White House Garden: Up Close & Personal

In celebration of the end of spring, I thought I would do a blog about the White House's spring garden.

I love spring time. It is not only the beginning of another golf season, but also the beginning of the gardening season.  I love watching the snow melting and the perennials struggling to come to life.  

Also it is when the days get longer...

One of the things I love to do in the spring is grab my morning coffee and wander the White House garden and see what has changed over night. Yes, sometimes it seems that while I am sleeping mother nature is at work.  

I also love saying Hi! to the kids who are being dropped of a the Honey Bee Daycare across the street.

It might only be 10 or 15 minutes, but it is a lovely way to start the day....

The White House garden is not that big as we live on a 30 by 120 foot lot, so most of the space is taken up by the house and the garage.  

However, the neighbours have been very generous and allowed us to let our garden grow onto their property.  You could say we are invasive gardeners.

So we have a front garden that spans three homes, a patio garden in the back yard and the secret garden between two garages.

The garden is also not very diverse as Calgary's climate is limiting in what will grow here.  

But even so, springtime brings some brilliant colours, beautiful shapes and strange juxtapositions.  

Mother Nature is the best artist!

I also love taking photos of the garden and then manipulating them into artworks.  

I am always amazed and surprise when I take close up photos and then magnify  them even more what interesting forms and colours come to life.  It is like a different world.

Back Story: Perhaps my interest in magnification is a result of many years as a university biology student looking down a microscope.   

Painting vs Photography

I love the softness that happens as the focus of the photographs begin to breakdown and the foreground and backgrounds blends. I see parallels with the art of Claude Monet, Lauren Harris, Georgia O'Keeffe and Emily Carr or any of the Fauvists.  I often wonder what kind of art they would produce in the 21st century, given new technologies.  

Would they still be painters?

I also think of Calgary photographer Neil Zeller and his stunning sky photographs, especially the northern lights and wonder what he might create if he was to turn his attention to gardens. 

Bold, Brilliant & Beautiful

I thought I would share some of these up close and personal images from the White House garden and get your feedback.  I hope you enjoy this exhibition titled "Bold, Brilliant & Beautiful" from the White House garden and have a great summer....

 

Elysian

Mysterious 

Mysterious 

Eerie

Eerie

Plume

Plume

Lavish

Lavish

Emerging 

Emerging 

Crinkle 

Crinkle 

Reaching 

Reaching 

Chroma

Chroma

Nebula

Nebula

Dichotomy

Dichotomy

Celestial 

Celestial 

Voluptuous 

Voluptuous 

Purity 

Purity 

Passion

Passion

Ethereal 

Ethereal 

Tinge

Tinge

Bleeding

Bleeding

Ruche

Ruche

Emerging

Emerging

Mystic 

Mystic 

Enchanted

Enchanted

Last Word

After posting this blog, I had a request for a photo of the White House Garden.

Berlin: Street Collages

One of my favourite things to do these days is to combine photographs to create fun and sometimes strange collages using the UNION app.

Over the past few weeks I have been playing with photos from streets of Berlin which has resulting what I think are some very visually intense and interesting images / artworks. 

Here are some samples. Love to get some feedback! 

On-It Canada 150 Calgary/Banff Regional Bus Service launches this weekend

For immediate release

June 13, 2017

On Saturday June 17, the Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP) is launching the second phase of its vision for a comprehensive regional transit system with a NEW weekend service to Banff from Calgary and surrounding area.

"The Banff / Calgary pilot is part of our longer-term vision of a seamless transit system connecting the entire region to jobs, recreation and services in any of our communities,” exclaims Colleen Shepherd, Executive Director of the CRP.

Tickets for the Calgary / Banff service are on sale now for a special Canada 150 price of just $10 each way and children 5 and under ride for free.

Tickets can be purchased online at onitregionaltransit.ca. E-tickets may be downloaded to a smartphone or printed and scanned on the bus.

Seats are limited and are expected to sell quickly so purchase your tickets online now.The service runs weekends and holidays from June 17, 2017 to September 4, 2017.

In October 2016, CRP launched its first regional commuter pilot, On-It, with service connecting Calgary, High River, Okotoks, Black Diamond, and Turner Valley. CRP’s next step is to consider the feasibility of providing regional transit services connecting Calgary, Chestermere and Strathmore. 

For the Calgary/Banff service, there are two routes:

1) Calgary / Banff Express running between Calgary’s Crowfoot LRT station and Banff

2) Calgary / Banff Regional with additional stops in Okotoks, South Calgary at Somerset- Bridlewood LRT station, Cochrane and Canmore.  

Detailed information on routes, maps and schedules are available at onitreginaltransit.ca

Passengers will enjoy a relaxing hassle-free ride to Banff on a luxury coach bus where they will be able to transfer onto Banff’s Roam transit system or take one of Parks Canada free shuttles to Lake Louise, Lake Minnewanka, Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Tunnel Mountain and other popular park destinations at no cost. 

“With Canadians taking advantage of free admission to national parks this year to celebrate Canada 150, Parks Canada has been working with partners to make sure visitors have the best possible experiences while being environmentally friendly,” said Dave McDonough, Parks Canada Field Unit Superintendent for Banff.“ Our team is excited about the launch of the Canada 150 Calgary/Banff service that allows visitors to experience Banff National Park car-free this summer.”

“The Canada 150 Calgary/Banff service is the result of a successful and first of its kind collaboration between the Calgary Regional Partnership, Parks Canada, and the towns of Banff and Canmore,” says Shepherd. “With the launch of our second pilot project to Banff, we are one step closer to fulfilling our vision of developing an integrated regional transit service throughout Calgary Region,” says Shepherd. “We are committed to bringing transit to our region and this second pilot bus service to Banff brings us one step closer to this reality.”

The Calgary Regional Partnership is a collaborative network of 11 municipalities in the Calgary Region who work together to ensure growth occurs in a sustainable manner. CRP the only voluntary regional organization of municipalities in Canada. Collectively the partnership represents more than 1.2 million people and is preparing for an increase of 1.8 million people over the next 60 years. 

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Media Resources:

For additional photos/media resources see this Drop Box link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/7wg3t4oesi6lfxf/AABBW0SwId2x6gxJFNiEbPwua?dl=0

For more information contact:

1)    Calgary Regional Partnership

Colleen Shepherd, Executive Director

Email: colleenshepherd@calgaryregion.ca

Cell: 403-809-1720

2)   Calgary Regional Partnership

Ettore Iannacito

Regional Transit Program Manager

Email: ettoreiannacito@calgaryregion.ca

Cell: 403-968-9954

3)   Parks Canada

Christie Thomson

Parks Canada, Public Relations and Communications Officer

Email: Christie.thomson@pc.gc.ca

Office: 403-762-1502

 

 

A Sunday Walkabout In Hillhurst!

When asked by visitors, “what is there to do on a Sunday in Calgary?” I often suggest a walkabout in Calgary’s tony Hillhurst community.  

All of shops, restaurants and cafes are open Sundays.  There is definitely some Sunday window licking fun to be had. 

All of shops, restaurants and cafes are open Sundays.  There is definitely some Sunday window licking fun to be had. 

Established in 1914, Hillhurst is one of Calgary’s oldest communities and still has a small town atmosphere with quaint cottage homes mingling with new infill homes with a few mid-rise condos thrown into the mix. As well, it boasts two Main Streets – 10th Street NW and Kensington Road – both lined with cafes, restaurants and shops.

But what I love about wandering Hillhurst are the things that are a bit off the beaten path – up the hill, across the park and down 5th Avenue NW.

The SAIT campus offers a wonderful juxtaposition of the old and new. 

The SAIT campus offers a wonderful juxtaposition of the old and new. 

Riley Park is a great place to sit.

Riley Park is a great place to sit.

Hillhurst Flea Market (13th Street and 5th Avenue NW)

Early birds can check out the Hillhurst Flea Market, which opens every Sunday between 7am, (but doesn’t really get bustling until about 9 am) and 2 pm.  Located in the Hillhurst Community Association building, vendors fill two gymnasiums, the small food court and even spill outside in the summer. 

Like any good flea market, you will find a hodgepodge of things to see, touch and potentially take home.  It is mostly smaller household items, records, books and collectables that are easy for tourists to pack in your suitcase. There is a good chance you might find a piece of authentic Calgary memorabilia as a unique souvenir of your visit.

Give yourself 30 to 45 minutes 

One of two gyms full of collectables for those who like the "thrill of the hunt." 

One of two gyms full of collectables for those who like the "thrill of the hunt." 

A flea market collage. 

A flea market collage. 

Riley Park / Senator Patrick Burns Rock Garden

Just east of the flea market is the lovely Riley Park with its popular summer wading pool.  It is also home to one of Canada’s oldest (1908) cricket pitches in the middle of the park, don’t be surprised if there is a game going on or some guys practising.  And on the east side, sits a small garden with benches for contemplation while just and then just up the 10th Street hill is the Senator Patrick Burns Rock Garden.

The rock gardens were created in the 1950s and named after Senator Patrick Burns who was a successful businessman (Burns Foods), rancher, politician and philanthropist. He was one of the four investors in Calgary’s first Stampede.  The gardens incorporate over 20,000 pieces of fieldstone taken from his 18-room mansion that was across the street from Memorial Park (4th St SW and 13th Avenue) when it was torn down.

Plan for 30 to 45 minutes to wander the park and gardens, unless you decide to watch some cricket.

The wading pool is very popular on Sundays.

The wading pool is very popular on Sundays.

Batter up?  Are they called batters? 

Batter up?  Are they called batters? 

You never know what you will encounter in Riley Park.  Those millennials are always having fun.

You never know what you will encounter in Riley Park.  Those millennials are always having fun.

An oasis in the middle of the city.

An oasis in the middle of the city.

SAIT Campus

Murals above doorways in Heritage Hall. 

Murals above doorways in Heritage Hall. 

It is a bit of a hike up the hill to SAIT Campus, but you are amply rewarded with spectacular views of Calgary’s stunning skyline.

