I recently had a chance to re-watch one of my favorite TED talks by Amanda Burden, former New York City chief city planner, titled “How Public Spaces Make Cities Work“. If you haven’t seen it, and have 18 minutes to spare, I recommend you check it out.
In it she talks about some of the public spaces she helped shape in New York City, from tiny pocket parks to the world famous Highline, and how these spaces in their own special way, make life better for New Yorkers. The closing statement of her talk summarizes her argument on the importance of public space to city living very well:
“Public space can change how you live in a city, how you feel about a city, whether you choose one city over another, and public space is one of the most important reasons why you stay in a city. I believe that a successful city is like a fabulous party. People stay because they are having a great time.”
Building better lives is a great way to think about the idea of placemaking, one of the many great buzz words in city building. Using Wikipedia’s commonly accepted definition:
“Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design, and management of public spaces…Placemaking is both a process and a philosophy.”
Essentially, it picks up where urban planning leaves off and focuses on the human interaction with space. As I am sure you can appreciate, by this definition, placemaking is part science and part art, therefore open to much debate and criticism. Like any great art piece, when done right, placemaking has the power to transform communities and therefore, in my opinion, the risk is worth the reward.
When we look at Calgary, we can see many great examples of placemaking, but I would argue none more notable than the East Village. Spanning from 3rd Street SE to the Elbow River and 9 Ave SE to the Bow River, this is truly a special nine-block area in downtown Calgary. From family-friendly tot lots to relaxing spaces to sit and enjoy the confluence of the rivers to an amazing urban island park, there is something for everyone, which is probably why it is always full of people.
If you haven’t had a chance to check out the East Village, I strongly encourage you to come spend an afternoon and experience what successful placemaking feels like. I promise you won’t be disappointed and I know it will help you fall a little more in love with our great city.