Calgary: Postcards from the sky?

 

Recently, Keith Walker at Peak Aerials (formerly Peak Experience) gave me access to their amazing library of aerial photography from Calgary.  While we have all seen Calgary from the sky when taking off or landing at the Calgary airport the Peak Aerials images seemed much more intense, dramatic and surreal than the fleeting image you see from a passenger plane.

It was fun to see and study Calgary from a different perspective.  I was immediately struck by how wonderful and unique these images would be as postcards so I decided to choose 10 and share them with the everyday tourist community.  

Choosing 10 was not as easily as I thought, so I have decided I will do a couple of blogs showcasing different perspectives of Calgary from the sky over the next few months.  This blog will look at the strange buildings Calgary has created, while others will look at parks and public spaces and another will probably look at abstract images.

Hope you enjoy!

Postcard Water Centre.jpg

About Peak Aerials

The aerial viewpoint is one that captures the interest and imagination of the viewer.  Peak Aerials, (formerly Peak Experience Imagery), is an aerial photography service company that has completed over 1000 aerial photo missions since 1999.  Their clients are a diverse mix of multi-national corporations, small businesses and government agencies who have found that aerial photos are a valuable business resource for communicating, documenting and promoting with clarity and ease.  While based in Calgary, Peak Aerials has scheduled and custom flights across Canada.   Learn more: Peak Aerials

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Eau Claire Estates linked to Burj Khalifa?

Built in 1981, Eau Claire Estates on the Bow River at 4th St SW, was one of city’s first luxury urban condos.  Though it was supposed to be the start of a mega Eau Claire urban renewproject by Oxford Properties who owned several blocks in Eau Claire, it sat all alone for nearly a decade.

Backstory: For newcomers to Calgary, it is hard to imagine in the ‘70s and ’80s, Eau Claire was a rundown community of old homes, surface parking lots (there are still lots of those) and women of the street.  When the Federal Government introduced the National Energy Program in October 1980, Calgary quickly slid into a recession and the hopes for a quick revitalization of the Eau Claire community quickly disappeared.  

It wasn’t until the mid ‘90s that Eau Claire’s revitalization was rebooted with opening of Eau Claire Market, Eau Claire Y, Sheraton Hotel and Prince’s Island Estates condos. But even that was a bit of false start as it took yet another 10 years to get projects like the Princeton and The Waterfront condos off the ground.

Eau Claire Estates

Eau Claire Estates & Burj Khalifa?

 A little known fact is Eau Claire Estates was designed by Chicago-based Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM) architects, a renowned highrise specialist since 1936. Today, SOM is best known as the architect of the world’s tallest building - Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai. 

The Burj Khalifa soars about all of Dubai's tall towers.  

The Burj Khalifa soars about all of Dubai's tall towers. 

Eau Claire Estates is interesting in that it is not a single tower, but rather a family of 10 towers (with 14 elevators), the tallest being 23 floors. Somewhat analogously, the Burj (163 floors, completed in 2010) is constructed as a series of 27 setbacks resulting in what looks a family of towers stacked on top of each other.

That is where the similarities end, as the Burj is a majestic, slender, bright glass structure that towers over everything else in the Dubai skyline, while Eau Claire Estates is a foreboding dark brown brick structure.  (Even one of the residents who lived there for 30 years thought the brick was too dark.) While the façade is a flat monochromatic brick wall that offers no articulation or decorative qualities from balconies or windows, it has hints of modernism with the various slanted rooftops that anticipate the roofs of future office buildings like First Canadian Place and Suncor Centre.

Estate wall

Eau Claire Estates, with no grand street entrance or townhomes with doors to the sidewalk, presents a dark, blank, gated community-like wall that is very pedestrian-unfriendly.  However, for the residents it is an oasis with its two interior courtyard gardens boasting spectacular flowers in the summer and a huge lobby that serves all 10 buildings.

Today, Eau Claire Estates lives in the shadows of the shiny blue glass Devon, Centennial and Millennium office towers and the timeless red brick brick and sandstone Princeton condo complex.

Eau Claire Estates from the '80s beside the Princeton from the '00s illustrates how urban designed evolved over 25 years. 

Eau Claire Estates from the '80s beside the Princeton from the '00s illustrates how urban designed evolved over 25 years. 

Last Word

The decision by Oxford Properties to hire SOM architects to design Eau Claire Estates in the late ‘70s was a bold a move. It was on par with the early 21st century decisions to hire famous international architects (UK’s Norman Foster, The Bow; Spain’s Santiago Calatrava, Peace Bridge and Denmark’s Bjarke Ingles, TELUS Sky) in an attempt to put Calgary on the map of international cities having iconic architecture. 

