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Great Urban Design

Creating the framework to achieve excellent design outcome.

Great urban design is essential to making a livable, attractive, memorable and functional city, and prioritizing urban design excellence is a critical consideration in overall city-shaping and in building a legacy of quality public and private developments for future generations.

The Calgary Municipal Development Plan defines design expectations through the Urban Design Elements. These Elements inform city policy and create the framework against which the urban design aspects of all project applications will be measured.

The current interpretation of these Elements are introduced below.

Urban Design Elements

  • Place

    Every place has a distinctive pattern of built form, landscape, history, culture and activities.

  • Scale

    The size and scale of sites, buildings and structures impact one’s sense of place and experience of the urban environment.

  • Amenity

    Well designed architecture and public realm which welcome all people with spaces and routes that are attractive, comfortable, and safe is a valuable community amenity.

  • Legibility

    Attractive, comfortable, and easily navigable routes for all travel modes which connect places and neighbourhoods contribute to the livability of cities and the health of citizens.

  • Vibrancy

    Streets and community environments achieve vibrancy through architecture and urban design which creates active places supporting uses which offer variety, choice and fun.

  • Resilience

    Architecture and urban design concepts are resilient and sustainable through their durability and adaptability to change in social, technological, economic and climatic conditions.


The City of Calgary has produced a number of urban design guidelines that apply to specific areas or types of development. The following non-statutory urban design guidelines are considered by the development authority during the review of planning applications. 

Urban Design Element details

Objectives and quality criteria of the urban design elements are intended to encourage desired outcomes and facilitate consistent review practices.



Recognize and enhance the unique and emerging identity of a place by responding to context, local policy and community objectives through the contribution of innovative architecture and public realm.


  • Does the site planning show innovation in addressing site constraints and challenges?
  • Does the design respect existing topography, landscape, and archaeology?
  • Does the site design accommodate people of all abilities?


  • Is the project visually interesting and unique?
  • Does the architecture respond to landmark and gateway opportunities presented by the site?
  • Does the design reflect any distinctive social, cultural or historical aspects of the site and community?

Public realm

  • Does the project contribute a high quality and fully accessible public realm and appropriately scaled open space?



Ensure appropriate transitions between building masses and adjacent buildings and spaces; define street and open space edges and bring human scale through articulation, materials, details and landscaping.


  • Does the arrangement of uses and structures on the site address street edges well?
  • Is the scale and placement of buildings and structures appropriate for the street and public space size and type?
  • Are large service and surface parking areas modulated and screened by structures and landscaping?


  • Does the design employ strategies to reduce the impact of the building height and bulk?
  • Is the street wall well defined?
  • Does the design use human scale details to enhance street character?

Public realm

  • Are public spaces well edged and framed by structures and/or landscaping?
  • Does the design include details to enhance street character and encourage use of the public realm?



Ensure that public sidewalks and gathering spaces are generously proportioned, comfortable, safe, fully accessible, and framed by transparent, permeable facades which allow for activation throughout the year.


  • Are equitable, inviting access and varied movement options provided for all?
  • Does the design work with sun orientation and seasonal climate variation?
  • Does the site plan safely accommodate all travel modes?
  • Are service and utility requirements located appropriately to lessen visual impact?


  • Does the building(s) meet or exceed expectations for universal access design?
  • Does the architecture provide an inviting and inclusive street edge which feels safe to all users?

Public realm

  • Does the public realm design prioritize pedestrians and cyclists over vehicles?
  • Is the public realm visually interesting, comfortable, and safe during all seasons?
  • Are the public spaces designed for people of all abilities and ages?
  • Do the public spaces meet or exceed expectations for universal access design?



Create logical, permeable networks of streets and pathways that connect within and between neighbourhoods and public places; design well defined community and building entrances with distinctive, memorable attributes.


  • Does the project provide a permeable, fine grained and functional urban structure of blocks and streets?
  • Does the project provide legible, accessible, continuous walking and cycling routes within the site that connect to adjacent systems?
  • Does the proposed network consider future expansion into surrounding areas?
  • Are large parking areas designed with clear, safe, direct pedestrian connections?


  • Are buildings designed with clearly marked and differentiated entries to facilitate wayfinding?

Public realm

  • Are the public routes and spaces configured to facilitate easy and safe navigation with clear paths and appropriately placed wayfinding elements?



Ensure that new developments contribute positively through well designed architecture that provides choice for all users and animates the adjacent public realm.


  • Will the building orientation, architecture and finishes contribute to the creation of an animated streetscape and to the success of the proposed uses?
  • Does the project contribute to the economic variety and vibrancy of the neighbourhood?


  • Do the buildings contribute to the vibrancy of the streets and community overall?
  • Is there a variety of residential unit types and sizes provided?
  • Does the design include opportunities for varied commercial and work environments?

Public realm

  • Are outdoor shared spaces designed for a variety of users and uses?



Ensure that projects provide opportunities, through their site layout, spatial configuration, materials, and sustainable design features, for responsible operation and continuous adaptation to change over time.


  • Is the project designed to provide a range of facilities and services?
  • Is the project designed to respond to changes in economic and social conditions over time?
  • Does the site plan respond to climate resilience/sustainable design expectations?
  • Does the site design encourage active lifestyle choices?


  • Does the project show indication of sustainable design practices and materials?
  • Will the building accommodate a range of uses both now and in the future?
  • Is the building designed to endure over time with reasonable maintenance?

Public realm

  • Is the public space adaptable for multiple uses over short and medium term?
  • Does the public realm design respond to climate resilience/sustainability expectations?

This information has no legal status and cannot be used as an official interpretation of the various bylaws, codes and regulations currently in effect. The City of Calgary accepts no responsibility to persons relying solely on this information. Web pages are updated periodically. ​