N3: No parking! No cars! No worries!

I recently had a chance to tour Knightsbridge Homes’ and Metropia’s controversial new N3 condo in East Village, which has absolutely no parking for residents or visitors. While some saw the lack of parking as a huge risk in a city where most citizens can’t live without a car, Joe Starkman, President Knightsbridge Homes and his team did their research and realized while the market in Calgary for a condo with no parking was small, all he needed was 167 people in a city of over one million to sign up. 

  Looking west to downtown...

Looking west to downtown...

Turns out he was correct. The 460 to 620 square foot condos were quickly snapped up. Today, the building is fully occupied with residents who love living East Village where almost everything is - or soon will be - within walking distance or a quick transit ride away.

While the homes are small, I and the two other housing professionals I was with were very impressed with their efficient designed.  While one might think N3’s market would be a haven for millennials, many were empty nesters.   

  Communal living room...

Communal living room...

IKEA Connection

What I found really interesting too was that every buyer was given a $500 IKEA gift card to help outfit their condo, a Lifetime Car2Go Membership, $500 in Car2Go mileage credits and a $500 gift card to Bow Cycle. Obviously, N3 was destined to become a haven for walkers and cyclists, who only needed a car occasionally.  I also learned a special weekend IKEA bus (hourly service starting at 11 am) was established not only for N3 but all East Village residents and the City Center at the N3 condo show suite – it still operates today.

  Double decker bike parking...

Double decker bike parking...

Top To Bottom Appeal

Calgary’s GEC architects designed a handsome building, which includes a spectacular roof top patio, complete with kitchen facilities and workout space.  The patio has million dollar views of the downtown skyline, as well as great views of the new Central Library, the river and mountains. The rooftop patio was very well used this summer, becoming a communal living room for all residents. It is a view that will never disappear, as all of the surrounding buildings will never get any taller.

Its basement is probably the best bike storage in Calgary.  It comes complete with a bike repair and washing area.  There is direct access to the mews between N3 and St. Louis hotel with a bike friendly ramp and of course state-of-the-art secure storage racks.  The bike room is bright and airy, not a dark and dingy basement.

  Rooftop view looking NE...

Rooftop view looking NE...

  Rooftop view looking south...

Rooftop view looking south...

Mixed Use

Like all good City Centre condo developments, N3 includes commercial uses at ground level.  Tim Hortons has recently opened along the 4th Street SE street frontage while The Brewer’s Apprentice has opened in the mid-block mews that separates N3 from the historic St. Louis Hotel.  Apprentice is a unique, high-tech concept that offers 48 different craft beers from Alberta and beyond.  They offer tastings and in addition to buying beer in cans and bottles, you can get freshly poured growlers and tallboys.

Kudos to the GEC architectural team who chose to make the entrance to N3 from the mews and not from 8th Ave SE or 4th St SE, thereby allowing for better commercial space at street level and a funky, European-like space in the mews.

  Entrance to N3 is from the mews...

Entrance to N3 is from the mews...

  View from balcony....

View from balcony....

Last Word

While N3 offered the lowest cost new condo prices in East Village and probably in all of the City Centre, it is by no means a low cost building. The amenities rival those of luxury condos.  I chatted with several residents during my tour and everyone was very happy with their purchase.

N3 has been so successfully Starkman and his team are going to “do it again.” Well, not exactly. They are currently developing plans for the 14-storey Velo, which will have a mix of housing types including mico-suites (under 250 sq. ft.), seniors’ housing and housing for the ably-disabled all in one tower.  And yes it will have some parking but not the typical amount.

As for the significance of the name N3, officially it stands for New attitude, New vision and New lifestyle, my interpretation is No parking, No cars, No worries!

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section, Dec 23, 2017.

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

No parking! No Problem!

Condo Living: More Time For FUN!

21st Century: Century of the condo!

Calgary leads Vancouver in condo design?

National Music Centre: The Red Flag?

I intentionally waited for over a year before visiting Calgary’s new National Music Centre (NMC), aka Studio Bell. I wanted to give it time to work out the bugs and get all of its exhibitions and programming in place.  But, It was hard. The reviews of the interior architecture were all glowing. What I didn’t hear was how great the exhibitions or programs were.  All the talk was about how spectacular the building was.  To me, this was a red flag!

However, after returning from Nashville and experiencing their music museums I decided needed to check out NMC. I called up a friend who also hadn’t made it to the Center yet (even though he had an annual membership for the first year) and made plans to go together.

  National Music Centre's lobby invites visitors to play pianos and guitars.

National Music Centre's lobby invites visitors to play pianos and guitars.

Great First Impression

I loved that as I entered the National Music Centre I immediately heard live music. It was young girl playing the Dean Stanton-decorated piano in the lobby. Then I heard a young man tickling the ivories on another piano in the lobby, as well as some guitar sounds from the exhibition space just off the lobby.

GREAT - lots of hands-on opportunities for people to play and hear musical instruments.

Uplifting

The lobby was visually uplifting with its five-storey central atrium and stairwell to the heaven (pun intended) with slivers of light shining through.  Indeed, there was a sense of reverence - a cathedral-like sense of place. 

  It is easy to get seduced by the museum's striking architecture.  

It is easy to get seduced by the museum's striking architecture. 

Unfortunately, as we proceeded through the exhibitions we both became less and less enchanted.  There were lots of galleries that seemed to have very little in them or they had material to read but not much in the way of things to listen to or play with.

A lot of the information was easily available on the Internet or was old news.

  An example of large exhibition space devoted to information that is easily accessible on the Internet.

An example of large exhibition space devoted to information that is easily accessible on the Internet.

Some Things Missing

Given the Centre’s collection of over 2,000 musical instruments, we expected to see and hear hundreds of instruments. While there were some displays of instruments, it was often the same ones we had seen at the old Cantos Centre in the Customs House.  And while there were some places with headphones that allowed you to hear the instruments, they were too few and the music offered too short.

  An example of one of the exhibition from the museum's collection.

An example of one of the exhibition from the museum's collection.

I was also expecting some kind of introductory video summarizing Canada’s music history. Something that would get me excited about what I was about to see and put Canada’s music into perspective.

  This exhibition of "Trailbrazers" looks like billboard. This would have been a great place for a video documenting the how Canadians have been music "trailblazers" for over a century.  

This exhibition of "Trailbrazers" looks like billboard. This would have been a great place for a video documenting the how Canadians have been music "trailblazers" for over a century.  

But surprising to us both, there wasn’t and we didn’t see it anything that would helped international visitors appreciate the unique regional music of Canada.  For example, the role of the kitchen party in Maritimes and its links to Celtic music.  It seemed logical to both of us there would be separate galleries celebrating each region with listening stations that would invite you to sit and listen to a spectrum of the region’s music.

I was expecting something like the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale, which organizes its huge collection of instruments into dozens of displays based on musical genre and countries.

I missed the in-depth historical story-telling I experienced in musical museums in both Nashville and Memphis.  For example, at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville, there was a very large display of Shania Twain artifacts that not only told the story of her rise to fame, but also how she is responsible for linking country music to pop music, and thus significantly changing contemporary music.

Screen Shot 2017-12-03 at 9.27.24 AM.png

I didn’t find NMC’s k.d. lang exhibit with its display of outfits and interview particularly insightful.  I would have loved to have seen a video of her performances and how they changed as her career evolved. I will never forget seeing Lang at Calaway Park in the early  ‘80s wearing a wedding dress and cowboy boots and dancing like a possessed shaman.  I wanted to be "wowed" by her exhibition. Link: Early k.d. lang performance

  k.d. lang exhibition seemed more focused on fashion than on music and performances.

k.d. lang exhibition seemed more focused on fashion than on music and performances.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was we couldn’t see and hear the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, as it is located in the King Eddy wing of the Centre, which is only open for special events. 

The state-of-the-art exhibitions I was expecting were not to be. I came away with the impression that the champions of the Centre spent lots of money and attention on the building design, but little on the exhibitions and programming of the space. 

