Airdrie: The Drivable City

Unlike Calgary’s other satellite cities - Cochrane, Canmore, High River, Okotoks and Strathmore - Airdrie doesn’t have a traditional downtown Main Street lined with historical buildings that once  were (and in some cases still are) shops, banks, hotels, pubs, post office, City Hall and Court House lining the sidewalk. 

Rather, Airdrie’s downtown Main Street is lined with free surface parking next to the sidewalk. The shops (including a grocery store) and services (City Hall, Library and Medical Centre) are all set back from the sidewalk in suburban, strip mall fashion.  It is a bit like International Avenue along 17th Ave SE in Calgary. 

If you drive five minutes south (next to the lovely Nose Creek Pathway) or north along Main Street you arrive at two new power centers with the classic mix of big box retailers (restaurants, hardware and grocery stories) to meet resident’s everyday needs. 

In 2007, six handcrafted totem poles were donated to the City of Airdrie by Gwacheon, Korea to commemorate the 10th year of sharing a sister city relationship. They are now located in Airdrie's  Gwacheon Park. 

In 2007, six handcrafted totem poles were donated to the City of Airdrie by Gwacheon, Korea to commemorate the 10th year of sharing a sister city relationship. They are now located in Airdrie's  Gwacheon Park. 

Creative Airdrie is very active fostering art projects like this mural wall. 

Creative Airdrie is very active fostering art projects like this mural wall. 

Transit Oriented Development

But, if instead you walk a few blocks west from downtown, over the railway tracks and across Nose Creek environmental area, you arrive at what looks like a future Railtown.  Several new low-rise condo buildings sit next to the tracks, while across the street is a power centre with a Sobeys grocery store and other amenities including a Good Earth Cafe.  It is just waiting for a train station to be built to take commuters to and from  Calgary – yes, 25% of Airdrie’s workforce commutes from Calgary.

To help meet commuter needs, Airdrie currently has four very successful bus commuter routes.  One that links Airdrie workers to CrossIron Mills and McKnight LRT Station, two that are express routes to/from downtown Calgary (one from the east side and one from the west side) and an Airdrie to Crossfield route.  The City is also experimenting with a local transit service.

QEII highway which links Alberta with Mexico divides Airdrie in half. 

QEII highway which links Alberta with Mexico divides Airdrie in half. 

Adapting To Families

While all the talk these days in the urban planning world is about making cities and new communities more walkable, cycleable and transit oriented, nobody is talking about how to make urban places more driveable.  We have walk scores and bike scores that measure a communities proximity to various amenities 5 or 10 minutes away by foot and pedal, but nothing that measures the amenities that are within a 5 or 10 minute drive.

In today’s busy world, of two income families with lots of extracurricular activities (parents and kids), walking and cycling is in reality, mostly a recreational activity, not a form of transportation.  Walking and/or cycling, as a part of everyday living is just not practical for the average family, no matter how close they are.  The automobile is not going the way of the dinosaur anytime soon, no matter what the urban evangelist say.

For Airdrie, it is even more critical that its urban design adapts to the needs of the families with young children - a whopping 24% of the population is under the age of 14 (16% in Calgary).

Having recently driven and walked around Airdrie, it seemed to me everybody lives within a 5-minute drive to one or more major grocery stores, probably the most important amenity to a growing family.  It also seemed the Rocky View School Division has been able to locate schools as needed in its new residential communities.

Airdrie's Canada Day Parade

Airdrie's Canada Day Parade

Airdrie's Festival of Lights

Airdrie's Festival of Lights

Place to play

Kudos to the City of Airdrie and Rocky View School Division for collaborated along East Lake Boulevard on the city’s east side by co-locating the Bert Church High School, Bert Church Theatre and Genesis Recreation Centre (Pool, Gyms, Twin Arenas and Fieldhouse) next to each other so the facilities can be shared.  This should be the model for every high school site in every region- also include a public library.  In the future, all school sites should be community/ meeting places. 

Airdrie boasts an ambitious schedule of annual family festivals - a Santa Claus Parade that attracts over 20,000 people (Calgary doesn’t have one), Festival of Lights (older than Calgary’s Zoolights), New Year’s Eve Fireworks, Canada Day Parade and Spring Music Festival (with over 400 musicians).  The Airdrie Pro Rodeo is one of the top 10 pro rodeos in Canada with $146,000 in prize money.

Today, Airdrie boasts 1,200 acres of parks, 104 km of pathways, 63 playgrounds and 5 off-leash dog parks.  For those who want to walk or bike, Airdrie has lovely pathways and parks along Nose Creek and the many canal communities in the city. Everybody is just 5 minutes away from a park, playground or a pathway.

The city also a thriving Farmers’ Market in Jensen Park, which was the site of the historic Jensen family farm - that’s authenticity.   Every Wednesday from June to Thanksgiving, from 3:30 to 7pm dozens of vendors sell fresh produce, food trucks serve up good grub and artists entertain, creating a fun, family food festival.

“Airdrie goes beyond the typical chain-only style of many bedroom communities. Certainly there is no shortage of chain restaurants in Airdrie but there are many high-quality independent places too such as Thai Charm, Abe’s Restaurant, Sushi Haru and Taj that satisfy a very sophisticated market,” says Calgary food and restaurant critic John Gilchrist.

Genesis Centre, Airdrie's Recreation Complex

Nose Hill Creek creates a pastoral setting in the middle of the city. 

Place to work

While most people think of Airdrie as a bedroom community of Calgary, in reality only about 50% of Airdrites work in Calgary.  Airdrie has over 20 companies that employ over 100 employees - Propak Systems Ltd. being the largest with 1,000 employees. 

One of the biggest employment sectors is the grocery industry (I counted 6 major grocery stores with another under construction - I may have missed one or two) currently employ over 2,500 people.

As well, Airdrie has 1,300 home businesses (out of 21,000 homes) partly as a result of an innovative program that proactively encourages the development of home-based businesses.  It consists of an online course for starting, running and growing a home business, as well as a mentorship program with an existing business leader.

Over that past 10 years, Airdrie’s commercial development has been growing as fast as its residential development as the ratio of commercial to residential tax assessment values has maintained its 17% commercial to 83% residential split.

Airdrie is more than just a bedroom city.

Good Earth Cafe and patio part of a car-oriented big box power centre, is also walkable from several major condo complexes a block away. 

Good Earth Cafe and patio part of a car-oriented big box power centre, is also walkable from several major condo complexes a block away. 

Modern new condo complexes a few blocks from downtown Airdrie. 

Modern new condo complexes a few blocks from downtown Airdrie. 

Airdrie At A Glance

It’s young: The median age group is 30-34 years of age, 83% of the population is under 65 years old with the majority, 64%, under 45 years old. The median age in Airdrie is 32.4 compared to Calgary (36.4) and Canada as a whole (40.2) years.

It’s growing very quickly: Airdrie is one of the fastest growing communities in Canada; population growth for the past sixteen years has exceeded 5.5%. Between the census years of 2006 and 2011, the population of Airdrie increased by 47.1%. The City is projected to grow a further 75% by 2030 to reach a population of 90,000.

It’s recent: Over half of Airdrie residents have lived in Airdrie for less than 5 years. According to 2014 survey, of those who have been at their residence for less than 1 year, 38% moved from Calgary and 32% from within Airdrie.

It’s mobile: Over 90% of Airdrie residents report that their primary mode of travel to work is single vehicle transportation (for Calgary its 72%. While a large number of residents commute to the City of Calgary for employment, 50% work within Airdrie or places other than Calgary.

(Source: Great Places Plan, 2016, City of Airdrie)

Last Word

It is important urban planners adapt their thinking to the needs of the contemporary family life, rather than expecting families to adapt to planner’s urban utopian ideals.

Kudos to Airdrie’s planners, politicians and business leaders for daring to be different, for embracing “driveability” as the key element to enhancing the quality of life for everyday living for its citizens.

An edited version of this blog appeared in the Fall Edition of Loving Airdrie magazine. 

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HCG's: Condo Buying Advice

It wasn’t that long ago that highrise condo living in Calgary was limited to just a dozen or so buildings.  However, since the turn of the century, condo living across the city has not only become much more commonplace, but highrise living has also become very trendy in the Beltline, East Village, Eau Claire, Downtown West and Mission communities.

Over the past 10 years, over 30 highrise condos have been built in Calgary, so perhaps it isn’t surprising three enterprising realtors decided to create the Highrise Condo Group (HCG). Julie Dempsey, Steve McKenna and Tim Huxley, all members of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada have not only created HCG, but have developed a comprehensive new website devoted to highrise condos in Calgary (highrisecalgary.com). 

Collectively, HCG has 40+ years of experience in condo sales in Calgary.  They understand the economics of condo development and sales “inside and out,” having worked with developers (to build and sell condos) as well as with buyers and sellers of new and resale condos. And, over the past 10 years, they have actually lived in several of Calgary’s new condos, and currently have personally invested in Calgary’s highrise condo market.  As they readily admit, “we’ve got lots of skin in the game.”

Lessons Learned

HCG is proud to share the lessons they have learned over the years to maximize the value for their clients, both buyers and sellers.  Things like:

#1       Always buy quality. 

They are shocked how often experienced buyers are willing to purchase condos in poor buildings or in poor locations in quality buildings.

#2       Always buy the best view. 

One of the key selling features of a condo is the view. So, if you have a view, show it off to full advantage.  If you are looking at two condos and can’t decide, choose the one with the best view. Huxley likes to say, “Buy as much height as you can afford.”

#3       Do your homework.

It is important that you know as much as you can about not only your condo, but also the building.  For example, visit the parking stall to determine how easy you can park in it, where it is located relative to the elevator or how low in the parkade is it.  A poor parking spot can be a time waster and negative for resale.  Huxley also recommends buyers verify measurements of all rooms don’t rely on marketing condo plans.

#4       Visit often before buying.

McKenna encourages his clients to visit a condo several times before buying. He suggests you visit in the daytime and night, as well as on weekends to experience how clean the building is and what happens in the neighbourhood.

#5       Get to know your neighbours.

Dempsey makes sure her clients talk to people who live in the building.  She loves to hijack residents in the condo elevator so she can drill them with questions about what it is like living in the building and the immediate neighbourhood.

#6       Get a “statement of occupancy.”

Dempsey encourages her clients to purchase a “statement of occupancy.” For about $20, it will tell you how many of the units are owner-occupied and how many are rented.  Typically condos with higher homeowner occupancies increase in value more than those with lots of investment units. 

#7       Be aware of pending developments.

It may be a parking lot today, but in a few years it might be a 20+ condo that blocks your view of downtown or the mountains or an unoccupied building today can be a nightclub tomorrow.  On the plus side, a new condo nearby can bring more retail, restaurant or café and maybe even better transit service.  It pays to know what the neighbouring landowners might have planned for future developments and what the land uses are.

#8       Are you really going to use the amenities?

Your condo fees are paying for the amenities even if you don’t use them.  An extra $100/month in condo fees for amenities you aren’t using is $1,200 you could be using for other things like paying your mortgage.

Trend Spotting

HCG has noticed today’s highrise purchasers are not only looking for great views but also outdoor space.  Even if a condo is only 500 square feet, if it has a good-sized balcony, will be more attractive, retain its value and be easier to sell. Units located at the top of the podium (the two to four storey base of many condos that often have office or town house condos) with a patio are hot, hot, hot.

Concierge services are also becoming more the norm.  While you might think having a concierge is a luxury you don’t need, it is amazing how convenient it is to have someone receive or pick up packages for you, or let in tradesman. It is especially economical in highrises where you have 200+ units to amortize the costs.  In some cases, sister condos like Luna, Stella and Nova share a concierge. 

HCG believes Calgary will see more condos like Mark on 10th where Landmark Qualex pioneered using the rooftop as shared amenity space for all residents rather than a private multi-million dollar penthouse suites.  The concept has been very well received. McKenna says, “It is like living in a luxury hotel. Residents love the space and really use it, unlike amenities in lots other condos buildings that never get used.”

Dempsey feels there is a growing starting interest in downtown’s eastern communities - East Beltline (east of 4th St SW), East Village, Inglewood and Bridgeland.

When asked if there is any interest from developers to build three-bedroom. Family-oriented condo units, the HCG group members shook their heads saying, “there is still no market in Calgary for families wanting to live in highrises given the cost is over $500 per square foot which means a 1,500 square foot condo would start at over $750,000. You can get a lot of house for $750,000 in today’s market.”

Limo Fun

Highrise Condo Group’s website is definitely worth checking out and those who are interested can not only sign up for free condo market reports, but their FREE limo tours, which typically take you to five different inner-city projects by various builders. 

I’m in - sounds like and interesting and informative way to spend a Saturday morning.

Note: This blog was commissioned by Condo Living Magazine for their November 2016 edition. 

Winnipeg vs Calgary: The Forks vs East Village

Then it hit me; The Forks isn’t an urban village it is a tourist district. 

Recently I was in Winnipeg for a wedding and had some time to wander their mega urban redevelopment The Forks, which is aptly named as it is located where the Assiniboine and Red Rivers meet in the middle of their City Centre.

As I wandered around at noon hour on a nice Friday in early October I wondered; “Where are the condos? Where are the office buildings? Where are the people running along the river?” 

I couldn’t help but reflect on how the location next to two rivers and just east of downtown was very similar to Calgary’s East Village and yet so different.

The Esplanade Riel Bridge connects The Forks to the community of St. Boniface across the Red River.  It has a restaurant in the middle that offers spectacular views of downtown, the river and the Human Rights Museum. 

East Village's pathways along the Bow River in St. Patrick's Island Park with the George King bridge in the background.

East Village's pathways along the Bow River in St. Patrick's Island Park with the George King bridge in the background.

Similarities

Both sites were meeting places for First Nations peoples long before the pioneer settlers arrived. 

Both sites are about the same size - The Forks is 63 acres (doesn’t include Shaw baseball park) and East Village is 49 acres (doesn’t include Fort Calgary Park).

Both sites were once industrial sites, with The Forks being an old CN rail yard next to their Union Station, while East Village being more of a light industrial area with a rail line running along its southern edge.

Both sites struggled in the middle of the 20th century to find new uses.  CN Rail moved their yards to the suburbs in 1966 leaving the site vacant.  East Village buildings were torn down in the ‘60s to create ugly overflow surface parking lots for downtown.

Both sites lack good connectivity to downtown and neighbouring communities due to rivers and railway tracks.

Winnipeg's Union Station and railway sheds separate The Forks from downtown. 

Today, both sites are managed by a CEO who reports to a government appointed Board of Directors.  The Forks CEO, Paul Jordan reports to The Forks North Portage Partnership Board which was established by the Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments.  East Village President and CEO, Michael Brown reports to Calgary Municipal Land Corporation Board appointed by City of Calgary. 

Both sites have a major new museum, Human Rights Museum at the Forks and National Music Centre in East Village.  Both of which are only national museums located outside of Ottawa.  The Forks also has a Children’s Museum, Children’s Theatre and skatepark, while East Village has a mega new library and the family oriented St. Patrick’s Island Park.  And each has popular pedestrian pathways, plazas along the river’s edge and an iconic pedestrian bridge over the river. 

Both The Forks and East Village have very active programming to attract people to the site.  The Forks attracts over 4 million visitors to the site and is the City and Province’s number one tourist attraction.

