Calgary's MAC attack

Over the next few months, Calgary’s planners and politicians are going to experience a “MAC attack” as developers present plans for new Major Activity Centers (MAC) on the west and north edges of the city. 

What is a MAC you ask?  The City of Calgary Municipal Development Plan defines it as an urban center for a sub-region of the city providing opportunities for people to work, live, shop, recreate, be entertained and meet their daily needs.  

MAC is not a new idea

In the early ‘90s, the City’s Go Plan called for “mini-downtowns” at the edge of the city and in many ways a MAC is like a small city downtown with a main street and offices surrounded by low rise residential development.  Then in the early 21st century, planners started using terms like “urban villages” and “transit-oriented development (TOD)” for mixed-use (residential, commercial) developments that incorporated live, work, play elements.

The problem with TOD was that in many cases Calgary’s new communities were getting developed years before the transit infrastructure was actually in place. For example, Quarry Park and SETON in the southeast are both being developed today along the future SE LRT route, but the trains won’t arrive for probably another 15+ years away.

TOD also had other limitations, as MACs are not always right next to major transit routes, but more oriented toward major roadways in the city. For example, the Currie Barracks has all of the attributes of MAC but no major transit connections. Its focus is more on Crowchild Trail and Glenmore Trail, with Mount Royal University and the Westmont Business Park and ATCO site redevelopment as its employment centre.   

  Currie Barracks Mount Royal University is just one of several Major Activity Centres (MACs) identified by the City of Calgary as places where vibrant mixed-use urban density developments should take place. The numbers refer to various amenities like parks, schools, shopping etc.

Currie Barracks Mount Royal University is just one of several Major Activity Centres (MACs) identified by the City of Calgary as places where vibrant mixed-use urban density developments should take place. The numbers refer to various amenities like parks, schools, shopping etc.

  An example of a street in Currie Barracks where attached houses are nestled together with shared front lawns, narrow sidewalks and alleys. 

An example of a street in Currie Barracks where attached houses are nestled together with shared front lawns, narrow sidewalks and alleys. 

  MACs have a enhanced sidewalks leading to public spaces and shopping areas, which make for more pedestrian and wagon friendly streets .  Also note the open storm water area which allows for natural water run off for vegetation. 

MACs have a enhanced sidewalks leading to public spaces and shopping areas, which make for more pedestrian and wagon friendly streets. Also note the open storm water area which allows for natural water run off for vegetation. 

  This is a back alley in Currie Barracks with a mix of traditional garages and laneway housing. 

This is a back alley in Currie Barracks with a mix of traditional garages and laneway housing. 

MAC 101

The City’s Municipal Development Plan has some very specific guidelines when it comes to what is a MAC, these include:

  1.  200 jobs per gross developable hectare (a hectare is approximately the size of two CFL football fields including the end zones).
  2.  Provide a business centre/employment center; this could be an independent office buildings or office/medical space above retail.
  3.  Range of housing types – single-family, town and row housing, medium-density condos (under 6 floors), rental and affordable housing
  4.  Large format retail (big box) should be at the edge of the MAC to allow access from other communities
  5. Pedestrian/transit-friendly design i.e. pedestrians and transit have priority over cars. For example, vehicle parking should design to minimize impact on transit and pedestrian activities, ideally underground.
  6.  Diversity of public spaces i.e. plazas, playgrounds, pocket parks and pathways.  Sports fields should be located at the edge of the MAC as they take up large tracts of land and are only used seasonally.  Planners want to keep as many higher uses clustered together near the LRT or Main Street.

While these are useful guidelines, they should not be prescriptive, as each site must be allowed to develop based on its unique site opportunities and limitations - no two MACs are the same.

 

  This is an early conceptual computer rendering of Brookfield Residential's SETON showing the South Health Campus in the background with low rise condos and office buildings and a pedestrian oriented main street with shops, cafes, restaurants and patios.  

This is an early conceptual computer rendering of Brookfield Residential's SETON showing the South Health Campus in the background with low rise condos and office buildings and a pedestrian oriented main street with shops, cafes, restaurants and patios.  

  Early conceptual rendering of SETON pedestrian street.  

Early conceptual rendering of SETON pedestrian street. 

  Conceptual rendering of a mixed-use street in SETON.

Conceptual rendering of a mixed-use street in SETON.

  SETON at might with street patios. 

SETON at might with street patios. 

Coming Soon

Earlier this year the City approved land-use plans for the University of Calgary’s West Campus an inner city MAC that was developed after extensive community engagement. 

Up next for Council’s approval will be West District that links the west side communities of West Springs and Cougar Ridge and Brookfield Residential’s Livingston at the northern edge of the city, both of which will be topics for future blogs.  

