Why placemaking matters to Airdrie
Every community strives to establish its own identity and identify what makes it a good place to call home. Airdrie is no different, and the City is embracing a concept known as “placemaking” as it evolves.
Placemaking is defined as “a multifaceted approach to planning, design and management of public space” in a way that enhances and capitalizes the “assets, inspiration and potential” of a community.
“There are three overarching qualities in placemaking: social offerings, openness and esthetics,” says Paul Schulz, city manager with the City of Airdrie, which recently hosted a visit by Dr. Katherine Loflin, an internationally known placemaking expert, to discuss the topic with staff and administration.
“For me, [placemaking] is how individuals identify with their community,” adds Michelle Lock, director of Community Services. “Is there an opportunity to have their individual or family needs met through connections with people in places they feel good about – where they have a sense of pride?”
Lock says the concept of placemaking isn’t new to Airdrie – in fact, the core of the City’s vision statement, “connecting people and places,” ties in directly with the idea. But, she says, the research done by Loflin and others has helped hone what aspects of placemaking work best.
“It has actual science behind it,” Lock says. “There is data that says communities that are resilient have these factors, communities that grow have these factors – what this whole exercise has done is marry what we know and now we can say there is science behind it.”
So what does “placemaking” look like for the average resident?
“It can be in the shape of a building, a park, or just a treed area … people remember it,” says Mayor Peter Brown. “Through our economic development strategy, we tried to pull this together – how you can incorporate culture and placemaking and commercial and business and residential to create this wonderful place.
It’s certainly a struggle when you’re growing as quickly as Airdrie is, but it can be as simple as [providing] good transportation and mobility.
Examples of Airdrie placemakers, Brown says, include East Lake Park and the spray park at Chinook Winds. “The placemaking is when the people come down and congregate and create that place with their friends,” he says.
Schulz cites the city’s pathway and transit systems as other placemakers. “My greatest satisfaction in Airdrie comes from the parks and pathway systems … on a summer day, you’ll see people pushing strollers, riding bikes; that is what I think about,” he says.
Lock says placemaking can also include events: “Look at the Festival of Lights … the Canada Day Parade, the rodeo … ARTember.
“If you ask people what they bring [visitors] to and are most proud of in Airdrie, it’s those venues and events and festivals,” she says.
Well-defined placemaking also plays a role in promoting business development, “allowing us to leverage the community’s assets as an economic engine,” says Lock. “Let’s look at our authentic identity and say Airdrie is a place that’s open and inclusive. Let’s showcase and identify the cultural assets we have and package all of that so you can use it as an economic engine to promote the advantages that exist here.”
Lock and Schulz say placemaking concepts will inform current and future municipal plans, such as the civic master plan, economic development strategy, the Great Places Plan (a 10-year master plan for the city’s open spaces and parks) and the transit master plan.
Lock says more information related to placemaking will be posted to the City’s Airdrie@Work business newsletter at airdrie.ca, and there will be stakeholder-engagement opportunities for businesses and the general community in the near future. A social media campaign is also being built.
Nose Creek Park is undergoing upgrades aimed at keeping it one of Airdrie’s prides of place
Part of the park was closed at the end of May as work began on replacing washrooms and its pavilion, adding a covered picnic area and a built-in concession, as well as multi-stall washrooms.
The work, at press time scheduled for completion this fall, is to be followed by a second phase of redevelopment that will see a brand-new covered amphitheatre built in a new location alongside the park’s pond. The amphitheatre, planned for completion later this year, will have a larger seating capacity than the old facility. Phase 2 will also see extensions to the boardwalk, which is expected to make accessing the pond for skating and fishing easier.
Michelle Lock, director of Community Services for the City of Airdrie, cites Nose Creek Park as an example of placemaking in action.
“That is a thriving piece of Airdrie’s identity that people are proud of,” Lock says.
The 40-acre park has long been a popular venue for community events year round, including the Airdrie Festival of Lights, car shows, Artember (which has been relocated to East Lake Park this year due to the reconstruction) and fundraisers.