Public Art: Capturing a sense of time and place.

This guest blog, by architect Tom Tittemore (former chair Calgary Public Art Board) and a long time Everyday Tourist reader, looks at three public artworks that had a major impact on him on his recent European travels.

The Importance of Statuary (or, ‘Clothes make the man’, Mark  Twain)

  John A. MacDonald statue smeared with red paint in Montreal. 

John A. MacDonald statue smeared with red paint in Montreal. 

Calgarians reside in a place where “statuary” (statues regarded collectively) is predominantly of the barnyard variety:  horses and cows mainly.  We also reside in a country where figurative honorific statuary is becoming increasingly scrutinized and ‘shamed’ through new cultural and political lenses. 

For example, this week’s vandalism of John A. MacDonald’s statue in Montreal by anarchists due to claims of his racism towards indigenous peoples. 

In contrast, Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland offer a rich palette of statuary that portray key participants in their regions’ respective lengthy, complex, inspiring and tumultuous histories. Three statues within unique, specific sites resonated with me during my recent travels there.  Each reveres the individual’s notable contributions to Western thought, politics and culture.

Man on the Street (Dublin, Ireland – 1990)

 “James Joyce's fictional universe centres on Dublin, and is populated largely by characters who closely resemble family members, enemies and friends from his time there. Ulysses in particular is set with precision in the streets and alleyways of the city.” (Wikipedia)
  Detail of James Joyce statue.

Detail of James Joyce statue.

The commemorative statue of this avant garde 20th century writer by Marjorie Fitzgibbon is located on Talbot Street in a recently modernized, pedestrian-focused precinct of Dublin. 

Its ordinary street setting contrasts with the nearby formal O’Connell Street that honors many of the country’s political heroes instrumental in Ireland’s fight for national autonomy one hundred years ago. 

James Joyce’s roughly hewn bronze statue is human-scaled, approachable, tactile, haughty, stylish and proud.  

He stands slightly above the many passerbys, who are likely caught up in their own daily ‘streams of consciousness’ (or ‘interior monologues’ that typify Joyce’s writing style).

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” James Joyce
  Locals and tourists alike encounter Joyce as part of their everyday experience.

Locals and tourists alike encounter Joyce as part of their everyday experience.

Shifting Reason (Edinburgh, Scotland – 1997)

“David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist and essayist who is best known today for his highly influential system of philosophical empiricism, skepticism and naturalism.” (Wikipedia)

David Hume’s sculptural representation by Alexander Stoddart on the historic Royal Mile in Edinburgh evokes the spirit of pre-Christian society. Whilst balancing his seminal ‘A Treatise of Human Nature,’ his pose and simple adornment portrays to me the philosopher’s anti-rational moral philosophy grounded in causal determinism, sentimentalism and atheism.

Whoa! Yes, all heedy stuff here!!  However, this personage is a nadir of what I refer to as the “18th Century Enlightened Scottish Renaissance.”  Hopefully, some of the tourist throng exploring Edinburgh will discover, as I did, how Hume and his other Scottish contemporaries embellished our 21st century lives with increased knowledge, greater freedom, improved health and ample convenience.

“A wise man, therefore, proportions his beliefs to the evidence.”  David Hume
  Statues often become urban meeting places and performance spaces for locals and tourists. 

Statues often become urban meeting places and performance spaces for locals and tourists. 

Protestation (Belfast, Northern Ireland – late 20th century)

OK, this example isn’t statuary, but should be considered a variation of my theme.

  Murals can be integrated in various ways into urban landscape. 

Murals can be integrated in various ways into urban landscape. 

The political upheaval that took place during the ‘70s and ‘80s has left a perceptible residue of unease and tension that I perceived during my brief afternoon stay and Black Cab tour (a specially selected fleet of drivers who have intimate knowledge of Belfast storied history and will take you on a personal tour of the city). 

The two warring religious-based camps created homage to their respective heroes from this still unresolved event in the form of extensive mural art throughout the city.

The mural of Kieran Nugent, the first ‘blanket man,’ exists within a working class, predominantly Catholic neighbourhood.  Along with others of his generation – my generation – many of whom met a self-sacrificial fate, he speaks daily to pedestrians and motorists from an ordinary brick building.

Without question, this Black Cab tour of Belfast that provided my wife Carol and I with a personal tour of the city through the eyes of, in our case, a Protestant driver, was one of the most memorable events of my trip.

‘When sentenced to three years, Nugent refused to wear a prison uniform and said the prison guards would have to "...nail it to my back.”’
  Murals can be very effective as reminders of a city's history. 

Murals can be very effective as reminders of a city's history. 

Conclusion

Appreciating public art, not unlike any other art genre, often takes effort in the form of curiosity and research – plus a good pair of walking shoes! If one subscribes to the notion that a purpose of public art is to tell, or reinterpret, a story of Place from the artist’s perspective, then one has to understand the Place in all its many facets.

As an avid ‘Urban Trekker,’ not unlike a flaneur, public art provides me with a source of wonder and fascination in understanding the culture of our cities.

The statues of Adam Smith, William lll of Orange, William Playfair, King George lll, Molly Malone, General Wellington, Robbie Burns and Dugald Stewart’s - and their stories - also contributed to my enjoyment of this unique region. A region that has strong historical and cultural affiliation with Calgary.

Everyday Tourist Rebuttal

While Tom thinks most of Calgary’s statuary art is of the barnyard variety, three of Calgary’s most popular and prominent pieces are in fact figurative and function much like what he experienced in Europe. 

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The “Famous Five,” an ambitious work by Edmonton sculptor Barbara Paterson, celebrates the five women who successfully lobbied for womens' rights in the early 20th century. 

It is a lovely work that integrates well with Olympic Plaza and invites the public to stop and interact with it. 

Another popular statuary art in Calgary is “The Conversation” by William McElcheran, located in front of Hudson’s Bay department store on Stephen Avenue.  This piece depicts two businessmen engaged in a face-to-face discussion with strong hand gestures.  Given downtown Calgary has one of the largest concentrations of corporate headquarters in North America, this work and its location (i.e. in the middle of our CBD) is very appropriate for our city’s culture.

