What is urban living and who really cares?

By Richard White, November 27, 2014 

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Is this urban living?

Is this urban living?

What is urban living?

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

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

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

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

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

  Urban living in Calgary's West Hillhurst?

Urban living in Calgary's West Hillhurst?

 

Statistics Canada says…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YYC Municipal Development Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Possible working definitions

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

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

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

  High-rise living in Edmonton's downtown.

High-rise living in Edmonton's downtown.

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

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

  Low-rise condos on a residential street in Mission.

Low-rise condos on a residential street in Mission.

Last Word

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

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

By Richard White, December 4, 2014

Reader Comments:

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

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

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Importance of comfort, convenience and privacy in urban living 

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Dublin: FAB fun in The Liberties

On some of the Dublin tourist maps you will see a large pink area titled "The Liberties / Antique Shop Quarter," but there is no information on where the shops are within the quarter.  The Dublin shopping map doesn't have any information about shopping in the area either.  But with a little digging, we found out that there are a dozen or so antique and vintage shops along Frances Street and just a block away on Meath, is the Liberty Market (Thursday to Saturday). 

The name ( Liberties) is derived from jurisdictions dating from the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century. They were town lands that were part of the City of Dublin, but still preserving their own jurisdiction.  Hence, "liberties." The most important of these liberties were the Liberty of St. Sepulchre, under the Archbishop of Dublin, and the Liberty of Thomas Court and Donore belonging to the Abbey of St. Thomas (later called the Earl of Meath's Liberty) - hence Meath and Thomas streets. The current Liberties quarter's  boundaries are between the river Liffey to the north, St. Patrick's Cathedral to the east, Warrenmount to the south and St. James's Hospital to the west.

We decided to check out The Liberties district on a sunny Saturday afternoon in October and had a FAB time.  Starting at the north end of Francis Street, we were surprised to find a large surface parking lot tucked away behind a building that was full of graffiti art reminding us of Boise, Idaho's popular tourist attraction - Freak Alley. 

  Just one of a dozen or more graffiti murals at the north entrance to Dublin's Antique Row.

Just one of a dozen or more graffiti murals at the north entrance to Dublin's Antique Row.

Dublin's Antique Row

Walking just a bit further, we arrived at Dublin's  Antique Row beginning with O'Sullivan's Antiques - look for the building with the piano hanging off the side of the building.  This is the spot for serious antique collectors and the staff are very friendly and knowledgeable.  We  were surprised and impressed with the collection of 1950s whale bone vertebrae. 

A few doors down is Michael Mortell's impressive store of unique mid-century modern furniture and accessories. As you proceed down the block, proceed down  the block to discover more antique stores, second hand stores, a gallery and even a larger Oxfam Charity shop (what we call thrift stores).  We definitely enjoyed our stroll. 

At the end of Francis Street,  turn left and you are at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The afternoon sun provided us with a wonderful sun-drenched perspective.  We stopped for lunch at the tiny Cathedral Cafe with its six tables.  It was a busy place, the owner cooking and serving up the tasty meals - we were exhausted just watching her.

  O'Sullivan's Antiques with funky delivery men climbing the wall with the dangling piano. 

O'Sullivan's Antiques with funky delivery men climbing the wall with the dangling piano. 

Inside Michael Mortell's exquisite mid-century modern boutique.

  The antiques spill out onto the street. 

The antiques spill out onto the street. 

Cat Meow was full of shoppers searching for vintage fashion finds. 

Anonymous vintage / retro store is a must see.

Indeed we had a FAB time on Francis Street.

Meath Street Madness

Watered and fed, we were ready to tackle Meath Street, which we were told by one local is a bit gritty or in his terms "Dublin unpolished."  We turned the corner and were immediately hit by a wave of people and cars -  the street was like Costco at Christmas.  I think this is what Jane Jacobs (urban living '60s guru) was talking about when she coined the phrase sidewalk ballet. However, in this case it was a "street ballet" with cars, teens, seniors, couples, families and the odd horse sharing both the street and sidewalk space. 

In addition to the eclectic shops, bakeries, groceries and butchers was the Liberty Market with its cheesy flea market stalls selling everything from lamp shades to purses. It was urban chaos at its best. We loved mingling with the locals. 

There is also the historic St. Catherine's Church mid-block with the secret Our Lady of Immaculate Conception grotto at the back which we discovered by accident.  It is a wonderful place for a little solitude and reflection.  Here met Debbie, who comes often to light a candle and say a pray for her recently deceased husband. 

  Just a block away, locals of all ages were shopping up a storm on Meath Street.

Just a block away, locals of all ages were shopping up a storm on Meath Street.

Liberty Market purse vendor's wares.

  Somebody found some good deals.

Somebody found some good deals.

Our Lady of Immaculate conception grotto.

Horse History 

Once we got to the top of Meath Street at Thomas Street, we headed east (left) to find a pub. Just by chance, I looked up an alley (I like to do that) and saw a horse.  Curious, we wandered up the alley and got chatting with an older gent who, with his young sidekick, who were cleaning up. Happy to share the alley's history, he told us it has been home to stables for over 300 years. At present, the stables house 30 horses for the City Centre's horse-drawn buggies.  You won't find this on any tourist map.

Horse alley where horses and people have shared the space for over 300 years.

  Little did we know this same two-year old male horse was a bit of a media celebrity for his unexpected visit to a local horse race betting establishment. 

Little did we know this same two-year old male horse was a bit of a media celebrity for his unexpected visit to a local horse race betting establishment. 

Last Word

We had a FAB Saturday afternoon hanging with the locals,  just a few blocks away from the hoards of tourists that invade Dublin's City Centre everyday. 

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Calgary's NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here!

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

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

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

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

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

  St. John's condo 

St. John's condo 

Savoy Condo

Main Streets

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

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

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

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

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

Happyland/Parkdale

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

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

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

  Hillhurst Farmers' Market

Hillhurst Farmers' Market

The Plaza is home to Calgary's film community. 

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

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

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

  Kensington Village architecture

Kensington Village architecture

  Buskers on 10th Street.

Buskers on 10th Street.

  Bridgeland Market in downtown Bridgeland.

Bridgeland Market in downtown Bridgeland.

Great Amenities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running along the Bow River at Poppy Plaza.

  Lawn Bowling in West Hillhurst.

Lawn Bowling in West Hillhurst.

