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!

District: Community Engagement Gone Wild 

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

3Rs of walkable communities?

 

A Surprise Playground Lunch

After a fun day of exploring Rome’s hipster Trastevere district, we were getting hungry. So, as good flaneurs do, we started asking shopkeepers where to go to lunch with the locals. Following the suggestion to check out the restaurants along Via G.A. Bertani, we eventually ending up at triangular Piazza San Cosimato. 

 To our surprise, the piazza was animated with a pop-up farmers’ market and a few permanent food vendors.  We quickly spotted a butcher making some great looking fresh sandwiches.  We stood in line to get one.  When our turn arrived, we non-Italian speakers pointed and said “two.” A few minutes of charades later, we found out we needed to go to the bakery on the street behind the butcher to purchase the buns and then return to the butcher who would make us our sandwiches.

 Buns in hand, we were back at the butcher’s in a flash. While he was making our sandwiches, I realized I really wanted a beer, so in another round of charades, I asked if he had one.  At first he pointed back to the bakery/grocery store, but then he nodded, smiled, grabbed a beer out of the fridge (I expect it was his personal beer fridge) and handed it to me.

 After paying up, we went to find a place to sit and enjoy our big fat, paper-wrapped sandwiches.  The only obvious spot was the benches along the inside perimeter of the tiny playground at the tip of the piazza. 

 

  Yes, Dads love to jump too.  This Dad is showing off his jumping skills to the entire family.

Yes, Dads love to jump too.  This Dad is showing off his jumping skills to the entire family.

  One sister is keen, the other is not so sure.

One sister is keen, the other is not so sure.

   Big brother helping sister.

Big brother helping sister.

Playground Fun 

It turned out to be the perfect spot, with dappled sunlight and a front row seat for the Cirque du Soleil-like performance by young children and their parents. As we ate, we were treated to a series of children hopping from one orange stationary, stool-like structure to another, spaced just far enough apart to make the jump difficult for younger children.  It was too much fun to watch as dads helped their kids and older siblings helped the younger ones.  We even had a couple of amazing performances by the dad – interesting to note that none of the moms gave it a try. It was amazing to watch how long the families jumped back and forth on this simple, low-tech playground equipment.

 The playground was also a great people-watching place. Locals of all ages and backgrounds came and went – it was a cast of characters.  I was even befriended by a little guy with a soccer ball who wanted somebody to kick it back and forth, which we did for few minutes until his Mom said they had to leave (or at least I think that is what she said as she smiled and said “thank you.”) As we left, I discovered what must be one of the largest blackboards in the world. Somebody had cleverly turned the concrete retaining wall along the edge of the piazza into a huge blackboard, probably close to 100 feet long.  I wish I had brought my sidewalk chalk.

 

  The seven stepping stools, who would think they could be so much fun.

The seven stepping stools, who would think they could be so much fun.

  The spectators bench. 

The spectators bench. 

  The world's longest blackboard?

The world's longest blackboard?

  A good public space attracts people of all ages. 

A good public space attracts people of all ages. 

  Our friendly butcher, sandwich maker. 

Our friendly butcher, sandwich maker. 

Last Word

This was definitely a far cry from the $250,000+ mass-produced, mega colourful playgrounds being constructed in parks in communities throughout Calgary.  This playground was integrated into the community’s everyday pursuits with shops and restaurants surrounding it on all sides.  Yes, there was a fence around the park, but there were no Playground Zone signs and no isolating the playground in a park far away from pedestrian, bike, motorcycle and car traffic. Rather, it was an integrated part of the everyday activities of a community that embraced outdoor urban living.  It truly was a community meeting / hangout place.  

 We love urban surprises and the Piazza San Cosimato ranks high as one of the best surprise of our 7 days in Rome.

 If you like this blog, you might like:

Plaza design: Dos & Don'ts

Public Art vs Playgrounds in the 21st Century

Vegas' Crazy Container Park

Dublin: St. Stephen's Green vs St Patrick's Cathedral Park

I have always believed that great cities have great parks.  A recent visit to Dublin and its two urban parks reminded me or the importance of parks in creating attractive urban places for people of all ages and backgrounds. 

St. Stephen's Green 

Until 1663 St. Stephen's Green was a marshy common on the edge of Dublin, used for grazing. In that year Dublin Corporation, seeing an opportunity to raise much needed revenue, decided to enclose the centre of the common and to sell land around the perimeter for building. The park was enclosed with a wall in 1664. The houses built around the Green were rapidly replaced by new buildings in the Georgian style and by the end of the eighteenth century the Green was the urban playground for the city's rich and famous. Much of the present day streetscape around the Green comprises modern buildings (some in a replica Georgian style) with very little from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Today St. Stephen's Green is a green oasis for people of all ages and backgrounds  in Dublin's bustling city centre. The current park was designed by William Sheppard in 1880.  The park is adjacent to one of Dublin's main shopping streets, Grafton Street, and to a shopping centre named for it, while on its surrounding streets are the offices of a number of government office and the city terminus of one of Dublin's LUAS tram lines.  At 22 acres, it is the largest of Dublin's Georgian garden squares, others include nearby Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square.

  Map of St. Stephen's Green

Map of St. Stephen's Green

There is a wonderful calmness in the park that invites you to sit and relax. 

  Parks are great places to sit, chat and people watch.  

Parks are great places to sit, chat and people watch. 

Fusilier's Arch is located at the entrance/exit to the park from Grafton Street. Built in 1907, it is dedicated to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who fought and died in the Second Boer War (1899 - 1902).

  The Park's playground is very popular with the little people.. 

The Park's playground is very popular with the little people.. 

  Stephen's Green has a wonderful pastoral ambience to it.

Stephen's Green has a wonderful pastoral ambience to it.

  The park is surrounded by high dense hedges that serve as noise and sight barriers, which contributes to the sense of an oasis and privacy. 

The park is surrounded by high dense hedges that serve as noise and sight barriers, which contributes to the sense of an oasis and privacy. 

The Park is full of monuments, mostly formal statues, but this contemporary piece titled "Famine,"  by Edward Delaney caught our imagination.  Parks make great spaces for public art, as they allow people to contemplate the artwork and move around it.

St. Patrick's Cathedral Park 

  I love that Baileys sponsored this information panel about the park and cathedral. 

I love that Baileys sponsored this information panel about the park and cathedral. 

  The formal park is centred around a modest fountain. 

The formal park is centred around a modest fountain. 

  Every park needs a playground. 

Every park needs a playground. 

  Parks should appeal to people of all ages.  This little guy turned a ramp into his private playground.

Parks should appeal to people of all ages.  This little guy turned a ramp into his private playground.

  Parks and public space should invite people to sit and linger.

Parks and public space should invite people to sit and linger.

  Liberty Bell, by Vivienne Roche occupies a prominent spot in the park.

Liberty Bell, by Vivienne Roche occupies a prominent spot in the park.

  At first I missed this peace of public art at is was so well integrated into the park I thought it was just another table and chairs. The location is perfect for looking out at the park or the cathedral. The piece is titled "Havel's Place" was designed by Borek Sipek and is dedicated to late Czech President and human rights advocate, Vaclav Havel. There are several of these monuments around the world.  Click here for more info.

At first I missed this peace of public art at is was so well integrated into the park I thought it was just another table and chairs. The location is perfect for looking out at the park or the cathedral. The piece is titled "Havel's Place" was designed by Borek Sipek and is dedicated to late Czech President and human rights advocate, Vaclav Havel. There are several of these monuments around the world. Click here for more info.

Parade of Writers

Another fun element of the park an area set aside to recognize the tremendous contribution made by writers who have lived in Dublin. It is truly amazing that one city could be the home for so many influential writers over such a long period of time.

panel
famous writers
beckett

Last Word 

I am not sure if anyone has done the study, but I expect there is a direct correlation between the quality and quantity of urban parks and the vibrancy of the City's City Center. Think New York's  Central Park, Vancouver's Stanley Park or Montreal's Mount Royal Park.  

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary: The City of Parks & Pathways

Public Art & Playgrounds in the 21st Century

Beautifying the Beltline

Safety + Segregation + Space = Sterility

I have a theory. In fact, I’ve had it for some time. Simply stated, it is Safety + Segregation + Space = Sterility. I’m inspired to publicly share it after my recent conversation with Mel Foht, President and COO of Royop Development Corporation. Having just returned from his trip to Europe, we began talking about safety, segregation and public spaces as well as how Calgary differs from European cities in its approach to urban design. 

Street Safety

“Are Calgarians obsessed with safety? Are we making our urban spaces and places too safe?” These are questions I’ve often wondered. Though many readers may well disagree, I’d hazard a guess to say Mel and I aren’t the only ones who think we are correct.

If we want our streets to be safer, the first step might be to get all walkers, joggers, cyclists and drivers to unplug from their headphones.  We need to take a page from the peewee hockey players’ manual – “keep your head up if you don’t want to get hit.”  Whether on the sidewalk or street, we all need to look ahead and around to be aware of our environment.

Street safety is a shared responsibility.

  In Salt Lake City, many of the cross walks have a reminder to look both ways. 

In Salt Lake City, many of the cross walks have a reminder to look both ways. 

Salt Lake City takes cross walk safety as step further by providing bright orange flags for pedestrians to use as they cross the street. Is this going too far?

Four-way stops are easier for pedestrians, cyclist and drivers to share the space and are a lot cheaper than round-abouts and speed bumps.  

Calgary roads for the most part have lots of room for pedestrians, cyclist and drivers if we respect each other and share the road. Share The Road signs are a good reminder that EVERYONE is responsible for sharing the road. 

Food Safety

And then there is food safety. Foht gives kudos to Mayor Nenshi and Council for fast tracking the licensing of food trucks a few years back. Calgary has about 45 food trucks (Portland, a city renowned for its street food culture, in comparison has over 500). It should be noted that Portland’s food carts are permanent street vendors (not trucks) and are often clustered on under-utilized parking lots. In fact, their downtown even has a block-long, surface parking lot ringed with food carts which creates a festival-like, outdoor food court. But as Portland, unlike Calgary, doesn’t have dozens of major office buildings each with their own food court, it is hard if not impossible to make any apple-to-apple comparison.

I am told Calgary once had the reputation for having some of the toughest food safety laws in North America. While on one hand that’s important and good, it basically restricted the food options by street food vendors to mostly hotdogs. If other cities can have rules that ensure food safety yet enable a wider variety of foods to be cooked and served on the street, we surely can too.

Portland has become a mecca for foodies partly as a result of the numerous food carts that transform surface parking and vacant lots into outdoor food courts - not just in the downtown but around the city.

Public Transit Safety

Safety also plays a key role when it come to the dominance of the car as the preferred form of transportation, not only in Calgary but I suspect in most North American cities. 

We experienced this firsthand in Memphis one morning this past winter when my wife Brenda planned to take a 20-minute bus ride from downtown to a shopping area. When ATM issues forced her to go into the nearby bank to talk to a teller, conversation ensued (which included an informal poll of all four tellers as to if she should take the bus or a cab) and a decision was made (solely by them) to call a cab - without Brenda’s permission and at her cost of 25 dollars! (Note: she took the bus back with no concern whatsoever re: her personal safety and at a cost of $3.)  This was not an isolated case – another day she was warned by locals (including a female tram driver nonetheless) to not take public transit alone. Clearly to us, whites in Memphis feel safer in their car than walking the streets or taking public transit. We also now better understand the current situation in Ferguson, Missouri. 

And safety is even shaping Calgary’s suburbs. The popularity of drive-thru coffee shops, ATMs and fast food stores is not only about convenience but also perceived safety.

