Oct. 11, 2019

Transforming a neighbourhood starts with a team

Alumna Kate Thompson shares her vision for energizing communities with School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape audience

Calgary wouldn’t be where it is today, having such vibrant communities and thriving culture, without thinking critically using design, said Calgary architect Kate Thompson in her Oct. 2 Design Matters lecture.

Thompson, MArch’02, said the lessons she’s learned as VP of Development for the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) can be carried into any project. Her work on the Rivers District Master Plan (RDMP) includes the neighbourhoods of East Village and Victoria Park, St. George’s Island, and Stampede grounds.

Thompson said the success of her projects is because of “corporation” — not in the sense of a legal group but in the sense of co-operation. It’s the importance of teamwork, collaboration, unification and cohesiveness to form a team of individuals to transform a community and a neighbourhood.

Oxford Dictionary describes a corporation as “a group of people to act as a single entity to govern a city, town, or borough” — and Thompson said that is exactly what CMLC is and what they are doing in our city with the Rivers District. CMLC was created as a corporation of individuals to be able to take ownership of the area and make positive change.

  • Photo above: Artist rendering of Stampede Trail in Victoria Park. Photo courtesy Calgary Municipal Land Corporation
Kate Thompson provides an overview of the East Village Redevelopment

Kate Thompson provides an overview of the East Village Redevelopment.

Alexander Mayhew, for School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape

“Design is part of everything we [CMLC] do, and it’s how change happens in our community,” she said. “Design is part of how we communicate an idea. It’s part of how ideas are shared and getting groups and organizations on board. Design is about looking at the current problem, thinking about a solution and coming up with an answer to future problems.”

Thompson said design is about making connections, thinking of new ways to bring people together and how to re-stitch the Rivers District back into the urban fabric of the downtown core. It’s also about building a dynamic team that fits each individual project. Having the right people on the team creates an environment for creativity and exploration.

“Who wants to be on the team is just as important as who’s chosen to be on the team,” she said. “The right team sometimes begins by asking the hard questions and questioning the current standards of a good solution to create a better solution.”

East Village was just the beginning of a bigger project looking to revitalize Victoria Park and reconnect the Stampede grounds with downtown, transforming Calgary's eastern downtown edge. Part city planner and part private developer, CMLC was tasked to put in the initial site remediation investment to allow for future development. This would include a raised topography to combat future flooding, and laying new electrical, network and plumbing services into the land to accommodate 11,000 new residents.

The corporation created a Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) into the Rivers District Property Tax to gain the necessary funds to support the necessary infrastructure, including the 4th Street underpass and the St. George’s Island pedestrian bridge. With new infrastructure, new vehicular and pedestrian connections, the neighbourhood was ready to invite national and international interest to build developments and draw new residents into the community.

As projects popped up over time, new and emerging challenges developed. They pushed for different types of projects and amenities to be included in the master plan including a community garden, parkette and dog park. East Village, although still growing and emerging, been recognized as a transit-oriented development in the making by Broadway Malyan in their book Creating Future Cities and Communities.

She said the challenge isn’t about the project at hand, but about building a corporation of individuals who are ready to tackle the challenges of the project head-on. They must be a team that is able to use effective design strategies to get the project enough traction to bring the right stakeholders on board to get a project moving.

With enough motivation, energy and passion any project can get in motion, Thompson said. Through design, we can create change and impact thousands of lives hopefully for the better.

The work Thompson has done so far in East Village is just a taste of what is to come for the future of the Rivers District Master Plan.

Find out about upcoming Design Matters lectures.