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Finally, no discussion of statuary art in Calgary would be complete without looking at “The Brotherhood of Mankind,” known by some as “The Family of Man.” Created by Spanish artist Mario Armengol as part of the British Pavilion for Montreal's Expo ’67, these 10 huge (each approx. 6.5m tall and 680 kilograms) naked stick figures were purchased at auction and donated to the City of Calgary for tax purposes by Calgary businessman Robert Cummings.

Backstory: When the figures were first set up, the pieces weren't in the circle formation we see today. Rather, they were spread out as part of an exhibit called Britain in the World. The oversized figures were meant to suggest the dominance of man and stood next to what the Brits determined were their “gifts” to the modern world – things like language, government systems, law and traditions.  Ironically, when they arrived in Calgary there were no installation instructions so City staff decided they should be in a circle and thus became a family – perhaps reflecting Calgary’s strong family orientation.

Last Word

Tittemore is correct Calgary does have lots of barnyard statues, but many do reflect our history and culture which includes ranching and agriculture.

  Close up of Begg's sculpture of Sitting Eagle.

Close up of Begg's sculpture of Sitting Eagle.

Joe Fafard’s seven galloping horses in Hotchkiss Gardens and Richard Loffler’s Outlaw (the Calgary’s Stampede’s legendary bull that was only ridden once) are two good examples. 

I would also be remise if this blog didn’t recognize Don Begg’s statue of a very proud and welcoming Sitting Eagle (also known as John Hunter) located downtown at the corner of 7th Ave and 6th St. SW. 

Perhaps a blog showcasing Calgary’s statutory art is what I should be working on. 

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

Dublin Revisited in 36 Postcards

The Famous Five at Olympic Plaza

Stampede Park sculpture becomes family playground

 

Joane Cardinal-Schubert: The Writing on the Wall

If you go to one Calgary art exhibition this fall, I recommend the Joane Cardinal-Schubert exhibition at the Nickle Galleries in the Taylor Family Digital Library, at the University of Calgary. It is on until December 17th. This exhibition brings together 60 artworks from private and public collections across Canada.  

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Joane and I had many long and lively conversations about the contemporary art scene when I was the Executive Director/Curator at the Muttart Art Gallery (1984 to 1994) located in the Memorial Park Library building, now Contemporary Calgary.  Adamant she didn’t want to be known as a “Native Artist” but as a contemporary Canadian artist whose work comments on current Canadian issues, which just happened to be about racism, ethnicity, colonialism and residential school experiences. These were the things, she knew best.

And, in a 2002, article in Galleries West magazine, Joane said “I started on this road to paint about my personal experiences: but because I'm Aboriginal, my work has been considered political. I don't think of it as political:  I think of it as personal.” 

It is ironic that her personal artistic statements are probably more relevant and more political today than at the time of our discussions 30 years ago.

For me, the love of Joane’s work was immediate…I loved the intensity of the colour, the use of colour, images and words to communicate to the viewer.  I loved the narratives in her paintings and installations. 

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I share these images of the exhibition with you as a teaser, as a catalyst to encourage you if at all possible to see the exhibition for yourself.  Joane, who passed away in 2009, is one of Alberta’s most important artists. While she is a member of the prestigious Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, she deserves to be a household name among the likes of Lawren Harris, Emily Carr and Jack Shadbolt.

I will let the art in “The Writing on the Wall” speak for itself.

Note:

  • You may (or may not) be aware of Joane’s work as she has a major sculpture at the Calgary International Airport in the domestic terminal immediately after you check-in. 
  • For those of you who don’t live in Calgary, unfortunately you will have to make due with these images.
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Downtown Calgary: The Elephant In The Room?

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

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

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

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

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

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

SWEET DEALS

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

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

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

HERE'S THE PROBLEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ATTRACTING NEW BUSINESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOWNTOWN’S FUTURE

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

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

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

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

  Downtown's 9th Avenue in the 1970s. 

Downtown's 9th Avenue in the 1970s. 

Last Word

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

That is the elephant in the room...

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

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

Why Amazon might pick Calgary for HQ2?

Amazon created a feeding frenzy when it announcement plans to open a second North American headquarters that would result in 50,000 new jobs and $5 billion in capital expenditures for the chosen city. Politicians, economic development CEOs and planners were busy tweeting out why their city should be the winner in the Amazon HQ2 Sweepstakes.   

 Calgary's West Village approved redevelopment plan would fit perfectly with Amazon's plans for a second headquarters. The proposed Riverfront Promenade along the Bow River would become a vibrant 18/7 urban playground.

Calgary's West Village approved redevelopment plan would fit perfectly with Amazon's plans for a second headquarters. The proposed Riverfront Promenade along the Bow River would become a vibrant 18/7 urban playground.

  West Village aka Amazon Village is the land between the Bow River and CPR railway tracks from Crowchild Trail to Mewata Armouries.   Most of the land is owned by the city, which would allow them to negotiate a deal.      While it would be ideal if Amazon HQ2 could just take up the 10 million square feet of existing office space in downtown Calgary many of those buildings would be difficult to retro-fit for Amazon's needs. 

West Village aka Amazon Village is the land between the Bow River and CPR railway tracks from Crowchild Trail to Mewata Armouries. Most of the land is owned by the city, which would allow them to negotiate a deal.  

While it would be ideal if Amazon HQ2 could just take up the 10 million square feet of existing office space in downtown Calgary many of those buildings would be difficult to retro-fit for Amazon's needs. 

  If Amazon chose West Village for HQ2 their employees could body surf in the Bow River at lunch and after work.

If Amazon chose West Village for HQ2 their employees could body surf in the Bow River at lunch and after work.

Can't Imagine A Better Place

Calgary mayor Nenshi was among them. He noted we have been selling our city to some of the biggest brands in the world for decades.  "Non-disclosure agreements prevent me from saying too much on specific files we've been working on," Nenshi added, "But I can tell you that we're very familiar with this particular pitch and were not surprised by Amazon bringing this forward now. Looking at the criteria Amazon has put forward, he couldn't imagine a place that meets their needs better than Calgary.”