Segregation

In many ways, by segregating the modes of traffic in Calgary’s downtown core - for example, 9th Avenue for cars, 8th Avenue for pedestrians and 7th Avenue for transit - we have virtually eliminated the urban vitality that comes from diversity and critical mass.  It is interesting to note that while in the early 20th Century, 8th Avenue accommodated street cars, vehicles and pedestrians, a century later we are arguing whether even pedestrians and cyclists can share the space.

 We have also segregated our activities in a way that chokes off vitality. Think about it. Most of Calgary’s cultural activities are clustered in the east end of downtown, creating a cultural ghetto away from the banks, offices, shops and restaurants. With most plays, concerts, shows, gallery events, festivals, etc happening on weekday evenings and weekends, there’s little need for most to go there during weekday days – other than to simply use it as a pass-through block to get to and from City Hall.

As well, most shops have been segregated to the +15 and +30 levels between the Hudson’s Bay and Holt Renfrew. Few small shops dot Stephen Avenue Walk itself. This stretch of 8th Avenue has become a restaurant ghetto, with vitality basically just around weekday noon hours. Recently, when touring a visiting architect from Holland and his family in the area, they couldn’t believe how the Walk changes at noon hour on weekdays. It is a phenomenon – not necessarily a great one though.

  Early 20th century postcard of Stephen Avenue with street cars, vehicle and pedestrians sharing the space. 

Early 20th century postcard of Stephen Avenue with street cars, vehicle and pedestrians sharing the space. 

  Salt Lake City allows cars, LRT and cyclist to share the road.

Salt Lake City allows cars, LRT and cyclist to share the road.

  In Dublin, as in most European cities, the streets and sidewalks are shared by everyone. The sidewalks are narrow and the roads are crowded with pedestrians, cyclists, motorcycles and cars all interacting at close quarters. 

In Dublin, as in most European cities, the streets and sidewalks are shared by everyone. The sidewalks are narrow and the roads are crowded with pedestrians, cyclists, motorcycles and cars all interacting at close quarters. 

Space

Foht speaks of how Europe’s sidewalks and streets are animated with people doing lots of different things, going in lots of different directions and using lots of different modes of transportation.  It is not unusual, he says, “to see pedestrians, cyclists, scooters, trams, buses, cars and trucks all mixing and mingling on the same street at the same time.” Urban guru Jane Jacobs referred to this as “sidewalk ballet;” others call it “messy urbanism,” while yet others call it “critical mass.” Regardless of what you coin it, great urban spaces are crowded with people who access the space by a variety of transportation modes.

He also noticed that in Europe people were able to share the smallest space that allow “a zillion scooters and bikes to co-exist.” In Calgary, we can’t even seem to get the fact that the sidewalks on in the Peace Bridge are for pedestrians while the middle roadway is for cyclists.  And while European streets may look like a free-for-all to us, they in fact are very safe.

Does this mean they have more or better signage? Not necessarily. In fact, many European cities are experimenting with removing signs, allowing roads and public spaces to be self-governing. We seem to enact the polar opposite approach, ie. more signage and more complicated signage. Perhaps we are too busy trying to read and understand the signs instead of just having some basic signs and rules and then just using common sense.

For some reason, it seems that part of Calgarians’ psychological DNA includes the need for lots of space around us – big houses, big vehicles, big streets, etc. Granted, it is what we have had and in most cases, what we continue to have; it is what we are used to. For us, the extent of “crowded spaces” experience consists maybe of rush hour transit rides and at Stampede or major street festivals.

If we want to create street animation, we need to learn how to share our space. I am a big fan of “Share The Road” signs, four way stops and painted bike lanes as cost-effective traffic calming measures vs. speed bumps, roundabouts and separate bike lanes.  Why is it that Calgary always seems to find the most expensive way to manage the sharing of our streets? 

Last Word

If we really want urban vitality in Calgary, we can’t live in our own individual bubbles. If we really want a sense of community, we have to be aware of and connect with others, embrace sharing public spaces and avoid “safety-phobia.” Safety + Space + Segregation = Sterility – it’s definitely not an equation I want for Calgary.   

By Richard White, November 1st, 2014. An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on November 1st, 2014. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Drivers, pedestrians and cyclists need to learn to share.

Calgary: A Bike Friendly City?

Design Downtown for Women and Men Will Follow?

 

 

Calgary: Beautifying The Beltline

Over the past five years, the City of Calgary and the Beltline Community Association have strategically and successfully developed and implemented plans to beautify Calgary’s most densely populated community. The Beltline has 6,963 residents per square kilometer, while Calgary’s overall density is 1,329 with communities like Hillhurst/Sunnyside and Aspen Woods 3,207 and 1,676 per square kilometer respectfully.   The City’s and the Beltline community’s goal is to foster its growth from the current 20,000 urbanites to 40,000 by 2035.  Both groups realize to fulfill this vision the Beltline must have great public spaces that attract people of all ages and backgrounds.

Memorial Park 

The first beautification project was the $11 million, renovation of Memorial Park, Calgary’s oldest park (1912) transforming it from a 20th century to 21st century public space. Completed in 2010, the renos included the addition of new pathways, seating, fountains, flower plantings and washrooms.   It is now the signature public space for Beltliners who want to sit and relax in the shadows and glitter of the downtown skyline. The addition of the Boxwood restaurant and patio was a stroke of genius as it adds an entirely new dimension to the park experience. 

Developers built upon the Memorial Park revitalization project with two new condo projects – The Park (an 18-storey, 156 unit condo by Lake Placid Group of Companies, now mid-construction) and Park Point, a 34/27-storey, 502 unit condo by Landmark Qualex just beginning construction).

Playing in the water in Memorial Park.

Relaxing in Memorial Park.

  Enjoying the patio at Boxwood restaurant.

Enjoying the patio at Boxwood restaurant.

13th Ave Greenway 

The next beautification project is the 13th Avenue Heritage Greenway, which will eventually create an enhanced pedestrian and cycling experience from Macleod Trail to 17th Street SW.  The Greenway will create a multi-use path, as well as a traditional sidewalk on the north side of the road, separated from each other and the road by a row of trees. Phase One from Macleod Trail to 4th Street is now open and when completed, the Greenway will create four character areas – Sunalta, Victoria Crossing, Connaught and West Connaught.  It will also connect several heritage sites along 13th Avenue including Haultain School (1894), Central Memorial Park/Library (1912), First Baptist Church (1912), Lougheed House / Beaulieu Gardens (1891), Ranchman’s Club (1914) and Calgary Collegiate Institute School (1908).

Enhanced sidewalks, new trees and grasses along the 200 block of 13th Avenue. 

13th Avenue streetscape at Barb Scott Park.

Barb Scott Park

Next up was the Barb Scott Park (named after the late Barb Scott, City of Calgary Councilor from 1971 to 1995 and parks champion) on the west side of the new Calgary Board of Education headquarters (9th Street from 12th to 13th Avenues). Opened in May 2014, this public space includes a large oval grass area that allows for impromptu kicking and throwing games like soccer, Frisbee and football.  The park is anchored by the popular “Chinook Arch” public art work at the corner of 9th Street and 12th Avenue SW. 

 Like Memorial Park, the new Barb Scott Park has also been a catalyst for new condo development, including the colourful Aura I and II towers by Intergulf-Cidex directly across the street.

New seating and playing field on the west side of the new CBE building. 

Chinook Arc on the northwest corner of Barb Scott Park.

Future Projects

The pace of the Beltline beautification program is accelerating. There are currently three projects at various stages of development – Enoch Park on Macleod Trail between 11th and 12th Avenues is under construction, the ENMAX Park on the Elbow River (part of the Stampede’s mega makeover) is in its final stages of design, as is the lawn bowling park on 11th Street at 16th Avenue SW.

Enoch Park

Enoch Park (City website is still calling it new East Victoria park) gets its name from the Enoch House that will be moved a few meters east into the Park allowing its former location to make way for a Canada’s first ClubSport Hotel by Marriot International. The 1905 Queen Anne home one of the few stately homes still standing in Victoria Park and built by clothing entrepreneur Enoch Sales, has seen better days. But as part of the development of a new park on Macleod St between 11th and 12th Avenues it will be restored and transformed into a restaurant – think Boxwood or River Café. 

The park will be more like a plaza with lots of linear, canopied tree plantings, informal lawn areas, criss-crossing pathways with the lots of seating – some fixed along walls and some café style with tables and moveable chairs allowing for great views of the ever-changing downtown and Beltline skyline.  This park is scheduled for completion I expect by summer of 2015 (City of Calgary website says fall of 2014).

  Enoch Park under construction.

Enoch Park under construction.

Plans for Enoch Park.

Enoch House.

ENMAX Park @ Stampede

The Stampede’s Master Plan has long called for the creation of a 30-acre park along the Elbow River in the northeast quadrant of the grounds from the railway bridge to right behind the Saddledome.  Recently, ENMAX stepped forward as the naming sponsor for the park, which will be home for the new Indian Village during Stampede.  During the rest of the year, the park will be open to the public and consist of two large green spaces for both passive and programmed activities, including small festivals and events.  There will also be a Western Heritage Trail, an open-air museum with sculptures and self-guided history panels creating a walk through time.  The park will be synergistic with the Stampede’s plans for a vibrant Youth Campus on the west side of the Elbow River.

ENMAX Park showing enhanced park space including new Indian Village site.

Stampede is converting this parking lot into a park.

16th & 11th Park

The lawn bowling park in the southwest corner of the Beltline at 16th Avenue and 11th St SW is still in the final design stage.  We do know that the lawn bowling facility will be moving and this will allow for a number of possible uses.  An extensive community consultation process has generated copious ideas (exhibition space, skating rink, flexible seating, season vendors, urban pond, picnic area, orchard, game space and community garden) on how to make this a year-round public space.  This new park could be the catalyst for the revitalization of 11th Street SW, a street with all the ingredients to become a micro-retail/restaurant hub for those living on the west side of the Beltline.

Already with a Good Earth Café, Galaxie Diner and Kalamata Grocery store, it’s got a great foundation.

Ideas for revitalizing the park.

Clustering and organizing ideas.

Developing ideas into reality.

Signs of Success

The “Beautification of the Beltline” initiative has been a huge success to date.  Currently there are 10+ condo projects under construction, which means potentially 15,000+ new residents in the next few years.  Indeed, the Beltline is not only one of Calgary’s most attractive urban communities, but one of North America’s too.

The citizen-led “Blueprint For The Beltline” vision adopted in 2003 has served the community well, especially when it come to Development Principle #37 – “In order to enhance the public realm and to encourage and complement high-quality private development, The City will continue to invest, subject to Council’s future budget deliberations, in improvements to public assets such as parks, cultural and recreational facilities, streets, boulevards, sidewalks, pathways, bikeways and lanes.” Amen!

By Richard White, October 1, 2014 (An edited version of this blog appeared in Condo Living magazine's October edition.)

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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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Calgary: Urban Forest vs Tree Abuse?

By Richard White, September 6, 2014 (An edit version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, titled "From bald prairie to urban forest," on September 6, 2014)

Recently, Toronto-based Lamb Development Corp. announced it would be creating orchard between the two condo towers on 12th Avenue next to Stampede.  I thought this was a strange idea being Calgary is not know as fruit belt by any stretch of the imagination. But after a little digging I learned that since 2009, the City of Calgary has been planting fruit trees and shrubs as part of a pilot community research orchard program.  The three pilot orchards are in Hillhurst-Sunnyside (50 trees), Baker Park (100+ trees) and Ralph Klein Park (no number given on city of Calgary website).  The first two focus mostly on apple trees, while the later will consist of a variety of pear trees.

