Christmas Shopping: The Thrill Is Gone?

I posted this blog last winter and after a recent day of exploring downtown Calgary inside and out it looks to me like some of the windows haven't been changed since last year. Shame on those retailers and restaurants who complain about lack of business, but do nothing to entice people to come downtown and shop.  I can't believe some of the dark forbidding windows on some of the restaurants. Who wants to go into a black hole. 

As many Everyday Tourist followers know, I love taking photographs of the wonderful collages created by the reflection of buildings, street life and window displays while flaneuring shopping streets. Recently, I was flaneuring along Stephen Avenue Walk (Calgary’s downtown pedestrian mall and home to two department stores, three indoor shopping malls and dozens of shops and restaurants) thinking that given it is Holiday Season, I would find some great reflections.  Boy, was I wrong!

Other than a few of Holt Renfrew’s street windows and the thousands of cascading mini lights from Bankers Hall's  skylight, I was hard pressed to find any Christmas/Holiday decorations.  Many of the windows didn’t look much different than any other time of the year.  I’d bet money some of them haven’t changed in over a year.

Bankers Hall's cascading lights has become an exciting and enchanting downtown tradition, that creates a unique sense of place for both shoppers and office workers. Unfortunately none of the other downtown shopping and office complexes have been as innovative and imaginative. 

Missed Opportunities

Riley & McCormick Western Wear and Lammle’s Western Wear & Tack both have flagship retail stores on Stephen Avenue. What a great opportunity for them to do something fun and unique with their large windows for the holidays based on a western wear fashion Christmas.  Arnold Churgin Shoes, Winners, Sports Chek (Canada’s largest retailer of sporting goods in Canada and a Calgary company) and Out There (high end outdoor clothing retailer) also have flagship stores on the Walk, but you wouldn’t know it by their “bah humbug” windows. 

It is surprising that Arnold Churgin Shoes on Stephen Avenue doesn't have spectacular windows not only at Christmas, but year-round.  

Winners has never capitalized on the potential of its large Stephen Avenue windows as a sales and marketing tool.   

Indigo Books' huge window on Stephen Avenue is hardly what you would expect from a major retailer during the holiday season. 

Stephen Avenue needs more than just holiday lights to make it an attractive place to shop. 

The Independents 

Thank goodness some of the smaller independent stores got into the Christmas Spirit along Stephen Avenue. 

Coppeneur Chocolatier has the yummiest windows on the block. This store is now closed

Fluevog Shoes got into the Christmas spirit. 

The Department Stores 

I am thinking this suggestive party cracker themed window by Holt Renfrew turned some heads?

Inside Holt Renfrew is much more conservative with its decorations inside the store. 

I always thought the purpose of a flagship stores was partly to build the company’s brand. There was no sense of animation or excitement to invite you to go in, or portray that this would be an interesting, fun place to do some Christmas shopping in any of these stores. 

Hudson's Bay flagship store’s windows along Stephen Avenue are nothing short of pathetic. Along Stephen Avenue they announce a new development coming soon if you look in the window it looks like nothing is happening.  The main entrance windows on 1st Street SW just off the Walk has a tired looking generic perfume banners having absolutely nothing to do the holidays. Even when you walk into the store, there’s no sense of celebration, no sense that this is a special place to shop.  

The entrance to Hudson's Bay's historic downtown store makes no reference to the Holiday Season. The window looks the same a year later.

It doesn't get any better inside the store. 

Then there’s Flames Central (aka Allen/Palace Theatre) a major event centre. I don’t think they’ve changed their windows since they opened, which must be at least 10 years ago.

Even when you go inside the shopping malls (Bankers Hall, The Core and Scotia Centre) most of the retailers have ignored the power of exciting and enchanting windows, to make the tens of thousands of pedestrians who pass by the windows every day – stop, look and potentially come in to shop.

Brass Monocle in The Core shopping centre is known for its imaginative windows, yet there is no attempt to make them festive for the Holiday Season.  

Guess' window features their dresses but nothing says, "This is Christmas..." 

Bah Humbug!

Downtown Christmas shopping used to be a tradition, not only in Calgary, but in cities across North America.  Department stores like The Bay and Eaton’s would have wonderful Christmas windows with animated Christmas or winter scenes that attracted families from across the city to come downtown to shop.

In most major cities, the annual downtown Santa Claus Parade attracted tens of thousands of spectators/shoppers from across the city and was the traditional kick off of the holiday season. Today only few major cities have a parade and with a few exceptions the downtown department stores (those that still exist) don’t even bother with a Santa’s Village. 

Kudos to the Calgary Downtown Association for organizing weekends with Santa at Devonian Gardens and Olympic Plaza, as well as for their lighting up Stephen Avenue at night, but without the help of retailers (indoors and out) creating fun, festive windows and shops, it is pretty much pointless.

Kensington Village

My route into downtown takes me through Kensington Village and one of the first retail windows I encountered was Purr. I was expecting more from this funky fashion retailer in the way of a seasonal window display. 

Walking the streets of Kensington Village the celebration of the holiday season is a bit better.  Kudos to Battisella Developments for their Christmas tree and to the Business Revitalization Zone for banners, Christmas hanging decorations and weekend activities (roaming Santa, Elves and horse drawn wagon rides. 

However, the windows of the majority of the retailers, restaurants and cafes still are pretty much devoid of any sense of the holiday season.   

Fortunately as I wandered further into the Village I found more windows like this one - The Rocket T-shirts - that had fun, funky and festive windows

Last Word

No wonder more and more people are shopping online; the thrill of shopping in person is gone. I'd love to hear from readers what it is like in the suburban malls and Calgary's other shopping streets - 9th Ave, in Inglewood, 17th Ave. in Beltline or 4th Street in Mission.  

Too bad it is only in places like Chicago and New York that the “thrill of the Christmas holiday season lives on.”

This is just one of several trees I found decorated next to the sidewalk that made my walk home more pleasant.

