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. 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Flaneuring Fun in Maple Creek, SK

Turner Valley Gas Plant A Hidden Gem

Baseball: Seattle vs Okotoks

 

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. 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Battle of Alberta: Urban Design

Flaneuring Calgary's original craft brewery

Inglewood: Calgary's most unique community?

 

 

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. 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Calgary: Snowman Fun!

Dog parks foster a sense of community?

Calgarians embrace winter

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. 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Poppy Plaza Review

Austin's Wonderful & Weird Outdoor Gallery 

Freakn Fun in Freak Alley 

Mexico City: Full of Surprises

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." 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Eau Claire: Mega Makeover!

St. Patrick's Island: The Good, The Bad, The Nice

East Village: A Masterpiece In The Making

 

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?

IMG_1636.JPG
Screen Shot 2016-11-04 at 8.22.50 PM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2016-11-04 at 8.29.33 PM.png

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!

If you like this blog, you will like:

Postcards from Buffalo

Off The Beaten Path in Spokane

Boise: Freakn Fun Art

 

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.

If you like this blog, you will like:

Altadore: An opportunity to create a model 21st century community

Calgary's Newest Urban Village is where?

Calgary's Million Dollar Communities

 

Calgary Regional Transit: On-It Love In!

Calgary region’s newest transit service (launching October 11th) called ON-IT could easily be called “LOVE-It.” Why? Because, by all accounts, everyone loves the idea of piloting a regional bus service allowing people in High River, Turner Valley, Black Diamond and Okotoks to get to and from Somerset-Bridlewood LRT station in the morning and evening on weekdays. 

The Mayors “Love It,” Councillors love it and over 2,500 citizens in those communities have signed up for more information and updates. And it is not just commuters who are interested – so are post-secondary students and seniors.

At the ON-IT preview on Monday October 3rd (which I was invited to) citizen Maureen Nelson enthusiastically grabbed a handful of information cards to take back to the High Country Lodge in Black Diamond, certain many of the seniors living there would love taking transit to Calgary for day trips.  “Many residents don’t like driving in Calgary or parking….this is perfect.” In chatting with several other residents the On-It preview, there was a common theme  - “driving and parking in Calgary is no fun.”

  In Okotoks everyone go into the ribbon cutting action.

In Okotoks everyone go into the ribbon cutting action.

Visionary….

ON-IT is a visionary, innovative partnership between Black Diamond, High River, Okotoks Turner Valley and the Calgary Regional Partnership.  It is a two-year pilot project that does not replace private express buses that currently operate between High River, Okotoks and downtown Calgary, but rather is the beginning of a regional public transit system. The ON-IT buses won’t go downtown but rather to the City’s southernmost LRT station where riders can access the Calgary Transit system.

While, currently the service is designed to serve the 60,000 people living in the southern edge of the Calgary region, it is designed to grow with the region, whose population is projected to reach almost 3 million in 2073.  Okotoks alone could have 90,000 people in 50 years.  

As well Strathmore and Chestermere are working together to be ready when the pilot is completed to launch their own regional transit service in 2018, with its link being to the new 17th Ave SE Bus Rapid Transit.

This is long-range thinking…
  All aboard the bus is leaving so get On-It!

All aboard the bus is leaving so get On-It!

Experimental…

Over two years of regional transit research preceded the two-year pilot, information gathered and lessons learned was then applied to the Calgary region. The best routes, stops, fares and size of buses ere then determined for the pilot.  High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass loves the pilot concept saying, “surveys can be misleading as people might say they want a commuter bus, but then don’t use it. This way we will have empirical data on who is using the service and how often. This will allow us experiment with changes as we gather new information and make educated decisions going forward.”

Calgary’s Southland Transportation Ltd. was the chosen service provider for the pilot based on their extensive experience providing unique and specialized bus services in many communities in Alberta and British Columbia. 

Don’t be alarmed! ON-IT will not be using rickety old school buses, but rather 55-seat motor coaches typically used by travel tour operators, which means you will travel in climate-controlled, luxury with comfy seats and an on-board washroom.

On-It will also result is less pollution and free up over 100 parking spaces at the Somerset-Bridlewood LRT station. Woo-hoo!

  Ribbon cutting at High River was too much fun!

Ribbon cutting at High River was too much fun!

  Everyone was all smiles for the On-It Calgary Region Transit Preview. 

Everyone was all smiles for the On-It Calgary Region Transit Preview. 

Last Word

You gotta love ON-IT’s slogan -  “the best commutes include a nap!”  With a slogan like that, how can it not succeed? I am going to be very interested to see how this pilot evolves.

Click here for more details about On-It Regional Transit

Click here for more details about the Calgary Regional Part

SAIT: Fostering Entrepreneurs Since 1916

This October, Calgary's Southern Alberta Institute of Technology celebrates its 100 anniversary of fostering our city's entrepreneurial spirit. Most people think of Calgary as a corporate headquarters city when, in fact, 95% of Calgary’s businesses have fewer than 50 employees. On a per capita basis, Calgary is home to more small businesses than any other Canadian city (source: Calgary Economic Development). 

George Mansfield Holmes epitomizes Calgary’s early independent business culture — and how SAIT has helped strengthen that culture for 100 years. Holmes graduated from the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art (PITA, as SAIT was known between 1916 and 1960) as an electrician in 1926 and was immediately hired by the small local firm Lambert and Leak Electric, where he was responsible for the installation of Lambert's Day-Nite Signs across the city. In 1953, he opened his own business — an appliance parts and service shop which flourished until he retired in 1974. 

Today, SAIT delivers business education to more than 3,800 students in degree and diploma programs, and to 10,000 registrants in our professional and leadership programs. But even before SAIT’s School of Business was officially formed, the Institute boasted a very active business education program focused on providing Calgary’s growing business community with the talent it needed to thrive.

Like any good business, planning for PITA began with market research. In Rosalie Pedersen’s 1991 history of the Institute called Technically, An Experiment, she notes, “To help determine exactly what to teach, representatives of school boards, manufacturers and Calgary businessmen met and prospective students were surveyed. Stationary engineers wanted evening classes; Mr. Short of CPR’s Ogden shops wanted arithmetic, basic mathematics and mechanical drawing and design; Mr. Glover of the Cockshutt Plow Company requested courses in business methods.”

SAIT's juxtaposition of the old and new architecture fosters leading edge thinking.

Fostering Entrepreneurs

The late Senator Patrick Burns is one of the best early examples of Calgary’s entrepreneurial spirit. Burns spent the summer of 1878 chopping wood for a neighbour to earn enough money to travel west, only to discover the neighbour didn’t have enough cash to pay his $100 bill. Instead, he gave Burns two oxen. Burns, realizing the value of each ox was $70, doubled his profit by slaughtering them and selling their meat and by-products for $140.

Arriving in Calgary in 1890, Burns established his first major slaughterhouse, followed by a packing house in 1898. He eventually evolved his business into Burns Foods, Western Canada’s largest meat packing company. Burns revolutionized the slaughterhouse industry by emphasizing the utilization of by-products, such as hide for leather, fats for soap, bone for bone meal, and hair for brushes.

His leadership in fostering Calgary as a vibrant business centre was recognized in the mid-1960s, when SAIT named a major new facility in his honour. It was a time of expansion throughout Calgary. Business was booming and the oil industry’s demand for people with business education was skyrocketing. The opening of the Senator Burns Building in 1966 enabled SAIT to expand as well as create a home for the Business Education Department.

The new department introduced a new Business Administration diploma because, as outlined in the 1966 Academic Calendar, “A manager in business, from the foreman or supervisor to the top administrator, must have a thorough knowledge of basic business principles ... there is a very real need for both men and women to have a sound background of basic business skills.”

That same year, Barry Lammle graduated from SAIT’s Merchandising program. At the age of 12, he bought a lawn mower and mowed lawns all over the neighbourhood. Later he enrolled at SAIT and, after graduating, started working at The Bay. After two years, he became disgruntled and wanted to get out and make some money. Having saved $1,800, he asked his mother to co-sign for a $5,000 loan so he could open a little shop on 1st Street SW — just a half block south of The Bay. Today he owns Lammle’s Western Wear & Tack, one of the largest stores of its kind in North America.

Like Burns, Lammle developed his entrepreneurial spirit early in life and later became a community leader inspiring others to pursue their dreams.

Building a bold future.

Preserving the past.

Adapting to Business Community Needs

By 1994, a Labour Market Study prepared for Alberta Advanced Education and Career Development found computer skills the number one employee training need. The next year, SAIT opened the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Business Technology Centre, a “one-of-a-kind business training facility … for the latest Business and Industry computer software applications,” according to a SAIT press release.  Today, SAIT is not only a leader in offering computer training, but a leader in pioneering online education programs locally and internationally.

On the flipside, one of SAIT’s most innovative partnerships revolves around face-to-face teaching. It started in 1995, when we partnered with the Canadian Professional Accountants (Alberta Chapter) to convert their online study program to a SAIT classroom program. Unique in Canada, it nearly doubled the pass rate of students seeking professional accounting designation, and it continues to evolve.

One of SAIT new study halls...

Adapting to economic change

Calgary’s economy has evolved significantly over the past 100 years, from agriculture and ranching to oil and gas. Today’s marketplace is a global marketplace, and Calgary is a major inland port supporting a growing transportation and logistics industry. SAIT’s business education has also adapted to meet the changing needs of business.

One example is the Supply Chain Management program SAIT has developed on behalf of the Supply Chain Management Association. Courses relate directly to skills needed for purchasing, manufacturing, dispatching, shipping and receiving, transportation, inventory management, warehousing and procurement employment — all vital to giving consumers access to the goods and services Canadians rely on every day.

Heritage Hall is full of wonderful murals above doorways.  

