Calgarians embrace winter.

By Richard White, December 26, 2013

I eagerly looked forward to reading Jeremy Klaszus’ Urban Compass column on what we could learn from Edmonton regarding embracing winter (Calgary’s Metro newspaper on December 23, 2013). However, I was disappointed that while the column talked about Edmonton’s policies and strategies for embracing winter, there was no real evidence they were actually doing so. 

I was expecting to hear about thousands of people skating on quaint neighbourhood ponds evenings and weekends. Maybe about hundreds of people enjoying community toboggan hills with pop-up food trucks, or new ideas for designing playgrounds for year-round use.  Rather I read about a vision of a vibrant winter city that is yet to be realized. 

Read Klaszus' Urban Compass column "Let's do what Edmonton does."

Since Klaszus' column there have been numerous articles in the media about Calgary's winter activities including Annalise Klingbeil's "Backyard rinks make comeback in Calgary" which addresses the many backyard rinks in Calgary inlcuding Snider's curling rink and Rosemont Ice Guys. Read more.

 

 

Calgary's Bowness Lagoon is one of the world's best outdoor skating rinks.  Unfortunately it is closed this winter due to the flood. 

Winter Event Experiments

Calgary has experimented with numerous major winter events over the past 30+ years.  After the 1988 Winter Olympics, annual attempts were made to have a winter carnival in the middle of February.  Several locations were tried – Canada Olympic Park, Olympic Plaza, Prince’s Island and Calgary Zoo - but eventually organizers had to accept there was no support for it. 

This was very disappointing as Quebec City (one of our sister cities) has probably the best winter festival in the world.   You’d think we could learn from them how to plan a major winter festival.

In the past, Calgary has also experimented with a First Night Festival (New Years Eve), which many cities established late in the 20th Century, but again the support for such a winter celebration died a slow death.  

Stephen Avenue with its wonderful winter lights and +15 connections to hotels and office buildings is an indoor outdoor adaptation to winter in Calgary where the temperature can be -30 one day and +10 the next. 

Winnipeg does it best?

Recently, while doing some research on Winnipeg, I discovered they might in fact be the leader in Canada for urban winter activities.  Did you know Winnipeg has the world’s longest skating rink? Yes, longer than Ottawa’s Rideau Canal! 

The Forks, Winnipeg’s equivalent of Granville Island or Calgary’s Stampede Park has numerous outdoor winter activity areas including an Olympic-size skating rink, 1.2 km of skating trails, a snowboard fun park, a toboggan run and warming huts designed by the likes of world renowned architect Frank Gehry.  

They even have Raw: Almond the world’s first pop-up restaurant on a frozen river.  See more winter programming ideas from Winnipeg at the end of the blog.

Thousands of people enjoy the world's longest skating rink in Winnipeg.  Perhaps Calgary could convert some if its pathway system into a skating trail.  (photo courtesy of Tourism Winnipeg) 

Can’t compete with mountains?

I can’t help but wonder if the reason Calgarians don’t embrace winter in large number in our urban parks and public spaces is because we have such a wonderful winter wonderland outside the city.  On any given winter weekend, tens of thousands of Calgarians are in Canmore, Banff, Fernie and Invermere, as well as places in between, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and cross country skiing.

While these outdoor winter activities are available in Edmonton, Quebec City and Winnipeg they are not as prevalent, accessible or grand as Calgary’s. 

Camore Nordic Centre is just one of hundreds of places in the Rockies that thousands of Calgarians, Albertans and tourist flock to in winter to embrace winter. 

Livable Winter Cities Movement

In fact, Calgary was one of the early members of the international winter cities movement in the early ‘80s.  I remember chatting with Calgary planner Harold Hanen (I believe he was one of the founding members) about how we could encourage Calgarians to embrace winter.  Yes Hanen, was the same guy who championed Calgary’s +15 walkway system, which was an adaptation to winter, as was Devonian Gardens.  

At that time urban thinkers were focus on how to mitigate winter by allowing for summer activities indoors.  Our regional recreation centres are part of that thinking with their indoor wave pools, gyms, skating rinks and climbing walls.  

In various chats, with Hanen and other planners, as well as 10 years of trying to develop outdoor winter programming on Stephen Avenue, Olympic Plaza and Prince’s Island I came to the conclusion Calgary probably has as much winter outdoor urban vitality as we are going to get.