The City of Calgary recommends two varieties of apple trees - Prairie Sun and Prairie Sensation, both are about six feet tall and produce about 20 lbs. of apples when mature.  The two varieties of pears recommended are “Ure” and “Early Gold.” The “Capilano” apricot is also recommended, as are several varieties of cherries.  Fruit bearing shrubs include the “Hinnomaki Red” gooseberry, American Hazelnuts, Honeyberries or Haskaps. 

A quick check of Calgary greenhouse and landscape websites confirmed that indeed, several other varieties of fruit trees would grow well in Calgary. In fact, I forgot but when we moved into our house in West Hillhurst (aka Grand Trunk) in there were two mature apple trees in the neighbour’s backyard that produced a massive amount of apples.  They removed the trees a few years later as the apples quickly drop to the ground, became very mushy very quickly, becoming “wasp magnets. They weren’t much good except for applesauce, which we ate a lot of that summer.

At this time, the City has no plans to create more community orchards, but interested individuals should contact their community association if they are interested. The city might consider facilitating an orchard in your community – could be in a pocket park, community garden or along the boulevard near your home.  The City even has an “orchard steward” program i.e. someone who takes an active role in caring for and maintaining an orchard by pruning, monitoring health and harvesting the fruit.

Silver Springs experimental orchard.

Apple tree on the front lawn of a century old home in Inglewood. 

Treeless Prairie

While digging I also found out a lot more about Calgary’s urban forest. Indeed, Calgary’s urban forest is a remarkable achievement given the City’s climate doesn’t naturally support trees.  It is estimated that 3% of trees in Calgary’s urban forest die annually.

Early photographs of Calgary show a treeless prairie landscape, however in the 1890s William Pearce, envisioned Calgary as a “city of trees,” developing an experimental farm with an irrigation system so he could grow more types of trees.  His home and farm is now known as Pearce Estates Park, located at the far east end of Inglewood where the Bow River turns south.

He also encouraged Calgarians to improve the appearance of the City by planting trees around their homes. And, in 1899, the City Council passed not only the first tree protection bylaws, but also started promoting tree planting.

Calgary before trees.

Mount Royal before trees.

Over $400M 

Today, Calgary boasts 445,000 trees in our groomed parks and boulevards, worth an estimated $400 million. The value of individual trees ranges from $300 to $33,000.  The most valuable trees are a pair of American Elms in Rideau Park.

In our natural areas, there are several million more trees – Weaslehead Flats alone having an estimated 3 million trees.

North Glenmore Park forest

This Bur Oak is a heritage tree on Crescent Road was planted in 1937.

Heritage Elm tree in the middle of a Stampede PARKing lot. 

The Sunnyside urban forest didn't exist 100 years ago. 

Collaborating with citizens

One of the key tree management tools of the City today is to collaborate and engage with citizens to enhance our urban forest with community awareness and education, tools and shared stewardship opportunities.   For example, the “Symbolic Tree Program” which allows you to commemorate a birthday, wedding, anniversary or any other day by planting a tree in a city park.

The BP BirthPlace Forest which between 2001 to 2009, planted trees over 50,000 trees at nine sites across the city to reflect the children born in the city each year.

The City also has a Planting Incentive Program (PIP) where the City will match 50% of the cost of a new tree to be planted on City-owned residential property. Choose the species of tree from the city’s approved tree list and once approved the City will does all the rest.

Silver Springs BP Birthplace Forest 

Calgary Tree Fun Facts

Urban trees are important not just for the aesthetics, shade and privacy, but they also help make Calgary the “cleanest city in the world” (2013 Mercer Global Financial and HR Consulting ranking). It was estimated that Calgary’s urban forest removes a total of 502 tons of pollutants each year, with an estimated value of almost $3 million (US Forest Service Urban Forest Effect Model: Calgary Study 1998).

Each year, the City removes 500 to 800 pioneer poplar trees i.e. those planted 75 to 100 years ago to as these trees are at the end of their lifespan and it allows opportunities for other trees to grow

One of the fun things to do when walking around inner-city communities is to play “Guest the cost of that tree!”  On almost every block there are one or more signs at each infill site indicating the value of the city trees on the lot.  The builder is responsible for protecting all city trees and if that isn’t possible they have to pay the city the amount posted to replace the trees.

In 1913, William Reader, Parks and Cemetery superintendent unsuccessfully (surprise, surprise) experimented with growing palm trees in pots in the summer in Central Memorial Park as well as around City Hall.  

Olympic Plaza trees

 Last Word

Sometimes I think Calgarians are in denial that we live in winter city.  I am often reminded of this when I pass by the struggling oak tree planted by the City in Grand Trunk Park across the street from my house. It, like many of the thousands of oak trees planted by the City; struggle to grow in a place not meant for trees - certainly not oak trees.  Could this be “tree abuse?”  In fact, some might say creating an urban forest in Calgary is “disturbing its natural ecosystem.”

This oak tree has been struggling to grow in West Hillhurst's Grand Trunk Park for over 10 years. It looks more like a sculptural piece than a tree. 

  The streets of every inner city community in Calgary were strewn with fallen branches after the September 8 and 9th snow storm. Another reminder that we not only live on the treeless prairies, but on the edge of the Rockies.  

The streets of every inner city community in Calgary were strewn with fallen branches after the September 8 and 9th snow storm. Another reminder that we not only live on the treeless prairies, but on the edge of the Rockies.  

Stephen Avenue Trees? Sculptures? 

Urban forest provide a canopy over the street winter and summer.

Today, Calgary’s tree canopy is estimated to cover 7% of its over land mass. The goal is to increase this by 1% per decade to a 20% canopy.

In the summer, for those Calgarians living in established communities it is hard to imagine Calgary was a barren, treeless prairie landscape.  Yes, Mount Royal was a treeless hill less than 100 years ago!

To learn more about the City of Calgary’s Parks Urban Forest Strategic Plan, read the document at: http://www.calgary.ca/CA/city-clerks/Documents/Council-policy-library/csps028-Parks-Urban-Forest-Strategic-Plan.pdf

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Mount Royal: City Beautiful or Man vs Nature?

Calgarians have a long history of being in love with building mansions. Long before there were Aspen Woods or McKenzie Lake Island, there was Mount Royal.

Back in the early 1900s, Mount Royal was just a treeless hill southwest of city limits, like many of the hills in today’s edge communities.  The land belonged to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) part of the 25 million acres of land granted to them by the federal in government in 1885 as an incentive to build Canada’s transcontinental railway.

 It wasn’t until 1905 that the CPR decided to subdivide the “yet to be named” land into huge (some an entire city block) lots to attract the wealthy and make a healthy profit.  By 1907, seven mansions had been built on Royal Avenue and Hope Street for wealthy American businessmen attracted to Calgary by its bustling ranching and agricultural opportunities. As a result, the new community got the nickname “American Hill.” 

The first Mount Royal Homes were built on land devoid of any trees. This home was built by D.J. Young in 1910 at the corner of 8th Street and Durham Road. 

Mount Royal becomes American Hill and you can see some of the early trees. 

Mount Royal early 20th century. 

By the 1916, homes like the Coste House were starting to be more park-like with substantial trees. Credit: Vicky Williams " Calgary Then and Now" (1978) 

  Found this on the gate of the Dower House.

Found this on the gate of the Dower House.

  If this is what Calgary looked like 100 years ago, imagine what it will look like in 2114. 

If this is what Calgary looked like 100 years ago, imagine what it will look like in 2114. 

CPR: Calgary's Past & Present

The CPR executives in Montreal (CPR’s corporate headquarters) and Calgary lawyer R.B. Bennett (future Canadian Prime Minister) were none too happy with the nickname, so they lobbied to have Calgary’s newest suburb named after the exclusive community of Mount Royal in Montreal (the home of William E. Van Horne, president of CPR).  CPR even went as far as to give the new community Canadian character street names like – Wolfe, Sydenham and Durham, as well as French-Canadian names like Champlain, Frontenac, Joliet and Vercheres.  Local folklore has it that the Montreal executives joked “let them damn Yankees try to pronounce those names when they tell their friends where they live.”

Mount Royal developed rapidly during the 1910 to 1912 Calgary boom, becoming the home of such notables as Colonel James Macleod and the A.E. Cross family.

In an ironic twist of fate, by the end of the 20th century - 1996 to be exact - Calgary businessman David O’Brien orchestrated the relocation of CPR’s head office to Calgary, much to the shock of the Montreal business community.

Today, many of the early 20th century mansions still exist in Mount Royal alongside many contemporary new ones.  In local historian Harry Sanders’ book “Historic Walks of Calgary,” there is a great self-guided walking tour of the community with lots of interesting insights.

City Beautiful

Like master-planned communities today, Mount Royal is a product of the urban thinking of its time.  The “City Beautiful” movement was very popular in Canada in the early 20th century, with its principles of creating urban communities that were less grid-like and more park-like. This meant curved streets, irregular lot shapes, boulevards, an abundance of parks and architectural controls; this is not dissimilar to what we saw in Calgary’s late 20th century communities.

Just one of the many curved streets of Mount Royal. You can see the proximity to Downtown with the office towers in the distance. In the early 20th Century, Mount Royal was on the edge of the city. 

  Many of the homes have huge lots that are like private parks. 

Many of the homes have huge lots that are like private parks. 

  Many of the homes are located at top of a hill, giving them an enhanced sense of grandeur. 

Many of the homes are located at top of a hill, giving them an enhanced sense of grandeur. 

  R.B. Bennett House was built in 1912.  Canada's 12th Prime Minister owned this home from 1917 to 1947, but never lived in it.  The rounded corner tower with its octagonal roof, it not typical of Georgian Revival homes (Calgary Walks, Harry Sanders, 2005).

R.B. Bennett House was built in 1912.  Canada's 12th Prime Minister owned this home from 1917 to 1947, but never lived in it.  The rounded corner tower with its octagonal roof, it not typical of Georgian Revival homes (Calgary Walks, Harry Sanders, 2005).

A carriage house that is now modest Mount Royal home.

Architecture 101

Sanders points out that while most of Mount Royal fits the “City Beautiful” mold, there is one exception. At the top of the hill between Prospect and Dorchester Avenues, from 10th Street to Carlton sits a grid-like development. This was the 10-acre site sold to Dr. Ernest Willis in 1904 for his hill-top sanatorium before the CPR’s design controls were in place.

Today, walking the streets of Mount Royal is like walking through a history book of home styles – English, Georgian and Revival, Art & Crafts, American Foursquare and more.  You will also see modern designs influenced by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright.   

One example is the Katchen residence at 800 Prospect Ave. SW.  Built in 1954 it was the home of Mire Katchen, a successful cattleman who, with his brother Samuel, founded Canadian Packers. The house, designed by Clayton, Bond & Morgridge, is an excellent example of the International style with its post and beam wood construction, flat roof, open floor plan and private outdoor spaces that integrate with the interior living spaces.   

  Katchen Residence.

Katchen Residence.

  Another of the mid-century modern homes.   Note that there is no sidewalk on this side of the street and no massive driveway, creating a nice balance between man and nature. 

Another of the mid-century modern homes. Note that there is no sidewalk on this side of the street and no massive driveway, creating a nice balance between man and nature. 

  One of the few homes in Mount Royal with an unobstructed view of the street. You don't get set-backs like this in new subdivisions, even on an estate lot. 

One of the few homes in Mount Royal with an unobstructed view of the street. You don't get set-backs like this in new subdivisions, even on an estate lot. 

  It is hard to tell if this is a new house or a modernized turn of the century home. 

It is hard to tell if this is a new house or a modernized turn of the century home. 

