Museums of Memphis / International Blues Challenge

Preface

It is hard to believe that even in 2015, whites in Memphis and the entire Delta area haven’t embraced the blacks for their wonderful spirit and joie de vivre.  Someone told me (I wish I could remember who) many years ago “we must embrace the differences that define us, not let them divide us.”  After attending the IBC, checking out the museums of Memphis, wandering Clarksdale and attending the First Baptist Church service, I say “vive la difference!”

International Blues Challenge

  Mike Clark (far right) with some of his new best friends jamming at IBC 2014.

Mike Clark (far right) with some of his new best friends jamming at IBC 2014.

In December 2013, a few of Mikey’s Juke Joint groupies (including myself) decided to head to Memphis for the International Blues Challenge (IBC) to support the Mike Clark Band and Tim Williams, both of who would be representing southern Alberta at the January 2014 competition.  It was a truly amazing experience, not only did Williams win the competition as the best single/solo act and best guitarist, but I developed a whole new appreciation for the history of the blues and the culture of the south that produced it.

This year’s Challenge happens January 20 – 24 with Calgary’s Mike Clark Band and Tim Williams again representing southern Alberta.

The Museums

One of the great things about visiting Memphis is their trio of music museums – Stax Museum, Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and Sun Records.

The STAX Museum blew both Brenda (not so much a blues or music keener) and I away with its campus that includes not only the museum, but a charter school and extensive collection.  For anyone interested in the history of 20th century music in North America, this is the place to go. You will learn about the evolution and connections between numerous genres of music – blues, soul, jazz, Bebop, country, gospel, hillbilly, R&B, rock and Pop music.  What I particularly loved about the museum is there is its air of authenticity as much of the history actually happened in Memphis or in the immediate area.  

  STAX museum is located in an older neighbourhood, with a mix of both new and somewhat seedy buildings.

STAX museum is located in an older neighbourhood, with a mix of both new and somewhat seedy buildings.

The museum starts with a wonderful 20-minute film, after which you wander at your own pace through hundreds of displays that tell the story of the music with lots of memorabilia.  The highlight was when I complemented an elderly, distinguished-looking man on his great tie.  He thanked me and we got chatting about the museum and how he was visiting with his grandchildren who “wanted to see where their grandfather was” in the museum.  Turns out I was talking to Harold “Scotty” Scott of the Temprees, whose gold record for “Dedicated to the one I love” and other band artifacts we on exhibit.

One take away message I got from this museum was how the pain and hardship deeply penetrated the African American culture of the south and how they sought comfort and solace in their music.

I would recommend anyone visiting the museum, also take an explore a few around the museum, it will reinforced the link between poverty, sense of place and blues music.  The predominately black neighbourhood of empty lots, abandon homes, homes with what looked like religious shrines on the porches and numerous churches looked like many of the images we saw in the museum.

In chatting with Andrew Mosker, CEO, National Music Centre (NMC), who is currently construction a new museum in Calgary, I was told they would be incorporating some of the lessons learned from STAX on how to engage, entertain and educate the public about music.  Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder if the NMC could match STAX museum’s authenticity as most of NMC’s artifacts will be imported from elsewhere. Also a big shiny new museum located in a glitzy new master planned urban community seems diametrically opposed to places that are the catalyst for artistic creativity. Time will tell.

  One of the things that make Memphis' museums great is their authenticity, as they are telling stories that are both local and global. 

One of the things that make Memphis' museums great is their authenticity, as they are telling stories that are both local and global. 

  Harold "Scotty" Scott. 

Harold "Scotty" Scott. 

The Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, created by the Smithsonian Institute and located downtown next to the arena provides an excellent overview of the history of Memphis area music from the 1930s to the city’s musical heyday of the ‘70s.  The museum’s digital audio guide offers up over 300 minutes of information including 100 songs that you can listen to while surrounded by artifacts of the time.  It is a total music immersion program not to be missed.

Sun Records, located just outside of the downtown, is easily accessible via the tram and a short walk to the historic building. Like the STAX museum, I think you get a better appreciation for the history and the environment that produced the music when you walk the streets around it.

The lobby of Sun Studio looks like a '50s diner.

What is great and unique about Sun Records is that you get a personal tour led by a local musician.  Sun Records, an American independent record label was founded in Memphis in 1952, by Sam Phillips and financed by Jim Bulliet.  It was here that Phillips discovered and first recorded Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. Phillips loved the music of African-Americans and wanted to bring that genre to a mass audience, which changed the world of music, but meant Sun Records struggled to be viable. 

The museum is full of artifacts and your tour guide has amazing stories to tell.  But the highlight of the tour is to stand on in the recording studio where Elvis, Carl, Jerry Lee and Johnny belted out your favourite songs. The building just oozes history - I am sure I heard Roy singing.

The modest entrance to Sun Studio.

One of  the many artifacts from the early days of Sun Studio.

The recording studio is still used today. It looks like a rec room from the '50s. It is hard to imagine that this is place where the legends of '50s and '60s music created their hits here.

Beale Street

Beale Street, truly one of North America’s iconic streets, is home to the International Blues Competition (IBC). The event utilizes 17 different venues along the street for the 250+ entries from around the world.  The street is hopping with music from noon to the wee hours of the morning. 

For me, the highlight of the Challenge were the midnight jams at the Daisy Theatre (every night various musicians from the competition and past winners put on an impromptu concert, the energy was electrifying).   There are certain art experiences that stand out in my life - seeing Baryshnikov dance from the front row of the Lincoln Centre (1984) and the Hermitage Show at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (1977) - and the IBC jams on Beale Street.

  Beale Street is animated by buskers and bands who provide great street entertainment. 

Beale Street is animated by buskers and bands who provide great street entertainment. 

  The International Blues Challenge midnight jam. 

The International Blues Challenge midnight jam. 

Clarksdale

No trip to Memphis for a blues lover is complete without a road trip to Clarksdale, Mississippi (90 minute drive), considered by some as “ground zero” for the blues. The entire city is a living museum complete with numerous historical plaques and a self-guided map. 

Clarksdale is home to the crossroads of highways 61 and 49 where legend has it iconic blues guitarist Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil.   You can also visit the McKinley Morganfield’s (aka Muddy Waters) cabin on Stovall Road. There are lots of tiny cabins still inhabited that serve as a reminder of the poverty that begat the blues.  

When in Clarksdale check out The Delta Blues Museum, WROX radio station on Main Street and all of the other historic sites around town, it will give you a whole new appreciation of how the blues was germinated.

Ground Zero Blues Club opened in 2001 in an old warehouse building with “manufactured authenticity” complements of an old couch and other bric-a-brac on the porch and the tradition of graffiti-like visitors writing of their names anywhere they can find space. names of people who have been there on the walls.  We arrived mid day (nothing was happening), but we did manage to get on stage and pretend we were performing.

In chatting with Holger Petersen (veteran CBC and CKUA blues broadcaster), after his talk about the history of the blues at NMC a few years back he told me Ground Zero was one of his favourite places to listen to the blues. You could easily spend an afternoon wandering the streets of Clarksdale, checking out the museum, eating dinner and listening to an act Ground Zero and maybe even book yourself a room at the Riverside Hotel, established in 1944, where the the likes of Robert Nighthawk, Sonny Boy Williams and Ike Turner had been guests.

It truly is a sacred place.

  Ground Zero Blues Club looks like it was part of Clarksdale's heyday, but in reality it didn't open until 2001. It has established itself as the premier place for blues performers to play when in the area.

Ground Zero Blues Club looks like it was part of Clarksdale's heyday, but in reality it didn't open until 2001. It has established itself as the premier place for blues performers to play when in the area.

Panels like these are located throughout the city, creating an informative self-guided walking tour. 

