Florence: People & Places (a photo essay)

This photo blog focuses on the offbeat people and places we encountered over 12 wonderful days of flaneuring in Florence in the Fall of 2014. It was an enchanting experience, from my favourite gelato shop waitress, to the husband and wife seamstress half a block down the street from our apartment who spoke no English, yet managed to help me find a new handmade belt. In between are photos from thrift stores to boutiques, galleries to street art, markets to churches, parking to cycling, fashion to food.

In reviewing, my photos I noticed there were two major differences from our Dublin experience.  One being the number of seniors in the streets of Florence and the second being the centuries of urban design that create a wonderful array of textures and light in its City Centre. 

We hope you will enjoy the photos and would love to hear which ones are your favourites.

If you want to see more photos and stories about our Florence adventures, click on the links below:

Window licking along Florence’s Via Tornabuoni

Florence BFFs: Best Flaneur Finds

One Night in Florence

The ugliest pedestrian bridge in the world?

Flaneuring Florence’s Markets: Flea, Food & Fashion

Public Art: Calgary / Florence / Rome

 

Busking with style.

Salvador Dali's Bike?

No wonder Picasso painted faces as he did!

Just one of many very stylish parking garages.

A Florence office building?

Lots of open doors...

I wish I could read Italian.

A work of art and very tasty! 

Magritte would have loved this photo.

Ghost busker....

Sisters sharing donuts?

Instead of tree lined streets, Florence has motorcycle lined ones. 

Would you drink out of this street fountain? Supposedly you can.

Obviously I am not the only one taking a photo of this intriguing reflection. 

My fashionista advisor. 

Florence comes alive at night. 

What was he thinking/feeling to create this drawing? 

Art is everywhere in Florence, yet there is very contemporary little public art. 

Market madness...

There is no lack of empty shoe boxes in Florence. 

Florence's finest were there to greet us when we arrived.

These ladies were moving quickly. 

Fountain of youth?

Window licking anyone?

No line up at the Marino Marini Museum...we liked that!

Once you get to the edge of the City Centre, the streets are much less crowded.

Cars, bikes, scooters and pedestrians share the road.

It was hard to go to sleep after discovering this church was open on one of our nightly walkabouts. 

Blue Man Group?

Does it get any better than this? Taken from a balcony restaurant at lunch.

Small space, narrow places...smaller is better?

People watching fun!

Innocence?

Climbing the wall fun.

Elvis? 

Fashionistas heading to the thrift store. 

Who needs wide sidewalks? enhanced streetscapes? 

My other fashionista advisor.

Who needs a car to carry a lamp home? 

Iceberg soup!

Everyone is out for their evening stroll.

That is a mighty big steak?

No dedicated bike lane? No problem? 

Fashionista at the world's most amazing thrift store. 

Now that is a tight parking spot.

This photo is not upside down.

Self serve wine - how good is that!

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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Peyto: Calgary's Every Street Walker

Editor’s Note:

David Peyto has authored three Calgary Walking Guide books – Walk Calgary’s Escarpments and Bluffs, Calgary LRT Walks: The Northwest Stations and Calgary LRT Walks: The South Stations. He has also published three books on Calgary’s Parks and Green Spaces. He is currently working on Calgary LRT Walks: The Downtown and West Stations. His grandfather was Walter H. Peyto the first District One Fire and Game Warden in Rocky Mountains Park, later renamed Banff National Park.

In September 2013 I set my own challenge for “every street walking” in Calgary. The goal is to walk the streets of all Calgary’s residential communities. By the middle of March 2015, 175 days of walking for 1,475 kilometers had been completed. It is still too soon to know how many walks and how many kilometers will be required to complete the goal. I have posted hundreds of photos on walkcalgarycommunities’ albums on Flickr.

Most of the walks have been in the area bounded by the Bow River on the north, the Elbow River on the east and south and as far west as the communities on the western edge of the city. Cemetery Hill, Erlton, Inglewood, Ramsay, Radisson Heights, Albert Park and part of Forest Lawn have also been walked in southeast Calgary. South of the Elbow River Rideau Park and Roxboro have been walked. North of the Bow River the communities from Shaganappi Trail east to Deerfoot Trail that are south of Canmore Park, Confederation Park, Queen’s Park Cemetery and the former Highland Park Golf Course have also been walked.

Musical fence in Parkdale.

Observations from “every street walking”in Calgary

Many communities have Little Free Libraries – some of these libraries even have chairs or benches so you can sit and read. One library had a large umbrella for shade. Highland Park and Tuxedo have numerous libraries in close proximity to each other.

