Canadian Museum for Human Rights: Money Well Spent?

I received the comments below from childhood friend Bill Browett and thought that EDT readers would enjoy his insightful perspective on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and Human Rights.  I have received many other comments from readers which I have added to the end of the blog.  I hope you will enjoy this revised blog. 

Bill Browett writes:

I have been thinking about this blog since you sent the link out. Rather than focus on whether the money was well spent, I was struck by your subtitle …

“Museum without artifacts …  One of the things I associate with great museums and art galleries is allowing visitors the opportunity to see things you can’t see anywhere else.  “

I too love seeing the artifacts, but mostly when I go to museums and art galleries what I am doing is looking at the stories that are told … the meta messages … Stories that reveal the attitudes and aspirations of the curators, owners, and artisans in both the artifacts and messages. Public institutions tend to tell institutional stories, and institutions pretty much by definition are conservative. Dissenting opinion is often. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) is no exception, as noted by “WB”.

Canadians have played pivotal roles in the progress of Human Rights … e.g., the creation of the UN "Universal Declaration of Human Rights” … I am all for celebrating both the positive contributions … However, these celebrations are empty and appear only as propaganda, if the institutions do not reconcile and work to reconcile Canadian failures, and entrenched cultural bigotries whether colonial and tribal [e.g., European biases] histories, e..g, genocidal policies, such as the Residential School program for First Nations children, and failure to include reconciliation in the Truth and Reconciliation process that is on-going.

I will visit the CMHR if I manage to make it to Winnipeg. Nonetheless, if the website is any indication, https://humanrights.ca/exhibit, this museum has failed to capture not only the rich, and on occasion dark history of the human rights struggles in Canada, but the CMHR has not put into a global context the Canadian struggles and contributions. … We are left with what I call a “happy face” institutional interpretation … sanitized and romanticized versions of the past.

If the CMHR, as the website suggests, has very narrowly defined the history of Human Rights, as I suspect, … then it has done a significant disservice to the many, many Canadians who have deeply sacrificed in these struggles, and worse does a disservice to current and future generations by suggesting that there are not serious conflicting histories of what Human Rights are.

Perhaps the "expressions" section of the website captures my concerns better than most, and illustrates the point of institutional messaging … (https://humanrights.ca/exhibit/expressions

 “Developed by the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, this travelling exhibition explores the ways that Canadians have defined, made and kept peace at home and around the world. Peace is examined on three levels: how we negotiate to obtain and protect it; how we organize and demonstrate to demand it; and, sometimes, how we fight to achieve it."

To no one’s surprise, and as someone who has been an active participant in the Canadian peace movement all his adult life, the content in the "expressions” section is a very narrow definition of how "Canadians have defined, made and kept peace at home and around the world."

For many of us, on many levels, Human Rights struggles continue both in Canada and around the world. Appropriately, this is the season for such reflections.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights: Money Well Spent???????

By Richard White, December 10, 2014

The September 2014 opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) in Winnipeg was probably one of the most anticipated, new 21st century buildings in Canada. It is the first new national museum since1967 and the first outside the National Capital Region.  The design is strange, intriguing, and not just a big box museum. In the words of Antoine Predock, the architect, “ the abstract ephemeral wings of a white dove embrace a mythic stone mountain of 450-million year old Tyndall limestone in the creation of a unifying and timeless landmark.”

 Indeed, the building is a new landmark and tourist attraction for the City of Winnipeg and another wonderful new addition to the city’s urban meeting place, The Forks, which is on par with places like Vancouver’s Granville Island.

 On a recent visit to the Winnipeg, I had a chance to tour (two plus hours) the CMHR. And while I was initially impressed by the design and the exhibitions, something seemed to be wrong. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but gradually I began to question whether Winnipeg - and Canada for that matter - got full value for the $350 million cost.

CHRM looking east is a strange juxtaposition of shapes.

The "Welcome Wall" video has a series of shadow figures who quickly enter write the word "welcome" in various different languages and then exit.

The entrance to the first exhibition hall is along this dramatic and sombre hallway. 

Museum without artifacts

 One of the things I associate with great museums and art galleries is allowing visitors the opportunity to see things you can’t see anywhere else.  CMHR has very few unique artifacts consist mainly of text and videos.  In many ways, this museum’s experience is like walking through a huge documentary film at your own pace.  This got me to thinking again perhaps a series of documentaries could have worked just as well.

 I was also struck by the fact there wasn’t much “new” in the museum; most of the information is available to anyone with a computer and Internet.  One really has to rethink the role of museums in the 21st century.

 Interesting to that the museum’s website has no video of the exhibitions – not even a short “teaser “one. I can’t but help but wonder if they realized that if they did a good video tour, there would be no need to go to the museum. 

 There are quotes from individuals scattered throughout the museum. 

There are quotes from individuals scattered throughout the museum. 

IMG_7322.jpg
  The first exhibition hall is dominated by a wall that documents the history of human rights on the left and video on the right. The wooden basket at the end is a small theatre space for a video.  

The first exhibition hall is dominated by a wall that documents the history of human rights on the left and video on the right. The wooden basket at the end is a small theatre space for a video.  

  Detail of the history wall.

Detail of the history wall.

  Several of the exhibition halls are dominated by a large billboard like video screen with words and images. 

Several of the exhibition halls are dominated by a large billboard like video screen with words and images. 

  Children loved the interactive floor of colour. As each person stepped onto the floor they were surrounded by a ring of colour and as you moved closer to others your coloured rings joined.  If there are enough people, and you worked together you get the whole floor to light up. 

Children loved the interactive floor of colour. As each person stepped onto the floor they were surrounded by a ring of colour and as you moved closer to others your coloured rings joined.  If there are enough people, and you worked together you get the whole floor to light up. 

Opportunities Lost

Any museum that is focused on human rights is going to be controversial, and if it isn’t, it is not doing its job. This is an even larger issue when it is funded by the Federal government, with the many political considerations and constraints. This museum needs much more in the way of interactive and thought provoking exhibits.  There is no shortage of topical human rights issues in today’s world; it simply takes the freedom and courage to address them.

One of the most memorable exhibits is Jamie Blacks’ The REDress Project (see photo) that looks at violence towards aboriginal women.  Winnipeg and Manitoba have the largest First Nation and Metis population of any city or province in Canada and this population is rising at four times the overall rate of the city and province.  Governments at all levels are struggling with First Nation housing, education, health and crime challenges that are not being addressed. There is no shortage of aboriginal issues that could be dealt with in this museum in a thought-provoking and illuminating way.

Another of Canada’s most pressing current human rights issues is the chronic unemployment or underemployment of disabled Canadians who want to work but can’t find job.  Perhaps the money might have been better spent on job creation programs for the disabled.

And there are many other topical issues of today – violence against women, increasing government surveillance of the general population, the militarization of police forces, the role of women in today’s major religions, abuses of civil rights under the banner of the fight against terrorism, and on. This museum could be a beacon of light if it had some ideas for solutions.

Perhaps some of the space could be utilized for the topical issues of today, and allow outside organizations could develop the exhibits without bureaucratic or political interference.  The museum needed to focus more on how could we move from awareness to action. Now that would be a museum worth a visit.

 

  Jaime Black, The REDress Project, 2010 to present, empty dresses collected by community donation with digital backdrop. The REDress Project is an ongoing public art installation. It is a response to the overwhelming number of missing or murdered Aboriginal women across Canada. The installation seeks to engage the public in discussion about the sexist and racist nature of violent crimes against Indigenous women. 

Jaime Black, The REDress Project, 2010 to present, empty dresses collected by community donation with digital backdrop. The REDress Project is an ongoing public art installation. It is a response to the overwhelming number of missing or murdered Aboriginal women across Canada. The installation seeks to engage the public in discussion about the sexist and racist nature of violent crimes against Indigenous women. 

  Photo of residential school.  The information panel included the following quote: "I want to get rid of the Indian problem...Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic..." Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs, 1913 to 1931. 

Photo of residential school.  The information panel included the following quote: "I want to get rid of the Indian problem...Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic..." Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs, 1913 to 1931. 

Japanese

Big & Bold Architecture

 While the vastness of the building is part of its provocative statement, one can’t help but wonder, why there is so much empty space.  My guess is that less than 50% of the buildings’ space is utilized for exhibitions and offices.  This means incredible cost for heating and air-conditioning the building, especially with Winnipeg’s long cold winters and hot summers. 

One rumour I heard was that it will cost $100,000 a year just for window cleaning.

One of the biggest issues facing most major museums across Canada today is operating cost; this is not going to be efficient building to operate. 

The interior of the museum is dominated by a floor to ceiling atrium that filled with ramps that take you from floor to floor. The luminous walls are an interesting visual metaphor for the "enlightenment" that the museum is trying to foster.

While the ramps and atrium create a very haunting and perhaps uplifting space, it takes up 50% of the museum space.

The glass walls from the inside are an intricate and rhythmic pattern that fragments the visitors view of the city. 

Even when you look up to the tower, the view is blocked by all of the mechanical pipes and girders - there is no sense of awe that you might expect.

It is strange to have a glass wall that is blocked by so many lines.

Last Word

After a few days of mulling my CMHR experience over, I continue to think the $350 million spent to build a human rights museum and probably another $10 million per year to operate it, might have been better spent actually dealing with the human rights issues themselves.

I would highly recommend that if you are in Winnipeg that you visit CMHR and decide for yourself if it was "money well spent!"

If you like this blog, you might like:

The dirt on the Museum of Clean

Phoenix: Musical Instrument Museum

Calgary: Military Museums

Readers' Responses:

CW writes: 

Your blog is written rather mildly. Perhaps the CMHR building could be repurposed as Museum of the Scams We Have to Endure in This Life: the CMHR structure, the Edmonton Oilers & Toronto Maple Leafs, Bre-X, the music industry for the last 40 years, and now the Wildrose Party of Alberta. Blog that one please.

KG writes: 

I asked myself this question as well and I do believe it's money poorly spent. From my perspective, the internet allows us to reach people with almost all the content contained in the museums walls – focussing just a quarter of the money on digital media content, rather than a lavish physical monument could have led to something exciting.  Now, granted that won't bring tourists. But, will the physical museum? I doubt it, especially not repeat visits.And don't even get me started on "starchitects" designing sculptures instead of functional spaces. How many human rights were violated to get all that steel just to tie the glass facade to the actual building.

JR writes: 

I fear that a third of a billion dollars was thrown down a rat hole. Question: what part of the money was raised from private citizens; from public companies; from “we the people”? Question: where does the $10M annual operation cost come from, speculate “we the people”? Question: how are they measuring the gigantic influx of tourists who are surely flying from all over the planet to see the museum?

Anyway the real depressing part is the annual cost. Assuming a “cap rate of 5.5”, I make it that there is a negative valuation ($181,000,000) i.e. to lose $10,000,000 annually“we the people” have to deploy $181,000,000 of capital earning 5.5% return to support it, all that after deploying $350,000,000 that makes no return. Poor bloody taxpayer.

WB writes: 

Great and inquisitive article on the CMHR. Many people I know in Winnipeg have little interest in visiting the museum owing to a litany of issues. You mentioned the $10m in annual operating costs but I believe e the figure is pegged at around $26m give or take a mill.

Why? No mention of Aboriginal genocide. No Palestinian causes represented. Only 4 of the 11 galleries completed? Why? ETC. "Controversial" starts with exclusions and lots of pink slips. The CMHR may be the first politically directed public cultural museum in Canadian history and that story has yet to be aired in public.

 

 

 

Calgary's MAC attack

Over the next few months, Calgary’s planners and politicians are going to experience a “MAC attack” as developers present plans for new Major Activity Centers (MAC) on the west and north edges of the city. 

What is a MAC you ask?  The City of Calgary Municipal Development Plan defines it as an urban center for a sub-region of the city providing opportunities for people to work, live, shop, recreate, be entertained and meet their daily needs.  

MAC is not a new idea

In the early ‘90s, the City’s Go Plan called for “mini-downtowns” at the edge of the city and in many ways a MAC is like a small city downtown with a main street and offices surrounded by low rise residential development.  Then in the early 21st century, planners started using terms like “urban villages” and “transit-oriented development (TOD)” for mixed-use (residential, commercial) developments that incorporated live, work, play elements.

The problem with TOD was that in many cases Calgary’s new communities were getting developed years before the transit infrastructure was actually in place. For example, Quarry Park and SETON in the southeast are both being developed today along the future SE LRT route, but the trains won’t arrive for probably another 15+ years away.

TOD also had other limitations, as MACs are not always right next to major transit routes, but more oriented toward major roadways in the city. For example, the Currie Barracks has all of the attributes of MAC but no major transit connections. Its focus is more on Crowchild Trail and Glenmore Trail, with Mount Royal University and the Westmont Business Park and ATCO site redevelopment as its employment centre.   

  Currie Barracks Mount Royal University is just one of several Major Activity Centres (MACs) identified by the City of Calgary as places where vibrant mixed-use urban density developments should take place. The numbers refer to various amenities like parks, schools, shopping etc.

Currie Barracks Mount Royal University is just one of several Major Activity Centres (MACs) identified by the City of Calgary as places where vibrant mixed-use urban density developments should take place. The numbers refer to various amenities like parks, schools, shopping etc.

  An example of a street in Currie Barracks where attached houses are nestled together with shared front lawns, narrow sidewalks and alleys. 

An example of a street in Currie Barracks where attached houses are nestled together with shared front lawns, narrow sidewalks and alleys. 

  MACs have a enhanced sidewalks leading to public spaces and shopping areas, which make for more pedestrian and wagon friendly streets .  Also note the open storm water area which allows for natural water run off for vegetation. 

MACs have a enhanced sidewalks leading to public spaces and shopping areas, which make for more pedestrian and wagon friendly streets. Also note the open storm water area which allows for natural water run off for vegetation. 

  This is a back alley in Currie Barracks with a mix of traditional garages and laneway housing. 

This is a back alley in Currie Barracks with a mix of traditional garages and laneway housing. 

MAC 101

The City’s Municipal Development Plan has some very specific guidelines when it comes to what is a MAC, these include:

  1.  200 jobs per gross developable hectare (a hectare is approximately the size of two CFL football fields including the end zones).
  2.  Provide a business centre/employment center; this could be an independent office buildings or office/medical space above retail.
  3.  Range of housing types – single-family, town and row housing, medium-density condos (under 6 floors), rental and affordable housing
  4.  Large format retail (big box) should be at the edge of the MAC to allow access from other communities
  5. Pedestrian/transit-friendly design i.e. pedestrians and transit have priority over cars. For example, vehicle parking should design to minimize impact on transit and pedestrian activities, ideally underground.
  6.  Diversity of public spaces i.e. plazas, playgrounds, pocket parks and pathways.  Sports fields should be located at the edge of the MAC as they take up large tracts of land and are only used seasonally.  Planners want to keep as many higher uses clustered together near the LRT or Main Street.

