Activity Report: Active Neighbourhoods

Celia Lee, Project Lead Facilitator for Active Neighbourhoods, reports on the project’s status and how we’ll be selecting and working with our chosen communities. 

We’ve been hearing a lot about Active Neighbourhoods and what they mean; can you tell me about the main goal of the Active Neighbourhoods Project?
We’ll be working with communities to help them implement a project – some kind of physical change to their neighbourhood – that makes cycling and walking easier and more enjoyable.

Have you chosen a community yet?
Right now we’re working with our Advisory Committee and with communities to find out which communities meet our criteria, and which ones are interested.  I think we’re pretty close to selecting our first few communities, which is really exciting, and we’ll definitely post an update when it’s official.

What kinds of criteria do you have for selecting communities?
We’re mandated to work with economically and/or culturally diverse neighbourhoods.  The main reason is based on research found by our Montreal partners, showing that lower income and new immigrant areas are comparatively underserved when it comes to infrastructure for cycling and walking.  We also want to work with neighbourhoods that are interested in active transportation.  And lastly, we want to work with communities that currently have the capacity to engage citizens, so we can hit the ground running with this pilot project.  What we learn through our four chosen communities can hopefully then be applied in other neighbourhoods.

How will you work with communities?
We might start with group walks or simple mapping activities to get people talking about their communities. Once we’re formally working with a community, we want to keep these conversation going, and focus them towards some action. We’ll get a sense of the best places to cycle, the scariest places to cross the road, the places with the heaviest car traffic, and the places with the most foot traffic – a process we call “community mapping”.  From there, we’ll provide strategies to help communities identify areas of need, prioritize them, develop design options, and choose one design change to start with.  The idea, basically, is to flesh out how residents use and enjoy their neighbourhoods, and how could they make them even better.

How significant are the changes these communities would make?
It really depends on the community – on what they would like and on the opportunities available to them.  For this project we generally encourage starting with interventions that are achievable in the short – medium term, with the idea that if we can prove success with participative planning on smaller projects, we can then scale up.  Extending the curb in a school zone, for example, and planting a garden within it, was one change successfully implemented in a similar project in Montreal.  Some communities may have opportunities to engage in larger projects, however, particularly if they are slated for major development or repairs.

Lee has been "actively transporting" from an early age.

Lee has been “actively transporting” from an early age.

What are you most excited about in this project?
I really like the scale of this project – it feels achievable, while having the potential to build momentum for active transportation and participatory planning at a broader scale.  Like other pilots I suppose, there’s room for experimentation with manageable risk, and we’ll be able to learn from our work in our first communities and apply it to the next communities. From a personal perspective, I’m excited to spend more time cycling and getting to know the city.

Celia Lee is the Project Lead Facilitator for Active Neighbourhoods. One half of Community Matters Consulting, she’s also worked for Vibrant Communities Calgary and holds a Master of Environmental Design with a specialization in Social/Environmental Sustainability, Economics, Design. 

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