West District: An urban village in the 'burbs!

By Richard White, November 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Density Dilemma

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central Park

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

West District Central Park

Traffic / Transit

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

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

West District shuttle.jpg

Cost Effective Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

NUVO Kensington

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

By Richard White, October 27, 2014

West District At A Glance

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Brookfield Residential: Working together to make Calgary better!

Calgary's MAC attack!

Integration critical to new community vitality

 

 

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.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Intelligent infilling or Living in a bubble!

Is Calgary too downtown-centric?

Don't be too quick to judge...

Calgary's Learning City is blooming!


Casel: Paris on the "on ramp"

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

Casel looking southwest on 17th Ave SW.

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

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

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

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

  The market at Casel.

The market at Casel.

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

Casel looking from the navy base on the east side.

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

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

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

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

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

By Richard White, October 26, 2014

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary: Place Name Challenge

Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary 

New Downtown Office Buildings = New Downtown Condos

Dublin: Iconic barracks makes for great museum

The National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts and History is located in the massive Collins Barracks built in 1702.  Architect Tomas Burgh, who also built the world famous library at Trinity College, designed this early neo-classical building. 

It makes for a perfect museum.  The four floors wrapping around a huge central parade square (the number of paces associated with the marching soldiers still exist on the walls above the colonnade arches) are easily divided up into over 30-flexible gallery spaces that accommodate exhibitions of silver, ceramics, glassware, weaponry, furniture, folklife, clothing, jewelry, coins and medals.  There is also a museum shop and quaint café with some very tempting pastries.

 One of the many fascinating fashion exhibits. 

One of the many fascinating fashion exhibits. 

   This hurdy-gurdy instrument is just one of the many exhibits of historical decorative arts and crafts in the museum.

This hurdy-gurdy instrument is just one of the many exhibits of historical decorative arts and crafts in the museum.

hurdy gurdy panel

Eileen Gray

For us, the highlight of the museum's numerous exhibitions was the Eileen Gray retrospective. It encompassed everything we love about mid-century modern design – its furniture, architecture and art.

Born in Enniscorthy, Ireland in 1878, Gray moved to Paris in 1906 where she spent most of her working life. In Paris, inspired to explore new ideas by the likes of Picasso and Modigliani, she was one of the first artists and furniture designers to employ lacquer techniques as part of her work.  She was interested in all aspects of design from furniture to architecture to interior design.

Gray loved to combine the opulence of Art Deco with the minimalism and clean lines of modernism as well as integrate the use of pure line and colour of the De Stijl artists.

  Gray's iconic end table named E1027.

Gray's iconic end table named E1027.

An example of Gray's use of lacquer in her furniture.

Model of contemporary architectural designed by Gray.

Pebbledash

I was also fascinated by the “Beyond Pebbledash” installation, a celebration of domestic architecture and design.  The installation consisted of a single pebbledash house (a common small Dublin home with exterior walls made of pebbles mixed with stucco).  In the mid 20th century, this façade covered up poor construction and kept costs down for affordable homes in both Europe and North America. Back story: The early 1950s home I grew up in had pebbledash walls.  We just called it by it less glamorous term "stucco."

This life-size house sitting in the middle of the huge parade square has a real façade but only a steel skeleton frame of the walls, interior doors, chimney and roof.  The curatorial notes say the installation is intended to provoke questions like:

  • What have we built?
  • Why have we built it here?
  • What is the nature of house vs. home?
  • What makes a great liveable city?

More information at: http://www.dublincity.ie/you-are-invited-launch-beyond-pebbledash

My personal fascination was mostly around how the pebbledash house was rendered almost insignificant in the massive parade square  (the size of about two football fields) and the equally massive barracks building.  To me, the “pebbledash home” installation spoke of the insignificance and temporary nature of most houses versus the timelessness of iconic structures. I also don’t get the link to the liveable city movement as the home is situated in what I would consider the most desolate and inhospitable urban environment one could imagine.

While in the past, a house became a home as most people lived in them all their lives. Often too multiple generations would live in the same house. Today, for most people a house is just a commodity to be bought and sold as part of their evolving lifestyle – they never really become a home.

The pebbledash house located at the far corner from the entrance to the museum is dwarfed in the stark parade square.

While wandering the museum, you get several different perspectives of the house. 

A view of the back of the house and the cafe spilling out onto the plaza gives some life to the parade square.

Close up view of the house. I found the ropes around the installation very distracting. 

  Side-view of the pebbledash house.

Side-view of the pebbledash house.

Last Word

Of all the National Museums we visited in Dublin, the Decorative Arts and History Museum was our favourite.  You could easily spend a few hours here.

The National Gallery unfortunately was under restoration and so the building and art did not meet expectations. The National Museum of Modern Art was also a bit of a disappointment as half of the gallery was closed for the installation of new exhibitions. 

On the good side, all of the Ireland’s national museums are FREE!  

 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Saks: Department Store or Art Gallery?

The dirt on the museum of clean

Flaneuring Bow Valley College/Art Gallery

 

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. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary: North America's newest design city.

Calgary: Living in a bubble?

Calgary leads Vancouver in condo design?

 

 

 

 

Calla: Linking past to future

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

Calla looking from Lougheed House.

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

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

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

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

Calla streetscape

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

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

Calla at night


West District: Community Engagement Gone Wild?

Richard White, September 15, 2014 

It wasn’t that long ago that suburban developers in Calgary created a new community master plan, presented it to city planners, got comments, made changes, held a one night community open house (if there was another community close by), integrated the community’s input and then got the  “go ahead” from the city. But no longer is one, or even a few open houses sufficient to get the City and the community’s approval for new developments – large or small.

In 2003, the City of Calgary adopted a community engagement (CE) policy called “Engage” that governs how both the City and developers must work with citizens (stakeholders) to ensure they are informed and engaged in all developments that impact their quality of life. Over the past 10+ years, community engagement has become more and more complex.  The City even has an “Engage Team” with a director and manager to ensure the proper engagement protocol has been followed not only by the private sector, but also by City departments.

  The EngagementHub aka EngagementHug along 85th Street in the community of West Springs. 

The EngagementHub aka EngagementHug along 85th Street in the community of West Springs. 

EngagementHub  (EH)

At first, developers were hesitant to embrace the idea of CE, but today most developers understand the need to get community support before you go to City planners, not after.

I recently learned Truman Development Corp. has embraced the idea of CE to an extent never before seen in Calgary and I expect Canada, maybe North America.  This past April, they launched an information-rich website announcing plans for creating a new 96-acre urban village community called West District in the new community of West Springs.  (For comparison East Village is 113 acres in size.)  

Then in June they opened a purpose-built “EngagementHub” building on the 700 block of 85th Avenue SW.  This 2,000 square foot EngagementHub that looks like a hip café from the street, was open for four weeks in June/July to talk to the community about “neighbourhood building” principles, then for another four weeks in August/September to share visuals around a proposed vision based on previous input.  The plan is for it to be open again in October to present even more detailed information. That is a total of over 200 hours of pre-application open houses - and, this doesn’t include all of the private meetings that have taken place with individuals and the community associations!

Is this an example of “community engagement gone wild?” Have developers finally abandoned the 20th century “design and defend” model of community planning i.e. the developer and consultants spend hundreds of hours and millions of dollars developing a master plan and then defend it to the public and planners.

The EH is full of large concept renderings of sample streetscapes with shops, restaurants and patios, as well as concepts for modern, Paris-scale condos (six to eight floors high) and park spaces.  There are also worktables and lots of urban design books for the public to leaf through and share their ideas on what West District should bring to their community.

While some would say Truman’s vision for West District is like Calgary’s Kensington shopping district, in fact, it is the other way around - West District is what Kensington is trying to become as it starts adding more condos into its mix of existing shops and single-family homes.

Perhaps a more fitting name for Truman’s EngagementHub might be the EngagementHug as Truman has totally embraced the idea of community buy-in upfront, not at or near the end of the approval process. 

I can’t help but think the developers who so clearly seek community input should be rewarded with an accelerated approval process.  If the community supports the development, why should the City delay its approval - especially given it won’t cost the city a penny to service the land. This is in fact a mega infill project.

Inside the Engagement Hub is a massing model of the proposed community, along with lots of display boards with facts, figures and pictures. 

  Just a small section of the post-it board full of ideas and concerns left by visitors. 

Just a small section of the post-it board full of ideas and concerns left by visitors. 

  A works station with survey questions and interactive presentation screen.

A works station with survey questions and interactive presentation screen.

  Just a few of the resource books available for looking up ideas. 