Next Generation

For Becky Salmond (BASCM ’16), enrolling in the SAIT School of Business diploma program was a result of her early career positions as Marketing Coordinator for food distributer Planet Foods and Order Manager for Flextronics.  This work experience not only helped her realized she would need a formal business education to help advance her career,  but also sparked her interest in supply chain management.

Salmond says SAIT’s competitive advantage over other schools is “the small class sizes, which means you get individual attention from your instructors and develop close relationships with your peers. The focus on group work, which can be challenging, also reflects the current business trend of working in teams.” When asked, “Was there a instructor who was instrumental in your career decision?” Salmond quickly responds:  “I could probably take up the entire issue of LINK; however, if I had to choose one influencer, it was a professor who never actually taught me a formal class. Dr. Vicky Roy was the coach of the Business Case Competition for the two years I competed with the team. She was incredibly dedicated to our team, and personally coached me about supply chain management.

“Her guidance, experience and knowledge helped us win the Gold Medal at the 2016 Vanier College BDC Case Challenge. Dr. Roy has enabled me to choose the right career path for me,” Salmond says.

Salmond is continuing her studies this fall in the Bachelor of Business Administration — Supply Chain Management program, one of four new majors added to SAIT’s BBA in 2015. When asked to describe SAIT’s School of Business in three words, she immediately says: "innovative; practical; supportive.”

Last Word

Too often I hear Calgary has no history, yet everywhere I go I am reminded that our city is full of history.  I can't imagine a Calgary without SAIT.

Editor's Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Fall 2016 edition of LINK SAIT's Alumni magazine.  

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary's Learning City Is Blooming!

A-mazing University of New Mexico Campus

Battle of Alberta: Urban Design

The opening of the iconic Rogers Place and the creation of the new Ice District with its new hotels, condos, office buildings and casino has rocketed Edmonton to “star city” status.  Meanwhile, Calgarians struggle to figure out if they even want the mega CalgaryNext sports complex in their city centre. Some Calgarians are already suffering arena envy! 
  Rogers Place recently opened in downtown Edmonton sparking some Calgarians to have arena envy.  

Rogers Place recently opened in downtown Edmonton sparking some Calgarians to have arena envy.  

The “battle of Alberta” goes way beyond hockey and football.

In fact, it started back in the 1905 with the inception of the province when the two cities vied for being Alberta’s capital city. Soon after in 1908, they again went head-to-head to see who would get the province’s first university. In both cases, Calgary lost! And of late, signature buildings and architectural design are another way our two cities are battling it out.

  Rendering of new Calgary Central Library currently under construction in Calgary's East Village. When completed it will add to Calgary's reputation as an emerging design city. 

Rendering of new Calgary Central Library currently under construction in Calgary's East Village. When completed it will add to Calgary's reputation as an emerging design city. 

CALGARY SWAGGER

For the hundreds of thousands of Calgarians who have moved to Calgary in the 21st century, it is hard to believe Edmonton was the dominant Alberta city for much of the 20th century. In fact, it wasn’t until the beginning of the 21st century that Calgary’s population exceeded Edmonton’s.

Hosting, the 1988 Winter Olympics gave Calgary its swagger. Then in the mid ‘90s, the relocation of three major corporate head offices to Calgary - Canadian Pacific (from Montreal), Shaw Communications (from Edmonton) and Suncor (from Toronto) to Calgary was the catalyst for the emergence of Calgary's city centre as Canada’s second largest corporate headquarters and Western Canada’s economic engine.

Take that Edmonton.

At the same time Edmonton’s city centre plateaued - there were no major new office buildings built in the ‘90s and ‘00s, only a few new condos and their historic downtown Hudson’s Bay store relocated to a suburban-looking downtown building. While Calgary’s Stephen Avenue became one of Canada’s best pedestrian streets, Jasper Avenue became an embarrassment.

Cowtown got the moniker of Canada’s “Nowtown” while Edmonton became “Deadmonton.” For awhile, we almost felt sorry for them. Almost.

But has the tide the turned.

  Edmonton has nothing to match Calgary's Stephen Avenue Walk at lunch hour. (photo credit: Jeff Trost)

Edmonton has nothing to match Calgary's Stephen Avenue Walk at lunch hour. (photo credit: Jeff Trost)

EDMONTON RISES

Edmonton’s City Centre is once again thriving with 35 active development projects worth over five billion dollars.

The opening of the iconic Rogers Place and the creation of the new Ice District with its new hotels, condos, office buildings and casino has rocketed Edmonton to “star city” status.  Meanwhile, Calgarians struggle to figure out if they even want the mega CalgaryNext sports complex in their city centre. Meanwhile, we are all forced to trek north because the 'big concerts' are in Edmonton now, because the Saddledome is past it's best by date.

Even when it comes to office buildings, Calgary's are emptying out rather while Edmonton's fill up.

What is perhaps even more shocking is Edmonton will soon have a taller building than Calgary *gasp*. The new Stantec Tower, at 251 meters (66 storeys) will dwarf Calgary’s tallest building, Brookfield Place, by a whopping 4 meters. 

And just this week, Alldritt Land Corp. announced they are looking at and 80-storey residential tower that could be 29 meters taller than the Stantec Tower.  

Is Calgary about to become, Edmonton's little sister?

 

  This is a computer rendering of the new Edmonton Ice District with Rogers Place bottom left and Stantec Tower being the tallest building.  

This is a computer rendering of the new Edmonton Ice District with Rogers Place bottom left and Stantec Tower being the tallest building.  

 The new Alberta Provincial Museum is current under construction in downtown Edmonton. It is an attractive contemporary box design. 

The new Alberta Provincial Museum is current under construction in downtown Edmonton. It is an attractive contemporary box design. 

BIG ISN'T ALWAYS BEAUTIFUL.

While Edmonton is the media darling of late, if you examine the 'Battle of the Two City Centres' from an urban design perspective, Calgary might actually be winning.Yes, Edmonton has the box-like Stantec Tower. But Calgary has funky, twisty Telus Sky (221 meters) that has been designed by Bjarke Ingles, arguably the world’s hottest young architect.

In addition, Calgary has two other major office buildings under construction that are architecturally significant – Brookfield Place and vessel-shaped 707 Fifth, the latter designed by SOM Architects who are responsible for One World Trade Centre in New York and the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Sure Edmonton has the futuristic-looking Rogers, but Calgary has an equally futuristic new public library designed by the highly sought after architectural firm, Snohetta, designers of iconic libraries around the world.

But yes, let's concede, Edmonton’s downtown library is getting a $63 million facelift that will definitely add to the city’s centre’s futuristic sense of place.

More worrying, Edmonton will soon boast the new Provincial Museum (opening late 2017). Dang. And it's sounds like it's going to be great. But hey, it pales in comparison to Calgary’s uniquely shaped Brad Cloepfil designed Studio Bell (aka National Music Centre).

Edmonton’s City Center also has the shiny, curvy Art Gallery of Alberta, but then Calgary’s angular Telus Spark glows in the dark. Not to be out done, Edmonton’s Telus World of Science is getting minor facelift putting it on par with plans to convert Calgary’s old Science Centre Planetarium to a public art gallery.

 Art Gallery of Alberta is a flashy, wacky Frank Gehry imitation building. 

Art Gallery of Alberta is a flashy, wacky Frank Gehry imitation building. 

 TELUS Spark's facade is grey by day, but at night it comes alive with a multi-colour light show. (photo credit: DIALOG Design)

TELUS Spark's facade is grey by day, but at night it comes alive with a multi-colour light show. (photo credit: DIALOG Design)

Even our malls are head--to-head. Edmonton's downtown indoor shopping mall is getting a $40 million new food court. But for my money, Calgary’s $250 million renovation of The Core shopping centre with its mega glass ceiling, which links to our historic Hudson’s Bay department store and upscale Holt Renfrew, blows away anything Edmonton has for shoppers.

  The Core shopping center has a massive two-block long glass ceiling that is the largest of its type in the world  . Edmonton has nothing to match this urban gem.  

The Core shopping center has a massive two-block long glass ceiling that is the largest of its type in the world. Edmonton has nothing to match this urban gem. 

  TelusSky Tower is currently under construction in Calgary.  The bottom floors will be office space for Telus, while the upper floors will be residential. 

TelusSky Tower is currently under construction in Calgary.  The bottom floors will be office space for Telus, while the upper floors will be residential. 

  The vessel shaped 707 Fifth glass office tower is also under construction in Calgary. 

The vessel shaped 707 Fifth glass office tower is also under construction in Calgary. 

THE URBAN LIVING RENAISSANCE RACE

The eastern edges of both city centres evolved into huge, ugly surface parking lots by the end of the 20th century. And urban planners have realized, 'we dun wrong.'  So...

Today ambitious urban renewal plans for The Quarters (in Edmonton) and East Village (in Calgary) are underway. At this point Calgary, leads the way with several new condos completed and more under construction, as well as a new library, museum, hotel and a major new retail/residential development.

But in all fairness (insert grudging respect here), The Quarters also has several projects underway – the 28-storey Five Corners Residential tower, the 13-storey Hyatt Place, restoration of Lodge Hotel and Brighton Block (new home of the Ukrainian Canadian Archives and Museum of Alberta). As well, Artists’ Quarters will create 64 live/work spaces if they can find the money.

Still, The Quarters it has nothing to compare with East Village’s new public spaces - Riverwalk and St. Patrick’s Island. Score one for the home team.

And Edmonton has lots of condo construction in various places throughout its centre, but nothing to match the integrated urban village developments of Calgary’s Beltline, Bridgeland and Kensington communities. Also, Edmonton’s city centre has nothing to match our new parks - Hotchkiss Gardens and ENMAX Park at Stampede Park, or our network of bike lanes.

