Hillhurst/Sunnyside: Street Art Fun!

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

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

Calgary Street Art

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

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

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

Street Art Calgary

Not Public Art

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

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

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

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

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

Link: History of Train Graffiti

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

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

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

I LUV Street Art why?

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

Street Art Calgary

Flashback

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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Brewery Districts: Edmonton vs Calgary

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

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

Missed Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

Impressed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharp Edge

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

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

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

Calgary’s Fledgling Brewery District

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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Are We Winter Wusses?

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

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

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

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

Winter Cities 101

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing New To Report

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

Winter cities need to:

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

This diagram summarizes Edmonton's Winter Design Guidelines. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past Festival Failures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use Local Examples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mindset Change vs. Design Changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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Montgomery Million Dollar Homes?

Million dollar homes in Montgomery….no way!

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

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

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

Domus view.jpg

Montalban Drive is hot!

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

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

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

Choosing a Custom Home Builder

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

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

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

Avoid All Shades Of Grey

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

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

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

Dream Home With A Dream View

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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Bow/Crow: There is something happening here?

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

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

Link: Calgary Skateboarding: The Bridge Spot DIY

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

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

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

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

Rock Art

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

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

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

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

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

Pop-Up Public Art

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

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

Link: CTV News Calgary Artist’s Cairns

Rocks on the River, Feb 2016

Rocks on the River, Feb 2016

Rocks on the River, February 2016

Rocks on the River, February 2016

Love Art, February 2016

Love Art, February 2016

Love Art, February 2016

Love Art, February 2016

DIY Skate Park?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to THE BRIDGE signage!

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

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

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

Link: Forest Lawn DIY skatepark

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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Battisella: Pioneers & Innovators

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subtle and clever.

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

Urban Pioneers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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East Village: Lust of the new playground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lust of the new playground

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

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

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

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

East Village's pebble beach.

East Village's pebble beach.

Eau Claire's wadding pool.

Eau Claire's wadding pool.

Test Of Time

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

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

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

Sound Familar?  

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

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

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

Eau Claire's lagoon and pedestrian bridge.   

Eau Claire's lagoon and pedestrian bridge.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary’s best communities may surprise urbanists 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eau Claire condos along the Bow River.

Eau Claire condos along the Bow River.

New condos next to Eau Claire Market. 

New condos next to Eau Claire Market. 

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

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

Eau Claire's Sheraton Hotel.

Eau Claire's Sheraton Hotel.

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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Downtown: From Concrete Jungle to Glass Gallery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary Advantage 

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

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

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

The Bow, Calgary Alberta, Norman Foster architects. 

My Favourites

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

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

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

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

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

Outdoor Art Gallery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

Calgary: Field of Crosses

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

Calgary loves to celebrate its history?

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

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

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

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

Link: Calgary: History Capital of Canada?

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

It dramatically changes the Memorial Drive experience.

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

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

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

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

A Brief History of Memorial Drive

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

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

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

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

Mega Facelift

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

The Calgary Soldiers' Memorial

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

Poppy Plaza driving east along Memorial Drive. 

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simply Priceless: Travel, Treasure Hunting & Kijiji

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

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

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

Everyday Tourist's world headquarters Kijiji Division 

Everyday Tourist's world headquarters Kijiji Division 

FOR EXAMPLE 

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

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

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

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

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

TRIP TO LAPLAND?

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

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

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

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

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

BACK TO FLORENCE

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

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

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

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

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

VINTAGE SUITCASE

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

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

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

BACK TO MINNESOTA

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAST WORD

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

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Calgary: Everyday Street Photography Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colour Street Photography 

Bubble Fun...

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

Britannia's 21st Century Transformation

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

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

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

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

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

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

NORR Corner / Poon Place

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

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

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

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

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

Britannia Crossing by Opus.

Britannia Crossing by Opus.

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

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

Britannia Plaza

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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Fun With Photos!

As most of you know I love to surf through my photos almost everyday.  It is a fun way to relive your “everyday” experiences, as well as your travel adventures. 

