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Destination Marlborough: A new sense of community in an old space

A combined effort to create an interactive and safe public space led to a rejuvenated bus stop in the Marlborough community, despite the challenges that came along with the project.

Sustainable Calgary, a local non-profit organization, in discussions with the community learned that the bus stop at the eastern edge of Marlborough Mall was a major concern.

According to City of Calgary’s Transit Statistics for 2020, there are 6,144 total bus stops in Calgary, with only 1,603 passenger shelters.

Due to the popularity of the bus stop, adding a shelter would make the transit experience more desirable, Srimal Ranasinghe, a team lead with Sustainable Calgary, said.

“We had this idea of things that can be done to parts of Marlborough to make it more walkable and bikeable. Can we combine all of this and do something at this particular bus stop,” he said.

Around the same time, The City of Calgary’s Liveable Streets department had also been conducting their own engagement with the community. They’d come to the same conclusion.

“We learned that Sustainable Calgary … [had also been] discussing ways to kind of activate the area to get people outside more, get people interacting with the community in the space more,” Ali Zaidi, a transportation engineer with the Liveable Streets unit, said.

In early 2019, Liveable Streets approached Sustainable Calgary to propose working together on the project and provide funding, Ranasinghe said.

Troubleshooting complications

The completion of phase one was in October 2020. It featured a mini-library, colourful benches with attached planters, an art piece made of used oil drums, in-ground lights and a bus shelter.

However, this proved to be a time of trial and error, Ranasinghe said.

Not long after the construction was done, the in-ground lights and plants had been stolen. It led the team to reconfigure how those aspects were installed.

Marlborough has a temporary population that often circulates in the area. It can lead to a higher amount of petty crime in the area – like vandalism and graffiti, Ranasinghe said.

During phase two of the project, set to be complete by the end of June 2020, Sustainable Calgary connected with Bob Edwards School in Marlborough to get students involved in the project.

Two classes from the school submitted artwork that will be added to the back of the benches as a mural.

“The thought being art, but also just the fact that the kids who are in the community and around the community now have an actual real sense of investment in that place as well,” Ranasinghe said.

“Pragmatically, it also acts as a deterrent against spray painting or vandalizing the backs of the benches because it’s sort of a big large blank surface.”

Community Response

The Marlborough Community Association and other groups in the area expressed a sense of greater pride, Ranasinghe said.

The blue mini-library has a number of different books for people to enjoy, placed right beside the vibrant yellow benches. Photo: KIRSTEN PHILLIPS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

“There’s really both sort of emotional sense, but also, you can see by just looking at the data that northeast Calgary tends to be under invested in, in terms of social and active travel infrastructure, or just infrastructure that creates a sense of place,” Ranasinghe said.

The project was highlighted on a bigger scale than just within the community.

“When it went up, we noticed on social media quite a lot of conversation around the work. Obviously some positive, some not so much, but it was, it was kind of cool to see that it was creating conversation in the community,” Zaidi said.

Safety measures

Destination Marlborough designed as a way to get people out into the community. It’s also a way to make a safe space for pedestrians and cyclists.

“[Traffic calming was an] initial project. That would be why we implemented the curb extensions,” Zaidi said. Bike lanes narrow the street and provide a safe transportation corridor. There’s also a Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon on the corner. But, for now, that will be it.

“So currently there are no plans to do any more specific work in that area on that project … [but] obviously, there’s potential in the future, to go back and upgrade,” Zaidi said.

Sustainable Calgary had hoped for more traffic calming in the area during phase two, which they highlighted in a Twitter post. They understand why it’s not in the plans for the time being, Ranasinghe said.

“The work that we’re doing is not over in Marlborough. Traffic calming is sort of an ongoing piece that’ll take many years to kind of get to reach a place where … this space is actually safe and usable now,” Ranasinghe said.