Mexico City: A Kaleidoscope of colour

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

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

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

Comments are welcomed!

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.  

 

If you like this blog, you might like: 

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

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

Window licking in Chicago

 

 

 

 

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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Mexico City: Full of Surprises

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

Reforma Fun

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

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

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

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

Archery Fun

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

Ready! Aim! Fire!

Pretty good shooting if you ask me?

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

Bakery Fun

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

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

This was just the pastry section of the store.

The second floor exhibition space is much less crowded. 

Hammock Fun

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

How cute is this?

People of all ages and backgrounds loved the hammocks. 

St. Jude Fun

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

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

Zombie Fun

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

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

It was a blood bath!

People of all ages joined the fun.

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

Fountain Fun 

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

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

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

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

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

Lottery Fun

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

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

Canoodling Fun

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

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

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

Hostel Suites Fun

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

Me, Mom and Hostel Suites staff member

Our home away from home in Mexico City Hostel Suites. 

Last Word

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

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Increased Density Doesn't Always Mean More Traffic

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

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

Myth #1: Density always brings more traffic. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kensington Road in West Hillhurst on a winter Saturday afternoon. 

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

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

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

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

New condo development in Mission. 

Last Word

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

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Seven Reasons To Visit Mexico City

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

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

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

 

#1 The History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2 The Muralists

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

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

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

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

#3 The Museums/Churches

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

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

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

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

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

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

#4 Parks/Plazas/Boulevards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#5 The Villages

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

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

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

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

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

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

# 6 The People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#7 Mexico is a bargain

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

Last Word

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

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

If you like this blog you might like:

Dublin: FAB Fun in Libertines!

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Florence Markets: Flea, Food & Fashion

Florence: People & Places (a photo essay)

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

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

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

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

Window licking along Florence’s Via Tornabuoni

Florence BFFs: Best Flaneur Finds

One Night in Florence

The ugliest pedestrian bridge in the world?

Flaneuring Florence’s Markets: Flea, Food & Fashion

Public Art: Calgary / Florence / Rome

 

Busking with style.

Salvador Dali's Bike?

No wonder Picasso painted faces as he did!

Just one of many very stylish parking garages.

A Florence office building?

Lots of open doors...

I wish I could read Italian.

A work of art and very tasty! 

Magritte would have loved this photo.

Ghost busker....

Sisters sharing donuts?

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

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

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

My fashionista advisor. 

Florence comes alive at night. 

What was he thinking/feeling to create this drawing? 

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

Market madness...

There is no lack of empty shoe boxes in Florence. 

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

These ladies were moving quickly. 

Fountain of youth?

Window licking anyone?

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

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

Cars, bikes, scooters and pedestrians share the road.

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

Blue Man Group?

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

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

People watching fun!

Innocence?

Climbing the wall fun.

Elvis? 

Fashionistas heading to the thrift store. 

Who needs wide sidewalks? enhanced streetscapes? 

My other fashionista advisor.

Who needs a car to carry a lamp home? 

Iceberg soup!

Everyone is out for their evening stroll.

That is a mighty big steak?

No dedicated bike lane? No problem? 

Fashionista at the world's most amazing thrift store. 

Now that is a tight parking spot.

This photo is not upside down.

Self serve wine - how good is that!

Port Angeles: A 24 hr quickie?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jasmine Bistro meal

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

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

Next door Gastro Pub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to stay?

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

Everyone needs to find their sanctuary?

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

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

Where are the birds?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inglewood Sanctuary is a haven for wildlife photographers. 

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

A collage of debris from the flood in the pond. 

Spoiled or Lucky?

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

Pond grasses on the sixth hole at Redwood. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Room for Improvement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Beach

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

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

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

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

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

Bloom or Bust?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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Vegas Crazy Container Park 

Public Art vs Playgrounds in the 21st Century 

Rome: A Surprise Playground Lunch 

Does Calgary need an urban beach? 

 

Chance Meetings: Garden, Volleyball, Sidewalk

One of the things we love to do in the summer is to go flaneuring in the evening and see what we can find in our extended neighbourhood.  This week we headed west, across the Crowchild Divide at 5th Avenue NW and quickly encountered a Little League baseball game about to start so we stopped and watched for bit. 