The SAIT campus itself has a wonderful mix of old and new architecture.  The signature building, Heritage Hall completed in 1922, is an excellent example of the Collegiate Gothic architecture - twin towers with parapet, gothic arches and gargoyle stonework. (FYI: The twin towers of this building are repeated in both the Stan Grad Centre and Clayton Carroll Automotive Centre.) If you can get inside, check out the stairwell with its collection of vintage murals and the terrazzo flooring. 

The Johson-Cobbe Energy Centre, with its goblet-like entrance, is perhaps one of the most futuristic looks of any building in Calgary.  Not to be outdone next door is the Aldred Trades and Technology Complex with its massive wavy roof and glass façade.

SAIT parkade's futuristic entrance with playing field and downtown skyline in the background.  

SAIT parkade's futuristic entrance with playing field and downtown skyline in the background.  

Speaking of glass, seek out the entrance to the SAIT Parkade (Vancouver’s Bing Tom Architects and Calgary’s Marshall Tittemore Architects) with its intersecting acute triangular glass shapes that seem to be taking off like a futuristic plane.

In reality, the glass “sculpture” functions as a huge sunroof, allowing sunlight into the parkade. This unique parkade even has a playing field on top and the façades on the east and south sides are an incredible work of art (modern mural) by Vancouver artist Roderick Quinn. 

Backstory: The parkade’s metal façade, with its thousands of holes resembling opened tabs of a beer can, each strategically punched, create a giant (560 feet long for the east wall and 260 feet for the south wall) landscape artwork titled "The Ombrae Sky" inspired by the dramatic prairie clouds and skies. The “functional artwork” not only changes throughout the day with the changing light, but also allows natural light into the parkade.  

Give yourself at least an hour to tour the campus. Bring a camera as it is very photogenic.  Link: SAIT Campus Map

SAIT Parkade's ever changing cloud mural titled "The Ombrae Sky." 

SAIT Parkade's ever changing cloud mural titled "The Ombrae Sky." 

Kensington Village

Just south of Riley Park and Burns Rock Gardens is Kensington Village, one of Calgary’s best pedestrian-oriented streets with shops, restaurants and cafes along 10th Avenue and Kensington Road. It is home to two of Calgary’s oldest cafes - Higher Ground and The Roasterie if you want to experience Calgary’s café culture.

It also home to Calgary’s signature art house cinema, The Plaza. While it isn’t an architectural gem, the place has lots of charm and a great schedule of movies.  I totally recommend a Sunday matinee.

Right beside The Plaza is Pages, perhaps Calgary’s best independent bookseller with a great selection of books on Calgary’s history and by Calgary authors. 

Plaza art house cinema with Pages books store next door. 

Plaza art house cinema with Pages books store next door. 

Street performers make for a lively pedestrian experience.

Street performers make for a lively pedestrian experience.

Food For Thought

Kensington offers a wide spectrum of cuisines from a Ramen Bar to classic Italian. Here are a few recommendations.

  • Best Brunch: Vero Bistro Moderne
  • Best Pizza: Pulcinella
  • Best Burger: Flipp’n Burgers
  • Best Patio: Container Bar
  • Best Pub: Oak Tree Tavern
  • Best Takeout: Chicken On The Way (a Calgary icon)
Squeezed into a side yard between two buildings this patio makes for a intimate place to hang out.

Squeezed into a side yard between two buildings this patio makes for a intimate place to hang out.

Street Art

It ‘s also worth a visit to Calgary’s grittier side – the alley behind the shops on the east side of 10th Street. It’s numerous street artworks combine to create a fun outdoor art gallery.  Don’t miss the most ambitious piece under the patio deck of the Oak Tree Tavern, near where Kensington Road meets 10th Street NW.

Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 9.17.13 AM.png
Entrance to Pixel condo at 235 - 9A St NW is very cool.

Entrance to Pixel condo at 235 - 9A St NW is very cool.

Streets of Hillhurst

Fun can also be had by wandering the residential streets of Hillhurst and its sister community Sunnyside (east of 10th Street), where you can still find quaint 75+ year old cottage homes, side-by-side with contemporary two storey infills.

FYI: Calgary might just be the “Infill Capital” of North America.  Each year hundreds of older 20th century inner-city homes are replaced by modern single-family and duplex homes.  In some cases the 50-foot lots are divided into two lots for the new houses, in other cases the 600 square foot cottage homes are replaced by 2,500+ square foot mini-mansions. Either way, the new infill homes help to revitalize Calgary’s inner city communities, as they are very attractive to young families.

Too me, the interesting juxtaposition of old and new, reminds us of just how much urban living has evolved over the past century.  

Tiny, tony cottage home.

Tiny, tony cottage home.

Trendy infill homes are popping up like dandelions in Calgary's inner city communities. 

Trendy infill homes are popping up like dandelions in Calgary's inner city communities. 

Where to Stay:

For visitors looking for a recommendation on where to stay or perhaps Calgarians wanting a romantic weekend, I recommend The Kensington Riverside Inn with its luxury rooms with fireplaces, patios or balconies that overlook the Bow River and views of the Calgary’s stunning downtown skyline. Homemade cookies are served all day and Callebaut chocolates are part of the turndown service. 

It is also home to the Oxbow restaurant serving up a creative menu with things like rhubarb ice cream-topped shortcake and duck wings with crushed cashews and Saskatoon berries along with a carefully curated wine list. It is no wonder this boutique inn has the coveted Relais & Chateaux designation.

Last Word

Calgary is made up of 200+ communities, each with their own distinct charm and character. One of the things I love about Calgary is that we all live in “small towns of 5,000 to 15,000 people.”  It truly is a big city with small town charm.   

Calgary/Banff Transit: It is about time!

Yahooo…Calgary’s Regional Partnership is piloting a Calgary/Banff bus this summer. It’s about time….

It has always amazed me that there isn’t a regular Calgary/Banff bus or train service for that matter.  Twenty years ago I was in Bali and experienced how they picked up tourists in small vans from various hotels and resorts took us to a central bus station where coach buses then drove us to our various tourist destinations.  It was a great “hub and wheel” system that I thought Calgary could learn from. 

I was reminded of this again recently when in Berlin and wanted to go to Leipzig, a popular tourist destination about 200 km away.  We had our choice of several trains a day, as well as an hourly bus service.  We booked a bus seats online for $15CDN/person each way.   It was easy to use local transit to get us to the Central Bus Station, where we boarded a comfortable coach bus that took us directly to Leipzig’s city center  - just a 5-minute walk to our hotel. 

It was very slick.

On-IT Calgary/Banff Transit Pilot

I was very excited to recently learn the Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP), a collaborative network of 11 municipalities in the Calgary Region who work together on a volunteer basis to ensure growth occurs in a sustainable manner, has taken the initiative to pilot an On-IT Calgary/Banff bus service on weekends and holidays from June 17 to September 4.

There are two routes:

  • Calgary / Banff Express running between Calgary’s Crowfoot LRT station and Banff
  • Calgary / Banff Regional with additional stops in Okotoks, South Calgary at Somerset- Bridlewood LRT station, Cochrane and Canmore.  

From the looks of the schedule they have tried very hard to create a schedule to accommodate a variety of needs. 

I was also pleased to learn you are not just dropped off in the middle of Banff, but your fare (Special Canada 150 pricing of $10 each way; kids under 5 ride free) includes free transfer to Banff’s Roam Transit and Parks Canada’s shuttle, the latter gives you access to get to many different hot spots including Lake Louise, Lake Minnewanka, Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Tunnel Mountain and other popular park destinations.

Kudos to CRP & Partners

Kudos to CRP for initiating this regional transit service pilot project.   I admire their ambitious goal of creating a seamless regional transit system that will offer increased mobility for locals wanting to get to jobs or recreational activities, as well as to enhance regional tourism.

Kudos also to Parks Canada, Banff and Canmore for partnering with CRP to test the idea of a seasonal bus service for tourists and locals.  I expect the information gathered this summer will be very useful in determining the need for a seasonal bus or perhaps even a train from Calgary to Banff in the future.

Last Word

Perhaps one of the legacies of Canada 150 will be the development of a permanent Calgary/Banff regional transit system in 2018. 

More information & purchase tickets at: onitregionaltransit.ca

If you like this blog you might like:

LUV IT: On-It Calgary Regional Transit

Everyday Tourist's Tall Transit Tales

 

Leipzig's City Centre is mind-boggling!

It is mind boggling how Leipzig, German (population 580,000) fits so much into its tiny City Centre – just 800 meters by 800 meters (or eight fields by eight football fields).

Leipzig Fun

The entire City Centre, about half the size of Calgary’s East Village, is home to six major museums, two major concert halls, two historic churches, five major department stores, three large shopping malls, University of Leipzig City Center campus, two large plazas (actively programmed with farmers' markets and events), a few small park spaces and a small skatepark to boot.

 

In addition, hundreds of restaurants - many with huge patios, perfect for people watching - and dozens of five and six-storey mixed-use buildings. 

It also home to the second largest train station in Germany, with 19 platforms housed in six iron train sheds, a multi-level concourse with towering stone arches, and a 298-metre long facade.

All of this and yet there is only one highrise - a 36-storey office tower. How could this be?

 

Pedestrian Paradise

One of the things you first notice when exploring Leipzig’s City Centre is there are no buses, trains and only a few cars.  Even bikes are walked more than ridden. 

That is because there is a major ring road around City Centre for cars, trams and buses. Entrances to parkades are from this ring road; all transit users get off on the edge of the City Centre and walk in. There are no surface parking lots, no street parking taking up valuable space anywhere in the City Centre.  Deliveries all seem to happen in a few hours before the stores and museums open.

Also buildings are not set back from the street, meaning no useless decorative green spaces or plazas in front of buildings and no wasted space between buildings as they are all attached to each other or the building encompasses the entire block.

