Calgary’s car culture is truly embedded in many of our communities, especially all communities built after 1950. Urban planners have been trying for a while to undo everything that’s been done and rethink our reliance on the car which has significantly impacted urban sprawl.
The rethinking process really started with the construction of McKenzie Towne in Calgary’s south eastern quadrant. McKenzie Towne was modeled after a village of old with a High Street similar to what you’d find in the English country side. The community was avante garde – revolutionary. A shopping district in the centre of the neighbourhood surrounded by residential areas completely within walking distance. A church with a steeple for heaven’s sakes. It was the foundation for everything that is happening now in modern urban planning thought. Connected, walkable communities jammed with amenities that remind people of how simple life once was.
Continuing with that thought, there is a conference coming up this fall that will address that very issue. It’s all well and good to make new communities walkable, but what about some of the older communities in Calgary? Communities such as Southwood about 10 km south of the core along Elbow Drive. Within the past 10 years, an old gas station and repair shop was torn down and on the empty lots a small commercial strip was built with parking in the rear. The bays are against the sidewalk and it has improved the streetscape at that intersection. No vast parking lots of asphalt that the pedestrian has to walk across to get to the store. It’s the small things like can make the difference in some of Calgary’s established communities. But what more can be done?
The Walk21 Conference will be hosted by the U of C and promises to be a think tank of expert discussion and opinion. Approximately 600 people from every corner of the planet will be coming to Calgary to attend this conference on walkable cities and livable neighbourhoods and no doubt, our local experts will furiously be taking notes on how some of the concepts presented can apply to Calgary.
John Brown, a professor at the U of C and co-chair of the organizing committee admits that when the average person things of a walkable city, they don’t think of Calgary right away. One might think London or New York or other European city. Actually, then the Walk21 committee heard that Calgary wanted to host this conference, they wondered if it was an appropriate location, but then someone pitched the idea that because of that very fact, Calgary itself might be a prime beneficiary of the event.
Because of new ideas in urbanization, our city is a pivotal point. In relation to the great cities of the world, Calgary is quite new and grew up alongside the age of the automobile. But we can build on some of our earliest neighbourhoods such as Bridgeland, Kensington and Inglewood and see how these older less car-reliant neighbourhoods are actually good for the economy of the municipality.
The Expected Experts
Urban planners, architects, authorities in landscaping, health officials, engineers and representatives from all levels of government are expected to come. About 600 delegates in all. The notion of walkability in a community touches on a variety of disciplines in a city. From the economy of a community right down to public health as walkable neighbourhoods can promote good health and longevity.
Having this conference in our own backyard will mean important cutting edge research will be at our finger tips. Students at the university are also invited to the conference and it is sincerely hoped that some walkability projects that can be acted upon will come out of it
Some of the specific topics and other details haven’t been released to the public. The U of C is working with the City of Calgary on advance projects to prepare for the arrival of the 600 attendees.
The conference is scheduled for September 19 through 22.