2014: Calgary's condo culture comes of age!

2014 could well be branded the year of the “luxury condo” in Calgary with Vancouver’s Concord Pacific’s announcement of their 218-unit Eau Claire project, The Concord, which includes a 6,200 square foot penthouse with a price tag of 13 million dollars.  The project design team included Arthur Erickson, arguably Canada’s most celebrated architect.

It is interesting to note that this announcement comes just one year after Calgary’s great flood of 2013. The banks of the Elbow and Bow River continued to attract major upscale condo developments in 2014.   Joining The Concord along the Bow River is Avenue in the West End by the Vancouver development team of Grosvenor/Cressey’s and their architect James Chen.  Vancouver’s Anthem Properties also announced the final phase of Calgary’s largest condo development -the 1,000-unit Waterfront on the old bus barn lands on the east side of Eau Claire.  

Yes, Vancouver developers and architects continue to transform the south shore of the Bow River into a tony, upscale highrise urban community.  The only thing missing in 2014 was the announcement that Harvard Properties was moving forward with their billion-dollar Eau Claire Market site redevelopment designed by
Vancouver’s IBI/Landplan group (that was announced late in 2013).

Calgary’s Park Avenue

One would have thought it might take a few years to see any new condo developments in the Mission area given the devastation of the flood. The uber-chic River condo with its record condo setting $8 million dollar penthouse made some quick changes to it is flood prevention design while construction continued. 

But, the big new announcement in 2014 was the 14-storey XII boutique condo (on the corner of 2nd St and 26th Ave SW).  It will have only 12 units i.e. 10 floors will be a single condo with four floors consisting of two 2-floor units.  Designed by the Calgary’s own Sturgess Architecture, this project is a quantum leap in luxury with its car parking elevator that will allow residents get out of their car in the parkade at street level, so the car can be parked robotically in the parkade. How amazing is that!  The architectural design is also futuristic with its transformer-like shape.  Residents will also get private consultation with the architects and interior designer (Douglas Cridland) and make a trip to Vancouver (yes, Vancouver) to meet with balthaup kitchen team there.

Luxury condo development along 26th Avenue in Mission started in the late '70s. 

XII condo on 26th Avenue will set a new benchmark for contemporary architecture in Calgary. 

The River condo on 26th Ave SW is Calgary's most expensive condo project to date.  

The River condo on 26th Ave SW is Calgary's most expensive condo project to date.  

Kensington is exploding

This past year has been a big one for Kensington village as new residents moved into Battisella’s Pixel and StreetSide Development Corporation’s St. John’s condo, both Calgary developers.  Vancouver’s Bucci Development started construction of Ven just east of the Hillhurst/Sunnyside LRT station and announced the Kensington, on 10th Street NW.  As well, Battistella also announced plans for Lido (as sister condo to Pixel), also on on 10th Street. 

After years no condo development, Calgary’s only NoBow urban community is finally participating in Calgary’s emerging condo culture. There are currently over 1,000 condos at various stages of development in Kensington Village.

Bucci hasn't even completed its Ven condo in Kensington and they have already begun construction of Kensington on 10th Street. 

Bucci hasn't even completed its Ven condo in Kensington and they have already begun construction of Kensington on 10th Street. 

Battistella just finished Pixel in the background and almost immediately started on Lido in the foreground. 

Bridgeland is bustling

After stalling for a few years because of the recession, condo construction resumed in earnest in Bridgeland this past year. The completion of the St. Patricks’ Island pedestrian bridge in the Fall of 2014 and the redevelopment of the island itself, scheduled to be completed in 2015, is making Bridgeland a very attractive place for, Calgary rapidly increasing yuppie community.

Thus it’s not surprising that Apex and GableCraft Homes have decided to proceed with Bridgeland Crossing II and Assured Developments with Giustini Development Corp are proceeding with STEPS, both are within easy walking distance to the LRT and the new St. Patrick’s Island. 

Bridgeland Crossing 2 is currently under construction on Memorial Drive across from the LRT station. 

The Steps is just one of many modest condo projects approved, under construction or recently completed in Bridgeland. 


