Mexico City: A Kaleidoscope of colour

Recently I posted a slide show of black and white photographs of every day places and space in Mexico City that was very well received, however, several readers also pointed out that Mexico is known for its splendid colour.  I too was overwhelmed by the colour of streets of Mexico City and one of the reason I chose to take some b&w photos was to see how the city looked without all of the colour.  

Based on reader feedback, I decided to put together a slide show that would capture the wonderful colour of the everyday people and places of Mexico City.  I hope you will enjoy the slide show.

Below is the Mexico City: Noir slide show if you'd like to compare. 

Comments are welcomed!

Mexico City: Full of Surprises

One of my criteria for a great urban experience is how many fun surprises you encounter while on your way to other places.  Recently, while in Mexico City for 18 days, I was super impressed by the number and diversity of surprises my mother and I encountered – everything from coming upon thousands of locals participating in a Zombie Walk, to a plaza’s fun dancing waterfall with coloured lights that attracted hundreds of families and young adults on a Sunday evening.  

Reforma Fun

The first surprise happened on our first day when I unexpectedly discovered I could walk on 8-lane Reforma Boulevard (think Paris’ Champs-Elysees), as it closed Sunday mornings to allow cyclists, joggers and walkers to wander. After a few blocks, my second surprise was happening upon some 20 feet tall, colourful and fun paper-mache creatures. Soon I realized there were over 200 sculptures lined up like a parade on both sides of the boulevard.  Hundreds of people, taking pictures and laughing at the imaginative sculptures that linked indigenous spiritualism and decoration with modern surrealism, created a carnival atmosphere.

Everyone loves a parade, especially if there are fun, colourful and imaginative floats like these ones.  In this case the floats were stationary and the people paraded around them. 

Sundays on Reforma were amazing with cyclists, joggers, pedestrians and public art.  Who could ask for anything more? 

One of Reforma's traffic circles was turned into a fun playground.  Caught these guys trying their hand at double-dutch skipping.  How cool!

Archery Fun

On another day, I wandered to the Zocalo Square having earlier noticed new bleachers had been set up. I found a small crowd watching a dozen or so archers with their high-tech bows seemingly firing arrows randomly and silently to a target about 100 meters away. Alternatively you could actually stand by the targets and hear the “invisible” arrows “thud” as they hit the their targets – almost all of them dead centre or just inches away.  Given there was no protection from a stray arrow; it was a bit of a hair-raising experience.  I soon realized they were warming up for the World Archery Competition that was happening in the temporary stadium in another part of Zocalo.

Ready! Aim! Fire!

Pretty good shooting if you ask me?

Loved how they use the area underneath the bleachers for swings.  

Bakery Fun

Later that same day, as we were wandering back from the fabric block (my Mom is an avid quilter), I was intrigued by a reflection in a bakery window and the word “Ideal”.  Upon a closer look in the window we realized this was Pasteleria Ideal, the motherlode of bakeries - there were hundreds of people inside and we couldn’t see all the way to the back.  Once inside we were in awe - this was definitely the biggest and busiest bakery we had ever seen. The size of a small department or grocery store (estimated 40,000 square feet), it even had a second floor gallery with specially decorated cakes for weddings, birthdays, first communions etc. The place was swarming with people many carrying huge trays (30 inches in diameter) heaping with their favourite breads and pastries.  So mesmerized, we didn’t even buy anything that day.

This was just one quarter of the store and you can see how packed it is with people.  They truly were swarming around.

This was just the pastry section of the store.

The second floor exhibition space is much less crowded. 

Hammock Fun

Another surprise was the 20+ fire engine red shed-shaped metal structures that appeared one day in Alameda Central Park. Interesting-looking, but we had no idea what they were all about. The next day as we wandered by, we noticed they now had hammocks attached to them – which were all occupied. Later in the day, I figured out it was part of Design Week, which included dozens of pop-up displays and exhibitions throughout the city.  Very cool!

How cute is this?

People of all ages and backgrounds loved the hammocks. 

St. Jude Fun

Then one night we were kept awake by firecrackers going off every few minutes – my Mom was not happy.  I was thinking this might go on for several days, as the Day of the Dead was still a few days away. The next then we encountered a small parade with people carrying statues of St. Jude and a small marching band.  My mother, a devout Catholic, quickly realized we were at St. Jude Church and it was October 28th – St. Jude’s Day. They were simply celebrating this apostle and patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes.

The street in front of St. Jude Church was packed with people buying statues and other items. It was like the Stampede midway. 

Zombie Fun

Perhaps the biggest surprise came when we got off the bus late in the afternoon of our first Saturday as we were heading back to our hostel. We found ourselves in the midst of tens of thousands of people (from infants to seniors) dressed up in gory outfits with makeup to match. “Was this the beginning of the Day of Dead celebrations?” we wondered.  The procession of people was slowly walking from Revolution Plaza towards the historic city centre. Only later did we find out it was a Zombie Walk.  Too fun!

The Zombie Walk took over the road and both sidewalks with participants and spectators for several blocks.

It was a blood bath!

People of all ages joined the fun.

These two girls crawled up to me as I was taking photos. Parents smiled and nodded "Yes" when I asked if I could take their picture.  

Fountain Fun 

Then there was also our first Sunday when we decided to take an evening walk toward an eerie pink-lit building in the distance.  Not only did we discover it was the monument at Revolucion Plaza that is lit every night, but that it has a large, fun, dancing fountain that attracted hundreds of people (young and old) to watch or run through it.  The squeals and screams of happiness were infectious. 

People gathering around the fountain with the Revolution Monument in the background. 

It was like being in a surrealism painting watching people play in the fountain.

One night we were treated to an impromptu performance of all women moaning, groaning and dancing on the plaza next to the fountain. Great public spaces allow for lots of spontaneous activities.  

Another popular activity was for young women to get dressed up like princesses and have their picture taken at the fountain. It was like being in a Disney movie.  

Lottery Fun

The BEST surprise was attending the National Lottery draw.  Early in the day, we finagled our way into the art deco National Lottery building (who can say “no” to an 84-year woman politely asking questions in English) with its spectacular murals and auditorium. It turnout, a public draw takes place to choose the winning lottery numbers.  As chance would have it, there was a draw that night at 8 pm.  We didn’t give it much thought until we were just about back at our hostel and realized it was 7:45 pm and we were just a block from the National Lottery building. We decided to see if we could get in.

Again, my mother thanks managed to talk our way in and we were treated to the most amazing evening of entertainment.  As we headed for our seats, we encountered about a dozen young people (ages 10 to 16) in military uniform lined up waiting to get into the auditorium.  No sooner had we taken our seats then they marched in and up onto the stage. After a flurry of hand-shaking and greeting of the head table dignitaries, the young people took over the night, managing the elaborate system of ball dropping and number calling/chanting – a spectacle almost impossible to describe.  Watch the video and you will know what I mean.

Canoodling Fun

The public displays of affection that occurred in the parks, plazas and sidewalks was a delightful surprise. Everywhere we went, couples (young and old) were sitting on benches canoodling, not the least bit shy about it (they even liked having their pictures taken). We also noticed how handholding was very popular with people of all ages. Paris may commonly be known as the “City of Love,” Mexico City – in my opinion – gives it a run for its money.

These couples saw me taking photos from a distance and smiled as I went by. I asked if they'd like their picture taken and they nodded "yes." 

Just one of dozens of photos of people hand holding in Mexico City. How many couples can you count holding hands in this photo?

Hostel Suites Fun

Our final surprise happened as we were leaving. My Mom, returning to our room after saying goodbye to the hostel staff, held two decorated sugar skulls – gifts from the Hostel Suites staff. The staff there are the best!

Me, Mom and Hostel Suites staff member

Our home away from home in Mexico City Hostel Suites. 

Last Word

We came to Mexico City for the "Day of the Dead" and Our Lady of Quadalupe shrine but left with memories of dozens of other fun, memorable and everyday surprises. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Rome: A Playground Surprise Lunch

San Miguel: A Religious Experience of a Lifetime

Mexico City: Seven Reasons You Should Visit


Seven Reasons To Visit Mexico City

Recently, I spent 18 days in Mexico City with my 84-year old mom flaneuring Mexico City and was truly amazed by what I found.  Our two key reasons for going - she wanted to see the Guadalupe shrine (she has travelled the world to see Roman Catholic sacred places) and I love cities but had never been to a mega-city, i.e. one with a population over 10 million.

While Mexico City has a reputation of being smoggy, unsafe and gritty, what we found was a city that was safe, bustling with activity and had clean air except for two days.  Yes it was gritty, but that seemed authentic for a city 500+ years old.  We loved the unpretentious nature of the city and its people. 

Here are our top seven reasons why you should visit Mexico City:

 

#1 The History

Anyone who is into history will love Mexico City. The historic center is 150 blocks (give or take a few blocks) of historic buildings - some immaculately restored (Post Office Building and Palacio de Bellas Artes concert hall), some left to age gracefully (Palacio Nacional) and others in an advanced stage of decay.  The City centre is chock-a-block full of monumental buildings oozing an mind-boggling amount of history.  Today, we can build big buildings but I am not convinced they can be described as monumental. 

The literally sinking Cathedral Metropolitana, is the heart of the world’s largest Catholic diocese, took almost three centuries to build (1525 to 1813 AD) and is the second largest church in the world (only St. Peter’s in Rome is bigger) and you can just walk right in. You can even climb to the bell tower to look out over the Plaza de la Consititucion commonly known as Zocalo, the second largest plaza in the world (Moscow’s Red Square being the largest).

There are even the remains of Templo Mayor, a 14th and 15th century Aztec temple unearthed in the 1970s - right in the middle of the historic centre of the city and another ruin on the edge of the historic district.  

An hour outside of the city lies Teotihuacan, one of the world’s most impressive cities of the ancient world. Founded before the Christian era, the city housed 125,000 people and covered 20 sq. km. It dominated the region until AD 650 before being destroyed (possibly by its own people) and abandoned. The name means “the place where men become gods” and it was later held sacred by the Aztecs.  You can climb to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun one of the biggest pyramids in the world (the base is of similar dimensions as the Great Pyramid of Egypt but only half as high at 65 meters).

Our day at Teotihuacan was memorable, not only for the two pyramid climbs (Sun and Moon), the walk along Avenue of the Dead, Jaguar Mural and Temple of Quetzalcoatl, but also for the mini-history lessons from our very enthusiastic tour guide.  The tour also included demos for locals on carving, getting water from cactus plants and using plants for colour.  It was mentally exhausting and exhilarating.

