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Next Calgary looking for suggestions for pop-up planters and benches

When Calgarians hear the phrase “tactical urbanism,” bright pink benches and pop-up planters might not be the first image that comes to mind.

But for Next Calgary, tactical urbanism is all about finding ways to make small, low-cost, and impactful changes to public spaces.

The bright pink colour only serves to highlight areas that need a little more attention from the city.

“The idea is to come in and introduce benches that we can make out of pallet wood for a low cost, or to bring in planters that we can make out of pallet wood and found objects, just to show that these places can become beautiful,” said Becky Poschmann, project lead for the tactical urbanism team at Next Calgary.

The benches and planters are meant to be temporary for a season, at most. Yet, at the cost of $10 for a bench—including pink paint—it offers up an opportunity for Calgarians to experiment with their park spaces.

“It just shows the city that if you can install a bench for X number of dollars, it’s going to get used. This is what’s missing in that space for people to truly enjoy these public green spaces that we have,” said Poschmann.

She said that a permanent bench meant to last for more than the summer, costs the City of Calgary around $5,000 to install.

Getting conversations going about where to place amenities

One of the ways that the tactical urbanism team is engaging with Calgarians is through the use of a gigantic city map.

On Saturday, during a pop-up event at Historic Fire Hall No. 1, visitors were invited to add to the map using sticky notes. These notes were then used by the Next Calgary team to identify where and what sort of amenities Calgarians wanted throughout the city.

"It's to get people in the community invested in their spaces, and to have them take a little bit of ownership in their public spaces as well," said Poschmann.

An example she used was the temporary installation of bike lanes along 12 Avenue which then became permanent. That began as an experiment in tactical urbanism.

This summer, the team is scaling it back to "itty bitty things that don't require that investment."

Next Calgary had some successes last summer with temporary installations, and is looking to grow the impact again this year. Last year, the tactical urbanism team installed planters along Elbow Drive, placed googly eyes throughout the city, put temporary two-week wishing wells in communities, and installed wandering pink adirondack chairs.

An example of a low cost bench designed for tactical urban engagements at park spaces in Calgary, at Historic Fire Hall No. 1 in Calgary on Saturday, March 26, 2022. The bench will be painted pink before installation. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Not waiting for the next big project

Poschmann said that ideally Next Calgary would work directly with communities and community members on where to place the benches and planters.

But, she said, the team is soliciting suggestions from all Calgarians. For those who missed the gigantic city map downtown on Saturday, the team has an online map where people can make suggestions.

"If we get some good ideas through this, then we would be making the benches ourselves, and then we'd go place them in that public location," she said.

"It's about connecting people, collaborating—Next Calgary is all about co-creation."

Next Calgary is hosted by the University of Calgary and the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape as a platform for co-creation.

She said that it was about working together now towards creating a better city, instead of waiting for a big city or developer-led project to make changes.

"We as citizens and taxpayers of this great city need to reinvest in our communities, and to really start working together as neighbourhood folk," said Poschmann.

An example of a low cost planter designed for tactical urban engagements at park spaces in Calgary, at Historic Fire Hall No. 1 in Calgary on Saturday, March 26, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY