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.

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Island living fosters strong sense of community in Calgary!

What is the first thing that comes to mind when some says, “I love island living?”  I bet it is an image of living in the Caribbean, maybe the South Pacific or maybe even Salt Spring Island or Vancouver Island in British Columbia.  Island living is synonymous with relaxation, sitting by the water sipping a cool drink, taking long walks on the beach and enjoying the simplicity of life.

Yet, for a few lucky (hard working) Calgarians, the pleasure of“island living” is part of their everyday living.  Yes, in lovely landlocked Calgary we not only have river and lakefront homes, but we also have a few island homes. They’re on Brookfield Residential’s Mckenzie Lake (24 homes built in 1997) and soon on Hopewell Residential’s Mahogany Lake (22 homes, approved in December 2014), both in Calgary’s trendy southeast quadrant.  Island living is attractive to both retirees, as well as those wanting to raise a family.

Google Earth image of McKenzie Lake a master planned community in Calgary's southeast quadrant. 

Grant and Judith Hansen moved into their McKenzie Lake island home in 2000 as part of their retirement plan that included lots of travel, but also wanting a home that felt like they were still on holidays when living in Calgary.  For them, “one of the unexpected bonuses of island living is having our grandchildren tell us how much they enjoy coming to our house because of the things they can do right from our back yard.  In the summer, be it swimming or a slow pedal boat ride around the Island with Grandma and Grandpa, or on their own pushing their way through the waves on a stand up board, or sitting patiently on the dock trying to catch a fish. In the winter, skating or talking with families and learning about ice fishing followed with a chance to warm up while roasting marshmallows around the fire pit.”

The Hansens also love the sense of community they share with their neighbours. “One of the most pleasant surprises and certainly a positive one is the camaraderie that exists amongst the residents or “Islanders “ as we refer to them. The person living next to us is not only a neighbor, but a friend.  There is a social aspect that is special - we have “Island” block parties, mini golf events, informal get togethers and everyone - adults and children - are welcome. We look out for each other, help each other and respect each others’ property” shares Grant.

Speaking of neighbours, Susan and Bryce McDougall, neighbours of the Hansens, who also moved into their home in 2000 (it appears that once people get a taste of Calgary’s island life, they don’t move) echo the same thoughts, “there is a strong sense of community created by common ownership of the roads, utilities, causeway and gates. The condo board run by the residents manages these common assets and has become the social catalyst for block parties and multiple activities organized each year. I am grateful I have got to know all my neighbors through the condo board activities.  We have a truly caring community, contrary to what some politicians and planners say about gated communities” says Bryce.

The McDougall family (parent and three children) love the wildlife that resides on the island or visit periodically - birds of all sorts, rabbits, coyotes, fox mule and white tail deer, porcupine.  They even have some fun encounters with their furry neighbours.

“One night we were having a fire down at our fire pit beside the lake and I noticed something moving very slowly behind us along the stairs up from the lake. It was the largest porcupine I had ever seen. I was sure I was seeing things but it turns out he had been living on the island for some time.”

“We also had a pair of curious little red foxes who would come out at night while I shovelled the rink and would come right up to me to try to figure out what I was doing. They had a den under one of my neighbor’s docks that winter. Not what you’d expect in the middle of a city for sure!”

For Bryce “looking out each morning down the lake to the beach and the panoramic mountain views never gets old!” For their three children growing up on the island with its year-round cottage lifestyle was so outstanding their youngest daughter (now 13) has already laid claim to the island home when her parents get older, but has kindly agreed to allow them to live on the walkout level as long as they want to.

Google Earth image of the new Mahogany master planned community with its own lake and island. 

Mahogany Island

Construction is underway on what will be the largest island on the largest man-made urban lake in Canada. You had better hurry if you are interested in a lot on Hopewell Residentials’ new Mahogany Island as there are only 22 and fifty percent have been spoken for.  Lots range in size from 54 to 64 feet wide and are available by contacting the builders directly. The Island lots are exclusively offered through Calbridge Homes (2013 Builder of the Year) and Morrison Homes (2014 Builder of the Year).  And, Mahogany has won the Home Builder’s Association’s “Community of the Year” award for the past three years. 

The new community of Mahogany has already become one of the City's most popular places to live, approved by City Council in 2007, it is already home to 2,660 Calgarians.

Aerial view of Mahogany community with its proximity to Highway 22X and Deerfoot Trail, as well as Seton community and new South Health Campus.

