Everyday Tourist 2017 Retrospective: Fun Flaneur Finds

For most people the new year, is a time to reflect on what has happen over the past year and what they would like to happen over the next.  For me it is a time to edit the 20,000+ photos I have taken this year and decide which ones to keep. 

  Flaneuring Footsteps, Calgary

Flaneuring Footsteps, Calgary

It is also time to ponder what were my best experiences, adventures and discoveries? What was the best art gallery, art exhibition, artwork or architecture I experienced? Should I create albums of the best pieces of public art, best street art, buildings or street photos?

After much reflection, I decided the life of an everyday flaneur isn’t about the “best of” it is about surprises, chance encounters and the thrill of the unexpected. 

As a result this photo essay while in chronological oder is a hodgepodge of fun flaneur finds discovered over the past year wandering with my eyes and mind wide open. I hope you enjoy....

  Yoga bound, Calgary

Yoga bound, Calgary

  Strawberry Dancers / Watermelon Mountains, Calgary

Strawberry Dancers / Watermelon Mountains, Calgary

  Keys, Calgary

Keys, Calgary

  Night Rider, Calgary

Night Rider, Calgary

  Tree of Life, Berlin

Tree of Life, Berlin

  Shopping Vortex, Berlin

Shopping Vortex, Berlin

  Circus architecture, Berlin

Circus architecture, Berlin

  Giant Red Tops, Berlin

Giant Red Tops, Berlin

  Bitte Please, Berlin

Bitte Please, Berlin

  Pedestrian, Berlin

Pedestrian, Berlin

 Mannie, Berlin

Mannie, Berlin

  Street Furniture, Berlin

Street Furniture, Berlin

  Recycling Igloos, Berlin

Recycling Igloos, Berlin

  Notes, Berlin  (Discovered these poems taped to a pedestrian bridge in Kreuzberg, Berlin late one afternoon.)

Notes, Berlin (Discovered these poems taped to a pedestrian bridge in Kreuzberg, Berlin late one afternoon.)

 Magritte Lives, Berlin

Magritte Lives, Berlin

  No Entrance/No Exit, Berlin

No Entrance/No Exit, Berlin

  11 disciples, Berlin

11 disciples, Berlin

  Molecules, Berlin

Molecules, Berlin

  Treasure Hunters' Paradise, Berlin

Treasure Hunters' Paradise, Berlin

  KaDeWe Smile, Berlin

KaDeWe Smile, Berlin

  Green Eye, Berlin

Green Eye, Berlin

  Confession, Berlin

Confession, Berlin

 Word Search, Berlin

Word Search, Berlin

 Fun School, Berlin

Fun School, Berlin

  Mystery Box, Berlin

Mystery Box, Berlin

  Stripes & Checks, Berlin

Stripes & Checks, Berlin

  Eye Candy, Berlin

Eye Candy, Berlin

  Hommage to Don Cherry, Berlin

Hommage to Don Cherry, Berlin

 Hungry, Berlin

Hungry, Berlin

  Living Room, Berlin

Living Room, Berlin

 Escher & Alexa, Berlin

Escher & Alexa, Berlin

   Happy Bunnies, Leipzig

 Happy Bunnies, Leipzig

  Red River, Leipzig

Red River, Leipzig

  Snail's Pace, Leipzig  (Backstory: The snail on the handle of the historic Leipzig City Hall was placed there by a local craftsman to represents how slowly things move at City Hall )

Snail's Pace, Leipzig (Backstory: The snail on the handle of the historic Leipzig City Hall was placed there by a local craftsman to represents how slowly things move at City Hall)

