Calgary's MAC attack

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

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

MAC is not a new idea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAC 101

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

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

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


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

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

Early conceptual rendering of SETON pedestrian street.  

Early conceptual rendering of SETON pedestrian street. 

Conceptual rendering of a mixed-use street in SETON.

Conceptual rendering of a mixed-use street in SETON.

SETON at might with street patios. 

SETON at might with street patios. 

Coming Soon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

By Richard White, November 22, 2014

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Brookfield: Working together to make Calgary better!

District: Community Engagement Gone Wild 

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

3Rs of walkable communities?


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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Vegas' Crazy Container Park

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.

famous writers

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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Calgary: The City of Parks & Pathways

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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: FAB fun in The Liberties

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

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

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

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

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

Dublin's Antique Row

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

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

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

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

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

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

The antiques spill out onto the street. 

The antiques spill out onto the street. 

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

Anonymous vintage / retro store is a must see.

Indeed we had a FAB time on Francis Street.

Meath Street Madness

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

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

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

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

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

Liberty Market purse vendor's wares.

Somebody found some good deals.

Somebody found some good deals.

Our Lady of Immaculate conception grotto.

Horse History 

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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Calgary: Beautifying The Beltline

Over the past five years, the City of Calgary and the Beltline Community Association have strategically and successfully developed and implemented plans to beautify Calgary’s most densely populated community. The Beltline has 6,963 residents per square kilometer, while Calgary’s overall density is 1,329 with communities like Hillhurst/Sunnyside and Aspen Woods 3,207 and 1,676 per square kilometer respectfully.   The City’s and the Beltline community’s goal is to foster its growth from the current 20,000 urbanites to 40,000 by 2035.  Both groups realize to fulfill this vision the Beltline must have great public spaces that attract people of all ages and backgrounds.

Memorial Park 

The first beautification project was the $11 million, renovation of Memorial Park, Calgary’s oldest park (1912) transforming it from a 20th century to 21st century public space. Completed in 2010, the renos included the addition of new pathways, seating, fountains, flower plantings and washrooms.   It is now the signature public space for Beltliners who want to sit and relax in the shadows and glitter of the downtown skyline. The addition of the Boxwood restaurant and patio was a stroke of genius as it adds an entirely new dimension to the park experience. 

Developers built upon the Memorial Park revitalization project with two new condo projects – The Park (an 18-storey, 156 unit condo by Lake Placid Group of Companies, now mid-construction) and Park Point, a 34/27-storey, 502 unit condo by Landmark Qualex just beginning construction).

Playing in the water in Memorial Park.

Relaxing in Memorial Park.

Enjoying the patio at Boxwood restaurant.

Enjoying the patio at Boxwood restaurant.

13th Ave Greenway 

The next beautification project is the 13th Avenue Heritage Greenway, which will eventually create an enhanced pedestrian and cycling experience from Macleod Trail to 17th Street SW.  The Greenway will create a multi-use path, as well as a traditional sidewalk on the north side of the road, separated from each other and the road by a row of trees. Phase One from Macleod Trail to 4th Street is now open and when completed, the Greenway will create four character areas – Sunalta, Victoria Crossing, Connaught and West Connaught.  It will also connect several heritage sites along 13th Avenue including Haultain School (1894), Central Memorial Park/Library (1912), First Baptist Church (1912), Lougheed House / Beaulieu Gardens (1891), Ranchman’s Club (1914) and Calgary Collegiate Institute School (1908).

Enhanced sidewalks, new trees and grasses along the 200 block of 13th Avenue. 

13th Avenue streetscape at Barb Scott Park.

Barb Scott Park

Next up was the Barb Scott Park (named after the late Barb Scott, City of Calgary Councilor from 1971 to 1995 and parks champion) on the west side of the new Calgary Board of Education headquarters (9th Street from 12th to 13th Avenues). Opened in May 2014, this public space includes a large oval grass area that allows for impromptu kicking and throwing games like soccer, Frisbee and football.  The park is anchored by the popular “Chinook Arch” public art work at the corner of 9th Street and 12th Avenue SW. 

 Like Memorial Park, the new Barb Scott Park has also been a catalyst for new condo development, including the colourful Aura I and II towers by Intergulf-Cidex directly across the street.

New seating and playing field on the west side of the new CBE building. 

Chinook Arc on the northwest corner of Barb Scott Park.

Future Projects

The pace of the Beltline beautification program is accelerating. There are currently three projects at various stages of development – Enoch Park on Macleod Trail between 11th and 12th Avenues is under construction, the ENMAX Park on the Elbow River (part of the Stampede’s mega makeover) is in its final stages of design, as is the lawn bowling park on 11th Street at 16th Avenue SW.

Enoch Park

Enoch Park (City website is still calling it new East Victoria park) gets its name from the Enoch House that will be moved a few meters east into the Park allowing its former location to make way for a Canada’s first ClubSport Hotel by Marriot International. The 1905 Queen Anne home one of the few stately homes still standing in Victoria Park and built by clothing entrepreneur Enoch Sales, has seen better days. But as part of the development of a new park on Macleod St between 11th and 12th Avenues it will be restored and transformed into a restaurant – think Boxwood or River Café. 

The park will be more like a plaza with lots of linear, canopied tree plantings, informal lawn areas, criss-crossing pathways with the lots of seating – some fixed along walls and some café style with tables and moveable chairs allowing for great views of the ever-changing downtown and Beltline skyline.  This park is scheduled for completion I expect by summer of 2015 (City of Calgary website says fall of 2014).

Enoch Park under construction.

Enoch Park under construction.

Plans for Enoch Park.

Enoch House.

ENMAX Park @ Stampede

The Stampede’s Master Plan has long called for the creation of a 30-acre park along the Elbow River in the northeast quadrant of the grounds from the railway bridge to right behind the Saddledome.  Recently, ENMAX stepped forward as the naming sponsor for the park, which will be home for the new Indian Village during Stampede.  During the rest of the year, the park will be open to the public and consist of two large green spaces for both passive and programmed activities, including small festivals and events.  There will also be a Western Heritage Trail, an open-air museum with sculptures and self-guided history panels creating a walk through time.  The park will be synergistic with the Stampede’s plans for a vibrant Youth Campus on the west side of the Elbow River.

ENMAX Park showing enhanced park space including new Indian Village site.

Stampede is converting this parking lot into a park.

16th & 11th Park

The lawn bowling park in the southwest corner of the Beltline at 16th Avenue and 11th St SW is still in the final design stage.  We do know that the lawn bowling facility will be moving and this will allow for a number of possible uses.  An extensive community consultation process has generated copious ideas (exhibition space, skating rink, flexible seating, season vendors, urban pond, picnic area, orchard, game space and community garden) on how to make this a year-round public space.  This new park could be the catalyst for the revitalization of 11th Street SW, a street with all the ingredients to become a micro-retail/restaurant hub for those living on the west side of the Beltline.

Already with a Good Earth Café, Galaxie Diner and Kalamata Grocery store, it’s got a great foundation.

Ideas for revitalizing the park.

Clustering and organizing ideas.

Developing ideas into reality.

