Dublin vs Calgary / Apples vs Oranges

Dublin is a city steeped in history, dating back over 1,000 years when the Vikings first settled the area in 841 AD. However, while there are many buildings or ruins dating back to the Middle Ages, such as Dublin Castle founded in 1204 AD, most historical buildings are from the 18th century Georgian period and later. In the 18th century, for a short period of time, Dublin was the second largest city of the British Empire and fifth largest in Europe with a population of 130,000.  Today, Dublin has a population of 527,612 with an urban population of 1,110,627, which is very similar to Calgary’s. But that is where the similarity ends.

By comparison, while First Nation peoples have visited the Calgary area for centuries, it was just a little over 100 years when a permanent settlement was established. And, it is only the in past decade or so that Calgary has really become a global city. 

In 2012, while Dublin was ranked (based on global connectivity in the areas of accounting, advertising, banking, finance and law) as an “Alpha–“ city (Alpha++ being the highest ranking), Calgary is rated a “Beta-“city (Beta being the second highest ranking).

Anyone who visits Dublin can’t help but see that this city definitely puts the PLAY into the axiom “live, work, play.” The sidewalks, shops, restaurants and especially the pubs are full of locals.

Anyone visiting Calgary on the other hand, would think we are a bunch of workaholics as with our downtown sidewalks are empty except at lunch hour.  Calgary’s urban streets are dominated by the hoarding of the construction sites not people.

Pub Culture vs Café Culture

One of the biggest differences between Dublin and Calgary is that Dubliners hang at pubs while Calgarians love their cafes.  Dublin’s pub culture is one where people of all ages hang out, chat, listen to local musicians or watch sports – pubs are like a community living rooms. Hurling is my new favourite sport - an action-packed game that combines elements of lacrosse, field hockey, rugby, soccer and football. There is no hunching over the laptop while nursing a vegan soy peanut butter latte all day in Dublin!

There is literally a pub on every block, even in residential areas.  What is also great about pubs is that they don’t close at 9 pm like most cafes.  In fact, that is about the time things are just getting started with live music.  One of our most memorable experiences was listening to a Saturday jam session of string players from our front row bar seats in a little pub on the edge of a plaza in Smithville district with people from 5 to 85.  

There is a neighbourhood pub on almost every block and they have live music everyday of the week. 

Pedestrian Malls

Dublin has not one, but two pedestrian malls (one on each side of the river), both being magnets for locals and tourists looking to shop or people watch.  These streets are filled with one of the quintessential sounds of Dublin - the clickity clack of luggage wheels being pulled along their streets (the other quintessential sound is that metal Guiness kegs clanging as they are rolled down the sidewalk to a pub).  And it was not just one or two people; often dozens of suitcase-dragging tourists could be found along the Dublin malls.  I can’t remember the last time I saw someone pulling luggage down Stephen Avenue. 

Dublin had some of the best buskers I have ever seen. 

On the south side of the Liffey River is the Grafton Street Mall that links St. Stephen’s Green with Trinity College and is home to an eclectic mix of local, national and international shops.  On the north side of the river is the Henry Street Mall, dominated by department stores.  Both malls had literally thousands of people on them any time of the day. 

The fact that no tall office towers surround Dublin’s pedestrian malls could well be the key to their pedestrian vitality. 

Indeed, most of the people are in downtown Dublin to play. Those who are there to work are serving those who are playing.

It was very common to see tourist dragging their suitcases down the street.  This photo was taken at about 3 pm on a Wednesday. 

Parks / Public Spaces / Rivers

Though Dublin’s two urban parks - St. Stephen’s and Merrion Square are very nice, they are no match for Calgary’s Prince’s Island, Memorial Park, Shaw Millennium Park, Fort Calgary, Riley Park and the new St. Patrick’s Island.

Similarly, Dublin’s canal-like River Liffey, River Dodder, Royal Canal and Grand Canal, can’t compete with the natural beauty of the tree-lined shores and glacier water of the Bow and Elbow Rivers with their active pedestrian and cycling pathways.

Dublin's rivers and canals were very attractive as you moved away from the City Centre. This is at high tide, at low tide they can be more like mud pits.

Phoenix Park, at the northwest edge of Dublin’s city centre is a huge 1,762 acre park (for reference, Nose Hill is 2,780 acres) that includes the residence of the President of Ireland, the Victorian People’s Flower Garden, Dublin Zoo and a herd of free-roaming Fallow deer.  Calgary’s equivalent would be the combination of the Calgary Zoo, TELUS Spark, Tom Campbell’s Hill Natural Park, Pearce Estate Park, Inglewood Wildlands Park and Inglewood Bird Sanctuary on the eastern edge of our City Centre.


