The city’s ‘living room’: Creating public space

Marc Boutin, award-winning architect and associate professor in the Faculty of Environmental Design, talks about what it takes to build smart, safe and sustainable cities.

By Jennifer Allford
November 2016

Marc Boutin has designed a number of public spaces, including Calgary’s First Street Underpass enhancement and Poppy Plaza, a park along the Bow River. Here, he talks about what it takes to build smart, safe and sustainable cities.

Q: What have you learned about creating smart, safe and sustainable cities?

A: I would argue one key to safe and sustainable cities is the notion of critical mass: of people, of commercial opportunities, of social and cultural connections, of infrastructure that allows both formal and informal occupation.

No public space works strictly because it was designed and built. Public space relies on its occupants for its liveliness, and the value of public space means it is part of the everyday – a natural extension of people’s daily lives and routines. In this way, public space is understood as the living room of the city, where people come together to celebrate, debate, and embrace their collective aspirations.

Our firm's new design for Eau Claire Plaza allows citizens to enjoy public space as a four-season endeavour, which is critical for a city like Calgary: the space can evolve with the climate, as can the activities. For example, the water play area becomes an ice play (skating) area.  As well, the ‘program’ for the space is driven from the bottom up, by the people and neighbours themselves, as opposed to being programmed by the city.

Q: You have won awards for turning a downtown Calgary underpass into a safe space. How did you do that?

A: Firstly, address the key problems that are both real and perceived: light levels, water drainage, etc., and then provide public art that allows people to more fully understand and embrace this space and the world around them, giving them the opportunity to take ownership of the city.

Q: How do you make a city sustainable?

A: The idea of sustainability is not necessarily a technological idea, but one of common sense.  If we create cities where we can live, work and play in the same place, we eliminate expensive transportation infrastructure and the need for an abundance of cars, and meet our neighbours face-to-face, which makes neighbourhoods safer.

Related: Landscape or architecture?

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About our experts

Marc Boutin is an award-winning architect and an associate professor in UCalgary's Faculty of Environmental Design, and principal with the marc boutin architectural collaborative. His research interests include architectural design, environmental stewardship, modern architectural history, urban design and cultural landscapes.
Contact Marc Boutin



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