Freakn Fun Funky Quirky (FFQ) Bike Racks

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

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

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

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


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

Do we use the word to loosely today? 

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

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

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

A city is a city…

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

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

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

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

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

Future Dividends?

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

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

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

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

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

Portlandia has FFQ bike racks too…

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

Art / Decoration / Tacky?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

FFQing in Tri-cities 

FFQing Udderly Art Pasture

Downtown Fun: Spokane 

Window Licking in Chicago

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

By Richard White / October 31, 2013 

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

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

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

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

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

Eight High Streets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Walk 2 Work 

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

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

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

New Condos On Every Block

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

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

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

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

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

Density & Diversity 

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

GG writes: "I like the term Gabesters."  

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

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

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

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

Treasure hunting in Portland

By Richard White, October 13, 2013

This blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's Travel Section, October 11, 2013.  This is the original text and I have added photos that specifically relate to our " Portland treasure hunt." 

Unlike many tourists, finding a souvenir is never the last thing we do on a holiday; in fact we make it an integral activity of every holiday. Everywhere we go, our challenge is to find an artwork or artifact for under $50, to add to our growing “unknown artists” collection.  The thrill-of-the-hunt (TOTH) takes us to some pretty interesting places - from warehouse districts to weekend garage sales in upscale neighbourhoods. As a result, we see the cities we visit from many unexpected and often unusual perspectives.

Portland may well be the TOTH capital of North America.  It seemed almost every block we visited had someplace nerdy, quirky or funky shop to explore. And a bonus for TOTH seekers is that Oregon has no sales tax; what you see is what you pay.

Fall is a great time to explore Portland, with its thriving arts scene in full swing and stores well stocked for Christmas.  While it might be a bit cooler, the upside is that there are fewer tourists, meaning you get a better feel for the real Portland and its charming bobo (bohemian/bourgeois) culture.

This photo documents The Good Mod's expansive space and fun installation of its vintage pieces. 

Best Portland “TOTH” Hot Spots

The Good Mod (1313 W Burnside St.), located on the top floor of a four-story, almost empty warehouse in the middle of downtown is full of amazing salvaged items creatively displayed - including chairs hanging from the walls and ceiling. Not an easy place to find, but an intriguing adventure just to getting there. A sandwich board on the sidewalk directed us down a barren hallway to an old elevator (remember the ones with the manual metal sliding doors) and handwritten sign saying Good Mod was on the fourth four. It looked a bit sketchy.  But once those creaky elevator doors opened, our eyes bugged out at the 17,000 square foot warehouse space. We scored some funky lettering and a vintage piece of photographic equipment. We really needed a truck! 

Just one of the many vintage clothing shops along Hawthorne.  There are also great vintage furniture and home accessory stores. 

Then there’s Hawthorne Boulevard, a 15-block mecca of vintage clothing, accessories, home décor, art and furniture shops. Our first stop was the House of Vintage (3315 SE Hawthorne Blvd), a flea market-like shop with dozens of rooms full of vintage artifacts from erotica to exotica.  The Goodwill (3557 SE Hawthorne Blvd) is a must-visit. It’s the most upscale thrift store we have found in our 15 years of thrifting, including Hong Kong and Paris. Hawthorne is also home to Powell’s Books Home & Garden shop (3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd) for those with green thumbs.

Alberta Street is like Hawthorne’s twin sister, but with a more “art gallery” bent.  Little Axe Records (5012 NE 28th Ave) is in a cottage house just off of Alberta, where I picked up a Howlin’ Wolf Chess Masters 24-track double album.  Nearby is Monograph Bookwerks (5005 NE 27th Ave), a delightful very tiny, well-organized shop full of art, architecture and interior design books and artifacts. Thought we didn’t pick up souvenir here, but we were oh so tempted.  Gardino Gallery & Gift Shop (2939 NE Alberta) was our favourite gallery with its eclectic selection of contemporary artwork at surprisingly modest prices.  If you can, plan to take in Alberta Street’s  “Last Thursday” art celebration. 

Bookwerks is tucked away on a side street so you could easily miss it. But it had many treasures for those interested in art, architecture and artifacts. 

