The Art Of Gardening

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

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

It is my rite of spring. 

Fun With Union

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

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

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

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

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

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Fun With Photos

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Silver Springs: Wake up and smell the flowers!

Crazy Idea: New Arena In Victoria Park?

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

Several Elephants In The Room

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

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

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

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

Downtown Convention Center’s Future?

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

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

What happens to the Saddledome?

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

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

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

No Rush?

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

Link: Calgarians Support Olympic Bid

Profits & Losses?

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

 Link: Forbes: Calgary Flames Value Breakdown

Windfall Benefits?

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

Link: Oiler's Increase Value With New Arena

No Cash Cow?

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

Herd of Elephants? 

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

Wonder What Bob Holmes Thinks? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Not Fool Our Selves

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

If you like this blog, you will like:

Flamesville vs Stampede Park

Calgary: Needs vs Wants (Arena, Stadium, Convention Centre) 

 

 

Postcards from the OTHER London

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

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

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

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

London at a glance

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

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

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

Link: London History

Last Word

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

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

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

I am sucker for humour. 

I am sucker for humour. 

Loved the old and new contrast in the downtown architecture.  

Loved the old and new contrast in the downtown architecture.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every downtown needs a diner and a fast bike. 

Every downtown needs a diner and a fast bike. 

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

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

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

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

How fun is this window? 

How fun is this window? 

Every downtown needs a rainbow cross walk. 

Every downtown needs a rainbow cross walk. 

Who knew London had their own Music Hall of Fame?

Who knew London had their own Music Hall of Fame?

A little bit of New York City in London. 

A little bit of New York City in London. 

Another whimsical window. 

Another whimsical window. 

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

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

Victoria Park's Time To Shine Again!

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

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

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

History 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

East Victoria Park

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

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

SHED

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stampede Park's Youth Campus is currently under construction. 

Stampede Park's Youth Campus is currently under construction. 

Residential Catalyst

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

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

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

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

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

Synergy

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

If you like this blog, you will like: 

Calgary: Wants vs Needs: Arena, Convention Center, Stadium, Art Gallery

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2026 Winter Olympics Bid Insights

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

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

The announcement read:

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

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

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

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

Jane’s Walk 101

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

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

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

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

Uptown Bottle Depot ATM?

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

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

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

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

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

Link: Calgary Can

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beltline Bottle Picker Blues

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

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

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

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

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

Just My Opinion

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Is Calgary too pristine?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kreuzber Grafitti Capital of Europe

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

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

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

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

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

Typical Kreuzberg streetscape.

Typical Kreuzberg streetscape.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recycling bins like these are common in Kreuzberg. 

Recycling bins like these are common in Kreuzberg. 

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

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

Pick your battles!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embracing Messy Living

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make shift bench.

Make shift bench.

Berlin dog park.

Berlin dog park.

Berlin playground, soccer field. 

Berlin playground, soccer field. 

Let’s take the plastic off?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary is NOT on the cusp of becoming a "Design City?"

Last Saturday, CBC Calgary as part of its "Route Ahead" feature published my piece profiling how Calgary has engaged several international architectural firms to create exciting new buildings, bridges and public spaces in our City Centre.

While the piece was well received by many including Mayor Nenshi, there were criticism that the piece focused too much on starchitects, rather than local urban designers and that Calgary has a long way to go before it will be recognized as a "Design City" by world travellers.  

What was edited out of the CBC piece was the following paragraph by Saskatoon architect Charles Olfert who while very impressed by how far Calgary has come over the past 20 years, points out why Calgary is NOT yet a "Design City."

Saskatoon architect, Charles Olfert one of the founding architects of Saskatoon’s aodbt architects is a regular visitor to Calgary, as well as a world traveler. 

When asked if Calgary is on the cusp of becoming a design city he replied, “Do big name, out-of-town designers make Calgary a ‘Design City,’ I would have to say, NO!  To me, Copenhagen epitomizes a ‘Design City’ as its commitment to quality and design goes beyond just the buildings.  They have a “Design Centre” to assist visitors to explore the city’s many uniquely designed buildings and public spaces. When you ask a Copenhagen resident about a building, they will often know the name of the architect and the idea behind the design concept. The overall community’s engagement in design is amazing.”

He adds, "Calgary is well on the way to becoming a design city, but it is not the big name starchitects that will ultimately achieve this goal. It will be when there is a design awareness and appreciation in the everyday culture of the community. Copenhagen has achieved this."

While Olfert is just one person, I do respect his opinion as informed and as an outsider. Sometimes it is hard for Calgarians like me to be objective about the city we love.  In researching this piece several urban design professions from Calgary also cautioned me about calling Calgary a "design city." 

I hope that those of you who live in Calgary will use this blog and google maps to tour downtown with family and friends and decide for yourself if Calgary is on the cusp of becoming a design city.  I'd love to hear what you think!

Here is a reprint of the CBC News Calgary piece with more and different photos.

Calgary: Calgary's global architecture, a nifty walking tour.  

Will BIG’s Telus Sky and Sonhetta’s new Central Library put Calgary on the map of world Design Cities?

Sure we are not a Dubai, New York City, London or Singapore.  But when it comes to being on the world map of Design Cities, we have come along way in the past 20 years. Global designs, has changed the face of our city.

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME

Architectural and urban design tourism has become popular of late.  It kicked off which the downtrodden industrial Spanish city of Bilboa commissioned Frank Gehry to create the iconic Guggenheim Museum.  It's since attracted millions of visitors from around the world.  Got tourists to go to a place they might never otherwise have seen.

Today many cities around the world are investing billions in wacky new architecture to try and recreate what is now called the “Bilboa Effect.” Calgary is also joining the chorus.

We've got two major projects underway that could help us achieve a critical mass of exemplary urban design. The Telus Sky project designed by the firm of international superstar architect Bjarke Ingels. And the the Norwegian design firm Sinohetta's new Central Library.

These international designs right here in Cow Town will join a host of other major new design projects since 2000.  It may be a bit early to call ourselves a 'Design City', but let's take a stroll across town, and you can decide for yourself.

One of many urban design hidden gems in downtown Calgary. Close up of Calgary artist Ron Moppett's five-panel mosaic titled “THESAMEWAYBETTER/READER.” 

One of many urban design hidden gems in downtown Calgary. Close up of Calgary artist Ron Moppett's five-panel mosaic titled “THESAMEWAYBETTER/READER.” 

New Central Library is taking shape. 

New Central Library is taking shape. 

National Music Centre, 2016

Designed by Portland’s Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, the massing of the building looks like a huge sculpture, perhaps a Henry Moore “Reclining Nude.” 

The curved glazed terracotta tile walls are in fact inspired by musical instruments. The façade changes colour with the angle of the sun during the day and from season to season.  It also includes a mega bridge over 4th Street SE, which enhances Calgary’s reputation as the world leader in sky bridges. 

The Bow Tower, 2011

Designed by London’s Sir Norman Foster, the diagonally structural braces creates a unique triangulated façade.

The shape of the building was inspired by the bend in the Bow River as it flows through downtown.  However, as you enter the downtown from the northeast it looks a bit like a big barrel of oil….coincidence? 

Wonderland sculpture, 2011

Designed by Spain’s Jaume Plensa, “Wonderland” is a ghost-like head of a young girl that sits on the plaza in front of the Bow Tower. 