Just a few of the resource books available for looking up ideas. 

  Interactive video screen with all of the key information at a touch.

Interactive video screen with all of the key information at a touch.

West District At A Glance

West District is a 96-acre, master-planned new community in West Springs, at the corner of 85th Street SW and Old Banff Coach Road.  Truman’s vision is to create a new walkable, mixed-use community with 3,500 residences (that could house 7,000+ people), as well as 500,00 square feet of street retail (think Kensington Village) and 1.2 million square feet of office space employing about 5,265 people. This is significantly different than the 700 residences (for 1400 people) and about 200 jobs that the current zoning allows for. 

Truman’s vision fits perfectly with the City’s vision of walkable suburban development. In the past, new communities might have 3 to 5 units/acre. West Springs and nearby Cougar Ridge (WSCR) has a current density of only 3.1 units per acre.  West District’s plan calls for 36 units per acre, which, while 10 times the current density, would only increase the overall density of the WSCR to 5.3 units/acre, well below the City’s 8 units/acre benchmark for new suburban development.

You would think it would be difficult to sell the idea of a modest density, mixed-use community in the middle of an existing upscale, suburban single-family community like West Springs.  However, to date, while some have questioned the idea of an urban village in the suburbs, everyone seems to have appreciated the opportunity to participate in shaping the future of their community. It will be interesting to see how the vision evolves as it enters the final stages before submission to the City later this fall.

Kudos to Truman Development Corp., Intelligent Futures and CivicWorks Planning + Design for establishing a new benchmark for community engagement in Calgary. 

  Conceptual condo rendering with ground floor shops and seven floors of residential. It should be noted that Truman is both the developer and builder so what you see should be what you get.  In most new communities, the developer creates the vision and then sells parcels of the land to builders who interpret the vision and often make changes from the conceptual drawings. 

Conceptual condo rendering with ground floor shops and seven floors of residential. It should be noted that Truman is both the developer and builder so what you see should be what you get.  In most new communities, the developer creates the vision and then sells parcels of the land to builders who interpret the vision and often make changes from the conceptual drawings. 

  Proposed land use map for West District. Not how streets link with existing community to the east. 

Proposed land use map for West District. Not how streets link with existing community to the east. 

  Map of the fragmented ownership of the West District site.  One of the issues the City has for development of the land on the west side of the city is fragmented ownership, which doesn't allow for comprehensive community planning. Truman has been able to get development agreements with all of the landowners, which then allowed them to develop an integrated community vision. 

Map of the fragmented ownership of the West District site.  One of the issues the City has for development of the land on the west side of the city is fragmented ownership, which doesn't allow for comprehensive community planning. Truman has been able to get development agreements with all of the landowners, which then allowed them to develop an integrated community vision. 

Last Word

More and more Calgary is seeing development of urban villages outside of the inner city – including Brookfield’s SETON in the southeast and Livingston in the far north. Traveling out to West Springs area is like traveling to a different city for an inner-city guy like me. Who knew that 85th Street is the new 4th Street with Mercato West, Vin Room West, Blue Door Oil & Vinegar and Ohh la la Patisserie? Maybe they will even host the Lilac Festival in the future!

With the predicted average of 20,000+ people moving to Calgary each year for the foreseeable future, the City and developers must find a way to work together to facilitate the approval of one of these urban villages every year, in addition to developments in new suburbs and inner-city communities.  

And although I realize planning approval resources are tight, the City must find a way to expedite projects like West District that help fulfill the City’s vision of creating walkable new communities. It must not be delayed it in a heap of red tape.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Brookfield: Working together to create better communities

Intelligent Infilling or Living in a bubble

West Campus: Calgary's first 24/7 community

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. 

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.) 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Woodbine is wonderful

Our country estate adventure

Suburbs move to City Centre

 

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

Loft Living In Calgary

Union Square: Living on the park

 

West Campus: Calgary's First 24/7 community

Richard White, July 13, 2014 (an edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, titled "Calgary's West Campus could be our own city that never sleeps," July 12, 2014

Could Calgary soon have its first 24/7 community?  West Campus (since this blog was written West Campus has been rebranded as University District) is the working name for the development of an urban village (residential, retail, restaurants and office buildings) on the University of Calgary’s lands west of the current campus – hence the name.  It is all of the undeveloped land north, south and west of the Alberta Children’s Hospital. In 2011, the West Campus Development Trust (WCDT) was created to continue the development of the master plan that was developed in 2006. 

The reason the West Campus could be Calgary’s first 24/7 community is because the chief economic engines are not only the University, but also the Foothills Hospital and Alberta Children’s Hospital, both of which are 24/7 operations.

Unlike downtown offices, which are busy from 7 am to 7 pm weekdays only, or the shops in Kensington, 17th Avenue or Inglewood that are open from 10 am to 6 pm, or the restaurants, pubs and clubs that open at noon and close at 1 am; the hospitals are open around the clock. Imagine meeting friends for happy hours or to work out at the gym at 11 pm, or maybe after work at 8 am; this is when hospital shifts end and begin.

The University of Calgary campus also operates 7 days a week, with activities starting at about 7am and going on into the evening with classes, performances and recreational activities.  

Today, on any given day, nearly 100,000 people visit (work, school and medical appointments) what I call the “Learning City” - University of Calgary, SAIT/ACAD, Foothills Hospital, Children’s Hospital, Market and North Hill Malls.  Currently, 55,000+ people live in the 12 communities in and around the University of Calgary. 

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

 

The 184 acres of underutilized land west of University of Calgary main campus is part of a bold development plan for a new urban district in Calgary’s northwest. The development will create a dynamic new community with all net revenue going back to support University initiatives.

West Campus Vision Highlights

While other universities have been the catalyst for a university village with its own street culture - shops, restaurants, cafés pubs, live performance venues - on its boundaries, the University of Calgary has been a bit of an island with no interaction with neighbouring communities. 

However, if James Robertson and his WCDT team have their way the University of Calgary’s campus will become more of a university town with its own town centre. 

Recently, I along with hundreds of others attended one of three Open Houses to learn more about the WCDT’s vision and master plan for West Campus.  The plan is an ambitious one as it includes not only “optimizing financial return to the University” but also “ensuring the Plan connects and harmonizes with surrounding neighbourhoods and the university.”

The plan calls for the 184 acres calls for:

  • 40 acres of parks, ponds, gardens and public space (size of Prince’s Island)
  • 12 km of pathways
  • 6,000+ multi-family residential units (15,000+ people)
  • 245,000 square feet retail and restaurants (a four block Kensington-like pedestrian street)
  • 1.5 million square feet of office space (10,000 workers)

West Campus is designed to be a pedestrian and transit first community, meaning that many of the people will live, work and play within a few kilometers of their home. The plan includes a shuttle to link the University campus with the University LRT Station, Foothill Hospital campus and the Alberta Children’s Hospital, which makes transit a very attractive option.  There is also a comprehensive cycling program that includes dedicated cycling lanes on some streets

Developer interest in the project is very strong, already a grocery store has said it will “paper a deal” i.e. commit to building on a site when it is available.  Rumour has it another major deal could happen quickly if the City approves the Plan. It is possible, West Campus if approved could happen quicker than other projects like Bridgeland or East Village given the level of interest being shown by developers.

 

Concept Plan Rendering.jpg

Land Use Plan: Mustard is residential 2-3 storeys, Orange is residential 4 storeys, Light brown is residential up to 8 storeys, Dark brown is high density up to 16 storeys, Red is mixed-use retail/residential with 2-3 storey podium and then up to 6 storeys above and Purple is mixed use retail/office 4 to 8 storeys. 

Public Questions

I heard some concerns about the traffic and could the project really get people out of their cars and walk or take transit to work, shopping or the gym.  While this good in theory and every planners dream, I don’t think it is just a dream in this case. Why? Because University Heights already has 49% of its residents walking, cycling or taking transit to work.  There is no reason to believe that West Campus can’t achieve the same results given there will be even more amenities, connectivity and it will be more pedestrian friendly.

Others were concerned about the height of the buildings, which could be as high as 16 storeys.  I also heard concerns that the plan was underwhelming and lacked innovation as an urban design.  There were also concerns that there is no provision in the plan for townhomes in the plan - everything is multi-family.

It is really difficult to judge a project at the Land Use Plan stage as the plan looks like an abstract artwork with its blocks of magenta, purple, green, orange, baby blue and tan representing the different land uses from residential low, medium and high density, mixed-use retail/residential, mixed-use retail/office, municipal reserve and environment reserve.

