How can a sheet of plywood, black acrylic markers, and a stack of colourful stickers help us understand what makes a neighbourhood great?

Kensington Village, located in northwest Calgary, is one of Calgary’s most vibrant areas. One can grab a coffee, bump into an old friend, pick up some groceries, and spot a beaver swimming up the Bow River all in one trip.

People can also drop by Blank Page Plaza, an urban design experiment, evolving bi-weekly, that was created by our team at Intelligent Futures. We designed the plaza to be a place where people can gather, have fun and strike up conversations.  For our most recent intervention, we focussed on facilitating conversation.

We wanted to hear what people love most about Kensington. Where is everyone’s favourite spot and how are these places related to our understanding of what makes a great neighbourhood?

To get started on our intervention, we needed the supplies mentioned (plywood, markers and stickers) plus:

  • 1 spray can of chalkboard paint
  • 1 really cool map design by our friends at Studio North
  • 1 summer intern (who spent a weekend embracing her high school art skills)
  • 1 projector
  • A few pieces of chalk

Jean creates an engagement work of art.

We created a large map of the Kensington area to place in Blank Page Plaza. The stickers allowed people to note their favourite spots, and the chalk allowed people to explain why. Throughout this intervention, people marked their favourite places on the map, and the IF team explored these highlighted spots. A whole lot of places were marked on the map, most of which certainly contribute to making Kensington a great place to be.

What makes a great neighbourhood? Lively public spaces that encourage people to gather.

Multiple dots on the map pointed to: The Roasterie and its adjacent plaza. A local spot where you will always find people sitting outside, sipping coffee, and chatting with the folks nearby.

What makes a great neighbourhood? Businesses that support local arts and culture.

Chalks and dots pointed to: Hot Wax. A record shop that has been around since 1978, selling new and used vinyl, with a section dedicated to selling tunes from local artists.

What makes a great neighbourhood? Inclusive housing options.

Chalk and dots pointed to: Norfolk Housing Association. A mixed-model approach, where 50% of residents pay market rent and 50% pay rent-geared-to-income.

What makes a great neighbourhood? Local businesses that value sustainability and giving back to the community.

Blue dot and chalk on the map highlighted: Peacock Boutique. A consignment store selling high quality and affordable second-hand clothes.

What makes a great neighbourhood? Sustainably sourced, delicious food that can bring people together and contribute to a secure urban food system.

A cluster of dots and chalk scribbles: Sunnyside Natural Market. A locally owned and family operated market that sells organic and fresh food and gives back to the community.

What makes a great neighbourhood? Pathways and networks that are designed for cyclists and pedestrians. 

A few blue dots highlighted: The Bow River Pathway. An extensive path along the river where you’ll find bikers, joggers, walkers and skaters going by all times of the day.

One key aspect of successful city-building, in Kensington and beyond, is great urban design. Great urban design means consciously thinking about the users of space and their experience, whether in the public or private realm and designing for those needs with responsive built environments, whether permanent or temporary.

Hearing from the community helped us explore and appreciate our ‘hood even more.

We created Blank Page Plaza in order to contribute to the vibrancy of Kensington. We wanted to create a temporary and iterative public spot for people to gather, have fun and engage in conversations. For this mapping intervention, folks highlighted a fascinating variety of ingredients for successful city-building: sustainable food systems, inclusive housing, vibrant public spaces, natural landscapes and multiple transportation options.

A big thanks to those who shared their thoughts with us and giving us an even greater appreciation of the area that Intelligent Futures calls home!