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. 

Palm Springs: Robolights Mash-Up!

While flaneuring Palm Springs’ Movie Colony neighbourhood just east of their Design District we suddenly came upon three huge robot-looking creatures amongst the trees - one pink, one yellow and one orange. The pink robot was probably 30-feet high. Quickly the light bulb went on; this is the house with the bizarre Christmas light show I had read about. 

Peering over the bushes and the fence we could see hundreds of strange-looking creatures created out of recycled junk that looked like a surreal  mash-up of characters from Star Wars to Jurassic Park. Did a 21st century Dali or Duchamp live here?

We had to come back at night!

  It is not everyday that you find front lawn ornaments like this in residential neighbourhoods.

It is not everyday that you find front lawn ornaments like this in residential neighbourhoods.

  Kenny's idea of a reindeer?

Kenny's idea of a reindeer?

Robolights 101 / Kenny's World

Basically, Robolights is a giant art installation with millions of lights and hundreds of giant creatures from various folklores and movies, as well as Christmas and cartoon characters that fill a two-acre residential lot in Palm Springs’ Movie Colony neighbourhood. The work of artist Kenny Irwin Jr., it is billed as the largest, most spectacular residential light display in America, perhaps the entire world.”

What began in 1986 as a 9-year old boy’s dream has become Kenny’s altered reality (he still lives in the family house year-round surrounded by his installation).  He has built on almost every available square centimeter of the homestead – his childhood sandbox, the tennis court, the pool and the even the roof of the house. 

His first piece was a 10-foot tall wooden creature with a 1940s phone coming out of its chest.  Since then, he has continued to work on the display year-round using donated junk from friends and strangers (e.g. when a local casino was upgrading the slot machines, they donated all the electronic equipment and some old machines), as well as purchasing things on EBay.

Ironically while it is called Robolights, there are no real robots in the show and Irwin doesn’t even celebrate Christmas, having converted to Islamic many years ago.

Visitors are welcome year-round by donation, but it really comes alive from Thanksgiving to the first week of January when extra lights are added to make it more Christmassy. During this time it is open from 4 to 9:30 pm, donations are option and you can also donate a toy for children in need. 

Link:  Robolights

Robolights has captured national and international attention over the years, attracting 20,000 people last year. But, Robolights almost didn’t happen this year as the City of Palm Springs was concerned the two enormous inflatables on the roof of the house could blow off and damage houses, cars or people on the streets.

 

  Somewhere in this display is the house.

Somewhere in this display is the house.

  Enter at your own risk?

Enter at your own risk?

  This is not your regular Christmas light show!

This is not your regular Christmas light show!

  A real mash-up of materials and figures.

A real mash-up of materials and figures.

What we saw!

From the outside, it looks like a Christmas lightshow “gone wild” with a Santa and his reindeer along the street at the entrance made out of an assortment of recycled materials from old car parts to shopping carts. There are countless lights and the roof of the house is graced with two huge inflatables.  There are lots of people milling about but it was not crowded this Tuesday night (nor was it on the Sunday night when I popped by again).

However, upon entering the narrow passageway you quickly realized this is not an innocent Christmas show for children, but a weird, wacky and sometimes macabre art installation on a scale I have never seen before.  This art exhibition is full of fun, strange and bizarre surprises – a mash-up of Disneyland and the Stampede midway.

Many people were overheard saying, “WOW this is amazing/weird.” Another frequent comment was “Where does he get all this stuff?” Irwin estimates he had incorporated over 1,000 tons of recycled materials into the various displays.

Don’t get me wrong there are lots of things for kids of all ages to see and enjoy. There are all the things you would expect in a Christmas light show - Santa Clause, reindeer, snowman, castles, candy canes, but all with a twist.

In fact we know of one family with a two and half year old who went with friends and said they all enjoyed the show for different reasons.  And there were certainly lots of families enjoying the show the night we were there.

  Kids love all the colour and lights. It is a magical mystery tour...

Kids love all the colour and lights. It is a magical mystery tour...

  I think twilight is the best time to visit.

I think twilight is the best time to visit.

  What's with the toilet and basketball net?

What's with the toilet and basketball net?

  Lego gone wild?

Lego gone wild?

  What is Christmas without a Gingerbread House?

What is Christmas without a Gingerbread House?

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  Dragons and other mythical creatures are everywhere.

Dragons and other mythical creatures are everywhere.

  What would Christmas be without a pirate ship? 

What would Christmas be without a pirate ship? 

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Parents Beware

Parents be prepared to answer some difficult questions like “Why are those people sitting in toilets in shopping carts on the roller coaster?” Or “Why are those naked people painted yellow and have animal horns on their heads?”

There is Santa riding a military tank and hundreds of toilets incorporated into various artworks – what kid doesn’t like some toilet humor. Watch out for the dinosaur clutching a stuffie in its mouth. Fortunately, for the younger children they will be mesmerized by the lights, colour and everything going on to see the “devil in the details.”

  You might expect this in a major contemporary art gallery in New York City or London, but not in a very conservative residential neighbourhood in Palm Springs.

You might expect this in a major contemporary art gallery in New York City or London, but not in a very conservative residential neighbourhood in Palm Springs.

  Guns, Guns, Guns.....

Guns, Guns, Guns.....

  Close-up of the many figures that are incorporated into the body of the figures. You could spend hours examining the details of each piece and speculating on why the artist chose to incorporate the pieces he did for each creature.

Close-up of the many figures that are incorporated into the body of the figures. You could spend hours examining the details of each piece and speculating on why the artist chose to incorporate the pieces he did for each creature.

  This is not a working roller-coaster, but still very evocative.

This is not a working roller-coaster, but still very evocative.

  Why?

Why?

  There are literally hundreds of toilets....

There are literally hundreds of toilets....

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  Nothing is sacred....

Nothing is sacred....

  Contemporary snowwoman?

Contemporary snowwoman?

  Kids.....hang-on to your stuffies.

Kids.....hang-on to your stuffies.

  This one is for my buddy Rhys!

This one is for my buddy Rhys!

Last Word

In an LA Times interview in November 2015, Irwin stated  “My main intention is to provide people with immense pleasure through the work that I do. There's not really any deep meaning in my art. It's basically for the whimsy of it." He identifies four themes to his work – robots, extra-terrestrial, holidays and Islamic culture.  He has said publicly “nothing is sacred to him.”

From a curatorial perspective I loved the tension created by the juxtaposition of mythical and macabre characters. Given the number of toilets in various contexts, one can help but wonder if Irwin is a modern day Duchamp.  The monochromatic figures from recycled objects recall the sculptural work of Lousie Nevelson. Robolights is an ambitious art installation that builds on the work of the surrealist. It is a mash-up of Halloween and Christmas.

We were there for a good hour wandering the labyrinth of narrow pathways and could have stayed longer, but my camera’s battery ran out of juice. 

I would definitely go back again. 

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Palm Springs: Real & Surreal?

