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!

Exploring Mexico City in black & white

This blog experiments with a cinematic-like film-noir style of still photography.  While in Mexico City, I took several black and white photos to see how they might capturing and interpret the city's architecture, people and places I encountered on the streets.

I have selected, edited and sequenced the photographs in a way that I hope tells an ambiguous story without context or words. The viewer is invited to make sense of this series, and becomes a collaborator in the mystery of the story. I debated on the use of music to accompany the images or not and in the end I decided to incorporate some music. 

I would love feedback on this 3 minute experiment. 

If you like this blog, you might like these:

Redwood Reflections

Downtown YYC: Paint it black!

Mexico City: City of Museums

Mexico City is rumoured to have over 150 museums and I don’t doubt that number. There seems to be a museum or two on every street in the 150-block historic centre (Centro Historico), as well as many outside it. My mom estimates that over our 18-day visit, we visited over 30 museums.  Quite frankly, I lost count.

But whatever the number, we do agree on our seven favourite museums (no particular order):

  • Museo Nacional de Antropologia
  • Museo Soumaya
  • Museo Nacional de Arte
  • Museo de Arte Popular
  • Secretaria de Educacion Publica
  • Museo Frida Kahlo
  • Museo del Juguete Antiguo Mexico (aka the Toy Museum)

Museo Nacional de Antropologia 

Built in 1964 and designed by Pedro Ramirez Vazquez, the Museo Nacional de Antropologia (MNA) still looks very contemporary - flat roof and huge central plaza largely covered with a 275-foot canopy balanced on a 36-ft pillar decorated with European and Mexican civilization reliefs.  Unlike many new museums and art galleries in the late 20th and early 21st century, the architectural design of MNA enhances, not competes with the artifacts. Just as it ideally always should.

The museum is unique also in that the ground floor, dedicated to archaeological finds from ancient Mexico - each room dealing with a particular civilization or region of the country - allows you to wander outside into gardens and courtyards thus recreating an “in situ” experience with the artifacts.   I loved the outdoor reconstructions of the Mayan temples and Monte Alban Tomb.

This is a huge museum with 23 exhibition rooms on two levels, covering 800,000+ square feet and sitting on almost 20 acres.  While most people we talked to spend about 2 hours at the museum, they must have been running through it. I think all North Americans should visit this museum to develop a better appreciation of our collective history – the artifacts and stories are compelling.

Admission: 64 MX pesos (about $5 CDN) (no children or family pricing)

Time: Could easily be 4+ hours. While you are in the area, you might want to check out the Mexico Zoo or the Chapultepec Castle at the top of a hill in the middle of the park of the same name – both are close by. There are also two other smaller museums nearby - Museo Tamyo and Museo de Arte Moderno.

Tamayo's bold and beautiful mural graces the entrance to Mexico City's insightful Anthropology Museum a "must see" for all North Americans. 

The museum's courtyard has a zen-like atmosphere.

This single pillar not only holds up the entire canopy, but it serves as a powerful waterfall and relief sculpture. The museum is gracefully designed to enhance and respect the sense of place created by the artifacts.  It is part of Mexico City's wonderful connectivity between the past and present. 

The entrance to the first gallery tells the story of man's evolution on the planet earth. 

The gallery spaces are spacious but not overwhelming, making for a enjoyable experience. 

The exhibition spaces are a wonderful link to the architecture and artifacts of past cultures. 

One of the many gardens that link the indoor galleries with outdoor spaces to create a unique museum experience. 

Found this Mayan mural when I stuck my head into one of the ruins spaces it covered all the walls and roof. I couldn't help but immediately think of Picasso's Guernica and how the early Mexican cultures foreshadowed many of the 19th and early 20th century European art practices.  

The upper floors of the museum showcase information on the diversity of indigenious cultures in different parts of Mexico. 

It was interesting to see this image, after encountering two young men wearing contemporary deer heads masks in the Zombie Walk. 

When you see an artifact like this you quickly make the connection to the iconic skull-like face paintings of the "Day of the Dead" festival. 

Found this one-eyed figure painted on a artifact and was stuck by how contemporary it was.  

  As an urbanist, this panel made me realize that Mexico City has centuries of architecture and urban design to build upon. I realized how infantile we are in Calgary. 

As an urbanist, this panel made me realize that Mexico City has centuries of architecture and urban design to build upon. I realized how infantile we are in Calgary. 

  This panel was enlightening as it illustrates how violence and war has been part of Mexico's (and many other nations') culture for thousands of years. It is very hard for Canadians to understand this. 

This panel was enlightening as it illustrates how violence and war has been part of Mexico's (and many other nations') culture for thousands of years. It is very hard for Canadians to understand this. 

Museo Soumaya

A private museum of Carlos Slim, one of the richest men in the world, it is named after his deceased wife Soumaya Domit, designed by his son-in-law Fernando Romero and engineered by Frank Gehry and Ove Arup.

The six-story building is an uber-contemporary design with its flat base (perched above the sidewalk) and roof anchoring a twisted tower that gives the building a tension and shape that defies description. The 16,000, shiny, hexagonal, aluminum tiles (supplied by a company owned by Slim) are like the skin of a snake.  Opened in 2011, the museum anchors the Nuevo Polanco district, which includes several other contemporary office, hotel and shopping centres including a modern Costco across the street.

Inside, you are greeted by a huge, stark white minimalist lobby that is home to just three artworks - murals by Mexico’s iconic artists Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo and the renowned sculpture “The Thinker” by Rodin. This is just the beginning of your exploration of the 66,000 pieces of art including the world’s largest collection of pre-Hispanic and colonial era coins.  If that isn’t enough to make you want to go, how about seeing the largest collection of casts of sculptures by Auguste Rodin outside of France. Its a “who’s who” of works by modern European artists like Dali, Picasso, Renoir, Miro, Monet, Matisse and van Gogh. 

The museum is easy to navigate thanks to ramps that wind their way up the side of the building, similar to Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The galleries are full of art and artifacts that appeal to all ages.

Admission: Free

Time: Give yourself at least two hours to explore the museum and another hour or so to explore the area’s architecture and shopping.  As well, Acuario Inbursa, one of the world’s top aquariums, is located across the street.

This museum is diametrically opposed to the Anthropology Museum as it shouts loudly -  "Look-At-Me" design.  

The shape and the facade skin make the building very photogenic. 

Inside the lobby and staircases are as cold as ice, which contrasts with Mexico's culture of warm and colourful artifacts and murals. 

The top floor sculpture gallery is a bit of a free-for-all of sculptures. 

  These dark powerful Rodins figures are centre piece of the gallery.

These dark powerful Rodins figures are centre piece of the gallery.

Dali's sculptures provide the comic relief. 

 The Palanco community around the museum is full of modern buildings that make for some interesting exploring.  Note the green wall on the right; this is one of many green walls in Mexico City, including one that covers the entire entrance wall of a parkade for probably 200 + feet. 

The Palanco community around the museum is full of modern buildings that make for some interesting exploring.  Note the green wall on the right; this is one of many green walls in Mexico City, including one that covers the entire entrance wall of a parkade for probably 200 + feet. 

Museo Nacional de Arte

An equestrian statue of Charles IV guards the entrance to the National Museum of modern Mexican art, which opened in 1982.  While the art is spectacular, the Ministry of Communications and Public Works building (completed in 1911) is the star of this show. In the words of my mother, “this museum is worth a visit for the building alone.” Our Eyewitness Travel book agrees, “Its double staircase, in bronze and marble, is enclosed by a semi-circular staircase, three stories high. The interior, with its intricate ironwork and many candelabra, is sumptuous.” We agree; we were in awe!

The artwork spans the time from 16th century to mid 20th century, with excellent examples of works by Mexico’s great muralists - Rivera, Siqueiros and Orozco. The collection of Mexican monumental religious paintings from the 16th to 19th centuries was a real eye-opener, never before appreciating the quality and depth of Mexican art. At points in our visit, we just had to sit and rest, as the art and architecture were overwhelming.

Admission: Free

Time: Minimum of 2 hours

 

The ornamentation of this building was spectacular. 

The three-floor spiraling stair case was jaw-dropping.

  Just one of the many ceiling paintings. They were truly heavenly!

Just one of the many ceiling paintings. They were truly heavenly!

The colour in this photograph is real, it was an assault to your senses. I will let the other images speak for themselves.

This is a painting of Mexico City in the 16th century. Not the lake and mountains in the distance.  Today the lake is gone and the city is climbing the mountains, severing as a reminder of how urban sprawl has existed from centuries, it is not a late 20th century phenomena. 

Diego Rivera, Zapatista Landscape, 1915

Jose Clemente Orozco, The Demagogue, 1947

David Alfaro Siqueiros, Self Portrait, 1945 (Could he be taking a selfie?) 

Ramon Alva de la Canal, The Cafe de Nadie, 1930

Museo de Arte Popular 

When flaneuring the hardware district, we happened upon this museum because of its cathedral-like, art deco building amongst a mish-mash of buildings with facades covered with gaudy signage.

The museum brings together folk art from all over Mexico, from traditional to contemporary pieces, representing the country’s cultural and geographical diversity.  The exhibition spaces and displays were world class.

The museum is best known as the sponsor of the yearly Noche de Alebrijes (Night of the Alebrijes) parade in which fantastical creatures are constructed on a monumental scale (some up to 25 ft high) and then paraded about 10km from the Zocalo to the Angel of Independence monument.  We missed the parade, but we did see the 200+ creatures on the street the next day, which made for a free, fun outdoor gallery experience.

A highlight of our visit to this museum visit was seeing a school tour of very excited junior high students who seemed to love everything about the museum.  Of course, my Mom had to chat with them and they were only too willing to practise their English.

Admission: 40 MX pesos, Free for seniors (over 60) and children under 13

Time:  1 hour (Don’t forget to stop into their lovely gift shop – great for souvenir hunters)

The streets surround the Popular Arts Museum are full of hundreds of small shops selling "Home Hardware" type goods, including the kitchen sink. 

The classic art deco building was originally the Fire Department Headquarters. 