The uniquely shaped Human Rights Museum dominates The Forks. In the foreground is a multi-purpose plaza that can serve as a skatepark, busker/performance space or casual sitting area. 

East Village's National Music Centre

East Village's National Music Centre

The Fork's river landing and pathway along the Assiniboine River just before it flows into the Red River. 

The Fork's river landing and pathway along the Assiniboine River just before it flows into the Red River. 

East Village's Riverwalk with the Langevin bridge, 4th, 5th and LRT flyovers in the background. 

East Village's Riverwalk with the Langevin bridge, 4th, 5th and LRT flyovers in the background. 

The Market at The Forks is part food court (main floor), part retail space (second floor). 

East Village: The Simmons building has an upscale restaurant, cafe and bakery. 

East Village: The Simmons building has an upscale restaurant, cafe and bakery. 

Winnipeg's Children's Museum is one of several cultural facilities located at The Forks. 

Computer rendering of the Caglary's new Central Library looking west from East Village.

Computer rendering of the Caglary's new Central Library looking west from East Village.

Differences

The Forks North Portage Partnership purchased all of the land from CN Rail for $66 million, whereas the City of Calgary owned about 50% of the East Village lands at one point. 

Aerial view of The Forks

Aerial view of The Forks

The Forks has no master plan governing how all of its land will be developed eventually, but rather is governed more organically adapting to new opportunities and needs as they arise.  The first thing CMLC did was create a comprehensive master plan with a detailed 3D video to help everyone understand the vision of the new East Village as a 21st century urban village.

The Forks is actively working with developers to convert 12 acres of surface parking lots next to the railway tracks and Union Station into Railside. The vision calls for $500 million to be invested by large and small developers to build 20+ buildings no taller than six storeys with retail at street level and offices and condos above and $50 million in public spaces. (Railside will be more like Calgary’s University District than East Village in that the land will be leased not owned, as The Forks partnership wants to retain ownership of the land).

New condos and the East Village sales centre. 

New condos and the East Village sales centre. 

East Village’s development was funded by a Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) that was used to upgrade infrastructure and help build new public amenities like St. Patrick’s Island Park, National Music Museum and new Central Library.  The $357 million CRL has resulted in $2.4 billion in private sector development and is expected to generate $725 million in new tax revenues by 2027, which will more than pay back the $357 million levy. 

The Forks is a unique government led partnership with the return on investment (ROI) being shared by the three parties - City receives new property tax revenue, Province provincial sales tax paid on site and Federal Government getting all GST revenues. 

Like East Village, two of the most popular reason for visiting The Forks are Canada Day festivities and summer concerts.  What is very interesting is the Forks has been very successful in creating winter attractions – skating on the river and the Winter Park are listed as the third and fourth most popular activities in a 2015 Survey and not far behind summer concerts the second most popular activity, festivals being number one.   

East Village hosts an ambitious year-round program of events.

Winnipeg's ice skating trails

Winnipeg's ice skating trails

Winnipeg’s Winter Wonderland

The Fork’s “Warming Huts” is a stroke of genius.  Since 2009, an international competition has been organized inviting designers to submit proposals for shelters to be installed along the river skating rink so people can stop, chat and warm up.  The program has captured international attention including the New York Times with the Travel Section headline “In Winnipeg, a Skating Rink That Doubles as a Sculpture Park.”

It has also captured the imagination of starchitect Frank Gehry who designed an igloo made of clear blocks of ice in 2012.

Winnipeg Ice Hut

Last Word

East Village is an intriguing example of private public collaboration based on an ambitious vision, master plan and implementation with a 20-year return on investment and build out.   It reflects Calgary’s corporate culture and the love of the mega projects.

After 30 years, The Forks is just now completing the return on investment for the three levels of government and is still decades away from complete build out.  It reflects Winnipeg’s government culture and love of grass roots development.

Paul Jordan and his Board of Directors are happy with The Forks’ slower redevelopment timeline as it allows for organic growth and the ability to respond to community needs over time rather than being locked into a fixed master plan.

I guess you could say there is “more than one way to skin a cat.”

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Montreal's Cast of Characters

Is Montreal Canada's happiest city? I have wandered a lot of streets in a lot of different cities in my life and I have never encountered so many happy surprises. Indeed the city does have a "joie de vivre" that doesn't exist in other cities, or perhaps it is just the Holiday (Happy) Season. 

After wandering the streets of the city for the past 10 days Montreal has become my happy place.  I thought Portland and Austin were happy places, but Montreal wins hands down with its crazy cast of characters and shops.  

I am not just speaking of the people, who indeed seem to be happy even in winter when it is snowing but also the many man-made characters I encountered as I wander Montreal's Rues and Avenues.  

I hope these photos will convey to you how Montreal's sense of fun and surprise combine to create a happy sense of place.

I found this character at the Christmas Market at the Convention Centre. I believe he/she might be a costume from the Nutcracker ballet as this was Les Grands Ballets' Nutcracker Market with benefits going to the Nutcracker Fund for Children.   

I found this character at the Christmas Market at the Convention Centre. I believe he/she might be a costume from the Nutcracker ballet as this was Les Grands Ballets' Nutcracker Market with benefits going to the Nutcracker Fund for Children.   

These fun characters sit on top of the entrance from St. Catherine's Street to Montreal's Underground City. 

These fun characters sit on top of the entrance from St. Catherine's Street to Montreal's Underground City. 

Found a wall of these portraits in the lobby of the Concordia University building while shopping at their pop-up Christmas Market.  They captured my off-the-wall imagination.

Found a wall of these portraits in the lobby of the Concordia University building while shopping at their pop-up Christmas Market.  They captured my off-the-wall imagination.

This fun character is from the world's largest Barbie Doll collection exhibition located in Montreal's Underground City.  

This fun character is from the world's largest Barbie Doll collection exhibition located in Montreal's Underground City.  

This guy was keen to ham it up when I asked if I could take a photo.  

This guy was keen to ham it up when I asked if I could take a photo.  

I am not sure if this mythical character is throwing a football or a baseball or perhaps just getting ready to work at Jeans Jeans Jeans. 

I am not sure if this mythical character is throwing a football or a baseball or perhaps just getting ready to work at Jeans Jeans Jeans. 

These hipster heads brought a quick smile to my face. Montrealers love their winter hats and scarfs. 

These hipster heads brought a quick smile to my face. Montrealers love their winter hats and scarfs. 

I was gobsmacked by the amazing murals tucked away in alleys and the back of buildings everywhere in Montreal.  I love the DIY outdoor art gallery they create.

I was gobsmacked by the amazing murals tucked away in alleys and the back of buildings everywhere in Montreal.  I love the DIY outdoor art gallery they create.

Loved this old world sculpture and reflecting pond that looked like something from Paris or Rome in the World Trade Centre building in Montreal's International District. 

Loved this old world sculpture and reflecting pond that looked like something from Paris or Rome in the World Trade Centre building in Montreal's International District. 

Another of the fun characters at the Nutcracker Market - this time real life. 

Another of the fun characters at the Nutcracker Market - this time real life. 

I spent a lot of time looking up at the old buildings checking to see if there were any strange characters looking down at me like this guy. FYI: In the entrance of the St. James Church there is a note saying technically a gargoyle should be a water sprout; this was news to me. 

I spent a lot of time looking up at the old buildings checking to see if there were any strange characters looking down at me like this guy. FYI: In the entrance of the St. James Church there is a note saying technically a gargoyle should be a water sprout; this was news to me. 

For 20 years Montreal's World Trade Centre has been celebrating Christmas with eight life-size Santa characters from around the world, including this Black Peter an evil-looking companion of Santa in the Netherlands in their lobby. 

For 20 years Montreal's World Trade Centre has been celebrating Christmas with eight life-size Santa characters from around the world, including this Black Peter an evil-looking companion of Santa in the Netherlands in their lobby. 

Found this guy on the side of an ordinary older building that seemed to have no historical significance at the corner of St. Hubert and Duluth Ave.  It is a good example how almost every block has something strange or surprising that made for great flaneuring.

Found this guy on the side of an ordinary older building that seemed to have no historical significance at the corner of St. Hubert and Duluth Ave.  It is a good example how almost every block has something strange or surprising that made for great flaneuring.

We were just wandering to a thrift store on Rue St. Hubert when I noticed a huge banner with for what looked like a contemporary exhibition titled "Workwear."  It wasn't clear if the show was inside but we decided to explore and sure enough Little Italy community centre was hosting a contemporary exhibition from Italy about fashion and workwear.  It makes us most happy when we just stumble upon something interesting - the thrill of the surprise. 

We were just wandering to a thrift store on Rue St. Hubert when I noticed a huge banner with for what looked like a contemporary exhibition titled "Workwear."  It wasn't clear if the show was inside but we decided to explore and sure enough Little Italy community centre was hosting a contemporary exhibition from Italy about fashion and workwear.  It makes us most happy when we just stumble upon something interesting - the thrill of the surprise. 

Found this window while walking along St. Laurent Boulevard. Nothing makes me happier than great window displays.

Found this window while walking along St. Laurent Boulevard. Nothing makes me happier than great window displays.

Loved this great use of bike as a prop for some winter greenery and summer flowers on the sidewalk in front of a florist shop. 

Loved this great use of bike as a prop for some winter greenery and summer flowers on the sidewalk in front of a florist shop. 

Even in the suburbs we were able to find something to make me happy, including this modern sculpture outside the tired Plaza Cote-des-Neiges (shopping centre).

Even in the suburbs we were able to find something to make me happy, including this modern sculpture outside the tired Plaza Cote-des-Neiges (shopping centre).

Found this cast iron 1939 bank at the St. Michel Antique Market.  I was tempted to buy it, but resisted.  Spent a very enjoyable 2.5 hours exploring the market, definitely worth a visit if the "thrill of the hunt" makes you happy. 

Found this cast iron 1939 bank at the St. Michel Antique Market.  I was tempted to buy it, but resisted.  Spent a very enjoyable 2.5 hours exploring the market, definitely worth a visit if the "thrill of the hunt" makes you happy. 

Crew Collective & Cafe is located in the landmark 1920 Royal Bank headquarters building that was once the tallest building in Canada.  It made me happy the space is still available to the public and if you live in Montreal this could be your office.  Imagine going to work here everyday! We were there on a Saturday afternoon and the huge space was packed with people happily working away. 

Crew Collective & Cafe is located in the landmark 1920 Royal Bank headquarters building that was once the tallest building in Canada.  It made me happy the space is still available to the public and if you live in Montreal this could be your office.  Imagine going to work here everyday! We were there on a Saturday afternoon and the huge space was packed with people happily working away. 

Last Word

One the the key elements of a "happy city" in my mind is how friendly people are to strangers.  Montrealers couldn't have been more friendly to us.

From the store owner who offered to drive us to the St. Michel Market when we asked if we were going in the right direction (it was just 5 blocks away) to the couple who shared their bottle of wine with us at Les Jardins des Panos restaurant when they realized we didn't bring any wine (it is a bring your own wine only restaurant).  

Or how the young lady working at the LNF vintage store was more than willing to share her hot tips with us on where to get the best finds.  She even gave us her name, phone number and email if we wanted to contact her later. 

Don't believe people when they say Montrealers won't speak to you in English.  We never once encountered a local who when we said "Bonjour, do you speak English" wasn't willing to talk to us in our native tongue. We loved how many Montrealers said with a smile,  "You practice your French and I will practice my English!"  We loved that!

Next year Montreal is celebrating its 375th Anniversary, if you are looking for someplace interesting to visit, Montreal should be at the top of your list.   

For me, Montreal has definitely become one of my happy places.    

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FFQing in Montreal

Regular Everyday Tourist readers know FFQ stands for "fun, funky and quirky"and FFQing is the art of looking for FFQ things to see and do in a city, town or village.  We have been in Montreal for just a week now and already we have a good list of FFQ things for visitors.  

These images also serve a fun postcards of everyday Montreal and the text tells some interesting Montreal stories.  

You have to admit this is fun, funky and quirky.  Found this black and white carport artwork while wandering along Boulevard St. Laurent aka The Main (because it is Main Street and divides the city into east and west). The Main is full of fun murals in the alleys and on the side of buildings at street corners.  It makes this street a fun place to flaneur. You can find this garage at 4866 St. Laurent.

You have to admit this is fun, funky and quirky.  Found this black and white carport artwork while wandering along Boulevard St. Laurent aka The Main (because it is Main Street and divides the city into east and west). The Main is full of fun murals in the alleys and on the side of buildings at street corners.  It makes this street a fun place to flaneur. You can find this garage at 4866 St. Laurent.

Jean Toss: Yes that is a pair of jeans (look at the top of the photo near the pillar) being tossed by staff at Jeans Jeans Jeans from a rack on the other side of the store to the fitting area. It is better than the fish toss at Seattle's Pike Market. Go on Saturday afternoon and you won't be disappointed. See video below.

Jean Toss: Yes that is a pair of jeans (look at the top of the photo near the pillar) being tossed by staff at Jeans Jeans Jeans from a rack on the other side of the store to the fitting area. It is better than the fish toss at Seattle's Pike Market. Go on Saturday afternoon and you won't be disappointed. See video below.

Captured this surreal light show at south-west entrance of the Montreal Convention Centre. The sun shining through the building's coloured glass facade created a wonderful mosaic on the escalator, steps, walls and floor inside the building. It is like walking into a stain glass window.

This is a close-up of the Olympic Torch sculpture on the plaza in front of the offices of the Canadian Olympic headquarters.  The yellow and orange colours dance like a flame and the stainless steel reflects the street life to create a fun artwork that works well both day and night. IMHO

This is a close-up of the Olympic Torch sculpture on the plaza in front of the offices of the Canadian Olympic headquarters.  The yellow and orange colours dance like a flame and the stainless steel reflects the street life to create a fun artwork that works well both day and night. IMHO

Stumbled upon a fun Barbie Doll exhibition in Montreal's Underground City. There were hundreds of dolls with designer clothes in display cases on the walls, as well as several fun vignettes, like this fashion show which was animated with models on runway and flashing cameras in the audience. See video below. The noise you hear is the fountain in the middle of the exhibition space.

Stumbled upon a fun Barbie Doll exhibition in Montreal's Underground City. There were hundreds of dolls with designer clothes in display cases on the walls, as well as several fun vignettes, like this fashion show which was animated with models on runway and flashing cameras in the audience. See video below. The noise you hear is the fountain in the middle of the exhibition space.

If you are in Montreal, you have to go to a Cirque du Soleil show.  We caught the OVO show at the Bell Centre - it was a wonderful smash-up of ballet, gymnastics, circus, music and visual arts. Fun entertainment for everyone!

If you are in Montreal, you have to go to a Cirque du Soleil show.  We caught the OVO show at the Bell Centre - it was a wonderful smash-up of ballet, gymnastics, circus, music and visual arts. Fun entertainment for everyone!

Walking home one night discovered this quirky roof top artwork? patio? 

Walking home one night discovered this quirky roof top artwork? patio? 

Ecole de technologie Superieure's (ETS) funky campus is located in Griffintown just west of the downtown core. One of the buildings has a very strange and subtle white on white design best seen from across the street. I took this b&w photo to try and capture it.  Planning to revisit and see if I can do a walkabout inside.  Click Here For More Info.

