Cowtown: The GABEster Capital of North America

By Richard White, January 2, 2014

Given my love of acronyms, I created the term “GABEster” (Geologists, Accountants, Bankers, Brokers and Engineers) as a bit of a joke in my Calgary Herald Neigbours column (titled White House) where I profiled Calgary’s hipster Beltline community.

"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)." Calgary Herald Neighbours, October 31, 2013.

The column reflected on my recent trips to Chicago’s Wicker Park and Bucktown, as well as Portland’s Pearl District – all three considered to be amongst the best hipster communities in the USA and how Calgary’s Beltline district was as good if not better than not only those three trendy urban villages, but also ones in Vancouver, San Francisco and San Diego.

I pointed out while Calgary has lots of hipsters (counter culture or bohemians types), our urban villagers are more likely to be professionals i.e. geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers than bohemians. 

Since then I have used the GABEster in various social and business circles, getting very positive responses suggesting that indeed the term is very useful in helping understand and articulate Calgary’s unique urban culture.

 

Calgary's GABEsters take over Stephen Avenue Walk at lunch hour to stroll the street, grab some lunch or people watch. Photo Credit: Jeff Trost 

The pocket protector is history!

 For several generations, Calgary’s oil patch has been a magnet for attracting the best young GABEsters from across Canada and more recently internationally.  A quick check of Calgary Economic Development’s website finds that Calgary currently has 22,500 engineers, 16,700 accountants and 5,300 geologists (though I couldn’t find any numbers for bankers and brokers, it has to be at least as many as the engineers i.e. 20,000+more) - and there is a critical need for lots more. 

 The Hill Strategies Research Inc. study of “Artists in Large Canadian Cities” (March 2006) identified that Calgary had 4,575 total artists based on 2001 census figures.  This number had increased by 46% since 1991 so the number today might be 7,000+ range, about 1% of the workforce.  

Obviously, Calgary’s GABEsters, outnumber hipsters by about 10 to 1.

Many of Calgary’s young GABEsters live in the residential communities surrounding the downtown core where the majority work in the 40+ million square feet of office space.  The common stereotype of engineers and high tech workers is that they lack social skills, have no fashion sense and are pragmatic loners.

Bankers, brokers and accountants may have a little more fashion sense with the suits and ties, however, more and more the tie has been lost and the suits are more trendy that traditional. 

They may all be right brain thinkers by day, but many of the current generation of GABEsters are just as much into fashion, music and street life as the so-called creative class. And yes, they are also just as likely to be wearing skinny jeans and funky glasses – maybe not at work, but after hours.

The days of the pocket protector have long disappeared! 

GABEsters are big bikers...Bow Cycle in Bowness is one of the largest bike shops in the world. 

Definition of a hipster (Urban Dictionary)

“Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20's and 30's that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter.

The greatest concentrations of hipsters can be found living in the Williamsburg, Wicker Park, and Mission District neighborhoods of major cosmopolitan centers such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco respectively.”

“Although "hipsterism" is really a state of mind, it is also often intertwined with distinct fashion sensibilities. Hipsters reject the culturally-ignorant attitudes of mainstream consumers, and are often seen wearing vintage and thrift store and local boutique-inspired fashions, tight-fitting jeans, old-school sneakers, and sometimes thick- rimmed glasses.”

“Both hipster men and women sport similar androgynous hairstyles that include combinations of messy shag cuts and asymmetric side-swept bangs. Such styles are often associated with the work of creative stylists at urban salons, and are usually too "edgy" for the culturally-sheltered mainstream consumer.” 

Calgary is home to 60+ live music venues.

GABEsters checking out CUFF! Cowtown's Underground Film Festival. 

Cowtown's Counter Culture / Indie Activities 

Calgary’s downtown supports a café culture superior to both Portland and Chicago with independent cafes on almost every corner.  While some are upscale, tony places, others are more grass roots with some being off the beaten path.  Café Rosso, located on an old industrial site next to a chicken-processing factory in the southeastern edge of Ramsay, is perhaps the best example of Calgary’s GABEster coffee klatch culture.   

Calgary is also quickly becoming North America’s next great “music city” with numerous weekend afternoon jams, 60+ live music venues, one of North America’s best international folk music festivals and the increasingly popular Sled Island indie-music festival.  Calgary’s Mike Clark Band and Tim Williams  will be participating the Memphis International Blues Competition in Jan 2014.

GABEsters love homemade ice cream in "off the beaten path" villages.

GABEsters love homemade ice cream in "off the beaten path" villages.

Calgary is also home to the world’s second largest collection of keyboard instruments including one of Elton John’s first pianos and the first MOOG synthesizer. And our city will soon be home to Canada’s National Music Centre - 2015.  How cool is that.

Shaw Millennium Park’s was one of the first big outdoor skate parks in North America. Today, it is still one of the largest (75,000 square feet of skateable surface) and best. It doesn’t get more counter-culture than that.  

Inglewood’s Recordland houses between 500,000 to 1,000,000 records and is a regular stop for visiting DJs and bands. Just a block away, the Crown Surplus store has supplied equipment to the film industry for over 45 years – Little Big Man, Superman, Brokeback Mountain to name a few. Cher has also been known to shop there. It doesn’t get more hipster (whoops GABEster) that this. 

If looking for some music memorabilia, look no further than Heritage Posters and Music in Calgary’s newest trendy district SunAlta.  It is an easy spot to find, as the back wall is a mural of the Rolling Stones tongue logo made with actual records.

Flea Market 

The trendy Hillhurst Sunnyside community just north of the downtown core is not only home to many traditional hipsters given its proximity to the Alberta College of Art and Design, but is also home to an experimental container village. It is also home to a Sunday flea market, which has been operating for over 40 years.

Yoga

If yoga studios are a key indicator of hipsters, Calgary’s may have one of the highest concentrations in North America. Within 5 kilometers of downtown, there is an estimated 30 to 40 yoga studios.  

I saw way more yoga mats being carried on the streets of Calgary than I did in either Chicago or Portland. 

GABEster fashions Cowtown style.

Lukes Drug Mart is part cafe (Stumptown Coffee), part record store, part grocery store and a post office.

Last Word

Cowtown has been called “a city built by engineers” in reference to the fact that much of our architecture and urban design from the ‘70s to the ‘90s was dominated more by function than form. 

Recently however, the tide has changed with projects like the Calatrava Peace Bridge, The Bow and Eight Avenue Place office towers, as well as the redesign of 7th Avenue LRT stations and the futuristic design of the West LRT stations. 

Cowtown's city centre has indeed become one of North America's gabest places to "work, live and play."

Don't believe me - check out Josh Noel's travel piece on Calgary in the Chicago Tribune: Calgary: Pedal to the metal Poutine at 3 am!!!

Pictures below don't lie...Calgary has a very vibrate GABE community. 

 

GABEsters playing Bocci Ball at lunch at the Courthouse Park. How cool is that? Photo Credit: Jeff Trost 

GABEster climbing Plensa's "Wonderland" scultpture at lunch...public art as urban playground for adults? 

Amy Thiessen and friends at Ironwood.  GABEsters love their local music scene. 

GABEsters at the folk festival.

GABEsters love their patio culture even in the winter. 

GABEsters heading to work...

GABEsters love Shaw Millennium Park and the new condos just across the street....

GABEsters love indie films...and festivals.

GABEsters love yoga...

GABEsters love to paddle! Undercurrents in Bowness is just one of many paddle shops.