Woodbine is wonderful!

By: Richard White / November 2, 2013

Calgary is blessed with a wonderful array of communities from estate enclaves to urban villages.  City building is not just about attracting the “young and restless” i.e. “creative class” to your city, it is also about attracting and retaining executives and their families who might want a big house and yes a three-car garage. Estate living is every bit a part of city building as is urban villages in the city centre or at transit stations. 

This estate home in Woodbine backs onto Fish Creek Park offering sweeping views of the valley from the back deck.   

Calgary communities built from the ’60 to the ‘90s (established communities) with their big homes, large lots and front car garages are currently not in favour with City Council and planners, yet they are very popular with citizens of Calgary.  

Did you know Calgary boasts 14 million dollar communities i.e. communities with an average selling price of over one million dollars and five are over two million.  Almost all of the million dollar communities were built in the ‘60s to the ‘80s. What does that tell us?

While current urban gurus are touting the importance of walkable communities using community “walkscores” (a rating system that determines how close you are to things like grocery stores, cafes and shopping, transit service, schools, recreation centers and professional services) as a means of measuring a communities desirability. What they are missing is that these amenities are not as important to everyone. 

Estate homes along the Fish Creek north bluff offer homeowners a tranquility that is very desirable for many executive families or young retirees.  For many retirees there is no longer a need to go downtown everyday or functions in the evening.  More and more time is spent at home.

For many, the access to a dog park is the most important amenity; especially given people are now walking their dog two and three times a day. For others, a quiet place to walk in nature several times a week is just as important as a grocery store. Did you know that bird watching is one of the fastest growing recreational activities? Where better to bird watch than near a major park or natural reserve?

Who needs a café when you can create a crema at home better than most baristas in the city? Who needs a street patio with noisy traffic, smelly fumes and hard chairs when you have a quiet deck with sweeping views and soft seating? 

Imagine having these trails in your backyard for walking, hiking, snow shoeing or cross-country skiing.  Who needs a recreation centre when you have this just minutes away.  

One hidden gem for estate living in Calgary is the southwest community of Woodbine. While Woodbine is not anywhere near the being a million-dollar community, there are numerous homes along the northern bluff of Fish Creek Park that definitely qualify as a “millionaires row” with spectacular backyard views of the park and mountains. 

In particular, Woodpath Estates in the extreme southwest corner of Woodbine is a county oasis in the city.  I am told rarely do these large three-car garage homes each with million dollar backyard views of Fish Creek Park come up for sale.  Why? Because they are very desirable to Calgarians who want a country-like home in the city.   

Not only do the Woodbine estate home owners have access to Fish Creek but they will also have the 131 km Calgary Greenway at their backdoor. 

While urban gurus would look at Woobine’s walkscore of 27 (best score is 100) and rank its desirability very low.  Woodpath Estates with no sidewalks and further from Woodbine’s great amenities -schools, parks, playing fields, a local shopping centre with a Safeway and a pub – would rank even lower.  However, for some it is the ideal place to live.

City building is about building a diversity of homes and communities that reflects the different values and desires of its citizens.   We need to embrace the development of “estate living” like Woodpath Village, as much as we do East Village. 

Estate living.....

Dogs as a catalyst for healthier happier city?

By Richard White, September 9, 2013

Dog Parks and Disneyland

I am again dog sitting for friends and learning more about the how cities need to evolve to the every changing needs of the people who live in them.  I am not a dog owner, but I am fascinated about how dog ownership has changed since I had a dog 50 years ago.  

Just had a wonderful conversation with a man who told me getting a dog has significantly improved his and his wife's life as they get out and walk more.  Another couple told me how they love coming to the dog park every night just to watch the animation.  The lady said "it is like Disneyland for dogs."  

A summer evening stroll in the dog park is enjoyed by people and dogs of all ages and sizes. 

Catalyst for healthy living

Indeed, the dog park is as important to the humans as it is to the dogs.  In our urban mostly sedentary lives we need a reason to get out and walk.  Every time I dog sit I find myself saying "I must get up in the morning and just go for a walk to my neighbourhood dog park - I don't need a dog." But, I never do it!  

