2014: Calgary's condo culture comes of age!

2014 could well be branded the year of the “luxury condo” in Calgary with Vancouver’s Concord Pacific’s announcement of their 218-unit Eau Claire project, The Concord, which includes a 6,200 square foot penthouse with a price tag of 13 million dollars.  The project design team included Arthur Erickson, arguably Canada’s most celebrated architect.

It is interesting to note that this announcement comes just one year after Calgary’s great flood of 2013. The banks of the Elbow and Bow River continued to attract major upscale condo developments in 2014.   Joining The Concord along the Bow River is Avenue in the West End by the Vancouver development team of Grosvenor/Cressey’s and their architect James Chen.  Vancouver’s Anthem Properties also announced the final phase of Calgary’s largest condo development -the 1,000-unit Waterfront on the old bus barn lands on the east side of Eau Claire.  

Yes, Vancouver developers and architects continue to transform the south shore of the Bow River into a tony, upscale highrise urban community.  The only thing missing in 2014 was the announcement that Harvard Properties was moving forward with their billion-dollar Eau Claire Market site redevelopment designed by
Vancouver’s IBI/Landplan group (that was announced late in 2013).

Calgary’s Park Avenue

One would have thought it might take a few years to see any new condo developments in the Mission area given the devastation of the flood. The uber-chic River condo with its record condo setting $8 million dollar penthouse made some quick changes to it is flood prevention design while construction continued. 

But, the big new announcement in 2014 was the 14-storey XII boutique condo (on the corner of 2nd St and 26th Ave SW).  It will have only 12 units i.e. 10 floors will be a single condo with four floors consisting of two 2-floor units.  Designed by the Calgary’s own Sturgess Architecture, this project is a quantum leap in luxury with its car parking elevator that will allow residents get out of their car in the parkade at street level, so the car can be parked robotically in the parkade. How amazing is that!  The architectural design is also futuristic with its transformer-like shape.  Residents will also get private consultation with the architects and interior designer (Douglas Cridland) and make a trip to Vancouver (yes, Vancouver) to meet with balthaup kitchen team there.

Luxury condo development along 26th Avenue in Mission started in the late '70s. 

XII condo on 26th Avenue will set a new benchmark for contemporary architecture in Calgary. 

  The River condo on 26th Ave SW is Calgary's most expensive condo project to date.  

The River condo on 26th Ave SW is Calgary's most expensive condo project to date.  

Kensington is exploding

This past year has been a big one for Kensington village as new residents moved into Battisella’s Pixel and StreetSide Development Corporation’s St. John’s condo, both Calgary developers.  Vancouver’s Bucci Development started construction of Ven just east of the Hillhurst/Sunnyside LRT station and announced the Kensington, on 10th Street NW.  As well, Battistella also announced plans for Lido (as sister condo to Pixel), also on on 10th Street. 

After years no condo development, Calgary’s only NoBow urban community is finally participating in Calgary’s emerging condo culture. There are currently over 1,000 condos at various stages of development in Kensington Village.

  Bucci hasn't even completed its Ven condo in Kensington and they have already begun construction of Kensington on 10th Street. 

Bucci hasn't even completed its Ven condo in Kensington and they have already begun construction of Kensington on 10th Street. 

Battistella just finished Pixel in the background and almost immediately started on Lido in the foreground. 

Bridgeland is bustling

After stalling for a few years because of the recession, condo construction resumed in earnest in Bridgeland this past year. The completion of the St. Patricks’ Island pedestrian bridge in the Fall of 2014 and the redevelopment of the island itself, scheduled to be completed in 2015, is making Bridgeland a very attractive place for, Calgary rapidly increasing yuppie community.

Thus it’s not surprising that Apex and GableCraft Homes have decided to proceed with Bridgeland Crossing II and Assured Developments with Giustini Development Corp are proceeding with STEPS, both are within easy walking distance to the LRT and the new St. Patrick’s Island. 

Bridgeland Crossing 2 is currently under construction on Memorial Drive across from the LRT station. 

The Steps is just one of many modest condo projects approved, under construction or recently completed in Bridgeland. 

Suburban/Urban

Condo building continued to be strong in the Beltline with the topping off of The Park (Lake Placid Group) and Mark on 10th (Qualex-Landmark) as well as the first tower of The Guardian (Calgary’s tallest condo at 44-storey by Hon Development). However, new condo development wasn’t restricted to the greater downtown communities like the Beltline in 2014.

In fact, citywide condo development in 2014 outpaced single-family housing starts by two-to-one with 8,915 multi-family housing starts vs. only 4,363 single-family as of the end of November.  Not only were almost 90% of new condo units are being not built in the greater downtown; this trend is expected to continue.

The City approved several new “suburban/urban” villages in 2014.  In September, City Council approved West Campus, a planned community east and south of the Alberta Children’s Hospital.  After several years of community consultation, it approved the West Campus Development Trust’s a master plan for the 184-acre site that will eventually accommodate 15,000 new residents (mostly in condos) and 10,000 workers when completed by about 2025.   

