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Edmonton to overhaul historic airfield into leading sustainable community

Within just a couple of years, Edmontonians could be strolling through quiet public gardens in the middle of the city’s urban core, an area where just a few years earlier, buzzing airplanes landed on sprawling runways.


Within just a couple of years, Edmontonians could be strolling through quiet public gardens in the middle of the city’s urban core, an area where just a few years earlier, buzzing airplanes landed on sprawling runways.

If the City’s vision comes to life, some 30,000 people will be living, playing, working and going to school in one of Canada’s most ambitious and sustainable communities.

It’s called the Blatchford Project.

“‘Don’t do something typical. Innovate here.’ That’s what City Council said,” Blatchford Executive Director Mark Hall told EcoLog News.

Blatchford, named after Kenneth Blatchford, serves not only as reminder of Edmonton’s mayor from 1924 to 1926, but also of the airfield of the same name that closed in November 2013 to make way for the redevelopment. It was Canada’s first ever municipal airfield, but has been a point of contention since the city opened its International Airport in 1963.

“The Blatchford redevelopment will be known world-wide for its innovation, and it’s fitting that it bears the name of one of Edmonton’s great visionaries,” Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel said in the winter 2013 edition of the Blatchford Project newsletter.

Now, the airfield’s hundreds of acres of runways and lampways will be ripped out and recycled, says Hall, all in the sustainable spirit of the Blatchford Project, which puts the environment front and centre or, at least in line, with commerce. Some 80 per cent of the materials removed will be sold to the local construction sector. Hall’s hoping to use the rest as a “road-building resource.”

Hall, who has been part of the land development industry in the Edmonton area for more than 30 years, says his team has detailed data for about half of the 217-hectare airfield, but isn’t expecting much in the way of surprises, or remediation. They’ve dug test pits, and soon, they will have a better sense of what they’re up against.

“We need to ensure there was no leakage out of the sumps,” says Hall, who hopes to have the Phase II Environmental Site Assessment completed by spring 2014.

There is a flurry of work behind the scenes for Blatchford. In June 2011, the City of Edmonton held an international competition to select the design team that would create the master plan for the redevelopment. That honour went to Vancouver’s innovative Perkins + Will firm.

From October 2011 to May 2012, the project team held over 100 meetings, and hosted three series of public workshops, while creating the master plan. 

Other members of note include local architect Group2, led by Barry Johns, as well as the lead landscape designer PFS Studio, led by Chris Phillips.

Other major players involved in the Blatchford Project, at least so far, include Stantec for civil engineering and land use, as well as Edmonton-based rEvolve Engineering Inc. and FVB Energy Inc. The latter two companies have the challenge of living up to the vision of Perkins + Will, which involves the creation of a “Beyond Carbon Neutral” heat and energy system that would act as Blatchford’s lifeblood.

Although Hall concedes that the Perkins + Will heat and energy design is more “conceptual” than pragmatic, he hopes his hired hands can attain the vision of using biomass, solar and wind, geothermal, anaerobic digestion,and high-tech wastewater systems. The ultimate goal is for Blatchford’s electricity system to save about 455,000 tonnes of carbon within 20 years. It’s hoped another 825,000 tonnes will be saved through the district heating system.

Hall intends to have more specific energy proposals ready to present to Edmonton City Council in March 2014. But it will be a challenge to get there.

“We can’t find a comparable project with this kind of environmental performance and amenity value,” says Hall. “It’s going to be different from any other community in Canada.”

One of the goals for Blatchford is to have 93 per cent of its residents within a two-minute walk of the community’s park. The entire community would have just a 10-minute walking radius.

The project team has even had the foresight to take advantage of a large hill within the redevelopment as a way to block biting northwest winter winds. In the summer, Hall says the hill could act as a concert or entertainment site.

Blatchford’s vision ties in with Edmonton’s six 10-year strategic goals for the city: a few of these goals are to create better transit, walking and cycling routes, increase urban density, and reduce the city’s ecological footprint.

Based on visually striking renderings for the Blatchford Project, light rail transit (LRT) will cut through the community, integrating with the nearby Northern Alberta Institute of Technology campus. Cars and LRT will operate side by side.

Blatchford will be designed as a mixed-use community, so there will be upwards of 12,000 jobs created on-site.

Businesses and residents are already lining up to get involved with Blatchford, says Hall.

As for whether Hall intends to live in Blatchford, he says though it will have everything he looks for in a community, he more than likely will be content just to walk through the site some day, brimming with a smile of satisfaction.

  

This news item originally appeared in EcoLog News. To learn how to subscribe, visit www.ecolog.com 

 

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1 Comment » for Edmonton to overhaul historic airfield into leading sustainable community
  1. Michael Halliwell says:

    I suspect that the remediation of the former airport and redevelopment of the lands into the Blatchford Project will take more than “just a couple years”.

    The site was Canada’s oldest operating airfield, Canada’s oldest municipal airfield and had been used extensively for pilot training during WWII. I would anticipate demolition of the existing airport infrastructure (tower, hangars, runways, taxiways and lighting systems) plus associated clean-ups will take a couple of years….before they get “out of the ground” on the new development.

    I hope they prove me wrong, but I don’t expect this to be a fast transition from airport to Blatchford Project.

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