Why can't every retailer have great windows?  I am currently in Palm Springs staying at The Twist on Via Lola in the Design District. I am  loving the amazing windows full of mid-century modern (old and new) furniture, fashions, art and home accessories along N Palm Canyon Drive aka Main Street. They are the best I have seen since flaneuring Florence's Via Tornabuoni three years ago.  

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Where are the people?

In addition to great windows, Palm Springs' Design District has some great architecture and fun public art which combine to make for a great pedestrian experience.  Ironically there are very few pedestrians to be found, except at the night market on Thursday.  So much for the theory - if you create interesting pedestrian environments they will come.

It is surreal how empty Palm Springs' sidewalk and streets are - both the Design District and Downtown - given the temperatures day and night are ideal for strolling and window licking.

This photo essay combines real images of windows in both the Design District and Downtown with surreal ones (created using the app UNION to overlap two or more real images).  Sometimes it is hard to tell what is real and what is surreal. 

Can you tell which ones are real and which ones are surreal? The answers are at the end. 

Enjoy the stroll aka scroll!
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Last Word

I thought it would be fun to see if people can tell which images are real and which are surreal. 

Answers:

#1 Real  #2  Real  #3  Real  #4  Real #5  Surreal  #6 Surreal  #7 Real  #8 Real  #9 Surreal

#10 Surreal  #11 Surreal  #12 Surreal #13 Real  #14 Real  #15 Real  #16 Real  #15 Real #16 Surreal    

#17 Surreal #18  Surreal #19 Surreal #20 Real #21 Real #22Real #23 Surreal #24 Real #25 Real #26 Real 

 

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

Window licking along Florence's Via Tornabuoni

Window Licking In Chicago

Flaneuring Fun In Downtown Tucson

 

 

 

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

 

Downtown Calgary: Black & White / Inside & Out

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

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

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Calgary vs Nashville: HQ vs SHED

On paper Calgary and Nashville share many similarities. Both are inland, river cities, next to major parks and mountains and have a metro population of about 1.5 million.  Perhaps most importantly both also have international signature brands - Nashville as the home of country and western music and Calgary as the home of the Calgary Stampede. 

Assuming the City Centre is the heart and soul of a city, I thought it might be interesting to see how the two City Centres compare with each other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main Street Animation

Lower Broadway, Nashville’s signature street is animated from 10am to 3am 365 days of the year with free live music being offered in 25+ honky tonk bars. In comparison, Calgary’s Stephen Avenue is busy mostly over weekday lunch hours when thousands of office workers head out for a bite to eat (25+ upscale restaurants) or a relaxing walk.

While Stephen Avenue is a conservative upscale restaurant row, Lower Broadway is loud, fun-loving gritty urban playground which every weekend is invaded by dozens of Bachelorette Parties.   

Advantage: Nashville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retail

Nashville has nothing to match The Core, Calgary’s urban retail mecca, nor does it have a signature department store like The Bay.  It is also missing the office tower retail offerings of a Bankers Hall, Bow Valley Square or Scotia Centre.

Nashville has nothing close to the pedestrian experience offered by Calgary’s 17th Avenue, 11th Avenue, 4th Street, Atlantic Avenue, 10th Street and Kensington Road.

Advantage Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cultural Centres

I was shocked at how busy Nashville’s museums and art galleries were even during the week. Perhaps this is not surprising as Nashville attracted 13.9 million visitors in 2016 vs. Calgary’s  7.2 million. While on paper Nashville’s new Country Music Hall of Fame and Calgary’s National Music Centre are on par, Calgary lacks the likes of the Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Musicians Hall of Fame Museums. They also have an African American Music Museum under construction.

Calgary’s Glenbow would be on par with the Frist Art Gallery (located in Nashville’s Art Deco fromer Post Office) and Tennessee State Museum.  Nashville also has the Ryman Theatre the original home of the Grande Old Opry, which today offers daily tours and headliner performances in the evening.  Calgary’s Palace Theatre pales in comparison as a tourist attraction/cultural icon.

Both cities have a performing arts centre, symphony hall and central libraries that are more or less on par with each other.

Advantage: Nashville

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

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

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

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

  Nashville boast a lovely art deco public art gallery. 

Nashville boast a lovely art deco public art gallery. 

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

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

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

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

Hotels/Convention Centre

Calgary has nothing to compare to Nashville’s 800 room Omni Hotel, a luxury urban resort attached to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.  Our executive suite offered a postcard view of the downtown. It was a true urban oasis. 

Nashville also has two heritage hotels compared to Calgary’s one.  And we were gobsmacked by the professionally curated contemporary art exhibition at the 21c Museum Hotel.

Nashville’s new mega convention centre makes Calgary Telus Convention Centre look second class.  Even if when you add in the BMO Centre, Nashville’s Convention and Trade Show facilities far surpass Calgary’s.

Advantage: Nashville

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recreation/River/Parks

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary’s river pathways with its plethora of walkers, runners and cyclists 365 days of the year.  Nor does it have anything to match Calgary’s recreational facilities - Eau Claire Y, Repsol Sports Centre or Shaw Millenium Park.

I also didn’t encounter anything in Nashville that compares to Calgary’s island parks or Memorial Park.

Advantage: Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arena/Stadium

Nashville’s 20-year old Bridgestone arena is very much integrated into their downtown – right next to Lower Broadway street animation and across the street from the convention centre. However, the streets around it are devoid of any pedestrian activity except for a few hours before and after game times.

Calgary’s Saddledome arena is on par with the Bridgestone arena in architecture and size.  With better programming (food trucks and live bands) and marketing I expect Olympic Way could function like Lower Broadway to create a more animated streetscape on game days.

Nashville’s Nissan stadium, located across the river from Lower Broadway, is surrounded by a huge vacant parking lot except for the eight Sundays when the Titans have a home game.  Calgary’s McMahon Stadium, while smaller, functions much the same way being used just a few times a year.  At least the parking lot at McMahon Stadium is used for “park and ride” during the week.

Advantage: Tied

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

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

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

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

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

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

Architecture/Urban Design

While, Nashville has several new contemporary glass office towers that would be on par with Calgary’s Brookfield Place or 707 Fifth, however they lack the integration with street via plazas, public art and retail.

I encountered nothing in Nashville that match Calgary’s two new iconic pedestrian bridges and the historic Centre Street bridge. Yes, Nashville has a huge historic truss bridge completed in 1909 that spands the Cumberland River and at 960m it is one of the longest in the world, but I rarely saw anybody use it at there is little on the other side of the river except the stadium.

When it come to public plazas, Nashville had two – the Courthouse Square above parkade and the Walk of Fame Park next to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.  Calgary’s equivalent would be Olympic Plaza, James Short Park and McDougal Centre.

Nashville has no LRT, and their bus service pales in comparison to Calgary.  

Advantage: Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 11.58.14 AM.png
  Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's LRT system and our 7th Avenue Transit Corridor. 