Palaciao de Bellas Artes' Art Nouveau facade is equalled only by its impressive Art Deco interior that includes murals by some the greatest Mexican artists of the 20th Century. The concert/theatre space is magnificent and home to Mexico's iconic ballet company - Ballet Folklorico. 

The Palace Postal still functions as a post office and includes a contemporary art gallery space as well as a post office museum.  The interior may well be the most elegant space I have every experienced. 

  Climbing the Temple of the Sun was one of the most memorable experience of my life - I didn't think it would be a big deal.  

Climbing the Temple of the Sun was one of the most memorable experience of my life - I didn't think it would be a big deal.  

Just one of the many powerful carvings that remind you of human cultures that have existed in North America for centuries. It changed my perception of North America. 

#2 The Muralists

Today every city seems obsessed with acquiring iconic public art, yet much of it is generic, i.e. it could be anywhere. For example, Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park could easily be in Calgary’s Olympic Plaza or any urban plaza for that matter. 

In Mexico City, you won’t find a lot of modern public art but what you will find is the work of early 20th Century muralists – Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. From the 1920s to the 70s, these three Mexican artists created hundreds of murals documenting the historical, nationalistic, social, political and everyday living messages of the Mexican culture.   I was captivated by the power of these murals in conveying a sense of the human struggles (work, passions and violence) that took place in Mexico before and after the arrival of Europeans.  There is a wonderful sense of humanity and story telling in the murals, something that is often missing in modern public art.

In good urban design, we talk about the importance of human scale of buildings (i.e. buildings that don’t dwarf people, usually under 10 or 12 storeys).  Similarly, I think good public art should connect with local history and have a sense of humanity too.

A segment of one of Diego Rivera's murals titled "In the Arsenal."  Both the National Palace and the Secretaria de Educacion Publica are filled with Rivera murals that tell the stories of violence and passion of the Mexican people (both have free admission).  At the end of our visit my mom commented, "Did you notice that most of his murals have a gun and military in them."

#3 The Museums/Churches

There are supposedly over 250 museums in Mexico City and I don’t doubt it.  It seems like there is a church and/or a museum on every block - sometimes both.  Our favourite four museums were: Archeology Museum, Museum of Popular Art, Soumaya Museum and the Toy Museum.

The Archeology Museum is huge with 23 galleries that tell the story of Mexico history from the arrival of man to present day.  The artifacts and displays are perhaps some of the best I have ever seen.  It is at least a half-day visit and possibly a full day if you want to really try to take it all in.

The Museum of Popular Art is housed in a wonderful art deco building – a perfect setting for folk art.  And the Soumaya Museum, outside the historic centre in Polanco, is an uber-modern architectural gem that houses the art and artifacts of Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world. It houses one of the largest collections in the world of Rodins in the top floor sculpture gallery. 

A hidden gem is the Toy Museum, otherwise known as Museo del Juguete Antiguo Mexico.  Located outside the historic centre in a non-descript, four-storey office building, it is jam-packed with 55,000 toys.  This is not a real museum in that the work is not curated or labeled with accompanying didactic panels.  It is more like a flea market, with displays and vignettes from floor to ceiling – everything from foot-peddle cars to dolls, from robots to games.  It is guaranteed to make you smile.

Plaza de Santo Domingo is home to the Santo Domingo Church with its red volcanic rock a Tuscan colonnade for vendors and while we were there a modern art artwork with video inside.  Funny story - the artwork in the plaza we had seen before in workshop space next to the Toy Museum where is had been the focus of some sort of artists' party the night before. 

I had a peddle car as a kid but not a cool as this one. 

#4 Parks/Plazas/Boulevards

When you think of Mexico City, you probably don’t think of great parks, plazas and boulevards – but you should! Bosque de Chapultepec is one of the great urban parks in the world. A public park since the 16th century, today it is home to numerous museums (Architectural, Tamayo and Modern Art), Castillo de Chapultepec (once home to Emperor Maximilian), a zoo (free) and botanical gardens.

As well, Paseo de la Reforma, a 3.5 km boulevard (that connects downtown to Bosque de Chapultepec) once lined with beautiful houses, is today home to numerous skyscrapers (offices and hotels), as well as monumental traffic circle with a magnificent statues commissioned in the 19th century to commemorate prominent Mexicans. On Sunday mornings, the street is closed to traffic, allowing thousands of cyclists, joggers and walkers to use the street.

Then there is the Monumento a la Revolucion plaza. It includes Porfirio Diaz’s unfinished congress building which was turned into a monument, museum and plaza.  A glass elevator to the roof top deck offers outstanding views of the city.  At night, the monument is surreal as it is lit up pink or blue.  The plaza is used for numerous events from outdoor conferences to concerts. When we were there, it hosted six hours of Beatles tribute bands one Saturday and a lineup of Mexican bands including Jenny and the Mexicats the following Saturday.  It was also used for some sort of convention for a couple of days during the week.  

A highlight of our trip was heading to the plaza on Sunday nights to watch people of all ages run through the colourfully lit dancing fountains. The shrills of excited, soaked kids will be a lasting memory of Mexico City.

Monumento a la Revolucion towers above the surrounding buildings.  The plaza encompasses a super block that provides space for a variety of activities and event. The museum is underground at the base of the monument. 

Enjoying a Sunday morning ride along Passeo de la Reforma.  Note the playful, colourful sculptures in the backbround. They helped created a carnival atmosphere that will be the subject of a future blog. 

Young couple enjoying the temporary installation of red house shaped objects that supported a single hammock for Design Week. 

#5 The Villages

You definitely don’t feel like you are in a city of 21 million people when you visit one of Mexico City’s suburban villages.  While most tourists just check out the Historic Centre village, there are many other interesting villages to explore. 

We especially loved the artists’ village of San Angel with its Saturday artisan market in the lovely Plaza San Jacinto, lined with cafes, galleries and restaurants. 

Coyocacan, its sister village, to the east is home to Museo Frida Kahlo, Museo Estudio Diego Rivera and Casa/Museo Leon Trotsky.  I think every city should have a designated artists’ village.

Though Xoxhimilco lies 20 km southeast of the city centre, it is definitely worth the trip.  We joined six others from the hostel to catch the subway to the end of the line and then a train to this once lakeside village. Today, it is home to canals and semi-floating flower and vegetable gardens built originally by the Aztecs.  Here you can rent a colourful punts (wooden roofed boats with a table down the middle) with a local boatman who poles the bunt along the canals. Beware: you will be accosted by other boats trying to sell you beer, food, trinkets and live music. The village is also home to a thriving farmers’ market, charming park and Iglesai de San Bernardino, a fortified monastery built by the Franciscans in late the 16th century. While travelling to this quaint village, along the way you will see what the working class suburbs of Mexico City are like and get a better appreciation of what a city of 21 million looks like.

The Saturday Art Market in the Plaza San Jacinto hosts dozens of artists working in many different genres.

There are hundreds of colourful punts at Xoxhimilco. Once you are on the canals it becomes a wonderful kaleidoscope of colour with the boats, the flowers and the reflections. 

# 6 The People

There is something endearing about the people of Mexico City that I have never felt in any other city.  The first hint of this came when walking through Alameda Park. Located in the city centre, it was once an Aztec marketplace. Today, it is 75 percent park (with restful pathways, huge trees and decorative fountains) and 25 percent tented vendors selling food, clothing, CDs and trinkets. 

It was here that we first began to appreciate how Mexicans have mastered the art of “sitting.” The park is full of ornate benches where people of all ages sit, talk, cuddle and kiss.  While all around them is the hustle, bustle and honking of a big city, the park holds a tranquility that is almost surreal. 

Soon we began to notice that handholding is also very popular in Mexico City, not only with parents holding kids’ hands on busy streets, but also by couples (young and old), mothers and adult daughters and just friends.  Somehow this handholding on busy sidewalks created a wonderful, subtle sense of tenderness and caring in what is definitely an intimidating, alienating urban environment.

Finally, after visiting many churches and attending several masses, my mother observed that people of Mexico City had a spirituality that she has never experienced in any city she has ever visited - including Rome. She was impressed not only that every church had multiple masses every day, but that they were full.  She also noted churches embraced a diversity of people from homeless to rich and were open all day long.  One day a homeless man, in need of good bath, sat next to her at mass. He was respectful throughout the service and even found a coin in his pocket to give a donation. 

My mom befriended another homeless man who sat slumped on the sidewalk all day just a few doors down from our hostel. She would go out each morning and say Hi and he would wave to us each day as we headed off on our journey.  Before we left for home,  she said good-bye and gave him some money for which he gratefully thanked her.

In an email to family after our trip, my Mom said, “I went with the idea of seeing and feeling something at the Shrine of our Lady of Guadalupe, but found it instead at the Church of St. Jude.”

The streets of Mexico City are full of couples of all ages holding hands. Count the number of couples holding hands in this photo. 

Benches come in all shapes and sizes in Mexico City.  One of the things we observed early were the number of families who love to hang out together in their public spaces. 

Two young girls crawling on the Revolution Plaza during the Zombie Walk.  Everyone was keen to have their picture taken that day and everyday in Mexico City. 

#7 Mexico is a bargain

Where in the world can you ride the subway for $.05 USA (yes, that is five cents), or get into a world-class museum for $5 USA or less (many of the museums are free). We stayed at the Hostel Suites (Youth Hostel) for $40 USA a night, which included a huge private room with two beds, breakfast, a full bathroom with a huge shower, daily housekeeping, two lounges/patios and the best staff I have ever experienced (their concierge services matched those at any 5-star hotel).  Meals are cheap and you can get a beer for under a $1 USA.  The all day tour to Teotihuacan was great value at $45 USA and front row seats at the Lucha Livre wrestling cost only  $12 USA.

Last Word

After spending three weeks in Florence and Rome last year and 18 days in Mexico City this year, I would have to say Mexico City has more to offer historically and culturally than both of these major European cities combined. I encourage everyone to visit Mexico City at least once in their lifetime.

Over the next several weeks, I will be blogging in more detail about Mexico City. I hope you will find the blogs interesting and intriguing.

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Florence Markets: Flea, Food & Fashion

Florence: People & Places (a photo essay)

This photo blog focuses on the offbeat people and places we encountered over 12 wonderful days of flaneuring in Florence in the Fall of 2014. It was an enchanting experience, from my favourite gelato shop waitress, to the husband and wife seamstress half a block down the street from our apartment who spoke no English, yet managed to help me find a new handmade belt. In between are photos from thrift stores to boutiques, galleries to street art, markets to churches, parking to cycling, fashion to food.

