Calgary: Preservation vs Prosperity Predicament

Though never been a big history buff, after spending almost two months in Europe, I now have a much better appreciation of the importance of preserving historical buildings and sites. They are critical to telling a city’s story and creating a unique sense of place.

Calgary is often criticized for focusing too much on the prosperity of the present and future at the expense of the preservation of the past.  For many (including me) our philosophy is “we are creating Calgary’s history today.”  But cities really are built over decades and centuries, not years. To me, Calgary is just a young teenager striving to find its own identity, its own personality.

Now with my new European adventure enlightenment, I thought it would be interesting to look back and see what buildings we have lost over the past 100 years that we might like to have today.

The Mawson Plan presented to City Council in 1914 would have dramatically changed the look of Calgary with its river centric vs railway centric orientation.  Calgary would have truly become "Paris on the prairies."  More information http://caa.ucalgary.ca/mawsonreportfull

Hull Opera House (606, Centre Street South)

Imagine it is the early 1890s. Calgary rancher, entrepreneur and philanthropist William Roper just commissioned a 1,000-seat opera house be built at 606 Centre St. South (known as McTavish Street until 1904) by architects Child and Wilson at a cost of $10,000.  One of Calgary’s first major sandstone and brick buildings, it hosted opera, theatre, school concerts, and community dances.  It is hard to believe a frontier city with a population of only 4,000 people could support such a large opera house.  But it did, for 13 years anyway.

In 1906, it was renovated to accommodate street level retail, residential on the upper floors and renamed the Albion Block. Then in 1960s, George Crystal bought the building and demolished it to create parking for his adjacent York Hotel.  The York Hotel was demolished to make way for the Bow office tower, (its façade brickwork is now safely numbered and stored so it can be integrated into a new building on the corner of Centre Street and 7th Avenue SW sometime in the future). So, we lost one icon and gained another in the Bow Tower.  If we still had the Hull Opera House, it would have made a great public market, along the same lines as the Centro Market in Florence, Italy.

Hull Opera House

 

CPR Train Station (115 – 9th Avenue SE)

Yes, Calgary had a downtown train station, but I have been told it wasn’t anything as grand as say Grand Central Station or Penn Station in New York City. It wasn’t even as grand as Winnipeg’s train stations given that in the late 19th century, it was Winnipeg that was going to be capital of the prairies and the rival to Chicago.  It was a time of Winnipeg’s heyday – it boasted the most millionaires per capita in North America.  Calgary on the otherhand was still a frontier town with a population 4,000 people.  My, my, how times have changed! 

Calgary’s CPR station was demolished in 1966, making way for the Palliser Square and Calgary Tower (then called the Husky Tower) as part of a Calgary’s first modern urban renewal project that included the Convention Centre, Marriott Hotel (the Four Seasons Hotel) and the Glenbow. 

I now think our historic train station would have made a great modern art gallery like the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. 

Central (James Short) School (Centre Street South between 4th and 5th Ave)

James Short School was Calgary’s first large three-story square sandstone school. It proudly opened as Central School in 1905 and was noted for its impressive cupola above the entrance.  When, by the late ‘60s, the school-age population in downtown wasn’t sufficient to keep the school open, all but the cupola (now located on the NW corner of Centre Street South and 5th Ave) was demolished to make way for redevelopment.

Today, James Short (a pioneer teacher, principal of the school and later a School Board Member, he was also the lawyer for the Anti-Chinese League) is best known as a park and parkade. If it were still around today, what a great boutique hotel it would make.

Southam (Calgary Herald) Building (130 7th Avenue SW)

The Southam Building was touted as the “finest home of any newspaper in Canada” when it opened its dors in 1913.  It was well known for its terracotta gargoyles (made by Doulton Lambeth of England) that adorned the roofline and depicted various newpaper trades.

Built in 1913, this magnificent Gothic structure was occupied by the Calgary Herald until 1932, when the paper needed more space. In the 1940s, the building was sold to Greyhound who used it for 30+ years as a bus depot, gutting the main floor to allow for the buses to drive through. Eventually demolished in 1972, it made way for the Len Werry Building. All of the gargolyes were rescued when the building was demolished in 1972 and some can now be found on the second floor of the north building of the Telus Convention Centre.

Today, it would have a phenomenal character office building integrated into the new Brookfield Place glass tower currently under construction. The contrast of the old and the new would have been spectacular. 

Burns Residence (501, 13 Avenue S.W.)

Patrick Burns, a rancher, businessman and one of the “Big Four” who founded the Calgary Stampede, built his grand mansion with ornate sandstone carvings in 1901.  Designed by the famous Victoria, BC architect Francis M. Rattenbury, the mansion and English garden rivaled the still-standing 1891 Lougheed House and garden two blocks west on 13th Avenue.  It is hard to imagine that 13th Avenue SW was Calgary’s millionaires’ row a 100 years ago.  The Burns mansion was demolished in 1956, replaced by the Colonel Belcher Hospital, which in turn got demolished to build the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre, which opened in 2008.

The Burns Manor restaurant and lounge would have a nice ring to it, a bigger version of Rouge (in the Cross House) in Inglewood.

Stephen Avenue East

Calgary historian Harry Sanders would like to have back the entire east end of 8th Avenue all the way to 4th Street SE. It was all demolished in the ‘70s and ‘80s clearing the way for the Municipal Building, Olympic Plaza and the Epcor Centre (Calgary’s second attempt at modern urban renewal).  Sanders imagines a lively pedestrian street full of small shops, cafes and restaurants all the way from Holt Renfrew (the façade of the current Holt Renfrew building is that of Calgary’s old Eaton’s department store) to East Village. 

Indeed, downtown Calgary lacks a grand boulevard or wide prairie Main Street that typical of most major cities.  For all of its charm and character, Stephen Avenue still lacks a WOW factor (expect perhaps at lunch hour in the summer).

Stephen Avenue early 20th century.

Stephen Avenue early 20th century.

Stephen Avenue middle of the 20th Century.

Preservation of the past

While some may lament the loss of some of Calgary’s sense of the past, in many ways we have done a better job of preserving our history than most people think.   Most of the buildings along Inglewood’s Atlantic Avenue, (Calgary’s first Main Street) have been preserved. 

As well, Stephen Avenue’s 100 and 200 west blocks are designated National Historic District.  And, while the Fort Calgary was not preserved, there is a major effort today to preserve the spirit of the place and two of the original buildings.  We also have a wonderful collection of buildings from our Sandstone period including the Memorial Park Library and McDougal School. 

Lougheed House and gardens

Grain Exchange Building recalls Calgary's beginnings as an agricultural centre.

Calgary architect Jack Long's modernist Science Centre predates Frank Gehry's famous modernist Guggenheim Museum in Bilboa Spain by 30 years. 

It is ironic that Calgary's old Science Centre could become a contemporary art museum by 2020. 

McDougall School built in 1907 has been preserved and converted into the southern headquarters for the Premier of Alberta.  

 

Last Word

That being said, it would still be nice to have a few more historical buildings with their different façade materials and architectural styles to have more visual variety in our downtown.  In the words of poet William Cowper “Variety’s the spice of life, that gives it all its flavour”  (The Task, 1785)

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Historic Downtown Calgary Postcards 

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NYC's High Line vs YYC's +15 Walkway

By Richard White, February 18, 2015 (This blog was commissioned by Source Media for Condo Living Magazine.)

In the January 15, 2015 edition of Metro Calgary, columnist Mike Morrison lamented that when he was recently in New York City (NYC) no one had heard of Calgary. I too have lamented at the lack of awareness of Calgary when visiting other cities, but then my friends at Tourism Calgary are also quick to remind me of some facts - Calgary was ranked #17 on the New York Times “52 Places to Go” and Alberta #9 on the UK’s Guardian “Holiday Hotspots” in 2014.   Another fact - in 2014 Calgary was added to the Ultimate Sports City shortlist the de facto benchmark of top sport cities around the world.  Now, Calgary has joined Vancouver as the only two Canadian cities on the list.  

Perhaps we are being a bit too hard on ourselves.  Perhaps we are being too impatient. As the Guardian said, “Calgary has gone from cowboy town to cosmopolitan cool.” YES! People are starting to notice!

High Line vs. +15

Morrison, like many others who have visited NYC recently are “gaga” over the city’s new iconic High Line project, an abandoned railway track converted into an elevated linear park with a great urban vibe. 

People of all ages enjoy strolling along the High Line a linear park that provides a unique perspective on the streets and sidewalks of NYC. (Photo credit: Lelia Olfert)

Evidence of the old elevated railway is evident in this photo.  Note the streets are not packed with people or traffic. (photo credit Leila Olfert).

The narrow park offers lots of resting spots for people watching or to study the urban design of a city. 

I like to remind people Calgary created its High Line in 1970, over 40 years before NYC. While some like to criticize the +15 system (60 bridges connect over 100 buildings to create a 20 km elevated walkway) for sucking the life out of the streets, I say it is the one really unique urban element our downtown has and it should be something we embraced not apologize for.

