Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi to Advance National Urban Park Project

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The sun sets over the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton on March 29.Megan Albu/The Globe and Mail

The mayor of Edmonton is moving forward with plans to create a national urban park, potentially along the scenic North Saskatchewan River Valley.

Alberta’s capital is one of many cities to seek the relatively new designation, intended to make it easier to access nature for the majority of Canadians, who now live in urban centers – often hours away from national parks. more famous such as Banff, Alberta, or The Georgian Bay Islands of Ontario. Currently, the only one is Rouge National Urban Park in Toronto, established seven years ago.

In Edmonton, where Mayor Amarjeet Sohi’s campaign last year included a promise to pursue such a park, one suggested site is the River Valley. Currently operated by the city, it is already the largest expanse of urban parkland in Canada, featuring over 160 kilometers of groomed trails and 20 major parks. The city recently announced an agreement with Parks Canada and local Indigenous nations to explore the idea.

Mr. Sohi, for his part, is excited about the ecological and conservation benefits that funding from Ottawa could bring.

“The goal from my perspective is to improve biodiversity in the river valley,” the mayor said in an interview. “Use federal support to restore some of the land we’ve lost to erosion.”

There would also be benefits for Edmontonians themselves, Sohi said. The city would be able to better maintain the park, improve infrastructure such as signage and add improvements to the trail network that would make the valley more open and accessible. Official status as a national urban park would also attract tourism from across the country, the mayor said.

But it will take time and consultation before decisions are made for the river valley. To start, Parks Canada says it receives feedback from each of the partners on what they would like an urban national park in Edmonton to look like before proceeding with the selection of a site or governance model.

Edmonton isn’t the only city hoping to take the next step. Parks Canada is also considering proposals for Victoria, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Windsor, Halifax and Montreal, after the federal government announced in August 2021 that it would invest $130 million to establish a “network” of national urban parks across the country. .

Traditionally, national parks have been in more natural settings.

“People travel three, five hours to get to a national park to be immersed in nature to see scenic vistas and experience green spaces that are, you know, mostly free from human impacts,” Scott said. MacIvor, a professor at the University of Toronto, Scarborough, and an expert in conservation and urban green spaces.

But with 73.7% of Canadians living in urban centres, according to 2021 data from Statistics Canada, and not everyone has the same means of transportation, the goal is to increase access to nature for city dwellers – as well as the conservation benefits of green spaces.

The national urban parks program is part of the government’s broader climate change goals, Steven Guilbeault, federal environment minister, said in a statement: “We’ve barely scratched the surface. of what is possible.

Urban parks share a common purpose, but have their own unique appeals, Dr. MacIvor said.

“The focus can always be biodiversity conservation, the focus can always be tourism and human engagement. But the nuanced ways of applying that can be different.

For example, one thing that sets Toronto’s Rouge National Urban Park apart is that visitors don’t have to purchase park passes.

Large green spaces in urban areas, like the Rouge, have a host of conservation benefits, according to environmental experts. These include reducing the effects of flooding, encouraging biodiversity and providing refuge for species that cannot survive in small parks.

Yet when Rouge Park was created in 2015 by combining several existing green spaces, it was not an easy process. The idea had been proposed four years earlier, and development was hampered by tensions between federal and provincial governments over environmental protection. The plans also pitted conservationists against about 75 working farms within the park’s boundaries.

This time, Parks Canada says it is exploring alternative governance models.

“One of the big differences from Rouge National Urban Park is that we really focus on collaborative approaches and working with partners,” said Miriam Padolsky, director of urban parks and ecological corridors at Parks. Canada. The agency views national urban parks as sites where it can work with Indigenous partners, she explained. In Alberta, this includes the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations and the Métis Nation of Alberta.

Audrey Poitras, president of the Métis Nation of Alberta, said in a statement that the urban park should be designed in the spirit of truth and reconciliation.

“First Nations, Métis and Inuit roamed these lands long before settlers arrived in Canada,” said Ms. Poitras.

“These lands were our home, our source of food and shelter; waterways provided modes of transportation; the forests were shelters against the storms.

The Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations said in a statement that a national urban park will provide opportunities to showcase Indigenous stewardship and connections to the land based on Indigenous knowledge and values.

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