City of Calgary Main Streets initiative aims to revitalize streetscapes and bring communities together
In late September, a throng of Bridgeland residents turned out for the first annual community-organized passeggiata, visiting cultural and business stops along the neighbourhood’s main thoroughfare, ending in celebration at the street’s General Square.
This passeggiata — a leisurely promenade or stroll in the Italian tradition — and other activities like it are exactly what the City of Calgary’s Main Streets initiative is designed to encourage across 24 different city streets.
Bridgeland, which is home to two of those streets (First Avenue N.E. and lower Edmonton Trail), is one of the first of four initial core areas to see changes through the Main Streets program. The program’s goal is to develop more populated, mixed-use, community-focused and revitalized streetscapes.
Desmond Bliek, a City of Calgary planner with the Main Streets initiative, says the first wave of communities covered under the program are the ones most ready for changes – areas where there already was marked interest for expanded residential, retail and office space, or that other City departments had earmarked for capital expenditures.
Those communities — Bridgeland; Montgomery (Bowness Road and 16th Avenue N.W.); Killarney-Glengarry, Rosscarrock and Glendale (37th Street S.W. from Bow Trail to 28th Avenue S.W.); and Killarney-Glengarry, Shaganappi, Rosscarrock and Glendale (17th Avenue S.W. from Crowchild Trail to 37 St. S.W.) — now have rezoning approvals.
Bliek says one of the City’s largest public engagement processes ever produced 4,000 Main Streets ideas from affected communities, with Bridgeland recording the most feedback.
Main Streets was launched in 2014 to support the Municipal Development Plan’s goal of seeing half of future Calgary densification come from existing communities, through land-use rezoning and amendments to outdated area redevelopment plans.
Bridgeland, one of Calgary’s oldest communities (first settled in the late 1880s), had already seen significant redevelopment after the demolition of the city’s General Hospital two decades ago and phased municipal redevelopment of those lands as the Bridges.
First Avenue’s south side (part of the former General Hospital lands) is already lined with cafes, restaurants, a spa, markets, clothing stores, and medical clinics and services – all topped off with residential units – but the north side has seen little redevelopment.
Under the rezoning, mixed-use buildings as tall as four storeys will be allowed along First Avenue’s north side, with buildings “stepping down” as they transition into homes behind them. There are also incentives for retention of heritage homes, a critical aspect of the redevelopment based on community feedback.
“Density without amenities, or not done well, is not part of the community’s goals,” – Ali McMillan, Bridgeland-Riverside Community Association planning director
Bliek says the changes also allow for higher-density developments in the block off First Avenue, where new single-family or duplex executive townhomes currently spring up.
Bridgeland – now at a historically high population of 6,500 – would see growth of another 1,000 people over 30 years, based on the program’s target of 100 to 150 people/jobs per hectare.
For Bridgeland-Riverside Community Association planning director Ali McMillan, her increasingly popular neighbourhood — voted Best of Calgary’s best neighbourhood for 2017 – will have its uniqueness and “village” feel strengthened under the Main Streets initiative.
She says new zoning — and amendments to the area redevelopment plan — will allow for more cohesive planning, rather than the “one-off” applications now occurring.
Greater neighbourhood density (up to eight storeys) will be allowed along Edmonton Trail, while still supporting the historical and village feel of the community.
“Density without amenities, or not done well, is not part of the community’s goals,” said McMillan.
Bliek says there is already significant interest being shown in the zoning changes as part of the first phase of Main Streets, and the next focus for those areas will be on streetscapes to ensure attractiveness, walkability and safety.
The initiative’s focus on community connectivity is also being reflected in new communities.
Bliek cites Brookfield Residential’s 519-hectare Livingston development on Calgary’s northern edge as a prime example. Livingston’s main street (Centre Street N.) will be longer than downtown’s and overall community density of eight to 10 units per acre (11,000 homes) is higher than some inner-city neighbourhoods.
Brookfield senior development manager Brendan McCashin says that urban corridor — where the new Green Line LRT will eventually run — will be the heart of the community, instead of dividing it.
Livingston’s main street (construction starts early next year) will only accommodate LRT, pedestrian and bike traffic, with vehicles travelling one block west and east. A 30,000-square-foot community centre will also be located one block away.
McCashin says Brookfield envisions “string-of-pearls” multi-use development along Centre Street, with higher density around LRT stations, followed by concentrations of retail and employment centres, then lower townhome density, and back up to more retail and commercial.
“It will tie the community together,” he said. “It will be a friendly place to live.”