As Edmonton experiences unprecedented vertical growth, residents and politicians are increasingly taking notice of the impact that architecture and urban design have on the collective image of the city. In 2005, City Council approved the creation of an 11-member committee tasked with providing input in formulating urban design principles, guidelines, and policies. As an advisory body, the Edmonton Design Committee (EDC) utilizes these documents to evaluate development and rezoning applications within its geographic jurisdiction, which includes downtown. At the request of Council or the City Manager, the EDC may also review development applications, public projects or special projects within any location in Edmonton.

The Edmonton Design Committee's geographic jurisdiction, image via City of Edmonton

The enabling piece of legislation, Bylaw 14054, notes the establishment of the EDC to "improve the quality of Urban Design in the city of Edmonton." The committee must include one member at large, one member of the development industry, and up to nine members nominated by these relevant professional bodies: the Alberta Association of Architects, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geophysicists of Alberta, the Alberta Association of Landscape Architects, Alberta Association Canadian Institute of Planners, the Edmonton Arts Council, and the University of Alberta. Each member is appointed by Council to serve a one-year term, with reappointments allowed for successive terms totalling a maximum of six years. 

Crawford Block appeared at the EDC, image via Beljan Development

The EDC has established three overarching principles of urban design, which each contain supporting principles and a set of questions meant to guide applicants through their presentations. The three principles are as follows:

Urbanism - Strive to create and restore the existing urban fabric within the metropolitan region, create real communities and diverse districts, conserve the natural environment, and respect Edmonton's built legacy. 

Design Excellence - Exemplify design excellence by incorporating, translating, and interpreting all three design principles to the greatest extent possible, consistent with best contemporary practices. 

Scale, Connections, and Context - Demonstrate appropriate scale, integration of design elements, and fit within the context of the precinct.  

The EDC generally reviews three to five applications at each of its meetings, which are held on the first and third Tuesday of every month. Applicant submissions are reviewed prior to the meeting, and occasionally, an extra meeting may be needed to reduce any backlog that exists. In advance of the 'Formal Application' meeting, applicants may attend a 'Pre-Consultation' to obtain preliminary advice regarding their development. In contrast with the formal application, no written record is maintained within the pre-consultation environment. While not mandatory, applicants who have participated in this process have typically received a more favourable response at the formal review. The confidential setting facilitates more informal discussion between the applicant and the Committee, allows the applicant to review the Committee's principles and standards, and better prepares applicants for their final submissions.

The Hendrix is one of many recent developments to undergo EDC scrutiny, image by Forum contributor Daveography

The formal application, which is open to the public, involves a brief presentation of the development to the Committee and an opportunity for members to clarify aspects of the proposal. Any concerns from Sustainable Development are presented, and at the conclusion of the presentation, the Committee makes their in-camera recommendation to the Planning and Development Department. They can either "support," "support with conditions," or issue a motion of "non-support." The project may also be tabled and considered at a later date if more information is needed. If the EDC recommends "non-support," the applicant receives a letter detailing the principles that were not complied with, reiterating the expectations of the Committee in advance of a subsequent meeting. Since the EDC is an advisory committee and not an approval body, Council has the final decision over the fate of each project. In 2014, about 90 percent of applications received a measure of support.