Signs of Success

The “Beautification of the Beltline” initiative has been a huge success to date.  Currently there are 10+ condo projects under construction, which means potentially 15,000+ new residents in the next few years.  Indeed, the Beltline is not only one of Calgary’s most attractive urban communities, but one of North America’s too.

The citizen-led “Blueprint For The Beltline” vision adopted in 2003 has served the community well, especially when it come to Development Principle #37 – “In order to enhance the public realm and to encourage and complement high-quality private development, The City will continue to invest, subject to Council’s future budget deliberations, in improvements to public assets such as parks, cultural and recreational facilities, streets, boulevards, sidewalks, pathways, bikeways and lanes.” Amen!

By Richard White, October 1, 2014 (An edited version of this blog appeared in Condo Living magazine's October edition.)

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Calgary's NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here!

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

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

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

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

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

St. John's condo 

St. John's condo 

Savoy Condo

Main Streets

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

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

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

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

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


Happyland 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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Plaza Design Dos & Don'ts / Salt Lake vs St. George

By Richard White, August 17, 2014 (an edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald titled "Public Plazas need to be friendly" August 16, 2014)

You would think that after centuries of urban design there would be a checklist of dos and don’ts for urban designers to make sure every new plaza and town square is public friendly.  But over and over again, I see millions of dollars wasted on public plaza designs that don’t work, or don’t work as well as they should.  

This past spring, we visited two downtown public plazas that illustrate some of the dos and don’ts of public space design. 

Salt Lake City Olympic Plaza, Utah

We came upon Salt Lake City’s Olympic Plaza almost by accident while wandering the Gateway Mall, a downtown outdoor shopping centre.  The Plaza is in the middle of the Mall with no links to the streets and no real sense of arrival. something you would expect from an Olympic Plaza. It is actually a small, intimate space.

We DO love the dancing snowflake fountain, which did attract some children to play in it. However we DON’T like the fact that kids can’t play in the inviting man-made stream complete with rocks and trees plaza’s edge. It should have been designed to allow for families to play in the water and climb the rocks.  Good public spaces don’t have a long list of things you can’t do!

We DON’T like the steep stairs entering the plaza at one side. While the steps may make for good seating at times, it was a huge barrier for young children, older people, and those arriving with strollers, bikes and wheelchairs. 

We DON’T like that overall; Salt Lake City’s Olympic Plaza feels more like a private space, which supports the commercial retailers of the Gateway Mall.  In fact, it is almost identical in scale and scope to a similar dancing fountain and man-made stream plaza in the city’s brand new City Creek Centre shopping mall, just a few blocks away.   

Salt Lake City's downtown Olympic Plaza with its central fountain. 

The plaza includes these red rocks and water feature inspired by the Utah landscape. 

The plaza includes these red rocks and water feature inspired by the Utah landscape. 

It seems a shame that children can't play in water and climb on the rocks.  Public spaces should be design to encourage as many different activities as possible, especially passive activities.   

It seems a shame that children can't play in water and climb on the rocks.  Public spaces should be design to encourage as many different activities as possible, especially passive activities.  

Salt Lake City's Olympic Plaza from afar with its small grass area for play. Too often plazas are over designed and have too many different levels.  A flat grass space that allows people to play different games is much better than a sea of concrete with lots of steps. 

Salt Lake City's Olympic Plaza from afar with its small grass area for play. Too often plazas are over designed and have too many different levels.  A flat grass space that allows people to play different games is much better than a sea of concrete with lots of steps. 

Salt Lake City's plaza is lined with shops like European plazas, unfortunately they don't open out onto the plaza. 

Salt Lake City's plaza is lined with shops like European plazas, unfortunately they don't open out onto the plaza. 

City Creek Centre's plaza and fountain. 

City Creek Centre's plaza and fountain. 

There is an actual creek running through the shopping centre. 

There is an actual creek running through the shopping centre. 

St. George Town Square, Utah

Contrastingly, St. George’s Town Square seemed to DO everything right. The Square is right off of Main Street and is visible to pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. The dancing water fountain is front and centre, inviting people of all ages to stop, look and play.

Our visit was in late March, and already the weather was nice enough for dozens of children and their families to enjoy the Square. I can only imagine how refreshing this fountain is in the summer when it gets really hot. 

We DO like that not only the fountain (very similar to Salt Lake’s Olympic Plaza fountain), but also the man-made stream just a few meters away can be played in and enjoyed by everyone. 

We Do like that there is a picnic area with movable tables and chairs in the middle allowing parents could easily watch their children run from one area to the next. 

We DO like that there are public washrooms in the immediate area.

We DO like that there is also carousel in the square for families to enjoy. It is also priced right at $1 per ride with kids under 42 inches getting to ride free.   Not sure what it is about small American cities but many seem to have a carousel somewhere in their Downtown – Helena, Missoula, Spokane and Idaho Falls. (There used to be 5,000 carousels in USA, now there are fewer than 125).  There is something fun about the sound and sight of a carousel. They enliven many urban spaces including Paris, New York City and Lyon. A carousel would be a great addition to Calgary’s Olympic Plaza, Devonian Gardens or the Eau Claire Plaza/Wading pool.

We DO like that the square is anchored on three corners by a public buildings, giving it a definite sense of being public.  As well, two of the buildings – Library and Children’s Museum – are very synergistic with the family focus of the Square.

We DO like that the Square and streets around it are home to several small public artworks. In an innovative twist, the sculptures are actually for sale, so they are temporary rather than permanent. So rather than the City purchasing the works of art, the City offers up the square and streets as an outdoor exhibition space on a temporary basis to sell their art.  There is even a price list posted at the entrance to the square.    

We DO like that the square includes a large rectangular multi-purpose grass area that is used for non-programmed activities like throwing a ball or a Frisbee, as well as major programs like movies in the square, arts and craft fair and being the “finish line” for an international iron man competition.

St. George’s Town Square was completed in 2007 and designed by Bruce Jorgensen, GSBS Architects from Salt Lake City for $4.5 million.  

The water fountain is right next to the sidewalk and open to the street so pedestrian and drives can see all the fun being had by the families.  

Children love to walk, run and jump in the water. 

Kids are ENCOURAGED to play in the water.  

Inviting seating area for parent in St. George's Town Square.  Great place to watch the kids play, have a chat or even work on your laptop, iPad or phone. 

The Carousel is just one of several elements that makes St. George's Town Square and inviting public space. 

One of several, life-size fun sculptures in or near St. George Town Square. 

Last Word

Over the past 10 years, Calgary has created dozens of public spaces that are nice to look at but rarely get much use.  Poppy Plaza is a good example; this $11 million dollar public space, located on Memorial Drive right next to the Louise Bridge and the busy Bow River pathway, you would think would be a busy place. Yet I have walked, cycled and driven by 100s of times (at various times of day and of the week) and at most, I might see one or two people there and usually they are just passing through. Good public spaces are engaging and allow for multiple uses year-round - they are more than just decoration.

Currently there area three new urban public spaces in the works for Calgary’s Beltine – ENMAX Park (on the east bank of the Elbow River, part of Stampede Park’s mega-makeover), Enoch Park (Macleod Trail between 11th and 12th Avenues SE) and Connaught Park (on 16th Avenue between 11th and 12th Streets SW). 

