Urban Living in Calgary: 2015 in review

As 2015 quickly comes to a close, one can’t help but reflect on Calgary’s evolution over the past year from an urban living perspective.  While the news on the economic front has continued to worsen, from an urban residential development perspective, things have continued to evolve pretty much as predicted. 

In fact a record six new high-rises were completed in 2015 – First, Fuse, The Park, Outlook at Waterfront, Guardian I and Aura II. The previous record was five in 2008 and again in 2010.  Perhaps even better news - another six are anticipated to be completed in 2016.

The boldest condo announcement in 2015 was Knightsbridge Homes’ and Metropia Urban Landscapes’ plan for a 167-unit condo in East Village with no parking.  Not only did they announce their innovative project, but they got approval, sold out and started construction all in 2015.

Rendering of N3 condo in Calgary's East Village that has no parking.  I thought N3 stood for No Parking, No Problem, Nitwits, but was told it stands for New Attitude, New Vision, New Lifestyle. 

Beltline Bankruptcy Blues

This year, several abandoned projects from the 2007/08-mortgage collapse morphed into new projects.  Remember Astoria, the condo tower with its $10 million penthouse (on 10th Ave between 8th and 9th Avenue) that was abandoned when it was just a big hole in the ground? That has since been taken over by WAM Development Group and will be two towers 17 and 34-storeys.  This development will nicely integrate with Qualex-Landmark’s Mark on 10th at the corner of 10th Ave and 8th street.

As well, just a little further west at 1235-11th Avenue SW (the old Kai Tower project, named after Kai Mortensen Fine Furniture that used to be on the site) has evolved from initially being two vertical towers (Oslo and Copenhagen) into a single 13-storey horizontal building called Metropolitan by Statesman.

The Park condo in the Beltline was just a hole in the ground for several years until it was completed in 2015. 

In Victoria Park (aka Beltline East), Arriva, on the historic Victoria Park School site, was supposed to be an avant-garde, three-condo tower complex. However, it was abandoned after the first tower was completed.  Since then Hon Towers Ltd. picked up the pieces, redesigned the remaining two towers as two 44-floor South Beach-like white towers that will be the highest in Calgary. Rebranded as the Guardian Towers, the first tower is nearing completion while the second tower is more than half finished.

And in the heart of the Beltline (Memorial Park), Lake Placid Group of Companies completed The Park condo after a few years of no construction.  Across the street from Memorial Park, Qualex-Landmark has also broken ground for the first tower of their two-tower Park Point project  - sure to become one of the Calgary’s signature buildings.

It also looks like Strategic Group will be reviving the Sky Tower site at the corner of 10th Ave and 1st SE, having recently received approval for a 277-unit residence.

Ian Meredith a consultant at Altus Group Limited Residential Advisory Services, doesn’t expect to see any of the projects currently under construction to have financing issues given “the institutional level of investment at play now simply wasn’t present during the last downturn.  Over the past five years, Calgary has attracted most of the significant high-density developers from across Canada.  Even during a slower growth period there will be no shortage of long-term interests pushing towards the successful redevelopment of our inner city communities.”

  Statesman purchased the old Kai Towers site and changed it from two vertical towers condos to one horizontal rental apartment block.  

Statesman purchased the old Kai Towers site and changed it from two vertical towers condos to one horizontal rental apartment block. 

  Rendering of what Kai Towers were originally suppose to look like.  

Rendering of what Kai Towers were originally suppose to look like.  

  WAM's two unnamed rental apartment towers are rising up from where the luxury Astoria condo which was just capped off at ground level when it went bankrupt. 

WAM's two unnamed rental apartment towers are rising up from where the luxury Astoria condo which was just capped off at ground level when it went bankrupt. 

  The Astoria condo was announce back in 2007 with much fanfare especially for its $10 million dollar penthouse that never got built. 

The Astoria condo was announce back in 2007 with much fanfare especially for its $10 million dollar penthouse that never got built. 

Rendering of the original plans for Arriva block that included three sister condo towers, renovations of two schools and a major public artwork.

Bridgeland is Blooming 

The Bridges (aka old Calgary General Hospital site) redevelopment also came to a grinding halt in 2008, but gradually the entire Bridgeland/Riverside community is blooming into a lovely urban village. 

Vancouver’s Bucci Developments has been the “King of Bridgeland” for many years. Back Story: Owner and President, Fred Bucci’s father, the founder of the company was actually born at the Calgary General Hospital and grew up in the neighbourhood.

Bucci Developments not only built Bella Citta (2003) and Bella Lusso (2006) as part of Phase 1 of The Bridges, but also built NEXT (4th St and 7th Ave NE) nearby. Their new Bridges project Radius, planned for the southeast corner of Centre Avenue and 8th St. NE, will have a lovely view of The Bridges’ Central Park.  In addition to the 200 new homes, Radius’ modern design will add a new dimension to The Bridges with its rooftop terrace and garden.

As well, not only has GableCraft Homes’ modified Bridgeland Crossing II (mothballed for a few years) now nearing completion next to the LRT station, but they have also started Bridgeland Hill condos.

Not to be left out, Remington Developments’ new Meredith Block (office/retail) on Edmonton Trail just past Memorial Drive is further evidence that Bridgeland/Riverside is starting to bloom as Calgary’s newest vibrant urban village.

Bridgeland's Farmers' Market (photo credit: sustainablecaglary.com)

Urban Living Comes To The NW

The biggest urban living announcement in 2015 was the City’s approval of University District on the University of Calgary’s west campus land around the Alberta Children’s Hospital. They are already moving dirt on this 184-acre urban village (Calgary’s first 24/7 village given it will serve two hospital sites), that will include 6,000 multi-family residential units (home for about 15,000 people), 245,000 square feet of retail and restaurants in a Kensington-like pedestrian streets and 1.5 million square feet of office space for about 10,000 workers.  University District also includes 40 acres of parks, ponds, gardens and plazas and 12 km of pathways.  It holds the distinction of being the first ever new, master-planned urban village in Calgary’s northwest quadrant.

