Freakn Fun Funky Quirky (FFQ) Bike Racks

By Richard White, December 8, 2013 (revised May 3, 2014)

Saskatoon's everyday tourists, Leila and Charles Olfert. recently sent me six photos of FFQ (fun, funky, quirky) bike racks in Nashville that inspired this blog.  I am hoping other readers will send me more images of FFQ bike racks so I can create a fun gallery.

A little research uncovered that Nashville’s bike rack program is not focused on downtown (like most programs), but in the residential neighbourhoods. I was also shocked to learn the budget is $300,000 for 30 racks. That’s, on average $10,000 to design, construct and install the racks – seems a bit pricy to me.

I learned funding for Nashville artists’ bike racks comes from the "Percent for the Arts" program, an policy that says 1 percent of all net proceeds of general obligation bonds issued for construction projects must be spent on public art. That made we wonder if this is art or decoration? 

Iconic?

The vision for these bike racks is to “be an iconic program for Nashville.” I am not sure I would visit Nashville just to see 30 bike racks, but if I was going, they would be a fun thing to checkout.  The racks being dispersed around the city is a great idea on one level, but it limits the ability for a tourist to see them all.  However, a map of where all the bike racks are, with the best cycle route to see them and a bike rental program would make for a fun a fun Bike Trail.  This raises the question - what does iconic mean?

Do we use the word to loosely today? 

This quirky corn stalk bike rack on a quiet residential street are a good example of "urban surprise."  Credit: L. Olfert 

Now this is fun...note the air pump posts, I missed that at first glance. Credit: L. Olfert

Who would of thought of a sliced tomato as a bike rack.  Where exactly do you lock your bike up? Form vs Function? Credit: L. Olfert

A city is a city…

 A quick check in with Leila who informed me... 

The bike racks are indeed located all around the city -  a map and bike trail would have been really handy.  In fact, it would have been handy if the local people knew about the racks and where they were!  Probably because of their obscurity and uniqueness, Charles and I made it a mission to find all them!

Some of them were in pretty obscure places but it allowed us to explore parts of the city we would not have ordinarily gone to.  In some places, we had to go around the block several times before we figured out where the rack was!  It was a real treasure hunt.  We enjoyed each and every one of the bike racks.  

Some of them had us wondering just how we would lock our bike up to them though!  

 We have not seen anything like this in our travels and thought it was great!  A city is a city and has all the 'city things,' so when we find something peculiar to a city, we latch on to it and run with it.  Seeing the bike racks should definitely be on your must-see list. They are pretty cool!

Future Dividends?

As I continued to do my research I found out program favours younger artists, which is an interesting policy.  The easiest way to create an iconic art program would be hire a famous artist or architect to design them and get immediate recognition.

The idea of giving young artists an opportunity to have their work on permanent public display and to experience the public artwork design process provides an invaluable lesson that will pay dividends in the future. 

And, you might just find that you have a real gem if one of the artists becomes famous, and you would have one of his/her’s early works.  

You have to smile when you see this rack.This looks to me like something  This looks to me like something Claes Oldenburg might have done in the '60s as part of the "pop art" movement. Credit: L. Olfert

This one seems pretty tacky to me...very contrived. Credit: L. Olfert

Portlandia has FFQ bike racks too…

A little more digging and I found that Portland also has an FFQ Bike Program.  The Portland Mercury’s Blogtown did a fun piece on The 10 Craziest Bike Racks in Portland. 

Art / Decoration / Tacky?

When I look at the photos of these bike racks I smile and then I wonder. Are these more decoration than art? They are clever and fun, but I don’t see a personal statement in any of these racks.  To me, they are a quick, “look-see” experience, not something that makes me ponder.

Is this art or decoration or just tacky? Does it matter? Can’t help but wonder if $300,000 could buy one or two nice piece of more thought-provoking public art in higher traffic areas. but that's just me.

This is very appropriate for Nashville which I am told is home to about 20,000 aspiring singers and songwriters. Credit: L. Olfert 

Found this fun bike rake in Downtown Boise's Linen District this fall. I think it would fit well with Nashville's bike rack program. 

This is just one of 10 FFQ bike racks in Portlandia.  Love the title Cupcake.  Credit: Travel Portland 

How sweet is this? A covered bike rack at the Shaganappi Point LRT Station on Calgary's new West LRT line.Credit: David Peyto 

This set of dentures that also works as bike rack is located in Calgary's Beltline district outside a dentist's office.  Credit: David Peyto

Found these fun bike racks in front of a grocery store in downtown Salt Lake City. 

Love this custom bike rack in front of Bozeman's downtown library. 

Send us photos of your your favourite bike racks and we will add them to this blog.

If you like this blog, you might like:

FFQing in Tri-cities 

FFQing Udderly Art Pasture

Downtown Fun: Spokane 

Window Licking in Chicago

Moosomin's Motel 6 is full of surprises!

By Richard  White, November 30, 2013

A good road trip is one that is filled with surprises  - pleasant surprises!  Recently, we had such surprise when we checked into the Motel 6 in none other than Moosomin, Saskatchewan (population 2,500) on the TransCanada Highway. 

We arrived with no real expectations other than the online reviews were good and given we couldn’t find anything in Brandon and Virden didn’t seem much better, so I booked it online. The last thing you want on a winter road trip through the prairies in the “great white north” is to be stranded at -30 and discover there’s “no room at the inn.”

Immediately upon checking in we noticed something was different, very different. Marina, with her attractive northern European accent had a charming way about her  (elegant and refined, yet down to earth and authentic) that was immediately infectious. 

She was very professional in informing us about the various amenities including the workout room, guest laundry and the complementary 24/7 coffee/tea/hot chocolate bar.  

The Moosomin Motel 6 has a contemporary design that is a nice urban design surprise for a small prairie town. 

Saskatchewan is a magnet!

With our encouragement, she shared a bit of her personal story as if we were family, telling us about her adventure moving to Saskatchewan from the Ukraine with her husband and two kids.  She couldn’t hold-in how happy she was to live in Moosomin where “the sun shines most of the time, not like in the Ukraine” (although the day we arrived, it was cloudy, windy and freezing cold – the image most Canadians have of the prairies).

She also finds the “people are so friendly” not like in the Ukraine, where everyone wears a frown.   She also shared with us how business in Ukraine are so corrupt and people are oppressed. We don’t know how lucky we are.

When asked “why Saskatchewan?” she said because she liked Canada more than the other places around the world she had visited and Saskatchewan made it easy to immigrate.  She proceeded to tell us that the Motel 6 staff is like a mini United Nations with staff from Korea, Philippines, Honduras and of course, Ukraine.  Who knew Moosomin was a magnet for new immigrants?

She loved Moosomin’s schools for her two children and both she and husband Roman Chernykh had been hired by Motel 6 owner Josef Tesar, himself an immigrant, from Czechoslovakia.  

Roman Chernykh hotel General Manager and his wife Marina.  Gotta love a hotel manager who isn't wearing a suit and tie.  Their happiness and enthusiasm is shared by all the staff i.e. leading by example.

Orange

And the surprises didn’t stop at check-in. When we opened the door to our room arrived at our room we were nicely shocked to find a minimalist boutique hotel-like room (there is no art or photographs on the walls).

The floor looked like bamboo - we later found out it was made from recycled boxes.  The pallet was white and burnt orange walls, with orange and taupe bedspread. A corner workstation with banquet seat that was perfect for my laptop, complete with mini fridge built into the wall above (convenient for a beer). 

The bathroom was modern with a fun yellow, built-in towel holder that also served as a towel warmer and light.  The flush-to-the-wall TV had an easy hook-up for an Xbox.  This was certainly as nice as the any of the hotels we have stayed in recently in big urban centres!

The first thing we loved about our room was the comfortable workstation.  It was like having a cafe in our room.  The black box is the fridge.  The interior designers got this design right it was function, comfortable and looked great. Good use of space. 

