Airdrie: The Drivable City

Unlike Calgary’s other satellite cities - Cochrane, Canmore, High River, Okotoks and Strathmore - Airdrie doesn’t have a traditional downtown Main Street lined with historical buildings that once  were (and in some cases still are) shops, banks, hotels, pubs, post office, City Hall and Court House lining the sidewalk. 

Rather, Airdrie’s downtown Main Street is lined with free surface parking next to the sidewalk. The shops (including a grocery store) and services (City Hall, Library and Medical Centre) are all set back from the sidewalk in suburban, strip mall fashion.  It is a bit like International Avenue along 17th Ave SE in Calgary. 

If you drive five minutes south (next to the lovely Nose Creek Pathway) or north along Main Street you arrive at two new power centers with the classic mix of big box retailers (restaurants, hardware and grocery stories) to meet resident’s everyday needs. 

In 2007, six handcrafted totem poles were donated to the City of Airdrie by Gwacheon, Korea to commemorate the 10th year of sharing a sister city relationship. They are now located in Airdrie's  Gwacheon Park. 

In 2007, six handcrafted totem poles were donated to the City of Airdrie by Gwacheon, Korea to commemorate the 10th year of sharing a sister city relationship. They are now located in Airdrie's  Gwacheon Park. 

Creative Airdrie is very active fostering art projects like this mural wall. 

Creative Airdrie is very active fostering art projects like this mural wall. 

Transit Oriented Development

But, if instead you walk a few blocks west from downtown, over the railway tracks and across Nose Creek environmental area, you arrive at what looks like a future Railtown.  Several new low-rise condo buildings sit next to the tracks, while across the street is a power centre with a Sobeys grocery store and other amenities including a Good Earth Cafe.  It is just waiting for a train station to be built to take commuters to and from  Calgary – yes, 25% of Airdrie’s workforce commutes from Calgary.

To help meet commuter needs, Airdrie currently has four very successful bus commuter routes.  One that links Airdrie workers to CrossIron Mills and McKnight LRT Station, two that are express routes to/from downtown Calgary (one from the east side and one from the west side) and an Airdrie to Crossfield route.  The City is also experimenting with a local transit service.

QEII highway which links Alberta with Mexico divides Airdrie in half. 

QEII highway which links Alberta with Mexico divides Airdrie in half. 

Adapting To Families

While all the talk these days in the urban planning world is about making cities and new communities more walkable, cycleable and transit oriented, nobody is talking about how to make urban places more driveable.  We have walk scores and bike scores that measure a communities proximity to various amenities 5 or 10 minutes away by foot and pedal, but nothing that measures the amenities that are within a 5 or 10 minute drive.

In today’s busy world, of two income families with lots of extracurricular activities (parents and kids), walking and cycling is in reality, mostly a recreational activity, not a form of transportation.  Walking and/or cycling, as a part of everyday living is just not practical for the average family, no matter how close they are.  The automobile is not going the way of the dinosaur anytime soon, no matter what the urban evangelist say.

For Airdrie, it is even more critical that its urban design adapts to the needs of the families with young children - a whopping 24% of the population is under the age of 14 (16% in Calgary).

Having recently driven and walked around Airdrie, it seemed to me everybody lives within a 5-minute drive to one or more major grocery stores, probably the most important amenity to a growing family.  It also seemed the Rocky View School Division has been able to locate schools as needed in its new residential communities.

Airdrie's Canada Day Parade

Airdrie's Canada Day Parade

Airdrie's Festival of Lights

Airdrie's Festival of Lights

Place to play

Kudos to the City of Airdrie and Rocky View School Division for collaborated along East Lake Boulevard on the city’s east side by co-locating the Bert Church High School, Bert Church Theatre and Genesis Recreation Centre (Pool, Gyms, Twin Arenas and Fieldhouse) next to each other so the facilities can be shared.  This should be the model for every high school site in every region- also include a public library.  In the future, all school sites should be community/ meeting places. 

Airdrie boasts an ambitious schedule of annual family festivals - a Santa Claus Parade that attracts over 20,000 people (Calgary doesn’t have one), Festival of Lights (older than Calgary’s Zoolights), New Year’s Eve Fireworks, Canada Day Parade and Spring Music Festival (with over 400 musicians).  The Airdrie Pro Rodeo is one of the top 10 pro rodeos in Canada with $146,000 in prize money.

Today, Airdrie boasts 1,200 acres of parks, 104 km of pathways, 63 playgrounds and 5 off-leash dog parks.  For those who want to walk or bike, Airdrie has lovely pathways and parks along Nose Creek and the many canal communities in the city. Everybody is just 5 minutes away from a park, playground or a pathway.

The city also a thriving Farmers’ Market in Jensen Park, which was the site of the historic Jensen family farm - that’s authenticity.   Every Wednesday from June to Thanksgiving, from 3:30 to 7pm dozens of vendors sell fresh produce, food trucks serve up good grub and artists entertain, creating a fun, family food festival.

“Airdrie goes beyond the typical chain-only style of many bedroom communities. Certainly there is no shortage of chain restaurants in Airdrie but there are many high-quality independent places too such as Thai Charm, Abe’s Restaurant, Sushi Haru and Taj that satisfy a very sophisticated market,” says Calgary food and restaurant critic John Gilchrist.

Genesis Centre, Airdrie's Recreation Complex

Nose Hill Creek creates a pastoral setting in the middle of the city. 

Place to work

While most people think of Airdrie as a bedroom community of Calgary, in reality only about 50% of Airdrites work in Calgary.  Airdrie has over 20 companies that employ over 100 employees - Propak Systems Ltd. being the largest with 1,000 employees. 

One of the biggest employment sectors is the grocery industry (I counted 6 major grocery stores with another under construction - I may have missed one or two) currently employ over 2,500 people.

As well, Airdrie has 1,300 home businesses (out of 21,000 homes) partly as a result of an innovative program that proactively encourages the development of home-based businesses.  It consists of an online course for starting, running and growing a home business, as well as a mentorship program with an existing business leader.

Over that past 10 years, Airdrie’s commercial development has been growing as fast as its residential development as the ratio of commercial to residential tax assessment values has maintained its 17% commercial to 83% residential split.

Airdrie is more than just a bedroom city.

Good Earth Cafe and patio part of a car-oriented big box power centre, is also walkable from several major condo complexes a block away. 

Good Earth Cafe and patio part of a car-oriented big box power centre, is also walkable from several major condo complexes a block away. 

Modern new condo complexes a few blocks from downtown Airdrie. 

Modern new condo complexes a few blocks from downtown Airdrie. 

Airdrie At A Glance

It’s young: The median age group is 30-34 years of age, 83% of the population is under 65 years old with the majority, 64%, under 45 years old. The median age in Airdrie is 32.4 compared to Calgary (36.4) and Canada as a whole (40.2) years.

It’s growing very quickly: Airdrie is one of the fastest growing communities in Canada; population growth for the past sixteen years has exceeded 5.5%. Between the census years of 2006 and 2011, the population of Airdrie increased by 47.1%. The City is projected to grow a further 75% by 2030 to reach a population of 90,000.

It’s recent: Over half of Airdrie residents have lived in Airdrie for less than 5 years. According to 2014 survey, of those who have been at their residence for less than 1 year, 38% moved from Calgary and 32% from within Airdrie.

It’s mobile: Over 90% of Airdrie residents report that their primary mode of travel to work is single vehicle transportation (for Calgary its 72%. While a large number of residents commute to the City of Calgary for employment, 50% work within Airdrie or places other than Calgary.

(Source: Great Places Plan, 2016, City of Airdrie)

Last Word

It is important urban planners adapt their thinking to the needs of the contemporary family life, rather than expecting families to adapt to planner’s urban utopian ideals.

Kudos to Airdrie’s planners, politicians and business leaders for daring to be different, for embracing “driveability” as the key element to enhancing the quality of life for everyday living for its citizens.

An edited version of this blog appeared in the Fall Edition of Loving Airdrie magazine. 

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Montreal's Cast of Characters

Is Montreal Canada's happiest city? I have wandered a lot of streets in a lot of different cities in my life and I have never encountered so many happy surprises. Indeed the city does have a "joie de vivre" that doesn't exist in other cities, or perhaps it is just the Holiday (Happy) Season. 

After wandering the streets of the city for the past 10 days Montreal has become my happy place.  I thought Portland and Austin were happy places, but Montreal wins hands down with its crazy cast of characters and shops.  

I am not just speaking of the people, who indeed seem to be happy even in winter when it is snowing but also the many man-made characters I encountered as I wander Montreal's Rues and Avenues.  

I hope these photos will convey to you how Montreal's sense of fun and surprise combine to create a happy sense of place.

I found this character at the Christmas Market at the Convention Centre. I believe he/she might be a costume from the Nutcracker ballet as this was Les Grands Ballets' Nutcracker Market with benefits going to the Nutcracker Fund for Children.    

I found this character at the Christmas Market at the Convention Centre. I believe he/she might be a costume from the Nutcracker ballet as this was Les Grands Ballets' Nutcracker Market with benefits going to the Nutcracker Fund for Children.   

These fun characters sit on top of the entrance from St. Catherine's Street to Montreal's Underground City. 

These fun characters sit on top of the entrance from St. Catherine's Street to Montreal's Underground City. 

Found a wall of these portraits in the lobby of the Concordia University building while shopping at their pop-up Christmas Market.    They captured my off-the-wall imagination.

Found a wall of these portraits in the lobby of the Concordia University building while shopping at their pop-up Christmas Market.  They captured my off-the-wall imagination.

This fun character is from the world's largest Barbie Doll collection exhibition located in Montreal's Underground City.  

This fun character is from the world's largest Barbie Doll collection exhibition located in Montreal's Underground City.  

This guy was keen to ham it up when I asked if I could take a photo.   

This guy was keen to ham it up when I asked if I could take a photo.  

I am not sure if this mythical character is throwing a football or a baseball or perhaps just getting ready to work at Jeans Jeans Jeans.  

