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Calgarians invited to explore public spaces through ‘Pop-up Labs’

Furbaniture pieces at Sunalta LRT station as part of Calgary's Pop-up Labs.
Furbaniture pieces at Sunalta LRT station as part of Calgary's Pop-up Labs. Global News / Adam Toy

Residents in Calgary’s Sunalta neighbourhood have new furniture sitting around the Sunalta LRT station.

No, it’s not an abandoned game of giant Tetris. It’s an experiment the City of Calgary is doing with the paved plaza at the train station.

Astute observers may recognize the pieces as ‘“Furbaniture” — steel and wood constructions from the Walk 21 conference in Calgary in September 2017.

“That’s a wood furniture system, a public space system, that was designed and implemented by the University of Calgary, and the city now owns that,” said city planner Kate Zago.

The Sunalta installation is part of the city’s “Pop-up Labs” series of projects, scheduled to run during the summer of 2018.

“The intent of the project is to look at some of these underutilized areas and see what creative or engaging ideas we can use to create more vibrant or more well-used community spaces,” says Zago.

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Global News / Adam Toy

“With this one (in Sunalta), we’re putting out that system for a few weeks on its own, then we’re going to be adding some more elements to it like colorful tables and chairs,” said Zago of the plan at the LRT station. “And we’ll have a camera out there to see how much people use it when there’s nothing in the plaza, if anything changes when this Furbaniture system is added, and then when you layer on other elements, how well that’s used, and we’ll be measuring that data and using that data.”

Marda Loop is also home to another installation using a couple of Furbaniture pieces, this time occupying two street parking spaces on Garrison Gate S.W.

“So, instead of having two cars there, there’s seating for the community,” Zago said. “And it’s quite well-used at the moment, so we’re tracking that to see if it’s a viable idea that we would do in the future, and see if there are any issues that might come up or arise from that type of change in the public realm.”

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Municipal Plaza is also set for a transformation, starting July 10. Artificial turf, colourful tables and chairs, recreational equipment, and demonstrations from clubs like the Calgary Pickleball Club will turn Municipal Plaza into a place for Calgarians to see their city and public spaces in a new light.

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The Municipal Plaza installation will cost about $5,000, Zago said.

“We’re doing a number of different pop-ups, and the intent is to test out these concepts to see if there is a way to make these places more ‘sticky’ is the term that some planners use.

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“So when we make changes to the public realm, do we increase the amount of people that stay in this place for longer, and can we create these more vibrant spaces, community hubs, that the surrounding community can enjoy.”

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The city plans to have six installations in total, culminating in the crowd-sourced third-annual PARK(ing) Day, an international event held on the third Friday in September. Organizations and citizens can submit ideas to turn a parking spot into a public space.

“Because a parking spot is a parking spot, does it always have to be a parking spot? That’s just one example of how we can think of our public spaces differently.”

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Some of the installations are also intended to serve as a testing ground for the city to improve public spaces like the outdoor spaces at the Genesis Centre, Zago says.

“Right now, indoor in Genesis Centre is packed, but you don’t see a lot of people using those outdoor spaces. So this is a really great test because, if it is successful, then the Genesis Centre could be interested in investing in their outdoor areas and it’ll give them a better idea of what they would want to invest in long-term.”

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“These projects present an opportunity to test out actual designs before they’re implemented permanently.”