Calgary Economic Development President and CEO, Mary Moran, quickly confirmed Calgary would be making a strong pitch to Amazon.  "The value proposition that we offer aligns with what Amazon is looking for. This is an innovative city with a highly educated and globally connected workforce, we have affordable available real estate, low-cost of doing business, exceptional transportation links and quality of life for their employees,” said Moran.

  The West Village plan calls for several plaza and pedestrian oriented streets. 

The West Village plan calls for several plaza and pedestrian oriented streets. 

  The West Village plan envisions mid and high-rise buildings with a mix of uses to create street vitality daytime and evenings, weekdays and weekends.

The West Village plan envisions mid and high-rise buildings with a mix of uses to create street vitality daytime and evenings, weekdays and weekends.

 Calgarians of all ages love to test their strength and agility wherever and whenever they can.  This just happens to be under the LRT bridge linking downtown to Kensington Village. 

Calgarians of all ages love to test their strength and agility wherever and whenever they can.  This just happens to be under the LRT bridge linking downtown to Kensington Village. 

Top Picks

The New York Times went so far as to pick the perfect city for Amazon HQ2. From 25 cities, they short-listed Portland, Denver, Washington and Boston areas, then. picked Denver as the winner.

Link: Dear Amazon, We Picked Your New Headquarters for you

Brookings Institute picked Charlotte N.C., Bloomberg thought Boston was the best choice and Creative class guru Richard Florida is betting on Washington, D.C.

The only city in Canada that got any real attention in the scramble to predict a winner in the Amazon HQ2 Sweepstakes was Toronto.  Then Jens Von Bergmann posted “Amazon – The Canadian Data” on twitter, looking at Amazon’s HQ2 requirements and Canadian cities and guess who came out on top – Calgary.  

Link: Amazon- The Canadian Data.

  Calgary's downtown has one of North America's largest collection of corporate headquarters (oil&gas, financial, accounting and law firms) located in over 42 million square feet of office space. 

Calgary's downtown has one of North America's largest collection of corporate headquarters (oil&gas, financial, accounting and law firms) located in over 42 million square feet of office space. 

  Downtown's Stephen Avenue Walk takes on a festival atmosphere at lunch when 20,000+ workers pour out of the offices along the Walk. Stephen Avenue is a National Historic District.

Downtown's Stephen Avenue Walk takes on a festival atmosphere at lunch when 20,000+ workers pour out of the offices along the Walk. Stephen Avenue is a National Historic District.

Calgary’s Pitch

After reviewing Amazon’s Request for Proposals (RFP), here are my thoughts on why Calgary would be a good fit for Amazon HQ2.  I will not address all of the technical issues and of course I can’t comment on what incentives our municipal, provincial or federal government might be able to give, which will be huge factor in their decision. 

Rather, I will focus on three key areas identified in the RFP as important factors in Amazon’s decision: Thinking Big, Urban Living and Unique Culture.

 Calgary's bike culture dates back to 1869.  

Calgary's bike culture dates back to 1869.  

  Calgary's higher education goes back over 100 years at SAIT where the past meets the future.

Calgary's higher education goes back over 100 years at SAIT where the past meets the future.

Thinking Big

Calgary was an early adopter (1981) of LRT as a core element of its city-wide transit system, long before Seattle, Denver or any American city for that matter.  Today Calgary has the highest per capita LRT ridership in North America and with the development of the Green Line (46 kilometers, 28 stations, serving 27 communities) it will also have one of longest. In addition, Calgary is currently constructing two BRT routes as part of its ambitious rapid transit vision.  And, if that isn’t enough, in 2001, our LRT became the first wind-powered public transit system in North America.

  Calgary has an ambitious transit vision.

Calgary has an ambitious transit vision.

  Downtown's 7th Avenue Transit Corridor is the hub for Calgary's transit system. 

Downtown's 7th Avenue Transit Corridor is the hub for Calgary's transit system. 

Calgary is also the cleanest city in the world as a result of our commitment to state-of-the-art water treatment plants.  According to the Mercer Global Financial list, Calgary has been the world’s cleanest city in the world for several years now based on:  availability and drinkability of water, waste removal, quality of sewage system, air quality and traffic congestion.  

Calgary is on the path to becoming a premier green energy hub in North America, according to a Delphi Group’s study of the Calgary Region’s Green Energy Economy. The research showed in 2015, Calgary’s green energy economy was responsible for generating $3.63 billion in gross output, $1.78 billion in gross domestic product, and approximately 15,470 jobs. (Calgary Economic Development website)

Calgary, the largest logistic hub in Western Canada and one of the largest inland ports in North America, fits perfectly with Amazon’s operations. 

Link: Calgary: An Inland Port

Calgary also thinks big when it comes to parks and pathways.  We have over 5,200 parks, including two of the largest urban parks in the world – Fish Creek (13.5 sq. km) and Nose Hill (11 sq. km).  Calgary has 150 public off-leash areas across the city. Our three City Centre island parks (Prince’s, St. Patrick’s and St. George’s) in the middle of the Bow River are spectacular urban oasis. And don’t forget our easy access Banff National Park and Kananaskis Provincial Park.

  Calgary's 138 km Rotary/Mattamy Greenway circles the city. And yes we are working on the completion of a ring road around the city also.

Calgary's 138 km Rotary/Mattamy Greenway circles the city. And yes we are working on the completion of a ring road around the city also.

In addition to our City Centre bike lanes (something asked for in the RFP) we also have over 1,000 km of pathways city-wide including the new 138 km Rotary/Mattamy Greenway that encircles the city connecting over 400,000 Calgarians. Calgary is a cyclist’s paradise for commuters and recreational cyclists.

  Calgarians of all ages love to cycle.

Calgarians of all ages love to cycle.

  Bow Cycle is one of the largest bike shops in the world. It sponsors the annual Tour de Bowness race. 

Bow Cycle is one of the largest bike shops in the world. It sponsors the annual Tour de Bowness race. 

