As I walk (up from) the (River) Valley

As I walk (up from) the (River) Valley

Coolio was the best.

When I was looking at my current apartment for the first time, I walked over from the place at which I was living at the time, thinking to myself “that hill will be a tough commute every morning”. ‘That hill’, of course, is 103 Street, one of many steep access points into downtown from the south.

I work downtown, so being able to walk there was a requirement for me during my search for a new place. This building, which was about two blocks away from my place at the time, met the criteria of being within walking distance of work; but it also had this hill in between that I’d have to climb every day. In the end, I moved into the place at the bottom of the hill (closer to the River Valley) and rationalized it through body-shaming myself enough until I felt it would do me some good, and of course it would only get easier the more I did it. I tried to find a good picture to accurately describe the hill, but it’s hard to really capture it. So here is a representation of what I’m dealing with every morning before and after work on my commute:

hill current

If you’ll allow me to sidebar for a second, isn’t it funny how the universal symbol for home depicts a single-family, pitched roof, post-war style house? I wonder what percentage of the world actually lives in something that looks like that.

It’s the climb

Anyway, the climb starts off with a fairly gradual incline, then I have to cross the street at 99th Avenue because the sidewalk on the west side of the street ends. It’s a fairly wild intersection, as cars are often flying down the hill and don’t/can’t stop to let pedestrians cross, and in the winter nobody stops at all for fear of sliding down the hill. Following Frogger-ing across the street, I continue on the second part of the climb; which is a shorter and slightly steeper portion that culminates at an Architecture firm at the top of the hill. There really should be another option. Here’s a handy aerial to show what I mean:

hill aerial

The red dotted line is my path up and down the hill, between the architecture firm at the top to my house at the bottom of the image.

Killer hill

It was two years ago that I bought the place. Every morning I’ve worked I’ve walked that hill. At the top every morning, without fail, no matter the season, I’m bent over showing off my impressive cardiovascular shape to passers-by through short, wheezing gasps. Once I collect myself enough to faintly explain to strangers why I’m sweating through my shirt if they ask, I finish the walk to work. The hill is a killer, and it has claimed good soldiers in my short time living there.

As you can see, I have a big parkade on the north side of the building, which gets rented out as visitor parking. I have two friends that work downtown that used to park in that lot and walk up the hill to work, but gave up after about two weeks of doing the hill every day and returned the parking pass to me. This is a graphical representation of how the hill feels, even after two years of hiking it every day:

hill nightmare

You’ll notice the subtle differences, including more accurately displaying the crosswalk.

Reaching the top is nothing short of exhilarating. I imagine it’s the same feeling LeBron James had when he finally brought Cleveland a professional sports title a few years ago. I’m lucky I get that every day.

Beyond that feeling though, there’s another, more tangible reward for climbing the hill – a snack.

The reward

The architecture firm planted the entire west side of their building beautifully, providing separation between their building and the sidewalk. Just on the southern edge of the lot, in front of the parking lot, are two adolescent raspberry bushes. When I hit the top of that hill, I head straight for the raspberry bush to forage for any fruit hanging on the branches.

And I’m not out here just getting the ones at the top of the plant that are easy to find. No, I’m getting down on my knees and digging diligently to get the quality berries that hide deep. Because I’ve earned it. And because my Oma and Opa would be disappointed in me if I forgot their foraging lessons. And because I need time to catch my breath so what else am I going to do? I basically turn into bear foraging for food. Breathing heavy and startling others when I emerge from the bushes, a red substance smeared across my mouth and dripping in sweat.

hill best part

What this is though, is an excellent example of using landscape for functional purposes. Rather than just being “landscape porn” (h/t KE) which are nice to look, edible landscapes provide a function. There’s a relatively new activity called Urban Foraging that involves touring around cities to find edible landscapes. In theory, Urban Foraging supports a diet of locally sourced foods. In practice, it’s a fun hobby that gets people out exploring their cities and understanding their landscapes better. This is slightly more difficult in a city like Edmonton, where the amount of native edible species is limited. But it’s not impossible.

Abundance of riches

In Victoria, they have blackberry bushes growing everywhere! I remember once, we parked our car in a parking lot surrounded by blackberry bushes. While we waited for friends to join us, we spent time picking blackberries. It was an interesting way to make us forget we were in a parking lot. Furthermore, using edible landscapes as boundaries for gathering spaces can serve two purposes – berry bushes like raspberry and blackberry are typically thick and thorny so they make a good natural buffer. They also providing a reason to stop and enjoy the space for a minute.

parking lot blackberries

Personal Opinion

I would love to see more of these edible landscapes being included in the design for spaces. It has to be carefully done, of course. Simply adding fruit bearing plants without regard for their maintenance will simply attract wasps and public displeasure. Thinking about the life- and yearly cycles of the plants are important. It does not have to be complicated. In my example, the architecture firm could host ‘picking parties’ for employees to eliminate fallen rotting fruit. Partnering with schools, daycare groups and summer camps can get dozens of nimble little hands picking bushes clean and teaching kids about where their food comes from at the same time. Also, how to identify edible plants. It’s not like the raspberry bushes I walk by everyday are clearly marked as edible from a distance:


Can you pick out (pun intended) the raspberry bushes from that picture? Doubtful. As soon as you get close though, you can see the landscape in a whole new way:


I’d even take this a step further and get employees/children involved in the entire process. Planting, maintaining, harvesting and disposing, all could have children involvement. That way, it would help children to fully understand and appreciate the food cycle. Go beyond that and get a downtown-wide or city-wide tour featuring stops at edible landscapes in the area. Follow that up with a stop at a restaurant for a meal that included ingredients from those very landscapes. The possibilities are exciting, and the potential uses numerous.

While the raspberry bushes at the hilltop serve as my convenience store, they are also a good example of how to use edible landscapes. Promoting functionality in the design caters to the pedestrian instead of just the cars whizzing by.


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