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

University District: My Final Resting Place?

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

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

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

Something For Everyone

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

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

Link: Video University District

Everyday Needs

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

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

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

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

Big News 

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

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

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

  Computer rendering of University Districts pedestrian shopping street. 

Computer rendering of University Districts pedestrian shopping street. 

FYI

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

If you like this blog, you will like: 

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

Calgary's Learning City Is Blooming

University District: Tree Strategy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Berlin: Street Collages

One of my favourite things to do these days is to combine photographs to create fun and sometimes strange collages using the UNION app.

Over the past few weeks I have been playing with photos from streets of Berlin which has resulting what I think are some very visually intense and interesting images / artworks. 

Here are some samples. Love to get some feedback! 

Calgary/Banff Transit: It is about time!

Yahooo…Calgary’s Regional Partnership is piloting a Calgary/Banff bus this summer. It’s about time….

It has always amazed me that there isn’t a regular Calgary/Banff bus or train service for that matter.  Twenty years ago I was in Bali and experienced how they picked up tourists in small vans from various hotels and resorts took us to a central bus station where coach buses then drove us to our various tourist destinations.  It was a great “hub and wheel” system that I thought Calgary could learn from. 

I was reminded of this again recently when in Berlin and wanted to go to Leipzig, a popular tourist destination about 200 km away.  We had our choice of several trains a day, as well as an hourly bus service.  We booked a bus seats online for $15CDN/person each way.   It was easy to use local transit to get us to the Central Bus Station, where we boarded a comfortable coach bus that took us directly to Leipzig’s city center  - just a 5-minute walk to our hotel. 

It was very slick.

On-IT Calgary/Banff Transit Pilot

I was very excited to recently learn the Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP), a collaborative network of 11 municipalities in the Calgary Region who work together on a volunteer basis to ensure growth occurs in a sustainable manner, has taken the initiative to pilot an On-IT Calgary/Banff bus service on weekends and holidays from June 17 to September 4.

There are two routes:

  • Calgary / Banff Express running between Calgary’s Crowfoot LRT station and Banff
  • Calgary / Banff Regional with additional stops in Okotoks, South Calgary at Somerset- Bridlewood LRT station, Cochrane and Canmore.  

From the looks of the schedule they have tried very hard to create a schedule to accommodate a variety of needs. 

I was also pleased to learn you are not just dropped off in the middle of Banff, but your fare (Special Canada 150 pricing of $10 each way; kids under 5 ride free) includes free transfer to Banff’s Roam Transit and Parks Canada’s shuttle, the latter gives you access to get to many different hot spots including Lake Louise, Lake Minnewanka, Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Tunnel Mountain and other popular park destinations.

Kudos to CRP & Partners

Kudos to CRP for initiating this regional transit service pilot project.   I admire their ambitious goal of creating a seamless regional transit system that will offer increased mobility for locals wanting to get to jobs or recreational activities, as well as to enhance regional tourism.

Kudos also to Parks Canada, Banff and Canmore for partnering with CRP to test the idea of a seasonal bus service for tourists and locals.  I expect the information gathered this summer will be very useful in determining the need for a seasonal bus or perhaps even a train from Calgary to Banff in the future.

Last Word

Perhaps one of the legacies of Canada 150 will be the development of a permanent Calgary/Banff regional transit system in 2018. 

More information & purchase tickets at: onitregionaltransit.ca

If you like this blog you might like:

LUV IT: On-It Calgary Regional Transit

Everyday Tourist's Tall Transit Tales

 

Berlin: Colourful & Playful

One of the biggest criticism I have of cities today is they are too conservative when it comes to incorporating colour into its architecture, streetscapes, plazas, parks, signage and billboards (if they even allow billboards).

One of the first things I noticed about Berlin was how colour is integrated into the everyday life of its streets in both bold and subtle ways, especially in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and Neukolln districts.

Unfortunately, Berlin falls into the same colourless trap as other cities when it comes to many of its new buildings and streetscapes, however I did find some exceptions.

Who knew March 21st is International Colour Day? When “what are you doing for International Colour Day?” came up on my twitter feed I thought this must be a signal to start my blog about the use of colour in Berlin and the cheerful and playful impact it has in a city that can very dreary (cloudy and rainy) in the winter months. I am surprised at how much Berlin's weather is like Vancouver's.

