City Building: Impact Of Calgary's Mega Transportation Projects

Recently I came across an early 20th century postcard showcasing Calgary’s 13th Avenue SW. It was an image of a street lined with lovely new homes that immediately struck me as looking exactly like a new street in any one of Calgary’s many new communities on the edge of the city.

It also reminded me that 13th Avenue was Calgary’s first millionaires row, with the most well known mansion being the Lougheed House and its lovely garden.

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Why 13th Ave?

This caused me ponder and reflect. Why would Calgary’s rich and famous choose 13th Avenue SW.? I am guessing it was because it was close to where they lived, worked and played i.e. downtown – but not too close.  It was far enough away from the CPR rail tracks and the warehouses along 10th Avenue, but close enough to the passenger train station.  And, it was near the new Carnegie library in Central Park, now Memorial Park.

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Right Side Of The Tracks

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the CPR rail line was the only transportation route into and out of our then the frontier city. It essentially divided the City in half - business on the north side and residential on the south side, a divide that still exists today.

This then had me wondering what other major transportation decisions over the past century have shaped urban living in Calgary today.

8th Avenue became Calgary's Main Street early in the 20th century partly because the City's first street cars came down the street. 

8th Avenue became Calgary's Main Street early in the 20th century partly because the City's first street cars came down the street. 

Deerfoot Trail Divide

Harry Hiller, urban sociologist at the University of Calgary coined the term “Deerfoot Divide” in the ‘90s in reference to how the creation of Deerfoot Trail in the ‘70s divided the city into residential development to its west and commercial development to its east.  Deerfoot Trail has since become part of the CANAMEX Corridor, an important trucking route linking Western Canada with the western United States and Mexico, pivotal in allowing Calgary to become a major inland port.

Most of Calgary's residential development is west of Deerfoot Trail (blue line) while the land to the east has been mostly industrial, warehouse land until recently.  

Most of Calgary's residential development is west of Deerfoot Trail (blue line) while the land to the east has been mostly industrial, warehouse land until recently.  

Over the past 30+ years, the land east of the Deerfoot has increasingly become home to mega warehouses, distribution centres and intermodal facilities. Only recently has there been new communities developed east of the Deerfoot Divide.

Backstory: Deerfoot Trail was originally called the Blackfoot Trail Freeway when the first section opened in 1971.  However, it was renamed in 1974 to honour Deerfoot (1864 – 1897) a late 19th century Siksika Nation long distance runner, known for his exceptional speed. He served as a foot carrier who carried messages between forts in southern Alberta and northern Montana. 

A statue of Deerfoot was located at the entrance to Deerfoot Mall, now being redeveloped as Deerfoot City.

 

Mcleod Trail has a similar history earlier in the 20th century, as most of the land to the east of Mcleod is industrial and commercial uses, while to the west is all residential. 

The LRT Influence

LIDO condo  next to the LRT tracks in Calgary tony Sunnyside community. 

LIDO condo  next to the LRT tracks in Calgary tony Sunnyside community. 

Fast forward to the late ‘70s. The route for the NW LRT was announced and immediately there was controversy.

People living in Sunnyside were not happy to have the noise and congestion that the LRT (then an unknown commodity) would bring to their peaceful bohemian community.

Early NIMBYism?  Over time, the houses next to the LRT line became very tired and rundown. Only recently have new upscale condo development near the station has begun to happen – Pixel and LIDO by Battisella Developments and Kensington and Ven by Bucci Developments.

In fact, it has taken decades for the land around the NW LRT stations to attract new urban development – Renaissance condos at Lions Park Station, University City condos at Brentwood Station and The Groves of Varsity at the Dalhousie Station.

However, today more and more Calgarians are adopting the urban living lifestyle that is more oriented to transit, cycling and walking than driving.  Future Transit-Oriented sites include Anderson, Banff Trail, Chinook and Westbrook Stations.   

However, Greg Morrow, who held the Richard Parker Professorship Metropolitan Growth and Change position at the University of Calgary from 2015 to 2017 (and who now is the Fred Sands Professor of Real Estate and Executive Director of the Sands Institute at Pepperdine University, Los Angeles) sees a big problem in having LRT stations in the middle of a major road, “as it is less than ideal for walkability because you must walk a hundred metres to just get over the roadway.”

Many of Calgary's suburban LRT Stations are in the middle of a major highway, surrounded by Park & Ride lots, which makes for a long walk before you get to the neighbouring communities. 

Many of Calgary's suburban LRT Stations are in the middle of a major highway, surrounded by Park & Ride lots, which makes for a long walk before you get to the neighbouring communities. 

Green Line New Deerfoot?

With the recent announcement of the Green Line LRT route, one can only wonder what impact it will have on the urban living in Calgary’s future.  When fully built, it will be 46 km long with 28 stations. Will it be the new Deerfoot Trail? 

In the case of the Green Line, master planned urban communities are already being developed in anticipation of its construction.  Remington Developments conceived Quarry Park in the early 21th century as a “work, live, play” community knowing the LRT would eventually connect it to the downtown. 

Today, it sports its own shopping centre, recreation centre, library, diversity of housing options and signature 90-acre nature reserve along the Bow River.  It is home to several major head offices including Imperial Oil.  Already, about 1,500 people live in Quarry Park and 10,000 people work there. When fully built out, it will be home to 4,000 residents and 20,000 workers.  It is anticipated 25% of those living in Quarry Park will also work there and that 80% will live in a condo or apartment buildings.

Another up and running community is SETON (which stands for SE town). It was conceived by Brookfield Residential as a transit-oriented complete community with its downtown anchored by the South Health Campus.  It was designed as an urban hub at the end of the SE leg of Calgary’s LRT system as it was called before the SE and North legs were combined to become the Green Line. 

Similarly, Brookfield Residential planned Livingston at the north end of the Green Line as a mixed-use, transit-oriented community even before the Green Line was approved.  

Calgary's Green Line will bring LRT transit to dozens of new communities.  It will reinforce downtown as Calgary's transit hub which will further enhance downtown's position as Calgary's premier economic and cultural hub. 

Calgary's Green Line will bring LRT transit to dozens of new communities.  It will reinforce downtown as Calgary's transit hub which will further enhance downtown's position as Calgary's premier economic and cultural hub. 

Airport City

Indeed, there are lots of other examples of how changes in urban transportation in Calgary have shaped our city’s built form. Perhaps the biggest of all was the relocation of the Calgary International Airport in the mid ‘70s to what was then the northeast edge of the city.  Today, not only is the airport a major employment center, but all of the land surrounding the airport has become a huge warehouse distribution centre.  For many years the airport was a barrier to residential development, as nobody wanted to leave north or east of the airport, however, in the past decade the demand for housing with easy access to the Airport City has created a housing boom in Airdrie, as well as new northeast Calgary communities - Redstone, Skyview Ranch, StoneGate Landing and Cityscape. 

This illustration clearly documents Calgary's three large industrial areas. The Blackfoot area is the oldest and was east of Macleod Trail which served as the divide in the mid 20th century.  However, in the late 20th century Deerfoot Trail became the dividing line with the development of NW aka Airport industrial lands and SE industrial area. 

This illustration clearly documents Calgary's three large industrial areas. The Blackfoot area is the oldest and was east of Macleod Trail which served as the divide in the mid 20th century.  However, in the late 20th century Deerfoot Trail became the dividing line with the development of NW aka Airport industrial lands and SE industrial area. 

Last Word

People want to live close to work today, just like they did in the Beltline then know as Connaught in the early 20th century – just like in my postcard.

Over the last 100+ years, each of Calgary’s mega transportation projects has dramatically reshaped how Calgarians “live, work and play.” It will be very interesting in 50 years to see how the Ring Road has influenced urban living in Calgary.

Note: This blog was originally commissioned for Condo Living Magazine and published in two part in September and October 2017.

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Calgary Hidden Gem: The Book Dissected

University campuses are fascinating to me.  They are a world unto themselves, each with their own sense of place and unique energy.  After a recent Richard Parker Professorship in Metropolitan Growth and Change Advisory Committee meeting at the University of Calgary, I decided to flaneur the campus. 

Hidden Treasures 

For those of you who haven’t been on campus (or haven’t been there in many years), it is a maze of buildings, pathways and +15 bridges that can be difficult for the neophyte to negotiate. I was immediately drawn to the relatively new (opened in 2011) $205 million Taylor Family Digital Library complex which seems to have become the heart of the campus (but not before getting trapped in a construction detour). 

Upon entering, there was an advance Municipal Election polling station in the lobby, so I quickly voted.  Then above the polling station tables I saw a huge sign saying “The Book Dissected” exhibition was on the 5th Floor.  I couldn’t resist.

What I found was an amazing treasure – a tiny exhibition room hidden at the far end of the hall.  While the floor was packed with students, I doubt many or perhaps maybe any of them realized what lie at the end of that hall. 

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“Paradise Lost” Found

What I found was an intriguing exhibition entitled “The Book Dissected” exploring book construction and illustration from 1500 to the 1800s.  

The highlight for me was Book IX of John Milton’s Paradise Lost (published in 1688) opened to a full-page engraving illustrating the “fall of humankind.”  Nearby was a Latin bible from 1556 with an alchemical recipe scribbled on it and an ancient Swedish bible with pressed flowers still sitting on the opened page.

There are actually two edition of Milton's Paradise Lost in the collection a fourth edition (top, 1688) and second edition (bottom, 1674). 

There are actually two edition of Milton's Paradise Lost in the collection a fourth edition (top, 1688) and second edition (bottom, 1674). 

More Treasures

One of the most remarkable illustrations was an ancient clergyman’s design for Noah’s Ark, which the exhibition brochure says, is mathematically correct. Not sure how they would know that?

The exhibition also explores the collecting pursuits of ancient English travellers combined with specimens of the same time borrowed from the Faculty of Science to create a 17th century cabinet of curiosities.  

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Fun With Bibles

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Last Word

I left shaking my head wondering what other amazing treasures the University of Calgary has hidden away in remote locations.  In fact, the exhibition brochure says, “The bibles in Special Collections are a particularly rich source for provenance research.”  Surely, the Special Collections deserves a more prominent location in the Library and more recognition as one of Calgary’s best treasures.  With the right location and marketing, it could become a tourist attraction!  May I suggest it could replace the gift shop next to the Nickle Museum on the ground floor?

“The Book Dissected” is presented by the University of Calgary’s Special Collections and curated by Maria Zytaruk, Department of English.  It continues until December 4, 2017.

If you like this blog, you will like these links:

A-mazing University of New Mexico Campus

University of Arizona: Resort vs Research

Dublin: Newman University Church a hidden gem!

Big Toys For Big Boys

I have to admit I think I missed out in getting the male gene that makes males lust over big construction equipment.  Maybe it has just been dormant, as over the past two and half years our neighbour boy (now 3.5 years old) has been enlightening me on the fascinating world of big machines. 

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Shopping For Big Toys

It all started on my way home from yoga when I found a book in a Little Library in Hillhurst titled “My Big Big Book of Machines”and grabbed it for him.  I must have read it to him a hundred times since then. 

By age two, he knew the names of over 20 pieces of construction equipment  - and so did I.

So, when I was offered the opportunity to write a piece for Construction Connect titled “Big Toys for Big Boys,” I jumped at it.  Specifically, the assignment was to pretend I was shopping for a big piece of construction equipment, it couldn’t get much better.

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First stop - Cervus Bobcat.  

I thought I’d start small and work my way up, but boy was I in for a surprise. Who knew a bobcat could do so many things?  In fact, they have a 78-page glossy catalogue titled “We have an attachment for that.”  Indeed, they have 80+ attachments that can convert a bobcat into a backhoe, excavator, skid loader, grader, bulldozer, trencher and forklift.  They are like mega transformers!

From a construction perspective, I am told the bobcat, because of its smaller size, works great on sites with limited space for manoeuvring.  The bobcat’s versatility allows it to be used for everything from digging basements and small parkades to lifting trusses into place.  It can even clear sidewalks of snow and dirt and then be used for landscaping and fence post digging.  There is even a 3D grade control system that allows the driver to quickly and accurately sculpt the land around a new house or larger buildings.

I am beginning to wonder how I have lived without one for so long.

At almost two year's of age we watched together as a big toy demolished the housed next door. 

At almost two year's of age we watched together as a big toy demolished the housed next door. 

Next stop - Wajax Equipment.

Their inventory included nearly three dozen types of construction machinery including backhoe loadersskid steersfull size and mini excavators, soil stabilizersarticulated dump trucks, and earthmoving equipment, among many, many others. It is exhausting learning all the names and what they are used for let alone all the details.  Almost as complicated as analyzing the golf swing.

And, not only do they offer a huge selection of construction machines, but also a choice of brands with intriguing names like Yale, Hyster, Liu Gong, YMZ, Hamm and Wirtgen

Thanks to friends at University District for allowing me to get up into a big toy and see their mega construction site from the a unique perspective. 

Thanks to friends at University District for allowing me to get up into a big toy and see their mega construction site from the a unique perspective. 

