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

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

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

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

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

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

St. John's On Tenth condo.

Why a Vancouver Model?

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

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

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

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

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

Pixel condo with crane for Lido condo under construction.

Did Somebody say “Cash Grab?”

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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Kensington Legion: NIMBYs vs YIMBYs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Taller Better?

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

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

North side of condo building with garden facing to homes. 

Is Traffic a Real Concern?

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

Bunt & Associates’ preliminary findings:

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

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

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

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

Aerial view of project looking west. 

Back alley parking design. 

Truman has listened

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

Shadowing effect of tiered building design

Street between office and condo building.

Last Word

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

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

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Calgary: Not your parents' suburbs!

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

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

Not just about density

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

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

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

Livingston

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

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

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

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

For more information: Livingston 

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

West District

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

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

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

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

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

Urban Village in Suburbs?

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

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

Kingsland Densification

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

  Market on Macleod site is perfectly located for urban densification. 

Market on Macleod site is perfectly located for urban densification. 

Harvest Hills Densification 

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

Google Earth image of Harvest Hills Golf Course today.

Outline Plan of the proposed Parks at Harvest Hills development. 

Last Word

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

Lesson Learned 

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

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

If you liked this blog, you might like:

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Kensington Legion Redevelopment: Taller is better?

Do we really need to develop West Village?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Villages 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cannibalism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Village ARP 101

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

These include:

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Living is in its infancy in Calgary

Calgary: Leader in addressing urban issues

 

Kensington Legion Redevelopment: Taller is better?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Proposal at a Glance

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

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

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

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

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

What is Land Use Rezoning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kensington Legion: Prime Site For Redevelopment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Objections to the Development

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

  • West Hillhurst should remain a single-family home community

  • Will bring “hordes” of panhandlers and drug users

  • Shouldn’t be any development taller than four storeys

  • Will lower the value of my home

  • Would be better as a park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kensington Village: One of North America's Healthest Communities

Calgary: Flaneuring 19th St. NW

West District: Community Engagement Gone Wild

Calgary Community Engagement: Raising the bar again!

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

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

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

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

How could that be?

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

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

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

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

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

The survey says…

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

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

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

 The common themes to date are:

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

Key questions raised in the comments:

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

Sample positive comments:

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

Sample negative comments:

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

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

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

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

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

Kingsland Market FAQ

About Kingsland

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Stampede Park vs Spruce Meadows vs CalgaryNEXT

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

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

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

Stampede Park

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

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

  Stampede Park 1908 (from Canadian Geographic website)

Stampede Park 1908 (from Canadian Geographic website)

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

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

  Stampede Park 1959 (from Canadian Geographic website)

Stampede Park 1959 (from Canadian Geographic website)

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

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

  Stampede Park in 1985 (from Canadian Geographic website)

Stampede Park in 1985 (from Canadian Geographic website)

Stampede at a Glance

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

Spruce Meadows

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

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

Spruce Meadows stadium

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

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

More Than Just Show Jumping

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

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

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

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

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

Spruce Meadows at a Glance

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ugly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bold

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

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

Brilliant vs. Boondoggle

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

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

Last Word

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

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Calgary evolving into five cities

Over the past week or so I have had several discussions with people about the pros and cons of the City of Calgary's proposed Scenario A and Scenario B changes to the existing 14 Ward boundaries.  Some see the changes as major, others as minor.  Kudos to the city for publishing the two scenarios they think would work best on their website and asking public input. 

Personally, I am thinking the two scenarios are not significantly different and that we should be looking a radical boundary changes that will significantly change how our city is governed in the future.  Here are a few other scenarios that should be considered: 

Scenario C -  The map below illustrate how the City is are monitor growth in our city and where their is land available for both residential and commercial growth.  It is interesting to note from a strategic growth planning perspective the City has created eight sectors based on several common denominators, not 14. Therefore, why not have just 8 Wards with boundaries that match these sectors?  

Scenario D - Perhaps we should even go further and develop just five Wards - Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, Northwest and Centre.  We could have two Councillors for each ward for a total of 10, four less than the current 14.  

Scenario E  - We could be even more radical and have no Wards and just elect 10 Councillors at large. Perhaps this would help remove the urban/suburban split that exists in Council today as all of the members would have city-wide mandates, versus the special interests of their Ward. 

I am thinking a few more scenarios would create much more debate and perhaps result in real change. 

These sectors are based upon general planning, housing markets and servicing criteria. The suburban sectors have strong relationships to future servicing and infrastructure requirements. (City of Calgary, Suburban Residential Growth 2015 - 2019 Report).

Current residential population and employment in each of the City's geomatic sectors. 