Young & Active

As well, Calgary is currently building four mega recreation facilities (to the tune of almost half a billion dollars) – Rocky Ridge, Seton, Great Plains and Quarry Park.

The iconic Repsol Sports Center (formerly the Talisman Centre) with its iconic Teflon-coated semi-transparent fibreglass dinosaur-like roof is the second most used recreation facility in North America attracting over 1.8 million visitors annually.  It opened in 1983 and was the catalyst for creating mega, multi-use recreation centers across the city.

  The Crescent Heights stairs are a popular spot for Calgarians to challenge their fitness levels.    With 167 steps divided into 11 flights, most people find once is enough. But there is fun challenge on the internet, based on 10 laps starting at the bottom and finishing at the top. Under   17 minutes = olympian,   17 – 20 minutes = professional, top amateur,   20 – 24 minutes = very athletic.

The Crescent Heights stairs are a popular spot for Calgarians to challenge their fitness levels.  With 167 steps divided into 11 flights, most people find once is enough. But there is fun challenge on the internet, based on 10 laps starting at the bottom and finishing at the top. Under 17 minutes = olympian, 17 – 20 minutes = professional, top amateur, 20 – 24 minutes = very athletic.

  There is a walk or run in Calgary almost every weekend for charity.

There is a walk or run in Calgary almost every weekend for charity.

  Yes we love our hockey.

Yes we love our hockey.

  Calgarians also love their rivers - Bow and Elbow.  This scene is repeated 25+ times along the two rivers from May to September. 

Calgarians also love their rivers - Bow and Elbow.  This scene is repeated 25+ times along the two rivers from May to September. 

Urban Living

Having visited Seattle, Denver, Portland and Austin recently, none of those cities can match Calgary’s amazing infill housing development occurring in our City Centre and inner-city communities.  Tour any community within 10 km of Calgary’s downtown and you will find old homes being torn down and new family homes being built in their place on almost every block.  You will also find dozens of multi-family buildings being built at strategic locations.

And, Calgary currently has seven mega new urban villages in various stages of construction in our inner city – Bridges, Currie, East Village, Eau Claire, Stadium, University District and University City/Brentwood.

In addition, Inglewood was chosen as “Canada’s Greatest Neighbourhood” by the Canadian Institute of Planners and Kensington was short-listed in 2014 (both communities have improved since then).

Add in the Beltline (the hipster capital of North America), Chinatown, Erlton, Mission, Ramsay and Sunalta and Calgary offers some of the most diverse and affordable urban living options in North America - from penthouses to micro-condos, from single-family infills to mansions, from transit-oriented living (N3 condo in East Village has no parking) to walking and cycling-oriented living.  

All at affordable prices compared to most major North American cities.

Link: NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here

Link: Beltline: Hipster/GABSTER Capital of North America

 Impromptu couples dancing in Tomkins Park in RED (Retail, Entertainment District). 

Impromptu couples dancing in Tomkins Park in RED (Retail, Entertainment District). 

  Calgary has a very strong independent coffee/cafe culture that dates back to the '70s.

Calgary has a very strong independent coffee/cafe culture that dates back to the '70s.

  17th Avenue aka The Red Mile is a popular people watching and dining and beer drinking hot spot.

17th Avenue aka The Red Mile is a popular people watching and dining and beer drinking hot spot.

 Kensington Village has a vibrant street culture as the Alberta College of Art & Design and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology are nearby.  It is full of cafes, shops, restaurants and an arthouse movie theatre. There is even a cat cafe.

Kensington Village has a vibrant street culture as the Alberta College of Art & Design and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology are nearby.  It is full of cafes, shops, restaurants and an arthouse movie theatre. There is even a cat cafe.

 The Bow River pathway on the edge of downtown is a popular spot for walking, cycling and running weekdays and weekends.

The Bow River pathway on the edge of downtown is a popular spot for walking, cycling and running weekdays and weekends.

  Penthouse living....

Penthouse living....

  You can find new condos on almost every other block in Calgary's Beltline community. It is Calgary's most dense and diverse community with 22,000+ residents.

You can find new condos on almost every other block in Calgary's Beltline community. It is Calgary's most dense and diverse community with 22,000+ residents.

  East Village is a new master planned urban village  on the east side of downtown, when completed in 2027 it will be home to 12,000+ residents. Calgary already has over 70,000 people living in its City Centre. 

East Village is a new master planned urban village  on the east side of downtown, when completed in 2027 it will be home to 12,000+ residents. Calgary already has over 70,000 people living in its City Centre. 

  Calgary boast one of the most diverse inner city living options of any major city in North America, from mansions to cottages, from high-rises to mid-rises, from duplexes to row homes. There is new construction on almost every other block within 10 km of downtown Calgary. 

Calgary boast one of the most diverse inner city living options of any major city in North America, from mansions to cottages, from high-rises to mid-rises, from duplexes to row homes. There is new construction on almost every other block within 10 km of downtown Calgary. 

Unique Culture

Calgary is home to one of North America’s most unique annual festivals – Beakerhead. It is a smash up of science, engineering, technology, innovation, art and culture that takes place at multiple sites across the city. In 2017, there are 14 sites that area expected to attract over 125,000 participants over five days.   It is exactly the kind of funky, futuristic, techy stuff Amazon loves.

The Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo is Canada’s second largest comic-com event attracting over 100,000 visitors.  Theatre Sports, the precursor to the current improve theatre craze was invented in Calgary, at the University of Calgary in 1977.

Calgary is quickly becoming a major music city with the opening of the National Music Centre.  We also have several major music festivals including Calgary International Folk Festival, Sled Island and the Performing Arts Festival (4,000 entries, 12,000 participants, makes one of the largest amateur competition music festivals in North America). The Honens Piano Competition is one of the world’s most prestigious events of its kind in the world. Cowtown Opera Company takes their satirical performances to the streets and shopping malls of the city.

Calgary’s High Performance Rodeo has been showcasing the best in contemporary international performance every January since 1986.  In 2017, it featured 28 shows over 32 days with 150 performances by 200 artists from around the world. Calgary’s Lunchbox Theatre is North America’s longest running lunchtime theatre company.