On a smaller scale, but still significant the Kensington Legion site redevelopment in West Hillhurst along Kensington Road at 18th St. NW has been called a “game changer” by both the NIMBYs and YIMBYs alike.  Truman Homes announced plans in 2015 to transform this large site into a mixed-use site with two buildings - a 4-storey office building and 8-storey condo, both with restaurants and retail at ground level. While there has been much controversy over the height of the condo building, everyone seems to agree the design of both buildings - especially the condo building with its cascading north façade – are very attractive. It could well become the “poster child” for the City of Calgary’s Main Street program (which includes Kensington Road from 14th Street to Crowchild Trail) and become the catalyst for the evolution of West Hillhurst into Calgary’s next vibrant walkable community.

University City at Brentwood LRT Station is a just one Calgary's many transit oriented developments.  Nearby is the University of Calgary, downtown is a short LRT ride and there are two grocery stores within walking distance.

Aerial view of University District site on the west end of the University of Calgary campus, with the Alberta Children's hospital in the middle. (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

Rendering of proposed pedestrian street with shops and cafes that will at the heart of new University District urban village. 

  Kensington Legion site as it exists Fall of 2015. 

Kensington Legion site as it exists Fall of 2015. 

Proposed office (left) and condo (right) buildings for Kensington Legion block. (photo credit: Truman Development Ltd.)

Last Word 

In a recent full-page advertorial by Qualex-Landmark in the Herald’s New Condo section, comments made by Parham Mahboubi, Vice-President of Planning and Marketing with Qualex-Landmark resonated with me and bear repeating. 

“As developers, we have our sights on the long-term horizon.  I think this is something like the sixth temporary economic downturn Calgary has faced in over the past 30 years. It’s a cyclical market. Calgary has so much going for it that makes it one of Canada’s major metropolitan cities. We are not throwing in the towel. We will continue to respond to the ongoing demand for quality, high-density, inner-city communities by building new condos to further demonstrate our commitment to renewing the economic, social and cultural vibrancy of Calgary’s Beltline.”

This aptly captures the essence of what I have repeatedly heard from dozens of residential developers over the past year. Well said, Mr. Mahboubi!

Editor's Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section titled, "Calgary Growing From The Ground Up With Many Starts" on December 19, 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. John's On Tenth condo.

Why a Vancouver Model?

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

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

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

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

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

Pixel condo with crane for Lido condo under construction.

Did Somebody say “Cash Grab?”

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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New Condos Create Hidden/Invisible Density

I am not sure who coined the phrase “hidden or invisible density” but I first heard it in the late ‘90s from Brent Toderian, then City Centre Manager, City of Calgary and now, an international freelance urban planner.  In his case, he was referring to lane housing, which is exactly as it says – new homes built facing the back lane in established communities, i.e. they are hidden or invisible from the street.  Since then, lots of “lane housing” has happened – and continues to happen - in established communities across Calgary. 

However, recently I have become aware of two condo projects I think would fit an expanded definition of “hidden or invisible density.”  One is in Altadore along 16th Street SW by Brookfield Residential and the other is in West Hillhurst, just off Crowchild Trail being built by Truman Homes.   

In both cases, the density being added is significant (i.e. on the same scale as a mid-rise condo project at about 100 units/acre), yet the housing isn’t any taller than the neighbouring new infill homes. From a pedestrian experience, these modest condo developments fit nicely into the traditional streetscape with their front lawns, sidewalks and small porches.

Altadore 36 streetscape

Altadore 36

Brookfield Residential has recently begun marketing Altadore 36, located at the corner of 16th Street and 36th Avenue SW (hence, the name).  In this case, the developer will be replacing eight dilapidated old homes with two 3-storey buildings containing 62 contemporary condo homes. “How can that be invisible or hidden?” you ask. 

Well, Calgary architect Jesse Hindle designed two, interlocking L-shaped buildings that cleverly utilize the adjacent streets, alley and an interior courtyard to create three different streetscapes for the ground floor units. From the street, each ground floor townhouse has a small front lawn and patio that function much like the front porch of those early 20th century homes we all love. The above-the-ground-floor condos are two-storey flats, each with a generous glass, half-walled balcony that fosters interaction between the street and the building.

All “interior” homes (both ground and upper units), i.e. those that face onto a courtyard with sidewalk, trees and plantings, provide an attractive street-like view from their patio or balcony.

Altadore 36 design is very compatible with the new, flat-roofed, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired single-family homes in the community. Hindle chose a sandstone-coloured brick, yielding a warm and timeless look.  The refined rectangular-shaped buildings with their clean edges have a traditional yet contemporary sense of place. Good urban design is about quality materials as well as respecting the scale and architecture of the past and the present.  Altadore 36 is an impressive hybrid of modern urban and suburban design that will fit almost invisibly into the new Altadore.

Altdore 36 will also add a much needed affordable housing option for middle-income earners and retirees in a community where most infills are million dollar homes.  Great communities offer a variety of housing options at different price points to attract people of all ages and backgrounds.

Altadore 36 Courtyard.

Upper West

Upper West (hopefully they can come up with a better name, one that reflects the location,) is located just east off Crowchild Trail on 2nd Ave NW in West Hillhurst.  It is on an interesting block, one that already includes two seniors’ multi-family buildings in a community of mostly single-family homes. Truman’s Upper West condo will replace three single-family homes that are nearing their “expiry dates” with 45 new homes (a mix of 17 one-bedroom and 28 two-bedroom condos) in a 4-storey building.

2nd Ave NW homes that will be removed to make way for Upper West, with red brick seniors' apartment. 

The building’s design - very contemporary with its three sloped roofs and large corner balconies - resembles the mega new infill homes being built not only in West Hillhurst, but also in neighbouring Briar Hill, Parkdale and St. Andrew’s Heights. The materials are conservative greys with some wood fencing at street level.  All parking will be underground, leaving the street parking for everybody to share.

Located just a “hop, skip and a jump” from Crowchild and Kensington Road means anyone living in Upper West has easy access to Mount Royal University, University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre, Alberta Children’s Hospital and downtown, by transit, car, bike or on foot.  This should make it very attractive to young professionals as well as empty nesters. 

There are more amenities in the area than you might think nearby - including two meat shops, a gelato café, a pizza and pub shop, liquor store and convenience store. Upper West is also within easy walking distance to both West Hillhurst’s historic Main Street (aka 19th Street) and the Parkdale Loop (Lazy Loaf Café). Best of all, residents are just minutes to the Bow River pathway for walking, running or cycling, making it a perfect location for increased density.

Upper West condo on 2nd Ave NW.