Excavator Is King

Buying big toys is truly mindboggling to the first time buyer. What I did learn was on any construction site, the excavator is KING, able to be used for demolition, digging and lifting.  They come in all different sizes - mini (.5 to 7 tons), midi (7 to 12 tons) and large (40 to 60 tons) and can be equipped with wheels or tracks. I even learned some that can do 60 km/hr. on roadways.

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Dos and Don’ts

Ritchie Bros. website has a blog on the Five Factors to consider when deciding to rent or buy heavy equipment.  Some are pretty obvious:

  • Know your current financial situation,
  • Consider the length of project,
  • Consider how frequently will you be using the equipment (it depreciates even when sitting idle),
  • Consider the equipment’s availability to rent when you need it. 

The comment I found most interesting was that when you rent, you are often paying for the newest equipment with the latest technology, which can be more expensive and you may not need or use all of the features (sounds a bit like buying a smart phone).  The blog also suggests purchasing well-maintained used equipment can be more cost effective than renting over the long term. 

Link: When To Buy or Rent Heavy Equipment Blog

Getting my feet dirty.

Getting my feet dirty.

Auction vs. eBay vs. Kijiji

Ritchie Bros. sells thousands of pieces of heavy equipment every week through their live unreserved auctions and online marketplaces - IronPlanet and EquipmentOne.  Established in Kelowna, BC in 1958 and now headquartered in Burnaby, BC with 110 locations in 25 countries, they opened their first permanent auction site in Edmonton in 1976.

Trent Vanderberghe, Vice President, Sales, at Ritchie Bros. thinks “one of the top reasons people buy equipment and trucks from us is selection. Our live auctions are often called equipment supermarkets, but without price tags. We conduct more than 350 live auctions around the world each year. We sell hundreds, if not thousands, of items in each auction, with each item being sold completely unreserved—no minimum bids or reserve prices.”

He adds, “At our live unreserved auctions and IronPlanet’s weekly online auctions, buyers choose the final selling price; not us nor the seller. There are no price tags; every item is sold to the highest bidder, regardless of price. We offer clear title or your money back. We identify and arrange for the release of any liens or encumbrances on the equipment we sell. If we can't deliver clear title, we offer a full refund of the purchase price.”

Just this past June, Ritchie Bros. sold a 2013 Manitowoc 16000 440-ton self-erecting crane for $2.25M US at a Houston Texas auction. Impressive.

Who knew you could learn things on eBay about the dos and don’ts of buying construction equipment. I loved the blog on buying Construction Excavators which gives valuable tips like making sure you know about all of the excavator’s features, parts and functions before you go shopping and lists some of them for you.  It suggests asking about things I never would have thought about – like an anti-vandalism feature.  And yes, you can buy construction equipment on eBay - they even suggest search words to use. Who knew “zero tail swing excavator” was a good search term.

The eBay article also provides tips for buying used equipment. “The seller should be clear about owner history, how long, and in what capacity, the excavator has been used, and what the reason for selling is. Records of service and repairs should be available, as well as descriptions of any problems or issues. If buying online, the shopper should carefully inspect photos, which should be of the equipment for sale rather than stock images. Communication between buyer and seller is crucial: if a seller withholds information or does not answer questions, it is best to walk away.” 

Just for fun, I went on the Calgary Kijiji site and typed in “excavator.” Well, 305 ads came up. On the first page alone there was everything from a 2010 John Deere 350D LC Excavator for $94,900 to a HOC TE301 to a 2006 Hitachi ZX 270LC Hydraulic Excavator for $65,000.  On the second page was a Cuso 5327 PD(13-Yard) Hydro-Excavator Truck for $194,000 – very tempting (the little guy next door would be impressed if I had one of these).

Link: eBay: Dos and Don't of Buying Construction Equipment 

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On Site Education

I wasn’t done yet. More “field research” needed. I asked so I decided to ask my friends at University District if they could set me up with someone to chat with about all the big toys being used to prepare their site for their mega development. I met up with Chris Peters, Project – Supervisor/Estimator – Special Projects with Volker Stevin Contracting Ltd who was wealth of knowledge. 

I learned that over this summer they had $2.3 million of equipment on site – Two Track Excavators ($1.1M) Track Loader ($300K), Track Dozer ($400K), Wheel Loader (250K), Padfoot Roller ($130K), Smooth Drum Packer ($80K) and Skidsteer ($60K).  FYI…they own, not lease or rent.

Peters also enlightened me as to what the sequence of events is that takes place to get a bare piece of land ready for housing developers to build their projects.

For the deep utilities the sequence is:

  • Large Excavator: digs out the trench, places gravel on the bottom, drops the pipe to the crew, places gravel on top of the pipe, repeat
  • Wheel Loader: feeds gravel to the bucket of the excavator with spoon, brings pipe to the side of the trench from storage area
  • Track Dozer: pushes material back into the trench for backfill, smoothes out the dirt once backfilled to grade
  • Track Loader: carries material for backfill, works in conjunction with the dozer, moves piles of excess dirt
  • Padfoot Roller: compacts each lift of backfill as the track loader and dozer push it back in
  • Small Excavator: compact in tight areas, around manholes and utilities
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For the surface work the sequence is:

  • Grader: pushes clay and gravel from high to low areas, spreads dumped materials, sets material to grade
  • Scraper: picks up and hauls excess material which grader has windrowed or places material for grader to spread
  • Smooth drum roller: compacts the clay and gravel as the material is placed in lifts
  • Paver: once curbs have been placed (either machine poured or hand formed) the paver lays out asphalt mix from dump trucks
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University District 101

As for what challenges they faced in preparing the University District site, I was surprised to learn some of the pipes were placed 9+ meters deep.  I also hadn’t thought about the issue of their working adjacent to the Alberta Children’s Hospital meant keep dust and noise to a minimum and working around traffic and pedestrians.  As well, they had to maintain water and services to the all the buildings nearby while performing upgrades.

Peters even invited me to come to the University District site and see the equipment for myself, even climb up onto one of their pieces of equipment for an “operator’s view” of what it is like to operate a big toy.  I felt like I was the “king of the castle” as little boys would say.  Tim, the real operator told me that a good shift is about 10 hours long with about 9 of those actually sitting and operating the equipment.  He said, “the bigger the toy, the easier it is on the body as you don’t get bounced around as much as you do on smaller equipment.” Good to know.

This is fun...

This is fun...

Learning To Operate

Part of my assignment was to take at least one piece of equipment for a test drive and perhaps attend a training lesson. My first thought was to check to see what post secondary schools offered heavy equipment operator (HE0) training. I quickly found that Olds College has a 12-week program followed by a two-week practicum - that seemed a bit excessive for my needs. All I needed was a quickie lesson. 

And no, I couldn’t just train on one or two pieces of equipment either.  You must successfully complete training and testing on six pieces of equipment – Grader, Skid Steer, Loader, Excavator, Packer and Rubber Tired Hoe.

Also, certain my assignment editor wouldn’t spring for the $12,000 tuition and the next class didn’t even start until September (my deadline was mid August), Olds College was a “no-go.”

Nonetheless, a quick call to Sharyl James, Trades Programmer at Olds College was enlightening.  She told me they have had students as young as 17 enrolled in the program, but they must be 18 at the time of completion.  And they also have had several students over 65 take the training. Guess I have a couple of years yet to take the training.

Students have included retired bus drivers, outsourced IT specialists, correctional officers, landscapers, oilfield workers and of course, individuals wanting to start their own building company and do the excavating for their projects themselves. 

Olds College’s HEO program is also popular with new Canadians - with students from around the world, including Kenya, India, Sri Lanka, Korea and Cameroon – signing up. James points out “one of the big advantages of our courses is that we are a college so we can help special needs students whose second language in English.”

A view from the driver's seat!

A view from the driver's seat!

Last Word

If you think buying, leasing or renting a new or used car is complicated, don’t even think about becoming a procurement officer for construction equipment. The options are mind-boggling, and a mistake could be very costly.  I think I might stick to Toys-R-Us.

If you like this blog, checkout these links: 

University District: Calgary's First 24/7 community?

2015 Year of Calgary's Mega Infill Projects

 

 

 

 

Photo Essay: Autumn vs Spring

As I wandered the streets, parks, pathways and highways this past September enjoying the golden glow of Calgary's autumn light and the infinite variety of yellow (my favourite colour) hues, I wondered, "What do I like best: Autumn or Spring?"  

This was the catalyst to flaneur my collection of photos to create this "Autumn vs Spring" photo essay which I hope you will enjoy. 

Autumn Postcards

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Spring Postcards 

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Downtown Calgary: The Elephant In The Room?

While everyone seems to be in shock that Calgary's downtown office vacancy rate its 25%  our downtown still has more occupied office space than Vancouver, Portland or Austin. Cities with vibrant downtowns.  

Do we need to panic? Should we offer incentives for companies to move to Calgary? That is the elephant in the room....

Downtown Calgary's central business district has one of the largest concentrations of office buildings in North America. 

Downtown Calgary's central business district has one of the largest concentrations of office buildings in North America. 

The lights are still on, but is anyone still home in downtown Calgary. 

The lights are still on, but is anyone still home in downtown Calgary. 

SWEET DEALS

In 2001, Chicago got Boeing to move its head office from Seattle with a sweet deal - $60 million in tax breaks and incentives. In 2015, General Electric moves its head office from Fairfield Connecticut to Boston thanks to a whooping $145 million in incentives.

There's a general acknowledgement that tax incentives work. That they are a key tool for getting major corporations to bring business to town. But Calgary hasn't used this economic siren song to lure new business.

Is it time we did? Should we offer huge tax incentives to lure Amazon to downtown Calgary? Do drastic times call for drastic measures?

HERE'S THE PROBLEM

Look downtown and you'll see a whopping 10 million square feet of vacant office space.

It's hard to wrap your head around those kind of numbers, but it's the equivalent of 5,000 empty single-family suburban homes, or 10,000 condos, or about seven Chinook Centres.  Yikes.

Now traditionally, Calgary’s oil and gas sector has absorbed an average of 500,000 square feet of office space per year. So, even when (or if ) we get back to the old normal, it could take well over a decade to fill up the existing vacancy.

That being said, I remember planners and politicians in the mid ‘90s saying, that Calgary had so overbuilt, there would never would never be another new office building built in downtown Calgary again.  They were wrong.  We've added over a dozen new towers since then.

Clearly, we aren’t very good at predicting the future.  

This is an old graphic, but I expect the numbers haven't changed much. Only 7% of downtown's vacant office space is in C class i.e. older properties with low rent that appeals to start-ups.  The A and AA space (63%) demands higher rents and operating costs that only larger corporation can afford.  They are also owned mostly by pension funds who will be very reluctant to offer big discounts, they would rather be patient and wait for the right long term deal. (credit Colliers: Calgary Office Market Report Q4, 2016)

This is an old graphic, but I expect the numbers haven't changed much.

Only 7% of downtown's vacant office space is in C class i.e. older properties with low rent that appeals to start-ups.  The A and AA space (63%) demands higher rents and operating costs that only larger corporation can afford.  They are also owned mostly by pension funds who will be very reluctant to offer big discounts, they would rather be patient and wait for the right long term deal. (credit Colliers: Calgary Office Market Report Q4, 2016)

ATTRACTING NEW BUSINESS

Over the past year, Calgary Economic Development has hosted numerous Real Estate Advisory Group meetings involving Calgary’s most experienced property owners, managers, leasing professionals and city staff. But where have these meeting got us. 

R. Scott Hutcheson, Executive Chair of the Board of Aspen Properties (which owns several downtown towers, including The Edison aka rebranded Pan Canadian building) is emphatic that “we need both Notley and Nenshi at the table, everybody needs to be working together.”  He adds, “a lot of work has already been done analyzing the situation and looking at many different strategies. We have looked at various case studies like converting office building to residential, but it doesn’t work without some sort of incentives.” 

While he and other downtown building owners won’t say it publically, it is going to take some drastically different thinking (i.e. incentives) to fill up 10,000 million square feet of office space.  

The Alberta government has a poor track record of “meddling” in the economy – failures include MagCan (a magnesium plant), Canadian Commercial Bank, Gainers (a meatpacking plant) and NovaTel (the cellular subsidiary of Alberta Government Telephones). 

In 2005, the City of Edmonton lured Dell to set up a call centre (that would create 1,000 jobs) with a 20-year agreement to waive property taxes, a concession worth $1.1 million over the first five years. The company closed the call centre and left 2008.  

One has to wonder just how wise it is to provide huge incentives to win the Amazon Sweepstakes.

Trevor Tombe, an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Calgary, “cautions governments against using scarce public dollars to try and attract individual businesses. Such incentives distort economic activity, lower our productivity and require tax dollars be levied elsewhere to pay for them. Cities are also particularly ill-equipped to lean against business cycles. We would be better served to focus on neutral policies that improve the city overall: ensuring taxes are competitive, ease zoning rules, and maintaining a highly livable city to attract young and skilled workers.” 