Over the summer, I hope to meet with the designers of these spaces and share with you what urban dwellers can expect from these new spaces. 

Poppy Plaza at noon on a beautiful summer day sits empty. 

The site of the new ENMAX Park at Stampede next to the Elbow River. Putting the park back into parking lots. 

Calgary's Century Gardens is not public friendly.  When designing public spaces designers should be thinking about how to foster activities not restrict them.

Kids, get back here you can't climb on those rocks, no wading in the water!

Kids, get back here you can't climb on those rocks, no wading in the water!

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Richard White is the Urban Strategist at Ground3 Landscape Architects; this blog reflects his opinions and not necessarily those of Ground3. 

Seattle Insights

Guest Blog: Chantal Leblanc, August 9, 2014 

After going to Seattle for the first time in 2009 for a week, we just keep going back. We always find a new tour, neighbourhood or museum to visit.  It’s easy to get there from Calgary with a 90 minute direct flight.

From Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, you can take the Link Light Rail, similar to our C-train, for $2.75 to downtown Seattle. That includes a transfer to a bus if you are not staying downtown. For us, it’s in the trendy neighbourhood of Capitol Hill. The first time we were in Seattle, they were introducing their ORCA pass. You load it and use it for easy access to public transit. We just calculate that we will spend $5.00 to $6.00 / day per person and since you can re-load on line, you can add to it during your stay. And you can even use it for Washington State Ferries. Now that is convenience!

One of North America's best markets.

Pike Place Market is probably Seattle's most well known landmark attraction. Come for the fish toss, stay for the people-watching.  Lucky for us, we get to actually shop there and cook our food in our apartment. Living like a local is our idea of being an everyday tourist. Besides the famous fish shop, you will find everything there, from produce to cheese, bread pasta and wine.



On a food tour, we met a couple from Vancouver who told us about SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival). The festival runs for almost a month from mid-May to Mid-June. On a one-week stay, we saw four movies, ranging from an animated film from Spain dealing with Alzheimer to a South African movie in three languages. They also have a free (pay by donation) Folk Music Festival on Memorial Day week-end. No matter when we go, there always seems to be something fun happening. 

Recently we checked out the Museum of Flight where everyone from 4 to 94 was just having a great time looking at small planes flying outside on the small air strip and the history of flights from mail delivery and bush pilots to space travel. We got to go inside Air Force One and a Concorde!

Museum of Flight

The Experience Music Project Museum (or EMP) is a must for music lovers of all ages and the entrance fee includes the Science Fiction Museum connected to it.  Back story, prior to moving to Chicago a few years ago, Boeing was the largest company based on Seattle. Today there are still several large aircraft manufacturing plants still in the metro area. 

The Chihuly Garden & Glass is a different type of museum – go if you like colourfull glass work – you won’t be disappointed. You can sit outside and have coffee or a glass of wine in the gardens and just soak up the visual extravaganza. 

Chihuly Garden & Glass Museum


More than its museum, Seattle is home to friendly people – strangers talking to strangers on the bus – offering their seats if they think you should sit together, drivers helping riders with wheelchair and elderly women. They even thank you and wish you a nice day when you get off the bus. One driver got off the bus to give direction to an elderly woman who looked disoriented stepping off the sidewalk! And nobody in the bus seems to be upset for the extra two minutes it took.

From our first visit, we felt the city was very community minded. We discovered a well-established community garden set between two houses. Obviously a vacant lot where you could build a house, but the city had given this lot to the community for their garden. The City encourages its citizen to beautify every green space in the city. Traffic circle green spaces are being tendered by people living in the area, not city workers, as well as spaces between the sidewalks and street.

Even in 2009 they had separate garbage, recycling and compost bins pick up!

Art is very everywhere not just downtown. Sculptures can be found along sidewalks in many different neighborhoods,, sometimes in the form of bronzed dance steps or other images right in the concrete. Even the a "manhole” covers become artworks. 


Sidewalk art

Sculpture at Hiram M. Chittenden Locks

Foodies Fun 

The food scene in Seattle is fantastic. Surrounded by water and farm land it has a variety not found everywhere. Seattle offers many great restaurants, Farmers Markets and we enjoyed taking food tours guided by locals. We even took a wine tour that picks you up at your hotel or apartment then drives you back late afternoon. The tour took us Woodinville where many winemakers are making wine or have opened tasting rooms closer to the city.

Coffee Culture is very strong in Seattle. It is the birthplace of Starbucks and the original location is still open today, located at Pike Place Market. As any American city, they have lots of them. When you take the train link from the airport, you can see the beautiful brick building with the mermaid sign at the top of a tower of their head office. They are serious about their coffee and there are many independent coffee shops throughout the city that are a delight to visit, all with different vibes and personalities. I suggest you forego Starbucks and try a few different neighbourhood coffee shops while you’re there.

Oddfellows Café & Bar, one of our favourite breakfast places in Capitol Hill.


This year, we ventured to Ballard, another neighbourhood by the water known for its restaurants to see the locks and its fish ladder. In the past, we were under the impression that Ballard was far – wrong - two buses and we were there in about 30 minutes. Many restaurants in the area are not open for lunch but some and coffee shops are open early. Stores open around 11:00 am during the week. Weekend brunch is popular in this area, as well as a Farmers market on Sundays.

Editor note:  Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, built in 1911 and often nicknamed the Ballard Locks, provides a link for boats between the salt water of Puget Sound and the fresh water of the Ship Canal, which connects eastward to Lake Union and Lake Washington.Tourists and locals enjoy watching the parade of sailboats, motorboats, tugs, barges and yachts passing through, as the locks' water levels are adjusted to allow their safe passage. Another popular spot is the fish ladder, built to allow salmon to pass between fresh and salt water, and to navigate the locks. Glass panels below the water line make it possible to watch the fish as they swim through the ladder.


Quaint  Ballard

I suggest taking the walking tour of Freemont suggested in Frommer’s guide (available on line) and highly recommend going to Theo’s Chocolate Factory for their $10.00 tour. Organic, Fair Trade and delicious chocolate.

 Encounter with the Troll during the Freemont walking tour.

For a nice day trip out of the “city," take the Ferry to Bainsbridge Island ($8 round trip). You get a great view of the Seattle skyline from the water, as well as an opportunity to experience the island's quaint atmosphere with its hiking trails and restaurants.

View from the ferry coming from Bainsbridge Island.

Last Word

If you like to explore a city, Seattle has it all and you can access it easily without a car, from quaint neighbourhoods to beautiful parks, art, food and friendly people.

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Calgary's Downtown Power Hour

Richard White, July 2, 2014

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

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

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

Stephen Avenue Power Hour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bow River Power Hour 

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

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

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

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

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

Downtown's Outdoor Power Spots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The McDougall Centre backyard. 

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

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

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

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


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

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Kensington: One of North America's Healthiest Urban Villages

Richard White, July 19, 2014

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

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

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

Plaza Theatre is home to Calgary's film community.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Livingstone & Cavell is fun for everyone.

