Mission is marvellous

I have always thought Mission would be a marvellous place to live.  It has a grocery store, two drug stores, banks, restaurants, galleries, fitness and medical services galore. 

It has charming old homes, as well as low, mid and high rise condos (new and old).  It even has its own elementary, junior and high school – not many City Centre communities in North America can boast that. There is a community garden and lovely pathways along the Elbow River too. 

Who could ask for anything more?

  Mission is home to numerous charming walk-up apartments like the Avonlea.

Mission is home to numerous charming walk-up apartments like the Avonlea.

  It is also home to lots of new low-rise condos.

It is also home to lots of new low-rise condos.

  It is also home to multi-million dollar waterfront condos along the Elbow River. 

It is also home to multi-million dollar waterfront condos along the Elbow River. 

Walkability

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Fourth Street SW, Mission’s Main Street, extends from 26th Avenue to 17th Avenue SW and even beyond.  It has a lovely diversity of pedestrian-oriented businesses - independent cafes like Purple Perk and Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters, upscale restaurants like Wurst and Mercato, neighbourhood pubs like Ducky’s and Joyce on 4th and one of Calgary’s oldest commercial art galleries - Masters Gallery.

The Walk Score website gives Mission a Walk Score of 84, making it the 11th most walkable neighbourhood in Calgary.

The only reason the score isn’t higher is because there is no LRT stop in the community otherwise, everything is within walking distance – downtown, Stampede Park, Memorial Park Library, 17th Ave shops and Repsol Sport Centre.

  Mission's La Boulanderie Bakery Cafe offers a little bit of Paris in Calgary.   

Mission's La Boulanderie Bakery Cafe offers a little bit of Paris in Calgary.  

  Purple Perk is one of Calgary's signature independent cafes. 

Purple Perk is one of Calgary's signature independent cafes. 

  Frankly Heisler's Dream Fragment has weathered nicely outside the BMO branch on 4th Street SW.

Frankly Heisler's Dream Fragment has weathered nicely outside the BMO branch on 4th Street SW.

Architecture & History

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Mission is home to St Mary’s Cathedral looks like it has been there forever but in reality only since 1956. The original St. Mary’s Church was a massive sandstone building with twin-domed towers built in 1889 and consecrated as a cathedral in 1913.

The architect for the new cathedral, a modernist interpretation of Gothic architecture dominated by its 40-meter bell tower, was Maxwell Bates, best known as a highly respected painter whose art can be seen at Masters Gallery.

Not many Calgarians are aware that tucked away at 141- 18th Street SW sits St. Mary’s Parish Hall, built in 1905 and sold to the Canadian Northern Railway in 1911, who converted the building into a train station which operated until 1971. It is now home of Alberta Ballet and its dance studio.

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Mission was also home to Calgary’s first major hospital - the Holy Cross, built in 1892 and expanded in 1928 and 1950.  Though none of the original hospital remains, the NcNabb wing, with its distinctive pillars built in 1947, still exists right on 2nd St. SW.

In an ironic twist, while Mission’s history is dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, Calgary’s Jewish community in 1930 acquired a site on Centre Street at 18th Avenue SW to build the House of Israel. However, it wasn’t until 1949 that the Art Deco building was finally completed and became the centre of Jewish life in Calgary. In 1960, the Tzedec Synagogue was built next door, but the “flight to the suburbs” in the late 20th century resulted in a new Jewish Centre in the community of Palliser in 1979.  After sitting vacant for several years the Mission buildings were sold and transformed into condominiums in 1998. 

  I love that the former street names have been added to the street signs as reminder of the history of the community. 

I love that the former street names have been added to the street signs as reminder of the history of the community. 

  The new St. Mary's church.

The new St. Mary's church.

Last Word

 Built in 1973, the Mission Centre office building's curved architecture foreshadows that of the Bow Tower and has a better interface with the street.  

Built in 1973, the Mission Centre office building's curved architecture foreshadows that of the Bow Tower and has a better interface with the street.  

Mission is indeed marvellous and is an example of a Jane Jacob’s (late 20th century advocate for the importance of diversity and human scale development in creating vibrant inner-city communities) village in Calgary with its mix of old and new, affordable, modest and luxury homes along with shops that meet residents’ everyday needs.

It is also home to several old and new office buildings which help to give it a buzz weekdays, as well as evenings and weekends.

Watch for new Mission residential developments by Grosvenor on 4th St. at 17th Ave. SW and InDevelopments on the old Peking Dragon Site on 4th St. and 19th Ave. SW.

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

Marda Loop Madness

Bridgeland/Riverside Rebirth

Britannia's Urban Transformation

An edited version of this blog was commissioned for the January 2018 issue of Condo Living magazine. 

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

 

 

 

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!

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

Calgary: East Village Envy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth Is…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the RDCRL?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has the $357 million been invested to date?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Excerpt from CMLC 2017 - 2019 Business Plan.

Excerpt from CMLC 2017 - 2019 Business Plan.

Is $357 million too much?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nenshi’s Cultural Entertainment District Proposal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

East Village: The Lust Of The New Playground

East Village: A Masterpiece In The Making?

Crazy Idea: New Arena In Victoria Park

Calgary's Audacious New Library 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Feasibility?

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

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

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

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

Have Times Changed?

