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Urban Design: How it Affects Us All – Part I

Last updated 7 years ago

Wherever you live in a city, you can't escape the effects of urban design.

While the idea of designing urban landscapes may bring to mind ambitious urban projects, the concept of urban design is present from city centres out to quiet suburbs. The choices that are made with how streets and neighbourhoods are placed can have dramatic effects on how cities live and grow and are often taken for granted, especially in North America, where the city centre/suburban development model reigns supreme.

"Landscape architects are the ones doing urban design here," said Svetozar Garnenkov of BKDI Architects. "It's great when you have a park here or there - that is what is the definition of urban design in Calgary."

"When it comes to urban design, we can't help but be affected by Europe. To them, it's pedestrian based, because of their infrastructure, the centuries of streets they have," said Rick Chow with BKDI Architects. "Here, it's car based and being much newer we don't have the infrastructure. That's a launching point for quite a bit of difference. I think we'd all love the European experience in terms of it being more people based more small scale, more walking.”

"In that scale, there's a daily life in urban design. You live in a place, you can shop, your friends are all there and you don't necessarily need that car. From an urban perspective here, you have that neighbourhood but even going to the grocery store means getting in a car."

Car-based planning can often get in the way of the vibrancy of a city, particularly its downtown core, where people commute to a place of work, then retreat to a distant neighbourhood in the evening. Without those people in a downtown core, stagnation can result.

"The city disappears," said Garnenkov. "It doesn't grow, it doesn't develop. There is no city. Generally speaking, urban design is the opposite of zoning, the opposite of automobiles."

He points to areas of Calgary like Stephen Avenue, transformed into pedestrian walkways for large portions of the day, as an example of places where the removal of vehicles has led to an increase of vibrancy, with thousands taking advantage of the shops and restaurants that have developed along it as a result. The opposite notion, that car traffic is necessary for businesses to thrive, rarely has the intended effect.

"If you eliminate highways, the life starts there," said Garnenkov. "If you create highways, they fill up and the demand for more highways is immediate. Then the urban sprawl happens and the city is not the city anymore. It's just a place where it's zoned for people to go to work."


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