Downtown Calgary puts the PARK in PARKades

Calgary’s downtown has the dubious reputation as having some of the most expensive parking in the world! And there are several good reason for that. The most obvious is the city limits the supply of parking while the demand for parking by the 150,000+ downtown workers is very high (at least it was until recently).  But there are other reasons, like the fact Calgary has a greater percentage of underground parking than most cities. 

Above Ground vs. Underground?

That is not the case for other cities like Austin where almost all of their downtown parking is in above grade parkades that occupy the bottom 3 to 6 floors of their office, hotels and condos towers.  The further down you have to dig the more expensive the cost of underground parking.  It is my understanding that on overage an above ground parking stall costs about $20,000, while and underground stall averages out to about $60,000. 

In addition, the underground parking has to be heated which is not the case for above ground parking so they are more expensive to operate.  

Entrance to the underground parkade at James Short Park on a Saturday morning. 

Parkades as parks

The other big difference in Calgary downtown parking is that five of the parkades have parks above them – James Short Park, Civic Parkade, McDougall Centre, Harley Hotchkiss Gardens and York Hotel Plaza.  There is also a six park/parkade in the Beltline under the Haultain School Park that serves the Union Square condominium. 

Designing a parkade with a park on top increases the complexity of the design, engineering and materials, which in turn increases the cost of the project.  As each project is unique the cost can range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions.

James Short Parkade (880 stalls)

James Short Parkade built is located on the block between 4th and 5th Avenues on the west side of Centre Street.  It is the site of the James Short School, which was originally 1905 Central School – the cupola from the school can be found at the NW corner of Centre Street and 5th Ave NW.  The school was torn down in 1969, but the cupola was saved and moved to Prince’s Island. 

Backstory: The cupola was designed to have a clock but it never had a clock while it was part of the school. It wasn’t until the park and parkade was developed in 1995 that the clock mechanism from the Burns Block demolished in the early ‘60s was incorporated into the cupola as part of the new park.

This passive two-acre park is used mostly as a place to sit, with some of the neighbouring Chinese community using it for Tai Chi exercise.  Above the park is Calgary’s only curved +15 that links Suncor Place with SunLife Plaza.

James Short Park is a quiet oasis in a sea of office towers. It is a peaceful place to sit, relax and chat. 

The James Short School copula sit at the southeast entrance to James Short Park. 

Old photo of Central Schools which later became James Short School and now is a park and parkade. 

McDougall Centre Parkade (658 stalls)

The historic McDougall school (has been restored and converted in the Premier of Alberta and the Calgary Caucus’ headquarters.  It is probably most famous for hosting the annual Premiers Stampede Pancake breakfast.  It opened 1908 as the Calgary Normal School, a teacher training facility. It became the McDougall (named for Methodist missionary John McDougall) elementary school in 1922 and continued in that role until 1981. The provincial government purchased the building, demolished the additions and reopened it as Government House South (now McDougall Centre) in 1987.

As part of the renovation design for the McDougall Center an underground parkade, with a lovely park above was created. There are two lovely tree-lined promenades that meet at the front doorway.  The back of the school has a cascading waterfall and pond under a canopy of large evergreens that is a popular place to sit at lunch.  And, when there is no water in the pond it makes for a great skate park. 

One of two lovely tree canopied sidewalks at McDougall Centre Park. 

McDougall Centre parkade is under the entire block of the 100+ year old sandstone school. 

On the west side of the Centre is a larger water feature which becomes a skate park when there is no water in the fountain and nobody is looking. 

City Hall Parkade (640 stalls)

The City Hall Parkade is located underneath the Municipal Building affectionately know by some as the Blue Monster. It is a popular evening parking spot for those attending an event at the Performing Arts Centre (opps Art Commons).

Few Calgarians, realize there is park on top of the parkade on the northeast corner of 9th Avenue and Macleod Trail.  It is not a ground level but at the +15 level so it is not visible to those driving or walking by.  It is a bit of a hidden oasis for City of Calgary employees and those in the know.  It is also home most years to Calgary’s first tree to leaf out as there is a microclimate created by its southwest orientation and the heat trap created by the dark brown brick Edwards Place apartments and the Municipal building’s dark blue glass. 