Mckenzie Lake Island History

McKenzie Lake has a bit of a sorted history it was actually built by the Bank of Nova Scotia in 1989, after the bank had taken over McKenzie Towne development from Daon in the mid ‘80s recession. They decided to create a lake as a way to restart the community and as they were creating the lake it was decided to create an island on the east side of the lake. Carma (now Brookfield Residential) purchased McKenzie Lake and Mountain Park development in 1989.  The Island became a joint venture with Jayman constructing all of the homes while Carma built the entire supporting infrastructure. However, it wasn’t until the late ‘90s that people started living on the Island.

Last Word

Attractive cities foster a diversity of lifestyles, from high-rise urban living to island living that help to attract and retain people of all ages and backgrounds.  If the market demand exists for more island living, the City of Calgary politicians and planners should be open to more island developments as our city continues to evolve to meet the needs and expectations of everyone.

NB: An edited version of this blog was commissioned for Domus magazine.

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Don't judge a new community too soon!

Suburbs move to the City Centre in Calgary

Our Country Estate Voyeur Adventure

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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SETON's Gateway Surprise

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

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

SETON Gateway at twilight.

The Gateway

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

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

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

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

SETON Gateway daytime.

  SETON letters create a fun Kodak moment.

SETON letters create a fun Kodak moment.

Design Team

The SETON Gateway is a collaborative project designed by:

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

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

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

The SETON Gateway forrest with patio on left side.

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

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

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

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

SETON skylight.

Last Word

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

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

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

See For Yourself!

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

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Intelligent Infilling 

Calgary deserves more respect from international planners!

While flaneuring Winnipeg’s Sherbooke Street on a cold day last December, I happened upon a copy of Ken Greenberg’s book “Walking Home” or “The Life and Lessons of a City Builder” in the Salvation Army thrift store for a buck. Who could resist? Greenberg, born and raised in Brooklyn, NY is a highly respected new urban designer for over 25 years, working on projects internationally with Toronto as his base.  In 2008, he was engaged by Calgary Municipal Land Corporation to be part of the River walk design team.

The book reads a like an autobiography, but unlike entertainment stars who talk sex, drugs, relationships and life lessons, Greenberg talks only of urban design which can be a pretty boring subject except to urban nerds like me. What surprised me was how little he mentioned Calgary (just three times to be exact) given our City has been one of the fastest growing cities, (downtown, inner city and suburbs) over the past 25 years in North America.  It seemed every time he made a point about how great other cities were, I could find as good or better example from Calgary.  

Collaboration

Early in the book, Greenberg identifies “collaborations as the lifeblood of successful city building.” Later, he talks about private public partnerships, identifying organizations like Cityscape Institute in New York City and Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance both founded to foster the development of parks and public spaces citywide. 

Parks Foundation Calgary (PFC), founded in 1985, has been responsible for $150M in parks, playgrounds and pathway development. Greenberg can be forgiven for not mentioning PFC’s ambitious new project the 138 km The Rotary/Mattamy Greenway that will soon circle our city, given his book was published in 2011.

  The historic Haultain School, home to the Parks Foundation Calgary, is appropriately located in Haultain Park and across the street from Memorial Park.

The historic Haultain School, home to the Parks Foundation Calgary, is appropriately located in Haultain Park and across the street from Memorial Park.

Public Spaces

Throughout the book he talks about the importance of rich and varied public spaces and the importance of the public realm (even devoting an entire chapter to “reclaiming the public realm”). He points to Scandinavian cities as having some of the best public spaces.   I was disappointed there was no mention of Calgary’s Stephen Avenue Walk and its evolution from a pedestrian only mall to an innovative flexible space that is a pedestrian mall by day and road at night. As a designer for the East Village River walk surely he was aware of the success of the Bow River Promenade in Eau Claire and Prince’s Island, one of the best downtown festival sites in the world. While I realize, Greenberg is more interested in urban spaces, I think it was a major oversight in my mind not to mention Calgary has the most extensive citywide pathway system in the world at nearly 1,000 km that links our suburbs, inner city and downtown communities.

When you talk about diversity of public spaces, you can’t get much more diverse than Calgary which offers everything from an urban skateboard parks to snowboard hills, from handicapped parks to Douglas Fir trail. Olympic plaza.  With over 5,200 parks and over 1,000 playgrounds, Calgary is the envy of almost every city.

The Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall is a unique experiment in urban placemaking. It is a pedestrian mall by day and one-way street by night. 

  Century Gardens is a pastoral, urban oasis for downtown workers and residents. 

Century Gardens is a pastoral, urban oasis for downtown workers and residents. 

  The Harley Hotchkiss Gardens is a popular meeting spot for downtown workers and shoppers. This public space is a good example of go urban design as it is built on top of a 700-stall parking garage, includes a major public artwork, has lots of seating and is directly linked to an LRT station. 

The Harley Hotchkiss Gardens is a popular meeting spot for downtown workers and shoppers. This public space is a good example of go urban design as it is built on top of a 700-stall parking garage, includes a major public artwork, has lots of seating and is directly linked to an LRT station. 

Urban Streets

Greenberg doesn’t even give Calgary a nod for the great work it has done in fostering the development of 9th Avenue in Inglewood, 10th Street and Kensington Road in Kensington Village; 4th Street in Mission, 17th and 11th Avenues and 1st Street in the Beltline.

Surely, Bridgeland’s renaissance as a result of the General Hospital’s “implosion” and plans for Calgary’s multi-billion dollar East Village mega-makeover (one of North America’s largest urban redevelopments) could have been worked into the text as urban experiments to watch.

 The streets of Kensington Village are full of pedestrian oriented shops, making it one of Canada's best walkable urban neighbourhoods. 

The streets of Kensington Village are full of pedestrian oriented shops, making it one of Canada's best walkable urban neighbourhoods. 

  One of the trendy ideas in North America these days it to transform street parking into pedestrian oriented spaces. Sometimes the parking spaces become patios or as in this case the patio is on the actual sidewalk and the parking spaces become a new sidewalk. 

One of the trendy ideas in North America these days it to transform street parking into pedestrian oriented spaces. Sometimes the parking spaces become patios or as in this case the patio is on the actual sidewalk and the parking spaces become a new sidewalk. 

  Pedestrian oriented streetscapes exist in numerous Calgary communities like this one on 19th Ave NW in West Hillhurst.

Pedestrian oriented streetscapes exist in numerous Calgary communities like this one on 19th Ave NW in West Hillhurst.

  Calgary also has its fair share of quirky cafes like this one in Ramsay's Industrial district. 

Calgary also has its fair share of quirky cafes like this one in Ramsay's Industrial district. 

  Neighbourhood farmers' markets are also popular in Calgary. 

Neighbourhood farmers' markets are also popular in Calgary. 

  Who says Calgary's City Centre isn't for families? The Beltline's Haultain Park is full of families using the playground, tennis courts and the playing field for a pick-up game of soccer. 

Who says Calgary's City Centre isn't for families? The Beltline's Haultain Park is full of families using the playground, tennis courts and the playing field for a pick-up game of soccer. 

Suburban Urbanization

While Greenberg talks endlessly about the need to urbanize existing suburban communities, he falls short on mentioning some efforts that have been made in cities like Calgary to create more diverse and dense suburban communities.  Calgary’s new master-planned communities are being created at a density that surpasses those of early 20th century communities with a mix of single-family, duplexes, four-plexes, town homes and condos designed with singles, families, empty-nesters and seniors in mind.

  McKenzie Towne street.

McKenzie Towne street.

Surely too, he must have known about Calgary’s pioneering community of McKenzie Towne developed by Carma Developers LP, now Brookfield Residential in the mid '80s. 

Brookfield’s SETON project was also on the horizon in the late 2000s when Greenberg was busy researching and writing his book.  The idea of creating a new downtown at the edge of a major city with a mega teaching hospital as an anchor is both innovative and unique in North America’s quest to create a new suburban paradigm.

And what about Remington Development’s Quarry Park project? It definitely warranted a mention with its mix of office park, market place and residential development all linked to future LRT development. 

What city builds a transit-oriented village before the transit is even built e.g. Quarry Park and SETON!

  Pancake breakfast in McKenzie Towne.

Pancake breakfast in McKenzie Towne.

  Quarry Park is an ambitious 400 acre urban infilling project, given is was an old quarry in the '90s and today it is well on its way to becoming a mixed-use community with four million square feet of office space, for 20,000 workers (including the head office of Imperial Oil), home to 6,000 residents, 140 acres of nature space and a retail/grocery district.