The interior courtyard of the building has been glassed over to create a wonderful gallery space that looks like a modern South Beach Hotel. The colourful Alebrijes creatures in the distance bring the space alive in a fun folk-art manner. 

The windows in the courtyard were used to display items from the collection.  I loved the exquisite interaction of the reflections of the artifacts and architecture. 

The galleries were full of exhibitions of crafts of all kinds.  These devil creatures captured by imagination. 

The workmanship of the objects was outstanding. 

An image from the video of the Night of the Alebrijes Parade 

The Alebrijes creatures on parade on the sidewalk next to the Angel of Independence monument. 


Secretaria de Educacion Publica 

This museum is a hidden gem – it took a bit of searching to find it on our last day, but my Mom wouldn’t give up and I’m glad she didn’t as it has, in our opinion, the best collection of murals in Mexico City. Bonus – there was no line up (in fact, we had the entire place to ourselves).

This former convent, which dates back to 1639, has hundreds of Diego Rivera murals from 1923 to 1928, illustrating the diversity of his artistic practice and influences – Italian frescoes, cubism and pre-Columbian Mexico.  The ground floor is dedicated to the glorification of labour - rich colourful paintings and monochromatic portraits depicting scientific, artistic and intellectual pursuits.  On the staircase and second floor are a series of landscapes and state emblems from different parts of Mexico. The third floor showcases stories about the Revolution including one of his Rivera’s signature pieces “The Arsenal” where his wife, artist Frida Kahlo is shown handing out guns to the revolutionaries. It was a reminder of how much political revolution and violence has been part of Mexico’s history for centuries.

While most visitors line up to see the Palacio Nacional with its iconic murals, temporary exhibitions and gardens, our recommendation - if you are pressed for time - is to come here instead.

Admission: Free

Time: 2 hours

  The Arsenal, Diego Rivera

The Arsenal, Diego Rivera

Untitled, Diego Rivera

Untitled, Diego Rivera

All of the walls of the building are covered with murals each telling a story of the lives and rich history of Mexico.  

Wall Street Banquet, Diego Rivera

Capitalist Dinner, Diego Rivera

Agriculture, Diego Rivera

Untitled, Diego Rivera (Note the deer head on the shaman-like figure. Rivera was very interested in the ancient cultures of Mexico as he was the modern art of Europe). 

Museo Frida Kahlo

This Museum is the actual house where Frida Kahlo was born, lived most of her life, painted some of her best works and died.  Generally, not a big fan of famous peoples’ homes that have been turned into shrines, I was thus not impressed when we first arrived and had to line up.  We had been spoiled to this point of just walking into museums and having them pretty much to ourselves.

However, we got to chatting with some young people in line about our thoughts about Mexico City and their insights into what is it like living and growing up in Mexico City - the time did pass quickly. 

 The house and gardens where a delight to wander, even if it was too crowded for my liking.  The house was donated to the nation in 1955, by Kahlo’s husband Diego Rivera shortly after Kahlo died.  As you would expect, the home is full of Kahlo’s artwork, artifacts from her studio and everyday items and artifacts she collected.  This includes a lovely collection of small religious paintings on metal called Votive paintings, which interested me having purchased one for our art collection earlier in the week.  I also found the simple, cartoon-like, giant “Judas” figures made out of paper (later I learned these are burned on Easter Sunday as a symbolic destruction of evil) both playful and eerie. 

One of the surprises was the contemporary display of some of Kahlo’s dresses and personal belongings. Especially spooky was the black dark room featuring her corsets (in lighted glass cases) that she used to hide her body (it was disfigured by childhood polio and a near-fatal traffic accident that forced her to have over 30 operations, including a leg amputation in her later years).  It certainly added to the surrealistic experience, as did the lovely garden oasis – a sea of tranquility in a life of torment.

Admission: 120 MX pesos weekdays and 150 MX pesos weekend for adults; 40 MX pesos for post secondary students and 15 MX pesos for children and seniors

Time: 1 hour to tour the museum, but you should give yourself 30 minutes in the line-up (you can purchase tickets in advance). If time permits, the Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky is near by and/or the Coyoacain community which is full of cafes, shops and parks.

Kahlo's Museum had the best "Day of the Dead" altar that we found in Mexico City.

Kahlo's garden oasis. 

Like Rivera, Kahlo was interested in both past and present cultures. This was a display of her dresses. 

Kahlo elaborate corset

Kahlo's contemporary dresses

Surrealistic display of Kahlo's artifacts

There were dozens of Judas figures like this one scattered around the house. I chose this one as it seemed to relate to the suffering and hardship of broken body that Kahlo experienced in her life. 

Museo del Juguete Antiguo Mexico (Toy Museum) 

Located in the heart of the Doctores neighbourhood, this museum, located in a five-story office building, is definitely off the beaten path.  However, for urban explorers and those who love toys, it is a “must see.” In fact, it is more like an antique or flea market than a museum as there are no fancy display cases, no labels with titles, dates and artists’ names, no information panels and no security guards. In fact, the main floor sells toys that could easily be extras from the museum – you will not confuse it with a typical gift shop.

The museum was started by Roberto Shimizu, a Mexican of Japanese descent, who began to hoard every toy he could get his hands on since the age of 10.  Most of the 20,000+ toys, games, dolls etc. date back to mid-20th century.  One of the highlights for me was the small peddle-cars. Backstory: My Mom tells me I loved my peddle-car so much they had to replace the tires!

The museum is absolutely chockablock full of toys, piled up everywhere, making you have to step over and around them in this hoarder’s dream. There is a “thrill of the hunt” atmosphere to the museum with lots of smiles and giggles from parents and children.

Admission: 50 MX pesos per person

Time: Give yourself about 1.5 hours depending on how much you are into toys and nostalgia.  There is not a lot else to see and do in the vicinity of the museum.

Mexico's Toy Museum office block. 

Walt Disney fun.

What would a toy museum be without truck and planes. 

  The museum is full of vignettes like this one of small toy people. 

The museum is full of vignettes like this one of small toy people. 

There are many home-made toys and displays like this one.  Note how the inside is filled with figures. 

One of about 10 pedal cars. 

I wish I had one of these as a kid...it might have changed my life. 

Every toy museum must have toy soldiers. 

The museum is full of fun displays like this one of yo-yos. 

This flying saucer fill of robot vignettes was perhaps my favourite piece. 

Last Word

I was constantly amazed during my adventure in Mexico City how their contemporary culture still seems to evolve around evil, death, religion and spirituality. It made visiting the museums seem more relevant and authentic, with the strong connectivity between past and present in Mexico City.

Hot Tips

You could easily plan a 7-day vacation in Mexico City just around visiting these seven museums.  Be aware too that many of the museums are free on Sundays for Mexicans so they can be quite busy and distract from the experience, so we suggest choosing a less popular museum on Sundays if possible. Also, many museums are closed on Mondays, an exception being the Museo Soumaya (open Mondays and closed Tuesdays) making it a good destination for a Monday adventure.

If you like this blog, you might like: 

The Dirt on the Museum of Clean

Museums of Memphis

Postcards from Musical Instruments Museum

Calgary's Top 10 Public Artworks??????

Recently, I received a twitter message from @yycpublicart asking if I would be interested in collaborating on a blog about public art.  Always interested in getting other people’s thoughts on Calgary I said “sure” and gave him my email address for further correspondence. 

 In our short email correspondence, it seemed to me we had very different perspectives on Calgary’s public art. I am thinking this is a good thing, as it will give me some new insights.

@yyycpublicart said “the city has a phenomenal collection of public art that needs to be talked about more.” The email went on to say “The City is constantly unveiling new pieces so it just a matter of showing up to the unveiling to check it out and then blogging about it.” 

I responded I don’t think our collection is phenomenal and that we need more critical dialogue and that just “showing up to unveilings and blogging about it is not sufficient” in my opinion. 

I suggested @yycpublicart send me his top 10 public art pieces as a way of perhaps moving the discussion forward. 

The response was quick and definitive:

“My favourite pieces, in sort of descending order of most favourite”

 1. Chinook Arch: interactive lights that you can control with your cellphone! What else! Place making tool at its best.

2. Ascension: giant spiders by the Avtamsaka Buddhist Monastery marching into another plane. Couldn't be more poignant and appropriate.

3. Luminous Crossings: public art on LRT that spans across time and space AND changes colours to signify arrival of the trains.

4. The Same Way Better/Reader: giant 110' long mosaic mural with close to a million pieces of tile that took two years to design and make and that tells the story of Calgary.

5. Upside Down Church (aka The Device to Root out Evil) an upside down church balanced on its turret. AND it roots out evil. What else could one want? Unfortunately, this one has been decommissioned pending new location.

The Device to Root out Evil, by Dennis Oppenheim, formerly located at Ramsay Exchange building along 24th Ave. SE. was removed in 2014 after the lease expired. 

Acension, by INCIPIO MODO artist team is located at 4th Ave and 9th St SW

The Same Way Better/Reader, by Ron Moppett

6. Bloom: A giant dandelion at the edge of St Patrick's Island that has "flowers" made from streetlights.

7. Outflow: A storm water drain that's an upside down/inverted topographical map of an outflow glacier (I believe). Serves to educate ppl on where water comes from, the various technique water services uses to treat the water, etc. I like pieces that educate and create a sense of wonder.

8. The Giant Blue Ring: Just cause I have built an 8' ring and I know how f@*#%*g hard it is. And how it started the debate in yyc about pooling of public art funding (which is a great thing) and it is fun to piss off people.

9. Poppy Plaza. Memorial drive WW1 memorial and public space in Kensington. Enjoy amazing views of the river, people watch, or simply hang out and soak in the atmosphere.

10. Wonderland. Cause it is a giant f'ing head and the probably the most photographed contemporary landmark since the Calgary Tower.

 

 

Outflow, by Brian Tolle is located along the north side of the Bow River Pathway at Parkdale Plaza.

Bloom, by Michel de Broin is located at the southwest corner of St. Patrick's Island. 

Poppy Plaza, by Marc Boutin architectural collaborative, is located on the southwest corner of Memorial Drive and 10th St. NW. 

