Calgary: Names & Placemaking Challenge

A pet peeve I have about condo developers is that they should do more research into the names of their condos and capitalize on the opportunity to use the names as part of the evolution of a sense of place. 

Two of the best examples of missed opportunities are the new condos facing onto Memorial Park – Park Pointe and The Park.  With a little research, imagination and respect for the area’s history, they could have been called Andrew or Carnegie. Why? Because the historic Memorial Park library (the first library in Alberta) was funded by an $80,000 Andrew Carnegie grant (total cost was $100,000 in 1912).  Or perhaps they could have been named after William Reed, Calgary’s first parks superintendent who created park.  Or, maybe even Alexander Calhoun Calgary’s first chief librarian could have been the inspiration for naming rights.  For that matter, one of the condos could have simply been named The Library.  

On a related but different note, from a design perspective, it would have been nice to have had a strong sandstone element in the exteriors of condos near as the ground level to pay respect to the historic sandstone Memorial Park Library building.

Rendering of new The Park condo looking southeast from historic Memorial Park.  It makes no reference in design or name that would enhance the sense of place the area  or of 13th Ave SW as an important historical street. 

Rendering of new The Park condo looking southeast from historic Memorial Park.  It makes no reference in design or name that would enhance the sense of place the area  or of 13th Ave SW as an important historical street. 


Another good example of a missed opportunity is the Montana, the relatively new condo next to the Nellie McClung House on the 700 block of 16th Avenue SW.  Might have Neillie or McClung Place/Tower have been better?

The Montana condo with the McClung house in the foreground on the left side.

The Montana condo with the McClung house in the foreground on the left side.


Church,  Homestead, Carpenters?

Hats off to the developers in Kensington who are doing a better job with names like St. John’s on Tenth St. (after the church that used to be on the site) or Lido (after the Lido Café, that was torn down after over 70 years of calling the block where the new condo will be built home).  That being said, I am think there must be a better name for the community’s latest condo, Kensington. I can think of two – The Riley (the entire Hillhurst / Sunnyside/ West Hillhurst /SAIT area was once part of the Riley family ranch) or The Carpenter (given the site was home to the Carpenter’s Union Hall for many years).  

St. John's condominium on the site of the church of the same name.

St. John's condominium on the site of the church of the same name.

Plaque on the side of St. John's condo documenting a bit of the history of the site.

Plaque on the side of St. John's condo documenting a bit of the history of the site.

Savoy / Riviera ?

I also question the name Savoy for a new condo in West Hillhurst, a community with a rich history.  The Savoy name is most commonly associated with a five-star luxury hotel in London.  I am not aware of any association with the site or the community.  Grand Trunk, the original name for the section of land that it is located on, would have been a much more interesting and appropriate name.  

In my opinion, the same could be said for the Riviera now under construction in Parkdale. 

Savoy condo in West Hillhurst at the corner of 19th St NW and Kensington Road.

Savoy condo in West Hillhurst at the corner of 19th St NW and Kensington Road.

I also don’t get the names for Calgary’s three upscale condos - River, Avenue and Concord. These names are simply too generic or have nothing to do with Calgary and they do not add any value to the sense of place of the communities they are located in.  

There are a plethora of new condos next to the downtown that could easily have had names that would have fostered a unique sense of place for both locals and visitors. 

These four condo towers are located near Stampede Park on Macleod Trail, in Victoria Park one of Calgary's oldest communities are called Sasso, Vetro, Nuera and Alura. What a missed opportunity to preserve some of the community's rich history?  

These four condo towers are located near Stampede Park on Macleod Trail, in Victoria Park one of Calgary's oldest communities are called Sasso, Vetro, Nuera and Alura. What a missed opportunity to preserve some of the community's rich history?  

Community Names

Taking it a step further, the same criticism could be said about some community names.  What’s with the name “West District” in West Springs?  Surely, there is a more meaningful name that is linked to the history of the land – West District could be anywhere.  I also hate community names like Royal Oak, Tuscany or Maple Ridge. Lovely as they may sound, they have no relevance to Calgary.  On the other hand, names like Quarry Park make sense (the site was once a quarry) and Silver Springs (it actually has springs with silver water).  Chinook Park makes perfect sense, as does Garrison Woods and Currie Barracks.

Currie Barracks does a great job in fostering a sense of place by using historical names for the streets and with their banner program.

Currie Barracks does a great job in fostering a sense of place by using historical names for the streets and with their banner program.

At the west entrance is a huge memorial with bronze statues and plaques that share some of the stories that are associated with the site's rich military history.  

At the west entrance is a huge memorial with bronze statues and plaques that share some of the stories that are associated with the site's rich military history.  

The Challenge

I challenge developers to invest a little more time and effort into naming condos and new communities with names that are relevant to Calgary’s history, climate, topography, flora and fauna.  

I would suggest engaging one of Calgary’s historians – Harry Sanders or David Finch - to help out with the research.

Richard White, September 24, 2014 

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Kensington: One of North America's Healthiest Urban Villages

Richard White, July 19, 2014

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

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

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

Plaza Theatre is home to Calgary's film community.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Livingstone & Cavell is fun for everyone.

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

Kensington Riverside Inn

Last word

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

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

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

West Campus: Calgary's First 24/7 community

Richard White, July 13, 2014 (an edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, titled "Calgary's West Campus could be our own city that never sleeps," July 12, 2014

Could Calgary soon have its first 24/7 community?  West Campus (since this blog was written West Campus has been rebranded as University District) is the working name for the development of an urban village (residential, retail, restaurants and office buildings) on the University of Calgary’s lands west of the current campus – hence the name.  It is all of the undeveloped land north, south and west of the Alberta Children’s Hospital. In 2011, the West Campus Development Trust (WCDT) was created to continue the development of the master plan that was developed in 2006. 

The reason the West Campus could be Calgary’s first 24/7 community is because the chief economic engines are not only the University, but also the Foothills Hospital and Alberta Children’s Hospital, both of which are 24/7 operations.

Unlike downtown offices, which are busy from 7 am to 7 pm weekdays only, or the shops in Kensington, 17th Avenue or Inglewood that are open from 10 am to 6 pm, or the restaurants, pubs and clubs that open at noon and close at 1 am; the hospitals are open around the clock. Imagine meeting friends for happy hours or to work out at the gym at 11 pm, or maybe after work at 8 am; this is when hospital shifts end and begin.

The University of Calgary campus also operates 7 days a week, with activities starting at about 7am and going on into the evening with classes, performances and recreational activities.  

Today, on any given day, nearly 100,000 people visit (work, school and medical appointments) what I call the “Learning City” - University of Calgary, SAIT/ACAD, Foothills Hospital, Children’s Hospital, Market and North Hill Malls.  Currently, 55,000+ people live in the 12 communities in and around the University of Calgary. 

However, by 2030, the University of Calgary campus could be the heart of a new city with its own culture based on academia, wellness and sports excellence. It could be surrounded by several vibrant self-sustaining pedestrian-oriented urban villages e.g. University City, Stadium Village, West Campus and McMahon Village. 


The 184 acres of underutilized land west of University of Calgary main campus is part of a bold development plan for a new urban district in Calgary’s northwest. The development will create a dynamic new community with all net revenue going back to support University initiatives.

West Campus Vision Highlights

While other universities have been the catalyst for a university village with its own street culture - shops, restaurants, cafés pubs, live performance venues - on its boundaries, the University of Calgary has been a bit of an island with no interaction with neighbouring communities. 

However, if James Robertson and his WCDT team have their way the University of Calgary’s campus will become more of a university town with its own town centre. 

Recently, I along with hundreds of others attended one of three Open Houses to learn more about the WCDT’s vision and master plan for West Campus.  The plan is an ambitious one as it includes not only “optimizing financial return to the University” but also “ensuring the Plan connects and harmonizes with surrounding neighbourhoods and the university.”

The plan calls for the 184 acres calls for:

  • 40 acres of parks, ponds, gardens and public space (size of Prince’s Island)
  • 12 km of pathways
  • 6,000+ multi-family residential units (15,000+ people)
  • 245,000 square feet retail and restaurants (a four block Kensington-like pedestrian street)
  • 1.5 million square feet of office space (10,000 workers)

West Campus is designed to be a pedestrian and transit first community, meaning that many of the people will live, work and play within a few kilometers of their home. The plan includes a shuttle to link the University campus with the University LRT Station, Foothill Hospital campus and the Alberta Children’s Hospital, which makes transit a very attractive option.  There is also a comprehensive cycling program that includes dedicated cycling lanes on some streets

Developer interest in the project is very strong, already a grocery store has said it will “paper a deal” i.e. commit to building on a site when it is available.  Rumour has it another major deal could happen quickly if the City approves the Plan. It is possible, West Campus if approved could happen quicker than other projects like Bridgeland or East Village given the level of interest being shown by developers.


Concept Plan Rendering.jpg

Land Use Plan: Mustard is residential 2-3 storeys, Orange is residential 4 storeys, Light brown is residential up to 8 storeys, Dark brown is high density up to 16 storeys, Red is mixed-use retail/residential with 2-3 storey podium and then up to 6 storeys above and Purple is mixed use retail/office 4 to 8 storeys. 

Public Questions

I heard some concerns about the traffic and could the project really get people out of their cars and walk or take transit to work, shopping or the gym.  While this good in theory and every planners dream, I don’t think it is just a dream in this case. Why? Because University Heights already has 49% of its residents walking, cycling or taking transit to work.  There is no reason to believe that West Campus can’t achieve the same results given there will be even more amenities, connectivity and it will be more pedestrian friendly.

Others were concerned about the height of the buildings, which could be as high as 16 storeys.  I also heard concerns that the plan was underwhelming and lacked innovation as an urban design.  There were also concerns that there is no provision in the plan for townhomes in the plan - everything is multi-family.

It is really difficult to judge a project at the Land Use Plan stage as the plan looks like an abstract artwork with its blocks of magenta, purple, green, orange, baby blue and tan representing the different land uses from residential low, medium and high density, mixed-use retail/residential, mixed-use retail/office, municipal reserve and environment reserve.

As I said to one person “this is just a land use plan, it doesn’t mean everything will be built at maximum density or exactly as zoned.  What ultimately gets built we be determined by market demand if there is no demand for a 16-storey condo then it won’t get built.” I also expect that there will be some townhomes at street level in some of the multi-family condos.  Over the next 20 years (the expected build-out period) the market for housing, office and retail will change dramatically and the plan for West Campus will have evolve with it - this is just a starting point.” 

I believe there is no such thing as a perfect plan!  Looking at the West Campus Plan it checks all the boxes for right mix of residential, retail, restaurant and recreational spaces, as well as integrating existing and new work places.


A four acre urban park just south of the main street spans an entire block and is the potential home for a farmers' market, an outdoor skating rink and pop-up performance spaces. The space will encourage people to meet and mingle year-round. 

The plan incorporates a variety of building types ranging from townhouses up to 16-storey high rise apartments. With direct access to the street at ground level through patios and public-oriented uses, a ‘porch culture’ will extend from the main street into residential neighbourhoods, and even the office district, creating a sense of safety and social interaction. With 12 kilometres of pathways throughout, the streetscape is interconnected, lively, and supports the day-to-day activities of a vibrant community.

The plan incorporates a variety of building types ranging from townhouses up to 16-storey high rise apartments. With direct access to the street at ground level through patios and public-oriented uses, a ‘porch culture’ will extend from the main street into residential neighbourhoods, and even the office district, creating a sense of safety and social interaction. With 12 kilometres of pathways throughout, the streetscape is interconnected, lively, and supports the day-to-day activities of a vibrant community.