Green Keys

When heading out for dinner, we ran into Roman, the General Manager.  Just as friendly, he shared more of the story of the hotel.  I quickly found out that it had won 3 green keys for being an environmentally-friendly construction including solar panels on the roof that resulted in heating bill of $50 in October for the 76-room hotel with 76 rooms. 

He was proud that they had sourced as much of the materials locally as they could, including 80 televisions from the local Moosomin electronic dealer.  (Back story – the storeowner was so shocked/excited by such a large order the order that he literally had a “heart attack” shortly afterwards and had to be taken by air ambulance to Regina).

He too loves the lifestyle that Moosomin offered him and his family (he also had travelled the world as a waiter on cruise ships).  This unassuming family could well be THE poster family for Saskatchewan economic development and tourism. 

The bathroom was also very contemporary with the yellow towel holder/warmer/light reflected in the mirror. 

No room at the motel

In the morning, when checking out, the front desk clerk greeted us with a bright smile, a “good morning” greeting and immediately directed us to the coffee and Tim Horton muffins.  She too couldn’t be happier living and working in Moosomin.  So much so, she willingly shared with us her story of immigrating from Korea with her husband and young child and has never looked back.

This is the view of the room as you enter. The lighting is great to read by, something many posh hotels don't have. The design is warm, inviting and contemporary. Love at first sight! 

Book Ahead!

So, if ever in the area, consider an overnight stay in Moosomin, SK at the Motel 6 – you won’t be disappointed.  But book ahead, word has gotten out about the hot property so sometimes “there is no room at the motel."

Reader's comments:

GM writes: Awesome tie!

DF writes: My girlfriend and I spent our summer vacation in Saskatchewan (Batoche between Saskatoon and Prince Albert, then south to the East block of Grasslands National Park, where we stayed in a tipi, then to a former convent in Val Marie in the West block). I’ve been to the Cypress Hills a couple of times, too. There’s much to be said for the prairies.

DB writes: read the article and saw the pics – charmingly modern for sure. Can see how you would have been surprised. Reminded me a little – at least interior design-wise, of a boutique hotel I stayed at in Frankfurt one time. Similar furniture and colour scheme. Piece had a Stuart McLean feel to it and that’s a compliment. Good to hear from new arrivals how good we have it here in Canada. Sometimes we just plain forget.

If you like this blog you might like:

Everyday Tourist Transit Tales

Stairways to heaven 

Lyon Sidewalk Ballet

Meeting Creek Ghost town meets Art Town 

This tie is made out of pheasant feathers and as a tie collector (over 500 ties) I have always coveted this one.  I first saw it in the Red Barn restaurant in Moosomin Saskatchewan 25 years ago.  

Recently the Trans Canada Highway was diverted around the city, and the Red Barn restaurant had to be rebuilt.  Today it is a popular spot with locals, bus tours and others.  When I asked about the tie, sure enough to my SURPRISE It hangs in a prominent place in the new lounge.  Maybe after a few drinks I will find a way to add it to my collection. 

Calgary: North America's Newest Music City?

By Richard White, November 26, 2013 

Recently I read in the Calgary Herald that our city is “the unofficial folk club capital of the planet!”  The quote was attributed to Suze Casey the Artistic Director of the Calgary Folk Club one of seven such clubs in the city.  Casey might be a bit bias, but hey I am all for putting the statement out there and challenging other cities to dispute it. 

The statement was made in the context of the Canadian Folk Music Awards coming to Calgary for the first time, which Casey thought was an injustice given our status as the “folk club capital of the planet.”  Unfortunately, it turned out no Calgarians (no Albertans for that matter) won any of the awards - a good host never hogs the awards! 

Amy Thiessen and Russel Broom at Lolita's a tiny intimate room in trendy Inglewood, home to several music venues including the Calgary Folk Festival's new Festival Hall. 

Prince's Island is the best

Not only does Calgary have a strong folk club culture, but we have one of the best folk festivals on the planet that takes place each year on Prince’s Island an oasis in the middle of the Bow River (best fly fishing river on the planet).  Recently, Calgary also became home to intimate Festival Hall, which is operated by the Calgary Folk Festival to provide year-round music programming.

One of several weekend jam session in Calgary's downtown.  This is an all ages jam. There is a teenage brother and sister on stage in this photo.  

GABEsters

For me Casey’s statement was another piece of evidence that Calgary is more than just a collection of conservative corporate towers, but one of North America’s vibrant urban playgrounds – a statement I have been championing for 15 years.

Recently, I wrote a blog about Calgary’s Beltline community as being one of the most attractive hipster communities in North America, certainly on par with those I have recently visited in Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, Toronto, Ottawa or Vancouver.  I even suggested we create a Calgary based term “GABEster” to reflect that our hipsters are unique in that they are highly paid geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers who love to work hard and play hard, not the typical bohemians.    

Calgary's International Blues Festival at Shaw Millennium Park. 

WAMJAMs

Over the past few years, I have come to appreciate Calgary has an incredible weekend afternoon music jam culture (WAMJAM).  In the downtown, there are jams at Blues Can, Ironwood, Mikey’s Juke Joint (yes we have a juke joint) and Ship & Anchor on both Saturday and Sundays. 

Add in places like Broken City, HiFi Club, The Palomino, The RePublic,  Wine-Ohs and the numerous open mic nights as many of the independent coffee houses and you have a very vibrant indie music scene in Calgary’s downtown that is hard to match. 

It doesn't stop there most of the downtown churches have active music programs from classical to folk. Any night of the week, I can find a place that offers great local music.  

Over the past few years I have visited Chicago, Portland, Ottawa, Vancouver and San Francisco and asked about WAMJAMs and it was hard to find anything to match scope and strength of Calgary’s downtown jams. 

 Mikey's Juke Joint is located next to the railway tracks under a busy over pass, has just the right sense of place and ambience you want for blues bar. 

Hexters to National Music Centre 

Outside of the downtown there are numerous live music spots.  Hexters in Bowness has a great Sunday afternoon jam. Recently, I attended for the first time and was shocked to find 150 people there a “football Sunday” dancing up a storm – how cool is that.  You can even go to very edge of the city and find live music.  Bee’s Knees is a coffee house in an estate community (big homes on big lots) on the southern edge of the city offers live music twice a week – a jam session and an open mic night. FFWD our weekly art and entertainment newspaper list 64 venues across the city 

Calgary is also home to the National Music Centre which hosts one of the largest collection of keyboard instruments on the planet. With the opening of their mega 150 million dollar new home in 2015, Calgary will certainly be not only a major music city, but also urban playground destination.

And then there is Sled Island which was quickly becoming one of North America's premier music festivals until it was flooded out last June.  I expect it will come back stronger than ever in 2014.  The festival offers over 250 bands, plus film, comedy and art exhibitions at 30+ venues.  

Even in March, the Ship & Anchor's patio is full of GABEsters. 

Sir Elton John likes Calgary 

I haven’t even mentioned Alberta Ballet’s successful collaborations with the likes of Sir Elton John, Joni Mitchell and Sara McLachlan to create original ballets. Or Calgary Opera's commissioning of new contemporary operas.  And there is the Calgary Stampede, includes an amazing 10-day music program that includes major headliners as well as local musicians, and it is not all county and western music.

For most people, Austin, Memphis and Nashville are top-of-mind when you think of North American music cities.  My plans are to visit Memphis in January for the International Blues Challenge January 21st to 25th where Calgary’s Mike Clarke Band (owner of Mikey’s Juke Joint) and Tim Williams will be competing.  I am curious to see how Calgary competes with the big boys of the bayou.

Guitar Club

A grassroots affair modeled after successful shows in Edmonton and Vancouver, the Calgary Guitar Show will be a one day/all ages event focused on bringing together anyone who loves music. It will provide a venue for retail music stores and collectors alike to sell their guitars, amplifiers and accessories and an opportunity for the public to meet collectors, talk to technicians and builders, and hang with local musicians. A much anticipated event that will evolve and expand in years to come.