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

Kensington Riverside Inn

Last word

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

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

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

Calgary Postcards: Things to see & do

By Richard White, June 30, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central High School (photo credit: George Webber)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Public Art vs Playgrounds in the 21st Century

Note: On September 27,  2014 Richmond, B.C. tourism officials will open an one-hectare, one million dollar playground based on the area's agricultural history. The playground is located in Terra Nova Park in the northwest corner of Lulu Island, on the site of a former farm house and stables. The playground includes a farm inspired water and sand play area, and a "log-jam" - a climbable timber structure that mimics walking on beach logs. There is also tandem 35-meter-long ziplines, a tree house and aerial rope walkway.  The new playground is being billed as a tourist attraction. FYI - this is Richmond's second million dollar playground, the first was Garden City Community Park, built in 2008.

Kids climbing on the log jam structure. 

Kids climbing on the log jam structure. 

In the 21st century slides and climbing structures take on a whole new dimension. 

In the 21st century slides and climbing structures take on a whole new dimension. 

By Richard White, June 16, 2014

Over the past decade in Calgary (and I expect in many cities around the world), children’s playgrounds have become more and more colourful, creative, sculptural and elaborate.  No longer do a few simple swings, metal slide, teeter-totter and “rocking” duck or horse sufficient for the 21st century playground. I am told by my friends at Ground3 Landscape Architecture that $100,000 would get you a reasonably sized playground and $30,000 get you one small combined play piece.  Since 2010, the Parks Foundation Calgary through the Playgrounds and Communities Grant Program has funded over 100 new playgrounds in Calgary valued at $15 million - many in low income communities. 

While Calgary may not have bragging rights a having one of the top ten playgrounds in the world, our children are blessed with over 1250 playgrounds in parks and schoolyards across the city – that’s about six playgrounds per community.  Nobody is more than a few blocks from a playground in this city.  Perhaps Calgary’s moniker should be The City of Playgrounds.

One of my favourite mid-century modern playgrounds is located in Lakeview. It is interesting in that it is only accessible by walking along a tree-lined pathway from Linden Dr. SW, as there are no streets directly adjacent to the pocket park and its playground. It truly is a hidden gem.  Some of the original playground equipment is still in use and I hope the community will recognize its uniqueness and keep the retro equipment.

Lakeview's hidden playground with simple retro playground equipment - rocking horse and small metal slide. 

Parkdale's Helicopter Park is one of Calgary's most popular playgrounds. The park is looked just below Foothill's hospital and its heliport, hence the park's name as helicopters flying over area a common sight. 

Smaller Backyards / Bigger Playgrounds

I am not sure if it is true, but it seems, as private backyards get smaller, (today’s housing lots are smaller due to infilling in the inner city and mandated smaller lots in new suburbs) there are fewer large backyard swing sets that were poplar in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Or perhaps trampolines, hot tubs and the mega deck with their outdoor kitchens have replaced them.  As result: community playgrounds are becoming more important for young families and those caregivers, grandparents etc., looking after children.  Personally, I think this is great. It means more community socializing which in turn, helps create stronger neighbourhood ties.

I remember one spring day after school; we took the seven-year-old twins next door to the playground across out street. Soon, several other families joined us and before long, we had a community soccer game happening with 4 parents and 8 kids.  Gotta love an impromptu community soccer game. 

Given the recent controversy over public art in Calgary and most other cities (too often, public art is difficult for the public to appreciate, or is simply just not that good), I can’t help but wonder if maybe we should be focusing on commissioning artists to design playground equipment that would be fun and inventive. Imagine if every playground was a mini artpark.

Imagine a scaled down Wonderland (big white head sculpture at the Bow office tower) in the middle of a park where children, teens and adults could climb on it.  There is something innate about human wanting to climb things. Once when I was at the Bow, I saw an office worker climbing Wonderland in his suite and dress shoes (actually he took off his jacket) - he had no problem getting to the top. Unfortunately, the Bow now has security to chase away would be climbers.

It is interesting too how the two mega public art works in Chicago’s Millennium - Park Cloud Gate and Crown Fountain - have become as much playgrounds as public art.

Could we also encourage landscape architects to be more creative in their design of parks and public spaces?  Whenever walking Rossi (our friends’ dog) at River Park, I am always impressed by the “cluster planting” of trees that capitalizes on the subtle synergy of their sculptural shapes as well as the strategic placement of benches to capture vistas of the park, river and downtown skyline. There is an aesthetic quality to the design of the River Park that is very similar to art.  


Calgary office workers just can't resist climbing Wonderland. You can take the child out of the playground, but you can't take the play out of the man!

Jaume Plensa's Crown Fountain in Chicago's Millennium Park is a playground for locals and tourist of all ages.

Cloud Gate, also in Chicago's Millennium Park is a magnet for people to look and play with it.

This well-treed playground in Chicago'sGold Coast community attracted dozens of families mid-week, mid-day in April.

Calgary's Beltline community is one of Canada's most dense communities. It boast this very popular playground in Haultain Park.  Downtown Calgary is very family friendly. 

New playgrounds have lots of fun colourful climbing equipment that has many parallels with modern art. 

The mono-chromatic blue playground in Tuxedo also has many links to art - line, colour, shape and composition. 

The trees in River Park have a sculptural quality to them.  Overall the park with its diversity of trees, rolling landscape is

New Trends in Playground Design

Perhaps the best playground I have ever seen was in Container Park in Las Vegas.  In the middle of a new urban development made of railway containers was a fun children’s playground the size of half a football field.  At one end was a computerized piece of playground equipment that could be programmed so people of all ages could play games of their choice. At the other end was a three-storey tree house that was fun to climb.  In between were other interactive play areas – no swings, no slides and no teeter-totter here. 

Surrounding the playground were outdoor patios where people could sit and watch – providing some of the best people watching I have ever done. The new “digital” playground components have great appeal especially to adolescents and adding a new dimension to playgrounds.

 In the UK, the Dinton Pastures Country Park (335-acre park with 7 lakes, two rivers, meadows and a 1904 farm house converted to a cafe) recently opened a new Children’s Play Park that epitomizes the movement to use more natural materials as part of playground design. The park includes several nest towers, the largest 4 meters tall, zip wires, giant climbing logs, a willow maze, story-telling area, woodlands obstacle course and picnic area. Designed by landscape architects Davies White in collaboration with artists and fabricators, local materials were used as much as possible.  View Video

The newest trend in playground equipment is computerized games that are attractive to younger children and parents during the day and my young adults at night.

Young adults enjoying the Container Park playground

While these lounge chairs have been removed from East Village's Riverwalk, they would make for a good addition to another neighbourhood park as kids would love to climb over and under them and adolescents and adults would use them to lounge and chat. They also have a wonderful sculptural quality to them. 

This Henry Moore sculpture in front of the Art Gallery of Ontario becomes a fun place for older children and adolescents to hang out and chat.

Parque Gulliver

Parque Gulliver in Valencia Spain is Cristal McLean's (principal at Ground3 Landscape Architects) favourite playground. Located in the old channel of the Turia River, the playground is based on the story of Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. As per the story, a giant wanders into town and scares the tine Lilliputian people so they tied him to the ground while sleeping. Today it is the children who are the Lilliputian people who can climb all over the giant. trying to get to know him.  The sleeves become caves to explore, the legs are stairs to climb and the hair is a slide.  And its free!  First built in 1990, it was completely refurbished in 2012 and continues to be one of Valencia's biggest tourist attractions. 