Yet while the decision was bold and the architect famous, Eau Claire Estates hasn’t truly stood the test of time. It hasn’t become a classic example of late 20th Century architecture.  Nor does it add any charm or character to Eau Claire’s sense of place.  Lesson learned - hiring an international iconic architect doesn’t guarantee you will get an iconic building.

Another lesson to be learned is that community redevelopment takes decades, Eau Claire has been at since the early ‘80s and there is still lots of work to be done.

By Richard White, March 21, 2015. This blog was commissioned by Condo Living Magazine for their March Edition.  

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Everyday Tourist's road trip to the 'burbs!

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

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

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

Enjoy your private wine cellar and tasting bar with friends. 

Imagine your own yoga workout studio. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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First Street Underpass Transformation Finally Underway

Editor's Note:

This blog was written for the Hotel Arts newsletter in April 2013. Unfortunately the First Street Underpass didn't go forward as planned that summer due to the Great Flood of 2013.  Fortunately, the plan for transforming the underpass is currently underway.  

Given the pedestrian traffic that uses the CPR underpasses connecting the Beltline with the downtown core and their very poor conditions one has to wonder why they weren't given priority over Poppy Plaza, Memorial Drive decorations or the Peace Bridge. 

Plans are also underway to transform the 8th Street Underpass into a much more inviting place for pedestrians 24/7.  That blog will have to wait until another time. 

First Street Underpass Transformation 

Before Calgary became an oil and gas city, it was a railway town. In fact, not only does the Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CPR) main line still run right through the downtown, its head office is located downtown on 9th Avenue at 3rd Street, at least until its planned move to the Ogden Rail Yards in a few years.  The Steam Locomotive #29 sits, as a sentinel in front of the building on the plaza (fyi its steam whistle blows daily at noon). Placed there in 1996 when CPR moved its headquarters from Montreal to Calgary, it symbolizes a significant milestone in Calgary’s evolution as one of North America’s major corporate headquarter cities. Locomotive 29 also has the unique distinction of being the last CPR-operated, steam locomotive to close out the railway's steam era on November 6, 1960 - one day shy of the Company's 75th anniversary of driving the last spike.

It is the CPR that shaped Calgary’s downtown in the early 1880s, when it decided to locate the Calgary Train Station on the west side of the Elbow River. Why? Because, there was too much land speculation in the Inglewood area, so by placing the train station on the west side of the Elbow River, CPR could control the sale (profits) from all of the land around the new train station.

The CPR’s mainline (between 9th and 10th Avenues) meant building underground roads to link the warehouse district on the south with the commercial and residential districts on the north.  Yes, the land north of the tracks used to be mostly residential.  Nobody in their wildest imagination back then could have ever imagined Calgary’s downtown would become one of the densest in North America on par with Manhattan and Chicago.  

Interesting to see the First Street roadway being shared by a street car, tow horse driven carts and cyclist 100 years ago. 

Consequently, there are seven underpasses at 4th 2nd (Macleod Trail) and 1st Streets SE and 1st 4th 5th and 8th Streets SW. Of all the underpasses, the First Street SW underpass, built in 1908, is one of the oldest, busiest and dingiest. It is well known for the brownish liquid leaking from the tracks down the retaining walls to the sidewalk – looking like something from a bad horror movie.  The idea of building bright, clean and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks hadn’t even been thought of when this underpass was built.  Although there have been some attempts over the years to improve the lighting and hide the leaking  and staining of the retaining wall, the ugly patina soon returned.   

Then in November 2011, the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (the arm of the city responsible for developing the land east of City Hall), unveiled its very sleek and shiny 4th Street SE Underpass.  Using 21st century thinking, they created a bright and open (an incline that allowed pedestrians and others to see from one side to the other) underpass, with subtle streetscape ornamentation and lampposts that directed light on the road and the sidewalk. 

4th Street SE Underpass (photo credit: JordanW.ca on Flickr)

It didn’t take long for the City to realize the need to make all underpasses linking the Beltline (south downtown) community with the downtown core more attractive.  Up next is the First Street SW Underpass, with construction slated to begin late this summer.

In the mid '90s, Calgary artist Luke Lakasewich created a large mural crafted out of steel to animate the underpass.

