Taking Care of Downtown

A Message from your Safety Chair 

The nails and screws sticking out of the broken wood boards along the sidewalk bothered me every day. On Jasper Avenue, this stretch of sidewalk was passed hundreds of times a day, including by myself. At first, I didn’t do anything about it. I would think about the company who owns the business (a parking lot) and I would wish for them to do something about it, and then I would continue on with my day. The next day, I would repeat the same routine. Weeks and months went by in that way. And then, one morning, I sent an email to the Manager of the parking lot introducing myself and kindly asking if the broken boards and nails could be removed. I received a thoughtful reply that maintenance had been notified and the nails will be removed, as well as some thoughts about safety on their lot.

Feeling encouraged by this response, my thoughts went to a forgotten sign pole that had been broken off but never retrieved by the City, laying next to the sidewalk near Corona LRT Station. I had submitted a 311 request for the removal of the pole, but the request had been closed without action. So I submitted a new 311 request. 

A week later the pole was gone, and the nails removed. 

Downtown can be a difficult place to live and visit. When we see a broken window or abandoned object we start to feel unsafe. These things by themselves do not pose a threat, but when we see them we’re reminded of the larger systemic issues that they represent – houselessness, poverty, the ongoing drug poisoning crisis – and Downtown starts to feel unsafe and hopeless.

Once I started taking more intentional responsibility for the space I was in, my thoughts about that space changed and I felt myself caring more about where I was. I tend to walk between home and work so I’ve started carrying a trash-picker with me on my walks, picking up pieces of garbage as I go. The garbage I’m picking up is not just for me but for everyone else who uses the space. I start to notice others doing small actions and try to stop and chat, perhaps making a connection with someone in the area. It seems like the more we can know and understand about each other, the more Downtown will feel safe. Many of the challenges will still exist, but it would be balanced by people caring about each other (Wow that reads very corny, but I’d like to hope there’s some truth in that!)

Is there a particular spot in Downtown that makes you feel unsafe or that needs attention? Is there another area that does feel safe – what makes it that way? Please email me at safety@decl.org and let’s keep finding ways to care about the place we live in.

Jesse Orjasaeter is a social worker living and working Downtown. Jesse is the Safety Chair of the Downtown Edmonton Community League (DECL).