Recently I discovered an app called “Union,” which allows me to combine photos to create interesting collages.  You can grab a public art photo from Chicago and combine it with one from Calgary.  You can overlay one iconic building with another or juxtapose an old building with a new one. 

It is “TOO MUCH FUN!”  

As a former public art gallery curator I thought it might be fun to curate an exhibition of the these artworks and share them with you.  

This piece combines a sunset over Grand Trunk Park across the street from my house with seating in a small plaza along Edmonton's Stoney Plain Road. 

This piece combines a sunset over Grand Trunk Park across the street from my house with seating in a small plaza along Edmonton's Stoney Plain Road. 

Over the years I have taken a number of photos based on the theme "best places to sit." This is a view of Calgary from the Foothills Medical Centre juxtaposed with a photo from a front garden that had a small figure sitting in a bird-bath. 

Over the years I have taken a number of photos based on the theme "best places to sit." This is a view of Calgary from the Foothills Medical Centre juxtaposed with a photo from a front garden that had a small figure sitting in a bird-bath. 

Calgary's St. Mary's Cathedral juxtaposed with couples sitting in the historic Memorial Park just a few blocks away, creates a lovely narrative. 

Calgary's St. Mary's Cathedral juxtaposed with couples sitting in the historic Memorial Park just a few blocks away, creates a lovely narrative. 

Jaume Plensa's "Crown Fountain" from Chicago's Millennium Park meets "Wonderland" his public artwork on the plaza in front of Calgary's Bow Tower. 

Jaume Plensa's "Crown Fountain" from Chicago's Millennium Park meets "Wonderland" his public artwork on the plaza in front of Calgary's Bow Tower. 

Calgary Tower, Stephen Avenue, the historic Hudson Bay department store and Wonderland all mesh together in this image. 

Calgary Tower, Stephen Avenue, the historic Hudson Bay department store and Wonderland all mesh together in this image. 

Let's Just Have Some Fun!

Enough of the explanations, I will just let you browse the images and let you have fun interpreting them for yourself. Hope you enjoy!

Mexico City 

Mexico City 

Sadko & Kabuki, Calgary 

Sadko & Kabuki, Calgary 

Shadow, Calgary

Shadow, Calgary

Under Crowchild Trail, Calgary

Under Crowchild Trail, Calgary

Skateboarding, Calgary  

Skateboarding, Calgary  

Old vs New, SAIT, Calgary

Old vs New, SAIT, Calgary

Florence

Florence

Florence

Florence

Calgary

Calgary

Winnipeg

Winnipeg

Calgary 

Calgary 

Chair Toss, Calgary

Chair Toss, Calgary

Hand-holding, Calgary

Hand-holding, Calgary

Overpasses, Calgary

Overpasses, Calgary

Sitting along the Bow, Calgary

Sitting along the Bow, Calgary

Calgary

Calgary

Chicago

Chicago

Chicago

Chicago

Calgary

Calgary

Calgary Regional Transit: On-It Love In!

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

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

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

In Okotoks everyone go into the ribbon cutting action.

In Okotoks everyone go into the ribbon cutting action.

Visionary….

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

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

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

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

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

Experimental…

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

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

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

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

Ribbon cutting at High River was too much fun!

Ribbon cutting at High River was too much fun!

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

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

Last Word

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

Click here for more details about On-It Regional Transit

Click here for more details about the Calgary Regional Part

Rosebud: A Prairie Gem!

Guest blog by Terry Bachynski

Whenever you are looking for a day away from the city, our natural tendencies in Calgary and Edmonton are to look and head west to the Rockies.  A day of hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, skiing or just taking in the beauty of our Rocky Mountains is always a great respite from the city traffic and pace.

However, there is so much more that our province offers.  My wife, Laura, and I like to explore Alberta randomly.  Just get in the car and head in any direction and see what we can find.  Exploring small towns is one of our favourite ways to spend a free day. 

One such day adventure, near 30 years ago, lead us north and east out of Calgary. We headed for Drumheller and the Badlands.  But, we never got there.  Heading east on Highway 9 we came upon a road sign that said “Rosebud 10 km”. Rosebud?  The name was too tempting. 