In thinking about this issue, I remembered a column I did for the Calgary Herald back in 2011 about "Calgary evolving into five cities." I have reprinted it below as it is no longer available on the Herald's website.  I hope that you will find it thought provoking. 

"A Tale of Five Cities"

By Richard White, Calgary Herald June 11, 2011

One of Calgary’s advantages during the past 50 years has been its ability to annex land and surrounding communities as it grows.  Examples include Forest Lawn and Midnapore in 1961, or Bowness in 1963.

As a result, Calgary has been able to evolve as a single city with a healthy inner city and suburban neighbourhoods, rather than a fragmented urban region such as Edmonton with large, suburban edge cities (OK, Calgary may not be perfect, but it’s better than most.) This is not the case for most North American cities.

Fragmentation of North American cities

In most cases, the original city was surrounded by smaller towns with their own town council, as well as fire, water, safety and school systems. During the past 50 years, these small “edge towns” have mostly become large, independent cities able to offer lower taxes and housing because they didn’t have transit systems, social programs or an aging infrastructure. This resulted in more and more residents and businesses choosing to locate to such places. For example, in 1961, the City of Vancouver’s population was 384,522, with a regional population of 827,000.

Today, the lower mainland of B.C. has a population of 2.5 million divided into 21 municipalities, with Vancouver representing only 23 per cent of the metro population -down from 46 per cent in 1961. On the other hand, Calgary’s population in 1961 was 249,641, or 89 per cent of the regional population of 279,000. Today, the City of Calgary’s population is 1,071,515, or 81 per cent of the regional population.

During the past 50 years, Airdrie has grown to a city of 39,822, Okotoks to 23,201, Cochrane to 15,424 and Strathmore to 12,139 -but they are still, for the most part, bedroom communities of Calgary. In the past, this growth has been mostly residential. However, more and more these edge cities are experiencing retail and industrial growth as a result of no business taxes and lower land costs.

Calgary will not be able to annex these cities as they did in the past, which could lead to fragmented development in the future.  As Calgary has grown, even internally, its residents have begun to think less and less like those of a unified city and more and more like a fragmented one.

One of the unique features of Calgary is that despite living in a city of more than a million, for the most part people live in one of four quadrants. If you divide them into 250,000 people apiece, that’s roughly a city the size of Saskatoon or Victoria for each quadrant.

Many Calgarians living in the northwest never cross the Bow River except to go downtown to work. Similarly, those who live in the southwest also never cross the Bow River except to get to the airport. More and more Calgarians are identifying with the quadrant they live in.

Downtown is an island of skyscrapers in a sea of low rise buildings.  In this photo you can see how the Bow River divides the western half of the city into north and south quadrants. (photo credit Peak Aerials).

A City Divided?

When it comes to new infrastructure, the city is currently very divided. The airport tunnel, though an issue for businesses and residents in the northeast, is a nonissue for the rest of the city. The southeast LRT extension, though a key issue for southeast downtown commuters, isn’t an issue for southeasterners who don’t work downtown -nor for those who live in the city’s other three quadrants. The ring road connection is a key issue for those in the southwest now that they have their LRT connection to downtown, but less so for others.

More and more, Calgary is a city divided. We are now living in a “what about me” (WAM) society. Most 20th century cities -including Calgary -are now dealing with problems based on that century’s downtowncentric model of planning cities.  In other words, downtown was made the focal point for al commercial, cultural and civic activities, as well as roads and transit.

While there are few cities in the world as downtowncentric as Calgary, our downtown struggles to thrive in the evenings and weekends when commuters are back home in the suburbs. And while downtown is still Calgary’s economic engine, other parts of the city are developing their own character, charm and culture.

Another problem is that while downtown remains important to the everyday lives of 20 per cent of Calgarians, for the other 80 per cent, it is not part of their urban experience on a monthly, quarterly, or for some even an annual basis.

Fish Creek Park divides the communities north and south of this huge provincial park within the city limits. 

Weaselhead Flats and the Glenmore Reservoir serve as a natural dividing line between the inner city and established communities to the south. 

I see Calgary quickly evolving into five distinct “cities,” each with their own economic base, amenities and culture: the Learning City, the Airport City, the Playground City, the Corporate City and the Healthcare/Rail City.

Five Future Cities?

I thought it might be interesting to look at how Calgary might evolve over the next 50 years.

The Learning City

This is primarily the northwest quadrant of the city running from the Bow River to the city’s northern limits, and from Deerfoot Trail to the city’s western limits. Its employment centres are the University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre (teaching hospital), SAIT Polytechnic and Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD). This is where the majority of professors, instructors, doctors, nurses and other staff live, work and play.