In December, Truman Development presented its master plan for its 96-acre West District community to the City.  When fully built out, in 10+ years it will be home to 7,000 residents and 5,200 workers.  Both West Campus and West District are planned as complete communities that will allow residents (families, yuppies, empty nesters and seniors) to not only live, work, play and age in their community.

West Campus' main street with condos above and in the background. (rendering by RK visuals, photo credit: West Campus Development Trust.)

  Rendering of condo concept for West District (photo credit: Truman Development).

Rendering of condo concept for West District (photo credit: Truman Development).

Livingston is Brookfield Residential Properties' new urban community at the north edge of the city. It will have many of the features of SETON including a major town centre. 

Last Word

Recently, Brookfield Residential, one of North America’s largest homebuilders and headquartered in Calgary, branded its proposed new Livingston community at the northern edge of the City as “not your parents’ suburb.”  While still only in the conceptual stage, it promises to create a new town centre at the northern edge of the city, equivalent to their SETON urban village on the southeastern edge.

As of the end of November, metro Calgary multi-family starts was only 378 units shy of the City record of 10,602 units in 1978.  Indeed, Calgary’s developers are building condos at a record pace in the greater downtown communities, established neighbourhoods and in the new suburbs. 

But what is really exciting is that they are not just building condos, they are building communities that have a density and diversity of uses that hasn’t been seen for over a century. Calgary's new communities are not your parent's or even your grandparent's suburbs but your great-grandparents suburbs.

By Richard White, December 26, 2014 

NB: An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on December 27, 2014

Concept rendering by RK Visuals of the SETON a planned new urban community at the city's southeast edge. (photo credit: Brookfield Residential Properties).

  Auburn Walk condo in Calgary's new community of Auburn Bay developed by Brookfield Residential Properties. 

Auburn Walk condo in Calgary's new community of Auburn Bay developed by Brookfield Residential Properties. 

West District: An urban village in the 'burbs!

By Richard White, November 29, 2014

West District is a proposed new MAC (Major Activity Center) community on a 96-acre site that straddles the southwest communities of West Springs and Cougar Ridge by Truman Developments. The boundaries are north of 9th Ave., west of 77th Street, east of 85th Street and south of Old Coach Banff Road in the southwest.

 A MAC is a term from the City of Calgary’s Municipal Development Plan to describe an “urban centre for a sub-region of the city, which provides opportunities for people to work, live, shop, recreate, be entertained and meet their daily needs.”

West District is a unique infill MAC community, as the land surrounding it has already been developed for several years. Most new MACs are at the edge of the city with no surrounding communities.  As a result, Truman Development’s team of planners and urban designers have been able to respond to what currently exists, as well as what is missing for the West Springs and Cougar Ridge to become a vibrant live work play community.

They were also able to respond to the City’s guidelines for creating successful MACs, which were not in place or not possible given most of the previous developments in West Springs and Cougar Ridge were on small parcels of land with fragmented ownership making master-planning impossible.

Over the past year, Truman Development has embraced the City’s vision of creating a vibrant new mixed-use, mixed-density communities in consultation with the community.

  This image illustrates how West District (the block of land in the middle of the image) is surrounding by low density development.  West District is essentially a mega infill project.  The concentration of trees in the middle will become part of the new communities Central Park. 

This image illustrates how West District (the block of land in the middle of the image) is surrounding by low density development.  West District is essentially a mega infill project.  The concentration of trees in the middle will become part of the new communities Central Park. 

Community Engagement

One of the first things Truman did right was to engage the existing community from the start, not after they had developed a comprehensive plan.  Rather than the old open house format where developers would present their vision after it was completed and then defend it when the individuals in the community raised questions and concerns.

They decided to open what they called the EngageHub in the spring of 2014, a purpose built 2,000 square foot building where people could visit, learn more and weigh in on some of the ideas being considered for West District. Since opening, the EngageHub has been open to the community 130+ hours  (weekdays, weekends and evenings) for people to drop-in to see how the West District plans were evolving based on community input.  

  The pretty little EngageHub looks like a cafe. In reality it is the an open meeting place where the developers and the community can meet and discuss ideas, options and issues that will create a vibrant urban village that will be a win for the community, developer and the City.

The pretty little EngageHub looks like a cafe. In reality it is the an open meeting place where the developers and the community can meet and discuss ideas, options and issues that will create a vibrant urban village that will be a win for the community, developer and the City.

  The EngageHub is full of books that people can read and get ideas from about what they would like to see in an urban village.  For me urban development and placemaking is an art not a science. 

The EngageHub is full of books that people can read and get ideas from about what they would like to see in an urban village.  For me urban development and placemaking is an art not a science. 

Density Dilemma

As with almost every new development in Calgary the biggest issue is always density. Too often the developer is put in an awkward situation as the City is demanding more density, but the existing community doesn’t want it.

For example, West District’s density is envisioned to be 36 units/acre, which is 10 times the current density of the surrounding developments.  However, when you average the density of the existing communities with the addition of West District the overall MAC density would be 5.3 units/acre, which is less than the City’s current goal of 8 units/acre for new communities and not that different from the 3.1 units/acre that currently exists. 