While these are useful guidelines, they should not be prescriptive, as each site must be allowed to develop based on its unique site opportunities and limitations - no two MACs are the same.

 

  This is an early conceptual computer rendering of Brookfield Residential's SETON showing the South Health Campus in the background with low rise condos and office buildings and a pedestrian oriented main street with shops, cafes, restaurants and patios.  

This is an early conceptual computer rendering of Brookfield Residential's SETON showing the South Health Campus in the background with low rise condos and office buildings and a pedestrian oriented main street with shops, cafes, restaurants and patios.  

  Early conceptual rendering of SETON pedestrian street.  

Early conceptual rendering of SETON pedestrian street. 

  Conceptual rendering of a mixed-use street in SETON.

Conceptual rendering of a mixed-use street in SETON.

  SETON at might with street patios. 

SETON at might with street patios. 

Coming Soon

Earlier this year the City approved land-use plans for the University of Calgary’s West Campus an inner city MAC that was developed after extensive community engagement. 

Up next for Council’s approval will be West District that links the west side communities of West Springs and Cougar Ridge and Brookfield Residential’s Livingston at the northern edge of the city, both of which will be topics for future blogs.  

  This is an artist's sketch of the central retail area proposed for Currie Barracks. Surrounded by offices and condos, this public space is designed to allow for a diversity of uses by people day and night, weekdays and weekends. Also note that designers are also taking into account Calgary is a winter city. (rendering provided by Canada Land Corporation) 

This is an artist's sketch of the central retail area proposed for Currie Barracks. Surrounded by offices and condos, this public space is designed to allow for a diversity of uses by people day and night, weekdays and weekends. Also note that designers are also taking into account Calgary is a winter city. (rendering provided by Canada Land Corporation) 

  West Campus' main street has been designed as the community's focal point with spaces appropriate for boutiques, cafes, restaurants, pubs, a hotel and cinema. It will be a place that appeals to Calgarians of all ages and be accessible by pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles.  (computer rendering by RK Visuals provided by West Campus Development Trust 

West Campus' main street has been designed as the community's focal point with spaces appropriate for boutiques, cafes, restaurants, pubs, a hotel and cinema. It will be a place that appeals to Calgarians of all ages and be accessible by pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles.  (computer rendering by RK Visuals provided by West Campus Development Trust 

Last Word

As Calgary evolves as a city, so does the glossary of terms used by planners and developers to describe their utopian vision of what Calgary could and should be in the future.

Calgary’s development community has enthusiastically taken up the concept and challenge of creating MACs; this is a good thing for two reasons.  One Calgary needs to speed up its residential development approval process if we want to create affordable and adequate housing for the next generation of Calgarians. Second, more and more new Calgarians are looking for walkable urban communities.

While in the past developers and planners didn’t always see “eye-to-eye” on how new communities should be planned, more and more there is a shared vision of how to create pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use and mixed-density communities.  

Calgary’s planning department use to have the motto “working together to make a great city better.”  I am thinking this would be a good motto for all of the city’s departments, as well as the development community and the citizens of Calgary. 

By Richard White, November 22, 2014

An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, titled "Big hopes for mini-downtowns" on Saturday, November 22nd in the New Condos section. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Brookfield: Working together to make Calgary better!

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West Campus: Calgary's first 24/7 community?

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Flaneuring Florence's Markets: Flea, Food & Fashion

By Richard White, November 5, 2014

Like most European cities, Florence's city centre has several markets, some are more focused on food, others on fashion and some even have a weekly or monthly flea market.  For example, when visiting Frankfurt, we always try to make sure we are there for their Saturday flea market along the Main River, as it is a great place to shop and people watch. In Florence, you have your choice of several different markets depending on the day of the week. 

Everyday Markets

Mercato Centrale is both and open air and indoor market. The open air area is full of vendors selling everything from socks to trinkets and like most Florence markets a plethora of leather goods.  The ornate two-story Mercato Centrale building was built in 1874, after the Mercato Vecchio was demolished to make way for the Piazza della Repubblicaa few blocks away.  Here you find lots of permanent vendors as well as upscale touristy restaurants and shops.  For those of you familar with Vancouver's Granville Island Market, or Seattle's Pike market there are many similarities.

Piazza Ghilberti Market (food and clothing) is also open everyday and given its location on the east side of the City Centre you get to mix a bit more with the locals than the Mercanto Centrale. It too has an outside stall area that is very animated and an indoor space.  Best to get there early, as it can get quite crowded later in the morning and most of the action is pretty much over by noon or 1 pm.

Specialty Markets

On your way to the Ghilberti Market you might want to stop by the small antique market on the Piazza del Ciompi which operates from Monday to Saturday opening about 10 am the best we can tell.  Seems like the vendors open whenever they like.  The entire piazza looks a bit ramshackled, but there is a good selection of second-hand stores to explore.  

The Flower Market takes place on Thursday morning under the colonnade of the Palace at the Piazza della Republic.  It is not a very large market, probably only a 15 to 20 minute "look see" for most people so combine it with some other activities that day.  It is very colourful and refreshing as Florence's City Centre has very little vegetation. 

On the third sunday of the month at the Piazza Santo Spirito is a craft and food market.  The crafts are very limited, but there are a few things you won't see at other markets, like the lady hand-weaving baskets or the hippy guy making hand-made shoes.  We were told this is where the local foodies shop.   

The third weekend of the month there is also an antique market at the Fortezza de Basso / garden.  Unfortunately, we didn't get there so can't comment on the quality of the experience.

World's Longest Flea Market

Every Tuesday from 7 am to 2 pm you will find the mother of all flea markets in Florence's Le Cascine Park along the Arno River. It is a linear market that goes for over 3 kilometres with vendors on both sides.  It took us almost two hours to do one side and we weren't looking at everything. While some vendors might stay there until 2 pm, we saw some beginning to pack up just after noon. There are a few food vendors, but it is most clothing vendors - not designer knockoffs, but rather mostly new cheap clothing, shoes, accessories, and kitchen products. This is not a "made in Italy" fashionista experience and not a place for vintage treasure hunters.  

That being said there were some treasures to be had if you were prepared to dig in the pile of scarfs. Brenda did manage to find two vintage scarves for 1 euro each and a modern Italian made sweater/coat for 40 euros.  

It was a great walk in the park, a chance to mingle with the locals and people watching. What more could you ask for? 

Postcards: Le Cascine Flea Market

The east entrance to the Le Cascine Park Flea Market is marked by this tear drop road marking. It was a drizzly day when we arrived, but the rain soon stopped and it was a very pleasant walk along the tree-lined market.  The linear market was easy to negotiate as you just go up one side and dow the other. 

Brenda checking out the racks of clothing.

  I am looking for something for my sweet tooth.

I am looking for something for my sweet tooth.

  Brenda had her eye on this cool dude for awhile. Yes that is his bike.

Brenda had her eye on this cool dude for awhile. Yes that is his bike.

  Everyone loves a flea market

Everyone loves a flea market

Brenda spotted with pile of scarves and she was on it like a dog on a bone.

  What's a flea market without The roasted chestnuts to enjoy.

What's a flea market without The roasted chestnuts to enjoy.

Postcards from Ghilberti Market 

The Bead Lady was doing a brisk business.

Inside the butcher was fun to watch. 

We loved the fact that people of all ages were enjoying the market.

Postcards from Piazza Ciompi Market 

Don't be put off by the appearance of the shops there are some treasures to be had.  

Postcards from Piazza Santo Spirito

This piazza dates back to 1252 when Augustinian monks built a monastery and church. Today it is a bohemian hang-out with restaurants, cafes and a market. 
 

We awarded this vendor the top prize for visual presentation. 

Shoe maker. 

Basket weaving. 

These bronze fragments are a war memorial.  German soldiers at the end of WWII conducting public killing of freedom fighters and political opponents in the piazza and streets surrounding it. 

Postcards from Mercanto Centrale

 

The indoor market is more like a food court in a mall or office building than a farmers' market. 

Looking down from the second floor restaurant you get a better sense that this isn't your quaint local farmer's market.  

Postcards from the Flower Market

 

The flower market has one of the prettiest spaces of any market I have ever seen.

Florence's flower market adds a burst of colour and plant life that is absent from most of the City Centre. 

Herb vendor

Last Word

One of the things all of Florence's markets have in common is that they are enjoyed by everyone from young children to seniors.  More and more urban planners and designers are cognizant of the 8/80 rule that states; if a place or space is attractive to kids 8 and younger, as well as 80 and older, it will be attractive to everyone in between.  While exploring the markets and streets of Florence, I have seen more seniors hobbling with canes along the busy and bumpy streets, sidewalks and piazzas than I have seen anywhere else in the world.  Kudos to them...I don't know how they do it.  

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Casel: Paris on the "on ramp"

Calgary’s Nikles Group took a huge risk in developing Casel condo on the corner of 17th Avenue and 24th Street SW.  It is a strange corner as 24th Street heading south serves as the “on ramp” to Crowchild Trail; not exactly the most attractive place to live.  It is also up the hill and west of the 17th Avenue action so not the most attractive walk to those living to the east in Scarboro or Bankview who have to cross the Crowchild Trail Divide to get to the retail.  As well, it is not near a LRT station; though it does have good bus service to downtown. Despite the negatives, Nikles Group has made it work.

Casel looking southwest on 17th Ave SW.

Casel, opened in 2011, could very well be the prototype for future condos in many Calgary inner city communities. It is unique in that it is nine stories with ground floor retail, second floor commercial and concrete construction. In contrast most new condos in Bridgeland, Marda Loop, West Hillhurst or Montgomery are four floors, with main floor retail, three floors of residences and wood frame construction.

It is also unique in that the main floor retail is not your usual fast food joints, café and professional offices.  The Nikles group successfully created a European market- like atmosphere with the cluster of Cassis Bistro, Market 17, J.Webb Wines and Bros Dough.  Many of my retail colleagues had doubts that these upscale retailers would survive in this location, yet now three years later and they seem to be doing well.

  J.Webb Wine Merchant is Calgary's oldest and one of its most respected independent wine merchants. 

J.Webb Wine Merchant is Calgary's oldest and one of its most respected independent wine merchants. 

  The market at Casel.

The market at Casel.

The design of Casel is also unique in that the two-floor podium is set square to the corner block location, while the seven floor condo tower is turned 45 degrees to the street.  This clever positioning of the condo tower provides everyone with great views of either the mountain or the downtown. It also makes for a better pedestrian experience, as there is no nine-storey wall adjacent to the sidewalk.  And thirdly, it means those living on the lower floors are further away from the street making them quieter.

Casel looking from the navy base on the east side.

At first I was disappointed by the dull grey and sliver façade of the building as seen from Crowchild Trail.  Being a colourist, it seemed to me the addition of colour would have added to the visual appeal of the building. However, when I explored the area on foot I realized that the colour and material of the condo tower is similar to the HMCS Tecumseh Navy Base on the block to the east of Casel.

Back story: Perhaps one of the strangest things in land-locked Calgary is that we have a navy base. Yes, in 1943 the Calgary Navel Reserve division was formed and named after a Shawnee chief who fought with the British and Canadian military forces in the War of 1812.

  The  HMCS Tecumseh Navy Base has a similar facade as the Casel condominium building.

The HMCS Tecumseh Navy Base has a similar facade as the Casel condominium building.

As the City of Calgary looks at how best to evolve our inner city communities from primarily residential to mixed-use walkable communities, we can expect to see more projects like Casel along key transit corridors with major bus routes like 17th Avenue and Kensington Road.  

By Richard White, October 26, 2014

An edited version of this blog appeared in Condo Living Magazine, October edition.

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Window licking along Florence's Via Tornabuoni

One of the things I love to do when flanuering any downtown is take pictures of the reflections of buildings and people in the windows of the fashion boutique.  This works particularly well in cities where there is a strong fashion culture as the fashion boutique window are often like mini art exhibitions. In Florence, the Via de' Tornabuoni is the high street for fashions with the likes of Gucci, Salvatore Ferrogamo, Tiffany's, Enrico Coveri, Damiani, Bulgari and Buccalllati calling it home.

When Brenda said she wanted to go to the Salvatore Ferrogamo Museum, I secretly said "Yahoo" as it meant I would have some time to do some window licking on Via de' Tornabuoni.

Back story

The literal English translation of the french term for window shopping is "window licking," which I have adopted for my practice of window photography as I am often so close to the window that it looks like I could be licking it.

Window licking on Tornabuoni 

I have chosen these images as I feel they convey the diversity of visual imagery along Tornabuoni.  I have also chosen not to provide captions as I would prefer the reader to study each image without my influence.  I hope you will enjoy them as much as I did taking them and studying them afterwards. 

Reflections

I have tried window licking in my hometown Calgary many times, but I never seem to get the same quality of images. I don't know if it is the light, the lack of quality fashion windows or just my poor luck. 

Almost everyday, I like to take some time to look at and reflect on my travel photos. The ones I seem to gravitate to the most art the "window licking" ones. I'd love to hear from you which one was your favourite and why?

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New Antinori Cellar: A Hidden Design Architectural Gem in Tuscany

You could easily drive by and not even know that the new Antinori Chianti Classico Winery and office are located in Bargino, just off the highway between Florence and Siena. Why? Because the Antinori family has so much respect for the beauty of the Tuscany landscape, they wanted to retain the integrity of it soC they built it almost entirely underground.

This was a huge task, as the building and cellars are almost 500,000 square feet, i.e. the size of a typical 30 or 40-floor office building.  First, the soil from the four-hectare site was removed and stored so the support structure, cellars and building could be built. Then the soil was placed back on top of the building and new vineyards were planted on top. 

Today, all you see from the road are two earth-tone, elongated arches that mirror the profile of a iconic Tuscan hills and a young two-year old vineyard. The visual impact is minimal to say the least. 

However, upon arriving at the the site and driving into the underground entrance, you are immediately struck by something special. An eerie light streams in from a huge hole in the ceiling illuminating two sets of human leg-like support beams and a grand, circular staircase. It is like walking into a James Bond movie or a surreal church. I have heard it referred to as "the cathedral in the desert." 

As you ascend the staircase, you notice each of the stairs is slightly different in size and rise and the railing has a distinct, vertical striation in a palette of earth tones. At the top of the staircase, you arrive at a plaza with a sweeping view of the vineyard and Tuscan hills. The pattern, rhythm and line of the railing and stairwell structure echo that of a vineyard. 

Once inside, the building is like a contemporary art gallery with large, open gallery-like spaces. The light and building continues to play games, creating interesting shadows, shapes and reflections that become art.

The following images illustrate better than any text could how the new, uber-chic Antinori Chianti Classico Winery design by Archea Associati architects is a work of art.   