City Hall Parkade is invisible from Macleod Trail.  It is also sadly closed after hours and on weekends. The City of Calgary should be a leader in keeping downtown public spaces open on the weekends.   

City Hall Parkade Park offers good views of downtown architecture and it a quiet place to chat. 

Harley Hotchkiss Gardens (770 stalls)

The 1.5 acre Harley Hotchkiss Gardens is locate above the Alberta Court of Appeal (Court House #2) parkade that encompass the entire block from 6th to 7th Avenues and 4th and 5th Street SW.  The stately sandstone building has severed many different purposes including the Glenbow Museum from 1964 to 1977. 

At ground level is the old Court House, a futuristic LRT station with a connection to Holt Renfew, a water feature and the grassland gardens that is home to the Joe Fafard’s eight stampeding horses titled “Do Re Me Fa Sol La Si Do” On the north side of the Court House building is Joanne Schachtel’s artwork/bench titled “Buffalo Trail;” this piece was in the park before the parkade was created and the judges demanded it be incorporate into the new park. When the judges talk, everyone listens.

Hotchkiss Gardens located in the middle of downtown Calgary. 

Hotchkiss Gardens is a popular lunch spot. 

Joanne Schachtel’s artwork/bench titled “Buffalo Trail" is meant to double as a bench for people to sit on.  Unfortunately it is often in the shadow of the Courthouse building, which makes it less popular as a place to sit.  

Haultain School Park

The Haultain School Park is a hidden gem in Calgary’s park system.  It includes the 1894 Haultain School (now home to Parks Foundation of Calgary) was Calgary’s first school. The park also includes tennis courts, a playing field and a busy children’s playground. 

When the twin Union Square condos (on 1st Street at 13th Ave SW) were proposed the developer worked a deal with the city to gain access rights build a parkade underneath the eastern half of the park for residents.  The money was used to upgrade the park for the entire community’s use.  The current residents pay a fee to the city each year for leasing the land rights.

Temporary Public Spaces

In addition to these permanent parks, there are two other parkades that have attractive public spaces at ground level.  There is a lovely plaza on the northwest corner of 7th Ave and 2nd St SW that is has been waiting since 1982 for the second tower of the First Canada Centre to be built. Each year the plaza is decorated with lovely grasses and flowers that make for a lovely outdoor lunch spot.

More recently, the site of the York Hotel, 7th Ave and Centre St. S, which was suppose to have a small office building as part of The Bow tower development has been converted into a temporary plaza.  Designed by Sturgess Architect, the plaza is constructed primarily of wood, to look like a huge deck, with benches and planters for trees and grasses designed specifically for the plaza and manufactured local.  All of the materials are recyclable. 

It could easily be another 25+ years before we see an office building on either site, in the meantime downtown Calgary has two public space to enjoy. 

A view of the First Canada Centre plaza from the +15 bridge over 7th Avenue.  In the summer, there are lots of planting creating a cheerful and colourful place to sit in the sun at noon hour. 

The flower boxes are actually support beams for the unbuilt office tower, they create wonderful private spaces to to sit and read or have a chat with a friend or colleague. 

York Hotel Plaza is a perfect spot to see tow of Calgary's iconic pieces of architecture and art - The Bow Tower and Wonderland sculpture. 

Like Poppy Plaza, it looks very inviting to skateboards, too bad it couldn't accommodate them as it would create some animation of the space, every time I pass by there is never anyone there. 

The York Hotel plaza fence decorative elements were inspired by the designs on the Art Deco York Hotel. 

Detail of York Hotel's decorative elements. (photo credit: Canadian Architectural Archives) 

Last Word

So the when it comes to creating public space in downtown Calgary, we can thank the City, the developers and designers who have sometimes willingly, sometimes reluctantly and sometimes creatively put the PARK in Calgary PARKades.

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Calgary Folk Festival Postcards (2016)

2016 seems to be the year of the festival for this everyday tourist.  I was fortunate to be in Austin for their annual kite festival in March. It was one of the best one-day family events I have ever experienced. 

Link: Austin's Kite Festival: Cheap, Colourful & Crazy

Then it was Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo in April, which to my surprise was also a wonderful family event.   Downtown Calgary and Stampede Park turned into a fantasy world of colour and characters like I have never seen before.  