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

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

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

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

Office Conversions Are Difficult

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Criteria For Conversion

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

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

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

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

He indicated the three biggest barriers to conversions are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Buildings Are Not The Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

If you like this blog, checkout these links:

Why Amazon might pick Calgary for HQ2?

Calgary's CBD is unique?

All downtowns must reinvent themselves.

University District: My Final Resting Place?

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

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

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

Something For Everyone

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

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

Link: Video University District

Everyday Needs

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

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

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

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

Big News 

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

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

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

  Computer rendering of University Districts pedestrian shopping street. 

Computer rendering of University Districts pedestrian shopping street. 

FYI

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

If you like this blog, you will like: 

West Campus: Calgary's First 24/7 community!

Calgary's Learning City Is Blooming

University District: Tree Strategy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transit Oriented Living: Berlin vs Calgary

I have a new appreciation for both transit-oriented living and Google Maps after spending a month in Berlin where everywhere we wanted to go was EASILY accessible by transit.  I was amazed how easily we could get to hundreds of museums, tourist attractions, parks, shopping and even IKEA by transit in a totally unfamiliar city.

  One key to transit oriented living is a transit system that offers 5 minute or less service.  It can be buses, subways, trams or LRT as long as it is frequent. 

One key to transit oriented living is a transit system that offers 5 minute or less service.  It can be buses, subways, trams or LRT as long as it is frequent. 

Google Maps Is Great!

I simply typed in where I wanted to go in Google Maps and it told me the route and how long it would take to drive, cycle, walk or take transit. In almost every case, transit was the best option.  The station (or bus stop) was always less than a pleasant five-minute walk and when we arrived, transit was there in minutes. 

Though, Google Maps tells you when the next bus, train or tram will arrive at a particular stop, I just ignored that information, as transit was so frequent, it didn’t matter.  It also didn’t seem to matter if we needed to take couple of trains or a train and bus, as connections were seamless. 

  Note the differences in time between driving, cycling and transit. When you add in time to get to your car and find a place to park driving becomes even less attractive. 

Note the differences in time between driving, cycling and transit. When you add in time to get to your car and find a place to park driving becomes even less attractive. 

Lessons Learned

Berlin transit offers a number of different payment options – single fare, daily fare, weekly and monthly passes (with even a non-prime time option for those travelling after 10 am weekly or monthly passes).  How good is that!

Another great thing about Berlin’s transit system is that the trains seem to drop you off in the middle of the action, not at the edge as they do in Calgary – take Stampede, University, Chinook, Anderson and even Bridgeland stations for example.

A great transit system benefits drivers too.  I was shocked when, taking the bus at rush hour, it never had to wait for more than one traffic light.  More people using transit means more road capacity for those who have to drive, which in turn means less rush hour traffic jams.

  Good transit systems have good connections and attractive places to wait. 

Good transit systems have good connections and attractive places to wait. 

Too Downtown-Centric

In Berlin, transit is decentralized, to best serve the mini-downtowns scattered throughout the city.  In contrast, Calgary’s transit is downtown-centric i.e. almost all transit is oriented to get people downtown. However, only 25% of the people work in the greater downtown area and 5% live there.

The City of Calgary’s Go-Plan back in the mid-90s, actually did call for the development of mini-downtowns at the edge of our city next to new LRT Stations. Somehow they instead became big box power centres. I often wonder how different urban living would be in Calgary if late 20th and early 21st century suburban power centres were designed as walkable mini downtowns, each with a mix of multi-storey retail, restaurants, residential and recreational buildings, rather than so car-oriented retail centres.

Imagine…Crowfoot Crossing and Shawnessy power centers could each have been a mini-downtown with grid-patterned tree-lined streets, residential and office development above big box retail and a regional transit hub station.  I expect with time they will evolve more into mini downtowns but we missed the opportunity to do so from the“get go.”

It is ironic that today, Currie Barracks and University District are both being developed as mini-downtowns yet neither has or will have a LRT Station.

  This map of the Berlin's Transit system illustrates not only how extensive the system is, but also how decentralized it is.  

This map of the Berlin's Transit system illustrates not only how extensive the system is, but also how decentralized it is.  

  To be fair, Calgary has plans to develop its LRT and BRT service with more crosstown routes in the future. Today only the Blue and Red lines exist. 

To be fair, Calgary has plans to develop its LRT and BRT service with more crosstown routes in the future. Today only the Blue and Red lines exist. 

Transit-Oriented Living (TOL) Gurus

While Calgary is in its infancy when it comes to creating mixed-use communities next to LRT Stations, Berlin is arguably the guru of TOL.  Instead of surrounding transit stations with massive residential highrises that block the sun, create wind tunnels and dwarf pedestrians, Berlin’s transit stations are usually in the middle of a platz (plaza) that allows for various programming – usually a farmers’ market and/or flea market – but most of the time just a gathering/meeting place for locals and tourists.

I loved that each platz in Berlin has its own character and charm, its own sense of place.
  Five minute service even at 10 am. 

Five minute service even at 10 am. 

Alexander Platz

A good example is the Alexander Platz.  While the history of the area around this platz dates back to the 13th century, most of the existing buildings are relatively new as the area was destroyed during WWII.  The revitalization of the Alexander Platz began in 1969 with the construction of the Berliner Fernsehturm TV tower. Topping out at 368m tall, it has a viewing platform at 203m and revolving restaurant at 207m, which is very similar to the Calgary Tower.

