Berlin Cemetery: Etchings & Cafe

It is the classic example of how as a tourist you do things you never do at home.  In Calgary we have often said we should take an afternoon and explore one of our inner city cemeteries.  We have even threatened to meet up with friends and do one of the guided tours. But alas, we have never done it. 

Luisenstadtischer Friedhof

Early on in our wandering of the streets of Berlin's Kreuzberg district, we discovered what looked like a lovely cemetery.  We quickly agreed it would be a great place to flaneur on a nice day when we wanted some solitude from the animated streets and plazas. We also noted there was a charming cafe where we could have a coffee and cake - something that would become a become a daily ritual.  

Sure enough, 10 days later on a nice sunny morning, we headed back to the what we eventually figured out was not only a failed vineyard but four cemeteries. 

We pretty much had the place to ourselves except for the chirping birds and the occasional cute red squirrel.

The Etchings

The light was amazing as the huge trees had not yet leafed out. It created a heavenly glow on the graves, some of which have been etched by the elements for over 100 years.  Others had a lovely green patina from the moist Berlin winters.

I immediately switched the camera to black & white mode to create what I hoped would be some very intense and dramatic images.    

The Shadows

RRP...

Cafe Strauss is a lovely spot to relax, reflect and ponder. I couldn't help but ponder what it must have been like for artists living in Berlin 50 or 100 years ago.  I wondered about how cities shape artists and artists shape cities and why are some cities more attractive to artists than others.  What makes Berlin so attractive to young artists today?  Is it in the city's DNA? Why is Berlin a haven for artist and not Winnipeg, Edmonton or Hamilton?

More Cafe Strauss Info: I Ate My Cake In A German Cemetery 

Last Word

I remember going (being dragged) to cemeteries when I was young to visit the graves of grandparents, but I wonder if anyone does that anymore.

Do cemeteries have any relevance in contemporary life? Compared to previous generations, are we more focused on the future, rather than the past? Are we too focused on the future?  What role have cemeteries played in fostering a sense of family, a sense of continuity and a respect for the past?

Berlin makes you think!

While some love to explore the museums and art galleries of Berlin (there are 175 of them) after 18 days I am still fascinated by the everyday life of the streets of Berlin.  To me the street seem more authentic less contrived than museums. 

And, yes I am definitely going to flaneur Calgary's cemeteries this spring or summer or fall. 

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Berlin: Everyday Postcards

Berlin: Flea Market Fashion Show

Berlin: City of Hats!

Berlin: Humana Thrift Store Gone Wild?

One of the best ways to find off-the-beaten path gems in a new city is to visit thrift stores, as they are often located in up-and-coming communities.  When we heard Berlin has a five floor thrift department store we had to go. 

I wasn't disappointed. Brenda was!

Upon walking in you immediately encountered a wonderful hat display, yes Berlin is the "City of Hats." But what was even more impressive was the circular staircase with artwork along the wall.  

A bit Guggenheimish!

Also on the main floor were some huge vintage ceiling light fixtures, like nothing I have ever seen. A very elegant use of fluorescent tubes. Those Germans are so clever when it comes to simple designs.

More Mannequins

The first impression was this is definitely like a department store as the racks were well organized and there were fun vignettes every where, as well as some exquisite miniature mannequins. Boy once this guy gets on a theme it is hard for him to let go.

There were also some fun vintage posters - too bad they weren't for sale.

However, the piece de la resistance was the vintage clothing floor at the top. It was a definitely a walk back in time.  Maybe not a walk everyone wants to take. Some of us might want to forget the tacky, wacky clothing we use to wear. The mannequin displays were very strange indeed. 

Brenda Struck Out

After being all excited to visit the mega thrift department store, Brenda went home empty handed.  While the store was clean, well stocked and well organized, the prices were much the same, or higher than at home. There were no bargains to be had. 

I did manage to find some fun wooden children's toys that I will add to my collection - all for 1 Euro. 

Oh yes, the thrift store is called Humana, and is at the Frankfurter Tor station. It is part of the Oxfam charity shops and there are several outlets in Berlin.  

Stalin Architecture

Across the street are twin mega horizontal office blocks built in the Stalinist style according to the plans of Hermann Henselmann, in 1953 and 1956. On one level, they evoke a sense of intimidation, power, and authority, while on another level they serve as a gateway into the city. The two sentinel-like domed towers looking down on the street further add to sense of intimidation and being watched. 

Who Knew?

Just down the street from Humana we lucked out to find the Cafe Tasso bookstore. I loved the outside book bins that enhance the pedestrian experience and frame the patio.  Inside is a charming cafe with more books.  As we had our lunch we couldn't believe the number of people coming and going buying books.  

We decided to checked out the small room of books next to the cafe and while everything was well organized there were no prices. Strange?  When we asked we were told all books were 1.5 Euros.  Then when I went to the washroom I discovered the bookstore continued in the back and downstairs.  It was wonderful rabbit warren of treasures.  Who knew? I wish I could read German as there were some good bargains.  

Oh how I miss McNally Robinson Bookstore and Bistro on Stephen Avenue. Every pedestrian district needs a good bookstore cafe. 

Last Word

If you are into vintage, especially vintage clothing you have to go to Berlin, it is the "vintage capital of the world."

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Calgary's City Centre Transformation

For those who want a “room (or two) with a view,” several City Center highrise condos offer their own unique urban lifestyle.

Avenue West End by Grosvenor and Cressey Development Group, provides spectacular downtown, river valley and mountain views from its Downtown West location.  You are also only a hop, skip and a jump from the Bow River pathway for evening and weekend jogging, walking and cycling and a pleasant 10-minute walk to work downtown every day. And just minutes away from Shaw Millennium Park, home to numerous festivals or to shoot some hoops or play some beach volleyball.

Park Point with Calgary's first park, Central Memorial Park as its front yard.

Park Point with Calgary's first park, Central Memorial Park as its front yard.

Another option is Park Point by Qualex-Landmark. It not only provides residents with outstanding views, but Calgary’s historic Memorial Park/Library is in its front yard. Located at the corner of 12th Ave and 2nd Street SW, residents are equidistant to all of the City Centre’s hot spots - Olympic Plaza Cultural District, Stephen Ave/Core, 17th Ave, Mission and Stampede Park.  For those looking ahead, Park Pointe will be on the doorstep of future new Green Line LRT.

The Royal grocery store at street level. 

The Royal grocery store at street level. 

Then there’s The Royal by Embassy BOSA offers not only luxury living, but the convenience of having an Urban Fair grocery store and Canadian Tire store right in your building.  And if being at the crossroads of the 17th Ave and 8th St SW you have all the shops, cafes and restaurants you will ever need, including Jelly Modern Doughnuts!

 

Lamb Development Corp.’s very modern, 31-storey, 6th and Tenth condo is located on one of the City’s hottest urban addresses – 10th Avenue SW.   Live here and you can get a little more shuteye given you are probably only a 5-minute walk to work.  Just outside your front door, take a left and you can chill with friends at the funky new Bridgette Bar or grab a bottle of your favourite vino at Metrovino for entertaining.  And being next to the Beltline’s Gallery District; you’ll have no excuse for blank walls!

6th and Tenth is one of several buildings transforming the Beltline's 10th Avenue into an attractive urban playground.

6th and Tenth is one of several buildings transforming the Beltline's 10th Avenue into an attractive urban playground.

Vogue is the latest condo development by LaCaille and Calgary’s S2 architects.  It's art deco-inspired design features a five-floor podium with an arched glass entrance that grounds the strong vertical lines of the 35-story condo tower creating a very fashion forward design. Located at 914 - 6th Avenue, it is the closest condo to the downtown core of any of the new City Center condos. 

In East Village, FRAM+Slokker’s Verve not only offers a spectacular 25th-floor rooftop lookout terrace, but easy access to Riverwalk, St. Patrick’s Island and soon the new Central Library and 5th & Third shopping complex that includes a Loblaw’s City Market grocery store (both now under construction).

Modern Mid-rise

If architecture is your thing and money is no object, the opulent Arthur Erickson-designed (Canada’s most celebrated architect) Concord condo in Eau Claire should be on your must-see list.  The 14-floor west tower is currently under construction and will have seven penthouse homes thanks to a design that sees the building terrace upwards from the Bow River pathway to 1st Avenue SW.  Concord residents will savour their proximity to the delicious Alforno Bakery & Café and Buchanan’s restaurant. They will also have a bird’s eye view of the Calgary International Folk Festival.