 Edmonton's skyline has numerous attractive new high-rise condos but nothing like Calgary's condo boom.

Edmonton's skyline has numerous attractive new high-rise condos but nothing like Calgary's condo boom.

 Over 30 new residential high-rise towers have sprouted up in Calgary's City Centre over the past decade. 

Over 30 new residential high-rise towers have sprouted up in Calgary's City Centre over the past decade. 

 New hotel in Edmonton's Quarters is like a precious jewel-like ring setting.  

New hotel in Edmonton's Quarters is like a precious jewel-like ring setting.  

  Calgary's newly revitalized St. Patrick's Island and Riverwalk leaves Edmonton's City Centre public spaces in the dust. 

Calgary's newly revitalized St. Patrick's Island and Riverwalk leaves Edmonton's City Centre public spaces in the dust. 

SISTER CITIES?

While Edmonton and Calgary will never be sister cities, their sibling rivalry is a healthy one. And, it makes both cities better places to live, work and play.

Let the hockey season begin….and while some Calgarians might have Edmonton envy, I think the Saddledome fosters a more unique and Calgary specific sense of place than Rogers Place which could be in any city.  

Scotiabank Saddledome was built for the 1988 Winter Olympic.  Its unique saddle-shaped roof is synergistic with Calgary's contemporary cowboy brand. (Photo credit: GEC Architecture)

Editor's Note: An edited version of this blog was published Oct 1, 2016 by CBC Calgary's "Calgary At A Crossroads" titled, "Design Wars: It's Edmonton vs Calgary for the architectural cup."  

Downtown Calgary: A Train Runs Through It!

It runs through the heart of Calgary like a steel spine. Our city was built around it. Our city exists in no small measure because of it.

The track of the Canadian Pacific Railway is a fundamental part of our urban geography. It is a daily factor in our relationship with the core of our city. It bisects the core from the Beltline. It runs through our neighbourhoods. It has become so familiar that their significance in shaping our city can be easily overlooked.

Yet now, in the wake of derailments, noise complaints, and visions of what our city's urban landscape should look like, Calgary's relationship with it's rail is again up for debate.

It's a complex situation with no easy answers.

CP's main line runs through the middle of Calgary's City Centre. The land next to the tracks is in play for major developments. 

OUR FIRST SPIKES

From the moment that the first spikes were driven, the rails have been an economic life-line for Calgary.

The CP has shaped our city’s evolution more than any other corporation over the past 100 years. Some might even say Calgary’s entrepreneurial spirit is a legacy from the CP’s entrepreneurial vision of building a transcontinental railway over 100 years ago.

The massive 158-acre Odgen Yards, which opened in 1912 immediately, became our largest employer, and stayed that way for decades as goods were shipped in and out of the city. At one time, all of the City’s streetcar routes were organized to get workers to the yards.

The rails were also the main point of entry to our city. The now long since vanished CP station was where newcomers alighted to begin their lives in our city – others just came to visit, staying at the purpose built Palliser Hotel next to the station.

CP rail tracks in the early 20th century transported both freight and passenger trains.  

In fact, the CP once owned most of Calgary’s downtown. CP created the design of the familiar street grid we still live with today. And Stephen Avenue,  Calgary’s signature street, is named after Lord Mount Stephen - the first CP President.  Mount Royal was created as Calgary’s first estate community for CP executives, and the iconic Calgary Tower was built by a CP subsidiary in 1968.

For better or worse, the rails have shaped us for a century. As Calgary's economy prospered and the city grew up around them, buildings like Gulf Canada Square, City Centre and the Palliser Parkades created a wall between downtown and the Beltline. 

But fast-forward to the early 21st century, and today our city of 1.3 million is renegotiating its relationship with the rails.

A NEW RELATIONSHIP

What was a geographic scar through the city is being redesigned.

While once the land near the downtown tracks were mostly surface parking lots, today they have become construction sites for major new office, hotels, condos and museum buildings. The Ogden Yard, is now CP’s head office campus - with four buildings being renovated into contemporary head office campus with 450,000 square feet of Class A office space and the old Locomotive Shop converted into a 600-stall parkade.

The CPR even operates differently within the city, as Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra has successfully champion the railway to cease work between 11 pm and 7 am at their Alyth yard in deference to peace and quiet in the neighbourhood.

But is is the question of safety that is the most fraught.

Councillor Evan Woolley, amongst others, have publically questioned the movement of dangerous goods through downtown and the Beltline. This, in light of disasters like Lac-Mégantic, but also derailments here in Calgary like the one in at the Alyth yard in 2013.

There may come the day when freight trains will not be allowed to pass through the middle of the city, perhaps the tracks might even be removed entirely. 

This would be a game changer for Calgary’s city centre. And the idea has been floating around for awhile.

Today the railway tracks are a major barrier between the Beltline community where people live and play and downtown commercial core where they work.  

THE POSSIBILITIES

In 2004, a team of City planners and community members worked together to develop a 100-year vision for what they called “Midtown” the area. That's south of the CP tracks to 13th Avenue SW,  from the Elbow River to 14th street SW. 

When it came to the railway, the ambitious plan identified some key ideas that would make the Midtown district a vibrant place to live work and play.

  1. Leave the tracks as they are
  2. Raise the railway line slightly to permit better access north and south
  3. Eliminate all together
  4. Bury them underground

Interesting ideas. But easier said than done.

From Midtown Urban Design Strategy. 

David Watson, General Manager, of Calgary's Planning, Development and Assessment division, said at the time, “the bottom line was the cost of moving the tracks was prohibitive.”

The CP’s position was somebody else would have to pay for all the relocation cost and they would still retain ownership of the land. That turned out to be a non-starter.

So the conversation quickly turned to how to make the tracks work better by creating better underpasses, redevelop the surface parking lots, and address safety issues.

But event this takes big money.

Part of that strategy has been implemented with the enhancement of existing underpasses like the $15 million dollar makeovers to the 1st and 8th Street SW underpasses. And the building a new $60 million underpass at 4th Street SE linking East Village to Stampede Park and 

8th St SW underpass in 2014. 

Rendering of the future 8th St. underpass, currently under construction. 

But is this enough? There's still an argument about removing the tracks all together.

The big idea from the Midtown Urban Design Strategy was the transformation of 10th Avenue into a pedestrian friendly 'grand boulevard', with a streetcar that would link Millennium Park and the Bow River on the west with the Stampede Park and the Elbow River on the east.

Sounds lovely until you crunch the numbers.

It would cost billions and could take decades. Even if you could just dig up the main line, it's linked to an entire network of sidings in the Calgary region, which would also have to be reconfigured.

Would those billions be better invested in other infrastructure improvements?

But wait! There're other options. The past could become future.

Rendering of the new Hudson Yards in New York City. Imagine something like this linking Calgary Beltline to downtown over the rail tracks. 

PASSANGER RAIL

In fact, relocation could be the worse thing we could do, as the tracks are critical to the region’s future transportation plans as we wean ourselves off the automobile.

Peter Wallis, President and CEO of the Van Horne Institute at the University of Calgary, notes “the tracks are an important part of future plans for Alberta’s high-speed rail link,” which the Van Horne Institute has been championing for years.

And discussions have also been ongoing about the feasibility of the CP track right-of-way being used for future commuter trains from Canmore and Cochrane to downtown Calgary. Also possible are commuter trains from the north and south like the GO Train in southern Ontario.

This raises the tantalizing possibility of Calgary once again having a major downtown passenger railway station.

This would take the combined efforts and agreement of the City, CP, developers and community members. But perhaps this moment, when oil has bottomed out, is the time to do it.

9th Avenue was once home to an active train station and vibrant commercial street. Today it is mostly entrances to parking garages. 

DOWNTURN OPPORTUNITES

Francisco Alaniz Uribe, at the University of Calgary’s Urban Lab says, “we should use the current pause in our city’s growth to develop a private/public partnership to determine what is the biggest and bests future use of the CP Rail’s City Centre corridor for private and pubic uses.”

And certainly there seems to be more 'infrastructure' money floating about these days as governments look to boost Calgary's economy.

Uribe acknowledges the huge huge economic and engineering challenge presented by changing the tracks, but he thinks our city has a chance to imitate other city's faced with the same challenge.

He's for spending the money to boost the economy and bury the tracks. As he says, this would create a continuous public realm at street level between 17th Avenue and the Bow river. Which would represent the greatest gain for the public. This could allow Calgary to create something with grandeur, like New York City’s Hudson Yards or Chicago’s Millennium Park in the future.

Chicago's Millennium Park is one of the most successful public spaces created in the last 50 years.  It was built over railway tracks. 

Last Word

Whether now or later, for esthetic or safety reasons, speculating about the future of the CPR tracks is sure to continue. It's just another example of how while in Calgary we can find ourselves at a crossroads, our visionary nature continues to create a world of opportunities.

This blog was first published by CBC Calgary for its online feature under the title "Possible futures for the CP Rail line in downtown Calgary" on September 16, 2015.

If you like this blog, you will like:

The importance of the public realm

Calgary's 10th Ave Renaissance

Calgary's Rail Trail Stroll

 

 

 

Calgary: Old Bridges Get No Respect

Regular readers of the Everyday Tourist blog will know that I love bridges. This past summer I have developed an appreciation for two of Calgary’s older pedestrian bridges that don’t get the respect they deserve.

The Edworthy Bridge (whoops Boothman) has a unique design with huge holes that over a great place to view the Bow River. 

Bridge with big holes?

Even if you are a long-time Calgarian, I bet you have never heard of the Harry Boothman Bridge. I hadn’t until I researched on the bridge that connects Parkdale with Edworthy Park, which I had always heard of as the Edworthy Bridge. Logical.

