Mexico City: A Kaleidoscope of colour

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

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

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

Comments are welcomed!

Happy Hour capital of North America is where?

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

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

Happy Hour Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samuel Beckett watches over happy hour at Hotel Max. 

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

   A full pour at Hotel Monaco.

 A full pour at Hotel Monaco.

YYC Happy Hour Fun

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

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

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

Calgary is a changing…

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

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Beltline: GABEters Capital of North America

Calgary vs Seattle: Capturing the Urban Tourist's Imagination

Top 10 things the Everyday Tourist learned about Seattle

 

Mexico City: City of Museums

Mexico City is rumoured to have over 150 museums and I don’t doubt that number. There seems to be a museum or two on every street in the 150-block historic centre (Centro Historico), as well as many outside it. My mom estimates that over our 18-day visit, we visited over 30 museums.  Quite frankly, I lost count.

But whatever the number, we do agree on our seven favourite museums (no particular order):

  • Museo Nacional de Antropologia
  • Museo Soumaya
  • Museo Nacional de Arte
  • Museo de Arte Popular
  • Secretaria de Educacion Publica
  • Museo Frida Kahlo
  • Museo del Juguete Antiguo Mexico (aka the Toy Museum)

Museo Nacional de Antropologia 

Built in 1964 and designed by Pedro Ramirez Vazquez, the Museo Nacional de Antropologia (MNA) still looks very contemporary - flat roof and huge central plaza largely covered with a 275-foot canopy balanced on a 36-ft pillar decorated with European and Mexican civilization reliefs.  Unlike many new museums and art galleries in the late 20th and early 21st century, the architectural design of MNA enhances, not competes with the artifacts. Just as it ideally always should.

The museum is unique also in that the ground floor, dedicated to archaeological finds from ancient Mexico - each room dealing with a particular civilization or region of the country - allows you to wander outside into gardens and courtyards thus recreating an “in situ” experience with the artifacts.   I loved the outdoor reconstructions of the Mayan temples and Monte Alban Tomb.

This is a huge museum with 23 exhibition rooms on two levels, covering 800,000+ square feet and sitting on almost 20 acres.  While most people we talked to spend about 2 hours at the museum, they must have been running through it. I think all North Americans should visit this museum to develop a better appreciation of our collective history – the artifacts and stories are compelling.

Admission: 64 MX pesos (about $5 CDN) (no children or family pricing)

Time: Could easily be 4+ hours. While you are in the area, you might want to check out the Mexico Zoo or the Chapultepec Castle at the top of a hill in the middle of the park of the same name – both are close by. There are also two other smaller museums nearby - Museo Tamyo and Museo de Arte Moderno.

Tamayo's bold and beautiful mural graces the entrance to Mexico City's insightful Anthropology Museum a "must see" for all North Americans. 

The museum's courtyard has a zen-like atmosphere.

This single pillar not only holds up the entire canopy, but it serves as a powerful waterfall and relief sculpture. The museum is gracefully designed to enhance and respect the sense of place created by the artifacts.  It is part of Mexico City's wonderful connectivity between the past and present. 

The entrance to the first gallery tells the story of man's evolution on the planet earth. 

The gallery spaces are spacious but not overwhelming, making for a enjoyable experience. 

The exhibition spaces are a wonderful link to the architecture and artifacts of past cultures. 

One of the many gardens that link the indoor galleries with outdoor spaces to create a unique museum experience. 

Found this Mayan mural when I stuck my head into one of the ruins spaces it covered all the walls and roof. I couldn't help but immediately think of Picasso's Guernica and how the early Mexican cultures foreshadowed many of the 19th and early 20th century European art practices.  

The upper floors of the museum showcase information on the diversity of indigenious cultures in different parts of Mexico. 

It was interesting to see this image, after encountering two young men wearing contemporary deer heads masks in the Zombie Walk. 

When you see an artifact like this you quickly make the connection to the iconic skull-like face paintings of the "Day of the Dead" festival. 

Found this one-eyed figure painted on a artifact and was stuck by how contemporary it was.  

  As an urbanist, this panel made me realize that Mexico City has centuries of architecture and urban design to build upon. I realized how infantile we are in Calgary. 

As an urbanist, this panel made me realize that Mexico City has centuries of architecture and urban design to build upon. I realized how infantile we are in Calgary. 

  This panel was enlightening as it illustrates how violence and war has been part of Mexico's (and many other nations') culture for thousands of years. It is very hard for Canadians to understand this. 

This panel was enlightening as it illustrates how violence and war has been part of Mexico's (and many other nations') culture for thousands of years. It is very hard for Canadians to understand this. 

Museo Soumaya

A private museum of Carlos Slim, one of the richest men in the world, it is named after his deceased wife Soumaya Domit, designed by his son-in-law Fernando Romero and engineered by Frank Gehry and Ove Arup.

The six-story building is an uber-contemporary design with its flat base (perched above the sidewalk) and roof anchoring a twisted tower that gives the building a tension and shape that defies description. The 16,000, shiny, hexagonal, aluminum tiles (supplied by a company owned by Slim) are like the skin of a snake.  Opened in 2011, the museum anchors the Nuevo Polanco district, which includes several other contemporary office, hotel and shopping centres including a modern Costco across the street.

Inside, you are greeted by a huge, stark white minimalist lobby that is home to just three artworks - murals by Mexico’s iconic artists Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo and the renowned sculpture “The Thinker” by Rodin. This is just the beginning of your exploration of the 66,000 pieces of art including the world’s largest collection of pre-Hispanic and colonial era coins.  If that isn’t enough to make you want to go, how about seeing the largest collection of casts of sculptures by Auguste Rodin outside of France. Its a “who’s who” of works by modern European artists like Dali, Picasso, Renoir, Miro, Monet, Matisse and van Gogh. 

The museum is easy to navigate thanks to ramps that wind their way up the side of the building, similar to Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The galleries are full of art and artifacts that appeal to all ages.

Admission: Free

Time: Give yourself at least two hours to explore the museum and another hour or so to explore the area’s architecture and shopping.  As well, Acuario Inbursa, one of the world’s top aquariums, is located across the street.

This museum is diametrically opposed to the Anthropology Museum as it shouts loudly -  "Look-At-Me" design.  

The shape and the facade skin make the building very photogenic. 

Inside the lobby and staircases are as cold as ice, which contrasts with Mexico's culture of warm and colourful artifacts and murals. 

The top floor sculpture gallery is a bit of a free-for-all of sculptures. 

  These dark powerful Rodins figures are centre piece of the gallery.

These dark powerful Rodins figures are centre piece of the gallery.

Dali's sculptures provide the comic relief. 

