One of Edmonton's most used areas, and one of my favorite spaces, is the legislative grounds. The ledge is iconic in Edmonton with its domed roof and spire raised over the downtown, and is visible from across the river to the south, down 108th Street and from the east as well. The Legislature Building is situated on 23 HA of parkland that represents a history going back to the late 1800's when these grounds were a 5-hole golf course. A history of the Legislative Grounds can be found here (PDF).
What I like about the ledge is its status in Alberta, as the seat of government, and its use by the citizens of Edmonton and Alberta. The grounds represent the diversity of people that can be found within Alberta, with symbols ranging from aboriginal (a totem pole) to Asian (Korean and Japanese symbols), including several memorials to workers and the Holocaust.
The ledge grounds are welcoming and used. In the summer it is common to see children splashing in the pools to the north of the legislative building, as well as office workers sitting in the sun during lunch and coffee breaks. The grounds also link the north side of the High Level Bridge with downtown, allowing pedestrians and cyclists a traffic-free alternative to their commute. Canada day is celebrated with cycling races, Christmas with lights; Hanukah and other multi-cultural events are also celebrated. Protesters also march to the steps of the legislative building to voice their concerns and disapproval.
These events are significant in that they provide the context for the grounds as being public, open, and inclusive - even democratic. In a time when 'space' is more often private or a weird hybrid of public and private (for instance, Chapters, where you are welcome if you are willing to pretend that you have and want to spend money). These grounds welcome everyone, and people are empowered to experience and interact with others and the space adjacent to our elected government.
One of my biggest concerns with the legislative grounds is currently being addressed. Given the current slate of demolitions in Edmonton, it is encouraging the see that the Federal Building is being refurbished. The renovation began in 2008, and will be completed in 2011 in time for Alberta's 100th anniversary in 2012. The design concept of the renovation includes a west entrance pavilion re-orienting the building towards the legislative grounds and adding to the public space found on the grounds, there will be an additional 650 underground parking stalls added, and a skating rink.
I believe that the legislative grounds provides an interesting and public connection between the riverside and the downtown core. While the extent of the grounds, size and nature of the buildings makes this close to impossible to replicate in other parts of Edmonton, there are design elements worth considering. The linkages between different modes or transportation (transit with a terminal on the east side of the grounds, walking, cycling, parking), activities such as splash ponds, and skating, coupled with public space make this a model to be replicated.