In reviewing, my photos I noticed there were two major differences from our Dublin experience.  One being the number of seniors in the streets of Florence and the second being the centuries of urban design that create a wonderful array of textures and light in its City Centre. 

We hope you will enjoy the photos and would love to hear which ones are your favourites.

If you want to see more photos and stories about our Florence adventures, click on the links below:

Window licking along Florence’s Via Tornabuoni

Florence BFFs: Best Flaneur Finds

One Night in Florence

The ugliest pedestrian bridge in the world?

Flaneuring Florence’s Markets: Flea, Food & Fashion

Public Art: Calgary / Florence / Rome

 

Busking with style.

Salvador Dali's Bike?

No wonder Picasso painted faces as he did!

Just one of many very stylish parking garages.

A Florence office building?

Lots of open doors...

I wish I could read Italian.

A work of art and very tasty! 

Magritte would have loved this photo.

Ghost busker....

Sisters sharing donuts?

Instead of tree lined streets, Florence has motorcycle lined ones. 

Would you drink out of this street fountain? Supposedly you can.

Obviously I am not the only one taking a photo of this intriguing reflection. 

My fashionista advisor. 

Florence comes alive at night. 

What was he thinking/feeling to create this drawing? 

Art is everywhere in Florence, yet there is very contemporary little public art. 

Market madness...

There is no lack of empty shoe boxes in Florence. 

Florence's finest were there to greet us when we arrived.

These ladies were moving quickly. 

Fountain of youth?

Window licking anyone?

No line up at the Marino Marini Museum...we liked that!

Once you get to the edge of the City Centre, the streets are much less crowded.

Cars, bikes, scooters and pedestrians share the road.

It was hard to go to sleep after discovering this church was open on one of our nightly walkabouts. 

Blue Man Group?

Does it get any better than this? Taken from a balcony restaurant at lunch.

Small space, narrow places...smaller is better?

People watching fun!

Innocence?

Climbing the wall fun.

Elvis? 

Fashionistas heading to the thrift store. 

Who needs wide sidewalks? enhanced streetscapes? 

My other fashionista advisor.

Who needs a car to carry a lamp home? 

Iceberg soup!

Everyone is out for their evening stroll.

That is a mighty big steak?

No dedicated bike lane? No problem? 

Fashionista at the world's most amazing thrift store. 

Now that is a tight parking spot.

This photo is not upside down.

Self serve wine - how good is that!

Calgary: Best Places To Sit

For the past couple of years I have been taking photos of the best places to sit in Calgary and posting them on Twitter.  I thought it might be fun to organized a few of them into a blog with supporting text on the benefits of sitting, thinking, relaxing, reflecting and talking. 

"To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment." Jane Austen

"I like a view but I like to sit with my back turned to it." Gertrude Stein

Blue Skying 

coupling...

Chinooking...

Wondering...

Playing....

Chatting...

  Remembering...

Remembering...

Watching...

Swinging...

Pondering...

Sit Quietly 

Sit quietly
focus and forget
rest with the great achievement.
The ancient child asks
"what is the great achievement?"
It is beyond description in any language
it can only be felt intuitively
it can only be expressed intuitively.  
Engage a loose, alert, and aware
body, mind, and sound
then look into the formless
and perceive no thing.
See yourself as a sphere
small at first
growing to encompass
the vastness of infinite space.  

Sit quietly
focus and forget then
in a state of ease and rest
secure the truth of the great achievement.
Employing the truth will not exhaust its power
when it seems exhausted it is really abundant
and while human art will die at the hands of utility
the great achievement is beyond being useful.
Great straightness is curved and crooked
great intelligence is raw and silly
great words are simple and naturally awkward.  
Engaged movement drives out the frozen cold
mindful stillness subdues the frenzied heart.

Sit quietly
focusing
forgetting
summon order from the void
that guides the ordering of the universe."


Tao Te Ching, Chapter 45, Translated by John Bright-Fey, 2006 

 

Contemplating...

Meditating...

Contrasting....

Discussing...

Downtime

The need to be connected is, in fact, very basic in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the psychological theory that explains the largest and most fundamental human desires. Our need for a sense of belonging comes right after physical safety. We thrive on friendship, family, and the constant affirmation of our existence and relevance. Our self-esteem is largely a product of our interactions with others.
It is now possible to always feel loved and cared for, thanks to the efficiency of our “comment walls” on Facebook and seamless connection with everyone we’ve ever known. Your confidence and self-esteem can quickly be reassured by checking your number of “followers” on Twitter or the number of “likes” garnered by your photographs and blog posts. The traction you are getting in your projects, or with your business, can now be measured and reported in real time.
Our insatiable need to tune into information – at the expense of savoring our downtime – is a form of “work” (something I call “insecurity work”) that we do to reassure ourselves.

What Happened to Downtime? The Extinction of Deep Thinking & Sacred Space, Scott Belsky, 99U

Learn More: What happened to downtime...

Napping...

Playing....

Viewing...

Floating....

Sitting...

Relaxing...

Sitting...

Epiphanies

Downtime is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lives and to swivel its powers of reflection away from the external world toward itself
Epiphanies may seem to come out of nowhere, but they are often the product of unconscious mental activity during downtime.

Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime Ferris Jabr, Scientific American, Oct. 2013

Learn more: Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime

  Refecting....

Refecting....

Playing...

Watching...

Listening....

Eating...

Watching...

Change Your LIfe

"All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone," wrote the French philosopher Blaise Pascal. It's a line repeated so frequently, in the era of smartphones and social media, that it's easy to forget how striking it is that he wrote it in the 1600s.
I'd wager even Pascal would have been disturbed by a study published recently in Science, showing that people detest being made to spend six to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think – even to the extent of being willing to give themselves mild electric shocks instead. It's natural to conclude that there's something wrong with such people. 

Change your life sit down and think, Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, July, 2014

Learn more: Change your life...

Thinking.....

Buddy time!

Last Word

These are just a few of my "best places to sit" images.  I expect there are thousands of "best places to sit" in Calgary and area. If you have a special place to sit, be it Calgary or elsewhere, I'd love it if you would email a photo of them to me (richardlw@shaw.ca) and I will add to this blog or perhaps if I get enough I will create a new blog.  Thanks for reading.

If you like this blog, you might like: 

The importance of the public realm

Everyone needs to find their sanctuary

Rome: A surprise playground lunch!

Port Angeles: A 24 hr quickie?

On a recent trip we were trying to figure the most interesting way to get from Seattle to Victoria.  The easy way would be to just jump on the Victoria Clipper, which takes you from downtown Seattle to downtown Victoria.  However, our good friend Pam Scott at Red Lion Hotels suggested we take the bus to Port Angeles and experience the historic Black Ball Ferry from downtown Port Angeles to Victoria.  We decided to check it out and we are glad we did. 

The trip is a bit more convoluted as you have to get to the Greyhound Bus Station in Seattle, catch a mini-bus for a scenic drive to Port Angeles and then catch the Black Bull ferry to Victoria.  

As we did more research we realized that Port Angeles would make for a great over night stay so we contacted Pam to see if there was any room at the Inn. Sure enough she got us a room, but it wasn’t easy as the hotel was hosting a Transgender Conference, which made for an even more interesting experience. The fun never stops.

If you are in Seattle or Victoria and are looking for a fun day trip or perhaps an overnight quickie, Port Angeles should be on you list. 

Here is quick photo essay of the fun things to see and do in PA without a car and without leaving town. 

Port Angeles' Main Street has lots of little shops for those who want to shop and window lick, especially if you like antiquing or people watching from places like the Next Door gastropub patio. 

Great towns have fun surprises.  We loved this huge rubber ducky that was in the Safeway Parking lot. 

We couldn't pass up Port Angeles' Goodwill store where we found this "Twist Board" made by Donco Products Corporation in Lakeview Oregon and Innisfail, Alberta.  I had to have it! Thought it would be a good exercise while watching the Flames on TV this winter!  Brenda also found a few gems at this well stocked thrift store. 

Jasmine Bistro meal

After a quick walkabout to find a place to eat we settled on the Jasmine Bistro and we were glad we did.  The staff were extremely friendly and helpful. The food was as good as it looks.  We loved the names of the dishes e.g. Crowd Pleaser and Seducer.  The menu is extensive, something for everyone. 

Swain's General store was a walk back in time with lots of fun things from upscale outdoor fashions to hardware, housewares and hunting goods - something for everyone.  The wall of fishing lures was mesmerizing for a non-fisherman like me.  

Next door Gastro Pub

Lunch was at Next Door gastropub. We could have stayed there all afternoon.  We immediately struck up a conversation with a young couple at the bar who had just moved to the area and were loving it.  The beer menu is extensive so a tasting board is the best way to go.  The ale battered Albacore fish & chips were probably the best I have ever had. Brenda ordered a second helping of the citrus slaw and I had a second order of the homemade potato chips.  A ten out of 10. 

Port Angeles has perhaps the most amazing art park that we have ever experienced.  It is a delightful 1 to 2 hour discovery experience for people of all ages and backgrounds.  It is about a 20-minute walk from downtown.   More information at: World's Best Art Park

There are many lovely gardens in the spring if you wander into the residential areas, which makes for a lovely stroll on the way to and from the art park.

A short walk from downtown is the blackbird coffee house, definitely worth the walk. Good coffee and treats - I had the pecan tart.  We found the blackbird on our way to the art park.  A perfect spot to stop after exploring the art park or the residential gardens in the neighbourhood. Also a great place to mingle with locals. 

Downtown Port Angeles has several murals and lots of sculptures that make for a fun artwalk. This mural is of the 1946 Black Ball Line's Art Deco ferry, the Kalakala, which was the first to employ commercial marine shipboard radar on its Bainbridge to Seattle route. 

The Ferry Terminal in Port Angeles is a mini-museum with lots of photos and information about the interesting history of the Black Ball Ferry Line.

You should definitely get off the beaten path to find some of the fun local retailers not on Main Street.  Red Goose Shoes is like a shoe museum, with lots of artifacts and a fun children's area.  It is also a walk back in time.

Where to stay?

If you want to stay overnight the Red Lion Hotel is our pick.  It is right on the water, close to the ferry terminal and two blocks from downtown.  It is a perfect spot for your 24hr quickie in Port Angeles. They even have bikes for you to explore the waterfront or cycle around town. 

Everyone needs to find their sanctuary?

Recently, I joined friends on a walkabout of the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. It had been on my list of places to check out this summer after repairs of the pathways severely damaged in the Flood of 2013.  