Why is it everybody raves about Montreal’s underground system, but not our 20km walkway? Both are full of cafes, shops and restaurants, but the +15 also offers more - public art, a mega indoor garden and amazing urban vistas.  Harold Hanen, the +15 visionary, saw it as a logical adaptation to our long cold winter. 

The +15 system could become a great tourist attraction if we would stop “bashing” it and start promoting its unique views of our every-changing downtown.  It could become our postcard like the canals of Venice or the alleys of Melbourne – it is all about how you look at it.

 

One of 60 glass bridges that are 15 feet off the ground connect buildings at the second floor over a 50-block area of the downtown core. 

One of 60 glass bridges that are 15 feet off the ground connect buildings at the second floor over a 50-block area of the downtown core. 

Along the walkway pedestrians find numerous quiet places to sit like this winter garden with a living wall, infinity ponds and bamboo plantings. 

There is even a formal 2.5 acre garden which is a popular meeting place.  It even includes an indoor playground for families. 

The +15 system connects to The Core shopping centre at the second, third and fourth floors. 

Each bridge offers a unique experience; this on connecting the Municipal Building to Arts Commons is like walking into a stain glassed window.  Kids love exploring the +15 with the huge windows onto the "Tall City" as my 3-year old nephew called it. 

This +15 connected to a 600+ stall parkade, offers pedestrians beautiful sunshine 12-months of the year, along with a parade of cows.  Unlike Montreal's underground and Toronto's PATH, Calgary's +15 offers downtown workers and visitor a chance to see what is happening outside.  

Just one of the many public art experiences along the 20-km +15 walkway. 

Visionaries

Stephen Avenue Walk pulses with new blood at noon hour. 

Morrison shuddered to think what Calgary would look like without visionaries like Councilor Druh Farrell (Peace Bridge, Memorial Drive, East Village and new Library), Andrew Mosker (National Music Centre) and the people at Canada Municipal Land Corporation (East Village, St. Patrick’s Island and Riverwalk).  

He laments that too many people are standing in the way of these visionaries and questions all of the petty squabbling about bike lanes, transit and disabled schools.  I choose to focus on what we have accomplished to attract what he calls “new blood.”   

For example, Myrna Dube, Calgary Parks Foundation’s President & CEO, was visionary for the new Rotary/Mattamy Greenway, a 138 km pathway that will circle the city connecting over 100 suburban communities (over 300,000 people, 25% of the city’s population). It is easily the equivalent of NYC’s High Line, just more suburban in nature.

What about the visionaries for Stephen Avenue walk or Calgary's amazing parks and city-wide pathway system (now the largest in the world). 

Or perhaps the visionaries at Brookfield Residential who are creating a new urban village that will be very attractive to the  "young blood" working the medical field at SETON.  

Attracting new blood

This leads to Morrison’s question, “Has anyone moved here because of it is super car-friendly or because of its endless suburbs?” and his opinion is “probably not.” In fact, one of Calgary advantages over Vancouver and Toronto (there are many) is that newcomers can buy a large family house for hundreds of thousands of dollars less and be just 30-minute car commute from work. Remember - not everyone can - or wants to - walk, cycle or take transit to work.

And, though it might be a tough pill to swallow for urban missionaries not everyone wants to live in dense high-rise communities like Manhattan. People are surprised when I tell them that on a per capita basis, Calgary has as many people living within 4 km of its downtown - 7% of the metro population.

But not to worry urban evangelists, Calgary has one of the most aggressive urbanization programs of any city in the world with a population under two million - Bridges, Currie Barracks, East Village, Greenwich, Inglewood Brewery, Quarry Park, SETON, Westbrook Station, West Campus and West District.   Collectively, they will provide urban homes for approximately 100,000 people and work places for 60,000+ in diverse, dense, vibrant urban neighbourhoods.

All of this is in addition to Calgary’s existing urban districts – Beltline, Eau Claire, Downtown West, Mission, Kensington and Inglewood, the latter of which was named Canada’s greatest neighbourhood by the Canadian Institute of Planners in 2014 (with Kensington being a finalist).

Great cities provide a diversity of communities for people to choose from.

I would argue the Calgary region has a nice mix of urban, established, master planned suburban communities, acreages and small towns for a city its size.

We must be doing something right as Calgary is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 livable cities in the world - NYC is not in the top 10.  In 2014, the Economist had Calgary tied for 5th only 1 point out of first place as of the world’s “most livable” cities.

Main Street, West Campus by West Campus Development Trust, it just one of many new urban villages planned for Calgary in the next few years.   West Village will be attractive to the "young blood" working at the University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre and Alberta Children's Hospital. 

Last Word

Obviously, what makes a city attractive is different for different people, and different at different times in their life. No city can be all things to all people. Calgary still in its formative (teenage) years, so yes, we still have a lot of growing up to do.

But, we should also be proud of what we have accomplished! 

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Calgary: The City of Parks & Pathways

Calgary deserves more respect from international planners

Calgary's got its mojo working

Calgary: GABEster capital of North America 

Calgary's Park Avenue ???

“Darling I love you, but give me Park Avenue” was one of the lines in the theme song of the popular late ‘60s TV show, Green Acres.  Park Avenue is well known as the street where Manhattan’s rich and famous live. While Calgary doesn’t yet have an uber-luxury street like Park Avenue - or for that matter even a luxury condo neighbourhood like Chicago’s Gold Coast - it soon may have one.

New York City's Park Avenue. 

Mission’s Millionaire Row

26th Avenue in Mission is home to several luxury condo buildings.

Over the past few decades, the three-block stretch of 26th Avenue east of 4th Street SW in Mission has gradually become home for many of Calgary’s rich and famous.  One of Calgary’s first luxury condos was Roxboro House built in 1977.  Though there was not a lot of condo construction in the ‘80s and ’90, early in the 21st century (in 2000 to be exact), saw the opening of 56 luxury homes in the 16-storey The Grandview on the east side of 2nd street on 26th Ave SW.

Since then, Calgary’s condo culture has evolved significantly, with more and more baby boomers becoming empty nesters and wanting the all the comforts and freedom condo living offers up.

Mission has become the preferred place for many of those who live in the mansions of Roxboro, Elbow Park and Mount Royal to retire. Seizing the moment, 26th Avenue River Investments Inc. working with DIALOG architects, conceived The River, a 15-storey condo building with townhomes along the street.  The resulting 38 homes are huge from 3,000 to 5,000+ square feet; this is a vertical mansion. 

The River became notorious in 2012 with its record-breaking sale of a penthouse (5,626 sf with 2,950 sf of outdoor space) for almost $9.5 million.  It also broke with 26th Avenue tradition with its more contemporary glass and sandstone-coloured façade and an interlocking rectangular design that sets it apart from the brick facades of the older condos.  The River’s townhomes form a long linear cube-like streetscape with two hard edge rectangles, one being glass and the other, stone, which forms the tower above. The design is very contemporary in a conservative and timeless way.

What also sets The River apart from the older condos is that it is on the south side of 26th Avenue backing right onto the Elbow River.  Complete with a self-serve wash bay where you wash Lassie’s muddy paws after a walk in the park or along the river.  The River is expected to be move-in ready by mid 2015.

The proposed new XII condo is both futuristic and chic. 

The new kid on 26th Avenue is The XII, designed by Calgary’s own Sturgess Architecture.  There is nothing conservative about this condo with its fully automated parking system (drop your car off at ground level and it parks itself) and its Pac-Man/Transformer-like design.  There is a two-storey white façade base at street level, with the white façade continuing up the back of the building to a stark protruding white two-floor penthouse condo that mimics the base.  Inserted inside the white mouth-like vertical element is an 11-floor dark grey/black façade tower with large white protruding balconies. There is a peculiar dissonance in the juxtaposition of the dark and white elements.  The XII is like nothing seen in Calgary before and will definitely add to Calgary’s growing reputation as North America’s newest design city. 

The River offer a more traditional design on the banks of the Elbow River. 

Riverfront Avenue

Like Mission’s 26th Avenue, Riverfront Avenue in Eau Claire is also vying to be the “Park Avenue” of Calgary.   The all-brick Eau Claire Estates (built in 1981)was designed by world-renowned highrise architectural firms Skidmore, Ownings and Merill (founded in 1936, it is one of the largest and most influential design firms in the world, one of their signature buildings the worlds’ tallest building, the Burji in Dubai). Eau Claire Estates’ design, well ahead of its time has 10 connected towers (the tallest being 25 floors), with no more than two homes per floor and all situated around a beautifully landscaped central courtyard.  With 14 elevators, there is no waiting to get home and enjoy the sun setting over the downtown skyline and majestic Rocky Mountains for its residents.

The Princeton offers luxury urban living on the Bow River but just minutes from Stephen Avenue Walk and the Olympic Plaza Cultural District. 

