Virtual Engagement forums mark a major leap forward in the recent history of the “Paskins Site”
The Edmonton Community Development Company recently held two online engagements to discuss development options for the Paskins site in McCauley.
If you’re not familiar with the CDC’s work in this project, that sentence probably means very little to you; however, if you’ve spent enough time in the McCauley neighbourhood, you probably do know the Paskins site… though you likely don’t know it by that name.
For over 100 years, the lands near Edmonton’s 95 Street and 106 Avenue have been among downtown’s more distinct locations. In 1902, a carpenter named William Paskins commissioned an elaborately-designed residence on the site (in which he lived for only two years). Since then, ownership had been passed along to many subsequent buyers, until the house was moved in 2001 and designated a historic resource in 2004.
The lands on which it originally stood, however, have remained vacant, with no significant development on the site since.
In 2018, though, the City of Edmonton donated a number of land parcels to help seed the efforts of the newly-incorporated Edmonton CDC. Among those parcels were the lots in McCauley (which was soon dubbed the “Paskins Site” by CDC staff).
Per our mandate, the CDC set about to develop the lands using a “people-first” approach—that is, before the first shovelful of earth had been moved, the CDC would engage with residents and business owners in the community to learn from them what kind of development would best serve the neighbourhood’s socio-economic interests.
To do it right, community engagement necessarily takes a long time, and that was true enough in the early days of the Paskins engagement.
We met with many McCauley residents, leaders, and stakeholders about the Paskins site, and we formed a neighbourhood-led Design Concept team that identified three potentially-transformative developments for the site.
Over the process of this initial engagement, though, we heard from many sources that a more pressing community need existed at the Piazza strip mall in Little Italy.
This was the first major distraction for the Paskins engagement—by shifting our focus in the McCauley neighbourhood to the Piazza project, the Edmonton CDC contributed to the formation and the impressive success of the McCauley Development Co-Op.
By the start of 2020, the Edmonton CDC shifted our focus back again to the Paskins site with renewed excitement for engagement, and plans were taking shape for a number of in-person, drop-in forums for McCauley neighbours and visitors to learn about and discuss the three development options, namely: a food emporium, a makers’ space, and a hardware store.
And then, fate intervened again.
Plans for in-person engagements were already well-underway when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic in March.
In trying to keep up with best practice for public health, Edmonton CDC had no choice but to put off our engagement activities indefinitely. But time, innovation, and opportunity eventually conspired to find a new avenue for those activities.
We had been using an online platform for our staff meetings and our Social Enterprise Bootcamp over the spring and summer months of 2020; we thought this might be an appropriate platform for virtual engagement.
The Edmonton CDC team decided to hold these events in mid-September, and after several weeks of planning and promoting, we welcomed interested guests were welcomed to either of two Virtual Engagement sessions over the evenings of September 15 and 17, 2020.
Following are just some thoughts imparted by guests of these forums:
“Right now, there are some convenience stores in our neighbourhood, but many have to go to Kingsway [Mall] for duct tape or lightbulbs. It must be hard for someone to get on a bus to Westmount every time you need something.”
“There’s no place where I can build a frame or stretch a canvas to paint. For sure, you can’t do that in Home Depot.”
“If we can do something helpful on the site, we don’t have to shoot the moon. I would like to see a combination of ‘destination’ and ‘serve the neighbourhood’… sort of like Zocalo or the Italian Centre already do.”
“We have to be cautious not to build anything too idiosyncratic and so single-purpose that no one in the future asks ‘Why did they leave us with this white elephant?’”
“No matter what gets developed, we should consider that the all McCauleyites are able to access and enjoy it.”
The Virtual Engagement Forums represent a major leap forward in the development decision process. The Edmonton CDC will review the results of these forums (as well as responses to an online survey) to inform the final decision for development by late 2020.
That said, if this evaluation indicates there’s more engagement to be done, the process will be necessarily delayed, but the Edmonton CDC hopes to put shovels in the ground by Summer 2021.
Barring any unforeseens, that is.