The Calgary Guitar Show will take place at The Golden Age Club in the heart of Calgary’s East Village. In addition to the 20+ vendors expected to sell their goods, homegrown talent will be showcased on the Club’s magnificent stage and 50/50 raffles held to support the community. Following the show, an exclusive “After Party” for vendors, sponsors and friends will be held at the National Music Centre to wind down the day. Tickets will be limited to 150 for an evening of food, drink, entertainment and an exclusive tour of the National Music Centre collections – a fascinating journey for all!

For more information go to calgaryguitarshow.com.

 

 

Tim Williams and Mike Clark (owner of Mikey's) have fun on stage. 

FUN ideas for Downtown Calgary!

By Richard White, November 24, 2013 

I recently shared some of the fun things to see and do in downtown Spokane, Wash. — and spoke of how, if Calgary wants to have an attractive, vibrant downtown, it is vital to create entertaining and even purely whimsical things for people to enjoy.

In this blog, I want to open up the discussion as to how we might add more fun to Calgary’s rather staid, office-centric core, where sober practicality can too often be an excuse for lack of imagination and engagement.

Arguably, the most fun spot in our downtown is the Colourful Cows for Calgary exhibition, hidden away on the second floor of the Centennial Parkade. Where, and what, you say?

That’s where a dozen or so of the Udderly Art cow sculptures were put out to pasture, so to speak, at a city parkade on Fifth Street near Eighth Avenue around the corner from the Globe Theatre.

Udderly Art was a charity event that took place in the summer of 2000. Using the same fibreglass cow as a template, artists were sponsored by companies to come up with everything from a Mae West-inspired entry named Moo West to a Holy Cow that was perforated with holes. The history of one of Canada’s most successful public art projects is there for everyone to enjoy. Thirteen years later, perhaps it is time for another fun summer public art program. 

Just one of the dozen of so cows that are grazing on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade.  

Everybody loves a train

Is it just me, or is there something fun about a train?

Did you know that at noon every day, the steam whistle on the Canadian Pacific Railway No. 29 steam locomotive goes off in front of the Gulf Canada Square building on 9th Avenue? Too bad this couldn’t happen more often; it would be great if anyone could come up to the train anytime pull a lever and the whistle would sound. 

I hope downtown doesn’t lose the engine when the railway company moves its headquarters out of downtown. If it is moved, perhaps it could be replaced by a monster oil sands truck. Last time I talked about Spokane’s popular Big Wagon slide. How about we get a decommissioned truck and turn it into a slide? Maybe with a little imagination, it could also become a climbing apparatus for kids. What kid (even dads) wouldn’t want into climb the big truck?

We need some visual reminders downtown that we are one of the world’s leading oil and gas centres. 

The historic Engine #29 sits on Gulf Canada office building which is the head office of the historic Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. Unfortunately they are moving out of the downtown.   

Climbing walls?

Speaking of climbing, if we want to add some fun to our downtown and give a nod to the Rocky Mountains and our passion for recreation, we need a mega downtown climbing wall. Perhaps we could start by turning the Calgary Tower into a huge climbing wall. Wouldn’t it be fun to watch people climb the outside of the tower? The colourful hand and foot holds, with their funky shapes and patterns would make the tower look like a totem sculpture.

If the Calgary Tower doesn’t work, perhaps an existing or new office developer could create a climbing wall on the outside of their building or in the lobby. Canmore has a climbing wall in their new recreation centre in a space that looks remarkably just like an office lobby — wouldn’t that animate a sterile office building. I could see the space being used by all kinds of people for different events.

For anyone who argues the liability lawyers would have a field day with this idea, I recently toured the University of Idaho’s climbing wall facility, which has one of the highest walls in the world. It turns out injuries are minimal and they have had no liability issues.

The climbing wall located on the main floor of the new Canmore, Alberta recreation centre bears a striking resemblance to an office lobby with its two floor open ceiling. Sure beats a sterile office lobby for animation. 

The University of Idaho in Moscow has once of the tallest climbing walls in the world.  Wouldn't this be a nice addition to downtown Calgary. 

Family days

In the early ’90s, the Calgary Downtown Association organized a Kids’ Days event.

But rather than the usual face-painting and art-making activities, how about an annual or monthly downtown scavenger hunt that encourages families to explore, learn and have fun downtown.

Perhaps it could even be self-guided, encouraging families to find interesting things, such as a bush plane hanging from a ceiling … or a buffalo skeleton … or the Cowabunga skateboarding cow from Udderly Art.

Might we convince Calgary Transit to offer free rides on the LRT to downtown on the first weekend of the month? Kids love to ride the train and come down to the “tall city” (as my nephew used to refer to Calgary’s downtown when he was three years old). 

This is an actual plane hanging from the ceiling of the Suncor Centre.  

Christmas

Calgary used to have a downtown Santa Claus Parade, creating an annual fun event for families to do in the core. I think some of us still have childhood memories of going downtown to see the animated Christmas windows at The Bay and Eaton’s.

Flagship retailers in New York, Chicago and Paris pride themselves on their magical Christmas windows, attracting tens of thousands of people to their downtowns at Christmas time.

Perhaps we could convince businesses along Stephen Avenue, aka Calgary’s main street, to create amazing Christmas window displays each year that would add some fun and excitement to the street for everyone. While some of the current windows are nice, none have the magic of past Christmases. We need to kick it up a notch, perhaps through a contest with proceeds going to charity

Why wait for Christmas...fun, funky, quirky downtown windows should be part of the unique downtown experience all year. 

Kids banners

We could also have an annual fun banner program downtown.  Instead of the text-oriented designs used for most of the current banners, children’s workshops could be organized throughout the city to generate art depicting what they like about Calgary.

Judges could choose which ones get made into banners, while others could be displayed as part of exhibitions at City Hall and the Devonian Gardens.

Everybody loves children’s art as it is always colourful and fun. Imagine if every lamp post downtown had a kid’s banner on it? Imagine how the Seventh Avenue Transit corridor could be transformed into a children’s art gallery — now that would change downtown’s sense of place

Imagine if these LRT station banners used children's art to create a more unique sense of place and play.

FUN Architecture 

The proposed new downtown library is an opportunity waiting for some fun urban design. We should let kids in on designing the library; they did a great job on the Alberta Children’s Hospital. At minimum, they should be part of the creation of the library’s children’s area. 

The proposed Telus Sky building also has an element of fun in its design, which I think (and hope) could probably be played up even more as the design evolves. Maybe one of these two projects could incorporate the climbing wall?

It is not coincidence that the Alberta Children's Hospital looks like it was constructed with lego.  A youth advisory group provide the design team with ideas about what the hospital should look like - big windows and bright colours were two of the suggestions.  The building is both fun and welcoming, something every building should be. 

Some of Calgary's most colourful and fun architecture is hidden from view, like this office building at Canada Olympic Park.  Imagine if this building was along the 7th Avenue Transit corridor or along 9th Avenue as a gateway into downtown.  This makes a fun statement. 

Alley Art Gallery

While recently strolling through downtown Boise, Idaho, my wife and I recently came upon an alley full of young girls and their moms. We wondered what was happening.

It turns out it was a dance company that was using their “Freak Alley” paintings as a backdrop for a photo session. Even a place in a state known for its potato production is willing to fly its freak flag — how fun is that?

 The walls of the buildings facing the alley and an adjacent surface parking lot are full from the ground to the rooftops of street art by numerous artists, whose styles range from graffiti to realism. It is a wonderful outdoor gallery and a nice urban surprise.

If only we use a little imagination and co-operation, Calgary’s downtown has plenty of alleys that could become outdoor art galleries.

 Downtown is already mega urban art park that contains more than 100 public sculptures, not to mention a few murals. Perhaps the city’s bonus density program — a municipal policy that allows developers to build more floors in return for creating public amenities like indoor gardens, plazas, public art and Plus-15 bridges — could include creating an alley art gallery. 

It would be fun to have an alley art walk that people could experience anytime they are downtown. 

Fun art from Boise's Freak Alley.