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

Urban Living

Like Calgary, Nashville is experiencing an urban living renaissance with dozens of new condo developments in its City Centre. The Gulch is Nashville’s equivalent of Calgary’s East Village – minus the huge investment in public amenities. 

Inglewood/Ramsay with its numerous music and bohemian venues parallels East Nashville. Nashville’s upscale trendy 12 South is similar to Calgary’s Britannia. Calgary’s Kensington Village would be on par with 21st Ave S near Vanderbilt and Belmont Universities.  Marda Loop would be Calgary’s equivalent to Nashville’s 8th Ave S district. 

What Nashville doesn’t have is anything to match Calgary’s vibrant Beltline, Bridgeland or Mission communities.  

Advantage: Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's cafe scene. 

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's cafe scene. 

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

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

Last Word

Calgary and Nashville’s City Centres are as different as night and day, as different as engineers and musicians.  Calgary’s has a clean, conservative, corporate sense of place, while Nashville’s is a gritty, party, touristy place. 

Calgary’s City Centre is a calm HQ (headquarters) quarter, while Nashville’s is a chaotic SHED (sports, hospitality, entertainment, district). Each has its inherent advantages and disadvantages.   

Cities can’t be all things to all people.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on Nov 11, 2017. 

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

Calgary vs Austin vs Portland vs Nashville for Tourist

Calgary vs Seattle: Capturing the tourists' imagination!

Calgary: Off The Beaten Path For Tourists!

 

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

FFQing in Nashville: From Cupcakes to Stanley Cup?

This fun photo romp around Nashville is meant to give you a quick introduction to what we saw and recently experienced both on and off the beaten path in Nashville. Future blogs will look at Nashville unique sense of place in more detail.  This is just a teaser!

  Yes, in Nashville you can purchase cupcakes from a vintage ATM machine.

Yes, in Nashville you can purchase cupcakes from a vintage ATM machine.

  Forget hood ornaments, in Nashville you need roof ornaments like this one.

Forget hood ornaments, in Nashville you need roof ornaments like this one.

  I couldn't resist Holler & Dash's biscuit with peanut butter mousse, bacon, popcorn, bananas and maple syrup. 

I couldn't resist Holler & Dash's biscuit with peanut butter mousse, bacon, popcorn, bananas and maple syrup. 

  Found this sculpture made entirely of crayons, the gallery was full of fun, colourful crayon sculpture

Found this sculpture made entirely of crayons, the gallery was full of fun, colourful crayon sculpture

  This little girl's Dad convinced me to get the cherry dipped cone - big mistake, the sprinkles cone was the way to go. 

This little girl's Dad convinced me to get the cherry dipped cone - big mistake, the sprinkles cone was the way to go. 

  Nashville has some quirky mailboxes in its established neighbourhoods.

Nashville has some quirky mailboxes in its established neighbourhoods.

  Can paying for parking be a happy experience? 

Can paying for parking be a happy experience? 

 Vintage is always fun! Pre to Post Modern store on 8th Ave was too much fun!

Vintage is always fun! Pre to Post Modern store on 8th Ave was too much fun!

  The last thing I was expecting when I went into the Savant vintage store on 12 South was this stuffed wild boar.  There was also an albino deer, caribou, skunk and bear.

The last thing I was expecting when I went into the Savant vintage store on 12 South was this stuffed wild boar.  There was also an albino deer, caribou, skunk and bear.

  Stix  is 70’ tall and made of 27 wooden poles. The poles are spaced in an irregular pattern throughout the surface area of the roundabout and the verticality of the poles varies between 0º - 15º from the center axis. The poles are made of red cedar and are painted in stripes of various heights in four different colors: red, orange, light blue, dark blue, and light green. Fifteen up-lights are embedded into the landscaping to light up the sculpture at night, which results in a vibrant display of color, light and shadow.  What is fun to me is that the artist Christian Moeller proposed a very similar piece for the Crowfoot LRT Station.  I was my first choice but I was over ruled by the other jury members who liked "Roger That."     Link:  "Roger That" says 12 year old Matt about public art

Stix is 70’ tall and made of 27 wooden poles. The poles are spaced in an irregular pattern throughout the surface area of the roundabout and the verticality of the poles varies between 0º - 15º from the center axis. The poles are made of red cedar and are painted in stripes of various heights in four different colors: red, orange, light blue, dark blue, and light green. Fifteen up-lights are embedded into the landscaping to light up the sculpture at night, which results in a vibrant display of color, light and shadow.

What is fun to me is that the artist Christian Moeller proposed a very similar piece for the Crowfoot LRT Station.  I was my first choice but I was over ruled by the other jury members who liked "Roger That." 

Link: "Roger That" says 12 year old Matt about public art

  Gotta love quirky signage. 

Gotta love quirky signage. 

  The GooGoo Cluster is an American candy bar created in 1912 by Howell Campbell and the Standard Candy Company in Nashville. The original disk-shaped candy bar contained marshmellow, nougat, carmel and roasted peanuts covered in milk chocolate.  And, yes it was marketed as nourishing lunch treat. 

The GooGoo Cluster is an American candy bar created in 1912 by Howell Campbell and the Standard Candy Company in Nashville. The original disk-shaped candy bar contained marshmellow, nougat, carmel and roasted peanuts covered in milk chocolate.  And, yes it was marketed as nourishing lunch treat. 

  While flaneuring Belmont University campus we decided to check out the Art School when we encountered two students hauling out stacks of artworks to their car.  We asked what they were doing and were told recycling the canvases and stretchers for reuse.  We asked if we could have a look and eventually purchased these two.   

While flaneuring Belmont University campus we decided to check out the Art School when we encountered two students hauling out stacks of artworks to their car.  We asked what they were doing and were told recycling the canvases and stretchers for reuse.  We asked if we could have a look and eventually purchased these two.  

 This was Brenda's choice.

This was Brenda's choice.

After purchasing our new artwork we immediately stumbled upon a noon hour steel drum concert that also featured a dancer.  It all took place in a lovely plaza with a canopy of trees that filtered the light in a magical manner. 

  The Eskimo Brothers were having just too much fun at Layla's on Lower Broadway.

The Eskimo Brothers were having just too much fun at Layla's on Lower Broadway.

  Not sure what these gadgets are, found them in a guitar store...but they struck me as fun, funky and quirky aliens.

Not sure what these gadgets are, found them in a guitar store...but they struck me as fun, funky and quirky aliens.

  8th Ave S is Nashville's Antique vintage district, lots of good ffqing here.

8th Ave S is Nashville's Antique vintage district, lots of good ffqing here.

  In fact I found this juxtaposition of Christ and Superman in the Tennessee Antique Mall - very quirky. 

In fact I found this juxtaposition of Christ and Superman in the Tennessee Antique Mall - very quirky. 

  I loved that the theme of the children's library in the Nashville's Central Library was Nashville's iconic architecture. 

I loved that the theme of the children's library in the Nashville's Central Library was Nashville's iconic architecture. 