  Three Sisters, Leipzig

Three Sisters, Leipzig

  Not armed and not dangerous, Leipzig

Not armed and not dangerous, Leipzig

  Dare To Be Different, Leipzig

Dare To Be Different, Leipzig

  Street Talk, Leipzig

Street Talk, Leipzig

  Couple, Leipzig

Couple, Leipzig

  Inside! Leipzig

Inside! Leipzig

  Special, Leipzig

Special, Leipzig

  Peaceful Revolution, Leipzig

Peaceful Revolution, Leipzig

  Follow Through, Leipzig

Follow Through, Leipzig

  Partners, Leipzig

Partners, Leipzig

  Door Handle as Art, Leipzig

Door Handle as Art, Leipzig

  No parking, Leipzig

No parking, Leipzig

  Strings Attached, Leipzig

Strings Attached, Leipzig

  Brutal Beauty, London, ON

Brutal Beauty, London, ON

  Dressing Up!, London, ON

Dressing Up!, London, ON

  Playful, Hamilton

Playful, Hamilton

  Perspective, Calgary

Perspective, Calgary

  Windows, Calgary

Windows, Calgary

  Street Party, Calgary

Street Party, Calgary

  Dance with me! Calgary

Dance with me! Calgary

  My old backyard, Gleichen

My old backyard, Gleichen

  Remnants, Sisika

Remnants, Sisika

  Waiting, Calgary

Waiting, Calgary

  Edge, Head Smash-in Buffalo Jump

Edge, Head Smash-in Buffalo Jump

  Hooped, Canmore

Hooped, Canmore

 Really, Olds

Really, Olds

 Blast From The Past, Olds

Blast From The Past, Olds

 Statement, Calgary 

Statement, Calgary 

  Upsized, Calgary

Upsized, Calgary

  Too Much Information, Calgary

Too Much Information, Calgary

  Musical Stairs, Calgary

Musical Stairs, Calgary

  Legs & Pillars, Calgary

Legs & Pillars, Calgary

 Dataport, Medicine Hat

Dataport, Medicine Hat

  Love, Calgary

Love, Calgary

  Rainbow, Calgary

Rainbow, Calgary

  Buried, Canmore

Buried, Canmore

  Happy Hour, Calgary

Happy Hour, Calgary

 Elizabeth, Calgary

Elizabeth, Calgary

  Failure, Calgary

Failure, Calgary

  Stanley Guitar, Nashville

Stanley Guitar, Nashville

 Oxymoron, Nashville

Oxymoron, Nashville

  Euphony, Nashville

Euphony, Nashville

  Pick-up Sticks, Nashville

Pick-up Sticks, Nashville

  Bus Rider, Nashville

Bus Rider, Nashville

  Wisedom, Mesa

Wisedom, Mesa

  Trophies, Calgary

Trophies, Calgary

  Alone, Calgary

Alone, Calgary

  Outer Space, Palm Springs

Outer Space, Palm Springs

 Creative Space, Palm Springs

Creative Space, Palm Springs

  Yard Art, Palm Springs

Yard Art, Palm Springs

  Hippy Mask, Palm Springs

Hippy Mask, Palm Springs

 Whimsical, Palm Springs

Whimsical, Palm Springs

 Corner, Palm Springs

Corner, Palm Springs

  Blue Bird, Calgary

Blue Bird, Calgary

  Juxtaposition, Calgary

Juxtaposition, Calgary

 Twisted, Calgary

Twisted, Calgary

  Fire, Calgary

Fire, Calgary

 Pathways, Calgary

Pathways, Calgary

Thanks for scrolling to the end. 

All the best in 2018. 

Calgary vs Nashville: HQ vs SHED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main Street Animation

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

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

Advantage: Nashville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retail

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

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

Advantage Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cultural Centres

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

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

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

Advantage: Nashville

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

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

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

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

  Nashville boast a lovely art deco public art gallery. 

Nashville boast a lovely art deco public art gallery. 

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

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

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

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

Hotels/Convention Centre

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

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

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

Advantage: Nashville

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recreation/River/Parks

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

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

Advantage: Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arena/Stadium

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

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

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

Advantage: Tied

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

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

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

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

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

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

Architecture/Urban Design

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

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

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

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

Advantage: Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Living

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

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

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

Advantage: Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's cafe scene. 

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's cafe scene. 

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

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

Last Word

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

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

Cities can’t be all things to all people.

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

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

Calgary vs Austin vs Portland vs Nashville for Tourist

Calgary vs Seattle: Capturing the tourists' imagination!

Calgary: Off The Beaten Path For Tourists!

 

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

Olds: The Fastest Town in Canada?

We’d been hearing good things about Olds for awhile, including the fact it was Canada’s first “gig town.”

  The town of Olds thinks globally acts locally.

The town of Olds thinks globally acts locally.

Backstory: One gigabit per second is super high-speed Internet that only a few North America cities have.  With that kind of bandwidth, you can stream at least five high-definition videos at the same time (allowing multiple people to watch and download different things in different rooms of a house or busines.  The Olds Institute’s Technology Committee conceived the idea back in 2004 as one of its economic development strategies to attract new businesses to locate there.   Called O-NET, it not only offers residents and businesses the fastest internet in Canada but also free community WiFi in dozens of public places across town – pretty much everywhere.   

Link: Gigabit Broadband in Olds

Then, a few weeks ago, a visiting young couple from Olds (they were picking up a bed that we were storing in our garage for friends) enthusiastically shared with us why they loved living in Olds and some of their favourite things to see, do and eat.

We decided we must go.  So we did, the next weekend.

  We loved these inviting colourful chairs strategically placed throughout Olds College campus. 

We loved these inviting colourful chairs strategically placed throughout Olds College campus. 

Six good reasons to visit Olds

#1 Garden & Butcher

Olds College started as a demonstration farm back in 1911, followed by the Olds School of Agriculture and Home Economics in 1913.  Today, it has a wonderful park-like campus and yes, the farm is still there.  A relatively new feature is the Botanical Gardens (started in 2001) has evolved into 13 specialty gardens including – Rose Garden, Herb Garden, Iris Collection, Wetlands, Water Garden, Alpine Garden, Apple Orchard, Conifer Bed, Heritage Grove and Perennial Border.  Visit the garden several times a year and get a different experience each time. 

A popular spot for weddings, they added some pageantry and colour on our Saturday visit.

Link: Visit the Gardens

You also won’t want to miss the Olds College National Meat Training Centre.  The College has the only facility in North America where students have the opportunity to learn everything from humane animal slaughter to retail meat cutting. 

For the public, this means there is a retail store on site that carries a wide variety of beef, pork, lamb and poultry cuts. They also have smoked sausages and ready-to-eat meals. Time your visit accordingly as they are open Monday to Friday (noon to 5 pm) and Saturdays (10 am to 4 pm).  It is located in the Animal Science Building. (Note to self: bring a cooler and ice packs with you.)

FullSizeRender 3.jpg
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 Olds college also has 20,000 square feet of greenhouses.  Stop by to purchase cut flowers, veggies and herbs.  Seasonally you can find annuals, perennials, succulent and tropical plants sold as single plants and mixed planters in the greenhouse rotunda Fridays from noon to 1 pm September to June.  Availability changes weekly so consider signing up for their Thursday e-mail flyer to be kept up to date. (photo credit Olds College website)

Olds college also has 20,000 square feet of greenhouses.  Stop by to purchase cut flowers, veggies and herbs.  Seasonally you can find annuals, perennials, succulent and tropical plants sold as single plants and mixed planters in the greenhouse rotunda Fridays from noon to 1 pm September to June.  Availability changes weekly so consider signing up for their Thursday e-mail flyer to be kept up to date. (photo credit Olds College website)

#2 Pandora’s Boox and Tea (PBT)

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No, that isn’t a typo! The rationale for the name is that every time one opens a book, a new realm of possibilities opens up which is play on the Greek myth, Pandora’s box.

