What is urban living and who really cares?

By Richard White, November 27, 2014 

80% of Canadians live in cities, but only a small part live urban,” reads one of the tweets in a recent tweeter debate by a few of us urban nerds.

This got me asking myself “what really is urban living anyway?”  Can you live in a city and not live “urban?”

I tweeted the author asking what his definition of urban living was, but got no answer.  Indeed, too often people – including urban designers planners, architects, engineers, politicians, developers and yes, even myself use terms that even we don’t really have a shared meaning of and/or doesn’t make a lot of sense to others.

I have often thought the term “urban sprawl” should more aptly be called “suburban sprawl” as what is being referred to is the sprawl of low-density predominantly residential development at the edge of a city, areas commonly thought of as suburbs. But, I digress; perhaps a topic for another time.

  Urban living is about diversity? Young and old? Bikes and pedestrians? Residents and retail?

Urban living is about diversity? Young and old? Bikes and pedestrians? Residents and retail?

  Is this urban living?

Is this urban living?

What is urban living?

I admit – not only did I not have a handy definition, I could not recall ever seeing one.  It begs a number of questions, including:

  •  Do you have to live in or near downtown to “live urban?”
  • Do you have to live in a community with a certain density to be considered urban living? 
  • Is urban living measured by the percent of time you walk vs. take transit vs. drive?
  •  Does urban living mean not having a car? Or, is it driving less than the Canadian average of 18,000 km/year?
  • Is urban living about the size of your house, condo and/or vehicle?
  • Is urban living about residing in communities with a diversity of commercial and residential buildings?  

I thought a Google search might help, but I struck out. Unable to find a nice clear and concise, definition I went “old school” and checked some dictionaries. They all just said something about “living in a city,” much too ambiguous to satisfy me.

  Urban living is about living on the streets?  Food carts in Portland's suburbs encourage street dining.  

Urban living is about living on the streets?  Food carts in Portland's suburbs encourage street dining.  

  Urban living in Calgary's West Hillhurst?

Urban living in Calgary's West Hillhurst?

 

Statistics Canada says…

 Not one to give up quickly, I turned to our government, specifically (and logically) Statistics Canada.  I found out that, in 2011, Statistics Canada redesignated urban areas with the new term "population centre" a new term was chosen in order to “better reflect the fact that urban vs. rural is not a strict division, but rather a continuum within which several distinct settlement patterns may exist (their words not mine).”

Stats Canada went further, identifying three distinct types of population centres: small (population 1,000 to 29,999), medium (population 30,000 to 99,999) and large (population 100,000 or greater).

They go on to say, “It also recognizes that a community may fit a strictly statistical definition of an urban area but may not be commonly thought of as "urban" because it has a smaller population. Or, functions socially and economically as a suburb of another urban area rather than as a self-contained urban entity. Or, is geographically remote from other urban communities.”  Have I lost you yet - it is getting very muddy for me!

For example, Airdrie, with its population of 42,564, is a medium size population centre, but it is socially and economically a suburb of Calgary.  On the other hand, Medicine Hat, with its population of 61,180 is also a medium size population centre, but because it is the largest population centre for a large geographical region, it could be thought of as “urban.” 

Despite its change in terminology, Statistics Canada’s current demographic definition of an urban area is “a population of at least 1,000 people where the density is no fewer than 400 persons per square km” (which would include all of Calgary’s 200+ communities).

Dig a little deeper and Statistics Canada defines low-density neighbourhoods as those where 67% or more of the housing stock is composed of single-family dwellings, semi-detached dwellings and/or mobile homes.  A medium-density neighbourhood is deemed one where the percentage of single-family, detached or mobile homes is between 33 and 67%, while high density is where these types of dwellings comprise less than 33% of the housing stock.

By this, Stats Canada identifies six high-density neighbourhoods in Calgary (they didn’t name them), by far the least of any of Canada’s major cities.  Perhaps the author of the tweet meant only those Calgarians living in Calgary’s six, high-density neighbourhoods are living urban?

  Urban living is about great public spaces, like this one in Strasbourg, France.

Urban living is about great public spaces, like this one in Strasbourg, France.

YYC Municipal Development Plan

Still not satisfied, I moved on. I wondered if the City of Calgary’s Municipal Development Plan has a definition of “urban living” or a related term in its glossary of terms. The best I could find were the following:

Intensity: A measure of the concentration of people and jobs within a given area calculated by totaling the number of people either living or working in a given area. 

Complete Community: A community that is fully developed and meets the needs of local residents through an entire lifetime. Complete communities include a full range of housing, commerce, recreational, institutional and public spaces. A complete community provides a physical and social environment where residents and visitors can live, learn, work and play. 

So, where does that leave me and others who are interested in a meaningful debate about how we work together to build a better city. What would be a useful definition of “urban living” that professionals and the public to agree upon as the on debate how best to “urbanize” Calgary continues?

  Brookfield's SETON mixed-use community on the southern edge of Calgary will offer many of the same urban experiences as living in Calgary's City Centre. 

Brookfield's SETON mixed-use community on the southern edge of Calgary will offer many of the same urban experiences as living in Calgary's City Centre. 

  Calgary's new suburbs are being as complete communities with both a density and diversity of residential dwellings (single-family, town homes and multi-family) that would make them a medium to high density community. It will take 15 to 20 years to achieve this; don't be too quick to judge!  

Calgary's new suburbs are being as complete communities with both a density and diversity of residential dwellings (single-family, town homes and multi-family) that would make them a medium to high density community. It will take 15 to 20 years to achieve this; don't be too quick to judge!  

Possible working definitions

One potential definition of “urban living” might be, “living in a place where you can comfortably walk, cycle or take public transit to 80% of your regular weekly activities (i.e. work, school, shop, medical entertainment and recreation).

As for The definition of “comfortable,” I leave up to the individual. For some, a comfortable walking distance might be 15 minutes; for others it might be 30 minutes. I know Calgarians who take the bus or even drive the two kilometers from Mission to work downtown, while others cycle 15+ km to work (and back). I myself used to walk 50 minutes to and from work downtown for 10+ years.  

A second possible “urban living” definition might be, “when you regularly use at least three of the four modes of transportation (walk, cycle, take transit and drive) to engage in your regular weekly activities.”

  High-rise living in Edmonton's downtown.

High-rise living in Edmonton's downtown.

  Downtown Calgary's West End.  Are condos just vertical suburban dwellings?

Downtown Calgary's West End.  Are condos just vertical suburban dwellings?

  Low-rise condos on a residential street in Mission.

Low-rise condos on a residential street in Mission.

Last Word

But really, does the average Calgarian even care if they a live urban or suburban? Thanks for indulging me.  I hazard a guess to say most don’t. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I highly suspect they just want to be able to get to their activities in a timely, affordable manner.

Yet for us urban nerds, we are always thinking about how can we build a better city for everybody, one that is more cost-efficient, environmentally-friendly, affordable, integrated and inclusive. It’s what turns our cranks!

By Richard White, December 4, 2014

Reader Comments:

GG writes: "Initially the definition was applied to the rural/city divide, and has since become a true city ‘divide’. It doesn’t seem to matter than many of these ‘urban inner-city communities’ were the suburbs of a few decades back, and the reasons that people built there and moved there are no different than those today.  By virtue of Calgary’s rapid growth, they are now close to the city center and have developed a ‘cachet’. This was not a result of great urban planning, foresight, or any attempt at smart growth. The densities in many of these communities are less than they are in the ‘reviled’ suburbs that are being built today. They were the product of development methods of the day, and schools and community centers were part of the package.  Families were one car or even no car, and transit was a common denominator. And today, it is all too common to see perfectly liveable houses bulldozed so that the affluent can enjoy a big house but be environmentally and developmentally superior by being an urban dweller, an inhabitant of the inner city."

CW writes: "A most excellent column. Certainly people do care very much about their urban living, yet our language completely fails to capture how we choose to situate ourselves in life. Why would that be? Everybody knows it's not good manners to talk openly about class, but a definition of urban living should take into the account the ability to insulate oneself from undesirable situations of class. Most people love the city they choose to live in, but they also wouldn't be caught dead in some parts of it."

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Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary 

Don't be too quick to just the new suburbs?

Importance of comfort, convenience and privacy in urban living 

Urban cottages & Gentrification 

 

 

80% of Calgarians must live in the 'burbs.

