Calgary's Rail Trail Stroll

By Richard White, December 3, 2013

Do you consider yourself to be a bit of an “urban explorer?”  Its literal meaning is “the exploring of off-limit urban places, often associated with abandoned sites and buildings or underground water and sewer systems.” 

Other terms for these activities are “urban spelunking,” “urban caving” and “building hacking.” While I and urbanists have often used the term, I don't think we have used it correctly.   

I think the term “urban pioneers” would be more appropriate…especially in Calgary given our long history of pioneering!  To me, urban pioneers are people who are willing to live, work or play in gritty urban places, fix them up and transform them into funky, friendly neighbourhoods that eventually get discovered by the masses.

Where would an urban pioneer hang out in Calgary?

Some place with urban grit and Calgary chic. Would it be East Village, Inglewood, Bridgeland, Bowness, Forest Lawn or perhaps Manchester?  My vote goes to 10th Avenue SW or what I like to call the “Rail Trail.”   

This is a Christmas window along 10th Avenue from a few years back.  There are lots of hidden gems along the rail trail if you keep your eyes open. 

Wrong side of the tracks?

For the past 100 years, 10th Ave has been the wrong side of the tracks. For many Calgarians, the area conjures up a picture of ugly parkades and empty gravel parking lots.  It is definitely not pedestrian friendly - no designer sidewalks or street furniture and no colourful banners or hanging baskets. 

Having recently become a big fan of Mikey’s Juke Joint (the new King Eddy) at 18th Street and 10th Avenue SW., I have slowly discovered the quirky charm of the area on the south side of the CPR rail tracks.

Mikey’s is tucked onto a corner in the underbelly of the Bow Trail/Crowchild Trail spaghetti over/under passes as well as the West LRT sky train.  The locale is the epitome of the urban landscape – freight trains go by regularly and lots of warehouses, empty lots and chain-link fences. This is where John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac or J.D Salinger would hang out if they were alive and living in Calgary today. 

If you are thinking you’d like to try some urban strolling in Cowtown, here is my suggested tour of the 10th Avenue Rail Trail.  You could do it in an hour or you could take a half day, have lunch, a drink or take in a blues jam session. 

One of the many ugly surface parking lots on the north side of 10th Avenue facing the CPR tracks. The Centennial Parkade is the building on the other side of the two fences and the tracks. 

Prairie Oysters & Beer

I’d suggest starting your stroll at 2nd Street SW with an early lunch or a beer at Bottlescrew Bill’s Pub.  They offer a unique Calgary experience - “Around the world in 80 beers!” While most pubs come and go, Bottlescrew Bill’s and the sister restaurant Buzzards have been around since 1980.

In June 2011, the Globe and Mail writer Robin Estrock listed “devour prairie oysters” at Buzzards Restaurant as #5 of “The 15 things to see and do in Canada before you die!”

Heading west, the next block has a north/south dichotomy with the north side being one of the many nasty surface parking lots and the backside of the Royal Canadian Pacific Railway shed. You would never know this is home to one of the best collections of heritage railway cars in the world. 

On the south-side is a collection of historic brick warehouse buildings that originally served the CPR freight trains and today house some noteworthy retailers (e.g. Roche Bobois one of the world’s most exclusive international contemporary furniture stores).  I wonder if 100 years ago they ever thought these buildings would one day be used to sell $15,000 sofas?

The next block offers up the same dichotomy with brick warehouses on one side and the City Center Parkade (CCCP - adding one more C would be fitting as this structure looks like a concrete bunker from Russia) on the other.  Did I say there are no hanging baskets on 10th Avenue?  I take that back as there are baskets at this parkade. 

This block also has the flagship CRAFT brew pub, with 100 beers on tap -  it has become an instant hot spot for the young and restless after work crowd.  The National is another larger playground for Calgary's GABEsters, with it Bourbon room and 8-lane 10-pin bowling alley. Who says Calgarians don’t stay downtown after work?

At the southwest corner of 4th Street is the shinny new Centre10 office tower that has risen out of the ashes of two failed condo developments on the site. A sister office complex is planned for the north side of 10th Avenue.

The alley between 10th and 11th Avenues is home the entrance to Metro Vino one of Calgary's oldest wine stores.  

Loft Living

At 5th Street, you’ll encounter the historic red brick Hudson Lofts; this was the first of the early ‘90s loft conversions in Calgary and the beginning of the renaissance in downtown living.  There are plans for more condos, hotel and another office building in this area over the next few years - the surface parking lots are quickly disappearing.

The next stop is the Uptown Bottle Depot, a “must do” stop for every urban explorer/pioneer.  If you want a truly unique Calgary experience, return your empties here; urban grit at its grittiness.

However, just across the street is the old Alberta Boot block, plans were recently announced for a new 360 Residence Inn by Marriott.  Lamb Development Corp. plans to build a 30 story, 230 unit condo building to the west of the Depot. 

Another just block west is the Commonwealth Bar & Stage, Montauk Sofa and Speed Theory (bike shop).  You are now on the edge of the Design District. 

Hudson Loft is one of many brick warehouse buildings along 10th Avenue a few of which have become loft condos.  

Centre Ice

Centre ice for the “Rail Trail” is 10th and 8th Street. It’s home to several retailers and restaurants including Mountain Equipment Co-op, Trepanier Baer Gallery, The Social Page, Bonterra Trattoria (best patio in the city), Bumpy’s Café, Café Mauro, Edo Sushi, Holly Grill, Decadent Desserts and The Ferocious Grape. 

The old West Canadian Graphics (WCG) building on the southwest corner will soon be the funky Mark on 10th condo by Qualex-Landmark.   Next to this site is the carcass of the Astoria condo (remember the plans for the $10,000,000 penthouse condo). This fenced off abandoned construction site would be a great place for true “urban explorers.”  

The eventual development of the WCG and Astoria sites will result in over 500 people living near centre ice.

Strolling further west, you pass by Vistek Camera store and quickly arrive at the Midtown Co-op grocery store block.  For those interested in what it might be like to live in the Rail Trail area, stop in at the Qualex Landmark condo sales centre on the northside of the Co-op block and find out about their latest project. Next door is Interior Living furniture store to help you furnish your new condo and Tri-Yoga a popular spot for young, hip and flexible.

The Mountain Equipment cooperative store (MEC) is the anchor retailer on 10th Avenue and was the catalyst for making 10th and 8th Centre ice. 

Street Ballet

Crossing 11th Street you will pass by some “no-name” office buildings and industrial buildings before you arrive at Community Natural Foods at 12th Street.  This has to be one of the liveliest places in the entire Centre City.

Not being part of Calgary’s granola gang, I am always surprised at the animation - an urban ballet of pedestrians, bikes and cars trying to get in and out of the too small parking lot.  The Korean Village restaurant in the strip mall next door is a hidden gem, I am told by a colleague who once lived Korea (could be a place to stop for lunch).

Those with a good imagination can envision how the next block would have changed if the proposed Lausanne and Montreau (two 50 storeys high-rises) condos had been built across from the Lighting Centre.  

This is a close up of the murals of LP records on the back side of Heritage Music store (museum) that can be seen from 10th Avenue. 

Rolling Stones meets Big Bang Theory

Some recent road changes mean you no longer have to go to 11th Ave to cross 14th street - pedestrians, bikes and cars. However, I’d suggest you do go to 11th to checkout Heritage Music - it’s the wooden shack with the Rolling Stones’ Tongue record mural on the backside.  Inside is a mind-boggling collection of vintage vinyl, Hollywood memorabilia, as well as CDs – well worth exploring.

At the northwest corner of 10th Ave and 14th St is All Season Rental Adventures.  Who knew that you can rent ATVs, snowmobiles, motorcycles, scooters and even toboggans in Downtown Calgary?

Keep wandering past the Sunalta Community Association Building all the way to 18th Street and check out Sentry Box, Calgary’s premier fantasy, science fiction and military literature and gaming superstore (13,000 square feet).  It’s home to Calgary’s Dungeon and Dragon crowd and is where the Big Bang Theory boys would hang out if the TV show was based in Calgary. Along the way you will find a huge Western Veterinary Centre, one of the largest in Canada, as well as two surprising religion centres. 

Across the street is Mikey’s Juke Joint.  If you are strolling on a Saturday, try to arrive  about 3ish so you can experience the Saturday afternoon blues jam hosted by saxophonist and owner Mike Clark. 

Sleeping on the Rail Trail

The Calgary Mattress  Makers  at 19th St. is more of an old world arts and craft studio than a factory. Owner Dean Halstead encouraging people to walk-in and chat with him about your sleep needs.  He and his team then create a hand-tied, chemical free mattress custom made just for you and your partner with each side custom made to meet your individual needs.  After a day on the Rail Trail you may want to lie down for bit. 

Call me crazy - but in a few years, the “10th Ave Rail Trail” could well become Calgary’s hippest, coolest, hottest, funniest, liveliest neighbourhood!

 

The Sentry Box is a hangout for hipsters, GABEsters and families.  

Camera Buffs

The Rail Trail offers some unique views of some of Calgary’s modern glitzy architecture – Bankers’ Hall, 8th Avenue Place, Husky Oil Tower and Nexen Tower. It also offers some gritty views of urban industrial, warehouse and transportation design.

 Bring your camera!