Ecole de technologie Superieure's (ETS) funky campus is located in Griffintown just west of the downtown core. One of the buildings has a very strange and subtle white on white design best seen from across the street. I took this b&w photo to try and capture it.  Planning to revisit and see if I can do a walkabout inside.  Click Here For More Info.

Chabanel Street was once home to Montreal's bustling garment district. Today there are still many wholesalers who have showrooms there and on Saturdays some of them are open to the public.  It is a fun place to wander as you never know what you will find.  We got to see some of the Fall 2017 lines before the buyers did and heard stories of the good old days.  We also discovered this ghostly fashion show of mannequins in one of the empty spaces. 

Chabanel Street was once home to Montreal's bustling garment district. Today there are still many wholesalers who have showrooms there and on Saturdays some of them are open to the public.  It is a fun place to wander as you never know what you will find.  We got to see some of the Fall 2017 lines before the buyers did and heard stories of the good old days.  We also discovered this ghostly fashion show of mannequins in one of the empty spaces. 

These urban igloos were a quirky surprise. Turns out everyone on this street of row houses has white plastic carports.  I am guessing it is winter adaptation due to the fact Montreal gets lots of snow. I sure hope they remove them after winter!

These urban igloos were a quirky surprise. Turns out everyone on this street of row houses has white plastic carports.  I am guessing it is winter adaptation due to the fact Montreal gets lots of snow. I sure hope they remove them after winter!

This is another of Montreal's amazing public spaces that uses light and colour to create wonderful pedestrian experiences.  This is at the Place des Art. 

This is another of Montreal's amazing public spaces that uses light and colour to create wonderful pedestrian experiences.  This is at the Place des Art. 

A remnant of the Berlin Wall, is on permanent display in the middle of the Ruelle des Fortifications in the lobby of the Montreal World Trade Center building. The lobby is located on the former site of Montreal's walled fortifications which were built in 1717 and demolished between 1804 and 1812.  The fragment, donated to the City of Montréal by the City of Berlin to commemorate Montréal’s 350th anniversary, is a testament to Berlin's return to the community of free cities after the fall of the Wall on November 9, 1989.

A remnant of the Berlin Wall, is on permanent display in the middle of the Ruelle des Fortifications in the lobby of the Montreal World Trade Center building. The lobby is located on the former site of Montreal's walled fortifications which were built in 1717 and demolished between 1804 and 1812. 

The fragment, donated to the City of Montréal by the City of Berlin to commemorate Montréal’s 350th anniversary, is a testament to Berlin's return to the community of free cities after the fall of the Wall on November 9, 1989.

This is not Montreal's "Red Light District." In several places we encountered red lights from buildings shining on the sidewalk creating a fun (and warm) pedestrian experience. I am interested in seeing how it works in the snow. 

This is not Montreal's "Red Light District." In several places we encountered red lights from buildings shining on the sidewalk creating a fun (and warm) pedestrian experience. I am interested in seeing how it works in the snow. 

This wall of blue lights changes colours as pedestrians walk by SAT (Societe des Art Technologiques) building.  It serves as funky window covering to give some privacy to those working inside the school while also enhancing the pedestrian experience.  How cool is that?

Found these "pom pom" ladies creating a playful window display along Boulevard St. Laurent. 

Found these "pom pom" ladies creating a playful window display along Boulevard St. Laurent. 

This is the hallway to the elevators at Place Ville Marie to their Observation Deck on the 44/45/46 floors.  It is literally like walking into a geometric painting. FFQ for sure!

This is the hallway to the elevators at Place Ville Marie to their Observation Deck on the 44/45/46 floors.  It is literally like walking into a geometric painting. FFQ for sure!

This was lucky find! It was in a restaurant under construction in Little Burgundy.  I was stopped in my tracks by two guys carrying in a huge mirror from the street. I couldn't resist looking inside and this is what I found.  Wasn't that a party?

This was lucky find! It was in a restaurant under construction in Little Burgundy.  I was stopped in my tracks by two guys carrying in a huge mirror from the street. I couldn't resist looking inside and this is what I found.  Wasn't that a party?

I am astounded at the number of contemporary art galleries in Montreal. And they are everywhere, not just in the City Centre - Old Montreal, Little Burgundy, St Laurent, Rue St. Hubert, Plateau and Miles End. 

I am astounded at the number of contemporary art galleries in Montreal. And they are everywhere, not just in the City Centre - Old Montreal, Little Burgundy, St Laurent, Rue St. Hubert, Plateau and Miles End. 

Last Word

And this was after only five days? Montreal is very fun, very funky and very quirky! My kind of town!

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Hillhurst/Sunnyside: Street Art Fun!

Hillhurst/Sunnyside (H/S) community is Calgary’s equivalent to San Francisco’s Haight–Ashbury - a haven for artists, hippies and hipsters.

While every other community surrounding downtown Calgary has been overtaken by new condos and infill homes (i.e. gentrified), much of H/S still is early 20th century cottage homes and small apartment blocks. Especially Sunnyside (east of 10th Street NW and west of Centre Street bridge).  A walk through H/S is a walk back in time. 

Calgary Street Art

One thing I love about flaneuring H/S is the funky street art you find there - in a back alleys, on abandoned buildings, community centre, schools, the side of a retail building and especially in their container park (Yes, they have a park with sea containers used for various performances and events). 

Every time I wander the community I seem to discover another piece of street art.

Link: Calgary graffiti: The good, the bad and reason it’s not all bad. 

Street Art Calgary

Not Public Art

Street art gained popularity during the graffiti art boom in New York City in the ‘70s.  It was then that graffiti evolved from small scribbles or tags to large murals, mostly with cartoon and fantasy-like characters, some with incredible skill and detail.

Originally, street art was often on blank concrete walls in rundown communities, on train and subway cars in derelict spaces.  Today, street art has become trendy.  It is often done with the approval of the landlord and is sometimes done as an anti-graffiti initative (given graffiti taggers often respect the work of street artists and don’t paint over them). 

Street art is to the late 20th early 21st century what murals by artists like Mexico City’s Diego Rivera were to the early 20th century. However, they will never last as long - often disappearing in less than a year. 

Today’s street art is also not considered to be public art as that artist has not received public funds and it is not sanctioned by a public authority. 

Despite/or in spite of this, street art can become a tourist attraction - if there is a critical mass of quality art for visitors to check out. 

Link: History of Train Graffiti

Link: 10 New York Graffiti Legends Still Kicking (Ass) 

Yes this is the infamous "Trudeau Finger" on the side of the Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Centre building.  

Yes this is the infamous "Trudeau Finger" on the side of the Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Centre building.  

I LUV Street Art why?

Street Art is usually colourful and playful, two key ingredients that appeal to my eye. As well, I love the sense of surprise, as they are often off-the-beaten path, which is synergistic to my love of flaneuring. I also love the immediacy of street art. While the technique can sometimes be refined, most often they are loose, gestural, drawings.

Street Art Calgary

Flashback

I went to NYC in 1982 to experience street art first hand. It was a time when I was an aspiring artist and felt a strong kinship with the work I was seeing in publications like ARTnews (my bible at the time). 

I came back inspired and created a series of graffiti-inspired paintings over the following two years and also organized the Street Art for Gleichen project, which eventually lead to my becoming the Director/Curator of the Muttart Art Gallery (now Contemporary Calgary) for a 10-year stint. 

It was a fun time. Thinking back, exploring those back alleys and vacant spaces of NYC was my first introduction to flaneuring!   

Last Word

Perhaps it is time for someone in to organize an outdoor art (street art, murals and public art) festival that would encourage Calgarians to get out and see, contemplate and question our outdoor art. I'd love to hear what children and teens think of the art. It is not all about just the grown ups!

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Brewery Districts: Edmonton vs Calgary

On a recent trip to Edmonton, I was excited to discover they have begun to develop a Brewery District at the old Molson Brewery site at 104 Avenue and 121 Street.  However, upon further exploration, I was left scratching my head, wondering why they would allow a suburban power centre (multiple, stand alone buildings far away from the sidewalk with a big surface parking lot in front) at the west end of their City Centre. 
Unfortunately all of the main buildings in Edmonton's Brewery District area separated from the street by a major surface parking lot, making it less pedestrian friendly. It is more like a suburban power centre design with several independent low-rise buildings each with there own surface parking lot.

Unfortunately all of the main buildings in Edmonton's Brewery District area separated from the street by a major surface parking lot, making it less pedestrian friendly. It is more like a suburban power centre design with several independent low-rise buildings each with there own surface parking lot.

Missed Opportunity

In this prime urban location, one would expect the stores to line the sidewalk with all parking underground (only 66% of the parking is underground) and mid-rise (8 to 15-storeys) retail, residential and office above.  Instead, the site is dominated by a big surface parking lot with low-rise buildings far away from the sidewalk.

There is absolutely no connectivity to the neighbouring Oliver community, a feature contrary to good urban development.  And although plans call for a direct link to the future 120th Street LRT Station, that still doesn’t excuse the lack of connectivity to Oliver.

Sure, they have used brick to link to the old brewery, incorporated some internal sidewalks and added some patios, but the result is most definitely a car-oriented development - in my opinion, a missed opportunity.   

Is Edmonton so desperate for downtown development they felt they had to approve this suburban project in their City Centre?
City Market in Edmonton's Brewery District is a full-scale grocery store that meets the diversity residents' needs. 

City Market in Edmonton's Brewery District is a full-scale grocery store that meets the diversity residents' needs. 

Impressed!

On the flip side, there was one element of Edmonton’s Brewery District that I most was impressed with, Loblaws' City Market with Winners store directly above.

The City Market, at approximately 40,000 square feet (yes, I eye-balled it) is a full-size grocery store, not a boutique store dominated by high-priced organic produce and specialty products.  The selection was great as were the prices; there was even a bin at the entrance with free bananas for kids! Never seen that before!

The City Market concept is what Loblaws has planned as part of the mega full-block development in Calgary’s East Village, development which will also include two residential towers (500 condos within 40- and 23-storey towers) and 188,000 square feet of street and second floor retail space, all branded as 5th & THIRD.  Now that is good urban development i.e. diversity of uses and density.

Loblaws City Market concept borrows liberally from Whole Foods as an urban grocery store.  It will be a welcome addition to Calgary's East Village. 

Loblaws City Market concept borrows liberally from Whole Foods as an urban grocery store.  It will be a welcome addition to Calgary's East Village. 

Arris condos above a retail podium at street level and second floor in Caglary's East Village is under construction which will include a Loblaws City Market. 

Arris condos above a retail podium at street level and second floor in Caglary's East Village is under construction which will include a Loblaws City Market. 

Sharp Edge

How big is 188,000 square feet, you ask?  A little bigger than Eau Claire Market.  With Loblaws City Market and Shoppers Drug Mart as Arris’ retail anchors, East Villagers, by the end of 2018, will have their everyday needs met within easy walking distance. This is essential to making East Village a postcard for North American 21st century urban villages.

The name “Arris” refers to a sharp edge formed by the meeting of two flat or curved surfaces. At this point, RioCan (retail developers) and EmbassyBOSA (residential developer) have integrated, as best as possible, best practices in urban design as possible into Arris. 

And, while the Arris name was originally in reference to the architecture, it could also reflect the sharp edge where retail and residential uses meet the sharp edge between success and failure.

Calgary’s Fledgling Brewery District

Calgary Brewery buildings have lots of character, but are in very poor shape and don't lend themselves to repurposing. 

In the spring of 2015, I toured the Calgary Brewery & Malting Company historic site (Calgary’s potential brewery district in Inglewood) with Eileen Stan, Development Manager with M2i Development Corporation, the company who currently owns this site which has been vacant since 1994. 

This is arguably one of the most complex redevelopment projects in Canada today given the 20+ buildings and various states of their decay. The site also has the largest collection of sandstone buildings in the city outside of Stephen Avenue, creating some interesting preservation challenges and opportunities.  

While Calgary’s current economic downturn has put any major redevelopment of Calgary’s Brewery District on ice (pun intended) for the time being, I am glad there is no hint of creating a power centre development like Edmonton’s Brewery District. 

Patience and strategic development is M2i Development Corporation’s mantra when it comes to developing this historic gem.  Fortunate for Calgary.  

This building is slated to be phase 1 of the site's redevelopment when the time is right. 

The Calgary Brewery site is well treed, which is usual for an industrial site and is both a challenge and an opportunity. 

Eroding sandstone foundations are a huge problem at the Calgary Brewery & Malting site. 

Eroding sandstone foundations are a huge problem at the Calgary Brewery & Malting site. 

Last Word

They say, “Good things come to s/he who waits!” I sure hope that is the case with the Calgary Brewery & Malting site.  

And, I anxiously await seeing East Village’s City Market and the 3rd & Fifth retail complex.

Note: An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's on November 26th, 2016 titled "Brewery Controversy: Redevelopment hit and misses. 

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Are We Winter Wusses?

For decades now, I have advocated that winter cities need to think differently when it comes to the design of buildings, streets, parks, plazas and pathways, as well as the height and positioning of buildings.

 I recently attended a "Winter City Design" forum hosted by the Alberta chapter of the Urban Land Institute at the newly renovated St. Louis Hotel in Calgary’s East Village.  I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn what’s new in the world of winter city urban design thinking. Unfortunately I came away with no new ideas!

Winnipeg's warming huts for skaters along the river are a great idea that could easily be adapted to other cities for pathways and parks.  The warming huts were not even mentioned at the Forum. 

Winnipeg's warming huts for skaters along the river are a great idea that could easily be adapted to other cities for pathways and parks.  The warming huts were not even mentioned at the Forum. 

Winter Cities 101

A winter city is commonly defined as one where the average winter temperature is below freezing during the city’s coldest month and has an annual snow accumulation of more than 20 cm (8 in.).  This unfortunately doesn’t take into account things like wind chill factor or temperature fluctuation.

For example, Calgary can have a week or two where the temperature doesn’t get above -20C followed by a week where the mid-day high is over +10C every day.  Other cities like Copenhagen hover around the freezing mark during winter, but rarely get below -10C.  Some winter cities get lots of snow that stays all winter (Montreal gets the most snow of any major city in the world - 209 cm on average), while others get minimal amounts of snow, which melts quickly.  Not all winter cities are equal.  

The idea that winter cities should share ideas on what works and what doesn’t with respect to creating a quality of life for its citizens in the cold, dark winter months dates back to the ‘60s. Calgary’s Harold Hanen, a planner at the City of Calgary from 1966 to 1969, was one of the champions.  His “big idea” to make Calgary’s downtown more appealing in the winter was a series of above-ground pedestrian bridges linking downtown office, shopping, hotel and cultural buildings.

Today, there are 60+ bridges, known as +15 bridges named for the fact they are 15 feet above the sidewalk (it is the longest indoor above ground walkway in the world.)

Calgary's +15 walkway allows downtown workers to explore downtown without having to put on their coats and also without having to negotiate slippery streets and cars.  Planners don't like them as they say they destroy the street vitality.  Public loves them.  My observation is that public uses them when climate is harsh but once the weather is nice (winter or summer) people would rather be outside.  It is the best of both worlds.   

Nothing New To Report

I was disappointed all three presenters at the ULI event (two from Edmonton, one from Cleveland) really had nothing new to share about winter design guidelines or other insights.  Basically, what they had to say was common sense and already well documented. 