  This is an artist's sketch of the central retail area proposed for Currie Barracks. Surrounded by offices and condos, this public space is designed to allow for a diversity of uses by people day and night, weekdays and weekends. Also note that designers are also taking into account Calgary is a winter city. (rendering provided by Canada Land Corporation) 

This is an artist's sketch of the central retail area proposed for Currie Barracks. Surrounded by offices and condos, this public space is designed to allow for a diversity of uses by people day and night, weekdays and weekends. Also note that designers are also taking into account Calgary is a winter city. (rendering provided by Canada Land Corporation) 

  West Campus' main street has been designed as the community's focal point with spaces appropriate for boutiques, cafes, restaurants, pubs, a hotel and cinema. It will be a place that appeals to Calgarians of all ages and be accessible by pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles.  (computer rendering by RK Visuals provided by West Campus Development Trust 

West Campus' main street has been designed as the community's focal point with spaces appropriate for boutiques, cafes, restaurants, pubs, a hotel and cinema. It will be a place that appeals to Calgarians of all ages and be accessible by pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles.  (computer rendering by RK Visuals provided by West Campus Development Trust 

Last Word

As Calgary evolves as a city, so does the glossary of terms used by planners and developers to describe their utopian vision of what Calgary could and should be in the future.

Calgary’s development community has enthusiastically taken up the concept and challenge of creating MACs; this is a good thing for two reasons.  One Calgary needs to speed up its residential development approval process if we want to create affordable and adequate housing for the next generation of Calgarians. Second, more and more new Calgarians are looking for walkable urban communities.

While in the past developers and planners didn’t always see “eye-to-eye” on how new communities should be planned, more and more there is a shared vision of how to create pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use and mixed-density communities.  

Calgary’s planning department use to have the motto “working together to make a great city better.”  I am thinking this would be a good motto for all of the city’s departments, as well as the development community and the citizens of Calgary. 

By Richard White, November 22, 2014

An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, titled "Big hopes for mini-downtowns" on Saturday, November 22nd in the New Condos section. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Brookfield: Working together to make Calgary better!

District: Community Engagement Gone Wild 

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

3Rs of walkable communities?

 

Florence BFFs: Best Flaneur Finds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

  Mrs Macis is a colourful, playful vintage shop. 

Mrs Macis is a colourful, playful vintage shop. 

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

Niccolo District

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

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

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

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

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

Vivaldi Cioccolateri's cozy back room oasis. 

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

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

  Collage of CLET signs.

Collage of CLET signs.

Via de Macci District

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you believe this is charity/thrift store? 

Other Finds:

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

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

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

 BFF (Best Flaneur Find)

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

students
All' antico Vinaio

 Last Word

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

By Richard White, November 9, 2014

If you like this blog, you might like:

Flaneuring Fun in Maple Creek SK!

Downtown Salt Lake City: More Than A Temple!

Street walking in Portlandia

 

 

 

Window licking along Florence's Via Tornabuoni

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

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

Back story

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

Window licking on Tornabuoni 

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

Reflections

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Window licking in Paris

Window licking in Chicago 

Lyon sidewalk ballet

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. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Freakn Fun at Boise's Freak Alley

Melrose: Phoenix's Emerging Vintage District

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Olympic Cities: Calgary vs Salt Lake City

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

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

Salt Lake City’s Gold Medals

Convention Centre

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

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

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

Library

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

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

SLC's dramatic downtown library and public plaza. 

Rendering for Calgary's new downtown library.

Art Gallery

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

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

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

LDS Temple Square Campus

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

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

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

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

Calgary’s Gold Medals

Public Spaces / Public Art

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

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

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

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

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

Street Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skycrapers 

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

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

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

Condos/Infills  

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

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

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

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

Dead Heats

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

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

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

Harmon's grocery store in downtown SLC.

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

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

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

SLC's transit corridor. 

  Calgary's transit corridor.

Calgary's transit corridor.

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

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

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

Post Mortem

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

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

Where to eat?

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

Ems
  Bread pudding with homemade ice cream.

Bread pudding with homemade ice cream.

Where to stay?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

3Rs of walkable communities?

Guest Blog: Ross Aitken

In the inner city communities of many older cities you will often find old homes converted into funky shops and restaurants – places like Height/Ashbury, in San Francisco and Yorkville in Toronto immediately come to mind. While Calgary lacks the charm of a street of big old houses that have been converted into charming boutiques and bistros, there are some good examples of how old homes can become trendy places to shop and dine in Calgary.

The best example would be the century old Cross House in Inglewood that has been converted into the Rouge restaurant. It is not only one of Calgary’s best restaurants, but in 2010 it ranked #60 in the S. Pellegrino’s top 100 restaurants in the world.  Not many Canadian cities can boast a world class restaurant in an iconic home built in 1891 for heroic local citizen – A.E. Cross was one of the big four who started the Calgary Stampede.

A good example of a house that has become a boutique is located in the Parkdale Loop.  “Where you ask?” Parkdale Loop is the cluster of shops just off of Parkdale Boulevard on Parkdale Crescent NW. The cul-de-sac is probably best know as the home of Lazy Loaf Café. But, also on the Loop is Chateau Country Lace a popular women’s boutique that has been around for years in what looks like a mid-century bungalow.

Another great example of a historic house that has become a restaurant is Laurier Lounge in the Beltine. This unassuming Tudor Revival house built in 1908 was the birthplace of George Stanley designer of the Canadian Flag.  But for as long as I can remember, it has been a popular restaurant and lounge, know for its tasty poutine.

Rouge restaurant in Inglewood, Calgary.

Chateau Country Lace, Parkdale Loop. Calgary.

Laurier Lounge, Beltline, Calgary. 