Condo building continued to be strong in the Beltline with the topping off of The Park (Lake Placid Group) and Mark on 10th (Qualex-Landmark) as well as the first tower of The Guardian (Calgary’s tallest condo at 44-storey by Hon Development). However, new condo development wasn’t restricted to the greater downtown communities like the Beltline in 2014.

In fact, citywide condo development in 2014 outpaced single-family housing starts by two-to-one with 8,915 multi-family housing starts vs. only 4,363 single-family as of the end of November.  Not only were almost 90% of new condo units are being not built in the greater downtown; this trend is expected to continue.

The City approved several new “suburban/urban” villages in 2014.  In September, City Council approved West Campus, a planned community east and south of the Alberta Children’s Hospital.  After several years of community consultation, it approved the West Campus Development Trust’s a master plan for the 184-acre site that will eventually accommodate 15,000 new residents (mostly in condos) and 10,000 workers when completed by about 2025.   

In December, Truman Development presented its master plan for its 96-acre West District community to the City.  When fully built out, in 10+ years it will be home to 7,000 residents and 5,200 workers.  Both West Campus and West District are planned as complete communities that will allow residents (families, yuppies, empty nesters and seniors) to not only live, work, play and age in their community.

West Campus' main street with condos above and in the background. (rendering by RK visuals, photo credit: West Campus Development Trust.)

Rendering of condo concept for West District (photo credit: Truman Development).

Rendering of condo concept for West District (photo credit: Truman Development).

Livingston is Brookfield Residential Properties' new urban community at the north edge of the city. It will have many of the features of SETON including a major town centre. 

Last Word

Recently, Brookfield Residential, one of North America’s largest homebuilders and headquartered in Calgary, branded its proposed new Livingston community at the northern edge of the City as “not your parents’ suburb.”  While still only in the conceptual stage, it promises to create a new town centre at the northern edge of the city, equivalent to their SETON urban village on the southeastern edge.

As of the end of November, metro Calgary multi-family starts was only 378 units shy of the City record of 10,602 units in 1978.  Indeed, Calgary’s developers are building condos at a record pace in the greater downtown communities, established neighbourhoods and in the new suburbs. 

But what is really exciting is that they are not just building condos, they are building communities that have a density and diversity of uses that hasn’t been seen for over a century. Calgary's new communities are not your parent's or even your grandparent's suburbs but your great-grandparents suburbs.

By Richard White, December 26, 2014 

NB: An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on December 27, 2014

Concept rendering by RK Visuals of the SETON a planned new urban community at the city's southeast edge. (photo credit: Brookfield Residential Properties).

Auburn Walk condo in Calgary's new community of Auburn Bay developed by Brookfield Residential Properties. 

Auburn Walk condo in Calgary's new community of Auburn Bay developed by Brookfield Residential Properties. 

What is urban living and who really cares?

By Richard White, November 27, 2014 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this urban living?

Is this urban living?

What is urban living?

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

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

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

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

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

Urban living in Calgary's West Hillhurst?

Urban living in Calgary's West Hillhurst?


Statistics Canada says…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YYC Municipal Development Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Possible working definitions

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

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

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

High-rise living in Edmonton's downtown.

High-rise living in Edmonton's downtown.

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

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

Low-rise condos on a residential street in Mission.

Low-rise condos on a residential street in Mission.

Last Word

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

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

By Richard White, December 4, 2014

Reader Comments:

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary 

Don't be too quick to just the new suburbs?

Importance of comfort, convenience and privacy in urban living 

Urban cottages & Gentrification 



Public Art vs Street Art: Calgary, Florence, Rome

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

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

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

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

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

climbing the wall
flying figures
seated figures

Florence Street Art

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

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


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

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

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

close up

blind corner

Exit/Enter Project

resistance 2
Exit bike
woman and child
fly away


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

mona lisa
red hat

Rome Street Art 

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

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

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

A typical streetscape in San Lorenzo.

A typical streetscape in San Lorenzo.

One side of the street art wall.

One side of the street art wall.

Detail from art wall

Detail from art wall

Detail from art wall

Detail from art wall

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

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

Street art on the security doors of a shop.