Winter cities need to:

  • Capture the sun
  • Block the wind
  • Use warm colours for building facades
  • Have better infrastructure (e.g. gas lines/electricity for lighting and fire pits)
  • Have better snow removal management
  • Avoid high-rise buildings (they block the sun and create wind tunnels)
This diagram summarizes Edmonton's Winter Design Guidelines. 

This diagram summarizes Edmonton's Winter Design Guidelines. 

While the presenters showed lots of pretty artists’ renderings of winter scenes, they were fantasy images, not real-life photos. The best photo was one of someone trying to jump over a slushy puddle with large snow banks all around them. That’s winter! 

One interesting idea is to piling up snow from the streets into adjacent local parks for kids to play on. For more than a decade, Calgary’s West Hillhurst arena Zamboni drivers have piled up snow from cleaning the rink onto the playing field outside and kids have snowboarded, built forts, made snowballs and slid down all the time.  I love the idea of expanding this to more local parks.

I was struck by how the Forum’s presenters seemed fixated on winter design guidelines for creating vitality in urban (downtown) spaces. Given going outside in the winter is probably at best an hour long activity, not many people are going to travel 60+ minutes on a return trip from suburbia to downtown for an hour of outdoor activities. Would a less downtown-centric approach to enhancing winter vitality not seem a wiser approach?

I expected to hear about adding outdoor activities to new suburban new recreational centers where most city dwellers spend their winter leisure hours. How can we make outdoor playgrounds more attractive in the winter?  How can we incorporate more hills into our smaller urban parks for toboggans, snowboarding and sliding for young children? How can we create more snowshoeing and cross-country skiing opportunities in the city parks? It isn’t all about sitting on patios in urban plazas and patios.

And, what about ways to make winter cycling more attractive? Calgary’s Tom Babin has literally written the book on winter cycling -  “Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling.” Not exactly the best title if you want to get more people to experience winter cycling, the title is catchy and it would have been interesting to learn more about how to promote winter biking.

I found this image of what you need for safe winter cycling. 

I found this image of what you need for safe winter cycling. 

This snow slide in Winnipeg next to an old fashion outdoor hockey rink. I imagine it gets used by siblings who get tired of watching the good old hockey game.  I don't recall seeing one of these in another park.  

This snow slide in Winnipeg next to an old fashion outdoor hockey rink. I imagine it gets used by siblings who get tired of watching the good old hockey game.  I don't recall seeing one of these in another park.  

Calgary's 17th Avenue is often bustling with pedestrians and patio patrons on a sunny day in the winter. 

Calgary's 17th Avenue is often bustling with pedestrians and patio patrons on a sunny day in the winter. 

Past Festival Failures

Recently, National Geographic Canada named its top 10 winter cities in Canada. Calgary did not make the list.  Edmonton did with its many winter outdoor festivals as did Winnipeg with its innovative “warming huts” along the world’s longest winter skating rink.  Backstory: Probably one of the most innovative new ideas I know for enjoying winter is Winnipeg’s pop-up warming huts (think ice-fishing huts, but nicer) along the frozen Red and Assiniboine Rivers that allow skaters to rest, get out of the wind and meet up with fellow skaters.  It is an idea that could work along Calgary’s Bow River and other pathways where there are lots of winter walkers and runners.

Calgary has experimented with numerous major winter events over the past 30+ years.  After the 1988 Winter Olympics, annual attempts were made to have a winter carnival in the middle of February.  Several locations were tried – Canada Olympic Park, Olympic Plaza, Prince’s Island and Calgary Zoo - but eventually organizers had to accept there was not enough support for it. 

Calgary has also experimented with a First Night Festival (New Year’s Eve), but again, the support for its winter celebration didn’t materialize - it died a slow death.  

Instead of expensive festivals with fixed dates, why not develop impromptu winter festivals when the snow allows for it.  What about a snowman making weekend? This was on Oct 9th 2016, the early snow was perfect for snowman making and creating a maze the kids loved making and walking through.  DIY and KISS should be part of any winter design and programming plan. 

Instead of expensive festivals with fixed dates, why not develop impromptu winter festivals when the snow allows for it.  What about a snowman making weekend? This was on Oct 9th 2016, the early snow was perfect for snowman making and creating a maze the kids loved making and walking through.  DIY and KISS should be part of any winter design and programming plan. 

The new park in Bridgeland is great as it is a safe family toboggan hill with nearby amenities like cafes. Perhaps a toboggan festival would be fun? Something simple as everyone going to their local hill and posting photos.  How can we create more hills in our local playgrounds - they don't all have to be huge? They are great for rolling, running and cycling down in the summer too. 

The new park in Bridgeland is great as it is a safe family toboggan hill with nearby amenities like cafes. Perhaps a toboggan festival would be fun? Something simple as everyone going to their local hill and posting photos.  How can we create more hills in our local playgrounds - they don't all have to be huge? They are great for rolling, running and cycling down in the summer too. 

Use Local Examples

I was puzzled as to why there wasn’t a speaker from Calgary (it is ULI Alberta), who could address our good (and not-so-good) winter city strategies.  For example, Stephen Avenue Walk is kept snow free in the winter, making it an attractive place to walk, shop and hang out.  It also has a lovely winter lighting program that creates a festive atmosphere - but does it work?

Calgary’s Bow River pathway too is plowed in the winter, allowing for various recreational uses.  How can it be improved? And lets not forget Bowness Park, with its lovely skating pond with fire pits, restaurant and huge outdoor patio.  It would also have been interesting to learn more about the Foothills Nordic Ski Club’s plans to enhance Confederation Park for cross-country skiing this coming winter.

There was talk about how in winter city restaurant patios work best on the north side of the street so you still capture the low winter sun.  I have great pictures of Calgary’s Ship & Anchor patio full people in the middle of February because it’s location on the north side of 17th Ave SW with no mid or highrise buildings on the south-side of the street.

For me, Calgary’s “big missed” opportunity was the Bow Tower plaza with its lovely southwest-facing plaza and home to the “Wonderland” sculpture. Why isn’t there a cafe opening onto the plaza with chairs and tables for people to sit and enjoy the ever-changing downtown landscape?

The Bow Tower's southwest facing plaza is crying out for a cafe with table and chairs on the patio so people can soak up the winter sun and enjoy "Wonderland." 

The Bow Tower's southwest facing plaza is crying out for a cafe with table and chairs on the patio so people can soak up the winter sun and enjoy "Wonderland." 

Some enterprising locals created this luge-like toboggan run in a nearby dog park.  How can we encourage more DIY winter play infrastructure? 

Some enterprising locals created this luge-like toboggan run in a nearby dog park.  How can we encourage more DIY winter play infrastructure? 

This DIY outdoor rink is being used by two figure skaters, as well as a mom and her son playing hockey and several people watching.  Too bad City of Calgary limits the number of people who get access to fire hydrants for flooding the rink in any one community.  Why can't there be as many ice rinks as there is demand?   

This DIY outdoor rink is being used by two figure skaters, as well as a mom and her son playing hockey and several people watching.  Too bad City of Calgary limits the number of people who get access to fire hydrants for flooding the rink in any one community.  Why can't there be as many ice rinks as there is demand?   

It is a shame this DIY fire pit has to be removed from a local park in Calgary.  Shouldn't we be encouraging this?  

It is a shame this DIY fire pit has to be removed from a local park in Calgary.  Shouldn't we be encouraging this?  

Mindset Change vs. Design Changes

It is going to take a huge paradigm shift in our attitude toward the cold to change the negative winter mindset of North Americans.  The evolution of urban living has been focused on avoiding the cold. For example, we have evolved from driveways to alley garages, to attached garages and then remote garage door openers and, remote car starters to avoid the cold.  Cars now come with heated seats and steering wheels.

In the middle of the 20th century, outdoor hockey rinks were the norm for minor hockey.  Today, all games are played indoors. Some arenas even have heated enclosed lounges so spectators don’t have to sit in the cold stands.

Yes, for most of us, we hate the cold!

For those who do embrace winter, it usually means a trip to the mountains, to Canada Olympic Park or the local dog park with a canine friend or two.

What can we do to promote and improve dog parks for more uses? Dog parks get used seven days a week, year-round. There is a great sense of community at dog parks which should be capitalized on. 

What can we do to promote and improve dog parks for more uses? Dog parks get used seven days a week, year-round. There is a great sense of community at dog parks which should be capitalized on. 

Last Word

A speaker at the ULI meeting asked in jest, “Have we all become winter wusses?” I would answer a definitive “YES!” We hate the cold, even if it is a dry cold and there is lots of sunshine. 

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Montgomery Million Dollar Homes?

Million dollar homes in Montgomery….no way!

For many years, Calgary urbanists have been touting Montgomery as Calgary’s next new upscale inner-city infill community in the northwest.  This would seem logical as Calgary’s luxury infill craze has been moving steadily westwardly along the Bow River escarpment - from Crescent Heights to St. Andrew’s Heights with the next community being Montgomery. 

Yet somehow the transformation hasn’t happened as quickly as some might have thought. All of the ingredients for a vibrant inner-city 21st century community are there – Bow River, Shouldice Park, a Main Street, an old neighbourhood shopping mall anchored by a Safeway, Market Mall and major employment centers (University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre, Alberta Children’s Hospital), as well as great access to downtown. Who could ask for anything more?

That is exactly what Astrid and Trevor, a professional couple in their 30s were thinking when they decided to build their dream home on Montalban Drive.  For most Calgarians, their image of Montgomery is based on driving through the tired 16th Ave motel village as you exit and enter the city. However, the upper Montgomery streets on the north side of the highway offer outstanding views. When it comes to Calgary’s “view streets” Montalban Drive is a hidden gem.

Domus view.jpg

Montalban Drive is hot!

Over four years of living in Montgomery, Astrid and Trevor have fallen in love with the community and location. When they decided to build their custom dream home, after looking at 60 different homes around the city, they decided to stay in Montgomery.  Astrid exclaims, “while some of the homes were amazing, we kept circling back to the fact we loved our neighbourhood so much.”

They were well aware of the Montalban Drive’s view, as it became a popular spot for their walks. “We always thought it would be an amazing place to build our dream home,” smiles Trevor. “Then last summer, we noticed a lot for sale! We didn’t act fast enough and the lot was sold before we could make an offer. Not too long thereafter, another lot went up for sale. This time we acted fast, made an offer, but were outbid. In October, another lot went up for sale and Lady Luck was on our side - within a week we had closed the sale - and we couldn’t be happier with the lot we ended up getting.”

Astrid adds, “We love how Montalban Drive street faces a lovely dog park so we have wide open space right in front of us. We have a direct view of the mountains, which is something we have both wanted for a long time. It’s a quiet street and has a lovely sense of community, which we have already experienced just as lot owners.

Choosing a Custom Home Builder

After an exhaustive research on custom homebuilders, they choose Blumer Homes. They were both impressed with how Steve Blumer structures his layout based on highlighting or maximizing the synergies between light, space and the site. “He understands ‘how’ and more importantly ‘why’ designing around these features is so important to the experience of the home. While he is designing and building a house, it was obvious to us he understands it will be our dream home” says Trevor.

Both emphasize working with a small boutique builder provides incredible customization as you your design evolves from vision to reality.

Like many first time custom homebuyers, Astrid and Trevor sometime had difficulty articulating what they wanted. That’s where Rosanne Fleury, Blumer’s designer proved to be an invaluable resource.

Avoid All Shades Of Grey

Like many Calgarians building infill homes, Astrid and Trevor had no idea what to expect with the City’s approval process. “In short, it has taken much longer than we could have ever anticipated and we would have liked a little more transparency into the process” says Trevor.

“There is a lot of information that is publically available in the form of community guidelines and while these are not bylaws, the City definitely takes them into consideration and so familiarize yourself with the norms of your neighbourhood” advises Astrid. “Do not think that you’ll be the ones to get away with the loophole! The odds are stacked against you. Try and avoid all shades of gray no matter what advice you get,” adds Trevor.

For example, they both really wanted an under drive garage at the front of the house as the slope of the property lends itself well to it. Unfortunately, this was not well received by the community association and subsequently, the City. This resulted in major revisions to the design, which added cost and delayed approval.

Dream Home With A Dream View

Astrid and Trevor’s custom a two-storey modern home with a third floor rooftop deck (aka retreat) offering outstanding views of the Bow River valley and mountains. With its horizontal emphasis and minimalist lines and details, but with warm materials and colors it is what they call “West Coast modern.”

The interior design is oriented towards the front (south) where the views are. This is in contrast to the typical custom home which has the principle living space at the back of the home for both privacy and access to the rear yard. Their formal living room at the back of the home was designed with their grand piano as the centrepiece.

As well, the kitchen in most luxury infills is situated nearer to or at the back, in this home it's centrally placed adjacent to the front family room so even when working in the kitchen, you have a spectacular view through the expansive south-facing windows.

The master bedroom is also situated at the front rather than the back, allowing Astrid and Trevor to awaken to an incredible view. Even the basement guest suite offers an expansive view. 

Last Word

Both Astrid and Trevor agree, “The hardest part was balancing size versus need versus value.  At the end of the day, it’s your project, your money and your time. You have to make lots of tough decisions.”

Note: This blog was commissioned by Source Media for the Fall 2016 edition of Domus Magazine.  

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Bow/Crow: There is something happening here?

For many years I have been flaneuring the “no man’s land” underneath the Bow Trail, Crowchild Trail interchange bridges (Bow/Crow).  The idea for a pedestrian bridge below Crowchild was Dave Freeze’s, a Calgary businessman who lived in Eau Claire and walked the Bow River pathways into his 80s. As he got older he thought there should be a river crossing between 14th and Edworthy Park. So he contacted his friend, architect Bill Milne (who was also the architect for the Calgary Tower) about the idea.  Milne came up with a simple bridge, which Freeze decided to fund. No need for city funding and no community engagement – a good idea so just build it.

As an urban street photographer, Crow/Bow it is hidden gem with its view of the river, downtown, prairie sky and the walkers, joggers and cyclists and the dramatic lighting and concrete landscape (I could spend all day here).  It has also become a place for  “pop-up” public art and more recently, a DIY skatepark. 

Link: Calgary Skateboarding: The Bridge Spot DIY

I love this black and white photo of a lone walker on the Dave Freeze bridge that sits on the support columns of the Crowchild Trail bridge just above the Bow River. 

I love this black and white photo of a lone walker on the Dave Freeze bridge that sits on the support columns of the Crowchild Trail bridge just above the Bow River. 

I have no idea who thought it was a good idea to have a bench at this location under Bow Trail.  It has to be one of the most brutal urban places in Calgary. 

I have no idea who thought it was a good idea to have a bench at this location under Bow Trail.  It has to be one of the most brutal urban places in Calgary. 

Rock Art

Over the past few years, I have regularly encountered mysterious rock formations along the shoreline and in the huge gravel beach just west of Crowchild Trail at the Bow River. 

Backstory: I believe there was an active gravel operation in the river in the ‘50s and maybe ‘60s.  Given its proximity to downtown and the fact that each year’s spring run-off means more rocks naturally gather here due to the sharp turn in the river, it made an ideal spot for a gravel operation.
This huge archimedian spiral was created in the summer of 2015.

This huge archimedian spiral was created in the summer of 2015.

Mini Inukshuks only 6 to 12 inches high and were all over the West Hillhurst beach in the Bow River in 2015. 

