Montreal vs Calgary: Underground City vs Above Ground City!

With the arrival of -20C temperatures, Calgary’s +15 walkway becomes the best thing since sliced bread for downtown workers and patrons.

However, that’s not how many urban planners in Calgary, Minneapolis, Edmonton and Winnipeg see it. Many think skyways are a bad idea because they suck the life out of the streets BELOW.  

 Montreal's Desjardin Complex lobby is an indoor town square, complete with a dancing fountain and year-round programming. 

Montreal's Desjardin Complex lobby is an indoor town square, complete with a dancing fountain and year-round programming. 

 Calgary's Bankers Hall lobby is magical at Christmas, but lacks the public programming space to make it vibrant evenings and weekends.

Calgary's Bankers Hall lobby is magical at Christmas, but lacks the public programming space to make it vibrant evenings and weekends.

+15 should be celebrated

I have always been a big defender of Calgary’s +15, believing that in good weather people love go outside, but in bad weather they love a coat-free way to get meetings, lunch or a coffee, or shop.  The +15 system in Calgary is also the best place to bump into that friend or business associate you have been meaning to call. (These observations are based on 10+ years as the Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association).

I have also been touting Montreal’s world famous Underground City (a 32-km network of tunnels connecting offices, hotels, shopping, entertainment complexes and subway stations) used by 500,000 people a day as an example of how indoor and outdoor urban vitality can co-exist. I don’t recall ever hearing a planner say Montreal should abandon its network of tunnels because they suck the life out of the streets ABOVE.

Not having been to Montreal for several years, I decided it was time to reacquaint myself on how Montreal’s “Underground City” compares to Calgary’s “Above Ground City” and its impact on street vitality.

Link: Fun Facts Montreal's Underground City

The Tour

Thanks to Tourism Montreal, I got hooked up with Thom Seivewright, a Montreal Expert (it says so on his business card) who regularly conducts tours of Montreal’s Underground City. We met at the information counter at street level at their Eaton Centre, just off St. Catherine Street (Montreal’s historic downtown shopping street) for an a-mazing (pun intended) whirlwind two-hour tour of the Underground City.

  Tom standing beside one of the few Underground Maps showing all of the buildings that are linked by tunnels as well as to the METRO subway. 

Tom standing beside one of the few Underground Maps showing all of the buildings that are linked by tunnels as well as to the METRO subway. 

Am I that out of touch?

To be accurate, since rebranding in 2004, it’s called RESO (the word “reseau” means “network” in French and the “O” refers to METRO, the name of the subway). This was the first I have heard of the new name.

I am going to continue to call it the Underground City – expert Thom thinks that is a better name and I agree.

We quickly headed down the stairs (little did I know this would be the first of thousands of stairs and dozens of escalator rides), as the Underground City is a complex network of underground tunnels and street level lobbies. 

At first, it looked much like Calgary’s +15 with familiar franchise shops, food courts and a moderate number of people – it was 10 am.  As we walked briskly through the system of tunnels, Thom informed and entertained with stories about how the Underground City evolved tunnel-by-tunnel and new building-by-new building, not unlike Calgary’s +15. 

  One of the hundreds of stairs and elevators that you must negotiate when exploring Montreal's Underground City.

One of the hundreds of stairs and elevators that you must negotiate when exploring Montreal's Underground City.

  Calgary's The Core shopping centre is three blocks long with a huge glass skylight, creating an contiguous shopping experience, with sky bridges at both the second and third floors. Yes, there are some stairs and ramps to negotiate. 

Calgary's The Core shopping centre is three blocks long with a huge glass skylight, creating an contiguous shopping experience, with sky bridges at both the second and third floors. Yes, there are some stairs and ramps to negotiate. 

 Busking in one of Montreal's tunnels.

Busking in one of Montreal's tunnels.

  A busker belting out a song in Calgary's +15 bridge. 

A busker belting out a song in Calgary's +15 bridge. 

  Tom beside a piece of the Berlin Wall located in a tunnel in Montreal's Quarter International.  

Tom beside a piece of the Berlin Wall located in a tunnel in Montreal's Quarter International. 

 A Jack Shadbolt painting is just one of several original artworks by major Canadian artists (including Montreal's Riopelle) located in the lobby of Calgary's Eight Avenue Place. 

A Jack Shadbolt painting is just one of several original artworks by major Canadian artists (including Montreal's Riopelle) located in the lobby of Calgary's Eight Avenue Place. 