It has two major parks: Nose Hill and Bowness Park. Recreationally, it has Canada Olympic Park and Shouldice Athletic Park, as well as several major recreation centres. It has more than five million square feet of retail, including Market Mall, Northland Village mall, North Hill Mall, Brentwood Mall and Crowfoot Power Centre.

It is also home to Calgary’s first urban village - Kensington, with its cafe culture and Plaza Theatre. About 325,000 people live in the Learning City.

University District will become a new urban village on the west side of the University of Calgary campus. (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

SAIT campus (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

University of Calgary campus (photo credit peak aerials) 

Foothill Medical Centre (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

The Airport City

This is basically the northeast quadrant of the city, an area from east of Deerfoot Trail and north of 17th Avenue S.E.

The airport is the key differentiator for this “city.” and the driver for its economy is the almost 40-million square feet of industrial space and six-million square feet of suburban office space surrounding the airport.

It is home to about 230,000 Calgarians, who not only work there but shop (International Avenue, Marborough Mall, Sunridge Mall and CrossIron Mills could be included as part of the Airport City) and play (Rotary Park and Elliston Park) there.

The Airport City could also be called our multicultural city.

Calgary International Airport (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

New suburban residential development at the edge of the city. (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

The Playground City

This is all communities south the City Centre and Mcleod Trail. It is where the majority of corporate Calgary lives and plays. It is home to Chinook Centre, Calgary’s largest shopping centre, as well as IKEA, Southcentre, WestHills and Shawnessy Power Centres -almost 10 million square feet of retail space. It is served by two legs of the LRT.

It is also home to amenities such as the Westside, Southland and Trico recreation centres, as well as Glenmore Reservoir, Weaselhead, Fish Creek and Heritage Parks, along with Spruce Meadows. Surrounded by golf courses at its edges, it also has three private clubs -Calgary Golf and Country Club, Earl Grey, and Canyon Meadows -within its boundaries.

It has two non-retail employment centers -Mount Royal University/Westmount Office Park and Manchester industrial area.

About 400,000 people live in our Playground City.

The Corporate (Centre) City

This is the area from Inglewood to Sunalta, from Crescent Heights to Roxboro (in other words, the Bow/Elbow River Valley.) It overlaps with the Learning City on the north side of the river. Not only is it the economic engine for Calgary and one of the top economic engines for Canada. It is the heart, soul and face of Calgary.

It is home to Calgary's truly urban districts -  Kensington Village, Uptown 17th, Stephen Avenue Walk, Design District, 4th Street and Inglewood Village.

It is also home to more than 60 million square feet of offices, hotels, retail, restaurants, attractions and condos. It is one of the most densely developed areas in North America.

It is Calgary’s corporate, cultural and civic headquarters and home to most of our cultural, festival and sporting events. It is home to Stampede Park, Shaw Millennium Park and Prince’s Island Park, as well as signature recreation facilities such as Talisman Centre, Bankers Hall Club and Eau Claire Y.

More than 150,000 Calgarians come to work here each workday, with about 70,000 calling it home.

Municipal Building with old City Hall (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

Shaw Millennium Park & Mewata Armories (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

New condo in downtown's West End (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

The Healthcare / Railway City

This is Calgary’s newest city. Located in the southeast, it will soon be dominated by the new mega-South Health Campus in Seton.

It is also Calgary’s largest industrial area, with more than 45.9 million square feet of industrial space and more than three million square feet of suburban office space, including the new Quarry Park development.

Existing recreational and park amenities include Calgary Soccer Centre, Fish Creek Park and Carburn Park. It is currently home to about 75,000 people but it is expected to grow to more than 120,000 by 2020.

South Health Campus anchors the new SETON community which will create a new city with in the city complete with its own downtown. (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

Quarry Park office, retail and residential development (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

Fish Creek Library (Peak Aerials)

Conclusion

Cities are a human creation. They are part of the ongoing human adventure. They are a work in progress. We are still experimenting. Calgary needs to rethink the North American city of the 21st century.

We need to stop trying to Europeanize our city and develop a winter/prairie urban model that embraces the car, transit, pedestrians and bikes.

Calgary could be a leader in the development of new urban models, rather than imitating what cities did 100 years ago.

We need to look inward, not outward, and start thinking BIG and planning in terms of how can we foster the development of five distinct sustainable Calgary cities - each with their own quality of life, their own sense of place, and their own mix of employment, residential, retail/restaurant, parks, recreation and cultural centres.

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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." 

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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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Mean Streets, Main Streets, Pretty Streets

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

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

Be careful what you wish for?

