Poor walkability is not exclusively an urban problem. In Canada's rapidly growing northern communities, walkability has taken a back seat to more acute social and environmental challenges. Arviat's Eco Park is a new model for the North, providing safe and comfortable places to walk within the community, while keeping traditional bonds to the land alive through programming and interpretive design.
Arviat (pronounced Arq-viat) is a remote community in Canada’s arctic on the western coast of Hudson Bay. Like all of Nunavut’s communities, Arviat is located above the treeline and is only accessible by air or sea. With approximately 2,300 people and a growing population, it is one of Nunavut’s largest communities.
Arviat is a community with strong ties to traditional knowledge and values. Many people speak the Inuktitut language, practice traditional arts and crafts, and maintain knowledge in relation to living with the land including hunting, fishing, trapping and plant harvesting. However, many of these activities take place out on the land away from the community, limiting experiences to those who can afford to travel and those who have knowledge of these practices. The Eco Park aims to provide recreational spaces within the community to enhance everyday experiences, suited to a wide range of age and user groups. The intention is to provide a link between walkability, education, public health, tourism, traditional knowledge, and local engagement; and provide spaces for sharing community ways of life with those who visit the site.
Existing challenges of walkability in Arviat include a lack of public infrastructure (the community is essentially built on a gravel pad with no sidewalks or parks), extreme climatic conditions (ATVs and snowmobiles are frequently used to travel short distances to limit exposure to conditions such as windchills that can reach -65 degrees Celsius), and the presence of polar bears (one must be aware of their surroundings and are often advised to stay close to the community for safety). In addition to these challenges, high costs of transporting building materials to the remote community provide huge technical challenges for designing the built environment. The Eco Park addresses these concerns by preserving an area of wetlands within the community adjacent to Arviat’s multi-school Educational Campus, providing walking trails, structures for shelter, and platforms for polar bear safety. The design utilizes local materials in innovative ways including gravel for trails and gathering areas, stone-filled gabion baskets for seating and defining space, reclaimed pallet wood for cladding, and reclaimed sea cans (shipping containers) for shelter.
The main gathering area within the Eco Park provides areas for school activities and local events such as performances, arts and crafts, ceremonies and storytelling. A widened boardwalk acts as an informal stage with a gabion windscreen that doubles as an outdoor gallery. The design provides comfort from climatic elements and compelling reasons to gather, get out on the land, and walk within the community.
A large component of the Eco Park is the interpretive strategy, which utilizes traditional ecological knowledge expressed through local voices. The strategy guides users through the park with a series of interpretive points that describe and frame views of site-specific elements. The intention is to entice movement from point to point to encourage a type of site engagement that is experienced through walking. Graphics incorporating local artwork and textual descriptions in both English and Inuktitut syllabics will be designed to provide quality information in unique ways.
Future phases of the project will engage youth and Elders through the collection of their stories and artwork, involve local residents and community groups in the construction of the park, and encourage teachers and students to use the park in their curriculum. This local engagement will assist a connection between the park and the people of Arviat, extending the concept of walkability throughout the community.
The design of the Eco Park was prepared by HTFC Planning & Design (landscape architects and planners) in collaboration with Accutech Engineering Inc. and Aarluk Consulting. The design team worked closely with the Mayor of Arviat and Hamlet staff to realize community visions.