WROX radio
  Clarksdale has numerous music related stores that are fun to explore.  It is a great place to flaneur - you will find everything from the charming Greyhound bus depot to the  Tennessee Williams historic district  of mega-mansions from the early 20th century. Tennessee Williams grew up in Clarksdale.

Clarksdale has numerous music related stores that are fun to explore.  It is a great place to flaneur - you will find everything from the charming Greyhound bus depot to the Tennessee Williams historic district of mega-mansions from the early 20th century. Tennessee Williams grew up in Clarksdale.

Barry (another Mikey's groupie) and I on stage at Ground Zero Blues Club. 

Gospel Revelation

No trip to Memphis is complete without attending a Sunday morning Gospel Church service. While many trek to the well-publicized Al Green church service near Graceland, we were fortunate to notice during our wanderings that at the end of Beale Street is the First Baptist Church (built in 1880, it is believed to be the first brick-constructed, multi-story church built by African Americans).  We like authenticity so this seemed like the perfect choice.

So on Sunday morning, when many IBC revellers were still recovering from their Saturday night festivities, we headed to church.   Wanting to be respectful, we tried toquietly walk in and sit at the back, but that was not to be.  We were immediately welcomed like long lost family, hands were shaken, we were given a program, and by the end hugs were shared and we were part of “the family.”  I have never experienced a more friendly welcoming. 

At the beginning of the service, all-newcomers were welcomed by name and where they were visiting from.  We were asked to stand to be recognized and invited to say a few words. Then amateur singers and preachers started to perform building to a crescendo with a large female choir and professional passionate preacher that made both your body and soul shiver. I don’t think I have ever heard so many AMENs in my life. 

Initially planning to only stay for 30 minutes or so, we were mesmerized we stayed for the entire two-hour service.  We were even invited to join them for lunch afterwards.  It was a magical experience. Amen!

insidechurch

Canadian Museum for Human Rights: Money Well Spent?

I received the comments below from childhood friend Bill Browett and thought that EDT readers would enjoy his insightful perspective on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and Human Rights.  I have received many other comments from readers which I have added to the end of the blog.  I hope you will enjoy this revised blog. 

Bill Browett writes:

I have been thinking about this blog since you sent the link out. Rather than focus on whether the money was well spent, I was struck by your subtitle …

“Museum without artifacts …  One of the things I associate with great museums and art galleries is allowing visitors the opportunity to see things you can’t see anywhere else.  “

I too love seeing the artifacts, but mostly when I go to museums and art galleries what I am doing is looking at the stories that are told … the meta messages … Stories that reveal the attitudes and aspirations of the curators, owners, and artisans in both the artifacts and messages. Public institutions tend to tell institutional stories, and institutions pretty much by definition are conservative. Dissenting opinion is often. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) is no exception, as noted by “WB”.

Canadians have played pivotal roles in the progress of Human Rights … e.g., the creation of the UN "Universal Declaration of Human Rights” … I am all for celebrating both the positive contributions … However, these celebrations are empty and appear only as propaganda, if the institutions do not reconcile and work to reconcile Canadian failures, and entrenched cultural bigotries whether colonial and tribal [e.g., European biases] histories, e..g, genocidal policies, such as the Residential School program for First Nations children, and failure to include reconciliation in the Truth and Reconciliation process that is on-going.

I will visit the CMHR if I manage to make it to Winnipeg. Nonetheless, if the website is any indication, https://humanrights.ca/exhibit, this museum has failed to capture not only the rich, and on occasion dark history of the human rights struggles in Canada, but the CMHR has not put into a global context the Canadian struggles and contributions. … We are left with what I call a “happy face” institutional interpretation … sanitized and romanticized versions of the past.

If the CMHR, as the website suggests, has very narrowly defined the history of Human Rights, as I suspect, … then it has done a significant disservice to the many, many Canadians who have deeply sacrificed in these struggles, and worse does a disservice to current and future generations by suggesting that there are not serious conflicting histories of what Human Rights are.

Perhaps the "expressions" section of the website captures my concerns better than most, and illustrates the point of institutional messaging … (https://humanrights.ca/exhibit/expressions

 “Developed by the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, this travelling exhibition explores the ways that Canadians have defined, made and kept peace at home and around the world. Peace is examined on three levels: how we negotiate to obtain and protect it; how we organize and demonstrate to demand it; and, sometimes, how we fight to achieve it."

To no one’s surprise, and as someone who has been an active participant in the Canadian peace movement all his adult life, the content in the "expressions” section is a very narrow definition of how "Canadians have defined, made and kept peace at home and around the world."

For many of us, on many levels, Human Rights struggles continue both in Canada and around the world. Appropriately, this is the season for such reflections.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights: Money Well Spent???????

By Richard White, December 10, 2014

The September 2014 opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) in Winnipeg was probably one of the most anticipated, new 21st century buildings in Canada. It is the first new national museum since1967 and the first outside the National Capital Region.  The design is strange, intriguing, and not just a big box museum. In the words of Antoine Predock, the architect, “ the abstract ephemeral wings of a white dove embrace a mythic stone mountain of 450-million year old Tyndall limestone in the creation of a unifying and timeless landmark.”

 Indeed, the building is a new landmark and tourist attraction for the City of Winnipeg and another wonderful new addition to the city’s urban meeting place, The Forks, which is on par with places like Vancouver’s Granville Island.

 On a recent visit to the Winnipeg, I had a chance to tour (two plus hours) the CMHR. And while I was initially impressed by the design and the exhibitions, something seemed to be wrong. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but gradually I began to question whether Winnipeg - and Canada for that matter - got full value for the $350 million cost.

CHRM looking east is a strange juxtaposition of shapes.

The "Welcome Wall" video has a series of shadow figures who quickly enter write the word "welcome" in various different languages and then exit.

The entrance to the first exhibition hall is along this dramatic and sombre hallway. 

Museum without artifacts

 One of the things I associate with great museums and art galleries is allowing visitors the opportunity to see things you can’t see anywhere else.  CMHR has very few unique artifacts consist mainly of text and videos.  In many ways, this museum’s experience is like walking through a huge documentary film at your own pace.  This got me to thinking again perhaps a series of documentaries could have worked just as well.

 I was also struck by the fact there wasn’t much “new” in the museum; most of the information is available to anyone with a computer and Internet.  One really has to rethink the role of museums in the 21st century.

 Interesting to that the museum’s website has no video of the exhibitions – not even a short “teaser “one. I can’t but help but wonder if they realized that if they did a good video tour, there would be no need to go to the museum. 

 There are quotes from individuals scattered throughout the museum. 

There are quotes from individuals scattered throughout the museum. 

IMG_7322.jpg
  The first exhibition hall is dominated by a wall that documents the history of human rights on the left and video on the right. The wooden basket at the end is a small theatre space for a video.  

The first exhibition hall is dominated by a wall that documents the history of human rights on the left and video on the right. The wooden basket at the end is a small theatre space for a video.  

  Detail of the history wall.

Detail of the history wall.

  Several of the exhibition halls are dominated by a large billboard like video screen with words and images. 

Several of the exhibition halls are dominated by a large billboard like video screen with words and images. 

  Children loved the interactive floor of colour. As each person stepped onto the floor they were surrounded by a ring of colour and as you moved closer to others your coloured rings joined.  If there are enough people, and you worked together you get the whole floor to light up. 

Children loved the interactive floor of colour. As each person stepped onto the floor they were surrounded by a ring of colour and as you moved closer to others your coloured rings joined.  If there are enough people, and you worked together you get the whole floor to light up. 

Opportunities Lost

Any museum that is focused on human rights is going to be controversial, and if it isn’t, it is not doing its job. This is an even larger issue when it is funded by the Federal government, with the many political considerations and constraints. This museum needs much more in the way of interactive and thought provoking exhibits.  There is no shortage of topical human rights issues in today’s world; it simply takes the freedom and courage to address them.

