In Conversation: Neighbourhoods and the Future of the Suburb

By: Design Talks (d.talks)

In May d.talks hosted “Let’s talk about…neighbourhoods,” a conversation exploring the relationship of built form with the potential for growth. Supported in part by the Alberta Real Estate Foundation and open to the public, the discussion fused perspectives on housing, urban design, planning, development and the social fabric of our neighbourhoods.

We wondered what role design might play in creating adaptability. What might the suburb 2.0 look like?

Calgary is a collection of neighbourhoods. What Calgary’s streetcar in the early 1900s and today’s LRT system allow is the opportunity to define neighbourhoods with multiple kinds of mobility in mind. We wondered how urban habitat might evolve and how everyday errands might be done differently in a future suburb.

June Williamson—author of Designing Suburban Futures as well as co-author of Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs—showed the significant role design plays in “bettering” existing built form. Jamal Ramjohn, the Manager of Community Planning at The City of Calgary, surveyed the evolution of community form. Over six decades there is a return to rethinking the grid.

The relationship of policy and design was explored. Susanne Schindler, in sharing a multi-year research project called House Housing: An Untimely History of Real Estate, identified how housing alternatives are shaped. And sharing a Zurich cooperative housing example that blends micro-units, cluster-living, mixed income and seniors…what opportunities might allow housing to align with lifestyle changes over time?

Grace Lui, Senior Manager of Strategic Initiatives at Brookfield Residential, brought observations on livability indexing and the opportunity to transform single-use institutions like schools or libraries with shared-use alternatives. Urban Sociologist Jyoti Gondek, the Director of the Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business, deepened the definition of a suburb. Communities in Calgary’s Northeast are flush with multi-generational families, forcing a re-think on the scale of some single family homes. What if density were defined as persons per unit instead of households per acre?

We heard: design nimbly and revitalize vacancy with alternative uses. Reconnect individuals with community and consider sharing. Today we lease phones and share cars, what will tomorrow’s generation of residents be sharing? A question from the audience asked how backyards might become shared laneway between homes. For now, the future is open with room for alternatives to emerge over time.

For more information on other d.talks events please visit: dtalks.org.