Saturday, November 01, 2014

Alberta Legislature, Edmonton

[View Larger Map]

Here are a few old photos of the Alberta Legislature Building in Edmonton, circa 1990 or so. I was in college at the time and this may have been the last family vacation I went on with my parents & younger siblings. The main reason we'd gone to Edmonton was to visit the West Edmonton Mall, which was then the world's largest shopping mall. Everyone else was pretty excited about this, but I had the usual self-righteous college student disdain for malls and was bored silly, except for the water slide park, which was ok. Wikipedia says the mall is still the largest in North America, but only the tenth largest in the world, meaning there are no US malls in the top ten. I don't know about you, but I find that quite astonishing.

Anyway, we made a little side trip to go see the provincial capitol building, since we always had to go see state capitol buildings while traveling for some reason, and this was a logical extension of the idea. So we toured the building and wandered around the extensive grounds for a while. Despite being a PoliSci major at the time, it didn't occur to me to look into provincial politics and understand who was governing from this building. If I'd known the province was (and still is) run by right-wing whackaloons, with an official opposition of even crazier further-right whackaloons, it would have put a bit of a damper on the experience.

So the thing that intrigued me the most wasn't the building itself, which is your standard sorta-Roman, sorta-Gothic stately government building. What really drew my attention was a trio of odd concrete structures with mirrors at their tops, located in front of a legislative office building. I didn't realize what they were for until much later. Edmonton has an extensive network of pedestrian walkways, both underground and above ground, which was primarily built in the 1970s and early 80s, and these mirror towers are part of this network. The mirrors act as periscopes, reflecting sunlight through skylights into a pedestrian tunnel below ground. Several Canadian cities have systems like this, as do a few in the US, like the Skyway in Minneapolis, and underground tunnel systems in Houston, Dallas, and even Oklahoma City.

Portland has nothing like this system, and City Hall is aware of this and fully intends for it to stay that way. The idea is that pedestrian walkways above or below ground draw people away from street-level businesses, leaving the outdoors empty and sort of inhospitable. That's certainly been Edmonton's experience, such that the city council is now trying to figure out how to get people to go outside. Our weather is nowhere near as extreme as theirs, but dry indoor walkways would be awfully attractive during the long, cold, dark rainy months. People would use them constantly if they existed.

No comments :