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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Winnipeg vs Calgary: The Forks vs East Village

Then it hit me; The Forks isn’t an urban village it is a tourist district. 

Recently I was in Winnipeg for a wedding and had some time to wander their mega urban redevelopment The Forks, which is aptly named as it is located where the Assiniboine and Red Rivers meet in the middle of their City Centre.

As I wandered around at noon hour on a nice Friday in early October I wondered; “Where are the condos? Where are the office buildings? Where are the people running along the river?” 

I couldn’t help but reflect on how the location next to two rivers and just east of downtown was very similar to Calgary’s East Village and yet so different.

The Esplanade Riel Bridge connects The Forks to the community of St. Boniface across the Red River.  It has a restaurant in the middle that offers spectacular views of downtown, the river and the Human Rights Museum. 

East Village's pathways along the Bow River in St. Patrick's Island Park with the George King bridge in the background.

East Village's pathways along the Bow River in St. Patrick's Island Park with the George King bridge in the background.

Similarities

Both sites were meeting places for First Nations peoples long before the pioneer settlers arrived. 

Both sites are about the same size - The Forks is 63 acres (doesn’t include Shaw baseball park) and East Village is 49 acres (doesn’t include Fort Calgary Park).

Both sites were once industrial sites, with The Forks being an old CN rail yard next to their Union Station, while East Village being more of a light industrial area with a rail line running along its southern edge.

Both sites struggled in the middle of the 20th century to find new uses.  CN Rail moved their yards to the suburbs in 1966 leaving the site vacant.  East Village buildings were torn down in the ‘60s to create ugly overflow surface parking lots for downtown.

Both sites lack good connectivity to downtown and neighbouring communities due to rivers and railway tracks.

Winnipeg's Union Station and railway sheds separate The Forks from downtown. 

Today, both sites are managed by a CEO who reports to a government appointed Board of Directors.  The Forks CEO, Paul Jordan reports to The Forks North Portage Partnership Board which was established by the Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments.  East Village President and CEO, Michael Brown reports to Calgary Municipal Land Corporation Board appointed by City of Calgary. 

Both sites have a major new museum, Human Rights Museum at the Forks and National Music Centre in East Village.  Both of which are only national museums located outside of Ottawa.  The Forks also has a Children’s Museum, Children’s Theatre and skatepark, while East Village has a mega new library and the family oriented St. Patrick’s Island Park.  And each has popular pedestrian pathways, plazas along the river’s edge and an iconic pedestrian bridge over the river. 

Both The Forks and East Village have very active programming to attract people to the site.  The Forks attracts over 4 million visitors to the site and is the City and Province’s number one tourist attraction.

The uniquely shaped Human Rights Museum dominates The Forks. In the foreground is a multi-purpose plaza that can serve as a skatepark, busker/performance space or casual sitting area. 

East Village's National Music Centre

East Village's National Music Centre

The Fork's river landing and pathway along the Assiniboine River just before it flows into the Red River. 

The Fork's river landing and pathway along the Assiniboine River just before it flows into the Red River. 

East Village's Riverwalk with the Langevin bridge, 4th, 5th and LRT flyovers in the background. 

East Village's Riverwalk with the Langevin bridge, 4th, 5th and LRT flyovers in the background. 

The Market at The Forks is part food court (main floor), part retail space (second floor). 

East Village: The Simmons building has an upscale restaurant, cafe and bakery. 

East Village: The Simmons building has an upscale restaurant, cafe and bakery. 

Winnipeg's Children's Museum is one of several cultural facilities located at The Forks. 

Computer rendering of the Caglary's new Central Library looking west from East Village.

Computer rendering of the Caglary's new Central Library looking west from East Village.

Differences

The Forks North Portage Partnership purchased all of the land from CN Rail for $66 million, whereas the City of Calgary owned about 50% of the East Village lands at one point. 

Aerial view of The Forks

Aerial view of The Forks

The Forks has no master plan governing how all of its land will be developed eventually, but rather is governed more organically adapting to new opportunities and needs as they arise.  The first thing CMLC did was create a comprehensive master plan with a detailed 3D video to help everyone understand the vision of the new East Village as a 21st century urban village.

The Forks is actively working with developers to convert 12 acres of surface parking lots next to the railway tracks and Union Station into Railside. The vision calls for $500 million to be invested by large and small developers to build 20+ buildings no taller than six storeys with retail at street level and offices and condos above and $50 million in public spaces. (Railside will be more like Calgary’s University District than East Village in that the land will be leased not owned, as The Forks partnership wants to retain ownership of the land).

New condos and the East Village sales centre. 

New condos and the East Village sales centre. 

East Village’s development was funded by a Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) that was used to upgrade infrastructure and help build new public amenities like St. Patrick’s Island Park, National Music Museum and new Central Library.  The $357 million CRL has resulted in $2.4 billion in private sector development and is expected to generate $725 million in new tax revenues by 2027, which will more than pay back the $357 million levy. 

The Forks is a unique government led partnership with the return on investment (ROI) being shared by the three parties - City receives new property tax revenue, Province provincial sales tax paid on site and Federal Government getting all GST revenues. 

Like East Village, two of the most popular reason for visiting The Forks are Canada Day festivities and summer concerts.  What is very interesting is the Forks has been very successful in creating winter attractions – skating on the river and the Winter Park are listed as the third and fourth most popular activities in a 2015 Survey and not far behind summer concerts the second most popular activity, festivals being number one.   

East Village hosts an ambitious year-round program of events.

Winnipeg's ice skating trails

Winnipeg's ice skating trails

Winnipeg’s Winter Wonderland

The Fork’s “Warming Huts” is a stroke of genius.  Since 2009, an international competition has been organized inviting designers to submit proposals for shelters to be installed along the river skating rink so people can stop, chat and warm up.  The program has captured international attention including the New York Times with the Travel Section headline “In Winnipeg, a Skating Rink That Doubles as a Sculpture Park.”

It has also captured the imagination of starchitect Frank Gehry who designed an igloo made of clear blocks of ice in 2012.

Winnipeg Ice Hut

Last Word

East Village is an intriguing example of private public collaboration based on an ambitious vision, master plan and implementation with a 20-year return on investment and build out.   It reflects Calgary’s corporate culture and the love of the mega projects.

After 30 years, The Forks is just now completing the return on investment for the three levels of government and is still decades away from complete build out.  It reflects Winnipeg’s government culture and love of grass roots development.

Paul Jordan and his Board of Directors are happy with The Forks’ slower redevelopment timeline as it allows for organic growth and the ability to respond to community needs over time rather than being locked into a fixed master plan.

I guess you could say there is “more than one way to skin a cat.”

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Hillhurst/Sunnyside: Street Art Fun!

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

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

Calgary Street Art

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

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

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

Street Art Calgary

Not Public Art

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

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

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

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

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

Link: History of Train Graffiti

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

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

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

I LUV Street Art why?

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

Street Art Calgary

Flashback

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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Brewery Districts: Edmonton vs Calgary

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

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

Missed Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

Impressed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharp Edge

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

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

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

Calgary’s Fledgling Brewery District

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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Battisella: Pioneers & Innovators

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subtle and clever.