On my way home, I noticed several homeowners had decorating their street trees with Christmas ornaments. This got me thinking wouldn’t it be great if the merchants along Calgary’s pedestrian streets did the same to the trees in front of their stores. It would add some fun and festivity to what can be a pretty drab pedestrian experience in our winter season.  

 

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Macy's Holiday Windows on State Street: A Chicago Tradition

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

Window licking in Chicago

 

 

 

 

Happy Hour capital of North America is where?

Bet you can’t guess where the Happy Hour Capital of North America is?  It is definitely not in one of the 23 US states that have banned happy hours. And, it is also not in Alberta where, in 2008, the Alberta Liquor Board set strict pricing guidelines for all drinks limiting Happy Hour pricing to 8pm. So where is it? 

The Sauce magazine waiting for us with some other goodies at Hotel Monaco, Seattle.

Happy Hour Fun

One of the take-away memories of a recent trip to Seattle was the Happy Hour Experience. A magazine called “The Sauce (The Definitive Guide to Eating and Drinking in Seattle)” provided us with a comprehensive list of all Seattle Happy Hours - I stopped counting at 600.

Arriving on a Wednesday at the historic Mayflower Park Hotel we were informed there are two Happy Hours – one in their Oliver’s Bar where there were free appies and one with free wine tasting in their lovely Andaluca Restaurant.  

Mayflower Park Hotel's Oliver's Bar before happy hour. 

Happy hour at Andaluca restaurant in Mayflower Park Hotel is very civilized. 

A few days later, when we moved to the  Hotel Max iknown for its incredible contemporary art collection, we found out they have a free craft beer Happy Hour.  Yes, every day, guests wander back to the hotel lobby (aka living room) to enjoy free draft beer, meet and chat with strangers and watch the wonderful sidewalk ballet on the street outside through the big picture windows.  The early birds get the good seats, as this quickly becomes a standing room only event.

The Happy Hour fun didn’t stop there. The Hotel Monaco with its captivating, comfy guest rooms (ours being like an Andy Warhol installation with lots of bold accent colours, playful art and cloud wallpaper over the bed) was tough to leave. But again, a free wine tasting downstairs was too big a draw. Each day. The concierge picks a different wine to feature; often sourcing wines from boutique Washington wineries. And with very liberal pours he invites you to comeback for seconds. 

Samuel Beckett watches over happy hour at Hotel Max. 

Everyone loves happy hour at Hotel Monaco often moving to the restaurant and their signature cocktail the Sazerac (Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, Peychaud's Bitters, Sugar, Lemon Peel and Absinthe Rinse. photo credit: Evan Johnson

   A full pour at Hotel Monaco.

 A full pour at Hotel Monaco.

YYC Happy Hour Fun

Calgary is not without its Happy Hour culture. Ask around and you will discover Calgary’s after work socializing is on the rise. Hotel Arts, on Thursdays from 4 to 8 pm, offers free live music curated by local singer/songwriter Amy Thiessen paired with $4.99 pints and trendy RAW Bar cuisine. 

Mikey’s Juke Joint in SunAlta offers a Friday Happy Hour with free live music.  A musician from Mikey’s stable of musicians hosts each one, including two of Calgary’s most talented musicians - Tim Williams (winner of the 2014 International Blues Challenge in Memphis) and Steve Pineo (Calgary's entry into the 2015 International Blues Challenge).

Google "Calgary Happy Hour" and you won't find a comprehensive list of 600 happy hours anywhere, the best I could find was a November 4, 2014 list by John Gilchrist, published in Avenue Magazine title "25 of Calgary's Best Happy Hours."  

Calgary is a changing…

For a long time, Calgary’s downtown and surrounding urban neighbourhoods were criticized for not having a robust, after work Happy Hour culture like Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver do.  In the mid to late 20th century, Calgary’s downtown workers were commonly known to quickly flee to the ‘burbs after work. However, this had changed significantly in the past decade with the emergence of Stephen Avenue Walk (SAW) as one of Canada’s best restaurant rows.  The 300 block of SAW, with its 200 floors of offices, is centre ice for downtown GABEters (geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers, engineers) with the likes of The Metropolitan Grill and Local on 8th. 

The 21st century has also seen the emergence of Calgary’s Beltline as one of North America’s best urban communities with its warehouses along 10th Avenue (replacing 11th Avenue or Electric Avenue as it was known in the ‘80s) as the hangout spot for the “young and restless.” Here, mega beer palaces like CRAFT Beer Market, National Beer Hall and Commonwealth Bar and Stage are bustling places helped by the fact the Beltline is a haven for 25 to 34-year olds in Calgary (a whopping 43% of the communities population falls into that YUPPIE age bracket). It is not uncommon to see a line up waiting to get into their favourite Beltline watering hole at Happy Hour.

Kensington Village is also emerging as an after-work hot spots like the Oak Tree Tavern.  Bridgeland too is now home to the very chic and cool Cannibale cocktail bar.  While Calgary may not have as comprehensive a “Happy Hour” culture as Seattle, it does have a mushrooming “after work” socializing culture.  

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Beltline: GABEters Capital of North America

Calgary vs Seattle: Capturing the Urban Tourist's Imagination

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Mexico City vs Calgary / Public City vs Private City

Recently, I embarked on an 18-day adventure in Mexico City to see what could be learned about city building from a mega city. “How can you compare Calgary, a city of 1.2 million and just 100 years old, with Mexico City, a city of 21 million that’s five centuries old?” you ask.  While there were many differences and some similarities, the biggest revelation was an appreciation for how people in Mexico City experience personal and public space.

Personal Space

Calgary is a very private city - we love the privacy of our cars, our single-family homes (often with six-foot fences and attached garages), our 6,000+ parks, playgrounds, green spaces, plazas and 800+ km of pathways all of which give us the option of not having to mingle with others.

Mexico City is the complete opposite - families work, play and even dine on busy sidewalks and 75 percent use a very crowded pubic transit as their primary mode of transportation. A typical home or apartment is a third the size of an average Calgary home.  Young children quickly learn how to live without much personal space.  Babies are carried (no humongous strollers) until they can walk, then they just walk alongside their parents everywhere.

