Urban design students take top honours

Six University of Calgary students won the National Energy Ambassadors Competition, an award sponsored by the federal government’s Ministry of Natural Resources which rewards innovative solutions for energy use.

Connor Turner, Travis Shaw, Antonio Lau, Karen Trzaska, Kevin Holem and Ian Manhire won the competition based on a fourth-year class project for Urban Studies 591. For the project, they came up with a 100-page proposal to overhaul the City of Calgary’s development plan for Symons Valley, a 3,200-acre parcel of land in the city’s northwest. The current city plan calls for a low-density, automobile-based development that would accommodate 54,000 people. Under the students’ plan the development would use the principles of high-density sustainable development to create neighbourhoods that would accommodate 200,000 people, all living within a five-minute walk of public transit.

“We really thought we had a chance, but we were still floored when we found out we won,” said Shaw about the contest.

The students’ proposal calls for the Symons Valley development to incorporate mixed-use residential, commercial and industrial zoning. The five proposed neighbourhoods in the area would be interlinked by a network of tram cars and would be connected to the downtown core via an extension of the city’s LRT system. The students’ development plan also provides for more park spaces than the city’s current project set to be completed over the next 20 years.

“After the students completed the project we became aware of the Energy Ambassador contest and the students wrote roughly a 20-page addendum to their original report that detailed the ways in which their proposal would lead to energy savings,” said Dr. Byron Miller, the head of the U of C’s Urban Studies program.

“We thought our project had a lot of relevant material,” said Manhire, noting the project and the award are great ways to raise awareness of sustainable living. “Sustainable development obviously incorporates energy efficiency.”

The Urban Studies program has a long history at the U of C. It was briefly suspended in the late 1990s due to lack of faculty but was reinstated in 2001 and has seen a meteoric rise in popularity ever since.

Miller is thrilled with his students’ performance, as it is obviously a feather in the cap of the Urban Studies program, the Faculty of Social Sciences and the U of C in general.

“I think it speaks to how strong the program is at teaching students about the different processes that shape cities, and then making them able to integrate and apply that knowledge,” said Miller.

In addition to a $1,000 bursary, the students won a trip to Ottawa where they will present their report to a forum of politicians and business leaders, including the Minister of Natural Resources on March 17-18. Currently they are in negotiations to make a similar presentation to the City of Calgary’s Environmental Advisory Committee following their return, with the aim of having the city revisit the original development plan for Symons Valley.

“I think we have a real opportunity to showcase preferable alternatives to how the city is growing,” noted Miller. “People deserve a wider range of choices. There is a substantial portion of the population that would prefer to live in a more vibrant urban environment. There’s no question that it’s a viable plan, it depends entirely on the vision and political will of Calgary’s leadership.”

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