Urban Living in Calgary: 2015 in review

As 2015 quickly comes to a close, one can’t help but reflect on Calgary’s evolution over the past year from an urban living perspective.  While the news on the economic front has continued to worsen, from an urban residential development perspective, things have continued to evolve pretty much as predicted. 

In fact a record six new high-rises were completed in 2015 – First, Fuse, The Park, Outlook at Waterfront, Guardian I and Aura II. The previous record was five in 2008 and again in 2010.  Perhaps even better news - another six are anticipated to be completed in 2016.

The boldest condo announcement in 2015 was Knightsbridge Homes’ and Metropia Urban Landscapes’ plan for a 167-unit condo in East Village with no parking.  Not only did they announce their innovative project, but they got approval, sold out and started construction all in 2015.

Rendering of N3 condo in Calgary's East Village that has no parking.  I thought N3 stood for No Parking, No Problem, Nitwits, but was told it stands for New Attitude, New Vision, New Lifestyle. 

Beltline Bankruptcy Blues

This year, several abandoned projects from the 2007/08-mortgage collapse morphed into new projects.  Remember Astoria, the condo tower with its $10 million penthouse (on 10th Ave between 8th and 9th Avenue) that was abandoned when it was just a big hole in the ground? That has since been taken over by WAM Development Group and will be two towers 17 and 34-storeys.  This development will nicely integrate with Qualex-Landmark’s Mark on 10th at the corner of 10th Ave and 8th street.

As well, just a little further west at 1235-11th Avenue SW (the old Kai Tower project, named after Kai Mortensen Fine Furniture that used to be on the site) has evolved from initially being two vertical towers (Oslo and Copenhagen) into a single 13-storey horizontal building called Metropolitan by Statesman.

The Park condo in the Beltline was just a hole in the ground for several years until it was completed in 2015. 

In Victoria Park (aka Beltline East), Arriva, on the historic Victoria Park School site, was supposed to be an avant-garde, three-condo tower complex. However, it was abandoned after the first tower was completed.  Since then Hon Towers Ltd. picked up the pieces, redesigned the remaining two towers as two 44-floor South Beach-like white towers that will be the highest in Calgary. Rebranded as the Guardian Towers, the first tower is nearing completion while the second tower is more than half finished.

And in the heart of the Beltline (Memorial Park), Lake Placid Group of Companies completed The Park condo after a few years of no construction.  Across the street from Memorial Park, Qualex-Landmark has also broken ground for the first tower of their two-tower Park Point project  - sure to become one of the Calgary’s signature buildings.

It also looks like Strategic Group will be reviving the Sky Tower site at the corner of 10th Ave and 1st SE, having recently received approval for a 277-unit residence.

Ian Meredith a consultant at Altus Group Limited Residential Advisory Services, doesn’t expect to see any of the projects currently under construction to have financing issues given “the institutional level of investment at play now simply wasn’t present during the last downturn.  Over the past five years, Calgary has attracted most of the significant high-density developers from across Canada.  Even during a slower growth period there will be no shortage of long-term interests pushing towards the successful redevelopment of our inner city communities.”

  Statesman purchased the old Kai Towers site and changed it from two vertical towers condos to one horizontal rental apartment block.  

Statesman purchased the old Kai Towers site and changed it from two vertical towers condos to one horizontal rental apartment block. 

  Rendering of what Kai Towers were originally suppose to look like.  

Rendering of what Kai Towers were originally suppose to look like.  

  WAM's two unnamed rental apartment towers are rising up from where the luxury Astoria condo which was just capped off at ground level when it went bankrupt. 

WAM's two unnamed rental apartment towers are rising up from where the luxury Astoria condo which was just capped off at ground level when it went bankrupt. 

  The Astoria condo was announce back in 2007 with much fanfare especially for its $10 million dollar penthouse that never got built. 

The Astoria condo was announce back in 2007 with much fanfare especially for its $10 million dollar penthouse that never got built. 

Rendering of the original plans for Arriva block that included three sister condo towers, renovations of two schools and a major public artwork.

Bridgeland is Blooming 

The Bridges (aka old Calgary General Hospital site) redevelopment also came to a grinding halt in 2008, but gradually the entire Bridgeland/Riverside community is blooming into a lovely urban village. 

Vancouver’s Bucci Developments has been the “King of Bridgeland” for many years. Back Story: Owner and President, Fred Bucci’s father, the founder of the company was actually born at the Calgary General Hospital and grew up in the neighbourhood.

Bucci Developments not only built Bella Citta (2003) and Bella Lusso (2006) as part of Phase 1 of The Bridges, but also built NEXT (4th St and 7th Ave NE) nearby. Their new Bridges project Radius, planned for the southeast corner of Centre Avenue and 8th St. NE, will have a lovely view of The Bridges’ Central Park.  In addition to the 200 new homes, Radius’ modern design will add a new dimension to The Bridges with its rooftop terrace and garden.

As well, not only has GableCraft Homes’ modified Bridgeland Crossing II (mothballed for a few years) now nearing completion next to the LRT station, but they have also started Bridgeland Hill condos.

Not to be left out, Remington Developments’ new Meredith Block (office/retail) on Edmonton Trail just past Memorial Drive is further evidence that Bridgeland/Riverside is starting to bloom as Calgary’s newest vibrant urban village.

Bridgeland's Farmers' Market (photo credit: sustainablecaglary.com)

Urban Living Comes To The NW

The biggest urban living announcement in 2015 was the City’s approval of University District on the University of Calgary’s west campus land around the Alberta Children’s Hospital. They are already moving dirt on this 184-acre urban village (Calgary’s first 24/7 village given it will serve two hospital sites), that will include 6,000 multi-family residential units (home for about 15,000 people), 245,000 square feet of retail and restaurants in a Kensington-like pedestrian streets and 1.5 million square feet of office space for about 10,000 workers.  University District also includes 40 acres of parks, ponds, gardens and plazas and 12 km of pathways.  It holds the distinction of being the first ever new, master-planned urban village in Calgary’s northwest quadrant.

On a smaller scale, but still significant the Kensington Legion site redevelopment in West Hillhurst along Kensington Road at 18th St. NW has been called a “game changer” by both the NIMBYs and YIMBYs alike.  Truman Homes announced plans in 2015 to transform this large site into a mixed-use site with two buildings - a 4-storey office building and 8-storey condo, both with restaurants and retail at ground level. While there has been much controversy over the height of the condo building, everyone seems to agree the design of both buildings - especially the condo building with its cascading north façade – are very attractive. It could well become the “poster child” for the City of Calgary’s Main Street program (which includes Kensington Road from 14th Street to Crowchild Trail) and become the catalyst for the evolution of West Hillhurst into Calgary’s next vibrant walkable community.

University City at Brentwood LRT Station is a just one Calgary's many transit oriented developments.  Nearby is the University of Calgary, downtown is a short LRT ride and there are two grocery stores within walking distance.

Aerial view of University District site on the west end of the University of Calgary campus, with the Alberta Children's hospital in the middle. (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

Rendering of proposed pedestrian street with shops and cafes that will at the heart of new University District urban village. 

  Kensington Legion site as it exists Fall of 2015. 

Kensington Legion site as it exists Fall of 2015. 

Proposed office (left) and condo (right) buildings for Kensington Legion block. (photo credit: Truman Development Ltd.)

Last Word 

In a recent full-page advertorial by Qualex-Landmark in the Herald’s New Condo section, comments made by Parham Mahboubi, Vice-President of Planning and Marketing with Qualex-Landmark resonated with me and bear repeating. 

“As developers, we have our sights on the long-term horizon.  I think this is something like the sixth temporary economic downturn Calgary has faced in over the past 30 years. It’s a cyclical market. Calgary has so much going for it that makes it one of Canada’s major metropolitan cities. We are not throwing in the towel. We will continue to respond to the ongoing demand for quality, high-density, inner-city communities by building new condos to further demonstrate our commitment to renewing the economic, social and cultural vibrancy of Calgary’s Beltline.”

This aptly captures the essence of what I have repeatedly heard from dozens of residential developers over the past year. Well said, Mr. Mahboubi!

Editor's Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section titled, "Calgary Growing From The Ground Up With Many Starts" on December 19, 2015.

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Infill Development Levies: Don't cook the goose that lays the golden eggs!

Editor's Note: An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condo Section on November 28th, 2015 titled "Do proposed development levies double dip on City taxes?" 

Is the City of Calgary about to “cook the goose that has been laying the golden eggs?”  For over a decade, Hillhurst Sunnyside has lagged behind the Beltline, Bridgeland, East Village, Eau Claire, West End and Inglewood in attracting new, mid-rise condo development.  It is only in the past few years we have seen any new mid-rise condo developments in and around the Sunnyside LRT station - St. Johns Tenth Street, Pixel and VEN, with Kensington and Lido currently under construction. 

Not only have and will these new condos add more diversity and density, allowing Kensington Village community to continue to thrive, but they have also provided significant new property tax revenues for the City – and at no cost to the City.

In the case of VEN, developer Bucci paid (or should I say VEN residents paid as the costs always get passed down on to the purchaser) over $500,000 in infrastructure costs (including $275,000 for new water service, $127,000 for Hillhurst Sunnyside Park, $45,000 for new sidewalks/wheelchair ramps and $20,000 for streetlights).  That amounts to about $4,400 per new condo.

VEN replaced 11 older homes that paid $35,000 total in property taxes. Now, the 114 condo owners will pay $272,000 total per year - for a net gain of $237,000 annually to the City (or a whopping $2,370,000 over the next 10 years from VEN alone).  If we assume a similar amount from St. Johns, Pixel, Kensington and Lido, the City will gain $1,000,000 annually ($10+ million over ten years) from new condo development.

St. John's On Tenth condo.

Why a Vancouver Model?

However, it seems the City isn’t satisfied with the millions of new property tax dollars that it is getting from new inner city condo development. It is now working on a new density bonus levy based on a Vancouver model to pay for local public realm improvements like new and renovated parks, plazas and streetscape improvements. The monies will not be eligible for things like sewer and water pipe upgrades.  

For example, Pixel paid about $80,000 to the existing bonus levy (yes, there is already a levy in place) when it was built in 2014. However, over the past year, the Planning Department has been considering a major increase in the “public realm improvements only” levy.  In one scenario, a project like Pixel would pay as much as $2.1 million; in a second scenario, $700,000. The calculation of the proposed new Hillhurst Sunnyside density bonus levy is currently still being reviewed, but in all likelihood the cost per unit for the “public realm improvements only” levy could increase from $800 to between $7,000 and $21,000/unit. This could easily drive purchasers to the suburbs where they can get more for their money.

As stated earlier, the City will net about $237,000 each year from increased property taxes, so after three years a new condo project like Pixel, will contribute an estimated $700,000+ in new tax revenue - the same amount as in scenario two of the proposed new public ream levy. Does the City really need both the increased “public realm” levy AND new property tax revenue for public realm improvements? 

Why too would the City of Calgary use a Vancouver model for development levies given Vancouver has the highest housing costs in Canada and some of the highest in the world?  Why too is it that so many of Calgary’s urban condo developers are Vancouver-based (e.g. Anthem, Bucci, Concord Pacific, Embassy Bosa, Grosvenor, Landmark-Qualex)? Is it in part because Vancouver’s excessive development levies have caused them to look elsewhere for development opportunities?

Perhaps we should be asking the fundamental question, “Why does the City need more money for public realm improvements in established communities?” It would seem - given both residential and commercial property owners in Hillhurst Sunnyside have been paying taxes for many decades - there should already be money set aside for upgrading parks, tree planting, sidewalk replacement as part of an ongoing maintenance program. Why should the burden be placed on the new residents to fund the cost of community improvements?

Pixel condo with crane for Lido condo under construction.

Did Somebody say “Cash Grab?”

Another document emailed to me illustrates how suburban developers currently pay a development levy of about $350,000/hectare for off-site regional infrastructure, but no levies for public realm improvements projects. Depending on the scenario Council chooses for the Hillhurst-Sunnyside the public realm levy, it could work out to between 4M and $14M/hectare. Is somebody saying “Cash grab?” If not, they should be!

City Councilors, Administration and Community Associations love the density bonus levy as it gives them access to new dollars for specific public space improvements that make living in the community more attractive.

On the flipside, landowners hate it because it decreases the value of their property. Developers have to pay the City more to develop the land, which in turn means they have to deduct the same amount from their offering price. Developers who have already assembled land and paid a price based on the old development cost formulas will now have to increase the pricing of their new projects - or delay construction given the current housing market won’t bear the new pricing. Potential new condo owners also don’t like it as the cost to live in established neighbourhoods will rise, making suburban homes and condos more cost effective than established communities ones.

While the City’s Municipal Development Plan (aka its vision/master plan) and Councilors with strong urban agendas have been strongly encouraging growth in established communities for Calgarians of all ages and backgrounds, increasing development levies will have the opposite effect. As the cost of inner city condos increases, fewer and fewer Calgarians can afford to live established communities, accelerating the gentrification of these communities. Nobody wants that!

Last Word

In 2013, the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Transit-Oriented Development Proposal Activity Snap-Shot listed 16 potential projects with over 1,000 dwelling units.  Four were under construction (now completed), two are now under construction and the other 10 are in various stages of planning.

All Hillhurst-Sunnyside developers are now waiting until the density bonus levy program is finalized.  If the levy increase is too high, it may be years until there is any new condo development. That would be a real shame as Hillhurst-Sunnyside should be Calgary’s signature transit-oriented urban village given it sits next the city’s first urban LRT station built back in the ‘80s.  It shouldn’t take 30+ years!

You can also bet the Vancouver-based levies won’t stop in Hillhurst-Sunnyside but be applied to all new condo developments (maybe even to new single and duplex homes) in all established communities, driving more development to the suburbs and fostering urban sprawl. Exactly the opposite of what the City wants.

I am all for public realm improvements but “cooking the goose that lays your golden eggs” is not the way to pay for it.  

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Increased Density Doesn't Always Mean More Traffic

It seems inevitable that every time a new infill condo development gets announced the neighbours immediately cry “It will generate too much traffic!”   However, according to the team at Bunt & Associated Engineering Ltd. who has completed many “Transportation Impact Assessments (TIAs)” for new condo projects in Calgary this may be more myth than fact.   

Here are three of the major myths many Calgarians have about new condos and traffic:

Myth #1: Density always brings more traffic. 