Eau Claire Estates sat alone on the Bow River until the ‘90s when Prince’s Island Estates and the Princeton joined it along with the Eau Claire Y and Eau Claire Market. In the past few years, development along Riverfront Avenue has increased dramatically with Vancouver’s Anthem Properties’ Waterfront project on the old Greyhound Bus Barns site east of Eau Claire Market. With 1,000 condos in three highrise towers, as well the low-rise condo/townhomes along the pathway, this is Calgary’s largest condo project to date.

However, the big new luxury condo news for Riverfront Avenue (technically it is on 1st Avenue) was made in June of 2014 when Vancouver’s Concord Pacific Inc. announced they had engaged prominent Canadian architects Arthur Erickson and Peter Busby (both of Vancouver) to design 185 luxury suites just west of the Princeton, across from the Peace Bridge.  Though The Concord’s list of amenities is huge, the one that caught my attention was the golf simulator (though I expect the four seasons park, which will include a pond for skating in the winter, will attract most people).

The two-building design, with each tower cascading down in height from 1st Avenue to the river, has  the two towers facing away from each other in a V-shape to create maximum privacy.  The design and juxtaposition will also create large patios and spectacular views of the river valley and the private park.  In many ways, it is a modern version of the ‘80s Eau Claire Estates.

The 2007 Princeton meets the early '80s Eau Claire Estates. 

YYC’s Central Park

Park Point will become the signature contemporary building in Calgary's Beltline community. (image courtesy of Qualex Landmark)

Park Avenue’s name is derived from the fact that it offers spectacular views of the iconic New York City’s Central Park. Calgary’s Central Park (aka Memorial Park) located in the Beltline between 2nd and 4th ST SW and 12 and 13th Ave SW pales in comparison, but it is too surrounded by intriguing upscale new residential towers. The Park at the corner of 13th Avenue and 2nd street is glass tower that cascades downward from south to north, giving the top floor penthouses spectacular views of both Central Park and Haultain Park, as well as Calgary’s dynamic downtown skyline and huge patios. 

The newest kid on the park is Qualex-Landmark’s Park Point (corner of 12 Ave and 2nd St. SW) designed by Tony Wai and his team at IBI in Vancouver. It has a very striking black and white façade design that segments the 34-story tower into five, black grid-blocks (the largest box is at the top, making the tower look top heavy) that look like an upside-down sound bar from an old stereo receiver or rock concert soundboard. 

The façade design is also reminiscent of the sculptural, wedding cake highrise towers popular in Chicago and New York City in the early 20th century, except it is upside down. 

I expect it will become the Beltline’s signature building.

The beautiful Memorial Park could eventually be surrounded by luxury condos like Park Point and The Park. (image courtesy of Qualex Landmark)

Last Word

While Calgary cannot match New York or Chicago for luxury, highrise, urban condo living today, it is certainly making great strides to get there.

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Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary!

YYC walkabout: Mission et al!

Beautifying The Beltline

Enhancing Established Community Development: Remove Bureaucracy

This is the last of a three-part look at how the City of Calgary can better work with developers and the community to accommodate 80,000 new homes to be built in established neighbourhoods by 2039. The first suggestion was to make multifamily development a “permitted” use on land already zoned (approved) for multifamily, as opposed to the current policy of making all multifamily buildings a “discretionary” use and therefore subject to endless debate.  The second was to reform the City’s Subdivision and Development Appeal Board allowing the appeal process to be more effective for everyone i.e. a better balance between the needs of individuals and better balance the needs of individuals and the city-at-large.

This blog looks at a third suggestion – remove redundant or ambiguous bureaucracy and policy to enhance the development approval process in existing communities.

Addicted to policies

In talking to various developers over the past few months, one developer stated, “we should eliminate all of the City’s Area Redevelopment Plans (ARP) and let the Municipal Development Plan (MDP) govern all of our development decisions.”  I initially thought this was a crazy idea, but the more I think about it, it may have some merit.

More housing in established neighbourhoods also brings more shops and amenities within walking distance.

The more plans, policies, bylaws, guidelines and rules you have governing development, the more ambiguity you have as every word and statement is open to interpretation and debate. A simple word like “should vs. will” can hold up a new development for weeks, maybe months.

I heard another person say, “The City of Calgary is addicted to policy!”  Currently, there are four layers of City policy governing a new development the Municipal Development Plan, Land-Use Bylaws, Zoning and Area Redevelopment Plans, which is then magnified when each is interpreted sometimes slightly and sometime grossly different by the Council members, administration, communities and developers.

What is an ARP?

The City’s website states, “The purpose an Area Redevelopment Plan is to provide a policy framework to guide the long-term redevelopment of a specific area of the city (usually two or more communities). The Plan provides clear policy direction for key aspects such as the vision, scale, urban form and character for redevelopment.  The Plan is future-oriented and depicts how the Plan area is to be developed over an extended time period. No specific time frame is applied to the Plan although the majority of the proposed development is expected within a 25 to 30 years.”

Shaganappi Area Redevelopment Plan outlining the density and type of development for every block. 

One of the biggest issues with Area Redevelopment Plans (ARPs) is that many of the established communities’ ARPs are out of date with current city planning thinking. So when a new development is proposed, though it may fit well with the City’s overarching growth management principles it doesn’t fit with the specifics of the existing ARP for that community.   This can result in one of two things; either a long debate to justify why the proposed development makes sense given current economic and planning reasoning or the development is put on hold while the ARP is revised.  In both cases, it means the development is delayed for months, even years, which leads to more expensive housing in established communities.

Case in point - The first proposal of the St. Johns condo on 10th Street NW triggered the need for a revision of the Hillhurst/Sunnyside ARP and ultimately a five-year delay before construction could begin.  Changes in the ARP resulted in density than the original plan, which resulted in significant increases in the price of the condos of tens of thousands of dollars as the purchase of the land was based on being able to build more units.  It also increased the cost, as construction costs were much higher in 2011 than they would have been in 2006 when the project was first proposed.

Win-Win-Win

The benefits of making these three changes (making multi-family homes a permitted use on land zoned for multi-family, reform of SDAB and cutting the bureaucracy associated with inner city residential development approvals) for the homebuyer would be more affordable and more varied housing (duplexes, townhomes, small condo complexes) in established neighbourhoods, rather than just large single-family homes, old small bungalows and tired walk up apartment blocks.

New infill housing projects mean more families moving back to established communities which the revitalizes it. 

The benefits to the City would be to achieve its goal of accommodating more of Calgary’s growth in established communities, rather than building new communities with their costly new infrastructure, transit, schools, parks, libraries and recreation centres needs.  It should be noted that significant growth in established neighbourhoods will also result in the need to increase the capacity of outdate infrastructure and City facilities.

With a more streamlined approval process, the City would spend less time and money approving projects that already fit within the City’s growth management strategies, allowing for more time to be spent on innovative projects, which require relaxations and variances from approved policy. 

One of the biggest barriers to established community development is the costs associated with the length of time and expense of redesigns that will be needed to get approval.

One of the biggest debates for any infill multifamily project in established communities is how does it impact the back alley neighbours. 

One of the biggest debates for any infill multifamily project in established communities is how does it impact the back alley neighbours. 

An interesting sidebar - the Municipal Government Act, (which gives the City the authority to govern the planning of the city) states that if the City does not render a decision on a sub-division or development permit application within 40 days, it is deemed to be a refusal.  This would mean any applicant who doesn’t get a decision from the City in 40 days could appeal the “deemed refusal decision” at SDAB and get a decision without having to go through the complex City and community review process.  I am not suggesting this as a strategy to expedite inner-city development, but it is an option.

In Calgary, rarely is a decision rendered in 40 days.  Four to six months is more the norm for a simple, inner-city infill house application and six plus months for anything more complex.   The net result is supply can’t meet demand and when that happen the cost of inner city homes increases and that encourages new community development at the edge of the city where housing is more affordable.

Last Word

Calgary’s motto should be “working together to make a great city better!” I truly hope developers, politicians, planners, urban designers and the public can work together in the future to streamline the approval and appeal process for projects in established neighbourhoods to the benefit of everyone. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Enhancing Established Community Development: Multifamily

Enhancing Established Community Development: SDAB

The Suburbs move to City Centre in Calgary 

80% of Calgarians must live in the 'burbs

Enhancing Established Community Development: SDAB Reform

As discussed last week, one of the City of Calgary’s current Municipal Development Plan goals is to encourage future growth via redevelopment within in established neighbourhoods. With Calgary’s population expected to grow by 363,000 people by 2039, the City has set a goal of 33% of new growth should be in existing neighbourhoods (i.e. 192,000 more people or about 80,000 new homes).  The other 67% would be new housing development at the edge of the City, like Brookfield Residential’s SETON (southeast) and Livingston (northern).

The new established community growth will come in various forms from new master planned urban villages like West Campus, West District and Currie Barracks to the redevelopment of golf courses like Harvest Hills and Shawnee Slopes, to new infills single and duplex homes and smaller condo projects in communities from Sandstone to Altadore. 

Older homes making way for new homes is healthy for established communities. Communities need to evolve is they are going to attract families.