Highlight

On the upside, the highlight for me was the 15-minute live demonstration of the 1924 Kimball Theatre Organ that was used to make music and sounds for silent movies. The thundering sound of this huge instrument - the size of main floor of a 1950s house - was impressive, as were the range of sounds it could make.    

This is what I was expecting more of - turns out it was the only live demonstration of the day.  If you came in the morning, there were no live demos. I would have loved to hear someone play some early Elton John on the white Elton John piano.  Or how about a demo of the Theremin - a musical instrument that you control by waving your hands over it, rather than physical contact.  I want to hear the instrument, not just read about them.

To me, the key to a music museum is the ability hear lots of different types of music, not just read about it.   And when the museum has a large collection of rare instruments, I want to see and hear them performed.

Poor Design

While everyone is blown away by the architecture, it doesn’t really work well as a museum space.

The open central atrium and tiled surfaces mean sound echoes through out the building.

 The ramp/stairwell of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg has many of the same design vs function issues at the National Music Centre. 

The ramp/stairwell of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg has many of the same design vs function issues at the National Music Centre. 

It was really annoying when kids were talking loudly in the lobby (as you would expect) but you could hear them throughout the building. 

The stairwell, atrium and other design elements also mean there is actually less exhibition space than one would think given the size of the building.  

I had many of the same feelings, when I visited the Canadian Museum for Rights in Winnipeg. 

In both cases, the champions built a uniquely shaped building but that doesn’t function as a great exhibition space and has lots of wasted space.

  Canadian Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg. 

Canadian Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg. 

  National Music Centre aka Studio Bell in Calgary.

National Music Centre aka Studio Bell in Calgary.

Importance of Programming

As a former art gallery director and curator, I am very cognizant of the fact the exhibitions and programming are the key to a successful gallery or museum, not the architecture.  In fact, you don’t really need to pay admission to appreciate the NMC’s architecture - you do that from the outside and the lobby.

Over the two hours we were there on a Friday afternoon in November, there were perhaps 35 people in the entire museum and only 11 showed up for the Kimball Organ demo. This pales in comparison to my experience at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum a week earlier where hundreds of people packed the museum on a Monday morning.

We were told it was a slow day.
  Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum was busy even first thing on a Monday morning. 

Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum was busy even first thing on a Monday morning. 

Value for Money

While, the 163,000 square foot National Music Centre costs $191 million to build, I feel it would have been better to budget $125 million (for which you could still get a stunning building) and then raise $50 million as an endowment to create stunning exhibitions and programming, including having the King Eddy fully operational with live music 7 days a week.  I am told the King Eddy will open full-time in July 2018.

In fact, the 210,000 square foot expansion of bass clef-shaped Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which opened in 2014, cost $130CDN million and has very similar specs.

Screen Shot 2017-11-25 at 8.43.27 PM.png

Last Word

Though just my opinion, it is an informed and honest one. Just in case you are wondering, the opinion of my fellow visitor was “the Centre is sterile and underwhelming.” 

I was expecting a lot of Calgarians to disagree with these observations, however, the response (10 emails and 2 calls) to date (Dec 7th) has all been in support of these observations. 

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

Canadian Museum for Human Rights: Money Well Spent?

Postcards: International Musical Instruments Museum

Music Museums In Memphis

National Music Museum accepts authenticity challenge

Urban Villages: Calgary defeats Nashville

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. 

  Public art a critical and fun part of the revitalization of both Nashville's Gulch and Calgary's East Village. I loved this piece in the Gulch. Every time I passed by someone interacting with it - a sure sign of a successful public artwork. 

Public art a critical and fun part of the revitalization of both Nashville's Gulch and Calgary's East Village. I loved this piece in the Gulch. Every time I passed by someone interacting with it - a sure sign of a successful public artwork. 

  The Gulch's Main Street. 

The Gulch's Main Street. 

  Calgary's East Village is a multi-billion dollar master-planned development  just to the east of the downtown core has a vibrant river walk plaza. 

Calgary's East Village is a multi-billion dollar master-planned development  just to the east of the downtown core has a vibrant river walk plaza. 

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.

  The Blue Grass Jam at the Gulch's iconic Station Inn live music venue is packed every Sunday night - standing room only.  Unfortunately, Calgary's King Eddy Hotel in East Village has been renovated, gentrified and sits empty most nights. 

The Blue Grass Jam at the Gulch's iconic Station Inn live music venue is packed every Sunday night - standing room only.  Unfortunately, Calgary's King Eddy Hotel in East Village has been renovated, gentrified and sits empty most nights. 

  Fortunately, East Village's historic Simmons Building along the East Village Riverwalk, has been renovated to accommodate an upscale restaurant, coffee shop and bakery while retaining its historical character.  

Fortunately, East Village's historic Simmons Building along the East Village Riverwalk, has been renovated to accommodate an upscale restaurant, coffee shop and bakery while retaining its historical character.  

  Nashville's Gulch District has several street patios creating an attractive pedestrian experience. 

Nashville's Gulch District has several street patios creating an attractive pedestrian experience. 

  Nashville's Gulch has nothing to match the amazing public realm of Calgary's East Village. 

Nashville's Gulch has nothing to match the amazing public realm of Calgary's East Village. 

  Calgary's East Village is a multi-billion dollar development that will eventually be home to 12,000 residents immediately east of the downtown core. 

Calgary's East Village is a multi-billion dollar development that will eventually be home to 12,000 residents immediately east of the downtown core. 

  Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's riverside living be it in East Village, Eau Claire or Mission. 

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's riverside living be it in East Village, Eau Claire or Mission. 

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.

  East Nashville is dotted with interesting new and old commercial and condo buildings but they are not located in a contiguous manner or with any connectivity. 

East Nashville is dotted with interesting new and old commercial and condo buildings but they are not located in a contiguous manner or with any connectivity. 

  Calgary's Inglewood district is a mix of old and new buildings that are mostly located along 9th Ave SE. to create an inviting 5-block pedestrian street with a mix of retail, restaurants, cafes and live music venues. This building combines retail, restaurant, cafe, offices and contemporary art gallery. 

Calgary's Inglewood district is a mix of old and new buildings that are mostly located along 9th Ave SE. to create an inviting 5-block pedestrian street with a mix of retail, restaurants, cafes and live music venues. This building combines retail, restaurant, cafe, offices and contemporary art gallery. 

  Many of East Nashville's corners are waiting to be developed. 

Many of East Nashville's corners are waiting to be developed. 

  Inglewood's Main Street aka 9th Avenue aka Atlantic Avenue, Calgary's first commercial street has retained its historical character with major new developments at its east and west entrances.  

Inglewood's Main Street aka 9th Avenue aka Atlantic Avenue, Calgary's first commercial street has retained its historical character with major new developments at its east and west entrances.  

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.

  Nashville's 12th Ave South district is a lovely 7-block pedestrian zone with a few new condo buildings and high-end retailers and restaurants, but lacks grocery, drug or convenience store.   

Nashville's 12th Ave South district is a lovely 7-block pedestrian zone with a few new condo buildings and high-end retailers and restaurants, but lacks grocery, drug or convenience store.   

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.

  All Calgary urban villages have grocery, drug stores, banks and other everyday services  essential to urban living like Marda Loop. 

All Calgary urban villages have grocery, drug stores, banks and other everyday services  essential to urban living like Marda Loop. 

  The Sutler is part of a cluster of restaurants that a buzzing on weekends at brunch. It is part of an emerging vintage/antique district along 8th Ave South.  Several new low-rise condos have recently been built or are under construction along 8th Ave South. 

The Sutler is part of a cluster of restaurants that a buzzing on weekends at brunch. It is part of an emerging vintage/antique district along 8th Ave South.  Several new low-rise condos have recently been built or are under construction along 8th Ave South. 

  Unfortunately 8th Ave South is not pedestrian friendly with poor or no sidewalks to encourage pedestrian traffic.  