The Boothman Bridge has a wonderful sense of passage created by the middle circle that frames the bridge's entrance.  The top circle frames Calgary's wonderful celestial blue sky. 

Calgarians from all walks of life use the Boothman bridge. 

It turns out it is named after a Calgary Park Supervisor and was built in 1976, but that is where the information ends.  I checked with the City of Calgary and they have no information on Boothman, the cost of the bridge or who designed it. The Glenbow archives has a photo but no other information on the bridge. Amazing!

Every time I visited the bridge this year it was packed with people (I must confess, my visits were mostly on weekends). In fact, it seemed busier than either the Peace Bridge (between Prince’s Island and Sunnyside) or the King Bridge (between East Village and St. Patrick’s Island). 

On the southside the bridge lands at a huge picnic area that is busy even in early spring. This photo was take April 3, 2016. 

However, I was told by the City that is not true - Peace Bridge gets about 4,500 trips per day in the summer, King gets 2,200 and Boothman 1,600. 

I can’t help but wonder what the public’s response was to the bridge in the ‘70s as it was a key link in the early development of Calgary’s Bow River pathways system.  Was there a controversy over the cost and design?  I highly doubt there was an international design competition.  I wonder what people thought of the concrete bridge’s design with the big holes.  I guess we will never know?

On the north side the bridge lands at a popular cafe and a sunny spot for buskers.  

Editor's Note:

After this blog was published Everyday Tourist loyal reader B. Lester wrote to say: 

The designers of the Boothman Bridge were Simpson Lester Goodrich; my old firm. We also designed the Carburn Park  pedestrian bridge (still my favorite; have a good look the next time you are in the area of Deerfoot and Southland Drive); the Crowchild Trail pedestrian bridge at McMahan Stadium (the vibrations caused by the crowds of football fans are always a subject of some awe as the crowds pass over before and after every game); and the Deerfoot Trail pedestrian Bridge near Fox Hollow.
The challenge for pedestrian bridge designers in the "old" days was to create an interesting landmark on a very tight budget. City administrators in those days were willing to consider interesting designs, but only if they cost no more than a bare bones solution. Our view was that crossing a bridge should be an "event" in itself and we struggled to come up with solutions which would create identifiable landmarks without spending additional public dollars.

I wrote back and asked for more in formation on the rationale for the design and cost and quickly received the following info.

 

The Boothman bridge was designed back in the '70's in the days of peace, love, and rock 'n roll. It was the fledgling days of the back to the earth movement with geodesic domes and round bird's eye windows. The holes in the bridge were reflective of that movement.
The principal designer was my partner Mike Simpson who, although an engineer, had strong ties to the environmental design movement (a founding partner of the Synergy West environmental consulting firm), to the Alpine Club of Canada, and was responsible for a number of increasingly "out-there" home designs in the following thirty years.
Mike is the visionary responsible for the Sacred Garden at St. Mary's church in Cochrane and for the Himat project, a sculpture created to raise funds to assist small villages in Nepal. He is a very unique individual and I was fortunate to work side by side with him for 25 years.
I have no records of the costs of the Boothman bridge though I would hazard a guess at around $300,000. Six years later, I recall having multiple discussions with the city to justify the $1,000,000 cost for Carburn bridge. (Probably equivalent to $10 million in today's dollars?)

John Hextall Bridge

Again, I bet you are scratching your head saying, “Where the heck is that bridge?”  Perhaps you know it better as the old Shouldice Bridge that you can see from the Trans Canada Highway as you pass from Montgomery to Bowness.

The Hextall Bridge was constructed in 1910 by local businessman John Hextall who sought to create an idyllic garden suburb west of Montgomery called Bowness. In 1911, Hextall negotiated with the City of Calgary take over the bridge plus two islands that would become Bowness Park, in exchange for an extension of the Calgary street railway system connecting Calgary with Bowness via the bridge. 

However, only a small number of houses and a golf course were constructed before the economic bust of 1913 halted most construction until after World War I. However, Bowness Park became an immensely popular leisure area – it was the St. Patrick’s and Prince’s Island parks of the early 20th century.  Park crowds of up to 4,000 people were common on Sundays in the mid 20s, huge given the city’s population being only about 60,000. 

The Hextall Bridge, the gateway to Bowness, continued as a street railway bridge until 1950 when it was turned over to vehicular traffic.  However, it was too narrow for cars plus a sidewalk so in 1985 the City approved a new four-lane concrete bridge, turning the Hextall Bridge into a pedestrian/cyclist bridge and incorporating into Calgary’s vision for a world-class, citywide pathway system.

The design, known as the Pratt through-truss system, is a type of truss with parallel chords, all vertical members in compression, all diagonal members in tension with the diagonals slant toward the center.

The components were manufactured in eastern Canada and shipped to the site for assembly. Ironically, this is similar to the Peace and King Bridges, which were also constructed elsewhere and assembled in Calgary.

Hextall Bridge's criss-cross trusses are a lovely example of the industrial sense of design of the early 20th century. 

Why Shouldice Bridge?

In 1906, James Shouldice purchased 470 acres of farmland about 8 kilometers west of the City of Calgary in a community then known as Bowmont. In 1910, Shouldice donated 43-hectars of river valley to the City of Calgary with the understanding that the land would be used as a park and that the streetcar would run to end of his property.  In 1911, the city created Shouldice Park, which has since become one of Calgary’s premier outdoor athletic parks. In 1952, Fred Shouldice, son of James made a financial gift to the City to build a swimming pool on the site. 

The bridge has colourful flowers at each entrance and huge planter boxes in the middel of the bridge.  Cyclist and pedestrians share the space with ease. 

No Respect

Personally, I think the Hextall Bridge is Calgary’s prettiest pedestrian bridge with its huge flower boxes and lovely criss-cross ironwork. But I doubt I will get many Calgarians to agree with me.

When I asked the City if they had any pedestrian/cyclist counts for the bridge they said they have never done counts for this bridge.  I wonder why?

The patina of the wood and steel (with exposed rivets) contrasts with the highly polished sleek look of Calgary's modern pedestrian bridges. 

Last Word

It is eerily how similar the stories of Bowness and Shouldice Parks are to what is currently happening in Calgary:

  • The idyllic visions of new master-planned suburban communities on the edge of the city.
  • The boom and bust of the 1910s. 
  • The donation of land and money to create parks and new recreation facilities by private citizens.

While all the social media chatter these days is about the Peace and George C. King bridge, it is important to remember that Calgary has been building bridges to connect communities to each other and to public spaces for over 100 years. 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Florence: The Ugliest Pedestrian Bridge In The World?

Bridges Over The Bow

A Tale of Three Pedestrian Bridges

Calgary's International Avenue Follows Jane Jacob's Advice

Jane Jacobs, the 1960s guru of urban renewal, once said, “gradual change is better than cataclysmic development.” International Avenue certainly seems to be heeding this sage advice. 

The ten blocks of 17th Avenue SW between 4th Street and 14th St SW currently branded as RED (Retail Entertainment District), is one of Canada’s top pedestrian streets and well known to Calgarians. 

But further east on 17th Avenue, specifically the blocks between 26th and 61st Street SE (aka International Avenue) flies under the radar for Calgarians and tourists.  It is one of Canada’s hidden urban gems. Soon that may all change as International Avenue (IA) is about to undergo a mega makeover – a $96 million transformation to be exact. Starting this September, construction will begin to make 17th Avenue SE a “complete street” i.e. it will accommodate cars, dedicated bus lanes for Bus Rapid Transit, transit stations, bike lanes, new wide sidewalks all graced with hundreds of trees.  

  International Avenue is great example of messy urbanism with its multiple sidewalks, angle parking and mash-up of shops and services. 

International Avenue is great example of messy urbanism with its multiple sidewalks, angle parking and mash-up of shops and services. 

Urban Boulevard: A Game Changer

Alison Karim-McSwiney, International Avenue Business Revitalization Zone’s (BRZ) Executive Director since its inception in 1992, started working on this transformation in 2004. Collaborating with faculty and students at the University of Calgary’s School of Environmental Design, a 21st century vision for 17th Avenue SE was created, long before BRT, bike lanes and walkability became hot topics in our city. 

The vision to create a vibrant urban boulevard to accommodate all modes of transportation and foster a diversity of uses – retail, restaurant, culture, office and condos and even live/work spaces - was very ambitious for the modest communities of Forest Lawn, Albert Park and Radisson Heights that are its neighbours.

While it has taken over 10 years to refine the dream and secure the funding and approvals, land use changes are now in place allowing for several mixed-use developments along 17th Avenue SE, which could result in 13,000 new residents and 9,000 new jobs over the next 25 years. 

Chris Jennings, of Stantec Calgary who facilitated the design of new International Avenue told me,  “I love the ideas and vision that have been put forward for this project.  Not all of them can be accomplished during this project, some of them are ideas that will occur on lands not on city property and some of the ideas will need delivered as future development occurs – but man, it is going to be something special in 10 to 15 years.”

Link: City of Calgary 17th Avenue S.E. BRT Project

 A conceptual drawing of what International Avenue could look like in the future.

A conceptual drawing of what International Avenue could look like in the future.

Foodie Haven

IA has all of the ingredients for a funky food-oriented urban village. Currently, of the 425 businesses, over 30% are food and restaurant-related.   Since the late ‘90s, International Avenue has been home to the “Around The World In 35 blocks” event that allows participants to sample the eclectic flavours of IA from September to June. 

Did you know that IA is home to an Uzbekistan restaurant called Begim? Have you even heard of Uzbekistan cuisine?  In his Calgary Herald review, John Gilchrist described Uzbek cuisine as “fairly mild with some hot chillies and spices such as dill, cumin and coriander. Kebabs come in beef, chicken, lamb and lyulya (ground beef). There is no pork or alcohol at Begim as the Madjanovs (owners) are Muslim and all of their meats are halal.” 