"When it comes to house prices, here's how much location matters" was the title of a Maclean’s article in their November 17, 2014 edition. The story looked at how Canadian homebuyers in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Calgary can save thousands of dollars by buying a home further away from downtown. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out. Most Calgarians and I expect those in other cities figured that out a long time ago.

But it was interesting to see that in all the cities except Calgary, the savings increased with every 10 minutes further you lived from downtown. But in Calgary, the price dropped from an average of $665,500 10 minutes from downtown to $515,900 if you lived 20 minutes from downtown and stayed in the $500,000 to $550,000 range until you got 50 minutes away.  Calgary’s big ring of established communities with similar housing stock in the 20 to 40-minute commute range to downtown, making them very attractive to downtown professionals with their higher than average salaries, stock options and profit sharing. 

Majority of Calgarians simply can’t afford to live in established neighbourhoods.

Do the math and you quickly find out the majority of Calgarians can’t afford to live in the established neighbourhoods. A family income of $100,000 (Calgary’s median family income was $98,300 in 2012, Statistics Canada) will support a mortgage of only $300,000. I am told 3 times your gross income is a good benchmark for how much mortgage you can afford.  If we assume a generous down payment of say 20%, that means 50% of Calgarians can only afford a house or condo under $360,000.

A quick review of the City’s average home sales costs by community shows that in the southwest has no communities with an average selling price in the $360K range and there are only two in the northwest.   In the southeast, there would are three or four, while in the northeast almost all of its communities are close to the $360K mark. I realize that even with an average selling price over $360K in established neighbourhoods there will be many homes under that price, but most of them will be smaller and in need of renovations that will bring the price over the affordability of most Calgarians. 

So While the City of Calgary wants to encourage more Calgarians to live in the established neighbourhoods in the inner city west of the Deerfoot Divide, most Calgarians simply can’t afford the $500,000+ cost.  In fact, only 21% of Calgary’s households have an income over $150,000 which in turn would allow them to have mortgage of $450,000 which combined with say a $100,000 down payment would, get them a $550,000 house.  

If only 20% of Calgarians can afford to live in established communities, this means we have to accommodate 80% in the suburbs until we can find a way to build affordable housing for the average Calgarian in established communities. 

  A street of older mid-century homes in one of Calgary's established communities on 50 foot lots. Typically they sell for $500+ to developers who knock them down and build a two story infill that is 1,800+ sf and better meets the needs of a modern family. 

A street of older mid-century homes in one of Calgary's established communities on 50 foot lots. Typically they sell for $500+ to developers who knock them down and build a two story infill that is 1,800+ sf and better meets the needs of a modern family. 

  A typical street of new infill homes in an established community. Prices start at $700,000 for older infills with new ones starting at $900,000.  

A typical street of new infill homes in an established community. Prices start at $700,000 for older infills with new ones starting at $900,000.  

  A new duplex in the inner city starts at about $900,000 as they are about 200sf larger than detached infills. 

A new duplex in the inner city starts at about $900,000 as they are about 200sf larger than detached infills. 

  These two new infills on a 25 ft lot sell for $900,000 for 1,800 sf. A similar size house and lot in the 'burbs sells for about $450,000. 

These two new infills on a 25 ft lot sell for $900,000 for 1,800 sf. A similar size house and lot in the 'burbs sells for about $450,000. 

  New condos in established communities start at $300,000 for studio, $400,000 for one bedroom and $500,00+ for a two bedroom.  

New condos in established communities start at $300,000 for studio, $400,000 for one bedroom and $500,00+ for a two bedroom.  

Why are we always focused on downtown?

However, my biggest beef with this study - and most of these kinds of studies for that matter is they are only looking at the downtown commuters, which represents only 25% of Calgary’s commuters. For the majority of Calgarians, their decision where to buy a house isn’t governed by the commute to downtown, and that majority is getting larger every year.

The City’s most recent job growth numbers from 2006 to 2011 show that downtown job growth was only 11.5% of the new jobs in the city, while growth in the City’s industrial areas accounted for a whopping 77% of the job growth.  Is it any wonder there is a huge demand for homes and condos in the southeast and the northeast near the industrial and warehouse developments?  In the ‘90s GO Plan, the City’s goal was to get people to live closer to where they work.  That being the case, we need to build more communities near our industrial lands.

The majority of Calgarians don’t need to live near downtown.

Retired Calgarians can live anywhere; commuting time is not a factor.  Many retirees I know have a goal of not leaving the house until after 9 am and being home before 3 pm leaving the roads available for those who need them.   

For those working in and around the airport, the ability to live in the far northeast and northwest means minimal time on the Deerfoot and a shorter commute time.  Living east of the Deerfoot in the far southeast also results in a short, 10 to 20-minute commute for those who work there.

With only one leg of the LRT serving the NE and none the SE the quadrant, workers in our major industrial, transportation and distribution centres have limited transit access and so the majority must drive to work.

Unfortunately, the large tracks of land needed for industrial and warehouse operations don’t create the concentration of jobs in a small geographical area needed for effective rapid transit. Transit only works well for downtown, and a few other places like large employment centres (e.g. university, hospitals), but not for the majority of Calgary workers. 

Calgary’s urban planners and politicians must realize that today’s Calgary is as much a distribution warehouse city as it is an oil & gas downtown office city. Did you know that transportation & manufacturing (mostly east of Deerfoot) accounts for 125,000 jobs in the city, while oil & gas adds up to only 72,000?  The NE with growth of the Calgary International Airport has evolved into a major economic engine for the city and could in the future rival downtown. Did you know that there are more hotel rooms in the northeast than in downtown?

Why Calgarians love the burbs.

While many young urban singles are willing to live in a 500-square foot home and pay $450+ per square foot that won’t work for families.  A young family of four wants 2,000 square feet (the same 500 square feet/ person), which means they can not afford the $500,000+ an older established neighbourhood home, but the home doesn’t meet their needs.  As a result, the majority of young Calgary families are forced to go to the edge of the city where starter homes or larger condos can be had for $300,000 to $400,00 and don’t need any major renovations.

Did you know 67% of Calgary households have children and another 2.3% are multiple family homes? It is therefore not surprising 62% of Calgarians want a single-family home, 16% want a semi-detached home and only 22% desire a multi-family one (Calgary Growth Benchmark, 2014).  Currently, there are more multi-family homes being built than single or semi-detached. Obviously, since supply isn’t meeting demand, the cost of single and semi-detached homes will only increase, making them even less affordable.

I know some will ask, “Why does a family have to be raised in a single-family dwelling?” And, indeed some parents will choose a semi-detached or multi-family home but most desire a single-family home where the kids to run, play and make noise without disturbing the neighbours. As well multi-family buildings don’t meet the storage needs for an active family in a four-season city like Calgary.

  Suburban population growth from City of Calgary's "Suburban Residential Growth 2014 -2018 Report.

Suburban population growth from City of Calgary's "Suburban Residential Growth 2014 -2018 Report.

  Land Supply (City of Calgary, Suburban Residential Growth 2014 - 2018)

Land Supply (City of Calgary, Suburban Residential Growth 2014 - 2018)

  Residential Building Permit Applications, City of Calgary, Suburban Residential Growth 2014 - 2018 Report)

Residential Building Permit Applications, City of Calgary, Suburban Residential Growth 2014 - 2018 Report)

The BIG Question.

Should we be pushing families to live in multi-family housing in established neighbourhoods they can’t afford and aren’t any nearer to work? I fact, if we get more people to move into the established neighborhoods west of Deerfoot, we will be encouraging more people to drive to work, creating more traffic issues as there is no effective transit to their jobs in the far northeast and southeast. 

  Calgary needs more mixed-use, mixed density urban style development on the edges of the city like Brookfield Residential's SETON. 

Calgary needs more mixed-use, mixed density urban style development on the edges of the city like Brookfield Residential's SETON. 

  SETON happy hour.

SETON happy hour.

A Radical Idea.

Instead of trying to get more people to live in the established communities (where the existing community members don’t necessarily want more density and the majority of Calgarians can’t afford to live there anyway), we should focus on how we can improve the live/work/play opportunities in Calgary’s northeast and southeast quadrants of the city.

In the 20th century urban thinking was to separate housing from employment centers so most of the housing was west of the Macleod and Edmonton Trails and the jobs east. By the late 20th Century the Deerfoot became the dividing line between living and working.  In the 21st Century, we need to look at integration, not separation of live/work centres. We need to rethink the balance between inner city and suburban growth. We need to think of suburban growth as mega infilling projects. 