First Street SW itself is significant in two ways. It is the only street from the 1913 Mawson Plan for Calgary that was actually built. Thomas Mawson was an early 21st century urban planner, who not only created a master plan for the City of Calgary, but also the City of Regina, University of Saskatchewan and Vancouver’s Stanley Park. It is also the only street in Calgary that links the Elbow and Bow Rivers. For Hotel Arts’ guests, it is THE gateway to the downtown – to Stephen Avenue Walk, CORE shopping center, Calgary Telus Convention Centre, EPCOR Performing Arts Centre, Bow River Promenade and Prince’s Island.

Starting late summer and hopefully finished by Christmas (plans are to do most of the work off-site to minimize the need for closure of the underpass), the First Street underpass will be completely transformed into a pedestrian friendly corridor linking the south and north sides of downtown. The City of Calgary has awarded the project to Calgary’s Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative. The project is more complex than you might think, as the new design must balance function, purpose and aesthetic design. Boutin is a good choice - not only is he an award-winning architect, but as his former office was a block away he knows the space and its challenges first-hand.

He and his creative team have generated a clever design that will convert the underpass into a work of art.  Their design consists of using two layers of a thin perforated aluminum screen mounted on the retaining wall to hide the stained concrete and allow for new water channeling infrastructure.  One layer of the perforated aluminum screens are designed to reflect the new LED lighting such that it will create a mountain landscape mural on the west side retaining wall and prairie landscape on the east side wall.  The second aluminum screen will have perforations that create the word “DOWNTOWN” to pedestrians walking north and “BELTLINE” to those walking south.

Rendering of the new wall of light that will adorn the underpass as part of the 21st century transformation. 

Surrealist rendering of the underpass hints at the transformation intended to make the underpass cleaner, brighter and more welcoming. 

Above the roadway along the railway tracks, the existing billboard advertising will be removed and a huge aluminum frame lit in blue will be erected, creating a huge, picture frame-like rectangle that will transform the passing night trains or skyline into works of art.  Ultimately, the pedestrian experience will be like walking into a cool outdoor cocktail lounge, or maybe a surrealistic painting with trains overhead.  

Not only will the entire street be cleaner and brighter, but there also will be more people than ever using the underpass, morning, noon and night.  It will be become the preferred way to get to and from downtown by Beltliners and Hotel Arts guests.  Unfortunately, due to space constraints, there is no room for a designated bike lane, but cyclists can dismount and walk their bikes through this avant-guard corridor.

Could this new underpass is destined to become another downtown Calgary "postcard" like the Peace Bridge, Wonderland sculpture on the plaza of the Bow Tower or the Trees outside Bankers Hall?  

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Are school sites sacred cows?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School-Oriented Villages

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

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

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

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

Edmonton kicks our butt

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

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

Constipation of consultation

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

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

Why wait?

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

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

Sacred Cows?

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

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

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

EH emailed: 

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

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

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

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

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

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SETON's Gateway Surprise

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

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

SETON Gateway at twilight.

The Gateway

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

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

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

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

SETON Gateway daytime.

SETON letters create a fun Kodak moment.

SETON letters create a fun Kodak moment.

Design Team

The SETON Gateway is a collaborative project designed by:

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

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

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

The SETON Gateway forrest with patio on left side.

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

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

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

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

SETON skylight.

Last Word

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

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

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

See For Yourself!

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

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Calgary's newest historic district?

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

Currie Barracks History 101

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

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

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

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

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

Hidden Gem

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

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

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

Preservation vs. Prosperity

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

Parade Square

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

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

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

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

Other Historic Buildings

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

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

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

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

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

Currie Barracks at a glance

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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Calgary: Interchanges as art?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary's Top Ten Road Knots?

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Google Earth 

Photo Credit: Google Earth

Photo Credit: Google Earth

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Google Earth  

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Google Earth 

Comments welcomed!

NIMBYism gone wild?

Seems like we can’t do anything these days without a group of citizens shouting “not in my backyard.” There seems to always be a loud minority who can’t accept that Calgary’s urban landscape has always been evolving and will have to continue to evolve if we want to be a viable and vibrant city for everyone. Let’s stop the madness.

School Yard Bullies

In Scenic Acres, you can’t build a school on a site that had always been intended to be used for a school because some neighbours thought is was going to be a park forever. 

In Varsity, 30 residents launched a lawsuit against the Calgary Board of Education to prevent the relocation of the Christine Meikle School for 120 special needs students on land that has been designated as a school site since 1971.

Back story: Since 1957, the Christine Meikle School has successfully operated in Bridgeland with some students even giving back to the community, through its volunteer program.  The new site near the Alberta Children’s Hospital means not only a better school to meet the needs of today’s students, but importantly allows as access to special therapy these students often need.