 The Palanco community around the museum is full of modern buildings that make for some interesting exploring.  Note the green wall on the right; this is one of many green walls in Mexico City, including one that covers the entire entrance wall of a parkade for probably 200 + feet. 

The Palanco community around the museum is full of modern buildings that make for some interesting exploring.  Note the green wall on the right; this is one of many green walls in Mexico City, including one that covers the entire entrance wall of a parkade for probably 200 + feet. 

Museo Nacional de Arte

An equestrian statue of Charles IV guards the entrance to the National Museum of modern Mexican art, which opened in 1982.  While the art is spectacular, the Ministry of Communications and Public Works building (completed in 1911) is the star of this show. In the words of my mother, “this museum is worth a visit for the building alone.” Our Eyewitness Travel book agrees, “Its double staircase, in bronze and marble, is enclosed by a semi-circular staircase, three stories high. The interior, with its intricate ironwork and many candelabra, is sumptuous.” We agree; we were in awe!

The artwork spans the time from 16th century to mid 20th century, with excellent examples of works by Mexico’s great muralists - Rivera, Siqueiros and Orozco. The collection of Mexican monumental religious paintings from the 16th to 19th centuries was a real eye-opener, never before appreciating the quality and depth of Mexican art. At points in our visit, we just had to sit and rest, as the art and architecture were overwhelming.

Admission: Free

Time: Minimum of 2 hours

 

The ornamentation of this building was spectacular. 

The three-floor spiraling stair case was jaw-dropping.

  Just one of the many ceiling paintings. They were truly heavenly!

Just one of the many ceiling paintings. They were truly heavenly!

The colour in this photograph is real, it was an assault to your senses. I will let the other images speak for themselves.

This is a painting of Mexico City in the 16th century. Not the lake and mountains in the distance.  Today the lake is gone and the city is climbing the mountains, severing as a reminder of how urban sprawl has existed from centuries, it is not a late 20th century phenomena. 

Diego Rivera, Zapatista Landscape, 1915

Jose Clemente Orozco, The Demagogue, 1947

David Alfaro Siqueiros, Self Portrait, 1945 (Could he be taking a selfie?) 

Ramon Alva de la Canal, The Cafe de Nadie, 1930

Museo de Arte Popular 

When flaneuring the hardware district, we happened upon this museum because of its cathedral-like, art deco building amongst a mish-mash of buildings with facades covered with gaudy signage.

The museum brings together folk art from all over Mexico, from traditional to contemporary pieces, representing the country’s cultural and geographical diversity.  The exhibition spaces and displays were world class.

The museum is best known as the sponsor of the yearly Noche de Alebrijes (Night of the Alebrijes) parade in which fantastical creatures are constructed on a monumental scale (some up to 25 ft high) and then paraded about 10km from the Zocalo to the Angel of Independence monument.  We missed the parade, but we did see the 200+ creatures on the street the next day, which made for a free, fun outdoor gallery experience.

A highlight of our visit to this museum visit was seeing a school tour of very excited junior high students who seemed to love everything about the museum.  Of course, my Mom had to chat with them and they were only too willing to practise their English.

Admission: 40 MX pesos, Free for seniors (over 60) and children under 13

Time:  1 hour (Don’t forget to stop into their lovely gift shop – great for souvenir hunters)

The streets surround the Popular Arts Museum are full of hundreds of small shops selling "Home Hardware" type goods, including the kitchen sink. 

The classic art deco building was originally the Fire Department Headquarters. 

The interior courtyard of the building has been glassed over to create a wonderful gallery space that looks like a modern South Beach Hotel. The colourful Alebrijes creatures in the distance bring the space alive in a fun folk-art manner. 

The windows in the courtyard were used to display items from the collection.  I loved the exquisite interaction of the reflections of the artifacts and architecture. 

The galleries were full of exhibitions of crafts of all kinds.  These devil creatures captured by imagination. 

The workmanship of the objects was outstanding. 

An image from the video of the Night of the Alebrijes Parade 

The Alebrijes creatures on parade on the sidewalk next to the Angel of Independence monument. 


Secretaria de Educacion Publica 

This museum is a hidden gem – it took a bit of searching to find it on our last day, but my Mom wouldn’t give up and I’m glad she didn’t as it has, in our opinion, the best collection of murals in Mexico City. Bonus – there was no line up (in fact, we had the entire place to ourselves).

This former convent, which dates back to 1639, has hundreds of Diego Rivera murals from 1923 to 1928, illustrating the diversity of his artistic practice and influences – Italian frescoes, cubism and pre-Columbian Mexico.  The ground floor is dedicated to the glorification of labour - rich colourful paintings and monochromatic portraits depicting scientific, artistic and intellectual pursuits.  On the staircase and second floor are a series of landscapes and state emblems from different parts of Mexico. The third floor showcases stories about the Revolution including one of his Rivera’s signature pieces “The Arsenal” where his wife, artist Frida Kahlo is shown handing out guns to the revolutionaries. It was a reminder of how much political revolution and violence has been part of Mexico’s history for centuries.

While most visitors line up to see the Palacio Nacional with its iconic murals, temporary exhibitions and gardens, our recommendation - if you are pressed for time - is to come here instead.

Admission: Free

Time: 2 hours

  The Arsenal, Diego Rivera

The Arsenal, Diego Rivera

Untitled, Diego Rivera

Untitled, Diego Rivera

All of the walls of the building are covered with murals each telling a story of the lives and rich history of Mexico.  

Wall Street Banquet, Diego Rivera

Capitalist Dinner, Diego Rivera

Agriculture, Diego Rivera

Untitled, Diego Rivera (Note the deer head on the shaman-like figure. Rivera was very interested in the ancient cultures of Mexico as he was the modern art of Europe). 

Museo Frida Kahlo

This Museum is the actual house where Frida Kahlo was born, lived most of her life, painted some of her best works and died.  Generally, not a big fan of famous peoples’ homes that have been turned into shrines, I was thus not impressed when we first arrived and had to line up.  We had been spoiled to this point of just walking into museums and having them pretty much to ourselves.

However, we got to chatting with some young people in line about our thoughts about Mexico City and their insights into what is it like living and growing up in Mexico City - the time did pass quickly. 

 The house and gardens where a delight to wander, even if it was too crowded for my liking.  The house was donated to the nation in 1955, by Kahlo’s husband Diego Rivera shortly after Kahlo died.  As you would expect, the home is full of Kahlo’s artwork, artifacts from her studio and everyday items and artifacts she collected.  This includes a lovely collection of small religious paintings on metal called Votive paintings, which interested me having purchased one for our art collection earlier in the week.  I also found the simple, cartoon-like, giant “Judas” figures made out of paper (later I learned these are burned on Easter Sunday as a symbolic destruction of evil) both playful and eerie. 