One of the most memorable exhibits is Jamie Blacks’ The REDress Project (see photo) that looks at violence towards aboriginal women.  Winnipeg and Manitoba have the largest First Nation and Metis population of any city or province in Canada and this population is rising at four times the overall rate of the city and province.  Governments at all levels are struggling with First Nation housing, education, health and crime challenges that are not being addressed. There is no shortage of aboriginal issues that could be dealt with in this museum in a thought-provoking and illuminating way.

Another of Canada’s most pressing current human rights issues is the chronic unemployment or underemployment of disabled Canadians who want to work but can’t find job.  Perhaps the money might have been better spent on job creation programs for the disabled.

And there are many other topical issues of today – violence against women, increasing government surveillance of the general population, the militarization of police forces, the role of women in today’s major religions, abuses of civil rights under the banner of the fight against terrorism, and on. This museum could be a beacon of light if it had some ideas for solutions.

Perhaps some of the space could be utilized for the topical issues of today, and allow outside organizations could develop the exhibits without bureaucratic or political interference.  The museum needed to focus more on how could we move from awareness to action. Now that would be a museum worth a visit.

 

  Jaime Black, The REDress Project, 2010 to present, empty dresses collected by community donation with digital backdrop. The REDress Project is an ongoing public art installation. It is a response to the overwhelming number of missing or murdered Aboriginal women across Canada. The installation seeks to engage the public in discussion about the sexist and racist nature of violent crimes against Indigenous women. 

Jaime Black, The REDress Project, 2010 to present, empty dresses collected by community donation with digital backdrop. The REDress Project is an ongoing public art installation. It is a response to the overwhelming number of missing or murdered Aboriginal women across Canada. The installation seeks to engage the public in discussion about the sexist and racist nature of violent crimes against Indigenous women. 

  Photo of residential school.  The information panel included the following quote: "I want to get rid of the Indian problem...Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic..." Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs, 1913 to 1931. 

Photo of residential school.  The information panel included the following quote: "I want to get rid of the Indian problem...Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic..." Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs, 1913 to 1931. 

Japanese

Big & Bold Architecture

 While the vastness of the building is part of its provocative statement, one can’t help but wonder, why there is so much empty space.  My guess is that less than 50% of the buildings’ space is utilized for exhibitions and offices.  This means incredible cost for heating and air-conditioning the building, especially with Winnipeg’s long cold winters and hot summers. 

One rumour I heard was that it will cost $100,000 a year just for window cleaning.

One of the biggest issues facing most major museums across Canada today is operating cost; this is not going to be efficient building to operate. 

The interior of the museum is dominated by a floor to ceiling atrium that filled with ramps that take you from floor to floor. The luminous walls are an interesting visual metaphor for the "enlightenment" that the museum is trying to foster.

While the ramps and atrium create a very haunting and perhaps uplifting space, it takes up 50% of the museum space.

The glass walls from the inside are an intricate and rhythmic pattern that fragments the visitors view of the city. 

Even when you look up to the tower, the view is blocked by all of the mechanical pipes and girders - there is no sense of awe that you might expect.

It is strange to have a glass wall that is blocked by so many lines.

Last Word

After a few days of mulling my CMHR experience over, I continue to think the $350 million spent to build a human rights museum and probably another $10 million per year to operate it, might have been better spent actually dealing with the human rights issues themselves.

I would highly recommend that if you are in Winnipeg that you visit CMHR and decide for yourself if it was "money well spent!"

If you like this blog, you might like:

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Phoenix: Musical Instrument Museum

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Readers' Responses:

CW writes: 

Your blog is written rather mildly. Perhaps the CMHR building could be repurposed as Museum of the Scams We Have to Endure in This Life: the CMHR structure, the Edmonton Oilers & Toronto Maple Leafs, Bre-X, the music industry for the last 40 years, and now the Wildrose Party of Alberta. Blog that one please.

KG writes: 

I asked myself this question as well and I do believe it's money poorly spent. From my perspective, the internet allows us to reach people with almost all the content contained in the museums walls – focussing just a quarter of the money on digital media content, rather than a lavish physical monument could have led to something exciting.  Now, granted that won't bring tourists. But, will the physical museum? I doubt it, especially not repeat visits.And don't even get me started on "starchitects" designing sculptures instead of functional spaces. How many human rights were violated to get all that steel just to tie the glass facade to the actual building.

JR writes: 

I fear that a third of a billion dollars was thrown down a rat hole. Question: what part of the money was raised from private citizens; from public companies; from “we the people”? Question: where does the $10M annual operation cost come from, speculate “we the people”? Question: how are they measuring the gigantic influx of tourists who are surely flying from all over the planet to see the museum?

Anyway the real depressing part is the annual cost. Assuming a “cap rate of 5.5”, I make it that there is a negative valuation ($181,000,000) i.e. to lose $10,000,000 annually“we the people” have to deploy $181,000,000 of capital earning 5.5% return to support it, all that after deploying $350,000,000 that makes no return. Poor bloody taxpayer.

WB writes: 

Great and inquisitive article on the CMHR. Many people I know in Winnipeg have little interest in visiting the museum owing to a litany of issues. You mentioned the $10m in annual operating costs but I believe e the figure is pegged at around $26m give or take a mill.

Why? No mention of Aboriginal genocide. No Palestinian causes represented. Only 4 of the 11 galleries completed? Why? ETC. "Controversial" starts with exclusions and lots of pink slips. The CMHR may be the first politically directed public cultural museum in Canadian history and that story has yet to be aired in public.

 

 

 

Calgary's got its mojo working!

A recent poll on Canadians’ perception of Calgary (Calgary Herald, Dec 10, 2014) wasn’t very flattering.  While Calgarians have tremendous community pride, we shouldn’t look at our city though “rose- coloured” glasses. However, at some point in time, we also must recognize our city can’t be all things to all people. 

In many ways, the results aren’t that surprising. Calgary isn’t going to appeal to people who don’t like winter - we have six months of it.  Our city won’t be loved those who lust after beaches and water – the Bow and Elbow Rivers, plus the Glenmore Reservoir just don’t compete. Calgary doesn’t have great retirement appeal, as retirement dollars won’t go further here.  That being said, many empty nesters will move to Calgary, largely to be closer to their children and grandkids who have relocated here to advance their career. 

Calgary is not a major Canadian tourist destination – Banff is! For some reason, Calgary and Banff have not been linked in the minds of Canadian tourists in the same way as Vancouver and Whistler are linked.

Calgary is most attractive to Canadians of all ages who want to “work hard and get ahead.”  In many ways Calgary is still a “frontier city.” Just like at the beginning of the 20th century when farmers and ranchers moved here, Canadians from the east are still migrating here to create a better life for themselves and their families.

Canada’s Young Career Class

“Why the West has won Canada’s youth” was the title of Mike Milke’s (Senior Fellow, Fraser Institute) Herald column November 22nd, 2014.  In it, he provided interesting facts about what he called “Canada’s young career class (YCC),” i.e. those 25 to 34-year olds who have finished their education and are seeking to establish their careers.  From 2003 to 2012, Alberta gained 60,855 YCCs on a net basis; British Columbia gained 10,643 and Saskatchewan 581. On the “losing” side, Quebec lost 24,355 and Ontario lost 27,451. He didn’t give numbers for Manitoba or the Maritime provinces except to say “Manitoba and Atlantic Canada also bled young adults but that’s been a constant for some time.” If you do the math, they collective lost a whopping 40,000+.

Calgary’s oil patch has been a magnet for Canada’s YCC for over 50 years - it is not a new phenomenon. Today, it is Calgary, Edmonton and Fort McMurray that are the magnets for young Canadians who want to establish their career, with Calgary being especially attractive for those wanting a career in Geology, Accounting, Banking, Brokering (stocks, land, commercial space) and Engineering or as I call them GABEsters.