  One of many interesting artworks found in 21c Museum Hotel which was hosting a very thought provoking exhibition titled "Truth or Dare: A Reality Show."  This exhibition would be appropriate for any major contemporary art museum, to have it hosted in a hotel was very quirky to me.

One of many interesting artworks found in 21c Museum Hotel which was hosting a very thought provoking exhibition titled "Truth or Dare: A Reality Show."  This exhibition would be appropriate for any major contemporary art museum, to have it hosted in a hotel was very quirky to me.

  Quirky front yard art?

Quirky front yard art?

  Quirky artwork found in the Union Station Hotel lobby. 

Quirky artwork found in the Union Station Hotel lobby. 

  Found this baby doll buried in a huge bin of shoes at the local Goodwill Store.  Seemed quirky to me?

Found this baby doll buried in a huge bin of shoes at the local Goodwill Store.  Seemed quirky to me?

  Fun little park incorporates folk art figures with bike rim sun screen. 

Fun little park incorporates folk art figures with bike rim sun screen. 

  You can hear them before you see them. These party bikes are popular with the dozens of bachelorette parties that invade downtown Nashville every weekend.  

You can hear them before you see them. These party bikes are popular with the dozens of bachelorette parties that invade downtown Nashville every weekend.  

  What were they thinking?

What were they thinking?

Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 9.06.19 AM.png
  I expected to see lots of different guitars in Nashville, but never expected anything like this.   

I expected to see lots of different guitars in Nashville, but never expected anything like this.  

Last Word

Not sure what it is but some cities are just more fun, funky and quirky than others. I am thinking I should create criteria for a FFQ Index as another measurement of a city's vitality. 

If you like this blog, you will like:

FFQing in Montreal

Fun, Funky, Quirky Colorado Springs

Nelson BC: Fun, Funky, Quirky

 

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 

 

 

 

 

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. 

Calgary: What's our colour...drink...animal..car...movie character?

Recently, I was invited to a focus group by Tourism Calgary, so they could pick my brain (along with another 15+ Calgarians) about Calgary’s identity and brand.  Always game to be a guinea pig (that’s how I met my wife…another story), so I quickly said, “YES!”

  Do Calgarians live in a bubble? 

Do Calgarians live in a bubble? 

Same Stories?

I was intrigued by one of the introductory remarks – “this not going to be about picking a new logo or new moniker, but more an open discussion about Calgary’s identity and unique sense of place.” Interesting.

One of the take-away ideas from the facilitator’s introduction was that almost every city around the world is telling the same stories to tourists - how great their festivals are, bragging about their new museums, parks and plazas and boasting about their culinary culture and craft beers. 

A related key message was - what cities are not doing is understanding and/or communicating what makes them different, unique or special.  Note: Something I hope I am trying to do with my blogs from Calgary or other places I visit, I am always looking for something unique.

We then were divided into three groups of about 6 people each for some group exercises.  Here are two that I found both interesting and strange at the same time.

  Calgarians young and old love to play "dress up."

Calgarians young and old love to play "dress up."

  Calgarians are colourful.

Calgarians are colourful.

First Exercise:

Answer this question: What would the world miss if Calgary didn’t exist? 

Yikes…my immediate thought was “nothing.”  In fact I would hazard a guess 80% of the world probably doesn’t even know Calgary exists and if they do, they know very little about us.  An obvious answer is “energy” but in reality that doesn’t come from Calgary.  Then there is the Stampede, but not sure the world would really miss it if it didn’t happen, anymore than the world would miss Carnival, Marda Gras or Oktoberfest.  I don’t think the world would miss our museums, public art, restaurants, shopping or fishing on the Bow River either.

Our group didn’t come up with anything and neither did the other groups. I am not sure how productive this question was. Love to hear from readers if there is something they can think of.

  We love our public art? 

We love our public art? 

  Calgary: Where deals are done on a handshake!

Calgary: Where deals are done on a handshake!

 Calgary is made up of 200+ communities each with its own community centre, park, playground and most have an outdoor community hockey rink. 

Calgary is made up of 200+ communities each with its own community centre, park, playground and most have an outdoor community hockey rink. 

 Calgary has some amazing festivals, but would the world miss any of them if they didn't happen?

Calgary has some amazing festivals, but would the world miss any of them if they didn't happen?

Next Exercise

What _________ (fill in the blank with the following words - colour, drink, animal, car, movie character) would best describe your city? Again, interesting but wondered what possible insights this might reveal.

What’s OUR colour?

Two of the groups chose blue. One group picked Sky Blue to reflect the warm blue skies Calgarians enjoy every month of the year.  One person pointed out that even when is -30 degrees C in the winter, our bright blue sky, makes it seems warmer.  Try telling that to someone from Vancouver or Southern Ontario.  I pointed out that because of our clean blue skies, our downtown skyline and the mountain vistas are much more vivid than in other cities I have visited.  I remember once reading a letter-to-the-editor from an overseas visitor gobsmacked by the quality of light in Calgary, describing it as “celestial.”

The second “blue” group picked Twilight Blue, pointing out that as the sun sets in Calgary, the light becomes quite magical.  Ah yes, I miss those golden sunsets on Bankers Hall that we used to have before the rise of Eighth Avenue Place.

The third group picked red, the colour associated with all our sports teams, the Calgary Tower (20th century icon) and Peace Bridge (21st century icon).  Nobody said it, but I am sure a few thought it - many Canadians also think of Calgary as a haven for “rednecks.”

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  Calgary is a city of hope, where dreams take flight!

Calgary is a city of hope, where dreams take flight!

  Calgary's best public art are the surrealistic architectural reflections off of our shiny skyscrapers. 

Calgary's best public art are the surrealistic architectural reflections off of our shiny skyscrapers. 

  Yes we love red.

Yes we love red.

 In fact we love lots of colours!

In fact we love lots of colours!

What’s OUR drink?

Two of the groups picked “beer” which seems a bit cliché as every city in North America has been infected by the craft beer craze.  See above comment on take-away ideas i.e. “all cities tell the same stories.”

Our group picked beer originally, then talked about the Caesar, (invented in Calgary) and finally settled on Vodka. The rationale - you can drink it straight or mix it with anything.  We all immediately grabbed onto the notion that while Calgary is very clean and white, we are Canada’s third most ethnically diverse City, and an interesting mix of Canadians from East Coast, West Coast, Central Canada and the Prairies.

As I like to say, “Calgary is the most Canadian city in Canada as we are a mix of Canadians who hail from all regions of our country.”

  Calgarians love their beer...

Calgarians love their beer...

  Calgary has long history of craft brewing.

Calgary has long history of craft brewing.

  We also love a glass or two of vino, even if we can't grow it here.

We also love a glass or two of vino, even if we can't grow it here.

What’s is OUR animal?

I quickly picked Magpie. Beautiful and exotic upon your first glance, they become very loud and brash the more you see it. As well, magpies are considered to be one of the most intelligent animals in the world; as well they are intensely social with a strong sense of community.  I thought this described Calgary to a T.