As I said to one person “this is just a land use plan, it doesn’t mean everything will be built at maximum density or exactly as zoned.  What ultimately gets built we be determined by market demand if there is no demand for a 16-storey condo then it won’t get built.” I also expect that there will be some townhomes at street level in some of the multi-family condos.  Over the next 20 years (the expected build-out period) the market for housing, office and retail will change dramatically and the plan for West Campus will have evolve with it - this is just a starting point.” 

I believe there is no such thing as a perfect plan!  Looking at the West Campus Plan it checks all the boxes for right mix of residential, retail, restaurant and recreational spaces, as well as integrating existing and new work places.

 

A four acre urban park just south of the main street spans an entire block and is the potential home for a farmers' market, an outdoor skating rink and pop-up performance spaces. The space will encourage people to meet and mingle year-round. 

   The plan incorporates a variety of building types ranging from townhouses up to 16-storey high rise apartments. With direct access to the street at ground level through patios and public-oriented uses, a ‘porch culture’ will extend from the main street into residential neighbourhoods, and even the office district, creating a sense of safety and social interaction. With 12 kilometres of pathways throughout, the streetscape is interconnected, lively, and supports the day-to-day activities of a vibrant community.

The plan incorporates a variety of building types ranging from townhouses up to 16-storey high rise apartments. With direct access to the street at ground level through patios and public-oriented uses, a ‘porch culture’ will extend from the main street into residential neighbourhoods, and even the office district, creating a sense of safety and social interaction. With 12 kilometres of pathways throughout, the streetscape is interconnected, lively, and supports the day-to-day activities of a vibrant community.

Last Word

The really difficult task in new community building is linking vision with reality.  Anyone can present animated streetscapes, parks and public space with fun, funky buildings as part of their vision document– in fact to the untrained eye all community master plans look pretty much the same. 

The challenge is to enlist developers and urban designers to create places and spaces that are competitive (price, size of units and amenities) with other projects in Calgary that offer similar lifestyles. 

Calgarians are lucky as they have several new inner-city urban villages to choose from - East Village, University City and Bridgeland, with several more to come Currie Barracks, Stadium Shopping Centre, Westbrook Station and Jacques Lodge  site.

The test will be “if you build it, will they come?” I think West Campus will be very attractive to healthcare workers and academics.  

  There has been significant community engagement from the very beginning of the West Campus project with numerous open houses to present ideas and gather feedback.

There has been significant community engagement from the very beginning of the West Campus project with numerous open houses to present ideas and gather feedback.

Dubai's Healthcare City has many parallels with Calgary's West Campus. 

River Living: Come Hell or High Water?

By Richard White, June 19, 2014 (an edited version of this blog appeared in the summer edition of Domus magazine). 

As we celebrate the first year anniversary of the great flood of 2013 I thought it would be interesting to see what impact it had on inner-city luxury home design and the housing market in the upscale communities that were impacted.

The most obvious changes in house design has been to raise the elevations of the entire basement, higher concrete window wells at ground level, water proof all window barriers, move all electrical systems and panels to the main floor or to the garage. Nothing too exciting or earth shattering, but logical changes (more later).

We have also seen a bit of a shift in where luxury homebuyers are looking.  Communities like Altadore have broken the two million dollar barrier as buyers are moving to higher ground.  Britannia, BelAir and Mayfair have seen their listing sell faster and at higher prices also as the lower Elbow Park, Glencoe and Roxboro buyers moved up Elbow Drive, but not past the dreaded Deerfoot barrier.

The Canadian Armed Forces had to be called in to help. 

Some homes had to be completely destroyed. 

  Thousands of homes in the Bow River and Elbow River flood plain were damaged by the flood of 2013.

Thousands of homes in the Bow River and Elbow River flood plain were damaged by the flood of 2013.

West Hillhurst / Hillhurst Revival

In chatting with Ross Aitken, at ReMax his observation is that West Hillhurst and Hillhurst have never seen more interest from today's luxury homebuyer. These two communities did not flood and their proximity to the river pathways, downtown, Kensington, SAIT, ACAD, University of Calgary and Mount Royal, as well as both the Foothills and Children’s Hospitals making them a very attractive choice for urban professionals. He pointed out that the 22 million dollar plus home sales in these two communities since the flood is more than Altadore and Elbow Park.

Aitken also pointed out to me that in the 10 months prior to the flood only 20% of the million dollar plus homes sold in Calgary were in the NW quadrant, but that number has risen to 28% for the 10 months since the flood. While the upscale homebuyer, especially the oil patch executives have always preferred the SW, perhaps that is changing.

Acreages aren't hip?

One might think the inner-city luxury homebuyer might have moved out of the city entirely, but that is not the case.  Westside acreages in communities like Elbow Valley and Stone Pine are not moving quickly, in fact their sales have stagnated and prices are being reduced significantly to get a sale.  One theory is that today’s homebuyer is more “amenity conscious” and while living on an acreage has its advantages, it might not be enough anymore for the young hip GABESTER families (geologist, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers) who want to be close to live music and theatre venues, spin class / yoga studios, Calgary’s growing café/patio culture and having the option to cycle or walk to work.

Calgarians are moving to higher ground. 

One of the many new mansions on the ridge in St. Andrews Heights.

A parade of new infills in West Hillhurst.

Just one of many new home construction sites in communities like Britannia, Altadore and Briar Hill located on higher ground. 

New Rules

You might think the luxury buyers would be looking at the Bow River’s northside ridge communities of Crescent Heights, Rosedale, Houndview Heights, Briar Hill and St. Andrew Heights.  However, the new monster mansions on the ridge in St. Andrew’s heights are struggling to sell.  The impact of the flood on prices and sales in the other Bow River ridge homes has been more or less neutral.  

Recently, the City of Calgary passed tougher new rules for rebuilding homes in flood-prone areas.  Things like all new homes and buildings in the flood fringe and overland flow areas must be 60m from the edge of the Bow River and 30m from the Elbow, Nose Creek or West Nose Creek.

All new homes must also must be constructed at a minimum of 0.3m above the highest grade existing on the street abutting the parcel of land that contains the building and all electrical and mechanical equipment must be located at or above the first floor.

Paul Battisella, whose inner city home was flooded and is General Manager of Battisella Developments builders of new condos in the Beltline, East Village and Hillhurst agrees with the changes. He would add that new homes in flood prone areas should also be installing large sump pumps in the basement with portable back-up generators in case of power failure and thicker basement slabs and waterproofing of foundation to avoid ground water issues, which was a big part of the flooding problem last year.

Battisella indicated the City has to proceed with caution regarding how it applies the new rules to existing homeowners so as not to be punitive to those wanting to do modest renovations and additions to existing homes.

Some are even questioning the wisdom of using the basement as a living space at all.  It is probably not the best idea if you are in a flood prone area to create an expensive home theatre space in the basement with lots of high-end built-ins like a bar and or vintage wine cellar.  Have we seen the last of the walk-out basement to the river?

This City of Calgary diagram visualizes how the terms floodway, flood fringe and flood hazard area is defined. (photo credit: City of Calgary website)

This is an updated map of the Bow River Floodway / Flood Fringe showing that the new Ven condo project by Bucci Developments is not in either.  (Photo Credit: Bucci website)

Similarly, a map of the Elbow River's Floodway/Flood Fringe from Bucci Development showing that Tribeca condo is outside the flood risk area. (photo credit: Bucci website)

Last Word

The impact of the flood of 2013 is not over and mitigation discussion are sure to continue for years.  

In March, homeowners in Elbow Park, Elboya, Ramsay, Erlton, Mission and Rideau-Roxboro area concerned about riverbank repairs, a new berm and flood barrier work currently underway at Stampede Park questioned what impact redirected flood water might have on their homes.  This is just the beginning of what is sure to be long and heated debates on the impact, cost and value of proposed flood mitigation projects.

The demand for home in in Calgary’s Elbow River communities continue to be strong. There has not been a mass exodus from these communities as one might have expected.  In many ways it is business as usual for luxury home and condo sales in 2014. The sale of luxury homes (over one million dollars) for the first four months of 2014 is up 12.8% from the same period in 2013.  When one looks at two million plus sales, the numbers are almost identical in 2014 and 2013 for the January to April period in the flood-affected communities.

Another sign the flood has not deterred Calgarians from wanting to live next to the river is the commencement of construction of the upscale The River condo located on the bank of the Elbow River, in Mission. More recently Concord Pacific announced they are proceeding with their luxury  condo project in Eau Claire on the Bow River. And, last fall Harvard Developments Inc. shared plans for a mega billion dollar redevelopment of their Eau Claire market site. 