Integration vs Segregation

Recently, I was driving to Marda Loop and in order to bypass the bustling traffic on 33rd Street, I slipped over to 34th Avenue and discovered a half-block of old cottage homes mixed with new two-storey shops that look like modern infills that are home to variety of interesting shops including an upscale tailor and two hair salon. I am convinced this is the future of inner city retail in Calgary.

I am thinking the next evolution of inner city infilling could be like the 2000 block of 34th Avenue in Marda Loop with small shops that look like houses in scale and design being added to the mix of single family, duplex and small condo projects especially on busy transit corridors like Kensington Road in West Hillhurst. 

  Cottage home in Marda Loop gets a new life as a business.

Cottage home in Marda Loop gets a new life as a business.

Several cottage homes in Marda Loop that have been converted to retail along with a new two-storey modern home purpose built for retail.

Better Walkscores

The city of Calgary’s vision is to enhance he walk score of every community in the city. This means more people walking to meet their everyday needs. If this is going to happen, it will mean the City will need to encourage the conversion of more inner city streets to become more like the Parkdale Loop, Marda Loop or the wonderful Britannia Plaza on 49th Avenue in Britannia.

While some might complain the new businesses will add more traffic to their inner-city community, remember they will also convert some drivers to pedestrians and cyclists. And, don’t worry about your property values – Britannia, Parkdale and Marda Loop’s property values have skyrocketed because of their mix of residential with retail and restaurants.

If we are truly serious about creating walkable communities we must allow for the integration of residential, retail and restaurants on the same block - not segregate them!

Ross is a RE/MAX realtor checkout his website rossaitken.ca

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Calgarians: Where is your happy place?

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

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

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

That’s why we created the #happyyc project.

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

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

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

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

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

Could it be Fish Creek Park or the new Greenway?

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

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

We want to hear from YOU!

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

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

Perhaps you have a secret spot in your community?

Could the local playground be your happy place?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary's Downtown Power Hour

Richard White, July 2, 2014

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

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

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

Stephen Avenue Power Hour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bow River Power Hour 

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

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

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

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

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

Downtown's Outdoor Power Spots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The McDougall Centre backyard. 

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

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

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

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

Footnote:

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

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Tri-Cities: Washington's Big Bang City!

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

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

Where to stay?

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

Mornings

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

Richland's downtown farmers' market

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

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

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

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

You won't find this in Paris or London. 

The windows were like works of art.

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

  Country Mercantile store.

Country Mercantile store.

  Candy apples anyone?

Candy apples anyone?

  Hay bale maze

Hay bale maze

Vintage children rides.

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

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

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

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

Afternoons

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

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

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

Terra Blanca's underground storage. 

Terra Blanca's million dollar view.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brenda is going in....

The Uptown Plaza is also home to Desserts by Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside the LiGO laboratory.

Just a little computer capacity. 

It is like something from a science fiction movie.

Evenings & Eats

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

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

Cheese Louise 

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

How many donuts would you like sir?

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

Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery offers some unique beers.

Even the pretzels reference the atomic age.

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

Last Word:

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

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Bowness: Past & Present

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

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

Early 20th century postcard of Bowness Park lagoon.

Downtown mural

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

Cadence Cafe - super fine coffee.

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

  Bowness Cycle bike shop.

Bowness Cycle bike shop.

Bowness Cycle - something for everyone.

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

  Undercurrents - perhaps Calgary's most colourful shop.

Undercurrents - perhaps Calgary's most colourful shop.

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

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

WINS Thrift Store - where the treasures are.

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

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

Bowtown Music

Heritage Street Festival

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

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


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

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

This has small prairie town written all over it. 

Criterium fun....

YYC Walkabout: Cliff Bungalow / 4th Street / Mission

Richard White, July 23, 2014

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image homes with REAL river rock!

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

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

Fun, Funky, Quirky 

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

Quirky 4th Street shops....

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

Funky characters in Cliff Bungalow. 

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

4th Street Flaneuring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flaneuring  Finds 

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

We both loved the colourful patina on these bricks.

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

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

William Aberhart Park 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Canadian Encylopedia

The park includes a wonderful community garden. 

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

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

Last Word:

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

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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. 

Calgary Postcards: Things to see & do

By Richard White, June 30, 2014

Summer is Calgary’s busiest tourist season. It is when family and friends love to come to Calgary, not only for the 10 days of Stampede, but for all of July and August. However for most Calgarians’ the top-of-mind place to take visitors is to Banff and the mountains. I would like to change that!

I thought it would be fun to put together a blog of postcards reflecting the many things to see and do in Calgary with tourist this summer and anytime. 

I have tried to find “everyday” things to see and do, not just the obvious attractions – Glenbow, Calgary Tower, Heritage Park, Zoo, Science Centre, Calaway Park, Chinook Centre or IKEA (now that Winnipeg has its own IKEA, you are going to have to find someplace else to take visiting Winnipeggers).

I have tried to identify “off the grid” uniquely Calgary spots versus obvious touristy things.  I have also tried to identify a diversity of things to see and do that will appeal to a variety of interests. And, most of the things are FREE!

I hope these “everyday tourists” postcards from Calgary will be a catalyst for Calgarians to spend more time exploring Calgary with their visiting family and friends this summer, or anytime of the year for that matter.