He points to the paper “Head Office Location: Implications for Canada” by Head and Ries at Saunder School of Business, University of British Columbia commissioned by the Government of Canada’s Competitive Policy Review Panel in 2008, where they concluded, “While it may be appealing to offer inducements to attract head offices, there is no compelling case for promotional policies. Subsidies are likely to be counter-productive, since they can be subject to misallocation based on lobbying and they are likely to serve mostly to attract away headquarters from one Canadian city to another Canadian city.”

Link: Calgary Economic Development Report: Calgary's Economy In Depth

Given that 80% of the current vacancy space is less than 15,000 square feet is positive as that is the size of space that "start-ups" in various sectors will be looking for.  (credit Colliers: Calgary Office Market Report Q4, 2016)

Given that 80% of the current vacancy space is less than 15,000 square feet is positive as that is the size of space that "start-ups" in various sectors will be looking for.  (credit Colliers: Calgary Office Market Report Q4, 2016)

DOWNTOWN’S FUTURE

What happens if the oil & gas sector doesn’t come back, how do we back fill 10+ million square feet of office space.  Could downtown Calgary become an “innovation district?”  

Yes, the new buzz term in city-building and economic development is “innovation district” but there is no recipe on how to create one. Most happen organically rather than by design.  Usually, two or more synergistic businesses that are on the cusp of new technology locate near each and become huge successes, so others flock to be near them hoping the success will rub off.  

Could downtown Calgary become a green energy innovation district?  Could Calgary attract major Canadian and international solar and wind energy research companies to locate downtown. In fact, Suncor has operated six wind farms since 2002? Alberta and Calgary is rich in solar and wind power opportunities - could this be our downtown’s future.

A hundred years ago, the Robin Hood Flour Mills dominated the downtown skyline where Gulf Canada Square now stands. Perhaps it isn’t too far fetched to think that in the future the names of our downtown office towers might be Alberta Wind Energy Company or the Calgary Solar Power Corp.  

Downtown's 9th Avenue in the 1970s. 

Downtown's 9th Avenue in the 1970s. 

Last Word

Do we let downtown Calgary evolve naturally based on market demand and entrepreneurial forces? Or do we try to manipulate the office market by providing incentives for select businesses like Amazon?

That is the elephant in the room...

The lights are still on and there are still thousands of businesses calling downtown Calgary home.  In fact, more than in Vancouver, Portland or Austin, which all have thriving downtowns. 

The lights are still on and there are still thousands of businesses calling downtown Calgary home.  In fact, more than in Vancouver, Portland or Austin, which all have thriving downtowns. 

Calgary: East Village Envy

It all happened so innocently. I saw a tweet inviting East Village residents to visit the National Music Centre (NMC) free on Sunday, August 6th and tweeted back “Why were only East Village residents getting in free?” I was quickly bombarded with tweets and an interesting twitter conversation ensued over the next 10 hours.

Some thought it was a great idea, given East Village residents have had to put up with construction for so many years.  Others thought it would be great for the seniors living in the affordable housing complexes who can’t afford regular admission.  Yet others like me, thought it was strange that one community had been singled out for free admission. 

Studio Bell or National Music Centre is a massive building that has attracted significant attention from the international design community for its unique shape and design. 

Studio Bell or National Music Centre is a massive building that has attracted significant attention from the international design community for its unique shape and design. 

Calgary's East Village is perhaps one of the largest urban construction sites in North America with several new condos, hotels and retail developments, as well as an iconic new library currently under construction. 

Calgary's East Village is perhaps one of the largest urban construction sites in North America with several new condos, hotels and retail developments, as well as an iconic new library currently under construction. 

Truth Is…

On Monday morning, I checked with the National Music Centre to learn what the rationale was for free admission for those living in East Village only.  Turns out the free admission was sponsored by Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), the city body responsible for managing the redevelopment of East Village and one of the investors in the Museum.  

In 2017, CMLC has a $1.5 million dollar budget just for Community Relations and Marketing - no other community in Calgary has anything near that, not even ones with a Business Improvement Area levy like downtown, 17th Ave, Kensington or 4th Avenue.

For me this was another reminder East Village has a special status that no other Calgary community has.  Over the past year, I have been hearing comments like “How did East Village get a deluxe community garden given to them when we had to raise our own money? How did East Village get St. Patrick’s Island redevelopment while our park gets little or no attention? I sure love the benches in St. Patrick’s Island; how can we get one in our park?  Who is paying for all the free community events happening in East Village every weekend?” 

In fact, no community in Calgary has received as much municipal investment in such a short time as East Village. 

Yes, some of the investment like St. Patrick’s Island Park and Central Library are citywide amenities, but if that is the case, then the Rivers District Community Revitalization Levy (RDCRL) probably shouldn’t fund them.

Riverwalk has become a very popular place on the weekends for people to sit and stroll.  It has been heavily programmed by CMCL as a marketing strategy for selling condos.

Riverwalk has become a very popular place on the weekends for people to sit and stroll.  It has been heavily programmed by CMCL as a marketing strategy for selling condos.

What is the RDCRL?

To accomplish the mega makeover of East Village, the City of Calgary set up a special Rivers District Community Revitalization Levy in 2007. To date City Council has authorized $276M (additional revenue has been generated by the sale of city owned land in East Village) to be borrowed to make all the necessary infrastructure and other improvements needed to create a 21st century urban village, with the loan payments being paid for by the new property tax revenue from new developments.  

The RDCRL boundaries not only include East Village, but Victoria Park and Stampede Park and downtown.

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 8.26.45 PM.png

Council also set up the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (with its own Board of Directors) as a “wholly owned subsidiary of the City of Calgary with a mandate to implement and execute a public infrastructure program approved by the City of Calgary and the Province of Alberta to kick-start Calgary’s urban renewal in East Village.”

CMLC has done an amazing job of the mega makeover of East Village converting it from a sea of surface parking lots, a prostitute stroll and drug dealers’ den to a haven for YUPPIEs and empty nesters. 

To date, CMLC has attracted $2.7 billion of new construction in East Village which has generated the $357 million in levy revenues and it is anticipated to be whopping $801 million by 2027 when the RDCRL expires.  

Calgary's "float boat" shaped Central Library with its playful geometric decals is destined to become Calgary's newest postcard to the world.    

Calgary's "float boat" shaped Central Library with its playful geometric decals is destined to become Calgary's newest postcard to the world.    

How has the $357 million been invested to date?

The first wave of projects were budgeted at $143 million for infrastructure improvements (raising the roads, sewer, environmental clean-up and new sidewalks) $55 million for the 4th Street Underpass and $23 million for phase I & II of RiverWalk.  

St. Patrick's Island has been transformed from an under utilized, almost forgotten park, into a wonderful urban playground for the growing number of families living in the City Centre. 

St. Patrick's Island has been transformed from an under utilized, almost forgotten park, into a wonderful urban playground for the growing number of families living in the City Centre. 

The second wave of projects were less infrastructure projects and more about making East Village a 21st century urban playground. 

Specifically, the St. Patrick’s Island makeover cost $20 million plus $25 million to replace the existing pedestrian bridge. 

There was $22 million to restore historical buildings, $70 million to the New Central Library once it was decided it would be located in East Village (total cost of the new library is $245 million) and $10 million to the National Music Centre.

Bloom by Michel de Broin is just one of several public art pieces (permanent and temporary) that CMCL has commissioned for East Village. 

Bloom by Michel de Broin is just one of several public art pieces (permanent and temporary) that CMCL has commissioned for East Village. 

As well, smaller projects included the Elbow River Traverse pedestrian/cycling bridge ($5 million), C-Square, a plaza along the LRT tracks designed as a passive gathering / small event space ($3million) and a community garden with 80 plots ($75,000).

Collectively, all of these projects convinced developers the new East Village was an attractive place to invest and they have worked with CMLC to transform East Village from an urban wasteland to an urban playground.

Excerpt from CMLC 2017 - 2019 Business Plan.

Excerpt from CMLC 2017 - 2019 Business Plan.

Is $357 million too much?

While I appreciate East Village was woefully ignored by the City for many years and therefore in need of a huge investment to kick-start the redevelopment, I think the investment of $357 million by the City of Calgary via CMLC in one community is excessive.

When I pointed out to Calgary’s Twitter community that while East Villagers have indeed put up with a lot of construction, they have gotten - or are getting - a lot in return – spectacular new library and museum, beautiful new RiverWalk, lovely sidewalks with hanging baskets, a wonderful redeveloped park, new playground and an upscale community garden, I was (not surprisingly) lambasted by some and applauded by others. 

These benches in St. Patrick's Island have a contemporary sculptural look with the mix of wood, concrete and minimalist sensibility. The design is very clever as one person can be lying down on one side while two people can be sitting on the other side of the back support and two more on the concrete slab.  Not that I have ever seen that happen. Wouldn't they be lovely in parks across the city?

These benches in St. Patrick's Island have a contemporary sculptural look with the mix of wood, concrete and minimalist sensibility. The design is very clever as one person can be lying down on one side while two people can be sitting on the other side of the back support and two more on the concrete slab.  Not that I have ever seen that happen. Wouldn't they be lovely in parks across the city?

Perhaps the most poignant tweet was by Elise Bieche, President of the Highland Community Association who wrote “And we thought asking for the creek to be daylighted was too much for the developer or the city to handle.” 

(FYI. Daylighting in this case refers to that community’s request to have the creek that used to run through the Highland Golf Course and has been covered over for decades (the water currently run through a pipe underneath the golf course) to be returned to its natural state and become an public amenity for the entire community.)

Indeed, the first wave of East Village projects were much needed infrastructure improvements – raising the roads, new underpass to connect to Stampede Park, flood protection, new water and sewer lines and sidewalks (about 50% of investments to date).

However, I don’t believe RDCRL revenues should have helped pay for the new Central library, National Music Centre, redevelopment of a regional park (St. Patricks’ Island), a deluxe community garden and children’s playground. These are not infrastructure projects, as per the intent of the levy

I do not blame CMLC. They have done an amazing job. But I am questioning how much taxpayers’ money has been invested in East Village to create a public realm that raises the bar way beyond what the City can provide in other communities.  

These summer chairs look like something you might find on a cruise ship.  They create a very welcoming sense of place along the Riverwalk.

These summer chairs look like something you might find on a cruise ship.  They create a very welcoming sense of place along the Riverwalk.

Nenshi’s Cultural Entertainment District Proposal

It is very possible the next wave of RDCRL projects could be a new arena in Victoria Park and an expanded convention/trade show centre in Stampede Park. They will be the equivalent of East Village’s Central Library and National Music Centre. Other projects included in Nenshi’s Bold Plan include renovations to Olympic Plaza (Riverwalk), Expanded Arts Commons (St. Patrick’s Island/Bridge) and Victoria Park development (Traverse Bridge).

Indeed, the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation is lobbying the City to create a CRL to fund their new arena/events center be it in Victoria Park or West Village. 

I ask – “Is this the best, most appropriate way for the City to fund these two mega projects?” I am not sure it is. It is my understanding that CRL's work best when the levy's pay for infrastructure projects that are the catalyst for private sector (tax paying) projects.  

Perhaps it is time to rethink how Community Revitalization Levy funds are used to ensure fairness to all Calgarians.

Mayor Nenshi kicked off his 2017 re-election campaign announcing his bold vision for Culture and Entertainment District that not only included East Village, but Victoria Park, Stampede Park and the existing cultural district around Olympic Plaza. FYI: All of these ideas and projects were included in CMLC 2017 - 2019 Business Plan published earlier in the year. 

Mayor Nenshi kicked off his 2017 re-election campaign announcing his bold vision for Culture and Entertainment District that not only included East Village, but Victoria Park, Stampede Park and the existing cultural district around Olympic Plaza. FYI: All of these ideas and projects were included in CMLC 2017 - 2019 Business Plan published earlier in the year. 

Last Word

As my father of four used to say “If I give it to you, I have to give it to the other three.”  While I realize not all communities are created equal (i.e. not all communities have the potential to attract $2.7 billion in new investments like East Village), I do think it might be time to rethink the RDCRL. 

Do CRLs create an uneven playing field for private developers in Calgary where they have to pay for all of the public amenities and pass on the cost to the new home buyers? Think Currie, Seton, Quarry Park or University District?

And yes, I am envious of all the lovely amenities in East Village. I think many other Calgarians are too.

If you liked this blog, you might like these links:

East Village: The Lust Of The New Playground

East Village: A Masterpiece In The Making?

Crazy Idea: New Arena In Victoria Park

Calgary's Audacious New Library 

 

 

 

 

Office-To-Residential Conversions: Won't Save Calgary's Downtown

The BIG IDEA that arose from the City of Calgary’s “Downtown Economic Summit” this past March was the need to convert some of our downtown’s vacant office space into residential. Doing so would help create a more vibrant downtown in evenings and weekends when it tends to become a ghost town when the 150,000 downtown office workers leave.