NoBow is for families

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

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

  Riley Park wading pool

Riley Park wading pool

NoBow loves seniors

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

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

  Parkdale seniors apartments

Parkdale seniors apartments

  Lions Village seniors complex in Happyland .

Lions Village seniors complex in Happyland.

Last Word

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

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

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Kensington: One of North America's Healthiest Urban Villages

Richard White, July 19, 2014

With summer officially here, it is a great time to get out and enjoy the city’s great urban outdoors.  One of Calgary’s summer highlights is Kensington’s “Sun and Salsa” festival, Sunday July 20th from 11 am to 5 pm.  Organized by the Kensington BRZ since 1986 this event attracts up to 100,000 people for the fun, festivities and tastings. However, Kensington Village is a fun place to shop or meet friends for coffee, lunch or dinner anytime of the year.

For Calgary newcomers, and those who haven’t been to Kensington in awhile here’s the lowdown on Kensington Village.  First off the boundaries are 10th Street NW from the Bow River to 5th Avenue and Kensington Road from 10th Street to 14th Avenue and a few commercial blocks adjacent to 10th Street and Kensington Road.

One of the things that makes Kensington unique is that it has its own cinema. The Plaza Theatre was built in 1929 as a garage, but in 1935 it was converted to a movie house (Calgary’s third). In 1947, it began experimenting with foreign and art films, becoming an art house cinema in 1977. It has been the home of Calgary’s film community ever since.

Plaza Theatre is home to Calgary's film community.

Kensington Pub is Calgary’s quintessential neighbourhood pub. Situated on 10A Street just off Kensington Road, it is actually two buildings – a 1911 brick bungalow and a 1912 duplex.  It became a pub in 1982 and has been popular watering hole ever since.

Long before Starbucks or Phil & Sebastian’s, there was Higher Ground and the Roasterie.  I remember when I first came to Calgary back in 1981 the pungent smell of freshly roasted coffee was synonymous with walking along 10th Street.

Today, the Roasterie’s mini-plaza on 10th Street is always (yes, even in the winter as it faces west so gets lots of sun) animated.  It is a great public space that works (because there are several small shops facing onto the plaza) without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on decoration and public art.  Could it be that smaller is better?

Kensington's 10th Street Plaza next to Roasterie is a popular busking spot.

  Higher Ground is just one of the many cafes in Kensington.

Higher Ground is just one of the many cafes in Kensington.

With 270 businesses, Kensington Village has something for everyone’s taste.  Naked Leaf Tea shop offers artisan teas, as well as beautiful teapots and cups. Smitten, Kismet and Purr are just three of several women’s fashion boutiques.  There are also several great furniture shops like Cushy Life, Kilian and Metro Element.

  Kensington is an eclectic collection of independent shops. (photo credit: Neil Zeller)

Kensington is an eclectic collection of independent shops. (photo credit: Neil Zeller)

Every urban village needs a shoe repair store. Alpine Shoe Service has been around for over 30 years.  Their "Thought of the Day" is both fun and thought provoking. 

Kensington BRZ is a leader in innovation. Here street parking has been converted into a sidewalk to allow for a patio next to The Yardhouse.  It is also home to a container bar located in a side alley. 

Kensington's Container Bar located in an alley between two buildings has been an instant hit. 

The 10th Street and 4th Avenue foodie corner has its own ambience with Safeway, Sunnyside Market, Sidewalk Citizen and Second Cup.  There is also what I call the Parisian block (1200 block of Kensington Road) where pedestrians will find the paring of Kensington Wine Market (great Saturday afternoon wine tastings) and Peasant Cheese.

No village would be complete without a good bookstore. Pages is one of Canada’s leading bookseller with over 10,000 titles in stock and one of the best author reading programs - everyone from David Suzuki to Stuart McLean. Pages is located in a 1947 building that was the City of Calgary’s first branch library.

And, no visit to Kensington Village would be complete without a visit to Livingstone & Cavell Extraordinary Toys where reproductions of classic retro toys amuse both young and old. The place is more like an art museum than a store, which is not surprising given one of the owners is the CEO of the Glenbow Museum.

Livingstone & Cavell is fun for everyone.

Kensington’s hidden gem is the Kensington Riverside Inn which is actually on Memorial Drive.  Not only is it a great place for a weekend getaway, but its Chef’s Table restaurant is one of the city’s best restaurants – a great spot for a staycation.

Kensington Riverside Inn

Last word

What makes Kensington Village a fun place to explore is the eclectic mix of students (Alberta College of Art and SAIT), yuppies and empty nesters who all mix and mingle. The sidewalks are like a ballet with pedestrians, bikes and strollers “dancing” their way from place to place. Great urban villages attract people of all ages and backgrounds.

With 16 new developments on the drawing board, creating 1,000+ new homes - Kensington is one of North America’s healthiest urban villages.

St Johns on 10th is just one of several new mid-rise condos recently completed, under construction or planned. 

RED: Calgary's Urban Playground

Richard White, July 3, 2014 (An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's Neighbour). 

How can Calgary’s 17th Ave BRZ (Business Revitalization Zone) be the newest and oldest at the same time?  It is the newest in that it was rebranded in March 2013 as RED (Retail and Entertainment District), and the oldest as it was the first BRZ formed in 1984 when it was known as Uptown 17th.

Today, the 12 blocks of 17th Avenue between 2nd Street SW and 14th St SW is one of Canada’s best retail/restaurant streets.  It offers a healthy diversity of flaneuring fun with about 70 restaurants and bars (including some great patios), 70 fashion and gift shops as well as 17 salons and spas. 

17th Avenue became internationally famous in 2004 when it was dubbed “The Red Mile” during the Calgary Flames’ run at the Stanley Cup.  After every playoff game win or lose, 50,000 fans in their red Flames jerseys would gathered along 17th Avenue, creating an impromptu street party with a Mardi Gras-like atmosphere.

The RED mile during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Urban Playground

RED is the urban playground of the young and restless GABEsters (geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers) of the Beltline and the rich and famous of Mount Royal and Scarboro. It is also home to one of Calgary’s newest trendy coffee shops (Analog Coffee) and one of its oldest (Café Beano).

This area is also popular with Calgary’s foodies who love to shop at Janice Beaton’s funky back alley cheese shop or meet up for a meal at her restaurant FARM. Brava Bistro is regularly on the top 10 restaurants in Calgary list. For those looking for something more informal, there is Tubby Dog.  Other foodie hot spots include Market, Cibo, Una, Ox & Angela, 80th & Ivy, Borgo and Menchies. And don’t forget Model Milk, was #2 on enRoute magazine’s list of the top 10 new restaurants in Canada, in 2012.