Link: International Colour Day 

So here are some colourful Berlin postcard shots that I hope will illustrate to you what I am talking about.  Make sure you scroll to the end of the essay for a postcard that is sure to make you smile....hope you enjoy!

The floor of the Alexa shopping centre is a wonderful and colourful work of art that you get to walk on and see from above.  How fun is this?

  This is the futuristic entrance to a modern office building, unfortunately once you get inside there is no colour.  

This is the futuristic entrance to a modern office building, unfortunately once you get inside there is no colour.  

  Dussmann bookstore at Friedrichstrabe 90 was where I began to realize Berliners love the use of colour. The entire multi-floor space is a rich red, it creates a passionate sense of place which seemed appropriate for a bookstore.  

Dussmann bookstore at Friedrichstrabe 90 was where I began to realize Berliners love the use of colour. The entire multi-floor space is a rich red, it creates a passionate sense of place which seemed appropriate for a bookstore. 

  Loved this yellow plaza and apartment block next to the Berlinische Galerie, which is a must see in our minds. 

Loved this yellow plaza and apartment block next to the Berlinische Galerie, which is a must see in our minds. 

  These red sculptures/benches are part of the playground for this residential complex.

These red sculptures/benches are part of the playground for this residential complex.

  This retail store signage is on the side of a parkade.

This retail store signage is on the side of a parkade.

Berlin's new concert hall has a gold facade as does the library across the street.

  Not sure how this orange elephant in front of a German state government building fits into the local culture but it certainly was colourful and cheerful.

Not sure how this orange elephant in front of a German state government building fits into the local culture but it certainly was colourful and cheerful.

 The streets in Berlin's Kreuzberg district were filled with brightly coloured tables, chairs and other ornamentation. 

The streets in Berlin's Kreuzberg district were filled with brightly coloured tables, chairs and other ornamentation. 

  Japanese retailer UNIQLO's flagship store in Berlin has wonderful stairs, which have the names of cities in neon red streaming across them like a stock market quotation board.  

Japanese retailer UNIQLO's flagship store in Berlin has wonderful stairs, which have the names of cities in neon red streaming across them like a stock market quotation board.  

  Many of Berlin's subway and transit station employ bold colours like these candy floss stairs at the Prinzenstrabe Station.

Many of Berlin's subway and transit station employ bold colours like these candy floss stairs at the Prinzenstrabe Station.

  Older residential buildings have also added colour to their facades to make them standout. 

Older residential buildings have also added colour to their facades to make them standout. 

  The orange blinds in this hospital change everyday, creating subtle differences.

The orange blinds in this hospital change everyday, creating subtle differences.

  Found this collage when I wandered into a courtyard.

Found this collage when I wandered into a courtyard.

  Subtle use of colour in a school yard.

Subtle use of colour in a school yard.

  Bold use of colour and art in a public playground. Berlin is home to hundreds of colourful murals.

Bold use of colour and art in a public playground. Berlin is home to hundreds of colourful murals.

  A school.

A school.

  Another school.

Another school.

  Even the garbage containers are colourful.

Even the garbage containers are colourful.

 The orange "Oh happy way!" street sweepers say it all.... 

The orange "Oh happy way!" street sweepers say it all.... 

Calgary Transit: The Electronic Fare Saga

Ever since Mayor Nenshi said “Please, please, please, tell me you’re going to those cities not just to spend money looking at their smartcard systems,” when Council was informed (November 2016) Calgary Transit officials were headed to Vancouver, Salt Lake City and Philadelphia, I have wondered why Calgary can’t just buy somebody’s smartcard technology and get on with it.

So after a few months of asking around and doing some digging, I’ve discovered that despite all the customer conveniences that an electronic fare system offers, developing the system isn’t as easy as one might think. 

And it doesn’t come cheap. 

What I learned

The use of electronic fare systems has evolved in leaps and bounds over the past five years.  Many of the early systems were not very reliable.  Many transit systems have moved to electronic fares, but with mixed success.  

Other systems of similar size to Calgary Transit with fare electronic cards include Seattle, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Miami, Cleveland, Salt Lake and Phoenix.  There is also a good system in Saskatoon.  Many have experienced high costs to implement their systems and glitches in implementation.  Winnipeg’s smart card system know as peggo was 10 years in the development, before being launched in 2016.

In all fairness to Calgary Transit, there is much to be learned from these other cities. 