Overruled, our group ultimately chose “dog,” for it’s friendliness and loyalty, which we all felt were Calgary qualities.  One person was even specific, suggesting a herding dog (border collie), as we love to work hard.  I have often said that Calgary is the place where Canadians come to “work hard and get ahead.”   Someone also pointed out we have some of the best dog parks in the world.  Point well taken.

The group sitting right behind me actually did pick the Magpie – I think they overheard my pitch and bought it. 

The third group picked Bison. Though, originally picking the horse, one person in the group pointed out that in a storm, horses run away while bisons charge into the storm, which is what Calgarians do when faced with a challenge.  That received applause from the entire room. 

  River Park on a winter day is busy with walkers of all shapes and sizes. 

River Park on a winter day is busy with walkers of all shapes and sizes. 

  Calgarians love to horse-around on Stephen Avenue. 

Calgarians love to horse-around on Stephen Avenue. 

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What is OUR car?

This is a great question for Calgary as our city has one of the highest levels of car ownership in the world.  One group chose the SUV, an obvious choice given Calgary’s demographics are dominated by families.  A hybrid between a sports car and a sedan, it is a good metaphor for our city that combines fast living with family life.

Our group unanimously chose the Ford 150. It is a well known Calgary is the pickup capital of Canada. One members pointed out he knows a billionaire in Calgary who drives a Ford 150.  It nicely references our rural roots, our connection with the land and our strong work ethic. 

Being the contrarian (surprise, surprise) I suggested the Car2Go smart cars as Calgary has one of the highest Car2Go memberships, pointing our it references Calgary’s growing “sharing culture” as well as our aspiration to be a “smart city.”

As luck would have it, the group behind me did choose Car2Go – I do think I was in the wrong group!

  I went to a Ford dealership in Calgary to get a photo and found an entire row of Ford 150 trucks, must have been 50+ including several blue ones. 

I went to a Ford dealership in Calgary to get a photo and found an entire row of Ford 150 trucks, must have been 50+ including several blue ones. 

  How many Car2Go can you count?  I believe all of them were taking their dog to River Park, one of Calgary's best dog parks. 

How many Car2Go can you count?  I believe all of them were taking their dog to River Park, one of Calgary's best dog parks. 

What’s OUR movie character?

Two groups chose Woody from “Toy Story.”  This was too obvious as Woody dresses up like a cowboy but isn’t really a cowboy; how perfect is that.  But the references go much deeper - Woody is Andy’s favourite toy and the leader of all of his toys, but his status as the favourite is challenged.  Indeed, for much of the late 20th and early 21st century, Calgary had to fight to be recognized as one of Canada’s leading economic engines, a budding urban playground and the favourite city for Canadians to move to. 

The other group chose R2D2, however I can’t recall what their rationale was. Perhaps it reflects our position as a high tech, future-oriented city or our love of cosplay.

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 8.45.38 AM.png
  Stampede Park sculpture welcomes everyone to the grounds. 

Stampede Park sculpture welcomes everyone to the grounds. 

  Kinda like R2D2....

Kinda like R2D2....

Viral Video?

Upon reflection, I wonder if Tourism Calgary was soliciting ideas for a fun viral tourist video about Calgary. 

  Tacky cowboy icon on the Red Mile is too much fun.

Tacky cowboy icon on the Red Mile is too much fun.

I can see it now. It will have a couple of redneck cowboys in a blue Ford 150 with their border collie in the back, while two cowgirls hop into a Car2Go and suburban family all in Star Wars attire (one as R2D2) jump into their red SUV while a murder of magpies play in the trees.

The redneck cowboys head to the Red Mile’s Trolley Five (via Memorial Drive so they can pass by the red Peace Bridge (with hundreds of walkers and cyclists and then up Centre Street for a shot of the red-topped Calgary Tower) for a vodka martini with a Beltline lager chaser and a bison burger on a lively patio while their loyal dog (a blue heeler) waits on the sidewalk being admired by a parade of pedestrians (beside him, a blue bowl labelled “fresh Bow River water.”)

  Dancing at Calgary's International Folk Festival is mandatory. 

Dancing at Calgary's International Folk Festival is mandatory. 

Meanwhile, the blue jeaned-attired cowgirls head to Inglewood (passing by the bison at Fort Calgary), to do some shopping and checking out the new exhibition at the Esker Foundation before meeting up with friends for dancing at the Saturday blues jam at the Blues Can hosted by Tim Williams (winner of the International Blues Competition in 2014).  

The Star Wars family heads to the nearest LRT Park & Ride in their red SUV (with a shot of some public art along the way), then hop on Little Ralph’s Train (on which, to their surprise, a couple of young aspiring singer songwriters are jamming some tunes) to the Stampede Red LRT Station where they become part of tens of thousands of people enjoying the annual Calgary Expo (aka cosplay) with huge posters for Big Rock, Village and Wild Rose breweries in the background.

It ends with a shot of the magic blue twilight sky and setting sun on the Bow River full of rafters and paddlers with Downtown skyline glowing in the background and the byline: 

Imagine Being In Calgary!

  The Bow and Elbow Rivers become urban playgrounds in the summer. 

The Bow and Elbow Rivers become urban playgrounds in the summer. 

  Calgary's magical blue at twilight.

Calgary's magical blue at twilight.

 Welcome everyone to Calgary!

Welcome everyone to Calgary!

Last Word

I can't help but wonder if this exercise will be any more successful than those that generated the "Heart of the New West" or "Be Part of the Energy." I didn’t get to pitch my idea that Calgary’s moniker should be the:

“City of Parks & Pathways.”

Rationale: We have 5,200+ parks, including two of the largest urban parks in the world (Nose Hill and Fish Creek), two great festival parks (Prince’s Island and Stampede Park), a park-like zoo, great family parks, great dog parks (e.g. St. Patrick’s and Bowness), the world’s longest elevated indoor walkway (+15), 700+km of pathways city wide and new the 133km Greenway that encircles the city.  Need I say more?  OK - Banff National Park (many tourists already think of Calgary as the gateway to Banff), Kananaskis and Dinosaur Provincial Parks are a few just hours away. 

Who wouldn’t want to visit the City of Park & Pathways? Who wouldn’t want to move to the City of Parks & Pathways for a job?  Works for both tourism and economic development, don’t you think?

Do I have a seconder?

  Calgarians love their parks....

Calgarians love their parks....

Reader's Feedback

Vanessa Gagon, Tourism Calgary's Brand Manager writes:

I love how you weave photos of all the awesomeness in our city into your post! 