Last Word

The really difficult task in new community building is linking vision with reality.  Anyone can present animated streetscapes, parks and public space with fun, funky buildings as part of their vision document– in fact to the untrained eye all community master plans look pretty much the same. 

The challenge is to enlist developers and urban designers to create places and spaces that are competitive (price, size of units and amenities) with other projects in Calgary that offer similar lifestyles. 

Calgarians are lucky as they have several new inner-city urban villages to choose from - East Village, University City and Bridgeland, with several more to come Currie Barracks, Stadium Shopping Centre, Westbrook Station and Jacques Lodge  site.

The test will be “if you build it, will they come?” I think West Campus will be very attractive to healthcare workers and academics.  

There has been significant community engagement from the very beginning of the West Campus project with numerous open houses to present ideas and gather feedback.

There has been significant community engagement from the very beginning of the West Campus project with numerous open houses to present ideas and gather feedback.

Dubai's Healthcare City has many parallels with Calgary's West Campus. 

Calgary: New downtown office towers catalyst for inner-city densification.

By Richard White, June 28, 2014

(An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section, June 28, 2014 titled; "Embrace downtown's explosive growth.")

I have received several comments from readers expressing concern that the term "downtown sprawl" is negative and inappropriate, especially as it relates to urban development and as the term urban sprawl.  One reader suggested the "downtown ripple effect."  In giving this blog further consideration I decided to retitle the blog "Calgary: New downtown office towers catalyst for inner-city densification," which I think better reflects my thesis. 

Calgary: Benefits of Downtown Sprawl? 

Calgary’s urban sprawl is unique in that it’s happening both at the edge of the city as well as all around its downtown.  While much attention is given to the ever- increasing number of new suburban communities by city politicians, planners and the media, the number of new master-planned urban villages close to downtown (under construction or in the design phase) is significant. Perhaps we can coin the phase “downtown sprawl.”

With over 7 million square feet of new downtown office space constructed over the past five years and another 5 million under construction or in the design phase, Calgary is a leader in downtown growth in North America. Twelve million square feet of office space will accommodate another 40,000 office workers, many of whom will undoubtedly want to live in or close to downtown.  

In May, Altus Group reported that there are an amazing 12,447 residential units proposed, pre-construction and construction stage in the Downtown and Beltline. (Note: this doesn’t include the condos proposed for communities north of the Bow River, east of the Elbow River or any of the new inner city urban villages along or near Crowchild Trail).

Brookfield Place 

Telus Sky Tower

Manulife office tower

Proposed Eau Claire Market site redevelopment with five new towers. 

East Village condo construction as downtown sprawls eastward.

Urban Transformation

Calgary’s thriving downtown has literally transformed the Beltline into a parade of show condos; there are new condos being built on almost every other block.  Over the past decade, the Beltline has evolved into one of North America’s best yuppie communities with great restaurants, cafes, pubs, clubs, two grocery stores and a health food store.

Everyone knows about the incredible transformation underway in East Village, designed to become a new urban village of 10,000 people. There are currently more construction cranes in East Village than in the entire downtown core!

And, of course there is Bridgeland where the old General Hospital site is in its final phases its master planned redevelopment.  Mission is quickly becoming the Mount Royal of condo living with numerous luxury condos along the Elbow River.

More recently, the Hillhurst/Sunnyside community is also experiencing the impact of downtown sprawl with several new, mid-rise (under 10 floors) condos recently completed, under construction or in the design phase. New urban-type condos (main floor retail with condos above) area also popping up in Marda Loop, West Hillhurst and Montgomery – with more to come.

But the impact of downtown sprawl doesn’t stop here. There are plans for several new planned urban infill villages - Currie Barracks, Jacques Lodge, West Campus, University City, Stadium Shopping Centre and Westbrook Village. 

Each of these planned, mixed-use developments has been carefully researched in collaboration with the neighbouring communities and City Planners to create “walkable” villages where residents’ everyday needs will be within walking distance. They will also be well served by public transit, allowing easy access not only to neighbouring employment centers, but also to downtown. In fact, Currie Barracks' key marketing message is "An urban village only seven minutes from downtown." 

Over the next few months, I will be profiling each of these new urban villages.  

Creating great urban places to live is more than densification i.e. building more condos.  The Bridges has created a new Main Street for the Bridgeland community incorporating both old and new retail spaces. 

University City will create a new urban hub at the Brentwood LRT station. 

St. John's on 10th is just one of many new mid-rise condo developments in the Kensington Village area.  This is a model new urban community as it integrates old and new, single-family, small apartments/condos, low and mid-rise residential, with strong retail and an LRT station. 

Inner City Makeover

In addition to the new urban villages, Downtown sprawl is responsible for the incredible demand for inner city single-family infill housing.  Over the past five years, inner city communities from Altadore to Tuxedo and from Inglewood to Spruce Cliff, Calgary’s inner city communities have become a parade of infill show homes. 

From 2008 to 2013, 3,345 new infill homes (excluding condominiums and apartments) were built in Calgary's inner city communities.  At three people per home, that is the equivalent of building an entire new community for 10,000 people.  Most new communities take 10 to 15 years to build out (e.g. Aspen Woods), yet we have, in effect, built a new inner-city community in just five years. 

The value of these new homes is estimated at one billion dollars, equivalent to the value of one major office tower the size of Eight Avenue Place or the Bow. These homeowners will pay $15 million in dollars in property taxes per year; about five times what was being paid by the small cottage homes they replaced.

New infill homes mean new families moving into the inner city, a very healthy evolution as young families bring a new energy to schools, parks, playgrounds, recreation centres and local retailers. 

Even some major businesses are looking beyond the traditional greater downtown, boundaries for office space. A good example would be the relocation of Venture Communications last year to the old UMA building at the corner of Memorial Drive and Kensington Road in West Hillhurst last.  Recently, the Calgary Co-op opened a liquor store next to Venture Communications and rumor has it that a New York Style café opening on the same block.

The Memorial Drive / Kensington Road corner (in the early 1900s this area was called Happyland) has the potential to become a micro-hub; there already are several professional offices, a convenience store, two sportswear stores and Bob’s Pizza/Pub nearby. Another rumor has Phil & Sebastian and Starbucks looking for a location in the West Hillhurst area, further evidence that the influence of downtown’s growth is spreading north and west. 

Lane housing in West Hillhurst.

Main Street Montgomery has added a new condo with retail at street level.  There are dozens of new infills under construction in this community. 

Venture Communications new head office in an area of West Hillhurst once called Happyland. 

The Calgary Co-op liquor store is more evidence of the urbanization of the West Hillhurst community. 

A parade of new infill homes in West Hillhurst.

Calgary is Unique

While some may lament the loss of the tiny cottage homes and the independent mom and pop shops, and that includes me sometimes the old adage rings true - change is the only constant in life.  And, in community development I might add.

I liken community development to gardening.  Plants grow for a few years, but eventually, some die and some need to be split and transplanted.  A garden needs constant attention – new planting, weeding, fertilizing, deadheading and pruning.  A community, like a garden, is never static; it is growing or it is dying.

Over the past year, I have visited numerous cities across North America (Winnipeg, Hamilton, London, Memphis, Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake City, Tucson and Portland) all of which would love to have the downtown sprawl Calgary has.  

Instead of complaining, we should consider ourselves very fortunate and capitalize on the opportunity to make a good city great.  Calgary has an incredible opportunity to transform its established single-family oriented communities into vibrant new mixed-use urban ones - thanks to a thriving downtown.

Calgary's International Avenue Deserves More Respect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tipping Point

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

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

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

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

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

An old paint store gets new life as artBox. 

An old paint store gets new life as artBox. 

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

Festival Fun

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

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

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

No Respect

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

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Richard White, June 22, 2014 

Some days we just like to head out and explore without any particular agenda or destination. This is particularly fun in urban places where there are usually lots of surprises that aren't in the tourist brochures.  It is a must that you have to walk the street to find the surprises - you won't find them driving or cycling by.   

Recently, I was browsing our photos from our 8,907 km Spring Break 2014 Road Trip and found a collection of images from a fun day of flaneuring in downtown Tucson that I thought would make a nice "everyday tourist" photo essay. 

The great thing about flaneuring is its FREE, you can do it anywhere and you can do it everyday! 

One of our favourite things to do when exploring an urban place is "window licking."  I find images like this as interesting or more interesting than anything in an art gallery.

Who knew a beautiful orange tree could grow (kinda) in downtown Tucson. 

Gotta love a drive in liquor store deli.

Perhaps the world's most colourful colonnade can be found attached to the Goodwill building. 

More window licking fun. 

The Chicago Music Store was a real find.  Family owned since 1919 it is fun place to explore - part music store part museum. 

The Chicago Music Store was a real find.  Family owned since 1919 it is fun place to explore - part music store part museum. 

Retro neon signage adds as much or more visual interest to a streetscape as most public art. 

Ran into a wedding and these young men were more than willing to pose for a photograph - everyone was having fun (see girls in background). 

Sure Portland and Vancouver have their food trucks, but what about an art truck? 

Public art as transit shelter?  Tacky? Fun? Clever? 

Butterflies & Skeletons? Tucson has a rich high and low brow culture. 

More fun signage as public art!

More fun signage as public art!

We did not explore the roof-top patio at the Playground Lounge but it definitely adds an element of fun to Congress St. 

You won't find this postcard image in any of Tucson's tourist information brochures. 

Nor this one!

Nor this one!

Heading home we discovered Tucson's Rattlesnake pedestrian bridge that links the southside residents to downtown who are cut off from downtown by a 6-lane highway.  

Inside the rattlesnake!

Rattlesnake tail plaza. And, yes there is rattle sound as you pass by!

River Living: Come Hell or High Water?

By Richard White, June 19, 2014 (an edited version of this blog appeared in the summer edition of Domus magazine). 

As we celebrate the first year anniversary of the great flood of 2013 I thought it would be interesting to see what impact it had on inner-city luxury home design and the housing market in the upscale communities that were impacted.

The most obvious changes in house design has been to raise the elevations of the entire basement, higher concrete window wells at ground level, water proof all window barriers, move all electrical systems and panels to the main floor or to the garage. Nothing too exciting or earth shattering, but logical changes (more later).

We have also seen a bit of a shift in where luxury homebuyers are looking.  Communities like Altadore have broken the two million dollar barrier as buyers are moving to higher ground.  Britannia, BelAir and Mayfair have seen their listing sell faster and at higher prices also as the lower Elbow Park, Glencoe and Roxboro buyers moved up Elbow Drive, but not past the dreaded Deerfoot barrier.

The Canadian Armed Forces had to be called in to help. 

Some homes had to be completely destroyed. 

Thousands of homes in the Bow River and Elbow River flood plain were damaged by the flood of 2013.

Thousands of homes in the Bow River and Elbow River flood plain were damaged by the flood of 2013.

West Hillhurst / Hillhurst Revival

In chatting with Ross Aitken, at ReMax his observation is that West Hillhurst and Hillhurst have never seen more interest from today's luxury homebuyer. These two communities did not flood and their proximity to the river pathways, downtown, Kensington, SAIT, ACAD, University of Calgary and Mount Royal, as well as both the Foothills and Children’s Hospitals making them a very attractive choice for urban professionals. He pointed out that the 22 million dollar plus home sales in these two communities since the flood is more than Altadore and Elbow Park.

Aitken also pointed out to me that in the 10 months prior to the flood only 20% of the million dollar plus homes sold in Calgary were in the NW quadrant, but that number has risen to 28% for the 10 months since the flood. While the upscale homebuyer, especially the oil patch executives have always preferred the SW, perhaps that is changing.

Acreages aren't hip?