The grand staircase rises out of the parking garage.

A view from the plaza  looking down the stairwell.

The lead architect Marco Casamonti of Archiea Associati Studio chose only Tuscan materials and colours to pay  homage to a land which has been kind to the Antinori family. Everything is linked to nature - from the terracotta tiles of the cellar to the rust-coloured alloy steel of the staircase. 

The young Antinori Chianti Classico Winery vineyard looking out from the ground level plaza. 

Staircase as sculpture, as seen from ground level leading up to plaza. 

At ground level, you can see how the colour, pattern and rhythm of the vineyard is reflected in the building's shape and in the staircase. The dramatic circles of the skylights mimic the base of a wine bottle. 

The huge, ground level plaza is made even more dramatic by the interplay of the roof and staircase with the windows.

The positive-negative space in this image near the restaurant could easily be a Magritte painting. 

Looking out at the Tuscan Hills from inside the building I found this vista.

Another of the strange reflections as the glass, sun, architecture and landscape interact to create surreal visual effects. 

  The cellars have the same eerie, surreal interplay of colour, light, line, shape and pattern that strengthens the design statement and  sense of place. Together, they fulfill two of my key criteria for good  art and architecture - linking man and nature, and past and present. 

The cellars have the same eerie, surreal interplay of colour, light, line, shape and pattern that strengthens the design statement and  sense of place. Together, they fulfill two of my key criteria for good  art and architecture - linking man and nature, and past and present. 

About the Antinori Family

The Antinori family has been making wine since 1385 (no, that is not a typo). For 26 generations the family has been creating some of the best Chianti Classico wine from the Tuscany region. Today, the winery is  managed by Marquis Piero Antinori and his three daughters - Albiera, Allegra and Alessia. 

The family is known for its continuous experimentation, tradition, passion and innovation. Its mission is "to reconcile both new discoveries yet to be made and the patrimony of Tuscan wine.  A patrimony that includes, tradition, culture, agriculture, art and literature." The new Antinori Chianti Classico Winery perfectly expresses this vision.

Richard White, October 19, 2014

Reader Comments:

NP writes: 

Most of these kinds of amazing design things are illegal in Canada because our building code is designed to quash beauty and creativity, while adding huge expense. Mostly it is there to provide work for lawyers, protect property for insurance companies, and add huge costs so that contractors can make more money.

If I sound a little bitter, I am. Are Canadians the dumbest people on earth? They must have a built in urge to climb handrails, hurl themselves off balconies, set fire to things and hang out in smoke filled lobbies. We put sprinkler systems over swimming pools, spend millions on complex, highly technical fire alarm systems that do not operate properly and set off so many false alarms that no one actually believes them and exits the building.

I would love a beautiful stair with a giant speaker system available outside the building that can be used by someone to shout, “This is a real emergency. Get the hell out now, or you will burn”! This would cost less and also be available for karaoke at noon during the lunch breaks.

Enjoy good design. It’s hard to do in Canada.

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Calgary's NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here!

Most of the attention for the renaissance in urban living in Calgary is focused on the high-rise communities south of the Bow River (SoBow) - East Village, Eau Claire and West End, Beltline and Mission. Meanwhile the communities north of the Bow River (NoBow) provide an appealing alternative to highrise urban lifestyle of SoBow. 

The NoBow communities along the Bow River (i.e. Montgomery, Parkdale, Point McKay, West Hillhurst, Hillhurst/Sunnyside) and those just above the river to 16th Avenue N (i.e. St. Andrews Heights, Briar Hill, Hounsfield Heights, Rosedale, Crescent Heights and Bridgeland/Riverside) are all walkable urban communities. 

These urban communities differ from SoBow in that not only do they not have any highrises, but they also are not so downtown-oriented.  NoBow residents are just a likely to walk, cycle, take transit or drive to SAIT, ACAD, University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre and Alberta Children’s Hospital as to downtown for work.

The common perception of the NoBow communities is that they are just another inner city community. But over the past few years, they have been evolving into charming walkable and diverse communities.  In addition to the plethora of new single-family infills, there are numerous mid-rise condos being built. 

For example, in the Kensington Village area (10th Ave NW and Kensington Road), there are approximately 1,000 condos homes recently completed, under construction or in the design stage that will add over 2,000 new residents. A new condo village is emerging on Kensington Road along 19th Street SW with the 55-unit Savoy project and the redevelopment of the Kensington Legion site.

  St. John's condo 

St. John's condo 

Savoy Condo

Main Streets

Bridgeland/Riverside is also emerging as a new urban village with numerous mid-rise condos recently completed or now under construction.  They too have their own funky “Main Street” that just gets better and better each year with the likes of the bobo Bridgeland Market. 

Montgomery’s “main street” captured the attention of one of Canada’s best restaurateurs Michael Noble, who decided to locate the tony Notables restaurant there.

Edmonton Trail is NoBow’s “Restaurant Row” with places like Diner Deluxe, OEB Breakfast, Carino Japanese Bistro, Open Range, El Charrito Taqueria and Boogie Burgers. The Trail is also home to Lukes Drug Mart, a fixture in the community since 1951, which houses Calgary’s only Stumptown Café.

Hillhurst/Sunnyside has both 10th Street and Kensington Road as their pedestrian- oriented streets full of shops, restaurants and cafes, and even their own art house cinema.  The Canadian Institute of Planners has recently recognized it as one of the “great places in Canada.”

Pages bookstore is one of the few independent bookstores left in Calgary. 

Happyland/Parkdale

Happyland is quickly becoming a micro-commercial hub.  Backstory, the triangular piece of land around Memorial Drive, Crowchild Trail (24th Street) and 4th Ave NW was called Happyland in the early 20th century was it became a new Calgary subdivision.  Recently, Arlene Dickinson’s Venture Communications and new Co-op Liquor store joined nearby Bob Pizza (aka neighbourhood pub), a horse and pet supply store, a three specialty sporting goods stores, Jen Meats, another sporting goods store, Ten Thousand Villages and Cartwright Lighting.

Less than a kilometer down the road is the Parkdale Loop (Parkdale Crescent NW) with a few shops including the popular Lazy Loaf Café, a quilt shop, women’s clothing store and Leavitt’s Ice Cream Shop. Several new boutique condos have recently been built or are in the planning stage near the Parkdale Loop.

Despite having no trendy streets -17th Avenue, 4th Street or Design District - NoBow has lots to offer including what was Western Canada’s largest shopping center in 1958 - North Hill Mall. Today it is evolving into a mix-use urban village with shops, restaurants, condo, library and playing fields right next to the Lions Gate Station.  The Mall’s SEARS site is next up for redevelopment.

  Hillhurst Farmers' Market

Hillhurst Farmers' Market

The Plaza is home to Calgary's film community. 

Bob's Pizza has perhaps the smallest patio in the city. 

Dairy Lane has been the 19th St. anchor in West Hillhurst for over 50 years.

Lukes Drug Mart family owned since 1951 has Calgary's only Stumptown Cafe. 

  Kensington Village architecture

Kensington Village architecture

  Buskers on 10th Street.

Buskers on 10th Street.

  Bridgeland Market in downtown Bridgeland.

Bridgeland Market in downtown Bridgeland.

Great Amenities

NoBow is also blessed with great schools. In addition to several elementary, junior high and high schools in these communities, postsecondary students have easy access to SAIT, University of Calgary and ACAD.  This makes NoBow very attractive to families with adolescents and young adults.  

In addition to schools being one of the key criteria people look for when evaluating a potential community to live is the distance to hospitals. The NoBow communities are just minutes away from Foothills Medical Centre and Alberta Children’s Hospital. 

Next on the criteria list of sought after amenities is grocery stores. There are three Safeway stores within the NoBow communities and another Safeway and a Calgary Co-op on the edge of the district - that’s five grocery stores.

Recreational facilities too are key to community appeal.  NoBow rates high with the West Hillhurst Recreation Centre, as well as Shouldice Athletic Park.  There are also excellent recreational facilities at SAIT and the University of Calgary that are easily accessible and available to NoBowers. Residents also have access to arguably the prettiest stretch of the Bow River pathway for walking, running and cycling year-round.

NoBow is also blessed with numerous parks including Riley Park with its vintage wading pool and historic cricket field, which has hosted games since 1910.   There is even the historic and bucolic 1936 Bow Valley Lawn Bowling Club at 1738 Bowness Road – lawn bowling is the new golf.  Two curling complexes (North Hill and Calgary Curling Club) are also within its boundaries. 

For those who love gardens, Senator Patrick Burns Memorial Rock Garden on 10th Street NW at 8th Avenue NW. It is a gem. And, for those who love treasure hunting, it’s hard to beat the Sunday flea market at the Hillhurst Community Centre.

Running along the Bow River at Poppy Plaza.

  Lawn Bowling in West Hillhurst.

Lawn Bowling in West Hillhurst.

NoBow is for families

NoBow’s total population is 36,130 (based on 2011 Census figures from City of Calgary, Community Profiles).  This compares favourably with the SoBow communities of SunAlta, Beltline, Inglewood, West End, Downtown, Eau Claire, Chinatown, East Village and Inglewood, whose total population is 40,765.

What really makes NoBow different; as an urban precinct is that it is home to 5,582 children under the age of 19 - almost twice the 3,046 children living in SoBow communities. With 15% of its population under the age of 19, NoBow is not far off the city average of 24%. Healthy urban communities are family-friendly.

  Riley Park wading pool

Riley Park wading pool

NoBow loves seniors

There are also several enclaves of seniors housing complexes scattered throughout NoBow that have been around for years, as well as the funky new Lions Club Seniors complex in Happyland. 

The Colonel Belcher Retirement Residence (175 units) moved from the Beltline to Parkdale in 2003. And the Bethany Care Society has called West Hillhurst home since 1945 when the Evangelical Lutheran congregation in Alberta raised $10,000 to purchase the 4.75-acre Riley Estate at the bottom of North Hill (from 18a St to 17th St, and from 8th Ave to 10th Ave NW). The Bethany Calgary site is home to 400 long-term care residents. On the 2400 block of  3rd Avenue NW Calgary’s Kiwanis Clubs have built and operated for years the Parkdale and Crowchild Manors for years.

  Parkdale seniors apartments

Parkdale seniors apartments

  Lions Village seniors complex in Happyland .

Lions Village seniors complex in Happyland.

Last Word

NoBow has a Jane Jacobs urban sense of place about it. Specifically, the urban landscape is not dominated by highrise buildings, nor by upscale national and international retailers and restaurants. Rather, it is a nice mix of single-family homes, duplexes, fourplexes and low to mid-rise apartments and condos.  It has everything from 600-square foot early 20th century cottages and affordable housing complexes for seniors to multi-million dollar mansions.  It boasts mostly local independent stores, coffee shops and restaurants. And, there is a charming mix of old, new and renovated homes and commercial buildings.

An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section with the title, "Don't count out eclectic NoBow" on Saturday, September 20th 2014.

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Guest Blog: Ross Aitken

In the inner city communities of many older cities you will often find old homes converted into funky shops and restaurants – places like Height/Ashbury, in San Francisco and Yorkville in Toronto immediately come to mind. While Calgary lacks the charm of a street of big old houses that have been converted into charming boutiques and bistros, there are some good examples of how old homes can become trendy places to shop and dine in Calgary.

The best example would be the century old Cross House in Inglewood that has been converted into the Rouge restaurant. It is not only one of Calgary’s best restaurants, but in 2010 it ranked #60 in the S. Pellegrino’s top 100 restaurants in the world.  Not many Canadian cities can boast a world class restaurant in an iconic home built in 1891 for heroic local citizen – A.E. Cross was one of the big four who started the Calgary Stampede.

A good example of a house that has become a boutique is located in the Parkdale Loop.  “Where you ask?” Parkdale Loop is the cluster of shops just off of Parkdale Boulevard on Parkdale Crescent NW. The cul-de-sac is probably best know as the home of Lazy Loaf Café. But, also on the Loop is Chateau Country Lace a popular women’s boutique that has been around for years in what looks like a mid-century bungalow.

Another great example of a historic house that has become a restaurant is Laurier Lounge in the Beltine. This unassuming Tudor Revival house built in 1908 was the birthplace of George Stanley designer of the Canadian Flag.  But for as long as I can remember, it has been a popular restaurant and lounge, know for its tasty poutine.

Rouge restaurant in Inglewood, Calgary.

Chateau Country Lace, Parkdale Loop. Calgary.

Laurier Lounge, Beltline, Calgary. 

Integration vs Segregation

Recently, I was driving to Marda Loop and in order to bypass the bustling traffic on 33rd Street, I slipped over to 34th Avenue and discovered a half-block of old cottage homes mixed with new two-storey shops that look like modern infills that are home to variety of interesting shops including an upscale tailor and two hair salon. I am convinced this is the future of inner city retail in Calgary.

I am thinking the next evolution of inner city infilling could be like the 2000 block of 34th Avenue in Marda Loop with small shops that look like houses in scale and design being added to the mix of single family, duplex and small condo projects especially on busy transit corridors like Kensington Road in West Hillhurst. 

  Cottage home in Marda Loop gets a new life as a business.

Cottage home in Marda Loop gets a new life as a business.

Several cottage homes in Marda Loop that have been converted to retail along with a new two-storey modern home purpose built for retail.

Better Walkscores

The city of Calgary’s vision is to enhance he walk score of every community in the city. This means more people walking to meet their everyday needs. If this is going to happen, it will mean the City will need to encourage the conversion of more inner city streets to become more like the Parkdale Loop, Marda Loop or the wonderful Britannia Plaza on 49th Avenue in Britannia.

While some might complain the new businesses will add more traffic to their inner-city community, remember they will also convert some drivers to pedestrians and cyclists. And, don’t worry about your property values – Britannia, Parkdale and Marda Loop’s property values have skyrocketed because of their mix of residential with retail and restaurants.

If we are truly serious about creating walkable communities we must allow for the integration of residential, retail and restaurants on the same block - not segregate them!

Ross is a RE/MAX realtor checkout his website rossaitken.ca

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Calgary: Military Museums

By Richard White, September 4, 2014

Why is it that we wait until we have visiting family and friends to check out our local museums? I have been hearing great things about Calgary’s Military Museums for years. I drive by often and worked for five years almost across the street from it, yet I have never been in.  A few years ago when a history-loving nephew was visiting, I dropped him off and went to work, rather than joining him to tour the museum. Shame on me!

With my Mom visiting, we thought it would be an interesting activity for a Sunday afternoon. In fact last Sunday, we checked out the exhibitions at the Glenbow Museum, another place that I don’t make time to visit often enough.