Older homes making way for new homes is healthy for established communities. Communities need to evolve is they are going to attract families.

As stated last week, the difficulty in diversifying the housing stock of inner city communities is getting City approval for multi-family projects large and small. Why? Because, there is always a few individuals who don’t want the increased density and are prepared to fight any new development all the way to the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board.   I will try not to bore you with all of the details of the role of the quasi-judicial Subdivision and Development Appeal Board (SDAB) made up of members of the public appointed by Council.  

SDAB 101

The City of Calgary’s web site saysThe SDAB makes decisions in an impartial manner and applies the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness, which includes but is not limited to: the right to a public hearing; a duty to be fair; the right for all affected parties to be heard; the right to an adjournment if the SDAB determines it is merited; and the right to legal counsel.”

The SDAB has begun holding procedural hearings prior to the actual hearing date. The purpose, as I understand, is for the appellant and the applicant to put on the table their respective positions so that at the hearing, everyone can be prepared to speak to each other’s arguments. This is a good step if it eliminates lengthy adjournments. However, it does not preclude at the actual hearing of ‘hangers on’ (people who might be affected by a project but didn’t bother to appeal or respond to any prior circulation) from coming out of the woodwork and presenting information that is uniformed and/or not relevant at the actual hearing.

For example, a neighbour appealed a project on the basis of a desire for a parking relaxation. At the prehearing, both sides presented their arguments and then went away to prepare for the actual hearing. Then at the hearing, other individuals (who did not file an appeal) turned up and were allowed to speak and brought up new issues that were not even contemplated by the original appeal. The SDAB even allowed comments from a neighbour who lived almost a full block away from the site. The net result: the developer had to make several last minute changes, which in turn was passed on to the new homeowners.

I even heard about one person who appealed a project on Elbow Drive on the basis it would negatively impact his drive to work.  Seriously! We need to streamline SDAB’s procedures to be fair to the developer and the community while keeping in mind citywide benefits.

I understand that a 50+ page SDAB decision is not uncommon and there has even been a case of a single-family home appeal that resulted in a 125-page decision.   Appeals are no longer between citizens and developers but both sides are bringing their lawyers into the debate. I have heard it referred to as “lawyering-up!”

Brookfield Residential's Altadore 36 is a good example of how 6 older single family homes can be transformed into 62 townhouse and penthouse flat homes, while retaining an attractive streetscape. 

Brookfield Residential's Altadore 36 is a good example of how 6 older single family homes can be transformed into 62 townhouse and penthouse flat homes, while retaining an attractive streetscape. 

Need for Reform

While there has been some reform of the subdivision and development appeal process over the past few years, there is room clearly for more improvement.

There may be some hope in sight! City Council has appointed all the members of the current SDAB for only one year – common sign change is on the horizon. Some members have been on the Board for over 10 years, which is not right, there should be maximum of six years.

In March 2012, Councillor Farrell attempted to initiate a motion to find efficiencies in the appeal process with respect to:

Back lane housing over the garage is becoming more popular in communities like West Hillhurst.

Back lane housing over the garage is becoming more popular in communities like West Hillhurst.

  • Hearing process and timelines
  • Validity of an appeal
  • Appeal fee and structure
  • Feasibility of a fee refund for successful applicant

 Unfortunately, an internal review resulted in only a few minor changes. What I believe is needed is an external review, identifying the “best practices” for subdivision and development appeals in other municipalities. 

 I also think Council needs to better communicate to members of the SDAB the City’s goals and objects with respect to development. SDAB must make decisions, which are consistent with the goals of the City’s current Municipal Development Plan.

Last Word

Reforming SDAB’s structure and systems to allow an effective appeal process for both the developer and the public is a win-win situation the City could complete in in 2015.  Now, that would look good on their year-end report card.

By Richard White, January 31, 2015 (an edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on January 31, 2015 with the title "Development Appeals Need Reform." 

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Altadore: An opportunity to create a model 21st Century inner city community.

While most of Calgary’s established communities within a 10 km radius of downtown have been enjoying a renaissance with new infill residential developments, the one I find the most interesting is Altadore. As a result of several house/ dog sitting gigs over the past few years, I have wandered the parks, streets and alleys of Altadore developing a greater appreciation for the community’s diversity. 

I love the little niche ‘50s shopping centres with their “mom and pop” businesses along 16th Street with names like Moon Convenience.  Bell’s Café, is a popular meeting place for retirees, as well as the “young and restless.” My Favorite Ice Cream Shoppe corner has been a destination for my family for 20+ years - now it has a great neighbourhood pub and spa.

Though I miss Casablanca Video, there are still lots of bohemian shops like Inner Sleeve record store and the Mexican grocery store. There is considerable more diversity of shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs, health, fitness and other services in Altadore than first meets the eye.

The Mexican Food store adds some charm and colour to Altadore's night life.

The Mexican Food store adds some charm and colour to Altadore's night life.

Family Fun For Everyone (including canines)

River Park is an oasis for humans and canines alike. I am always amazed at the hundreds of people (of all ages) and dogs who use this park seven days a week, no matter what the weather.  I would bet this is one of the most well used parks in the city.   Sandy Beach is another hidden oasis in a city blessed with over 5,200 parks.

 It also has a diversity of schools - private schools like Rundle College Elementary School and Master’s Academy & College (K to Grade 12), four public high schools – three public ones (Central Memorial, Career and Technology Centre, Alternative High School) and one Catholic (Bishop Carroll High School), as well as one special public school (Emily Follensbee School for children with multiple complex learning needs). Altadore is also home to the Flames Community Arenas, the Military Museums and several churches.  

The huge playing field area occupied by two elementary schools could be a wonderful opportunity to create a new inner-city model for mixed-use that includes schools as a key anchor tenant  .

The huge playing field area occupied by two elementary schools could be a wonderful opportunity to create a new inner-city model for mixed-use that includes schools as a key anchor tenant.

People are out walking their dogs and meeting neighbours 365 days of the year at River Front Park. 

People are out walking their dogs and meeting neighbours 365 days of the year at River Front Park. 

16th St. SW: A New Main Street?

The Altadore Shopping Centre is well located next to future condo and town home sites along 16th Street SW.

The Altadore Shopping Centre is well located next to future condo and town home sites along 16th Street SW.

While the City of Calgary identified 24 opportunities to create or enhance main street development across the city as part of their Main Street Program, there are many good sites not on the list.  For example, 16th St SW is a hidden gem with its two mini retail blocks, a multi-school campus, a church, Kiwanis Park and the lucky #13 bus route to downtown.  

The 14 blocks of 16th Street SW (from 50th Ave to 34th Ave) have the potential to be a bit of a community hub by being a more diverse, pedestrian oriented street with more low rise apartments, condos and office buildings, mixed with retail, cafés, restaurants and offices for personal and medical services.   Three existing vacant redevelopment sites could add to the mix of housing and commercial uses.

The huge school campus could be a great mixed-use redevelopment site. Do we really need two playgrounds side-by-side and duplicate playing fields – what a waste of space!  Can’t we share? If we want to be innovative, this would be a great site to integrate schools with community gyms, seniors housing for Altadorians who want to retire in their community and perhaps starter condos for GenXers who have grown up in Altadore or perhaps the new teachers at the schools.  We have to start thinking how we can diversify our established communities to accommodate more activities.

One of two Brookfield Residential sites in Altadore.  This one at 48th Street next to the Altadore Shopping Centre and the #13 bus stop to downtown is perfect for a boutique condo.

One of two Brookfield Residential sites in Altadore.  This one at 48th Street next to the Altadore Shopping Centre and the #13 bus stop to downtown is perfect for a boutique condo.

This vintage strip mall on the east side of 16th Street could be redeveloped as retail/residential or retail/office.  

This vintage strip mall on the east side of 16th Street could be redeveloped as retail/residential or retail/office. 

I recently learned Brookfield Residential (one of North America’s largest home builders, headquartered in Calgary) has acquired a couple of properties along 16th Street for innovative residential development. “Altadore 36” will replace 6-single family homes with 34 townhomes and 28 penthouse flats at the corner of 16th Street and 36th Avenue SW. While it sounds like a lot of density, the building is only three-floors high, not much higher than the many mega, multi-million dollar single-family mansions already in the community.

Altadore 36 streetscape. (Bryan Versteeg Studios) 

Altadore 36 streetscape. (Bryan Versteeg Studios) 

Architect Jesse Hindle (who lives in the community) has created two L-shaped buildings that interlock to allow for townhomes on both the street and interior courtyard.  From the street, the flat-roofed, clean edge, Frank Lloyd Wright-like design is synergistic with many of the community’s new contemporary single-family homes. The exterior is a timeless sandstone brick that recalls Calgary’s history as the Sandstone City. Perhaps the best news is prices will begin at $300,000 for the flats, which means young professionals can afford to live in this popular community where new single-family homes start at one million.  It will be interesting to see what Brookfield has planned for their other site at 48th Ave and 16th Street SW.  Together, they will add some much needed diversity to housing options in the community.