AVLI condo in the community of Inglewood, named Canada's best neighbourhood in 2015. 

AVLI condo in the community of Inglewood, named Canada's best neighbourhood in 2015. 

If the charm of Inglewood is more to your liking, the new Jeremy Sturgess (Calgary’s most celebrated architect)- designed AVLI on Atlantic condo (Atlantic Avenue is the original name of 9th Avenue) is a very cool design.  It's angular, ghost-like uber modern design is destined to become one Calgary’s signature early 21st century condos. Those into live music can hang out at Ironwood or Blues Can. Into fine dining? It doesn’t get any better than Deane House or Rouge or maybe you have regular cravings for a Spolumbo’s sandwich.

Across the Bow River from Inglewood sits Bucci’s seven-story new condo Radius, in the increasingly hip community of Bridgeland. Located on Centre Avenue at 9th Street on the edge of Murdock Park, residents will be within walking distance of the very hipster Cannibale (bar and barbershop), Lukes Drug Mart and Bridgeland Market.

Radius condo in Calgary's Bridgeland community. 

Radius condo in Calgary's Bridgeland community. 

Also north of the Bow River, in Hillhurst is Ezra on Riley Park, which offers 8 floors of sophisticated urban, living.  Imagine living in a 3,000 sq. penthouse with a 6,000 sq. terrace looking out to the lovely Riley Park.  If that is not in your budget, there are many one and two bedroom homes in the middle of the building, as well as two-storey townhomes at street level.  Ezra living also means enjoying Hillhurst Community Centre’s weekly farmer’s market and Sunday Flea Market or the Bodhi Tree yoga studio. 

Last Word

It will be interesting to see in 50 or 100 years what historians say about the early 21st-century transformation of Calgary’s City Centre into a mosaic of vibrant urban neighbourhoods.  You could be part of history-making!

Note: This blog was first published in the Calgary Herald's Condo Xtra supplement in Swerve Magazine on February 10, 2017. 

Calgary's East Village skyline is constantly changing with new condo towers.

Calgary's East Village skyline is constantly changing with new condo towers.

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Montreal: Canada's Best Urban Playground?

Forget Toronto. Forget Vancouver. If you are looking for a fun urban adventure, plan a Montreal getaway.  And, not just because Montreal will be celebrating its 375th anniversary with numerous special festivities in 2017, but because Montreal’s everyday “joie de vivre” makes it a great urban playground anytime.

In the underground of the Les Cours Mont-Royal building is the world's largest collection of Barbie Dolls - over 1,000.  How playful is that? Click here for more info

In the underground of the Les Cours Mont-Royal building is the world's largest collection of Barbie Dolls - over 1,000.  How playful is that? Click here for more info

Colourful

Montreal has done a spectacular job utilizing colour to add a sense of play and warmth to their winter pedestrian experience.  The large red dot lights projected on the sidewalks in several locations and a half block-long window with its rows of neon dots that change colour as you walk distract from the cold outside.  

But the piece de la resistance is the block-long west wall of the Palais des Congres (Montreal Convention Centre) composed of 58 glass panels of yellow, pink, green and blue that really brightens up a cloudy day. And on days when the sun shines, the inside is a magical kaleidoscope of colours.  

With Calgary’s abundant sunshine and amazing collection of glass towers and +15 glass bridges, we should be a world leader in the use of coloured glass as a means of creating a unique sense of place. Instead of all the black, beige and grey facades imagine if more buildings were like Battisella’s Beltline condo, Colours.

The glass facade of Montreal's Convention Centre at night. 

The glass facade of Montreal's Convention Centre at night. 

No this is not the Montreal's Red Light District, it is just a way to add some fun to those who are out for an evening stroll, even in the winter.

No this is not the Montreal's Red Light District, it is just a way to add some fun to those who are out for an evening stroll, even in the winter.

Even Montreal's Metro Stations are colourful and playful.

Even Montreal's Metro Stations are colourful and playful.

Scavenger Hunt

I thought Calgary was doing pretty well with its proliferation of funky street art, but it pales in comparison to Montreal.  Wandering Montreal’s rues and avenues, I was forever pulling out my camera - over 100 street art photos in all (and I didn’t take photos of every one).  It was a fun scavenger hunt experience.

And while street art is fun with its cartoon-like characters, Montreal’s urban landscape is full of clever murals. It turns out local and international muralist transforms St Laurent Boulevard into an outdoor gallery every June during its annual Mural Festival. (I have added it to my bucket list).

Imagine how much more pedestrian-friendly our City Centre would if more of Calgary’s blank walls had murals like Doug Driediger’s “Giving Wings to the Dream” on the east wall of the old CUPS building on 7th Ave SW.  

This cartoon-like street art is just one of a many pieces that convert a back alley into an art gallery. 

This cartoon-like street art is just one of a many pieces that convert a back alley into an art gallery. 

Another playful piece of street art. 

Another playful piece of street art. 

 On The Wall

Montreal En Lumiere festival (February 23 to March 11, 2017) is one of largest annual winter festivals in the world - attendance exceeds one million every year.  

The festival’s amazing light installations create a circus-like atmosphere at the Place des Festivals (Calgary’s equivalent being Olympic Plaza).  What I particularly love about this festival is how it continues, on a smaller scale, throughout the year.  Year-round, blank walls throughout the City Centre come to life at night with changing colourful images projected on them. Imagine what it must be like when 1000 projectors and 185 loudspeakers animate their winter nights.  (Another one for my bucket list).

Old Montreal’s “Cite Memories” features 20 movies projected on the sides of historical buildings that tell Montreal’s history.  Download a free app and you can to listen as you watch or walk around.  Wouldn’t that be great for Stephen Ave, Inglewood and Kensington?

Calgary has tried to do a Winter Festival many times and failed. Perhaps it is a case of “go big or go home!” Rather than sending Calgary Transit officials on a junket to explore electronic fares systems (which they could do in Montreal), why not send our best festival producers to Montreal to investigate how to create a successful Winter Festival. (Montreal actually has two major winter festivals - Igloofest is a dance electronic music fest from Jan 12 to Feb 19, 2017).

Just one of dozens of projections on blank walls in Montreal's City Centre.  This piece was like a silent movie. 

Just one of dozens of projections on blank walls in Montreal's City Centre.  This piece was like a silent movie. 

Millennial Madness

With Montreal’s City Center being home to 170,000 post-secondary students it has the distinction of having North America’s largest student population (including 18,000 International students).  They may be there for an education, but they also generate a “party-on” atmosphere. Case in point – I was in a 30-minute line up during a snowstorm to get into a “pop-up” cocktail lounge serving up $12 Christmas-themed cocktails to a room full of millennials. 

Might a good use of Calgary’s empty downtown office space be an international university campus? Perhaps Mayor Nenshi can persuade his alma mater Harvard Business School to open in Calgary. 

Loop is a cross between a music box, a zoetrope and a railway handcar – the familiar pump-powered vehicles from Bugs Bunny cartoons. The retro-futuristic machine plays animated fairy-tale loops set in motion when visitors work the lever together. When the cylinder starts spinning, it lights up, making the series of still images appear to move. 

Loop is a cross between a music box, a zoetrope and a railway handcar – the familiar pump-powered vehicles from Bugs Bunny cartoons. The retro-futuristic machine plays animated fairy-tale loops set in motion when visitors work the lever together. When the cylinder starts spinning, it lights up, making the series of still images appear to move. 

People of all ages this unique urban playground.

People of all ages this unique urban playground.

One of several Winter Markets that we encountered as we flaneured Montreal's City Centre. 

One of several Winter Markets that we encountered as we flaneured Montreal's City Centre. 

Unique Streets

While every city has its signature shopping streets, Montreal has dozens – St. Catherine, St. Laurent, St. Denis, Mont-Royal, Laurier, St. Viateur and St. Hubert to name a few.  While St. Catherine, like Vancouver’s Robson or Toronto’s Queen Streets, is full of national and international franchises, Montreal’s other streets house primarily local shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs, clubs and galleries (no Starbucks on every corner).  

The number of fashion boutiques with locally designed clothing is impressive, as are the number of commercial art and artisan galleries. And Montreal has the most restaurants on a per capita basis of any major city in North America. In Plateau, Mile End, Little Italy, Little Burgundy and Griffintown, the shopping streets are chock-a-block full of interesting local shops.  Montreal is an amazing incubator of fashion designers, artists, artisans, event producers, chefs, bakers, baristas etc. 