One of the surprises was the contemporary display of some of Kahlo’s dresses and personal belongings. Especially spooky was the black dark room featuring her corsets (in lighted glass cases) that she used to hide her body (it was disfigured by childhood polio and a near-fatal traffic accident that forced her to have over 30 operations, including a leg amputation in her later years).  It certainly added to the surrealistic experience, as did the lovely garden oasis – a sea of tranquility in a life of torment.

Admission: 120 MX pesos weekdays and 150 MX pesos weekend for adults; 40 MX pesos for post secondary students and 15 MX pesos for children and seniors

Time: 1 hour to tour the museum, but you should give yourself 30 minutes in the line-up (you can purchase tickets in advance). If time permits, the Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky is near by and/or the Coyoacain community which is full of cafes, shops and parks.

Kahlo's Museum had the best "Day of the Dead" altar that we found in Mexico City.

Kahlo's garden oasis. 

Like Rivera, Kahlo was interested in both past and present cultures. This was a display of her dresses. 

Kahlo elaborate corset

Kahlo's contemporary dresses

Surrealistic display of Kahlo's artifacts

There were dozens of Judas figures like this one scattered around the house. I chose this one as it seemed to relate to the suffering and hardship of broken body that Kahlo experienced in her life. 

Museo del Juguete Antiguo Mexico (Toy Museum) 

Located in the heart of the Doctores neighbourhood, this museum, located in a five-story office building, is definitely off the beaten path.  However, for urban explorers and those who love toys, it is a “must see.” In fact, it is more like an antique or flea market than a museum as there are no fancy display cases, no labels with titles, dates and artists’ names, no information panels and no security guards. In fact, the main floor sells toys that could easily be extras from the museum – you will not confuse it with a typical gift shop.

The museum was started by Roberto Shimizu, a Mexican of Japanese descent, who began to hoard every toy he could get his hands on since the age of 10.  Most of the 20,000+ toys, games, dolls etc. date back to mid-20th century.  One of the highlights for me was the small peddle-cars. Backstory: My Mom tells me I loved my peddle-car so much they had to replace the tires!

The museum is absolutely chockablock full of toys, piled up everywhere, making you have to step over and around them in this hoarder’s dream. There is a “thrill of the hunt” atmosphere to the museum with lots of smiles and giggles from parents and children.

Admission: 50 MX pesos per person

Time: Give yourself about 1.5 hours depending on how much you are into toys and nostalgia.  There is not a lot else to see and do in the vicinity of the museum.

Mexico's Toy Museum office block. 

Walt Disney fun.

What would a toy museum be without truck and planes. 

  The museum is full of vignettes like this one of small toy people. 

The museum is full of vignettes like this one of small toy people. 

There are many home-made toys and displays like this one.  Note how the inside is filled with figures. 

One of about 10 pedal cars. 

I wish I had one of these as a kid...it might have changed my life. 

Every toy museum must have toy soldiers. 

The museum is full of fun displays like this one of yo-yos. 

This flying saucer fill of robot vignettes was perhaps my favourite piece. 

Last Word

I was constantly amazed during my adventure in Mexico City how their contemporary culture still seems to evolve around evil, death, religion and spirituality. It made visiting the museums seem more relevant and authentic, with the strong connectivity between past and present in Mexico City.

Hot Tips

You could easily plan a 7-day vacation in Mexico City just around visiting these seven museums.  Be aware too that many of the museums are free on Sundays for Mexicans so they can be quite busy and distract from the experience, so we suggest choosing a less popular museum on Sundays if possible. Also, many museums are closed on Mondays, an exception being the Museo Soumaya (open Mondays and closed Tuesdays) making it a good destination for a Monday adventure.

If you like this blog, you might like: 

The Dirt on the Museum of Clean

Museums of Memphis

Postcards from Musical Instruments Museum

Mexico City vs Calgary / Public City vs Private City

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

Personal Space

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

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

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

Family dining on the street in Mexico City.

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

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

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

Public Space 

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

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

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

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

Street Vitality

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

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

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

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

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

Sidewalk dining on a side street in Mexico City.

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

Sterility vs Vitality

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

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

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

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

Typical Mexico City sidewalk ballet.

Public Space: Keep It Simple

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

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

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

Public Affection = People Friendly 

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

Boulevard road in the middle of Bosque de Chapultepec.

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary vs Denver

Calgary vs Seattle

Calgary vs Salt Lake City 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The response was quick and definitive:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Same Way Better/Reader, by Ron Moppett

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

I also asked for some background and the response was:

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

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

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

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

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

Re Me Fa Sol La Si Do, by Joe Fafard

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

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

Brotherhood of Mankind, by Mario Armengol

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

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

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

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

I went on to say:

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

City of Calgary Public Art Collection

Downtown Art Guide

If you like this blog you might like:

Public Art: Love it or hate it!

Do we really need all of this public art?

Confessions of a public art juror.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexico City: Full of Surprises

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

Reforma Fun

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

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

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

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

Archery Fun

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

Ready! Aim! Fire!

Pretty good shooting if you ask me?

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

Bakery Fun

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

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

This was just the pastry section of the store.

The second floor exhibition space is much less crowded. 

Hammock Fun

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

How cute is this?

People of all ages and backgrounds loved the hammocks. 

St. Jude Fun

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

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

Zombie Fun

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

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

It was a blood bath!

People of all ages joined the fun.

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

Fountain Fun 

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

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

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

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

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

Lottery Fun

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

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

Canoodling Fun

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

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

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

Hostel Suites Fun

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

Me, Mom and Hostel Suites staff member

Our home away from home in Mexico City Hostel Suites. 

Last Word

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Rome: A Playground Surprise Lunch

San Miguel: A Religious Experience of a Lifetime

Mexico City: Seven Reasons You Should Visit


Seven Reasons To Visit Mexico City

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

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

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

 

#1 The History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2 The Muralists

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

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

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

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

#3 The Museums/Churches

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

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

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

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

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

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

#4 Parks/Plazas/Boulevards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#5 The Villages

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

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

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

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

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

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

# 6 The People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#7 Mexico is a bargain

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

Last Word

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

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

If you like this blog you might like:

Dublin: FAB Fun in Libertines!

Rome: A surprise playground lunch!

Florence Markets: Flea, Food & Fashion

Calgary: The Paskapoo City

In the early morning hours of November 7, 1886 fire broke out in the rear wall of Parish & Son Flour and Feed store on 9th Ave SE.  By the time the fire was extinguished at noon, 18 buildings were destroyed.  As a result, town officials recommended all future major buildings be constructed of local Paskapoo sandstone (16 sandstone quarries soon operated near Calgary) rather than wood.

Today, dozens of early 20th century Paskapoo sandstone buildings can be found in and around our downtown. Here are five iconic ones that create a nice 60 to 90 minute walking tour.