Soon our feet were itching to move along, so we continued west where we came to Parkdale Community Centre. There we noticed the usually dormant outdoor hockey rink full of young people jumping around. As we got closer, it turns out the rink had been converted into four beach volleyball courts.  How inventive! I was impressed; love to see mixed-uses of public spaces for year-round use. 

Next our eye was attracted to the adjacent new community garden, now in its second season with two rows of lush plant-filled raised gardens boxes, an herb garden and three men constructing a large shed. As I was taking pictures, a gentleman approached me and humbly suggested said I take photos of his garden, pointing to his backyard that faces onto the community garden.

Parkdale's Community Garden is a great addition to their community block that includes the community centre, playing fields, outdoor hockey rink and beach volleyball court and a wonderful train-themed playground. 

Parkdale's community garden's lush vegetable plots.

Parkdale's community garden's lush vegetable plots.

Off the beaten alley 

Never passing up an opportunity to explore something, “off the beaten alley” I headed with him. He immediately told me he was growing more vegetables than the entire community garden.  Being a “Doubting Dick,” my skeptism quickly turned to awe when I saw his backyard garden.

In half of the yard of a typical inner city lot, he had arguably the most intense garden I have seen in my life. His 90 hills of potatoes will produce over 700 pounds of potatoes.  He estimates his garden will also produce, 300 cobs of corn and enough beets for 50 quarts of pickled beets (yellow, orange and purple).  He’ll also be harvesting two types of lettuce, 100s of cucumbers, several 5-gallon pails full of both peas and beans. In addition, he has various types of melons and a healthy raspberry patch.  Now, he does have help – his 98-year old mother who lives with him, helps with the garden and is in charge of canning 50+ quarts of tomatoes.

I sheepishly asked his name and without hesitation he said, “David K Weisbeck, its German.”  I asked if I could use his name in a blog and take a picture and he said, “OK” then shared some family history.

Turns out his family have been urban farmers in Parkdale for generations. They used to own a lot of the land around the block that is now the Parkdale Community Centre. For him, urban farming is a year-round hobby that starts in February when he starts many of plants that he grows from seeds and continues to the fall harvest and food preservation. 

I asked him if he ever goes on vacation and he said he couldn’t remember one, though he did admit, “I take off November and December because I have to focus on getting my 26,000 Christmas lights up!”  Dave was one proud man! We parted ways with me making a promise to drop off a print copy of the blog, as he doesn’t bother with modern technology.

Dave's backyard urban farm

Dave's garden is full of different types of squash. 

Dave with his friend in his garden. 

2-year olds 

Wow, how much fun was that chance encounter!  And while I was off with David, Brenda was involved in trying to catch a runaway dog (it turns out, according to its owner that a 2-year old “let the dog out). Happy to report owner and dog safely reconnected.

We then headed back to watch some beach volleyball where we met cute (big blue eyes and blonde curly hair) 2-year old Isla and her Mom who had driven from Queensland to watch her dad play. 

Heading towards home, we noticed a young couple out for a walk who looked a bit puzzled. I ask, “Can I help you?”  They said, “No, we are just looking for sidewalk markers.”  Too funny, as bunch us history/Twitter nerds had been tweeting about sidewalk markers (they are officially called sidewalk stamps) just a couple of months ago including a flurry of photos of different stamps from various communities.

Given they lived in West Hillhurst I told them they should check out the unique Saint Barnabas Church stamp and the 1912 stamp at the corner of 5th Ave and 11th St NW.  As we moved on the young women said "what a great chance meeting!"

Winter outdoor hockey rink becomes a summer outdoor beach volleyball facility in Parkdale.

One of Calgary's oldest sidewalk stamps in Hillhurst.

Since this photo was taken the sidewalk has been repaired, but city work crews carefully preserved this stamp. If you look carefully at the top you can see two circles and lines radiating outwards as if from the heavens above. Wouldn't it be great to have more art and names in our contemporary sidewalks.  Would make a great public art project, don't you think? 

Last Word

You gotta love it when you go for a walk and you get to meet interesting people.