While Calgary is spending millions of dollars creating pretty streetscapes to attract more people to Kensington, Inglewood and 17th Avenue, Montreal’s sidewalks are at best “adequate” - no designer benches, expensive lamp posts with banners, or “special” crosswalks to be found.  People don’t come to areas to look at banners or sit on pretty benches, they come to shop, dine, drink and meet friends.  A little grittiness doesn’t hurt anyone – in fact a street’s unique patina is part of its charm. 

What also makes Montreal’s vibrant streets unique is the lack of gentrification, i.e. replacing older buildings with newer buildings that in turn displaces lower income people and attracts more affluent residents. There are not a lot of new cookie-cutter condos with retail at street level except in downtown and Griffintown. Montreal makes do with the existing inventory of low-rise buildings from the mid 20th century, thereby keeping rents more affordable for “mom and pop” businesses.  

With so much to sip and savour, Montreal’s streets epitomize what Jane Jacobs, the influential 1960s urban activist meant when she said street vitality is directly linked to the number of doors that open onto the street - more doors the better. 

Rue St-Hubert is a five-block long street with over 400 mom and pop businesses - from thrift stores to wedding shops.  A canopy over the sidewalk, protect pedestrians from the elements and creates a unique sense of place.

Rue St-Hubert is a five-block long street with over 400 mom and pop businesses - from thrift stores to wedding shops.  A canopy over the sidewalk, protect pedestrians from the elements and creates a unique sense of place.

Seems like everywhere you go in Montreal there are shops along the streets. These shops create an attractive pedestrian environment. 

Seems like everywhere you go in Montreal there are shops along the streets. These shops create an attractive pedestrian environment. 

St. Catherine's Street in the downtown core is still lined with stores that attract shoppers at all times of the day, seven days a week, not the lobby of office buildings or high-end restaurants.

St. Catherine's Street in the downtown core is still lined with stores that attract shoppers at all times of the day, seven days a week, not the lobby of office buildings or high-end restaurants.

 Family Fun

Gobsmacked best describes my reaction to Montreal’s Desjardins Complex built in 1976. It consists of three office towers and a Hyatt Regency Hotel atop an indoor shopping centre.  From the outside it isn’t anything special, but inside the six-storey high, multi-purpose event space comes complete with a permanent dancing fountain (with lights and music) is very impressive.  

At Christmas, it is transformed into a Christmas wonderland with stage for festive performances, old fashioned carousel, mini-train for kids’ rides, face painting and yes, even a Santa Castle where kids get to meet Santa.  The place is packed with families each December.

Calgary missed a huge opportunity to create a dynamic indoor programming space as part of Bankers Hall, The Bow, Eighth Avenue Place or the redeveloped Core and Devonian Gardens.

This is the entrance to the elevators that get you to Montreal's observation deck on the 45th floor of the Place de Ville Marie. Once you are there you can experience  #MTLGO, an interactive multimedia exhibition, designed by Montréal-based company gsmprject°. It explores many popular city themes—from hockey to gastronomy to performing arts to neighbourhoods—through 55 videos of citizens and Montréal personalities as well as 500 photos culled from the city’s social media and archives.  You could easily spend a hour or more with this entertaining and educational exhibition. 

This is the entrance to the elevators that get you to Montreal's observation deck on the 45th floor of the Place de Ville Marie. Once you are there you can experience  #MTLGO, an interactive multimedia exhibition, designed by Montréal-based company gsmprject°. It explores many popular city themes—from hockey to gastronomy to performing arts to neighbourhoods—through 55 videos of citizens and Montréal personalities as well as 500 photos culled from the city’s social media and archives.  You could easily spend a hour or more with this entertaining and educational exhibition. 

We nicknames Montreal's Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of Fun Art given not only the fun artwork on display, but also the fun way it was exhibited. 

We nicknames Montreal's Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of Fun Art given not only the fun artwork on display, but also the fun way it was exhibited. 

Montreal is home to Cirque du Soleil, which is fun for everyone. 

Montreal is home to Cirque du Soleil, which is fun for everyone. 

 Last Word

While not a fan of imitating what other cities do, Calgary developers, urban designers, planners, festival/event managers and politicians could well be inspired by Montreal’s unique and creative city building strategies. 

For the rest of us, Montreal is full of fun urban surprises.  Our best surprise was Crew Collective & Café – you have to see it to believe it! 

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Berlin: City of Hats?

Upon arriving in Berlin one of the first things I noticed was there seemed to be a lot of hat boutiques, more than I recall seeing in other cities. I saw them not only along the main pedestrian streets, but also on off-the-beaten-path ones and at flea markets.  

They seemed to be everywhere.

Even though I don't wear hats, unless you include a golf visor, I do love them.  Especially the vintage ones that my grandmother use to wear that are like precious works of art designed to sit on a woman's head.

Then I hit the motherlode of hat shops - Fiona Bennett.  We were just aimlessly flaneuring back to the Kurfustten Train Station along Potsdamer Str. when I was stopped in my tracks by the amazing windows of the Fiona -  a hand-made hat store.

I had my camera out faster than you can say "so many hats and only one head." FYI. I borrowed that line from her website.

The windows were like mini-exhibitions with the hats as the works of art. As I moved from window to window I discovered that one of the windows allowed you to look into the studio where they make the hats.  I also loved the dozens of hat forms all piled up along the window - like wooden skulls.

Fiona's was a great ending to a fun day of flaneuring.  For background information on Bennett click here: Fiona Bennett: A Hat Is The Icing On The Cake

I hope you like this photo essay: Flaneuring at Fiona's

Fiona, Berlin

Last Word

And if this isn't enough to convince you that Berlin is truly the city of hats, how about the fact that their walk and don't walk traffic figures have hats. And not only that, the figures have a name Ampelmann and have become such a hit with the tourists there are three Ampelmann boutique stores. 

Postdamer Gallery District 

Fiona is part of the Postdamer Gallery District (see map below).  We visited several galleries during the day but Fiona was far and away the best. 

If you find yourself in Berlin, be sure to drop by Fiona's and perhaps order yourself a custom hat - Postdamer Str. 181-83, open Monday to Saturday, 10 am to 7 pm.  More information at: Fiona

Berlin: Boxhagener Flea Market Fashion Show

I was shocked when I learned Berlin's motto is "we are poor, but sexy!" But after a few days flaneuring the city, it is starting to make sense to me. It is a city of grit and glitz.  While there is lots of upscale shopping we love the fact the city is full of flea markets on the weekends, making it very attractive to those of us who love the "thrill of the hunt."  

You never know who you might meet at a flea market.

You never know who you might meet at a flea market.

One Weekend Four Markets

On our first weekend in Berlin, we hit four flea markets and each was very different. The Marheineke Platz Flea Market on Saturday was great, the RAW flohmarket in an abandon railway repair yard was more interesting because of the site, which looked like it had been bombed and the Hallen flohmarket is a huge warehouse packed with junk from floor to ceiling.  

However, the market with the best "poor to sexy" cultural statement was the Boxhagener Platz Flea Market.  After only a few minutes I quickly realized this wasn't your typical flea market as many of the shoppers were dressed very fashionably - no wonder the New York Times recommended it a few years back. 

Yes there was also some fun artifacts to be found at the market. 

Yes there was also some fun artifacts to be found at the market. 

Hommage to Bill

I have long toyed with the idea of doing a blog in the style of the famous New York Times street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham who died at the age of 87, in 2016 (Link: NYT Remembering Bill Cunningham).  

Each week Cunningham would produce a full page collage of curated photos of the fashions he saw New Yorkers wearing on the street. He was often credited with identifying new fashion trends before anyone else.  I will not pretend I am a fashionista, but I do love the flair they add to street life.

So her is my Cunningham inspired curated collages and some stills of Berlin's Boxhagener Platz fashionistas. 

And yes Brenda did find a buried treasure, this 1940s made in Germany scale to add to her collection of scales.  She has also found two others so far.

And yes Brenda did find a buried treasure, this 1940s made in Germany scale to add to her collection of scales.  She has also found two others so far.

Last Word

Now that you have scanned the images go back and have another look not just at the fashions but also at the narratives. As they say, "every picture tells a story." Or as they said in the 1950s Naked City TV show "There are eight million stories in this naked city; this has been one of them."

In the case of Berlin that would be 3.5 million stories; these are just a few.

