exploreCalgary’s Sense of Discovery

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mC:t    2015.06.08    #makecalgarytalk

We relish the idea of going out in nature and exploring. Driving to the mountains and trying out a new hike to ultimately come across the unknown. Discovering unfamiliar sceneries and places is a phenomenon rather foreign in the city. What if we were to approach the city the same way we approached nature – an opportunity to get lost and discover? Not a new concept. 17th Century Paris had their own urban explorer known as the flâneur who would set out idle and meandering through the city.

Conversely, nature fosters this discovery. Nature was not designed and is thus inherently a place of mystery. Wednesday’s article on the Bow River shows that nature’s non-uniform route helps give the city corners, edges, and promontories that play host to parks and amenities that we would not and could not otherwise design. However the parts we can design, we design safely. Everything is laid out neatly on a sensible grid, wayfinding is in place so we do not get lost, and that seems to be all there is to it. We do not take risks and this leads to an air of predictability. We want full exposure, and so do shops. Understandably, why build something to be hidden; only to be found when one wanders off the beaten path. But with that, goes the opportunity for discovery. How can the city begin to foster that sense of discovery we find in nature? I set out into Kensington where a few elements are already in place that could be further expanded on to encourage this sense of discovery.




The breakaway (Kensington Crescent) from Kensington Road creates a fork and an entirely new condition. Walking down Kensington Road, two options present themselves. To one unfamiliar with the area, this becomes where their own sense of exploration takes over to choose which path to take. What draws them may be that Kensington Crescent is off the main road and therefore appears to carry with it more secrets than the fully exposed Kensington Road.



Into the Grotto

The bridge linking the two buildings creates a tunnel condition beneath. The descent adds to the exploration, each step down is accompanied with the imagination creating different scenarios at what may exist beyond.



Though the final destination is a parking lot, the opportunity to create a hidden district is presented. A chance to create a moment unlike the ones that exist in Vancouver’s Gastown where the alleyway plays host to shop patios, and the city’s ‘back of house’ becomes a celebrated feature of the street. Street art tends to occupy the alleyways and is the reward of exploring the building’s other side, the Gastown example takes it a step further with making it more than a visual experience.


Don’t Mind the Gap

We are often presented with a gaps between buildings along the street, and as seen with Kensington’s Container Bar, we are able to occupy them with successfully. These types of spaces are further explored in a previous makeCalgary talk post entitled Found Spaces, initiating the beginning of these opportunities for discovery in Calgary. What happens when the gap is no more than a few feet wide such as the one pictured below in Kensington?



Gees Court off of London’s Oxford Street – a literal gap no more than a few feet wide between the buildings, leads you down a continuously widening laneway of shops to an end destination of restaurants surrounding a centrecourt surrounded by patios. If you blink you miss it! The reward of meandering off the mainstreet.



The reward need not always be shops either: it could be a park giving illusions to a hidden oasis within the city, or even places to live. Everything does not need to be in clear plain sight, we should allow the city to keep some secrets.

We tend to create a practical and functional city at the cost of discovery. Yet even so, in a city where we know the places we need to know, and go to the places where we need to go, that still leaves a lot of new things and places to be discovered. So, rather than taking that leisurely stroll through the countryside, take that chance on the city instead. Choose a spot you’re unfamiliar with and let yourself get lost!


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