Street art on the security doors of a shop.



Need food not football?

Need food not football?

Calgary Street Art

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

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

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

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


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

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

The 4th Street mural pedestrian perspective.

The 4th Street mural pedestrian perspective.

Example of one of the fun and clever cartoon characters.  

Example of one of the fun and clever cartoon characters. 

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

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

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

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

Last Word 

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

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

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

A Surprise Playground Lunch

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Big brother helping sister.

Big brother helping sister.

Playground Fun 

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

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


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

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

The spectators bench. 

The spectators bench. 

The world's longest blackboard?

The world's longest blackboard?

A good public space attracts people of all ages. 

A good public space attracts people of all ages. 

Our friendly butcher, sandwich maker. 

Our friendly butcher, sandwich maker. 

Last Word

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

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

 If you like this blog, you might like:

Plaza design: Dos & Don'ts

Public Art vs Playgrounds in the 21st Century

Vegas' Crazy Container Park

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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Window licking along Florence's Via Tornabuoni

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

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

Back story

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

Window licking on Tornabuoni 

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


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

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

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Lyon sidewalk ballet

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

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

About Chester 

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Touch Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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


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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Olympic Cities: Calgary vs Salt Lake City

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

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

Salt Lake City’s Gold Medals

Convention Centre

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

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

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


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

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

SLC's dramatic downtown library and public plaza. 

Rendering for Calgary's new downtown library.

Art Gallery

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

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

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

LDS Temple Square Campus

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

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

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

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

Calgary’s Gold Medals

Public Spaces / Public Art

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

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

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

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

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

Street Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Dead Heats

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

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

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

Harmon's grocery store in downtown SLC.

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

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

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

SLC's transit corridor. 

Calgary's transit corridor.

Calgary's transit corridor.

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

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

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

Post Mortem

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

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

Where to eat?

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

Bread pudding with homemade ice cream.

Bread pudding with homemade ice cream.

Where to stay?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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Beakerhead: Stevenson says "Adapt or die!"

Top 10 things heard at Mark Stevenson’s Beakerhead talk, “The future and what to do with it.”

#10     Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

#9       Happiness is finding something more important than you and dedicating your life to it.

#8       Think like an engineer, not like a politician.

#7       Police your cynicism. Cynicism is a recipe for being lazy.

#6       Embrace the evidence.

Calgary's Bow Tower meets its big blue sky!

Calgary's Bow Tower meets its big blue sky!

#5       How many people have you inspired?

#4       The most adaptable people, cities and cultures are the ones that will survive.

#3       Decline of the institution; rise of the individual.

#2       Stop being defined by what we own. Be defined by what we create.

#1       Did you ask a good question today? 

Lyon, France, public art.

Adapt or Die?

Stevenson’s talk was entertaining, engaging and educational. Like an extended TED talk it was perhaps too polished and slick - but maybe that is my cynicism showing through. 

From a Calgary perspective, he was very optimistic about our collective future given our plethora of engineers and our existing culture of energy research and development.

The take away message I got from Stevenson was that if Calgary can adapt its knowledge base from fossil fuels to solar, wind and alternate fuels over the next 25 years, we will continue to be one of the world’s leading cities. 

As I like to say, “life is just a continuous series of adaptations. 

By Richard White, September 12, 2014

Calgary's power hour or the march of the engineers (photo credit: Jeff Trost).

Calgary's Audacious New Library

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

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

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

Finally the wait is over. 

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

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

Think Global Act Local

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

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

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

The Design

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

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

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

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

Diagram illustrating the shape of a drift boat. 

Diagram illustrating the shape of a drift boat. 

Shape of a drift boat from all sides

Shape of a drift boat from all sides

Drift Boat?

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

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

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

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

Yin Yang on 3rd Street SE

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary!

By Richard White, August 31, 2014. 

Since Calgary’s urban living renaissance began in the early ‘90s, Vancouver developers have been instrumental in shaping our city’s 21st century urban condo culture.  Vancouver’s Nat Bosa was one of the first developers to realize that Calgary’s downtown could more than just a place to work before heading back to the ‘burbs’ to live.  Today, his children - Ryan and Natalie Bosa - are championing the revitalization of East Village.

