The rise of the wood frame condo!

 

Everyday Tourist looks at how Calgary's Centre Street N could become the showcase for how wood frame condos can revitalize established neighbourhoods, not only in Calgary but other cities. 

Not only in Calgary, but across Canada, cities and provinces have revised their building codes to allow for wood-framed condo construction up to six-floor from the previous four.   British Columbia was first in 2009 and now has hundreds of five and six storey wood-framed condos.

Proposed Tigerstedt Block on Centre street with retail at street level and condos above. 

Why is this important? 

Because it allows for increased density of on infill condos urban sites that previously would have had to use more expensive concrete foundations. Championed by Rollin Stanley (City of Calgary’s Planning, General Manager) Calgary changed its regulations in November 2014 with the hope it would foster slightly larger and lower price point infill condos in established communities along transit corridors, as well as greenfield projects in new communities. 

In an email response to an inquiry to Stanley asking about the city’s development community’s uptake and lessons learned on the new development opportunity he indicated:

One of the challenges for six-storey wood as for any six-floor building is the parking requirement.  If the requirement drives a second level of concrete underground parking, the economics of any six-storey building is challenging. 

We need to address our parking requirement, which is high by most other cities.

We have had lots of preliminary discussions for six-storey wood framed condos, but mostly in the greenfield areas where large sites with one storey of underground parking make it feasible.

We are looking at promoting five and six-storey condos at as part of our Main Streets initiative.  Makes sense given good transit on those routes

To date the City has received two condo applications under the new building code ironically both on Centre Street North – Centro (5-storeys) and Tigerstedt Block (6-storeys).

Centro condo under construction at the corner of Centre Street and 20th Ave. 

Educate, Educate, Educate

In addition, Jayman Modus is currently working on Westman Village (a high-end, 6-storey, 900-unit urban village project) in Lake Mahogany.  In chatting with Wallace Chow, VP Development at Jayman Modus, he enlightened me that one of the key issues for developers to move from four to six-storey buildings is to educate Calgary’s workforce on the new techniques and code issues associated with this type of construction.  “You don’t build a 6-storey wood-framed building the same way you do a four-story” he emphasized. 

Another challenge Wallace and his team face is educating the public about wood-framed condos. For example, the biggest fire issue for wood framed condos isn’t after the condo is constructed, but during construction. He noted that new sprinkler regulations, fire-rated drywall and construction techniques have resulting in significant improvements in fire safety for wood-framed condos.  

Another challenge is people’s perception wood frame condos are nosier than concrete. Jayman Modus has noise tested their new wood building construction with concrete and it is the equivalent of an 8” concrete wall.

For their Lake Mahogany project, he has hired Integra Architecture out of Vancouver as they have the most experience with six-story condos.  If all things go as planned people will be moving into Westman Village in Q4 of 2017.

Last Word

The Tigerstedt Block (named after the 1930s photo studio that was located in the building with the Art Deco neon sign) is what the City had in mind when they approved increasing the height of wood framed condos.

Currently Leaseco Certus Development Inc. (LCDI) has submitted an application for a development permit. If approved, it will transform an entire block of Centre Street into an attractive (white brick with black steel industrial balconies and trim) human scale (6-storeys) building with retail at street level and condos above. Residents will be able to walk, cycle or take quick transit ride downtown. 

Tigerstedt Block could be the revitalization catalyst for Centre Street North as a vibrant pedestrian street with shops, cafes and restaurants.

LCDI has two other properties on Centre Street that are ripe for redevelopment, if their first one succeeds.  Lets hope it does

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The rise of the mid-rise condo!

It seems like in every major North America city these days the mid-rise is becoming the most popular built-form for infill condos in established communities.  In Calgary, once you get out of the City Centre (17th Ave SW to the Bow River, from Stampede Park to 14th St. SW) the mid-rise is the dominant condo type. 

Pixel condo is now complete and its sister condo Lido is under construction in Kensington Village.  

Calla condo next to Lougheed House gardens, is surrounded older mid-rise residential development from the '80s in Calgary's trendy Beltline community.    

Allowing development of more mid-rise condos along transit corridors in the GTA would open affordable home-ownership options and help revitalize commercial "dead zones," a new report says. (Toronto Star) Avenues and Mid-Rise Study City of Toronto Report

What is a mid-rise? 

Well there are a multitude of definitions out there but the most common is a five to 11 storey building.  The reason for five is until recently most building codes allowed wood frame buildings to be a maximum of four storeys, above that it had to be concrete.  It was convenient to make the break between low-rise and mid-rise at four storeys the same as the transition from wood to concrete. 

I am not sure why the division between mid-rise and high-rise is at 11-storeys.  My theory is mid-rise buildings are often marketed as being human scale; meaning humans walking along the street don’t feel dwarfed by them as they do with highrises, but I don’t see what is the magic in 11-storeys vs. 10 or 15 depending on the site.