Old City Hall, 800 Macleod Trail SE

Calgary’s old City Hall, constructed in 1911 and designed by Calgary architect William M. Dodd is a four-storey Richardsonian Romanesque building with central clock tower, rows or recessed windows and a red, pressed metal tile roof.  It is still used today as the offices for the Mayor and Councilors.

The building’s storied past includes the halting of construction when the original $150,000 budget ran out and the by-law authorizing additional funds was turned down by the citizens.  Eventually, the building was completed, but without a lot of Dodd’s decorative elements. 

In the late 19th century, Calgarian William Pearce envisioned Calgary as Canada’s “City of Trees” encouraging the City and citizens to plant lots of trees.  Pearce loved to experiment including the planting of 210 palm trees next to the old City Hall, one of which survived until 1935 because it was moved indoors.

The City’s coat of arms carved in relief at the top of the entrance includes a glaring error, the scroll below the shield has two dates; signifying Calgary’s incorporation as a town (1882) and city (1894), but Calgary didn’t become a town until 1884.

Old City Hall built in 1911, with new municipal building in the background.

Old City Hall Clock Tower

Alberta Hotel Building, 808 – 1st Street SW

Walk west down Stephen Avenue from City Hall and you will discover several historic sandstone buildings, but the one with the most storied past is the Alberta Hotel Building.  Built in 1890, it quickly became the urban playground for southern Alberta ranchers.  Here, Guy Weadick convinced the Big Four ranchers (Patrick Burns, George Lane, A.E. Cross and Archibald McLean) to finance his idea for a “Frontier Week” celebration, which became the Calgary Stampede.

It was also renowned for its 125-foot long bar, the longest bar west of Winnipeg at the time. Future Prime Minister R.B. Bennett lived on the third floor and took all his meals in the dining room at the “Bennett table.” 

Today, the building is home to upscale outdoor clothing stores, a boutique wine store and one of Calgary’s best restaurants – Murrieta’s.

Alberta Hotel, 1890

Grain Exchange Building, 815- 1st Street SW

Head south to the Grain Exchange building built by William Roper Hull in 1909. At six storeys, it was Calgary’s first skyscraper and foreshadowed Calgary’s future as one of North America’s premier skyscraper cities.

The Grain Exchange stands out historically because of its decorative elements, which include the elaborate carved sandstone arch over the entrance with relief lettering announcing the original anchor tenant, as well as the exquisite oak doors with beveled glass and the interlocking letters next to the entrance that form Hull’s monogram. It is also notable for having Calgary first passenger elevator and is a reminder of Calgary agrarian past. Today it is home to artist’s studios, not-for-profits and start-ups.  On the street level is one of Calgary’s best fly-fishing shops.

Grain Exchange Building, 1909

Memorial Park Library, 1221- 2nd Street SW

A short walk under the CPR tracks sits Memorial Park Library, a fine representation of French Beaux-Arts architecture. At the eastern edge of Calgary’s first park, it was designed by Boston architects McLean & Wright. The interior, with its terrazzo floors, iconic columns, classically-inspired decorative moldings and marble staircase is worth checking out.

Opening in 1912, it was Alberta’s first library thanks to a grant from the Carnegie Foundation.  Originally, both the library and park were called “Central,” but in 1928 the name was changed to “Memorial” when the cenotaph at the west end was unveiled and the park became a war memorial site. 

Memorial Park Library, 1912

McDougall Centre, 455 - 6th Street SW

Completed in 1907, McDougall School was Alberta’s first normal school, used for the training of teachers. In 1922, the building was purchased by Calgary Board of Education, who renamed it McDougall School in honor of Methodist missionary George McDougall and operated it as a junior high and elementary school until 1981. That same year the Government of Alberta purchased the building and converted it into office space for the Premier, Calgary Caucus and a government meeting and event space.  Today, sitting proudly in the middle of a one-block park, a testament to the early 20th century vision of Calgary as a major urban centre.

Its character-defining elements include the entrance with its entablature (a horizontal structure that rest on columns) bearing the words “McDougall School,” circular tablets bearing the numerals “1”, “9”, “0” and “7”, triple-arched doorways and the two-story columns.

McDougall School, 1907

McDougall Center plaza

Last Word

Calgary's City Centre is home to numerous other sandstone buildings including several major turn of the century schools.  Stephen Avenue (aka 8th Avenue SW from Macleod Trail to 4th Street SW is home to so many sandstone and other historical buildings, that it is a National Historic District. 13th Avenue SW from 1st Street to 8th Street SW also makes for a great historical stroll with numerous historical buildings and parks (Calgary's Secret Historical Trail)

Haultain School, 1894

Calgary Collegiate, 1907

Lougheed House and gardens, 1891

An edited version of this blog was commissioned by Tourism Calgary

 

 

 

 

 

Calgary's Trans Canada Highway Motel History

This week I received a second “everyday tourist” care package from my third cousin Sally in Los Angeles. In it were more historical Calgary postcards she hunted down at the Vintage Paper Fair, in Glendale, California. This time (last time it was a vintage CANADA Vacations Unlimited magazine from 1951), her big find was a bunch of postcards of Calgary’s mid-century motels, which coincidentally were mostly along the Trans Canada Highway (aka 16th Avenue N) near 19th Street – just blocks from where I live.

It was 1962 when the Trans Canada Highway opened and in Calgary, it went right through the City’s northern inner-city communities.   While today the urban planning buzz term is “urban village,” back in the ‘50s and ‘60s Calgary was famous for its “motel villages” both along the Trans Canada Highway (between 19th and 24th Streets NW, aka Crowchild Trail) long before the University of Calgary existed and the other in Montgomery (between 43rd to 46th St. NW) which didn’t amalgamate with the City of Calgary until 1963. 

After 50+ years, a few of the modest old motels from the middle of the 20th century still exist, although most have had a facelift or two.  Names like Red Carpet Inn, Thriftlodge, Days Inn, and Traveller’s Inn dot the streetscape along the Trans Canada highway in Montgomery. While the Motel Village next to McMahon Stadium includes names like Super 8, Travelodge, Thriftlodge and EconoLodge, as well as hotel brands like Best Western, Hamptons and Ramada.  There is even a funky boutique hotel – Aloft.  However, the classic mid-century modern motels like the Mount Eisenhower Motor Court, the Highlander Motor Hotel and the Cavalier Motel are gone - survived only by these postcards.

The Highlander Motor Hotel located on the Trans Canada Highway at 17th St NW provides ideal connections to Downtown, a multi-million dollar Shopping Centre, Jubilee Auditorium, McMahon Stadium and The University.  Today it is the site of the Home Depot. 

