lot of people this may be their first time to experience their city in a completely different way."

Council voted unanimously to discuss funding for the project in its spring budget.