Airdrie lacks a lot of things for a city of its size. Most residents would likely welcome the arrival of a hospital, college/university campus and a second multi-use recreational facility on the west side of the city.
Another thing Airdrie lacks is a proper downtown. For a city of more than 70,000 people, Airdrie’s few blocks of businesses around Main Street and Centre Avenue seem woefully inadequate for what is technically Alberta’s fifth most populous municipality.
Therefore, our newsroom was excited to see the draft Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP) for Airdrie’s downtown presented at the Feb. 1 City council meeting.
It’s important to note the plan presented to council is just the first baby step in what would surely be a marathon. Following public consultation, the approval of the finalized ARP will not even take place until near the end of 2021, and the future development of mid-rise buildings, a bustling urban centre, dedicated bicycle lanes and public gathering places in Airdrie's core is likely still years and years away.
Past failures to improve downtown – such as The Square – may lead to public scepticism that downtown can be realistically improved.
But creating a more vibrant downtown is an objective Airdronians should embrace. As Community Growth Manager Stephen Utz pointed out in his presentation to council, Airdrie’s core is underutilized. Despite limited servicing capacities, he said downtown’s infrastructure would still be able to support an additional 7,000 residents and jobs.
Currently, Airdrie’s downtown – as the ARP currently sets its geographical boundaries – is home to just 432 residents and 1,898 jobs.
By the time downtown is finally revitalized in 20 or 30 years, Airdrie’s population could be as high as 130,000 people, according to census projections and the City’s recent transportation plan. That is more than the current populations of both Red Deer and Lethbridge, which each have respectable sized downtown cores for cities of their size. Airdrie should aspire to something similar, if not better.