Thoughts on Repurposing Downtown

Calgary has a downtown that was built for 1986. How do we make it for 2025? And how do we handle the high costs of retrofitting and demolishing? These were some of the first questions asked at the Calgary Downtown Economic Summit and a week later, they are still sitting with me.

The Mayor from Pittsburgh shared a story of struggle, collaboration, and inspiration. What I took away was that he clearly identified partnerships as being a necessary catalyst for change. I wonder if we can get people to move away from a “Request for Proposal” to create a best practice of “Request for Partnership”.

Ideation Session

The ideation session was an exciting experience. Although I have spent time facilitating and participating in facilitation, the use of the tools (iPads and the ability for instant updates and quickly highlighted themes) and the culmination of people who were engaging was something special.

There were a number of key ideas that came up in the facilitated ideation session but the ones that stood out to me were: downtown densification (building neighbourhood and community in downtown), and repurposing downtown.

I am biased. I live downtown, I walk everywhere, I am quite educated, and I work for an agency I love - I live the dream. I love the ideas of increasing downtown density and creating neighbourhoods and communities. I also love the idea of repurposing downtown. I think accessibility needs to be a primary consideration, particularly when it comes to food. The most expensive chains for groceries reside in downtown Calgary, and none are on the train line. I am thrilled that Loblaw’s is expected to open a store in East Village, however, that still isn’t truly accessible for downtown residents.

In repurposing downtown and increasing density, I am curious about potential for more car services or bringing in bike shares downtown for summertime, and making parking more available, how we will utilize the spaces already there and the spaces that will be online soon. I also wonder what the best partnerships will be for making movement and how fast policy can be changed to allow spaces to change.

Some Questions I have in no particular order:

  1. Who will be the early adopters?
  2. What is the ripple effect of repurposing downtown?
  3. Where do we begin?
  4. How do we adapt to changes in an informed way?
  5. How do we get downtown from 1986 to 2017?
  6. How do we create space to be flexible, equitable, resilient, and sustainable, especially as we head 10-15 years into the future?
  7. How do we create a culture of innovation?

My feedback for the event

Mix people up more. There were many tables made up of the same company or same demographic. By having students from VIVACITY, there was an opportunity missed of having students/millennials/academics being able to engage with corporate Calgary. If this event were to happen again, I would highly recommend inviting more students from VIVACITY, and arrange the tables so that many voices can sit together and build and learn and grow from the interaction.

All in all, this was an exciting event to attend and I am very curious about the results of the facilitated ideation session!

Written by Meghan Wright, Mount Royal University Student