The name is very apropos for this unique shop.

Located in an early 20th century CIBC bank building, PBT is a lovely urban-esque surprise - it combines a bookstore, games entertainment hub and teashop.  For Calgarians, think Sentry Box meets Pages bookstore meets Tea Traders.

A lovely hour was spent browsing the shelves (full of books, games and cards), sipping tea and watching some board gamers play. This would be a good place to check out just how fast this “gig town” is.

  We loved the colourful, modern retro design of our cups and pot of tea.  The biscuits were a nice touch.  

We loved the colourful, modern retro design of our cups and pot of tea.  The biscuits were a nice touch. 

  Pandora's Boox is a relaxing chill spot for people of all ages.

Pandora's Boox is a relaxing chill spot for people of all ages.

   eeny, meeny, miny, moe...

eeny, meeny, miny, moe...

#3 Shoe Shopping

If you are looking for a new pair of shoes, you might want to think about heading to Olds.  They have a couple of great shoe shops. Our favourite - Henry’s Shoes - had over 15,000 pairs of shoes (we were told their Trochu store is even larger…hmmm a future road trip).  A great range of quality brands and sizes, and second-to-none service and fitting to boot (pun intended). 

It was all we could do to resist buying a pair. 

   Shoes or folk art?

Shoes or folk art?

  A blast from the past!

A blast from the past!

Not to be outdone, Jensen’s Men’s Wear also has a large selection of men’s and ladies’ footwear worth checking out, as well as a huge collection of western wear.  You are in the heart of cowboy country after all!

And then there’s Craig’s, serving Olds and community with quality fashions, fabrics, yarns and giftware for 119 years. 

To celebrate Canada 150, they have created several displays using vintage store artifacts from their collection 

I was even invited to check out the historic vault in the back room. 

Craig’s is fun a walk back in time

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#4 Retro Fun

Rockin’ Retro is a huge antique, retro, vintage shop.  While there is some rock and roll memorabilia (as the name suggests), there is a diverse selection of artifacts including one of the best collections of old tins that I have seen in a long time.

The Nu2U Thrift store located nearby is also worth a visit. You never know when or where you will find a hidden treasure!

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#5 Aggie & Old Skhool

Don’t leave town without a visit to the Olds College Teaching Brewery and Tasting Room established in 2013 (exactly 100 years after the school opened, wonder what took them so long). Attached to the Olds Pomeroy Inn & Suites, it offers tasting of seasonal brews as well as four commercially branded beers – Aggie Ale, Old Skhool, Hay City and Prairie Gold.  I came home with a 6-pack of Aggie (amber) and Old Skhool(brown), which may well become my new “go to” beers.

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#6 Mountain View Museum & Archives

Housed in the Olds AGT building (1920), this museum has a collection of 7,000 artifacts, 14 meters of textual documents and 2,000 photographs.  Group and guided tours are available.  Unfortunately, we were there on a Saturday (it is only open Tuesday to Friday from noon to 5 pm).  We were told it is worth a visit. Next time.

Where to eat?

Our pick for lunch was the Black Forest German Bakery where everything is made from scratch and baked on site in their stone ovens, which keeps in the moisture and gives their breads a beautiful golden crusty exterior and a soft, tasty interior. They use local flours when possible, including spelt and rye and crack their our own grains for their multi-grain loaves. The European‐style bacon used in their famous Bacon Bread is sourced locally.

The daily lunch special immediately caught my eye. Who could resist Schnitzel & Spaetzle with salad, your choice of soup and dessert for $15.  We loaded up with some yummy cinnamon rolls and a huge piece of apple strudel (only $5) to enjoy at home. 

The Bakery and restaurant is part of a larger space that includes a mini marketplace with locally grown/made fresh foods and food products. 

  The empty dessert case is a testimony to the popularity of the bakery. Don't worry the it was filled up while we were there. 

The empty dessert case is a testimony to the popularity of the bakery. Don't worry the it was filled up while we were there. 

Last Word

From Calgary (or even Edmonton or Red Deer) you could easily combine a trip to the Torrington Gopher Museum and Olds to create a kickback, fun rural day trip. We did and we plan to do it again - perhaps on a Thursday so we can check out the Olds Farmer’s Market, hit the museum and and maybe even play a round a of golf at Olds Golf and Country Club. 

But most likely we will visit again on Victoria Day when Torrington has its longstanding annual community-wide yard sale.

If you like this blog, checkout these links:

Calgary: Tea Trader & Lapsang Souchong

Nanton: Bomber Museum 

Torrington: The Kitsch Capital of Alberta

We’re Going to Medicine Hat

 

Calgary is NOT on the cusp of becoming a "Design City?"

Last Saturday, CBC Calgary as part of its "Route Ahead" feature published my piece profiling how Calgary has engaged several international architectural firms to create exciting new buildings, bridges and public spaces in our City Centre.

While the piece was well received by many including Mayor Nenshi, there were criticism that the piece focused too much on starchitects, rather than local urban designers and that Calgary has a long way to go before it will be recognized as a "Design City" by world travellers.  

What was edited out of the CBC piece was the following paragraph by Saskatoon architect Charles Olfert who while very impressed by how far Calgary has come over the past 20 years, points out why Calgary is NOT yet a "Design City."

Saskatoon architect, Charles Olfert one of the founding architects of Saskatoon’s aodbt architects is a regular visitor to Calgary, as well as a world traveler. 

