It’s not that Elaine Solez hates skinny homes. But whenever conversations turn towards infill, and urban density, those are the structures that tend to spring to mind. “Does it always have to be the skinny houses?” she asks. “Why can’t it be a mixture?”
Part of the reason Edmontonians are so enamoured with them, Elaine believes, is because these modern, flashy homes are more profitable for developers. But as someone who lived for 15 years in Baltimore, where the brick row house was the standard, the retiree and urban development advocate — who also works with the Central Area Council of Community Leagues — thinks Edmonton would benefit from testing out styles of home that older eastern cities like Boston, Montreal and Philadelphia have known about for centuries. “People here aren’t used to sharing walls,” Elaine says. “And some of the product that was built back in the day was built very badly, with no sound barriers.” Some of the existing local row houses have also been used for social housing, which she believes has given them a negative reputation in certain quarters. “But they can be very good.” That’s part of the reason Elaine has sat on the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues’s planning and development committee for the past 15 years — to help turn that opinion into tangible results.
When debating any urban issue, infill or otherwise, Elaine says it’s critical to involve the people who will be most affected by it. Above all, public engagement needs to include meaningful consultation. “Don’t ask people things that you’re not going to use,” she says, “and don’t assume that they don’t have a contribution to make just because they don’t have a particular area of expertise. There’s a lot of knowledge out there on the ground. Tapping into that knowledge is really important.”