East Village: Lust of the new playground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lust of the new playground

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

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

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

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

East Village's pebble beach.

East Village's pebble beach.

Eau Claire's wadding pool.

Eau Claire's wadding pool.

Test Of Time

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

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

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

Sound Familar?  

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

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

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

Eau Claire's lagoon and pedestrian bridge.   

Eau Claire's lagoon and pedestrian bridge.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary’s best communities may surprise urbanists 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eau Claire condos along the Bow River.

Eau Claire condos along the Bow River.

New condos next to Eau Claire Market. 

New condos next to Eau Claire Market. 

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

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

Eau Claire's Sheraton Hotel.

Eau Claire's Sheraton Hotel.

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

If you like this blog, you will like:

Eau Claire: Mega Makeover!

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

East Village: A Masterpiece In The Making

 

Why NIMBYs speak louder than YIMBYs?

In October 2015, I wrote about the NIMBYs vs YIMBYs as it related to the Kensington Legion site redevelopment in West Hillhurst.  This February, Jim Brown interviewed me on his CBC Radio show The 180 about my thoughts and experience on the ever-increasing amount of community engagement cities require before approving new development projects in established communities.

Kensington Legion site redevelopment is now underway with the construction of the Legion/Office Building.  

During The 180 I talked about how it seems people who feel negatively about a new project in their neighbourhood are much more passionate and motivated to speak out than those who think it is a good idea.  I then made an off the cuff remark “that if anyone is aware of research that documents that human’s negative feelings are stronger than positive ones’ I love to hear from them.” 

To my surprise I got 10 responses from listeners with suggestions of books and research papers to read and a TED Talks to check out, all relating to how humans process negative and positive impacts on their lives. 

I thought it would be interesting to share my research, given the NIMBYs recently delayed approval of a controversial Land Use change in Chinatown to allow for more community consultation.   

Link: War Over Future of Calgary's Chinatown, Globe & Mail, April 28, 2016

“GSIN Syndrome”

Alison Ledgerwood’s (University of California at Davis, social psychologist) TED Talk “Getting stuck in the negative” gave the best explanation of how humans innately focus more on the negative than the positive.

In a series of very simple experiments Ledgerwood cleverly documents that once humans see something as negative their opinion stays negative, even after they are given some positive new or information.

On the other hand, people who think of something as positive initially can change their thinking and become negative when presented with some negative news.

She even documents humans process negative new faster than positive news. 

Ledgerwood’s take away message is “our view of the world has a fundamental tendency to tilt towards the negative. It is easy to go from something being good to it being bad, but much harder to go from bad to good.”

While Ledgerwood doesn’t coin the term, I think it might be useful to call this the GSIN (getting stuck in the negative) Syndrome.

Link: Ted Talk: Getting stuck in the negative!

Link: 8-storey Hillhurst condo project irks community members, CBC, May 28, 2014

Ezra condo is now under construction in Calgary's Hillhurst community   after more than two years of community engagement and redesigns. 

Ezra condo is now under construction in Calgary's Hillhurst community after more than two years of community engagement and redesigns. 

Losses trump gains

Several of the people who responded pointed out that what I was talking about was “loss aversion.” An existing psychological term the refers to the fact humans feel impacted more negatively by the loss of something than they feel impacted positively by an equal gain. 

Link: Angry Harvest Hills homeowners vow to fight golf course redevelopment, GlobalNews, Nov 5, 2016

Proposed parks and open space for the Harvest Hills Golf Course redevelopment will give residents more not less public space.   Link: Harvest Hills Golf Course redevelopment  

Proposed parks and open space for the Harvest Hills Golf Course redevelopment will give residents more not less public space. Link: Harvest Hills Golf Course redevelopment 

Eureka Moment

So what we have happening when we get a few people, who are adamant that a new development in their neighbourhood is bad, is not necessarily NIMBYism (not in my backyard) but really “loss aversion.” It makes sense. The negative lobbyist are always those who are going to lose something tangible – a park, green space, golf course, quiet street, parking in front of their house, sunlight and/or privacy. 

On the other had, those who are positive about the new development see the future gains in much more abstract terms – maybe increase transit, school enrollment, park improvements, cafés and shops.  They are not as likely to be as passionate.

What Ledgerwood’s research shows is that if enough negative information is presented to those who were at first positive or perhaps even sitting on the fence they have the potential to become negative. 