Wonderland, by Jaume Plensa, on the plaza in front of the Bow office tower corner of Centre Street and 6th Ave SW. 

I also asked for some background and the response was:

“I sit on the yyc public art board of directors. I have run several (unrelated) placemaking projects such as Bow to Bluff (bowtobluff.org) and AudioMobYYC (AudioMobYYC.com).

@yycpublicart also stated “I am not gonna have time to go through your blog.  (I had suggested reading some of my blogs about public art to develop an appreciation of my perspective on the subject). So in fairness, you should list your top 10 pieces and tell me why you like them. Let’s see what you got.”

Happy to oblige, I immediately responded with the following email:

Off the top of my head, here are my top 10:

  • Sadko/Kabuki, by Sorel Etrog, Bow Valley Square – love the colour, the cartoon, comic sense of fun and playfulness that contrasts with the conservative, seriousness of a central business district.
  • Charged Line, by Jill Anholt, South Calgary Fire Station - love the playfulness and cleverness…could be a wire or a hose…fits with the site.  
  • Re Me Fa Sol La Si Do by Joe Fafard, Hotchkiss Plaza - love the link with Calgary’s horse culture, but in a contemporary interpretation…love the scale and the subtle colour.
  • Conversation by William McElcheran, Stephen Avenue outside The Bay – again, love the context of businessmen in the central business district on our iconic street, scale is perfect, love the way the public interacts with it…good public art should invite people to play with it.

Re Me Fa Sol La Si Do, by Joe Fafard

Sadko/Kabuki, by Sorel Etrog on the northeast corner of 2nd street and 6th Ave. SW.

Conversation, by William McElcheran, on Stephen Avenue outside The Bay.

Brotherhood of Mankind, by Mario Armengol

  • Brotherhood of Mankind, by Mario Armengol, in front of old Calgary Board of Education Building - is another classic, Calgary is a very family oriented city, young city, energetic city and this artwork reflects all of those values for me. Again, love the scale and the fact that you can wander in amongst the figures. There is a bit of a schoolyard sensibility or ring-around-the rosie…which was appropriate for the site when it was the Board of Education.
  • Giving Wings to the Dream, Doug Driediger, east wall of old CUPS building on 100 block of 7th Ave SE. I think this mural has held up very well for being 20 years old.  Again I like the fact the piece relates to the site, which was home to Calgary Urban Projects Society when it was first commissioned. I think it talks nicely about Calgary as a caring city. It is well executed. 
  • Women Are Persons by Barbara Paterson, Olympic Plaza – again, celebrates Calgary’s history in a fun way and offers a chair for people to sit in and become part of the artwork. The public often interact with the piece leaving change or cups of coffee in the outstretched hand…very popular spot for tourists to take photos.
  • Weather Vanes by Colette Whiten and Paul Kipps, on the southeast corner of Bankers Hall - connects well with Calgary’s sense of work, live and play. I love the way the pieces work with the surrounding architecture.  There is a lot of synergy between the aesthetics of the art and the architecture.
  • The Same Way Better/Reader by Ron Moppett, East Village at LRT overpass. Again love the colour the link to Calgary’s history and the sense of craftsmanship. I am a sucker for art that tells a story.
  • Dream by Derek Besant, 700 block 8th Ave SW. Etched words and images that read like a dream sequence of a man/woman relationship on the windows of the +15 bridge over 8th Avenue at Husky Towers.  I love the visual verbal synergies, very urban, very contemporary and that fact he used the +15, one of Calgary’s most unique urban design elements makes it outstanding. Click here for Dream Blog
  • Cloud Parkade (not sure what the exact title is but will find out) by Roderik Quin at SAIT. I think this is an amazing piece that is visually stunning and clever and utilizes new technology. It speaks to Calgary’s sense of place with its beautiful skies and clouds. I love how it changes with the sunlight. I love that it turns a parkade into a work of landscape art. And it is beautiful. 
  • When Aviation Was Young, Jeff De Boer, Calgary airport…makes me smile, love that kids can play with it like a giant toy. Love how it relates to the site (WestJet Departure and Arrival area). And love the craftsmanship. 

Women Are Persons by Barbara Paterson, on Olympic Plaza outside the entrance to the Jack Singer Concert Hall. 

Dream, Derek Besant, on +15 over 8th Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets. 

When Aviation Was Young, Jeff de Boer, WestJet arrivals and departures lounge, Calgary International Airport.

I went on to say:

These are not in any particular order which would require some more thought and I am not sure that is necessary to rank them. Yes I know there are 11.

I don’t consider Poppy Plaza public art…it is a public space…and as a public space I don’t think it works to attract the public to stop and linger.

I did love the Upside Down Church but wouldn’t include it as it doesn’t exist in Calgary for public viewing. Is it even in Calgary? Do you know?

Unfortunately, I never heard from @yycpublicart after this email. Hopefully I still will and we can continue our discussion.

Last Word

In the meantime, I would love to hear from readers their thoughts on their favourite pieces of public art in Calgary. Full disclosure - I know I am weak on suburban public art, so would be especially great to hear from those in the ‘burbs about their favourite pieces. 

And, if you don’t live in Calgary, love to hear what is your favourite piece from the community you live in, or perhaps your all-time favourite piece from any city you have visited or lived in.

Below are links to two great sites to find more information about public art in Calgary.

City of Calgary Public Art Collection

Downtown Art Guide

If you like this blog you might like:

Public Art: Love it or hate it!

Do we really need all of this public art?

Confessions of a public art juror.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

If you like this blog you might like:

Dublin: FAB Fun in Libertines!

Rome: A surprise playground lunch!

Florence Markets: Flea, Food & Fashion

Dublin Revisited In 36 photographs!

A year ago we were flaneuring the streets, pubs, museums and shops of Dublin, Ireland. As all good “everyday tourists” do on their one-year anniversary of a trip, I reviewed my collection of photos and revisited the many great memories of Dublin. 

Also this week, I received a lot of positive feedback from my Summer Sunlight photo-essay blog so I thought it would be fun to do a photo-only blog of Dublin.  I have picked 36 photos (there is no magic in the number) that cover everything from art to architecture, food to fashion, parks to plazas and of course beer and pubs.

In no particular order, the photos are in true flaneur-like fashion.  Let the photos aimlessly take you on an off-the-beaten path stroll of Dublin. 

If you want to know more about our Dublin adventures you can check out the links for learn more about the city, its people and places:

Dublin: FAB fun in The Libertines

Dublin: Newman University Church a hidden gem

Dublin vs. Calgary /Apples vs. Oranges

Dublin: St. Stephen’s Green vs. St. Patrick’s Cathedral Park

Dublin’s Chester Beatty Library – Look but don’t touch

Dublin: Iconic barracks makes for great museum

Everyday Tourist goes to gaol!

Parks: Calgary vs. Dublin/Florence/Rome

the poor
pillars

Seattle vs Calgary: Capturing the urban tourists' imagination?

For years now friends and colleagues have been telling me “You have to go to Seattle. You will love it!” In May, we did visit Seattle (we have been there before but it was 12 years ago) and yes we did love it, but I couldn’t help but wonder why people love Seattle so much when Calgary has as much urban culture to offer.

Seattle, like Calgary, is a corporate city - Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks are all headquartered there.  However their downtown doesn’t feel as “corporate” with downtown blocks having a good mix of hotel, residential and office buildings, with some street level retail and restaurants thrown in.  In fact, on Seattle’s downtown neighbourhood map, they refer to it as the downtown retail core.  In contrast, Calgary has 40-blocks filled with two, three and sometimes four office towers per block and no street retail except for Stephen Avenue.

Downtown as a tourist attraction

Perhaps the biggest difference is Seattle’s downtown is perceived as a major tourist destination. Great tourist cities have iconic attractions.  In Seattle, hands down, the icon is Pike Public Market.  But Seattle also has converted their 74-acre, 1962 World’s Fair site into a year-round attractions district, clustering the Experience Music Project, Chihuly Gardens, Science Centre, Children’s Museum, Space Needle, IMAX and Key Arena into an area called Seattle Centre. Calgary’s equivalent would be Stampede Park - if we added the Calgary Tower, TELUS Spark and the new National Music Centre.

To visualize what the Calgary Flames are proposing for West Village, Seattle would be a good place to visit given its side-by-side baseball and football stadiums at the south end of downtown along the water’s edge, next to the LRT and Amtrak tracks.  We explored the area a couple of times (when there were no games going on) and it was like a ghost town. I hope the Flames do better.

From an urban design (architecture, public art and public spaces) perspective, Seattle and Calgary are similar, both having early 20th century historical buildings districts (Pioneer Square vs. Stephen Avenue) as well as many shinny late 20th and early 21st century towers.  Seattle’s free Olympic Sculpture Park along their waterfront includes a who’s who of international public art, while Calgary’s entire downtown is a sculpture park with over 100 artworks. 

The Seattle Art Museum (known as SAM), like Calgary’s Glenbow, is both an art and history museum.  We lucked out on the day we went - SAM is free on the second Thursday of the month. The place was packed – making me wonder why the Glenbow doesn’t offer one day free per month like most museums and galleries in major cities. 

Seattle, with its huge convention centre, makes Calgary’s look very minor league.  I loved that the public areas have hundreds of artworks that are free for all to explore.

Loved the psychedelic reflection of the Seattle Needle in the facade of the futuristic Frank Gehry's Experience Music Project building.

Seattle Convention Centre has a galleria over the road connecting the large exhibition spaces and meeting rooms.  Inside there are hundreds of artworks that create a free public art gallery.  A similar galleria was proposed for Stephen Avenue in Calgary connecting Bankers Hall and TD Square but never got built. 

The Seattle Central Library is an iconic architectural gem that is popular with both locals and tourists.  Hopefully Calgary's new Central Library will have the same popularity. 

Like Calgary Seattle has public art everywhere.  This piece that using water from the roof of the building caught my attention. In addition, Seattle has a massive Art Park with a "who's who" of public art artists. 