Parque Gulliver aerial view

Every part of the giant is available to climb on and slide down. 

Giant ant is both public art and a playground. 

Last Word

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me that we should be hybridizing public art and playgrounds to create public spaces that are more interactive.  We should think long and hard before we ever commission a static public artwork again.

Similarly, I would love to see landscape architects be given freer reign to exercise their creativity in designing our parks and plazas.

Perhaps Calgary should change its current “1% of capital project costs for public art” policy to “1% of capital project costs for public space enhancement” to allow us to better create unique and active public spaces that more citizens can embrace at some level year-round for years to come.

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The Calgary Stampede MEGA Makeover Has Begun!

Richard White, June 11, 2014

After the devastating flood of 2013, the Calgary Stampede had some tough decisions to make as the Board and Management pondered its future. Rather than just fix the place up, the Stampede commenced with its mega-million dollar makeover plan. 

Calgarians won’t recognize this year’s Stampede Park. Almost 50% of the outdoor space has been reconfigured and several major new players are participating for the first time!     

Aerial view of reconfigured Calgary Stampede Grounds (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

Nine things to know about Stampede 2014…. 


The Great FUNtier is the name of the Stampede’s new Kids Zone.  It has been moved to the area south of the Saddledome and north of the racetrack.  The space, now 25% larger than the old Kids Zone, will allow for more greenery, easier stroller maneuvering and more seating.  In addition to the kid’s midway, there will also be a mini Grandstand Stage for live entertainment. 

The location is also convenient to the family-oriented agricultural programming at the new Agrium Western Event Centre and the RCMP Musical Ride tent.

Did you know that park admission is free for kids under 6?  There is also free admission for children aged 7 to 12 on specially marked Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero in stores now.

Lollipop Swings (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

The new FUNtier slide (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

The new FUNtier slide (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)


The Grandstand Show is getting a makeover by new Creative Director, Dave Pierce who was the Musical Director for Vancouver’s Winter Olympics' opening and closing ceremonies. Pierce, an Emmy Award winner, brings a new vision and energy to Grandstand extravaganza. The theme for this year’s show is “Barnburner.” The opening segment features Tom Glass (one of Alberta famous chuckwagon families) telling his family’s story using a series of mega comic book action figures.   

The costumes for Barnburner have been designed by Genvieve Cleary and built by Marco Marco Studio, famous for designing the costumes of Katie Perry and Britney Spears. 

The permanent stage is also being completely redesigned by Paul Bates who was responsible for Cirque Du Soleil’s “O” stage.  It includes the latest in pyrotechnics and amazing stage effects capacity. The new stage will be one of Canada's most technologically advanced theatrical stages. 

Sample of mega action figure comic book visual. (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)


The new $62 million Agrium Western Event Centre (AWEC) with its dramatic rotunda entrance designed by Calgary’s Gibbs Gage Architects, is just the beginning of rebuilding Stampede Park.  The new building which opened recently adds much needed, year-round event and trade show space as well as a classroom for hands-on school programs.  AWEC has already hosted Canada’s largest ever 4H club gathering.

Agrium Western Event Centre (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

Agrium Western Event Centre (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)


Nashville North has moved “north,” closer to Cowboys Dance Hall tent and the Stampede Casino to create a “party zone” - some have already dubbed it the adult entertainment zone (good clean fun of course)! This could be an interesting precursor to the creation of the year- round Stampede Trail – a pedestrian entertainment-oriented street of retail, restaurants, pubs and clubs along Olympic Way (4th Street SE) linking it with East Village.

Nashville North is a mega dance hall (capacity 1850 people) with live bands all day and into the wee hours of the morning! (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)


“Sneak a Peek!” Paul Hardy has been engaged to procure some uber-chic 2014 Stampede merchandise, some of which is already available at Hardy’s Inglewood studio tucked away at Bay#5, 2510 Alyth Rd. SE. in Calgary's funky Inglewood/Ramsay community.

Paul Hardy's cowgirl fun fashions. (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)

More Paul Hardy's fashions! (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)


“Go Big or Go Home” could be the theme of this year’s Stampede with the introduction of the 777-pound burger ($5,000) and the 125-pound hot dog ($1,000).  Juicy’s Outlaw Grill is bringing the world’s largest grill (the size of a transportation truck) to this year’s Stampede. This is a first in Canada.  Check out the video.


Biggest Pop-up Patio? Triple B (Barbecue, Bulls, Beer) is also making its first visit to Canada creating a patio for you and 999 of your closest friends. With two mechanical bulls on site, it should make for great people-watching.   

Mechanical Bull Riding at the new Triple B patio. (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)


WWW Food!  Every year the Stampede brings some wild, weird and wacky food combinations to Calgary. This year is no exception.  The Scorpion Pizza has to be the weirdest, followed closely by Deep Fried Cheezies, Polish Poutine, Porcupine Corn Dog, and Vicious Fish on a Stick. 

Yikes! Scorpion Pizza. (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)


Did you know the Calgary Stampede is one of North America’s biggest music festivals? For the first time, the Dome is fully booked with shows every night by the likes of Shania Twain, Reba McEntire, Keith Urban and Calgary’s own Paul Brandt. In total Stampede 2014 includes over 340 musical performances at 15 different venues. 

Canada's sweetheart. (photo credit: Calgary Stampede)


2012 was the Stampede's 100th birthday, 2013 was the year of the Great Flood and 2014 will be remembered as the beginning of the new 21st century Calgary Stampede.  The Calgary Stampede is truly one of the best annual festivals in the world. It is six major events all wrapped up into one mega extravaganza - Grandstand Show, Rodeo, Chuckwagon Races, Midway, Agricultural Fair and Music Festival.   

Stampede Park is not only one of North America's best and oldest urban Agricultural Fair sites, but also one of the largest, busiest and most authentic SHED districts (Sports, Hospitality, Entertainment District) in North America.

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Paintball: Game or Cult?

By Richard White, June 8, 2014

Reader response: "I read your blog re paint ball and it made me sick.  I cannot understand how intellegent people could even think about using guns for pleasure (nevermind hunting) No wonder there are so many shootings in the US especially some people just don't know the difference between shooting paint at one another and using real bullets hense the shootings. I know none of you will agree with me and that is alright I just had to let you know how I feel."

EDT: I too had a similar thought, but tried to focus on the fun people seemed to be having, however, the whole experience was too real for me. 

Paintball: Game or Cult?

When we asked my nephew what he wanted to do for his 17th birthday, he quickly said “Paintball!”  Yikes…this could be interesting for his two 60-year old uncles (another uncle was going to be in town and he wanted to do a joint gift). We were thinking (even hoping) golf, maybe even zip lining.

But being good sports, we decided to “man up” and go paintballing.  It couldn’t have been easier. Bragg Creek Paintball is just down the road from Redwood Meadows Golf course where the two uncles would be playing golf in the morning.

We arrived at 3 pm and the parking lot was packed; who knew paintball was so popular.  I was a bit intimidated by all the people, male and female, some in full fatigue gear all carrying guns. But in some ways, it is not much different than golfers with their custom-fitted clubs and their matching designer shirts, shorts and shoes.   

