Aug. 10, 2020

City and UCalgary students find solutions to improve downtown safety and vibrancy

'9 Block' partnership focuses on making area around City Hall more welcoming

Right around the corner of the City Hall C-Train station is the activation site for a responsive and playful experimental research project — to be built this fall as part of the 9 Block program.

The 9 Block is a one-year program launched in January and the intent is to work with partners in the area around City Hall to quickly pilot low- or no-cost ideas aimed at improving the overall vibrancy and safety in the neighbourhood.

  • Photo above: Canopy along the west façade of the City Building Design Lab. Image courtesy of SAPL

As part of the 9 Block program The City of Calgary and the University of Calgary have formed a partnership. Officially launched in March, the partnership focuses on how the nine blocks around City Hall can become a more welcoming, distinct and vibrant place for everyone through innovative design, planning and programming strategies. Students and researchers at the university’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape (SAPL) are exploring a range of possibilities.

Using this project as a focus for their term presentations in April, SAPL students came up with a wide range of ideas and initiatives to address the concerns in the area including using light installations to improve safety, green infrastructure and park spaces, permeable walls and wayfinding ideas to make it easier to navigate.

“The 9 Block program is about working with our neighbours to make this area even better, and our partnership  with the University of Calgary is doing exactly that,” said Mayor Naheed Nenshi. “The students involved with this project have applied fresh perspectives and ideas to the area right outside their doorstep, and I’m excited to see the final product this fall.”

This summer, SAPL students, led by assistant professor Mauricio Soto Rubio, are fabricating an experimental canopy with 3D-printed lights that are activated by pedestrians.

Render sequence showing responsive lighting

Render sequence showing responsive lighting

This project is part of Urban Alliance, a strategic partnership between The City and the University of Calgary to promote the seamless transfer of cutting-edge research between the City and the university, for the benefit of all of Calgary’s communities. This partnership supported the hiring of four students so they could design and implement a tactical urbanism project in the area to test out potential improvement strategies.

“We located our City Building Design Lab in the heart of Calgary’s downtown to take on initiatives like the 9 Block program,” said Dr. John Brown, dean of SAPL. “Our mission is to bring together students and researchers with municipal policy makers and the public to explore new directions in city-building. Our students are very excited to take on this opportunity to develop and implement thoughtful, innovative solutions in the neighbourhood they interact with every day.”

Canopy detail

“The project not only provides a degree of weather protection and increase the ambient lighting conditions on the site, it also includes a series of fully interactive and playful lighting fixtures designed to increase the real and perceived sense of safety and vibrancy in the area,” comments Soto-Rubio on the design of the installation.

“In addition, the project provides a platform for our students to experiment with upcoming design and fabrication techniques, including 3D printing with recycled plastic and CNC milling of wood. This helps to achieve one of SAPL’s goals to reduce waste, and align with the Designing Out Waste and circular economy initiatives spearheaded by our dean.”

Canopy at night – close up

While this project is underway, The City and SAPL want to better understand Calgarians’ perceptions of safety and vibrancy in the area. Calgarians are encourages to answer a short survey to help get a better understanding of how this project, and future projects, can address these perceptions.

The City is initiating other projects focused on improving wayfinding, programming and building community partnerships in the area, including:

  • Piloting an Ambassador Program in the 9 Block area and down Stephen Avenue to make the area more welcoming and easier to navigate
  • Working with community partners in the 9 Block area on safety and security initiatives

For more information about the 9 Block program and to take our safety and vibrancy perception survey, please visit