Who is Matt Knapik?
Matt has worked with Active Neighbourhoods Calgary for the past year helping to develop a design process that will encourage improvements for walking and cycling in Bridgeland. Matt has degrees in Architecture and Urban Design from the University of Calgary, which he puts to use at his studio, called kilometre. In his spare time he co-hosts a radio show called Charmer’s Almanac, which runs every other Thursday from 7-9 am on CJSW 90.9.
Creating more ecologically-integrated neighbourhoods is Matt’s Thing
Built and natural environments are systems that we often think of as separate. However, Matt says that natural and human systems cross over and depend on each other, and, depending on how we arrange these systems, their interactions can cause problems (think: floods destroying bridges) or be positive (think: parks attracting bees to pollinate flowers).
These interactions happen on different levels. In Banff National Park, green bridges are helping wildlife cross the highway, creating both healthier natural systems and safer highways. In a similar sense, patches of native plants in the city can help attract song-birds, bugs and nutrients back into cities. Our backyard and patio gardens simply wouldn’t work if they were cut off from the birds and the bees.
There are different approaches that city-builders have used to organize the built and natural environments;
1) People conquer nature. This method really arrived in Canada with the European settlers, and there are still signs of this in a lot of our city planning. For instance, we still treat rainwater as a problem to solve, rather than an asset – most of our storm-water systems are based on the idea that water should be managed, directed, channeled.
2) Nature should be preserved and protected from humans. Throughout the 1900s, city-builders realized the value of natural spaces. The idea was that development ‘wrecks’ nature, and so we should conserve natural spaces by creating parks and reserves. Although this approach is very important, it means we think and act as though nature can only work when it’s left alone.
3) When Integrated Properly, humans and nature can both benefit. This model focuses on the ways that human and natural systems can work together to produce new and productive environments. This is where Matt’s thinking lands.
How Can We Design Cities Where Human and Natural Systems Coexist?
There are many things that we try to do for our urban environments that nature does better – and for free. High-quality green space in cities helps clean our air and water, regulate temperature, and keeps pests under control. We could approach these problems with technical solutions, but natural spaces can achieve all of this while also providing cultural and recreational spaces for citizens.
A recent example of this comes from New York City. They chose to invest $1.5 billion to preserve wetlands surrounding the city, saving $8-10 billion on the cost of a water treatment plant. Calgarians can use a similar approach on a much smaller scale: why pay for drinking water for your lawn when you can capture rainwater from your roof? Check out more stories like this in our Nature and Cities Blog post.
How Does Active Transportation Fit Into All of This?
Matt believes that one of the best ways to reshape our city and build healthy urban environments is to link existing green spaces with green corridors. These corridors would create healthier, more connected spaces for wildlife, vegetation and water to move throughout the city. This kind of strategy also produces routes for active transportation. Green corridors would not only connect wildlife, water flow, and drainage areas, they would also connect pedestrians and cyclists throughout the city.
Matt sees a big opportunity in the city’s ring road. Because the ring road is designed to be an uninterrupted corridor for vehicles, it provides a great opportunity to develop an uninterrupted green corridor for people and wildlife.
How Do We Design Calgary’s Human and Natural Systems to Work Together?
So let’s get the bad news over first; many of Calgary’s prime natural routes (like rivers and coulees) are currently filled with roads and many of our green spaces do not connect, meaning that we have created fragments that disrupt the flow of natural space.
Now the good news; Matt believes there is a great deal of opportunity in our city to reconnect natural systems and still have existing human networks. Matt actually sees some of the best opportunities in Calgary’s outer suburbs; their large green spaces and non-gridded streets would be easy to renovate.
The Take Away Points
Matt’s two take away points are;
1) Connect Green Spaces. In your neighbourhood, work to connect your public and private green spaces to one another and to the surrounding waterways and natural spaces.
2) Think about nature in the city differently. Parks, plants, creeks and ponds are not ‘things’ that we can just place anywhere in the city like Lego. When thinking about these elements, we need to consider how they fit into our city’s existing natural systems.
You can follow Matt at @mpkna