Wednesday, March 6, 2013

LEGO® of your traditional public engagement ideas

Posted By Ryan Hall

Have you ever attended one of The City’s many public engagement events and thought to yourself, “Wow this event could really use some LEGO® bricks?”

Well, last year I had the unique opportunity to give that thought a try with a mobile workshop we called Making Stations Places: Block by Block. Between April and December, my colleagues and I visited over 14 community festivals and local shopping malls to engage Calgarians in a discussion about The City’s Transit Oriented Development Framework.

The idea came from an interactive art installation I saw at the Brisbane Museum of Modern Art, where a large table of white LEGO® bricks was available for anyone to build whatever they wanted.  There were some really impressive buildings being made at that museum, and I wondered if a similar activity could be done to engage the public on Transit Oriented Development.

It can be tough for us planners to find the best way to involve citizens in the decisions we and City Council make each day. While the old models of town hall meetings and public hearings are still valuable, we are really trying to find new and innovative ways to hear from people who may not be able or comfortable to participate in such formal events. I thought we could try using LEGO® bricks to reach out to a whole new group of people we may not have heard from yet.

After getting 8,000 LEGO® bricks, setting some basic rules about maximum building height, and creating a mat for people to build on that looked like a map of a typical neighbourhood with an LRT station, we were ready. What followed was a series of 14 fun, informal and interactive planning events with participation from kids, parents and grandparents – many of whom were discussing Transit Oriented Development for the first time.

I am amazed at the diversity of people who participated and spoke with us about urban planning and the future of Calgary. Many people were already familiar with the concept of building around major transit stops from places they had already lived such as Singapore, Bogota, London, Seoul, and many other major cities across the globe. They had great thoughts about how the concept could be applied here in Calgary.

The creativity displayed by participants was also impressive, with people building an array of different buildings and public spaces within the constraints we actually face in Calgary. The desire for development that is sensitive to the surrounding context was a key theme we heard, and we got a good idea of what people meant by that when we looked at their creations. Wanting great public spaces and high-quality architecture were also themes that repeated themselves at every event.

The whole experience showed me the importance of trying new approaches when involving the public so we can get ideas from all Calgarians, wherever they are. Judging from the amount of time they put into my LEGO® idea I think this is a realization that many of my colleagues share, so hopefully you will see even more innovative engagement from us in the future.

Ryan Hall is a Senior Planner with The City of Calgary’s Land Use Planning and Policy unit who works primarily in Calgary’s established communities. His post is the third in a series on the Calgary City News Blog to highlight some of the exciting work staff are doing in The City’s planning department. 

Do you have any ideas for how The City could get you involved in urban planning decisions? Tell us about them in the comments section below!

* LEGO® is a trademark of the LEGO Group of companies which does not sponsor, authorize or endorse this site or the events it describes.

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