"We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us." -Winston Churchill
Calgary has seen some substantial investment in new buildings lately, many of them public spaces (the National Music Centre, the new downtown library). But there's more to urban architecture than having fancy buildings. There's a strong economic imperative to it as well.
Urban aesthetics matter to the attractiveness of a city, and thus to attracting newcomers. Attracting and retaining people - especially the young, talented and educated people who can go anywhere-is crucial. (In the recent Amazon second headquarters contest, Amazon explicitly looked for cities that are interesting and appealing to young tech workers.)
The question usually boils down to finances—and in the case of public buildings/spaces, how many tax dollars should go to building amazing structures. It's a good debate to have, but the answer must never be "build the cheapest thing possible."
Buildings and public spaces are with us for a long time. Certainly adding millions to the price of a project is a choice we have to make prudently. But because they are permanent decisions, the public buildings we choose to build should be inspiring and interesting. They should bring people together in community. Ugly, utilitarian structures may be cheaper to slap up, but they come with a higher economic cost in the long run.
Todd talked about this recently as part of The Hoot, a regular radio segment on Calgary Today on Newstalk770 with Angela Kokott and on 630 CHED with J'lynNye and Andrew Grose.