Nashville is one of the fastest growing cities in North America today - construction cranes are everywhere. Yet Calgary, even in a recession, could easily give it a run for its money when it comes to creating urban villages. Calgary's East Village blows Nashville's Gulch away as a model 21st century urban community.
In fact, Calgary's diversity of urban villages surpass anything Nashville, Austin, Portland or Denver has to offer.
The Gulch vs East Village
The Gulch, a LEED Certified community just southwest of Nashville’s downtown, is their most developed urban village with hotels, numerous condos (1,500 homes to date), office buildings, restaurants, clubs and a small urban grocery store. However, it pales in comparison to Calgary’s East Village. It lacks the parks, public spaces, natural setting along a river, transit links and the density of development that makes East Village so special.
East Nashville vs Inglewood
Many consider East Nashville to be the City’s coolest neighbourhood with its bohemian vibe, including numerous old houses converted to record stores, pizza parlours, guitar and vintage shops. However, the restaurants, shops and clubs are chaotically – there is no real Main Street. Also East Nashville is cut off from downtown - not only by the river but by the huge NISSAN Stadium surrounded by surface parking lots.
Calgary’s Inglewood with its historic Main Street, various music venues, Esker Foundation Art Gallery, Recordland, Crown Surplus store and indie shops, is every bit as is cool as East Nashville.
Other Urban Villages
Sandwiched between Vanderbilt and Belmont University is the three-block long 21st Ave S Village. This community has much the same feel as Calgary’s Kensington Village. It even has a historic arthouse cinema - the two-screen Belcourt Theatre. What it lacks though is Kensington’s grocery store, drug store, walkability to downtown and transit connections.
12 South is Nashville’s upscale pedestrian area that is perhaps best known for being home to Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James shop. Indeed it is bustling street with lots of restaurants, cafes and women’s fashion boutiques.
But look a little closer and you’ll see it doesn’t provide the necessities of urban living - grocery store, drug store and professional offices.
Calgary’s equivalent would be Britannia with its lovely plaza street that does have a grocery store and other everyday amenities that are required to create a walkable community or Mission/Roxboro.
We lived in an Airbnb for 7 days in the 12 South District and our biggest frustration was that it was a 20-minute walk (often without sidewalks) in the other direction to a grocery store. There was no bakery where we could buy bread, bagels or buns (we were disappointed to find out the Five Daughters Bakery was just a donut shop). While I could buy some craft beer, there was no liquor store. Not even a convenience store where you could get some milk, beer and wine. We were very surprised to find there was no live music venue along 12 South, although there was a guitar and drum shop.
We found nothing in Nashville has nothing to match the urban lifestyle that Calgary’s Beltline and Mission communities offer, nor did we find any budding new urban villages like Bridgeland/Riverside or Marda Loop.
Calgary's Urban Villages
If you haven't guessed already, an urban village has a mix of uses - retail, restaurants, recreation, cafes, pubs, live music venues, galleries, theatres, cinemas, bookstores, grocers, drug stores, financial and medical services all within a few blocks. It also includes a mix of housing types - single family, duplex/triplex, row housing and multi-family (mid and hi-rises). They often have one or more employment centres - office, government, school and hospital. Urban Villages are pedestrian oriented often with a Main Street as the meeting place for residents.
Calgary boasts the following urban villages in various stages of evolution:
- East Village
- Eau Claire/West End
- Marda Loop
- Currie (under construction)
- University District (under construction)
- University City/Brentwood
- Quarry Park
- West District
I left Nashville with a much better appreciation of the importance of creating long contiguous pedestrian streets like 17th Avenue SW or 4th Street SW as part of urban villages.
I think Calgary is on the right path with its Main Street program which is looking at ways to foster more pedestrian oriented everyday shopping/services streets throughout the city.
My Nashville experience also gave me a better appreciation of the importance of providing the "necessities" of everyday living rather than “just the niceties” when it comes to fostering urban villages.
Thirdly, I have a better appreciation for just how well Calgary is doing in fostering the development of new and existing urban villages.
Yes, Calgary's collection of urban villages at various stages of development surpass anything Nashville, Austin, Portland or Denver has.