If you are looking for funky eyewear, Brass Monocle, Eye Candy, Eye on 17th and Sol Optix offer the latest international eyewear.  Other popular fashionista spots include Primitive Culture, Gravity Pope, Reid’s and Rubaiyat. 

The Ship & Anchor patio on 17th Avenue is animated even in the middle of March. 

Inside the Ship & Anchor is one of Calgary's most popular live music venues. 

RED’s Storied Past

Tomkins Park has an interesting history. Established in 1915 on land donated by Henry and Eleanor Tomkins on 17th Ave from 7th to 8th Street SW, it was originally approved as “Tomkins Square,” but eventually was developed as Tomkins Gardens and today is officially Tomkins Park.  Tomkins placed some interesting limitations on the park’s use, “for the discussion of political, religious, trade, or social questions, or lectures or addresses or any game or recreation of any kind whatsoever to be played by children or adults on any part of said lot.”

In 2008, 17th Avenue also gained some media attention as Tomkins Park became home to Calgary’s first automated public toilet – an Exeloo Galaxy.   Ranked #55 in Diana O’Meara’s book “Alberta Book of Musts: Places Every Albertan MUST See,” it is used about 40,000 times/year.

RED as a vibrant cafe scene. 

The sidewalk ballet on 17th Avenue SW.

Window licking fun is critical to being an urban playground.

History

One of Calgary’s architectural gems is the Devenish Apartments (908 – 17th Ave S.W.) built in 1911 designed by architect Alexander Pirie. To maximize the number of suites (57), the building originally had no bedrooms – a Murphy bed pulled down from the living room wall.  Amenities included the building’s sunrooms, steam laundry and odorless garbage incinerator.  In 1980, it was sold and renovated into the Devenish Design Centre.

RED’s other historical gem is the Anderson Apartments (804 - 18th Avenue S.W.), once home to Jann Arden and inspiration for her song “Living under June.” As well, her video “Insensitive” was filmed here. The Baroque, H-shaped building was designed by Roscoe B. Witten in 1913 to allow for the maximum number of windows for each of its luxury apartments.   The building boasted a marble rotunda, a grand stairway with 12-foot ceilings, as well as all-night elevator and telephone service.

Most of this information was sourced from Harry Sanders book “Historic Walks of Calgary.” This book is a great read and widely available in Calgary bookstores.

Devenish Design Centre

Calgary's International Avenue Deserves More Respect

By Richard White, June 26, 2014 (An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours feature titled "Eclectic International Avenue is changing.") 

For many Calgarians, International Avenue (17th Ave SE) is on the wrong side of the “Deerfoot Divide” i.e. they never go east of Deerfoot Trail. Too bad. They don’t know what they are missing. 

 International Avenue has 425 businesses along its 5-km stretch of 17th Avenue SE between 26th and 61st Streets.  Under the leadership of the International Avenue Business Revitalization Zone (BRZ) formed in 1993, these small independent businesses have continued to thrive - some for over 40 years – Gunther’s Fine Baking, Illichmann’s Deli, Harmony Lane, Totem (now Rona) and Calgary Co-op to name a few. Over 30% of the businesses are food-related, with many wholesaling to Calgary’s upscale restaurants, hotels and food trucks. 

To some, International Avenue is a hodgepodge of one to three storey buildings from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.  There are few chain stores (Target picked International Avenue for one of its first Calgary stores) mostly local “mom and pop” shops.  It’s also a place where you are likely to hear a dozen different languages spoken within a few blocks. In the words of Executive Director Alison Karim-McSwiney, “it has a small town feel with a global marketplace.”

John Gilchrist, Calgary’s foodie guru and author of “My Favourite Restaurants Calgary, Canmore and Banff spends a lot of time on International Avenue. Why? “On this strip, you find food cultures as close as they come to their native lands.  It lives up to its name ‘International Avenue’ with great restaurants like Mimo (Portuguese), Fassil (Ethiopian), Pho Binh Minh (Vietnamese) and many other favourites of mine,” says Gilchrist.

Similarly, Mike Kehoe, Fairfield Commercial thinks International Avenue is “an eclectic commercial strip where ‘the world meets the wild west.’ I love the mix of ethnic tastes with dining options from around the globe and the interesting retail diversity along 17th Avenue SE where it seems anything is commercially possible.”

Unity Park is just one of the many improvements the International Avenue BRZ has spear headed since its inception. 

Desert on 52nd is just one of the many mouth-watering bakeries along the Avenue. They even have diabetic baklava. 

Tipping Point

International Avenue is at the “tipping point” of change with many major new projects in the works. One example is artBox, a 5,4000 square foot multi-purpose art space located in the old Mill’s Painting Building (1807 – 42nd ST SE) with studios and performance space for local artists. Almost anything goes at artBox from Aboriginal to African art.  It is quickly becoming a meeting place for artists from diverse ethnic backgrounds and anyone interested in art. 

International Avenue is also home to an active mural program initiated in 2001; the murals capture the ethnic diversity of the community. In 2014, two new murals will be added to the collection, one celebrating the community’s African cultures and the other its Italian heritage.

In 2010, the City of Calgary working with the communities and the International Avenue BRZ, approved the Southeast 17 Corridor Land Use and Urban Design Plan that recognized International Avenue as one of the City’s important urban corridors.  As a result Land Use changes to allow for more mixed-use developments will result in the addition of 13,000 new residents and 9,000 new jobs to the community over the next 30 years. 

The International Avenue BRZ also successfully lobbied the City to designate land for new 1,000-seat arts and culture performance space.  City funding is also in place to create a BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) route along 17th Avenue SE as part of its Green Line that will provide better east/west transit connectivity.

Artists rendering of International Avenue's proposed performing arts cultural centre. 

  An old paint store gets new life as artBox. 

An old paint store gets new life as artBox. 

A rendering of the vision for International Avenue as a tree lined boulevard that integrates auto, bus rapid transit, pedestrian friendly sidewalks and mid-rise condos and offices. 