Mid-rise office buildings are also important for creating vibrant urban communities. Meredith Block Edmonton Trail at Memorial Drive. 

Benefit of a Mid-rise

Today in Calgary when a mid-rise is proposed in an established community next to a single-family homes, city planners and developers try to convince the neighbours a mid-rise has minimal impact when it comes to shadowing, traffic and parking issues.

Try telling that to the neighbours of the Kensington Legion site redevelopment or the Ezra condos at Riley Park (5th Ave and 13th Street NW) where proposed 8-storey condos were/are being vehemently opposed by the neighbours.  In Inglewood, the neighbours protested the AVLI condo that was 2.5 meters above the allowed height.  Obviously height matters!

There are many benefits of a mid-rise to the city, developer and the community. 

Kensington Road Legion site is currently being redeveloped with a low-rise office building on the left and mid-rise condo on the right. It is a good example of a developer willing to employ some enhance design elements to create a less box-like condo. 

From the city’s perspective a mid-rise creates more density, more quickly i.e. one mid-rise can have two or three times the number of people as a low-rise condo. This creates more immediate utilization of transit, bike lanes, parks etc.  It also means the city only has to spend time with one development application instead of three.

From the developers point-of-view a mid-rise means can be develop on sites that are too large for low-rise and two small for high-rise buildings.  They also don’t need to sell as many units in advance before construction can start and construction can take half the time as say a 20 or 30 storey high-rise. This means they can take advantage of shorter windows of opportunities in the market.

  An example of impact of mid-rise condo on the neighbouring properties in Marada Loop.  In this case these houses have become incubators for small businesses. Altadore and South Calgary are good example of evolving established community. 

An example of impact of mid-rise condo on the neighbouring properties in Marada Loop.  In this case these houses have become incubators for small businesses. Altadore and South Calgary are good example of evolving established community. 

From the community’s perspective, they get increased density in one building rather than three or four, which means the roads and sidewalk disruption time is reduced.  Also the increased density can mean better bus service, improvements to parks, school enrollment, new restaurants, cafes, medical services and increased the viability of existing small businesses.

Mid-rise condos are ideal for transit-oriented development next to Calgary’s LRT station.  The twin 10-storey Renaissance Towers at North Hill Mall, next to Lions Park are a good example of creating good density in an established community.  The same could be said for 9-storey The Groves of University at the Dalhousie Station.

One of the things I love about mid-rise buildings is that they offer more opportunities for creative designs than low-rise and high-rise condos, which seem to all look the same i.e. variations on a rectangle.

In My Opinion

I don’t know what is so magical about four-storeys condos, but many Calgarians seem to think is the absolute maximum height for any condos near single-family homes.

Rather than focusing on the density and height of new infill condos, I think we should be focusing on the quality of the design of the building and the overall impact it will have on the entire community and city - not just the immediate neighbours.

St. John's condo on 10th Street NW in Kensington Village.

Mid-rise Madness

Currently in Calgary, there are many mid-rise condos recently completed, under construction or nearing final approval.  In Inglewood, AVLI a 7-storey condo is starting construction across the street from the funky Art Atlantic building.  Bridgeland has two mid-rises; Bridgeland Crossing (8-storeys) is nearing completion and Radius (7-storeys) it getting ready for construction to start.

Casel condo with ground floor retail and second floor office is locates on 17th Avenue SW at the entrance to Crowchild Trail.  It is pioneered mid-rise condo development west of the City Centre

In Hillhurst, Battisella recently completed Pixel (perhaps one of the coolest entrances for a condo I have ever seen) and Lido is currently under construction. Across the street from Lido, is Bucci’s Kensington condo that comes in at 6-storeys and then there is Ezra (named Ezra Hounsfield Riley who once owned all of the land that is today Hillhurst/Sunnyside) at Riley Park (5th Ave and 13th St SW) which will be 8-storeys.

In West Hillhurst, Truman has submitted a proposal to the City to rezone the huge Kensington Legion site for a 4-storey office and 8-storey condo (reduced from 10-storeys due to neighbours’ protest) that is very contemporary design that could be a new benchmark for urban living Calgary’s northwest quadrant. (Note: since this blog was written the Kensington Legion site redevelopment has been approved). 

Bridgeland Crossing is a good example of a mid-rise condo adjacent to an LRT Station and within easy walking and cycling distance to downtown. 

University City at the Brentwood Station includes two high-rise condo buildings, then transitions to mid-rise and  then town homes as it connects to the Brentwood community. This is phase one of a larger plan to create a transit-oriented village at the Brentwood LRT Station. 

Note: This blog was commissioned by Source Media for January Condo Living Magazine. 

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Calgary's NW quadrant is coming of age!

Surfing the realtor.ca website (which I am prone to do every once in awhile), I wondered how the economic downturn is impacting the sale of luxury homes in Calgary and area.  Plugging in a lower limit of one million dollars while keeping the screen the same size, I scrolled over the inner city communities immediately north and south of the Bow River and to quickly find how many homes met those criteria.