The kindness of some people is very evident. One resident placed a bench beside a community mailbox so neighbours can sit and read their mail. Another resident placed a bench and a garbage can at a bus stop that had no bench. Several residents have placed benches along the edge of their yard for walkers to sit and rest for a few minutes. During a construction road closure, one resident put up a sign saying it was okay to use their driveway to turn around.

Fun sculpture in yard in Crescent Heights. 

Fun sculpture in yard in Crescent Heights. 

Public art can be best appreciated when walking. Many communities have colourful murals on schools, community halls or walls.

In older communities there are buildings that have been converted from their previous use into a home. These include a fire hall, a church, several corner groceries and even a former utility building.

Sidewalk stamps provide a unique look at history. Some are over 100 years old. Some show the former names of streets.

One corner in Bridgeland has a pole with FIRE written on it (this pole dates back to when there were fire alarm boxes on corners).

Bridgeland/Riverside has a large number of places of worship. This community also has many sets of interesting public stairs.

I have discovered a variety of fences and walls on my walks. Two of the most memorable ones have a distinctly Canadian theme – one was made of skis and the other, hockey sticks.

Ski fence in Altadore

Some homeowners have included flag colours in their yard showing their family’s nationality. The colours are painted on walls or fences, on flower pots or chimneys.

Old agricultural equipment in front yard in Hillhurst.

Old agricultural equipment in front yard in Hillhurst.

The yard art and gardens created by homeowners can be very interesting. The yard art might include wagon wheels, wagons, animals, sculptures, imitation water wells or lighthouses.

One interesting garden had flowers planted in a canoe. The ambitious community association of Cougar Ridge has planters located along main roads, in parks and playgrounds and beside community mailboxes.

The many plaques and cornerstones spread throughout the city can tell their own story. The cornerstone at the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer at 7th Ave and 1st St SE has the name of former Canadian Governor General, Earl of Minto engraved on the stone. The cornerstone for the former Baptist Leadership Training School (now Rundle Academy) on 16th St SW, was laid by former Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker.

Interesting messages are often found written on sidewalks or stairs. In Garrison Woods, quotes by Bruce Lee and Eleanor Roosevelt were written in chalk on the sidewalk.

One interesting garden had flowers planted in a canoe. The ambitious community association of Cougar Ridge has planters located along main roads, in parks and playgrounds and beside community mailboxes.

Doug Driediger's 1998 mural "The Promise" in Alex Ferguson School yard is 18 feet by 60 feet. 

Doug Driediger's 1998 mural "The Promise" in Alex Ferguson School yard is 18 feet by 60 feet. 

What is an “every street walker?”

There are several types of every day walkers from those who decide to walk all the streets in their community to those who walk every day along the same or similar route. Some even decide to walk every street in their town or city. The challenge becomes huge if the walker lives in a large city like New York, Seattle or Calgary.  

There are many positive aspects to “every street walking.” The walker has the opportunity to visit streets and communities in their city for the first time. The every street walker explores at a much slower pace than driving or even cycling, so you notice more, get a more “up close and personal” experience.

Cow on balcony in Cliff Bungalow.

Cow on balcony in Cliff Bungalow.

“Every Street Walking” Tips

  • Take photos as you walk.
  • Take a photocopied page from a city map book and use a felt marker to record the streets you have walked.
  • Walking in communities with a grid system of streets is easy for route planning.
  • Walk the grid streets in a north to south direction and then switch to walking the streets in an east to west direction to arrive back at the starting point.
  • Walking communities without a grid system is more challenging. The map page is a necessity to prevent walking the same street several times or missing some streets. Fortunately in some communities, the planners have included paths that connect cul-de-sacs.

Other “every street walkers”

Matt Green has completed over 6000 miles of his goal to walk every public street in the five boroughs of New York. Learn more: imjustwalkin.com

Peggy Burns completed her four-year, 6-pair of shoes, 2,722 mile walk of all Seattle streets in April 2014. Learn more: walkingseattle.blogspot.ca

Alan Waddell (1914 – 2008) walked every street in over 291 suburbs of Sydney, Australia. Learn more: http://walksydneystreets.net/

Mark McClure is currently walking the streets of Portland, Oregon regularly posting photos on Flickr. Learn more: @walkingInOregon’s albums on Flickr.

 

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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. 

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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. 

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.

Bridges

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.

Calgary: 1% for public art is a pittance!

Editor's Note: This blog was commissioned by the Calgary Herald and published as a guest editorial on Saturday, February 21st in response to City of Calgary Councillor Peter Demong's pending motion to suspend the City's spending on public art for 2015.) Photos and photos and reader's comments have been added to create a more engaging read. 