We need to think of Calgary differently, as a federation of five different economic zones - NW, NE, SE, SW and Inner City.  Each one needs to have its own growth management strategy (land use, transit, roads, recreation, retail) that capitalizes on each zone’s unique aspects as a place to live, work and play. 

By Richard White, November 26, 2014.

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A Surprise Playground Lunch

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

   Big brother helping sister.

Big brother helping sister.

Playground Fun 

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

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

 

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

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

  The spectators bench. 

The spectators bench. 

  The world's longest blackboard?

The world's longest blackboard?

  A good public space attracts people of all ages. 

A good public space attracts people of all ages. 

  Our friendly butcher, sandwich maker. 

Our friendly butcher, sandwich maker. 

Last Word

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

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

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Florence BFFs: Best Flaneur Finds

Florence with its 10+ million visitors annually is full of touristy places to shop, eat and people watch. You really have to dig deep to find the “real” Florence.  As avid flaneurs, we are always on the lookout for locals who have a hipster, modern, funky or designer look about them, as they are good bets for having the best insights into the city’s true culture. 

Once you have sussed out such people, good questions to ask them beyond the usual “Where is a good place to eat or shop? “are:

  •  Is there a design or galley district in your city.
  • Are there any retro, second-hand, antique or used bookstores nearby?
  • Where do the locals like to hang out?” 

After 10 days of flaneuring in Florence, we found three streets that offer a more authentic Florence experience – Niccolo, Pinti and Macci.  Yes, there are still lots of tourist traps on these streets, but there are also great local hot spots.

Borgo Pinti District (from Via Egidio to Via dei Pilastri)

Even though this street was just a block away from where we were living, it took us a couple of days to find it.  As there are no cars, it is a popular pedestrian and cyclist route into the core from the edge of the City Centre.

Here you will find several upscale shops (from kids to high fashion), bakery and restaurants catering to locals and off-the-beaten path tourists.  We loved the three vintage/retro boutiques – Mrs. Macis (#38), SOqquadro (#13), Abiti Usati & Vintage (#24) and a funky hat and jewelry shop, Jesei che Volano (#33).  Note the numbers in brackets are the street numbers, but Florence has a strange way of numbering homes and shops with different coloured numbers; even by the end we were not sure we had figured it out.  

The big flaneur find on Pinti was FLY (Fashion Loves You), which looks like a high-end fashion store, but is in fact a boutique run by students from the fashion department of the Florence University of the Arts. FLY has very trendy, well-made designer purses, jewelry and clothing created by the students.  It also has some of the friendliest and knowledgeable staff we have ever encountered.  We were immediately given information about other places to check out including their cooking school/restaurant on Via de Macci (more below).

 

  This wall of scarves at FLY had the feel of contemporary art exhibition. 

This wall of scarves at FLY had the feel of contemporary art exhibition. 

  Mrs Macis is a colourful, playful vintage shop. 

Mrs Macis is a colourful, playful vintage shop. 

Jesei che Volano is dominated by wall of hats on fish head hooks.

Niccolo District

On the other side of the Arno River, away from the main tourist traps, is an up and coming area anchored by Via di Niccolo, at the base of the hill to the Plazzale Michelangelo.  Already home to several good restaurants and artisan studios, and lots of construction, it might be too late to call this a hidden gem, but it is definitely worth checking out.

Vivaldi Cioccolateri (Via dei Renai, 15r) has a “North American meets Florence” atmosphere. The high-ceiling back room salon with an eclectic assortment of big comfy antique chairs and couches and classic music oozes relaxation. I had perhaps one of the best chocolate desserts I have had here - an unbaked chocolate torte, garnished with thin chocolate leaves.  Though we didn’t taste the gelato, it sure looked good!  And, while sitting enjoying your coffee and dessert, you can also enjoy some voyeuristic fun as the pastry chef’s kitchen is in the loft space above the salon.

If you are into luxury and love shoes, a visit to the Stefano Bemer studio is a must.  Here they make custom shoes from scratch and promise a perfect fit for both of your feet (few people have both feet the same size or shape). The front of the shop is both a showroom and workshop where you can see young artisans at work and view some of their samples (mostly men’s shoes, but some women’s flats). Don’t expect to walk away with new shoes; there is a six-month waiting list. Rumor has it Salvatore Ferragamo’s son buys his shoes here. Note: Be prepared to shell out 3,000 euros of a new pair of shoes, but this also includes the one time molds.

We were amazed at how friendly all the artists in this district are. Don’t hesitate to go in and chat. They all speak some English, were happy to talk about their art and often had interesting tips on what to see and do in the area. 

Stefano Bemer's wall of foot moulds each with the names of the owner created a visual delight.

Vivaldi Cioccolateri's cozy back room oasis. 

  CLET is a Florence street artist who creates these fun street signs around the city, especially in the Niccolo District where he has his studio. 

CLET is a Florence street artist who creates these fun street signs around the city, especially in the Niccolo District where he has his studio. 

  Collage of CLET signs.

Collage of CLET signs.

Via de Macci District

We found this street after checking out the area’s Ghilberti Market. Here you will find interesting artisan shops like Ad’a’s Studio (#46) with a great selection of knitted and crocheted handbags, hats, mitts and scarfs made right on site.

Brenda loved the L’Aurora Onlus charity (thrift) shop (#11) located in the decommissioned San Francesco al Tempio hospital, church and convent complex built in 1335 (open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday). Part of the church space has been converted into the most amazing thrift store space we have ever encountered, with its intact cathedral ceilings with their religious paintings on them.  Unfortunately, the lighting is poor so you might have to use the flashlight on your phone to look at things. And the fitting room is a tiny, back storage room with poor light and no mirror. Brenda says, “it is like shopping in the twilight zone!”

At the I Mosaici di Lastrucci (#9) workshop and gallery, you can watch amazing artisans painstakingly create amazing realistic mosaic artworks from very thin slices of different coloured rocks.  The art of natural stone inlaid work dates back to 15th century Florence. This is truly is a walk back in time, when everything was handmade by local artisans.

Danda Necioni’s (#27) is an etching and map shop that is literally jam packed with historic works – a great source for a unique souvenir from Italy. All of the works come with documented authentication, making them real collector items.

Based on the hot tip from the staff at FLY, we lunched at GANZO (#85), the restaurant owned by the Florence University of the Arts and run by students.  If you are looking for a break from dark spaces and ancient architecture, its bright white walls, contemporary furnishings and large black and white student photography provides respite from the dark and decaying places outside.

The food is “stellar,” says Brenda.  Her tuna steak on polenta cake with autumn pesto had us both wanting more. I loved my pumpkin puree soup with floating candied pumpkin; mint scented ricotta and an olive powder. The desserts were a work of art; mine a pumpkin tartlet and Brenda’s Sorrento lemon, Sicilian orange and tangerine scent mousse on a chocolate cookie base.  Our sweet teeth were happy!

GANZO: pumpkin dessert combined with salted caramel and balanced by the creaminess of goat cheese. Served in a cinnamon-flavoured pastry tartlet. Looks like a work of art to me!

Ad’a’s Studio is a fun place to explore.  Check out the surprise at the back?

Can you believe this is charity/thrift store? 

Other Finds:

We found Trattoria Ciacco after a morning of strolling one of the world’s longest flea market (3+ kilometers) in Le Cascine Park on the far west side of the City Centre. We were hungry. So we crossed the river, as that is where most of the people seemed to be headed and were willing to take more or less the first place we found. Lucky us, it was Ciacco!  The place was full of locals but we were welcomed and took the only table available.  (Note: if you are looking for a good restaurant, we always find the busier they are the better.) Noticing what the couple (our age) next to us ordered, we thought it might be a good idea to do the same (the only Italian menu board wasn’t helpful to two non-Italian speaking tourists).  Again, lucky us, as it was pasta with fresh truffles and it was delectable.

When our lunch arrived, the couple smiled and said “good choice” and we continued chatting getting lots of hot tips, including the name of another good restaurant popular with locals near the Piazza Della Passera called il Magazzino.

The Florence University of the Arts also has a photography school which we visited thinking they would have a public gallery of student works. Wrong! But the staff was extremely friendly and we learned the university offers cooking classes for small groups. There we got two hot tips for restaurants – IL Santo Bevitore and Dilladarno.

