Working together to make Calgary better!

By: Richard White, November 5, 2013

Is it just me who hates all those the curved maze-like street design in the new suburbs with street names that are impossible to distinguish because they all sound the same? I think GPS was invented so we could navigate new communities.

Recently I attended a presentation organized by Brookfield Residential, Danube Farming Ltd., Ollerenshaw Ranch Ltd., and Trafford Family where three design teams (two from Vancouver and one from Salt Lake) presented their ideas on how to transform 1,800 acres in Calgary’s southeast next to Seton Town Centre and was SHOCKED that all three proposed a grid-like pattern for the streets. Yahoooo! 

This aerial image show the agricultural quarter section grid that has been used in the area for over 100 years. that served as the inspiration for proposed grid structure for the new Ranchview community. 

You can also see the numerous ponds and creeks which will be integrated into the open spaces and sustainability features.  

The inspiration for the renaissance of the grid was the existing quarter section grid pattern. All three groups went to great lengths to express how they were captivated with the site’s prairie mountains vista. They all talked about respecting the existing prairie patchwork quilt, the sense of agriculture and one group even talked about how to make the community “horse friendly.”  All three wanted to preserve the “rural” sense of place as part the new community tentatively called Rangeview.

ICC: Innovation/Competition/Co-operation

Kudos to the four owners for taking the initiative to organize this “design co-opetition” for the development of Rangeview. The process is a competition in that three urban design groups were asked to independently produce ideas for the development of the land. At the same time is it a co-operative process as the four landowners, the City, Calgary’s design community and public and the design teams will work together to combine the best of all the ideas into one shared vision.  

In established communities the planning process often consisted of the landowner and developer engaging their team of site planners (landscape architects, environmentalist, engineers, planners, urban designers et. al.) to produce a concept plan. This plan is then circulated to the city departments for comments and revisions made.

At the end of the presentation all of the members of the three design teams were invited up to the stage for questions.  This is just half of the brain power that was applied to identifying ways to best develop the raw land that will become Rangeview.  I couldn't help but notice it was all male and all middle-age to older.   I have heard it said that one of the issues facing city building is that there is not enough diversity in the urban planning and design profession.  

Only after spending thousands of hours and millions of dollars and having the city on-side does the developer go public with the proposal. I have heard more than one person call it the “design and defend” model because the plan is pretty much complete by the time they conduct an open house.   This means they are reluctant to make any major changes based on community input i.e. they will defend it as the best possible plan.  This is why you get all of the controversy over new developments in places like Brentwood transit station development and Shawnee Slopes golf course.

However, in new communities the City’s Engage Policy means the City, the landowners and the neighbours collaborate to create the concept plan that then forms the Area Structure Plan (ASP), which will govern any new development.  What is new is that in the Rangeview engagement process and ASP development the landowners are paying for all of the costs including the salaries of city staff.  

 

Extraordinary Community Engagement  

 

Brookfield Residential’s Doug Leighton, VP Planning and Sustainability along with the other owners decided to take a different route with Rangeview by selecting from a list of nine respected international firms, Design Workshop (Salt Lake City), Perry + Associates (Vancouver) and CIVITAS (Vancouver) to help them determine how best to develop the land.  Each out-of-town design team was first asked to pair up with a local firm to provide a local prespective before coming to Calgary to meet with the landowners and the city, as well as tour the site in mid September. The teams were then asked to generate ideas on how to best develop the Rangeview lands based best urban design practices.

Six weeks later, each of the groups were back in Calgary to present their visions not only to Brookfield Residential and the landowners, but to the City, Calgary’s urban design community and at a weekend public open house in Auburn Bay.  At each of the presentations the audience was given an evaluation sheet to share what they ideas they thought were best. It was all very open and transparent!

As I understand it Brookfield Residential and the landowners now own all of the collateral material from each team and can pick the best ideas from each, as well as ideas from the greater Calgary urban design community and the public to create their vision for Rangeview. 

This shows one of the linear parks with the retail activity area at the end with space for farmer's market and a village square. Diversity of uses and activities is critical to successful public spaces. And you can see the GRID! Yahoooo!

 

Calgary is innovative!

 

Indeed, this is community engagement at its best.  Calgary Municipal Land Corporation undertook a similar process to develop the master plan for East Village. “Community engagement first” is also the mantra of James Robertson, President and CEO of the West Campus Development Trust who is leading the transformation of 205 acres on the west side of the University of Calgary into a new inner city “live, work, play, learn” community.  However, both of these projects are in established neighbourhoods where community engagement is a must.  Brookfield Residential is the first to my knowledge who is doing it for a green field development on the edge of the city. 

Calgary is too often criticized for not being innovative when it comes to new community development. In fact Calgary’s development community has been one of the most innovated in North America over the past 25 years. Projects like McKenzie Towne, Garrison Woods, Quarry Park, Seton, East Village and now Rangeview are all benchmarks for new urban development.

Another team designed this linear park that they called Vista Park as they wanted to preserve a space that would celebrate the current vista of prairie and mountains.  Again you can see how they have incorporated existing ponds, connected them with storm water creeks and added several activity amenities. Again you can see the grid! Yahoo!

 

Key ideas for Rangeview

 

 

Wetlands/ Linear Park

 

 

All of the presentations looked at how the preservation of existing wetlands could be integrated into valuable open space and create as unique sense of place for each of the distinct neighborhoods which will comprise the larger Rangeview community.

Similarly each vision prosed a linear park running roughly east to west that would maintain the prairie/mountain vista that currently exists by taking advantage of an existing high spot in the middle of the property. The linear park would be used to create connectivity - connect the wetlands, connect the neighbourhoods and connect to the region pathway system. 