Winter Patios?

Klasuzus’ article talks about crating a year-round patio culture, which is a great idea in theory, but downtown Calgary with its concentration of office towers doesn’t allow for any sun on sidewalks.  Winnipeg, Edmonton and places like Copenhagen (thought to be the mecca of winter cities by most planners) have few tall buildings so maybe they will be more successful with winter patios.   

Did you know that all downtown office buildings have conducted shadow and wind studies for many years?  While there are some things you can do to mitigate the sun and wind tunnels created by tall buildings there is only so much you can do? 

It is unfortunate The Bow Tower’s southwest facing plaza doesn’t have patio or even some benches would be a welcome addition to those who want to sit and enjoy the sculpture “Wonderland.”

That being said there are some good winter patios in Calgary.  The Ship & Anchor’s south facing patio on 17th Ave is a very popular winter hangout when the sun is shinning and Chinooks blow in.   Similarly on 10th Street in Kensington, the Roasterie’s west facing pocket plaza is a popular place for SAIT and ACAD students to hang out on a sunny winter afternoon.   

In West Hillhurst, Dairy Lane's east facing patio is very popular and is used almost year-round with the help of blankets and heaters.

Olympic Plaza also gets good sun in the winter for skating and would be a great spot for a winter patio; however, it has never attracted large numbers of skaters.

 

The Ship & Anchor patio and 17th avenue are full of people in March 2013.  

Do Calgarians embrace winter more than we think?

Recently I have chatted with a number of people about winter activities in the city and found out there is more happening than I thought. 

A father of three and ringette coach informed me in Cranston they have an outdoor community rink (with an ice plant to allow for longer use), that is so heavily used they could easily use a second one.  He says it is the same for all of the southeast communities.  He was hoping to find some outdoor ice time for ringette practices at one of the local outdoor rinks, but no luck.

Did you know there are over 100 outdoor rinks in Calgary?

The city of Calgary has five major rinks in Marlborough Park, Carburn Park, Olympic Plaza, Prince’s Island and Prairie Winds (Bowness Park rink is closed this year), as well as 34 “adopt-a-rink” in smaller community parks.  Note: Carburn Park has been expanded with larger ice rink and fire pits due to closure of  Bowness Park. 

All of Calgary’s lake communities have outdoor rinks, as do many of Calgary’s over 200 Community Associations.  One hundred rinks at 100 people per day on weekends would be 10,000 people embracing winter – the number could easily be 20,000 on some days! 

In chatting with other friends they informed me Confederation Park has groomed cross- country ski trails.  A quick check of the City’s website and you find out Shaganappi Point, Confederation and Maple Ridge Golf Courses all have groomed trails.  Ungroomed trails can be found in Weaselhead, Edworthy, Fish Creek and North and South Glemore Parks.  There could easily be a couple of a couple of thousand people embracing winter on these trails on weekends and unless you were there you wouldn't know.  I expect snowshoeing also happens in these and other parks.

Tobboggans / Dogs

The City of Calgary website lists 18 toboggan hills in the city, with the St. Andrew’s Heights hill often cited as the best. I expect there are at least 20 unofficial toboggan hills in the city.   If 100 people used say 25 toboggan hills on a Saturday or Sunday that would be 2,500 Calgarians embracing winter.

Calgary’s dog parks are also busy in the winter with literally thousands of people walking their dog morning, noon and night regardless of the weather.  Did you know Calgary has 150 off-leash areas across the city?  If 100 people on average used each dog park per day that would be 15,000 people embracing winter daily.

Then of course there is Canada Olympic Park with it multi-use winter sports activities, which attracts thousands of Calgarians especially in the evenings and weekends. 

A local rink is used by thousands each winter to learn to skate and play hockey. Often they are next to summer playgrounds turning the space into year-round park.  

Last word

Klaszus ends his column with “If you can’t beat winter, join it.”  I am guess there are over 50,000 people embracing winter on any give Saturday or Sunday. I am thinking that many Calgarians indeed do embrace winter, each in our own way.  Calgary is a city of recreation, we like to get out and do things rather than sit on patios and philosophize. 