We had to see it for ourselves. A south turn onto secondary highway 840 and a short trip down a winding, up and down road finally ended (literally) in a small valley along the Rosebud River and the quaint hamlet of Rosebud.

Along the road to Rosebud

Entering Rosebud from atop the valley you first notice a small grouping of prairie town buildings and the ever present grain elevator to the south. As we approached, we noticed that, unlike other isolated and all too forgotten prairie hamlets, this cluster of buildings looked in reasonably good shape and in use! 

We quickly determined that Rosebud was more than what met the eye.  The entire town exists and thrives beyond its history of farming and coal mining.  The town is a hub of artistic creativity.  That first accidental visit found us arriving just in time for the buffet dinner and stage show.  We grabbed a couple of tickets, enjoyed a delicious buffet dinner and then crossed the street to the opera house for the live show.

The economic and creative anchor for the town is the Rosebud School of the Arts and Rosebud Theatre.  Doing a little research for this blog, I discovered that the artistic heartbeat of the town started with a “one-off” summer camp for high school kids in 1977.  Since then, the Rosebud School of the Arts has grown into a post-secondary educational institution focused on development of theatre arts. 

The Rosebud Theatre offers a full year of live stage productions in the restored and renovated prairie opera house as well as second studio stage.  The productions are far ranging - dramas, musicals, comedies - and always family friendly. We’ve seen dozen of shows over the years and we are never disappointed with the production quality and talent on the stage.  These actors have chops!

Over the years, we have come to know many of the people who work and live in Rosebud.  It is always a treat to visit and spend a couple of days in the area.  When you go, you’ve got plenty of options for comfortable and welcoming accommodations. 

Link: Discover Rosebud

B&B Fun....

The Rosebud Country Inn is run by BJ.  She’s a sweetheart and took over the Country Inn 7 or 8 years ago.  It’s a great place to stay with delicious afternoon tea and pie served up most afternoons.

Rosebud Country Inn. Love the porch!

Rosebud Country Inn. Love the porch!

If BJ’s is full, there are several other options.  The Actor’s Studio B&B is operated by Nathan and Cassia, both excellent actors who frequent the boards on the Rosebud stage.  Nathan also makes a mean apple pancake breakfast that just makes your mouth water.  Delicious!

The Rose Cottage Bed and Breakfast is a unique experience every time you visit.  John and Sue decorate the breakfast room in the theme of the current mainstage show at the time.  On our last visit, the entire room was dressed up like a set from Downton Abbey. 

Sue’s home town cooking is delicious.  During our last visit, they invited us to have dinner with them and we were fed a feast fit for a harvest crew.  In fact, that is what it was.  Sue and John also provide hot dinners to the harvest crew of a local farmer every night during harvest season and deliver the meal to the workers in the field.  They invited us to join them. 

Thankfully, for us, the “on location” dinner was canceled because a cold front moved in.  (We didn’t have the right clothes for the field.) So, we just pulled up to their kitchen table and chowed down on delicious sausage, root vegetables, purple cabbage and a spectacular apple crisp accented with a zest of orange.  What a treat!

Link: Rosebud Country Inn B&B

Link: Actor's Studio B&B

A hearty Rosebud breakfast...

A hearty Rosebud breakfast...

Art Fun.....

The hamlet also swings way above its weight class with the various shops available to theatre patrons.  The Mercantile, Kith and Kin and other shops offer lovely, artistic and unique products, many created by local artisans.  You are certain to find something special that you will not find “in the mall” back home.

We have spent a valentine’s weekend in Rosebud where the entire town pulled together to create a wonderful experience for couples.  We, along with several other couples who flocked to Rosebud for Valentine’s Day enjoyed many special events created by the community for us.

Of course, we took in the dinner theatre and second stage productions.  However, we also enjoyed bonfires, hay rides, cooking classes, coffee tasting classes (just like wine tasting, but with varieties of coffees – we learned so much about the art of coffee making), live music performances and many other special experiences created just for the town’s guests.

Since accidentally stumbling upon this prairie gem, Laura and I have become more connected with the community.  We are both artists and retired actors, ourselves, so, perhaps our connection to the community has something to do with our personal interests.  

