Are We Winter Wusses?

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

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

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

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

Winter Cities 101

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing New To Report

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

Winter cities need to:

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

This diagram summarizes Edmonton's Winter Design Guidelines. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past Festival Failures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use Local Examples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mindset Change vs. Design Changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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Bow/Crow: There is something happening here?

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

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

Link: Calgary Skateboarding: The Bridge Spot DIY

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

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

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

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

Rock Art

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

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

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

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

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

Pop-Up Public Art

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

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

Link: CTV News Calgary Artist’s Cairns

 Rocks on the River, Feb 2016

Rocks on the River, Feb 2016

 Rocks on the River, February 2016

Rocks on the River, February 2016

 Love Art, February 2016

Love Art, February 2016

 Love Art, February 2016

Love Art, February 2016

DIY Skate Park?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to THE BRIDGE signage!

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

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

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

Link: Forest Lawn DIY skatepark

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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East Village: Lust of the new playground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lust of the new playground

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

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

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

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

  East Village's pebble beach.

East Village's pebble beach.

  Eau Claire's wadding pool.

Eau Claire's wadding pool.

Test Of Time

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

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

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

Sound Familar?  

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

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

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

  Eau Claire's lagoon and pedestrian bridge.   

Eau Claire's lagoon and pedestrian bridge.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary’s best communities may surprise urbanists 

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Eau Claire condos along the Bow River.

Eau Claire condos along the Bow River.

  New condos next to Eau Claire Market. 

New condos next to Eau Claire Market. 

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

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

  Eau Claire's Sheraton Hotel.

Eau Claire's Sheraton Hotel.

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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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!

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Front Yard Fun!

Urban Cottage Homes vs Gentrification

Calgary Folk Festival Postcards (2016)

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

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

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

Link: Everyday Tourist Visits Calgary Expo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Performers

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

Tattoo Fun

Colour & Characters

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

  Kids definitely loved the festival.

Kids definitely loved the festival.

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

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

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

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

Handholding Is Very Popular 

Calgary Folk Festival: Morning To Night

 Morning

Morning

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

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

 Happy Hour 

Happy Hour 

Early evening

 Early Evening

Early Evening

 Night 

Night 

Stampede Park: Calgary's best children's playground?

Call me crazy but I have always thought contemporary public art could make great playground equipment. From time to time I have seen children interacting with public art by climbing, sitting and sliding on it.  Imagine if “Wonderland (aka the big white head)” on the plaza of the Bow Tower was part of a playground and people could climb up and over it. Now that would be exciting public art!

I have talked to some artists and playground designers about my idea of commissioning public art for playgrounds across the city, but always got shot down by them saying, “it would be too expensive and time consuming to get it approved from a safety perspective.”

Until this past Sunday I didn’t realize Calgary already has a wonderful piece of public art that also serves as a playground.  “By the Banks of the Bow” is a giant artwork that includes 15 horses and two cowboys, located in a small park in front of the Agrium Western Event Centre. In the past I have seen families interacting with the piece, but it was nothing like I experienced this year on Family Day at the Stampede.

People of all ages and backgrounds were swarming around what is one of the largest bronze sculptures in North America.  Kudos to the Stampede for not posting signs everywhere saying don’t climb on the sculpture or a fence around keeping people out. 

By the Banks of the Bow 101 (Stampede website)

“By the Banks of the Bow celebrates one of mankind’s greatest living treasures; its wildness and spirit, strength, speed and dependability. It supported the people of the First Nations, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, farmers, town folk, prospectors and adventurers, cowboys and ranchers.

Today the horse retains a pride of place in the Calgary Stampede. In rodeo, the chuckwagon races, the heavy horse competitions or in the show ring, the horse is as iconic as the Stampede itself and is woven into its cultural fabric.

Created by local artists and ranchers Bob Spaith and Rich Roenisch, By the Banks of the Bow is a narrative in bronze that depicts our past, present and future, and reflects the Stampede’s many relationships with our community.”