Ha'penny Bridge was probably the busiest pedestrian bridge I have ever seen. It functioned well to connect to pedestrian areas on either side of the river. It was experiential. 

I was most impressed with the 16 bridges that span the River Liffey along a 4 km stretch of Dublin’s City Centre.  I loved that many of the bridges were named after key figures from Dublin’s rich history– James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Sean O’Casey, and O’Connell.  

The most popular bridge was the white cast iron Ha’penny pedestrian bridge, built in 1816 to replace the ferry service. Having had various names over the years, its current one reflects the ha’penny toll charged for first 103 years.

Today, over 30,000 people cross the bridge each day.  Perhaps in a century or two, Calgary’s Peace and St. Patrick’s Island pedestrian bridges will have the same traffic.

Calatrava has designed two bridges in Dublin. This is the Samuel Beckett Bridge, the other is the Jams Joyce Bridge further upstream. The bridge cost 60 million Euros or about $86 million Canadian.

Character Districts

The sidewalks of the International Financial District were mostly void of people. 

Dublin’s city centre is comprised of several character districts, each easily worth a half-day of exploration.  Although the International Financial Services Centre is a 12–block area of mostly new office buildings with a striking contemporary Convention Centre and new arena, it pales in comparison to Calgary’s 40-block downtown office core when it comes to daytime vitality. At night, both are relatively quiet, sterile places.

Calgary has nothing to match Dublin’s Viking/Medieval Area and Cathedral District with its St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin Castle and the Chester Beatty Library Galleries.

Temple Bar (originally St. Andrews Parish and a suburb of the medieval area back in about 1300AD) is home to hundreds of bars and ten of thousands of nightly party people (including many “stag parties” and “hen nights”) and spectators. The closest Calgary comes to having something like the Temple Bar nightlife was in the ‘80s when 11th Avenue SW was known as Electric Avenue.

This Trinity College sign says "Keep Off." Seems strange to have a piece of public art out in the open like this and not encourage people to have a closer look. 

Trinity College is considered by many to be the heart of Dublin with its famous Book of Kells (an illuminated manuscript Gospel Book in Latin, created in 800AD). And though Calgary’s downtown Bow Valley College is no match for Trinity College, the SAIT campus is.  While SAIT can’t match Trinity College’s centuries of history, SAIT’s Heritage Hall, which opened in 1916, is as monumental as anything I saw on the Trinity College campus.  This along with SAIT’s striking uber-contemporary Trades and Technology Complex, the Art Smith Aero Centre, Brawn Fieldhouse and parking garage and the spectacular view of downtown and Bow River Valley makes SAIT a more inspiring campus than Trinity College.     

The Liberties, Dublin’s charming working class neighbourhood noted for its antique/vintage shops and street market, is no match for Calgary’s Inglewood community with its diversity of art galleries, shops, restaurants and music venues.

The Smithfield Plaza with its grocery store, hotel, condos and Jamieson Brewery was empty most of the time.  We did see a guy with walking a horse one day, but that was the most animation.   

In addition, Dublin has nothing to match Calgary’s ambitious East Village urban renewal project.  The closest comparison would be Smithfield with the renowned Jamieson Distillery as its anchor.  It has a few new condos and a hotel, but most of the retail at street level is vacant, except for an urban grocery store. It would be great if East Village could attract a cinema complex like the funky Light House Cinema with its eclectic mix of arthouse and Hollywood movies, as well as special events.  

Dublin’s trendy shopping streets like Camden, Rathmaines and Capel with their vibrancy day and night beat out Calgary’s 17th Avenue, 4th and 10th Streets and Kensington Road.

Last Word

Comparing Calgary and Dublin is like comparing apple and oranges. Dublin flourished hundreds of years before Calgary, meaning it had to adapt to a completely different history of innovations in technology, revisions in urban planning theory, as well as economic and political changes.  Like apples and oranges, I like both Dublin and Calgary. 

For comparison images of Calgary's urban culture check out these blogs:

Calgary: North America's Newest Cafe City?

Calgary's got its mojo working?

Calgary's NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here!

Calgary's Rail Trail 

By Richard White, March 1 2015

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 

This blog was published in the Calgary Herald titled "Let's Compare Calgary and Dublin" on February 28, 2015.

