Innovative process points to high-quality future suburban communities

City planners are changing public perception of their profession by trying non-traditional approaches to encourage vibrant, liveable neighbourhoods.

Mention the subject to Barnali Banerjee and Kalen Anderson and watch the urban planners’ eyes light up and their powerful brains roar to into overdrive as they describe the City’s latest innovative step into the future of Edmonton’s new neighbourhoods.

Together with colleague Lisa Larson, they envisioned and led a leading-edge, award-winning process to develop guidelines for the development of what will eventually be 15 neighbourhoods and home to well over 150,000 people — a huge opportunity to guide Edmonton’s growth and change.

Their Designing New Neighbourhoods: Guidelines for Edmonton’s Future Residential Communities project recently won one of just six 2014 awards presented by the Alberta Professional Planners Institute (APPI). Two other City Edmonton Sustainable Development projects (neon sign museum, Belgravia-McKernan LRT Station Area Redevelopment Plan) also won APPI awards.

Kalen, Barnali and Lisa ran the project together. They believed the time was right for innovative thinking and new ways of working together with partners to collaboratively prepare a comprehensive set of modern guidelines.

The planners shifted from a traditional “expert, regulatory” mode towards a facilitative, collaborative approach that recognizes there are many paths to success.

“In this case, we stepped back and acted as stewards and guides for a group of more than 30 volunteers representing interests ranging from City Administration, developers and builders to community leagues and school boards.

“Between 2012 and 2013, the project’s Design Team collectively spent thousands of hours coming up with guidelines for the city’s new neighbourhoods,” says Barnali

The Designing New Neighbourhoods guideline documents defines the outcomes which a multidisciplinary committee of volunteers envisioned for the development of three huge new neighbourhoods in the city’s northeast, southeast and southwest corners.

The Designing New Neighbourhoods guideline documents defines the outcomes which a multidisciplinary committee of volunteers envisioned for the development of three huge new neighbourhoods in the city’s northeast, southeast and southwest corners.

A lot has changed over the last few decades in Edmonton. The new guidelines set out design principles without prescribing how any one neighbourhood will look.

We’re much more multicultural now. Some people want cricket pitches instead of ball diamonds. Family units have changed; some want larger houses for extended family and some people want smaller homes. We’re more environmentally conscious, so we have to rely less on the car.

Just as our current ideas for new community design differs from “best practice” 30 years ago, our current thinking will almost certainly be out-of-step in 30 years, which is why the Designing New Neighbourhoods document was created to evolve with changing times.

“Sameness is the last thing we want to enshrine in our policies and processes,” says Kalen, “we want neighbourhoods that can be unique and livable in different ways.” To create the space for this type of design thinking and creativity we cannot prescribe a fixed ideal neighbourhood form — this is very limiting and is almost guaranteed to stale-date our practice.

“That’s the beauty of this process.” adds Barnali. “A restrictive set of hard-and-fast rules discourages the natural process of ongoing positive change.”

“As planners, we facilitated a new process and developed a new type of policy as a result. We met the planning outcomes defined in The Way We Grow by embracing a partnership approach with a wide range of stakeholders that brought us there,” she says.

Kalen Anderson and Barnali Banerjee were two of Edmonton’s Sustainable Development department team which facilitated an innovative process that resulted in a new City guidelines for the development of large, new neighbourhoods. Their partner, Lisa Larson, is on leave this year.

Kalen Anderson and Barnali Banerjee were two of Edmonton’s Sustainable Development department team which facilitated an innovative process that resulted in a new City guidelines for the development of large, new neighbourhoods. Their partner, Lisa Larson, is on leave this year.

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