There is also a lesser known sculpture by Plensa on north side of the building called “Alberta’s Dream” which is a self-portrait of Plensa sitting on the ground hugging a tree.  His body is covered with the names of Alberta cities and towns. 

Imagine, Calgary a city of tree huggers…could the artists be making a political statement? 
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Brookfield Place (East Tower, 2018)

London’s Arney Fender Katsalidis (AFK) architects were engaged by Brookfield Properties to create a signature building in the heart of downtown.

At 247m it is now Calgary’s tallest building. While it retains the rectangular shape the dominates Calgary’s skyline, it is notable for its rounded glass corners that gives it an iPhone like shape. 

The Core, 2012

Toronto’s MMC International Architects were hired to renovate and integrate what was once Lancaster Square, Devonian Gardens, TD Square, Eaton Centre and old Eaton’s department store into one 'super' shopping mall. 

To do this they created the world’s largest point-supported structural glass skylight - 26m wide and 200m long.

Stephen Avenue Galleria Trees, 2000

The original plan for Bankers Hall was to have a glass canopy over the entire street. But that didn't happen.

Oxford, the then owners of TD Square, weren’t thrilled about having anything attached to their building. So they built 'trees'. The construction of these giant white creations was almost as controversial as the Peace Bridge, because it involved removing the real trees on the block.

While they are called trees, one of the early (and unfortunate) nicknames was “pooper scoopers”.  Yikes. Apparently some felt they looked like something you’d use to clean your kitty litter. The original design was much more elegant as they had slender legs at street level, however the city demanded the bulky boots in case they were ever hit by a vehicle.

This mega public artwork was the idea of Ric Singleton, and the Trizec Hahn design team who developed the Bankers Hall complex.

Eight Avenue Place, East Tower, 2011, West Tower, 2014

Designed by the American architectural firm Pickard Chilton, the shape of the Eight Avenue Place towers was inspired by the planes, angles and sense of thrust of the Rocky Mountains. 

This is actually the second design for the two buildings.  The original design by Gibbs Gage was also inspired by the Rockies but with darker glass. This building is as attractive inside as out, with its cathedral-like lobby, paintings by Canadian masters like Riopelle and Shadbolt and a uniquely designed Starbucks.  

707 Fifth, 2017

707 Fifth is designed by Chicago’s SOM Architects, (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) - one of the largest and most influential design firms in the world.

Their portfolio includes Chicago’s Willis Tower, 1973 (tallest building in the world for 20 years) and Dubai’s Burj Khalifa (2010) the tallest today.  They are considered to be leader in international style glass tower, minimalist form.

While not the tallest building in Calgary at 27 floors, it respects the glass façade and modernist/minimalist school of office architecture.  With its curved edges and elliptical shape it has a soft femininity that makes it stand out in Calgary’s plethora of stocky old boy towers. 

It also adds to Calgary’s growing portfolio of blue glass towers that started with Canterra Tower now Devon Tower. 

4th Street LRT Station, 2012

Calgary’s Jeremy Sturgess designed the futuristic oval glass bridge at the 4th Street LRT Station which juts over 7th Avenue.  Right there, in the Harley Hotchkiss Gardens, (designed by Winnipeg’s Scatliff, Miller & Murray), you'll find the signature sculpture “DoReMiFSolLaSiDo” by Saskatchewan artist Joe Farfard. 

Originally the sculpture planned for the park was going to more of a conventional cowboy western theme. But Jeff Spalding who was then the CEO at the Glenbow convinced everyone to do something more contemporary.

The eight horses galloping across the park represent Calgary past, present and future. They pay homage to the importance of the horse as part of Calgary’s unique culture – First Nations, Calgary Stampede and Spruce Meadows. 

Be sure to go up close so you can discover all of the miniature images of western heritage Fafard has integrated into the design of each of the horses.

Centrium Place, 2007

Centrium is a precious jewel-like building created by Calgary’s Gibbs Gage architects.

It subtly cantilevers over the sidewalk so the top is wider than the bottom creating what looks like diamond shape.  The facades glass is made up of difference rectangular shaped glass panels in a random pattern that was loosely inspired by the famous Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. 

Jamieson Place, 2009

Gibbs Gage Architects is also responsible for Frank Lloyd Wright inspired Jamison Place with its prairie style twin columns enhancing the vertical thrust from sidewalk to sky.

The Winter Garden inside on the 1-5 level is arguably the most elegant and tranquil place in Calgary, with its infinity pond and living wall.  It is also home to three hanging glass sculptures by the world’s most famous glass artist David Chihuly.

Peace Bridge, 2012

The Peace Bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava is perhaps the most loved and hated work of art in Calgary.

From an international design perspective it is notable in that it is diametrically opposed to Calatrava’s other bridges which are always white with gabled wires creating a light, soaring, wing like visual effect. 

Because of the helicopter pad and that fact that it had to spans the width of the river without any posts, Calatrava used a double hex structure. The choice of red is obvious as it links to the Flames, Stampeders and Calgary Tower, as well it signifies “good luck” in Chinese culture.

One might even wonder if Calatrava is also commenting on Calgary’s “red neck” image?

FDCE5B9A-E82E-4F76-8251-968CF4ACEF95.JPG

East Village Riverwalk, 2011

Since day one, East Village’s Riverwalk has been a hit with Calgarians.

Designed by the Stantec’s Calgary office, this pedestrian promenade now extends from Centre Street to Fort Calgary on the Bow and Elbow Rivers. The Riverwalk has won numerous landscape architect awards, and was instrumental in convincing Calgarians and developers that the City was committed to high design as part of the redevelopment of East Village.

George C King Bridge, 2014

Designed by French design firm RFR and Calgary’s Halsall Associates, this bridge hasbeen nicknamed the “Skipping Stone” bridge - as it has three arches that resemble a stone skipping over the river. 

Unlike the Peace Bridge there was no controversy associated with the King Bridge as an extensive and transparent community engagement process was implemented.  While the Peace Bridge is bold and bulky, the King Bridge is playful and elegant. 

Together they create a wonderful pedestrian circuit along the Bow River.

St. Patrick’s Island Park, 2015

Denver based Civitas, and New York based W Architecture, have transformed St. Patrick’s Island into a charming urban playground with a pebble beach, picnic grove, pathways, playgrounds, plaza and private places to sit. 

In 2016, the Island took top honours in the Great Public Space category in the Canadian Institute of Planners' Great Places in Canada competition.

LAST WORD

While Calgary doesn’t have the biggest, tallest, wackiest or weirdest architecture in the world, we do have some very unique and intriguing buildings, bridges, plazas and parks.

Even with the downturn, there are opportunities for maginificent designs. Things which add to our sense of pride, things which, when they strike the eye, just make our days that much better

So put on you walking shoes, head downtown and you be the judge if the Calgary you thought you knew, is maybe on the cusp of becoming a design city?”

If you like this blog, you will like:

Calgary: Capturing The Art In Architecture

St. Patrick's Island: The Good, The Bad, The Nice To Have

 

East Village: A Billion Dollar Work Of Art?

It seems every time I flaneur East Village, I find a new artwork - or two.  And, sometimes I find them in the oddest – underpasses, stainless steel public washrooms, retaining walls and construction hoarding. 