Downtown’s Powell’s Books (1005 W Burnside St.) is THE place to hunt down that out-of-print book you have been desperately seeking.  I found a 50th anniversary edition of Jane Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” Grab a map when you go in as this is the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world – 68,000 square feet! I could have spent all day there - the blues section alone was a good hour of browsing.

“Lodekka Double Decker Dress Shop,” a vintage (1965) Lodekka double-decker bus (nicknamed “Ginny”) that operated in Liverpool from 1965 to 1982 has its second life as a vintage shop jam-packed with retro clothes, jewelry and accessories.  Lodekka is located on a plaza next to Lompoc’s Sidebar and Hopworks Bike Bar on Portland’s newest hip street – N Williams Ave. 

This is lovely Lodekka with her front lawn / patio.  How cool, quirky and fun is this. 

The historic Heathman Hotel (1001 SW Broadway) is worth a “look see.” Though most famous as the place where many of the antics in “50 Shades of Grey” book took place, for us it was where we discovered Cacao, Portland’s premier “bean to bar” chocolate store in a tiny space just off the lobby.  Cacao sources the best craft chocolate makers in the world (a chocolate maker makes its own chocolate from the coco bean, while chocolatiers use someone else’s chocolate). Sampling at Cacao is encouraged.  On a cool fall day, a hot chocolate from Cacao will warm you up in just one sip! Undoubtedly, chocolate makes a good souvenir, but it unfortunately just doesn’t last too long once you get it home. It will be a tough choice as to what flavor to take home, with 40 to 50 different favours at any given time including Miso, Foie Gras and Olive Oil.

William Temple House of Thrift (2230 NW Glison St.), just a few blocks off the tony NW 23rd Avenue shopping street (where shops like Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn can be found), was where we scored our “Portland” artwork. They had a lot of interesting art, but we settled on a nice M.T. Sharm mixed-media collage for a mere $25. 

One of the display cases of chocolates at Cacao! 

This is the artwork of the unknown artist that we found at the William Temple House of Thrift.  Don't you love that name?

“Just One More Block”

“Just one more block” quickly became the mantra of our Portland trip as it seemed just when we thought there was nothing more to see ahead, one of us would say; “just one more block.” And, lo and behold, there was something of interest everytime!

In one case, we found an old community center closing down. With lots of junk to root through - records, musical equipment, books, dishes and despite no lights (building’s power was off), Brenda was able to sniff out several pieces of a mannequin including an arm she bought to display her bracelet collection. When unpacking her suitcase back in Calgary, she noticed a “your bag has been inspected” sticker. We can only imagine what US security thought when her suitcase went through the X-ray machine.

Want a TOTH Guide?

If you’re short on time, or if you aren’t comfortable exploring on your own, Rose Bonomo offers custom tours that take you to her favourite “off-the-radar” shops. All you do is answer a simple questionnaire. From there, she customizes your tour providing transportation and treasure hunting opportunities along the way. One of her favourite places for mid-century furniture and accessories is Vintage Design Collective located in a historic Masonic Lodge (7126 SE Milwuakie Ave). Or perhaps you’d prefer Maven Collective (7819 SE Stark St.), which is more like an art gallery with its carefully curated vignettes.  And then there is Red Fox Vintage (3014 NE Killingsworth St.) where 20 vintage vendors offer everything from oddities to shabby chic treasures. She has tons of TOTH hot spots to show you. For more information: www.portlanddetours

We have only scratched the surface of TOTH places to check out in Portland.  While our passion is art and artifacts, yours might be local fashion designers or perhaps the over 60 craft breweries or small batch local distilleries. Foodies willlove checking out the 700= food carts.  Indeed, Portland has something for everyone’s taste. 

While not all of the streets of Portland are lined with food carts there are lots of them around.  Technically they are not food trucks as they don't move from location to location, they are set up permanently in parking lots throughout the city centre. 

Where To Stay?

If you want to explore the downtown, Pearl District, Old Town and the Northwest district, Hotel Modera, a hip chic boutique hotel is ideally situated. It is within easy walking distance to these districts, as well as to the Art Museum and other attractions.  

If you want to explore Alberta Avenue, Hawthorne Boulevard, Mississippi/Williams Avenues and other east side spots, the Red Lion Convention Centre Hotel is a great choice. It is right on the LRT and streetcar lines and has commanding view of the Downtown from its rooftop restaurant.

