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My Idea Station: It’s like the Little Free Library for Calgary’s local area planning

The city is taking a page from the Little Free Library (LFL) movement to offer information and get feedback on upcoming Calgary local area plans.

My Idea Stations are popping up at many communities participating in the latest Local Area Plans (LAPs) – Heritage and Westbrook.  These are cupboard-style collection points, similar to Little Free Libraries erected in communities across Calgary.

The idea of public input and engagement was a divisive topic during both the North Hill Communities Local Area Plan and the Guide for Local Area Planning.  The city took the feedback from residents to hone the input process for future plans.

The folks in city planning recognized the explosion of LFLs across Calgary. Teresa Goldstein, manager of community planning with the City of Calgary, even has a Little Free Library in her own yard.

It presented an ideal opportunity to reach a different group of Calgarians not accustomed to the planning strata.

“We started thinking about how to engage with people differently and build on the stuff that we were doing and try some new things,” said Goldstein, who oversees the LAPs.

Goldstein saw how the library in her yard connected people in the neighbourhood.

“We started thinking about a version of that, which we came up with My Idea Stations,” she said.

The boxes, at many community association buildings in these planning areas, are filled with “kits” area residents can take with them to review and respond at their leisure. It also encourages them to look for references online to help inform their contribution.  Goldstein said it’s both an information and feedback portal.

Harder to reach Calgarians

Both the Heritage and Westbrook local area plans are expected back at city council in 2022.

A City of Calgary My Idea Station engagement box in the community of Haysboro. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

“We’re using these wider tactics because we want to get people that are often harder to reach – like younger people,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein hopes people who use community facilities will see it, ask questions and take an interest. It nabs a different crowd from the more formal open houses or public engagements.

Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said she’s excited to see how My Idea Stations work. It’s a continuation of the iterative process as the LAPs evolve, she said.

“I think that there’s something to be said about novelty and the way that we capture people’s interest,” Penner said.

Many of the communities in Coun. Penner’s ward are in the Heritage Communities LAP.

Teresa Tousignant, planning committee chair with the Haysboro Community Association, said it’s a good, non-electronic opportunity for people to share their thoughts.

“I enjoy this little library idea – it’s a way to reach out to the community in a different way, to reach a new audience and encourage them to participate in the process,” she said.

“I personally hope the station will get people at the park/skating rink to talk about our neighbourhood and exchange ideas.”

Goldstein said the LFLs aren’t the only trick up their sleeve to bolster citizen engagement. One of the other ideas they’re tinkering with mimics the Speakers’ Corner model.

“We try to really think about this from a user perspective. Instead of it just being in one format,” Goldstein said.

“We wanted to try and get to people in a variety of different ways.”