 Calgary does have some fun art like these two sculptures at Bow Valley Square. They always make me smile.

Calgary does have some fun art like these two sculptures at Bow Valley Square. They always make me smile.

Zip Line

Freemont Street in Las Vegas is very much like Stephen Avenue — both are pedestrian malls. One of Freemont’s big attractions is a zip line down the middle of the street.

I am not sure this would work on Stephen Ave, but perhaps it would somewhere else downtown; maybe in Shaw Millennium Park, or in Prince’s Island. How about across the Bow River (a reader once suggested this to me) going both ways.

It could add a whole new dimension for those walking to work and would be a fun activity for Calgarians and visitors.

Freemont Street in old downtown Vegas has a zip line under the white canopy that covers the street for several blocks.  The canopy is used in the evening for a spectacular light show that is set to music.  Now that FUN!

Bring back the neon

In the heyday of downtowns in the mid-20th century, the streets were “brighter,” as ’60s singer Petula Clark once noted in her song, Downtown. But that is not true today. Most of the streets in downtown Calgary are dark, with little or no light on the sidewalks. Any signs you come across are very subtle and corporate.

We need to bring back the flashing blade signs of the neon era that shout out that something fun is happening inside. A great place to start would be to animate the EPCOR Centre and the Glenbow with some great neon signs.

Downtowns across North America use to fun places with lots of colour and street animation animation provided by the flashing bright neon lights. Today there are few of the big, bold beautiful neon signs left.  

Last Word

These are just a few of my wacky FUN ideas I am sure there are more and better one’s out there. Email me your thoughts on how to make our downtown or city centre a more FUN place for everyone and I will tweet and blog them out. 

If you like this blog you might like: 

Freakn Fun in Freak Alley: Boise

FFQing in Tri-cities

Downtown Spokane Fun

An edited version of this blog was first published in the Calgary Herald's Condo section on Saturday, November 23, 2013 with different photographs. 

Freakn Fun in Freak Alley: Boise

By Richard White, November 19, 2013

Recently I have been a bit obsessed with the idea of how to add more fun into the “everyday” urban experience.  One of the most unexpected and fun experiences we’ve had recently was the discovery of “Freak Alley” in downtown Boise, Idaho.   As a former artist who initiated the “Street Art for Gleichen” project in the early ‘80 and later as public gallery curator, art critic and reviewer, Boise’s outdoor art gallery was very intriguing to me.  Freak Alley is accessed from Bannock Street and runs between 8th and 9th Streets.

There was some serendipity involved as we arrived around the same time as a dance company of young teens and preteens who were using the space for a photo shoot.   Good urban spaces are incubators for surprises!

While almost every city (large and small) now has a “First Thursday or First Friday” art program and lots have historic mural programs, Boise’s “Freak Alley” is more unique and makes a contemporary statement about Boise’s emergence as an urban playground.

While at first glance most would see the space as “graffiti gone wild,” once you take some time to look and ponder the art you realize it is a contemporary exhibition with strong political and personal artistic statements. 

Freak Alley wall facing the parking lot. The exhibition has the feeling of a salon show with artworks hung side-by-side. 

This was my favourite, I liked the hybridization of cartoon and surrealism.

The alley was full of animation with all of these dancers and their parents prancing about.  The costume designs seemed to fit right in with the artwork.  

This drawing-like painting was also a favourite of mine.  

History

As I understand it, Freak Alley began in 2002 when local artist Colby Akers painted a doorway in the alley. It was well received so he asked other building owners if they would allow artists to paint their doors and wall and when they agreed he asked other artists join in the fun!

Today, Akers still manages Freak Alley reviewing proposals from both local and out-of-town artists to have their artwork exhibited for one year. Perhaps it is the temporary nature of the artwork that allows it to be seedy and edgy, as opposed to the refined work seen in public galleries and juried public artworks.  There was definitely more excitement at “Freak Alley” then when we checked-out BAM aka Boise Art Museum. 

"River Sculpture" by Alison Sky is a 50-foot high relief made of granite, fused glass, neon, painted aluminum and fog misters on the corner of a building which offers great sight lines.  It is a celebration of water and light. 

Found this little guy playing with a piece of public art depicting children playing marbles.  Urban playgrounds should appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds. It isn't just about the restaurants, shops, festivals, museums, attractions and performing arts.  

Sanitized Street Art

Downtown Boise is also home to several more traditional street art/murals.  The one we enjoyed the most was “Penny Post Cards” by Mark Baltes, which is a collage of images from actual penny postcards from the late 19th Century.  These postcards depicted the beautiful buildings and streets of downtown Boise. It is interesting to see how the downtown's sense of place has evolved over the past 100 years ago.  The mural is a dual-faced artwork that changes as you walk around it evolving from abstraction to realism depending on your perspective.  The artwork is prominently located on the north wall of Boise’s City Hall on Idaho Street, between Capitol Blvd and 6th Street.

You can find more information about Boise’s extensive collection of public art, as well as its architecture and history at Boise Art and History  - everything from Egyptian Revival architecture to pagoda turrets. 

 

 

Mark Baltes mural "Penny Post Card" captures the history of downtown Boise with a bit of contemporary interpretation with its collage of images from old postcards. 

From a the side the image is of an actual post card in its entirety.  

Traffic Box & Transit Shelter Art

Many cities have decorated their ugly grey utility boxes with local artwork or images of the city’s history.  But the art on Boise’s boxes is not just for beautification purposes, while some look a little amateurish and are not much more than decoration, many had a punch and an edge you don’t often find with this kind of street art.

I was personally impressed with a “pop art” piece I found in the Linen District depicting a bear, an elephant, a young girl and a weight lifter.  It has an interesting ambiguity that I found puzzling and intriguing at the same time. I like art that makes me think - work for an understanding. Click here to learn more.  

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Last Word

For a city of 212,000 people (600,000 metro), Boise has an impressive downtown that is quickly evolving into a fun urban playground with a strong culinary and café culture, as well as interesting art scene.  If you are in the area it is definitely worth exploring.   

This mural Les Bois, 1992 was created by Bruce Poe and Dennis Proksa.  It consists of 24 white steel plates with a random pattern of cut leaf images against a black wall in a parking lot at street level. As you walk past the leaves evolve from whole to fragmented.  

1600 km "shoe shopping" weekend road trip...

Guest blog by: Sarah (shoe addict) Lucas, November, 16, 2013

I think it started as kind of a joke. The store My Sole Addiction (located in downtown Grande Prairie on 100th Ave and 99th St.), has a great Facebook page and every day they post a picture of a fabulous shoe that you just want to own (I did actually buy one of the pairs of boots currently in their cover photo).

And my cousin Lisa, her sister-in-law and I were joking that we should go there to check it out (Grande Prairie is a city of 55,000 people four and half hours from Edmonton a city of over one million and home to the West Edmonton Mall, one of the largest shopping centers in the world).  Then the “yeah sure” comments turned more serious and we were picking travel dates.  Next we booked a hotel room, and before we knew it we had actual plans!

Sarah and Scapa modelling her new acquisitions. 

It had better be worth it!

On the way home on Sunday after it was all said and done, Lisa and I actually admitted to each other that we were expecting the other person to cancel at some point! But we didn’t and now we have a great story!

Anyway, Lisa drove up to Edmonton from Okotoks on Friday (337 kilometers) after work. Then first thing Saturday morning we headed to Grande Prairie (462 kilometers) in my all-wheel drive SUV, which was good since it was “winter driving conditions.”  

We stopped at Timmy’s (Tim Horton’s for those who don’t live in Canada is a coffee donut shop with over 3,000 locations and yes it was started by a hockey player), in Whitecourt to refuel (car and people) and made the decision to keep going - we were halfway between Edmonton and GP. We both said “IT HAD BETTER BE WORTH IT!” 

Lisa (bag lady) Brown and her new found friends.  

Not Cheap!