  Calgary has an fashionable cycling culture

Calgary has an fashionable cycling culture

   Calgary's mojo includes some great nerdy shops.

Calgary's mojo includes some great nerdy shops.

  Downtown Calgary's Power Hour

Downtown Calgary's Power Hour

Tourist love Calgary's laid-back urban culture.

  Calgary's street culture.

Calgary's street culture.

Calgary’s got its mojo working

Since the beginning of the new millennium, Calgary has evolved significantly.  We have become a better “Festival City” with Beakerhead and SLED Island being two key examples. We are a better “Foodie City,” often placing one or more restaurants in enRoute Magazine’s annual Top 10 New Restaurants and our chefs are regular medal winners at international competitions.  Cowtown will also become more attractive to the YCC when the National Music Centre opens in 2016.

Calgary is also a leader in new community planning with new communities like Brookfield Residential, McKenzie Towne, SETON and Canada Lands’ Garrison Woods and Currie Barracks.  We have also become North America’s newest “Design City,” with world-renowned architects and artists creating work for Calgary – Calatrava (Peace Bridge), Foster (The Bow), Ingels (Telus Sky), Plensa (Wonderland sculpture) and Snøhetta (New Central Library)

We’ve also got some of the best urban neighbourhoods in Canada – Inglewood, Beltline, Kensington and Bridgeland/Riverside.  The Canadian Institute of Planners named Inglewood Canada’s Greatest Neighbourhood in 2014 and Kensington was a finalist.

We are currently ranked #5 as one of the world’s most liveable cities (Economist Intelligence Unit) and #1 in Canada for family living (MoneySense Magazine). And, one thing most Canadians probably don’t know is that Calgary has been ranked the “Cleanest City” in the world (Mercer Global).

Calgary has also diversified its employment base. We are now Western Canada’s financial centre and the distribution hub, which means more opportunities for YCC.

Calgary has also become Canada’s leading political city - the Prime Minister is from Calgary and our Mayor is respected internationally.

Many young Canadians come to Calgary for the job and stay for the lifestyle. I know that happened for us. We moved to the Calgary area in 1981 thinking it would be an interesting adventure never thinking that 33 years later we’d still call it home.

  Calgary has a bustling cafe culture.

Calgary has a bustling cafe culture.

More street culture.

  Yes, we sometimes live in our own little bubble.

Yes, we sometimes live in our own little bubble.

  And, we can laugh at ourselves.

And, we can laugh at ourselves.

Last Word

In the words of iconic bluesman Muddy Waters Calgary has "got our mojo working, but it just won't work on you!"  And really, do we really care what Canadian's think of our city?  

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Public Art vs Street Art: Calgary, Florence, Rome

After six weeks of recently wandering the streets of Dublin, Florence and Rome, I was puzzled by the lack of new public art (approved by a public process), appalled by the abundance of graffiti and intrigued by the street art (no public approval).

There was really only one piece of what looked like new public art that caught my eye. It was in Rome, in the tiny off-the-beaten path Vicolo dell’Oro square. The piece “Personal/NonPersonal” by Simone D’Auria was commissioned by the Gallery Hotel Art which is located next to the square. A very ambitious piece that encompasses the entire square, it has 18 ghost-like man/animal figures strategically placed from the earth to sky, including several figures climbing the side of the building. 

The artwork represents an imaginary world populated by white creatures with a human body and the head of an animal. The inspiration has its roots in the past of those great men who have made the city of Florence and its history and who repesented themselves through emblems depicting the head of an animal followed by a motto that extolled the value and virtue of action. Some examples? The turtle with a sail for Cosimo I,  symbol of prudence combined with the power of action; a rhino for Alessando de Medici to symbolize his strength and strong will; a weasel by Francis I, the symbol of cunning.

"Today, in my work, those animals and the meanings they carry with them become faces of men and women, ironic caricatures in which they can identify themselves, visible expression of their deepest inner values; portraits, in fact," says D'Auria. The circus-like animation is a welcome relief in a city dominated by somber ruins of past cultures and statues of people long passed away.  It was definitely a refreshing and welcomed surprise.

I can’t help but think that an artwork like this would be a good addition to downtown Calgary.  It would be very appropriate for a space between the many two-tower office blocks or for the alley space between the towers of the Hotel Le Germain project on 9th Avenue SW. 

fying
climbing the wall
bums
flying figures
seated figures

Florence Street Art

While Calgary invests millions of public and private dollars into public art, in Florence and Rome, temporary free street art seems to be the rage.  Very soon after arriving in Florence, I started to notice the appearance of faceless, simple cartoon-like stick figures with balloons and words like “exit, freedom and resistance”.  For me, it soon became a fun game of spotting the next piece. And they were all over the place!

Later, I found out by googling that the no-name artist was from Pisa, Italy a hot bed for street art. The title of the project is “Exit/Enter” with the purpose being to tickle the imagination of street spectators, to be a catalyst for a smile or a smirk and maybe even be a bit thought-provoking as one tries to understand the ongoing narrative.  I thought the title was very appropriate as the streets and alleys of Florence are full of doorways and corners where people are always entering or exiting. 

CLET

While walking around Florence’s San Niccolo district we discovered a t-shirt shop with some very interesting street-sign decals so we popped in.  We quickly learned that they were the work of CLET, a very well-known, European street artist who has his studio in the area at Via Dell’Olono 8r. CLET cleverly alters road signs around cities with removable stickers. Seems the local authorities tolerate the work, which again adds humour to an urban landscape polluted with street signage.  Once, we knew about CLET we started to find the altered street signs everywhere. 

  This is the entrance to CLET studio. The Fish sign is CLET's, the hear and stick figure is from the "Exit/Enter" project and the blue piece is by Blurb another street artist (see below) and butterflies by another artist. I am not sure who did the guns or the black figure with paint roller. 

This is the entrance to CLET studio. The Fish sign is CLET's, the hear and stick figure is from the "Exit/Enter" project and the blue piece is by Blurb another street artist (see below) and butterflies by another artist. I am not sure who did the guns or the black figure with paint roller. 

close up


collage
kisses
cross
t-shirt
blind corner

Exit/Enter Project

waste
Resistance
resistance 2
Exit bike
Lost
balloon
woman and child
ladder
natzi
fly away

Blurb 

A third street artist, Blurb, takes on major masterpieces of art and dresses them up in scuba gear.  The title of the project is “Art knows how to swim” and while I have no idea was the meaning is, they too added an element of fun to serious works of art like Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Michelangelo’s David.   Many of the works on paper are ripped and faded to the point where they blend right in with the urban patina of the city. 

david
Blurb
mona lisa
red hat

Rome Street Art 

In Rome, we didn’t find any new public art or graffiti street art like Florence (though we did find a few Exit/Enter pieces). However, in the graffiti-filled streets of the San Lorenzo district near the university, we found the motherlode of street art. 

Along the retaining wall of a playing field in an elevated park are two block-long linear art galleries with works by various artists intertwined to create a powerful statement about the area’s sense of place. 

These are not the refined, pretty, decorative street art works you see in some cities, but rather the evolution of graffiti and tagging into expressionist paintings full of social and political protests.  In some places, it was hard to tell where the graffiti ended and the street art began.

   A typical streetscape in San Lorenzo.

A typical streetscape in San Lorenzo.

  One side of the street art wall.

One side of the street art wall.

  Detail from art wall

Detail from art wall

  Detail from art wall

Detail from art wall


  The second side of street art wall is devoted to the work of one artist.

The second side of street art wall is devoted to the work of one artist.

  Street art on the security doors of a shop.

Street art on the security doors of a shop.

  PsychoLAB

PsychoLAB

  Need food not football?

Need food not football?

