Cen­tre City gets makeover

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Ben Bar­ring­ton made a mega ca­reer change in 2010. He left his po­si­tion as se­nior ar­chi­tect with BKDI Ar­chi­tects to be the pro­gram man­ager of Cen­tre City Im­ple­men­ta­tion for the City of Cal­gary.

Cen­tre City de­scribes a large swath of Cal­gary’s core, rang­ing from 14th Street S.W. on the west to the El­bow River on the east; and from the Bow River on the north to 17th Av­enue on the south.

Up­grad­ing the liv­abil­ity of this huge area — which in­cludes Belt­line, Chi­na­town, Down­town, East Vil­lage, West End and Stam­pede Park — is be­ing su­per­vised by Bar­ring­ton and his team.

His man­date cov­ers ev­ery­thing from cre­at­ing a more bi­cy­cle­friendly down­town to adding more pub­lic art.

As part of the city’s land use plan­ning and pol­icy depart­ment, the role of Cen­tre City Im­ple­men­ta­tion is to “fa­cil­i­tate project de­vel­op­ment and de­liv­ery when needed,” says Bar­ring­ton. “Our level of in­volve­ment varies greatly be­tween projects — from very lit­tle as a stake­holder to be­ing the man­agers of the project.”

The com­mu­ni­ties his team cov­ers were founded more than a cen­tury ago, mak­ing them some of the old­est in the city. They are also the most heav­ily used neigh­bour­hoods in Cal­gary, with about 200,000 peo­ple liv­ing, work­ing and play­ing in Cen­tre City each week­day.

It is not sur­pris­ing the area’s pub­lic realm — its side­walks, parks and plazas — is look­ing tired and dated. The de­mands of 21st-cen­tury ur­ban liv­ing and em­ploy­ment are quite dif­fer­ent than they were in the early 20th cen­tury, when much of the in­fra­struc­ture was built.

For ex­am­ple, the need to in­te­grate trains, buses, cars, bikes and pedes­tri­ans is dif­fer­ent to­day than it was even 20 years ago, not to men­tion the de­mand for street pa­tios, pub­lic art and pocket parks.

Cars are big­ger and cy­cling is back — and have you seen the size of baby strollers? They’re like mini SUVs, de­mand­ing more space on down­town side­walks.

It is no won­der Cal­gary’s cen­tury-plus Cen­tre City is in need of a ma­jor makeover.

Be­ing in charge of this is a big re­spon­si­bil­ity, but af­ter Bar­ring­ton took over in 2010, he found a fur­ther com­pli­ca­tion.

While mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials had ap­proved a Cen­tre City plan, with more than 400 ac­tion items, the bud­get for im­ple­ment­ing them was frag­mented among the city’s var­i­ous busi­ness units and city-held de­vel­op­ment funds.

But that didn’t de­ter Bar­ring­ton. In­stead, he and his team have qui­etly and dili­gently been work­ing at strength­en­ing and cre­at­ing re­la­tion­ships to make things hap­pen — both in­ter­nally, with the var­i­ous city busi­ness units, and ex­ter­nally, with build­ing own­ers, landown­ers and busi­ness re­vi­tal­iza­tion zones.

Dur­ing the past three years, Bar­ring­ton an­a­lyzed the ac­tion items, look­ing for syn­er­gies be­tween them and projects mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials or the pri­vate sec­tor were plan­ning in the Cen­tre City area.

Pri­or­i­ties were then es­tab­lished based on where Cal­gar­i­ans are cur­rently walk­ing, cy­cling and play­ing, look­ing at ideas on how those ac­tiv­i­ties could be ex­panded and en­hanced with other pro­grams.

In terms of the cre­ation of pedes­trian-friendly cor­ri­dors, 8th and 1st streets S.W, as well as Cen­tre Street, were de­ter­mined to be the high­est pri­or­i­ties. Th­ese roads cur­rently have the most pedes­trian traf­fic and po­ten­tial for con­nec­tiv­ity to key des­ti­na­tions.

The Cen­tre City team also iden­ti­fied sev­eral dif­fer­ent funds within ex­ist­ing mu­nic­i­pal bud­gets and bank ac­counts that might be used as seed money for var­i­ous projects in each of the Cen­tre City com­mu­ni­ties.

While Bar­ring­ton was not at lib­erty to tell me the num­ber, he told me his goal was to lever­age dol­lars in part­ner­ship with other city de­part­ments and the pri­vate sec­tor, thus max­i­miz­ing the re­turn on in­vest­ment for ev­ery­one.

What does

this all mean?

To­day, the Cen­tre City team has more than 25 projects at var­i­ous stages of im­ple­men­ta­tion, all de­signed to make the pub­lic realm down­town more at­trac­tive for res­i­dents, work­ers and tourists.