Fun Facts

  •  From inspiration to installation, the sculpture took four years to complete.
  • The piece was cast in a foundry in Kalispell, Montana.
  •  Ten of the horses represented actually competed at the Calgary Stampede Rodeo.
  • The lead cowboy, Clem Gardner, was the Canadian All Around champion in the first Calgary Stampede Rodeo in 1912.
  • The total sculpture weighs approximately 14,500 pounds (seven tons).

Last Word

It is too bad this type of public art, i.e. art that invites you to interact with it, stop and take pictures of it, isn’t more prevalent in Calgary and elsewhere. 

I also noticed this week the big bronze sculpture of “Outlaw,” the Calgary Stampede’s iconic bull is back on the plaza of 5th Avenue Place but with a big sign saying don’t climb on it.  Too bad…a missed opportunity to add some fun to the downtown experience!

Hmmm…I wonder how I might get some playground public art for Phase two of Grand Trunk Park. The kids would love it!

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

Public Art vs Public Playgrounds

The End Of Grand Trunk Park Playground Envy

Putting the PUBLIC back into public art!

The End of The Grand Trunkers' Playground Envy

In Calgary, communities are defined by their playgrounds.  There is even a website devoted to reviewing and ranking Calgary’s playgrounds (Calgary Playground Review). Given there were new playgrounds all around Grand Trunk Park  – Helicopter Park, Westmount Park, West Hillhurst Recreation Centre Park – the neighbours living near the Park with its ‘80s playground were silently suffering from a serious case of “playground envy.”

As you can see, Grand Trunk's old swing set required some creativity to make it fun for older kids. 

I have lived across the street from West Hillhurst’s Grand Trunk Park (west side of 23rd Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues NW) for over 25 years.  For many of those years, I didn’t even know it was called Grand Trunk Park as there was no sign a few years ago, then a one magically appeared a few years ago.  I began doing some research and realized the old house next to the park (which was the Maritime Reunion Hall in the ‘80s and ‘90s) began its life in 1911 as the Grand Trunk Cottage School.  I have a sneaking suspicion that 100 years ago the park served as the schoolyard for its students.

Fast forward to 2016. Grand Trunk Park is getting worn out and tired looking.  This is not surprising as the streets around the park are literally being taken over by young kids playing street hockey, skateboarding and shooting hoops.  I am told the 2300 block of 6th Avenue alone has over 25 children under the age of 16.  

Over the past year or so, the park has become a wonderful gathering place for the neighbours and the parents whose children go to the Honey Bee Daycare located on the northwest corner of the Park.  Families from blocks away mix and mingle at the park, getting to know each other while older kids play in the park unsupervised, just like in the 50s and 60s.  No helicopter parents here!

The old slide was good for practicing your snowboarding skills. 

Kubb Anyone?

We have never seen the Park used by more people for more activities. One day I counted eight different activities in the park - everything from kite flying to lacrosse, to some guy doing sprints. There were even some young adults throwing wooden blocks at wooden blocks - a poor man’s version of bocce perhaps?  When I asked what they were playing, they said “Kubb.” Turns out it is a Swedish lawn game where the object is to knock over wooden blocks by throwing wooden batons at them; kind of a combination of bowling and horseshoes.

Kubb could be the new darts

And I have seen as many as five different activities in the Park at one time – a mother hitting a baseball to her son, two young boys taking shots on each other using the soccer goal posts, young families playing in the playground, a dad and his son kicking the soccer ball around and me practising my chipping by hitting golf balls from one tree well to another.

Like Kubb, some other activities have me puzzled.  A couple of times I ventured out into the park to ask people what they are doing. In March, three people with long, large ropes attached to the soccer posts with a backpack attached to the ropes told me they were practising mountain rescues. Not sure if I should believe them but they came back a few times, so who knows. Another time, a guy also with huge ropes also attached to the soccer posts (yes, the posts are used for soccer too) was waving them up and down practising for some iron man competition.

Even with big trees and telephone poles and wires, Grand Trunk Park can be a fun kite flying spot. 

