West District: An urban village in the 'burbs!

By Richard White, November 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Density Dilemma

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central Park

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

West District Central Park

Traffic / Transit

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

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

West District shuttle.jpg

Cost Effective Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

NUVO Kensington

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

By Richard White, October 27, 2014

West District At A Glance

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Brookfield Residential: Working together to make Calgary better!

Calgary's MAC attack!

Integration critical to new community vitality

 

 

80% of Calgarians must live in the 'burbs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why are we always focused on downtown?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Calgarians love the burbs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The BIG Question.

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

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

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

  SETON happy hour.

SETON happy hour.

A Radical Idea.

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

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

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

By Richard White, November 26, 2014.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Intelligent infilling or Living in a bubble!

Is Calgary too downtown-centric?

Don't be too quick to judge...

Calgary's Learning City is blooming!


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?

 

Mount Royal: City Beautiful or Man vs Nature?

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

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

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

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

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

Mount Royal early 20th century. 

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

  Found this on the gate of the Dower House.

Found this on the gate of the Dower House.

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

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

CPR: Calgary's Past & Present

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

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

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

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

City Beautiful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A carriage house that is now modest Mount Royal home.

Architecture 101

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

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

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

  Katchen Residence.

Katchen Residence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's in a name?

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

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

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

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

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

Yes even Mount Royal is being densified! 

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

Coste House mailbox

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

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

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Woodbine is wonderful

Our country estate adventure

Suburbs move to City Centre

 

Calgary's International Avenue Deserves More Respect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tipping Point

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

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

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

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

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

  An old paint store gets new life as artBox. 

An old paint store gets new life as artBox. 

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

Festival Fun

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

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

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

No Respect

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Weekends Start Thursday on Spokane's Perry Street 

Beautiful Downtown Bowness

Flaneuring 19th Street NW 

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

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

By Richard White, May 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Aspen Woods castle (photo credit: Ross Pavl)

Blush Lane Organic Market

Rundle Senior High 

Aspen Woods skateboard park

Westside Recreation Centre

Nordstrom Last Chance: A feeding frenzy.

By Richard White, April 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Feeding Frenzy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did we find along the way?

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Integration critical to new community vitality

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

By Richard White, January 31, 2014

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

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

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

New Suburban Home Design 

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

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

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

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

Integration of Commercial and Residential Development 

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

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

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

Fragmentation

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

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

If you like this blog you might like:

Cities of opportunity 

Is Calgary too downtown centric?

Are we creatures of comfort? 

 

.

 

 

King Edward Village Revisited

Editor’s Note: Usually I just add reader’s comments to the existing blog, but in this case I think the reader deserves her own guest blog.  Vicki Engel responded to my “White House” column in the Calgary Herald’s Neighbours section, January 9, 201, with some heartfelt insights on how the gentrification of her community is destroying the history and perhaps the sense of community she and her family helped foster.

In this column, I discussed how the redevelopment of the historic King Edward School in Calgary’s South Calgary community to an arts centre will be the catalyst for creating an urban village.

Read the blog King Edward Village

The King Edward School today with its grand entrance blocked by an art installation and the big box addition on the right side.  The school sits on a high point in the middle of the block creating a sense of authority, a common characteristic of early 20th century schools.  The schools were the dominant building in most new communities.   

Engel writes:

I read your article about the new plans for King Edward School (where I was a student) and the changes happening in Calgary’s South Calgary community where my father was a resident for over 60 years with much interest.

I believe your comment that the additions to the majestic sandstone King Edward School are ugly is a bit harsh.  From my perspective and experience, the two "ugly" big box additions were very functional.

Here, the girls learned to sew with a needle and thread, then a sewing machine in Home Economics, while the boys learned to build things with wood, hammer and nails in shop classes.  

Parents and students would also go to the gymnasium (big box) for concerts, graduation and yes, gym classes. They may be just big boxes to you, but to me and other students they are part of what made King Edward School able to offer the courses we needed to complete our education without having to leave our community.  

A street in West Hillhurst where all of the mid-century homes are still intact.

  An example of the new two story infills that have replace the small post war cottage homes. This street is on the next block west of the previous photo of post war cottages.

An example of the new two story infills that have replace the small post war cottage homes. This street is on the next block west of the previous photo of post war cottages.

Post war homes ready to be torn down in West Hillurst to be replaced by four storey condos with modern design.  The homes had become run down as can be seen by the fence and were an eyesore to the community. 

A small infill condos like this one in Montgomery will replace the tiny post war houses in West Hillhurst.  I have used examples from other Calgary communities to illustrate how infilling i.e. densification and community renewal is happening in all of Calgary's established neighbourhoods within 10 km of Downtown. Many of the new condo blocks are flat roofed buildings that have a more European design than the pitched roofs of prairie homes.   

This seniors' care facility in Hillhurst is  good example of a modern building with a more traditional house-like design that creates an attractive pedestrian experience.  You would never know that there is an at-grade surface parking lot incorporated into this complex on the side of a hill. New infill developments can and should be more respectful of the existing sense of place and design. 

GABEsters vs. Wartime Housing vs. Community

Like most of the students at King Edward School, I had a father who provided for the family and a mother who stayed at home. We didn’t have the two-income high salaries of the GABEster families who are taking over all of the older communities near downtown.

Most mid-century families were single income with six or more people per family, bigger than the three, maybe four person families of today.  We lived in smaller homes, sharing bedrooms and bathrooms.  Learning to share is a key element of fostering a sense of community.