In Mexico City a popular activity is reading the newspaper on the sidewalk. 

Family dining on the street in Mexico City.

In Mexico City you don’t live in the entire city, but one of the 16 boroughs (ranging in size from 116,000 to 1.8 million), which are further divided into 160 colonias. While this is somewhat like Calgary with its four quadrants and 200+ communities, the density eight times greater than Calgary’s.  

How is that accomplished? Surprisingly, not with a lot of highrises but rather with homes having no front yards, backyards or driveways, as well the average home being 70% smaller than Calgary’s. In fact, many homes are called “informal homes,” i.e. self-built on “found” vacant land.  Only recently has the City adopted more formal zoning and building permit processes.

Also there are few schools with huge playing fields, large community playing fields, green spaces and no dedicated dog parks.  I didn’t see a single huge surface parking lot anywhere. 

Public Space 

Like Calgary, homes in Mexico City’s inner city are the most expensive, but unlike Calgary, its suburbs are where the low-income, transit-dependent, working class live. Mexico has one the most extensive and well-used transit systems in the world; the subway and buses are packed from 7 am to 10 pm, a far cry from Calgary where its transit is only heavily used for a few hours in the morning and afternoon on weekdays.  Transit fare in Mexico City is ridiculously cheap at 40 cents per trip.

Despite being packed in like “sardines-in-a-can,” sellers jump on the subway trains, pawning everything from USB keys to BIC pens. Backstory: Vendors are literally everywhere on sidewalks, including in front of new iconic office buildings.  Can you imagine The Bow or Eighth Avenue Place’s plazas/sidewalks being occupied by dozens of haphazardly placed vendors?

A crowded subway car with vendor selling trinkets for Day of the Dead in Mexico City, mid-afternoon.

Upscale vendor sheds on the sidewalk in front of one of Mexico City's newest office towers. 

Street Vitality

Having transit operate at capacity all day long does not mean less road traffic road in Mexico City; the main streets are probably 20 times more crowded with cars, buses, taxis and delivery trucks than Calgary.  A constant, ear-piercing symphony of honking and traffic police whistling accompanies the dance of pedestrians and vendors on crowded, narrow and uneven sidewalks and roads. 

Mexico City’s historic district (a 150-block rectangle) has several pedestrian malls that are crowded all the time - on the weekends it’s like Stampede time in Calgary. These malls have no seating, but do allow cyclists and in some cases, even cars (only to access parkades). One street has 200,000 pedestrians per day! On one street I counted 30 different shops on just one side, not including the street vendors – no wonder they are busy. It is a free-for-all on many Mexico City sidewalks; in comparison Calgary is a pastoral place.

Mexico City’s historic district (a 150-block rectangle) has several pedestrian malls that are crowded all the time - on the weekends it’s like Stampede time in Calgary. These malls have no seating, but do allow cyclists and in some cases, even cars (only to access parkades). One street has 200,000 pedestrians per day! On one street I counted 30 different shops on just one side, not including the street vendors – no wonder they are busy. It is a free-for-all on many Mexico City sidewalks; in comparison Calgary is a pastoral place.

Check out the video below for a sample of Mexico City's street symphony.

Mexico City’s historic district (a 150-block rectangle) has several pedestrian malls that are crowded all the time - on the weekends it’s like Stampede time in Calgary. These malls have no seating, but do allow cyclists and in some cases, even cars (only to access parkades). One street has 200,000 pedestrians per day! On one street I counted 30 different shops on just one side, not including the street vendors – no wonder they are busy. It is a free-for-all on many Mexico City sidewalks; in comparison Calgary is a pastoral place.

Sidewalk dining on a side street in Mexico City.

Mexico City has lots of market streets like this one that are a free-for-all, while at the same time full of life and energy. 

Sterility vs Vitality

Whoever coined the term “messy urbanism” must have had Mexico City in mind.  There is garbage everywhere, partly due to no garbage cans anywhere and to the streets being filled with thousands of food and retail vendors with all their accompanying waste. The City has also lost the battle with graffiti; it exists on pretty much everywhere. There is a totally different urban aesthetic in most of Mexico City. The streets are a beehive of activity with people coming and going, setting-up or taking down their stalls, cooking, eating, selling and buying – messy, but alive!

Head to Avenida Presidente Masaryk in Mexico City’s upscale Polanco district and you discover a typical Calgary urban street scene – wide, clean sidewalks, trendy boutiques, larger restaurants and patios and no street vendors. Here, like Calgary, the sidewalk is devoid of people - even on a nice Saturday afternoon.  Could Calgary’s streets be too sanitized to create the vibrant street life the late urban lobbyist Jane Jacobs called the “sidewalk ballet?”

Avenida Presidente Masaryk in the upscale Polanco district is devoid of people, like many of the sidewalks in Calgary's urban districts. Could it be that pretty streets are empty streets?

Crowds quickly gather waiting to cross the street in Mexico's historic district's pedestrian malls. 

Typical Mexico City sidewalk ballet.

Public Space: Keep It Simple

Like Calgarians, people living in Mexico City love their public spaces.  The Zocalo square, the second largest plaza in the world (Moscow’s Red Square being the largest) is always crowded. Calgary’s equivalent would be Olympic Plaza. In the 18 days I was there, it was used for a huge book fair, world archery championship, major concert and Day of Dead activities. The Monumento `a la Revolucion plaza is also huge with the monument/viewing platform in the middle, underground museum, two huge flat plaza areas as well as sunken, flat hard-surfaced areas activities like soccer and dog play. Calgary’s equivalent might be Shaw Millennium Park.

Check out the video below of how Revolution Monument plaza is used for an outdoor dance studio.  We also saw it used for a street performance and wedding photos and lots of other informal activities. 

People trying to get to and from Monumento a la Revolucion plaza for a major event. 

