City-building research partnership positioned to catalyze downtown reinvention

The City of Calgary is investing $350,000 in the University of Calgary’s Civic Commons Catalyst to support the downtown revitalization research and initiatives

uofcThe City of Calgary and the University of Calgary are excited to announce that The City is investing $350,000 as part of its partnership with the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape’s (SAPL) Civic Commons Catalyst Initiative. This investment will support Civic Commons Catalyst researchers as they focus on innovative solutions for economic recovery, downtown reinvention and impactful investment to transform both underutilized public and private space in Calgary’s downtown. This project is part of the Urban Alliance, a strategic partnership between The City and the University of Calgary.  

“The transformation of downtown Calgary will yield benefits citywide for generations to come,” said Ward 7 City of Calgary Councillor Terry Wong. “We’re making an investment in the Civic Commons Catalyst because the University of Calgary brings both local and global expertise, along with a focus on innovation and the use of data and research to help address urgent issues Calgarians face daily. It is my hope that through holistic design-forward thinking and a greater focus on partnerships at the beginning of the process our downtown’s future can be even brighter, more inclusive of all Calgarian needs, and help make centre city the sustainable business core it has the potential to be.”

Through this funding, the City and SAPL’s Center for Civilization are moving forward on a new phase of the Civic Commons Catalyst partnership with a focus on transforming underutilized public and private space. The City has placed a priority on this area of work through it’s office to residential conversion program, projects that are exploring how public space is utilized on Stephen Avenue and 8 Street S.W., and working with community organizations to activate and program public space.

"While it is the whole of civilization that finds itself at a critical inflection point, it is cities where these challenges will unfold. Therefore, cities must be the fulcrum upon which bold solutions are found," said Alberto de Salvatierra, Director of the Center for Civilization and Assistant Professor at SAPL.

From novel uses for retired LRT cars, repurposing 4th Avenue as a pedestrian community space, or investigating the viability of hydroponic food production in downtown towers, this partnership allows SAPL to bring all its expertise to bear, as it conducts research into these issues, formulates interventions, identifies how to activate solutions, and provides recommendations for The City’s Downtown Strategy team to foster bold interventions from design to viable projects. Bringing in stakeholders like building owners, developers, policy makers and civic leaders is the next step, and facilitates the potential of realizing these projects. 

“This research partnership exemplifies the University of Calgary’s commitment to our community and the critical importance that design-based research plays in the shaping of great cities and societies. Downtown Calgary is facing unprecedented challenges from high vacancy rates and social vulnerability that is affecting the quality of life in our city,” says Dr. Ed McCauley, University of Calgary President and Vice-Chancellor. “The Civic Commons Catalyst reframes these problems to show how underutilized spatial assets can become opportunities for social, economic, and environmental innovation. It is an important example of how great universities and great cities can work together.”

The Civic Commons Catalyst Initiative will enable real change in Calgary’s downtown. Big data, design-at-scale approaches and an interdisciplinary collaborative approach come together ingeniously—so Calgary can unlock new future visions and sustain them.

“Through our research and teaching, the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape has a long history of helping create a better future for Calgary. This new and historic long-term funding commitment for the Civic Commons Catalyst Initiative reinforces our partnership and ensures that the Catalyst will continue to help guide the rejuvenation of Calgary’s downtown," said SAPL Dean John Brown.

The partnership between The City, SAPL, the Canadian Urban Institute and REEF is the first collaborative example to get kick-started through the Civic Commons Catalyst. REEF is the largest operator of parking real estate in North America, including more than 100 lots in Calgary. REEF works with community partners across Canada to reimagine under-utilized urban infrastructure to support healthy and thriving local communities. A six-month pilot project will engage and gather input from downtown business owners, the real estate sector, academics and other local partners on their priorities for downtown Calgary. These findings will culminate in recommendations to transform locations within REEF’s real estate network to best meet pressing community needs.

