When people think of neighbourhoods in Calgary, they often think of long and homogenous rows of single family homes. There's a move afoot to change that notion and create some variety in Calgary's neighbourhoods with mixed-use buildings at key points around the city.
The idea of mixed-use isn't that complex – it simply means combining more than one use – commercial, residential, office, and industrial, in any feasible combination – in a single location. The two uses can complement each other and help add to the livability and vibrancy of the neighbourhood. “The concept is not new but the application of it is, particularly in North America. The popularity of it is growing in several urban centres,” said Ross Roy, Director with BKDI Architects.
One of the more successful examples of this kind of neighbourhood is Kensington, which Ross notes has a wide variety of services within. “Doctors, restaurants, SAIT – all of which make for a really vibrant, livable community,” he said.
Typically, this type of planning is beginning to happen around transit hubs, like an LRT station or a bus depot where transportation issues are reduced. These Transit Oriented Developments (TODs) are then able to accommodate many different types of activity together. “If you look at a TOD site, if you have the notion that people will live and work in the same location, and have easy access to public transit, it begins to generate a whole new way of urban planning and development for Calgary,” said Ross.
However, building TODs isn't without some resistance, as Calgary has long been built with car commuters in mind, and that mindset has become quite entrenched as the ideal living environment. Resistance can also come from long time residents living in communities where TODs are being proposed. “It's understandable. People have lived there for 40 or 50 years. It's quiet, there's a slower pace, and you come along and say we're going to build 200 – 300 new homes along with some retail space,” said Ross.
There's also a shift in attitude happening, Ross says. For younger city dwellers, or those more concerned about their environmental impact, mixed-use Transit Oriented Developments can hold great appeal. “It's linked to our concern with environmental sustainability, being 'green' and trying to minimize the use of our cars by living closer to where we work or shop and the amenities that we need,” Ross said.
There are also a number of tangible and intangible benefits from these developments, from a greater sense of community to a fostering of small businesses. Specialty shops, coffee houses and small offices often benefit greatly from these newly formed neighbourhoods. “It makes for healthy competition,” said Ross. “If someone sees a site that's already got A, B, C and D amenities and local people are regularly frequenting them, we need to be there too. It sort of self-sustains.”
Mixed-use also offers a new outlet for developers, who are finding they can repurpose sites they already own instead of developing greenfield sites on the outskirts of the city. “We're starting to see that kind of development with private developers. They've realized that there's opportunity to develop on the sites they own in a more efficient, maximizing way, rather than starting from scratch out in the boonies,” said Ross.