Luckily when we go to the store, we realized “the rumors are true” (that’s the sign on their window). The store was super busy, but beautiful shoes were everywhere so it’s no surprise. We both talked on the way there about how much we would spend, what we were expecting, etc. but after the long drive we felt we deserved to splurge a little. Of course they don’t sell “cheap” shoes, or else why would you go (you can get cheap shoes anywhere).

We only spent about 1.5 hours there (otherwise we would have risked our marriages with extravagant shoe spending). But they had everything so we did our best to do our due diligence.

Yes they carried brands that we can get in Edmonton or Calgary, but we also saw shoes the same as my Mom bought in Europe last year. They had everything from funky, unique boots that not everyone can pull off, to cool, stylish boots and everyday black pumps.

Sarah's foot fetish foreplay fun! 

Yes we are addicted! 

It was so much fun to try shoes and since I am short and run a lot, I have a hard time finding knee high boots that comfortably fit my calves, however I had lots of options at Sole Addiction, so there was lots to try!

Staff were super helpful and even brought suggestions, which was hard since Lisa and I have different style preferences, but they managed to find things we both liked (luckily it didn’t come down to the same pair)! Even other shoppers were offering feedback and comments on the boots they preferred on us.

I settled on a plum colored, 13” tall boots, which I have of course worn every day since I got home. Then when I thought I was done I came across a vibrant red shoe with cute buckle and strap details that had a higher heel but only came up just above the ankle.  I had previously shown restraint and said no to a $300 pair of heeled tan boots. Well I had it in my head that I needed a red pair, but thought knee high was too much of a statement (for me anyway) so settled on the lower pair!

The ones that got away! Mom likes these also but is not willing to contribute to their purchase. 

Yes we are crazy! 

Now before Mom points out, or you notice yourself, yes they do ship online… but you never know if it’s worth it until you actually see a shoe in person. And with so many brands how do you know which ones will fit, every shoe style fits differently. Needless to say I will be exploring the online option when I have some time (and disposable income), but there is something to be said for the whole shopping in person experience.

We are already talking about our next trip (not winter driving conditions and hopefully during a sale), but it is definitely an experience worth repeating. Of course I would not have gone without my cousin and it wouldn’t have been the same without her. 

 

A road trip in northern Alberta in November brings with it the challenges of winter driving. Some would say a road trip in winter is CRAZY!  

Yes we know we are crazy, but I actually enjoy telling people the story when they say how much they love my boots, and where did I get them? I was too busy ogling the shoes, but I wished I had asked other people about their journey to Sole Addiction. 

 

This was the catalyst for the iconic shoe shopping road trip.  It truly must be those with an addiction! 

Sarah looks like one happy addict! 

Boise...going once...going twice...sold!

By Richard White, October 20, 1013

Attention all collectors, antiquers, bottom feeders, scavengers, thrifters, flea marketers and storage warriors - bet you don’t know about the “Mega Marathon Auction” in Downtown Boise?  Even the local tourism folks don’t know about this “off, off the beaten” track attraction. 

Yes, since 1937, every Saturday morning at 10 am sharp at 2912 Main Street, Boise the auction begins with two auctioneers starting at either end of an old horse barn going until everything is gone, usually means until after midnight. 

The Main Auction is pretty much devoid of people when we arrive at 9am.  This allows us an opportunity for a good look around.

We didn’t believe it so we had to see it for ourselves.  Arriving at 9 am for previewing, we found 50+ stalls jammed with every imaginable thing you could think of  - from lumber and construction supplies, to industrial clothes washers and dryers, to art, antiques and household accessories.  Thousands of items are neatly neatly piled-up behind chain linked fence barrier so you have to count on your eagle eye to spot what you want.

Lucky we got there early so there weren’t many people and we could have a good look.  Brenda’s eye caught a 1950s West German cheery yellow kitchen weigh scale branded “Accurate” with a needle that didn’t accurately point to zero. 

Another patron also noticed the irony at the same time and a lively discussion ensued.  Dan was a regular and explained the process and confirmed the auction could easily go past midnight.  He thought Brenda’s piece would be auctioned off about 1 pm. 

We didn’t want to hang around but he explained we could place our maximum bid for the piece with the teller and come back later to see if we were the successful bidder.  

This is the cheery yellow scale that Brenda spotted tuck in with hundreds of other pieces in one of the stalls.  Note the needle is not pointing to zero.

A crowd has gathered as the auction begins.   

By 10 am, the crowd had grown to over 100 people and we stayed for a bit to get a feel for the animation.  We quickly understood why it takes until midnight to complete the auction as they auction off the items piece by piece… a set of 8 glasses for $2, a TV for $25 and a load of lumber for 100 bucks – you get the picture. 

You have to be quick as these guys are auctioning off several items a minute.  This is definitely all about the art of the quick sale.  Did I tell you that there are two auctioneers? One starts at each end and they work toward the middle. It was wild.

We came back at 2:00ish after flaneuring the downtown checking out the Saturday’s Farmers’ Market, Artisan Market, Capital Building and Freak Alley (Downtown Boise is a fun place on Saturday).  

As promised the auction was still going strong and our piece still hadn’t come up for auction, so we headed back to our room at The Riverside Hotel for a quick costume change (orange and blue is a must) for the Boise State Broncos tailgate party and football game (another fun tale for a later date).

A Mom and her young daughter were the successful bidder on this Disney rug for $9.  It was 10:30 at night.

After the game, we headed back to The Riverside Hotel but not before checking out the Main Auction – it was 10:30 pm. Yep, auction was still going strong…while the crowd was down to about 50 people (amazingly some of the same people were still there) and  there were still several more stalls packed with items to be auctioned.

We couldn’t believe that the same auctioneers were still there and that they still had a sense of humour.  When taking pictures one of them quickly shout “ Hi Mom!” without missing a beat in the auction. Impressive! 

By late in the evening the floor is full of auction items in various stages of being picked up.  But the auction continues at the other end.  

Bonus

Indeed, Brenda was the lucky bidder for the inaccurate Accurate scale with a winning bid of $3. Willing to go as high as $6, she was thrilled. 

FYI: We are less tourists and more treasure hunters as we are always looking for something fun, funky or quirky to add to our collection of FFQ art and artifacts. But it must be a deal - anyone can go into a major gallery, boutique or store and buy something.

The thrill comes from the story around the acquisition. And our local man Dan was a key part of our memory.  Thanks Dan!

Brenda's new treasure with her lucky #795 bidding card.  Not sure if that means there were 795 people who had taken out bidding cards by 10 am or not. Could be!

History

The Main Auction has been family owned and operated for over seventy years. Established in 1937 by Colonel Paul Owens. After many years of running the auction, Paul decided to sell to his nephew Robert Wesely. 
Robert had six children that all worked at the auction for the next several years. 
In 1976, Robert sold The Main Auction to his son, Danny Wesely. 

Danny owned and operated the auction the longest, at thirty-two years. 
In the beginning of 2008 he sold it to David Wesely Jr., his nephew who is the current owner and works full time at the facility. For more information mainauctioncorp.com

If you ever find yourself in Boise, Idaho on a Saturday (pretty much no matter what time of day it is) be sure to check out the Main Auction. It is great fun for anyone who loves “people watching” or loves the “thrill of the hunt.”  

Even if you aren’t there on a Saturday, you can drop by any Tuesday through Friday from 8 am to 6 pm for previewing the stalls as they fill up with items for next Saturday’s auction.  

Here is the Accurate scale with some of our Idaho friends that we collected along the way.  

Grassi Lakes Trail Treasure Hunting

By Richard White, September 2, 2013

Today we did something we don't do very often - we hiked in the mountains. For us hiking is almost always in the city, the closest we get to nature normally is walking along the Bow River near our house or maybe we might venture to Glenmore Reservoir for a walk with friends.  

However, an invite from friends to come out to Canmore for our regular first Sunday dinner and hike the next day was something we couldn't refuse. 

After a hearty breakfast, a couple of cups of coffee, water bottle filled and sandwiches made we headed out and were on the trail by 10 am.  Lucky for us as who knew how busy the trail would get by noon hour.  