No surprise that Mount Royal, Roxboro, and Elbow Park resulted in the most hits (61). But what was surprising was West Hillhurst, Parkdale, St. Andrew’s Heights and Briar Hill (WPAB) got the second most hits (53).

SAIT campus expansion has resulted in some of Calgary's most interesting contemporary architecture. 

University City playful condos at Brentwood LRT station. 

Why is WPAB Booming?

The University of Calgary's campus has also added several architecturally significant buildings as part of their expansion. 

Calgary is segregated into four quadrants, each with its own economic engine.  The SW communities’ vibrancy is linked to downtown and the oil and gas engine, the SE neighbourhoods serve Calgary’s thriving warehouse/distribution engine, while the NE communities thrive on the every-expanding airport engine and the NW neighbourhoods support the city’s mega education and medical campuses. 

While downtown gets most of the attention as Calgary’s major employment centre, (as does the airport with its multi-billion dollar expansion), Calgary’s NW quadrant, aka The Learning City, has also experienced significant growth. In the past decade, SAIT and the University of Calgary have undertaken huge expansion programs, as has the mammoth Foothills Medical Centre campus. As well the Alberta Children’s Hospital moved to the NW in 2006 into a new mega building.  

Since 2001, SAIT has added four major new buildings including the opening of the 740,000 square foot Trades and Technology Complex that can accommodate 8,100 full and part time students.  Today SAIT has 2,600 faculty and 15,311 students (a 9% increase since 2012).  Similarly, student enrollment at the University of Calgary has grown from 24,000 in 2006 to 31,000 today, with a faculty of 1,800.

Alberta Children's Hospital will become part of the University of Calgary's new urban village called - University District (6,000 multi-family homes, 245,000 sf Main Street retail and 1.5 million square feet office).

These expansions bring with an increase in high-income earners. Sure, the doctors and professors don’t have the stock option plans of the oil patch, but their salaries and reasonably secure jobs are sufficient to support a strong luxury home market.

A quick check of the city’s website shows the median annual household income for a couple with children in WPAB ranges from Briar Hill’s $181,167 to Parkdale’s, $132,276, compared to the city average of $115,908. 

Today, custom homebuilders’ signs are commonplace in WPAB.

St. Andrew's Heights infill home. 

Location Location Location 

Beach volley ball fun at Parkdale Community Centre (ice rink in the winter)

WPAB is perfectly situated for a short commute (walk, bike, transit or vehicle) to all NW post-secondary and medical campuses; as well Mount Royal University is just a few minutes south on Crowchild Trail (except at rush hour). In addition, downtown is also minutes away for those oil patch employees, bankers and lawyers who want more bang for their housing buck.

WPAB is not only great for families with kids attending post-secondary schools, but also for those with young children.  There are literally playgrounds every few blocks; including Helicopter Park (named after the STARS helicopter that often flies overhead on its way to the Foothills Medical Centre and yes, it does include a helicopter climbing apparatus) one of the most popular playgrounds in the city.

When it comes to skating rinks, WPAB is charmingly old-school - several outdoor skating rinks exist and it is not uncommon to see dad out flooding the rink next to one of the playgrounds just like it was the 1950s all over again.

Residents of WPAB enjoy easy access to the Bow River Pathways, making for a short and easy bike ride to downtown for work or pleasure, or a nice, walk or run year-round.  From a recreation standpoint, the old-school West Hillhurst Recreation centre offers an arena, gym, squash courts and an outdoor pool and tennis courts.  As well, many amenities exist at SAIT and the University of Calgary, especially if you work there.

Culturally, a 10-minute drive in the evening gets you to downtown theatres or live music venues, the Jubilee Theatre as well as the University of Calgary and Mount Royal theatres and concert halls.  You can walk to McMahon Stadium for Stampeder games.  And if you want to get to the Rockies for skiing, boarding, hiking or biking, it is just 6 stoplights or less until you are out of town. 

Notable restaurant patio in northwest's Montgomery community.

Luxury Home Evolution 

West Hillhurst's historic Main Street includes Dairy Lane established in the '50s.

 Full disclosure: yes, I live in West Hillhurst and have lived there since the early ‘90s. When I first moved here, almost all of the infills were “skinnys,” i.e. houses on 25-foot lots.  However, about 15 years ago things started to change and more often than not these new infills were either large luxury homes on 50-foot lots, or attached duplexes that looked like mansions. 

Who would have thought 25 years ago that you could sell a duplex in West Hillhurst or Parkdale for over a million dollars? 

For over 20 years, I have observed new infills of all shapes, sizes and styles being built on almost every block in WPAB. Yet there are still many cottage homes from the 30s, 40s and 50s on almost every block in West Hillhurst and Parkdale.