One proposal included an urban beach, skating ring, adventure playground, small farm or large community garden and retail node as a means of animating the park year-round.  Another proposal had a spreadsheet with dozen of activities that should be accommodated in the public spaces year round.

To me the parks and open spaces proposed would combine some of the best attributes of Prince’s Island, Confederation Park, Shouldice Park, Glenmore Park and the new St. Patrick’s Park.  

Here you can see how CIVITAS has proposed the creation of four villages each with their own charm and each with their own density which can be seen by the density of roads with the Hamlet being the least dense. Here you can see the grid of Rangeview vs the maze-like street design of the community north of Seton.  Yahooo for the grid!

 

Community Retail Hub

 

All of the plans developed several retail nodes strategically located so everyone is within 400 meters or 5-minute walk to a High Street with a grocery store and 10+ shops.   Think Britannia Plaza with its Sunterra Market, bistro, bookstore, wine merchant, café and hardware and small apartments and condos surround it.

 

Density

 

All three presentations had a mix of housing types.   In fact one presentation listed 17 different housing products, everything from single family to laneway housing.  I didn’t see any high-rise (over 20 floors). Most of the medium density was clustered near the new Seton Town Center, the hospital, the BRT (future LRT) transit routes and retail hubs, as you would expect.  

Wouldn't it be great if Rangeview could have several of these one block angled parking Main Streets that we so popular in the early 20th century in small towns across the prairies.  That fact that Britannia is still viable 50 years later tells me that it can work in today's market place. 

Last Word

Rangeview reeks of innovation, collaboration and cooperation on many levels. This is great to see after years of developer/city friction. I hope this community planning process is evidence of a new willingness “to work together to make a great city better.”

A public open house in Auburn Bay was organized to give the public, especially those in the neighbouring communities a chance to respond to the ideas being presented and to share their ideas on what a new 21st century community should look like.  Public engagement first, then vision and master planning. 

Urban cottage living & Gentrification!

Recently I have become fascincated with the tiny urban cottages that still exist on almost every block in my mid-century inner-city community. Even after 25 years of constant infilling these cottages remain as reminders of how people lived just two generations ago. There is no room in these homes for a bedroom for every person living there.  There is no master bedroom. no walk-in closets, no media room or home office.

It is interesting to note that, in the '40s '50s and '60s families were larger yet homes were smaller.  These urban cottages are about the size of today's urban condo i.e. 700 to 800 square feet. Some of the new homes being built next to them have an "owners retreat" that is as big or larger. Every new house has a garage that is at least half the size of these mid-century cottages. 

As Canadians have become more and more urban dwellers, we have also become more and more creatures of "comfort, convenience and privacy" (click to see blog on this topic). The ultimate status symbol is the big house with all of the bells and whistles i.e. every member has their own bedroom and own bathroom - heaven forbid we should share. No wonder there is a sense of "entitlement" in youth today! 

As I wander the streets of my neighbourhood I often wonder if those living in these tiny cottage homes could have envisioned the million dollar mansions that are currently being built around them and all the other changes that have taken place in just 50 years. 

I also wonder if we can really envision what this community or others in our city will look like in 50 years.  Will today's mansions be converted into rooming houses like many of the larger homes of the early 20th century were. Or, will we be tearing down the mansions in favour of some other form of urban living.   

One thing is for sure...we will be adapting to a new economic and environmental reality in 2060. Life is just a continuous series of adaptation!

A typical urban cottage on the pariries. White picket fence, porch and large windows make it very welcoming.

Cottage has been adapted for business use, but retains its charm.

Cottage has been renovated to add more space and porch has become outdoor patio / living room

Ranch style cottage

Many of the cottages are today dwarfedby the trees.  This is a lot harder to do with a two story house and underground utlities.

One of the larger cottages. Lots of windows. One of the few with a side entrance.

Red Riding Hood would have loved this little fairy tale like house with the Christmas tree decorations in the tree. 

One of the more unique cottages in the neighbourhood.

One of the few cottages that are set back from the street. You really get a sense of how small they are.  You can see the monster mansion that has been built next door.

There is still an entire block of original urban cottages that seem untouched by time.  

Across the street from the block with the original urban cottages is a row of new infills.  The contrast is wonderful as the new homes have more colour, more design variations and will keep the community thriving for another 50 years.  These new homes accommodate the needs of new families which means the parks, playgrounds and school yards are full of screaming children.  

Example of new mansions that replace the tiny cottages from the '40s.  They come in all styles from contemporary to traditional.  

A blog of urban cottages boarded up and ready for demolition, to be replaced by condos that will cost or rent for twice as much resulting in a decline in the diversity and vitality of the community i.e. gentrification. 

Example of condo projects that replace urban cottages. This is a seniors complex that replace a previous block of tiny cottages for seniors.  It is located next to a power transformer and a homeless shelter and near the Bow River pathway.   It is unfortunate that it isn't a multi-generational complex with say 75% seniors and 25% young artists to add more diversity to the community. 

Rise of public art Decline of public galleries

Got my Gallerieswest summer ‘13 magazine in the mail this week – a good read as always.  Jeffrey Spalding's column, "In My Opinion" always interests me as he has great insights and insider information.  However, this one lacked the positive insights that usually characterize his rants.  His laments about the lack of support for public art galleries in Calgary and Canada.  This is not a new cry as public art galleries and museums in Calgary have struggled for over 25 years.  The Glenbow has never been in a strong financial position, which Spalding knows all too well as he served as the President & CEO from December 2007 to January 2009.  