Unfortunately 8th Ave South is not pedestrian friendly with poor or no sidewalks to encourage pedestrian traffic.  

  This is the Nashville infill project just off of Charolette Ave at 16th Ave. North with downtown in the background.

This is the Nashville infill project just off of Charolette Ave at 16th Ave. North with downtown in the background.

  The Calgary equivalent would be Garrison Woods/Marda Loop with its mix of housing types and commercial development. 

The Calgary equivalent would be Garrison Woods/Marda Loop with its mix of housing types and commercial development. 

  Nashville has nothing like Calgary's University City with its link to the Brentwood LRT station and University of Calgary. 

Nashville has nothing like Calgary's University City with its link to the Brentwood LRT station and University of Calgary. 

  Nashville has nothing like Calgary's Beltline community with its mix of old houses and small apartments, as well as older and modern highrises with several pedestrian streets.

Nashville has nothing like Calgary's Beltline community with its mix of old houses and small apartments, as well as older and modern highrises with several pedestrian streets.

  Nashville has nothing like Calgary's master planned Bridge's project in Bridgeland/Riverside just northeast of the downtown.  

Nashville has nothing like Calgary's master planned Bridge's project in Bridgeland/Riverside just northeast of the downtown.  

  Nashville had nothing comparable to Calgary's Kensington Village's mix of retail, restaurants, cafes, condos and single family homes all located near an LRT station. 

Nashville had nothing comparable to Calgary's Kensington Village's mix of retail, restaurants, cafes, condos and single family homes all located near an LRT station. 

   Calgary's 17th Avenue   is the equivalent of Nashville's Lower Broadway. 

Calgary's 17th Avenue is the equivalent of Nashville's Lower Broadway. 

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:

  Calgary has numerous local urban grocers that are key to a vibrant urban village. 

Calgary has numerous local urban grocers that are key to a vibrant urban village. 

City Center

  • Beltline
  • Mission
  • Chinatown
  • East Village
  • Kensington
  • Bridgeland/Riverside
  • Eau Claire/West End

Inner City

  Calgary has a vibrant independent cafe culture. 

Calgary has a vibrant independent cafe culture. 

  • Marda Loop 
  • Britannia
  • Currie (under construction)
  • University District (under construction)
  • University City/Brentwood

Suburbs

  • Quarry Park
  • West District
  • SETON 

 

Lessons Learned:

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. 

   Currie   is new 195-acre mixed-use urban village (7 kilometres from downtown) under construction that will become home to 12,000 Calgary residents.  Photo Credit: Currie Life website.

Currie is new 195-acre mixed-use urban village (7 kilometres from downtown) under construction that will become home to 12,000 Calgary residents.  Photo Credit: Currie Life website.

   University District   a master planned urban community located at the western edge of the University of Calgary campus is currently under construction and will take 15 years to build out.  It includes a 9 block Main Street with a Save-On-Foods grocery store and hotel. It will be a mix of multi-family buildings that will become home for 7,0000+ Calgarians (families, seniors, empty nesters and young professional).  

University District a master planned urban community located at the western edge of the University of Calgary campus is currently under construction and will take 15 years to build out.  It includes a 9 block Main Street with a Save-On-Foods grocery store and hotel. It will be a mix of multi-family buildings that will become home for 7,0000+ Calgarians (families, seniors, empty nesters and young professional).  

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

Calgary 24 Main Streets?

Bridgeland/Riverside Rebirth 

Marda Loop Madness

 

 

 

Infill Capital of North America: Calgary vs Nashville

For decades now, I thought Calgary was the infill capital of North America.  This belief comes not from any scientific-based research but rather from wandering the inner city streets of Austin, Denver, Chicago, San Diego, Montreal, Ottawa, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver and several other cities over the past decade.  And in that time, I have not seen anything that compares to Calgary’s plethora of new homes being built in Calgary’s established communities. 

To be clear, I am not talking about infill condos but infill single family, duplex, triplex and row housing. 

 New infill homes homes in Nashville's City Centre are very popular.

New infill homes homes in Nashville's City Centre are very popular.

  It was surprising how many of the infill homes didn't have garages in Nashville and if they did often is was just a single car garage. 

It was surprising how many of the infill homes didn't have garages in Nashville and if they did often is was just a single car garage. 

At least, that’s what I thought, until I went to Nashville!

After spending three days at the lovely Omni Hotel in the heart of downtown Nashville, we moved to an Airbnb in the trendy 12 South district, situated about 4 km from downtown. Across the street was a lovely new, two-story, single-family house while two doors down was an infill duplex not unlike what we would see in Calgary’s Altadore or Parkdale communities. 

Skinny Homes

Who knew I had chosen an Airbnb in the infill epicentre of Nashville! Not only were there new infill homes on almost every block, but the back lanes were filled with what they call “guest homes.”  Most often these homes were built above the garage but in some cases they were completely independent homes.  

Nashville’s infill homes are known locally as “Tall Skinnys,” which was in fact what the earlier Calgary infills were often called.  While Calgary’s infill housing dates back to the late ‘80s, in Nashville it is a relatively new phenomenon starting around 2010. 

However – and not surprisingly - communities there are protesting how infills are negatively changing the architecture of the communities.  In true southern style, attractive early and mid-century brick, colonial and craftsman homes with lovely big porches on huge lots (it is not uncommon for lots to be 100 by 200 feet) populate Nashville’s established communities.  

It is vastly different from the cookie-cutter homes that were built in the ‘40s ‘50s and ‘60s in Calgary’s inner city.

  An example of a large corner lot with three houses (one old and two new) with room still lots of grass. Note: no sidewalk. 

An example of a large corner lot with three houses (one old and two new) with room still lots of grass. Note: no sidewalk. 

  An older duplex with the umbilical cord attachment between the two new houses. 

An older duplex with the umbilical cord attachment between the two new houses. 

As I wandered, I also noticed many of the new infill houses had strange connections between them, including one that looked like a +15 bridge.  

I later learned a previous building code required some kind of attachment between the two dwellings on the same lot, leading to small shared walls nicknamed “umbilical cords.”

Fortunately, the city has cut the “umbilical cord” and they are no longer required.

In the 12 South community, a new heritage bylaw no longer allows developers to demolish an old house. Instead, they have to renovate and incorporate it into the new larger home which often becomes a duplex with one home facing the street and one the back alley.  In some cases, three homes can be squeezed onto a corner lot.

  Construction of two houses on one lot, one at the front and one in the back.  Note there are no basements in most Nashville homes. 

Construction of two houses on one lot, one at the front and one in the back.  Note there are no basements in most Nashville homes. 

  An older home being renovated with the addition of second floor and new home at the back. 

An older home being renovated with the addition of second floor and new home at the back. 

  Nashville back alley home.

Nashville back alley home.

Design

Nashville’s skinnys are also made to appear skinnier by design elements that accentuate the vertical nature of the homes.  Most have steep pitched, gabled roofs. The siding is often installed vertically rather than horizontally creating an even more of a sense of height.

  This could easily be in any one of dozens of Calgary's inner-city communities, but this is in Nashville's 12 South District. 

This could easily be in any one of dozens of Calgary's inner-city communities, but this is in Nashville's 12 South District. 

Some have both a porch and balcony above, resulting in pillars or posts that give the home’s façade a more vertical thrust.  

For some reason, almost all homes in Nashville are built several feet above the roadway even though they don’t have basements. 

In effect, this can add another half story to the house, creating a taller effect.

  New homes at the front and at the back of the lot create four new homes on one large lot.

New homes at the front and at the back of the lot create four new homes on one large lot.

  Vertical siding is also quite common in Nashville.

Vertical siding is also quite common in Nashville.

  It is very common to have a few step at the sidewalk to get up to the front lawn and then more steps at the house help enhance the image of a tall skinny house.

It is very common to have a few step at the sidewalk to get up to the front lawn and then more steps at the house help enhance the image of a tall skinny house.