Calgary North, Travel Lodge, 2304 16th Ave NW. Bus at the door.Your Hosts: Ed and Carol Sandor (A member of the world's largest network of hotel). 

The Cavalier Motel, 2304 - 16th Ave NW. The essence of luxury - 50 modern units, equipped with televisions and telephones. Large heated swimming pool, adjoining restaurants, close to the largest shopping centre on the Trans Canada Highway i.e. North Hill Shopping Centre. Yes, the North Hill Shopping Center opened in 1958 and it was not only Calgary's first shopping center, but the largest along the entire Trans Canada Highway. 

Mount Eisenhower Motor Court, 2227 Banff Trail, 20 new units, modern AMA & AAA approved.

Importance of 16th Avenue North

If you drive or even a walk along the Trans Canada Highway today, you still see bits of evidence of how this was once Calgary’s most important vehicular street, long before the Deerfoot, Glenmore and Crowchild Trails or Memorial Drive.  It was, and still is, the gateway to Calgary’s first post-secondary campus – Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT).

At one point, it was also the gateway to the Calgary Airport located in Renfrew.  The historic Rutledge Hangar (731 – 13th Ave NE), built in 1929, is the only building remaining from Calgary’s first publicly operated airport, commonly known as the Stanley Jones Airport.  It was the first airport in Canada to install runway lights to facilitate twilight landings. It was also home to a short-lived airmail service for the Prairies and served as a training site for the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War Two.  

In addition, to small retail shops and restaurants all along 16th Avenue North, it was the gateway to Calgary's first shopping center - North Hill Shopping Centre in 1958. Calgary’s iconic Peters’ Drive-In (219-16th Ave NE) located on the Trans Canada Highway is another testimonial to 16th Avenue’s mid-century, automobile-oriented history.  Today you will still find numerous Tire, car parts and oil change shops along 16th Avenue. 

Banff Trail Motel is typical of the many modest motels that use to exist all along 16th Avenue North in the mid-20th century. 

Trans Canada Highway at Motel Village looking east with the SAIT residence in the background.

Calgary's Motel Village today is a hub of low-rise motels, an office building and 10+ restaurants. It is walking distance to the University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology campus.  It is adjacent to a LRT Station that is just 5 minutes from downtown. 

Other Mid-century Motels

In downtown, while the Palliser Hotel adjacent to Canadian Pacific Railway Station was the City’s signature hotel, the Caravan Motor Hotel with its Steak and Rib House (4th Ave and 4th Street SW) touted itself as Calgary’s finest downtown motor hotel, only three minutes from the city centre. Another reminder of just how much our city has changed over the past five decades.

But for me, the best postcard was of the Bow River Motel (103, 24th Street NW aka Crowchild Trail).  On the back was their motto “It is quiet by the river” and the phone # AT 3-0777.  It was a reminder that not that long ago Crowchild Trail was a tranquil dirt road with no sidewalks and lined with small businesses and homes… a far cry from the speedway with bland, concrete sound barriers that it is today.

Caravan Motor Hotel and Steak and Rib House, 89 ultra modern units, completely air-conditioned, each room thermostatically controlled. TV, Hi Fi, Radio. Complete room service. 

 Bow River Motel, 103, 24th St. NW (aka Crowchild Trail). Note the road looks like it is still dirt and there are no trees or sidewalks. This was the edge of the city in the '50s. 

Bow River Motel, 103, 24th St. NW (aka Crowchild Trail). Note the road looks like it is still dirt and there are no trees or sidewalks. This was the edge of the city in the '50s. 

Last Word

I couldn’t help but wonder if 16th Avenue North hadn’t become the Trans Canada Highway in the ‘60s, would have it evolved into a more pedestrian-oriented, retail street like 17th Avenue South. Just wondering.

If you like this blog, you might like these:

Flaneuring the Trans Canada Highway

CANADA Vacations Unlimited 1951 (Part 1)

CANADA Vacations Unlimited 1951 (Part 2)

Calgary: History Capital of Canada

 

Dublin Revisited In 36 photographs!

A year ago we were flaneuring the streets, pubs, museums and shops of Dublin, Ireland. As all good “everyday tourists” do on their one-year anniversary of a trip, I reviewed my collection of photos and revisited the many great memories of Dublin. 

Also this week, I received a lot of positive feedback from my Summer Sunlight photo-essay blog so I thought it would be fun to do a photo-only blog of Dublin.  I have picked 36 photos (there is no magic in the number) that cover everything from art to architecture, food to fashion, parks to plazas and of course beer and pubs.

In no particular order, the photos are in true flaneur-like fashion.  Let the photos aimlessly take you on an off-the-beaten path stroll of Dublin. 

If you want to know more about our Dublin adventures you can check out the links for learn more about the city, its people and places:

Dublin: FAB fun in The Libertines

Dublin: Newman University Church a hidden gem

Dublin vs. Calgary /Apples vs. Oranges

Dublin: St. Stephen’s Green vs. St. Patrick’s Cathedral Park

Dublin’s Chester Beatty Library – Look but don’t touch

Dublin: Iconic barracks makes for great museum

Everyday Tourist goes to gaol!

Parks: Calgary vs. Dublin/Florence/Rome

the poor
pillars

Do we really need to develop West Village?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Villages 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cannibalism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Village ARP 101

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

These include:

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Living is in its infancy in Calgary

Calgary: Leader in addressing urban issues

 

A Staycation with a Twist Francais

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

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

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

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

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

Decadent flourless chocolate cake in Lyon, France.

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

Listening outside historic church in Lyon.

The quaint Hotel de Champe de Mars

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Calgary

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

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

  Happy Birthday Surprise!

Happy Birthday Surprise!

Last Word

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

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

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

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

If you like this blog, click on these links: 

Window licking in Paris

Lyons Sidewalk Ballet

Adapt or die? 

Seattle vs Calgary: Capturing the urban tourists' imagination?

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

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

Downtown as a tourist attraction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hotel Fun

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Living

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

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

Cafe Culture 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Living Test Drive 

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Beltline: North America's best hipster neighbourhood?

Kensington: One of North America's Healthiest districts

NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here!

Ramsay: Calgary's FFQ Industrial District

Port Angeles: A 24 hr quickie?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jasmine Bistro meal

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

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

Next door Gastro Pub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to stay?

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

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.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Flamesville vs Stampede Park

Calgary Wants vs Needs: Arena, Stadium, Convention Centre



CANADA Vacations Unlimited 1951 (Part 2)

In Part 1, of CANADA Vacations Unlimited magazine looked looked at the first 20-pages of a 50-page magazine produced by the Canadian Government Travel Bureau in 1951 to entice Americans to visit Canada that was devoted to profile its Provinces.  Part 2 will summarize how the magazine promoted the "things to see and do" in Canada for tourist. I hope you will find it as enlightening and entertaining as I did. 