What is hoarding art, you ask? It is the plywood boards put up around construction sites so you can’t see in. 

One of several paintings on the hoarding around the new Central Library construction site.

One of several paintings on the hoarding around the new Central Library construction site.

On a recent warm slushy day, I found myself in East Village and decided to check out the progress on the new Central Library – a work of art in itself. Usually I view the site from a distance, but wanting to get a better look at the unique façade tiles, so I wandered to the temporary sidewalk next to the hoarding.  The hoarding was in fact an interesting (to me) temporary art exhibition.   

I loved the narrative of the images created by the juxtaposition of the man-made and nature, past and present and birth and nurturing.  It seemed so appropriate and clever for East Village, given its brand as “Calgary’s oldest new community” and the amazing rebirth of the community.

Another of the hoarding artworks.

Another of the hoarding artworks.

Unknown Artists

Once home, I quickly went online for more information the hoarding exhibition. Apparently, it was installed in September 2016 and is the work of Kai and Ricole Cabodyna. The artists’ statement read “a collage of images illustrating the local flora and fauna, and humanity's place within it all. The work is an exploration and remembrance of culture's intimate relations with nature's rhythms.”

In addition, I discovered this is the second hoarding show at the new library construction site. The previous artwork was done by illustrator Serena Maylon, who created watercolours that depicted the historical timeline of East Village from the untouched grasslands of the early 19th century to library completion in 2018.

While I applaud the idea, sadly I doubt many people see the hoarding art exhibitions, as most walk along the sidewalk on the other side of the street.  

Lesson learned - It pays to walk on the sidewalk less travelled.
One more hoarding painting by Kai and Ricole Cabodyna.

One more hoarding painting by Kai and Ricole Cabodyna.

Temporary Street Art

Since day one, of East Village’s urban renewal by CMLC (Calgary Municipal Land Corporation), public art has been an integral part of transforming the area into a fun, pedestrian-friendly environment.

The inaugural street art project, in 2010, was by Calgary artist Derek Besant, entitled, “I am the river.” Consisting of 13 larger-than-life portrait photos of Calgarians floating underwater at six sites along the newly opened Riverwalk. The artist’s intent was to celebrate everyday Calgarians’ connection to their rivers.  The installation was bit of shock for many as floating heads and naked upper body portraits had a haunting ambiguity – were they dead, alive or just a dream?

Today, you will find a series of paintings along Riverwalk by Curtis Van Charles Sorensen entitled “Window to the Wild.” It consists of flowers, leaves and animals (beaver, fox, coyote and heron) indigenous to Southern Alberta and the Bow River. Though too decorative for my tastes, I am sure there are some who love it.

Every few years, the street art along the Riverwalk changes creating a slightly different sense of place. 

Derek Besants, "I am the river" utilizes the facade of the public washrooms for his art.

Derek Besants, "I am the river" utilizes the facade of the public washrooms for his art.

The second rotation of curated temporary public art -  The Field Manual: a compendium of local influence -  by Calgary art collective Light & Soul brings exactly that to RiverWalk’s storage sheds, bridge abutments and bathrooms.

The second rotation of curated temporary public art -  The Field Manual: a compendium of local influence -  by Calgary art collective Light & Soul brings exactly that to RiverWalk’s storage sheds, bridge abutments and bathrooms.

Permanent Public Art

Calgary artist Ron Moppett’s colourful, 110-foot mural, “SAMEWAYBETTER/READER” (I don’t get the title either) incorporates 956,321 tiny glass tiles manufactured in Munich, Germany.  The mosaic mural tells the story of Calgary’s evolution as a city in seven panels using different styles from black and white etching to playful Matisse-like cutouts.  It is easy for pedestrians to miss it as it is tucked away on the 4th St SE retaining wall at the 5th Ave SE flyover. 

Promenade

London, England’s Julian Opie’s computerized LED-animated art showcasing faceless cartoon figures of everyday figures walking in circles around what looks like a mini rectangular downtown Calgary office tower. It located on a hill above the 4th St SE sidewalk next to the 5th Street flyover, making it more visible to drivers than pedestrians. 

And yes, the artist’s message is “it represents urban cities where people endlessly pass by oblivious to each other.”

A strange choice of location and statement given East Village is being designed as a friendly, people- oriented urban village aimed at becoming an urban meeting place for people of diverse ages and backgrounds.

Promenade artwork by Julian Opie, with Norman Foster's Bow Tower and Bill Milne's Calgary Tower in the background is easy to miss when walking along the sidewalk.

Promenade artwork by Julian Opie, with Norman Foster's Bow Tower and Bill Milne's Calgary Tower in the background is easy to miss when walking along the sidewalk.

Humour Me

The “Paper Plane” sculpture, just west of the Simmons building right on the Riverwalk by the “Light and Soul” artists’ collective – Kai Cabunoc-Boettcher, Daniel J. Kirk and Ivan Ostapenko.  The metaphor is obvious – the east-facing paper plane is still in the grasp of a human hand but ready to take flight, just like the development of East Village.  It is popular photo spot as it lines up nicely with the Calgary Tower in the background.

Art & Nature

The most recent public art piece is “Bloom” by Michel de Broin. It uses vintage streetlights to create what looks like a seven story industrial flower on the edge of the Bow River at the entrance to St. Patrick’s Island by day - and like a constellation by night.  It soon became a hit (and home) for a local pair of osprey. 

However, Roland Dechesne, a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Calgary chapter had concerns about the negative impact the light would have on bats, insects, fish and other wildlife given it shines in all directions.  

When it comes to art, you can never make everyone happy.

Link: East Village Public Art Program http://www.evexperience.com/public-art-program/

King Bridge over the Bow River with Bloom artwork on the right.

King Bridge over the Bow River with Bloom artwork on the right.

Architecture as Art

Look beyond the obvious and you will discover many of East Village’s new buildings - National Music Centre, Central Library, George C. King Bridge and the Tool Shed - are artworks in their own right.

The heavy, ominous-looking, odd-shaped National Music Centre with its multi-faceted, reflective façade changes colour with changes in sunlight. Sometimes it can appear black; other times silver, brown or bronze. 

It makes a dramatic gateway to East Village on the southern edge of the community. 

Its sculptural shape reminds me a bit of a Henry Moore reclining nude?

National Music Centre, gateway to East Village.

National Music Centre, gateway to East Village.

Henry Moore, Reclining Nude.

Henry Moore, Reclining Nude.

The new Central Library, definitely a work of art, destined to become one of Calgary’s signature buildings and a postcard to the world. It will further enhance Calgary’s image as a design city internationally.  I love the funky, house-shaped, honey comb-like skin of the building. It will help put Calgary on the map for architectural tourism.

New Central Library with hoarding at street level. 

New Central Library with hoarding at street level. 

Bridges As Art

The George C. King Bridge (pedestrian/cycling) could also be consisted a work of art. From the beginning it was nicknamed the “Skipping Stone” bridge, with its first arch skipping over the main channel of Bow River from East Village’s Riverwalk to St. Patrick’s Island. The second skip is under the bridge with the third skip over a secondary river channel to Memorial Drive.  The design has a transparency that draws the eye to the majestic Bow River without competing with it. 

It has a bucolic beauty I admire and it the polar opposite of the bold Peace Bridge linking the Eau Claire Promenade to Memorial Drive a kilometre west.

