Chatting urban design with d.Talks co-founder

Earlier this year, Design Talks, or d.talks, captured the imagination of many Calgarians through its Lost Space Ideas Competition. Intended to spark interest in leftover, unused or underused spaces, the competition attracted submissions from more than 40 countries.

CREB®Now recently sat down with d.Talks co-founder Amery Calvelli to discuss everything from the competition to what she feels is Calgary’s best-kept secret. Here’s what she had to say:

CREBNow:  What is d.Talks?

Calvelli: Design Talks (d.talks) is a grassroots non-profit dedicated to fostering public conversation about design and the built environment in Calgary. Our conversations are both accessible and provocative with a goal of increasing the opportunity for design to contribute toward greater livability in the city.

CREBNow: What provided the inspiration behind creating the group?

Calvelli: A handful of us founded d.talks because we are interested in our city and were keen to hear more about design. We were interested in discovering the city from the vantage point of what makes this city exciting, but we also wanted to widen our views and hear from those that might have a different perspective. We were founded on the basis of curiosity.

CREBNow: d.Talks was in the news recently for its Lost Spaces competition/exhibition. What was it and how did it ultimately turn out?

Calvelli: The Lost Spaces Ideas Competition was an opportunity to explore leftover spaces in the urban realm. Think of these spaces as remnants or strips that are left behind when we build. We produced a call for ideas on how to address these particularly difficult sites. We worked with the support of WATERSHED+, a cornerstone of the UEP Public Art Program and a number of other City departments such as Parks, Transportation and Planning.

There were over 290 ideas submitted from over 40 countries. Each entry addressed a Calgary site and we had not expected this level of interest, initially. The submissions approached design from a wide-angle-lens where engineers, artists and designers of many disciplines came together to address the ‘lost space’ challenge. We have exhibited the winning entries at the Contemporary Calgary/C2 gallery and in the Open Spaces windows on the Seventh Avenue LRT platform at Centre Street. We’re planning another installation at the Central Library later this fall.

CREBNow:  How does urban design contribute to great livability?

Calvelli: Urban design is the backbone from which individuals use their city. We tend to frequent places we like. Some prefer quiet and others will choose an active street or a particular park. Urban design thinks about placemaking and offering options for how a resident might choose to spend their time.

CREBNow: What is the city doing to contribute?

Calvelli: Many cities are addressing livability and find it an important element in attracting and retaining people. The City of Calgary seems to be exploring a number of initiatives that expand options for the places Calgarians might want to spend their time, from streets to corridors to modes of getting around.

CREBNow: What can Calgarians do?

Calvelli: There are a number of wonderful tours, talks and screenings in the city, from Jane’s Walks and Doors Open YYC to specific planning and design discussions. Participate in a discussion or start one. Join the quarterly d.talks events. But also, talk to a neighbour you’ve yet to meet. The city is much richer as we widen our circles and find ways to connect uniquely with place. It’s what goes on inside and around the hard surfaces of our built form that makes a place interesting.

CREBNow: What is your favourite thing to do in Calgary on a day off?

Calvelli: Walking around the city. Maybe it’s actually more of a wander because my partner and I start downtown and head off in a direction. We might end up along the river or at a film or on an outdoor patio with a coffee.
CREBNow: What, if anything, do you think is Calgary’s best-kept secret?

Calvelli: Calgary has another rodeo that transforms the month of January into a city where you certainly don’t want to hibernate. It’s called the High Performance Rodeo and it helps to melt away any urges for isolation or feeling snowed in.

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