While some Calgarians complain about the winter roads and sidewalks, most of us are indeed out enjoying winter activities.  The media sometimes gives a distorted view of Calgary by catering to the complainers! 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Does Calgary have an inferiority complex?

Calgary City of Parks & Pathways 

Calgary Dog Park Capital of North America?

This blog also inspired another blog about "winter" by The23rdStory that looks at both Edmonton and Calgary from a more personal perspective.  Great read...Winter

Readers' Comments:

CW writes from Edmonton:  On a plus 2 Celsius Christmas night we walked the seven blocks of Edmonton's Candy Cane Lane up and down. Lots of people out. This year we were surprised that at least 80 percent of the talk on our walk was not English - most commonly Russian/east European, followed by Chinese, and Indian/south Asian. China and India are our biggest sources of immigration, after the Philippines (and they were there too, I think, but not talking as audibly).

To build our winter culture in Alberta, we should look at inviting those of other cultures that have longer traditions of living socially outdoors, and, as you propose, use technology to support the participants. Of course, through Aboriginals, Alberta has the greatest tradition of outdoor living, but I didn't see them out that night.

A parade of dog walker in January, in River Park, in Altadore is a common sight.   

More lessons from Winnipeg

Perhaps there are some more lessons to be learned from Winnipeg.  Brenda reminded me that a few years back they had a friendly community snowman making competition. Everyone was invited to make a snowman on their front lawn and they wander around looking at each others creation.  I thought it was a great idea at the time and still do.

I couldn't find anything on line to see if it is still happening. Too bad, as it is a simple and inexpensive way to get everyone out embracing winter and meeting their neighbours.  

I have certainly noticed more snowman in Calgary this year with our record December snowfall. I am thinking a Snowman Weekend festival would be easy to organize. Could be an impromptu festival that happens when we have snow and weather permitting.  

This could be the tallest snowman I have ever seen over 15 feet.  Somebody in Calgary was embracing winter. The park across the street from our house now has 3 snowman. 

I found this old relic of a toboggan slide in a playground area with an outdoor rink and summer playing fields in Winnipeg this past November.  I have never seen these anywhere else but Winnipeg. What a great idea to make playgrounds year-round attractions for families. 

Winter photography great fun....mountain or city! This image is from Grassi Lake trail...Canmore AB!

Woodbine is wonderful!

By: Richard White / November 2, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Estate living.....

Dogs as a catalyst for healthier happier city?

By Richard White, September 9, 2013

Dog Parks and Disneyland

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

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

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

Catalyst for healthy living

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downtown needs to be more dog-friendly.

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

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

As a non-dog owner, the increasing importance of dogs in our contemporary urban culture continues to amaze me.  I think this is especially true for groups like the young professional and empty nester cultures — which, coincidentally, are also the primary markets for urban living. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising then that we are seeing more dogs along our urban side- walks and pathways and in our parks and plazas.

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

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

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

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

I appreciate that owning a dog in an urban centre presents a unique set of challenges.  How is housebreaking accomplished in a high-rise building?  Where and how can a large, energetic dog be exercised?  How can a dog be taught to ignore distractions such as traffic congestion and noise, crowded sidewalks, bicycles, roller bladers, interesting trash, back alleys, roadways — and, of course, other dogs?

One solution occurring in places such as Atlanta, Houston, Dallas and Phoenix (who knew these were hot spots for urban living?) is the creation of “bark parks.” These differ from “off-leash” areas in that they are parks solely for the use of dogs and their owners.

They are often small parcels of land that are too small for development. They are fenced off and self-governed by a set of rules, much like a daycare (for example, dogs must behave, dogs must be accompanied by an owner, dogs must be healthy and owners must clean up after their dogs).  Some bark parks also have playground-like equipment for dogs to jump over, climb up and so on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

It used to be that urban planners were primarily interested in making urban areas more pedestrian-friendly places, but now they also have to ensure they are also dog friendly.

As a Calgary urbanite for 20 years, I have certainly seen this evolution happening on my street, in the park across from my house and at the “off leash” area a few blocks away.

Comments:

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

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

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Our Country Estate Voyeur Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

A sample of the architectural styles and materials allowed. 

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

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

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

Hockey nets and trampolines are everywhere.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary: Dog Park Capital of North America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Calgary Herald Urban Living Column, March 2007 

Downtown needs to be more dog-friendly! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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