Calgary's downtown is home to the world's most extensive elevated indoor walkway system - the +15. The name comes from the fact the bridges are 15 feet off the ground.  Over 60 bridges, connect over 100 buildings to create a 20 km walkway.  Unfortunately it is a bit like a maze and it is not contiguous, but it is a unique and fun way to explore the downtown especially for kids. Along the way amongst other things you can find a bush plane hanging from the ceiling in the lobby of one office building and the skeleton of a bison in another. Download +15 Map

Calgary has several great pedestrian districts - Kensington, Inglewood, 4th Street and 17th Avenue. This is the little "no name" plaza on 10th street where buskers are entertaining people passing by - it is always animated and didn't cost a half million dollars to create.   These streets are great places to do some local shopping, sample some of Calgary's great cuisine scene or one of our craft beers.  All of these streets have great patios for relaxing and people watching. 

  This is  Canada's Sports Hall of Fame  at Canada Olympic Park.  For anyone who is interested in sports this is a must see - lots of hands-on activities.  While you are there, you should wander around perhaps bring your bikes and do some mountain biking or one of the other activities available.  Did you know Calgary is also home to Canada's second largest  military museum ?  It is also worth a visit, I have never heard of anyone who was disappointed.  

This is Canada's Sports Hall of Fame at Canada Olympic Park.  For anyone who is interested in sports this is a must see - lots of hands-on activities.  While you are there, you should wander around perhaps bring your bikes and do some mountain biking or one of the other activities available.  Did you know Calgary is also home to Canada's second largest military museum?  It is also worth a visit, I have never heard of anyone who was disappointed.  

Calgary's Power Hour happens Monday to Friday on nice sunny days when over ten thousand downtown workers head out for a power walk along Stephen Avenue at lunch hour.  This phenomena is something visitors will enjoy seeing and participating in, it is a people watching extravaganza. (photo courtesy of Jeff Trost)

Calgary has one of the world's largest urban pathway system - over 750 km.  While you are walking, running or biking along the north side of the Bow River at the Louise (10th St) bridge you should consider stopping and checking out the new Poppy Plaza - Calgary's newest monument to Canada's war and peace keeping efforts. 

Who needs to go to the mountains when Calgary has over 5,000 parks including two of the largest urban parks in the world - Fish Creek Park and Nose Hill.  This is Edworthy Park home to the Douglas Fir Trail - perhaps Calgary's quintessential trail.

Floating down one of Calgary's two rivers is a great way to spend a summer day with visiting family and friends. You could even try your hand a fly fishing as the Bow River is one of the best fly fishing rivers in the world. 

This is just one of hundreds of public artworks in and around Calgary's downtown.  You could easily spend a day wandering the streets, parks, plazas and gardens to see how many you can find. Hint: There are still several of the fun cow sculptures on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade.  You can also download the City of Calgary's public art tour. FYI...this piece is titled "Ascension" and was made by INCIPIO MONDO and is located in a mini-park at the southwest corner of 4th Ave and 9th St. SW. Download Public Art Tour  

Calgary has many historical buildings and districts in the inner-city, from the majestic early 20th century sandstone schools to old city hall. Stephen Avenue (8th Street SW) from Centre St to 4th St. SW is a National Historic District and Inglewood has a heritage Main Street.  If you have a history buff visiting you will want to be sure to take them to our two historical districts, along with maybe Fort Calgary, Glenbow and Heritage Park.  A great resource to have  is "Historical Walks of Calgary" by Harry M. Sanders, it offers 10 different self-guided tours of Calgary historical communities in and around the downtown. Or print off the City of Calgary's self-guided tour of Stephen Avenue and you are all set for a half-day of exploring. (Photo credit: George Webber, one of Canada's most respected photographers). 

Central High School (photo credit: George Webber)

When in Calgary, eat like locals do?  Chicken on the Way and Peter's Drive-In are two of Calgary's iconic eateries. Click here for:  Top Ten Places to eat like a local?

Explore your own neighbourhood, on foot or on bike - you might be surprised what you will find. We love to take visitors to our favourite local spots like this musical fence. 

Calgary has a great cafe culture. Caffe Rosso located in interesting places like the Old Dominion Steel site in Ramsay is just one of the many independent cafes. Learn more: Calgary's cafe scene.

Riding the train can be a fun and an inexpensive way to spend a day, especially with young children. You can buy a day pass and hope off and on as much as you like.  You can combine a train trip with exploring downtown, or perhaps a trip to the Zoo or the Science Centre - both are easily accessible by the train. 

This is the Sunalta LRT station just outside of downtown, from this station you could walk to Mikey's Juke Joint for their famous Saturday Afternoon Jam or to Heritage Posters & Music to browse their  wonderful collection of posters, records and music memorabilia. 

Calgary has a festival pretty much every weekend through out the summer, including Global Fest fireworks completion in lovely Elliston Park, August 14 to 15, 2014. 

  If your visitors are into music you might want to suggest one of Calgary's live music venues.  You can catch Tim Williams, winner of the 2014 International Blues Competition (solo/duo) and best guitarist for free on most Tuesday evenings at Mikey's Juke Joint or on Saturday when he hosts an afternoon jam at the Blues Can in Inglewood. There are live music venues throughout the city.  Best place to find out what is happening and where is to get the  Swerve Magazine  in the Calgary Herald every Friday. 