Strangest Infill Project Ever

We love to get off the beaten path, which one day included a bus transfer in the Gulch community (aka Calgary’s East Village) where we decided to wander a bit before catching the next bus. 

Crossing under an overpass, we encountered the strangest City Centre infill project I have ever seen. It was a completely new subdivision with tiny identical homes on huge lots, all with manicured lawns, no fences and not a person in sight.  It was a surreal, pastoral suburban-looking community sitting just blocks away from new highrises.  Turns out it is a public housing project that replaced an older inner-city apartment project.

It seemed such a waste of land in the middle of the city.

  New City Centre infill community in Nashville.  You can see the new condo and office cranes in the distance . Nashville has nothing to compare to Calgary's mega East Village, Currie or University District urban villages. 

New City Centre infill community in Nashville.  You can see the new condo and office cranes in the distance. Nashville has nothing to compare to Calgary's mega East Village, Currie or University District urban villages. 

Calgary: Still The Reigning Infill Capital

Since 2012, 4,876 new infill homes (single and duplex) have been built in Calgary. By the end of September 2017, already 659 new infill homes have been built or are under construction. 

Altadore leads the way with 421 new infills, followed by Killarney/Glengarry (368), Mount Pleasant (346), Richmond (229) and West Hillhurst (208).

Wandering more streets in other communities around Nashville’s City Centre, it was obvious that while infill housing is happening in all of its established communities, 12 South is the epicentre. 

I contacted Craig Owensby, Nashville’s Planning Department’s Public Information Officer to see if I could get similar stats for Nashville, but unfortunately they don’t keep records of infill development as a separate sub-category for new builds.

So while Nashville indeed has a very active infill housing market, is not nearly as old, widespread or vibrant as Calgary’s.  So, in my opinion, Calgary remains the “Infill Capital of North America.”

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Homes section on Saturday, November 25, 2017.  

  Calgary's inner-city communities were dominated by these small single story homes on 50 by 120 foot lots until the 1980s when new infill homes started to become popular. 

Calgary's inner-city communities were dominated by these small single story homes on 50 by 120 foot lots until the 1980s when new infill homes started to become popular. 

  This street in Parkdale is on the block immediately west of the one above. It is lined with new infills that illustrate the diversity of infill designs that can be found in Calgary.

This street in Parkdale is on the block immediately west of the one above. It is lined with new infills that illustrate the diversity of infill designs that can be found in Calgary.

  This is a street in Calgary's Hillhurst community, it looked like a suburban parade of show homes when I took the photo a few years ago. These homes are very popular with young families, which helps to revitalize established communities, creating a healthy inner-city.     Today, even in a recession there are new infill homes being built on almost every other block in all established communities within 5 to 10 km of downtown. 

This is a street in Calgary's Hillhurst community, it looked like a suburban parade of show homes when I took the photo a few years ago. These homes are very popular with young families, which helps to revitalize established communities, creating a healthy inner-city.

Today, even in a recession there are new infill homes being built on almost every other block in all established communities within 5 to 10 km of downtown. 

Mesa: Viewpoint RV & Golf Resort Is Heavenly!

Recently, I was invited by a golf buddy to drive with him to Mesa, Arizona - to share the driving and get in some rounds of golf. A perfect win-win.

While I expected a fun week of golf, I didn’t expect to have my “view” of trailer park living in Mesa radically changed.  After a week at Viewpoint RV & Golf Resort, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

  Don't Worry Be Happy is everyone's mantra at Viewpoint!

Don't Worry Be Happy is everyone's mantra at Viewpoint!

People-Friendly

No sooner had we parked the car, when the Iowa neighbours (you couldn’t miss their large Iowa University Haweyes’ flag on the front of the trailer) across the street came over and introduced themselves.  They immediately invited us to the Happy Hour block party that day – in fact, it happens every Thursday afternoon.  Turns out, everyone takes a turn hosting the weekly event. Everyone brings their own beverage and appies to share to this no fuss party.  Later, we also discovered every Monday is Burger Night at the on-site golf course restaurant for the 1700 block party people.

I love that everyone says “Hi” as they pass by - be it walking, cycling or in a golf cart.  I also love the fact almost everyone has a front patio/porch that is well used, with residents and visitors often “spilling out” onto their carport which can easily be transformed into a lovely outdoor living space. No hiding out in the privacy of a backyard here!

  Yes, I was a little tipsy when I took this pic.

Yes, I was a little tipsy when I took this pic.

Street-Friendly

No sidewalks, no problem! Everyone shares the road – cars, bikes, pedestrians and golf carts all on the roadways with seemingly equal status.  It was interesting to experience a community where the speed limit for cars is 25 km/hr.  Not only were the slow moving cars less intimidating, but it was much quieter.

  Sharing the road....

Sharing the road....

On site amenities

  Tennis anyone?

Tennis anyone?

As the week unfolded, I became more and more impressed with the amazing array of recreational amenities Viewpoint offers residents. Along with 18 and 9- hole golf courses on site, there are dozens of tennis and pickle ball courts, as well as shuffleboard, several swimming pools and hot tubs, two fitness centers and a very attractive softball diamond.

You can’t help but want to be active! If I were to winter here, my active living would definitely increase, maybe adding years to my life.

  You could of had the pool to yourself this morning!

You could of had the pool to yourself this morning!

In addition to recreational facilities, there is a large library, a huge mixed-use ballroom/banquet hall (live concerts, church services, dances, show and sales) and dozens of special interest clubs (e.g. aviator, creative writing, computer, Mah Jong, quilting, photography, hiking etc). I understand there is an impressive quilt show in the spring.

Pretty much everything you could ask for in the way of everyday needs is just a short distance away – an easy cycle to the grocery store and coffee shop, short drive to major shopping, cinemas and just off the #202 freeway, you have easy access to Mesa and Phoenix airports, other Phoenix area attractions and many hiking trails. 

  I'm going to knock this one out of the park....

I'm going to knock this one out of the park....

Mesa 101

Friends who have been going to Mesa for February and March every year tell me the city is definitely under-rated.  They love the free weekly outdoor concerts at the Mesa Art Centre, the fun bronze sculpture walk along Mesa’s Main Street, catching an Oakland Athletics and Chicago Clubs spring training ball game, visiting the mega Mesa Market Swap Meet, taking visitors to The Commemorative Air Force Museum at Falcon Field, Barleen’s Arizona Opry (dinner show) and Organ Stop Pizza.

They love that there are lots of reasonably priced golf courses and great hiking spots - Silly Mountain, Usery Mountain or Superstition Mountain are favourites – all less than a 30 minute drive away. Link: Hiking in Mesa

Mesa’s great freeways let you get to places like the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Phoenix Zoo, Phoenix Botanical Gardens and the Musical Instruments Museum - annual “must-see” places for them and visitors.

  Phoenix's Botanical Gardens is a great walk in a park .  LInk:  Botanical Garden: Right Place! Right Time!

Phoenix's Botanical Gardens is a great walk in a park.  LInk: Botanical Garden: Right Place! Right Time!

 Scottsdale's Musical Instruments Museum has five exhibition space each the size of a Target store. Learn Why!   Link:     Postcards from the Musical Instruments Museum

Scottsdale's Musical Instruments Museum has five exhibition space each the size of a Target store. Learn Why! Link: Postcards from the Musical Instruments Museum

Living Options

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Currently, you can buy an existing trailer home for between $8,000 and $50,000US depending on size, upgrades and location (golf course sites command more money).  Or, you can buy a new manufactured home starting at $90,000US.  

Homeowners lease the site, so there is a monthly fee that includes lease, taxes and free access to all amenities (except golf – but green fees are very reasonable). 

My friend’s 900 square foot, circa 1980s one-bedroom midpoint-priced home, came completely furnished (including two flat screen TVs), as well as an upscale golf cart, two bikes and a grill. Just bring your clothes, toothbrush, clubs and move in!