The same phenomenon exists along the St. Andrew’s Heights and Briar Hill ridge, where multi-million dollar, multi-level, Architectural Digest - worthy homes are interspersed with what were luxury ranch homes in the 50s and 60s.

WPAB is testament to how healthy communities evolve slowly over time. I expect in another 20 years, my early ‘90s home will be ready for the next generation to move in and renovate or build something new that better meets the needs of mid-21st century families.

Roberto Ostberg Gallery Bee Kingdom reception in northwest's Capitol Hill Village. 

Kensington Village's Container Bar. 

The University of Calgary's West Campus Development Trust is planning to create Main Street as part of their University District that will be similar to 10th St and Kensington Road NW.

Last Word 

While some may think the infilling of Calgary’s inner city communities is happening too quickly, in fact, it is happening gradually over decades – there are still lots of older homes on most streets.

Healthy communities evolve over time in a manner that will attract new families who will keep them viable and vibrant.

Calgary's inner city northwest communities are becoming very cool urban places to live, work and play. 

Note: This blog was commissioned by Source Media for their Domus Magazine in January 2016. 

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Urban Planning is not a science!

Recently, I have been criticized by several planners and urban lobbyists for saying; “urban planning is more an art than a science and vibrant streets, public spaces and communities happen more by chance than master plans.”  Ouch! 

My critics tell me current urban research on best practices around the world means planners today can develop plans that have a high probability of creating vibrant streets, spaces and new communities using accepted good urban design principles.

But I counter with the fact that for decades urban planners have been telling Calgarians they have the recipe for creating urban vitality. In the ‘60s, planners thought the idea of clustering a new hotel, museum, convention centre, observation tower, office and retail at Centre Street and 8th and 9th Avenues SW was just the ticket to revitalize the east end of downtown.  I trust they were using what they thought were the best urban design principles at that time. Today the blocks of 8th and 9th Avenue near Centre Street are still devoid of street life most of the time.

Calgary's 7th Avenue Transit corridor was recently enhanced with new stations and sidewalks, but it still lacks an urban vibe. 

This is the entrance to Calgary Telus Convention Centre and Glenbow Museum taken at Stampede time in 2015.

Marriott Hotel's 9th Ave entrance across from the Calgary Tower at Stampede 2015.

Let's Try Again

Then in the ‘70s, new planners (again presumably based on current best practices thought) transforming 8th Avenue into a pedestrian mall, 7th Avenue into a transit corridor and building a huge indoor shopping centre with a winter garden and two office towers above it would boost downtown vitality. 

Toronto was doing it - Eaton’s Centre, Vancouver was doing it - Pacific Centre, so Calgary should do it – hence TD Square. Later, we added our own mini Eaton’s Centre and more recently we combined the two renaming The Core.  Hamilton, Winnipeg and Edmonton also tried the downtown indoor mall experiment to create urban vitality with little success.

Eaton's Centre in Toronto is a major tourist attraction. 

The Core shopping mall in downtown Calgary is the city's fourth busiest mall. 

Two More Times

In the ‘80s, planners once again turned their attention to the east end of Stephen Avenue with a mega block development - the Performing Arts Centre (Arts Commons). Surely, building one of North America’s largest performing arts centres (five space and 3,200 seats) with a new civic plaza would be just the ticket to create some vibrant downtown nightlife.  

Then in the ‘90s, urban revitalization best practices indicated the key to adding urban vitality to a neighbourhood was to include a mix of uses.  The Eau Claire plan included a market, an IMAX, a (multi-screen cinema), restaurants, shops, the Eau Claire Y recreation centre, new condos, a new hotel, a promenade along the river and upgrades to Prince’s Island Park.

All of these ambitious plans were based on current urban planning best practices at the time yet all met with limited success in creating a vibrant and attractive urban sense of place for Calgarians over the long term.

Stephen Avenue Walk today.

Unfulfilled Promises

And it’s not just Calgary.  For decades, urban planners around the world have researching and creating new best practices theories for creating vibrant streets, public spaces and urban communities, but in most cases the promise of urban vitality is unfulfilled.

More than one planner has admitted to me that much of urban planning today is about undoing the bad planning of the past. Personally, I don’t think it is actually bad planning, but the fact that urban planning is more like an experiment, where you have a hypothesis and to test it you have to build something to see if it works.

And, like most experiments they fail (or don’t work out exactly as planned) more often than they succeed.

However, I wouldn’t get too depressed. Calgary’s isn’t as bad as some urban planners would have us think. 

Barclay Mall is an enhance pedestrian street linking Stephen Avenue to Eau Claire, Prince's Island and Bow River. 

In fact, Calgary is very healthy!

Every year the Calgary Foundation produces what they call Vital Signs. It is a report card on how Calgarians feel about their city as opposed to how urbanists feel about our city.