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Berlin: Postcard Fun #1

Have been in Berlin for only a few days but already it is feeling like home.  Thought I'd share with you a few postcards to give you a flavour of the city which is a bit like Mexico City (old and gritty), a bit like Montreal (street art and murals) and a bit like Austin (graffiti).  

Hope you enjoy.....

Liking the flowmarkets where locals rent tables at their nearby "platz" aka plaza, park, playground and sell stuff.  It is a bit garage sale, a bit flea market.  Good vibe; this guy is getting right into it. 

Liking the flowmarkets where locals rent tables at their nearby "platz" aka plaza, park, playground and sell stuff.  It is a bit garage sale, a bit flea market.  Good vibe; this guy is getting right into it. 

It is hard to take a photograph and not get some graffiti in it. This cropped stained-glass like image was on the window of a gym at night.

It is hard to take a photograph and not get some graffiti in it. This cropped stained-glass like image was on the window of a gym at night.

Graffiti meets poster art, meets street art on this building.

Graffiti meets poster art, meets street art on this building.

This clever work of art is on the retaining wall of one of the canals. Love the way it uses the reflection in the water to enhance the image.

This clever work of art is on the retaining wall of one of the canals. Love the way it uses the reflection in the water to enhance the image.

I am curious to know why this piece of street art is on this very ordinary apartment block. 

I am curious to know why this piece of street art is on this very ordinary apartment block. 

I am a sucker for a steeple...

I am a sucker for a steeple...

Mom this one is for you....

Mom this one is for you....

A lone balcony with a great view of the street life.

A lone balcony with a great view of the street life.

Berlin's iconic garbage cans with their lovely urban patinas?

Berlin's iconic garbage cans with their lovely urban patinas?

The playgrounds in Berlin are all old school.  Loved this banana slide. So did this Dad....this was his third time going down.

The playgrounds in Berlin are all old school.  Loved this banana slide. So did this Dad....this was his third time going down.

I told you the playgrounds were old school.  These look like huge spinning tops.  

I told you the playgrounds were old school.  These look like huge spinning tops.  

Found an amazing warehouse of vintage industrial artifacts and other fun things like this piece of playground equipment in an old nightclub building.  It was very cool. 

Found an amazing warehouse of vintage industrial artifacts and other fun things like this piece of playground equipment in an old nightclub building.  It was very cool. 

Every picture tells a story....wonder what the story is here...

Every picture tells a story....wonder what the story is here...

Evening reflections....

Evening reflections....

Loved this chair...if it had a cushion I am sure we would have found a way to get it home.

Loved this chair...if it had a cushion I am sure we would have found a way to get it home.

This vintage sofa looks like it has been ravaged by urban wolves.

This vintage sofa looks like it has been ravaged by urban wolves.

Ohmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Ohmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Doug Driediger: Public Art That Is Uplifting!

Mexico City would not be the same place without the powerful political murals of Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros.  Montreal wouldn’t be the same without the colour and playfulness of its street art and murals. 

After visits to Mexico City in 2015 and Montreal in 2016, I have developed a much better appreciation for how murals and street art is important in capturing and expressing a city’s past and present, as well as an important tool in creating a unique sense of place. 

Link: Diego Rivera Murals

Link: Montreal Murals

While Calgary is not known for its murals and street art, I have always admired the work of Doug Driediger.  Many of Calgary old-timers will remember the fun Mona Lisa portrait on the side of the Metrographics building at 1114 - 12th Ave S.W. that included a fun “speech bubble,” so Mona could comment about current affairs in Calgary.  

Dry Cleaners?

When the building beside their office was torn down in the early ‘90s it left a blank wall facing the one-way traffic on 12th Avenue SW. Driediger and his colleagues immediately thought they needed to do something to the wall that would be fun, unique and help market their start-up graphics business. 

Driediger was was inspired by changeable sign on a Dry Cleaners building on Elbow Drive at 50th Ave SW which he use to drive by everyday from his home in the southwest to his Beltline (then Connaught) office. As he thought about options for his wall, he found himself intrigued by the how the Dry Cleaner’s little sign with different information every few days lingered in his mind. He soon realized what he wanted was not something big and showy, but something that created dialogue with people. 

Mona became a cult figure with her comments about the everyday life of staff as well as current affairs in Calgary.  One of the more memorable comments was “Mona is a grandma” after a Metrographics staff member had a baby.  Soon strangers were dropping off gifts for the baby, including one woman who made a hand knit sweater.  Another time it read, “It’s been a bad week, all gifts of chocolate welcomed!” They were quickly bombarded with chocolates. 

When Preston Manning was the leader of the Reform Party he did a flip flop on an issue so Mona’s speech bubble said “Presto Chango. ” A few days later a guy shows up at the front desk saying he wanted to talk to the guy responsible for Mona.  When Doug comes to the front desk, he realizes it is Manning and it turns out he wants to shake Doug’s hand and tell him “That’s Funny!”

Mona disappeared when the Metrographics building was torn down for the construction of Qualex-Landmark's first three Calgary condos – Stella, Nova and Luna – in 2005. 

But Doug did not disappear -  by that time he was a well-established mural painter in Calgary and beyond.

"Giving Wings To The Dream" is a 250' by 120' mural on the east side of the old CUPS building on 7th Ave across from the convention centre. 

"Giving Wings To The Dream" is a 250' by 120' mural on the east side of the old CUPS building on 7th Ave across from the convention centre. 

Murals 

In 1995, he did the “Giving Wings To The Dream” on the side of the former CUPS (Calgary Urban Projects Society) building on 7th Ave SW across from the Convention Centre LRT Station that still stands today (and has never been refreshed).  It depicts a large human hand reaching up (a hand-up, not a hand-out) to a white dove that is flying off into the sky. What a better metaphor for a CUPS, a non profit society that reaches out to Calgarians whose lives are in turmoil to help them turn their lives around.

It also speaks to Calgary’s strong caring society.

It could also be a metaphor for all of the people who have moved to Calgary over the past 100 years with the dream of working hard and being rewarded with a better life – be that the 1910s or the 2010s.

In 1997, Driediger painted a huge 48 by 150 foot mural on the backside of the downtown Petroleum Club visible from the busy 6th Avenue SW. At the time, Reuters reported it as the largest mural in Canada, and perhaps one of the largest in North America. It commemorates the impact of the oil and gas industry on the Alberta with the rig crew at Leduc #1, the original wooden derrick from Turner Valley find, a vintage water truck, and on the left, a farming/ranching scene with a landowner surveying his property, some cattle and pump-jacks all living in harmony.

It testifies the vital role oil and gas and agriculture have had and continue to have in the evolution of Alberta as a place for humans to thrive.

Turner Valley mural on the south side of the Petroleum Club building. 

Turner Valley mural on the south side of the Petroleum Club building. 

“The Promise” is an 18-foot by 60-foot mural created in 1998 on the south wall of the Alex Ferguson School in Killarney where his two daughters went to school. Facing the playground it has nine hands reaching out from the ground to touch or catch a circular object – a ball? a distant planet? perhaps Earth? 

The mural looms over the children as they play at recess, lunch or after school, one can only wonder what impact it has had on the minds of thousands or young children over the years?

"The Promise" dominates the Alex Ferguson's schoolyard. Visible from 17th Ave SW at 26th Street. 

"The Promise" dominates the Alex Ferguson's schoolyard. Visible from 17th Ave SW at 26th Street. 

Post Murals

While you won’t find any new Driediger murals in Calgary (which is a shame) that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been busy. In fact he was so busy I had to wait three months to meet with him to discuss his new work.

He reminded me that since his early murals he has created three murals in High River, two in Stoney Plain and a centennial mural for Sylvan Lake – to name a few.  He told me about the indoor mural ordeal at the Days Inn in downtown Lethbridge where he had to paint on sloping walls and ceiling around a pool using a cherry picker (a hydraulic crane with a railed platform that can be raised and lowered so people can work at variable heights).  He laughed when I said it was his “Sistine Chapel.”

He has also been very active working with Parks Canada creating interpretive murals at various locations that help visitors understand and visualize the uniqueness of the location. 

It is a perfect synergy of his graphic design and fine art skills.  He has worked in remote locations like Kwisitis Visitor Centre in the heart of Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island to Sulphur Mountain Walk in Banff National Park

Rain Forest, one of four linked walls about 20ft by 70 ft in total at Kwisitis Visitor Centre, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve BC. 