The Art Gallery of Calgary too has struggled ever since they moved from the Memorial Park Library to their own building on Stephen Avenue.  The Triangle Gallery now MOCA Calgary has struggled to find its place in the visual arts community for over 20 years.  And the Illingsworth Kerr Gallery at ACAD or Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary have never captured the public's imagination. The idea of a true civic art gallery in Calgary has been debated to death for over 50 years and still nothing.  

Spalding’s position is "if you want vital public art museums, then the public has to pay for them, period."  The corollary of this statement would be "if the public doesn't want to pay for them, why do we have so many public or quasi public art galleries?”  Do we need a new model for public art galleries?  Do we have too many public galleries? Does Calgary really need the Glenbow, Art Gallery of Calgary, MOCA Calgary, Illingsworth Kerr and Nickle Galleries? 

n opening night at the Esker Foundation Gallery.  Interesting to note that for most visitors it is a quick look at the art and then stand around and chat.  The gallery experience is 30 minutes at best for most people. 

One has to wonder why an individual visual arts patron decided to build and operate the Esker Foundation Gallery on his own dollar, rather than support and an existing public art gallery? Opened in June 2012, it’s one of the largest privately funded non-commercial gallery in Canada.

Perhaps it is time to face the reality that the visual arts appeal only to a small fraction of the population. As a former Director/Curator of a public art gallery and a modest art collector, I know I don't go to the galleries as often as I should.  And when I do go, it is often is a 30-minute experience at best.

Fact is, there is a glut of art on the market and for many people; there is no urgent need to go to galleries to see art. If you miss one show, there is another one coming on its heels. Or for some, there’s the Internet, not like seeing the real thing, but for some it is “good enough.”

Calgary is a culture of recreation, not arts. That is not to say we don’t have some great theatre, music venues and festivals, or that we shouldn’t continue to foster our arts groups. However, what does it say when the city is building four recreation centers with a total price tag of $450 million, yet we struggle to raise $138 million for the National Music Centre.  The City has also recently initiated a $25 million bike-friendly program and Calgarians are much more likely to spend $2,000 on a new bike than on a work of art. What does that tell us about Calgarians and their support for public art galleries?

Calgary is home to perhaps North America's largest retail bike shop - Bow Cycle in beautiful downtown Bowness. 

While public art galleries are struggling to survive in Calgary, public art seems to be on the rise in Calgary.  Over the past 10 years, we have seen numerous new public art works installed throughout the city, including the very popular "Wonderland" by Jaume Plensa on the plaza in front of the Bow office tower.  The Downtown has over the years become an art museum without walls - public art can be found on almost every corner and in the lobby of most office buildings.  Even condo developers are adding public art as part of their amenities (e.g. MARK on 10th will have Calgary’s first Douglas Coupland artwork.)  

Rendering of lobby of MARK on 10th condo with the Douglas Coupland artwork which will be visible to pedestrians on the sidewalk.

The City of Calgary has initiated a 1% for public art program (i.e. 1% of construction cost of all city capital projects must be set aside for public art) which means LRT Stations, overpasses and all City projects have public art included as part of their design.  Over the past 10 years, the City has invested $12 million in public art and there is already $16 million in the hopper for future projects.  It could also be argued that the City has invested $50 million in two pedestrian bridges (Peace and St. Patrick's Island bridges), both of which are works of art.  

And back in 2000, Calgary hosted one of the most successful public art projects in Canada - Colourful Cows for Calgary.  That summer, over 100 cows grazed in the downtown and other public spaces attracting thousands of Calgarians, as well as visiting family and friends downtown every weekend to see the wild, wacky and weird bovines.  

In 2010, another public art project captivated Calgarians when artists floated 500 multi-coloured orbs down the Bow River and created “River of Light” as one of six temporary projects celebrating the Bow River.  Over 10,000 people lined the river that night to watch.Riv

iver of Light project in 2010, attracted over 10,000 people to watch 500 orbs float down the river.  It was magical!  

More recent a group of local artists transformed eight homes (that were about to be knocked down for a new development) into works of art. Wreck City attracted over 8,000 people to visit the temporary public art project in just one week.  That would probably be more than the all of the other public and quasi-public art galleries in the city combined.

Perhaps it is time to face reality! Times have changed it is no longer the early to mid-20th century which was the heyday for public art galleries and museums. In Calgary, and more and more other Canadian cities, the public-at-large just isn't into public art galleries. 

An example of the public art that can be found on almost every block of the downtown core and in many cases two or three.  The lobbies of the office buildings are full of art, making the downtown a public art gallery without walls.

Comments: 

I enjoy your continued focus on the clash between reality and ideology when we consider all the elements of city building. If people aren't engaging at length with public galleries, do we reconsider the intent or push forth with a dated concept? Love it!

J.G. May 10

"New rec centres in NW and SE will have art galleries, studios for residencies, and 300 seat purpose built theatres" T. R.  May 9

RESPONSE: This is true, however this could be more evidence that Calgarians are more interested in recreational arts than the traditional academic approach to arts and culture, which is what Spalding is looking to create. Both are good and add value to community. Everyday Tourist 

 

Wreck City: The Experience of Experimentation

As a recent transplant to Calgary, I’m constantly absorbing, searching and learning, about the city, its offerings and its character. I came here with a blank slate, no expectations (having never been here before) or real understanding of the city's identity. Specifically seeking to understand cultural identity, as a creative worker, I tried to piece together some pillars – the larger art institutions, the creative spaces, the galleries and those making it happen. What is harder to tap into is the essence of the cultural experience in a city – the organic, the happenstance, and the interventions that create a positive, vibrant, rich environment.