Classical Music Paradise

Leipzig has perhaps one of the richest musical histories of any city in the world.  The Gewandhaus Orchestra dates back to 1743 when sixteen merchants decided Leipzig needed an orchestra. Today it plays to an audience of 500,000 per year. 

The Opera House is the third oldest in Europe and is linked to several famous composers – Wagner, Telemann, Marschner, Lortzing and Mahler. The St. Thomas Church is linked to Bach and the renowned St. Thomas Boys’ Choir.  

It is not surprising Leipzig has perhaps one of the most unique urban trails in the world.  The “Leipzig Music Trail” is a 5 km signposted route connecting 20+ sites of relevance to the city’s 500 years of musical history.  There is even an audio guide allowing you to listen to audio clips from the composers as you arrive at houses of Mendelssohn or Schumann or Bach at the St. Thomas Church.

While Calgary has the wonderful new National Music Centre, there is really no link between it’s collection and the history of Calgary.

Architectural Paradise

While Leipzig is one of the oldest cities in Europe, (it was a major trading center in Roman Times), it has also embraced new architecture. 

Within just a few blocks you can see lovely examples of Baroque and Art Nouveau buildings, side by side with modern ones.

One of the most unique urban design features of the City Centre are its 24 historic mid-block Hofs, i.e. wide, mid-block passageways full of shops, cafes and restaurants that link streets.

The most famous Hof is the Madler-Passage with its luxury shops, plush blue carpet and historic Auerbachs Keller restaurant (where famous German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe used to hang out).  

 

The Barthel Hof is one of the city’s most notable buildings and the last remaining trade court from the trade fair period of the 18th century.

In the interior courtyard, the cranes used to hoist goods up to the storage rooms are still visible as is a Renaissance bay window from 1532.  

Exploring the Hofs is a lovely walk back in time. There is even a festival in September celebrating the history of the Hofs.

FYI: The map of the Hofs looks amazingly similar to a map of Calgary’s +15 walkways. Should Calgary start thinking about a +15 Winter Festival? Perhaps in 500 years, if we embrace our +15s, they too will become a tourist attraction.

While Leipzig is blessed with many historic buildings, there are also several noteworthy modern buildings.  The 1972 City-Hochhaus tower designed by Hermann Henselmann, East Germany’s most famous architect, resembles a huge open book. 

There is also the monolithic 40 meter high “glass cube” designed by Hufnagel Puetz Rafaelian architects for the Museum of Fine Arts, which unfortunately will be hidden by four L-shaped buildings around it.

Across from the Hauptbahnhof, sits the uber-modern Hofe am Bruhl or “Tin Can” as some call it because of its aluminum façade. Designed by Gruntuch Ernst Architects, this huge North American-style shopping center, with two floors of parking above and residential floor at the top, in fact has four different facades that reflect the history of the buildings that were there before. Inside the design creates a sense of in passageways and arcades that pay homage to the past.

In the foreground is the popular skatepark, which is combined with a small plaza that is used for markets and other events and in the background is the "Tin Can" shopping centre. This was one of the few times the area wasn't bustling with people.

In the foreground is the popular skatepark, which is combined with a small plaza that is used for markets and other events and in the background is the "Tin Can" shopping centre. This was one of the few times the area wasn't bustling with people.

The Paulinum at the University of Leipzig stands where the Paulinerkirche church stood until 1968, when it was unnecessarily torn down by the communist regime of East Germany. 

The Paulinum at the University of Leipzig stands where the Paulinerkirche church stood until 1968, when it was unnecessarily torn down by the communist regime of East Germany

Lessons Learned

Calgary has a long way to go before its City Centre becomes tourist destination like Leipzig.  Essential to attracting urban tourist is having a history where famous people have lived and worked and where important world events have happen.

FYI:   Leipzig’s City Centre is where Martin Luther Reformation happened and where the Monday Demonstration happened in 1989 that led to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Leipzig has an amazingly rich history.

Visiting Leipzig made me reflect on Calgary’s 100+ history - what really distinguished, renowned, influential individuals have lived or worked here and what world-changing initiatives or events have originated here. I couldn’t think of any.

When visiting cities like Leipzig, I am reminded of how young Calgary is.  And how it takes centuries to create great cities and not every city becomes great.

If you go:

We stayed at Motel One which has two locations in Leipzig's City Centre.  Motel One has modern rooms with colourful decor. The staff and lobby were very welcoming and we especially loved the lively and tasty breakfasts, in the very contemporary lounge with huge windows over-looking the street.  Link: Motel One

Berlin is definitely quirky!

Every city has its quirks – some more than others. Yes, Austin and Portland have their fair share of quirkiness, but they are small potatoes compared to Berlin. 

To prove it, I’d like to share with you some of the quirky charms we discovered in Berlin.  

How about Berlin's mailpersons who ride these quirky yellow mail bikes along the sidewalk?

How about Berlin's mailpersons who ride these quirky yellow mail bikes along the sidewalk?

How about a candy floss transit station?

How about a candy floss transit station?

Or a banana slide....

Or a banana slide....

Pedestrian Light Icon

What city turns its “walk” and “don’t walk” pedestrian figure into an icon that even has its own stores?  Berlin.  Who knew there was such a thing as a traffic psychologist? Turns out Karl Peglau, a traffic psychologist created the Ampelmannchen (little traffic light man figure) in 1961 for East Berlin’s traffic lights.  The perky, playful cartoon-like character quickly become popular with locals, achieving cult status after unification as a symbol of East Berlin. Today, the red and green figures have become so popular with tourists that they have their own stores devoted only to Ampelmann-branded merchandise. Not only do they sell the usual tee shirts, pens, cups etc., but you can also purchase your own traffic signal.

Hmmmmm….could Calgary turn its +15 character into an icon for tourists?

Link: Ampelmannchen Story

S&Q Flea Markets

I am not sure if Berlin is the flea market capital of Europe, but it must be a contender.  We went to a different one every weekend and each has their own sense of the strange and quirky.  While some are more upscale the ones we like the best had boxes and boxes of items for treasure hunters to explore.  For me each box was like still life, each box had a story to tell if you looked carefully. 

Link: Berlin Flea Market Story

Photo Booths

On our first day we noticed a photo booth in an outdoor bike rack area, thought it was strange, but didn’t give it much more thought.  Until we saw many more. A local told us that photo booths are a big thing in Berlin, especially for millennials.

Turns out The Photoautomat project, founded in Berlin in 2004 and has inspired a world-wide revival of the black and white analog photo booth. Just like 60 years ago, each photo strip is analog-developed, making every piece an original that stays lightfast for 100 years.

Link: Photoautomat Project Story 

Water Pumps

While walking the streets of Berlin, don’t be surprised if you encounter five-foot tall, green cast iron water pumps. There are 2,107 of them to be exact and they are regularly maintained.  Go ahead, pump them; in fact you’re encouraged to do so to help keep the system running well.  You will get cool drinkable water for your water bottle. The water is from independent emergency wells provide a backup in case the regular water supply collapses. 

Link: Berlin Water Fountain Story 

Cemetery Cafés

Berlin has an amazing café culture. They are literally everywhere and come in every size, shape and design. However, to find one Café Strauss in a cemetery was very cool.  The serene and beautiful park-like setting in the midst of the urban environment is simply lovely.  Slow living at its best – so was the coffee and cake.

Link: Cemetery Cafe Story

Pink & Purple Straws

I first encountered these strange straw-like pipes near Check Point Charlie, i.e. best-known Berlin Wall crossing from East to West Berlin during the Cold War.  I was shocked that a city like Berlin would have basic infrastructure above ground.  Later, I learned Berlin is built on a swamp and so construction projects must create these temporary water pipes to remove water from the site while they work until the permanent infrastructure is in place.  Kudos to whoever decided to make them fun with their candy-floss like colours.

Link: Pink Pipes Story

Food Couriers

Mail couriers were a common sight in the downtowns of many cities in the ‘70s and 80s but they have largely disappeared with the advent of email. However, in Berlin food couriers are a common site with their magenta bikes and big warming oven boxes.  They just add to the fun of the sidewalk ballet.  Did I mention that Berlin’s mailpersons also ride big yellow or (green bikes) along the sidewalks?

Link: Hard & Fast Life Food Couriers

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Glass Igloos

The first photo I took in Berlin was of three, large domed structures side by side on the sidewalk. They looked like some old Soviet atomic energy experiment. Turns out they are called “glass igloos” and they always come in 3s. They are for recycling bottles - one for brown glass, one for green glass and clear glass.  They are also highly sought after by graffiti artists and those sticker-happy millennials who still love to play with stickers.

Sidewalk Furniture

Berlin’s sidewalks are also where you toss out anything you don’t want and can’t fit into your dumpster.  It is not uncommon to see an old couch or chair just sitting on the sidewalk in various stages of decay.  The first chair I saw was a lovely art deco one that I would love to own; too bad it didn’t have a cushion. The second piece was a couch that I saw from across the street.  It looked like the carcass of a dead animal ravaged by Berlin street wolves. It was not uncommon to sight one or two chairs/couches per day. One day there was a lovely oriental carpet in great shape. 

Graffiti vs Street Art

Sure, Austin and Portland have their fair share of graffiti and street art. Austin even has a very funky abandoned building site that is an outdoor gallery for graffiti artists.  But neither have entire streets and communities that are literally covered with graffiti.

In Berlin’s Fridedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Neukolin districts, there a ribbon of graffiti and art on every building along almost every street from sidewalk up to the top of the doorway.  

Pretty much any façade is a canvas for art.  You would never know Berlin spends the equivalent of $50M CDN per year to clean up graffiti.  I saw one storeowner clean up the graffiti on his building and the next day it was back. 

In the Hackescher Market area there is an entire three story building (Haus Schwarzenberg) and alley is completely covered with graffiti.  

In the Hackescher Market area there is an entire three story building (Haus Schwarzenberg) and alley is completely covered with graffiti.  

Loved this empty subway station space.  It seemed like an abandoned space, with unused advertising boards that have become transformed into works of art with their multiple layers of randomly ripped posters and graffiti. It had the appearance of a contemporary art gallery.