Rain Forest, one of four linked walls about 20ft by 70 ft in total at Kwisitis Visitor Centre, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve BC. 

Crossroads?

He is currently working with Parks Canada and Science World Vancouver to create educational murals about how the introduction of “wildlife corridors” have decreased wildlife deaths by 80% or how condo owners can create pollinator gardens to help bees thrive. 

He finds this work both challenging and satisfying.

This spring he will complete a project working with the members of Calgary’s Crossroads community (the name for three north east communities Mayland Heights, Belfast and Vista Heights) to transform 11 utility boxes into works of art. Working with the community and the City of Calgary’s Biologist the theme of “Birds of Calgary” was chosen. 

The community got to vote on their favourite Calgary birds (Robin was #1) and some of the community even got to help with the painting.

Driediger on the left working with the Crossroads community to add some ornamentation to their utility boxes. 

Driediger on the left working with the Crossroads community to add some ornamentation to their utility boxes. 

Test of Time?

Driediger utilizes both his graphic and fine art skills, as well as his business partner John Twaddle’s technology skills to create art that blurs the boundaries between graphic, fine and public art.  

He likes the fact his art can be educational, entertaining and enlightening all at the same time.

I like that all of Driediger’s large scale murals are uplifting, perhaps that is why the public loves them as much today as when they were done 20 years ago. The test for any work of art is how it stands the “test of time.” Driediger’s work passes with flying colours. 

When asked, “if there was a site in Calgary he would like to create a major new mural?” he responded that one of the Crossroads community members thought he should create a mural on the Firestone Tower at the corner of Barlow Trail and Memorial Drive. 

He smirked and said, “I have never done a circular mural.”  I smirked and said, “Never say never!”

Firestone Tower, waiting for a mural?

Firestone Tower, waiting for a mural?

Calgary: Mannequins As Public Art?

On a cold Sunday afternoon I decided to go "chinooking," i.e. flaneuring at Calgary's Chinook Mall (Calgary's largest and one Canada's top malls, home to Nordstrom and soon Saks Fifth Avenue).  

I have to admit it had been years since I have been to the Chinook, but as I had an hour before my Apple store  "iPhone Photography" workshop (how to take stunning photos), I thought why not give my new iPhone7+ a workout.  

As soon as I walked in I was immediately reminded how much I love store windows as fun, funky and sometime provocative art installations.  I was also reminded how surrealistic-looking mannequins are used to make eerie and strange narratives. 

It never ceases to amaze me, what you see when you look closely at the windows. 

Then the light bulb went on - why not do a photo essay focusing on mannequins and womannequins!  So I did....

Womannequins?

Last Word

As I flaneured the mall, from hallway to hallway, from window to window; it was very much like being in a large public art gallery wandering from gallery to gallery. 

While I realize a shopping mall is not a public space, it felt like the mannequins were the equivalent of public statues and installations a form of public art. They were free for everyone to see as part of their everyday experience as much as downtown's Family of Man, Conversation, Famous Five or Wonderland.  

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MAD about Manchester?

With all the communities surrounding Calgary’s downtown becoming more gentrified with new condos, offices, restaurants and cafes people often ask me, “where is the next Sunnyside, Bridgeland or Inglewood?” 

One community that is not on most people’s radar is Manchester.

Urban Grub is the storefront for Indulge Catering Kitchen is just one of the many commercial kitchens in Manchester. 

Urban Grub is the storefront for Indulge Catering Kitchen is just one of the many commercial kitchens in Manchester. 

Where?

Manchester is the no-man’s land between Macleod Trail S.W. and Blackfoot Trail S.E. and from 58th to 34th Ave South.  Most Calgarians know it as a hodgepodge of junkyards, railway tracks, lumberyards, automotive shops, small industrial and a few assorted small office buildings. However, for the urban pioneer, there are lots of hidden gems to be discovered. 

Backstory: Named after the England’s industrial city, Manchester (in the early 20th century it was common practice to give new Calgary communities that would appeal to British immigrants) it was Calgary’s first industrial district, although it did have some residential development and even its own school until 1973. 

A row of small cottage homes that are a reminder of Manchester's residential past. 

A row of small cottage homes that are a reminder of Manchester's residential past. 

A cluster of mid-rise residential towers is developing at the southwest corner of Manchester. 

A cluster of mid-rise residential towers is developing at the southwest corner of Manchester. 

While the Manchester school closed a few years back, there is a lovely community playground. 

While the Manchester school closed a few years back, there is a lovely community playground. 

Castle Toys Calgary's premier toy store calls Manchester home. 

Castle Toys Calgary's premier toy store calls Manchester home. 

Ill-Fated Kustoms is part fashion, part second hand, part motorcycle store in Manchester. 

Ill-Fated Kustoms is part fashion, part second hand, part motorcycle store in Manchester. 

MAD?

Arguably, the first pioneers were Uri Heilik and Rogelio Herrera, who in 2010, opened Alloy Fine Dining in a nondescript building at 220 - 42 Avenue SE.   It immediately became one of Calgary’s go-to restaurants for foodies. So much for the adage, “location, location, location.”  There are no luxury condos nearby, nor any suits with their expense accounts. Seven years later, Alloy remains one of Calgary’s top restaurants. 

Then there’s Christine Klassen who, three years ago, made a bold decision to move her contemporary art gallery from the Beltline’s 11th Avenue Design District to a warehouse space behind an office building at 321 - 50th Avenue SE.  While the location is off the beaten path, the industrial chicness gives it a New York or London gallery look/vibe. 

“Moving to Manchester allowed us to go form 1,900 to 4,600 square feet.  It allowed us to show more artists and to show larger works.  The viewing vistas for the artwork is so much better. We love it here and so do our clients.” says Klassen. 

She even joked she’d love to see more art-oriented businesses open up so it could become the Manchester Art District – MAD for short.

Indeed, a short drive from Klassen’s takes you to the Alberta Printmaker’s Studio and Gallery at 4025, 4th St. SE.  It moved from its Inglewood space to a very fun yellow façade a funky ‘70s warehouse building that looks like a box of Crayola coloured-crayons. The Studio space is perfect for its 60+ members to make their art and a dedicated exhibition space open to the public. They love the location and the fact that right out their back door is Ukrainian Fine Foods.

Drying rack at Alberta Printmaker's Studio. 

Drying rack at Alberta Printmaker's Studio

Klassen’s MAD dream was further enhanced in 2016 when Jarvis Hall Gallery (also a former Beltline gallery) relocated to 333B -6th Ave SE. while not far away from Jarvis Hall is the artisan Banded Peak Brewery (119, 519, 34th Ave S.E.) 

We were sampling late on a Saturday afternoon and the tasting tables were full with people of all ages.  We were told several other small breweries will be opening nearby in the next year.

Jarvis Hall Gallery's Peter von Tiesenahausen exhibition 

Jarvis Hall Gallery's Peter von Tiesenahausen exhibition 

Banded Peak Brewery growlers. 
Manchester provides some unique photo opportunities for artists. 

Manchester provides some unique photo opportunities for artists. 

Baker, Butcher, Bootmaker?

While several of Calgary’s younger entrepreneurs are transforming Manchester from a dusty industrial district to fun, funky and quirky quarter, there are still a few old timers. 

The Calgary Italian Bakery, founded by Luigi and Myrl Bontorin in 1962, and one of the largest independent bakeries in Western Canada, has called Manchester home for 20+ years.  There is a popular small deli on site where you can get a fresh and very tasty, made-to-order classic sandwich. (Hot tip: if you go late on a Saturday afternoon there are some good deals to be had for a buck or less.)

Eric Day not only has rented space in Manchester for his Indulge Catering Kitchen for years, but recently also opened up Urban Grub in the old Sidewalk Citizen space (which moved to East Village’s Simmons Building) offering meals to go. 

Manchester is also home to several large corporate buildings.  CANA, one of Calgary’s oldest companies, has its funky bright yellow trimmed office building just off 58th Ave, while ENMAX’s sprawling head office building is on 50th Ave.  Safeway has a 256,000 square foot cold storage facility for meat and produce. 

And tucked away out of sight at 5340- 1st St SW is the contemporary Southern Alberta Eye Centre building.

Alberta Boot's 2017 collection

Alberta Boot's 2017 collection

Alberta Boot established in 1978 also calls Manchester home.  After 30 years in its Beltline location, it moved to #50, 50th Ave SE.  If you haven’t visited yet, it is a truly hidden gem - part factory, part showroom and part museum.  It is a great place to bring visiting family and friends. 

