March 05, 2021 | Kathleen Renne
Making strides: City planners see shorter block lengths and interconnected grids as important features in walkable communities
Sanda Peric made a happy discovery since moving into her new condo, Vivace at West 85th, in Calgary's West Springs community.
"I basically don't need a car," said the 20-something of her first home purchase.
"I can go grocery shopping; I can get my nails done, all within walking distance. There are a ton of amenities nearby."
"West Springs is the perfect mix of suburban living with its sense of quiet and community and being close to the Core. I hop on the train, and I'm there in 10 minutes," said Peric, who takes the LRT to her job downtown.
While Peric and her partner, Anthony Iuliani, chose their 700-square foot condo primarily because of its location and because it accommodated their roughly $300-thousand budget, Peric says the community's walkability factor is "a huge advantage."
"Now that I'm here, I really appreciate it," said Peric, noting there are three coffee shops within a 10-minute walk from her residence and she goes to the local shopping complex several times a week.
"We can literally walk to the grocery store or meet up with friends at the pub. It's so convenient, and it makes your quality of life better, as you'll get out and enjoy these things if there's a destination in mind," she added.
City of Calgary planners Jordan Furness and Jill Sonego say having nearby amenities is an important component of creating walkable communities. "There are destinations, places to go, trails to walk around," said Furness.
"Having street and pedestrian networks with lots of connections, shorter block lengths and an interconnected grid network, these encourage walking and are things we push for," added Sonego.
Furness and Sonego say municipalities across North America are emphasizing walkable communities. And, they say, it's a trend that's community driven. Furness points to Calgary's Municipal Development Plan, which the City adopted in 2009.
"The process that led up to the creation of the new Municipal Development Plan found that people want communities that are walkable," explained Furness.
We can literally walk to the grocery store or meet up with friends at the pub. It's so convenient, and it makes your quality of life better, as you'll get out and enjoy these things if there's a destination in mind.
"We have strong policy direction to make walkable communities happen," said Sonego, noting that walkability was not always on Calgary's radar. "Up to the early 1990s, the City was not clued in to walkability. We thought neighbourhood cul-de-sacs were the way to go. We started to see a shift in thinking in the early 2000s, but it takes policy time to catch up."
As a result, cul-de-sacs are no longer permitted in new neighbourhoods.
Furness and Sonego say neighbourhood activity centres are another feature of walkable communities. A neighbourhood activity centre is a local community hub to which residents can walk, hang out and interact with others in the neighbourhood. Neighbourhood centres typically feature a few retail outlets such as small restaurants, coffee shops or convenience stores, which will also offer local entrepreneurs small-scale retail opportunities.
The City isn't necessarily trying to get rid of cars when they plan walkable communities.
"In the Municipal Development Plan, it still says a large percentage of trips will be done by car. But we want to provide opportunities to make it more convenient for people to cycle, take the transit, or walk," said Furness, noting that the benefits of walkable communities include those related to both health and the environment.
"It's about adding more choice to people's lives. It's not about getting people out of cars ... Now, you can make choices about getting around and feeling safe doing it," said Sonego.
One of the barriers to communities being totally inter-connected and walkable is the major thoroughfares that cut through them.
"Historically, we've carved up neighbourhoods with big roads," said Sonego. "Our new approach is to use roads to connect communities, by having the commercial located along the major road, rather than embedded within. This will help connect communities and make the overall approach more holistic."
And, Furness and Sonego say, developing walkable communities is not something reserved for the newest communities, or those awaiting development. Furness says similar principles and infrastructure (e.g. bike lanes) will be implemented in older, city centre areas as redevelopment happens.