This is an image of the Calgary Tower that I happened upon when flaneuring 10th Avenue several years ago. 

Found these beauties on the side of the Gulf Canada Square Parkade. 

Found these eyes staring at me as I headed into Mikey's just a few days ago.

The futuristic Sunalta station is a camera buff's paradise. You could spend an entire day they taking photos of the architecture inside and out as the light changes during the day.

The Rail Trail is full of surprises like this Kingdom Hall for Jehovah's Witness and not too far away is a Buddhist Centre.  

Eau Claire Market Mega-Makeover Revisited

By Richard White, November 20, 2013

Eau Claire Market is quickly becoming the new East Village i.e. there seems to be a new redevelopment plan announced every 5 years, but nothing happens.  I am hopeful that Calgary’s economy will stay strong for the next five to ten years so the latest plan can come to fruition.

When Eau Claire Market was opened in the early ‘90s it was one of the first “entertainment retail” centers  (ERCs) in North America.  ERCs with their multi-screen cinema complexes, IMAX theatres, themed restaurants, pubs, bars and boutiques became all the rage across North America.  

Eau Claire Market was popular at first (the lust of the new), but it quickly began to struggle.  I have been told that a destination retail center needs a minimum of 500,000 square feet and Eau Claire has only about 200,000.  There were also issues of the lease with the city and restrictions on types on tenants mix - mandating tenant mix almost never works. 

It didn’t help that Chinook Centre also underwent a mega makeover and became one of the premier ERCs in North America.  In the early ‘90s, when Eau Claire Market opened Chinook Centre was an old tired mall.

Similarly, Stephen Avenue Walk experienced a transformation in the late ‘90s into an upscale restaurant row.  Over the same period, cinema complexes became bigger with 20+ theatres opening in Chinook and in the suburbs.  Eau Claire’s cinemas quickly became dated. 

These computer generated images illustrate the gem-like or crystal-like shapes of the proposed new Eau Claire Market towers.  It will be interesting to see if these shapes can be built in a cost effective manner.  Note the balconies carved out in the sloped roof-top. 

A view of the proposed redeveloped Eau Claire Plaza has lots of people, tents and a strange looking meandering canopy.  It is easy to create these visionary images, but much more difficult to achieve this vitality in reality - especially in the winter.   

Back to the drawing board!

The current owners Regina-based Harvard Developments had a plan to redevelop the Market back in the 2006, but missed the window of opportunity when the economy crashed in 2007.  Now it is late 2013 the economy is looking stronger with numerous major projects either under construction or in the works and the idea of creating mixed-use urban villages has evolved significantly.

Working with Perkins + Will, one of Canada’s top urban design firms, Harvard has come up with new plan that is both ambitious and attractive.  At the open house on November 15, 2013, 100+ people who turned out seemed very impressed. Yes some of the local residents didn’t like the idea of adding an office tower to the project, but I think it is a good thing.  I understand their logic that there already are lots of office buildings Eau Claire and what it needs is more residential.  However, office workers don’t travel too far during the day so to make this project viable I believe there needs to be a significant office development on site.  If I had my way each block in downtown would have one office and one non-office tower!   

Work Play Numbers

The new vision has approximately 800,000 sf office, 800,000 sf of residential (in four towers), 600,000 sf of retail and 200,000 sf hotel.  For me this translates into 1/3 live, 1/3 work and 1/3 play (retail and hotel). This is truly a mixed-use development of the 7-acre site and definitely has the potential to be vibrant urban village. I wish more blocks in the downtown had this mix of uses.

To me the office component is critical to the mix, as it will provide customers for the restaurants and retail weekdays and the residents during the evening and weekend.

A vibrant urban village needs people out and about 18/7 (18 hours a day, seven days a week); currently our downtown is more like 12/5 (7 am to 7 pm, Monday to Friday – office hours).     

Plans call for Riverfront Avenue to become a pedestrian street with shops facing onto the street for a more traditional urban "high street" experience. 

This view shows how the massing and placement of the towers has been carefully done to maximize sun on the plaza and pathway in spring, summer and fall.  Not sure why they included all the ghost buildings as they don't help sell the vision. 

Devil is in the details!

Creating the vision is the easy part - the difficult part is linking vision with reality.  Will the design work financially? Will it appeal to the market segments?  Is there a market for a new 250-room hotel?  Is there a major tenant for an 800,000 sf of office? 

The new plan calls for reworking of the roads to create more grid-like blocks.  Can the two hotels work across the street from each other - already the area in front of the Sheraton Hotel is very congested.

Does the new plan work to connect the Eau Claire Plaza with Barclay Mall? Does it enhance the Bow River Pathway and Prince’s Island experience i.e. maximizing the sun in the winter and minimizing the wind.  

Does the city have the money to redevelop Eau Claire Plaza as per the approved design by Calgary’s Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative (same guys who did Peace Plaza). 

Regina inspired design?

The 3D images of the glass towers were very impressive, looking like “gem stones.” The towers were definitely not “big boxes,” with their multiple planes they looked like something Picasso and his cubist colleagues would create. 

It is also interesting to note the proposed Eau Claire towers all have a dramatic sloping façade that closely resembles Regina’s Hill Towers, which are that city's postcard office towers.  I expect this is not a  coincidence as Harvard Developments Inc. is Regina-based.  Is Calgary ready for Regina inspired architecture and urban design? 

Regina's twin iconic office towers look very similar to those being proposed for Calgary's Eau Claire Market. 

Last Word

Harvard and Perkins + Will have created a vision for an urban village in our downtown that theoretically checks off most of the good urban design benchmark boxes.  Hopefully as the design evolves it will get even better and the economy will hold for the next 10 years as the project gets built in three phases.  It has the potential to be BIG, BOLD and BEAUTIFUL. 

RH writes: 

Richard. Enjoyed reading your thoughts on this proposed development.

Eau Claire market does indeed have an interesting history. As I recall the original intent was similar to Granville Island - an urban market surrounded by other uses making for an interesting urban destination and experience. Problem was that Calgary and Alberta’s growing season are not like the lower mainland - another example of the risk and inappropriateness of “importing” planning ideas from other cities. (Have you written something about this? If not, you should).

The original restrictions on land use were imposed by the city in response to pressure from other downtown developments to ensure that something was developed that was different and did not compete with downtown retail. The City could do this in the lease since it owned the land, as well as in the development approval. As you have pointed out these restrictions were one of the reasons why Eau Claire market did not succeed. Another was lack of density and mixed use. The bottom line, I think, is that the original development was before its time. Same story for East Village.

It takes more than by laws and regulations to implement planning ideas, it takes a strong economy and market demand which then attracts investment.

As I see it, one of the challenges of the current proposal, in addition to the usual risk factors, is how best to make the development “fit” into downtown Calgary. The current plan, which I have not seen except for what’s been in the media, looks like it could be in any downtown, in any city. “What city are we in?”

It’s not the design of the towers, but the relationship of the lower floors with the plaza in front of the Eau Claire “Y”, Chinatown, adjacent residential developments, and the river pathway that are particularly important.

Blaise McNeil is asking about the 1886 café’s future. The land use mix may seem well balanced ,but the development still needs to connect well with the larger surrounding context, which is also the larger catchment area for restaurants, retail and entertainment. 

GG writes:

A billion dollar investment next to the river have we forgotten the flood already? 

If you like this blog you might like:

Poppy Plaza Review 

Calgary: North America's Newest Design City

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Beltline: North America's best hipster/gabester community?

By Richard White / October 31, 2013 

This blog is from my White House column in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours section. It was published on October 31, 203.

 Upon returning from a recent trip to Chicago and Portland, where I explored several urban villages including Wicker Park and Bucktown (Chicago) and Pearl District (Portland), considered two of the best hipster communities in the USA (Forbes, September 2012), I couldn’t help but reflect upon Calgary’s Beltline community. Shouldn’t it be on the list of best hipster communities in North America? I might even venture to say it may be THE best!

If you don't believe me, perhaps you will believe Josh Noel travel writer for Chicago Tribune who recently wrote: "Calgary pedal to the metal."
 

Beltline hipsters (GABEsters) hanging out on 17th Ave in March. 

New condos Portland's Pearl District are very similar to what you see in Calgary in massing and design.

Eight High Streets

For one thing, the Beltline has not just one, but eight pedestrian streets. First, Fourth, Eighth, Eleventh and Fourteenth Streets all have funky local shops, cafes, pubs, galleries and restaurants as do 11th 12th and 17th Avenues. 

And numerous ones are signature spots - O’Connors (First Street), Rose and Crown, REDS, Boxwood and Sony Store (4th Street), Bonterra, Trepanier Baer Gallery, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Modern Jelly Donut and Kawa Café (8th Street), Gallaxy Diner, Good Earth Café and Katmandu Grocery (11th Avenue) and Heritage Posters and Music and Boyd’s Lobster Shop (14th Street). 

Each of these streets has a very Jane Jacobs (1960s champion of urban street life) feel - lots of little shops, owned and operated by locals.

In addition, the Design district along 10th and 11th Avenues with Bo Concepts, Heavens Fitness, Herringer Kiss, Paul Kuhn and New Zones galleries, Metro Vino and Cookbook Company as its anchors.  