Who are these “schoolyard bullies?” Calgary is lucky nobody lived in Varsity in the mid ’60s when the University of Calgary was being proposed. Can you imagine the stink they would have raised at the thought of building a university for 30,000+ students next to them?

We may never have gotten a university! 

School yard bullies vandalizing sign announcing new school illustrates just how childish some adults can be sometimes. Living in a city means sharing space with others. 

Living on the Edge

And then there's Edgemont where some residents feel you can’t build a skatepark in a park because there are houses nearby.  What’s next - maybe we shouldn’t modernize and expand playgrounds in parks because there are houses nearby? Don’t we WANT skateparks built where there are homes close by so the community kids can walk to the park and play unsupervised?

Sure skateboarding is noisy, but so are lawnmowers, kids jumping on backyard trampolines and dog yapping at all times of the day – perhaps we should ban these also.

While there are 500 people on the petition against the skatepark, there can’t be more than a dozen homes that are actually within earshot of the proposed skatepark.  Interesting that in this case the Community Association is onside, but not the immediate neighbours – truly a “not in my back yard” issue. 

Skateboarding is one of the most popular activities of young Calgarians. The City has mobile skate parks around the city in the summer but what about the other three seasons.  When we have a winter like this one, the kids would be using the park year-round.

Live on the edge; let the kids play!

As you can see there are no houses in immediate proximity to the skatepark site. The closest are those across a busy street and then they are set back by large setback.  

Evolve or Die

In Bridgeland, some community members don’t want the 1921 Bridgeland School, which has been sold to developers to be turned into lofts surrounded by townhouses.  Personally, I think converting old school sites into mixed residential sites (lofts, townhouses, low-rise condos) is a great idea.  It will attract new people to the community something needed continue Bridgeland’s wonderful revitalization.  The townhouses will be ideal for young families, who can’t afford the million dollar new infills, yet want to live closer to the city’s downtown.  This project is more about diversifying the communities housing stock than density.

The protesters are probably the same people who complain that we can’t close inner-city schools because of declining enrollment, yet they won’t let the community evolve to attract young families.  You can’t have it both ways.

Communities must evolve or they die!

The proposal takes two surface parking lots and turns them into town homes, isn't that a good thing? Adds new tax revenues so the City can reinvest in established communities. 

Cougar Attack 

And then there’s the “Save The Slopes” residents group (mostly Cougar Ridge) up in arms over the Trinity Hills project east of Canada Olympic Park along the Paskapoo Slopes.  If you check out the proposed redevelopment, you’ll find out the land is privately owned and people have be using it as recreational space ONLY because the owner has allowed them to do so.

I drive by the site almost daily in the summer and most times never see anyone there.  The proposal has 69 hectares of the upper slopes (the most sensitive land) becoming a true park with public access to proper trails for biking and walking that will preserve the slopes.

The proposed village with hotel, retail, restaurants and residential is very synergistic to all of the year-round activities happening at Canada Olympic Park. Seems to me this one is a win-win!

Thank God there was no Cougar Ridge community in the early ‘80s when the city was making its bid for the 1988 Olympics.  Can you imagine how they would have attacked the idea of building Canada Olympic Park on the Paskapoo Slopes? We can’t preserve everything!

We would never have gotten the Olympic games, which put Calgary on the international map.

The Outline Plan clearly illustrates how the sensitive upper slopes will remain as green space with all of the development along the bottom with links to Canada Olympic Park. 

Six Month Limit

Too often it is the developer who gets pummeled by the community for proposing new developments with new uses and higher density.  But in reality, increased density and diversity of uses in established communities has been mandated by City Council, based on extensive research showing that a more compact city is more cost effective to manage.

Recently attending the City’s Open House for the proposed new Currie Barracks development, I was surprised to learn that since September 2013, 39,050 flyers have been distributed to surrounding community residents, and 230 hours of community engagement and four previous open houses had taken place.  And still people who weren’t happy. Obviously no matter how much community engagement you have you can never may everyone happy.

While I am all for public engagement, Council needs to realize they can’t please everyone no matter how long we take. The City needs to place a six-month limit on a well-planned public engagement process, integrating community ideas that are feasible based on accepted urban design principles, economic realities and the overall City’s Master Plan. Random personal opinion of what is appropriate should not make for endless debate.