Festival Fun

International Avenue is home to not one, but two signature events – “Around the World in 35 Blocks” and “Global Fest.”  Initiated in 1997, “Around the World in 35 blocks” is a food tour that happens 14 times a year and everyone is sold out. The June 28 tour is already sold out, so reserve your tickets now for the August 23 or September 27 tours.  These fun bus tours (35 people) take you to five different continents, sampling food from places like Asia, Africa, Middle East, Portugal and the Caribbean. 

Global Fest is an international fireworks festival as well as the “One World” multi-cultural festival.  The fun and festivities take place at Elliston Park, with its 20-hectare pond (the size of Prince’s Island).  This year’s festival takes place August 14 to 25.

Market Collective a diverse group of young artisans now calls International Avenue home; this is an example of how International Avenue is quickly becoming Calgary's new hipster district. 

No Respect

While Calgary’s “other 17th Avenue” doesn’t have the cache of 17th Avenue SW, to those in the know, it is one of Calgary’s hidden gems – especially if you get out of your car and explore.

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Calgary's Learning City is blooming!

By Richard White,  June 4, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catalytic Projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A great place to play!

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

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

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

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

A great place to live!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Glenbow: A new kind of art museum

By Richard White,  June1 , 2014

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

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

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

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

The Building

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Glenbow from 9th Avenue looking northwest. 

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

Glenbow's entrance from Stephen Avenue Walk.

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

Building Partnerships

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

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

Building Community Support

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

Inglewood: Calgary's most unique community?

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

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

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

Live

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

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

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

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

Work

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

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

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

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

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

Play

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

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

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

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

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

Rouge combines history and contemporary dining for a unique experience. 

  Nerd is just one of many hipster hangouts in Inglewood. 

Nerd is just one of many hipster hangouts in Inglewood. 

Did You Know?

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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Don't be too quick to judge

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

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

Vegas' Crazy Container Park

By Richard White, May 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnotes:

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

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

 

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

Helena: A Helluva Downtown

By Richard White, May 6, 2014

We have been visiting Helena, Montana's capital city for over 20 years and we never get tired of it.  While some small cities (Helena's population is 29,000) boast about their historical downtowns and then disappoint, Helena's historic downtown is full of interesting shops, architecture and ghost signs. It is definitely worth adding to your 2014 road trip itinerary.  

As a teaser, here are some of our favourite things to see and do.

Barnes Jewelry (357 N. Last Chance Gulch)

Barnes Jewelry is almost more a museum than a retail store.  Yes, they have jewelry and lots and lots of clocks and watches, but what really makes it an enticing place to visit are the owners - Marvin Hunt and Stacy Henry. They are always eager to chat with you about the stories behind the historic clocks they have collected.  Don't be surprised if there is a school tour happening when you visit, as young children love to learn about how old timepieces worked and the owners revel in sharing the history of their artifacts. 

Barnes also has one of the best store window displays we have ever encountered.  While they may not be as big and flashy as the Christmas windows at Macy's in New York, they have a fun small town authenticity about them that we love. 

Clocks of all sizes and shapes decorate almost every available space at Barnes Jewelry.

Window artists Roberta (Bobby) Jones-Wallace and Pattie Lundin are responsible for the wonderful window narrative vignettes. What started out as an experiment a few years ago has become a tradition with the new window exhibitions changed seasonally. Bobby and Pattie love to spark your inner-child when passing by. Kids love the windows of course. 

This would make a good addition to my vintage barware collection.

The Sleepy Rooster (420 N. Last Chance Gulch)

Sleepy Rooster is a vintage retail store with a large warehouse at the back. The front is full of home accessories and artifacts all carefully curated into charming vignettes.  We love scrounging around in the warehouse space looking for hidden treasures. 

The store is full of eclectic and eccentric offbeat items and we have the photos to prove it. Canadian Pickers (Sheldon and Scott) and American Pickers (Frank and Mike) would love this place.  The prices are fair and you don't have to travel the continent to find them. 

Did we say eccentric?

Did we say eclectic?

Here's a just a sample of some of the many treasures waiting to be taken home from the warehouse space.

A view of the Sleepy Rooster's large showroom.

Aunt Bonnie's Books (419 N. Last Chance Gulch)

Great streets always have a great bookstore - Helena has Aunt Bonnie's.  Like all good used bookstores, it is packed floor to ceiling with books of all genres. The thrill is in the hunt!  

On our recent visit, I was looking for what I thought would be a hard-to-find book "Wisdom Sits In Places," an academic book by Keith H. Basso published in 1996 by the University of New Mexico Press. When I asked if they might have it, I was directed to places where it might be if they had it, with the caveat "I doubt we have it! " After a bit of searching, there it was at the end of the middle shelf. I was shocked and so was the woman who helped me (not sure if it was Aunt Bonnie or not - forgot to ask).  

FYI - the store has a "no cell phone" policy which makes for a refreshing tranquility. 

  The store front's window is very welcoming.

The store front's window is very welcoming.

I wasn't joking when I said the place is full of books. 

The Architecture & Art

Founded in 1864, Helena is the capital of Montana and as such, has a rich architectural history. While the state capitol building is impressive, the signature downtown buildings are two churches - one old, one new.  The main downtown street is named Last Chance Gulch in reference to the winding path of the original gulch (i.e. a valley created by water erosion) that the downtown was built around. 

There are many late 19th and early 20th century buildings in downtown, as well as contemporary new icons. 

The Saint Helena Cathedral, built in 1908. is an impressive sight as it overlooks the downtown. It is a beautiful and sacred place to explore.

Just down the hill from the St. Helena Cathedral is a large contemporary church that employs modern materials and design elements to make its modernist statement.

ExplorationWorks is Helena's hands-on interactive science centre for all ages.  It is part of a new urban village just north of downtown.  Here you will find a carousel, shops, cinemas, restaurants, condos, hotel and offices all with a modern design, yet with synergies to the historic downtown. 

Helena is proud of its vibrant arts scene that includes one of the oldest art walk programs in the country, the Holter Museum of Art, Archie Bray Foundation for Ceramic Arts, numerous commercial art galleries and a diverse performing arts community. 

Parrot Confectionary (42 N. Last Chance Gulch)

Parrot Confectionary was founded in 1922 and has become a Helena landmark.  This family-owned candy/soda/diner offers 130 different types of candies, including hand-made chocolates made on-site. They are also famous for their secret chili recipe, hand-made ice cream shakes and caramel cashew sundaes.  We had one of the best hot coco drinks ever on a cool autumn day.   

Like Barnes Jewelry, this place is like a museum with artifacts everywhere.