Loved this empty subway station space.  It seemed like an abandoned space, with unused advertising boards that have become transformed into works of art with their multiple layers of randomly ripped posters and graffiti. It had the appearance of a contemporary art gallery.

Red Is Dead

In Berlin the bike paths are usually a dark reddish colour and they are often just part of a wide sidewalk (Berlin has the widest sidewalks I have ever seen).  This makes it easy for a pedestrian to wander inadvertently over into the bike lane.  We were told by a local to remember, “If you are in the red you, could easily be dead.” 

At the same time, bikes also wander onto the sidewalk. It really is a free-for-all as everyone bobs and weaves like a North American football halfback.  Oh, seems kids and families get to ride their bikes on the sidewalks at all times. Flaneuring as I do, I can’t believe I didn’t die.

FYI: Berlin has plans to build 10 super highways for cyclists, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.  They have been planning a new airport for many years and it still isn’t open.  So much for German efficiency.

Strange Playgrounds

Another early observation was that although Berlin has many children’s playgrounds, they look like they haven’t been upgraded since the ‘50s - maybe earlier. I did not find one of our Lego-like Crayola-coloured metal playgrounds anywhere in Berlin. Instead I found these strange weathered creatures that looked like something carved by indigenous people hundreds, perhaps thousands of years ago. I expect some of the animals are quite strange looking and I thought would be scary looking for children, but that didn’t seem to be the case.

What's with this howling wolf on top of a playground swing?

What's with this howling wolf on top of a playground swing?

Cash is King

Most experienced international travellers are used to just bringing their credit cards and charging most of their expenses.  It is easy and convenient.  You are probably OK to use a credit card if you stay in the touristy areas of Berlin, but venture into the local areas like Kreuzberg and you will find it is cash only culture.

At the Galleries Lafayette (posh department store) there is an ATM that dispenses gold bars weighing up to 250 grams. Berlin is a great reminder of how commerce has evolved, especially over the past 50 years.

Late Night Buses

On weekends the buses and trains provide 24-hour service, but on weekdays night buses and the Metrotram take over to providing 30-minute service. There are 11 special night buses to make sure you can get home even if you are clubbing until 4 am. The night buses combine several daytime routes to make sure that all parts of the city have late night transit service.

Beer 24/7

I think one of the biggest reasons Berlin is so popular with millennials to day is that they have over 1,000 Spatis (late night stores). These tiny stores (size of a living room) open 24/7 have about half of their space devoted to beer and wine.  Not only is beer available 24/7, but it is cheap, about $1.50 CDN for .5 litres and you can drink it on the street as you wander home or to your favourite park.  We even encountered many young people enjoying a beer on the trains in the evening – not sure that was legal, but nobody seems to mind.

Many of the Spatis have bench out front that allows you to just sit enjoy your beer, chat with friends or watch the sidewalk ballet.  How civilized?

FYI: Berlin is also home to the world’s longest beer garden; it runs 2.2 kilometers during the annual International Beer Festival.

And There Is More

How about an abandoned airport that has been turned into a huge park not by design but by locals taking ownership? This is a part of the miniature golf course that has been created out of found objects including old plane parts.

How about an abandoned airport that has been turned into a huge park not by design but by locals taking ownership? This is a part of the miniature golf course that has been created out of found objects including old plane parts.

These drums at the cashiers of a Berlin grocery store are cigarette dispensers. 

These drums at the cashiers of a Berlin grocery store are cigarette dispensers. 

What about a former ballroom dance hall, that became a night club and now is a very quirky salvage warehouse store. 

What about a former ballroom dance hall, that became a night club and now is a very quirky salvage warehouse store. 

Very futuristic entrance to an office building. 

Very futuristic entrance to an office building. 

This has to be the quirkiest retail store signage I have seen in awhile. 

This has to be the quirkiest retail store signage I have seen in awhile. 

Public Poetry? Found 10+ poems taped to posts along a pedestrian bridge one evening. People stopped to read them, discuss them and some even took them.  What a lovely urban surprise? 

Public Poetry? Found 10+ poems taped to posts along a pedestrian bridge one evening. People stopped to read them, discuss them and some even took them.  What a lovely urban surprise? 

Last Word

I love quirky cities!

If you haven't visited Berlin (or haven't been there for a long time) you should move it to the top of your list of "places to go!" 

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Mexico City: Fun Urban Surprises

Calgary: Everyday Stills (May 2017)

If every picture tells a story, what do thousands of photos say?  I thought it might be fun to share 31 street photos (out of the over 1,000 taken this month) i.e. one for each day from the past month. All of the photos were taken during everyday activities in Calgary and they are not in any particular order. 

Too add another dimension to the blog, I thought I'd play a little word association for the caption for each piece.  I'd love it if you'd play along and send me your word association for each photo and I will add them to the blog captions.  

Here we go....

uplifting. smiling.

uplifting. smiling.

billowing. shadowing.

billowing. shadowing.

patina. bronzes.

patina. bronzes.

wrinkles. cracks.

wrinkles. cracks.

feet. waiting.

feet. waiting.

telephone. red.

telephone. red.

floating. peaceful.

floating. peaceful.

swan. floating.

swan. floating.

head. technology. 

head. technology. 

landing. steel.

landing. steel.

eye. clouds.

eye. clouds.

perspective. boxes. 

perspective. boxes. 

twins. heritage.

twins. heritage.

trap. fedora. 

trap. fedora. 

mom. searching. 

mom. searching. 

build. island.

build. island.

follow. listening. 

follow. listening. 

impromptu. squares. 

impromptu. squares. 

hidden. wheel.

hidden. wheel.

pieces. manifest.

pieces. manifest.

queen. collage.

queen. collage.

crossing. blues.

crossing. blues.

Klee. cubism. 

Klee. cubism. 

journey. path.

journey. path.

under. buildings. 

under. buildings. 

flaneur. meander. 

flaneur. meander. 

innocence. fun.

innocence. fun.

vanishing. journey. 

vanishing. journey. 

challenge. night.

challenge. night.

oasis. tranquility. 

oasis. tranquility. 

beauty. heaven.

beauty. heaven.

Is Calgary ready for REAL urban living?

Calgary has a long, long, long way to go before it can say it has created its first real urban community. 

After spending a month living like a local in Berlin’s hip Kreuzberg community I have a much better appreciation for what urban living is all about.  While some Calgarians might think the Beltline, Bridgeland, Downtown West End, East Village, Eau Claire, Inglewood and Kensington are urban communities in many ways they are just modified suburbs. 

It is hard to believe that this streetscape is in the Beltline, Calgary's densest residential community. It has a very suburban aesthetics with its front lawns and porches.  

It is hard to believe that this streetscape is in the Beltline, Calgary's densest residential community. It has a very suburban aesthetics with its front lawns and porches.  

In Sunnyside/Hillhurst most of the streets have a very attractive but suburban character. 

In Sunnyside/Hillhurst most of the streets have a very attractive but suburban character. 

The General Hospital site in Bridgeland has been redeveloped with condos that increase the density but still have a suburban character with townhomes that include front yards and porches. 

The General Hospital site in Bridgeland has been redeveloped with condos that increase the density but still have a suburban character with townhomes that include front yards and porches. 

The same is true of the Princeton in Eau Claire.  In urban streetscapes the ground level spaces would be offices, daycares, shops, restaurants, bakeries etc. 

The same is true of the Princeton in Eau Claire.  In urban streetscapes the ground level spaces would be offices, daycares, shops, restaurants, bakeries etc. 

Not everyone gets a balcony in urban neighbourhoods.

Not everyone gets a balcony in urban neighbourhoods.

There are no gaps between buildings in urban communities. 

There are no gaps between buildings in urban communities. 

When and if Calgary's City Centre becomes truly urban, this is what streets like 10th, 11th, 12th and 17th Avenues will look like with retail at ground level and 5+ storeys of residential above. The same for 10th and 14th Streets and Kensington Road in the northwest.  Atlantic Avenue or 9th Avenue in Inglewood will also have this kind of look, as will 1st Street NE in Bridgeland and 4th and 5th Streets in Mission. 

When and if Calgary's City Centre becomes truly urban, this is what streets like 10th, 11th, 12th and 17th Avenues will look like with retail at ground level and 5+ storeys of residential above. The same for 10th and 14th Streets and Kensington Road in the northwest.  Atlantic Avenue or 9th Avenue in Inglewood will also have this kind of look, as will 1st Street NE in Bridgeland and 4th and 5th Streets in Mission. 

Chaos in the streets

The first thing you notice about living in Kreuzberg is the chaos in the streets, as pedestrians, cyclists, cars, strider bikes and strollers, bob and weave around each other. While there are bike lanes, cyclists often ride on the wide sidewalks, especially parents with young children. 

Cyclists never use bells to warn you they are about to fly by you at full speed and drivers do not stop for pedestrians.

Yet in the 300+ hours we spent on the streets we never saw one collision of any kind. Somehow it just works.

While not all of the streets in urban neighbourhoods are animated like this one, the sidewalks and parks often full of people of all ages hanging out.  There is not much grass in the public spaces as they are so heavily used. 

While not all of the streets in urban neighbourhoods are animated like this one, the sidewalks and parks often full of people of all ages hanging out.  There is not much grass in the public spaces as they are so heavily used. 

Calgary's City Centre streets are too often devoid of people, too decorative, too pristine.

Calgary's City Centre streets are too often devoid of people, too decorative, too pristine.

Families & Urban Living

Good urban communities are full of families - we couldn’t walk a half a block in Kreuzberg without encountering a stroller or two.  There were daycares on almost every block, tucked away in buildings you would never imagine suitable for a daycare. 

There were also playgrounds on every other block, which included not only equipment for younger children, but often a multi-purpose fenced in area for soccer, basketball and skateboarding. 

We saw these hipsters carry the bench out of the shop (located in the basement) to the sidewalk so they could enjoy their morning coffee. 