Thus, I was excited to visit Wreck City: An Epilogue for 809 – the recent public art installation happening in response to nine houses, including beloved garage gallery 809, set for demolition. With 8 curators (Matthew Mark Bourree, Caitlind r.c. Brown, Jennifer Crighton, Brandon Dalmer, Andrew Frosst, John Frosst, Shawn Mankowske, and Ryan Scott.) inviting over 100 artists to participate, this project was something I had not experienced the likes of before, in my  years of passionate exploration of public art. Some works were responsive to the architectural elements of the house, others were about playful interaction with the four walls, while some touched on the past, previous residents and the lives they lived. 

One of the many notes left by the over 8,000 visitors to Wreck City. Illustrates the importance of engagement in public art.

I felt a genuine joy when swinging on a swing, crossing a wooden footbridge linked between two houses, or lying on the floor to see a room created upside-down. I felt simultaneously sad and inspired coming across a wall of messages from “Wreck City” visitors. Their thoughts, reactions and emotions were revealing what Calgarians from all walks of life are thinking about their city. Comments ranged from -   'I feel like crying', 'More fun public art like Wreck City, unpretentious and accessible...', to  'Make it livable. Walk, bike, local markets not big box', 'There is beauty in destruction'.

Though some spaces and works were more successful than others, it was the overall experience of this project that was invigorating, and we need more of it, not just in Calgary, but in many North American cities. We have not left enough room for active culture – continuous, organic happenings that grow naturally as part of our city, or pop-up unexpectedly. Sometimes the best experiences or memories we have happen when we least expect them, when they surprise us, when our plans change and develop. It is similar with art – it needs room to breathe and grow. In our cities, we have over-planned and over-stipulated, placing value on a controlled outcome, rather than the process of creation. The intrigue, the provocation and the daring are replaced with the safe, the comfortable, and the inoffensive. We have created public art with an 'X' to mark the spot – it will fulfil this need, it will check that box, and poof: uninteresting public art.

The importance of experimentation is that it creates a sense of freedom and magic, and opens up the city. It demonstrates that creativity is valued, that all citizens have a voice in their city, and a desire to be a place that embraces fun, new energy, and a dose of self-criticality. Wreck City was an opportunity for people to see Calgary let its hair down, and trust a group of individuals to change the site as they wanted

Bridge by Alia Shahab

Whatever your opinion of the project, its great success was in its transitory, experimental nature. Turning the city into a lab for creativity is something that allows us to share experiences more democratically – with neighbors, residents, artists, business owners, friends and strangers- because there are no boundaries, and art is everywhere.

Wreck City was playful, provocative, and got people together, from all ages and backgrounds. Such experiences shows what our city looks like underneath, stripping away the boundaries (the gallery wall, the museum doors), the regulations and rules, and participating with others to experience fun, sadness, frustrations, together. 

Weaving by Suzen Green

Artist Jeremy Pavka

I think Calgarians are looking for more of these experiences, and want a city that is rich and diverse in interest. There is great power in the unexpected and allowing people to explore and form their own opinions. When we dictate the outcome of the artwork, we are telling people what they should know, how to experience. When there is no room for thought or interaction, it’s a one-way conversation.

Experiments in public space change how we view things and alter our expectations. An un-manufactured experience – raw and genuine- It asks us to be part of something greater, to share, and to learn.

___________________________________________

Everyday Art Tourist recently relocated to Calgary from the GTA and works in the creative sector. With over 7 years of experience in both Canada and the US, large museums, small non-profits, and government, Everyday Art Tourist’s focus is on public art and cultural policy. EAT will be a regular guest contributor to EverydayTourist. 

EverydayTourist note: I received the guest blog this week from a new Calgarian and thought it captured some to the ideas that I have been blogging about recently Calgary: North America’s Newest Design City and Alberta’s Dream and Wonderland public artworks.  I think the author correctly points out that most public art in Calgary doesn’t really capture the public’s imagination and is more or less ignored.  Perhaps it is because it is too contrived, too planned, and too safe and too soon becomes part of the urban landscape.  I believe “Wreck City” had over 8,000 people visit in just one week, the same week that Jaume Plensa’s Alberta’s Dream was installed downtown to almost no reaction.  It created a buzz and an urgency that rarely happen with public art. 

Look for more guest blogs from Everyday Art Tourist in the future.

Calgary: Canada's Bike Friendly City!

Yesterday I got a twitter saying the Copenhagenize 2013 Index of  the top 150 bike-friendly cities was out, so I quickly checked to see which cities were listed.  At the top were the usual suspects - Amsterdam and Copenhagen. I was surprised only one North American city - Montreal (tied at #11 with Munich and Nagoya), Tokyo and Rio were also in the top 20, all others were from Europe.  No Vancouver, Portland or Melbourne!  Given the domination of European cities one has to ask what are the study’s objectives and criteria for determining a city’s bicycle-friendliness? 

The study’s objective is clear – “the index looks only at each city’s efforts towards reestablishing the bicycle as a feasible, accepted and practical form of transport.”  To me, the Copenhagenized Index is not a true measure of a city’s bicycle-friendliness as it doesn’t look at all aspects of a city’s bike culture. 

To me, a bike-friendly city is more than just having roads with bike lanes, bike share programs and modal splits.  It is also about the diversity of biking opportunities in a city from velodrome, touring and road racing to BMX and mountain biking.   And from opportunities for the weekend warriors, family wanders, the fanatical and the fair weather cyclists. 

I truly would love to cycle to and from my daily meetings and activities as they are almost all within 10 km of my house, but for at least 7 months of the year it is too cold and too dark. Call me a fair weather cyclist, but I am not cycling when it is cold and there is snow and gravel on the road.  Even today, the end of April, when I left in the morning it was too cold for me to bike and was still too cold at noon. And then there are days with back-to-back meetings with a squash game or yoga practice added to the mix that makes cycling just not a viable option. This relegates me to a recreational cyclist status.