This is exactly what happens with major projects in established community over and over again. Those who think negatively will come out to meeting after meeting vehemently opposed; send emails to politicians and media and demand that changes be made to fit their exact view of what is acceptable. 

They will rant to their neighbours and anyone who will listen to them about all the negatives, in hope of converting them to the negative side. The longer the engagement goes on the more passionate, frustrated and larger then negative lobby becomes.

Ledgerwood’s work demonstrates those who feel negatively about a new development in their neighbourhood will rarely change their mind no matter how much positive information they are given. This means no amount of community engagement will change their thinking from negative to positive. In fact the unintended consequence of an extended collaboration process could be to create more negativity? 

Link: University Heights residents lose fight over high-density project. CBC, July 30, 2013

Last Word

Perhaps it is time we accept there is no perfect project and that some people will get “stuck in the negative” and no amount of public engagement is going to change that.

An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, Saturday May 21, 2016 titled "Some people will always dwell on the gloom." 

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

Kensington Legion: NIMBYs vs YIMBYs

Community Engagement: Raising the bar 

Community engagement leads to community confrontation

 

Calgary / Edmonton: Let's Plan Together

With the release of the City’s review of the real costs of CalgaryNext proposal for a new arena, stadium and fieldhouse in West Village, the plot thickens on how Calgary’s professional sports facilities will evolve over the next decade.

Is it just me or has anyone else wondered why Calgary, Edmonton and the Province aren’t working together to develop a master plan for the provinces major sporting facilities in both cities and look for synergies.

In February 2016, Edmonton completed a study to look at the future uses of Rexall Place on their exhibition grounds, while Calgary has just put out a Request For Proposals to look at future uses of the Saddledome, also located on our exhibition grounds.  While there are differences between the two buildings, sites and markets, there much overlap. 

The same could be said for Alberta’s two football stadiums, which are both past their best before date and in need of a mega makeovers - Commonwealth Stadium opened in 1978 and McMahon Stadium in 1960.

Edmonton's Rogers Place is nearing completion, along with numerous other buildings including the Stantec office tower which will be 69 floors including mechanical making it Canada's second tallest office tower.  The streets around Rogers Place are being branded as the Ice district. 

CalgaryNext is a proposed arena, stadium and fieldhouse at the western edge of Calgary's downtown. 

Arena: Demolish vs. Repurpose  

In the case of the two arenas, Edmonton has already built its new arena and completed a 244-page report on the potential repurposing of Rexall Place.  Rather than spend $8.3 million to demolish the arena, Northlands has floated a plan to spend $85 million to convert it into multi-plex with six or seven ice surfaces on two levels with seating for 3,000 spectators, that would be used for various hockey, curling, lacrosse, ringette and other tournaments, as well as potential replacing some of the city’s aging community arenas for recreational activities.

The plan is linked to a $160 million makeover of Northlands that includes closing the racetrack and converting it into an “urban festival site” for audiences between 30,000 and 140,000 people.  Plans also call for converting the Expo Centre’s current Hall D into a 5,000-seat space for smaller concerts and sporting events.

Rendering of the proposed redevelopment of Northlands Park in Edmonton. The Rexall arena is the circle building at the bottom, the old race track is the new "urban festival site" at the top of the image. 

The Edmonton report researched 17 other North American NHL cities that have introduced new arenas since 1994, and found that 11 of the replaced venues were ultimately demolished.  Maple Leaf Gardens is now a Loblaws grocery store, Joe Fresh boutique and a LCBO liquor store as well as the Ryerson University athletic facility, which includes an ice rink on the third floor, which is used by university teams, as well as for other activities by outside users.  The Montreal Forum, is now a mixed-use building that includes a Cineplex Theatre complex, a bowling alley, sports bar, Tim Hortons and Montreal Canadian’s gift shop.

The Montreal Forum today.

Calgary’s situation is very different as there are no firm plans for a new arena, however, The City of Calgary and The Saddledome are in the process of engaging consultant to look at future uses of the Saddledome and the economic feasibility and community benefits of each option.

Ironically, this comes at the same time as the Calgary Stampede has announce it wants to expand the BMO Centre to create a major convention and tradeshow centre, by tearing down the Corral a 6,475 arena built in 1950 that is across the street from the Saddledome and attached to the current BMO Centre.  It has been postulated by some that perhaps the Saddledome could be reconfigured into a convention centre/trade show facility. 

It will be very interesting to see what ideas the consultants generate for the Saddledome and how that links with the Stampede’s master plan.