The district also is home to three grocery stores – Calgary Co-op, Safeway and Community Natural Foods (a magnet for hipsters). Lastly, Calgary’s premier urban street, 17th Avenue the Beltline’s southern boundary, is home to Calgary icons like Ship & Anchor pub, Brava Bistro, Café Beano, Rubaiyat and Reids Stationers. 

The Beltline includes five districts - Warehouse district, Victoria Park, Design District,  Gear District anchored by Mountain Equipment Co-op and 17th Ave. 

Calgary's 17th Avenue's "GABEster" corner is a popular place for Calgary's "young & restless" to hang out.  It is full of bistros, cafes, boutiques and new condos.  It is sometimes referred to as the RED Mile for the sea of red shirted sports fans that gather here for hockey celebrations.  It currently has be re-branded as RED which stands for Retail Entertainment District.  

Haultain Park in the Beltline is a busy place with a very active playground and sports field.  Old and new condos surround the park. 

 

Walk 2 Work 

There are very few urban villages in North America where you can walk to 160,000 jobs as easily (10 to 15 minutes) as you can from the Beltline. Separated from Calgary’s dense downtown office core by the Canadian Pacific Railway’s main TransCanada tracks, Beltliners make the grungy trek through the underpasses to and from work.

While plans are in place to beautify the underpasses, part of the charm and history of the Beltline is the urban grit and patina that comes from decades of use.

The 8th Street underpass linking the beltline to the downtown core is a good example of the urban grit that is part of hip urban living. 

New Condos On Every Block

It seems like every block in the Beltline these days have a new condo being built. However, if you walk the streets, you find there is an amazing array of different types of housing – high, mid and low-rise condos, townhouses and single-family homes. 

Every street is a patchwork quilt of old and new, small and large residential structures of different designs and materials, combining to create a rich, residential visual impact. In addition, most of the avenues are lined with mature trees, creating a delightful canopy that is synonymous with quality residential communities in North America.

 One of the benchmarks of a good urban community is diversity of housing which in turn attracts a diversity of people of all ages and backgrounds.

The pool at Hotel Arts is a gathering place for GABEsters in the Beltline.  Does it get any hipper than this? 

The Ship & Anchor is the Beltline's signature hang-out for people of all ages and backgrounds

Density & Diversity 

Today the Beltline is home to 20,000 Calgarians, 40% of whom are between 25 and 34 years of age (more than twice the city average) and 60% have never been married.  Unquestionably, the Beltline is where Calgary’s young hip professions “live, work and play” (36% have a university degree or higher vs. 25% city-wide). 

At the same time, it is also home to two of Calgary’s major social services agencies (Mustard Seed and Alpha House) and a smattering of seniors’ residents. The net result is the Beltline has a wonderful mix of people of all ages and backgrounds who call it home - exactly what an urban village should be!

Just to the north of the Beltline is Calgary's downtown core with over 40 million square feet of office space. It has one of the highest concentrations of corporate headquarters in North America. It is where the GABEsters work. The building in the foreground is the MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op) which anhcors the Gear District as there are several sporting goods and bike shops in the area. 

History

The Beltline is one of Calgary’s newest communities formed in 2003, when the Connaught (west of 4th Street) first established in 1905 merged with the Victoria Park (east of 4th Street) established in 1914. As such, it lays claim to some of Calgary’s best heritage sites - Central Memorial Library, oldest library in Alberta, Haultain School, Calgary’s first school, Memorial Park, one of the oldest urban parks in Canada and Lougheed House one of Calgary’s first mansions. 

The Beltline name comes from the No. 5 trolley which in the first half of the 20th century circled back and forth on the avenues the Beltline and connected it to downtown in belt-line like manner in the first half of the 20th century. For more information on Beltline history go to www.beltline.ca.

New +/- 20 storey condos are popping up on almost every block in the Beltline. 

GABEsters

Calgary’s hipsters are unique as they are more likely to be clean shaven, Armani suit wearing, geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers, than bearded, skinny jeans and plaid shirt artists, writers and musicians. 

But let it be understood they definitely love their Saturday music jams, bowling alley, craft beer drinking, gallery strolls, food trucks and festival fun as with any hipster. Perhaps we need to coin a new term  “GABEsters” (Geologists, Accountants, Bankers/Brokers and Engineers).

Future GABEsters also love playing in the Beltline. Does it get any better than this?  

Not only are there 8 pedestrian streets but there is also alley shopping.   

The Beltline's Design District is a fun place to flaneur on weekends.  

Chicago's Bucktown is much older and as a result has much more urban grit than Calgary's Beltline.

The Beltline's Victoria Park district has a mix of old and new, high-end fashion shops and funky pubs and clubs. There 100+ historical buildings and sites in the Beltline. 

Inn from the Cold is just one of several major social agencies that call the Beltline home.

No hipster village would be complete without at least one thrift store.  The IODE thrift store has been in the Beltline for a long as I can remember 20+ years?

The Beltline's warehouse district is getting a major makeover with old buildings being renovated and expanded and new ones being built.  What hipster wouldn't want to work in the Biscuit Block? 

Comments:

 HH writes: "I like the way you describe the beltline but here is a question for you- why doesn't this area have the reputation some similar areas have in other cities?  What does it need to have a place identity that attracts visitors?  The Red Mile was developing that kind of identity but then of course they shut it down because it was too uni-dimensional.  What is needed to make it a true gathering place and destination for residents elsewhere in the city or tourists?  I think you uncover very interesting stuff that most Calgarians either take for granted or do not even recognize but the place has no identity that is widely recognized.  We need more people like you to point all this out to us."

JM writes: "Great read! It's got some interesting perspective to it, one that probably eludes lots of folks."

CW writes: "I remember Beltline when I moved to Calgary from Ontario in '81: there was a diner intact from the 40s, but not celebrated as retro, called the Lido, I think; a couple of used record shops; the IODE thrift shop that sold vintage western clothing that I could no longer fit into (if I still had the items); the Muttart Gallery, of course; and a bit later an artists' co-op where they showed godawful art videos, as well as a folly of a record store 100% devoted to jazz. It was all good enough for me to buy a condo alongside the Beltline three years later.

I don't know if you're correct to say that Beltline doesn't have the past of the Chicago district, it would be correct to say that a good part of it has been diminished - the folly part of it. I think your column nails it when it says the it's professional population distinguishes this district. There's no reason that Calgary should be the same as Chicago or Portland, and I am looking forward to seeing the "place identity" (sought by the commentator) that this population produces."

GG writes: "I like the term Gabesters."  

ST writes: "Not sure about Beltline being the hippest in N. America, but it feels good when I read your stuff...and yes, most people do not have a clue what good stuff we have, so keep reminding the public with your good blogs.

Was wandering in the Beltline today and came across this sign which I thought illustrates just how hip the Beltline is.   The neighborhood is full of historic churches which have become community centers for various ethnic and arts groups including Calgary Opera. Jane Jacobs would have loved the Beltline.

During the 1988 Winter Olympics 11th Avenue was branded as "Electric Avenue" for its concentration of bars.  Today it is a mix of bars, shops, restaurants and galleries.   It is a GABEster hang-out!

GABEsters love their bikes even if it means hanging them over the balcony! 

Flaneuring Finds at the Uptown Plaza

By Richard White, October 4, 2013

Had great fun this morning flaneuring at the Uptown Plaza in Richland.  We had been told that we should check out Spudnuts a Richland icon but what we didn't know was that the entire plaza was a living history museum.  

Upon finishing our spudnuts for breakfast we decide to check out what else was around - as any good flaneur would do.   

Below is a photo essay of our flaneur finds at the Uptown Plaza which looks like it was built in the '60s and today has evolved into a second-hand, thrift, vintage, estate sale mecca.  For treasure hunters like us it was like we had died and gone to heaven.   

There are several of these Las Vegas like retro neon signs marking the entrances to the Uptown Plaza.  Why can't modern shopping centers create signage like this any more.  Where has the character and charm gone - stucco and rock just doesn't do it.  

The Spudnut Shop was established in 1948 when Jerry Bell bought a franchise for $50 and 100 sacks of Spudnut (potato) flour.  The store has been featured on Food Network and Travel Channel.  It is a local icon.

Inside Supnuts is full of local characters.  There was a long line-up not only of people waiting to get in but also people want to pick-up and go.  Everyone seemed to know everyone - it was like a big family kitchen. 

One of the quirkiest things about Spudnuts was the coffee served with two same straws.  We have never seen this before. At first thought this might be a way of noting which coffee was black and which had milk but B didn't have milk so both were black...strange?

We decided to check what else was in the plaza and just a few door around the corner was the sign "Desserts by Kelly" with the Atomic Bombe cake.  Who could resist checking this out. Once inside we found the strangest shop.  The front had framing and art supplies, another wall was all baseball collectables and then at the back was the bakery with wonderful looking cakes, cookies, scones and of course the Atomic Bombe cadke.  

This is the Atomic Bombe Cake with layers of velvety chocolate mousse, pralines and chocolate truffle icing.  It retails for $28.95 and they sell at least 4 per day.  I was sooooooo tempted. 

Just ahead was this wonderful neon sign announcing Lee's Tahitian Restaurant in the pink flamingo pink building.  It just doesn't get any better than this. 

One of the things we love to do when flaneuring is "window licking" i.e. window shopping (the french word literally translates into window licking).  One of the things like love is the reflections in the windows and the juxtaposition of the images.  They create rich collages of images that have their own wonderful narrative. Like this one in the music store.  