Calgary’s unique culture also includes an amazing diversity of recreational opportunities from speed skating to show jumping. Spruce Meadows is one of the best equestrian centres in the world and Shaw Millennium Park has one of the largest public skate parks in North America.  Canada Olympic Park offers unique recreational experiences - downhill skiing, zip line, mountain biking, luge and bobsled.  Calgary’s Olympic Oval has the fastest speeedskating ice in the world. In the winter Calgary boasts over 100 outdoor community skating rinks.

  Beakerhead festival celebrates the connections between art, science and engineer every September. 

Beakerhead festival celebrates the connections between art, science and engineer every September. 

  Prince's Island's signature event is the Calgary International Folk Festival.

Prince's Island's signature event is the Calgary International Folk Festival.

  There are festivals and special outdoor events every weekend in the City Centre.

There are festivals and special outdoor events every weekend in the City Centre.

Canada: A Safe Haven?  

When Amazon announced they were looking to set up a second headquarters, they indicated that it could be anywhere in North America.  While most crystal ball gazers are assuming they will choose an American city, given the current political and social upheaval in the USA, Canada could well be a safe haven for Amazon.

Calgary is probably the most American friendly city in Canada.  We have a strong entrepreneurial, business-oriented, future thinking culture, while at the same time having a strong community spirit.  In 2016, Calgarians donated $55 million to United Way, the highest per capita United Way contribution in North America. 

West Village aka Amazon Village

  West Village has parks at both ends along with beautiful Bow River waterfront linear park. Millennium Park has one of the world's largest public skateboard parks in the world, which would be very appealing to Amazon employees. It is also home to many festivals.

West Village has parks at both ends along with beautiful Bow River waterfront linear park. Millennium Park has one of the world's largest public skateboard parks in the world, which would be very appealing to Amazon employees. It is also home to many festivals.

  The West Village Master Plan calls for four major landmark artworks, several urban plazas as well as open space and natural areas, making it ideal for the Amazon HQ2 campus.

The West Village Master Plan calls for four major landmark artworks, several urban plazas as well as open space and natural areas, making it ideal for the Amazon HQ2 campus.

  The West Village Master Plan has a campus feel to it that would be ideal for Amazon HQ2.   It would be easy to phase in the development based on the existing area redevelopment plan .

The West Village Master Plan has a campus feel to it that would be ideal for Amazon HQ2. It would be easy to phase in the development based on the existing area redevelopment plan.

  Amazon's plan is to duplicate their downtown Seattle HQ over time in another city.

Amazon's plan is to duplicate their downtown Seattle HQ over time in another city.

Last Word

In many ways, Calgary has retained all that is good about the pioneer culture that created our city just over 100 years ago.  While Calgary is a long shot to win the Amazon HQ2 headquarters, everyone loves an underdog. 

FYI: Calgary may have a little insider help. James Gosling, a Calgarian and University of Calgary grad, who invented the Java computer language found on 97 per cent of enterprise computer systems and virtual-machine systems, joined Amazon in May 2017.

Link: Amazon Request For Proposals

  And yes Calgary has an observation tower - ours is just a bit taller and yours a bit older. We could be sister cities. 

And yes Calgary has an observation tower - ours is just a bit taller and yours a bit older. We could be sister cities. 

Public Art? Rocks, Keys, Dog & Bone?

Controversial public art raised its ugly head again in Calgary recently with the commencement of the construction of the Bowfort Tower artwork on the off ramp of the TransCanada Highway and Bowfort Road NW.  Yes, it is a strange place for public art. Yes, it is a strange name for a public artwork - sounds more like a new downtown condo or office tower. 

And yes, it seems like a strange choice as the NW gateway to Calgary. 

  Bowfort Towers public artwork on the Trans Canada Highway at Bowfort Road. 

Bowfort Towers public artwork on the Trans Canada Highway at Bowfort Road. 

Change of heart?

When I first checked the City of Calgary's website to see what information they had posted about the piece, it included a statement about how the artwork referenced Calgary's Indigenous culture however that statement has been removed.  Link: City of Calgary, Bowfort Towers

Also since all of the controversy Mayor Nenshi and Chiefs of Treaty 7 have issued a joint statement saying that the piece was never intended to reference Calgary Indigenous Culture. Link: Nenshi Treaty 7 Chief's Joint Statement

However, on August 3, 2017, CBC posted the following statement as part of their coverage of the newly installed public art: 

The Bowfort Towers on the south side of the interchange were designed by artist Del Geist, who is based in New York, N.Y. Sarah Iley (Manager Arts & Culture, city of Calgary) said Geist drew inspiration from the Blackfoot people, and the towers capture the "essence, personality and history" of the area. "Those four towers relate to the Blackfoot cultural symbolism that talks about the four elements, the four stages of life (and) the four seasons," Iley said.

Link: CBC: Gateway to the City: Art Installation

Sorry I don't think you can just now say the piece doesn't make reference to the Blackfoot culture after saying it was. 

  Blackfoot burial platform

Blackfoot burial platform

Calgary we have a problem

As a former public art gallery curator and frequent public art juror, I have often wondered why modern public art seems to be skewed towards the conceptual and minimalist genres, rather than just being fun.  I think this is especially true for what I call “drive-by public art,” i.e. public art that the public can’t get close, or have a chance to take some time to examine it, reflect and ponder its meaning, its concepts, which is critical to understanding and appreciating conceptual art.

When I saw the Bowfort Tower, I immediately knew we were in for another round of public art outrage. I passed by it almost everyday for a week waiting to see how it was going to look, but it just stayed the same – eight iron or wood pillars (hard to tell the difference when driving by) with flat rocks floating in the pillars.  It looked unfinished. It looked like part of the construction site. And yes, is did remind me of indigenous burial sites.

Perhaps, before any public artwork is installed, it should be vetted by a larger public than just a jury and administration. Perhaps, City Council should have final approval of all public art works just like they do all secondary suites. Just kidding!