If your visitors are into music you might want to suggest one of Calgary's live music venues.  You can catch Tim Williams, winner of the 2014 International Blues Competition (solo/duo) and best guitarist for free on most Tuesday evenings at Mikey's Juke Joint or on Saturday when he hosts an afternoon jam at the Blues Can in Inglewood. There are live music venues throughout the city.  Best place to find out what is happening and where is to get the Swerve Magazine in the Calgary Herald every Friday. 

If your visitors are into history or reading, bookstore browsing is a fun activity.  Calgary is home to one of the Canada's most unique bookstore - Aquila.  Located at 826 - 16h Avenue, right on the TransCanada Highway it specializes in polar expeditions, Western Canadiana and Canadian Pacific Railway. Yes those are two authentic Inuit kayaks hanging from the ceiling. 

Pages in Kensington is also a great bookstore with lots of readings and FairsFair is a great used bookstore and has several locations. 

If you really want to show your visitors you are "hip" and "tin he know" you might want to take them to Salvage in Ramsay, just down the road from Cafe Rosso and not very far from the Crown Surplus and Ribtor in Inglewood. You could easily spend a day pretending  you are on the set of Canadian or American Pickers TV show. Anyone into retro or vintage artifacts or antiquing or thrifting would love these places. 

Footnotes:

If you are interested in walking tours the City of Calgary’s website has several, including cemetery tours.  You can also pic up David Peyto’s Walking tour books or the iconic "Historical Walks of Calgary" by Harry M. Sanders.  You can even book your own private tour with Calgary Walks

I am always interested in new ideas and places to explore, so please send me your suggestions for Calgary Postcards and I will add them to this blog or perhaps create another one.

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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

Denver vs Calgary: A Tale of Two Thriving Downtowns!

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

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

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

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

Denver has a healthy mix of old and new architecture.

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

Denver vs Calgary at a glance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary's downtown library.

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

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

Denver's LRT map

Calgary's LRT Map

Tale of Two Malls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denver's 16th Street Mall 

!6th Street Mall at the LODO warehouse district 

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

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

Calgary's flagship Hudson Bay Store on Stephen Avenue.

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

Downtown Living

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

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

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

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

One of Denver's highrise condos.

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

Denver's Cherry Creek pathway and condos.

Calgary's Bow River and the Eau Claire condos.

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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





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.

Spruce Cliff: A hidden gem

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

By Richard White, May 3, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Demetrious Greek Orthodox Church

Little Monday Cafe

Louche Milieu

Spruce Cliff Shopping Centre

Westgate condos

Wildflower Arts Centre

Shaganappi Golf Course 

Design Downtown for Women - Men Will Follow

Guest Blog: David Feehan, President, Civitas Consultants LLC

Years ago, when I was the downtown director in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a retail consultant we had engaged named Robert Sprague made a startling statement. “In 1950, 95 percent of the retail sales in the US occurred in downtowns. Today, less than 5 percent of retail sales are made in downtowns.” Sprague made that statement in the early 1990s and it is still true today, even in cities where there has been successful downtown revitalization. Only a few major cities still have downtown department stores and strong retail components - Seattle, San Francisco and Washington DC. 

Many theories have been advanced as to why retail stores virtually abandoned US downtowns in a few decades. After all, office buildings were still being built in downtowns during the latter half of the past century. Major attractions – convention centers, ballparks, arenas and museums – became symbols of hoped-for reinvestment in and around downtowns. Other fads came and went – festival markets, aquariums, enclosed shopping malls; and still, downtowns continued to lose the one feature so many saw as they key to success – retail stores.

Some blamed the massive shift in residential development. Others pointed to the building of high-speed expressways that could whisk people to suburban communities quickly and without so much as a stoplight. Still others saw the increase in crime and the urban unrest of the 1960s as the culprit. Many thought that “white flight” – a desire of whites to get away from expanding black urban populations – was killing downtowns and central city commercial districts.

No doubt all of these factors and more contributed to the decline of downtowns since 1950. But one of the most obvious factors has until very recently been almost ignored. Downtowns have, by and large, ignored their most important customer – women – while shopping mall developers designed their facilities specifically for women.

Shortly after I left the presidency of the International Downtown Association in 2009, I started asking questions and doing research in concert with Dr. Carol Becker, who had just completed a survey of business improvement districts, or BIDs as they are more commonly known (BIAs in Canada) on behalf of IDA. Among the questions we asked ourselves were:

  • Are there significant gender differences in the way public spaces are perceived?
  • How important are women in terms of retail decisions, residential decisions and business location decisions?
  • Who really designs the downtown experience?
  • What obstacles are there to women who want to participate in and direct the design of downtowns?

Let me be clear: we were not just thinking about physical design – things like buildings and parks. We were interested in designing the whole experience – things like mobility and access, safety and security, friendliness, aesthetics, activities, opportunities to dine and be entertained as well as shop.

Research Says

Here is briefly what our research revealed:

  • Women control or influence roughly 80 to 85 percent of retail purchases.
  • Women control or influence approximately 80 percent of residential and health care decisions.
  • Women constitute nearly 60 percent of college graduates.
  • Women control more than half of the private wealth in the US.