A large group of players head out to one of the many different themed fields at Bragg Creek Paintball. 

This guy was covered in welts and was showing them off to everyone.  I think he played without any coveralls or protective clothing.  

Game On

We rented the standard gun, overalls, helmet and 200 balls. I had been told to wear lots of clothing to cushion the blow of the paint balls and to expect to get some welts before it was over. Really, people like paying to do this? Indeed they do!

Since there were only three of us, we were paired up with others to play a game.  It was all very well organized; everyone was friendly and there was even a guy who explained the rules and signalled, “game on.” 

The first game entailed a group of about a dozen people trying to flush out six people in a tower (I was not one of the tower people).  We had to hit the tower people in the head to eliminate them from the game (this meant they could absorb as many body hits as they could stand). They had to hit us in the head or vital organ area twice to remove us from the game.

This photo is taken from outside the screened-in playing area. Here, two people are strategizing how to flush out someone behind an old school bus.

The paintball field was full of repurposed items like school buses and cars.

The Town

I couldn’t believe how serious these people were. It was intense gunfire continuously for about 20 minutes – no wonder everything in The Town (that is the name for the area we played in) was covered in an inch of paint (all colours) that looked like something Jackson Pollock might have painted back in the ‘60s.

People were running around shooting what seemed like randomly.  I pretty much stayed in the same place and said, “I will cover you!” Not really knowing if I could, but it sounded good and I think they believed me. I later found out the other uncle had pretty much the same strategy; maybe we do get smarter with age. 

I think our team won the first game, but it took forever to flush the guys out of the tower. The last guy standing seemed very proud that he would have several welts to show off to his friends the next day.

We played a second game where there were two teams of 8 each defending a tower at opposite ends of the field. It was pretty much the same as the first game – CHAOS!  Again, I just stayed behind a wall and fired long distance, while my nephew crawled along the grass and up into the trees like some Navy Seal.  Who knew speed skating training (his real passion) is transferable to military maneuvers!

A map illustrating the many different themed playing fields.  

I managed to get inside the playing field between games to get this photo of The Town.

Game Over

After ninety minutes, the two uncles had had enough so we gave our nephew our extra balls (we were snipers) as he had run out.  Off he went to play a couple more games with strangers who seemed delighted to have another player to shoot at.

I couldn’t believe how keen he was to keep playing. There used to be an old saying “you won’t be happy, until someone has poked out an eye.” At paintball, it seems “nobody is happy, until they have a few welts to show for it.” One guy came in with a swollen hand that wouldn’t stop shaking as it had been hit several times.  He was in obvious pain, but seemed proud that he would have a swollen hand in the morning.  These people’s brains are definitely wired differently from mine.

Thirty minutes later, my nephew ran out of paint balls signalling it was time to go home.  Later that night, he too proudly showing us his welts (legs, groin, chin and belly) not once, but several times. It was like they were medals of honour.

It will be a birthday I (hopefully he too) will not soon forget. I am pleased to report that both uncles managed to escape welt-free - old guys rule! 

Nephew walking off after being hit in the head - there was a big smile under his helmet. 

Last Word

Paintball seemed very cult-like to me.  Yet, I remember when I attended my first major bingo (fundraiser for a public art gallery) and was surprised by the bingo culture - people wearing lucky hats and sweaters and surrounded by multiple bingo cards and an assortment of daubers (when one would do). It seemed cult-like! I had the same feeling when I worked my first casino.

Since then, I have realized many have a religious-like zeal for hobbies and/or activities that seems irrational to others - quilters, golfers, cyclists, runners and gardeners to name a few. I know my passion and that of my small group of summer binge golfers could easily be perceived by some sort of cult by some.

Merriam Webster Dictionary has several definitions of a cult:

  • a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous
  • a situation in which people admire and care about something or someone very much or too much
  • a small group of very devoted supporters or fans 

Perhaps it is human nature to belong to a cult!


Reader response: "I read your blog re paint ball and it made me sick.  I cannot understand how intellegent people could even think about using guns for pleasure (nevermind hunting) No wonder there are so many shootings in the US especially some people just don't know the difference between shooting paint at one another and using real bullets hense the shootings. I know none of you will agree with me and that is alright I just had to let you know how I feel."

EDT: I too had a similar thought, but tried to focus on the fun people seemed to be having, however, the whole experience was too real for me. 

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Do we really need all of this public art?

By Richard White, May 16, 2014

It hurts me to say this, but “do we really need all of this public art?” Over the past year, I have visited dozens of cities making a point to always seek out the public art wherever we go.  I have seen literally hundreds of public artworks, big and small, abstract and representational, local and international artists.  I have served on a jury for selecting a public artwork for a Calgary LRT station and I have written several blogs and columns on the pros and cons of public art.

In all of my travels (dozens of cities across North America) I have only experienced four public artworks that I feel have captured the public’s imagination enough to make them stop, look and interact with the art.  Sadly, most public art within a few months quickly becomes just a part of urban landscape.  More often than not, public art doesn’t really add to the urban experience by creating a unique sense of place or a memorable experience.   

 While I love art, I appreciate that I am in the minority; that for many, there is not much public appeal in public art that is being installed around out city (and other cities).  It is therefore not surprising that many Calgarians as well as many in other cities, question the value of spending tax dollars on art that adds little value to their life.

Found this public public art piece in downtown Portland the "Bike Capital of America." What do you think? Does Calgary need more bike art? More horses? You can't please everyone. 

Fun & Interactive 

Of the four pieces of public art that did engage the public, two were in Chicago’s Millennium Park – Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa and Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor. These were by far the most successful with hundreds of people actively engaged by their intuitive playfulness.   

In Vancouver, “A-maze-ing Laughter” by artist Yue Minjun in a small pocket park (Morton Park) next to English Bay beach seems to always have people young and old wandering around the 14 (twice life size) bronze cherub-like, laughing figures.  The park is full of laughter and smiles, something urban spaces need more of.

The fourth piece is Jeff de Boer’s “When Aviation was Young” at the Calgary Airport West Jet waiting area. This two-piece, circus-looking sculpture with toy airplanes that spin around when you turn the large old-style key is a huge hit with young children waiting to board a plane.  Like most successful public art, it is fun, and encourages public interaction.

In Calgary’s downtown the two pieces I see the public most often stop, take pictures and interact with are “The Famous Five” on Olympic Plaza and “Conversation” on Stephen Avenue Walk.  Interesting to note that they are both figurative, pedestrian scale and located in an active public space.  Downtown Calgary boasts over 100 public artworks, but none of them are a “must see” attractions (at best they area a “nice to see” and get a walk-by glance).

For all the hoopla over Jaume Plensa’s “Wonderland” (big white head) when it was first installed on the plaza in front of the Bow Tower, today it sits alone attracting only a few visitors a day.  

This is not just a Calgary dilemma. Even in Chicago, major public artworks by the likes of Picasso, Calder and Miro (three of the 20th century’s most respected artists) situated on office plazas just a few blocks from Millennium Park, are devoid of any spectators outside of office hours.

Anish Kapoor's "Cloud Gate" is so popular with the public that it has a nickname - THE BEAN! When the public gives an artwork a nickname you know they like it!