When asked if Calgary is on the cusp of becoming a design city he replied, “Do big name, out-of-town designers make Calgary a ‘Design City,’ I would have to say, NO!  To me, Copenhagen epitomizes a ‘Design City’ as its commitment to quality and design goes beyond just the buildings.  They have a “Design Centre” to assist visitors to explore the city’s many uniquely designed buildings and public spaces. When you ask a Copenhagen resident about a building, they will often know the name of the architect and the idea behind the design concept. The overall community’s engagement in design is amazing.”

He adds, "Calgary is well on the way to becoming a design city, but it is not the big name starchitects that will ultimately achieve this goal. It will be when there is a design awareness and appreciation in the everyday culture of the community. Copenhagen has achieved this."

While Olfert is just one person, I do respect his opinion as informed and as an outsider. Sometimes it is hard for Calgarians like me to be objective about the city we love.  In researching this piece several urban design professions from Calgary also cautioned me about calling Calgary a "design city." 

I hope that those of you who live in Calgary will use this blog and google maps to tour downtown with family and friends and decide for yourself if Calgary is on the cusp of becoming a design city.  I'd love to hear what you think!

Here is a reprint of the CBC News Calgary piece with more and different photos.

Calgary: Calgary's global architecture, a nifty walking tour.  

Will BIG’s Telus Sky and Sonhetta’s new Central Library put Calgary on the map of world Design Cities?

Sure we are not a Dubai, New York City, London or Singapore.  But when it comes to being on the world map of Design Cities, we have come along way in the past 20 years. Global designs, has changed the face of our city.

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME

Architectural and urban design tourism has become popular of late.  It kicked off which the downtrodden industrial Spanish city of Bilboa commissioned Frank Gehry to create the iconic Guggenheim Museum.  It's since attracted millions of visitors from around the world.  Got tourists to go to a place they might never otherwise have seen.

Today many cities around the world are investing billions in wacky new architecture to try and recreate what is now called the “Bilboa Effect.” Calgary is also joining the chorus.

We've got two major projects underway that could help us achieve a critical mass of exemplary urban design. The Telus Sky project designed by the firm of international superstar architect Bjarke Ingels. And the the Norwegian design firm Sinohetta's new Central Library.

These international designs right here in Cow Town will join a host of other major new design projects since 2000.  It may be a bit early to call ourselves a 'Design City', but let's take a stroll across town, and you can decide for yourself.

  One of many urban design hidden gems in downtown Calgary. Close up of Calgary artist Ron Moppett's  five-panel mosaic titled “THESAMEWAYBETTER/READER.” 

One of many urban design hidden gems in downtown Calgary. Close up of Calgary artist Ron Moppett's five-panel mosaic titled “THESAMEWAYBETTER/READER.” 

  New Central Library is taking shape. 

New Central Library is taking shape. 

National Music Centre, 2016

Designed by Portland’s Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, the massing of the building looks like a huge sculpture, perhaps a Henry Moore “Reclining Nude.” 

The curved glazed terracotta tile walls are in fact inspired by musical instruments. The façade changes colour with the angle of the sun during the day and from season to season.  It also includes a mega bridge over 4th Street SE, which enhances Calgary’s reputation as the world leader in sky bridges. 

The Bow Tower, 2011

Designed by London’s Sir Norman Foster, the diagonally structural braces creates a unique triangulated façade.

The shape of the building was inspired by the bend in the Bow River as it flows through downtown.  However, as you enter the downtown from the northeast it looks a bit like a big barrel of oil….coincidence? 

Wonderland sculpture, 2011

Designed by Spain’s Jaume Plensa, “Wonderland” is a ghost-like head of a young girl that sits on the plaza in front of the Bow Tower. 

There is also a lesser known sculpture by Plensa on north side of the building called “Alberta’s Dream” which is a self-portrait of Plensa sitting on the ground hugging a tree.  His body is covered with the names of Alberta cities and towns. 

Imagine, Calgary a city of tree huggers…could the artists be making a political statement? 
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Brookfield Place (East Tower, 2018)

London’s Arney Fender Katsalidis (AFK) architects were engaged by Brookfield Properties to create a signature building in the heart of downtown.

At 247m it is now Calgary’s tallest building. While it retains the rectangular shape the dominates Calgary’s skyline, it is notable for its rounded glass corners that gives it an iPhone like shape. 

The Core, 2012

Toronto’s MMC International Architects were hired to renovate and integrate what was once Lancaster Square, Devonian Gardens, TD Square, Eaton Centre and old Eaton’s department store into one 'super' shopping mall. 

To do this they created the world’s largest point-supported structural glass skylight - 26m wide and 200m long.

Stephen Avenue Galleria Trees, 2000

The original plan for Bankers Hall was to have a glass canopy over the entire street. But that didn't happen.

Oxford, the then owners of TD Square, weren’t thrilled about having anything attached to their building. So they built 'trees'. The construction of these giant white creations was almost as controversial as the Peace Bridge, because it involved removing the real trees on the block.

While they are called trees, one of the early (and unfortunate) nicknames was “pooper scoopers”.  Yikes. Apparently some felt they looked like something you’d use to clean your kitty litter. The original design was much more elegant as they had slender legs at street level, however the city demanded the bulky boots in case they were ever hit by a vehicle.

This mega public artwork was the idea of Ric Singleton, and the Trizec Hahn design team who developed the Bankers Hall complex.

Eight Avenue Place, East Tower, 2011, West Tower, 2014

Designed by the American architectural firm Pickard Chilton, the shape of the Eight Avenue Place towers was inspired by the planes, angles and sense of thrust of the Rocky Mountains. 