Drop in some coins and listen to some old time music while enjoying a shake. 

  Just one of hundreds of tantelizing treats.  

Just one of hundreds of tantelizing treats. 

Where to Stay and Eat?

Helena offers all of the typical roadside chain hotels, but our favourite is the Red Lion Colonial Hotel that is literally just minutes off the highway and minutes from downtown, the Capitol Building district and other shopping.  

We love it unique, grand curved colonial stairway in the lobby. It is a pleasant surprise in the middle of the mountains. 

While the Red Lion has a nice restaurant, another favourite option of ours is Bullman's Woodfired Pizza (1130 Helena Ave, in the triangle created by Helena, Montana and Boulder Streets). This great family dining spot, doesn't look like much but the pizza and salads are very good. For example, the Bitterroot (all the pizza names have a link to the Montana's geography) has pistachios, red onion, rosemary, mozzarella cheese, olive oil and sea salt.  Wine selection here is very easy - red or white - but they do have some nice craft beers by the bottle. 

  Red Lion Colonial Hotel's white grand staircase (28 steps) is charming and inviting. A great photo opportunity.

Red Lion Colonial Hotel's white grand staircase (28 steps) is charming and inviting. A great photo opportunity.

Flaneuring the Fringe: Sunalta / 11th Street SW

By Richard White, April 15, 2014

For Calgarians and tourists alike, exploring Calgary’s urban “street life” means all too often we head to the same places – 17th Avenue, Inglewood, 4th Street or Kensington, or maybe even the Design District or Stephen Avenue. This is the third of a three-part look at “street life” on the fringe of Calgary’s city centre.  Sunalta and 11th Street SW are hidden gems for people interested in urban exploring.

Sunalta

Sunalta is the community west of 14th Street SW, south of the CPR Tracks, east of Crowchild Trail and north of 17th Avenue SW. With the recent arrival of the LRT and their own station (10th Avenue and 16th Street) Sunalta has the potential to extend the boundaries of Calgary’s south side City Centre all the way to Crowchild Trail. The community is dominated by small walk-up apartments, condos and small businesses making it a good candidate to become Calgary's next urban village. It won’t be long before someone proposes a major high-rise development near the station.

Mikey’s Juke Joint & Eatery (1901 10th Ave SW)

You wouldn’t expect to find an authentic juke joint (a place for workers to relax, drink, dance and socialize in a ramshackle building at the outskirts of town) in Cowtown, but there it is, tucked hidden away next to the railway tracks and under the LRT skytrain and Crowchild / Bow Trail bridges.  The wooden floors have a rich spilled beer patina, the food is good (they make a great burger and the pulled pork sandwich is straight from the Delta) and the music is amazing.  The Saturday Jam with the Mike Clark Band should be on every blues lover’s “must do” list.  Tuesday night features Tim Williams who recently won the International Blues Competition for best “solo/duo” artist and best guitarist; he is also a great storyteller. Music is seven days a week here, twice on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Sentry Box (1835 - 10th Ave SW)

Across the street from Mikey’s the Sentry Box is over 13,000 square feet filled with over 46,000 different items - from military games to science fiction.  Their events calendar is packed with activities from Blood Bowl League to Dungeons & Dragon Encounters. I am always amazed at the constant stream of people in and out of this destination retailer.

Rubaiyat: Stained Glass Studio (1913 - 10th Street SW)

Did you know Rubaiyat has had a stained glass studio on 10th Ave SW since 1973? The studio is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, selling glass to professional and hobby artists and meeting clients commissioning a custom architectural, religious and residential stained glass piece. When I checked it out one Saturday (before the Mikey’s Saturday afternoon jam), I was immediately astounded by the selection of hand-rolled, mouth-blown and machine sheet glass on display.  I was quickly welcomed and invited to wander around and take photos.  I love wandering artists’ studios and this is one of the biggest studios I have seen in a long time, and the cleanest!

Heritage Posters & Music (1502 - 11th Ave SW)

It’s been aptly described by one fan as a hippy, trippy bastion of pop culture history housed in a psychedelic garage.  The rustic store is brimming with vintage vinyl, new and out of print music, rare concert tour and gig posters, music photos, movie posters, and much more.  It's a groovy store with pop culture memorabilia galore. I dug it, man.”  Need I say more?

  The new West LRT transit station in Sunalta.

The new West LRT transit station in Sunalta.

Mikey's one of several blues bars in Calgary's City Centre.

Sentry Box is Canada's largest adventure gaming and science fiction and fantasy bookstore.

  Heritage Posters & Music's home is in fact in a heritage i.e. old wood warehouse building.  

Heritage Posters & Music's home is in fact in a heritage i.e. old wood warehouse building.  

  Entrance to Rubaiyat Stained Glass Studio.

Entrance to Rubaiyat Stained Glass Studio.

  Rubiayat studio.

Rubiayat studio.

Sunalta is full of surprises like Kingdom Hall and a huge Western Veterinary Emergency Center. 

11th Street Strip  

The 11th Street Strip extends just two blocks - from 15th Avenue north to 13th.  Unlike the areas, 11th Street is more hidden than fringe find.  The street is not only surrounded by high-rise condos that are very walkable to downtown, but it is inside the City’s south City Center boundaries. It also has urban elements other than just shops and cafes - a plaza on the southeast corner of 11th Street and 14th Avenue and the historic St. Stephen’s Anglican Church a half block east on 14th Ave Street make for an oasis in the middle of what is quickly becoming a sea of high-rise condos. 

Kalamata Grocery Store (1421 - 11th Street SW)

A great neighbourhood market specializing in Mediterranean/Middle Eastern groceries. How do they cram so much character into one little store? You have to taste the baklava! Best selection of olives in the city with over 30 varieties including the namesake, kalamata olives. 

Epiphanie Chocolate (1417B  -11th St SW)

Though Calgary has numerous chocolate shops, none is as quaint and authentic as Epiphanie, included as one of the best places to buy chocolate in Canada by Huffington Post in 2013.  It is like walking into a mini art gallery in a European village. You will definitely leave here with a smile on your face - and likely some chocolate too!

Galaxie Diner (1413 - 11th St SW)

Established in 1996, Galaxie was on the leading edge of Calgary’s retro diner mania.  It is frequented by locals for its authentic Montreal Smoked Meat hash and Calgary Sandwich.  Come hungry!

