Beltline, Cardston, Forest Lawn, Pump Hill, Ranchlands, Falconridge. Ask any Calgarian where they live, and their answer acts as shorthand for their identity — their interests, socioeconomic conditions, lifestyle, politics and culture. The mosaic of people and places that comprise their city begins with community.
For the Faculty of Environmental Design (EVDS), this basic building block of Calgary — the entry level of democracy and citizenship — has been a longtime focus of service, an opportunity for teaching, learning and research and a way for students and faculty to engage in the lives of Calgarians in a living laboratory. Now this engagement is set to grow, as students, faculty and staff joined representatives from the Federation of Calgary Communities in a new formal agreement to share expertise and resources.
“This agreement makes the most out of our already fruitful relationship with the federation, and reflects our full Eyes High commitment to engaging the communities we both serve and lead,” says Bev Sandalack, associate dean (academic) and founder of the Urban Lab, one of the research groups emphasizing community-based applied research. “When you collect examples of all the communities we have worked in through our projects, we have been doing outstanding work throughout the city; this agreement allows us to co-ordinate those efforts for greater impact.”
Connecting expertise to thousands of Calgarians
Incorporated in 1961, the Federation of Calgary Communities is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting more than 150 community associations in Calgary, working to understand their needs, assist their work, link common issues and exist to provide quality programs, services, and support to maintain community life in Calgary.
The Federation of Calgary Communities, along with their community association network, makes up the largest collective volunteer movement in the city, with more than 20,000 volunteers working in their communities throughout the city. With so many volunteers in so many communities, expertise in core issues of the built environment — urban planning, design and community engagement — can be difficult to find or use effectively.
By formally connecting EVDS to Calgary’s network of communities, the faculty can deliver opportunities for students and faculty to volunteer, learn and work in the very communities that they reside in, while simultaneously offering skills and thinking that are desperately needed by those same communities.
“I’m very excited to participate in this agreement and to blend our experience in Calgary’s communities with the expertise of the students and faculty here in EVDS,” says Leslie Evans, executive director for the federation. “Our areas of focus in urban planning, building safe communities and community engagement will all benefit enormously from increased opportunities for collaboration.”
Creating new opportunities for renewed thinking
This collaboration works both ways, providing opportunities for students to learn and develop their skills while giving their communities substantive and realistic goals. An example of this kind of model can be found just down the hill from the university, in the community of Parkdale.
In the fall of 2014, the Parkdale Community Association (PCA) identified the need for a comprehensive plan that could address the existing and forthcoming issues associated with land use and development in the neighbourhood. Under the leadership of assistant professor Francisco Alaniz Uribe, EVDS Master of Planning students developed a community-based project for their final studio looking at current urban development.
As part of the Urban Alliance, a partnership between the City of Calgary and the university, the Parkdale Land Use and Development Study was selected as one of three final research studios for the Master of Planning Advanced Professional Planning Project, creating a process of engagement and planning that became the foundation for Enriching Parkdale — the community’s newly adopted land-use and development plan.
“Engaging in the planning process with the students was a unique experience for the community, as it opened us up to new emergent possibilities that we simply hadn’t considered,” says PCA Board of Directors member Audrey Smith. “The expertise that Francisco and his students offered — their ability to listen and reflect the needs of the community while at the same time pushing us to think beyond our own personal biases — resulted in a better plan and a better outcome than we could have ever produced with our core group of volunteers.”
“This planning process did more than just put our ideas down on paper. It changed how we thought about our own neighbourhood, about our relationships with our neighbours and what we believed was possible.”