The dog as a catalyst for healthy living will become even more important with our aging population.  Seniors perhaps benefit most from walking a dog, not only for the physical exercise, but the people contact.  It is not very often that I go to the dog park that I don't chat with someone.  It isn't a long conversation, and I don't think I will meet my next "new best friend," but it is a nice friendly chat.  

This is why dog parks are better for socialization (dog and humans) than just walking your dog on the street, as there is a much greater probability that you and your dog will interact with others.  And, isn't that what is great about urban living i.e. interacting with others.  Not sure if it is just me, but people at the dog park seem happier and friendlier than people in the streets.  What's with that? 

Below is an article I wrote back in 2007.  I am now thinking it is not just downtown that needs to be more dog-friendly but the entire cities.  In fact, I am now thinking that all new communities should have a dog park as a key element of their master plan.  It is a great way to meet your neighbours in the new urban world.  

The dog park is the the new town square - all urban villages should have a dog park!  The dog park is used seven days a week year-round, unlike playing fields and many non dog parks. The dog park is as important to many, as the recreation centre or library is to others.  

Everybody needs a drink after a long day and a good walk.

Downtown needs to be more dog-friendly.

This blog was originally published in the Calgary Herald's Condo Living section March 3, 2007.  

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.

Literally thousands of Calgarians are in dog parks every evening walking their dogs and chatting with fellow citizens.

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).

Last Word

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.

Comments:

RJ writes: 100, 000 dogs in Calgary alone huh? I can believe it, maybe even more....I'd say at least one in every ten homes has a dog. Now what we need is playgrounds built within a dog park (none that I have found)....if I could run both my four legged and two legged children at the same time that would be awesome!

Ann Toohey, PhD student, Community Health Science, University of Calgary writes:  My MSc research indicated that older adults (+50) who walk their dogs 4 times/week or more had a higher sense of community than those who walked their dogs less frequently, or non-dog owners. And of course they were much more likely to get 150 min/week of moderate, neighbourhood-based physical activity (as per public health recommendations). For more information on Tooley's MSc research

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Our Country Estate Voyeur Adventure

We spent this past weekend at the house of our friends a friends in the suburb of Elbow Valley Estates.  We volunteered to look after their daughter’s Berenese Mountain dog – four-year-old Scapa – allowing them to head to the mountains for some R&R.  For long time inner-city urban dwellers like us, the move (even though only 20 km away and just outside the Calgary city limits) was like a trip to another country.

The first thing we both noticed was how quiet it was. No early morning magpies squawking to wake you up (who knew magpies live only in urban communities). No constant hum of traffic along Crowchild Trail all day, or motorcycles racing in the middle of the night.  The streets were deserted - no sidewalks, no parked cars and no people.  The place was like a ghost town!

The houses shared sameness as a result of the architectural controls i.e. similar architecture, same massing, same colour palette and same landscape planting materials. It is surreal - some might even say contrived.  To some, these are high-end, very large cookie cutter homes.  Everything was so neat and tidy (hardly a weed to be found in the lawns), so homogeneous.  It was so different from the potpourri of architectural styles and ages of the homes of our inner-city neighbourhood, with its streets filled with parked cars and yards overgrown trees and shrubs and patchy lawns. 

  A sample street with no sidewalks, no cars and no people. 

Even the "For Sale" signs all have to look the same.  Isn't this a bit too anal? 

A sample of the architectural styles and materials allowed. 

And yet as we walked around there was evidence of life.  On our many dog walks we must have counted at least 30 different homes with hockey nets (scattered on the street or in the driveways) and about half that many with trampolines. One house even had a huge, castle-like playground in their backyard.  At first we thought it must be the community centre, but no, just another mega house with a mega backyard.

While it would appear that there are lots of children living in the community there is very little evidence of them other than one very friendly family who clearly enjoyed their front yard and having the street to themselves  It struck us as strange that there is no park with playing fields for baseball, soccer or football. Not even a flat area where you could engage in such activities.  Though there are pathways to the river and to a pond, no pathways link the many dead-end cul de sacs. 

And no hockey rink! Given the sheer number of hockey nets littering the driveways, you’d think there would at least be an outdoor rink for the kids to play hockey in the winter.  The more we walked and the more we experienced country estate living, the more mystifying it became. 

