Designers who reimagined Times Square and Copenhagen to transform Calgary's Stephen Avenue

Calgary's Stephen Avenue will be getting a new look via a partnership between the city and a renowned international design firm.

Ideas for a new look will be presented next year

Calgary's Stephen Avenue, pictured on Aug. 7, 2019, will be reimagined by Gehl Studio. (CBC)

Calgary's Stephen Avenue will be getting a new look via a partnership between the city and a renowned international design firm.

Gehl Studio, a Danish urban design firm that's worked with cities like New York City, Copenhagen, Melbourne, Shanghai, Sao Paulo and San Francisco, will head up the project.

A new concept for the space, which stretches from Olympic Plaza to 11th Street S.W., will be presented in 2020.

Marco De Iaco, executive director of the Calgary Downtown Association, says it's all about asking "what should the experience of Stephen Avenue be?"

Stephen Avenue is an important historical, cultural and economic hub that should be bustling along the entire pedestrian mall, year-round, De Iaco said.

And he said Gehl is the perfect team to do just that.

"They have experience with dealing with urban centres in regards to economic recovery … that's really important here," said De Iaco. "This isn't about just, you know, building a beautiful street. It's about enticing economic investment."

The plan for the redesign is to extend Stephen Avenue's pedestrian mall west, and ensure it's bustling no matter the time of day or year. (CBC)

Michael Magnan, public realm lead with the City of Calgary, said in its current form, Stephen Avenue is starting to deteroriate and businesses are closing up.

He said it's a cycle — the site was revamped in the 1960s and 1990s as well.

"We now have things like Lime bikes, WeWork [shared office] space coming … we need to update the street to sort of match that," he said.

Magnan said there will be pop-up events and redesigns to test some of the ideas that come forward in late 2020 and early 2021.

"Once we have those sort of experiments in place, that allows us to measure them and understand how investment in the public realm attracts reinvestment in the private realm," he said.

Times Square in New York City before, left, and after, right, it was rethought by Gehl Studio. (Gehl Studio)

Many of Gehl's projects involve doing just that — testing temporary urban design tweaks to see if the changes actually do improve public spaces.

In one prominent experiment, the firm realized while 90 per cent of those using New York City's Times Square were pedestrians, 90 per cent of the space was dedicated to cars.

So, the firm shut down the area to traffic and installed temporary furniture — significantly increasing the time people spent in the area and decreasing pedestrian injuries. It was such a success, it inspired a permanent redesign.

With files from Elissa Carpenter


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