Each year the results indicate Calgary is very healthy city. For example the 2015 reports states:

  • 87% enjoy their quality of life in Calgary
  • 91% describe themselves as happy
  • 78% are happy with their job and satisfied with their work
  • 75% participate actively in their community of interest
  • 90% report they are surrounded by loving family/companions/friends
  • 83% rated their physical well-being as high
  • 86% rated their mental well-being as high
  • 77% rated Calgary as a vibrant, lively, appealing place to live

These are pretty positive numbers and tell me Calgarians overall are pretty happy with the quality of life Calgary affords them. What more can you ask for?

Olympic Plaza in winter attracts a few skaters. 

Last Word

 In 2012, Scientific America published Sarah Fecht's paper titled “Urban Legend: Can City Planning Shed Its Pseudoscientific Stigma?” The opening paragraph reads:

 “In 1961 urbanist Jane Jacobs didn't pull any punches when she called city planning a pseudoscience. ‘Years of learning and a plethora of subtle and complicated dogma have arisen on a foundation of nonsense’ she wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Fifty years later the field is still plagued by unscientific thought, according to urban theorist Stephen Marshall of University College London. In a recent paper in Urban Design International, Marshall restated Jacobs's observation that urban design theory is pseudoscientific and called for a more scientific framework for the field.”

Cities are very complex organisms, with way too many variables to be a science. City building is an endless experiment in adapting to new realities – economic, technology, citizen demands and urban design thinking.  

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Dog Parks foster a sense of community?

Though I am not a dog owner, I have regularly dog sat for friends over the past few years. Every time I do, I become more intrigued by how dog parks foster a stronger sense of community than any other public space I know.

Most of my experience has been at River Park in Altadore, which until recently, I thought was a dog park. But apparently, a dog park is “a fully fenced and gated space designed specifically for owners to allow their dogs off-leash.” Calgary actually has no dog parks; rather we have “off-leash” areas in multi-use parks where dogs are allowed off-leash under the full control of the owner.  

Winter dog walking can be a community event. 

 

River Park Happiness

A dog park is a place to reflect.

That being said, I estimate 95% of the people using River Park are dog owners and I am always impressed by how friendly people are - often stopping to chat, sometimes briefly, sometimes longer.  Sometimes we even start walking with these strangers; this never happens in other parks, except playgrounds.

In fact, many sociologists and urbanists think dogs are “the new children.”  Simon O’Byrne, Vice-President, Urban Planning at Stantec in Edmonton strongly believes North American cities need to focus on building more infrastructures to accommodate dogs in urban centres.  O’Byrne sees dogs as a “social lubricant,” facilitating social interaction between strangers as one sees the same people at the dog park and after two or three encounters, they start to build friendships.

I am also always impressed by the diversity of people off-leash areas attract (young families with strollers to seniors in wheelchairs, kids learning to ride bikes to empty nesters to young adults with new dogs) – much more diverse than playgrounds.

In the summer River Park is full of people and their dogs, enjoying a relaxing stroll along it 1 km rolling terrain. 

An added bonus: dogs and off-leash areas get people of all ages out walking on a regular basis and at all times of the day. Recently on a dark cold Sunday night, I encountered dozens of people were walking their dogs and chatting in River Park as if it was summertime.

People in off-leash areas also seem happier than people I walk by on sidewalks or in parks, pathways and plazas – as measured by their aptness to saying “hi” or smile as they pass by.  Perhaps the happiness of the dogs (just say“walk” to a dog and see his/her reaction) rubs off on their owners - happy dog, happy owner?

In the spring River Park takes on a wonderful pastoral ambience for both dog walkers and non-dog walkers.

Even in the middle of the winter when it is bitterly cold, people are out walking their dog.

 

Research says...

This fire hydrant sits outside the private dog park (see in the background) across the street from Las Vegas' Container Park.  The hydant is interactive so kids can turn the water fountain off and on.  How fun is that?

I checked in with one of Calgary’s leading dog culture researchers Ann Madeline Toohey, a PhD candidate at the University of Calgary exploring public health aspects of dog walking, to see what evidence exists to support my observations.

Toohey pointed me to studies that showed people feeling more secure walking with a dog, especially women walking alone. Even people without dogs felt more trusting of a stranger who is walking a dog and more secure about frequenting public spaces when they know others (e.g. dog walkers) will also be using it.  In fact, Toohey’s research confirmed regular dog walkers are more likely to view their neighbourhoods in a positive light.

Another interesting finding, especially in light of our aging population, is that off-leash areas can be desirable destinations for older adults wanting to remain in close contact with dogs, even when they are unable to have their own dog.

Calgary's Best Practices

Calgary is a model city for dog culture research given about 30% of homes have dogs - consistent with other cities in Canada and elsewhere. Calgary has designated 150 off-leash sites in parks across the city (over 17% of all total public open space).

“The City is challenged to provide enough off-leash parkland to meet demand and to ‘spread out’ the use of off-leash areas to minimize the degradation of green spaces due to overuse. As a result Calgary may have more off-leash parks than any other city in North America,” says Toohey. She adds “many of Calgary’s popular off-leash parks are very large making them conducive to longer walks (healthier for both dogs and humans) moreso than some of the urban off-leash parks I’ve seen in Chicago and Portland.” 