Within many inner city neighbourhoods, traffic volumes have actually been stagnant or in some cases, decline over the past 20 years. For example, traffic volumes in Mission (on 2 St SW, 4 St SW and 5 St SW) are lower now than they were in 1987, despite the fact that numerous condos have been added to the community. The same trend is being experienced on Kensington Road where the traffic volumes have remained constant in spite the West Hillhurst population growing by 11% over the past five years.

The trend to static or in some cases reduced traffic volumes is driven by increased transit, walking, and cycling usage in established communities near downtown. Increasing residential density in established communities actually results in overall lower vehicle usage for a number of reasons including:

  • Higher density improves the viability of local business and therefore removes the need for community residents to always drive to a restaurant, store or fitness studio. 
  • Higher density supports more frequent transit, which in turn attracts more transit users from the community as a whole.
  • Higher density in close relation to employment cores (i.e. Downtown) makes cycling more viable, which in turn increases the demand for cycling infrastructure which results on more cycling from the community as a whole.

4th Street in the Mission District is lined with shops and restaurants that locals can walk or cycle to. 

Myth #2: 1 parking stall means 1 commuter trip/day

Having 200 parking stalls does not mean 200 vehicles leave and arrive everyday at rush hour. While there is a correlation between parking stalls and traffic, there are many other factors at play. One is that not everyone leaves home between 7 and 8 am. People have different schedules and destinations, as such some residents leave home before 7am or after 8am, while other residents don’t leave home at all during the morning peak period or return home at the rush hour (working from home, part-time or retired).

In addition, just because a condo owner has a vehicle doesn’t necessarily mean it is used to get to work. Data from Beltline TIAs found many residents who had vehicles left them at home during weekdays and used them only on evenings and weekends.

It is not as simple as saying 200 parking stalls results in 200 trips during rush hour. Data actually shows about one third of residential condo vehicles might leave during the peak weekday commuter period from 7 to 9 am.

4th Street traffic on a Sunday afternoon in the summer, not exactly grid-locked. 

Kensington Road in West Hillhurst on a winter Saturday afternoon. 

Another corner on 4th Street that is devoid of traffic in the middle of the summer. 

Myth #3: Adding a 100-unit condo building isn’t the same as adding 100 houses

Multi-family and single-family dwellings do not have the same trip-making characteristics. Multi-family dwellings are more likely to have a higher proportion of residents under 30 or over 65 years of age. As a whole, these age groups have smaller family sizes (often no family), lower vehicular ownership rates and in some cases, less disposable income, all of which correlate into lower vehicle usage.

Generally, in terms of vehicle trip generation, two single-family dwellings are equal to approximately three three multi-family dwellings in suburban communities. In established communities one new infill single-family home often is the same as three condo units when it comes to traffic generation.

New condo development in Mission. 

Last Word

It is critical that as Calgarians (i.e. City Council, planners, architects, developers, engineers of all disciplines and residents in established communities) work together to make our communities better for everyone.  It is essential to separate fact from fiction when it comes to urban living in the 21st century.

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New Condos Create Hidden/Invisible Density

I am not sure who coined the phrase “hidden or invisible density” but I first heard it in the late ‘90s from Brent Toderian, then City Centre Manager, City of Calgary and now, an international freelance urban planner.  In his case, he was referring to lane housing, which is exactly as it says – new homes built facing the back lane in established communities, i.e. they are hidden or invisible from the street.  Since then, lots of “lane housing” has happened – and continues to happen - in established communities across Calgary. 

However, recently I have become aware of two condo projects I think would fit an expanded definition of “hidden or invisible density.”  One is in Altadore along 16th Street SW by Brookfield Residential and the other is in West Hillhurst, just off Crowchild Trail being built by Truman Homes.   

In both cases, the density being added is significant (i.e. on the same scale as a mid-rise condo project at about 100 units/acre), yet the housing isn’t any taller than the neighbouring new infill homes. From a pedestrian experience, these modest condo developments fit nicely into the traditional streetscape with their front lawns, sidewalks and small porches.

Altadore 36 streetscape

Altadore 36

Brookfield Residential has recently begun marketing Altadore 36, located at the corner of 16th Street and 36th Avenue SW (hence, the name).  In this case, the developer will be replacing eight dilapidated old homes with two 3-storey buildings containing 62 contemporary condo homes. “How can that be invisible or hidden?” you ask. 

Well, Calgary architect Jesse Hindle designed two, interlocking L-shaped buildings that cleverly utilize the adjacent streets, alley and an interior courtyard to create three different streetscapes for the ground floor units. From the street, each ground floor townhouse has a small front lawn and patio that function much like the front porch of those early 20th century homes we all love. The above-the-ground-floor condos are two-storey flats, each with a generous glass, half-walled balcony that fosters interaction between the street and the building.

All “interior” homes (both ground and upper units), i.e. those that face onto a courtyard with sidewalk, trees and plantings, provide an attractive street-like view from their patio or balcony.

Altadore 36 design is very compatible with the new, flat-roofed, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired single-family homes in the community. Hindle chose a sandstone-coloured brick, yielding a warm and timeless look.  The refined rectangular-shaped buildings with their clean edges have a traditional yet contemporary sense of place. Good urban design is about quality materials as well as respecting the scale and architecture of the past and the present.  Altadore 36 is an impressive hybrid of modern urban and suburban design that will fit almost invisibly into the new Altadore.

Altdore 36 will also add a much needed affordable housing option for middle-income earners and retirees in a community where most infills are million dollar homes.  Great communities offer a variety of housing options at different price points to attract people of all ages and backgrounds.

Altadore 36 Courtyard.

Upper West

Upper West (hopefully they can come up with a better name, one that reflects the location,) is located just east off Crowchild Trail on 2nd Ave NW in West Hillhurst.  It is on an interesting block, one that already includes two seniors’ multi-family buildings in a community of mostly single-family homes. Truman’s Upper West condo will replace three single-family homes that are nearing their “expiry dates” with 45 new homes (a mix of 17 one-bedroom and 28 two-bedroom condos) in a 4-storey building.

2nd Ave NW homes that will be removed to make way for Upper West, with red brick seniors' apartment. 

The building’s design - very contemporary with its three sloped roofs and large corner balconies - resembles the mega new infill homes being built not only in West Hillhurst, but also in neighbouring Briar Hill, Parkdale and St. Andrew’s Heights. The materials are conservative greys with some wood fencing at street level.  All parking will be underground, leaving the street parking for everybody to share.

Located just a “hop, skip and a jump” from Crowchild and Kensington Road means anyone living in Upper West has easy access to Mount Royal University, University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre, Alberta Children’s Hospital and downtown, by transit, car, bike or on foot.  This should make it very attractive to young professionals as well as empty nesters. 

There are more amenities in the area than you might think nearby - including two meat shops, a gelato café, a pizza and pub shop, liquor store and convenience store. Upper West is also within easy walking distance to both West Hillhurst’s historic Main Street (aka 19th Street) and the Parkdale Loop (Lazy Loaf Café). Best of all, residents are just minutes to the Bow River pathway for walking, running or cycling, making it a perfect location for increased density.

Upper West condo on 2nd Ave NW.

Last Word

While these two projects are adding densities (100units/acre) similar to those of the 4 to 8-storey new highrise condo buildings in Kensington, Bridgeland or Mission, visually they will not rise above the height of existing apartment blocks and new infill homes. Altadore 36 and Upper West will be almost invisible in scale, design and materials to neighbours.

Kudos to Altadore and West Hillhurst communities’ YIMBYs (Yes In My BackYard) who will soon be welcoming many new neighbours to their community.

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Kensington Legion: NIMBYs vs YIMBYs

The acronym NIMBYism is often use by media and others to describe those who object to new developments (condos, office buildings, affordable housing) in their communities. What we seldom hear is the term YIMBYism (Yes in My BackYard) applied to supporters of the same development. There is something seemingly innate in humans that makes us protest louder when we don’t like or understand something.

A good case study of NIMBYism vs. YIMBYism is the proposed redevelopment of the Kensington Legion land (Kensington Road and 18th St. NW). Recently, I attended a meeting with 120 others, most of whom opposed the development. Afterwards, I posted a blog about why I liked the project and to my surprise got as many emails, tweets and comments in favour of the project as opposed. The first person to respond, who was also at the meeting said, “I was afraid to speak up in favour of the project.” What does that tell you?

Since posting the blog, I have communicated with 20 or so community people about the project and it is pretty much divided into those who live closest to the site (truly in their backyard) who don’t like it and those who live a few blocks away and think it is great.

I don’t envy City Planners and Council - who should they listen to?  Do they listen to the 100 or so people who live near the site and will be most affected by a development new? Or, do they listen to the greater community of say 5,000 people who are near the site but less impacted? Do they follow the City’s Master Plan which encourages more people to live in established communities (meaning more condos on under-utilized, well-located sites)?  More specifically, does the City follow through with its Main Street Initiative to create 24 pedestrian shopping streets in strategic locations across the City – one of which being Kensington Road from 14th St. NW to Crowchild Trail? 

If the City is looking for a poster child project for the Main Street initiative, they couldn’t pick a better site than the Kensington Legion. Located in the middle of the proposed Kensington Road Main Street, it would complement West Hillhurst’s historic main street on 19th St. and help connect the scattering of other retail, office and services along Kensington Road. It is also on a major bus route and it’s a very large site which can accommodate two large buildings.  With signature buildings and the right mix of uses, the site could be a wonderful addition to West Hillhurst, maybe even be the gateway to the community and a definite game changer.

Kensington Legion Site RevitalizationIn January 2015, the Kensington Legion (No. 264) entered into a partnership with Truman Development Corporation to redevelop their site. Since then, Truman has been working with architects and planners to develop a plan that will meet the needs of the neighbours, community and the City.

They are proposing a new four-storey office building on the western third of the site, which is a currently surface parking lot.  The Legion will own the building, use the street floor as its restaurant/lounge and the second floor as their office while leasing out the top two floors.

Once the Legion has moved out of its existing building, Truman would replace it with a contemporary condo building with retail at street level.  The original proposal for the second building would be 10-stories high along Kensington Road, then stepping down to 3-stories at the laneway on the north side.  The “step down” design will not only create an interesting shape, but will achieve the City’s density requirements while minimizing shadowing of neighbours’ backyards. The main floor will have 15,000 square feet of prime retail space.

Throughout the summer, Truman hosted open houses at the Legion every Wednesday and Saturday to get community input. The two major concerns were: size and height of the building and increase in traffic along 18th St NW (entrance to parkade will be via the back lane off 18th St NW) which is the access road for children walking to Queen Elizabeth (elementary, junior high and high) Schools.

Is Taller Better?

For many established community residents, the ideal maximum height for new condos is four storeys. However, the downside is there is only so much you can do with a 4-storey building design – they all tend to look the same. Once you go beyond 4-storeys, however, the condo usually becomes a concrete building which allows the more flexibility in the design and materials.

Many cities across North America have determined mid-rise buildings (5 to 12 storeys) are the most appropriate to revitalize established communities (especially for signature sites) as they create sufficient density to attract retailers and restaurants while still being pedestrian scale.  Kensington Road has the potential to become a vibrant pedestrian street with the addition of strategically located mixed-use projects like Legion No. 264.

North side of condo building with garden facing to homes. 

Is Traffic a Real Concern?

As with all major infill developments, the City of Calgary requires an independent
“Traffic Impact Assessment (TIA)” be conducted. Bunt & Associates Engineering Ltd. has submitted its TIA of this office/condo project based on parameters developed jointly with City administration. It will first be reviewed and technically scrutinized by the City administration and then circulated to the community to determine what, if any, changes are needed to minimize the traffic impact of the development on the community.

Bunt & Associates’ preliminary findings:

  • All intersections will continue to meet the City requirements. 
  • Sidewalk improvements are required.
  • Current crosswalks meet City standards.
  • Calgary Transit confirms it can accommodate site users.
  • Parking requirements will be met on-site.

Having completed many similar TIAs for various Calgary inner-city condo developments over the past few years, Bunt and Associates have observed, “density doesn’t always bring more traffic.”  For example, traffic volumes in Mission (on 2 St SW, 4 St SW, and 5 St SW) are lower now than they were in 1987, despite the addition of many new condos.  The same trend is already being experienced on Kensington Road where traffic volumes have remained constant despite West Hillhurst’s population growing 11% over the past five years.

The City and Bunt believe increasing residential density is contributing to lower vehicle usage in part due to:

  • Attracts new local business reducing the need for residents to drive to a restaurant, store or fitness studio. 
  • Supports more frequent transit which attracts more transit users from the entire community.
  • Located near employment centres (downtown, post-secondary institutions, hospitals) makes cycling more viable and increases need for cycling infrastructure, leading to increased cycling by the entire community.

Aerial view of project looking west. 

Back alley parking design. 

Truman has listened

Before submitting their proposal to the City, Truman took all the comments received and published a “What We Heard” report.  This 97-page report is a comprehensive document of the community engagement comments and how the Truman will respond to them, with excellent visuals. With respect to the above concerns, they have made the following changes – reduced the condo building height to 8-storeys, developed a proposal for traffic-calming measures for 18th St NW (which Truman will fund), exceed on-site parking requirements and will ensure residential permit parking only for surrounding blocks. 

Shadowing effect of tiered building design

Street between office and condo building.

Last Word

Truman’s team has created two attractive buildings that fulfill the City’s goal for mixed-use, modest density development of key sites in established neighbourhoods near major employment centres.  The proposal meets the expectations of YIMBYs living west of 14th Street, east of Crowchild Trail and north of the Bow River to the escarpment in creating a more walkable community. However, it will never meet all the demands of NIMBYs living in the immediate area.   

No development is perfect, but the Legion No. 264 proposal checks off all of the boxes on any City’s list of good infill urban projects principles. Indeed the project could be the poster child for the City’s Main Street Initiative and the catalyst for West Hillhurst becoming one of Canada’s best urban communities.

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Intelligent infilling or Living in a bubble?

Enhancing Established Communities: Make Multi-Family A Permitted Use

Calgary: Not your parents' suburbs!

"Not your parent’s suburb” was the headline of a Brookfield Residential’s advertorial back in November 2014 announcing their new master planned Livingston community on the northern edge of the city. That headline has stuck with me ever since as it is true not only for Livingston, but for almost all of the Calgary’s new communities. 