King Bridge over the Bow River at night, with "Bloom" artwork in the background.

King Bridge over the Bow River at night, with "Bloom" artwork in the background.

Functional Art

And then there is the East Village “Tool Shed!” What you ask is the tool shed? It is the rusted metal structure on 6th Street SE at that is part of the lavish community garden, children’s playground along 6th Street SE. at 7th Ave. As the name implies, it is where the gardeners’ tools and other equipment for programming the space is stored. 

The sculpture looking shed is made of shipping containers with a lovely honeycomb archway in the middle creating a gateway to the garden/playground. 

The rusted metal gives this artwork an appropriate earthy look for a garden and playground. 

Last Word

For most of the 20th century Calgary, was seen as a frontier town lacking in local and international art, architecture and urban design. That is simply no longer true. East Village is Calgary’s multi-billion dollar artwork. 

It is the benchmark for new communities in Calgary, be they inner-city or on the outer edge.

Link: East Village Public Art Program

Even the benches in St. Patrick's Island Park are works of art.

This blog was originally published April 29th, 2017 by the Calgary Herald for its New Condo section.

If you like this blog, you will like:

East Village: The Lust Of The New Playground?

East Village: A Masterpiece In The Making?

Austin/Calgary: Sister Cities?

More Hoarding Art

Calgary's SUPERTRAIN: Super Fun For Everyone!

I think I found train heaven….

One of the highlights of the show was the model based on downtown Calgary made of lego.  I especially loved the use of colour.  The narratives and sense of humour in the models was outstanding.  Be sure to checkout the strange vignette section later in this blog.

One of the highlights of the show was the model based on downtown Calgary made of lego.  I especially loved the use of colour.  The narratives and sense of humour in the models was outstanding.  Be sure to checkout the strange vignette section later in this blog.

Others!

One of the great things about living in a city are the numerous opportunities to learn more about what makes others tick. And the hobbies and interests of others intrigue me – be they cosplay, gardening, quilting, orchids, bingos, skateboarding or in this case, those who bring their trains trains out of their basements to share with others.

For years, I have seen the banners on the overhead bridges promoting an annual Calgary Train Show but never attended – until this year.

An added bonus was it was being held at the Genesis Centre in the far northeast one of Calgary’s growing number of mega community centres (with multiple arenas, gyms, meeting rooms, as well as a YMCA and Calgary Public Library), which I have never been to.

The Bow Tower with the Happy Head in place of ghost-like Wonderland sculpture was a fun surprise!

The Bow Tower with the Happy Head in place of ghost-like Wonderland sculpture was a fun surprise!

Train Heaven

We (I have a three year old friend who loves trains and thought it would be fun to go with him and his Dad) arrived shortly after it opened on Sunday morning at 10 am to find the parking lot already almost full. 

There was a mini three-car CPR train next to the parking lot for kids to play on and for photos - definitely, a good first impression. As did the many food trucks lining the grand sidewalk to the Centre.

Admission was quick and easy - kids under 15 are free; adults $15. 

A few steps and you are looking down into a vast multiple arena expanse that has been magically transformed into train heaven – whether you love to play with trains, learn about Canada train history, find out more about unique train trip opportunities, create your own basement train heaven, or even just people watch.

The 100+ exhibitors were very friendly and knowledgeable, willing to share information about their model train experiences.  There were lots of new and vintage train sets to purchase along with hands-on opportunities to learn how to construct buildings, trees and other elements to create your own fun vignettes.  Did you know,  you can download templates for miniature life-like buildings for only a few dollars?  There were lots of great tips being shared.

Here are some SUPERTRAIN postcards?

This was only half of the displays and exhibitions. 

This was only half of the displays and exhibitions. 

Anxiously awaiting the arrival of the next train. 

Anxiously awaiting the arrival of the next train. 

This is a work in progress, started 10 years ago by Ross and Scott Tyler who are now 17 and 15 years old respectively. 

This is a work in progress, started 10 years ago by Ross and Scott Tyler who are now 17 and 15 years old respectively. 

It was fun to learn about all of the railway adventures and museums in Western Canada.

It was fun to learn about all of the railway adventures and museums in Western Canada.

Just a few of the railway artifacts available. 

Just a few of the railway artifacts available. 

This gentleman was demonstrating how the telegraph worked. 

This gentleman was demonstrating how the telegraph worked. 

Big kids in a candy store? 

Big kids in a candy store? 

Model building demonstration. 

Model building demonstration. 

All of the buildings in this model were built using templates downloaded from the internet. 

All of the buildings in this model were built using templates downloaded from the internet. 

Strange Vignettes

For those with a keen eye, the best surprise of the event for me was the subtle - and not so subtle - sense of humour of the vignettes the model railroad builders have created.  

Who says grumpy old guys (yes, it seems to be mostly an old men’s club, just like quilting is a women’s club) don’t have a sense of humour?

For those who don't know, K D Lang is a famous Alberta singer songwriter and an advocate for not eating meat. 

For those who don't know, K D Lang is a famous Alberta singer songwriter and an advocate for not eating meat. 

What at first looks like an everyday busy street scene has nude sunbathers on the rooftop, as well as two guys mooning the neighbours.  

What at first looks like an everyday busy street scene has nude sunbathers on the rooftop, as well as two guys mooning the neighbours.  

This search is happening at a US/Mexican boarder crossing, while next to them immigrates are crawling under the fence (see next photo).  

This search is happening at a US/Mexican boarder crossing, while next to them immigrates are crawling under the fence (see next photo).  

Another street scene -  look closely and you will see police shouting at people at the Transit Hotel and what looks like ladies of the night on the front porch of the hotel. 

Another street scene -  look closely and you will see police shouting at people at the Transit Hotel and what looks like ladies of the night on the front porch of the hotel. 

Many of the vignettes seem to deal with crashes.  Boys will be boys?

Many of the vignettes seem to deal with crashes.  Boys will be boys?

Look carefully and you will see the cafe is on fire and someone is being taken to the ambulance. There is more rooftop activity and of course the "Jesus Saves" sign. 

Look carefully and you will see the cafe is on fire and someone is being taken to the ambulance. There is more rooftop activity and of course the "Jesus Saves" sign. 

You could easily miss this rescue mission as this was part of a huge display.  Note the rock climbers on the left as well as the rescue taking place.  

You could easily miss this rescue mission as this was part of a huge display.  Note the rock climbers on the left as well as the rescue taking place.  

The attention to detail and the narrative in the displays was amazing. 

The attention to detail and the narrative in the displays was amazing. 

Loved the slam dunk in this vignette. 

Loved the slam dunk in this vignette. 

This maze had the smallest people I have ever seen in a model.  I couldn't help but wonder if the designers of this model making a statement about modern life? 

This maze had the smallest people I have ever seen in a model.  I couldn't help but wonder if the designers of this model making a statement about modern life? 

SUPERTRAIN History (from website)

SUPERTRAIN is presented by the Calgary Model Railway Society (CMRS). CMRS has almost 400 members from Calgary and area who share an interest in the hobby of Model Railroading, and a desire to showcase the hobby to the public.

Organized model railroading in Calgary goes back to 1934, when the first club, Calgary Model Trainmen, was started. CMT continues today, and over the years has spawned dozens of other groups and clubs. Throughout the years the various clubs held their own shows and exhibits. In 1994, several of these clubs decided to work together to put on a major Model Railroad Show for the public.