This is actually the second design for the two buildings.  The original design by Gibbs Gage was also inspired by the Rockies but with darker glass. This building is as attractive inside as out, with its cathedral-like lobby, paintings by Canadian masters like Riopelle and Shadbolt and a uniquely designed Starbucks.  

707 Fifth, 2017

707 Fifth is designed by Chicago’s SOM Architects, (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) - one of the largest and most influential design firms in the world.

Their portfolio includes Chicago’s Willis Tower, 1973 (tallest building in the world for 20 years) and Dubai’s Burj Khalifa (2010) the tallest today.  They are considered to be leader in international style glass tower, minimalist form.

While not the tallest building in Calgary at 27 floors, it respects the glass façade and modernist/minimalist school of office architecture.  With its curved edges and elliptical shape it has a soft femininity that makes it stand out in Calgary’s plethora of stocky old boy towers. 

It also adds to Calgary’s growing portfolio of blue glass towers that started with Canterra Tower now Devon Tower. 

4th Street LRT Station, 2012

Calgary’s Jeremy Sturgess designed the futuristic oval glass bridge at the 4th Street LRT Station which juts over 7th Avenue.  Right there, in the Harley Hotchkiss Gardens, (designed by Winnipeg’s Scatliff, Miller & Murray), you'll find the signature sculpture “DoReMiFSolLaSiDo” by Saskatchewan artist Joe Farfard. 

Originally the sculpture planned for the park was going to more of a conventional cowboy western theme. But Jeff Spalding who was then the CEO at the Glenbow convinced everyone to do something more contemporary.

The eight horses galloping across the park represent Calgary past, present and future. They pay homage to the importance of the horse as part of Calgary’s unique culture – First Nations, Calgary Stampede and Spruce Meadows. 

Be sure to go up close so you can discover all of the miniature images of western heritage Fafard has integrated into the design of each of the horses.

Centrium Place, 2007

Centrium is a precious jewel-like building created by Calgary’s Gibbs Gage architects.

It subtly cantilevers over the sidewalk so the top is wider than the bottom creating what looks like diamond shape.  The facades glass is made up of difference rectangular shaped glass panels in a random pattern that was loosely inspired by the famous Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. 

Jamieson Place, 2009

Gibbs Gage Architects is also responsible for Frank Lloyd Wright inspired Jamison Place with its prairie style twin columns enhancing the vertical thrust from sidewalk to sky.

The Winter Garden inside on the 1-5 level is arguably the most elegant and tranquil place in Calgary, with its infinity pond and living wall.  It is also home to three hanging glass sculptures by the world’s most famous glass artist David Chihuly.

Peace Bridge, 2012

The Peace Bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava is perhaps the most loved and hated work of art in Calgary.

From an international design perspective it is notable in that it is diametrically opposed to Calatrava’s other bridges which are always white with gabled wires creating a light, soaring, wing like visual effect. 

Because of the helicopter pad and that fact that it had to spans the width of the river without any posts, Calatrava used a double hex structure. The choice of red is obvious as it links to the Flames, Stampeders and Calgary Tower, as well it signifies “good luck” in Chinese culture.

One might even wonder if Calatrava is also commenting on Calgary’s “red neck” image?

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East Village Riverwalk, 2011

Since day one, East Village’s Riverwalk has been a hit with Calgarians.

Designed by the Stantec’s Calgary office, this pedestrian promenade now extends from Centre Street to Fort Calgary on the Bow and Elbow Rivers. The Riverwalk has won numerous landscape architect awards, and was instrumental in convincing Calgarians and developers that the City was committed to high design as part of the redevelopment of East Village.

George C King Bridge, 2014

Designed by French design firm RFR and Calgary’s Halsall Associates, this bridge hasbeen nicknamed the “Skipping Stone” bridge - as it has three arches that resemble a stone skipping over the river. 

Unlike the Peace Bridge there was no controversy associated with the King Bridge as an extensive and transparent community engagement process was implemented.  While the Peace Bridge is bold and bulky, the King Bridge is playful and elegant. 

Together they create a wonderful pedestrian circuit along the Bow River.

St. Patrick’s Island Park, 2015

Denver based Civitas, and New York based W Architecture, have transformed St. Patrick’s Island into a charming urban playground with a pebble beach, picnic grove, pathways, playgrounds, plaza and private places to sit. 

In 2016, the Island took top honours in the Great Public Space category in the Canadian Institute of Planners' Great Places in Canada competition.

LAST WORD

While Calgary doesn’t have the biggest, tallest, wackiest or weirdest architecture in the world, we do have some very unique and intriguing buildings, bridges, plazas and parks.

Even with the downturn, there are opportunities for maginificent designs. Things which add to our sense of pride, things which, when they strike the eye, just make our days that much better

So put on you walking shoes, head downtown and you be the judge if the Calgary you thought you knew, is maybe on the cusp of becoming a design city?”

If you like this blog, you will like:

Calgary: Capturing The Art In Architecture

St. Patrick's Island: The Good, The Bad, The Nice To Have

 

Diversity Beats Density: Montreal vs Calgary

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

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

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

Office buildings kill urban vitality

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

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

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

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

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

Huge Student Population

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

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

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

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

Tourists love Downtown Montreal

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

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

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

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

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

IMHO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something to think about?

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

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

  Downtown Calgary is dominated by office buildings.

Downtown Calgary is dominated by office buildings.

Leipzig: Night Walk Postcards

Thanks to my 2-year old neighbour, who is now 3, I have become a big fan of “night walks.”  He and I have enjoyed flaneuring the streets and back alleys of our neighbourhood since he was just over a year old, but last September he started wanting to go for walks after dinner with his Papa and I got invited. 

I had never appreciated how different residential streets are in the evening. It is a great way to wind down and reflect on the day's happenings. 