Calgary Street Art

Earlier this year, Calgary experimented with some street art on the retaining walls of the busy pedestrian (4th and 14th Street SW) underpasses connecting 9th and 10th Avenues.  And although in most cities street art is painted without permission on public and private walls and is permanent, most of Calgary’s street art is approved and temporary.

For example, this past May, as part of the Beakerhead, program Michael Mateyko and Hans Theiseen (also known as Komboh) created a pair of 27-foot long murals on 4th Street and 12-foot murals on 14th Street. Eco-chalk graffiti, an environmentally-friendly product that can be easily removed was used.  The murals consisted of several cartoon robot-like figures that mimicked people walking to work. 

The spontaneity, surprise and fun-ness of the artwork that appeared overnight was dampened by a large text informing everyone, “This temporary public artwork is created with eco-calk and application and removal process approved by the City of Calgary.”

As well, in East Village, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation organized two interesting temporary street art projects. The first “I am the River” by Derek Besant and the current “The Field Manual: A compendium of local influence” by Calgary’s Light & Soul Collective, both using the new RiverWalk’s bridge abutments, storage sheds and robo-bathrooms as their canvas.  

 

  4th Street Mural from the other side of the underpass.

4th Street Mural from the other side of the underpass.

  The 4th Street mural pedestrian perspective.

The 4th Street mural pedestrian perspective.

  Example of one of the fun and clever cartoon characters.  

Example of one of the fun and clever cartoon characters. 

  Love this cartoon of a woman walking with her briefcase and plugged in to the sky aka icloud.

Love this cartoon of a woman walking with her briefcase and plugged in to the sky aka icloud.

  Somehow I felt this signage took some of the fun and spontaneity out of the work.

Somehow I felt this signage took some of the fun and spontaneity out of the work.

Last Word 

One has to wonder if Calgary and other cities would be better served by encouraging more temporary street art, both approved and unapproved, than expensive permanent public art works.  Not only is street art cheaper, it doesn’t have any maintenance costs and if the public doesn’t like it, well, it will literally disappear in a few months or years.

  Found the juxtaposition of the bike and the skeleton figure quite provocative. 

Found the juxtaposition of the bike and the skeleton figure quite provocative. 

A Surprise Playground Lunch

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

   Big brother helping sister.

Big brother helping sister.

Playground Fun 

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

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

 

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

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

  The spectators bench. 

The spectators bench. 

  The world's longest blackboard?

The world's longest blackboard?

  A good public space attracts people of all ages. 

A good public space attracts people of all ages. 

  Our friendly butcher, sandwich maker. 

Our friendly butcher, sandwich maker. 

Last Word

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

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

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Dublin: St. Stephen's Green vs St Patrick's Cathedral Park

I have always believed that great cities have great parks.  A recent visit to Dublin and its two urban parks reminded me or the importance of parks in creating attractive urban places for people of all ages and backgrounds. 

St. Stephen's Green 

Until 1663 St. Stephen's Green was a marshy common on the edge of Dublin, used for grazing. In that year Dublin Corporation, seeing an opportunity to raise much needed revenue, decided to enclose the centre of the common and to sell land around the perimeter for building. The park was enclosed with a wall in 1664. The houses built around the Green were rapidly replaced by new buildings in the Georgian style and by the end of the eighteenth century the Green was the urban playground for the city's rich and famous. Much of the present day streetscape around the Green comprises modern buildings (some in a replica Georgian style) with very little from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Today St. Stephen's Green is a green oasis for people of all ages and backgrounds  in Dublin's bustling city centre. The current park was designed by William Sheppard in 1880.  The park is adjacent to one of Dublin's main shopping streets, Grafton Street, and to a shopping centre named for it, while on its surrounding streets are the offices of a number of government office and the city terminus of one of Dublin's LUAS tram lines.  At 22 acres, it is the largest of Dublin's Georgian garden squares, others include nearby Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square.

  Map of St. Stephen's Green

Map of St. Stephen's Green

There is a wonderful calmness in the park that invites you to sit and relax. 

  Parks are great places to sit, chat and people watch.  

Parks are great places to sit, chat and people watch. 

Fusilier's Arch is located at the entrance/exit to the park from Grafton Street. Built in 1907, it is dedicated to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who fought and died in the Second Boer War (1899 - 1902).

  The Park's playground is very popular with the little people.. 

The Park's playground is very popular with the little people.. 

  Stephen's Green has a wonderful pastoral ambience to it.

Stephen's Green has a wonderful pastoral ambience to it.

  The park is surrounded by high dense hedges that serve as noise and sight barriers, which contributes to the sense of an oasis and privacy. 

The park is surrounded by high dense hedges that serve as noise and sight barriers, which contributes to the sense of an oasis and privacy. 

The Park is full of monuments, mostly formal statues, but this contemporary piece titled "Famine,"  by Edward Delaney caught our imagination.  Parks make great spaces for public art, as they allow people to contemplate the artwork and move around it.

St. Patrick's Cathedral Park 

  I love that Baileys sponsored this information panel about the park and cathedral. 

I love that Baileys sponsored this information panel about the park and cathedral. 

  The formal park is centred around a modest fountain. 

The formal park is centred around a modest fountain. 

  Every park needs a playground. 

Every park needs a playground. 

  Parks should appeal to people of all ages.  This little guy turned a ramp into his private playground.

Parks should appeal to people of all ages.  This little guy turned a ramp into his private playground.

  Parks and public space should invite people to sit and linger.

Parks and public space should invite people to sit and linger.

  Liberty Bell, by Vivienne Roche occupies a prominent spot in the park.

Liberty Bell, by Vivienne Roche occupies a prominent spot in the park.

  At first I missed this peace of public art at is was so well integrated into the park I thought it was just another table and chairs. The location is perfect for looking out at the park or the cathedral. The piece is titled "Havel's Place" was designed by Borek Sipek and is dedicated to late Czech President and human rights advocate, Vaclav Havel. There are several of these monuments around the world.  Click here for more info.

At first I missed this peace of public art at is was so well integrated into the park I thought it was just another table and chairs. The location is perfect for looking out at the park or the cathedral. The piece is titled "Havel's Place" was designed by Borek Sipek and is dedicated to late Czech President and human rights advocate, Vaclav Havel. There are several of these monuments around the world. Click here for more info.

Parade of Writers

Another fun element of the park an area set aside to recognize the tremendous contribution made by writers who have lived in Dublin. It is truly amazing that one city could be the home for so many influential writers over such a long period of time.

panel
famous writers
beckett

Last Word 

I am not sure if anyone has done the study, but I expect there is a direct correlation between the quality and quantity of urban parks and the vibrancy of the City's City Center. Think New York's  Central Park, Vancouver's Stanley Park or Montreal's Mount Royal Park.  

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Florence BFFs: Best Flaneur Finds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

  Mrs Macis is a colourful, playful vintage shop. 

Mrs Macis is a colourful, playful vintage shop. 

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

Niccolo District

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

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

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

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

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

Vivaldi Cioccolateri's cozy back room oasis. 

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

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

  Collage of CLET signs.

Collage of CLET signs.

Via de Macci District

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you believe this is charity/thrift store? 

Other Finds:

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

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

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

 BFF (Best Flaneur Find)

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

students
All' antico Vinaio

 Last Word

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

By Richard White, November 9, 2014

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Flaneuring Florence's Markets: Flea, Food & Fashion

By Richard White, November 5, 2014

Like most European cities, Florence's city centre has several markets, some are more focused on food, others on fashion and some even have a weekly or monthly flea market.  For example, when visiting Frankfurt, we always try to make sure we are there for their Saturday flea market along the Main River, as it is a great place to shop and people watch. In Florence, you have your choice of several different markets depending on the day of the week. 