Link: Everyday Tourist Visits Calgary Expo

I was also at the Calgary Stampede on their Family Day, which reminded me how Stampede Park becomes a wonderful urban playground for people of all ages and backgrounds for 10 full days each July. 

Link: Stampede Park: Calgary's Best Children's Playground / Public Art

And just a week later, I spent the weekend on Prince’s Island enjoying the festivities of the Calgary International Folk Festival. 

Musicians and tourists have called prince’s Island one of the best urban festival sites in the world.  Located at the north end of the downtown in the middle of the majestic Bow River, it’s a serene surreal setting with Mother Nature’s the giant cottonwood trees dwarfed by the man made skyscrapers.

The Island’s various hollows and tree clusters create natural places for intimate workshop stages, while the great lawn with the main stage at the western edge of the island is a magical place to listen to music as the sun sets.  The Festival’s final exclamation mark is the children’s lantern parade at the end of each day.

Something magical happens when Calgary Folk Festival takes over Prince's Island.  If you have never been you should add it to your 2017 calendar now – July 27 to 30.  

I hope you enjoy these postcards from this year’s Folk Festival! 

The Performers

The workshop performance by Ian Tyson was one of the highlights of the weekend for me.  It was the definition of "up close and personal." 

Tattoo Fun

Colour & Characters

I actually chatted with this lady. She was so happy I wanted to take her picture. And yes, she made this hat. 

  Kids definitely loved the festival.

Kids definitely loved the festival.

  There were a lot of hola hoops at the festival....hmmmm...perhaps a Hola Hoop Festival would be a good idea?

There were a lot of hola hoops at the festival....hmmmm...perhaps a Hola Hoop Festival would be a good idea?

  This family brought their fishing gear as Prince's Island is in the middle of the Bow River, one of the best trout fishing rivers in the world. 

This family brought their fishing gear as Prince's Island is in the middle of the Bow River, one of the best trout fishing rivers in the world. 

Handholding Is Very Popular 

Calgary Folk Festival: Morning To Night

 Morning

Morning

 There is a zen-like quality to the Calgary International Folk Festival experience. 

There is a zen-like quality to the Calgary International Folk Festival experience. 

 Happy Hour 

Happy Hour 

Early evening

 Early Evening

Early Evening

 Night 

Night 

Does Calgary's City Centre have too many parks, plazas and promenades?

Calgary is at a crossroads – do we want more or do we want better public spaces?

It seems everyone I talk to these days, wants another park or an upgrade in their community.  I was surprised recently when Calgary Herald columnist and fiscal conservative Mike Milke in his March 19th column recommended the City of Calgary use the $86 million surplus from 2015 as seed money to create a major park along the Bow River west of Shaw Millennium Park in future new downtown community called West Village.

Do we need more parks?

The west end of downtown already has Shaw Millennium Park, as well as Pumphouse Park and the Bow River Pathway that goes all the way to Edworthy Park.  Along the way you pass through the 40-acre Lawrey Gardens and Douglas Fir Trail. 

One could also question if there really is a need for more parks anywhere in Calgary, the American National Recreation and Parks Association recommend that a city should have 10 acres of parks for every 1,000 people.  At present, Calgary has 5,200 parks totalling 25,000 acres, which for a population of 1,200,000, means we have 20 acres/1,000 citizens or twice the recommended amount (City of Calgary website).

When it comes to parks, more is not always better. In fact, less could be more - fewer parks mean more money to spend on maintenance and renovation of existing parks, making them healthier, more beautiful and more attractive.  Fewer parks mean more money for equipment in the parks, better pathways and more plantings.  Fewer parks mean more people using the same parks, which would increasing social interaction with neighbours and help make our parks safer. 

Sure there are some communities that have more and some less park space, but there is hardly a shortage of parks in our city.

Lawrey Gardens along the south shore of the Bow River between Crowhchild Trail and Edworthy Park. 

Calgary boast one of the largest urban pathways networks in the world. 

Edworthy Park is just one of over 5,000 parks in Calgary. 

Do we need more plazas?