National Parks

The two-page spread on the National Parks of Canada includes photos of golfing in Banff National Park, trail riding in Riding Mountain National Park, fishing in Fundy National Park, lawn bowling in Prince Edward National Park, alpine meadows in Yoho National Park, Highland Games in Cape Breton National Park and a painter in Jasper National Park. 

Taking photos of wildlife at close range seems to be encouraged, “The animals, which have learned man will not harm them within the parks, have become astonishingly tame often approaching humans within a few yards…bighorn sheep allow visitors within camera range.” Yikes!

Canada’s Vacation Highways

A three-page spread promotes “Canada’s 150,000 miles of highways ranging from two-lane, crushed stone country roads to the four-lane, boulevarded super-highway.  There is scant danger of being stranded in Canada because of mechanical breakdown. Service stations and repair garages are plentiful and all popular U.S and British automobile makers maintain dealer units and parts depots across Canada.”

Photos include a couple eating at a roadside picnic table by the St. Lawrence River, a mounted police officer chatting with another couple in their red convertible in downtown Montreal and Niagara Falls, the “Honeymoon Haven” as well as Hope-Princeton highway and roads in Rockies and Laurentians, Atlantic inlet, Alaska Highway, St. John River and Gaspe Peninsula.

Fishing

The two-page spread on fishing features images with tags like: “Battling bass from historic streams,” “the battle is over for this Atlantic Salmon,” the fishing’s as exciting as the scenery,” “they grow ‘em big in prairie lakes,” “you can even cast from the highway” and “the morning’s catch sizzling in the pan.”

Canoeing and Camping

Canoeing and camping also gets a two-page spread with photo captions like: “shaving in cold water really isn’t so bad,” “somehow the food seems better outdoors” and my favourite “careful with that axe, Daddy.”

Swim and Relax

Yes, that is the title of a two-page spread about Canada having more than half the world’s fresh water offering visitors “sun-drenched sand, cool breezes and crystal-clear lakes and rivers.” The text ends with “Yes, there’s good reason why, in the season of sweltering heat, thousands of vacationers head north each summer to Canada, land of air-conditioning sunshine.”

I loved the photo of the Saskatchewan beach with a two parents and what looks like five kids with a canoe, inner tube and boat with the caption “small fry enjoying themselves.” But the best one - “cooling one’s heels is fun, this way!” referring to three bikini clad girls sitting on a rock ledge of small water falls dangling their feet in the rushing water alongside a young man ready to jump into the water.

Cruise Time

I never thought of Canada as a major cruise travel destination, but two-pages of the magazine pitch vacation cruising on Ontario’s Muskoka Lakes, speed boating in the Eastern Townships, cruising in Banff National Park, sailing off the coast of British Columbia and an inland steamer in BC. It also notes that Canadian yacht clubs extend a welcome to visiting U.S. yachtsman.  

Roughing it in Canada

This two-page spread covers everything from an Alpine Club of Canada hike and rock climbing in the Canadian Rockies to horseback riding and cycling. Did you know that “many Canadian resorts have saddle horses for their guests?”

Scenic Transportation

“By air, by land, by sea” reads the byline with images of “modern buses ply through the Laurentian area of Quebec, a Trans-Canada Air Lines plane wings its way over quiet Ontario countryside, Canada National Steamships vessel at Skagway, CPR train winds through Kicking Horse Pass” as well as cruise steamer on Saguenay River and Canadian Pacific steamer passing below the Lions’ Gate Bridge in Vancouver.”

Golf, Tennis, Winter Sports

One and a half pages are devoted to golf in this four-page section. One photo caption reading “Bing Crosby putts it out on the course at Jasper during the annual Totem Pole Tournament.”  Interesting factoids include a reference to “Canada’s northland” where the most northerly golf course in the Western Hemisphere - at Pangnirtung on Baffin Island with eight members and at “Yellowknife the clubhouse is a crashed B-29 aircraft, which proved too difficult to haul out of the wild.” 

Skiing is the only winter sport promoted. Skiing in in Canada is described as, “There’s Scandinavian-style skiing in Eastern Canada and the dashing Alpine kind in the West, each with plenty of accommodation comfort close at hand.”

Golf Tennis

Shrines and Historic Sites

The photo collage that accompanies this two-page feature includes Fort Ste. Marie (Midland, Ontario) restoration, Port Royal Habitation (Nova Scotia), Lower Fort Garry (Winnipeg), Brother Andre’s shrine (Montreal), Christ Church Cathedral (Fredericton), Ste. Anne de Beaupre (Quebec City), Old Fort Henry (Kingston), Fort Lennox Ile au Noix (Quebec), Fort Chambly (Montreal) and St. Andrew’s Church (Lockport, Manitoba).

Shopping

Can you believe shopping warrants only one page and the last page at that! “Part of the thrill of a Canadian vacation is shopping for native handicrafts…so many delightful ‘different’ things in Canadian stores…wood carving, hooked picture rugs, Indian beaded jackets and moccasins. It’s easy to find the Canadian handicrafts on display outside Canadian farms and village homes…and gracing the counters of many tourist courts and villas.” 

There is no mention of department stores like Hudson Bay Company and Eaton’s or specialty shops like Birks.

Mother Knows Best!

I emailed a draft of this blog to my Mom (who has lived all 80+ years of her life in Hamilton, Ontario, but who in her later years has visited the capital cities of all the Provinces and Territories except for Iqaluit, Nunavut) for her insights and thoughts on the magazine and my reaction.

Her comments were, “that is exactly what Canada was like in 1951.Toronto was hardly known, Montreal was the only city in Canada with any international awareness….the West was almost unheard of even in Ontario. We did know the Maritimes though.  There wasn’t anything on cities because there wasn’t really much to see in the cities then. Hard for you to understand in 1951, we were still an unknown country and Americans did not visit except for the cities along the border – maybe.”

This made me think she is right. I remember her and my Dad telling me stories about how young couple from Hamilton and Southern Ontario headed to Buffalo, not Toronto, if they wanted a fun weekend of dancing and drinking in the late ‘40s and ‘50s.

Last Word 

I defer to her for this blog’s Last Word, her email response ended with,  “This magazine sure has been an eye opener for you, as it will be for most of your readers.”

If you like this blog, you might like:

CANADA Vacations Unlimited 1951 (Part 2) 

Cities of opportunity: Calgary/Hamilton 

Understanding Calgary's DNA

CANADA Vacations Unlimited 1951 (Part 1)

My, my, how times have changed! Today I received a package of Calgary and Banff artifacts from a 3rd cousin living in Los Angeles who my Mom recently reconnected with. She is a big collector and loves treasure hunting at flea markets and fairs in the LA area.  When my Mom told her about my interest in old Calgary artifacts, she said she’d keep that in mind. 