Public Affection = People Friendly 

Mexico City is home to one of the world’s great urban parks – Bosque de Chapultepec.  At 1,695 acres, it is 1,000 acres smaller than Nose Hill or Fish Creek Park. One third of the park is home to numerous museums including the world class Anthropology Museum, a zoo, castle, walkways, garden and ponds while the rest is a natural area.  It was amazing how refreshing it was to walk in this and other Mexico City parks - you get a real appreciation for parks being the “lungs of the city.”

Boulevard road in the middle of Bosque de Chapultepec.

Mexico City’s parks are more urbanized than Calgary’s with buildings, attractions, vendors, formal walkways and lots of benches, while their plazas are simple, open spaces with little ornamentation allowing them to be multi-purpose spaces.  In contrast, Calgary has lots of parks, most left natural, while our plazas are heavily ornamentalized.

The "art of sitting" is popular everywhere in Mexico City. 

While Calgarians always seem to be on the move (walking, cycling or jogging) in our parks and pathways, Mexicans have mastered the art of sitting, talking, people watching and engaging in public affection. (Couples young and old love to hug, cuddle and kiss in public and people of all ages hold hands in the streets.) I was surprised too at how they loved to have their pictures taken by strangers.  Collectively, this created an unexpected and lovely pedestrian friendliness in a harsh urban environment.

Delivering toilet paper takes on a different perspective in Mexico City.

Last Word

Mexico City’s public spaces not only serve as a community living room, but also as their kitchen, dining and bedroom. It is not unusual in the evening to see a family dining at a street vendor, young children playing on the sidewalk while older children do their homework. In Mexico City the majority “live, work and play” in public, not in the privacy of a home. 

Let’s remember Calgary is only 100 years old. We have grown very rapidly in geographical size based on 20th century planning and regulations (good and bad) not organically and without public engagement and regulations over centuries, as is the case for Mexico City and many other vibrant urban cities. 

For Calgary, the 21st century will be one of infilling development projects (big and small), which will dramatically change our personal and private spaces.  It has already begun and it is to be expected many will “kick and scream” about losing their privacy and personal space.

Editor's Note: An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condo Section on November 21, 2015. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The response was quick and definitive:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Same Way Better/Reader, by Ron Moppett

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

I also asked for some background and the response was:

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

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

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

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

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

Re Me Fa Sol La Si Do, by Joe Fafard

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

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

Brotherhood of Mankind, by Mario Armengol

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

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

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

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

I went on to say:

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

City of Calgary Public Art Collection

Downtown Art Guide

If you like this blog you might like:

Public Art: Love it or hate it!

Do we really need all of this public art?

Confessions of a public art juror.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calgary: Best Places To Sit

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

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

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

Blue Skying 

coupling...

Chinooking...

Wondering...

Playing....

Chatting...

  Remembering...

Remembering...

Watching...

Swinging...

Pondering...

Sit Quietly 

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

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

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


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

 

Contemplating...

Meditating...

Contrasting....

Discussing...

Downtime

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

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

Learn More: What happened to downtime...

Napping...

Playing....

Viewing...

Floating....

Sitting...

Relaxing...

Sitting...

Epiphanies

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

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

Learn more: Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime

  Refecting....

Refecting....

Playing...

Watching...

Listening....

Eating...

Watching...

Change Your LIfe

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

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

Learn more: Change your life...

Thinking.....

Buddy time!

Last Word

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

If you like this blog, you might like: 

The importance of the public realm

Everyone needs to find their sanctuary

Rome: A surprise playground lunch!

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

 

A Staycation with a Twist Francais

As “everyday tourists” we are always looking for creative ways to have a tourist experiences even when we are at home in Calgary.  Recently, friends invited us to join them for dinner at Fleur de Sel, an established Parisian-style restaurant in Calgary’s trendy Mission district.  Of course we said “yes,” but what we didn’t anticipate was how the dinner would bring back vivid memories of our past trips to Paris and Lyon.  

Charming Fleur de Sel restaurant in Calgary's tony Mission district.

As soon as we walked into Fleur de Sel, we were immediately reminded of the charm of Paris bistros.  Upon looking at the menu, I noticed one of the items was cassoulet, a traditional peasant dish of meat and beans that is popular in Lyon. This immediately conjured up memories of one evening in Lyon, France ironically with the same friends.

One of our best meals was a cassoulet dinner in an off-the-beaten path old house that had been a bouchon for over 200 years. Not only was the cassoulet excellent, but they also offered us a couple of free brochette de quenelles they had made for the early seating and wouldn’t keep for the second seating.

I finished the meal off with a flourless chocolate cake that was perhaps the most decadent dessert I have ever tasted. My mouth waters even now thinking about it! 

Decadent flourless chocolate cake in Lyon, France.

The memories didn’t end there as we quickly all recalled that special night didn’t end with the meal.  While walking back to our hotel, we heard some music a few blocks away, so decided to head in that direction. Stopping to listen outside the church, someone came out and invited us to come in. It was truly magical to experience - centuries old music in a centuries old church. 

Listening outside historic church in Lyon.

The quaint Hotel de Champe de Mars

As the recent evening’s discussion continued, it centered mostly around our other visits to France including our first visit as travel neophytes.  For that trip, we were given us a copy of the Wine Spectator with a feature on Paris by Richard Harvey of Calgary’s Metrovino wine store to help us plan out trip.  As a result, we found ourselves in the tiny tony Champ d’ Mars Hotel across from the iconic Marie-Anne Cantin cheese shop and down the street from the Rue Cler pedestrian mall. We couldn’t have been luckier for our first trip to Paris at Christmas. 

Rue Cler is one of the best pedestrian streets not only in Paris, but in the world. At Christmas it is simply magical.

One of the fondest memories of that visit was dinner at a nearby restaurant recommended in the Wine Spectator feature.  We went by earlier in day to make a reservation to learn there had just been a cancellation (otherwise we’d have been out of luck). 