Mini Inukshuks only 6 to 12 inches high and were all over the West Hillhurst beach in the Bow River in 2015. 

Pop-Up Public Art

This past spring, I happened upon an unknown artist (there was a hand done sign but no name) who created a temporary art project entitled “Rock The River: harmonizing Calgary’s Shoreline."  It was like a little village of rock sentinels and sticks, something like what a family might build on vacation at a beach.  Later I found out  the artist is Luke Materi who has done numerous rock installations along the Bow River.

Another time I found the words “Love Art” spelled out in rocks along the north bank of the river – like something right out of the ‘60s hippy culture or today’s “new age” culture. 

Link: CTV News Calgary Artist’s Cairns

Rocks on the River, Feb 2016

Rocks on the River, Feb 2016

Rocks on the River, February 2016

Rocks on the River, February 2016

Love Art, February 2016

Love Art, February 2016

Love Art, February 2016

Love Art, February 2016

DIY Skate Park?

The latest quirky addition to the no man's land under the Bow/Crow bridges is a DIY skateboard park.  What a great idea? 

Backstory: The first choice for the Shaw Millennium Park skateboard park was under the 4th and 5th Avenue Flyover bridges in East Village next to the Drop-In Centre.  However, the Drop In Centre’s senior staff protested (Yes, more NIMBYism). They didn’t want a skateboard park next to them and felt parents wouldn’t want their children to be near the Center, which was home to many drug addicts, dealers and criminals (their words no mine).  So, it became part of the new Millennium Park in West Downtown in 2000. True story.
Under the Bow Trail bridge is a no man's land that is quietly becoming a DIY skatepark. 

Under the Bow Trail bridge is a no man's land that is quietly becoming a DIY skatepark. 

Quietly, a group of experienced Calgary skateboarders on their own initiative and with their own money and sweat equity have converted an abandon section of a pathway under the Bow Trail flyover for cars and LRT into a small skateboard park. The day I was there six guys ranging age from 30 to early 40s were working building a new jump, cleaning up the site and painting over graffiti.

They looked at me a bit strange when I first arrived with my camera but when I explained who I was and what I was doing, they were most friendly and helpful.  You could tell they were proud of what they were doing and felt they were making a meaningful contribution to making our city a better place.  

They haven’t asked for permission.  They just cleaned up the barren, brutal space and made it into a DIY skate park. Shouldn't that be rewarded?
Welcome to THE BRIDGE signage!

Welcome to THE BRIDGE signage!

I understand the police have visited several times and love the idea that they have taken an abandoned space and given it life. I really hope the City won’t shut down the place or take over the space, spend a couple of million dollars and try to make it into a formal park.  There is something authentic about a “guerrilla warfare” approach to this skate park that makes it attractive to skateboarders. 

It seems to me the DIY skatepark is the equivalent to any one of the hundreds of DIY outdoor skating rink the City allows in their parks. Yes one is year-round and the other is temporary, but they are both the result of Calgarians wanting to invest their own time and energy to enhance the recreational opportunities for others. Perhaps all the City needs to do is put up a sign saying, “Play at your own risk!”

Besides, I am told by skateboarders part of the fun of skateboarding is to skate where you are not suppose to.  It is about thrill of new places that create new challenges to do their tricks. It is about creating their own place. 

Link: Forest Lawn DIY skatepark

Everyone is invited to enjoy THE BRIDGE skate park. I was even asked if I wanted to give it a try.  I declined.

While was there people came and went, some were helping to build and fix up the park, others were there to try it out.  There was a wonderful sense of community and camaraderie. 

Last Word

While places like Shaw Millennium Park and other sanctioned parks are great, there is still a need for the true “underground” (or in this case “underbridge”) skateboard experience.  The same is true for Materi’s artwork, which like street art, seem more real than sanctioned public art, which too often seems contrived and out of context. 

I am thinking Calgary should be fostering these kind of DIY (tax free) initiatives, which help make our city more attractive and interesting. Indeed something special is happening under the Bow/Crow bridges. 

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Battisella: Pioneers & Innovators

The Lido Café’s neon sign stood as an icon along 10th Street NW in Kensington Village for over 70 years beckoning diners in.  That changed in 2014 when the café was demolished to make way for an eight-storey new condo.  Thankfully, it was Battisella Developments who was designing the new condo as they have strong commitment to quality design that reflects and fosters a strong sense of place and time. 

In this case, the new condo would be called Lido and the Lido Café sign would be restored and hung prominently on the side of the building as a lasting tribute to the café. True to their word, the sign now hangs proudly on the soon-to-be finished condo.

What I didn’t realize is that “lido” is Italian for beach, shore or sand, and is used in Europe to mean a “place of relaxation”. How good is that as name for an urban condo?  Who doesn’t want to live in a place of relaxation?

Battisella has a long history of strategically choosing intriguing names for their condos.  For awhile, all of the names were colours – Chartreuce, Orange Lofts, Chocolate and finally Colours.

For Lido, Battisella could have just replicated Pixel, Lido’s sister condo immediately to the east that opened in 2014, perhaps changing the balcony colour from yellow to green, orange or red.

But no. Lido has its own design, featuring a much lighter off-white façade reminiscent of what you might see along Miami’s South Beach (or some other hot resort destination), nicely fitting with the lido theme of beach, shore and sand.  With the Bow River only a hop, skip and jump away with its lovely turquoise water and pebble edge it is often thought of Calgary’s equivalent of a lake or ocean beach.   

Subtle and clever.

Lido condo in the foreground will have retail on the main floor a 21-suite O Hotel on the second floor and condos above.  It currently has a pop-up library occupying a main floor space that won't be need for retail until 2017.  There is also public parking in the underground parkade as a result of a partnership with the Calgary Parking Authority.  

Urban Pioneers

I have always been impressed with Battisella’s commitment to contemporary designs. Each condo has a different design sensibility; no cookie cutter condos for them.  I love their use of colour - sometime bold and sometimes subtle - as well as their commitment to animate the sidewalk with street retail when appropriate and possible. 

Founded in 1980, Battistella Developments, led by the late urban living pioneers Jacqueline and John Battistella, has always been on the vanguard of urban development. The company started out by building Calgary's first narrow lot infills, slowly evolving into building small condos in Inglewood and the Beltline long before urban living became trendy.  They were the first to develop condos in East Village (Orange Lofts), well before the rest of the industry recognized its potential.

Backstory: Councillor Druh Farrell moved into Orange Lofts (paying market rent) when they were first built, while her Hillhurst home was undergoing a mega-makeover.  The experience was a huge eye opener for her as she got to experience firsthand the undesirable activities (groups of 30 people smoking crack, regular break-ins and blood on the street) that made it hard for many to believe East Village could become the trendy urban village it is today. The experience was fundamental in helping Farrell to understand the problems and potential of East Village and her subsequent commitment to champion the community’s renaissance. as well as Clean to the Core and downtown beat cops for the entire City Centre. Kudos to her for getting her hands dirty - so to speak. 

However, perhaps the Battisella family’s biggest and most lasting contribution is their commitment to served on many City boards and commissions. . I have served on some of those Boards and Commissions with them and know firsthand their deep passion to foster vibrant urban communities in Calgary.  

Battisella condos are noted for their quirky artsy entrances and lobbies. 

Battisella condos are noted for their quirky artsy entrances and lobbies. 

Last Word

Our city is a better place as a result of the vision and pride the Battisella family has for Calgary.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the November 2016 edition of Condo Living Magazine

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East Village: Lust of the new playground

As tempting as it is, one of the key lessons to learn when judging new public spaces, retail developments or communities is not to judge them too quickly.  

Too often when a new playground, park, restaurant or store opens it is very popular for the first few years and then the popularity wanes.

I was reminded of this lesson  one Sunday this summer when I visited East Village in the morning and Eau Claire in the afternoon.

Eau Claire Market when it first opened was very animated with market stalls, cafe, restaurants, patios, cinemas and Calgary's first IMAX.  

Eau Claire Market when it first opened was very animated with market stalls, cafe, restaurants, patios, cinemas and Calgary's first IMAX.  

East Village's Riverwalk has become a popular meeting place. 

East Village's Riverwalk has become a popular meeting place. 

Eau Claire's River Promenade is enjoyed by thousands at noon hour on weekends and all day on weekends.

Eau Claire's River Promenade is enjoyed by thousands at noon hour on weekends and all day on weekends.

Lust of the new playground

It was delightful to see all the families enjoying the pebble beach area of St. Patrick’s Island and the other areas of East Village, Calgary's new urban playground.  The two and half year old I went with loved it as did his parents -  so much so his parents took him back there after his afternoon nap that same day.

East Village's Riverwalk was also animated - people walking, cycling and boarding along the promenade, as well as playing PokemonGo (whose popularity was at its peak). The area around the Simmons Building was literally packed with people.

It is great to see East Village come alive after years of dormancy. However, I wonder will this last, or is it just the “lust of the new?”

What will happen when the marketing and programming funding is no longer available and it become just another of Calgary’s 200+ communities?  Fortunately Calgary Municipal Land Corporation will continue to fund and manage St. Patrick’s Park and all of the East Village public spaces until the end of the Community Revitalization levy term, which is 2027.

East Village's pebble beach.

East Village's pebble beach.

Eau Claire's wadding pool.

Eau Claire's wadding pool.

Test Of Time

I remember when Eau Claire Market and Plaza (with wading pool) opened in the early ‘90s. It was a big hit. Then came the new Sheraton Hotel and Eau Claire Y, as well as a new office building.  Prince’s Island got a makeover with a new stage for the Calgary Folk Festival, improved space for Shakespeare in the Park, River Café, enhancement of the lagoon and redevelopment of the eastern edge of the island as the Chevron Interpretive Trail. 

New condos followed and there was even the creation of Barclay Mall with its wide sidewalk, large flower planters, trees, public art and a traffic-calming, snake-like road design linking to the downtown core and 7th Avenue transit corridor.

It seemed to be the perfect recipe for creating a mixed-use urban village.  In the early ‘90s, everyone had great hopes Eau Claire would become a vibrant residential community on the edge of our central business district.

Sound Familar?  

Fast forward to today - Eau Claire Market and plaza have been struggling for more than a decade and are now waiting for a mega makeover that will totally change the scale and dynamics of the Eau Claire community - for better or worse? Only time will tell.

The good news is Prince’s Island is thriving. As a member of the Prince’s Island Master Plan advisory committee in the mid ‘90s, I am pleased the renovations to the Island have proven very successful.  There are no longer any complaints about the festival noise by the neighbours.  The Island is able to nicely accommodate the main stage, as well as several smaller stages for workshops and a mega beer garden to create a special music festival experience.  And yet, at the same time, the public is able to freely enjoy the eastern half of the island, the lagoon and the promenade.   

So while Eau Claire Market, plaza and surrounding developments have failed to create a vibrant urban community, Prince’s Island has. Our hopes are now pinned on East Village.

Eau Claire's lagoon and pedestrian bridge.  

Eau Claire's lagoon and pedestrian bridge.  

East Village's river's edge and pedestrian bridge. 

East Village's river's edge and pedestrian bridge. 

Eau Claire's other pedestrian bridge is also a playground. 

Eau Claire's other pedestrian bridge is also a playground. 

Eau Claire's proximity and link to the downtown office core makes it a very attractive lunch spot. 

Eau Claire's proximity and link to the downtown office core makes it a very attractive lunch spot. 

Calgary’s best communities may surprise urbanists 

I often say to people “don’t judge a new community until the trees are as tall as the houses.”  It is interesting to look at old photos of some of Calgary’s inner city communities in the early 20st century. The Beltline and Mount Royal look exactly like Calgary’s new communities on the edge of the city today – huge homes with no trees. 

Too often urbanists are quick to criticize Calgary’s new communities for their bland, beige, cookie-cutter architecture and lack of walkability.  However, it takes decades for communities like Bridgeland and Inglewood or Lake Bonavista and Acadia to evolve into unique communities. The old cottage homes of Sunnyside, when they were built, were pretty much all the same but over time each has taken on a unique charm with paint, plants and renovations. Also as the trees have grown taller and broader, the streetscape has become less dominated by the houses. 

It is interesting to look at Avenue Magazine’s Top 10 Calgary Neighbourhoods in 2016.  Three are early 20th century communities – Beltline (#1), Hillhurst (#5) and Bridgeland/Riverside (#9).  Three are mid-century communities – Brentwood (#2), Dalhousie (#3) and Acadia (#4) while four are late 20th century communities – Signal Hill (#6), Arbour Lake (#7), Riverbend (#8) and Scenic Acres (#10).  

I doubt many urban advocates would have Brentwood, Dalhousie, Acadia, Signal Hill, Arbour Lake, Riverbend or Scenic Acres on their list of Calgary’s best communities given they don’t meet the density, mixed-use and walkable benchmarks.

One of the interesting results of the annual Leger (a research and marketing company survey commissioned by Avenue) was in 2015 respondents valued walkability as the most important attribute for a good neighbourhood, but in 2016, walkability dropped to #8.  In 2016, the two most important elements of a good neighbourhood was access to parks/pathways and low crime rates. 

I am often very suspect of survey results, as people will often respond to questions based on what they think they should say or do or what is trendy and not what their actual behaviour. People might say they want a walkable community, but that means different things to different people. For some it might be the ability to walk to the park or pathway; for others the ability to walk to most of their weekly activities. Walkability also depends on an individual’s lifestyle, family situation and commitment to walking (I know too many individuals in my neighbourhood who could walk to the gym or the squash courts but never do).

Eau Claire condos along the Bow River.

Eau Claire condos along the Bow River.

New condos next to Eau Claire Market. 

New condos next to Eau Claire Market. 

Eau Claire office buildings add a weekday population that is missing in East Village.

Eau Claire office buildings add a weekday population that is missing in East Village.

Eau Claire's Sheraton Hotel.

Eau Claire's Sheraton Hotel.

I would venture to say the Eau Claire Y will attract as many people in a day as East Village's Bell Studio and perhaps the new Central Library. Time will tell. 

I would venture to say the Eau Claire Y will attract as many people in a day as East Village's Bell Studio and perhaps the new Central Library. Time will tell. 

Last Word

So, I plan to head my own advice and not judge new developments to quickly. I will reserve judgement on the success of St. Patrick’s Island, Simmons Building and East Village, Studio Bell and the new library for at least a decade. 

I also am not prepared to judge Calgary’s experiments with creating more urban (mixed-use) new communities like SETON or Quarry Park for at least a decade.  

And, I am also going to wait for a few years to judge if Calgary’s bike lane network is successful or not.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on Saturday, November, 12, 2016 titled "Don't Rush To Judgement On New Developments." 

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Downtown: From Concrete Jungle to Glass Gallery

Recently Thomas Schielke (German architect who works for lighting manufacturer ERCO) wrote a piece for ArchDaily website titled “Veiled in Brilliance: How Reflective Facades Have Changed Modern Architecture.”  I was surprised when he started off his piece with the observation that “modern architecture promoted the monotony of large glass facades that have bored our urban citizens.” He then goes on to talk about how recently more unconventional reinterpretations of the glass façade has create more visually interesting jewel-like buildings.” 

Link: Veiled in Brilliance: How Reflective Facades Have Changed Modern Architecture

He points to Hamburg, Germany’s Elbphilharmonie concert hall designed by Herzog & de Meuron as perhaps the best example of the visionary glass culture in the way the building captures and distorts the perception of the city, water and sky.