Computer rendering of interior courtyard of Altadore 36.(Photo credit: Bryan Versteeg Studios)

Need more offices

 To be a model 21st century urban community, Altadore needs more commercial development - small office buildings integrated along 16th Street, as well as 33rd and 34th Avenues.

Future site of The Odeon retail/office development on 33rd Avenue.

Future site of The Odeon retail/office development on 33rd Avenue.

Ronmor’s, The Odeon, (northeast corner of 33rd Ave and 20th St.) with Blush Lane Organic Grocers on the main floor and three floors of office space is exactly what Marda Loop needs. It complements Ronmor’s Shopper’s Drug Mart condos complex across the street.  Perhaps in another five years one of the other corners of will be developed - both are ripe for redevelopment.

The Odeon will add another dimension to the evolution of 33rd Avenue as a vibrant Main Street for the Marda Loop community. 

The Odeon will add another dimension to the evolution of 33rd Avenue as a vibrant Main Street for the Marda Loop community. 

I love the charm of the shops and offices in old and new houses along the north side of 34th Avenue SW. The houses on the east half of the block are ready for redevelopment. I hope whomever the developer is they will continue creating spaces for boutique retailers and offices in buildings with house-like design.

The conversion of homes into small businesses is a great way to add charm and diversity into older communities as a gradual transition. 

The conversion of homes into small businesses is a great way to add charm and diversity into older communities as a gradual transition. 

Last Word

The redevelopment of established communities is critical if Calgary is going to achieve its goal of 80,000 new homes in established communities by 2040. However, creating attractive vibrant communities is more than just building four to six-storey condos with retail, cafes and restaurants at street level.  It is not just about upgrading the parks, playgrounds, sidewalks and street furniture. It is also about adding workplaces on strategic sites for small businesses like health, fitness and financial.

A little residential here, a little retail there with some office integrated here and there is exactly what will transform Altadore into a model 21st century community.

By Richard White, January 28, 2015

Where is Altadore?  

Altadore’s eastern boundary is the Elbow River and 14th Street SW, with the western boundary being Crowchild Trail.  It extends north to south from 33rd to 50th Avenues. It includes the very successful Garrison Woods redevelopment (formerly Calgary Canadian Forces base) by Canada Lands Corporation – worthy of its own future blog. 

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Don't be too quick to judge

Enhancing Established Community Development: Multifamily

If the City of Calgary is serious about wanting more Calgarians to live in established neighbourhoods there are three initiatives (perhaps they could be New Year resolutions) Council could undertake in 2015 that would benefit the City, homebuyers and developers.

  1. Make Multifamily Development a permitted use
  2. Subdivision and Development Appeal Board reform
  3. Remove bureaucracy

Over the next three weeks, we will look at each one of these initiatives beginning with “making multi-family development a permitted use.” 

The Problem

I know of a recent case where the City Planner thought it would be a good idea to ask the developer to create homes that face both the street and back alley. The developer agreed and proceeded to create a design that would accommodate both street and laneway homes. The Community Association was on side with the design when it was presented to them. But a couple of neighbours didn’t want to share the back alley with the new homes, so they appealed the decision - and won. 

Parkdale boutique infill condo project is not much taller than some of the new single-family, mega mansions in the community.

Parkdale boutique infill condo project is not much taller than some of the new single-family, mega mansions in the community.

Now, after more than a year of debate, it is back to the drawing board for the developer. The net result is the new project will have more expensive homes, as the developer needs to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the first design and community engagement. This is an example of just one of the lost opportunities to build more affordable homes in established communities in a timely manner as allowed by the existing zoning rules.   And, I know this isn’t an isolate example.

Calgary’s Municipal Development Plan (MDP) is a comprehensive document that will guide Calgary’s growth over the next 40 or more years.  One of its stated goals is to encourage 33% of future housing growth to be accommodated within the city’s developed area (established or existing communities); this means 80,000 new housing units, or approximately 2,000 new condo and townhomes per year.

The Plan recognizes that as Calgary evolves and society changes so does Calgarians’ housing wants and needs. Fifty years ago single-family homes dominated every new community in Calgary - Lakeview, University Heights or Acadia. But this changed starting about 2010 with the increased demand for multi-family housing mostly by young professionals, empty nesters and affordable first homes for young families.

In fact from 2003 to 2013, 74% of all new housing units in Calgary were multi-family condos and apartments or row housing, however, 90% were in new suburbs.  The dilemma is that in established communities there is always a vocal minority who has difficulty accepting multi-family housing in their neighbourhood.  This makes building new multi-family buildings in established communities, difficult and expensive.

Row or Townhomes in Currie Barracks create an attractive streetscape with their diversity of facades and hidden density - no side yards. 

Row or Townhomes in Currie Barracks create an attractive streetscape with their diversity of facades and hidden density - no side yards. 

Permitted vs. Discretionary Uses

The City of Calgary’s Land Use Bylaw zones all land in the city for specific uses e.g. Commercial, Residential or Industrial. The Bylaw even goes further to specify what types of buildings can be built on residential land e.g. single-family, town-homes or multi-family.  It even dictates what size of multi-family building can be built - how many units, how high and how many parking stalls are needed, just to name a few of the requirements. 

While the City has several multi-family, land-use categories, that define what size of multi-family building you can create on a specific piece of land, it is still at the City’s discretion if they will let a developer build a multi-family building on the land they have purchase at a cost that reflects the approved multi-family zoning i.e. the more density the land is zoned for the higher the land cost.  However, with discretionary use, it means the developer first has to buy the land, design the project and then present their plan to City, community and neighbouring landowners to and then they must wait to see if the City will allow them to build their project even if it meets all of the City’s approved conditions for development.  This is a very time consuming and costly way to foster multi-family development in established communities.

University City is an attractive (some don't like the bright colours, I do) and affordable phased multi-family project adjacent to the Brentwood LRT Station. It transform a parking lot into a village and adds to the diversity of housing in the community .  The City wants and needs to capitalize on its investment in LRT with projects like these at every LRT station.

University City is an attractive (some don't like the bright colours, I do) and affordable phased multi-family project adjacent to the Brentwood LRT Station. It transform a parking lot into a village and adds to the diversity of housing in the communityThe City wants and needs to capitalize on its investment in LRT with projects like these at every LRT station.

The Solution

Make multi-family developments a “permitted” use on land zoned for multi-family development - not discretionary.  If the proposed development meets all the approved standards (which have already been debated when the Land Use Zoning was approved by City Council) for the site (e.g. parking, height, landscaping, density and setback), it gets approved without debate.  If a proposed development meets the existing rules as approved by the City and community, shouldn’t the project simply get approved without debate? If not, what was the point of creating the rules in the first place? If the proposal requires relaxation from the approved requirements only then should the project is open for debate and approval at the City’s discretion.

As it is, today all new multi-family projects are discretionary use, which means planners and the community get to comment on everything from the aesthetics of the roofline and window placements, to door colour and tree planting.  When I was on Calgary Planning Commission, I remember reading a community association’s letter saying, “we would like each unit to have granite countertops.”

As one might expect, debating the merits of a development can take months, even years, to get approval with so many different knowledge bases and aesthetic sensibilities.  There is no perfect development for everyone. Everyone might like the proposal except for a small component (and in fact it is often a different component for each person who is opposed to the development) and you end up with a refusal.

Or you get approval from the City, but one or more individuals appeal the project to the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board, which can then delay the project for several months, which will be the subject of next week’s column.

Savoy condos, with main floor retail, on Kensington Road in West Hillhurst are located within walking distance to downtown and SAIT and have excellent bus connections to University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre complex and downtown. Increasing the density of people living along Kensington Road could be the catalyst for its transformation into a Main Street. 

Savoy condos, with main floor retail, on Kensington Road in West Hillhurst are located within walking distance to downtown and SAIT and have excellent bus connections to University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre complex and downtown. Increasing the density of people living along Kensington Road could be the catalyst for its transformation into a Main Street. 

Last Word

I am told Edmonton developers and planners get a chuckle when told “multi-family developments are a “discretionary use” in Calgary, even when they are on land zoned for multi-family buildings.   This alone should be the catalyst for a change in Calgary’s Land-Use Bylaw in 2015. 

Richard White, January 25, 2015 (this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on January 24, 2015 with the title "A call to streamline the approval process."

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Tale of Three Calgary Pedestrian Bridges

Calgary is blessed with almost 1,000 km of pathways (one of the world’s largest urban pathways) used by pedestrians, runners and cyclists year-round.  One of the key elements of the pathways system is its pedestrian bridges which range from “plain jane” functional bridges to multi-million dollar iconic bridges designed by world renowned architects and engineers.  Some have been created with much controversy, while others have flown under the radar.  

This is the story of three recently completed pedestrian bridges that I have been following for several years – Bow Trail, Peace and St. Patrick’s Island bridges.