I am not sure if this mythical character is throwing a football or a baseball or perhaps just getting ready to work at Jeans Jeans Jeans. 

These hipster heads brought a quick smile to my face. Montrealers love their winter hats and scarfs. 

These hipster heads brought a quick smile to my face. Montrealers love their winter hats and scarfs. 

I was gobsmacked by the amazing murals tucked away in alleys and the back of buildings everywhere in Montreal.  I love the DIY outdoor art gallery they create.

I was gobsmacked by the amazing murals tucked away in alleys and the back of buildings everywhere in Montreal.  I love the DIY outdoor art gallery they create.

Loved this old world sculpture and reflecting pond that looked like something from Paris or Rome in the World Trade Centre building in Montreal's International District. 

Loved this old world sculpture and reflecting pond that looked like something from Paris or Rome in the World Trade Centre building in Montreal's International District. 

Another of the fun characters at the Nutcracker Market - this time real life. 

Another of the fun characters at the Nutcracker Market - this time real life. 

I spent a lot of time looking up at the old buildings checking to see if there were any strange characters looking down at me like this guy. FYI: In the entrance of the St. James Church there is a note saying technically a gargoyle should be a water sprout; this was news to me. 

I spent a lot of time looking up at the old buildings checking to see if there were any strange characters looking down at me like this guy. FYI: In the entrance of the St. James Church there is a note saying technically a gargoyle should be a water sprout; this was news to me. 

For 20 years Montreal's World Trade Centre has been celebrating Christmas with eight life-size Santa characters from around the world, including this Black Peter an evil-looking companion of Santa in the Netherlands in their lobby. 

For 20 years Montreal's World Trade Centre has been celebrating Christmas with eight life-size Santa characters from around the world, including this Black Peter an evil-looking companion of Santa in the Netherlands in their lobby. 

Found this guy on the side of an ordinary older building that seemed to have no historical significance at the corner of St. Hubert and Duluth Ave.  It is a good example how almost every block has something strange or surprising that made for great flaneuring.

Found this guy on the side of an ordinary older building that seemed to have no historical significance at the corner of St. Hubert and Duluth Ave.  It is a good example how almost every block has something strange or surprising that made for great flaneuring.

We were just wandering to a thrift store on Rue St. Hubert when I noticed a huge banner with for what looked like a contemporary exhibition titled "Workwear."  It wasn't clear if the show was inside but we decided to explore and sure enough Little Italy community centre was hosting a contemporary exhibition from Italy about fashion and workwear.  It makes us most happy when we just stumble upon something interesting - the thrill of the surprise. 

We were just wandering to a thrift store on Rue St. Hubert when I noticed a huge banner with for what looked like a contemporary exhibition titled "Workwear."  It wasn't clear if the show was inside but we decided to explore and sure enough Little Italy community centre was hosting a contemporary exhibition from Italy about fashion and workwear.  It makes us most happy when we just stumble upon something interesting - the thrill of the surprise. 

Found this window while walking along St. Laurent Boulevard. Nothing makes me happier than great window displays.

Found this window while walking along St. Laurent Boulevard. Nothing makes me happier than great window displays.

Loved this great use of bike as a prop for some winter greenery and summer flowers on the sidewalk in front of a florist shop. 

Loved this great use of bike as a prop for some winter greenery and summer flowers on the sidewalk in front of a florist shop. 

Even in the suburbs we were able to find something to make me happy, including this modern sculpture outside the tired Plaza Cote-des-Neiges (shopping centre).

Even in the suburbs we were able to find something to make me happy, including this modern sculpture outside the tired Plaza Cote-des-Neiges (shopping centre).

Found this cast iron 1939 bank at the St. Michel Antique Market.  I was tempted to buy it, but resisted.  Spent a very enjoyable 2.5 hours exploring the market, definitely worth a visit if the "thrill of the hunt" makes you happy. 

Found this cast iron 1939 bank at the St. Michel Antique Market.  I was tempted to buy it, but resisted.  Spent a very enjoyable 2.5 hours exploring the market, definitely worth a visit if the "thrill of the hunt" makes you happy. 

Crew Collective & Cafe is located in the landmark 1920 Royal Bank headquarters building that was once the tallest building in Canada.  It made me happy the space is still available to the public and if you live in Montreal this could be your office.  Imagine going to work here everyday! We were there on a Saturday afternoon and the huge space was packed with people happily working away. 

Crew Collective & Cafe is located in the landmark 1920 Royal Bank headquarters building that was once the tallest building in Canada.  It made me happy the space is still available to the public and if you live in Montreal this could be your office.  Imagine going to work here everyday! We were there on a Saturday afternoon and the huge space was packed with people happily working away. 

Last Word

One the the key elements of a "happy city" in my mind is how friendly people are to strangers.  Montrealers couldn't have been more friendly to us.

From the store owner who offered to drive us to the St. Michel Market when we asked if we were going in the right direction (it was just 5 blocks away) to the couple who shared their bottle of wine with us at Les Jardins des Panos restaurant when they realized we didn't bring any wine (it is a bring your own wine only restaurant).  

Or how the young lady working at the LNF vintage store was more than willing to share her hot tips with us on where to get the best finds.  She even gave us her name, phone number and email if we wanted to contact her later. 

Don't believe people when they say Montrealers won't speak to you in English.  We never once encountered a local who when we said "Bonjour, do you speak English" wasn't willing to talk to us in our native tongue. We loved how many Montrealers said with a smile,  "You practice your French and I will practice my English!"  We loved that!

Next year Montreal is celebrating its 375th Anniversary, if you are looking for someplace interesting to visit, Montreal should be at the top of your list.   

For me, Montreal has definitely become one of my happy places.    

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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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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.  

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 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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Austin: An insider's guide!

It’s time to set the record straight. As one of the few remaining natives left in Austin – seriously, we’re like unicorns – I feel it’s my responsibility to share a true local’s guide to the city. I’ve lived here for over 28 years, agreeing to leave only for college and two ill-advised years in Dallas.
If you are thinking of a fun fall, winter or spring North American getaway this year, Austin should be near the top of your list.

Austin has lots of bling....

Editor's Note:

Dacyl Armendariz on a sunny patio in Austin.

When I knew I was heading to Austin earlier this year I asked Dacyl Armendariz, External Communications Manager, for car2go (whom I met at the 2014 Calgary Stampede) if she might have a few insider tips.  She sent me a very comprehensive list of suggestions, that even in two  weeks I couldn't possibly do.  When I asked her if I could post her email to me as a guest blog, she said, "Yes, but I will need to rework it a bit to make sure I have included a few things I left out."  

The following are Dacyl's wonderful insider tips to Austin.  

DA's Insider Tips

If you’ve read any “Best Places to Live” article in the past decade you’ve probably heard of Austin, TX. Apparently people take those lists and their glowing recommendations seriously, because there are now more than 150 people moving to Austin each day in search of breakfast tacos and near-constant warm weather. It would be a Texas-sized understatement to say that the state’s best-kept secret is out.

The influx of newcomers is exciting and is largely responsible for the revitalization of some of Austin’s oldest neighborhoods as well as a booming food scene. But beware – it also means there are hordes of people who just moved here and can’t wait to point you in all the wrong directions based on their limited, albeit enthusiastic, exploration of the city. Bless their hearts – they just want to help. But the truth is, there are too many new Austinites out there who might send you to Guero’s on your quest for the best Tex Mex. My personal sense of Southern Hospitality just can’t allow that.

It’s time to set the record straight. As one of the few remaining natives left in Austin – seriously, we’re like unicorns – I feel it’s my responsibility to share a true local’s guide to the city. I’ve lived here for over 28 years, agreeing to leave only for college and two ill-advised years in Dallas.

I’ve watched Austin evolve from a sleepy city in the middle of Texas to an international destination.

Yes Austin is fun, funky, quirky and many say weird....

I was here before Trader Joe’s was a fixture, I went to the inaugural Austin City Limits Music Festival and I can actually remember a time where traffic on I-35 didn’t convert it to a parking lot.

As much as I love being in Austin, I do travel quite a bit. When I visit a new place my goal is to eat the best food the city has to offer and get a taste of the culture and activities the city is known for. With that approach in mind, the following guide focuses on Austin restaurants, live music venues – we are the live music capital of the world – and a selection of some of our best swimming spots.

If you visit between the months of April through October you’ll understand why there’s a section dedicated to swimming and you’ll thank me. For good measure, I’ve thrown in a few other treasures.

As much as I will playfully beg you not to move here, I really do want you to love my city as much as I do. If you stay away from Guero’s and hit up the spots in my guide instead, I feel confident you will.

 Music Venues

Austin has fun retro element to it....

The Continental Club – 1315 South Congress Ave

An Austin institution since 1957 on one of our best streets. Live music every night.  Expect to hear blues, country, rockabilly and loud rock music here. Make sure to check out The Continental Club Gallery, an upstairs lounge with art, jazz and cocktails. The Gallery doesn’t have clear signage, head a couple of doors north of the main entrance and up the stairs.

The boys can play...

Elephant Room – 315 Congress Ave.

A basement bar where you will find a different jazz combo playing every night. Rarely a cover, always a good crowd.

Broken Spoke – 3201 S. Lamar Blvd

The quintessential Austin honky tonk. Some land developers actually purchased the land where the Broken Spoke is located and threatened to tear it down, but there was an extreme uprising from Austinites and it escaped unscathed. You’ll see the contrast of the new businesses and condos all around this Austin mainstay as evidence. This is a great dive bar where a band plays country music almost every night of the week and they have two-stepping lessons Wednesday – Saturday from 8:30-9:30 for the uninitiated so you can be prepared when the music starts. If you do the dance lessons get there by 8:00 to sign up!

P.S. there are always a handful of regulars – older gentleman who go every night to dance. They are part of what makes the place great so if they ask you to dance be sure to take them up on the offer!

She can sing and dance...