I am also not a big fan of creating plazas next to busy streets.  The City of Calgary invested $31.5 million for Poppy Plaza at the busy corner of Memorial Drive and 10th Street NW.  Yet, I rarely see anyone in the plaza despite having passed it hundreds of times.  Surely, there was a better way we can pay our respects to those who have served our country than an empty plaza. 

We already have Memorial Drive, Memorial Park and the second largest military museum in Canada. For $31.5 million we could have built two schools (Cranston elementary school cost $15.6M) with a military name and mural.

The new East Victoria Park, on the east side of Macleod Trail between 11th and 12th Avenues SE, looks more like a plaza than a park (to me).  It looks nice and there is an area designated as a possible event space, but I really wonder if anyone will want to linger, watch or listen in the park given the traffic noise of three major roads. I hope I am wrong.

Did we need to spend $1.85 million to create a new plaza for a public artwork in the community of Parkdale where 34A St. meets the Bow River? When I sit on the benches the artwork actually blocks my view of the river vista and doesn’t allow me to make eye contact with others in the plaza. I am not convinced the artwork enhances the space or the river experience.

Poppy Plaza has amazing views of the downtown skyline, the Bow River and the Louise Bridge, but few people stop and linger, it is mostly a just a walk by plaza. 

This new plaza in Victoria Park, next to the busy Macleod Trail has limited use whenever I have visited. The most use I have seen is by skateboarders who probably shouldn't even be there, but you can't blame them for using it as it looks like a great skatepark. 

This is entrance to Parkdale Plaza for pedestrians looking west.  

Outflow is the title of the concrete artwork by Brian Tolle which is an inverted replica of Mount PeeChee, the third highest peak in the Fairholme Range just north of Canmore in the Bow River watershed.  It is linked to the storm water sewer that empties into the Bow River at this site via an outfall, so when the water travels through the sculpture It is suppose to serve as a reminder of the origins of the Bow River and how it has shaped our city. 

Unfortunately, most of the time there is no water so it looks like a strange and intriguing concrete vessel that seems to capture peoples' interest for a quick glance and then move on.  My biggest objection is that it blocks my view of the river.  This photo is taken sitting on one of the benches and you can't look up the Bow River to downtown. In my opinion the piece is too intrusive on what was a lovely spot to enjoy the river. 

To me this is a much more appealing and intimate way to enjoy the Bow River. 

Do we need more promenades?

While recently in Austin, Texas (population 1,000,000) and wandering its extensive Colorado River pathway system, I was impressed by not only how busy it was, but that it was a simple (no separate lanes for cyclists and pedestrians), dirt pathway that follows the contours of the shore. 

It was a very different experience to Calgary’s formal, hard-surfaces promenades with separate lanes for pedestrians and cyclist in some places.  It was a free for all and yet is seems to work even though it is as busy or busier than our promenades, riverwalks and pathways.

What about the $5 million 13th Ave SW Heritage Greenway? If you haven’t heard about it, or seen it, you are not alone.  The idea was to link the 13th Avenue heritage sites (Haultain School, Memorial Park, Lougheed House and Calgary Collegiate) from Macleod Trail to 9th Street SW with a wide sidewalk lined with trees, grasses and street furniture to create a “complete street” that would accommodate pedestrians, cyclists and personal motorized vehicles.  It looks pretty, but I haven’t noticed any increased in pedestrian traffic and don’t expect any.  Now we have bike lanes on 11th Avenue SW I wouldn’t expect many cyclist to use it.  

I am all for beautifying our city, but lets do it where people will see it, use it and enjoy it.

13th Avenue Greenway creates a promenade-like experience with wide sidewalk, trees and grasses in Calgary's Beltline community. 

13th Avenue Greenway at Barb Scott Park.  It looks lovely, but is hardly ever used. 

Austin's river pathway is mostly just a dirt path, with no separate paths for cyclists and pedestrians making it much more natural. It is heavily used by people of all ages and all forms of transportation. 

Last Word

I am not alone in thinking that perhaps more parks, plazas, promenades and public art are not the best way to enhance community vitality. Jane Jacobs, author of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961),” which has become the bible for many urban planners and community activists wrote, “parks, plazas, promenades, pedestrian malls should not automatically be considered a good thing. Most downtowns have too many.”