Last Word

While these two projects are adding densities (100units/acre) similar to those of the 4 to 8-storey new highrise condo buildings in Kensington, Bridgeland or Mission, visually they will not rise above the height of existing apartment blocks and new infill homes. Altadore 36 and Upper West will be almost invisible in scale, design and materials to neighbours.

Kudos to Altadore and West Hillhurst communities’ YIMBYs (Yes In My BackYard) who will soon be welcoming many new neighbours to their community.

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Kensington Legion: NIMBYs vs YIMBYs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Taller Better?

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

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

North side of condo building with garden facing to homes. 

Is Traffic a Real Concern?

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

Bunt & Associates’ preliminary findings:

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

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

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

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

Aerial view of project looking west. 

Back alley parking design. 

Truman has listened

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

Shadowing effect of tiered building design

Street between office and condo building.

Last Word

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

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

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Calgary: Not your parents' suburbs!

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

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

Not just about density

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

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

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

Livingston

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

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

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

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

For more information: Livingston 

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

West District

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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Suburbs: Don't be too quick to judge!

What is urban living and who really cares?

Suburbs move to City Centre in Calgary

Calgary: Are we too downtown centric? 

Island living fosters strong sense of community in Calgary!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mahogany Island

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

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

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

Mckenzie Lake Island History

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Don't judge a new community too soon!

Suburbs move to the City Centre in Calgary

Our Country Estate Voyeur Adventure

Calgary Community Engagement: Raising the bar again!

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

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

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

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

How could that be?

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

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

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

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

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

The survey says…

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

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

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

 The common themes to date are:

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

Key questions raised in the comments:

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

Sample positive comments:

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

Sample negative comments:

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

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

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

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

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

Kingsland Market FAQ

About Kingsland

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

"Roger That" says 12-year old Matt about public art

Everyday Tourist Note: I have always wondered what others think of public art and public spaces, realizing my perspective on public art is unique - as is everyone’s. While I get lots of feedback from others via conversations, emails and social media regarding public art, it is always from adults, very rarely from young people i.e. the next generation who are going to inherit the art.

This summer  a new piece of public art was unveiled at the Tuscany LRT Station, an artwork chosen by a jury that I was part of, but not my first choice. (You can learn more about the jury process in my blog “Confessions of a public art juror.”)

I thought rather than blogging my critic of the artwork and the station as a public space, I would ask a friend’s 12-year old grandson who lives in Tuscany if he might like to do a guest blog.  To my surprise, he said yes!

Guest blog by Matt:

The storm was coming in when we got on the train. The crowfoot C-train station felt pretty industrial and grey. We got on the train and headed west towards the mountains. The new Tuscany station is now the end of the line. Tuscany is my home community.

When we approached the new station I noticed that they had planted trees along the tracks below me. The roof of the inside of the station was wooden and felt more connected to nature somehow. The station felt similar to Crowfoot, but with more natural elements.

Eamon's Bungalow Camp built in the 1950s and was an icon for people travelling in and out of Calgary for decades. For the complete story click here: Avenue Magazine: The Story of Eamon's Camp

The big Eamon’s Bungalow sign was still there, and I know that they thought about tearing it down or selling it. It was very historic, and I think it cool that they decided to keep it.

After exploring the platform a little more, I found that there was a small colorful building with painted sides. Public art is better than just looking at an empty wall.  The station’s reputation can be positive. I hope that the people who see the painting will get something out of it.

I was really surprised that the painted building was actually a public washroom! I wonder if other C-train stations have these to take care of the public that use the stations across the city? And with fancy art on them? The colourful paintings definitely made the building more artistic and appealing.

Some might ask if this is public art or decoration? Matt just likes it! Roger That!

I looked around and saw several metal sculptures with lights that reminded me of trees.  When they are illuminated at night, it is far cooler because it looks like light spheres.

I looked around and saw several metal sculptures with lights that reminded me of trees.  When they are illuminated at night, it is far cooler because it looks like light spheres.

The installation of tree-like lamp posts as public art is titled "Roger That" and was created by Vancouver artist Bill Pechet. One of the guidelines for the project was to create something that would link the communities of Tuscany and Royal Oak.  "Roger That" is a military saying for communicating to someone "I understand."  In some ways they remind me of the old TV antennas that use to sit on top of everyone's homes.  Or could it be some sort of visual morse code? Good art is often ambiguous, allowing everyone to see what they want to see based on their experiences. 

Another view of "Roger That."

The yellow lights are the same as you see on roadside construction sites. 

"Roger That" at night. (photo credit calgary.ca)

Roger That at dusk or dawn creates an eerie beacon of light. (photo credit: Pechet Studio)

Bridging Communities 

Day or night, there are similar sculptures on both sides of Crowchild Trail.  It made me think that it’s kind of weird that the C-train station is the only bridge between the communities of Tuscany and Royal Oak. I wonder if people will actually visit each other’s community now, or if the train is as far as they will go?  Only time will tell. I think it will, because families can enter unexplored territory on the outside of what they see every day.

There are a lot of youth in Tuscany. My mom says that there used to be only one way in and one way out of Tuscany, and if it snowed, people couldn’t get anywhere. Then they built roads and even added a C-train station. The Tuscany C-train station kind of opens up my world and represents freedom to me.  Now I can go where I want, and travel outside of my community whenever I want. I think that the freedom for people to go where they want is just as beautiful as the art they have at the stations.

Artwork in communities is cool. A community that has art means that it has people that care about it. Art doesn’t have to be beautiful, but it should make people stop and think about it.  All art won’t be meaningful to everyone, some people will like it and some will hate it.  The purpose is to cause a reaction.

In 20 years I wonder what my friends and I will think about that station and the artwork when we look back…?

Roger That another perspective.

Last Word

I am not sure what I expected in from Matt, but this certainly wasn’t it. Who would have though at 12-year old would see the coming of a LRT Train Station has his road to freedom? Who would have thought he’d be concerned about community?

It is also interesting that it seems like the art on the utility boxes made a bigger impression on him than the large sculptural installation.  Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from that as we think about future public art projects, not only in Calgary but other cities.

As Art Linkletter (click here for link Art Linkletter TV show) use to always say “Kids say the darndest things!” 

For more information on the "Roger That" sculpture by the Pechet Studio click on: City of Calgary "Roger That" Public Art Site.

