Project Story

ActivateYYC Launches Placemaking Workshop in Calgary

April 25, 2024
Participants attend the Placemaking Workshop in Calgary hosted by Activate YYC. Photo by Will Kricken

This story was written by Adam Schwartz of ActivateYYC, a community focused tactical urbanism program offering grants, resources, and education to turn space into place. Created in 2017 by the Federation of Calgary Communities, the program has since reached every quadrant of the city and established itself as a reliable and supportive tool for the needs of Calgarians seeking aid in placemaking initiatives.

ActivateYYC Placemaking Workshop: Building Face-to-Face Connections in Calgary

By: Adam Schwartz

On March 23rd, ActivateYYC hosted its first ever Placemaking Workshop at the Contemporary Calgary Art Gallery in Calgary, AB. Over 40 attendees trekked through a fresh dump of snow to form a group made up of past ActivateYYC project leaders, aspiring placemakers, university students, and community members looking to learn more about the topic of placemaking.

ActivateYYC was thrilled to partner with Canada Healthy Communities Initiative (CHCI), who helped fund the event. Both groups understand the value of creating spaces for people to meet face-to-face and connect on the process of placemaking. A crucial element of this workshop was the in-person format, and the opportunities for physical interactions that can often create longer lasting connections.

As attendees filtered in, they were met with a warm cup of coffee and some baked goods and ran through what we termed the “Engagement Gauntlet” which was a series of interactive bulletin boards with a variety of quick and easy prompts to gain information on the group, as well as gather some material for the group activity later.

The hope for this workshop was to create a place to share knowledge, information, and resources to create more inclusive and vibrant public space in communities.

The formal workshop program began with an overview and history of the ActivateYYC program, and its connection to its operating organization, the Federation of Calgary Communities. The Federation is comprised of over 240 member organizations, the majority of which are community associations that tackle placemaking projects on a regular basis. The introduction also covered definitions of tactical urbanism and placemaking, and discussed some of the incredible projects and communities ActivateYYC has been able to fund over the years.

Once the group had settled into the terminology and understood how placemaking has grown in our city, we were able to present the terrific work of Happy Cities and the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative, and the Power of Placemaking Research. The Research Snapshots, shared as part of the Power of Placemaking project, have made an immediate impact on the ActivateYYC program, as we have been able to include them in funding applications, project proposals, and generally share them with member organizations to prove the benefits of pursuing placemaking projects. These snapshots are easy to absorb in the way they are formatted, and regardless of the topic of a placemaking project, a group can find evidence to support their objectives whether it be traffic calming, supporting a local economy, or creating more inclusive public space in their neighbourhoods.  

Participants at the YYC Placemaking Workshop in CalgaryPlacemakers exchange ideas at the workshop. Photo by Will Kricken.

As to how to use these research snapshots, the recommendations ActivateYYC made to the group were to:

  • Use them in applications, board proposals, gaining community buy-in, etc.
  • Reflect the data onto their community, i.e. “What would my neighbourhood look like if 33% more kids walked to school?”
  • Share the research with others, making sure that this is a resource that is open and available.
  • And, propose to community members that they too could track outcomes themselves– whether it be road speeds, collisions, shade coverage, or park usage before and after–to really gauge the impact of their individual project on the landscape of their neighbourhood.

Hearing these stories of placemaking allowed the audience to connect the Power of Placemaking research snapshots to real life local scenarios, and allowed our group to visualize how these projects would be able to impact their own streets and neighbourhoods.

Following the Power of Placemaking Overview, the audience was presented with a micro “TED talk” portion of the workshop. We had three groups present projects, all with different topics and scales.

The first group was a CHCI-connected project from the Shawnee-Evergreen Community Association (SECA), presented by Lynn Jobe and Zach Manntai. This group spent the summer of 2023 creating the SECA Chair Project, transforming their suburban neighbourhood with 100 blue plastic Adirondack chairs. These chairs, as cheap and cheerful as they were, had a massive impact on the connectedness of their neighbourhood. Some incredible stories were captured in the project, including new playmates, safer parks, and increased community volunteerism at SECA.

Activate YYC Placemaking Workshop materials in CalgaryPhoto by Will Kricken.

The second presenter was Luli Morar, who was the lead designer of a pop-up plaza in the parking lot of a senior’s residence. She created a beautiful space in response to the request from seniors that they “just want to sit and watch community life happen”. Since then, this parking lot has seen basketball games, dance parties, bike lessons and even a pop-up Christmas village!

Finally, Srimal Ranasinghe presented on a traffic calming project in front of two schools in NE Calgary. His group, Sustainable Calgary, is a major player in the placemaking movement in our city, and this project transformed traffic calming into a highly engaging and community building process.

For the final portion of the event, the group of 40 was split into 9 groups, and asked to create a placemaking project on a random site, using a random object, with a random budget (with all the randomized elements being collected from the audience using the ‘engagement gauntlet’ as they entered the workshop). After 20 minutes, groups were asked to share their placemaking project ideas, and this highly creative group did not disappoint. Ping-Pong Pallooza, a cowboy hat parkade, giant swings downtown, buffalo sculpture scavenger hunts, and a 20-person patio swing, were just SOME of the ideas that came out of the brainstorm session.

The importance of gathering in person is clear. Yes, in-person events are more expensive, time consuming, and take a bit more planning. But being able to meet fellow Calgarians face-to-face for the first time, and dream about a better city is something that ActivateYYC was thrilled to be able to facilitate, and with the support of CHCI we hope we can continue to establish a highly engaged network of placemakers in our city.

Photo by Will Kricken.

Learn more about ActivateYYC’s grants and projects on their website.