Rob Tarulli

Top 40 Under 40 2013

Photography Curtis Trent

Age: 38

Job Title: Senior Land Use Planner, Edmonton Catholic Schools

Why He’s Top 40: He is a champion for school-centred neighbourhoods, changing the way cities are planned.

What Do You Like Most About Edmonton?: His home neighbourhood of Belgravia. “I especially like the strip of potential at 115th Street and 76th Avenue, otherwise known as the Belgravia Hub and Gracious Goods [Caf].”

Rob Tarulli was an elementary teacher at St. Alphonsus School in Edmonton’s inner city when the infamous Cromdale Hotel was condemned in 2004.

“It was a very seedy place but, for better or worse, it was a place where people gathered – a community hub,” he says. In its absence, neighbourhood residents began connecting at a very different destination: St. Alphonsus School. It was an uncomfortable shift at first, since many people in the area had “a negative view of schooling” – some were even survivors of residential schools. But the location stuck. “They started to meet other parents and talk about things happening in their kids’ lives,” says Tarulli. The culture of the community shifted.

This inspired the young teacher to write a letter to a newspaper, which was read with interest by Dr. David Witty, the dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Manitoba. He e-mailed Tarulli, encouraging him to apply to his faculty’s city planning master’s program.

Ready to make a career change, Tarulli followed that advice. After a couple of years in Winnipeg, he returned to his hometown of Edmonton. He was inspired by his thesis, an examination of school-centred community design – an emerging trend in urban planning. “The focus of most neighbourhoods tends to be commerce-based,” he says. In contrast, school-centred design is just how it sounds. It emphasizes building areas around schools, ideally multi-use school sites with wrap-around services like day care, health care and continuing education, which serve the broader community. And, even when the children in an area have grown up and left, other residents can use the site.

Now, he’s putting his thesis to work as a senior land use planner for Edmonton Catholic Schools, and works with developers, the city and the province. While his work is behind-the-scenes, it’s having a big influence. Case in point: A new joint use agreement for land between Edmonton Public Schools, the Francophone School Board, Edmonton Catholic Schools and the City of Edmonton. This contract allows the organizations to share facilities and required Alberta’s Minister of Education to change legislation to allow school-reserve sites to be used for services beyond schooling – no easy feat. The agreement has been used as best practice in four other Canadian cities: Regina, Sask., Brandon, Man., Moncton, N.B., and St. Catharines, Ont.

At the moment, he’s working on a new school project in Ottewell – a first for Edmonton, since most builds happen in new, suburban neighbourhoods.

Of all of the neighbourhoods in Edmonton, Tarulli has chosen to live in Belgravia, another established south-side neighbourhood. Influenced by a small elementary school and the University of Alberta, he considers it a shining example of school-centred planning. “I thought it would be fun to live in a neighbourhood that I’d be trying to mimic in suburban areas.”

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