Jacobs also wrote, “Human beings are what interest us most; it is the richness of human variation that give vitality and color to the urban setting…people watching is the best urban activity. People attract people.”

I’m with Jacobs on this one.  If we want to create more community vitality, we need fewer parks, playgrounds, plazas, promenades and public art. 

We need to make better use of what we already have - make them places where people want to linger and meet their neighbours.  

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Do we really need all of this public art?

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Calgary: The City of Parks & Pathways 

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Hamilton's Art Crawl is indeed super!

For the past 20+ years art galleries across North America have been creating annual art walks, First (or Last or Second) Thursday (or Friday) events as a means of encouraging the public to come out and experience the local visual art scene.  I have experienced dozens of them across North America, but nothing had prepared me for what I would experience on Friday May 13.

May 13, 2016 was a lucky day for me - I got to experience Hamilton’s Art Crawl and event that takes place the second Friday of every month along James Street North (JSN).  I have visited JSN for several years, watching it evolve from a street stuck in the ‘40s and’50s to a quirky street of quirky, cool street of eclectic galleries, restaurants and boutiques, void of the usual revitalization gentrification. 

It is indeed a crawl along the James Street South's sidewalks during Art Crawl. 

James Street North's Art Crawl Maker's Market is located in front yard of Christ's Church Cathedral.  I was surprised that there was a service going on during the Art Crawl.  

Jane Jacobs would love James Street North with all of its tiny shops offering a diversity of things to see and do. 

No Gentrification 

There is no Starbucks, no Tim Hortons, no Shoppers Drug Mart, no boutique hotel or new condos. Instead, the former “Little Portugal” is being repopulated by new “mom and pop” businesses.

The tipping point for JSN’s comeback was in 2005 or 2006 (nobody is quite sure the exact date), when a couple of the new art galleries that had opened up decided to stay open late on the second Friday of every month.  The experiment was popular and it has just built from there.

Facebook: James Street South Art Crawl

Hamilton Jewellers has been on James Street South for over 70 years.

Colourful storefronts and street adornment create a funky hip pedestrian experience along James Street North. 

Morgenstern's department store is a walk back in time to the '40s and '50s. 

Mulberry's Coffeehouse is JSS's signature cafe and patio. 

Ghost town to Extravaganza

Earlier that day, my Mom and I wandered JSN, which was pretty much deserted, but as we left late in the afternoon, we could saw people starting to arrive with tables and artwork.  My Mom said, “Oh, I forgot. Tonight is Art Crawl.”  Lucky my Mom lives just a few blocks away so later that evening (9 pm to be exact), I headed down to check it out. 

As soon as I crossed Main Street (two blocks away) I heard the urban buzz of people chattering and street music. Quickly, I was engulfed in one of the best sidewalk ballets I have experienced anywhere.  I estimate 15,000+ people were wandering up and down the sidewalks, checking out the street vendors, going in and out of shops and stopping to listen to some of the busker music and dancing. It was like I was back on the streets of Mexico City. There was a fun festival spirit that isn’t usually associated with art walks which usually attracts the reserved, wine-sipping sophisticates.

I couldn’t believe how the sleepy street had been transformed from an afternoon ghost town to evening extravaganza.

This fun chair created a fun urban playground during Art Crawl. 

One of the many art galleries along James Street South. 

Art Crawl offers a wonderful diversity of art. 

The art ranges from contemporary to decorative. 

SuperCrawl 

In September, JSN is closed to traffic for the annual SuperCrawl which attracts over 100,000 people to a weekend festival of visual art and music that is a smash-up of local and international artists.

The transformation of JSS from Little Portugal to a hip arts district has not gone unnoticed. It has captured the attention of New York City-based Projects For Public Spaces (founded in 1975 by William Whyte, author of the seminal public spaces book “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces”) as one of best examples of how artists and art can transform a neglected space into something special. 

These ladies just had to dance to the music. 

The proud owner of a new painting just had to have his picture taken with his new acquisition. 

Last Word

If you are in the Hamilton area on a second Friday, I strongly encourage you to take in JSN Art Crawl.  And if you are into the visual arts, music and fun festivals, mark your calendar to be in Hamilton September 9 to 11, 2016. 