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

Urban Pioneers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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East Village: Lust of the new playground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lust of the new playground

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

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

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

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

East Village's pebble beach.

East Village's pebble beach.

Eau Claire's wadding pool.

Eau Claire's wadding pool.

Test Of Time

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

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

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

Sound Familar?  

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

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

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

Eau Claire's lagoon and pedestrian bridge.   

Eau Claire's lagoon and pedestrian bridge.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary’s best communities may surprise urbanists 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eau Claire condos along the Bow River.

Eau Claire condos along the Bow River.

New condos next to Eau Claire Market. 

New condos next to Eau Claire Market. 

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

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

Eau Claire's Sheraton Hotel.

Eau Claire's Sheraton Hotel.

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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Metrovino: $5 Sherry Festival (More Please)

 

Woke up Monday (Nov 7, 2016) morning came downstairs to find Brenda all excited about a Sherry Festival produced by Richard Harvey at Calgary’s Metrovino the week of November 14th.  Immediately, memories of our first trip to Europe rushed into my still sleepy head.
Calgary Sherry Festival Fun

We were young and naïve. And I was cocky. We had booked a 3-week road trip adventure in Spain and Portugal.  We landed in Lisbon at afternoon rush hour and had to get to Cascais what we thought would be a short, easy drive to our hotel.  Wrong.

It was like driving the Deerfoot with traffic circles thrown in for some fun. (Note: this was the late 80s and I had never seen a traffic circle in my life.)  It was white knuckling all the way.  Backstory: We thought we were going to die at least 3 times in the first 2 days of this trip.  I learned to drive with one foot on the gas and one on the brake.  My motto became that of a running back in football i.e. run (or in this case, driver) for daylight.

Back to Cascais. We arrived to find none of the streets had signage names at the corner and their were few street lights – it was pretty much pitch black by then.  (Note: There was no GPS, or cell phone apps to guide us, just old school paper maps.)  We had to park the car and walk around to try to find where we were i.e. the street names were in ceramic tiles on the buildings, impossible to see from the road. 

Finally, we found our hotel and room to find two twin beds.  That wasn’t going to work for us, (remember we said we were naïve) so back down to the check-in desk to see if we could get a queen bed at least. (Note: We spoke no Portuguese or Spanish).  Yes, we made the twin beds work. 

After 3 days we thought, “what the hell have we done, but after 17 days we didn’t want to go home.” 

Most Embarrassing Moment

Seville is so rich with history and rituals, everyone should visit there at least once in their life. We were so fortunate that just by chance we were there at Easter. 

Perhaps one of the most embarrassing moments of my life happened in Jerez (the sherry capital of the world) while I was filling up our rental car with gas.  As we entered the busy gas station lot I noticed that one of the gas pumps wasn’t being used so I quickly pulled up to it and as former gas jockey, I was quick to jump out and started the fill up. People started looking and waving at me and saying something but not understanding a word they said, I just kept filling it up.

Then someone came over pointed to a word and turned it off.  The light bulb came on – I was filling up the car with diesel fuel and it was not a diesel car.  What to do? Luckily, we found someone who could speak some English who took us to a pub nearby where we phoned the rental car company who towed the car away and got us a new car later that day (all they charged us for was a full tank of gas).  I spent the day feeling stupid and we wasted what was supposed to be a fun day in Jerez tasting sherry.

Backstory: When I was an undergrad at McMaster University (’72 to ’76) I was introduced to sherry by one of my biology professors Dr. Davidson who became my mentor (what one might call a “life coach” these days).  He would host an annual Sherry Party in his condo full of modern art and Persian rugs for graduate students each year. As the President of the undergraduate Biology Club, I got invited and loved the smooth sweet taste of sherry.  My sweet tooth thought I had died and gone to heaven.  I started to volunteer to work in Davidson’s lab in the summers, partly to learn more about biology and the life of a researcher, but also for those 5 o’clock glasses of sherry and lively debates he often hosted in his lab.

One of our best memories of our trip to Spain were the Easter processions. At first we thought it was the Ku Klux Klan the similarities in the costumes is scary.  

One of our best memories of our trip to Spain were the Easter processions. At first we thought it was the Ku Klux Klan the similarities in the costumes is scary.  

Metrovino

I first met Richard Harvey back in the mid 1980s when he was a partner with Janet Webb who opened one of Calgary’s first wine stores in the then brand new Glenmore Landing Shopping Centre (the Aspen Landing Shopping Centre of the ‘80s).  I used to hang out there every Friday for happy hour enjoying wine and chatting with Richard, Peggy (Peggy Perry the brains behind Willow Park Wine & Spirits), not the and Janet waiting for Brenda to return home from her job in Coaldale.

Metrovino's Sherry Corner. 

Metrovino's Sherry Corner. 

We will definitely be heading to Metrovino for their Sherry Festival that also included tapas from Ox and Angela, Char-Cut, bar C and the Bar Von Der Fels.  One of my fondest memories was enjoying a tapas dinner in Seville watching the sunset from a patio on the Guadalquivir River and wondering what was Christopher Columbus thinking when he said off from here to find the new world. 

Would going every night and see if we can taste all 27 Sherries that Harvey stocks be too boorish? We did after all, we miss out on a lot of sherry tasting in Jerez. 

I wonder if Harvey has Harvey’s Shooting Sherry, it was one of my favourites.  I think they stopped making it several years ago, maybe he has a bottle in the back. 

Richard Harvey is a urban flanuer who loves to where a beret. 

Richard Harvey is a urban flanuer who loves to where a beret. 

Last Word

Imagine $5 for sherry tasting, tapas and listening to Harvey’s storytelling.  Too good to be true; maybe I am still asleep and this is a dream. 

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Calgary: Everyday Street Photography Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colour Street Photography 

Bubble Fun...

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

Britannia's 21st Century Transformation

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

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

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

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

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

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

NORR Corner / Poon Place

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

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

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

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

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

Britannia Crossing by Opus.

Britannia Crossing by Opus.

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

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

Britannia Plaza

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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Battle of Alberta: Urban Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

CALGARY SWAGGER

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

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

Take that Edmonton.

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

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

But has the tide the turned.

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

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

EDMONTON RISES

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

BIG ISN'T ALWAYS BEAUTIFUL.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE URBAN LIVING RENAISSANCE RACE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SISTER CITIES?

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

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

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

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

Calgary vs Austin / 17th Ave vs South Congress

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17th Avenue's gravitypope shop is dazzling. 

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

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

Entertainment a key element for tourists

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

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

Calgary's 17th Avenue has vibrant patio culture. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating Vitality

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

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

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

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

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

ATB Financial, 17th  Ave Calgary

Who needs density?

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

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

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

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

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

Streetscape Improvements

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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Calgary's International Avenue Follows Jane Jacob's Advice

Jane Jacobs, the 1960s guru of urban renewal, once said, “gradual change is better than cataclysmic development.” International Avenue certainly seems to be heeding this sage advice. 