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

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

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

Mean Streets

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

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

Pretty streets don't attract people

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

New Identities

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

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

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

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

Recruitment

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

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

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

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

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

Too focused on the 3 Rs

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

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

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

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

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

Landowners are the key

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

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

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

Connectivity

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

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

Nothing over Four Floors

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

Length matters

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Readers's Comments:

BL wrote: 

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

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

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

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

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

CO wrote: 

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

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

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Montgomery: Calgary's newest urban village.

Beautiful Downtown Bowness

Flaneuring the TransCanada Highway 

Mount Pleasant & Calgary's other 4th Street



 

 

University District: What's In A Name?

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

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

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

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

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

 Brilliant Street Naming Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

 University District At A Glance

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

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

University District Boundaries

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

Walk Score

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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Calgary Region: An Inland Port

Calgary has a more resilient economy than many people believe.  Yes, Calgary’s key economic engine is oil and gas, but over the past 10 years, our economy has diversified quite significantly.

Calgary is a major education center with seven post-secondary schools – University of Calgary, Mount Royal University, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, Alberta College of Art and Design, Bow Valley College, St. Mary’s University and Ambrose College.  

Calgary is a major medical centre with Foothills Medical Centre, Rockyview Hospital, Peter Lougheed Hospital, South Campus Wellness Centre, Alberta Children’s Hospital and University of Calgary Medical School. 

Calgary’s growth and development as a major education and medical centre is likely less of a surprise than the fact that the Calgary region is now one of North America’s major inland ports.  An inland port is a specialized facility that allows for efficient transfer of goods via both trucks and rail using standard shipping containers across a specific region.

 

The purple areas indicate Calgary's industrial lands which are a low density land-use, but critical to the city's economic diversification. (source: City of Calgary website)

 

This image illustrates the influence on development having a major airport within the city boundaries has on development. (source: City of Calgary website)

Top 7 things you should know about the Calgary Region Inland Port:

#7       Economic Impact

Transportation and logistics industries employ over 76,000 Calgarians in 4,966 businesses and have a Gross Domestic Product of $4.79 billion.  Add in manufacturing and you add another 47,100 employees, 1,830 businesses and $6.72 billion in GDP.  There are 70% more Calgarians employed in these three related sectors than in the Energy sector. (Source: Calgary Economic Development)

#6       Truck Advantage

Calgary sits at the epicenter of major east/west/north/south highway routes, connecting not only eastern and western Canada but also northern Canada with the United States and Mexico (through the CANAMEX corridor).

Within one truck’s day drive of Calgary, (13 hours being a trucker’s standard day) you can access a market in excess of 18 million people.  Extend that to a 24-hour day and you can access over 50 million people.

One of many distribution centres in Calgary with trucks loading and unloading goods to be truck to destinations across western Canada. (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

#5       Education

Secondary and post-secondary school systems in Calgary are increasing their focus on providing essential learnings in transportation supply chain and logistics.  The U of C’s Haskayne School of Business, Mount Royal University, SAIT Polytechnic and Bow Valley College all provide or are developing courses that support the multiple entry level positions in Supply Chain Management, Distribution, Warehousing and Transportation.  Why? Because it is estimated there will be demand for over 5,000 more jobs in these sectors due to growth over the next 10 years.

As well, Calgary’s Van Horne Institute is recognized internationally as a leader in public policy, education and research in transportation, supply chain, logistics and regulated industries.

#4       Rail Advantage

CN Rail's Calgary Logistic Park 

The Calgary Region is home to two major intermodal operations. CP Rail not only has their headquarters in Calgary, but they also built a state-of-the-art facility in 1999 on a 100-acre site in Dufferin Industrial Park. In 2013, they averaged 550 to 800 trucks a day and an average monthly volume of 15,000 handlings a month.

CN Rail opened its new $200 million Calgary Logistics Park in January 2013 just outside the city limits in Conrich with 680 acres for future development. The Park has great connections to not only Vancouver and eastern Canada, but also to the port of Prince Rupert BC, which is advantageous for access to the lucrative Far East market.

Collectively, the two intermodal sites handled 822,000 containers in 2014, which is more than the Port of Prince Rupert, which for an inland port, is very significant.

Calgary has excellent connectivity to eight international seaports by rail and truck - Vancouver, Seattle, Tacoma, Prince Rupert, Houston, Galveston, Montreal and Halifax.

Calgary rail yard. (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

#3       Airport Advantage

Calgary International Airport (YYC) is located on a 21-square kilometer tract of land with 142,398 square meters of terminal buildings. Four runways can handle the largest planes in the world today as well as the anticipated next generation of planes.  It is a hub for Canada’s two largest airlines – West Jet and Air Canada. 