It quickly became my friend’s home-away-from-home. 
  Jack's Place

Jack's Place

  Lovely side yard.

Lovely side yard.

Density & Diversity Revisited

Viewpoint is huge - over 2,000 sites.  The lots are small, each block lined with similar-looking homes with a single car carport.  To me, it seemed a bit like camping - all the sites lined up and you can clearly hear your neighbours’ conversations (but nobody seemed to mind). 

While suburban cookie-cutter homes have a very negative reputation in urban living and planning circles, I began to wonder what is the issue with having homes all lined up and looking alike.  Who decides what urban aesthetics are beautiful and what is ugly?  Why have trailer parks gotten such a bad rap?

The community spirit I experienced at Viewpoint was as good as any place I have ever lived or visited.  Perhaps it was because of the homogeneity - everyone being seniors, same socio-economic background and having similar interests.  At the same time it was interesting how easily the Americans and Canadians mixed given their different social and political beliefs.

Hmmmm…Is the importance of diversity in fostering community vitality over-rated?  And, why is the City of Calgary closing trailer parks, when perhaps it should be encouraging them?

I am all for integration and diversity, but perhaps we also need to accept and tolerate that humans love to live amongst people with similar life experiences and interests.  Isn’t that why most North American cities in the early 20th century had community names like Little Italy, Chinatown, Jewish Quadrant, Germantown? Food for thought!

  Typical Viewpoint streetscape at mid-day. Yes it looks sterile and deserted pretty much all of the time as everyone is out playing something. Perhaps street vitality is not always a great measure of community vitality. 

Typical Viewpoint streetscape at mid-day. Yes it looks sterile and deserted pretty much all of the time as everyone is out playing something. Perhaps street vitality is not always a great measure of community vitality. 

Fountain of Youth

Indeed, it was heavenly to be sitting out on the deck in shorts with a nice cold beer after golf, or having dinner and breakfast al fresco in early November, while knowing Calgarians were experiencing their first taste of winter.

It was also heavenly to go for a quick swim and sit in the hot tub before an afternoon siesta or to go to the free library and grab a book to read on the deck.  I would have loved to try pickle ball and perhaps take a few swings and shag a few balls on the baseball diamond.  In some ways, it took me back to my youth when all I wanted to do was be outside playing sports 24/7. 

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  November golf at Raven Golf course was heavenly!

November golf at Raven Golf course was heavenly!

Last Word

On my last day, while enjoying an evening glass of wine on the deck, my friend said to me “I love it here. Everyone is happy!”  I agreed!

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

A Country Estate Voyeur Adventure

Exploring Phoenix Without A Car?

Phoenix Must See: Wright's Taliesin

Phoenix "Last Chance" Shopping Frenzy!

Music Cities: Nashville vs Calgary

Great cities have signature streets that reflect the soul of the city. In Nashville (aka Music City), its signature street is Lower Broadway (from 1st to 5th Avenue S) where 25+ honky tonk bars offer free live music (no cover charge, no tickets) from 10 am to 3 am every day.

Lower Broadway “shouts out” Nashville is a Music City!
  Lower Broadway by week day!

Lower Broadway by week day!

  Lower Broadway by week night!

Lower Broadway by week night!

Music Every Day!

  After work fun!

After work fun!

Yes, 365 days of the year you can stroll Lower Broadway and listen to music from the street (stages are at the street windows; and windows are almost always open).

Or, wander in and out of the bars at your leisure to have a drink and listen to music.  I have not encountered anything like it in any other city including Memphis’ famous Beale Street and Austin’s 6th Street. 

But for a music purist, it is not the greatest place to listen to music as the bands are playing almost on top of each other and the audiences (those inside and those strolling by outside) are talking and socializing more than listening.

But there is no denying it is an “Experience.”

Musician Sweat Shop

What was most alarming was to learn the bands (and they are generally very good experienced musicians) are playing only for tips. I was told by several local musicians that on a good night, the late night band members might make $300 each (includes tips and CD sales), while those in the late morning and afternoon might make $100 or $150 each for about 5 hours of non-stop playing.  Most of the musicians are lucky if they get one or two gigs a week.

Given the heat and humidity I experienced in Nashville in the middle of October, I can only imagine what it must be like playing Lower Broadway during their long hot, humid summers. 

It was disturbing to me that Nashville’s Lower Broadway is in many ways a “sweat shop,” with bar owners raking in the money from beverage and food sales, while the musicians work for minimum wage in harsh conditions. 

I am told on good authority that if the musicians complained, the bar owner would simply find someone else - there being over 20,000 aspiring musicians, singers and songwriters living in Nashville waiting for an opportunity to play on Lower Broadway.

  Eskimo Brothers must have been exhausted after their very entertaining and energetic performance at Layla's on lower Broadway.

Eskimo Brothers must have been exhausted after their very entertaining and energetic performance at Layla's on lower Broadway.

Street Photographer Heaven

In addition to the music, Lower Broadway is a fun place to people watch.

Though a grittier version of The Strip in Vegas, it is not without it own glitz and glitter. The sequined clothing, boots and hats make for some unique fashion statements.

It is a popular destination for bachelorette parties - hundreds of young ladies arrive on Thursday and leave on Sunday.  

You often hear them before you see them, as they seem to love to hoot and holler as they meander the streets on “pedal taverns” i.e. bars on wheels that use pedal power to move along the street.   

They are in full party mode, love to say “Hi” as hey pass by and are not camera shy.

  Pedal Taverns like this one are popular not only on Lower Broadway but throughout the City Centre. 

Pedal Taverns like this one are popular not only on Lower Broadway but throughout the City Centre. 

  Every picture tells a story...I wonder what the story is here?

Every picture tells a story...I wonder what the story is here?

  Nashville is more than just live music, it also has a plethora of museums, musical instrument, books and record stores, as well as recording studios, music publishers and managers.  Even on a Monday morning, Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum is busy with hundreds of visitors. 

Nashville is more than just live music, it also has a plethora of museums, musical instrument, books and record stores, as well as recording studios, music publishers and managers.  Even on a Monday morning, Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum is busy with hundreds of visitors. 

Hallelujah at the Ryman

Just off Lower Broadway sits the Ryman Auditorium, first known as the Union Gospel Tabernacle (1892), then becoming the home of the Grande Ole Opry House (1943 to 1974).  It was vacant for almost 20 years before Emmylou Harris, in 1991, performed 3 concerts in the then dilapidated building (while the auditorium’s capacity is over 2,000, her concerts were limited to 200 people). Harris’ concerts spearheaded a movement to restore the building. By 1993, renovations began, converting it into a world-class concert hall, while retaining as much of the historical architecture as possible, including all the original oak pews. 

It is true to its moniker, i.e. the Ryman Auditorium is the mother church of country music.

  Ryman tours allow you to explore the building which is home to many artifacts, displays and photo ops. 

Ryman tours allow you to explore the building which is home to many artifacts, displays and photo ops. 

The Ryman offers daily back stage tours, which I highly recommend. 

In the evening, the auditorium hosts concerts by various headliners, which I would also highly recommend.

Many describe it as a religious experience and I can believe that.

While we were there, local Americana singer songwriter Jason Isbell was performing several nights but all were sold out.  However, we decided to check just before show time to see if they might have any tickets and were lucky to get seats just 10 rows from the stage.  We didn’t know who Isbell was, but the crowd sure did. The young people in front of us were singing along with him like they were gospel singers at church on Sunday.  There was more than one standing ovation in the middle of the concert not just the end. 

I was half expecting some Hallelujahs at the end.  
  Jason Isbell performing at Ryman Auditorium.

Jason Isbell performing at Ryman Auditorium.

Off (Off) Lower Broadway

For a better music experience, I suggest heading off Lower Broadway.  The Sunday Night Bluegrass Jam at the Station Inn in The Gulch is definitely worth checking out – note the line up starts an hour before the 7 pm start. The Bourbon Street Boogie Bar in Printer’s Alley and 3rd & Lindsley also have curated music programs that are highly respected. 