Good Earth Café  (1502 - 11th St SW)

The Good Earth Café has grown from this original flagship store into a western Canada franchise with 42 locations.  It is a popular meeting place especially for larger groups, as this is a large café with lots of comfy seating.   The name “café” is a bit misleading as it is more bistro than café with its many food options.  I have always loved their white chocolate scones.  

With The Times (1504 – 11th St SW)

Next door to Good Earth is “With the Times,” a magazine/newspaper shop that you can access directly from the café or the street.  How sweet is that! You can grab your New York Sunday Times, your favourite hot beverage and scone, and then settle in for a few hours reading and thinking.  It doesn’t get much better.  

11th Streets pocket park/plaza next to St. Stephen's Church and downtown offices in the background. 

  "Bird of Spring" by Abraham Etungat, 1975, replica of a soapstone carving 14cm tall. 

"Bird of Spring" by Abraham Etungat, 1975, replica of a soapstone carving 14cm tall. 

  Kalamata Grocery anchors the 11th Street Strip. 

Kalamata Grocery anchors the 11th Street Strip. 

  Of course Kalmata has olives. 

Of course Kalmata has olives. 

 1 1th Street's charming and colourful shop fronts. 

11th Street's charming and colourful shop fronts. 

  Galaxie Diner continues the vintage charm of the block. 

Galaxie Diner continues the vintage charm of the block. 

  Good Earth and With The Times are new kids on the block. 

Good Earth and With The Times are new kids on the block. 

Last Word

Urban living is characterized by communities with a diversity of housing options – single family, duplexes, townhouses and small and large condos. It is also defined by the diversity of transportation options i.e. you might walk to the café or yoga studio, cycle to the urban grocery store or recreation center, as well as walk, cycle or take transit to work. 

As Calgary expands outwards, so does its City Centre. No longer is it just Hillhurst/Sunnyside, downtown and the Beltline that offers urban living. This is the final chapter of three blogs that looked at flaneuring the fringes of Calgary's Center City see below for chapters one and two. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Flaneuring the Fringe: 16th Avenue North   

Flaneuring the Fringe: 19th Street Northwest

Calgary's Newest Urban Village  

Nordstrom Last Chance: A feeding frenzy.

By Richard White, April 2, 2014

I love to use Google maps to check out what is close by to wherever we are staying.  A few nights ago when searching, I am sure I saw a Nordstrom Rack near Fashion Square in Scottsdale.  So when we found ourselves near the Square, we thought we'd check it out. 

We found the Nordstrom department store first, so went in to ask if there was a Nordstrom Rack nearby.  You'd think we had slapped them in the face based on the dirty look we got. In a huff, the staff person dialed a number, asked someone to give us directions and abruptly and curtly handed the phone to Brenda.  We found we were way off base and that it was 50 blocks to the east. Given it was 7 pm, we decided that destination would have to wait for another day.

Once home, I Googled Nordstrom Rack and up came Nordstrom's Last Chance page.  Though we had never heard of this concept, the same address as we had been told earlier so we thought this must be it.  The Last Chance concept is contrary to Nordstrom high-end full-service image in that all sales are final and "as is."  The product is out-of-season or returns that they would not resell in Nordstrom Rack or their department stores.  The concept intrigued us. 

After a hearty Red Lion (Tempe) breakfast, we decided to check out Nordstrom Last Chance and see what we could find along the way i.e. car flaneuring.  As we drove along Camelback Road, we continued to be amazed at the endless small office buildings that seem to populate all of the major roads in metro Phoenix.  

As we got close to where we thought Last Chance would be, we spotted a Nordstrom Rack so quickly parked and headed in.  As the store different look any different than other Nordstrom Racks and there were big signs telling you that you can return any purchases we knew we didn't have the right place.  Turns out the Nordstrom Last Chance was on the next block in another mall. We quickly hightailed over there.   

Feeding Frenzy

We quickly found the Last Chance and what could only be described as a shopping feeding frenzy.  In a space about the size of the Women's and Men's clothing and shoe sections of a TJ Maxx or a Winners, bargain hunters were grabbing at everything in sight. There were line ups at the fitting rooms and the cash registers. It was chaos, diametrically opposed to the Nordstrom department store the night before where you could hear a pin drop. 

There were no neat and tidy displays; shoes and clothing were toss all over the place like a sterotypical teenager's bedroom. People were trying clothes on in the aisle and sitting on the floor to try on shoes.  

As all sales are final, check carefully as there are stains and/or rips are common. Some items have evidence of wear thanks to Nordstrom's liberal return policy. However, for the savvy, shopper good deals are to be had.  I came away with a pair of ECCO golf shoes, slightly worn, for $20 that retail for $200.  Brenda snagged a pair of  Paul Green (German luxury footwear brand) leather shoes for $20, well below their $300 retail price.  She also got a BP(Nordstrom Store Brand) navy blue cardigan for $10.

Chatting with another shopper, Brenda learned she regularly travel all the way from New York as this is Nordstrom's ONLY Last Chance store (which I confirmed via twitter).  

When was the last time you were in a store and they closed an area for restocking in the middle of the day?  We were in the store for about an hour and during that time they closed the women's shoe area and later the men's clothing area. At first confused and frustrated, we soon realize that if you wait around for a bit you have first dibs on the new product; that's how Brenda got her shoes. 

The entrance to Last Chance seems innocent enough.  Note: there is no reference to being affiliated with Nordstrom.

However, once inside you are immediately confronted with a frenzy of shoppers like those sifting through a huge bin of colourful women's underwear.

It is gridlock in the store as everyone has a cart and the aisles are narrow. 

In another corner, the yoga women can't wait for the dressing room so they are trying on clothes over their own clothes.  

Red trash barrels are strategically placed in the shoe department so staff can just throw in shoes for sorting and restocking later. 

What did we find along the way?

Given the Marshall's department store was next to Nordstrom Clearance we stopped in. And not only was it calm and quiet, but it had much better product and prices than we expected.  I was tempted to buy a pair of Merrell shoes for $30.

Then we checked out "My Sister's Closet" behind the Nordstrom Rack store and the Well Suited Men's Resale store where I found a pair of Puma golf shoes for $25. 

Across Camelback Road, there is a Half Price Books, Records and Magazine store that is worth a visit. 

Needing to be energized we stopped at Snooze, next to Nordstrom Rack. A very pleasant surprise - food, decor and ambience.  The 3-egg omelette with goat cheese, wild mushrooms and bacon was very tasty as was the apricot jelly-topped toast.  We also loved the mid-century, atomic-inspired design.   