There are numerous smaller, older office buildings surrounding Hotchkiss Gardens in downtown Calgary, that could potentially be converted to residential. However, due to lack of parking, building code requirements and other factors many are not suitable for conversion. 

There are numerous smaller, older office buildings surrounding Hotchkiss Gardens in downtown Calgary, that could potentially be converted to residential. However, due to lack of parking, building code requirements and other factors many are not suitable for conversion. 

Feasibility?

This idea is not new. In the early ‘90s (also a time when Calgary’s downtown office vacancies were very high), Paul Maas, an architect and urban planner at the City of Calgary championed the idea that Calgary’s downtown core needed more residential development.  He advocated for residential above the shops in the historic buildings along Stephen Avenue. He also thought old office buildings would make for ideal conversions to residential. His ideas fell on deaf ears, partly because at that time, there was no market for residential development in the core or surrounding \ communities.  

The Calgary Downtown Association even had an architect on staff for a time, researching the feasibility of office conversions to residential.  His conclusion - conversions were too costly, complex and there was no market for residential in the core.

Built in 1958, the owners of Sierra Place (7th Ave and 6th St. SW) have decided to convert the 92,000 sq.ft. of office space to 100 residential units. 

Built in 1958, the owners of Sierra Place (7th Ave and 6th St. SW) have decided to convert the 92,000 sq.ft. of office space to 100 residential units. 

Have Times Changed?

Fast forward to today. There has been an incredible renaissance in urban living, not only in Calgary but in major cities across North America for more than a decade now.  Today, new residential buildings are routinely under construction in the communities surrounding our downtown - West Downtown, Eau Claire, East Village, Bridgeland/Riverside, Inglewood, Victoria Park, Beltline, Mission and Hillhurst. 

But in the downtown core itself (9th to 4th Ave SW and 8th St SW to Centre Street), there has only been two buildings with any residential component built since the ‘90s - Germain hotel, office, condo project and the TELUS Sky, currently under construction.

Telus Sky currently under construction at 7th Avenue and Centre St. will have 422,000 sq.ft. of office space on the lower level and 341 residential units on the top floors. It has been designed by the world renown architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group. 

Telus Sky currently under construction at 7th Avenue and Centre St. will have 422,000 sq.ft. of office space on the lower level and 341 residential units on the top floors. It has been designed by the world renown architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group. 

Office Conversions Are Difficult

Over the years, numerous studies have documented the difficulties of office-to-residential conversions - building code issues, costs, lack of market and parking requirements being the key ones.

To get a current picture of the feasibility of office conversion in Calgary, I spoke with decided with Bruce McKenzie, Vice President, Business Development, NORR Calgary office as they have probably designed more urban residential buildings in Calgary than any other architectural firm.

He was quick to agree - office conversions face many challenges including:

  • Inability to control construction costs due to unforeseen extras (renovation / code extras).
  • Lack of parking means most likely these properties will remain rental (and probably should as people aren’t apt to take the risk of an old building and the potential future condo fee escalations).
  • Mechanical systems are totally unusable from office to condo/rental so a total gut job is usually needed.
  • Never able to achieve National Energy Code of Canada for buildings’ envelop requirements.
  • Floor plate sizes are too deep to create usable residential space at appropriate scale i.e. smaller units, which are typically what the market wants in conversion buildings.

That being said, NORR Calgary is currently doing several conversion studies, with one downtown Calgary project in working drawings.

Rocky Mountain Plaza is another example of an older building that might be considered for conversion given it proximity to Olympic Plaza, Art Commons, Stephen Avenue Walk and Glenbow. 

Rocky Mountain Plaza is another example of an older building that might be considered for conversion given it proximity to Olympic Plaza, Art Commons, Stephen Avenue Walk and Glenbow. 

Criteria For Conversion

I also connected with Strategic Group who owns a number of older buildings in downtown Calgary and are doing an office-to-residential conversion of the Harley Court building in downtown Edmonton.

COO Randy Ferguson, indicates his firm is a big proponent of conversion when certain criteria are met: 

  1. Design efficiency.  (Note: Not as many office buildings are designed in a way that facilitate repurposing as many people would think – side core; offset core; odd rectangular buildings; oversized floor plates all drive inefficiency and quickly are eliminated as they can’t meet this requirement. Also must be able to accommodate built-in amenities - rooftop terrace, fitness, community space.)
  2. Location. Must have urban living amenities nearby - grocery, street life, churches, arts facilities, sports facilities, cool restaurants, bars and shopping
  3. Near major employment districts
  4. Close proximity to high speed public transportation
  5. Walkable 24/7 streets
  6. Rental demand in the neighbourhood
  7. A mix of architectural expression and affordability in the neighbourhood
Older buildings along downtown's 7th Avenue are more attractive for conversions even though they lack parking, as they have excellent access to transit.  

Older buildings along downtown's 7th Avenue are more attractive for conversions even though they lack parking, as they have excellent access to transit.  

He indicated the three biggest barriers to conversions are:

  1. Inefficiency of design
  2. Zoning
  3. Lack of demand for residential

Ferguson says Strategic Group “is currently studying the assets they own in Calgary to ascertain which may be appropriate for conversion and whether or not office or residential are the highest and best use” adding “some office buildings are too successful to convert.”

When asked how the City of Calgary could foster more office conversions his response is plain and clear - “We believe the call to action is not to provide incentives, rather to facilitate the approval process by expediting matters such as zoning, permitting and plans examination. This would outweigh any incentive a municipality is at liberty to provide.”

Recently, while surfing Twitter, I learned Winnipeg-based Artis REIT has proposed the redevelopment of Calgary’s Sierra Place (7th Ave and 5th St SW) office building to residential. Zeidler BKDI architects have recently submitted a development permit on their behalf, proposing to convert the ten-storey, 92,000 square foot building into a 72-suite residential building. 

Obviously, while converting old office buildings to residential is difficult, it is not impossible.  

The PanCanadian Building (located across from the Fairmont Palliser Hotel) has been renamed The Edison and is being marketed as a funky space for start-ups.  Already Silicon Valley's RocketSpace has leased 75,000 sq.ft. for a co-working space that could accommodate as many as 1,000 start-ups. 

The PanCanadian Building (located across from the Fairmont Palliser Hotel) has been renamed The Edison and is being marketed as a funky space for start-ups.  Already Silicon Valley's RocketSpace has leased 75,000 sq.ft. for a co-working space that could accommodate as many as 1,000 start-ups. 

Old Buildings Are Not The Problem

Calgary’s downtown office space vacancy problem is not with its older buildings, but rather with its tall shiny new buildings.  Some quick math shows older office buildings (C Class) make up only 6% of the total downtown office space (or about 2.3 million square feet) of which 630,000 square feet is vacant.  The conversion of three or four older office buildings will not solve our downtown office vacancy problem.

On the other hand, Class A and AA office space (newer buildings, best location, best amenities) make up 72% of the total downtown office space.  Currently, there is about 7 million square feet of vacant A and AA space (or about 65% of the total current vacant space – becoming higher with the completion of Brookfield Place and TELUS Sky).   The reality is Class A or AA office buildings are not good candidates for conversions from both a design perspective and location, as well the owners (pension funds) have deep pockets and for them the best return on their investment is still as offices. 

At the beginning of 2017, Calgary has more office space under construction than any city in Canada, even more than Toronto. Downtown Calgary's office space surplus is the result of too much new construction over the past few years. 

At the beginning of 2017, Calgary has more office space under construction than any city in Canada, even more than Toronto. Downtown Calgary's office space surplus is the result of too much new construction over the past few years. 

Just one of several new office towers being built for the Amazon campus in downtown Seattle. They are all quite spectacular. 

Just one of several new office towers being built for the Amazon campus in downtown Seattle. They are all quite spectacular. 

Last Word

Also let’s not forget a healthy downtown needs older office buildings. They offer the cheaper rent and funky character spaces that are often very attractive to start-up business, i.e. the exact businesses we want to attract downtown to help diversify the economic base.

Today’s start-up in a tired older office building could be tomorrow’s Amazon, which by the way, has created a funky, new multi-new building campus (9 million square feet in all) in downtown Seattle, for its 25,000+ employees.  

Office-to-residential conversions will not save our downtown!

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on September 30, 2017.

If you like this blog, checkout these links:

Why Amazon might pick Calgary for HQ2?

Calgary's CBD is unique?

All downtowns must reinvent themselves.

Why Amazon might pick Calgary for HQ2?

Amazon created a feeding frenzy when it announcement plans to open a second North American headquarters that would result in 50,000 new jobs and $5 billion in capital expenditures for the chosen city. Politicians, economic development CEOs and planners were busy tweeting out why their city should be the winner in the Amazon HQ2 Sweepstakes.   

Calgary's West Village approved redevelopment plan would fit perfectly with Amazon's plans for a second headquarters. The proposed Riverfront Promenade along the Bow River would become a vibrant 18/7 urban playground.

Calgary's West Village approved redevelopment plan would fit perfectly with Amazon's plans for a second headquarters. The proposed Riverfront Promenade along the Bow River would become a vibrant 18/7 urban playground.

West Village aka Amazon Village is the land between the Bow River and CPR railway tracks from Crowchild Trail to Mewata Armouries. Most of the land is owned by the city, which would allow them to negotiate a deal.   While it would be ideal if Amazon HQ2 could just take up the 10 million square feet of existing office space in downtown Calgary many of those buildings would be difficult to retro-fit for Amazon's needs. 

West Village aka Amazon Village is the land between the Bow River and CPR railway tracks from Crowchild Trail to Mewata Armouries. Most of the land is owned by the city, which would allow them to negotiate a deal.  

While it would be ideal if Amazon HQ2 could just take up the 10 million square feet of existing office space in downtown Calgary many of those buildings would be difficult to retro-fit for Amazon's needs. 

If Amazon chose West Village for HQ2 their employees could body surf in the Bow River at lunch and after work.

If Amazon chose West Village for HQ2 their employees could body surf in the Bow River at lunch and after work.

Can't Imagine A Better Place

Calgary mayor Nenshi was among them. He noted we have been selling our city to some of the biggest brands in the world for decades.  "Non-disclosure agreements prevent me from saying too much on specific files we've been working on," Nenshi added, "But I can tell you that we're very familiar with this particular pitch and were not surprised by Amazon bringing this forward now. Looking at the criteria Amazon has put forward, he couldn't imagine a place that meets their needs better than Calgary.”

Calgary Economic Development President and CEO, Mary Moran, quickly confirmed Calgary would be making a strong pitch to Amazon.  "The value proposition that we offer aligns with what Amazon is looking for. This is an innovative city with a highly educated and globally connected workforce, we have affordable available real estate, low-cost of doing business, exceptional transportation links and quality of life for their employees,” said Moran.

The West Village plan calls for several plaza and pedestrian oriented streets. 

The West Village plan calls for several plaza and pedestrian oriented streets. 

The West Village plan envisions mid and high-rise buildings with a mix of uses to create street vitality daytime and evenings, weekdays and weekends.

The West Village plan envisions mid and high-rise buildings with a mix of uses to create street vitality daytime and evenings, weekdays and weekends.

Calgarians of all ages love to test their strength and agility wherever and whenever they can.  This just happens to be under the LRT bridge linking downtown to Kensington Village. 

Calgarians of all ages love to test their strength and agility wherever and whenever they can.  This just happens to be under the LRT bridge linking downtown to Kensington Village. 

Top Picks

The New York Times went so far as to pick the perfect city for Amazon HQ2. From 25 cities, they short-listed Portland, Denver, Washington and Boston areas, then. picked Denver as the winner.

Link: Dear Amazon, We Picked Your New Headquarters for you

Brookings Institute picked Charlotte N.C., Bloomberg thought Boston was the best choice and Creative class guru Richard Florida is betting on Washington, D.C.

The only city in Canada that got any real attention in the scramble to predict a winner in the Amazon HQ2 Sweepstakes was Toronto.  Then Jens Von Bergmann posted “Amazon – The Canadian Data” on twitter, looking at Amazon’s HQ2 requirements and Canadian cities and guess who came out on top – Calgary.  

Link: Amazon- The Canadian Data.

Calgary's downtown has one of North America's largest collection of corporate headquarters (oil&gas, financial, accounting and law firms) located in over 42 million square feet of office space. 

Calgary's downtown has one of North America's largest collection of corporate headquarters (oil&gas, financial, accounting and law firms) located in over 42 million square feet of office space. 

Downtown's Stephen Avenue Walk takes on a festival atmosphere at lunch when 20,000+ workers pour out of the offices along the Walk. Stephen Avenue is a National Historic District.

Downtown's Stephen Avenue Walk takes on a festival atmosphere at lunch when 20,000+ workers pour out of the offices along the Walk. Stephen Avenue is a National Historic District.

Calgary’s Pitch

After reviewing Amazon’s Request for Proposals (RFP), here are my thoughts on why Calgary would be a good fit for Amazon HQ2.  I will not address all of the technical issues and of course I can’t comment on what incentives our municipal, provincial or federal government might be able to give, which will be huge factor in their decision. 