Quarry Park is an ambitious 400 acre urban infilling project, given is was an old quarry in the '90s and today it is well on its way to becoming a mixed-use community with four million square feet of office space, for 20,000 workers (including the head office of Imperial Oil), home to 6,000 residents, 140 acres of nature space and a retail/grocery district.

  Aerial view of Brookfield Residential's SETON with the new South Health Campus constructed on land sold to the province by the developer as the employment anchor for a new downtown that will serve all of the surrounding communities. One of the interesting partnerships is the YMCA's operation of the Wellness Centre as part of the Health Campus. It is the first YMCA to be integrated into a hospital setting. (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

Aerial view of Brookfield Residential's SETON with the new South Health Campus constructed on land sold to the province by the developer as the employment anchor for a new downtown that will serve all of the surrounding communities. One of the interesting partnerships is the YMCA's operation of the Wellness Centre as part of the Health Campus. It is the first YMCA to be integrated into a hospital setting. (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

City Building: A Two-Way Street

Greenberg talks about the important role the city and the private sector play in city building, focusing on Vancouver as the model city with the development of Yale town, False Creek and Coal Harbour.  It would have been nice to have included examples from other Canadian cities – like Garrison Woods in Calgary or the above mentioned new developments East Village, Quarry Park, Bridges and Currie Barracks that were conceived in '00s.

Garrison Woods streetscape (photo credit: www.mardaloopherald.com)

Beltline's yimbyism

Greenberg talks about his work in Paris with its arrondissements and New York with its boroughs. He talks of the important role of community boards to reconcile the needs of the whole city, while acknowledging the importance and individuality of the different parts of the city.  He notes that New York’s 59 community boards play a key role in shaping how that city has evolved and suggests it might be helpful to establish community boards in Toronto where there is a significant urban suburban divide.

I would suggest any urban planner interested in the “good, bad and ugly” of how community boards and community engagement is shaping a city today, should look no further than at how Calgary’s 150+ community associations are increasingly shaping our city.

Calgary’s Beltline community in particular is especially deserving of praise internationally for its uniqueness in welcoming density and mega mixed-use developments. Its community association has been known to demand developers build to the maximum density allowed. I think their motto is “leave no density behind” as they have turned “Nimbyism into Yimbyism (yes in my backyard)!”

Infill Development Gone Wild

Greenberg talks about the importance of selective infill development in the suburbs and need to increase density horizontally, as much as vertically.  Of all the 20 or so cities I have visited over the past 10+ years, Calgary is the leader when it comes to inner-city infill residential development.  

Nowhere have I seen the diversity and magnitude of old single family homes being replaced by larger single-family homes, duplexes, four-plexes or several homes being bought up and replaced by new within established neighbourhoods. I can literally say that they is a construction site on every other block in Calgary's inner city communities near downtown. 

A parade of new infill home in Calgary's trendy West Hillhurst just 3 km from downtown. 

  University City is a multi-phase development that will convert a retail power center with a sea of parking into an urban village next to an LRT Station (middle of image far right side) across from the University of Calgary (other side of Crowchild Trail). 

University City is a multi-phase development that will convert a retail power center with a sea of parking into an urban village next to an LRT Station (middle of image far right side) across from the University of Calgary (other side of Crowchild Trail). 

New condo development at the Lions Park LRT Station with direct link to North Hill Shopping Centre, Safeway and public library. 

Suburban / Urban Divide

Greenberg remarks often about how Toronto and other cities’ struggles with forced amalgamation that often results in dysfunctional regional councils.  Or the flight of businesses and people to edge cities in the middle and late 20th century, leaving the old central city to crumble and die (e.g. Detroit or Hartford).  The suburban urban dichotomy is something that every city in North America is facing today as the continent becomes more and more urban.

I think it would interest Greenberg’s readers to know that Calgary has a unique uni-city model as a result of annexing smaller communities and land on its edges before they could become large independent competing cities.  As a result, the city’s tax base has not been fragmented and there is little regional competition for economic development amongst the various edge cities.  The city benefits from having a single Police, Fire and Emergency services, single transit and roads system and integrated water and sewer system.  While the city has a large environmental footprint, it also has one of the most contiguous growth patterns of any city in North America.

While Calgary’s uni-city model is certainly not perfect (I am convinced there is a no perfect model for city-building or city-governance), it is unique and should be studied internationally for both its pros and cons.

