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By: John

We are lucky to have two great interns with us for the summer – Patrick Aouad and Jean Roe. In one day last week, they designed an infographic, spray painted furniture, did urban design research, engaged the public, and set up our new public space. They should have a busy summer. We asked Patrick and Jean a few questions:

Tell us a bit about yourselves:

Patrick: I have always been passionate about people and city building. My curiosity has brought me to explore cities and urbanism in a variety of work and life experiences. In high school, I found interest in studying people and communities, cultures, economies and interactions and how they relate to the built and natural environments. I then became passionate about design and how it emotionally and behaviourally impacts humans, which prompted me to complete a two-month internship in a design firm based in Nantes, France. During this internship, I was able to follow real-time development of retail design and construction projects in a completely different socioeconomic and geographic context. This successfully combined my wide range of interests while working in the recipient city of the European Green Capital Award in 2013. I then began my undergraduate studies in urban planning at Concordia University, where I examined for my honours thesis how citizen involvement and tactical urbanism have reshaped the former working-class neighbourhood of Saint-Henri in Montréal. In my final year, I was involved in the Urban Planning Association as Vice President of Social Affairs where I coordinated the team in assembling five panelists from entirely different practices for the “Diversity in Planning” roundtable and networking event, which students found to be quite eye-opening. My never-ending curiosity then brought me to Calgary, where I am pursuing graduate studies in the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary, and now proudly working with Intelligent Futures as an intern and member of the League of Engagement.

Jean: Throughout the last four years of my Urban Studies degree (with a minor in business) at the University of Calgary, I have learned much about urbanism and entrepreneurialism. In 2015, I moved across the pond for a year to study at the University of Amsterdam, where, in the classroom, I learned about the (very impressive) Dutch way of city-building. Outside class, while biking along canals, I experienced the joys of lively public spaces and a dominant cycling culture. Having worked with sustainability focussed companies, such as REAP Business Association, U of C’s Office of Sustainability, and Sustainable Amsterdam, I have gained knowledge and understanding about the importance of creating and appreciating sustainable businesses, campuses and neighbourhoods.

Why were you interested in working at Intelligent Futures?

Patrick: What brought me to Intelligent Futures was their successful recipe in combining sustainability, engagement, design, strategy and urbanism. I joined IF after completing my thesis on participatory planning and saw their award-winning work and people-centric approach as a great extension to my quest.

Jean: As a born, raised and very engaged Calgarian, I’ve always been interested in working somewhere that enhances the lives of people in this city (and beyond) in meaningful and original ways. And I think that’s what drew me to Intelligent Futures. The significant intersection that IF finds themselves in — between sustainability, urbanism and engagement — is an important place to be. Plus, there’s something very special about working with really great people.

What aspects of city-building are you most interested in?

Patrick: While I am still exploring my plethora of city-related interests, I find most of my drive in design, engagement and community economic development, as they stimulate my thought process and make me think of why and how things work, and how to improve or challenge the status quo.

Jean: What fascinates me about city-building is understanding, acknowledging, and building all sorts of connections. That is, fostering relationships between individuals but also understanding connections on a larger scale — how is urban agriculture related to well-designed public space? How do transportation options relate to social equality? How can building neighbourly communities affect individual mental health and the global economy? How can we, as planners, citizens and professionals, understand these connections to create happier and more resilient cities?

What are some key lessons learned in your first few weeks at IF?

Patrick: One of the key lessons I’ve learned in my first few weeks at IF are how a collaborative work environment, just like a collaborative planning process, leads to increased productivity, innovative and outstanding end products. I’ve also learned that strategy is the most important aspect of any project, as it guides the vision and drives the entire design and decision-making process.

Jean: The key lessons so far have been:

1. Community engagement, when done properly, can be really fun (and effective).

2. IF’s projects are adaptable, creative and strategic because they are process-oriented, versus product-oriented.

3. There are a lot of acronyms in urban planning.

4. Never underestimate the power of the post-it note. 

5. My bike ride to work (downhill) is much quicker than my ride home.

Intelligent Futures is gearing up for a summer-long urban design experiment, alongside their colleagues at Blank Page Studio. Blank Page Studio, located on Kensington Crescent, is a creative and collaborative space, comprised of small innovative enterprises, from web developers and artists to urbanists and architects. Throughout the summer, the sidewalk space on the east side of the studio will transform into Blank Page Plaza, a dynamic and testable public place for passersby to play games, learn something new, or perhaps just sit down and stay awhile. This project will bring the collaboration and innovation that occurs in Blank Page Studio outdoors for the community to experience and enjoy.