Indeed, Calgarians love living near their rivers “come hell or high water!”

Concept rendering of the Eau Claire Market site redevelopment along the Bow River which flooded most of downtown Calgary in 2013.

Calgary's Learning City is blooming!

By Richard White,  June 4, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catalytic Projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A great place to play!

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

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

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

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

A great place to live!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Eau Claire Mega-Makeover

Inglewood: Calgary's most unique community?

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

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

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

Live

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

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

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

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

Work

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

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

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

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

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

Play

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

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

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

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

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

Rouge combines history and contemporary dining for a unique experience. 

  Nerd is just one of many hipster hangouts in Inglewood. 

Nerd is just one of many hipster hangouts in Inglewood. 

Did You Know?

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Ramsay: Calgary's FFQ Industrial District

Montgomery: Calgary's newest urban village

Don't be too quick to judge

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

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

Aspen Woods: Home to Calgary's "nouveau riche!"

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours on April 22nd, 2014.

By Richard White, May 2, 2014

In the early 20th century, Mount Royal was Calgary’s new upscale community. Nicknamed American Hill, it was very popular with those from our neighbouring states to the south who were moving to cowtown.  Fast forward to the early 21st century, and it is Aspen Woods that it the hot upscale new community.  It too is located on a hill (Signal Hill), just a little farther away from downtown with boundaries being from 17th Avenue SW north to Bow Trail and 69th Street SW west to 101 Street SW. 

The old real estate adage “location, location, location” being the most important factor in home buying was never more true than it is for Aspen Woods.  What people love about living in Aspen is that it is 15 minutes to downtown and 15 minutes out of town to the mountains.  It is also 15 minutes to Chinook Centre (Calgary’s biggest mall), the University of Calgary, Foothill Hospital and Alberta Children’s Hospital.

The location is also great for young families with the best collection of schools in the city.  In addition to public and Catholic schools, there six private or charter schools – Calgary Academy, Calgary French & International School, Calgary Waldorf School, Edge School, Rundle Senior High and Webber Academy.  It should come as no surprise then that 25% of the population is under 14 years of age compared to the city average of 18%.  What might be shocking though is that only 3% of the population is over 65 (City average 10%).

 Aspen Woods is a haven for Calgary’s successful young executive and entrepreneur families - 71% of the population is married (City average 50%), a whopping 45% have university degree (City average 25%) and home ownership stands at 90% (City average 73%).  However, unlike Mount Royal in the early 20th century, 24% of the Aspen Woods’ residents are visible minorities, exactly the same as the city average. 

In addition to its great location and schools, Aspen Woods also has some great shopping in the community and nearby. The Aspen Landing shopping centre is a hybrid of urban street shopping and suburban big box stores.  Residents can shop at trendy places like Blush Organic Market, Ladybug Bakery & Café and boutique wine stores like Merlo Vinoteca.

Jennifer Rempel Executive Director of the 4th Street BRZ (business revitalization zone) is typical of many young Calgarians who have chosen to move to Aspen Woods upon the arrival of their first child. To quote Rempel, “For a 30 something (with a new family), if you have lived somewhat inner city for most of your 20s and into your 30s, and are looking to move to a family community that still has great restaurants, cafes, shopping without the drive on Deerfoot to work, Aspen has it all. It’s the type of community where kids play hockey in the street during the day and parents can walk to dine at Mercato at night.”

Smiling, she adds that it’s just coincidence that many of her 4th Street merchants have opened a second location in or near Aspen Woods, including Vin Room West, Mercato West, Original Joes and Frilly Lilly.

Aspen Woods residents also enjoy having access not only to one of Calgary’s best, in fact one of North America’s best recreational centers – Westside Recreational Centre. Did you know it is home to the largest leisure ice surface in North America? It also has Canada’s first youth-dedicated wellness centre, where they have their own place to work out and hang out.

As you would expect and hope, Aspen Woods has been carefully designed to preserve its many stands of Aspen trees and to provide views and access to the many ravines as it is the beginning of the foothills.  It is more like living in a park than living in an urban or suburban community.  It shares some of the elements of the international “City Beautiful Movement” of the late 19th century where architects and urban planners introduced the idea that if cities focused on designing beautiful, monumental and grand parks, plazas, streets and buildings, there would be more social harmony and order in the lives of its citizens. 

It isn’t cheap to live in Aspen Woods with the average new home priced at over one million dollars.  The community grabbed national attention last February when a 9,300 square foot home dubbed the “French Castle” sold for over $10 million. 

Aspen Woods truly is the home to many of Calgary’s noveau riche. 

Westside LRT Station Parkade (photo credit: dominion stuart olson)

The Aspen Woods castle (photo credit: Ross Pavl)

Blush Lane Organic Market

Rundle Senior High 

Aspen Woods skateboard park

Westside Recreation Centre

Intelligent Infilling or Living in a bubble!

By Richard White, April 2, 2014

Yes we live in a bubble!  Calgary is one of the few cities in North America with healthy inner-city neighbourhoods.  While many Calgarians complain about the proliferation of infill projects – big (East Village) and small (infill homes) it is a problem most North American cities would love to have.  Just ask people and politicians from Winnipeg, Hamilton or London, Ontario.  The new developments attract new young families who will foster community vitality for another 50+ years.

Not everyone agrees infilling is a good thing! Every major infill project is met with public outrage - Shawnee Slopes golf course, Stadium Shopping Centre, Bridges or Brentwood Mall. The concerns are always the same more traffic, more crime, shadowing and loss of views.  Too often the complaints are dismissed as NIMBYism (not in my back yard) or BANANAism (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything).  While that is definitely true for some individuals (there are some people you just can’t please), often locals have valuable insights for city planners and developers.  People who have lived in a community for years, understand the local culture and how the community functions. Intelligent infilling should build on the existing community, not radically change it. 

This philosophy is inline with that of Jane Jacobs, the ‘60s renowned community development guru and author of “Death and Life of Great American Cities” who suggested community building should be evolutionary not revolutionary i.e. lots of little developments rather than mega multi-block projects should be encouraged.  Nobody called Jacobs a NIMBYist.  

While Calgary has its fair share of mega inner-city infill projects at various stages of completion the real infilling is happening house-by-house, duplex-by-duplex and condo-by-condo from Glenmore Trail north to Confederation Park and from Sarcee Trail east to Deerfoot Trail.

Toronto Crescent in St. Andrews Heights is quickly being transformed into a multi-million dollar mansion row with huge new two story homes being built to capitalize on the outstanding views.

Contemporary infill home.

Modern new infill home.

  An example of the cottage homes that are quickly disappearing to be replaced by larger single-family or duplexes. 

An example of the cottage homes that are quickly disappearing to be replaced by larger single-family or duplexes. 

Lane homes are becoming more and more common in places like West Hillhurst. 

There is not longer a negative stigma of living in a duplex in Calgary's City Centre. 

Evolve or Die!

Fortunately, all of Calgary’s inner city communities are experiencing gradual redevelopment as old 600-square foot cottages are being torn down and replaced by either single family homes, duplexes or, if a developer can assemble enough land row housing, or in sometimes small condo projects. While some lament the loss of the small homes that provided affordable living for fixed-income seniors and low-income individuals and families, the benefit is the new homes attract young families i.e. new investors. 

If inner city communities are going to compete with the “call of the ‘burbs” for families then we must provide family-sized housing.  This means a large kitchen, family room, a media room, separate bedrooms for each child and several bathrooms. A 600 square foot cottage won’t do it, nor will a 1,200 square footer.  Young families are looking for 1,800 square feet or more.

The addition of new families means inner city schools are viable again, as are the existing recreation and community centres. From the government’s perspective, there is no need for new schools, libraries, recreation centres, parks, fire, police or ambulance stations. While that is not quite true, some of these facilities are in dire need of repair or replacement.  But the good news is each new infill home will generate approximately $5,000/year more in taxes than the tiny cottage home.  So for every 100 new infills, $500,000 per year in new tax revenue lands in the government’s bank account.

New families also mean “new investors” to the community as evidenced by the new playgrounds in almost every inner city neighbourhood park. It is in the playgrounds, schools and recreation centers that neighbours often meet and foster a sense of community. Healthy communities are those that constantly adapt to new economic realities, new market demands of young families.

From 2008 to 2013, 3,345 new infill homes (this doesn't include condominiums and apartments) were built in Calgary's inner city communities.  At three people per home that is the equivalent of building an entire new community of 10,000 people.  Most communities take 10 to 15 years to build out e.g East Village or Seton, yet we have built a new community in just five years. 