The ten blocks of 17th Avenue SW between 4th Street and 14th St SW currently branded as RED (Retail Entertainment District), is one of Canada’s top pedestrian streets and well known to Calgarians. 

But further east on 17th Avenue, specifically the blocks between 26th and 61st Street SE (aka International Avenue) flies under the radar for Calgarians and tourists.  It is one of Canada’s hidden urban gems. Soon that may all change as International Avenue (IA) is about to undergo a mega makeover – a $96 million transformation to be exact. Starting this September, construction will begin to make 17th Avenue SE a “complete street” i.e. it will accommodate cars, dedicated bus lanes for Bus Rapid Transit, transit stations, bike lanes, new wide sidewalks all graced with hundreds of trees.  

International Avenue is great example of messy urbanism with its multiple sidewalks, angle parking and mash-up of shops and services. 

International Avenue is great example of messy urbanism with its multiple sidewalks, angle parking and mash-up of shops and services. 

Urban Boulevard: A Game Changer

Alison Karim-McSwiney, International Avenue Business Revitalization Zone’s (BRZ) Executive Director since its inception in 1992, started working on this transformation in 2004. Collaborating with faculty and students at the University of Calgary’s School of Environmental Design, a 21st century vision for 17th Avenue SE was created, long before BRT, bike lanes and walkability became hot topics in our city. 

The vision to create a vibrant urban boulevard to accommodate all modes of transportation and foster a diversity of uses – retail, restaurant, culture, office and condos and even live/work spaces - was very ambitious for the modest communities of Forest Lawn, Albert Park and Radisson Heights that are its neighbours.

While it has taken over 10 years to refine the dream and secure the funding and approvals, land use changes are now in place allowing for several mixed-use developments along 17th Avenue SE, which could result in 13,000 new residents and 9,000 new jobs over the next 25 years. 

Chris Jennings, of Stantec Calgary who facilitated the design of new International Avenue told me,  “I love the ideas and vision that have been put forward for this project.  Not all of them can be accomplished during this project, some of them are ideas that will occur on lands not on city property and some of the ideas will need delivered as future development occurs – but man, it is going to be something special in 10 to 15 years.”

Link: City of Calgary 17th Avenue S.E. BRT Project

A conceptual drawing of what International Avenue could look like in the future.

A conceptual drawing of what International Avenue could look like in the future.

Foodie Haven

IA has all of the ingredients for a funky food-oriented urban village. Currently, of the 425 businesses, over 30% are food and restaurant-related.   Since the late ‘90s, International Avenue has been home to the “Around The World In 35 blocks” event that allows participants to sample the eclectic flavours of IA from September to June. 

Did you know that IA is home to an Uzbekistan restaurant called Begim? Have you even heard of Uzbekistan cuisine?  In his Calgary Herald review, John Gilchrist described Uzbek cuisine as “fairly mild with some hot chillies and spices such as dill, cumin and coriander. Kebabs come in beef, chicken, lamb and lyulya (ground beef). There is no pork or alcohol at Begim as the Madjanovs (owners) are Muslim and all of their meats are halal.” 

Gilchrist once told me, ““On this strip, you find food cultures as close as they come to their native lands.  It lives up to its name ‘International Avenue’ with great restaurants like Mimo (Portuguese), Fassil (Ethiopian), Pho Binh Minh (Vietnamese) and many other favourites of mine.”

Love this example of how a modest house has been turned into a restaurant, not just any restaurant but an Uzbek restaurant. 

Arts & Cultural Hub

One of Karim-McSwiney’s 15 goals (yes, the website ambitiously lists 15) is to transform IA into an “arts and culture” hub. In 2013, IA became home to its own arts incubator called “artBox”, a multi-purpose art space located in the old Mill’s Painting Building (1807 – 42nd St SE) with studios and performance space for local artists. Almost anything goes at artBox, from Aboriginal to African art, from concerts to exhibitions.  It has quickly become a meeting place for artists from diverse ethnic backgrounds and as well as patrons of the arts.

So successful, it spawned “Emerge Market,” a retail pop-up shop in a shipping container on the front lawn of artBox.  Its goal is to assist young artisans and entrepreneurs to set up shop to test their products before taking the major step of opening up a permanent shop.  How smart is that?

The BRZ’s website lists six venues in IA that have live music weekdays and weekends. Who knew?

Angela Dione and Angel Guerra Co-founders of Market Collective (a collective of Calgary artisans established in 2011) were at a transitional point in the collective’s evolution when the International BRZ found them space in a former car dealership showroom for their pop-up Christmas Market in 2012.  Market Collective has since gone on to become just one of 17th Avenue’s incubator success stories.

Art box is an old retail paint store that is now a multi-purpose art space.  It has been so successful that a pop-up sea container has been added to allow artisans to showcase their work. 

Gentrification Free Zone

While places like Kensington, Mission, Bridgeland and Inglewood are quickly becoming gentrified, i.e. places where only the rich can afford to live, eat, shop and play, one of Karim-McSwiney’s goals is to foster development without significant increases in rent for retail and restaurant spaces, thus helping ensure the local mom and pop shops don’t have to close their doors or move elsewhere.

She and her Board realize one of the keys to IA’s future is to retain its established small unique destination with its local shopkeepers and restaurateurs. Illchmann’s Sausage Shop and Gunther’s Fine Bakery have both called IA home for 45 years and La Tiendona Market for 21 years.  It would be a shame to lose these icons as part of any revitalization, which is what happens all too often.

I love the fact that there are no upscale urban design guidelines for International Avenues facades.  Love the colour, playfulness and grassroots approach. 

There are also several great neon signs along International Avenue. Love that this one has a phone number not a website address - how retro is that?

There are also several great neon signs along International Avenue. Love that this one has a phone number not a website address - how retro is that?

Last Word

For more information on events and new developments on International Avenue go to their website. Link: International Avenue BRZ 

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Calgary: Sitting On The Porch

Recently I attended a wedding at the Bow Valley Ranche homestead in Calgary’s Fish Creek Park (one of the largest urban parks in the world at 13 square kilometers or three times the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park).  Like others, I went gaga over this lovely house, its tranquil setting in the middle of the enormous park and the lovely wraparound porch.

Bow Valley Ranche's wraparound porch creates a "welcoming" sense of place.

History: Bow Valley Ranche

The Bow Valley Ranch site was first settled by John Glenn, who created one of Alberta’s first permanent farms in the 1870s.  In 1877, the federal government purchased the site for $350 to create an instructional farm to teach First Nations people how to farm their land. After several years, the program was phased out. 

In 1896, cattle rancher and businessman William Roper Hull purchased the Bow Valley homestead and built, a lovely two-story yellow brick home with a huge wraparound porch.  Then in 1902, Patrick Burns, one of the Big Four who started the Calgary Stampede and eventually became a Senator, purchased the house.

After Burns passed away in 1937, family members lived in the house until the early ‘70s. In 1973, the Alberta government purchased the entire Bow Valley Ranch site as part of the establishment of Fish Creek Provincial Park. Today it is a popular restaurant.