We saw these hipsters carry the bench out of the shop (located in the basement) to the sidewalk so they could enjoy their morning coffee. 

In Kreuzberg, even side streets will have at least one cafe, a few restaurants that spill out onto the sidewalk. 

In Kreuzberg, even side streets will have at least one cafe, a few restaurants that spill out onto the sidewalk. 

Instead of backyard, kids play in the local playground which is surrounded by mid-rise residential blocks. 

Instead of backyard, kids play in the local playground which is surrounded by mid-rise residential blocks. 

Goodbye Single Family Homes 

There were no single-family homes, most of the buildings opened right onto the street.  There were also no skyscrapers, rather density was horizontal, so there was no feeling of being dwarfed by tall buildings and less wind tunneling. It was like taking a 40-story tower and laying it on its side.

You have to go a long way from the City Centre before you find a single family home in cities like Berlin or Montreal. 

You have to go a long way from the City Centre before you find a single family home in cities like Berlin or Montreal. 

Smaller is better

There was a plethora of grocery stores to choose from.  Not the mega 40,000+ square foot stores we have but  five to 10,000 square foot neighbourhood grocery stores that fit seamlessly into the community.  There were one or two grocery stores near every train station.  Even though they were much smaller than our grocery stores, they seemed to have everything we needed. 

Goodbye Car 

I also learned Transit Oriented Development doesn’t mean building tall residential towers at transit stations. In Berlin transit stations are often located in he middle of large open urban spaces called platzs. The platzs are great places to hang-out or meet up, and are often used for local markets.

Urban living also means you are never far from a transit station or bus stop that offers 5-minute or less service all day, not just rush hour. Urban living means a car is optional.

I also learned there is no correlation between how clean a community is and how safe it is.  Kreuzberg is very gritty with a ribbon of graffiti covering most of the buildings from the sidewalk to above the doorways.  The sidewalks are like huge ashtrays, as it seems like the majority of locals smoke. There are also beer bottle caps and broken glass everywhere as it is legal to drink on the street and in the parks.  As well the sidewalks are often full of garbage waiting to be collected.  

Yet at no time did we feel unsafe.  One night after clubbing in one of the seedier looking areas of the city we walked 2 km at 2:30 am (even though transit was available) home and never once felt unsafe. 

While fewer people own cars, the streets are still lined with cars as their is little to no underground parking for residents, retail or restaurants. There are no fancy curbs, bike lanes, crosswalks, speed bumps - they just make it work.   

While fewer people own cars, the streets are still lined with cars as their is little to no underground parking for residents, retail or restaurants. There are no fancy curbs, bike lanes, crosswalks, speed bumps - they just make it work.   

Last Word

Living in Kreuzberg I learned creating vibrant urban communities isn’t about banners, planters, fancy street furniture, new sidewalks and public art, nor is it about keeping the area graffiti and litter free. In fact, in Berlin it seemed the more graffiti and litter the more vibrant the streets and public areas. I had the same observations in Mexico City, Austin and Montreal. 

I wonder if Calgarians are ready for urban living? I know that I'm not.  I love my front porch and garden, love my own garage and our backyard where the neighbour kids love to play. 

Note: This an edited version of this blog was originally published in the May edition of Condo Living Magazine. 

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What is urban living and does anybody care? 

 

 

 

The Art Of Gardening

For many Canadians, the May long weekend is when you can safely plant your favourite frost-sensitive annuals in pots and the garden.   And like many Canadians, I am always guilty of trying to push this deadline. How can you resist when you see those cheerful pansies smiling at you as you enter and leave almost every store - from Costco to Canadian Tire – starting in early May, even late April.

For the past few weeks, I have been flaneuring my garden photos from last year and also photographing the perennial flowers as they begin to burst into colour in my garden.

It is my rite of spring. 

Fun With Union

I have also been using the Union app on my phone to create vibrant colour collages. You just choose two or more photos and almost instantaneously a new image magically appears.  You can then manipulate the image to fit you personal aesthetics. I can do this for hours, just to see what happens.  Yes, you could say I am addicted to colour. 

As a former visual artist and art gallery curator, I thought it would be fun to organize an exhibition of my new garden artworks and share it with you.

Feel free to have fun with the images - crop them, enlarge them - play with them. 

I have also been experimenting combining flower images with public art....here are a few examples....

I hope you found these artworks as fun to look at as I had in creating them.

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Fun With Photos

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Crazy Idea: New Arena In Victoria Park?

Let me see if I have this straight…most Calgarians would support the city getting involved in the construction of a new arena that will cost $500M (give or take a few million) as long as it doesn't increase their taxes! Sounds a bit crazy, but let’s keep an open mind. It would also seems that support is growing at the City for site in East Victoria Park just a block away from the Saddledome, but the neither the City or the Flames own - it belongs to the Calgary Stampede.  Sounds a bit crazy, but I am sure the Stampede would be willing co-operate if the terms were right.  But that isn't the only elephant in the room of the crazy new Calgary arena saga.  

Several Elephants In The Room

As the Calgary Stampede currently owns the land on which the proposed new arena is to be built, there has to be something in it for them.  They need City approval and funding for the expansion of the BMO centre. They have plans (feasibility, concept, costing and conceptual drawings done) and are ready to move on a mega expansion of the BMO Centre to the tune of $500M.  Plans include tearing down the 1950 Corral arena and expanding east to 4th St. SE. across the street from the proposed new arena site.  And they still have plans to convert Olympic Way into Stampede Trail with western-themed restaurants, bars, lounges and retail.  

It will be very interesting to see how negotiations with the Stampede play out.

Proposed Stampede Trail would create a year-round pedestrian street based on Stampede theme.

Proposed Stampede Trail would create a year-round pedestrian street based on Stampede theme.

Downtown Convention Center’s Future?

So, what happens to the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre if BMO Centre is expanded as part of their vision to create a world-class meeting and events destination in Victoria Park? Can Calgary operate two convention facilities?  The City has a contract with Marriott Hotel to operate a convention centre at the current location until 2030. 

What other uses could be made of the downtown convention space? Expand the Glenbow?  Create a new Art Museum? Something else? What would those costs be?

What happens to the Saddledome?

What other uses could be made of it? Current wisdom is that Calgary couldn’t support two major arenas (Edmonton is struggling with what to do with its Rexall Place now they have Rogers Place.) Current thinking is to tear it down, perhaps not until after Calgary’s 2026 Olympic bid - if we do bid on and are awarded the Games.

The current plan is to literally move the arena one block north, which will locate it between the current Stampede LRT and the new 4th Street SE LRT station as part of the Green Line.

The current plan is to literally move the arena one block north, which will locate it between the current Stampede LRT and the new 4th Street SE LRT station as part of the Green Line.

No Rush?

Mayor Nenshi believes we don’t need to rush the planning process. While, the 2026 Olympics is 9 years away, a new arena, BMO Centre, LRT station etc. could easily take six to eight years to negotiate funding, design, get approvals and build.  There might not be much time as some think.

Link: Calgarians Support Olympic Bid

Profits & Losses?

What will be the funding model for the arena? Should the City invest any money in the arena, as most of the reasons for building a new arena are to increase revenues from NHL games to make the Calgary Flames more profitable?  How does the City benefit from the increased profits of a new arena and protect itself from any losses?

 Link: Forbes: Calgary Flames Value Breakdown

Windfall Benefits?

The value of an NHL team will increase with a new arena and long-term lease. For example, the value of the Edmonton Oilers increased from $225M US in 2013 to $445M US in 2016 when the new arena opened.  Today, the Flames’ worth is estimated at $425M US but with a new arena and long-term lease, the value would increase significantly - maybe not as high at the $700M US of the Vancouver Canucks but certainly north of $500M US.  Shouldn’t the City somehow benefit from this windfall?

Link: Oiler's Increase Value With New Arena

No Cash Cow?

The Rivers Community Revitalization Levy District that was created for East Village revitalization includes Victoria Park and Stampede Park.  So far the City has upfronted $375 M to be paid back from new tax revenues generated by future private sector projects on land in East Village. Back in 2007, the boundaries were extended to include The Bow office tower, which would pay sufficient taxes over 20 years to pay off the debt even it no other developments happened in East Village. Is there another private sector cash cow for the redevelopment of East Victoria Park and Stampede Park? 

Herd of Elephants? 

A few other elephants include, should the Calgary Transit’s Bus Barns stay or do they become a development site?  How do we deal with the huge Enmax substation and vacant land along the CPR lands that create a significant barrier to linking East Victoria Park to East Village and downtown, which is critical to the success of any convention and events district. 

Wonder What Bob Holmes Thinks? 

Holmes was Planning Commissioner, Chair of the Calgary Planning Commission and member of the Olympic Committee in the ‘80s and was heavily involved in negotiating the deal to get the Saddledome built.  He has put together many mega projects including Calgary TELUS Convention Centre/Hyatt Hotel/Calgary Parking Authority project, Alberta Children’s Hospital and South Health Campus.

Holmes thinks “The City should have taken a leadership role in the determining the need for and location of a new arena from the beginning.  There should never have been the “propose and oppose” conflict that was forced on the Flames.”  He adds, “The City is responsible for proactively planning all types of land uses, special districts and public assembly facilities, not just residential, commercial and industrial, as they contribute to our quality of life.”

Holmes is optimistic the new collaborative approach to planning for East Victoria Park will be successful in developing a comprehensive and practical master plan that benefits all Calgarians. He likes the move away from the “silo planning” of the past with the Stampede Board planning Stampede Park, CMLC planning East Village and City planners focusing on the City Centre.

He feels strongly, “the revitalization of East Victoria Park is more than just a new arena and expanded BMO Center. It is about developing a range of compatible land uses, public and private.” In his mind, “one of the most important planning objectives for East Victoria Park and Stampede Park must be must to create better linkages south to downtown and west along 10th, 11th 12th and 17th Avenues. We need a major mixed-use project overtop of the CPR tracks, like Hudson Yards in New York City to connect with East Village and downtown.”