 Calgary’s “Other Red Bridge”

While the Peace Bridge and St. Patrick’s Island bridges got all the media attention, the new pedestrian bridge over Bow Trail at the western entrance into the downtown just quietly got built. As a minor element in the massive billion-dollar West LRT project, there was no international design completion, nor any elaborate public engagement process. The design was given to two local engineers - Edmund Ho and Monty Knaus of Calgary’s MMM GROUP.

In their 2014 Transportation Association of Canada (Structures Session) Conference presentation, the bridge is described as a “rotated-ellipse arch,” but most people just see it as a representation or interpretation of Calgary’s iconic Chinook Arch. In my mind, there couldn’t be a more appropriate design for one of the downtown’s key gateways, seen by 100,000+ Calgarians and visitors who pass under it, cross over it or by it (Crowchild Trail) every day.

Its Canada Flag red colour helps make it stand out against the dramatic Calgary sky that can range anywhere from pure white to deep blue. Usually I am the guy asking for more ornamentation, but in this case, the simplicity of the design works well. Who says engineers have no sense of urban design? It also offers one of the best views of Calgary’s stunning downtown vista, which becomes visible at exactly this point when travelling east.

This bridge is an important connection in Calgary’s pathway system as it provides a connection to the Bow River pathway for all of the communities west of Crowchild Trail and south of Bow Trail, for both leisure and commuter use. It also provides access to a bus stop on Bow Trail.

The bridge spans all six lanes of traffic as well as the LRT track, with a span length of 50 metres from end-to-end of the half ellipse and another 12 metres of deck supported by steel props on the south end of the bridge. Narrowest of the three bridges at only 3 metres wide; this means it has no room for segregated bike and pedestrian traffic.  It also has no lighting on the bridge itself; though there are street lamps that lights up both the bridge for nighttime use. Note: The City was unable to give me the cost of this bridge as it was buried in the cost of the West LRT project, but in chatting with engineers the thought is the cost would be in the $6M range (this is the smallest of the three bridges).

The Bow Trail Bridge opened in December 2011, if you haven’t visited it, you should check it out for its spectacular view. 

The sky view from the Bow Trail bridge. 

The sky view from the Bow Trail bridge. 

Currently the bridge connects an old seniors cottage village and park, as well as being a key link in Calgary's nearly 1,000 km pathway system.  Plans are currently being developed to transform the seniors site into a more mixed-use urban village with seniors as the focus. 

Currently the bridge connects an old seniors cottage village and park, as well as being a key link in Calgary's nearly 1,000 km pathway system.  Plans are currently being developed to transform the seniors site into a more mixed-use urban village with seniors as the focus. 

The bridge spans the river of buses, trains and automobiles entering and exiting the Downtown along Bow Trail. 

The bridge spans the river of buses, trains and automobiles entering and exiting the Downtown along Bow Trail. 

A Chinook Arch which was the inspiration for the Bow Trail bridge. 

A Chinook Arch which was the inspiration for the Bow Trail bridge. 

The city vista from the Bow Trail bridge is stunning.

The city vista from the Bow Trail bridge is stunning.

Peace Bridge 

The Calatrava (the world famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava was the designer) Bridge, which later became the Peace Bridge had very strict requirements because of the environmental sensitivity of the Bow River (one of the great fly fishing rivers in the world), no piers in the water (in an effort to minimize the ecological footprint) and restricted height (due to the nearby  heliport).  The bridge also had to meet the following specifications:

  • Withstand Calgary's one-in-100 year flood cycle (who knew this would happen only one year after its completion)
  • Minimum 75-year life span
  • Barrier free access for people of all mobility types
  • Sufficient light so public felt comfortable and secure at all times

Calatrava’s Peace Bridge is unique in that it is doesn't incorporate his signature asymmetric monochromatic white forms with anchored high masts and cables.

Calatrava's Chords Bridge for pedestrians and trains in Jerusalem. 

Calatrava's Chords Bridge for pedestrians and trains in Jerusalem. 

The candy cane red Peace Bridge name references the fact the bridge’s north side is on Memorial Drive, a boulevard that pays homage to Canada’s war and peacekeeping efforts over the past 100+ years. At the same time as the bridge was being built, Memorial Drive received a major makeover, creating a much more ceremonial street complete with the new Poppy Plaza, public art and ornamental lighting and decorative boulevard.

The bridge was steeped in controversy from day one for several reasons.  The cost ($20M+ was deemed too high by many for a pedestrian/cycling bridge). Why was it sole sourced? Why no pubic engagement? Was it even needed?

And then there were the delays. An independent inspection company was engaged to inspect all of the welds completed in Spain. Red flags were raised about the aesthetics and safety of the welds, which resulted in all the welds being ground down and redone on site. The bridge sat on the riverbank for months - covered in orange tarps like some Christo artwork - while welders redid all of the welds.

Funding for the Peace Bridge was provided through the City of Calgary’s Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program (TIIP), which defines the priority and timing of major infrastructure construction projects. One of the key elements of this program is to foster more pedestrian and cycling opportunities in high-density areas where these modes are more efficient at moving people, supporting land use and lessening environmental impacts. 

The final costs were $19.8M for construction, $3.45M for architectural and structural design and specialized and $1.25M in administration, quality assurance and insurance for a total of #24.5M.

The Peace Bridge is 126 meters long and 6 meters wide, making it twice as wide as a normal pedestrian bridge, allowing separate pedestrian and cycling lanes (not that you would know it as pedestrians walk wherever they want).  It is well lit to promote nighttime use.  The bridge originally to be opened in fall of 2010 didn’t open until March 2012.

Peace Bridge looking south into downtown over the glacier waters (green) of the Bow River. To me the bridge dominates the river, creating a bold "look at me" statement that takes away from the natural beauty of the setting and blocks rather than enhances the view of the city skyline and Prince's Island. 

Peace Bridge looking south into downtown over the glacier waters (green) of the Bow River. To me the bridge dominates the river, creating a bold "look at me" statement that takes away from the natural beauty of the setting and blocks rather than enhances the view of the city skyline and Prince's Island. 

The Peace Bridge is a popular place for a noon hour stroll or workout - it is an outdoor gym.  The skeleton-like structure creates interesting viewing vistas for those who stop, while at the same time blocking an expansive view of the river, the sky, park and skyline as you proceed along the bridge.  Visually it seems antagonistic, rather than synergistic with the natural setting. 

The Peace Bridge is a popular place for a noon hour stroll or workout - it is an outdoor gym.  The skeleton-like structure creates interesting viewing vistas for those who stop, while at the same time blocking an expansive view of the river, the sky, park and skyline as you proceed along the bridge.  Visually it seems antagonistic, rather than synergistic with the natural setting. 

Peace Bridge links the north and south side of the extensive Bow River pathways system for walkers, joggers and cyclists. It is like an impromptu parade at noon hour in the summer, which creates a wonderful urban vitality. 

Peace Bridge links the north and south side of the extensive Bow River pathways system for walkers, joggers and cyclists. It is like an impromptu parade at noon hour in the summer, which creates a wonderful urban vitality. 

St. Patrick's Island Bridge

While the cost of the St. Patrick’s Island Bridge was similar to the Peace Bridge, everything else about this bridge’s design and construction were different.  There was an international design competition attracting 33 local, national and international concepts. All designs were shared with the public - over 2,000 Calgarians participated in the engagement process. Kudos to Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) for managing what has become the public engagement model for major public projects in Calgary.

Eventually, the design of two engineering firms - RFR from Paris and Halsall Associates from Calgary – was chosen.  Their design was nicknamed the “skipping stone” bridge as its three arches reminded people of a child playing at the edge of the river skipping a stone off water - a fitting image for the urban playground image being fostered by CMLC for East Village, Riverwalk and St. Patrick’s Island.

In September 2012, construction crews began work, putting in place temporary berms, extending into the Bow River from the north and south banks, to support the base and bridge deck structure. The steel arches were manufactured by ADF Group Inc. in Montreal. The arch sections vary in size (32 to 99-metres long) and weight (70,000 kg to  200,000 kg), were then shipped by truck to Calgary where they were welded together on site and eventually lifted in place with a 250-tonne capacity crane. 

The bridge connects East Village to the charming Bridgeland neighbourhood, as well as provides a new attractive cycling commuter path to downtown from the northeast quadrant of the city.  It is also a key element of the mega-makeover currently underway on St. Patrick’s Island, which is currently being to transform it into a year-round meeting and activity place. It replaces an existing bridge near the west end of St. Patrick’s Island, which did not offer a direct connection to the north bank of the Bow River (all of the materials from the old bridge have been recycled in various ways).

Like the Peace Bridge, St. Patrick’s Bridge has been designed with sufficient width for pedestrians and cyclists, but it doesn't have segregated lanes. It does have purpose-built lighting on the sidewalk of the bridge, but not lighting on the arches which would have been beautiful against the dark river especially in the winter.  The total length of the bridge is 182 metres with a maximum bridge width of 10.7 metres and minimum width of 7.3 metres, making it the longest and widest of the three bridges. 

The St. Patrick’s Island Bridge opened in the fall of 2014 after a one-year delay due to the 2013 flood and with no controversy from beginning to end.