Over Promise, Under Deliver

The cost of a full fare card system appears to be in the $40 to $70 million range with implementation times of up to or exceeding 4-years due to the complexity of the systems involved. I have learned the reliability of such a system is more complicated to develop since payment card standards are changing and the reliability of on-board electronic equipment using GPS is difficult to achieve.  The systems are notorious for errors which result in lost revenue - even 0.5% loss of revenue is significant for any transit system.  

It seems too many systems over promise and under deliver.

Link: Florida Department of Transportation  Mobile Fare Report

Advantages/Disadvantages

The advantage of the current cash / ticket / pass system is its reliability. Customers pay a fare and transit gets the money. Cost for printing, distribution, vender commissions, and cash/ticket handling is low.

On the negative side, the disadvantages of our current fare system is that it makes introducing more flexible (e.g. sliding scale of single fares based on usage) or distance-based fares very difficult or impossible.

An advantage of a smart card system is it removes the burden on the customer to plan ahead to have exact change or having to purchase books of tickets or monthly passes in advance. 

As for the electronic system, not only does the technology cost millions, but on top of that, is the transaction fee from the finance provider for each transaction plus the cost of maintaining the equipment, software and accounting.

“New” technology

In fact, the standard of a transit system-only fare card is already outdated.  New fare systems are being developed using credit or debit cards or smart phones to pay fares. These latest systems remove the operating burden from the transit system and take advantage of cards already in customer’s wallets. 

Promises! Promises! Show me the card!

Edmonton Transit is getting close to implementing a Smart Fare card system. Hmmmm….perhaps they would like to share their technology, after all, we are living in a sharing society. 

Wouldn’t it have made sense for Calgary and Edmonton to have gotten together 10 years ago to develop a made in Alberta card and share the costs?  Why can’t we work together?

Today we could be exporting smart fare technology rather than importing it?

After posting this blog several readers suggested that perhaps we can do a swap with Edmonton or another City, we can give them our ParkPlus technology and they can give us their smartcard technology. Sounds like a good idea to me. 

Link: Edmonton Smart Fare

Something To Think About

As an entrepreneurial city, full of engineers and software developers you would have thought Calgary would be a leader and early adopter in the field of electronic fares.

Perhaps we are just not that smart?  Or maybe we are…. as early adopters often get burned!

If you like this blog, you will like:

Everyday Tourist: Transit Tales

Calgary Transit: The Good & The Ugly 

7th Ave Transit Corridor: Good but not great

 

 

 

2026 Winter Olympics Bid: Insights From Holmes & Parker

I received two very informative emails in response to the blog Calgary 2026 Olympics: To Bid or Not To Bid?” from two, very respected and knowledge able Calgarians.

Parker’s Insights…

The first was from Richard Parker, former Head of the City of Calgary’s Planning Department from 1988 to 2003. He wrote:

“I enjoyed your article on the Olympic Bid but I think you missed two very important points.

We won the 1988 Games in September 1981. The boom was still going strong although signs of trouble were beginning to appear. As I used to say we won the bid in a construction boom but built it in a bust, hence coming in under budget on a number of construction projects. (Everyday Tourist’s Note: Let’s hope our current bust doesn’t last until 2026.)

Also, the 1988 Olympics were the last time the local Organizing Committee got the TV revenues. I may not have the figures correct but the order of magnitude is right - we budgeted to get around $200 million and got that from outside the USA and got over $350 million for the US rights.

Our timing was perfect; we put out the bid just after Los Angeles, often referred to as the first true TV Olympics.”

Parker also cc’d his email to me to Bob Holmes who was on the Board, the Executive Committee, and the Finance Committee of the Calgary Olympic Organizing Committee (OCO’88).  

Holmes’ Insights….

Holmes confirmed the US TV rights were sold for $309M in 1983, far and away the largest ever for a winter games. And shared additional insights:

“The US Men’s Olympic Hockey team won gold in Lake Placid in 1980. It was referred to as the “Miracle on Ice.” This heightened the interest in the US TV rights for the Calgary games, as did the fact Calgary was in a “good time zone” for US TV.

The next Winter Olympics after Lake Placid were in Sarajevo, located in a much less desirable time zone for live broadcast back to North America, thus making the 1988 Calgary Olympics the first real opportunity for US television networks to capitalize on the “Miracle on Ice.”