Everyday Markets

Mercato Centrale is both and open air and indoor market. The open air area is full of vendors selling everything from socks to trinkets and like most Florence markets a plethora of leather goods.  The ornate two-story Mercato Centrale building was built in 1874, after the Mercato Vecchio was demolished to make way for the Piazza della Repubblicaa few blocks away.  Here you find lots of permanent vendors as well as upscale touristy restaurants and shops.  For those of you familar with Vancouver's Granville Island Market, or Seattle's Pike market there are many similarities.

Piazza Ghilberti Market (food and clothing) is also open everyday and given its location on the east side of the City Centre you get to mix a bit more with the locals than the Mercanto Centrale. It too has an outside stall area that is very animated and an indoor space.  Best to get there early, as it can get quite crowded later in the morning and most of the action is pretty much over by noon or 1 pm.

Specialty Markets

On your way to the Ghilberti Market you might want to stop by the small antique market on the Piazza del Ciompi which operates from Monday to Saturday opening about 10 am the best we can tell.  Seems like the vendors open whenever they like.  The entire piazza looks a bit ramshackled, but there is a good selection of second-hand stores to explore.  

The Flower Market takes place on Thursday morning under the colonnade of the Palace at the Piazza della Republic.  It is not a very large market, probably only a 15 to 20 minute "look see" for most people so combine it with some other activities that day.  It is very colourful and refreshing as Florence's City Centre has very little vegetation. 

On the third sunday of the month at the Piazza Santo Spirito is a craft and food market.  The crafts are very limited, but there are a few things you won't see at other markets, like the lady hand-weaving baskets or the hippy guy making hand-made shoes.  We were told this is where the local foodies shop.   

The third weekend of the month there is also an antique market at the Fortezza de Basso / garden.  Unfortunately, we didn't get there so can't comment on the quality of the experience.

World's Longest Flea Market

Every Tuesday from 7 am to 2 pm you will find the mother of all flea markets in Florence's Le Cascine Park along the Arno River. It is a linear market that goes for over 3 kilometres with vendors on both sides.  It took us almost two hours to do one side and we weren't looking at everything. While some vendors might stay there until 2 pm, we saw some beginning to pack up just after noon. There are a few food vendors, but it is most clothing vendors - not designer knockoffs, but rather mostly new cheap clothing, shoes, accessories, and kitchen products. This is not a "made in Italy" fashionista experience and not a place for vintage treasure hunters.  

That being said there were some treasures to be had if you were prepared to dig in the pile of scarfs. Brenda did manage to find two vintage scarves for 1 euro each and a modern Italian made sweater/coat for 40 euros.  

It was a great walk in the park, a chance to mingle with the locals and people watching. What more could you ask for? 

Postcards: Le Cascine Flea Market

The east entrance to the Le Cascine Park Flea Market is marked by this tear drop road marking. It was a drizzly day when we arrived, but the rain soon stopped and it was a very pleasant walk along the tree-lined market.  The linear market was easy to negotiate as you just go up one side and dow the other. 

Brenda checking out the racks of clothing.

  I am looking for something for my sweet tooth.

I am looking for something for my sweet tooth.

  Brenda had her eye on this cool dude for awhile. Yes that is his bike.

Brenda had her eye on this cool dude for awhile. Yes that is his bike.

  Everyone loves a flea market

Everyone loves a flea market

Brenda spotted with pile of scarves and she was on it like a dog on a bone.

  What's a flea market without The roasted chestnuts to enjoy.

What's a flea market without The roasted chestnuts to enjoy.

Postcards from Ghilberti Market 

The Bead Lady was doing a brisk business.

Inside the butcher was fun to watch. 

We loved the fact that people of all ages were enjoying the market.

Postcards from Piazza Ciompi Market 

Don't be put off by the appearance of the shops there are some treasures to be had.  

Postcards from Piazza Santo Spirito

This piazza dates back to 1252 when Augustinian monks built a monastery and church. Today it is a bohemian hang-out with restaurants, cafes and a market. 
 

We awarded this vendor the top prize for visual presentation. 

Shoe maker. 

Basket weaving. 

These bronze fragments are a war memorial.  German soldiers at the end of WWII conducting public killing of freedom fighters and political opponents in the piazza and streets surrounding it. 

Postcards from Mercanto Centrale

 

The indoor market is more like a food court in a mall or office building than a farmers' market. 

Looking down from the second floor restaurant you get a better sense that this isn't your quaint local farmer's market.  

Postcards from the Flower Market

 

The flower market has one of the prettiest spaces of any market I have ever seen.

Florence's flower market adds a burst of colour and plant life that is absent from most of the City Centre. 

Herb vendor

Last Word

One of the things all of Florence's markets have in common is that they are enjoyed by everyone from young children to seniors.  More and more urban planners and designers are cognizant of the 8/80 rule that states; if a place or space is attractive to kids 8 and younger, as well as 80 and older, it will be attractive to everyone in between.  While exploring the markets and streets of Florence, I have seen more seniors hobbling with canes along the busy and bumpy streets, sidewalks and piazzas than I have seen anywhere else in the world.  Kudos to them...I don't know how they do it.  

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Dublin: Iconic barracks makes for great museum

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

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

 One of the many fascinating fashion exhibits. 

One of the many fascinating fashion exhibits. 

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

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

hurdy gurdy panel

Eileen Gray

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

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

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

  Gray's iconic end table named E1027.

Gray's iconic end table named E1027.

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

Model of contemporary architectural designed by Gray.

Pebbledash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Side-view of the pebbledash house.

Side-view of the pebbledash house.

Last Word

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

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

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

 

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Window licking along Florence's Via Tornabuoni

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

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

Back story

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

Window licking on Tornabuoni 

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

Reflections

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

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

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Lyon sidewalk ballet

New Antinori Cellar: A Hidden Design Architectural Gem in Tuscany

You could easily drive by and not even know that the new Antinori Chianti Classico Winery and office are located in Bargino, just off the highway between Florence and Siena. Why? Because the Antinori family has so much respect for the beauty of the Tuscany landscape, they wanted to retain the integrity of it soC they built it almost entirely underground.

This was a huge task, as the building and cellars are almost 500,000 square feet, i.e. the size of a typical 30 or 40-floor office building.  First, the soil from the four-hectare site was removed and stored so the support structure, cellars and building could be built. Then the soil was placed back on top of the building and new vineyards were planted on top. 

Today, all you see from the road are two earth-tone, elongated arches that mirror the profile of a iconic Tuscan hills and a young two-year old vineyard. The visual impact is minimal to say the least. 

However, upon arriving at the the site and driving into the underground entrance, you are immediately struck by something special. An eerie light streams in from a huge hole in the ceiling illuminating two sets of human leg-like support beams and a grand, circular staircase. It is like walking into a James Bond movie or a surreal church. I have heard it referred to as "the cathedral in the desert." 

As you ascend the staircase, you notice each of the stairs is slightly different in size and rise and the railing has a distinct, vertical striation in a palette of earth tones. At the top of the staircase, you arrive at a plaza with a sweeping view of the vineyard and Tuscan hills. The pattern, rhythm and line of the railing and stairwell structure echo that of a vineyard. 

Once inside, the building is like a contemporary art gallery with large, open gallery-like spaces. The light and building continues to play games, creating interesting shadows, shapes and reflections that become art.

The following images illustrate better than any text could how the new, uber-chic Antinori Chianti Classico Winery design by Archea Associati architects is a work of art.   

The grand staircase rises out of the parking garage.

A view from the plaza  looking down the stairwell.

The lead architect Marco Casamonti of Archiea Associati Studio chose only Tuscan materials and colours to pay  homage to a land which has been kind to the Antinori family. Everything is linked to nature - from the terracotta tiles of the cellar to the rust-coloured alloy steel of the staircase. 