This connection, however, has created an opportunity for us as well. The community supports artists.  We currently have our art hanging in the Akokiniskiway Art Gallery through to the end of October.  All proceeds from the sale of our art go to support the Rosebud School of the Arts. 

Terry Bachynski's playful prairie paintings inspired by trips to Rosebud, Alberta

Terry Bachynski's playful prairie paintings inspired by trips to Rosebud, Alberta

Laura Bachynski's nostalgic photos inspired by years of exploring Alberta's back roads. 

Laura Bachynski's nostalgic photos inspired by years of exploring Alberta's back roads. 

A Prairie Success Story

Of course, so many people would say there is nothing to do in a small, isolated prairie hamlet.  How could you possibly keep yourself engaged and interested when you can literally walk from one end of town to the other in less than five minutes? I can promise you that Rosebud will surprise and delight you.  

Rosebud is a prairie success story.  A small hamlet that has re-invented itself and has created an oasis of creativity and community generosity.  The entire town thrives because they care about what they have created. 

So, take a couple of days, book a room at a local B&B, take in the current stage production, enjoy dinner, take a walk down the main street and explore the Akokiniskiway Art Gallery.  Get to know Rosebud. 

You’ll come back for more.

Editor's Note: 

"Gentle Scenes Gentle Dreams" is the title of Laura and Terry's exhibition at the Akokiniskiway Art Gallery until the end of October 2016. Below is their artists' statement: 

Laura and Terry Bachynski are both heavily influenced by their daily experiences from their travels within and beyond Alberta’s boarders. The married couple travel often and widely, frequently with paints and canvas in tow, seeking out new experiences. 

Laura is often drawn to the stories of intimate spaces and images that translate to the detailed attention to mood and personal experience in her images. Often you feel that you can sit and rest inside one of Laura’s paintings and become a part of the setting.

Terry looks at the landscape as an inspiration to allow his imagination to create images of flowing skies, rolling hills and distant horizons.  Many of his paintings, although inspired by his experience in the landscape, manifest in an almost abstract interpretation of all that surrounds us.

Laura’s artistic expression is founded in the intimacies of life’s scenes while Terry’s interpretations look beyond the physical space and explore the energy that lies behind it.  Both artists, in their own way, praise God for the beauty around us and endeavor to share their experience of The Great Creation with others through their works.

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Calgary: Snowman Fun!

You know it is going to be a long winter when you have a white Thanksgiving! 

Yes, Calgary got snow before Thanksgiving this year and it stayed until after the holiday.  It is not usual for Calgary to get snow in October - in fact, it can (and has) snowed in Calgary every month of the year except July - hail season. 

Indeed, Calgary is a winter city, albeit a dry winter city (and I don’t mean “no alcohol” but rather our winter air is dry vs. humid, which means while it might be cold temperature-wise, the cold air doesn’t get absorbed by the skin like humid air does, so it doesn’t feel as cold.  This is true, not an old wives tale).

This was our second effort to build a real snowman. Yes this was the angry snowman side, the other side was more happy!

This was our second effort to build a real snowman. Yes this was the angry snowman side, the other side was more happy!

The trail of the snowman making created an interesting drawing in the middle of the park.

The trail of the snowman making created an interesting drawing in the middle of the park.

Rather than complaining about the early arrival of winter, we gathered up the neighbour kids and build ourselves a snowman.  Well, two snowman actually.  The first day it was just a small one on the front lawn. The five year-old just wanted to smash the snowman as fast as we could build it….guess he is from Zurich (see below).

The next day, with new snow, we got more serious. A neighbour joined us and we moved Grand Trunk Park across the street where there was lots of fresh wet snow – ideal for making a life-size snowman. We had to plead with the five-year old from Zurich not to smash it!

The two toddlers loved exploring the park, searching for tree branches under the snow for arms, nose, eyes, mouth and hair. We had so many sticks we create a two-faced, well-skewered snowman. 

Once we were finished, the kids starting stomping, then running around the snowman in some sort of cult-like dance.  Who knows what they were thinking?