Rather, I will focus on three key areas identified in the RFP as important factors in Amazon’s decision: Thinking Big, Urban Living and Unique Culture.

Calgary's bike culture dates back to 1869.  

Calgary's bike culture dates back to 1869.  

Calgary's higher education goes back over 100 years at SAIT where the past meets the future.

Calgary's higher education goes back over 100 years at SAIT where the past meets the future.

Thinking Big

Calgary was an early adopter (1981) of LRT as a core element of its city-wide transit system, long before Seattle, Denver or any American city for that matter.  Today Calgary has the highest per capita LRT ridership in North America and with the development of the Green Line (46 kilometers, 28 stations, serving 27 communities) it will also have one of longest. In addition, Calgary is currently constructing two BRT routes as part of its ambitious rapid transit vision.  And, if that isn’t enough, in 2001, our LRT became the first wind-powered public transit system in North America.

Calgary has an ambitious transit vision.

Calgary has an ambitious transit vision.

Downtown's 7th Avenue Transit Corridor is the hub for Calgary's transit system. 

Downtown's 7th Avenue Transit Corridor is the hub for Calgary's transit system. 

Calgary is also the cleanest city in the world as a result of our commitment to state-of-the-art water treatment plants.  According to the Mercer Global Financial list, Calgary has been the world’s cleanest city in the world for several years now based on:  availability and drinkability of water, waste removal, quality of sewage system, air quality and traffic congestion.  

Calgary is on the path to becoming a premier green energy hub in North America, according to a Delphi Group’s study of the Calgary Region’s Green Energy Economy. The research showed in 2015, Calgary’s green energy economy was responsible for generating $3.63 billion in gross output, $1.78 billion in gross domestic product, and approximately 15,470 jobs. (Calgary Economic Development website)

Calgary, the largest logistic hub in Western Canada and one of the largest inland ports in North America, fits perfectly with Amazon’s operations. 

Link: Calgary: An Inland Port

Calgary also thinks big when it comes to parks and pathways.  We have over 5,200 parks, including two of the largest urban parks in the world – Fish Creek (13.5 sq. km) and Nose Hill (11 sq. km).  Calgary has 150 public off-leash areas across the city. Our three City Centre island parks (Prince’s, St. Patrick’s and St. George’s) in the middle of the Bow River are spectacular urban oasis. And don’t forget our easy access Banff National Park and Kananaskis Provincial Park.

Calgary's 138 km Rotary/Mattamy Greenway circles the city. And yes we are working on the completion of a ring road around the city also.

Calgary's 138 km Rotary/Mattamy Greenway circles the city. And yes we are working on the completion of a ring road around the city also.

In addition to our City Centre bike lanes (something asked for in the RFP) we also have over 1,000 km of pathways city-wide including the new 138 km Rotary/Mattamy Greenway that encircles the city connecting over 400,000 Calgarians. Calgary is a cyclist’s paradise for commuters and recreational cyclists.

Calgarians of all ages love to cycle.

Calgarians of all ages love to cycle.

Bow Cycle is one of the largest bike shops in the world. It sponsors the annual Tour de Bowness race. 

Bow Cycle is one of the largest bike shops in the world. It sponsors the annual Tour de Bowness race. 

Young & Active

As well, Calgary is currently building four mega recreation facilities (to the tune of almost half a billion dollars) – Rocky Ridge, Seton, Great Plains and Quarry Park.

The iconic Repsol Sports Center (formerly the Talisman Centre) with its iconic Teflon-coated semi-transparent fibreglass dinosaur-like roof is the second most used recreation facility in North America attracting over 1.8 million visitors annually.  It opened in 1983 and was the catalyst for creating mega, multi-use recreation centers across the city.

The Crescent Heights stairs are a popular spot for Calgarians to challenge their fitness levels.  With 167 steps divided into 11 flights, most people find once is enough. But there is fun challenge on the internet, based on 10 laps starting at the bottom and finishing at the top. Under 17 minutes = olympian, 17 – 20 minutes = professional, top amateur, 20 – 24 minutes = very athletic.

The Crescent Heights stairs are a popular spot for Calgarians to challenge their fitness levels.  With 167 steps divided into 11 flights, most people find once is enough. But there is fun challenge on the internet, based on 10 laps starting at the bottom and finishing at the top. Under 17 minutes = olympian, 17 – 20 minutes = professional, top amateur, 20 – 24 minutes = very athletic.

There is a walk or run in Calgary almost every weekend for charity.

There is a walk or run in Calgary almost every weekend for charity.

Yes we love our hockey.

Yes we love our hockey.

Calgarians also love their rivers - Bow and Elbow.  This scene is repeated 25+ times along the two rivers from May to September. 

Calgarians also love their rivers - Bow and Elbow.  This scene is repeated 25+ times along the two rivers from May to September. 

Urban Living

Having visited Seattle, Denver, Portland and Austin recently, none of those cities can match Calgary’s amazing infill housing development occurring in our City Centre and inner-city communities.  Tour any community within 10 km of Calgary’s downtown and you will find old homes being torn down and new family homes being built in their place on almost every block.  You will also find dozens of multi-family buildings being built at strategic locations.

And, Calgary currently has seven mega new urban villages in various stages of construction in our inner city – Bridges, Currie, East Village, Eau Claire, Stadium, University District and University City/Brentwood.

In addition, Inglewood was chosen as “Canada’s Greatest Neighbourhood” by the Canadian Institute of Planners and Kensington was short-listed in 2014 (both communities have improved since then).

Add in the Beltline (the hipster capital of North America), Chinatown, Erlton, Mission, Ramsay and Sunalta and Calgary offers some of the most diverse and affordable urban living options in North America - from penthouses to micro-condos, from single-family infills to mansions, from transit-oriented living (N3 condo in East Village has no parking) to walking and cycling-oriented living.  

All at affordable prices compared to most major North American cities.

Link: NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here

Link: Beltline: Hipster/GABSTER Capital of North America

Impromptu couples dancing in Tomkins Park in RED (Retail, Entertainment District). 

Impromptu couples dancing in Tomkins Park in RED (Retail, Entertainment District). 

Calgary has a very strong independent coffee/cafe culture that dates back to the '70s.

Calgary has a very strong independent coffee/cafe culture that dates back to the '70s.

17th Avenue aka The Red Mile is a popular people watching and dining and beer drinking hot spot.

17th Avenue aka The Red Mile is a popular people watching and dining and beer drinking hot spot.

Kensington Village has a vibrant street culture as the Alberta College of Art & Design and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology are nearby.  It is full of cafes, shops, restaurants and an arthouse movie theatre. There is even a cat cafe.

Kensington Village has a vibrant street culture as the Alberta College of Art & Design and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology are nearby.  It is full of cafes, shops, restaurants and an arthouse movie theatre. There is even a cat cafe.

The Bow River pathway on the edge of downtown is a popular spot for walking, cycling and running weekdays and weekends.

The Bow River pathway on the edge of downtown is a popular spot for walking, cycling and running weekdays and weekends.

Penthouse living....

Penthouse living....

You can find new condos on almost every other block in Calgary's Beltline community. It is Calgary's most dense and diverse community with 22,000+ residents.

You can find new condos on almost every other block in Calgary's Beltline community. It is Calgary's most dense and diverse community with 22,000+ residents.

East Village is a new master planned urban village  on the east side of downtown, when completed in 2027 it will be home to 12,000+ residents. Calgary already has over 70,000 people living in its City Centre. 

East Village is a new master planned urban village  on the east side of downtown, when completed in 2027 it will be home to 12,000+ residents. Calgary already has over 70,000 people living in its City Centre. 

Calgary boast one of the most diverse inner city living options of any major city in North America, from mansions to cottages, from high-rises to mid-rises, from duplexes to row homes. There is new construction on almost every other block within 10 km of downtown Calgary. 

Calgary boast one of the most diverse inner city living options of any major city in North America, from mansions to cottages, from high-rises to mid-rises, from duplexes to row homes. There is new construction on almost every other block within 10 km of downtown Calgary. 

Unique Culture

Calgary is home to one of North America’s most unique annual festivals – Beakerhead. It is a smash up of science, engineering, technology, innovation, art and culture that takes place at multiple sites across the city. In 2017, there are 14 sites that area expected to attract over 125,000 participants over five days.   It is exactly the kind of funky, futuristic, techy stuff Amazon loves.

The Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo is Canada’s second largest comic-com event attracting over 100,000 visitors.  Theatre Sports, the precursor to the current improve theatre craze was invented in Calgary, at the University of Calgary in 1977.

Calgary is quickly becoming a major music city with the opening of the National Music Centre.  We also have several major music festivals including Calgary International Folk Festival, Sled Island and the Performing Arts Festival (4,000 entries, 12,000 participants, makes one of the largest amateur competition music festivals in North America). The Honens Piano Competition is one of the world’s most prestigious events of its kind in the world. Cowtown Opera Company takes their satirical performances to the streets and shopping malls of the city.

Calgary’s High Performance Rodeo has been showcasing the best in contemporary international performance every January since 1986.  In 2017, it featured 28 shows over 32 days with 150 performances by 200 artists from around the world. Calgary’s Lunchbox Theatre is North America’s longest running lunchtime theatre company.

Calgary’s unique culture also includes an amazing diversity of recreational opportunities from speed skating to show jumping. Spruce Meadows is one of the best equestrian centres in the world and Shaw Millennium Park has one of the largest public skate parks in North America.  Canada Olympic Park offers unique recreational experiences - downhill skiing, zip line, mountain biking, luge and bobsled.  Calgary’s Olympic Oval has the fastest speeedskating ice in the world. In the winter Calgary boasts over 100 outdoor community skating rinks.

Beakerhead festival celebrates the connections between art, science and engineer every September. 

Beakerhead festival celebrates the connections between art, science and engineer every September. 

Prince's Island's signature event is the Calgary International Folk Festival.

Prince's Island's signature event is the Calgary International Folk Festival.

There are festivals and special outdoor events every weekend in the City Centre.

There are festivals and special outdoor events every weekend in the City Centre.

Canada: A Safe Haven?  

When Amazon announced they were looking to set up a second headquarters, they indicated that it could be anywhere in North America.  While most crystal ball gazers are assuming they will choose an American city, given the current political and social upheaval in the USA, Canada could well be a safe haven for Amazon.

Calgary is probably the most American friendly city in Canada.  We have a strong entrepreneurial, business-oriented, future thinking culture, while at the same time having a strong community spirit.  In 2016, Calgarians donated $55 million to United Way, the highest per capita United Way contribution in North America. 

West Village aka Amazon Village

West Village has parks at both ends along with beautiful Bow River waterfront linear park. Millennium Park has one of the world's largest public skateboard parks in the world, which would be very appealing to Amazon employees. It is also home to many festivals.

West Village has parks at both ends along with beautiful Bow River waterfront linear park. Millennium Park has one of the world's largest public skateboard parks in the world, which would be very appealing to Amazon employees. It is also home to many festivals.

The West Village Master Plan calls for four major landmark artworks, several urban plazas as well as open space and natural areas, making it ideal for the Amazon HQ2 campus.

The West Village Master Plan calls for four major landmark artworks, several urban plazas as well as open space and natural areas, making it ideal for the Amazon HQ2 campus.

The West Village Master Plan has a campus feel to it that would be ideal for Amazon HQ2. It would be easy to phase in the development based on the existing area redevelopment plan.

The West Village Master Plan has a campus feel to it that would be ideal for Amazon HQ2. It would be easy to phase in the development based on the existing area redevelopment plan.

Amazon's plan is to duplicate their downtown Seattle HQ over time in another city.

Amazon's plan is to duplicate their downtown Seattle HQ over time in another city.

Last Word

In many ways, Calgary has retained all that is good about the pioneer culture that created our city just over 100 years ago.  While Calgary is a long shot to win the Amazon HQ2 headquarters, everyone loves an underdog. 

FYI: Calgary may have a little insider help. James Gosling, a Calgarian and University of Calgary grad, who invented the Java computer language found on 97 per cent of enterprise computer systems and virtual-machine systems, joined Amazon in May 2017.

Link: Amazon Request For Proposals

And yes Calgary has an observation tower - ours is just a bit taller and yours a bit older. We could be sister cities. 

And yes Calgary has an observation tower - ours is just a bit taller and yours a bit older. We could be sister cities. 

Must See: cSPACE & I Am Western

If you haven’t been to the renovated three storey, sandstone King Edward School (1720 – 30th Ave SW) in Marda Loop you must go. The handsome building was completed in 1913 and was one of 19 sandstone schools built by the Calgary public school board between 1894 and 1914.

cSpace is currently hosting the provocative "I Am Western" art exhibition which is a "must see" for anyone interested in the visual arts and social commentary.  

cSpace is currently hosting the provocative "I Am Western" art exhibition which is a "must see" for anyone interested in the visual arts and social commentary.  

Old vs New

While cSPACE is still a work in progress (the school renovation is finished and 29 artists and art groups are all in, but they are still constructing the new performance space and completing the front yard landscaping). You can already see how the juxtaposition of the old and new is creating something very special both for Calgary’s creative community and the public.

