May 26, 2014

Designing a better way to shop

Posted By Lothar Wiwjorra

Shopping over the holidays was definitely not my favourite activity, but I’ll admit that this year I enjoyed it a little more than usual. You see, I’ve been working on The City’s new design guidelines for large commercial sites and the holidays gave me a chance to experience first-hand what makes a shopping area a great place to visit during the busiest season.

When I think about the places I like to shop, there are a few common themes. I like places where I can easily go from store to store without having to move my car. I also like shopping areas with an inviting character, many different services, and a good variety of stores. And of course, it is always nice if I can walk or ride my bike from my house or office to the places I go for my day-to-day needs.

There are many places in Calgary that meet these criteria for me, but the recently-built Aspen Landing on the west end of the city is probably one of the best examples that comes to mind. Like most large commercial sites, Aspen Landing has a couple of large chain stores with smaller stores and services built around them.

But instead of the typical layout of putting a large parking lot in the middle of the site with stores scattered around the perimeter, Aspen Landing has put its parking underground and in clusters near the property edges so the stores could be built together as a small village in the middle of the site. This layout gives the area a unique feel and makes it easy to browse the stores and services available in the two-level shopping area, without people having to move their cars or walk across a busy parking lot.

I am also looking forward to another exciting project that is being planned in Calgary’s new community of Seton. A local developer is planning to build a shopping area that looks like the main street of a large city, except it is out in the suburbs. The street will be lined with a mix of shops and cafes with six-storey residential and commercial buildings on top. This is not only a very efficient way to use the land but it also gives the area a special feel that will make people want to stay there for hours.

These examples are exactly the type of large commercial developments that are called for in The City’s Municipal Development Plan, which the design guidelines we are working on will support. The guidelines will focus on making large commercial sites easier to access from the nearby community, making parking areas more compact so stores are not separated by a sea of asphalt, and making sure we are using the land these sites are on as efficiently as possible so that municipal services and infrastructure will be financially sustainable well into the future.

Hopefully the work we are doing will lead to even more shopping areas in Calgary as inviting as Aspen Landing and Seton!

Lothar Wiwjorra is a Senior Planner with The City of Calgary’s Planning, Development & Assessment department who specializes in urban design. 

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