Four days later, our snowman is still standing tall and strong.  It even survived the park’s annual Turkey Bowl football game (it is in the middle of the field).  And the daycare kids loved it when they returned from their long weekend. 

I just hope it doesn’t last until April!
This was our first attempt at a snowman....don't you think the leaves added a nice touch!

This was our first attempt at a snowman....don't you think the leaves added a nice touch!

The kids decided they wanted to build a snowman on their own and this is the result.

The kids decided they wanted to build a snowman on their own and this is the result.

Snowman Fun Facts

Bob Eckstein, in his book“The History of the Snowman,” gathered an amazing collection of stories and facts about snowmen around the world.  Here are few:

The record for the world's largest snowman was set in 2008 in Bethel, Maine. The snow-woman stood 122 feet 1 inch (37.21 m) in height, and was named in honour of Olympia Snowe, a U.S. Senator representing the state of Maine.  (Note: Ours was 5 feet 6 inches.)

The earliest documentation of a snowman was a marginal illustration from a work titled Book of Hours, found in Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague in 1380AD.

In 1494AD, the ruler of Florence, Italy commissioned 19-year-old Michelangelo to sculpt a snowman in his mansion’s courtyard.

In 1511AD, Brussels - after six weeks of subzero weather and lots of snow - was full of snowmen on every street corner. Many were not your typical fun snowmen, some were angry swipes at the church and government and some were downright pornographic.

The Schenectady Massacre of 1690AD was the result of soldiers at Fort Schenectady, in upstate New York, who decided to leave a pair of snowmen at their post to protect the town so they could escape the blizzard. Unknown to them, a contingent of 210 French Canadian soldiers and Native Americans were approaching. Having traveled over three weeks in knee-deep, slushy snow, they were unfazed by the snowmen. They invaded the fort and killing 60 villagers.

Every year since 1818AD, the people of Zurich, Switzerland, celebrate the beginning of spring by blowing up a snowman. On the third Monday of April, the holiday Sechseläuten is kicked off when a cotton snowman called Böögg is stuffed with dynamite and paraded through town by bakers, blacksmiths, and other tradesmen who throw bread and sausages to the crowds. The parade ends with Böögg being placed on a 40-foot pile of scrap wood. After the bells of the Church of St. Peter have chimed six times, representing the passing of winter, the pile is lit. When the snowman explodes, winter is considered officially over—the shorter the combustion, the longer summer is said to be.

Playing with snow can keep you trim. Laboring for an hour to build a snowman burns more calories than dancing for an hour and is almost equivalent to an hour of bike riding.

Chasing a world record, residents of Sapporo, Japan made 12,379 snowmen in 2003—so many they actually outnumbered the humans.  At night, candles placed in the bellies of the frosty occupants dazzled tourists.

According to the Industrial Engineer Journal, a “perfect” snowman is best attempted when the temperature is near freezing to provide for ideal moisture content. We can attest to that as that was exactly the temperature when we made our snowman; when we rolled the snow, it stuck together perfectly. Proportion is crucial as well; a three-story snowman should consist of spheres ascending from 3 feet in diameter on the bottom to 1 foot on top. It is a science!YouTube has 677,000 videos on how to build a snowman. (this one is my fun fact).

Grand Trunk Park annual Turkey Bowl happens on Thanksgiving Day snow or shine! The snowman was in the middle of the field, but that didn't seem to bother anyone. 

Grand Trunk Park annual Turkey Bowl happens on Thanksgiving Day snow or shine! The snowman was in the middle of the field, but that didn't seem to bother anyone. 

Last Word

I would love Everyday Tourist readers to email photos of their snowman this winter for a spring ‘17 blog titled “Art of Snowman.” 

He was really angry a few days laterwhen I took this photo as he had lost his arms, ears and hair....but someone had given him a hat.  Will be interesting to see how he evolves over the next week or so.

He was really angry a few days laterwhen I took this photo as he had lost his arms, ears and hair....but someone had given him a hat.  Will be interesting to see how he evolves over the next week or so.

Battle of Alberta: Urban Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

CALGARY SWAGGER

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

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

Take that Edmonton.

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

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

But has the tide the turned.