Too often the public hears the term density and immediately thinks 20 storey highrise condos, but in fact the density for West District and other proposed MACs will be achieved with a mix of single-family, town/row housing and some low and mid-rise condo bulidings.  This allows for a diversity of housing options that will be attractive and affordable for first homebuyers, families, empty nesters and seniors housing.

Indeed, vibrant communities include people of all ages and backgrounds. Truman Developments is Attainable Homes Calgary’s biggest multi-family partner and they are keen to see a healthy mix of market housing with some more affordable units in West District.

  This is an example of the scale of the proposed condos with ground floor retail.  You can also begin to see the wide pedestrian friendly sidewalks and clear cross walks. 

This is an example of the scale of the proposed condos with ground floor retail.  You can also begin to see the wide pedestrian friendly sidewalks and clear cross walks. 

Central Park

Over the past seven months of community engagement one of the things Truman heard loud and clear was the need for a park to serve both existing and new residents. One of the community’s desires was to retain many of the existing and beloved Aspen Tree groves. As a result, the design team has developed large central park that balances passive natural areas with programmable activity areas, which will allow for year-round use.

West District Central Park

Traffic / Transit

Another key issue for existing residents when new developments are planned is the ability of roads and transit to handle the increased traffic.  While the West Leg of the LRT does provide improved transit service to the Calgary’s west-side communities, it is unfortunate that is it is surrounded by low-density communities rather than something like a West District. 

To capitalize on the City’s 1.4B investment in the West LRT, Truman Development is proposing a developer-funded express bus between West District and the 69th Street LRT Station, about four kilometers away. Kudos to Truman Development for taking this innovative initiative.

West District shuttle.jpg

Cost Effective Development

West District is an infill development and as such the area has already been serviced to urban standards for water and sewer, which means no addition costs for new infrastructure.   There is also a good network of existing major and arterial roads that will be further upgraded with the completion of the west leg of Stoney Trail.

In addition, West District will add an estimated $550M in new residential and business taxes over the next 50 years, which is significantly more than the $130M that would be generated by a typical low density suburban development. The additional half billions dollars can be used for new or enhanced parks, recreation centres, as wells as new buses or roads across the city – everyone benefits from mega infill developments like West District.

  One of the barriers to creating new urban villages in established neighbourhoods, especially on the west side of the city is the fragmented ownership.  It becomes very difficult to assembly the large tract of land needed to develop an integrated plan of mixed-uses. The opportunity to create a new community like West District on the city's west side is very limited.  

One of the barriers to creating new urban villages in established neighbourhoods, especially on the west side of the city is the fragmented ownership.  It becomes very difficult to assembly the large tract of land needed to develop an integrated plan of mixed-uses. The opportunity to create a new community like West District on the city's west side is very limited. 

  West District calls for low density residential on the south side next to single family homes, with low-rise condos and offices on the north side with a traditional grid street pattern which will server to create the Kensington-like community. 

West District calls for low density residential on the south side next to single family homes, with low-rise condos and offices on the north side with a traditional grid street pattern which will server to create the Kensington-like community. 

NUVO Kensington

In many ways, West District is like building a new Kensington community on the west side of the city.  In fact, the new condos in Kensington - Pixel, St. John’s, Lido and VEN – are very similar to what is being proposed for West District. There are also similarities between West District’s Central Park and Riley Park and West District’s main street and the mix of shops along Kensington Road and 10th Street.

  While it might take a few years for West District to have the urban patina of Kensington, the goal is to create a community that has a wonderful outdoor culture of patios, parks and pedestrians. (there are not pedestrians in this photo as it was taken very early on summer morning.)

While it might take a few years for West District to have the urban patina of Kensington, the goal is to create a community that has a wonderful outdoor culture of patios, parks and pedestrians. (there are not pedestrians in this photo as it was taken very early on summer morning.)

Last Word

One of the criticisms I often hear from new comers to Calgary, especially those from major urban centres is we don’t have enough walkable urban communities like Kensington, Beltline or Inglewood.

No plan is perfect, however, I am thinking the City should be fast tracking the approval of West District if we are serious about providing attractive, affordable and accessible housing for both existing and new Calgarians.

By Richard White, October 27, 2014

West District At A Glance

  • 7,000              residents
  • 3,500              dwelling units
  • 20%                detached/attached homes
  • 80%                4 to 8 floor condos
  • 10                    acres of park space
  • 500,000         sq. ft. or retail (small scale with urban grocery as anchor)
  • 1.2                   million sq. ft. of (office, medical, satellite education)
  • 5,200              workers 

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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. 

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Casel: Paris on the "on ramp"

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

Casel looking southwest on 17th Ave SW.

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

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

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

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

  The market at Casel.

The market at Casel.

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

Casel looking from the navy base on the east side.

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

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

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

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

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

By Richard White, October 26, 2014

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

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Montana aka Nellie: What's in a name?

I always thought the name Montana, for a condo on the 800 block of 15th Avenue near the hub of the 17th Avenue shops and restaurants, was strange.  Perhaps it was called that because on a clear day looking south from the penthouse of this 27-storey condo you can see all the way to Montana. (A reader has informed me the name actually comes from the TV show Frasier, who lived in the Montana condo. Still doesn't make much sense to me, but makes for a more interesting story). 

