By Richard White, January 12, 2014
Note: An edited version of this blog was originally published in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours section, on January 9 2014 with the title, "Sewing the seeds that will help a community grow."
Community Development vs Urban Development?
All too often planning professionals and the media use the term “urban development” when referencing everything from new residential, retail, recreational and office developments, when they should be using the term “community development.”
While the difference may seem subtle, it is important to remember the end goal of any new development should be to enhance the sense of community felt by the people who will live, work and play around it. I am guilty as any; my title at Ground3 Landscape Architects is Urban Strategist when in fact it should and from now on will be from now on “Community Strategist,” to best reflect my passion to foster a stronger sense of community - be that downtown, inner-city, established communities or new suburbs
The light bulb went on when early in December when I checked the 100-year old King Edward School in South Calgary that is about to be transformed into a multi-purpose arts centre called cSPACE King Edward (1720 30th Ave SW). cSPACE (“c” stands for creative) is being touted as an arts incubator, with 45,000 square feet of production, exhibition and rehearsal spaces for dozens of small arts organizations. The vision is to create a flexible space where artists of all ages and genres will collaborate to create exciting and interesting experiences for everyone (both artists and public).
cSPACE Projects, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Calgary Arts Development Authority and the Calgary Foundation that is using a social enterprise model to develop spaces for the arts across the city. King Edward School is the first of what will hopefully be many future projects. For more information on the King Edward School Incubator project, check out cspaceprojects.com.
Pop-up Community Building
What I found was an old, tired majestic sandstone school with two “big box” ugly additions. But once inside, the place was full of largely young Calgarians participating in a Christmas market-like event by Market Collective (a co-operative of artisans).
There was a wonderful community buzz (a reinvented old church bazaar buzz if you will) that shouted out “COMMUNITY.”
The main floor housed a pop-up café with Café Rosso (possibly testing the area for a new location?) offering coffee, as well as a DJ playing music. On the second floor, local artisans had converted the classrooms into pop-up retail outlets selling everything from art to jewelry, clothing to artifacts.
The third floor was like an art gallery with figure drawings pinned from floor to ceiling (some even on the floor) from the life drawing classes held there. Once could already see how Calgary’s arts community was taking over the dying space and creating life.
GABEsters are taking over?
Wandering around the South Calgary where the King Edward School is located, you would think you were in a new suburb based on the amount of construction on every block. Residential neighbourhoods must evolve; if they stagnate, they die.
South Calgary’s new community development is a nice mix of new homes, townhouses, and small-scale condos that will make this a very attractive place for Calgary’s next generation of young professional GABEsters (Geologists, Accountants, Bankers, Brokers, Engineers) to live. In fact, this is already true as 33% of the community’s population is 25 to 34 years old - twice the City’s average.
Over the next 10 years, these GABEsters will start having families and then look out. South Calgary will blossom into a vibrant urban village. cSPACE will provide a wonderful diversity of classes, workshops and performance for both the children and parents, as well as become a regional art centre for all the southwest inner city communities.
Think of if it as a recreation centre for those who love the arts.
Diagonally, next to the cSPACE block, is South Calgary’s existing recreational block that contains the community centre building, playing fields, an outdoor hockey arena and the Alexander Calhoun Library.
If the synergies between arts and recreation activities are capitalized on, South Calgary could become a model for community redevelopment across the city, given Calgary has many old and under-utilized school sites just waiting to be transformed into new community activity hubs. Not all will be arts centres.
Two High Streets
South Calgary is also blessed with two emerging pedestrian streets. On its southern edge along 33rd Avenue lies the trendy Marda Loop shopping district (the name being a combination of the street’s old Marda Theatre and the fact the Calgary’s early 20th century street car used to go to 33rd Ave and 20th St. SW before looping around to head back downtown) with its growing list of popular restaurants, diners, cafes, yoga studios, record store and wine shops. Including one of Calgary's signature coffee joints - Phil & Sebastians Coffee Roasters.
And on its eastern edge, is the Upper 14th Street district (29th to 26th Street SW), which is slowly evolving into a new community hangout with a neighbourhood pub, shops, salons, a soon-to-open Starbucks, as well as two gas stations and a mechanic’s garage.
South Calgary, established in 1914 (when it actually was the southern edge of the city) has recently linked up with Altadore (1945), CFB Calgary (1945) and Garrison Woods (1998) Community Associations to form the Marda Loop Communities Association.
The old boundaries for just South Calgary were Crowchild Trail on the west, 14th Street S.W. to the east, 34th Ave to the south and 26th Ave to the north.
Who knows…perhaps sometime in the future, they might even rebrand themselves the King Edward Village.
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