The young Antinori Chianti Classico Winery vineyard looking out from the ground level plaza. 

Staircase as sculpture, as seen from ground level leading up to plaza. 

At ground level, you can see how the colour, pattern and rhythm of the vineyard is reflected in the building's shape and in the staircase. The dramatic circles of the skylights mimic the base of a wine bottle. 

The huge, ground level plaza is made even more dramatic by the interplay of the roof and staircase with the windows.

The positive-negative space in this image near the restaurant could easily be a Magritte painting. 

Looking out at the Tuscan Hills from inside the building I found this vista.

Another of the strange reflections as the glass, sun, architecture and landscape interact to create surreal visual effects. 

  The cellars have the same eerie, surreal interplay of colour, light, line, shape and pattern that strengthens the design statement and  sense of place. Together, they fulfill two of my key criteria for good  art and architecture - linking man and nature, and past and present. 

The cellars have the same eerie, surreal interplay of colour, light, line, shape and pattern that strengthens the design statement and  sense of place. Together, they fulfill two of my key criteria for good  art and architecture - linking man and nature, and past and present. 

About the Antinori Family

The Antinori family has been making wine since 1385 (no, that is not a typo). For 26 generations the family has been creating some of the best Chianti Classico wine from the Tuscany region. Today, the winery is  managed by Marquis Piero Antinori and his three daughters - Albiera, Allegra and Alessia. 

The family is known for its continuous experimentation, tradition, passion and innovation. Its mission is "to reconcile both new discoveries yet to be made and the patrimony of Tuscan wine.  A patrimony that includes, tradition, culture, agriculture, art and literature." The new Antinori Chianti Classico Winery perfectly expresses this vision.

Richard White, October 19, 2014

Reader Comments:

NP writes: 

Most of these kinds of amazing design things are illegal in Canada because our building code is designed to quash beauty and creativity, while adding huge expense. Mostly it is there to provide work for lawyers, protect property for insurance companies, and add huge costs so that contractors can make more money.

If I sound a little bitter, I am. Are Canadians the dumbest people on earth? They must have a built in urge to climb handrails, hurl themselves off balconies, set fire to things and hang out in smoke filled lobbies. We put sprinkler systems over swimming pools, spend millions on complex, highly technical fire alarm systems that do not operate properly and set off so many false alarms that no one actually believes them and exits the building.

I would love a beautiful stair with a giant speaker system available outside the building that can be used by someone to shout, “This is a real emergency. Get the hell out now, or you will burn”! This would cost less and also be available for karaoke at noon during the lunch breaks.

Enjoy good design. It’s hard to do in Canada.

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Dublin's Chester Beatty Library - Look but don't touch!

Can you imagine a library where you can’t touch the  books? The Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland might just be the only library in the world where you can’t touch any of the books.  But don’t let that stop you from visiting. It is home to an amazing collection of books and book-related artifacts that will have your head exploding with information overload.

About Chester 

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty was an Irish-American mining magnate and millionaire. Born in New York City in 1875, he graduated from Columbia University as a mining engineer. He made his fortune mining in Cripple CreekColorado, and other mining operations around the world. Chester was  called the "King of Copper"

A collector from an early age beginning with stamps, he had, by the 1940s, built up a remarkable and impressive collection of Oriental art and books. He also owned 19 ancient Egyptian papyri that he gave to the British Museum. He moved his collections to Dublin, Ireland in 1950. 

Knighted  by Queen Elizabeth II in 1954, Beatty lived his later years in Dublin and was made honorary citizen of Ireland in 1957.  On his death in 1968, he was accorded a state funeral by the Irish government – one of the few private citizens in Irish history to receive such an honour. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

Beatty saw collecting as “a great adventure." He obviously had a great eye for quality and loved books where the text and images formed a pleasing composition.  Fun back story: he could be considered an  early adopter of twitter acronyms using DCI for “don’t care for it” and NFE for “not fine enough” in correspondence and his own records.

  Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (photo credit: deartesethistoric.wordpress.com)

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (photo credit: deartesethistoric.wordpress.com)

No Touch Library

The Chester Beatty Library is really an art gallery where all the books are in well-lit display cases with  interesting didactic information and stories.  The depth and breath of the collection truly is mind-boggling. It doesn’t take long before your brain is saying “no more, no more!”

Perhaps the first hint that we were in for a brain freeze were the Chinese jade books at the beginning of the Art of Books exhibition; neither of us had seen anything like them. From there, we were presented the Great Encyclopedia commissioned by the Ming Dynasty emperor Yongle in 1403 and completed in 1408 – all 11,095 bound volumes.  Incredible!

Later we encountered Joan Blaeu’s Great Atlas of 1162, which consists of 600 beautifully bound, hand-coloured maps. Each of the bound volumes is about  20” high x 11” wide x 3” in depth; these are serious books.

There was even a small display of contemporary Chinese Ceramics that was definitely rooted in the 8,000 years of ceramic history in China.  Not sure how this fit in with the books but it was interesting nonetheless.

  Jade books (photo credit:: www.commons.wikiimedia.org)

Jade books (photo credit:: www.commons.wikiimedia.org)

  Yongle Great Encyclopedia (photo credit: www.lifo.gr)

Yongle Great Encyclopedia (photo credit: www.lifo.gr)

  Joan Blaeu's Atlas (photo credit: www.swaen.com)

Joan Blaeu's Atlas (photo credit: www.swaen.com)

Suffering

The collection included a series of Goya etchings from the 1892 edition of Los Desastier de la Guerra and the 1855 and 1876 editions of La Tauromaquia and Los Proverbois.  The pain and suffering portrayed in these works still haunts me hours later as I write this. It made me realize I have never really suffered in my life. 

Back story: when you visit a place like Ireland, you realize what human suffering is all about given  the millions who died in the famine between 1845 and 1852, or those who died in the numerous independence rebellions and senseless religious bombings.  This is a country whose people know suffering.

Later in another exhibition “Sacred Traditions” (the history of religions around the world), I found a didactic panel about Siddhartha Gautama (563 – 483 BC) with the text “be aware of the human inability to escape suffering.” We are then told Gautama decided to leave his wealthy home to seek the causes of unhappiness and the way to relieve suffering.  Unfortunately, we didn’t find out if he was successful.

Another panel about Buddha states, “the world is a place of suffering…joys are fleeting…life ends in decay.”  

Goya, Los Desastier de la Guerra  (photo credit: www.wga.hu)

Goya, Los Desastier de la Guerra  (photo credit: www.wga.hu)

Last Word

The Chester Beatty Library is a “must-see” for anyone visiting Dublin.  I would suggest you give yourself at least two hours and probably three to explore the art and text.  There is a great cafe on site so you could take a break and have lunch or a coffee and then go back for more.

There is also a tranquil rooftop garden if you wish to take some time to contemplate and absorb the centuries of history.  Outside the Library is a larger green space with a fun narrow brick pathway, as well as a sculpture garden.  

The biggest negative is that you can’t take photos (you can view photos on the Library's website); on the other hand, admission is free. 

maze

Dublin: FAB fun in The Liberties

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

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

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

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

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

Dublin's Antique Row

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

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

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

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

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

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

  The antiques spill out onto the street. 

The antiques spill out onto the street. 

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

Anonymous vintage / retro store is a must see.

Indeed we had a FAB time on Francis Street.

Meath Street Madness

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

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

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

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

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

Liberty Market purse vendor's wares.

  Somebody found some good deals.

Somebody found some good deals.

Our Lady of Immaculate conception grotto.

Horse History 

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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Postcard Willie

It all started at age 12 when his parents took him on a vacation from Calgary to Austria -  the family’s homeland. Without any encouragement from his parents, wee Willie decided to send postcards back to his family and friends in Calgary. That was 43 years ago. Today Postcard Willie sends photos to over 300 family and friends from around the world, sometimes as many as 25 in one day.  To date, he estimates he has sent several thousands of postcards from over 50 different countries. Yes Postcard Willie is well travelled.

