By: Richard White, November 5, 2013
Is it just me who hates all those the curved maze-like street design in the new suburbs with street names that are impossible to distinguish because they all sound the same? I think GPS was invented so we could navigate new communities.
Recently I attended a presentation organized by Brookfield Residential, Danube Farming Ltd., Ollerenshaw Ranch Ltd., and Trafford Family where three design teams (two from Vancouver and one from Salt Lake) presented their ideas on how to transform 1,800 acres in Calgary’s southeast next to Seton Town Centre and was SHOCKED that all three proposed a grid-like pattern for the streets. Yahoooo!
The inspiration for the renaissance of the grid was the existing quarter section grid pattern. All three groups went to great lengths to express how they were captivated with the site’s prairie mountains vista. They all talked about respecting the existing prairie patchwork quilt, the sense of agriculture and one group even talked about how to make the community “horse friendly.” All three wanted to preserve the “rural” sense of place as part the new community tentatively called Rangeview.
Kudos to the four owners for taking the initiative to organize this “design co-opetition” for the development of Rangeview. The process is a competition in that three urban design groups were asked to independently produce ideas for the development of the land. At the same time is it a co-operative process as the four landowners, the City, Calgary’s design community and public and the design teams will work together to combine the best of all the ideas into one shared vision.
In established communities the planning process often consisted of the landowner and developer engaging their team of site planners (landscape architects, environmentalist, engineers, planners, urban designers et. al.) to produce a concept plan. This plan is then circulated to the city departments for comments and revisions made.
Only after spending thousands of hours and millions of dollars and having the city on-side does the developer go public with the proposal. I have heard more than one person call it the “design and defend” model because the plan is pretty much complete by the time they conduct an open house. This means they are reluctant to make any major changes based on community input i.e. they will defend it as the best possible plan. This is why you get all of the controversy over new developments in places like Brentwood transit station development and Shawnee Slopes golf course.
However, in new communities the City’s Engage Policy means the City, the landowners and the neighbours collaborate to create the concept plan that then forms the Area Structure Plan (ASP), which will govern any new development. What is new is that in the Rangeview engagement process and ASP development the landowners are paying for all of the costs including the salaries of city staff.
Extraordinary Community Engagement
Brookfield Residential’s Doug Leighton, VP Planning and Sustainability along with the other owners decided to take a different route with Rangeview by selecting from a list of nine respected international firms, Design Workshop (Salt Lake City), Perry + Associates (Vancouver) and CIVITAS (Vancouver) to help them determine how best to develop the land. Each out-of-town design team was first asked to pair up with a local firm to provide a local prespective before coming to Calgary to meet with the landowners and the city, as well as tour the site in mid September. The teams were then asked to generate ideas on how to best develop the Rangeview lands based best urban design practices.
Six weeks later, each of the groups were back in Calgary to present their visions not only to Brookfield Residential and the landowners, but to the City, Calgary’s urban design community and at a weekend public open house in Auburn Bay. At each of the presentations the audience was given an evaluation sheet to share what they ideas they thought were best. It was all very open and transparent!
As I understand it Brookfield Residential and the landowners now own all of the collateral material from each team and can pick the best ideas from each, as well as ideas from the greater Calgary urban design community and the public to create their vision for Rangeview.
Calgary is innovative!
Indeed, this is community engagement at its best. Calgary Municipal Land Corporation undertook a similar process to develop the master plan for East Village. “Community engagement first” is also the mantra of James Robertson, President and CEO of the West Campus Development Trust who is leading the transformation of 205 acres on the west side of the University of Calgary into a new inner city “live, work, play, learn” community. However, both of these projects are in established neighbourhoods where community engagement is a must. Brookfield Residential is the first to my knowledge who is doing it for a green field development on the edge of the city.
Calgary is too often criticized for not being innovative when it comes to new community development. In fact Calgary’s development community has been one of the most innovated in North America over the past 25 years. Projects like McKenzie Towne, Garrison Woods, Quarry Park, Seton, East Village and now Rangeview are all benchmarks for new urban development.
Key ideas for Rangeview
Wetlands/ Linear Park
All of the presentations looked at how the preservation of existing wetlands could be integrated into valuable open space and create as unique sense of place for each of the distinct neighborhoods which will comprise the larger Rangeview community.
Similarly each vision prosed a linear park running roughly east to west that would maintain the prairie/mountain vista that currently exists by taking advantage of an existing high spot in the middle of the property. The linear park would be used to create connectivity - connect the wetlands, connect the neighbourhoods and connect to the region pathway system.
One proposal included an urban beach, skating ring, adventure playground, small farm or large community garden and retail node as a means of animating the park year-round. Another proposal had a spreadsheet with dozen of activities that should be accommodated in the public spaces year round.
To me the parks and open spaces proposed would combine some of the best attributes of Prince’s Island, Confederation Park, Shouldice Park, Glenmore Park and the new St. Patrick’s Park.
Community Retail Hub
All of the plans developed several retail nodes strategically located so everyone is within 400 meters or 5-minute walk to a High Street with a grocery store and 10+ shops. Think Britannia Plaza with its Sunterra Market, bistro, bookstore, wine merchant, café and hardware and small apartments and condos surround it.
All three presentations had a mix of housing types. In fact one presentation listed 17 different housing products, everything from single family to laneway housing. I didn’t see any high-rise (over 20 floors). Most of the medium density was clustered near the new Seton Town Center, the hospital, the BRT (future LRT) transit routes and retail hubs, as you would expect.
Rangeview reeks of innovation, collaboration and cooperation on many levels. This is great to see after years of developer/city friction. I hope this community planning process is evidence of a new willingness “to work together to make a great city better.”