FUN ideas for Downtown Calgary!

By Richard White, November 24, 2013 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody loves a train

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

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

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

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

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

Climbing walls?

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

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

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

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

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

Family days

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas

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

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

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

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

Kids banners

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

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

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

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

FUN Architecture 

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

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

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

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

Alley Art Gallery

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fun art from Boise's Freak Alley.

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

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

Zip Line

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

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

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

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

Bring back the neon

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

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

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

Last Word

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

If you like this blog you might like: 

Freakn Fun in Freak Alley: Boise

FFQing in Tri-cities

Downtown Spokane Fun

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

Calgary: North America's Newest Cafe City?

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

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

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

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

Cafe Rosso's flagship store at Ramsay Exchange. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Window licking in Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

Love to hear your comments.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago's Gold Coast: Staircases

Perhaps the biggest and best surprise of our recent Chicago visit was discovering the Gold Coast neighbourhood just north of the "Magnificient Mile" and not far from our Hotel Lincoln suite. It is predominately a residential community with wonderful tree-lined streets and stately apartment blocks that date back to the late 19th century.  

The front gardens are meticulously manicured and the boulevards are like little gardens with their little wrought iron fences protecting the flowers and shrubs.  But what really caught our eye were the many elegant staircases that create inviting and grand entrances.  

When visiting a city we encourage you to wander some of the residential communities to see how the locals live, both the rich and famous and the young and restless.  

 This twin staircase was the one that capture our attention and made us stop in our tracks.  Does it get more inviting than this?  The black wrought iron is prevalent throughout Chicago. Like brick it is a timeless urban design element that should be employed more in urban neighbourhoods as it creates an immediate sense of place. 

This twin staircase was the one that capture our attention and made us stop in our tracks.  Does it get more inviting than this?  The black wrought iron is prevalent throughout Chicago. Like brick it is a timeless urban design element that should be employed more in urban neighbourhoods as it creates an immediate sense of place. 

 Another curved staircase that demonstrates the importance of ornamentation and decoration to create pleasant walking streets in urban setting.  The flowers magnify the sense of beauty and pride of ownership. 

Another curved staircase that demonstrates the importance of ornamentation and decoration to create pleasant walking streets in urban setting.  The flowers magnify the sense of beauty and pride of ownership. 

 Not all of the staircases were wrought iron.  This stone staircase provides a nice contrast to the black iron railing.  

Not all of the staircases were wrought iron.  This stone staircase provides a nice contrast to the black iron railing.  

 The contrast of the white house and black railings creates an elegance that is timeless. There are lots of textures and lines that make the street visually interesting for pedestrians.  It is the visual complexity that makes the streets of the Gold Coast great pedestrian streets even though there are no shops.  It would be interesting to see what these streets are like in the winter with no vegetation. 

The contrast of the white house and black railings creates an elegance that is timeless. There are lots of textures and lines that make the street visually interesting for pedestrians.  It is the visual complexity that makes the streets of the Gold Coast great pedestrian streets even though there are no shops.  It would be interesting to see what these streets are like in the winter with no vegetation. 

 Another twin staircase to an upper door that is very rich in its ornamentation.  While the entrance is gated you don't feel shut out like you do with the six foot wood fences so prevalent in new subdivisions.  The lines are clean, concise and clear; making for a inviting sense of space. There is a wonderful interplay of the shadows and light from trees and decorative elements that soften the entire urban landscape. 

Another twin staircase to an upper door that is very rich in its ornamentation.  While the entrance is gated you don't feel shut out like you do with the six foot wood fences so prevalent in new subdivisions.  The lines are clean, concise and clear; making for a inviting sense of space. There is a wonderful interplay of the shadows and light from trees and decorative elements that soften the entire urban landscape. 

The Gold Coast should be on everyone's list of places to visit when in Chicago.  It should also be an inspiration and lesson for developers and planners on the importance of ornamentation and decoration for creating inviting pedestrian streetscapes. 

Window licking in Portlandia!

By Richard White, Community Strategist, Ground3 Landscape Architects

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

Below are some samples from various streets of Portlandia:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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