It was the Bow Valley Ranche’s porch that seemed to impress wedding attendees the most on a lovely sunny afternoon in early September.  I have always loved porches. Our house has a front porch where I often sit and read or watch the world go by.  But I didn’t before appreciate how much others also love them even if they don’t hve one or use the one they have. I have often noticed on my frequent walks, that seldom is anyone sitting on the porches despite them being adorned with comfy chairs and side tables.

This also got me thinking about Calgary’s other historical homes and have huge porches like the Bow Valley Ranch home.  The two I am most familiar with are Riley Lodge (that used to be on Crowchild Trail at 7th Avenue NW, a pitching wedge from my house and is now located three blocks further west) and the Colonel James Walker House (at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary).  

Bow Valley Ranche's grand front yard makes it a perfect spot for weddings. 

History: Riley Lodge

In 1910, Alfred Riley,   son of prominent Calgary pioneer  of prominent Calgary pioneer Thomas Riley, built a farm house of brick and sandstone. Known as Riley Lodge, it was occupied by Alfred and his wife Ada Marie until Alfred’s death; after which Ada continued to live in the house until 1934. It remained in the Riley family until 1968.
In 1987, the house was moved to 843-27th Street NW to allow for the transformation of 24th Street NW into Crowchild Trail. According to City records, it is the last known Riley family residence still standing.

The veranda, which had to be demolished for the move, was reconstructed based on a drawing from a book of house plans, circa 1910.  However, when an old photograph of the house was discovered at the Glenbow Archives in 2007, the veranda was rebuilt and is now an accurate representation of the original.  Future plans include a wrought iron gateway and stone columns at the end of the driveway.

Riley Lodge is built in the Queen Anne Revival style, with some of the key features including the wrap-around veranda, hipped roof, third floor dormer windows and the turret at the corner of the front façade. 

Riley Lodge's porch creates a wonderful sense of grandeur. 

Original entrance to Riley Lodge (photo credit: insomniac's attic)

Source: Calgary Public Library, Community Heritage & Family History

Link: Riley Lodge Story

 

History: Colonel James Walker House

 In 1883, Colonel James Walker settled the land that is now occupied by the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. In 1910, the current brick house - named Inglewood - was built, and the surrounding area was then named for the most prominent property in the area.

In 1929, Colonel Walker's son Selby applied to the federal government to have 59 acres on the west side of the Bow River designated as a Federal Migratory Bird Sanctuary. His request was granted and the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary was born.

When Selby died in 1953, Ed Jefferies, owner of a large contracting firm, acquired the property and leased it to the Alberta Fish & Game Association for their new headquarters. In 1970 the City of Calgary purchased the property and has been managing it as a natural reserve ever since.

In 1996, the Nature Centre was built and grassland restoration projects began. The Colonel Walker House is currently both a private residence and serves the administrative and educational activities needs of the Nature Centre.

Colonel Walker house literally sits in the middle of a sanctuary. 

Colonel Walker house literally sits in the middle of a sanctuary. 

Heritage homes remind us of the importance of decorative details. 

The front porch helps to create a welcoming entrance.

Source: City of Calgary website

Link: Century Homes In Calgary

 

Front Porch Culture

Even modest cottage homes had porches in the early 20th century. 

The origin of the front porch is most often thought of as an element of southern American homes -both luxury and modest homes - starting in the mid 19th century.  It was a place where the family could retire to as the outdoor air provided a somewhat cool alternative to the summer heat and humidity.  In most houses, the porch was an extension of the living room taking up the entire front of the house and sometimes wrapping around one or both sides.

Before TV, the porch was the place where parents and grandparents would tell stories. It was also a place where parents would meet or say hello to other parents who were out walking waiting for the house to cool off. It was a place where neighbours could catch up on the news from the community and plan events (there were no phones, no texting or emails).  The porch was the community meeting place!

It was also a place where adults could keep an eye on their children who commonly played in the front yard and street, i.e. pre community playgrounds and parks days.

The porch started to fall out of fashion in the ‘50s with the advent of TV and the introduction of the attached front garage.  By the ‘60s, the fenced-in backyard, commonly included a deck (complete with BBQ and patio furniture), as well as a lawn area (which used to be a vegetable garden, but became space for private swings, slide, sandbox and sometimes a pool). Houses (and people) turned their backs on the street. The backyard became a private family playground!

Can you believe this school built in 1911 had a porch?

Can you believe this school built in 1911 had a porch?

Can we bring back the porch?

By the late 20th century, more and more houses had air-conditioning, which further reducing the need to sit outside at night.  

In Calgary, although most new infills in established communities with back alley garages do in fact have front porches, however, in new communities smaller lots and attached front double garages make it almost impossible to have a porch. 

For the past 50 years, urban living in North America has become more and more private vs public.  People have abandoned public transportation for the privacy of the car, live in larger homes that are more backyard than front yard focused.

Indeed, the porch, which fostered a sense of community and neighbourliness in North America since the middle of the 19th century, is sadly missing on many streets in new communities today.

And, if newer houses do have a porch, it is often “for decoration only” or perhaps a place to store bikes, strollers and lawn mowers, rather than a place to sit and interact with the neighbours.  

Typical suburban home of the late 20th century in North American cities with no front yard and no welcoming entrance.

Over the past decade, developers have been introducing front porches at street level and also overtop of the garage where possible. 

Last Word

 

Pity!

 

My front porch! My favourite place to sit!

My front porch! My favourite place to sit!

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Condo Design: Lobby Appeal

When it comes to buying a house, we often hear about the importance of “curb appeal” i.e. first impression. When it comes to buying a condo, it’s all about “lobby appeal.”  It often surprises me how little attention some condo developers and designers give to the lobby of a multi-million dollar building.

Disclosure: While I have not done an extensive survey of condo lobbies in Calgary, I can say there are very few that strike me a really memorable.  What would it take to add some good art, with good lighting and a couple of designer chairs?

However, recently I have encountered three relatively new condos where the developer and designer recognized the importance of the lobby as a key element of the design of the condo - Mark on 10th, Pixel and Ven.

Pixel's entrance glass reflects the tree across the street to create an engaging entrance.

Coupland Lobby

Kudos to Qualex-Landmark for commissioning a painting by world-renowned Canadian artist Douglas Coupland for the lobby of their latest Beltline condo, Mark on 10th. I was a bit shocked when I first heard Qualex-Landmark was commissioning an artist of Coupland’s stature to create an artwork for a private lobby space of the condo. Silly me, I thought it would be outside where everyone could enjoy it.

Parham Mahboubi, Vice-President of Planning and Marketing informed me that given Mark on 10th location the busy corner of 10th Ave and 8th St SW in the middle of Calgary’s fledgling Design District, the company felt it was important to do something artistic to add to the character of the community.  However, given it is a painting and not a sculpture the piece had to be inside.  Yes, everyone can peek-in and have a look. 