In fact, the bidding for the US TV rights to the Calgary games was deliberately – and strategically - conducted in 1983 before Sarajevo. The timing of the bidding, the memory of Lake Placid, Calgary’s time zone, as well as the US hockey games being strategically placed on the schedule for the US audience, all led to very high bids by all three US networks for Calgary’s 1988 Winter Olympics.

Los Angeles in 1984 set a new standard for corporate sponsorships, and the revenue derived from this source, as well as TV rights. Their sponsorship program was at an international as well as national level, attracting worldwide corporations like Coca Cola and Visa to pay millions for the rights. Calgary benefitted greatly from this. By contrast, Lake Placid in 1980 had the official potato chip sponsor, and dozens of other small categories, generating small revenues.

After the financial success of Los Angeles and Calgary, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) changed the cost sharing formula between the Host City/Organizing Committee’s share and IOC. The IOC also took over both the TV rights and worldwide sponsorship program and gave a share of these revenues to the host city/organizing committee.

More recently, there has been a shortage of bidding cities - many have considered but backed out because of cost and uncertainty of revenues. Sochi is mentioned as an example of this although I think the costs in Sochi were driven as much by the Russian government as the IOC. The IOC is apparently concerned about the lack of interest and has recently said it was going to streamline the bidding process and also take steps to reduce the costs of staging the games.

It is absolutely critical that before any bid takes place, Calgary understands as much as possible how the IOC intends to streamline the bidding process and staging of the games as well as what will be the total revenue projections and how they will be shared.   

As well, before any bidding decision is made, Calgary must determine the cost/benefits of the infrastructure legacy opportunities. How much would Calgary benefit from having a new, state-of-the-art multi-purpose arena, a new convention centre (media centre for Olympics) and renovated or replaced McMahon Stadium for opening ceremonies paid for by all three levels of government and corporate sponsorships that we would never be able to access without the Olympics? As well, maybe an LRT link to the Airport and/or to Canmore and Banff could be added bonuses.

Nor should we underestimate the value of the publicity and civic pride benefits that comes with an international event like the Olympics. 

Last Word

“Indeed, the world has changed since 1988, but it is too soon to dismiss the idea of the hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics. I commend the City for taking the time to do their due diligence before deciding ‘Yes or No’ to what could be a great opportunity to kick-start the next phase in Calgary’s evolution as a city,” says Holmes. 

If you like this blog, you might like: 

CalgaryNEXT: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

YYC Needs vs Wants: Arena, Stadium, Convention Centre

Riding the #17 Bus with Alec, Sam & Denise

Last week, out of the blue, I received an email from a former yoga instructor/friend who now lives in Canmore. He tells me he had just met with a woman who is travelling to 10 Canadian cities to collect stories about people who ride the buses, and he thinks we should meet. So he asks if he can he give her my contact info. 

Alec started young creating his own transit systems. Hey we both have that Fisher Price school bus.  

Hell Yes!

Of course I said “sure. ” I am always up for chat with an interesting stranger – especially one with that “mission!”

Backstory:  Brenda and I are avid transit users when we travel to other cities – even in Las Vegas where many people don’t even realize there are things to see other than The Strip and Downtown, let alone they actually have a transit system. We have had great transit experiences and have often chatted about the idea of one day just hopping on a Calgary Transit bus and riding it from end to end.  We have often too wondered where the #72/73 route goes, as we seem to encounter it in odd places all over the city, including on Crowchild Trail at the end of our street. But like most tourists, the fun things we do on holidays we never do at home!

I soon get an email from the “stranger” Denise Pinto who shares more about her project and website (busrideswith.com).  She asks if I would be interested in riding a Calgary Transit bus with her while we chat with each other and some of the people on the bus about our experiences riding buses. 

“Hell, Yes!”

 Alec is a big fan of Calgary's proposed Green Line LRT that will go from the far north edge of the City to the far south edge. 

Alec is a big fan of Calgary's proposed Green Line LRT that will go from the far north edge of the City to the far south edge. 

#17 It Is!

I suggest the #72/73, but it turns out she has already done that one. So I suggest the #1 (close to home and goes from one end of the city to the other, from east to west), but again she has already done it, as well as the #3, which goes from north end of the city to the south. There go my top 3 choices. 

