In both workshops connectivity was an issue and an opportunity. In Montgomery, there needs to be better pedestrian connectivity between Bowness Road (aka Montgomery Boulevard), Safeway Mall, the Motel district on the Trans Canada Highway, Shouldice Park and the River.
In West Hillhurst (aka Grand Trunk) it was surprising to see how close the SunAlta LRT Station if only there was a direct pedestrian link over Memorial Drive and the Bow River. Retail connectivity was also an issue with a few shops clustered on 19th Street SW, some on Kensington Road between 18th and 21st Street and others further west at the intersection of Crowchild Trail, Kensington Road and Memorial Drive.
Nothing over Four Floors
It was interesting density was not an issue in either workshop I attended, people understood that density was critical to creating a more diverse community with more amenities. However it was clear at the Kensington Road workshop, that nobody wanted anything over four floors. It was also clear they didn’t just want cookie cutter condo blocks, but quality architecture and materials.
In chatting with some of my colleagues with Main Street redevelopment experience, one of the issues facing the Calgary project is that it was originally conceived as a Corridor program. As a result, all of the study areas are 6+ blocks long, which is not the right scale for a traditional Main Street. As one colleague said, “the core or signature stretch of Robson Street in Vancouver is 3-blocks, in Calgary’s Inglewood it is only 2-blocks.” Perhaps the first step in Calgary’s Main Street program would be to focus on just a 2 or 3-block area where there already is some pedestrian-oriented commercial development.
Roberta Brandes Gratz (urban critic, author of The Living City: Thinking Small in a Big Way) suggested one of the best ways to promote urban revitalization is to strengthen what already exists before building new.
As one Main Street expert said to me “communities need a bit of a reality check on the investment required to kick start residential and retail interest. East Village, Kensington, Mission, 17th Avenue and Inglewood to some extent benefit from being next door to the downtown and/or the river. Creating neighbourhood Main Streets takes time and relatively small moves that build like a snowball.”
While the City and communities have ambitious ideas I hope they will be able to link vision with reality. The development of 24 new Mains Streets is very ambitious going to take time. It is the landowners who hold all the cards for Main Street development. The focus should be on them, not the community.
An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's Condo section on Saturday May 16, 2015.
The first issue for me in creating Main Streets is on-street parking , usually but not always combined with two-way single lane traffic. This may seem like a typical engineer's approach to a planning/architectural/environment problem but if you stop and look at what separates a good urban street from a "mean" street you might notice this to be true.
The east end of Kensington between 10th and 14th, arguably the busiest section for traffic, has on-street parking which facilitates successful retail business; but the portion of Kensington west of 14th has no on-street parking but also very little traffic. It would cost the city very little to introduce on-street parking along most of this stretch.
The second issue is to determine what is the principal use of the street. Is it a shopping street or is it a through way? No amount of effort will ever turn the TransCanada Highway into a pleasant place to spend time strolling or shopping. So why not accept that TCH through Montgomery is a through way, and focus our "Main Street" efforts exclusively on Bowness Road.
Further isn't it time to stop using 16th Avenue as the TransCanada Highway? One has only to look at a broader map of Alberta to see that the TCH detours north just east of Strathmore; a political move made over fifty years ago to appease the business interests in Strathmore at the time of the TCH construction. It would be a simple move to direct TCH traffic along the Highway 22 alignment through the southern part of Calgary diverting north at either Bragg Creek or the soon to be built(??) southwest ring road.
One of the oft-ignored principles of urban planning is that the right kind of car traffic is a good and a necessary component of creating successful main streets. Did the attendees at these Main Street planning meetings include transportation engineers?
Good blog....a couple of other barriers to developing Main Streets in Calgary include:
- Calgary's Land Use Bylaw essentially sterilize pubs from being near residential and restaurants too small to be viable
- Planners fight surface parking or loading facilities: both essential for retail to survive in suburbs
- Planners assume all retail is boutique or mom and pop and actively fight larger stores that act as anchors
If you like this blog, you might like:
Montgomery: Calgary's newest urban village.
Beautiful Downtown Bowness
Flaneuring the TransCanada Highway
Mount Pleasant & Calgary's other 4th Street