What's in a name?

One of the things I love about the mansions of the early 20th century is that they took on the names of their owners.  Sanders’ book is full of names like Davidson Residence and Coach House, R.B. Bennett House, Coste House etc. each with their own story to tell. 

A quick scan of current MLS listings shows that you can still buy a modernized piece of history, i.e. a 1910 Mount Royal home on a one-acre lot complete with a heated 6 car garage and a Carriage House.  The average Mount Royal home sells for about $2.5 million for a 3,000+ square foot home.  It is also interesting to note there are lots of families living in Mount Royal - not just empty nesters.  In fact, 25.5% of Mount Royal’s residents are under the age of 19, which is higher than the city average of 24%.

If you are a gardener, Mount Royal is a great place to wander and see what survives in Calgary, as many of these gardens are 100 years old.  It truly is like walking in a park as the huge lots allow for many huge trees and shrubs, something that isn’t possible on the tiny lots in Calgary’s new subdivisions with all their underground services.

Back story: Developers and urban planners in the late 20th century buried the ugly overhead wires to make new suburbs more beautiful. However, the unintended consequence was that large trees could not be planted near the underground services making tree-lined streets in new suburbs a thing of the past. As you wander Mount Royal, you get the feeling of a nice balance between man and nature, something missing in new suburbs where the house, driveway and road dominate. 

As you wander Mount Royal you will discover historical artifacts like old fieldstone fences and old coach houses that have since become separate homes. Many of the huge lots have been subdivided allowing for new infill homes to be built. 

Yes even Mount Royal is being densified! 

One of the many river rock walls from the early 20th Century that add charm to the community. 

Coste House mailbox

Not everything in Mount Royal is conservative and historic, found these blue trees that have a wonderful luminous quality that is ver contemporary.  Could this be an environmental statement?

  Just one of many infills in Mount Royal; this house could be in any one of a dozen or more inner city communities in Calgary. 

Just one of many infills in Mount Royal; this house could be in any one of a dozen or more inner city communities in Calgary. 

By Richard White, August 23, 2014 (An edited version of this blog appeared in the Fall edition of Domus Magazine.) 

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Stop and smell the flowers in Silver Springs!

By Richard White, August 19, 2014

In 2002, one of nine BirthPlace Forests was initiated along the Silver Springs Boulevard off Crowchild Trail, as the gateway into the community.  This joint initiative of BP Energy, Calgary Parks, Calgary Health Region and Golden Acres saw 7,000 trees planted to create a unique urban forest. The BP BirthPlace Forests program was launched to celebrate every newborn baby in Calgary by planting a tree in its honour - the program ended in 2010.

 However, for Silver Springs’ residents, the forest was the catalyst to create the Botanical Gardens of Silver Springs.  In 2006, a small 400 square foot space (size of double car garage) within the forest was the humble beginnings of what is now a 15,000 square foot (the equivalent of 10+ Silver Springs bungalows) garden full of annuals and perennials. 

In 2009, the community also established its Community Edible Garden, in addition to the regular vegetables boxes as part of a fun “Kids Grow” program. Today the Silver Springs Botanical Garden includes the Oval Garden, Rose Garden, Old Post Garden Shakespeare Garden, a the Wall Garden and an labyrinth. 

Map of the various gardens the combine to create the Silver Springs Botanical Garden 

Trail through the Birth Place Forest that gets you to the gardens. 

Enjoying the labyrinth.

One of the many colourful flower gardens. 

A section of the Rose Garden. 

The Shakespeare Garden mixes quotation, flowers and plants to create a unique experience. 

columbine

Community Spirit

The 1,300-foot Wall Garden is the showpiece of the gardens with its spectacular mix of colours and textures.  William Morf, a Silver Springs resident, initiated the garden by starting a 100-foot garden along the ugly noise barrier at the back of his property. Soon others joined in. Today, a merry and dedicated band of 30 or so green-thumbed volunteers contribute over 6,000 hours of sweat labour annually to maintain and enhance the various gardens. 

Who knows how much money and plant material they have also contributed? The Silver Springs Botanical Gardens is just another example of Calgary’s amazing community spirit and “can do” attitude.

The botanical gardens area has become a popular place for locals to “stop and smell the flowers.” This hidden gem should be on every Calgarian’s calendar as a must- walk; Tourism Calgary and Travel Alberta should add it to their websites as a fun and free tourist attraction.  

Given the gardens are just minutes off Crowchild Trail, there should be a tourist attraction sign informing visitors of the Silver Springs Botanical Garden.  For dog owners, the bonus is that the gardens are also an off leash area. And for those with a budding interest in gardening; this would be a great place to find out what grows in Calgary, and you might even be lucky enough to get some free gardening advice. 

 

The 1300 foot Wall Garden. 

The Sunflower garden. 

Smell The Flowers 

flower pistal
hollyhocks
purple flowers

Yes, the Silver Springs Botanical Garden is literally just off Crowchild Trail. 

Footnotes:

Calgary’s Silver Springs community extends from the north bluff of the Bow River north to Crowchild Trail and from Silver Springs Gate west to Nose Hill Drive. Construction of the community started in 1972 and was completed in 1980, and since then this community of 9,000 people has aged gracefully.

 And, yes there really are “silver springs” in the community.  A series of springs cascades from the northern bank of the Bow River, which forms the southern boundary of the community. While the area was closed due to the flood in 2013, plans are in place to make upgrades to all of the large natural areas of Bowmont Park – including access to the silver springs. Hopefully it will open again in 2015.

Plaza Design Dos & Don'ts / Salt Lake vs St. George

By Richard White, August 17, 2014 (an edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald titled "Public Plazas need to be friendly" August 16, 2014)

You would think that after centuries of urban design there would be a checklist of dos and don’ts for urban designers to make sure every new plaza and town square is public friendly.  But over and over again, I see millions of dollars wasted on public plaza designs that don’t work, or don’t work as well as they should.  

This past spring, we visited two downtown public plazas that illustrate some of the dos and don’ts of public space design. 

Salt Lake City Olympic Plaza, Utah

We came upon Salt Lake City’s Olympic Plaza almost by accident while wandering the Gateway Mall, a downtown outdoor shopping centre.  The Plaza is in the middle of the Mall with no links to the streets and no real sense of arrival. something you would expect from an Olympic Plaza. It is actually a small, intimate space.

We DO love the dancing snowflake fountain, which did attract some children to play in it. However we DON’T like the fact that kids can’t play in the inviting man-made stream complete with rocks and trees plaza’s edge. It should have been designed to allow for families to play in the water and climb the rocks.  Good public spaces don’t have a long list of things you can’t do!

We DON’T like the steep stairs entering the plaza at one side. While the steps may make for good seating at times, it was a huge barrier for young children, older people, and those arriving with strollers, bikes and wheelchairs. 

We DON’T like that overall; Salt Lake City’s Olympic Plaza feels more like a private space, which supports the commercial retailers of the Gateway Mall.  In fact, it is almost identical in scale and scope to a similar dancing fountain and man-made stream plaza in the city’s brand new City Creek Centre shopping mall, just a few blocks away.   

Salt Lake City's downtown Olympic Plaza with its central fountain. 

  The plaza includes these red rocks and water feature inspired by the Utah landscape. 

The plaza includes these red rocks and water feature inspired by the Utah landscape. 

  It seems a shame that children can't play in water and climb on the rocks.  Public spaces should be design to encourage as many different activities as possible, especially passive activities.   

It seems a shame that children can't play in water and climb on the rocks.  Public spaces should be design to encourage as many different activities as possible, especially passive activities.  

  Salt Lake City's Olympic Plaza from afar with its small grass area for play. Too often plazas are over designed and have too many different levels.  A flat grass space that allows people to play different games is much better than a sea of concrete with lots of steps. 

Salt Lake City's Olympic Plaza from afar with its small grass area for play. Too often plazas are over designed and have too many different levels.  A flat grass space that allows people to play different games is much better than a sea of concrete with lots of steps. 

  Salt Lake City's plaza is lined with shops like European plazas, unfortunately they don't open out onto the plaza. 

Salt Lake City's plaza is lined with shops like European plazas, unfortunately they don't open out onto the plaza. 

  City Creek Centre's plaza and fountain. 

City Creek Centre's plaza and fountain. 

  There is an actual creek running through the shopping centre. 

There is an actual creek running through the shopping centre. 

St. George Town Square, Utah

Contrastingly, St. George’s Town Square seemed to DO everything right. The Square is right off of Main Street and is visible to pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. The dancing water fountain is front and centre, inviting people of all ages to stop, look and play.

Our visit was in late March, and already the weather was nice enough for dozens of children and their families to enjoy the Square. I can only imagine how refreshing this fountain is in the summer when it gets really hot. 

We DO like that not only the fountain (very similar to Salt Lake’s Olympic Plaza fountain), but also the man-made stream just a few meters away can be played in and enjoyed by everyone. 

We Do like that there is a picnic area with movable tables and chairs in the middle allowing parents could easily watch their children run from one area to the next. 

We DO like that there are public washrooms in the immediate area.

We DO like that there is also carousel in the square for families to enjoy. It is also priced right at $1 per ride with kids under 42 inches getting to ride free.   Not sure what it is about small American cities but many seem to have a carousel somewhere in their Downtown – Helena, Missoula, Spokane and Idaho Falls. (There used to be 5,000 carousels in USA, now there are fewer than 125).  There is something fun about the sound and sight of a carousel. They enliven many urban spaces including Paris, New York City and Lyon. A carousel would be a great addition to Calgary’s Olympic Plaza, Devonian Gardens or the Eau Claire Plaza/Wading pool.

We DO like that the square is anchored on three corners by a public buildings, giving it a definite sense of being public.  As well, two of the buildings – Library and Children’s Museum – are very synergistic with the family focus of the Square.

We DO like that the Square and streets around it are home to several small public artworks. In an innovative twist, the sculptures are actually for sale, so they are temporary rather than permanent. So rather than the City purchasing the works of art, the City offers up the square and streets as an outdoor exhibition space on a temporary basis to sell their art.  There is even a price list posted at the entrance to the square.    

We DO like that the square includes a large rectangular multi-purpose grass area that is used for non-programmed activities like throwing a ball or a Frisbee, as well as major programs like movies in the square, arts and craft fair and being the “finish line” for an international iron man competition.

St. George’s Town Square was completed in 2007 and designed by Bruce Jorgensen, GSBS Architects from Salt Lake City for $4.5 million.  

The water fountain is right next to the sidewalk and open to the street so pedestrian and drives can see all the fun being had by the families.  

Children love to walk, run and jump in the water. 

Kids are ENCOURAGED to play in the water.  

Inviting seating area for parent in St. George's Town Square.  Great place to watch the kids play, have a chat or even work on your laptop, iPad or phone. 

The Carousel is just one of several elements that makes St. George's Town Square and inviting public space. 

One of several, life-size fun sculptures in or near St. George Town Square. 

Last Word

Over the past 10 years, Calgary has created dozens of public spaces that are nice to look at but rarely get much use.  Poppy Plaza is a good example; this $11 million dollar public space, located on Memorial Drive right next to the Louise Bridge and the busy Bow River pathway, you would think would be a busy place. Yet I have walked, cycled and driven by 100s of times (at various times of day and of the week) and at most, I might see one or two people there and usually they are just passing through. Good public spaces are engaging and allow for multiple uses year-round - they are more than just decoration.

Currently there area three new urban public spaces in the works for Calgary’s Beltine – ENMAX Park (on the east bank of the Elbow River, part of Stampede Park’s mega-makeover), Enoch Park (Macleod Trail between 11th and 12th Avenues SE) and Connaught Park (on 16th Avenue between 11th and 12th Streets SW). 