I loved these walks so much I started to do my own “night walks” when on vacation in other cities.  Most recently, my “night walks” were along the historic streets and canals of Leipzig Germany which take on an entirely different look at night.

Here are a few postcards from Leipzig at night…hope you enjoy.

Montreal: Canada's Best Urban Playground?

Forget Toronto. Forget Vancouver. If you are looking for a fun urban adventure, plan a Montreal getaway.  And, not just because Montreal will be celebrating its 375th anniversary with numerous special festivities in 2017, but because Montreal’s everyday “joie de vivre” makes it a great urban playground anytime.

 In the underground of the Les Cours Mont-Royal building is the world's largest collection of Barbie Dolls - over 1,000.  How playful is that? Click  here  for more info

In the underground of the Les Cours Mont-Royal building is the world's largest collection of Barbie Dolls - over 1,000.  How playful is that? Click here for more info

Colourful

Montreal has done a spectacular job utilizing colour to add a sense of play and warmth to their winter pedestrian experience.  The large red dot lights projected on the sidewalks in several locations and a half block-long window with its rows of neon dots that change colour as you walk distract from the cold outside.  

But the piece de la resistance is the block-long west wall of the Palais des Congres (Montreal Convention Centre) composed of 58 glass panels of yellow, pink, green and blue that really brightens up a cloudy day. And on days when the sun shines, the inside is a magical kaleidoscope of colours.  

With Calgary’s abundant sunshine and amazing collection of glass towers and +15 glass bridges, we should be a world leader in the use of coloured glass as a means of creating a unique sense of place. Instead of all the black, beige and grey facades imagine if more buildings were like Battisella’s Beltline condo, Colours.

  The glass facade of Montreal's Convention Centre at night. 

The glass facade of Montreal's Convention Centre at night. 

  No this is not the Montreal's Red Light District, it is just a way to add some fun to those who are out for an evening stroll, even in the winter.

No this is not the Montreal's Red Light District, it is just a way to add some fun to those who are out for an evening stroll, even in the winter.

  Even Montreal's Metro Stations are colourful and playful.

Even Montreal's Metro Stations are colourful and playful.

Scavenger Hunt

I thought Calgary was doing pretty well with its proliferation of funky street art, but it pales in comparison to Montreal.  Wandering Montreal’s rues and avenues, I was forever pulling out my camera - over 100 street art photos in all (and I didn’t take photos of every one).  It was a fun scavenger hunt experience.

And while street art is fun with its cartoon-like characters, Montreal’s urban landscape is full of clever murals. It turns out local and international muralist transforms St Laurent Boulevard into an outdoor gallery every June during its annual Mural Festival. (I have added it to my bucket list).

Imagine how much more pedestrian-friendly our City Centre would if more of Calgary’s blank walls had murals like Doug Driediger’s “Giving Wings to the Dream” on the east wall of the old CUPS building on 7th Ave SW.  

  This cartoon-like street art is just one of a many pieces that convert a back alley into an art gallery. 

This cartoon-like street art is just one of a many pieces that convert a back alley into an art gallery. 

  Another playful piece of street art. 

Another playful piece of street art. 

 On The Wall

Montreal En Lumiere festival (February 23 to March 11, 2017) is one of largest annual winter festivals in the world - attendance exceeds one million every year.  

The festival’s amazing light installations create a circus-like atmosphere at the Place des Festivals (Calgary’s equivalent being Olympic Plaza).  What I particularly love about this festival is how it continues, on a smaller scale, throughout the year.  Year-round, blank walls throughout the City Centre come to life at night with changing colourful images projected on them. Imagine what it must be like when 1000 projectors and 185 loudspeakers animate their winter nights.  (Another one for my bucket list).

Old Montreal’s “Cite Memories” features 20 movies projected on the sides of historical buildings that tell Montreal’s history.  Download a free app and you can to listen as you watch or walk around.  Wouldn’t that be great for Stephen Ave, Inglewood and Kensington?

Calgary has tried to do a Winter Festival many times and failed. Perhaps it is a case of “go big or go home!” Rather than sending Calgary Transit officials on a junket to explore electronic fares systems (which they could do in Montreal), why not send our best festival producers to Montreal to investigate how to create a successful Winter Festival. (Montreal actually has two major winter festivals - Igloofest is a dance electronic music fest from Jan 12 to Feb 19, 2017).

  Just one of dozens of projections on blank walls in Montreal's City Centre.  This piece was like a silent movie.  

Just one of dozens of projections on blank walls in Montreal's City Centre.  This piece was like a silent movie. 

Millennial Madness

With Montreal’s City Center being home to 170,000 post-secondary students it has the distinction of having North America’s largest student population (including 18,000 International students).  They may be there for an education, but they also generate a “party-on” atmosphere. Case in point – I was in a 30-minute line up during a snowstorm to get into a “pop-up” cocktail lounge serving up $12 Christmas-themed cocktails to a room full of millennials. 

Might a good use of Calgary’s empty downtown office space be an international university campus? Perhaps Mayor Nenshi can persuade his alma mater Harvard Business School to open in Calgary. 

   Loop   is a cross between a music box, a zoetrope and a railway handcar – the familiar pump-powered vehicles from Bugs Bunny cartoons. The retro-futuristic machine plays animated fairy-tale loops set in motion when visitors work the lever together. When the cylinder starts spinning, it lights up, making the series of still images appear to move. 

Loop is a cross between a music box, a zoetrope and a railway handcar – the familiar pump-powered vehicles from Bugs Bunny cartoons. The retro-futuristic machine plays animated fairy-tale loops set in motion when visitors work the lever together. When the cylinder starts spinning, it lights up, making the series of still images appear to move. 