The response to this project has been really great, people are excited! Over the last few weeks we've conducted a residents survey (800 Calgarians - with approximately 200 from NW, NE, Central and South Calgary), 4 workshops (81 participants) and focus groups with community leaders (29 participants), that's 910 people who have been involved! Oh and we did a staff workshop so 930 people! Folks have been so gracious with their time and are eager to help in any way they can, confirms we live in the best city in Canada! :) 

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Birdhouse vs Nest Box

Why are birdhouses called “birdhouses?” Think about it. The birds don’t live there year-round, or even all summer in our climate? In fact they only use them as nesting sites. Hence, the correct term should be “Nest Boxes.”  I learned about this recently when I was “schooled” on the science of birdhouse (whoops, nest box) building.

  My new nest box hanging in the studio.

My new nest box hanging in the studio.

Back Story

Shortly after posting my blog “White House Garden: Up Close & Personal,” I got an email from Cecila Gossen, an avid “Everyday Tourist” reader and visual artist who not only noticed from the photos that I was missing a signature nest box in my garden, but offered to give me one of hers. She was obviously not impressed with my three-storey backyard one that is literally falling apart. 

We arranged for me to drop by her studio, located in the funky Burns Visual Arts Society building in Ramsay. Not only did we catch up on what was happening with her art (a future blog) and at the BVAS (the oldest artist's cooperative in Canada), but I was schooled on the rationale for calling her funky folk art inspired birdhouses“nest boxes” and all of the dos and don’ts of building and positioning them.

I was doing it all wrong.  It was the stuff of a horror movie, given sparrows yearly use ours.

  Entrance to Burns Visual Arts Society is plastered with invitations and poster from exhibitions over the past 30+ years, including Judy Chicago's Dinner Party that was at the Glenbow Museum in 1983. 

Entrance to Burns Visual Arts Society is plastered with invitations and poster from exhibitions over the past 30+ years, including Judy Chicago's Dinner Party that was at the Glenbow Museum in 1983. 

  Gossen's new art is inspired from obituaries.  When she reads an interesting obituary she creates her own quirky caricature of the individual along with incorporating a sentence from the obituary on the frame.   

Gossen's new art is inspired from obituaries.  When she reads an interesting obituary she creates her own quirky caricature of the individual along with incorporating a sentence from the obituary on the frame.  

Nest Boxes 101

  • My birdhouse was in full sun, which would bake the young babies. It should be in the shade, ideally hung from a tree. 
  • I had only cleaned the house once in probably 20 years. You are supposed to clean it out every year.  If you don’t, fleas invade and eat the young. 
  • You should have an open area under the roof to allow for air to circulate. Mine didn’t have that.
  • The floor should also have some open space to allow water to drain out.  “Oops” again.
  • You also shouldn’t have a perch under the entrance hole as it allows other birds and squirrels to perch there and snatch the babies.  Mine did. Who knew?
  • If you don’t get any birds to nest in your box after two years, I was told to move it to a new location.
  Label that accompanies each nest box.

Label that accompanies each nest box.

Back Back Story

Turns out it all started after Gossen entered the Calgary Herald's "For The Birds" birdhouse contest in 1995. While she didn't win her friend and fellow University of Calgary art student Linda Hodgin saw the popularity of the contest and potential to make some money.  So too did the owner of Nichrista House and Garden shops and soon they were flooded with requests for funky nest boxes. They named their business ICARUS who, in Greek mythology, was the son of the master craftsman Daedalus.  It became so successful that it paid for tuition and parking for both of them. That’s entrepreneurship!

Today, she knows the measurements by heart. Each box has 14 parts, and they used to make 30 at a time, which meant 420 pieces had to be cut, painted and left out to dry before assembling.  Today, she makes six at a time as it takes almost as much time to make six as to make one.

Gossen still makes a few nest boxes each year and donates them to fundraisers.  Funny thing – the bidding always stops at $120 she says regardless of what the charity is.  Her nest boxes can be found as far away as Virginia, Florida and London, England.

My New Nest Box

My colourful and cheerful new “nest box” is now proudly hanging from a tree in our front garden (actually it is on the neighbour’s tree) where it can be enjoyed by all the children being dropped off and picked up at the Honeybee Daycare across the street, as well as our four young neighbours.  FYI, is sent Gossen, a photo of her nest box it in the garden and she approved its location.

I wonder how long it will take the neighbour kids to discover it.  Will I get any nesters this year?  And yes, I promise to clean it out in the fall and every fall, if I get tenants.

I also wonder if the nest box qualifies as public art, as it was created by an artist, is a unique design and has been installed in a public space?

Last Word

As for my old nest box, I am in a quandary. A family of sparrows (the second this season) is still using it.  Do I take it down, clean it out and retrofit it now, to meet the new “nest box code” or wait until the fall? I can’t imagine what it is like in there in 30+ degrees temperatures.  Or, should I simply retire this nest box after this year?   

Stay tuned….

  My death trap nest box.

My death trap nest box.

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Flaneuring In Berlin: Everyday street photography

Street photography is most often associated with provocative black and white images of urban streets.  The lack of colour often creates a starkness and dreariness, which I think is unfair to the modern streetscape.  

In this blog I have tried to capture a sense of Berlin's everyday street life I experienced  while wandering the city's streets for the month of March 2017.   This photo essay includes everything from fun garbage trucks to people with boxes on their heads, from reading books to public art. 

I have included a few black and white photos so you can compare with the coloured images. You tell me which ones you like the best.

Berlin is definitely quirky!

Every city has its quirks – some more than others. Yes, Austin and Portland have their fair share of quirkiness, but they are small potatoes compared to Berlin. 

To prove it, I’d like to share with you some of the quirky charms we discovered in Berlin.  

  How about Berlin's mailpersons who ride these quirky yellow mail bikes along the sidewalk?

How about Berlin's mailpersons who ride these quirky yellow mail bikes along the sidewalk?

  How about a candy floss transit station?

How about a candy floss transit station?

  Or a banana slide....

Or a banana slide....

Pedestrian Light Icon

What city turns its “walk” and “don’t walk” pedestrian figure into an icon that even has its own stores?  Berlin.  Who knew there was such a thing as a traffic psychologist? Turns out Karl Peglau, a traffic psychologist created the Ampelmannchen (little traffic light man figure) in 1961 for East Berlin’s traffic lights.  The perky, playful cartoon-like character quickly become popular with locals, achieving cult status after unification as a symbol of East Berlin. Today, the red and green figures have become so popular with tourists that they have their own stores devoted only to Ampelmann-branded merchandise. Not only do they sell the usual tee shirts, pens, cups etc., but you can also purchase your own traffic signal.

Hmmmmm….could Calgary turn its +15 character into an icon for tourists?

Link: Ampelmannchen Story

S&Q Flea Markets

I am not sure if Berlin is the flea market capital of Europe, but it must be a contender.  We went to a different one every weekend and each has their own sense of the strange and quirky.  While some are more upscale the ones we like the best had boxes and boxes of items for treasure hunters to explore.  For me each box was like still life, each box had a story to tell if you looked carefully. 

Link: Berlin Flea Market Story

Photo Booths

On our first day we noticed a photo booth in an outdoor bike rack area, thought it was strange, but didn’t give it much more thought.  Until we saw many more. A local told us that photo booths are a big thing in Berlin, especially for millennials.