 

No we didn't climb this mountain but we found people who were climbing up rock faces like this one.  It was a beautiful day in Rockies. 

Grassi Lakes was designated as one of Alberta's Special Places in 2000.  It is named after Lawrence Grassi who emigrated to Canmore in 1912.  While he worked in the coal minds his real love was mountain climbing.  He is said to have been the first person to climb Mount Assiniboine in 1925.  He was an avid trail builder, moving huge stones single-handley to construct steps, bridges or simple stepping stones.  Grassi Lake trail is his signature mountain trail and evidence of his work can be found in several places along the trail. 

A view of the trail and one of the rustic benches along the way.  It is hard to imagine how Lawrence Grassi could have envision a trail up to the lakes through the virgin forrest a 100 years ago. Let alone build it! 

Grassi Lakes trail is a moderate walk with a 250 meter elevation gain and a round trip of 3.8 km.  Along the route you get to enjoy spectacular views of the Bow River valley at Canmore and the Canadian Rockies.  At the top are two colourful crystal clear lakes which make a great place for a picnic.  

The rock cliffs surrounding the upper lake is a very popular spot for rock climbing which is fun and amazing to watch. A short scramble above the upper lake takes you to a short canyon hike and  a very close look at two genuine petroglyphs on a large boulder.   

I have to admit you don't get this kind of scenery or animation walking along the Bow River.    

 

 

A view of the lower lake takes your breath away. It is magical, surreal and enchanting all at the same time. You can see why this was named an Alberta Special Place in 2000.  What took them so long? 

A postcard view of the upper Grassi Lake with its crystal clear aquamarine colour water.  Yes it looks surreal. 

A group of rock climbers at the upper Grassi Lake.  This was just one of about five or six groups showing off their death defying skills. 

The start of the trail up the canyon to the top. 

This is the better of the two petroglyph images.  There was lots of speculation about how it got there and who did it by the people looking at it.  To me it looks like a drum dancer. 

We were lucky we got to top before the lunch crowd as the trail was extremely busy as we descended.  People and dogs of all shapes and sizes where heading up as we headed down. On the way up I had identified a piece of weathered wood that I thought would make a great addition for the garden back home.  I don't think my hiking companions thought I would carry it out - wrong. I knew where it was and I knew how to carry it out.  I got lots of funny looks and comments as I headed down with the wood wrapped around my head, but it was worth it.  I have to have a great souvenir of the day.  I love to get a souvenir from each and every trip we take. I am addicted to the "thrill of the hunt."  

Yes this is me carrying my piece of wood down the trail to take home for our garden.  Who could pass up a treasure like this one?

As part of the climb we got very close to this waterfall and there are several places where you have to cross small streams / waterfalls.  For a moderate walk, easy climb Grassi Lakes has a lot to offer.   

This photo gives you a sense of the wonderful vistas you get of the town of Canmore, the  mountains and the valley along the trail.  

If you like this blog you might like: 

Discouver Calgary's Secret Heritage Trail 

Forensic Walks In Calgary  

Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways  

George Webber: Prairie Gothic Images

Being an everyday tourist

Live like a local in Chicago's Hotel Lincoln next to the park....

After this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, August 3, 2013.  Melissa McCarville, Regional Public Relations Manager, emailed "this is a fantastic piece about Lincoln Park! Love you detail and the places you mention are just perfect. Great, great, great story.  You captured the essence of living there - and I can say that because I did for 4 years!"

By Richard White

How small could you go?

How small a space could you really live in and be happy?  And not just for a weekend getaway – but on an ongoing basis. The current craze in the condo development community seems to be who can create the smallest condo!  In Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, 400 square foot condos i.e. the size of two parking spots, is becoming quite common.  And Vancouver’s new development called Balance boasts the smallest condo in Canada - a 297 sq. ft. micro condo. 

I didn’t think I could live in anything under 1,500 sq. ft. – that’s, until I spent a week in a well-designed 475 sq. ft. suite at the Hotel Lincoln in Chicago.  Now I am really rethinking how much space I need after spending a week in their chic, contemporary junior suite.  It had two bathrooms at opposite ends of the suite, which works well for couples getting ready to go out at the at the same time.  The suite was open concept - a full king size bed at one end and a sitting area at the other (comfortable sofa, chair seating and coffee table) at the other.  Tucked along the wall was a desk, small coffee area and wall mounted swivel TV so it could be viewed from the bed or the sofa.  It all worked very well.  

In order to live small you need to have a coffee spot close by that you feel comfortable hanging out at.  It becomes an extension of your home.  Elaine"s  Coffee Call in the lobby of the Hotel Lincoln is just such a place. 

The Neighbourhood

Downstairs was Elaine’s Coffee Call, a great place for a morning coffee and toast (I think I could live on their PBJ toast, with its pecan butter) and people watching – it was a happening place.  Who needs a big kitchen when there are cafes, pubs and restaurants just outside your door?  The key to living small is to have lots of amenities nearby.

If we lived at the Hotel Lincoln, I think we would have soon considered Nookies as an extension of our home.  Located just a block from Hotel Lincoln (in funky Old Town) – we loved the home style cooking and ambience. In fact, you can bring your own wine and they don’t charge any corkage and if you don’t finish your bottle, you can just take it home.  How good it that? We learned that is not uncommon in Chicago.

Who needs a big screen TV and media room when it’s so easy to wander over to the local sports bar, cheer as loud as you want without your spouse shouting “don’t make me come down there.” Bonus there are no empties or mess to clean up either.

On our first night in Chicago we headed to The Old Town Pour for dinner and to watch the Chicago Blackhawks in a Stanley Cup playoff game. We have never been in a bar that was so loud and so full of energy – who would want to stay home when, instead,  you could be part of that! 

Who needs a media room when you have a sports bar just a block or two away. 

Downtown Fun

Not a sports fan?  More into comedy?  No problem. Second City is located just a few short blocks away, with performances nightly, with many nights offering multiple performances.  Forget reruns of Friends, Big Bang Theory or Seinfeld; enjoy live comedy instead with a room full of kindred spirits. Living small is about living in your community.

The Hotel Lincoln was perfectly located for living without a car.  Bus stops are just steps outside the door, as is the huge Lincoln Park with its free (yes free) zoo – yes free!  Imagine… walk out your door down the street and in five minutes you are wandering in a hundred year old (1868), 35-acre zoo… beats having a cat or a dog in my mind. 

Or, head to the beach in the summer. It too is only a few minutes walk away.  It is almost like having a pool in your own backyard.  The closest that you might get to this in Calgary would be those living in the condos near Hotel Arts! (Did you know that you don’t have to be a hotel guest to enjoy the Hotel Arts pool? I just found out!)

Imagine having Second City in your backyard, beats watching sitcom reruns....

Lincoln Park Zoo is a wonderful walk in the park with the bonus of being able to get up close and personal with the animals. 

Aerial view of Chicago's beaches from the Hancock Building with Lincoln Park at the top.  Beach, park, zoo, farm and farmer's market makes living small easy in Lincoln Park or Gold Coast communities in Chicago. 

Rooftop Patios

Who even needs their own little balcony or patio when you can hang out on you own roof top patio?  We were able to experience what this would be like at the Hotel Lincoln as they had one of the coolest and most popular rooftop restaurants in Chicago. It doesn’t get much better than to come home, sit back and have someone serve you your favourite adult beverage.

Calgary doesn’t make enough use of its  rooftops (office or condos) for restaurants. An exception will be Qualex-Landmark’s new condo Mark on 10th, which will have a rooftop patio that I suspect with become the residents’ second living room.  You don’t need a large space if you have the right amenties both on site and on the street.

What about laundry you say? Chicagoans have that figured out too; a local dry cleaners on every block.   Well maybe not every block but just about.  On our way to Nookies for example we passed a dry cleaners/tailors that would have made it easy to just drop off our cleaning at our convenience (or I expect they would pick up too).