Grabbing my bike and off I went for a leisurely ride along the Bow River (I love riding my bike; it makes me feel like a kid again) I stopped several times to take photos. It never ceases to amaze me the number of things there are to see and do along the Bow River from Deerfoot to Shaganappi Trails (which area highways for readers not who familiar with the fact Calgary calls its major roads ‘trails’).  I especially love the Bow River pathway on summer weekends with thousands colourful rafters.

Where are the birds?

To be fair, our walkabout was on a hot summer afternoon when birds are probably enjoying a siesta. But I really thought we’d see something better than a robin. Those visit my backyard birdbath all the time.  We wandered for over an hour and struck out when it came to seeing birds.  We weren’t the only ones - even the serious photographers with their two-foot long lenses (I think there are some serious cases of lens envy at the sanctuary) had to resort to taking photos of dragonflies. 

I see more birds while golfing at Redwood Meadows – flickers, whiskey jacks, blue jays, warblers, redwing black birds, several kinds of ducks and Canadian Geese. Although we saw a couple of deer at Inglewood Bird Sanctuary from a distance, at Redwood my golf mates and I often see a family of deer no more than a chip shot away.   

Redwood also has a few resident rainbow trout in its crystal clear ponds, while the ponds at Inglewood Bird Sanctuary were murky and full of algae and debris.  I realize Mother Nature is not always pretty or the best housekeeper, but when I think of a “sanctuary,” I picture lush forest, sparkling creeks/rivers and immaculate ponds.

Debris from the 2013 flood is evident everywhere at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary creating wonderful new wildlife habitat. 

The woods were still filled with debris from the flood, which I thought might make for interesting photography, but no matter how much I looked, I didn’t find the mysterious light and shadows often found in the woods along the pathways at Redwood. 

In all fairness, because all the trails aren’t yet open, we didn’t actually get to the Bow River where we might have spotted some pelicans, maybe even a Bald Eagle or osprey.  Ironically, on my way home, I passed by the West Hillhurst osprey family nest across Memorial Drive at the Boy Scouts/ Girl Guide offices and where two young osprey were posing for everyone to take a photo. 

At Redwood, with its easy access to the Elbow River along the 13th hole and on the tee box at 14, there is a series of rapids that have a mystifying magnetism for me.  I often wander over to the river even if my ball isn’t anywhere near that side of the fairway (yes, sometimes I am in the fairway) for a brief glimpse of the river.

And though the Colonel Walker historic house at the bird sanctuary was nice to look at, it wasn’t open for us to go inside. We all thought it would make a great restaurant like the Ranche in Fish Creek Park. It also made me realize how fortunate I am to be able to visit the old Riley House just a few blocks from my home.

Inglewood Sanctuary is a haven for wildlife photographers. 

Still lots of work to do to repair the flood damages. 

A collage of debris from the flood in the pond. 

Spoiled or Lucky?

I hate to be negative about the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, but when I think of a sanctuary, I think of a place that is sacred, special and surreal.  In reality, when we were there the pathways were crowded with people (which is great on one hand), but hardly makes for the retreat or refuge experience. 

Pond grasses on the sixth hole at Redwood. 

Maybe I am jaded because I have easy access to the Bow River from my house.  I can walk or bike in minutes to the south side of the Bow between Crowchild Trail and Edworthy Park and enjoy amazing rock beaches, hidden ponds, the pathway and the Douglas Fir Trail pretty much to myself.  If anyone wants to be alone to think and ponder, you couldn’t find a better spot.  Calgarians are lucky to have many different sanctuaries in all quadrants of the city.

In chatting to a friend about my reaction and the idea of doing a blog about my love of walking Redwood Meadows several times a week he said, “Well, you won’t gain many friends comparing a flood-damaged, public-funded, volunteer-driven, partially rehabilitated historic site to a membership-focused, green fee-funded, professionally landscaped golf course.  He suggested I look at the Inglewood space as a work-in-progress, what some would call a “naturally raw area in the middle of the city.”

But what I love about Redwood Meadows Golf Course is not the professionally landscaped golf course, but the natural beauty and serenity of the river, ponds and wooded areas on the edges. 

Surrealistic light along the pathway from the tee box to the green on hole #8. 

Earlier this summer we saw this sun halo as we were teeing off. Since then we have seen them twice more. It must be a special place.

Redwood pond reflections change by the minute.  I never get tired of them. 

As I experience more outdoor places like the Stanley Glacier Hike, Grassi Lakes or the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary walkabout, I am developing a better understanding of why I love playing golf at Redwood Meadows four and five times a week. It is not for the golf, but for the leisurely walk where I get to experience the cloud formations, the ever-changing river, the reflections in the pond, the filtered light in the woods and the wildlife. 

I love checking on the young ducklings, which have grown up quickly this year (we are all surprised that they have not become lunch for the coyotes).  We all had a good laugh one round when six very young ducklings were jumping out of the water to catch bugs out of the air on hole #8.  We admire the proud bucks, with their racks in the Fall, as they get ready for mating.  It is not unusual to have four or five deer greet us on one of the tee boxes or run across the fairway as we play.

A family of deer grazing next to the tee box on hole #5. 

Above is a family of resident ducks on the #15 hole pond and below is a family of mushrooms found at Redwood. 

Last Word

This whole experience got me to thinking "everyone needs to find their sanctuary in this world we share." For me, golfing is like a walk in a sanctuary, at least at Redwood Meadows, in the winter it is yoga at the Bohdi Tree. 

Calgarians, we are lucky to have many possible sanctuaries across the city, for people of all ages, backgrounds and interest. And for bird watchers, the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is their special place. I respect that. 

As my father use to say, "We are lucky everyone doesn't like/want the same things!" 

A secluded pond along the south shore of the Bow River across from West Hillhurst/Parkdale has the potential of a sanctuary for someone. 

Bow River rock beach at Crowchild Trail is obviously a sanctuary for somebody.

St. Patrick's Island: The Good, The Bad, The Nice To Have

Note: I have received several emails and tweets supporting the ideas and comments in this blog.  Thought I would share this one with you from architect Tom Tittemore which I think provides an informed perspective on the Island and East Village design and development. 

TT writes: "Carol and I walked the upgraded St Patrick's Island yesterday - Sunday - and we concur with most of your observations. The public art piece is a clever amalgm of largely highway-scaled light fixtures, but we, as your blog noted, merely observed and walked on.  However, I would like to see it at night to finalize my opinion.  It may also perform better during cold, icy winter days. For us, the Island and George King Bridge, the River Walk, renovated Simmons Building, East Village etc., makes for a most pleasant stroll or powerwalk or bike ride …While New York has its Highline, I must say that the Island / River Walk makes great strides (that's a pun) towards a similar urban pedestrian experience that enables people to view the City with fresh eyes."

Blog: St. Patrick's Island: The Good, The Bad, The Nice To Have

It is with much anticipation that I have been waiting for St. Patrick’s Island to reopen.  On July 31, 2015, after being closed for two years of renovations, St. Patrick’s Island opened again to the public just in time for the August long weekend to much fanfare.

For two-years before the closure, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) conducted a comprehensive public engagement process to determine what Calgarians wanted to see in their new urban park.  Open houses, social media and an on-line survey collected ideas, which were clustered and prioritized for further public engagement to finalize the wish list.

CMLC’s call for proposals then went out to local and international landscape architect firms. Seventeen proposals were received and CMLC awarded the contract for the $20 million makeover to the joint team of New York-based W Architecture and Denver-based CIVITAS.

Loved

I love the mix of uses on the island. From quiet seating areas near the river to a hill with a fire pit on the top. From a children’s playground to pebble beach and wading pond. There is even a site-specific artwork. 

Knowing one of the public’s requests was to keep the island as natural as possible, I was pleased to see many areas where the river, trees, shrubs and rocks have been left undisturbed.

There is also a welcoming sense of arrival, be that from the elegant George C. King Bridge on the west side or from the zoo parking lot on the east. 

I was very impressed with the toboggan hill called The Rise, which was created in the middle of the island using soil from the reclaimed lagoon filled in during a previous renovation. The grass on The Rise was as lush as anything I have ever seen in Calgary. It was inviting people to just tumble down the hill – and some did!  This would be a great site for a permanent “slip and slide,” allowing year-round use.  

The children’s playground is not your cookie-cutter community playground that looks like it was built from a box of Crayola Crayons.  While the slides are bright red, most of the equipment is wood. The wobbly low bridge seemed particularly popular with people of all ages.

Overall, I love the new St. Patrick’s Island and how it has been divided up into smaller public spaces for different interests and uses.

The wobbly bridge/steps are popular with children and adults. 

At various points on the Island there are information panels that tell the history of the island. 

On of the several natural areas still on St. Patrick's Island.

Collectively these benches have a contemporary sculptural look with the mix of wood, concrete and lines. The design is very clever as one person can be lying down on one side while two people can be sitting on the other side of the back support.  

Room for Improvement

I am not sure how many people will use the larger seating area with the arboretum over top of the chairs and tables at the east entrance. It feels too much like you are sitting in a parking lot and you have limited view of the Bow River.  I realize when the water levels are higher, the area might be more animated with rafters getting off the river at this point, but I am wish this lovely seating area was closer the river with unobstructed views of the river and city skyline. 

I assume and hope Food Trucks will be allowed to park next to the East Entrance as the Island has no café or restaurant (there were no trucks on the Monday of the August long weekend).  Something like Boxwood (in Memorial Park), River Café (in Prince’s Island) or Angel’s Cappuccino & Ice Cream Cafe (at Edworthy Park) would be a good future addition to the St. Patrick’s Island. 

There is a need for way more bike parking in almost all areas of the park. I overheard this comment several times on both opening day and the holiday Monday.

The stairs up to the top of The Rise for tobogganing (and hopefully “slip & sliding”) are very steep and will not only be difficult for young children or seniors to climb and will be difficult to shovel in the winter. Might a ramp have worked better?

At the east entrance is this wonderful bistro seating area, but in my three visits to the island I saw very little use.

Climbing the stairs to The Rise will be a bit of a challenge for some, especially with in the winter.   

These picnic tables don't look that inviting and are too far removed from the playground nearby. Parents need to be able to see their kids. It is surprising that the seating is fixed, it would be great if families could move table and seating to suit there needs.

Back to nature

I was surprised there wasn’t more use of natural materials for people to sit on.  The concrete slab seating seemed out of keeping for a park with huge trees and natural areas. In a couple of cases, the concrete slabs did have wood backs for seating and lounging that was very attractive. Similarly, there is a long metal pathway that seems totally out of context.

