Next time you’re in the Robbins Health Learning Centre, take the flight of stairs by the colossal windows and climb to the top. Stop. Turn and look out the window. Do you see the big green arch of the Railtown Park, nestled between Best Buy and Tim Hortons? Did you know that if you follow that path it’ll take you all the way to Whyte Avenue?
Neither did I until I spoke with Gillian Thomson, vice-chair of the High-Level Line Society: a non-profit collective of architects, engineers, urban planners, and marketers. With a mandate to redefine how Edmontonians move between Oliver and Old Strathcona, the group’s eponymous High-Level Line project envisions a multi-modal thread that connects our downtown core to the southside through parks, plazas, and experiences along the way.
High-Level Line builds upon our current infrastructure to transform the way we interact with the space that we have. Imagine a corridor of greenery escorting you from 104 Avenue all the way to Whyte Avenue, with boutique shops along the way and track shacks where you can rent a bike or a pair of rollerblades. Picture a Saturday morning on a crisp fall day as you take your dog for a stroll through the 4.3 km park to the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market. Now imagine standing on the top deck of the High-Level Bridge and watching the sun go down as the historic streetcar fades into the Garneau tunnel.
The urban park that I’m describing links Edmontonians in a rich and unprecedented way. “It’s not just about getting to and from, it’s about all the connections that you make along the way,” Thomson said. “The character areas along the line take on the strengths of the neighbourhoods — Downtown’s high energy, Oliver’s areas of respite, and Strathcona’s arts and culture scene.”
Mayor Don Iveson has shown his support. Speaking to the Edmonton Journal in December of last year, he said, “I think it has tourism potential, I think it has real estate potential, I think it has placemaking potential and just be one of those places that you would go to get your wedding photos, one of those signature locations in the city.”
Because the vision includes Edmonton’s historic streetcar, the Edmonton Radial Railway Society is a key player. “We’re supportive of the project in sharing the corridor with people and showcasing the streetcar and our beautiful river valley but safety is our foremost concern,” says Dustin Creviston, the vice-president of the Railway Society. “Examples like the [Garneau] tunnel, the illustrations of pedestrians sharing the tunnel with the streetcar — from our Society’s perspective that’s a non-starter for us. The cost to widen that tunnel would be astronomical.”
However, the Edmonton Radial Railway Society sees the value of the project. Creviston iterates “We’re optimistic we can come to a solution and we do hope that the project does continue to move forward.”
The concept is simple but the solutions are not exact — for the moment. The High-Level Line started out with an ambition which the citizen-led group sketched into a tangible vision. The overwhelmingly positive response from the public has inspired the High-Level Line to register as a society in the spring of 2018 and take the first step to mould the project into a reality. Having secured an $85,000 commitment from the City of Edmonton — a fraction of the original $500,000 they intended to ask for — and formal resources to support grant applications, vice-chair Gillian Thomson says they will embark on a design study next.
At this stage in the process, active engagement from stakeholders is crucial to its development — that includes us, the students of MacEwan University. Check out highlevelline.com to learn more about the project and continue the conversation by sharing your ideas on their social platforms, @highlevelline on both Instagram and Twitter.