Alberta Avenue’s reputation doesn’t make it the first place most people would choose to raise a family—but Edmonton author Carissa Halton captures the changes the community is undergoing in her book Little Yellow House: Finding Community in a Changing Neighbourhood.
Halton says she was inspired to write the book by the negative response she and her husband received when they moved into the area.
“When we first moved into the community … this was in 2005 … a lot of people said, ‘You’ll move when you have kids, right?’ And then when we had kids, people said, ‘You’ll move when your kids go to school, right?’ And there was a certain pervasive sense or perception that our kids wouldn’t be safe in Alberta Avenue,” she explains.
But Halton says what she and her family experience living in the neighbourhood is very different from people’s expectations.
With Little Yellow House, Halton says she wanted to create a literary collage or portrait capturing Alberta Avenue and its residents. Each chapter serves as a kind of snapshot in prose, capturing one aspect of the neighbourhood.
“I wanted that to represent this bigger collage of what Alberta Avenue was like for us and our family,” she says.
In the book, Halton shares friendships her family forged in the community, as well as what she sees as positive infrastructure and revitalization efforts in the area.
“I think a lot of the book really is about telling those stories of the things that we just discovered that were awesome,” she says.
Walking along 118 Avenue later, Halton points to facilities such as the playground just down the street from the eponymous little yellow house (though Halton and her family moved a little further East last year). There’s also a community league, a women’s shelter, a church, an arts space, and the Carrot Community Arts Coffeehouse.
Halton points to arts festivals on the avenue as events that are changing people’s perceptions of the neighbourhood. She says that lower housing costs are also attracting families, but that not everyone is enthusiastic about the outside perception of the area changing.
“I think there’s some people that don’t really want the perception to change because it means that it remains affordable, it remains quirky, a little bit, and that’s the pressures of gentrification and the negative elements of gentrification where you have a displacement of so many of the people that we know in our community and in our schools,” she says.
Halton address the tension between revitalization and gentrification in the final chapter of her book, noting that, “In the worse-case scenario, my family becomes a threat.”
From her own experience, Halton knows there has been some displacement as rooming houses have been bought and renovated or rebuilt as single family dwellings. She shares the story of a man named Bill who was forced to move in such a situation, but who found a new home in the neighbourhood.
Halton hopes that as Alberta Avenue continues to grow and develop, there will also be more safe, affordable renting housing built.
“I hope there’s the incentives for them [developers] to do that, because it makes a lot of sense … as this community changes to continue to maintain the affordable spaces that they really need to maintain not just the businesses, but the kind of diversity that I think is really important for a community like ours.”
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