It seems to me every community in Calgary these days is building a bigger and better community garden - some even have orchards.  I am most familiar with the three along 5th Avenue NW – Hillhurst Community Centre, West Hillhurst Community Centre and the newest one at Parkdale Community Centre.  

They are indeed a catalyst for fostering a greater sense of community letting strangers from Acadia to Silver Springs and beyond get to know each other. They are also a great source of community pride!

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Calgary leader in addressing urban issues?

In May Huffington Post published a list of ten cities that are frequently mentioned as innovators in addressing urban life issues – specifically, environmental, social, transportation and urban design. While there were no real surprises in the list of cities identified and what they have accomplished or were attempting to accomplish, I was immediately struck that Calgary could and should be on the list. Yet again, Calgary flies under the radar of the international news media for the incredible work the public and private sectors have done to create a city with one of the highest standards of urban living in the world.

What Other Cities Are Doing?

Vancouver makes the list for its work in creating policies that allow more families to live in the city centre, its mandatory composting program and supervised safe injection site.  Stockholm is praised for its “Walkable City” plan that focuses on making all streets pedestrians and cycling-friendly and “Vision Zero” plan to reduce road deaths.

New York City’s $20 billion plan to defend the city against future storms was on the list. Reykjavik’s unique geology allows for its use geothermal heating to produce electricity and heat 95% of its buildings. Berlin’s claim to fame is its ability to repurpose old buildings like power plants into nightclubs and the Nazis Tempelhof Airport into a giant public park.

Singapore has introduced free subway fares to riders who leave the system before 7:45 am as a means of unclogging both street and transit traffic during peak commuter hours.  Hong Kong has created a very handy service where airline passengers check their bag sat a designated station along the Airport Express subway line and it gets taken right to the plane.

Paris’ tentative plan will give the City first right of refusal on 8,000 new apartments being built which they plan to turning into subsidized housing to help eliminate gentrification of communities helps it make the top 10 list.

Copenhagen is noted for its plan to be completely carbon neutral by 2025 through the use of wind power, biomass fuel and other alternate energies.  San Francisco’s DataSF project collects comprehensive data for use by citizens and businesses to foster a better quality of life and increase accountability. For example, Yelp uses the data to give its users information on restaurants’ latest health inspections as a means of reducing food bourne illnesses.

While these are all commendable projects and some are innovative, when it comes to innovative urban living initiatives, Calgary is providing as much leadership as any of these cities. Don’t believe me? Read on!  

Calgary’s Environment Leadership

Not only is Calgary is currently ranked at the cleanest city in the world (and has consistently ranked in the top three for many years) of Mercer Global Financial and HR Consulting “world’s cleanest city.” The ranking is based on water availability and drinkability, waste removal, quality of sewage systems, air pollution and traffic congestions.  The $430-million Pine Creek Wastewater Treatment Centre is one of the most technologically advanced and environmentally-friendly wastewater treatment plants in the world.

When it comes to responding to perils of Mother Nature, Calgary’s Emergency Management System shares data from 32 partner organizations from the police to Calgary Board of Education, as well as draws information from social media sites.  The system has been praised as the best in the world and was instrumental in the highly successful response to Calgary’s great flood of 2013.

Did you know Grow Calgary has an 11-acre farm just west of Canada Olympic Park, where a group of volunteers manages Canada’s largest urban farm - all of the fresh produce being donated to the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank?

Grow Calgary farm within the city limits. (photo credit: paulin8@blogspot.com)

Grow Calgary farm within the city limits. (photo credit: paulin8@blogspot.com)

Pine Creek Water Treatment Plant (photo credit: City of Calgary)

Calgary’s Urban Design Leadership

Calgary is arguably the “Infill Capital of North America.”  When it comes to redevelopment of established communities, Calgary boasts several mixed-use urban villages – Currie Barracks, East Village, Quarry Park, SETON, University District and West District.  What other city builds Transit-Oriented Development before the transit has been built – SETON and Quarry Park? Our downtown is surrounded by vibrant urban communities experiencing a renaissance due to dozens of infill condo developments. And thousands of  new “family friendly” homes being built in ALL of our inner-city neighborhoods. 