While some planner and politicians have been touting the “death of the suburbs” given the millennial generation doesn’t want the suburban lifestyle of their parents, other planners and developers have been quietly evolving new community planning to incorporate the best of suburban and urban living that appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds. The new communities of the 21st century look nothing like those of the late 20th century i.e. “your parents suburbs!” 

Not just about density

Too often the discussion of suburban vs. urban living is focused on density and type of housing – single family vs. multi-family.  Yes, the lots for single-family homes in Calgary’s new communities are smaller then they were 20 years ago.  Yes, there are more condos being built in the ‘burbs than ever before. 

The housing types today are also more diverse. Rather than creating homogeneous communities where all the homes look alike, and are marketing to the same demographics, new communities today include housing that will attract, young singles, young families, older families, empty nesters and even seniors’ homes.  Today we understand creating community is about integrating people of all ages and backgrounds.

But, today’s master plan communities are not just about residential development, it is about strategically integrating residential with retail, restaurant, health and other commercial development so that many of our everyday needs can be obtained within our community.  Road and pathways are designed to allow residents to walk, cycle or take transit to more of their everyday activities.  Terms like complete streets, walkable communities, healthy choices and transit-oriented development populate every new community master plan.

Livingston

Livingston, at 1,430 acres is one-third the size of Okotoks, but will have a density higher than Hillhurst/Sunnyside at 8 to 10 units per hectare. It will include a town centre like Kensington for shopping, surrounded by three residential communities – Carrington, Livingston South and Livingston North. 

It will be home to 35,000 people living in 5,000 single-family homes and 6,500 multi-family homes (apartment style condos, townhomes and semi-detached). Plans call for 70% of the homes to be at an affordable price point with flexible zoning allowing for home-based businesses and secondary suites.

Livingston will be the northern terminus of the North Leg of the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) and eventually the LRT, giving residents easy access downtown office jobs. They will also have easy access to Stony Trail for commuting to Calgary’s growing NE Airport/Distribution District.   Plans also call for 7,000 people to work in Livingston’s at various commercial buildings – rumour even has it that Calgary’s next major hospital will call Livingston home. 

In addition to a full range of shops and services in the town centre, Livingston is part of 138 km citywide Greenway pathway that will be linked to numerous parks, green spaces and pathways within the community. Show homes could be open as soon as late 2016.

For more information: Livingston 

New community of Livingston is being planned as "live, work, play" community with 90% of homes within 400m of transit. 

West District

West District (not to be confused with West Village or West Campus) is a new master planned infill community on Calgary’s west side next to existing Cougar Ridge, Wentworth and West Springs. Of the 3,500 homes, less than 50 will be single-family and those will be along the southern edge where West District links with existing a single-family street. The vast majority of the buildings will have retail or town homes integrated at street level with 5 to 8 storey apartment style condos above.

Like Livingston, West District will have Kensington (10th Street) like pedestrian shopping street anchored by an urban grocery store. In addition to 500,000 square feet of retail, West District will also have 1,200,000 square feet of office/institutional space for 5,000+ workers, which could include a post-secondary satellite campus or a health care facility.

Truman Homes who conceived West District have already received significant interest from empty nesters from the neighbouring communities who want to continue to live in the area, but are looking for a smaller low maintenance homes.  First-time buyers are also expressing interest as plans include a shuttle bus to the West Leg of the LRT.  Young professions like the affordability and size of the West District’s condos along with the easy cycling access to downtown.  Discussions are currently taking place to include a care facility for seniors so people living in West District continue to live in the community as they age.

The centerpiece of West District will be a central park on the same scale and quality as the Beltline’s Memorial Park that can be used for festivals and a farmer’s market.  It will provide a vibrant urban experience not only for those living in the community, but for all of Calgary’s communities west of Sarcee Trail.

Aerial view of West District surrounded by sea of low density single-family homes i.e. 20th century new community planing 

West District's Central Park will include: Performance space, plaza, skating trail/rink, cafe, splash park, playground, sports court, putting green and natural area. 

A prototype for a mixed-use condo building in West District with retail at street level. 

Last Word

It is interesting to note that when fully built-out Livingston will provide $20 million in annual taxes to the City and pay out $170 million in development levies.  West District is expected to add $10 million in new residential and business tax each year and over the next 50 years will generate $400 million more in taxes than a low density residential communities i.e. “your parents suburbs” would generate.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Suburbs: Don't be too quick to judge!

What is urban living and who really cares?

Suburbs move to City Centre in Calgary

Calgary: Are we too downtown centric? 

Community Engagement 101: You can't make everyone happy!

It was three years or so ago that James Robertson, President, West Campus Development Trust (WCDT) said to me “design and defend is dead.”  What he meant was that developers, especially those wanting to do major infill projects in established communities, can no longer just design what they want to build, then host a single public open house where they defend the design of their project as the best thing since sliced bread.  Robertson’s comments came after one of the several WCDT open houses to share with neighbours, their planned development of the University of Calgary’s land on the west side of campus near the Alberta Children’s Hospital (now called University District). 

Robertson and his team were very careful not to design anything before talking to the community first to get some idea of what there concerns were. They first – and wisely – got some idea of neighbours concerns. Only then did they begin to develop a master plan for the 184-acres always keeping the public informed with more open houses and meetings with Community Associations to fine tune the plan as much as possible to meet the University’s needs and those of the community.  At the same time the thoughtful plan had to be based on sound economic and urban planning principles.  University District when fully built out will become home to 15,000 residents and 10,000 workers.

A typical post-it board of comments from any open house or community workshop for an major infill development.

Urban Village in Suburbs?

In the spring of 2014, Truman Developments created the Engagement Hub, a purpose-built 2,000 square foot building on site of their proposed new community West District next to West Springs and Cougar Ridge.  The café-like build was designed as a place where people could comfortably visit and learn about some of the ideas Truman was considering for their new urban infill community. The Engagement Hub was open weekdays, weekends and evenings to allow neighbours to drop by at their convenience to find out what ideas others had given, share their ideas and peruse a library of books with examples of good urban planning.  It was only after 200+ hours of consultation in groups and in one-on-one basis that Truman finalized their master plan for this condo-only community next to sea of single-family homes.

Truman's purpose built Engagement Hub building provided everyone to drop by and discuss plans and ideas for the new West District community. 

Kingsland Densification

More recently, Brookfield Residential took community engagement one step further.  They engaged the community before they even purchased the Market on MacLeod (a former car dealership site on Macleod Trail near Heritage Drive).  In this case, they sent a survey to neighbours soliciting input on their concerns and opportunities to redevelop this gateway site to the community. Once the survey results were in, they hosted a public open house to share the results and, further discuss the redevelopment of the site to determine the community’s appetite for transforming their community into more of an urban village.  Brookfield is currently evaluating the community’s input before they exercise their right to purchase the land and begin the master planning design process.

  Market on Macleod site is perfectly located for urban densification. 

Market on Macleod site is perfectly located for urban densification. 

Harvest Hills Densification 

Cedarglen’s purchase of the Harvest Hills Golf Course - with the intent of converting it into a condo/townhome residential development - has been met with significant resistance from the neighbours since Day one.  However, unlike the Shawnee Slopes Golf Course redevelopment a few year back where the new landowners were reluctant to meet with the community, Cedarglen, with the help of Quantum Developments, have been actively discussing with the community their Land Use Rezoning application, as well as options for redevelopment. However this process hasn’t prevented some very heated exchanges by those wanting the City to retain the land for recreational use only.

Google Earth image of Harvest Hills Golf Course today.

Outline Plan of the proposed Parks at Harvest Hills development. 

Last Word

In each of these cases, while there has been significant upfront community engagement, there are still some unhappy Calgarians.  Unfortunately, there is no master plan for new urban infill developments that will meet the diversity of needs and demands of everyone in a community. The biggest issue is always the City (not the developer) wanting to create denser (i.e. condo) communities, which are cheaper to manage (roads, schools, emergency services etc.), while most Calgarians have a love affair with the single-family home.

Lesson Learned 

You can’t make everyone happy, no matter how much community engagement there is!

An edited version of this blog was commissioned by Condo Living magazine. 

If you liked this blog, you might like:

West District: Community Engagement Gone Wild

University District: Calgary's First 24/7 Community

Kensington Legion Redevelopment: Taller is better?

Altadore 36: An Ideal Infill?

One of the key issues facing Calgary politicians and planners, as well as established communities, is how best to foster the integration of new infill condos on single-family housing streets without the “constipation of consultation.” Brookfield Residential, with its Altadore 36 project (located at the corner of 36th Avenue and 16th Street SW) could well become the model for future condos in established communities.

Brookfield Residential, headquartered in Calgary, is one of North America’s largest homebuilders and perhaps best known for its suburban, master-planned communities like McKenzie Towne and SETON.  What is amazing about Altadore 36 is that it got City and community approval in just 11 months, despite increasing the density ten-fold, i.e. six dilapidated, single-family homes are being replaced by 62 condo homes.  In many cases, a project like this would take years to get community and City approval for a building permit.

Architect Jesse Hindle (he lives in Altadore and his office is in nearby Currie Barracks) created two interlocking ‘L shaped’ buildings oriented east/west along 35/36th Avenues SW. By aligning the development lengthwise along 35/36 Avenues, he maximized the street frontage for each unit and minimized the depth of each of the two buildings across the site.  The result: two, long narrow buildings that wrap around a 30’ x 160’ central landscaped courtyard.  Each unit located on the courtyard or 35/36th Avenue has 30’ of street frontage, allowing for large windows that provide residents with views, natural light and fresh air.  The two-storey, two-bedroom suites along 35/36th Avenues and the courtyard have a total of 60’ of street frontage.  All this and the building isn’t any higher than the fourplex next door.

Architect's drawing of how the two L-shaped building work together to create interior courtyard and provide active street and alley frontages. (photo credit: Hindle Architects)

Bigger isn't always better?

Though the zoning would have allowed a fourth floor, the architect and developer thought this scale was more synergistic with the existing buildings.  Good infill development isn’t always built to maximum density.

The design of Altadore 36 is also very compatible with some of the new, flat-roofed, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired homes in the community. Hindle chose a sandstone-coloured brick, for a warm and timeless look.  The refined rectangular-shaped buildings with clean edges have a traditional, yet contemporary presence – nothing wild or wacky about this condo!  Good urban design is about quality materials, as well as respecting the scale and architecture of the past and the present.  

From the street, each townhouse unit has a small front lawn and patio that function much like the front porch of early 20th century homes.  Above the street are the penthouse flats which have glass, half-walled which foster interaction between the street and the building.  Good urban development is about cultivating exchanges between neighbours, not complete privacy.

All interior homes face onto a courtyard with sidewalk, trees and plantings providing an attractive view from their patio or balcony. Altadore 36 is designed as an impressive hybrid of urban and suburban design.

Rendering of the interior courtyard with its urban mews sense of place. (photo credit: Brookfield Residential)

Affordability/Beautification?

While some might lament the loss of the six older homes which were providing affordable rental housing for some Altadore residents, the new homes starting in the mid $300s will provide affordable housing for first home buyers, seniors or single parents of moderate income.  In fact, with a monthly mortgage cost in the $1,300 range, the cost of these homes won’t be any higher than renting a two-bedroom Altadore apartment.

As well, in addition to diversifying the housing stock in Altadore, Brookfield’s Altadore 36 project will create a much more attractive pedestrian experience both along the street and the back alley for a win-win proposition.

Altadore 36 will create an attractive pedestrian street experience. (photo credit: Brookfield Residential)

Last Word

This Hindle-designed, Brookfield Residential condo could well become the “model” for successfully diversifying the housing in Calgary’s established communities.  It is projects like Altadore 36 that will evolve our predominantly single-family, mid 20th century communities into attractive, animated 21st century ones designed be appealing for generations to come.

NB. An edited version of this blog was commissioned for Condoscapes column in Condo Living Magazine.

If you like this blog, you might like these links:

Altadore: An opportunity to create a model 21st Century Community

King Edward Village

Are school sites sacred cows? 

Do we really need to develop West Village?

When Calgary Sports and Entertainment Group (Calgary Flames/Stampeders/Hitmen/Rednecks owners) announced their preferred location for its CalgaryNEXT project (arena/stadium/fieldhouse) was West Village, many Calgarians exclaimed, “Where’s that?”

It is the land west of 14th Street SW, north of the CPR tracks, south of the Bow River and east of Crowchild Trail. The name was given to the area after the City acquired much of the land in the area and subsequently developed an Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP) in 2009.  West Village has many similarities to East Village (land east of the Municipal Building, north of the CPR tracks, south of the Bow River and east of Fort Calgary) in that it is immediately adjacent to Calgary’s downtown core, is underdeveloped (three car dealerships and the Greyhound Bus depot), has old infrastructure and the land is contaminated.

One of the key selling features of CalgaryNEXT made by CSEG was that the new arena/stadium/fieldhouse complex would be the catalyst for the development of West Village.  However, many are questioning, “Do we really need to develop West Village?”  Some are even saying we have a glut of inner city urban villages and that West Village would just cannibalize development from them.

The City of Calgary's West Village Area Redevelopment Plan identifies numerous parks and public spaces as keys to creating an attractive liveable urban community in West Village. 

Currently, Calgary has ten urban villages, all at various stages of development or revitalization:

  1. Beltline (revitalization)
  2. Bridges (revitalization)
  3. Currie Barracks (new)
  4. East Village (new)
  5. Inglewood (revitalization)
  6. Kensington (revitalization)
  7. Mission (revitalization)
  8. University City (new)
  9. University District (new)
  10. Westbrook Station (new)    

West Village would make eleven inner city urban villages!  This list doesn’t include large single site infill condo projects like – SoBow, Stadium Shopping, North Hill Sears and Inglewood Brewery sites.

  This Google Earth image illustrates he proximity of Calgary's 10 urban living (condominium) communities to each other. 

This Google Earth image illustrates he proximity of Calgary's 10 urban living (condominium) communities to each other. 

Urban Villages 101

An urban village is a multi-block mixed-use (office, residential, retail, recreational, healthcare) walkable community, where the everyday needs of the residents is within a short five to ten-minute walk. 

Most of its residents live in multi-family condos (low, mid or highrise) with retail, restaurant, cafes, yoga, health clubs, professional services and an urban grocer at the street level.

Parking is underground; transit service is frequent with stations and stops within walking distance and there are bike lanes to encourage cycling.  

Small attractive community parks and plazas serve as outdoor living rooms for the residents to meet and mingle.   There is also an active patio culture that animates the sidewalks.