Indeed, Hamilton is more than Tim Hortons and the Ti-cats!

Street art adds another dimension to JSS's reputation as one of Canada's best art districts. 

Everyday Tourist Visits Calgary Expo 2016

While I am not into comics, action heroes, video games or fantasy, I was an early fan of the Big Bang Theory TV show.  As a result, by osmosis I have become very curious about cosplay and the comic-con culture.  

Calgary Expo (our comic-con convention and trade show) has grown exponentially since its inception in 2006.  Today it is the second largest in Canada with attendance exceeding 100,000 people.  

As an everyday tourist, how could I not go this year and see for myself what our Calgary Expo is all about.

Day 1

I was in "people watching" heaven with all of the costumes and displays. There were smiles everywhere and everyone loved to get their picture taken.  The Calgary Expo has many interesting elements - a mini film festival, educational workshops, autograph and photo opportunities with your favourite fantasy character.

After people watching for an hour or so, I headed to the lecture halls and found a Special Effects Cosplay Photography with Vancosplay workshop. This was way out the universe I operate in, but I did get a couple of good tips on some software that I might play with.  Always learn something! 

Next I checked out the short film "Downtime" about a frustrated husband desperate for some downtime, who heads out on an impromptu fishing trip.  It probably won't win any awards but it was interesting to watch.

I missed the "How to Nerd-provise! An Improve Workshop" which would have been fun, I have always enjoyed improv and have been curious about giving it a try. This would have been the perfect opportunity. 

I did attend the "Conversational Klingon: Express Yourself in a ConLand" class by Joseph Windsor  a University of Calgary PHD student.  I had no clue what he was talking about, but the audience loved it.  

The big surprise of the day was having Canada Post at the end of the Klingon lecture unveil two new Star Trek posters.  I am a sucker for surprises. 

It is all about the kids!

The highlight of day one were the children who seemed to be in awe at what they were seeing. 

Day 2 POW: Parade of Wonder 

Day 2 began with everyone gathering at the Eau Claire Plaza starting at 9 am to register, make final costume adjustments and to take lots of pictures.

Again, everyone was keen to have their picture taken, it was an urban photographer's heaven. 

The route went from Eau Claire Plaza, north on 3rd Street SW to Stephen Avenue Walk, where it proceeded east to Olympic Plaza for the Calgary Expo Official Opening by the Mayor. 

The parade lasted about 20 minutes and everyone seemed very pleased - those who watched and those who walked. I think the photos speak for themselves. 

The downtown air was electric with excitement!

The Parade on Stephen Ave.

Olympic Plaza Calgary Expo Opening 

Last Word

Day 3 and 4 were were amazing with thousands of colourful characters of all ages, shapes and sizes animating Stampede Park like I have never seen it before.  

The lectures and panel discussions were very interesting with talks about everything from the Zombie Apocalypse by two University of Calgary professors, to a discussion of Cosplay and body image.  The panel discussion with Jackie Cruz and Lea Delaria of Orange is the New Black to a standing room only audience at the Boyce Theatre, was one of the best improv comedy shows I have seen in years. 

For an urban guy who loves colour, street animation and people the Calgary Expo is now near the top of my list of my favourite Calgary festivals. I love that it attracts people of all ages and from all walks of life. 

I also love how it animated Stampede Park and demonstrated to me how the Park is truly a community park and not just about the 10 days of Stampede.   

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Urban planning / Travel / Participant Observer?

My recent blog about urban planning not being a science but more of an art, got lots of comments from the public and planners, some in support and some in disagreement. 

As a result, I have been giving more thought to different approaches to urban planning and city building and the importance of the “power of observation” i.e. what works and what doesn’t in creating vibrant cities. 

I have always been intrigued by the idea of the role a “participant observer’’ plays in understanding the world we share, how we live together in urban places and how we shape our urban spaces. 

I have often thought of myself - rightly or wrongly - as “participant observer.” 

Mexico City and many other cities close down a City Centre street on Sunday to create a fun carnival experience. Why doesn't every city?

So I checked with colleague Harry Hiller, Urban Sociologist at the University of Calgary to see if he could with what is a “participant observer.”

