Let's talk about...neighbourhoods


The Eric Harvie Theatre is nested within the Glenbow Museum. Founded by Eric Harvie, the Glenbow Foundation was established in 1954, and in 1966 the Harvie family donated their collection of art, artifacts, and historical documents to the people of Alberta. Harvie was an avid collector of material related to the history of Western Canada. His collected artifacts tell the story of Aboriginal peoples, frontier exploration and the development of western life. Harvie established a huge collection, including artifacts from West Africa, Asia, South America and islands in the Pacific. Harvie’s contributions to the cultural landscape of Canada include the Glenbow Museum, the Banff School of Fine Arts, the Luxton Museum, the Calgary Zoo, Heritage Park, and Confederation Square and Arts Complex in Charlottetown, P.E.I. The Devonian Foundation was created to honour his legacy, by his son, Donald Harvie.

Jesus Martin Ruiz / d.talks

Jesus Martin Ruiz / d.talks

Event Description

What does the future of the suburb look like? Often viewed as the antithesis of good urban design, what opportunities and qualities exist in the modern day suburb that can allow us to retrofit communities into places we would all like them to be. How do we enhance the human, social and environmental qualities within these places? D.talks explored the role of transit, infrastructure, densification, repurposed buildings, and shared space in a discussion of a future vision for the suburb.

Jesus Martin Ruiz / d.talks

Jesus Martin Ruiz / d.talks


In collaboration with the Active Neigbourhoods Canada project d.talks visited a suburban neighbourhood and collected quantitative, qualitative and visual artifacts that were provided to two artists, Keving Jesuino and Irena Konsuwan to use as inspiration for developing an installation in the lobby of the event space.

The resulting installation Y(Our) Suburb was a large format interactive piece where event attendees could contribute their ideas for vibrant communities by drawing directly on the piece. The project highlighted the importance of community engagement in planning and the idea that neighbourhoods should be measured not simply by geography, but by the people and interactions that happened within them.

Jesus Martin Ruiz / d.talks

Jesus Martin Ruiz / d.talks


Jyoti Gondek, Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies, University of Calgary

Grace Liu, Brookfield Residential

Jamal Ramjohn, The City of Calgary

Susanne Schinler, Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, Columbia University

June Williamson, Spitzer School of Architecture, City College of New York (CUNY)

Moderator: Jim Brown, CBC

Jesus Martin Ruiz / d.talks

Jesus Martin Ruiz / d.talks

Event Summary

Panellists offered a holistic view of the ways in which suburban communities could be renewed by considering social, ecological, and economic factors as well as architecture and urban design.

June Williamson, visited from the Spitzer School of Architecture, City College of New York (CUNY). She is the author of Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs.

The challenge in cities for the next 50 years will be tempering sprawl development patterns such as low density, car dependence and use separated communities. Retrofitting existing sprawl into more urban and sustainable places, and designing suburban futures is achievable when alternative models are injected into sprawling communities. Opportunities for retrofitting include; biking infrastructure, public housing, district energy systems, suburban agriculture, cottage industries, intergenerational co-housing, re-using big boxes, restoring wetlands and creeks, improving connectivity, diversifying housing choice and price and sub-hub transit systems.

Susanne Schinler, of the Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, Columbia University presented two projects on housing policy and design. She is co-editor of The Art of Inequality: Architecture, Housing and Real Estate is a multi-year project that considers the conflict between architecture, real estate and housing and explores what is possible in a profit driven environment. The 36 episodes of this project hosted on-line use various forms of media, collections of ordinary artifacts, advertisements, and images of lived in apartments to present the idea that economic inequality is highly linked to other social disparities, particularly the provision of housing. The project aim is to set the terms for understanding the question“How might anyone with a vested interest in architectural design and a commitment to addressing our time’s most pressing social concerns reconcile the two, if at all?”

Possible alternatives were presented using models of cooperative housing, housing that is managed at cost and is not-for-profit. Projects were introduced that emphasize mixed income, ethnicities, ages and uses.  One example cited was the United Housing Foundation that created 23 cooperative housing projects in New York City, mainly designed by architects Abraham Kazan and Herman Jessor. Dwelling units were complimented by food stores, nursery schools, a credit union and various social and civic organizations.

The Kalkbreite project by Mueller Sigrist is a 40% commercial, 60% residential project that was rebuilt on top of a streetcar depot in Zurich, Switzerland. The city leases land to the cooperative, keeping the parcels free of developers. The cooperative offers unique living arrangements with some communal spaces and as a result energy use is 1/3 of what is typically consumed by the average person in Western Europe. There is a public park on top of the garage, a bed and breakfast, shared studios, a communal kitchen and residents can rent rooms for their guests. This project was developed out of an architectural competition after a housing cooperative articulated their goals.

Jamal Ramjohn is the Manager of Community Planning at the City of Calgary. Jamal contextualized the last 65 years of suburban growth in Calgary, calling these places “a great palette of suburban 1st generation developments, dying for retrofit.” He tracked the evolution of the suburban development since the early 1970s. He noted key differences as suburban housing typologies evolved, the increase in housing sizes, raised basements, curvilinear streets (loops and lollipops), decreasing family sizes with increasing housing sizes, enclave patterns of development with limited permeability from one home to the next, to schools and to amenities. Since 2011, however there is an attempt to remedy some of these issues by re-introducing the grid structure, increasing permeability, creating taller homes with front garages and different rear lanes.

Grace Liu, is head of Strategic Initiatives for Brookfield Residential. She emphasized the builders attempt to incorporate a liveability index into new developments and their consideration of quality of life, safety and design in neighbourhoods. She is looking to harmonize the intersection of the market, policy and design.

Jyoti Gondek is the Director at the Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies at the University of Calgary. An Urban Sociologist, Jyoti looks at demographics, maps and populations to understand the make up and morphology of urban neighbourhoods. She is an expert in contemporary land development and housing issues in North America. As a case study she highlighted the dramatic population growth in the periphery of Calgary. NE Calgary has the greatest population of visible minorities and is the central community for Indo Canadians.  Currently the building industry is booming as multigenerational families are purchasing neighbouring lots as well as purchasing old acreages and farm sites in the district of Rockyview, where multigenerational families live together. Unlike typical urban development patterns in Calgary, in the northeast quadrant of the city the defining characteristic is often the number of people living in a unit, whereas in more other areas development patterns are characterized by the number of units per acre. 

Jesus Martin Ruiz / d.talks

Jesus Martin Ruiz / d.talks

Continuing the Conversation

Visit Shelf Life Books and the d.talks recommends shelf to read up on neighbourhoods and other d.talks themes.

Become an advocate for your neighbourhoods and the neighbourhoods you would like to see improved.

Event Support

This event was made possible with help from the Canada Council for the Arts, The Alberta Real Estate Foundation and to the City of Calgary Ward Community Events Fund.

Thank you to our research partners Active Neighbourhoods Canada and Sustainable Calgary.

Thank you to Brewsters Brewing Company, Rosso Coffee Roasters, Shelf Life Books, Sidewalk Citizen Bakery, Village Ice Cream and Vine Arts, for their generous in-kind support.

Thank you to Platform Design for the beautiful design of our invitation and event poster.