Today, it is a vibrant pedestrian zone, surrounded by a major subway train station, as well as several, “at grade” LRT lines. It is also home to major department stores Galleria Kaufhof and Primark, the ALEXA shopping centre and several smaller shops all facing onto the huge plaza.

It is a shopping/tourist mecca 7 days a week.
  Alexander Platz is full of people at 10 am on a weekday even when there are no special events. 

Alexander Platz is full of people at 10 am on a weekday even when there are no special events. 

  Alexander Platz is surrounded not only by several transit stops and a major station, but it has a diversity of things to see and do including cinemas, shopping and tourist attractions, not just condos and apartments.   

Alexander Platz is surrounded not only by several transit stops and a major station, but it has a diversity of things to see and do including cinemas, shopping and tourist attractions, not just condos and apartments.  

Calgary’s Platz Attempt

Ironically, Calgary’s downtown urban renewal project also started in the late ‘60s with a tower – Husky Tower, now the Calgary Tower. It also included Palliser Square (retail, cinemas, offices and parkade), as well as the Calgary Convention Centre, Four Seasons Hotel (now the Marriott) and Glenbow Museum complex.

Then 8th Avenue SW became the Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall; 7th Avenue became the downtown transit corridor, which was followed by the opening of the Performing Arts Centre and finally Olympic Plaza, our equivalent of a platz.

Unfortunately, Calgary’s late 20th century urban renewal didn’t include the residential part of the transit oriented living equation that is critical to evening and weekend urban vitality.  As well, Olympic Plaza has never really captured the imagination of Calgarians except when hosting a major festival or event. It is not a place where Calgarians meet and linger.  It is not a place we take visitors to showcase Calgary’s unique sense of place.

It is not a mecca!
  Olympic Plaza is pretty to look at but it doesn't attract people outside of special events and weekday noon hours when office workers enjoy an outdoor lunch. 

Olympic Plaza is pretty to look at but it doesn't attract people outside of special events and weekday noon hours when office workers enjoy an outdoor lunch. 

  Olympic Plaza on a nice Saturday in spring is devoid of any urban vitality as most of the buildings surrounding it are closed or have limited activity. While there is a large apartment building, museum and hotels nearby, it doesn't have the everyday appeal that a public plaza should have.

Olympic Plaza on a nice Saturday in spring is devoid of any urban vitality as most of the buildings surrounding it are closed or have limited activity. While there is a large apartment building, museum and hotels nearby, it doesn't have the everyday appeal that a public plaza should have.

Last Word

Berlin’s platze seem to be busy all the time and without any special programming.  Berlin’s planners, developers and politicians seem to understand how to integrate transit, residential, commercial and public space to create lively and liveable urban places. 

Instead of focusing on Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Calgary and other North American cities should be focused on Transit Oriented Living (TOL) i.e. what makes living next to a train station or transit hub a great place to live? Too often the current focus in on creating high-rise and mid-rise condos next to the station, but TOL is more about “diversity of uses” than density.  Density without diversity is sterility.

If you have a chance, visit Berlin and experience transit-oriented living for yourself.

Note: This blog was originally published in the New Condos section of the Calgary Herald on Saturday July 16, 2017.

  Transit Oriented Living allows you extra time to relax and read.  I was amazed at how many people I saw reading books on the trains in Berlin.   

Transit Oriented Living allows you extra time to relax and read.  I was amazed at how many people I saw reading books on the trains in Berlin.  

Calgary: Luxury Condo Living Beyond The City Centre

This past May there were two important ground breaking events in the evolution of Calgary’s condo culture AVLI on Atlantic in Inglewood and The Residences of King Edward in Marda Loop.  While both communities have seen their fair share of new condos and infill homes over the past 10 years, are the first truly luxury condos to be built outside Calgary’s City Centre. 

Luxury Living In Inglewood

AVLI on Atlantic by Greenwood Developments was designed by one of Calgary’s most respected architects - Jeremy Sturgess.  He was part of the design team for the Bow Tower, Water Centre, in Manchester and the redesign of downtown’s 7th Avenue Transit Corridor.  He is known for his contemporary design that goes to the edge but never falls into the school of “wacky architecture.”  Sturgess has been creating interesting condos since the early ‘90s - his Connaught Gardens, completed in 1991 listed on the Alberta Association of Architects’ Chronicle of Significant Alberta Architecture.

For AVLI on Atlantic, Sturgess and his team seems to have been inspired by the renowned 20th century prairie architect Frank Lloyd Wright whose signature was flat roof homes with strong horizontal lines (inspired by the horizon line that dominates the prairie landscape), large windows and commitment to craftsmanship.

The 7-storey AVLI has a cool white South Miami Beach look, with large triangular balconies that seem to float off of the building.  It has the look of a modern piece of sculpture and will contrast nicely with the contemporary warehouse look of the Atlantic Avenue Art Block across the street with its wave roof.  Together, they will create a contemporary 21st century sense of place synergistic with the Inglewood’s historic Main Street from the early 20th century. 

The “AVLI on Atlantic” name is derived from the fact it is located on 9th Avenue whose historic name is Atlantic Avenue, with “avli” being Greek for courtyard and the developers are Greek. 