We came back for dinner and the place was an amazing buzz of conversation.  We quickly realized we were the only tourists in the place.  After asking a few questions (clearly showing our naiveté) our server asked, “Can I just look after you?” We said “yes!” And we are glad we did.  

Food and wine just kept coming out from the kitchen and we just kept eating and smiling.  Turns out this husband and wife-owned restaurant was only open three days a week and is always full weeks in advance.  We even got to see their two children who lived upstairs and came downstairs to say good night.  It is a memory etched in our memories.

Back to Calgary

As the dinner at Fleur de Sel continued, it became much more like our Paris dinner experience as the server knew our dinner mates well and they chatted like old friends, just like in the Paris bistro. 

But perhaps the highlight of the night came near the end of the evening. All of a sudden, the sound system blasted Marilyn Munro singing Happy Birthday and disco lights floating around the room.  Soon our server came rushing in with a chocolate-dipped strawberry speared by a birthday candle, complete with a sparkler and three balloons.  He quickly put down the strawberry, broke the balloons, the sparkler fizzled out and the song was over.  The fun pop-up birthday party was all over before we really knew what was happening.  What first I thought it was pretty kitschy, really was a fun celebration. 

  Happy Birthday Surprise!

Happy Birthday Surprise!

Last Word

While a trip to your local French restaurant won’t replace a trip to France, it can be a great way rekindle the memories of past trips to France.  You can do the same thing by checking out your local authentic Mexican Italian, Turkish, Vietnam, Ukrainian or other favourite ethnic restaurants.  

Similarly, a night out at the theatre might be the catalyst to evoke memories of a trip to New York and an off off Broadway play. Or, a trip to a museum or art gallery might be the stimulus to recall a trip to London or Frankfurt.

Whatever you choose, it could add a whole new dimension to “staycation.” 

We even got doggie boxes to take home and enjoy the next day.  Gotta love the FUN and CREATIVE packaging. 

If you like this blog, click on these links: 

Window licking in Paris

Lyons Sidewalk Ballet

Adapt or die? 

Seattle vs Calgary: Capturing the urban tourists' imagination?

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

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

Downtown as a tourist attraction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hotel Fun

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Living

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

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

Cafe Culture 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Living Test Drive 

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Beltline: North America's best hipster neighbourhood?

Kensington: One of North America's Healthiest districts

NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here!

Ramsay: Calgary's FFQ Industrial District

Port Angeles: A 24 hr quickie?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jasmine Bistro meal

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

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

Next door Gastro Pub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to stay?

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

Stampede Park vs Spruce Meadows vs CalgaryNEXT

Great cities need wealthy individuals with vision and insights to create great architecture, public spaces and collect art that government can’t justify using taxpayer dollars - think of the Rockefellers (New York) or Carnegie (Pittsburg). 

In 2014, I blogged about how Tony Hsieh invested $350M of his own money (Hsieh sold Zappos an online shoe and clothing site to Amazon for $1.2M) to create Container Park in Las Vegas an incubator for new businesses and how Robert J. Ulrich, former CEO of Target, spent $250M of his own money to create the wonderful Musical Instruments Museum in Phoenix.

With the recent announcement of CalgaryNEXT and the $200M the five partners are prepared to invest in a new arena and stadium, I think it fitting to look at how Calgary businessmen have helped shape Calgary’s culture over the past century – specificially two signature places - Stampede Park and Spruce Meadows.

Stampede Park

Most Calgarians may know about how in 1912, Guy Weadick came to Calgary with the idea of a world class rodeo, selling the idea to four Calgary businessmen - Patrick Burns, George Lane, A.E. Cross and Archibald J. McLean (who became known as the Big Four). They put up $100,000 (the equivalent of $2.5 million today) to underwrite a rodeo called the Calgary Stampede.  Backstory: All of the Big Four were successful ranchers, with Burns also owning a large meat packing business and Cross a brewery.

The rodeo took place at Victoria Park, 94 acres (another 54 acres were added in 1954) purchased by Calgary’s Agricultural Society from the Dominion of Canada. Back story: In 1908, a whopping (that is the word used by James H. Gray in his book Citymakers: Calgarians After the Frontier, I could find no actual dollar amount in my research) from the government allowed them to build several large exhibition pavilions, a roofed grandstand, a livestock sales pavilion with seating for 1,000 and horse barns.

  Stampede Park 1908 (from Canadian Geographic website)

Stampede Park 1908 (from Canadian Geographic website)

In 1919, when the original Agricultural Building and Victoria Pavilion were completed, Weadick was invited back to Calgary to produce another rodeo (again backstopped by the Big Four) celebrating the end of World War I. Weadick was hired in 1923 to organize an annual rodeo until he was fired in 1931, but by then the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede was part of Calgary’s culture.

Since then, the Stampede Board and government have shared in funding the creation of a world class exhibition and tradeshow festival park that includes the Stampede Corral (1950), Big Four Building (1959), New Grandstand (1974), Saddledome (1983), Round-Up Centre (1981), expanded and renamed BMO Center in 2007 and most recently, the $60M Agrium Western Event Centre with $50M coming from government.  All of these facilities were funded mostly government dollars.

  Stampede Park 1959 (from Canadian Geographic website)

Stampede Park 1959 (from Canadian Geographic website)

There are many parallels with CalgaryNEXT- the Big Four Building was the world’s largest curling rink; the Corral and Saddledome have hosted hockey, curling and lacrosse games.  The Grandstand and track was the home of Calgary horse racing for many years.

The Calgary Stampede and grounds, truly a shared vision of an individual entrepreneur and four Calgary businessmen, has been fostered over the past 100-years by its Board of Directors, staff, thousands of volunteers and significant funding from all levels of government. In 1944, then Mayor Andrew Davison said the Stampede “had done more to advertise Calgary than any single agency.” I expect Mayor Nenshi would say the same today.