The value of these new homes is estimated at one billion dollars, which is equivalent to value of  one major office tower the size of Eight Avenue Place or the Bow. These home owners will also pay $15 million dollars in property taxes per year, significantly more than what was being paid by the small cottage homes they replaced.

Yes we live in a bubble! 

A parade of infill show homes in Hillhurst. 

  More and more stroller and trikes are decorating the front lawn of City Center homes. 

More and more stroller and trikes are decorating the front lawn of City Center homes. 

Haultain Park's playground is very popular with families living in the east side of the Beltline. 

Gentrification is good?

Gentrification happens when a community is redeveloped in a way that attracts more high-income families at the expense of low-income ones.  If you were to look at the average selling price of homes you would say that gentrification is rampant in Calgary’s inner-city communities. Today, new duplex homes cost $750,000+ and new single-family homes start at $1.2 million and condos are the new urban cottage with 600 square foot units starting at $300,000. 

While some wonder how families can afford these homes, in reality, many families can and do.  In Altadore 17% of the population is under 14 years of age, close to the city’s average of 18%; in West Hillhurst, 16% are under 14. The number of young children is only going to increase, as the population of 25 - 44 year olds (those of childbearing years) is 40% in Altadore and 38% in West Hillhurst, above the city average of 34%.

However, while housing prices have increased, most of Calgary’s inner city communities have not seen the upscale retail and restaurant development usually associated with gentrification.  For example, despite all of the development in West Hillhurst we still have our bohemian 19th Street shops with anchors like Central Blends, Vina Pizza & Steak House and Dairy Lane that have been part of the community forever.  Similarly, Parkdale still has its “Lazy Loaf block” and the Capitol Hill Corner still has Weeds and Edelweiss Imports. 

In addition, Calgary’s inner city communities continue to have active recreation and community centres that attract people citywide to programs and events.  The Hillhurst Community Center boast one of the best and longest running flea markets in Canada.  The West Hillhurst recreation centre’s gym becomes a church on Sundays and the Tri-Wood Arena is home to Calgary’s women roller derby league. 

And we have not forgotten about our seniors, there are old and new (Lions Village and Glenway Gate) affordable seniors facilities scattered throughout Calgary’s inner city communities.

If new housing options and new neighbours (with kids) means gentrification, then I say bring it on.

Recess in Parkdale. 

There is a wonderful parade of kids walking to school in Rosedale. 

Bridgeland Market is just one of a dozen of examples of the improving urban amenities in Calgary's City Centre communities. 

Evolutionary vs. Revolutionary Development

In some inner city communities, it seems like at leas one new infill project dots every block.  Some streets look like a suburban “Parade of Show Homes.” While some might see this as too much too fast, personal experience has demonstrated that it takes decades to infill an existing community. 

I have lived in West Hillhurst years for over 20 and despite what seems like constant infilling, there are still older homes on every street. It will take another 20 years for all mid 20th century homes to disappear and by that time my 40-year old infill will be ready for a mega-makeover or demolition

Last Word

Communities are like gardens, every year you have to rip out a few of the old plants that have died off to make room for new ones.  From my perspective, Calgary’s developers, home builders and planners have planted the seeds for “intelligent infilling” of our inner city communities.  “Intelligent infilling” is a gradual process that increases the diversity of housing options in a community so it continues to attract people of all ages and backgrounds to want to call it home. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

King Edward Village

King Edward Village Revisited

Do we all need to go back to kindergarten? 

Calgary's newest urban village?

Flaneuring the Fringe: 19th Street NW

By Richard White, March 10, 2014

For Calgarians and tourists alike, exploring Calgary’s urban “street life” all too often means we head to the same places – 17th Avenue, Inglewood, 4th Street, Kensington, the Design District or maybe Stephen Avenue. This is the second of a three-part look at “street life” on the fringe of Calgary’s city centre. 

19th Avenue NW from Nose Hill Park to the Bow River is a popular bike route from the northwest into the downtown.  Along this corridor are two urban hubs, one in West Hillhurst from 1st Ave to 3rd Ave NW and another at 20th Avenue in Capitol Hill.  Neither are presently on the radar of urbanists, but they should be.

Main Street West Hillhurst, (aka 19th Street NW)

West Hillhurst is one of Calgary’s most active infill communities with construction of new homes on almost every avenue. And now the under construction four-storey Savoy condos at Kensington Road and 19th St corner will bring urban living a step closer to reality for this community.   Rumour has it the Savoy developers are courting Phil & Sebastian for one of its retail spaces.  Another rumour has Starbucks moving into a former restaurant space on 19th Street.  Even without these cafes, Main Street West Hillhurst has all the makings of a great community hub with its dry cleaners, hair salon, florist and hardware store and office spaces.

Dairy Lane (391 - 19th St NW)

Dairy Lane has been a fixture on 19th Street since 1950.  If you like omelettes, burgers and milkshakes, this is the place to go.  Dairy Lane has strong connections to 20 different farm-to-table suppliers.  A very popular breakfast spot; don’t be surprised if people are eating on the patio even in winter as they provide heaters and blanket.  They also provide coffee to those who have to wait in line to get a table either inside or out.  Dairy Lane proves that good things really do come in small places – seating capacity inside is about 20 people. 

Central Blends (203 - 19th St NW)

This is my favourite place in the city for muffins – they are chock full of fruit and fresh out of the oven every morning at 7 am.   And Central Blends is more than just a café; it is also an art gallery with revolving exhibitions of local artists/artisans - you never know what you are going to find here.  This is where both hipsters and GABEters chill in West Hillhurst.

Amato Gelato Café (2104 Kensington Rd NW)

The local retailer for Mario’s Gelati traditional Italian ice cream, Amato Gelato offers over 50 varieties of gelato, sorbetto, yogurt, tofulati and specialty desserts.  Open year round, it becomes especially animated in the summer, when it becomes one of the city’s best places for people and dog watching.

SA Meat Shops (106 - 2120 Kensington Rd. NW)

Located in the strip mall next door to Amato Gelato, it offers authentic home-cured South African sausages, dried meats and groceries. Its Piri Piri chicken was cited in Avenue Magazine’s top 25 things to eat in Calgary.  Looking for a snack? Try the dried beef or buffalo sausage sticks or chewy dried beef biltong (a cured meat that was originated in South Africa, similar to beef jerky but thicker).   

West Hillhurst Recreation Centre (1940 - 6th Ave NW)

For those into vintage, you may want to slip into the West Hillhurst Recreation Centre.  This recreation block dates back to the ‘40s when “The Grand Trunk Hot Shot League” needed some playing fields.  In 1951, a clubhouse was built on this corner, the arena followed in 1971.  On hot summer days, the adjacent family- friendly outdoor Bowview Pool is a welcome throwback to the ‘50s. 

  One of literally thousands of new infills that are redefining urban living in West Hillhurst and all communities north of the Bow River within a 45 minute walk, 20 minute cycle or 10 minute drive of downtown Calgary. . 

One of literally thousands of new infills that are redefining urban living in West Hillhurst and all communities north of the Bow River within a 45 minute walk, 20 minute cycle or 10 minute drive of downtown Calgary.

  Bowview Pool is part of West Hillhurst's recreation block which includes the pool, arena, playing fields, playground, gym, squash courts, tennis courts and meeting rooms.  

Bowview Pool is part of West Hillhurst's recreation block which includes the pool, arena, playing fields, playground, gym, squash courts, tennis courts and meeting rooms.  

  Amato Gelato Cafe is popular with the young families who are moving into West Hillhurst. 

Amato Gelato Cafe is popular with the young families who are moving into West Hillhurst. 

  Central Blends Cafe has an "everyday" Mexican charm to it. 

Central Blends Cafe has an "everyday" Mexican charm to it. 

  Dairy Lane is very popular summer or winter. 

Dairy Lane is very popular summer or winter. 

Capitol Hill Corner, (aka 20th Avenue at 19th Street NW)

 Just up the hill from West Hillhurst, across the TransCanada Highway (aka 16th Avenue North) at 19th Street and 20th Avenue is Capitol Hill Corner – a collection of old and new shops and small offices buildings for various professional services and a drug store. 

Edelweiss Village (1921 - 20th Ave NW)

Edelweiss is like entering a little European village complete with café, cheese shop, butcher shop, bakery, grocery and gift shop all under one roof. Though not very big, it packs a lot of product on it shelves with food and home accessories from Swiss, German, Ukrainian and Scandinavian suppliers – only in Canada!  