  AVLI condo in Inglewood will enhance Atlantic Avenue aka 9th Ave SE as Inglewood's historic Main Street with its contemporary architecture and retail at street level.  Photo credit: Sturgess Architecture

AVLI condo in Inglewood will enhance Atlantic Avenue aka 9th Ave SE as Inglewood's historic Main Street with its contemporary architecture and retail at street level.  Photo credit: Sturgess Architecture

The King Is Back

“The Residences of King Edward” is the next phase in an ambitious redevelopment of the iconic sandstone King Edward School site that has been vacant since the ‘90s.  Earlier this year, artists and other creative types began moving into the studio/work spaces and in May, the Alberta Craft Council moved into its gallery space.  Later this year, a multi-purpose 150-seat theatre space will open.

As part of the site development, the land on the east and west sides of the site has been set aside for residential development.  Award-winning Rockwood Custom Homes has teamed up with Dan Jenkins, another experienced and respected Calgary architect, to create 19 uber-luxury homes called “The Residences of King Edward.”

Jenkins cleverly designed the building’s façade to look like a series of attached infills, allowing it to visually fit nicely into the community’s existing single-family home streetscape. In reality, it is a 3-storey condo building, with units ranging in size from 1,400 to 3,600 sq. ft. It is “bungalow living” in a condo. 

There is also a sense of craftsmanship in the combination of materials that includes sandstone, stucco and zinc cladding, giving it both a contemporary and traditional look.  Jenkins too has employed Frank Lloyd Wright’s strong horizontal lines and interplay of different materials to create a building that has character and charm.

  The Residences of King Edward are located along 17th St SW, from 29th to 30th Ave SW.  The scale and design is very compatible with the new infills homes that are transforming the neighbourhood into a vibrant 21st century community. 

The Residences of King Edward are located along 17th St SW, from 29th to 30th Ave SW.  The scale and design is very compatible with the new infills homes that are transforming the neighbourhood into a vibrant 21st century community. 

  Original concept for King Edward School redevelopment school being transformed into a cultural hub with residential on either side.  The Residences of King Edward are on the left side, with seniors' housing on the right.   Link: cSPACE  

Original concept for King Edward School redevelopment school being transformed into a cultural hub with residential on either side.  The Residences of King Edward are on the left side, with seniors' housing on the right.  Link: cSPACE 

Last Word

The fact two experienced Calgary developers are moving forward with these luxury condo projects at this time is strong evidence Calgarians are embracing condo living.  It also shows Calgary’s economy is stronger than some may think.

This blog was commissioned for my Condoscapes column in the July 2017 edition of Condo Living Magazine.

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Are School Site Sacred Cows?

Marda Loop Madness

Inglewood Calgary's most unique community

 

 

 

 

 

Marda Loop Madness?

If you haven’t been to Marda Loop for awhile, you will hardly recognize it.  Like downtown Calgary in the late ‘70s, construction is seemingly happening on every corner. 

While some might not like all the gentrification that comes with all the new construction, Calgary historian Harry Sanders, a long time resident of Marda Loop is “delighted with the expansion of the business district. I like the densification in principle, but I'm always sorry to see old houses disappear. Mine is from 1950, and it's getting to be a rare oddity! Living in a hilly neighbourhood with retaining walls made from fieldstone and recycled bits of concrete make for a delightful neighbourhood with many surprises, including some beautiful and eclectic gardens.”

Marda Loop 101

The origin of Marda Loop’s name is two-fold.  It references the 490-seat Marda Theatre at the corner of 33rd Ave and 21st Street SW (later, the Odeon) that opened in 1953, closed in 1988 and demolished in 1990. It also pays tribute to the streetcar line that ran along 33rd Ave SW and “looped” back at 24th St (now Crowchild Trail.)

The completion of the hugely successful 161-acre Garrison Woods development by Canada Lands in 2004 was a turning point for Marda Loop.  This master planned community pioneered new urban planning principles for more diversity and density for inner city communities with 1,600 homes (including extensive row housing, small condos and luxury homes on small lots), as well as new retail including a modern Safeway store was hugely successful. 

Since then, new infill homes have become commonplace in the neighbouring Altadore and South Calgary communities while the retail along 33rd and 34th Avenues SW has been evolving with the community’s changing demographics.

Then in 2010, Marda Loop got its first real mixed-use urban building when Cidex Homes and Ronmor teamed up to build the six-storey Treo at Marda Loop at the corner of 33rd Ave and 20th St. SW. It consisted of ground floor retail, one floor of offices and four floors of condos above that.  The street retail was anchored by a Shoppers Drug Mart and a Phil & Sebastian flagship café.

Recently Completed

Garrison Corner is a three-storey retail/office building at the NW corner of 34th Ave and 22nd St SW withDAVIDsTEA, Village Ice Cream and COBS Bread as street anchors with level a daycare and offices above.  

At the NE corner of 33rd Ave and 20th St SW, the Odeon, has only recently been completed with Blush Lane as its anchor street tenant and offices above. 

Today, Marda Loop has 130 shops, boutiques, restaurants and professional services –  with more to come.

Under Construction

A block east of the Odeon Avenue, 33 by Sarina Homes is under construction at the corner of 33rd Ave and 19th St SW.  It will add 36 flats and lofts geared to young professionals, as well as new street level retail.

