St. Patrick's Island
Photo Credit: Civitas
Initial Research by: Krista Renwick
Edited by: Samantha Miller & Nicole Brekelmans
Case study compiled in 2019
Project: St. Patrick's Island
Type of Urban Strategy: Industrial Landscapes, Ecological Infrastructure
Type of Project: Park Revitalization / Parks and Recreation / Naturalization
Location: Calgary, Alberta
Date Designed/Planned: 2010
Construction Completed: 2015
Designer: Civitas with W Architecture, IBI Group, and Matrix Solutions
St. Patrick's Island Park in downtown Calgary is one of the city's oldest parks, but in 2010 when this revitalization project began, the park was in a state of disrepair, underused, unsafe, and a hub for criminal activity. Growth of the East Village neighbourhood provided an opportunity to fund the revitalization of the park as a placemaking feature for the growing community and greater population of the city. Ecological history was used to guide the restoration of the island, which then serves to connect the community to the park, and in a biophilic approach to nature, strengthens these connections, the community, and the biodiversity of the island.
The organization of the site is driven by the decision to expose the backfilled river channel, restore the breach and original topography; all other park elements were built around this feature (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, n.d.). The excavation from the channel was reused to create the rise, which is a strong feature on the site and is designed to accommodate for large events such as concerts and movies (Ibid.).
The new George C. Kind pedestrian bridge was a feature that helped to define the layout of the park and makes the park accessible from both the south and north mainlands. The pedestrian bridge brings you to the westernmost side of the park and immediately into the area called “the tip”. Attracted by the large, permanent art installation, this part of the park features a vantage point to downtown Calgary and welcomes visitors to the park (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, 2015). Adjacent to The Tip is the restored channel and seasonal beach where the shallow water and sandbar make the water fully accessible, visitors are invited to wade and interact directly with the water (Ibid.). The preserved cottonwood forest is over 80 years old and was naturally revitalized following the flood in 2013.
A direct and meandering path carry visitors through the forest to come upon “the Rise” that is surrounded by cottonwoods; scaling this tall mound takes the visitor’s gaze up and level with the tree canopies (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, 2015). The Rise is sloped on the west side and features stairs on the east. The path at the bottom of the stairs leads to the Play Mound, lowland channel, a seasonal wetland with an elevated boardwalk, accessible picnic spots, stage, and amphitheatre (W Architecture, 2015).
An accessible transect cuts through the forest on the west to connect the pier where visitors are able to view the cove where the river is accessible for activities such as swimming or rafting (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, 2015). The parking lot is located on the west side of the park as well, more of the programmed amenities are concentrated around the vehicular access point and unprogrammed spaces are closer to the pedestrian access with the Rise serving as the central point of the park. The design of the park is meant to give visitors a “flowing” experience that brings people through the four separate restored and integrated ecosystems of the park (LAM, 2016).
PROJECT BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
The MacLeod mine has been a landmark at the entry to the town of Geraldton in northwestern Ontario since 1943, when Highway 11, one of the province’s two trans-Canada highways, was completed. When the mine was operating, it was a symbol that signalled prosperity. This changed in 1972 when the MacLeod mine closed after 34 years of continuous gold production. It was the last mine to operate in the area.
From then on, many people viewed the landmark as an eyesore, a reminder of the past. The site was not pretty: some of the surface infrastructures were left standing and it was not until 1986 when the tailings were vegetated. For over 20 years, the MacLeod mine and its owners presented this less-than-flattering face to the travelling public.
The transformation that began in 1995 was the result of a co-operative effort among a far-sighted community, a mining company and the government ministries that shared their vision. Today, the face presented to the travelling public on the Trans-Canada Highway is much improved. It includes a substantially rehabilitated historic mine that serves as a backdrop for a community tourism enhancement project. Features on the rehabilitated mine site that entice travellers to stop are a refurbished headframe, a Forest Fire Interpretive Centre, a Heritage Interpretive Centre situated on eight hectares of landscaped tailings, and, soon, a nine-hole expansion of the Geraldton golf course.
When Barrick Gold’s predecessor, American Barrick Resources Corp., purchased Lac Minerals Ltd. in 1994, it also acquired the liability of Lac’s closed mine sites, including MacLeod. Barrick has enlisted a world-renowned landscape architect, Prof. Martha Schwartz of Harvard University, to develop the landscape design for the tailings on which the Heritage Interpretive Centre is situated. This involved developing conceptual designs and obtaining the input and approval of the citizens of Geraldton. The result will be a dramatic and colourful entrance to the town, with terraced scrolls of alternating green and gold grasses, and ramps carpeted with red wildflowers.
GOAL OF THE PROJECT
As a general strategy, the project was based around “a landscape approach that nurtures the bond between people and nature” and was based on the idea that cities are part of nature (East Village Calgary, 2016). It aimed to create a naturalized landscape that restored the historical ecology, improve resistance to flooding. The designers wanted to make the park accessible to all people in all seasons including the waterfront and river access (East Village Calgary, 2016). The ultimate hope was that the park would not only create a destination for the entire city but a neighbourhood park that provided an identity to the surrounding community and fostered a sense of stewardship (LAM, 2016).
DESIGN, DEVELOPMENT, AND DECISION MAKING PROCESS
ROLE OF DESIGNERS
MAINTENANCE AND MANAGEMENT
All the funding including the $25 million for the new George C. King pedestrian bridge was provided by a community revitalization levy fund that was obtained through property taxes on new developments in the East Village (Klingbeil, 2015).
GENESIS OF THE PROJECT
The project development began in 2010 through extensive public engagement sessions led by the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation that involved more than 6000 Calgarians (Parks and Recreation, n.d.). The results of this engagement became the springboard for the design team. It was identified that the city of Calgary valued nature within the city and the landscape was an important part of their identity (LAM, 2016). Some other main points that were taken from the engagement were the desire to make the island accessible, keep it “wild” and provide places to feel a connection with nature to foster learning (Ibid,). Civitas is a proponent of the hypothesis of biophilia, the idea that humans have the innate desire to connect with nature, other animals and plants, and seek to design with this as a strategy and this is what lead to their biophilia based masterplan (Ibid.) (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, n.d.). Due to the large-scale changes, there was a concern that it would be difficult to get a permit for the work but because of the extensive restoration proposed, everything went through (LAM, 2016). Design development included categorization of all species of flora and fauna to plan the restoration component (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, n.d.). Construction began in 2013 but was then interrupted by the historic flood that occurred in that same year and was handed over to the public in 2015 (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, 2015).
Since the island is isolated from residential areas, it is important to at least in part address safety concerns through adequate programming that helps to keep the park populated. There are several programmed spaces: picnic areas, amphitheatre, the rise, children’s playground, and Confluence plaza. Additional programming is organized within these spaces; over 75 annual events per year are comprised of everything from festivals to guided nature walks (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, 2015). The park also puts on a variety of free events such as concerts, movies, fitness classes, workshops, art and children’s programs (Klingbeil, 2015). Although recognizing the importance of programming, especially initially, Susan Veres, spokeswoman for the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation noted that “the success of the park won’t be how we program it” (Ibid.). It is the hope of the project that the community will develop agency and responsibility and keep the park a vibrant space.