Gilchrist once told me, ““On this strip, you find food cultures as close as they come to their native lands.  It lives up to its name ‘International Avenue’ with great restaurants like Mimo (Portuguese), Fassil (Ethiopian), Pho Binh Minh (Vietnamese) and many other favourites of mine.”

Love this example of how a modest house has been turned into a restaurant, not just any restaurant but an Uzbek restaurant. 

Arts & Cultural Hub

One of Karim-McSwiney’s 15 goals (yes, the website ambitiously lists 15) is to transform IA into an “arts and culture” hub. In 2013, IA became home to its own arts incubator called “artBox”, a multi-purpose art space located in the old Mill’s Painting Building (1807 – 42nd St SE) with studios and performance space for local artists. Almost anything goes at artBox, from Aboriginal to African art, from concerts to exhibitions.  It has quickly become a meeting place for artists from diverse ethnic backgrounds and as well as patrons of the arts.

So successful, it spawned “Emerge Market,” a retail pop-up shop in a shipping container on the front lawn of artBox.  Its goal is to assist young artisans and entrepreneurs to set up shop to test their products before taking the major step of opening up a permanent shop.  How smart is that?

The BRZ’s website lists six venues in IA that have live music weekdays and weekends. Who knew?

Angela Dione and Angel Guerra Co-founders of Market Collective (a collective of Calgary artisans established in 2011) were at a transitional point in the collective’s evolution when the International BRZ found them space in a former car dealership showroom for their pop-up Christmas Market in 2012.  Market Collective has since gone on to become just one of 17th Avenue’s incubator success stories.

Art box is an old retail paint store that is now a multi-purpose art space.  It has been so successful that a pop-up sea container has been added to allow artisans to showcase their work. 

Gentrification Free Zone

While places like Kensington, Mission, Bridgeland and Inglewood are quickly becoming gentrified, i.e. places where only the rich can afford to live, eat, shop and play, one of Karim-McSwiney’s goals is to foster development without significant increases in rent for retail and restaurant spaces, thus helping ensure the local mom and pop shops don’t have to close their doors or move elsewhere.

She and her Board realize one of the keys to IA’s future is to retain its established small unique destination with its local shopkeepers and restaurateurs. Illchmann’s Sausage Shop and Gunther’s Fine Bakery have both called IA home for 45 years and La Tiendona Market for 21 years.  It would be a shame to lose these icons as part of any revitalization, which is what happens all too often.

I love the fact that there are no upscale urban design guidelines for International Avenues facades.  Love the colour, playfulness and grassroots approach. 

  There are also several great neon signs along International Avenue. Love that this one has a phone number not a website address - how retro is that?

There are also several great neon signs along International Avenue. Love that this one has a phone number not a website address - how retro is that?

Last Word

For more information on events and new developments on International Avenue go to their website. Link: International Avenue BRZ 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Mean Streets, Main Streets, Pretty Streets

Flaneuring The Trans Canada Highway

International Avenue Deserves More Respect

Calgary: Sitting On The Porch

Recently I attended a wedding at the Bow Valley Ranche homestead in Calgary’s Fish Creek Park (one of the largest urban parks in the world at 13 square kilometers or three times the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park).  Like others, I went gaga over this lovely house, its tranquil setting in the middle of the enormous park and the lovely wraparound porch.

Bow Valley Ranche's wraparound porch creates a "welcoming" sense of place.

History: Bow Valley Ranche

The Bow Valley Ranch site was first settled by John Glenn, who created one of Alberta’s first permanent farms in the 1870s.  In 1877, the federal government purchased the site for $350 to create an instructional farm to teach First Nations people how to farm their land. After several years, the program was phased out. 

In 1896, cattle rancher and businessman William Roper Hull purchased the Bow Valley homestead and built, a lovely two-story yellow brick home with a huge wraparound porch.  Then in 1902, Patrick Burns, one of the Big Four who started the Calgary Stampede and eventually became a Senator, purchased the house.

After Burns passed away in 1937, family members lived in the house until the early ‘70s. In 1973, the Alberta government purchased the entire Bow Valley Ranch site as part of the establishment of Fish Creek Provincial Park. Today it is a popular restaurant.

It was the Bow Valley Ranche’s porch that seemed to impress wedding attendees the most on a lovely sunny afternoon in early September.  I have always loved porches. Our house has a front porch where I often sit and read or watch the world go by.  But I didn’t before appreciate how much others also love them even if they don’t hve one or use the one they have. I have often noticed on my frequent walks, that seldom is anyone sitting on the porches despite them being adorned with comfy chairs and side tables.

This also got me thinking about Calgary’s other historical homes and have huge porches like the Bow Valley Ranch home.  The two I am most familiar with are Riley Lodge (that used to be on Crowchild Trail at 7th Avenue NW, a pitching wedge from my house and is now located three blocks further west) and the Colonel James Walker House (at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary).  

Bow Valley Ranche's grand front yard makes it a perfect spot for weddings. 

History: Riley Lodge

In 1910, Alfred Riley,   son of prominent Calgary pioneer  of prominent Calgary pioneer Thomas Riley, built a farm house of brick and sandstone. Known as Riley Lodge, it was occupied by Alfred and his wife Ada Marie until Alfred’s death; after which Ada continued to live in the house until 1934. It remained in the Riley family until 1968.
In 1987, the house was moved to 843-27th Street NW to allow for the transformation of 24th Street NW into Crowchild Trail. According to City records, it is the last known Riley family residence still standing.

The veranda, which had to be demolished for the move, was reconstructed based on a drawing from a book of house plans, circa 1910.  However, when an old photograph of the house was discovered at the Glenbow Archives in 2007, the veranda was rebuilt and is now an accurate representation of the original.  Future plans include a wrought iron gateway and stone columns at the end of the driveway.

Riley Lodge is built in the Queen Anne Revival style, with some of the key features including the wrap-around veranda, hipped roof, third floor dormer windows and the turret at the corner of the front façade. 

Riley Lodge's porch creates a wonderful sense of grandeur. 

Original entrance to Riley Lodge (photo credit: insomniac's attic)

Source: Calgary Public Library, Community Heritage & Family History

Link: Riley Lodge Story

 

History: Colonel James Walker House

 In 1883, Colonel James Walker settled the land that is now occupied by the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. In 1910, the current brick house - named Inglewood - was built, and the surrounding area was then named for the most prominent property in the area.

In 1929, Colonel Walker's son Selby applied to the federal government to have 59 acres on the west side of the Bow River designated as a Federal Migratory Bird Sanctuary. His request was granted and the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary was born.

When Selby died in 1953, Ed Jefferies, owner of a large contracting firm, acquired the property and leased it to the Alberta Fish & Game Association for their new headquarters. In 1970 the City of Calgary purchased the property and has been managing it as a natural reserve ever since.

In 1996, the Nature Centre was built and grassland restoration projects began. The Colonel Walker House is currently both a private residence and serves the administrative and educational activities needs of the Nature Centre.

  Colonel Walker house literally sits in the middle of a sanctuary. 

Colonel Walker house literally sits in the middle of a sanctuary. 

Heritage homes remind us of the importance of decorative details. 

The front porch helps to create a welcoming entrance.

Source: City of Calgary website

Link: Century Homes In Calgary

 

Front Porch Culture

Even modest cottage homes had porches in the early 20th century. 

The origin of the front porch is most often thought of as an element of southern American homes -both luxury and modest homes - starting in the mid 19th century.  It was a place where the family could retire to as the outdoor air provided a somewhat cool alternative to the summer heat and humidity.  In most houses, the porch was an extension of the living room taking up the entire front of the house and sometimes wrapping around one or both sides.

Before TV, the porch was the place where parents and grandparents would tell stories. It was also a place where parents would meet or say hello to other parents who were out walking waiting for the house to cool off. It was a place where neighbours could catch up on the news from the community and plan events (there were no phones, no texting or emails).  The porch was the community meeting place!

It was also a place where adults could keep an eye on their children who commonly played in the front yard and street, i.e. pre community playgrounds and parks days.

The porch started to fall out of fashion in the ‘50s with the advent of TV and the introduction of the attached front garage.  By the ‘60s, the fenced-in backyard, commonly included a deck (complete with BBQ and patio furniture), as well as a lawn area (which used to be a vegetable garden, but became space for private swings, slide, sandbox and sometimes a pool). Houses (and people) turned their backs on the street. The backyard became a private family playground!

  Can you believe this school built in 1911 had a porch?

Can you believe this school built in 1911 had a porch?

Can we bring back the porch?

By the late 20th century, more and more houses had air-conditioning, which further reducing the need to sit outside at night.  

In Calgary, although most new infills in established communities with back alley garages do in fact have front porches, however, in new communities smaller lots and attached front double garages make it almost impossible to have a porch. 

For the past 50 years, urban living in North America has become more and more private vs public.  People have abandoned public transportation for the privacy of the car, live in larger homes that are more backyard than front yard focused.

Indeed, the porch, which fostered a sense of community and neighbourliness in North America since the middle of the 19th century, is sadly missing on many streets in new communities today.

And, if newer houses do have a porch, it is often “for decoration only” or perhaps a place to store bikes, strollers and lawn mowers, rather than a place to sit and interact with the neighbours.  

Typical suburban home of the late 20th century in North American cities with no front yard and no welcoming entrance.

Over the past decade, developers have been introducing front porches at street level and also overtop of the garage where possible. 

Last Word

 

Pity!

 

  My front porch! My favourite place to sit!

My front porch! My favourite place to sit!

If you like this blog, you will like:

Front Yard Fun!

