The in-the-works University District is an example of a new community that will be built around the concept of hub living. Courtesy West Campus Development Trust

Hub living is the name of the game when it comes to new-neighbourhood design in northwest Calgary

When discussing the current trend of building Calgary residential communities around “hubs” (also known as “activity centres” or “nodes”), the phrase “back to the future” seems apt.

“It’s about concentrating uses and activities in one area … It’s how settlements and civilizations have been developing forever,” said Beverly Sandalack, associate dean and professor of landscape architecture and planning in the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Environmental Design.

“It fell out of favour post-World War II with the over-reliance on the car, but, except for this 50-year aberration, main streets have always been the centre of community activity and business.”

Once again, creating communities around nodes or activity centres is “absolutely the direction of the future when it comes to urban planning,” Sandalack says. The practice creates walkable communities, reduces environmental footprint by keeping services close together, makes efficient use of infrastructure and helps to create a community identity.

“Rather than go one direction for your dry cleaning and another for your child’s school and another for your coffee, with community nodes, you can satisfy all your needs in one place,” said Sandalack.

In addition to being a tenet of smart urban design, community hubs have also been a priority for the City of Calgary for several years now.

“The concept of hubs and centres is something Calgary has been pursuing since the Municipal Development Plan (MDP) was approved by council in 2009,” said Joachim Mueller, the manager of city planning and policy services with the City of Calgary.

“It’s a modern way of saying ‘town centre,’ where there are accessible amenities and services, along with jobs and employment opportunities.”

“Developers situate ‘hubs’ within their communities because it’s a key factor that influences the location buying decision. These hubs must provide opportunities for work, shopping and entertainment, so people won’t have to travel so far for their basic needs.” – Travis Putnam, project manager with Genstar

And developers are on board, including those behind many new communities in the city’s northwest quadrant.

“Location is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing where you want you and your family to live,” said Travis Putnam, a project manager with Genstar, the developer behind the new northwest community of Carrington.

“Developers situate ‘hubs’ within their communities because it’s a key factor that influences the location buying decision. These hubs must provide opportunities for work, shopping and entertainment, so people won’t have to travel so far for their basic needs.”

Carrington will include a Major Activity Center (MAC) that will be situated on the east end of the community and will run up Centre Street. It will include an LRT station, bus routes, commercial amenities and various housing opportunities that, Putnam says, will “allow you to live in the heart of it all.”

The proximity of community hubs to primary transit networks is key, according to Mueller. “It adds mobility choices … People going to those hubs can easily get to those places of business and not necessarily have to have cars.”

Jessie Seymour, senior manager of community experience for Calgary communities with Brookfield Residential, says the company also constructs communities with central hubs, including the northwest community of Tuscany. Crucial elements of these hubs are Brookfield’s residents’ associations.

“Our most critical component at Brookfield is our residents’ associations,” said Seymour. “We have been using them since their inception in Tuscany in 1995. These are community culture builders.”

The Tuscany Residents Association is at the centre of the community’s hub. “Being next door to the community’s major retail, as well as a community school, also compounds the community hub offering. It provides a central location for residents to go to meet, recreate and learn,” said Seymour, adding that future Brookfield communities will continue with the “hub strategy,” including the new northwest communities of Livingston and Rowan Park.

“Livingston has already launched, and its community hub – the Livingston Homeowners Association – will open its doors in 2019. It will offer a retail space for a coffee shop or small retailer, a daycare/preschool space, as well as other amenities.”

Rowan Park will be opening south of Tuscany in 2019 or 2020. Like in Tuscany and Livingston, its homeowners’ association will also be a hub through which residents can connect.

In general, Mueller says new communities being built are those that will benefit from the hub system.

However, he says, in established communities where primary transit stations and/or main streets already exist, areas are being retrofitted to make more efficient use of space and to enhance local services using the community-node model.

“Hubs are an amazing way to support community connections, vibrancy, and togetherness,” said Seymour.