 BFF (Best Flaneur Find)

One of the great things about Florence is the vibe of its thousands of young university students.  One of the first things you notice about Florence restaurants is that they cater to the students – many offering discounts.  Every night while roaming the streets and alleys for on our daily gelato fix, we would run into a street where there were dozens of students all eating sandwiches and drinking beer or wine on the street.  After a few nights we realized (yes, sometimes we are slow learners) this must be the place for sandwiches and indeed it was.  If you are ever in Florence you have to check out All’ antico Vinaio located at 65/R Via De’ Neri.

students
All' antico Vinaio

 Last Word

The golden rule of an everyday flaneur is “Look for a local and when you find one, don’t be afraid to ask.”

By Richard White, November 9, 2014

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Window licking along Florence's Via Tornabuoni

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

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

Back story

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

Window licking on Tornabuoni 

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

Reflections

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

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

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Lyon sidewalk ballet

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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Olympic Cities: Calgary vs Salt Lake City

As Winter Olympic host cities Calgary (1988) and Salt Lake City (2002) share much in common. Both cities are young (Calgary’s median age is 36 while Salt Lake City’s (SLC) is 30), both have a population base of just over one million people, both are gateways to mountain recreational playgrounds and both have signature international festivals (Stampede vs Sundance Film Festival). 

At the same time, the DNA of each city is very different. Calgary is defined by its corporate oil & gas headquarters culture, while SLC is defined by its Mormon culture.  For a long time I have been intrigued by the idea of how the two cities would fare in a competition of urban living amenities.  Who would win the gold medal for the best public space, shopping, attractions, urban villages, transit, public art etc.? This spring on our 8,907 km road trip stayed in SLC for six days to check it out.

Salt Lake City’s Gold Medals

Convention Centre

While SLC’s Salt Palace (convention centre) opened back in 1996, it still looks very contemporary with its extensive use of glass and steel. It features a dramatic entrance with 110-foot transparent beacon towers.  Inside, the uplifting drama continues with bright and airy public areas with a lofty ceiling that features specially designed trusses by renowned roller coaster designer Kent Seko.

Nobody would call Calgary’s Telus Convention Centre a palace. And with only a third of the exhibition and meeting space of SLC’s Salt Palace, and architecture that is less than inspiring, Calgary is the loser here.

Aerial view of SLC Convention Centre in the heart of their downtown.

Library

SLC’s Central Library, designed by Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, opened in 2003 at a cost of $84 million ($127 million in 2014 dollars).  It is a five storey triangular building with a sweeping signature curved wall that shares much in common with Vancouver’s Centre Library, also designed by Safdie. Its rooftop garden offers great views of the city and the mountains. The Library, along with its neighbour the Leonardo Museum (the old library building has been converted into a fun and funky hands-on science discovery centre) has become a meeting place for people of all ages and backgrounds.

It will be interesting to see if Calgary’s new Central Library can be as successful in capturing both the public and the design community’s attention. With a budget of $245 million, I sure hope so. Who knows what will happen with our old library – maybe an Energy Museum?

SLC's dramatic downtown library and public plaza. 

Rendering for Calgary's new downtown library.

Art Gallery

A gold medal has to be awarded to SLC for its Utah Museum of Contemporary Art which is part of the 1979 Bicentennial Art Complex.  Admission is free with a suggested donation of $5, making it very accessible.  Though not a large gallery, the exhibitions we saw were imaginative and engaging.  It also doesn’t have a long history (established in 1931); it wasn’t until 1979 that it moved to its current downtown location from the Art Barn near the University of Utah.

Over the same period, Calgary has struggled to find a home for a contemporary art gallery. Let’s hope that Contemporary Calgary will be successful in its vision of converting the old Science Centre into a vibrant civic art gallery.

The Utah Museum of Contemporary Art is part of a major arts complex. Calgary's EPCOR Centre would be on par with SLC complex except for the art gallery component. 

LDS Temple Square Campus

SLC also takes the gold medal for the Temple Square campus, headquarters for the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints.  The multi-block Campus is home to not only the Temple, but to the original church, an office headquarters, the Tabernacle (housing a 11,623 pipe organ) home of the Tabernacle Choir and the historic Lion and Beehive house. Just north of the Square is their library, the magnificent LDS Conference Centre with its 21,200 seats and the Family History Museum, the largest genealogical library in the world.  The campus is sea of peace, inspiration, beauty and tranquility in the middle of the city, a rarity in this day and age.

The closest thing Calgary has to match Temple Square is Stampede Park our city’s homage to our culture of ranching and agriculture. The BMO Roundup Centre, Saddledome (SLC has a downtown arena on par with Saddledome), Grandstand, Agrium Western Event Centre and Corral are no match for the architecture and atmosphere of Temple Square.  This might change however when the Stampede completes its expansion and enhancement plans.

The Temple is the centre piece of a multi-block campus of LDS buildings that is their corporate headquarters.  

LDS Conference Centre with its roof-top garden/plaza and 21,200  theatre seats is a hidden gem on the hill behind the main campus. 

Calgary’s Gold Medals

Public Spaces / Public Art

Calgary wins the gold for public spaces. SLC has nothing to match our amazing collection of parks, plazas and promenades – Olympic Plaza, Devonian Gardens, Stephen Avenue Walk, Prince’s Island, Riley Park, Fort Calgary Park, Central Memorial Park, East Village RiverWalk, Shaw Millennium Skate Park and Bow River pathway. 

A bocci ball match breaks out in the Hotchkiss Gardens as noon hour in downtown Calgary. (Photo credit: Jeff Trost).

  Downtown employees enjoy some sun and people watching along the Bow River Promenade and Prince's Island park.  

Downtown employees enjoy some sun and people watching along the Bow River Promenade and Prince's Island park. 

Other workers enjoy a run or walk at noon hour across the Peace Bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava. 

Street Life

When it comes to urban villages, SLC has nothing to match the urban vitality of Calgary’s Beltline, Bridgeland, Kensington, Inglewood, Mission and 17th Avenue with their contiguous mix of shops, cafes, restaurants and music venues.

  Dairy Lane has anchored West Hillhurst's Main Street for over 50 years.

Dairy Lane has anchored West Hillhurst's Main Street for over 50 years.

  Calgary's 17th Avenue aka Red Mile is a vibrant street with its mix of shops, restaurants, patios, pubs and lounges.

Calgary's 17th Avenue aka Red Mile is a vibrant street with its mix of shops, restaurants, patios, pubs and lounges.

  We did find one street (Broadway) with some pedestrian oriented shops in SLC. Loved the mid-century modern shops, our favourite was The Green Ant.

We did find one street (Broadway) with some pedestrian oriented shops in SLC. Loved the mid-century modern shops, our favourite was The Green Ant.

Skycrapers 

Calgary also wins gold for its Central Business District that combines not only its 35 million square feet of office space (with another 5 million under construction), but also how its offices, hotel, retail, cultural and historic districts are linked both at street level and with the world’s most extensive elevated walkway - +15. 

Norman Foster's Bow office tower viewed from Olympic Plaza.

Calgary's skyline is dominated by highrise office and condo towers.

Condos/Infills  

Calgary also wins gold for its plethora of new condos and new infill single family and duplex homes near its downtown. While SLC has some new condo and infill housing development it is nowhere near the scale of what is happening in Calgary’s inner city communities. The more I visit cities like Portland, Denver and SLC, the better appreciation I have for the incredible inner city revitalization happening in Calgary.  

Alura a new apartment across from the new Barb Scott Park with its Chinook Arc artwork.

Four new high-rise condos line Macleod Trail next to Stampede Park. 

Waterfront project consists of five buildings with 1,000 condo units. 

Dead Heats

When it comes to indoor shopping centres, SLC City Creek (yes, it does have creek running through it, and even a retractable roof) and Calgary’s Core are on par with each other, with its massive three-block skylight and Devonian Gardens.

The same could be said for the LRT systems. Although Calgary’s system carries a lot more passengers, SLC has a bigger and better free fare zone (buses are also free in their downtown).  The two cities are also tied when it comes to their respective downtown arena, performing arts centres, ballet and theatre groups.

Like Calgary, SLC also has both a Zoo and a heritage park located just a few kilometers from the downtown.

Harmon's grocery store in downtown SLC.

SLC's City Creek shopping centre does indeed have a creek running through it that meanders back outside.

  The Core shopping Centre links  three city blocks with its massive skylight.

The Core shopping Centre links  three city blocks with its massive skylight.

SLC's transit corridor. 

  Calgary's transit corridor.

Calgary's transit corridor.