Personally, I also enjoyed the bands at Barlines in the Omni Hotel.  They played lots of cover tunes to an attentive audience and there is lots of room for dancing if that is your thing.  The beer is better than Lower Broadway too…my favourite being Nashville’s own Jackalope’s Bearwalker Maple Brown Ale. 

If you go even further “off, off” Lower Broadway, Douglas Corner Bar is an interesting spot.  The music is a bit hit and miss, so do your research, but the space and sound is great.  We happened upon a fun wedding party concert that was open to the public.  The band, Yo’ Mama featured Jonell Mosser (who has done back up vocals for the likes of B.B. King, Etta James, Waylon Jennings and Bruce Cockburn to name a few) along with Cathy Stamps and Kathy Mac.  Mosser has great pipes and all had great stories from their university days back in the ‘70s – well worth the $10 cover for the 2-hour concert.

  Every Sunday night people line up to get into the Bluegrass Jam at the Station Inn in Nashville's Gulch district, their equivalent to Calgary's East Village.  

Every Sunday night people line up to get into the Bluegrass Jam at the Station Inn in Nashville's Gulch district, their equivalent to Calgary's East Village.  

Music Mile Madness

Suffice to say Calgary, we have a long, long way to go before we can legitimately call ourselves a music city.  Music personifies the city of Nashville; it is infused into its everyday life. Guitar stores in Nashville are as common as bike shops are in Calgary.

  Nashville's 16th Ave South aka Music Row is lined with music related businesses including managers, marketing and publishing. 

Nashville's 16th Ave South aka Music Row is lined with music related businesses including managers, marketing and publishing. 

What makes Nashville a “music city” is the army of music-makers, a supportive audience, a diversity of live music venues and a sense of competition to discover and be discovered.  

In the same way as Calgary has an army of engineers and geologists looking to discover the next oil and gas reserve.

  Nashville has dozens of specialty shops like Manuel Couture Clothing & Accessories that focus on fashions for musicians. 

Nashville has dozens of specialty shops like Manuel Couture Clothing & Accessories that focus on fashions for musicians. 

Studio Bell is nice, but the heart and soul of any good music city lies in its live local music venues and audience, not its museums.  

  Ironwood Stage & Grill along with Blues Can and Festival Hall and numerous old houses and apartments make Inglewood and its sister community Ramsay an ideal place for artists to work, live and play.  

Ironwood Stage & Grill along with Blues Can and Festival Hall and numerous old houses and apartments make Inglewood and its sister community Ramsay an ideal place for artists to work, live and play. 

While some have tried to brand 9th Avenue (between the National Music Centre and the Blues Can) as the Music Mile”, the concept is premature and misleading in my mind. 

In reality, only two venues along that stretch provide live music seven days a week – Blues Can and Ironwood Bar & Grill

What would make more sense would be to foster Inglewood as a Music (or artist’s) Village - a place where musicians live, work and play.  A place filled with private live music venues, record stores and recording studios.  

Inglewood need to create affordable housing for artists in the community, not just upscale condos and infills.
  Recordland in Inglewood is home to one of the largest collections of used records in North America. 

Recordland in Inglewood is home to one of the largest collections of used records in North America. 

Not Nashville North

In the past, Calgary has been called Nashville North, but today Calgary is nothing like Nashville - historically, culturally or economically.

Calgary has some great music festivals, but it is what happens in the non-festival periods that is  critical to creating a 365-day musical buzz.

We should be determining how we make the Calgary Folk Festival’s Festival Hall in Inglewood, new King Eddy in East Village, new Big Four Roadhouse at Stampede Park and the Palace Theatre on Stephen Avenue sing every night of the week.  

And, how can we capitalize on Studio Bell’s incredible collection of musical instruments as a catalyst for making Calgary a must place for musicians to record. We need to attract musicians from across Canada to come to Calgary to play and make music. It is not about building a new Saddledome for mega concerts. 

If Calgary really wants to stand out in the music world, it must invite and integrate the music of Calgary’s diverse ethnic communities. We have to go beyond classical, country, blues, rock and roots. We must go beyond City Centre bars, pubs and coffee houses. We must foster what is happening in community centres, and churches in the suburbs.

One of the things we learned from Nashville’s museums is that music is a collaborative, grassroots process and the best music comes from the fusion of different genres of music. A good example of this would be Calgary's Sled Island Festival that happens every June and has become one of Calgary's signature festivals.

We also learned great music was not created by iconic public buildings, meaningless government policies and white papers, or by politicians, but by passionate individuals willing to risk everything to make music and to see and hear things in new ways.  

Link: Alberta Music Cities Initiative

Question?

Does Calgary’s have the music mavericks who can transform our City into a music city?  

Downtown Calgary: Black & White / Inside & Out

Over the past few weeks I have enjoyed exploring the streets and indoor +15 walkway of Calgary's downtown searching for dramatic lighting for black and white photos.  In addition, I was attempting to capture Calgary's unique urban sense of place.

Hope you enjoy this photo essay - feedback is always welcomed.

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Calgary vs Nashville: HQ vs SHED

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.

  A view of the Nashville skyline from our luxury Omni Hotel suite. 

A view of the Nashville skyline from our luxury Omni Hotel suite. 

  A view of Calgary skyline from the N3 condo rooftop patio with the new Central Library in the foreground. 

A view of Calgary skyline from the N3 condo rooftop patio with the new Central Library in the foreground. 

 Like Calgary Nashville has a major railway line running through its City Centre. This coal train is the equivalent to Calgary's bitumen trains.

Like Calgary Nashville has a major railway line running through its City Centre. This coal train is the equivalent to Calgary's bitumen trains.

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.   

Advantage: Nashville

  Nashville's main street is animated all day long, but really comes alive at night - every night not just on weekends. 

Nashville's main street is animated all day long, but really comes alive at night - every night not just on weekends. 

  While Nashville's City Centre is undergoing a massive makeover, lower Broadway is still an eclectic collection of gritty buildings from yesteryears. 

While Nashville's City Centre is undergoing a massive makeover, lower Broadway is still an eclectic collection of gritty buildings from yesteryears. 

  Calgary's Stephen Avenue comes alive in the summer at noon hour and all day during Stampede but for most of the year it is very subdued, especially on weekends when the office towers are empty. It is unique in that it is a pedestrian mall by day but has one-way traffic at night.  It connects the Olympic Plaza Cultural District with a national historic district and Calgary's Financial District.  

Calgary's Stephen Avenue comes alive in the summer at noon hour and all day during Stampede but for most of the year it is very subdued, especially on weekends when the office towers are empty. It is unique in that it is a pedestrian mall by day but has one-way traffic at night.  It connects the Olympic Plaza Cultural District with a national historic district and Calgary's Financial District.  

  The 300 block of Stephen Avenue has been called centre ice for Calgary's CBD with its  200 floors of corporate offices in six office towers. 

The 300 block of Stephen Avenue has been called centre ice for Calgary's CBD with its  200 floors of corporate offices in six office towers. 

Retail

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.

Advantage Calgary

  Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's three block long Core shopping centre in the middle of its downtown. 

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's three block long Core shopping centre in the middle of its downtown. 

  Calgary's 17th Avenue is just one of several pedestrian streets in its downtown.   

Calgary's 17th Avenue is just one of several pedestrian streets in its downtown.  

  Calgary's Kensington Village has two pedestrian streets with a mix of retail and restaurants that appeal to both students at Alberta College of Art & Design and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology as well as oil & gas, medical and university professionals.

Calgary's Kensington Village has two pedestrian streets with a mix of retail and restaurants that appeal to both students at Alberta College of Art & Design and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology as well as oil & gas, medical and university professionals.

  Nashville has several guitar and music stores located in its City Centre, perhaps the most iconic is Gruhn Guitars.  Guitar shops are to Nashville what bike shops are to Calgary.