"Root Like a Liquid Flung Over the Plaza" by Acconci Studio graces the corner in front of the Memphis Performing Arts Center.  It has many of the qualities of Kapoor's "Cloud Gate," it is fun and there are interesting reflections and places to sit, yet it attracts no crowds.  

Juame Plensa's "Crown Fountain" is popular day and night. It is a wonderful place to linger.  It attracts thousands of people most days spring, summer and fall.  

Jaume Plensa's "Wonderland" located on an office plaza in downtown Calgary attracts only a few visitors a day. 

Come on admit it, even this photo of "A-maze-ing Laughter" brings a smile to your face.

Calder's "Flamingo" was unveiled in 1974.  It is fun, colourful and playful piece, but it doesn't invite any interaction. Over the years it has become less and less a magnet for tourist and locals to visit.  

William McElcheran's "Conversation" on Stephen Avenue Walk is very popular with the public.  Often people will place a coffee cup in their hand or add a scarf to one of the figures.  The public loves to have their picture taken with the two businessmen. 

Barbara Paterson's "Famous Five" sculpture in Calgary's Olympic Plaza invites the public to come and sit with them, have your picture taken and some even like to leave a tip.

Big Names / Big Deal 

Commissioning a big name artist clearly doesn’t guarantee the artwork will be successful in capturing the public’s imagination. 

Claus Oldenburg’s “Big Sweep” sculpture in front of the Denver Art Museum or “Roof Like a Liquid Flung Over the Plaza” by the Acconci Studio on the plaza of the Memphis Performing Arts Centre are both major pieces by established artists, yet they have done nothing to animate the space around them. 

Perhaps we need to thing differently about commissioning public art.  Nashville has a program, which commissions local artists to create bike racks that serve a dual purpose. Some are very clever and some I think are tacky, but at $10,000 each you can afford to have a few duds. 

In the early ‘90s the Calgary Downtown Association initiated the “Benches as sculpture” project, commissioning local arts to create sculptures that also serve as benches. The artwork (benches) have become a valued addition to the downtown landscape, so much so that the Provincial judges lobbied to make sure the “Buffalos” were returned to the courthouse plaza after it was renovated to add a parking lot underneath.

Claus Oldenburg and Coosjevan Bruggen's "Big Sweep" sits outside the entrance to the Denver Art Museum. It is fun, but static, and there is signage next to it with several rules that restrict how you can interact with it. 

This piece sits outside the Tucson Public Library in their Cultural District.  I couldn't find information on the artist or the title.  We passed this piece several times and never saw anyone stopping to look at it. 

The City of Calgary allows office developers to build taller buildings in return for pubic art on their plazas like this one. The developers get more space to rent and in theory the public gets a better quality urban space to enjoy. In reality this space on the southwest plaza at Bankers Hall is enjoyed by only by a few smokers a day. 

Nashville's fun bike racks as art program adds some whimsy to this streetscape. 

Lessons Learned

It hurts me to say this, but Calgary is not being well served by the millions of dollars we have invested in public art, both publicly and privately.  In my opinion, what would be best is if we pool all of the available public art money (bonus density and 1% for public art) and create dedicated art parks.  I am thinking we could have sites in each quadrant and perhaps a couple in the greater downtown that are designated for new artworks. When a new project is approved the public art contribution would be designated to the closest art park. 

The current, “democratic” approach of placing public art of all shapes, sizes and subject matter randomly throughout the city (parks, LRT stations, bridges, plazas) simply fragments and isolates the public art experience.  What was supposed to be a program to humanize and make the urban environment more interesting and attractive, has only served to outrage many and create rifts in our community.

The time has come for Calgary and most cities to rethink their public art policy.

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The Famous Five at Olympic Plaza 

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Footnotes: University of Arizona, Resort vs Research

By Richard White, April 10, 2014

One of the things we love to do when exploring a new city is to check out its university or college, especially if it is adjacent to downtown.  Experience has shown us that in most cases, you will find lots of urban vitality (pedestrians, cafes, galleries, shops, pubs, live music, etc) in and around urban post-secondary schools.

The University of Arizona in Tucson did not disappoint. In fact, it exceeded our expectations. What we thought might be a 3-hour morning flaneur turned out to be an all-day walkabout.

Visitor Center

As we entered the campus, we saw the  Visitor Center (yes, they have their own visitor center) and decided to drop in and see if they had a map and some suggestions for lesser known places to explore. Yes, I know flaneurs are supposed to just wander with no particular place to go.  

The front desk person was very helpful - at first, she pointed out all the obvious things to see and do - they even have a brochure "Things to Do at the U!"  However, when we asked for some hidden gems, she suggested the School of Pharmacy which has a museum of sorts spread out over two buildings and on various floors.  

Brenda, having read the College of Optical Sciences is the world's premier institute of its kind, asked if there were any displays of artifacts there. We were told there might be, but a good place to check out was the Flandrau Science Centre and Planetarium with its great mineral collection. We had also read that the Creative Photography Center had the largest collection of photographs in the world, so thought this might be a place to check out.

We ended up leaving the Visitor Center with a map with 12 places to check out.  The Museum of Art turned out to be a bit of a dud as there was an installation in progress and the gallery attendant wasn't clear what exhibitions were open to visitors. 

Across the street was the Photography Centre which was very interesting and free. It was too bad that we were the only people there.  Next, we headed to the Architecture and Landscape Architecture building next door. It was a bit more animated with students coming and going, as well as an exhibition of drawings and sculptures in the lobby. Exiting the building, we happened upon a wonderful garden oasis that is a serene setting to study or chat with a friend. 

Schaefer Poetry Center 

Aiming for what I thought was the Pottery Centre, turned out to the the Poetry Center (a case of middle-age eyes).  Glad for the misread.  It is one of only three such centers in North America, the others being in New York City and Chicago. 

The building has a wonderful soft light that makes for a great place to read, write and reflect. In fact, they have a residence as part of the center for visiting writers or special guests. Though it is a non-circulating library, the public is invited to read the books on site in the lovely indoor and outdoor reading areas.  In addition to the 70,000 poetry-related items in their collection, the Center also has an engaging exhibition of handmade artist's books by Alice Vinson. They even have a charming children's section with a huge blackboard inviting the kids to create their own poetry.  

This the kind of stuff we love to sniff out - art, architecture and ambience.  The Poetry Centre is definitely a hidden gem.

The Poetry Center's indoor/outdoor working spaces are separated by an intriguing two-story slanted wood and glass wall.

First of three examples from Alice Vinson's exhibition.

A single page from one of the books.

"Less Than" art book cover

Pharmacy Museum

Moving on, we quickly found the College of Pharmacy, but there were two buildings so we were unsure which one had the museum.  Luckily, there was an outdoor lunch event and we were able ask a staff member who told us there were lithographs on the second floor of one building and the museum in the other.  She tried to find us a self-guided tour booklet, but they didn't have any in the first building. 

With a couple of false turns and sneaking into a keyed door, we found the lithographs nicely displayed in a hallway. It turns out there was 40 lithos depicting the "Great Moments in Pharmacy." For more details, see photo below. 