Weeds Café (1902 - 20th Ave NW)

Established in 1964, this bohemian corner café serves a wide selection of handcrafted food, beer, wine and 49th Parallel coffee.  The walls are covered with local art and there is live music on weekends.  It is a “chill space” for many students from University of Calgary, SAIT and Alberta College of Art & Design.

Ruberto Ostberg Gallery (2108 - 18th Street NW)

It’s one of Calgary’s best-kept secrets with its eclectic exhibition schedule of local artists’ work on the main floor and artists’ studios in the basement.  Exhibitions change monthly featuring everything from glass and ceramics in various genres realism and expressionism.  Kitty-corner to Weeds and just a block east of Edelweiss, it’s worth checking out.

 

  Edelweiss Village is a bit of Europe in the middle of Capitol Hill. 

Edelweiss Village is a bit of Europe in the middle of Capitol Hill. 

  Weed's Cafe is a charming bohemian hangout.

Weed's Cafe is a charming bohemian hangout.

Glass work by the Bee Kingdom collective at Ruberto Ostberg Gallery.

  Bee Kingdom's opening night at Ruberto Ostberg Gallery in early March. 

Bee Kingdom's opening night at Ruberto Ostberg Gallery in early March. 

Last Word

While the City of Calgary officially considers Calgary’s City Centre to be on the south side of the Bow River i.e. downtown and the beltline I think it is time to rethink those boundaries. 

In reality our City Centre should encompass the north side from 20th Avenue south to the Bow River and from 19th Street NW east to at least 11th Street NE in Bridgeland. 

Doing so would include Kensington, Edmonton Trail, Centre Street and Bridgeland, all of whom offer local residents a walkable urban living experience with their cafes, restaurants and shops. 

Calgary's urban experience is more than just downtown and the Beltline.

Calgary vs Winnipeg as Urban Hot Spots (Part 2)

By Richard White, February, 8 2014 (this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section on February 8, 3014 titled "Exchange District is tough to beat.") 

Last week compared downtown Winnipeg vs Calgary from the perspective of museums, galleries, attractions, sports and river developments (East Village/Stampede Park vs The Forks)Overall it was a tie.  Let the play continue…

 Placemaking Fun

Winnipeg’s Exchange District is one of the best collection of late 19th and early 20th century buildings in North America.  It is a walk back in time as you flaneur the area with its old bank and warehouse buildings.  It is fun place to shop for vintage clothing, furniture, home accessories and art.  Together, Stephen Avenue and Inglewood just can’t compete with the Exchange District’s architecture and streetscapes.

Winnipeg's Exchange District has some of the best late 19th and early 20th century buildings in North America. 

Calgary's Stephen Avenue is a National Historic District and one of North America's best restaurant rows. 

Osborne Village is Winnipeg’s equivalent to Calgary’s Kensington Village. Both are separated from the downtown core by the river, have a major Safeway store a key anchor and a “main street” of shops and restaurants. Kensington wins here given its greater diversity and depth of boutiques and restaurants, its vintage Plaza Theatre and funky new condos. 

Winnipeg has two grand classic urban boulevard streets – Portage Avenue and Main Street; Calgary has none.  While Portage and Main is one of the most famous intersections in Canada, it generally isn’t for good reason. It has a reputation as being the coldest and windiest urban corner in Canada. 

Calgary’s downtown lacks a grand, ceremonial street that is so often associated with great cities.  Though charming, Stephen Avenue simply lacks grandeur.

Over the past 10 years, the University of Winnipeg Campus on the western edge of the city’s downtown has blossomed into a major urban campus with some wonderful contemporary buildings, much like Calgary’s SAIT campus - unfortunately it’s not downtown.  Red River College also has a campus in Winnipeg’s Exchange District, similar to our Bow Valley College.

The Buhler Centre is just one of many new University of Winnipeg campus buildings that is changing the face of downtown Winnipeg.  This building is an office building, art gallery and home to Stella Cafe. 

Bow Valley College has just completed a major expansion in downtown Calgary.  The College is  home to an amazing collection of contemporary art. 

Similarities also exist between Calgary’s Bridgeland (once called “Little Italy”) and Winnipeg’s St. Boniface (the largest French-speaking community west of the Great Lakes).  Not only are both communities across the river from their respective downtowns, but both were home to a major hospital. In Calgary’s case, the hospital has been replaced by condos, while the St. Boniface Hospital is still very much a part of its health care facilities.

Advantage:  Winnipeg

Architecture / Urban Design

Winnipeg boasts better historic architecture with its large buildings like the Beaux Arts-style Manitoba Legislative Building (1920), considered by many as one of the finest public buildings in North America. Other large historic buildings include Union Station (1911) that still serves as a passenger train station, the Vaughan Street Jail (1881), Law Courts (1916), St. Mary’s Cathedral (1881), St Boniface City Hall (1906) and the iconic Bank of Montreal (1913) at the corner of Portage and Main.

Winnipeg is home to a number of major historic buildings including the beaux arts architecture of the Manitoba Legislative Building.  In addition to being big, bold and beautiful, there is a mystery around some of the architectural elements like the sphinxes that has lead to a Hermetic Code theory. 

Courthouse Building 

Most of Calgary’s historic buildings on the other hand are smaller structures, with the only large-scale historic building being Mewata Armoury.

Calgary’s architectural forte is its modern office architecture, which makes sense given most of Calgary’s growth as been in the last 50 years, while Winnipeg’s was pre-1960s.  It might interest Calgarians to know that there is a proposal floating around Winnipeg to build a mixed-use, 55-story building that will build on the strength of the recently completed Manitoba Hydro building, a 22-story building that received LEED Platinum certification and deemed as the most energy efficient building in North America in 2012.

Manitoba Hydro building was one of the first LEED Platinum office building in North America. 

The twin towers of Eight Avenue Place are one of several mega office towers recently completed or under construction. Downtown Calgary is home to one of the largest concentration of corporate headquarters in North America.

Yes, Winnipeg even has a bridge to match Calgary’s Calatrava Peace Bridge.  Its locally designed Esplanade Riel (2003) pedestrian bridge connects downtown to St. Boniface in unique ways.  It is attached to the Provencher Bridge for vehicles with an upscale restaurant in the middle that offers outstanding views. The bridge with its 57-meters high spire (20-story high pole) has cables that stretch out in teepee- like fashion. It is bold, beautiful and elegant night and day.

Esplanade Riel Pedestrian Bridge over the Red River in Winnipeg with restaurant in the middle. 

Calgary's Peace Bridge, designed by Santiago Calatrava. 

Rather than building a new central library, Winnipeg opted for a mega-makeover of its existing Centennial Library as a millennium project.  Rebranded as the Millennium Library, it is a wonderful contemporary glass building with commanding views of the Millennium Library Park completed in 2012. 

The Library Park has an artificial wetland, wooden walkway, a stand of birch trees and two significant pieces of public art, that combine to make it a wonderful urban space.  The Park’s centerpiece is Bill Pechet’s “Emptyful,” a playful Erlenmeyer flask-shaped fountain illuminated by four bands of LED lighting, that in the summer, illuminate the water and fog from the flask in blue, green and purple hues.  In the winter, when the water elements are not operational, the artwork is lit up in reds, organs and yellows.

Winnipeg's Millennium Library and Park. 

Bill Pechet artist and Chris Pekas of Lightworks 35 ft high and 31 ft wide sculpture "Emptyful." 

Jaume Plensa's sculpture "Wonderland" on the plaza in front of The Bow office tower designed by Norman Foster. 

Calgary’s closest equivalent is the “Wonderland” artwork by Jaume Plensa on the plaza of the Bow office tower. Though attractive, it lacks the same fun factor that “Emptyful” has and there are no benches or other elements to invite you to sit and linger.

Advantage: Tied

Condo Living

Winnipeg simply can’t compete with the diversity and density of condo development that Calgary offers. While there is some condo development along the Red River near the Exchange District, it is nothing like Calgary’s Bridgeland, West End, Eau Claire, Mission, Beltline or Erlton developments.

New condos along the Red River in Downtown Winnipeg. 

New condos on First Street SW one of seven districts with new high-rise condo development in the city centre.

What Winnipeg does offer is some amazing loft living in the old buildings in its Exchange District warehouses. There are also many attractive condos and apartments along the Assiniboine River in the Osborne Village area right along the river.  I used to think they would be great places to live when I lived in downtown Winnipeg in the mid ‘70s while attending the University of Manitoba. And I still do.

Advantage: Calgary

Last Word

If you look at the three big variables for downtown vitality – live, work and play Calgary would seem the clear winner.  It has more contemporary condos, and more jobs for the professional GABEsters (Geologists, Accountants, Bankers, Brokers and Engineers). But if you were a young hipster (creative type), Winnipeg offers more appeal with its affordable and attractive studio loft living.

