St. Patrick’s Island, which sits at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers in the center of Calgary, Alberta, is on the cusp of a major redevelopment that will return it to its 19th century roots as a public park. The Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) and the City of Calgary recently broke ground on a redesign of the site completed by New York City–based W-Architecture and Landscape Architecture and Denver-based urban planning and landscape architecture firm Civitas. The revitalized public space is scheduled to open in the fall of 2014.
Currently home to the city zoo, but otherwise abandoned for decades, St. Patrick’s island is to Calgary as Treasure Island is to San Francisco, or Roosevelt Island to New York, or Northerly Island to Chicago. This disused treasure in the middle of The Stampede City became a priority for redevelopment in 2007, after Calgary’s government formed the CMLC to implement its Rivers District Community Revitalization Plan—an overarching scheme to revitalize much of the inner-city waterfront. The island, an “all but forgotten treasure at the city’s centre,” as CMLC describes it, offers 31-acres of land that will be purposed for recreational uses. The new design includes such amenity-rich areas as The Rise, Play Mound, Lowland Channel, Picnic Grove, The Lookout, Amphitheater Plaza, The Cove, The Gallery Forest, and The Seasonal Breach.
In its current condition, the island is primarily wooded. In the 1960s, portions were backfilled to displace a seasonal river channel. The new design takes advantage of this piece of civil engineering with an area called The Seasonal Breach, which includes space for ice-skating in the winter and a children’s pool during the summer. W-Architecture and Civitas also took advantage of other existing elements on the island: large trees, vantage points with skyline views, natural oases. “We just want to dramatize it and have more ways for people to access it,” said Barbara Wilks, principal of W-Architecture. The Rise, for example, rises to an elevation of 30 feet above grade, giving Calgarians a promontory from which to view their city.
A new bridge—St. Patrick’s Bridge—is in the works, linking the island to Calgary’s East Village neighborhood to the south and Bridgeland district to the north. This sort of connectivity is made a priority elsewhere by the River District Community Revitalization Plan. Many of the city’s neighborhoods are currently undergoing major infrastructural amendments as the CMLC hopes to “inject optimism and energy back into the inner city.” Design and construction costs for both the bridge and the park redevelopment will range between $25 million and $45 million.