There were 13 criteria for the Copenhagenize Design Co. study, with each city given 0 to 4 points in each category, plus up to a 12-point bonus for particularly impressive efforts. This works out to a maximum of 64 points, which is then translated into a number out of 100.  While every attempt is made to make the study objective, there is still a lot of subjectivity. How do you measure Social Acceptance, which they define, as how do drivers and the community at large regard urban cyclists? Or the degree of  “passionate political involvement?”

I'm not naive to think Calgary will score high on the list of the top 150 cities, but I think for a cold prairie winter city  (as opposed to a cool coastal winter city) we are very bike- friendly.  And if our recreational cycling culture and facilities were given equal status to the transportation side of cycling I am sure we would do better. But lets not get caught in the trap of “best practices.”  No city can be the best at everything. 

In some cases, geography and climate will limit a city's ability to perform in certain areas.  Also, you simply can’t afford to be the best at everything. Cities need to pick one or two things to excel at, and be good at most of the other things which make a city attractive to live, work and play while limiting the negative impact of its weaknesses (cities will always be weak at some things).

Perhaps Calgary is not the best place to ride your bike to work or for shopping, but I still think we can promote Calgary as a bike-friendly city for citizens and tourists wanting to explore our extensive urban parks and pathways (which are truly some of the best in the world (Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways blog). 

Also in what other major city do drivers stop to let cyclists and pedestrians cross the street? This behaviour ironically would be rated as a negative in the Copenhagenize Index as the “transportation” cyclist doesn’t want any special treatment.  But I expect the family out cycling to the playground, park and pathway appreciate having Calgary drivers giving them the right-of-way.

The fact we are in the top 150 in the 2013 Index should be celebrated. Calgary can’t be in the top 10 on every world ranking. Below is some of the information I have collected on Calgary as a bike-friendly city.  As I am still working on this document, feedback is welcomed. 

Calgary’s Bike Friendly Stats-At-A-Glance:

From the BikeCalgary website I got that 40,000 Calgarians ride their bike regularly for transportation spring, summer and fall or about 6.5% of our 618,000 workforce. In addition, 140,000 ride their bike recreationally at least once a week and another 400,000 ride occasionally.  I am not sure how that compares to other cities.  And I am also told the Calgary numbers and those collected by other cities are not always collected in the most comprehensive and scientific manner.

From the City of Calgary website and Tom Thivener, City of Calgary, Bike CoordinatorI got the following factoids:

  • 712 km of multi-use pathways
  • 328 bikeways
  • 23 km of bike lanes 
  • 300 km of snow cleared pathways
  • 80 underpasses and bridges
  • 5,018 private bike parking stalls in Downtown (62% weather-protected)
  • 10,000 to 12,000 cyclists commute to Downtown in prime cycling season ( mid April to mid October) or about 7.5% of the downtown employees
  • 14.5 bike injuries/yr/100,000 and declining (2009)
  • City employs Cycling Coordinator, Bike Traffic Engineer and Cycling Education/Encouragement Coordinator.
  • Comprehensive Cycling Strategy approved by Council in June 2011. In it a citywide survey indicated 2% of Calgarians are Fearless Cyclists (share the road with cars) 20 are Confident Cyclists (moderately comfortable sharing the road), 51% are Interested Cyclists (not comfortable sharing the road) and 28% are Reluctant Cyclists (not interested in cycling).

From the City's 2011, Cycling Strategy report noted the following: 

Calgary’s multi-use pathway and on-street bikeway network has almost doubled from 550 kilometres in 1999 to 1,067 kilometres in 2010. In 2010, Calgary had 712 kilometres of multi-use pathways and 355 kilometres of on-street bikeways, 328 kilometres of which were signed bikeways and 27 kilometres of which were bikeways with pavement marking — bike lanes and marked shared lanes. From City of Calgary Cycling Strategy document page 17

From chatting over the past few months with 10+ avid cyclists from different sectors of Calgary’s bike culture  the following strengths and weaknesses of cycling in Calgary have emerged:  

Strengths:

  • Excellent recreational cycling paths for families and beginners
  • Good mountain biking for beginner and intermediate cyclists within the city – Canada Olympic Park and Nose Hill Park
  • Excellent road cycling routes along secondary roads just outside the city.
  • Excellent cross-cycling routes within an hour of city limits – Bragg Creek and Canmore Nordic Centre
  • Excellent BMX bike park – Shaw Millennium Park
  • Excellent mountain climb hill – Edworthy Park
  • Strong club scene with over 30 different bike clubs registered with Alberta Bike Association
  • World Class mountain biking a 3 hour drive (Panorama or Fernie)
  • World Class new professional road cycling event - Tour de Alberta

Weaknesses:

  • Pathway system doesn’t connect directly to major shopping or workplace destinations
  • Lack of a bike sharing program
  • Lack of dedicated bike lanes on major bike routes  

ound this image on the Copenhagenize Design Co. website. While for many "bikes for transportation" advocates this is the vision i.e. roads crowded with people using their bikes for everyday activities.  However, I am not sure this would be attractive to many of the Calgarians who are currently reluctant to use roads and pathways as it is too crowded.  It would be interesting to show them this picture and say would you be wiling to ride on this bike lane.   I

t will take a huge paradigm shift in the thinking of Calgarians to move from recreational to transportational cycling.  The creation of new bike lanes to link the current pathway system to key destinations is a great place to start.  

But we need to be realistic in our expectations of the numbers who will be prepared to make the change and this is not going to happen overnight.  

ast Word

Big Blue sits in the garage. Used only occasionally unfortunately. In my teens and early 20s I used my bike for "transportation" , but once I got a car it was more convenient and comfortable to drive rather than ride (see blog on Comfort and Convenience).  