Over the summer, I hope to meet with the designers of these spaces and share with you what urban dwellers can expect from these new spaces. 

Poppy Plaza at noon on a beautiful summer day sits empty. 

The site of the new ENMAX Park at Stampede next to the Elbow River. Putting the park back into parking lots. 

Calgary's Century Gardens is not public friendly.  When designing public spaces designers should be thinking about how to foster activities not restrict them.

  Kids, get back here you can't climb on those rocks, no wading in the water!

Kids, get back here you can't climb on those rocks, no wading in the water!

If you like this blog, you might like:

Olympic Plaza needs a mega makeover

Poppy Plaza Review

The importance of the public realm

Footnote:

Richard White is the Urban Strategist at Ground3 Landscape Architects; this blog reflects his opinions and not necessarily those of Ground3. 

Seattle Insights

Guest Blog: Chantal Leblanc, August 9, 2014 

After going to Seattle for the first time in 2009 for a week, we just keep going back. We always find a new tour, neighbourhood or museum to visit.  It’s easy to get there from Calgary with a 90 minute direct flight.

From Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, you can take the Link Light Rail, similar to our C-train, for $2.75 to downtown Seattle. That includes a transfer to a bus if you are not staying downtown. For us, it’s in the trendy neighbourhood of Capitol Hill. The first time we were in Seattle, they were introducing their ORCA pass. You load it and use it for easy access to public transit. We just calculate that we will spend $5.00 to $6.00 / day per person and since you can re-load on line, you can add to it during your stay. And you can even use it for Washington State Ferries. Now that is convenience!

One of North America's best markets.

Pike Place Market is probably Seattle's most well known landmark attraction. Come for the fish toss, stay for the people-watching.  Lucky for us, we get to actually shop there and cook our food in our apartment. Living like a local is our idea of being an everyday tourist. Besides the famous fish shop, you will find everything there, from produce to cheese, bread pasta and wine.

 

 

On a food tour, we met a couple from Vancouver who told us about SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival). The festival runs for almost a month from mid-May to Mid-June. On a one-week stay, we saw four movies, ranging from an animated film from Spain dealing with Alzheimer to a South African movie in three languages. They also have a free (pay by donation) Folk Music Festival on Memorial Day week-end. No matter when we go, there always seems to be something fun happening. 

Recently we checked out the Museum of Flight where everyone from 4 to 94 was just having a great time looking at small planes flying outside on the small air strip and the history of flights from mail delivery and bush pilots to space travel. We got to go inside Air Force One and a Concorde!

Museum of Flight

The Experience Music Project Museum (or EMP) is a must for music lovers of all ages and the entrance fee includes the Science Fiction Museum connected to it.  Back story, prior to moving to Chicago a few years ago, Boeing was the largest company based on Seattle. Today there are still several large aircraft manufacturing plants still in the metro area. 

The Chihuly Garden & Glass is a different type of museum – go if you like colourfull glass work – you won’t be disappointed. You can sit outside and have coffee or a glass of wine in the gardens and just soak up the visual extravaganza. 

Chihuly Garden & Glass Museum

Friendly

More than its museum, Seattle is home to friendly people – strangers talking to strangers on the bus – offering their seats if they think you should sit together, drivers helping riders with wheelchair and elderly women. They even thank you and wish you a nice day when you get off the bus. One driver got off the bus to give direction to an elderly woman who looked disoriented stepping off the sidewalk! And nobody in the bus seems to be upset for the extra two minutes it took.

From our first visit, we felt the city was very community minded. We discovered a well-established community garden set between two houses. Obviously a vacant lot where you could build a house, but the city had given this lot to the community for their garden. The City encourages its citizen to beautify every green space in the city. Traffic circle green spaces are being tendered by people living in the area, not city workers, as well as spaces between the sidewalks and street.

Even in 2009 they had separate garbage, recycling and compost bins pick up!

Art is very everywhere not just downtown. Sculptures can be found along sidewalks in many different neighborhoods,, sometimes in the form of bronzed dance steps or other images right in the concrete. Even the a "manhole” covers become artworks. 

 

Sidewalk art

Sculpture at Hiram M. Chittenden Locks

Foodies Fun 

The food scene in Seattle is fantastic. Surrounded by water and farm land it has a variety not found everywhere. Seattle offers many great restaurants, Farmers Markets and we enjoyed taking food tours guided by locals. We even took a wine tour that picks you up at your hotel or apartment then drives you back late afternoon. The tour took us Woodinville where many winemakers are making wine or have opened tasting rooms closer to the city.

Coffee Culture is very strong in Seattle. It is the birthplace of Starbucks and the original location is still open today, located at Pike Place Market. As any American city, they have lots of them. When you take the train link from the airport, you can see the beautiful brick building with the mermaid sign at the top of a tower of their head office. They are serious about their coffee and there are many independent coffee shops throughout the city that are a delight to visit, all with different vibes and personalities. I suggest you forego Starbucks and try a few different neighbourhood coffee shops while you’re there.

Oddfellows Café & Bar, one of our favourite breakfast places in Capitol Hill.

Explore

This year, we ventured to Ballard, another neighbourhood by the water known for its restaurants to see the locks and its fish ladder. In the past, we were under the impression that Ballard was far – wrong - two buses and we were there in about 30 minutes. Many restaurants in the area are not open for lunch but some and coffee shops are open early. Stores open around 11:00 am during the week. Weekend brunch is popular in this area, as well as a Farmers market on Sundays.

Editor note:  Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, built in 1911 and often nicknamed the Ballard Locks, provides a link for boats between the salt water of Puget Sound and the fresh water of the Ship Canal, which connects eastward to Lake Union and Lake Washington.Tourists and locals enjoy watching the parade of sailboats, motorboats, tugs, barges and yachts passing through, as the locks' water levels are adjusted to allow their safe passage. Another popular spot is the fish ladder, built to allow salmon to pass between fresh and salt water, and to navigate the locks. Glass panels below the water line make it possible to watch the fish as they swim through the ladder.

 

Quaint  Ballard

I suggest taking the walking tour of Freemont suggested in Frommer’s guide (available on line) and highly recommend going to Theo’s Chocolate Factory for their $10.00 tour. Organic, Fair Trade and delicious chocolate.

 Encounter with the Troll during the Freemont walking tour.

For a nice day trip out of the “city," take the Ferry to Bainsbridge Island ($8 round trip). You get a great view of the Seattle skyline from the water, as well as an opportunity to experience the island's quaint atmosphere with its hiking trails and restaurants.

View from the ferry coming from Bainsbridge Island.

Last Word

If you like to explore a city, Seattle has it all and you can access it easily without a car, from quaint neighbourhoods to beautiful parks, art, food and friendly people.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Anchorage: West Coast's Newest Urban Playground

Chicago: Staircases to heaven

Salt Lake City: More than just a temple

 

Bowness: Past & Present

Richard White, August 2, 2014 (An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours titled "Busy Bowness rides into prosperous future."

Did you know that Main Street Bowness, now Bowness Road was once called Highway 8?  Did you know there once was a Bowness Golf & Country Club (located just off of the TransCanada Highway near the Greenwood/Greenbriar trailer park) and that Bowness High School site was the Bowness Flying Field from 1914 to 1929.  It always amazes me how much history there is in Calgary and how our neighbourhoods have evolved.

Early 20th century postcard of Bowness Park lagoon.

Downtown mural

Today, Bowness is perhaps best known as the home of Bowness Park and for its cycling culture, both motor and pedal. The 13th Tour de Bowness, takes place the August 2, 3 and 4th.  Saturday is the road race at Horse Creek in Cochrane, Sunday is the hill climb at Canada Olympic Park and Monday is the Criterium (street race, with 7 turns) in Bowness.  However, on any given weekend Main Street Bowness can look like the Tour de France with colourful logoed cyclist stopping at Cadence Café for coffee, breakfast, lunch or a snack.   Cadence is one of Calgary’s hidden café gems and one of our best people watching spots.

Cadence Cafe - super fine coffee.

Downtown Bowness is also home to one of the world’s largest cycling shops – Bow Cycle – with its 24,000 square foot store right on Bowness Road, as well as a 16,000 warehouse.  Bow Cycle has over 800 frames and 500 bikes in stock at any given time. For the road warriors, it has over 75 mountain bikes over $4,000 and 50 road bikes over $5,000 and 10 bikes over $15,000 in stock.  It is little wonder Bowness is home to Calgary’s cycling community. 

  Bowness Cycle bike shop.

Bowness Cycle bike shop.

Bowness Cycle - something for everyone.

Calgary’s paddling community is also attracted to downtown Bowness to check what’s new at Undercurrent Sports – Alberta’s largest paddling store and school.  This 6,500 square foot store houses more than 200 canoes, kayaks and paddleboards and the gear you need to go with them. 

  Undercurrents - perhaps Calgary's most colourful shop.

Undercurrents - perhaps Calgary's most colourful shop.

Another feature that makes Main Street Bowness unique is Hexters Rock’n Roll / Blues Lounge with its signature Sunday afternoon “Motown Revival” hosted by Gary Martin.  If you haven’t been and you like mid-century music and dancing this is the place to go.

If you are a shopper and you like the “thrill of the hunt” the Bowness WINS thriftstore is for you. Located kiddy corner to Bow Cycle is a small boutique store that often has treasures just waiting for you take home.  We found a great still-life drawing by Calgary artist Bruce Pashak.

WINS Thrift Store - where the treasures are.

Absolute Audio is one of Calgary’s leading audiophile spots with staff who are not only knowledgeable but simply love music.  In addition to all of the latest digital equipment, Absolute also offers a great selection of vinyl cleaners including the Audio Deske of Germany’s that involves giving your old records a “bath” and then some sort of “micro fiber drums” thingy – check it out!

Bowtown Music is the new kid on the block. Opening in 2011 it has developed a reputation as the place to go for ukuleles in Calgary.  In addition to lessons (guitar, piano, singing, drums, ukulele, banjo, mandolin and violin), Bowtown is developing a community space for ukulele and drum circles. 

Bowtown Music

Heritage Street Festival

Visiting Bowness is like travelling to a small prairie town with its wide Main Street lined with shops that are mostly one story tall.   It even has angled parking, how authentic is that? Like a small town there is even a hotel that isn’t a hotel, rather a pub and apartments.  There is even a charming branch of the Calgary Public Library on Main Street, located in the old Bow Motorcycle building.

In addition to the Criterium road race on Monday, August 4th, (annual event on the August long weekend) the 60+ merchants of the Bowness Business Revitalization Zone also hosting a family oriented Heritage Street Festival from 11 am to 4 pm.  Everyone is welcome to come and discover Calgary’s other Main Street.


Bowness Library use to be Bow Cycle's motorcycle, skidoo, seadoo and ATV store. The wheel with the spokes is still part of the facade and sign. 

Does this not look like something from a main street in a small prairie town?

This has small prairie town written all over it. 

Criterium fun....

Stampede Park: Art Gallery / Museum

Richard White, July 7, 2014

Today I had a few hours between meetings so I decided to flaneur Stampede Park looking for some fun, funky and quirky things.  I was not disappointed.  I quickly found lots of people climbing and milling about the massive bronze sculpture "By the banks of the Bow."  I loved the fact that people were using the artwork like a playground. 

I also found the children's midway rides bordered on public art and playgrounds with their bright colours, shapes and forms.  It seemed their were historical murals everywhere I looked. Even in the animal barns I found the metal and wooden calf  in the demo roping area to be sculptural. 