I really never gave it much thought until very recently my Mom told me to expect a package in the mail from Sally.  Today it arrived - a nice two-page handwritten letter (can’t remember the last time I saw one of those), a dozen postcards and a magazine entitled “CANADA Vacations Unlimited,” all purchased at the Glendale, California, Vintage Paper Fair.  

While the postcards were wonderful, it was the 50-page, 1951, full-colour magazine that immediately caught my attention. Produced by the Canadian Government Travel Bureau (part of the department of Resources and Development), the magazine was aimed at enticing Americans to visit Canada.  It was captivating to see how Canada branded itself as a tourist destination 60+ years ago.

I was immediately struck by the lack of any information about Canadian cities; it is dominated by images of hunting, fishing, swimming, beaches, horseback riding and golf. Everything is family, rural and quaint. Shopping gets only minimal attention and food and dining isn’t even on the radar. 

No advertisements, no hotel listings, no phone numbers and no coupons and about festivals, museums, art galleries 

Branding the Provinces

The first 20 pages area devoted to profiling our 10 provinces – photo heavy and text light. And, nothing on the Territories.

British Columbia is branded as “Canada’s Pacific Province” with “great mountain ranges like Switzerland, deep costal inlets like Norway and valleys with pastoral charm of England’s quiet shires.” There is no mention of the charms of Vancouver except to say “it is the largest city in British Columbia, with more population than any state capital in the U.S. with the exception of Boston.  Images include the Empress Hotel (Victoria), Cathedral Grove (Alberni), Skyline Trail (Yoho Valley) and a generic game fishing photo. 

Cathedral Grove, Alberni (full page photo, quality of this image is similar to the one in the magazine as are most of the other images). 

The Empress Hotel, Victoria / Yoho Valley from Skyline Trail, Yoho National Park 

Alberta is branded as “Canada’s Mile-High Mountain Playground” where “cowhands and reservation Indians still roam Alberta’s grazing lands against the splendor of the Canadian Rockies, and the Calgary Stampede gets more spectacular each year.” The images are of “cowgirls sitting on a fence at Stampede, picnic at Waterton Lakes National Park, lookout on Banff Jasper Highway and Bow River from Banff Springs Hotel.”

Bow River Valley from Banff Springs Hotel (full page) 

Lookout Banff-Jasper Highway / Picnic with a view at Waterton Lakes National Park.

Saskatchewan branded as “Land of the last frontier” is where there’s fishing, hunting, swimming, boating, camping, hiking, golf, tennis and riding.” Images include Qu’Appelle Valley, public gardens (Regina), picnicking (Lake Waskesiu), golf (Prince Albert Park) and boating (unnamed river/lake).

Scene in the North Saskatchewan parklands (full page) 

Golf at Prince Albert National Park 

Manitoba is branded as “Inside the rim of Adventure” (whatever that means). The entire text is focused on fishing and hunting with no mention of Winnipeg as a tourist destination. But, it does point out that “the adventurous, if they have a special licence, can hunt the belugas and great white whales of Hudson Bay – boats and harpoons are supplied at Churchill and the big mammals sometimes weigh up to 2,000 pounds.” Images include ruins of old fortress at Churchill, a couple on the shore of Whiteshell Reserve, beach on Lake Winnipeg and shore of Clear Lake.”

On the shores of Clear Lake (full page) 

Ontario is “Canada’s All-Year Vacation Province” and includes names of the 14-tourist reception centres and how the climate ranges from Arctic temperatures in the north to peach, strawberry and tobacco growing in the extreme south, which by the way is south of northern California.  There are small photos of a Mountie and the Peace Tower in Ottawa, swimming in a quiet lake, sentry at Kingston’s Fort Henry, Niagara Falls and a “Niagara Peninsula blossom queen. No mention of Toronto - how can that be?

Full page image for Ontario 

When autumn paints Ontario woodlands / Summer sunning at a quiet lake

Quebec is “Canada’s French Heritage” that offers “vacation charm with a French-Canadian accent, exhilarating scenery, Scandinavian-type skiing as well as hunting and fishing.  Quebec City is North America’s only walled city and cosmopolitan Montreal is the largest in all Canada, as well as being the world’s greatest inland port.”  Images include a cruise ship passing Chateau Frontenac, looking out over the city of Montreal from Mount Royal, Gaspe Bay fisherman and highway along Lake Massawippi.  What? No mention of maple syrup or poutine!

Montreal lies below the lookout atop Mount Royal 

New Brunswick is branded as “Canada’s Unspoiled Province by the Sea” with more information about fishing, beach colonies and a quick mention of Magnetic Hill and Reversing Falls. Images include a woman sitting on the edge of canoe, salmon fishing in the Miramichi River, fishing smacks at Caraquet, fine game bird shooting and Bay of Fundy. 

Autumn comes to the St. John River Valley (full page image) 

“Canada’s Ocean Playground” is Nova Scotia’s brand, “where every village has a story and usually there is a historic background to the tale.”  Visitors who stay for more than a few days are eligible for the ‘Order of the Good Cheer’ North America’s first social club formed in 1606 by Samuel de Champlain.”  Images are of the beach at Ingonish, landing a giant tuna at Wedgeport and small sailboats in North West Arm in Halifax.

The North West Arm at Halifax (full page) 

A giant tuna is landed at Wedgeport / On the beach at Ingonish, looking towards Cape Smoky

Prince Edward Island is “Canada’s Garden Island Province” with “specialties of potato growing and oyster farming and where a lack of heavy industry have kept it from being better known.” (I am not making this stuff up; this is their promotional material.) There are photos of Parliament Buildings, silks and sulkies, north shore beach, Keppoch Beach and rural countryside.

Two-page spread promoting Prince Edward Island 

Lastly, Newfoundland is “Canada’s Newest Province” which in 1951 was a big deal as it just became the 10th province in 1949. There is a whole paragraph on St. John’s history and the city’s role in the American War of Independence, War of 1812 and World War II. The text ends with “The Canadian dollar has been the accepted currency in Newfoundland since 1894.”  Images include a fishing cove, Gander airport, lumber mill (Corner Brook) and scenic highway on the Humber River. I can’t believe there is no mention of icebergs or a photo of one.

Scene along the Humber River (full page) 

 Lumber mills at Corner Brook / S.S.Gulfport nearing Newfoundland shores / Gander Airport

Lumber mills at Corner Brook / S.S.Gulfport nearing Newfoundland shores / Gander Airport

Last Word

If you found this blog insightful, you will definitely want to read CANADA Vacations Unlimited Part 2 (later this week), which will look at how Canada’s Travel Bureau promoted National Parks, Vacation Highways, Fishing, Canoeing, Camping, Swimming, Relaxing, Shrines and Historic Sites to Americans.  You will be surprised, maybe even shocked at how we branded shopping in Canadian shopping.