Grand Trunk Park Happy Hour

At about 10 o’clock on weekdays, the preschoolers attending the adjacent Honey Bee Daycare make a beeline to the playground. At about 4 pm on weekdays, Grand Trunk Happy Hour starts - parents pick up their children and many head to the playground, break out the juice boxes and snacks. The Park again becomes animated.  At Happy Hour, the 2400 block of 6th Avenue becomes a gridlock with cars; we love it. 

Happy Hour at the Grand Trunk playground!

Lottery Winners!

Where is this going you ask? Well, late in 2015, the City contacted the West Hillhurst Community Association informing them that they were going to replace the playground equipment (it had come to the end of its lifespan) and wanted to engage the neighbours. Word spread like wildfire (a “good” wildfire) - you would have thought we’d won the lottery.

A neighbourhood meeting was quickly called.  Enthusiasm for making Grand Trunk Park the envy of the inner city was high. But wait, we had no time to fundraise; no time to create a grand plan for our historic park as the City wanted to replace the playground equipment in June and so we had just over a month to “hurry up and agree on what equipment we wanted and get it ordered.”

Just another day at Grand Trunk Park

Community Catalyst

It’s unbelievable how the City’s decision to replace the aging playground equipment has been a catalyst for creating a real sense of community for families for blocks around the park. Some families are even from the other side (west) of Crowchild Trail (CT), which surprised us as most people think of CT as a barrier.

The outpouring of support for the playground revitalization was amazing. When the equipment quote came in higher than expected, a quick email soliciting donations exceeded expectations. When a call went out for volunteers to help with the two-day installation, there was no problem getting the bodies needed.

Even the Park & Play installation supervisor said we were great – in fact, the second best group of volunteers he said he had ever worked with on the 200+ playgrounds he has done! (A group of Martindale volunteers were  “best” because of special circumstances associated with their playground.) No big egos; no bickering when we had to re-dig the hole for the swings on Day 2 (it was two feet too high).  No panic or annoyance when we figured out late on Day 1 (after we re-dug the hole for the slide thinking the hole dug by the backhoe was in the wrong place) that they had sent us the wrong slide.

The aftermath of unpacking the playground equipment looked like we had just been to IKEA. 

Ladies at work!

Men at work!  In this case we found that in preparing the site one of the cement foundations from the old playground had not been removed. 

Measure twice dig once?

It is all coming together now!

Even with all of our team work, the 8ft slide wouldn't attach to the 7ft climbing wall structure.

The "Water Test!" Who knew you have to pour water down the slide to see if it would run off to know if it was installed correctly? We do now!

Just a few more inches!

Check out this video of the Grand Trunk Wheel Barrow Ballet

Kids Again

Perhaps the funniest thing about Day 1 of the installation was that while everyone really craved a cold beer by mid afternoon, we all quite happily settled for freezies.  The sight of 15 adults all eating freezies was very humourous. On the second day, we settled for watermelon as our refreshment.  Oh so appropriate for a children’s playground install!

Ironically, the second (final) day of the installation was Neighbours Day in Calgary so once done, we gathered for an old fashioned house party hosted by one of the neighbours.  Dozens of kids and adults had a grand time on the street in front of the house (using the basketball net bought by a neighbour who has no kids but thought a street with 25 kids needed a basket net), on the front porch (which was turned into “buffet central”) and in the big enclosed backyard that became a sports field. 

I overheard one parent say, “I imagine this must have been what it was like in the ‘50s when neighbouring families played together.” 

Ready for the gravel, inspection and then reopening of the playground.

Last Word

Calgary has over 5,200 parks, big and small.  I am pretty sure Grand Trunk Park will never be the best park in the city, but already the proud Grand Trunkers (what we are now calling ourselves) are talking about plans for more improvements.

In the meantime, we are working to expand our informal Tuesday Night “Drop By The Park to Play” and “Sunday Morning Madness” drop ins. A park toy box is now on our front porch so families can borrow balls, Frisbees, a tug of war rope and limbo stick as desired. 

It’s back to the future in Grand Trunk Park this summer.

It was a real team effort to get the Grand Trunk Park installed in two days. 

