When Richard Florida published The Rise of the Creative Class in 2002, many learned that the larger the population of creative types – artists, musicians, designers and tech workers – in a given city, the greater its economy and quality of lives were strong. .
Attracting and retaining creative talent was partly a matter of urban design, Florida argued. For long-term prosperity, he said it is better to envision more attractive, diverse and integrated neighborhoods than to develop buildings, sports stadiums and shopping malls in isolation.
It’s what you might call a virtuous circle: the more imaginative a city’s urban design, the more it attracts the creative class, which in turn contributes to more diverse and vibrant neighborhoods and local economies.
University of Alberta urban design expert Tim Antoniuk takes up the Florida premise in a chapter of his new book, Situating Design in Alberta (University of Alberta Press), co-edited by Antoniuk and the former University of Alberta design student Isabel Prochner, now at Syracuse University.
The book compiles a wide range of views from design experts on the history, education, business and sustainability of urban design in Alberta, with the goal of improving our cities.
In the end, we could do much better, maintains Antoniuk.
Hard data shows how important creative communities are to boosting local economies and making them more resilient, he added. They are a potential source of growth that Canadian cities have not sufficiently exploited – cities in Alberta even more so than elsewhere.
“Where are the best places in the world to visit? Most people would say Paris, Berlin, or New York, because they’re great places to walk around. It’s the architecture, the cityscape, and the great food — it’s cultural,” Antoniuk said.
Big cities create “pockets of genius” with diverse culture and community, he said, rather than encouraging the proliferation of homogenous retailers or “the same building design over and over again”, he said. he says, as is often found in Canadian cities.
“When you grow monocultures, they’re not sustainable – they die over time. You need this diversity.
Antoniuk said we can draw on a wealth of knowledge and experience across the world to improve our cities, borrowing from Scandinavian designs, for example, to make a city more welcoming during the winter months.
“It is our responsibility as citizens to continuously seek, learn and be inspired by these ideas.”
Honoring history by restoring heritage architecture is also key to designing for growth, rather than always opting for ‘shiny and new’.
An example of successful restoration is the Oliver Exchange in Edmonton, he said. The historic telephone utility building located at 120th Street and 102nd Avenue has been transformed into a vibrant and attractive shopping and community center.
“It’s about building communities, with city councils really pushing each other and developers on the quality of urban design.”
Antoniuk and his company, Architure Inc., have embarked on a pocket of development: Edmonton’s Hangar 11, on the east side of the old municipal airport, near the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.
Originally built by the US government during World War II to support the Soviet Union’s battle against Germany, the historic landmark was in danger of demolition until Antoniuk came up with a proposal to restore several millions of dollars.
The plan is a mixed-use affordable housing complex designed to serve students, Indigenous groups and families, with 270 apartments housing 370 people and food retailers on the ground floor. It will be connected to the city’s LRT system and heated by geothermal energy and solar panels.
“We are doing everything we can to make this one of Canada’s most iconic buildings,” said Antoniuk.
As Alberta aims to further diversify its economy, he added, urban design could play a key role.
“I argue that creative economies are an important part of that. We need a reason to keep people here.
| By Geoff McMaster
Geoff is a reporter for the online magazine Folio at the University of Alberta. The University of Alberta is an editorial content provider partner of Troy Media.
The opinions expressed by our columnists and contributors are their own and do not inherently or expressly reflect the opinions of our publication.
© Troy Media
Troy Media is an editorial content provider for news outlets and its own hosted community media across Canada.