Brick by brick, students across Calgary are going to have the opportunity to redesign, restructure and rebuild the city's downtown. The City's Downtown Strategy team has collaborated with the Calgary Board of Education (CBE), the Calgary Public Library, and Microsoft Canada to launch Level Up, Calgary!, where students can explore, create and prototype designs in a pixelated version of downtown Calgary.
Steve Martin, a grade seven teacher at Twelve Mile Coulee School, sees this as a great opportunity for students to take something they do for fun, like spending hours at home playing Minecraft, and apply it towards the real world.
"This is creativity with purpose – we're actually going to develop something that could help to solve real world issues in our downtown," said Martin. "It's great that students can take skills that they've built without even knowing and apply them towards creating something that could be realized in our city."
Level Up, Calgary! Is the first student Minecraft: Education Edition design challenge of its kind in Canada. CBE Students from all grade levels can visit the Central Library, explore Olympic Plaza and interact with characters from the Indigenous community and experts from The City, with the challenge being "How might we reimagine our public spaces to enrich the lives of Calgarians and strengthen our community?"
For The City, this partnership is an effort to connect with Calgary's youth and get them thinking about the challenges and opportunities that the city's downtown is currently facing.
"Downtown belongs to all Calgarians and we want to encourage Calgary's youth to think about their downtown and what its future means for them," said Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who pops up in the game to help students learn about Calgary's downtown. "Level Up, Calgary! gives students the opportunity to take ownership of the future of downtown and design public spaces that could make downtown a better place."
City building is a priority of The City's Downtown Strategy and it is important to start conversations with Calgary's youth on the next generation of downtown to help shift The City's thinking about what the future may hold. The Downtown Strategy was launched in 2019 as an effort to bring together downtown's partners and tackle the issues and opportunities that downtown Calgary is facing and begin the roadmap to downtown's reinvention. This partnership with the CBE is a collaboration to bring a new viewpoint on Calgary's downtown to the table.
Students will learn about The City's Downtown Strategy and how it focuses on building a vibrant downtown and liveable communities. This includes learning about creating great public spaces, the efforts to support the downtown business community, making downtown a better place to live and visit, and how people, information and ideas are connected. They'll also have the opportunity to "speak" with virtual versions of downtown leaders to help solve challenges and create their designs. This includes Mayor Nenshi, Blackfoot Elder Saa'kokoto, Kate Thompson from the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, and members of The City's Downtown Strategy team.
"A thriving downtown needs to not only be a centre of business, but also somewhere that people want to live and build a community," said Thom Mahler, program lead for the Downtown Strategy. "Kids are a big part of this. We need to hear their ideas and understand their perspectives to help us move downtown Calgary forward into the future."
Once the Level Up, Calgary!, challenge is complete, The City will look at opportunities to recreate student designs around the downtown. This could mean building real-word examples of the designs or representing them visually around the downtown.
For Martin, the program and completed designs are a learning opportunity for students about how they can be part of positive change in their own city.
"I'm really looking for them to understand that government is something that works for them and when we participate we get a say," he said.
To learn more about Level Up, Calgary!, please visit the program website.