After WWII, the government provided to the soldiers who served in the war, the opportunity to purchase affordable 1.5 storey wartime housing. Dad bought one of these homes, where he and Mom raised seven children over the next 60 years.  People stayed in their community; they didn’t move every few years like they do now. You can’t build a sense of community when everyone is moving all the time. 

Since our family house was sold in 2006, it has been demolished and a 3-storey infill built, which has already had two different tenants. I call them tenants, as they seem to be more like temporary renters, than homeowners and committed community members.

I wonder if any of them are aware or even "think" of the history of the veterans who fought in WW II so they could have the freedoms that have resulted in the present day prosperity, which in turn allows them to afford their big expensive new houses?  

I think the history of South Calgary’s wartime families and housing should be incorporated into the King Edward School site redevelopment.

Modern new town homes in South Calgary next to King Edward School. Site restrictions result in streetscape being dominate by double garage.  The front lawn is moved up to the second floor deck and the roof top patio i.e. less neighbour and community friendly.  Unfortunately there will be no opportunities here for trees or any plantings.

History of Wartime Houses

Wartime home communities exist in every city in Canada. They offer a material glimpse into our collective memory of World War II and the socioeconomic challenges associated with that event.

Between 1941 and 1947, Wartime Housing Limited (later CMHC) built over 30,000 houses to provide affordable housing for munitions workers, returning veterans and their families.

These houses were based on standardized, inexpensive, sometimes pre-fabricated 1.5 storey designs that served as models for future housing initiatives across Canada after the war. Although they were conceived during a time of wartime, these wartime neighbourhoods developed distinct social and cultural networks that don’t exist today.

While some of these neighbourhoods dissolved after the war, many continue to thrive and currently remain a fixture in Canada’s urban areas. An estimated one million wartime houses are still standing in Canada today.

This is part of my family history in this community. It is part of Calgary’s history and it is part of Canada’s history.  It deserves to be recognized and some aspect of it preserved.  The redeveloped King Edward School should be as much about the past as the future. 

Example of new infill developments that fit into established neighbourhoods with mid-20th century home. Use of brick, recessed garages and pitched roof is synergistic with existing homes.

Destruction of wartime houses

Please understand, that when one has grown up in this neighborhood as I have, it makes me rather sensitive to the changes in my community by those who have the money to afford big houses.  Why can’t the new infills respect the past in some aspect of their design and materials?  I truly hope the artists who are going to be using the King Edward School as a multi-purpose art centre will respect the community’s history.  

I hope the artists, planners and developers will start to rethink and rework the history of the neighborhood history with their art, architecture and placemaking, not just ignore it.  Some of the post war cottages must in some way be preserved and incorporated into the new urban village, not just the preservation of the school.

Perhaps some homes could be moved to the school site and become artist’s studio or homes for young artists.

We must do a better job of connecting the past to the present and to the future.

About Vicki Engel

Native Calgarian, born in the Grace Hospital, graduate of Western Canada High School, the Holy Cross Hospital School of Nursing, the U of Alberta, and much later, a Central Michigan University off-campus MSA graduate. Her family has been part of the South Calgary community for over 60 years.

Another example of new infill development with attractive staircases, front lawns, no street garages and house-like roof lines.

Everyday Tourist Comments:

I too live in an older Calgary community where the old cottage homes are being torn down on every block to make way for a larger home that will meet the needs and wants of the modern family and compete with the suburban homes. I live in one of the infills Engel comments on. 

However, my home does have a front porch, a pitch roof, vinyl siding, a bit of a homage to the wood siding of the mid 20th century and rear garage. Many visitors to our home have commented, “what great shape it is given it is an older home.” They are surprised to learn it is only 20 years old; many think it dates back to ‘30s or ‘40s.

While I sympathize with Engel, established communities must evolve to meet the expectations of new homebuyers.  Cities like London (ON), Hamilton, Winnipeg and Windsor (cities that were much larger than Calgary after WWII) struggle to sustain healthy inner city communities and desirable downtowns.  They would love to have Calgary’s problem of gentrification.

Example of infill homes with site restrictions that have been resolved with single car garages at front and garage off the alley.  Facade materials are compatible with older homes in the area. The planting of small trees and shrubs also help to make these homes more attractive. 

New Homes New Amenities

Calgary is unique and fortunate to have such strong established communities.  The fact young couples and families are moving in and upgrading the housing stock means these communities will thrive for another generation or two.

It also means the schools, recreation centers and parks will be revitalized; one just has to look at all the new playground equipment in the inner city parks. 

Wonderful new playgrounds are being installed in established neighbourhood as a result of young professional families moving into them.  These GABEsters are willing to invest their own money and fundraise to improve the parks, playgrounds and recreation centres that are near the end of their lifecycle. 

Last Word

I do agree with Engel that a better job could be done of linking the past to the present in the way we design new infill homes and condos.  Infill developers and architects need to do a better job of taking into account the existing sense of place and design in their new developments.

There has be a balance between the preservation of the past and prosperity of the present. While I realize that balance will be different for different people, I am not sure we are that far off having the right balance of modern and traditional design.

I am always amazed at how long it takes to redevelop an existing community.  We have lived in our community for 20+ years now and while there are less and less cottage homes every year, we are still surprised how many still exist.

On our block alone there are still several old cottages. By the time they are all gone, our late 20th century infill will be the historic home on the block. 

 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Urban Cottages and Gentrification

The Suburbs are moving to the City Centre

Are we too downtown centric?

Staircases to heaven

Be A Tourist in Your Own Neighbourhood