The images of Elphi as it is nicknamed are impressive, but I would put Calgary’s collection of sparkling office towers up against any other city’s collection I have seen.

Perhaps we have an unfair advantage as we have more days and hours of sunlight than all most any skyscraper city and we have some of the cleanest air, which creates ideal conditions for sunlight reflections off glass facades.  We also have one of the most dense downtowns in the world with two, sometimes three towers on one block which further enhances the interplay of different architecture, facades and light into playful distortions.

Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall, Hamburg, Germany by Herzog & de Meuron architects.

Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall, Hamburg, Germany by Herzog & de Meuron architects.

Calgary's architectural surrealism is evident across its 50+ block downtown core.

Calgary's architectural surrealism is evident across its 50+ block downtown core.

Calgary Advantage 

Perhaps we have an unfair advantage as we have more days and hours of sunlight than all most any skyscraper city and we have some of the cleanest air, which creates ideal conditions for sunlight reflections off glass facades. 

We also have one of the most dense downtowns in the world with two, sometimes three towers on one block which further enhances the interplay of different architecture, facades and light into playful distortions.

Eight Avenue Place, Calgary, Alberta, Pickard Chilton and Gibbs Gage Architects

The Bow, Calgary Alberta, Norman Foster architects. 

My Favourites

Perhaps my favourite is Eight Avenue Place, which changes colour constantly through out the day and year as the sunlight reflects off of the various facades – one minute it is deep blue the next steely grey.

The Bow Tower because of its huge concave surface facing south captures the sky and clouds in unique ways.  The postcard shot is looking up into a blue sky and so the top of the building and sky merge - hence the name skyscraper.

I love to stand on the 9th Avenue side of Bankers Hall’s 9th and how it interacts with Gulf Canada Square’s flat glass surface. 

I also love the way the Calgary Tower gets twisted and distorted in the facades of various buildings, sometimes five and six blocks away.

Bankers Hall silver and gold towers reflected in Gulf Canada Square tower.

Outdoor Art Gallery

Each new building brings a whole new whole new interpretation of our downtown’s sense of place. 

The curved vessel-like shape of 707 Fifth Tower, designed by the highly regarded international architectural firm SOM (they designed the world’s tallest building Burj Khalif Tower in Dubai) is going to create some amazing new artworks. 

As will Telus Sky (designed by world-renowned BIG architects) with its pixelated façade that twists and narrows from the ground to the sky. I can’t wait to see how it interacts with our prairie sky and glass giants (The Bow and Brookfield Place), Suncor Place’s red granite and Bow Valley Square’s four concrete rectangles.

Calgary’s downtown is no longer an ugly concrete jungle, but rather is a playful outdoor art gallery.

Hope you enjoy this exhibition of art from our downtown….

Muncipal Building, downtown Calgary
Is it just me or does this look like what Lawren Harris would paint if he was trying to capture the spirit of Calgary's urbanism.  

Is it just me or does this look like what Lawren Harris would paint if he was trying to capture the spirit of Calgary's urbanism.  

Last Word

One of the biggest criticisms of downtowns in the 20th Century was that they became ugly concrete jungles.  However, by the ‘90s the emergence of glass facades for office and condo towers changed everything.  Douglas Coupland (Vancouver novelist and artist most famous for his book Generation X) nicknamed Vancouver “The City of Glass” as a result of the multitude of glass condos dominating their skyline by the end of the 20th century.

For decades I have loved the way Calgary’s glass towers capture our big blue prairie sky and neighbouring buildings to create wonderful surrealistic images.

To me it makes our downtown an ever-changing outdoor art gallery. 

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Perhaps my favourite reflective building to date is the EMP Museum in Seattle designed by Frank Gehry.  Not only does it have a wonderful concave and convex facade (inspired by him cutting up a guitar and using the shape of the pieces to create the design of the building) but it also has intense reds and blues also taken from the deconstructed guitar.  This photo captures the Seattle Space Needle peeking out from an ominous shadow.  

Metrovino: $5 Sherry Festival (More Please)

 

Woke up Monday (Nov 7, 2016) morning came downstairs to find Brenda all excited about a Sherry Festival produced by Richard Harvey at Calgary’s Metrovino the week of November 14th.  Immediately, memories of our first trip to Europe rushed into my still sleepy head.
Calgary Sherry Festival Fun

We were young and naïve. And I was cocky. We had booked a 3-week road trip adventure in Spain and Portugal.  We landed in Lisbon at afternoon rush hour and had to get to Cascais what we thought would be a short, easy drive to our hotel.  Wrong.

It was like driving the Deerfoot with traffic circles thrown in for some fun. (Note: this was the late 80s and I had never seen a traffic circle in my life.)  It was white knuckling all the way.  Backstory: We thought we were going to die at least 3 times in the first 2 days of this trip.  I learned to drive with one foot on the gas and one on the brake.  My motto became that of a running back in football i.e. run (or in this case, driver) for daylight.

Back to Cascais. We arrived to find none of the streets had signage names at the corner and their were few street lights – it was pretty much pitch black by then.  (Note: There was no GPS, or cell phone apps to guide us, just old school paper maps.)  We had to park the car and walk around to try to find where we were i.e. the street names were in ceramic tiles on the buildings, impossible to see from the road. 

Finally, we found our hotel and room to find two twin beds.  That wasn’t going to work for us, (remember we said we were naïve) so back down to the check-in desk to see if we could get a queen bed at least. (Note: We spoke no Portuguese or Spanish).  Yes, we made the twin beds work. 

After 3 days we thought, “what the hell have we done, but after 17 days we didn’t want to go home.” 

Most Embarrassing Moment

Seville is so rich with history and rituals, everyone should visit there at least once in their life. We were so fortunate that just by chance we were there at Easter. 

Perhaps one of the most embarrassing moments of my life happened in Jerez (the sherry capital of the world) while I was filling up our rental car with gas.  As we entered the busy gas station lot I noticed that one of the gas pumps wasn’t being used so I quickly pulled up to it and as former gas jockey, I was quick to jump out and started the fill up. People started looking and waving at me and saying something but not understanding a word they said, I just kept filling it up.

Then someone came over pointed to a word and turned it off.  The light bulb came on – I was filling up the car with diesel fuel and it was not a diesel car.  What to do? Luckily, we found someone who could speak some English who took us to a pub nearby where we phoned the rental car company who towed the car away and got us a new car later that day (all they charged us for was a full tank of gas).  I spent the day feeling stupid and we wasted what was supposed to be a fun day in Jerez tasting sherry.

Backstory: When I was an undergrad at McMaster University (’72 to ’76) I was introduced to sherry by one of my biology professors Dr. Davidson who became my mentor (what one might call a “life coach” these days).  He would host an annual Sherry Party in his condo full of modern art and Persian rugs for graduate students each year. As the President of the undergraduate Biology Club, I got invited and loved the smooth sweet taste of sherry.  My sweet tooth thought I had died and gone to heaven.  I started to volunteer to work in Davidson’s lab in the summers, partly to learn more about biology and the life of a researcher, but also for those 5 o’clock glasses of sherry and lively debates he often hosted in his lab.

One of our best memories of our trip to Spain were the Easter processions. At first we thought it was the Ku Klux Klan the similarities in the costumes is scary.  

One of our best memories of our trip to Spain were the Easter processions. At first we thought it was the Ku Klux Klan the similarities in the costumes is scary.  

Metrovino

I first met Richard Harvey back in the mid 1980s when he was a partner with Janet Webb who opened one of Calgary’s first wine stores in the then brand new Glenmore Landing Shopping Centre (the Aspen Landing Shopping Centre of the ‘80s).  I used to hang out there every Friday for happy hour enjoying wine and chatting with Richard, Peggy (Peggy Perry the brains behind Willow Park Wine & Spirits), not the and Janet waiting for Brenda to return home from her job in Coaldale.

Metrovino's Sherry Corner. 

Metrovino's Sherry Corner. 

We will definitely be heading to Metrovino for their Sherry Festival that also included tapas from Ox and Angela, Char-Cut, bar C and the Bar Von Der Fels.  One of my fondest memories was enjoying a tapas dinner in Seville watching the sunset from a patio on the Guadalquivir River and wondering what was Christopher Columbus thinking when he said off from here to find the new world. 

Would going every night and see if we can taste all 27 Sherries that Harvey stocks be too boorish? We did after all, we miss out on a lot of sherry tasting in Jerez. 

I wonder if Harvey has Harvey’s Shooting Sherry, it was one of my favourites.  I think they stopped making it several years ago, maybe he has a bottle in the back. 

Richard Harvey is a urban flanuer who loves to where a beret. 

Richard Harvey is a urban flanuer who loves to where a beret. 

Last Word

Imagine $5 for sherry tasting, tapas and listening to Harvey’s storytelling.  Too good to be true; maybe I am still asleep and this is a dream. 

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Calgary: Field of Crosses

Great cities have great visionaries.  Drive along Calgary’s Memorial Drive or by Memorial Park on 12th Avenue SW and you realize Calgary has benefitted in many ways from its early 20th century visionaries. A hundred years later today's visionaries are building on their vision. 

Calgary loves to celebrate its history?

Too often Calgary has been and is criticized for not preserving and celebrating its history.  Yet, when it comes to war memorials, we have done more than our fair share, including being home to the second largest War Museum in Canada.

What sparked this blog was the annual “Field of Crosses” that sprouted up last week along Memorial Drive almost like magic.

It is one of the most recent additions to Calgary’s evolving Memorial Drive which has payed tribute to the men and women of the Calgary region who have fought in various wars over the past 100 years. It first started with planting of trees and continues with the temporary placement of 3,200 crosses, each bearing the name of a fallen soldier from Southern Alberta.  

The crosses, lined up row-by-row, create our own “Flanders Field.” 

Link: Calgary: History Capital of Canada?

The crosses are planted in an unused patch of grass along Memorial Drive just west of the historic Centre Street Bridge on November 1st each year leading up to Remembrance Day (November 11th). Like an annual art installation the white crosses with red poppies and Canadian Flags (there are also a few American flags) weave their way along the narrow grassy field like military regiments on a maneuver. 

It dramatically changes the Memorial Drive experience.

Over the 11-day period, over 10,000 people will visit the site to pay their respects. On the afternoon I was there, there were about 100 people milling around including a busload of junior high students. - all were very respectful.

The “Field of Crosses” was the vision of Murray McCann a prominent Calgary businessman who witnessed something similar along a USA highway.  An epiphany for him - he was so overwhelmed he had to pull over and stop.

With the help of a $100,000 contribution by the McCann Family Foundation and with tremendous support from the City of Calgary Parks department and hundreds of volunteers his vision of a Field of Cross in Calgary was realized in 2009 and every year since.

"The City annually makes the park available across the Bow River from Calgary’s dynamic downtown.  The Field of Crosses committee prepares the park for housing over 3,200 crosses during the month of October and up to November 12th when the crosses are removed.  All city departments, which are impacted, have been super cooperative and supportive of the Field of Crosses project.  This demonstrates their recognition and appreciation of the role the military played in allowing us to live the lives we live today," says Susan Schalin with the McCann Family Foundation.

A Brief History of Memorial Drive

After the First World War the City of Calgary decided to plant a tree for each fallen soldier along Sunnyside Boulevard (now Memorial Drive). The first trees were planted on May 11, 1922 by Mayor Samuel Adams.  The planting continued until 1928, creating a spectacular boulevard with a grand total of 3,278 trees as living legacy. 

It is hard to believe that this was Memorial Drive a one time. 

It is hard to believe that this was Memorial Drive a one time. 

Backstory: Many of the poplar trees (Populus Wobbstii) that now line Memorial Drive are nearing the end of their life cycle. However, the City has been taking cuttings from the original trees and today more than 1,500 offspring are growing in Grand Forks, BC to be used as part of a regeneration program. The original trees are thought to have come from Drumheller to Calgary by miners. It is hard to believe that Calgary was once almost treeless. All of the trees but one along Memorial Drive are female (female poplars bear the cotton which provides food for ducks, carries seeds and provides nesting material for birds and animals along the river.

Mega Facelift

Memorial Drive got a mega facelift in 2010, with new planters in the median to allow for more trees and poppies and decorative lampposts and banners. In 2011, The Calgary Soldiers’ Memorial designed by Calgary’s Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative was unveiled a few blocks west of 10th Street next to the Bow River. It lists the names of over 3,000 soldiers who died in various wars and conflicts on massive white marble slabs thrusting out of ground.   Illuminated from below, at night the memorial becomes a to pensive, eye-catching sculpture.

The Calgary Soldiers' Memorial

Poppy Plaza located along Memorial Drive at 10th St. NW is another Boutin design.  It is dominated by two menacing-looking rusted steel sculptural shapes (some say bomb-like) and eight large letters that spell “MEMORIAL.”  Quotes about war are water jet cut into the steel and backlit to remind visitors of the hopes and sacrifices involved in wartime activities. There are also two illuminated sentinels the Bow River on the south bank, which at night shimmer on the endlessly moving Bow River suggesting a connection with the constant movement of time.

Poppy Plaza driving east along Memorial Drive. 

Collectively the war memorial elements along Memorial Drive are called “Landscape of Memory,” a City of Calgary project funded by the ENMAX Legacy Parks Fund.  

Last Word

To me, the “Field of Crosses” is not only a memorial but a very significant piece of public art as it is so visual (public art doesn’t have to be permanent). This is the kind of meaningful public art we should foster - something that captures the public’s attention and motivates them to come and see it again and again.  Something that clearly speaks to the public rather than being obtuse.

Perhaps one of the keys to help accomplish this is to make public art more of an event; something temporary, a pop-up exhibition, so there is an urgency to come and see it before it gets taken away.

Geroge V. Bittman bench sits in the trees above the field offers a pensive place to reflect on the Field of Crosses and what they mean. He was co-creator and chairman of the Memorial Drive "Field of Crosses" project.  He died in 2011. 

Geroge V. Bittman bench sits in the trees above the field offers a pensive place to reflect on the Field of Crosses and what they mean. He was co-creator and chairman of the Memorial Drive "Field of Crosses" project.  He died in 2011. 

Wouldn’t it be lovely too if the “Field of Crosses” become the catalyst to create more ways to celebrate our history?  Perhaps it will inspire someone creative way to celebrate Calgary’s tremendous "sense of community" with an annual flood memorial each June in memory of great floods of Calgary?

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Poppy Plaza Revisited

BL writes: "Excellent blog Richard. We arrived back in the desert last night and took a taxi home, about ten minutes. Most of the drive is through Cathedral City, the mostly Hispanic bedroom community between Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage. Along the roadside they have a flag display every year in memory of the young kids from Cathedral City who gave their lives for "their" country. It is a shame that most of these kids came from the families of illegal immigrants and the number of Hispanics is unusually high because the Hispanic army units are given some of the highest risk assignments. Sobering when you drive by."

Kansas City here we come....

Who knew Kansas City was a hot bed of art and architecture?  Sometimes strange things just happen. 
The Thinker thinks about badminton?

The Thinker thinks about badminton?

First I get a website comment from an Everyday Tourist reader saying, “you have to go to Kansas City!” The next day, while having dinner with Saskatoon friends at the boisterous Cannibale Barbershop + Cocktails, they tell us Kansas City (KC) is a hidden gem and one of their favourite cities (both have travelled the world and love cities).  Then a few days later, I pick up Walter Cronkite’s autobiography from my pile of thrift store book finds and he begins by singing the praises of Kansas City where he grew up. Somebody is telling me something!

