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Communication through Design

Winner of the 2016 Award of Merit for the Canadian Institute of Planners

August 22, 2016
by Jason Curtis for Construction Business Magazine
Media

Open, honest and transparent public and city consultation helped deliver a complex multi-phase project in an established community in less than one year.

A joint-venture partnership between Truman Development Corporation and The Royal Canadian Legion North Branch 264 employed a multi-disciplinary team to work closely with the local community and the City of Calgary to ensure that construction could begin on a mid-rise programmatically complex, high density pair of buildings, including all permits and public hearings in less than one year.

A team approach with regular transparent public consultation took advantage of the newly implemented, concurrent Land Use and Development Permit Process at the City of Calgary.

The proposed redevelopment of the Legion site on Kensington Road was intended to revitalize the home of an aged fiscally unsustainable social organization to create a new, vibrant mixed- use hub on an underdeveloped inner-city site.

The deal struck was as follows: Truman would fund and build a new home for the Kensington Legion on a smaller sub-divided portion of the existing site. The new building would include a mix of social, recreational and cultural activities with market-rate rentable office space to provide the Legion with a sustainable income. In return for this wholly owned new standalone building, Truman would develop the remaining, larger portion of the site with a mixed-use mid-rise development. Core team members S2 Architecture, Civic Woks and Intelligent Futures established a professional, solution-oriented rapport with the city and worked within the newly implemented concurrent application stream. This enabled greater continuity between the Land Use and Development Permit applications by ensuring that one team, rather than two separate in- dependent teams, could work on both applications simultaneously.

The city advised the team to implement a developer led, transparent and rigorous public consultation process that would include the community at large. The team was also advised that city administration would participate in a separate public engagement process to present a policy-oriented perspective comparing the proposed development with the city’s long term strategic goals.

After multiple community association presentations and meetings with the local city councillor, the seven week engagement process was launched. It was designed to be flexible, honest and trans- parent. Participants were encouraged to explore, question and share their thoughts on the proposed vision for the site. The project team guided the engagement process and regularly shared up to date project information as the design evolved. It ensured that feedback from the community was comprehensively responded to and that it had an impact on the final outcome.

The communication tools ranged in scale from advisory postcards mailed to neighbours, to media coverage from several print and television outlets. Individuals were also encouraged to participate in the process via on-site sandwich boards, a dedicated project website with sup- porting e-newsletter and social media notices circulated by local stakeholders.

Feedback was recorded via forms on the project website, a phone line where callers could speak to team representatives, a 24/7 on-site sounding board and 14, three hour engagement sessions hosted weekly on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Legion site where attendees could speak with project team members from all disciplines.

The Legion’s own Royal Kensington Room was host to these engagement sessions. In the social space, participants could review project in- formation across 36 information panels, meet and ask questions of project team members, view the visuals library, and examine a physical model of the proposed development.

The team took care to establish detailed guiding development and design principles which would serve as a ‘north star’, a guide for authentic stakeholder engagement. This would be reflected throughout the visioning, design iteration, and application review progression. The team knew that carefully considered adherence to these fundamentals could result in a range of great city building outcomes.

This approach to public engagement proved successful and saw 160 participants attend engagement sessions. 220 individual notes were left on the sounding board, and 88 online responses were submitted. The process culminated in a comprehensive 98 page ‘What We Heard’ report that guided readers through the engagement promise and project particulars. It provided in-depth responses to questions asked by the participants and included an appendix of all feedback (positive and negative) received during the process.

Undertaking such an extensive public engagement process is expensive and risky. It requires the design team to be highly responsive and flexible in their approach to design. Multiple design iterations will need to be developed to balance client, community and city planning objectives and then recirculated for further comment.

The public hearing heard voices for and against the proposal but after a long day of healthy debate, it finally received unanimous council approval and thanks from the ward councillor for the best public engagement ever.

Jason Curtis, Architect, AAA, MRAIC, RIBA, LEED® AP, is associate principal at S2Architecture in Calgary.

About S2

S2 Architecture is an established firm with over 20 years of history of design excellence. We are a full service architectural and interior design firm with studios in Calgary and Edmonton, engaged in inspired and innovative design and planning. Our work spans a broad range of building and project types and the foundation of our success is deeply rooted in the delivery of creative design solutions for our clients, our communities and the environment.

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