Obviously, the current open invitation, which is short-listed by administration, with the final decision being made by a different jury of art professionals, community representatives and administration for each piece is isn’t working. In fact, many experienced artists won’t submit to juried competitions because they know the process is flawed. Sad, but true!

However, not all is lost when it comes to public art in Calgary…or is it? Depends on who you are talking to. Read on...

  Close-up view of UNLOCKED a new temporary public artwork on 17th Avenue SW.  

Close-up view of UNLOCKED a new temporary public artwork on 17th Avenue SW. 

UNLOCKED 

Screen Shot 2017-09-02 at 12.13.33 PM.png

While Bowfort Towers was getting all the attention by public art zealots, over the past two weeks, few were commenting on Calgary’s other two new public artworks – Boney, located in SETON at the entrance to the new Medical Professional Building and UNLOCK, in the middle of the sidewalk on the 200E block of 17th Ave SE.  

UNLOCK, while also visually fun, is a more thought provoking piece.  It consists of a wire mesh archway (12 feet long, 6 feet wide and 8 feet high) located on the sidewalk on 17th Ave SE, between Centre Street and 1 Street SE in front of a new apartment block.  Artist Joanne MacDonald sees keys as a signifier of personal memories – first bike lock, first car keys, first keys to your apartment.  In a letter to local businesses along 17th Ave SE, she asked them to donate keys to be installed on the archway.  It is also her intention to encourage the public to participate at upcoming community events by donating keys as well.

In her letter to businesses along the block, she hoped UNLOCKED would “promote discussion on themes like accessibility, opportunity, privilege, employment, ownership and gentrification.” I think this is a big leap to think the keys will be the catalyst to promote discussion, however the archway does create a fun pedestrian experience whether you walk through or around it.   

We visited at twilight and the setting sun sparkled off the metal keys created a lovely ambience while we lingered for a few minutes before moving on.

  Unlock could become a very interesting installation in the right location. 

Unlock could become a very interesting installation in the right location. 

Personally, I like the way the artist’s references the wire mesh fences that are used at construction sites everywhere in her arch. I think it is great when public art can connect with its site in some manner. I like the simplicity of the structure and to me, the archway visually creates a pageantry-like experience that enhances the everyday sidewalk experience.

What I didn’t see in the artist’s statement or city explanation is the that artwork is an interesting spin on the world wide phenomena of lovers (often as tourists) placing locks in public places as a declaration of their love for each other.  When I first read about the piece, I assumed the artist and the City were encouraging couples and families to come to the archway and add their keys to the artwork as a symbol of their love of each other – a modern love-in you might say.

I love interactive public art.

Backstory: Unlocked is one of four public art pieces being installed this August as part of a new program called The cREactive Realm developed by Blank Page Studio in collaboration with The City of Calgary. It is seen as a way to support businesses along 17th Avenue while streets are torn up to replace water and sanitary lines, repair and rebuild the road and make public realm improvements – new sidewalks, benches, trees and streetlights. The goal is to create interactive, playful experiences using public art that will draw Calgarians to the blocks while they are under construction.  The total budget for the four artworks is $50,000.
  This is another of the four public artworks being produced and temporarily installed along 17th Ave SW during construction as a means of attracting people to visit 17th while it gets new sidewalks and utilities. Budget $15,000.

This is another of the four public artworks being produced and temporarily installed along 17th Ave SW during construction as a means of attracting people to visit 17th while it gets new sidewalks and utilities. Budget $15,000.

  The signage says: CONNECT is a project designed to bring an artist workspace into the Public Realm. Working towards the creation of a piece of public furniture Laura and Micheal Hosaluk are designing and developing their ideas as they share their creative process with you.     Using the lathe and the bandsaw to cut and form Red Cedar from B.C. and Milk Paint to add colour this duo will be working to transform raw materials into a celebration of the process.

The signage says: CONNECT is a project designed to bring an artist workspace into the Public Realm. Working towards the creation of a piece of public furniture Laura and Micheal Hosaluk are designing and developing their ideas as they share their creative process with you. 

Using the lathe and the bandsaw to cut and form Red Cedar from B.C. and Milk Paint to add colour this duo will be working to transform raw materials into a celebration of the process.

BONEY 

  This bone is perched near the roof-top of the EFW Radiology building in one of Calgary's newest communities - SETON. 

This bone is perched near the roof-top of the EFW Radiology building in one of Calgary's newest communities - SETON. 

Boney is a whimsical 9-foot tall purple dog consisting of nine bone shaped pieces designed by the German arts collective Inges Idee (yes, this is the same collective that brought us Travelling Light, better known as the Giant Blue Ring), fabricated and installed by Calgary’s Heavy Industries, who have been responsible for the fabrication of many of Calgary’s new public artworks.  Adding, to add to the whimsy, the dog is looking up to the top of the building where another bone is on the roof. 

Trevor Hunnisett, Development Manager of Brookfield Residential says, “the response to date has been excellent. Given the piece’s location across from the South Health Campus and at the front door of our new medical building, we wanted something that would put a smile on a person’s face regardless of age and personal circumstances.”  In this case, the piece was chosen and paid for by Brookfield Residential - no jury, no City money and no controversy.  Hunnisett wouldn’t divulge the exact price of the artwork but did say it was less than 1% of cost of the building.

Before the snarky public art purists say something like “Sure, all Calgarians want are fluff pieces of horses and other kitschy art,’ I would like to remind them that Jeff Koons has become one of the world’s most famous artists creating artworks that look like the balloon animals pone would see at a child-oriented event. His work is collected by many knowledgeable collectors and is in the collection of art museums around the world. 

If I had one criticism of Boney, it is that it is derivative; one could even say plagiarizes Koons’ work. It is the polar opposite of Bowfort Towers in that it has no hidden meaning, concepts or social statements.  

It is just plain fun – and what’s wrong with that? In my mind Calgary’s new public art is too skewed to obscure conceptual art; sometimes public art can (should) just be fun!

  BONEY looking up at the bone on the roof. I love that BONEY's tail and ears are bone-shaped and the cheerful purple colour. Is it just coincidence that Boney is Nenshi purple????     I also love the simple seating that is all around the piece inviting the public to sit and chat; that's being public friendly. 

