Beltline Promenade: Downtown Calgary without Freight Rail


I developed this concept for fun, because I see a burning need to do something more with the railway corridor that bisects Calgary.  This concept considers the value of that land as a central spine to the city and considers better utilization, including mixed-use commercial, office, and residential that would take advantage of an attractive pedestrian, cyclist and outdoor amenity spine. My hope is this gets people looking critically our city spaces, and how they can serve us better. Think it’s crazy? Maybe.  However, consider the benefits (below) to everyone, including CP rail, the City of Calgary, pedestrians, cyclists, and the community.  Please share your thoughts for what you think the best use is; the more ideas the better!

CP rail downtown at 4th St. SW: what it could be. Pedestrians walk above instead of below the underpass; open sunny overpasses provide excellent opportunities for community gardens; dedicated cycling on the left; cafe seating on the sunny side, with people-watching, lounging, playing, picnicking, skating, etc, in the centre.

CP rail downtown at 4th St. SW today. A string of parking lots line this corridor: the only use that will tolerate this industrial environment.

 Benefits to CP:

  • Re-routing freight rail to the city perimeter would reduce travel time, reduce conflict with people, cars and transit.
  • Anticipating a significant increase in adjacent land values after the rail is gone, sell land to the City for well beyond its current value.
  • Case model for similar CP applications in other Canadian cities.
  • Be a good neighbor.

Benefits to City:

  • Ownership of significant public amenity makes adjacent land attractive for development rather than parking lots.
  • Offset acquisition costs with greater tax revenue.
  • Other parts of rail line outside of the core have potential as transit corridors.
  • Improve downtown access for peds/cyclists (cars only in underpasses).
  • One of the last large scale infrastructure opportunities to putCalgaryon the map.

Benefits to community:

  • Everything needed to live/work right outside the door, no commute.
  • Buildings designed to provide sunny public space & units.
  • Retail, grocery, community gardens, parks, and playgrounds increases interactions between those who live/work/shop in the core, strengthens community.
  • Integrated social housing opportunities

Benefits to pedestrians/cyclists:

  • Safe cyclist east/west commuter corridor
  • Quicker commuter time, less car conflict, more scenic
  • Easy access to shopping/retail on the way
  • People watching
  • Mixed-use means presence of people 24/7, increased sense of safety.



Do care facilities care? Stats on the implementation of therapeutic landscapes

When planning to undertake a specialization like therapeutic design, the additional investment of education to get there is a big commitment.  Keeping up to speed on current research and trends, conferences, publication reviews, etc. takes time and money.   So, is it worth it? We may be passionate about what we do, but does our target market see the value? The answer is a resounding “sometimes”, but the good news is, it’s likely an emerging trend that is growing.

Although no one specific study answers the question, data on the use of design research can help paint a picture.

The Center for Health Design did surveys in 2009 and 2010 of design research in healthcare settings. In both years, approximately 33% of respondents indicated they always implemented healing gardens. Sounds great, but unfortunately the results are skewed too positively by limited sampling, and are not representative of the health care market as a whole. As a benchmark, the 2010 survey indicated 41.6% always used design research to make design decisions; quite high when compared with the 2010 Health Facilities Management survey, in which only 16% always used design research. The latter survey is probably more representative of general trends because of broader sampling.

What is trending positively is the occasional use of design research, and possibly implementation of healing gardens. The use of design research, “sometimes”, increased in the HFM survey from 25% in 2008, to 40% in 2009, and 60% in 2010.  What may be closer to reality is around 33% of projects implemented healing gardens occasionally in 2010; an increase of 6.9% from 2009. While the trending is positive, those numbers are indeed small.

Looking to the future, that could all change. If, for example, “sometimes” means 50% of the time, then 16.5% of projects implemented healing gardens in 2010. If the growth rate continues, then that would be 51% in 2015.  Combine this with an aging population, and we could see a big increase in demand.  In Canada alone, the number of seniors will more then double by 2036, and 3.4% (353 000) of those will likely live in seniors care facilities.

A case can also be made that trends in therapeutic site design are not only represented by healing gardens, but also by trends in healing environments.  A person’s outdoor experience of a facility is not just in gardens; wayfinding, loading, parking, waiting, socializing, exercising, etc., can all happen outside of gardens, and all influence stress reduction. According to the CHD survey, the top feature being incorporated all of the time is healing environments that are nurturing, therapeutic, and reduce stress. All things, evidence suggests, supported by therapeutic landscapes. This seems to suggest that other members of the consultant design team, providers, vendors, and business developers may not understand that connection, so it remains up to the therapeutic site designer to educate, at least for the time being.

The future of therapeutic site design looks promising. No doubt, as the Center for Health Design continues its ground breaking work, and evidence-based design continues to grow, we can put aside the lofty guesswork above, and turn to better data.