People of ages and backgrounds enjoy the East Village Riverwalk for various activities. The St. Patrick's Bridge is in the background under construction. 

People of ages and backgrounds enjoy the East Village Riverwalk for various activities. The St. Patrick's Bridge is in the background under construction. 

St. Patrick's Bridge has become a popular meeting place for walkers, joggers and cyclists.  It has some similarities to the Bow Trail Bridge with its Chinook Arch shape and great views of the dramatic downtown skyline and the prairie sky. The bridge has an elegance that seems to frame the river, skyline and sky without being overbearing. (Photograph by Mark Eleven Photography, extended in courtesy of CMCL.)

St. Patrick's Bridge has become a popular meeting place for walkers, joggers and cyclists.  It has some similarities to the Bow Trail Bridge with its Chinook Arch shape and great views of the dramatic downtown skyline and the prairie sky. The bridge has an elegance that seems to frame the river, skyline and sky without being overbearing. (Photograph by Mark Eleven Photography, extended in courtesy of CMCL.)

View of bridge from one of the Riverwalk platforms. You can see the three arches aka skipping stones, with one under the bridge. There is an elegance and fluidity in the design that works even in a winter sky. 

View of bridge from one of the Riverwalk platforms. You can see the three arches aka skipping stones, with one under the bridge. There is an elegance and fluidity in the design that works even in a winter sky. 

Last Word

There are many lessons learned from the tale of these three bridges. First, engineers can design engaging urban structures.  Second, it is critical to have local representation on any major Calgary design project, as they will bring a critical eye to reflecting Calgary’s unique sense of place. Third, there must be an effective public engagement process.

As well, a fourth lesson might be that it is not necessary to have an international design competition to ensure high quality urban design. Calgary has a strong, diverse, competent and experienced design community capable of creating great buildings, bridges and public spaces. I am convinced that if we really want to celebrate and express Calgary’s unique sense of place we will have to do it by engaging designers locally who understand and appreciate our urban culture and not import it form elsewhere.  

My personally favourite of the three bridges is the Bow Trail Bridge for its Calgary red colour (think Stampeders, Flames and Calgary Tower), uncomplicated design and subtle reference to one of Calgary’s signature differentiators - the Chinook Arch. 

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

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

Collaboration

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

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

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

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

Public Spaces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Streets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neighbourhood farmers' markets are also popular in Calgary. 

Neighbourhood farmers' markets are also popular in Calgary. 

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

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

Suburban Urbanization

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

McKenzie Towne street.

McKenzie Towne street.

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

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

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

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

Pancake breakfast in McKenzie Towne.

Pancake breakfast in McKenzie Towne.

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

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

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

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

City Building: A Two-Way Street

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

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

Beltline's yimbyism

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

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

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

Infill Development Gone Wild

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suburban / Urban Divide

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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Calgary: The importance of a good mayor

Recently, I read Ken Greenberg’s book Walking Home where is shares his lessons learned as a “city builder” in various cities around the world.  One of his comments that sticks in my mind is “mayors are the chief designers of their cities.”  That got me reflecting on how Calgary’s mayors have influenced the design of our city over the past 35 years, when just four very different mayors governed our city. 

Calgary’s Mayor Terms

  • 1980 to 1989                        Ralph Klein          
  • 1989 to 2001                        Al Duerr
  • 2001 to 2010                        Dave Bronconnier    
  • 2010 to 2017?                      Naheed Nenshi

 

Klein: The Communicator

Unlike the USA, any Mayor in Canada has limited power to drive his/her agenda - unless their power of persuasion can convince the majority of their Council members to buy into their vision or agenda. 

Klein

That being said, Calgary has benefitted from having strong mayors for 35+ years, each capitalizing and adapting to the economic cycles of our boom and bust economy.  Calgary entered the 1980 in a building boom that rivalled that of today, however the Federal government’s National Energy Program (NEP) quickly put Calgary into a recession that lasted into the mid ‘90s.

Post-NEP, Ralph Klein adopted a Roosevelt-style of government, negotiating with the Province to help fund major city projects like Northeast LRT, Municipal Building and Performing Arts Centre.

He was instrumental in the negotiating with the Province to ensure Calgary’s Saddledome got built for the Calgary Flames and 1988 Winter Olympics. Klein, and then Premier Peter Lougheed enjoyed a synergistic relationship that was instrumental in getting not only the Saddledome built but also the Northwest LRT constructed in time for the Olympics.

Therein lies an important lesson - it is critical for Calgary’s mayor to have a good working relationship with the Premier and his cabinet. Master of persuasion and relationship building - with citizens, other governments and the President of the International Olympic Committee - Klein was pivotal in making Calgary an international city, much like Nenshi is today.

The Saddledome at Stampede Park on the southeast edge of downtown.

The Municipal Building, old City Hall and Olympic Plaza.

Construction of the Performing Arts Center with its concert hall and four theatre spaces with a total of 3,200 seats, made it one of North America's largest centres in 1985. 

Duerr: The Planner

The early ‘90s was a period of little growth in Calgary. We were still in a recession and our infrastructure was in pretty good shape, so much so that there were no tax increases for five years.

Duerr

As a planner, Mayor Al Duerr realized this was a good time to review outdated planning documents like the Transportation Plan, so he initiated a community engagement process that resulted in the Go Plan being approved in 1996. The process was critical in that it forced Calgarians to look into the future and determine what kind of city they wanted to build.  One key issues at the time was mobility and lengthening commuter times – sound familiar.

A key idea of the Go Plan was the creation of mini downtowns in the suburbs, allowing some of those who lived in the ‘burbs to live work and play close to home. Today, were are doing just that with, for example Brookfield Residential’s SETON and Livingston’s town centres, as well as urban villages at Westbrook, University and Bridgeland LRT Stations.  

The city and development community have also created significant new communities in the SE and NE quadrants close to the city’s large manufacturing, warehouse and distribution employment centres, making it possible to live work and play without crossing the Deerfoot Divide.

Another major decision of the Go Plan was no new Bow River crossing.  Calgarians were already starting to think about the environment, our rivers and sustainable growth. Before the Go Plan, the City plans called a river crossing at Shaganappi Trail (in Montgomery) and another one in Bowness.  Unfortunately, without these crossings and the City’s significant residential only growth on the westside, we now have the Crowfoot Trail crisis.

Under the guidance of Duerr Calgary became a more “caring city.”  He was instrumental in the development of the Calgary Homeless Foundation in 1998, which was unique in North America at the time and a far cry from the Klein’s famous “creeps and bums” fiasco.

By the end of Duerr’s reign, a new Transportation Plan was in place, setting the stage for Bronconnier, the builder and project manager, to take over the reigns.

The Bridges is a master planned community on the site of the old General Hospital on the northeast edge of the City Centre, based on transit oriented development principles.

The Bridges is a master planned community on the site of the old General Hospital on the northeast edge of the City Centre, based on transit oriented development principles.

Brookfield Residential's SETON (which stands for southeast town), is a new live, work, play community with its own downtown being created at the southeastern edge of the city 20 years after the approval of the GO Plan. It will eventually be linked to the rest of the city by the SE LRT. (photo credit: Brookfield Residential and RK Visuals)

Bronconnier: The Builder

Bronconnier

Dave Bronconnier had an agenda and was always ready to share it.  From day one, he said we needed to improve Calgary’s infrastructure and he delivered.  Bronco (his nickname for good reason as he rode the horse no matter how hard it tried to buck him off) knew how to count to 8 (not seconds) Alderman as that is what he need for a majority vote at Council.  By 2004, he had successfully negotiated with the Province to get a share of the gasoline tax paid in Calgary for infrastructure projects. With the funding in hand, he was the catalyst for the extension of all three legs of the LRT out to the new suburban communities and the funding and design of the West LRT on time and on budget.

Bronco, recognizing the need to balance the city’s investment in both transit and roads, included several major road projects including the gigantic GE5 (Glenmore, Elbow Drive and 5th Street underpass), as well as numerous over passes at key intersections around the city as part of his agenda.

He was also instrumental in realizing the mega East Village makeover after over 20 years of false starts by negotiating with the Province an innovated new funding model based on the USA’s TIF (Tax Increment Financing) model.  And he was able to convince his colleagues on Council to form the controversial Calgary Municipal Land Corporation to develop and implement a master plan for East Village utilizing both the city and private sector lands. East Village has the potential to become Calgary’s postcard to the world of urban planning and living.

I am told Bronco was able to negotiate an amazing $15B from the Federal and Provincial governments for Calgary infrastructure projects during his term. He was instrumental in working with other Big City mayors to get municipal funding from the Federal Fuel Tax and Federal GST refund. The latter provided seed money for Calgary's new Science Centre and Library as well as major upgrades to Heritage Park and the Zoo.  He was also instrumental in setting up the ENMAX Park Fund. Bravo Bronco!