Hotel Fun

The hotel culture in Seattle seems very different from Calgary’s, focusing much more on the leisure tourist vs. the corporate traveler.  In “sleeping around” downtown Seattle, we discovered a delightful commonality - a vibrant “Happy Hour scene.” The historic Mayflower Park Hotel (famous for their martinis) offers guests free appies in their intimate Oliver’s lounge. The hipster Hotel Max offered free local craft beer in their lobby/living room (as well as great art and several large picture windows for catching the city’s “sidewalk ballet”). The playful Hotel Monaco offered a wine tasting with very liberal pours.  Seattle could well be the Happy Hour capital of North America, with 600+ happy hour listings in “The Sauce “magazine.

Mayflower Park Hotel is full of historic charm and character.  It is perfectly located for shoppers just a block away from Nordstrom and Macy's. 

Hotel Monaco had the most colourful hotel rooms we have ever stayed in.  The yoga mat was a nice touch.  

Every room at the Hotel Max had a door with a large photograph on the door by a local artists.  On our floor all of the doors had photos of Seattle musicians.  Very cool!

Like Calgary, Downtown Seattle lacks a real Main Street for shoppers.  From a tourist shopping perspective, I was surprised at not only how fragmented their retail is, but also that Nordstrom’s flagship store wasn’t more grand and upscale. Calgary’s The Core shopping center surpasses anything Seattle has to offer shoppers and Holt Renfrew is grander than anything in Seattle.

Urban Living

Urban living is exploding in Seattle - 58 residential projects will add 10,000+ residential units in their City Centre over the next few years. In comparison, Calgary has 7,194 units approved or under construction in its City Centre. Like Calgary, trendy urban communities surround Seattle’s downtown core. 

Dozens of highrise condos dot Seattle's urban landscape.  Seattle's monorail provides a futuristic perspective of the city for tourists, as does Calgary's 20 km +15 elevated walkway. 

Cafe Culture 

Belltown is Seattle’s Beltline with lots of new highrise condos, trendy restaurants and its link to the Seattle Centre (1962 World’s Fair site) i.e. their Stampede Park. 

Capitol Hill and First Hill communities are separated from Seattle’s downtown core by the I-15 interstate. Capitol Hill is the city’s hipster district with several new low to mid-rise condos and restaurants opening weekly.  It is home to Starbucks’ mega new Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room and several other local roasteries. Calgary’s equivalent would be Mission/Cliff Bungalow with its 4th Street restaurant row or Kensington with its abundance of coffeehouses and roasteries.

This Coke machine appeared mysteriously over 15 years ago, outside of the Broadway Locksmith near the corner of John and Broadway in the trendy Capitol Hill district.  Nobody knows who it belongs to, where the money goes or who restocks it.  It seems pretty popular as two people stop to buy a beverage while I was taking photos. 

The Denny Triangle is an extension of the downtown core, much like Eau Claire is in Calgary with a mix of office and condos. Amazon purchased three blocks in the district to create its highrise campus, which will be analogous to Eau Claire’s campus-like collection of dark blue glass oil patch towers - Devon and Centennial towers soon-to-be joined by Calgary City Centre and Eau Claire towers.

South Lake Union, Seattle’s newest urban community, anchored by a Whole Foods store is quickly becoming surrounded by condos, restaurants and shops.  Bridgeland would be Calgary’s equivalent.

Whole Food patio in South Lake district creates a wonderful street buzz. 

Urban Living Test Drive 

For anyone thinking of moving to one of Calgary urban communities and wondering what urban living is all about I’d recommend a trip to Seattle and staying in a couple of different hotels. Our penthouse (12th floor) suite at the Mayflower was equipped with two bathrooms, a lovely living room area with city and sea views and Macy’s and Nordstrom across the street.  If you like old world charm, this is your spot.

If you want some fun new home décor ideas, check into Hotel Max or Hotel Monaco.  At Max, each room door features a full, door-size local photographer’s work. Walk the hallways and enjoy the free photography exhibition. Our room had original art, as well as a record player with local musicians’ records. How cool is that?

Hotel Monaco is like living in an Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein 60s Pop Art artwork with its use of bright colours and bold patterns. It is amazing how big 500 square feet can look and feel when the city lies outside your front door.

Seattle is know for its coffee, what surprised us were the scrumptious biscuits and jam that on many menus. Yum! Yum! 

Last Word

Creating a vibrant city centre is more than just making it a place to “live” (new condos) and “work” (new office towers).” It is about creating a fun urban playground – shops, museums, galleries, restaurants, cafes, concerts, pubs, festivals, theatre, parks, public art and architecture. Calgary’s city centre has much to offer urban tourists as Seattle, Portland or Denver, but for some reason it hasn’t captured the attention of urban tourists. 

It is certainly not from a lack of trying by Tourism Calgary!

Click on links below for Calgary blogs that connect to statements made in this blog about Seattle vs Calgary: 

Beltline: North America's best hipster neighbourhood?

Kensington: One of North America's Healthiest districts

NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here!

Ramsay: Calgary's FFQ Industrial District

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. 

"Roger That" says 12-year old Matt about public art

Everyday Tourist Note: I have always wondered what others think of public art and public spaces, realizing my perspective on public art is unique - as is everyone’s. While I get lots of feedback from others via conversations, emails and social media regarding public art, it is always from adults, very rarely from young people i.e. the next generation who are going to inherit the art.

This summer  a new piece of public art was unveiled at the Tuscany LRT Station, an artwork chosen by a jury that I was part of, but not my first choice. (You can learn more about the jury process in my blog “Confessions of a public art juror.”)

I thought rather than blogging my critic of the artwork and the station as a public space, I would ask a friend’s 12-year old grandson who lives in Tuscany if he might like to do a guest blog.  To my surprise, he said yes!

Guest blog by Matt:

The storm was coming in when we got on the train. The crowfoot C-train station felt pretty industrial and grey. We got on the train and headed west towards the mountains. The new Tuscany station is now the end of the line. Tuscany is my home community.

When we approached the new station I noticed that they had planted trees along the tracks below me. The roof of the inside of the station was wooden and felt more connected to nature somehow. The station felt similar to Crowfoot, but with more natural elements.

Eamon's Bungalow Camp built in the 1950s and was an icon for people travelling in and out of Calgary for decades. For the complete story click here: Avenue Magazine: The Story of Eamon's Camp

The big Eamon’s Bungalow sign was still there, and I know that they thought about tearing it down or selling it. It was very historic, and I think it cool that they decided to keep it.

After exploring the platform a little more, I found that there was a small colorful building with painted sides. Public art is better than just looking at an empty wall.  The station’s reputation can be positive. I hope that the people who see the painting will get something out of it.

I was really surprised that the painted building was actually a public washroom! I wonder if other C-train stations have these to take care of the public that use the stations across the city? And with fancy art on them? The colourful paintings definitely made the building more artistic and appealing.

Some might ask if this is public art or decoration? Matt just likes it! Roger That!

I looked around and saw several metal sculptures with lights that reminded me of trees.  When they are illuminated at night, it is far cooler because it looks like light spheres.

I looked around and saw several metal sculptures with lights that reminded me of trees.  When they are illuminated at night, it is far cooler because it looks like light spheres.

The installation of tree-like lamp posts as public art is titled "Roger That" and was created by Vancouver artist Bill Pechet. One of the guidelines for the project was to create something that would link the communities of Tuscany and Royal Oak.  "Roger That" is a military saying for communicating to someone "I understand."  In some ways they remind me of the old TV antennas that use to sit on top of everyone's homes.  Or could it be some sort of visual morse code? Good art is often ambiguous, allowing everyone to see what they want to see based on their experiences. 

Another view of "Roger That."

The yellow lights are the same as you see on roadside construction sites. 

"Roger That" at night. (photo credit calgary.ca)

Roger That at dusk or dawn creates an eerie beacon of light. (photo credit: Pechet Studio)

Bridging Communities 

Day or night, there are similar sculptures on both sides of Crowchild Trail.  It made me think that it’s kind of weird that the C-train station is the only bridge between the communities of Tuscany and Royal Oak. I wonder if people will actually visit each other’s community now, or if the train is as far as they will go?  Only time will tell. I think it will, because families can enter unexplored territory on the outside of what they see every day.

There are a lot of youth in Tuscany. My mom says that there used to be only one way in and one way out of Tuscany, and if it snowed, people couldn’t get anywhere. Then they built roads and even added a C-train station. The Tuscany C-train station kind of opens up my world and represents freedom to me.  Now I can go where I want, and travel outside of my community whenever I want. I think that the freedom for people to go where they want is just as beautiful as the art they have at the stations.

Artwork in communities is cool. A community that has art means that it has people that care about it. Art doesn’t have to be beautiful, but it should make people stop and think about it.  All art won’t be meaningful to everyone, some people will like it and some will hate it.  The purpose is to cause a reaction.

In 20 years I wonder what my friends and I will think about that station and the artwork when we look back…?

Roger That another perspective.

Last Word

I am not sure what I expected in from Matt, but this certainly wasn’t it. Who would have though at 12-year old would see the coming of a LRT Train Station has his road to freedom? Who would have thought he’d be concerned about community?

It is also interesting that it seems like the art on the utility boxes made a bigger impression on him than the large sculptural installation.  Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from that as we think about future public art projects, not only in Calgary but other cities.

As Art Linkletter (click here for link Art Linkletter TV show) use to always say “Kids say the darndest things!” 

For more information on the "Roger That" sculpture by the Pechet Studio click on: City of Calgary "Roger That" Public Art Site.

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

 

 

 

Port Angeles: The World's Best Art Park?

Officially it is called Webster’s Woods Art Park (WWAP), but in many ways, it is a forest or art trail.  Regardless, it is definitely not like any art park I have ever seen before - in person or on the Internet. The five-acre park, with its 125 artworks located on a hill just a 20-minute walk from downtown Port Angles is arguably the best art park in North America and maybe the world. It is definitely a hidden gem!

 No joke. Just a few days earlier, we were in Seattle enjoying and marvelling at their Olympic Park with its mega iconic sculptures by world-renowned artists but it didn’t come close to engaging us visually, mentally and physically, as did WWAP.  Nor did it take us two hours to explore, or get us as excited by the constant joy of discovery.