Urban Cottage Homes vs Gentrification

Truman Homes Gone Wild?

Truman Homes has been so busy building condos in Calgary over the past 10 years that Bruce McKenzie, VP Business Development at NORR Architecture who were designing most of their condo buildings introduced Truman President George Trutina to Calgary’s S2 Architecture to help carry the load. Introducing a client to a competitor NEVER happens in the architectural world – well almost never!

Trutina is the classic Calgary entrepreneur story.  He immigrated to Toronto from Croatia in 1971 with no money and limited education, where he learned the building trade through hand-on experiences.  Then he hears about a frontier city called Calgary with its“can-do” attitude and the Calgary Stampede and decides to move to there in the middle of the ‘70s boom where he starts building estate homes in Chestemere and never looks back. 

  Quirky lobby of 1741 condo on the corner of 17th Ave and 26th St SW. 

Quirky lobby of 1741 condo on the corner of 17th Ave and 26th St SW. 

Truman is building everywhere

Over the past 30 years, Truman Homes has evolved from an estate homebuilder to a suburban condo builder to an established community infill condo builder. Today, he has projects in various stages of development in several suburban communities - Aspen Woods, West Springs, Springbank Hill, Mahogany, Skyview, Savana and Cornerstone as well as several established communities - West Hillhurst, Beltline, Hillhurst-Sunnyside, Brentwood, Killarney, Shaganappi, Westbrook and University District.

Despite the growth, Truman Homes is still very much a family business with George and his four sons taking a hands-on approach to the design and construction of each building. 

They are just as comfortable in works boots as in a shirt and tie.

Engagement Hub? 

  Engagement Hub building/cafe

Engagement Hub building/cafe

I first became aware of Truman Homes when they announced the opening of the “EngagementHub” on the 700 block of 85th Avenue SW for their 96-acre all-condo West District master planned community (for some context, East Village is 113 acres) in summer 2014. This 2,000 square foot building that looked like a hip café, was in fact a purpose-built building to engage the neighbours in discussion about Trutina’s plans to develop an urban living community in the middle of Calgary’s newest millionaire communities on the west side. 

I had never before - nor since - seen this kind of commitment to community engagement from a developer.
  Kensington Legion site redevelopment

Kensington Legion site redevelopment

Then Trutina rescued the Kensington Legion site redevelopment after failed attempts by two developers to make the numbers work. His two building (a four-storey office and eight-storey condo with retail along the street) was definitely ambitious. Some might say visionary; others may say crazy.  But the Truman team developed a comprehensive engagement program that included several open house weekends at the Legion as well as a bulletin board on the street where anyone could see the plans and comment. While everyone didn’t embrace the project, enough did and it was eventually approved.

A day later, site preparation began.  Trutina is a man of action.

“The City of Calgary has lots of good policies; you just need to analyze them and develop strategies to capitalize on them,” says Trutina. The Legion is a great example as it fits perfectly with the City of Calgary’s “Main Street” program, announced in December 2014.

Today, Truman’s Kensington Legion project is the poster child for the program aimed at creating an old fashion shopping street in several of Calgary’s established communities.

New Kensington Legion building. 

Last Word

Trutina is a passionate guy. When talking about his projects, he will often quip, “it is not just about the numbers, you have to be happy in your chest.”  He is also a stickler for detail with comments like “the project is not complete if you don’t shine your shoes.”  Trutina takes great pride in his projects which he feels “stand out” wherever they are built.

What’s next for Truman Homes? If I had to guess, they will become Calgary’s premier mid-rise (under 12-stories) condo builder in Calgary.  It was not surprising Truman was chosen as one of the first two developers to build in the first phase of the mega University District project along with Calgary’s Brookfield Residential (North America’s largest residential developer). 

Note: An edited version of this blog was commissioned for the August issue of Condo Living Magazine.

If you like this blog, you will like:

Calgary: 24 New Main Streets Coming Soon

Community Engagement Gone Wild

Are Chinatowns still relevant in the 21st century?

Across North America, Chinatowns are struggling to be relevant to not only their modern Chinese community, but also to the community-at-large.

Calgary's Chinatown lives in the shadows of the mega office towers of its central business district. 

In 2012, Vancouver City Council unanimously approved a three-year Chinatown Neighbourhood Plan and Economic Revitalization Strategy. More than a decade in the making, the plan focused on economic revitalization by encouraging new residential development that would attract younger people of all backgrounds, to ensure Chinatown is increasingly relevant to a more multi-cultural Vancouver.

Fast-forward to 2016. A controversial proposal for a new 13-storey condo in Chinatown may or may not get approved after being re-designed for the third time. The building with 127 market condos, 25 affordable seniors’ homes and street level shops would seem to be an ideal revitalization project. However, many people from the Chinatown community feel the building is too high and big for their community (note my Herald column inaccurately reported this project had been approved).

In Calgary, a recent application for a Land Use change to increase the density of a surface parking lot across the street from Sun Life Towers (three 28-storey office towers) to allow for a tower up to 27 stories resulted in an immediate “Save our Chinatown” from some of the Chinatown community. They felt the change in land use would allow buildings that are too high and dense to fit with the traditional image of Chinatown as a rabbit’s warren of small buildings and narrow alleys.

The controversial site is currently a surface parking lot surrounded by large office and residential buildings.  It sits empty on weekends and evenings. 

Wrong Focus?

What was missing from the protesters (both in Calgary and Vancouver) was what the new development would likely bring to their Chinatown. 

They should be asking questions like:

  • Does the design of the proposed buildings have the potential to enhance Chinatown’s retail and restaurant offerings?
  • Does it create lots of small spaces for new restaurants and retail at street level, or perhaps a larger space for a modern Asian-focused grocery and/or fashion store?
  • Will the condo unit sizes and designs attract young professionals and young families to the community - Chinese and non-Chinese?
  • Does the site support a building of this size?
  • Can the towers be set back from the sidewalk to make it pedestrian-friendly?
  • How does the building act as a link to the downtown office core?
  • Could the new development be a catalyst for revitalization?

Examples of older residential buildings that lack the amenities and design qualities to attract young professionals and empty nesters or the commercial spaces for modern retailers.

Generational Differences

Dai and Yang, both in their early 30s, who arrived in Calgary from Mainland China six and three years ago respectively, frequent Chinatown restaurants a couple of times a week, but never shop in Chinatown.  “Everything is for old people,” chuckles Dai. They both would love to see new more modern restaurants, shops and a movie theatre added to Chinatown. 

They also point out when Chinatowns were created 100+ years ago, China was a poor country and the people immigrating to Canada were poor, couldn’t speak any English and had no education.  They needed a Chinatown in every city to survive in the new world.

Today, Chinese immigrants are middle-class, professionals, speak English and have a global sensibility. They can easily buy a house and fit into any Calgary community.

They acknowledge Calgary’s Chinatown should continue to serve the needs of the Calgary’s elderly Chinese community (currently 60% of Calgary’s Chinatown population is over 65 years of age), but it also should be an attractive urban living community for young, educated Chinese and non Chinese also.

In fact, in our conversation, the idea of Calgary’s Chinatown evolving into more of an Asiatown appealed to them, as there is much overlap with Japan and Korea.  Dia and Yang suggested, “if Chinatown wants to appeal to young Asian professional it will need to attract international Asian retailers like Meters/bonwe, Uniqlo, E.Land, Muji, Suning, Huawei and restaurants like 85Cafe Yoshinoya and HaiDi Lao Hot Pot.”

  Modern Asian stores like Meters/bonwe attract young shoppers who in turn create street vitality in the evenings and weekends. 

Modern Asian stores like Meters/bonwe attract young shoppers who in turn create street vitality in the evenings and weekends. 

  Calgary's Chinatown lacks any modern Asian fashion stores.

Calgary's Chinatown lacks any modern Asian fashion stores.

   Huawei’s retail arm had 35,000 of its own stores around the world at the end of May, up 116 per cent year on year. It has 11,000 stores in mainland China, 6500 stores across the rest of Asia, 6200 in Europe and 1500 in South America. This compares with   Apple  ’s 484 retail outlets in fewer than 20 countries.

Huawei’s retail arm had 35,000 of its own stores around the world at the end of May, up 116 per cent year on year. It has 11,000 stores in mainland China, 6500 stores across the rest of Asia, 6200 in Europe and 1500 in South America. This compares with Apple’s 484 retail outlets in fewer than 20 countries.

  Cafe85 is an example of the new Asian culture that should be the focus for creating vibrant multi-generational chinatown communities.

Cafe85 is an example of the new Asian culture that should be the focus for creating vibrant multi-generational chinatown communities.

Perfect Site

The controversial site is currently a surface parking lot in the middle of the block from Centre St to 1st Street, from 2nd to 3rd Avenues SW; this means there is no loss of “mom and pop” shops.  Rather, the development has the potential to add much needed modern retail and restaurant space that Dai and Yang suggest on the lower floors, with residential above.

The site is already surrounded by residential buildings 15-storeys high to the east and west and office towers 28-storeys to the north, so the addition of three towers in the 20 to 27-storey range is not without precedent.   The site would also support a +15 bridge to Sun Life Plaza, meaning that anyone living there could walk to work downtown without a car, coat or umbrella!

It would be a perfect “live, work, play” block for young professionals and empty nesters – Chinese and non-Chinese.

Many blame the lack of parking in Chinatown for its decline yet there are over 600 heated underground parking spots just a block away that are available in the evening and weekend. 

Catch 22

Calgary’s Chinatown can’t attract modern retailers and restaurants until it has larger, modern buildings for them to locate in, as well as a younger population who will support them.  At the same time, Chinatown can’t attract young professionals (Chinese and otherwise) until it has modern condos (with amenities), as well as modern restaurants and retail.