The view of the Portland Convention Center from the Red Lion's Convention Centre Hotel. 

The Hotel Modera's lobby is very inviting with its modern art and furniture.  I could live here.  

The Hotel Modera's lobby is very inviting with its modern art and furniture.  I could live here.  

Olympic Plaza needs mega makeover?

Reader Comments re: Olympic Plaza needs a mega makeover?

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

Derek Besant on his  Olympic Plaza SONGLINES project: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog: Everyday Tourist  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary: North America's Newest Cafe City?

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

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

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

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

Cafe Rosso's flagship store at Ramsay Exchange. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street walking in Portlandia

By Richard White, Community Strategist, Ground3 Landscape Architects

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

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

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

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

Our Portlandia Flaneuring Finds were:

#1             The Good Mod, Downtown

#2             Axe Records, Alberta Avenue

#3             Bookwerks, Alberta Avenue

#4             Tonalli’s Doughnuts, Alberta Avenue

#5             House of Vintage, Hawthorne Boulevard

#6             Powell Books, Downtown

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

#8             Sunlan Lightbulbs, North Mississippi Avenue

#9             Lodekka Vintage Bus, North Williams Avenue   

#10           Zenka Street Artwork, Alberta Avenue


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This blog is sponsored by Red Lion Hotels

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



Lessons learned flaneuring North America!


By Richard White, revised July 20, 2014 

Top Ten Lesson Learned Flaneuring

  1. Thou shalt always look all ways – up and down, left and right, inside and out.
  2. Thou shalt stop often to look, listen and reflect.  
  3. Thou shalt choose comfort over fashion – especially when it comes to footwear.
  4. Thou shalt think like a boy scout - be prepared for wind, rain, snow, sleet and sun!
  5. Thou shalt take the sidewalk/path/road/stairs/trail less travelled at all times.
  6. Thou shalt honour thy “holy weekend” by going for at least one long walk to somewhere new and different.
  7. Thou shalt smell the flowers – as well as the food, sewers and exhaust... and embrace them all!
  8. Thou shalt never over research or over plan your trip. 
  9. Thou shalt not let photo-taking detract from “experiencing the moment.”
  10. Thou shalt attempt to “get lost” as often as possible.

Some Random Flaneur Finds

Green Apple Books was a great find when we were in San Francisco.  The entire Clement Street district was discovered when we wandered away from the Haight Asbury area. 

Calgary's Inglewood community is still home to two barns just off the city's original Main Street. 

I love to flaneur my own neighbourhood and I am always amazed at what I find even after 30 years. 

This ivy covered warehouse in Chicago was pleasant flaneur surprise. 

We stopped in a Dottie's, in Circleville, Utah on Highway #89 on our epic 8,907 km spring 2014 road trip to stretch our legs.  It was here that we learned where to find the Butch Cassidy's family homestead and that Dottie's has the best German Chocolate cake ever. And, it was only $2 for a huge piece.  We will be back. 

Found this live work play sign on a window in downtown Memphis. Live work play has been my mantra for over 25 years. 

Found this live work play sign on a window in downtown Memphis. Live work play has been my mantra for over 25 years. 

I had time to kill while Brenda was shopping so I went flaneuring and found the Good Mod literally by accident. Found an odd sandwich board leading to what looked like an abandoned warehouse in downtown Portland. In fact,  it lead me to an old elevator to upper floor where I found this salvage warehouse space. Too cool! 

I had time to kill while Brenda was shopping so I went flaneuring and found the Good Mod literally by accident. Found an odd sandwich board leading to what looked like an abandoned warehouse in downtown Portland. In fact,  it lead me to an old elevator to upper floor where I found this salvage warehouse space. Too cool! 

The iron stairs in Chicago's Gold Coast neighbourhood - the best streetscape in the world!

The iron stairs in Chicago's Gold Coast neighbourhood - the best streetscape in the world!

Flaneuring in Ottawa we managed to sniff out this "off off" the beaten path bakery. 

Flaneuring in Ottawa we managed to sniff out this "off off" the beaten path bakery. 

A block off the Vegas strip is a retro pre "Ronald" McDonalds. 

A block off the Vegas strip is a retro pre "Ronald" McDonalds.