I did ride my bike to work in my 40s when I worked downtown and my life was more downtown centric. Today my live, work, play is all over the place and changes hourly.   

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Bike Expert:  75 Most Bike Friendly Cities In The World (Dec 2016)

Calgary: Dog Park Capital of North America

Recently I was cleaning up my file of Calgary Herald articles and came across one I did  on dog parks in 2007.  Since then, while I haven't become a dog owner, I have gained a lot of experience and appreciation for the urban dog culture as a result of dog-sitting for friends - a new form of "friends with benefits!"  In fact, we often house-sit at the same time, which means we get to explore a new part of the city, which is kinda like being a tourist, especially when it is an ultra modern glass-house that looks out to Calgary's River Park - one of our most popular dog parks..  

As a result I have experienced first-hand the socialization that happens not only between the dogs, but with dog owners at dog parks.  In some ways, the urban dog park has become the new patio, plaza or pub, where people gather with their neighbours to share stories and information.  In fact, they are probably even more loyal to visiting the local dog park, than the pub, patio or plaza - at least twice a day in many cases. Who goes to the pub twice a day almost everyday? 

I am amazed at the number of people that are out in the dog parks no matter what the weather and in Calgary that can be -30 degrees.  Sometimes River Park is like a parade with hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds walking the promenade which has been carved from all the walkers over the years.  It is like a playground on the edges of the promenade with dogs running after balls, frisbees, sticks and each other. I love the animation.  I don't think any urban planner or landscape architect designed this wonderful linear park, and I doubt is was originally conceived as dog park.  Good urban planning often just happens?

I have also come to appreciate Calgary has some pretty amazing dog parks - 150 according to the City of Calgary's website.  This led me to do some research on which cities are the most dog-friendly.  

In December 2011, a USA Today feature story "Fastest-growing urban parks are for the dogs" indicated that there were 569 off-leash dog parks in the 100 largest U.S. cities in 2010, a 34 percent jump in 5 years, while overall parks increased only 3 percent.  It also indicated that Portland, Oregon has the highest number of dog parks per captia with 5.7  for every 100,000 residents.  And, that there are more households in the USA with dogs than with kids, 43 million and 38 million. Much of the information was very similar to my 2007 Calgary Herald column, which you can read below. 

In fact, Calgary with 150 designated dog parks has 13.6 dog parks for every 100,000 people - 2.4 times Portland.  Does that make us the dog park capital of North America? I also found out Calgary has 122,325 dogs which is about 1 for every 10 people, or about 815 dogs per dog park.  The Calgary Herald even created a map of where the dogs live in the city.  And while there is a significant population of dogs in the suburbs there are lots living in the downtown area. In the 21st century, people love their dogs!

There is even dog-friendly hotels. I know people who plan their vacations around hotels that will take dog.  High-end hotels now have dogs as part of their amenities, so guest who are missing their dog can take the hotel dog for a walk.  

Since 2007, urban planners have also introduce the concept of walkscore and walkable communities.  I am not sure how the dog parks fit into the walkscore, but I expect it should have a very high priority (higher than grocery store and maybe on par with schools) given there are more dogs than kids in the USA and that many dog owners walk their dog twice a day - who goes to the grocery store twice a day, almost every day of the year?

Perhaps we should be ranking communities based on their Dogscore?  (You can read more on my thoughts on dog parks and urban living, and some of the initiatives in other cities across North America in my 2007 column below).  I have also added some additional Calgary dog park pics at the end.

Learn more about Calgary's parks in my blog: Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways.

This is a picture taken at dusk in the winter at Calgary's River Park one of over 150 city dog parks. There is a parade of people their dogs along the promenade from one end of the park to the other all day long, but especially in the evenings and weekends. 

From Calgary Herald Urban Living Column, March 2007 

Downtown needs to be more dog-friendly! 

It always amazes me who is out walking in the coldest, darkest days of winter.  It is largely people out exercising their dog or dogs. Even in the dark at 6 a.m., when I’m heading to work, there always seems to be someone out walking his or her pet.

As a non-dog owner, the increasing importance of dogs in our contemporary urban culture continues to amaze me.

I think this is especially true for groups like the young professional and empty nester cultures — which, coincidentally, are also the primary markets for urban living.

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising then that we are seeing more dogs along our urban side- walks and pathways and in our parks and plazas.

In its 13th annual housing survey conducted by Ipsos Reid, RBC Royal Bank said last year that 56 per cent of Canadians have pets in their homes. Experts say that probably works out to about five million dogs and seven million cats. The total market size of the Canadian pet industry was estimated at $3.8 billion in 2001.

City officials have estimated there are as many as 100,000 dogs in Calgary. As many as 2,000 may use the Southland Natural Park area alone on busy days.

“Pets are the new children. It’s the bottom line,” said Michael Bateman, of Chasin' Tails, a Calgary doggie day-care centre, in a recent Herald story.  Such centers offer everything from overnight boarding to boutique areas.

In some ways, dogs are to urban living what children are to suburban living.

I appreciate that owning a dog in an urban centre presents a unique set of challenges.

How is housebreaking accomplished in a high-rise building?  Where and how can a large, energetic dog be exercised?  How can a dog be taught to ignore distractions such as traffic congestion and noise, crowded sidewalks, bicycles, roller bladers, interesting trash, back alleys, roadways — and, of course, other dogs?