This image shows how contiguous Calgary's growth has been as a uni-city.  You can see the large spaces taken up by parks like Nose Hill, Bowness, Fishcreek and the rivers, as well  as the airport in the northeast.

Last Word

Perhaps by now you can sense my frustration that Calgary gets no respect from the international planning community for its leadership in city building over the past 25+ years.

Sorry Mr. Greenberg if I took too much of my frustration out on you and your book. Indeed, your book provides lots of interesting ideas to explore in my future columns and blogs. For example, I love the concept of  “social spaces vs. public spaces.”  I invite you to spend more time in Calgary, as many of the things you suggest cities need to be doing to enhanced urban living in the 21st century is already happening in Calgary.

We might not be the best at anything, but we are better than most at almost everything. 

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2015: Year of Calgary's mega infill projects!

I have often thought it would to be fun to be a “futurist.” So for fun I thought I would look ahead at what key condo developments might happen in 2015.

Probably the biggest announcement I predict for 2015 will be the Calgary Flames Partnership plans for a new SHED (Sports, Hospitality and Entertainment District). It could be the redevelopment of the lands around the Greyhound Bus Station, or McMahon Stadium lands including the baseball stadium and playing fields, or they could surprise everyone and announce a site on the edge of the city. Wherever the site, I predict it will be a creative and comprehensive plan with condos, hotels, offices, and retail - maybe even a convention centre and new stadium.

With the development of the West LRT, the under utilized land west of 14th Street had been identified as a site for redevelopment, however the cost to reconfigure the road and other infrastructure work make this site very costly to redevelop. (Image credit: Ross Aitken)

Remington Development's Railtown site was once thought to be site for a arena. It is next to the future SE LRT station and could include a mix of office and condo towers. (image credit Ross Aitken)

All of the playing fields surrounding McMahon Stadium have been discussed as a potential redevelopment site for several years now. Could this site accommodate a new stadium and arena? (image credit: Ross Aitken)

Will 2015 be the year that Harvard Developments will announce they are beginning phase one of the mega makeover of the Eau Claire Market.  Back in November, 2013, Harvard announce ambitious plans for the site that would include 800,000 sf of office, 800,000 sf of residential (600+ condos), 600,000 sf or retail and 200,000 sf of hotel space in four ultra contemporary towers and a futuristic podium. This project has the potential to be a game changer in making south shore of Calgary's Bow River one of the premier luxury urban communities in North America.  

Artists rendering of new Eau Claire Market in winter with skating on the lagoon at Prince's Island.

Rail Trail Rejuvenation

Three concept towers for the West End along 9th Avenue SW.

Currently, 9th Avenue in Downtown’s West End is flying under the radar, but both the Metro Ford and Stampede Pontiac sites have proposals floating around for mega developments that may well come to fruition in 2015. WAM Development Group has plans for the Metro Ford site (9th Avenue and 10th Street SW), rumoured to include four towers containing 1,800 luxury condos and 150,000 square feet of retail.  This would make it the largest condo project in Calgary’s history, but construction won't begin for at least another 5 years, until Metro Ford's lease expires. 

Across the street on the NE corner of 9th Ave and 10th St SW, West Village Towers is a 3-tower (575 units), 90,000 square feet retail proposal by Wexford Developments Corporation and Cidex Developments.

Further east on 10th, Lamb Development will start construction on its “6th and Tenth.”  A long shot for 2015 would be if Remington Development announced updated plans for its mega Railtown project straddling the tracks from 9th Avenue to 10th Avenue east of the new 4th Street SE underpass.

West Village condos proposed for Stampede Pontiac block. 

Approved condo on the south east corner of 6th street and Tenth Avenue SW.

West LRT Catalyst

In 2014, Calgary developer Matco Investments acquired 10 acres of City land adjacent to Westbrook Station. This Transit Oriented Development site is part of the larger Westbrook Village area plan that envisions an innovative, vibrant pedestrian and cycling-oriented urban community.  I am told design for the first phase of the Westbrook Station village is well underway for the land along 17th Avenue and 33rd Street SW, just east of the underground station. It will include residential, retail, restaurant and a public plaza.  A development permit for phase one will be submitted in the first part of the new year, which means construction, will start in 2015.

Aerial view looking northwest of the Westbrook Station site with the existing shopping centre and the new condo towers in the bottom right corner. (www.peakaerials.com)

  Images are from City of Calgary's Westbrook Village brochure.