Hockey nets and trampolines are everywhere.  

There are small pocket parks with swings and this basketball net, but no playing fields. 

Yes more hockey nets.  It is surreal how they are just left there in the middle of the summer. 

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The castle playground in your backyard - how good is that? 

Children's playground in backyard right at the pathway inviting everyone to come and use it.  Over the four days we didn't see anyone using any of the playground equipment either in public areas or backyards.  Where have all the children gone? 

Though not a gated community, on our nightly Scapa-led walks we’d always see a security car (a Mustang nonetheless) cruising the streets checking things out.  There was a strong feeling of being safe, almost to the point where we felt no need to lock the door when we went out.  We were tempted, but in the end old habits won out – we locked the doors.

After 24 hours, we found ourselves thoroughly enjoying all the comforts of a big house like the two patios, a real laundry room vs. our laundry closet, big kitchen, bar fridge and media room.  We loved that we could actually hear the songbirds singing. We discovered there is a different light and sense of space with no house 8 feet away. And with no six-foot fences allowed or decade old caragana hedges to hide behind, you can see and hear everything – if anyone was home.  I am thinking they must all be voyeurs!  I sure felt like a voyeur everytime and everywhere we walked.

A typical backyard with no fences between the houses or along the pathway.   

All homes have outdoor living spaces offering great views of the mother nature and human nature. 

Probably one of the more private outdoor patio spaces in the entire community. 

I am not sure that country estate voyeur living is for us, but it was a great staycation. It truly was like travelling to a different country, with a different culture and sense of place even though we were only 20 km from home.  

There is a tranquility that comes with living outside the city.  Yes you can fly fish in the middle of the city but it isn't the same as this. 

The walks along the pathway with there "peeks" at the rushing river below and the ever changing light add to the tranquility.  Just moments before I took this picture three deer strolled along the shore. 

The setting evening sun recalls a Group of Seven painting. This is the quintessential Canadian experience. 

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.   

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Creatures of comfort, convenience and privacy

Having read Witold Rybczynski's book, Home, during the holidays, it really struck me how mankind's quest for comfort, convenience and privacy has been the driver of change in urban living and home design for the past 500 years.

In his book, Rybczynski, who is the emeritus professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania, looks at how home life has evolved from the Middle Ages to the late 20th century. He traces how the design of our homes has shifted from basic shelter from the elements and enemies, to our castles of comfort.

Using a series of artworks of domestic scenes - from German artist Albrecht Durer's St. Jerome in His Study (1514) to a Victorian bathroom illustration from 1885 - Rybczynski traces how homes have progressively become more comfortable, convenient and private.

The book is full of interesting facts - such as during the 16th century, households of 25 people in one-or two-room homes was not unusual. Nobody had their own room and even bathing was communal. Even in early 17th century Paris, having a room dedicated exclusively to a single use was seen as strange. The idea of separate rooms for cooking, bathing, dining and sleeping had to be invented - spurred by the invention of things such as the stove, which was the impetus for the creation of the kitchen as a separate space. 

Over the centuries, urban life changed as home lighting evolved from candles to kerosene lamps to electricity. Having light at night allowed children to read in the evening (after working all day), which in turn allowed more learning and ultimately advanced society's knowledge.

One of the most intriguing facts is how medieval parents (both rich and poor) had a very unsentimental attitude toward children, sending them away from home at age 7. If poor, they went to work; if bourgeois, they went to apprentice with an artisan.  In today's child-centric world, it is hard to imagine that concept of watching one's children grow up at home into their 20s is a relatively new phenomenon.

In the chapter on Domesticity, Rybczynski looks at the evolution of intimacy, privacy and urban living in Paris, London, Oslo and Amsterdam.  It was interesting to learn how urban living in 17thcentury Holland differed from other European cities, with the country's new Calvinist religion contributing to a sense of sobriety and restraint.

As well, Holland's small merchant economy and smaller family sizes allowed for shops at street level and homes above. We also learn the creation of the country's iconic, tall, narrow row homes was necessitated by boggy soil that required lightweight brick versus stone (used elsewhere in Europe) and shared common walls for support. It was in Holland at this time, too, that mothers began to raise their own children, sending them to schools and keeping them at home until married.