BONEY looking up at the bone on the roof. I love that BONEY's tail and ears are bone-shaped and the cheerful purple colour. Is it just coincidence that Boney is Nenshi purple????

 I also love the simple seating that is all around the piece inviting the public to sit and chat; that's being public friendly. 

  Another view of BONEY with the South Health Campus in the background. 

Another view of BONEY with the South Health Campus in the background. 

Last Word

Sometimes I think artists and curators expect too much from public art. While it can be a catalyst for discussion and debate, in most cases, the public glances at the art, likes it or doesn’t like it, and moves on. There is not a lot of thinking, pondering and reflecting on its meaning, concepts, social or political statements. 

What it does do in subtle and subliminal ways is make the pedestrian experience more interesting. To me, urban places are often defined by the diversity and quality of their public art, even if we don’t always realize it.

Personally the best NEW piece of public art in Calgary was a grassroots one in the LRT pedestrian underpass from Sunnyside to 10th Street at Riley Park. 

  This rainbow was painted to celebrate Calgary's Gay Pride Week.  I love the fact that someone has taken the time to clean up the area around the underpass. After I took this photo they toss the garbage in a dumpster nearby.      I am thinking that if the Bowfort Road / Trans Canada Highway underpass had been painted like this on a permanent basis, it would have been well received.  In addition to adding some colour to a concrete grey underpass, it would also have delivered an uplifting message i.e. Calgary is an inclusive city or perhaps Calgary is a city hope and optimism. Both of which are true and would be very appropriate for a gateway artwork. 

This rainbow was painted to celebrate Calgary's Gay Pride Week.  I love the fact that someone has taken the time to clean up the area around the underpass. After I took this photo they toss the garbage in a dumpster nearby.  

I am thinking that if the Bowfort Road / Trans Canada Highway underpass had been painted like this on a permanent basis, it would have been well received.  In addition to adding some colour to a concrete grey underpass, it would also have delivered an uplifting message i.e. Calgary is an inclusive city or perhaps Calgary is a city hope and optimism. Both of which are true and would be very appropriate for a gateway artwork. 

Should Calgary Transit Think Outside the Bus?

As a result of digging into the Calgary Transit’s “Electronic Fare Saga,” I also learned a whole lot more about the other issues that Calgarians and Calgary Transit are facing in a March 2016 report "Calgary Transit Service Delivery Goal Trends and Challenges."

  As shown on Figure 1, in 2015 Base service is provided to about 60.4% of Calgary residences and 62.7% of jobs (business addresses). Areas that do not receive a Base level of service contain about 229,000 residents (18% of city population) and 158,000 jobs (18% of Calgary’s total employment) primarily in the developed communities in the northwest, west, southwest and southeast areas where base service levels are not provided. Areas with no transit service tend to be located in the newer areas in the north, northeast, southeast, particularly developing employment areas plus pockets scattered throughout the developed area of city. Some of these pockets are isolated and have sparse developments that are not feasible to serve. (City of Calgary, Transit Service Delivery Goals, Trends and Challenges, March 2016)

As shown on Figure 1, in 2015 Base service is provided to about 60.4% of Calgary residences and 62.7% of jobs (business addresses). Areas that do not receive a Base level of service contain about 229,000 residents (18% of city population) and 158,000 jobs (18% of Calgary’s total employment) primarily in the developed communities in the northwest, west, southwest and southeast areas where base service levels are not provided. Areas with no transit service tend to be located in the newer areas in the north, northeast, southeast, particularly developing employment areas plus pockets scattered throughout the developed area of city. Some of these pockets are isolated and have sparse developments that are not feasible to serve. (City of Calgary, Transit Service Delivery Goals, Trends and Challenges, March 2016)

Base service is a range of transit services (feeder, mainline and cross-town routes) providing service, within 400 metres of 95% of residents and jobs, at least every 30 minutes. In 2015, base service is provided to only about 60.4% of Calgary residences and 62.7% of businesses. 

I was surprised to learn there are thousands of households in 12 different Calgary communities  that no have no service within 5 kilometers and probably won’t have for a few years.

I can understand that new communities might have to wait for schools, libraries and recreation centers, but I have to wonder why the City would approve the development of a new community if they know they don’t have the money to provide reasonable transit service.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that most bus routes after 9 pm operate at less than 20% capacity (i.e. less than 12 people per bus). My observations over the years have found that in off peak times it is more like 5 or 6.

For a long time I have wondered if there isn’t a better way to provide transit service on low ridership routes.  What if taxis, Uber drivers and/or car2go vehicles waiting at the LRT Stations were somehow included in the transit fare so C-Train riders could just hop in and get home rather than waiting for a bus that comes every 30 minutes?

I then started thinking of lots of questions?

Would it be more cost effective for the city to just tendered out transit service to taxis, Uber or car2go from C-Trains Stations late at night? 

Would it make sense to replace some low occupancy bus routes with taxis and Uber service to the nearest C-Train Station at night?   

Would it be cost effective to tender out transit service to new communities to taxis and Uber, while a community grows in size to warrant transit service?

Would the Taxi/Uber option be cost effective on low ridership routes on the weekends?

Benefits

I hazard a guess to say transit users would love the door-to-door, on-demand service at night, especially in the winter. Waiting in the dark and cold is no fun.

Increased C-Train ridership at night as a result of Calgarians being picked up at home and driven to the closest C Train or picked up at the LRT Station and driven home could result in increased train service, yielding a win-win situation.

As well, it would be more environmentally friendly as buses wouldn’t be driving around empty and taxis and Uber drivers would be busy driving people, rather than sitting idling polluting the air while waiting for a fare.

Taxi drivers get a new client base, maybe making up for the Uber competition.

There could also be an increase in transit use by car owners with the added comfort and convenience of door-to-door on-demand service. Fewer cars on the road would be a good thing.

The records of the taxi and Uber drivers would provide the City with valuable information for future transit planning.

And yes, it should save the taxpayer money.

Research Says…..

