What is an Active Neighbourhood? Opinion Piece 3/3
photo courtesy of Mark Dreger from San Francisco-ize
An active Neighbourhood promotes physical activity and involves residents in community activities or causes. I have described what I think this means in terms of community parks, but how can this idea of “the active neighbourhood” translate into public spaces residents are obligated to use everyday? Community parks are exceedingly important to a person’s physical, social and emotional well-being, however, if a park does not meet a community’s needs, residents will choose to use the park less or avoid it altogether. Streets, on the other hand, cannot be as easily avoided.
The average Canadian spends 51 minutes each day on our streets commuting to and from work. The average Canadian also goes grocery shopping 2.2 times per week, driving about 11 minutes each way. So in total, each week we spend 5 hours and 3 minutes on streets, in our cars. If you were to spend 5 hours and 3 minutes a week in one place, wouldn’t you want it to be a stimulating, pleasant place to be? Why is it that we put so much time and thought into making our homes, schools and workplaces interesting and enjoyable places to spend time, but we do not hold our streets to the same standards?
So, I think in order to create an Active Neighbourhood, we need to focus on making our streets more stimulating, exciting places to spend time. We need to create streets where people can socially interact and be physically active rather than just travel through.
photo courtesy of Mark Dreger from San Francisco-ize
What kind of street do people like to spend time on?
Back in the 1950s an iconic woman named Jane Jacobs wrote a groundbreaking book about the importance of livable, walkable streets. However, since the 1980s, little attention has been placed on designing livable streets. In fact planners have focused on designing the antithesis of walkable streets; long winding highways going through and circling city centres. In the last few years, walkable streets have come back in style, and more research is being done on the assets that make a street livable. The City of Calgary Transportation and Municipal Development department has now made it their priority to improvethe livability of Calgary’s streets through their Complete Streets Plan. According to this plan, these are the aspects needed to make a street more livable;
1) Trees and greenery
Trees and greenery serve a number of purposes on streets. Firstly, they improve perceived safety. Studies have shown that pedestrians and cyclists feel more safe and comfortable walking and cycling on streets lined with trees and plants. Trees and plants also visually narrow the street, which leads to reductions in vehicle speed. Secondly, they provide areas for snow storage in the winter and help to prevent erosion and flooding during the spring and summer by storing water run-off.
2) Wide, multi-use sidewalks and multiple crosswalks
One of the City of Calgary Complete Streets’ objectives is to provide transportation options for people of all ages, physical abilities and income levels. Increasing the width of the sidewalks and the number of street crossings allows people in wheelchairs, people pushing strollers and families with small children to use the sidewalk and cross the street more safely and comfortably.
3) Patios, benches and bike racks
By providing space for people to spend time on our streets rather than simply travel through these streets, we can increase civic space and encourage more social interaction while also enhancing safety and security. Studies have proven that people perceive streets as being safer when there are more people spending longer periods of time on streets, so by increasing the number of patios, benches and bike racks, we may also be increasing the safety of our streets.
4) Sheltered bus stops and buslanes
Using city transit in Calgary is usually considered a fringe activity, which doesn’t make a lot of sense because $346 million, or 15% of taxes collected by the city from residents like us, go to city transit. In order to increase citizens’ use of city transportation, the city needs to increase the efficiency of the system, however, we also need to make it easier for people to find and use our buses and c-train. We need better signage for bus stops, covered, comfortable bus shelters, and more designated bus lanes so transit trips can be made faster and affect the flow of traffic less.
5) Travel lanes for vehicles, parking and signage
As of now, cars have priority on our streets, and although the Complete Street model attempts to refocus attention onto other aspects of the street, cars are still understood as being essential parts of a street. Parking, well-paved lanes and good signage is necessary for a truly complete street.
6) Businesses, homes and good lighting
Lastly, streets can promote the economic well being of both businesses and residents by providing space for businesses and residential areas to be built together. By constructing buildings with the first floor dedicated to small businesses and the top floors dedicated to condos or apartments, the businesses work to serve the local community –those living above them – and the local community works to keep their local businesses thriving. Incorporating businesses, homes and good lighting into a street also allows for the street to be used by the community during all times of the day, which increases security in the area. Business owners and clients watch over the streets during the day, and residents watch over the street in the evenings and on weekends.
2014 Complete Streets Guide. City of Calgary <http://www.calgary.ca/Transportation/TP/Documents/Planning/Calgary-Transportation-Plan/Complete-Streets-Guide-2014.pdf>
2008 Masterindex Report: Checking out the Canadian Grocery Shopping Experience. MasterCard Worldwide. <http://www.mastercard.com/ca/wce/PDF/TRANSACTOR_REPORT_E.pdf>
Approved Business Plans and Budgets 2012-2014. Calgary City Transportation. <http://www.calgary.ca/_layouts/cocis/DirectDownload.aspx?target=http%3a%2f%2fwww.calgary.ca%2fCA%2ffs%2fDocuments%2fPlans-Budgets-and-Financial-Reports%2fBusiness-Plans-and-Budgets-2012-2014%2fApproved%2fBusiness-Plans-Budgets-2012-2014-Approved-T
Kate Beck is an aspiring urban planner who is passionate about streets, social justice, bicycles and rock climbing. She spent the summer helping to connect Active Neighbourhoods with the Bridgeland community. She has recently finished a degree in geography at University of British Columbia in Vancouver.