The piece titled “Interpretation of Calgary, Alberta in the 21st Century” consists of four rows each with five cheerful, colourful, candy-like circles that look a modern version of the “house” in curling or perhaps archery targets.  Given the diversity of colours, it is not hard to imagine the piece represents the diversity of people who call Calgary home. Did you know….Calgary is the third most diverse city in Canada?

Douglas Coupland's artwork makes a visual statement that most visitors will have to think about. 

Douglas Coupland's artwork makes a visual statement that most visitors will have to think about. 

Disco Lobby

I only discovered the Pixel lobby while I was flaneuring along 9a St NW next to the LRT tracks in Sunnyside.  While I had always liked its quirky yellow patio boxes, I had no idea the lobby windows were translucent-coloured glass that looked like the entrance to a hip New York or London disco.  I immediately had to take a picture and tweet it out saying this was the coolest lobby in the city.  Indeed, it was the coolest thing I had seen in a long time. 

I love urban surprises and thanks to Battisella Developments I had one of my more memorable urban surprises of the year.

Entrance to Pixel is surreal. 

Living Wall Lobby

Recently, friends moved into Bucci Developments’ new Sunnyside condo Ven, a hidden gem tucked at the base of the McHugh Bluff where 7th Street becomes 5th Avenue NW. While the lobby is very modest in size, Bucci’s designers created a lovely lobby with a 20-foot high by 7-foot wide living wall as its centrepiece.  This green wall or vertical garden is made up of hundreds of plants creating a vibrant abstract-like green painting with hints of colour. 

As you move to the main floor hallway Ven has several photos that pay homage to the fact that in 2013, before Ven was built, the nine houses and three garages on the site were turned over to artists to create a temporary art installation and performance space that was visited by 10,000 people over nine days.

Ven's living wall creates a dramatic entrance for such a small space. 

Last Word

I challenge all condo builders and architects from here on it to make their lobbies special places where people want to meet visiting family and friends. It doesn’t have to be expensive to add a “WOW” factor, just some creating thinking.

Note: An edited version of this blog was commissioned for Condo Living magazine. 

Lobby of 1741 condo by Truman Homes is playful and colourful. 

Lobby of 1741 condo by Truman Homes is playful and colourful. 

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Calgary Folk Festival Postcards (2016)

2016 seems to be the year of the festival for this everyday tourist.  I was fortunate to be in Austin for their annual kite festival in March. It was one of the best one-day family events I have ever experienced. 

Link: Austin's Kite Festival: Cheap, Colourful & Crazy

Then it was Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo in April, which to my surprise was also a wonderful family event.   Downtown Calgary and Stampede Park turned into a fantasy world of colour and characters like I have never seen before.  

Link: Everyday Tourist Visits Calgary Expo

I was also at the Calgary Stampede on their Family Day, which reminded me how Stampede Park becomes a wonderful urban playground for people of all ages and backgrounds for 10 full days each July. 

Link: Stampede Park: Calgary's Best Children's Playground / Public Art

And just a week later, I spent the weekend on Prince’s Island enjoying the festivities of the Calgary International Folk Festival. 

Musicians and tourists have called prince’s Island one of the best urban festival sites in the world.  Located at the north end of the downtown in the middle of the majestic Bow River, it’s a serene surreal setting with Mother Nature’s the giant cottonwood trees dwarfed by the man made skyscrapers.

The Island’s various hollows and tree clusters create natural places for intimate workshop stages, while the great lawn with the main stage at the western edge of the island is a magical place to listen to music as the sun sets.  The Festival’s final exclamation mark is the children’s lantern parade at the end of each day.

Something magical happens when Calgary Folk Festival takes over Prince's Island.  If you have never been you should add it to your 2017 calendar now – July 27 to 30.  

I hope you enjoy these postcards from this year’s Folk Festival! 

The Performers

The workshop performance by Ian Tyson was one of the highlights of the weekend for me.  It was the definition of "up close and personal." 

Tattoo Fun

Colour & Characters

I actually chatted with this lady. She was so happy I wanted to take her picture. And yes, she made this hat. 

Kids definitely loved the festival.

Kids definitely loved the festival.

There were a lot of hola hoops at the festival....hmmmm...perhaps a Hola Hoop Festival would be a good idea?

There were a lot of hola hoops at the festival....hmmmm...perhaps a Hola Hoop Festival would be a good idea?

This family brought their fishing gear as Prince's Island is in the middle of the Bow River, one of the best trout fishing rivers in the world. 

This family brought their fishing gear as Prince's Island is in the middle of the Bow River, one of the best trout fishing rivers in the world. 

Handholding Is Very Popular 

Calgary Folk Festival: Morning To Night

Morning

Morning

There is a zen-like quality to the Calgary International Folk Festival experience. 

There is a zen-like quality to the Calgary International Folk Festival experience. 

Happy Hour 

Happy Hour 

Early evening

Early Evening

Early Evening

Night 

Night 

Calgary: Empty Nesters Find New Nests In City Centre

For many, their 50s and 60s are like a second adolescence in that they are free again to decide, “what do I want to do with my life.” After 30 years of family and/or career commitments, the kids are gone, their careers are over (or winding down) and they just want to have enjoy life, which usually means travel and more “me/us” time.

Though for some that may mean moving to a new city or town, for many Calgarians it means moving to the City Centre where they can enjoy fine dining, theatre, live music and art galleries just blocks away, festivals almost every weekend or lovely river walks. It means no more grass cutting, fence or deck painting or snow shovelling. In addition to travel, more time can be devoted to golfing, hiking, fishing, quilting, knitting and spending time with friends.  

Today, about 100,000 Calgarians between the ages of 50 to 70, (there are about 300,000 Calgarians in the age bracket, but many are content to stay in their homes, some have already moved to City Centre and some will move to other cities) who are prime candidates to sell their family home in the ’burbs and move to the City Centre.

View from the Brekke's tree house of the downtown skyline on a cold winter day.

The Tree House

Richard and Debbie were in their early ‘50s when they realized they didn’t need their 3,200 sq. ft. 1950s Elbow Park home they had totally renovated, lived in and raised their family for 22 years. If they were going to stay in the house, it would need new windows and another major update. Richard was also tired of looking after the yard and the three crabapple trees that “dropped tons of apples every year – there’s only so much jelly a person can eat!”

They liked the idea of condo living. It fit their minimalist lifestyle. They also enjoyed the European lifestyle experienced when travelling.

They looked for two years before they found the right place.  They wanted to stay close to the Elbow River and ideally wanted an older condo with good bones, a good reserve fund and a good view.

They found an 1850 square foot condo in Riverstone, a 1981 red brick condo on the Elbow River with floor to ceiling windows that provided a spectacular view of downtown.  They quickly nicknamed it the “Tree House.”

Debbie, an interior designer immediately recognized the potential of the space and after a complete makeover, they now have a home worthy of an Architectural Digest feature.

Their new home wouldn’t be out of place in Manhattan or London. 