Urban villages often have a signature, annual street festival or event (e.g. Lilac Festival along 4th Street in Mission).

The proposed Promenade along the Bow River in West Village will function much like the River Walk in East Village as meeting place for new residents. 

Cannibalism?

While each of Calgary’s old and new urban villages listed above have their unique charm, they are in many ways competing for the same condo buyers – yuppies and rupppies (retired urban professionals) who the urban lifestyle - walking, cycling, arts, festivals, music, cafes and dining out. 

West Village is ideally located to cannibalize all of the current villages given its catchment area would include the University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre, SAIT and Mount Royal University as well as downtown.

Both the City of Calgary and developers have already made significant investment in plans and infrastructure to foster the development of the current ten urban villages. The City would be wise to capitalize on those investments (e.g. underground Westbrook Station, new overpass at Flanders Road cost-shared with Canada Lands Corporation, new Central Library) before making any more infrastructure investments.

Finishing some of the villages already started or the advanced planning stages, will allow Calgarians to see what a vibrant urban community really looks like.  The last thing we want is a bunch of half finished urban villages.  Urban villages only work when they have the density of people to attract the diversity of amenities that make it an attractive and vibrant place to live, work and play.

  The City's West Village ARP conceptually identifies five precincts for the new community. The CalgaryNEXT arena/stadium/fieldhouse would take up the entire Promenade District. 

The City's West Village ARP conceptually identifies five precincts for the new community. The CalgaryNEXT arena/stadium/fieldhouse would take up the entire Promenade District. 

West Village ARP 101

A quick review of the West Village ARP tells us that before a new arena/stadium/ fieldhouse gets built there are significant infrastructure projects that need to happen before any new buildings can be added.

These include:

  • Bow Trail realignment and redesign as an urban boulevard,
  • Remediation of contamination,
  • 9th Avenue redesign
  • 14th Street NW roundabout design
  • Upgrade main stormwater lines on-site and downstream. 

The ARP contemplates a Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) be put in place to pay for these infrastructure costs similar to how the East Village infrastructure cost were funded.  There is no way the CRL can pay for both infrastructure improvements and share of the arena and stadium costs as proposal by CalgaryNEXT.

The ARP also calls for a Riverfront Promenade/Park along the Bow River that would rival that of East Village and create a spectacular contiguous urban river walk extending from Crowchild Trail to Fort Calgary.  It even calls for a pedestrian bridge to West Hillhurst on the north side of the Bow River.

The City has invested significant time and money into developing the West Village ARP. Any changes to it should include significant community engagement.

Last Word

As one colleague (who asked to remain nameless) emailed me re CalgaryNEXT’s proposal, “My research indicates that there are 15,000 condo units proposed in the City Centre along with another 15,000 in high density developments next to LRT stations located outside the core. This equates to over 25 years’ worth of existing concrete multifamily supply.”   

It would seem Calgary doesn’t really need to develop West Village at this time and in fact, maybe not for another 15 to 20 years. The City currently limits development in the suburbs to land that either already has services or is most cost-effective to service. Perhaps this discipline should also be applied to Calgary’s inner city.

Given the current economy, now is a good time to finish what we have already started! 

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on September 12, 2015 entitled "Do we really need to develop West Village?" 

If you like this blog, below are links to related blogs:

CalgaryNEXT: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, The Bold

Urban Living is in its infancy in Calgary

Calgary: Leader in addressing urban issues

 

Kensington Legion Redevelopment: Taller is better?

On September 9th I attended a meeting organized by Calgarians concerned about the redevelopment of the Kensington Legion site. In fact, it was openly organized by those who opposed the development - there was full transparency about that.

This was not an official Open House organized by the City or Truman Development Corp. who has joint-ventured with the Kensington Legion to redevelop the Kensington Road Legion site. I found out from a friend who lives near the site and had a notice placed in his mailbox. Given I live in West Hillhurst and the 19th Street/Kensington Road intersection is quickly becoming our Town Centre. I attended to better understand their concerns.

Of the 120 or so people there, all but a few others (including me) vehemently opposed the redevelopment for various reasons. Most were concerned about the proposed height of the concept building (10 storeys) and the number of condo units (190), which would make it the largest project in the central northwest - larger than anything in Kensington Village.  It was referred to many times as “a game changer” and “precedent setting.”

Conceptual rendering of the Kensington Legion site redevelopment, with the new Legion / Office Building on the left and the mixed-use condo building on the right.  The design and materials create a unique sense of place and function as a gateway to West Hillhurst. 

Looking northwest this rendering illustrates how the building relates with the community. Note the height of the building next to the homes on the north side is not any higher than a new large infill single family house. 

  This rendering illustrates the sites proximity to downtown, Bow River and Kensington Village. 

This rendering illustrates the sites proximity to downtown, Bow River and Kensington Village. 

The Proposal at a Glance

Truman has submitted an application to rezone the land into two parcels and it is being reviewed by the City of Calgary. The smaller parcel on the west side would become home for a four-storey mixed-use Legion building. The first two floors would be the Legion’s new home and the top two would be new office space to be leased to tenants as a means of increasing and diversifying their revenues. This could become a new redevelopment model to rejuvenate struggling Legions across Canada.

As a trade-off for building at turn-key home for the Legion,Truman is seeking to rezone the land where the existing Legion and parking lot exists to allow for a mixed-use mid-rise development i.e. retail at street level and condos above.

This is where it gets confusing. Despite there being two phases to the project, the Land Use rezoning for both is happening at the same time. To complicate matters further, Truman is also submitting the development application for the 4-storey office building, however this will only happen if Truman is successful with the Land Use rezoning for a four-storey office building.

It is also expected Truman will be submitting the mixed-use (retail/condo) development application this fall even though the Land Use Rezoning decision by City Council – including a public hearing where anyone can get their 5-minutes to address Council – will not be made until December at the earliest.

Site 1 is where the proposed Phase One 4-storey office building will be located and Site 2 is where the proposed Phase Two mixed-use retail/condo building will be located. 

What is Land Use Rezoning?

Every piece of land in the City is zoned for a certain type and scale of development – there are dozens of different types. In layman’s terms, some land is zone exclusively for single-family residential; other zoning allows for condos and townhomes at various heights and densities, some zoning allows for a maximum of four-storey multifamily with retail at the street, or six story wood frame. There is also separate zoning classifications for commercial, industrial or institutional development.

Zoning is the means the City strategically develops land in a compatible and balanced manner with neighbouring land uses and infrastructure, as well as with the City’s overall need for residential, commercial, industrial and institutional development.

Rezoning of Land Use happens quite frequently.  While a landowner thinks s/he has a better idea for the use of the land than the current land use, s/he applies to the City for change-of-use and provides their rationale. The application is evaluated by City Administration and other stakeholders (Community Association) as part of the review process. The City Administration then makes a recommendation to Calgary Planning Commission who in turn make a recommendation to City Council to determine if the Rezoning is aligned with the City's strategic long-term planning policies and goals as set by Council, and also if it fits with the best interest of the neighbours and community. If Council, ultimately approves the Land Use Rezoning the landowner can apply for a development permit based on the new zoning.

  The timeline shows how the new Land Use Redesignation (or Rezoning as it is sometimes called, just to confuse the matter more) will be conducted including the public engagement and public hearing aspect of the process. (from Turman website) 

The timeline shows how the new Land Use Redesignation (or Rezoning as it is sometimes called, just to confuse the matter more) will be conducted including the public engagement and public hearing aspect of the process. (from Turman website) 

  This illustration documents how the development permit application process works including public engagement.  (from Truman website)

This illustration documents how the development permit application process works including public engagement. (from Truman website)

  This illustration documents how the Site 2 (mixed-use building) development permit application will proceed with public engagement continuing into 2016. (from Truman website)

This illustration documents how the Site 2 (mixed-use building) development permit application will proceed with public engagement continuing into 2016. (from Truman website)

Kensington Legion: Prime Site For Redevelopment

In the case of the Kensington Legion site, it is currently an underutilized site with its one-storey building and large surface parking lot located 3 km from downtown, along a major bus route, near schools and the historic West Hillhurst Main Street (along 19th St NW).  It not only has great access to downtown but also to SAIT, University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre, Alberta Children’s Hospital and Mount Royal University.  These factors make it ripe for redevelopment.

The City's Municipal Development Plan identifies Kensington Road (between 10th St NW and Crowchild Trail) as a Neighbourhood Corridor supported by Primary Transit (i.e. Bus Rapid Transit) and as a Neighbourhood Boulevard, which makes it an ideal site for retail at street level, with office spaces and condos above.  The great debate is how much retail, office and condo development should go on the site and how does it get configured.

Kensington Road (from 14th Street to Crowchild Trail) is part of the City’s new Main Street Initiative,  which looks at how the City can foster the development of more pedestrian-oriented streetscapes with restaurants, cafes, boutique retailers, yoga/fitness studios, professional offices and low (under 4 storeys) to mid-rise (under 12 storeys) condo buildings so as to create walkable communities.  

Interesting to note that a Kensington Road Main Street Open House (ironically held at the Legion Building), citizens indicated strongly that they wanted to see more retail, restaurants, an urban grocery store and more condos in high quality buildings - almost exactly what Truman has proposed.  One caveat some in attendance (not all) stated the maximum height should be four-storeys. At the same time they also said they didn’t want it to look like Kensington Village, but something unique to their community.

With the current the Legion sitting on uniquely large inner-city site there is potential for a much larger and taller building than you would typically find in Kensington Village, Marda Loop or Mission.  Truman’s concept building cascades downward from 10 storeys (at Kensington Road), to just three storeys (adjacent to the alley).

Truman did not set out to design a 10-storey building, but achieve a particular floor to land area ratio (FAR) goal as per Land use requirements. One way the FAR goal could be achieved with this project is by creating a cascading building form and height with 10-storeys on the southside next to Kensington Road stepping down to its lowest height on the northside next to the single-family homes. This helps to minimize the shadow impact on existing neighbours. 

This illustration shows that the 10-storey configuration of the concept building actually creates less of a shadow than a six-storey box structure would. 

Summary of comment from Kensington Road NW Main Street Open House. 

This Google Earth image illustrates the proximity of the Kensington Legion site to key employment centers and amenities. 

The Objections to the Development

While I believe many people in attendance at the September 9th meeting were in favour of some development, there were a plethora of reasons they objected to Truman’s 10-storey development. Comments I heard were:  

  • West Hillhurst should remain a single-family home community

  • Will bring “hordes” of panhandlers and drug users

  • Shouldn’t be any development taller than four storeys

  • Will lower the value of my home

  • Would be better as a park

  • Some feared that if 10-storeys was allowed with this project the next project could be 15+ storeys.

  • Back alley concerns from delivery trucks and poor garbage removal by businesses

The most interesting objection was parents concerned about all vehicular access to the site being from 18th Street (via the back alley) as 18th Street is an important street to access Queen Elizabeth (QE) Schools (elementary, junior high and high school).  It was also stated that QE is a “walk-only” school. (I later checked with the Calgary Board of Education who said they don’t use that term, but QE is a designated community school which many children walk to. But they also added QE offers many alternative programs that attract students from other neighbourhoods who are bussed to school.)

I do see dozens of school buses and cars parked outside the three schools every school day dropping off and picking up students. The kids walking to school are already used to negotiating the busy streets surrounding the school. I appreciate some parents’ concerns about the increased traffic exiting and entering off of 18th Street and the safety of children, but I wonder if this objection is a red herring. 

As for the worst objection, my “vote” goes to…

Some people complained Truman didn’t do enough to notify people that about the development and provide ample opportunity for input as most of the engagement happened over the summer. Perhaps that is true if you were away all summer, but really, how many people go away all summer?

In reality, Truman manned a display room in the Legion building every Wednesday (4 to 7 pm) and Saturday (11am to 2 pm) from July 15th through August 29th for people to view the proposal (poster board information panels and a 3D model) and chat with their development team one-on-one.  In all, there were 14 different sessions totalling 42 hours. In addition, a website had all of the information about the project and contact information since early July - and it still exists.

Thirdly, sandwich boards were placed at various locations near the site along Kensington Road inviting people to visit the Display Room at the Legion. A small kiosk next to the sidewalk in front of the Legion also had information about the proposal and post-it notes for people to provide comments anytime day or night.

Temporary kiosk located at the Kensington Legion site next to sidewalk to allow neighbours to read about the project and provide comments. 

  Concept images of the proposed buildings for Kensington Legion site redevelopment. 

Concept images of the proposed buildings for Kensington Legion site redevelopment. 

  Information panel outlining the process for rezoning and development permit approval at the kiosk. 

Information panel outlining the process for rezoning and development permit approval at the kiosk. 

 

Last Word

The last thing I would like to see is cookie cutter, four-storey box condo all too commonly seen in urban renewal communities not only in Calgary, but in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland and Edmonton.  The Kensington Legion site has the capacity to be home for a signature building that would be the gateway to the new West Hillhurst.  How exciting would that be!

Yes, it is a “game changer” - and that is a good thing. It could be the impetus for transforming West Hillhurst into a wonderful 21st century urban village with a vibrant town centre complete with local shops, cafes and offices. 

Yes, it is “precedent setting” and I hope the precedent will lead to more low to mid-rise, mixed-use buildings along Kensington Road, thereby attracting more people to live/work/play in OUR community. 

I also hope it has the potential of being the catalyst for a name change from West Hillhurst to Grand Trunk, the original name of the community. 

It is time for West Hillhurst to step out of the shadow of the neighbouring Hillhurst/Sunnyside community and become Canada’s next best community. This YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) says YES!

If you like this blog, click on the links below for related blogs: 

Kensington Village: One of North America's Healthest Communities

Calgary: Flaneuring 19th St. NW

West District: Community Engagement Gone Wild

Calgary Community Engagement: Raising the bar again!

Last September, I posted a blog entitled “ West District: Community Engagement Gone Wild” documenting the outstanding efforts of Truman Developments to make it easy for the public to share their thoughts about “West District,” a multi-block urban village being planned by Truman in the middle of suburbia on Calgary’s west side.

Their engagement plan included the construction of a building on site to meet with people in groups and individually to discuss ideas and concerns over a four-month period. This was no cursory open house meeting where the community was allowed to rant and rave and give their opinions while the developer politely listened but went away and developed the master plan more or less as they had planned anyway. The old “design and defend” development process is dead in Calgary. (Learn more at: West District: Community Engagement Gone Wild.)