And to top it off, every Wednesday and Saturday in the summer a Farmers’ Market in Lincoln Park is literally right across the street. No need for your own garden when you have all the fresh fruits and vegetables you can imagine, as well as breads, jams, honey and flowers across the street.  

Brenda looking over the options at the Lincoln Park Farmers' Market across the street from the Hotel Lincoln in Old Town. 

Last Word:

Living small in Chicago I think would be easy.  I’d recommend that if you are contemplating buying a small condo, that you rent a hotel room in the area for a month so you can see if there are sufficient amenities to make small living realistic. I am thinking condo developers would be wise to have a couple of furnished room that they rent out for a month to prospective buyers – consider it a test drive. 

Condos in Calgary are definitely getting smaller, many in on the 500 sq. ft. range.  A well-designed 500 sq. ft. space might just be the ticket for a single first time buyer, or someone who travels a lot, or a true urbanite who really lives and embraces their local community.

P.S. Don’t forget the big benefit of small living is that it takes no time to clean up, leaving you more time to play!

Comments:

JT writes: "I would easily live in 500 sf in the middle of any city if it was just me.  It would be even better if it was central Chicago and with a healthy budget.  I'd add this wrinkle - add a person and you add 500 sf of space need.  A family of four gets you to 2000 sf.  Try living with that size of family in 1000 sf like we did as kids- it is not fun, especially when you have the option of living in bigger.

The small solution is a great one to populate urban spaces but the band of potential residents is narrowed to the singles with enough disposable income to live a lifestyle of spending in the public realm. 

 

Nookies is a family restaurant in Old Town that serves up home-cooking meals for locals. Bring your own wine is encourage and no corkage is charged. Just like being at home, except you don' t have to cook or clean up.  

Hotel Lincoln on Lincoln Park in Old Town is the perfect place if you want to live like a local when visiting Chicago. 

Who needs a backyard or a patio when you have a park next door - horse shoes anyone? 

Most backyards aren't big enough for a pick up game of baseball...Lincoln Park is perfect... 

Olympic Plaza needs mega makeover?

Reader Comments re: Olympic Plaza needs a mega makeover?

BB writes:  "You have touched a soft spot for me with Olympic Plaza.  Although I think Parks has done a stellar job at dressing up what is there (putting lipstick on a pig ? – oops was that my outside voice)  I agree it’s time for a makeover – the Olympics ended 25 years ago and the site needs to be repurposed – I was so excited about the potential for  German Christmas market but sad it did not get legs.  The Olympic Plaza is very much under utilized and filled with potential as a gathering place.  I have and continue to travel extensively and always comment on how every major city I visit the first thing you do is head for the centre city where all the history and action/interest is.  Every day | see and often engage with visitors in our DT who seem to be looking for something.  Mayor Bronconnier started things going by putting police an bylaw into the core to clean it up as well as Parks and Roads resources.  Next we need to make it an exciting place to be especially evenings and weekends."
 

Derek Besant on his  Olympic Plaza SONGLINES project: 

The concept was to design several gestures that would somehow be in proximity to one another around and in visual distance to Olympic Plaza.  Each site required negotiations with the building owners, and requirements to attach mount systems to the exteriors of their faces.  

I titled them: SONGLINES, based upon research into how Indigenous myth and story-telling was preserved, as part of my job in the early to mid 1970's as Exhibition Designer for the (then new) Glenbow Museum construction downtown.

At the time, I was investigating finer optic technology, and the challenge was to create drawn gestures that were NOT interpreted as advertising or logos, but would simply be drawn line forms.  The subjective aspect was that the linear forms would "talk" top one another by shifting colour ranges, as a rhythmic dialogue amongst them.  There are five in operation on various sites:

  • Rocky Mountain Plaza, 
  • Teatro Restaurant, 
  • The Glenbow Museum, 
  • Epcore Centre for Performing Arts, 
  • City Hall

All were installed successfully, and a sixth was planned out for the West corner of the Performing Arts building near street level; but never went ahead.  Each drawing was finally selected from pages and pages fill of gesture drawings as exercises… 

The project came about quickly, and I was approached by a committee from Epcore Centre to come up with a plan for the art installation.  I had only a three weeks to research and prepare the concept and deliver a critical path plan.

Originally, I wanted to do something like I had seen in Shanghai China, with laser light projections atop several buildings into the sky; but with the density surrounding downtown, and all that glass… the reflection factor was too difficult to control, so I went the finer optic route.  

This proved cost effective and climate-controlled, and as long as the various building owners would change the bulbs whenever they burned out, the dialogue between SONGLINES would indeed 'speak' to one another as architectural  articulations of line, motion and gesture.

Derek Besant: More Thoughts On Olympic Plaza and what it could/should be. 

I have thought for a long time that Olympic Plaza needs the connective big bang 'WOW' factor to bring it up to being a focal destination and not the open space between Mall and City Hall.  My SONGLINES was a flicker to try to awaken some response mechanisms between the facades within a limited budget and less time.   It did allow me to dream on what 'could' happen there though, especially after visits on my projects to Shanghai, China.  

I understand our climate gives the space some limits… or are they opportunities?  Hmmm?  

When I am downtown by the Congress Bridge in Austin Texas, or on Trafalgar Square in London, or in the long cool shadows of bank buildings strung along Bay Street in Toronto, or crossing the Alexander III Bridge in Paris, or the central plaza with four museums opposite one another in the Medieval city of Györ, in Hungary beside the Danube; I know where I am, and the perception of place resonates within me and I long for those identifications of what those urban centres hold for me to explore and reveal, or stay hidden beneath them. 

City Hall here is a landmark building.  But what does it talk to out there, really?  Itself… It needs an opposite, a mirror, a debate, a love affair, a shot in the arm, and an arrival into another reality

Blog: Everyday Tourist  

For some reason or reasons Olympic Plaza has never really captured the public’s imagination as an attractive place to meet and hang out like other civic plazas – Portland’s Pioneer Square or Union Square in San Francisco to name just two.  It should be an important tourist attraction for Calgary, a “top of mind” place for Calgarians to proudly show visiting family and friends. 

Quoting Wikipedia, “Today, this (Union Square) one-block plaza and surrounding area is one of the largest collections of department stores, upscale boutiques, gift shops, art galleries and beauty salons in the United States, making Union Square a major tourist destination, a vital, cosmopolitan gathering place in downtown San Francisco, and one of the world's premier shopping districts. Grand hotels and small inns, as well as repertory, off-Broadway and single-act theaters also contribute to the area's dynamic, 24-hour character.” That is what our Olympic Plaza should be. 

Outdoor patio on Union Square in San Francisco is warm and inviting. 

Plaza in Frankfurt's city centre full of people even though there is no programming.  It truly it their "urban living room." 

In contrast, Calgary’s Olympic Plaza is only animated when it is programmed, i.e. International Children’s Festival, summer noon hour concerts, etc. Most times you can shoot the proverbial cannon off and you wouldn’t hit anyone.  Even the outdoor skating rink is used by only a few lonely souls most days in the winter, despite it basking in brilliant sunshine at noon hour mid-winter.

For a public space to feel safe there needs to be lots of people of all ages and backgrounds moving through the space at all times of the day/evening doing a diversity of activities. Olympic Plaza is surrounded by a diversity of building types – a major theatre complex, large museum, convention center, high-end restaurant, City Hall/Municipal building, Central Library, church, apartments and office buildings – which you’d think would make it a busy place even when there is no formal programming.  In theory it should work. In reality it sits empty most the time.  

With the plaza now 25 years old, I understand some elements are at the end of their life span making it timely to look at how a mega makeover could make it Calgary’s urban living room.

It is interesting to note that plazas in many European cities, are often just large, flat, hard surfaces that allow for multiple uses.  They are also surrounded by mixed-use buildings that exit right onto the plaza, not separated by a street. Unfortunately for Olympic Plaza, Teatro really turns it back on the plaza (other than its small summer only patio), there is no interaction with 7th Avenue or Mcleod Trail and EPCOR Performing Arts Centre is dark during the day. Only the Jack Singer Concert Hall has a grand entrance off the plaza. 