The Military Museums lived up to it billing as a first class museum. It is actually seven small museums or exhibition spaces in one:

  1. Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Museum and Archives
  2. The Calgary Highlanders Regimental Museum and Archives
  3. The King’s Own Calgary Regiment Museum
  4. Lord Strathcona’s Horse Museum
  5. Army Museum of Alberta
  6. Air Force Museum of Alberta
  7. Naval Museum of Alberta

In addition, there is also the Founder’s Gallery and a theatre space, all located in a decommissioned school with major addition.  Though not a signature building designed by a famous architect the building is more than adequate as a museum space. And quite refreshing to see how modestly repurposed building can become a major public attraction without spending 100s of millions of dollars.

 

The entrance to The Military Museums is subtle in design and statement.  

Once inside the museum your attention is immediately captured by a large mural that consists of 240 separate images.  Each image tells a story that you can read at the video terminal. 

  I enjoyed the many personal quotes that captured the various wartime experiences.

I enjoyed the many personal quotes that captured the various wartime experiences.

  It is good to be reminded that only 100 years ago Canada was a much different place psychologically. 

It is good to be reminded that only 100 years ago Canada was a much different place psychologically. 

Mind-boggling

The exhibitions are very text-based, well researched with lots of very interesting stories and factoids. There are excellent supporting artifacts, visuals and displays.  If you read all of the text and watch all of the videos, I expect you could be there all day.  There is a mind-boggling amount of information to read and absorb.

The one thing that seemed to be lacking were “hands-on” experiences for kids. Where was the opportunity to dress up like a soldier? Perhaps a chance to walk in a military trench with loud noises of simulated gunfire, bombs etc. What kid wouldn’t want to climb up onto one of the planes or amoured vehicles in the Naval Museum of Alberta? A lesson could be taken from the Calgary Stampede where kids climbing on the Canadian Armed Forces vehicles on display is a very popular activity.

  There are numerous displays depicting life on the battlefield. 

There are numerous displays depicting life on the battlefield. 

  The collection of medals is impressive.

The collection of medals is impressive.

Balkans

The Naval Museum space is impressive.

Lessons Learned

One key lesson learned from the visit was the incredible role Canada and Calgarians played in WWI and WWII.  In many ways, Canada seemed to be a bigger player on the world stage 100 years ago than it is today. I had a similar aha moment at the Glenbow last week reading about the accomplishments of Lord Beaverbrook and his influence on the economy and politics of England in the early 20th century.

Another aha moment came to me when I read a telegraph and realized it was not unlike a tweet in that the text was abbreviated to just the essential words.  While we always talk about how the world has changed, in some ways it is not that different. The abbreviations of a tweeter are similar to “shorthand” that was all the rage in offices in the mid 20th century.

You can look through a submarine periscope and see for miles....downtown looks like it is just a few waves away.

Another display that documents the hardships of life in the trenches. 

The science of shell making.

Outside there are several tanks and amoured vehicles, unfortunately you can't climb them.

Last Word

The Military Museums’ visit also reminded me that Calgary should have a Museum/Attractions Pass if it truly wants to be a tourist city. Why there is not a pass that allows a tourist to pay one fee to visit not only the Military Museums and the Glenbow, but Fort Calgary, Heritage Park, Calgary Tower, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, TELUS Spark and the Calgary Zoo is beyond me!  

Calgary has an impressive line-up of museums and attractions that are under appreciated locally, provincially, nationally and internationally. We really need market Calgary as a museum/attractions destination if we want to be more than just the gateway to the Rockies in the minds of tourists.

Feng Shui & Urban Design

Richard White, August 12, 2014 (An edited version of this blog appeared in the August issue of Condo Living Magazine.) 

Good architects doing infill projects don’t impose their designs on a community. Rather they look around at what designs and materials already exist and then build on those. This is how to create a sense of place.  And this is exactly what Calgary architect Ben Barrington, engaged to design the 205 Riverfront condo next to the Chinese Cultural Centre back in 2000, did.

The project, originally conceived by Bill Lister, Yakov Behar and Eli Ghanime, three local developers, saw an opportunity for a new apartment building in Chinatown. This project would be the first concrete residential building constructed in Chinatown since about 1980. The goal was to create a loft-style building based on the success of the Beltline’s Lewis Lofts and The Manhattan condo conversions.

Given the site was in Chinatown and just north of the Chinese Cultural Centre, Barrington knew the design needed to respect the Cultural Centre both culturally and architecturally. He quickly engaged the Chinese Community and its community leader and head of the Cultural Centre, Victor Mah.  The design took some cues from the Cultural Centre without necessarily copying the details (e.g. use of red and blue colours). 

Chinese Cultural Centre 

Eau Claire Market is also nearby with its contemporary design and use of yellow, red and blue colours.

Feng Shui & Astrology

In addition, Barrington called upon Philip Leung, an Asian Feng Shui & Astrology master, to review the building and unit plans.  This resulted in changing the orientation of the main entrance to be on the corner so the spirits in the building would not escape. He also suggested not having doorways directly opposite to each other so they were staggered.  There was also a recommendation to integrate the koi motif as a symbol of good luck and prosperity as well as a powerful and energetic life force. Barrington’s design team also included blue, Chinese-style patterned gates to decorate the loading area.

205 Riverfront Condo with its corner entrance with bright blue pillar blocking the view from across the street and from inside to the street. 

Decorative iron work over the wall of ventilation panels. 

Decorative gates hide the loading dock.

Design Stories

In chatting with Barrington, I found two of his stories very amusing.  The first took place after months of community consultation before submitting the design to the City for Planning Commission review.  He got a call from Victor Mah saying the community was supportive except for one thing - the building was too close to the Cultural Centre and if they wanted the community’s support, they would have to move the building to the north. It was decided to remove the units immediately next to the Cultural Centre and add two more floors to compensate, making the building 11 storeys, rather than 9. After some panicky phone calls to the City’s file manager, Barrington got agreement to make the change and so, over the weekend, his team redesigned the building, revised the drawings and re-submitted on Monday. The project was approved as revised the next Thursday.

The second story was about the controversial decision to design all the units with only bathroom doors (no bedroom doors) to reduce costs and create real, loft-like units. There was however, the option to add a door as an extra if buyers wanted. To everyone’s surprise few chose this option. Also we struggled with the decision to designed small 590 square foot bachelor units facing the River as they would be the smallest in the Calgary market.  To their surprise these units all sold in the first week.

By pure chance, while writing this column I met with an individual who actually lives at 205 Riverfront.  She loves the fact that her studio apartment is designed so the sleeping area is around a corner making it invisible to visitors.  Her bathroom has sliding doors that give access from the sleeping area or the living room.  Back story: I have been advocating the idea of one bathroom condos for years, as not only do you get extra space, but you reduce the cost of the condo by $15,000+. 

She is very impressed by the efficient design of her small space including her small blue balcony with the million dollar views of downtown, mountains and river valley.

Many of her visitors have commented on experiencing a calming effect upon entering the building.  She also likes the fact fresh air is pumped into the hallways, which she finds very refreshing.

Decorative Koi on the entrance to the parkade.

Blue balconies lead the eye to the blue sky.

Looking northward the Chinese Cultural Centre parkade entrance is on the the right and 205 Riverfront in the centre where units above were removed to create more separation. 

Last Word

It would seem Barrington and Leung created something special at 205 Riverfront.

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Edmonton: Borden (art?) Park

Richard White, August 7, 2014

It never ceases to amaze me how a day of flaneuring will unfold.  This time we were checking out the galleries on 124th Avenue (Edmonton’s Gallery District) and Brenda said, “let's wander the next block over and see what the homes are like.” We quickly found the urbanscape had changed from an almost treeless, commercial, noisy street to a calm,  tree canopied street in Westmount with a mix of early 20th century homes.

The homes weren’t huge mansions, but not tiny cottages either. Some had been fixed up nicely, but lots were in need of some TLC and there was one new infill.  Laterthat later day, we read in Avenue Magazine, that Westmount was ranked #5 on their list of Edmonton’s Top 10 Neighbourhoods. 

The house that really caught our attention was the one with about six major steel sculptures on the front lawn.  We knew that Edmonton had a love affair with steel sculpture, but this still seemed a bit strange.  Later, just a few blocks away and back on 124th Street, we wandered into Scott Gallery where we saw a steel sculpture by Peter Hide. So we thought we’d ask what they knew about the house on 125th Street with all the steel sculptures. They knew nothing, but were intrigued and said they would check it out. 

Wonderful tree canopied street in Westmount, Edmonton.

Fun house in Westmount, Edmonton.

Front yard as an Art Park?

They also proceeded to tell us about Borden Park that has been recently revitalized to include several pieces of public art including several steel sculptures.  Sounded interesting, but we had other plans - to meet a friend in Little Italy for lunch.

The idea of checking out an art park intrigued us both, so by about 6 pm we decided we had to check it out. Also, it was kind of on the way back to Urban Escape B&B where we were staying at.

Borden (Art?) Park

The backstory to Borden Park is that it was originally called East End City Park when first opened in 1906, but renamed for Sir Robert Laird Borden, the 8th prime minister of Canada after he visited Edmonton in 1914. It was a popular park with one of the city’s first outdoor swimming pools and included a popular band shell and baseball diamonds. 

Folklore has it that up to 7,000 people would invade the park on sunny Sundays for picnics and other activities in the early 20th century. It was also a fairground with rides - a carousel, roller coaster and the something called “tunnel of love known as the “Old Mill.” It was also home of the first Edmonton Zoo.

Fast forward to the early 21st century and an August Saturday early evening (it had been a beautiful day) and there were probably less than 50 people in the park. Yes, a few picnickers, a dog walker, a few walkers and some families at the playground.  Amazing what a difference 100 years makes – gone are the rides and animals.

In 2006, the City of Edmonton approved a revitalization plan for the park, which included a new uber-chic washroom, new furniture, refurbished bandshell and pathways and modern public art.  The old swimming pool is still there but closed, plans are to convert the old swimming pool into a “natural swimming experience” (i.e. the water will be filtered naturally rather than using chemicals) that can converted into a skating rink in the winter.

As we entered the park the first thing we encountered is this futuristic looking building that turns out to be an elaborate washroom. 

The Artwork

Oh yes, we did check out the sculptures and we were the only ones doing so. Except for two colourful pieces, they were all very modest scale, modernist abstract assemblage steel sculptures. They were all pretty static for my tastes, not very visually engaging and were robbed of any power they might have in a gallery setting, by the expanse of the park and its towering trees.  Even in the smaller more confined space of the contemporary water feature area of the park the four sculptures seemed lost, no synergy with the water or each other.

My favourite piece had no information on the artist or the piece; perhaps it was the newest piece and they just haven’t put up the information yet as all the other pieces were labeled. (Thanks to Allison Argy-Burgess,  I found out the piece is called “Willows” and the artist is Marc Fornes.)  It was a colourful, root-like form that allowed you to walk inside it.  And when inside, you noticed it was full of fun Matisse-like cutout holes that sparkled in the sunlight like a kaleidascope. It had a dream-like quality to it inside and out, like something from a children’s fairy tale.  I like the playfulness of the piece and that there was some engagement of the viewer to come inside and explore it. 

Willows (2014) by Marc Fornes is large and bold enough to capture park visitor's imagination. 

  Fornes invites our to go inside the sculpture and look out and up. 

Fornes invites our to go inside the sculpture and look out and up. 

Standing inside the sculpture there is fun interplay of light, colour and shapes. It is like getting inside a children's playground or a kaleidescope. 

Too Much Plain Welded Steel

I think the sculptures would benefit by being relocated to a smaller, open gallery-like space where they could play off of each other to create their own sense of place.  As is, they are not large enough to take command of the large expanse of the park space they currently inhabit. there is also not enough diversity of materials and subject matter - 90% of the works a welded steel.  I have included the label text for each piece, which I also think does little to help the public better understand and appreciate the artwork. 

 

  Ace of Wands (2014) by Ken Macklin, welded steel. Ace of Wands is a highly visual work, inviting the viewer to discover complex, intriguing relationships within its structure. The curvy, or rhythmic section is interdependent upon the more angular structural element upon which it leans. The artist evokes imagery found in the mirror arcana of the Tarot. Aces signify beginnings: wands animation and enterprise. The inspiration and sculpture represent an artistic departure for the artist for the artist in the use of repetitive curves. 

Ace of Wands (2014) by Ken Macklin, welded steel. Ace of Wands is a highly visual work, inviting the viewer to discover complex, intriguing relationships within its structure. The curvy, or rhythmic section is interdependent upon the more angular structural element upon which it leans. The artist evokes imagery found in the mirror arcana of the Tarot. Aces signify beginnings: wands animation and enterprise. The inspiration and sculpture represent an artistic departure for the artist for the artist in the use of repetitive curves. 

  Gaekwar of Baroda (1999) by Peter Hide, mild steel. Gaekwar of Baroda is particularly inspired by the Indian sandstone reliefs of the Bordon Collection housed at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary. Sculptor Peter Hide states, "I was attracted by the voluptuous curves of the human body played off against the massiveness and rigidity of architectural forms. I wanted to try and bring some of these qualities into steel sculpture. 

Gaekwar of Baroda (1999) by Peter Hide, mild steel. Gaekwar of Baroda is particularly inspired by the Indian sandstone reliefs of the Bordon Collection housed at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary. Sculptor Peter Hide states, "I was attracted by the voluptuous curves of the human body played off against the massiveness and rigidity of architectural forms. I wanted to try and bring some of these qualities into steel sculpture. 

  Wither and Tome (1993) by Clay Ellis, welded steel. Wither and Tome is one of a series of pieces produced by artist Clay Ellis in the early 1990s. It is made of mild steel with a coating produced through a simple oxidation process. Before embarking on the series, the artist traveled, within an 11-month period to Scotland, northern China, New York City, and led a workshop in Botswana. Ellis states that although he gathered many impressions in his travels, "...it was the time spent working in a remote village, on the border of the Kalahari...that shaped the work from this period. Starting a sculpture from a place where only the landscape is monumental seemed right...and familiar." 

Wither and Tome (1993) by Clay Ellis, welded steel. Wither and Tome is one of a series of pieces produced by artist Clay Ellis in the early 1990s. It is made of mild steel with a coating produced through a simple oxidation process. Before embarking on the series, the artist traveled, within an 11-month period to Scotland, northern China, New York City, and led a workshop in Botswana. Ellis states that although he gathered many impressions in his travels, "...it was the time spent working in a remote village, on the border of the Kalahari...that shaped the work from this period. Starting a sculpture from a place where only the landscape is monumental seemed right...and familiar." 

Last Word

We started the day out a plan to check out Edmonton’s Downtown Farmers’ Market and meet a friend for lunch. Who knew we’d end up in the east end of town exploring a park that was no more than a swamp just over a 100 years ago.