Calgary International Airport continues to expand its capacity for both passenger and cargo traffic. 

Calgary International airport in the late '70s.  

YYC is also a connecting hub for cargo services between North America, Asia and Europe.  As well, it one of only two airports in Canada that offer cargo and passenger service to both Europe and Asia.  From YYC, you can access almost any point in the world either directly or with only one stop. 

In 2014, over 128,000 tonnes of cargo were shipped through the Calgary Airport, a 5.5% increase over 2013. YYC, with its three million square feet of warehouse space on airport land, has more than any other Canadian airport.

YYC is also Canada’s third busiest passenger airport - 200 flights per day travel to 78 non-stop destinations.

With YYC having over 24,000 jobs on airport land and being responsible for creating 48,000 jobs across the city, it . contributes $8.28 billion to Calgary’s economy each year (Source: Calgary International Airport Authority).

This Google Earth map shows how the Calgary International Airport has become a hub for both warehouse and housing development. Northeast Calgary is a booming airport city, similar to Richmond in British Columbia and Mississauga in Ontario.  The northeast now has more hotel rooms than downtown.

#2       Mega Distribution Hubs

Calgary has attracted several major distribution hubs - Costco, Walmart, Loblaws, Sears, Canadian Tire Group, Marks’ Work Warehouse, Forzani Group, Canada Safeway, Gordon Foods Service, Sysco and the soon-to-open, one million square foot Home Depot facility - to supply Western Canada.

Warehouse space in use at the end of 2014 was about 120 million square feet, up from 75 million in 1990 – a 60% increase over 14 years.

 #1       Vision/Collaboration

 The Calgary Region has a shared vision to capitalize on the region’s potential as a major distribution hub/inland port.  A strong collaborative approach exists between Calgary Economic Development, the Calgary Regional Partnership, The Calgary Logistics Council, Calgary Airport Authority and the Van Horne Institute. 

The region is strategically planning for long-term requirements 50 years out, including a second ring road.  Already, the visioning and collaboration has resulted in the creation of the “High Wide Corridor to accommodate larger oversized truck loads across the Province.

 Last Word

 Many Calgarians have little or no appreciation for what happens east of the Deerfoot Divide.  Ward 3 in the north and Ward 12 in the southeast are Calgary’s two fastest growing wards at 8.5% and 9.3% respectively – three times the city’s average. It is no wonder Calgary’s fastest growing communities are in the NE and SE quadrants and developers like Brookfield Residential creating new mini-downtowns in the south (SETON) and the north (Livingston).

Too often Calgary’s urban sprawl critics assume Calgary’s massive footprint is because of the demand for single-family residential development and that the major roads and interchanges are for downtown commuters. This assumption is wrong as only 20% of those who live in the ‘burbs work downtown.  Warehousing, logistics and manufacturing require large amounts of land for massive one-story buildings. The expansion of Calgary’s roads and interchanges is directly linked to Calgary’s expanding manufacturing, distribution and logistic sectors, our new and growing economic engines and a key part of Calgary’s 21st century DNA.

It’s high time we realize Calgary is no longer a one-horse town; perhaps our new moniker should be the “City of Trains, Planes and Trucks!”

An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald, May 2, 2012 titled: "Calgary region is an inland port." 

 

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Calgary/Hamilton: Cities of Opportunity? 

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Do we really need families living in our Centre City?

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

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

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

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

Major Flaw

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

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

Families Love Infills Communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s The Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cost vs Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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The Suburbs Move to City Centre in Calgary 

 

 

 

 

Playgrounds Gone Wild?

Editor's Note: Looks like the Everyday Tourist is wrong on this one. Majority of readers say "can't have enough playgrounds! 

As spring arrives and I start to wander my neighbourhood streets more, I especially love walking by the many colourful playgrounds just to hear the happy shrieks and shouts of kids and parents enjoying Calgary’s great urban outdoors. We are blessed with a plethora of playgrounds in Calgary’s northwest inner city communities; it seems like there is one every few blocks.

As well, over the past few years, there seems to have been an explosion of playground renewal renovation in our area - from the uber-popular Helicopter Park to the not quite yet completed Riley Park playground.

It is the latter which got me thinking. Perhaps we have too many playgrounds? “How is that even possible?” you ask?  Well, it is possible when there are four playgrounds all basically on the same block – yes, FOUR! And, where you ask is that?

  Hillhurst Community Centre playground's play window for kids to look down and adult to look up at each other.

Hillhurst Community Centre playground's play window for kids to look down and adult to look up at each other.