I thought it might be fun to blog about a city I have never actually visited using comments and photos from three fellow everyday tourists and the Internet.  

In the words of Wilbert Harrison who wrote the song Kansas City -  “I’m going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come.” Interestingly, the lyrics talk about taking the train, plane or even walking there but not about driving to KC. 

Here we go…

Country Club Plaza

“I have just returned from Kansas City, Missouri. Its downtown shopping area, called "Country Club Plaza," is a redevelopment that started in 1923. It is several blocks wide and long and it is like Britannia Plaza (he had just read my blog about Calgary’s Britannia’s 21st century transformation) on steroids. The angle parking, the Boulevard, the wide sidewalks all appeal to shoppers. Our Inglewood and Kensington areas could certainly benefit from these design elements,” so GB comments on Everyday Tourist website.

I immediately thought, “What a strange name for a downtown plaza - sounds like a golf course development.”  Turns out it is a 15-block area that some call the “Rodeo Drive of the Midwest” with its Seville, Spain-inspired architecture, statues and fountains.  Who knew?

I love the story on the Internet about how a single stand of Christmas lights over a store entrance in 1925 has become a 15-block holiday spectacular called Plaza of Lights.  That is surely something Calgary’s downtown could use.  Imagine lighting all of the buildings, +15 bridges from Eau Claire up Barclay Mall to Stephen Avenue then over to Olympic Plaza and finally River Walk in East Village.  Or what about lighting up the silhouettes of all the historical buildings along Inglewood’s Main Street.  Maybe someday?

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Nelson-Atkins  Museum of Art

Both GB and my Saskatoon scouts tell me I have to visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art when in KC.  Yikes, I have never heard of this place and I spent 20 years as an artist, curator and Executive Director of a public art gallery.

Their photos immediately reminded me of Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Museum which we visited earlier this year. The story is that in 1915, William Rockhill Nelson, founder of The Kansas City Star, left his estate to a trust to purchase artwork for the public. At the same time, schoolteacher Mary McAfee Atkins, relatively unknown in the community, left one-third of her million-dollar estate to purchase land for a public art museum.  The two estates were combined and in 1933 the art museum opened it doors.  Gotta love those American philanthropists.

Today, the museum has over 35,000 works of art and welcomes over 500,000 visitors a year.   The playful “shuttlecocks” that sit on the vast lawn in front of the museum by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, make for a fun entrance.  

Wouldn’t the Glenbow love that kind of attendance (currently they have about 125,000 per year)? Perhaps is has something to do with the free admission?

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

KC… was a hot bed of art?  The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art (KMCA) designed by Gunnar Birkets is s sleek, angular building in the vein of Calgary’s TELUS Spark. KMCA holds an amazing collection of Chihuly, Warhol and O’Keefe to name a few renowned artists. Free parking and admission make it very public-friendly. 

Calgary missed a big opportunity to create a museum of contemporary art when the Nickle Museum opened in 1979 at the University of Calgary.  Today it is seems all but forgotten having been integrated into the Taylor Family Digital Library a few years ago.

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Architecture Tour

Kansas City – a great city for architecture?  Here are some samples from the Internet – you decide.

 

The Kauffman Performing Arts Centre by Canada’s iconic architect Moshie Safdie. 

Another view of Kauffman Centre.

Another view of Kauffman Centre.

Kansas City Central Library parking garage is called the "Community Library." The facade consists of 22 huge books whose titles were suggested by the public and chosen by the Library's Trustees.  

Kansas City Central Library parking garage is called the "Community Library." The facade consists of 22 huge books whose titles were suggested by the public and chosen by the Library's Trustees.  

Zahner Head Office.  

Zahner Head Office.  

Sprint Centre, designed by HOK

Sprint Centre, designed by HOK

Kansas City Convention Centre designed by HNTB Architects was built over a 6-lane freeway. Perhaps Calgary should build a new convention trade centre overtop of the downtown CPR rail tracks. 

Kansas City Convention Centre designed by HNTB Architects was built over a 6-lane freeway. Perhaps Calgary should build a new convention trade centre overtop of the downtown CPR rail tracks. 

Bartle Sky Stations. Located in downtown Kansas City, artist R.M. Fischer worked with Zahner to produce the stainless steel and aluminum sculptures which rest upon massive pylons at the intersection of three major highways. After completion in 1994, these four sculptures quickly became icons synonymous with Kansas City's downtown cityscape. These sculptures are inspired by 1930s Art Deco style, which can be seen throughout the Municipal Auditorium's chandeliers and decorative designs at Bartle Hall. 

Bartle Sky Stations. Located in downtown Kansas City, artist R.M. Fischer worked with Zahner to produce the stainless steel and aluminum sculptures which rest upon massive pylons at the intersection of three major highways. After completion in 1994, these four sculptures quickly became icons synonymous with Kansas City's downtown cityscape.

These sculptures are inspired by 1930s Art Deco style, which can be seen throughout the Municipal Auditorium's chandeliers and decorative designs at Bartle Hall. 

The Kansas City Power & Light Bridge This project is not a bridge for people or cars, but for the primary electricity conduits that feed downtown Kansas City. Designed by the architects at Helix, utilitarian truss structure is cladded with a perforated black zinc skin which fills with pulsing lights during the evening. The 165 foot-long utility structure bridges the gap over the interstate highway, connecting the Crossroads Art District with the Power & Light Entertainment District, two of Kansas City’s hubs for arts & entertainment.

The Kansas City Power & Light Bridge

This project is not a bridge for people or cars, but for the primary electricity conduits that feed downtown Kansas City. Designed by the architects at Helix, utilitarian truss structure is cladded with a perforated black zinc skin which fills with pulsing lights during the evening. The 165 foot-long utility structure bridges the gap over the interstate highway, connecting the Crossroads Art District with the Power & Light Entertainment District, two of Kansas City’s hubs for arts & entertainment.

Power & Light District

Between 2005 and 2008 a new downtown entertainment district was created around the art deco Kansas City Power & Light Building.  Today, it includes the multi-use Sprint Centre Arena (home to no professional sports teams), a covered outdoor plaza, Almo Drafthouse Mainstreet Theatre (cinemas), Midland Theatre (3,500 capacity music hall) and numerous bars, restaurant and offices including H&R Block world headquarters. 

Maybe this is something the Calgary Flames might want to look at for West Village i.e. drop the stadium and field house and focus on the arena, entertainment activities with perhaps a hotel and numerous condos. 

Better yet, could the Calgary Stampede and Flames collaborate to create something like this at Stampede Park?

Crossroads Arts District is delirious….

Our Saskatoon friends sing the praises of the Crossroads, a historic district south of downtown, which is animated by dozens of art galleries, housed in repurposed warehouses and industrial buildings.  It is also home to several restaurants, cafes, housewares shops, designers’ shops and live music venues.

HOK, a global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm has their headquarters there. (They are the architects for Edmonton’s’ new Rogers Place arena). Speaking of Edmonton, KC is also home to A. Zahner Company, an innovative architectural metal & glass company that was responsible for the Art Gallery of Alberta.  Their website’s portfolio page is like eye candy for designers. Who knew (not me, anyway) that the massive ribbon of stainless steel that wraps around and through the AGA represents the northern lights and is officially called “The Borealis.” Furthermore, the form of the roof’s canopy that then drops to the ground serves as a “snow cone” collecting snow and ice.  Where do they get these ideas?

“Delirious” was how those two Saskatoonites described themselves after flaneuring the Crossroads.

Link: Zahner Portfolio

City of Fountains

Beginning in the late 1800s, Kansas City started erecting fountains to serve dogs, horses and birds.  Then in 1910 the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain, built in Paris, was near the iconic Country Club Plaza.  The larger-than-life equestrian figures represent four rivers: the Mississippi, Seine, Rhine and, Volga (Europe's longest river).

Then came the Meyer Circle Sea Horse Fountain, purchased in Venice, Italy in the early 1920's and named for the three mythological sea horses perched atop the stone pyramid.

Still later, the Northland Fountain, flowing year-round, features an 80-foot circular base and center geyser that can propel water 35 feet high. This fountain is especially popular because the frigid winter temps transform it into a spectacular ice sculpture highlighted by a wide array of frozen shapes. This I gotta see!

Every year, on the second Tuesday in April, the city celebrates Greater Kansas City Fountain Day, when all 48 publicly operated fountains spring back to life.  I have always loved the idea of fountains in urban spaces.

Last Word

It always amazes me how much second and third tier cities in North America have to offer.  It is not all about New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Vancouver or Toronto. 

Did you know that KC has the second most boulevard streets in the world after Paris and is nicknamed “Paris of the Plains?” Kansas City wasn’t on our list of cities to visit, but it is now.  Kansas City, here we come!

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Simply Priceless: Travel, Treasure Hunting & Kijiji

One of the fun things we do as “everyday tourists” is to visit second-hand stores (both when we are away and at home) hunting for buried treasures (yes, they are often buried under or behind the other junk). It might be an artwork, vintage home décor item or even clothes. Sometimes we keep them, but most times we display and enjoy them for awhile and then sell them on kijiji.   

Brenda loves to find hidden gems, sometimes things look interesting but she is clueless as to what they are.  She then can spend hours looking for them and then hours researching them - half the fun is in the research!  Often it leads to fun travel back in time.  There is an “eureka moment” when she finds out what they are and their history.

But the fun doesn’t end there.  We both love the people we meet (even if for a just a few minutes at the door) and the stories they share with us about why they are purchasing the piece which often involves some more time travel. 

Everyday Tourist's world headquarters Kijiji Division 

Everyday Tourist's world headquarters Kijiji Division 

FOR EXAMPLE 

Just this week I wandered into Brenda’s kijiji headquarters and on the floor was a vintage-looking licence plate.  Turns out that same day she was in a Calgary Salvation Army store and spotted an unusual looking license plate in the cart full of things a staff member was just putting out. 

Side story: Brenda is like a sniper when it comes to spotting treasures in the rough.  She loves second-hand stores that are full of junk where you really have to hunt. Who doesn’t like a challenge? 

In this case, she found a clean, mint condition, authentic, aluminum license plate from the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northwestern Minnesota. A little research uncovered the fact that Red Lake rejects state jurisdiction, so they issue their own license plates to tribal members without (like the several other Minnesota tribes that have special plates) having to go through the state licensing. Who knew?

She also learned that the numbering (0000) on her plate reflects the fact it was a sample license plate. The two, large blue “blobs” in the design represent the reservation’s two, large, linked lakes. 

If we ever get to Minnesota, we will be sure to check out Red Lake!

TRIP TO LAPLAND?

A few weeks back I get an email with a photo saying “Look what I found, with the sticker still on it!” It was a nice enough looking glass pitcher but I didn’t give it much thought. When I got home, Brenda was quick to “fill me in.”

Turns out is was a“Iittala Ultima Thule Ice Lip Pitcher.”  Inspired by the melting ice in Lapland and with its uncompromising and timeless design, this distinctive, mid-century modern piece is claimed to be responsible for company Iittala’s international breakthrough. Again, who knew! 

Designed in Finland in the late 1960s, to this day it continues to be made in Finland and be the company’s signature piece. Note: “Ultima Thule” makes reference to the furthest possible place in the world – and a product line name of Iittala’s. She bought it for $4, it retails for $200 and she listed it for $125. 

The profit won’t get us to Lapland, but it will buy us a nice dinner on our next trip.  

Note: This piece sold quickly for $100 to a young woman who bought it because it reminded her of her grandmother who had one and when she passed away her aunt got the grandmother's pitcher. She had been looking on kijiji for one for awhile.  More often than not, the treasures go to a good home.

BACK TO FLORENCE

I have gotten into the habit of wandering into her room on almost daily to see what she has found or taken out of “inventory”.  Last week I noticed a decorative gold tray and had to ask, “Where did you get that?” 

Turns out it is a vintage Italian Florentine Gilt Gold Wood Tray she picked up in Winnipeg two weeks back.  It was ironic as we were in Florence exactly two years ago, it brought back fond memories.

Back story: During the Renaissance, Florence was renowned throughout Europe as a centre of fine art, particularly in painting, gold gilding, bronze work, and furnishings inlaid with intricate designs in marble or rare wood. The fine craft traditions associated with some of these arts never entirely died out. A museum of decorative arts, opened in 1865, was pivotal in helping boost Florence's economy by promoting its crafts to tourists.  That tradition continues today with many such items as trays being a collector’s item today.  Too bad today’s souvenir tourist economy involves tacky throwaway items and not meaningful local craftwork.

This gem was posted on Kijiji as a 1940 slightly raised scalloped-edged tray (12”by 18”) that “would look beautiful for a touch of shabby chic to any space - on a coffee table, on a sideboard, on a vanity.”

She bought it for $3 and hopes to get $20.  It will be interesting to see who buys it and why?

VINTAGE SUITCASE

Speaking of Winnipeg, I knew she had lucked out in the Salvation Army on Sherbrook Street when she came up to me with a big smile and carrying a vintage cardboard suitcase.  Again, she had picked it up just as it was being taken out of the back room (timing is everything).  

She couldn’t wait to get some history on it - turns out it is probably from the 1930s or 1940s.  Now listed on kijiji, it is described as a two-tone brown cardboard suitcase with its silver-coloured metal accents (i.e. rivets, clasps and corners - with "Cheney" (of England) engraved on clasps), brown vinyl reinforced outer corners and brown plastic/metal handle, and lined with paper – in a fun, brown checked plaid pattern. A nice piece of shabby vintage chic for display purposes – and/or storage. Dimensions are: 22” x 11” x 7”. Clean (no smells), closes/opens well – in very good vintage condition (just some minor wear and scratches on the outer corners and interior paper lining). No key.”

She hopes to turn her $3 find into a $40 sale, which should pay for lunch on our next trip.

BACK TO MINNESOTA

Something tells me we are meant to go to Minnesota as another of her October finds is a signed handmade pottery vase 7” high x 4¼” diameter. Its maker is experienced and long time, American potter Chad Briggs of Minnesota. 

I don’t understand why anyone would settle for mass produced when you can have one-of-a-kind piece?  Bought for $2 in Okotoks and sold for $15 – that’s coffee and dessert somewhere in the future. 

PINK PYREX IS HOT, HOT, HOT....

Brenda didn’t realize what a great find she had when she brought home (again from Winnipeg) a Pink Daisy Casserole Dish w/Cover Lid a few weeks back. In the late 50s, this oblong“Space Saver” baking dish was promoted as being great for “storing leftovers in space-challenged kitchens and fridges” – not unlike how a marketer might promote it today to those living in small condos or apartments!

Her Kijiji ad read, “It comes complete with matching clear glass cover/lid. The white stylized daisies on the pretty pink background are oh-so-charming.” And bonus... not only is this a rather rare piece, but it is clean and in excellent condition (no chips, cracks, faded colour/pattern)... ready to display in your kitchen or be put to good use!”

This sold in 20 minutes (by a repeat customer) with a profit of $35, which should buy a nice bottle of wine on our next trip (probably to Minnesota).  She had dozens of inquires a few hours of listing. Lesson learned: pink P Pyrex is hot.   