SLC's capitol building sits on a hill with a magnificent view of the Salt Lake valley and mountains. 

  Eight Avenue Place is just one of dozens of office towers that dominate Calgary's downtown sense of place as a major corporate headquarters centre.   

Eight Avenue Place is just one of dozens of office towers that dominate Calgary's downtown sense of place as a major corporate headquarters centre.  

Post Mortem

For those snowbirds who drive down to Phoenix and Palm Springs to escape our winter, it would be well worth your time to plan a few days to explore SLC.  We highly recommend the free personal tour of Temple Square campus conducted by young missionaries. We got a wonderful insight into the Latter-Day Saints culture with no pressure to discuss our religious beliefs.

The LDS Church earns more than $7 billion a year in tithing and other donations. In 1996, Time magazine estimated the church’s assets exceeded $70 billion (banks, radio stations, Utah’s largest newspaper, farmland, and Brigham Young University). In fact, the Church built and owns the $2 billion City Creek Center shopping mall in SLC along with many of the office towers across from Temple Square.  The LDS Church is a unique corporation that creates a unique sense of place in downtown SLC, as does the oil and gas towers in Calgary. It is interesting to note there are more suits and ties in SLC than in YYC. 

Where to eat?

We'd highly recommend checking out Em's (271 North Centre Street, near the Capitol Building). We liked it so much we went two nights in a row and almost went a third night.  I loved the marinated pork chop in a maple mustard and bacon barbeque sauce ($19) and the housemade ricotta gnocchi tossed in basil pesto($9) and Brenda loved Potato Lasagna ($17) one night and the dried fruit stuffed Pork Tenderloin with roasted potatoes in a bacon sherry vinaigrette ($26). Don't get me started on the desserts. 

Ems
  Bread pudding with homemade ice cream.

Bread pudding with homemade ice cream.

Where to stay?

Our choice was the downtown Red Lion Hotel and we weren't disappointed.  Just off the interstate so easy access and yet still short walking distance to all of the downtown attractions, even a indie cafe across the street. The hotel has been recently renovated so everything was nice and new. 

  Great view of the Wasatch Mountain out the window of our Red Lion Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City. 

Great view of the Wasatch Mountain out the window of our Red Lion Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City. 

  Comfy bed with the best hotel reading light we have found.

Comfy bed with the best hotel reading light we have found.

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An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section on Saturday, September 27, with the title "Salk Lake City has Gold Medal amenities, but Calgary has Gold Medal public spaces and public art."

 

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: Urban Forest vs Tree Abuse?

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

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

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

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

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

Silver Springs experimental orchard.

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

Treeless Prairie

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

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

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

Calgary before trees.

Mount Royal before trees.

Over $400M 

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

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

North Glenmore Park forest

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

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

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

Collaborating with citizens

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

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

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

Silver Springs BP Birthplace Forest 

Calgary Tree Fun Facts

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

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

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

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

Olympic Plaza trees

 Last Word

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

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

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

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

Stephen Avenue Trees? Sculptures? 

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

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

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

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

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Calgary's Audacious New Library

By Richard White, September 5, 2014 (An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald).

The idea of a new iconic central library has been around for decades (Vancouver got its iconic library in 1995, as did Denver and Seattle in 2004.  In fact, it was acknowledged at the Calgary Public Library Foundation’s preview that one of the reasons Councilor Druh Farrell originally decided to run for council in 2001 was to foster the development of a new central library.

She and others have been championing the idea tireless and today she is Council’s representative on the Calgary Public Library Board. Nobody can say the Library Board or Council has rushed into this project, it has been a slow painful process for some and for others a strategic struggle.

Finally the wait is over. 

  Vancouver's iconic Central Library has been the envy of many Calgarians since it was built in 1995.

Vancouver's iconic Central Library has been the envy of many Calgarians since it was built in 1995.

Think Global Act Local

The new library's design team of Snohetta and DIALOG was announced in November 2013 and since then has been working hard to develop a design that will capture the attention of both Calgarians and the world.  It was a good choice as Calgary’s DIALOG team is headed up by Rob Adamson, who was born in Calgary, got his architectural degree from the University of Calgary and has spent his entire career in Calgary – he can obviously speak to Calgary’s sense of place.  His projects include the impressive TELUS Spark and the new international wing of the Calgary Airport. 

In addition, Fred Valentine one of Calgary’s most respected architects (architect for the NEXEN building) has also been advising the Library’s steering committee and Board with respect to design issues and opportunities. 

Craig Dykers heads up the Snohetta team in New York City who bring to the table a wealth of international library experience including the award winning Bibliotheca Alexandria.

The Design

The design team for Calgary’s new central library make no bones about it they have an audacious (their words not mine) vision: to create the best library in the world.  They were quick to that creating the best library is more than just about design, it is about being “right for this place and time.”  Craig Dykers of Snohetta argued, “Libraries are not about the building, the books or the information but about the people.”  He also noted that the best libraries must evolve with time and Calgary's new library must be able to do just that.

The inspiration and rationale for the design of the new library as unveiled at the Calgary Library Foundations’ Preview September 3rd and again at a sold out presentation (1,200 attendees) at the TELUS Convention Centre on September 4th is very complex.  Everything from the curve of the underground LRT tunnel to the Chinook arch were mentioned as factors influencing the building’s conceptual design.  

  Rendering of the shape and massing of the proposed new downtown Library.

Rendering of the shape and massing of the proposed new downtown Library.

  Diagram illustrating the shape of a drift boat. 

Diagram illustrating the shape of a drift boat. 

  Shape of a drift boat from all sides

Shape of a drift boat from all sides

Drift Boat?

What struck me most when looking at the rendering is that it looks like a boat.  At first I thought of a canoe but then it hit me – it looks like the drift boats that are used by fly fishermen on the Bow River. These boats have a flat bottoms with flared sides, a flat bow and pointed stern. They are designed to handle rough water and to allow fishermen to stand up in the boat, even in flowing water. Whether intentional or unintentional there are some interesting links to Calgary's sense of place (rivers) and culture (recreation).

Rendering of the new library's 3rd Street SE facade.

  Rendering of the 3rd Street SE facade in the summer with the Municipal Building on the left. 

Rendering of the 3rd Street SE facade in the summer with the Municipal Building on the left. 

Yin Yang on 3rd Street SE

I was also struck by how similar the massing is to the Municipal Building that will run parallel to the new library on the west side of 3rd Street SE. Both are block-long horizontal mid-rise buildings in a downtown that is dominated by its verticalness.  Inside both buildings will have a floor to ceiling atriums as their dominant design feature.

The Municipal Building’s design is unique with a stepped façade on the west side, an obvious reference to the foothills and the mountains and a flat east façade, a design metaphor for the prairies. Dykers indicated he thought what defined our city’s unique sense of place is its position between the mountains and the prairies.

While nobody said it, I think there could be a nice “yin and yang” design materializing between the angular Municipal Building and the curved new library. I think there are also links with the design and massing of the new National Music Centre. The synergies between the three buildings could create something special from an urban placemaking perspective.

The façade of the proposed new library has a repeated geometric pattern that is in the shape of a house or shed. It creates an obvious scientific, mathematical or engineering visual impression.

This too might be appropriate as Paul McIntyre Royston, President & CEO of the Calgary Library Foundation announced the new library will have a Research Chair - a first for a public library in Canada.  He spoke of the new library as being an “incubator for research and ideas.” He also went on to say “all great cities have great libraries” and it was the team’s goal to create a great library for Calgarians and he wasn’t afraid to reiterate that vision is to “create the best library in the world”

 

The Municipal Building is a massive blue glass triangle sitting on top of a concrete rectangle. The historic sandstone city hall in the bottom right corner is still used as offices for Mayor, Council and meeting rooms. The building makes obvious references to the foothills, the big blue prairie sky and the powerful forces of faults, folds and shifting tectonic plates that formed the Canadian Rockies. 

The west facade of the Municipal Building alludes to Calgary's sense of place i.e. where the prairies meet the mountains; the triangular shape and stepped facade creates a unique shape. The glass facade creates wonderful reflections of the historic sandstone city hall building to the north east. 

  From the northeast the Municipal Building has an intriguing profile as a result of its triangular shape that will contrast nicely with the propose new library's curved shape at the same corner.

From the northeast the Municipal Building has an intriguing profile as a result of its triangular shape that will contrast nicely with the propose new library's curved shape at the same corner.