The northeast LRT extension included the new Martindale Saddletowne station. (photo credit: GEarchitecture)

Aerial view of the GE5 interchange (photo credit: PCL)

Aerial view of the GE5 interchange (photo credit: PCL)

Nenshi: The Ambassador 

Nenshi

Perhaps it is too early to tell how current Mayor Nenshi will shape our city, but already he has exercised his persuasive powers to get the controversial Airport Tunnel approved (only time will tell if this was the right decision). 

Nenshi, a tireless champion of the need to create a more urban Calgary, has encouraged more dense communities at the edges of the city and infilling of older existing communities.  To date, several major inner-city urban village projects have been approved Stampede Shopping Centre, West Campus and West District. 

To date, he has been less successful when it comes to the approval of secondary suites and cutting the red tape around the approval of infill projects in established neighbourhoods to allow for more density and diversity. However, it is not for lack of trying!

He has been a strong advocate for making transit a priority and trying to get funding for both the North and SE LRT legs.  While the funding for LRT is still a long way away, a BRT (Bus Rapid Transit that will run along the same route as future LRT tracks) program is in the works as the first phase in the development of these two “game changing” transit routes.

Nenshi has also been an outstanding ambassador, building the City's reputation internationally as a young, hip, progressive city. At home, his negotiating skills will be tested by the City's growing urban/ suburban divide, the long list of "wants and needs" vs revenues and the growing NIMBYism in established communities. 

Airport Tunnel construction. 

Airport Tunnel construction. 

Transit routes

Last Word

Greenberg identifies “civic pride” as a key ingredient to successful city building. I doubt Calgary’s civic pride has ever been higher than it was after the Olympics in 1988. Unless of course it was after the 2013 flood, when Calgary demonstrated its amazing community spirit, under the leadership of Mayor Nenshi.  While no mayor is perfect, Calgary has been very fortunate to have effective mayors who for the past 35 years have helped Calgary evolve into one of the most liveable cities in the world. 

By Richard White, January 16, 2015

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East Village Condo: No Parking, No Problem

Imagine a world without cars. Imagine Calgary without cars. Many futurist say it will eventually happen. One of the first steps will be to experiment with condo towers in strategic urban locations with no parking for residents. 

Joe Starkman, CEO of Calgary’s Knightsbridge Homes is prepared to be a pioneer with his proposed 15-storey condo project, N3 in East Village that would have 167 units and no parking.  While some Councilors and planners are questioning the parking relaxation (current regulations would require 101 parking stalls, 84 for residents and 17 for visitors) that would be required to approve N3. I say “no residents’ parking, no problem.”  

I originally thought the developer should provide the required visitor parking, however with a bit of digging I found out there are 1658 existing public parking stalls within 300 metres of N3, and Calgary Parking Authority has plans to build a new 630 stall parkade. I also found out that to add even one level of parking would add  $70K per unit, as the high water table would require expensive "raft construction."  

After reviewing Bunt & Associates' "N3 East Village Zero Parking Feasibility Study," I say "no visitors' parking, no problem."  The study clearly stated that after a comprehensive review of best practices and experiences with no or limited parking in cities across North America, N3 could be successful without any parking given the excellent access by transit, cycling and walking to key amenities, as well as easy access to 1,000s of public parking spots when needed. 

I would also like to note that the City should not approve any reserved street parking for residents of this or any condos in East Village. In fact, all street parking should be public parking, either metered or a 2 to 4 hour limit depending on the time of day and day of the week. 

Computer rendering of N3 next to the St. Louis Hotel on 8th Avenue and 4th Street SE.

Who would live in a condo with no parking?

All of the N3 units are small - 460 to 620 square feet - meaning the primary market for these homes is singles, be that young, middle-aged or seniors.  More specifically, the market is for urbanites who don’t want or need to have a car.  A $200,000 home in downtown Calgary would be very attractive to the young geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers (GABEsters) who populate the office towers just blocks away. 

I also think N3 would be attractive to empty nesters who are travelling a lot and newly widowed seniors.  My mother moved to downtown Hamilton and gave up her car after my Dad passed away (not that she needed to but because she wanted to) so she could walk to the library, market and church.  She has never been happier.

Back story, a recent CBC report from Hamilton indicated that city has a potential crisis in the making with seniors who are trapped in the suburbs without a car. My Mom was smart to get out while she can. Learn more: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/why-a-revitalized-downtown-is-what-hipsters-want-and-seniors-need-1.2843931

I think corporate Calgary would purchase a few units for out-of-town consultants and board members when in town on business.  Maybe even some local executives who live in the ‘burbs or on acreages might purchase a unit to have a place to stay after a long day at the office, an early morning meeting, Flames game, concert, theatre or bad weather. 

I am also betting there are individuals in Red Deer, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge who might want to have a “pied-a-terre” allowing them to be part of downtown Calgary’s growing culture – National Music Centre, High Performance Rodeo, Folk Festival, Stampede etc.

N3 street view with retail at grade to animate the sidewalk. 

East Village is perfect!

Calgary Parking Authority has plans for a new parkade on 9th Avenue across from the Salvation Army just a few blocks away where residents and visitors will be able to find parking when needed.  The fact people will have to park and walk a few blocks is great as it will animate the sidewalks and add more eyes to the street adding to improved public safety. 

East Village is the perfect place for Calgary to experiment with a "no parking" condo as all of the City’s amenities are within walking distance – walking and cycling pathways, parks, museums, art galleries, library, theatres and LRT. There will be lots of cafes, pubs, lounges, restaurants, patios and even a grocery store only a block or two away. It will be a shoppers’ paradise as you can easily walk to Inglewood, The Bay, The Core, Kensington, Design District and 17th Avenue or catch the train to Chinook.

Building a condo with no parking works in East Village, and would also work in some places in Beltline, Hillhurst Sunnyside and perhaps in few other locations where the proximity to public parking, transit and amenities allow for a "no car" livestyle. 

RK Visualization rendering of East Village pedestrian street at night with dinning and shopping activities. (photo credit: Calgary Municipal Land Corporation)

No Car / No Problem

With Car2go there is less and less of a reason to own a car if you live in Calgary’s greater downtown neighbourhoods.  Why own a car that sits idle 95% of the time and costs $10,000 a year to own and operate when you can use Car2go for a few dollars for most of your trips? 

There are also taxis and car rentals for other trips on an as-need basis.  There are advantages to taking a taxis to certain places (e.g. hospitals) as you save on the parking costs or to renting a car as you can rent what you need when you want (e.g. four wheel drive for that skiing trip to the mountains or a SUV for the golf trip to Montana).

Buyer Beware

Sure, the market for small condos with no parking stall is limited, but in a city with over 450,000 homes, I am sure there are 167 individuals who would love to save $70K (cost of an individual underground parking stall if developer required to supply all of the required parking) on the purchase of their home and probably another $5,000 a year in transportation costs.

I would hope that anyone buying in N3 would realize that the future resale of their home would be to a narrow market, even though there is plenty of research documenting the “no car” market is growing in North America. I expect Calgary's "no car" lifestyle market will grow significantly as our city becomes more urbanized.

RK Visualization of new Central Library and LRT in East Village (photo credit: Calgary Municipal Land Corporation)

Laptop Generation

Knightsbridge Homes is no newbie when it comes to pioneering innovative new condo designs and developments. It is same team that created the vision for University City at the Brentwood LRT station that is currently transforming a sea of surface parking spaces into a transit-oriented condo village.  I expect they have learned a lot from that project and are applying it to N3. 

I chatted with Starkman about that project awhile back and he share with me his thoughts about the next generation of condo dwellers, a group he called the  “laptop” generation.  His observation is that many young adults are not interested in condos with big kitchens as most don't cook and most often dine on “take-out or take-away” while playing video games, shopping online, watching TV shows or movies on their laptops. on their laps.  As Bob Dylan sang, “For the times they are a-changin’.”

The times are "a-changin" also when it comes to Americans' love affair with cars. Since the turn of the century young Americans have been driving less, don't believe me read this report:  http://www.uspirg.org/reports/usp/transportation-and-new-generation

Last Word

Like all good developers and entrepreneurs, Starkman is always looking for emerging markets and trying to stay ahead of the curve.  What I also like about the N3 proposal is that it will diversify the demographics of East Village. And in my opinion, diversity is more important than density in creating urban vitality.

I hope the City won’t require the developer to do more research or commission another study thus resulting in paralysis by analysis. Sometimes you just have to trust your intuition.

PS

Wonder where the name N3 comes from? It official stands for New Attitude, New Vision, New Lifestyle - clever eh! But I am thinking it stands for No parking, No cars, No problem. 

 

By Richard White, January 9, 2014

 

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2015: Year of Calgary's mega infill projects!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rail Trail Rejuvenation

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

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

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

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

West Village condos proposed for Stampede Pontiac block. 

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

West LRT Catalyst

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

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

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

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

Jacques Site Redevelopment Ideas

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

Images are from Silvera for Seniors website.

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

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

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

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

jacques site 2
jacques site 3

Inglewood R & R

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six-Storey Condos?

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

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Inglewood: Calgary's most unique community?

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