At the end of the Uptown Plaza's shops was a huge antique mall that was full of treasure's for someone.  We didn't have enough time to explore but will be going back.  

Flaneuring back we took a side alley like sidewalk just incase there might be something else and stumbled upon Becky's.  It was a hybrid between thrift and antique store...lots of interesting artifacts. Brenda has this place on the top of her list to go back and check out.  

No sooner had we left Becky's when we were at the Estate Sale.  While the Uptown Plaza doesn't have the upscale traditional tourist shops, it is a "treasure hunters" mecca.

While we didn't find the "kitchen sink" at the Uptown Plaza we did find a "four poster bed."   

As we were quickly shuffling off to meet up for lunch one of the last shops was this barber shop.  This was the exclamation mark on the Uptown Plaza experience for us.  

Does Calgary have an "urban inferiority complex?"

By Richard White, September 11, 2013

This blog was originally published in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section on September 7, 2013.  There have been a few revisions and the photos and captions are different. 

The recent flurry of announcements of new office buildings for downtown Calgary has me wondering if these are all just more nails in the coffin of our downtown’s urban vitality? The goal for a vibrant, healthy downtown is to have the streets animated with people from early morning to midnight seven days a week i.e. 18/7.  This is very difficult when over 80% of your buildings are offices. 

While the addition of new office buildings is great for the 7 am to 7 pm weekday vitality of the downtown, it does nothing for the evening and weekend animation.  I don’t blame the developers as office buildings generate the most return for shareholders. And kudos to Shaw and Telus who are locating in buildings, which will have both office and condos spaces; this should generate some non-office hour vitality.  Unfortunately our downtown continues to evolve into an “office ghetto” a place where people come to work during the day, but few live or play there in the evening or weekends.

Show me the jelly... 

Our city center is like a jelly donut, with the downtown offices being the “jelly” in the middle. There is also a flurry of condos being constructed around the downtown in Beltline, Bridgeland, East Village, Inglewood and Kensington. Each of these communities have their own “Main Street” with restaurants, cafes, bars, pubs and shops, which means people living there have no need to come downtown to play. What downtown needs is its own live-in population if it is going to become an 18/7 community

 

Even in Downtown's Eau Claire district the office towers dominate the few condos in the area.  The Eau Claire Market (entertainment retail) has failed to become the hub of  vibrant 18/7 community.  

Unfortunately, the density of downtown office towers is already too unfriendly to pedestrians especially in a winter city.  More and more no sunlight will reach the downtown sidewalks from October to April and this is only going to get worse.  The chilling wind tunnels will also increase with each new building.  And while the new developments will try to be more pedestrian friendly at street level, in reality the main floor will be an elevator lobby as all the retail will be on the +15 level. 

Sure you can place a sculpture on the street and make it look clean and neat but that isn’t enough to make people gather and linger as a café or restaurant patio could do.  Sorry, nobody wants to live and play on streets that are “chock-a-bloc” full of office buildings.

 

In the 50 block Central Business District there is nothing but office buildings which means there is no one there after 7 pm and on weekends.  The smaller office buildings block the views of the good contemporary office architecture like Jamieson Place.  

Bring back the "Mom & Pop"

Great streets have lots of little pedestrian oriented shops at street level, not corporate glass canopies and lobbies.  Stephen Avenue has some of these elements but none of the other streets or avenue in the downtown have any contiguous pedestrian oriented retail.  Stephen Avenue is great in the summer with the patios, but in the winter it becomes a dark, dreary place with no sun, no patios and mostly “expense account” restaurants.  Kudos to the Calgary Downtown Association for all of its work to try and make it more colourful and cheerful, but I am afraid it is a losing battle. 

 

Downtown Calgary needs more "mom and pop" shops like this rather than glitzy towers if it is going to be vibrant 18/7.  

Dare to be different!

Perhaps we need to accept reality!  Our downtown is our central business district and it will always just that - a business district and nothing more.  The reality is our downtown (from 9th Avenue to Bow River, from Macleod Trail to 8th Street SW) will never be a major tourist attraction and it will never attract a lot of people to live there.  However, it will be one of North America’s leading downtown office parks!

Every city centre is different - we are not Vancouver, Chicago or Portland. Every city evolves differently due to numerous different factors and influences.  We should never strive to be like other cities, we should focus only on being Calgary and being the best we can be given our inherent strengths and weaknesses.  

As such we must understand and accept that as a major corporate headquarters city, with downtown as the hub of our LRT system, we need to continue to foster a strong central office core that will be vibrant 12/5 (12 hours a day, five days a week). 

We can then use our vivacious office core as the catalyst for expanding our existing live/play urban communities (Beltline, Bridgeland, Inglewood, Kensington and Mission), which are as good as anything in Chicago, Vancouver or Portland.  As well, we must create new ones along the LRT – East Village, SunAlta, University Village and Westbrook Village and along 16th Avenue NW next to next Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.

 

Two new modern office towers in Chicago demonstrate how they are situated in a synergistic manner and you can see the entire building with all of its articulations and textures.  

Be Brave

Recently, I attended the d.talks (conversations about design and built environment) panel discussion on “Bravery” as it relates to urban design planning and development in Calgary.  One of the key messages was delivered by Sonny Tomic (Manager, Centre City Planning and Implementation, City of Calgary) which was we need to be patient, that Calgary’s evolution into a more interesting urban city is happening more quickly than most people think – SETON, Currie Barracks, Calatrava Bridge, RiverWalk, Memorial Park redevelopment and the East Village public art.  He thinks we are close to the “tipping” point where all of a sudden Calgary will have a very exciting urban Centre City.  

Perhaps the “bravest” thing we can do is to lose our “urban inferiority complex” and become proud of our Centre City, as one of the best in North America for a city of a million people

 

The Calgary Tower no longer dominates the skyline. more often than not it looks more like a UFO amongst the numerous office towers.  

New Downtown Office Towers:

  • Brookfield Place, 56 floors
  • Calgary City Centre, 36 floors
  • GWL Tower, 28 floors 
  • Manulife Tower, 27 floors
  • Telus Sky, 58 floors (office/condo)
  • 3 Eau Claire, 48 and 43 floors (office/condo)

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Are we too downtown centric? 

Is Calgary's Downtown too dense?  

Top 10 Flaneuring Finds in Portlandia

Calgary: North America's Newest Design City  

Calgary: North America's Newest Cafe City?

Cafes are perhaps the most important component of a vibrant urban street life as they attract pedestrian, bike and vehicular traffic all day, every day not just at breakfast, lunch and dinner as restaurants do.  They attract people who just pop in and grab a coffee and go, as well as those who sit and linger (sometimes for hours).  They are a great place to meet, sit and contemplate life or to people watch. You can’t do that at a retail shop.  “The greater the café culture the greater the urban vitality,” I say.  Look at Paris! Calgary has a very established, diverse and growing independent café culture dating back to mid ‘80s. 

It is no surprise our café scene was founded in Kensington given its proximity to the Alberta College of Art and Design and Southern Alberta College of Art – home to many of the city’s young bohemians.  Kensington has been home to the Roasterie and Higher Ground for decades.  I believe Calgary’s first Starbucks also opened in Kensington, ironically right next to Higher Ground. 

The Roasterie opened in 1985 long before lattes, laptops and lounging at cafes were commonplace. In fact, the Roasterie has access to what is perhaps the best patio space in the city i.e. the small west-facing courtyard on 10th Street, one that captures the late day sun making it comfortable even in the winter.  It is a year-round hangout for artists, art students and creative types from Sunnyside and Hillhurst.  The newer and nearby The House Coffee Sanctuary is the Generation Y’s hangout.  And a short walk off 10th is Vendome, located in a charming historic red brick building, which would be a home in Paris and is clearly a destination café. Higher Ground and Starbucks, on the other hand, attract more of the Hillhurster bourgeoisie crowd.  There is also a Second Cup at the north end of 10th Street and a Tim Horton’s in the Safeway.  Kensington remains the home of Calgary’s café culture.

Since the ‘80s, Calgary’s café culture has been growing exponentially. Caffé Beano on 17th Avenue is the southside’s bobo (bohemian/bourgeoisie) hangout. It was made famous by Calgary playwright and writer Eugene Stickland who used it as his writing studio and talked about it often in his Calgary Herald column. Bumpy’s Espresso Bar & Café on 8th Street a popular central Beltline café is especially favoured by the espresso crowd and has been a Krups Kup of Excellence winner two years in a row.

Cafe Rosso's flagship store at Ramsay Exchange. 

Root of all Evil sits precariously in Ramsay "off off" the beaten path. One of over 100 public artworks in Calgary's City Centre. 

Over the past few years new cafes have popped up like dandelions in the spring.  Caffé Rosso, which opened in Ramsay Exchange in 2007, now has three locations.  Both a café and a bakery, it was an immediate hit with the hipsters living and working in Inglewood and Ramsay despite or maybe because of its off beat location in an old industrial site away from any pedestrian traffic.  I love the industrial ambience and the opportunity to visit perhaps Calgary’s best piece of public art – Dennis Oppenheim’s “Device to Root Out Evil” or as most people call it “the upside down church.”

