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Connaught School street being re-imagined as temporary park space

Kids from the Beltline have been leading the way towards a safer, greener way to access one of their schools.

Grade 4 students from Connaught School worked with Sustainable Calgary to design a temporary woonerf that would make the Beltline more walkable and bikeable. They also worked with landscape architecture student Lucia Blanco to turn the students’ ideas into a workable plan that could be given to the city.

The project, which is under construction now, is part of Sustainable Calgary’s Stepping Towards a Greener Future Program. The organization is also working on projects in the communities of Martindale and Meridian.

“The idea is to work with kids as designers to create safe and active routes to school,” said Celia Lee, executive director for Sustainable Calgary.

“This particular project we envision will be in for five months, and then from there between us, the community, and the city, we can decide if this something we like and we want to keep,” she said.

The project has been funded by the federal government out of the Climate Awareness Fund.

“The idea is to ask ourselves how can we decrease our carbon footprint—we know that most kids around the world are experiencing a lot of climate anxiety—so it’s really important for them to know that solutions are possible and that they can be part of them.”

Tactical urbanism in the urban core

Currently a portion of 10 Street SW located next to the school's playground between the alleyway and 13 Avenue SW is closed to traffic.

Painting of the road surface began last weekend, and the students from Connaught School will help finish up that work on June 9.

Planters containing native grasses and pollinators are planned to be installed later this month.

The roadway will continue to be open to cyclists, and to pedestrians, but will be closed to cars.

Lee called the project ambitious, and far larger than the modest idea she first had for what could be implemented.

"I thought, you know, maybe we'll be implementing a curb bump out with a bench, and that was sort of as far as I went, and I think I should have known better," she said.

"When you're working with kids, and you're when you're working with, you know, landscape architecture students, you know, they will be satisfied with things that are kind of rote."

A rendering of what the 10 Street SW woonerf will look like when complete. SUSTAINABLE CALGARY

Improvements for the school, and the community

Among the things that the Grade 4 students wanted were less pollution when being dropped off or picked up at school, less chances of being hit by cars, and more community park space.

"In fact what we find with with these age groups is that, first of all they're really empathetic—they're not tied to the rules and norms that we've grown up with, and they're not cynical yet either—so they're just so excited to do this work," said Lee.

"Also the kids knew that the Beltline is low on park space, so they wanted to give back to their community as well."

Connaught worked with Ever Active Schools, which runs the Safe and Active Routes to Schools Program, to learn about the impacts of vehicles on the health and the environment.

The school wrote on a blog post in April about how the students designed their own play streets, allowing the kids to create what they thought would make for a great street.

"This is an exciting public space that our students have designed because they saw a clear need for increased safety and more park space in our community," wrote the school.

Lee laughed when describing how enthusiastic the Grade 4 students were. One of the more out of the box designs was to turn the space into a water park. But others asked to close down the street, which is precisely what is now happening.

"Here, the kids said, 'we actually just want to close down the street.' They actually asked for closing down three streets," said Lee.

With the end of school quickly approaching, the space will be open to be used by the wider community over the summertime.

Next Calgary will be on hand during the summertime to engage with the community to gather data about the effectiveness of the woonerf, in addition to leading some summer activities.

Connection to the community not novel, but delayed to Calgary

This type of transformation of roadways into more pedestrian and park space is not a novel concept world wide, although it has been rarer in Calgary.

Montreal created the Shared and Pedestrians Only Streets Programme in 2015 to help city boroughs transform city streets.

A Global Designing Cities Initiative document entitled Designing Streets for Kids outlined the objectives that citizens of that city had for engaging in the re-conceptualization of street spaces.

The motivations were similar to the current Connaught project, with emphasis being placed onto increasing walking space, activating social and play aspects, and creating spaces for plants and urban farming.

The document indicated that 95 per cent of people surveyed about the Montreal projects were satisfied with the results. Around 85 per cent of respondents said they visited the street more often afterwards.

The project also allowed for the students to become re-engaged with their community post-Covid.

Sustainable Calgary had hoped to engage Calgary's kids last year with the Stepping Towards a Greener Future Program. But they were dually hampered by public health measures during the school year, and then again by the smoke and extreme heat later in the summer.

"To me, it was really interesting to see we're doing this project because of climate change, and it's also being hampered by the effects of climate change," said Lee.

For more details on the street, and for other Sustainable Calgary projects involving students, see their website at sustainablecalgary.org.