A more appropriate name might have been “Nellie”, given it sits on the same block as the Nellie McClung house. She was one of the “Famous Five” women who successfully lobbied the federal government in the early 20th century for women’s rights.  In fairness, the developer Pro Cura did recognize Montana’s proximity to Nellie’s birthplace by calling one of the condo designs Nellie. They also donated $1,000 from the sales of some of the units to the Famous Five Foundation.

Calling it “Nellie” might have seemed a bit strange back in the late ‘90s when Montana was conceived, before it became very popular to give condos a person’s name - two recent additions to the Beltline condo line-up being Smith and Drake by Grosvenor. I expect the trend will continue as developers scramble to find curious names with some cache and brand value for marketing purposes.

Montana’s design is an example of modified “wedding cake” architecture made popular in New York City in the early 20th century as a result of a 1916 zoning bylaw that forced developers to reduce a building’s shadows at street level.  To do this, architects created buildings that were narrower at the top than the bottom, by creating distinct tiers stacked upon each other like a “wedding cake.”  This gives the building a taller and slimmer profile so the upper floors casted a much smaller shadow.

The shape also creates a number of interesting corner opportunities which ProCura exploited, creating not one, but 35 penthouse suites.  Granted, the developer was a bit liberal in their interpretation of what is a penthouse, but hey, that’s marketing.  For Montana, a penthouse is defined as just a larger suite with a corner view and expanded balcony - not just the top floor.

Montana’s pyramid-like roof has been nicknamed by one of my colleagues as a “party hat” roof, as it has the same proportions as one of those silly conical-shaped hats people wear at birthday parties.  Personally, I like the roof. I think it enhances the building’s elegant profile and is much more visually interesting than the flat rooftops of most buildings in the Beltline.  I also think it enhances the building’s art deco character.

Designed by Calgary’s own BKDI architects (who recently merged with Zeidler in July to form Zeidler BKDI), Montana’s exterior is composed of brick and limestone, two of the most timeless construction materials. It enhances the building’s link to the past when most of the warehouse buildings south of the CPR tracks were brick with some accent stone, including limestone.  

Last Word:

Good urban design often builds on the past with a modern twist, which is exactly what Montana does. 

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Calla: Linking past to future

Too often Calgary’s downtown and Beltline are negatively portrayed as a jungle of concrete and glass when in reality, there are numerous parks and gardens that make it a very attractive place to live.  Sometimes it takes outsiders see this. For example, Vancouver’s Qualex-Landmark saw the potential to create something special on a site just east of the historic Lougheed House and Beaulieu Gardens and just a nine iron from the century old Ranchman’s Club. The result a charming condo called Calla.

Calla looking from Lougheed House.

Located in the heart of the Beltline at 14th Avenue SW and 6th Street SW, Calla is in a residential enclave with a mix of old homes, small walk up apartments as well as mid-rise apartments and condos.  It sits on a quiet, tree-canopied street that could easily be a postcard for idyllic urban living.

It neighbour to the west the 1891 Lougheed House christened with the regal name Beaulieu or Beautiful Place inspired calla’s design.  The home was built on a 2.8-acre site on the southwest edge of downtown as a powerful symbol of Lougheed’s growing prestige and influence that would continue for the next 100 years. By the early 1900s, the estate included the residence, carriage house and stable, as well as a formal garden complete with swan sculpture fountain.

Backstory, Sir James and Lady Isabella Lougheed often entertained royal guests at Beaulieu, including the Duke and Duchess of Connaught (the community around Beaulieu was named Connaught until 2003 when Connaught and Victoria Park communities merged to form the Beltline community) and their daughter, Princess Patricia, as well as the Duke of Windsor (when he was the Prince of Wales). Beaulieu remains one of the finest and last remaining sandstone residences in Alberta.  If you haven’t yet been to the Lougheed house and gardens it is a “must see.”

Unlike most new Beltline condos which 18+ storeys, the 12-storey Calla fits right in with its mid-century 4 to 12-storey neighbour apartment and condos.  At the same time, it makes its own architectural statement, with its terraced massing (Beaulieu Gardens also are terraced), floor-to-ceiling windows and glass balconies, contrasting with the mostly brick and concrete facades of its neighbours.  Vancouver`s Rafii Architects have created a chic, clean, contemporary building that adds a new dimension to the streetscape, as well as the skyline for those living in the heart of the Beltline. It even has park homes (rather than townhomes) that open up right onto a 2.8-acre sanctuary of peace and tranquility in the middle of the Beltline.     

Calla streetscape

Calla is like a magnificent greenhouse, which is appropriate given it is adjacent to the beautiful historic Beaulieu Garden. The Garden is noteworthy for its plant material that is historically accurate to the 1891 to 1925 period.  It is no coincidence that the condo was named after the flower Calla Lily, “calla” derived from the Greek word meaning “magnificent beauty.”

Indeed, Calla serves to link the beauty and ambition of Calgary`s past to that of its future.