  Stampede Park in 1985 (from Canadian Geographic website)

Stampede Park in 1985 (from Canadian Geographic website)

Stampede at a Glance

  • 148 acres (city owned)
  • 2,000,000+ annual attendance
  • Stampede Show Band/Young Canadians Home
  • BMO Exhibition Centre
  • Agrium Western Event Centre
  • Stampede Corral arena
  • Scotia Bank Saddledome
  • Big Four Building
  • Grandstand/Rodeo Arena
  • Casino
  • Horse barns
  • Numerous auxiliary buildings

Spruce Meadows

Spruce Meadows’ mission statement, established in 1975, states: “Spruce Meadows is committed to being the leading venue in the world for the international horse sports with a focus on the organization and hosting of show jumping tournaments of unmatched quality.”  Over the past 40 years, the Southern Family (the owners) have not only fulfilled their mission but admirably and created their legacy - all without any government (taxpayer) funding by investing $80M of their own money. 

Spruce Meadows was officially recognized by the FEI (the Fédération Equestre Internationale, the world governing body for the horse sports), as #1 in the world as both a venue and as an organization until 2010.  The FEI is comprised of 133 member national federations and each year sanctions over 1500 international show jumping tournaments. Since 2010, the North American Riders Group took over the ranking of equestrian shows and facilities and Spruce Meadows has been #1 for the past five years. 

Spruce Meadows stadium

Spruce Meadows organizes, six world-leading FEI tournaments annually.  Additionally, Spruce Meadows organizes and hosts 16 tournaments under the authority of Canada’s National Sports Organization (NSO), Equine Canada. Athletes from 60 nations have competed at Spruce Meadows since 1976, winning more than $112 million in corporately-sponsored prize money before over 10 million fans. The daily attendance record was set on the final day of the 2011 ‘Masters’ with 89,632 fans visiting the grounds.

Since Spruce Meadows opened in 1975, Canadian athletes have won 24 team or individual show jumping medals at FEI championships including the Olympic Games (3), the Pan American Games (15), World Cup Finals (4) and the World Equestrian Games (2). Much of Canada’s international success in the sport of show jumping is directly attributable to Spruce Meadows as a result of the international experience that Canadians gain at home against the best in the world.

More Than Just Show Jumping

Spruce Meadows hosts over 300 events annually in addition to the Federation sanctioned tournaments.  Included amongst these:  G8 Summit meetings, World Petroleum Congress, Joint Chiefs of Staff, NATO, Changing Fortunes Round Table, G20 Sherpas, Ministerial Summits, Government Caucus and Strategy, Corporate Sector Strategy Conferences & Forums (Automobile, Forestry, Energy, Petro Chemical, Agriculture, Fertilizer, Utility, Technology. Telecom, Transportation, Manufacturing, Retail).

Spruce Meadows’ international success, reputation, and recognition as one of Canada’s official institutional and sport SuperBrands (as is the Calgary Stampede) has, in large part, been achieved through its highly sophisticated and integrated professional media capabilities.

Each year Spruce Meadows issues over 400 individual media accreditations as well as agency and wire service accreditation to Reuters, CP, BBC World Service, Business News Network, IMG/TWI, Fox Sports, CBC, Post Media, Bell Globe Media, CNBC, NBC Sports, QMI, Bloomberg, Sun Media, Radio Canada, and CBC News World

Spruce Meadows Television produces and distributes 130 hours of Tournament, documentary and news production to 108 countries, with a viewing footprint of 2 billion - via the world wide web through the networks and distribution channels of CBC, Radio Canada, CTV, FSN, NBC, British Sky Broadcasting, BNN, Bloomberg, ESPN, EuroSport, CNBC, Fox Sports International, IMG, Rogers Broadcasting, cbcsports.ca and sprucemeadows.com.

Third party economic impact studies (Conference Board of Canada model) confirm Spruce Meadows as a major tourism destination, media entity, economic catalyst and employment centre, contributing in excess of $110 million annually to GNP in direct benefits with total benefits in excess of $300 million.

Spruce Meadows at a Glance

  • 500 acres (120 acres Tournament Grounds)
  • 20 buildings
  • 10 permanent stables
  • 2 indoor arenas
  • 7 outdoor grass rings
  • Community dog walk area
  • 500,000 visitors annually
  • Open 365 days of the year to everyone
  • General Admission $5 with children under 12 and seniorsfree

Last Word

While Stampede Park and Spruce Meadows have evolved over decades, if the proposed CalgaryNEXT plan happens the arena, stadium and fieldhouse will all have to come on stream at once.  As such, it will require a significant upfront investment by the private individuals who have created the vision and government, rather than smaller investments over decades that helped foster Stampede Park and Spruce Meadows.

It will be interesting to see how much “skin-in-the-game” the Big Five Billionaires of the 21st century (Edwards, Libin, Markin, McCaig and Riddell) are ultimately prepared to spend to realize THEIR vision compared to the Big Four Millionaires of 20th century (Burns, Cross, Lane and McLean) or even the Big One (Southern).

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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. 

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

Finally. The Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) came forward with their proposal for a new Calgary arena (Events Centre) and stadium (Field House) for West Village. I can now see why their vision of a massive integrated enclose arena and stadium complex would not fit at Stampede Park as per my Flamesville vs. Stampede Park blog (posted August 14, 2015). 

Now that CSEC’s idea, called CalgaryNEXT has been hatched, here are my thoughts on the good, bad, ugly and bold aspects of what has been presented.

Rendering of the CalgaryNEXT stadium and arena in the middle of West Village. The white buildings in the foreground and the taller buildings along the LRT and CPR tracks are the new tax generating building that would generate new tax revenue to pay off the Community Revitalization Levy loan. 

West Village with its proximity to the Bow River and downtown has the potential to be a very attractive and active mixed-use urban district with or without the addition of an arena, stadium and fieldhouse. 