The first model train show to use the name SUPERTRAIN was held in March 1995 at Mewata Armouries, featuring 28 displays and exhibits. By 1999, SUPERTRAIN had outgrown Mewata, and a new venue in the Big Four Building at the Stampede Grounds became home for the show. By this time, SUPERTRAIN had become an annual event on Family Day Weekend, and as many as 14,000 people attended over the two day show.

Today SUPERTRAIN has become Canada's biggest and best annual train show. If you are interested in becoming a member of the Calgary Model Railway Society.

Visit them at www.calgarymodelrailway.ca

Last Word 

SUPERTRAIN is just one of many fun festivals and events that happen almost continuously in larger cities.  In just the past week, alone film buffs got to enjoy CUFF (Calgary Underground Film Festival), pet lovers had Calgary Pet Expo and train fanatics had the SUPERTRAIN.

Later this week, 100,000 costume lovers will invade Stampede Park for Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo (April 27 to 30), as well as the colourful and playful Parade of Wonders happens on Friday, April 28th from Eau Claire to Olympic Plaza. And the Calgary Horticultural Society's Garden Show happens at Spruce Meadows this weekend. 

Gotta love the quirkiness of urban living!

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Leipzig: First Sunday Magic

If you find yourself in Leipzig, Germany on the first Sunday of the month and if you love urban surprises, you could be in for a magical day. 

First, I should tell you on Sundays most stores aren’t open so the City Centre is like a ghost town in the morning so it is good to make sure you have something other than shopping planned. 

After a relaxing breakfast in the Motel One Lounge (FYI. Motel One is not some tacky motel but a funky design hotel that has a lively breakfast lounge and fun eggs) we headed out for the day. 

Our destination was the first Sunday of the month flea market at the old fairgrounds. We had read it is one of the biggest and best in Europe.

Link: Best Flea Markets In Germany  

We caught the train at the Market station and just three stops later we got out in the middle of nowhere. The first thing we see is an abandoned building that looks like it might have been bombed out in WWII.  As we turn to walk in the direction of the flea market there is a huge strange-looking building with two breast-like domes that looks a bit shady.

Yikes what have we got ourselves into.

We walk along a major road (as per Google maps instructions) and soon we see a sinister looking building; this time new, but with no signage just some words and dark reflective so you can’t see in. 

We still hadn’t seen any sign of life, but we did notice some movement at the end of a large green space so we decided to walk in that direction.

Eureka

Sure enough, we arrived at the flea market and that seems to be where everyone is hanging out this Sunday morning, as there were thousands of people and hundreds of stallholders. 

I had read this was a curated flea market with professional collectors doing the selling, but it sure didn’t look like it to me.  

Rather, it was full of what looked like garage sale stuff, which is just what these treasure hunters love. 

However, I did questioned if we were in the right place as it didn’t look like a fairgrounds and the iconic mid century fairground sign was nowhere in sight.

What we didn’t realize was we were only seeing half of the market there was more on the other side of the building. 

 

We had a great time digging for treasures for over 2 hours. B did manage to find a nice made in Germany white mid-century vase for her collection, but was frustrated she couldn't take home more due to suitcase limitations. 

These albums were full of stamps.

These albums were full of stamps.

Hidden Leipzig

It was now about 11:30 so we decided to head back when we saw somebody come out of the strange building we had passed earlier with the black reflective glass. Turns out it is the German Museum of Books and Writing  and the shape is suppose to resemble the spine of a book and inside were three very interesting exhibitions. 

We both shook our heads, how is anyone to know this is a museum and that it is open? Obviously many don’t, as we were the only ones there for the entire 45 minutes of our visit. 

Loved this display tracing the history of different fonts. 

Loved this display tracing the history of different fonts. 

Magical Surprise

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One of the things we love about urban exploring are the surprises.  We decided to checkout the Ukrainian/Russian looking church a block away before heading back. 

The door was open but you could only get into the lobby as the church us under renovations. 

We left, but I notice what looked like a community garden at the back.  We had learned the day before that these are in fact summer cottage/garden communities in the middle of the city (tiny homes before tiny homes were trendy, urban farming before it was trendy also). 

The Kleingartenveerein Siegismund with its restaurant, garden and summer homes was a delightful flaneur find. 

The Kleingartenveerein Siegismund with its restaurant, garden and summer homes was a delightful flaneur find. 

Walking a little further we came upon a sign with a beer logo and thought perhaps there is a restaurant close by. Sure enough in what looked like a clubhouse of a small rural golf course was a restaurant called Siegismund. 

 

While the server spoke no English we managed with some charades. She flapped here arms like wings for chicken, snorted like a pig for pork….the other diners in the restaurant were laughing – but in a good way. 

Then the cook who spoke some English came out and recommended the schnitzel - we quickly said yes.  Soon we had a beer and glass of wine (best wine in Germany) and settled in to dine with the locals.

Stopping To Smell The Flowers

After a great lunch, we decided to stroll the gardens as the sun had come out and it was a lovely spring afternoon. There were are few people around, but those who were there were friendly. I was surprised that the magnolia trees were in bloom in late March.  We soaked up the wonderful peacefulness.

It was magical.

Link: Kleingarten Wikipedia

Three In One?

As it was a lovely day we decided to keep walking through the nearby Friesdenpark over to the Grassi Museum, which was on our way back to Motel One and the City Centre.  Grassi is in fact three museums – Applied Arts Museum, Musical Instruments Museum and Ethnography Museum.  You could easily spend hours exploring its many galleries.  We loved the Applied Arts Museum in particular.

It never ceases to amaze me how many cities around the world have amassed collections of indigenous artifacts from around the world.

It seemed totally out of context to see a Blackfoot buffalo hide or Mexican Day of Dead ceramic figure in Leipzig.  On the other hand, to see the collection of historic musical instruments in a City that has centuries of music history seemed most appropriate. 

If you go to the Grassi Museum, be sure to visit the abandoned cemetery at the back it was a wonderful urban surprise. It also has a quiet café if you want to have a late lunch or coffee and treat.  

Give yourself at least two and probably three hours to tour the museum.

Link: Grassi Museum Exhibitions

Link Grassi Museum History 

The door handle exhibition was impressive. I developed a whole new appreciation for the design of door handles. 

The door handle exhibition was impressive. I developed a whole new appreciation for the design of door handles. 

Last Word:

While there is lots to see and do in Leipzig’s City Centre, exploring beyond the centre has many rewards. 

Obviously you can’t do the flea market every Sunday, but you could easily add in the Botanical Gardens in Friedenpark which is between the Kleingartenverein Siegismund and Grassi Museum for your magic Sunday. 

We weren't the only ones who had to stop and watch these two boxers working out in Friedenpark.

We weren't the only ones who had to stop and watch these two boxers working out in Friedenpark.

Diversity Beats Density: Montreal vs Calgary

While Calgary’s downtown density looks similar to Montreal’s with hundreds of high, mid and low-rise buildings, the diversity of building uses is significantly different. In Montreal, especially near the St. Catherine Street, every block has is a good mix of office, retail, residential and hotel buildings while Calgary's downtown is a sea of office buildings.