Calla at night


Calgary: Names & Placemaking Challenge

A pet peeve I have about condo developers is that they should do more research into the names of their condos and capitalize on the opportunity to use the names as part of the evolution of a sense of place. 

Two of the best examples of missed opportunities are the new condos facing onto Memorial Park – Park Pointe and The Park.  With a little research, imagination and respect for the area’s history, they could have been called Andrew or Carnegie. Why? Because the historic Memorial Park library (the first library in Alberta) was funded by an $80,000 Andrew Carnegie grant (total cost was $100,000 in 1912).  Or perhaps they could have been named after William Reed, Calgary’s first parks superintendent who created park.  Or, maybe even Alexander Calhoun Calgary’s first chief librarian could have been the inspiration for naming rights.  For that matter, one of the condos could have simply been named The Library.  

On a related but different note, from a design perspective, it would have been nice to have had a strong sandstone element in the exteriors of condos near as the ground level to pay respect to the historic sandstone Memorial Park Library building.

  Rendering of new The Park condo looking southeast from historic Memorial Park.  It makes no reference in design or name that would enhance the sense of place the area  or of 13th Ave SW as an important historical street. 

Rendering of new The Park condo looking southeast from historic Memorial Park.  It makes no reference in design or name that would enhance the sense of place the area  or of 13th Ave SW as an important historical street. 

Montana?????

Another good example of a missed opportunity is the Montana, the relatively new condo next to the Nellie McClung House on the 700 block of 16th Avenue SW.  Might have Neillie or McClung Place/Tower have been better?

  The Montana condo with the McClung house in the foreground on the left side.

The Montana condo with the McClung house in the foreground on the left side.

 

Church,  Homestead, Carpenters?

Hats off to the developers in Kensington who are doing a better job with names like St. John’s on Tenth St. (after the church that used to be on the site) or Lido (after the Lido Café, that was torn down after over 70 years of calling the block where the new condo will be built home).  That being said, I am think there must be a better name for the community’s latest condo, Kensington. I can think of two – The Riley (the entire Hillhurst / Sunnyside/ West Hillhurst /SAIT area was once part of the Riley family ranch) or The Carpenter (given the site was home to the Carpenter’s Union Hall for many years).  

  St. John's condominium on the site of the church of the same name.

St. John's condominium on the site of the church of the same name.

  Plaque on the side of St. John's condo documenting a bit of the history of the site.

Plaque on the side of St. John's condo documenting a bit of the history of the site.

Savoy / Riviera ?

I also question the name Savoy for a new condo in West Hillhurst, a community with a rich history.  The Savoy name is most commonly associated with a five-star luxury hotel in London.  I am not aware of any association with the site or the community.  Grand Trunk, the original name for the section of land that it is located on, would have been a much more interesting and appropriate name.  

In my opinion, the same could be said for the Riviera now under construction in Parkdale. 

  Savoy condo in West Hillhurst at the corner of 19th St NW and Kensington Road.

Savoy condo in West Hillhurst at the corner of 19th St NW and Kensington Road.

I also don’t get the names for Calgary’s three upscale condos - River, Avenue and Concord. These names are simply too generic or have nothing to do with Calgary and they do not add any value to the sense of place of the communities they are located in.  

There are a plethora of new condos next to the downtown that could easily have had names that would have fostered a unique sense of place for both locals and visitors. 

  These four condo towers are located near Stampede Park on Macleod Trail, in Victoria Park one of Calgary's oldest communities are called Sasso, Vetro, Nuera and Alura. What a missed opportunity to preserve some of the community's rich history?  

These four condo towers are located near Stampede Park on Macleod Trail, in Victoria Park one of Calgary's oldest communities are called Sasso, Vetro, Nuera and Alura. What a missed opportunity to preserve some of the community's rich history?  

Community Names

Taking it a step further, the same criticism could be said about some community names.  What’s with the name “West District” in West Springs?  Surely, there is a more meaningful name that is linked to the history of the land – West District could be anywhere.  I also hate community names like Royal Oak, Tuscany or Maple Ridge. Lovely as they may sound, they have no relevance to Calgary.  On the other hand, names like Quarry Park make sense (the site was once a quarry) and Silver Springs (it actually has springs with silver water).  Chinook Park makes perfect sense, as does Garrison Woods and Currie Barracks.

  Currie Barracks does a great job in fostering a sense of place by using historical names for the streets and with their banner program.

Currie Barracks does a great job in fostering a sense of place by using historical names for the streets and with their banner program.

  At the west entrance is a huge memorial with bronze statues and plaques that share some of the stories that are associated with the site's rich military history.  

At the west entrance is a huge memorial with bronze statues and plaques that share some of the stories that are associated with the site's rich military history.  

The Challenge

I challenge developers to invest a little more time and effort into naming condos and new communities with names that are relevant to Calgary’s history, climate, topography, flora and fauna.  

I would suggest engaging one of Calgary’s historians – Harry Sanders or David Finch - to help out with the research.

Richard White, September 24, 2014 

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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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Downtown Sprawl

Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary!