Images are from City of Calgary's Westbrook Village brochure.

Jacques Site Redevelopment Ideas

Look for an announcement on the redevelopment of the 5.3-acre Jacques site immediately northeast of the 29th Street SW LRT Station – some of the former seniors’ cottage homes have already been removed.  Silvera for Seniors has been working with the City, urban designers and the community to create a unique, seniors-focused village with a variety of multi-residential housing types, a small-scale retail office development, a park/plaza public space and a pedestrian mall. 

Images are from Silvera for Seniors website.

 This image is from the City of Calgary's Shaganappi Plan, illustrating how the Jacques site redevelopment fits into the larger plan.

This image is from the City of Calgary's Shaganappi Plan, illustrating how the Jacques site redevelopment fits into the larger plan.

  These are three conceptual alternatives on how the site might be developed. They are for discussion purposes only.

These are three conceptual alternatives on how the site might be developed. They are for discussion purposes only.

jacques site 2
jacques site 3

Inglewood R & R

Capitalizing on Inglewood being proclaimed Canada’s greatest neighbourhood by the Canadian Instituted of Planners in 2014, several developers will be moving forward on new projects in 2015.

The Inglewood Brewery site, quietly waiting for redevelopment for decades, will finally see some construction in 2015. Over the past several years, owner Matco Developments has been doing its due diligence with the City, Province and community regarding balancing historical preservation opportunities and economic realities of redevelopment of this historic industrial site.

Conceptual rendering of how some Inglewood Brewery buildings could be redeveloped. (image credit: Matco/M2i Development)

With the second phase of Matco/M2i Development’s SoBow condo project at the eastern edge of Inglewood completed, their attention in 2015 will turn to the creation of a live, work, play Brewery District in multiple phases.  Revitalization will begin in 2015 with the renovation of the Bottling Plant to accommodate commercial uses, which will set the stage for future residential development.

Further west along 9th Avenue two new condos are planned at 13th St SE. On the northeast corner Torode Reality will complete its four-storey project with retail at street level and 54 condo units above. On the southwest corner, I have a sneaking suspicion a similar scale project will be announced in the new year.

Further west on 9th Ave Jeremy Strugess’ architectural team has designed the uber- contemporary and controversial Avili condo across the street from the funky Atlantic Avenue Arts Block that I believe will start construction in 2015. All of these projects call for retail space at street level and residential units above (R&R) just like the old brick buildings built 100 years ago when Atlantic Avenue (9th Street) was Calgary’s first Main street. 

Six-Storey Condos?

In 2015, as many suburbanites will be moving into condos as single-family homes. Today’s family-oriented suburban communities – not like those of their parents - have a mix of condos, town and single-family homes. No longer do single-family homes dominate new suburbs.  

A good example of the type of new condos being built in the ‘burbs is Auburn Walk in Brookfield Residential’s master-planned community of Auburn Bay. This two building, four-storey, modern designed condo is a short walk to shopping, lake and bus rapid transit. Units range in size from 544 to 1,018 square feet - similar to new high-rise condos in the Beltline meaning many suburban Calgarians live in the same footprint as those downtown.

My crystal ball tells me the big new 2015 condo announcement in the ‘burbs will be the construction of Calgary’s first six-storey, wood-frame condo building. The City recently changed its policy to allow for this type of structure as a means of creating more density and affordable condos. Ideally, the City would like to see six-storey condos in established communities, but that might take a couple of years, as everything is more complex in the inner city.

Six storey wood framed condos are becoming more and more common in North America; this allows more density and more affordability as wood construction is half the price of concrete.  In the past, the building code dictated a four-storey maximum for wood framed buildings.  

Last Word

It doesn’t take a futurist to know that 2015 will be a big year for East Village (EV) as the first wave of new residents since 2003 will move into two new condo towers - FUSE and FIRST.  It is estimated 750 more people will call EV home in 2015, with 500 to 1,000 new residents moving into EV each year for the next several years. And, some people thought is would never happen!

If oil prices stay below $80 for all of 2015 it will be a challenging year for developers and homebuyers. I am confident that what is currently under construction will be completed, but projects could be delayed.  However, after a record year of condo starts in 2014, it might be time to take a bit of a breather. 

East Village is a mega construction site today - a magnificent multi-generational village soon!

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An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section titled "Future Projects Reshape Calgary" on January 3, 2015