Calgary’s largest single condo development project to date  - Waterfront (eight buildings, 1,000+ condos and 1,200 parking stalls) on the old Greyhound bus barn site east of Eau Claire Market was the brainchild of Vancouver’s Anthem Properties. This developer also has a 5.4-acre site across from Erlton Station that could accommodate a similar scale project.

Vancouver’s Qualex-Landmark, has almost single-handedly reshaped the Beltline with five condo projects including sold-out Mark on 10th which is currently under construction.  It just recently announced Park Point, a two-tower (500+ condos) in the heart of the Beltline north of Memorial Park; this means Qualex-Landmark will have built 1,500 new condos over the past 10 years.

The list of Vancouver developers shaping Calgary’s urban condo culture doesn’t end there Bucci Development Ltd. is very active north of the Bow with mid-rise projects in Bridgeland and Kensington. Maple Project is responsible for Ten and UNO, both in lower Mount Royal, with plans for a high-rise apartment in the Beltline, as well as the redevelopment of the Highland Golf course.

Mark on 10th will establish a new benchmark for urban design in Calgary. It is fun, funky and quirky without being weird and wacky. 

The Waterfront condo project is the largest condo project in Calgary's history.

BOSA condos built in downtown's West End in the mid '90s. 

International Influence

More recently, Calgary’s new urban living renaissance has captured the interest of the global investment community.  Grosvenor, an urban development company based in London, England that dates back to 1677, identified Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto as the best three cities in the world for investment potential.  Currently, Grosvenor Americas based in Vancouver has three Calgary condo projects – Drake, Smith (Beltline) and Avenue (West End). 

Vancouver’s Concord Pacific (developers of the Vancouver Expo ’86 site), with ties to Hong Kong, recently announced they will be proceeding with their uber-chic Eau Claire condo project west of the Princeton.  Concord Pacific is associated with luxury condo communities with a reputation of choosing only the “best of the best” sites. Eau Claire and Mission are competing to see who will become the “Mount Royal of condo living.”

Toronto developers get some skin in the game

Toronto condo developers, though late in the Cowtown condo game, have hit the ground running.  Both FRAM+Slokker Real Estate Group and Lamb Development Corp. have entered the Calgary market in the past few years.  FRAM+Slokker is focused on East Village with three projects - First will be completed in 2015, Verve in 2016 and a site for an unnamed major retail, office and residential development has also been acquired.

Lamb has acquired two properties for development - one on 10th Ave SW next to the iconic Uptown Bottle Depot and one on 12th Avenue SE next to Stampede Park.  The latter named Orchard will be twin 31-storey towers with a one-acre apple orchard in the middle.

Rafiiville or Little Vancouver

Not only are Vancouver developers shaping Calgary’s condo culture, but so are their Vancouver design and marketing teams.  Vancouver architect Road Rafii has had more influence on Calgary’s architectural look than any other architect over the past ten years. In 2001, the Vancouver Sun identified Rafii as one of the 10 architects who shaped Vancouver’s urban sense of place.  In 2014, you could say he has also shaped Calgary’s sense of place as he was the design architect for Calla, Drake, Luna, Mark on 10th, Nova, Stella and Waterfront condo projects. Perhaps we should rename the Beltline “Rafiiville.”

Grosvenor is also using a Vancouver architectural firm - James KM Cheng Architects - for its Avenue condo project in our downtown’s West End while Concord Pacific is using Vancouver “starchitects” Arthur Erickson and Peter Busby for their Eau Claire condo project. In addition, Busby + Will Architects are designing a complete redo of the Eau Claire Market site for Regina’s Harvard Properties.  Could our downtown Bow River condo district become “Little Vancouver.”

One would think the out-of-town developers don’t think much of Calgary’s architectural community. However, it is more a case of being more comfortable dealing with a design and marketing team they are familiar with.  However, Brad Lamb, President of Lamb Development Corp., quoted recently in the Financial Post in conjunction with the announcement of Concord Pacific’s Eau Claire condo project said, “there are a few true luxury, high-rise developments in Calgary, but their architectural styles can be best described as pedestrian.” Ouch!

