Old Strathcona: Building Character and Commerce in a Preservation District

Article excerpt


Urban spaces of leisure serve to coordinate cultural and economic benefits for local citizens, and contribute to civic profiles in the international competition for prestige and resources. The potential conflicts between cultural and commercial priorities in urban development are particularly marked in the cases of heritage or conservation-oriented districts. The Old Strathcona Historical Preservation District in Edmonton, Alberta provides a case study for an inquiry into how local community has been imagined and expressed through material development processes. The discourse of heritage as both cultural and economic resource is reflected in an analysis of the negotiation among various interests to define Old Strathcona's character and functions. A central point of tension lies between the mandate to conserve and narrate what are primarily community and cultural values, and the economic potential of pragmatic commercial development using that historical content as a marketing feature. As an environment dedica ted to consumption, however, Old Strathcona does in fact represent an a core element in local civic identity.


Les espaces urbains consacres aux loisirs servent a coordonner les avantages culturels et economiques pour les citoyens locaux et contribuent a rehausser le profil des villes dans la concurrence internationale pour le prestige et les ressources. Les possibles conflits entre priorites culturelles et priorites commerciales dans le developpement urbain sont particulierement perceptibles lorsqu'il s'agit de quartiers patrimoniaux ou faisant l'objet de dispositions visant leur preservation. Le Old Strathcona Historical Preservation District d'Edmonton, en Alberta, offre une etude de cas qui permet de faire enquete sur la facon dont la communaute locale a ete imaginee et exprimee au moyen d'importants processus de developpement. Une analyse de la negociation entre les divers interets afin de definir la nature et lesfonctions du secteur reflete le discours du patrimoine en tant que ressource a la fois culturelle et economique. Un point central de tension existe entre le mandat de conserver et de faire connaitre des valeurs qui sont essentiellement culturelles et communautaires et le potentiel economique d'un developpement commercial pragmatique utilisant ce contenu historique comme element de marketing. En tant qu'environnement voue a la consommation cependant, le quartier Old Strathcona represente de fait un element central de l'identite municipale locale.


Following civic celebrations for Canada Day 2001, Edmonton's Whyte Avenue in the Old Strathcona Historical Preservation District was the scene of the worst riot in the city's history. Hundreds of people headed to the area and more emerged from the bars as they closed. Violence was directed mainly toward property destruction, vandalism, and looting--and toward the police riot squad that responded to reports of disturbances. Analysis of the event attributed blame to several influences, including actions of the media in associating Canadian patriotism with beer and partying (hockey sticks were a favoured weapon), and the reportedly aggressive and confrontational attitude of the police. Most common contributing factor, though, was previous calls to City Council to finally act on the long-standing problems related to the fact that activity in the Old Strathcona area was not regulated.

It's Edmonton's party street, a dense concentration of bars and dance clubs and coffee houses and restaurants, where people come to play ... the street is also packed with young people cruising in their cars. They head there, almost out of herd instinct, because Whyte Ave is 'the' place to go. (1)

In thirty years, a community-driven heritage conservation program had evolved into a commercial leisure magnet for the entire city, raising questions about the definition of "successful development. …