For ex­am­ple, it aims to cre­ate side­walks with ad­e­quate light­ing and no trees, bus shel­ters or poles in the mid­dle of them, en­sur­ing peo­ple feel safe at all times.

It means plac­ing pub­lic benches to in­vite peo­ple to sit and linger, as well as in­stalling more ban­ners, planters and flower bas­kets to add colour to the streetscap­e.

Look, too, for more pa­tios to an­i­mate the streets in the sum­mer — and, yes, it also means a more bi­cy­cle-friendly down­town with ded­i­cated bike lanes.

Pub­lic art and new pocket parks will also add a sense of pedes­trian-friend­li­ness.

The Cen­tre City team is also work­ing with var­i­ous city busi­ness units and util­ity com­pa­nies to cre­ate a “dig once” cul­ture.

This will hope­fully mean no more dig­ging up streets and side­walks for storm­sew­ers one year, say, and for gas or elec­tri­cal lines the next.

Mega makeover

is hap­pen­ing

Some of the pub­lic realm makeovers are al­ready hap­pen­ing — and not all are di­rectly linked to the Cen­tre City Im­ple­men­ta­tion Team.

For ex­am­ple, the Vic­to­ria Cross­ing Busi­ness Re­vi­tal­iza­tion Zone spear­headed the ini­tia­tive to re­vamp Cen­tral Me­mo­rial Park, which re­ceived new foun­tains, path­ways and the won­der­ful Box­wood Cafe, mak­ing it a more at­trac­tive place to visit and linger.

The in­de­pen­dent, non­profit as­so­ci­a­tion rep­re­sents more than 300 mer­chants and busi­nesses.

The ren­o­va­tion of LRT sta­tions along 7th Av­enue was pre­cip­i­tated by the need to al­low for longer four-car trains as part of Cal­gary Tran­sit’s long-range plans to in­crease ca­pac­ity.

The sta­tions have been to­tally re­vamped to cre­ate con­tem­po­rary, airy sta­tions that are in­te­grated with new wide, slop­ing side­walks — no stairs to an ugly con­crete plat­form — to al­low easy ac­ces­si­bil­ity for ev­ery­one.

Pub­lic art has also been in­te­grated into many of the sta­tions to en­hance the ur­ban ex­pe­ri­ence.

The need to cre­ate an east­west route through the Belt­line that was more friendly to pedes­tri­ans and bi­cy­clists led — through the city’s land use plan­ning and pol­icy depart­ment — to the 13th Av­enue Green­way.

It aims to di­rect such users away from the heavy ve­hi­cle traf­fic along 11th and 12th Av­enues, as well as con­nect­ing some of Cal­gary’s best his­toric sites, such as Cen­tral Me­mo­rial Park and the Lougheed House and gar­dens.

A ded­i­cated bike lane has also been cre­ated along 7th Street S.W. to al­low for eas­ier cy­cling into the core from the Bow River path­way. Through the city’s trans­porta­tion plan­ning depart­ment, bike lanes have also been painted on routes such as 10th Av­enue S.W. to al­low for bet­ter shar­ing of the road­way.

Mean­while, il­lu­mi­na­tion of the Cen­tre Street Bridge has been to­tally up­graded to LED light­ing, not only ac­cen­tu­at­ing the clas­sic ar­chi­tec­ture of Cal­gary’s sec­ond-old­est bridge, but also mak­ing it more en­ergy ef­fi­cient.

This was con­ducted through the city’s land use plan­ning and pol­icy depart­ment, with the City Cen­tre team be­ing the man­agers.

The team also com­pleted the new down­town way-find­ing sys­tem in 2012. It in­volved cre­at­ing a com­mon look, lan­guage and logic to signs that high­light key at­trac­tions in the Cen­tre City area.

There are now 135 side­walk

Up­graded LED light­ing for the Cen­tre Street Bridge was man­aged by the Cen­tre City team. way-find­ing signs in key lo­ca­tions through­out the area, mak­ing it eas­ier for peo­ple to nav­i­gate the maze of streets, tow­ers, un­der­passes and Plus15 bridges.

Us­ing pho­tos from the Glen­bow Mu­seum and orig­i­nal art­work, an on­go­ing pro­gram is also in place through the city’s land use plan­ning and pol­icy depart­ment to trans­form ugly util­ity sig­nal boxes into com­mu­nity his­tory bill­boards.

Through the city’s parks and recre­ation depart­ment, a brand-new park is un­der con­struc­tion along Macleod Trail be­tween 11th and 12th av­enues S.E. Enoch Park will re­place an ex­ist­ing park­ing lot over the LRT tun­nel.