Last Word

There are many different public(s) living in Calgary. Given that, it’s to be expected that people’s wants, needs and wishes are diametrically opposed.  Community consultation is currently costing the City and the development community millions of dollars each year in unnecessary unproductive, endless engagement.  This cost results in higher taxes and higher housing costs. I’m guessing, few if any of us want that.

Let’s stop the madness now!

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The ugliest pedestrian bridge in the world?

The Ponte Vecchio is a stone three-arch pedestrian bridge over the Arno River in Florence, Italy. A bridge at this location dates back to Roman times, first appearing in documentation in 996AD, with bridges being destroyed in floods of 1117AD and 1333AD.  The current bridge, built in 1345AD and was spared destruction by the Germans in World War II, allegedly by an expressed order of Hitler.  And, more recently, it miraculously survived the massive flood of 1966.

Close up view of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. 

Ponte Vecchio from a little further back with reflection in Arno River.

Ponte Vecchio with garden-like river bank and on the right you can see the tourists lined up to enjoy the view of the river, buildings and bridge.

Tourist Trap

If you've seen one vendor shop window you have seen them all.

The bridge has always hosted shops and merchants (butchers, fishmongers, tanners etc.) but by 1442AD it was monopolized by butchers and the bridge stank from centuries of industrial waste. So in 1593, the Medici Grand Dukes, in an effort to enhance the prestige of the bridge prohibited butchers from selling there and decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers could have their shops on the bridge – a tradition that continues today.

To say the bridge is teeming with tourists is an understatement.  It is also, in my mind an understatement to say the place is a tacky tourist attraction with hucksters selling everything from bad art to kitschy trinkets (not much different than panhandling) in front of the permanent shops on the edge of the bridge.

This was early morning when the hucksters had not set up yet and the throngs of tourists had not arrived - still a popular place.

The bridge’s exterior design is also tacky with its ramshackled collage of protruding house-like shops in need of a good coat of paint.  It is an awkward mix of stone, stucco and wood (shutters). While some might see it as quaint, it doesn’t have the wonderful decoration, ornamentation and quality craftsmanship of the historic stone buildings and sculptures that dominate Florence’s urban design. It looks like a tired stucco bridge from the 1960s.The shops along the bridge could also use some tender loving care.  One usually associates goldsmith and jewelry with upscale shops and elegant presentations, not flea market stalls.

Above these shops is the Vasari Corridor, a walkway that runs over the shops and houses built by the Duke of Florence in the 16th century so he could commute between his two residences (Uffizi and Pitti Palace) without having to mix with the public.

Everything about the bridge didn’t fit with our design sensibilities.  We avoided it as much as we could (and with other bridges nearby, it was easy to do).

Pedestrian bridges should be designed to offer great vistas of the river and the city. 

This is one of my postcard images of Florence. 

Last Word

My immediate thought was “this is the world’s ugliest pedestrian bridge”.  I even tweeted that out.  Immediately I got people retweeting me that they liked it.

And, since coming back, several people have asked “Did you like the Ponte Vecchio Bridge?”  When I said, “I hated it!” they were shocked.  I guess if you are into history and can overlook/see past the tacky jewelry shops and the obnoxious souvenir sellers (who place their product on the ground so you almost trip over them), it could be an attractive place. We just avoided it!

In reading others’ blog post it seemed the bridge is a popular, romantic river evening stroll. Could the Everyday Tourist be wrong!

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Calgary: 1% for public art is a pittance!

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

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

Reader's Comments: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Value of Public art

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

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

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

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

Importance of a Creative Culture

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

Did you know?

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

By Richard White, February 21, 2015

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

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

Downtown YYC: Paint it black

I have never been a big fan of black and white (B&W) photography, perhaps because I am more of a futurist than a historian. For most, B&W photos are associated with old photographs, so it is not surprising that when we see a black and white photo it looks historic.  Contrastingly, colour photography is associated with new technology, we are surrounded by vivid images everywhere we look, particularly with our high resolution computer and TV screens. 

I am not a professional photographer, but over the years I have received lots of complements about the photography that accompanies the Everyday Tourist blogs.  However, I also love to experiment, so I thought it might be fun to play with B&W photos of one of my favourite places to flaneur – downtown Calgary. 

 Surprises

 I was surprised at how the B&W images immediately changed the sense of place buildings, corners and streets that I am very familiar with.  It was like unearthing a whole new world.  The images were more dramatic, more sinister and more surreal. The skies in particular became more ominous. The narrative seemed to be stronger. My imagination was immediately engaged.