Ironic

Calgary’s Hon Family has owned the site for decades. So it isn’t as if an outsider has come into the community looking to make a quick buck.  The Hon Family, long time homebuilders in Calgary, has only recently entered the high-rise development business with the handsome twin Guardian condos in Victoria Park, next to Stampede Park.  The high-rise division is being managed by the millennial generation of Hons, i.e. the exact demographic who should be the target market for their new Chinatown development.

Dragon City Mall in Calgary's chinatown is a ghost town every time I visit.  The streets of Chinatown are devoid of people other than at lunchtime on weekdays and dim sum time on weekends.

chinatown, calgary

Chinese Decentralization

Harry Hiller, Professor of Sociology at the University of Calgary thinks Chinatowns in cities across North America are losing their role as residential, retail and restaurant centers as the Chinese population decentralizes to multiple suburban locations.

However he thinks there might still be a role for Chinatowns as a central gathering place for family and community celebrations. He points out to the increasing popularity of the Vancouver’s Spring Festival Parade in celebration of the Lunar New Year that attracts 100,000 spectators.

Similarly, John Gilchrist, CBC Calgary Eyeopener restaurant reviewer thinks, “Over the past couple of decades, as Calgary grew, new Chinese restaurants opened in many suburbs, drawing attention away from the classic Chinatown restaurants. But since the flood of 2013, Chinatown has seen an influx of new owners, many of whom brought investment and new culinary ideas from China. So Chinatown looks fresher and has more to offer these days.”

Last Word

Calgary’s Chinatown is definitely not going to survive as a seniors’ ghetto.

Now is the perfect time to begin reinventing our Chinatown into a 21st century Asiatown that will add a new dimension to our downtown and reflect the new global world we all share.

The unintended consequences of City Council’s delay of their decision on the land-use amendment until December 2016, to allow for more community engagement could be to further divide Calgary’s already fragmented Chinatown community.  What is needed is decisive decision making by Council, landowners and businessmen that will allow Chinatown to evolve into a thriving 21st century urban village.

If you like this blog, you will like:

Fixing Calgary's downtown ghost town

Urban Planning Is Not A Science

Mean Streets, Main Streets, Pretty Streets

 

 

Affordable Housing Can Also Be Attractive!

Attainable Homes Calgary Corporation (AHCC) has engage some of Calgary's leading contemporary architectural firms - NORR, Sturgess, Nyhoff and Hindle to designing affordable and attractive homes for Calgarians. 

The Courtyard designed by Sturgess' for Attainable Homes' condo in Mount Pleasant creates a playful shared space for residents, as well as enhancing the amount of light into the homes. 

NORR Architecture

In the established neighbourhood of Glenbrook, AHCC teamed up with Truman Homes and NORR architects to build Glenbrook Park, a 60-unit apartment and townhome condo project.  Yes this is the same developer, Truman Homes who is currently responsible for the funky Kensington Legion project in West Hillhurst.  NORR one of Calgary’s largest architectural firms, it is a leader in residential design with projects like Savoy in West Hillhurst, Ezera at Riley Park in Hillhurst and Aura I and II in the Beltline. 

Glenbrook Park’s unique exterior combines deep red, tan, white and dark grey vinyl siding in horizontal and vertical profiles, with bold white balconies that combined with cultured stone accents and a flat roof create a contemporary design.  “The biggest difference between this project and other infill condos is there is no underground parking which saved about $30,000 per unit, significantly enhancing the affordability,” says NORR’s Vice President, Business Development, Bruce McKenzie.

NORR's Glenbook condos for Attainable Homes.

Sturgess Architecture

Architect Kevin Harrison at Sturgess Architecture, Calgary's leading boutique architectural firm, designed AHCC's Mount Pleasant project.  The building is composed of 31-units arranged in two linear blocks, consisting of a two-storey townhouse base with two floors of apartment above with an internal courtyard.  

At street level, the townhouses front doors opening to the sidewalk creates a compatible street edge with existing homes.  The courtyard facilitates increased sunlight and views from both the street and alley units and creates a greater sense of community via the shared space. 

In addition, by recessing south facing patios and extruding north facing patios, residents have with natural shading for the former and sunlight for the later in the summer months, as well as create more visual interest.

Nyhoff Architects

AHCC’s Varsity 4818 is a 26-unit townhouse development in Varsity designed by Nyhoff Architects, who have a reputation for creating quirky designs.  Their projects include the King Edward School transformation into an “Arts Hub and Incubator” and the redevelopment of the St. Louis Hotel in East Village. 

For Varsity, Nyhoff had created a very contemporary design that allows the rectangular shapes of the white balconies, dark windows and entrance with just a hint of lime green play off each other to create a bold contemporary statement that could fit into East Village.  Nobody would suspect this to be an affordable housing complex. 

Varsity 4818 is Nyhoff Architects uses bold colour to create a contemporary townhouse development for Attainable Homes. 

Hindle Architects

In Bowness, AHCC’s newest project is on a site originally slated to be used for the Sarcee Trail expansion. Architect Jesse Hindle (yes, the same architect Brookfield Residential used for their Altadore 36 and Henry in Parkdale condo projects) took inspiration from the distinctive jagged rooftop of nearby Sunnyside Greenhouses to create 50 fun and funky new homes.

Hindle explains “the architecture of the project is inspired by the form, rhythm and materials of the neighbouring nursery greenhouses to create a buffer between the busy commercial/industrial activity to the east and the residential neighbourhood to the west.  The townhouse's sheet metal facades introduce a colour scheme for each home (composed of burgundy, orange and red panels) that link the buildings to the site's landscape and the continuous flow of CP Rail cars that give the site its unique character.”

Hindle's ARRIVE at Bowness creates a lovely visual rhythm that reflects both the roof of the nearby Sunnyside Greenhouses and that of a long line rail cars. 

Attainable Homes 101

Attainable Homes (a wholly owned subsidiary of The City of Calgary) partners with builders and developers to obtain homes at a discount and then passes on the savings onto the homebuyers, the caveat being when you sell your home AHCC gets part of the appreciation. For example, if the home is sold in 1 to 2 years, the owner keeps 25% of any appreciation; after 2 to 3 years, the appreciation is split 50/50 and after 3+ years the homebuyer keeps 75%.

To date AHCC has sold over 500 homes that have enhanced and diversified the housing stock in 19 Calgary communities.

Last Word

“I think we’ve been successful in engaging a variety of architects who have brought creative approaches to finding ways to make interesting building that can be priced at a point that makes the homes affordable to hard-working Calgarians” states Jamie Findlay, Development Manager, AHCC. 

An edited version of this blog was published in Condo Living Magazine's July Issue. 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Attainable Homes: Unique To Calgary

Altadore 36: An Ideal Infill!

Calgary: Putting the Art in Architecture

Sunnyside's containR site ideal for affordable housing

Everyday Tourist looks at Calgary's efforts to provide affordable living options in one of its most expensive City Centre communities. 

Our City Councillors continue to talk about the need for more affordable housing but nothing seems to happen. The latest rant came from Councillor Woolley who was invited by CBC News to write a New Year’s message to Calgarians as part of its “Calgary at a Crossroads” series of guest editorials. Woolley’s, piece “Why we need to work our asses off,” focused on the City’s need for more affordable housing.  He stated that over the past two years, the City of Calgary had not put a single new subsidized home on the market, adding “On Council, we commission dreamy reports that are long on process but short on action.”

Okay the, its time for Woolley and his colleagues to start walking the talk.  I challenge Council and Administration to design and approve a residential development for the unique city-owned containR site in Sunnyside at the corner of 2nd Ave and 9th Street SW by the end of 2016.  It is my understanding the site has been earmarked for a mix of affordable and market housing for years.  I also understand the immediate neighbours and community are more or less on side, subject to seeing actual design plans.  So why has nothing happened?

I also challenge Council and Administration to make this Calgary’s first large-scale sea-container building, knowing Sunnyside Councillor Farrell has suggested in the past that container construction has many advantages for affordable housing. Surely it can’t be that difficult to make this happen.

containR site is used for a variety of art events.

Container Construction 101

There are many benefits to container construction for residential development. The biggest being it is very cost effective. It is cost-effective because 80% of the on-site activities are moved indoors, meaning optimization of materials and labour, reduction of theft and fewer lost hours due to inclement weather.  As well, because it is metal, it is non-combustible, making it safer.  Also it doesn’t warp or shrink and has the capacity for superior sound-insulation between units, making container buildings quieter.  They can also be constructed to heights of 12 storeys, making them ideal for affordable housing projects on larger sites.

And when it comes to infill development, neighbours and communities will love the fact that on-site, container-based construction happens 30 to 50% faster than conventional construction, meaning a significant decrease in the inconvenience of road and/or sidewalk closures and noise. Container construction is also environmentally-friendly given the repurposing of surplus shipping containers.

Backstory: Calgary, as one of North America’s largest inland ports, has a surplus of sea containers.   Yes, literally thousands of sea containers arrive in Calgary every month via rail or truck from China and other countries full of everything from electronics to furniture. With nothing to send back many become surplus. 

From a design perspective, container buildings don’t have to look significantly different than current new multi-family residential buildings, both in their exterior or interiors.  From the street, they can have a funky, colourful, industrial urban look or they can be clad with vinyl siding to fit with neighbouring suburban homes.

In a nutshell, container condos are “cheaper, faster and better” than conventional wood or concrete multi-family residential construction. This makes them very attractive for affordable housing construction.

Ladacor is a Calgary company that is becoming a leader in container construction. 