21st Century: Century of the Condo

Historians in North America will probably look back at the 20th century and coin it as the “century of the single family home.”  It was a time where the dream of every young married couple was to buy a home with front and back yards to raise their children.  The single family home was also where seniors wanted to live out their lives, kicking and screaming when their adult children suggested their home was too big and too much work to maintain. The single family home was everyone’s “castle.”

On the other hand, the 21st century is shaping up to be known s the “century of the condo” as more and more people - young and old - are choosing condo living.  It became crystal clear when recently when visiting Seattle and seeing the multitude of condos being constructed in that city. It seemed like on every city centre block was a condo recently completed or under construction.  While some were low and mid-rise, many were in the 40-storey range.

This got me reflecting on to recent visits to Chicago, Portland and Denver recalling they too had abundant of condo construction activity in their city center neighbourhoods.   And we all know that Toronto and Vancouver can’t seem to build condos fast enough.

High-rise condos are abundant in Seattle's Denny Triangle district. 

Mid-rise condo in Seattle's Belltown, would look right at home in Calgary's Mission District. 

Condo block in Denver's LoDo district could easily fit into Calgary's  Bridgeland or Kensington communities. 

YUPPIEs & DINKs

It is no surprise that many 21st century young urban professionals (YUPPIEs) and double income no kids (DINKs) have adopted condo living as their preferred lifestyle for many (not all) they have no interest in spending a lot of time cooking, cleaning, home maintenance or gardening.  In chatting with Joe Starkman, developer of University City Village at Brentwood Station and N3 (East Village condo with no parking) awhile back he told me his research showed many young buyers don’t want a big kitchen as they mostly eat “takeout” and don’t need room for a big screen TV as they watch movies on their laptop.

Another friend recently said their son and his girlfriend wanted to move from their 650 square foot condo in Kensington, as it was “too big to keep clean.”  I have often shaken my head when I saw my middle-age friends cutting grass or shovelling snow while their teenage kids slept in.   I suspect the idea of owning a home for young people today is daunting.

High-rise condos in Calgary's Beltline community just south of the central business district.

RUPPIEs

For many retired urban professionals (RUPPs) who have worked all their life downtown, the idea of living in or near the downtown, an area of familiarity, and enjoying the food, festival and cultural scene is very attractive.  Seattle, like Calgary, has very attractive walkable residential communities surrounding its vibrant downtown - Belltown, Capitol Hill and South Union Lake. In both cities, new restaurants and cafes seem to open weekly and festivals happen almost every weekend.

Retired professionals often want the freedom condo living brings – just close the door and drive away or jet off on the next travel adventure. Or, enjoy more time to bike, walk or meet up with friends, rather than spend time painting the fence, cutting the grass or cleaning the garage.

Montana condo near RED, Calgary's retail /entertainment district. 

St. John's condo in Calgary's tony Kensington Village would fit into almost any major city in North America. 

Block of new condos in Calgary's popular Bridgeland neighbourhood.

Even in Calgary's suburbs condos are as prevalent at single-family homes.

Last Word

And the 21st century condo living phenomenon is not limited to the city centre either. More and more condos are being built in suburban communities too.  In some cases, this is driven by price as the condo has become the “new suburban starter home” for first time buyers while in other cases, is it driven by the easy living lifestyle that condos preferring to retire in the ‘burbs near grandkids and friends.

Given that the evolution of urban living for centuries has been all about increasing “convenience and comfort,” it is perhaps not surprising that condo living is the next step in that evolution. 

An edited version of this blog was commissioned for  Condo Living Magazine.

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Urban Living is in its infancy in Calgary!

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Condo living: More Time For Fun

We can have SW Ring Road + Cancer Clinic + SE LRT for under $5B?

Recently, during a round of golf the banter turned to politics and the need for the government to rethink how they approach capital projects. Perhaps we don’t need to always have the Cadillac (or perhaps in today’s world the Audi or BMW) model for our mega projects.  As I like to say in golf after a decent drive that has landed close to the fairway, “good enough!” We don’t have to build the best of everything – best roads, best transit, best recreation centers, best hospitals, best pedestrian bridges etc. etc.  Sometimes “good enough” is perfectly okay!

One of the foursome told me in confidence that an independent review of the SW Ring Road conducted by an experienced engineering and construction specialists came back with an estimate of $3.5 billion (including the payments and transfers to the Tsuu Tina) versus the $5 billion originally quoted by the province. if changes were made to the design of the interchanges, the amount of land being used and the way it was being financed. Yes, a $1.5 billion dollar savings for basically the same result.

Then we got talking about the Tom Baker Cancer Clinic and the difference between the projected $500M cost to build it at the South Health Campus versus the cost of $1.3B to build it at Foothills Hospital site.  We were both in agreement this was a no brainer. If you can save $800M, why not do it? 

Think about what $800M would buy!

We immediately thought of southeast Bus Rapid Transit, (connecting communities in southeast communities to downtown) which is estimated to cost about $800M or the upgrade to full LRT status. This would provide Calgarians with rapid transit access to the South Health Campus and a new Cancer Clinic, something which doesn’t exist at the Foothills Medical Centre campus. 

We both laughed and thought this is how we do our budgeting at home when we need to balance the need for three major projects - home improvements, new car and a vacation.  We don’t build an addition to the house but renovate the basement to get another bedroom. We don’t get the BMW, but the Honda. And we opt for a one-week vacation in Canada versus a two-week in Hawaii.   We make compromises and accept the sacrifices.

Do the math!

If I am doing the math correct, this means that for $5 billion dollars we could build not only the SW section of the ring road, but the Cancer Clinic AND the SE bus rapid transit instead of just one mega Cadillac project.

Billion$

3.5     Basic designed SW section of the Ring Road                                                                         .5     Cancer Hospital at South Health Campus                                                                               .8     SE Bus Rapid Transit or upgrade to LRT                                                                                 4.8   Total Cost of three mega projects 

Governments at all levels have to really start thinking how can they can maximize the value of every tax dollar they spend and not isolate budgets in silos like transportation and health. 

We need to link vision with economic reality. We need to find the most cost-effective economical way to build infrastructure that is “good enough!” 

Aerial view of South Health Campus and land available for Cancer Hospital. photo credit: Peak Aerials 

Last Word

Why does the public always seem to restrict its comments to the fringes of public spending, the one percenters such as art and bicycle paths and pedestrian bridges; while remaining relatively silent on the really big ticket items such as $5 billion for a ring road or $1.3 billion for a hospital?