It’s on the Hillhurst Community Centre block (6th Ave. on the south, 7th Ave. on the north, 14th St. on the west and 12th St. on the east). There is one at the west side of the Community Centre (next to the community garden/orchard and easily visible to those walking, cycling and driving by on 6th Avenue NW).

There are two playgrounds just north at the Hillhurst School - one on the west side of the school and one on the east.  I am sure there is a good reason for two playgrounds, but I am afraid to ask. I suspect one is for younger children and the other for older ones. If this is the case, I wonder what this teaches children about sharing and interacting with different age groups.  I went to kindergarten to grade 8 school and we all shared the same playground and I don’t recall any major problems. Lessons taught, or not taught, at an early age can result in unintended consequences later in life.

The yellow pins indicate the location of the four playgrounds.  The white shape in the upper right corner is the wading pool in Riley Park. The orange pin is in the middle of the block where a major condo complex is currently under construction. 

The fourth playground is at the extreme southwest corner of Riley Park, across the street from Hillhurst Community Centre. It is a strange location given how far away from it is from the park’s popular children’s wading pond.  The old playground has been removed and a new playground is currently being constructed on the same site, which will soon be almost in the backyard of a new Ezra condo complex. (Backstory: Ezra Hounsfield Riley who once had a huge ranch that encompassed most of what is now Hillhurst, West Hillhurst, Parkdale and Montgomery, donated the land for Riley Park.)

The new Riley Park playground.

I can just hear it now -  “Who’s bright idea was it to totally rebuild a playground next to a residential block with three playgrounds just steps away?”  This would have been a good time to perhaps relocate the playground to the wading pool area or perhaps remove it entirely and let families use the school or community playgrounds a half a block away.

After a recent yoga class at the Bodhi Tree on 14th Ave NW across from the Hillhurst School, I paced out the distance between the playgrounds.  It was about 60 steps from the playground on the west side of the school to the one on the east. From there it was 252 steps to the new Riley Park playground and then another 189 steps to the Hillhurst Community Centre playground.

Playground on west side of Hillhurst School. 

Playground on the east side of the historic sandstone Hillhurst School. 

I realize we can’t have young children walking from the schoolyard to a playground a half a block away or have daycare children walking to a playground across the street.  Yet somehow it seems wrong to have four playgrounds - with a total cost I estimate at well over $500,000 - all within a few steps of each other. Especially given playgrounds are relatively empty most of the time. (When I walk by rarely do I see more than two families at a time, except in school grounds at recess and lunch.)

I heard somewhere that the public isn’t supposed to use school playgrounds on school days. Is that true? I have always thought schoolyards to be public spaces as schools are funded by taxpayer dollars and the land is government-owned. I think any school that wants to ban the public from their schoolyard should also be banned from receiving any of my tax dollars.  I have never seen a no trespassing sign on a schoolyard, so I am thinking and hoping it is a shared public space! 

 Last Word

Shouldn’t playgrounds be meeting places for young families? So, wouldn’t fewer playgrounds encourage more walking and more interaction with others? Isn’t that a good thing? I am thinking one large central community/schoolyard playground would be best?

Perhaps herein lies an important urban planning lesson i.e. we need to link schools, daycares, parks and community centres so they can share playgrounds and playing fields to maximize the interaction of people of all ages and backgrounds.  This is an important step in helping create a sense of community.

Are their other communities in Calgary where we have “gone wild” in creating too many playgrounds?  Drop me a note and I will add it to this blog!

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Everyday Tourist's road trip to the 'burbs!

In March 2014, I embarked on an 8,907 six-week road trip to the southern US visiting places like Tucson, Albuquerque and Santa Fe. This March, I took a 74 km six-hour road trip to explore Calgary’s southern neighbourhoods, Evergreen, Cranston, Riverstone and Seton.

Top 10 things observed on my road trip to south Calgary:

1.     New communities are often criticized for being just a sea of residential housing without any other “uses.”  However, most of the homes I saw had an attractive office just inside the front door that would put the downtown office cubicles to shame.  And then there were also fully equipped home gyms, the wine cellars with attached wine bar, games rooms and multiple dining areas; these homes have much in common with an upscale downtown lounge or pub. Kitchens had multiple upscale appliances, coffee stations and large dinner areas that reminded me of the private dining rooms in downtown restaurants. And then there were the patios, one complete with their own wet bar, fireplace, fancy dancy BBQ and seating for a couple of dozen of your best friends. Perhaps we should stop calling them homes in favour of mixed-use villas.  

Enjoy your private wine cellar and tasting bar with friends. 

Imagine your own yoga workout studio. 