Just a block south of Avenue 33 will be Infinity at Marda Loop, a 38-unit condo project by the SNR Group. In addition to the condos, it will include multi-tenant ground floor retail anchored by Good Earth Café.Last but not least, Rockwood Custom Homes broke ground in May for its 19 uber-luxury Residences of King Edward project at the King Edward School site along 17th St. SW between 29th and 30th Aves SW.  This Dan Jenkins’ designed project, with its high-end finishes and larger units (1,400 to 3,400 sq.ft.), will definitely appeal to empty nester.Speaking of the historic sandstone King Edward School, it is nearing its completion as cSpace, a creative hub with studios and workspaces for artists and other creative types as well as a 150-seat theatre.

Last Word

While some will see all the construction in Marda Loop and say, “stop the madness,” it always amazes me how long it actually takes to revitalize a community. 

You can walk along 33rd Avenue (i.e. Main Street Marda Loop) today and still find pre-1950s cottages homes, ‘60s single storey suburban retail with surface parking at the front and small walk-up apartment blocks. 

One block over, on 34th Avenue just east of 20th Avenue, is a lovely stretch of small, brightly painted cottage homes that have been converted to retail.

When I explored Marda Loop recently, I immediately thought of the late Jane Jacobs, renowned North American community activist who said, “community revitalization should be evolutionary, not revolutionary.” 

I think she would be pleased with how Marda Loop is evolving.

 

If you want to check out what is happening for yourself, a good time might be this year’s Marda Gras Street Festival on Sunday August 13 from 10 am to 5 pm.  This year marks its 33rd year making it Calgary’s oldest street festival. And, unlike the infinitely more famous New Orleans Mardi Gras, this is a fun family-oriented street festival. 

Leipzig's City Centre is mind-boggling!

It is mind boggling how Leipzig, German (population 580,000) fits so much into its tiny City Centre – just 800 meters by 800 meters (or eight fields by eight football fields).

Leipzig Fun

The entire City Centre, about half the size of Calgary’s East Village, is home to six major museums, two major concert halls, two historic churches, five major department stores, three large shopping malls, University of Leipzig City Center campus, two large plazas (actively programmed with farmers' markets and events), a few small park spaces and a small skatepark to boot.

 

In addition, hundreds of restaurants - many with huge patios, perfect for people watching - and dozens of five and six-storey mixed-use buildings. 

It also home to the second largest train station in Germany, with 19 platforms housed in six iron train sheds, a multi-level concourse with towering stone arches, and a 298-metre long facade.

All of this and yet there is only one highrise - a 36-storey office tower. How could this be?

 

Pedestrian Paradise

One of the things you first notice when exploring Leipzig’s City Centre is there are no buses, trains and only a few cars.  Even bikes are walked more than ridden. 

That is because there is a major ring road around City Centre for cars, trams and buses. Entrances to parkades are from this ring road; all transit users get off on the edge of the City Centre and walk in. There are no surface parking lots, no street parking taking up valuable space anywhere in the City Centre.  Deliveries all seem to happen in a few hours before the stores and museums open.

Also buildings are not set back from the street, meaning no useless decorative green spaces or plazas in front of buildings and no wasted space between buildings as they are all attached to each other or the building encompasses the entire block.

Classical Music Paradise

Leipzig has perhaps one of the richest musical histories of any city in the world.  The Gewandhaus Orchestra dates back to 1743 when sixteen merchants decided Leipzig needed an orchestra. Today it plays to an audience of 500,000 per year. 

The Opera House is the third oldest in Europe and is linked to several famous composers – Wagner, Telemann, Marschner, Lortzing and Mahler. The St. Thomas Church is linked to Bach and the renowned St. Thomas Boys’ Choir.  

It is not surprising Leipzig has perhaps one of the most unique urban trails in the world.  The “Leipzig Music Trail” is a 5 km signposted route connecting 20+ sites of relevance to the city’s 500 years of musical history.  There is even an audio guide allowing you to listen to audio clips from the composers as you arrive at houses of Mendelssohn or Schumann or Bach at the St. Thomas Church.

While Calgary has the wonderful new National Music Centre, there is really no link between it’s collection and the history of Calgary.

Architectural Paradise

While Leipzig is one of the oldest cities in Europe, (it was a major trading center in Roman Times), it has also embraced new architecture. 

Within just a few blocks you can see lovely examples of Baroque and Art Nouveau buildings, side by side with modern ones.

One of the most unique urban design features of the City Centre are its 24 historic mid-block Hofs, i.e. wide, mid-block passageways full of shops, cafes and restaurants that link streets.

The most famous Hof is the Madler-Passage with its luxury shops, plush blue carpet and historic Auerbachs Keller restaurant (where famous German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe used to hang out).  

 

The Barthel Hof is one of the city’s most notable buildings and the last remaining trade court from the trade fair period of the 18th century.

In the interior courtyard, the cranes used to hoist goods up to the storage rooms are still visible as is a Renaissance bay window from 1532.  

Exploring the Hofs is a lovely walk back in time. There is even a festival in September celebrating the history of the Hofs.

FYI: The map of the Hofs looks amazingly similar to a map of Calgary’s +15 walkways. Should Calgary start thinking about a +15 Winter Festival? Perhaps in 500 years, if we embrace our +15s, they too will become a tourist attraction.

While Leipzig is blessed with many historic buildings, there are also several noteworthy modern buildings.  The 1972 City-Hochhaus tower designed by Hermann Henselmann, East Germany’s most famous architect, resembles a huge open book. 