One solution occurring in places such as Atlanta, Houston, Dallas and Phoenix (who knew these were hot spots for urban living?) is the creation of “bark parks.” These differ from “off-leash” areas in that they are parks solely for the use of dogs and their owners. They are often small parcels of land that are too small for development. They are fenced off and self-governed by a set of rules, much like a daycare (for example, dogs must behave, dogs must be accompanied by an owner, dogs must be healthy and owners must clean up after their dogs).  Some bark parks also have playground-like equipment for dogs to jump over, climb up and so on.

Though Calgary has over 300 “off leash” areas — which may be the most of any major city in Canada— it, to my knowledge, has no “bark parks.”  But you have to think someone is working on a “bark park” in Calgary!

Current policy in Calgary is “if there are no signs indicating it is an “off leash” area, assume it is strictly an on-leash only park.”  It is also surprising that I haven’t yet seen a Calgary condo listing that promotes dog- friendly amenities.

I have seen it many times in Vancouver listings, including one, which read, “just steps to George Wainborne Dog Park, Seawall and Granville Island.” It was amazing to me that not only did the dog park have a name, but that it was listed ahead of two of Vancouver’s biggest urban living attractions.

I am wondering when the first Calgary condo will be built with its own mini “bark park” on site — maybe already one exists?  While “bark parks” and “off leash” areas are great, there is still a need for both dog owners and non-dog owners to learn to share our public spaces including sidewalks. As a non-dog owner, I didn’t appreciate the importance of off leash activities until I started to do a little digging (no pun intended).

I didn’t know “off leash” time is important for dogs to learn to socialize with humans and other dogs. I didn’t know it makes dogs less aggressive and helps reduce neurotic activities such as barking, two benefits which are in the best interests of non-dog owners.

I also discovered dogs are part of urban socialization for humans, especially those who are single or new to the area — as having a dog helps people make friends

There is also research that says dog owners are more physically active than non-dog owners as they are more motivated to get out every day and take their dog (or dogs) for a walk.

I learned there are now “woof and hoof ” outings where dog owners get together on a regular basis to walk their dogs and chat about life (sounds like the Running Room’s programs for joggers and walkers).

It used to be that urban planners were primarily interested in making urban areas more pedestrian-friendly places, but now they also have to ensure they are also dog-friendly.  As a Calgary urbanite for 20 years, I have certainly seen this evolution happening on my street, in the park across from my house and at the “off leash” area a few blocks away.

Entrance to Parkdale dog park which is along the bluff on the north side of the Bow River.  This bluff facing south provides a sunny warm place to walk your dog year-round. It has small aspen woods, grasslands and lots of trails.  At the top is a spectacular view of the river valley and the downtown skyline.  These are significant parks - this one is about 2 kilometres long.  

A group of dog walkers in Upper Edworthy dog park.  This is a very large regional dog park where people from the entire west side of the city come to walk their dog and enjoy spectacular views. 

Along the north bank of the Bow River are a series of bluffs that have become urban dog parks.  At the top is a promenade which offers spectacular views of the City skyline and river valley.    

Calgary's Dog Parks offer some of the spectacular views of the city's skyline. 

Cities of Opportunity: Hamilton/Calgary

Just received an email from a childhood friend with a link to a 1940s promotional film "Portrait of a City" about Hamilton, Ontario (our hometown) that sent shivers up my spine.  

It was a 20-minute marketing film that talked about Hamilton as the "City of Opportunity" with an ambitious and enterprising spirit. How the City was the "United States Industry in Canada." here were shots of Hamilton's amazing parks, recreation and sports activities.  

It painted a picture of Hamilton as a place of incredible beauty, with bustling streets, shops and the largest open-air farmer's market in Canada. Hamilton was a city on the rise both a tourist destination and one of heavy industry. A proud city!  What a difference 60 years can make?  

  Hamilton's historic Gore Park in downtown.

Hamilton's historic Gore Park in downtown.

Moving to Calgary

I couldn't help but compare Hamilton in the '40s to Calgary, Alberta today.  A city that is currently Canada's "City of Opportunity" as evidenced by recently being called the #1 destination for U-haul vehicles in Canada (Annual National U-Haul Migration Trend Report). "We're moving to Calgary" has been heard by parents across Canada from their children looking for opportunities to pursue their careers.  

Today, Calgary is often referred to as the most American of Canadian cities with heavy investment from the US oil and gas industry.  It also has the most expats of any city in Canada.  Just this week, the Investment Property Bank ranked Calgary #1 for commercial real estate performance in 2012, beating out San Francisco, Houston, Perth and 28 other cities. 

It is ironic that early this month, Calgary Tourism and Economic Development released its promotional video linking tourism and economic development in much the same manner as the 1940s Hamilton film "Portrait of City."  The only difference being it is shorter and faster paced - a reflection of the times. 

Population Growth

It is interesting to look at where Hamilton ranked with regard to the top 10 ten cities, population-wise, in Canada over the past 60 years (Source: Urban Canada, 2nd Edition, Harry H. Hiller).  

In the 1930s, Hamilton was #5, dropping to #7 in the 40s and 50s, then up to #6 in the 60s and 70s, then down to #9, where it has been ever since.  

At the same time, Calgary moved from #7 in the 30s, wasn't even in the top 10 in the 40s, then #10 in the 50s, #9 in the 60s and 70s, jumping to #6 in the 80s and 90s and then #5 in the 00s and #4 in the 10s.  

The other winners in the "Cities of Opportunity" in Canada over the past 60 years are Ottawa, Edmonton and Mississauga, the losers are Windsor and London.  

Calgary the new Hamilton?