The Good

The biggest GOOD that could come from CalgaryNEXT is the redevelopment of West Village, an underutilized urban wasteland with three car dealerships and the dying Greyhound Bus Terminal – not exactly the best use of land along the Bow River next to our vibrant downtown. The vision is CalgaryNEXT will attract hotel, condo, restaurant, bar, pub, lounge developers to redevelop all of the land surrounding the arena and stadium, creating a vibrant new urban community where Calgarians can “Live, Work & Play!”

CalgaryNEXT will also fast track the cleaning up of a creosote contamination on land next to the Bow River, something which should have been done long ago.  That is GOOD!

The proposed complex will also be unique in North America - maybe even in the world; this is no cookie cutter development. It is ambitious and contrary to Calgary’s usual pragmatic prairie conservative mantra. It will capture the attention of sports fans and urban tourists across North America.

It is GOOD that the stadium/field house will be enclosed allowing it to be used year-round and for more than just football and amateur events. This is a wonderful adaptation to Calgary’s harsh climate – cold in winter and evening hail and thunderstorms in the summer. It will also be designed with the idea Calgary might be able to attract professional soccer in the future.

There is also a $300 million savings by building the two integrated facilities vs. three separate facilities at different sites. That is GOOD!

It is also GOOD that the Calgary Stampede & Exhibition can move forward with evolving its master plan, knowing that a new arena will not be part of the vision. In addition, the University of Calgary can begin to determine how it might capitalize the McMahon Stadium lands.

Conceptual rendering of proposed new arena, stadium and fieldhouse west of 14th Street bridge

The Bad

  Conceptual rendering of how the arena and stadium will be under one roof. 

Conceptual rendering of how the arena and stadium will be under one roof. 

The proposed funding program is a BAD deal for taxpayers with CSEC only contributing $200 million of the estimated $890 million direct costs of the facility and nothing to the possible billion dollars it will take to clean up of the site and upgrade several interchanges and roads.  Most major developments in Calgary today, have the developer sharing the cost of infrastructure requirements needed for the development.

The fact CSEC didn’t present some sort of business plan or time line for negotiations, community engagement and construction was a BAD mistake. I would suggest the best-case scenario for a timeline is:

  • 2015   determine the cost of contamination cleanup, infrastructure improvements
  • 2016   develop a master plan for West Village with CalgaryNEXT as centerpiece
  • 2017    finalize funding program with municipal, provincial and federal governments
  • 2018   commence clean up/ commence roads and infrastructure improvements 
  • 2019   finalize design and building permits
  • 2020   start construction
  • 2023   opening of complex 

As well, it would have been helpful if CSEC had introduced development partners like a major hotel and condo developer as part of their concept.  A residential/hotel development above CalgaryNEXT would make the project more viable as it would increase the tax base.

What about announcing a name sponsor for the project. Surely CalgaryNEXT is not the real name for the complex.  Imagine if CSEC had come forward with corporate sponsors for say $100million for 20 years for the two complexes and that the money would be used to cover capital not operating costs. That would have added credibility to the project and improved the funding structure.

Rendering of the proposed translucent roof that will give the feel of an outdoor stadium. 

As well, there were many references to the fact West Village could be developed using a Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) like in East Village. While that looks good on the surface, East Village had a master plan that included almost 7 million square feet of development (office, retail and condos) in addition to its two sites for public (non-tax paying) uses (National Music Centre and Central Library).  East Village development has strategically staged private and public developments like The Bow Tower and condos with River Walk and 4th Street Underpass. 

For CSEC’s idea to work it would have to lead with the arena, stadium/fieldhouse (not tax paying projects) and hope that 7 million square feet of private projects will follow. A BAD scenario! For a CRL to work private development must happen at least concurrently with the public projects. 

It was also BAD when CSEC announced there was a $300 million savings by integrating the three complexes and didn’t say immediately that some of those savings would be passed on to the City. A good gesture would have been to say the City’s contribution to the fieldhouse would be $125 million instead of $200million as a result of cost savings.

The Ugly

While CSEC made reference to the need for road and transit improvements to accommodate the increased traffic to the arena, stadium and potential office, hotel and condo buildings, there was no understanding of the costs and who would pay for them.  In most if not all new developments the developer and the city share the costs of new roads and interchanges; in some cases, the developer pays 100% of the costs.  CSEC could have at least said they would expect to share in the cost, which would be determined in negotiations with the City.

The Sunalta station is designed for hundreds not ten of thousands of transit riders. 

While there was lots of attention given to where the province and/or the city would get the $300 million for cleanup and $200 million for the field house, what about the $1 billion for road work and upgrade to the Sunalta LRT Station. As it stands this could be an UGLY negotiation.

The cost to upgrade the Crowchild and Bow Trail interchange could easily be $500 million and take several years to design and build, it is on par with the Macleod and Glenmore Trail project. It will be ugly when and if the Crowchild, Bow Trail, 10th Avenue interchange gets redesigned.

In addition, 14th Street interchanges at 9th Avenue and Memorial Drive would have to be upgrades, as would Memorial Drive and Crowchild Trail and the enlargement of the Sunalta LRT Station.

The entire west end of Calgary City Center would be an UGLY, two billion-dollar nightmare for probably five years with roadwork, infrastructure work and construction of CalgaryNEXT.

Google Earth image showing the four major interchanges that would have to be upgraded and the Sunalta LRT station. The Bow River and the Canadian Pacific Railway main line also make this a very difficult site for access and egress. 

The Bold

While there are a lot of questions to be answered and terms to be negotiated, CSEC has put a BOLD idea on the table for debate.  If this debate results in Calgary getting a new arena, stadium, fieldhouse, environmental cleanup and a fix to the chaos on Crowchild Trail, it will be a win-win-win-win-win situation for Calgarians.

As with any BOLD mega project, it will require significant negotiations (think Ring Road, Cancer Centre and Green Line LRT), with give and take on all sides – government, owners, public, community associations and developers.  At least with CSEC’s BOLD announcement we no longer have to speculate on the site or the scope of the project. Let the negotiations begin!

