Destination of the week: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Nurtured by the oil industry, this city has an impressive environmental presence.
Mon, Sep 13, 2010 at 09:28 AM
LOOK AND LEARN: The Devonian Botanical Garden has a Japanese garden and butterfly house, and also offers lessons on ecology. (Photo: Edmonton Economic Development Corp.)
Edmonton is the northernmost large city in North America. Its location might bring to mind sub-zero temperatures and fleeting summers, but this Alberta metropolis is defined by much more than its climate. Its enviable public park system means that nature is within reach no matter what the season. Also, unlike most cities of its size, Edmonton is not lacking when it comes to public transit. It is one of the most bike-friendly cities in North America as well.
Edmonton’s green conscience might surprise some because it is a relatively new city (growing from a town to a metropolis after World War II) that sprang up around the oil industry. Progressive ideas about the environment, nature conservation and transit have made this a model for other similarly sized cities looking to develop a greener personality.
Edmonton might not be the top of many tourists’ Canada itineraries. But with summer months filled with festivals and chances to experience nature and convenient ways to keep your journey green, it is worth a closer look.
Edmonton’s rapid transit network relies heavily on buses. These cover almost all areas that tourists would care to visit. There is also one light rail line that runs through the city’s core. Fares are $2.75, with $8 day passes and $22 10-ride passes available. Bikes are allowed on the trains and buses, with bike parking areas at many transit stations offering a convenient alternative to lugging your wheels onboard.
Cycling is possible year round, though most people find it a sane option only during the warmer months. The city maintains over 600 kilometers of trails, bike paths and multi-use paths as well as over 100 kilometers of street-side bike lanes. Edmonton is actively promoting bike use by building more bike paths and bike lanes and allowing bikes to be brought on public transit. Organizations like Edmonton Bicycle Commuters and festivals like the annual bike month also encourage people to get in the saddle instead of behind the wheel.
Edmonton’s eating scene pales in comparison to its world-class peers in Vancouver and Montreal. Nonetheless, Edmonton has more than its share of reasonable organic eating options and easy access to locally sourced food.
There is even a fair amount of diversity amongst the city’s organic eateries. Padmanadi is an organic, vegan-friendly restaurant that was transplanted from Jakarta, Indonesia, while the quaint Mode de Vie offers French-inspired vegan dishes in a quiet setting.
Re-Fresh is a catering company that also runs a bistro serving fresh, organic dishes. It offers mostly simple fare — shakes, sandwich wraps, rice bowls and salads — but is arguably the best value in town when it comes to organic eats. A more-interestingly-named option is Skinny Legs and Cowgirls, another bistro-esque venue that is known for its organic tapas and wine selection.
Edmonton is short on hip, sustainably minded boutique hotels, but it has more than a dozen sleeping spots that have earned a 4-green-key rating. Hilton, Westin and Ramada, chains that have upped their green quotient recently, are part of the list.
Edmonton is a city of festivals. Most of its events take place in the summertime. Capital EX is an annual 10-day carnival that is held in late July and early August. Aside from the rides, parades and (mostly) fatty foods, there is an environmental area in a section of the fest called Family Fun Town. Education is the central focus here, with attendees young and old learning practical tips about composting, measuring recycling and trash flow, and the use of alternative energy sources.
Other annual events have also been taking significant steps toward environmental friendliness. The Edmonton Folk Music Festival and the Edmonton International Fringe Theater Festival recently introduced solar power to partially provide electricity. Both also rely on recyclable or compost-able materials in lieu of traditional non-biodegradable plastic cups, plates and cutlery.
The Devonian Botanical Garden is also one of the best places in town for environmental education. With indoor and outdoor displays, including a butterfly house and a Japanese garden, it is also a good addition to any nature enthusiast’s itinerary. The garden offers educational opportunities (with extremely reasonable class fees) focusing not only on plant life, but on ecology in general.
The Devonian is only one of Edmonton’s many green spaces. The Edmonton area has more than 450 parks. Along Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River Valley, 22 of the city’s larger public green spaces are virtually connected, creating the longest contiguous strip of urban parkland in North America. The landscapes range from forest to grassland to wetland to manicured park lawns. There are plenty of paths for hiking and biking and a choice selection of picnic spots.
And the nature scene in Edmonton will only get better. Environmental and ecological protection are a major facet of the city’s ambitious 10-year strategic plan, which began being implemented last year. A unique wildlife passage initiative provides construction guidelines that allow passages for animals through otherwise impassible urban areas. This increases that chance that visitors will experience Alberta’s wildlife without even having to leave Edmonton’s city limits and, more practically, increases both public and animal safety by limiting the unfortunate instances of auto-and-animal collisions.
Carbon Environmental Boutique is attempting to bring green to the specialty retail industry. The store, located in downtown Edmonton, focuses on selling products made from sustainable materials, using ethical labor practices. All products are also selected for their nontoxic characteristics.
Edmonton is a surprisingly green, surprisingly accessible city with plenty of annual events, especially during the summer. The parklands and gardens make it a good bet for nature lovers who want to mix some culture and shopping with their hiking. With unique plans in place to further the city’s environmental ambitions, Edmonton will only get greener.
Related on MNN: Visit our other destinations of the week.
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