I will let the photos and art speak for themselves.

WWAP is a heavily forested (almost rain forest-like) park with rustic, root-infested trails overgrown with ground cover; this is no walk in the park. And though there is an open meadow area that makes for a more conventional art park, the majority of the park is up and down for the most part gentle hills that do however require some tricky footwork. This is not a groomed park with static artworks but a living artwork that changes with the seasons.  For those of you familiar with Calgary, it would be like transforming the Douglas Fir Trail into an art park.  Hey – that a good idea!

It certainly appealed to our love of treasure hunting. As you walk gingerly along the narrow trails you have to constantly keep your eyes looking up, down and all around to “find” the unmarked art.  Most of the art is well integrated into nature, so you really have to look. Over the years, some become overgrown by nature, merely adding to the integration of art and nature.

The aesthetic experience doesn’t end with the man-made artworks.  The quality of the light filtered by the trees and vegetation is mesmerizing. The shapes of the living and dead vegetation create their own art forms.  The synergy is exhilarating.

Forest canopy

With few labels and information panels and no maps; this is not a pretentious art park that thinks it is a museum.  Nobody is trying to impress you with a “who’s who” of public artists.  The artworks range from decorative, to whimsical and from political to social commentary, some are very clever, while others are kitschy.

The park is open daylight hours year round and is free, as is the Port Angeles Art Centre, a contemporary house that offers intimate exhibitions, a small gift shop and restrooms. Spend 30 minutes or 3 hours here, it will appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds.  However, you will need good footwear and the ability to climb uneven trails.

 

Where to stay?

The Port Angeles Red Lion Hotel is well situated and centrally located l right on the waterfront. Get a room on the harbour side and you can watch the boats and ferry come and go. Book a bike (they rent them and the first hour is free to ride up WWAP or along the waterfront trail.

You can also easily explore historic downtown Port Angeles with its murals, sculptures, shops and eateries on foot from the Red Lion.

Red Lion Hotel, Port Angeles, Washington on the water's edge.

Mac's Mural is dedicated to H. Mac Ruddell, past president of the NorWester Rotary Club of Port Angeles, for his vision, energy and enthusiasm, which made the NorWester Rotary Mural project a reality. This mural is of the art deco Black Ball Ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria. 

We thought the art centre was in the concrete circular building at first but then realized that you have to walk into the Fine Arts Centre and as you do you begin to discover the art and the trails. 

Condo Living: More time for fun!

 

Once upon at time, Calgary was known as the “single family home” capital of Canada.  This was due in large part to the city’s 9.5-fold growth, from 1951 to 2001, a time when owning a single family home was the North American dream. Today, Calgary boasts one of the most diverse housing markets in North America – new single family, townhomes, low-rise and high-rise condo construction is happening across the city.  2014 was a watershed year for condo construction with 10,637 starts vs only 6,494 single family starts.

  New condos on a side street in Mission on of Calgary's most attractive urban neighbourhoods for both empty nesters and YUPPIES. . 

New condos on a side street in Mission on of Calgary's most attractive urban neighbourhoods for both empty nesters and YUPPIES. . 

Dr. Harry Hiller, Sociology Professor, University of Calgary postulates “Until the late ‘70s, most new residents to Calgary were from rural communities which meant they were used to living in a single family detached house with grass on all four sides. High density apartment living was seen as something for students, seniors and renters.”

But today, Hiller notes “more and more new Calgarians come from urban centers where high density living is more typical.  In addition, families are smaller and childbearing delayed, both opening the door for young professionals to adopt the condo lifestyle.” He adds, “The rise of the condo as an owned unit in a high density building where equity can be sustained is a relatively recent development that is becoming more popular.”

By the ‘90s, Calgary planners, politicians and developers began to realize the need to plan a city that would be more cost effective to manage. This meant rethinking how to build new communities on the city’s edge, diversifying housing in post 1950s residential-only communities and attracting more people to live near downtown.

  Mission's Millionaire's Row started in the '80s.

Mission's Millionaire's Row started in the '80s.

Live, Work, Play Mantra

Today, new master planned communities on the edge of the city offer a balance of single family (on smaller lots) homes, townhomes and low-rise condos. Wendy Jabush, VP Calgary Homes, Brookfield Residential says, “We continue to see the condo market grow in Calgary with the changing demographics. Condo living is very attractive to smaller households and people of all ages looking for maintenance-free living.” She adds,  “Both the City and industry want choice in communities. Both parties are looking for a diversity of housing types to serve the changing face of Calgary and one that is inclusive of everyone's needs.”  

  Some new suburban communities have almost as many condos as they do single-family homes . 

Some new suburban communities have almost as many condos as they do single-family homes

Calgary’s established communities are being revitalized with numerous master-planned condo communities like Bridges, East Village and West District, as well as mixed of condo, townhome and single family communities like Currie Barracks, Quarry Park and Garrison Woods.

Today, it’s all about the new mantra, “live, work, play” communities where residents can do most of their everyday living without leaving the community - some even work in the community.  Unlike the mid to late 20th century, when new communities were 90% residential, today new communities approximate 50% residential, 25% commercial and 25% retail, restaurant and recreation

  More time to relax with friends!

More time to relax with friends!

  More time to work out with friends!

More time to work out with friends!

  Fishing in the Bow River, which is in your backyard if you live in a condo in Eau Claire, East Village or Inglewood. 

Fishing in the Bow River, which is in your backyard if you live in a condo in Eau Claire, East Village or Inglewood. 

  More time to cycle with family and friends. 

More time to cycle with family and friends. 

  More time to smell the flowers vs weed the garden.

More time to smell the flowers vs weed the garden.

  More time to check out the museums and galleries.

More time to check out the museums and galleries.

  More time for pick-up game of soccer. 

More time for pick-up game of soccer. 

Dynamic Downtown

Calgary has one of the most dynamic downtowns in North America - built at the same density as Manhattan or Chicago. Unfortunately, most of downtown’s growth in the late 20th century was high-rise office towers. 

By the late 20th century Calgary’s urban culture came of age with festivals like Folk Festival, Art Walk, High Performance Rodeo and SLED Island. At the same time, Business Revitalization Zones in and next to downtown were successfully fostering street life – 4th Street, 17th Avenue, Kensington, Stephen Avenue and Inglewood.

According to John Gilchrist, author of My Favourite Restaurants Calgary & Banff, “In 1985, Calgary’s downtown dining options were largely hotel dining rooms or Chinatown restaurants. Today, there are hundreds of great restaurants in and around downtown with interesting new ones opening up every month. It’s an interesting place to live.”  

By the mid ‘90s, condos were organically (no master plan) popping up on surface parking lots in the Beltline, Eau Claire, Mission and West Downtown. This was followed by master-planned communities like East Village and Bridges. In 2015, new condo development with retail at street level is happening in Altadore, Bankview, Bridgeland, Kensington, Marda Loop, Montgomery, Parkdale, Brentwood and West Hillhurst.   

Parham Mahboubi, Vice-president Planning & Marketing with Vancouver’s Qualex-Landmark Group thinks “Calgary’s eclectic Beltline offers an urban experience on par with Vancouver’s Main Street, Granville Street, Gastown, Kitsilano and  West End.”

Ryan Bosa, President, Embassy BOSA is currently building condos in East Village (and soon Currie Barracks and Beltline) echoes that sentiment. He fell in love with downtown back in the ‘90s when his Dad, Nat Bosa pioneered condo living in Calgary with the construction of five condos in Calgary’s West End.  “When he first saw Calgary Municipal Land Corporation’s vision for East Village, toured the site and saw how our downtown had evolved, his immediate thought was “this is hands down the best condo play in North America. I am all in!”

  Condo living in Victoria Park, next to Stampede Park and minutes from downtown. 

Condo living in Victoria Park, next to Stampede Park and minutes from downtown. 

  Condo living next to 17th Ave. aka Red Mile. 

Condo living next to 17th Ave. aka Red Mile. 

  Condo living in Eau Claire / Chinatown. 

Condo living in Eau Claire / Chinatown. 

  Condo living in Chinatown.

Condo living in Chinatown.

  Condo living next to University at LRT station. 

Condo living next to University at LRT station. 

  Condo living in the Beltline.  

Condo living in the Beltline. 

Last Word

For Calgarians Richard and Debbie Brekke, the idea of moving from their Elbow Park home after 25 years to a condo in Mission, was a no-brainer. “It simplified our lives and gave us more time for fun.” Richard loves their floor to ceiling view of downtown and doesn’t miss looking out his Elbow Park window and feeling guilty because he hasn’t “cut the lawn or weeded the garden.” Debbie, loves the street life on 4th - “I didn’t want to wait 10 years!” 

 

Note: This blog was commissioned by the Calgary Herald and was first published on April 10, 2015 in their CONDO XTRA special publication. 

 

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Kensington: One of North America's Healthiest Urban Villages

YYC Walkabout: Mission/Cliff Bungalow

Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary!

 

  Enjoying urban street life in Calgary's funky Kensington district. 

Enjoying urban street life in Calgary's funky Kensington district. 

Nanton's Bomber Command Museum

We have probably driven by the Bomber Command Museum in Nanton, Alberta well over 50 times since moving to southern Alberta in 1981. We have visited Nanton many times to wander its quaint Main Street with its many antique stores and café.  I have even played golf there a couple of times. But we have never ventured into the museum, until recently that is. 

With my mom visiting from Hamilton, we were looking for fun and new things to do. Nanton came up as a great day trip.  Backstory: Last summer, it was Calgary’s Military Museums, which I had passed by thousands of times on Crowchild Trail SW but had never visited until my Mom came in August. We decided to check out the Museum and WOW what a great surprise. Though not a big history or military buff, Museum blew us away.  Learn more: Everyday Tourist visits Calgary Military Museums.

While the day was ugly (weather-wise), our trip to Nanton was great.  The Bomber Command Museum of Canada exceeded our expectations. While it doesn’t look like much from the outside (its just a big metal warehouse building - no $100+ million architectural icon here), but once inside, the volunteer-run museum is most attractive.