Now a year later, Brookfield Residential is raising the bar yet again on community engagement in Calgary by engaging the Kingsland community with their Kingsland Market on Macloed (Brookfield’s name for the project) project on the huge former McKay car dealership site on Macleod Trail near Heritage Drive SW.

Brookfield's Kingsland Market on Macleod is ideally situated to become the gateway to the community from Macleod Trail. 

How could that be?

Brookfield is meeting with the neighbours and community even BEFORE they buy the land to determine how the community feels about the idea of transforming the site into a 21st century urban village.  There are no plans, no sketches, no pretty pictures of what might be; it is just a blank slate until they get the community’s input I am not aware of any developer to date being so proactive in Calgary.

At this time Brookfield’s vision and plans for the site are purposely unresolved, to wisely avoid falling into the “design and defend” debate.  In a recent email I received, the vision statement read:

“Kingsland Market will be Calgary’s newest sustainable urban village at the gateway to this established community. The vision is to generate a magnificent renewal of the site that will present new residential and commercial options for an ever-increasing and diverse population within our city.  It will reinvigorate green space and reunite this area into a seamless whole with the rest of the community and all that it has to offer.”

 While some might argue this is too ambiguous, I think it helps to start the discussion by identifying four key community-enhancing ideas:

  1. New residential options that will diversify the community’s population.
  2. New commercial options – retail, restaurant, café, entertainment, recreational – that will create a more walkable live/work/play community.
  3. Enhancement of green spaces which will make the community more attractive for existing and new residents.
  4. Enhancement of connectivity by creating a more attractive, walkable experience for residents to the Heritage Station LRT and Macleod Trail bus stops.

The survey says…

Their first step was posting a survey online asking neighbours to share their concerns and ideas.

I contacted Brookfield to see if I could get the results of the survey and in the spirit of transparency they willing agreed to share them.

As of September 8th the Kingsland survey had generated over 200 survey responses, the comments range, as one would expect from entirely opposed, to entirely positive.

 The common themes to date are:

  • Retention of Market on Macleod
  • Rental/Residents
  • Affordability of condos
  • Traffic/Speed
  • Parking
  • Height

Key questions raised in the comments:

  • Who is the target market of this project?
  • Will this result in the loss of the market?
  • Will the units be owned or rented?
  • Do we get to vote on the redevelopment?
  • Has the community association already committed?
  • Would you consider trying to incorporate the marketing into the development?

Sample positive comments:

  •  This looks like an amazing project – I look forward to hearing how it progresses
  • I think this is a great idea and could really improve our neighbourhood!
  • I would welcome this site but only if it can be kept affordable.
  • I am excited to finally have a project that will give our community a vibrancy transfusion it hasn’t had for years. The community has been atrophying from lack of interest.
  • We would love to have a professional, seamless development that would provide a good example of modern urban renewal.

Sample negative comments:

  •  I am fundamentally opposed to any rental or highrise development in Kingsland. I understand this is a condo or a rental that is a ways away but once one of these projects gets a toehold, many more will follow.
  • I am very disappointed that you are doing this. The Market will be gone and a quiet residential neighbourhood will be turned into another urban concrete jungle, not a quaint village. I live very close to this proposed development and may move because of it.
  • You are lowering the value of our already unappreciated community thanks to developers like you and renters.
  • Definitely not thrilled about the Market being demolished to build more [yuppie] condos.

None of these comments are surprising; they are the same comments you hear from the community for every Calgary infill development whether it be Stadium Shopping Centre, Harvest Hills Golf Course or Kensington Legion site.

The next step is to host an open house further discuss the ideas, issues, concerns and opportunities.  Everyone is welcome:

When: September 16, 2015 at 7:30 pm, Kingsland Community Association Hall (505 78 Ave SW)

It will be interested to see how many people attend the open house and what they have to say.

Kingsland Market FAQ

About Kingsland

Kingsland is, for the most part, a typical Calgary community.  It is unique in that residents in Kingsland are less likely to live in a single-family home (28%) compared to the 58% city-wide and more likely to be renters 68% compared to 31% city-wide. 

The median age of the 4,812 Calgarians that call Kingsland home is on par with the city average and the education profile of the Kingsland community is about the same as citywide figures - yet their median household income is only $59,908 compared to the city-wide figure of $81,256. 

Where Kingslandians shine is that 26% take public transit to work and 10% walk compared to only 17% of Calgarians city-wide using transit and 5% walking to work. 

(Source: City of Calgary, Community Profiles, 2014)

The boundaries of Kingsland are Glenmore Trail on the north, Heritage Drive on the south, Macleod Trail on the east and Elbow Drive on the west.

Last Word

In chatting with Jaydan Tait, VP Calgary Infill Communities, with Brookfield Residential he tells me “We are doing this early engagement to build trust with our neighbours right off the top. We want to understand our neighbours’ direct opinions on the potential reinvigoration of the site. The early kick-start to the conversation and using the Metro quest survey provides unfiltered feedback from people.  This is different from more typical development engagement where feedback is often collected and channeled by a Community Association or other groups. The engagement will inform our decision on whether to proceed with the acquisition based on the ability to realize a shared development vision.  We want to demonstrate to neighbours, community and City Council, we are being completely transparent in our commitment to creating great places in our City.”

Kudos to Brookfield to let the neighbours get their thoughts on the table early, even before the City planners. Now the challenge will be to continue work with the community and neighbours where there is a diversity of ideas - some diametrically opposed - to foster a shared vision linked to market and financial realities.

As I always like to say, “There is no perfect vision, no perfect redevelopment plan. You can never make everyone happy!” Best wishes Kingsland community and Brookfield!

Calgary's urban grocery store saga!

An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's NEW CONDOS section on Saturday, August 29th, 2015 titled, "Grocery store placement a tricky business." 

Whatever happened to the six grocery stores being planned in Calgary’s City Centre (all of the urban communities within 3 km of downtown office core)? Back in August 2014, Calgary Herald City journalist Jason Markusoff reported that developers of no less than six different condo projects were negotiating with grocery stores to locate in their projects.  

Fast forward to August 2015 - Loblaw’s has done a deal for a mega 100,000 square foot (50% will be groceries and 50% other goods) East Village with Rio Can. First Capital Realty recently announced they have inked a deal with Vancouver’s Urban Fare (a subsidiary of the Overwaitea Food Group) as the anchor tenant of the ground floor retail space for The Royal condo on 8th Street and 16th Avenue SW.

  Concept of the new Loblaws store in East Village. 

Concept of the new Loblaws store in East Village. 

Ryan Bosa, President of Embassy Bosa Inc. the developer for The Royal (condos and commercial spaces) is “very excited with Urban Fare being at our doorstep as First Capital’s anchor tenant.  Grocery stores help define neighbourhoods and Urban Fare will fill in the last piece to make this a fully amenitized neighbourhood with a massive convenience for the existing community and our homebuyers alike.  Without question, the grocery tenant had a huge impact on us going after this site (though Urban Fare was not confirmed at the time we did the deal, we did know there would be a high-caliber grocer).”

  Computer rendering of the new Urban Fare store at street level of The Royal on 8th Ave SW at 16th Street.

Computer rendering of the new Urban Fare store at street level of The Royal on 8th Ave SW at 16th Street.

Why did it take so long to get two new grocers to locate in the Beltline and East Village?  And why is Whole Foods rumoured to be locating in Northland Mall and not in an urban community you ask?”

Perhaps it is because Calgary’s City Centre is already well served with its current nine grocery stores – three Canada Safeway (Mission, Beltline and Kensington), Calgary Co-op Midtown, Sunterra, Community Natural Foods, Bridgeland Market, Amaranth Whole Foods Market and Sunnyside Natural Market.

In chatting with a few grocery store experts, a modern large grocery store like Canada Safeway, Sobey’s, Save-On-Foods or Calgary Co-op needs a minimum customer base of 30,000 to warrant opening up a new store.   Given that our greater downtown has four large grocery stores, they alone have the capacity to serve over 120,000 residents.  If you add up all of the communities within a 4 km radius of our downtown core, the population only adds up to 75,000. So our greater downtown communities are well served by the existing grocery stores - despite what some might argue!

There is probably room for a couple of other specialty grocers, which is exactly what we have with Community Natural Foods, Bridgeland Market, Sunterra, Amaranth Whole Foods Market and Sunnyside Natural Market.

Proposed sites for new grocery stores

The mega makeover plans of Eau Claire Market includes a grocery store but the population of Eau Claire, Downtown Core and West End won’t even add up to 20,000 people when all the proposed new condos are completed.  With the coming of a mega grocery store in East Village, that just about kills any opportunity for a major grocer to set up shop in Eau Claire.

An ambitious three-tower residential project called West Village Towers at 9th Ave SW at 10th Street (old Stampede Pontiac site) is another location looking for a major grocery store to locate there, but with Canada Safeway, Calgary Co-op and Community Natural Foods all just blocks away, this will be a tough deal to negotiate.

West Village Towers is a partnership between Wexford Developments and Cidex Group of Companies who retained NORR architects Calgary and Dubai offices, including world-renowned architect, Yahya Jan, to design West Village Towers, which will include 575 units and 90,000 sf of retail including a possible grocery store. 

Anthem Properties has been sitting on their Mcleod Trail 25th Ave SE land (just west of Erlton LRT Station) since 2007. Its proposed development plan calls for a mixed-use development with four residential towers totaling 570,000 sf, (which translates to 600 condos or about 1,000 people).  Their website indicates the commercial podium at street level will be anchored by a 75,000 square foot grocery (there is even a computer rendering showing a generic Grocery sign). 

The question one has to ask is “Would Sobeys possibly sell their Canadian Safeway site in Mission and open a modern grocery store in Erlton?”  There aren’t sufficient residents in Mission, Erlton and Roxboro to support for two grocery stores even with several new residential developments over the next five to ten years. 

Peter Edmonds, Director, Marketing tells me Anthem Properties is “currently working with a national grocer (not Sobeys) on a 38,000 square foot store to open within three years and with construction starting on their Erlton Station mixed-use development in the spring of 2016.”

Erlton Station mixed-use development includes retail along Macleod Trail with a grocery store.

PBA Land & Development recently announce plans for a 100,000 square foot mixed-use project at the corner of 17th Avenue and 1st Street SE, which would include a 15,000 square foot grocery store at street level.  If the Erlton Station deal is inked it would be difficult to imagine another grocery store at this location.

Facing Reality

While many Calgary urbanites would love to see more grocery stores locate in new developments, the harsh reality is there are already more grocery stores in our greater downtown communities than in most urban centres.  The current Canadian Safeway and Calgary Co-op store sites are economically viable in part because they have only owned their land for a long time and they own the building.  Trying to operate a viable grocery store in a high rent urban site with limited vehicular and loading access and expensive indoor parking and without a critical mass of residents is a difficult investment to make for the low margin grocery store business.

One former senior executive with a major international grocery store chain told me "people should be careful what they hope for.  If we opened a story in Bridgeland, that would probably mean the end of the local mom and pop stores like, Lukes Drug Mart and the Bridgeland Market and we'd become the big bad corporate store. Despite what many think, we are sensitive to our relationship with the communities we serve - they are our customers."

The addition of a Loblaw’s grocery store in East Village and the Urban Fare in the Beltline will dramatically change Calgary’s urban grocery store culture for the next decade making it difficult for any new players for several years.  That is just my opinion and I hope I am wrong!

Last Word

The public should realize developers are working very hard to ink a deal with new grocery store operators, but it isn’t easy, Nobody is going to sign a deal that doesn’t make economic sense for both the developer and the grocer. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Whole Foods Lincoln Park 

Beltline: One of North America's best hipster neighbourhoods

Calgary's secret urban village?

 

Flamesville vs Stampede Park???

With great interest I have been following all the speculation surfacing around the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation’s (CSEC) plans for a new, mega, sports-oriented urban village west of Mewata Armoury.  I admire and respect CSEC for not wanting to debate the merits of their idea in the media until they have political support and financing in place.  However, at the same time, I wonder how open they will be to new ideas sure to surface from the public, given they have spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours developing the proposal. 

I fear we are reverting back to the old “design and defend” developer mentality so prevalent in the late 20th century.  It was a time when the developer would come up with what they thought was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and then defend it with all their resources.

I am always leery when someone says, “Trust me. You will love this proposal when you see it” which is what Ken King, President of CSEC said months ago. This raises everyone’s expectations and no plan can please everyone. I really hope Ken is right.

The Saddledome is one of Calgary's best examples of iconic architecture. 

Too Big!

Jane Jacobs, the 1960s guru of urban renewal, said good urban development is “incremental not revolutionary” meaning good urban renewal is the result of lots of little projects that get built over an extended period of time.  Good examples would be the Beltline, Mission or Inglewood where new projects happen almost every year, but none are mega block projects. 

Jacobs also warned against grouping too many mega buildings (libraries, museums, public art galleries, convention centres, arena and stadiums) close together this kills any chance of urban vitality.  Any building that takes up an entire block and has only one or two entrances is destined to be street vitality killer.   Locate two or three together can spell disaster. Look no further than the lack of street vitality around the Glenbow, Art Commons and Convention Centre.

SHEDs

That being said, Sports, Hospitality, Entertainment Districts (SHEDs) are being created in many cities, including Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto. These districts include arenas, stadiums (football/baseball), convention centres, hotels, casinos and many sports bars and lounges.

Calgary actually already has a SHED – better known as Stampede Park with its two arenas, two major event centres (BMO Centre and Big Four Building) and an underutilized stadium (Grandstand). 

For years I have wondered why the Calgary Sports & Entertainment Corporation and Stampede Board couldn’t develop a shared vision for Stampede Park that would elevate the Park into a vibrant 21st century mixed-use park.  A place with a modern arena and a stadium (that could accommodate the rodeo, chuckwagon races, grandstand show, CFL football, concerts and track and field events).  A place that would open up to Mcleod Trail and to East Village and not be a gated community.

  Google Earth image of Stampede Park with its current access to two LRT station and one future LRT station, as well as existing Saddledome and Grandstand/Stadium.

Google Earth image of Stampede Park with its current access to two LRT station and one future LRT station, as well as existing Saddledome and Grandstand/Stadium.

Not the right site?

I am not convinced the West Village is the best site for a new SHED, given the cost to overcome the issues of contamination, major roadway redevelopment, land ownership and lest we forget, flood prevention. It could take years, if not a decade, to resolve just the Crowchild Trail, Bow Trail and Memorial Drive bottleneck.