If you like this blog, you might like:

CANADA Vacations Unlimited 1951 (Part 2) 

Cities of Opportunity: Calgary/Hamilton 

Understanding Calgary's DNA


Starbucks Tasting Room vs Simmons Building

In December 2014, Starbucks opened its “coffee cathedral” in the former circa 1920s Packard automobile dealership building in Seattle’s tony Capitol Hill neighbourhood.  It was designed to roast and showcase Starbucks’ small batch, reserved coffees.   The 15,600 square foot Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room (SRRTR) building has quickly become a mecca for local and international coffee cynics and zealots.

Not to be outdone, in June 2015, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation opened up its “flagship foodie fun spot” in the 1912 Alaska Bedding Company (ABC) warehouse building aka Simmons Building (in 1919 the Simmons Bedding Company purchased the building from ABC).  The 16,000 square foot building has quickly become the epicenter of Calgary’s growing café and food culture and could well be the project that puts Calgary on the international coffee/food map.

Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room in Seattle.

Simmons Building facing East Village's Riverwalk. 

Let the competition begin!

As one would expect, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room (SRRTR) dwarfs the Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters’ space in the Simmons building.  While both have roasterie machinery, SRRTR has the look and feel of brewpub - lots of shiny machinery, an amphitheater space for viewing and learning about the bean-to-brew process.  Yet there is still a vibrant café atmosphere with lots of seating, huge windows to watch the “sidewalk ballet” that invites you to linger. There is even a library space if a quiet space to read or have a small meeting is what you’re after. We loved the idea that you could get a flight of coffees (three brews for $15) like you might have at a wine bar or craft brewery. 

Compare that to Phil & Sebastian’s café and coffee where the experience didn’t differ significantly from any other P&S café or other Calgary cafes. Advantage: SRRTR.

SRRTR looks like a science lab.

Seattle hipsters tasting the coffee, food and treats at SRRTR.

Calgarians lined up for their coffee at Phil & Sebastians.

SRRTR has its own Coffee Ambassadors – and there were many - young coffee experts from Starbuck cafes around the world who greet you at the door, find you a place to sit, bring you free water, answer your questions and engage you in a discussion.  On the flip side, Simmons Building seems a bit confusing as you have to line up to buy your coffee in one place, then line up again to buy your dessert, salad or sandwich at another vendor in the building.  Advantage SRRTR.

While SRRTR’s focus is definitely on coffee, it does have a Tom Douglas (Seattle celebrity restaurateur) Serious Pie restaurant on site, which is well known in Seattle for its pizzas and desserts.  Similarly, the Simmons Building is home to Charbar owned by Calgary’s celebrity restaurant owners Connie DeSousa and John Jackson.  I would have to award the restaurant advantage to Calgary’s Charbar with its more interesting menu, which offers up ocean, prairie and local garden ingredients.  It also offers a vegetarian small plates options. Advantage: Simmons Building.

Charbar restaurant in the Simmons Building.

The bar at Charbar. 

Tom Douglas’ Serious Pie pizza restaurants are also well known in Seattle for their desserts but my mouth still waters whenever I think of the Sidewalk Citizen’s Bourbon Bread Pudding and Earl Gray Apple cake we had a week ago.  Aviv Fried, owner of Sidewalk Citizen quietly putting Calgary on the map, has amazing sourdough bread and pastries.  Advantage: Simmons Building.

Sidewalk Citizen bakery at the Simmons Building.

From an overall design perspective, I loved the open, transparent, sunlight feel of SRTR over the Simmons Building that seems dark, closed and confined.  Both buildings have their historical exteriors preserved but there is little sense of history in the contemporary warehouse interiors. Simmons Building wins the design competition with its rooftop patio offer spectacular views of the city skyline and river valley. Advantage: Simmons Building.

SRRTR is a bright and airy space with lots of places to sit and chat, people watch or learn about coffee. It is part laboratory and part classroom. 

The Library at SRRTR

If you like to shop, SRRTR offers a small retail area with all kinds of coffee paraphernalia.  Simmons Building has no retail for those would need their shopping fix. Advantage: SRTR.

The retail space at SRRTR with the Serious Pizza in the background.

In the real estate world, it is all about “location, location, location.” While SRRTR has a great urban location at the junction of downtown and Capitol Hill, it is no match for the Simmons Building’s location on the East Village Riverwalk, next to the Bow River, near the soon-to-be best new urban park in North America - St. Patrick’s Island and what is shaping up to be one of North America’s finest early 21st century urban villages – East Village. Advantage: Simmons Building.

Simmons Building roof-top pato with Bow River and East Village Riverwalk below. (photo credit @GiantBlueRing

Simmons Building rooftop patio. (photograph by Colin Way, courtesy of CMLC) 

My Last Word

Yes, as a Calgarian I am biased.  Yes, I did love the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room and would recommend you check it out if you are in Seattle. It is one of the most welcoming and friendly places I have visited in a long time with a great buzz to it.  But when push comes to shove, I feel the Simmons Building offers a more interesting and diverse urban experience for tourists and locals alike.  

My only wish is that by next summer, Calgary’s own Village Ice Cream has a space in the Simmons Building so I can buy a cone while wandering the Riverwalk and St. Patrick’s Island.

John Gilchrist's Last Word

In chatting with John Gilchrist (CBC Radio One's Calgary Eyeopener food critic for 33 years, best selling author and international food writer and judge) while I was putting the final touches on this blog - he would argue Calgary is already on the North American coffee/culinary map. He reminded me Calgary baristas have won four of the last five national barista championships and Ben Put of Monogram Coffee just finished 3rd in the World Championships. As well, Phil &Sebastian's coffee has been sold nationally for a few years now and is respected internationally.

On the food scene, he emphatically stated "Calgary has become a culinary destination not only nationally but internationally. One small example is that the US-based Women Chefs and Restaurateurs Association is holding its annual conference in Calgary this fall, the first time it’s been held outside the USA."

Insofar as the Simmons building is concerned, he too would like to see Village Ice Cream join the family. John feels, "the Simmons building showcases three of Calgary’s fine culinary entrepreneurs, exposing them to more than the usual foodie cognoscenti. That’s great but we not always want a full meal or even a coffee in the afternoon. But ice cream is always welcome."

He added, "the Simmons is one of the most notable development in Calgary’s culinary scene I’ve ever seen. The partnership between the City and these three entrepreneurs is a fine example of private and public enterprise. And especially impactful in the development of the new East Village neighbourhood."

If you like this blog you might like: 

Calgary: North America's Newest Cafe City?

Top Ten Places To Eat Like A Local in Cowtown