Calgary has many of these wonderful treed spaces in inner-city communities that are fun places for humans and their dogs to explore.

Toohey and her colleagues applaud the City’s Off-leash Ambassador Program, which educates dog owners on the importance of complying with off-leash rules, and provide free on-site dog training skills. The program has caught the interest of other municipalities

As well, Calgary’s Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw one of the most comprehensive of any city in North America aims to minimize conflict, nuisance, injury and exclusion. But because Calgary’s off-leash dog areas are spread across the city in shared public parks, it is challenging for Parks and Bylaw Services personnel to minimize conflict and infractions.

Naomi Lakritz, in a Calgary Herald editorial wrote a compelling piece last April about why she doesn’t take her dog to off-leash parks anymore.  She cited filth (i.e. dog owners not picking up after their dogs) as the number one reason, followed by people not controlling their dogs when they get aggressive. These two negatives are supported by Toohey’s citywide research, with other negatives being homeowners next to off-leash parks becoming frustrated by increased traffic, parking and noise.

River Park dog walkers add a personal touch to the park at Christmas.

Why can't we share?

I agree with O’Byrne - if we want to enhance street and public space vitality and safety, as well as get the biggest bang for our public space infrastructure buck, we should add more dog-friendly amenities.  He noted Edmonton’s first new downtown park in decades (formerly a small gravel parking lot) will incorporate areas for dogs and kids to play.

Dogs sharing water fountain as River Park.

Construction begins this spring on Calgary’s first truly urban dog park. The size of a hockey rink, it will be incorporated into Connaught Park Thomson ark (14th Avenue and 11th Street SW). Canada Lands Corporation, learning many potential Currie Barracks home purchasers wanted a dog park, is now redesigning one of the planned parks to incorporate one.

Personally, I wonder why we can’t convert more of our urban parks and playgrounds into children/dog parks (as dogs are the new kids and many families would love to be able to walk the dog and kids as the same time). I can’t help but think parks surrounded by condos like the Barb Scott Park in the Beltline (12th Ave and 9th St SW) would get more use if it included an off-leash area, as would Century Gardens (8th Ave and 8th Street SW), slated for redesign.

In Calgary, a recent proposal to create an official off-leash area, as part of the Westmount Park next to Memorial Drive off ramp to Crowchild Trail, was unsuccessful due to the existence of a playground and a temporary outdoor skating rink, despite the greatest current users of the park being dog owners (42%) vs. 34% for the playground.

Calgary’s bylaw explicitly prohibits dogs from playgrounds and playing fields. Toohey said, “As public health researchers, we are committed to exploring ways to create parks that accommodate multiple users (families, seniors and teens) and activities (playgrounds, field games, dog walking and sitting), while reducing potential negative interactions between different user groups. We don’t want to encourage one type of activity that is detrimental to another activity because of safety concerns.”

Last Word

Too bad we can’t find a way to safely share our parks!

It would sure help if  dog owners did a better job of picking up after your dog. My rule is when I am at the park I pick up one of my dogs and one other.  Just like in golf, you fix one of your ball marks and one other.  

And please, please, keep a close eye on your dog to make sure s/he is always on their best behavour. 

Note: An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald, Feb 27, 2016 titled "Dog parks sniff out ways to share public space." 

 

 

 

 

 

Are downtowns relevant in the 21st century city?

Everyday Tourist Note:

I recently asked Harry Hiller, urban sociologist at the University of Calgary in an email if he would comment on the importance of a vibrant downtown from his urban sociological perspective. His comments may surprise you ….they surprised me.

I have taken his email and with his permission formatted it as a thought provoking blog on the future of downtowns, not only in Calgary but for many cities.

Downtown Calgary Skyline (photo credit: Tourism Calgary).

Downtown & Consumption

The notion of a downtown as the central core of a city is a somewhat outdated concept because many activities - formerly occurring only in the core - now take place in many locations throughout the city. 

Historically, the central core of cities had three functions: trade, worship (e.g. cathedrals) and governance. It was not a place to live. 

Industrialization altered this pattern somewhat primarily because factories and warehouses were built in the city center adjacent to transportation networks such as railroads and waterways.

In the summer at noon hour, Stephen Avenue comes alive with downtown workers and a few tourists. 

Post-industrialization transformed the central core of cities yet again as employment shifted from factories (blue collar jobs) to offices (so-called white collar jobs) in high-rise towers.  This process contributed to another transformation in which consumption through entertainment, shopping, museums, galleries, and dining have become economic engines for downtowns.

These leisure activities (beyond the 9 to 5 pm working hours) opened up the possibility for a very different downtown core, one that is less about workers and more about urban living and playing.

This creates a vibrancy of a different type downtown. But this concept has not caught on in Calgary yet? Why not?