West Village would be much better developed incrementally over the next 20 years with a mixture of projects including residential development for 10,000+ people. West Village has tremendous potential as a mixed-use “live work play” community with its easy access to the river pathway, LRT, downtown, universities of Calgary and Mount Royal, as well as Foothills and Children’s Hospitals.

As the Flames’ email to season ticket holders included the “live work play” brand; this means residential could be the new dimension to their West Village vision they will be announcing on Monday. If the Flames vision for West Village included approximately one third residential development, one third work and one third play that would be a game changer, as it would have the elements of a real mixed-use urban village.

Google Earth image of West Village an site of possible new arena at the Greyhound Bus site and the location of Sunalta LRT station and key interchanges for access and egress from the site.

Last Word

Still, I believe the City should ask the Calgary Stampede Board and CSEC to work together to create an innovative and exciting plan for Stampede Park and Victoria Park to create a vibrant SHED that will include all the major sports and entertainment facilities Calgary will need for the next 50 years. 

An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, August 15, 2015 titled "Flames shouldn't overlook using Stampede Park for megaproject." 

If you like this blog, you might like:

YYC: Wants vs Needs: Arena, Stadium, Convention Centre

Calgary's Audacious New Library

2015: Year of Calgary's mega infill projects

Reader Comments: 

As of Aug 16th over 1,000 people have read this blog and not one has emailed or tweeted that they like the West Village site over the Stampede Park.  

BL writes: 

I agree that it seems like the attitude of the city, the Flames and the Stampede Board is that the Stampede area is screwed up; so instead of trying to fix it, let's go screw up somewhere else.

The West Village concept is OK as a potential site for a stadium, arena and entertainment district. But is it really necessary to go there? From a city planning perspective, wouldn't it be better to complete all of the development on the lands east of Macleod Trail between the Bow and the Elbow; and thereafter go looking to develop the West Village?

The planners have put similar restrictions on suburban development, basically saying that everything can't be built at the same time; so why not do likewise in the inner city?

 

Car2go a Calgary Game Changer

Calgarians are loving Car2go, so much so our city has the second highest number of membership 80,000, not far behind Vancouver with 88,000 and if you factor in that Vancouver has 750 vehicles versus Calgary’s 550, we have the most members per vehicle in the entire system.  Both cities have comparable Home Area (the area of the city where you are allowed to park your vehicle for free), with Vancouver’s area being 120 square kilometers with 90 dedicated parking spaces, while Calgary’s area is 115 square kilometers and has only 75 dedicated parking spaces.

Calgary beats out cities like Toronto with only 43,000 members, Seattle, the U.S. leader at 67,000 members and Austin (Car2go headquarters) at 53,000 and Portland with 35,000 members.

Car2go beside the colourful ski fence in Altadore.

However, the number of memberships is perhaps not the best measurement of Car2go usage as a city could have lots of members, but they might not be very active.  I have to confess that I joined in the first few weeks that Car2go memberships were offered in Calgary and I have never used it.  A friend who joined with me has used it a few times. 

 

 

Car2go’s External Communications Manager, Dacyl Armendariz check for me and Calgary still ranks #2 and Vancouver #1 when it comes to “utilization rates (the amount of time the vehicles in the fleet in any given city are used by that membership).” 

Why do Calgarians love Car2go?

It doesn’t surprise me Calgarians have embraced Car2go given it offers free parking and our downtown has some of the highest parking rates in North America. In some ways Car2go is Calgary’s equivalent to a bike share program. The cars aren’t much bigger than a bike; they make way more sense in our winter climate and can operate with existing infrastructure. 

I counted 23 car2go cars one evening at the south end of River Park.  I am told one of the popular uses of car2go is to float down the rivers.

Harry Hiller, Sociology professor at the University of Calgary, thinks Calgary’s demographics makes it ideal city a car share program.  “We know that most of the migration to Calgary in the last 15 years has been young adults between 18-35.  Most of these people come on speculation wanting to try out the job market but without major resources.  In my view, this is the most important explanation for why Calgary ranks so high on the user rankings- and on a per capita basis, even surpasses Vancouver.  Vancouver has a high residential population downtown whereas Calgary's downtown residential population is still developing.  Yet, there are far more jobs downtown than there is living spaces downtown.  All of this supports car2go use.”

Line up of car2go on 50th Ave SW near River Park. 

Other reasons why young Calgarians might love Car2go:

Anyone wanting to find a car2go just has to type in an address on the app and up comes a map with the location of cars nearby. 

  1. The system is most effective with smart phones and young adults are most familiar with the usage of smart phones for many things. 
  2. Youth are more interested in experimentation than older adults and the small one time membership fee encourages younger people to experiment with the system. 
  3. You get some of the benefits of car ownership without the ongoing costs of gas, insurance, repairs and parking. (remember a parking stall in a new condo can cost $50,000).

Car2go confirmed that in fact the vast majority of Calgary members are 25 to 25 years old, but also indicated that they have members from 18 to some in their ‘90s.  I was also told that membership is almost 50/50 between males and females. 

Transit and Bike Lanes Factor

Another factor in Calgarians enthusiasm for Car2go could be that is our transit system to downtown (bus and LRT) is filled to capacity for commuters.  On weekday LRT “park and ride” lots are full making it difficult to use the LRT for short trips to downtown, SAIT or University of Calgary.  Bus service at non-peak times is infrequent on most routes making it less than ideal for short meetings or travelling at night.  In the winter, you have to wait outside to catch transit versus a quick walk to the nearest Car2go, which can check on your cell phone to make sure there is one nearby.

This image is from the car2go app that shows you where cars are in proximity to where you are located.  If you zoom in, you can get the exact street address for you waiting car. I chose this image as it best illustrated the concentration of vehicles in the greater downtown area. 

Another factor, might be that our transit system is very downtown centric, which means the 20% of Calgarians work downtown have good transit service, but those who don’t work downtown - 80% of Calgarians – have less than ideal transit service.

One might also argue while Calgary has arguably the best recreational bike paths in the world, it is lacking in functional bike lanes that allow for bike use for everyday activities including commuting to work, meeting up with friends for a meal or a coffee or to run an errand.

It is therefore not surprising that most popular destination for Calgary Car2go members by far is downtown, representing 20% of all trips. In March 2015, Calgary’s City Council received sufficient complaints about Car2go vehicles taking up too many of the downtown street parking spaces they decided to restrict their vehicles on any given downtown block to 25% of the parking spaces.

 

Other popular destinations are SAIT, University of Calgary, Mount Royal University, Chinook and Market Mall.  Recently, I counted 25+ cars parked at the River Park entrance in Altadore two beautiful spring evenings in a row, perhaps they should rename it Dog2go! 

Last Word

From Hiller’s perspective as an urban sociologist “the interesting question is whether Car2go encourages density and he says it does because it gives the urban resident a transportation option that fills in the gaps where public transportation does not go or where public transportation is less convenient.  The relationship between the two is symbiotic. 

Having access to a car when you need it but without paying for storage or insurance gives the high-density dweller a sense of freedom that they don't have when they depend totally on public transportation.”

There seems to be a nice symbiotic relationship developing between Car2go and creating attractive inner-city urban communities in Calgary. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Is Calgary too downtown centric?

Drivers, Cyclist & Pedestrians need to learn to share!

 

Flaneuring Calgary's original craft brewery

Long before Portland, Denver or (insert the name a city here) became the Craft Brewery Capital of North America and certainly long before Calgary’s Big Rock, Village or Wild Rose Breweries, there was Calgary Brewing and Malt Company (CB&MC) established back in 1892. Unfortunately the site on 9th Ave and 15th Street in Inglewood has been closed since 1994 and the buildings have deteriorated significantly.

 A few years back I attended a presentation by Calgary architect Lorne Simpson who also happens to be the city’s most experienced historical restoration expert on the state of the CB&MC buildings.  He has been responsible for most Calgary’s restoration projects for the past 25+ years.  The key take home message I got from his workshop was that most of the buildings were beyond restoration, pointing that many of the buildings had been added in such a way that if on was removed you had to remove several others as they were all supported each other.

While many have seen the full buffalo sculpture from 9th Avenue, this art deco style buffalo head in the middle of the site is a hidden gem. It definitely deserves to be a focal point of public space. 

This sandstone Calgary beer logo attached to the facade of this building also deserves a more prominent location with a storyboard. 

 

 

He did however off some suggestions on how the site might be developed to retain the industrial design character of those buildings while adapting them to new uses and modern building codes. While some of the audience was very disappointed that more of the site couldn’t be preserved, others were excited by the opportunity to create a unique industrial district that would keep some connection with Calgary’s past. 

 

 

My longtime mantra of linking vision with reality was put to the test for while one’s vision of a 21st century charming century brewery district with multiple 100-year-old buildings and garden with fish ponds, just didn’t jive with current economic, design and building code realities.  

This iconic buffalo has aged gracefully and it along with the previous two artifacts should be integrated to create a unique public space for the future Inglewood Brewery District (IBD). 

But seeing is believing…

For a while I have been bugging Eileen Stan, Development Program Manager, M2i Development Corporation to give me a tour.  Recently, our schedules jived and I got my wish.

I can’t believe how complex the redevelopment will be with numerous buildings scattered throughout the site making the location of major new buildings (needed to pay for the restoration) difficult.

Just one of areas where the sandstone foundation of the builiding is beginning to form mini hoodoos. 

Then there is the utilities right of way, set back from the street, CPR tracks and 17th Avenue (which use to run right through the middle of the site) to contend with.

I saw for myself how the sandstone on the buildings is “more sand than stone.” Brush it with your hand and sand pours down the side of the building, in some places, miniature hoodoos are being formed.

Inside, I saw how the building’s structure would make it difficult to convert to modern uses. Perhaps reusing materials makes more sense than repurposing the buildings.

The gardens and two buffalo sculptures were wonderful and would make a great tribute to the past. It would be lovely to somehow incorporate them into a plaza or pocket park that would be the centerpiece of a new brewery district.  

That is 17th Avenue SE which use to run right through the site and still has a utility right of way attached to it. 

Postcards from CB&MC

I am hoping that these images will help you appreciate the complexities of redeveloping the historic Calgary Brewing and Malting Company site for current uses. 

I am a sucker for "ghost signs" like this one for the The Alberta Government Fish Hatchery. Not sure how you save this wall and incorporate it into a new building/new use! I am told that it could become part of a sunny historic plaza that would document the full history of the site. 

In the middle of the site is a lush oasis of trees, walkways, bridges and concrete ponds. Not sure they are in the right location for a contemporary pocket park and they are at the end of their lifespand. 

One of the few building that is still in good shape, unfortunately it is not in a great position. 

There is an simplicity in the minimalist, cubist, industrial architecture of the brewery that could be respected in new buildings.  It is my understanding that the brick chimney will be preserved. It is kinda the Calgary Tower of Inglewood - should it remain the tallest structure in the community forever? 

There is a nice juxtaposition of the round and the rectangular shapes at IBD. 

This image illustrates how all of the building are interconnected, but each with different foundations and structures that makes restoration a nightmare. 

The interior spaces are very dramatic, but don't lend themselves to easy conversion to retail, office or residential uses. 

Some of the newer building from 1984 were never used and are actually overbuilt for future needs and have potential for adaptive reuse. 

Last Word

After walking around the site, I have a much better appreciation of the difficulties and complexities of redeveloping the site for modern uses - this is not a Currie Barracks, an East Village or a Bridges site. 

Rather than let the buildings further deteriorate and have a prominent site sit in limbo for another decade or more, the idea of developing the site incrementally starting with the Bottling Plant building as proposed by Stan’s team makes sense.  Great spaces and places happen organically, not systematically.

Though, some have suggested the need for a Master Plan before anything happens on the site, I disagree. We don’t want another “East Village” scenario (i.e. a new Master Plan developed every five to ten years with nothing happen for 30+ years).  Master Plans tend to all look the same anyway; I expect we will get something more unique and eclectic without a Master Plan.

 Jane Jacobs was also a big fan of incremental redevelopment rather than revolutionary redevelopment. I think she would have approved of starting by animating the 9th Avenue and 15th Street corner (across from the West Canadian Digital Print Centre) with some street retail like a ZYN wine and spirits store and warehouse. 

The Bottling Plant on the corner of 9th Avenue and 15th Street SE is being proposed as Phase 1 of the mega makeover of the Inglewood Brewery District. Different options for the restoration of the sign are being looked at. This is not the original sign.

This is a conceptual rendering of what the Bottling Plant and new streetscape will look like if Phase 1 is approved. 

This is the proposed site of the new BRT/ LRT station for Inglewood and Ramsay just two blocks from the Brewery District.  It will also link up with the 17th Avenue SE BRT route to create a major transit hub. The stars are beginning to align for two of Calgary's oldest communities.   

Walk Score vs Lifestyle Score?

One of the great things about living in a condo in an urban vs. suburban community is that you can walk to almost any and all of your everyday activities.  To promote that advantage, more and more condo developers are including the Walk Score of the address as part of their marketing plan. 

Walk Score is a number between 0 and 100 that measures the amenities in any given address that you can walk to: 

  • 90 – 100 walker’s paradise

  • 70 – 89 very walkable

  • 50 – 69 somewhat walkable

  • 25 – 49 mostly car dependent

  • 0 – 24 car dependent

Walk Score uses Google maps to find the stores, restaurants, bars, parks and other amenities within walking distance of your address.  Using this data from Zillow, a real estate database, the information is plugged into a complex algorithm (mathematical equation) to calculate the score. For example, amenities within 0.4 km are given 100, while those more than 1.6 km are given a zero with those in between assigned varying scores depending on the distance.

Link: Walks Score: How it works?

While steps have been taken to improve the methodology since it was first introduced in 2007 by Josh Herst, CEO of Walk Score in Seattle, there still remains problems.  For example, Google Maps doesn’t always include all of the amenities in a neighborhood.  As well, the methodology doesn’t take into account topography (e.g. if it is up hill), climate (e.g. icy sidewalks in winter) or how pleasant/unpleasant the walk might be (e.g. busy road vs. quaint homes).  It doesn’t take into account age and fitness level - for some a 1 km walk is very easy; for others, not so.

Living near a nature preserve or hiking trail won’t improve your Walk Score, this results in unfairly creating lower suburban neighbourhood scores. The scoring system is heavily biased to urban lifestyles.