Holmes wonders if perhaps Remington Development Corporation could be convinced to dust off their 10+ year old plans for a major redevelopment of their lands on both sides of the CPR tracks just north of the arena site.

Let’s hope Holmes is right and we have assembled the right team of professionals who can create wins for Calgarians, Flames, Stampede and Victoria Park. 

Link: It is what happen around stadiums and arena that make them successful

Let’s Not Fool Our Selves

The master planning of East Victoria Park (EVP) to accommodate a new arena and expanded BMO Center is just as costly, complex, risky and messy as the West Village site. The big advantage in EVP over West Village is all the stakeholders are ready for the challenge.

Harry Hiller, urban sociologist at the University of Calgary thinks, “what is the most critical for everyday urban vitality of EVP is what get built around the arena and convention centre. You need a critical mass of residential, retail, restaurants and hotels, to create vibrant streets and public spaces, not just mega event centers.”

We must create a SHED (sports hospitality entertainment district) we can all be proud of not only when it is built, but as it evolves over the next 50 even 75 years.

Maybe a new $500+M arena just a block away from the current arena isn't a crazy idea, but is sure one that we need to think about carefully.  Creating sustained urban vitality in East Victoria Park and Stampede Park is more than just building a new arena. 

Maybe a new $500+M arena just a block away from the current arena isn't a crazy idea, but is sure one that we need to think about carefully.  Creating sustained urban vitality in East Victoria Park and Stampede Park is more than just building a new arena. 

Last Word

Moving the arena two blocks may or may not be a crazy idea! And in defense of Nenshi, we shouldn’t rush this process.  We need to take our time and make sure we get this RIGHT.  

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Postcards from the OTHER London

The top tier cities (London, New York, Paris, Rome, Tokyo) get all the attention when it comes to travel blogs.  But we love to explore cities that are off the radar – like Boise, Idaho, Missoula, Montana and Nelson, British Columbia.

Recently we found ourselves in London, Ontario with a couple of hours to kill on a Sunday morning so we decided of (course) to check out their downtown.  We were pleasantly surprised at by the architecture (old and new), the shop windows, the downtown arena and farmers’ market.

One of our early discoveries in downtown London was this DEEP dish apple pie and a BIG smile in the window of Billy's Downtown Deli.  Did we or didn't we have a piece?  You will find out if you read this blog. 

One of our early discoveries in downtown London was this DEEP dish apple pie and a BIG smile in the window of Billy's Downtown Deli.  Did we or didn't we have a piece?  You will find out if you read this blog. 

London at a glance

London, located halfway between Toronto and Detroit, was first settled in the early 1800s. Today it is the 11th largest city in Canada with a metropolitan population of 474,786.  It is home to the University of Western Ontario, one of Canada’s leading universities.

Yes, London is named after London, England and no surprise the river that runs through the city is called the Thames. The original settlers - mostly British - intended the city to become the capital of Upper Canada (now Ontario), however, that honour ultimately went to Fort York (now known as Toronto.)

The City has a rich corporate history.  Carling (1840) and Labatt (1847) breweries were founded there, as was Canada Trust (1864), London Life Insurance Company (1874), Imperial Oil (1880) and Club House Foods (1883).

Link: London History

Last Word

These postcards from the OTHER London, will hopefully entice you to explore downtown London the next time you are in the area.

London is also know as the Forest City.  Ironically it was the dozens of brightly coloured metal trees in downtown that caught our attention. 

London is also know as the Forest City.  Ironically it was the dozens of brightly coloured metal trees in downtown that caught our attention. 

I am sucker for humour. 

I am sucker for humour. 

Loved the old and new contrast in the downtown architecture.  

Loved the old and new contrast in the downtown architecture.  

This might well be the best example of brutalist architecture in Canada. Link: Brutalist Architecture 

This might well be the best example of brutalist architecture in Canada. Link: Brutalist Architecture 

London's downtown Federal Building is a lovely example of Art Deco architecture. 

London's downtown Federal Building is a lovely example of Art Deco architecture. 

Great downtowns have great churches, London has at least two. 

Great downtowns have great churches, London has at least two. 

Loved this whimsical parklet with the twisted bench and seats. Nice synergy between public art and urban design. 

Loved this whimsical parklet with the twisted bench and seats. Nice synergy between public art and urban design. 

Every downtown needs a diner and a fast bike. 

Every downtown needs a diner and a fast bike. 

Great downtowns have great food and cold beer.  Who could ask for anything more?

Great downtowns have great food and cold beer.  Who could ask for anything more?

With its brewery history it is not surprising that downtown London has a brew pub.  Gotta love the name - tres Canadian. 

With its brewery history it is not surprising that downtown London has a brew pub.  Gotta love the name - tres Canadian. 

How fun is this window? 

How fun is this window? 

Every downtown needs a rainbow cross walk. 

Every downtown needs a rainbow cross walk. 

Who knew London had their own Music Hall of Fame?

Who knew London had their own Music Hall of Fame?

A little bit of New York City in London. 

A little bit of New York City in London. 

Another whimsical window. 

Another whimsical window. 

Yes we did go back to Billy's for lunch and a piece of pie. It was as good as it looks. 

Yes we did go back to Billy's for lunch and a piece of pie. It was as good as it looks. 

Victoria Park's Time To Shine Again!

Given all the brouhaha over the past few weeks about the potential of East Victoria Park now being the site of the Calgary’s new arena (whoops, I should say event centre) I thought it would be interesting to look at the past and future of Victoria Park (i.e. the area from the Elbow River to 4th St SW and from 17th Ave SW to the CPR tracks including Stampede Park).

Victoria Park is one of Calgary's oldest communities.  Link: Victoria Park Ruins

Victoria Park is one of Calgary's oldest communities.  Link: Victoria Park Ruins

History 101

Victoria Park is the one of Calgary’s oldest residential communities established as East Ward in the 1880s.  In 1889, the Agricultural Society of Calgary purchased 94 acres from the federal government, for their annual agricultural fair. They christened the community “Victoria Park” after Queen Victoria.

Between 1901 and 1911, Calgary’s population grew from 4,000 to 44,000 with 20% of that growth in Victoria Park.  From 1920 to 1940, many of the early Victoria Park residents, having made their fortunes moved out and their large homes were converted to short-term low income housing for temporary and migrant workers. 

Starting in the 1940s, the area became less residential and more light industrial and commercial as the CPR corridor became increasingly more freight-oriented. Increased car ownership also resulted in Calgarians being able to live further out from the City Centre.

Jump to 1968 when City Council approved the Stampede Park expansion to 14th Avenue which resulted in decreased property values, further depopulation and demolition of houses for surface parking. This continued until 1998 when all remaining property owners agreed to sell.

The Round Up Centre opened in 1981 and was expanded and rebranded the BMO Centre in 2007.   In 1983, the Saddledome opened replacing the Corral (opened in 1950) as he Calgary’s major arena and home the NHLs Calgary Flames. 

In 2003, the communities of Victoria Park and neighbouring Connaught were amalgamated and named the Beltline. Starting in 2005, new condo development commenced especially near the Stampede LRT Station and along 1st Street SW.  In 2006 City Council approved the Beltline Area Redevelopment Plan, a key tool in revitalization of all of the land south of the CPR railway tracks to 17th Avenue, from the Elbow River to 14th St. SW.

Proposed site of new arena is just a block north of the existing Saddledome and just east of the BMO Centre.  To the east of the site is the Stampede's Youth Campus which is under construction. 

Proposed site of new arena is just a block north of the existing Saddledome and just east of the BMO Centre.  To the east of the site is the Stampede's Youth Campus which is under construction. 

East Victoria Park

I have always thought East Victoria Park (EVP) was all of the land east of Centre Street, logical as it bisects the community in half and there is a very different urban vibe east of Centre Street vs west.  Wrong.  Turns out there are seven character districts (see map) in Victoria Park as identified in the 151-page Victoria Park Density and Diversity Planning and Policy Guide published in 2013 (aka Everything you wanted to know about Victoria Park but were afraid to ask).

However, for the purposes of current Victoria Park master planning I am told EVP is all of the land east of 4th St SE to the Elbow River, from the 10th Avenue 10 to 14th Avenue SE.

SHED

The new arena/event center would be synergistic with the Stampede’s plans for a mega expansion of the nearby BMO Center into a multi-purpose event centre for trade shows, conventions and other events.

The proposed Green Line LRT will pass through EVP along 12th Avenue with a station at 4th St SE that will serve EVP, Stampede Park and East Village.  This new station would be specifically designed to accommodate the traffic of major events in the new arena and Stampede Park.

Together EVP and Stampede Park would become what, in the urban planning world, is called a SHED – Sports Hospitality Entertainment District.   Harry Hiller, urban sociologist at the University of Calgary warns, “In order for a SHED to work, it will need a mix of uses – including residential, retail and restaurants - to create a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape.”  

A new multi-purpose arena combined with an expanded BMO Centre would achieve the critical mass and diversity of events year-round to attract one or more hotels, as well as cafes, bistros, restaurants, pubs and bars has been the Stampede’s concept for the Stampede Trail since the late ‘90s.

Arriva and Guardian condo towers were part of an ambitious plan for revitalization of East Victoria Park ten years ago. The Stampede Park Expansion & Development sign has been at the corner of 4th Street and 12th Ave SE for over 15 years.

Arriva and Guardian condo towers were part of an ambitious plan for revitalization of East Victoria Park ten years ago. The Stampede Park Expansion & Development sign has been at the corner of 4th Street and 12th Ave SE for over 15 years.

Stampede Park's Youth Campus is currently under construction. 

Stampede Park's Youth Campus is currently under construction. 

Residential Catalyst

The transformation of EVP into a SHED should be the catalyst needed to continue Victoria Park’s early 21st century residential development. Keynote, Sasso, Vetro, Alura and Nuera condos at Stampede Station could soon be surrounded by more condos, as living near event centres is very popular with young professionals and empty nesters, the two target markets for urban living in Calgary.