One might think the inner-city luxury homebuyer might have moved out of the city entirely, but that is not the case.  Westside acreages in communities like Elbow Valley and Stone Pine are not moving quickly, in fact their sales have stagnated and prices are being reduced significantly to get a sale.  One theory is that today’s homebuyer is more “amenity conscious” and while living on an acreage has its advantages, it might not be enough anymore for the young hip GABESTER families (geologist, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers) who want to be close to live music and theatre venues, spin class / yoga studios, Calgary’s growing café/patio culture and having the option to cycle or walk to work.

Calgarians are moving to higher ground. 

One of the many new mansions on the ridge in St. Andrews Heights.

A parade of new infills in West Hillhurst.

Just one of many new home construction sites in communities like Britannia, Altadore and Briar Hill located on higher ground. 

New Rules

You might think the luxury buyers would be looking at the Bow River’s northside ridge communities of Crescent Heights, Rosedale, Houndview Heights, Briar Hill and St. Andrew Heights.  However, the new monster mansions on the ridge in St. Andrew’s heights are struggling to sell.  The impact of the flood on prices and sales in the other Bow River ridge homes has been more or less neutral.  

Recently, the City of Calgary passed tougher new rules for rebuilding homes in flood-prone areas.  Things like all new homes and buildings in the flood fringe and overland flow areas must be 60m from the edge of the Bow River and 30m from the Elbow, Nose Creek or West Nose Creek.

All new homes must also must be constructed at a minimum of 0.3m above the highest grade existing on the street abutting the parcel of land that contains the building and all electrical and mechanical equipment must be located at or above the first floor.

Paul Battisella, whose inner city home was flooded and is General Manager of Battisella Developments builders of new condos in the Beltline, East Village and Hillhurst agrees with the changes. He would add that new homes in flood prone areas should also be installing large sump pumps in the basement with portable back-up generators in case of power failure and thicker basement slabs and waterproofing of foundation to avoid ground water issues, which was a big part of the flooding problem last year.

Battisella indicated the City has to proceed with caution regarding how it applies the new rules to existing homeowners so as not to be punitive to those wanting to do modest renovations and additions to existing homes.

Some are even questioning the wisdom of using the basement as a living space at all.  It is probably not the best idea if you are in a flood prone area to create an expensive home theatre space in the basement with lots of high-end built-ins like a bar and or vintage wine cellar.  Have we seen the last of the walk-out basement to the river?

This City of Calgary diagram visualizes how the terms floodway, flood fringe and flood hazard area is defined. (photo credit: City of Calgary website)

This is an updated map of the Bow River Floodway / Flood Fringe showing that the new Ven condo project by Bucci Developments is not in either.  (Photo Credit: Bucci website)

Similarly, a map of the Elbow River's Floodway/Flood Fringe from Bucci Development showing that Tribeca condo is outside the flood risk area. (photo credit: Bucci website)

Last Word

The impact of the flood of 2013 is not over and mitigation discussion are sure to continue for years.  

In March, homeowners in Elbow Park, Elboya, Ramsay, Erlton, Mission and Rideau-Roxboro area concerned about riverbank repairs, a new berm and flood barrier work currently underway at Stampede Park questioned what impact redirected flood water might have on their homes.  This is just the beginning of what is sure to be long and heated debates on the impact, cost and value of proposed flood mitigation projects.

The demand for home in in Calgary’s Elbow River communities continue to be strong. There has not been a mass exodus from these communities as one might have expected.  In many ways it is business as usual for luxury home and condo sales in 2014. The sale of luxury homes (over one million dollars) for the first four months of 2014 is up 12.8% from the same period in 2013.  When one looks at two million plus sales, the numbers are almost identical in 2014 and 2013 for the January to April period in the flood-affected communities.

Another sign the flood has not deterred Calgarians from wanting to live next to the river is the commencement of construction of the upscale The River condo located on the bank of the Elbow River, in Mission. More recently Concord Pacific announced they are proceeding with their luxury  condo project in Eau Claire on the Bow River. And, last fall Harvard Developments Inc. shared plans for a mega billion dollar redevelopment of their Eau Claire market site. 

Indeed, Calgarians love living near their rivers “come hell or high water!”

Concept rendering of the Eau Claire Market site redevelopment along the Bow River which flooded most of downtown Calgary in 2013.

Calgary's Learning City is blooming!

By Richard White,  June 4, 2014

While much of Calgary’s urban development debate seems to revolve around new suburbs vs. City Centre i.e. Downtown, East Village, Beltline and Bridgeland vs. Seton, Cityscape and Walden, there is a mega transformation happening in the northwest. 

I doubt many Calgarians are aware of the multi-billion dollar investments that have been or are being planned for Foothills Hospital (teaching hospital), SAIT / ACAD (Alberta College of Art and Design) and the University of Calgary.  These three campuses, all located within about five kilometers of each other, are the economic engines of Calgary’s emerging “Learning City,” which extends from the Bow River north to Nose Hill and from SAIT Campus to Shaganappi Trail.

The Alberta Children's Hospital has added a new dimension to Calgary's growing learning city. It is also one of Calgary's signature modern architectural buildings. 

The Children's Development Centre located across the street from the Alberta Children's Hospital is home to several agencies that help children in need.  It was one of Calgary's first LEED buildings. 

Calgary's Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) has undergone a billion dollar expansion over the past 10 years.   

Calgary's Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) has undergone a billion dollar expansion over the past 10 years.  

SAIT's Heritage Hall is Calgary's finest historic building.

SAIT's Heritage Hall is Calgary's finest historic building.

Catalytic Projects

The Learning City has numerous catalytic projects on the books, which will reshape it over the next 15 to 20 years into a more all-inclusive city. For example, along its “Crowchild Trail Corridor” there are major developments at several LRT stations including the transformation of the Brentwood Mall into University City village with highrise and midrise condos, retail, restaurants and other amenities designed to appeal to students, young medical professionals and empty nesters. 

The Dalhousie LRT Station is also adding mid-rise condo development on its west side, turning it into a more mixed-use station when factoring in the retail on the east side.  And this is just step one in the evolution of this station into a more diverse urban place. 

Motel Village (the collection of old motels across from McMahon Stadium) is also quietly evolving.  A new office building was completed a few years back and plans for upgrading the motels and hotels has begun with the new Aloft Hotel slated to open in February. The University of Calgary is also looking at the potential to redevelop the McMahon Stadium site, studying if this is the best use of site given it gets used to its maximum about 10 times a year.  Given stadium and playing fields proximity to the LRT, the university, hospitals and downtown, it’s “prime picking” for transit-oriented, mixed-use development. 

As well, the mid-century Stadium Shopping Centre is past its “best before” date, with the city having approved zoning to allow for 800,000 square feet of mix of retail, residential, office and hotel buildings this will become a “community within a community.”  The development will be synergistic with the needs of Foothills Hospital workers and visitors, as well as the neighbouring residential community.

But the biggest catalytic project for the “Learning City” is the West Campus project. It will see 205 acres of underutilized University of Calgary campus land immediately west of the Olympic Oval converted into a 21st century walkable “live, work, play” community.  The area already includes the Alberta Children’s Hospital, Ronald MacDonald House, Child Development Centre, University’s Physical Plant and family housing.  While the final plans are still being developed you can be sure the new village will include parks, pathways, a central plaza and community gardens all carefully linked to a variety of housing types, retail, restaurants and personal services, as well as office space. While no specific date has been set for the start of construction, this will be probably be a 2016 to 2025 project.

McMahon Stadium site is currently being looked at by the University of Calgary to determine how it might be redeveloped. (Image courtesy of Ross Aitken, Remax)

Owners of the Stadium Shopping Center (highlighted in yellow), which is located across from the Foothills Hospital are working with the City and community to create a mixed-use (residential, retail, office and hotel) village.  (Image courtesy of Ross Aitken, Remax)

The proposed West Campus university town is well conceived and is already getting lots of interest from developers. (Image courtesy of West Campus Development Trust).

A great place to play!

The Learning City boast some of Calgary’s best urban amenities from indoor shopping (Market, North Hill and Northland Malls), to bobo street retail and restaurants in Bowness and Montgomery.  

Abundant recreational facilities exist - from Shouldice Park to Canada Olympic Park and numerous City of Calgary indoor recreational facilities.  The University and SAIT also offer major recreation facilities to students, faculty and public, not the least of which is the Olympic Oval. It is also home to some of Calgary’s biggest and best parks – Nose Hill, Bowness and Bowmont.

Culturally, the University of Calgary has several performing art spaces for music, theatre and dance.  ACAD is home to the Illingsworth Kerr Gallery and its renowned semi-annual student art sales popular for those looking to start an art collection.   And of course, the Jubilee Theatre is part of the SAIT/ACAD campus.

For those interested in adult education on any given evening everything from travel classes at the University, to culinary classes at SAIT, to art classes at ACAD can be had. 

A great place to live!

The Learning City also offers a diversity of housing options. Upscale communities like Briar Hill, Hounsfield Heights and St. Andrew’s Heights have many spectacular million-dollar view lots along the north bluff of the Bow River.  Both St. Andrew’s Heights and Varsity Estates qualify as million dollar communities as the value of the average home sale is now over one million dollars.

There are lots of new single and duplex housing in all of the communities bordering the Learning City’s employment centers, with new infill construction on almost every block.  These homes with their modern kitchens, three bedrooms and developed basements are particularly attractive to young families.  

The Learning City is very family-friendly with numerous school options (public, Catholic, charter and private) from kindergarten through to high school, post-secondary and university and colleges, as well as Renfrew and Woods Home schools for special needs.

University City at Brentwood Mall will be the first high-rise living with its two colourful 20-story towers (tallest buildings north of the Bow River) – one Royal Gold (yellow) and one Sunlit Topaz (orange).  This emerging urban village will appeal to those wanting a more urban lifestyle with all of the amenities walking distance away and the university across the street. 

The Renaissance condos offer a unique lifestyle in Calgary as they are attached to the North Hill shopping center, which means you can shop without having to go outside.  There is a library just a half a block away and the Lions Park LRT station is across the street. It simply doesn’t get any better than that.

West Campus will create a 21st century pedestrian-oriented community for 15,000 or more people. 

The first two University City towers which are part of a mega transformation of the land east of the Brentwood LRT station from a retail power centre, into a mixed-use transit oriented urban village. 

The Renaissance condos are attached to the North Hill shopping mall and are within l walking distance of SAIT and Lion's Park LRT Station.

Last Word

Today, on any given day, nearly 100,000 people visit Calgary's Learning City (University of Calgary, SAIT/ACAD, Foothills Hospital, Children’s Hospital, Market and North Hill Malls to work and shop, or attend a class or medical appointment. Currently, 55,000+ people live in Learning City communities; this could double over the next 15 years.

By 2030, the University of Calgary campus could be the heart of a new city with its own culture based on academia, wellness and sports excellence. It could be surrounded by several vibrant self-sustaining pedestrian-oriented urban villages e.g. West Campus, University City, Stadium Village and McMahon Village (redevelopment of McMahon stadium site).  

Dubai Healthcare City looks very similar to the proposed the West Campus Development Trust's plan for the University of Calgary's West Campus. 

Launched in 2002, Dubai's Healthcare City (DHCC) is home to two hospitals, over 120 outpatient medical centers and diagnostic laboratories with over 4,000 licensed professionals occupying a total of 4.1 million square feet of medical facilities. 

Dubai is also home to the  Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) as part of their city’s master plan.  Formed in 2007, it currently has 20,000 students from 125 nationalities and offers over 400 higher education programs. The campus has 18 million square feet of state-of-the-art facilities. 

Like Dubai, Calgary's Learning City is blooming into one of the world's more interesting urban places for healthcare, academic and athletes to live, work and play. 