And yet, women are grossly underrepresented in the professions that design the downtown experience. Architects, landscape architects, urban planners and designers, engineers, real estate developers and brokers, even construction professionals and lenders are predominantly male. Only 16 percent of registered architects are women. Only 3 percent of engineers are women.

We could not find a “Top 50” firm in any of the above categories in the US that is headed or owned by a woman. But perhaps in government agencies that impact downtown we might find women more represented? Not hardly. In the US federal government, at the cabinet level, there have been 14 Secretaries of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but only two have been women. At the Department of Transportation, 2 Secretaries out of 16 have been women; and at the Department of Commerce, only 3 out of 43 Secretaries have been women.

At the professional association level, we had hoped to find women better represented, but this was not the case. Virtually all of the professional and trade associations having to do with the downtown experience (International Downtown Association, National Main Street Center, Urban Land Institute, American Planning Association, American Institute of Architects, National League of Cities, US Conference of Mayors, International City and County Managers Association, American Public Transportation Association, International Parking Institute and others) were headed by men at the time we began our research. Today, a couple of women have been named to top posts. 

In short, what we have is a terrible mismatch. One only has to look at the things women hate like dirty, dark parking garages, filthy or nonexistent public restrooms, street furniture designed for a person taller than 5’ 9” tall, multi-space parking meters with screens that are too high and hard to read, lack of signage and wayfinding, and a hundred other things that men tend not to notice. 

Last Word

Women are not as involved in downtown design as they should be.

Dr. Becker and I, along with a number of noted co-authors and contributors are set to publish a new book this summer, called “Design Downtown for Women – Men Will Follow.” In the book, we suggest some ways that those of us who care about downtowns and urban commercial districts can begin to change they way the downtown experience is designed and delivered.

The book also challenges decision-makers to not just ask women what they want, but to bring women into leadership positions in the decision-making process.  

Dave Feehan can be reached at: civitas.dave@me.com

Comments:

DEW writes: 

Reading David Feehan's blog brought to mind Harry Gordon Selfridge (1858-1947), the founder of Britain’s hugely successful department store, Selfridges. This American mastermind recognized the female consumer and he understood the public culture of his era. He revolutionized the shopping experience for the public, particularly for women, and in the process of doing so became a multi-millionaire. Many of his ideas continue to be practiced in department stores today (e.g., place cosmetics and perfume at the front entrance,  have merchandise out in the open and not hidden behind glass, carry ready-to-wear clothes, offer novelty etc.).  Mr. Selfridge not only pushed "pink", he also, perceptively realized the social mores of Britain were changing and capitalized on it. He welcomed all British citizens to mingle in his attractive store for commercial enjoyment. This inclusive policy proved effective in two ways: it contributed to the erosion of Britain's class system and it simultaneously increased the department's store customer base. 

Selfridge’s department store provided the upper/middle class women with a socially-acceptable excuse to venture out independently. Women could legitimately go out “shopping” without raising (society’s) eyebrows. And to make the ladies’ shopping excursion pleasant, Mr. Selfridge added an elegant dining area to his department store … men soon followed. Gentlemen frequented the restaurant to either socialize with their companion(s) or to while away the time as their significant others shopped.

Selfridge‘s idea to concentrate on the needs/desires of the female consumer and market to them accordingly worked. He employed various business strategies --- novel and conventional, to reach his target group. Selfridge constructed a grand building with enticing interiors; cultivated outside greenery (his store had a roof-top garden); created an elegant eatery; published tastefully done, but slightly seductive “come hither” advertisements; designed “state of the art” displays against a backdrop of theatrical touches and antics; installed all the latest technological innovations of his time; and organized unique publicity stunts --- all these strategies worked for him. And this winning female concept continues to work, judging by the doubled dividends paid out in November 2013 by Selfridges to its current Canadian owner, Galen Weston, (despite the slight dip in the department stores profits*). 

So it stands to reason, that Mr. Selfridge’s chief business strategy of zeroing in on female needs could be refashioned to suit current downtown urban design plans--- just as David Feehan suggests in his article. If the charismatic Harry Gordon Selfridge were alive today, and was an urban planner, one can be absolutely certain, he would already be in his bomber-jet blitzing the downtown core with his multi-coloured female-friendly confetti --- because it works!

(*Financial Times- November 2013- Duncan Robinson- http://www.ft.com/

Many downtowns like Calgary are creating comprehensive wayfinding maps to help pedestrians find what they are looking for.  Note distances are in minutes not distances; this is very helpful to women who often relate more to time than distance. 

Wayfinding systems like Calgary's encourage downtown visitors to explore other areas in the vicinity. 

Unfortunately dark and dingy underpasses that often link one downtown district to another are not attractive to anyone. 

Convoluted sidewalks, pillars blocking views and dark spaces along downtown streets don't make for a pleasant shopping experience. 

Yes it is nice to have trees downtown, but not in the middle of sidewalks. 

Sidewalk clutter and blind corners don't make for an enjoyable shopping experience. 

Too many downtown public washrooms are not cleaned as often as needed.  In fact, too often it is hard to even find the public washroom as it is hidden away down a hall with no signage.  Most downtown building owners discourage the use of public washrooms. 

  Downtown seating is often too high for people to sit comfortably with their feet on the ground. 

