Jan 30, 2014

Taking it to the Streets: Baconfest Week 4

Graffiti alley in Baltimore.
The folks of YYC never cease to amaze. On the heels of another winter storm, another 200+ crowd at the weekly Baconfest film festival showing. No place I have ever worked generated this much interest in pioneering planning films. We are excited and energized by the interest people are showing and tonight generated our most engaged dialogue of the four showings.

To get things started we held up some photos.  The first photo was my favourite "street", graffiti alley in Baltimore, a three dimensional cornucopia of the best graffiti on the planet, challenging everyone to think about streets as places of energy and creativity. Then I held up a photo of Chinatown in Toronto followed by a picture I shot in Paris a few years ago of a street performer. 



My point? Streets cannot be designed for vibrancy. They evolve to this point. Chinatown in Toronto is an old broken sidewalk filled with fruit and vegetable stands spilling out into the public sidewalk. It works, and it works as one of the most vibrant places in the country.  It works because it has evolved into a place of commerce, social interaction, culture and fascination. No city design project could ever replicate the success. We were making the point that the trend  to "complete streets", streets with wide sidewalks, bike lanes and places for parking and cars, is the over thinking of planners in their attempt to create the spaces that far better evolve within current constraints, just like YYZ's Chinatown.

Chinatown, Toronto
 Starting with the Contested Streets film, New York, Copenhagen, Paris and London were highlighted for innovative projects dealing with street design and traffic. In the question period afterward some key points emerged.

First, the then Mayor of Copenhagen advised other cities to identify "what matters” - translation, what as a city, do we want to achieve? He added, do not try to achieve this all at once. The example was the bike lanes that have proved so successful in that city. The success took 30 to 40 years and the payoff has been huge.

In comparison to YYC, the audience identified that there is resistance, people thinking it reduces traffic flow. However, clearly the video highlighted the other cities experience that traffic flow can be actually be enhanced, while making streets better places for pedestrians, cyclists and public transit.

We challenged the audience to think about what the "big idea" is for YYC.  Most responses focused on regional growth patterns and what the city would look like in 40 years.  The discussion linked back to the important initiatives Council has asked us to undertake, primarily the corridor study.

In that time frame, we can see our corridors emerging as centres of neighbourhood focus / activity.  Corridors meeting the challenges of our cities need to generate local services and housing options not only for our current residents as they age, but for the so many, the 30,000 coming every year. We talked about the real potential of the City. Yes the Beltline, Mission (where I have just moved), Bridgeland and Kensington, have all seen rapid densification, all to the long term benefit of the city. Yet the potential of our corridors exceeds all this. The potential, with a change to the Building Code to allow six floor wood construction, could be just the administrative change needed at the province, to shift the entire economic and community building environment from one of thought, to reality.

4 Storey wood construction in Mission, where 6 floors through a building code change would have brought more people and services to the neighbourhood.
 The audience clearly seeks ideas and involvement. The energy and commitment from all who attended, is encouraging and validates staff efforts to bring thought provoking ideas to our residents.


But we only succeed if many people choose to become engaged beyond watching the films. This is why we have created the Yyc neighbourhood initiative, which includes our 1,000 friends of YYC campaign. We want 1,000 people to sign up and let us knowthey want to be a part of positive change. Be a part of determining how this city will grow.

The film festival is overwhelmingly successful.  You have shown your commitment to the future of YYC.  Help us decide the next "event" to bring people together and help us define the dialogue and actions to keep people engaged in determining the future of our city and region.


Remember there are no films next week as I travel to Portland to talk about growing positive change through infill development, but Baconfest will return on February 12 so please come out. And please sign up to be one ofour thousand friends, and help us shape the future of our city and region.

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