Obviously, it is not a coincidence that Calgary’s downtown skyline is perhaps looking a bit like Vancouver’s given the number of high-rise Vancouver condo developers who are capitalizing on the residentialization of Calgary’s urban core.

A rendering of proposed Orchard condo with the apple tree orchard between the two towers. 

Fostering a sense of place

From an urban design perspective, I am not convinced Calgary is being well served by out-of-town developers as most of their architectural designs are not breaking any new ground and certainly not contributing to creating a “made-in Calgary” sense of place. However, I am anxiously awaiting the completion of Qualex-Landmark’s Mark on 10th as it has potential to be a signature architectural statement for Calgary.

If I had to choose my favourite uniquely contemporary condo designs, I would pick ones designed by Calgary architectural firms. Arriva is probably my favourite - designed by BKDI. I have also come to admire what I like to call “The Chessmen” on Macleod Trail – SASSO and NUERA, designed by Calgary’s Abugov Kaspar Architects and Alura and Nuera, designed by Calgary’s S2 Architecture.  These condo towers make a modern, robust and masculine statement with their massing and mechanical design elements. To me they have an engineering look that reflects Calgary’s huge engineering community. 

Good architecture doesn’t have to shout out “Look at me! Look at me!” Rather, it just “stands out” over time as something interesting to look at.

These four condos by Cove Properties along Macleod Trail near Stampede Park have started to create a distinctive sense of place with their unique design. 

South of downtown on 17th Avenue red brick is more common as the facade material for high-rises and the design elements are more art deco and Manhattan like. 

The Beltline has an eclectic design sensibility, many of the new condos and apartments area adding an element of colour as part of their sense of place, like the Aura apartments across the street from the new Barb Scott Park. 

Condo living is in its infancy in YYC

“Condo living will soon be the norm in Calgary,” says Michael Ward, Senior VP & General Manager of Grosvenor Americas.  His rationale is that Calgary will have a very robust economy for the foreseeable future (although there will be periodic downturns) given its political stability and the large fixed costs and long-term commitments to the oil sands by both domestic and international firms.  This in turn will attract young professionals, not only from Canada but internationally to work in Calgary’s downtown office towers. He believes “living in condominiums is a preferred choice for an increasing number of young people, looking for affordable housing and centrally located.” 

He even postulates that “as seen in Vancouver, large parts of Europe and Asia, people are choosing to stay in condominiums after they form relationships and have families as they enjoy the convenience of living close to amenities, work and friends.”

Ward notes, “Condominium development has in the past garnered some bad publicity in Calgary, as smaller, opportunistic developers have walked away from half-finished projects through tough times and held on to purchasers’ deposits for years before commencing construction.”  He notes, “the fact Calgary is attracting major experienced national and international urban condo developers, means more condos will be completed on time with quality design and construction, which in turn will make condo living more attractive to more Calgarians.”  

For decades, Calgary has been predominantly a single-family home city, but over the past decade this has changed not only in the inner-city, but in the ‘burbs’ also.  For many the condo is the new ‘starter home.’ There are currently over 7,000 condos under construction across the city. As Bob Dylan sang, “the times they are a- changin.” 

By Richard White. An edited version of this blog appeared in the September 2014 issue of Condo Living magazine, with the title " Cross Canada Connections." 

Condo from the 70s and 80s and 90s along the Elbow River in Mission.

In 1982, the Estate condo was built next to the historic Ranchmen's Club.  It was designed with town homes along the street with a tower above, nearly a decade before the podium and point tower became the Vancouver condo design craze. 

Mount Royal: City Beautiful or Man vs Nature?

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

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

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

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

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

Mount Royal early 20th century. 

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

Found this on the gate of the Dower House.

Found this on the gate of the Dower House.

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

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

CPR: Calgary's Past & Present

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

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

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

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

City Beautiful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A carriage house that is now modest Mount Royal home.

Architecture 101

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

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

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

Katchen Residence.

Katchen Residence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's in a name?

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

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

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

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

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

Yes even Mount Royal is being densified! 

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

Coste House mailbox

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

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

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

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

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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.