March 13, 2020

UCalgary and mayor join forces to make Calgary's downtown a more welcoming place for everyone

City of Calgary and School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape launch 9 Block initiative to address safety and vibrancy concerns
From left: John Brown, Mayor Nenshi, Druh Farrell, Ed McCauley and Thom Mahler. School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Staff

Mayor Naheed Nenshi wants Calgary to be a vibrant and welcoming place for all, residents and tourists alike, and making that dream a reality is the driving force behind the 9 Block initiative.

On Wednesday, the mayor joined key stakeholders including Dr. Ed McCauley, UCalgary president and vice-chancellor; Thom Mahler, City of Calgary director of urban strategy; and John Brown, dean of the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape (SAPL). Together they launched the 9 Block initiative — an intentional effort to address safety, vibrancy, and social inclusion in the nine city blocks containing City Hall, Olympic Plaza, Bow Valley College, the Castell Building and the Central Library.

  • Photo above: At the launch event, from left: John Brown, Mayor Nenshi, Councillor Druh Farrell, Ed McCauley and Thom Mahler. Photo by School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Staff

We’ve been able to create something really special with this program. The 9 Block initiative builds on a long history of partnership between the city and the university, with the goal of seamlessly transferring and mobilizing knowledge that will benefit our community,” McCauley said at the launch.

The launch took place inside SAPL’s City Building Design Lab (CBDLab), which opened less than a year ago with the intention of allowing UCalgary researchers to work more directly with external stakeholders on issues related to city building. Having an outpost in the heart of downtown gives students real-life experience alongside their education, to better prepare them to be bold thinkers and change-makers in their future workplaces and cities.

UCalgary's Ed McCauley speaks at the launch of the 9 Block initiative March 11.

School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Staff

“Our mission is to bring together our students and researchers with municipal policy-makers and the public to explore new directions in city building," said Brown. "Our students are very excited to take on this opportunity to develop and implement thoughtful, innovative solutions in the neighbourhood they interact with every day.”

SAPL’s participation will allow for experimental, design-based solutions or possibilities to address safety and vibrancy in the area and highlight its urban significance. This summer, students in the Master of Architecture, Master of Planning and Master of Landscape Architecture programs will do just that when they work with professor Mauricio Soto Rubio on a 9 Block prototype tactical urbanism design/build project, in collaboration with The City and under the auspices of the Urban Alliance.

Students in the senior Master of Landscape studio led by Dr. Beverly Sandalack, PhD, are currently researching the historical underpinnings of the build form in the area and proposing some long-range design options. Students enrolled in Barry Wylant’s undergraduate studio will propose design thinking ideas for social and civic innovation within the 9 Block area.

Undergrads Gregory Campbell and Angelica Becerra at the launch in SAPL’s City Building Design Lab.

School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Staff

“It’s going to take all of us to build and reshape this area, and downtown as a whole, and it’s important we all take a shared position in stewarding the 9 Block area into the future,” said Mahler.

The ultimate goal of this initiative and its potential outcomes is to make our city a place where people feel welcome. Part of that, according to the mayor, involves conversations with “community partners in the area to address safety issues and better assist vulnerable Calgarians as part of The City’s commitment to community action on mental health and addiction.”

The mayor described the process: “There are lots of interesting questions before us. How do we improve wayfinding? How do we make sure this is a welcoming space for everyone? This area of the city is essentially [its] front lawn.” Indeed, it is the space that sets the stage for what lies ahead and invites people in.