A Big Thank You To: 

  • City of Calgary
  • Parks Foundation Calgary
  • Donors 
  • Park & Play 
  • Leigha Pidde
  • Grand Trunker Voluteers

Austin's Wonderful, Wacky & Weird Outdoor Art Gallery

I had read about and seen pictures of Austin’s Hope Outdoor Gallery (HOG), but they did not prepare me for the three-storey outdoor graffiti gallery located on an abandon inner-city lot on the side of hill over-looking downtown.

Backstory: I love graffiti art. I even travelled from Gleichen, Alberta to New York City in the early ‘80s to experience graffiti art in its heyday - from subway cars to upscale art galleries. I came back and created several graffiti murals on the sides of buildings in Gleichen as well as incorporated it into my studio painting.  That was another life.

The view from the top gives you a sense of the height and scale of the project.  

From The Top

Found this spray can at the top of the Gallery, inviting me to contribute.  I am tempted to go back. 

We entered from the top of the gallery, which is not the usual entrance, which is at the bottom along Baylor Street at 11th Street. We were walking from our Clarksville Airbnb apartment so I knew we could get there taking the back route, but couldn’t quite find it. 

Knowing we were close and seeing a fireman getting out of his car at a charming historic fire station we asked him how to get to the outdoor gallery. He pointed and said, “Go to the end of the No Outlet (aka cul de sac) street that we had just passed and you will be at the top.” He also warned us to be careful if we tried to walk down as the area is badly washed out. Oh those fireman, they are always looking out for everyone’s safety.

Heading down the street we first came upon a wonderful castle-looking estate over looking the city. We soon found out its the offices of Castel Hill Partners and wondered how they liked being next to a graffiti park?

Fast-forward: When I got back to do some more research on the park, turns out Castel Hill Partners own the land, are land developers and are obviously just waiting to develop it.  I could help but wondered why they aren’t worried about the liabilities associated with letting people climb up and down their property. Somebody could easily get hurt and there are no signs saying, “use at your own risk.”

Jackson Pollock & Graffiti Art

Once we reached the edge it wasn’t as dangerous as the fireman suggested, but yes you have to be careful.  The view of the city was spectacular and the park is a kaleidoscope of colour.  It is definitely more of a graffiti park than a street art park as there are only a few areas where an individual artist’s work has been left untouched. Rather it is just layer upon layer of lines, squiggles and words in a cacophony of random colours - a Jackson Pollock-like mega 3D painting.

This was my favourite spot as you could play with the perspective of the window opening in the concrete foundation.

The intensity can be a sight for sore eyes.

Found this young lady hiding in the shadows. One of the few artworks that hadn't been covered with graffiti. 

Perfect place to sit and chat.

Found this artist putting some final touches on his contribution.

Perfect place to meet friends for a picnic.

The Gallery has many walls to create lots of different galleries. Note you can see the castle in at the top in the background.

This is the proper entrance to the Hope Outdoor Gallery on Baylor St. at 11th St. 

Better Than Public Art

I loved the scale, the energy, unique sense of place and randomness of the Hope Outdoor Gallery (HOG). While we were there a street artist was being interviewed about his work, there were lots of people milling about and even friends having a picnic.  We went by the next day which was a Saturday and it was even busier. It is heaven for urban photographers.

HOG is better than most public artworks that quickly become just a part of the urban landscape and ignored by pedestrians. HOG is an ever-changing artwork that challenges people to literally explore it and to participate.  I have now visited three times and each time I have discovered something new and always there are a dozen of so people actively looking at the art and trying to make sense of it. 

I am thinking it would be a wonderful and weird place for wedding pictures. Hey this Austin, I am thinking it has happened more than once.

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2015: Everyday Tourist's Best Public Art / Street Art photos

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

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

Tony Oursler's "Braincast" sculpture is installed inside the wall along the escalator of Seattle's Central Library. It consists of a series of three videos cast on to eye-ball like forms. I had to ride the escalator several times to watch the videos. 

Bad Editor...

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

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

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

Art in unexpected places...

Expect the unexpected as my street art and public art photos are not just about sculptures and statues, rather how art can be found in strange places. 

