On paper Calgary and Nashville share many similarities. Both are inland, river cities, next to major parks and mountains and have a metro population of about 1.5 million. Perhaps most importantly both also have international signature brands - Nashville as the home of country and western music and Calgary as the home of the Calgary Stampede.
Assuming the City Centre is the heart and soul of a city, I thought it might be interesting to see how the two City Centres compare with each other.
Main Street Animation
Lower Broadway, Nashville’s signature street is animated from 10am to 3am 365 days of the year with free live music being offered in 25+ honky tonk bars. In comparison, Calgary’s Stephen Avenue is busy mostly over weekday lunch hours when thousands of office workers head out for a bite to eat (25+ upscale restaurants) or a relaxing walk.
While Stephen Avenue is a conservative upscale restaurant row, Lower Broadway is loud, fun-loving gritty urban playground which every weekend is invaded by dozens of Bachelorette Parties.
Nashville has nothing to match The Core, Calgary’s urban retail mecca, nor does it have a signature department store like The Bay. It is also missing the office tower retail offerings of a Bankers Hall, Bow Valley Square or Scotia Centre.
Nashville has nothing close to the pedestrian experience offered by Calgary’s 17th Avenue, 11th Avenue, 4th Street, Atlantic Avenue, 10th Street and Kensington Road.
I was shocked at how busy Nashville’s museums and art galleries were even during the week. Perhaps this is not surprising as Nashville attracted 13.9 million visitors in 2016 vs. Calgary’s 7.2 million. While on paper Nashville’s new Country Music Hall of Fame and Calgary’s National Music Centre are on par, Calgary lacks the likes of the Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Musicians Hall of Fame Museums. They also have an African American Music Museum under construction.
Calgary’s Glenbow would be on par with the Frist Art Gallery (located in Nashville’s Art Deco fromer Post Office) and Tennessee State Museum. Nashville also has the Ryman Theatre the original home of the Grande Old Opry, which today offers daily tours and headliner performances in the evening. Calgary’s Palace Theatre pales in comparison as a tourist attraction/cultural icon.
Both cities have a performing arts centre, symphony hall and central libraries that are more or less on par with each other.
Calgary has nothing to compare to Nashville’s 800 room Omni Hotel, a luxury urban resort attached to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Our executive suite offered a postcard view of the downtown. It was a true urban oasis.
Nashville also has two heritage hotels compared to Calgary’s one. And we were gobsmacked by the professionally curated contemporary art exhibition at the 21c Museum Hotel.
Nashville’s new mega convention centre makes Calgary Telus Convention Centre look second class. Even if when you add in the BMO Centre, Nashville’s Convention and Trade Show facilities far surpass Calgary’s.
Nashville has nothing to match Calgary’s river pathways with its plethora of walkers, runners and cyclists 365 days of the year. Nor does it have anything to match Calgary’s recreational facilities - Eau Claire Y, Repsol Sports Centre or Shaw Millenium Park.
I also didn’t encounter anything in Nashville that compares to Calgary’s island parks or Memorial Park.
Nashville’s 20-year old Bridgestone arena is very much integrated into their downtown – right next to Lower Broadway street animation and across the street from the convention centre. However, the streets around it are devoid of any pedestrian activity except for a few hours before and after game times.
Calgary’s Saddledome arena is on par with the Bridgestone arena in architecture and size. With better programming (food trucks and live bands) and marketing I expect Olympic Way could function like Lower Broadway to create a more animated streetscape on game days.
Nashville’s Nissan stadium, located across the river from Lower Broadway, is surrounded by a huge vacant parking lot except for the eight Sundays when the Titans have a home game. Calgary’s McMahon Stadium, while smaller, functions much the same way being used just a few times a year. At least the parking lot at McMahon Stadium is used for “park and ride” during the week.
While, Nashville has several new contemporary glass office towers that would be on par with Calgary’s Brookfield Place or 707 Fifth, however they lack the integration with street via plazas, public art and retail.
I encountered nothing in Nashville that match Calgary’s two new iconic pedestrian bridges and the historic Centre Street bridge. Yes, Nashville has a huge historic truss bridge completed in 1909 that spands the Cumberland River and at 960m it is one of the longest in the world, but I rarely saw anybody use it at there is little on the other side of the river except the stadium.
When it come to public plazas, Nashville had two – the Courthouse Square above parkade and the Walk of Fame Park next to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Calgary’s equivalent would be Olympic Plaza, James Short Park and McDougal Centre.
Nashville has no LRT, and their bus service pales in comparison to Calgary.
Like Calgary, Nashville is experiencing an urban living renaissance with dozens of new condo developments in its City Centre. The Gulch is Nashville’s equivalent of Calgary’s East Village – minus the huge investment in public amenities.
Inglewood/Ramsay with its numerous music and bohemian venues parallels East Nashville. Nashville’s upscale trendy 12 South is similar to Calgary’s Britannia. Calgary’s Kensington Village would be on par with 21st Ave S near Vanderbilt and Belmont Universities. Marda Loop would be Calgary’s equivalent to Nashville’s 8th Ave S district.
What Nashville doesn’t have is anything to match Calgary’s vibrant Beltline, Bridgeland or Mission communities.
Calgary and Nashville’s City Centres are as different as night and day, as different as engineers and musicians. Calgary’s has a clean, conservative, corporate sense of place, while Nashville’s is a gritty, party, touristy place.
Calgary’s City Centre is a calm HQ (headquarters) quarter, while Nashville’s is a chaotic SHED (sports, hospitality, entertainment, district). Each has its inherent advantages and disadvantages.
Cities can’t be all things to all people.
Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on Nov 11, 2017.
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Richard White can be reached at email@example.com or follow him on twitter @everydaytourist