Downtown seating is often too high for people to sit comfortably with their feet on the ground. 

Even on a bright day, office and condo towers cast shadows on the street that make it look dark and unattractive.  Railway tracks and barriers make it difficult to walk across the street.

Empty lots with fences like this one are a huge turn-off for women.

Tree grates like this on are common on downtown sidewalks. They are not problem for men in shoes but for women they can be an accident waiting to happen. 

Entrance to this parking ramp is intimidating to everyone, but especially women.  To be fair, significant improvements have been made to parkade design over the past 20 years. 

Unkept parks and plazas are a turn off for anyone wanting to come downtown for shopping, dining or entertainment. 

Sticky sidewalks and plazas are no fun to walk on.

Broken curbs and sidewalks don't make of a pleasant walking experience. 

Designing safe and attractive connections between downtown and neighbouring communities is critical to attracting women to shop downtown. 

Everyday Tourist Note:

While this research is for American cities, I expect same is true for Canadian cities. London, Hamilton and Windsor no longer have any department stores and struggling indoor retail centres.  Winnipeg, Edmonton, Regina and Saskatoon struggle to make their downtowns viable shopping districts.

We have to rethink how we plan our downtowns from the design of parkades, street furniture and sidewalk, to street signage to wayfinding systems. We talk about making our urban places more pedestrian friendly, when perhaps we should be more specific and make them female friendly. We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results – that’s insanity!

If you like this blog, you might like:

Nordstrom Last Chance: A feeding frenzy! 

Window Licking In Paris

Importance of Comfort, Convenience & Privacy

 

 

 

Fun, Funky, Quirky Colorado Springs

Richard White, April 27, 2014

When visiting a new city we always look for things that aren't in the tourist brochures or on the first page of Google.  We call it FFQing (fun, funky and quirky)!

Most often they are not planned; they just happen as we explore the streets and alleys of urban neighbourhoods on foot with our eyes and ears wide open. Sometimes the FFQ experiences do happen at the tourist hot spots, but even if they do happen there, we try to find an offbeat twist.

Here are a few of our favourite FFQ moments from a recent walkabout in 'Colorado Springs, Colorado.  

This is the boys' washroom of the Ivywild School which was an elementary school until a few years ago. The art adds a whole new dimension to learning your ABCs.  

Ivywild is a huge yellow brick 1912 school that was sold to two local young cultural pioneers who have converted it into a multi-use community hub. It now is home to a Bristol Brewery, a bike shop, bakery, charcuterie, cocktail/coffee lounge and an art school. It also hosts many events, including a farmers' market. We will be writing more about this exciting urban revitalization project in the future.

We were impressed by how they retained the fun elementary school character of the space by retaining the wall murals throughout the building. 

We loved walking around downtown Colorado Springs as there were lots of interesting shops, restaurants and cafes.  This storefront dance studio had three painted blue pads on the sidewalk, each showing the foot work of a different type of dance. We loved the "freestyle" dance the most. The black lines are the shadow of a patio fence, which add a quirky sense of perspective.

We love "window licking" (the literal English translation of the French phrase for window shopping is "window licking"). The crazy quilt collage-like imagery is a wonderful reflection of the city's street culture. The Colorado Running Room had one of the best FFQ windows in Colorado Springs.

Downtown Colorado Springs is very pedestrian-oriented with its wide sidewalks, clean streets/alleys and mix of historic and new architecture. It is definitely worth a couple of hours of flaneuring.  

Brenda loved the Blueberry Lemon Streusel pancakes at the Over Easy diner - the best she has ever tasted. The combination of favours was fun and the presentation was funky.  

A short walk out of the downtown through the mansion district lies the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Centre - definitely a FFQ place to visit. Not only is the 1936 art deco building with its 2008 modern addition a fun space to explore, but many of the exhibitions and artworks had FFQ elements.

This is world renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly's "Orange Hornet Chandelier" - or as most people call it the red pepper sculpture. It consists of 300+ glass vessels linked together to create it. It will be the centerpiece for the blockbuster exhibition of his work running from May 3 to September 28, 2014. 

This was one of many fun folk art pieces in the gallery. Some were very large like this one while others were more small scale. There was even art made from chicken bones.  

One the edge of the city is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Colorado Springs is the Garden of the Gods.  It is truly a sacred place with it surreal, orange rock formations.  I was intrigued when a young boy asked me "have I had seen the Indian Head?"  When I answered "No" he quickly took me to see it.  I couldn't believe I missed it given how obvious and huge it was.   

The "Balancing Rock" is the signature rock formation in the Garden of the Gods. It is a fun place to walk around and under (if you dare). It is amazing how accessible the formations are to the public and just a 15-minute drive from downtown. You could have spent all day there walking the trails, having a picnic and watching the movie at the Visitor Center. 

Perhaps the quirkiest experience I've had in a long time was feeding the giraffes at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Barely get in the gate, visitors are welcomed by several hungry giraffes with their long tongues sticking out waiting to be fed. Two dollars gets you a handful of lettuce. 

One of our most fun experiences wandering around downtown was to happen upon a house that had been converted into a funky, landscape architecture office.  Brenda needed a stamp so we went in to ask about the design of the house, as well as where we might purchase a stamp.  We left not only with information on the home-to-office conversion but also with a free stamp (the woman insisted on giving Brenda the postage for her postcard).  Yes, we still send postcards!  