Depending on the length of the trip, Postcard Willie can send as many as 300 postcards on single trip costing him $500+ in cards and postage. One day while on our Ireland golf trip, Willie found time to find, write and send 12 cards in the hour between the end of the day’s round and getting on the bus back to the hotel.

“Everyone loves to get postcards; some love the images, some the stamps he says. They call it ‘happy mail. People often tell me they keep them for many years.” Needless-to-say, many of the postcards end up on fridges and he estimates that half of the recipients have several shoeboxes full of Willie’s postcards.

Willie doesn’t just buy any postcard either. He looks specifically for cards with lots of information about the place (city, province, country), maybe with some history. He also looks for postcards that relate to each person’s specific interests (for example, if a buddy likes beer he will look for a postcard of a local pub or brew; for another person who likes churches, he will send them a church postcard.

In one case, he knew a person really liked tea so he found a postcard about tea and put it in an envelope with a few local tea bags and mailed to his friend. He also makes a point of sending postcards to people he knows whose homeland he is visiting.  And he likes to use postcards as a thank you to people who have travelled with him and his wife.  Willie prides himself on being creative with his postcard selections.

Over the years, many of his family and friends have also taken up the habit of also sending postcards when travelling. Some, in fun, even send cards to Willie from exotic tourist places like Canmore and Banff, just a few kilometers from Calgary his hometown.

  A beer and some postcards at the Bunratty Castle in Ireland.

A beer and some postcards at the Bunratty Castle in Ireland.

Over the years, Postcard Willie has some interesting observations and recommendations:

  • The most expensive stamps are in Austria, where it takes 1.75 euros to send a postcard (over $2.25 CDN).
  • The slowest postal service is in India where it can take a couple of months for a postcard to get to Canada.
  • He recommends to always dating your postcard so recipients can tell how long it has taken to get to them.

He also likes to research the stamps that are available and if possible make sure people get new stamps or stamps that have some significant meaning, as many of his recipients have become stamp collectors.

He also buys postcards for himself as they often have images the average photographer could never capture. His personal collection is well over two thousand postcards.

Postcard Willie writing postcards on the Dunbar Golf Tour bus between rounds. 

Flying out of Frankfurt Airport so often (it is his jumping off point for European adventures), Postcard Willie is on a first name basis with Reinhard the shopkeeper at his favourite postcard kiosk that he has been frequenting for over 20 years. He is often greeted with “Back again? Why don’t you move here?”  The same is true at the Munich Train Station where he is also a  frequent buyer.

In 2007 and 2008, Willie was working in India and so was sending lots of postcards home to his wife in Calgary.  One day when he was picking up his mail at the supermail box in the community of Panorama Hills he noticed a guy loitering around the boxes.  When he opened his mailbox the man he approached him asking “are you the guy who sends all the postcards from India?” Turns out he was the postal carrier for the area and his family was from India.  Long story short, he and Willie became friends, with Postcard Willie taking things to his family in India and bringing back things from India to Calgary - including a bolt of fabric, which was used to make a shirt and pants for Postcard Willie.

  Postcard Willie writing some postcards in Casablanca, Morocco. And, yes Postcard Willie is always smiling, maybe there is something to sending people postcards and being happy, or perhaps it is because he is on vacation! 

Postcard Willie writing some postcards in Casablanca, Morocco. And, yes Postcard Willie is always smiling, maybe there is something to sending people postcards and being happy, or perhaps it is because he is on vacation! 

Last Word

Over the years, Postcard Willie estimates he has mailed over 10,000 cards to family and friends. His motto is “if they have a postcard, I will find it.”

  While exploring the streets and alleys of Florence happened upon these girls writing a bunch of postcards. Thought Willie would be happy. 

While exploring the streets and alleys of Florence happened upon these girls writing a bunch of postcards. Thought Willie would be happy. 

  Mass postcard writing by students in Florence. 

Mass postcard writing by students in Florence. 

Dublin: Newman University Church a hidden gem!

Found this church totally by accident when wandering back to my hotel from St. Stephen's Green. I was walking on the other side of the street when I spotted some strange architectural elements in the narrow space between the buildings and then noticed the ornate street entrance. Next thing you know I was running across the street to check it out.  As luck would have it the door was open and I had found another hidden gem.  

  This is the block with the Newman University Church. Do you see a church on this street? If you guessed where the pillars are that would be wrong. 

This is the block with the Newman University Church. Do you see a church on this street? If you guessed where the pillars are that would be wrong. 

  It is easy to miss the Church's narrow street entrance

It is easy to miss the Church's narrow street entrance

Wonderful light floods the church as you enter.

The grand altar

altar text

History

cuc
site
porch info

Ornamentation

Every pillar has a different message 

  Ornamentation is everywhere

Ornamentation is everywhere

Found this gem in a dark corner

Ceiling of hallway entrance to the church

  The actual church ceiling is very unique with is wall paper like decoration.

The actual church ceiling is very unique with is wall paper like decoration.

 T he walls of the church are like huge paintings

The walls of the church are like huge paintings

  Close up of paintings

Close up of paintings

Newman Who?

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman was born in London on February 21, 1801 and died in Birmingham on August 11, 1890. He was a major figure in the Oxford Movement which exploited the possibility of bringing the Church of England back to its Catholic roots.

Ultimately his study of ecclesiastical history influenced him to become a Catholic in 1945. He later brought the Oratory of St. Philip Neri to England. He became the first Rector of the Catholic University in Dublin and was named a Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1879. 

Through his extensive published writings and private correspondence, he created a greater understanding of the Catholic Church and its teachings, helping many with their religious difficulties. At his death, he was praised for his unworldliness, humility and prayer. He was declared Venerable on January 21, 1991 and on September 20, 2010 Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Henry Cardinal Newman.

Last Word

Dublin is well know for its churches, there seems to be on on every other block.  It even has a Cathedral District where St. Patrick's Cathedral is located and the Christ Church Cathedral in the Viking/Medieval area. But for my money (free) the Newman University Church, which isn't on any of my maps, is every bit as interesting and perhaps more unique then Dublin's famous duo.

By Richard White, October 8th 2014.

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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.

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Calgary vs Denver: A tale of two thriving downtowns!

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

 

Calgary's NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here!

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

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

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

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

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

  St. John's condo 

St. John's condo 

Savoy Condo

Main Streets

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

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

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

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

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

Happyland/Parkdale

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

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

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

  Hillhurst Farmers' Market

Hillhurst Farmers' Market

The Plaza is home to Calgary's film community. 

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

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

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

  Kensington Village architecture

Kensington Village architecture

  Buskers on 10th Street.

Buskers on 10th Street.

  Bridgeland Market in downtown Bridgeland.

Bridgeland Market in downtown Bridgeland.

Great Amenities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running along the Bow River at Poppy Plaza.

  Lawn Bowling in West Hillhurst.

Lawn Bowling in West Hillhurst.

NoBow is for families

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

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

  Riley Park wading pool

Riley Park wading pool

NoBow loves seniors

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

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

  Parkdale seniors apartments

Parkdale seniors apartments

  Lions Village seniors complex in Happyland .

Lions Village seniors complex in Happyland.

Last Word

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

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

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Downtown Sprawl

Calgary's Audacious New Library

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

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

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

Finally the wait is over. 

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

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

Think Global Act Local

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

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

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

The Design

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

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

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

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

  Diagram illustrating the shape of a drift boat. 

Diagram illustrating the shape of a drift boat. 

  Shape of a drift boat from all sides

Shape of a drift boat from all sides

Drift Boat?

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

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

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

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

Yin Yang on 3rd Street SE

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Page

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

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

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

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

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

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