The majestic King Edward School is getting a new life as a creative hub.  The construction on the left side is the new performance space.  The site will also include luxury condos on the west side and a seniors complex on the east. 

The majestic King Edward School is getting a new life as a creative hub.  The construction on the left side is the new performance space.  The site will also include luxury condos on the west side and a seniors complex on the east. 

Free

There is a bit of an urgency to go before Oct 1st 2017 as the well worth seeing exhibition “I Am Western” closes then.  I hope these postcards from our recent visit will entice you (and maybe bring some friends) to visit both the space and the exhibition before the end of September.  It’s FREE!

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Lyndal Osborne and Sherri Chaba, The Space Between Cities, 2011 is a mixed media installation that resembles a small tool or garden shed.  It includes fossils, wasp nests, antlers, furniture, digital images, pelts, grain seedlings, paddle, bird nest, bird wing, sunflower roots and much much more. The artists intent is for the viewer to "meditate upon the constant transformation of our world." 

Lyndal Osborne and Sherri Chaba, The Space Between Cities, 2011 is a mixed media installation that resembles a small tool or garden shed.  It includes fossils, wasp nests, antlers, furniture, digital images, pelts, grain seedlings, paddle, bird nest, bird wing, sunflower roots and much much more. The artists intent is for the viewer to "meditate upon the constant transformation of our world." 

Loved this shed-like structure full of fun everyday artifacts from the farm. Especially liked this beehive made from old matchbooks. 

Loved this shed-like structure full of fun everyday artifacts from the farm. Especially liked this beehive made from old matchbooks. 

John Freeman, Now You See It Soon You Won't, 2011, inkjet in on translucent polyester fabric. This tryptic that combines image word association "Rye-Food," "Grain-Same" and "Canola-Same" with images of prairie agriculture.  

John Freeman, Now You See It Soon You Won't, 2011, inkjet in on translucent polyester fabric. This tryptic that combines image word association "Rye-Food," "Grain-Same" and "Canola-Same" with images of prairie agriculture.  

Be sure to check out the stairwells, as they are full of fun artworks - don't take the elevator. Kids will love these.

Be sure to check out the stairwells, as they are full of fun artworks - don't take the elevator. Kids will love these.

People of all ages and backgrounds will enjoy the Chagall-like mural.

People of all ages and backgrounds will enjoy the Chagall-like mural.

Kelly Johner, The Three Sirens: For The Love of Bling, Prairie Song, Belle of the Bale, 2014. The artist's materials relate to the land or to activities on the farm but are given new purpose and meaning - saddles become female silhouettes, bale twine is crocheted into a dress by her mother and horse tack and heel rope become a hoop skirt. Below are some close-up views of The Three Sirens.

Kelly Johner, The Three Sirens: For The Love of Bling, Prairie Song, Belle of the Bale, 2014. The artist's materials relate to the land or to activities on the farm but are given new purpose and meaning - saddles become female silhouettes, bale twine is crocheted into a dress by her mother and horse tack and heel rope become a hoop skirt.

Below are some close-up views of The Three Sirens.

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Hot Tip

Maybe plan your trip on a Saturday, so you can stop by the Marda Loop Farmers’ Market (at the nearby Community Centre parking lot) and pick up a coffee and perhaps a treat (there is no café at cSPACE) before heading to the school.  Also note the Alberta Craft Council gallery isn’t open until noon; so don’t get there too early.

Alberta Craft Council's boutique is a great place to find a unique gift.  They also have an art gallery the showcases the work of Alberta craft persons. 

Alberta Craft Council's boutique is a great place to find a unique gift.  They also have an art gallery the showcases the work of Alberta craft persons. 

Love this magazine rack with a sample of the many great magazines published in Alberta.  It provided us with good reading for the rest of the weekend.

Love this magazine rack with a sample of the many great magazines published in Alberta.  It provided us with good reading for the rest of the weekend.

Even if the studios aren't open you can still look inside and see some of the interesting art being produced.

Even if the studios aren't open you can still look inside and see some of the interesting art being produced.

Marda Loop Farmers' Market fun.

Marda Loop Farmers' Market fun.

If you like this blog, you will like these links:

King Edward Village

Marda Loop Madness

Fun, Funky, Quirky Colorado Springs

 

 

 

 

 

Berlin: East Side Gallery Gong Show

Whenever I tell people we went to Berlin, they always ask what I thought of the Berlin Wall fragments and the East Side Gallery (ESG).  Berlin’s East Side Gallery is a 1.3 km long section of the Berlin Wall that has been preserved as an international memorial celebrating freedom. It is the longest open-air gallery in the world. 

This is the most famous artwork at the ESG...it is not the original. Link: The Stolen Kiss

This is the most famous artwork at the ESG...it is not the original. Link: The Stolen Kiss

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Must See?

Immediately after the wall came down, in November 1989, hundreds of artists began painting sections of the wall in celebration of their newfound freedom.  The East Side Gallery opened as an open-air gallery on September 28, 1990 featuring the work of 118 artists from 21 different countries.  Today, the wall continues to feature the work of street artists and muralists from around the world. 

Given my interest in graffiti and street art since the mid ‘80s, this was a “must see” for me.  Perhaps my expectations were too high as it was probably the biggest disappointment of my 6-week stay in Berlin.

In a city filled with street art, I was expecting artwork that was provocative, poignant, politically charged. Though some pieces were well executed, most were mediocre, messy and moronic. 

In addition, the area has become a tacky tourist trap with tour groups, buskers, cheesy souvenirs and stupid selfie sticks.  It was a gong show.

Link: East Side Gallery History

The East Side Gallery gong show of people, clutter, construction and fences is not a great experience - IMHO!.

The East Side Gallery gong show of people, clutter, construction and fences is not a great experience - IMHO!.

In a city filled with street art, I was expecting artwork that was provocative, poignant, politically charged. Though some pieces were well executed, most were mediocre, messy and moronic. 

In addition, the area has become a tacky tourist trap with tour groups, buskers, cheesy souvenirs and stupid selfie sticks.  It was a gong show.

Link: East Side Gallery History

Tourists are more interested in selfies than looking at the art.  Perhaps you can't blame them when you have to look through a fence to see the art. 

Tourists are more interested in selfies than looking at the art.  Perhaps you can't blame them when you have to look through a fence to see the art. 

Last Word

Is it only me or does everyone see the irony that the East Side Gallery a remnant of the Berlin Wall which is suppose to be a memorial to freedom actually has a fence around it to protect it from vandals.   

Checkout this photo essay from ESG and let me know what you think or the art and the sense of place.

The ESG is a popular spot for professional photographers and models. 

The ESG is a popular spot for professional photographers and models. 

Across the street is a very loud construction site. 

Across the street is a very loud construction site. 

Olds: The Fastest Town in Canada?

We’d been hearing good things about Olds for awhile, including the fact it was Canada’s first “gig town.”

The town of Olds thinks globally acts locally.

The town of Olds thinks globally acts locally.

Backstory: One gigabit per second is super high-speed Internet that only a few North America cities have.  With that kind of bandwidth, you can stream at least five high-definition videos at the same time (allowing multiple people to watch and download different things in different rooms of a house or busines.  The Olds Institute’s Technology Committee conceived the idea back in 2004 as one of its economic development strategies to attract new businesses to locate there.   Called O-NET, it not only offers residents and businesses the fastest internet in Canada but also free community WiFi in dozens of public places across town – pretty much everywhere.   

Link: Gigabit Broadband in Olds

Then, a few weeks ago, a visiting young couple from Olds (they were picking up a bed that we were storing in our garage for friends) enthusiastically shared with us why they loved living in Olds and some of their favourite things to see, do and eat.

We decided we must go.  So we did, the next weekend.

We loved these inviting colourful chairs strategically placed throughout Olds College campus. 

We loved these inviting colourful chairs strategically placed throughout Olds College campus. 

Six good reasons to visit Olds

#1 Garden & Butcher

Olds College started as a demonstration farm back in 1911, followed by the Olds School of Agriculture and Home Economics in 1913.  Today, it has a wonderful park-like campus and yes, the farm is still there.  A relatively new feature is the Botanical Gardens (started in 2001) has evolved into 13 specialty gardens including – Rose Garden, Herb Garden, Iris Collection, Wetlands, Water Garden, Alpine Garden, Apple Orchard, Conifer Bed, Heritage Grove and Perennial Border.  Visit the garden several times a year and get a different experience each time. 

A popular spot for weddings, they added some pageantry and colour on our Saturday visit.

Link: Visit the Gardens

You also won’t want to miss the Olds College National Meat Training Centre.  The College has the only facility in North America where students have the opportunity to learn everything from humane animal slaughter to retail meat cutting. 

For the public, this means there is a retail store on site that carries a wide variety of beef, pork, lamb and poultry cuts. They also have smoked sausages and ready-to-eat meals. Time your visit accordingly as they are open Monday to Friday (noon to 5 pm) and Saturdays (10 am to 4 pm).  It is located in the Animal Science Building. (Note to self: bring a cooler and ice packs with you.)

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Olds college also has 20,000 square feet of greenhouses.  Stop by to purchase cut flowers, veggies and herbs.  Seasonally you can find annuals, perennials, succulent and tropical plants sold as single plants and mixed planters in the greenhouse rotunda Fridays from noon to 1 pm September to June.  Availability changes weekly so consider signing up for their Thursday e-mail flyer to be kept up to date. (photo credit Olds College website)

Olds college also has 20,000 square feet of greenhouses.  Stop by to purchase cut flowers, veggies and herbs.  Seasonally you can find annuals, perennials, succulent and tropical plants sold as single plants and mixed planters in the greenhouse rotunda Fridays from noon to 1 pm September to June.  Availability changes weekly so consider signing up for their Thursday e-mail flyer to be kept up to date. (photo credit Olds College website)

#2 Pandora’s Boox and Tea (PBT)

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No, that isn’t a typo! The rationale for the name is that every time one opens a book, a new realm of possibilities opens up which is play on the Greek myth, Pandora’s box.

The name is very apropos for this unique shop.

Located in an early 20th century CIBC bank building, PBT is a lovely urban-esque surprise - it combines a bookstore, games entertainment hub and teashop.  For Calgarians, think Sentry Box meets Pages bookstore meets Tea Traders.

A lovely hour was spent browsing the shelves (full of books, games and cards), sipping tea and watching some board gamers play. This would be a good place to check out just how fast this “gig town” is.

We loved the colourful, modern retro design of our cups and pot of tea.  The biscuits were a nice touch. 

We loved the colourful, modern retro design of our cups and pot of tea.  The biscuits were a nice touch. 

Pandora's Boox is a relaxing chill spot for people of all ages.

Pandora's Boox is a relaxing chill spot for people of all ages.

eeny, meeny, miny, moe...

eeny, meeny, miny, moe...

#3 Shoe Shopping

If you are looking for a new pair of shoes, you might want to think about heading to Olds.  They have a couple of great shoe shops. Our favourite - Henry’s Shoes - had over 15,000 pairs of shoes (we were told their Trochu store is even larger…hmmm a future road trip).  A great range of quality brands and sizes, and second-to-none service and fitting to boot (pun intended). 

It was all we could do to resist buying a pair. 

Shoes or folk art?

Shoes or folk art?

A blast from the past!

A blast from the past!

Not to be outdone, Jensen’s Men’s Wear also has a large selection of men’s and ladies’ footwear worth checking out, as well as a huge collection of western wear.  You are in the heart of cowboy country after all!

And then there’s Craig’s, serving Olds and community with quality fashions, fabrics, yarns and giftware for 119 years. 

To celebrate Canada 150, they have created several displays using vintage store artifacts from their collection 

I was even invited to check out the historic vault in the back room. 

Craig’s is fun a walk back in time

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#4 Retro Fun

Rockin’ Retro is a huge antique, retro, vintage shop.  While there is some rock and roll memorabilia (as the name suggests), there is a diverse selection of artifacts including one of the best collections of old tins that I have seen in a long time.

The Nu2U Thrift store located nearby is also worth a visit. You never know when or where you will find a hidden treasure!

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#5 Aggie & Old Skhool

Don’t leave town without a visit to the Olds College Teaching Brewery and Tasting Room established in 2013 (exactly 100 years after the school opened, wonder what took them so long). Attached to the Olds Pomeroy Inn & Suites, it offers tasting of seasonal brews as well as four commercially branded beers – Aggie Ale, Old Skhool, Hay City and Prairie Gold.  I came home with a 6-pack of Aggie (amber) and Old Skhool(brown), which may well become my new “go to” beers.

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#6 Mountain View Museum & Archives

Housed in the Olds AGT building (1920), this museum has a collection of 7,000 artifacts, 14 meters of textual documents and 2,000 photographs.  Group and guided tours are available.  Unfortunately, we were there on a Saturday (it is only open Tuesday to Friday from noon to 5 pm).  We were told it is worth a visit. Next time.

Where to eat?