Admission is by donation, which I think is great; this way visitors can give based on the value they received.  I have always thought that this is the best way for a museum or art gallery to really judge the value they are giving their visitors, as well as remove any barriers to visiting for those who aren’t sure it worth the cost and for families who just don’t have the money to spend on museum visits.

At the entrance to the Museum, sit several display cases packed with artifacts and wonderful facts and stories about them.  What makes the museum authentic and special is that most of the artifacts are from the people of southern Alberta; these items are truly part of the area’s history and culture.

The well-stocked Museum gift shop had the usual shirts, hats and knickknacks, as well as some great books and some fun fashions, including cute bomber jackets for kids. 

Canada Kid
Nanton display case
Story of a tire
Lancaster Tire evokes memories
Lady Pilots

 The Hanger

After exploring the entrance area, you enter the main exhibition space, which is a humungous hanger space full of airplanes.  My camera was soon overheated and its battery drained, as I couldn’t stop taking pictures.  It was a real feast for the eyes. 

One of the main attractions is a preserved Avro Lancaster bomber, which doesn’t fly but they do start-up the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines every once in awhile.  You can also check out the RAF Bomber Command aircraft including a Bristol Blenheim Mk IV. 

In addition there are many intriguing artifacts and displays  - from engines to bicycles to local stories about those who flew in the various wars. As a former visual art curator, I was very intrigued by the Nose Art i.e. the art painted on the nose of the aircraft.  I love the erotic, playboy, comic book-like art works.  It was obvious these were lonely, frustrated young males.

There was sadness about it all, as the museum tells the stories of how 10,659 young Canadian men lost their lives flying bombers. I will let these postcards from the museum share some of the stories and hopefully entice you to visit.

The Hanger
Hanger 2
restoration work
  There is an entire room devoted to engines.

There is an entire room devoted to engines.

Cheetah IX
Cheetah info

Nose Art 

Nose art info
Willie The Wolf From The West
IMG_8184.jpg
Notorious Nan
Seven Dwarfs

 

Nanton at a glance

While in Nanton, there are many fun things to see and do.  Dressing Up, the not-for-profit thrift store on Main Street is an opportunity to find your own historical artifact or treasure.  There are several antique/vintage/retro stores, which are fun to explore. Brenda’s find this trip was an early 1900s vial of French perfume talc - still with it contents, for $1.  Tres chic; tres vintage!

Nanton is also home to the Ultimate Trains and Big Sky Garden Railway, which we have been told is great family fun.  It is an outdoor large-scale model trains in a garden setting that is open from May 1st to Thanksgiving long weekend.  Sounds like another road trip in the making. Big Sky Garden Railway 

The Main Street Café is our go-to spot for lunch – good home food.  This time we each had a bowl of tangy hamburger soup, I had a sandwich loaded with chicken, bacon and lettuce, we shared a slice of homemade Boston Cream pie and we all had one of their gooey cinnamon buns (cream cheese added to order at no extra cost) - all for $29. The Cafe is definitely a walk back in time, as Glenn Andrews one of the owners came over and asked us how our meal was.  We said how wonderful the Hamburger soup was and then got chatting about soups and he gave us a taste and history lesson on the new "soup of the day" Mulligatawny (the popular Hamburger soup had run out).  Nicely rested we headed out to explore the shops. 

  Soup and sandwich at Main Street Cafe

Soup and sandwich at Main Street Cafe

  A collection of Fireman Helmets waiting for the right collector.

A collection of Fireman Helmets waiting for the right collector.

 You ne ver know what artifacts you will discover in Nanton.

You never know what artifacts you will discover in Nanton.

 Last Word

One of the great things about being an “everyday tourist” is that you are always open to and looking for fun new things to do - be that checking out a new community in the city you live in or taking a road trip to a small town nearby.

 Why is the tendency to always wait for visiting family and friend to explore our own city?

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SETON's Gateway Surprise

A few weeks back I found a pinkish orange, very cool, very contemporary art/architectural photo from SETON on Twitter.  Since then I have been trying to track down more information about the image from Brookfield Residential.  Turns out it isn’t public art, or a building but SETON’s Gateway feature. 

It is part of an ambitious urban design plan that includes this Gateway feature and several significant architectural and/or art elements at strategic corners and locations throughout the community.   Over the next few years - as SETON buildings start to be completed - four more art/architectural objects will be unveiled; with many more to follow as SETON is completed.

SETON Gateway at twilight.

The Gateway

So intrigued by SETON’s Gateway structure, I took the 74-kilometer round trip (took me 30 minutes to get back to West Hillhurst at 3 pm on a Wednesday) from my home to check it out in person. And I am glad I did.  You can’t miss it.  It is a three-storey, bright white structure with human-sized white letters spelling the word “SETON” at the entrance to the community exiting off Deerfoot Trail at Seton/Cranston exit.

My immediate reaction - this is very similar to the “MEMORIAL” letters at Poppy Plaza along Memorial Drive at the gateway to downtown from Kensington. However, the SETON Gateway is much more contemporary and cheerful.  There is a playfulness in the forest of leaning white pillars and the three pick-up stick-like poles that reach out through a skylight in the pure white canopy.  From a different perspective it reminds me of a mid-century modern gas station, while at the same time it is more futuristic, with the canopy panels looking a bit like the fuselage of the Challenger spacecraft.  I love the ambiguity.

Standing inside the structure, you are immediately drawn to the circular opening in the roof with its two triangular slits on opposite sides (later realized this is the SETON logo).  You can’t help but look skyward and contemplate the universe.  A wonderful play of light creates shadows on the ground and a shimmering mirage on the roof.

I am told the piece really comes alive at night when its sophisticated lighting system allows for an endless number of light shows - from fireworks at New Year’s (and other times of celebration) to a Northern Lights program that has dancing blue, green and purple hues that is used in the winter.   The lighting system is capable of producing any colour within the lighting spectrum.

SETON Gateway daytime.

  SETON letters create a fun Kodak moment.

SETON letters create a fun Kodak moment.

Design Team

The SETON Gateway is a collaborative project designed by:

  • Brookfield Residential – Project Sponsor
  • Gibbs Gage – Architect
  • DBK Engineering – Electrical Engineer
  • Mike Walker Consulting Ltd. - Lighting Programmer
  • 818 Studios – Landscape Architect
  • MMM – LEED
  • MMP – Structural Engineer
  • Jubilee Engineering – Civil Engineer
  • Elan – General Contractor

It was not created as part of a public art program, but rather as part of a comprehensive urban design strategy with both art and architecture design elements where they are appropriate and where they can add value to the overall sense of place for the community.  It is not design for design’s sake.

The goal was for the SETON Gateway to be seen from far away as far away as Deerfoot Trail, yet be part of an overall community wayfinding system, one that is distinct but synergistic with the South Health Campus, as well as be inviting to all (pedestrians, cyclists and drivers), be urban and be memorable.  A tall task for sure.

The SETON Gateway forrest with patio on left side.

This is definitely not your typical suburban new community entrance with a big rock with the community’s name stenciled onto it, some trees and shrubs and maybe a water feature. This is a high-tech, high-design that is both puzzling and provoking. It begs questions like; Why is it here? What is it? Does it have a function? It would easily fit into the urban design sensibility of the Beltline, Downtown or East Village.

It’s its clean, contemporary, big, bold and yes beautiful.  Some might see it a cross between the Peace Bridge and the Big White Trees on Stephen Avenue.

The SETON Gateway is testament to Brookfield Residential’s commitment to fostering a unique urban sense of place for SETON, through contemporary urban design elements strategically placed along the community’s streets, parks and entrances to buildings and retail centres.  They are committed to creating North America’s best new 21st century master-planned mixed-use community in Calgary.

White sentinels serve as way finding, night lights and add to the urban design element in the middle of the storm water swale. 

SETON skylight.

Last Word

Though too early to judge the success of the SETON Gateway project, they have gotten off on the right foot.

If I had to draw parallels to other Calgary projects, it has some of the architectural and lighting elements of TELUS Spark combined with the artistic sensibility of Chinook Arc (Beltline’s Barb Scott Park) and the LED lighting of the Langevin Bridge, 7th Avenue LRT stations and Calgary Tower.  I should add Brookfield has received no government funding for the SETON Gateway.

I am told that to date, Brookfield has had nothing but positive comments and I personally have heard nothing negative either.  One of the tests of a good urban sense of place is that there are surprises – and the SETON Gateway is a pleasant surprise.  I can’t wait to see some of the other surprises they have planned.

See For Yourself!

If you want to see the SETON Gateway for yourself, just take Deerfoot to the Seton/Cranston  turn off.  Head east to the South Health Campus and it will be right there.  There is lots of free parking in the retail centre immediately to the west.  Plan to spend an hour or so exploring the Gateway and the South Health Campus, maybe even meet up for a coffee or lunch.  I am planning a trip back in the evening to see the light show. 

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Editor’s Note:

David Peyto has authored three Calgary Walking Guide books – Walk Calgary’s Escarpments and Bluffs, Calgary LRT Walks: The Northwest Stations and Calgary LRT Walks: The South Stations. He has also published three books on Calgary’s Parks and Green Spaces. He is currently working on Calgary LRT Walks: The Downtown and West Stations. His grandfather was Walter H. Peyto the first District One Fire and Game Warden in Rocky Mountains Park, later renamed Banff National Park.

In September 2013 I set my own challenge for “every street walking” in Calgary. The goal is to walk the streets of all Calgary’s residential communities. By the middle of March 2015, 175 days of walking for 1,475 kilometers had been completed. It is still too soon to know how many walks and how many kilometers will be required to complete the goal. I have posted hundreds of photos on walkcalgarycommunities’ albums on Flickr.

Most of the walks have been in the area bounded by the Bow River on the north, the Elbow River on the east and south and as far west as the communities on the western edge of the city. Cemetery Hill, Erlton, Inglewood, Ramsay, Radisson Heights, Albert Park and part of Forest Lawn have also been walked in southeast Calgary. South of the Elbow River Rideau Park and Roxboro have been walked. North of the Bow River the communities from Shaganappi Trail east to Deerfoot Trail that are south of Canmore Park, Confederation Park, Queen’s Park Cemetery and the former Highland Park Golf Course have also been walked.