We then wandered over to the other building and asked about the self-guided tour booklet. They didn't have any, but they kindly photocopied an electronic copy and off we went (persistence pays off).  There were major displays on all four floors, as well as lots of glass cabinet vignettes with themed artifacts in the hallways. The highlight was the 102-drawer wood pharmacy cabinet used in the '50s to store natural medicines (see photos below). 

Depending on your interest, you could easily spend an hour or more at this museum.  We can't believe it isn't in the "Things to Do at the U" brochure.

Louis Hebert was the first Canadian apothecary. He settled in Port Royal, Nova Scotia in 1605.

This is one of two walls lined with the "Great Moments in Pharmacy" lithographs. 

On one floor, there is a mock old time drug store that you can walk around and into.

The use of show globes (like this yellow glass one) dates back four centuries as a symbol of pharmaceutical and medical care. Sailors landing in English ports knew that a show globe in a store window meant medical treatment was available there.  In America, a red show globe could mean the town had some kind of quarantine or disease while a green one indicated the town was healthy.  Dick Wiedhopf, Curator, History of Pharmacy Museum, informed us in an email that "pharmacists took great pride in creating colours for their show globes. There are several books on how to make these colours, but today we use common food colouring. The yellow colour has not meaning, other than it is attractive." 

One can only wonder what pharmacists used poisons for in the 19th century.

Homeopathic medicines such as Humphreys Specifics were common in drugstore windows at the turn of the century.  Customers ordered by the number printed on the display box. 

During the 19th century, pharmacies were places to meet and socialize.  In addition to medical care, in the past drugstores have offered everything from pinball to punchboard games (like the one above) to entertain and attract customers.  Ironically, we purchased a game similar to this one for $5 in a Las Vegas Goodwill a week earlier. 

On the fourth floor elevator lobby is a 102-drawer '50s cabinet filled with natural plant and mineral products along with vintage medicinal bottles and fascinating details about how natural products were used. Note: the cabinet is located next to the College's modern natural products lab. 

The doors pull out and then swing open. 

Each file is full of artifacts and information.  Brenda wanted to take one home.

Just one of hundreds of artifacts that document the evolution of pharmacy over the past two centuries. 

The Resort Campus

Then it was off for some lunch at the Student Union Building to hang out with the students.  It was abuzz with students, dressed and acting like they were at the beach - tank tops, short shorts and flip flops (it was +30 Celsius). The campus is full of outdoor patio seating with shade umbrellas that enhance the resort ambience.  The only thing missing was the beach and pool. The campus has a huge pedestrian mall with thousands of students walking, biking and hanging out. The animation reminded us Frankfurt's green beach and Calgary's downtown Stephen Avenue Walk on a hot day.

It had the best campus buzz I have every experienced. I would also have to say it has the most active bike culture I have seen to date including Portland, Oregon. 

Just one of many resort-like seating areas.

The central pedestrian mall is a beehive of people moving from building to building. With the palm trees and sand, the only thing missing is the water. Students had set up three slack lines that made for a circus-like atmosphere. The UofA's Central Mall is the Champs-Elysees of university campuses. 

This is the penthouse study area in the College of Optical Sciences building. 

Cycling is a popular mode of transportation on the UofA campus.  The bike racks, like these ones on the central mall are well used. 

Museum of Optics (MOO)

Founded in 1964, The College of Optical Sciences (OSC) located in the Meinel Optical Sciences building is the world's premier institute of optics - three faculty members have won a Nobel Prize. The MOO was established in 2011 but the college started the collection in 2003. Today, it holds more than 700 antique and historic instruments, some built as long ago as the 1700s. 

MOO also has a self-guided handout.  Fortunately, they aren't too hard to find; just look for the display rack on the ground level lobby.  The tour starts here, directing you to go up to the eighth floor and work your way down. 

The building not only has a cache of optical instruments that includes telescopes, microscopes, binoculars, sextants, eyewear and opera glasses, but a penthouse lounge with the best view of the campus (see photo above.)  

Sculpture  by Don Cowen from a block of unannealed pyrex; portion of a pour by Corning Glass works, circa 1935.  

A close up look into the "Desert Flower" glass sculpture in the lobby.

There is an entire display cabinet of glass crystal.

The "Sphere" sculpture in the lobby captures what is happening outside on the mall and inverts it to the viewer.

A few of hundreds of binoculars in the collection.

Who knew there were so many different opera glasses?

Just one of several vintage camera and camera accessory display cases.

This telescope, made by Italian Domenico Selva Venezia in 1710, is believed to be one of the oldest telescopes in the world. 

The six-story window well that brings light into the lobby of the building creates a futuristic, periscope-like space.

The six-story window well that brings light into the lobby of the building creates a futuristic, periscope-like space.


Pretty much every major city has a history museum, a science centre, a museum of art and a garden of some sort, but how many have a Poetry Centre, Museum of Pharmacy or Museum of Optics?  

In hindsight, I wish we had spent 30 minutes reading and trying to write some poetry as I felt the Poetry Center had an inspirational vibe. The same could be said for the Architecture & Landscape Architecture garden. 

I have toured a lot of post-secondary campuses over the years and would have to say the University of Arizona's campus was one of the most interesting with its animated, resort-like student areas contrasting with its quiet, contemplative research spaces.  A perfect concoction!

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Nordstrom Last Chance: A feeding frenzy.

By Richard White, April 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Feeding Frenzy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did we find along the way?

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Boise vs Calgary / David vs Goliath

By Richard White, April 2, 2014

Note: An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's, Condo Living section on March 22 and 29, 2014.

When I tell people I went to Boise, Idaho for a holiday their immediate question is, “What took you to Boise?”  Our immediate answer is “I’ve always wanted to go to an American University football game and we love small university cities and road trips.  So when it came to a fall road trip – Boise it was!

We discovered this city of about 210,000 (metro population of 600,000) to have a vibrant downtown that could well be North America’s next urban playground with farmers’ market, arts and craft market, “farm to table” restaurants and wineries. Despite the obvious size difference, I thought it would be fun to compare Boise and Calgary as urban playgrounds.

The Boise tailgate party was a sea of blue and orange around the stadium.  I'd estimate the crowd at about 10,000 people. 

Linen District vs Mattress District

Just to the west of downtown Boise lies an old industrial area that has been branded as the Linen District based on the name of its historic Linen Building.  The building is currently being used as an art gallery and special events space, much like the Simmons Mattress Factory building was.  Made me wonder if perhaps East Village should have been branded as the Mattress District.

While Calgary’s Mattress District is currently undergoing a massive multi-billion dollar transformation, Boise’s Linen District is evolving organically with the introduction of secondhand stores, as well as the upscale  A’Tavola Marketplace, Big City Coffee, salons, home decor and furniture stores. It is also home to Idaho Mountain Touring (similar to MEC) and The Modern Hotel and Bar - an old motel transformed into a chic hotel and funky bar.  Instead of major public art pieces, the Linen District has funky painted utility boxes. 

Jane Jacobs, the ‘60s community activist, who wrote “Death and Life of Great American Cities” once said “urban renewal should be evolutionary not revolutionary.” It will be interesting to see how in 50 years the Linen District compares to the Mattress District.

This is the patio with the fire pits at the Modern Motel and Bar. 

The historic Li