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Pilot project looks to transform Calgary’s alleyways into places of beauty, creativity

WATCH: A pilot project is underway to make gritty alleyways in downtown Calgary more inviting. Global’s Tomasia DaSilva explains what is being done, and why.

A pilot project is underway to re-imagine and transform Calgary’s alleyways from forgotten, gritty areas to places of beauty, creativity and value.

The Green Alley Project is a partnership between the University of Calgary’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape (SAPL) and the Calgary Downtown Association.

Officials announce details of pilot project to transform downtown alleyways
Officials announce details of pilot project to transform downtown alleyways Tomasia DaSilva

The SAPL said it was approached with the idea of transforming downtown alleys into places the public and businesses would be comfortable in.

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“How can they be more than just service corridors?” the SAPL’s Josh Taron questioned. “How can they be more than dumpsters or unsafe places?”

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The two groups started brainstorming and came up with a number of ideas including putting up murals, painting lane ways and installing urban furniture to serve as sitting spaces.

One of the new features transforming downtown alleyways
One of the new features transforming downtown alleyways Tomasia DaSilva

The transformation comes at a time when Calgary’s downtown is in the midst of a massive slowdown. Commercial vacancies are at near record levels and so is unemployment.

Still, the executive director of the downtown association said this is a great time to invest in the core.

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“We’re a downtown in transition, and in reset mode,” Marco De laco said. “And we want to change the narrative, change the focus and concentrate on new ideas, fresh ideas, innovative ideas.”

READ MORE: Has Calgary’s downtown office vacancy rate finally hit bottom? Experts say maybe

De laco said Calgary needs a downtown that is attractive to the modern worker in order to attract and keep talent, adding that establishing a diversified workforce requires investment.

“Those are the people that are going to innovate. Those are the entrepreneurs. Those are the people that are going to start companies.”

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New pilot project spruces up downtown Calgary alleyways
New pilot project spruces up downtown Calgary alleyways Tomasia DaSilva

Officials said the concept of alleyway transformation has worked in other cities, such as San Francisco. It’s transformed its alleyways into acclaimed works of art.

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Those behind the Green Alley Project are confident it can work in Calgary as well.

“It’s kind of our wheelhouse to transform under-used spaces in the city and imagine them differently,” Taron said.

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