Typical Montreal City Centre streets are cluttered with small shops, cafes and restaurants with apartments above creating a vibrant pedestrian environment. The streets don't have any banners or fancy furniture and the sidewalks are often cracked and uneven, but that just adds to the urban patina.  Pristine streets too often are sterile streets. 

Typical Montreal City Centre streets are cluttered with small shops, cafes and restaurants with apartments above creating a vibrant pedestrian environment. The streets don't have any banners or fancy furniture and the sidewalks are often cracked and uneven, but that just adds to the urban patina.  Pristine streets too often are sterile streets. 

Office buildings kill urban vitality

Calgary’s downtown is dominated by a 50+ block area - Centre Street to 8th Street SW and from 9th Avenue to 2nd Street SW) that is almost exclusively office buildings. There are 135 of them in fact (Source: Building Owners Managers Association Guide, 2016). Some blocks having three and four office towers.  Even, in Montreal, the streets next to their major office complexes were dead on evenings and weekends. 

It was only where hotels, residences and shops are located next to each other that you find urban vitality in the evenings and weekends. Montreal’s downtown benefits from having 75 hotels (including five 5-star) compared to Calgary’s 14 (with no 5-star hotels).

In addition, unlike Montreal, almost all of Calgary’s urban residential buildings sit are on the periphery of the downtown core, each with their own pedestrian streets to eat, shop and hang out on evenings and weekends.

The streets around Montreal's office towers are devoid of people and animation, as they are in every city. 

The streets around Montreal's office towers are devoid of people and animation, as they are in every city. 

Huge Student Population

Another huge difference is Montreal’s City Center being home to several major universities (Universite du Quebec, 66,000 students; Universite de Montreal, 55,000 students; Concordia University, 44,000 students and McGill, 32,000 students) that is more students than Calgary has office workers. Many of these students also live in and near the city centre, making it their place to “live, learn and play,” not necessarily in that order and not just weekdays from 7am to 7pm like office workers in Calgary.  Montreal’s downtown cafes and shops are full of students all day, everyday.

In comparison, Calgary’s City Centre has just two post-secondary schools - Bow Valley College (14,000 students) and University of Calgary’s downtown building offering primarily non-credit general interest and professional development courses.   Neither has a student residence, as most students leaving the downtown to homes in the suburbs at the end of the day just like the office workers.

Crew Collective & Cafe in the historic Royal Bank headquarters building is a commercial cafe and shared workspace but in reality, it is a huge study hall for students seven days a week. This was taken on a Sunday. 

Crew Collective & Cafe in the historic Royal Bank headquarters building is a commercial cafe and shared workspace but in reality, it is a huge study hall for students seven days a week. This was taken on a Sunday. 

Tourists love Downtown Montreal

Montreal is also a mega tourist city, with much of its tourism being downtown-oriented. Its $9.2 billion tourism industry (9+ million visitors, 7.7 million hotel room nights) blows away Calgary’s $1.7 billion tourism industry (4 million visitors, 3.1 million room nights).   And, in the case of Calgary, most downtown tourists are weekday business travellers, or those enroute to Banff – they are not here to shop and play in downtown.

Montreal’s mega Palais des Congress (convention and trade show venue) was shortlisted in 2015 as the World’s Best Congress Centre for hosting the most international events of any North American facility.  It annually host 300+ events attracting over 800,000 visitors.  Calgary’s Convention Centre hosts only 41 conventions/tradeshows attracting 250,000 visits, of which only 50,000 are non–residents.

In addition, Montreal’s St. Catherine Street retains its long-standing reputation as a popular shopping street with locals and tourists, while Calgary’s Stephen Avenue is mostly an upscale restaurant row.  By nature, restaurants don’t generate the same street vitality as shops as they are used mostly at lunch and evening with patrons staying inside for longer periods of time. Shoppers on the other hand, are frequently and continuously moving in and out of the stores, giving the street more vitality.

Montreal's Quarters des Spectacles, the equivalent of Calgary's Olympic Plaza Cultural District was animated day and night over the Christmas season with shoppers, culture vultures and families enjoying the diversity of things to see and do. The diversity includes Desjardins Complex (shopping centre, office, hotel, grocery store), as well as a contemporary art museum, theatre, cinema, convention center and two Christmas Markets.

Montreal's Quarters des Spectacles, the equivalent of Calgary's Olympic Plaza Cultural District was animated day and night over the Christmas season with shoppers, culture vultures and families enjoying the diversity of things to see and do. The diversity includes Desjardins Complex (shopping centre, office, hotel, grocery store), as well as a contemporary art museum, theatre, cinema, convention center and two Christmas Markets.

IMHO

Calgary’s downtown core has limited street vitality in the evenings and on weekends not because of the +15 system (which is also empty), but because it is dominated by office buildings that are empty in the evening and weekends.   Even on weekdays street vitality is limited to noon-hours as office workers are inside working, not out playing like tourists, students and residents.

Vibrant urban streets, like those in Montreal are created by a healthy diversity of building uses - residential, hotel, office, post-secondary schools, shopping, cultural and government.

If Calgary wants to foster more vitality in its downtown core, we need to focus less on the mega office towers and find ways to encourage more projects like the Le Germain building (hotel, office, residential and restaurant at street level) or TELUS Sky (office, residential and retail at street level).

Plaza St. Hubert is a funky (some might say tacky) canopied street that offer something for people of all ages and backgrounds.  

Plaza St. Hubert is a funky (some might say tacky) canopied street that offer something for people of all ages and backgrounds.  

St. Catherine Street at 10am on a Sunday morning in December is already full of people. 

St. Catherine Street at 10am on a Sunday morning in December is already full of people. 

Old Montreal plaza is also busy on the same Sunday afternoon. 

Old Montreal plaza is also busy on the same Sunday afternoon. 

Montreal's Underground is also busy on Sunday next to St. Catherine Street. 

Montreal's Underground is also busy on Sunday next to St. Catherine Street. 

Something to think about?

Imagine if instead of two office towers - Bankers Hall, TD Square, Eight Avenue Place, Western Canada Place - each had one condo and one office tower how the dynamics of Stephen Avenue would change.  Perhaps the un-built second towers at Brookfield Place and First Canadian Centre on 7th Avenue should become either downtown’s next hotel or condo tower?  

Perhaps some of downtown’s vacant office space could be converted to a new post-secondary school for Calgary. Great cities have lots of universities and colleges.

Downtown Calgary is dominated by office buildings.

Downtown Calgary is dominated by office buildings.

The Masters Is Truly Masterful

The following is a guest blog by Jeff Trost, a Calgary millennial, who is passionate about golf and big events. 

You might call me a bit of a ‘big event’ travel junkie.  I’ve traveled to London, England just for concerts, convinced my parents we should sidetrack from our San Diego trip for a day to hit a concert in Los Angeles. Often my vacations are planned to coincide with some sort of spectacle (eg. first-ever North American Red Bull Air Race in New York City, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London).

The Masters Golf Tournament was at the top of my bucket list, so I almost had a stroke when I was notified I got tickets in their lottery system. There wasn’t a chance I was going to give those up even though I am an accountant and it is the middle of tax season. 

Everything you can imagine about Augusta is true. There is not a blade of grass out of place and it is as green in person as on TV. The organization and staff are outstanding; spectators (whoops I mean patrons) are treated like royalty.

