Airdrie is an evolving city of 60,000. That’s a lot of diversity; a lot of people seeking ways to expand their horizons through culture.
But what exactly is available here? What cultural amenities do we really have? Where are we lacking?
The City of Airdrie is undertaking a cultural mapping process that will serve as a database of all the assets in this community that are deemed to be cultural, from the obvious (such as Bert Church Theatre) to perhaps less-obvious examples of culture, such as heritage properties or school facilities.
“The purpose for all of this is to really see what is actually here,” says Daniel Fortier, community developer with the City.
Work on compiling the information for the map began last summer. “The great thing about a [cultural] map,” Fortier says, “is it’s not just a piece of paper or something digital … it’s the information behind it. Behind one little ‘dot’ can be a floor plan, website, contact info, the economic impact of that point or historic information.
“It’s about creating pride of place through the development of where you live.”
“So what are the places that are special to you in this city, and what are the places that have historic meaning? It starts the conversation around who we are and … what do we have that we value,” he adds.
The City completed its survey by the end of 2015, which Fortier says covers categories including performing arts, publishing and radio, cultural organizations – such as Creative Airdrie – and attractions and festivals “that are part of the cultural vibrancy of a city.”
Culture, he says, is defined as encompassing the arts, contemporary cultures and heritage. “Those were the three elements we were plotting,” he says, noting that “contemporary culture” incorporates anything ethno-cultural related, such as groups like Welcoming Airdrie Committee.
A key word in the exercise is “place-making,” Fortier says. “It’s about creating pride of place through the development of where you live. There are a couple of drivers – the esthetics of a place and how it looks and feels. Things like public art contribute to that.”
Inclusiveness and openness is also a major part. “How do you connect with your neighbour?” says Fortier. “The cultural map is a tool to aid in those things.”
The Airdrie project was inspired in part by a similar cultural mapping initiative Fortier was involved in with the City of Saskatoon back in 2007.
“That one was crazy,” he says. “There were multiple stakeholders in terms of the arts board, University of Saskatchewan, the City and tourism. But what ended up happening was this incredibly rich map they could use.”
Saskatoon’s experience shows some of the potential benefits of cultural mapping. “You can physically see the results of the work that’s been done,” Fortier says. “(Saskatoon has) got a cultural governance body and … there’s been a redevelopment of the [south] downtown area with a national art gallery, a new professional theatre and along the riverbank there [are] spray parks and amphitheatres and a farmers market and they took one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the city and turned it around.
“Firsthand, I’ve seen the power of that kind of process,” he adds.
For Airdrie, Fortier describes cultural mapping as “a community-engagement tool.” Exactly how it will be rolled out for the public and stakeholders to use has yet to be determined, he says, but adds that the potential exists for it to be a valuable tool in many directions. For example, businesses might be able to use the information for attracting clients or employees to Airdrie.
“It also allows us to identify and respond to things going on within the community,” Fortier says. “And by identifying all the assets and understanding what’s really there, we can plan … to strengthen, grow and develop those assets.”
The City, he adds, is looking at a cultural development framework. The mapping serves as part of what is ultimately the road to a municipal or community cultural plan. “The point is the City will be able to integrate culture into its planning process, while at the same time working with the community to develop culture within the community,” he says.
Cultural mapping also has the potential to aid in such things as helping newcomers to Airdrie – and to Canada – find their footing, and Fortier cites Syrian refugees as an example. “If you’re looking at it from an ethno-cultural perspective and something like the Syrian refugee crisis comes up … it becomes a different conversation,” Fortier says.
“It’s about breaking down silos, not only between the City, business and cultural community, but within the cultural community itself. It’s about collaboration.”
At press time, the City was planning to hold public consultation in February as to how best to make the map information available to the public and stakeholder groups, and Fortier says that there will be further discussions down the line.