  This view of the Municipal Building from the east will disappear when the new library is built. 

This view of the Municipal Building from the east will disappear when the new library is built. 

Last Page

I like the fact the design is not something twisted, cantilevered or cubist, which seems to be all the rage these days. The shape and skin are intriguing with a sense of playfulness without being too silly.  I expect only time will tell if this is the right building for Calgary - today and in the future. 

The design of the Calgary’s new Central Library is off to a good start. I am glad it isn't imitative of other architecture as is so often the case in Calgary.

I hope that as the design evolves it will just keep getting better. Kudos to the design team, the Library and CMLC staff! 

Denver's Central Library designed by Michael Graves, in 1995. 

  Seattle's Central Library designed by architect Rem Koolhaas, in 2004. 

Seattle's Central Library designed by architect Rem Koolhaas, in 2004. 

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. 

Calgarians: Where is your happy place?

Guest Blog: John Lewis, Intelligent Futures, a Calgary-based firm focusing on urbanism, sustainability and community engagement. 

What if we looked at our city from a perspective of what makes us happy?

Most of the time, discussion about the evolution of Calgary is focused on the negative and the controversial. While this kind of debate and dialogue is essential in a democracy, we also think it’s important to reflect on what is working well.

That’s why we created the #happyyc project.

We initiated #happyyc to find out what places make Calgarians happy. We think that by understanding the places that people love, planners, designers, architects, citizens and community organizations alike can help make more happy happen. For the last few months, we have been out on the streets of Calgary and online looking to find out what places make Calgarians happy. 

The idea of taking happiness seriously has been gaining traction in a number of fields – from Alberta economist Mark Aneilski’s book The Economics of Happiness to psychologist Martin Seligman’s work on authentic happiness to the Bhutan’s measurement of Gross National Happiness. At their core, all these examples are focused on what really matters to people and how to structure systems to enable these good things to occur. In the realm of cities, Charles Montgomery recently wrote Happy City, which investigates the linkages between urban design and happiness.

We wanted to take a look at our own city and hear from Calgarians about what places matter most to them. Using a simplified map and a single direction (“Map the spaces that are your happiest places!”) citizens are able to express the places that make them happy. We’re intentionally leaving it open – we’re not restricting the kinds of places that people can choose.

Could your happy place be window licking and dancing in the sidewalk ballet of one of Calgary's many animated streetscapes? 

Could your happy place be along the 700+ km of pathways?

Could it be Fish Creek Park or the new Greenway?

Could your happy place be one of our live music or theatre spaces?

What we’ve seen so far is both fascinating and beautiful. Natural spaces like the rivers, Nose Hill and the pathways are definitely treasured by our participants so far. And before we go into the in-depth analysis of responses, one thing is clear: Calgarians love to eat. The city’s eating establishments are very well represented. Neighbourhoods like Kensington and Inglewood are showing up very often as well.

We want to hear from YOU!

But we’re not done yet. We want to hear from as many Calgarians as possible – ideally, from at least one person in each of our communities across the city. Until October 1, we’re going to keep asking Calgarians to map their happy places. Once all the maps are in, we’ll analyze the responses and share the results with the community. This will give us all some great insights about the places in our city that matter most to us, along with some clues about the commonalities between them.

Perhaps you like shopping? Maybe you love our historic districts - Stephen Avenue and Inglewood?

Perhaps you have a secret spot in your community?

Could the local playground be your happy place?

Maybe you love one of our 5,000+ parks? Dog park? 

To share your thoughts, go to the HappyYYC and follow the three easy steps.

The more responses, the more insights we’ll all gain.

Step 1: Download and print a map by clicking here.

Step 2: Get our your pencils, pens, markers and/or crayons and map your happiest places.

Step 3: Send your map to the #happyyc project.

  • Option A: Mail it to us at: #happyyc  1221B Kensington Rd NW   Calgary AB   T2N 3P8
  • Option B: Scanning and emailing it to us at: info@happyyc.ca
  • Option C: Uploading it to our site by clicking here
hyyc_map[5].jpg
  If you aren't a Calgarians, I still love to know where is your happy place. Just email me your happy place and perhaps a photo and I will add them to this post.  

If you aren't a Calgarians, I still love to know where is your happy place. Just email me your happy place and perhaps a photo and I will add them to this post. 

Mount Royal: City Beautiful or Man vs Nature?

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

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

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

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

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

Mount Royal early 20th century. 

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

  Found this on the gate of the Dower House.

Found this on the gate of the Dower House.

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

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

CPR: Calgary's Past & Present

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

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

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

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

City Beautiful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A carriage house that is now modest Mount Royal home.

Architecture 101

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

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

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

  Katchen Residence.

Katchen Residence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's in a name?

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

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

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

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

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

Yes even Mount Royal is being densified! 

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

Coste House mailbox

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

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

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

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

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Our country estate adventure

Suburbs move to City Centre

 

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

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

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

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

Salt Lake City Olympic Plaza, Utah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  City Creek Centre's plaza and fountain. 

City Creek Centre's plaza and fountain. 

  There is an actual creek running through the shopping centre. 

There is an actual creek running through the shopping centre. 

St. George Town Square, Utah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids are ENCOURAGED to play in the water.  

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Olympic Plaza needs a mega makeover

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The importance of the public realm

Footnote:

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

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.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary leads Vancouver in condo design

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Seattle Insights

Guest Blog: Chantal Leblanc, August 9, 2014 

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

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

One of North America's best markets.

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

 

 

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

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

Museum of Flight

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

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

Chihuly Garden & Glass Museum

Friendly

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

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

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

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

 

Sidewalk art

Sculpture at Hiram M. Chittenden Locks

Foodies Fun 

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

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

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

Explore

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

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

 

Quaint  Ballard

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

 Encounter with the Troll during the Freemont walking tour.

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

View from the ferry coming from Bainsbridge Island.

Last Word

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

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Calgary's Downtown Power Hour

Richard White, July 2, 2014

Everyone everywhere has heard about rush hour, lunch hour and happy hour, but the term power hour I think is unique to Calgary.  I first heard the term in the mid ’90s when the manager of the downtown Hudson Bay department store and I were chatting and he talked about his power hour. When I asked what was a “power hour” he informed me that for his store “noon hour is when downtown employees do their power shopping.”

Since then I have expanded the term to beyond just shopping, especially in the summer when downtown employees’ noon hour thoughts are not only about shopping or lunch, but about getting out for a power walk or a run. 

Recently, I decide to get out on my bike and check out what happens in Downtown Calgary at noon hour when 150,000+ employees are let out to play for an hour.  

Stephen Avenue Power Hour

Power Hour on Stephen Avenue looking west from the +15 bridge connecting TD Square with Bankers Hall.  The 300W block of Stephen Avenue is one of the most densely populated blocks in Canada with 200 floors of office buildings. So when the bell rings for lunch, they pour out onto the street like elementary students into the school yard. (photo credit: Jeff Trost).

This is what the power hour looks like at street level on The Bay block.

  A "power hour" lunch on Stephen Avenue looks more like the board room than the lunch room.

A "power hour" lunch on Stephen Avenue looks more like the board room than the lunch room.

  Even the kids like to get our for a "power hour" ride. 

Even the kids like to get our for a "power hour" ride. 

You never know what you will see on Stephen Avenue during the power hour.  It is a popular place for marketing promotions and give-aways. 

Bow River Power Hour 

In addition to Stephen Avenue Walk, Calgary's downtown "power hour" is also celebrated along the south and north sides of the Bow River on the north side of downtown.  Here you will find joggers, power walkers, cyclists, strollers, bladers and skateboarder all mixing and mingling. 

The Bow River promenade in downtown's Eau Claire district on the north side of downtown is a very popular spot for joggers, walkers and cyclists.  

The new Calatrava Peace Bridge over the Bow River can become grid-locked during the power hour.

The Eau Claire Plaza pool is a popular place for families to meet up during the power hour and have some quality family time. 

Not everybody love to work up a sweat during power hours, some are happy to just gets some fresh air or meet up with a friend along the Bow River. One of the big advantages of working downtown is that you can easily meet up with family and friends who also work downtown. I just happened to run into an old acquaintance who I hadn't seen in 10 or more years on this everyday trip.

Downtown's Outdoor Power Spots

While Stephen Avenue and the Bow Promenade are the busy "power hour" spots, downtown Calgary has many outdoor places where office workers can catch some sun, relax and chat.  