The great room (24' by 32') with its 12' by 36” vein cut Travertine tile from Italy is very European chic - no trendy hardwood, no rug here. The Poggenpohl kitchen cabinetry from Germany with its LED backsplash is uber cool. The upper cabinets are white matte lacquer, while the bottom cabinets are titanium. The countertop is white Caesarstone, with an induction cook top on the island (the building wasn’t fitted with gas). Appliances include a sub-zero fridge and Miele dishwasher both fully integrated so they aren’t “visible."

The lighting throughout the condo was redone with recessed LED spotlights, a Mooi pendant in the kitchen eating area and 5 MP rail pendants over the Le Corbusier glass dining table. All doors are custom slab doors, including the closet doors, with contemporary chrome horizontal hardware and were lacquered in a mid-tone grey.

Debbie also designed the custom openings at the top of the den’s millwork to display Richard’s vintage radio collection with overhead lighting. In addition, three display “boxes" were created in one of the walls of the great room to highlight their vintage collections of Barbie dolls, Sherman jewelry and more radios.

It wasn’t without its trials and tribulations - labour costs are higher for condo renovations due to hauling everything up and down an elevator and limited working hours due to condo rules. 

It was also challenge for Debbie to not only be the designer, but to have her husband as the client. But they both agree, “it was totally worth the end result! We love our view in our first brand new home, as our two previous homes were used.”

26th Avenue SW in Mission along the Elbow River is a millionaire's row.

Mission's Main Street (aka 4th Street) is home to a wonderful array of cafes and restaurants and the annual Lilac Street Festival each spring. 

Mission's Main Street (aka 4th Street) is home to a wonderful array of cafes and restaurants and the annual Lilac Street Festival each spring. 

The Grand Piano Home

Roger and Janet were tired of driving along MacLeod Trail several times a week to downtown; they wanted the “excitement of living downtown” and the freedom to “lock and leave.”  The kids were gone, their three-story Lake Sundance house (5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, den, dining room, living room, family room and large kitchen) was too big and they were tired of its maintenance, so they started looking for a new home. 

The Concord is a two building condo located at the south side of the iconic Peace Bridge in downtown Calgary's Eau Claire community. 

The Concord is a two building condo located at the south side of the iconic Peace Bridge in downtown Calgary's Eau Claire community. 

They found what they wanted in the currently-under-construction Concord, the uber luxury Eau Claire condo designed by iconic Canadian architect Arthur Erickson.  Blown away by the amenities, Barbara says, “I LOVE the pool and the gym is going to see a lot of use.” Other amenities include three car wash facilities, golf simulator and their own skating rink in the winter.  They were also completely taken by the views, and access to downtown and Kensington.Their new nest is a 1977 square foot condo with 3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths that is part of the “Private Residence” option, which includes private elevator access and private garage door. 

Empty nesters in Eau Claire get to enjoy the St. Patrick's Island oasis. 

Their nest also includes luxury finishings including Italian marble countertops, a Poggenpohl kitchen and high-end Miele and Samsung appliances.  Their northwest corner suite, with sliding doors from each bedroom allowing access to their private outdoor space, offers expansive views of Prince’s Island, the mountains and evening sunsets.  

Roger and Janet looked seriously for a year and a half to find the right condo building, in the right location and with the right unit design.  They knew they wanted about 2,000 square feet with at least two bedrooms, as well as an office/den AND room for the grand piano. “To be honest, the process was a bit stressful because even though we both wanted the same thing, we couldn’t find it. Also it took us some time to figure out which downtown community we wanted to live in,” says Janet.  

Roger thinks “it is fun watching the excavation of the condo, knowing the ‘Hole’ as we call it will soon be our home.”  It is anticipated their Grand Piano Home move in will happen in spring 2018.  

Roger's pit (aka the Concord parking garage). 

Last Word

When it comes to luxury City Centre condos, there are really only a handful to choose from in Calgary, most being clustered into two areas - Eau Claire Avenue SW along the Bow River and 26th Ave SW in Mission along the Elbow River.

Both are vibrant urban neighbourhoods offering spectacular views, pedestrian- oriented streets with shops, restaurants, pubs, patios, cafes and river pathways nearby.  Both host a signature festival - Eau Claire has the Calgary International Folk Festival, while Mission has the Lilac Street Festival.

In Calgary, though downtown living is still in its infancy, more and more Calgarians are embracing the vibrancy of urban living. Janet says, “most of our friends are considering doing the same thing i.e. moving downtown, so we have had a lot of support for our decision.”

Note: An edited version of this blog was commissioned for Domus Magazine's summer 2016 edition. 

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Truman Homes Gone Wild?

Truman Homes has been so busy building condos in Calgary over the past 10 years that Bruce McKenzie, VP Business Development at NORR Architecture who were designing most of their condo buildings introduced Truman President George Trutina to Calgary’s S2 Architecture to help carry the load. Introducing a client to a competitor NEVER happens in the architectural world – well almost never!

Trutina is the classic Calgary entrepreneur story.  He immigrated to Toronto from Croatia in 1971 with no money and limited education, where he learned the building trade through hand-on experiences.  Then he hears about a frontier city called Calgary with its“can-do” attitude and the Calgary Stampede and decides to move to there in the middle of the ‘70s boom where he starts building estate homes in Chestemere and never looks back. 

Quirky lobby of 1741 condo on the corner of 17th Ave and 26th St SW. 

Quirky lobby of 1741 condo on the corner of 17th Ave and 26th St SW. 

Truman is building everywhere

Over the past 30 years, Truman Homes has evolved from an estate homebuilder to a suburban condo builder to an established community infill condo builder. Today, he has projects in various stages of development in several suburban communities - Aspen Woods, West Springs, Springbank Hill, Mahogany, Skyview, Savana and Cornerstone as well as several established communities - West Hillhurst, Beltline, Hillhurst-Sunnyside, Brentwood, Killarney, Shaganappi, Westbrook and University District.

Despite the growth, Truman Homes is still very much a family business with George and his four sons taking a hands-on approach to the design and construction of each building. 

They are just as comfortable in works boots as in a shirt and tie.

Engagement Hub? 

Engagement Hub building/cafe

Engagement Hub building/cafe

I first became aware of Truman Homes when they announced the opening of the “EngagementHub” on the 700 block of 85th Avenue SW for their 96-acre all-condo West District master planned community (for some context, East Village is 113 acres) in summer 2014. This 2,000 square foot building that looked like a hip café, was in fact a purpose-built building to engage the neighbours in discussion about Trutina’s plans to develop an urban living community in the middle of Calgary’s newest millionaire communities on the west side. 

I had never before - nor since - seen this kind of commitment to community engagement from a developer.
Kensington Legion site redevelopment

Kensington Legion site redevelopment

Then Trutina rescued the Kensington Legion site redevelopment after failed attempts by two developers to make the numbers work. His two building (a four-storey office and eight-storey condo with retail along the street) was definitely ambitious. Some might say visionary; others may say crazy.  But the Truman team developed a comprehensive engagement program that included several open house weekends at the Legion as well as a bulletin board on the street where anyone could see the plans and comment. While everyone didn’t embrace the project, enough did and it was eventually approved.

A day later, site preparation began.  Trutina is a man of action.