If we are not confident the bureaucrats in government can make the right decision when it comes to buying a piece of art for $1 million or less; then why would we be confident they can make the right decisions when spending billions. Where is the public outcry to spend every tax dollar as wisely as possible?

Click here for more information on the history of the Calgary Ring Road. 

Mean Streets, Main Streets, Pretty Streets

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

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

Be careful what you wish for?

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

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

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

Mean Streets

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

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

Pretty streets don't attract people

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

New Identities

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

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

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

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

Recruitment

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

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

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

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

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

Too focused on the 3 Rs

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

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

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

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

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

Landowners are the key

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

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

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

Connectivity

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

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

Nothing over Four Floors

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

Length matters

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Readers's Comments:

BL wrote: 

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

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

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

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

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

CO wrote: 

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

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

 If you like this blog, you might like:

Montgomery: Calgary's newest urban village.

Beautiful Downtown Bowness

Flaneuring the TransCanada Highway 

Mount Pleasant & Calgary's other 4th Street



 

 

Calgary Region: An Inland Port

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

#7       Economic Impact

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

#6       Truck Advantage

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

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

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

#5       Education

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

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

#4       Rail Advantage

CN Rail's Calgary Logistic Park 

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

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

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

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

Calgary rail yard. (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

#3       Airport Advantage

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

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

Calgary International airport in the late '70s.  

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

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

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

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

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

#2       Mega Distribution Hubs

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

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

 #1       Vision/Collaboration

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

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

 Last Word

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

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

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

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

 

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Calgary: Are we too downtown centric?

Calgary/Hamilton: Cities of Opportunity? 

Understanding Calgary's DNA

Do we really need families living in our Centre City?

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

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

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

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

Major Flaw

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

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

Families Love Infills Communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s The Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cost vs Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

 If you like this blog, you might like:

Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary 

Intelligent Infilling or Living in a bubble?

The Suburbs Move to City Centre in Calgary 

 

 

 

 

Attainable Homes unique to Calgary

Calgary has an amazing spectrum of home programs, but the one that is perhaps the most unique to Calgary is “Attainable Homes Calgary Corporation (AHCC).”  What is an attainable home you ask?  David Watson, President & CEO of Attainable Homes like to refer to his team’s mandate as “we help everyday Calgarians with everyday jobs who qualify for a mortgage, but struggle to save for the down payment in Calgary’s market buy a home.”  He is quick to add, “Attainable Homes is not subsidized housing and is a self sustaining program that receives no funding from the City of Calgary or any other government.”

  Glenbrook Park, Attainable Homes newest project. 

Glenbrook Park, Attainable Homes newest project. 

How does it work?

On their website it says “We’re a non-profit organization and wholly owned subsidiary of The City of Calgary that works to deliver well-appointed, entry-level homes for Calgarians who have been caught in the city’s growing affordability gap.”  This is a nice way of saying that after paying their rent many Calgarians have little room for saving money that could be used for a down payment even though their mortgage cost would be similar to their rental payments.

Attainable Homes helps people who qualify for a mortgage, meet maximum household income qualification and are willing to take a home education course by helping out with the down payment.

Calgarians with a maximum household income of $90,000 per annum for families and $80,000 for singles with no dependents who qualify for a mortgage with the bank, have assets of less than 20% of the purchase price of the home (up to maximum of $50,000) and have $2,000 to invest in a down payment qualify.  More info at: http://ahcc.attainyourhome.com/ownership.php

Attainable Homes partners with builders and developers to obtain homes at a discounts and then pass on the savings to the homebuyers, with the caveat that when you sell your home AHCC get part of the appreciation. For example if you sell you home in 1 to 2 years you get to keep only 25% of any appreciation, after 2 to 3 years the appreciation is split 50/50 and after 3 years the home buyer gets to keep 75%.

Attainable Homes invests the money it makes from the appreciation back into the program. To date they have sold over 500 homes, in 19 different communities. A typical home is a 1 or 2 bedroom condo, or a 2 to 3 bedroom townhomes, all in the low $200,000 to mid $300,000.  In 2014, 40% of the AHCC buyers had annual family household income between $50 and $65,000, and 80% were between 18 and 40 years of age.

Rendering of Mount Pleasant condo project by Attainable Homes.

Successes

  • AHCC has been a pioneer in laneway housing with its funky Mount Pleasant project at the corner of 9th Street and 17th Avenue NW. It is being developed by Lexington Development Management and includes 25 homes, underground parking and an interior courtyard.  Attainable Homes is proud to say that so far not a single development permit has been appealed.  
  • AHCC sales have increased every year since its inception with a 46% increase in 2014. 
  • AHCC currently has $6 million in shared equity that will be reinvested as owners sell their homes into the private market.
  • Over 16,000 Calgarians have registered on their website to participate in the program and 4,050 individuals have taken their homeowner education program.
  Attainable Homes condo under construction

Attainable Homes condo under construction

Challenges

  • Most of the homes to date have been in the suburbs; AHCC would like to work with developers and landowners to create more Attainable Homes in inner-city communities.
  • Working with City and School Boards to identify underutilized land that would be ideal for residential development.
  •  Researching and identifying different economic models to broaden the program e.g. Land Trust
  • Attracting more builders to consider Attainable Home program as part of their economic pro forma.  For example, downtown and city centre condo builders could sell units in bulk to AHCC, as a means of reaching presales needs for financing.

Attainable homes happy family.

Last Word

AHCC conducts client surveys six weeks after homeowners take possession, first anniversary and an exist interview.  100% of the respondents said that their quality of life has improved since owning a home. 92% said that owning an attainable home has changed their outlook on the future. 

For Ryan, Amanda and their three children it meant no more moving from one dilapidated rental apartment to another. Finally they could create a home for their children.

Richard White the urban strategist at Ground3 Architecture has written about urban design and urban living for over 25 years. Email Richard@ground3; follow @everydaytourist 

This blog was first published in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section on April 4, 2015 titled " Attainable Homes unique to Calgary." 

If you like this blog, you might like:

80% of Calgarians must live in the 'burbs

Urban Living is in its infancy in Calgary!

Intelligent Infilling or Living in a bubble?

Everyday Tourist's road trip to the 'burbs!