For awhile now I have been advocating that public art would better serve the public good if it was installed in its own art park where it could be curated to capitalize on the synergy between the pieces, rather than trying to compete with surrounding architecture and clutter of streetscape designs. Borden Park is an attempt at doing so, but unfortunately missed the opportunity to truly create an art park that captures the public’s imagination – young and old, bohemian and bourgeoisie.  

I understand the plan is to have 11 human scale, temporary sculptures dotting the park’s 23-hectars.  I seriously doubt this will be sufficient to attract the public to venture to Borden Park to see the art.

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Historic Calgary Postcards: St. George's Island

While Central/Memorial Park and Bowness Park were the showpieces of Calgary’s early parks, the Bow River Islands - St. George, St. Patrick and St. Andrew have an interesting history as parks.  The Islands were first leased by town council for development of parks in 1887.  The three islands were named for the patron saints of the United Kingdom - St. George of England, St. Patrick of Ireland and St. Andrew of Scotland.

In the late 19th century, there was no Prince’s Island. It was merely a shifting gravel bar and more of an isthmus. That’s until Peter Prince created a channel in the river (now the lagoon) to allow logs to float to Eau Claire Lumber Mill at the site of the current Eau Claire Market.  The St. Andrew Island was created by a lagoon between it and St. Patrick Island which has since been filled in to create one island. 

Back in1892 through to 1900, a ferry service connected St. George's Island to town, increasing its popularity as a weekend playground. In 1900, a foot bridge was constructed.  Construction of the existing St. George’s Island Bridge for cars and pedestrians ridge in 1908 cost of $25,000. At the same time an old Elbow River Bridge was moved to the island’s north side providing a link to the then new Calgary General Hospital and the new communities of Bridgeland and Riverside. In 1910, the federal government gave the islands to the town, on the condition they remain parks.

It was the natural beauty St. George's Island that captured the attention of Calgarians and Park Superintendents.  The Island was enhanced with the planting of more trees, cinder pathways, fireplaces for picnickers and the Biergarten dance hall band shell.  By 1911, the island was home to over 200 weekend picnic parties and the Sunday afternoon band concerts drew an average of 1,500 to 2,000 people (note the population of Calgary was only 43,704).

The two-story German Biergarten, built on the site of today’s Calgary Zoo’s Conservatory at a cost of $4,560 in 1912 became a well-known Calgary architectural landmark.   Much to the embarrassment of Parks Superintendent Richard Iverson and the City, it was illegal to sell beer on City property so the building was converted to a teahouse.  However, this didn’t work well either as the noise from the bands on the top floor drove the tea drinkers from the main floor.  It became known as the “old bandstand.”

Several attempts were made to create a zoo in Calgary early in the 20th century.  The zoo at St. George’s Island began in 1917 when two wayward deer found in the park and were corralled in cages by the dogcatcher near the Biergarten. The deer were so popular, the zoo began to grow under the direction of parks superintendent William Reader. By 1929, the Calgary Zoological Society was formed which was the beginning of St. George's Island as the home of the Calgary Zoo Botanical Garden & Prehistoric Park. 

This postcard reminds me of George Seurat's 1984 painting a Paris Park titled "A Sunday at La Grande Jatte (see below).  Calgary's sense of place was more closely linked to European at the turn of the 20th century than it is today.  

Calgary was once called "Paris on the prairies." 

A Sunday at La Grande Jatte, George Seurat, 1884

   The explosive growth of Calgary, in the early 20th century prompted a need to put some serious thought into long-term city planning. In 1912, British Landscape Architect Thomas Mawson was commissioned by the city to prepare a master plan to address the rapid growth of the city. Mawson's proposal was an ambitious plan on par with Haussmann's rebuilding of Paris during the reign of Napoleon III.  The focus of Mawson's plan was on the Bow River, not the CPR railway line.     

The explosive growth of Calgary, in the early 20th century prompted a need to put some serious thought into long-term city planning. In 1912, British Landscape Architect Thomas Mawson was commissioned by the city to prepare a master plan to address the rapid growth of the city. Mawson's proposal was an ambitious plan on par with Haussmann's rebuilding of Paris during the reign of Napoleon III.  The focus of Mawson's plan was on the Bow River, not the CPR railway line.

 

The biergarten, dance hall and eventually tea house on St. George's Island. 

pathway
  St. George Island summer amusement park. 

St. George Island summer amusement park. 

Prince's Island early 20th century. 

  Eau Claire Lumber Mill at Prince's Island

Eau Claire Lumber Mill at Prince's Island

A landscape designer by profession, Reader emigrated to Canada from England in 1908 when he was 33. He became parks superintendent in 1913.  He was responsible for the planning and implementation of establishing Calgary's first parks - Central/Memorial Park, Riley Park, Mewata Park, St. George Island and the Memorial Drive trees to commemorate soldiers killed in World War I. During his 29 year rein as parks superintendent he transformed Calgary from a dusty prairie town to "the garden city of Western Canada." 

YYC Walkabout: Cliff Bungalow / 4th Street / Mission

Richard White, July 23, 2014

We never get tired of exploring Calgary's 200+ neighbourhoods.  Recently, we found ourselves wandering on and off 4th Street SW into the 100-year old neighbourhoods of Cliff Bungalow and Mission.  

Cliff Bungalow (west of 4th Street from 17th Ave to the Elbow River) is a hidden oasis, it is like walking back in time with its century old homes, two early 20th century schools and lots of 100-year old trees.  It is still dominated by single family homes which gives it the feel of an early 20th century prairie town.  

Mission,(east of 4th Street) is the opposite, it is almost entirely apartments and condos of all shapes and sizes.  It's big city urban atmosphere is the complete opposite of Cliff Bungalow, yet the two communities are only blocks away.  

 

Cliff Bungalow school's inviting doors looks more like the front entrance to a home than to a school. 

Not only is the school modest by today's standards, but so is the school's entire footprint- no huge playing fields, just a nice playground and small grass field.  It fits into the community rather than "standing out." Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned - should elementary school sites should be smaller to fit into the community?  Even the architecture resembles a home, rather than an institution, which must  make it more inviting for young students.

  How charming is the playground next to the Cliff Bungalow School? It was interesting to note that in our travels we saw lots of evidence that families do indeed live in the communities surrounding Calgary's downtown. 

How charming is the playground next to the Cliff Bungalow School? It was interesting to note that in our travels we saw lots of evidence that families do indeed live in the communities surrounding Calgary's downtown. 

  An example of one of the few remaining bungalows in Cliff Bungalow.

An example of one of the few remaining bungalows in Cliff Bungalow.

Most homes in Cliff Bungalow are actually two story homes with large inviting front porches that makes for great interaction with neighbours and pedestrians on the street. 

Image homes with REAL river rock!

New low-rise condos for the young professionals in Mission are charming in their own way. 

Luxury highrise condos for the empty nesters millionaires along the Elbow River. 

Fun, Funky, Quirky 

Every community needs a fun fence, they are most often found at daycares like this one. Note to self:  do a photo essay on fun fences. 

Quirky 4th Street shops....

Fun play on the Calgary Stampede's brand.  I have done a couple of spin classes here and it is a bit like riding a bronc or maybe a bull - sore butt! 

Funky characters in Cliff Bungalow. 

Only in cowtown would you find a cow on the second floor balcony of a house. ( An Everyday Tourist Twitter follower has informed me this "Penny Cow" created out pennies by Calgary artist Bart Habermiller).

4th Street Flaneuring

Most people think of 4th Street as shops and restaurants, but there are also several mid-rise office buildings - like this mid-century modern building.

4th Street's newest 21st century office building.

Why don't all buildings include a name and the year they were built on their facades? Wouldn't that be an interesting way to add character to any building and street? 

4th Street is quickly becoming Calgary's cafe headquarters with independents like Purple Perk and Phil & Sebastian. 

Inspirati is just one of the many fun window licking spots along 4th Street. 

How clever is this for a floral shop?  Wander into the back alley garden and you find a hidden oasis that could be Monet's urban garden.

  4th Street's sidewalk animation is enhanced by its many patios, with their lovely flowers. 

4th Street's sidewalk animation is enhanced by its many patios, with their lovely flowers. 

Flaneuring  Finds 

The trunks of the 100-year old trees add character and charm to the streets of Cliff Bungalow. 

We both loved the colourful patina on these bricks.

  Early on in our walkabout we stumbled upon this charming retro playground with its own picnic table. In the 10 or so blocks we wandered we found three playgrounds located in well-treed pocket parks.

Early on in our walkabout we stumbled upon this charming retro playground with its own picnic table. In the 10 or so blocks we wandered we found three playgrounds located in well-treed pocket parks.

William Aberhart Park 

Who knew there is a small pocket park in Mission named after William Aberhart - mid 200 block of  24th Ave SW.  I did a little research when I got home and found out the Aberhart family house is not far away at 2505 5th St SW. - ironically in Cliff Bungalow. 

William Aberhart, "Bible Bill," radio evangelist, premier of Alberta, 1935-43 (b in Hibbert Twp, Perth County, Ont 30 Dec 1878; d at Vancouver 23 May 1943). An important influence in religious sectarianism in western Canada, Aberhart headed the world's firstSOCIAL CREDIT government in 1935. He was trained as a school teacher at Mitchell Model School and the Normal School in Hamilton, Ontario. Wanting to become a Presbyterian minister, he began studying for an extramural BA from Queen's (completed 1911, after he had moved to Alberta) while he was principal of Central Public School in Brantford. In Ontario he became an active lay preacher and Bible-class teacher and was highly influenced by the Scofield Reference Bible and its dispensational system of interpretation.

In 1910 Aberhart moved to Calgary to become a school principal. His popular Bible class at Grace Presbyterian Church was transferred to Wesley Methodist Church in 1912 after he was embroiled in a dispute which probably involved both his theology and his personality. In 1915 he became the unofficial minister of Westbourne Baptist Church. In spite of attempts by Baptist leaders to remove Aberhart from the church, his congregation remained loyal. After a brief association with a Pentecostal minister in 1920, Aberhart began introducing "charismatic" practices and doctrines into the church, much to the consternation of the local Baptist ministers. He identified with the fundamentalist movement and became increasingly antagonistic to mainstream denominations.

Aberhart opened a school to train ministers and missionaries for the furtherance of fundamentalism. As early as 1923 he was teaching night-school classes in theology in the basement of Westbourne Baptist Church. He also realized the possibilities of radio and began broadcasting Sunday afternoon services in 1925. Needing a larger facility to house the Bible school and the crowds which were attracted to his meetings, he opened the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute in 1927 and taught many of its classes, administered the church and conducted the radio broadcasts while being employed as the principal of Crescent Heights High School. In 1929 Aberhart founded his own sect, the Bible Institute Baptist Church, after most of the Westbourne congregation had split from him. By 1939 over 9000 children were enrolled in his Radio Sunday School.

The GREAT DEPRESSION was devastating for the farm-based western economy and misery was widespread. The inability of political parties to find solutions to the problem of "poverty in the midst of plenty" drove Albertans to seek alternative remedies, and they were attracted to the ideas of Aberhart. Previously nonpolitical, in 1932 Aberhart became interested in the monetary-reform doctrines of a British engineer, Major C.H. Douglas, who believed that conventional capitalism would founder because private control of credit would lead to a chronic insufficiency of mass purchasing power. The solution, he believed, was state supervision of credit and the issuance of consumer discounts to balance consumption with full production. Aberhart modified and popularized this doctrine into a proposal that each citizen be given a $25-a-month "basic dividend" to purchase necessities. Aberhart built a grass-roots movement, the Alberta Social Credit League, to promote his ideas. When the existing political parties showed little interest, he took the league into the political arena. In September 1935, Social Credit took 56 of 63 seats in the Alberta legislature and swept the United Farmers of Alberta from office.

After becoming premier, Aberhart found he could not fulfil his pre-election promises. His moratorium on debt collections saved some farms and homes, but his concept of Social Credit was never realized. In 1937, after a major crisis in his caucus, he was forced to accept assistance from Major Douglas's emissaries from England. The monetary legislation they introduced was quickly disallowed by the federal government and precipitated the Rowell-Sirois Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations.

Aberhart died in office in 1943. He was succeeded by Ernest C.MANNING, the first graduate of the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute.

From the Canadian Encylopedia

The park includes a wonderful community garden. 

I loved the small hills that separated the playground from the small open grass playing area.  It is possible for the community's young adults to play on one side and young children to play on the other.  I would love to see more use of picnic tables in parks ove as they invite people to face each other, talk and yes even have a picnic. 

The Aberhart house at 2505 5th St SW is a Craftsman bungalow built in 1927 with its own park-like setting.

Last Word:

Unfortunately we didn't have our Harry Sanders' Historic Walks of Calgary book with us, as it would have made this walkabout much more informative.  We will just have to come back with the book and do the walkabout right.

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Calgary Postcards: Things to see & do

By Richard White, June 30, 2014

Summer is Calgary’s busiest tourist season. It is when family and friends love to come to Calgary, not only for the 10 days of Stampede, but for all of July and August. However for most Calgarians’ the top-of-mind place to take visitors is to Banff and the mountains. I would like to change that!

I thought it would be fun to put together a blog of postcards reflecting the many things to see and do in Calgary with tourist this summer and anytime. 

I have tried to find “everyday” things to see and do, not just the obvious attractions – Glenbow, Calgary Tower, Heritage Park, Zoo, Science Centre, Calaway Park, Chinook Centre or IKEA (now that Winnipeg has its own IKEA, you are going to have to find someplace else to take visiting Winnipeggers).

I have tried to identify “off the grid” uniquely Calgary spots versus obvious touristy things.  I have also tried to identify a diversity of things to see and do that will appeal to a variety of interests. And, most of the things are FREE!

I hope these “everyday tourists” postcards from Calgary will be a catalyst for Calgarians to spend more time exploring Calgary with their visiting family and friends this summer, or anytime of the year for that matter.

Calgary's downtown is home to the world's most extensive elevated indoor walkway system - the +15. The name comes from the fact the bridges are 15 feet off the ground.  Over 60 bridges, connect over 100 buildings to create a 20 km walkway.  Unfortunately it is a bit like a maze and it is not contiguous, but it is a unique and fun way to explore the downtown especially for kids. Along the way amongst other things you can find a bush plane hanging from the ceiling in the lobby of one office building and the skeleton of a bison in another. Download +15 Map

Calgary has several great pedestrian districts - Kensington, Inglewood, 4th Street and 17th Avenue. This is the little "no name" plaza on 10th street where buskers are entertaining people passing by - it is always animated and didn't cost a half million dollars to create.   These streets are great places to do some local shopping, sample some of Calgary's great cuisine scene or one of our craft beers.  All of these streets have great patios for relaxing and people watching. 