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Glenbow: A new kind of art museum

By Richard White,  June1 , 2014

(An edited version of this blog appeared in the New Condos section of the Calgary Herald, titled "Vibrant vision fires up Glenbow fans" on Saturday, May 31, 2014)

Great cities have great museums! New York City has several - Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museum of Art. Paris has the Louvre, Centre Pompidou, Musee d’Orsay and Rodin Museum.  Everyday tens of thousands of locals and visitors invade the city centres of London and Paris to be entertained, educated and enlightened by a museum experience.  The diversity and quality of the museum experience is critical to understanding of a city’s history and sense of place, both for locals and tourists.  The importance of museums in defining a city was reinforced during our recent 6-week US road trip, where we toured 24 different museums and art galleries in places like Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Denver and Helena.

In Calgary, the Glenbow Museum is both our art and history museum.  For many years now it has struggled with this dual role.  Attendance and membership have not grown over the past 25 years despite the city’s doubling of population, as well as the number of its downtown workers.  

Recently, Donna Livingstone celebrated her one-year anniversary as Glenbow’s President & CEO. I thought it was timely to check in with her learn about her plans for the Glenbow.

The Building

Livingstone was quick to say the Glenbow has no plans to move out of the downtown. In fact, the current Glenbow building is in very good shape and what is needed is just modest renovations to the exterior and interior exhibition spaces.

She reminded me that when the Glenbow was designed and built (in the mid to late ‘60s), 9th Avenue was THE place to be with its new Calgary Tower, Convention Centre and hotel, as well as the train station and the grand Palliser Hotel. Today, 8th Avenue has become Calgary’s signature street so the museum needs to re-orient its entrance to the northside.  Her vision includes a new welcoming Stephen Avenue Walk entrance with an enhanced gallery shop, cafe and bold new signage.

Livingstone would also like to see the second floor look like a contemporary art gallery, not a convention centre space. This could be accomplished with a new ceiling and lighting, as well as the removal of the carpet to allow for a polished concrete floor, a relatively “mini-makeover” so to speak. 

Livingstone is looking at a mega-makeover of the third floor, which, in the past, has always been reserved for a major history exhibition that is on view for 10+ years without any changes (often leading to the comment “nothing ever changes at the Glenbow”).

She sees this floor becoming a multi-purpose space for art, artefacts, readings and performances that explore both the new West to the old West from multiple perspectives, genres and artistic practices. Using in-house expertise, combined with guest curators and other cultural groups locally, nationally and internationally, she wants to aggressively program the space to tell Calgary, southern Alberta and Western Canada stories. It is an ambitious and compelling vision that integrates and hybridizes modern art practices with historical documentation. It is the beginning of what she calls “a new kind of art museum.”  

As the fourth floor doesn’t have the high ceilings needed for today’s contemporary art and history exhibitions, her vision is to transform this space into a “hands-on” educational gallery for people of all ages and backgrounds.  In addition to the educational activities, it will include display cases filled with art and artifacts from the Glenbow’s collection that will rotate on a regular basis so “there will always be something new at the Glenbow!”

The Glenbow from 9th Avenue looking northwest. 

Many many years ago I attended a visioning workshop on Downtown Calgary and the group I was in looked at how the Glenbow and the Calgary Tower might look in the future.  This is the image we create of the future Glenbow.  

Glenbow's entrance from Stephen Avenue Walk.

While regular passenger train service not longer exists in Calgary, Downtown's 9th Avenue is home to the Canadian Pacific Railway Pavilion, which houses the vintage early 20th century passenger cars.  

Building Partnerships

One of Livingstone’s greatest assets is that she is a Calgarian; she knows the community and key players. Over the past year, one of her priorities has been to foster the Glenbow’s relationships and build new community partnerships. So, in addition to working with art gallery and museum groups like Alberta College of Art, Military Museums, Fort Calgary, University of Calgary and Contemporary Calgary (formerly the Art Gallery of Calgary, Triangle Gallery and Institute of Modern and Contemporary Art), she has also reached out to theatre and literary groups to let them know the “new Glenbow” is open and keen to work with them to bring its exhibitions and collection to life.  She is also working with the Calgary Stampede to create something celebrate our cowboy and western culture year round.

One recently example of a new partnership was with Calgary’s Verb Theatre who perform “Of Fighting Age” right in the gallery space containing the “Transformation: A.Y. Jackson & Otto Dix” exhibition (an exhibition of war art on loan from the National War Museums). For Livingstone and those who attended, the synergy of the visual and performance art was illuminating.

Building Community Support

The Glenbow’s signature fundraiser, SCHMANCY, has been recognized by Maclean’s magazine as one of the top five power galas in the country.  This year’s raucous evening of art and culture featured the likes of Bryan Adams, Rebecca Norton (Kung Fu Panties) and George Stroumboulopoulos. This is the new Glenbow – young, cheeky and schmancy. Oh yes, it also raised $280,000!

Exhibitions like “Made in Calgary: The ‘90s at Glenbow” by guest curator Nancy Tousley - with its 100 artworks by 55 artists - are critical to fostering the support of the local visual art community, something the Glenbow and most major Canadian art galleries struggle with. 

From June 7 to August 24, 2014, the Glenbow will feature Calgary’s young (under 40 years of age) whimsical glass art collective Bee Kingdom in an exhibition titled “Iconoclast In Glass.” To enhance visitors’ appreciation of glass art, the Bee Kingdom’s exhibition will be paired with an exhibition showcasing the Glenbow’s collection of historical and contemporary glass (which happens to be the largest in Canada).

In the past, the emerging and established local artists would often complain the Glenbow was ignoring their work.  This is no longer true!

The Bee Kingdom have exhibited their tiny, fun colourful creatures internationally and are now  at the Glenbow.

Last Word

For Livingstone, the duality of the being both art and history museum is something she wants to capitalize on, not complain about. With the largest, most diverse collection of art and artifacts in Western Canada (three times more art than the Vancouver Art Gallery), one of the largest collection of corporate head offices in North America in her backyard, as well as one of the strongest and most diverse cultural communities in Canada, she feels the Glenbow is well positioned to become the “new type of art museum” she envisions.

That is, a museum that tells the story of Calgary’s “sense of place: past, present and future” to Calgarians and visitors.  A museum that integrates historical and contemporary multi-discipline story-telling experiences which speak to everyone.  And, a museum that offer programs at noon hour, happy hour, weekday and weekends!

The fact Livingstone has no money to do any of the physical and programming changes she envisions doesn’t seem to faze her. She is confident the Glenbow will become Calgary’s the great museum (my words not hers) that Calgary deserves. It will be very interesting to watch the Glenbow’s transformation over the next few years. 

Donna Livingstone showing off her lassoing abilities.  A new kind of art museum, needs a new kind of President & CEO! (Photo credit: Calgary Herald)

Inglewood: Calgary's most unique community?

By Richard White, May 29, 2014 (an edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours section, May 29, 2014, titled "Cool Inglewood perfect for life, work and play).

Inglewood has the distinction of not only being Calgary’s oldest community (established in 1875), but also one of the most desirable urban communities in the City. And, while there are many fine historical buildings and relics from the past -including two old barns and an old brewery - still in the community, what makes its future particularly exciting are the many new private investments.

Two of the biggest additions to the community are George Brookman’s West Canadian Digital Imaging headquarter building at the east end of 9th (Atlantic) Avenue and Jim Hill’s Atlantic Art Block at the west end (the very modern 4-storey red brick building with the wavy roof).  These commercial anchors, combined with the existing shops, restaurants, cafes, clubs and pubs are critical to making Inglewood a perfect “live, work, play” community.


Inglewood offers a diversity of housing options - from early 20th century cottages and Bow River mansions, to new infill homes  and low-rise condos.  At the far east end of Inglewood along 17th Avenue, almost at Deerfoot Trail, lies the 15-acre SoBow (south of downtown) condo development by Calgary’s M2i Development.   While Bridgeland, Beltline and East Village tend to get all the attention SoBow offers arguably the best amenities and accessibility of any new urban village Calgary. 

In minutes, you can be on the Deerfoot, Blackfoot or Barlow Trails, or an easy cycle or walk into downtown if you live in SoBow.  From an amenities perspective, the Zoo, Pearce Estate Park, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and the shops on 9th Avenue are basically in your backyard.

This large development has six phases and when complete, will consist of approximately 700 units, effectively creating a new “village” of 2,000+ people. (Click here for aerial views).

Heritage apartment blocks like this one make for great artists' live work spaces. 


The Atlantic Art Block not only offers office space, but at street level there are retail shops, a restaurant and the uber cool 15,000 square foot Esker Foundation Art Gallery in the penthouse. At street level, the building is home to the popular Gravity Café and Bite Groceteria - both have been an instant hit with foodies. It is a great example of a mixed-use building. 

West Canadian Digital Imaging 60,000 square foot building is a more tradition office only space. It employs not only his  250 workers, but another 90 Travel Alberta employees.  

Creating a “live, work, play” community is more than just about densification by building more condos and adding grocery stores, restaurants and shops.  It is just as critical that business owners like Brookman and Hill decide to locate their businesses in Calgary's established communities and not just downtown or suburban office parks.  Workers are critical to the survival of the shops, cafes and restaurants as they provide weekday customers, while the residential spaces fill the “customer” role evenings and weekends.

The Atlantic Art Block combines both contemporary architectural design (wave roof and glass walls at the corner) with more traditional brick three storey warehouse massing mid-block to create an exciting architectural statement as you enter Inglewood from the west. 

West Canadian Digital Building is a  more traditional modern interpretation of early 20th century warehouse architecture. 


Inglewood could be branded as Calgary’s music district as it is not only home to Recordland, Festival Hall, Ironwood and Blues Can, but also many of its old cottage houses and walk-up apartments are home to local musicians. 

If you haven’t been to Recordland, you should go. It is one of the largest privately owned record stores in Canada with over two million records.  The Festival Hall is the new year round home of the Calgary Folk Festival, as well as concert space for local and touring musicians. Ironwood and Blues Can offer live music seven days a week.  

Tim Williams at the Blues Can jamming with friends from around the world.

Recordland is just one of many local shops in Inglewood that makes it a fun place to flaneur.

Inglewood is a great place for window licking with lots of unique window installations. 

Rouge combines history and contemporary dining for a unique experience. 

Nerd is just one of many hipster hangouts in Inglewood. 

Nerd is just one of many hipster hangouts in Inglewood. 

Did You Know?

In 2004, EnRoute Magazine identified Inglewood as one of the Canada’s top 10 “coolest neighbourhoods.”  Over the past 10 years, it has gotten even cooler. 

The Inglewood Lawn Bowling Club (established in 1936) has become a tony place for Calgary hipsters.  The Club is so popular they have just completed a shiny new clubhouse.

In 2006, Inglewood’s Rouge restaurant placed 60th on the S. Pellegrino World’s 100 Best Restaurants list. Rouge, is located in the A.E.Cross house, built in 1891.  (Back Story: Cross was one of the “Big Four” investors in the Calgary Stampede).  The restaurant boasts its own vegetable garden that covers six city lots. How cool is that?

Every Saturday afternoon, Calgary’s own “cool cat” Tim Williams hosts a Blues Jam at the Blues Can in Inglewood.  Williams is the winner of the 2014 International Blues Competition in two categories: best solo and duo artist and best guitarist. 

Inglewood’s boundaries are the Bow River (north) to the CPR Yard (south) and the Bow River (east) to Elbow River (west).

Last Word

With everything from lawn bowling to Saturday jams; from the sounds of the Zoo animals to the sounds of trains and planes; from one of the world's best restaurants, to Canada's best used record store; Inglewood is definitely, Calgary’s most unique community. 