 Lifestyle Factors  

  • If you have a dog that you walk twice a day, it is probably more important you are near a dog park than a grocery store you use twice a week.

  • If you go to the gym or yoga several times a week, that should trump being close to a cupcake shop.

  • If you are a family of four, you are probably not walking to and from the grocery store, carrying home several bags of groceries - even if it is close by. We are a family of two and when we go grocery shopping it is often difficult to carry the bags 30 feet from the garage to the back door. However, access to a playground that you might use several times a day is very important.

For families living near a playground can be more important than living near a grocery store, bakery or cafe.

Lastly, Walk Score doesn’t take into account that rarely are our daily trips planned around a single activity. Often when we head out the door, we have multiple stops to make over an extended period of time. 

It could involve a trip to the recreation centre, then to a café in another community to meet up with a friend, then drop some books off at the library, then go to the wine store with the best sale this week (often not the closest) and pick up some groceries before heading way home.  This is not a trip that lends itself to walking – or even cycling for that matter.

A Better Walk Score?

It would be ideal to have a formula allowing individuals to plug-in their five most frequent weekly activities, as well as how far you are willing to walk and then calculate how walkable a street or neighbourhood is for you and your family.

Buyer beware - just because a community has a high or low Walk Score doesn’t mean you should automatically embrace or reject it. 

Pedestrian-Friendly vs. Pedestrian-Safety

I have always thought of Calgary as a very pedestrian-friendly city.  There are few other big cities where, in residential areas, cars will stop and let pedestrians walk across the street.  Try that in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver or big American cities!

One of Calgary's 1,270 signalized pedestrian cross walks.

There also are thousands (1270 signalized pedestrian cross walks and 7,118 signed crosswalks) of dedicated pedestrian crosswalks in addition to traffic signals helping pedestrians easily and safely cross busy streets. I also learned that a City of Calgary Bylaw states, “every intersection is a crosswalk unless otherwise posted” so drivers should yield to any pedestrian at a corner who indicates they are going to cross.  Who knew?

As well, I have always thought our recreational pathways were a wonderful amenity that encouraged walking. However, after recent experiences on the pathways with my 80+ year old spry Mom and her experience sharing the pathways with cyclists, I am not so sure walking the pathways is always a pleasant experience for those wanting a recreational walking experience.

Recent media coverage of Calgary’s pedestrian-vehicle collisions and fatalities’ data also point to the fact that walking in our city is not a safe as it needs to be to encourage walking.  Consequently, the City of Calgary is currently undertaking a major community engagement project to identify how to make our city more pedestrian-friendly for everyone.  I hope that we explore some simple common sense solutions before spending hundreds of millions of dollars.

For example, I’d like to see a ban on headphones for walkers, joggers and cyclists.  We all need to be able to see and listen for others when we are out on the streets and pathways. It is a shared responsibility.

  Calgary has a pedestrians first culture, where cars routinely stop to let pedestrians and cyclist cross the road even when it is not a cross walk.

Calgary has a pedestrians first culture, where cars routinely stop to let pedestrians and cyclist cross the road even when it is not a cross walk.

Calgary boasts almost 1,000 km of shared pathways for people of all ages and abilities.

Pedestrians should have to wear reflective clothing when out in the dark so cyclist they are more visible to cyclists and motorists.  Too often pedestrians are dressed in black and are almost impossible to see.

The one infrastructure improvement I’d like to see is better sidewalk lighting.  I don’t know if it is just me, but the roads in Calgary seem to be getting darker as the city installs new street lamp posts and LED bulbs. I have always had a problem with street lighting that is solely focused on the road and nothing on the sidewalk.  If we want people to feel safe walking in the dark (14 hours of the day in the winter), every lamppost should have a light on the road and one on the sidewalk.

Last Word

In addition to Walk Scores, there are also Transit Scores, Bike Scores and Park Scores for those who love numbers.  I am waiting for the Drive Score as I am sure most Calgarians also intuitively factor in how quickly they can drive to their weekly activities – school, work, recreation centre, arena, soccer field, grocery store and gym.

I expect we all have our own “algorithm” for calculating what is the best community for us and don’t really need some quasi-scientific score to help us determine where we want to live. 

An edited version of this blog was commissioned by the Calgary Herald and published in the New Condo section on May 30th, 2015 titled " More to Walk Score Than Just A Number."

BL emailed: 

The fundamental question should be "who decided that walking is such an important criteria?"

For me today,  the most important activities in my life are visiting my kids and my grandkids, none of whom I can visit by walking; and going golfing, ditto. Pretty good life right?

But even back in the days prior to retirement, my principal daily activity, going to work, could not be accommodated by walking. Nor could I attend university, go to school (except for elementary), attend a football or hockey game, go skiing or golfing, visit my cabin at the lake, or any of the other myriad of activities which have filled my whole life.

Planning our communities around the rare individuals whose limited range of activities can be accommodated by walking would be like planning our entire food industry around organic vegans. Desirable objective, maybe; but practical? Definitely not.

For most of us the Walk Score would fall into the category of "who cares?" It's nice to have a walk down 17th Avenue on a sunny Saturday afternoon when there is nothing better to do, but the majority of the folks out strolling the avenue probably got there in their cars. How about judging communities by the "Park Score" i.e. How close can I park my car?

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Cars, cyclists and pedestrians need to learn to share!

Mean Streets, Main Streets, Pretty Streets

Over the past few months the City of Calgary’s Main Street team has hosted dozens of workshops in various communities around the city asking Calgarians what they think about creating a new Main Street in their community.  The facilitated workshops are well organized with not only information panels, but also nine tables where community members work with a City Planner to document everyone’s ideas into three categories – issues, opportunities and outcomes.

I participated in two workshops (Kensington Road and Montgomery) and the passion and pride Calgarians have for their community is outstanding.  I especially loved working with the three young guns (30 somethings, young Dads, newcomers to Montgomery, professionals, cyclists) from Montgomery where we were exploring ways to transform both Bowness Road and the Trans Canada Highway into Main Streets.

Be careful what you wish for?

One of the problems with public engagement can be raising the public’s expectations that any idea they have, no matter how unrealistic, is going to happen. One of the common denominators at both workshops was the idea their current “main street” was a “mean street” with traffic, poor lighting, tired business facades, few trees and patios.

Everyone agreed that it would be nice to have a boulevard or promenade like streetscapes with new traffic signals, cross walks, street lamps, banners, benches, sidewalks, trees, flowers and bike lanes.  I expect all the workshops identified this as an issue, opportunity or outcome.

Great idea, but who is going to pay for this?  It could easily cost $5 million dollars to upgrade a few blocks (eg. traffic signals cost $300,000, cross walks $80,000. At $5 million for 24 Main Streets the City could be on the hook for a $120 million dollar streetscape program.

Mean Streets

Kensington Road sidewalk next to school yard fence is a "mean street." 

On the south side of Kensington Road is dominated by a crazy quilt of fences and unkept backyards of single family homes.   

Pretty streets don't attract people

While everyone loves the idea of pretty streets, they don’t necessarily attract people. Look at East Village, for the past several years it has had some of the prettiest streets in North America - banners, hanging flower baskets, ornamental street lighting, new roads and sidewalks – but it is still like a ghost town.  Why? Because there is nothing to see and do yet!  This will all change when the condos, hotel, museum, retail and restaurants open.

 16th Avenue NW has an diversity of shops and restaurants, as well as an upgraded streetscape with new lighting, median etc. but it has yet to attract any significant pedestrian traffic. 

16th Avenue NW has an diversity of shops and restaurants, as well as an upgraded streetscape with new lighting, median etc. but it has yet to attract any significant pedestrian traffic. 

 

Perhaps a better example is 16th Ave (aka Trans Canada Highway), it was prettified several years ago, but so far it hasn’t attracted any major new development and there are not a lot of pedestrians along the north-side sidewalks even with improved sidewalks, decorative lighting and median.  There are a variety of shops, some very bohemian (comics, used books, records and audio equipment).  However the six lanes of traffic and no street parking, make for a poor pedestrian experience. 

Why do Calgarians love wandering Kensington, Inglewood, 4th Street or 17th Avenue? Because they have a diversity of things to see and do – cafes, boutiques, restaurants, galleries, pubs, live music venues, patios and cinemas – not because of their pretty streetscapes.

Peters' Drive-In is a Calgary mid-century icon and is a good example of 16th Avenue NW's car centric DNA.

New Identities

Both Montgomery and Kensington Road groups talked about creating an identity for their Main Street.  A loud cheer went out when someone said “Bowness Road stops in Bowness!” The Montgomery Young Guns, thought Bowness Road in Montgomery should be renamed Montgomery Boulevard and look like a boulevard. 

The West Hillhursters were clear that Kensington Road should NOT be an extension of Kensington.  So perhaps a new name is needed to kick start a new identity. How about Grand Trunk Village (West Hillhurst use to be called Grand Trunk) which would encompass both 19th St SW and Kensington Road, from 18th to 20th Street.

Bowness Road in Montgomery has already begun its transformation into a 21st century Main Street with the addition of new building with retail at street level and condos above.  Residents would like to rebrand the street create a stronger community identity. 

The addition of small pocket parks and town squares as community meeting places are also desired by many residents. 

Recruitment

One of the things we talked about is how can we recruit new retailers to locate on the proposed new main streets, especially a couple of good neighbourhood pubs – for the Montgomery Young Guns that was top of mind.  The wish list for Kensington Road included a pub, but the butcher, baker, candlestick maker and even a small grocery store.

While these would all be nice to have, it is not very realistic to expect retailers to locate in fringe commercial districts just because the residents think it is good idea. It takes thousands of customers a week for a local retailer to survive, and the economics of “pioneering” into a new area can be very risky. 

The discussion also wasn’t realistic when people talked about creating Main Streets that are 5+ blocks long.  Most good neighbourhood pedestrian streets are just one or two blocks long – Britannia would be a good example.  Better to have two good blocks than four or five blocks that have half the space empty. 

Kensington Road has an eclectic mix of merchants this block has yoga studio, small grocery store, gas station and restaurant. Around the corner is medical building and dentist. 

While everyone would love to get a building of this quality from both a design and tenant mix, the Atlantic Avenue Art Block is not likely to be repeated again soon in Calgary.  It should be noted that transformation of Inglewood from a rundown hookers' stroll, with pawn shops and second hand stores into Canada's Best Neighbourhood has taken over 30 years and is still only in the middle of its transformation. 

Too focused on the 3 Rs

Most of the workshop discussion focused on new retail, restaurants and residential development, but in reality a good main street is just as much about office development. The traditional Main Street was where all of the local business took place; unfortunately much of that business today takes place online.

Pedestrian oriented street level medical and financial offices add sidewalk traffic on weekdays when the residents are at work. Upper floors can make good office space for small professional firms like accountants, engineers, fitness clubs and lawyers.

Condo on the opposite block to school on the same day provides a pleasant pedestrian experience. 

Marda Loop is an example of a contemporary pedestrian streets with retail shops at street level and condos above.  They bring new residents and retailers to help revitalize the community with many of the shops open 7 days a week and into the evening.

Communities should also be encouraging more office developments in and around their main streets to provide a more diversified client base for the cafes, restaurants and shops. 

Landowners are the key

In Montgomery one of the issues was the ugly facade of the businesses along Bowness Road.  The city has separate meeting set up with the landowners to discuss ways to encourage them to upgrade their buildings or to redevelop.  Many cities like Edmonton and Hamilton have incentives for landowners and business owners to make improvements.

In Calgary, many of the landowners are not very motivated to sell as they face huge capital gains taxes. They also aren’t interested in improvements as they are making a good rate of return without having to invest any money into their buildings or business.  It should also be noted the older, tired buildings provide more affordable rents for local “mom and pop” businesses to survive.

Many of the main street being studied have fragmented ownership like these apartments along Kensington Road, making it difficult to assemble sufficient land for a new mixed-use development. 

Connectivity

In both workshops connectivity was an issue and an opportunity.  In Montgomery, there needs to be better pedestrian connectivity between Bowness Road (aka Montgomery Boulevard), Safeway Mall, the Motel district on the Trans Canada Highway, Shouldice Park and the River.

In West Hillhurst (aka Grand Trunk) it was surprising to see how close the SunAlta LRT Station if only there was a direct pedestrian link over Memorial Drive and the Bow River. Retail connectivity was also an issue with a few shops clustered on 19th Street SW, some on Kensington Road between 18th and 21st Street and others further west at the intersection of Crowchild Trail, Kensington Road and Memorial Drive.

Nothing over Four Floors

It was interesting density was not an issue in either workshop I attended, people understood that density was critical to creating a more diverse community with more amenities.  However it was clear at the Kensington Road workshop, that nobody wanted anything over four floors.  It was also clear they didn’t just want cookie cutter condo blocks, but quality architecture and materials.

Length matters

In chatting with some of my colleagues with Main Street redevelopment experience, one of the issues facing the Calgary project is that it was originally conceived as a Corridor program.   As a result, all of the study areas are 6+ blocks long, which is not the right scale for a traditional Main Street.  As one colleague said, “the core or signature stretch of Robson Street in Vancouver is 3-blocks, in Calgary’s Inglewood it is only 2-blocks.”  Perhaps the first step in Calgary’s Main Street program would be to focus on just a 2 or 3-block area where there already is some pedestrian-oriented commercial development.

Roberta Brandes Gratz (urban critic, author of The Living City: Thinking Small in a Big Way) suggested one of the best ways to promote urban revitalization is to strengthen what already exists before building new. 

Last Word

As one Main Street expert said to me “communities need a bit of a reality check on the investment required to kick start residential and retail interest. East Village, Kensington, Mission, 17th Avenue and Inglewood to some extent benefit from being next door to the downtown and/or the river. Creating neighbourhood Main Streets takes time and relatively small moves that build like a snowball.”

While the City and communities have ambitious ideas I hope they will be able to link vision with reality. The development of 24 new Mains Streets is very ambitious going to take time. It is the landowners who hold all the cards for Main Street development.  The focus should be on them, not the community.

An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's Condo section on Saturday May 16, 2015. 

Readers's Comments:

BL wrote: 

The first issue for me in creating Main Streets is on-street parking , usually but not always combined with two-way single lane traffic. This may seem like a typical engineer's approach to a planning/architectural/environment problem but if you stop and look at what separates a good urban street from a "mean" street you might notice this to be true. 