I was also surprised the children’s playground didn’t incorporate some of the new thinking on playground design that invites children to explore more natural areas and objects – logs, rocks and trees - to climb over, jump off or crawl under.  The playground seems to focus only on young children, given the family nature of the Island it would benefit from more activities for older children and even teens.

These spring loaded stepping platforms didn't get any use when I was hanging out on the Island.  I am thinking they are too far from each other for kids to jump from one to another.  I saw something similar in Rome but the platforms were closer and they were very popular. 

This long metal walkway over a wetland area, seemed out of context on the Island.

This bench found in Parkdale would be great on St. Patrick's Island as kids could climb all over it and others could sit on it. A nice to have?

This fun modern playground can be found at Las Vegas' Container Park.  It is popular with kids by day and young adults at night. Playgrounds should be designed for all ages. 

The Beach

As promised, the new St. Patrick’s island has a beach. Though not a sand beach but a pebble beach, it was very popular with families on the hot August long weekend. However, what I had envisioned (hoped for), was a green beach like in Frankfurt, Germany along its River Main where a long stretch of grass along the river offers families, teens, young adults, seniors and couples a lovely place to sit, picnic and people watch.  I was hoping it would be integrated into the south side of the island where you could look out over the Bow River to Fort Calgary, East Village and downtown.  I believe the idea of a “green beach” was one of the more popular ideas with citizens as part of the Master Plan process. I hold out hope for a green beach in the area under the new public artwork.

St. Patrick's Island's pebble beach with wading pond. 

The lush grass at the bottom of The Rise is a very attractive place to sit and linger. It has some of the elements of a green beach.

Frankfurt's green beach is a people magnet. In the foreground is the outdoor bar serving up draft beer for the beach. How civilized?

It would be nice to have a green beach right on the river like this one in Calgary's Stanley Park on the Elbow River.

Bloom or Bust?

St. Patrick’s Island’s a new piece of public art called Bloom is by Montreal artist Michel de Broin.  To date, most social media attention has been positive, interestingly as the piece has much in common with both the controversial and much hated, “Travelling Light” aka “giant blue ring” by the airport (which is actually a fancy street light) and the equally controversial big white metal trees on Stephen Avenue.

Bloom is an assemblage of nine industrial grey street lampposts, three forming a tripod on the ground to support the other six (with actual streetlight fixtures that light up at night) sticking out in different directions like stamens and pistils of a flower.

By day, the artwork seems awkward, or as one passerby said to me “out of scale with the island.”  It also lacks the colour associated with a flower in bloom and competes negatively (in my humble opinion) with the elegant and playful George C. King (“skipping stone”) pedestrian bridge.

It is my understanding the idea behind the artwork is to connect natural elements of the island with urban street life. For me it is all urban, nothing natural. As it is, people seem to give bloom a glance and move on, it doesn’t really capture the public’s imagination.  

I couldn’t help but think this would have been perfect for some sort of interactive artwork like Chicago’s Millennium Park.   Something like, Jaume Plensa’s, 50 foot glass block tower Crown Fountain would have been perfect for St. Patrick’s Island as would Anish Kapoor’s 12 foot high 110 foot long reflective “Cloud Gate.”  Something, created by Calgary’s Jeff deBoer’s in the same vein as his “When Aviation was Young” in the West Jet wing of the Calgary International Airport would have been perfect. 

Bloom artwork with George King bridge in the background.  While the location is next to a high traffic walkway, people stop, glance quickly at the artwork and move on.  

Crown Fountain with its wading pond attracts thousands of visitors a day to stop, watch and play, seven days a week, daytime and evening. I would have been nice to have an interactive artwork like this on St. Patrick's Island. 

Cloud Gate's curved, reflective surface captures the imagination of people of all ages and backgrounds.  It is a very popular "selfie" location. 

Last Word

It is too early to judge the success of St. Patrick’s Island $20 million mega makeover. That will be determined in several years when the lust of the new has worn off. However, I am optimistic St. Patrick’s Island will, quickly loved by Calgarians as much as St. George’s Island and Prince’s Island are today. 

In many ways the combination of the Simmons Building, Riverwalk and St. Patrick’s Island redevelopment with the condos and offices, parallels what happened in the ‘90s with Eau Claire Y, Market, Promenade and Prince’s Island redevelopment. How St. Patrick's Island and East Village stand the test of time will be interesting to see.

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Vegas Crazy Container Park 

Public Art vs Playgrounds in the 21st Century 

Rome: A Surprise Playground Lunch 

Does Calgary need an urban beach? 

 

Starbucks Tasting Room vs Simmons Building

In December 2014, Starbucks opened its “coffee cathedral” in the former circa 1920s Packard automobile dealership building in Seattle’s tony Capitol Hill neighbourhood.  It was designed to roast and showcase Starbucks’ small batch, reserved coffees.   The 15,600 square foot Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room (SRRTR) building has quickly become a mecca for local and international coffee cynics and zealots.

Not to be outdone, in June 2015, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation opened up its “flagship foodie fun spot” in the 1912 Alaska Bedding Company (ABC) warehouse building aka Simmons Building (in 1919 the Simmons Bedding Company purchased the building from ABC).  The 16,000 square foot building has quickly become the epicenter of Calgary’s growing café and food culture and could well be the project that puts Calgary on the international coffee/food map.

Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room in Seattle.

Simmons Building facing East Village's Riverwalk. 

Let the competition begin!

As one would expect, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room (SRRTR) dwarfs the Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters’ space in the Simmons building.  While both have roasterie machinery, SRRTR has the look and feel of brewpub - lots of shiny machinery, an amphitheater space for viewing and learning about the bean-to-brew process.  Yet there is still a vibrant café atmosphere with lots of seating, huge windows to watch the “sidewalk ballet” that invites you to linger. There is even a library space if a quiet space to read or have a small meeting is what you’re after. We loved the idea that you could get a flight of coffees (three brews for $15) like you might have at a wine bar or craft brewery. 

Compare that to Phil & Sebastian’s café and coffee where the experience didn’t differ significantly from any other P&S café or other Calgary cafes. Advantage: SRRTR.

SRRTR looks like a science lab.

Seattle hipsters tasting the coffee, food and treats at SRRTR.

Calgarians lined up for their coffee at Phil & Sebastians.

SRRTR has its own Coffee Ambassadors – and there were many - young coffee experts from Starbuck cafes around the world who greet you at the door, find you a place to sit, bring you free water, answer your questions and engage you in a discussion.  On the flip side, Simmons Building seems a bit confusing as you have to line up to buy your coffee in one place, then line up again to buy your dessert, salad or sandwich at another vendor in the building.  Advantage SRRTR.

While SRRTR’s focus is definitely on coffee, it does have a Tom Douglas (Seattle celebrity restaurateur) Serious Pie restaurant on site, which is well known in Seattle for its pizzas and desserts.  Similarly, the Simmons Building is home to Charbar owned by Calgary’s celebrity restaurant owners Connie DeSousa and John Jackson.  I would have to award the restaurant advantage to Calgary’s Charbar with its more interesting menu, which offers up ocean, prairie and local garden ingredients.  It also offers a vegetarian small plates options. Advantage: Simmons Building.

Charbar restaurant in the Simmons Building.

The bar at Charbar. 

Tom Douglas’ Serious Pie pizza restaurants are also well known in Seattle for their desserts but my mouth still waters whenever I think of the Sidewalk Citizen’s Bourbon Bread Pudding and Earl Gray Apple cake we had a week ago.  Aviv Fried, owner of Sidewalk Citizen quietly putting Calgary on the map, has amazing sourdough bread and pastries.  Advantage: Simmons Building.

Sidewalk Citizen bakery at the Simmons Building.

From an overall design perspective, I loved the open, transparent, sunlight feel of SRTR over the Simmons Building that seems dark, closed and confined.  Both buildings have their historical exteriors preserved but there is little sense of history in the contemporary warehouse interiors. Simmons Building wins the design competition with its rooftop patio offer spectacular views of the city skyline and river valley. Advantage: Simmons Building.

SRRTR is a bright and airy space with lots of places to sit and chat, people watch or learn about coffee. It is part laboratory and part classroom. 

The Library at SRRTR

If you like to shop, SRRTR offers a small retail area with all kinds of coffee paraphernalia.  Simmons Building has no retail for those would need their shopping fix. Advantage: SRTR.

The retail space at SRRTR with the Serious Pizza in the background.

In the real estate world, it is all about “location, location, location.” While SRRTR has a great urban location at the junction of downtown and Capitol Hill, it is no match for the Simmons Building’s location on the East Village Riverwalk, next to the Bow River, near the soon-to-be best new urban park in North America - St. Patrick’s Island and what is shaping up to be one of North America’s finest early 21st century urban villages – East Village. Advantage: Simmons Building.

Simmons Building roof-top pato with Bow River and East Village Riverwalk below. (photo credit @GiantBlueRing

Simmons Building rooftop patio. (photograph by Colin Way, courtesy of CMLC) 

My Last Word

Yes, as a Calgarian I am biased.  Yes, I did love the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room and would recommend you check it out if you are in Seattle. It is one of the most welcoming and friendly places I have visited in a long time with a great buzz to it.  But when push comes to shove, I feel the Simmons Building offers a more interesting and diverse urban experience for tourists and locals alike.  

My only wish is that by next summer, Calgary’s own Village Ice Cream has a space in the Simmons Building so I can buy a cone while wandering the Riverwalk and St. Patrick’s Island.

John Gilchrist's Last Word

In chatting with John Gilchrist (CBC Radio One's Calgary Eyeopener food critic for 33 years, best selling author and international food writer and judge) while I was putting the final touches on this blog - he would argue Calgary is already on the North American coffee/culinary map. He reminded me Calgary baristas have won four of the last five national barista championships and Ben Put of Monogram Coffee just finished 3rd in the World Championships. As well, Phil &Sebastian's coffee has been sold nationally for a few years now and is respected internationally.

On the food scene, he emphatically stated "Calgary has become a culinary destination not only nationally but internationally. One small example is that the US-based Women Chefs and Restaurateurs Association is holding its annual conference in Calgary this fall, the first time it’s been held outside the USA."

Insofar as the Simmons building is concerned, he too would like to see Village Ice Cream join the family. John feels, "the Simmons building showcases three of Calgary’s fine culinary entrepreneurs, exposing them to more than the usual foodie cognoscenti. That’s great but we not always want a full meal or even a coffee in the afternoon. But ice cream is always welcome."

