Here's how Calgary students are reimagining downtown

Christian Pazdan is a vice-president with Urban CSA. (Tom Ross/CBC - image credit)
Christian Pazdan is a vice-president with Urban CSA. (Tom Ross/CBC - image credit)

The public spaces of Calgary's Downtown West have always intrigued Ian Hernandez.

Living in the area, the urban studies student and president of Urban Calgary Students' Association (Urban CSA) has taken ideas that he's seen from his travels and courses in an attempt to better the area.

"I think we can improve a lot of walkability in our city, especially in Downtown West," said Hernandez.

"There's a lot of opportunity there to make more spaces for people to actually enjoy public space."

For many people, that part of the city has always been a great choice for students wanting to live close to the city centre — it's close enough to the nightlife scenes of the Beltline and 17th Ave. and is a quick transit trip away from Calgary's post-secondary campuses.

Hernandez says he wants to empower students and young people to re-imagine what the future of their downtown neighbourhood could look like.

Tom Ross/CBC
Tom Ross/CBC

"A lot of students live or visit downtown and it's important that they have a stake in its future," he said.

Along with his group, he came up with an idea for students to take an active role in shaping what the area could look like. He calls it the Sketch Mob.

Vibrancy and safety

On Saturday, a group of students from Urban CSA took to the streets to draw out inventive ways to update the neighbourhoods.

Sydney Ikeda was one of those who braved the cold on the day. Throughout her urban studies degree, she's started to think more critically about changes that can be made in Calgary to improve things like access and mobility.

"A lot of it goes back to public realm, public safety is a really big thing," she said.

"And just getting people into the environment and excited about the built environment is really going to change these spaces a lot."

Tom Ross/CBC
Tom Ross/CBC

She's hopeful that if more people think about this, it would help bring back more vibrancy to the area.

Implementation and policy

The project is an opportunity for groups of young Calgarians to head out into the community and re-imagine public spaces through sketching, discussion, exploring and creative thinking.

And it aligns with a core tenet of the city as it update its downtown strategy.

"We really wanted to see more diversity in the downtown, in the sense that lots of different types of people in the downtown, people use the downtown at different types of day," said Kate Zago, a planner with the City of Calgary.

"We would love to see more youth in the downtown, more university students in the downtown."

Saturday's inaugural Sketch Mob focused on 11 Street S.W., between 6 Avenue S.W. and 9 Avenue S.W., 10 Street S.W., between 6 Avenue S.W. and 9 Avenue S.W. and 6 Avenue S.W. and 4 Street S.W.

The completed sketches will be shared online and displayed at the Central Public Library this year.

Some of the ideas students come up with could eventually be adopted by the city down the road, Zago said, creating a setting that truly came from the minds, and sketchbooks, of its young citizens.

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