Green spaces have been identified as critical to healthy urban living.  Calgary boasts over not only 5,000 parks, two being the among the largest in the world (Fish Creek and Nose Hill), as well as one of the world’s longest urban pathway systems that is quickly closing in on being 1,000 km. 

The Calgary Parks Foundation is working on the 138 km Rotary/Mattamy Greenway project that will create a network of parks and pathways around the perimeter of the city connecting over 100 communities.

Our City Centre has recently completed or in the process of completing at least six new or renovated parks and plazas including the St. Patrick’s Island mega makeover.

Map of the Rotary Mattamy Greenway.

Map of the Rotary Mattamy Greenway.

Calgary’s Transportation Leadership

Calgary was an early adopter of “Light Rapid Transit” in 1981 and in 2001, was the first public transit system to claim all of its electricity from emission-free wind power.  Today, Calgary’s LRT ridership is the third highest in North America, behind Toronto and Guadalajara, both cities having w a population five times that of Calgary and ahead of cities like Vancouver and Portland twice our size.

The Pembina Institute report “Fast Cities: A comparison of rapid transit in major Canadian Cities” (2014) states Calgary leads Canada in rapid transit infrastructure per capita (53km/million citizens) and has, over the past decade built the most rapid transit 22 km. 

For decades, Calgary has implemented some of the most restrictive downtown parking bylaws in North America, including allowing developers to build only 50% of the estimated required parking for new office buildings.  As a result, 60% of downtown commuters use transit, an impressively high percentage and one unheard of in North America except for places like Manhattan. Further to that, City Council recently unanimously approved Canada’s first condo with no parking – N3 in East Village. 

In my mind, Calgary is one of the most pedestrian and cycling-friendly cities in the world. Where else do drivers routinely stop so pedestrians and cyclists can safely cross the street?  I am constantly reminded of this when visiting other cities.

Cars routinely stop to let cyclists and pedestrians cross the road in Calgary.  

Cars routinely stop to let cyclists and pedestrians cross the road in Calgary. 

N3 condo in Calgary's East Village will have no parking stalls for residents. 

N3 condo in Calgary's East Village will have no parking stalls for residents. 

Last Word

Calgary doesn’t get the respect it deserves from the international media and planning communities with respect to the numerous, significant, successful and innovative urban living initiatives recently or currently being implemented by both the private and public sectors. Sure, we have our problems and our urban sense of place isn’t for everyone.

But when push comes to shove, Calgary is at the top of most quality of urban living lists and should have been included in the “top 10 cities shaping the future of urban living.”

This blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section on June 27th titled "Calgary a top-ten city." 

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

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

The suburbs move to the City Centre in Calgary

Calgary: The importance of a good mayor!

 

Flaneuring Calgary's original craft brewery

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

But seeing is believing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postcards from CB&MC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walk Score vs Lifestyle Score?

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

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

  • 90 – 100 walker’s paradise

  • 70 – 89 very walkable

  • 50 – 69 somewhat walkable

  • 25 – 49 mostly car dependent

  • 0 – 24 car dependent

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

Link: Walks Score: How it works?

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

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

 Lifestyle Factors  

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Better Walk Score?

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

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

Pedestrian-Friendly vs. Pedestrian-Safety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

BL emailed: 

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

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

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

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

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

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Tale of three pedestrian bridges!

Cars, cyclists and pedestrians need to learn to share!

Calgary: Wake up and smell the lilacs!

Too often we forget – or never even give a thought to Calgary once having been mostly sloughs and prairie grasslands, with a few wooded areas along the rivers.  It wasn’t until William Reader, hired as Calgary’s Park Superintendent in 1913 that a vision of Calgary as a city of beautiful parks, streets and pathways was created.   Some of his most famous projects were Memorial Park (Beltline) and Reader Rock Gardens (on the hill on the southeast corner of Macleod Trail at 25th Avenue SE).

Reader was inspired by the early 20th century, international City Beautiful Movement, which envisioned the entire city planned as a beautiful place with a formal master plan.

Healthy lilacs add colour, charm and privacy to homes in many early 20th century communities in Calgary.

Reader’s Vision:

Unfortunately the historic lilacs along the boulevard of Bowness Road have not been properly cared for. 