Of course, the RoundUp Centre had been converted into a large gallery space, with strong traditional Western Art bent, but I also found some contemporary pieces, as well as some fascinating historical photos, a quilt show and some Stampede Queen fashions from the past 60 years.

The biggest surprise was wandering around the lobby of the Stampede Corral and finding old photos of hockey players, curling and figure skating.  It was like a mini sports hall of fame. 

Before I knew it my 2 hours were up and I had to rush off...but I will be back...I know there are more artworks and artifacts to be uncovered. 

Stampede Park as an art gallery

"By the banks of the Bow" is a massive bronze sculpture that serves as a great meeting place.  It is a popular photo spot and also a wonderful work of art that enhances the sense of place at Stampede Park.

The "Lollipop" ride reminds me of the two public artworks by Jeff de Boer at the Calgary International Airport. 

This looks like something the surrealists would have done.

A close up of horse sculpture which didn't do much for me from a distance, but I loved the shapes, surfaces, patterns and colours up close.

This photo of a First Nation Dancer caught my eye for its colour and movement.

Alberta Blue by Wanda Ellerbeck was completed as part of the Stampede Ranch program where each year artists get to spend time on the range for inspiration. I am always amazed at how contemporary artists interpret their ranching experience.  This would be a good addition to our collection.

Stampede as a museum

It is hard to believe this was Stephen Avenue. Today it is home to billion dollar skyscrapers, convention centres and museum. Today $5 would get you larger latte at Cafe Rosso.

Who knew Calgary had such a long history of playing cricket.  Today Calgary has no passenger train service?

Urban agriculture is not new.

Loved this map from both an art and artifact perspective.

There is an wonderful exhibition of about 20 Stampede Queen outfits from the '50s to present day, each in their own display case.  It reminded me of the Elvis costumes i saw in Memphis at the STAX Museum of American Soul Music, Sun Studio Museum. Memphis Rock N' Soul Museum and Graceland.

Stampede Park as a sports hall of fame

The photos in the lobby of the Stampede Corral is literally a who's who of hockey in Canada.

There is also some curling history

An everyday tourist reader responded with: 

Cool piece, the “Frenchy” D’Amour photo would be from the 1948 Brier that was held in Calgary – probably at the Corral. The advertising was interesting to see on the scoreboard - “Smoke British Consols” which were a brand of MacDonald’s tobacco products.

The Brier playdowns into the 80’s were know as the Consols playdowns. The dude with the raccoon coat was David Stewart son of the owner of MacDonald Tobacco. David Stewart later became a Senator.

 

This figure skating photo intrigued me.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Public Art & Playgrounds

Graceland Bah Humbug!

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.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary's Secret Heritage Walk 

Calgary: History Capital of Canada

Calgary: North America's Newest Design City 

Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways 


Exploring Phoenix Without A Car!

Richard White, June 20, 2014

One of the things that has discouraged us from visiting Phoenix is that we thought you had to have a car to explore the city.  First off, we are thrifty so adding hundreds of dollars per week to a vacation is something we avoid. Second, we love to walk and take transit when we travel as it allows us to to see more and experience the city more like a local. (Blog: Everyday Tourist Transit Tales)

But our recent stay at the Red Lion Inn and Suites in Tempe (RLIST) proved us wrong - in fact you don’t need a car to explore Phoenix’s many attractions.  “How could that be you ask?” 

Red Lion provides an airport shuttle service that will pick you up at the airport and take you back.  And, while you are staying there, two vans are available to take guests to anywhere within a five-mile radius. What a great amenity!

Five Mile Zone

Within the five-mile zone of RLIST, you can get dropped off and picked up at the following places:

  • Arizona State University campus (a great place to explore and during football season, you have easy access to college football games.
  • ASU Karsten, Pagao, Rolling Hills, Rio and Coronade golf courses
  • Old Town Scottsdale (where you can shop ‘til you drop).
  • Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix Zoo, Tempe Beach Park
  • Tempe Marketplace and Tempe Mill Avenue District
  • Gammage Memorial Auditorium, the last commission of Frank Lloyd Wright.  
  • Downtown Tempe where you can catch the LRT train to downtown Phoenix giving you access to baseball and basketball games and the Science Center. Or, stay on the train to Phoenix Art Museum, Heard Art Museum (great gift shop and restaurant) and the hipster Melrose district.
  • During spring training you can get dropped off at the Cubs’ Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, the A’s Phoenix Municipal Stadium and the Giant’s Scottsdale Stadium.
  • Popular festivals include: Arizona Renaissance Festival, Great Arizona Beer Festival, Scottsdale Culinary Festival and Tempe Festival of the Arts. 
  Riding the LRT to downtown with the students and cyclists was a much more urban experience than we had anticipated. 

Riding the LRT to downtown with the students and cyclists was a much more urban experience than we had anticipated. 

Phoenix's downtown wayfinding sign lists many attractions. 

Theatre/Performing Arts Centre 

Heard Museum's lovely patio restaurant. 

Modern On Melrose is just one of several antique and second hand stores that make for a fun place to explore.

Papago Golf Course is just minutes away from RLIST. 

"Her Secret is Patience" by Janet Echelman is just one of many public artworks in the downtown. 

Exploring the Desert Botanical Garden was one of the highlights of our visit. 

ArtWalk in Old Town Scottsdale is a 30-year tradition.  Dozens of galleries open their doors to locals and tourists to browse the galleries every Thursday from 7 to 9 pm.  Old Town is several blocks of restaurants, bars, shops and galleries.  Not far way there is Scottsdale Fashion Square a two million square foot mega luxury shopping centre with flagships stores like - Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus, Nordstroms, Microsoft and Banana Republic concept store. 

Extended Stays

RLIST in its former life was an apartment complex, making the suites more like comfortable, and one-bedroom apartments. With Food City within walking distance, you can easily walk to shop for ingredients to make dinner or lunch. (Note: the hotel provides a complimentary hearty breakfast).

The lobby, with its soft seating has a café-like atmosphere for those who want to read or take their laptop to do some work or surf the net.

The Inn also has an attractive outdoor pool area if you want to relax poolside or enjoy a refreshing swim. There’s even BBQs so you can grill up your favourite food to enjoy poolside just like home.

And for golfers who want to work on their putting, they have a carpeted putting green.

RLIST's very functional living room, kitchen, bedroom layout. (Photo credit: Red Lion) 

Large bedroom with space for chair and desk. (Photo credit: Red Lion).

Your own private putting green....12+ on the stimpmeter. 

Footnotes

 If you need a car for a day or two to travel further afield, the shuttle can also drop you off at several car rental offices within the five-mile zone. We’d recommend checking out the Frank Lloyd Wright campus and the Musical Instruments Museum if you decide to rent a car.

The advantage of the RLIST shuttle for couples is that you can go off in different directions in the morning and meet up later for your own poolside Happy Hour chat to share stories.  

We are definitely rethinking Phoenix as a potential winter getaway next year.

P.S.  If you do have a car, RLIST has great free parking that makes it easy to drive to some activities and take the shuttle to others (perhaps you want to enjoy an adult beverage or two). 

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Public Art vs Playgrounds in the 21st Century

Note: On September 27,  2014 Richmond, B.C. tourism officials will open an one-hectare, one million dollar playground based on the area's agricultural history. The playground is located in Terra Nova Park in the northwest corner of Lulu Island, on the site of a former farm house and stables. The playground includes a farm inspired water and sand play area, and a "log-jam" - a climbable timber structure that mimics walking on beach logs. There is also tandem 35-meter-long ziplines, a tree house and aerial rope walkway.  The new playground is being billed as a tourist attraction. FYI - this is Richmond's second million dollar playground, the first was Garden City Community Park, built in 2008.

 Kids climbing on the log jam structure. 

Kids climbing on the log jam structure. 

  In the 21st century slides and climbing structures take on a whole new dimension. 

In the 21st century slides and climbing structures take on a whole new dimension. 

By Richard White, June 16, 2014

Over the past decade in Calgary (and I expect in many cities around the world), children’s playgrounds have become more and more colourful, creative, sculptural and elaborate.  No longer do a few simple swings, metal slide, teeter-totter and “rocking” duck or horse sufficient for the 21st century playground. I am told by my friends at Ground3 Landscape Architecture that $100,000 would get you a reasonably sized playground and $30,000 get you one small combined play piece.  Since 2010, the Parks Foundation Calgary through the Playgrounds and Communities Grant Program has funded over 100 new playgrounds in Calgary valued at $15 million - many in low income communities. 

While Calgary may not have bragging rights a having one of the top ten playgrounds in the world, our children are blessed with over 1250 playgrounds in parks and schoolyards across the city – that’s about six playgrounds per community.  Nobody is more than a few blocks from a playground in this city.  Perhaps Calgary’s moniker should be The City of Playgrounds.

One of my favourite mid-century modern playgrounds is located in Lakeview. It is interesting in that it is only accessible by walking along a tree-lined pathway from Linden Dr. SW, as there are no streets directly adjacent to the pocket park and its playground. It truly is a hidden gem.  Some of the original playground equipment is still in use and I hope the community will recognize its uniqueness and keep the retro equipment.

Lakeview's hidden playground with simple retro playground equipment - rocking horse and small metal slide. 

Parkdale's Helicopter Park is one of Calgary's most popular playgrounds. The park is looked just below Foothill's hospital and its heliport, hence the park's name as helicopters flying over area a common sight. 

Smaller Backyards / Bigger Playgrounds

I am not sure if it is true, but it seems, as private backyards get smaller, (today’s housing lots are smaller due to infilling in the inner city and mandated smaller lots in new suburbs) there are fewer large backyard swing sets that were poplar in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Or perhaps trampolines, hot tubs and the mega deck with their outdoor kitchens have replaced them.  As result: community playgrounds are becoming more important for young families and those caregivers, grandparents etc., looking after children.  Personally, I think this is great. It means more community socializing which in turn, helps create stronger neighbourhood ties.

I remember one spring day after school; we took the seven-year-old twins next door to the playground across out street. Soon, several other families joined us and before long, we had a community soccer game happening with 4 parents and 8 kids.  Gotta love an impromptu community soccer game. 

Given the recent controversy over public art in Calgary and most other cities (too often, public art is difficult for the public to appreciate, or is simply just not that good), I can’t help but wonder if maybe we should be focusing on commissioning artists to design playground equipment that would be fun and inventive. Imagine if every playground was a mini artpark.

Imagine a scaled down Wonderland (big white head sculpture at the Bow office tower) in the middle of a park where children, teens and adults could climb on it.  There is something innate about human wanting to climb things. Once when I was at the Bow, I saw an office worker climbing Wonderland in his suite and dress shoes (actually he took off his jacket) - he had no problem getting to the top. Unfortunately, the Bow now has security to chase away would be climbers.

It is interesting too how the two mega public art works in Chicago’s Millennium - Park Cloud Gate and Crown Fountain - have become as much playgrounds as public art.

Could we also encourage landscape architects to be more creative in their design of parks and public spaces?  Whenever walking Rossi (our friends’ dog) at River Park, I am always impressed by the “cluster planting” of trees that capitalizes on the subtle synergy of their sculptural shapes as well as the strategic placement of benches to capture vistas of the park, river and downtown skyline. There is an aesthetic quality to the design of the River Park that is very similar to art.  

 

Calgary office workers just can't resist climbing Wonderland. You can take the child out of the playground, but you can't take the play out of the man!

Jaume Plensa's Crown Fountain in Chicago's Millennium Park is a playground for locals and tourist of all ages.

Cloud Gate, also in Chicago's Millennium Park is a magnet for people to look and play with it.

This well-treed playground in Chicago'sGold Coast community attracted dozens of families mid-week, mid-day in April.