  People of all ages this unique urban playground.

People of all ages this unique urban playground.

  One of several Winter Markets that we encountered as we flaneured Montreal's City Centre. 

One of several Winter Markets that we encountered as we flaneured Montreal's City Centre. 

Unique Streets

While every city has its signature shopping streets, Montreal has dozens – St. Catherine, St. Laurent, St. Denis, Mont-Royal, Laurier, St. Viateur and St. Hubert to name a few.  While St. Catherine, like Vancouver’s Robson or Toronto’s Queen Streets, is full of national and international franchises, Montreal’s other streets house primarily local shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs, clubs and galleries (no Starbucks on every corner).  

The number of fashion boutiques with locally designed clothing is impressive, as are the number of commercial art and artisan galleries. And Montreal has the most restaurants on a per capita basis of any major city in North America. In Plateau, Mile End, Little Italy, Little Burgundy and Griffintown, the shopping streets are chock-a-block full of interesting local shops.  Montreal is an amazing incubator of fashion designers, artists, artisans, event producers, chefs, bakers, baristas etc. 

While Calgary is spending millions of dollars creating pretty streetscapes to attract more people to Kensington, Inglewood and 17th Avenue, Montreal’s sidewalks are at best “adequate” - no designer benches, expensive lamp posts with banners, or “special” crosswalks to be found.  People don’t come to areas to look at banners or sit on pretty benches, they come to shop, dine, drink and meet friends.  A little grittiness doesn’t hurt anyone – in fact a street’s unique patina is part of its charm. 

What also makes Montreal’s vibrant streets unique is the lack of gentrification, i.e. replacing older buildings with newer buildings that in turn displaces lower income people and attracts more affluent residents. There are not a lot of new cookie-cutter condos with retail at street level except in downtown and Griffintown. Montreal makes do with the existing inventory of low-rise buildings from the mid 20th century, thereby keeping rents more affordable for “mom and pop” businesses.  

With so much to sip and savour, Montreal’s streets epitomize what Jane Jacobs, the influential 1960s urban activist meant when she said street vitality is directly linked to the number of doors that open onto the street - more doors the better. 

  Rue St-Hubert is a five-block long street with over 400 mom and pop businesses - from thrift stores to wedding shops.  A canopy over the sidewalk, protect pedestrians from the elements and creates a unique sense of place.

Rue St-Hubert is a five-block long street with over 400 mom and pop businesses - from thrift stores to wedding shops.  A canopy over the sidewalk, protect pedestrians from the elements and creates a unique sense of place.

  Seems like everywhere you go in Montreal there are shops along the streets. These shops create an attractive pedestrian environment. 

Seems like everywhere you go in Montreal there are shops along the streets. These shops create an attractive pedestrian environment. 

  St. Catherine's Street in the downtown core is still lined with stores that attract shoppers at all times of the day, seven days a week, not the lobby of office buildings or high-end restaurants.

St. Catherine's Street in the downtown core is still lined with stores that attract shoppers at all times of the day, seven days a week, not the lobby of office buildings or high-end restaurants.

 Family Fun

Gobsmacked best describes my reaction to Montreal’s Desjardins Complex built in 1976. It consists of three office towers and a Hyatt Regency Hotel atop an indoor shopping centre.  From the outside it isn’t anything special, but inside the six-storey high, multi-purpose event space comes complete with a permanent dancing fountain (with lights and music) is very impressive.  

At Christmas, it is transformed into a Christmas wonderland with stage for festive performances, old fashioned carousel, mini-train for kids’ rides, face painting and yes, even a Santa Castle where kids get to meet Santa.  The place is packed with families each December.

Calgary missed a huge opportunity to create a dynamic indoor programming space as part of Bankers Hall, The Bow, Eighth Avenue Place or the redeveloped Core and Devonian Gardens.

  This is the entrance to the elevators that get you to Montreal's observation deck on the 45th floor of the Place de Ville Marie. Once you are there you can experience    #MTLGO  , an interactive multimedia exhibition, designed by Montréal-based company gsmprject°. It explores many popular city themes—from hockey to gastronomy to performing arts to neighbourhoods—through 55 videos of citizens and Montréal personalities as well as 500 photos culled from the city’s social media and archives.  You could easily spend a hour or more with this entertaining and educational exhibition. 

This is the entrance to the elevators that get you to Montreal's observation deck on the 45th floor of the Place de Ville Marie. Once you are there you can experience  #MTLGO, an interactive multimedia exhibition, designed by Montréal-based company gsmprject°. It explores many popular city themes—from hockey to gastronomy to performing arts to neighbourhoods—through 55 videos of citizens and Montréal personalities as well as 500 photos culled from the city’s social media and archives.  You could easily spend a hour or more with this entertaining and educational exhibition. 

  We nicknames Montreal's Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of Fun Art given not only the fun artwork on display, but also the fun way it was exhibited. 

We nicknames Montreal's Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of Fun Art given not only the fun artwork on display, but also the fun way it was exhibited. 

  Montreal is home to Cirque du Soleil, which is fun for everyone. 

Montreal is home to Cirque du Soleil, which is fun for everyone. 

 Last Word

While not a fan of imitating what other cities do, Calgary developers, urban designers, planners, festival/event managers and politicians could well be inspired by Montreal’s unique and creative city building strategies. 

For the rest of us, Montreal is full of fun urban surprises.  Our best surprise was Crew Collective & Café – you have to see it to believe it! 

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Berlin: New Year's Eve Insanity

I am still in shocked 24 hours after the insane New Year’s Eve celebration in Berlin.