In many ways, Calgary has replaced Hamilton as Canada's "City of Opportunity" since the mid-20th century.  It is Calgary that now has the strong, ambitious enterprising spirit. I had coffee just this week with a young professional (creative class) who moved from Hamilton to Calgary. She liked Hamilton and thought there was lots of potential, but their wasn't the collective ambition, nor the enterprising spirit needed to capitalize on the opportunities.  She commented on how many former Hamiltonians she had met in Calgary since moving here only a month ago. 

I remember attending an International Downtown Association conference in the 90s and one of the senior Downtown managers saying, "every city has its heyday."  Those words have stuck with me.

While I don't believe Calgary has had its heyday yet, we should realize that we need to continue to adapt to an ever-changing world if we are going to remain Canada's "City of Opportunity." Nobody stays on top forever!

Ironically this blog was originally written in 2013, now in 2017 Calgary has fallen into hard times and some are wondering if its heyday was in fact in the early 21st century. 

Link to: Hamilton: Portrait of a City Film 

Link to: Calgary: RightHereYYC video

Are we too downtown-centric?

Interesting discussion this morning at the Manning Centre in Calgary regarding city building. David Seymour, Senior Fellow at the Manning Foundation interviewed me about the key issues facing municipal policy, planning and development with Calgary as the case study. Below are some of the ideas and issues some introduced by myself others by the audience.

The key idea that came out of the discussion in my mind was how can we make/keep our city "affordable, attractive and accessible" for the many different publics that call Calgary home today and will call it home in the future. And in fact if I had to pick one it would be “housing affordability” is top of mind for all Calgarians and for that matter probably 95% of Canadians (for some high net-worth people affordability isn’t an issue). The problem is the more successful a city or a neighbourhood is the less affordable it becomes.

Is Calgary too downtown centric? At best 20% of Calgarians work downtown and 10% will live downtown. More and more people have no need to go downtown on a regular basis! Even in Vancouver, less than 5% of the metro residential population lives Downtown - Toronto about 7%. In Calgary depending on where you draw the boundaries, between 50,000 to 70,000 live in the City Center, which are about 4 to 6 % of metro population. Downtown is not for everyone! Most Calgarians don't work or play downtown so why would they want to live there?

Need to recognize Calgary is in fact several cities of 250,000 people each with their own character and charm. The Airport City in the NE, the Learning City in the NW, and the Corporate City in the centre are the obvious ones. There is also an emerging SE City with Quarry Park and SETON as the employment hubs. Aspen Woods area in SW is quickly becoming Calgary's new Mount Royal of the early 21st century. Need to think how we can make each of these city's self-sufficient places when it comes to "live, work and play."

Will Calgary's Airport City, takeover from the Downtown as the city's largest economic engine in the future? Transportation and logistics is Calgary's second largest employer? Recently the NE passed the downtown with respect to number of hotel rooms. The NE is home to several mega building projects that are on par with downtown office buildings. The current airport expansion is the largest and most expensive development project in Calgary's history. Over 50,000 people use the airport every day (staff and users) about a third of the Downtown's. Mississauga, Richmond and Calgary's NE are Canada's three largest airport hubs - only Calgary’s is not an independent city?

How can we create TOD villages that have live, work and play elements in almost equal terms? Need to focus recreation and entertainment uses at TOD sites as much as residential and office. Why are we not planning for TOD villages in the NE, the focus seems to be on NW, West and South leg TOD sites?

Can we really expect to have a 50/50 split in between suburban and established community develop in the future, as Calgary’s Plan It envisions. This would mean that if 20,000 people move to Calgary in 2025 that 10,000 of them would have to live in established neighbourhood developments. To accomplish this we would have to create one new East Village every year, or have 10 East Village-like developments under construction at any given time. Projects like these take 10 to 15 years before we see any construction. So we would have to have 10 in the planning stages today for 2025? We are lucky if we can manage 2 or 3 major urban projects at a time. While there is some low hanging fruit for established community urban development e.g. old shopping centres like Stadium or Brentwood, the assemblage of large areas of land for urban village-type development will take years before the planning can even start.

Is spending billions of dollars on new LRT lines that are busy for 1.5 hours in the morning and evening the best use of OUR money? What if we were to spend the money on building schools in every community and that children were required to walk to the school in their community? Perhaps a "Schools First" policy should be explored? Would we need more transit or roads if we got the school buses and parents driving kids to school off the road (4 trips/day)? Should we start to foster a generation of children who know how to walk places, know the neighbouring kids and can think and act for themselves? We know that behaviours developed in childhood become life-long habits.

Can we create a more effective and efficient school system? What if all new schools were container schools that allow for them to expand and contract with community needs? Could the schools be converted to seniors / affordable housing in the future as the community ages? Could schools have residential development above them rather than being single-story buildings and single-use blocks. School blocks should be the community gathering place 18/7, with gym, library, classrooms and playing fields use weekdays, evenings and weekends by the community.

Can urban housing ever be affordable for average families in Calgary? Downtown inner-city communities close to Downtown are not in demand because of their walkability, but because of their accessibility to Downtown for high net-worth individuals, the majority of who work downtown. These communities are very attractive places to live because they offer great access to Downtown by car, as much as by walking, cycling and transit. Living in the inner-city offers many different options when it comes to accessing amenities, it is not just the “walkability score.”

There was even a quick discussion of whether Downtown's are even needed in every city. Is there a new 21st century model of a decentralized city? Should the new city building model look at creating “live, work, play” hubs strategically throughout the city based on the geographic assets and economic engines of the city rather than trying to create a single vibrant downtown. Calgary is unique to have such a large concentrated high paying downtown workforce.

Thanks for reading. Appreciate getting your thoughts and feedback. I think we all want the same thing i.e. to create a better city for everyone to live, work and play! We just need to recognize that there is no one solution - we all want different things. That's why we need to foster different communities that meet current and future needs.