Our pick for lunch was the Black Forest German Bakery where everything is made from scratch and baked on site in their stone ovens, which keeps in the moisture and gives their breads a beautiful golden crusty exterior and a soft, tasty interior. They use local flours when possible, including spelt and rye and crack their our own grains for their multi-grain loaves. The European‐style bacon used in their famous Bacon Bread is sourced locally.

The daily lunch special immediately caught my eye. Who could resist Schnitzel & Spaetzle with salad, your choice of soup and dessert for $15.  We loaded up with some yummy cinnamon rolls and a huge piece of apple strudel (only $5) to enjoy at home. 

The Bakery and restaurant is part of a larger space that includes a mini marketplace with locally grown/made fresh foods and food products. 

The empty dessert case is a testimony to the popularity of the bakery. Don't worry the it was filled up while we were there. 

The empty dessert case is a testimony to the popularity of the bakery. Don't worry the it was filled up while we were there. 

Last Word

From Calgary (or even Edmonton or Red Deer) you could easily combine a trip to the Torrington Gopher Museum and Olds to create a kickback, fun rural day trip. We did and we plan to do it again - perhaps on a Thursday so we can check out the Olds Farmer’s Market, hit the museum and and maybe even play a round a of golf at Olds Golf and Country Club. 

But most likely we will visit again on Victoria Day when Torrington has its longstanding annual community-wide yard sale.

If you like this blog, checkout these links:

Calgary: Tea Trader & Lapsang Souchong

Nanton: Bomber Museum 

Torrington: The Kitsch Capital of Alberta

We’re Going to Medicine Hat

 

Torrington: Kitsch Capital of Alberta

Finally! We made the trek to the Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, Alberta. And, we weren’t disappointed. 

For years, friends have been saying this quirky museum would be right up our alley.  The museum has attracted lots of media attention - including Huffpost calling it “Alberta’s Most Insane Hilarious Destination” to Calgary’s Avenue Magazine proclaiming, “You must see it to believe it.”

Just a few of the 47 dioramas at the Torrington Gopher Museum. 

Just a few of the 47 dioramas at the Torrington Gopher Museum. 

Yes, Torrington has a community annual yard sale on Victoria Day....we have marked it in our calendars for next year. 

Yes, Torrington has a community annual yard sale on Victoria Day....we have marked it in our calendars for next year. 

Summer Only!

And, we weren’t disappointed.  Since 1996, this grassroots museum has been attracting 6,000+ visitors every summer (it is only open from June 1st to September 30th, when the gophers go into hibernation). 

Arriving shortly after it opens at 10 am on a recent Saturday, we were the first to arrive, but by the time we left, there were several visitors and a motorcycle caravan was expected later in the day as part of a scavenger hunt. 

So popular with visitors, a great unofficial website guide to the museum was created by fans as a tribute.  Very professional and comprehensive, the website has lots of fun information. I loved the “Meet The Team” link.

Link: Gopher Hole Museum

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Gopher Hole Museum 101

The museum is located in Torrington, Alberta on Highway 27 just 15 minutes east of the QEW II highway, about an hour’s drive north of Calgary. 

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Housed in an unassuming, cottage-like former house just off of Main Street, it is not an iconic building designed by a star international architect as we have become accustomed to in big city museums. 

Murals on the west side of the building let you know you have found it.  You can park right next to the museum at no charge. Try that in the big city.

Speaking of cost, the museum admission fee is $2 for adults and 50 cents for children under 14. How good it that?

Kitschy mural on the side of the museum.

Kitschy mural on the side of the museum.

This photo is for my Mom who loves trains and calls herself Queen of the Rails.

This photo is for my Mom who loves trains and calls herself Queen of the Rails.

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Very Welcoming!

Dianne Kurta greeted us with a big smile.

Dianne Kurta greeted us with a big smile.

Once inside, the friendliest person we have encountered at the front desk of a public museum or art gallery in a long, long time welcomed us.  

Dianne Kurta, the museum’s curator since it first opened in 1996, greeted us. She seems as proud and enthusiastic today as if the museum had just opened.

After a hearty welcome, you are free to explore the single exhibition room that houses the 47 dioramas with 77 mounted gophers.

They look like old box televisions, with the innards replaced by miniature scenes from early 20th century rural life in a small Alberta town, the “twist” being the humans are represented by (real!) stuffed gophers. 

The result is hilarious; there is a clever tongue-in-cheek sensibility to each of the scenes. 

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This one was Brenda's favourite - The Yard Sale. 

This one was Brenda's favourite - The Yard Sale. 

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Gift Shopping!

Local artist Shelley Barkman who lives on a farm west of Three Hills painted the murals for each of the dioramas.  She had become well known in the community for her work painting animal portraits as well as farm scenes.  When asked if she was interested in painting the murals for the Gopher Hole Museum, she jumped at the chance. Working inside a box was a bit more challenging that painting scenes of the flat surface of a canvas but she was up for the challenge. And she did a great job!

You will probably spend 20 to 30 minutes looking at the dioramas, depending on how many photos you take and there is lots of documentation on the history of the museum to read as well.

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Like all good museums, you exit (you also enter) through the gift shop which is full of a wide variety of souvenirs, hand crafted by the volunteers. It has the feel of a good old-time church bazaar.

No mass-produced, made in China junk that ends up in garage sales here! They even have their own postcards.

Whether you buy or not, make sure you vote on your favourite diorama and also make sure your town or city has been identified with a pin on the world map hanging on the wall.  This is truly an international tourist attraction.    

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Kitschy Fire Hydrants?

As you leave the museum, you are invited to tour (an easy walk) the town to check out the 12 kitschy fire hydrants, all painted to look like a gopher, each with a name and story. 

Grab a copy of the Torrington Tourism Action Society’s map to guide the way.  You can easily spend another 20 minutes or so wandering the town, taking selfies with the likes of Butch, Gramps, Tubby and Peggy Sue and reading their life stories. 

You will also pass by the huge Clem T. GoFur statue at the entrance to town – great family selfie opportunity.

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Mabel was the town's schoolteacher when she met Butch on a holiday. She is very involved with community affairs and still teaches part-time at the school while also raising a family of little GoFurs. 

Mabel was the town's schoolteacher when she met Butch on a holiday. She is very involved with community affairs and still teaches part-time at the school while also raising a family of little GoFurs. 

Why A Gopher Museum?

The museum idea was in response to the decline of the small agricultural towns in the late 20th century, as large-scale agricultural farms gobbled up the 100-year old family farms across Prairies, including Torrington.

Many once thriving small towns with a post office, school and a few stores became almost ghost towns.  In Torrington’s case, it couldn’t compete with larger towns nearby – Olds, Trochu and Three Hills. Soon, the gophers began to take over the town and local folklore says a town council member suggested, “we should stuff them and put them on display.” 

While the museum and fire hydrants are fun, there is a sadness that permeates the town as you enter and wander the hamlet of about 200 people. Many homes lack a pride of ownership and there are only a few businesses left. Gone are the school, post office, general store, bank and other businesses you would expect in a bustling community.

Like lots of towns and cities, down and out on their luck Torrington looked to tourism to rescue a declining economy.  (Perhaps the most famous example being Bilbao, Spain who hired Frank Gehry, a famous international architect to create an iconic art gallery for them. It captured the world’s imagination and today, what was a dying city is a mega tourist attraction.  Unfortunately, Bilbao is the exception not the rule.)

Clem T GoFur the Torrington Mascot is positioned at the entrance to town and serves to welcome visitors and encourage them to stay at the Torrington campgrounds.

Clem T GoFur the Torrington Mascot is positioned at the entrance to town and serves to welcome visitors and encourage them to stay at the Torrington campgrounds.

Last Word

After 21 years, the Torrington Gopher Hole Museum is still going strong, but as you wander around the hamlet you have to wonder about its long-term future. Will anyone have the same passion for the museum as Kurta? While she has endless optimism and pride in the town, will there be a next generation to carry the gopher torch?

I really hope so. The world needs more kitschy fun that everybody can enjoy!

Be sure to sign the guest book before you leave. The comments are great read.  I think it is the most used guest book I have ever seen in a museum or gallery. 

Be sure to sign the guest book before you leave. The comments are great read.  I think it is the most used guest book I have ever seen in a museum or gallery. 

Public Art? Rocks, Keys, Dog & Bone?

Controversial public art raised its ugly head again in Calgary recently with the commencement of the construction of the Bowfort Tower artwork on the off ramp of the TransCanada Highway and Bowfort Road NW.  Yes, it is a strange place for public art. Yes, it is a strange name for a public artwork - sounds more like a new downtown condo or office tower. 

And yes, it seems like a strange choice as the NW gateway to Calgary. 

Bowfort Towers public artwork on the Trans Canada Highway at Bowfort Road. 

Bowfort Towers public artwork on the Trans Canada Highway at Bowfort Road. 

Change of heart?

When I first checked the City of Calgary's website to see what information they had posted about the piece, it included a statement about how the artwork referenced Calgary's Indigenous culture however that statement has been removed.  Link: City of Calgary, Bowfort Towers

Also since all of the controversy Mayor Nenshi and Chiefs of Treaty 7 have issued a joint statement saying that the piece was never intended to reference Calgary Indigenous Culture. Link: Nenshi Treaty 7 Chief's Joint Statement

However, on August 3, 2017, CBC posted the following statement as part of their coverage of the newly installed public art: 

The Bowfort Towers on the south side of the interchange were designed by artist Del Geist, who is based in New York, N.Y. Sarah Iley (Manager Arts & Culture, city of Calgary) said Geist drew inspiration from the Blackfoot people, and the towers capture the "essence, personality and history" of the area. "Those four towers relate to the Blackfoot cultural symbolism that talks about the four elements, the four stages of life (and) the four seasons," Iley said.

Link: CBC: Gateway to the City: Art Installation

Sorry I don't think you can just now say the piece doesn't make reference to the Blackfoot culture after saying it was. 

Blackfoot burial platform

Blackfoot burial platform

Calgary we have a problem

As a former public art gallery curator and frequent public art juror, I have often wondered why modern public art seems to be skewed towards the conceptual and minimalist genres, rather than just being fun.  I think this is especially true for what I call “drive-by public art,” i.e. public art that the public can’t get close, or have a chance to take some time to examine it, reflect and ponder its meaning, its concepts, which is critical to understanding and appreciating conceptual art.

When I saw the Bowfort Tower, I immediately knew we were in for another round of public art outrage. I passed by it almost everyday for a week waiting to see how it was going to look, but it just stayed the same – eight iron or wood pillars (hard to tell the difference when driving by) with flat rocks floating in the pillars.  It looked unfinished. It looked like part of the construction site. And yes, is did remind me of indigenous burial sites.

Perhaps, before any public artwork is installed, it should be vetted by a larger public than just a jury and administration. Perhaps, City Council should have final approval of all public art works just like they do all secondary suites. Just kidding!

Obviously, the current open invitation, which is short-listed by administration, with the final decision being made by a different jury of art professionals, community representatives and administration for each piece is isn’t working. In fact, many experienced artists won’t submit to juried competitions because they know the process is flawed. Sad, but true!

However, not all is lost when it comes to public art in Calgary…or is it? Depends on who you are talking to. Read on...

Close-up view of UNLOCKED a new temporary public artwork on 17th Avenue SW. 

Close-up view of UNLOCKED a new temporary public artwork on 17th Avenue SW. 

UNLOCKED 

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While Bowfort Towers was getting all the attention by public art zealots, over the past two weeks, few were commenting on Calgary’s other two new public artworks – Boney, located in SETON at the entrance to the new Medical Professional Building and UNLOCK, in the middle of the sidewalk on the 200E block of 17th Ave SE.  

UNLOCK, while also visually fun, is a more thought provoking piece.  It consists of a wire mesh archway (12 feet long, 6 feet wide and 8 feet high) located on the sidewalk on 17th Ave SE, between Centre Street and 1 Street SE in front of a new apartment block.  Artist Joanne MacDonald sees keys as a signifier of personal memories – first bike lock, first car keys, first keys to your apartment.  In a letter to local businesses along 17th Ave SE, she asked them to donate keys to be installed on the archway.  It is also her intention to encourage the public to participate at upcoming community events by donating keys as well.

In her letter to businesses along the block, she hoped UNLOCKED would “promote discussion on themes like accessibility, opportunity, privilege, employment, ownership and gentrification.” I think this is a big leap to think the keys will be the catalyst to promote discussion, however the archway does create a fun pedestrian experience whether you walk through or around it.   

We visited at twilight and the setting sun sparkled off the metal keys created a lovely ambience while we lingered for a few minutes before moving on.

Unlock could become a very interesting installation in the right location. 

Unlock could become a very interesting installation in the right location. 

Personally, I like the way the artist’s references the wire mesh fences that are used at construction sites everywhere in her arch. I think it is great when public art can connect with its site in some manner. I like the simplicity of the structure and to me, the archway visually creates a pageantry-like experience that enhances the everyday sidewalk experience.