His vision was to develop Calgary into one of the most desirable cities of western Canada. The intent was to illustrate that Calgary was a civilized city with high quality public spaces. One of his principal initiatives was the creation of streets lined with trees and developed with landscaped boulevards and medians. In 1913, Reader stated "I doubt that any other public improvement will tend to create and foster a civic pride in Calgary to the same extent as will the making of boulevards, and planting of trees on our streets, nor will any other feature of our city impress visitors so favorably." (Source: City of Calgary website)

Evidence of Reader’s vision is everywhere amidst Calgary’s early 20th century luxury residential communities like Elbow Park, Mission, Mount Royal, Roxboro and Scarboro all on the south side of the Bow River. 

On the north side of the Bow River, there is one street in particular that epitomizes Reader’s implementation of the City Beautiful Movement principles in Calgary. That is Bowness Road from 14th Street NW to 17th Street N. It is unique for its regularly spaced purple flowering Common Lilacs planted in 1932 along the street’s boulevard. 

In addition to the tree-lined street and lilac median, the 1700 block of Bowness Road is home to one of Calgary’s oldest lawn bowling clubs, also built in 1932 and including a lovely garden originally created by Reader himself in 1936.

Today lilacs have fallen our of favour for new flowering ornamental trees like these planted next to the Bow Valley Lawn Bowling Club. My friends at Ground3 Landscape Architecture tell me they are Amur Cherry trees. 

Why Lilacs?

Lilacs are very hardy shrubs, able to withstand the heavy frost, Calgary experiences every winter. They also grow rapidly and have an attractive early spring flower with a lovely fragrance (that was very alluring to early settlers after a long winter) and attractive green foliage when not in bloom. 

Lilac hedges and trees are popular in Calgary inner city communities.  It is not coincidental that the 4th Street Lilac Festival is one of Calgary’s most popular annual events attracting over 100,000 people to the Mission neighbourhood in late May.

Advocates of the City Beautiful Movement believed high quality designed streets and public spaces would foster a harmonious social order that would enhance the quality of life of its citizens and reduce undesirable social behavior.  It may seem far-fetched, but walking along these blocks of Bowness Road can be like a walk back in time; an ethereal tranquility may even come over you.

There are still many small cottage homes along the 1600 and 1700 blocks of Bowness Road that retain the small town charm that was once Calgary. 

A reminder of how modest homes were 100 years ago - hard to believe that a family of ten or more could have lived in a house like this. 

Last Word

It is truly one of Calgary’s beautiful places, especially in the spring when you can revel in stopping to smell the lilacs. Only a lucky few Calgarians can live on one of these three blocks.  While today there are many modern million-dollar homes on the street, it still retains a sense of when Calgary was a sleepy little prairie town. 

Editors's Note: This blog was commissioned by inner city specialist realtor Ross Aitken. I thought I would repost it in honour of this Sunday being Calgary's popular Lilac Festival. Perhaps the City should declare next week Lilac Week to celebrate the importance of lilacs in Calgary's early urban placemaking history. 

Colourful new infills have allowed Bowness Road in Hillhurst and West Hillhurst to evolve into a very attractive 21st century address.

Gone are the lilacs in favour of other ornamental tress and shrubs. 

Mean Streets, Main Streets, Pretty Streets

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

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

Be careful what you wish for?

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

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

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

Mean Streets

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

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

Pretty streets don't attract people

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

New Identities

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

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

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

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

Recruitment

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

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

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

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

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

Too focused on the 3 Rs

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

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

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

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

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

Landowners are the key

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

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

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

Connectivity

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

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

Nothing over Four Floors

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

Length matters

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Readers's Comments:

BL wrote: 

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

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

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

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

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

CO wrote: 

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

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

 If you like this blog, you might like:

Montgomery: Calgary's newest urban village.

Beautiful Downtown Bowness

Flaneuring the TransCanada Highway 

Mount Pleasant & Calgary's other 4th Street



 

 

+15 walkway: Love vs Hate!