Snooze restaurant offer funky booths, outdoor patio and bar seating. 

Last Word

If looking for a unique shopping adventure when in the Phoenix, we'd recommend forgetting the major malls and head to Camelback Road and 20th Avenue east.  There is almost something primordial in the the "thrill of the hunt" at Nordstrom Last Chance store. 

Though the Nordstrom Rack window promotes treasure hunting the real treasures lie a block away. 

Here are our treasures from Nordstrom Last Chance and Well Suited. Leo from Red Lion Hotel was impressed.

Downtown Salt Lake City: More Than A Temple!

By Richard White, March 22, 2014

Flaneuring downtown Salt Lake City (SLC) was easy from our south downtown Red Lion Hotel. It provided easy access to all downtown attractions including the Central Library and the Leonardo (creativity centre), Temple Square, City Creek Centre and The Gateway Mall.  And of course, you are inside the free fare zone so all transit (buses and trains) are free – how good is that.

As good flaneurs, we headed out each day without much of a plan. One day we just ended up at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building’s Family Search Centre (and decided to check out my father's family tree), the Lion’s Pantry Restaurant, City Creek Centre (with a real creek running through it), Museum of Contemporary Art, Harmons grocery and Broadway Street merchants (vintage furniture, art books and rare book shops). Another day it was Deseret Thrift store, Temple Square, The Gateway Mall, Olympic Plaza, Capitol Hill and the 9th & 9th corner.

Flaneuring downtown SLC is unique as the blocks are extra long and the sidewalks and roads are extra wide. The traffic lights are so long you can take a quick nap and not miss the light.  Flaneuring is also difficult as there are no streets with contiguous shops; seems like there is something on every corner, but nothing along the way.  Or, you find something mid-block in a residential area where you would never in a million years expect to find a restaurant, cafe or shop. 

However, like all good flaneurs we just enjoyed the many churches and homes along the way. We met wonderful people who helped us with directions and suggestions.  One of the great things that defines SLC is that almost everybody says "Hi" as you walk by.  

Brenda's souvenir find from our street walking in SLC was this 1938 postcard. 

One of the quirkier things we found flaneuring were these orange flags at crosswalks.  It took me a while (Brenda figured it out right away) that you are supposed to grab a flag and wave it as you cross the street and then place it in the holder on the other side.  Given the number of pedestrian / car accidents I have been reading about lately perhaps this is a good idea for all cities.

  The City Creek Centre has an simulated creek running through the shopping centre.  At first I was told this was actual water from the creek that runs through this area, but someone else said that this water is treated.  However, there is a creek along the sidewalk next to the LDS Conference Centre that I am told is water from the actual creek that used to run from the canyon in the mountains to a river on the edge of downtown.

The City Creek Centre has an simulated creek running through the shopping centre.  At first I was told this was actual water from the creek that runs through this area, but someone else said that this water is treated.  However, there is a creek along the sidewalk next to the LDS Conference Centre that I am told is water from the actual creek that used to run from the canyon in the mountains to a river on the edge of downtown.

The LDS Family Search Centre is free and open to everyone.  You get a tutor or coach who will assist you with your search which is invaluable as they know the software and the things to look for.

Brenda is thinking about what to wish for, before adding it to the Yoko Ono "Wish Tree."  It is surprising how difficult it is when you are asked to make a wish, write it down and place in in public place.

Fun Flaneuring Finds beyond the Temple:

  • Even hipsters in SLC wear a tie and suit.  I used to think it was only hotel managers and bankers who wore ties, but in SLC it seems all the men in downtown dress up as if they were going to church.
  • The "brothers" and "sisters" at the Family Search Center are wonderful - so helpful, friendly and patient. No attempt to push their beliefs or propaganda on us. Brother Badger spent three hours helping us find some information on my father’s family ancestry.  He never made a comment about religion and never asked for a donation – in fact there was no donation box in sight. This experience changed my image of the Latter-day Saints' culture.
  • A man-made creek runs through the new City Creek Center fashion mall creating a surreal experience. As you flaneur the space you move from outside to inside, back to outside then inside and back out. I was shocked to find it was a ghost town at noon hour on a cold day in March.
  • Bill is the best! Bill, aka the Chief Visitor Information Officer at the SLC’s Visitor’s Information Centre, is a wealth of knowledge, especially if you are looking for off the beaten path things to see and do.
  • The Ken Saunders Rare Books is a hidden gem with books piled everywhere including the floor.  You could browse here all day and still only have scratched the surface.
  • Yes, the Green Ant vintage store has green ants - actually two. It also has some unique vintage artifacts.  Owner Rod Green has a good eye for vintage and is a great ambassador for the city. We will be forever indebted to him for the hot tip about Em’s restaurant.
  • The Yoko Ono “Wish Tree” at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art was an unexpected hands-on experience. Everyone is invited to make a wish and write it on a small tag with a string for hanging it on the tree. In fact, the entire DO IT exhibition was engaging and thought provoking, exactly what contemporary art should be.
  • Harmons, in the middle of downtown, is huge yet still has a community feel with its loft café where you can chill out at a patio table or lounge on the soft chairs and couches.  It is home away from home.
  • 9th South Delicatessen, in the funky 9OO East and 900 South district, is located in charming house from the 19th century.  We had a great Rueben sandwich and their delicious chicken noodle soup plus some very tasty lemon tarts. But the highlight really was chatting with a local family (mom, grandma and preschoolers) about life in SLC and their family’s proud history as one of the first settlers in the area. The young attractive Mom was pregnant with her 5th child, and while she thought that was enough, one of her tween children thought they should have ten. People in SLC are very friendly; love to say Hi and chat.
  This is the fun 9th South Delicatessen. Painted bright colours and divided up into several rooms it is like walking into a doll house. 

This is the fun 9th South Delicatessen. Painted bright colours and divided up into several rooms it is like walking into a doll house. 

Ken Saunders Rare Books is where the real treasure hunters head. Step step carefully and be patient, but there are treasures to be found.  Brenda found a great 1938 Utah postcard. 

The Green Ant is a funky, quirky vintage store at the front and an art gallery at the back.  It is part of the Broadway bohemian neighbourhood.

Harmons brands itself as "your neighborhood grocer" and we certainly got that feel.  Looking from the loft cafe; this is the main floor as seen from our bistro table where we were enjoying an afternoon coffee and treat.