Hiller quickly emailed back:

“Participant observation is a concept and research strategy that is
rooted in the scientific or scholarly community.  As such, it requires the utilization of the logic and canons of science.  This does not mean others cannot engage in participant observation, but it often has a less rigorous procedure.  
From a scientific perspective, we begin with a literature review in order to know what is already known about a topic and how that knowledge was discovered.  Then a research plan is established that seeks to isolate explanatory variables for that phenomenon and then to alert the researcher for the link between variables that are desired to be tested.  
So before going out into the field of research, a careful plan and set of objectives are established first that clarify what to look for, the pitfalls in doing so, and above all, an empirical strategy is created that allows one to speak to results within a carefully designed framework.  
This does not mean no one else can observe things as a participant, but it does mean that a researcher is more aware of how their presence as a participant affects the results and it means that observing is structured by a background of knowledge and a research plan.  
Perhaps one difference from journalism is that the researcher engages in research like this to make a carefully planned contribution to knowledge with some sense of certainty about the results and how they are to be evaluated.  
There are many "observers" of urban planning actions and consequences who bring their own biases to bear in their evaluations, but a good researcher is open to a variety of outcomes and can weigh the results with more depth.  
That is the challenge!”

A challenge indeed, by this definition I am definitely not a "participant observer," as I am certainly not that rigourous as flaneur cities aimlessly, enjoying the urban surprises.

In Dublin transit, pedestrians, cyclists and drivers all share the road. Travel opens everyone's eyes to new possibilities in urban design and sharing space.

Top Planners Are Often Participant Observers

While doing some Internet searching, I found an interesting 2014 article from the American Planning Association’s magazine. Written by Reid Ewing, a professor of city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah, he referenced a 2009 poll of Planetizen (an independent resource for people passionate about planning and related fields) members asking them who the believe have been the “Top Thinkers vs. Top Academics” in the history of urban planning.  Ewing noted,  “Topping the list was Jane Jacobs, the ultimate participant-observer, who analyzed the built environment from her apartment in Greenwich Village and wrote in poetic fashion.  

Also high on the list were Allan Jacobs (no relation to Jane), Donald Appleyard and William H. Whyte all participant observers in Ewing’s mind.  He concludes, “observational methods seem particularly well suited to urban design.”

One of thousands of public open houses and workshops held every year in Calgary to engage the public in how their city should evolve short and long term, big and small projects.

We are all observers!

I have often thought many tourists are quasi “participant observers.” When you travel to a new place, you are looking with “fresh eyes” and often wonder “why don’t we have a park, street, museum, store, café, festival etc. like this in our city?” or “why does this seem to work better here than back home?”

Sometimes the thinking stops at just wondering. Other times it may go further as one tries to understand the rationale for what works and what doesn’t in making our city a more attractive place to live, work and play. More and more the public is becoming more engaged in designing the evolution of their community and city with their participation in workshops, open houses and Council meetings.

Post-it notes are essential to any public meeting/workshop.

Last Word

Today, as community engagement has become the norm for projects big and small on a community, citywide and regional basis. More and more, politicians, planners and developers are realizing the value of getting a diversity of citizen input (even if some is diametrically opposed and some isn’t feasible) to capture the hidden expertise that comes from the average person’s observation and day-to-day experience of their community, as well as experiences when travelling in other cities.

 

One could say, “it takes more than just academics to create a great community/city.”

 

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Austin: Kid in a candy store fun!

Every city should have a “must see” candy store!  Until this week my favourite was in downtown Helena, Montana, but now it just might be The Big Top Candy Shop on South Congress in Austin, Texas. 

Everyone, young and old will love its colourful candy/circus theme. Here are some postcard photos of The Big Top Candy Shop....love to hear what you think!

PS. Be sure to scroll to the bottom as there are some surprise candies for adults near the end.

Who can resist a candy shop with the name The Big Top? Not the Everyday Tourist. 

Sit down and enjoy the show.

The store is jam-packed with artefacts and fun displays. It is like a museum.

Doesn't every parent want to have a Gummi Boy!

I hope I never have to meet the Rubber Skin Girl. Yikes!

Love the sense of humour. Laughter is the best medicine. 

Who is up for a double bacon chocolate bar? 

And for dessert how about Fox's Candied Bacon.