He added, "the Simmons is one of the most notable development in Calgary’s culinary scene I’ve ever seen. The partnership between the City and these three entrepreneurs is a fine example of private and public enterprise. And especially impactful in the development of the new East Village neighbourhood."

If you like this blog you might like: 

Calgary: North America's Newest Cafe City?

Top Ten Places To Eat Like A Local in Cowtown

Stampede 2015: Have we lost that luv'n feeling?

On Saturday (July 4th), I thought I’d head downtown and check out what is new this year in terms of Stampede window cartoons and other street decorations.  I thought the cartoon art would add a whole new dimension to the “window licking art” I love so much.  

I realize some of the art purists or high-art nerds don’t think of it as art, but the Stampede graphics add a sense of fun and colour to our otherwise contrived conservative corporate downtown.

While there was some great windows (see photos below). I also found lots of street fronts on Stephen Avenue Walk disappointing?  I was thinking places like Sports Chek (Calgary based) and Winners (has been located on Stephen Avenue for years) would do a better job of dressing-up their windows – No!

Looks like just another Saturday at Winners on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Hys, Brook Brothers and Holts seemed to forget entirely that the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” was happening. The Stephen Avenue entrance to The Core showed no evidence of Stampede spirit. 

 

Where's The Stampede Spirit?

The Hyatt had nothing; same with Marriott on 9th Avenue.  The Glenbow, Convention Centre and Calgary Economic Development also showed no Stampede spirit. Even the Municipal Plaza had no real evidence of Stampede, unless you count the one window painting at the Municipal Building. Neither the Central Library, nor the Simmons Building in East Village had any Stampede spirit. 

Entrance to the Hyatt on Stephen Avenue, not even a hay bale?

Hard to believe Calgary Telus Convention Centre on Stephen Avenue could look this sterile during Stampede. 

The Marriott Hotel facing 9th Avenue doesn't exactly shout out "Stampede!" 

Where's the spirit? Where's the energy? Calgary Economic Development block shows no sign of Stampede spirit, or a sense of energy? 

Interesting, the Calgary Tower had a painting that said Yee Haw…I am pretty sure the Stampede cry is - Yahoo! 

Not only did the Simmons Building have no Stampede decorations, you couldn't even get an adult beverage at 3 pm.  What's with that?

I get there is a downturn in the economy, but this was a sad statement on our Stampede Spirit. Walking by the McDougall Centre on the way home, all they had was one small banner of Stampede flags across the entrance. 

Except for three blocks of Stephen Avenue Walk, our downtown looked deserted as it usually does on a weekend.  I seem to recall in the past most of the buildings and +15 bridges had stampede windows. Not this year - you would be hard pressed to know that Stampede was even happening. 

The Good Guys!

David's Tea I thought had one of the best windows.

Office lobby reflections create attractive Stampede streetscape.

I was surprise how few +15 bridges had window paintings in them this year. 

Most of the banks downtown were good at decorating their window with kitschy cartoons. 

Is that Ralph Klein on the window of the City Hall LRT Station?

Last Word

Has Calgary become too big for it britches to celebrate what is truly one of North America’s oldest, largest and most unique festivals?  Where is that community spirit?

If you like this blog you might like: 

Stampede Park: Art Gallery/Museum

Stampede 2014: Footnotes

Window Licking in Seattle

For me, one of the fun things to do when visiting another city is to check out the reflections of streetscapes in windows. I first discovered this obsession (yes, I think it has become a bit of an obsession) when visiting Paris where many of the storefront windows are like mini art exhibitions.  You might expect this given the Paris' fashion culture, but it was more than just upscale shoes and purses, it was the juxtaposition of the people, architecture and the sense of spontaneity and surprise.  

What was also interesting in Paris were the great windows weren't just on the retail streets, but also in the little shops in the residential neighbourhoods.

Let me out....

Picture perfect? 

Why window licking? 

Some might just call this "window shopping,” but in French window shopping is called it "faire du leche-vitines," which literally translates into “window licking” in English. Since Paris, I have made sure that in every city I visit, I spend some time "window licking."

While it is not measurable, I am convinced there is a direct correlation between the quality of the street windows and the quality of the street life.  Unfortunately today, too many retailers and others with street windows don't appreciate the importance of great windows in making people stop, look and think.

Our recent trip to Seattle provided me with some great "window licking" experiences. Not only was downtown Seattle populated with some interesting windows, but so were the the neighbouring communities like Pioneer Square that offered some great surprises.  But the best window licking was along Ballard Avenue, i.e. main street for the community of Ballard. 

This is downtown Ballard when the Sunday market takes over its main street. It is a great people watching experience and has some of the best windows in Seattle.

Window licking in Pioneer Square.

It wouldn't be Seattle without some glass art window licking.

Last Word

While Richard Florida has coined the terms  Bohemian Index, Diversity Index and Gay Index as a way of measuring the health of a community, I am thinking he might want to look at the "Window Licking Index."  This index would look at how often and long people stop and look in the windows along a given street, as a measure of the street's attractiveness to pedestrians. 

Intuitively, I'd probably give Seattle an 8.5 out of ten on my "Window Licking" index.  Have a look at these some more samples and the links to window licking in Paris, Chicago and Florence and let me know what images you like best.

PS. In reviewing my window licking images I realized that almost everyone has trees in it.  One of the first things I noticed about Seattle and loved about the city's streets was the wonderful filtered light from the canopy of wonderful trees. 

Surrealism is a frequent theme in window licking art.

Luxury fashion shops are always good for window licking photos.

The classic mannequin historical building window.

This is perhaps the most unique window I have experience to date. 

If you like this blog, click on these links to other window licking blogs:

Window licking In Paris

Window licking in Chicago 

Window licking along Florence's Via Tornabuoni

 

 

 

+15 walkway: Love vs Hate!

Calgarians have a love-hate relationship with downtown’s +15 system – the public loves them, the planners and politicians hate them. The public (downtown workers) loves them as it means on poor weather days, they don’t have to put on a coat to attend a business meeting, meet a friend for coffee, lunch or a happy hour drink, or find a quiet place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the office.

The +15 is also a popular route for those who work in one building but workout in another, be that in the morning, noon or after work.  Another thing downtown workers love about the +15 is you are almost always guaranteed to run into someone you haven’t seen for years and have been meaning to catch up with.  It is a great place for impromptu networking.

  The +15 walkway creates a unique urban design experience especially in the cathedral-like lobbies of the office buildings. 

The +15 walkway creates a unique urban design experience especially in the cathedral-like lobbies of the office buildings. 

  Photo credit: City of Calgary, online +15 brochure 

Photo credit: City of Calgary, online +15 brochure 

Planners and politicians generally hate them because they think they destroy downtown street life.  Funny thing, both Toronto and Montreal have underground pathway systems and nobody talks about how they have destroyed the street life in those cities. The unique reality is Calgary’s downtown is almost exclusively made up of office buildings, which simply don’t generate street life, be that Calgary or New York City’s Wall St. district or Bay St. in Toronto.

The City of Calgary conducted +15 pedestrian counts in January 2011 and again July 2011. They found use of the +15 drops about 70% in the summer. This proves that when the weather is nice, downtown workers love to walk outside but when it isn’t, they are happy to use the +15 as their indoor sidewalk. We have the best of both worlds.

Pedestrian Counts July 2001. The City of Calgary website

Pedestrian Counts January 2012. The City of Calgary website 

Wayfinding 

Wandering the +15 walkway is bit like negotiating your way through a maze.  However there is an elaborate map and signage program to help new explorers.  At each bridge is an illuminated map with the details of the immediate area are highlighted.  You can also look for a man in “white hat and stairs” to direct you to a staircase that will get you to the street. 

Above the bridges, horizontal signage gives you the name of the building and tells you if you are headed North, South, East or West.

  • North signs have a fish background which means you are heading to the Bow River, which runs along the northern edge of the downtown on its way from the Bow Glacier to Hudson’s Bay. 

  • South signs have a train that represents the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks, which form the southern boundary of downtown. 

  • East signs have a fort motif paying tribute to the 1875 Northwest Mounted Police’s Fort Calgary on the eastern edge of downtown.

  • West signs have a mountain motif in the background reflecting the majestic Canadian Rockies dominate the downtown skyline to the west. 

Still, it is easy to get lost in the +15 system, but that is half of the fun. Newbies should not be afraid to admit they are lost and ask for directions - Calgarians are more than willing to point you in the right direction.

  Photo credit: City of Calgary, +15 online brochure

Photo credit: City of Calgary, +15 online brochure

Design  

Most of the bridges are designed to connect buildings mid-block, but that is not always possible when you are connecting an older building to new building.  Older buildings have to be retrofitted on the 2nd floor to create a pedestrian walk through building and sometime two or three smaller buildings have to connect to one large new building; this is what results in the maze-like routes, rather than a linear grid like the streets below.

The idea of creating an elevated walkway system was not only based on climate but also on public health and safety.  The thinking was that by removing pedestrians from the street, the City would reduce the number of pedestrian/vehicle interactions, resulting in fewer accidents.   From a health perspective, the enclosed walkway also meant downtown workers and visitors not only wouldn’t have to breathe in the pollution of cars, but can also enjoy a healthy brisk 10-km walk at lunch even when it is -30C, snowing or raining.

The early bridges were simple rectangles without much thought into creating an urban design statement. However, that began to change with the Bankers Hall double decker bridges over Stephen Avenue, which makes its own architectural design statement. 

Since then, many bridges make their own unique design statement. For example, the +15 bridge connecting Eighth Avenue Place and Centennial Parkade and looking out to the CPR’s main rail line uses a traditional trestle bridge design popular for early prairie railway bridges.  

  +15 bridge in the winter over Barclay Mall.  

+15 bridge in the winter over Barclay Mall. 

  Bankers Hall double decker +15 bridge over Stephen Avenue at the 300 block.

Bankers Hall double decker +15 bridge over Stephen Avenue at the 300 block.

  +15 bridge connecting Centennial Parkade and Eight Avenue Place.

+15 bridge connecting Centennial Parkade and Eight Avenue Place.

Interior of the +15 bridge connecting Municipal Building and Arts Commons.  Kids love looking out at the urban landscape from the +15 vantage point. 

  Walking the +15 system early in the morning as downtown workers arrive is a surreal experience. 

Walking the +15 system early in the morning as downtown workers arrive is a surreal experience. 

+15 Highlights 

The +15 level of the Centennial Parkade is home to the Udderly Art Pasture, a celebration of the very popular Colourful Cows for Calgary art project that saw over 100 fun cow created by artists installed around the downtown in 2000.  Today, over 10 cows have found a permanent pasture in the +15.