In fact Miami, Denver, Quebec City and Phoenix already have partnerships with private companies (Uber, Lyft) to transport customers to and from transit services in low ridership areas or during times of low ridership (evenings & weekends).

Perhaps a pilot project in Calgary is warranted based on the lessons learned from these other cities.  

Link: First Mile/Last Mile Programs

Last Word

Perhaps it is time to think outside the bus.

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Ollenberger: Developers Do Listen & Make Changes!

As the founding President and CEO of the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) in 2007, Chris Ollenberger assembled a “simply amazing” (his words) to develop and implement the vision and master plan for East Village, still being executed today. 

Working with urban designers at BroadwayMaylan (an international architecture and urban planning firm), the CMLC team worked relentlessly to ensure the East Village Master Plan was not only visionary, but attractive to developers and those already calling East Village home. To do so, the team developed one of the most successful community engagement programs in Calgary’s history.

Since leaving CMLC in 2011, he has worked on several infill projects in Calgary from mixed-use office, residential and retail to the controversial Harvest Hill Golf Course redevelopment. 

A civil engineer by training, Ollenberger has hands-on-experience linking vision with reality. While he loves to think outside the box, at the same time, he understands the limitations of economic and engineering realities.

I thought it would be interesting to get his insights into Calgary’s community engagement process.

Q: Calgary’s community engagement is not working, community members feel their concerns and ideas have little impact on what the City approves. Is this true?

A: While I can understand the frustration of community members, I would disagree the public’s concerns have no impact.

Engagement isn’t about continuing dialogue until there is unanimous approval. It is about ensuring viewpoints are heard, explored, documented and either incorporated or explained why they weren’t incorporated into a proposed development. 

Screen Shot 2016-12-17 at 9.59.37 PM.png

In the case of Harvest Hills’ redevelopment, almost two years of engagement occurred, including in-person discussions, open houses, thousands of letter submissions and a 10-hour public hearing in front of City Council. 

As a result, several changes were made including green space buffers behind existing homes and locating multi-family districts away from existing single-family homes

Many elements of the public feedback were not aligned with the City’s Municipal Development Plan (MDP is a statutory plan that governs the City’s future growth), but were nonetheless incorporated into the plan to reflect resident concerns.  In fact, some Council members wanted more density and commercial. And we convinced Council that in some cases community feedback needed to take precedence over idealistic planning considerations, when retrofitting a ‘90s low-density neighborhood like Harvest Hills.

Q: In some cases the community is frustrated because the proposed project doesn’t meet the requirements of the City’s Municipal Development Plan (MDP). Comments?

A. The MDP provides the broad framework for future growth.  That doesn’t mean every sentence must or can be specifically addressed and met in isolation. The public must understand City Council is responsible for making decisions in the best interest of the entire city, which sometimes are opposed to the interests of individuals near the development site.  It is impossible to satisfy all of the goals of the MDP and the demands of all individuals.   

Some communities are often frustrated with the MDP because it advocates for more density versus low density, car-oriented preferences. 

Screen Shot 2016-12-17 at 9.59.17 PM.png
Q: Have community members unfairly criticized developers for not changing their development plans to accommodate community concerns?

Though some developers have not done the best job of explaining why - or why not -specific concerns were not incorporated into development proposals, most do. 

Some community members’ comments are simply not viable or rational. For example, we have heard comments like “an increase in density is not desirable or needed, that it will result in more renters and renters are undesirable.”  People also tell us they want more transit, but don’t agree transit needs density to create viable ridership thresholds.

Infill developments are a challenging balancing act between regulations, bylaws, engineering specifications, financing requirements set by banks and other lenders, planning directions and policies, market desires, affordability/market demand, physical constraints of sites, contamination issues, drainage issues, servicing constraints/costs and other factors. 

Q: What changes to the community engagement process are needed to make it work better for the developer, community and City?

It needs to be shorter.  Municipalities tend try to engage through too many open houses which too often become a forum for a few people and don’t engage everyone. No question, engagement needs to be genuine and broad, but length of engagement doesn’t equal quality.  

The people most frustrated are those who just want the City to say “NO!” So when a development proposal isn’t rejected, they blame the City for “not listening” or “siding with the developer.” Neither are true. The City’s approval process is very genuine in every community I have worked in.

Q: If you could share one message with community associations re: infill developments what would it be?

There is a mutual responsibility of developer, City and community to all work towards quality re-development. 

The City needs to realize infill developments often don’t nicely fit with existing policies and attempting to force-fit them to do so leads to both developer and community frustration.

Developers need to bring quality developments to the community upfront, listen to community input respectfully and then explain their decisions.  

Community members often assume all developer decisions are made to increase profit, while true to a point, more often than they think developers are simply following City policy.  For example, in many cases the developer is accused of wanting more density to increase profits, when in fact it is the City who is demanding more density.

Individuals, community associations and special interest groups need to realize the City and developers have constraints on what is financially, physically or practical to deliver.  Communities must evolve if they want to be vibrant attractive to the next generation - it’s the quality of change that’s important.

One project can’t solve the community’s entire problem. 

Q: There has been much criticism of the City’s red tape. Is there some “low hanging fruit” the City could change that would benefit Calgarians?

A. A coordinated viewpoint on development impacts across all City business units.  Far too much time and delays are the result of every City business unit acting in their own silo and not working together – in some cases, they even work in opposition to each other. 

 Q: If you could share one message with City administration, what would it be?

A. The planning review process needs to be far less accommodating of allowing specific business units to hold-up good projects due to their isolated concerns or funding considerations.  If it’s good for the City as a whole, that should be the driver.

Q: If you could share one message with City Council what would it be?

A. Provide direction to the Administration to figure out how to move good development projects forward quickly. The current process stifles the innovation Council is looking for and developers would like to propose.  It is easier to just propose what we know will get approved.

Last Word

“I truly think the vast majority of developers are quite open to input on their proposals, and genuinely work with communities to achieve a good balance of all considerations, but no project can be perfect for everyone,” says Ollenberger. 

In knowing and talking to lots of developers over the past 20+ years, I concur.

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