  This is  Canada's Sports Hall of Fame  at Canada Olympic Park.  For anyone who is interested in sports this is a must see - lots of hands-on activities.  While you are there, you should wander around perhaps bring your bikes and do some mountain biking or one of the other activities available.  Did you know Calgary is also home to Canada's second largest  military museum ?  It is also worth a visit, I have never heard of anyone who was disappointed.  

This is Canada's Sports Hall of Fame at Canada Olympic Park.  For anyone who is interested in sports this is a must see - lots of hands-on activities.  While you are there, you should wander around perhaps bring your bikes and do some mountain biking or one of the other activities available.  Did you know Calgary is also home to Canada's second largest military museum?  It is also worth a visit, I have never heard of anyone who was disappointed.  

Calgary's Power Hour happens Monday to Friday on nice sunny days when over ten thousand downtown workers head out for a power walk along Stephen Avenue at lunch hour.  This phenomena is something visitors will enjoy seeing and participating in, it is a people watching extravaganza. (photo courtesy of Jeff Trost)

Calgary has one of the world's largest urban pathway system - over 750 km.  While you are walking, running or biking along the north side of the Bow River at the Louise (10th St) bridge you should consider stopping and checking out the new Poppy Plaza - Calgary's newest monument to Canada's war and peace keeping efforts. 

Who needs to go to the mountains when Calgary has over 5,000 parks including two of the largest urban parks in the world - Fish Creek Park and Nose Hill.  This is Edworthy Park home to the Douglas Fir Trail - perhaps Calgary's quintessential trail.

Floating down one of Calgary's two rivers is a great way to spend a summer day with visiting family and friends. You could even try your hand a fly fishing as the Bow River is one of the best fly fishing rivers in the world. 

This is just one of hundreds of public artworks in and around Calgary's downtown.  You could easily spend a day wandering the streets, parks, plazas and gardens to see how many you can find. Hint: There are still several of the fun cow sculptures on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade.  You can also download the City of Calgary's public art tour. FYI...this piece is titled "Ascension" and was made by INCIPIO MONDO and is located in a mini-park at the southwest corner of 4th Ave and 9th St. SW. Download Public Art Tour  

Calgary has many historical buildings and districts in the inner-city, from the majestic early 20th century sandstone schools to old city hall. Stephen Avenue (8th Street SW) from Centre St to 4th St. SW is a National Historic District and Inglewood has a heritage Main Street.  If you have a history buff visiting you will want to be sure to take them to our two historical districts, along with maybe Fort Calgary, Glenbow and Heritage Park.  A great resource to have  is "Historical Walks of Calgary" by Harry M. Sanders, it offers 10 different self-guided tours of Calgary historical communities in and around the downtown. Or print off the City of Calgary's self-guided tour of Stephen Avenue and you are all set for a half-day of exploring. (Photo credit: George Webber, one of Canada's most respected photographers). 

Central High School (photo credit: George Webber)

When in Calgary, eat like locals do?  Chicken on the Way and Peter's Drive-In are two of Calgary's iconic eateries. Click here for:  Top Ten Places to eat like a local?

Explore your own neighbourhood, on foot or on bike - you might be surprised what you will find. We love to take visitors to our favourite local spots like this musical fence. 

Calgary has a great cafe culture. Caffe Rosso located in interesting places like the Old Dominion Steel site in Ramsay is just one of the many independent cafes. Learn more: Calgary's cafe scene.

Riding the train can be a fun and an inexpensive way to spend a day, especially with young children. You can buy a day pass and hope off and on as much as you like.  You can combine a train trip with exploring downtown, or perhaps a trip to the Zoo or the Science Centre - both are easily accessible by the train. 

This is the Sunalta LRT station just outside of downtown, from this station you could walk to Mikey's Juke Joint for their famous Saturday Afternoon Jam or to Heritage Posters & Music to browse their  wonderful collection of posters, records and music memorabilia. 

Calgary has a festival pretty much every weekend through out the summer, including Global Fest fireworks completion in lovely Elliston Park, August 14 to 15, 2014. 

  If your visitors are into music you might want to suggest one of Calgary's live music venues.  You can catch Tim Williams, winner of the 2014 International Blues Competition (solo/duo) and best guitarist for free on most Tuesday evenings at Mikey's Juke Joint or on Saturday when he hosts an afternoon jam at the Blues Can in Inglewood. There are live music venues throughout the city.  Best place to find out what is happening and where is to get the  Swerve Magazine  in the Calgary Herald every Friday. 

If your visitors are into music you might want to suggest one of Calgary's live music venues.  You can catch Tim Williams, winner of the 2014 International Blues Competition (solo/duo) and best guitarist for free on most Tuesday evenings at Mikey's Juke Joint or on Saturday when he hosts an afternoon jam at the Blues Can in Inglewood. There are live music venues throughout the city.  Best place to find out what is happening and where is to get the Swerve Magazine in the Calgary Herald every Friday. 

If your visitors are into history or reading, bookstore browsing is a fun activity.  Calgary is home to one of the Canada's most unique bookstore - Aquila.  Located at 826 - 16h Avenue, right on the TransCanada Highway it specializes in polar expeditions, Western Canadiana and Canadian Pacific Railway. Yes those are two authentic Inuit kayaks hanging from the ceiling. 

Pages in Kensington is also a great bookstore with lots of readings and FairsFair is a great used bookstore and has several locations. 

If you really want to show your visitors you are "hip" and "tin he know" you might want to take them to Salvage in Ramsay, just down the road from Cafe Rosso and not very far from the Crown Surplus and Ribtor in Inglewood. You could easily spend a day pretending  you are on the set of Canadian or American Pickers TV show. Anyone into retro or vintage artifacts or antiquing or thrifting would love these places. 

Footnotes:

If you are interested in walking tours the City of Calgary’s website has several, including cemetery tours.  You can also pic up David Peyto’s Walking tour books or the iconic "Historical Walks of Calgary" by Harry M. Sanders.  You can even book your own private tour with Calgary Walks

I am always interested in new ideas and places to explore, so please send me your suggestions for Calgary Postcards and I will add them to this blog or perhaps create another one.

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Calgary: New downtown office towers catalyst for inner-city densification.

By Richard White, June 28, 2014

(An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section, June 28, 2014 titled; "Embrace downtown's explosive growth.")

I have received several comments from readers expressing concern that the term "downtown sprawl" is negative and inappropriate, especially as it relates to urban development and as the term urban sprawl.  One reader suggested the "downtown ripple effect."  In giving this blog further consideration I decided to retitle the blog "Calgary: New downtown office towers catalyst for inner-city densification," which I think better reflects my thesis. 

Calgary: Benefits of Downtown Sprawl? 

Calgary’s urban sprawl is unique in that it’s happening both at the edge of the city as well as all around its downtown.  While much attention is given to the ever- increasing number of new suburban communities by city politicians, planners and the media, the number of new master-planned urban villages close to downtown (under construction or in the design phase) is significant. Perhaps we can coin the phase “downtown sprawl.”

With over 7 million square feet of new downtown office space constructed over the past five years and another 5 million under construction or in the design phase, Calgary is a leader in downtown growth in North America. Twelve million square feet of office space will accommodate another 40,000 office workers, many of whom will undoubtedly want to live in or close to downtown.  

In May, Altus Group reported that there are an amazing 12,447 residential units proposed, pre-construction and construction stage in the Downtown and Beltline. (Note: this doesn’t include the condos proposed for communities north of the Bow River, east of the Elbow River or any of the new inner city urban villages along or near Crowchild Trail).

Brookfield Place 

Telus Sky Tower

Manulife office tower

Proposed Eau Claire Market site redevelopment with five new towers. 

East Village condo construction as downtown sprawls eastward.

Urban Transformation

Calgary’s thriving downtown has literally transformed the Beltline into a parade of show condos; there are new condos being built on almost every other block.  Over the past decade, the Beltline has evolved into one of North America’s best yuppie communities with great restaurants, cafes, pubs, clubs, two grocery stores and a health food store.

Everyone knows about the incredible transformation underway in East Village, designed to become a new urban village of 10,000 people. There are currently more construction cranes in East Village than in the entire downtown core!

And, of course there is Bridgeland where the old General Hospital site is in its final phases its master planned redevelopment.  Mission is quickly becoming the Mount Royal of condo living with numerous luxury condos along the Elbow River.

More recently, the Hillhurst/Sunnyside community is also experiencing the impact of downtown sprawl with several new, mid-rise (under 10 floors) condos recently completed, under construction or in the design phase. New urban-type condos (main floor retail with condos above) area also popping up in Marda Loop, West Hillhurst and Montgomery – with more to come.

But the impact of downtown sprawl doesn’t stop here. There are plans for several new planned urban infill villages - Currie Barracks, Jacques Lodge, West Campus, University City, Stadium Shopping Centre and Westbrook Village. 

Each of these planned, mixed-use developments has been carefully researched in collaboration with the neighbouring communities and City Planners to create “walkable” villages where residents’ everyday needs will be within walking distance. They will also be well served by public transit, allowing easy access not only to neighbouring employment centers, but also to downtown. In fact, Currie Barracks' key marketing message is "An urban village only seven minutes from downtown." 

Over the next few months, I will be profiling each of these new urban villages.  

Creating great urban places to live is more than densification i.e. building more condos.  The Bridges has created a new Main Street for the Bridgeland community incorporating both old and new retail spaces. 

University City will create a new urban hub at the Brentwood LRT station. 

St. John's on 10th is just one of many new mid-rise condo developments in the Kensington Village area.  This is a model new urban community as it integrates old and new, single-family, small apartments/condos, low and mid-rise residential, with strong retail and an LRT station. 

Inner City Makeover

In addition to the new urban villages, Downtown sprawl is responsible for the incredible demand for inner city single-family infill housing.  Over the past five years, inner city communities from Altadore to Tuxedo and from Inglewood to Spruce Cliff, Calgary’s inner city communities have become a parade of infill show homes. 

From 2008 to 2013, 3,345 new infill homes (excluding condominiums and apartments) were built in Calgary's inner city communities.  At three people per home, that is the equivalent of building an entire new community for 10,000 people.  Most new communities take 10 to 15 years to build out (e.g. Aspen Woods), yet we have, in effect, built a new inner-city community in just five years. 

The value of these new homes is estimated at one billion dollars, equivalent to the value of one major office tower the size of Eight Avenue Place or the Bow. These homeowners will pay $15 million in dollars in property taxes per year; about five times what was being paid by the small cottage homes they replaced.

New infill homes mean new families moving into the inner city, a very healthy evolution as young families bring a new energy to schools, parks, playgrounds, recreation centres and local retailers. 

Even some major businesses are looking beyond the traditional greater downtown, boundaries for office space. A good example would be the relocation of Venture Communications last year to the old UMA building at the corner of Memorial Drive and Kensington Road in West Hillhurst last.  Recently, the Calgary Co-op opened a liquor store next to Venture Communications and rumor has it that a New York Style café opening on the same block.

The Memorial Drive / Kensington Road corner (in the early 1900s this area was called Happyland) has the potential to become a micro-hub; there already are several professional offices, a convenience store, two sportswear stores and Bob’s Pizza/Pub nearby. Another rumor has Phil & Sebastian and Starbucks looking for a location in the West Hillhurst area, further evidence that the influence of downtown’s growth is spreading north and west. 

Lane housing in West Hillhurst.

Main Street Montgomery has added a new condo with retail at street level.  There are dozens of new infills under construction in this community. 

Venture Communications new head office in an area of West Hillhurst once called Happyland. 

The Calgary Co-op liquor store is more evidence of the urbanization of the West Hillhurst community. 

A parade of new infill homes in West Hillhurst.

Calgary is Unique

While some may lament the loss of the tiny cottage homes and the independent mom and pop shops, and that includes me sometimes the old adage rings true - change is the only constant in life.  And, in community development I might add.

I liken community development to gardening.  Plants grow for a few years, but eventually, some die and some need to be split and transplanted.  A garden needs constant attention – new planting, weeding, fertilizing, deadheading and pruning.  A community, like a garden, is never static; it is growing or it is dying.

Over the past year, I have visited numerous cities across North America (Winnipeg, Hamilton, London, Memphis, Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake City, Tucson and Portland) all of which would love to have the downtown sprawl Calgary has.  

Instead of complaining, we should consider ourselves very fortunate and capitalize on the opportunity to make a good city great.  Calgary has an incredible opportunity to transform its established single-family oriented communities into vibrant new mixed-use urban ones - thanks to a thriving downtown.

Denver vs Calgary: A Tale of Two Thriving Downtowns!

Richard White, June 15, 2014 (An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald, Saturday, June 14, 2014 titled "Downtown cores: Denver vs Calgary).

A recent visit to Denver reminded me of how similar yet different its downtown is to Calgary’s.  Downtown Denver is divided up into 10 districts encompassing an area of about 8 square kilometers. This would be the equivalent in Calgary of – Downtown Core, Downtown West, East Village, Beltline, Sunalta, Hillhurst, Sunnyside, Bridgeland and Inglewood.

The Downtown Denver is thriving with twenty-six, new projects completed in 2013, totaling 2.2 million square feet (residential and commercial) and valued at $1.8 billion in private and public sector investment. Since 2008, 78 projects have been completed, are under construction or planned, totalling over 5 billion dollars. 

From January 2013 to May 2014, the total value of building permits for Calgary’s downtown was 1.2 billion dollars.  Since 2008, Downtown Calgary boasts 100+ projects completed, under construction or proposed since 2008, including over 7 million square feet of office space alone.  

Denver has a healthy mix of old and new architecture.

Calgary's downtown sense of place is dominated by office towers like The Bow, designed by Norman Foster. 

Denver vs Calgary at a glance

While Calgary’s central business district has twice as much office space and significantly better shopping (Denver has nothing to match our Hudson Bay department store, The Core or Holt Renfrew), Denver offers up more museums, a baseball park and a huge convention centre.

Both cities have two waterways that are lined with parks, pathways and condos - Denver has South Platte River and Cherry Creek, while Calgary has the Bow and Elbow Rivers.

While downtown Denver focuses on professional sports facilities, Calgary’s downtown forte is its recreational centers. Denver boasts its Elitch Gardens (a summer midway fairground and botanical garden) Calgary has Stampede Park and the Calgary Zoo.  Denver’s spanking new Union Station is the hub for an extensive regional transit system while Calgary’s 7th Avenue serves as its transit hub.

From a public space perspective, Denver has 152 acres of parks (Civic Centre Park, Confluence Park, Commons Park and Centennial Gardens), Calgary can go toe-to-toe with its 150 acres consisting of Olympic Plaza, Prince’s Island, Memorial Park, Shaw Millennium Park, Fort Calgary Park, Eau Claire River Promenade and East Village River Walk.