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Don't be too quick to judge

Yes, Inglewood does still have two barns. I believe the red barn serves as storage for Calgary's own Canadian Pickers.

This is the historic Stewart Livery constructed in 1909 at 806 14th St. SE. Livery stables were integral to the daily life of frontier cities. They served many functions - hire of horse and vehicles, sale of horses and vehicles as storage of hay, coal and wood.  

Union Square: Living on the park!

By Richard White, May 23, 2014 (an edited version of this blog appeared in the May edition of Condo Living's Magazine). 

The addition of new high-rise condos, new retail and the expansion of Hotel Arts retail and office space have resulted in a significant change over the past few years to First Street SW south of 12th Avenue.

For example, Union Square, the sleek monochromatic industrial grey 25-story condo sits on the southwest corner of First Street and 13th Avenue.  Living on a park, specifically Haultain Park (Memorial Park is just a block away), has its advantages.

One key one is that Union Square offers – and will always offer - unobstructed views of the mountains, river valley and downtown in an ever increasingly crowded Beltline skyline. 

Union Square condo (the first one) from 13th Avenue (next to Haultain School, park and playground) looking east from Memorial Park.  

Haultain Park playing field.  There are also tennis courts and a community garden. 

The historic Haultain School which is now the headquarters of the Calgary Parks Foundation.

Community Collaboration 

The story of this condo is intriguing on many levels.  From a design perspective, it is classic, podium point tower, i.e. the first two floors cover the entire site while the upper 23 floors of condos are narrower, to create the thin tower that reaches up to the sky.  The tower design changes subtly from bottom to the penthouse; this is not a flashy “look at me” building with walls intersecting at weird angles and bright colours.  Rather, it is a timeless - some might say conservative - design that fits well in scale with the two other new highrise condos on First Street SW – Chocolate and Colours.

The project proceeded only after intense discussions and collaboration between the architects (BKDI), the developers (Apex and Western Securities), the City of Calgary (Planning and Parks) and the community.  The result is a façade on the First Street side, which is red brick at street level to integrate with the historic brick Underwood Block into the street level retail.  However, on the west side facing Haultain Park there are sandstone townhomes which mirror the character of the historic Haultain School built in 1894. The goal was to ensure that the building didn’t turn its back on the park with a large blank wall.  The townhomes, with their patios looking directly into the park, make for a very attractive transition from small scale to high-rise in a short space.

The backstory of Union Square gets even more complex. The original plan called for two towers, which required more parking than, could be built under the buildings. So, a deal was stuck to extend the parkade under the park.  To do so, the developer made a one-time payment of $250,000 to the City for park improvements. In addition, the condo association also pays an annual rental free to the city for the parkade under the park. Union Square really puts the PARK in parkade. As a result, there is a well-used playing field and children’s playground (you would be surprise how busy the playground is) in Haultain Park.

Union Square town homes with patios facing the park.

The popular Haultain playground.  Downtown Calgary is more family friendly than most people perceived!

Second Tower?

The first Union Square tower was completed in 2009. However the second tower was put on hold after the condo market crash in 2008.  Now that demand for Beltline condos continues to be strong, rumour has it that plans are being finalized to complete the second tower which would add to the vitality of First Street SW south of the tracks, an area evolving into an attractive, active pedestrian zone.

Unlike many new condos Union Square doesn’t have on-site amenities like a fitness room, pool, lounge or library.  It was determined that urban living is not about hibernating in one’s condo, but rather getting out and using the abundant amenities that already exist in the community – like the cafes, restaurants, yoga and workout studios, as well as the Memorial Park Library - that surround it.

An enlightened philosophy that will enhance community vitality for decades to come. 

The fountains at Memorial Park with Union Square in the distance (one block away). 

First Street SW is an important pedestrian link between the Beltline and Downtown and from the Elbow River to the Bow River.  Every year more shops, restaurants and clubs are being added to what is already a diverse and attractive streetscape.


Last Word

There are currently over 13,000 condo and apartment units under construction, approved or in the planning stages in the eight communities next to Calgary's downtown core (central business district).  Calgary's City Centre (all of the communities within 5 km of downtown) is one of the most attractive and vibrant urban places in North America today.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Beltline: One of North America's best hipster communiites

Rail Trail Stroll

Calgary's Secret Heritage Walk 

Do we really need all of this public art?

By Richard White, May 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

Fun & Interactive 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Names / Big Deal 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like: 

The Famous Five at Olympic Plaza 

Public Art Love It or Hate It

Putting the public back into public art

Confessions of a public art juror

Vegas' Crazy Container Park

By Richard White, May 15, 2014

What would you do if you had a spare $350 million? In 2008, after selling Zappos, an online shoe and clothing site, to Amazon for $1.2 billion, Tony Hsieh (Zappos’ CEO) decided to undertake his own urban renewal project. He bought up land in Las Vegas’ east end and created Container Park.

Container Park is perhaps the most exciting and unique urban development project I have ever seen.  Though currently it is just one entire block (at the east end of Freemont Street), there is lots of room to expand.  Using 40+ old shipping containers, some stacked on top of one another, Hsieh effectively transformed the once - empty block into an attractive, animated urban village.

Half of the block is a vibrant entertainment center with boutiques, restaurants, lounges, a huge children playground with its three-story tree house (young adults also love the playground at night). There is also an outdoor concert venue for the likes of Sheryl Crow (who we missed by a few days) and indie bands. 

Container Park, in sharp contrast to the adjacent Old Vegas’ Freemont Experience and the Strip is focused on being an incubator for small-scale start-ups in the fashion, art, food and music industries rather than mega international players. To date, over 50 small businesses have joined the party so to speak.

The other half of the block is a quiet learning campus with several containers positioned to create a campus (kind of like the old portable classrooms of the ‘60s). Here, the Container Park community, as well as others meet and share ideas to help germinate new ideas or expand existing ones.

Hsieh’s vision is to “create the shipping container capital of the world, while at the same time becoming the most community-focused large city in the world.”  Judging by the number of people hanging out when we visited (both day and night), he is well on his way in turning his vision into reality.

It is amazing what Hsieh has been able to accomplish in a few years, given the decades it has taken Calgary to get the East Village revitalization off the ground. Container Park opened in the Fall 2013 and is currently the toast of the town. However, the real test of success is best determined in 5 or 10 years when the “lust of the new” has worn off.

At night the entrance to Container Park is very dramatic with a fire breathing grass hopper that is like something out of Burning Man. 

Once inside it is a place to dine, have a drink and hang out with friends.  It is like a patio or back deck party. 

NEOS is a fun playground game that everyone seemed to enjoy. 

During the day it was the kids enjoying NEOS with the adults watching on. 

The three storey tree house was popular during the day.  Who would have thought of a playground as the central element of an urban village. BRILLIANT! 

The three storey tree house was popular during the day.  Who would have thought of a playground as the central element of an urban village. BRILLIANT! 

Container Park by day with downtown Las Vegas in the background.

Container Park is like one large patio, with wonderful soft seating.  I took this picture quick as one group left and another was about to grab it. 

The learning campus is quiet more contemplative place. I took this just after a group had finished some sort of meeting workshop. 


As a Calgarian I am totally jealous of Vegas' Container Park.  It would be a great way develop some parking lots or vacant sites along a major transit route with retail, residential or office buildings.  Perhaps it could be the model for a mixed-use development of the land around an LRT station.   

I encourage everyone to check out Container Park when you are next in Vegas!


I wonder if the dogs are intimidated by this fire hydrant. This is actually a private dog park, - you have to be a Hydrant Club member to access it.  Dog owners pay a subscription fee for obedience training, doggie day care and access to this grass oasis in a sea of gravel parking lots. 

Kudos to CMLC for making a tough decision

By Richard White, May 8 2014

I think everyone I know was surprised to learn that Calgary Municipal Land Corporation’s (CMLC) is closing the public washrooms on Riverwalk in East Village.  Since its inception in 2007, CMLC has done an amazing job of developing and implementing an ambitious vision and master plan for the once-troubled and downtrodden East Village community.  

Throughout the East Village redevelopment, CMLC has been very transparent in the process, hosting numerous open houses before making any key decisions.   It truly has been a collaborative and cooperative community process.  While not everyone will agree with every decision (you can’t make everyone happy), there was always lots of public consultation as part of the any decision-making.

In this case, CMLC engaged a group of experts last summer to assess the perception of safety across in East Village, which included three community meetings. The recent changes in Riverwalk programming i.e. close the washroom except for events and removal of a few lounge chairs was based on dialogue with the community, police and crime prevention experts.

As a founding Board Member of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association, an International Downtown Association Board member and now as the community strategist at Ground3 architecture, I am passionate about creating public spaces that are safe and attractive for people of all ages and backgrounds. 

This is not a homeless issue

I have been very impressed by the work of CMCL in taking risks and being ambitious with the design and programming of Riverwalk incorporating inclusivity at all times. While some see this as an affront to the homeless population and clients of the nearby Calgary Drop-In Centre, I believe their clients also want and deserve a clean and safe Riverwalk. I don’t believe this is a decision to penalize the homeless, but rather a proactive decision to deal with criminal activities taking place in the washrooms. I have a strong hunch there is “more to the story” behind why the decisions were made - I don’t think we need to know the all the ugly details. 

The decision to close the washrooms (except when an event is happening) and the replacement of the few permanent lounge chairs (there are still hundreds of places to sit along the river and pathway) after four years was a tough one for CMLC to make.  

This is one of public washrooms that have been closed except for event use.  

Riverwalk is well used by Calgarians of all ages and for a variety of activities.  Note there are lots of places to seat, the few lounge chairs that have been removed will not be missed. 

Zero Tolerance 

I am confident the Police and Bylaw Officers can and will deal with it the criminal and conduct issues in East Village. The City of Calgary has a Public Behaviour Bylaw that addresses some of the public space issues we have faced in the past.

The following are prohibited in public places:

  • Fighting
  • Defecating and urinating
  • Spitting
  • Loitering that obstructs other people
  •  Standing or placing one’s feet on tables, benches, planters or sculptures
  • Carrying a visible knife

I would like to add “loud swearing” to the list.  I know this was an issue on Stephen Avenue and Olympic Plaza in the past. Some individuals would persistently shout and swear at each other using language that would intimidate everyone within earshot (including me and I think I am very tolerant).  It was a way of a few taking ownership of a public space and keeping others away by making them feel so uncomfortable they would walk away and not return. These undesirable behaviors should not be tolerated. 

I believe a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to violent, destructive and aggressive conduct in public spaces. No one should be made to feel uncomfortable in a public space.  Everyone needs to be held up to the same community conduct standards - rich and poor, young and old.  

My recommendation

Police and Bylaw officers should have a “zero tolerance” policy along Riverwalk this summer to ensure it is a safe place for ALL Calgarians. Enhanced policing and bylaw enforcement has worked before to make problem areas safer and I don’t see why it can’t work again.

I have no problem if CMLC wants to close the washrooms and remove a few permanent lounge chairs.  But I would hope that once the intervention has been complete they might experiment with opening the washrooms seven days a week from 9 am to 9 pm from May to September and 10 am to 3 pm from October to April. I see no need for them to be open 24-hours a day.

The addition of new condos, office buildings, restaurants, cafes, a library and museum will add lots more pedestrian traffic to East Village in the next few years. More people will make the area safer and more attractive for everyone. 

Last Word

This situation is very unfortunate, happening just as new condos are rising out of the ground, the National Music Centre is under construction and the new Library visioning is happening. The good news is the addition of more people living, working and playing in East Village over the next few years will make it safer for everyone (including the homeless) as it will mean more eyes on the streets and public spaces - something criminals shy away from.  People forget there was a time when Eau Claire was a prostitute stroll – look at it today.