“The City of Calgary has lots of good policies; you just need to analyze them and develop strategies to capitalize on them,” says Trutina. The Legion is a great example as it fits perfectly with the City of Calgary’s “Main Street” program, announced in December 2014.

Today, Truman’s Kensington Legion project is the poster child for the program aimed at creating an old fashion shopping street in several of Calgary’s established communities.

New Kensington Legion building. 

Last Word

Trutina is a passionate guy. When talking about his projects, he will often quip, “it is not just about the numbers, you have to be happy in your chest.”  He is also a stickler for detail with comments like “the project is not complete if you don’t shine your shoes.”  Trutina takes great pride in his projects which he feels “stand out” wherever they are built.

What’s next for Truman Homes? If I had to guess, they will become Calgary’s premier mid-rise (under 12-stories) condo builder in Calgary.  It was not surprising Truman was chosen as one of the first two developers to build in the first phase of the mega University District project along with Calgary’s Brookfield Residential (North America’s largest residential developer). 

Note: An edited version of this blog was commissioned for the August issue of Condo Living Magazine.

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Community Engagement Gone Wild

Community Gardens: The New Yoga Studio?

Seems like everywhere I wander these days I encounter a community garden. In the past two weeks, I have happened upon amazing gardens in East Village at Fort Calgary Park, the backyard of the Banff Trail Community Centre and side yard of the Altadore School & Community Edible Garden.  I was literally gobsmacked by how healthy the plants at the Altadore School Garden were. 

East Village's community garden includes a funky shade structure that makes for a great place to sit and people watch.

The plants at the Altadore School &Community Edible Garden were humungous, twice the size of anything I have seen in other gardens.  

The Banff Trail community garden is a more typical community garden in my mind.

Community Gardens Gone Wild?

Not only does it seem like every school and every community centre in the City has a community garden, but more and more backyard and front yards being convert to or incorporating vegetable gardens also.  Is this just a trend or have the public become more and more aware of the value of eating healthy. Are community gardens the new yoga studio?

Pretty much everything you need to know about Calgary Community Gardens is at the Garden Resource Network hosted by the Calgary Horticultural Society. I was amazed to learn there are 169 (87 public and 82 private) community gardens in Calgary as of July 2016.  No wonder I am seeing community gardens everywhere I wander these days but didn’t in the past - there were only 12 community gardens in 2008 and 130 in 2010.

Link: Garden Resource Network

Past vs. Present

Interestingly 100 years ago in Calgary and most cities across North America, it was common practice to have a vegetable garden in your backyard and some might even have a pig, a few chickens and a cow. On a recent walking tour of West Hillhurst lead by David Peyto for Historic Calgary Week, he informed us it was common practice early in the 20th century for new homeowners to buy two lots - one for the house and one for the garden.  I can’t imagine anyone doing that these days. But who knows, “the times are a changin.” 

Fast forward a hundred years. Houses have more than tripled in size with a double garage as big as many of the cottage homes built in the early 20th century.  New homes sport huge concrete driveways in the front and big decks filling lots that are often half the size they once were. Room for a garden is minimal at best. In older communities, mature trees and tall infills create so much shade there isn’t much sun for a garden. In addition, more and more Calgarians are living in apartments and condos so there is no back or front yard, so it isn’t surprising that community gardens have become more popular.   Hence, the popularity of community gardens in the 21st century.

Using schools, community centres and parks for communal gardens is a great idea as it also fosters a sense of community as people learn gardening tips for each other and help each other with watering and weeding.

Here is a garden in the backyard of an older cottage home that illustrates how at one time the garden space too up more lot space than the house.  

Another lovely backyard garden in an established Calgary community. 

The front yard can work also for a vegetable garden, especially if it is on the southside where it will get more early spring sun - at least on this side of the equator it will.

Community Garden Generate More Taxes?

I wondered if anyone has looked at how community gardens impact house prices as has been done with proximity to parks, transit and bike lanes. Indeed, in 2008 Real Estate Economics (the oldest academic journal focusing on real estate issues) published “The Effect of Community Gardens on Neighboring Property Values” by Ioan Voicu and Vicki Been. The authors documented that homes near community gardens increased in value by up to 9% after five years of the garden being developed.  Furthermore the positive impact of community gardens was greatest in poor neighbourhoods and increased with the quality of the garden. The authors also noted that the increase in property values as a result of community gardens was worth billions in additional property tax revenues for cities.

Link: "The Effect of Community Gardens on Neighboring Property Values"

East Village's community garden would be a good example of a high quality garden with is ornamental fence and patio stone walkways.  

Altadore School also has many highend features like the metal vs wood raised gardens, poured concrete sidewalk and two large circular concrete areas that will become outdoor classrooms. 

Banff Trail has a wonderful orchard as part of their upscale community garden. 

Calgary Mega Community Garden

Did you know that Calgary has an 11-acre community garden just off of the Trans Canada Highway (you can see if you look south just west of the Stoney Trail intersection)?  Grow Calgary, a group of 50 dedicated volunteers (and hundreds more on a casual basis) have created Canada’s largest urban farm with all of the produce harvested going to Calgary’s Compassionate Food Access Agencies (16 different agencies).  The farm grows everything from carrots to cabbage, zucchini to turnips. Grow Calgary is currently waiting to hear from the Province if they can expand the farm by utilizing the transportation utility corridor along the Trans Canada Highway.  To me, this is a no brainer, but their 2014 application still awaits a response!

Last Word

Today, urban farming produces about 15% of the world’s food supply according to the United States Department of Agriculture. This is forecasted to increase as the world’s population continues to become more and more concentrated in cities.  Whether it is tiny backyard plots, community gardens, guerrilla gardening on vacant lots, indoor hanging gardens, rooftop growing or vertical gardens - urban farming is here to stay.

Could community gardens and urban farming be the new yoga?

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Are Chinatowns still relevant in the 21st century?

Across North America, Chinatowns are struggling to be relevant to not only their modern Chinese community, but also to the community-at-large.

Calgary's Chinatown lives in the shadows of the mega office towers of its central business district. 

In 2012, Vancouver City Council unanimously approved a three-year Chinatown Neighbourhood Plan and Economic Revitalization Strategy. More than a decade in the making, the plan focused on economic revitalization by encouraging new residential development that would attract younger people of all backgrounds, to ensure Chinatown is increasingly relevant to a more multi-cultural Vancouver.

Fast-forward to 2016. A controversial proposal for a new 13-storey condo in Chinatown may or may not get approved after being re-designed for the third time. The building with 127 market condos, 25 affordable seniors’ homes and street level shops would seem to be an ideal revitalization project. However, many people from the Chinatown community feel the building is too high and big for their community (note my Herald column inaccurately reported this project had been approved).

In Calgary, a recent application for a Land Use change to increase the density of a surface parking lot across the street from Sun Life Towers (three 28-storey office towers) to allow for a tower up to 27 stories resulted in an immediate “Save our Chinatown” from some of the Chinatown community. They felt the change in land use would allow buildings that are too high and dense to fit with the traditional image of Chinatown as a rabbit’s warren of small buildings and narrow alleys.