The Mohawk – 912 Red River Street

This is one of the newer venues that have become a favorite for Austinites. The music lineup is eclectic and includes Austin mainstays as well as some of the best musicians passing through town.  

Guero’s Garden Bar – 1412 South Congress Ave.

I know this seems like a confusing recommendation, give the warnings above. I stand by those warnings. Do not eat at Guero’s, no matter how many “Austinites” tell you it’s a must. The food is mediocre at best, but they have a great garden area next to the restaurant where there is always a steady stream of live music. The link above is to the music calendar so you can pick something out. They have a bar out there so you can enjoy a margarita with the free chips and salsa bar provided. This is a popular venue on sunny weekends, get there early to snag a table.

Saxon Pub – 1320 S. Lamar

Saxon Pub has been a fixture of the Austin music scene since 1990. There’s music every night of the week. Expect a cover for the night shows, but there are also free happy hour shows, weekend matinee shows and late night performances.

Austin is full of surprises...

Strange Brew – 5326 Manchaca Rd.

This is a coffee shop, a bit off the beaten path, that also has a lounge where you can find nightly live music. You’ll pay a cover, but you’ll also see some great music in a setting that most tourists miss. I highly recommend it! The link above is for their live music calendar.

C-Boy’s Heart and Soul – 2008 South Congress

A great, slightly divey, bar where you’ll find performances from some of Austin’s best musicians. If the company you keep truly says a lot about you, consider the fact that Gary Clark Jr, Leon Bridges, Larry McMurtry and Jimmie Vaughn are often seen occupying one of C-Boy’s barstools. If you’re headed there for music, check their calendar before you go, they do have the occasional off night, but they have a band in residence playing every Tuesday night and they have live music every Thursday – Saturday like clockwork. Expect to hear blues, rock, country, jazz or soul music. If you are looking for a quieter place to get a drink, head upstairs to their cozy, red-lit lounge for a more intimate vibe.

Green Spaces

Town Lake is actually a reservoir of the Colorado River in Downtown Austin. It was renamed Lady Bird Lake in honor of the late Lady Bird Johnson, but any true Austinite will tell you it’s still Town Lake to them. There’s a beautiful trail with several entry points and spots to rent kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddle boards along the way. Visiting Town Lake is an Austin must.

Lady Bird Lake is a lovely oasis...

Zilker Park – 2100 Barton Springs Rd.

Zilker is our most well-known park. It’s right in the heart of the city with lots of space to roam, ride bikes, lounge, picnic, etc. The park is the site of the Austin City Limits Music Festival each September/October. Town Lake is also part of Zilker Park so you could easily fit both of these Austin icons into an afternoon.

A great time to visit is in early March for the annual Zilker Kite Festival.  The festival attracts hundreds of Autinites who fill the air with colorful kites.
Link: Austin's Kite Festival: Cheap, Colourful, Chaotic & Crazy
One of the best festivals I have ever attended and its free... .

One of the best festivals I have ever attended and its free....

Zilker Botanical Garden – 2220 Barton Springs Rd.

A beautiful botanical garden in the heart of downtown.

Umlauf Sculpture Garden – 605 Robert E. Lee Rd.

A garden featuring sculpture artwork from a wide array of artists. They also offer events and free yoga.

Mount Bonnell

A great spot for gorgeous views of the city. Be warned there are A LOT of steps to climb to get to this spot – 102 to be exact. If you don’t want to tackle the climb you could also take advantage of the same views with a stop at Dry Creek Cafe & Boat Dock (4812 Mount Bonnell Rd.). The name is misleading, the only food they have are bags of assorted chips and there’s not actually a working boat dock, but this dive bar has a patio that provides the best spot in Austin to watch a sunset. Ignore all those people who tell you to head to the Oasis, that’s where you find a huge crowd, mediocre food and overpriced drinks. Instead, enjoy your view with a $2.00 beer at this dive.

Swimming Holes/Pools

Swimming gets its own section because when it gets hot in Austin – which is most of the year – you don’t want to be outside unless you are in or around the water. Some of these spots are not IN Austin proper, but the ones outside of our city limits are short day trips and totally worth the drive.

City Centre 

Barton Springs Pool – 2201 Barton Springs Rd.

This is my absolute favorite place in Austin. It’s a pool fed from an underground spring with an average year-round temperature of 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit. There are always interesting people here and if you use the South gate entrance (700ish Robert E Lee Rd.) rather than the main entrance (2201 Barton Springs Rd.) you’ll see a collection of colorful Austinites – drum circles, people practicing acroyoga with a partner, hula hoopers and topless sunbathers. Barton Springs is synonymous with Austin. Entrance fee for non-residents of Austin is $8.00, but if you tell them you live in Austin the entrance fee is just $3.00. They never verify residence so you might as well save yourself $5.00 because when you are in Austin you become an honorary resident!

In Austin

Lake Travis or Lake Austin

You can rent boats/jet skis or even hop on a charter boat for a tour. If you’re not in the mood to swim you can also just head to one of the many restaurants/bars that offer beautiful views of these lakes.

 In Dripping Springs (50-minute drive from Austin)

Hamilton Pool Preserve – 24300 Hamilton Pool Rd., Dripping Springs, TX

A gorgeous spot where a lagoon is fed by a small waterfall. It’s about a 15 minute walk down to the water, but it’s worth the effort. If you make the trip be sure to get there early – a limited number of people are allowed in so the lines get long in the afternoon when they start their one in, one out admission.

In Wimberley (45-minute drive from Austin)

Blue Hole – 100 Blue Hole Rd., Wimberley, TX

Hands-down one of the best swimming holes in Texas, Blue Hole is lined on both banks by cypress trees. There’s also a great rope swing if you’re so inclined. Be warned though, the local teenagers grew up on this rope swing and the tricks they perform for their swimming audience could make your attempt scream “rookie.” Blue Hole is open seasonally for swimming so check the website first for the hours.

In Spicewood (45-minute drive from Austin)

Spicewood – 404 Krause Spring Rd., Spicewood, TX

There are 32 springs and two pools for swimming as well as a lovely butterfly garden

Restaurants

The Austin restaurant scene has blown up and there are tons of great choices. The key items to make sure to eat are breakfast tacos (an Austin staple), Tex Mex and Barbecue. Austin is hugely lacking in good Asian and Italian food, so keep that in mind if anyone makes recommendations in that vein.

Breakfast Tacos

If you’re not yet familiar with the glory of breakfast tacos, prepare to be indoctrinated. See below for a list of the best breakfast taco joints in Austin. Don’t forget the salsa – each of the places below have several options to try. Most of these are also great options for lunch/dinner tacos!

**An important note about breakfast tacos – unless you are gluten intolerant, breakfast tacos are meant to be eaten on flour tortillas.

Tacos are everywhere...

Tacos are everywhere...

Polvo’s – 2004 S 1st

In Austin, Tex-Mex – along with barbecue – is religion. There are tons of places to get your fix, but Polvo’s is my favorite. They have a killer salsa bar with lots of choices of varying heat levels. Make sure to try the queso here – it comes with accoutrements for you to add to your liking. My favorite item on the menu is the fish fajitas, but you can’t go wrong with anything you order here.

An important note about queso – If your previous experience with queso has anything to do with a jar or the description “cheese sauce,” that means you’ve never had queso. You’re about to have your mind blown. Pace yourself.

Other good Tex-Mex options: Tamale House East, Habanero (cash-only), Mi Madre’s, Vivo

For additional inspiration check out Austin Monthly’s recent Ultimate Guide to Tex-Mex

La Barbecue – 1906 E Cesar Chavez

You’ve likely heard of Franklin Barbecue – it’s nationally recognized as one of the very best barbecue places out there. The New York Times just did this story on it. People start queueing up for their amazing brisket starting around 6:00 AM every single morning, but if you want barbecue that’s equally great with a much shorter line, head to La Barbecue. The brisket is mandatory.

Other good barbecue options: Micklethwait Craft Meats, Stiles Switch BBQ, Freedmen’s, Lambert’s

Austin has an amazing patio culture....

Austin has an amazing patio culture....

Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ – 7612 Brodie Lane

Valentina’s is the house of worship located at the intersection of the tex-mex and bbq religions. The menu spans breakfast, lunch and dinner. You’ll walk away wondering how you’ve lived this long without pairing brisket and traditional taco fillings.

Launderette – 2115 Holly St.

This is my favorite restaurant in Austin right now. Small plates – perfect for sharing – that facilitate trying a lot of the menu in one meal. If you like cheeseburgers, try theirs. It is perfect and simple. When the dessert menu comes fight the urge to order one of the fancier desserts and get the birthday cake ice cream sandwich. You can thank me later.

Uchi – 801 South Lamar

If I had to choose my last meal in Austin it would be the chef’s tasting omakase from Uchi. A sushi restaurant started by now famed chef Tyson Cole, Uchi is an innovative take on traditional sushi. The focus on traditional rolls is diminished in favor of next-level small plates. Please be warned, there is always a wait for this restaurant so make a reservation if you plan to go. Another note of warning – this restaurant is also very spendy, but worth every last penny.

East Side King – Several locations, see website

Originally a food truck opened by Top Chef winner Paul Qui and Moto Utsunomiya (fun fact – both were Tyson Cole’s protégés at Uchi), East Side King now has two locations in Austin that serve the incredible original menu – one food truck at the Liberty Bar and a brick-and-mortar on South Lamar Blvd. The East Side King family also has two recent additions called Thai-Kun that serve a playful Thai menu that is not to be missed - a food truck at the very cool bar Whisler's and brick-and-mortar in The Domain's new "Rock Rose" district.  My favorite of these spots is the original East Side King food truck behind the delightfully divey bar, The Liberty Bar, on East 6th. However, if the idea of sharing a picnic table outside, with a group of hipster strangers who are smoking American Spirits and sipping whiskey doesn’t appeal to you, hit up the brick-and-mortar location on South Lamar.

Dai Due Butcher Shop & Supper Club – 2406 Manor Rd.