Turns out The Photoautomat project, founded in Berlin in 2004 and has inspired a world-wide revival of the black and white analog photo booth. Just like 60 years ago, each photo strip is analog-developed, making every piece an original that stays lightfast for 100 years.

Link: Photoautomat Project Story 

Water Pumps

While walking the streets of Berlin, don’t be surprised if you encounter five-foot tall, green cast iron water pumps. There are 2,107 of them to be exact and they are regularly maintained.  Go ahead, pump them; in fact you’re encouraged to do so to help keep the system running well.  You will get cool drinkable water for your water bottle. The water is from independent emergency wells provide a backup in case the regular water supply collapses. 

Link: Berlin Water Fountain Story 

Cemetery Cafés

Berlin has an amazing café culture. They are literally everywhere and come in every size, shape and design. However, to find one Café Strauss in a cemetery was very cool.  The serene and beautiful park-like setting in the midst of the urban environment is simply lovely.  Slow living at its best – so was the coffee and cake.

Link: Cemetery Cafe Story

Pink & Purple Straws

I first encountered these strange straw-like pipes near Check Point Charlie, i.e. best-known Berlin Wall crossing from East to West Berlin during the Cold War.  I was shocked that a city like Berlin would have basic infrastructure above ground.  Later, I learned Berlin is built on a swamp and so construction projects must create these temporary water pipes to remove water from the site while they work until the permanent infrastructure is in place.  Kudos to whoever decided to make them fun with their candy-floss like colours.

Link: Pink Pipes Story

Food Couriers

Mail couriers were a common sight in the downtowns of many cities in the ‘70s and 80s but they have largely disappeared with the advent of email. However, in Berlin food couriers are a common site with their magenta bikes and big warming oven boxes.  They just add to the fun of the sidewalk ballet.  Did I mention that Berlin’s mailpersons also ride big yellow or (green bikes) along the sidewalks?

Link: Hard & Fast Life Food Couriers

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Glass Igloos

The first photo I took in Berlin was of three, large domed structures side by side on the sidewalk. They looked like some old Soviet atomic energy experiment. Turns out they are called “glass igloos” and they always come in 3s. They are for recycling bottles - one for brown glass, one for green glass and clear glass.  They are also highly sought after by graffiti artists and those sticker-happy millennials who still love to play with stickers.

Sidewalk Furniture

Berlin’s sidewalks are also where you toss out anything you don’t want and can’t fit into your dumpster.  It is not uncommon to see an old couch or chair just sitting on the sidewalk in various stages of decay.  The first chair I saw was a lovely art deco one that I would love to own; too bad it didn’t have a cushion. The second piece was a couch that I saw from across the street.  It looked like the carcass of a dead animal ravaged by Berlin street wolves. It was not uncommon to sight one or two chairs/couches per day. One day there was a lovely oriental carpet in great shape. 

Graffiti vs Street Art

Sure, Austin and Portland have their fair share of graffiti and street art. Austin even has a very funky abandoned building site that is an outdoor gallery for graffiti artists.  But neither have entire streets and communities that are literally covered with graffiti.

In Berlin’s Fridedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Neukolin districts, there a ribbon of graffiti and art on every building along almost every street from sidewalk up to the top of the doorway.  

Pretty much any façade is a canvas for art.  You would never know Berlin spends the equivalent of $50M CDN per year to clean up graffiti.  I saw one storeowner clean up the graffiti on his building and the next day it was back. 

  In the Hackescher Market area there is an entire three story building (Haus Schwarzenberg) and alley is completely covered with graffiti.  

In the Hackescher Market area there is an entire three story building (Haus Schwarzenberg) and alley is completely covered with graffiti.  

  Loved this empty subway station space.  It seemed like an abandoned space, with unused advertising boards that have become transformed into works of art with their multiple layers of randomly ripped posters and graffiti. It had the appearance of a contemporary art gallery.

Loved this empty subway station space.  It seemed like an abandoned space, with unused advertising boards that have become transformed into works of art with their multiple layers of randomly ripped posters and graffiti. It had the appearance of a contemporary art gallery.

Red Is Dead

In Berlin the bike paths are usually a dark reddish colour and they are often just part of a wide sidewalk (Berlin has the widest sidewalks I have ever seen).  This makes it easy for a pedestrian to wander inadvertently over into the bike lane.  We were told by a local to remember, “If you are in the red you, could easily be dead.” 

At the same time, bikes also wander onto the sidewalk. It really is a free-for-all as everyone bobs and weaves like a North American football halfback.  Oh, seems kids and families get to ride their bikes on the sidewalks at all times. Flaneuring as I do, I can’t believe I didn’t die.

FYI: Berlin has plans to build 10 super highways for cyclists, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.  They have been planning a new airport for many years and it still isn’t open.  So much for German efficiency.

Strange Playgrounds

Another early observation was that although Berlin has many children’s playgrounds, they look like they haven’t been upgraded since the ‘50s - maybe earlier. I did not find one of our Lego-like Crayola-coloured metal playgrounds anywhere in Berlin. Instead I found these strange weathered creatures that looked like something carved by indigenous people hundreds, perhaps thousands of years ago. I expect some of the animals are quite strange looking and I thought would be scary looking for children, but that didn’t seem to be the case.

  What's with this howling wolf on top of a playground swing?

What's with this howling wolf on top of a playground swing?

Cash is King

Most experienced international travellers are used to just bringing their credit cards and charging most of their expenses.  It is easy and convenient.  You are probably OK to use a credit card if you stay in the touristy areas of Berlin, but venture into the local areas like Kreuzberg and you will find it is cash only culture.

At the Galleries Lafayette (posh department store) there is an ATM that dispenses gold bars weighing up to 250 grams. Berlin is a great reminder of how commerce has evolved, especially over the past 50 years.

Late Night Buses

On weekends the buses and trains provide 24-hour service, but on weekdays night buses and the Metrotram take over to providing 30-minute service. There are 11 special night buses to make sure you can get home even if you are clubbing until 4 am. The night buses combine several daytime routes to make sure that all parts of the city have late night transit service.

Beer 24/7

I think one of the biggest reasons Berlin is so popular with millennials to day is that they have over 1,000 Spatis (late night stores). These tiny stores (size of a living room) open 24/7 have about half of their space devoted to beer and wine.  Not only is beer available 24/7, but it is cheap, about $1.50 CDN for .5 litres and you can drink it on the street as you wander home or to your favourite park.  We even encountered many young people enjoying a beer on the trains in the evening – not sure that was legal, but nobody seems to mind.

Many of the Spatis have bench out front that allows you to just sit enjoy your beer, chat with friends or watch the sidewalk ballet.  How civilized?

FYI: Berlin is also home to the world’s longest beer garden; it runs 2.2 kilometers during the annual International Beer Festival.