What I didn’t see in the artist’s statement or city explanation is the that artwork is an interesting spin on the world wide phenomena of lovers (often as tourists) placing locks in public places as a declaration of their love for each other.  When I first read about the piece, I assumed the artist and the City were encouraging couples and families to come to the archway and add their keys to the artwork as a symbol of their love of each other – a modern love-in you might say.

I love interactive public art.

Backstory: Unlocked is one of four public art pieces being installed this August as part of a new program called The cREactive Realm developed by Blank Page Studio in collaboration with The City of Calgary. It is seen as a way to support businesses along 17th Avenue while streets are torn up to replace water and sanitary lines, repair and rebuild the road and make public realm improvements – new sidewalks, benches, trees and streetlights. The goal is to create interactive, playful experiences using public art that will draw Calgarians to the blocks while they are under construction.  The total budget for the four artworks is $50,000.
This is another of the four public artworks being produced and temporarily installed along 17th Ave SW during construction as a means of attracting people to visit 17th while it gets new sidewalks and utilities. Budget $15,000.

This is another of the four public artworks being produced and temporarily installed along 17th Ave SW during construction as a means of attracting people to visit 17th while it gets new sidewalks and utilities. Budget $15,000.

The signage says: CONNECT is a project designed to bring an artist workspace into the Public Realm. Working towards the creation of a piece of public furniture Laura and Micheal Hosaluk are designing and developing their ideas as they share their creative process with you.  Using the lathe and the bandsaw to cut and form Red Cedar from B.C. and Milk Paint to add colour this duo will be working to transform raw materials into a celebration of the process.

The signage says: CONNECT is a project designed to bring an artist workspace into the Public Realm. Working towards the creation of a piece of public furniture Laura and Micheal Hosaluk are designing and developing their ideas as they share their creative process with you. 

Using the lathe and the bandsaw to cut and form Red Cedar from B.C. and Milk Paint to add colour this duo will be working to transform raw materials into a celebration of the process.

BONEY 

This bone is perched near the roof-top of the EFW Radiology building in one of Calgary's newest communities - SETON. 

This bone is perched near the roof-top of the EFW Radiology building in one of Calgary's newest communities - SETON. 

Boney is a whimsical 9-foot tall purple dog consisting of nine bone shaped pieces designed by the German arts collective Inges Idee (yes, this is the same collective that brought us Travelling Light, better known as the Giant Blue Ring), fabricated and installed by Calgary’s Heavy Industries, who have been responsible for the fabrication of many of Calgary’s new public artworks.  Adding, to add to the whimsy, the dog is looking up to the top of the building where another bone is on the roof. 

Trevor Hunnisett, Development Manager of Brookfield Residential says, “the response to date has been excellent. Given the piece’s location across from the South Health Campus and at the front door of our new medical building, we wanted something that would put a smile on a person’s face regardless of age and personal circumstances.”  In this case, the piece was chosen and paid for by Brookfield Residential - no jury, no City money and no controversy.  Hunnisett wouldn’t divulge the exact price of the artwork but did say it was less than 1% of cost of the building.

Before the snarky public art purists say something like “Sure, all Calgarians want are fluff pieces of horses and other kitschy art,’ I would like to remind them that Jeff Koons has become one of the world’s most famous artists creating artworks that look like the balloon animals pone would see at a child-oriented event. His work is collected by many knowledgeable collectors and is in the collection of art museums around the world. 

If I had one criticism of Boney, it is that it is derivative; one could even say plagiarizes Koons’ work. It is the polar opposite of Bowfort Towers in that it has no hidden meaning, concepts or social statements.  

It is just plain fun – and what’s wrong with that? In my mind Calgary’s new public art is too skewed to obscure conceptual art; sometimes public art can (should) just be fun!

BONEY looking up at the bone on the roof. I love that BONEY's tail and ears are bone-shaped and the cheerful purple colour. Is it just coincidence that Boney is Nenshi purple????  I also love the simple seating that is all around the piece inviting the public to sit and chat; that's being public friendly. 

BONEY looking up at the bone on the roof. I love that BONEY's tail and ears are bone-shaped and the cheerful purple colour. Is it just coincidence that Boney is Nenshi purple????

 I also love the simple seating that is all around the piece inviting the public to sit and chat; that's being public friendly. 

Another view of BONEY with the South Health Campus in the background. 

Another view of BONEY with the South Health Campus in the background. 

Last Word

Sometimes I think artists and curators expect too much from public art. While it can be a catalyst for discussion and debate, in most cases, the public glances at the art, likes it or doesn’t like it, and moves on. There is not a lot of thinking, pondering and reflecting on its meaning, concepts, social or political statements. 

What it does do in subtle and subliminal ways is make the pedestrian experience more interesting. To me, urban places are often defined by the diversity and quality of their public art, even if we don’t always realize it.

Personally the best NEW piece of public art in Calgary was a grassroots one in the LRT pedestrian underpass from Sunnyside to 10th Street at Riley Park. 

This rainbow was painted to celebrate Calgary's Gay Pride Week.  I love the fact that someone has taken the time to clean up the area around the underpass. After I took this photo they toss the garbage in a dumpster nearby.   I am thinking that if the Bowfort Road / Trans Canada Highway underpass had been painted like this on a permanent basis, it would have been well received.  In addition to adding some colour to a concrete grey underpass, it would also have delivered an uplifting message i.e. Calgary is an inclusive city or perhaps Calgary is a city hope and optimism. Both of which are true and would be very appropriate for a gateway artwork. 

This rainbow was painted to celebrate Calgary's Gay Pride Week.  I love the fact that someone has taken the time to clean up the area around the underpass. After I took this photo they toss the garbage in a dumpster nearby.  

I am thinking that if the Bowfort Road / Trans Canada Highway underpass had been painted like this on a permanent basis, it would have been well received.  In addition to adding some colour to a concrete grey underpass, it would also have delivered an uplifting message i.e. Calgary is an inclusive city or perhaps Calgary is a city hope and optimism. Both of which are true and would be very appropriate for a gateway artwork. 

Art of Vintage: A Hidden Gem!

Sometimes you just stumble upon a hidden gem! This happened to us this past Saturday when we checked out the “I Am Western” art exhibition at cSPACE in the renovated King Edward School (both the art and renovated school are outstanding).

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Off The Beaten Path 

Heading back, a lime green sign saying “Vintage Shop” with an arrow, caught our attention! I thought it rather strange given there were no retail buildings in the direction of the arrow, i.e. 23rd Ave S.W.  

With the curiosity of a tourist and the wanderlust of a flaneur, we decided to investigate.

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Who Knew?

Sure enough. At the corner of 30th Street and 23rd Avenue SW sat a small commercial building that I had never noticed (probably because I have never been down this residential street) with a sign saying “Art of Vintage” and arrow pointing to the back alley.

Who knew there are two little commercial businesses facing the back alley - one being a vintage store?  I pride myself in being in the know when it comes to funky and quirky places in Calgary, but this one had escaped me…til now.

A great display of vintage wares out front, an open door and a friendly welcome made for a great first impression. We immediately fell in love with this quaint shop (maybe 800 sq. ft.). While the place was packed with vintage artifacts, the pieces were beautifully curated and displayed in lovely vignettes. It had a definite museum/art gallery feel to it without being highbrow.  We also loved that all the items had clearly marked prices, which could be easily seen even on items on the top shelves.  And some of the price tags even had “rent me” prices (think movie props, weddings, dinner/cocktail parties).

We also liked the variety of items. If you are interested in vintage suitcases, this is the place for you.  There were also some lovely vintage typewriters, radios and clocks too.  One of the most interesting pieces was a 1880s medicine glass kit consisting of two small beakers (a shot glass-size one and a tiny cylinder one) in a leather case – very cool.   

I personally liked that they had lots of “manly things,” from old baseball gloves to pipes.

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Saskatchewan Connection

Soon we were chatting with Lori Oliphant, Co-owner/Master Picker of the store (the other Co-owner is sister Heather who was combining at the family farm in Saskatchewan). This Saskatchewan connection was evident with the vintage Saskatchewan licence plates and we quickly realized this was a key source of artifacts. 

Lori told us they have been open since the beginning of 2017.  How had I not heard?

She also introduced us to Andrew Holmes, the go-to guy responsible for all of the lovely vignettes. It turns out he has professional window display experience with plans to create a wonderful window display for those wandering the back alley. 

That could be an interesting night walk!

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Last Word

Andrew promised to let us know when the window display is up and also to invite us to one of his vintage tea parties using many of the treasures in the shop and hosted in private homes. That would be very fun.  I hope they serve Lapsang Souchong tea!

For a fun, off-the-beaten-path place to go, we highly recommend “Art of Vintage.” Whether you’re in the market for an interesting piece of furniture, a unique collectable from your past, or an unusual gift for a friend, you may just find it here.  Link: Art of Vintage

It is now on our list of “hidden gem” places to visit regularly.

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University District: My Final Resting Place?

“They have included everything but the cemetery,” was perhaps the best compliment I heard at the University District’s Discovery Centre when I visited recently.  It is amazing how quickly this new inner-city community has gone from approval to construction – Council approved the master plan in September 2014.

University District (formerly called West Campus) is all of the vacant University of Calgary land surrounding the Alberta Children's Hospital. 

University District (formerly called West Campus) is all of the vacant University of Calgary land surrounding the Alberta Children's Hospital. 

Something For Everyone

University District has been mindfully planned as a multi-generational complete community that will be attractive to people of all ages and backgrounds.  While there will be no single-family homes, however it will feature a diversity of townhomes, low rise (under 5 floors) and mid-rise (6 to 12 floors) apartment style homes designed to appeal to baby boomers, families and empty nesters.

Upon arriving I heard the sounds of a mother playing with her toddler, a good sign as healthy communities are always attractive to young families.  There was also a buzz in the Truman and Brookfield show suites with young couples and empty nesters chatting with each other and with sales people.  I heard one young couple saying, “we need to make a decision there are only three left,” while an older couple asked, “any chance they will back out of the deal as that is the one we want?”

Link: Video University District

Everyday Needs

A key ingredient for a complete community is that the residents’ everyday needs are all within easy walking distance.  The grocery store project will include other retail as well as residences and will become the anchor for University District’s nine-block Main Street.  It will include everything from the butcher to the banker, from the baker to the candlestick maker.  It will also be the gateway to the University of Calgary campus, with all that it has to offer from library, theatre, art exhibitions, lectures, talks, concerts and recreation facilities.

The pedestrian and patio oriented Main Street will be linked to the Central Park, which is being designed as an all ages intimate urban playground for the entire community.  It will be a place where kids can frolic in the dancing fountain, families can have a picnic, while seniors can enjoy a coffee and people watch.

There are also two school sites identified and a working agreement with the Calgary Board of Education for an urban format school (school is located on the ground and second floor, with residential development above) to be developed depending on the demand.  Both sites are next to parks so the school playgrounds are also community playgrounds. How mindful is that!

In addition to being a walkable community, University District will be transit-oriented with 12 bus stops connecting the residents to three LRT stations, as well as to the University, Foothill Medical Centre, Alberta Children’s Hospital and Market Mall.

Big News 

Recently, it was announced The Brenda Stafford Foundation will be developing a state-of-the-art “ageing-in-place” project where seniors can transition from independent living, to assisted living to extended care all in the same complex.  The 217,000 square foot facility is scheduled to open in 2020. 

In the Fall, the developer for the grocery store / residential project will be announced with groundbreaking happening shortly after.  It is my understanding this will be full service grocery store, not a high-priced boutique store with limited product.  As well, the hotel project will get the green light by the end of 2017. 

I also learned the north pond park will be 75% complete by the end of 2017 with the completion in the spring of 2018.  The 12 km of pathways that link the north pond park to the sound pond (already complete) are also in place as part of the 40 acres of open space included in the master plan.  There are also two designated dog parks, critical to everyday life for many today.

Computer rendering of University Districts pedestrian shopping street. 

Computer rendering of University Districts pedestrian shopping street. 

FYI

The master plan for Calgary’s new University District community has been awarded the highest certification achievable by the Canada Green Building Council.

Upon completion, University District hopes to be the third and largest residential development in Canada with a Platinum Certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighbourhood Development (LEED-ND). It’s a certification that signifies the highest level of sustainability excellence across a wide range of metrics including energy and water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and recycling as well as community health, connectivity and walkability.

Last Word

What looks like a huge construction site today, will soon be Calgary’s first European style urban village - all multi-family building within easy walking distance to everyday amenities. Calgarians, especially those living in the northwest quadrant have been waiting for something like University District for decades.  

It will have great appeal to the 25,000+ young and established professional working nearby. As well it will be attractive as empty nesters from the surrounding established communities of Varsity, University Heights, Brentwood, Charleswood, St. Andrew’s Heights, Banff Trail, Briar Hill, Parkdale and West Hillhurst who want the “lock and leave” life style.

Given I am in my early 60s and living in West Hillhurst, University District could be my final resting place.

An edited version of this blog was commissioned by Condo Living Magazine for their August 2017 edition. Link: Condo Living Magazine  

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