Dai Due’s commitment to serving regionally sourced ingredients runs so deep that even the beer and wine list is stocked exclusively with options from Texas. The food is as good as the menu is imaginative and everything tastes like it was prepared just for you by someone who cares. Head here for thoughtful service from knowledgeable servers who act as your guide through the innovative menu.

Contigo – 2027 Anchor Lane

Contigo describes its menu as farm-fresh Texas fare. That’s not all that descriptive, but all you need to know is that the food and cocktails are great and the ambiance is quintessential Austin. What does that mean? It means that all of the seating is outside – only the kitchen is held within four walls. This qualifies as quintessential Austin because it’s warm enough here 95% of the year to get away with that. They have a great Happy Hour including $1 fried chicken on Thursdays starting at 5:00 PM until they run out!

Austin is great for BBQ...keep your hands off...

Austin is great for BBQ...keep your hands off...

Additional Austin Treasures

South Congress Avenue

South Congress is one of the best streets in Austin. Lined on either side with shops, restaurants, music venues and galleries, you could basically spend a full day walking up and down the street and never run out of things to do. On the first Thursday of each month – aptly called “First Thursday” – the shops stay open until 10:00 PM. My favorite South Congress spots include, but are not limited to:

We loved all of the vintage neon signs that were scattered around Austin...

We loved all of the vintage neon signs that were scattered around Austin...

 Parts and Labour – a great place to pick up gifts to take back to jealous friends at home, a new eclectic piece of jewelry from a local artisan or some concert artwork from one of the many amazing acts that have performed in Austin. Parts and Labour only sells goods from local Texas artists, designers, etc.

 Jo’s Coffee – stop by to order an “Iced Turbo” and take your photo by the now famous “I love you so much” graffiti on the side of the building. Show up on Sunday from 12:30 – 3:00 to check out their weekly “Sinner’s Brunch” to listen to great (FREE) live music with your coffee & breakfast taco. However, if you want to be true to the name, order a beer along with your coffee.

 Maya Star – this boutique jewelry store stocks one-of-a-kind pieces from some of the most creative designers out there. They also have a selection of adorable clothes and accessories at affordable prices.

 STAG Provisions for Men – stop in and enjoy a free Shiner Bock beer while you peruse their selection of high-end men’s clothing and accessories.

 Big Top Candy Shop – a circus-themed old fashioned candy store and soda shop where you will lose track of time while you’re reminded of all the classic candies you loved as a child.

Link: Austin: Kid In A Candy Store

Big Top Candy Shop is really really big...

Alamo Drafthouse

The world’s best movie theater chain got its start right here in Austin. Book your reserved seats on the website and prepare to enjoy the best movie-going experience of your life. Alamo has a menu of pizza, sandwiches, snacks and an excellent selection of beer and cocktails to enjoy during your flick (servers bring your order during the movie – quickly and silently like ninjas). In addition to showing new releases, Alamo offers screenings of repertory films you never thought you’d see on the big screen and incredible themed events. Think Beyoncé sing-alongs and film themed feasts.

A note about Alamo Drafthouse – this theater was founded with the mission of keeping the film watching experience sacred. If you show up late for your movie you will not be let in (so you can’t disturb everyone who made it on time) and if you talk or text during the movie you will be ejected without a refund. They take these rules seriously – don’t test them.

Harry Ransom Center

Located on the University of Texas at Austin campus (UT), the Harry Ransom Center is a library, archive and museum that exhibits rotating collections of art, manuscripts, photography, etc. Recent collections ranged from art and costumes from Gone With The Wind to a collection of art and correspondence from WWII.

Bonus – if you go to the Harry Ransom Center you’ll also get a chance to check out the UT campus where you’ll see the latest in backpack fashion and ask yourself “did I look this young when I was in college?” no less than 10 times. 

Last Word 

There you have it, Dacyl's insider tips. Enough Said!

If you go to Austin, be sure to have a car2go membership as it is the best way to get around...transit is not great...

If you go to Austin, be sure to have a car2go membership as it is the best way to get around...transit is not great...

All downtowns must reinvent themselves!

While it is shocking Calgary’s downtown skyscraper “vacancy rate” skyrocketed to 20% at the end of March, (and that it could soon surpass the vacancy record of 22% set in 1983, twice what it was a year ago), we should keep some perspective.

These numbers are not unheard of in major corporate headquarter cities. Back in the ‘70s, New York City was in decline. By the mid ‘70s, New York City came close to bankruptcy and their office vacancy rate hit 20%. In 1993, Toronto’s downtown office vacancy rate hit 20.4% and Vancouver’s rose to 17.4% in 2004. And these may not even be records as data only goes back only to 1990 for those cities.

Today, New York City, Toronto and Vancouver’s downtowns are booming a testament to the fact that all downtowns go through periods of growth, decline and rebirth.

Montreal's St. Catherine Street has once again become a vibrant street with shops and street festival; this was not the case in the '70s when I first visited. 

Heyday and Decline

It might surprise some people to learn that in the early 20th century, Buffalo was one of the world’s leading cities. 

Home to America's first electric streetlights, it also had one of the world's first skyscrapers (Guaranty Building, 1894) and the world's largest office building (Ellicott Square, 1896). It hosted the 1901 Pan-American Exhibition and its beautiful park system was designed by none other than Fredrick Law Olmstead, the designer of New York City’s Central Park.

At the beginning of the 20st century Winnipeg was the fastest growing city on the continent. In 1912, a Chicago Tribune writer called Winnipeg “Chicago of the North” and described it as Canada’s most cosmopolitan and ethnically diverse centre, with most of its population under the age of forty. It was described as Canada’s liveliest city, full of bustle and optimism. In 1911, Winnipeg was Canada’s third largest city; today it is eighth. 

The downtowns of both these cities fell into decline in the middle of the 20th century and while they have not returned to the hustle and bustle of their heydays, both are enjoying a modest renaissance.

Buffalo's waterfront was once thriving industrial and shipping centre, today it is being transformed into a wonderful public spaces for locals and tourists. 

Buffalo's Canalside development development is animated year round. (photo credit: Joe Cascio)

The Forks (where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet in Winnipeg) has been transformed into a mixed-use public space with two museums, baseball field, outdoor performance space, winter skating, market and hotel.  

Decline and Rebirth

In the ‘60s, the case could still be made that Montreal was Canada’s business capital. Its downtown was a major office headquarters for Quebec’s natural resource industry as well as a thriving financial industry, including the head offices of the Bank of Montreal, Royal Bank of Canada and insurance giant, Sun Life.

In 1962, when the Place Ville Marie office designed by iconic architects I.M. Pei and Henry N. Cobb opened, it symbolized Montreal’s arrival as world-class city.  This was further reinforced with the hosting of Expo 67, the arrival of Montreal Expos baseball team in 1969, and the 1976 Olympics.

However, the ‘70s brought the threat of separation, which resulted in many corporate headquarters and their executives moving to Toronto. By 1971, Toronto’s population surpassed Montreal’s. The 1976 Montreal Olympics, the most expensive in history, plunged the City into a legacy of debt and decline for decades.

Today, Montreal downtown has reinvented itself as an international tourist destination and a major player in the gaming and music industries.

Old Montreal is one of Canada's best urban tourist attractions. 

Then there was New York City.  In 1975, it was on the brink of bankruptcy.

The gradual economic and social decay set in during the‘60s. The city's subway system was regarded as unsafe due to crime and frequent mechanical breakdowns. Central Park was the site of numerous muggings and rapes; homeless persons and drug dealers occupied boarded-up and abandoned buildings. Times Square became an ugly, seedy place dominated by crime, drugs and prostitution. 

Today, New York City is back as one of the world’s most successful cities, economically and culturally…and Times Square is again one of the world’s most popular urban tourist attractions.

In the '60s and '70s the area around Times Square was a "no go" zone for tourists and locals. (photo credit: Ilana Galed)

Today Times Square is bustling with people of all ages and backgrounds.  It has become a wonderful public space as a result of street closures. 

Calgary’s Future

Perhaps Calgary has already begun to reinvent itself.

The CBRE’s First Quarter 2016 Report states, “Not all commercial real estate in the city has been affected, though. Suburban office space held steady fro,m the last quarter, and the industrial real estate market is still robust because it’s not tied to oil and gas.” 

Indeed, Calgary has become one of North America’s largest Inland Port cities, including two state-of-the art intermodal rail operations.  Calgary is now the distribution headquarters for Western Canada a position once held by Winnipeg. Today, Calgary’s industrial sectors employ more people than the energy sector.  However, this new economic engine won’t help vacant downtown office spaces as it is not downtown- oriented.

Link: Calgary Region: An Inland Port

Calgary Economic Development is working with the real estate community to implement a Head Office/Downtown Office Plan with three action items.

One idea is the repurposing of smaller older office spaces as incubators and innovation hubs to attract millennials and/or entrepreneurs and the creation of incubation and co-sharing space.  A good example of this is in West Hillhurst, where Arlene Dickenson (a successful Calgary entrepreneur, venture capitalist and former start of the TV show Dragon’s Den) has converted an old office building at the corner of Memorial Drive and Kensington Road (once home to an engineering firm) into District Ventures, home to several start-up packaged goods companies.

New and old office buildings in downtown Calgary with multiple floors of vacant office space will be difficult to convert to other uses. 

Another “repurposing” idea would be to convert some older office buildings into residential uses. In the US, programs like “Vacant places into Vibrant spaces,” have been successful but mostly for office to residential conversions of older buildings with smaller floor plates.  They don’t work for offices buildings with floor plates over 7,500 square feet (which is the case for most of Calgary’s empty high rise office space), as it is expensive and difficult to meet residential building codes which are very different from commercial ones, making it difficult to compete with new residential construction.

In an ideal world, Calgary could become a “Global Talent Hub” where skilled workers who have been displaced from the energy and related industries continue to live in Calgary but become a remote workforce for energy projects around the world. Temporary and permanent satellite offices could be established in Calgary with teams of engineers, geologists, accountants, bankers etc. working on projects around the world.

