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Test project aims to improve safety and vibrancy in downtown Calgary

The 9 Blocks project aims to improve safety around the nine blocks that surround Calgary's City Hall. Photo: UCalgary

The City of Calgary, the University of Calgary, the Calgary Downtown Association, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation and Bow Valley College recently shared progress on the 9 Block program, a series of safety initiatives to improve vibrancy and safety in the nine blocks that surround City Hall.

“The 9 Block program is about working collaboratively with our neighbours and community partners to make this area even better, and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” said Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi. “I’m thrilled with the progress that’s been made, and I hope there are some ideas we can replicate in other areas of the city.”

The centre piece of improvements is the installation of a canopy and lighting at the transit stop in front of the University of Calgary’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape (SAPL). Students from SAPL designed and fabricated the installation with improved lighting and more visibility at the stop during night time hours, a response to ongoing safety concerns reported by students, neighbourhood businesses and those who work in the area.

"One of the reasons we created the City Building Design Lab in the heart of our downtown is to have a living lab for pilot projects like this one. This playful, interactive canopy for the 9 Block Program is our largest project yet," said John Brown, PhD, dean of SAPL.

"The Canopy project demonstrates that a modest investment can go a long way to improve the quality of urban public space. In addition to creating an new face for the Castell Building, the canopy explores the use of sustainable and recycled materials and the interactive lighting system adds a playful element to downtown and challenges our collective understanding of urban space. The research findings from this project will impact the way designers and municipalities design for a safer and more vibrant city."

One of the other cornerstone projects is the launch of a Downtown Ambassador pilot this autumn. The City and the Calgary Downtown Association have partnered, along with other stakeholders like Tourism Calgary and Alpha House Society, to create the six-month pilot for the 9 Block/Stephen Avenue area. 

The primary focus for the ambassadors has been outreach, safety, and cleanliness, providing a presence to the area.

"Downtown is an area for everyone and the Downtown Ambassador program is a great opportunity to help all Calgarians and visitors feel at home," said Jennifer Rempel, general manager of the Calgary Downtown Association. "It’s our priority to create a welcoming environment grounded in neighbourhood camaraderie and community partnerships on Stephen Avenue and in the 9 Block area."

Safety is a major component of the effort. Beyond the Downtown Ambassador pilot, The City and more than 20 community partners have launched a safety and security strategy for the 9 Block area – focused on training, information sharing and coordinated communication.

The stairwell leading from Calgary Police Building down to the City Hall C-Train platform was identified as a security and safety concern early on this year. A mural was painted in this stairwell and improved lighting was installed, along with an improved security conduit for users.

"Supporting the safety of our community is critical to creating vibrant, active spaces," said Kate Thompson, President and CEO of the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation. "We are pleased to help bolster safety and vibrancy through targeted design and community interventions."

For more information about the 9 Block program, partnerships and projects, see