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: City of Calgary, online +15 brochure 

Photo credit: City of Calgary, online +15 brochure 

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

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

Pedestrian Counts July 2001. The City of Calgary website

Pedestrian Counts January 2012. The City of Calgary website 

Wayfinding 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: City of Calgary, +15 online brochure

Photo credit: City of Calgary, +15 online brochure

Design  

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

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

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

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

+15 bridge in the winter over Barclay Mall.  

+15 bridge in the winter over Barclay Mall. 

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

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

+15 bridge connecting Centennial Parkade and Eight Avenue Place.

+15 bridge connecting Centennial Parkade and Eight Avenue Place.

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

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

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

+15 Highlights 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Udderly Art Pasture in the Centennial Parkade. 

Udderly Art Pasture in the Centennial Parkade. 

Bush plane suspended from the ceiling of Suncor Centre. 

Bush plane suspended from the ceiling of Suncor Centre. 

Devonian Gardens early morning. 

Devonian Gardens early morning. 

Jamieson Place Winter Garden with infinity pools and living wall. 

Jamieson Place Winter Garden with infinity pools and living wall. 

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

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

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

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

Footnote 

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

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

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

 

Fun Factoids

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

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

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

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

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

  • 150+ buildings are connected by +15 bridges.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happened to "On Your Left!"

Guest Blog: Marie White, 84-year-old walker and former urban cyclist (she gave up biking in downtown Hamilton last year) and mother of the “everyday tourist.” Be sure to read the comments at the end of the blog as Calgarians share their thoughts on the safety of our city's pathways.

I have been visiting Calgary for over 25 years and always enjoyed walking along your wonderful pathway system. It was here many years ago that I was first heard the “on your left” greeting from cyclists who were about to pass by me.  It wasn’t just one or two who were so courteous, it was almost every cyclist. It was most appreciated.  It made it a pleasure for a senior like myself to share the pathways.

I was so impressed I started to say “on your left” when riding my bike along the shared pathway at the Waterfront Trail in Hamilton rather than ring my bell.  It just seemed more friendly and personal.

I am sad to say Calgary’s polite cycling culture seems to have all but disappeared from my experience this visit (March/April 2015).   I don’t feel as safe on your pathways as I used to.

Glenmore Reservoir pathway was a busy place on March 29, 2015.

We don't have eyes in the back of our heads!

In fact, over several visits during the past few years I have experienced more and more cyclists passing (racing pass in some cases) without any type of warning. This week seldom heard “on your left” or ringing bell when we walked along the gorgeous Glenmore Reservoir pathway on the weekend and several times walking on the Bow River pathways  from Crowchild Trail to downtown. 

Ironically, in reading the Herald during this visit I also noticed stories about Calgary wanting to create a friendly walking and cycling culture.  Seems to me one of the first and simplest things (and at no cost) would be bring back the “on your left” warning by cyclists, joggers or even walkers as they pass by others on the pathway. Contrary to what some mothers say none of us have “eyes in the back of our heads.”

Downtown pathways can get very busy on nice days. 

Downtown pathways can get very busy on nice days. 

Walkers Behaving Badly

At the same time, walkers could also be more respectful of cyclists by staying on right side of the pathway and not wandering all over the place, so cyclists, joggers and even faster walkers have room to pass easily.  A little cooperation and consideration on both sides can go a long way to enjoying a stress free walk, jog or ride.

Walkers behaving badly. 

Footnote:

Wouldn’t it be great if Calgarians could relearn how to share their wonderful pathways? You can spend all the money you want on signage and other infrastructure, but it won’t help if there isn’t a basic level of respect and  friendliness.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary: Canada's Bike Friendly City!

Drivers, Cyclists & Pedestrians need to learn to share!

Bike Lanes: Everyone Benefits 

 

First Street Underpass Transformation Finally Underway

Editor's Note:

This blog was written for the Hotel Arts newsletter in April 2013. Unfortunately the First Street Underpass didn't go forward as planned that summer due to the Great Flood of 2013.  Fortunately, the plan for transforming the underpass is currently underway.  

Given the pedestrian traffic that uses the CPR underpasses connecting the Beltline with the downtown core and their very poor conditions one has to wonder why they weren't given priority over Poppy Plaza, Memorial Drive decorations or the Peace Bridge. 