The controversial site is currently a surface parking lot surrounded by large office and residential buildings.  It sits empty on weekends and evenings. 

Wrong Focus?

What was missing from the protesters (both in Calgary and Vancouver) was what the new development would likely bring to their Chinatown. 

They should be asking questions like:

  • Does the design of the proposed buildings have the potential to enhance Chinatown’s retail and restaurant offerings?
  • Does it create lots of small spaces for new restaurants and retail at street level, or perhaps a larger space for a modern Asian-focused grocery and/or fashion store?
  • Will the condo unit sizes and designs attract young professionals and young families to the community - Chinese and non-Chinese?
  • Does the site support a building of this size?
  • Can the towers be set back from the sidewalk to make it pedestrian-friendly?
  • How does the building act as a link to the downtown office core?
  • Could the new development be a catalyst for revitalization?

Examples of older residential buildings that lack the amenities and design qualities to attract young professionals and empty nesters or the commercial spaces for modern retailers.

Generational Differences

Dai and Yang, both in their early 30s, who arrived in Calgary from Mainland China six and three years ago respectively, frequent Chinatown restaurants a couple of times a week, but never shop in Chinatown.  “Everything is for old people,” chuckles Dai. They both would love to see new more modern restaurants, shops and a movie theatre added to Chinatown. 

They also point out when Chinatowns were created 100+ years ago, China was a poor country and the people immigrating to Canada were poor, couldn’t speak any English and had no education.  They needed a Chinatown in every city to survive in the new world.

Today, Chinese immigrants are middle-class, professionals, speak English and have a global sensibility. They can easily buy a house and fit into any Calgary community.

They acknowledge Calgary’s Chinatown should continue to serve the needs of the Calgary’s elderly Chinese community (currently 60% of Calgary’s Chinatown population is over 65 years of age), but it also should be an attractive urban living community for young, educated Chinese and non Chinese also.

In fact, in our conversation, the idea of Calgary’s Chinatown evolving into more of an Asiatown appealed to them, as there is much overlap with Japan and Korea.  Dia and Yang suggested, “if Chinatown wants to appeal to young Asian professional it will need to attract international Asian retailers like Meters/bonwe, Uniqlo, E.Land, Muji, Suning, Huawei and restaurants like 85Cafe Yoshinoya and HaiDi Lao Hot Pot.”

Modern Asian stores like Meters/bonwe attract young shoppers who in turn create street vitality in the evenings and weekends. 

Modern Asian stores like Meters/bonwe attract young shoppers who in turn create street vitality in the evenings and weekends. 

Calgary's Chinatown lacks any modern Asian fashion stores.

Calgary's Chinatown lacks any modern Asian fashion stores.

Huawei’s retail arm had 35,000 of its own stores around the world at the end of May, up 116 per cent year on year. It has 11,000 stores in mainland China, 6500 stores across the rest of Asia, 6200 in Europe and 1500 in South America. This compares with   Apple  ’s 484 retail outlets in fewer than 20 countries.

Huawei’s retail arm had 35,000 of its own stores around the world at the end of May, up 116 per cent year on year. It has 11,000 stores in mainland China, 6500 stores across the rest of Asia, 6200 in Europe and 1500 in South America. This compares with Apple’s 484 retail outlets in fewer than 20 countries.

Cafe85 is an example of the new Asian culture that should be the focus for creating vibrant multi-generational chinatown communities.

Cafe85 is an example of the new Asian culture that should be the focus for creating vibrant multi-generational chinatown communities.

Perfect Site

The controversial site is currently a surface parking lot in the middle of the block from Centre St to 1st Street, from 2nd to 3rd Avenues SW; this means there is no loss of “mom and pop” shops.  Rather, the development has the potential to add much needed modern retail and restaurant space that Dai and Yang suggest on the lower floors, with residential above.

The site is already surrounded by residential buildings 15-storeys high to the east and west and office towers 28-storeys to the north, so the addition of three towers in the 20 to 27-storey range is not without precedent.   The site would also support a +15 bridge to Sun Life Plaza, meaning that anyone living there could walk to work downtown without a car, coat or umbrella!

It would be a perfect “live, work, play” block for young professionals and empty nesters – Chinese and non-Chinese.

Many blame the lack of parking in Chinatown for its decline yet there are over 600 heated underground parking spots just a block away that are available in the evening and weekend. 

Catch 22

Calgary’s Chinatown can’t attract modern retailers and restaurants until it has larger, modern buildings for them to locate in, as well as a younger population who will support them.  At the same time, Chinatown can’t attract young professionals (Chinese and otherwise) until it has modern condos (with amenities), as well as modern restaurants and retail.

Ironic

Calgary’s Hon Family has owned the site for decades. So it isn’t as if an outsider has come into the community looking to make a quick buck.  The Hon Family, long time homebuilders in Calgary, has only recently entered the high-rise development business with the handsome twin Guardian condos in Victoria Park, next to Stampede Park.  The high-rise division is being managed by the millennial generation of Hons, i.e. the exact demographic who should be the target market for their new Chinatown development.

Dragon City Mall in Calgary's chinatown is a ghost town every time I visit.  The streets of Chinatown are devoid of people other than at lunchtime on weekdays and dim sum time on weekends.

chinatown, calgary

Chinese Decentralization

Harry Hiller, Professor of Sociology at the University of Calgary thinks Chinatowns in cities across North America are losing their role as residential, retail and restaurant centers as the Chinese population decentralizes to multiple suburban locations.

However he thinks there might still be a role for Chinatowns as a central gathering place for family and community celebrations. He points out to the increasing popularity of the Vancouver’s Spring Festival Parade in celebration of the Lunar New Year that attracts 100,000 spectators.

Similarly, John Gilchrist, CBC Calgary Eyeopener restaurant reviewer thinks, “Over the past couple of decades, as Calgary grew, new Chinese restaurants opened in many suburbs, drawing attention away from the classic Chinatown restaurants. But since the flood of 2013, Chinatown has seen an influx of new owners, many of whom brought investment and new culinary ideas from China. So Chinatown looks fresher and has more to offer these days.”

Last Word

Calgary’s Chinatown is definitely not going to survive as a seniors’ ghetto.

Now is the perfect time to begin reinventing our Chinatown into a 21st century Asiatown that will add a new dimension to our downtown and reflect the new global world we all share.

The unintended consequences of City Council’s delay of their decision on the land-use amendment until December 2016, to allow for more community engagement could be to further divide Calgary’s already fragmented Chinatown community.  What is needed is decisive decision making by Council, landowners and businessmen that will allow Chinatown to evolve into a thriving 21st century urban village.

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Banff Trail Flaneuring Postcards

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

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

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

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

McMahon Stadium pedestrian bridge Calgary

A sense of place

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

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

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

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

Ghost town

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

 

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

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

Anywhere Anytime

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

You just need to do it!

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

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

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

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

Community gardens are becoming the new yoga in Calgary. 

Wouldn't this make a great postcard?

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

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