There is also the monolithic 40 meter high “glass cube” designed by Hufnagel Puetz Rafaelian architects for the Museum of Fine Arts, which unfortunately will be hidden by four L-shaped buildings around it.

Across from the Hauptbahnhof, sits the uber-modern Hofe am Bruhl or “Tin Can” as some call it because of its aluminum façade. Designed by Gruntuch Ernst Architects, this huge North American-style shopping center, with two floors of parking above and residential floor at the top, in fact has four different facades that reflect the history of the buildings that were there before. Inside the design creates a sense of in passageways and arcades that pay homage to the past.

  In the foreground is the popular skatepark, which is combined with a small plaza that is used for markets and other events and in the background is the "Tin Can" shopping centre. This was one of the few times the area wasn't bustling with people.

In the foreground is the popular skatepark, which is combined with a small plaza that is used for markets and other events and in the background is the "Tin Can" shopping centre. This was one of the few times the area wasn't bustling with people.

 The  Paulinum  at the  University of Leipzig  stands where the  Paulinerkirche  church stood until 1968, when it was unnecessarily torn down by the communist regime of  East Germany . 

The Paulinum at the University of Leipzig stands where the Paulinerkirche church stood until 1968, when it was unnecessarily torn down by the communist regime of East Germany

Lessons Learned

Calgary has a long way to go before its City Centre becomes tourist destination like Leipzig.  Essential to attracting urban tourist is having a history where famous people have lived and worked and where important world events have happen.

FYI:   Leipzig’s City Centre is where Martin Luther Reformation happened and where the Monday Demonstration happened in 1989 that led to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Leipzig has an amazingly rich history.

Visiting Leipzig made me reflect on Calgary’s 100+ history - what really distinguished, renowned, influential individuals have lived or worked here and what world-changing initiatives or events have originated here. I couldn’t think of any.

When visiting cities like Leipzig, I am reminded of how young Calgary is.  And how it takes centuries to create great cities and not every city becomes great.

If you go:

We stayed at Motel One which has two locations in Leipzig's City Centre.  Motel One has modern rooms with colourful decor. The staff and lobby were very welcoming and we especially loved the lively and tasty breakfasts, in the very contemporary lounge with huge windows over-looking the street.  Link: Motel One

Is Calgary ready for REAL urban living?

Calgary has a long, long, long way to go before it can say it has created its first real urban community. 

After spending a month living like a local in Berlin’s hip Kreuzberg community I have a much better appreciation for what urban living is all about.  While some Calgarians might think the Beltline, Bridgeland, Downtown West End, East Village, Eau Claire, Inglewood and Kensington are urban communities in many ways they are just modified suburbs. 

  It is hard to believe that this streetscape is in the Beltline, Calgary's densest residential community. It has a very suburban aesthetics with its front lawns and porches.  

It is hard to believe that this streetscape is in the Beltline, Calgary's densest residential community. It has a very suburban aesthetics with its front lawns and porches.  

  In Sunnyside/Hillhurst most of the streets have a very attractive but suburban character. 

In Sunnyside/Hillhurst most of the streets have a very attractive but suburban character. 

  The General Hospital site in Bridgeland has been redeveloped with condos that increase the density but still have a suburban character with townhomes that include front yards and porches. 

The General Hospital site in Bridgeland has been redeveloped with condos that increase the density but still have a suburban character with townhomes that include front yards and porches. 

  The same is true of the Princeton in Eau Claire.  In urban streetscapes the ground level spaces would be offices, daycares, shops, restaurants, bakeries etc. 

The same is true of the Princeton in Eau Claire.  In urban streetscapes the ground level spaces would be offices, daycares, shops, restaurants, bakeries etc. 

 Not everyone gets a balcony in urban neighbourhoods.

Not everyone gets a balcony in urban neighbourhoods.

  There are no gaps between buildings in urban communities. 

There are no gaps between buildings in urban communities. 

 When and if Calgary's City Centre becomes truly urban, this is what streets like 10th, 11th, 12th and 17th Avenues will look like with retail at ground level and 5+ storeys of residential above. The same for 10th and 14th Streets and Kensington Road in the northwest.  Atlantic Avenue or 9th Avenue in Inglewood will also have this kind of look, as will 1st Street NE in Bridgeland and 4th and 5th Streets in Mission. 

When and if Calgary's City Centre becomes truly urban, this is what streets like 10th, 11th, 12th and 17th Avenues will look like with retail at ground level and 5+ storeys of residential above. The same for 10th and 14th Streets and Kensington Road in the northwest.  Atlantic Avenue or 9th Avenue in Inglewood will also have this kind of look, as will 1st Street NE in Bridgeland and 4th and 5th Streets in Mission. 

Chaos in the streets

The first thing you notice about living in Kreuzberg is the chaos in the streets, as pedestrians, cyclists, cars, strider bikes and strollers, bob and weave around each other. While there are bike lanes, cyclists often ride on the wide sidewalks, especially parents with young children. 

Cyclists never use bells to warn you they are about to fly by you at full speed and drivers do not stop for pedestrians.

Yet in the 300+ hours we spent on the streets we never saw one collision of any kind. Somehow it just works.

 While not all of the streets in urban neighbourhoods are animated like this one, the sidewalks and parks often full of people of all ages hanging out.  There is not much grass in the public spaces as they are so heavily used. 