Musical fence in Parkdale.

Observations from “every street walking”in Calgary

Many communities have Little Free Libraries – some of these libraries even have chairs or benches so you can sit and read. One library had a large umbrella for shade. Highland Park and Tuxedo have numerous libraries in close proximity to each other.

The kindness of some people is very evident. One resident placed a bench beside a community mailbox so neighbours can sit and read their mail. Another resident placed a bench and a garbage can at a bus stop that had no bench. Several residents have placed benches along the edge of their yard for walkers to sit and rest for a few minutes. During a construction road closure, one resident put up a sign saying it was okay to use their driveway to turn around.

  Fun sculpture in yard in Crescent Heights. 

Fun sculpture in yard in Crescent Heights. 

Public art can be best appreciated when walking. Many communities have colourful murals on schools, community halls or walls.

In older communities there are buildings that have been converted from their previous use into a home. These include a fire hall, a church, several corner groceries and even a former utility building.

Sidewalk stamps provide a unique look at history. Some are over 100 years old. Some show the former names of streets.

One corner in Bridgeland has a pole with FIRE written on it (this pole dates back to when there were fire alarm boxes on corners).

Bridgeland/Riverside has a large number of places of worship. This community also has many sets of interesting public stairs.

I have discovered a variety of fences and walls on my walks. Two of the most memorable ones have a distinctly Canadian theme – one was made of skis and the other, hockey sticks.

Ski fence in Altadore

Some homeowners have included flag colours in their yard showing their family’s nationality. The colours are painted on walls or fences, on flower pots or chimneys.

  Old agricultural equipment in front yard in Hillhurst.

Old agricultural equipment in front yard in Hillhurst.

The yard art and gardens created by homeowners can be very interesting. The yard art might include wagon wheels, wagons, animals, sculptures, imitation water wells or lighthouses.

One interesting garden had flowers planted in a canoe. The ambitious community association of Cougar Ridge has planters located along main roads, in parks and playgrounds and beside community mailboxes.

The many plaques and cornerstones spread throughout the city can tell their own story. The cornerstone at the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer at 7th Ave and 1st St SE has the name of former Canadian Governor General, Earl of Minto engraved on the stone. The cornerstone for the former Baptist Leadership Training School (now Rundle Academy) on 16th St SW, was laid by former Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker.

Interesting messages are often found written on sidewalks or stairs. In Garrison Woods, quotes by Bruce Lee and Eleanor Roosevelt were written in chalk on the sidewalk.

One interesting garden had flowers planted in a canoe. The ambitious community association of Cougar Ridge has planters located along main roads, in parks and playgrounds and beside community mailboxes.

  Doug Driediger's 1998 mural "The Promise" in Alex Ferguson School yard is 18 feet by 60 feet. 

Doug Driediger's 1998 mural "The Promise" in Alex Ferguson School yard is 18 feet by 60 feet. 

What is an “every street walker?”

There are several types of every day walkers from those who decide to walk all the streets in their community to those who walk every day along the same or similar route. Some even decide to walk every street in their town or city. The challenge becomes huge if the walker lives in a large city like New York, Seattle or Calgary.  

There are many positive aspects to “every street walking.” The walker has the opportunity to visit streets and communities in their city for the first time. The every street walker explores at a much slower pace than driving or even cycling, so you notice more, get a more “up close and personal” experience.

  Cow on balcony in Cliff Bungalow.

Cow on balcony in Cliff Bungalow.

“Every Street Walking” Tips

  • Take photos as you walk.
  • Take a photocopied page from a city map book and use a felt marker to record the streets you have walked.
  • Walking in communities with a grid system of streets is easy for route planning.
  • Walk the grid streets in a north to south direction and then switch to walking the streets in an east to west direction to arrive back at the starting point.
  • Walking communities without a grid system is more challenging. The map page is a necessity to prevent walking the same street several times or missing some streets. Fortunately in some communities, the planners have included paths that connect cul-de-sacs.

Other “every street walkers”

Matt Green has completed over 6000 miles of his goal to walk every public street in the five boroughs of New York. Learn more: imjustwalkin.com

Peggy Burns completed her four-year, 6-pair of shoes, 2,722 mile walk of all Seattle streets in April 2014. Learn more: walkingseattle.blogspot.ca

Alan Waddell (1914 – 2008) walked every street in over 291 suburbs of Sydney, Australia. Learn more: http://walksydneystreets.net/

Mark McClure is currently walking the streets of Portland, Oregon regularly posting photos on Flickr. Learn more: @walkingInOregon’s albums on Flickr.

 

If you like this blog, you might like: 

 YYC Walkabout: Cliff Bungalow / 4th St / Mission

A flaneuring quickie 

Calgary's Rail Trail Stroll

Sydneysider loves Cowtown?

Guest Blog: Marissa Toohey

I grew up in Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, well known for its surf culture and miles of coastline. A few years ago, I set my sights on North America and was fortunate enough to find my way to Calgary in October 2012. I had heard it was a city with bright job prospects, lower taxes than other Canadian cities, a welcoming community and a lovable mayor. And, of course, cowboys. I have to admit I was nervous about winter weather though, having watched the airport scene of the Cool Runnings movie too many times before my arrival.

These days, I spend my free time playing hockey and skiing the Rocky Mountains, rather than going to the beach or firing up the barbie. In chatting with Calgary’s Everyday Tourist, we thought it would be interesting for me to compare the two cities from a Sydneysider’s perspective.  

To provide some context, Sydney was founded by the British in 1788 and it attracted a significant number of immigrants. Today, Sydney is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, with around 4.8 million residents spread across an area about 12,368 square kilometers. It is divided into over 30 local government areas with elected councils responsible for functions delegated by the state government.

Calgary’s history, on the other hand, as a city begins in about 1875 or one hundred years later. It is a city of 1.2 million and covers an area of 825 square kilometers for the city proper and if you add in some of the satellite cities and towns it is an additional 704 square kilometers. Calgary is famous for its rivers, parks and access to the Rocky Mountains.

Calgarians love to stroll Stephen Avenue Walk. 

Sydneysiders love going to the beach.

Parks & Recreation

In Sydney, the weather is always warm and the landscape is dominated by waterways and bushland making for an incredible selection of natural attractions - some iconic ones being Hyde Park, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney Harbour and the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk. Local councils maintain a multitude of free public beaches and rock pools, while volunteer lifeguards keep swimmers safe.

The innercity offers some excellent play areas too, such as the Darling Quarter community with its climbing ropes, swings, slides, and a flying fox (zip line). It’s surrounded by hip restaurants, wine bars and often has festivals and outdoor movies, making it a great area for the entire family to enjoy day or night.

Similarly, Calgary has many natural attractions including the world famous Rocky Mountain playground.  I love the city’s great urban outdoors - Fish Creek Provincial Park, the pathways along the Bow and Elbow rivers, Canada Olympic Park, as well as the many outdoor ice rinks throughout the city in winter. I still can’t get enough skating at Prince’s Island surrounded by fairy lights and listening to friendly tunes.

In the summer, my favourite thing to do is float lazily down the Bow River. In fact, just getting outdoors any time of year is a treat because you can see the environment adapting with the change of seasons.

Sydney's botanical gardens is an urban oasis next to the City Centre.

Calgarians love their 800+ kilometres of walking, running and biking pathways.  The red pedestrian bridge in the background is the Peace Bridge designed by the world famous Santiago Calatrava. This is lunch hour downtown!

Calgary's Fish Creek Park is one of the world's largest urban parks.

Calgarians love to float down the Bow and Elbow Rivers enjoying the sandstone cliffs, Douglas Fir forest and downtown skyline. 

Urban Design

There are many examples in Sydney where art installations have transformed underused areas and attracted more people. The City of Sydney is implementing a laneway regeneration program, investing in infrastructure that turns hidden laneways into pedestrian thoroughfares, while using public art displays to create more welcoming spaces.

One of the more interesting projects is the new paving, lighting and stunning permanent birdcage art installation (it plays the songs of 50 birds once heard in central Sydney) in downtown’s Angel Place laneway. Today, an average of 4,000 visitors pass through the laneway every day, double the number from 2007.

Calgary’s also has some great public art pieces.  I love the Chinook Arc, Promenade (next to the Drop-In Centre), and Wonderland at The Bow.  But for me,

the real standouts - from a creative city perspective - have been Calgary’s temporary installations and unique festivals. Wreck City last year transformed an entire residential block into a massive work of art before it was demolished. Exploring dramatically transformed homes was a lot of fun. Beakerhead, an event where citizens interact with a smash up of art, science and engineering over the space of a week in September feels distinctly Calgarian.

When it comes to great architecture, Sydney has its Opera House and the Coathanger Bridge (named because of its arch-shaped design).  Not to be outdone, Calgary has the Peace Bridge and The Bow. Sydney has the Opera House, Calgary has the Saddledome. Both cities have strong central business districts dominated by office tower and corporate headquarters architecture.

Forgotten Songs was created by Dave Towey, Dr. Richard Major, Michael Thomas Hill and Richard Wong.  The piece commemorate the songs of 50 birds once heard in central Sydney, before they were gradually forced out by European settlement. The calls, change as the day shifts to night; the daytime birds' songs disappearing with the sun, and those of the nocturnal birds, which inhabited the area, sound into the evening. 

One of the signature things to do when visiting Sydney is to walk across the Coathanger bridge. 

Calgary's Saddledome arena is located in Stampede Park (the greatest outdoor show on earth) on the southeastern edge of the City Centre. 

Transportation

Sydney has one of the longest reported commute times in the western world, with residents navigating a dizzying system of highways, tolled freeways, main streets, laneways and a growing cycle network. The 3-kilometre drive across the City Centre in peak traffic can take up to an hour and driving in Sydney often costs a considerable amount of money in tolls at the Harbour Bridge, Harbour Tunnel, the Eastern Distributor and several other freeways. The alternative to driving is utilizing an extensive public transit system made up of ferries, light rail, buses and trains that extend to the outer suburbs. A free inner-city shuttle circuit connects visitors to tourist attractions.