Creating great urban villages is not just about managing big construction projects. It is also about getting the small operational things right.  Creating good public spaces requires ongoing management and experimentation in response to new issues and opportunities.

I believe a city is defined by the attractiveness of its public spaces as gathering places for passive activities – think Central Park in New York or Millennium Park in Chicago. Riverwalk is an award-winning public space that has attracted international attention as one of the best designed public spaces of the 21st century.

We must do all we can to make Riverwalk and all of Calgary’s parks and public spaces safe and and inviting for ALL Calgarians. I say kudos to CMLC for making a tough decision.

Riverwalk has been designed so special events can take place and yet others can enjoy a passive quiet experience near by. 

Here are the few lounge chairs that have been removed. While they are nice, they are not essential. 

This is Chicago's Millennium Park. Great public spaces have areas where people love to gather, linger, relax and chill-out.  

Design Downtown for Women - Men Will Follow

Guest Blog: David Feehan, President, Civitas Consultants LLC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research Says

Here is briefly what our research revealed:

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Dave Feehan can be reached at:


DEW writes: 

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

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

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

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

(*Financial Times- November 2013- Duncan Robinson-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sticky sidewalks and plazas are no fun to walk on.

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

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

Everyday Tourist Note:

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

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

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Calgary: Is the proposed First St. SE cycle track unsafe?

Guest Blog: Lawrence Braul, Chief Executive Officer, Trinity Place Foundation of Alberta

Calgary's Cycle Track discussion has prompted me to speak out on an issue that will have direct impact on the seniors who reside at 602 1 St. Street S.E. The Cycle Track is an unsafe design and represents a hazard to seniors living at Carter Place. The impact will also be felt by visitors and by service providers who regularly attend at this location.  

Any person using the loading zone will have to load and unload closer to moving vehicles and they will have to cross the Cycle Track to enter Carter Place. Can you imagine EMS, Fire department vehicles, Moving Vans, buses, Handi-Buses, visitors, and delivery vehicles all trying to use a three stall loading zone? Imagine the double parking, congestion, and frustration.


The Transportation department has agreed that there is a significant risk of conflict at this location but they have not provided Trinity Place Foundation with a revision of the design that is more acceptable. They were opposed to moving the Cycle Track to the west side of the street. Why is an unsafe design being proposed?


The Mayor and Council needs to find other alternatives that will ease the conflict and develop a five year plan to enhance cycling in Calgary. The current strategy, and its latest “Pilot Project” approach, has resulted in suspicion and it does not effectively promote urban cycling. In fact, the opposite has occurred. Opponents of Cycle Tracks have been pitted against the advocates and this “win-lose” strategy is counter-productive to the important objective of promoting cycling in Calgary.  


The purpose of a Cycle Track is safety for cyclists and pedestrians. I had the privilege of getting very acquainted with the cycling infrastructure of Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City in 2012. My son and I spent three days each in these wonderful cities and then cycled to our next destination, accumulating 1250 kms in total.

Ottawa has a very well-developed pathway system with no Cycle Track infrastructure but it is a very safe place to ride. When you cycle in Montreal, the “mecca” for urban cycling in North America, you need to navigate a route that is sometimes interrupted by a block or two of shared lanes. It is a system that seems to be evolving and slowly improving through the much larger downtown core of Montreal. Quebec City is a pathway system with a lot of shared lane infrastructure to link pathways. All three cities are beautiful examples of how to creatively include bicycles into an urban transportation system. These cities prove that there is more than one solution to developing cycling infrastructure.


As Ottawa and Quebec City demonstrate, the pathway system is a very effective method of moving cycle traffic. Calgary’s excellent system must be enhanced and improved, especially after the damage caused by the June 2013 flood. No other prairie city has the cycling infrastructure that Calgary has in place. Try cycling in Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Regina where there is virtually no bike infrastructure. Edmonton lags Calgary as well. We can build on what we have because it is a solid base.


I have spoken to a year round cyclist who uses different routes daily to get to his downtown worksite. He often uses 4th Street S.E. even if it is slightly "out of the way". He finds 4TH Street less intimidating on a bike. As the East Village densifies, more riders will want to connect to the east side of downtown, including the rapidly developing Victoria Park. The 4th Street S.E. corridor can accommodate a Cycle Track and it can link to 11th and 12th ave and Stampede Park and the pathway system on the Elbow River.  This alternative should be explored, even it if is a little further east than some would prefer. It is also the safer route for cyclists.


I favour incremental improvements to cycling infrastructure over the next five years. This should include repairs and expansion of damaged cycling paths as the first priority. One North-South Cycle Track on 4th Street S.E. can be added as budget permits, giving cyclists’ two options to enter the downtown from the existing pathway system. East-West options need to be developed on 10th, 11th or 12th.

These common sense and affordable solutions can enhance the very good bike infrastructure that presently exists.


Removing the cycle track on 1st Street S.E. from any further consideration also eliminates a serious risk of conflict and injury with pedestrians and seniors. Let's let safety and common sense prevail.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Drivers, cyclists and pedestrians need to learn to share.

Cycle Tracks Revisited: Everyone Benefits

Calgary: Canada's Bike Friendly City


Flaneuring the Fringe: Sunalta / 11th Street SW

By Richard White, April 15, 2014

For Calgarians and tourists alike, exploring Calgary’s urban “street life” means all too often we head to the same places – 17th Avenue, Inglewood, 4th Street or Kensington, or maybe even the Design District or Stephen Avenue. This is the third of a three-part look at “street life” on the fringe of Calgary’s city centre.  Sunalta and 11th Street SW are hidden gems for people interested in urban exploring.


Sunalta is the community west of 14th Street SW, south of the CPR Tracks, east of Crowchild Trail and north of 17th Avenue SW. With the recent arrival of the LRT and their own station (10th Avenue and 16th Street) Sunalta has the potential to extend the boundaries of Calgary’s south side City Centre all the way to Crowchild Trail. The community is dominated by small walk-up apartments, condos and small businesses making it a good candidate to become Calgary's next urban village. It won’t be long before someone proposes a major high-rise development near the station.

Mikey’s Juke Joint & Eatery (1901 10th Ave SW)

You wouldn’t expect to find an authentic juke joint (a place for workers to relax, drink, dance and socialize in a ramshackle building at the outskirts of town) in Cowtown, but there it is, tucked hidden away next to the railway tracks and under the LRT skytrain and Crowchild / Bow Trail bridges.  The wooden floors have a rich spilled beer patina, the food is good (they make a great burger and the pulled pork sandwich is straight from the Delta) and the music is amazing.  The Saturday Jam with the Mike Clark Band should be on every blues lover’s “must do” list.  Tuesday night features Tim Williams who recently won the International Blues Competition for best “solo/duo” artist and best guitarist; he is also a great storyteller. Music is seven days a week here, twice on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Sentry Box (1835 - 10th Ave SW)

Across the street from Mikey’s the Sentry Box is over 13,000 square feet filled with over 46,000 different items - from military games to science fiction.  Their events calendar is packed with activities from Blood Bowl League to Dungeons & Dragon Encounters. I am always amazed at the constant stream of people in and out of this destination retailer.

Rubaiyat: Stained Glass Studio (1913 - 10th Street SW)

Did you know Rubaiyat has had a stained glass studio on 10th Ave SW since 1973? The studio is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, selling glass to professional and hobby artists and meeting clients commissioning a custom architectural, religious and residential stained glass piece. When I checked it out one Saturday (before the Mikey’s Saturday afternoon jam), I was immediately astounded by the selection of hand-rolled, mouth-blown and machine sheet glass on display.  I was quickly welcomed and invited to wander around and take photos.  I love wandering artists’ studios and this is one of the biggest studios I have seen in a long time, and the cleanest!

Heritage Posters & Music (1502 - 11th Ave SW)

It’s been aptly described by one fan as a hippy, trippy bastion of pop culture history housed in a psychedelic garage.  The rustic store is brimming with vintage vinyl, new and out of print music, rare concert tour and gig posters, music photos, movie posters, and much more.  It's a groovy store with pop culture memorabilia galore. I dug it, man.”  Need I say more?

The new West LRT transit station in Sunalta.

The new West LRT transit station in Sunalta.

Mikey's one of several blues bars in Calgary's City Centre.

Sentry Box is Canada's largest adventure gaming and science fiction and fantasy bookstore.

Heritage Posters & Music's home is in fact in a heritage i.e. old wood warehouse building.  

Heritage Posters & Music's home is in fact in a heritage i.e. old wood warehouse building.  

Entrance to Rubaiyat Stained Glass Studio.

Entrance to Rubaiyat Stained Glass Studio.

Rubiayat studio.

Rubiayat studio.

Sunalta is full of surprises like Kingdom Hall and a huge Western Veterinary Emergency Center. 

11th Street Strip  

The 11th Street Strip extends just two blocks - from 15th Avenue north to 13th.  Unlike the areas, 11th Street is more hidden than fringe find.  The street is not only surrounded by high-rise condos that are very walkable to downtown, but it is inside the City’s south City Center boundaries. It also has urban elements other than just shops and cafes - a plaza on the southeast corner of 11th Street and 14th Avenue and the historic St. Stephen’s Anglican Church a half block east on 14th Ave Street make for an oasis in the middle of what is quickly becoming a sea of high-rise condos. 

Kalamata Grocery Store (1421 - 11th Street SW)

A great neighbourhood market specializing in Mediterranean/Middle Eastern groceries. How do they cram so much character into one little store? You have to taste the baklava! Best selection of olives in the city with over 30 varieties including the namesake, kalamata olives. 

Epiphanie Chocolate (1417B  -11th St SW)

Though Calgary has numerous chocolate shops, none is as quaint and authentic as Epiphanie, included as one of the best places to buy chocolate in Canada by Huffington Post in 2013.  It is like walking into a mini art gallery in a European village. You will definitely leave here with a smile on your face - and likely some chocolate too!

Galaxie Diner (1413 - 11th St SW)

Established in 1996, Galaxie was on the leading edge of Calgary’s retro diner mania.  It is frequented by locals for its authentic Montreal Smoked Meat hash and Calgary Sandwich.  Come hungry!

Good Earth Café  (1502 - 11th St SW)

The Good Earth Café has grown from this original flagship store into a western Canada franchise with 42 locations.  It is a popular meeting place especially for larger groups, as this is a large café with lots of comfy seating.   The name “café” is a bit misleading as it is more bistro than café with its many food options.  I have always loved their white chocolate scones.  

With The Times (1504 – 11th St SW)

Next door to Good Earth is “With the Times,” a magazine/newspaper shop that you can access directly from the café or the street.  How sweet is that! You can grab your New York Sunday Times, your favourite hot beverage and scone, and then settle in for a few hours reading and thinking.  It doesn’t get much better.  

11th Streets pocket park/plaza next to St. Stephen's Church and downtown offices in the background. 

"Bird of Spring" by Abraham Etungat, 1975, replica of a soapstone carving 14cm tall. 

"Bird of Spring" by Abraham Etungat, 1975, replica of a soapstone carving 14cm tall. 

Kalamata Grocery anchors the 11th Street Strip. 

Kalamata Grocery anchors the 11th Street Strip. 

Of course Kalmata has olives. 

Of course Kalmata has olives. 

1 1th Street's charming and colourful shop fronts. 

11th Street's charming and colourful shop fronts. 

Galaxie Diner continues the vintage charm of the block. 

Galaxie Diner continues the vintage charm of the block. 

Good Earth and With The Times are new kids on the block. 

Good Earth and With The Times are new kids on the block. 