  The glass canopy at the 6th Street LRT station on 7th Ave in downtown Calgary has been converted into a work of art by Stuart Keller.  Titled "SWARM" it consists of thousands of images of winged seeds (also called keys, helicopters, whirlers, twisters, whirligigs) produced by some trees.  The pattern of the seeds was inspired by the swarming of birds taking flight at dusk.  I liked the interplay with the art, sky, building and construction crane.   

The glass canopy at the 6th Street LRT station on 7th Ave in downtown Calgary has been converted into a work of art by Stuart Keller.  Titled "SWARM" it consists of thousands of images of winged seeds (also called keys, helicopters, whirlers, twisters, whirligigs) produced by some trees.  The pattern of the seeds was inspired by the swarming of birds taking flight at dusk.  I liked the interplay with the art, sky, building and construction crane.   

The juxtaposition of the colourful and temporary Day of the Dead skeleton figure with the permanent, dark winged-horse and figure statue captured my eye.  Located in the plaza in front of Mexico City's Bellas Artes concert hall. 

This colourful and complex collage of images is from a piece of playground equipment in the West Hillhurst in Calgary.  I love it when I find images like this in unexpected places. 

"By the Banks of the Bow" is one of the largest bronze sculptures in North America.  Create by Bob Spaith and Rich Roenisch, it consists of 15 horses and two cowboys crossing Calgary's Bow River.  I love public art that allows the public to interact with it. 

Strange Reflections

These three mirage images of female faces are reflections in the window of the +15 hallway next to Holt Renfrew looking out to the LRT station in downtown Calgary. 

This image  was taken looking into the window of the Out There store on Stephen Avenue in downtown Calgary.  There is a wonderful narrative in this artwork.

Ballard is a suburban of Seattle with a wonderful Main Street that hosts a vibrant Sunday street market.  This artwork is one of the many wonderful reflections of Ballard's street life in the store windows.    

Loved the surrealism of this jail-like image created in a pedicure shop window in Seattle's tony Belltown.

"Reflections," inside the Experience Music Project Museum, Seattle. 

This window reflection is a visually stunning collage of architecture and facades in a downtown Calgary window. 

Objects 

Found this still life image along Calgary's 7th Avenue transit corridor. 

Wake , Richard Serra, 125 feet long weathered steel, Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle. 

"Wonderland", 39 foot sculpture by Jaume Plensa, (plaza in front of The Bow office tower, downtown Calgary) 

"Echo" 46 foot sculpture by Jaume Plensa  (Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle) 

Typewriter Eraser, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle. 

From the sidewalk

Street art in Calgary's Sunnyside community. 

Street art in Victoria, BC. 

Found this abandoned piano key board while walking to a Goodwill store on the outskirts of Seattle's City Centre.  It had a found art quality for us - wonderful colour, shape, pattern and rhythms.  If we could have brought it home we would have. We did bring home a single key as found artwork which we have added to our home collection. 

TELUS Spark sparks reflection

Shame on me! Why? Because until today (January 26, 2016) I had not visited the stunning TELUS Spark building which opened in October 2011.  In my defense, I have no children. Nor had anybody said to me “you must see TELUS Spark.”  

That is until Erin Christensen, TELUS Spark’s Marketing & Communications Coordinator emailed me an invite last week to ask if I might be interested in doing a blog about their new exhibition, BODY WORLDS Vital.

I jumped at the chance. 

Close up image of the incredible intricacies of the human body. It will be a long time before we forget this exhibition.  Yes in some ways human flesh does  look like bacon.

Architecture 

On a grey winter day TELUS Sparks blends into the sky and the parking lot.

I do love the tension created by the various angular shapes of the building’s exterior seemingly piled on top of each other.  The steel grey skin seems a little dull by day but becomes a wonderful canvas for the nightly illuminated colour show that makes the building look like a brilliant gemstone to those travelling by on the adjacent Deerfoot Trail.  

Once inside the building, it is very bright, open and very functional, not distracting like so many contemporary, “weird & wacky” buildings.  The entrance is spacious and inviting without being overwhelming. I loved the fact that immediately upon entering, the joyous voices of children playing and having fun could be heard.  It was alive.