Nashville has several guitar and music stores located in its City Centre, perhaps the most iconic is Gruhn Guitars.  Guitar shops are to Nashville what bike shops are to Calgary.

 What Nashville does have is a plethora of cowboy boot stores like French's Shoes & Boots. 

What Nashville does have is a plethora of cowboy boot stores like French's Shoes & Boots. 

  The Sutler is just one of many popular weekend brunch spots in Nashville along emerging 8th Ave South district.

The Sutler is just one of many popular weekend brunch spots in Nashville along emerging 8th Ave South district.

Cultural Centres

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.

Advantage: Nashville

  Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum is the heart and soul of its downtown.  It is busy seven days a week. 

Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum is the heart and soul of its downtown.  It is busy seven days a week. 

  Nashville has several music museums and two Hall of Fames.  The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum was particularly enlightening as it told the story of the studio musicians who are the backbone of the Nashville music industry. 

Nashville has several music museums and two Hall of Fames.  The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum was particularly enlightening as it told the story of the studio musicians who are the backbone of the Nashville music industry. 

  Nashville boast a lovely art deco public art gallery. 

Nashville boast a lovely art deco public art gallery. 

  Nashville's Ryman Auditorium is the mother church of the city's music industry. 

Nashville's Ryman Auditorium is the mother church of the city's music industry. 

  Calgary's National Music Centre is part of a growing east side cultural community that includes the new Central Library, DJD Dance Centre and Youth Campus at Stampede Park.

Calgary's National Music Centre is part of a growing east side cultural community that includes the new Central Library, DJD Dance Centre and Youth Campus at Stampede Park.

Hotels/Convention Centre

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.

Advantage: Nashville

  The Music City Convention Centre is massive, however, the streets devoid of any vitality most of the time. 

The Music City Convention Centre is massive, however, the streets devoid of any vitality most of the time. 

  The lobby of Nashville's Union Station Hotel (yes, it is a converted historical railway station) is impressive. 

The lobby of Nashville's Union Station Hotel (yes, it is a converted historical railway station) is impressive. 

 Nashville's 1908 Hermitage Hotel is a reminder of the elegance and grandeur of the past. Calgary's equivalent would be the 1914 Fairmont Palliser Hotel 

Nashville's 1908 Hermitage Hotel is a reminder of the elegance and grandeur of the past. Calgary's equivalent would be the 1914 Fairmont Palliser Hotel 

Recreation/River/Parks

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.

Advantage: Calgary

  Calgary's recently renovated St. Patrick's Island is lovely family friendly park in the middle of the Bow River. 

Calgary's recently renovated St. Patrick's Island is lovely family friendly park in the middle of the Bow River. 

  Nashville has a lovely green beach along the Cumberland River, but it lacks the pathways along the river to link the City Centre to rest of the city. 

Nashville has a lovely green beach along the Cumberland River, but it lacks the pathways along the river to link the City Centre to rest of the city. 

  Calgary's equivalent to Nashville's green beach would be the East Village plaza along the Bow River .

Calgary's equivalent to Nashville's green beach would be the East Village plaza along the Bow River.

  Nashville has nothing to match the love tree-lined City Centre river pathways along both the Bow and Elbow Rivers.

Nashville has nothing to match the love tree-lined City Centre river pathways along both the Bow and Elbow Rivers.

 Memorial Park is one of many City Center parks in Calgary.  

Memorial Park is one of many City Center parks in Calgary.  

  Calgary's City Centre boast dozens of children's playgrounds. I did't see a single playground in Nashville's City Centre. 

Calgary's City Centre boast dozens of children's playgrounds. I did't see a single playground in Nashville's City Centre. 

  Nashville has nothing to match the enhance public spaces of Calgary's City Centre like Olympic Plaza. 

Nashville has nothing to match the enhance public spaces of Calgary's City Centre like Olympic Plaza. 

Arena/Stadium

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.

Advantage: Tied

  The entrance to Nashville's Bridgestone Arena built in 1996 is located right downtown on lower Broadway aka Main Street. 

The entrance to Nashville's Bridgestone Arena built in 1996 is located right downtown on lower Broadway aka Main Street. 

  Nashville's Nissan Stadium opened in 1999.  It provides a nice vista but it has not been a catalyst for development on the surrounding land. 

Nashville's Nissan Stadium opened in 1999.  It provides a nice vista but it has not been a catalyst for development on the surrounding land. 

 Calgary's Stampede Park located at the southeast edge of the City Centre is not only the City's fairground but it is also home to the iconic Scotiabank Saddledome and the BMO Centre which hosts major trade shows and conventions.   

Calgary's Stampede Park located at the southeast edge of the City Centre is not only the City's fairground but it is also home to the iconic Scotiabank Saddledome and the BMO Centre which hosts major trade shows and conventions.   

Architecture/Urban Design

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.  

Advantage: Calgary

  Calgary's Jaume Pensa sculpture "Wonderland" sits on the plaza of the 58-storey Bow Tower designed by Sir Norman Foster. 

Calgary's Jaume Pensa sculpture "Wonderland" sits on the plaza of the 58-storey Bow Tower designed by Sir Norman Foster. 

 Nashville's Plensa sculpture "Isabella" is located at the Frist Center For The Visual Arts. Perhaps the contrast between these two public artworks best manifest the differences between Nashville and Calgary.  

Nashville's Plensa sculpture "Isabella" is located at the Frist Center For The Visual Arts. Perhaps the contrast between these two public artworks best manifest the differences between Nashville and Calgary.  

  Nashville historic pedestrian bridge links the City Centre to the Nissan Stadium. 

Nashville historic pedestrian bridge links the City Centre to the Nissan Stadium. 

  Calgary has several pedestrian bridges linking the north and south shores of the Bow River like the Santiago Calatrava design Peace Bridge that is very popular with runners and cyclists. 

Calgary has several pedestrian bridges linking the north and south shores of the Bow River like the Santiago Calatrava design Peace Bridge that is very popular with runners and cyclists. 

 Both Calgary and Nashville have ubiquitous modern glass facade office towers. 

Both Calgary and Nashville have ubiquitous modern glass facade office towers. 

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  Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's LRT system and our 7th Avenue Transit Corridor. 

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's LRT system and our 7th Avenue Transit Corridor. 

Urban Living

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.  

Advantage: Calgary

  Calgary's East Village is in the middle of multi-billion dollar makeover to accommodate 10,000+ residents. 

Calgary's East Village is in the middle of multi-billion dollar makeover to accommodate 10,000+ residents. 

  Nashville Gulch district is the equivalent of Calgary's Beltline with a mix of new residential, retail and office development. 

Nashville Gulch district is the equivalent of Calgary's Beltline with a mix of new residential, retail and office development. 

  Calgary's Beltline community is home to 22,000+ residents and four pedestrian streets - 11th Avenue, 11th Street, First Avenue and 17th Avenue. Nashville has no City Centre community of this size and diversity. 

Calgary's Beltline community is home to 22,000+ residents and four pedestrian streets - 11th Avenue, 11th Street, First Avenue and 17th Avenue. Nashville has no City Centre community of this size and diversity. 

  East Nashville is similar to Calgary's Inglewood/Ramsay   with a mix of new condos and working-class homes. It has numerous pedestrian hubs, but no contiguous pedestrian streets. 

East Nashville is similar to Calgary's Inglewood/Ramsay with a mix of new condos and working-class homes. It has numerous pedestrian hubs, but no contiguous pedestrian streets. 

  Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's plethora of new high-rise condo buildings. 

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's plethora of new high-rise condo buildings. 

 Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's cafe scene. 

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's cafe scene. 

  Calgary has nothing to match Nashville's live music scene. 

Calgary has nothing to match Nashville's live music scene. 

Last Word

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. 

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

Calgary vs Austin vs Portland vs Nashville for Tourist

Calgary vs Seattle: Capturing the tourists' imagination!

Calgary: Off The Beaten Path For Tourists!