Last Word

Urban living is characterized by communities with a diversity of housing options – single family, duplexes, townhouses and small and large condos. It is also defined by the diversity of transportation options i.e. you might walk to the café or yoga studio, cycle to the urban grocery store or recreation center, as well as walk, cycle or take transit to work. 

As Calgary expands outwards, so does its City Centre. No longer is it just Hillhurst/Sunnyside, downtown and the Beltline that offers urban living. This is the final chapter of three blogs that looked at flaneuring the fringes of Calgary's Center City see below for chapters one and two. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Flaneuring the Fringe: 16th Avenue North   

Flaneuring the Fringe: 19th Street Northwest

Calgary's Newest Urban Village  

Intelligent Infilling or Living in a bubble!

By Richard White, April 2, 2014

Yes we live in a bubble!  Calgary is one of the few cities in North America with healthy inner-city neighbourhoods.  While many Calgarians complain about the proliferation of infill projects – big (East Village) and small (infill homes) it is a problem most North American cities would love to have.  Just ask people and politicians from Winnipeg, Hamilton or London, Ontario.  The new developments attract new young families who will foster community vitality for another 50+ years.

Not everyone agrees infilling is a good thing! Every major infill project is met with public outrage - Shawnee Slopes golf course, Stadium Shopping Centre, Bridges or Brentwood Mall. The concerns are always the same more traffic, more crime, shadowing and loss of views.  Too often the complaints are dismissed as NIMBYism (not in my back yard) or BANANAism (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything).  While that is definitely true for some individuals (there are some people you just can’t please), often locals have valuable insights for city planners and developers.  People who have lived in a community for years, understand the local culture and how the community functions. Intelligent infilling should build on the existing community, not radically change it. 

This philosophy is inline with that of Jane Jacobs, the ‘60s renowned community development guru and author of “Death and Life of Great American Cities” who suggested community building should be evolutionary not revolutionary i.e. lots of little developments rather than mega multi-block projects should be encouraged.  Nobody called Jacobs a NIMBYist.  

While Calgary has its fair share of mega inner-city infill projects at various stages of completion the real infilling is happening house-by-house, duplex-by-duplex and condo-by-condo from Glenmore Trail north to Confederation Park and from Sarcee Trail east to Deerfoot Trail.

Toronto Crescent in St. Andrews Heights is quickly being transformed into a multi-million dollar mansion row with huge new two story homes being built to capitalize on the outstanding views.

Contemporary infill home.

Modern new infill home.

An example of the cottage homes that are quickly disappearing to be replaced by larger single-family or duplexes. 

An example of the cottage homes that are quickly disappearing to be replaced by larger single-family or duplexes. 

Lane homes are becoming more and more common in places like West Hillhurst. 

There is not longer a negative stigma of living in a duplex in Calgary's City Centre. 

Evolve or Die!

Fortunately, all of Calgary’s inner city communities are experiencing gradual redevelopment as old 600-square foot cottages are being torn down and replaced by either single family homes, duplexes or, if a developer can assemble enough land row housing, or in sometimes small condo projects. While some lament the loss of the small homes that provided affordable living for fixed-income seniors and low-income individuals and families, the benefit is the new homes attract young families i.e. new investors. 

If inner city communities are going to compete with the “call of the ‘burbs” for families then we must provide family-sized housing.  This means a large kitchen, family room, a media room, separate bedrooms for each child and several bathrooms. A 600 square foot cottage won’t do it, nor will a 1,200 square footer.  Young families are looking for 1,800 square feet or more.

The addition of new families means inner city schools are viable again, as are the existing recreation and community centres. From the government’s perspective, there is no need for new schools, libraries, recreation centres, parks, fire, police or ambulance stations. While that is not quite true, some of these facilities are in dire need of repair or replacement.  But the good news is each new infill home will generate approximately $5,000/year more in taxes than the tiny cottage home.  So for every 100 new infills, $500,000 per year in new tax revenue lands in the government’s bank account.

New families also mean “new investors” to the community as evidenced by the new playgrounds in almost every inner city neighbourhood park. It is in the playgrounds, schools and recreation centers that neighbours often meet and foster a sense of community. Healthy communities are those that constantly adapt to new economic realities, new market demands of young families.

From 2008 to 2013, 3,345 new infill homes (this doesn't include condominiums and apartments) were built in Calgary's inner city communities.  At three people per home that is the equivalent of building an entire new community of 10,000 people.  Most communities take 10 to 15 years to build out e.g East Village or Seton, yet we have built a new community in just five years. 

The value of these new homes is estimated at one billion dollars, which is equivalent to value of  one major office tower the size of Eight Avenue Place or the Bow. These home owners will also pay $15 million dollars in property taxes per year, significantly more than what was being paid by the small cottage homes they replaced.

Yes we live in a bubble! 

A parade of infill show homes in Hillhurst. 

More and more stroller and trikes are decorating the front lawn of City Center homes. 

More and more stroller and trikes are decorating the front lawn of City Center homes. 

Haultain Park's playground is very popular with families living in the east side of the Beltline. 

Gentrification is good?

Gentrification happens when a community is redeveloped in a way that attracts more high-income families at the expense of low-income ones.  If you were to look at the average selling price of homes you would say that gentrification is rampant in Calgary’s inner-city communities. Today, new duplex homes cost $750,000+ and new single-family homes start at $1.2 million and condos are the new urban cottage with 600 square foot units starting at $300,000. 

While some wonder how families can afford these homes, in reality, many families can and do.  In Altadore 17% of the population is under 14 years of age, close to the city’s average of 18%; in West Hillhurst, 16% are under 14. The number of young children is only going to increase, as the population of 25 - 44 year olds (those of childbearing years) is 40% in Altadore and 38% in West Hillhurst, above the city average of 34%.

However, while housing prices have increased, most of Calgary’s inner city communities have not seen the upscale retail and restaurant development usually associated with gentrification.  For example, despite all of the development in West Hillhurst we still have our bohemian 19th Street shops with anchors like Central Blends, Vina Pizza & Steak House and Dairy Lane that have been part of the community forever.  Similarly, Parkdale still has its “Lazy Loaf block” and the Capitol Hill Corner still has Weeds and Edelweiss Imports. 

In addition, Calgary’s inner city communities continue to have active recreation and community centres that attract people citywide to programs and events.  The Hillhurst Community Center boast one of the best and longest running flea markets in Canada.  The West Hillhurst recreation centre’s gym becomes a church on Sundays and the Tri-Wood Arena is home to Calgary’s women roller derby league. 

And we have not forgotten about our seniors, there are old and new (Lions Village and Glenway Gate) affordable seniors facilities scattered throughout Calgary’s inner city communities.

If new housing options and new neighbours (with kids) means gentrification, then I say bring it on.

Recess in Parkdale. 

There is a wonderful parade of kids walking to school in Rosedale. 

Bridgeland Market is just one of a dozen of examples of the improving urban amenities in Calgary's City Centre communities. 

Evolutionary vs. Revolutionary Development

In some inner city communities, it seems like at leas one new infill project dots every block.  Some streets look like a suburban “Parade of Show Homes.” While some might see this as too much too fast, personal experience has demonstrated that it takes decades to infill an existing community. 

I have lived in West Hillhurst years for over 20 and despite what seems like constant infilling, there are still older homes on every street. It will take another 20 years for all mid 20th century homes to disappear and by that time my 40-year old infill will be ready for a mega-makeover or demolition

Last Word

Communities are like gardens, every year you have to rip out a few of the old plants that have died off to make room for new ones.  From my perspective, Calgary’s developers, home builders and planners have planted the seeds for “intelligent infilling” of our inner city communities.  “Intelligent infilling” is a gradual process that increases the diversity of housing options in a community so it continues to attract people of all ages and backgrounds to want to call it home. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

King Edward Village

King Edward Village Revisited

Do we all need to go back to kindergarten? 

Calgary's newest urban village?

Confessions of a Public Art Juror

By Richard White, March 16, 2014

Recently, I was involved in a jury for a major public artwork (budget $500,0000+) being commissioned by the City of Calgary. Though I am not at liberty to give specifics, I thought EDT readers would be interested in knowing what happens when a City of Calgary public art jury is sequestered for a day to choose a public artwork.

Of the 17 people I counted involved in the jurying process, six had votes; the others consisted of eight engineers and three from the City of Calgary’s Public Art office.  The engineers were there to provide the jurors with technical information as need and to ask questions of the artists regarding installation and maintenance.

Of the sic voting members, there were three people from Calgary’s arts community, one from the City and one “shared” vote from the community (there were actually two community representatives, as the site linked two different communities, but their scores were combined to create one vote between them). 

This meeting followed one held in Fall 2013, when the same jurors reviewed over 50+ submissions from which three artists were chosen to present concepts for the site.  If memory serves me correctly, we were unanimous in our decision on the three short-listed artists.

Given the recent controversy over the Travelling Light (aka Blue Circle) sculpture on the Airport Trail Bridge, I think we were all very anxious about ensuring we chose the right work (whatever “right” means).  While all juries discuss the public accessibility of the work being considered, in this case there was a heightened awareness that this piece had to have widespread public appeal while still having artistic integrity.

The Drop, by inges indee, 2009, is a 65 foot raindrop on the plaza next to the Vancouver Convention Centre.  This is the same team of artists who created "Traveling Light" in Calgary. 

Family of Man, by Mario Armegol (1967) is ten 21-foot nude figures located on the plaza of the old Board of Education Building in downtown Calgary.

Homage, by Derek Besant (1989 is a 20 foot by 18 foot by 10 foot sculpture located on the campus of Mount Royal University, in Calgary.

The Process

Jurors were given background material on each of the artists a week before this second meeting to refresh our memories.  At the beginning of the jurying session, we were also reminded of the goals of the project and why we had chosen these artists.  I won’t bore you with all the details and needless to say the goal was to choose an artwork that would capture the imagination of Calgarians of all ages and backgrounds.

The City’s Public Art Manager then reviewed samples of each artist’s previous public artwork followed by each artist making a 20-minute presentation of their proposed artwork for the site, as well as the rationale for how it would enhance the site’s sense of place and capture the public’s interest and imagination.  The artist presentations were followed by 40-minutes of open “questions and answers.”

I couldn’t help but think maybe we had too much information.  Most people will just see the artwork and immediately decide if they like it - or not.  They won’t have access to or knowledge of the artist’s previous work. They won’t be privy to the artist’s rationale for the work. Sure, some may read about the rationale later or maybe even before they see it, but the majority won’t. Public art is usually a gut response.

Lack of colour 

It is always interesting to hear public art artists talk about their work.  Unlike artists who exhibit primarily in galleries, they are used to talking about their work, as going through a rigorous jurying process; it is part of what they do.  It is a bit like an RFP (request for proposals) process i.e. you are lucky if you get short-listed 25% of the time and selected 5% of the time.

I am also always amazed by their passion, depth of knowledge and the way they connect elements from a diversity of fields of study like mathematics, physics, poetry, history and current events. It is like they flaneur intellectually the many divergent parameters of the public art commission; site, community, city, their work and the work of others to come up with the idea, the metaphor and the materials which become their concept, their statement.  It is a fascinating journey.

I was particularly intrigued by how “out-of-town” artists see our City.  One told us his piece had lots of colour because when he visited Calgary in October (each of the short-listed artists visited the site before coming up with their concept), he was surprised by our lack of colour.  This resonated with me, as I love colour, but one juror didn’t like the colours chosen so while I loved it, another didn’t.  It is impossible to please everyone – even if it is just seven jurors.

Another artist talked about how “sunny” Calgary is and that is why the city is so “optimistic.”  We all smiled.  He also talked about Calgary’s magnificent vistas, something I think we too often take for granted.  It was these elements that inspired him and his team’s proposal.