The obvious strategy would be to woo international companies in the finance, insurance, transportation, agriculture, digital media and renewable resources industries to set up a Canadian or North American office in Calgary, maybe even relocate their headquarters here.   With cities like San Francisco, Seattle and Boston facing mega affordable housing crisis for millennial workers, Calgary could become a very attractive place for a satellite office for companies in those cities.

One “off the wall idea” postulated by George Brookman, C.E.O of West Canadian Industries, would be to promote Calgary as an International Centre for Energy Dispute Resolution, similar to the Netherland’s TAMARA (Transportation And Maritime Arbitration Rotterdam-Amsterdam) that offers an extrajudicial platform for conducting professional arbitration for settling disputes. However, this would take years and one wonders could Calgary compete with London and New York who are already leaders in International Arbitration business?  

Last Word

Calgary has reinvented itself before. It evolved from a ranching/agriculture-based economy to an oil and gas one in the middle of the 20th century, which was when our downtown came of age. The downtown core which is an office ghetto today would benefit immensely if incentives could be made to convert a dozen or so office buildings into condos, apartments or hotels to create a better “live, work, play” balance.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published by CBC Crossroads titled “Revitalizing Calgary’s core: Some possibilities for rebirth” on June 17, 2016.

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Austin & Calgary: Sister Cities?

By the numbers, there are some amazing similarities between Austin and Calgary.  Both are young highly educated cities – Austin’s average age is 31 with 46% of Austinites having a postsecondary degree.  Calgary’s average age is 36, with 60% having postsecondary education.

Austin’s is a rapidly growing city. Its current population of 912,791 is growing by 150+ people a day.  Calgary with a population of 1,200,000 was the fastest growing city in Canada according to Stats Canada – growing 13% (from 2006 to 2011).

Like Calgary, Austin is young and active.  This is the pedestrian bridge over the Lady Bird Lake, aka Colorado River with Austin's 2nd Avenue condos in the background that look very much like Calgary's East Village. 

Like Calgary, Austin has a downtown skatepark, not as large as Calgary's but it definitely attracts some talented athletes. 

Calgary's Peace Bridge, designed by world famous bridge architect Santiago Calatrava is a popular playground for Calgary's young and restless. 

Love Their Rivers

Both Austinites and Calgarians love their rivers - the Colorado River and Barton Creek in Austin and the Bow and Elbow Rivers in Calgary.  Both cities have very busy river pathway systems packed with walkers, cyclists and runners when weather permits (not too cold in Calgary and not too hot in Austin). 

Austin's river pathways are very popular on weekends. 

It is very common in Austin to see boats of all types in Lady Bird Lake...in the distance is a fishing boat. 

Calgarians love their green beaches like this one in Stanley Park. 

Fishing on the Bow River in Calgary.  

River surfing on the Bow River. 

In the summer, thousands of Calgarians raft on the Elbow and Bow Rivers in Calgary. 

Party Towns

Austin’s infamous SXSW, a huge 10-day film, music, interactive media technology festival / trade show / conference generates $411 CDN million into the city’s economy in 2015 and attracted 140,000 participants.

By comparison, the 10-day Calgary Stampede annually attracts over 1 million (350,000 being out-of-town visitors) for concerts, rodeo, chuckwagon races, grandstand show, midway rides and agricultural exhibition.  Its annual economic impact is estimated at $350 CDN million.

Austin's Kite festival is an amazing site and a fun family party. 

Look carefully and you will see that most of the people are dressed up as they have just participated in Calgary's POW - Parade of Wonder as part of Calgary Expo aka Comic-Con. 

Music Cities

Austin bills itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” with 100+ live music venues and its world famous Austin City Lights music program.  Everybody gets into hosting live music in Austin from grocery stores to the airport.

The City’s historic music district is downtown along East 6th St. a grungy street resembles Calgary’s Electric Avenue (11th Ave) back in the ‘80s.  Home to numerous loud and seedy bars, as well as the 1929 Ritz theatre, it is more a tacky tourist street than a serious music district.  Today, the best music venues are in neighbourhoods outside of downtown.

Calgary is in its infancy as an emerging international music city boasting an International Folk Festival, SLED Island as well as numerous smaller emerging music festivals. Calgary has only a handful of live music venues and only a few that offer live music 7 days a week.  (Some of Austin’s venues offer 3 acts a day - happy hour, headliner and midnight band.)  The opening of the National Music Centre will definitely enhance our city’s reputation internationally.

Stephen Avenue is Calgary’s equivalent to Austin’s East 6th Avenue as downtown’s primary pedestrian oriented street.  However, Stephen Avenue is a more attractive and diverse street with its mix of shops, restaurants, concert and performance theatres, art house cinema and restored historical buildings. 

Just one of hundreds of live music venues in Austin offering a plethora of genres of music. 

Calgary's Tim Williams at the Blues Can. Williams won the International Blues Competition in 2014. 

Urban Living

Urban living in Austin is booming.  Although the current downtown population is only 12,000 it has been growing rapidly with 6,832 condos and apartments built since 2000 and another 2,000 currently under construction.  

However, this pales in comparison to Calgary’s 36,000 urban dwellers.  Urban living is also booming in Calgary with almost 15,000 new residential units since 2000 and 2,200 under construction.

Austin’s budding 2nd Street urban village, looks amazingly similar to Calgary’s East Village with several shinny new high-rise white condo towers, a new library and City Hall and sprinkling of shops, Whole Foods and Trader Joes grocery stores and a signature pedestrian bridge over the river. 

Austin’s 82,000 downtown employees work in 9 million square feet of office space (1.3 million square ft. under construction), 7,800 hotel rooms (2,140 under construction) and hundreds of restaurants, retailers and bars in 1.9 million square feet of commercial space.

By comparison, Calgary City Centre (downtown and Beltline) roughly the same size as Austin’s downtown) has 150,000+ employees occupying over 40 million square feet of offices, 4,000 hotel rooms (500 under construction) and 1,000+ retailers and restaurants in whopping 6.4 million square feet.

Downtown Austin has no department store, indoor mall or shopping street; shopping is scattered all over the place.  Austin has nothing to match Calgary’s historic Bay Store, Holt Renfrew or the stunning The CORE shopping centre. 

Austin also lacks a contiguous historic district like Stephen Avenue or Inglewood. However, Austin does a much better job of animating its downtown corners with outdoor patios, rather than the banks and office lobbies dominating Calgary’s corners.

A view of downtown Austin from South Congress aka SoCo.  SoCo is a an eclectic pedestrian street (despite being a major road) with shops, restaurants, music venues, great patios and numerous permanent food trucks on empty lots. 

Austin's 2nd Avenue District is blooming as an urban village with new condos, two grocery stores and shops. 

Austin's condo skyline. 

The Core in downtown Calgary is a three block long indoor shopping mall with 1 hectare indoor garden.  

Stephen Avenue is Calgary's downtown Main Street and a National Historic District linking the Olympic Plaza Cultural District with the Financial District.  Austin has nothing like Calgary's iconic Hudson Bay department store. 

Urban Street Life

Austin’s hip street is SoCo (South Congress Avenue), which, like Calgary’s Kensington Village, is on the other side of the river from downtown.  Even with South Congress Avenue’s six lanes of traffic, it supports a vibrant street life with a great mix of shops, restaurants, bars and live music venues.

What makes SoCo outstanding is its outdoor culture.  Austin’s climate allows Austinites to play outdoors year-round – there are patios everywhere, live music is played on the front lawns and empty lots and food trailers occupy what would be surface parking lots in Calgary.   Every weekend SoCo takes on a festival atmosphere!

Kensington’s container bar and a few outdoor patios pales in comparison. On the other hand, Kensington boasts a better café culture and more infill residential development.

While, SoCo provides Austinites with a vibrant street culture, it is the only game in town, with nothing to match Calgary’s 17th Ave, 11th Avenue or Inglewood.

On weekends Austin's SoCo takes on a festival atmosphere. 

Gueros on SoCo is famous for its free live entertainment. 

SoCo has numerous quirky shops. 

Austinites love their Tacos. 

Calgary's 17th Avenue is popular urban playground even in the winter; this photo was taken in February. 

Cafe Beano on 17th Avenue is perhaps where Calgary's cafe culture began back in the '80s. It is popular with both artists and CEOs. 

Analog Coffee on 17th Avenue the new kid on the block. 

Calgary's Kensington Village offers lots of urban surprises given its proximity to the Alberta College of Art and Design and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. 

One of the best surprises in Kensington Village is the Container Bar. 

Kensington Village is also home to Calgary's year-round flea market and summer farmers' market. 

Big Differences

The biggest difference between Austin and Calgary is in transit use.  We never saw Austin’s LRT and bus service is limited.   Thank God for car2go, which allowed us to explore Austin’s outlying business revitalization zones by day and music venues by night.

We stayed in a lovely Airbnb in the upscale Clarksville community, which we thought would be convenient for walking. We quickly discovered sidewalks in poor condition (or non-existent), and very few streetlights making walking at night treacherous.

While there were some lovely homes, Austinites’ pride of home ownership seems much lower than in Calgary’s inner-city communities – even desirable neighbourhoods have lots of unkept properties, weed-infested lawns and gardens and crumbling sidewalks.

Calgary has one of the busiest Light Rapid Transit systems in North America. 

Austinites love to dance - as soon as the music starts people get up and dance. 

Austin condos have above ground parkades like this one, whereas Calgary condos and office buildings have their parking underground. 

Downtown Calgary has 40 million square feet of office space, making it one of the top 10 in North America, compared to Austin's 10 million square feet. 

Last Word

In my humble opinion, after visits to Austin and Portland (considered by many urbanists as two of the best emerging urban cities) Calgary offers as many - or more - urban amenities.

Unfortunately, Calgary continues to fly under the radar with planners and tourists as an emerging urban playground. 

