U/D Kicks Off its Design Series: Retail Main Street

by University District

Look All Around with an Eye on Design!


We all know the saying, “Don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers.” This is true in University District, too.


But we’d like to take things one step further and encourage residents and visitors to stop and notice the design elements that show why “life works here.”



Travis Oberg is the Director of Design for University District and kicks off the first in a series of blog posts about his work to bring distinction to U/D through planning and design.


Care to share with us a bit about your role here and your professional background, Travis (pictured left)?



Absolutely! It’s been a decade in Calgary’s fast moving development world that brought me to U/D. I have enjoyed the certain pleasure of working with Qualico Communities and Stantec Consulting in a range of roles that built upon my education and training in real estate development and geomatics. All topics related to planning, project leadership, public consultation and sustainability excite me and inspire my work as Director of Design for the University District development.


My peers at Calgary’s Urban Development Institute also inspire through collective work throughout the city to both solve practical problems in creative and attractive ways! Let me try and explain what happens in community design and why it matters by starting with a closer look at the Retail Main Street, with an eye on its design elements.


Great. University District’s Retail Main Street certainly is coming to life! As residents and visitors stroll around, what could they experience through design that they may not readily notice?


People may not know that community design includes choosing which business belongs in a place best. By design, U/D has sought out interest from brands that we believe will be loved by our residents and visitors and, as a result, thrive! Not samey-samey, not all small or large, not all local or well-known. We naturally drew a lot of expressions of interest from businesses who wanted to locate here. So one of the most striking things that people will notice is the retail mix — all by design!



From Monogram Coffee to YYC Cycle, Osmow’s to Orangetheory Fitness, we hope you love the variety and practicality that combine here.

The retail mix in U/D is part planned and part spontaneous…based on our vision and who put their “hat” in the ring as plans were taking shape. We are so proud of the energy they all bring and bounce off of one another!


LOOK CLOSER: Take note too that there are natural-feeling physical breaks between shops and restaurants that were planned during construction. Sometimes our eyes need a break from “busyness.”


Streetscapes are not the hodge podge that results in most major urban settings when you have a chance to build from new. What is there to look for on the Retail Main Street U/D?


That is true to some degree, but we know from our research and travels that perfect symmetry and predictability can look pretty on paper and seem efficient. But in reality in U/D there is another factor at play. Our design is far from stiff. We know that meandering matters! That planters and benches, varied heights and textures delight the eye and bring warmth to urban design. Partnering with the builders we have so far reinforces how liberty and character bring quality of life to new communities like ours.




LOOK CLOSER:Take a second to consider the paving on walkways and the surfaces of buildings and how they both vary and complete a feeling when walking along the street!


How interesting! Would you talk with us a little more about the guidelines builders were given and the liberties to mix-up the materials they use, styles of architecture etc and surprise people with information about how organic U/D’s approach to design truly is.


Most definitely. There are very carefully determined parameters and standards for the sustainable development of each parcel, including our very important Main Street. That said, each builder partner and their architectural and design teams had tremendous freedom to work with materials that work for their vision as well as ours.



Let’s touch on how U/D design along the Retail Main Street fulfills the community’s mission.


Our overall mission is to create a complete, vibrant and sustainable community that enhances the UCalgary experience in harmony with the surrounding neighbourhoods. What’s more, we have taken special effort and put it towards accessibility. Along the Retail Main Street you will see brickwork, carefully planned lighting, planter boxes and hanging baskets, custom designed poles and easy access to the greenspaces that feed into the Retail Main Street creating connections throughout the community.


LOOK CLOSER: Did you have a chance to read our blog post from last fall about the importance of great lighting? Outdoors and in! Visit here.


Do you have any closing thoughts about the inspiration for the design of the Retail Main Street to share?


I would like to add that there is no one place that we looked to emulate over the years that U/D has taken shape. It’s been a natural, organic experience and result! While we visited many places in Canada and around the continent, we took global inspiration to heart. In the end, U/D is purely unique to Calgary and its builder interpretations, its UCalgary proximity and its people. Such a wonderful mix of elements define its design. We are all proud. We are excited to see it continue to take shape in the years to come.


LOOK CLOSER: Beyond buildings, streetscapes, retailers and materials, programming and art are also integral to the way a community is used and enjoyed. Have you seen our newest mural? Learn more here!


We can’t wait to see you on the Retail Main Street!

It’s passion for design details that shows at U/D and you are sure to love on our Retail Main Street. Explore insights into how design matters in our new blog series. If you have suggestions for design stories, we would love to hear from you! Post your thoughts on University District on Facebook, @udistrictyyc_ on Instagram or Twitter. And let’s stay connected through community design: Mindful and Vibrant!

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