7th Avenue Transit corridor station

Stephen Avenue is a inhospitable place in the winter when it cold and windy.

Barclay Mall or 3rd Street SW, downtown's other pedestrian-oriented street linking Stephen Avenue with the Bow River.

Is downtown still relevant?

17th Avenue sidewalks are full of pedestrians even in February.  Calgary wasted a great opportunity to capital on the Red Mile brand as a tourist attraction. 

The problem for Calgary is the city is still young, suburban and dominated by child-rearing families. In addition there is little incentive for families to come downtown after office hours and most downtown workers just want to "escape" it.

It needs to be recognized contemporary cities are now multi-nucleated, meaning that there are many nodes for shopping, dining, entertainment and professional services away from the downtown core.  Suburban malls or pedestrian streets like 10th Street NW, 17th Avenue SW, 33rd Avenue SW or even strip malls minimize the need for people to go downtown. In fact, many suburbanites never need to visit the central core for any reason at all.

Downtown is less relevant to more Calgarians than ever before.

In fact many want to avoid or "escape" downtown.

 

  Calgary Next would add two major event facilities to our downtown, with the potential to host major events as well as sports teams. 

Calgary Next would add two major event facilities to our downtown, with the potential to host major events as well as sports teams. 

Downtown as a tourist attraction?

This is where the current proposal for CalgaryNEXT needs to be evaluated.  The idea of building new arenas, stadiums, ballparks and convention centres is currently in vogue in many cities across North America because it provides anchors and a site for both residential and consumptive activity.  

Edmonton's Ice District and Winnipeg's downtown SHED (sports, hospitality, entertainment district) is meant to play a role in rejuvenating the downtown. Certainly, sport facilities (BC Place and Rogers Arena), convention facilities, and cultural activities have played a major role in making Vancouver an attractive place to live and play even superseding downtown’s role as an employment center.

But there is another important point to be made.  Great cities always support downtown tourism (e.g. New York or San Francisco) where people (suburbanites or visitors from other places) come to the downtown core for the weekend, stay in hotels, go shopping and dining, and take in cultural or sport events.  

I discovered hotels in San Francisco are busier on the weekends than they are during the week as people come from everywhere to enjoy the options in the downtown core.  If you look at cities with vibrant downtowns, they are almost always tourist hot spots.

Unfortunately, Calgary lacks the 5+ million population within a 2 or 3-hour drive that cities like San Francisco, New York, Vancouver, Seattle, Toronto or Montreal have.  Some argue you need this population base to support an urban playground on weekends.  If just 2% of the people decide to head downtown on any given weekend that is 100,000 people. That's about the population of Calgary’s weekday downtown core workforce!

Downtown Calgary boast many great parks and pathways for recreational activities that are slowing attracting more people to want to live downtown.

Our downtown must become a place “to play”

I was at an event with Ken King recently and told him I believe many people do not understand the potential of the CalgaryNEXT proposal to create a hub of activity synergistic with other consumption activities in the central core along the LRT line.

Alternative sites for CalgaryNEXT (McMahon Stadium site or site adjacent to the Deerfoot) do not acknowledge how the proposed project could contribute to a more vibrant central core. 

Yes the proposed West Village site is complex, but in many ways it is also ideal with its proximity to LRT, major roads, downtown and the river.

Urban development is always complex.

The Core, downtown shopping centre is one of the largest and most attractive indoor shopping centres in Canada, but it has not capture the imagination of suburban Calgarians to come down and shop on weekends. Tourists on the street outside often don't even know it exists. 

Other than Stephen Avenue, the streets in the downtown core have nothing for pedestrians to see or do.  It is a ghetto of office buildings for office workers. 

9th Avenue, downtown Calgary

Macleod Trail, downtown Calgary

Last Word

Much of the current debate about CalgaryNEXT could be improved by greater public awareness and discussion about the role our downtown core should play in the future of the city.  From my perspective, our downtown must become more than just a place to work, which is the current reality. The sooner the better!

Dr. Harry Hiller, Faculty Professor of Urban Sociology at the University of Calgary.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Downtown Calgary: Historical Postcards

Calgary's Downtown Power Hour

Is Calgary too downtown centric?

Fun Ideas for Downtown Calgary

Calgary's Mewata Village, Siksika Trail & Makhabn River?

Editor’s Note: Regular visitors to the Everyday Tourist website will know we are keen to celebrate Calgary’s unique history and sense of place within the context of the larger world we share.  We love to do pieces on Calgary’s history and pleased to publish guest editorials from time to time that provide a fresh perspective on our city.  Recently, the idea of being more creative with our street names has struck a cord with our readers, with two submissions for guest blogs.

Celebrating the history of the First Nations 

It may be because I spent two summers living on the prairie north of Rosemary, Alberta. We lived in a 20-foot trailer and my job in the summer of 1975 was to break up 960-acres of prairie sod. I went over every inch of this land three times with my Massey Fergusson tractor and 22-foot cultivator. The following year, we planted our first crop of wheat and canola and irrigated it with water from the creek.