  Harley Hotchkiss Gardens is downtown's newest public space created as part of the new Calgary Courthouse complex. It is about as "centre ice, mid-field or center court" as you can get. 

Harley Hotchkiss Gardens is downtown's newest public space created as part of the new Calgary Courthouse complex. It is about as "centre ice, mid-field or center court" as you can get. 

As a winter city, Calgarians love to sit in the sun whenever they can. 

A bocci ball game during the power hour at Hotchkiss Gardens.

Many of the Stephen Avenue power walkers are heading to Olympic Plaza where they can sit, have their lunch and people watch.

Century Gardens on the west side of downtown has a sunny grassy knoll that looks out to a pond, cascading stream and tall coniferous trees to create park-like setting in the middle of the high-rise office towers. 

Two young children exploring the Century Gardens river while Mom and Dad have lunch nearby.

Promenade to McDougall Centre a century old sandstone school that has been converted into the Alberta Premier's office when he is in town. The school sits in the middle of the block with public spaces all around it.

The McDougall Centre backyard. 

Prince's Island is an old gravel bar in the Bow River that has be transformed into a downtown park that offers workers some alone time at lunch. It is also home to the Calgary International Folk Festival and Shakespeare In the Park.  

There is a steady stream of people heading back to work at the end of the power hour from Prince's Island.

This could be the most minimalist downtown park in Canada - no name, no trees, no decorations, just green grass and four picnic tables randomly spaced.  

This downtown office worker climbs Jaume Plensa's "Wonderland" sculpture on the plaza of the Norman Foster designed Bow office tower during his power hour.

Footnote:

While many see downtown Calgary a concrete jungle, you can see from these pictures that it is full of interesting public spaces some intimate and some animated, many with lots of vegetation. All of these spaces are within one square kilometre of each other.  Everyone who works in downtown Calgary has access to an attractive outdoor public space no more than a five minute walk away.    

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Tri-Cities: Washington's Big Bang City!

For many, summer is synonymous with road trips. Somewhat contrarians that we are, fall and spring spell roadtripping for us.  Too often when on a road trip, the tendency is to focus on the destination, instead of the journey.  We like to make a habit of stopping at one or two off-the-highway towns and cities every day when travelling. 

One of the highlights of our 8,907 km, six week, USA Fall 2013 road trip was our stay in Pasco, Kennewick and Richland (PKR) aka Washington’s Tri-Cities.  Though not on our list of specific places to visit, we decided to get off the interstate and explore.  The next thing we knew, three days were spent exploring these cities and their surroundings.  We were very lucky fortunate it happened to be was a Friday, Saturday and Sunday (keep reading to find out why).

Where to stay?

As luck would have it, we found the Red Lion Hotel Richland Hanford House conveniently located just off the highway and right on the Columbia River.  Check in was quick and we had a great room with view of the river and the park.  It was an easy walk from there to The Parkway (downtown Richland) with its boutiques, restaurants and even a great cinema. The backyard of the hotel was the mighty Columbia River and its walkway.  There is even the Columbia Point golf course just down the road.

Mornings

Check out the farmers’ market - on Fridays, The Parkway street is closed from 9 am to 1 pm when it transforms into a farmers’ market from early June until the end of October. This popular market attracts thousands of locals and tourists; this year’s opening day attracted a record 5,000 visitors alone. So, get there early. 

Richland's downtown farmers' market

We had never seen golden raspberries before. It was weird as they tasted pretty much the same as the red ones.

Pasco’s Farmers’ Market is more traditional. It’s long, open-air pavilion structure allows vendors to sell right out of their trucks. Located in downtown Pasco, a city with a rich Hispanic culture, the market has an authentic farmers’ atmosphere – everything is definitely fresh from the field.  The market also has a carnival feel with lots of fun, kid activities. Markets here are Wednesday (8 am to 1 pm) and Saturdays (8 am to 12 pm) from early May to late October. While at the market, make sure to take some time to explore its downtown - great windows!

Pasco's Farmers Market consists of two open-air structures. 

We loved window licking in downtown Pasco.  The windows were as good as we have seen in Paris, Chicago or New York City. 

You won't find this in Paris or London. 

The windows were like works of art.

Another morning activity would be to check out Country Mercantile on Crestloch Road in Pasco just north of the airport.  In many ways this family-owned and operated food store it is like a market, offering lots of fresh produce, as well a gourmet jellies, sauces, honey and fresh baked goods an amazing selection of handmade fudge and chocolate – even homemade salsa chips, tamales and enchiladas There is also a deli bistro area for lunch if you so choose.  Country Mercantile would be good to combine with Pasco Farmer’s Market, especially for foodies. If you are travelling with kids this is definitely a place to go at they have mazes, rides and other family activities. 

  Country Mercantile store.

Country Mercantile store.

  Candy apples anyone?

Candy apples anyone?

  Hay bale maze

Hay bale maze

Vintage children rides.

One of the things locals love to do in the morning (before it gets too hot) is to hike up Badger Mountain.  Water sports are also popular in the morning as you can beat the crowds. Hiking and biking trails are everywhere, in Chamna National Preserve there is the Amon Basin, Tapteal Bend and Tapteal Trail.  There is also the Sacagawea Heritage Tail - a 23 mile paved waterfront trail system that links all three cities. 

A good website to check for outdoor activities and organized tours is The Reach where you will find things like “Hops to Bottle”, “Farm to Table” and Jet Boat History tours of the Columbia River. 

Sacagawea Heritage Trail just behind the Red Lion Hotel Richland Hanford House. Note the tourists enjoying the swinging bench that allow you to watch people along the trail and the river. 

While walking along the trail we heard some music so we wandered towards it and found a Saturday afternoon "sock hop" at a fun 50s style diner. Very cool!

Afternoons

An obvious “must do” is the Red Mountain Wine tour. Do your own tour or book an organized tour and let someone else do the driving.  Red Mountain is one of the smallest American Viticultural Areas (AVA) at only 4,040 acres, yet it offers 24 different wineries for touring and tasting.  It has a very distinctive climate with very warm days, but cool evenings (due to the sharp bend in the Yakima River and the shadows of the Red Mountain). It is well known for growing some of the best Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes not only in Washington, but in the entire USA.  More information can be found at www.redmountainava.com

If you are really into wines, we recommend staying on the mountain. There are several options but our recommendation would be one of the two cottages at Tapteil Vineyard Winery.

Entrance to the lovely Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyard at Red Mountain. 

Terra Blanca's underground storage. 

Terra Blanca's million dollar view.

This is the patio at the Tapteil Vineyard Winery with one of the cottages below that you can rent.  

If you don’t have time to drive out to Red Mountain, Tulip Lane in Kennewick offers a great alternative with its three lovely wineries –Tagaris, Barnard Griffin and Bookwalter.  Spend a lovely afternoon wandering the vineyards and tasting the wines.  We did and it truly was lovely.

The ceiling of the Barnard Griffin Winery is decorate with this colourful and playful ameba-like clouds.  On Saturday nights you can enjoy the wine and live music. 

The Uptown Plaza, in Richland is a hidden gem; you won’t read about this in any tourist information.  A retro ‘60s outdoor shopping plaza, it has been reborn as an antique/vintage mall. For any “treasure hunter,” this is the place to go for a half-day of browsing heaven. Caution: don’t go in the morning as some of the shops don’t open until later in the day.

Uptown Plaza's vintage signage with the atomic particles on top. Everything is about the atom.

Becky's is just one of several second hand stores that sell everything including the kitchen sink. 

Brenda is going in....

The Uptown Plaza is also home to Desserts by Kelly

The Atomic Bombe Cake is to die for...literally!

A trip to the Tri-Cities wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Hanford Site, a decommissioned nuclear production site just outside Richland.   Established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, it is the site of the first, full-scale plutonium production reactor and is where the plutonium was made for the atomic bomb that detonated over Nagasaki, Japan in 1945.

This September the B Reactor celebrates it's 70th birthday. Information on celebration programs will be posted at http://www.ourhanfordhistory.org/

Tours of the B Reactor are available on specific days throughout the summer.  Check the website http://manhattanprojectbreactor.hanford.gov/ beforehand. (Note: All tour participants must be 12 years of age to participate and if under 18, a parent/guardian must sign a release form).