Damn Mother Nature

The first thing you need to know about our day in Augusta, Georgia for the Masters is that our time was very limited because of the weather. Since we knew the weather was iffy (and ultimately had to leave the course twice due to lightning and a tornado watch), we had to prioritize, and were very fortunate to even get back in for the short stint in the afternoon (all I did that time was hit the Pro shop – I wasn’t leaving without my mementos). 

Reverence for the Property

Approaching the patrons’ gates from the west side of the property, people noisily gather from the parking lots and walkways onto the single pathway to a covered area where your badges were scanned and bags checked. But as soon as you walked into the grounds, a hush fell over the crowd as there is a sense of church-like reverence associated with the Masters that I have never experienced anywhere else.  There was no need for the quietness as we were a long way from the course and the players.

I actually leaned over to my Dad and whispered, “We’re at the Masters.” 

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We started our day walking through the entrance and past the practice facility, where we stopped for a bit to watch Brendan Steele, Danny Willett (2016 Masters Champion), JB Holmes, Trevor Immelman among others, chipping and putting, and then decided to move onto the course. 

Returning to the range later on, we caught Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Ernie Els, Jordan Spieth, and Adam Scott all in their routines. 

The practice range/putting greens are the only areas on the course you can request/wait for autographs - the priority being kids. I thought about how Arnold Palmer would never refuse an autograph or stop signing until every kid around him had one, and this truly embodied this idea. 

My highest priority for the day was to be able to see ‘Amen Corner’ (holes 11, 12 and 13 for those who don’t follow golf) and photograph them.  The 12th hole is perhaps one of the most photographed golf locations in the world (maybe even one of the most photographed places on the planet).  It is very surreal to see in person. 

Skipping Balls

From here we continued around holes 13,14 and 15 ending up sitting at the par 3 16th hole for a few groups including Rafa Cabrera-Bello, amateur Scott Gregory, Russell Knox, Brian Stuard, and Billy Hurley III. 16 is as close as you get to a ‘Stadium’ hole at Augusta, as it’s a short hole with a large bowl shape around it giving great sight-lines for patrons.

On practice round days the fans are boisterous and shouting for the players to skip balls across the pond which most will partake in.  It doesn’t have the ‘roar’ of the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale during the Phoenix Open, but a very fun place to sit and watch nonetheless. 

40-Yard Hooker

We then ventured backwards on the course and ran into Dustin Johnson’s group playing a practice round and followed them for about a hole and a half. Watching him hit drives off the tee on 14 and 15 was mind-blowing. I’ve never heard anything close to the loud crack Johnson’s driver makes as it hits the ball.

From there we walk back by the 18th tee box and then over to the 10th again, finding the spot where Bubba Watson hit the famous 40 yard hook in the 2012 playoff.  Standing there it is hard to visualize how he pulled off the shot he did - and I am a left-handed player also.

Venturing back up, we caught a glimpse of Canadians Mike Weir and Mackenzie Hughes playing practice holes.  As a left-handed golfer and Canadian, Mike Weir was always a personal favorite player of mine, and his win at the Masters came around the same time I was just starting to commit large portions of my time to golf. 

Seeing is Believing

One of the best things about attending the tournament on the Monday-Wednesday practice round days is that you’re allowed cameras onto the grounds, unlike the Thursday-Sunday tournament days when there are no cameras and no cell phones allowed. Period. They had no issues with large cameras, so I took a full size DSLR with two lenses including a large telephoto lens. 

The crowds on practice round days are also thinner, because there is activity all over the course throughout the entire day and players are always coming and going.  Compared to the crowds of 20 or 30 deep on the 18th hole on the Sunday, I was never more than one or two people behind the ropes. 

From a golfer’s perspective, TV does not do the course justice.  It is one hilly course that is in no way reflected on TV. You start at the top of a hill on 1 and 10 tees, and on 9 and 18 you climb back up to the greens and clubhouse.  There are significant elevation changes all over the course and undulations that make ball placement key… even in the middle of a fairway.  Think Priddis or Water Valley times ten.  You watch the tournament on TV in an entirely different way after walking the course. 

For an amateur player, I would say the course is very playable with generous fairways, and not an impossible challenge… you wouldn’t be playing from the same tee boxes as the pros.  The greens are what would kill me…. Some have unbelievable breaks you can see a mile away, others area microscopically subtle.  I now appreciate how easy it is to miss a two-foot put at the Masters.

Good Value

Food prices are the same as in 1980s and the menu is very basic. I spent $6.50 on lunch for a Pimento Cheese (their famous sandwich), a BBQ sandwich, and a Coke (in a really nice plastic cup that people keep as mementos - my buddy went through the concession line twice, just to go and buy two more of the cups… but just empty!)  For a similar meal at a NFL or NHL, game I bet I would have spent over $30.

The Pro shop is very well organized and you have no worries of anything ever being out of stock.  All of the souvenirs available are sensible, not tacky, and reasonably priced. Shirts/and hats each with a number are all displayed behind big counters. You yell out the number of what you want and one of the dozens of staff members grabs it for you in a matter of seconds.  Of course you’ll pay a small premium for the logo on shirts and hats, but we’re talking quality product in every price range desirable.

I bet there were close to 100 different shirts, and 200 hats to choose from, meticulously organized. For you golf nerds, even the box of Pro-V1s sold in the shop came in a ‘Masters Green’ box.  My sought-after souvenir, was the famous yellow pin flag that I now have hanging above my desk at work. 

There was a photo station set up on the front entrance flower bed at the end of Magnolia Lane where they would take your picture and give you a card with the info on how to download it from the website….all at no charge! 

Lottery vs Stubhub

The Masters was the first time I’ve been to ANY sporting event where I didn’t feel nickel and dimed.  They’re not in it to make a profit from the spectators… TV rights pay for everything the club needs. They know this is the ultimate fan event and this is often a once in a lifetime opportunity for many to walk Augusta National. 

You’ll spend a pretty penny on a hotel during Masters week, and tickets into the gates can be an arm and a leg from resellers: a week before the tournament, a 7-day badge to the grounds was $11,000US on Stubhub (and I thought Super Bowl tickets were expensive!)

The tickets through the lottery system where I got mine for any day of the tournament are $65.  You can barely get in the doors at a NHL or NFL game in the nosebleeds for that type of price. 

All that being said, it’s 100% worth it, and an experience a golfer at any level, even one who doesn’t care for watching golf will never forget.  I could write a blog post a week until next year’s Masters tournament about the unique nuances of the property, the people and the whole event if I had time. 

Last Word

If it weren’t for the issue of the tournament being in the middle of tax season, I’d be finding a way to be in Augusta for the tournament every year. 

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11th Street SW is Calgary's Green Street

While 2nd, 4th and 8th Streets SW get most of the attention as the Beltline’s trendy pedestrian corridors, for my money 11th St SW wins hands-down.  It is home to the historic sandstone Connaught School, the charming Kalamata Grocery Store and Calgary Co-op’s Midtown store. It also has Good Earth Café’s flagship store, as well as the historic Galaxie Diner.

Deadending at 17th Avenue SW, it gets limited vehicle traffic, making for a pleasant pedestrian experience.  And with four green spaces – the Connaught schoolyard, Connaught Park, Thomson Family Park and Shaw Millenium Park – we should all be green with envy!

