The City and 9 Block partners share downtown safety and vibrancy improvements

Today, The City of Calgary and its partners – the University of Calgary, the Calgary Downtown Association, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation and Bow Valley College – shared progress on several safety initiatives. The initiatives are part of the 9 Block program, an effort to improve vibrancy and safety in the nine blocks that surround City Hall.

“The 9 Block program is all about working collaboratively with our neighbours and community partners to make this area even better, and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” said Mayor Nenshi. “Since the beginning of the year, we’ve been working with multiple organizations, students and businesses to make this a reality. I’m thrilled with the progress that’s been made, and I hope there are some ideas we can replicate in other areas of the city.”

The centre piece of these improvements is the installation of a canopy and lighting at the transit stop in front of the University of Calgary’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape (SAPL) on Macleod Trail S.E. Research lead Mauricio Soto-Rubio, with students from SAPL, designed and fabricated this installation to improve the real and perceived safety and vibrancy issues in their neighbourhood. The canopy and improved lighting provides more visibility at the stop during night time hours – highlighted as an ongoing safety issues by students, people who work in the neighbourhood, and neighbourhood businesses.

The partnership between The City and the University of Calgary focused on students and researchers at SAPL exploring how the nine blocks around City Hall could become a more welcoming, distinct and vibrant place for all Calgarians and visitors through innovative design, planning and programming strategies. Urban Alliance, the partnership between The City and the University of Calgary, supported the hiring of a group of SAPL students over the summer to design the bus stop installation.

“One of the reasons we created the City Building Design Lab in the heart of our downtown is to have a living lab for pilot projects like this one. This playful, interactive canopy for the 9 Block Program is our largest project yet,” said John Brown, PhD, dean of SAPL. “Strong collaboration between our researchers, students, City of Calgary staff, as well as the public, helps us explore new possibilities for creative city-building. The Canopy project demonstrates that a modest investment can go a long way to improve the quality of urban public space. In addition to creating an impressive new face for the Castell Building, the canopy explores the use of sustainable and recycled materials and the interactive lighting system adds a playful element to downtown and challenges our collective understanding of urban space. The research findings from this project will impact the way designers and municipalities design for a safer and more vibrant city.”

One of the other cornerstone projects is the launch of a Downtown Ambassador pilot this autumn. The City of Calgary and the Calgary Downtown Association have partnered, along with other stakeholders like Tourism Calgary and Alpha House Society, to create the six-month pilot for the 9 Block/Stephen Avenue area. Since September, Downtown Ambassadors have been connecting Calgarians and visitors to information on resources, services, places and supports. The primary focus for the ambassadors has been outreach, safety, and cleanliness, providing a presence to the area.

Over 600 interactions between ambassadors and Calgarians have occurred so far, including more than 300 members of Calgary’s vulnerable population, and over 120 interactions with surrounding businesses on both ground and Plus 15 levels. These interactions have been largely introductions to the program, wellness checks and connecting individuals with social services, referrals to relevant programming and welcoming visitors.

“Downtown is an area for everyone and the Downtown Ambassador program is a great opportunity to help all Calgarians and visitors feel at home,” said Jennifer Rempel, general manager of the Calgary Downtown Association. “It’s our priority to create a welcoming environment grounded in neighbourhood camaraderie and community partnerships on Stephen Avenue and in the 9 Block area. While the program helps to attract residents and visitors to the centre city, we want to make sure the people who live, work and play in this area have the voice to say what their vision of community safety is. Our approachable Ambassadors are here to listen and help.”

Safety is a major component of this effort. Beyond the Downtown Ambassador pilot, The City and more than 20 community partners in the area are have launched a coordinated safety and security strategy for the 9 Block area – focused on training, information sharing and coordinated communication.

The stairwell leading from Calgary Police Building down to the City Hall C-Train platform was identified as a security and safety concern early on this year. One of the focuses for the 9 Block program is creating better connections throughout the +15 network, so addressing this issue was made a priority.

We took a small-scale approach to improve safety and vibrancy for this important connection to public transit. A mural was painted in this stairwell and improved lighting was installed, along with an improved security conduit for users.

“Supporting the safety of our community is critical to creating vibrant, active spaces,” said Kate Thompson, President and CEO of the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation. “We are pleased to be partners with The City, the University of Calgary and all the other 9 Block partners, in helping bolster safety and vibrancy through targeted design and community interventions.”

This program is a major piece of The City’s Downtown Strategy and The City’s continued commitment to support the recovery and diversification of Calgary’s economy and building a foundation for a great future for this important downtown area.

For more information about the 9 Block program, partnerships and projects, please visit