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Green Alley project spruces up forgotten downtown Calgary spaces

When’s the last time you were in one of Calgary’s back alleys?

No, not that back alley.

Students in the University of Calgary’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape have been working for two months on a project to activate the space in the alley behind The Pioneer Gallery at 117 – 8 Avenue SW.

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It’s part of a three-year partnership between the school and the Calgary Downtown Association to breathe new life into some of the city’s forgotten – and unused – downtown spaces. It’s called the Green Alley Project (GAP).

“I think it’s very important moving forward as a city just to activate these spaces and to create more spaces for people to interact,” said Madisen Killingsworth, one of the research team members.

“We need to learn how to use the space that we have more instead of sprawling out, we need to identify them as a city and learn how to utilize these underutilized spaces. We need to make them more human scale, human friendly.”

Green alley plan was student built from start to finish

Karan Sharma was another of the research team members. He said the group put together the entire plan from start to finish – from design, to models to implementation.

The concept was to create a space that allowed for the interaction between people, the natural world and the activity around them, Sharma said. There’s public realm spaces for people to sit and have a conversation, there’s trees and shrubs (that are also an innovative storm water solution) and, of course, there’s the regular bustle of the alley.

“So that was quite a challenge for us. How we can make the daily transportation happening throughout this alley, and people walking through so that this alleys, becomes like a core part of the whole of the city of Calgary,” said Sharma.

“And then people can somehow not look into that as like, just like a dirty alley, but somehow connect and walk through it.”

Sharma said the group encountered some challenges in the Green Alley design: What material would stand up to the unique Calgary climate and the rigor of people using it? How would they overcome the unevenness of the pavement in accommodating their design?

They’re hoping the unique manufactured tree design will be enough to draw people to the area to investigate. As more of these alley activations pop up, Calgarians’ attitudes on making the alley part of their public space will change, Sharma said.

Researchers, like Kris Fox, professor at the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape are hoping Calgarians start to change perceptions on how they can use Calgary’s back alleys. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Alley project helps reimagine Calgary’s downtown spaces

Marco De Iaco, executive director of the Calgary Downtown Association, said it’s time we reimagined the public spaces in the downtown and think of it as a potential catalyst for a revitalization of the core.

“Many of us are acutely aware of all the challenges and the headwinds facing downtown Calgary today; impediments to the energy sector, unemployment rates, office vacancy, decreasing property values – downtown Calgary is in transition, in a reset mode, a rethink mode,” he said.

“It’s exactly when we need to change the narrative to focus on new opportunities, fresh ideas, and the future of downtown.”

The partnership is meant to investigate the long-term benefit of green alleys and how focused design can create public realm improvements that not only develop stronger placemaking, but determined the potential economic value.