Even the ice cream cones are special...this one has a gummi on top.

I don't think these people are ever leaving.

2015: Everyday Tourist's Best Street People Photos

 

My 2014 Christmas gift to myself was a Sony RX100 camera which, along with two iPhones, were put to good use (some might not agree, particularly my Redwood golfing buddies who were always asking “what are you taking a picture of now?”) last year taking 12,682 photos.

I love surfing through my photos on an almost daily basis. It is like a visual diary of both being both a tourist in other cities and an everyday flaneur in and around Calgary. It is fun reliving and rethinking where you have been.

As 2015 came to a close I started to reflect on the highlights of 2015.  After spending hours reviewing my photos and wondering if I could reduce 2015 to just 10 photos.  (I love top ten lists) I came to the conclusion that was impossible for me. I have never been a good editor. 

I then thought maybe I could do a couple of top ten lists based on certain subjects and activities with some common denominators.  After identifying about 250 favourite images (about 2% of the 2015 portfolio) seven subjects surfaced.

So rather than one large blog with dozen of images, I created seven subject specific blogs that reflect the fun and surprises of being an everyday tourist and flaneur in 2015.  

Black & White Narratives

I was surprised at how many black and white photos I took in 2015 and how many still captured my interest.  There is something about black and white images that elevates the drama of everyday life. While some readers have said the black and white images are depressing and sad, others love the quality of light and sense of the narrative that is revealed in them.

Architecture As Art

My architectural photos rarely isolate a single building into a static documentary image, but rather focus on the interplay of design, styles and built forms.  I am always looking for a different perspective that captures an artistic interpretation of architecture.

Flaneuring Fun

I love wandering the streets wherever I am, looking for urban surprises and usually I am not disappointed.  It could be anything from a dandelion gone to seed illuminated by a setting sun to fun doorway.  I love the thrill of the hunt.

Playgrounds

I have always loved the colour and sense of joy that happens at community playgrounds.  This year I bonded with the little guy next-door (he will be 2 years old in January 2016) and explored literally dozens of playgrounds all within a short walk of our house.  As a result I have made a point over the past year to visit as many playgrounds as I can both in Calgary and beyond.

Street People

One of my goals for 2015 was to capture the everyday urban life of the street, plaza, park and pathway, while respecting everyone’s privacy.

Street Art / Public Art Surprises

Expect the unexpected as my street art and public art photos are not just about sculptures and statues, rather how art can be found in strange places like amazing collages created in the reflections of storefront windows.

Skyscapes

Over the past year, I have been treated to some some amazingly works of art created by Mother Nature.  For the most part these are not your romantic sunsets and sunrises, but rather dramatic moments that are part of one’s everyday experiences.

Last Word

I hope you will enjoy these compilations as much as I have in putting them together.   As always, comments are welcomed.  Feel free to share with me some of your favourite photos of 2015.

Editor’s Note: I will be posting a new 2015 Best Everyday Tourist Photos blog each Sunday beginning January 3rd.

 

Found these two young girls crawling towards me after a Zombie Walk in Mexico City's Revolution Monument Plaza. There parents and they were keen to have me take their picture.  

This little guy caught me by surprise. Mexico City

Love these ladies, Calgary

Found these children using temporary swings under bleachers set up for the World Archery Competition in Mexico City. 

Walking next to the EMP museum designed by architect Frank Gehry is a surreal experience. 

Musician walking to Revolution Subway station in Mexico City.

Hand-holding, Mexico City. 

Beautiful, Mexico City

Relaxing, Mexico City

Asking For Directions, Mexico City

Lunch, Lady of Guadalupe Plaza, Mexico City 

Stampede fun on Stephen Avenue, Calgary

ive

Give Me 10, Crescent Heights Stairs, Calgary

Mirror, Mirror, Freemont Flea Market, Seattle

Hola Hoop

Fun Run, East Village, Calgary

Retro Fun, Pike Market, Seattle

School Trip, +15 bridge, Calgary

Princess, Revolution Monument Plaza, Mexico City

Big Smile, +15 bridge, Centennial Parkade, Calgary

Beauty & The Beast, Mexico City

Three Stooges, Mexico City

Skeleton Boy, Mexico City