The Reinvention of Sunnyhill


Sunnyhill Housing Co-operative (SHC) faces a very uncertain future. Located in a part of Calgary where houses cost on average of $650,000, SHC has to retrofit its aging townhouses just when federal support is drying up. In late 2009, with support from the BC-Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance, students from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Environmental Design undertook the “Sunnyhill Futures Project” to help SHC make plans for 2020. Co-op members asked them to address not just SHC’s dilemma, but to help housing co-ops across Canada to set new standards of socially, ecologically, and economically sustainable community.

A systems framework was developed to guide the design and to clarify its political, social, and cultural context. Next came a statement of Sunnyhill’s values. At a design charette (right), residents explored ways to renovate and reconfigure the co-op. The students drafted proposals, took feedback, and then presented a final conceptual design.

The outcome was a compelling vision of a city neighbourhood in which the co-op was an anchor, not an annex. High environmental standards applied to retrofits and new buildings. There were more housing units as well as retail, commercial, and light industrial space. Yet green space was also greater, thanks to the consolidation of land use and to car sharing. (See the perspective completed by the student team for the final report, below.)

This experience changed the participants. Trust and solidarity grew between SHC members and the students. Residents thrived on the opportunity to experiment with buildings and traffic patterns, and with the co-op’s orientation to its natural environs and to the rest of the city. Their outlook began to shift from a defensive introversion to a confident, inspired extroversion.

The Sunnyhill Futures Project showed how communities can arrive at strategies which address local housing, energy efficiency, environmental responsibility, and the economy. It also demonstrated how much financial, intellectual, and social capital these solutions entail.

This article is part of the i4 special series, Housing We Can Afford, produced in partnership with the BC-Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance (BALTA). It is also one of a series of articles sponsored by the Canadian Social Economy Research Partnerships (CSERP) to celebrate its 6-year contribution (2005-11) to our understanding of the importance of Canada’s social economy to the resolution of fundamental social and economic issues. Funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) is gratefully acknowledged.

A housing co-op imagines a much bigger future, thanks to a student design team
Keough, Noel
Braun, Brad
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