Did you know they not only make custom boots but also funky men and women’s shoes?   

 

Opps We Got The Wrong Name?

Manchester is also home for 1,332 Calgarians of which a whopping 23% (three times the City’s average) are under the age of 4.  There is a cluster of high-rise apartments near Macleod Trail and 58th Ave, as well as some old cottage homes, many of which have become small cottage businesses.

A huge opportunity for larger scale Transit Oriented Development (TOD) exists next to the 39th Avenue LRT Station, which has to be the most, unfriendly LRT station in North America.  It is almost as if Calgary Transit forgot it is even there.  In fact, it was originally called the 42nd Avenue Station even though it is located at 39th St.

However, it is on the City’s radar and is currently being analyzed to determine how best to capitalize on the opportunity.

North America's ugliest LRT Station.

North America's ugliest LRT Station.

Bakery District

“Manchester feeds Calgary through its network of warehouses, industrial bakeries, food equipment shops, coffee roasters and some nice restaurant finds such as Alloy and Black Apron, in addition to being home to the Calgary Food Bank” says John Gilchrist, Calgary restaurant critic and food writer. 

In some ways, you could call Manchester “the new Beltline”, given all of the businesses that have relocated from the Beltline to Manchester.  While Manchester might have a Walk Score near zero today, in the future it could become a thriving integrated and diverse retail, restaurant, residential and commercial community.   

Could become Calgary’s equivalent of New York City’s Meatpacking District or San Fran’s Tenderloin District. 

It might even become The Bakery District given it is home to the Calgary Italian Bakery, as well as Safeway and Weston’s bakeries, and numerous commercial kitchens.

Perhaps not in my lifetime!

 

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Should Calgary Transit Think Outside the Bus?

As a result of digging into the Calgary Transit’s “Electronic Fare Saga,” I also learned a whole lot more about the other issues that Calgarians and Calgary Transit are facing in a March 2016 report "Calgary Transit Service Delivery Goal Trends and Challenges."

As shown on Figure 1, in 2015 Base service is provided to about 60.4% of Calgary residences and 62.7% of jobs (business addresses). Areas that do not receive a Base level of service contain about 229,000 residents (18% of city population) and 158,000 jobs (18% of Calgary’s total employment) primarily in the developed communities in the northwest, west, southwest and southeast areas where base service levels are not provided. Areas with no transit service tend to be located in the newer areas in the north, northeast, southeast, particularly developing employment areas plus pockets scattered throughout the developed area of city. Some of these pockets are isolated and have sparse developments that are not feasible to serve. (City of Calgary, Transit Service Delivery Goals, Trends and Challenges, March 2016)

As shown on Figure 1, in 2015 Base service is provided to about 60.4% of Calgary residences and 62.7% of jobs (business addresses). Areas that do not receive a Base level of service contain about 229,000 residents (18% of city population) and 158,000 jobs (18% of Calgary’s total employment) primarily in the developed communities in the northwest, west, southwest and southeast areas where base service levels are not provided. Areas with no transit service tend to be located in the newer areas in the north, northeast, southeast, particularly developing employment areas plus pockets scattered throughout the developed area of city. Some of these pockets are isolated and have sparse developments that are not feasible to serve. (City of Calgary, Transit Service Delivery Goals, Trends and Challenges, March 2016)

Base service is a range of transit services (feeder, mainline and cross-town routes) providing service, within 400 metres of 95% of residents and jobs, at least every 30 minutes. In 2015, base service is provided to only about 60.4% of Calgary residences and 62.7% of businesses. 

I was surprised to learn there are thousands of households in 12 different Calgary communities  that no have no service within 5 kilometers and probably won’t have for a few years.

I can understand that new communities might have to wait for schools, libraries and recreation centers, but I have to wonder why the City would approve the development of a new community if they know they don’t have the money to provide reasonable transit service.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that most bus routes after 9 pm operate at less than 20% capacity (i.e. less than 12 people per bus). My observations over the years have found that in off peak times it is more like 5 or 6.

For a long time I have wondered if there isn’t a better way to provide transit service on low ridership routes.  What if taxis, Uber drivers and/or car2go vehicles waiting at the LRT Stations were somehow included in the transit fare so C-Train riders could just hop in and get home rather than waiting for a bus that comes every 30 minutes?

I then started thinking of lots of questions?

Would it be more cost effective for the city to just tendered out transit service to taxis, Uber or car2go from C-Trains Stations late at night? 

Would it make sense to replace some low occupancy bus routes with taxis and Uber service to the nearest C-Train Station at night?   

Would it be cost effective to tender out transit service to new communities to taxis and Uber, while a community grows in size to warrant transit service?

Would the Taxi/Uber option be cost effective on low ridership routes on the weekends?

Benefits

I hazard a guess to say transit users would love the door-to-door, on-demand service at night, especially in the winter. Waiting in the dark and cold is no fun.

Increased C-Train ridership at night as a result of Calgarians being picked up at home and driven to the closest C Train or picked up at the LRT Station and driven home could result in increased train service, yielding a win-win situation.

As well, it would be more environmentally friendly as buses wouldn’t be driving around empty and taxis and Uber drivers would be busy driving people, rather than sitting idling polluting the air while waiting for a fare.

Taxi drivers get a new client base, maybe making up for the Uber competition.

There could also be an increase in transit use by car owners with the added comfort and convenience of door-to-door on-demand service. Fewer cars on the road would be a good thing.

The records of the taxi and Uber drivers would provide the City with valuable information for future transit planning.

And yes, it should save the taxpayer money.

Research Says…..

In fact Miami, Denver, Quebec City and Phoenix already have partnerships with private companies (Uber, Lyft) to transport customers to and from transit services in low ridership areas or during times of low ridership (evenings & weekends).

Perhaps a pilot project in Calgary is warranted based on the lessons learned from these other cities.  

Link: First Mile/Last Mile Programs

Last Word

Perhaps it is time to think outside the bus.

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Calgary Transit: The Electronic Fare Saga

Ever since Mayor Nenshi said “Please, please, please, tell me you’re going to those cities not just to spend money looking at their smartcard systems,” when Council was informed (November 2016) Calgary Transit officials were headed to Vancouver, Salt Lake City and Philadelphia, I have wondered why Calgary can’t just buy somebody’s smartcard technology and get on with it.

So after a few months of asking around and doing some digging, I’ve discovered that despite all the customer conveniences that an electronic fare system offers, developing the system isn’t as easy as one might think. 

And it doesn’t come cheap. 

What I learned

The use of electronic fare systems has evolved in leaps and bounds over the past five years.  Many of the early systems were not very reliable.  Many transit systems have moved to electronic fares, but with mixed success.  

Other systems of similar size to Calgary Transit with fare electronic cards include Seattle, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Miami, Cleveland, Salt Lake and Phoenix.  There is also a good system in Saskatoon.  Many have experienced high costs to implement their systems and glitches in implementation.  Winnipeg’s smart card system know as peggo was 10 years in the development, before being launched in 2016.

In all fairness to Calgary Transit, there is much to be learned from these other cities. 

Over Promise, Under Deliver

The cost of a full fare card system appears to be in the $40 to $70 million range with implementation times of up to or exceeding 4-years due to the complexity of the systems involved. I have learned the reliability of such a system is more complicated to develop since payment card standards are changing and the reliability of on-board electronic equipment using GPS is difficult to achieve.  The systems are notorious for errors which result in lost revenue - even 0.5% loss of revenue is significant for any transit system.  

It seems too many systems over promise and under deliver.

Link: Florida Department of Transportation  Mobile Fare Report

Advantages/Disadvantages

The advantage of the current cash / ticket / pass system is its reliability. Customers pay a fare and transit gets the money. Cost for printing, distribution, vender commissions, and cash/ticket handling is low.

On the negative side, the disadvantages of our current fare system is that it makes introducing more flexible (e.g. sliding scale of single fares based on usage) or distance-based fares very difficult or impossible.

An advantage of a smart card system is it removes the burden on the customer to plan ahead to have exact change or having to purchase books of tickets or monthly passes in advance. 

As for the electronic system, not only does the technology cost millions, but on top of that, is the transaction fee from the finance provider for each transaction plus the cost of maintaining the equipment, software and accounting.

“New” technology

In fact, the standard of a transit system-only fare card is already outdated.  New fare systems are being developed using credit or debit cards or smart phones to pay fares. These latest systems remove the operating burden from the transit system and take advantage of cards already in customer’s wallets. 