And There Is More

  How about an abandoned airport that has been turned into a huge park not by design but by locals taking ownership? This is a part of the miniature golf course that has been created out of found objects including old plane parts.

How about an abandoned airport that has been turned into a huge park not by design but by locals taking ownership? This is a part of the miniature golf course that has been created out of found objects including old plane parts.

  These drums at the cashiers of a Berlin grocery store are cigarette dispensers. 

These drums at the cashiers of a Berlin grocery store are cigarette dispensers. 

  What about a former ballroom dance hall, that became a night club and now is a very quirky salvage warehouse store. 

What about a former ballroom dance hall, that became a night club and now is a very quirky salvage warehouse store. 

  Very futuristic entrance to an office building. 

Very futuristic entrance to an office building. 

  This has to be the quirkiest retail store signage I have seen in awhile. 

This has to be the quirkiest retail store signage I have seen in awhile. 

  Public Poetry? Found 10+ poems taped to posts along a pedestrian bridge one evening. People stopped to read them, discuss them and some even took them.  What a lovely urban surprise? 

Public Poetry? Found 10+ poems taped to posts along a pedestrian bridge one evening. People stopped to read them, discuss them and some even took them.  What a lovely urban surprise? 

Last Word

I love quirky cities!

If you haven't visited Berlin (or haven't been there for a long time) you should move it to the top of your list of "places to go!" 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Freakn Fun in Boise's Freak Alley

Fun, Funky Quirky Colorado Springs

Mexico City: Fun Urban Surprises

Calgary: Everyday Stills (May 2017)

If every picture tells a story, what do thousands of photos say?  I thought it might be fun to share 31 street photos (out of the over 1,000 taken this month) i.e. one for each day from the past month. All of the photos were taken during everyday activities in Calgary and they are not in any particular order. 

Too add another dimension to the blog, I thought I'd play a little word association for the caption for each piece.  I'd love it if you'd play along and send me your word association for each photo and I will add them to the blog captions.  

Here we go....

   uplifting. smiling.

uplifting. smiling.

   billowing. shadowing.

billowing. shadowing.

   patina. bronzes.

patina. bronzes.

   wrinkles. cracks.

wrinkles. cracks.

   feet. waiting.

feet. waiting.

   telephone. red.

telephone. red.

   floating. peaceful.

floating. peaceful.

   swan. floating.

swan. floating.

   head. technology. 

head. technology. 

   landing. steel.

landing. steel.

 eye. clouds.

eye. clouds.

   perspective. boxes. 

perspective. boxes. 

   twins. heritage.

twins. heritage.

   trap. fedora. 

trap. fedora. 

   mom. searching. 

mom. searching. 

   build. island.

build. island.

   follow. listening. 

follow. listening. 

   impromptu. squares. 

impromptu. squares. 

   hidden. wheel.

hidden. wheel.

   pieces. manifest.

pieces. manifest.

   queen. collage.

queen. collage.

 crossing. blues.

crossing. blues.

   Klee. cubism. 

Klee. cubism. 

   journey. path.

journey. path.

   under. buildings. 

under. buildings. 

   flaneur. meander. 

flaneur. meander. 

   innocence. fun.

innocence. fun.

   vanishing. journey. 

vanishing. journey. 

   challenge. night.

challenge. night.

   oasis. tranquility. 

oasis. tranquility. 

   beauty. heaven.

beauty. heaven.

Postcards from the OTHER London

The top tier cities (London, New York, Paris, Rome, Tokyo) get all the attention when it comes to travel blogs.  But we love to explore cities that are off the radar – like Boise, Idaho, Missoula, Montana and Nelson, British Columbia.

Recently we found ourselves in London, Ontario with a couple of hours to kill on a Sunday morning so we decided of (course) to check out their downtown.  We were pleasantly surprised at by the architecture (old and new), the shop windows, the downtown arena and farmers’ market.

  One of our early discoveries in downtown London was this DEEP dish apple pie and a BIG smile in the window of Billy's Downtown Deli.  Did we or didn't we have a piece?  You will find out if you read this blog. 

One of our early discoveries in downtown London was this DEEP dish apple pie and a BIG smile in the window of Billy's Downtown Deli.  Did we or didn't we have a piece?  You will find out if you read this blog. 

London at a glance

London, located halfway between Toronto and Detroit, was first settled in the early 1800s. Today it is the 11th largest city in Canada with a metropolitan population of 474,786.  It is home to the University of Western Ontario, one of Canada’s leading universities.

Yes, London is named after London, England and no surprise the river that runs through the city is called the Thames. The original settlers - mostly British - intended the city to become the capital of Upper Canada (now Ontario), however, that honour ultimately went to Fort York (now known as Toronto.)

The City has a rich corporate history.  Carling (1840) and Labatt (1847) breweries were founded there, as was Canada Trust (1864), London Life Insurance Company (1874), Imperial Oil (1880) and Club House Foods (1883).

Link: London History

Last Word

These postcards from the OTHER London, will hopefully entice you to explore downtown London the next time you are in the area.

  London is also know as the Forest City.  Ironically it was the dozens of brightly coloured metal trees in downtown that caught our attention. 

London is also know as the Forest City.  Ironically it was the dozens of brightly coloured metal trees in downtown that caught our attention. 

  I am sucker for humour. 

I am sucker for humour. 

  Loved the old and new contrast in the downtown architecture.  

Loved the old and new contrast in the downtown architecture.  

 This might well be the best example of brutalist architecture in Canada. Link: Brutalist Architecture 

This might well be the best example of brutalist architecture in Canada. Link: Brutalist Architecture 

  London's downtown Federal Building is a lovely example of Art Deco architecture. 

London's downtown Federal Building is a lovely example of Art Deco architecture. 

  Great downtowns have great churches, London has at least two. 

Great downtowns have great churches, London has at least two. 

  Loved this whimsical parklet with the twisted bench and seats. Nice synergy between public art and urban design. 

Loved this whimsical parklet with the twisted bench and seats. Nice synergy between public art and urban design. 

  Every downtown needs a diner and a fast bike. 

Every downtown needs a diner and a fast bike. 

  Great downtowns have great food and cold beer.  Who could ask for anything more?

Great downtowns have great food and cold beer.  Who could ask for anything more?

  With its brewery history it is not surprising that downtown London has a brew pub.  Gotta love the name - tres Canadian. 

With its brewery history it is not surprising that downtown London has a brew pub.  Gotta love the name - tres Canadian. 

  How fun is this window? 

How fun is this window? 

  Every downtown needs a rainbow cross walk. 

Every downtown needs a rainbow cross walk. 

  Who knew London had their own Music Hall of Fame?

Who knew London had their own Music Hall of Fame?

  A little bit of New York City in London. 

A little bit of New York City in London. 

  Another whimsical window. 

Another whimsical window. 

  Yes we did go back to Billy's for lunch and a piece of pie. It was as good as it looks. 

Yes we did go back to Billy's for lunch and a piece of pie. It was as good as it looks.