Yes, in Cal­gary, we are tear­ing up park­ing lots and build­ing ur­ban par­adises.

Hope­fully, plans to move the ad­ja­cent Enoch House and con­vert it into a restau­rant will come to fruition. The Queen Annestyle house is one of the few re­main­ing orig­i­nal homes in Vic­to­ria Park.

The Carl Safran Park — which is on the west side of the his­toric school of the same name — is near­ing com­ple­tion as an ini­tia­tive of the city’s parks and recre­ation depart­ment.

There will soon be a place for those liv­ing on the Belt­line’s west side to kick a ball, throw a Fris­bee or catch some rays.

Ugly un­der­passes

get up­grade

One of the big­gest eye­sores and bar­ri­ers for bet­ter con­nect­ing the Belt­line with the rest of the Cen­tre City area are the ugly rail­way un­der­passes that pedes­tri­ans have to ne­go­ti­ate.

The com­ple­tion of the new 4th Street S.E. rail­way un­der­pass link­ing East Vil­lage and Stam­pede demon­strated what an un­der­pass can and should look like.

The $70-mil­lion project in­cluded wide, pedes­tri­an­friendly side­walks, ded­i­cated bi­cy­cle lanes and LED light­ing in its walls and handrails, mak­ing the space brighter and more invit­ing.

Up­grad­ing the 1st Street S.W. rail­way un­der­pass near the Fair­mont Pal­liser Ho­tel was orig­i­nally slated for last year, but be­cause of the flood, it will be a 2014 project.

The Marc Boutin Ar­chi­tec­tural Co-op­er­a­tive — the same group that did the Poppy Plaza war me­mo­rial along Me­mo­rial Drive — has de­signed an uber-cool, cock­tail loun­ge­like pedes­trian ex­pe­ri­ence for the un­der­pass.

This is part of a long-range plan to cre­ate an en­hanced pedes­trian cor­ri­dor all the way from 17th Av­enue’s Rouleauvil­le Square at St. Mary’s Cathe­dral to the Bow River and Prince’s Is­land.

The pro­posed cor­ri­dor has some of Cal­gary’s best his­toric build­ings.

A plan for up­grad­ing the 8th Street S.W. un­der­pass and side­walks is also close to be­ing fi­nal­ized, with im­prove­ments ex­pected to start in 2014. The de­sign has been led by Rene Daoust — who de­signed the pub­lic space in the Place des Arts in Mon­treal — with as­sis­tance from D.A. Watt Con­sult­ing Group Ltd and Mar­shall Tit­te­more Ar­chi­tects.

Dis­cus­sions are also tak­ing place on how to bet­ter in­te­grate pedes­trian traf­fic along 8th Av­enue with Cen­tury Gar­dens — a park de­vel­oped in 1975 to com­mem­o­rate the city’s cen­ten­nial — and a nearby new LRT sta­tion.

C MFor many more pho­tos, and other Richard White col­umns, visit our web­site un­der the head­ing: ‘More News and Views.’

20-minute makeover

The small­est project the Cen­tre City Im­ple­men­ta­tion Team has sup­ported to date was to pro­vide fund­ing to Cen­tral United Church to in­stall light­ing in its al­ley as a pre­ven­tive safety mea­sure for its con­gre­ga­tion.

In­deed, small projects are just as im­por­tant as mega ones.

As for the quirki­est project, Bar­ring­ton thought it would be the “20-minute makeover,” where var­i­ous cor­po­rate teams vol­un­teered 20 min­utes to clean up the area around their build­ings.

More than 3,800 peo­ple at 260-plus lo­ca­tions col­lected tons of garbage.

“It was amaz­ing how many cig­a­rette butts there are on the side­walks,” says Bar­ring­ton.

The city has a com­pre­hen­sive clean and safe pro­gram for the Cen­tre City that aims to be proac­tive in deal­ing with is­sues be­fore they be­come a prob­lem — and re­spond­ing quickly once they are iden­ti­fied.

Last word

Bar­ring­ton says all of the im­prove­ments — both cur­rent and fu­ture — are about con­nect­ing the dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­ity nodes in the Cen­tre City, with at­trac­tive pedes­trian cor­ri­dors.

The vi­sion is to cre­ate a de­light­ful, 24 /7 pedes­trian ex­pe­ri­ence for peo­ple who work, live and visit down­town Cal­gary.

HAS WRIT­TEN ON ART, AR­CHI­TEC­TURE AND UR­BAN CUL­TURE FOR MORE THAN YEARS. IS CUR­RENTLY THE UR­BAN STRATE­GIST

Cal­gary Her­ald/Files

Richard White

Bet­ter signs are part of the new way-find­ing sys­tem.

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