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald titled "City Scenes: Austin vs Calgary," June 11, 2018

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It's Easy To Be An Everyday Tourist!

You don't have to try that hard to be an everyday tourist wherever you live.  You just have to get out and walk with a bit of curiosity and your eyes wide open.   

This week's highlights included:

  • An early morning walk in River Park with the morning sun glistening off the Bow River.
  • A dog walk with Rossi to the base of the Glenmore Dam
  • A trip to Evergreen to get my income taxes done
  • Downtown flaneuring
  • Walking home from yoga enjoyed a lovely evening chinook from the West Hillhurst bluff
  • A spectacular sunset from my backyard
  • Wandering Bowness Park
  • A morning walk in my community
  • Reading Jan Morris' book "Hong Kong" published in 1997

Here is my Everyday Tourist Week in photos....hope you enjoy.

Early Saturday morning walk with Rossi in River Park looking down on the sun glistening off the Elbow River. It was magical. 

With Calgary's early spring there are these lovely rag dolls everywhere. 

Sunday Rossi and I decided to go for along walk that took us to Calgary's Glenmore Dam, which use to have cars driving on top of it, but today it is a wonderful pedestrian bridge. 

Water rushing out of the Glenmore dam. 

Glenmore dam was built in 1932 for $3.8 million.  It has wonderful Art Deco elements. 

Found this debris still wrapped around a tree from the 2013 flood. 

These rocks haunted me with the way the light was reflecting off of them. 

A trip to the community of Evergreen to drop off paper work for income tax resulted in this photo. 

I am always amazed at what new things I can find when wandering downtown.  This fancy fence is part of a temporary plaza on top of the underground parkade where the York Hotel use to sit. The patterns on the fence are taken from the decorations on the facade of the hotel. 

Construction Impressionism in downtown Calgary.  For me downtown Calgary is just one big outdoor art gallery. 

Window licking collage in downtown Calgary. 

7th Avenue surrealism in downtown Calgary 

3rd Avenue downtown Calgary 

I had no idea I had captured this woman in this photo when I took it.  At the time I was cursing that the windows were dirty and I couldn't get clean reflections. Now I love the ambiguity of the narrative that this image suggests. Urban surprises come in many different ways. 

Coming home from yoga I notice the Chinook Arch forming in the west and decided to detour to the West Hillhurst bluff (aka dog park) to get a better view. I never get tired of Calgary's iconic cloud formation. 

While in the park I found this huge tree branch, which ironically mirrored the Chinook Arch formation.  What a great idea for public artwork?

Just a few blocks from my house I found this Horse Head tree swing.  For some reason it seemed very disturbing. (not that there is anything wrong with that) If you like this image you might like Front Yard Fun blog.

Also just a few blocks away is a house where the porch has become a bike rack. I love the fact that my community is filling up with young kids. 

Looking forward to Bowness Park this summer. It will be like a walk back in time with the renovations. 

One night as I am watching the NHL playoffs I notice a bright yellow light shinning in my backyard.  When I went outside this is what I found. 

Urban planning / Travel / Participant Observer?

My recent blog about urban planning not being a science but more of an art, got lots of comments from the public and planners, some in support and some in disagreement. 

As a result, I have been giving more thought to different approaches to urban planning and city building and the importance of the “power of observation” i.e. what works and what doesn’t in creating vibrant cities. 

I have always been intrigued by the idea of the role a “participant observer’’ plays in understanding the world we share, how we live together in urban places and how we shape our urban spaces. 

I have often thought of myself - rightly or wrongly - as “participant observer.” 

Mexico City and many other cities close down a City Centre street on Sunday to create a fun carnival experience. Why doesn't every city?

So I checked with colleague Harry Hiller, Urban Sociologist at the University of Calgary to see if he could with what is a “participant observer.”

Hiller quickly emailed back:

“Participant observation is a concept and research strategy that is
rooted in the scientific or scholarly community.  As such, it requires the utilization of the logic and canons of science.  This does not mean others cannot engage in participant observation, but it often has a less rigorous procedure.  
From a scientific perspective, we begin with a literature review in order to know what is already known about a topic and how that knowledge was discovered.  Then a research plan is established that seeks to isolate explanatory variables for that phenomenon and then to alert the researcher for the link between variables that are desired to be tested.  
So before going out into the field of research, a careful plan and set of objectives are established first that clarify what to look for, the pitfalls in doing so, and above all, an empirical strategy is created that allows one to speak to results within a carefully designed framework.  
This does not mean no one else can observe things as a participant, but it does mean that a researcher is more aware of how their presence as a participant affects the results and it means that observing is structured by a background of knowledge and a research plan.  
Perhaps one difference from journalism is that the researcher engages in research like this to make a carefully planned contribution to knowledge with some sense of certainty about the results and how they are to be evaluated.  
There are many "observers" of urban planning actions and consequences who bring their own biases to bear in their evaluations, but a good researcher is open to a variety of outcomes and can weigh the results with more depth.  
That is the challenge!”

A challenge indeed, by this definition I am definitely not a "participant observer," as I am certainly not that rigourous as flaneur cities aimlessly, enjoying the urban surprises.

In Dublin transit, pedestrians, cyclists and drivers all share the road. Travel opens everyone's eyes to new possibilities in urban design and sharing space.

Top Planners Are Often Participant Observers

While doing some Internet searching, I found an interesting 2014 article from the American Planning Association’s magazine. Written by Reid Ewing, a professor of city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah, he referenced a 2009 poll of Planetizen (an independent resource for people passionate about planning and related fields) members asking them who the believe have been the “Top Thinkers vs. Top Academics” in the history of urban planning.  Ewing noted,  “Topping the list was Jane Jacobs, the ultimate participant-observer, who analyzed the built environment from her apartment in Greenwich Village and wrote in poetic fashion.  

Also high on the list were Allan Jacobs (no relation to Jane), Donald Appleyard and William H. Whyte all participant observers in Ewing’s mind.  He concludes, “observational methods seem particularly well suited to urban design.”

One of thousands of public open houses and workshops held every year in Calgary to engage the public in how their city should evolve short and long term, big and small projects.

We are all observers!

I have often thought many tourists are quasi “participant observers.” When you travel to a new place, you are looking with “fresh eyes” and often wonder “why don’t we have a park, street, museum, store, café, festival etc. like this in our city?” or “why does this seem to work better here than back home?”

Sometimes the thinking stops at just wondering. Other times it may go further as one tries to understand the rationale for what works and what doesn’t in making our city a more attractive place to live, work and play. More and more the public is becoming more engaged in designing the evolution of their community and city with their participation in workshops, open houses and Council meetings.

Post-it notes are essential to any public meeting/workshop.

Last Word

Today, as community engagement has become the norm for projects big and small on a community, citywide and regional basis. More and more, politicians, planners and developers are realizing the value of getting a diversity of citizen input (even if some is diametrically opposed and some isn’t feasible) to capture the hidden expertise that comes from the average person’s observation and day-to-day experience of their community, as well as experiences when travelling in other cities.

 

One could say, “it takes more than just academics to create a great community/city.”

 

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Lo-Burn: Austin's Vintage District

Mid-century flaneuring always makes me happy. I think it is the cheerful colours – bright oranges, baby blues, spring greens and sunshine yellows.

If you are into vintage and visiting Austin the Lo-Burn (Lower Burnet Road) district is a “must see.”

You can't miss Top Drawer Thrift with its huge floor lamp, lime green facade and drawers on the roof.  

Lo-Burn IBIZ District

We stumbled upon this up and coming district when we entered “thrift stores” on Google Maps and saw a cluster on Burnet Road (pronounced “Burn-it” by locals) from 49th N Street to North Loop Boulevard. Conveniently, it was in the car2go home area, so off we went.

Here you will find not only three thrift stores, but two mid-century furniture shops, an antique store and an outlet designer women’s clothing boutique, as well as local eatery favourites - Torchy’s Tacos and Tiny Pies. If you walk further south there are some other places that look interesting…but who has time to eat when there are treasures to be found.

Top Drawer Thrift (SW corner of Burnett and W 49th St)

Top Drawer Thrift was the best thrift store we found in Austin by a long shot.  While it isn’t the largest it had great quality and selection of vintage clothing, home accessories and art. The displays were fun and exotic. The staff were friendly and the prices were great.  The electronic section was the big surprise with unusual items from a huge pile of vintage radio tubes (Brenda couldn’t resist adding one to her collection) to old film projectors.  I got a framed kitschy artwork with a Cowboy face and Old Made cards background.

Vintage radio tubes at Top Drawer Thrift

Vintage electronics at Top Drawer Thrift

Vintage Fun

Uptown Modern (5111 Burnet Rd) is like walking into a mid-century furniture art museum.  The show room is spacious and the displays are grouped by colour.  If I was starting an art collection, this is where I would head.

Gypsies Antiques (5202 Burnet Rd) is a traditional antique store with many very interesting vignettes under glass domes.  And Vin Taj (52,000 Burnet Rd) has not only interesting furniture and home accessories, but some great paintings that we would have loved to take home.  Darn those airline baggage size restrictions!

Learn more about Austin’s mid-century modern scene

Uptown Modern has a wonderful collection of vintage furniture, home accessories and art. 

One of several glass dome pieces at Gypsies Antiques

Spring Frost Boutique (5101 Burnet Rd)

Though Spring Frost is not a vintage shop (it stocks designer clothing and shoes at deep discount prices), it is worth checking out. The staff were friendly and let me take all the photos I wanted. I love photographing women shoes – to me some are like works of miniature works of art.

Spring Frost shoe fun!

American League Alliance (4901 Burnet Rd)

Across the street from Top Drawer is a large American League Alliance thrift store, which is definitely worth stopping into. checking out. They had some great deals on cowboy boots when we were there. It is staffed by charming retired ladies who are very attentive to creating wonderful displays that give the store a vintage, grandmother-like atmosphere.

Savers (5222 Burnet RD)

Savers is Austin’s equivalent of Value Village and is just three blocks north of the Top Drawer.