Calgary's Beltline community is one of Canada's most dense communities. It boast this very popular playground in Haultain Park.  Downtown Calgary is very family friendly. 

New playgrounds have lots of fun colourful climbing equipment that has many parallels with modern art. 

The mono-chromatic blue playground in Tuxedo also has many links to art - line, colour, shape and composition. 

The trees in River Park have a sculptural quality to them.  Overall the park with its diversity of trees, rolling landscape is

New Trends in Playground Design

Perhaps the best playground I have ever seen was in Container Park in Las Vegas.  In the middle of a new urban development made of railway containers was a fun children’s playground the size of half a football field.  At one end was a computerized piece of playground equipment that could be programmed so people of all ages could play games of their choice. At the other end was a three-storey tree house that was fun to climb.  In between were other interactive play areas – no swings, no slides and no teeter-totter here. 

Surrounding the playground were outdoor patios where people could sit and watch – providing some of the best people watching I have ever done. The new “digital” playground components have great appeal especially to adolescents and adding a new dimension to playgrounds.

 In the UK, the Dinton Pastures Country Park (335-acre park with 7 lakes, two rivers, meadows and a 1904 farm house converted to a cafe) recently opened a new Children’s Play Park that epitomizes the movement to use more natural materials as part of playground design. The park includes several nest towers, the largest 4 meters tall, zip wires, giant climbing logs, a willow maze, story-telling area, woodlands obstacle course and picnic area. Designed by landscape architects Davies White in collaboration with artists and fabricators, local materials were used as much as possible.  View Video

The newest trend in playground equipment is computerized games that are attractive to younger children and parents during the day and my young adults at night.

Young adults enjoying the Container Park playground

While these lounge chairs have been removed from East Village's Riverwalk, they would make for a good addition to another neighbourhood park as kids would love to climb over and under them and adolescents and adults would use them to lounge and chat. They also have a wonderful sculptural quality to them. 

This Henry Moore sculpture in front of the Art Gallery of Ontario becomes a fun place for older children and adolescents to hang out and chat.

Parque Gulliver

Parque Gulliver in Valencia Spain is Cristal McLean's (principal at Ground3 Landscape Architects) favourite playground. Located in the old channel of the Turia River, the playground is based on the story of Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. As per the story, a giant wanders into town and scares the tine Lilliputian people so they tied him to the ground while sleeping. Today it is the children who are the Lilliputian people who can climb all over the giant. trying to get to know him.  The sleeves become caves to explore, the legs are stairs to climb and the hair is a slide.  And its free!  First built in 1990, it was completely refurbished in 2012 and continues to be one of Valencia's biggest tourist attractions. 

Parque Gulliver aerial view

Every part of the giant is available to climb on and slide down. 

Giant ant is both public art and a playground. 

Last Word

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me that we should be hybridizing public art and playgrounds to create public spaces that are more interactive.  We should think long and hard before we ever commission a static public artwork again.

Similarly, I would love to see landscape architects be given freer reign to exercise their creativity in designing our parks and plazas.

Perhaps Calgary should change its current “1% of capital project costs for public art” policy to “1% of capital project costs for public space enhancement” to allow us to better create unique and active public spaces that more citizens can embrace at some level year-round for years to come.

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Public Art: Love it or hate it!

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The Calgary Stampede MEGA Makeover Has Begun!

Richard White, June 11, 2014

After the devastating flood of 2013, the Calgary Stampede had some tough decisions to make as the Board and Management pondered its future. Rather than just fix the place up, the Stampede commenced with its mega-million dollar makeover plan. 

Calgarians won’t recognize this year’s Stampede Park. Almost 50% of the outdoor space has been reconfigured and several major new players are participating for the first time!     

Aerial view of reconfigured Calgary Stampede Grounds (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

Nine things to know about Stampede 2014…. 

#1

The Great FUNtier is the name of the Stampede’s new Kids Zone.  It has been moved to the area south of the Saddledome and north of the racetrack.  The space, now 25% larger than the old Kids Zone, will allow for more greenery, easier stroller maneuvering and more seating.  In addition to the kid’s midway, there will also be a mini Grandstand Stage for live entertainment. 

The location is also convenient to the family-oriented agricultural programming at the new Agrium Western Event Centre and the RCMP Musical Ride tent.

Did you know that park admission is free for kids under 6?  There is also free admission for children aged 7 to 12 on specially marked Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero in stores now.

Lollipop Swings (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

  The new FUNtier slide (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

The new FUNtier slide (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

#2

The Grandstand Show is getting a makeover by new Creative Director, Dave Pierce who was the Musical Director for Vancouver’s Winter Olympics' opening and closing ceremonies. Pierce, an Emmy Award winner, brings a new vision and energy to Grandstand extravaganza. The theme for this year’s show is “Barnburner.” The opening segment features Tom Glass (one of Alberta famous chuckwagon families) telling his family’s story using a series of mega comic book action figures.   

The costumes for Barnburner have been designed by Genvieve Cleary and built by Marco Marco Studio, famous for designing the costumes of Katie Perry and Britney Spears. 

The permanent stage is also being completely redesigned by Paul Bates who was responsible for Cirque Du Soleil’s “O” stage.  It includes the latest in pyrotechnics and amazing stage effects capacity. The new stage will be one of Canada's most technologically advanced theatrical stages. 

Sample of mega action figure comic book visual. (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

#3

The new $62 million Agrium Western Event Centre (AWEC) with its dramatic rotunda entrance designed by Calgary’s Gibbs Gage Architects, is just the beginning of rebuilding Stampede Park.  The new building which opened recently adds much needed, year-round event and trade show space as well as a classroom for hands-on school programs.  AWEC has already hosted Canada’s largest ever 4H club gathering.

  Agrium Western Event Centre (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

Agrium Western Event Centre (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

#4

Nashville North has moved “north,” closer to Cowboys Dance Hall tent and the Stampede Casino to create a “party zone” - some have already dubbed it the adult entertainment zone (good clean fun of course)! This could be an interesting precursor to the creation of the year- round Stampede Trail – a pedestrian entertainment-oriented street of retail, restaurants, pubs and clubs along Olympic Way (4th Street SE) linking it with East Village.

Nashville North is a mega dance hall (capacity 1850 people) with live bands all day and into the wee hours of the morning! (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

#5

“Sneak a Peek!” Paul Hardy has been engaged to procure some uber-chic 2014 Stampede merchandise, some of which is already available at Hardy’s Inglewood studio tucked away at Bay#5, 2510 Alyth Rd. SE. in Calgary's funky Inglewood/Ramsay community.

Paul Hardy's cowgirl fun fashions. (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

More Paul Hardy's fashions! (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

#6

“Go Big or Go Home” could be the theme of this year’s Stampede with the introduction of the 777-pound burger ($5,000) and the 125-pound hot dog ($1,000).  Juicy’s Outlaw Grill is bringing the world’s largest grill (the size of a transportation truck) to this year’s Stampede. This is a first in Canada.  Check out the video.

 #7

Biggest Pop-up Patio? Triple B (Barbecue, Bulls, Beer) is also making its first visit to Canada creating a patio for you and 999 of your closest friends. With two mechanical bulls on site, it should make for great people-watching.   

Mechanical Bull Riding at the new Triple B patio. (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

#8

WWW Food!  Every year the Stampede brings some wild, weird and wacky food combinations to Calgary. This year is no exception.  The Scorpion Pizza has to be the weirdest, followed closely by Deep Fried Cheezies, Polish Poutine, Porcupine Corn Dog, and Vicious Fish on a Stick. 

Yikes! Scorpion Pizza. (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

#9

Did you know the Calgary Stampede is one of North America’s biggest music festivals? For the first time, the Dome is fully booked with shows every night by the likes of Shania Twain, Reba McEntire, Keith Urban and Calgary’s own Paul Brandt. In total Stampede 2014 includes over 340 musical performances at 15 different venues. 

Canada's sweetheart. (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

Yahoo!

2012 was the Stampede's 100th birthday, 2013 was the year of the Great Flood and 2014 will be remembered as the beginning of the new 21st century Calgary Stampede.  The Calgary Stampede is truly one of the best annual festivals in the world. It is six major events all wrapped up into one mega extravaganza - Grandstand Show, Rodeo, Chuckwagon Races, Midway, Agricultural Fair and Music Festival.   

Stampede Park is not only one of North America's best and oldest urban Agricultural Fair sites, but also one of the largest, busiest and most authentic SHED districts (Sports, Hospitality, Entertainment District) in North America.

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Do we really need all of this public art?

By Richard White, May 16, 2014

It hurts me to say this, but “do we really need all of this public art?” Over the past year, I have visited dozens of cities making a point to always seek out the public art wherever we go.  I have seen literally hundreds of public artworks, big and small, abstract and representational, local and international artists.  I have served on a jury for selecting a public artwork for a Calgary LRT station and I have written several blogs and columns on the pros and cons of public art.

In all of my travels (dozens of cities across North America) I have only experienced four public artworks that I feel have captured the public’s imagination enough to make them stop, look and interact with the art.  Sadly, most public art within a few months quickly becomes just a part of urban landscape.  More often than not, public art doesn’t really add to the urban experience by creating a unique sense of place or a memorable experience.   

 While I love art, I appreciate that I am in the minority; that for many, there is not much public appeal in public art that is being installed around out city (and other cities).  It is therefore not surprising that many Calgarians as well as many in other cities, question the value of spending tax dollars on art that adds little value to their life.

Found this public public art piece in downtown Portland the "Bike Capital of America." What do you think? Does Calgary need more bike art? More horses? You can't please everyone. 

Fun & Interactive 

Of the four pieces of public art that did engage the public, two were in Chicago’s Millennium Park – Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa and Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor. These were by far the most successful with hundreds of people actively engaged by their intuitive playfulness.   

In Vancouver, “A-maze-ing Laughter” by artist Yue Minjun in a small pocket park (Morton Park) next to English Bay beach seems to always have people young and old wandering around the 14 (twice life size) bronze cherub-like, laughing figures.  The park is full of laughter and smiles, something urban spaces need more of.

The fourth piece is Jeff de Boer’s “When Aviation was Young” at the Calgary Airport West Jet waiting area. This two-piece, circus-looking sculpture with toy airplanes that spin around when you turn the large old-style key is a huge hit with young children waiting to board a plane.  Like most successful public art, it is fun, and encourages public interaction.

In Calgary’s downtown the two pieces I see the public most often stop, take pictures and interact with are “The Famous Five” on Olympic Plaza and “Conversation” on Stephen Avenue Walk.  Interesting to note that they are both figurative, pedestrian scale and located in an active public space.  Downtown Calgary boasts over 100 public artworks, but none of them are a “must see” attractions (at best they area a “nice to see” and get a walk-by glance).

For all the hoopla over Jaume Plensa’s “Wonderland” (big white head) when it was first installed on the plaza in front of the Bow Tower, today it sits alone attracting only a few visitors a day.  

This is not just a Calgary dilemma. Even in Chicago, major public artworks by the likes of Picasso, Calder and Miro (three of the 20th century’s most respected artists) situated on office plazas just a few blocks from Millennium Park, are devoid of any spectators outside of office hours.

Anish Kapoor's "Cloud Gate" is so popular with the public that it has a nickname - THE BEAN! When the public gives an artwork a nickname you know they like it!

"Root Like a Liquid Flung Over the Plaza" by Acconci Studio graces the corner in front of the Memphis Performing Arts Center.  It has many of the qualities of Kapoor's "Cloud Gate," it is fun and there are interesting reflections and places to sit, yet it attracts no crowds.  