In contrast, Calgary’s clever downtown grid of roads and the ring road that connects the outer suburbs are extremely easy to navigate. The fact that many roads are numbered rather than named makes it foolproof to find your way around.

Best of all, the roads are free too. The fare-free C-Train zone downtown is brilliant. As a young city, Calgary’s public transit system still has a lot of room to grow and City Council and administration have the opportunity to learn from other cities and to implement new infrastructure in ways that are conscious of future growth.

I believe better transportation to and from the airport as well as easier connections to more tourist attractions would help in attracting some of Banff’s visitors to stay in the city as well. My brother has visited from Australia three times in the last 15 months to ski and hike the Rockies and to eat, shop and relax in Calgary. Unfortunately, he had to drive to destinations like Canada Olympic Park, Heritage Historical Park and CrossIron Mills shopping centre because of limited transit. But he happily explores the innercity by foot and has discovered some lovely little art galleries around Inglewood that even I wasn’t aware of.

Map of Sydney's public transit system. 

Despite a comprehensive transit system, traffic jams like this are a common occurrence in Sydney.

Urban Living

Residential architecture in Sydney has evolved over many years evidenced by the variation in styles along innercity and suburban streets. A lot of Sydneysiders live in heritage housing styles such as terrace houses, workers’ cottages and federation homes. After World War II, the “Great Australian Dream” of home ownership produced a sprawl of detached homes, often with wide verandas and swimming pools in the backyard. High-rise and mid-rise buildings were erected in transit hubs during the following years to increase density.

Nowadays, it’s common for residents to buy an old home or land in a more affordable area in order to build a new oversized “McMansion” that doesn’t quite fit with its surroundings. Yet, the co-existence of conflicting styles adds to the character of many neighbourhoods.  It is very similar to what is happening in many of Calgary’s older communities.

These days, Sydney’s housing prices are among the most expensive in the world, with the median house price around $850,000 (Canadian and Australian dollars are currently at par with each other). That will get you a detached home around 1,200 square feet 30 km from the City Centre or a small two-bedroom inner-city apartment with no view and no parking. The average rent for a small one-bedroom, apartment is around $2,000 a month. With the cost of living in Sydney, it’s not surprising that many people share accommodation or are long-term renters with no plans to ever own a home.

The variety in Calgary’s housing stock both in the innercity and suburbs is impressive, with row houses, laneway housing and mid-rise condominium developments on the rise. The former Calgary suburban trend of building tidy rows of beige homes seems to be shifting as many new communities are featuring bright colours and walkable amenities. The city is also increasing density with infills, resulting in new homes being built alongside older homes in existing communities.

The relatively reasonable cost of living in Calgary was one of the things that attracted me to the city but with the average house price now approaching $500,000 and monthly rent over $1,200 for a decent sized apartment, the landscape is quickly changing. Fortunately, community leaders (private and public) seem focused on improving the mix of housing and affordability for all citizens, with several innovative home ownership programs.

Small cottage homes are being replaced my McMansions in both Calgary and Sydney. 

A parade of new infills on one inner city block in Calgary just 3 kilometres from the downtown core. 

New high-rise condos are changing the skylines of both Calgary and Sydney. 

 Last Word

While Sydney has diverse cultural, recreational and creative offerings, the commute times and cost of living detract from its many upsides.

If you’re not afraid of living with arctic temperatures for a few weeks, it is hard to beat Calgary’s lifestyle and employment opportunities even with the downturn in the energy sector.  I had no job when I landed in Calgary, but within a week I had secured a great position.

I could live anywhere.  I choose Calgary. The city is doing a good job of attracting people here for work and play. But one of the challenges I now face is staying here, as it is not easy to renew a visa.

 Calgary has the advantage of being young enough to learn from the mistakes made by cities like Sydney.  And, with its ambitious and infectious energy, I am confident Calgary will only get better and better as it grows up. I can’t wait to explore the new St. Patrick’s Park this summer.

 While the grass is greener longer in Sydney, the sky is bluer in Calgary. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary vs Paris 

Olympic Cities: Calgary vs Salt Lake 

Denver vs Calgary: A Tale of Two Thriving Downtowns 

 

 

Editor's Note: Marissa Toohey is currently the Communications Manager at Attainable Homes, in Calgary, Alberta. She has travelled extensively around Asia Pacific, Europe, and North America and her career includes a stint in Vietnam working for Habitat for Humanity International.  She loves to live, work and play in Calgary, not necessarily in that order. 

Calgary: 1% for public art is a pittance!

Editor's Note: This blog was commissioned by the Calgary Herald and published as a guest editorial on Saturday, February 21st in response to City of Calgary Councillor Peter Demong's pending motion to suspend the City's spending on public art for 2015.) Photos and photos and reader's comments have been added to create a more engaging read. 

Downtown Calgary has hundred's of public artworks scattered throughout the streets, parks, plazas, lobbies and +15 elevated walkway. It is a huge art park! 

Reader's Comments: 

BL writes: With respect to public art. I am a great lover of art and a believer that art enhances life. The city's public art policy fails because it is arbitrary and because it is poorly implemented.

There are many great examples of public art in Calgary and around the world; so the debate should not be about the value of art, rather the debate should be about how to encourage and implement a public art policy which enhances our built environment instead of causing people to say WTF is that!? 

To date, most of the art projects funded by the city's policy have been of questionable quality. There are those who believe that art is of value for the simple fact that it incites a reaction, but let's face it, a piece of crap is still just a piece of crap even if you call it art.

We should be asking why the public art funded by many private donors and companies, is usually successful, while the "art" commissioned by the city often turns out to be so poor.

My simple answer to that question is that artists working for private benefactors are likely more motivated to ensure that they please those benefactors; while artists working for a public committee made up of volunteers and bureaucrats, none of whom have any "skin in the game" are less likely to produce a high quality result.

The whole selection process is also questionable since the private benefactor can use whatever sourcing manner he may wish, including very simply sole-sourcing the artist based solely on his merit; while the public process of judging and evaluation may even ensure that the very best artist may not be selected, and might even be discouraged to participate.

Like many good public policies, the concept may be sound but the devil is in the details.

Blog: Calgary: 1% for public art is a pittance!

Let the debate begin yet AGAIN? Is public art a luxury? Does it add any real value to the everyday lives of everyday Calgarians?

Before the current same old Council debate on public art goes any further, somebody on Council should say, “let’s stop the micro managing and act like Board of Directors and not like a working committee!”  Can you imagine the Board of Directors of an major oil company saying to their senior staff,’” I think we should start the cost cutting with the art acquisition budget!”

If Council really wants to save - or delay public art spending - in 2015, it would be wiser to look strategically at the City’s $22 billion dollar capital and operating budget for the 2015 to 2018 period.  It should really be asking Administration to provide them with a couple of scenarios that would result in say a 3% and 6% savings in 2015.

What would make even more sense would be to ask Administration to determine how they can better manage its capital projects to bring them in on budget. It is not unusual for the City’s capital projects to be tens of millions of dollars over budget. That is a luxury we can’t afford going forward.

Any budget cuts for 2015 should be strategic, not a “knee-jerk” decisions.  At this point we don’t even know how much money will be saved - Demong estimates $2 to $4 million, a pittance in multi-billion dollar budget. As some of my corporate board member friends like to say, “that is just a rounding out error.”

Value of Public art

One of the things I love about the City’s “1% for Public Art Policy” (1% of the budget for all capital projects up to $50 million must be set aside for public art and .5% for projects over $50 million) is that it places public art in our suburban parks, LRT stations, recreation centres and yes even bridges. 

For some young Calgarians, it will be their first encounter with “real” art. It will be an opportunity for the child to say, “What’s that?” and for parents or grandparents to begin a discussion that could go on for years. Priceless.

Sure, I could go on and say things like public art is important for creating a sense of place, celebrating local history, adding character and charm, creating community pride or heaven forbid, “beauty.”

This little guy seems to be quite intrigued by the ghost-like figure made up of letters from different languages by Jaume Plensa. 

Importance of a Creative Culture

It is not easy to quantitatively measure the value of public art. In 2010, Calgary Economic Development’s 76-page profile of our City’s Creative Industries provides some facts and figures that relate to the significance of creative individuals in our city.

Did you know?

  • 67,000 Calgarians or 8% of the workforce work in creative industries, everything from artists to architects, from website developers to CEOs.
  • Calgary ranks 3rd of Canada’s major cities for attracting cultural migrants. Yes, people move to Calgary for reasons other than to work in the oil patch!
  • There are 19,000 creative establishments in Calgary – everything from artists’ studios to recording studios, from major architectural firms to private art galleries.
  • 7,000 students graduate each year from a creative industry program at one of Calgary’s post-secondary schools.
  • Cultural tourism is one of the fastest growing and lucrative segments of the North American travel industry.  
  • In the profile, Calgary Economic Development also recognizes the importance of fostering a creative (out-of-the-box thinking) culture as a critical to generating new ideas.  Great cities are incubators for new ideas!

While it is hard to say any one public artwork is critical to fostering a creative and critical thinking city, collectively, they make our city an attractive place to work for the creative class, as well as others.

Families love interacting with this public art piece in Vancouver's English Bay. 

Last Word

Over the past 30 years, I have sat on several selection committees for public art. Without exception the community representatives shared with the other jurors how excited the community is to be getting public art.

Brookfield Residential has already created a major piece of public art for its new community of SETON. Why? Because Brookfield gets it, recognizing the value of public art as one of the pillars of a great community.

The 1% for Public Art Policy, initiated in 2003, is just over 10 years old – a very short time in city building.  Calgary has over 200 communities; I don’t think we should stop creating public art until there are several pieces in each of these communities. 1% is a pittance to invest in making a good city GREAT!

By Richard White, February 21, 2015

  Chicago's Millennium Park has become a mega tourist attraction mainly because of two fun interactive public artworks. 

Chicago's Millennium Park has become a mega tourist attraction mainly because of two fun interactive public artworks. 

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