Montreal’s Underground City started in 1962 when the owners of the iconic Place Ville-Marie office tower with a shopping center at street level wanted to connect to the upscale Queen Elizabeth Hotel (the site of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In in 1969) across the street via a tunnel.  

Calgary’s +15 system was first discussed in 1963, (though it wasn’t realized until 1970) with the first bridge also connecting an office tower (Calgary Place) and a hotel (Calgary Inn, now the Westin).

Today, Montreal’s Underground includes all the major downtown office complexes -Eaton Centre, Cours Mont-Royal, Complexe Les Ailes, Place Montreal Trust, Place Ville-Marie, World Trade Centre Montreal and Complex Desjardins. 

The same goes for Calgary, where the +15 connects Bankers Hall, Bow Valley Square, The Bow, Eighth Avenue Place, Scotia Centre, Sun Life Towers, TD Square Towers, Canada Trust Tower and Suncor Energy Centre. 

And just like Calgary’s +15, Montreal’s Underground also has some gaps and its east side arts district (which includes the City’s convention centre) is not well connected to downtown’s main shopping and office complexes.

Both cities’ networks also include thousands of shops, cafes and food courts, on multi-levels, public art and interesting urban design elements, as well as “sketchy” areas at their peripheries.

Montreals Eaton's Centre lobby 

 Lobby art in Calgary's Jamieson Place office tower. 

Lobby art in Calgary's Jamieson Place office tower. 

  Fine dining in Montreal's World Trade Centre office building.

Fine dining in Montreal's World Trade Centre office building.

 "Grab & go" lunch in Calgary's Bankers Hall.

"Grab & go" lunch in Calgary's Bankers Hall.

 Montreal's World Trade Center tower is an indoor oasis of old world charm.  

Montreal's World Trade Center tower is an indoor oasis of old world charm.  

  Calgary's equivalent would be Jamieson Place's winter garden with its infinity ponds, Dale Chihuly glass sculptures and living wall. 

Calgary's equivalent would be Jamieson Place's winter garden with its infinity ponds, Dale Chihuly glass sculptures and living wall. 

 Public art is featured in many of Montreal's new tunnels. 

Public art is featured in many of Montreal's new tunnels. 

  The +15 corridor at Calgary's Centennial Parkade is home to the Udderly Art Pasteur which is a legacy to the 2000 public art project that saw 100+ colourful cows adorn the streets, parks and plazas of downtown. 

The +15 corridor at Calgary's Centennial Parkade is home to the Udderly Art Pasteur which is a legacy to the 2000 public art project that saw 100+ colourful cows adorn the streets, parks and plazas of downtown. 

  This was my favourite tunnel, it was like what I would imagine it would be to walk onto/into an ice berg. I am thinking it by be blog worthy on its own. 

This was my favourite tunnel, it was like what I would imagine it would be to walk onto/into an ice berg. I am thinking it by be blog worthy on its own. 

 Calgary's playful +15 bridge connecting the Municipal Building and Arts Commons (Performing Arts Center) is a hit with the kids.  It offers a great view of the traffic along Macleod Trail entering the downtown.  

Calgary's playful +15 bridge connecting the Municipal Building and Arts Commons (Performing Arts Center) is a hit with the kids.  It offers a great view of the traffic along Macleod Trail entering the downtown.  


Montreal’s Underground City includes numerous residential buildings, dozens of hotels, post-secondary school and the Bell Centre arena.  Calgary’s +15 has only 9 hotels, no schools, no arena and I don’t believe there is single residential building attached to the system.

While Montreal’s system has more shopping than Calgary’s, it doesn’t come close to matching Calgary’s Core with its four levels of shopping under a three-block long skylight.  Montreal’s food courts and cafes, because they are underground, have a cozy vibe, but don’t have the spectacular sun and views Calgary’s +15 provides.  

Calgary’s +15 signage and map program is much more extensive and consistent than Montreal’s.  It is also easier to navigate the +15, because, you can see where you are going as you cross a bridge, allowing for better orientating yourself impossible to do in a tunnel. 

Map of Montreal's maze of underground tunnels in pink.

  Map of Calgary's Above Ground Skywalk (yellow and white) with its 60+ bridges. 

Map of Calgary's Above Ground Skywalk (yellow and white) with its 60+ bridges. 

Montreal’s network, with its thousands of stairs, hundreds of escalators and few ramps is a nightmare for anyone with accessibility issues. While not perfect Calgary’s +15 system is definitely more accessible.

Thom noted that while a half a million people use the Underground every day, most downtown Montreal workers don’t use the system extensively as it is rarely convenient to go more than a couple of blocks. In fact, he apologized a couple of times as he asked if it would be OK if we went outside to save time.