Urban Field Testing

Temporary street design projects have been increasingly more popular over the past few years, with parklets taking over the streets of San Francisco and Vancouver, the book Tactical Urbanism getting swept off bookshelves all around the globe, and car-free, open street initiatives occurring more and more often in cities worldwide.

Short-term public interventions have the potential to create lasting, beneficial shifts within a city. By implementing quick and affordable changes, cities can prototype ideas and gain public feedback during the design process. Take Macon, Georgia as an example — in September 2016, an eight-mile long pop-up bike network was implemented. During this week long bike lane prototype, bicycle usage increased tenfold, demonstrating a demand for cycle paths. Permanent bike lanes have been built since the experiment and city policy in Macon now ensures that any roads being repaved must examine how bike lanes could be added to the existing structure.

First Intervention: The Moveable Chair

For our first intervention, we will create a pleasant place for people to sit and relax.  Public seating creates a useable, comfortable and pedestrian-oriented space, allowing folks to socialize, people-watch or just kick back and relax. Adding seating can be an easy and informal step to creating an active and lively space.

According to William H. Whyte, a late American urbanist and renowned people-observer, the best type of public seating is furniture that can move. Whyte considered the moveable chair “a wonderful invention” that provides people with choice: “a declaration of autonomy, to oneself, and rather satisfying.” Unlike fixed seats, moveable chairs give people the freedom to move closer or farther away from others, and follow or avoid the sun.

Watch this short clip from Whyte’s documentary “Social Life of Small Urban Places” to see how people in New York used chairs that move:

The risk of moveable furniture is that people may take the liberty of moving the chairs a bit too far away (perhaps onto their own patio or front yard at their house). We’re going to take a leap of faith and hope that our new furniture stays put without having to lock anything down. Stay tuned to hear about any thievery and what our next intervention will entail! Use the hashtag #blankpageplaza to follow the adventure on social media.

Urban Agriculture was a significant theme for Intelligent Futures (IF) in 2016. Early in the year, IF joined forces with North Carolina’s Community Food Lab to develop a customized Urban Agriculture Strategy for Strathcona County in central Alberta. The IF team worked closely with Strathcona staff for the better part of a year in a collaborative process that was responsive to community needs and emerging issues. The end result was a highly customized–and ultimately award-winning–strategy.

A key goal of the three-phase project was to ensure all citizens had a voice in the strategy development–from the general public to local agriculture experts. The project team spent several months speaking directly with community members to learn their priorities and concerns, all with the goal of a custom-made approach to urban agriculture that incorporated the vision of area residents. The consultation process was one of the largest ever undertaken in the County, including 3,824 participants who took part in 97 hours of face-to-face engagement, ultimately contributing 8,896 ideas that helped shape the strategy.

On June 18, 2017, all that hard work was recognized with an Award of Merit from the Alberta Professional Planners Institute (APPI). This is the fourth Intelligent Futures project to receive an award in the past two years. “We are grateful for the recognition of our work,” says John Lewis, Intelligent Futures’ president and founder. “A lot of this success is due to the company we keep. Working with enthusiastic clients like Strathcona County, who are committed to authentic engagement and innovative ideas enables us to do our best work. It’s an added bonus when the planning community recognizes that work, like the APPI has done.”

Community Food Lab was a key part of the project’s success, providing insight into urban agriculture initiatives across the globe. The Lab’s founder and principal, Erin Sullivan White, helped Strathcona explore the connections between urban agriculture and the larger community. “It’s a pleasure to see this project honored with an APPI award,” Erin says. “The County needs to be commended for the leadership they showed in the development of the strategy, which will hopefully inspire other communities to explore urban agriculture and the many benefits it can offer.”

One of the priorities for the project was the use of design thinking, with its focus on innovation and multi-disciplinary input. This approach prioritizes the creation of effective solutions that build stronger communities. At 116 pages, the Urban Agriculture Strategy includes three sections (overview, actionable strategy areas and process/implementation strategies). A wide range of local urban agriculture elements are included–from bee keeping to community gardens, and urban livestock to education programs. “The goal was to create a living document that can help provide direction across the community over the next 20 years,” John adds. The strategy area actions are designed to be implemented within three years, with a ‘review and reflect’ process taking place before the next cycle of action begins.

The Intelligent Futures team worked very closely with the County, making sure we had an eye on global innovations in urban agriculture while respecting the unique perspectives, factors and needs of the local community,” says Diana Wahlstrom, Senior Advisor of Agriculture Initiatives at Strathcona County. “The end result was a strategy that was helps achieve the goals for our Agriculture Master Plan, and defined actions which will help guide urban agriculture in Strathcona County for years to come.”

Check a video about the project below.