Edmonton business districts worry there’s higher tolerance of ‘more social disorder’

April 26: If you've been walking along Whyte Avenue lately, you've probably seen more than a few patches of graffiti. The city confirms there has been a spike in tagging. As Albert Delitala explains, some think there is a connection to the weather.

Edmonton’s business districts are feeling a bit defeated. Representatives told city council’s executive committee Friday that they’re seeing more and more graffiti tagging, mental health issues, homelessness and other concerns.

“In the last two weeks, it just feels like there’s been more social disorder in our city,” said Ian O’Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association.

“There’s some underlying issues but it just feels like we’ve got a higher tolerance of accepting things that we shouldn’t.

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“I think we need to figure out what’s acceptable in society and what’s not.”

READ MORE: City says increase in graffiti trend continues in Edmonton for 2nd year

O’Donnell said he’s heard, on multiple occasions, from visitors who stay at Hotel MacDonald and run into problems that Edmonton needs to “present better.”

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“They just had a negative experience walking those three blocks from their hotel to their place of business,” he told reporters.

READ MORE: City councillor wants to crack down on public urination after Edmonton Oilers games

“How do we make sure that when people come to our city that we welcome them and we create an inviting and welcoming experience? We’re not quite there yet.”

“You can have a shiny tower but if you’re walking by and you get harassed, that’s the experience you’re taking back.”

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For Cherie Klassen with the Old Strathcona Business Association, graffiti is a top concern.

A long stretch of -30C days this past winter seemed to open the floodgates. Klassen notes that individual property owners who, by law, are required to clean up fell behind and never caught up.

“There doesn’t seem to be kind of code of conduct or any artistic talent to any of the graffiti we’re seeing and it really seems like it’s just pure vandalism,” Klassen said.

READ MORE: Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue worst hit in graffiti uptick, city confirms

She said it seems that graffiti used to stay in certain locations but is now spreading to the fronts of businesses, garage doors, even other artwork like murals.

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“There’s been a certain amount of tolerance to seeing graffiti in Old Strathcona before but certainly not with the frequency and with the locations and the kind of vandalism it’s creating.”

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It’s reached the point where heritage buildings are suffering damage — so much so that property owners can’t scrub it out.

Mayor Don Iveson put forward a motion to have the city look at putting more resources into keeping these districts and other business improvement areas clean.

“Those are societal issues we need to tackle,” he said.

“They’re challenging for the City of Edmonton to single-handedly take on but we do hear those concerns loud and clear from business.”

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O’Donnell said a good model is Seattle, where the business districts and the city cost share a street team.

“They have a focused team, a professional team. They power wash, they sweep, they have maps and guides, they do a little bit of everything so that as a tourist or as a visitor for business, you feel welcomed but you also just see that they care about their city.

“We do too. But we need to have a higher standard of care.”

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READ MORE: 300 units of supportive housing hinge on Edmonton council vote

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Councillors urged the business districts to join them in lobbying the province for money to help with permanent supportive housing to help with one of the root causes of the social problem.

Details on how Edmonton can improve the situation will come back later this fall, following Iveson’s motion.