Winnipeg’s downtown is also much more attractive to small businesses as real estate prices and rents are significantly lower.  REITs and Pension Fund landowners, who are not interested in the “mom and pop” start-ups, dominate Calgary’s downtown. 

Looking a little further afield, Calgary is just one hour away from its mountain playgrounds and Winnipeg is just one hour to cottage country. Take away Calgary’s downtown office towers and there is not much difference between Calgary and Winnipeg (as evidence by the tied score when comparing seven elements of urban vitality).   

It seems to me almost everyone I know in Calgary has some connection to Winnipeg…perhaps we should be sister cities.  Next time you are in Winnipeg visiting family or friends or on business, I recommend heading downtown to flaneur the Exchange District and The Forks, maybe take in a baseball game, an exhibition at the WAG (Winnipeg Art Gallery) or tour the Legislature building. There is more to Winnipeg than first meets the eye.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary vs Winnipeg as Urban Hot Spots (Part 1)

Embracing Winter 

Las Vega Neon Boneyard 

Downtowns need to more fun

 

 

Travels in small towns in North America

By Richard White, February 9, 2014

It is ironic that in December I picked up Stuart McLean’s 1991 book “Welcome Home: Travels in small town Canada” in a Maple Creek SK thrift store and the first story is in fact about his stay in Maple Creek.  It was also ironic as 2013 turned out to be “Year of Small Town Travel” in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Montana, Idaho and Washington for Brenda and I.

For us, visiting a small towns is mostly just pulling off the highway and taking an hour or so to flaneur the streets, take some pictures, maybe grab a bite or a coffee and chat a bit with one or two locals.

McLean, much more strategic, carefully researched his small towns – Maple Creek (Saskatchewan), Dresden (Ontario), St. Jean de Matha (Quebec), Sackville (New Brunswick), Foxwarren (Manitoba), Naksup (British Columbia and Ferryland, (Newfoundland).  He chose carefully to ensure that collectively, the towns would reflect that diversity that is Canada’s sense of place.  

He also went and lived for a couple of weeks in each town, so he could meet the residents and truly understand the psyche of the people and place.  This all happened in early ‘90s over 20 years ago.

What I loved about the book was the great insights - his and others - that he quotes into understanding the ongoing evolution of our cities and towns, as well as better sense of our collective history as Canadians and North Americans. There are also amazing character sketches for those interested in people.

I thought I would share some of these insights with you accompanied by an image from one of the small towns we visited that related to the McLean’s observations.

From the introduction:

“If there is one aspect of towns and villages that we find remarkable, it is their persistence, their refusal to die out, their staying power.” G.D Hodge and M.A. Qadeer, 1983

“Eventually, I decided that we all live in small towns. Mine happens to be in the heart of a big city.” S. McLean

This is a house on our block just a few doors down.  Like McLean we live in a Calgary, a big city, however it is composed of over 200 small communities of about 5,000 people, each with their own parks, playgrounds, schools, recreation and community centres. Not that much different than the small towns McLean visited. 

Maple Creek, Saskatchewan

“Asians didn’t get the right to vote in Canada until the late 1940s.”

“When she was twelve, Pansy rode (horseback) five and half miles across the fields every day to a one-room schoolhouse…there were lots of deer, antelope and coyotes.” (And we complain about kids taking long bus rides to get to school today)

McLean talks about a Chinese restaurant in his book; this might be it.  Had a great soup and grilled cheese.  GA writes: "you may want to add the nearby winery, yep I do mean winery.  Most of the wine is made from berries and Rhubarb, but they also grow grapes.  The wines are certainly drinkable and it is fun to produce for visiting guests. Their wine tastings are professionally done."

Dresden, Ontario

“Dresden is where Aylmer manufactures all of the ketchup they produce in Canada.”

“Canada is not merely a neighbor to Negroes. Deep in our history of struggle for freedom Canada was the North Star. The Negro slave, denied education, de-humanized, imprisoned on cruel plantations, knew that far to the north a land existed where a fugitive slave, if he survived the horrors of the journey could find freedom.” Martin Luther King Jr., Massey Lectures, 1967

Did you know that Josiah Henson a slave who escaped to Canada and settled in Dresden was the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s influential novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

“The bell at the firehall used to ring at noon and at nine in the evening to signal curfew for all those under the age of fourteen.  The bell at the old McVean factory rang at starting time and quitting time and, like all the other bells in town, at the noon break.  You don’t hear town bells the way you used to. It is too bad. A bell lends a certain orderliness to a town – anoints the noon meal with righteousness, resolves the end of the work day with dignity, infuses dusk with a sense of purpose.”

“There’s also a certain continuity that you don’t get anywhere else. Everyone in school knows everyone else. Most of the parents come from here. The continuum is passed along.”

While I didn't travel to Dresden, I did get to Clarkesdale, Mississippi which is home to the Delta Blues and to Memphis where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Both are cities in decline, but with a  proud history that they celebrate vigorously. 

This is the J.W. Cutrer Mansion in Clarkesdale.  The Cutrers and their home inspired the character names and settings in several works by playwright Tennessee Williams. This small town is an interesting study in contrasts between the rich and the poor that has existed for decades - it is not something new. 

Just one of many homes that are slowly peeling away. 

This is the entrance to Ground Zero Blues Club, one of the most authentic and famous blues bars in the world.  The entire inside of the club is like this with people signing their names on every wall, everywhere.  It is a work of art. 

Who knew when I picked up this used book in the spring of 2013 that I would be in the Mojo Man's home turf early in 2014.

St-Jean-de-Matha, Quebec

You can see winter in the architecture wherever you look – the old houses small because they were easier to heat; the brightly painted roofs, pitched steeper here than anywhere in the country, because if you let snow accumulate all winter your roof would collapse before spring.” 

We discovered the ghost town of  Washtucna, while on our way see the off the beaten path Palouse Falls Washington.  We don't usually seek out natural wonders, but we were encouraged to do so and in the process we found Washtucna. I did not realize the potlatch culture extended this far south or east, I had always associated it with Pacific Northwest first nations. Every small town has a story to tell. 

We tried to get into Sonny's but despite the sign it wasn't open. 

 

Ted's Garage has become the town's post office. In "Welcome Home" you will read how important the post office was in small towns even in the early '90s.

Sackville, New Brunswick

“This is a town that understands tradition…Mrs. Helen C. Beale wouldn’t think of going downtown to mail at letter without putting on a dress, white gloves and a hat.”  “the driving factor behind the new clock tower is that public’s displeasure with not having a clock in the downtown core.”

“Like all small towns, Sackville’s greatest export is her people.”

Our equivalent to McLean's Sackville was Moscow, Idaho, also a university town and this was one of our favourite breakfast spots. Check out the Huckleberry Zucchini Bread or the Lemon Poppy Seed french toast.  We will be back!

The students loved Bucer's Coffee House and Pub....we did too.  Great ambience

Every college town needs a quirky bike shop - Paradise Bikes was Moscow's. 

Yes there is a new clock tower on campus. It also has a great indoor football stadium and one of the world's best climbing wall facilities. Of the 9,000 students, 6,000 live on campus with an 18 to 1 student to teacher ratio. 

Our dinner at the Sangria Grill may well have been our best meal of 2013.  We could show you an image of our plate but the ceiling is way more exciting. Loved the circus dolls. The menu is very interesting e.g. Macadamia coconut halibut mango salsa fried banana rice.  Desserts are to die for e.g. sweet potato creme brulee or coconut bread pudding with lucuma ice cream. Yum Yum!

Foxwarren, Manitoba

“In western Canada, prosperity is calculated in units of verticality. Oil rigs, grain elevators and silos measure the land.”

“first grain elevator in Canada was built in Gretna, Manitoba, in 1881.”

“you hate to see your home town go. But there is nothing you can do to stop it going. You can’t survive on a small farm anymore.”

“Donna Hodgson is the postmistress, and she is the sixth person (three men, three women) to hold the job since the post office opened on August 1, 1889.”

The Foxwarren arena illuminates Foxwarren the way the Roman Catholic Church used to illuminate Quebec. Hockey in Foxwarren is a faith, a theology and a creed. In Foxwarren you don’t go tot eh game as much as you give yourself to The Game. You don’t enjoy hockey. You believe in it… if you live in Foxwarren you can’t escape the arena’s gravity.”

“Like many old men, Andy has become the embodiment of a better era – living proof that the stories everyone has heard actually happened. With his old age he blesses everyone else with youth.”