Phil & Sebastian Coffee is truly a “it could only happen in Calgary” story. Two engineers become espresso aficionados, do some solid research, open up a small café in the Calgary’s Farmers’ Market in 2007 and soon become a beloved market vendor. It has been a whirlwind for them since opening up a flagship café in Marda Loop and their own roasting operation in 2009.  In 2010, they moved away from the street and into the mega Chinook Mall for their third location - a daring move for an upscale urban café.  In 2012, two of their baristas top first and second place in the Canadian Barista Championship – first place Jeremy Ho and second place Ben Put are known to locals as “Ben and Jer.”

de Ville Luxury Coffee & Pastries is another rapidly expanding Calgary-based café.  Even with its flagship store closing due to the demolition of Art Central to make room for the 58 story uber chic TELUS Sky tower don’t it will reopen in the new tower in 2017. Meanwhile the Fashion Central and Bridgeland cafes will continue to meet Calgarians’ growing craving for caffeine. 

Gravity Cafe the new gathering spots for artists in historic Inglewood. 

In the past year alone three new cafes have opened in three different YYC urban villages.  Lukes Drug Mart, an independent pharmacy since 1951 (the oldest independent pharmacy in Calgary) in Bridgeland recently evolved into a hipster café, grocery and drug store.  In May, they opened up Calgary’s first Stumptown Coffee Café at the front of the store, with Stumptown trained baristas a sure sign the Bridgeland has arrived as a tony urbanite village.  

Over in Inglewood, Gravity Café and Wine Bar opened in the new Esker Foundation building to immediate praise and was chosen Avenue Magazine’s Best Café in 2013.  The new “in spot” in Inglewood has even spawned a Friday Night Market with the arts community.  Its very active live music program recalls the ’60 hippy coffee houses. 

Portland's Stumptown coffee now available in Calgary. Wonder when Phil & Sebastians will open in Portland or maybe Cafe Rosso or one of the many other Calgary based cafes / roasters.

Lukes Drug Mart located in Calgary's newest hipster village Bridgeland.

Analog Coffee opened recently on 17th Avenue SW at 7th Street in the heart of RED (Retail Entertainment District, formerly Uptown 17th). This uptown upscale caffeine hangout is the flagship store for Fratello Coffee Company, a second-generation Calgary roaster. A hit from day one, it has perhaps the best windows for people-watching in the city.

Calgary isn’t afraid to import cafes from the Pacific Wet Coast either. Caffe Artigiano from Burnaby BC has two locations in downtown Calgary, both in office buildings, and both catering to the corporate coffee klatches.  Artigiano, both a coffee house and bistro, is perhaps best known for its “work of art” lattes. 

A recent trip Portland, where I expected there to be a mature coffee culture, I found little in the way of an independent café culture.  This gave me a better appreciation for the depth and diversity of Calgary’s café scene, which I believe is under-rated in the North American coffee scene.  

PS. This blog focuses only on the city centre cafes, but I could have easily included several inner-city and suburban indie cafes – Cadence (Bowness), Central Blends (West Hillhurst) and Weeds (Capital Hill) to name three. I also didn't include the many +15 (sky bridges) and more mainstream downtown cafes - perhaps another blog. 

Analog Coffee has great windows both from the inside and the outside. 

Analog Cafe located on the 17th Avenue aka RED aka RED Mile aka Uptown17th

Street walking in Portlandia

By Richard White, Community Strategist, Ground3 Landscape Architects

Portland is a flaneur’s delight as there is always something to discover just around the corner or on the next block up.  As our visit evolved, our Portlandia mantra became “just one more block” as it seemed just when we thought there was no point in going any further we’d find something that captured our interest on the next block - especially on Alberta Street and Hawthorne Boulevard. 

Perhaps Portland is good for flaneuring as its mantra is "keep Portland weird"  and to some extent flaneuring is looking for those weird off the beaten path places that are fun, quirky and on the edge.  Flaneuring is kinda like staring in your own  Portlandia TV show.  

I thought it would be interesting to share with you our top 10 flaneuring finds (FF).  “What is a flaneuring find” you ask?  It is a place you discouver while wandering aimlessly that you didn't even know you were looking for.   For me it is urban places, but it could be anywhere depending on what your passion is.  

Flaneuring is a great way to travel and explore a new place as you are open to enjoying the place on its own term and not based on someone else's preconceived suggestions.   It is about being open to the moment. 

Our Portlandia Flaneuring Finds were:

#1             The Good Mod, Downtown

#2             Axe Records, Alberta Avenue

#3             Bookwerks, Alberta Avenue

#4             Tonalli’s Doughnuts, Alberta Avenue

#5             House of Vintage, Hawthorne Boulevard

#6             Powell Books, Downtown

#7             William Temple House Thriftstore, Hoyt Street, Northwest District  

#8             Sunlan Lightbulbs, North Mississippi Avenue

#9             Lodekka Vintage Bus, North Williams Avenue   

#10           Zenka Street Artwork, Alberta Avenue

 

I have also added one extra spot at the end, but I haven't listed it so you will have to read to the end to find out what it is.   

Rationale for choices are in the captions accompanying the photos below.

Love to hear your comments about these finds, what have been your finds or your flaneur experiences. 

The Good Mod was an amazing find.  Just saw a sandwich board on the street and was waiting for Miss B so thought I'd take a chance and see what it was all about.  Flaneuring is about taking chances!  It wasn't easy to find and then there was an old elevator that looked pretty "iffy" but once you got up to the fourth floor of the old, almost empty warehouse building it was WOW!  The enormous entire floor was full of vintage furniture, hardware (numbers/letters) and artifacts.  We thought next time we are bringing a truck we could have filled it with finds.  You won't find this place in the tourist brochures. 

Little Axe Records is located just off Alberta Avenue but you could easily miss it as it is just a small cottage house that is hidden behind the garden.  It would be easy to dismiss, but for record hounds it is definitely a find.  Lots of listening stations and friendly knowledgeable staff.  

MONOGRAPH Bookwerks is across the street from Little Axe and it just as quirky. Open very limited hours, so best to check before you go.  Lots of art and architecture books, art and artifacts.  

 Tonallis Doughnuts was a great find. No designer donuts or should I say doughnuts here, just good old fashion deep fried dough.  This is the real thing.  

Tonallis Doughnuts was a great find. No designer donuts or should I say doughnuts here, just good old fashion deep fried dough.  This is the real thing.  

House of Vintage is the gateway to the Hawthorne Boulevard experience.  It is packed to the rafters with vintage artifacts.  The entire boulevard is full of vintage shops selling mid-century modern clothing, home accessories, records, books and furniture. There are lots more flaneur finds that we could have included. 

Powell's Books is probably technically not a find as everyone knows about it and it is in all the must see and must do lists.  However, I did find a 50th Anniversary edition of the Jane Jacobs "The Death and Life of Great American Cities." I have been looking for a copy of this book for ages and then to get a 50th anniversary edition that was a find.  

William Temple Thrift Store was a great find a few blocks off of NW 23rd Avenue.  Had a good selection, including books and art.  It was our first day in Portlandia we found a nice piece for our thrift store art collection of unknown artists. 

Sunland Lighting Inc. on Mississippi Avenue has the most amazing windows I have every seen, each is a work of art.  This one features hundreds of different light bulbs, which is exactly what you would expect of the largest supplier of light bulbs in North America, maybe the world.  Who knew that there is such a thing as an artisanal light bulb store. The other storefront windows are just as visually exciting.  Three feature Star War collections and another is full of pencil sharpeners. 

The Lodekka bus is parked on a plaza on North Williams Ave. complete with its own garden outdoor living room.  Inside it is packed with vintage clothing.  It doesn't get much more bohemian that this.  The bus' nickname is "Ginny" and she operated in Liverpool from 1965 to 1982.  

Unknown artists artwork.  As we came out of the Blue Moon Cafe I was taking a photo of the alley and at first didn't see the two people at the corner.  Then realized they were working on an artwork that also had a QR code which animated the bug i.e. turned it into a sci-fi video.  I wish I had gotten her name. She was visiting from Columbia.   

Located  in the lobby of the historic Heathman Hotel is the tiny Cacao "bean to bar" chocolate maker.  You can easily miss it.  I learned that their is a difference between a chocolatier  who uses somebody else's chocolate and a chocolate maker of which there are only a handful in the US and two are  in Portland.  Try the decadent Classic Hot Chocolate and take home some Xocalatl chocolates.  

This blog is sponsored by Red Lion Hotels

If you like this blog you might like Window Licking in Portland

 

 

Hamilton's James Street North: A Hidden Gem

As a former Hamiltonian, I have watched with interest Hamilton struggle to cling on to its status as one of the top 10 cities in Canada.  Like Pittsburg, Buffalo and other cities in the North American Rust Belt, Hamilton has had to reinvent itself.  It is no longer the “ambitious city” (a former moniker)! Similarly its status as a “steeltown” has long disappeared with its now more diversified employment base.

James Street, one of the oldest streets in Canada, has a history, which dates back to the early 1800s.  It was home to Hamilton’s first department store (Right House, 1893) and first skyscraper (Piggott Building, 1929, 18 floors).  Lister Block, the first indoor mall in Canada, was built in 1886, burned down in 1923, was rebuilt in 1924 and in 2011, was restored to its early 20th century charm.