But then a light bulb goes off - I remember young Alec’s birthday party on the C-train and wonder if he and his Mom would like to join us. Turns out they are VERY keen to do so and the #17 bus stops just two houses from their home.  So, as neither  Denise or I had ridden it, the #17 it is!

The route sounded perfect. We would start in Ramsay, one of Calgary’s oldest communities, then make our way to Stampede Park and Erlton Station, through Mission to Downtown, Chinatown, over the Bow River, up Centre Street to Renfrew and back. 

We met up at Café Rosso at the old Dominion Bridge industrial site for coffee and to get “miked-up” (Pinto was creating audio podcasts of her bus rides).  She is also planning a fiction book, using the stories and experiences of the various rides. 

  Getting "miked" up. 

Getting "miked" up. 

Mr. Wikipedia

Eight-year old Alec was amazing. He enthralled us with his knowledge of not only Calgary’s transit system, but also Toronto’s where he and his family had visited so he could check out their buses, street cars and subway.  He is like the “Encyclopaedia Britannica” (my younger readers may better relate to a Wikipedia analogy) when it comes to transit.  While Pinto was supposed to talk to others on the bus, she graciously let Alec be our tour guide. 

Alec told us how he loved the fact you can tweet @CalgaryTransit and get an instant answer about stuff that isn't necessarily essential information like, "Is the Mask C-Train going to be running today?" or "Please say thanks to our bus driver for the great ride we had today on the #17!"
 The #17 arrives right on time at the 23rd Ave SE stop.

The #17 arrives right on time at the 23rd Ave SE stop.

He also reminded us route #17 used to be called route #403.  Sam then shared with us the story about the "23rd Avenue Artwalk" and how they used some of the grant money (Calgary was the Cultural Capital of Canada in 2012) to buy a community garbage bin for 23rd Avenue which she painted with landmarks from the street - including the bus stop sign. The garbage can is still there and still has the old route number on it which she hopes isn't too confusing to new bus riders! 

At one point, Alec told Denise that if her project takes her to Winnipeg to keep her eyes open for one of his favourite older Calgary buses (a few were sold to Winnipeg in early 2016 to his dismay).  He informed Denise they may have been repainted, but you may recognize them by the curved exhaust pipes on the roof at the back! CBC Story Link

Near the end of our ride, Alec informed Denise there used to be a few older Calgary buses which he calls the "U2 buses" since they look like the blue & white U2 C-Trains. In 2015, these disappeared from the fleet and Alec was wondering what happened to them. In the summer of 2015, while on a family road trip to Saskatchewan they were passing through Cold Lake in northern Alberta. They took a random turn on a road in the city and found themselves driving by the Cold Lake city bus barn. And there lined up along the fence were a few of his beloved U2 buses, still with their Calgary paint, but now featuring the words "Cold Lake Transit."  

Sam added, it was such a great surprise and made Alec and his parents think about how buses have adventures beyond the same old route you expect them to take. Link to Alec's photos.

Alec also had questions for Denise. He wondered if she knew about two books – “The Subway Mouse” by Barbara Reid (all about Toronto's subway system) and "Next Stop" by Toronto author Sarah Ellis.  He thought she’d really like "Next Stop" which is about an afternoon in the life of a bus and a girl who is riding by herself with a secret. He thinks the bus ride in this story must be happening in Toronto, but he tried checking the names of the stops mentioned in the book and couldn't find them. He now thinks maybe the story is based on a Toronto bus ride, but set in a city that could be "anywhere."

Not to be left out, Sam shared how Alex’s interest in transit has taken her in directions she I would never have imagined. She loves the everyday journey through unexpected territory that is being a parent. (Editor’s note: Especially being Alec’s mom.)

 One of the many postcard views from my seat on the bus. 

One of the many postcard views from my seat on the bus. 

Denise's Thoughts

Denise loved learning about Alec's early interest in transit and how it has – and continues to - greatly influence his family’s life.  The fact his first word/phrase for anything with wheels was "go-go" and how he referred to the U2 train design as “bright and loving” were touching.

She was also impressed with story around Sam's wonderful initiative starting up the 23rd Ave Art Walk after learning there were 26 artists living within a few blocks of her house.

The fact Calgary will never have double-decker buses because of the Plus 15s also intrigued her. 

She also loved the story about my trip with my 84-year old mother to Mexico City for 18 days where we walked and rode their VERY crowded subway, LRT and buses almost every day. 