By Richard White, August 31, 2014. 

Since Calgary’s urban living renaissance began in the early ‘90s, Vancouver developers have been instrumental in shaping our city’s 21st century urban condo culture.  Vancouver’s Nat Bosa was one of the first developers to realize that Calgary’s downtown could more than just a place to work before heading back to the ‘burbs’ to live.  Today, his children - Ryan and Natalie Bosa - are championing the revitalization of East Village.

Calgary’s largest single condo development project to date  - Waterfront (eight buildings, 1,000+ condos and 1,200 parking stalls) on the old Greyhound bus barn site east of Eau Claire Market was the brainchild of Vancouver’s Anthem Properties. This developer also has a 5.4-acre site across from Erlton Station that could accommodate a similar scale project.

Vancouver’s Qualex-Landmark, has almost single-handedly reshaped the Beltline with five condo projects including sold-out Mark on 10th which is currently under construction.  It just recently announced Park Point, a two-tower (500+ condos) in the heart of the Beltline north of Memorial Park; this means Qualex-Landmark will have built 1,500 new condos over the past 10 years.

The list of Vancouver developers shaping Calgary’s urban condo culture doesn’t end there Bucci Development Ltd. is very active north of the Bow with mid-rise projects in Bridgeland and Kensington. Maple Project is responsible for Ten and UNO, both in lower Mount Royal, with plans for a high-rise apartment in the Beltline, as well as the redevelopment of the Highland Golf course.

Mark on 10th will establish a new benchmark for urban design in Calgary. It is fun, funky and quirky without being weird and wacky. 

The Waterfront condo project is the largest condo project in Calgary's history.

BOSA condos built in downtown's West End in the mid '90s. 

International Influence

More recently, Calgary’s new urban living renaissance has captured the interest of the global investment community.  Grosvenor, an urban development company based in London, England that dates back to 1677, identified Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto as the best three cities in the world for investment potential.  Currently, Grosvenor Americas based in Vancouver has three Calgary condo projects – Drake, Smith (Beltline) and Avenue (West End). 

Vancouver’s Concord Pacific (developers of the Vancouver Expo ’86 site), with ties to Hong Kong, recently announced they will be proceeding with their uber-chic Eau Claire condo project west of the Princeton.  Concord Pacific is associated with luxury condo communities with a reputation of choosing only the “best of the best” sites. Eau Claire and Mission are competing to see who will become the “Mount Royal of condo living.”

Toronto developers get some skin in the game

Toronto condo developers, though late in the Cowtown condo game, have hit the ground running.  Both FRAM+Slokker Real Estate Group and Lamb Development Corp. have entered the Calgary market in the past few years.  FRAM+Slokker is focused on East Village with three projects - First will be completed in 2015, Verve in 2016 and a site for an unnamed major retail, office and residential development has also been acquired.

Lamb has acquired two properties for development - one on 10th Ave SW next to the iconic Uptown Bottle Depot and one on 12th Avenue SE next to Stampede Park.  The latter named Orchard will be twin 31-storey towers with a one-acre apple orchard in the middle.

Rafiiville or Little Vancouver

Not only are Vancouver developers shaping Calgary’s condo culture, but so are their Vancouver design and marketing teams.  Vancouver architect Road Rafii has had more influence on Calgary’s architectural look than any other architect over the past ten years. In 2001, the Vancouver Sun identified Rafii as one of the 10 architects who shaped Vancouver’s urban sense of place.  In 2014, you could say he has also shaped Calgary’s sense of place as he was the design architect for Calla, Drake, Luna, Mark on 10th, Nova, Stella and Waterfront condo projects. Perhaps we should rename the Beltline “Rafiiville.”

Grosvenor is also using a Vancouver architectural firm - James KM Cheng Architects - for its Avenue condo project in our downtown’s West End while Concord Pacific is using Vancouver “starchitects” Arthur Erickson and Peter Busby for their Eau Claire condo project. In addition, Busby + Will Architects are designing a complete redo of the Eau Claire Market site for Regina’s Harvard Properties.  Could our downtown Bow River condo district become “Little Vancouver.”

One would think the out-of-town developers don’t think much of Calgary’s architectural community. However, it is more a case of being more comfortable dealing with a design and marketing team they are familiar with.  However, Brad Lamb, President of Lamb Development Corp., quoted recently in the Financial Post in conjunction with the announcement of Concord Pacific’s Eau Claire condo project said, “there are a few true luxury, high-rise developments in Calgary, but their architectural styles can be best described as pedestrian.” Ouch!

Obviously, it is not a coincidence that Calgary’s downtown skyline is perhaps looking a bit like Vancouver’s given the number of high-rise Vancouver condo developers who are capitalizing on the residentialization of Calgary’s urban core.

A rendering of proposed Orchard condo with the apple tree orchard between the two towers. 

Fostering a sense of place

From an urban design perspective, I am not convinced Calgary is being well served by out-of-town developers as most of their architectural designs are not breaking any new ground and certainly not contributing to creating a “made-in Calgary” sense of place. However, I am anxiously awaiting the completion of Qualex-Landmark’s Mark on 10th as it has potential to be a signature architectural statement for Calgary.