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

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

EDMONTON RISES

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

BIG ISN'T ALWAYS BEAUTIFUL.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE URBAN LIVING RENAISSANCE RACE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SISTER CITIES?

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

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

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

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

Downtown Calgary: A Train Runs Through It!

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

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

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

It's a complex situation with no easy answers.

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

OUR FIRST SPIKES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A NEW RELATIONSHIP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE POSSIBILITIES

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

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

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

Interesting ideas. But easier said than done.

From Midtown Urban Design Strategy. 

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

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

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

But event this takes big money.

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

8th St SW underpass in 2014. 

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

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

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

Sounds lovely until you crunch the numbers.

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

Would those billions be better invested in other infrastructure improvements?

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

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

PASSANGER RAIL

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOWNTURN OPPORTUNITES

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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Calgary vs Austin / 17th Ave vs South Congress

Great cities have signature streets that capture the imagination of tourists from around the world.  Austin's signature street is South Congress in Calgary it is still up for grabs. This blog compares Calgary's 17th Avenue with Austin's South Congress as a tourist attraction. 

 

Calgary's 17th Avenue 10 blocks south of downtown is a quirky mix of restaurants, cafes and shops. 

To some, the 17th Ave SW shopping and dining corridor (2nd to 14th St. SW) is still Uptown 17, while to others it is the Red Mile and yet others (specifically the 17th Avenue BRZ), it is RED (Retail Entertainment District).  For many Calgarians, the heyday of 17th Avenue was during the 2004 Calgary Flames Stanley Cup playoff run when tens of thousands of Calgarians took over the street after every game.  The impromptu street festivals captured national and international media attention, creating an image of Calgary as a fun city. 

Austin's South Congress Avenue looking north to downtown is a major highway. 

But after the Flames lost in the Stanley Cup finals, 17th Avenue has never really been able to capitalize on the opportunity of becoming one of the great urban streets of  North America. Melrose Sports Bar, the epicenter of the Red Mile, closed in January 2014 after 23 years of operation.  It has recently opened with much fanfare as Trolley 5 Restaurant & Brewery. 

Today, 17th Avenue struggles with its branding.  Is it a restaurant row? Absolutely. It is home to Pigeon Hole, #1 in enRoute Magazine’s Canada’s Best New Restaurants (2015) and Model Milk #2 (2012). It has also become a very popular destination for pizza lovers with restaurants like Una and Cibo.

Calgary's 17th Avenue has a vibrant cafe culture. 

Is it a shopping street? Indeed. Some long-standing destination retailers include Rubiayat, gravitypope (love the new space), Reid’s Stationary and Purr, as well as two of Calgary’s best optical boutiques - Eye Candy and Brass Monocle.   Newer additions include West Elm, Modern Duke, Structube, Steelng Home and Kit and Ace.

17th Avenue's gravitypope shop is dazzling. 

Both 17th Ave and South Congress have fun candy stores....this is 17th Ave's!

Both streets have quirky retail shops...this is one of the Rubiayat's many display cabinets with unique curiosities, home decor and collectables. 

Entertainment a key element for tourists

Is it an entertainment district? In my opinion, a resounding, “No!”  There are no cinemas, no theatres and no performing arts centres. The only live music venue of any renown is the Ship & Anchor Pub.  

When I think of “entertainment,” I think of more than shopping, drinking and dining, I also think of sidewalks full of people, buskers, lots of street vendors and food trucks. This is exactly what we experienced along South Congress Avenue in Austin earlier this year with its Stampede-like atmosphere on weekends as well as Thursday and Friday evenings, despite there being nothing special happening.

Calgary's 17th Avenue has vibrant patio culture. 

Physically, South Congress Ave and 17th Ave are very similar. Both area about a 10-minute walk from downtown. Both are a mix of retail and restaurants about 10 blocks long with lots of patios. However, this is where the similarities end.

Shortly after I got back from Austin, I made a point of visiting 17th Avenue on a nice spring Saturday to check out the action. Yes, there were people on the sidewalk but it was hardly the lively impromptu street festival atmosphere experienced on South Congress.

South Congress Avenue's sidewalks on Saturday afternoon have a festival-like atmosphere.

