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Outdoor gathering spaces popping up in downtown Edmonton

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WATCH ABOVE: A new urban public park and a private outdoor event space are the latest additions to downtown Edmonton as the city looks to add some vibrancy to attract people back into the heart of the city and rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. Sarah Ryan takes us on a tour – May 14, 2021

Downtowns are often referred to as concrete jungles, but as Edmonton looks to rebound from the pandemic, two new urban outdoor spaces will add colour and energy to the heart of the city.

Root 107 popped up at the end of April, in what was a plain and underused area just north of Jasper Avenue.

“It has been a very sad sea of surface parking lots for a very long time,” explained Puneeta McBryan, the executive director of the Downtown Business Association.

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The DBA was brainstorming with community partners about how to rejuvenate the area.

“One of the things that we kept coming back to is just the lack of outdoor public space downtown where people can just be outside, be COVID safe and just enjoy the outdoors,” she explained.

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The DBA got to work, breathing new life into the space.

“At the end of the day, it’s just a park. It’s just a very uniquely urban park. It’s loose asphalt on the ground instead of grass, we’ve got picnic tables, trees in crates and murals from local artists.”

Because it’s a park being served by food trucks, Root 107, like takeout, isn’t impacted by the latest Alberta Health restrictions.

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With the nice weather, Edmontonians have been taking advantage of the space.

“When we create these programming or festival opportunities within neighbourhoods, people flock to them,” explained Stephen Raitz, the chair of active transport advocacy group Paths for People.

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Further east, near the CN Tower, there’s another new outdoor space under construction called The Backyard.

“It’s for everyone, all ages and it’s just an outdoor, one-of-a-kind event space,” explained owner Peter Stetsko.

Stetsko envisions his private venue hosting outdoor yoga classes, concerts and even weddings.

“It originated through my wife and I’s travels to different parts of the world — just going to some really unique outdoor spaces.

“We’ve seen outdoor shipping containers be repurposed and used for actual businesses and we thought: ‘Why not bring this space and concept to Edmonton?'”

He’s hopeful his outdoor venue will be embraced by Edmontonians year-round, attracting people even in the winter with its eye-catching local art.

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“This is the first of three murals that we’ll be doing,” explained Leigh Wright, CEO of Vingettes Showcase Inc.

“It’s multiple flamingos that will be jumping all over these colourful blobs. Just a really light, fun mural.”

Wright said it’s exciting to showcase his work in a project that’s changing the face of downtown.

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Different than the free and publicly accessible Root 107, The Backyard will charge an entry fee once it’s allowed to open.

“We had hoped for a May long weekend launch, but with the latest round of restrictions, that obviously has postponed that,” Stetsko explained.

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Raitz said he’s hopeful both spaces will try and be accessible to all Edmontonians and consider adding bike racks.

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He believes the city should continue to foster the creation of these sorts of spaces, feeling they’re to everyone’s benefit.

“Having eyes on the streets creates a safer community for everybody because we’re able to check in with one another and we’re able to dissuade any kind of negative behaviour,” Raitz said.

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