An innovative new public space will soon be complete on the city’s beloved uptown 17th Avenue. The transformation of a long-neglected corner on 17th Avenue and 5a Street SW broke ground last fall and the finishing touches – seating! – can be expected this spring/summer.
The Bench Project - a local community group comprised of young planners and designers - championed the project, in partnership with the Cliff Bungalow-Mission Community Association. In 2017, the citizen-driven initiative successfully obtained funding through the Council Innovation Fund due to its unique approach to creating public space in a dense neighbourhood where land can be prohibitively expensive to acquire.
The Bench Project and the Cliff Bungalow-Mission Community Association saw an invaluable opportunity to retrofit a gravel-filled space on this corner, located next to Western Canada High School, for the benefit of a community. While Calgary has a significant amount of park and patio space, the city lacks free spaces for people to linger and observe public life on the street. Members of The Bench Project subscribe to the viewpoint of well-known urbanist William Whyte, who pointed out, ‘What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people.’ When accessible, affordable communal spaces are located along busy pedestrian corridors, chance encounters with neighbours and friends become more likely. As a result, communities are strengthened, becoming more connected and more resilient.
The plan was conceived four years ago. ‘From the beginning, the Calgary Board of Education and Western Canada High School have been on board, recognizing this as a unique opportunity for both students and the street. We have been blown away by how much support they have shown for this project’, notes Kate Zago, a founding member of The Bench Project and Board Member of the Cliff Bungalow-Mission Community Association. In addition to the CBE and Western, The Bench Project was grateful to receive support from the 17th Avenue Business Revitalization Zone (BRZ), which has generously agreed to assist with maintenance, and the Calgary Parks Foundation who contributed additional capital to the ensure the full project design could be realized. Zago further notes that, ‘this project wouldn’t have been possible without the endless hours and resources provided by so many different community groups, local organizations and institutions. It really demonstrates how lucky we are to call this city our home.’
Numerous engagement sessions with community members and Western Canada High School students informed and shaped the design for the 17th Avenue Pocket Square. A number of students – the Grade 12 art class - even had a hand in the project, creating a mural with the help of Daniel Kirk, a local artist. ‘Involving the community and students has been an important component of the project for us,’ says Kate Zago. “We want to ensure the space responds to the needs of the local community as well as the city at large. As it exists today, 17th Avenue SW acts as a meeting grounds for all Calgarians, and this small but powerful project strives to ensure this legacy continues for decades to come.”
An opening celebration will be held on June 27. Check the events page for details.