Talking everything from what makes a great community to the favourite room in her house
What defines a great place? A mix of housing? A popular neighbourhood haunt? Walking and biking paths?
CREB® recently sat down with Eleanor Mohammed, president of the Alberta Professional Planners Institute and a director for the Canadian Institute of Planners, which organizes the annual Great Places competition. Here’s what she had to say:
CREB®Now: Tell us a bit more about the Great Places competition?
Mohammed: The Great Places in Canada contest recognizes the contributions of planners by celebrating their lasting impressions on Canadian communities. Calgarians are invited to nominate and vote on what street, neighbourhood or public space/place should win. (It) is a way for Calgarians to show their local pride by recognizing the spaces that make their community unique.
Year over year, we have witnessed the enthusiasm communities have shown for their local nominee. The Great Places in Canada contest also shines a light on the places that planners work to create and safeguard. Calgarians can visit www.GreatPlacesInCanada.ca to vote. Deadline is Oct. 17. Winners are announced Nov. 8.
CREB®Now: How has Calgary and its satellite communities fared in past Greatest Places competitions?
Mohammed: Inglewood won for Best Neighbourhood in 2015. The jury (said) Inglewood is a great neigbourhood to visit, but also, and perhaps most importantly, a great neigbourhood to live. Inglewood has the bedrock elements of an inclusive community with a large affordable housing stock, a range of transportation options, support for local businesses and community facilities. The jury was also impressed by the expression of local culture – from night markets to celebrating local artisans in everyday objects. It’s also hard to resist a place that has the odd chicken roaming the streets.
CREB®Now: What makes up a greatest place?
Mohammed: There are many elements that make a place great. A great place is:
• Inclusive and used by community citizens throughout their lives. It’s a place where people live, work and recreate as a child, young adult, adult and senior.
• Possibly home to festivals and community events or a space for local commerce, like shops and markets.
• Rich in local history; connecting citizens to their heritage.
• Accessible, through pedestrian paths, cycling lanes, public transit and parking spaces (if necessary).
• A reflection of the local culture and landscape.
• Memorable or unique in character.
• Visually interesting because of design or architectural features, landscape, or public art.
• Contributes to and creates a sense of community.
CREB®Now: How can communities create great places?
Mohammed: Planners work with the elements noted above and create great places through collaboration with the local community by:
• Ensuring the necessary development and redevelopment of spaces and places so they retain their social, environmental, economic and cultural value in the community.
• Working to protect and incorporate the historical and heritage rich places we love.
• Making sure community spaces are accessible and well-connected to the surrounding neigbourhood.
• Considering how places will be used and then intentionally developing places that encourage social interaction, commerce and cultural activities.
• Evaluating and designing for choice, affordability, safety and accessibility.
• Building and maintaining meaningful relationships to implement plans and designs.
CREB®Now: What role do great places have in homebuying decisions?
Mohammed: For a homebuyer, a great place or a great neigbourhood will meet their own distinct needs. Depending on where that homebuyer is in life, their opinion of a great neigbourhood or great place may differ. Some may choose a more urban location, whereas others will prefer a suburban or rural lifestyle. Different factors influence homebuying choices, including affordability, accessibility, transportation needs, local culture, location of employment, education facilities, family size and lot size.
A homebuyer may also fall in love with a place or a neighbourhood and not really know why – “it just feels like home.” However, behind the scenes, a planner has ensured a complete community was designed and developed in such a way, with the right lot orientation, building type, architectural guidelines, road design, connecting trails, transit, walking distances to schools and shops that it feels like a natural fit to the homebuyer.
CREB®Now: What is your favourite thing to do on a day off?
Mohammed: Between being the president of the Canadian Institute of Planners, director of planning and engineering for Beaumont, Alta., and a mother of two elementary school-aged daughters, I don’t have too many true days off. When I am fortunate to have a day off or time to myself, I intentionally take the time to relax and recharge. This will include sleeping in, enjoying a quiet morning coffee, yoga, reading, or a super-satisfying Netflix binge.
CREB®Now: What, if anything, do you think are communities’ best-kept secrets?
Mohammed: In my opinion, a communities’ best kept secret is a place that is distinctly theirs – a place the community takes ownership of and that is not well-known outside the community. This could be a naturalized place such as a park or trail, or a programmed space such a local market or square. What makes it the best-kept secret is, as a resident, it’s “your place” you share with others in your community. It’s an automatic linkage to your neighbours, which ultimately brings you together.
CREB®Now: What’s your favourite room in your home and why?
Mohammed: My office. It is located at the front of my house and looks out on the street. It also has windows facing south and east, allowing for brilliant natural light. It’s the perfect place to contemplate, study, teach online and write. All my planning and climate change adaptation books and research are within arms-reach there. It also has a piece of art called Wind of Change II by one of favorite artists, Liz O’Toole, who is out of the U. K.