One artist was asked if he had considered using recycled materials and objects given his piece could be interpreted as an environmental statement.  He explained that uniform elements and materials were critical to his work and added, “people will see what they want in the art.  If you are an environmentalist, you will look for a statement about the environment. If you are a banker or accountant, you will probably look at the cost. The engineer will usually look at how it was constructed. I can just make the best art I can. I can’t worry about what the different publics will think and say.” 

Sadko (red) and Kabuki (yellow) were created bySoel Etrog in 1972. These twice life-size sculptures add much needed colour to downtown Calgary's 2nd Street SW and Bow Valley Square. Downtown Calgary is home to over 100 public artworks, making it one of the world's largest art parks. 

THESAMEWAYBETTER/READER, by Ron Moppett (2012) is 110 feet long and 13 feet high mural constructed out of .  956,231 unique tiles.  It too adds colour and fun to the downtown Calgary's landscape. 

"The Field Manual: A compendium of local influence," by Light & Soul (Daniel j. Kirk, Ivan Ostapenko and Kai Cabunoc-Boettcher) consists of several murals along the River Walk in Calgary's East Village.  This is a temporary installation that was completed in the summer of 2013 and will remain for 24 months.

The Great Debate

Following the question and answer period, the jurors debated the three proposals for over two hours. We talked about each work from many different perspectives. 

The top ten questions I heard were:

  1. Is it stimulating? Engaging?
  2. How does it relate to the history of the site, the community and the city?
  3. Is it innovative?
  4. Is it durable? What about maintenance?
  5. Will it create a meeting/gathering place?
  6. How will it be seen from afar and close up?
  7. Will it create a sense of place?
  8. Is it accessible? Will it work for school tours?
  9. Is it feasible for the proposed budget? (the artists were asked to present a budget)
  10. What are the installation problems and other challenges?

We talked about “quiet” or “silent” art, i.e. art that is minimal or subtle (i.e. doesn’t shout-out “look at me!”).  We used terms like “the vernacular in art,” “mathematics and art” and “engineering aesthetics.” We looked at the universe from the macro and molecular level.  The proposals made links to Stonehenge, the Rockies, Vancouver airport, Ford 150 trucks, pickup sticks, teepee poles and cell towers. We even managed to work in urban sprawl, cycling and nesting sites for birds into the debate.

The Decision

In the end, we had to choose one artwork. Each juror independently evaluated each proposal using a 1,000-point rating system developed by the City of Calgary.  All of the jurors’ scores were added up and the artist with the most points was chosen. In the end, five of the six votes selected the same piece as their number one pick, making it almost a unanimous decision again.

I should also note, all jurors acknowledged all three were strong proposals and all three could have been successful as public artworks for the site.   Hopefully, the one chosen will capture the imagination and the heart of the residents in the communities near where it will be installed, as well as all Calgarians and visitors.  Hopefully too it will stand the test of time, becoming something cherished for generations to come.

Cloud Gate aka The Bean is by Anish Kapoor and was installed in Chicago's Millennium Park in 2006. This giant bean-shaped polished stainless steel sculpture attracts thousands of visitors everyday, who love to look at and manipulate their reflections in the concave and convex mirror surface.  Everyone is smiling and laughing; people of all ages and from around the world are sharing the space in and around this work of art.  The public is engaged, which is what good public art should do. 

A-maze-ing Laughter, by Yue Minjun, was installed in a small park in Vancouver's West End in 2009 as part of the Vancouver Biennale.  It has now become a permanent part of the community and is very popular with tourist walking along the waterfront at English Bay.  It is still very popular with locals and tourist five years later. This piece of art has definitely capture the imagination of the public.  The public loves art that they can touch and interact with. 

Wonderland, Jaume Plensa, 2012, sits on a plaza in front of The Bow office tower in downtown Calgary.  It is a 37 foot high head, made of painted stainless steel.  The piece invites people to climb it as this young office worker decided to do on his lunch hour in his business clothes.  A security guard is now on duty to prevent anyone from climbing the sculpture in the future.  I understand the issue of liability, however, the artist should have know that it is important to allow the public to participate and interact with his work. The piece is too static, you look at it for a few minutes then what?  Plensa's "Crown Fountain" piece in Chicago's Millennium Park is one of the most successful public art pieces in the world today, because the the public is allowed to play with it. 

Last Word

The jurying process for choosing City of Calgary-commissioned public artworks is one of the most rigorous I have ever experienced in my 30 years as a visual arts curator, freelance writer, artist and juror. 

Though it is comprehensive, fair and professional, I can’t help but wonder if there is overthinking and overanalyzing to the extent that the sense of surprise, spontaneity and immediacy that is central to the public art experience is lost to the jurors. 

I wonder too if jurors are sometimes too influenced by the artist’s passion, presentation and personality.  Maybe it would be best if jurors were just given visuals of each artist’s proposal upon which to make the decision.  That way we’d be judging the art and only the art; just like the public.  I once heard “art should speak for itself.” 

If you like this blog, you might like:


The rise of public art / The decline of public art galleries

Public Art: Love it or hate it?

Putting the public back into public art!


Flaneuring the Fringe: 19th Street NW

By Richard White, March 10, 2014

For Calgarians and tourists alike, exploring Calgary’s urban “street life” all too often means we head to the same places – 17th Avenue, Inglewood, 4th Street, Kensington, the Design District or maybe Stephen Avenue. This is the second of a three-part look at “street life” on the fringe of Calgary’s city centre. 

19th Avenue NW from Nose Hill Park to the Bow River is a popular bike route from the northwest into the downtown.  Along this corridor are two urban hubs, one in West Hillhurst from 1st Ave to 3rd Ave NW and another at 20th Avenue in Capitol Hill.  Neither are presently on the radar of urbanists, but they should be.

Main Street West Hillhurst, (aka 19th Street NW)

West Hillhurst is one of Calgary’s most active infill communities with construction of new homes on almost every avenue. And now the under construction four-storey Savoy condos at Kensington Road and 19th St corner will bring urban living a step closer to reality for this community.   Rumour has it the Savoy developers are courting Phil & Sebastian for one of its retail spaces.  Another rumour has Starbucks moving into a former restaurant space on 19th Street.  Even without these cafes, Main Street West Hillhurst has all the makings of a great community hub with its dry cleaners, hair salon, florist and hardware store and office spaces.

Dairy Lane (391 - 19th St NW)

Dairy Lane has been a fixture on 19th Street since 1950.  If you like omelettes, burgers and milkshakes, this is the place to go.  Dairy Lane has strong connections to 20 different farm-to-table suppliers.  A very popular breakfast spot; don’t be surprised if people are eating on the patio even in winter as they provide heaters and blanket.  They also provide coffee to those who have to wait in line to get a table either inside or out.  Dairy Lane proves that good things really do come in small places – seating capacity inside is about 20 people. 

Central Blends (203 - 19th St NW)

This is my favourite place in the city for muffins – they are chock full of fruit and fresh out of the oven every morning at 7 am.   And Central Blends is more than just a café; it is also an art gallery with revolving exhibitions of local artists/artisans - you never know what you are going to find here.  This is where both hipsters and GABEters chill in West Hillhurst.

Amato Gelato Café (2104 Kensington Rd NW)

The local retailer for Mario’s Gelati traditional Italian ice cream, Amato Gelato offers over 50 varieties of gelato, sorbetto, yogurt, tofulati and specialty desserts.  Open year round, it becomes especially animated in the summer, when it becomes one of the city’s best places for people and dog watching.

SA Meat Shops (106 - 2120 Kensington Rd. NW)

Located in the strip mall next door to Amato Gelato, it offers authentic home-cured South African sausages, dried meats and groceries. Its Piri Piri chicken was cited in Avenue Magazine’s top 25 things to eat in Calgary.  Looking for a snack? Try the dried beef or buffalo sausage sticks or chewy dried beef biltong (a cured meat that was originated in South Africa, similar to beef jerky but thicker).   

West Hillhurst Recreation Centre (1940 - 6th Ave NW)

For those into vintage, you may want to slip into the West Hillhurst Recreation Centre.  This recreation block dates back to the ‘40s when “The Grand Trunk Hot Shot League” needed some playing fields.  In 1951, a clubhouse was built on this corner, the arena followed in 1971.  On hot summer days, the adjacent family- friendly outdoor Bowview Pool is a welcome throwback to the ‘50s. 

One of literally thousands of new infills that are redefining urban living in West Hillhurst and all communities north of the Bow River within a 45 minute walk, 20 minute cycle or 10 minute drive of downtown Calgary. . 

One of literally thousands of new infills that are redefining urban living in West Hillhurst and all communities north of the Bow River within a 45 minute walk, 20 minute cycle or 10 minute drive of downtown Calgary.

Bowview Pool is part of West Hillhurst's recreation block which includes the pool, arena, playing fields, playground, gym, squash courts, tennis courts and meeting rooms.  

Bowview Pool is part of West Hillhurst's recreation block which includes the pool, arena, playing fields, playground, gym, squash courts, tennis courts and meeting rooms.  

Amato Gelato Cafe is popular with the young families who are moving into West Hillhurst. 

Amato Gelato Cafe is popular with the young families who are moving into West Hillhurst. 

Central Blends Cafe has an "everyday" Mexican charm to it. 

Central Blends Cafe has an "everyday" Mexican charm to it. 

Dairy Lane is very popular summer or winter. 

Dairy Lane is very popular summer or winter. 

Capitol Hill Corner, (aka 20th Avenue at 19th Street NW)

 Just up the hill from West Hillhurst, across the TransCanada Highway (aka 16th Avenue North) at 19th Street and 20th Avenue is Capitol Hill Corner – a collection of old and new shops and small offices buildings for various professional services and a drug store. 

Edelweiss Village (1921 - 20th Ave NW)

Edelweiss is like entering a little European village complete with café, cheese shop, butcher shop, bakery, grocery and gift shop all under one roof. Though not very big, it packs a lot of product on it shelves with food and home accessories from Swiss, German, Ukrainian and Scandinavian suppliers – only in Canada!  

Weeds Café (1902 - 20th Ave NW)

Established in 1964, this bohemian corner café serves a wide selection of handcrafted food, beer, wine and 49th Parallel coffee.  The walls are covered with local art and there is live music on weekends.  It is a “chill space” for many students from University of Calgary, SAIT and Alberta College of Art & Design.

Ruberto Ostberg Gallery (2108 - 18th Street NW)

It’s one of Calgary’s best-kept secrets with its eclectic exhibition schedule of local artists’ work on the main floor and artists’ studios in the basement.  Exhibitions change monthly featuring everything from glass and ceramics in various genres realism and expressionism.  Kitty-corner to Weeds and just a block east of Edelweiss, it’s worth checking out.


Edelweiss Village is a bit of Europe in the middle of Capitol Hill. 

Edelweiss Village is a bit of Europe in the middle of Capitol Hill. 

Weed's Cafe is a charming bohemian hangout.

Weed's Cafe is a charming bohemian hangout.

Glass work by the Bee Kingdom collective at Ruberto Ostberg Gallery.

Bee Kingdom's opening night at Ruberto Ostberg Gallery in early March. 

Bee Kingdom's opening night at Ruberto Ostberg Gallery in early March. 

Last Word

While the City of Calgary officially considers Calgary’s City Centre to be on the south side of the Bow River i.e. downtown and the beltline I think it is time to rethink those boundaries. 

In reality our City Centre should encompass the north side from 20th Avenue south to the Bow River and from 19th Street NW east to at least 11th Street NE in Bridgeland. 

Doing so would include Kensington, Edmonton Trail, Centre Street and Bridgeland, all of whom offer local residents a walkable urban living experience with their cafes, restaurants and shops. 

Calgary's urban experience is more than just downtown and the Beltline.