The gallery spaces also seem spacious and synergistic with the programming and exhibitions.  As a former public art gallery executive director and curator, this is exactly what you want. Kudos to Calgary’s DIALOG architects.

At the entrance I found this strange juxtaposition of shapes, colours, angles and letters. 

Body WORLDS Vital 

TELUS Sparks bills Vital as “One of the world's most ground-breaking travelling exhibitions at Calgary's science centre. BODY WORLDS Vital celebrates the living human body in its optimal state - healthy, vibrant, vigorous and in motion. The exhibition presents the leading health concerns of contemporary times, the causes of these conditions and diseases and ways to prevent or manage them.”

  This human head has an eerie stare. It looks like something Salvador Dali might have done.

This human head has an eerie stare. It looks like something Salvador Dali might have done.

Upfront, they caution visitors this exhibition is not for everyone given the exposure of complete, real bodies including genitalia, prenatal development, (including embryos and foetuses) and on Thursday nights “a representation of sexual intercourse.”

Erin explained that, “we do have a coupling exhibit at BODY WORLDS Vital. It’s open on Thursday evenings starting in February. This includes the Thursdays we have Adults Only Night as well as the Thursdays we are open for extended hours from February to May for all ages.

 

The exhibit is placed in its own room with a door that can be closed. There is carefully placed signage noting that this is a discretionary section. We wanted to make the coupling exhibit available, while also being mindful of our regular family visitors and school groups. We do not have any photos of this exhibit as there is a photography ban put in place by BODY WORLDS on this particular exhibit.”

The exhibition consists of real human bodies that have been skinned allowing viewers to see every bone, muscle, nerve, organs etc.  In many cases, parts of the body cavity have also been “peeled back” so one can see deeper inside.  The end result in many cases is a very abstract perspective on the human body.

This head reminded me of some of the Inuit sculptures I have seen. 

For some, I can imagine this could be very disturbing, hence their wise warning, but for me, I was simply left wondering what all the fuss was about. And, I did not hear anyone gasping in horror at what they saw.  Because of the process called plastination everything looks plasticized; there is no sense of the messy blood or guts, and it all seems very sanitized.  As a former artist and contemporary art curator, it looked more like art than science.  This is not a bad thing.

I loved the athletic shapes the bodies were placed in - from ballet dancer to soccer player – giving them a sculptural sense of shape and form. Some of the cut-aways looked like something by Picasso or his cubist colleagues or works by one of the surrealists artists or maybe the work of an Inuit carver. 

The first full figure you are confronted with is this jumping male ballet dancer in mid-air. The piece is held up by the peeling back of the spinal cord to reveal all of the inner organs and muscles. It is a very powerful piece. 

I spent about 90 minutes in the exhibition and could have spent more.  We’d recommend getting the audio guide as we found many of the information panels a little light on information. However, there is a roving educator on site to answer questions that enquiring minds might have.

Though I am not sure of the scientific or educational value of the exhibition (most of the information being readily available and with videos much more explicit and realistic).

At the same time, it does provide a unique and amazingly 3D visual look at the almost infinite intricacies and complexity of the human body.  

 

 

 

 

 

Up Close And Personal

This close up further documents the astounding/mindboggling complexity and fragility of the human body. 

It was enlightening to see how all of our internal organs fit together so neatly and compactly.  

This is the body of a female gymnast on the pommel horse.

Other On-site Fun

While on-site, I took advantage of the opportunity to quickly explore other parts of TELUS Spark.  I loved the other exhibition areas. And we weren’t alone as there were many enthusiastic (some squealing with delight) children both with their parents and school groups. I was pleased to see lots of Calgary/Alberta-centric information especially on our oil, gas and wind power industries. 

This climbing object is full of climbing "holds." It is very sculptural and can be used by kids of all ages, as well as adults.