Downtown Calgary has hundred's of public artworks scattered throughout the streets, parks, plazas, lobbies and +15 elevated walkway. It is a huge art park! 

Reader's Comments: 

BL writes: With respect to public art. I am a great lover of art and a believer that art enhances life. The city's public art policy fails because it is arbitrary and because it is poorly implemented.

There are many great examples of public art in Calgary and around the world; so the debate should not be about the value of art, rather the debate should be about how to encourage and implement a public art policy which enhances our built environment instead of causing people to say WTF is that!? 

To date, most of the art projects funded by the city's policy have been of questionable quality. There are those who believe that art is of value for the simple fact that it incites a reaction, but let's face it, a piece of crap is still just a piece of crap even if you call it art.

We should be asking why the public art funded by many private donors and companies, is usually successful, while the "art" commissioned by the city often turns out to be so poor.

My simple answer to that question is that artists working for private benefactors are likely more motivated to ensure that they please those benefactors; while artists working for a public committee made up of volunteers and bureaucrats, none of whom have any "skin in the game" are less likely to produce a high quality result.

The whole selection process is also questionable since the private benefactor can use whatever sourcing manner he may wish, including very simply sole-sourcing the artist based solely on his merit; while the public process of judging and evaluation may even ensure that the very best artist may not be selected, and might even be discouraged to participate.

Like many good public policies, the concept may be sound but the devil is in the details.

Blog: Calgary: 1% for public art is a pittance!

Let the debate begin yet AGAIN? Is public art a luxury? Does it add any real value to the everyday lives of everyday Calgarians?

Before the current same old Council debate on public art goes any further, somebody on Council should say, “let’s stop the micro managing and act like Board of Directors and not like a working committee!”  Can you imagine the Board of Directors of an major oil company saying to their senior staff,’” I think we should start the cost cutting with the art acquisition budget!”

If Council really wants to save - or delay public art spending - in 2015, it would be wiser to look strategically at the City’s $22 billion dollar capital and operating budget for the 2015 to 2018 period.  It should really be asking Administration to provide them with a couple of scenarios that would result in say a 3% and 6% savings in 2015.

What would make even more sense would be to ask Administration to determine how they can better manage its capital projects to bring them in on budget. It is not unusual for the City’s capital projects to be tens of millions of dollars over budget. That is a luxury we can’t afford going forward.

Any budget cuts for 2015 should be strategic, not a “knee-jerk” decisions.  At this point we don’t even know how much money will be saved - Demong estimates $2 to $4 million, a pittance in multi-billion dollar budget. As some of my corporate board member friends like to say, “that is just a rounding out error.”

Value of Public art

One of the things I love about the City’s “1% for Public Art Policy” (1% of the budget for all capital projects up to $50 million must be set aside for public art and .5% for projects over $50 million) is that it places public art in our suburban parks, LRT stations, recreation centres and yes even bridges. 

For some young Calgarians, it will be their first encounter with “real” art. It will be an opportunity for the child to say, “What’s that?” and for parents or grandparents to begin a discussion that could go on for years. Priceless.

Sure, I could go on and say things like public art is important for creating a sense of place, celebrating local history, adding character and charm, creating community pride or heaven forbid, “beauty.”

This little guy seems to be quite intrigued by the ghost-like figure made up of letters from different languages by Jaume Plensa. 

Importance of a Creative Culture

It is not easy to quantitatively measure the value of public art. In 2010, Calgary Economic Development’s 76-page profile of our City’s Creative Industries provides some facts and figures that relate to the significance of creative individuals in our city.

Did you know?

  • 67,000 Calgarians or 8% of the workforce work in creative industries, everything from artists to architects, from website developers to CEOs.
  • Calgary ranks 3rd of Canada’s major cities for attracting cultural migrants. Yes, people move to Calgary for reasons other than to work in the oil patch!
  • There are 19,000 creative establishments in Calgary – everything from artists’ studios to recording studios, from major architectural firms to private art galleries.
  • 7,000 students graduate each year from a creative industry program at one of Calgary’s post-secondary schools.
  • Cultural tourism is one of the fastest growing and lucrative segments of the North American travel industry.  
  • In the profile, Calgary Economic Development also recognizes the importance of fostering a creative (out-of-the-box thinking) culture as a critical to generating new ideas.  Great cities are incubators for new ideas!

While it is hard to say any one public artwork is critical to fostering a creative and critical thinking city, collectively, they make our city an attractive place to work for the creative class, as well as others.

