Landscape Architecture

Placemaking in Practice: Local History Enriches an Edmonton Park Design

Landscape Architects draw out neighbourhood stories and aspirations

Illustration by Bob Mack
Illustration by Bob Mack

The Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues’ contribution to one of Edmonton’s signature parks is an example of how locally important stories, values and aspirations can be woven deeply into the design of public spaces.
The federation, which includes a membership of about 150 community associations, is highlighting 100 years of contributions to the community through the project, in Hawrelak Park. The goal is to have the space ready in time to celebrate the federation’s 100th anniversary in 2021.

The multi-million dollar development is an example of placemaking — an international movement to reinvigorate and reimagine the public places at the heart of every community, and strengthen the connection between people and the spaces they share.

“The key thing with placemaking is that it already has to have a story behind it. You can’t impose some sort of contrived story,” says Matt Sloan, one of a team from Urban Systems engaged in the design of the space.

Elements will be woven into the design that tell how community leagues have played a lead role in bringing services such as water, power and waste management to the periphery of Edmonton, for instance.

Others will showcase how the associations were at the centre of launching recreational programming and a now thriving minor hockey league, as well as the Edmonton Soccer Association.

An outdoor fireplace will offer a symbolic representation of how the federation’s community associations have been a central gathering place for the community over the years. It’s also intended to draw future generations to meet, socialize and tell stories.

The role of Matt and others from the Urban Systems team has largely been to discover and draw out the stories and vision for the space that community members hold and explore how those will inform the design.

Conceptual design for the project has just been completed. Detailed design will be undertaken this summer, with construction to begin in summer 2015.

The experience has confirmed for Matt the importance of design professionals setting aside their own ideas to listen to and understand what the community is trying to communicate.

“You have to do your best to be that good listener and try to develop those designs that are speaking to what they’re saying,” he says.

He adds that he’s been energized by the calibre of people that make up Edmonton’s community associations, and their commitment to hear from community members.

“They’re fantastic folks” he says. “Their biggest concern is making sure (the project) is done right and that’s pretty rewarding.”

This story is part six of a series focused on placemaking and other citizen led initiatives. Read other entries in this series here:
1) Citizens stepping up to reshape public spaces
2) Team sparks renewal of Kelowna’s unlikely places
3) Designing and making choices as a community – that’s placemaking
4) Animating public spaces can inspire, rather than drive, sustainability
5) New convening role for municipalities
7) City of Victoria lays groundwork for deeper citizen engagement
8) Growing shift among communities focuses on stronger resident engagement and reducing the “role” of local government

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