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

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

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

Enjoy your private wine cellar and tasting bar with friends. 

Imagine your own yoga workout studio. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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Are school sites sacred cows?

I may be opening up a can of worms, but every time I walk by a school site with a vast expanse of land devoted to playground and playing fields I wonder, “Is this the best use of the site?”  The spaces are empty or near empty most weekends and evenings during the school year and in July and August. What a waste?

Recently, I introduced the idea of “school site redevelopment” in a blog about Altadore as a potential model 21st century community given they have a huge school site with two schools, two playgrounds and a huge area for playing fields that are under-utilized.

Don’t get me wrong – I am all for kids and families have easy access to green spaces to play and picnic, but how much space do we need?

Cliff Bungalow School looks more like a house with its pitched roof and two side yards, rather than one humongous playing field. 

When I walk by the 1920 Cliff Bungalow School, the first thing I notice is how small the school and playgrounds are.  It fits into the neighbourhood, almost like a house and with two side yards.  I can’t help but wonder if this is the model we should be seriously considering for future elementary and junior high schools. 

When I walk around my nearby neighbourhoods of Hillhurst, West Hillhurst and Parkdale, all I see are huge spaces taken up by school sites, which would make ideal sites for diversifying our predominately single-family communities.  The sites are all within walking, cycling or easy transit to downtown, University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre and SAIT.  It is “live, work, play” heaven.

Cliff Bungalow playground is an intimate garden-like space beside the school. 

School-Oriented Villages

Call me radical, but why can’t school sites accommodate other uses? Instead of one-storey schools, we could create two maybe three 4-storey buildings around the periphery of the block with an interior green space.

I envision the school on the ground floor with the upper floors being affordable housing for young teachers and seniors, maybe artists’ live/work spaces. Perhaps even some townhomes with enough space for young families. The upper floors would also accommodate a diversity of professional services – medical, fitness, legal, accounting.  Other ground floor uses would include day care, after school care, café or bistro and other convenience retail to create a small village.

The buildings could be modular (think sea containers), allowing classrooms to be added or subtracted based on need or being replaced with residential, retail or office spaces. Imagine a school-oriented village that evolves with the community as it ages and then rejuvenates. Transit Oriented Development is all the rage in Calgary with plans for Brentwood, Westbrook and Anderson Stations, why not school- oriented development.

Lousie Dean School site along Kensington Road offers an excellent opportunity for redevelopment as the playing fields are rarely utilized.  

Edmonton kicks our butt

A quick check of the situation in Edmonton and I found out their Mayor posted a paper in October 2014 titled “The Important Role of Surplus School Sites.” Their City’s website has lots of information on how that city is pushing forward with the redevelopment of several school sites.  In contrast it is hard to find much about what is happening with surplus school sites.

What I love about the Edmonton model – and think it would be applicable to Calgary - is that it focuses on first homebuyers.  A key issue facing Calgary’s established communities in Calgary is lack of moderately priced homes for young families who don’t $200,000+ family incomes. They simply can’t afford duplexes and fourplexes starting at $750,000, nor can they live in the 600sq feet $300,000 condos or the 1,2000 square foot bungalows in need of $100,000+ renovations.   

Constipation of consultation

I expect it is the same people who are protesting any changes to their community are the same ones who also protest the closing of schools because of lack of enrollment. They likely the ones who protest against the conversion of old 600 square foot cottage homes on inner city lots into mini-mansions, duplexes and fourplexes or heaven forbid a developer gets a chance to buy three or four contiguous lots to build a small apartment or condo.

It seems to me the loud minority all too often dominates the urban renewal debates of our cities.  I am all for public engagement but at some point we need to limit the debate, demonstrate some leadership and well-informed decision-making. We will never please everyone.

Why wait?

Many of Calgary’s schools built in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s are at the end of their life span. As the School Boards don’t have money to bring them up to modern standards, now is a great time to be creative and work with the private sector to look at how school sites could be reconfigured to allow for new development which would also result in new schools. The goal would be surrounded the school with compatible activities that would create 7/12 (seven days a week, 12 months of the year). Imagine a school-oriented village with animated sidewalks, streets, parks, patios, playgrounds and playing fields.  Let’s be proactive and not wait until the schools fall apart or are closed.

Altadore school site prime location for redevelopment into a mixed-use urban school village. 

Sacred Cows?

If we want to have vibrant inner-city communities, we are wise to let them evolve slowly over decades, but every once in awhile we have to make a quantum leap. For the past three decades, many of Calgary’s inner city communities have been slowly diversifying their housing inventory with infill projects. It makes sense that the next big discussion must be on how to redevelop their school sites to enhance the entire community. They can’t be sacred cows.

This blog was first published in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section titled "Are School Sites Becoming Sacred Cows?" on March 28, 2015.

Richard White the urban strategist at Ground3 Architecture has written about urban design and urban living for over 25 years. Email Richard@ground3; follow @everydaytourist

EH emailed: 

"I read your piece in Saturday's Herald with great interest. My wife and I currently live in Windsor Park, home of Windsor Park school, disused for some years now. It occupies one city block. Previously, I lived in Haysboro, which has two underutilized schools, Haysboro Elementary and Eugene Coste. Each is perched on substantial real estate.  As far as I am aware, each of the aforementioned three schools retains some kind of minor school board function, but hardly any justification for their retention in inventory. Apart from the disused Windsor Park school, Elboya Elementary, an active school about 5 blocks north, also sits on a full city block.

We live in a fast-becoming-extinct 60 year-old bungalow, most of which are being replaced by infills and their attendant young families. And with those young families will soon come the need, once again, for schools. But as you say, hopefully not in the configuration as built 60-plus years ago.

I would heartily agree with you that the focus must shift to new and innovative uses for the land on which these schools sit. A rough calculation of the current value of the Windsor Park property alone would be $10 million. Considering the land is already assembled and contiguous, probably closer to $12 million. Sale of just one property would come close to paying the lease on CBE headquarters for a year.

But as you say, redevelopment of the sites would be the ideal, especially in addressing the educational needs of older neighbourhoods experiencing a rebirth. Perhaps this type of redevelopment is ripe for a P3 partnership.

Now the question remaining is, How does one get things moving? Your idea is more than thought-provoking; it's exciting. I hope it gains traction."

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SETON's Gateway Surprise

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

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

SETON Gateway at twilight.