Devonian Gardens, a 2.5-acre indoor park/garden created in 1977 and underwent a $37 million renovation in 2012, is integrated with The Core shopping center.  It is an ideal place to meet a friend, have some alone time or take young children to run and play in the playground area.

The Core Shopping Center is perhaps the epicenter of the +15, especially for shoppers.  It links the historic Hudson Bay’s department store with the contemporary Holt Renfrew store with four floors of shops. Its claim to fame is the German-engineered skylight the size of three football fields, making it the largest in the world.

 The Jamieson Place Winter Garden wins hands down as the most tranquil spot in downtown, with its infinity ponds, living plant walls and its spectacular hanging David Chihuly glass sculptures, each weighing 500 pounds.

The Suncor Place’s +15 lobby is home to an authentic Noorduyn Norseman Plane hanging from the ceiling. Used extensively in early oil and gas exploration as it could land on snow, water or land - very fitting given downtown Calgary is home to most of Canada’s oil & gas companies.

DAYDREAM Derek Besant’s public artwork in the +15 connecting West Alberta Place with Petro Fina is a hidden gem.  It consists of 24 etchings on the +15 windows accompanied by thought-provoking text like “WHERE DOES HE FIT INTO MY LIFE?“

If travelling along the +15 walkway in the Arts Commons building (formerly the EPCOR Centre) be sure to look in the window where, down below, you can watch the designers working on the next set design for a Theatre Calgary or Alberta Theatre Projects play.

  Udderly Art Pasture in the Centennial Parkade. 

Udderly Art Pasture in the Centennial Parkade. 

  Bush plane suspended from the ceiling of Suncor Centre. 

Bush plane suspended from the ceiling of Suncor Centre. 

  Devonian Gardens early morning. 

Devonian Gardens early morning. 

  Jamieson Place Winter Garden with infinity pools and living wall. 

Jamieson Place Winter Garden with infinity pools and living wall. 

  The Core retail complex connects directly with three office towers, +15 walkways on two levels and Devonian Gardens.

The Core retail complex connects directly with three office towers, +15 walkways on two levels and Devonian Gardens.

  The +15 walkway functions like outdoor pedestrian street with buskers, patios, cafes, shops and services. 

The +15 walkway functions like outdoor pedestrian street with buskers, patios, cafes, shops and services. 

Footnote 

Exploring Calgary’s +15 system is our city’s most unique urban experience.  While New York City is famous for its High Line (an elevated linear park on abandoned railway line that meanders through Manhattan), Calgary’s +15 walkway preceded it by 40 years. Calgarians should be proud of their +15 walkway.

  In fact I am so proud of our +15 I will be wearing my  Frontier Metropolis.com  +15 shirt when I host a Jane's Walk through the +15 at 10am on May 2, 2015.  If you want to join us we are meeting on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade. 

In fact I am so proud of our +15 I will be wearing my Frontier Metropolis.com +15 shirt when I host a Jane's Walk through the +15 at 10am on May 2, 2015.  If you want to join us we are meeting on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade. 

 

Fun Factoids

  • Harold Hanen a Calgary urban planner championed the +15 system in ‘60s.

  • Named +15 because the bridges are 15 feet above ground.

  • First +15 bridge connected Calgary Place to Westin Hotel in 1973.

  • 62 bridges create 18 km of walkways – the longest elevated enclosed walkway in the world.

  • 22,000 people cross the +15 bridge between Centrum Place and Energy Plaza over 6th Ave every weekday making it the busiest bridge in the system.

  • 150+ buildings are connected by +15 bridges.

  • Eighth Avenue Place is home several masterpieces of Canadian art including two Jean-Paul Riopelle paintings.

  • Calgary will never have double decker buses, as they won’t fit under the bridges.

  • Calgary’s +15 was the focus of Calgary filmmaker Gary Burns’ movie “waydowntown” in 2000.

  • The +15 is home to seven shoe shine chairs.

  One of eight shoe shine stations in the +15 walkway.  

One of eight shoe shine stations in the +15 walkway. 

One night in Florence

There is something magical about wandering the streets of Florence as night.  No it isn't just the gelato!  Partly it is the vibe of the thousands of tourist and students wandering the streets aimlessly. But mostly I think it has to do with the sense of past, when humans were much more into mythical figures, the spirituality of gods and less focused on earthly pursuits.  

This is a photo tour of "One night in Florence." 

One of several fountains in Florence where people can take a drink - if they dare! We saw a young student fill up his water bottle in this one and take a drink. I believe it was a bit of a dare.  Later we found out these communal drinking fountains have been used for centuries and are a wonderful reminder of the how urban life has evolved from one of sharing to one of privacy (they are perfectly safe to use).

David by Michelangelo was completed in 1504 and is considered one of the great masterpieces of the Renaissance. At 17 ft high it is three times life size, which creates a monumental impact on the viewer. 

  Medici Lion, one of two lions, one of which is an ancient lion from 200 AD that was removed from a relief, reworked and moved to the piazza, the other was commissioned in 1594 by Vacca. 

Medici Lion, one of two lions, one of which is an ancient lion from 200 AD that was removed from a relief, reworked and moved to the piazza, the other was commissioned in 1594 by Vacca. 

The rape of Polyxena, Pio Fedi, 1865 takes on a whole new meaning in the 21st century. 

The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna.

The fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati, 1565, has a wonderful surreal blue in the evening light (this iPhone image has not been altered).  

Many of the churches are open in the evening offering a surprisingly different spiritual and surreal experience than during the day. 

You can even enjoy an free evening organ concert, that spills out onto the street. You may even feel like you have died and gone to heaven. 

Forget twitter, leave a note for God. 

Twitter notes? 

Even if you are non-religious you can't help but be impacted by the sense of life and death that engulfs you in ancient cities like Florence.

The ugliest pedestrian bridge in the world?

The Ponte Vecchio is a stone three-arch pedestrian bridge over the Arno River in Florence, Italy. A bridge at this location dates back to Roman times, first appearing in documentation in 996AD, with bridges being destroyed in floods of 1117AD and 1333AD.  The current bridge, built in 1345AD and was spared destruction by the Germans in World War II, allegedly by an expressed order of Hitler.  And, more recently, it miraculously survived the massive flood of 1966.

Close up view of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. 

Ponte Vecchio from a little further back with reflection in Arno River.

Ponte Vecchio with garden-like river bank and on the right you can see the tourists lined up to enjoy the view of the river, buildings and bridge.

Tourist Trap

If you've seen one vendor shop window you have seen them all.

The bridge has always hosted shops and merchants (butchers, fishmongers, tanners etc.) but by 1442AD it was monopolized by butchers and the bridge stank from centuries of industrial waste. So in 1593, the Medici Grand Dukes, in an effort to enhance the prestige of the bridge prohibited butchers from selling there and decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers could have their shops on the bridge – a tradition that continues today.

To say the bridge is teeming with tourists is an understatement.  It is also, in my mind an understatement to say the place is a tacky tourist attraction with hucksters selling everything from bad art to kitschy trinkets (not much different than panhandling) in front of the permanent shops on the edge of the bridge.

This was early morning when the hucksters had not set up yet and the throngs of tourists had not arrived - still a popular place.

The bridge’s exterior design is also tacky with its ramshackled collage of protruding house-like shops in need of a good coat of paint.  It is an awkward mix of stone, stucco and wood (shutters). While some might see it as quaint, it doesn’t have the wonderful decoration, ornamentation and quality craftsmanship of the historic stone buildings and sculptures that dominate Florence’s urban design. It looks like a tired stucco bridge from the 1960s.The shops along the bridge could also use some tender loving care.  One usually associates goldsmith and jewelry with upscale shops and elegant presentations, not flea market stalls.

Above these shops is the Vasari Corridor, a walkway that runs over the shops and houses built by the Duke of Florence in the 16th century so he could commute between his two residences (Uffizi and Pitti Palace) without having to mix with the public.

Everything about the bridge didn’t fit with our design sensibilities.  We avoided it as much as we could (and with other bridges nearby, it was easy to do).

Pedestrian bridges should be designed to offer great vistas of the river and the city. 

This is one of my postcard images of Florence. 

Last Word

My immediate thought was “this is the world’s ugliest pedestrian bridge”.  I even tweeted that out.  Immediately I got people retweeting me that they liked it.

And, since coming back, several people have asked “Did you like the Ponte Vecchio Bridge?”  When I said, “I hated it!” they were shocked.  I guess if you are into history and can overlook/see past the tacky jewelry shops and the obnoxious souvenir sellers (who place their product on the ground so you almost trip over them), it could be an attractive place. We just avoided it!

In reading others’ blog post it seemed the bridge is a popular, romantic river evening stroll. Could the Everyday Tourist be wrong!

If you like this blog, you might like:

Tale of Three Calgary Pedestrian Bridges

Window Licking in Florence

Florence BFFs: Best Flaneur Finds 

 

NYC's High Line vs YYC's +15 Walkway

By Richard White, February 18, 2015 (This blog was commissioned by Source Media for Condo Living Magazine.)

In the January 15, 2015 edition of Metro Calgary, columnist Mike Morrison lamented that when he was recently in New York City (NYC) no one had heard of Calgary. I too have lamented at the lack of awareness of Calgary when visiting other cities, but then my friends at Tourism Calgary are also quick to remind me of some facts - Calgary was ranked #17 on the New York Times “52 Places to Go” and Alberta #9 on the UK’s Guardian “Holiday Hotspots” in 2014.   Another fact - in 2014 Calgary was added to the Ultimate Sports City shortlist the de facto benchmark of top sport cities around the world.  Now, Calgary has joined Vancouver as the only two Canadian cities on the list.  

Perhaps we are being a bit too hard on ourselves.  Perhaps we are being too impatient. As the Guardian said, “Calgary has gone from cowboy town to cosmopolitan cool.” YES! People are starting to notice!

High Line vs. +15

Morrison, like many others who have visited NYC recently are “gaga” over the city’s new iconic High Line project, an abandoned railway track converted into an elevated linear park with a great urban vibe. 

People of all ages enjoy strolling along the High Line a linear park that provides a unique perspective on the streets and sidewalks of NYC. (Photo credit: Lelia Olfert)

Evidence of the old elevated railway is evident in this photo.  Note the streets are not packed with people or traffic. (photo credit Leila Olfert).

The narrow park offers lots of resting spots for people watching or to study the urban design of a city. 

