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Hurdles bannerExcerpt from Curb 5.3. “Are We There Yet?!”

Recovering from a legacy of car-oriented city building that began in the 1950s, cities, in recent decades, have started to focus on re-integrating land use, density and mobility. This type of integrated city building harkens back to a time before the mass production of automobiles, when our historic compact city centres sprung up in proximity to transportation and economic hubs like stations, ports, markets and forts.

A shift back toward an integrated approach to planning is evident in projects across the country.

The recent transformation of the Brentwood Station area of the C-Train in Calgary is a prime example of what integrating land use and transit planning can look like today. Originally built in the 1980s, the Brentwood C-Train Station was, until recently, adjacent to but not well integrated with a predominantly low-density residential neighbourhood, an underutilized park and Brentwood Mall. The Station serves the University of Calgary and UC’s Innovation Park, and has one of the highest concentrations of jobs outside Calgary’s downtown.

The City’s new Brentwood Station Area Redevelopment Plan seeks to reurbanize the site by promoting integration of high-density residential, urban format retail and employment uses. The Plan also encourages active transportation through an intricate network of streets and paths that easily and safely allow pedestrians and cyclists to access the station area.

Key to this transformation has been the active involvement of the commercial landowners, engagement of the neighbouring community and the introduction of new approaches to policy frameworks that facilitate not only mixed land use and higher densities, but also the increased mobility of people as pedestrians, transit riders and cyclists.  

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So, if the Brentwood Station redevelopment is such a success, why don’t we see more projects like it? As anyone working on city building projects and policies knows, there currently exist a number of significant impediments to the integration of land use and transportation planning.

First, our policy frameworks don’t quite fit the “integration” bill.  Area Redevelopment Plans, Secondary Plans and Transportation Impact Assessments have traditionally been structured to address land uses, density and vehicular movement as discrete components. Yet Transit Oriented Development (TOD) or Station Area Plans, which seek to optimize transportation choice and encourage mix, complexity and placemaking, do not neatly fit into the structure of these plans.

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Breaking down the Silos between Disciplines – Integration requires collaboration between disciplines or municipal departments including transportation, buildings and development, planning, municipal services, community facilities, health, etc. While this collaboration occurs at moments on some projects, the convergence of all these critical inputs in city building is rarely an ongoing approach or part of the institutional culture. This sea change is key to facilitating integrated city building.

Despite these challenges, integration needs to become more the norm than the exception for the long-term viability of our cities.  If we do it right, new and reurbanized communities can enrich the quality of life for residents and attract new businesses and visitors, ultimately contributing to our cities’ overall prosperity and vitality. 

Melanie Hare is an Urban Planner and Partner with Urban Strategies Inc. She has led integrated land use and mobility projects across North America, including Calgary’s Brentwood Station Area and Waterloo Region’s Central Transit Corridor Community Building Strategy.

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