June 4, 2019

Class of 2019: Planning grad dedicated to improving the 'hood for the next generation

Robyn Erhardt brings more than a little inside knowledge to capstone project
Robyn Erhardt, centre, shares a thought with instructor Douglas Leighton at the SAPL Year-End-Show
Robyn Erhardt, centre, shares a thought with instructor Douglas Leighton at the SAPL Year-End-Show Neil Zeller

Robyn Erhardt, who is graduating with a Master's in Planning from the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape (SAPL), remembers riding her bike as a kid in neighbourhoods that she and her classmates examined for their final, capstone project.

As they met with community associations and residents of Westgate, Rosscarrock and Glendale, Erhardt not only brought inside knowledge from growing up nearby, she was also thinking ahead to how she and her son may use the area’s amenities near their home in southwest Calgary. Erhardt had a baby boy, Leon, in early May.

“That was actually part of the conversation,” she says. “How do I want to use these parks? What do I want to see there for kids and for the adults watching? We aimed to create a healthier, more walkable, and sustainable neighbourhood.”

Erhardt and her classmates met repeatedly with the communities and City officials to get ideas and feedback as they developed design strategies for transit and active mobility, parks and recreation, and land-use zoning. At the end of the project, each group had developed an Area Redevelopment Plan, which they gave to the community associations to guide future decisions.

“The communities have a lot of opportunity to redevelop elements pretty easily to be a lot more walkable, or just enhance the spaces so that people use them,” she says, “small interventions that can make a big difference, like adding certain human-scaled elements to an empty park to really create a vibrant community destination.”

Initially Erhardt thought she might like to study architecture. But after working in marketing at an architecture firm and getting to see how a project comes together, she was drawn to the planning side. “I think because it's big picture, big idea, where you're organizing a lot of different elements that all come together to help create a better city,” she says.

And Erhardt has an innate ability to see the big picture, says Mary-Ellen Tyler, associate dean of planning and landscape architecture at SAPL. “Having taught and been involved in regional planning practice for over 30 years, I have observed a large number of practitioners and students. I have no hesitance in saying that Robyn's in the top three per cent of those with a natural ability to see the big picture as well as the details. She is open to learning new ideas, very good at critical analysis and is a creative problem-solver with great communication skills,” says Tyler.

“Robyn exemplifies all the planning skills and values that make me believe that the future of planning is in good hands."

Over the course of the next eight or nine months, Erhardt plans to stay involved in the field by volunteering with community associations and other organizations. She will start looking for a job, “ideally in a small firm,” early next year. In the meantime she and Leon will be “walking around and getting a feel for things, and what works and what doesn't.”