“At the turn of the century and for thirty years after that, the tracks on these prairies were haunted by the most romantic train in Canadian history – the silk train. Silk that arrived in Vancouver by boat had to be shipped to the Lakehead quickly… they were given priority over all other trains on the tracks.  Once a train carrying Prince Albert (later George VI) was shunted onto a siding to wait while a silk train burned past.”

Meeting Creek, Alberta was our encounter with the great spirit of the prairie Grain Elevator.  It was surreal to just be able to explore this perfectly preserved elevator and station with nobody around. 

You can't make something like this up.

Nakusp, BC

“Left alone in a museum, it doesn’t take much to make a grown man twelve. Wondering vaguely what I will say if someone walks in, I climb into the saddle and lean on the saddle-horn as I read the typed note pinned to the wall. The horse that Tom Thee Persons rode to fame was known as Cylcone.”  Who knew this piece of Calgary’s Stampede history is housed in the Nakusp Museum?

While we didn't have a saddle to sit on.  Brenda has a similar experience when we were exploring Twin Falls, Idaho and she found this pencil dispenser in the library.  She had to try it. Not once but twice.  It doesn't take much to make a grown women twelve. 

We also found this display of Red Rose Tea figurines at the library.  There were several series but the Canadian Series caught our interest. Who knew the Mongrel was a Canadian animal? 

These dolls were fastened to posts throughout the city, at first it was cute then just strange. 

Twin Falls is one of the few places in the world that you can BASE jump without a permit.  We had to wait around for a bit but we did see several guys jump.  If you look carefully you can see a speck of blue where the bridge shadow meets the steel arch at about two thirds of the way to the top of the image - that is a jumper. 

Ferryland, Newfoundland

“Maybe when death is all around you, maybe when everyone’s children are dying, maybe when the winter blows cold and the nights are dark and your ten-year-old daughter gives a little cough and your heart seizes and you look at your husband with frightened eyes and then the priest comes and then she dies, maybe you find a way to make sense of things. But how, after five have gone, could you have a sixth? And how, when your last boy dies, could you plant a crop, go to church, milk a cow, eat a meal, smile, laugh and carry on?”

“Essentially Albert Lawlor drives the Popemobile up and down highway 10 every day.” Yes the same popemobile Pope John Paul II used when he toured North America in September 1984.

“It was a big change. The more people got TV’s, the less you saw of them. Before the TV, everyone depended on everyone else…you visited. You helped each other.”

“If you really want to understand a place, you can’t do it from an automobile.”

One of our best small town experiences of 2013 was when we decided to park our car and walk the streets of Buhl, Idaho. Within seconds I looked over and saw this warehouse with something interesting in a bucket and  on the ground.  Wandering over, we found the warehouse was full of all kinds of antlers and mounted animal heads that were to be shipped all over the world.  We spent over an hour chatting with the guys with the owners.  The street art was the head and part of the carcass of an elk that had been shot by the owners son. Their trailer is perhaps the equivalent of the popemobile.  

Over 150,000 pounds of antlers are collected in this Buhl shop and then sorted and shipped to pet food plants, used for home decor objects etc.  All of the antlers are naturally shed, only the mounted heads are from animals that are shot with permits. 

The Clover Leaf Creamery was another find in Buhl, Idaho.  It is a fully operational dairy that uses the old glass bottles and has a wonderful old fashion ice cream parlour.  It is amazing what you find if you get off the inter-state highways and take the scenic route.  Buhl also had a great thrift store with mid-century artifacts from the community's past.  There was also a theatre converted into a Mexican restaurant which told the story of the present  economic realities. It is amazing what you find if you get out of the car. 

Brenda is in her happy place. 

Last Word

In “Welcome Home” over and over again you read stories about why people love their small towns - the common denominators being everybody knows everybody, nobody locks their doors, shopkeepers work on credit and lamenting the loss of jobs.

Full of everyday stories of everyday people, it is a fun read of what life used to be like whether you lived during that time or not.  I loved McLean’s comment when he was reflecting on the changes in the way hockey is played today vs 50 years ago, “somehow the game seemed purer when I was young.” I expect that applies to everything in the game of life.

We would like to thank the following for their assistance with our small town flaneuring in 2013:

If you like this blog, you might like:

Postcards from Moscow

Meeting Creek Ghost Town

Flaneuring Maple Creek 

Be a tourist in your own neighbourhood 

Integration critical to new community vitality

Note: This blog was originally published in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours, January 30, 2014.

By Richard White, January 31, 2014

While there is much talk about the importance of densifying Calgary’s older residential communities (i.e. those built from 1950 to 1990), in reality, it makes good sense to create more housing on the edges of the city given that is where most of the new jobs located.  If we want to reduce the length of commutes for Calgarians and encourage them to walk or cycle to work, the best way to do that is to integrate –not segregate - residential and commercial development.

This concept harkens back to the early ‘90s, long before Imagine Calgary, when the City approved the “Go Plan” which focused on the planning and policy initiatives that would entice Calgarians to live closer to where they work as a means of enhancing the city’s mobility.  The idea at that time was to create mini-downtowns in the suburbs so people could “live, work and play” in their immediate area, rather than having to commute across town or to the downtown. 

Until recently, most of Calgary’s residential development was on the west side while the vast majority of the commercial development (industrial, warehouse and offices) was on the east side, meaning most Calgarians had to drive across the city to get to and from work every day.  However, with the creation of new communities like Cityscape, Walden, Seton and Legacy on the east side, more and more Calgarians can “live, work and play” without having to drive across the city or downtown.

New Suburban Home Design 

Early in 2013, the City approved a new master-planned community in Calgary’s far northeast called “Cityscape.” Already homes are being built and the new community is taking shape.  While there was controversy over its name, given it is so far from the “city,” developer Mattamy successfully argued the community name is appropriate given the “cityscape” vista the land offered.

Cityscape unlike suburban communities of the past has narrower lots, more variety of housing types, better connectivity with pathways and parks and retail centers.  Mattamy alone will be offering Village homes (small condos), Townhomes (the hottest housing type in the city these days), Laned homes (rear lane garage) and single-family homes (SFH).  And even the SFH are different from traditional suburban homes with front double car garages that are less protruding, allowing for a more attractive porches and a streetscape that isn’t dominated by big double garage.

When fully built out Cityscape will consist of 4,000 homes and a population of over 12,000 (similar to East Village) all within a few blocks of the 115-acre natural preserve encircled by a 2.5-kilometer pathway, with lookouts and nature interpretive areas at key places.  It will definitely enhance Calgary’s reputation as the “City of Parks and Pathways!”

An example of new community with home designed to fit on narrow lots, recessed garages and smaller front lawns and driveways. 

Integration of Commercial and Residential Development 

The development of StoneGate Landing, by WAM Development Group, on 1,100 acres north of 128th Ave and west of Metis Trail (next to Cityscape) is the suburban equivalent of a small downtown with its 10 million square feet of industrial space (the equivalent of 5 Bow Towers), 1.5 million square feet of retail space (the equivalent of Chinook Centre) and 2 million square feet of office and hotel space. 

StoneGate Landing is just one of several mega land development projects currently under construction north the Calgary International Airport and east of Deerfoot.  It is any wonder there is a strong market for housing in what could be called Calgary’s NNE neighborhood i.e. north of downtown, north of the airport and east of Deerfoot Trail.

If Calgary sticks to its current position of no more annexation, Cityscape, StoneGate Landing and other major land developments in the City’s far northeast could easily become a city within a city.  Cityscape and StoneGate Landing provide Calgarians with the opportunity to “live, work and play” in the new suburbs. Imagine living in Calgary and not having to use the increasingly gridlocked Deerfoot, Crowfoot or Glenmore Trails or ride the overcrowded LRT.

Fragmentation

Calgary is quickly being fragmented into distinct smaller cities based on different economic engines.  The northwest is becoming the “Learning City” with SAIT, the University of Calgary and Foothills / Children’s Hospitals being its economic engines.  The southeast is evolving into a “Distribution City” with all of its warehouses and distribution buildings.  The billion-dollar expansion of Calgary’s International Airport with all of its neighbouring developments is quickly becoming our “Airport City.” The southwest is "Execuville" as it is home to most of Calgary's downtown corporate executives and exclusive communities.

It will be interesting to see how Calgary and other cities around the world evolve over the next 25 years at they adapt to the ever changing economic realities that dictate city development. Indeed, life is just a continuous series of adaptations.

If you like this blog you might like:

Cities of opportunity 

Is Calgary too downtown centric?

Are we creatures of comfort? 

 

.