More Fun, Funky, Quirky Finds

  • Found Eborn Books while taking photos of downtown buildings, art and street furniture. There it was - Utah’s largest used and rare bookstore right on Main Street and I knew nothing about it.  Scored myself a first edition of Walter J. Phillips & Fredrick Niven’s “COLOUR in the CANADIAN ROCKIES.”  
  • We discovered Mod a-go-go after visiting the Cathedral of the Madeleine and wanting to kill some time before a musical rehearsal as to begin.  This part vintage home accessories and furniture and part local art gallery shop is a real find for lovers of mid-century design.
  • We also loved Hatch Family Chocolates and Avenue Proper both located in an old grocery store building off-off the beaten path in the Avenues neighbourhood.  Hatch has great chocolates as you would expect but also homemade ice cream. Avenue Proper is a brew pub (the smallest in Utah) and restaurant.  I drank by through their menu of eight beers as they offered $1 two ounce pours. 

Eborn Books is fun place to bibliophiles to browse.

MOD a-go-go is a great find for those interested in mid-century design.  

Hatch Family Chocolates has lots of tasty treats including these nutty chocolate covered salty pretzels. 

Bonus Flaneur Find

The bonus flaneur find was a recommendation by Rod Green at the Green Ant who suggested we should have dinner at Em’s, located mid-block on Centre Street, a quiet residential street behind Temple Square on Capitol Hill. We took his recommendation and had a great meal, so great we went back again the next night and were very tempted to go back a third night but decided that was ridiculous! Em’s might be the subject of its own blog so I won’t give you any details here other than to say – “if you are ever in SLC, you should go!”

Em's restaurant has a cozy atmosphere, great food and service.  The menu is surprisingly extensive for a small bistro. Don't let the white tablecloths fool you - it is casual and good value. It is fine dining, but won't break the bank.

Last Word

After five days of flaneuring SLC's greater downtown, our take away memory will be that it is more than just the Salt Lake Temple, Temple Square and the entire Temple campus. While it is not yet a Portland or a Calgary as an urban playground, it has lots of urban gems to offer if you are willing to explore.

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Street Walking in Portlandia

Calgary's Rail Trail Stroll

Winnipeg vs Calgary: Urban Hot Spots (part 1)

Thank You!

We would like to thank the Salt Lake City Red Lion Hotel for hosting us for our stay.  We loved our view of the city and the mountains, as well as the wonderful early morning light.

It was a great location to wandering into the downtown or just a quick drive to the major city attractions like the Zoo, Heritage Park and Natural History Museum. I am sure our trip would have been even more enhanced if we had come later in 2014 when the new Aquarium and the Zoo's African area were opened at the Zoo.  




Louche Milieu catalyst for SCSC Renaissance?

By Richard White, February 8, 2014

Just as Calgary’s urban footprint gets larger every year, so does our inner-city urban playground keep expanding.  

Over the past few years, it has skipped west over Crowchild Trail to include places the cluster of shops at street level of the Casel condo building (corner of 17th Avenue and 24th Street). Cassis Bistro, J. Webb Wine Merchant, Market 17 and Vie Café combine to create a little oasis of European urbanism in Cowtown.

Further west and north, at Bow Trail and Spruce Dr. SW., Intergulf’s Westgate Park project consists of three high-rise condos – Encore, Brava and Ovation. Together, they add 480 new condo units across the street from the Westgate underground LRT station - an area destined to become a new urban village over the next 20 years.

Stroll a little further north down Spruce Drive SW, past the City of Calgary’s Wildflower Arts Centre and you will come upon the inconspicuous Spruce Cliff Shopping Centre (SCSC).  One of those little mini outdoor strip malls (about 10 retail spaces) that were all the rage in new communities developed back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. 

Today, these spaces, because of their affordability (the franchise stores are not interested in them as they are off the beaten path), are becoming incubators for local entrepreneurs.  

The Spruce Cliff community was established in 1950. It is located north of Bow Trail just past the Shaganappi Golf Course.  

The Spruce Cliff Shopping Centre hasn't changed much since it was first built. 

Spruce Cliff Shopping Centre Renaissance

The Spruce Cliff Shopping Centre (SCSC) is quietly evolving into a bobo spot (bohemian/bourgeois) with tenants such as Louche Milieu, a lovely upscale mid century modern vintage home accessories and furniture store that has already moved from a teeny tiny space in the Centre into its new much larger space.  Louche Milieu has become the “go to” place for designers in Calgary looking for mid-century modern pieces. 

It is a curious name as “louche” is a French term for decadent, flashy, sketchy, dubious, shady and disreputable and “milieu” means an environment or setting.  There is nothing shady or sketchy about Louche Milieu and it certainly isn’t decadent.  If you are into vintage it is a “must visit.” Unfortunately, it is opened very limited hours at present Friday and Saturday 12:30 to 6 pm or by appointment.

The old Louche Milieu space was quickly filled by Little Monday Café (open for only seven weeks at the time of writing), which serves up tastey homemade muffins and cookies, along with full range of caffeine drinks.  It is very popular with young families as evidenced by the chalkboard artwork.

Louche Milieu is packed with mid century treasures. 

Further along the mall is People Food kitchen that makes only three things – a family of Lama bars for golfers (a good story, which will have to wait for another blog), ehpizza crusto and know meat patties (this is not a typo). You can find their food at places like Amaranth, Bite Groceteria and Market 17. 

The Centre is also Wolf Willow Studio that offers workshops and classes in everything from mosaics to wreath making for kids and kids at heart. A contractor, a neighbourhood pub and the local politician's office round out the Centre’s tenants.

People food kitchen wasn't open when we visited on Saturday and there are no hours, so not sure when or if it is open to the public.  Couldn't find any hours on their website either, but it is a very interesting read and they suggest you call 403-457-1985 to find out what's fresh, and I'd suggest asking when they are open. 

Wolf Willows' still life outside their store is a nice touch. 

Last Word

The renaissance of this mid-century strip mall is just another example of the benefits associated with many new condo and infill housing developments in Calgary’s established communities.  The new residents bring new dollars, new ideas and new energy to old communities in need of fertilization.  

Little Monday Cafe is very quaint. It also offers a nice view of the spruce trees across the parking lot. 

If you have a budding young artist in the family, bring them along, they will love the chalk board. Who doesn't?