Innovative City Building
From a very unlikely beginning, the concept of an urban gondola over Edmonton’s great river valley has not only stood the test of time but captured the imagination of more than a million people in Alberta’s Capital Region. The application of refined gondola technology in an urban setting is nothing new. Throughout Europe, Asia, and South America there are many established and successful projects. Urban gondolas are rapidly becoming mainstream infrastructure. At this time Burnaby BC, Toronto Ontario, and San Diego California are but a few examples of cities actively developing urban gondolas in North America.
The Prairie Sky Gondola project consists of five experiential and commercially programmed urban gondola stations that connect Downtown Edmonton, West Rossdale, and Old Strathcona on a 2.5km ropeway alignment. Each of these stations serve the needs of urban commuters, river valley users, and tourists alike. The alignment itself is above existing roads and preserved greenspace - it does not restrict private commercial development. In fact, it enables it while aligning with many existing City plans, projects, and priorities.
Prairie Sky will provide a cost-effective utility for urban commuters that complements existing Edmonton Transit Services infrastructure while establishing an experiential tourism asset in the city’s core. It will also provide a new way for those in the region to experience Edmonton’s river valley, the largest urban park in Canada. The River Valley Alliance estimates 10 million unique visitors to this park annually.
Of fundamental importance to Prairie Sky is ensuring that the project becomes a platform for meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. There are 10,000 years of history on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton’s core and the cultural significance of this cannot be overstated. Prairie Sky views the opportunity to contribute to improving social and economic outcomes for Indigenous Peoples, as well as sharing their story in an experiential way, as central to this project.
The Edmonton Project
Engagement is central to where the urban gondola idea actually came from. It was born from The Edmonton Project, a grassroots initiative by the business community to uncover a great city building opportunity for Edmonton, Alberta. And, to do it. It was effectively a city-wide brainstorming competition. What made The Edmonton Project unique is that the business community pledged to do whichever idea won but had no say in which idea won. As is obvious now, the urban gondola idea won The Edmonton Project in March 2018. The legacy of The Edmonton Project is important because it suggests that the gondola itself was the outcome of innovative engagement.
In June 2018, shortly after the urban gondola idea won The Edmonton Project, and unbeknownst to the city builders involved in the initiative, the Edmonton Transit Advisory Board (ETSAB) published a report titled ‘Urban Gondolas in Public Transit.
Between the private sector’s willingness to embrace the outcome of The Edmonton Project, and the serendipitous ETSAB report, the commercial prospect of an urban gondola in the core of Edmonton became apparent. It was at this time a group of 18 volunteers gathered and in an ad hoc fashion began to understand and socialize the opportunity.
“Urban gondolas are highly versatile mass transit solutions that provide fast, reliable, safe, fully accessible and cost-effective transportation into even the most geographically challenging areas. As Edmonton grapples with how to increase transport capacity across our river valley and better connect Downtown and Old Strathcona, a gondola is uniquely well-suited to provide this capacity. ETSAB’s research suggests this is a viable project that warrants further consideration and study.”