LAST WORD

We are hardly going to get rich buying and selling these artifacts, but it is a revenue neutral hobby that fits nicely into our love of travel, research and people.  And the stories, laughs, tears (of joy) and even gifts (yes, was even given a gift from a particularly grateful customer) are well, simple priceless.  

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Calgary: Everyday Street Photography Fun

Street photography is the art of capturing candid unmediated chance encounters and random incidents in public places, while still respecting the individuals’ privacy.

With street photography, the difference between success and failure is all about how you interact with people, place and light.  It is all about understanding the rhythms of the street, anticipating what is going to happen next and understand what is going on with the light.  It is about creating a narrative.  It is a style of photography that appreciates the gritty, unexpected and accidental.

For me, there is a wonderful synergy between street photography and flaneuring.

In this blog, I have selected some of my favourite street photos from my hometown Calgary.  I hope for Calgarians the photos will give you some new insights into our city. For non-Calgarians, I hope the images have a universality that makes them appealing to anyone who is interested in city life.  

I have decided not to add captions to the photos so you can develop your own narrative with each photo. I have divided the photos into three sections: black & white, colour and fun with bubbles.

Enjoy! Make sure you scroll to the end for the fun street bubble photos???? 

Colour Street Photography 

Bubble Fun...

I had heard that someone who lived above the sidewalk on the 100 West Block of 7th Ave SW had a soap bubble machine but wondered if it was just folklore.  Then last winter I was walking along the street and lo and behold there were soap bubbles everywhere.  It created a very fun and surreal experience for me, although most people walking by didn't even notice them. What does that say? 

Britannia's 21st Century Transformation

Calgary’s urban transformation is not exclusive to the city centre. It is happening in many established communities as well.  In fact, one of the more interesting places is along Elbow Drive on the boundary between Britannia and Windsor Park at 50th Avenue.  (Did you know… 50th Ave SW was Calgary’s southern boundary from 1910 to 1956?)

There is speculation within the urban planning community and media that older wealthy communities are anti-development. Yet Britannia residents, with a median age of 46 years (the City’s is 36 years) and median household income of $227,000/year (the City’s is $81,000) have accepted three major new developments in recent years – Maison Senior Living, Britannia Crossing and The Windsor Block

The Windsor Block was just a big hole in the ground this summer - soon it will be a contemporary midrise office building.

The Windsor Block was just a big hole in the ground this summer - soon it will be a contemporary midrise office building.

Rendering of Windsor Block, designed by Ron Poon and the team at NORR architects in Calgary.

Rendering of Windsor Block, designed by Ron Poon and the team at NORR architects in Calgary.

NORR Corner / Poon Place

Given all three projects have been designed by Calgary’s NORR Architects Engineers Planners, this corner could be nicknamed NORR Corner or perhaps Poon Place (Ron Poon served as the lead architect for all three).

Completed in fall 2013, the Maison Senior Living complex (70 units for individuals wanting assisted living or help with memory loss) is located on the northeast corner of Elbow Drive and 49th Ave SW. Bordered by a school to the east and residential to the south, Poon decided to utilize a flat roof and traditional materials to minimize shadowing and create an articulated façade to look like several different buildings, making it compatible with the school and homes.

Next came Britannia Crossing for Opus (completed in summer of 2014) a mixed-use building that includes medical, office, retail and restaurant space.  This project required significant community engagement as it backed onto estate homes.

The solution was to terrace the building from five storeys at Elbow Drive to just two storeys next to the homes.  Poon and his colleagues also incorporated wood and stone into the façade, reflecting the materials used for homes in the community.  The block is anchored by the popular Brown’s Social House restaurant.

The third development Windsor Block, is currently under construction (completion in Fall of 2017). It is also five-storeys with retail at street level, offices on the upper floors and three townhomes on the southeast edge where the building intersects with other homes.  This project, the most contemporary and colourful of the three, will include two public art features, giving the street it a more urban appearance.

Britannia Crossing by Opus.

Britannia Crossing by Opus.

Maison's facade has a variety of materials in warm colours, as well as seating and patios to create a pedestrian friendly sense of place.

Maison's facade has a variety of materials in warm colours, as well as seating and patios to create a pedestrian friendly sense of place.

Britannia Plaza

The popular Britannia neighbourhood-shopping plaza, which opened in the summer of 1953, was the first, purpose-built shopping centre in Calgary and literally adjacent to NORR Corner.  In the 1950s,new suburbs at the edge of the City accelerated the transition from the traditional downtown shopping experience to suburban plazas. Post-war suburban consumerism in Calgary and the development of new roadways led to robust residential construction and retail plazas like Britannia.

The plaza is surrounded by condos and apartments with quaint names like California, Marlo and California Manor (the Calgary Golf & Country Club entrance is also at 50th Ave SW).

Michael Kehoe, Broker at Fairfield Commercial Real Estate cites “the charm of the Britannia Plaza is not only its simplicity, but that it is easily accessible by car, as well as by pedestrians. This retail gem enjoys high levels of occupancy and above-industry average sales. The key to Britannia Plaza’s enduring success is the adjacent affluent neighbourhoods that are amongst the highest income residential districts in Canada.”

There is one parcel of land left to develop which used to be a gas and serve station. It would be a great site for a mid-rise condo (with retail at grade) to add to the community’s diversity of uses and be an anchor for the City’s vision of 50th Avenue being transformed into people friendly urban corridor.

Surrounding the Britannia Plaza shopping block are these mid-century condos and apartments. 

Surrounding the Britannia Plaza shopping block are these mid-century condos and apartments. 

Last Word

The integration of old and new developments along Elbow Drive between 49th and 51st Avenues to create a mini urban village could easily serve as a model for redevelopment of several old commercial corners in established communities across Calgary. 

The traditional linear Main Street with shops on both sides of the street will not always be the best solution or even practical for established community revitalization.

Editor's Note: An edited version of this blog appeared in the October 2016 edition of Condo Living magazine.

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Calgary's Growth Revisited: Greg Morrow (Richard Parker Chair, UofC)

In 2015, Greg Morrow was appointed the inaugural Richard Parker Professor in Metropolitan Growth + Change at the University of Calgary (Parker was a planner with the City of Calgary for 30 years, including 15 years as the Head of the Planning Department). The Parker Professorship was established to address current community environment and social issues related to metropolitan growth. This five-year position, co-located in the Haskayne School of Business and the Faculty of Environmental Design, at the University of Calgary, sits at the crossroads of urban design and planning, and real estate development.

As a member of Morrow’s Advisory Committee, I can attest to some lively debates about the good, the bad and the ugly of Calgary’s infill and new developments over the past year.  Morrow, who grew up in Cloyne, Ontario (population 70) has some interesting views on how Calgary should manage urban growth in the 21st century.

Greg Morrow, Richard Parker Professorship in Metropolitan Growth and Change, Haskayne School of Business and Faculty of Environmental Design

Greg Morrow, Richard Parker Professorship in Metropolitan Growth and Change, Haskayne School of Business and Faculty of Environmental Design

Q: How is your thinking different than most urban planners? 

A: I think I depart from most planners when I say the path to good planning lies more in good negotiation and judgment than in more regulations and rules. We should not be slaves to process, policy and technical details. These are important but not a substitute for good judgment.

 I also don't believe we can or should pre-plan every square metre of a city. Instead, let's focus on where we want to direct growth (major corridors, LRT stations, big under-utilized areas).

I think we're also too prescriptive in our land use bylaw; we need a simpler, more flexible bylaw with more emphasis on being outcome-oriented.

Martin Expo Town Center, in Los Angeles a redevelopment of a car dealership into a mixed-use TOD or transit-oriented development (being developed by the family that has owned the dealership for 40 years). Unlike many TOD developments which are predominately housing or office, this is a genuine mixed-use project with 150,000 sf of office, a 35,000 sf grocery store, 18,000 sf of restaurants, 46,000 sf of general retail, generous public plazas, and 516 units of housing, 20% of which are affordable units (below market-rate). This is the kind of development Calgary needs around LRT stations.

Martin Expo Town Center, in Los Angeles a redevelopment of a car dealership into a mixed-use TOD or transit-oriented development (being developed by the family that has owned the dealership for 40 years). Unlike many TOD developments which are predominately housing or office, this is a genuine mixed-use project with 150,000 sf of office, a 35,000 sf grocery store, 18,000 sf of restaurants, 46,000 sf of general retail, generous public plazas, and 516 units of housing, 20% of which are affordable units (below market-rate). This is the kind of development Calgary needs around LRT stations.

Q: What cities might Calgary learn from?

A: We can and must innovate locally, but Calgary should be willing to look to best practices from other North American cities to see how they can be adapted to our context. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. There are great ideas from a lot of cities so we can pick and choose, while still creating our own unique city.

We can turn under-used areas into great places quickly and cheaply, like New York did with its Madison Square. We can move towards more market-based parking solutions, like Seattle. We can apply best practices transitioning from single detached to mid-rise buildings along key roads like Toronto’s mid-rise standards. We can keep parking revenue local to help fund streetscape improvements like Pasadena.

Toronto's mid-rise standards is an example of a best practice that Calgary could adopt. 

Toronto's mid-rise standards is an example of a best practice that Calgary could adopt. 

Link: The rise of the mid-rise!

Q: What do you think about Calgary's strong NIMBY culture?

A: We need to better explain the rationale for change - reduce congestion, lower water/energy use, improve health outcomes, create communities rich in amenities close to home and lower infrastructure costs to name a few.

NIMBYism is a symptom of the disconnect between City policy and what people personally know and value. Calgary’s culture is changing as people from across the world enrich our city; let’s see the value and opportunities this change presents rather than perceive all change as negative.  

The fact is, cities are always evolving. Planning can’t stop change but it can help shape change to maximize the good and minimize the bad. But we need a stronger commitment to genuine civic engagement and collaboration as opposed to token open houses held after decisions have already been made. This will build trust and understanding between communities, City administration and the development industry.

Link: Why NIMBYs speak louder than YIMBYs?

Q: What is your thinking on secondary suites?

 A: It is way overblown in Calgary. It reflects our anxieties and fears of imaginary threats, mostly about renters. But most of us have been renters at one point in our lives!

My dad and his mom lived in a suite with his grandparents in Toronto. We should not prevent caring for elderly parents, cultural traditions of multi-generational living - or helping young people become homeowners with a mortgage helper.

We know from cities where suites are allowed that (a) there aren't many created (most homeowners don't want to), (b) they are sprinkled throughout the city (i.e. not concentrated on a single block) and (c) they actually raise, not lower property values.

A common sense solution is to conditionally permit them and if owners don't fulfill the conditions, they lose their permit. 

Q: What would you like to see Calgary developers do differently? 

A: I would like our new communities to be more fiscally sustainable, complete communities. I don’t think we truly appreciate the long-term fiscal liabilities the infrastructure in these new communities will be once they have reached the end of their life cycle. To create communities that can generate enough revenue to sustain themselves, we need a greater mix of uses, more amenities within walking distance of home and more transit accessibility in new communities.  

New communities must be designed to be adaptable to change over time. And, we need developers and City administration to be more innovative and open to change.

LA doesn't have the amount of vacant land that Calgary does, but one interesting large-scale land development is Playa Vista, developed on the former site of Howard Hughes Airport (the project was bought by Calgary's Brookfield Residential). A master planned community, it has been developing over time since 2002, demonstrating that a long-term commitment and phased build-out can create exceptional long-term value (as opposed to trying to build the entire community as quickly as possible, and claiming there is no market for density). This allows the developer to build at higher densities than a shorter build out would allow (since the market would not be there for higher densities). It's organized into blocks, with an emphasis on a high quality public realm, with one-third of the area set aside as a wetland preserve. It has a range of architecture, from traditional to contemporary and a mix of apartments, single family, retail, and office -- a genuine complete community. It's also an ethnically diverse community. Its amenities has attracted several tech companies to locate there (Microsoft, Facebook, Electronic Arts, Belkin). This is the kind of complete community Calgary's new communities should aspire to.

LA doesn't have the amount of vacant land that Calgary does, but one interesting large-scale land development is Playa Vista, developed on the former site of Howard Hughes Airport (the project was bought by Calgary's Brookfield Residential). A master planned community, it has been developing over time since 2002, demonstrating that a long-term commitment and phased build-out can create exceptional long-term value (as opposed to trying to build the entire community as quickly as possible, and claiming there is no market for density). This allows the developer to build at higher densities than a shorter build out would allow (since the market would not be there for higher densities). It's organized into blocks, with an emphasis on a high quality public realm, with one-third of the area set aside as a wetland preserve. It has a range of architecture, from traditional to contemporary and a mix of apartments, single family, retail, and office -- a genuine complete community. It's also an ethnically diverse community. Its amenities has attracted several tech companies to locate there (Microsoft, Facebook, Electronic Arts, Belkin). This is the kind of complete community Calgary's new communities should aspire to.

Q: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about Calgary's evolution into a vibrant 21st century city?

A: I’m optimistic. The annual Calgary’s Best Neighbourhoods Survey tells us the most desired characteristic Calgarians want is a walkable community with local amenities. Let’s give people what they want, places that accommodate driving, but not mandate it. That doesn’t mean they’ll be like downtown – not at all – just better designed with more local amenities.

Good city building is about giving people lifestyle choices. We need a greater diversity of housing choices in Calgary. I see this as the key to creating more vibrant communities.

Q: What projects in Calgary do you think are examples of good 21st century urban development?

 A: There are a lot of thoughtful projects in Calgary underway or on their way – East Village, Currie Barracks, Stadium Shopping Centre; the redevelopment plans for Northland and Deerfoot Malls.  I also like how the Beltline is evolving into one of North America’s finest urban villages next to a Central Business District.

 What these have in common is an emphasis on creating interesting, human-scaled places.

East Village's community garden was a popular meeting spot for newcomers to East Village this summer, helping to foster a sense of community.

East Village's community garden was a popular meeting spot for newcomers to East Village this summer, helping to foster a sense of community.

Q: Where do you live in Calgary and why did you choose to live there?

A: I live in Parkhill/Stanley Park. We chose to live here because it was on the LRT (we have one car), close to downtown and has a great park (Stanley Park, with its swimming, tennis, playgrounds, skating, tobogganing). We have twin five-year-old girls so we can walk and bike along the fantastic Riverwalk system to the shops, restaurants, and amenities in Mission. We have a 2,000-sf mid-century single detached home that cost about the same as a house in the suburbs, but without sacrificing proximity to amenities.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish as the Richard Parker Professor? 

A: My team (myself, 2 postdoctoral scholars, and a team of research assistants) have 3 goals: (1) to help make the University of Calgary a world leader in research on how metropolitan regions grow and change, (2) to develop new courses that bring planning, architecture and business students together to understand that good placemaking is good business and (3) to help inform and influence the debate and decisions re: Calgary’s growth by illustrating the benefits of growing smarter.

Last Word

In addition to being a professor at the University of Calgary, Morrow is also a volunteer member of Calgary’s Planning Commission where he is already challenging administration, developers and planning consultants to rethink how Calgary builds new communities and reshapes established ones. 

It will be interesting to see if Morrow can adapt his academic-based vision to the realities of Calgary’s economy, market and policies and provide constructive input into how Calgary evolves.  

Richard White can be reached at richardlw@shaw.ca Follow him on twitter @everydaytourist and read his blogs at everydaytourist.ca

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