Backstory

In the early 20th century, 11th Street was the main street for those living on the west side of Connaught community that extended from 4th to 14th St. SW and from railway tracks to 17th Ave. SW (today’s Beltline was formed in 2003 by the merger of Connaught, founded in 1905 and Victoria Park, founded in 1914). 
The red brick 1912 Brigden Block is a nice reminder of the mixed-use buildings (retail at street level and residential above) that lined 11th Street a century ago.  Walter James Brigden was a London-born grocer and butcher and the building has been home to a neighbourhood grocery store since it opened.  
In 1978, Jim Kokos opened the Kalamata Grocery store, (named after the olive-rich region in Greece where he was from) and today his two sons operate it. 
And yes, they carry a wide array of olives. 

New Parks / New Art

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This past June, 11th Street’s appeal increased significantly with the addition of Calgary’s first off-leash urban dog park.  Designed by Calgary’s Studio 818 in the existing Connaught Park, the east half of the park now has separate fenced areas for big and little dogs, seating for owners and a water fountain for the dogs.

The Beltline is home to 650 licensed dogs and who knows how many unlicensed ones.  Like all dog parks, it is a popular community hangout for humans and canines summer and winter.   

Too bad the gate didn't stay in the park.

Too bad the gate didn't stay in the park.

Then just four months later, Thomson Family Park, designed by Calgary’s Ground3 Landscape Architects opened to much fanfare. 

This park space dates back to 1923 when it was the home of the Calgary Lawn Bowling Club, which recently moved to Spruce Cliff. 

Today, this welcoming contemporary urban park for all ages includes a contemporary playground, a hill with a slide, a promenade, picnic area, grass playing field, winter outdoor skating rink (with overhead lighting for night use) summer water feature and public artwork.  

It might surprise some that 750 children under the age of 4 and 1,200 under 14 (2014 Civic Census) call the Beltline home. 

One of the parks highlights is neon-coloured mural created by Calgary artist Sergey Ryutin with help from young people as part of the “Painted City Street Art Program for Youth.” Look carefully and you will see the words “The Readiness is All” which is taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2.

This is an interesting choice for a “family park” given it refers to Hamlet’s “readiness to die.”  The City of Calgary’s website explains “Throughout the play, Hamlet constantly debates the meaning of life… this line demonstrates Hamlet’s new thinking and that he is at peace with the inevitable. In a general sense, this line is a good reminder, to everyone, to always be ready for anything. Everyone will face either a difficult situation or decision at some point in their lives, and being prepared for that can make a significant difference.”

Most park visitors just glance at the art and think, “that’s colourful and playful.” Others will notice the words, but have no idea of the meaning and forget about it. And a few others might know the meaning (or go home and look it up as I did) and think about what it might mean in the context of a public space and the diversity of people who hang out there.

Last Word

Good streets, parks and public art should appeal to citizens of all ages and backgrounds on many different levels - 11th Street SW does just that.

An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section, April 8, 2017.  White is an avid urban flaneur. Follow him on twitter @everydaytourist or read his blogs at everydaytourist.ca

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Calgary: Fun, Funky, Quirky Fences

Recently I was asked by CBC Calgary to do a piece on the design and architecture of houses in Calgary.  In the process of looking at my library of photos I discovered a bunch of fun, fun and quirky fences. 

I then contacted David Peyto (regular readers may remember he is attempting to walk every street in Calgary, as of April 9, 2017 he had completed 452 walks covering 3,600 km) to see what he might have in his library of photos. Soon my phone was buzzing like crazy in my back pocket (I kinda liked it) as Peyto’s images kept coming in. 

I immediately thought this would make a fun photo essay. So here it is.

Peyto's Fences

Silver Springs. This is Peyto's favourite, around the corner from W.O. Mitchell School. There is a welcome rock, a light and a doorbell for the neighbourhood cats and dogs. 

Silver Springs. This is Peyto's favourite, around the corner from W.O. Mitchell School. There is a welcome rock, a light and a doorbell for the neighbourhood cats and dogs. 

Hawkwood 

Bridgeland Riverside

Altadore

Altadore

Arbour Lake

Arbour Lake

Woodlands

Woodlands

Thorncliffe

Thorncliffe

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

South Calgary 

South Calgary 

Sunnyside

Sunnyside

Killarney

Killarney

Inglewood

Inglewood

Fun Fence Quotes

“Love your neighbor as yourself; but don't take down the fence.” Carl Sandburg

“The fence that makes good neighbors needs a gate to make good friends.” Anonymous

“The fence around a cemetery is foolish, for those inside can't get out and those outside don't want in.” Arthur Brisbane“Security is a double-edged sword: While a fence sure protects the fenced; it also imprisons the protected.” Mokokoma Mokhonoana

“Careful as a naked man climbn’ a barb wire fence.” Cowboy Proverb

 

Everyday Tourist's Fences

Parkdale

Parkdale

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Altadore, River Park 

Altadore, River Park 

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Beltline, Thomson Family Park

Beltline, Thomson Family Park

Sunnyside 

Sunnyside 

Downtown 

Downtown 

Mt. Pleasant

Mt. Pleasant

Sunnyside

Sunnyside

Last Word

If you have a fun fence image…I’d love to see it.

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Berlin Wall Artifact: Best Flaneur Find Ever?

We were heading to the East Side Gallery where there is 1.5 km of the Berlin Wall still intact. It has been a canvas for street artists since 1989 when the Wall was torn down, but that is another story. 

As we were flaneuring our way to the Gallery, we saw a magnificent red brick church and noticed a sandwich board outside the front doors and thought it might be open so headed over to check it out. It was and so we decided to step inside.

Hidden Gem

Once I stopped looking up, I noticed some display cabinets with small artifact looking objects inside.  Indeed, they were small fragments of the Berlin Wall with some of the tagging graffiti on them, accompanied by photos of the wall where they were from. 

Then I noticed a Euro sign. Could they be for sale?  There were a few guys hanging around the vestibule, but they couldn't speak English. Fortunately, they were keen to find someone to help us and yes indeed they were for sale. 

The wall fragments came in three sizes - small medium and large. Just like t-shirts. 

We debated the logic of buying a piece of Berlin Wall, thinking the small pieces were too small and the larger pieces too heavy to haul back. But in the end, we became a proud owner of a piece of the Berlin Wall complete with a photo of where it came from on the wall and letter of authenticity or at least that is what they told us it was. 

From then on we looked at other slabs and pieces of the Berlin Wall that are scattered throughout the city to see how the concrete composition of our artifact compared.  They all looked exactly like the piece we have.  

Guess we will just have to be believers. 

St. Thomas Kirche Church 101

The church was built between 1865 and 1869 by architect Friedrich Alder.  At the time of its completion, it was the biggest church in Berlin with 3,000 seats.  It is designed in the form of a Latin Cross, with a 56 m dome and two 48 m towers facing the Mariannenplatz. 

The eastern half of the church was destroyed in an air raid on November 22, 1942, and all of the interior furnishings were completely lost.  The façade has been restored to the original state but the interior has not. 

The Berlin Wall had a significant impact on the church as it divided the congregation.

Last Word

I carried my piece of the Berlin Wall home in my carry-on luggage, but I almost lost it in Dublin. Security wanted to check my bag and had to double check if it was OK to have it in my carry on luggage.  Germany security had no issues.

The Berlin Wall will add a new dimension to my collection of flaneur finds.