Banff Trail Flaneuring Postcards

It all started with the need for an oil and filter change!

As I drive a Nissan Altima and Stadium Nissan is five minute drive away and they had just sent me an email saying I could get an express oil and filter change for $49.99, I headed out for what I thought would be a 30-minute uneventful trip. 

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending how you look at it) they found a cracked belt of some sort and said they could fix it but would take an hour.  I said, “Go ahead and fix it. I will go for a walk and be back in an hour.”

Stadium Nissan is aptly named as it is beside Calgary’s McMahon Stadium home of the Calgary Stampeders.  My first stop on my walkabout was the pedestrian bridge over Crowchild Trail.  I am a sucker for taking photos of bridges and this one has a lovely blue tower in the middle that harmonizes nicely with the blue sky (regular readers will know that I have an obsession with Calgary’s blue skies). 

McMahon Stadium pedestrian bridge Calgary

A sense of place

After taking a few photos, the Banff Trail LRT station grabbed my attention. Immediately I was struck by what looked like several Stampede football players hanging out in full uniform at the station, or at least that is what it looked like from a distance.  I knew this couldn’t be true as they were in Winnipeg that night for a game.  However, the vinyl silhouettes looking very real from a distance, added an intriguing sense of place to the quaint station that looks a bit like a mountain hiker’s hut.   

Banff Trail LRT station design appropriately looks a bit like a hiking hut or shelter. 

From a distance these cutouts look like real players. Kudos to those responsible for this initiative.  I love the hashtag "whatever it takes" and think it could be expanded to apply to Calgary in general. 

I loved the playfulness of the light caused by the trees and the gate. 

Ghost town

Continuing walking into the community I was stuck by the huge mid-century, flat-roofed ranch style duplexes on the corners and how different they are to the two-storey infills being built today.   In fact the entire community felt a like a walk back in time.  It was also strange as it felt like a ghost town – there was nobody walking along the sidewalks, playing in the huge playing fields or playgrounds. In fact, there weren’t even any cars on the roads; it was deserted despite it being mid-afternoon on a beautiful July day.

 

I was soon struck by how on many of the corner lots there were this bungalow duplexes, which got me thinking about how housing design has evolved in Calgary over the past 50+ years. 

In this collage you can see mid 20th century duplexes that are dotted throughout Calgary's established communities. On the right you can see the two-storey duplexed that are replacing single homes in almost every Calgary community. 

Anywhere Anytime

For me, it was a lovely Thursday afternoon in July for flaneuring.  What I love about flaneuring is you can do it anytime and anywhere and you’ll almost always are rewarded with a few fun surprises.  You also don’t need any special clothing or equipment.

You just need to do it!

PS...Yes my car was ready when I got back to Stadium Nissan almost exactly an hour later. 

Found this mysterious grotto-like garden at the entrance to the Ecole St. Pius X School at the corner of 23rd Ave and 18th St. NW (technically in Capitol Hill as 18th Street is the dividing line)

Inside is a wonderful, eerie perspective on the outside world. 

This mural on the side of the Banff Trail Community Centre intrigued me to wander up for a closer look which is when I discovered their lovely community garden complete with an orchard. 

Community gardens are becoming the new yoga in Calgary. 

Wouldn't this make a great postcard?

Across the street from the community centre I noticed a new, hip, urban, window reflection and had to take a picture.  While it was closed, Jay's mom was in the store and she let me in for a tour.  I must go back to sample the pizza (both Greek and Neapolitan style dough) and perhaps pick up a charcuterie plate. Note: there is no seating takeout only.

I was almost back to Stadium Nissan when I discovered this calf wandering out of a backyard. I always love a surprise. 

Are downtowns relevant in the 21st century city?

Everyday Tourist Note:

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

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

Downtown Calgary Skyline (photo credit: Tourism Calgary).

Downtown & Consumption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7th Avenue Transit corridor station

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

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

Is downtown still relevant?

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

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

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

Downtown is less relevant to more Calgarians than ever before.

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

 

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

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

Downtown as a tourist attraction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our downtown must become a place “to play”

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

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

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

Urban development is always complex.

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

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

9th Avenue, downtown Calgary

Macleod Trail, downtown Calgary

Last Word

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Downtown Calgary: Historical Postcards

Calgary's Downtown Power Hour

Is Calgary too downtown centric?

Fun Ideas for Downtown Calgary