2.     The houses aren’t much different in size and space to the new inner city infills with their narrow lots sprouting up on every block of Calgary’s established communities. The biggest difference is there are no messy back alleys as garages are all in the front and the streets lined with cars.  And there wasn’t the variety of architectural designs and I did miss the large trees, but as I have said before, don’t judge a community until the trees are taller than the houses. Learn More: Don’t judge a community too soon!

3.     Large horizontal condo complexes (vs. the vertical ones in the City Centre) were prevalent along the main transit roads indicating some diversity in housing types.  I even saw some accordion buses (Calgary’s version of the double decker bus) indicating not everybody is addicted to their cars.

An example of one of the many condo complexes prevalent in new suburban communities. 

4.     There is a return to the outdoor neighbourhood mall complete with grocery store, pub, café, restaurant, liquor store, spa and other services – similar to Lakeview Mall or Stadium Shopping Centre from fifty years ago.

5.     The quality of the retail architecture seems to be improving especially in Seton.  Seton’s retail square even had painted bike paths and a futuristic-looking gateway design feature that shared some of the features as Kensington’s Poppy Plaza.

6.     Schools are bursting with kids at recess and noon hour, making it a kaleidoscope of largely pinks and blues darting about the playgrounds. There are signs everywhere about registering kids for sport teams. I was exhausted just reading them.

The suburbs are where people of all ages and backgrounds live and play.

7.     Humans obviously love homes with a view, be that in Evergreen looking out over Fish Creek Park or in Cranston living on the ridge looking out on the Bow River Valley or Riverstone with the Bow River in your back yard. The first two remind me of Crescent Heights, Houndsfield Heights, Briar Hill or St. Andrew’s Heights, while Riverstone is the 21st century equivalent of Roxboro.

8.     Traffic? What traffic? At 3 pm on a Wednesday I was able to travel from Seton to West Hillhurst through downtown via Memorial Drive in 30 minutes.

9.     While the inner city is all about “building up,” i.e. highrises condo towers and converting single story cottage homes into two story mansions, the ‘burbs are “building down” with their walk out basements.  Oh, and they call a side-by-side or duplex a “Villa” in new communities.

Attached townhomes are common in the new suburbs even in estate communities. These are not the suburbs of the '80s.

10.    Back to nature!  The suburbs have always been a hybrid between an urban home and country home.  For many humans wanting to be close to nature, close to the land is a primordial need.  I was reminded of this as deer crossed the backyard of a friend’s house in Evergreen as we chatted in her kitchen. I am told the night howls of the coyotes in Cranston are both moving and beautiful.  Easy access to Fish Creek Park (three times the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park and four times New York City’s Central Park) that stretches 19 km from east to west makes living in places like Brookfield Residential’s Cranston, Riverstone and Seton something very special.

Last Word

While the ‘burbs are personally not for me, if I had a family and didn’t work downtown (that’s 75% of Calgary families), they would hold great appeal. I am all for “different strokes for different folks!” Speaking of strokes, the southern communities have several golf courses just minutes away. Hmmm…. I might have to rethink this?

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80% of Calgarians must live in the 'burbs

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Calgary's newest historic district?

Calgary is about to get a new historic district, can you guess where? When it comes to local history most people’s first thoughts are probably the Glenbow, Heritage Park, Fort Calgary or Military Museums, maybe places like Stephen Avenue, Inglewood or Kensington.  Bet you didn’t guess Currie Barracks!

Currie Barracks History 101

The Currie Barracks land just east of Crowchild Trail at Richard’s Road was first designated for military use in 1911, when the City of Calgary’s population was 43,704 and the southwest edge of the City was Mount Royal.  It wasn’t until 1933 when a new Canadian military base was announced and named after Sir Arthur William Currie one of Canada’s most decorate military figures.

The area around Currie Barracks remained undeveloped until 1948, when the Department of Defence purchased the neighbouring land for the Currie Married Quarters. In 1968 the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force became the Canadian Forces and Currie Barracks was designated the Canadian Forces Base Calgary (CFB Calgary).

Currie Barracks has been home at various times to the Calgary Highlanders, the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians), 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s and Canadian Light Infantry.

In 1995, when the Government of Canada announced the closure of the CFB Calgary, Canada Lands Company (CLC), a self-financing federal Crown corporation and real estate development company took on the task of transforming this site into a 21st century model mixed-use community by creating the CFB West Master Plan, which includes Currie Barracks along with Lincoln Park Permanent Married Quarters (now Garrison Green), Mount Royal College, ATCO and Westmount Business Park.

Currie Barracks gate opening onto Parade Square, facing 24th Street SW, now Crowchild Trail. (Photo Credit: Canada Lands Corporation). 