I like to remind people Calgary created its High Line in 1970, over 40 years before NYC. While some like to criticize the +15 system (60 bridges connect over 100 buildings to create a 20 km elevated walkway) for sucking the life out of the streets, I say it is the one really unique urban element our downtown has and it should be something we embraced not apologize for.

Why is it everybody raves about Montreal’s underground system, but not our 20km walkway? Both are full of cafes, shops and restaurants, but the +15 also offers more - public art, a mega indoor garden and amazing urban vistas.  Harold Hanen, the +15 visionary, saw it as a logical adaptation to our long cold winter. 

The +15 system could become a great tourist attraction if we would stop “bashing” it and start promoting its unique views of our every-changing downtown.  It could become our postcard like the canals of Venice or the alleys of Melbourne – it is all about how you look at it.

 

  One of 60 glass bridges that are 15 feet off the ground connect buildings at the second floor over a 50-block area of the downtown core. 

One of 60 glass bridges that are 15 feet off the ground connect buildings at the second floor over a 50-block area of the downtown core. 

Along the walkway pedestrians find numerous quiet places to sit like this winter garden with a living wall, infinity ponds and bamboo plantings. 

There is even a formal 2.5 acre garden which is a popular meeting place.  It even includes an indoor playground for families. 

The +15 system connects to The Core shopping centre at the second, third and fourth floors. 

Each bridge offers a unique experience; this on connecting the Municipal Building to Arts Commons is like walking into a stain glassed window.  Kids love exploring the +15 with the huge windows onto the "Tall City" as my 3-year old nephew called it. 

This +15 connected to a 600+ stall parkade, offers pedestrians beautiful sunshine 12-months of the year, along with a parade of cows.  Unlike Montreal's underground and Toronto's PATH, Calgary's +15 offers downtown workers and visitor a chance to see what is happening outside.  

Just one of the many public art experiences along the 20-km +15 walkway. 

Visionaries

Stephen Avenue Walk pulses with new blood at noon hour. 

Morrison shuddered to think what Calgary would look like without visionaries like Councilor Druh Farrell (Peace Bridge, Memorial Drive, East Village and new Library), Andrew Mosker (National Music Centre) and the people at Canada Municipal Land Corporation (East Village, St. Patrick’s Island and Riverwalk).  

He laments that too many people are standing in the way of these visionaries and questions all of the petty squabbling about bike lanes, transit and disabled schools.  I choose to focus on what we have accomplished to attract what he calls “new blood.”   

For example, Myrna Dube, Calgary Parks Foundation’s President & CEO, was visionary for the new Rotary/Mattamy Greenway, a 138 km pathway that will circle the city connecting over 100 suburban communities (over 300,000 people, 25% of the city’s population). It is easily the equivalent of NYC’s High Line, just more suburban in nature.

What about the visionaries for Stephen Avenue walk or Calgary's amazing parks and city-wide pathway system (now the largest in the world). 

Or perhaps the visionaries at Brookfield Residential who are creating a new urban village that will be very attractive to the  "young blood" working the medical field at SETON.  

Attracting new blood

This leads to Morrison’s question, “Has anyone moved here because of it is super car-friendly or because of its endless suburbs?” and his opinion is “probably not.” In fact, one of Calgary advantages over Vancouver and Toronto (there are many) is that newcomers can buy a large family house for hundreds of thousands of dollars less and be just 30-minute car commute from work. Remember - not everyone can - or wants to - walk, cycle or take transit to work.

And, though it might be a tough pill to swallow for urban missionaries not everyone wants to live in dense high-rise communities like Manhattan. People are surprised when I tell them that on a per capita basis, Calgary has as many people living within 4 km of its downtown - 7% of the metro population.

But not to worry urban evangelists, Calgary has one of the most aggressive urbanization programs of any city in the world with a population under two million - Bridges, Currie Barracks, East Village, Greenwich, Inglewood Brewery, Quarry Park, SETON, Westbrook Station, West Campus and West District.   Collectively, they will provide urban homes for approximately 100,000 people and work places for 60,000+ in diverse, dense, vibrant urban neighbourhoods.

All of this is in addition to Calgary’s existing urban districts – Beltline, Eau Claire, Downtown West, Mission, Kensington and Inglewood, the latter of which was named Canada’s greatest neighbourhood by the Canadian Institute of Planners in 2014 (with Kensington being a finalist).

Great cities provide a diversity of communities for people to choose from.

I would argue the Calgary region has a nice mix of urban, established, master planned suburban communities, acreages and small towns for a city its size.

We must be doing something right as Calgary is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 livable cities in the world - NYC is not in the top 10.  In 2014, the Economist had Calgary tied for 5th only 1 point out of first place as of the world’s “most livable” cities.

Main Street, West Campus by West Campus Development Trust, it just one of many new urban villages planned for Calgary in the next few years.   West Village will be attractive to the "young blood" working at the University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre and Alberta Children's Hospital. 

Last Word

Obviously, what makes a city attractive is different for different people, and different at different times in their life. No city can be all things to all people. Calgary still in its formative (teenage) years, so yes, we still have a lot of growing up to do.

But, we should also be proud of what we have accomplished! 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary: The City of Parks & Pathways

Calgary deserves more respect from international planners

Calgary's got its mojo working

Calgary: GABEster capital of North America 

DREAM: Calgary's best kept public art secret?

Recently I have been spending a lot of time flaneuring downtown Calgary’s +15 (the world’s longest, glass-enclosed, elevated walkway 15 feet off the street that connects over 100 office, shopping, hotel, convention and cultural centres via 60 bridges).  Why? Because it is a great place for winter flaneuring in a winter city like Calgary. 

One of the things I love about the +15 is how there it can be “hustle and bustle” in some places and yet, just a few feet away there is a tranquil garden oasis. In the evenings and on weekends it is like a ghost town, which can be fun too.

Another thing I love is the unique perspective the +15 bridges give as you walk above the downtown street life below – way more interesting than Montreal and Toronto’s underground pathways. I always discover something new each time I explore. 

One of my discoveries last week was Derek Besant’s artwork on the window of the +15 over 8th Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets SW. I really didn’t know much about the piece so I thought I’d email him and see what he could tell me.

The response, “Man…  that is one of my best-kept secrets and one of my favourite public art integrations…. anywhere.”  

 DAYDREAM

The title of the piece is DAYDREAM and it was installed in 1996, so unfortunately, like a lot of public art it has perhaps been forgotten as downtown office workers rush by to get their caffeine fix or to sign off on the next big deal.

It consists of 24 white images on the windows of the bridge each accompanied by a short sentence or statements. One side contains “thoughts about a woman” while the opposite side’s are “thoughts about a man.”   Because of the transparency and reflections of the glass you have to look carefully to read the text and see the sketch-like images against the backdrop of the street life below and the architecture that surrounds them.

The cryptic images and text make them intriguing and open to many interpretations.  The text could easily be the thoughts of those people who cross the bridge at any time of the day. They are open-ended statements about the male/female relationship.  It creates a voyeuristic sense of place, which somehow seems appropriate as you spy on the world from the unique perspective of the +15 bridge.

For those who take the time to notice and think about the images and text, it is like walking through a poem, maybe eavesdropping on a private conversation, or reading somebody’s diary. However you experience or interpret it, Besant has transformed Fred Valentine’s +15 Bridge (Valentine is one of Calgary’s most distinguished architects, with his signature work being the stainless steel, razor edge-like Nexen tower a few blocks west on 8th Avenue) into a uniquely Calgary experience.

About Besant

Homage, 6.6 meter high, Mount Royal University campus, 1989

Besant is a Calgary-based artist who exhibits his work internationally.  He is a graduate of the University of Calgary and was the Head of Alberta College of Art and Design’s Drawing Program from 1977 to 1993.  He has several other public art works in Calgary including Skywalk (pedestrian bridge mural) over Mcleod Trail at Anderson Station, two pieces on the campus of Mount Royal University and along downtown's 7th Avenue LRT corridor. Learn more.  

Artist’s Reflections: Notes from Besant’s email

“I love the fact Calgary’s downtown contains within itself a secret network of walkways that links 100s of different buildings. I remember well wandering as far as I could throughout the downtown core before selecting Fred Valentine’s spacious architectural envelope for this work.

I worked with engineers to design a special safety vacuum system that would enable us to work on-site during business hours, even with all the pedestrian traffic and exhale the sandblast debris into containers located in the adjacent parking lot.  

But what was truly brilliant about the experience was the moment when the Engineered Plastics technician and I were part way done the windows and a woman came up to me (not knowing I was the artist) and remarked that the window we were working on was “his” window.  

She was referring to an image of a half-closed window sandblasted onto the surface of the real window, but it also framed an office window just adjacent to the +15 in the opposite building.  The text said, “HE WORKS IN THAT BUILDING OVER THERE."  I took "HE" was the guy she was returning from lunch with.  

And if that was not wild enough, it was the next line she uttered that really meant the artwork held some portent.  She stated, "yes, that’s him, but it is the first window I really wonder about” and then she walked off.

I kind of scratched my head and then wandered back to the first window we’d worked on.  It held an image of a half-empty (or half-full) glass of water and the text under it read “DOES HE LOVE ME?”  

I love it when the sunlight catches the images and text and in such a way that their shadows are cast across the floor space adding another dimension to the public experience of the work. There is a playful public interaction between the light, image, text, street, architecture and human beings that makes this a very special piece for me.

I’ve tested the equation by loitering as if waiting to meet someone in that corridor above the city traffic, but really watching what happens as people walk by. While most people are either totally lost in thought, or on their phones, it is amazing how many people do stop to read the text, ponder the image, often looking up to see if anyone is watching them.

Over the past decade, I have studied the implications of text / image as identity in different ways.  I love embedding the art with a participatory equation.  I’ve done similar projects that are evolutions of this in Hungary, Russia, China, and London UK.  My next one will be for Scotland as a feature for the 2015 Edinburgh International Art Festival.”

Last Word

As a result of the City of Calgary’s “bonus density program” that allows office developers to buy more floors for their development in return for public art, Downtown Calgary now boasts hundreds of artworks - on the streets, in the lobbies, plazas, parks and +15 system. I love getting lost in (the nooks and crannies looking at the art and architecture. Sometimes just for 30 minutes between meetings and sometimes all day.

Calgarians (both those who work downtown and those who don’t) should get out and explore the unique art, architecture and artifacts of our downtown +15 walkway.

By Richard White, February 8, 2015

Architect Fred Valentine's +15 Bridge over 8th Avenue SW, just one of 60 bridges in downtown Calgary that collectively create a 20 km walkway.