Plans are also underway to transform the 8th Street Underpass into a much more inviting place for pedestrians 24/7.  That blog will have to wait until another time. 

First Street Underpass Transformation 

Before Calgary became an oil and gas city, it was a railway town. In fact, not only does the Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CPR) main line still run right through the downtown, its head office is located downtown on 9th Avenue at 3rd Street, at least until its planned move to the Ogden Rail Yards in a few years.  The Steam Locomotive #29 sits, as a sentinel in front of the building on the plaza (fyi its steam whistle blows daily at noon). Placed there in 1996 when CPR moved its headquarters from Montreal to Calgary, it symbolizes a significant milestone in Calgary’s evolution as one of North America’s major corporate headquarter cities. Locomotive 29 also has the unique distinction of being the last CPR-operated, steam locomotive to close out the railway's steam era on November 6, 1960 - one day shy of the Company's 75th anniversary of driving the last spike.

It is the CPR that shaped Calgary’s downtown in the early 1880s, when it decided to locate the Calgary Train Station on the west side of the Elbow River. Why? Because, there was too much land speculation in the Inglewood area, so by placing the train station on the west side of the Elbow River, CPR could control the sale (profits) from all of the land around the new train station.

The CPR’s mainline (between 9th and 10th Avenues) meant building underground roads to link the warehouse district on the south with the commercial and residential districts on the north.  Yes, the land north of the tracks used to be mostly residential.  Nobody in their wildest imagination back then could have ever imagined Calgary’s downtown would become one of the densest in North America on par with Manhattan and Chicago.  

Interesting to see the First Street roadway being shared by a street car, tow horse driven carts and cyclist 100 years ago. 

Consequently, there are seven underpasses at 4th 2nd (Macleod Trail) and 1st Streets SE and 1st 4th 5th and 8th Streets SW. Of all the underpasses, the First Street SW underpass, built in 1908, is one of the oldest, busiest and dingiest. It is well known for the brownish liquid leaking from the tracks down the retaining walls to the sidewalk – looking like something from a bad horror movie.  The idea of building bright, clean and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks hadn’t even been thought of when this underpass was built.  Although there have been some attempts over the years to improve the lighting and hide the leaking  and staining of the retaining wall, the ugly patina soon returned.   

Then in November 2011, the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (the arm of the city responsible for developing the land east of City Hall), unveiled its very sleek and shiny 4th Street SE Underpass.  Using 21st century thinking, they created a bright and open (an incline that allowed pedestrians and others to see from one side to the other) underpass, with subtle streetscape ornamentation and lampposts that directed light on the road and the sidewalk. 

4th Street SE Underpass (photo credit: JordanW.ca on Flickr)

It didn’t take long for the City to realize the need to make all underpasses linking the Beltline (south downtown) community with the downtown core more attractive.  Up next is the First Street SW Underpass, with construction slated to begin late this summer.

In the mid '90s, Calgary artist Luke Lakasewich created a large mural crafted out of steel to animate the underpass.

First Street SW itself is significant in two ways. It is the only street from the 1913 Mawson Plan for Calgary that was actually built. Thomas Mawson was an early 21st century urban planner, who not only created a master plan for the City of Calgary, but also the City of Regina, University of Saskatchewan and Vancouver’s Stanley Park. It is also the only street in Calgary that links the Elbow and Bow Rivers. For Hotel Arts’ guests, it is THE gateway to the downtown – to Stephen Avenue Walk, CORE shopping center, Calgary Telus Convention Centre, EPCOR Performing Arts Centre, Bow River Promenade and Prince’s Island.

Starting late summer and hopefully finished by Christmas (plans are to do most of the work off-site to minimize the need for closure of the underpass), the First Street underpass will be completely transformed into a pedestrian friendly corridor linking the south and north sides of downtown. The City of Calgary has awarded the project to Calgary’s Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative. The project is more complex than you might think, as the new design must balance function, purpose and aesthetic design. Boutin is a good choice - not only is he an award-winning architect, but as his former office was a block away he knows the space and its challenges first-hand.

He and his creative team have generated a clever design that will convert the underpass into a work of art.  Their design consists of using two layers of a thin perforated aluminum screen mounted on the retaining wall to hide the stained concrete and allow for