If I had to choose my favourite uniquely contemporary condo designs, I would pick ones designed by Calgary architectural firms. Arriva is probably my favourite - designed by BKDI. I have also come to admire what I like to call “The Chessmen” on Macleod Trail – SASSO and NUERA, designed by Calgary’s Abugov Kaspar Architects and Alura and Nuera, designed by Calgary’s S2 Architecture.  These condo towers make a modern, robust and masculine statement with their massing and mechanical design elements. To me they have an engineering look that reflects Calgary’s huge engineering community. 

Good architecture doesn’t have to shout out “Look at me! Look at me!” Rather, it just “stands out” over time as something interesting to look at.

These four condos by Cove Properties along Macleod Trail near Stampede Park have started to create a distinctive sense of place with their unique design. 

South of downtown on 17th Avenue red brick is more common as the facade material for high-rises and the design elements are more art deco and Manhattan like. 

The Beltline has an eclectic design sensibility, many of the new condos and apartments area adding an element of colour as part of their sense of place, like the Aura apartments across the street from the new Barb Scott Park. 

Condo living is in its infancy in YYC

“Condo living will soon be the norm in Calgary,” says Michael Ward, Senior VP & General Manager of Grosvenor Americas.  His rationale is that Calgary will have a very robust economy for the foreseeable future (although there will be periodic downturns) given its political stability and the large fixed costs and long-term commitments to the oil sands by both domestic and international firms.  This in turn will attract young professionals, not only from Canada but internationally to work in Calgary’s downtown office towers. He believes “living in condominiums is a preferred choice for an increasing number of young people, looking for affordable housing and centrally located.” 

He even postulates that “as seen in Vancouver, large parts of Europe and Asia, people are choosing to stay in condominiums after they form relationships and have families as they enjoy the convenience of living close to amenities, work and friends.”

Ward notes, “Condominium development has in the past garnered some bad publicity in Calgary, as smaller, opportunistic developers have walked away from half-finished projects through tough times and held on to purchasers’ deposits for years before commencing construction.”  He notes, “the fact Calgary is attracting major experienced national and international urban condo developers, means more condos will be completed on time with quality design and construction, which in turn will make condo living more attractive to more Calgarians.”  

For decades, Calgary has been predominantly a single-family home city, but over the past decade this has changed not only in the inner-city, but in the ‘burbs’ also.  For many the condo is the new ‘starter home.’ There are currently over 7,000 condos under construction across the city. As Bob Dylan sang, “the times they are a- changin.” 

By Richard White. An edited version of this blog appeared in the September 2014 issue of Condo Living magazine, with the title " Cross Canada Connections." 

Condo from the 70s and 80s and 90s along the Elbow River in Mission.

In 1982, the Estate condo was built next to the historic Ranchmen's Club.  It was designed with town homes along the street with a tower above, nearly a decade before the podium and point tower became the Vancouver condo design craze. 

Feng Shui & Urban Design

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

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

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

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

Chinese Cultural Centre 

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

Feng Shui & Astrology

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

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

Decorative iron work over the wall of ventilation panels. 

Decorative gates hide the loading dock.

Design Stories

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

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

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

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

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

Decorative Koi on the entrance to the parkade.

Blue balconies lead the eye to the blue sky.

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

Last Word

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

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YYC Walkabout: Cliff Bungalow / 4th Street / Mission

Richard White, July 23, 2014

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image homes with REAL river rock!

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

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

Fun, Funky, Quirky 

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

Quirky 4th Street shops....

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

Funky characters in Cliff Bungalow. 

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

4th Street Flaneuring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flaneuring  Finds 

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

We both loved the colourful patina on these bricks.

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

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

William Aberhart Park 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Canadian Encylopedia

The park includes a wonderful community garden. 

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

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

Last Word:

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

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

By Richard White, June 28, 2014

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

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

Calgary: Benefits of Downtown Sprawl? 

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

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

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

Brookfield Place 

Telus Sky Tower

Manulife office tower

Proposed Eau Claire Market site redevelopment with five new towers. 

East Village condo construction as downtown sprawls eastward.

Urban Transformation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inner City Makeover

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lane housing in West Hillhurst.

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

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

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

A parade of new infill homes in West Hillhurst.

Calgary is Unique

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

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

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

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

Denver vs Calgary: A Tale of Two Thriving Downtowns!

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

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

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

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

Denver has a healthy mix of old and new architecture.

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

Denver vs Calgary at a glance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary's downtown library.

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

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

Denver's LRT map

Calgary's LRT Map

Tale of Two Malls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denver's 16th Street Mall 

!6th Street Mall at the LODO warehouse district 

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

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

Calgary's flagship Hudson Bay Store on Stephen Avenue.

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

Downtown Living

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

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

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

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

One of Denver's highrise condos.

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

Denver's Cherry Creek pathway and condos.

Calgary's Bow River and the Eau Claire condos.

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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





Calgary's Learning City is blooming!

By Richard White,  June 4, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catalytic Projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A great place to play!