In addition, the new arena and BMO expansion should make Lamp Development’s Orchard two tower condo project next to the Victoria Park LRT Station at 4th St SE viable.  And it could also be just the impetus Remington needs to dust off their plans for a major mixed-use mid-rise development on their land just to the north of the arena and the 4th Street SE Station.

Residents in Arriva and Guardian condos should also be excited as one of the reasons for moving there was to be within walking distance to all of the events at the Saddledome and Stampede Park.

The parking lots west of Stampede Station were considered an ideal site for a major convention centre 30 years ago.  Eventually several condos and office buildings were constructed close by, but the land next to the Station is still surface parking lot.

The parking lots west of Stampede Station were considered an ideal site for a major convention centre 30 years ago.  Eventually several condos and office buildings were constructed close by, but the land next to the Station is still surface parking lot.

Synergy

Unlike the CalgaryNext proposal for West Village, the synergistic development of a multi-purpose arena and the expansion of the Stampede’s BMO Centre is symbiotic with the City of Calgary’s plans for the revitalization of Calgary’s City Centre east of Centre Street.  There is also a high probability it would be the catalyst for numerous private sector projects that would significantly increase the area’s tax based by converting ugly surface parking lots into tax-paying buildings.

BMO Centre is a well used trade show facility, however, if it is going to become a successful convention centre it will need to have adequate hotel, restaurant, pub, bars, lounges and shop amenities.  The pedestrian link to downtown and 17th Ave will also have to be significantly improved. 

BMO Centre is a well used trade show facility, however, if it is going to become a successful convention centre it will need to have adequate hotel, restaurant, pub, bars, lounges and shop amenities.  The pedestrian link to downtown and 17th Ave will also have to be significantly improved. 

Last Word

David Low, Executive Director of the Victoria Park BIA (Business Improvement District) says, “EVP is posed to coherently integrate three giant infrastructure projects, the Green Line Station, Arena and BMO Centre expansion to create a world class entertainment destination. The local business community will welcome the new developments as Victoria Park has a 100+ year history of hosting major events.” 

How refreshing to have a community welcoming new development rather than fighting it. It is Victoria Park’s time to shine once again as it did early in the 20th century!

Note: This blog was originally published in the Calgary Herald, on Saturday May 13, 2017 in the New Condos section. 

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Jane's Walk (Talk): Beltline Bottle Picker's Blues

I couldn’t resist when I read in Swerve Magazine that there was going to be a Jane’s Walk hosted by a bottle picker.

The announcement read:

Downtown Calgary: Through the eyes of bottle pickers. Calgary Can, an organization dedicatee to reducing waste by working with the bottle-picking community, leads a walk with pickers who will talk about the unspoken rules of picking and the stereotypes they face. 

This off-the-beaten path guy couldn't think a better way to spend a Saturday morning.

People from all walks of life showed up. There was even a mother breast feeding her infant.  

People from all walks of life showed up. There was even a mother breast feeding her infant.  

Jane’s Walk 101

The first weekend in May is “International Jane’s Walk Weekend.  “Jane” refers to Jane Jacobs, the American community activist who wrote THE book on how to create vibrant communities “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” in 1961. (I own a copy of the 50th Anniversary Edition.) The book has since become the bible for urban planners and she a cult figure for community activists. In cities around the world, local volunteers take others on tours sharing their special knowledge and insights of different neighbourhoods.

In Calgary, there were 80 tours this year organized by Calgary Foundation. Link: Calgary Foundation Jane's Walks

This picker passed by us while on the walk, but few even noticed as they were looking in the other direction. It would have been interesting to talk to him, find out what he had picked that morning.  I also wondered how difficult it must be to push his cart along the downtown streets, sidewalks and back alleys. There would have been something authentic about a chance encounter and chat with a picker.  

This picker passed by us while on the walk, but few even noticed as they were looking in the other direction. It would have been interesting to talk to him, find out what he had picked that morning.  I also wondered how difficult it must be to push his cart along the downtown streets, sidewalks and back alleys. There would have been something authentic about a chance encounter and chat with a picker.  

Uptown Bottle Depot ATM?

Tour participants were told to meet at the popular and busy Uptown Bottle Depot on 10th Avenue between 5th and 6th Streets SW at 10 am on Saturday May 6. I estimate about 75 people showed up for the 2 km walking tour.  It was like meeting at a construction site with the upscale new high-rise condo under construction to the west and a new condo and Marriott across the street.

The Uptown Bottle Depot, in business since the ‘70s, is the only bottle depot in the City Centre, making it very popular not only for the downtown bottle pickers, but also for the growing number of area residents. It is not uncommon to see BMWs and shopping carts vying to get into the parking lot.

For bottle pickers, it is their ATM. An aside: One can’t help but wonder how long the new upscale neighbours will tolerate having bottle depot next door.

Kate, from Calgary Can provided us with a bit of the background about their mandate to help pickers and then handed over the mike to our host a picker.

Over the next 90 minutes, he and Kate shared with us the trials and tribulations of Calgary’s bottle pickers as we wandered from the Uptown Bottle Depot to the Mustard Seed and back.

Link: Calgary Can

In Memorial Park, we were lectured by a picker on how the City was guilty of "relocation of population by urban design i.e. getting pickers and homeless to not sleep in public spaces." 

In Memorial Park, we were lectured by a picker on how the City was guilty of "relocation of population by urban design i.e. getting pickers and homeless to not sleep in public spaces." 

Lessons Learned

Calgary’s approximate 1,000 bottle pickers have their own advocacy group called Calgary Can. Calgary Can is a group of Calgarians dedicated to reducing waste and improving recycling opportunities in Calgary by collaborating with the bottle picking community. 

Pickers don’t have their own territory. It operates on a “first come, first get” basis and most pickers respect that.

Pickers earn anywhere from $10 to $200 a day.  Most pick for about 4 to 5 hours and walk 15+ kilometres. The most lucrative time is during Stampede and summer is better than winter. Summer generates more cans; winter more bottles.  A picker’s shoes last about one month.

“Blue bins are not yours.” This comment surprised me.  From a picker’s perspective, once bottles and cans are placed in the blue bins, they are in the public domain and residents no longer own them.

Though grocery store shopping carts are illegal on city streets, 50% of pickers use them. Others just use big, heavy-duty garbage bags.

Pickers like the fact they have no boss and set their own hours.  If they get $50/day, most are happy.  (We were told that’s enough for food, smokes and even drugs if they are a user.)

The new City bylaw requiring all condo buildings to have a recycling program could benefit pickers as condos could partner with them to pick up recyclables on a daily basis.  I suggested an “adopt-a-picker” program to Kate who thought that might work. 

The worst part of the occupation is when “garbage juice” spills all over you.

The Calgary Drop In Centre recognizes bottle picking as a job and therefore provide pickers with bag lunches.

Experienced pickers help new pickers learn the informal rules and code of conduct of picking – things like respecting others, getting to know the neighbours and restaurateurs where you pick, cleaning up back alley messes they encounter if possible, picking up needles and disposing of them safely, and looking out for other pickers who might be sick or in trouble.

Park benches designed so pickers can't sleep on them. 

Park benches designed so pickers can't sleep on them. 

Health Issues

Cuts, scrapes (which easily get infected) and pulled muscles are common occupational hazards. These often become magnified because pickers don’t or can’t seek medical attention as they have to work every day to earn money for everyday expenses. Pickers survive day-to-day, not payday-to-payday.

The Sheldon Chumir Health Centre is considered a safe place to seek treatment and pickers trust the staff there.  There is even a place at the entrance to park their carts.  Problem is if a cart is full, a picker won’t leave it there as it may get stolen.  As a result, the cart parking is rarely used.

About 50% of pickers are homeless, however, the picking profession and homeless shelters are incongruent.  Why? Because the shelters don’t allow clients to leave at 4 or 5 am to head out for work. Also they have no safe place to store any bottles and cans they might have with them at evening check-in time. This leads to pickers often staying up all night to guard their stash or sleep outdoors, both of which carry health and safety risks.

Lack of access to adequate public washrooms means personal hygiene is very compromised.

We did walk down one alley, just west of the Mustard Seed but it had no dumpster or bins.  It was as clean as a whistle. 

We did walk down one alley, just west of the Mustard Seed but it had no dumpster or bins.  It was as clean as a whistle. 

Beltline Bottle Picker Blues

There is a “love-hate” relationship between pickers and public. Some Calgarians will leave a bag of bottles and cans next to bins so pickers don’t have to root through the bins; others will chase them away.

One of the strangest things I heard a picker say, when we were in Memorial Park, was this is “relocation of population by urban design.” Wow…was this guy an urban planner! He pointed out how some benches in the park have armrests in the middle of them so nobody can sleep on them. He then shared with us all of the other public “anti-sleeping” urban designs throughout the City Centre.  He was not clearly happy about the City taking away places to sleep in public.

One of the saddest things I heard was when a picker was asked about the ratio of male to female pickers. He said, “there are very few female pickers; it is too degrading for them. They’d rather do favours for money.”  It is pretty hard to shock me given my history with street poverty (I was instrumental in setting up the Calgary Homeless Foundation and a founding Director; I researched and organized the “Make Real Change With Your Spare Change” panhandling program and have done the ride along with the EXIT Van visiting prostitutes on the street to check on their health and safety.) But this shock and sadden me.

Cart parking spots for pickers at the front entrance of the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre are never used.

Cart parking spots for pickers at the front entrance of the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre are never used.

Just My Opinion

I was expecting to explore the back alleys and see first hand what pickers encountered and maybe check out a dumpster or two.  It would have been interesting to see how many bottles and cans we could collect in 90 minutes and see what looks we might get from strangers.  I was expecting a more hands-on appreciation of the sights and smells of the yucky life/job of being a picker.  