From a contemporary architectural design perspective, Denver’s contemporary gems are the Denver Art Museum (architect, Daniel Libeskind) and Public Library (architect Michael Graves).  Calgary easily matches that with The Bow (architect, Norman Foster), the Peace Bridge (architect, Santiago Calatrava) and Eighth Avenue Place (architect Pickard Chilton) and Hotel Le Germain (architect, LEMAYMICHAUD).

Denver's uber contemporary Art Museum. Calgary lacks a major arts museum.  

Denver was one of the first North American cities to connect signature architecture and downtown library.  Calgary is a late adopter in the iconic contemporary architecture competition.

Jaume Plensa's "Wonderland" on the plaza of the Bow office tower in Calgary.

Larry Kirkland's sculpture titled "East West Source Point" sit on Denver's municipal plaza.

Denver's Millennium Bridge allows pedestrians to cross the railway tracks to get to the river. 

Calgary's Glenbow Museum is both a history and art museum.

Calgary's downtown library.

Eight Avenue Place is one of several new major office towers constructed in downtown Calgary over the past five years.

Calgary's Peace Bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava is a popular place for pedestrians, joggers and cyclists to cross the Bow River. 

Denver's LRT map

Calgary's LRT Map

Tale of Two Malls

From an urban design perspective, both cities’ downtowns are dominated by their pedestrian malls, which serve as their urban backbone, linking their respective neighbourhoods, attractions and amenities.

The creation of downtown pedestrian malls was all the rage in the ‘70s and ‘80s, like bike lanes are today.  However, most have not succeeded in revitalizing their downtown as a shopping and dining destination, especially in large cities.  Most of the North American pedestrian malls have been abandoned, while others have added some car or transit traffic to them. Calgary’s Stephen Avenue Walk and Denver’s 16th Street Mall are two of the more successful large city pedestrian malls in North America.

Denver’s 16th Street Mall is 16 blocks running from their Civic Centre district through their Central Business District (CBD), LODO and terminating at Union Station and the South Platte River. Technically, the 16th Street Mall is no longer a “pedestrian mall” as it now has a free shuttle bus (the equivalent to Calgary’s free fare LRT zone) that runs back and forth every five minutes relegating pedestrians to the sidewalks.

While the 16th Street Mall links several districts, most of the major attractions are several blocks off the mall including the Library, Art Museum, Convention Centre, Performing Arts Centre, Children’s Museum and Aquarium.

While Calgary’s Stephen Avenue Walk (also not a true pedestrian mall as it has traffic on it at night) is only six blocks long, however it connects pedestrians to the front door of an amazing number of its downtown activities and attractions such as City Hall, Olympic Plaza, Performing Arts Centre, Glenbow Museum, Convention Centre, historic district, Devonian Gardens, Financial and Fashion districts. 

However, after visiting the 16th Street Mall, I think it might it be time to consider extending Stephen Avenue all the way to 11th Street SW making it 12-blocks long? In so doing, it would provide a pedestrian-friendly link from the thousands of new condos planned for downtown’s West End, as well as to Shaw Millennium Park and the potential new contemporary public art gallery (at the old Science Centre) to the downtown core and the downtown’s burgeoning east end. An expanded and redesigned Stephen Avenue could also accommodate cycling.

The days of restricting urban streets to just one mode of transportation are gone. Good urban design evolves with changes in urban living. Today, the focus for creating vibrant urban places is on creating good pedestrian, transit, cycling and vehicular access. 

Denver's 16th Street Mall 

!6th Street Mall at the LODO warehouse district 

Biscuit Block (currently being renovated) is one of many warehouse buildings along downtown Calgary's Canadian Pacific Railway tracks.  

Calgary's Stephen Avenue Walk is a very popular place at lunch hour. (photo credit: Jeff Trost)

Calgary's flagship Hudson Bay Store on Stephen Avenue.

The CORE shopping centre on Stephen Avenue. The massive skylight spans three city blocks, seamlessly linking  three office retail complexes, as well as the Devonian Gardens. The natural light emulates an outdoor promenade. The skylight is the world’s largest point-supported structural glass skylight.

Downtown Living

Denver has made significant residential development gains in over the past 15 years especially along the South Platte River and in LODO.  Currently, 66,000 residents live in their 10 downtown districts, with another 7,000 condo units under construction or planned.

A similar comparison of the ten communities surrounding Calgary’s downtown adds up to 65,000 residents. Recently Altus Group (Calgary Herald, May 15, 2014) estimated there are an amazing 12,447 residential units proposed, pre-construction and construction stage in our City Centre; this doesn’t include those communities north of the Bow River or east of the Elbow.  Most of Denver’s new condo developments are mid-rise (around 10 to 15 storeys) compared to Calgary’s multiple 20+ story condos).

Denver’s LODO (lower downtown) district is the equivalent of Calgary’s Beltline. Both are vibrant hipster and yuppie hangouts with diverse restaurants, pubs and clubs next to their respective central business districts.  Twenty years ago, LODO was just a vision - today it is a lively urban village. This argues well for Calgary’s East Village.

What downtown Calgary has that Denver lacks are the mixed condo/single-family residential villages next to its downtown - Hillhurst, Sunnyside, Bridgeland and Inglewood. There is nothing in downtown Denver that matches the street life of Kensington, 17th Avenue or 9th Avenue SE in Inglewood.

One of Denver's highrise condos.

One of several mid-rise condos along Denver's downtown railway tracks. 

Denver's Cherry Creek pathway and condos.

Calgary's Bow River and the Eau Claire condos.

Calgary's Eau Claire Promenade is popular with walkers, joggers and cyclists year-round.

Calgary's First Street SW is one of several pedestrian zones on the edge of downtown.

Calgary's 17th Avenue is a popular retail and restaurant row just seven blocks from the central business district. 

Mixed-use development in downtown Calgary includes major office and condo towers with urban grocery store. 

Last Word

 Calgary’s greater downtown offers an amazing diversity of urban living options from highrise to midrise, from townhouse to single-family and from riverside to parkside.  Few cities in North America under two million people can match the diversity of urban living options Calgary has in its downtown neighbourhoods.

The fact Calgary can go toe-to-toe with Denver’s downtown is significant given metro Denver has not only three times the population, but a downtown considered by urban planners to be one of the healthiest in North America.  Calgarians (citizens, politicians, architects and developers) should be proud of the downtown we have created.

While there is always room for improvement and we can’t be the best at everything, what we have accomplished for a city of just over one million people is significant.  There’s no need to apologize to anyone.





Calgary's Learning City is blooming!

By Richard White,  June 4, 2014

While much of Calgary’s urban development debate seems to revolve around new suburbs vs. City Centre i.e. Downtown, East Village, Beltline and Bridgeland vs. Seton, Cityscape and Walden, there is a mega transformation happening in the northwest. 

I doubt many Calgarians are aware of the multi-billion dollar investments that have been or are being planned for Foothills Hospital (teaching hospital), SAIT / ACAD (Alberta College of Art and Design) and the University of Calgary.  These three campuses, all located within about five kilometers of each other, are the economic engines of Calgary’s emerging “Learning City,” which extends from the Bow River north to Nose Hill and from SAIT Campus to Shaganappi Trail.

The Alberta Children's Hospital has added a new dimension to Calgary's growing learning city. It is also one of Calgary's signature modern architectural buildings. 

The Children's Development Centre located across the street from the Alberta Children's Hospital is home to several agencies that help children in need.  It was one of Calgary's first LEED buildings. 

  Calgary's Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) has undergone a billion dollar expansion over the past 10 years.   

Calgary's Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) has undergone a billion dollar expansion over the past 10 years.  

  SAIT's Heritage Hall is Calgary's finest historic building.

SAIT's Heritage Hall is Calgary's finest historic building.

Catalytic Projects

The Learning City has numerous catalytic projects on the books, which will reshape it over the next 15 to 20 years into a more all-inclusive city. For example, along its “Crowchild Trail Corridor” there are major developments at several LRT stations including the transformation of the Brentwood Mall into University City village with highrise and midrise condos, retail, restaurants and other amenities designed to appeal to students, young medical professionals and empty nesters. 

The Dalhousie LRT Station is also adding mid-rise condo development on its west side, turning it into a more mixed-use station when factoring in the retail on the east side.  And this is just step one in the evolution of this station into a more diverse urban place. 

Motel Village (the collection of old motels across from McMahon Stadium) is also quietly evolving.  A new office building was completed a few years back and plans for upgrading the motels and hotels has begun with the new Aloft Hotel slated to open in February. The University of Calgary is also looking at the potential to redevelop the McMahon Stadium site, studying if this is the best use of site given it gets used to its maximum about 10 times a year.  Given stadium and playing fields proximity to the LRT, the university, hospitals and downtown, it’s “prime picking” for transit-oriented, mixed-use development. 

As well, the mid-century Stadium Shopping Centre is past its “best before” date, with the city having approved zoning to allow for 800,000 square feet of mix of retail, residential, office and hotel buildings this will become a “community within a community.”  The development will be synergistic with the needs of Foothills Hospital workers and visitors, as well as the neighbouring residential community.

But the biggest catalytic project for the “Learning City” is the West Campus project. It will see 205 acres of underutilized University of Calgary campus land immediately west of the Olympic Oval converted into a 21st century walkable “live, work, play” community.  The area already includes the Alberta Children’s Hospital, Ronald MacDonald House, Child Development Centre, University’s Physical Plant and family housing.  While the final plans are still being developed you can be sure the new village will include parks, pathways, a central plaza and community gardens all carefully linked to a variety of housing types, retail, restaurants and personal services, as well as office space. While no specific date has been set for the start of construction, this will be probably be a 2016 to 2025 project.

McMahon Stadium site is currently being looked at by the University of Calgary to determine how it might be redeveloped. (Image courtesy of Ross Aitken, Remax)

Owners of the Stadium Shopping Center (highlighted in yellow), which is located across from the Foothills Hospital are working with the City and community to create a mixed-use (residential, retail, office and hotel) village.  (Image courtesy of Ross Aitken, Remax)

The proposed West Campus university town is well conceived and is already getting lots of interest from developers. (Image courtesy of West Campus Development Trust).

A great place to play!

The Learning City boast some of Calgary’s best urban amenities from indoor shopping (Market, North Hill and Northland Malls), to bobo street retail and restaurants in Bowness and Montgomery.  

Abundant recreational facilities exist - from Shouldice Park to Canada Olympic Park and numerous City of Calgary indoor recreational facilities.  The University and SAIT also offer major recreation facilities to students, faculty and public, not the least of which is the Olympic Oval. It is also home to some of Calgary’s biggest and best parks – Nose Hill, Bowness and Bowmont.

Culturally, the University of Calgary has several performing art spaces for music, theatre and dance.  ACAD is home to the Illingsworth Kerr Gallery and its renowned semi-annual student art sales popular for those looking to start an art collection.   And of course, the Jubilee Theatre is part of the SAIT/ACAD campus.

For those interested in adult education on any given evening everything from travel classes at the University, to culinary classes at SAIT, to art classes at ACAD can be had. 

A great place to live!

The Learning City also offers a diversity of housing options. Upscale communities like Briar Hill, Hounsfield Heights and St. Andrew’s Heights have many spectacular million-dollar view lots along the north bluff of the Bow River.  Both St. Andrew’s Heights and Varsity Estates qualify as million dollar communities as the value of the average home sale is now over one million dollars.

There are lots of new single and duplex housing in all of the communities bordering the Learning City’s employment centers, with new infill construction on almost every block.  These homes with their modern kitchens, three bedrooms and developed basements are particularly attractive to young families.  

The Learning City is very family-friendly with numerous school options (public, Catholic, charter and private) from kindergarten through to high school, post-secondary and university and colleges, as well as Renfrew and Woods Home schools for special needs.

University City at Brentwood Mall will be the first high-rise living with its two colourful 20-story towers (tallest buildings north of the Bow River) – one Royal Gold (yellow) and one Sunlit Topaz (orange).  This emerging urban village will appeal to those wanting a more urban lifestyle with all of the amenities walking distance away and the university across the street. 

The Renaissance condos offer a unique lifestyle in Calgary as they are attached to the North Hill shopping center, which means you can shop without having to go outside.  There is a library just a half a block away and the Lions Park LRT station is across the street. It simply doesn’t get any better than that.

West Campus will create a 21st century pedestrian-oriented community for 15,000 or more people. 

The first two University City towers which are part of a mega transformation of the land east of the Brentwood LRT station from a retail power centre, into a mixed-use transit oriented urban village. 

The Renaissance condos are attached to the North Hill shopping mall and are within l walking distance of SAIT and Lion's Park LRT Station.

Last Word

Today, on any given day, nearly 100,000 people visit Calgary's Learning City (University of Calgary, SAIT/ACAD, Foothills Hospital, Children’s Hospital, Market and North Hill Malls to work and shop, or attend a class or medical appointment. Currently, 55,000+ people live in Learning City communities; this could double over the next 15 years.

By 2030, the University of Calgary campus could be the heart of a new city with its own culture based on academia, wellness and sports excellence. It could be surrounded by several vibrant self-sustaining pedestrian-oriented urban villages e.g. West Campus, University City, Stadium Village and McMahon Village (redevelopment of McMahon stadium site).  

Dubai Healthcare City looks very similar to the proposed the West Campus Development Trust's plan for the University of Calgary's West Campus. 

Launched in 2002, Dubai's Healthcare City (DHCC) is home to two hospitals, over 120 outpatient medical centers and diagnostic laboratories with over 4,000 licensed professionals occupying a total of 4.1 million square feet of medical facilities. 

Dubai is also home to the  Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) as part of their city’s master plan.  Formed in 2007, it currently has 20,000 students from 125 nationalities and offers over 400 higher education programs. The campus has 18 million square feet of state-of-the-art facilities. 

Like Dubai, Calgary's Learning City is blooming into one of the world's more interesting urban places for healthcare, academic and athletes to live, work and play. 

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Eau Claire Mega-Makeover

Glenbow: A new kind of art museum

By Richard White,  June1 , 2014

(An edited version of this blog appeared in the New Condos section of the Calgary Herald, titled "Vibrant vision fires up Glenbow fans" on Saturday, May 31, 2014)

Great cities have great museums! New York City has several - Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museum of Art. Paris has the Louvre, Centre Pompidou, Musee d’Orsay and Rodin Museum.  Everyday tens of thousands of locals and visitors invade the city centres of London and Paris to be entertained, educated and enlightened by a museum experience.  The diversity and quality of the museum experience is critical to understanding of a city’s history and sense of place, both for locals and tourists.  The importance of museums in defining a city was reinforced during our recent 6-week US road trip, where we toured 24 different museums and art galleries in places like Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Denver and Helena.

In Calgary, the Glenbow Museum is both our art and history museum.  For many years now it has struggled with this dual role.  Attendance and membership have not grown over the past 25 years despite the city’s doubling of population, as well as the number of its downtown workers.  