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

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

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

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

A great place to live!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Inglewood: Calgary's most unique community?

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

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

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

Live

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

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

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

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

Work

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

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

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

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

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

Play

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

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

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

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

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

Rouge combines history and contemporary dining for a unique experience. 

  Nerd is just one of many hipster hangouts in Inglewood. 

Nerd is just one of many hipster hangouts in Inglewood. 

Did You Know?

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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Don't be too quick to judge

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

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

Union Square: Living on the park!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community Collaboration 

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

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

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

Union Square town homes with patios facing the park.

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

Second Tower?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Last Word

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

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Spruce Cliff: A hidden gem

An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours on March 27, 2014. 

By Richard White, May 3, 2014

As an avid off-the-beaten path shopper, I recently discovered the community of Spruce Cliff when I went there to check out Louche Milieu, a mid century modern shop located in the Spruce Cliff Shopping Centre.   The “shopping centre” name is a bit deceiving as it is just a single row of six or seven small retail shops. But sometimes you find the most interesting things in small out-of-the-way places. 

Louche Milieu was definitely worth the trip. It was full of vintage furniture and home accessories, all in great shape and nicely displayed.  We also enjoyed a coffee and homemade muffin at the cute Little Monday café that had just opened.   There was something refreshing and authentic to this vintage ‘50s shopping centre with its locally owned and operated shops, something missing from the big box franchised power centres.

If you blink, you would miss Spruce Cliff. Driving along Bow Trail just west of the Shaganappi Golf course, it parallels Bow Trail for only five blocks – 33rd to 38th St SW.  Its boundaries are Bow Trail on the south, Bow River on the north, 38th street to the west and Shaganappi Golf Course on the east.  Though the land was annexed by the city of Calgary in 1910, it wasn’t developed until the ‘50s.

What intrigued me as I entered the community along Spruce Drive SW, was the dichotomy of the many small mid 20th century apartment complexes with the large 21st century Westgate Park and Copperwood condo projects. It was as if two worlds were colliding.  Coincidently, a few days later I was reading Robert M. Stamp’s book “Suburban Modern” where he documents postwar dreams in Calgary and there is a section on the “Spruce Cliff Apartments.”  They were a $7 million, social-housing project designed by Rule, Wynn & Rule that are “sensitively distributed across the site, establishing a park-like setting (32 buildings over a 50-acre site) and offering remarkable views of the city skyline.” 

Driving around the community there was a conspicuous absence of single-family homes.  Indeed, Spruce Cliff’s housing mix is different from most Calgary communities with 65% of its housing stock being apartments, (city average 27%) and only 42% of the homes are owner-occupied (city average 73%).  A check of the community’s demographics and you find Spruce Cliff is a haven for young single Calgarians - 37% of the population are 25 to 34 year of age and 71% live alone.

It is not surprising Spruce Cliff is attractive to young professionals (31% have a university degree vs city average of 25%) given you can walk/cycle to downtown or catch the LRT train at the nearby Westbrook Station.  In addition, there are few places in Calgary where you can walk to a golf course for a round of golf in the summer or some cross-country skiing in the winter. You also have easy access to Edworthy Park and the Douglas Fir Trail for hiking and more biking.  

Spruce Cliff has been home to the Wildflower Arts Centre for over 30 years, offering classes to everyone from preschoolers to seniors.  Recently they offered a “Famous Artist” series of lectures covering everything from the Group of Seven to Matisse.  In addition there are pottery, painting and drawing classes, making it a fun place to discover your inner artist.

Spruce Cliff is also home to Calgary’s annual Greek Festival at the Hellenic Community Centre; this year’s festival happens from June 20 to 24.  Calgary’s Hellenic Orthodox Community was formed in 1957 and the St. Demetrious Greek Orthodox Church was built two years later. It has since been joined by the St. Mary’s Romanian Orthodox Church and the Church of Shepard, creating a church campus in the middle of the community.  If you have always wanted to go to Greece but haven’t yet made it, head to Spruce Cliff for this year’s festival.  

Like many of Calgary’s inner city communities, Spruce Cliff is about to be transformed from a low-density ‘50s residential community into a early 21st century mixed-use community.  The most obvious evidence of this change is Intergulf-Cidex’s three high-rise towers right on Bow Trail at Spruce Dr. SW.  Westgate Park added not only 480 high-end condos, but started to create the link between Spruce Cliff and the planned Westbrook LRT Station transit-oriented urban village.

Similarly, the new Copperwood condos along Hemlock Crescent added 517 units in several buildings, each with spectacular views of downtown, Bow River valley and the mountains.  These two developments alone have attracted over 1,500 affluent new young professionals and empty nesters to Spruce Cliff, who no doubt will germinate other new developments like Louche Milieu and Little Monday café.   

Spruce Cliff is yet another example of how Calgary’s inner city communities are successfully being transformed into active, attractive, diverse and denser 21st century neighbourhoods. 

St. Demetrious Greek Orthodox Church

Little Monday Cafe

Louche Milieu

Spruce Cliff Shopping Centre

Westgate condos

Wildflower Arts Centre

Shaganappi Golf Course