Promises! Promises! Show me the card!

Edmonton Transit is getting close to implementing a Smart Fare card system. Hmmmm….perhaps they would like to share their technology, after all, we are living in a sharing society. 

Wouldn’t it have made sense for Calgary and Edmonton to have gotten together 10 years ago to develop a made in Alberta card and share the costs?  Why can’t we work together?

Today we could be exporting smart fare technology rather than importing it?

After posting this blog several readers suggested that perhaps we can do a swap with Edmonton or another City, we can give them our ParkPlus technology and they can give us their smartcard technology. Sounds like a good idea to me. 

Link: Edmonton Smart Fare

Something To Think About

As an entrepreneurial city, full of engineers and software developers you would have thought Calgary would be a leader and early adopter in the field of electronic fares.

Perhaps we are just not that smart?  Or maybe we are…. as early adopters often get burned!

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Calgary's Downtown GLOWS with fun!

You gotta go!

I am giving GLOW Calgary's new family-friendly interactive light festival an 8 out of 10. I hope these photos and videos will tell you why.

It is just too much fun for everyone. 

GLOW light shows happen 6:30 to 11:00 pm Saturday Feb 18, Sunday 19th and Monday 20th.  

GLOW maps and more information at DowntownCalgary

"Nibbles" by Australia's Amanda Peer, is an installation of cuddly illuminated bunnies that appeals to the toddlers and anyone who is young at heart. Hotchkiss Gardens

Canada 150 glowing tricycle was going up and down Stephen Avenue. 

Canada 150 glowing tricycle was going up and down Stephen Avenue. 

"Chopsticks + Chandelier" by Toronto's Jeremy Tsang is located at James Short Park near Chinatown.  

"Chopsticks + Chandelier" by Toronto's Jeremy Tsang is located at James Short Park near Chinatown.  

Even the people were glowing at Olympic Plaza. 

Even the people were glowing at Olympic Plaza. 

Rabbit Down? 

Rabbit Down? 

Top Three Picks:

  • Harley Hotchkiss Gardens is centre ice (Festival Hub) for GLOW with a fun family of glowing bunny rabbits, TROPICALGARY (a dancing light show with music), "Light Shower" booth and warming igloo (for kids only).
  • The Door at Eight Avenue Place's (9th Ave plaza) was a fun surprise for kids of all ages.
  • Olympic Plaza’s PRISMATICA should become a permanent winter installation on the plaza or somewhere in the downtown. 

Other Downtown Delights!

Downtown Calgary's other public art came alive with young children exploring them. 

Downtown Calgary's other public art came alive with young children exploring them. 

Downtown's glimmering and shimmering glass towers become jewel-like at night. 

Downtown's glimmering and shimmering glass towers become jewel-like at night. 

A stain glass window that is almost invisible by day glows at night. 

A stain glass window that is almost invisible by day glows at night. 

Wonderland, aka The BIG Head, on the plaza of the Bow office tower is transformed into a ghostly image at night. 

Last Word

I have to admit I was jealous, of Montreal’s amazing winter light shows, outdoor movies, interactive playgrounds scattered throughout their city center when we visited this past December. Montreal's En Lumiere festival takes place Feb 23rd to March 11th, 2017. 

Link: Montreal En Lumiere

However, I was very pleased to learn in January that the Calgary Downtown Association and Canada 150 had teamed up to produce GLOW a free family-friendly winter light festival for our Family Day Weekend. It didn’t disappoint. 

Now if only we can make GLOW an annual winter event and grow it into a major North American winter event. 

I’d love to see more use made of the making our spectacular office buildings GLOW in the night.

This image a photo of PRISMATICA was combined with the reflection of Eight Avenue Place on the facade of 707 Fifth office tower using the app "UNION."   I am thinking there is technology that could transform our downtown office buildings into unique colourful glowing artworks all winter long. 

This image a photo of PRISMATICA was combined with the reflection of Eight Avenue Place on the facade of 707 Fifth office tower using the app "UNION."  

I am thinking there is technology that could transform our downtown office buildings into unique colourful glowing artworks all winter long. 

City Travel: Canada vs. USA

Editor’s Note: This the second of a two-part blog looking at how Canadian cities like Edmonton, Winnipeg compare to places like New Orleans and Chicago as alternative urban travel destinations given the turmoil in the USA. The first blog compared Calgary to Austin, Portland, Nashville, Denver and Seattle, as hipster cities.

Link: Calgary vs. Austin, Portland, Nashville, Denver & Seattle

Recently, MetroNews published an article looking at what Canadian cities tourists might consider visiting this year rather than American cities, given the current turmoil in the USA.

While MetroNews picked off the obvious ones I thought it would be fun to share suggestions that might not be so obvious.

Link: "Don’t want to travel to the U.S. Visit these Canadian cities instead"

Edmonton

For those thinking New Orleans would be a fun place to visit, you might want to consider Edmonton - Canada’s Festival City.  New Orleans is known for its laid-back culture and year-round festival atmosphere, much like Edmonton where in the summer, they host back-to-back-to-back festivals… Jazz Festival, Folk Festival, Blues Festival, Street Performers Festival, The Works Art & Design Festival and the grand daddy of all  - the Fringe Festival, one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Edmonton also boasts some spectacular contemporary architecture – Rogers Place arena, Art Gallery of Alberta and their City Hall.  Their river valley is spectacular too.

And then there is something called the West Edmonton Mall.

Link: Edmonton Tourism

Sample the butter tarts at Edmonton's Duchess Bake Shop at 10720 - 124th St.  Edmonton is home to several delicious bakeries. 124th St. it a fun pedestrian district.

Sample the butter tarts at Edmonton's Duchess Bake Shop at 10720 - 124th St.  Edmonton is home to several delicious bakeries. 124th St. it a fun pedestrian district.

124th Street is also home to several galleries, boutiques and restaurants. 

124th Street is also home to several galleries, boutiques and restaurants. 

Rogers Place is the new home of the Edmonton Oilers hockey team and the anchor for their downtown's new sports and entertainment district called ICE district.  Next door is the new provincial museum. 

Rogers Place is the new home of the Edmonton Oilers hockey team and the anchor for their downtown's new sports and entertainment district called ICE district.  Next door is the new provincial museum. 

Edmonton is known for its big summer festivals, however there are also fun street festivals almost every weekend in the summer.

Edmonton is known for its big summer festivals, however there are also fun street festivals almost every weekend in the summer.

Who doesn't like old fashion root beer delivered in a vintage truck. 

Who doesn't like old fashion root beer delivered in a vintage truck. 

City Market is the anchor for Edmonton's budding Brewery District. 

City Market is the anchor for Edmonton's budding Brewery District. 

Hyatt Place Hotel is the anchor for Edmonton's east-side Quarters District. It is an architectural jewel. 

Hyatt Place Hotel is the anchor for Edmonton's east-side Quarters District. It is an architectural jewel. 

Edmonton's Art Gallery of Alberta is located across the street from Churchill Square which hosts public events all summer long. 

Edmonton's Art Gallery of Alberta is located across the street from Churchill Square which hosts public events all summer long. 

Whyte Ave. is Edmonton's "bobo" district! 

Whyte Ave. is Edmonton's "bobo" district! 

Winnipeg

While MetroNews chose Toronto as an alternative to Chicago, what about Winnipeg? In fact, in the early 20th century, Chicago was worried Winnipeg would usurp it as the major transportation hub of the midwest.  Winnipeg’s Exchange District has one of the best collection of early 20th century architecture in North America. 

Visitors will love the Forks with its Human Rights Museum, Children’s Museum, Children’s Theatre, creative playground and one of the best minor league ballparks in North America. There is also the must-see Art Gallery of Winnipeg (largest collection of Inuit Art in Canada) and Assiniboine Park’s Polar Bear exhibit. 

And while Winnipeg doesn’t have a lake with a beautiful beach downtown, Grand Beach is just an hour away and it is a “sight for sore eyes“ (in a good way) in the summer.

Link: Visit Winnipeg

Winnipeg has lots of great ethnic bakeries and restaurants. Our favourite is Stella's (named after the owner's cat). 

Winnipeg has lots of great ethnic bakeries and restaurants. Our favourite is Stella's (named after the owner's cat). 

Esplande Riel bridge links The Forks with Winnipeg's historic french community of St. Bonaface with its St. Boniface Cathedral historical site. 