Recently, Donna Livingstone celebrated her one-year anniversary as Glenbow’s President & CEO. I thought it was timely to check in with her learn about her plans for the Glenbow.

The Building

Livingstone was quick to say the Glenbow has no plans to move out of the downtown. In fact, the current Glenbow building is in very good shape and what is needed is just modest renovations to the exterior and interior exhibition spaces.

She reminded me that when the Glenbow was designed and built (in the mid to late ‘60s), 9th Avenue was THE place to be with its new Calgary Tower, Convention Centre and hotel, as well as the train station and the grand Palliser Hotel. Today, 8th Avenue has become Calgary’s signature street so the museum needs to re-orient its entrance to the northside.  Her vision includes a new welcoming Stephen Avenue Walk entrance with an enhanced gallery shop, cafe and bold new signage.

Livingstone would also like to see the second floor look like a contemporary art gallery, not a convention centre space. This could be accomplished with a new ceiling and lighting, as well as the removal of the carpet to allow for a polished concrete floor, a relatively “mini-makeover” so to speak. 

Livingstone is looking at a mega-makeover of the third floor, which, in the past, has always been reserved for a major history exhibition that is on view for 10+ years without any changes (often leading to the comment “nothing ever changes at the Glenbow”).

She sees this floor becoming a multi-purpose space for art, artefacts, readings and performances that explore both the new West to the old West from multiple perspectives, genres and artistic practices. Using in-house expertise, combined with guest curators and other cultural groups locally, nationally and internationally, she wants to aggressively program the space to tell Calgary, southern Alberta and Western Canada stories. It is an ambitious and compelling vision that integrates and hybridizes modern art practices with historical documentation. It is the beginning of what she calls “a new kind of art museum.”  

As the fourth floor doesn’t have the high ceilings needed for today’s contemporary art and history exhibitions, her vision is to transform this space into a “hands-on” educational gallery for people of all ages and backgrounds.  In addition to the educational activities, it will include display cases filled with art and artifacts from the Glenbow’s collection that will rotate on a regular basis so “there will always be something new at the Glenbow!”

The Glenbow from 9th Avenue looking northwest. 

Many many years ago I attended a visioning workshop on Downtown Calgary and the group I was in looked at how the Glenbow and the Calgary Tower might look in the future.  This is the image we create of the future Glenbow.  

Glenbow's entrance from Stephen Avenue Walk.

While regular passenger train service not longer exists in Calgary, Downtown's 9th Avenue is home to the Canadian Pacific Railway Pavilion, which houses the vintage early 20th century passenger cars.  

Building Partnerships

One of Livingstone’s greatest assets is that she is a Calgarian; she knows the community and key players. Over the past year, one of her priorities has been to foster the Glenbow’s relationships and build new community partnerships. So, in addition to working with art gallery and museum groups like Alberta College of Art, Military Museums, Fort Calgary, University of Calgary and Contemporary Calgary (formerly the Art Gallery of Calgary, Triangle Gallery and Institute of Modern and Contemporary Art), she has also reached out to theatre and literary groups to let them know the “new Glenbow” is open and keen to work with them to bring its exhibitions and collection to life.  She is also working with the Calgary Stampede to create something celebrate our cowboy and western culture year round.

One recently example of a new partnership was with Calgary’s Verb Theatre who perform “Of Fighting Age” right in the gallery space containing the “Transformation: A.Y. Jackson & Otto Dix” exhibition (an exhibition of war art on loan from the National War Museums). For Livingstone and those who attended, the synergy of the visual and performance art was illuminating.

Building Community Support

The Glenbow’s signature fundraiser, SCHMANCY, has been recognized by Maclean’s magazine as one of the top five power galas in the country.  This year’s raucous evening of art and culture featured the likes of Bryan Adams, Rebecca Norton (Kung Fu Panties) and George Stroumboulopoulos. This is the new Glenbow – young, cheeky and schmancy. Oh yes, it also raised $280,000!

Exhibitions like “Made in Calgary: The ‘90s at Glenbow” by guest curator Nancy Tousley - with its 100 artworks by 55 artists - are critical to fostering the support of the local visual art community, something the Glenbow and most major Canadian art galleries struggle with. 

From June 7 to August 24, 2014, the Glenbow will feature Calgary’s young (under 40 years of age) whimsical glass art collective Bee Kingdom in an exhibition titled “Iconoclast In Glass.” To enhance visitors’ appreciation of glass art, the Bee Kingdom’s exhibition will be paired with an exhibition showcasing the Glenbow’s collection of historical and contemporary glass (which happens to be the largest in Canada).

In the past, the emerging and established local artists would often complain the Glenbow was ignoring their work.  This is no longer true!

The Bee Kingdom have exhibited their tiny, fun colourful creatures internationally and are now  at the Glenbow.

Last Word

For Livingstone, the duality of the being both art and history museum is something she wants to capitalize on, not complain about. With the largest, most diverse collection of art and artifacts in Western Canada (three times more art than the Vancouver Art Gallery), one of the largest collection of corporate head offices in North America in her backyard, as well as one of the strongest and most diverse cultural communities in Canada, she feels the Glenbow is well positioned to become the “new type of art museum” she envisions.

That is, a museum that tells the story of Calgary’s “sense of place: past, present and future” to Calgarians and visitors.  A museum that integrates historical and contemporary multi-discipline story-telling experiences which speak to everyone.  And, a museum that offer programs at noon hour, happy hour, weekday and weekends!

The fact Livingstone has no money to do any of the physical and programming changes she envisions doesn’t seem to faze her. She is confident the Glenbow will become Calgary’s the great museum (my words not hers) that Calgary deserves. It will be very interesting to watch the Glenbow’s transformation over the next few years. 

Donna Livingstone showing off her lassoing abilities.  A new kind of art museum, needs a new kind of President & CEO! (Photo credit: Calgary Herald)

Inglewood: Calgary's most unique community?

By Richard White, May 29, 2014 (an edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours section, May 29, 2014, titled "Cool Inglewood perfect for life, work and play).

Inglewood has the distinction of not only being Calgary’s oldest community (established in 1875), but also one of the most desirable urban communities in the City. And, while there are many fine historical buildings and relics from the past -including two old barns and an old brewery - still in the community, what makes its future particularly exciting are the many new private investments.

Two of the biggest additions to the community are George Brookman’s West Canadian Digital Imaging headquarter building at the east end of 9th (Atlantic) Avenue and Jim Hill’s Atlantic Art Block at the west end (the very modern 4-storey red brick building with the wavy roof).  These commercial anchors, combined with the existing shops, restaurants, cafes, clubs and pubs are critical to making Inglewood a perfect “live, work, play” community.

Live

Inglewood offers a diversity of housing options - from early 20th century cottages and Bow River mansions, to new infill homes  and low-rise condos.  At the far east end of Inglewood along 17th Avenue, almost at Deerfoot Trail, lies the 15-acre SoBow (south of downtown) condo development by Calgary’s M2i Development.   While Bridgeland, Beltline and East Village tend to get all the attention SoBow offers arguably the best amenities and accessibility of any new urban village Calgary. 

In minutes, you can be on the Deerfoot, Blackfoot or Barlow Trails, or an easy cycle or walk into downtown if you live in SoBow.  From an amenities perspective, the Zoo, Pearce Estate Park, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and the shops on 9th Avenue are basically in your backyard.

This large development has six phases and when complete, will consist of approximately 700 units, effectively creating a new “village” of 2,000+ people. (Click here for aerial views).

Heritage apartment blocks like this one make for great artists' live work spaces. 

Work

The Atlantic Art Block not only offers office space, but at street level there are retail shops, a restaurant and the uber cool 15,000 square foot Esker Foundation Art Gallery in the penthouse. At street level, the building is home to the popular Gravity Café and Bite Groceteria - both have been an instant hit with foodies. It is a great example of a mixed-use building. 

West Canadian Digital Imaging 60,000 square foot building is a more tradition office only space. It employs not only his  250 workers, but another 90 Travel Alberta employees.  

Creating a “live, work, play” community is more than just about densification by building more condos and adding grocery stores, restaurants and shops.  It is just as critical that business owners like Brookman and Hill decide to locate their businesses in Calgary's established communities and not just downtown or suburban office parks.  Workers are critical to the survival of the shops, cafes and restaurants as they provide weekday customers, while the residential spaces fill the “customer” role evenings and weekends.

The Atlantic Art Block combines both contemporary architectural design (wave roof and glass walls at the corner) with more traditional brick three storey warehouse massing mid-block to create an exciting architectural statement as you enter Inglewood from the west. 

West Canadian Digital Building is a  more traditional modern interpretation of early 20th century warehouse architecture. 

Play

Inglewood could be branded as Calgary’s music district as it is not only home to Recordland, Festival Hall, Ironwood and Blues Can, but also many of its old cottage houses and walk-up apartments are home to local musicians. 

If you haven’t been to Recordland, you should go. It is one of the largest privately owned record stores in Canada with over two million records.  The Festival Hall is the new year round home of the Calgary Folk Festival, as well as concert space for local and touring musicians. Ironwood and Blues Can offer live music seven days a week.  

Tim Williams at the Blues Can jamming with friends from around the world.

Recordland is just one of many local shops in Inglewood that makes it a fun place to flaneur.

Inglewood is a great place for window licking with lots of unique window installations. 

Rouge combines history and contemporary dining for a unique experience. 

  Nerd is just one of many hipster hangouts in Inglewood. 

Nerd is just one of many hipster hangouts in Inglewood. 

Did You Know?

In 2004, EnRoute Magazine identified Inglewood as one of the Canada’s top 10 “coolest neighbourhoods.”  Over the past 10 years, it has gotten even cooler. 

The Inglewood Lawn Bowling Club (established in 1936) has become a tony place for Calgary hipsters.  The Club is so popular they have just completed a shiny new clubhouse.

In 2006, Inglewood’s Rouge restaurant placed 60th on the S. Pellegrino World’s 100 Best Restaurants list. Rouge, is located in the A.E.Cross house, built in 1891.  (Back Story: Cross was one of the “Big Four” investors in the Calgary Stampede).  The restaurant boasts its own vegetable garden that covers six city lots. How cool is that?

Every Saturday afternoon, Calgary’s own “cool cat” Tim Williams hosts a Blues Jam at the Blues Can in Inglewood.  Williams is the winner of the 2014 International Blues Competition in two categories: best solo and duo artist and best guitarist. 

Inglewood’s boundaries are the Bow River (north) to the CPR Yard (south) and the Bow River (east) to Elbow River (west).

Last Word

With everything from lawn bowling to Saturday jams; from the sounds of the Zoo animals to the sounds of trains and planes; from one of the world's best restaurants, to Canada's best used record store; Inglewood is definitely, Calgary’s most unique community. 

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Don't be too quick to judge

Yes, Inglewood does still have two barns. I believe the red barn serves as storage for Calgary's own Canadian Pickers.

This is the historic Stewart Livery constructed in 1909 at 806 14th St. SE. Livery stables were integral to the daily life of frontier cities. They served many functions - hire of horse and vehicles, sale of horses and vehicles as storage of hay, coal and wood.  

Union Square: Living on the park!

By Richard White, May 23, 2014 (an edited version of this blog appeared in the May edition of Condo Living's Magazine). 

The addition of new high-rise condos, new retail and the expansion of Hotel Arts retail and office space have resulted in a significant change over the past few years to First Street SW south of 12th Avenue.

For example, Union Square, the sleek monochromatic industrial grey 25-story condo sits on the southwest corner of First Street and 13th Avenue.  Living on a park, specifically Haultain Park (Memorial Park is just a block away), has its advantages.

One key one is that Union Square offers – and will always offer - unobstructed views of the mountains, river valley and downtown in an ever increasingly crowded Beltline skyline. 

Union Square condo (the first one) from 13th Avenue (next to Haultain School, park and playground) looking east from Memorial Park.  

Haultain Park playing field.  There are also tennis courts and a community garden. 

The historic Haultain School which is now the headquarters of the Calgary Parks Foundation.

Community Collaboration 

The story of this condo is intriguing on many levels.  From a design perspective, it is classic, podium point tower, i.e. the first two floors cover the entire site while the upper 23 floors of condos are narrower, to create the thin tower that reaches up to the sky.  The tower design changes subtly from bottom to the penthouse; this is not a flashy “look at me” building with walls intersecting at weird angles and bright colours.  Rather, it is a timeless - some might say conservative - design that fits well in scale with the two other new highrise condos on First Street SW – Chocolate and Colours.

The project proceeded only after intense discussions and collaboration between the architects (BKDI), the developers (Apex and Western Securities), the City of Calgary (Planning and Parks) and the community.  The result is a façade on the First Street side, which is red brick at street level to integrate with the historic brick Underwood Block into the street level retail.  However, on the west side facing Haultain Park there are sandstone townhomes which mirror the character of the historic Haultain School built in 1894. The goal was to ensure that the building didn’t turn its back on the park with a large blank wall.  The townhomes, with their patios looking directly into the park, make for a very attractive transition from small scale to high-rise in a short space.

The backstory of Union Square gets even more complex. The original plan called for two towers, which required more parking than, could be built under the buildings. So, a deal was stuck to extend the parkade under the park.  To do so, the developer made a one-time payment of $250,000 to the City for park improvements. In addition, the condo association also pays an annual rental free to the city for the parkade under the park. Union Square really puts the PARK in parkade. As a result, there is a well-used playing field and children’s playground (you would be surprise how busy the playground is) in Haultain Park.

Union Square town homes with patios facing the park.

The popular Haultain playground.  Downtown Calgary is more family friendly than most people perceived!

Second Tower?

The first Union Square tower was completed in 2009. However the second tower was put on hold after the condo market crash in 2008.  Now that demand for Beltline condos continues to be strong, rumour has it that plans are being finalized to complete the second tower which would add to the vitality of First Street SW south of the tracks, an area evolving into an attractive, active pedestrian zone.

Unlike many new condos Union Square doesn’t have on-site amenities like a fitness room, pool, lounge or library.  It was determined that urban living is not about hibernating in one’s condo, but rather getting out and using the abundant amenities that already exist in the community – like the cafes, restaurants, yoga and workout studios, as well as the Memorial Park Library - that surround it.

An enlightened philosophy that will enhance community vitality for decades to come. 

The fountains at Memorial Park with Union Square in the distance (one block away). 

First Street SW is an important pedestrian link between the Beltline and Downtown and from the Elbow River to the Bow River.  Every year more shops, restaurants and clubs are being added to what is already a diverse and attractive streetscape.

 

Last Word

There are currently over 13,000 condo and apartment units under construction, approved or in the planning stages in the eight communities next to Calgary's downtown core (central business district).  Calgary's City Centre (all of the communities within 5 km of downtown) is one of the most attractive and vibrant urban places in North America today.

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