While not all of the streets in urban neighbourhoods are animated like this one, the sidewalks and parks often full of people of all ages hanging out.  There is not much grass in the public spaces as they are so heavily used. 

  Calgary's City Centre streets are too often devoid of people, too decorative, too pristine.

Calgary's City Centre streets are too often devoid of people, too decorative, too pristine.

Families & Urban Living

Good urban communities are full of families - we couldn’t walk a half a block in Kreuzberg without encountering a stroller or two.  There were daycares on almost every block, tucked away in buildings you would never imagine suitable for a daycare. 

There were also playgrounds on every other block, which included not only equipment for younger children, but often a multi-purpose fenced in area for soccer, basketball and skateboarding. 

  We saw these hipsters carry the bench out of the shop (located in the basement) to the sidewalk so they could enjoy their morning coffee. 

We saw these hipsters carry the bench out of the shop (located in the basement) to the sidewalk so they could enjoy their morning coffee. 

  In Kreuzberg, even side streets will have at least one cafe, a few restaurants that spill out onto the sidewalk. 

In Kreuzberg, even side streets will have at least one cafe, a few restaurants that spill out onto the sidewalk. 

  Instead of backyard, kids play in the local playground which is surrounded by mid-rise residential blocks. 

Instead of backyard, kids play in the local playground which is surrounded by mid-rise residential blocks. 

Goodbye Single Family Homes 

There were no single-family homes, most of the buildings opened right onto the street.  There were also no skyscrapers, rather density was horizontal, so there was no feeling of being dwarfed by tall buildings and less wind tunneling. It was like taking a 40-story tower and laying it on its side.

  You have to go a long way from the City Centre before you find a single family home in cities like Berlin or Montreal. 

You have to go a long way from the City Centre before you find a single family home in cities like Berlin or Montreal. 

Smaller is better

There was a plethora of grocery stores to choose from.  Not the mega 40,000+ square foot stores we have but  five to 10,000 square foot neighbourhood grocery stores that fit seamlessly into the community.  There were one or two grocery stores near every train station.  Even though they were much smaller than our grocery stores, they seemed to have everything we needed. 

Goodbye Car 

I also learned Transit Oriented Development doesn’t mean building tall residential towers at transit stations. In Berlin transit stations are often located in he middle of large open urban spaces called platzs. The platzs are great places to hang-out or meet up, and are often used for local markets.

Urban living also means you are never far from a transit station or bus stop that offers 5-minute or less service all day, not just rush hour. Urban living means a car is optional.

I also learned there is no correlation between how clean a community is and how safe it is.  Kreuzberg is very gritty with a ribbon of graffiti covering most of the buildings from the sidewalk to above the doorways.  The sidewalks are like huge ashtrays, as it seems like the majority of locals smoke. There are also beer bottle caps and broken glass everywhere as it is legal to drink on the street and in the parks.  As well the sidewalks are often full of garbage waiting to be collected.  

Yet at no time did we feel unsafe.  One night after clubbing in one of the seedier looking areas of the city we walked 2 km at 2:30 am (even though transit was available) home and never once felt unsafe. 

  While fewer people own cars, the streets are still lined with cars as their is little to no underground parking for residents, retail or restaurants. There are no fancy curbs, bike lanes, crosswalks, speed bumps - they just make it work.   

While fewer people own cars, the streets are still lined with cars as their is little to no underground parking for residents, retail or restaurants. There are no fancy curbs, bike lanes, crosswalks, speed bumps - they just make it work.   

Last Word

Living in Kreuzberg I learned creating vibrant urban communities isn’t about banners, planters, fancy street furniture, new sidewalks and public art, nor is it about keeping the area graffiti and litter free. In fact, in Berlin it seemed the more graffiti and litter the more vibrant the streets and public areas. I had the same observations in Mexico City, Austin and Montreal. 

I wonder if Calgarians are ready for urban living? I know that I'm not.  I love my front porch and garden, love my own garage and our backyard where the neighbour kids love to play. 

Note: This an edited version of this blog was originally published in the May edition of Condo Living Magazine. 

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What is urban living and does anybody care? 

 

 

 

East Village: A Billion Dollar Work Of Art?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Another of the hoarding artworks.

Another of the hoarding artworks.

Unknown Artists

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

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

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

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

One more hoarding painting by Kai and Ricole Cabodyna.

Temporary Street Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Permanent Public Art

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

Promenade

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

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

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

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

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

Humour Me

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

Art & Nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

Architecture as Art

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

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

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

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

  National Music Centre, gateway to East Village.

National Music Centre, gateway to East Village.

  Henry Moore, Reclining Nude.

Henry Moore, Reclining Nude.

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

  New Central Library with hoarding at street level. 

New Central Library with hoarding at street level. 

Bridges As Art

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

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

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

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

Functional Art

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

Link: East Village Public Art Program

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

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

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More Hoarding Art

Diversity Beats Density: Montreal vs Calgary

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

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

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

Office buildings kill urban vitality

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

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

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

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

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

Huge Student Population

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

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

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

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

Tourists love Downtown Montreal

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

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

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

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

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

IMHO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something to think about?

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

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

  Downtown Calgary is dominated by office buildings.

Downtown Calgary is dominated by office buildings.