Esplande Riel bridge links The Forks with Winnipeg's historic french community of St. Bonaface with its St. Boniface Cathedral historical site. 

Winnipeg is famous for having the world's longest skating rink with warming huts designed by international artists and architects including Frank Gehry and Anish Kapoor. 

Winnipeg is famous for having the world's longest skating rink with warming huts designed by international artists and architects including Frank Gehry and Anish Kapoor. 

The Polar Bear exhibit at Assiniboine Park is awesome. The park also has an art gallery, sculpture garden, creative kids playground and lovely restaurant.

The Polar Bear exhibit at Assiniboine Park is awesome. The park also has an art gallery, sculpture garden, creative kids playground and lovely restaurant.

Public art is prominent in downtown Winnipeg.

Public art is prominent in downtown Winnipeg.

In 1971, the Winnipeg Art Gallery moved into its uber modern building designed by Canadian architects Gustavo da Roza and Isadore Coop, long before it became trendy to create iconic/signature art galleries. 

In 1971, the Winnipeg Art Gallery moved into its uber modern building designed by Canadian architects Gustavo da Roza and Isadore Coop, long before it became trendy to create iconic/signature art galleries. 

Winnipeg's Exchange District is a fun place to explore or just hangout.

Winnipeg's Exchange District is a fun place to explore or just hangout.

It is fun to explore downtown and discover the ghost signs and murals. 

It is fun to explore downtown and discover the ghost signs and murals. 

Montreal

After a recent trip to Montreal, I think it would make a great alternative not only to Chicago, but also to Boston, Philadelphia or San Francisco.  Montreal has its mojo back and this year is celebrating its 350 anniversary, making it one of the oldest cities in North America.  Old Montreal is like walking back a hundred years in time, as are its two major public markets - Atwater and Jean Talon.

Like Edmonton, it too is a huge festival city. The Montreal Jazz Festival should be on everyone’s bucket list. The Black & Blue Festival is one of the world’s largest gay festivals (Montreal’s Gay Village along St. Catherine St. East has a great evening vibe).  They even have Mural Festival to celebrate their extensive collection of street art.

Don’t rule out Montreal for a winter visit either. That’s when they light up the night with Montreal En Lumiere and Nuit Blanche festivals. Indeed the lights are much brighter in downtown Montreal.

Montreal is a joy to wander any time of the year and see what you discover; fun surprises lurk around every corner.  Real urban explorers will want to test their skills at navigating the 30+ km underground tunnel system that connects hundreds of downtown buildings.

I can’t say enough good things about Montreal as a tourist destination.

Link: Tourism Montreal 

Montreal has the coolest streetscapes. 

Montreal has the coolest streetscapes. 

Check out the fun cinema walls in Montreal's Place des arts (performing arts centre). 

Check out the fun cinema walls in Montreal's Place des arts (performing arts centre). 

Montreal is a mecca for artists and artisans. 

Montreal is a mecca for artists and artisans. 

Montreal has been an international fashion centre for decades. 

Montreal has been an international fashion centre for decades. 

Montreals murals and street art create fun surprises as you wander the city.

Montreals murals and street art create fun surprises as you wander the city.

Montreal's two markets add a very European flavour to the city.

Montreal's two markets add a very European flavour to the city.

Montreal could be a stand-in for New York with its bagel culture. 

Montreal could be a stand-in for New York with its bagel culture. 

Victoria

Victoria could be a very good alternative to anyone thinking about heading to San Diego.  Its charming harbor, beaches, vibrant food and café culture, quaint antique district and world-class museum have won many people over. 

Shoppers too will love wandering the shops in downtown, Chinatown and Oak Bay. Two downtown hidden gems are the downtown Value Village (we always find great art there) and Capital Iron next door.  The Super Chance consignment shop in James Bay Village is a must visit, for treasure hunters preferring more of a curated collection of “finds.” We have almost always found something wonderful there.

The Ross Bay Cemetery is a fascinating experience where you can visit the gravesite of artist Emily Carr (Canada’s Georgia O’Keefe).  Across the street is the Dallas Road beach, a great place for beachcombers and to watch kite surfers. 

If a more traditional sand beach is more to your liking, head to Willow Beach with its view of Mount Baker.  Just a few blocks away on Estevan Avenue is quaint Willows Village where you will find the funky Crumsby’s Café (family fun) and the tiny Willow Galley (fish & chips shack).

Link: Tourism Victoria

Victoria collage.

Victoria collage.

Victoria's beach life.

Victoria's beach life.

Victoria's waterfront.

Victoria's waterfront.

Ross Bay Cemetery.

Ross Bay Cemetery.

Toronto / Vancouver

Both Toronto and Vancouver could be excellent alternatives to New York City, Los Angeles and Miami.  Home to world-class shopping, museums, restaurants, cafes, festivals and architecture, both have a lively urban joie de vivre.   

Link: Tourism Toronto

Link: Vancouver Tourism

Frank Gehry's facade gallery at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Frank Gehry's facade gallery at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Toronto's City Centre is blessed with several urban villages with active street life. 

Toronto's City Centre is blessed with several urban villages with active street life. 

Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall in the foreground and CN Tower in the background. 

Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall in the foreground and CN Tower in the background. 

Vancouver's beach life.

Vancouver's beach life.

Vancouver was an early adopter of the food truck movement. 

Vancouver was an early adopter of the food truck movement. 

An impromptu Vancouver street market / garage sale that we stumbled into was too much fun.

An impromptu Vancouver street market / garage sale that we stumbled into was too much fun.

Vancouver was one of the first cities to build an spectacular downtown library as part of an urban renewal project. 

Vancouver was one of the first cities to build an spectacular downtown library as part of an urban renewal project. 

Last Word

So as you begin to finalize your travel plans for 2017 - Canada’s 150th birthday year – there is not better time to “Think Canada.”

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What does "Smarter Growth" mean?

We have likely all read or heard the term “smart growth” but do we know what the term means? Smart Growth America defines smart growth as “an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighbourhoods, and community engagement.”  

Makes sense.  Seems reasonable.

The devil is in the details.

In Calgary, the Smarter Growth Initiative website (smartergrowth.ca) is the work of BILD Calgary Region, the new name for the recent amalgamation of the Calgary Home Builders’ Association and the Urban Development Institute.

If you are at all interested in urban development or city building in Calgary, check this site out.  It is full of articles written in plain English covering almost every urban development or city building topic you can imagine. While some of the articles may be a bit too simplistic for some (writing for the public is a delicate balance between too much and too little information), in my opinion most Calgarians will benefit from the clear, concise and credible information presented.

It a also a great place to learn about the various acronyms that developers, planners and politicians throw around - like MGA (Municipal Government Act), MDP (Municipal Development Plan) or MAC (Major Activity Centre). Here, these and more are explained in layman’s language.

Everything You Need To Know

Want to understand the Calgary’s infrastructure saga? If so, there is a great article entitled “Who Pays For What?” outlining who pays for roads and pathways, streetlights, public spaces, traffic lights, sound barriers, water, sewer and other utilities. Dig deeper and you can download a Deputy City Manager’s Office Report to Council that details the new off-site levies bylaw and all the rates. It will be an interesting read for some.

Interested in Affordable Housing? The video,“4 Factors In Housing Affordability” is worth watching. Want to know more about the benefits of mixed-use developments, or what placemaking is or the new energy codes of Alberta Homes? Links to articles on these subjects and more can be found on the home page.

Or, click on the “Innovation” tab and you can read articles about “A Natural Cure For Urban Stress,” “Centres of Innovation,” and “Do tiny homes have a future in Canada?”

On the Policy page, you can read what Councillor Farrell thinks about growth, what Guy Huntingford, CEO, BILD Calgary Region thinks about the housing crunch or how to make sense of developer levies.

The Development page has instructive pieces like, “Main Streets YYC,” “Innovation in a New Complete Community,” “Designing Streets for Safety” and “Secondary Suites With A Difference.”

There is even a Smarter Growth Initiative newsletter that you can sign up for, which will keep you posted on new development news as it unfolds.

Something To Think About

The stated goal of the Smarter Growth Initiative is “to engage Calgarians in dialogue on the topics affecting planning and development.”  Given the municipal election this fall, it would be wise for all Calgarians to educate themselves about how Calgary can grow smarter.

Note: This blog was commissioned by the Smarter Growth Initiative. However, they had no influence on its content.  

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