Under the Rainbow: How one project sparked a trend of activating space into place

Under the Rainbow: How one project sparked a trend of activating space into place

By Marin Peake-MacAlister



It’s no secret that dark, neglected or low-traffic areas can create unsafe feelings for those who pass through. For that exact reason, the City of Calgary put forth plans for Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), which aims to deter criminal activity and create an overall sense of safety.


According to Calgary’s CPTED analysis, this can be done through three principles: a well-maintained home, building or community park that creates a sense of guardianship; encouraging activities in those spaces by residents, visitors and other legitimate users; and natural access control guides to help people enter and have a space through the placement of entrances, exits, fences, landscaping and lighting.


But for Christie Page, a resident of Hillhurst Sunnyside, matters had to be taken into her own hands.


During the summer of 2017, Page attended a block party for Neighbour Day in her community. Between participating in activities and connecting with neighbours, Page got to chatting with a fellow community member, Darren Mazzei, who told her about a neglected LRT bridge – just off 10th St. N.W. on the Bow to Bluff Corridor – in the neighbourhood of Sunnyside.


“I knew what he was talking about,” she says. “[It was] an awful place.”


That same week, Page took a photo of the area under the bridge, printed it out and coloured it in with her rainbow vision for the mural. With her idea for the bridge now in physical form, she tied the paper to an existing pole under the bridge with the words ‘Let’s meet up under the rainbow.’


Page says the idea for the rainbow mural came from two things: the shape of the bridge and accessibility for community members.


“It was naturally designed for an arc shaped thing,” she says. “And we really wanted to make it simple so that everyone could take part [in painting it]. There’s no special skill required.”


Seeing the note, Mazzei reconnected with Page to apply for an ActivateYYC grant.


ActivateYYC is a tactical urbanism microgrant initiative by the Federation of Calgary Communities that aims to support volunteer-driven projects, engage the community and create meaningful changes to shared spaces.


Grants provided by ActivateYYC require individuals to partner with an organization for insurance purposes, so the Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association (HSCA) was contacted for support.


Kate Stenson, executive director of HSCA, says they strive to invest in and support community projects, so she didn’t hesitate to jump on board.


“Our mission is to preserve and enhance a healthy and vibrant quality of life for the residents of Hillhurst and Sunnyside,” she says. “This project just exudes vibrancy and it’s these kinds of placemaking projects that are just such a perfect fit with what we want to see.”


With this project specifically, Stenson says that it was much needed.


“There was some activity happening under that bridge that was making residents in the neighbourhood feel unsafe,” she says. “So the idea was to brighten it up, make it beautiful and make it a really positive space instead of feeling like this more negative space.”


Apart from the insurance support that HSCA provided, the community association also stepped in to help out with their own resources.


One of the ways this was done was through lending their scaffolding to reach the higher portions of the arch under the bridge.


“We consider ourselves as just the backbone where we were just playing a supportive role or filling gaps where they needed to be filled,” she says. “[We were] really letting the residents lead the way in the project.”


Page, who took on the role of lead artist and co-creator along with Darren Mazzei, says that the days leading up to the project were nerve wracking because she was unsure if anyone would show up to help paint the large area. But, when the day came, she says that she was surprised by how many people ended up helping.


“At one point, we had a neighbour walk by who really didn’t want to paint but he’s like, ‘you should paint the rocks too,’” she says. “We had extra paint leftover and it was something kids could really take part in.  It wasn’t something we had planned to do, it was just somebody’s comment and we went with it just to give more jobs to people because even when the arch was done, people weren’t ready to go home.”


With the rainbow mural painting being finished just before the start of Pride celebrations, many were left wondering if this was a statement to that.


Page says that while it wasn’t originally on her radar, she encouraged everyone to enjoy the new space activated under the LRT bridge.


“If people want to use it to celebrate [Pride], I think that’s a great thing,” she says.


One of the main goals of the project was to activate the neglected space into an inclusive area for all to enjoy. In that mission, Page says the bridge was a resounding success.


Instead of avoiding the space, Page says people now gravitate towards the area under the bridge.


“Now people sit and they spend time and my kids want to go and play games, like go run to this rock or run to that rock based on colour,” she says. “It’s positive now. Before, there would have been negative stories about the area and now, I don’t think there are as many.”


ActivateYYC was instrumental in Sunnyside’s activation under the LRT bridge and Page recommends other communities take advantage of the grant program to improve their own neighbourhood.


“Sunnyside is this beautiful, weird, eclectic community and there’s no reason other communities can’t be,” she says. “I hope that other people go in and do this in their neighbourhoods. So many of the suburbs are so repetitive and you can’t tell where you are. It’s so easy and makes such a huge difference to the neighbourhood, like it really will be memorable and amazing if you just make it happen.”


Kate Stenson of the Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association echoes this sentiment.


“Be the change you want to see in your community,” she says. “Because I think that as an organization, there’s lots that HSCA can do. But when the community members are sort of out there all enacting the change that they want to see, that’s when we see a really big ripple effect.”