What really surprised me was the space and content devoted to young adults and adults.  It was nice to see so many young couples in the galleries on a Tuesday afternoon.  I had been told by parents that TELUS Spark really only appealed to children aged 4 to about 10 and while would agree that is the “sweet spot” for visiting, there is something for almost everyone. 
Erin told me, TELUS Spark routinely attracts 2,000 visitors for their Adult Only nights! We did not take in the films in the Dome Theatre, which would have no doubt added another dimension to our experience.

I love the Top Ten Tips for Saturdays on TELUS Spark’s website which outlines an entire day of activities.  Though it was posted November 2015, I expect it is still valid and might even work for a Sunday.

I was also impressed by the unique outside playground for kids aged 5 and up. It has none of the traditional equipment and seemed a lot more challenging than the colourful, cookie-cutter playgrounds you see around town. I liked the fact that while it would interest toddlers, it would also be challenging and fun for teens, something missing from most playgrounds.

Love this contemporary teeter totter. 

Value For Money

I think you might need a science degree to figure out all of the pricing for TELUS Spark. I have two science degrees and I am not sure I understand it.

Regular Price

Adult (18-64) $19.95 | Senior (65+) $17.95 | Youth (13-17) $15.95 | Child (3-12) $12.95 | Admission for children under 3 is free.

I believe there is normally and additional charge for films in the Dome Theatre but couldn’t find the price online.  I believe that if you want the “full meal deal” and see two films (they are short), the cost for an Adult would be in the $30 range, Senior $25, Youth $20 and Child $18 depending on the film.

BODY WORLDS Vital + other exhibitions + one Dome show

Adult (18-64) $30.00 | Senior (65+) $28.00 | Youth (13-17) $26.00 | Child (3-12) $23.00 | Admission for children under 3 is free.

I won’t even try to explain how the membership works and what is included in the various options. But I expect it is the best deal if you have kids and plan on visiting on a frequent basis.

For context purposes, the regular prices are pretty much in line with similar Calgary venues such as the Calgary Zoo and Glenbow. Scotiabank Theatre Chinook charges $16.25 for a regular film and as much as $24.25 for a D-Box UltraAVX movie (whatever that is).

Gas Exchange - Cross Section of the Thoracic Cavity. 

Last Word

Upon reflection, the best lesson learned from this exhibition is an appreciation for how well my old body works given all the things that could go wrong. 

Erin tells me TELUS Spark is hoping to attract 100,000+ to this special exhibition. If you are into science or art, you are in for a treat.  Body WORLDS Vital is on exhibit at TELUS Spark until May 31, 2016.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary: Military Museums

Paintball: Game or Cult?

Canadian Museum for Human Rights: Money Well Spent?

 

 

 

 

 

2015: Everyday Tourist's Best Playground Photos

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

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

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

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

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

Black & White Narratives

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

Architecture As Art

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

Flaneuring Fun

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

Playgrounds

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

Street People

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

Street Art / Public Art Surprises

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

Skyscapes

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

Last Word

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

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

Making Roads, Grand Trunk Park playground

Peek-a-boo. King George School, Calgary

Colour and Shadow Fun, West Hillhurst, Calgary

Another Day At The Office, West Hillhurst Community Centre Playground, Calgary

Oasis, Inglewood, Calgary

Artwalk maze playground, Victoria

Colour & Shadow Play, Hillhurst Community Centre, Calgary

Look what we found. West Hillhurst, Calgary

  Bucket Seat Swings, Seattle

Bucket Seat Swings, Seattle

Alien space craft? West Hillhurst, Calgary 

Interplay: Sky, Tree & Playground, Riley Park, Calgary

Learning to tightrope walk, St. Patrick's Island, Calgary

  Who needs a playground when you can play under the LRT bridge in Eau Claire?

Who needs a playground when you can play under the LRT bridge in Eau Claire?

The plaza behind the McDougall Centre makes for a great skateboard park. These guys travelled all the way from Edmonton to check out downtown Calgary's hot skating spots. 

Snowboarding near 14th Street across from the Jubilee Theatre. Another hidden gem playground.

This sure beats my Fisher Price garage at home. 

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Playgrounds vs Public Art

Rome: Playground Lunch 

 Front Yard Fun