Families love interacting with this public art piece in Vancouver's English Bay. 

Last Word

Over the past 30 years, I have sat on several selection committees for public art. Without exception the community representatives shared with the other jurors how excited the community is to be getting public art.

Brookfield Residential has already created a major piece of public art for its new community of SETON. Why? Because Brookfield gets it, recognizing the value of public art as one of the pillars of a great community.

The 1% for Public Art Policy, initiated in 2003, is just over 10 years old – a very short time in city building.  Calgary has over 200 communities; I don’t think we should stop creating public art until there are several pieces in each of these communities. 1% is a pittance to invest in making a good city GREAT!

By Richard White, February 21, 2015

Chicago's Millennium Park has become a mega tourist attraction mainly because of two fun interactive public artworks. 

Chicago's Millennium Park has become a mega tourist attraction mainly because of two fun interactive public artworks. 

Art / Fun / Airports

Jeff deBoer, When aviation was young, artworks in the WestJet boarding lounge.

I love flying WestJet for many reasons, not the least of which being able to see Calgary artist Jeff deBoer’s two giant art works, “When aviation was young” in the WestJet boarding lounge.  I love watching kids and their parents using the giant key to wind up these retro ‘50s tin toys on steroids, which then starts the giant toy planes twirling around and around.  This usually results in smiles on the faces of both the kids and adults, and even some dancing around the art.

For years I thought the pieces were just fun and decorative, creating a bit of a midway-like distraction for families with their bright colours and cartoon-like graphics. It was only recently when I took a closer look, that I discovered they are full of fun factoids. 

I love it when art is fun and informative at the same time. 

Calgary’s Aviation History

Did you know that Clennel “Punch” Dickins, back in 1928, piloted the first prairie airmail circuit from Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg in a Fokker Super Universal aircraft?

Or that in 1956 the City of Calgary named its new airport McCall Field after Fred McCall a World War I flying ace and barnstormer who pioneered a mountain air route linking Calgary, Banff, Fernie and Golden?

Bet you didn’t know Tom Blakely and Frank H. Ellis, were Calgary’s early aeroplane builders. In 1913, they purchased the remains of a Curtiss-Type biplane, rebuilt it, named it Westwind and used a field west of Calgary as their take off and landing strip. That field is now Shouldice Park.

And what about the story of how two deHavilland Twin Otters, flown by Kenn Borek Air of Calgary made history in 2001 by being the first aircraft to land at the South Pole in the middle of winter? 

So, next time you are waiting for your in the Calgary International Airport, walk around and explore, you never know what you will learn – there is lots of art to discover!

 

What children see when they look up at "when aviation was young." 

One of the story boards  on the side of the artwork.

Anchorage Airport Art Gallery

A few years back, we jumped at the chance to do a house exchange with friends who lived in Anchorage.  One of the more memorable experiences of that trip was the fabulous art at its airport.  We are not talking about a mural here and a piece of sculpture there. Someone had clearly realized airports make great art gallery spaces.  Kudos to them!

The Anchorage Airport art collection is extensive - murals, light shows, stained glass works, folk art, historic First Nations art, contemporary art, fabric pieces, masks and paintings.   Many of the smaller pieces are organized in display cases like you would see in a museum or art gallery.

In fact, when we were returning home, I made sure we got to the airport really early to give us as lots of time to explore the art. When was the last time you really wanted to get to the airport early? 

Hallway with art display cases and light show artwork on the ceiling makes for a dramatic entrance.

Stained glass artworks are both contemporary and traditional with their references to aboriginal design elements. 

One of many contemporary masks made out of everyday objects that link traditional mask-making with today's consumer culture. It was interesting to compare these with other displays of traditional masks.

One of many contemporary masks made out of everyday objects that link traditional mask-making with today's consumer culture. It was interesting to compare these with other displays of traditional masks.

Brenda checking for more information on the Art at the Airport program. 

Last Word

I understand Jeff deBoer is working on two new pieces for the Calgary International Airport.  I hope they are as playful and pensive as these two.  It will be a tough act to follow.

The Calgary International Airport is already full of art and artifacts and I expect there will be even more with the opening of the new International Terminal.  It would be great if the airport had an app, map and/or online site that would allow visitors to know the locations of the art, who the artists are and some background information on each piece.  It could make for a fun treasure hunt for families and art lovers and provide a welcome diversion when facing a long wait.

Come on Calgary, if Anchorage can do so can we!

If you like this blog, you might like:

Saks: Art Gallery or Department Store?

Edmonton: Borden (art) Park

Do we really need all of this public art?

Putting the public back into public art