Does Calgary need an urban beach?

By Richard White, September 7, 2013


JT writes:

How about a "pop-up beach." Next summer after spring run-off people could just bring their own chairs, coolers, blankets, yoga mats etc and we could convert the gravel bars into beaches.  Could be impromptu or could be organized like a community garage sale.  Sometimes the best things are spontaneous rather than planned.

 Everyone loves the beach

'Recently, a friend suggested to me that Calgary should have an urban beach and with the recent flood reconfiguring both the Bow and Elbow Rivers there are lots of new gravel bars that would make great beaches.  Calgary’s inner city has traditionally had two rock beaches that are popular summer playgrounds – Edworthy Park and Sandy Beach. The latter is a misnomer as there is no sand, but perhaps that speaks to the fact that Calgarians are so desperate for a beach anything that resembles a beach will do.

Edworthy Park on the west side of the Calgary's city centre is a very popular gravel beach. 

Edworthy Park on the west side of the Calgary's city centre is a very popular gravel beach. 

Sandy beach is at the southern edge of Calgary's city centre and is a very popular summer picnic area.  

Everyone else has one!

But Paris has perhaps the most famous river beaches.  Initiated by Mayor Bertand Delanoe in 2002, the “Paris Plage” program has been a huge success.  In 2013, there were three temporary beaches, each open to the public at no charge from 8 am to midnight in the summer months.  There is also a popular free summer concert program associated with the beaches.  The beaches attract thousand of locals and visitors every day in the summer.

An urban or city beach is defined by most as an existing open space that is artificially transformed into a beach with the use of sand, umbrellas and seating elements.  It does not included swimming or any natural slopping to the water’s edge.  The urban beach often is part of the “urban surprise” as it is inserted into the urban fabric in an unexpected but pleasant way. While urban beaches are often at the waters edge they can be over a parking lot, road or town square.  They are most often temporary. 

In Frankfurt, we experienced what we call the “green beach,” which extended the length of the river through the city centre.  The “green beach” was a simple, open lawn adjacent to the river and pedestrian bike path.  It is a great place where people of all ages love to sit, have a picnic and people watch.  It was a great gathering place for locals and tourists alike.  We were also able to watch the barges go by, as well as boaters of all types.  There was even a place to grab a beer - in a glass stein nonetheless - and go back to the beach to enjoy the animation.  How civilized! 

One of Paris' popular beaches.  Note it is beside the river not on the river's edge.  It is more like a huge patio. 

Frankfurt's green beach with beer vendor is just a narrow lawn area between the road above and the pathway along the water.  

Green Beach

Does Calgary needs/deserves an urban beach. I understand the plans for St. Patrick’s Island redevelopment call for many exciting amenities to be added to the park but there are no plans for an urban beach.  Missed opportunity? 

Maybe, like Paris we need three beaches – Edworthy, Eau Claire and East Village.  However, given the dramatic changes in our rivers I am thinking we should look at Frankfurt’s “green beach” concept which would keep our urban beaches well away from the water’s edge, but with good view lines to the pathways and water.  

The Crowchild Trail gravel bar has the look of a white sand beach complete with its own lagoon and blue/green water. 

Lots of fun things can happen on the beach.  Just happened to catch this couple either getting married on the Edworthy beach or having their wedding pictures taken.