American League has everything including the piano. 

Refreshments

I am told Torchy’s Tacos (5119 Burnet Rd), an icon in Austin, started with a single food cart. It now has several stores across the city.  The Burnet Road eatery’s patio is good place to recharge your batteries. 

Tiny Pies (5035 Burnet Road) - Zagat says, “The pies are just like mom used to make, only much much smaller. The petite offerings are modern twists on family recipes and include everything from breakfast pies to strawberry-basil pies, plus quiche, pie pops and mason-jar desserts.”  We loved the pecan pies after our Torchy’s tacos.

There is also a fun food truck hub village across the street from Tiny Pies. A bit hidden in the parking lot at the back, but it is worth a look with its own playground and a barbershop up front. How cool is that?

Pinthouse Pizza, Apothecary Café and Wine Bar, Pinthouse Pizza and Phoenicia Bakery and Deli south of W 49th Street all looked interesting.

Torchy's Tacos hit the spot!

Lo-Burn's food cart lot includes several food carts, a barber shop and playground. Very Cool!

IBIZ 101

Of Austin’s eight IBIZ (Independent Business Improvement Zones) Lo-Burn was the most interesting.

The criteria for an IBIZ district include:

  • At least 75% locally owned businesses (currently, all districts host 95% to 100% locally owned businesses)
  • Have 20 to 100 businesses (current districts have 23 to 90 businesses)
  • No more than one mile in walkable distance (current districts range from .4 to 1 mile)

Top Drawer Thrift fashions!

Last Word

Don’t expect a lot of streetscape improvements - banners, hanging flower baskets or street furniture – along Austin’s IBIZs.  And while the distances are walkable, the sidewalks may not be in the greatest shape (nor might there always be one) and streets are more vehicle-oriented than pedestrian-friendly.

But for the urban wanderer, these are interesting places to explore. We went to Lo-Burn twice!

Bonus: We were lucky enough to have the same car2go we’d parked 3 hours ago, still parked in the same spot we left it. 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Winnipeg's Old World Charm 

Shoe Shopping: 1600 km road trip

Dublin: FAB Fun in The Libertines

Melrose: Phoenix's emerging vintage district

 

Austin is more fun than weird!

While Austin’s moniker is “Keep Austin Weird,” I have not found anything about this city that I would call weird. On the other hand, I have found lots of fun things, which in my mind is even better as “Fun” appeals to more people than “Weird.”  

One of the first things we encountered as we headed out on the sidewalks was a neon sign “Wiggy’s Beer Wine” and thought “That’s Fun!”  Then we came upon a giant gorilla on the next block, which was an obvious “Kodak Moment.” And from there it was some fun fruit sculptures on the top of a parkade. This was all within the first 30 minutes.

One of Brenda’s observations about Austin is that it is a bit like Vegas with lots of neon signs everywhere.  While Austin’s neon signs are not big, bold and flashy like Vegas, they are fun and charming. And yes there are everywhere even in the ‘burbs. Neon is always fun.

For the first few days it seemed like it was just one fun thing after another. Here are our baker’s dozen “Austin is Fun” postcards.  

Established in 1973, the Wiggly Beer Wine neon sign marks the entrance to a tiny liquor store at the gateway to downtown along 6th Street West. 

Every city needs a good local fried chicken spot, Austin has many. Fresa's is take out only and is just a block from the Hope Outdoor Gallery, making it a popular spot with the picnickers. 

I told you Austin had more than one fried chicken spot.  This sign has is the most literal reference to Vegas. 

The name says it all - WAHOO!

Found this on a bottom shelf at HalfPrice Books at 5555 N Lamar.  Now that funny!

Found Lucy on the roof of a shop along South Congress. Lucy is fun and the play on the Beatles song is also fun. 

I have not clue what these are doing on the roof of parkade. This you could call "weird." 

Another fun name and sign of a business along South Congress in Austin. 

Every city has painted utility boxes these days, but Austin's have a fun twist.  Found these in the Clarksville community where we are staying in an apartment Airbnb. Love the cartoon narrative.  

Even the thrift stores get into Austin'd spirit of fun.  This is just one of dozens of chandeliers in the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store on South Congress. 

How fun is a bowling ball fence? 

This was the best thrift store we found in Austin. Very good product, lovely displays and good prices.  What is with the roof-top artworks? 

Airstream trailers are everywhere in Austin. You can find them in backyards and front yards on Airbnb. You can find them downtown selling custom designed boots. You can find them selling Big. Fat. Donuts! I even found one at a construction site office. 

West Austin Park pool looks lovely in winter but it only open in summer.

Last Word

We did find one weird thing about Austin and it is that  the lovely neighbourhood pool in the West Austin Park near our Airbnb (aka Austin home) is only open for two or three months in the summer.  What is weird is there is beautiful clean water in the pool year-round and it is +30 in March why wouldn't it be open now.  We asked locals and they also thought it was weird. 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Las Vegas: Neon boneyard fun!

Colorado Springs: Fun! Funky! Quirky!

Downtown Spokane is fun!

Calgary's CBD is unique!

Recently I did a piece for CBCNews Crossroads about Calgary’s downtown being an office ghetto.  The two criticisms I received from several urban planners were: 1) what I was really talking about was not Calgary’s downtown, but its “central business district” (CBD) and 2) all CBDs are office ghettos and therefore ghost towns after office hours. 

CBD is an urban planning term that refers to the place near the centre of a city that is predominantly a place to conduct business. To confuse things, some cities like Toronto, called it the Financial District, as it is where the major national banks have their headquarters.

Calgary's CBD includes several blogs of early 20th century buildings that have been declared a National Historic District as well as several other historical buildings. 

Calgary’s CBD (Downtown Commercial Core, is City of Calgary’s official name for it) is defined as the area from 9th St SW to 1st St SE (behind Municipal Building) and from 9th Ave SW to the 4th Ave SW.  It is about 1.3 km by .6 km in size and excludes Eau Claire, Chinatown or East Village.  For most Calgarians, I expect this is also their definition of downtown give or take a few blocks.

Read: Fixing Calgary's downtown ghost town

All CBDs are ghost towns?

The critics were quick to point out, “in Toronto, the Bay and King Street area is dead outside of office hours; the same is true for the blocks around Manhattan’s Wall Street.”

I agree with their observation CBD’s are typically ghost towns outside of office hours, because they basically have nothing else but offices towers. 

However, Calgary’s CBD is different.  While it is 80% office buildings it also includes major shopping, entertainment, cultural, historic and residential elements, on a scale that most other major city CBDs don’t include.

For example, Toronto’s CBD, at about 2 square kilometers, though about the same size as Calgary’s, doesn’t include Toronto Eaton Centre, The Bay, their theatre and entertainment districts. Their major tourist destinations, Art Gallery of Ontario, Royal Ontario Museum and CN Tower are also not in their CBD.  The same could be said for Vancouver or Seattle, their tourist are not hanging out in their CBD.

Calgary's CBD has over 3 million square feet of retail space, twice that of Chinook Mall.  The Core shopping mall links the historic Hudson's Bay department store with a flagship Holt Renfew store.  It is connected to 9 office towers and to Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall and the 7th Avenue transit corridor.  It is also connect to a major indoor public garden.  It is one of the most dense and mixed-use three-blocks in North America. 

Calgary's CBC has two pedestrian oriented streets with wide sidewalks, planters, banners and other enhancements. 

Why Calgary's CBD is different?

In Calgary, our CBD includes the city’s largest concentration of retail shopping. At 3.6 million square feet it is more than twice Chinook Centre’s. It includes the flagship Hudson’s Bay and Holt Renfrew department stores, as well as the-uber cool The Core shopping center with the mammoth glass ceiling.

Calgary’s CBD also includes two major tourist attractions the Glenbow Museum and Calgary Towers, as well as our Convention Centre. While the historic districts in Toronto and Vancouver are outside of their CBD, Calgary’s Stephen Avenue (a designated National Historic District) and a major restaurant row sits at centre ice in our CBD.

Calgary is also unique in that eight performing art spaces with over 4,000 seats and an art house cinema are located in our CBD.  It is also home to two significant public spaces (Devonian Gardens and Olympic Plaza), over 100 public artworks and two enhanced pedestrian-oriented streets (Stephen Avenue and Barclay Mall). 

Our CBD is home to some of Calgary’s best restaurants, albeit many of them have “expense account” prices, making them more for special occasions only.  It also includes major nightclubs like Flames Central and smaller music venues the Palomino Room or Wine-Ohs.

And, it I home to major festivals like Calgary International Children’s Festival and High Performance Rodeo, as well as the Stampede Parade and Stampede’s Rope Square.  

Indeed, Calgary’s CBD is unique in North America offering a greater diversity and great concentration of things to see and do for tourists and locals than a typical CBD.

Read: Calgary's Downtown Power Hour

Calgary's CBD comes alive at noon hour in the summer when workers and tourist love to stroll Stephen Avenue Walk aka 8th Avenue. 

Calgary's 7th Avenue LRT station at Holt Renfew, opens to a lovely park that is popular with workers at noon hour.

Stephen Avenue is a major restaurant row, that is lined with patios from May to September. 

Calgary Telus Convention Centre is located in Calgary CBD.

Olympic Plaza is another public space located in Calgary's CBD. The red brick building is part of the Arts Commons complex that includes that entire block.  it includes four theatre spaces and one concert hall.  On the next block is the Glenbow Museum and the Telus Convention Centre with Hyatt and Marriott hotels. 

Thousands of people live in our CBD

Our CBD also has a significant residential population of 9,000 residents. In fact it is one of Calgary’s largest residential communities ranking 52 out of our 250+ communities in population. It is also includes 10 major hotels with over 3,000 rooms.

In comparison, Toronto CBD’s residential population is only 2,239 (Toronto Financial District Business Improvement Area).

Read: Calgary new downtown office towers catalyst for inner-city densification

One of several residential buildings in Calgary's CBD. 