Rybczynski suggests the Dutch were also the first to en mass love their homes, children and gardens. For the Dutch, the garden was a private space at the back of the house, unlike the rather more public courtyard style favoured in Paris and Oslo.

Feminization of urban living

Rybczynski discusses the feminization of the home, which began in the 17th century, as one of the most important events in the evolution toward modern households. He points out the invention and spread of electricity as a source of power in the 19th and 20th centuries was a game-changer for women. Not only did it provide better lighting, but it came with electric irons, vacuums, toasters, coffee pots, stoves and washers - all of which were more convenient to use and made life more comfortable, especially for women.  By 1927, the electric iron for clothes was the most widely used electrical appliance, making the previous 12-pound flatiron heated on a stove redundant.

Rybczynski traces how the "rise of the female influence" has resulted in the suburbanization of urban living, with its large, single-family houses. It is the women who most often decide what community and what house a family will live in. Like no time in human history, women today are focused on the design of their home. The home is the woman's castle.

The advent of the professional working women has dramatically changed how we live. Their second income results in more money to buy bigger houses with more comforts, conveniences and privacy. The increased family income buys separate bedrooms for everyone, along with a separate dining room, kitchen nook and family room.  This includes the master bedroom - the "homeowner's retreat" - with its spa-like bathroom, huge walk-in-closet and king-sized master bed.  You can't fit that all into the 850 square feet that was the size of an average home in the 1950s, or the average downtown condo today.

The two-income family also necessitated the need for daycare for most families, which dictated the need for two cars, dramatically changing the family commute. Not only did it mean two cars commuting to work, it created a more complicated commute involving drop-off and pickup of children.

It became even more complicated when suburbs were designed without schools, meaning children had to be bused or driven to school. Ultimately, all this has meant public transit, as opposed to private vehicles, is not a comfortable or convenient option for most families in Calgary.

The increasing influence of women in modern decision-making appears to have changed urban living and design forever.  It will be interesting to see what happens as more women become urban planning professionals; it is one of the last professions still dominated by males. The City of Calgary currently has a Transformation Planning Working Group looking at how to change our current planning culture. It is interesting to note the majority of members of the working group are female, including group leader Whitney Smithers, who is manager of strategic initiatives, planning, development and assessment for the City of Calgary.

Modern family's sense of place

For most people, the suburban home provides the most comfort, convenience and privacy for the least dollar in 21stcentury North American cities.

The suburban house has the space for the contemporary sense of home, an ideal that includes kitchens equipped not only with a self-cleaning oven, ice-cube maker, frost-free fridge, dishwasher, coffeemaker, pasta maker, blender and grinders of all sorts, but also microwave, convection and conventional ovens.

This ideal also aims for multiple bathrooms that often include a steam shower, rain shower, soaker tub, fireplace, TV, heated towel rack and floor, two-person shower and his-and-hers sinks.  Most people also want a backyard for the family dog, along with a deck (with its outdoor living room-style furniture, outdoor kitchen or at least mega-deluxe barbecue, hot tub and fire pit).  Under this ideal, the basement is no longer a storage area with maybe a rumpus room - it is the entertainment centre for a jumbo home theatre. This is the modern family's sense of place.

Comfort, convenience and privacy are also drivers of many Calgarian's general disdain of public transit. Who wants to sit or stand next to a stranger or wait for a bus or train - especially in the cold or at night - when you could be in the comfort of your own car, where you wield control over temperature, music, route and stops along the way?

The epitome in privacy, comfort and convenience - although we love to complain about traffic - in reality, is the car. It often has the best chair we own, with multiple adjustments to maximize our comfort. In the winter, many of us even have heated car seats, and our vehicles have a multi-speaker stereo system and a convenient cupholder in the perfect spot. If we are commuting alone, it often is only a few minutes drive away from the kids to the boss and co-workers - and we can crank up the tunes as loud as we want.

Last word

Rybczynski reminds us that cultural mores such as comfort, convenience and privacy have a life whose evolution is measured in centuries.  This explains why human behaviour changes slowly and why we resist change.  He points out over and over that our "comfort, convenient and privacy" culture did not evolve overnight - and so, it will not be undone anytime soon.


 

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.