Juame Plensa's "Crown Fountain" is popular day and night. It is a wonderful place to linger.  It attracts thousands of people most days spring, summer and fall.  

Jaume Plensa's "Wonderland" located on an office plaza in downtown Calgary attracts only a few visitors a day. 

Come on admit it, even this photo of "A-maze-ing Laughter" brings a smile to your face.

Calder's "Flamingo" was unveiled in 1974.  It is fun, colourful and playful piece, but it doesn't invite any interaction. Over the years it has become less and less a magnet for tourist and locals to visit.  

William McElcheran's "Conversation" on Stephen Avenue Walk is very popular with the public.  Often people will place a coffee cup in their hand or add a scarf to one of the figures.  The public loves to have their picture taken with the two businessmen. 

Barbara Paterson's "Famous Five" sculpture in Calgary's Olympic Plaza invites the public to come and sit with them, have your picture taken and some even like to leave a tip.

Big Names / Big Deal 

Commissioning a big name artist clearly doesn’t guarantee the artwork will be successful in capturing the public’s imagination. 

Claus Oldenburg’s “Big Sweep” sculpture in front of the Denver Art Museum or “Roof Like a Liquid Flung Over the Plaza” by the Acconci Studio on the plaza of the Memphis Performing Arts Centre are both major pieces by established artists, yet they have done nothing to animate the space around them. 

Perhaps we need to thing differently about commissioning public art.  Nashville has a program, which commissions local artists to create bike racks that serve a dual purpose. Some are very clever and some I think are tacky, but at $10,000 each you can afford to have a few duds. 

In the early ‘90s the Calgary Downtown Association initiated the “Benches as sculpture” project, commissioning local arts to create sculptures that also serve as benches. The artwork (benches) have become a valued addition to the downtown landscape, so much so that the Provincial judges lobbied to make sure the “Buffalos” were returned to the courthouse plaza after it was renovated to add a parking lot underneath.

Claus Oldenburg and Coosjevan Bruggen's "Big Sweep" sits outside the entrance to the Denver Art Museum. It is fun, but static, and there is signage next to it with several rules that restrict how you can interact with it. 

This piece sits outside the Tucson Public Library in their Cultural District.  I couldn't find information on the artist or the title.  We passed this piece several times and never saw anyone stopping to look at it. 

The City of Calgary allows office developers to build taller buildings in return for pubic art on their plazas like this one. The developers get more space to rent and in theory the public gets a better quality urban space to enjoy. In reality this space on the southwest plaza at Bankers Hall is enjoyed by only by a few smokers a day. 

Nashville's fun bike racks as art program adds some whimsy to this streetscape. 

Lessons Learned

It hurts me to say this, but Calgary is not being well served by the millions of dollars we have invested in public art, both publicly and privately.  In my opinion, what would be best is if we pool all of the available public art money (bonus density and 1% for public art) and create dedicated art parks.  I am thinking we could have sites in each quadrant and perhaps a couple in the greater downtown that are designated for new artworks. When a new project is approved the public art contribution would be designated to the closest art park. 

The current, “democratic” approach of placing public art of all shapes, sizes and subject matter randomly throughout the city (parks, LRT stations, bridges, plazas) simply fragments and isolates the public art experience.  What was supposed to be a program to humanize and make the urban environment more interesting and attractive, has only served to outrage many and create rifts in our community.

The time has come for Calgary and most cities to rethink their public art policy.

If you like this blog, you might like: 

The Famous Five at Olympic Plaza 

Public Art Love It or Hate It

Putting the public back into public art

Confessions of a public art juror

Vegas' Crazy Container Park

By Richard White, May 15, 2014

What would you do if you had a spare $350 million? In 2008, after selling Zappos, an online shoe and clothing site, to Amazon for $1.2 billion, Tony Hsieh (Zappos’ CEO) decided to undertake his own urban renewal project. He bought up land in Las Vegas’ east end and created Container Park.

Container Park is perhaps the most exciting and unique urban development project I have ever seen.  Though currently it is just one entire block (at the east end of Freemont Street), there is lots of room to expand.  Using 40+ old shipping containers, some stacked on top of one another, Hsieh effectively transformed the once - empty block into an attractive, animated urban village.

Half of the block is a vibrant entertainment center with boutiques, restaurants, lounges, a huge children playground with its three-story tree house (young adults also love the playground at night). There is also an outdoor concert venue for the likes of Sheryl Crow (who we missed by a few days) and indie bands. 

Container Park, in sharp contrast to the adjacent Old Vegas’ Freemont Experience and the Strip is focused on being an incubator for small-scale start-ups in the fashion, art, food and music industries rather than mega international players. To date, over 50 small businesses have joined the party so to speak.

The other half of the block is a quiet learning campus with several containers positioned to create a campus (kind of like the old portable classrooms of the ‘60s). Here, the Container Park community, as well as others meet and share ideas to help germinate new ideas or expand existing ones.

Hsieh’s vision is to “create the shipping container capital of the world, while at the same time becoming the most community-focused large city in the world.”  Judging by the number of people hanging out when we visited (both day and night), he is well on his way in turning his vision into reality.

It is amazing what Hsieh has been able to accomplish in a few years, given the decades it has taken Calgary to get the East Village revitalization off the ground. Container Park opened in the Fall 2013 and is currently the toast of the town. However, the real test of success is best determined in 5 or 10 years when the “lust of the new” has worn off.

At night the entrance to Container Park is very dramatic with a fire breathing grass hopper that is like something out of Burning Man. 

Once inside it is a place to dine, have a drink and hang out with friends.  It is like a patio or back deck party. 

NEOS is a fun playground game that everyone seemed to enjoy. 

During the day it was the kids enjoying NEOS with the adults watching on. 

  The three storey tree house was popular during the day.  Who would have thought of a playground as the central element of an urban village. BRILLIANT! 

The three storey tree house was popular during the day.  Who would have thought of a playground as the central element of an urban village. BRILLIANT! 

Container Park by day with downtown Las Vegas in the background.

Container Park is like one large patio, with wonderful soft seating.  I took this picture quick as one group left and another was about to grab it. 

The learning campus is quiet more contemplative place. I took this just after a group had finished some sort of meeting workshop. 

Footnotes:

As a Calgarian I am totally jealous of Vegas' Container Park.  It would be a great way develop some parking lots or vacant sites along a major transit route with retail, residential or office buildings.  Perhaps it could be the model for a mixed-use development of the land around an LRT station.   

I encourage everyone to check out Container Park when you are next in Vegas!

 

I wonder if the dogs are intimidated by this fire hydrant. This is actually a private dog park, - you have to be a Hydrant Club member to access it.  Dog owners pay a subscription fee for obedience training, doggie day care and access to this grass oasis in a sea of gravel parking lots. 

Kudos to CMLC for making a tough decision

By Richard White, May 8 2014

I think everyone I know was surprised to learn that Calgary Municipal Land Corporation’s (CMLC) is closing the public washrooms on Riverwalk in East Village.  Since its inception in 2007, CMLC has done an amazing job of developing and implementing an ambitious vision and master plan for the once-troubled and downtrodden East Village community.  

Throughout the East Village redevelopment, CMLC has been very transparent in the process, hosting numerous open houses before making any key decisions.   It truly has been a collaborative and cooperative community process.  While not everyone will agree with every decision (you can’t make everyone happy), there was always lots of public consultation as part of the any decision-making.

In this case, CMLC engaged a group of experts last summer to assess the perception of safety across in East Village, which included three community meetings. The recent changes in Riverwalk programming i.e. close the washroom except for events and removal of a few lounge chairs was based on dialogue with the community, police and crime prevention experts.

As a founding Board Member of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association, an International Downtown Association Board member and now as the community strategist at Ground3 architecture, I am passionate about creating public spaces that are safe and attractive for people of all ages and backgrounds. 

This is not a homeless issue

I have been very impressed by the work of CMCL in taking risks and being ambitious with the design and programming of Riverwalk incorporating inclusivity at all times. While some see this as an affront to the homeless population and clients of the nearby Calgary Drop-In Centre, I believe their clients also want and deserve a clean and safe Riverwalk. I don’t believe this is a decision to penalize the homeless, but rather a proactive decision to deal with criminal activities taking place in the washrooms. I have a strong hunch there is “more to the story” behind why the decisions were made - I don’t think we need to know the all the ugly details. 

The decision to close the washrooms (except when an event is happening) and the replacement of the few permanent lounge chairs (there are still hundreds of places to sit along the river and pathway) after four years was a tough one for CMLC to make.  

This is one of public washrooms that have been closed except for event use.  

Riverwalk is well used by Calgarians of all ages and for a variety of activities.  Note there are lots of places to seat, the few lounge chairs that have been removed will not be missed. 

Zero Tolerance 

I am confident the Police and Bylaw Officers can and will deal with it the criminal and conduct issues in East Village. The City of Calgary has a Public Behaviour Bylaw that addresses some of the public space issues we have faced in the past.

The following are prohibited in public places:

  • Fighting
  • Defecating and urinating
  • Spitting
  • Loitering that obstructs other people
  •  Standing or placing one’s feet on tables, benches, planters or sculptures
  • Carrying a visible knife

I would like to add “loud swearing” to the list.  I know this was an issue on Stephen Avenue and Olympic Plaza in the past. Some individuals would persistently shout and swear at each other using language that would intimidate everyone within earshot (including me and I think I am very tolerant).  It was a way of a few taking ownership of a public space and keeping others away by making them feel so uncomfortable they would walk away and not return. These undesirable behaviors should not be tolerated. 

I believe a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to violent, destructive and aggressive conduct in public spaces. No one should be made to feel uncomfortable in a public space.  Everyone needs to be held up to the same community conduct standards - rich and poor, young and old.  

My recommendation

Police and Bylaw officers should have a “zero tolerance” policy along Riverwalk this summer to ensure it is a safe place for ALL Calgarians. Enhanced policing and bylaw enforcement has worked before to make problem areas safer and I don’t see why it can’t work again.

I have no problem if CMLC wants to close the washrooms and remove a few permanent lounge chairs.  But I would hope that once the intervention has been complete they might experiment with opening the washrooms seven days a week from 9 am to 9 pm from May to September and 10 am to 3 pm from October to April. I see no need for them to be open 24-hours a day.

The addition of new condos, office buildings, restaurants, cafes, a library and museum will add lots more pedestrian traffic to East Village in the next few years. More people will make the area safer and more attractive for everyone. 

Last Word

This situation is very unfortunate, happening just as new condos are rising out of the ground, the National Music Centre is under construction and the new Library visioning is happening. The good news is the addition of more people living, working and playing in East Village over the next few years will make it safer for everyone (including the homeless) as it will mean more eyes on the streets and public spaces - something criminals shy away from.  People forget there was a time when Eau Claire was a prostitute stroll – look at it today.

Creating great urban villages is not just about managing big construction projects. It is also about getting the small operational things right.  Creating good public spaces requires ongoing management and experimentation in response to new issues and opportunities.

I believe a city is defined by the attractiveness of its public spaces as gathering places for passive activities – think Central Park in New York or Millennium Park in Chicago. Riverwalk is an award-winning public space that has attracted international attention as one of the best designed public spaces of the 21st century.

We must do all we can to make Riverwalk and all of Calgary’s parks and public spaces safe and and inviting for ALL Calgarians. I say kudos to CMLC for making a tough decision.

Riverwalk has been designed so special events can take place and yet others can enjoy a passive quiet experience near by. 

Here are the few lounge chairs that have been removed. While they are nice, they are not essential. 

This is Chicago's Millennium Park. Great public spaces have areas where people love to gather, linger, relax and chill-out.