The Gateway

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

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

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

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

SETON Gateway daytime.

  SETON letters create a fun Kodak moment.

SETON letters create a fun Kodak moment.

Design Team

The SETON Gateway is a collaborative project designed by:

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

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

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

The SETON Gateway forrest with patio on left side.

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

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

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

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

SETON skylight.

Last Word

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

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

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

See For Yourself!

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

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Calgary's newest historic district?

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

Currie Barracks History 101

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

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

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

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

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

Hidden Gem

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

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

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

Preservation vs. Prosperity

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

Parade Square

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

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

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

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

Other Historic Buildings

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

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

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

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

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

Currie Barracks at a glance

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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Calgary: Interchanges as art?

A few weeks ago,  I became intrigued with a tweet by @roadknots with its attached Google Earth photo collage of some of the world’s most complex and convoluted interchange.  Upon opening the photo I was startled by the images and puzzled by the term “road knots,” never before having encountered the term.  

This is the collage of international Road Knots created by Nicholas Rougeux for google maps.

Note: After posting this blog received a tweet from Nicholas Rougeux saying, " Road Knots is a silly name i came up with for complex and beautiful interchanges. Glad you like them."  It will be interesting to see if this catches on. 

This is a collage of some of Calgary's road knots created by Peak Aerials.  Note: one of them is not a road. Can you tell which one? 

A quick Google search didn’t help – it seems this a new term.  However, it is appropriate given many of the interchanges have elements of some of the knots I learned as a Boy Scout many, many years ago – the Bowline, the Sheepshank and the trusty old Clove Hitch.

Never wanting Calgary to be left out of any new urban design discussion, I started surfing Google Earth to see how our interchanges compared.  I quickly found some interesting Calgary road knots. 

Then I contacted Keith Walker at Peak Aerials who I knew has a collection of aerial photos (mostly from Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Fort McMurray) to see if he might have documented some of Calgary’s incredible, implausible, inconceivable and improbable interchanges. 

Sure enough, in his 250,000+ collection of aerial images he had many photos of Calgary’s road knots.

Calgary's interchanges take on a whole new context from the air with their sensual twists and turns.  Some looked like cartoon figures,others like abstract drawings or petroglyphs.  It was also intriguing to see how they changed with the seasons.   

Below are the ten Calgary road knots I found the most interesting.  I have chosen not to identify their location so you can appreciate them for their aesthetic qualities first and place second.  Hopefully they will engage your imagination as they did mine.  Send me your favourite road knots or share some of your thoughts on  these or other road knots. Did I save the best for the end?

Figuring out which knots they most closely resemble I will leave up to you. 

Calgary's Top Ten Road Knots?

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Google Earth 

  Photo Credit: Google Earth

Photo Credit: Google Earth

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Google Earth  

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Google Earth 

Comments welcomed!

Sydneysider loves Cowtown?

Guest Blog: Marissa Toohey

I grew up in Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, well known for its surf culture and miles of coastline. A few years ago, I set my sights on North America and was fortunate enough to find my way to Calgary in October 2012. I had heard it was a city with bright job prospects, lower taxes than other Canadian cities, a welcoming community and a lovable mayor. And, of course, cowboys. I have to admit I was nervous about winter weather though, having watched the airport scene of the Cool Runnings movie too many times before my arrival.

These days, I spend my free time playing hockey and skiing the Rocky Mountains, rather than going to the beach or firing up the barbie. In chatting with Calgary’s Everyday Tourist, we thought it would be interesting for me to compare the two cities from a Sydneysider’s perspective.  

To provide some context, Sydney was founded by the British in 1788 and it attracted a significant number of immigrants. Today, Sydney is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, with around 4.8 million residents spread across an area about 12,368 square kilometers. It is divided into over 30 local government areas with elected councils responsible for functions delegated by the state government.

Calgary’s history, on the other hand, as a city begins in about 1875 or one hundred years later. It is a city of 1.2 million and covers an area of 825 square kilometers for the city proper and if you add in some of the satellite cities and towns it is an additional 704 square kilometers. Calgary is famous for its rivers, parks and access to the Rocky Mountains.

Calgarians love to stroll Stephen Avenue Walk. 

Sydneysiders love going to the beach.

Parks & Recreation

In Sydney, the weather is always warm and the landscape is dominated by waterways and bushland making for an incredible selection of natural attractions - some iconic ones being Hyde Park, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney Harbour and the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk. Local councils maintain a multitude of free public beaches and rock pools, while volunteer lifeguards keep swimmers safe.

The innercity offers some excellent play areas too, such as the Darling Quarter community with its climbing ropes, swings, slides, and a flying fox (zip line). It’s surrounded by hip restaurants, wine bars and often has festivals and outdoor movies, making it a great area for the entire family to enjoy day or night.

Similarly, Calgary has many natural attractions including the world famous Rocky Mountain playground.  I love the city’s great urban outdoors - Fish Creek Provincial Park, the pathways along the Bow and Elbow rivers, Canada Olympic Park, as well as the many outdoor ice rinks throughout the city in winter. I still can’t get enough skating at Prince’s Island surrounded by fairy lights and listening to friendly tunes.

In the summer, my favourite thing to do is float lazily down the Bow River. In fact, just getting outdoors any time of year is a treat because you can see the environment adapting with the change of seasons.

Sydney's botanical gardens is an urban oasis next to the City Centre.

Calgarians love their 800+ kilometres of walking, running and biking pathways.  The red pedestrian bridge in the background is the Peace Bridge designed by the world famous Santiago Calatrava. This is lunch hour downtown!

Calgary's Fish Creek Park is one of the world's largest urban parks.

Calgarians love to float down the Bow and Elbow Rivers enjoying the sandstone cliffs, Douglas Fir forest and downtown skyline. 

Urban Design

There are many examples in Sydney where art installations have transformed underused areas and attracted more people. The City of Sydney is implementing a laneway regeneration program, investing in infrastructure that turns hidden laneways into pedestrian thoroughfares, while using public art displays to create more welcoming spaces.

One of the more interesting projects is the new paving, lighting and stunning permanent birdcage art installation (it plays the songs of 50 birds once heard in central Sydney) in downtown’s Angel Place laneway. Today, an average of 4,000 visitors pass through the laneway every day, double the number from 2007.