It seemed to me Calgary Can was very careful to manage the messaging.  At the tour’s end, Calgary Can volunteers handed out a postcard with these compelling facts:

  • 26,000 bottle and cans are sent to the landfill every two hours in Calgary (shame on us)
  • It is estimated over 1,000 bottle pickers venture out into neighbourhoods throughout Calgary every day to help divert bottles and cans from landfills.
  • Bottle pickers face social exclusion, unsteady and low pay and unsafe work conditions on a daily basis to make a living.
  • Bottle pickers are entrepreneurs, environmental stewards, waste diverters and community members. 

To me This Jane’s Walk was more like a Jane’s Talk in that it could easily have been a PowerPoint lecture. The locations we visited didn't provide us with any special insights into bottle picker's world. While I respect the work being done by Calgary Can, it all seemed a bit too sanitized and rehearsed for me.

 

 

 

Is Calgary too pristine?

Is Calgary too pristine? Should we be fostering messy urbanism? Are we doing it all wrong when it comes to city building?

These are few of the many questions I am pondering after two weeks in Montreal (December 2016) and especially after a month in Berlin (March 2017).  

While Calgary is struggling to adapt to the new realities of the 21st century, Montreal and Berlin are firing on all cylinders when it comes to attracting young creative professionals and capitalizing on the economy of new technology

Marheinekeplatz is a popular plaza in Kreuzberg next to a two storey farmer's market. It is also home to a children's playground and weekend outdoor flea market.  East Village's Simmons Building/Riverwalk plaza's urban vitality pales in comparison. The garbage can was always full and the public art vessels were covered in graffiti. 

Marheinekeplatz is a popular plaza in Kreuzberg next to a two storey farmer's market. It is also home to a children's playground and weekend outdoor flea market.  East Village's Simmons Building/Riverwalk plaza's urban vitality pales in comparison. The garbage can was always full and the public art vessels were covered in graffiti. 

No need for special seating along the water in Berlin, just sit anywhere. The river edge is not well groomed.

No need for special seating along the water in Berlin, just sit anywhere. The river edge is not well groomed.

Yes, grab a beer and just sit anywhere, no need for a fancy Riverwalk with imported rocks to sit along the river.  The river bank is half grass, half dirt, from over use.

Yes, grab a beer and just sit anywhere, no need for a fancy Riverwalk with imported rocks to sit along the river.  The river bank is half grass, half dirt, from over use.

Community playgrounds are packed. No need for fancy equipment, bike racks, special seating...just come and play.

Community playgrounds are packed. No need for fancy equipment, bike racks, special seating...just come and play.

Kreuzber Grafitti Capital of Europe

While Calgary is still keeping up the good fight against graffiti, Montreal and Berlin have seemingly given up.  Throughout Berlin’s Kreuzberg community (ranked one of the world’s top 10 hipster communities) there is a literally a ribbon of graffiti (from sidewalk to above the doorways) on the buildings along most sidewalks.

It seems like their motto is “why bother cleaning it up when someone will just paint over it.” 

In fact, in one case I saw someone clean up the graffiti on their building and it was back the next day. Montreal is much the same, with the difference being they have embraced street art and murals, which are more refined and decorative than graffiti.

Just one example of the ribbon of graffiti that exists along many of the streets of Kreuzberg. 

Just one example of the ribbon of graffiti that exists along many of the streets of Kreuzberg. 

Typical Kreuzberg streetscape.

Typical Kreuzberg streetscape.

A Kreuzberg elementary school streetscape a block from the subway station and luxury apartments. There is an interior courtyard big playground where kids play like any other elementary school. 

A Kreuzberg elementary school streetscape a block from the subway station and luxury apartments. There is an interior courtyard big playground where kids play like any other elementary school. 

It is not uncommon to find the streets littered with garbage. 

It is not uncommon to find the streets littered with garbage. 

Stickers and posters are plastered everywhere, creating a unique urban patina in Kreuzberg. 

Stickers and posters are plastered everywhere, creating a unique urban patina in Kreuzberg. 

Recycling bins like these are common in Kreuzberg. 

Recycling bins like these are common in Kreuzberg. 

Every wall is plastered with either graffiti or posters; this wall was around a park. 

Every wall is plastered with either graffiti or posters; this wall was around a park. 

Pick your battles!

When it comes to repairing sidewalks, it seems like Montreal and Berlin have also given up the fight against nature and just let them crack, heave and crumble.  While Calgary is busy spending millions on sidewalk and streetscape improvements in Kensington and 17th Avenue SW, Montreal and Kreuzberg’s pedestrian streets are just left to age gracefully and in some cases, not so gracefully. 

And don’t get me started on litter and garbage. Kreuzberg’s streets are filthy and Montreal’s are not great either.

FYI: If you just hang out in Berlin’s tourist hot spots (and there are many), you don’t get to see the “real” Berlin. That is the case in most cities.

In Kreuzberg many of the streets are like one long flop house with cigarette butts, beer and liquor bottles, bottle caps and pizza boxes everywhere. Many locals love that they can just buy a beer in the corner store, drink it while they walk along the sidewalk or hanging at the park and then just leave it wherever.  And garbage cans there are too few and too small in my opinion so they are often overflowing with garbage.  But it doesn’t seem to bother anyone.

Sidewalks are for sharing. It is very common to see cyclist on the sidewalk, especially families, nobody seems to mind.

Sidewalks are for sharing. It is very common to see cyclist on the sidewalk, especially families, nobody seems to mind.

No need for fancy bike racks, just park your bike, scooter wherever. 

No need for fancy bike racks, just park your bike, scooter wherever. 

Bergmannstrabe is a just one of several pedestrian streets in Kreuzberg. There are no banners, hanging baskets, no designer street furniture or lighting.  No need for patio fences just lots of shops, cafes and restaurants. 

Bergmannstrabe is a just one of several pedestrian streets in Kreuzberg. There are no banners, hanging baskets, no designer street furniture or lighting.  No need for patio fences just lots of shops, cafes and restaurants. 

What looks like a shanty town by Calgary urban aesthetics, is in reality a popular restaurant/bar district along one of Berlin's canals.  Berlin's bohemian grass-roots creative-class culture is the opposite of Calgary's conservative, corporate culture.  

What looks like a shanty town by Calgary urban aesthetics, is in reality a popular restaurant/bar district along one of Berlin's canals.  Berlin's bohemian grass-roots creative-class culture is the opposite of Calgary's conservative, corporate culture.  

It is not uncommon to see benches and garbage cans like this along Kreuzberg's pathways and in their parks and playgrounds. 

It is not uncommon to see benches and garbage cans like this along Kreuzberg's pathways and in their parks and playgrounds. 

Embracing Messy Living

Though both Montreal and Berlin are big cycling cities, I didn’t see any multi-million dollar bike lanes requiring their own traffic lights. Especially in Berlin, they just adapted the existing sidewalks and roads to create bike lanes that are often very difficult to distinguish from the sidewalk. It was chaos - people were walking in the bike lanes and cyclists riding along the sidewalk, but somehow they make it work.  We did not see a crash or even a near crash.  

As well in Berlin, I saw no fancy new multi-million dollar pedestrian bridges over their river and canals, nor did I see much in the way of public art.  Rather than investing millions in public art, they have free public art from local graffiti and street artists. 

Forget investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in creative colourful new playgrounds to attract young families. In Berlin, their sand (yes they are all sand) playgrounds, with unpainted or extremely fainted wood equipment from the ‘50s are just as busy as any Calgary community playground.  Some of the riding animals on springs looked surprisingly like something from an ancient Haida totem pole.  The schoolyard playgrounds were often also old and tired looking, Calling them vintage is being kind, most of them have no grass, it is asphalt or mud.  But the kids were just as active and happy as any playground I have seen in Calgary.

I did see a couple of dog parks in Berlin; they were disgusting as they were just all dirt, or should I say “mud” as it rains a lot in Berlin.  With the use of doggie poop bags seemingly optional along the streets, I was afraid to venture into the dog parks. There was nothing like Calgary’s new Connaught dog park with its lovely wrought iron gate, grass and seating areas.

I also didn’t see any lamppost banners, evidence of hanging baskets or fancy street furniture either.  In Berlin, one enterprising restaurateur made outdoor lounge furniture from wooden pallets - A sharp contrast to the expensive lounge chairs along East Village’s Riverwalk and St. Patrick’s Island.

I saw nothing either to match the designer community gardens that are popping up all over Calgary.  Certainly, nothing to match East Village’s community gardens, which is probably one of the most elaborate and expensive in the world.  What I did see though were Kleingartens that date back to the mid-19th century in Leipzig, Germany when municipalities sold or leased small plots of land to apartment dwellers to grow food. Today, some look more like shantytowns, with an array of old cabins (before tiny homes became trendy), sheds and overgrown gardens.

A small pedestrian bridge becomes an impromptu evening and weekend beer garden - no permit, no tables, sit anywhere, bring your guitar and just hang out. 

A small pedestrian bridge becomes an impromptu evening and weekend beer garden - no permit, no tables, sit anywhere, bring your guitar and just hang out. 

Make shift bench.

Make shift bench.

Berlin dog park.

Berlin dog park.

Berlin playground, soccer field. 

Berlin playground, soccer field. 

Let’s take the plastic off?

So while Calgary is spending multi-millions trying to keep our city pristine, people in Montreal and Berlin are embracing messy urbanism.  While Calgary is struggling, they are thriving.  

The thinking in urban planning and placemaking these days is that streets, plazas and parks should be the community’s living room, i.e. a community meeting place where locals hang out and chat.  Metaphorically, Calgary is still in the ‘60s, maybe '50s when mothers would keep the plastic slipcovers on the living room furniture to maintain its pristine look, the result being nobody used them. 

So, “are we doing our city building all wrong? Perhaps it is time we stopped trying to create a pristine city, stop lusting for the new and just “live a little.” 

Perhaps part of Calgary’s new future is adopting a new urban aesthetic?  But maybe not to the extent of Kreuzberg!

Even Calgary's back alley's next to the Mustard Seed are pristine.

Even Calgary's back alley's next to the Mustard Seed are pristine.