Brilliant vs. Boondoggle

There is no perfect development for West Village, some have called it a brilliant idea, others a billionaires boondoggle. CalgaryNEXT deserves to be dissected and debated to determine if we can link vision with reality. We must roll up our sleeves, keep an open minded and work together to see if we can add another dimension to the vitality of our City Centre in a cost-effective manner.

Perhaps the best next step is to create a CalgaryNEXT steering committee with diverse representation and expertise to determine the feasibility of the idea of an arena, stadium and fieldhouse as the catalyst to transform West Village into something Calgarians will be proud of not only in 2023 (when phase 1 could open), but also in 2073 when it is 50 years old.

Last Word

Let's see if we can make CalgaryNEXT work, and if not - at least we tried.  Remember East Village had several unsuccessful redevelopment plans before the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation's plan commenced.

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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." 

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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. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Where's The Stampede Spirit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good Guys!

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

Office lobby reflections create attractive Stampede streetscape.

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

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

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

Last Word

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

If you like this blog you might like: 

Stampede Park: Art Gallery/Museum

Stampede 2014: Footnotes

Window Licking in Seattle

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

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

Let me out....

Picture perfect? 

Why window licking? 

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

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

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

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

Window licking in Pioneer Square.

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Surrealism is a frequent theme in window licking art.

Luxury fashion shops are always good for window licking photos.

The classic mannequin historical building window.

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

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

Window licking In Paris

Window licking in Chicago 

Window licking along Florence's Via Tornabuoni

 

 

 

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.

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?

If you like this blog, you might like:

Tale of three pedestrian bridges!

Cars, cyclists and pedestrians need to learn to share!

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 

 

 

 

 

Calgary's Downtown Night Lights Revisited

One of my greatest laments is the decline in the use of large flashing blade sign neon lighting as part of urban placemaking.   Neon lights added so much colour, animation and playfulness to the downtown streets of most North American cities in the middle of the 20th century; today they have all but disappeared. Even in Vegas the iconic mega neon signs have been laid to rest in a graveyard. (Learn more: Las Vegas: Neon Boneyard) 

In the '50s and '60s bright, bold, flashing lights were synonymous with the nightlife fun that downtowns used to offer. Today, most of our downtowns are visually sterile, corporate and just plain banal for my taste.

While LED lighting is bringing some of the colour and a bit of the animation back to urban placemaking, they are not as playful as neon - at least not Calgary.  In some cities, there are amazing light shows on the sides of buildings, but they are usually temporary in nature.  

The Calgary Tower and Langevin Bridge changing LED lights are a nice decorative feature, but the show isn’t bold enough to add a WOW factor.  Neon lights flashed quickly off and on, like an excited heart beat, while Calgary's LED lighting fades in and out slowly.  

Fort Calgary and East Village lighting adds some colour at night, but doesn't light up the sidewalk and create any electricity in the air like Neon lights can.  Even in the daytime the cartoon like neon images added a playfulness that is simply missing from our modern urban streetscapes. 

LED lighting Centrium Place

  Calgary Tower revolving restaurant lighting at dawn. 

Calgary Tower revolving restaurant lighting at dawn. 

 Riverwalk at night is an eerie place to be.

Riverwalk at night is an eerie place to be.

  Langevin Bridge lights add colour at night to a dull grey bridge by day.

Langevin Bridge lights add colour at night to a dull grey bridge by day.

  Fort Calgary's sentinels look like burning iron ingots at night, but the sidewalk and park are covered blackness.  

Fort Calgary's sentinels look like burning iron ingots at night, but the sidewalk and park are covered blackness. 

Jamieson Place LED lights.

How charming is this? 

Camera Fun

Recently, by accident, I discovered I could create some pretty surreal and abstract lighting effects by very quickly moving my new Sony RX100 III camera as I took a picture.

My “learning” happened one evening when I wanted some night photos of the LED lights on the Langevin Bridge for a Condo Living Magazine feature titled “Bridges Over the Bow.”  For some reason, I moved while taking a picture, which resulted in streaks of coloured lights across the sky over the bridge. It looked kinda cool so I kept it.  The image haunted me and the idea of creating my own downtown light show intrigued me, so I headed downtown a few nights later to experiment.

It was fun to see what would happen as I jerked the camera different ways to see what kind of image I would get (I hope nobody was looking as my technique undoubtedly made me look a little deranged).  It was also frustrating, as I didn’t have any control over the images. Definitely hit or miss.

But in the end, I love the playfulness of these images with just hints of Calgary’s architecture. There is diversity of light is delightful - to my eye anyway.  The images are a wonderful combination of fireworks, neon lights and northern lights.  There is a surreal narrative at play in some, while others look like something from a '60s acid dream (not that I would know anything about that).

I need some feedback, so I thought I’d share some of the images with you and invite your candid comments.

Richard White, March 15, 2015  

  Langevan Bridge accident.  

Langevan Bridge accident. 

  Peace Bridge and downtown skyline

Peace Bridge and downtown skyline

Lights on trees in corporate plaza 

  Spotlights over 4th Avenue

Spotlights over 4th Avenue

 West End condo light show.

West End condo light show.

  Centre Street Bridge. The visual complexity of this photograph is astounding - the various qualities of light, the etching like lines, the  billowing white clouds contrasting with the electrical wire lines.  

Centre Street Bridge. The visual complexity of this photograph is astounding - the various qualities of light, the etching like lines, the  billowing white clouds contrasting with the electrical wire lines.  

  Downtown / Kensington LRT Bridge 

Downtown / Kensington LRT Bridge 

  Peace Bridge  or Peace Train?

Peace Bridge or Peace Train?

Grain Exchange Building

  Light waves 

Light waves 

  Downtown temples?

Downtown temples?

  Edward Hopper meets Francis Bacon?

Edward Hopper meets Francis Bacon?

An acid dream I'm sure....

Barclay Mall

Love to get your feedback. 

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

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

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

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

High Line vs. +15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visionaries

Stephen Avenue Walk pulses with new blood at noon hour. 

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

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

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

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

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

Attracting new blood

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

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

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

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

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