The Hanford site is also home to other centres for scientific research including the LIGO Hanford Observatory where they are trying to observe gravitational waves of cosmic origin that were first predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity.  If you have a budding Sheldon (Big Bang Theory) in your family, this is a “must do.” We did and my head is still spinning with talk of neutron stars, black holes, cosmic gravitational waves, ultra high vacuum systems and interferometers.  Unfortunately, public tours happen only on the second Saturday and fourth Friday of the month, so you plan your visit carefully – we were just lucky.

I am not even going to try to explain what this is. On the LIGO tour I thought I understood what they were trying to do, but afterwards my understanding just evaporated.  This is stuff for the Big Bang Theory boys!

Inside the LiGO laboratory.

Just a little computer capacity. 

It is like something from a science fiction movie.

Evenings & Eats

We’d suggest that you plan for long leisurely dinners as part of your Tri-City visit.  Our best find for fine dining was at the JBistro at the Bookwalter Winery along Tulip Lane. Offering both indoor and outdoor dining, the atmosphere can be both, casual or romantic (especially by the fire pits) and there is live music Wednesday to Saturday. The signature dish is their Wagyu ribeye, served with the Truffle set (truffle butter, black truffle salt and white truffle oil) for dipping.  If the Copper River salmon is on the menu it will be a mouthwatering choice and the Crème Brulee satisfied even my “sweet tooth.”

Cheese Louise is a great lunch spot along The Parkway in Richland. I loved my grilled Apple & Brie Panini and Brenda couldn’t stop raving about her Cranberry Bleu Salad. This is also a great place to create your own gourmet picnic lunch with a good selection of cheeses, breads, seasonal fruit and vegetables, as well as drinks.  The staff (aka cheese mongrels) are happy to help create your custom picnic.

Cheese Louise 

Spudnut (you gotta love the name) is the “must do” place for breakfast or lunch.  This 60-year old donut shop with a difference (donuts are made with potato flower) is located in the Uptown Plaza so go for a donut brunch and then browse the shops in the early afternoon.  Don’t be surprised if you have to share your table with a huge tray of donuts either!

How many donuts would you like sir?

Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery offers a great family ambience, complete with a selection of board games.  We went on a Sunday night and it was great people- watching fun.  The food and brews were great with wood-fired pizzas, an Atomic Giant Soft Pretzel in the symbol of an atom with orbiting electrons, Atomic Ale’D Red Potato soup and B-Reactor Brownie caught our eye and didn’t disappoint.

Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery offers some unique beers.

Even the pretzels reference the atomic age.

Frost Me Sweet is a quaint bistro in Richland best known best for its cupcakes but has a good and varied menu. The people-watching here is spectacular too.

Last Word:

If you love wine, food and are into the Big Bang Theory TV show like we are, Washington’s Tri-Cities is a must place to visit.  For more info go to Visit Tri-Cities.

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Downtown Saturday Farmers' Market: Boise & Edmonton vs Calgary

August 4, 2014

Why doesn’t Calgary’s Downtown/City Center have an open-air farmers’ market on Saturdays from early June to end of September?  Seems to me almost every downtown we have visited over the past few years has had one.

Recently, we were in Edmonton where they close down a block of 104th Street and part of 102nd Avenue to create a very vibrant market. Last fall, in Boise, Idaho, we discovered their two Saturday street markets – a Farmers’ and an Artisans’ one!  Last spring we enjoyed Portland’s Saturday Farmers' Market located in shade of the huge trees of South Park on the edge of the downtown, as well as Chicago’s lovely Lincoln Park Market.

In all cases, the market streets and the immediate area were abuzz with people of all ages and backgrounds buying, browsing and people-watching. The patios and cafes were filled with people having brunch, lunch or coffee.   The streets had a good vibe - they seemed like a happy place where people like to laugh and linger - a great place to meet friend, neighbours and foster a sense of community.

The Saturday market not only benefited the businesses in the immediate area but for blocks away.  In Edmonton, the manager of the Alberta Craft Council’s gallery, about four blocks away from the market said they definitely busier on market days.  We could see that. As frequent Saturday art gallery goers, we were shocked at how many people were in the gallery on Saturday at 11 a.m. Too often when we visit a gallery on a Saturday morning we are the only ones there. And that proved true as we were alone in the galleries we visited on 124th Street (Edmonton’s Gallery District) after leaving the Craft Council gallery.

Boise's Saturday Markets

Boise's downtown farmers' market. 

What is it about root beer and farmers' markets? 

Thank you for our weekend bread!

Boise's Artist Market attracts a crowd of buyers and browsers. 

Boise's Art Market spills out from the street onto Grove Plaza.

 

Edmonton's Saturday Farmers' Market 

For some reason, people love to sit in the middle of the road.  This might just be the best pop-up patio I have seen this summer. 

The sidewalk ballet on 104th Street on Saturdays is fun to watch.

My mouth is watering just looking at this image. 

How appetizing is this?

Yes Edmonton has a root beer truck at their farmers' market. 

Edmonton's Downtown Farmers' Market along the front yard of these impressive new condos on 104th Avenue.  

Perhaps a Beltline Farmers’ Market?

I know the Calgary Downtown Association has tried to do a Saturday Farmer’s Market on Stephen Avenue and it didn’t work.  It’s not a parking issue – Edmonton’s parking is $1/hr on Saturdays, while in Calgary many downtown lots offer all day Saturday parking for $2. 

Perhaps Calgary’s downtown is the wrong location for a weekend market.  Perhaps it makes more sense to have the market closer to where people live i.e. Beltline. Perhaps the Victoria Crossing BRZ and the Beltline Community association could strike a strategic partnership to create a summer farmers’ market along First Street SW or a side street, possibly 13th Avenue, utilizing the Haultain School Park and Memorial Park.   

I think the east side of the Beltline would be the best location for a market, given these residents don’t have access to grocery stores like those on the west side’s – Safeway, Midtown Co-op and Community Natural Foods.  This location also has a large surface parking lot nearby that would encourage people to visit the market from surrounding communities.

An alternate site might be 11th Street SW on the Beltline’s west side as it has three small parks from 12th to 17th Avenues that could be used for vendors, along with a good streetscape with small shops and cafes.   Another benefit of this site benefit is that it could spill out onto 17th Avenue with all of its pedestrian oriented businesses.

Another site that might work right in the heart of the Beltline is the Lougheed House and the Beaulieu Gardens.  While there are no cafes, patios and shops in the immediate area the park and streets surround the gardens could accommodate a wonderful Saturday market.

  Imagine if these cars were replace by vendors every Saturday from June to September.

Imagine if these cars were replace by vendors every Saturday from June to September.

Perhaps the soccer players could give up Haultain Park for a few hours on a Saturday morning for a fun market. 

These chairs in Memorial Park are just waiting for a Saturday Market. 

Riverfront Avenue between Chinatown and Waterfront condos on a summer saturday morning sits empty waiting for a farmers' market to call it home.

One of three public spaces on 11th Street  SW that would make great spill-out areas for a street market along 11th Street. 

What about NODO?

There is a site north of downtown (NODO) away from the office highrises in the Eau Claire district that might work – Riverfront Avenue to be exact.  It could be either west of the Eau Claire (not a) Market near the luxury condos and the expansive surface parking lots (at least for a few more years until they are developed).  Or, east of the Eau Claire (not a) Market in front of the new Waterfront condos where the market would link nicely to Chinatown.  Though this site would be great for cyclists, I expect it is too far away from the Beltline’s 20,000 residents to be attractive. Also it lacks the street ambience of patios and shops that make for a good market site.

What about a site on the other side of the Bow River you ask? Well, with both Hillhurst and Parkdale having farmers’ markets on Wednesday, I focused on a site in the Beltline which has the highest residential population in the greater downtown area as the prime site for a Saturday Farmer’s Market.

The Hillhurst Farmers' Market is a small but charming community market.

Last Word

If ever there was a time to test the market for a Downtown Calgary summer farmers’ market, now is it. Never before have the young GABEsters (geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers) who live in the Beltline and work downtown, been so mindful about what they eat. Indeed, farmers’ markets are hip!

Edmonton as one, Portland has one and Boise has one, Portland has one and Chicago has one – can’t Calgary have one too? 

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Historic Calgary Postcards: St. George's Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary was once called "Paris on the prairies." 

A Sunday at La Grande Jatte, George Seurat, 1884

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

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

 

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

pathway
  St. George Island summer amusement park. 

St. George Island summer amusement park. 

Prince's Island early 20th century. 

  Eau Claire Lumber Mill at Prince's Island

Eau Claire Lumber Mill at Prince's Island

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