James Street is also home to Lloyd D Jackson Square, a mega downtown indoor mall built in 1972. It includes a public square on top that never really worked.  The mall was part of a major downtown renewal project that includes a theatre, civic art gallery, convention center, arena, central library and farmers’ market – basically   everything an urban planners and developers at the time thought was needed to revitalize the Downtown.  The thought was downtowns needed an downtown indoor shopping mall to compete with the suburban malls - Calgary built TD Square in 1977, Edmonton built, its City Centre Place in 1974 and Winnipeg built Portage Place in 1987. 

Forty years later, Hamilton’s downtown, not unlike Winnipeg’s and Edmonton’s still struggles to become the vibrant live, work and play places they were in the ‘50s. Lesson – Urban vitality is an art not a science! 

Morgenstern's is not truly a department store. Just one floor, mostly clothing.  There is an entire section of first holly communion dresses and lots of party/graduation dresses that are right out of the '60s maybe '50s.  We are always surprised it is still there when we visit. 

Hamilton City Centre/Jackson Square  shopping mall looking south from James Street north.  Once downtown was home to several department stores, today there are none.  

The barren bleak public plaza that was created on top of the Jackson Square shopping mall above street level.  Public plazas must be at street level or at least visible from the street to be welcoming.  Plazas need animated shops and restaurants opening up onto it with patios. The buildings here turn their back on the plaza and have no interaction.  What were they thinking? 

James Street North: A Hidden Gem

However, an area just north of the “super blocks,” once called “Little Portugal” now branded as James Street North (JSN) that is becoming very attractive to indie artists in many different disciplines from across southern Ontario.  JSN, a seven block district, extending from Wilson to Murray Street, consists of early 20th century, low-rise brick buildings that are ideal for low rent street level retail, restaurants and cafes with studios and apartments above.  The street retains its historical authenticity architecturally and culturally with several Portugal-based restaurants, pubs and shops in operation. 

JSN is a Jane Jacobs urban village with a diversity of buildings, activities and people and its mixture of local pubs, clubs, cafes, bistros and shops. There is no Tim Horton’s, Starbucks or Lululemon.  What there is is a new energy with the opening of the Art Gallery of Hamilton Shop and Annex, as well as CBC Hamilton studios.  C

The CBC and Art Gallery of Calgary building is the gateway to the James Street North Arts District.  This is the only contemporary urban design element in the entire district. 

James Street North streetscape is one of narrow sidewalks with lots of small shops. Doesn't take many people to generate a vibrant ambience. 

This could be in Portugal, but it is downtown Hamilton's James Street North.  This is just blocks away from Hamilton's downtown Farmers' Market one of the largest and oldest in Canada. 

New independent restaurants are starting to populate the streets. These are small intimate spaces that encourage human interactions. 

Ola Cafe is just one of the many Portuguese shops that adds an authenticity to JSN's sense of place.  You can't create this with urban redevelopment it takes decades to create character like this. 

An art exhibition in one of the many bohemian art galleries, mostly artists' cooperatives vs commercial galleries. Meet the artist not the owner!

There is a playfulness and spontaneity in the galleries. This mask/head was taken off the wall and an impromptu performance happened. 

Mom and pop cafe, no Tim's, Starbucks or Second Cup in sight.  

Supercrawl

Initiated in 2009, Supercrawl built on the popularity of JSN second Friday art crawls.  It has quickly grown from a one-day street festival into a major two-day arts festival attracting 80,000 people in 2012. The 2013 event September 13 and 14th will expand yet again to include waterfront concerts at Pier 8 at the end of James Street on the waterfront.   

Supercrawl organizers have announced that this year's free musical acts will include Said The Whale, Chelsea Light Moving (with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth), Young Rival, Joel Plaskett Emergency, Steve Strongman, Yo La Tengo, Sandro Perri, the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and 2009 Polaris Prize winners F***ed UP.

 Artists and patrons enjoying themselves at one of the monthly Art Crawls along James Street North. 

Artists and patrons enjoying themselves at one of the monthly Art Crawls along James Street North. 

Exploring/Flaneuring

If you are in the Hamilton area and are interested in art and architecture, don’t just drive by. Drive into the Downtown and check out James Street North. Take a walk back in time.  JSN should be on the radar of anyone who is into urban exploring, art, architecture and flaneuring. 

Below are just a few teasers.  If you like this article you might like the blog:  "Cities of Opportunities" 

Downtown Hamilton has several elegant early 20th century churches. 

Hamilton's Farmers' Market is a foodies mecca. The old clock I believe is from the old Hamilton Birk's Building 

Downtown is full of exquisite buildings in various states of aging. There is a wonderful urban patina that creates a unique sense of place.  This is not your pretty restored historic district. 

James Street North architecture collage

Hidden amongst the architecture and urban patina are some wonderful ornamental elements from the past which enrich the streetscape.  Decorative and ornamental elements have been lost in the age of minimalism. 

The Lister Building and people wandering James Street during one of the monthly art crawls. 

Fountain in Gore Park is a throw back to age of urban ornamentation and decoration. 

Hamilton's Central Library and Farmers' Market are a key component of the city's 40 year struggle with downtown urban renewal experiments. 

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Cities of Opportunities  

Curse of Minimalism  

Thrifting in Edmonton, Red Deer and Airdrie

Had a great day thrifting in Edmonton, Red Deer and Airdrie today.  First stop was the Bible for Mission in Edmonton on 34th Ave.  Could not believe the selection of film and television books - hundreds of them.  Fortunately or unfortunately I am not a collector of this genre so I will left them all for someone else. 

This is just one of the shelves of entertainment books some older some brand new.  Good diversity. 

There were 18 shelves of books like this one.

Being a good flaneur, I also kept my eyes open for other interesting things to see and do on the way to BFM (Bible For Missions).  I noticed in one of the many oil patch services yards a collection of industrial equipment that looked like an amazing public art piece.  I had to go back an explore.   

How cool are these?  Not sure what they are called, some sort of crane.  They look like creatures right out of science fiction movie.   There is both a humanoid and robotic element to them that is fun!  Gotta love found art!  There is also a resemblance in my mind to Jonathan Borosky's Hammering Man (see image at end of blog). 

Next stop was the Value Village on 51st but no real finds there so it was off to Red Deer where the Salvation Army and Value Village are side by side.  The Sally Ann had a 50% off sale on books so I was in my glory. As I was checking the books a volunteer was cleaning up around me. Kinda annoying but I didn't say anything.  

I was happy when I found a signed copy of "Kid Dynamite" the Gerry James Story by Ron Smith and then the Punch Imlach's story "Heaven and Hell in the NHL" and several others for only a dollar.  As I was getting to the end of my book browsing the volunteer handed me a book and said "I think you might like this one."  I was shocked, it was a copy of "Muddy Waters: The Mojo Man" by Sandra B. Tooze with forward by Eric Clapton.  I said "Thanks!" and he replied as if we were best friends "I've been watching you and I thought you might like this."  How did he know that I collect books on blues history?  It was perfect.  He then told be about a new blues bar in town that I should check out and we chatted like best friends for a few minutes.

Muddy Waters: Mojo Man in great condition for $1.50...gotta love thrifting...

We decided to pass up on Value Village as the prices are usually too high for thrifters like us and there was a tornado warning so we thought best to get out of town and head to Airdrie where there is a Goodwill, Sally Ann and Community Thrift all within a few blocks.  

The Airdrie Goodwill is an new concept as it is both a donation centre and retail store. I hit the jackpot for shirts - FILA golf shirt, Descent long sleeve active wear shirt and three brand new casual crew neck shirts - $25!  I am good for the summer.

Sally Ann in Airdrie was jammed with stuff...this time it was records...50 cents....Boz Scags "Middle Man," Aretha's "Who's Zoomin' Who?" David Loggins "Apprentice" Maria Muldaur, Martha and the Muffins " Trance and Dance" Joan Armatrading "Me Myself I" and Joe Jackson "Night and Day." All in great condition.   $4 bucks!

 

It is a good day of thrifting when I come home with something new to read, listen to and wear.   

 

Jonathan Borosky's "Hammering Man" sculpture. 

Tale of Two Donuts or should I say Doughnuts!

Being a native Hamiltonian, I consider myself to be somewhat of a donut, or should I say "doughnut" aficionado as Hamilton is home to Canada's iconic Tim Horton's coffee and donuts (3,453 franchises in Canada and 4,285 world-wide).  

Timmy's is to Hamilton what Starbucks is to Seattle. Yes there is one on almost every corner.  Did you know that Canada has more doughnut shops per capita than any other country?

However, like everything in this world, the donut, or should I say "doughnut" has gone upscale.  No longer is a plain glazed or maybe a Boston Cream enough for the foodies.  No! Today the donut, or should I say "doughnut" has to have some exotic combination of ingredients like bacon and peanut butter. Who thinks up these things?

Sex Shop

Probably one of the first upscale wacky donut, or should is say "doughnut" boutiques was in Portland. It has been ten years now since Voodoo Doughnut opened up in the Old Town district next to a sex shop.  Today, it has become a major tourist attraction and has the line-ups to show for it.  

People flock to get one of their signature Voodoo Doll donuts (or should I say "doughnut") which is a raspberry jelly filled primitive doll-shaped donut with chocolate frosting (see pics below).  

As a donut, or should I say "doughnut" loving, dessert diva/devil Brenda and I had Voodoo at the top of our "must see/must do" list. However, like all good flaneuring plans we found something even more interesting.   

