Little Town in the City

Highlands has a small-town feel that remains even as the area changes

Statuesque historic homes occupy a large portion of Highlands – standing as a testament to the neighbourhood’s more than 100 years of history – while modern dwellings are peppered throughout. The architectural mix is a visual treat for those who live there, but also serves as a reminder that even a neighbourhood that treasures its past can be accepting of the future. And with the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay looking to infill parts of historic neighbourhoods such as Highlands with the aim to increase density, the future definitely will include¬† new residents in the area.

But sometimes the newcomers in Highlands aren’t new at all: they’re the people who have history there. “What surprised me was finding out how many families in this neighbourhood were something like third-generation families – some fourth-generation,” says Susan Petrina-Prettie, past president of the Highlands Community League. “People raise children here and then the kids go off to university. The kids maybe couldn’t afford to come back to Highlands when they first get out of school, but eventually find their way back.”

So what brings them back? Petrina-Prettie says it’s the hometown feel. “It’s like a mini-city inside of big Edmonton. There is a ‘downtown’ core area that is integral to the community.” Petrina-Prettie is referring to the independent businesses, shops and restaurants along 112th Avenue. It’s here that the community comes together; the coffee shop is the area’s go-to place for local gossip and news.

Every Thursday from the beginning of May to the end of September, 112th Avenue and 65th Street host the Highlands Outdoor Farmers’ Market, where the businesses and local vendors sell their goods. The area’s also home to the community-spirited, and family-oriented Highlands Street Festival.

The mini-city charm of Highlands is up for a makeover, however, as Edmonton Transportation and Infrastructure Committee plans to reconstruct 112th Avenue as a four-lane roadway. According to Petrina-Prettie, some residents of Highlands are concerned that the busier roadway and wider lanes will make the avenue a more dangerous place for pedestrians. That’s not the only concern they have either. The city’s residential infill plan is also raising a few eyebrows. “Some people are concerned that splitting existing lots in half will result in some unimaginative architecture,” says Petrina-Prettle. “There are two sides, but I think the overall concern is that things could get ugly.”

Ugly or no, not everyone in the neighbourhood is resistant to the change. More people in Highlands will mean more customers for businesses and more students for schools. Like any small town – even if it’s only one in spirit – the town has to grow in order to thrive. Petrina-Prettie points to the Highlands Edmonton Public library an example. “The EPL celebrates its centennial this year, but they’ve been building a brand-new building.” She says, “In order to have a vital community, you need transformation. There needs to be a vital flux of new ideas or things tend to stagnate.”

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