South Congress has numerous outdoor live music spots that open out to the sidewalk. 

South Congress' corners are animated on Saturday afternoon. On the opposite corner is a lively food truck hub. 

We loved this busker on South Congress who would create a poem on the spot based on the subject of your choice.  We had him create a poem about thrifting...we loved it. 

17th Avenue's Tomkins Park on Saturday afternoon is too often devoid of any vitality. 

Creating Vitality

Firstly, there is a greater sense of spontaneity about South Congress, with buskers performing day and night.  What would be surface parking lots in Calgary were Food Truck lots in Austin. There is even an artisan market on a parking lot one night a week. And the patios are more animated, several offering live outdoor music.  

Speaking of music, the biggest difference between the two streets is that South Congress has several live music venues (indoor and outdoor) that add an additional element of entertainment. Live music is everywhere in Austin, including the airport lobby. Branding the city as the “Live Music Capital of the World” is very appropriate.

The Continental Club one of Austin's iconic live music venues is located on South Congress. 

A third difference is there are few financial institutions on South Congress, while 17th Avenue seems to have one on every corner.  Banks on corners are urban vitality killers – they do nothing to add to the street vitality. I realize they are prepared to pay the high rent for the corner visibility so landlords are quick to lease to them. Perhaps we need a bylaw that prevents (or limits) banks from leasing corners on pedestrian-oriented streets as part of Calgary’s new Main Streets program.  

Too many of 17th Avenue's corners are taken up by financial institutions which create no sidewalk vitality.

ATB Financial, 17th  Ave Calgary

Who needs density?

Something else struck me as unusual on South Congress – there were no highrise condos anywhere nearby.  No mid-rise condos either for that matter.

We are lead to believe by urban planners that density is the key to creating 18/7 urban vitality, yet South Congress is thriving without any significant infill projects.

17th Avenue on the other hand has numerous highrise and midrise infill condos completed over the past few years with more to come. It has also seen numerous new and renovated retail spaces open up, attracting new retailers like West Elm and Best Buy.  It will be interesting to see what impact Embassy BOSA’s new 34-storey Royal tower (223 upscale condos) with an Urban Fare grocery store at street level and second floor Canadian Tire when it opens in 2018.  

FYI: I was hoping for a cinema complex as part of the Royal development.

Calgary's 17th Avenue has several highrise condo towers, while Austin's South Congress has none. 

Streetscape Improvements

What I also found interesting is that South Congress has no significant streetscape improvements or beautification initiatives.  There were no street banners, no fancy benches and few bike racks.  The sidewalks were adequate but nothing special and it certainly isn’t a tree-lined boulevard.  In fact, it is an old fashioned, much maligned six-lane highway.  Yet, at the same time, it remains a vibrant pedestrian street. 

Neither is there a park or plaza space on South Congress for people to gather or events to take place. It has nothing to match 17th Ave’s Tomkins Park and certainly nothing like 17th Ave’s high-tech public washroom installed in the park in 2008 that attracts over 40,000 “visitors” a year.

Calgary’s 17th Avenue is currently receiving a major upgrade - new sidewalks, buried power lines, new LED streetlights, more trees and crosswalks.  While these changes will enhance the 17th Avenue experience I am not convinced they will add significantly to its vitality.  What is really needed is more entertainment – music, theatre, comedy club and cinema venues. 

Last Word

Whatever you call it - Uptown 17, Red Mile or RED – Calgary’s 17th Avenue has many of the ingredients needed to become one of North America’s BoBo (bohemian and bourgeois) streets. It has the “rich and famous” living near by in Mount Royal and the “young and restless” living in the Beltline.  It has a good mix of retail and restaurants too. But what it lacks is the 18/7 street animation and entertainment venues to become a tourist attraction like South Congress in Austin.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, titled "17th Avenue Needs An Entertainment Scene" on September 24, 2016

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Calgary: Old Bridges Get No Respect

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

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

Bridge with big holes?

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

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

Calgarians from all walks of life use the Boothman bridge. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editor's Note:

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

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

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

 

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

John Hextall Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Shouldice Bridge?

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

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

No Respect

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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