Economic Diversity

Calgary-based Ladacor has developed an “Advanced Modular System,” a proprietary modular construction method that allows for high quality container construction, which meets if not exceeds all Canadian Safety Approval standards. Ladacor is on the leading edge of container construction in North America, having already built the largest container hotel in Canada.  A local demonstration container project could be just what Calgary needs to create more jobs and become North America’s leading contain construction headquarters.  What’s holding us back?

containR site would add much needed density and diversity to the nearby Kensington Village

containR site is ideal for an affordable housing project with a Safeway just a block away, as well as an LRT station, meaning owning a car is optional. 

Last Word

It is almost too good to be true that Sunnyside’s temporary containR park (with several containers already on site) is the perfect location for Calgary’s first affordable housing project in a few years and our first container building. 

My plea to Council, Administration and Sunnyside community - please fast-track the design and approval of the “Sunnyside Container Village” as model affordable development by the end of 2016, with people moving in by early 2018.  Let’s be “short on process and get those asses working.” 

If you like this blog, you might like these links:

Attainable Homes: Unique to Calgary?

Unique Solutions For Affordable Housing

Austin & Calgary: Sister Cities?

By the numbers, there are some amazing similarities between Austin and Calgary.  Both are young highly educated cities – Austin’s average age is 31 with 46% of Austinites having a postsecondary degree.  Calgary’s average age is 36, with 60% having postsecondary education.

Austin’s is a rapidly growing city. Its current population of 912,791 is growing by 150+ people a day.  Calgary with a population of 1,200,000 was the fastest growing city in Canada according to Stats Canada – growing 13% (from 2006 to 2011).

Like Calgary, Austin is young and active.  This is the pedestrian bridge over the Lady Bird Lake, aka Colorado River with Austin's 2nd Avenue condos in the background that look very much like Calgary's East Village. 

Like Calgary, Austin has a downtown skatepark, not as large as Calgary's but it definitely attracts some talented athletes. 

Calgary's Peace Bridge, designed by world famous bridge architect Santiago Calatrava is a popular playground for Calgary's young and restless. 

Love Their Rivers

Both Austinites and Calgarians love their rivers - the Colorado River and Barton Creek in Austin and the Bow and Elbow Rivers in Calgary.  Both cities have very busy river pathway systems packed with walkers, cyclists and runners when weather permits (not too cold in Calgary and not too hot in Austin). 

Austin's river pathways are very popular on weekends. 

It is very common in Austin to see boats of all types in Lady Bird Lake...in the distance is a fishing boat. 

Calgarians love their green beaches like this one in Stanley Park. 

Fishing on the Bow River in Calgary.  

River surfing on the Bow River. 

In the summer, thousands of Calgarians raft on the Elbow and Bow Rivers in Calgary. 

Party Towns

Austin’s infamous SXSW, a huge 10-day film, music, interactive media technology festival / trade show / conference generates $411 CDN million into the city’s economy in 2015 and attracted 140,000 participants.

By comparison, the 10-day Calgary Stampede annually attracts over 1 million (350,000 being out-of-town visitors) for concerts, rodeo, chuckwagon races, grandstand show, midway rides and agricultural exhibition.  Its annual economic impact is estimated at $350 CDN million.

Austin's Kite festival is an amazing site and a fun family party. 

Look carefully and you will see that most of the people are dressed up as they have just participated in Calgary's POW - Parade of Wonder as part of Calgary Expo aka Comic-Con. 

Music Cities

Austin bills itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” with 100+ live music venues and its world famous Austin City Lights music program.  Everybody gets into hosting live music in Austin from grocery stores to the airport.

The City’s historic music district is downtown along East 6th St. a grungy street resembles Calgary’s Electric Avenue (11th Ave) back in the ‘80s.  Home to numerous loud and seedy bars, as well as the 1929 Ritz theatre, it is more a tacky tourist street than a serious music district.  Today, the best music venues are in neighbourhoods outside of downtown.

Calgary is in its infancy as an emerging international music city boasting an International Folk Festival, SLED Island as well as numerous smaller emerging music festivals. Calgary has only a handful of live music venues and only a few that offer live music 7 days a week.  (Some of Austin’s venues offer 3 acts a day - happy hour, headliner and midnight band.)  The opening of the National Music Centre will definitely enhance our city’s reputation internationally.

Stephen Avenue is Calgary’s equivalent to Austin’s East 6th Avenue as downtown’s primary pedestrian oriented street.  However, Stephen Avenue is a more attractive and diverse street with its mix of shops, restaurants, concert and performance theatres, art house cinema and restored historical buildings. 

Just one of hundreds of live music venues in Austin offering a plethora of genres of music. 

Calgary's Tim Williams at the Blues Can. Williams won the International Blues Competition in 2014. 

Urban Living

Urban living in Austin is booming.  Although the current downtown population is only 12,000 it has been growing rapidly with 6,832 condos and apartments built since 2000 and another 2,000 currently under construction.  

However, this pales in comparison to Calgary’s 36,000 urban dwellers.  Urban living is also booming in Calgary with almost 15,000 new residential units since 2000 and 2,200 under construction.

Austin’s budding 2nd Street urban village, looks amazingly similar to Calgary’s East Village with several shinny new high-rise white condo towers, a new library and City Hall and sprinkling of shops, Whole Foods and Trader Joes grocery stores and a signature pedestrian bridge over the river. 

Austin’s 82,000 downtown employees work in 9 million square feet of office space (1.3 million square ft. under construction), 7,800 hotel rooms (2,140 under construction) and hundreds of restaurants, retailers and bars in 1.9 million square feet of commercial space.

By comparison, Calgary City Centre (downtown and Beltline) roughly the same size as Austin’s downtown) has 150,000+ employees occupying over 40 million square feet of offices, 4,000 hotel rooms (500 under construction) and 1,000+ retailers and restaurants in whopping 6.4 million square feet.

Downtown Austin has no department store, indoor mall or shopping street; shopping is scattered all over the place.  Austin has nothing to match Calgary’s historic Bay Store, Holt Renfrew or the stunning The CORE shopping centre. 

Austin also lacks a contiguous historic district like Stephen Avenue or Inglewood. However, Austin does a much better job of animating its downtown corners with outdoor patios, rather than the banks and office lobbies dominating Calgary’s corners.

A view of downtown Austin from South Congress aka SoCo.  SoCo is a an eclectic pedestrian street (despite being a major road) with shops, restaurants, music venues, great patios and numerous permanent food trucks on empty lots. 

Austin's 2nd Avenue District is blooming as an urban village with new condos, two grocery stores and shops. 

Austin's condo skyline. 

The Core in downtown Calgary is a three block long indoor shopping mall with 1 hectare indoor garden.  

Stephen Avenue is Calgary's downtown Main Street and a National Historic District linking the Olympic Plaza Cultural District with the Financial District.  Austin has nothing like Calgary's iconic Hudson Bay department store. 

Urban Street Life

Austin’s hip street is SoCo (South Congress Avenue), which, like Calgary’s Kensington Village, is on the other side of the river from downtown.  Even with South Congress Avenue’s six lanes of traffic, it supports a vibrant street life with a great mix of shops, restaurants, bars and live music venues.

What makes SoCo outstanding is its outdoor culture.  Austin’s climate allows Austinites to play outdoors year-round – there are patios everywhere, live music is played on the front lawns and empty lots and food trailers occupy what would be surface parking lots in Calgary.   Every weekend SoCo takes on a festival atmosphere!

Kensington’s container bar and a few outdoor patios pales in comparison. On the other hand, Kensington boasts a better café culture and more infill residential development.

While, SoCo provides Austinites with a vibrant street culture, it is the only game in town, with nothing to match Calgary’s 17th Ave, 11th Avenue or Inglewood.

On weekends Austin's SoCo takes on a festival atmosphere. 

Gueros on SoCo is famous for its free live entertainment. 

SoCo has numerous quirky shops. 

Austinites love their Tacos. 

Calgary's 17th Avenue is popular urban playground even in the winter; this photo was taken in February. 

Cafe Beano on 17th Avenue is perhaps where Calgary's cafe culture began back in the '80s. It is popular with both artists and CEOs. 

Analog Coffee on 17th Avenue the new kid on the block. 

Calgary's Kensington Village offers lots of urban surprises given its proximity to the Alberta College of Art and Design and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. 

One of the best surprises in Kensington Village is the Container Bar. 

Kensington Village is also home to Calgary's year-round flea market and summer farmers' market. 

Big Differences

The biggest difference between Austin and Calgary is in transit use.  We never saw Austin’s LRT and bus service is limited.   Thank God for car2go, which allowed us to explore Austin’s outlying business revitalization zones by day and music venues by night.

We stayed in a lovely Airbnb in the upscale Clarksville community, which we thought would be convenient for walking. We quickly discovered sidewalks in poor condition (or non-existent), and very few streetlights making walking at night treacherous.

While there were some lovely homes, Austinites’ pride of home ownership seems much lower than in Calgary’s inner-city communities – even desirable neighbourhoods have lots of unkept properties, weed-infested lawns and gardens and crumbling sidewalks.

Calgary has one of the busiest Light Rapid Transit systems in North America. 

Austinites love to dance - as soon as the music starts people get up and dance. 

Austin condos have above ground parkades like this one, whereas Calgary condos and office buildings have their parking underground. 

Downtown Calgary has 40 million square feet of office space, making it one of the top 10 in North America, compared to Austin's 10 million square feet. 

Last Word

In my humble opinion, after visits to Austin and Portland (considered by many urbanists as two of the best emerging urban cities) Calgary offers as many - or more - urban amenities.

Unfortunately, Calgary continues to fly under the radar with planners and tourists as an emerging urban playground. 

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald titled "City Scenes: Austin vs Calgary," June 11, 2018

If you like this blog, you will like:

Cowtown: The GABESter Capital of North America

Austin is more fun than weird!

Group Think or Good Urban Planning?