The east end of Kensington between 10th and 14th, arguably the busiest section for traffic, has on-street parking which facilitates successful retail business; but the portion of Kensington west of 14th has no on-street parking but also very little traffic. It would cost the city very little to introduce on-street parking along most of this stretch.

The second issue is to determine what is the principal use of the street. Is it a shopping street or is it a through way? No amount of effort will ever turn the TransCanada Highway into a pleasant place to spend time strolling or shopping. So why not accept that TCH through Montgomery is a through way, and focus our "Main Street" efforts exclusively on Bowness Road.

Further isn't it time to stop using 16th Avenue as the TransCanada Highway? One has only to look at a broader map of Alberta to see that the TCH detours north just east of Strathmore; a political move made over fifty years ago to appease the business interests in Strathmore at the time of the TCH construction. It would be a simple move to direct TCH traffic along the Highway 22 alignment through the southern part of Calgary diverting north at either Bragg Creek or the soon to be built(??) southwest ring road.

One of the oft-ignored principles of urban planning is that the right kind of car traffic is a good and a necessary component of creating successful main streets. Did the attendees at these Main Street planning meetings include transportation engineers?

CO wrote: 

Good blog....a couple of other barriers to developing Main Streets in Calgary include:

  • Calgary's Land Use Bylaw essentially sterilize pubs from being near residential and restaurants too small to be viable
  • Planners fight surface parking or loading facilities: both essential for retail to survive in suburbs
  • Planners assume all retail is boutique or mom and pop and actively fight larger stores that act as anchors 

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Montgomery: Calgary's newest urban village.

Beautiful Downtown Bowness

Flaneuring the TransCanada Highway 

Mount Pleasant & Calgary's other 4th Street



 

 

University District: What's In A Name?

Over the years, I have been a big advocate of the importance of picking a “mindful” name for a new community, condo or development project.  I have always believed East Village should be named Fort Calgary Village given its proximity to Calgary’s birthplace and to celebrate our city’s history and sense of place.  

 Similarly downtown’s West Village could be rebranded as Mewata. Did you know that Mewata means, “to be happy” or “pleasant place” in Cree? The name dates back to 1906 when Rev. John McDougall (one of the most well known Calgary area missionaries) named the popular picnicking, football, baseball and playground area, “Mewata Park.”  It would be a very fitting name if the site becomes the home of Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation’s Flames new sports district.

Choosing a new community name is not as easy as you might think.  For example, when the West Campus Development Trust group (WCDT) wanted to develop a name for their new community on the west side of the University of Calgary campus, they undertook an extensive strategic process beginning in 2014 that involved a stakeholder workshop, focus groups, surveys just to identify possible names, followed by more focus groups, more testing and another stakeholder workshop.

And the winner is: University District! In testing this name, 47% of people made it their first choice and 22% their second choice.  (No other name garnered over 25% support as either first or second choice.)  People liked that the name has a direct connection and association with not only the University of Calgary but also of the neighbouring communities of University Heights and Varsity Village.  It tested well as being accurate, honest, welcoming and modern.

Aerial view of Calgary's new University District community. (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

 Brilliant Street Naming Strategy

Former Canadian astronaut and University of Calgary alumnus Dr. Robert Thirsk is the University's current chancellor.

But WCDT didn’t stop with just mindfully picking a community name. They also wanted “meaningful” street names.  After much debate, a brilliant idea emerged -  why not name the streets after the 13 University of Calgary Chancellors!  As a refresher, the University Chancellor is a volunteer who is elected by their peers from the University Senate.  A Chancellor is someone who has made a significant lifetime contribution to enhancing the quality of life for Calgarians. Their role is to be an ambassador for the University of Calgary and connect the University to the diversity of communities across the city.  So given the University District is all about fostering a sense of community, it made perfect sense. 

  • Dr. Jim Dinning (2010-2014)
  • Dr. Joanne A. Cuthbertson (2006-2010)
  • Dr. William J. Warren (2002-2006)
  • Dr. J. Jack Perraton (1998-2002
  • Dr. M. Ann McCaig (1994-1998)
  • Dr. David B. Smith  (1990-1994)
  • Dr. James S. Palmer (1986-1990)
  • Dr. Brian Norford (1982-1986)
  • Dr. Louis Lebel (1978-1982)
  • Dr. Muriel Kovitz (1974-1978)
  • Dr. William A. Friley (1970-1974) 
  • Dr. C. Campbell McLaurin (1966-1970) 

WCDT will also be respectful of Calgary’s inner city street naming history by continuing to name all north/south routes “streets” and east/west routes “avenues.”

University District's proposed street names, neighbourhoods and parks. (image credit: West Campus Development Trust)

 University District At A Glance

  • 40 acres of open space (7 spaces)
  • 11,000 new residents
  • 5,500 new jobs
  • 8.6 million square feet of residential, retail and commercial development
  • No “cookie cutter” buildings
  • Walkable connected community
  • Kensington style main street
  • Central Park
  • 8 km of multi-use pathways and trails 

Some people have already claimed their spot in Calgary's new University District. 

University District Boundaries

  • North Boundary – 32nd Avenue
  • South Boundary – TransCanada Highway
  • East Boundary – Collegiate Road
  • West Boundary – Shaganappi Trail

Walk Score

Walk Score measures the diversity of places one can walk to as part of one’s everyday activities (e.g. work, shopping, dinning, entertainment, recreation and learning.)  

The existing communities neighbouring the University District have walk scores ranging from 62 to 73 (100 being the best). However, with the addition of the University District’s amenities the walk score of the entire area is expected to exceed 85.

  • Walkability to work - University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre, Alberta Children’s Hospital and Innovate Calgary Research Park
  • Walkability to its new pedestrian oriented  “Main Street”
  • Walkability to three performing art spaces and one art gallery
  • Walkability to Market Mall (shopping and work) 
  • Walkability to numerous fitness facilities

Last Word

Sure some people will question the fact Calgary has two other universities – Mount Royal and St. Mary’s University College, making the name University District a bit confusing. But for most Calgarians, the University of Calgary is top of mind when thinking of Calgary’s university (sorry Mount Royal University).

In most other major cities, their universities have been the catalyst for a vibrant bohemian urban community with small live music venues, cafes, galleries, bookstores and trendy shops and restaurants. They are often one of the most vibrant places in the city to live. Montreal’s city centre is so vibrant in part because of its connection to several post-secondary institutions, the same in Berkeley in the San Francisco area.  

To date, the University of Calgary, SAIT and Mount Royal University have not spilled out beyond their boundaries to create a hipster community.   University District is about to change all this and Calgary will be better for it.

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Do we really need families living in our Centre City?

A hot topic of debate for urban planners and politicians these days is how to get more families living downtown, especially in higher density condo neighbourhoods.  Many urban living advocates think the more families living in a neighbourhood the healthier it is. I am not so sure about that.

Some Calgary urban advocates think our Centre City communities (Downtown core, West End, Eau Claire, Chinatown, East Village, Beltline) suffer from a lack of families living in them.  Some have even gone so far as to suggest the City should mandate developers to build more three-bedroom condos and apartments to attract more families to live downtown in the belief “that if you build them, families will come.”  

Calgary isn’t alone. Planners, politicians and developers in Vancouver and Toronto have also been debating for the past 10 years or more, how to create attractive, affordable housing for families in urban communities.  In fact, back in 2009, Toronto’s City Council contemplated requiring condos with 100+ dwelling units to have at least 10% of the units be three-bedrooms (or at least the ability to easily be converted to 3- bedrooms units). The changes to their Official Plan (city’s master plan to manage growth and development) have never been approved and the debate continues.

Recently, the Globe & Mail reported on a family of 7 (two adults and kids ranging from 2 to 8 years of age) happily living in a 1,023 square foot condo in Vancouver. The family pays $2,150 to rent the highrise condo in Yaletown.  The story goes on to say that rumour has it, another 60 kids live in the building which suggests more families in Vancouver are choosing urban living.  Some are thinking (perhaps praying is a better word), that this will be the 21st century model for family living – urban and minimal.  Could there be  a segment of the modern family housing market who don’t want big houses, with double vanity sinks, spa-like bathrooms, walk-in closets, massive kitchens, media rooms and oversized double garages to park their two SUVs? Time will tell.  

Major Flaw

There is a flaw in the theory that if you build 3-bedroom condos, families will happily live downtown. A Toronto media story recently profiled how a large 3-bedroom downtown condo made a perfect bachelor pad for three young male professionals.  I see a 3-bedroom condo also being ideal for Ruppies  (retired urban professionals) who want a downtown pad with room for a couple of offices that can be converted into bedrooms when kids or grandkids comes to visits. To me, it’s no coincidence that in Calgary, some of the largest condos are in the Eau Claire area, which also happens to also be our retirement village – 21% of residents are 65+ years of age, twice the city average of 10%.

In a free market system, just because you build 3-bedroom condos doesn’t mean you can guarantee young families will live in them.  For families in Calgary wanting to enjoy urban living, they see many better options than highrise condo in higher density neighbourhoods.

Families Love Infills Communities

A little digging found Calgary actually has as many children living in its greater downtown communities, as does Vancouver (thought by many planners to be a leader in urban family living).  In Calgary’s Downtown Core, 10% of residents are under the age of 19 with 6% being under the age of 4, very close to the City average of 7%.  The Beltline is a bit lower with 8% under 19, half of those under the age of 4.  In Vancouver’s downtown communities, the number of children under 19 also hovers just under the 10% level.

The Haultain Park playground in the Beltline Calgary's highest density community is popular with young families. In Calgary, condo living is great for young families, but that soon changes as they grow up and need more space. 

The playground a Cliff Bungalow School provides an idyllic place for young families to hang out. 

I also checked out the communities near downtown. Though Mission/Cliff Bungalow was also under the 10% threshold, cross the Bow and Elbow Rivers and it is a totally different story. 

In Hillhurst and West Hillhurst (lower density single-family home neighbourhoods) a whopping 21% of residents are under the age of 19 - close to the city average of 25%.  Inglewood has 19% of its population under 19; Ramsay 17% and Bridgeland 15%.

Go a step or two further and you find 25% of Rosedale’s residents under the age of 19 (the same as the city average), Roxboro has 24% (with a whopping 16% in the 5 to 14-age bracket, twice the city average), Mount Royal and Scarboro are not far behind at 23%.

Obviously, Calgary has several family-friendly neighbourhoods (read single family homes) within just a few kilometers of the downtown office core.

On a recent Saturday walkabout in West Hilllhurst I encountered two street hockey games. 

The Queen Elizabeth School complex (elementary, junior high and high school) playground makes Hillhurst and West Hillhurst a haven for families. 

Westmount Charter Elementary School makes Parkdale a very attractive place for young families to live. From Parkdale you can walk or cycle to to downtown, University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre and Alberta Children's Hospital. 

What’s The Problem

Is it really important we have families living in the highrises in the Beltline, East Village or Eau Claire? (Note: 7% of the Eau Claire population is under 4 years of age, same as city average, but only 1% in the 5-14 years bracket and none in the 15-19 group). 

So what if many young families “start” in the City Centre and then move out as their families grow larger or as the kids get bigger and they need and/or want more space? Some planners think that a measure of a neighbourhood’s health is the number of families living in the community. I am not so sure it is!

There was much media attention last fall for the Halloween Index, a supposed measure of the health of a community, based on the number of trick & treaters coming to the door.  Again, a cute idea but really not important in the big scheme of city building.      

And yes, it may be a “warm fuzzy” thing to say that lots of families live downtown, but really, does it make any significant difference if a community is made up mostly of YUPPIES AND RUPPIES? Does it really matter if the sidewalks are full of patios and pedestrians?  Do all communities have to look the same?  Do they all have to have the same mix of people?  As long as the streets and public spaces are safe (day and night) and people like their community, isn’t that enough?

Yuppies and Ruppies are attracted to the maintenance free condo lifestyle in Calgary's West End neighbourhood. 

On the north side of the Bow River less than 2 kilometres from downtown families can enjoy a modern new single family home with streets that encourage family activities and a school that is just a block away. 

  Here is the other street hockey game I encountered on my walk home from yoga recently. 

Here is the other street hockey game I encountered on my walk home from yoga recently. 

Cost vs Space

In Vancouver and Toronto the cost of a three-bedroom inner city condo in a concrete building is significantly less than an inner city wood-framed home with about the same square footage - if you can find one. So it is no surprise there is a stronger market in those two cities for three bedroom condos than in Calgary where the opposite is true. 

Here, the cost of new wood frame infill home near downtown is significantly less than a similar sized concrete condo. For example, along Kensington Road in Hillhurst, there are 1,900 square foot town homes for $610,000 and Brookfield Residential offered couple of 2,000 square foot side-by-sides with full basements and two car garages that were 2,000 square feet for $800,000 last year.

Compare that to a 1,200 square foot concrete condo (probably the minimum square footage for a family of four these days) at a cost of about $720,000 ($780,000 if you want two parking stalls). So, for about the same price or less, a family can purchase a new infill house, five minutes from downtown.  

When push comes to shove, most (not all) Calgary families would (and do) opt for the conveniences a new home with backyard, basement, two-car garage and three bathrooms.

Condo living is popular for young urban families especially on the west side of the Beltline where there is a school and two grocery stores.  

New infill homes are a common site on almost every block in Calgary's  inner city communities. Calgary has probably one of the most diverse infill home building programs in inner-city neighbourhoods in North America.   Most of these homes will be occupied by young families. 

Last Word

The Calgary Foundation’s Vital Signs survey (2014) found 87% of respondents describing themselves as happy and 91% feel they are surrounded by loving family, companions and friends.  You can’t ask for much more than that.

Planners and politicians have – or should have - bigger and better things to worry about than whether or not Calgary developers are building enough 3-bedroom condos.  If the demand is there, developers will build them.  Let’s not get into mico-managing condo size and design.

Rather, let’s build upon the fact Calgary’s urban centre is already an attractive place to live for Calgarians of all ages AND has been improving every year for the past decade by providing a diversity of housing options. Let’s focus on investing in things like new and improved urban parks, pathways, underpasses, sidewalks, bike lanes, arts, entertainment and recreational amenities that will enhance the attractiveness for both current and future residents.

 If you like this blog, you might like:

Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary 

Intelligent Infilling or Living in a bubble?

The Suburbs Move to City Centre in Calgary 

 

 

 

 

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. 

 

If you like this blog, you might like:

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.