“Calgary’s Downtown Strategy aims to support private investment, generate visits and spending downtown, while enhancing the quality of life for people who live, work, visit and learn in our downtown,” said Thom Mahler, Director, Downtown Strategy for The City. “The Civic Commons Catalyst Initiative and SAPL are here to help harness the expertise of private sector innovators like REEF and of city-building thought leaders at the Canadian Urban Institute to help propel us further in realizing that vision.”

The announcement is also a preview of an exhibition showcasing the work the Civic Commons Catalyst has already conducted as part of its endeavour to make the core more sustainable, equitable, inclusive, vibrant and prosperous.

City of a Thousand Planets is an exhibition — at SAPL’s City Building Design Lab — that shares and makes public the Calgary-centred design research work from Phase I and Phase II of the Civic Commons Catalyst Initiative. Using digital renderings, 3D models and interactive offerings, the exhibit is a rich display of a vision for underutilized reimagined, repurposed and reactivated spaces for a bolder, more sustainable, environmentally conscious and vibrant downtown.

Phases 1 and 2 of the Civic Commons Catalyst Initiative were funded through a $460,000 grant by the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, while the current phase 3 is being funded through the Urban Alliance partnership.

Learn more about the Civic Commons Catalyst here and The City’s Downtown Strategy here.


Media Contacts

Pablo Fernandez
School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape 
University of Calgary
403-220-5323 |

Neil Babaluk
Downtown Strategy
The City of Calgary
587-777-0468 |


Downtown is the economic and cultural heart of Calgary. It’s our central hub for business, innovation and creativity. What happens downtown has a direct impact on all Calgarians. Calgary needs a strong core to grow our economy, create jobs and fund the City services we rely on every day. We are working to address the challenges downtown is facing and transform and reinvent downtown for decades to come. The Downtown Strategy team is leveraging the collective efforts of The City and its public and private sector partners to respond to prolonged economic challenges, and capitalize on opportunities that will create jobs, drive economic recovery, and revitalize and transform the downtown. We are working to address the challenges downtown is facing and set the downtown up for success down the road. Our priority is to be active and proactive to address problems, seek out solutions and embrace opportunities.


The Center for Civilization (CFC) at the University of Calgary School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape is a design research lab and international think tank working at the intersection of cities, society, and civilization. Aspiring to redesign current paradigms and operating procedures of contemporary civilization, the CFC develops and executes sponsored design research projects across multiple scales and disciplines. The CFC also complements the work of its lab by deploying the convening power of its think tank—pursuing longer-term, transdisciplinary projects at an international scale.


The Urban Alliance is a strategic partnership between The City of Calgary and University of Calgary that provides a framework for researchers and City employees to work together to tackle challenges for the benefit of all our communities. Urban Alliance energizes connections and promotes the seamless transfer of cutting-edge research between our organizations and encourages us to work together to find ways to make life better for all Calgarians.


UCalgary is Canada’s entrepreneurial university, located in Canada’s most enterprising city. It is a top-five research university and one of the highest-ranked universities of its age. Founded in 1966, its 35,000 students experience an innovative learning environment, made rich by research, hands-on experiences and entrepreneurial thinking. It is Canada’s leader in the creation of start-upsStart something today at the University of Calgary. For more information, visit Stay up to date with UCalgary news headlines on Twitter @UCalgary. For access to news releases, details on faculties and how to reach experts, go to our newsroom at


REEF transforms urban spaces into community hubs that create jobs and bring new goods, services and experiences to the neighbourhood. With a proximity ecosystem of over 8,000 locations and a team that’s over 15,000 strong, REEF is the largest operator of parking real estate and delivery restaurants in North America. By connecting the world to your block, we’re making the place you live, the place you love to be.


We are the national platform that houses the best in Canadian city building – where policymakers, urban professionals, civic and business leaders, community activists and academics can learn, share and collaborate with one another from coast to coast to coast. Through research, engagement and storytelling, CUI’s mission is to ensure Canada builds vibrant, equitable, liveable and resilient cities.