I couldn’t believe how the light changed the entire compositions.  The lines and shapes became more compelling.  Overall the photographs become more like drawings or etchings, rather than paintings or silk-screens or my previous photography. 

As I continued to experiment with darker and lighter images, I was hooked.  Not only did I discover a new technique for visualizing urban spaces and places, but I also developed a new appreciation for the charm of my downtown.

I hope you enjoy the results of my experimentation. As always, comments are welcomed. 

The Bow Tower takes on a whole new appearance looking up from the +15 bridge. 

Love this playground of sunlight on Stephen Avenue Walk at noon hour as it bounces off the glass of the buildings and surface of the prehistoric or futuristic sculptures. 

The +15 bridges create some surreal sensations that one would never see in everyday colour images. 

The +15 bridges create some surreal sensations that one would never see in everyday colour images. 

Some how the design of this trestle bridge seems enhanced in black and white. 

Some how the design of this trestle bridge seems enhanced in black and white. 

It is hard to believe this is 7th Avenue at noon hour. There is a raw beauty to 7th Avenue that I have never seen before.

It is hard to believe this is 7th Avenue at noon hour. There is a raw beauty to 7th Avenue that I have never seen before.

The juxtaposition of the Bow Tower in the pillars of the historic Public Building was barely visible in the colour images. In b&w the texture and pattern in the columns is revealed. 

The juxtaposition of the Bow Tower in the pillars of the historic Public Building was barely visible in the colour images. In b&w the texture and pattern in the columns is revealed. 

This reflection in the Hudson's Bay window of the Brookfield Place construction was only mediocre in colour but in b&w it became haunting. 

This reflection in the Hudson's Bay window of the Brookfield Place construction was only mediocre in colour but in b&w it became haunting. 

I love the narrative in this image. 

I love the narrative in this image. 

Parking Ramp
Bow Plaza

Calgary's Brutalist Gem vs Gehry & Libeskind

I found this postcard of Calgary's Centennial Planetarium and was immediately struck by how similar it looked to some of the computer generated, multi-plane, cubist architecture of today - specifically starchitects, Frank Gehry and Daniel Libeskind. 

I have always loved the juxtaposition of shapes that comprise Calgary architect Jack Long's Planetarium, but I have never been big fan of concrete as a facade material. Too me concrete seems lifeless as it doesn't interact with Calgary's wonderful sunshine like glass does.  However, the '60s were the hey days for "brutalism" architecture ("beton brut"with means raw concrete in french) internationally - so everyone was doing it.  Brutalism in many was responsible for creating the negative perception of downtowns and urban spaces as "concrete jungles." 

Long is quoted as saying, "the design merged from the ideas of earth forms - sloping walls relate to river chasms, the freer forms were influenced by Le Corbusier and some of the work of Erich Medelsohn."  To me it has the angularity of the rock formations one sees in the tectonics of the Rockies with its fold-and-thrust belts. 

At the time it must have been a very modern futuristic design for a city that was struggling to define its urban sense of place locally, nationally and internationally. 

Calgary's Centennial Planetarium preceded the '80s Deconstructivsim architecture movement by twenty years. 

Calgary's Centennial Planetarium preceded the '80s Deconstructivsim architecture movement by twenty years. 

Conceptual drawing of the Centennial Planetarium 

Conceptual drawing of the Centennial Planetarium 

Frank Gehry, Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain

The Guggenheim Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art designed by Canadian/American architect Frank Gehry is one of the most popular modern buildings in the world.  Built in 1997, (30 years after Long's Planetarium), it signalled a quantum change in architectural design as architects began to experiment with using computers to generate weird, wild and wacky shaped buildings. 

The curves of the building have an organic feel to them and there is a randomness that results in an ever changing image as the different surfaces catch and absorb the light at different times of the day and with changes in the weather. The museum is considered by many to be a masterpiece of 20th century architecture and foreshadowed what was to come in the first decade of the  21st century.  

The Guggenheim was responsible for the revitalization of the city of Bilbao, attracting millions of visitors to the city and creating the term "architectural tourism." Many cities have tried to imitate the success of Gehry, Guggenheim and Bilbao. Few have succeeded.

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain

For example the design of the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton Alberta shares many the characteristics of Gehry's Guggenheim Museum. Unfortunately the Randall Stout design has not become a major tourist attraction. It hasn't captured the imagination of Albertans.  

The lesson to be learned here is "innovation" is better than "imitation" when it comes to urban revitalization. Every city is different - politicians, planners and public need to understand and capitalize on their city's unique sense of place.

Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta

Jack Long: Missed Opportunity

It is interesting to speculate how Calgary might be different today if Jack Long, who died in 2001 had become an internationally celebrated architect in 1967 for his innovative Planetarium design. Imagine if Long had been commissioned to design the Petro Canada Tower, now the Suncor Energy Centre, instead of WZMH Architects from Toronto, designers of the CN Tower. I am sure Calgary's downtown would be a different place if Long had designed the TD Square complex, Scotia Tower, Municipal Building or Performing Arts Centre. 

Would Calgary have become the Bilboa of North America?  

Calgary would certainly have developed a more unique urban sense of place, rather than looking like any number of modern cities North American cities. Even today Calgary is still trying to import, rather than foster its sense of place with most of our major design projects going to a "Who's who" of international architects and artists  - Calatrava, Foster, Plensa, Ingels and Snohetta.

Calgary's Municipal Building, designed by Toronto's WZMH Architects.

Daniel Libeskind vs Jack Long

The other famous international architect Long's Planetarium anticipates is Daniel Libeskind who has created controversial, eye-catching museums and art galleries around the world.  In describing the inspiration for his addition to the Denver Art Museum, Libeskind referenced the folds and faults of the nearby Rocky Mountains and the shapes of the crystals formations in the rock.

Libeskind's Denver Art Museum

Libeskind's addition to the historic Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada 

Libeskind's addition to the historic Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada 

Long's Planetarium Revisited 

Today, Long's Centennial Planetarium sits empty, while plans to transform it into a modern art museum are finalized.  Over the years the building has evolved with new spaces and colour being added as the building's use evolved more into a Science Centre and children's museum. 

In 2017, Canada will be celebrating its 150th birthday, wouldn't it be appropriate if Calgary's legacy project was the opening of the new Calgary Art Museum in the old Centennial Planetarium? 

By Richard White, February 10, 2015

Centennial Planetarium as seen from the Bow River pathway. 

Centennial Planetarium as seen from the Bow River pathway. 

Centennial Planetarium as seen from Shaw Millennium Park. 

Centennial Planetarium as seen from Shaw Millennium Park. 

Next to the Centennial Planetarium is Shaw Millennium Park, one of the world's largest skateparks. The design of the Park with its concrete jumps, bowls and other forms is very synergistic to Long's brutalist design. In the background is the concrete West LRT bridge which enters and exits the downtown at the Planetarium, making it a dramatic gateway. 

Next to the Centennial Planetarium is Shaw Millennium Park, one of the world's largest skateparks. The design of the Park with its concrete jumps, bowls and other forms is very synergistic to Long's brutalist design. In the background is the concrete West LRT bridge which enters and exits the downtown at the Planetarium, making it a dramatic gateway. 

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

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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Parks: Calgary vs Dublin, Florence & Rome

It’s true - you have to travel to appreciate what you have back home.  After six weeks in Europe, specifically Dublin, Florence and Rome, I have a much better appreciation for Calgary’s parks, especially those in and around our downtown. 

While Dublin had several nice parks including St. Stephens Green and St. Patrick’s Cathedral Park, it had nothing to match the quality and quantity of Calgary’s urban parks.  The public parks in Florence and Rome, are in a word, “disgusting” with their uncut grass, weeds, muddy pathways, tired playgrounds and dog crap.

The river pathway in downtown Florence. 

The river pathway in downtown Florence. 

A weed infested playground in Rome.  This was the norm for public playgrounds in both Rome and Florence. 

A weed infested playground in Rome.  This was the norm for public playgrounds in both Rome and Florence. 

Not only does Calgary have great parks, but also on the verge of getting even better. Recently, the City of Calgary announced $75 million in park funding from the ENMAX Legacy Parks program for 18 parks, including mega makeovers of Century Gardens in downtown’s west end, the Beltline’s Thomson Family Park (the former Calgary Lawn Bowling site on 16th Avenue at 11th Street) and Hillhurst/Sunnyside’s Bow to Bluff Park.

In addition, to the park improvements being completed using ENMAX funds several other urban parks have been recently completed or in the process of being completed.

The site of the new ENMAX Park at Stampede.

The site of the new ENMAX Park at Stampede.

Rendering of what ENMAX Park will look like.

Century Gardens today looking from the top of the fountain on the northeast corner of 8th Street and 8th Avenue SW.

Century Gardens today looking from the top of the fountain on the northeast corner of 8th Street and 8th Avenue SW.

The iron gate to Calgary's historic Calgary Lawn Bowling field. 