While exploring Alberta Street, we came up a colourful clown-like building (see pics below) with two different entrances that looked interesting.  The sign said Tonnali's Donuts and Cream and it was time for a snack so we had to check it out.  

We were transported back to the '50s with a huge counter full of old fashion donuts like Maple Bar, Chocolate Twist, Old Fashion Glazed, Maple Buttermilk and Old Fashioned Cinnamon Crumb - none of the "what will they think of next" combo names!

Brenda had a simple glazed donut and I opted for the blueberry fritter - both were just the way we like them - fresh melt-in-your-mouth, with a sweetness that isn't over the top.  It was one of the best finds of our trip to Portland and worth the trip to Alberta Avenue, along with its indie art galleries and bohemian shops. 

We got to Voodoo Doughtnut in Old Town (there are two other locations) a few days later, but the line-up was too long for us to wait.  Next time we will get there earlier!    

Donut vs Doughnut?

Bet by now you are wonder, "How do you spell donut, or should I say doughnut?"  While a quick internet search, tells me that "doughnut" is the original spelling and dates back to 1800s.  This spelling makes sense as it is "deep fried dough."

The term "donut" came into use when the manufacturing of doughnuts became more commercial and probably originated in New York in the early 20th century - but the history is sketchy.  

If you want more detail information on donuts I'd suggest hub pages.   For example, who knew that there is a National Donut Day (first friday of June, rats just missed it) and that it was started in 1917 by Salvation Army giving away free donuts to veterans of WW1. Bet you didn't know that there are ten billion doughnuts made in the US every year!  

As an everyday tourist I may not be able to get to Voodoo or Tonnalli's again soon, but fortunately we have Modern Jelly Donuts here in Calgary that I can visit (not everyday) for that touristy doughnut/donut experience. 

 

This unassuming sign and building is home to one of Portland's biggest tourist attractions Voodoo Doughnut.  They say the magic is in the hole but from what we saw it wasn't the hole people were buying. 

 

We saw a lot of people buying the Voodoo dolls with their pretzel pins.  There are fun and each one is unique.  

Yes this is a popular place with long line ups most of the time.  We did not wait in line for a doughnut!  Things to see, places to go!

Saw this and thought this is our kind of place.  I am sucker for bright colours, especially yellow.  I also love all things bohemian and local.  This looked like something from the '50s - a good decade! 

Inside Tonalli's is exactly what you would expect a counter full of doughnut s- even in the middle of the afternoon.  What we loved is that there was none of the designer doughnuts here. 

Miss B went for the glassed cake doughnut in the traditional shape while I had the blueberry fritter (being a bit of fritter expert).  Note the classy glass of water; this is authenticity at its finest!  We both loved our selection. 

There wasn't much of a line up on the Saturday afternoon we were at Tonallis. Too bad! The Voodoo patrons could probably paid for the taxi to get to Tonallis with the money they would save and it would have taken less time than waiting in line.  

There are two entrances to Tonallis and just to cover their bases they have the "donut" spelling on one and "doughnut" on the other.  

Window licking in Chicago

One of the great ways to explore any city is to walk its streets and just observe.  One of my favourite things to do is to take pictures of the shop windows.  It is my form of window shopping and at the same time documenting a city's unique sense of place.

I find that many of the reflections combine a rich layering of imagery - the window display, the architecture across the street, the people walking by, the cars and bikes driving by, street furniture, trees and flowers.

I like the visual complexity - it is hard to read these photos at a glance, it takes some time to decipher the details.  There is often a wonderful a sense of energy, as well as a sense of as you capture the fleeting moment of people walking by.  There is randomness and sense of surprise.  I don't compose the picture and just point and shoot.  

I have used the term "window licking" in several blogs now - Paris and Portlandia.  I do so because the french phase for window shopping "fair du leche-vitrines" translates into English as "licking the windows."  

I think the images I have chosen for this photo essay demonstrate the charm and character of the streets of Chicago from Michigan Avenue aka Magnificient Mile, to Old Town and Bucktown.  

Love to hear your comments.

 

Not sure what is about eyewear stores but it doesn't matter if it Calgary or Chicago, it seems they often have the most creative and fun windows.  This one has a pop art, Jetson-like design.  The eye glassed are set inside what looks like large eyeballs.  How fun is that? 

 This may well be one of the most provocative windows I have ever encountered that wasn't a sex shop.  Found on a side street just north of Michigan Ave at the edge of the Gold Coast.  It is both fun and erotic!

This may well be one of the most provocative windows I have ever encountered that wasn't a sex shop.  Found on a side street just north of Michigan Ave at the edge of the Gold Coast.  It is both fun and erotic!

 This is a street window in an office building. I don't usually take notice of these, but this one conveyed to me a sense of isolation and minimalism that is too often associated with office buildings at street level.  For me it has a 21st century Edward Hopper like quality to it. 

This is a street window in an office building. I don't usually take notice of these, but this one conveyed to me a sense of isolation and minimalism that is too often associated with office buildings at street level.  For me it has a 21st century Edward Hopper like quality to it. 

 Found this amazing Portuguese Bakery in Bucktown that was right out of the '60s. Places like these are the thrill that every flaneur is looking for.  Anybody can go to the tourist traps. 

Found this amazing Portuguese Bakery in Bucktown that was right out of the '60s. Places like these are the thrill that every flaneur is looking for.  Anybody can go to the tourist traps. 

 I stared at these wigs for a long time wondering if they were worth a picture. Then I notice the Texas Long Horn and smiled.  Another find in Bucktown! 

I stared at these wigs for a long time wondering if they were worth a picture. Then I notice the Texas Long Horn and smiled.  Another find in Bucktown! 

 Yes this is over the top, but I loved the reflection of the historic architecture with the modern fashion and kitchy display.  

Yes this is over the top, but I loved the reflection of the historic architecture with the modern fashion and kitchy display.  

 We walked by this place serval times on Michigan Avenue and we always stopped and marvelled at the display.  It was three floors of nothing but old sewing machines, it was just as impressive from the bus as from the street.  Created a definite statement.  Wish more places would take the time to be creative and create street statement.   

We walked by this place serval times on Michigan Avenue and we always stopped and marvelled at the display.  It was three floors of nothing but old sewing machines, it was just as impressive from the bus as from the street.  Created a definite statement.  Wish more places would take the time to be creative and create street statement.   

 Mens' shop aren't usually as creative as women's but this window caught our attention. Love the shorts and jacket - I am not sure I could pull that off. 

Mens' shop aren't usually as creative as women's but this window caught our attention. Love the shorts and jacket - I am not sure I could pull that off. 

 This is street art at its finest.  It is like a set to a play that is about to happen.  There is an open-ended narrative.  I could look at this all day and it would continue to speak to me.

This is street art at its finest.  It is like a set to a play that is about to happen.  There is an open-ended narrative.  I could look at this all day and it would continue to speak to me.

 This is a stationary store window in Old Town.  I loved the  fun use of the pencils.  It was only later that I realize that reflection of the one-legged women really dominates the photograph and gives it an another level of fun/surprise which is what window licking is all about. Great streets are full of surprises.  

This is a stationary store window in Old Town.  I loved the  fun use of the pencils.  It was only later that I realize that reflection of the one-legged women really dominates the photograph and gives it an another level of fun/surprise which is what window licking is all about. Great streets are full of surprises.  

Window licking in Portlandia!

By Richard White, Community Strategist, Ground3 Landscape Architects

Just back from Portlandia and have a few great window licking images to share with you.  For those of you who are wondering about the term "window licking" it is the literal english translation of the french words for "window shopping."  If you want more details on origin of this term you can checkout my "Window Licking in Paris" blog. 

Below are some samples from various streets of Portlandia:

  • Alberta Street
  • Hawthorne Blvd
  • N. Williams
  • Mississippi Ave.              
  • 23rd Ave

I must say that the people of Portland are the friendliest people we have ever met.  As soon as they knew we were from out of town they immediately wanted to know where were we from. Then then they quickly and genuinely said "Welcome to Portland!" In one case, a guy didn't know where Calgary was, but he was immediately on the internet looking it up.  

It was also refreshing to find that drivers were often prepared to stop and let pedestrians cross the street even if it wasn't at a corner or cross walk.  Made for a much more enjoyable pedestrian experience.   Keep Portland friendly should be their motto!

One of the interesting things about window licking in Portlandia is how long their shopping streets are. Both Alberta Street and Hawthorne Boulevard are more than 15 blocks long.  Just when you think you get to the end, you see people a few blocks up and find that there is yet another cluster of shops.  Our motto became "just one more block."  

Here is a small sample of the wonderful windows we found while wandering the streets of Portlandia.   

 

 The Portland Art Museum was a wonderful surprise with its nice collection of First Nation artifacts as well as American modern and contemporary art.  There is a small sculpture court outside the entrance and the museum shop. This image captures the interplay of the Jaume Plensa scultpure (creator of Crown Fountain at Chicago's Millennium Park and Calgary Wonderland - see blogs).  I love the collage of imagery in this photograph, there is layer upon layer of imager that is fun to decipher.  There is a nice sense of people and place.