I could smell the sage and sweet grass growing along the Matsawin Creek, which flowed through our land. The deer visited in the morning and the evening. The coyotes could sometimes be seen during the day but most often heard at night. I watched the eagles hunt for rabbits and gophers. Occasionally, a skittish herd of antelope would warily circle our property. The wind was ever present as was a great big sky.

Reconnecting & Celebrating The Past

It didn’t occur to me until much later that my experience of prairie was similar to those who hunted on this land hundreds or even thousands of years earlier. I was living in the territory of the Siksika people, whose reserve is now 40 miles to the west. I never thought about the previous owners at the time. We were farmers intent on getting our land ready for our crops.

Fast-forward to today and I feel a strong need to reconnect not only to the recent past, but the ancient one of the First Nations. I want to honour their wisdom, their vigour and their stewardship of this land.

It has taken me awhile to appreciate the importance of our relationship with the First Nations people who lived here long before we came along to lay claim to the land and shape it to suit our purposes.

I recently attended the screening of “Elder in the Making” (elderinthemaking.com). This is a moving documentary about a Chinese newcomer to Canada, Chris Hsiung, and a young Blackfoot man, Cowboy SmithX, and it tells the history of the land occupied by the Blackfoot tribes of Southern Alberta.

As a Chinese immigrant, the filmmaker had no knowledge of the people who lived on this land for thousands of year. Hsiung did note we use various First Nation names for our highways, but he didn't know the history or significance of these names. I doubt he is alone in this. For a long time, Calgary has named our major thoroughfares using the English names of famous Aboriginal leaders such as Crowfoot or the First Nation's name like Sarcee, even though T’suu Tina’ is the proper term.

Weasel Calf (name given to him by settlers) and his wife.

Better Process

The City of Calgary has recently proposed a revision of its naming policy. If approved, the policy will require aboriginal names to be used on all freeways and expressways constructed in Calgary. While a change in policy is welcomed, I suggest that further discussion is needed. There may be occasions when a non-Aboriginal name is preferred for an expressway (e.g. Memorial Drive).  We may wish to honour someone whose name and reputation stands the test of time (e.g. Peter Lougheed).  

We need to include First Nations elders in the naming and blessing of expressways or “trails”. A participatory approach has been adopted throughout New Zealand resulting in the extensive use of Maori place names. Honouring First Nations people with appropriate names for places and “trails” might lead to other efforts to include and honour the Treaty 7 peoples and the special places where they lived, worked, and played.   

The policy should also allow for the renaming of existing expressways. For example, Blackfoot Trail could add “Siksika Trail,” or simply become Siksika Trail.  Sarcee Trail could become "T’suu Tina Trail".   

Bow River (Makhabn River) looking west with Prince's Island and Eau Claire lumber mill in the distance.  This photo is from the current exhibition at the Lougheed House. 

Better Context

Maybe we can do better by providing the appropriate First Nations name to a particular place. Do we begin to use the Siksika word “Makhabn also spelt Manachban” which means “river where bow reeds grow” as an alternative name for the Bow River (it is kinda of dumb to have both a Bow and Elbow River)?  Mokintsis is the First Nation name for the Elbow River, it means, “elbow” and is based on the sharp elbow-like turn it makes at Stampede Park before entering the Makahabn River (whoops) Bow River. 

The confluence of the Bow and the Elbow Rivers might be called Ako-katssinn (Siksika for a place where all come to camp) to celebrate its earliest human occupation alongside the historic Fort Calgary site. Ako-katssinn would be a great name for the new pedestrian bridge at the confluence.

We already use some First Nation language, but not in the right context. For example Mewata Armoury serves a military use, yet “mewata” means “to be happy, pleasant place or be joyful.” Similarly, “paskapoo” means blindman and I am not sure what that has to do with sandstone and “shaganappi” means “raw hide” which makes no sense to how we use it today.

Last word

The fact we have retained the term “trails” rather than using the term freeways or numbered highways for our major roads (as is the case for most cities), is exactly what I am talking about.  It may seem like a small token of appreciation for the past, but it is part of what makes Calgary unique and proper names can bring new context and vitality to a place. 

Maybe we could start by renaming West Village, Mewata Village – who wouldn’t want to live work and play in “a happy, pleasant, joyful place?” 

A few days after this blog was posted I found this tweet announcing the City of Edmonton has renamed one of its streets using an authentic Enoch Cree Nation name.  This is what I am talking about 

About Lawrence Braul

Lawrence currently works as the CEO of Trinity Place Foundation of Alberta. He was born and raised in Calgary. He believes the old adage, "You can take the boy out of the prairie, but you can't take the prairie out of the boy."

If you like this blog, you might like:

University District: What's In a Name?

Calgary: Naming Challenge

Calgary: The History Capital of Canada?