The Saddledome is one of Calgary's few iconic buildings.  It provides a postcard view of the City's stunning skyline.  

Football Stadium

In the case of the two football stadiums, Edmonton is again ahead of the game having just appointed MTa: Urban Design/Architecture (offices in Calgary and Edmonton) to review the future of Commonwealth Stadium. Given it looks more and more, like Calgary’s City Council is favouring renovating McMahon stadium, doesn’t it make sense to engage MTa to review both stadiums and their sites to determine how best to invest the taxpayers dollars. 

It is hard to justify a new stadium 30,000+ seat stadium that gets filled for 8 home games, perhaps a playoff game and a Grey Cup every 10 years.  Ideally the new stadium if designed with noise reduction acoustics could also be major concert venue in the summer.

If it is determined a new stadium makes the most sense, one possibility in Calgary would be to build a new stadium north of the existing one, perhaps in a way that could include a baseball stadium and fieldhouse to maximize its use.

The current site of McMahon Stadium includes an outdated baseball park, as well as running track and other playing fields.  Could this site be redeveloped into a multi-sport complex that would serve professional sports (football, soccer, baseball), university athletics and recreational teams city-wide. 

An interesting twist would be to plan any renovations so that one is completed before the other e.g. while Calgary’s McMahon Stadium is being redeveloped the Stampeders could play in Edmonton and then Calgary could return the favour when Commonwealth Stadium is being renovated. 

There would be some cost saving to doing the two renovations in tandum and creating two similar stadiums, just like the Jubilee Theatres.  

Last Word

It will be very interesting to see how these urban renewal sagas play out over the next few years.  What lessons Calgary might learn from Edmonton, who have already built a new arena with a very controversial funding structure that was debated for many years.

In Calgary the debate is only getting started.  

If you like this blog, you will like:

Calgary: Needs vs Wants - Stadium, Arena, Convention Centre

Linking Stampede Park & East Village

Flamesville vs Stampede Park 

 

Calgary's 10th Ave Renaissance

While most of the talk about the urban living renaissance in Calgary has revolved around the neighbourhoods of Bridgeland/Riverside, Eau Claire, East Village, Inglewood and Mission, Calgary’s warehouse district along 10th Avenue SW has been quietly flying under the radar.  For decades, 10th Avenue has been the wrong side of the tracks from downtown; a no man’s land between downtown and trendy Uptown 17th. 

The Canadian Pacific Railway's main line travels through Calgary's City Centre, dividing the central business district on the north side and the Beltline to the south. 

10th Avenue 101

The heyday for 10th Avenue was in the early 20th century when it was lined with bustling warehouses that stored goods being shipped to Calgary by the Canadian Pacific Railway.  For the first half of the 20th century, 10th Avenue served as the main distribution hub for all of southern Alberta.  Gradually, this role eroded away with the shift to truck transportation and the north side became overflow parking for downtown office workers.  Today it is home to two of Canada’s largest above ground parkades - City Centre Parkade, with 1530 stalls and Tower Parkade, with 1,398 stalls.

A view of the massive City Centre Parkade along north side of 10th Ave from 2nd to 4th Streets. 

I expect few people realize the current renaissance in urban living in Calgary actually started on 10th Avenue in 1993. That was when the 1909 Hudson Bay warehouse building at the corner of 10th Avenue and 5th Street SW was converted into the Hudson Loft condos (Calgary’s first warehouse loft conversion).

Today, 10th Avenue, from Macleod Trail to 11th Street is in the midst of a mega makeover into a mixed-use street with new office, retail, restaurant, residential and social service developments that rivals what is happening in East Village, albeit without all the fanfare and $500+ million of public realm improvements (library, museum, parks, plazas, underpasses, pedestrian bridges, designer sidewalks).

10th Ave surface parking lots next to the tracks. 

One of the many old warehouse buildings along 10th Avenue still remaining. 

Recent 10th Ave Developments

Strategic Group has approval to build a 32-storey mixed-use tower at the corner of 1st St. SE and 10th Avenue that will include 100,000 square feet of Class A office space on the bottom floors and 227 condo units above.

Kitty-corner is Aspen Properties’ 19-storey Palliser South office completed in 2009 on 10th Ave at Macleod Trail. The all-glass building’s strange upside down “L” shape was created by cantilevering the building overtop of the Tower Parkade, allowing the floor plates to increase in size from 10,785 square feet on the 3rd floor to 21,767 on the 19th.  The shape of the building is further enhanced by the fact that the light green glass on the east façade cantilevers over the sidewalk. Designed by Calgary’s Gibbs Gage Architects, it is one of my favourite buildings in Calgary.