The Portland Art Museum was a wonderful surprise with its nice collection of First Nation artifacts as well as American modern and contemporary art.  There is a small sculpture court outside the entrance and the museum shop. This image captures the interplay of the Jaume Plensa scultpure (creator of Crown Fountain at Chicago's Millennium Park and Calgary Wonderland - see blogs).  I love the collage of imagery in this photograph, there is layer upon layer of imager that is fun to decipher.  There is a nice sense of people and place.

Found this window with fun colours of yarn displayed in a cool quirky manner that is made even more fun with the reflections of various people wander the street and getting on the bus.  Flaneuring at its best. 

 I am a sucker for neon signage. Love the layers of visuals the neon signage, the images of what's inside and the street happenings.  Urbanism is about clutter and layers, not about being neat and tidy. 

I am a sucker for neon signage. Love the layers of visuals the neon signage, the images of what's inside and the street happenings.  Urbanism is about clutter and layers, not about being neat and tidy. 

 Portland is know for its street food i.e. food carts that are clustered into pods on empty lots throughout the city and in downtown parking lots.  In this case the food cart has become a bricks and mortar restaurant.  The name is not Pig Out, but that is the brand.  

Portland is know for its street food i.e. food carts that are clustered into pods on empty lots throughout the city and in downtown parking lots.  In this case the food cart has become a bricks and mortar restaurant.  The name is not Pig Out, but that is the brand.  

 Off the beaten path you will find Spark's Vacuums with its wonderful windows featuring what else vacuums of all types and colours.  Inside, there is even a museum, if you can call it that. Really just a nook with a bunch of old vacuums lying around. The collection is interesting and ironically the place is very dusty i.e. nobody has vacuumed it in months.  This is one of the few examples of "Keep Portland Weird"  that we found. 

Off the beaten path you will find Spark's Vacuums with its wonderful windows featuring what else vacuums of all types and colours.  Inside, there is even a museum, if you can call it that. Really just a nook with a bunch of old vacuums lying around. The collection is interesting and ironically the place is very dusty i.e. nobody has vacuumed it in months.  This is one of the few examples of "Keep Portland Weird"  that we found. 

 In Old Town  you find lots of interesting local shops including this mystic shop with the wonderful neon question mark.  

In Old Town  you find lots of interesting local shops including this mystic shop with the wonderful neon question mark.  

 Again in Old Town, there is a restored Fire Hall, that has the most amazing front entrance with this lovely stained glassed window.  Who needs to go to art museums when there are lovely works of art everywhere on the street if you are looking?

Again in Old Town, there is a restored Fire Hall, that has the most amazing front entrance with this lovely stained glassed window.  Who needs to go to art museums when there are lovely works of art everywhere on the street if you are looking?

 Along Mississippi Avenue you find a wonderful array of local shops.  The one that caught Miss B and my attention was the light bulb shop with the wonderful windows.  Imagine a shop almost totally devoted to light bulbs. The windows also had a display of local lego creations that made everyone stop, look, linger and even chat. Just what every good window display should do.  We had a nice conversation with a couple who were visiting from Seattle.

Along Mississippi Avenue you find a wonderful array of local shops.  The one that caught Miss B and my attention was the light bulb shop with the wonderful windows.  Imagine a shop almost totally devoted to light bulbs. The windows also had a display of local lego creations that made everyone stop, look, linger and even chat. Just what every good window display should do.  We had a nice conversation with a couple who were visiting from Seattle.

 Miss B loved the window with all the pencil sharpeners. It is not often she says to me "did you get a picture of that!"  I expect this will be here new screen saver.  

Miss B loved the window with all the pencil sharpeners. It is not often she says to me "did you get a picture of that!"  I expect this will be here new screen saver.  

 Hawthorne Boulevard is a an amazing street of over 15 blocks of vintage clothing, mid-century modern furniture, the world's most upscale Goodwill thrift store, Powell's Annex and quirky shops.  At first I thought this was a sheep shearing shop, but then realized it was a dog.  Maybe Portland is weirder than I first thought.  

Hawthorne Boulevard is a an amazing street of over 15 blocks of vintage clothing, mid-century modern furniture, the world's most upscale Goodwill thrift store, Powell's Annex and quirky shops.  At first I thought this was a sheep shearing shop, but then realized it was a dog.  Maybe Portland is weirder than I first thought.  

 Hawthorne Blvd is the mecca for vintage clothes shopping.  Some have great animated windows like this one. 

Hawthorne Blvd is the mecca for vintage clothes shopping.  Some have great animated windows like this one. 

 While the sign says "shoe shine" the store really is a barber shop.  Portland has lots of the '50s and '60s barbershops with a modern twist.  I can see this becoming a trend in other cities in North America. 

While the sign says "shoe shine" the store really is a barber shop.  Portland has lots of the '50s and '60s barbershops with a modern twist.  I can see this becoming a trend in other cities in North America. 

Like I said, there at a number of mid-century modern barber shops in Portland which create a nice link between the past and the present. 

You can learn a lot by wandering the streets of any city.  You can discouver their local culture if you explore the streets outside of the city centre. In the case of Portlandia I would recommend that tourist spend at least a half a day exploring Alberta Street of Hawthorne Boulevard if you want to experience the real city.  I even suggest you venture off into the residential neighbourhoods next the retail streets to see the homs and the local parks.  While downtown may be the face of the city, it's soul is often in the older neighbourhoods. 

Could Calgary have the largest bike shop in North America?

I am working on a story on Bike Culture in Calgary and one of the topics that has grabbed my interest is the number and diversity of bike shops in the city.  I have visited lots of other cities and I don’t recall seeing the number of independent bike shops that there are in Calgary.

The one that most intrigues me is Bow Cycle in Calgary’s west side working class community of Bowness (for more history and pics you can go to My Beautiful Bowness blog).  On their vintage main street is the largest bike shop I’ve ever seen.  A quick email to Bow Cycle got a quick response saying that their shop was 24,000 square feet with another 16,000 square foot warehouse

Bow Cycle retail store on Bowness Road in Calgary is 24,000 square feet devoted entirely to bikes and accessories. 

This was my benchmark.  Let the googling begin! 

Lots of sites claimed to be the largest in the state or largest in online sales and selection but nothing about size of building.  

R&A Cycle in Brooklyn indicates on their website that they are the “World’s Largest Bike Shop” but when I emailed them their response are “the largest Professional bike shop in the world. Not in square feet as there are shops who are larger but they carry mostly bikes under $2,000 in value. As the world’s largest Professional bike shop, we have on display we have over 50 bikes with an average price tag over $4,000, with 800 frames and over 500 bikes in stock” says Philip Cabbad, Sales Representative

So I decided to contact Bow Cycle again to see how they compared as a professional bike shop.  Darrell Elliot quickly responded that “we have easily over 75 mountain bikes over $4,000 and easily over 50 road bikes over $5,000 on display. In fact, at a quick glance, we have over 10 bikes over $15,000.”  

Darrell went on say “I think when you are looking for the world's largest bike shop, world's best bike shop, etc., you need to have some parameters or guidelines as to what qualifies the shop as the largest or the best. Is it square footage? Overall sales figures? Bike sales? Parts sales? Accessory sales? Internal labor sales? External labor sales? Clothing sales? Bike fitting sales? Service school sales? Event sales (our shop hosts over 10 bicycle races each year)? Number of employees? Community involvement? Industry involvement? What does it take to be the world's largest/best bike store? Without blowing our horn too loud, we are probably the largest single location bicycle retail shop in Canada - perhaps even in North America - we haven't done the research on single location bicycle shops to see who in fact is the largest. It is not that important to us, we just want to meet the needs of our community.”

Yikes…I thought this would be simple - do a bit of research and write a story…I think the chain just fell off this project.  Today I spend some time at Calgary Cycle and Road sister bike shops on Centre Street North.  R&A Cycle came up again as one of the biggest and best bike shops in USA.  I was also directed to check out Colorado bike shops at is it where the USA Olympic bike teams play and major bike manufacturers are located there. 

So I need your help. Does anyone know of a single bike shop with over 24,000 square feet of space (not including warehouse space).

Calgary Cycle one of Calgary's many specialty bike shops.  Calgary has a strong bike culture perhaps as a result of having the world's most comprehensive urban pathway system at  700+ kilometres. 

About Bow Cycle:

Bow Cycle has a long history dating back to 1957 when the shop opened as a general sporting goods store by Jim Sibthorpe Sr. By 1980, the business morphed into two businesses a bicycle shop and a motorcycle shop in separate buildings on Bowness Road aka Main Street Bowness. The two businesses were successfully run by the two sons of Jim Sibthorpe (Brian and Jimi) until both were sold independently. Bow Cycle (bike shop) is now owned by five long-term employees (Kevin Senior, David Leung, John Franzky, Darrell Elliott and Kurt Christensen) who all work full time operating the business.

The retail bike store was designed by Brian and Jimi Sibthorpe the original owners. Completed in 2004, it was designed as a purpose-built bike shop, with an open design to display thousands of bikes with lots of natural light.   

Going into the season, Bow Cycle stocks about 6,000 bicycles, which indeed gives them one of the largest selections of bicycles in Canada, North American and maybe worldwide. Bow Cycle, is a family bicycle shop that caters to all types and abilities of cycling enthusiasts has a staff of 125 people, 4 shops and 30 workstations.

View from the loft level at Bow Cycle of the thousands of bikes in all shapes and colours.