Great cities are defined by great public spaces

Learn more at the Future of Stephen Avenue and Eau Claire Area Improvement info sessions














On an unseasonably warm fall Saturday, the concept of placemaking and great public spaces was on display in downtown Calgary. West Eau Claire Park, the formerly drab and undeveloped space at the south end of the Peace Bridge, was teeming with “public life.” Friends were sitting and chatting on riverside chairs, children were running through the maze of plants and trees and people cycled and scootered their way to other parts of downtown. What was once an area where people only travelled through is now a great public place where people want to be.

It’s how we’re building public spaces in Calgary’s downtown and urban areas so they’re more attractive to people and businesses.

“Today, placemaking and economic development are two sides of the same coin. If we don’t consider placemaking in Calgary’s communities and our public life, we’ll have a difficult time attracting and retaining talented workers or being attractive to businesses and investors,” says Joyce Tang, program manager with Urban Initiatives, The City’s team dedicated to urban placemaking. “Living in the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced to us how important it is to create public spaces that support our economy and small businesses.”

Public space

What makes a great public space? It’s a place where people want to be. It can mean something different for each person, but it is freely accessible to all. Making a great place is also something on which cities and their business and community partners collaborate and build together.

Placemaking as a community and economic development tool has been around since Jane Jacobs’ groundbreaking 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. It recognized public spaces that are regularly visited by diverse people are safer, more prosperous, more enjoyable for residents and more attractive to visitors.

Public life

Why is public life an essential part of a healthy, vibrant city? Public life is the social activity that takes place in our public spaces – on streets, in parks and plazas, and in the spaces between buildings. It’s created by people when they live their lives outside. A lot of our public life happens by how we design our public spaces and has individual, neighbourhood, and citywide benefits – both economic and social.

The Urban Land Institute Center for Sustainability and Economic Performance’s “The Case for Open Space” report validates this approach. Parks and open space, and the public life they create, can increase community health, enhance urban environmental sustainability, increase the value of nearby real estate, and generate higher real property tax revenue for municipalities.

Vibrant public life is an indicator of a city that is successful economically, socially and environmentally. When designed to embrace the changing social needs of its surrounding or the community, public spaces can support enhancing the quality of life for people living and working in those communities. A thriving public life is essential to attract and retain talent for business large and small.

Building public life in Calgary’s downtown and Stephen Avenue

Investing in the future of Stephen Avenue is a fundamental piece of our Downtown Strategy. It’s one way we’re supporting and attracting private investment, and encouraging people to visit and patronize our businesses. It will provide amenities and services to enhance the quality of life for people living and working in Calgary’s downtown.

The Calgary Downtown Association is a major partner as the steward of this space. “We have a unique opportunity here to enhance the area for our current businesses, local residents and visitors, but more importantly for the future community who will gather here,” said Jennifer Rempel, General Manager of the Calgary Downtown Association, which is jointly leading the project with The City. “This is not just about creating a beautiful street, it’s about creating conditions that will attract private investment, economic growth, and amenities that will entice residents and visitors for years to come.”

Updating Calgary’s historic pedestrian hub goes beyond designing and improving the physical streetscape. It involves developing strategies to encourage economic investment and redevelop private space. It’s a plan for programming the public space to improve public life and ensure residents and tourists are drawn to Stephen Avenue for years to come.

“Cities have discovered this and have begun to redesign streets and urban spaces to allow for public life and support economic growth –like Market Street in San Francisco, 16th Street Mall in Denver and 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica,” explained Tang. “We’re taking this approach in Calgary as well, like our with our community partnerships to develop Gopher Park in Inglewood and Bowforth Park in Downtown West, or larger public spaces like Stephen Avenue and the Eau Claire Promenade and Plaza.”

Re-shaping public spaces in the Eau Claire area

The City’s efforts in Eau Claire, Chinatown and the East Village, serve a similar purpose in the downtown area. Redesigning the Eau Claire Promenade and Eau Claire Plaza public spaces is possible because the Downtown Flood Barrier, which sits underneath, needs to be improved. This work is part of The City’s efforts to create a safe, efficient and beautiful riverfront promenade and cycling network. It will have a ripple effect of supporting neighbouring communities and business areas. These projects are working towards building more resilient and vibrant communities that support future growth and development for the people who live, work, visit and travel the area.

The Future of Stephen Avenue and Eau Claire Area Improvements are hosting public information sessions and online engagement in late October to present project information and gather feedback from Calgarians. To learn more about the projects and register for info sessions please visit the Future of Stephen Avenue and Eau Claire Area Improvements project webpages.

The Future of Stephen Avenue

Please join us for an online open house to learn more about the project, our public realm study and provide feedback that will be shared live with the audience. The open house will include the presentation of the draft concept plan by Gehl, our project consultants, followed by a Q&A session to ask questions and provide feedback.

Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020

5:30 p.m.-7 p.m.

Online – Microsoft Teams

Register to attend our online open house

If you are unable to attend, please visit our Engage Portal site to provide feedback between Oct. 20-Nov. 10.

Eau Claire Area Improvements

The City is offering a series of virtual sessions from Oct. 19-30 to discuss projects happening in the Eau Claire area. Each project, including Tomorrow's Chinatown and Green Line, will host at least two project-specific sessions.

Click the link to see a complete schedule and register for the Eau Claire Area Improvements Virtual Information Sessions.