Calgary's City Centre Transformation

For those who want a “room (or two) with a view,” several City Center highrise condos offer their own unique urban lifestyle.

Avenue West End by Grosvenor and Cressey Development Group, provides spectacular downtown, river valley and mountain views from its Downtown West location.  You are also only a hop, skip and a jump from the Bow River pathway for evening and weekend jogging, walking and cycling and a pleasant 10-minute walk to work downtown every day. And just minutes away from Shaw Millennium Park, home to numerous festivals or to shoot some hoops or play some beach volleyball.

 Park Point with Calgary's first park, Central Memorial Park as its front yard.

Park Point with Calgary's first park, Central Memorial Park as its front yard.

Another option is Park Point by Qualex-Landmark. It not only provides residents with outstanding views, but Calgary’s historic Memorial Park/Library is in its front yard. Located at the corner of 12th Ave and 2nd Street SW, residents are equidistant to all of the City Centre’s hot spots - Olympic Plaza Cultural District, Stephen Ave/Core, 17th Ave, Mission and Stampede Park.  For those looking ahead, Park Pointe will be on the doorstep of future new Green Line LRT.

  The Royal grocery store at street level. 

The Royal grocery store at street level. 

Then there’s The Royal by Embassy BOSA offers not only luxury living, but the convenience of having an Urban Fair grocery store and Canadian Tire store right in your building.  And if being at the crossroads of the 17th Ave and 8th St SW you have all the shops, cafes and restaurants you will ever need, including Jelly Modern Doughnuts!

 

Lamb Development Corp.’s very modern, 31-storey, 6th and Tenth condo is located on one of the City’s hottest urban addresses – 10th Avenue SW.   Live here and you can get a little more shuteye given you are probably only a 5-minute walk to work.  Just outside your front door, take a left and you can chill with friends at the funky new Bridgette Bar or grab a bottle of your favourite vino at Metrovino for entertaining.  And being next to the Beltline’s Gallery District; you’ll have no excuse for blank walls!

  6th and Tenth is one of   several   buildings transforming the Beltline's 10th Avenue into an attractive urban playground.

6th and Tenth is one of several buildings transforming the Beltline's 10th Avenue into an attractive urban playground.

Vogue is the latest condo development by LaCaille and Calgary’s S2 architects.  It's art deco-inspired design features a five-floor podium with an arched glass entrance that grounds the strong vertical lines of the 35-story condo tower creating a very fashion forward design. Located at 914 - 6th Avenue, it is the closest condo to the downtown core of any of the new City Center condos. 

In East Village, FRAM+Slokker’s Verve not only offers a spectacular 25th-floor rooftop lookout terrace, but easy access to Riverwalk, St. Patrick’s Island and soon the new Central Library and 5th & Third shopping complex that includes a Loblaw’s City Market grocery store (both now under construction).

Modern Mid-rise

If architecture is your thing and money is no object, the opulent Arthur Erickson-designed (Canada’s most celebrated architect) Concord condo in Eau Claire should be on your must-see list.  The 14-floor west tower is currently under construction and will have seven penthouse homes thanks to a design that sees the building terrace upwards from the Bow River pathway to 1st Avenue SW.  Concord residents will savour their proximity to the delicious Alforno Bakery & Café and Buchanan’s restaurant. They will also have a bird’s eye view of the Calgary International Folk Festival.

  AVLI condo in the community of Inglewood, named Canada's best neighbourhood in 2015. 

AVLI condo in the community of Inglewood, named Canada's best neighbourhood in 2015. 

If the charm of Inglewood is more to your liking, the new Jeremy Sturgess (Calgary’s most celebrated architect)- designed AVLI on Atlantic condo (Atlantic Avenue is the original name of 9th Avenue) is a very cool design.  It's angular, ghost-like uber modern design is destined to become one Calgary’s signature early 21st century condos. Those into live music can hang out at Ironwood or Blues Can. Into fine dining? It doesn’t get any better than Deane House or Rouge or maybe you have regular cravings for a Spolumbo’s sandwich.

Across the Bow River from Inglewood sits Bucci’s seven-story new condo Radius, in the increasingly hip community of Bridgeland. Located on Centre Avenue at 9th Street on the edge of Murdock Park, residents will be within walking distance of the very hipster Cannibale (bar and barbershop), Lukes Drug Mart and Bridgeland Market.

  Radius condo in Calgary's Bridgeland community. 

Radius condo in Calgary's Bridgeland community. 

Also north of the Bow River, in Hillhurst is Ezra on Riley Park, which offers 8 floors of sophisticated urban, living.  Imagine living in a 3,000 sq. penthouse with a 6,000 sq. terrace looking out to the lovely Riley Park.  If that is not in your budget, there are many one and two bedroom homes in the middle of the building, as well as two-storey townhomes at street level.  Ezra living also means enjoying Hillhurst Community Centre’s weekly farmer’s market and Sunday Flea Market or the Bodhi Tree yoga studio. 

Last Word

It will be interesting to see in 50 or 100 years what historians say about the early 21st-century transformation of Calgary’s City Centre into a mosaic of vibrant urban neighbourhoods.  You could be part of history-making!

Note: This blog was first published in the Calgary Herald's Condo Xtra supplement in Swerve Magazine on February 10, 2017. 

  Calgary's East Village skyline is constantly changing with new condo towers.

Calgary's East Village skyline is constantly changing with new condo towers.

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