Hidden Gem

Most Calgarians know little about Calgary’s first gated community, unless we had some connection with the Canada’s Armed Forces.  At best, it was that curious asphalt plaza with cast iron fence thingy that we whizzed by along Crowchild trail.  

It wasn’t until 2004, that Calgarians began to appreciate the hidden gem that was Currie Barracks with the opening of several temporary uses in various existing building - Calgary Farmers’ Market, Wild Rose Brew Pub and J. Webb Wine & Spirits, several movie and television production companies, Riddle Kurczaba Architects and several charter schools.  It even hosted Calgary’s first Cirque du Soleil extravaganzas.

For the first time, Calgarians could freely roam the barracks and appreciate the history of the place especially Parade Square surrounded by several distinctive wide low-rise, white stucco, cottage-style red shingled roof buildings.

Preservation vs. Prosperity

Over the past 10 years, CLC has been strategically developing all of the land around Currie Barracks in preparation for the ultimate mega-makeover project that will create a new 21st century urban village.  While the new Currie Barracks will be home to new buildings – condos, townhomes, office, hotel, grocery store, shops, cafes and pubs – it will also include the preservation of all the Provincially designated historical buildings, sites and landscaping.

Parade Square

Designed in 1935, Parade Square was the site of inspections, drills and training exercises; it was literally the heart of the daily activity of the Barracks for several decades, as well as special ceremonies.  It is surrounded by several 1950s historical buildings (Athlone, Bennett and Besborrough), which frame the Square and give is a homogenous, formal and symmetrical boundary.

Parade Square is 207 meters by 119 meters (the size of two CFL football fields) and was once the largest square in the British Empire.  It was the largest Depression-era public works program in Alberta.

Parade Square will become a large central multi-purpose gathering space for major community events with links to the many park spaces scattered throughout Currie Barracks. The historical buildings surrounding the square will be converted into multiple modern uses (e.g. schools, offices and restaurants). 

Currie Barracks circa 1941 (photo credit: Canada Lands Corporation) 

Other Historic Buildings

The Officers’ Mess and formal garden are located in the southwest edge of Currie Barracks away from the structures associated with daily operations of the base, which was typical at the time.  The Mess is an X-shaped building with the same red cottage style shingled roof and with stucco façade.  It is connected to the Officers Precinct by the formal tree-lined Trasimene Crescent and has an enclosed veranda on the south side to a formal garden. Inside are two luxurious ballrooms that hosted formal events from homage to fallen comrades to celebrating achievements. 

Ramshead House, simplified English Cottage style home with pitched roof and white rough cast stucco facade and cut stone entry. (Photo Credit: Canada Lands Corporation)

Ramshead (1936) and Brad (1938) houses are examples of simplified English Cottage style architecture with it pitched roof structure, white rough cast stucco façade and cut stone entry. Ramshead House was originally built as the residence for the commanding officer of the Royal Canadians. Brad House was the residence of the District Officer Commanding Military District #13.  Their cottage-style design conveys a sense of domesticity that contrasts with the barracks-style residences that housed the majority of the men stationed at the base.

The Stables Building completed in 1936 is a K-shaped structure with four symmetrical wings that each could accommodate 25 horses. It was a horse stable from 1936 to 1939, then became training centre and finally accommodation space for new recruits.

Officer's Mess and Formal Garden, completed in 1936. (Photo Credit: Canada Lands Corporation) 

Currie Barracks at a glance

  • First LEED-ND Gold Neighbourhood District approved in Canada
  • Largest LEED-ND Gold Project in the world (at the time of approval in 2009)
  • 10,000+ residents
  • 3,000+ workers
  • Flanders Point a pedestrian-oriented retail/restaurant activity node
  • Walkable community
  • 8 different open spaces totalling 21.4 acres or 14.6% of site 

Last Word

The decision to build Currie Barracks in Calgary in 1933 reflected in part the personal influence of Prime Minister Richard Bennett, whose home riding was Calgary West, as wells as significant recognition of Alberta’s growing status as a full partner in Canadian Confederation. 

While in the past Calgary has torn down its old buildings to make way for new ones, CLC has worked hard to develop a plan that will preserve historical buildings and a public spaces, but find new uses for them as well.

Kudos to the CLC team for creating a unique sense of place for Calgarians to live, work and play.

This blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's Condo section on March 14, 2015 titled "Where a gated community meets with history." 

Richard White has written urban development and urban living for over 20 years. He is the Urban Strategist at Ground3 Landscape Architecture.Email Richard@ground3.com  follow @everydaytourist

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