A few blocks further west is 1010 Centre, the Mustard Seed’s 12-storey, 224-unit apartment tower that opened in 2014 after much controversy about the potential negative impact it would have on the livability of the surrounding blocks.  Time will tell if this is true.

Continuing westward, the south side of the 200 and 300 west blocks of 10th Avenue are the only blocks that have retained the warehouse character of 100 years ago with their timeless brick façades.  Today they home to some of Calgary’s best bars, restaurants and retailers – Briggs Kitchen + Bar, Craft Beer Market, HiFi Club, National on 10th, Roche Bobois, Rodney’s Oyster House and Thai Sa-On.

Cross over 4th Street SW and you will discover the work of Centron Group, who single-handedly changed this block of 10th Avenue with two massive, horizontal, shiny glass office buildings from 4th to 5th Streets – Centre 10 (completed in 2013) and Place 10 (scheduled to open in 2017).  Collectively, these buildings will add one million square feet of office space, enough for about 5,000 workers, as well as retail/restaurant spaces at street level for the likes of Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse.

Lamb Development Corp and Fortress Real Development are currently building the 31-storey, 6th and Tenth condo (named after the corner it is located on) that will have 230 units (about 400 new residents) right next to the busy and somewhat seedy Uptown Bottle Depot.

Construction has begun on GWL Realty Advisors’ mega makeover of the old Alberta Boot site on 10th Avenue west of 5th Street SW, right next to the tracks. When it is completed probably by 2018, it will include a block-long 4-storey podium of retail and restaurants with two towers, a 37-storey, 303-residential tower and a 33-storey, 390-room hotel.

Then there is Qualex Landmark(the unofficial king of the Beltline, having built more condos in the Beltline than any other builder) who is nearing completion of its sold-out 34-storey, 270-unit Mark on 10th condo tower at 8th Street and 10th Ave SW. This project not only includes street retail, but also a major public art work by internationally-acclaimed artist Douglas Coupland.  Right next door sits WAM Development Group’s 440 unit, 17 and 34 storey residential complex, with a series of small retail/restaurant spaces at street level. 

Last but not least, is Calgary Urban Project Society, which offers a variety of services to low income adults and families. It moved from its in 7th Avenue SW to its current home (three times larger) on 10th Avenue at 9th Street SW., in 2012, as a result of the Bow tower development.

Mark on 10th Tower is just one of several upscale condos currently under construction along 10th Avenue. 

10th Ave Improvements

Complementing these developments, 10th Avenue is getting two refurbished underpasses at First and and 8th Streets SW. that will provide enhanced pedestrian connections to the downtown, 7th Ave LRT corridor and Bow River parks and pathways.

The 8th Street underpass linking 10th Ave with downtown's 9th Ave is currently under construction to create a more pedestrian friendly connection.  

Computer rendering of what the 8th Street underpass will look like after renovations are completed in 2016. 

This rendering illustrates how cool the renovated First street underpass will look when completed in 2016. 

What is also great about living on 10th Ave is that there are four grocery stores easily accessible – Sunterra Market at Keynote, Safeway, Midtown Co-op and Community Natural Foods.  It will be a long time before East Village, Kensington or any other Calgary community can match that.  An added bonus is 10th Ave is home to MEC, which as one of my outdoor enthusiast friends likes to say, “If MEC doesn’t have it, I don’t need it.”

 

The Mountain Equipment Co-op store is the anchor for 10th Avenue retail that includes upscale private gallery, restaurants, bars, cycle shops and other outdoor stores. 

Last Word

Urban living is all about diversity - the mixing of people of different social/economic groups all on the same block enjoying an array of different activities. It is about sharing the sidewalks, back alleys and parks.  It is about embracing the differences that define us as a city, rather than letting those differences divide us.

Many in the past might have questioned, “Who would want to live, work and/or play next to the railway tracks?”  While others questioned, “Who would want to live next to the Uptown Bottle Depot, Calgary Urban Projects Society (CUPS) or the Mustard SEED homeless shelter?”  

The answer:  thousands of Calgarians are excited by these new urban living opportunities being created in the Beltline, Eau Claire, East Village, The Bridges, Inglewood or Kensington.  By 2020, 10th Avenue alone could have over 2,500 new people calling it home. 

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald titled: "Warehouse District is being revitalized" January 2, 2016.

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