National Music Center accepts authenticity challenge

Andrew Mosker, President and CEO of the Calgary's National Music Center responded to a the Everyday Tourist blog about the great music museums of memphis and their authenticity. Specifically, he responded to the following paragraph:  

"In chatting with Andrew Mosker, CEO, National Music Centre (NMC), who is currently construction a new museum in Calgary, I was told they would be incorporating some of the lessons learned from STAX on how to engage, entertain and educate the public about music.  Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder if the NMC could match STAX museum’s authenticity as most of NMC’s artifacts will be imported from elsewhere. Also a big shiny new museum located in a glitzy new master planned urban community seems diametrically opposed to places that are the catalyst for artistic creativity. Time will tell."

Mosker writes:

Authenticity is a challenge for all organizations like ours, but I’m confident we will deliver authenticity in culture, space and public programming when the new National Music Centre opens in 2016. 

STAX — along with many other famed music venues and museums — helped to inspire NMC. I find it inspiring that STAX uses its history, influence and the social demographics of the neighbourhood to support education, cultural tourism and economic growth in the area.

A 1560 AD Virginal from the National Music Centre's collection. Virginals are from the harpsichord family and were popular in Europe  the late Renaissance early Baroque period. (photo credit: National Music Centre) 

There’s no question that it is difficult to compare the authenticity of Memphis and the broader social realities of the American south, and their respective impact on the development on American popular music to a Calgary or even Canadian experience.

I would argue however, that when I first socialized the idea of creating a National Music Centre on the site of the King Eddy hotel in East Village, which was before Calgarians believed that executing a master plan was even possible, the response was that it was not a safe place to go. The combination of low-cost housing, homelessness, and criminal activity meant that Calgarians were very skeptical of the idea that the East Village could evolve in a meaningful way.  

My view was that given the King Eddy’s music history and authenticity, that this was the perfect site for NMC given our vision be a catalyst through music and to celebrate the contributions that music has made and continues to make in Canada by offering a wide range of public, artist and education programs. The King Eddy is an artifact that we want to preserve and share, and hopefully the programming inside of it will deliver an authentic experience to audiences.

Yes, the East Village expansive development may reduce some of the original grit and authenticity of the area, but I believe that this can be mitigated by the quality of NMC’s public programming, investment in community building and more awareness and development of our regional music industry.

Thank you for the excellent blog posts and for the chance to offer my two cents.

You can read the entire Everyday Tourist blog at: Music Museums of Memphis / International Blues Challenge

Rendering of National Music Centre's bold design at night. (photo credit: Allied Works Architecture)

Rendering of the dramatic design of the National Music Centre during the day. (photo credit: Allied Works Architecture)

National Music Centre has one of the largest keyboard instrument collections in the world; this is Elton's John piano. (photo credit: National Music Centre).

 A sample of the diversity of keyboard instruments in the National Music Centre's collection. (photo credit: National Music Centre)

East Village Transformation

East Village's King Eddy Hotel would not have been out of place in Memphis or Clarksdale. Iconic bluesman played at the Eddy for decades until its closure in 2004.  The building's bricks and footprint will be incorporated into the new National Music Centre. 

East Village one of Calgary's oldest communities, is just 14 blocks, many of which were just surface parking lots, before the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) developed a master plan in 2007.  Since then the City of Calgary via CMLC has invested $160M to upgrade the roads, sidewalk, sewers, as well as create new public spaces like Riverwalk, St. Patricks Island pedestrian bridge and island redevelopment.  All levels of government, as well as the public and private sector have contributed to the development of a new iconic Central Library and the National Music Centre both under construction. 


The private sector has or is in the process of investing over $5B in new residential, office, retail and hotel that will create a vibrant urban village for Calgarians of all ages and backgrounds.  To appreciate the scope of the East Village transformation from a community dominated by three homeless shelters and several affordable seniors apartments into a mixed-use 21st century urban village click here to view Calgary's RKVisualization video: http://www.evexperience.com/3d-animations/2014-3d-animation

Before the mega makeover of East Village began, the neighbourhood was very seedy with homeless, drug addicts and prostitutes. 

Even the once proud King Eddy Hotel was no longer the Home of the Blues by the 21st century. 

Andrew Mosker

Andrew Mosker is the President and CEO of the National Music Centre (NMC) in Calgary. He has a B.A. in History from Concordia, a Diploma in Contemporary Jazz Performance (piano) from Grant MacEwan College and a Masters of Musicology from the University of Calgary. A native Montrealer, Andrew came to Alberta as an aspiring musician and now as the President and CEO of NMC, he is creating a home for music in Canada through the National Music Centre building project in Calgary’s East Village. Learn more at www.nmc.ca.

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