Facing Reality 

Our CBD is our downtown in the minds of most Calgarians.  And it is generally perceived as a place to work - not live or play.

Calgary’s CDB downtown has not captured the imagination of Calgarians as a place to play, dine, shop, be entertained, wander, linger or hang out except on special occasions. Neither, has it captured the imagination of Calgarians as a “must see” place for visiting family and friends except for special events.  

Nor has it captured the imagination of tourists as a weekend urban playground – music, festival, events, food, pubs, clubs, gallery/museum browsing, shopping, theatre etc.

9th Avenue is a typical Calgary CBD street with office buildings lining the street allowing little to no light to the sidewalk creating an unfriendly pedestrian environment. 

Another example of a street in Calgary's CBD that is just a wall of glass from office buildings. 

Last Word

In theory, Calgary’s CDB/downtown has many of the ingredients urban planners say you need to have for a vibrant urban place – shopping, public spaces, pedestrian- oriented streets, museums, art galleries, iconic architecture, public art, cafés, restaurants and festivals. 

Despite the tremendous efforts (think billions of dollars) by the City of Calgary, the private sector and the Calgary Downtown Association to create a CBD that is attractive to office workers during the weekday and tourists and Calgarians citywide in evenings and weekends, it is still a ghost town after office hours.

Unfortunately, office buildings are urban vitality exterminators and they trump everything else.

Full Disclosure: I was the Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association from 1995 to 2006. 

 

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

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

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

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

Bad Editor...

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

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

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

Art in unexpected places...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strange Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

Objects 

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

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

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

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

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

From the sidewalk

Street art in Calgary's Sunnyside community. 

Street art in Victoria, BC. 

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

2015: Everyday Tourist's Best Street People Photos

 

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

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

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

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

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

Black & White Narratives

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

Architecture As Art

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

Flaneuring Fun

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

Playgrounds

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

Street People

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

Street Art / Public Art Surprises

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

Skyscapes

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

Last Word

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

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

 

Found these two young girls crawling towards me after a Zombie Walk in Mexico City's Revolution Monument Plaza. There parents and they were keen to have me take their picture.  

This little guy caught me by surprise. Mexico City

Love these ladies, Calgary

Found these children using temporary swings under bleachers set up for the World Archery Competition in Mexico City. 

Walking next to the EMP museum designed by architect Frank Gehry is a surreal experience. 

Musician walking to Revolution Subway station in Mexico City.

Hand-holding, Mexico City. 

Beautiful, Mexico City

Relaxing, Mexico City

Asking For Directions, Mexico City

Lunch, Lady of Guadalupe Plaza, Mexico City 

Stampede fun on Stephen Avenue, Calgary

ive

Give Me 10, Crescent Heights Stairs, Calgary

Mirror, Mirror, Freemont Flea Market, Seattle

Hola Hoop

Fun Run, East Village, Calgary

Retro Fun, Pike Market, Seattle

School Trip, +15 bridge, Calgary

Princess, Revolution Monument Plaza, Mexico City

Big Smile, +15 bridge, Centennial Parkade, Calgary

Beauty & The Beast, Mexico City

Three Stooges, Mexico City

Skeleton Boy, Mexico City

Postcards from "Buffalo The Bold"

With the advent of cell phone/camera, I doubt (with the exception of Postcard Willie who has taken the art of postcard writing to a higher level) many of you send postcards to family and friends when travelling anymore. Why would one?

Though postcards are relatively cheap, the postage is not – case in point we paid $3 last year to mail one from Italy to Calgary - and half the time you arrive home before the post card.  It is hard to compete with free and immediate photos and messages via texts, emails, tweets and instagrams. But the problem with these generic images is people glance at them once, often never to be looked at again. On the flipside, the great thing about postcards is they are often kept for months, years and sometimes even decades.  I see my photos as custom postcards, images of the off-the-beaten path, hidden gems we find when prowling the streets and alleys of a cities we visit.

Recently, we had a chance to spend three days in Buffalo, New York. We loved it - especially the history, the architecture, the food, the beer, the art and the renaissance.  There is a unique urbanity to Buffalo that makes it true to itself and not trying to be like everyone else. There is an compelling contrast between the modest working class homes and the majestic mansions, between the brutalist architecture of cement grain elevators and the art deco design of their City Hall. There is subtle boldness to Buffalo’s early 21st century renaissance that it beginning to match the City’s heyday a century ago.

I hope you will enjoy these everyday tourist postcards of “Buffalo The Bold.”

Douglas: Jim Hodges, Look and See, sculpture creates a wonderful Matisse like cut-out abstract shapes of sky, architecture and sculpture. You would love it.  Cheers! R

Charles: WOW, this paper sculpture hangs from the top of one of the abandoned grain elevators. You could easily miss it if you didn't look up. The silo tour was definitely a highlight of our visit. RnB (just found out these are paper gears created by Daniel Seiders a landscape architect for the City of the Night public art show in 2013) 

Mom: You would have loved Henry Hobson Richardson's (father of the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style) mega state-of-the-art Buffalo State Assylum for the Insane in 1872 and opened in 1880. It is currently being converted into Hotel Henry: Urban Resort Hotel & Conference Centre and Buffalo Architecture Museum. Love Richard

Knox: You would love these canoes by Nancy's Rubins. The real title"Stainless Steel, Aluminum, Monochrome I, Built to Live Anywhere, at Home Here" seems pretentious. Can you say pretentious? Roscoe 

Don: A pay phone as an art gallery with iPad fireplace can be found at Hydraluic Hearth Pizza and Brewery in Larkinville. The food and beer was good too. RW

Ashley:  I think this fun, funky, quirkly Elmwood Laundry would be fun for you and Knox to check out.. R

Judy: Yes there are buffalos in Buffalo, this one is on the iconic Post Office Building. So many great turn of the century buildings. You would love it here.  R

Chris: The kids would love these bikes.  Buffalo is a great winter city. Everyone loves ice biking at Buffalo's Canalside skating rink - the size of three NHL rinks. They even have a Tim Hortons' across the street. R

Chris: The kids would love these bikes.  Buffalo is a great winter city. Everyone loves ice biking at Buffalo's Canalside skating rink - the size of three NHL rinks. They even have a Tim Hortons' across the street. R

C:  You would love COOCOOU27 salvage warehouse. This postcards says it all...wish you were here. R

Barbara: Loved the Martin House. The celebrated sculpture, Winged Victory of Samothrace, commonly known as the Nike of Samothrace, is a sculpture of the Greek goddess Nike. The statue was a favorite of Frank Lloyd Wright and he used reproductions of it in a number of his buildings including the Martin House in Buffalo. Best Wishes! RW

Ken: Simply amazing. Sol Lewitt's largest scribble drawing title "WALL DRAWING #1268: SCRIBBLES: STAIRCASE (AKAG), CONCEIVED 2006; EXECUTED 2010" encompasses the entire staircase connecting the 1905 and 1962 buildings. It is created entirely by scribble lines. R

David: These ruins from at Riverworks will become the coolest summer patio in 2016. R

Charlie: Gothic City has everything including the bath tub...perfect for your next project. RW

Lawrence: The Pierce Arrow Museum was a great find...loved the playboy car but this hood ornament and hundreds of others made me envious. R

Knox: Now this is a drink! These Labatt Blue Cans are abandoned grain elevator silos 10 storeys tall and are part of Riverworks sports oriented entertainment complex. RW

Tom: Robert Motherwell's Elegy to the Spanish Republic XXXIV is one of many American masterpieces in the Albright Knox Art Gallery's collection. You should get to Buffalo next time you are in Toronto. R

Amy: You would love the acoustics inside the cement silo grain elevators. George: they are a fun place to photograph...wish you both were here. RW

Linda/Charlie: You'd love this porch at Inn Buffalo. You'd love to stay at the Inn, the place oozes history and breakfast is DELICIOUS...RnB

2015: Everyday Tourist Best Architectural Photos

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

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

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

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

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

Black & White Narratives

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

Architecture As Art

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

Flaneuring Fun

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

Playgrounds

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

Street People

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

Street Art / Public Art Surprises

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

Skyscapes

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

Last Word

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

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

 

"Looking Up" (Revolution Plaza Monument, Mexico City) 

"Strange Reflections" (pedestrian bridge, East Village, Calgary)

"Peace" (Bow River, Calgary)

"True Skyscraper" (Eight Avenue Place, Calgary)

"Skin" (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Parkade, Calgary)

"Hex" (Soumaya Museum, Mexico City)

"Folds" (Experience Music Museum, Seattle)

"Torre BBVA Bancomer Tower" (Mexico City) 

Close up of the outdoor garden of the Torre BBVA Bancomer office tower. 

Balcony (condo on Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City)

Skylight, Mexico City 

"Plensa playing with Foster" (Wonderland sculpture and Bow office tower, downtown, Calgary)

"Second Street Collage" (downtown, Calgary)

"Chinese Kaleidoscope" (Chinese Cultural Centre, Calgary)

"Many Angles" (downtown, Calgary)

"Connectivity" (Washington State Convention Centre, Seattle)

"Blue Skying" (Bankers Hall, Calgary) 

"Glass Ceiling" (The Core, Calgary) 

"Ivory Tower" (downtown Calgary)

"9th Avenue Collage" (downtown, Calgary)

"Pick-up sticks", (Seton, Calgary) 

"Old & New" Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, Calgary

2015: Everyday Tourist's Best B&W Photos

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

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

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

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

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

Black & White Narratives

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

Architecture As Art

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

Flaneuring Fun

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

Playgrounds

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

Street People

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

Street Art / Public Art Surprises

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

Skyscapes

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

Last Word

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

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

 

"Laughter" (church courtyard, Mexico City)

"Morning Shadows" (downtown Calgary)

"Waterfall" (Anthropology Museum courtyard, Mexico City) 

"Divine Light" (cemetery, Mexico City) 

"Mystery Spaces" (lobby Bellas Artes, Mexico City)