Calgary’s also has some great public art pieces.  I love the Chinook Arc, Promenade (next to the Drop-In Centre), and Wonderland at The Bow.  But for me,

the real standouts - from a creative city perspective - have been Calgary’s temporary installations and unique festivals. Wreck City last year transformed an entire residential block into a massive work of art before it was demolished. Exploring dramatically transformed homes was a lot of fun. Beakerhead, an event where citizens interact with a smash up of art, science and engineering over the space of a week in September feels distinctly Calgarian.

When it comes to great architecture, Sydney has its Opera House and the Coathanger Bridge (named because of its arch-shaped design).  Not to be outdone, Calgary has the Peace Bridge and The Bow. Sydney has the Opera House, Calgary has the Saddledome. Both cities have strong central business districts dominated by office tower and corporate headquarters architecture.

Forgotten Songs was created by Dave Towey, Dr. Richard Major, Michael Thomas Hill and Richard Wong.  The piece commemorate the songs of 50 birds once heard in central Sydney, before they were gradually forced out by European settlement. The calls, change as the day shifts to night; the daytime birds' songs disappearing with the sun, and those of the nocturnal birds, which inhabited the area, sound into the evening. 

One of the signature things to do when visiting Sydney is to walk across the Coathanger bridge. 

Calgary's Saddledome arena is located in Stampede Park (the greatest outdoor show on earth) on the southeastern edge of the City Centre. 

Transportation

Sydney has one of the longest reported commute times in the western world, with residents navigating a dizzying system of highways, tolled freeways, main streets, laneways and a growing cycle network. The 3-kilometre drive across the City Centre in peak traffic can take up to an hour and driving in Sydney often costs a considerable amount of money in tolls at the Harbour Bridge, Harbour Tunnel, the Eastern Distributor and several other freeways. The alternative to driving is utilizing an extensive public transit system made up of ferries, light rail, buses and trains that extend to the outer suburbs. A free inner-city shuttle circuit connects visitors to tourist attractions.

In contrast, Calgary’s clever downtown grid of roads and the ring road that connects the outer suburbs are extremely easy to navigate. The fact that many roads are numbered rather than named makes it foolproof to find your way around.

Best of all, the roads are free too. The fare-free C-Train zone downtown is brilliant. As a young city, Calgary’s public transit system still has a lot of room to grow and City Council and administration have the opportunity to learn from other cities and to implement new infrastructure in ways that are conscious of future growth.

I believe better transportation to and from the airport as well as easier connections to more tourist attractions would help in attracting some of Banff’s visitors to stay in the city as well. My brother has visited from Australia three times in the last 15 months to ski and hike the Rockies and to eat, shop and relax in Calgary. Unfortunately, he had to drive to destinations like Canada Olympic Park, Heritage Historical Park and CrossIron Mills shopping centre because of limited transit. But he happily explores the innercity by foot and has discovered some lovely little art galleries around Inglewood that even I wasn’t aware of.

Map of Sydney's public transit system. 

Despite a comprehensive transit system, traffic jams like this are a common occurrence in Sydney.

Urban Living

Residential architecture in Sydney has evolved over many years evidenced by the variation in styles along innercity and suburban streets. A lot of Sydneysiders live in heritage housing styles such as terrace houses, workers’ cottages and federation homes. After World War II, the “Great Australian Dream” of home ownership produced a sprawl of detached homes, often with wide verandas and swimming pools in the backyard. High-rise and mid-rise buildings were erected in transit hubs during the following years to increase density.

Nowadays, it’s common for residents to buy an old home or land in a more affordable area in order to build a new oversized “McMansion” that doesn’t quite fit with its surroundings. Yet, the co-existence of conflicting styles adds to the character of many neighbourhoods.  It is very similar to what is happening in many of Calgary’s older communities.

These days, Sydney’s housing prices are among the most expensive in the world, with the median house price around $850,000 (Canadian and Australian dollars are currently at par with each other). That will get you a detached home around 1,200 square feet 30 km from the City Centre or a small two-bedroom inner-city apartment with no view and no parking. The average rent for a small one-bedroom, apartment is around $2,000 a month. With the cost of living in Sydney, it’s not surprising that many people share accommodation or are long-term renters with no plans to ever own a home.

The variety in Calgary’s housing stock both in the innercity and suburbs is impressive, with row houses, laneway housing and mid-rise condominium developments on the rise. The former Calgary suburban trend of building tidy rows of beige homes seems to be shifting as many new communities are featuring bright colours and walkable amenities. The city is also increasing density with infills, resulting in new homes being built alongside older homes in existing communities.

The relatively reasonable cost of living in Calgary was one of the things that attracted me to the city but with the average house price now approaching $500,000 and monthly rent over $1,200 for a decent sized apartment, the landscape is quickly changing. Fortunately, community leaders (private and public) seem focused on improving the mix of housing and affordability for all citizens, with several innovative home ownership programs.

Small cottage homes are being replaced my McMansions in both Calgary and Sydney. 

A parade of new infills on one inner city block in Calgary just 3 kilometres from the downtown core. 

New high-rise condos are changing the skylines of both Calgary and Sydney. 

 Last Word

While Sydney has diverse cultural, recreational and creative offerings, the commute times and cost of living detract from its many upsides.

If you’re not afraid of living with arctic temperatures for a few weeks, it is hard to beat Calgary’s lifestyle and employment opportunities even with the downturn in the energy sector.  I had no job when I landed in Calgary, but within a week I had secured a great position.

I could live anywhere.  I choose Calgary. The city is doing a good job of attracting people here for work and play. But one of the challenges I now face is staying here, as it is not easy to renew a visa.

 Calgary has the advantage of being young enough to learn from the mistakes made by cities like Sydney.  And, with its ambitious and infectious energy, I am confident Calgary will only get better and better as it grows up. I can’t wait to explore the new St. Patrick’s Park this summer.

 While the grass is greener longer in Sydney, the sky is bluer in Calgary. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary vs Paris 

Olympic Cities: Calgary vs Salt Lake 

Denver vs Calgary: A Tale of Two Thriving Downtowns 

 

 

Editor's Note: Marissa Toohey is currently the Communications Manager at Attainable Homes, in Calgary, Alberta. She has travelled extensively around Asia Pacific, Europe, and North America and her career includes a stint in Vietnam working for Habitat for Humanity International.  She loves to live, work and play in Calgary, not necessarily in that order.