When she heard my Mom has also ridden the bus from Whitehorse to Calgary (the trip takes almost 29 hours just to get from Whitehorse to Edmonton and then you have to take another bus to Calgary which is another 3.5 hours) arriving the morning the Bow River flooded downtown Calgary (including the bus depot), in 2013. As part of her research, Denise hopes to meet my Mom, a self-described “Queen of the Rails,” as trains beat out any and all means of transportation for her.

Last Word

 Denise capturing the moment.

Denise capturing the moment.

It turns out Denise is on sabbatical as the Global Director/Executive Director of Jane’s Walk based in Toronto.  It is “a charitable project that honours the late urbanist Jane Jacobs' ideas and community-based approach to city building by encouraging citizen-led walking tours that make space for every person to observe, reflect, share, question and collectively re-imagine the places in which they live, work and play.”   

Good chance Alec, Denise and Sam are going to be my new best friends.

  

If you like this blog, you will like:

Everyday Tourist Transit Tales

Ramsay Calgary's Funky Industrial District

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Calgary Transit: The Good & The Ugly

I couldn’t help but smile when surfing my Twitter feed and saw that @calgaryhester had organized a birthday party on Calgary’s LRT for her son Alec. What a great idea!

What kid doesn’t like a train? Add to that you get to go over a bridge, into a tunnel, check out an underground station, see all the tall buildings in the “tall city” (as my now 20-year old nephew liked to call downtown when he was very young). 

And, what a great way to introduce children at a young age that using transit can be fun. Research shows that habits (good and bad) developed when you are young  tend to stay with you when you get older.  But if all kids know is getting in the car and being driven everywhere (daycare, school, play dates and other activities) what is the likelihood they will become transit users later in life?

This brave mom took seven kids on the bus from Ramsay to get to the Erlton Station to 69th Street and back in -20 degree weather.  One of the biggest highlights was when the train entered the tunnel under the new downtown Library. One child even asked, if there was going to be a glass floor in the new library so you could see the trains - a future architect no doubt!

Another highlight was meeting the train driver at the 69th Street Station and learning he had to walk to the other end of the train to drive the train back downtown. They sat in the front car so they could look through the window and see the driver and track ahead.

Yes, there were a few curious looks from passengers and there were even two conversations with strangers (one younger one older) about their most memorable birthday party experiences.  @calgaryhester told me, “there was a wonderful sense of “togetherness” with fellow passengers that day while they rode transit. 

That’s the good part!

Maybe Calgary Transit should have a birthday party car on each leg of the LRT during the day on the weekend and promote it to Calgarians to use for kids birthdays. I bet it would bring smiles to thousands of Calgarians every weekend – young and old.

The UGLY!

A few days later, while waiting in line at 7 pm to purchase tickets for a High Performance Rodeo performance, I overheard a young woman telling her male friend about her horrendous experience getting to Arts Commons by transit. 

She was trapped in a train car with several thugs who were intimidating everyone with their very loud talking about being arrested and beaten up by the cops and dropping the “Fbomb” between every second word.  This is not the first time I have heard of this kind of horrible experience when riding the train, and I have personally experienced a couple of times and I don’t use transit much. 

I wish we could just stand-up to these bullies and say “STOP THAT…your language and behaviour is unacceptable.” But that could be a death wish! 

Survey Says...

A 2015 Centre City Citizen Perception Survey conducted by the City of Calgary found that indeed, starting at 5 pm Calgarians begin to feel more unsafe waiting at C-Train stations.  Before 5 pm, 57% felt very safe and 34% reasonably safe; but after 5 pm, it dropped to 24% very safe and 41% reasonably safe and by 10 pm (exactly when people are leaving downtown from theatres and restaurants), only 7% felt very safe with 24% reasonably safe… A whopping 69% feel unsafe!

Calgary Transit needs a more proactive safety program, not a reactive one that responds to issues when an emergency button is pushed – that is too late. 

If the City is going to spend several billions of dollars on more LRT service in the future, they must spend thousands to make both current and future service safer. Why not have a security guard on every train from 5 pm to the end of night who could move from car to car at each stop to make sure everyone is safe.

And that’s, the ugly part!

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Everyday Tourist: Transit Tales!

7th Avenue Transit Corridor: Better But Not Great!