 

Richard White can be reached at rwhiteyyc@gmail.com or follow him on twitter @everydaytourist

Nashville Streetscapes: Rockers, Swingers & Boxes?

After spending 12 days in Nashville, what “impressed me most” were the city’s residential streets lined with lovely homes of all shapes, sizes and architecture.  They were made even more inviting to explore on foot by their large porches.

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Not only did I love the porches, but I loved the rocking chairs and porch swings that adorned most of them.  They create a unique sense of place that said sit, relax and watch the world go by.  While I didn’t see a lot of people sitting out on the porches, those that were, always smiled and said “Hi.”  It created a wonderful welcoming pedestrian streetscape.

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Urban vs. Rural

Nashville’s residential streets are also unique in that they look like rural community roads with few sidewalks and roadside mailboxes. It was very surreal to be in the middle of the city and see these country mailboxes. A Facebook friend told me it is very common to have mailboxes next to road in the south.  You learn something everyday!

Another defining feature of the streets was the number of flags flying from the porches, not just American Flags, but most often university flags.  And not just local universities but often out of state.  It always amazes me how proud (perhaps fanatical) Americans are about their alma mater.   

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Walk at your own risk?

What was really strange is how many of the established neighbourhoods didn’t have any sidewalks, or sidewalks that stop and start for no reason or just on one side of the street.  As Shania Twain once said, “you don’t impress me much.”

We were constantly being told nobody walks in Nashville, they drive or take Uber. But that didn’t stop us.  I walked 45 minutes from downtown to our Airbnb in the early evening, about the same distance as walk from my West Hillhurst house to downtown Calgary. We walked 20 minutes to the grocery store, which we were told was unheard of.  FYI: Most Nashville Airbnb ads don’t list the walk times to amenities or transit stops, it was much more common to list the Uber cost.

And, I am not talking about new suburban neighbourhoods, we were staying in 12 South a very trendy community just blocks from restaurants, cafes and shops (included Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James), yet there was nobody walking expect along the few blocks of pedestrian oriented shops and a few dog walkers.

If we went to 8th Ave South, (which also has several restaurants and new condos) or other trendy areas it was the same - sidewalks seemed optional. And while there are signs saying motorist are suppose to YIELD to pedestrians it also seemed optional for motorist to stop. 

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Last Word

We love to walk, but Nashville it is definitely “walk at your own risk” kinda place. You could ask, “What comes first? The sidewalk or the pedestrian?”

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

Sitting On The Porch

Front Yard Fun!

Sunday Night R&R

Point Mckay: A Garden Paradise

Many times I have said “don’t judge a community until the trees are taller than the houses.”  I was reminded of this over the summer as I picked up a golf buddy once a week at his townhome in Point McKay before heading out to Redwood Meadows.  As the summer unfolded, so did the amazing trees and flowers that make the northwest community of Point McKay a garden paradise.

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It is bounded at the north by Bowness Road, at the east by 37 Street NW, at he south by the Bow River and at the west by the Edworthy Park parking lot.  For many, Point McKay is the two brown brick highrise condo towers (Riverside I and II) along Parkdale Boulevard next to the Edworthy Park parking lot, or the townhome backyards you can see when you walk or cycle along the north shore of the Bow River. In reality, it is a hidden gem.

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Point McKay was one of Calgary’s first attempts at creating an urban village.  The 21- storey Riverside I and II towers (completed in 1979 and 1981 respectfully) create the high density (295 units) with retail and a fitness centre at street level they are similar in many ways to the new towers in the Beltline.

It isn’t until you drive into the townhome area to the east of the towers that you begin to appreciate how this urban village is a garden oasis.

The curved, tree-lined streets are divided into six clusters (built from 1977 to 1980) totalling 505 town homes and 30 duplexes.  What makes them really special is the lovely side and backyards that open up to common areas lush with flowers, trees and expanses of green grass. 

 

There are no detached single-family homes in Point McKay, the same as University District one of Calgary’s new 21st century urban villages, currently being built just a few kilometers away.

  Lush garden pathways create pastoral backyards.

Lush garden pathways create pastoral backyards.

  Best side yards in Calgary?

Best side yards in Calgary?

City Beautiful Movement

One Sunday afternoon, I cycled over to explore the community on foot.  I was gobsmacked by how beautiful the side yards and interior common areas were. I was immediately reminded of the “City Beautiful” movement popular in Canada in the early 20th century, with its principles of creating urban communities that were less grid-like and more park-like. This meant curved streets, irregular lot shapes, boulevards, an abundance of parks and architectural controls; not dissimilar to what we saw in Calgary’s late 20th century communities.

  View of Point McKay from the Bow River pathways (north side).

View of Point McKay from the Bow River pathways (north side).

Amenities

Point McKay has easy access to the Bow River pathway - for cycling downtown to work and/or play, or perhaps a recreational walk in the evenings or on weekends.  You could walk to work if you worked at the Foothills Medical Centre.

It is also close to both Edworthy (pebble beach) and Shouldice (sports fields) Parks. It is also only a short walk to Angel’s Cappuccino & Ice Cream café in Edworthy Park or the Lazy Loaf Café, Extreme Bean or Lic’s Ice Cream in Parkdale.

  Cottage-like streets are child friendly even without sidewalks. 

Cottage-like streets are child friendly even without sidewalks. 

Backstory:

In 1977, Cinema Park Drive-In, with its parking lot that accommodated 1036 cars, was demolished to make way for the Point McKay upscale high-rise/townhouse development.  The development is named after Alfred Sidney McKay (1860–1940), a Calgary who homesteaded the land that is now Point McKay and Parkdale.  He built a sandstone home near the Bow River at 1st Ave and 37th St NW that is still there today albeit hidden in the middle of Point McKay and rented to an architectural firm. Yes you can still walk in and see it.  

FYI: There are also four 100 year old brick homes along 37th Street that were built as a parade of show homes when the new community of Parkdale was McKay built as show homes when he was first being developed. 

  A 100 year old show home.....

A 100 year old show home.....

Last Word

Today, Point McKay is home to some lucky 1,348 people who live in a garden paradise that is unique to Calgary.

Note: This blog was originally published in the November 2017 Issue of Condo Living Magazine. 

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City Building: Impact Of Calgary's Mega Transportation Projects

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

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

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Why 13th Ave?

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

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Right Side Of The Tracks

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

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

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

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

Deerfoot Trail Divide

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The LRT Influence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green Line New Deerfoot?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Airport City

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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Downtown Calgary: The Elephant In The Room?

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

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

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

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

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

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

SWEET DEALS

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

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

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

HERE'S THE PROBLEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ATTRACTING NEW BUSINESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOWNTOWN’S FUTURE

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

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

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

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

  Downtown's 9th Avenue in the 1970s. 

Downtown's 9th Avenue in the 1970s. 

Last Word

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

That is the elephant in the room...

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

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

Calgary: East Village Envy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth Is…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the RDCRL?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has the $357 million been invested to date?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Excerpt from CMLC 2017 - 2019 Business Plan.

Excerpt from CMLC 2017 - 2019 Business Plan.

Is $357 million too much?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nenshi’s Cultural Entertainment District Proposal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

East Village: The Lust Of The New Playground

East Village: A Masterpiece In The Making?

Crazy Idea: New Arena In Victoria Park

Calgary's Audacious New Library 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Feasibility?

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

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

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

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

Have Times Changed?

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

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

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

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

Office Conversions Are Difficult

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Criteria For Conversion

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

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

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

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

He indicated the three biggest barriers to conversions are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Buildings Are Not The Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

If you like this blog, checkout these links:

Why Amazon might pick Calgary for HQ2?

Calgary's CBD is unique?

All downtowns must reinvent themselves.

Must See: cSPACE & I Am Western

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

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

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

Old vs New

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

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

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

Free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hot Tip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Marda Loop Farmers' Market fun.

Marda Loop Farmers' Market fun.

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

King Edward Village

Marda Loop Madness

Fun, Funky, Quirky Colorado Springs