The first thing I would do is bring in the heavy equipment!  Flatten the site so people can easily walk diagonally through the plaza - pedestrians love short cuts. Letting them easily walking diagonally from 8th Avenue to 7th Avenue would provide a link from Stephen Avenue Walk to the LRT station and to East Village and vice versa.  Plazas need to link key urban elements that surround it.

The cost to program a flat open space without a wading pool or skating rink would be less and allow for easier use as you wouldn’t have to drain the water or cover up the ice. It would be a wonderful space for a summer farmers’ market (think Portland), or a weekend flea/artisan market (think Frankfurt) or a Christmas market (think Frankfurt again). 

Strasborg town square is a wide open flat hard surfaced space that can be used for a variety of activities.  This is an early morning photo, later in the day it is busy with people cutting through or on market day it is full of vendors. 

Frankfurt's Saturday flea market happens year round on a long linear plaza along the river.  It attracts thousands of people downtown. 

At the same time I would I cut down all of the trees along 7th Avenue (I know this sounds harsh but I will explain soon) and create a long narrow space where food trucks could park to create a “pod” like they do in Portland - an outdoor food court of sorts.  Ideally, different trucks would cycle through the plaza each week to keep it fresh and spontaneous. This could also be a stage area for concerts that could then play to the entire width of the plaza. 

The large dense trees are a safety hazard.  CPTED 101  (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, a multi-disciplinary approach to deterring criminal behavior through the landscape design) states that public spaces should be “see through” i.e. people walking by should be able to see through to the other side of the space. No places for people to hide or sleep; no dark spaces. I will probably be “hung” for saying this, but if you look at the great urban plazas, they have very little vegetation. Their “life” comes from the people.

The biggest challenge is how to animate the space daytime and evening year round without a huge programming budget.  We could convert the space into the Olympic Plaza Art Park with numerous sculptures - some permanent and some temporary.  The first one is already there – the popular “Famous Five” sculpture.  Image if “The Root of All Evil” currently hidden away in Ramsay was in the middle of Olympic Plaza.  Or what about moving the Family of Man to Olympic Plaza?  The plaza is already home to the “Famous Five” sculpture.  

Root of all Evil sculpture is temporary located in Ramsay at Ramsay Exchange.  Imagine how much more powerful the statement would be if it was in Olympic Plaza right across from the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer.   This should be a major tourist attraction.  We need to create more urban synergies. 

The Family of Man sculpture will have to be moved as the old Board of Education block gets redeveloped.  It would make a great addition to Olympic Plaza as a gateway at the northwest corner. 

I’d love to see some pieces with special LED lighting to make the space more attractive in the winter.  A companion piece to Julian Opie’s “Promenade” in East Village would be a perfect piece for one of the corners of the plaza.  The “Crown Fountain” piece that Jaume Plensa did for Chicago’s Millennium Park would be perfect for Olympic Plaza, as would Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate.”  We shouldn’t copy Chicago, but we need to find public art that is interactive and engages the public like they do. 

There was an attempt awhile back to add whimsical lighting elements attached to the sides of the buildings around Olympic Plaza.  I believe there were light sculptures on the side of the Glenbow, Municipal Building and Rocky Mountain Plaza. The project was dropped; I’m not sure why. Imagine if there were light sculptures on all of the 20 different buildings that you can see from Olympic Plaza and they turned off and on at different times, dancing in the winter sky - the urban equivalent of the “northern lights.” 

Perhaps too there could be a laser show every night in the winter with Olympic Plaza being the focal point.  Maybe we could use modern technology to project highlights of the 1988 Olympics onto the buildings in the winter night as a way to celebrate our history and that we are a winter city.  It would also be a way to celebrate that Calgary has a wonderful public art collection, unfortunately it is too scattered and hidden to achieve the urban synergies need to make it a tourist attraction. 

Now is not too soon to plan for Olympic Plaza’s 30th anniversary in 2018. 

Plensa's Crown Fountain sculpture even at dusk attracts hundreds of people to interact with it. 

Kapoor's "Cloud Gate" aka The Bean also attracts thousands of people to come downtown every day and is a major tourist attraction. 

Opie's "Promenade" seems to be out of place sitting on a berm above the street and invisible from the new River Walk promenade.  It should be where the pedestrians can stand beside it,  interact with it and be easily photographed. 

If you like this blog you might like: Poppy Plaza Review  

Calgary's Olympic Plaza in the summer showing wading pool, Olympic medal stage area with Municipal building (large blue building) and old City Hall (red clock tower) in the background.  Look idyllic a nice oasis in the middle of the city, which is how public spaces were designed in the 70s and 80s.  Unfortunately they have not aged well and they don't function as well as they could for a diversity of activities. 

Songlines was a pilot project by the Olympic Plaza Cultural District and the Downtown Association to create a visual identity for blocks around the plaza as Calgary's cultural / arts district.  This image is from Calgary artist Derek Besant's website showing his piece on the side of the Teatro restaurant and you can also see another piece on the side of the Glenbow museum on the left side.  

This is Red Square in Moscow which is just a large flat open space with buildings not roads on the edges.  It has good pedestrian traffic even when there is no programming.  There are no trees, no decorative design elements, just space.  

This is the plaza outside of Centre Pompidou in Paris. Again just a flat open space.There are some trees on the edge but they are deciduous which allow people to see into and out of the plaza.  One the best plaza activities is people watching - people attract people. 

What should be Calgary's iconic image to the world?

In May Tourism Calgary hosted their annual "White Hat Awards" where they recognized individuals who have made a difference in Calgary's hospitality industry.  Just a few weeks before the ceremony I got a call that I had been nominated for the Media Recognition Award. I was very surprised as my writing is not pure tourism propaganda, rather, I hope, it is a rigorous evaluation of our city's urban sense of place within an international context.  

Over the years I have compared Calgary to places like Paris, Lyon, Frankfurt, Dubai, Perth and Portland sharing with readers the lessons to be learned from those cities with respect to how to enrich urban living in our city.  It is only recently that I have perhaps focused more on Calgary from a tourist perspective.  

However, there is a strong link between tourism and urbanism, if you can make a city centre an interesting place to live then I think you will make it a great place to visit.  Tourist are often attracted to cities that are vibrant places to live - Paris, New York, Chicago, Montreal or San Francisco quickly come to mind.  

One of the other things that tourist cities have in common is that they have iconic images that are instantly recognizable internationally - the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, The Clouded Gate (The Bean)  or The Golden Gate Bridge.    

If Calgary wants to attract more tourists it must develop several iconic images that become it postcard to the world and say "Come And Visit."  In fact the last time I looked it was ihard to find good postcards of Calgary, most of the time if you go to souvenir shop there are a bunch of out-dated postcards of Calgary's skyline hidden amongst the Banff and Rocky Mountain postcards - even in Calgary souvenir shops.  

Fortunately, I suspect postcards are going the way of the dodo bird. With digital cameras and smart phones, who needs postcards in the 21st century?   

While we may not need postcards anymore we still must brand our city with several iconic images that "shout out" Calgary is a fun place to visit.  Currently we probably one iconic image - The Calgary Stampede and it only works for 10 days of the year.

 However, there are several good candidates and new ones being created every year.  I thought I'd share a few with you and then perhaps you can share your ideas and together we can create Calgary's top 10 iconic images. 

Criteria for being an iconic image are:

  1. Must be photo friendlly
  2. Must be memorable
  3. Must have mass appeal
  4. Must be unique to Calgary 
  5. Must be timeless

My picks are:

 

The Peace Bridge: This is photo of the underside of the Peace Bridge taken by Neil Zeller and was used by Tourism Calgary from my Media Recognition Award.  The Peace Bridge has become one of the most photographed structures in the City.  Like a lot of urban icons it was hated by many but over time has become part of a city's brand e.g. EiffelTower.