My girlfriend warned me about a week in advance. But to be honest, I thought it sounded a bit ridiculous, though I did notice that strangely every store starting to sell mass amounts of fireworks to the public the week before New Years.

In Canada, it is illegal to launch fireworks within a city without a license. So, I imagined perhaps a few people setting off some minor fireworks, but nothing too crazy. Well, I was wrong. Really, Really, Really Wrong.

Firework Bandits

At 10am on New Year’s Eve day we headed to the nearby grocery store (as German grocery stores close for multiple days for any reason possible) and in the span of the 10-minute walk, we heard 20+ explosions.

These we not little firecrackers. 

They sounded like missiles going off in a war torn area of the world (at least that’s how I imagine it, never having actually been to a war torn area). Massive explosions in the distance echoing, in broad daylight - it really startled me! I didn’t expect to hear explosions going off constantly.

Then I had my first run-in with some firework bandits. A few homeless people were throwing illegal-looking Polish fireworks (distinctively large and extremely dangerous compared to the ones sold in stores) that made very loud explosions.  

The problem wasn’t necessarily the fireworks themselves, but the fact they were throwing them very close to the 20 or so people at the bus stop (which honestly scared the shit out of me while walking past).

I shook it off thinking surely this must be a bit of an anomaly.

A little later, we went for another walk and a random guy, standing in a doorway, lit a firework as we passed and threw it at RIGHT at our feet. With a sparkling fuse appearing below my feet, I decided to run and grabbed my girlfriend before a deafening blast ripped behind us. 

What in the F*** is going on here? 

The strangest part was no one really seemed to care, as if this was all of a sudden ‘normal’ and allowed. It was like the movie PURGE where all violence becomes legal for one day.    The atmosphere on the streets was a mixture of fear, excitement and expectation.

After our walk, I went to the gym so we parted ways. After the gym, I got on an empty bus. Hmmm, I thought, this is weird. This bus is never empty...UNLESS IT’S THE PURGE!!! 

I couldn’t help but feel like this was so similar to that film, except this time it was fireworks. As this strangely empty bus winded through the familiar turns, I could see local convenience stores turned into full blown firework armories - stocking the mischievous with an arsenal of explosive fireworks as well as the liquor to give them confidence to set them off.

It was insane!

People didn’t seem to want to wait for midnight - from about 5pm onwards it was a constant barrage of fireworks shot off balconies and in local parks. I thought it was pretty awesome, but then I realized we were planning to go to my girlfriend’s family’s place, which meant venturing outside again. However, thanks to some “questionable” takeout we both started to not feel so well and decided to stay in.

Start the insanity

What happened is probably one of Berlin’s best-kept secrets - partly because it was one of the most insane things I have ever witnessed, partly because no one told me about it and partly because of our 10th floor vantage point.

The entire city erupted into fireworks and I mean ENTIRE.  No, no, no. Not like a Canada Day fireworks – a 20-minute grand spectacle after which everyone waits in traffic for two hours trying to get home.

I am talking about THOUSANDS of fireworks going off at the same time in every direction, from everywhere you look. So intense, the city was covered in smoke for hours. AND THIS WAS JUST THE LEAD UP. 

Finally, at midnight the city just became unhinged. Watching fireworks at the same elevation that they are exploding at is equal parts awesome and terrifying, as the people below you shoot a roman candle that erupts right out front of your window – in your face!

I have no idea how the whole city didn’t get lit on fire. During the spectacle, there were ZERO cars on the road (and we live on a major road). I am convinced this is because of the danger of driving during the hour of insanity. Sorry, I did see one car drive and he was easily going 180 km/hr. in an attempt to avoid getting shot at by multiple roman candles.

This crazy zombie firework apocalypse was awesome.

(Canmore artist, Dan Hudson's 2012 video captures the insanity perfectly. Link Hudson's website which includes work from Berlin)

Last Word

If you ever have a chance to be in Berlin on New Years Eve, do not go clubbing. Go see the fireworks - and bring a posse with body armor and a few roman candles to protect yourself.

Oh, and despite the insanity, nobody got hurt that I am aware of, no buildings were burned down and there were no complaints in the media. It was an once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. 

Guest Blog by Gaelan Taylor, a Calgary millennial living in Berlin and immersing himself into that city’s electronic music scene.

Everyday Tourist’s Note

One has to wonder if this war-like celebration of New Year’s in Berlin is an extension of Germany’s past, which includes centuries of war.  Watching Dan Hudson’s 2012 New Year’s Eve video, it would be hard not to think Berlin was under attack.  This is a classic example of the important role of travel in fostering a better appreciation of the world we share - be that beauty, festivals, history, art, architecture, food, poverty or violence.

As a Canadian baby boomer, I have no understanding or appreciation for the culture of war or terrorism and how it can becomes part of the psyche of people, communities, cities and nations. 

And for that naiveté, I’m very grateful.

Gaelan’s Retort

I disagree on your culture of war thinking. It is something you can feel when you are in Berlin - this could quite possibly be the most peaceful society in Europe and even in the west. I say this because of how INSANE people get at the smallest mention of military. Even in the municipal elections, a right wing neo-conservative group got just a few votes and you could have almost sworn the German people were acting like Hitler 2.0 was coming. Extreme sensitivity.

From my perspective, there is different sense of liberty in Berlin compared to Canada. Yes, fireworks are free to use in the city for one day. However, not a ton of bad stuff happens at New Years, nothing more than other cities.

Berliners freak out a whole lot less about “what could go wrong” and lo’ and behold, almost every time it is much less a problem than people anticipate. The result is something really beautiful, something impossible for me to put in words.

FYI….On January 2nd Everyday Tourist booked a month in Berlin.  

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