The iron gate to Calgary's historic Calgary Lawn Bowling field. 

Plans for renovations of Century Gardens Park (image credit: City of Calgary)

Plans for renovations of Century Gardens Park (image credit: City of Calgary)

Information panel informing residents of plans for new park space with a mix of uses. 

Information panel informing residents of plans for new park space with a mix of uses. 

Information panel.

Information panel.

Concept plans developed by Ground3 Landscape Architects for the old Calgary Lawn Bowling site.  This is just one of several information panels on the fence allowing everyone to know what is being planned. It doesn't get more transparent than this.  

Concept plans developed by Ground3 Landscape Architects for the old Calgary Lawn Bowling site.  This is just one of several information panels on the fence allowing everyone to know what is being planned. It doesn't get more transparent than this. 

New Urban Parks

This past May, the City completed the new Barb Scott Park on the west side of the Calgary Board of Education headquarters on 12th Avenue at 9th Street.  It has added much needed green space to Calgary’s most densely populated community and is home to the popular “Chinook Arch” public artwork.

The City is also in the midst of creating a new park in a somewhat strange location - Macleod Trail and 11th Avenue SE.  Enoch Park will incorporate the historic Victoria Park Queen Anne house built by clothing entrepreneur Enoch Sales in 1905. The new park will hopefully become a meeting space for the many new condo dwellers surrounding the park.

Aerial view of Enoch Park looking west. 

Aerial view of Enoch Park looking west. 

Signature Urban Parks

Prince’s Island is currently Calgary’s signature urban park, but soon it is going to have to vie with St. Patrick’s Island for that stature.  St. Patrick’s Island is getting a seasonal beach, an outdoor amphitheater, tobogganing hill, firepit and picnic areas as well as a wetland area. Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, after extensive public consultation, has delivered on almost everything on Calgary’s wish list for this park.  

And let’s not leave out Fort Calgary, which is in the middle of multi-million dollar upgrade and expansion. Shaw Millennium Park too has to one of the most unique urban parks in North America as a combination festival/skateboard park.

Kudos to CMCL for its community engagement and ability to incorporate almost everything on my wish list for St. Patrick's Island. 

Kudos to CMCL for its community engagement and ability to incorporate almost everything on my wish list for St. Patrick's Island. 

NoBow Parks

The north side of the Bow River also has its fair share of urban parks.  Riley Park is over 100 years old and is unique with its cricket pitch. Plans for the Bow to Bluff Park will see the public corridor along the Sunnyside LRT line from the Bow River to the McHugh Bluff transformed into a linear urban park.

Also in NoBow is the 6th/5th Avenue Parkway, from 10th Street to 26th Street, where there is a park/playground space every few blocks – Riley Park, Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Centre Park and Community Gardens, Queen Elizabeth School Park, West Hillhurst Park/Bowview Pool, Grand Trunk Park and Helicopter Park. 

Bow to Bluff Park along the Kensington/Sunnyside LRT line. (image credit: City of Calgary)

Bow to Bluff Park along the Kensington/Sunnyside LRT line. (image credit: City of Calgary)

Detail of one of the nodes of the Bow to Bluff Park (image credit: City of Calgary)

Detail of one of the nodes of the Bow to Bluff Park (image credit: City of Calgary)

Playground Parks

It is crazy how many cool urban playground parks there are in the greater downtown.  I expect there are over 30 vibrant relatively new playgrounds in the schools and parks from Mission to Crescent Heights and from Inglewood to Parkdale.  

Did you know that there are over 1200 playgrounds in Calgary - that averages out to about 6 per community.  Since 2010, the Parks Foundation of Calgary through the Playgrounds and Communities Grant Program, has funded over 100 new playgrounds valued at $15 million.

Last Word

These are only some of Calgary’s awesome array of urban parks.  I haven’t even mentioned lesser-known parks like Humpy Hollow Park, the tiny Paget Park, Chinatown’s Sien Lok Park, the Nat Christie (sculpture) Park along the Bow River. Indeed, when it comes to parks and playgrounds, Calgary doesn’t take a back seat to any city in Canada or around the world.

Our beautiful parks are a big reason Calgary is the 5th Most Livable City (Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2014 Global Livability Index) in the world and Canada’s Best Place to Raise Kids (Money Sense Magazine, April 2014).

When it comes to making Calgary a better place to live, work and play (downtown or in the suburbs), the investment of $75 million into new and improved parks across the city will pay dividends for decades to come.  I think it is wise for a city to build on its strengths.

By Richard White, January 11, 2015

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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!

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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