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.....

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. 


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. 

Whole Foods Lincoln park....

Often when we are travelling we like to check-out the local grocery store, after all Miss B is a nutritionist.  It also fits with our motto "when in Chicago, do as the locals do" which includes grocery shopping.  One evening, after a few days in Chicago's northside we found a brand new Whole Foods and thought lets check it out. Maybe grab a snack and head to our room. WOW!  

First off the place had great "street vibe" as there is pub at the entrance offering over 20 craft beers on tap. Later I found out you can grab a beer and then go shopping, not the other way around.  How civilized?  

There was also a community table at the entrance where several people we busy on their laptops pecking away ear phones in place i.e. they were each in their own little world. You could have been in a cafe in anyplace in the world. In fact part of the the area was designed as a tiki hut with grass roof.  We also learned that all of the furniture had be purchased at local thrift stores as a part of their commitment to the environment.  Miss B, the thrift store queen, loved it! 

We wandered the store a bit and Miss B found the wine bar and saddled up for a drink? To our pleasant surprise there were offering a flight of wines for sampling.  We didn't realize how hungry we were and so we ordered the charcuterie plate and a cheese platter and sat back and enjoyed the show.  

It was interesting to watch as others saddled up to the wine bar, it really was a community hangout.  Some actually just grabbed a bottle of wine from the wine section of the store and brought it over with them had it opened and enjoyed a glass or two and then took the rest home. How civilized? 

We then noticed some people bringing whole meals to the tables behind the wine bar and realized you purchase your food elsewhere in the store and bring it over to enjoy your dinner with a fine wine.   

The "whole" experience was very enjoyable.


The wine bar at Whole Foods store Lincoln Park, Chicago.  There was a nice ambience, even though it was in the middle of a grocery store.  There was great people watching not only at the bar but in the yogurt section as one lady had to climb up on the coolers to check out product at the top, almost falling in as she did so.  

Welcome to Whole Foods in Chicago's Lincoln Park. This is the pub at the entrance to the store.  How welcoming is that?  They even invited the community to come and watch the NHL and NBA playoff games at the pub.  Lots of local craft beers for $4.  

I found out this is the second largest Whole Foods in the chain.  It has several themed restaurants in the store including this '50s style diner. 

I found out this is the second largest Whole Foods in the chain.  It has several themed restaurants in the store including this '50s style diner. 

Don't like diner food, then there is a Smoke House, or Pizza Shop etc. 

Don't like diner food, then there is a Smoke House, or Pizza Shop etc. 

The store is impressive at night.  What you don't realize is that the top of the store is a parking garage.  There area over 400 parking stalls including a small surface lot next door.  Chicago has lots of above ground parked, which are well designed, don't harm the streetscape and cost half the price of underground parking. Good way to balance costs with good urban design.  There are patio table on the street to further enhance the pedestrian friendliness of the street.   

The store is impressive at night.  What you don't realize is that the top of the store is a parking garage.  There area over 400 parking stalls including a small surface lot next door.  Chicago has lots of above ground parked, which are well designed, don't harm the streetscape and cost half the price of underground parking. Good way to balance costs with good urban design.  There are patio table on the street to further enhance the pedestrian friendliness of the street.   

Note: It would be great if Calgary's Eau Claire Market could be converted into a Whole Foods store.  This is exactly what is needed to make this area take-off as a mixed office residential district.  Ideally the streets would be full of town homes and midrise condos with great staircases like those in my blog "stairways to heaven." 

Putting the public back into public art!

Richard White, May 14, 2014

In mid May, I finally got visit to visit Millennium Park in Chicago and wasn't disappointed. Both Jaume Plensa and Anish Kapoor's public artworks were being enjoyed by thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds.

Like architecture, public art should probably not be judged until they are at least 10-years old (which these two pieces are close to being) i.e. once the lust of the new has faded away. 

Both piece allow for significant public engagement which too often is missing from public art. The cameras were out in full force documenting the antics of the public. There must be a billion photos of these two artworks in the world today. 

While we have all seen the skyline photos reflected in Cloud Gate aka the Bean, I was surprised by the more complex and intriguing images generated inside The Cloud.  

Plensa's fountain was just as I expected, except that all of the faces take on a similar visual quality when computerized on the big screen or at least that was the case for the faces I saw on several different days and different times.

Both pieces had the public laughing, playing and smiling something we so rarely see with public art.

Public art isn't public unless it engages the public!  

n example of the wonderful images created when you walk underneath Cloud Gate.  You could spend hours manipulating and playing with the reflections.  

loud Gate has become the place to come to celebrate be that graduations or weddings.  There is a wonderful sense of humanity as people interact with the piece with family and friends both formally and informally.  The piece seems to speak to people of all ages and backgrounds. 

nother example of families experimenting with ways to enjoy the reflection and create their own performance art piece.  Everyone is smiling, laughing and enjoying themselves.  There is a sense of amazement, like a carnival or mid-way.  

Another image of the Crown Fountain at night...it looks almost like a huge flame that lights up the wading pool.  It is just one big happy campfire in the middle of the city that you share with strangers.  

Just a few blocks away are three late 20th century pieces of public art by Picasso, Miro and Calder.  Each of them sit on a corporate plaza with little or no interest from the public.  While they may have captured the public's interest at first, they have become part of the urban landscape and are ignored by the public for the most part.

Last Word

Anyone who is interested in public art, parks and urban placemaking should visit Chicago to see first-hand not only Millennium Park, but also Lincoln Park with its Zoo, Farm and Conservatory.

Chicago is my kind of town!