However, the stamp didn't stick very well so then we needed some scotch tape. As we were passing another intriguing street office space with the words "ALWAYS MOVING FORWARD" on the window, Brenda decided to head in and see if they might have some tape.  Inside were four young people with their laptops, two on couch and two at desks.  After the shock of unexpected visitors, they quickly asked how they could help us.  After first bringing some "duct" tape (she should have been more specific), they quickly found the scotch tape she needed.

In the meantime, I was busy taking photos of their street front window, being as intrigued by the words and their juxtaposition with the cathedral across the road.  Once I had finished taking my photos, we started chatting about things to see and do in Colorado Springs and what they did.  Ironically, they develop apps and one is for enhanced photography - VSCOcam.  We quickly downloaded it and they gave me a quick tutorial (more info at VSCO.CO)

Now that was a fun, flaneuring experience! 

Just in case you weren't yet convinced that downtown Colorado Springs is an FFQ mecca, I'll end this blog with an ice cream cone window cartoon character inviting you to a sidewalk peanut butter tasting (Pad Thai, Pumpkin Spice, S'mores etc.) - that was a first for us! 

Melrose: Phoenix's emerging vintage district?

Richard White April 7, 2014

We started the day in downtown Tempe (thanks to the Red Lion Tempe's free shuttle). As not much happening here, we hopped on the Metro (light rapid transit) for downtown Phoenix. After jumping out at the Central Avenue Station, we started to flaneur.  

We were immediately attracted to the huge Janet Echelman's 145 foot tall artwork that looks like a tornado floating over Civic Space Park. Then soon we found architect Richard Meier's striking Federal Courthouse building which we were allowed to wander the lobby after getting security clearance.  

"Her Secret is Patience" by Janet Echelman is constantly moving as it dances with the wind. It has become a city icon. 

As we continued to wander, we found City Hall, the Sports & Entertainment District (convention centre, performing arts centre, baseball stadium and basketball arena, with the associated bars and restaurants) and the uber cool Klimpton Hotel.  However, what we didn't find was any street life i.e. retail or cafe animation.  To be fair, it was Cesar Chavez Day so city employees had the day off . Nonetheless, you would expect to see some street life.  Checking with the locals and found out there is no department store, nor indoor or outdoor retail complexes and not much in the way of a cafe culture.  

Approaching the he Klimpton as it seemed the most artsy, hip place on the edge of downtown, we were advised to walk about a mile up Central Avenue to the Roosevelt Arts District.  We did and still no luck.  So we continued past the Phoenix Arts Museum, past the Central Library, still nothing other than more office buildings and a few condos and apartments.  Central Avenue is like one long linear office park. Later we discovered most of Phoenix is like one giant office park with all of the main streets lined with office buildings of various shapes, sizes and designs.

Finally, we did find a hidden gem - Heard Museum with its lovely cafe, museum and museum shops.  We stopped for lunch and to regroup and have lunch - had a great chestnut soup (a first), pork posole and pork tacos (with a nice zing). We decided we'd get back on the train and see if could spot anything at one of the 29 stations - luckily, we had the $2 all day pass.

Once on the train, the passengers quickly realized we were tourists. Soon, a young man started asking us questions and giving us ideas on where we should and should not go .  We were soon calling him the  "Train Concierge" to the amusement of his friends. 

We jumped off at the 7th Avenue and Camelback Road station based on information that there were some antique and vintage stores nearby. Once off the train, a woman who had obviously been listening to our train talk started walking with us and sharing what might be open and worth visiting. It definitely looked promising. 

While the sidewalks were deserted, the street had a hipster look to it with no new buildings, no offices, mostly a hodgepodge of older, small retail spaces. Unfortunately, several were closed on Monday. However, soon we came upon Modern on Melrose and finally we were in flaneur heaven - a 16,000 square store with tons of mid-century modern furniture, home accessories and a salvaging yard in the back. 

Below are some photos from our 3-hour exploration of 7th Avenue which, we later found out known as the Melrose District.  

MOM's mid-century looking sign doesn't disappoint. 

Inside MOM are curated vignettes of eclectic collections of vintage furniture and accessories. 

MOM also has 12,000 square foot back yard full of salvaged materials from various sources.  It is a goldmine for interior designers and DIYers.

Across the road from MOM is Joe's Diner and figs. A little further up the street are more dining options - a couple of Mexican restaurants and what looks like an Italian Restaurant that hasn't changed for over 50 years. 

Qcumberz doesn't look like much from the outside, but get inside and you find it is jam-packed with vintage and kitchy artifacts.

A peek Inside Qcumberz.

Vintage signs add to the authenticity of the street.

Flo's offered great quality and great prices for a thrift store. 

Next to Flo's on 7th is Zinnias at Melrose, a huge well-stocked warehouse of antiques and vintage by several vendors. As well as. there is a vintage clothing store tucked in the back.  

Found this old teeter totter in front of Zinnias.

Inside Zinnias, Brenda and I both smiled when we saw these green legs on the blue ladder.  

Last Word

This sign that greeted us as we entered Zinnias says it all and serves as our last word.