Reimagining the Bow River Pathway with the Sunnyside Brightening Committee

The Bow River Pathway is visited by thousands of Calgarians daily and provides essential habitat for wildlife in the city. The north bank of this greenway doubles as a levee protecting the Sunnyside community from river flooding. In 2021, this levee will be built higher to protect the community from a 1-in-100-year flood. The construction presents a once in a lifetime opportunity for a complete redesign of the greenway.

Summer of 2020, a group of Sunnysiders and myself organized the Sunnyside Brightening Committee (SBC) to collaborate with the City of Calgary to reimagine the greenway. Highlights are below but for more detail, check out: SBC’s Vision for the Bow River Pathway.pdf

Collaboratively Mapping Community Knowledge:

SBC combined their knowledge of the area with the City of Calgary’s public plans to produce a vision for the Sunnyside stretch of the greenway. The plan involves shifting the flood barrier back from the riverbank towards a busy commuter road. By decoupling the limited green space from the road, visitors would be reoriented towards the river, activating the area for recreation.

I worked with Tom Brown to produce the following map that illustrates SBC’s shared vision as community members. Tom made the architectural profiles and I generated the data and following map in ArcPro. We used this map to communicate our vision to the municipality and stakeholders.

Improving Access to Sunny Beach:

“Sunny Beach” is the name given to a sizeable informal park in the river’s floodplain. Popular with the community as a “wild” spot in the city, Sunny Beach contains a number of trails and a small gravely beach. However, with the implementation of a higher flood barrier, the community is concerned that access to the park will be cut off. The idea is not to redevelop the space into an official park (which would trigger new regulations) but leave it informal and simply provide better access for safety and recreation. SBC proposed improved access at two points to create a circuit of trails:

First, on the east end of the beach, to connect it with the future raft launch (cross section #4 on the map above)  
Second, at the west end of the beach. Here, large stone blocks have been proposed to create a seating area that would double as steps down to the beach and forest (cross section #3 on the above map):

Creating a Naturalized Plaza:

Community members noted that between cross sections #1 and #2, they had never seen anyone use the existing spaces sandwiched between the existing bicycle and footpaths. They commented the value of the space however, the bordering road me it noisy and unsafe for kids to play. Realigning the barrier would create a new plaza area for the thousands who visit the Peace Bridge daily. Rather than a highly sculpted and concrete design, Sunnysiders prefer a more “naturalized” look with grassy gathering areas, small vegetation, and stone benches. Here are the existing conditions followed with possible realignment below:

Brightening the Barrier: History and Connection with the Bow River

Sunnyside has a history of being an active and creative community. With the barrier redesign including sections flood wall and 2km of concrete surface, SBC has proposed a number of creative ways to reflect the character of the community. SBC has requested dedicated spaces of floodwall for murals to tell the history of the land in partnership with Indigenous and First Nations communities. In other areas, benching and vertical playgrounds could be included better connect Calgarians with the Bow.

Building Path Forward through Collaboration:

As of May 2021, the Sunnyside Flood Barrier is still under design and the inclusion of these community-generated is not yet secured. The Sunnyside Brightening Committee will continue engaging with the City of Calgary Water Resources and Parks, as well as City Council and community members. We believe that this barrier redesign provides a once in a lifetime project that will impact Sunnysiders and thousands of visitors every day. We’re confident that together we can produce a beautiful, ecologically beneficial greenway. If you’d like to join us, please email me at

For more details, check out this pdf of our ideas: SBC’s Vision for the Bow River Pathway.pdf

: Preston Welker 2022 : ︎ ︎ : Portland, OR :