Montreal Underground’s big advantage over Calgary’s +15 is its link to their METRO (subway) system; Calgarians have to go outside to catch a train.  The METRO system was very slick; our wait time was 5 minutes or less even at non-peak times, loading and unloading was fast as were the speed of the trains (up to 74 km/hr). It made our LRT system seem bush-league especially as it travels through our downtown.  On the plus side, Calgarians have a free fare zone in our downtown; Montrealers aren’t so fortunate.

Calgary’s +15 has nothing to match Montreal Complex Desjardins with its indoor town square space designed for public programming. Their Christmas programming was amazing - a Santa Village that included a Meet Santa Castle, carousel, mini-train and stage for various performances. It also had a special Disney-like fountain; light and music show for Christmas. The place was packed with families on the weekends.  Calgary’s renovated Devonian Gardens pales in comparison.    

  Exiting Montreal's METRO directly into the Underground City. 

Exiting Montreal's METRO directly into the Underground City. 

  Looking from Holt Renfrew +15 corridor to an outdoor C-Train Station in Calgary. 

Looking from Holt Renfrew +15 corridor to an outdoor C-Train Station in Calgary. 

  Look out at Calgary's 7th Avenue Transit Corridor from the +15 bridge linking The Core to First Canadian Centre. 

Look out at Calgary's 7th Avenue Transit Corridor from the +15 bridge linking The Core to First Canadian Centre. 

 Complexe Desjardins food court on the weekend in December is packed. 

Complexe Desjardins food court on the weekend in December is packed. 

  Devonian Gardens (currently closed for repairs) includes a popular indoor children's playground. It is a popular winter picnic spot. 

Devonian Gardens (currently closed for repairs) includes a popular indoor children's playground. It is a popular winter picnic spot. 

IMHO (In my humble opinion)

While there are differences, for the most part Montreal’s Underground City and Calgary’s Above Ground City function in a very similar manner.

The big difference is that on the weekends and evenings, Montreal’s Underground City shopping areas, as well as St. Catherine Street sidewalks are just as busy, as weekdays, while Calgary’s +15 and Stephen Avenue have limited pedestrian traffic.

The reason for this isn’t because Calgary’s +15 system sucks the life out of the street but rather because Montreal’s downtown has more diversity of building types (uses) than Calgary’s, which will be the subject of a future blog.

  In the winter Calgary's Stephen Avenue is often a hostile pedestrian environment, while the +15 walkway is animated with people shopping, dining and going to meetings.  

In the winter Calgary's Stephen Avenue is often a hostile pedestrian environment, while the +15 walkway is animated with people shopping, dining and going to meetings.  

  When the weather is nice, Stephen Avenue is a fun place to stroll and people watch. 

When the weather is nice, Stephen Avenue is a fun place to stroll and people watch. 

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Calgary Postcards: Alberta Boot Company

Recently I tweeted out photos of four photos old hand-painted benches that we discovered during a recent day of flaneuring the community of Manchester asking, “Where in Calgary would you find these?”  While some guessed correctly the Calgary’s Alberta Boot Company’s showroom, I was surprised others didn’t know it still existed. 

Alberta Boot Company, Calgary

Yes, after 30 years in a red brick warehouse on 10th Avenue S.W. the Alberta Boot Company moved to Manchester (50 - 50th Avenue SE to be exact).  While not exactly off the beaten path (just a few blocks from Macleod Trail) or hidden gem (you can easily see it from 50th Ave) the Alberta Boot Company, it is easy to forget the fun things to see and do in your own backyard.

I highly recommend if you are visiting Calgary, or if you have visiting family or friends you make time to checkout the Alberta Boot Company and perhaps take home a pair of boots as a souvenir.

Alberta Boot Company, Calgary

Top 10 things you should know about Alberta Boot Company (ABC):


It was founded by Clement Gerwing at the age of 62. It is never too old to launch a new career.


In 2011, ABC made boots for Prince William and Kate when they visited the Calgary Stampede on their Royal Tour.  Also they have been making boots for the Stampede Princesses for forever. 

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 3.00.32 AM.png


ABC was the official western boot of the Calgary Winter Games in 1988 and again for the World Police/Fire Games in 1997.

Alberta Boot Company, 1988 Olympic boots


The Company has been making the world famous Strathcona High-Brown Police Boot for the RCMP since 1999 (there is a pair on display). In fact many police forces across North America rely on ABC to make their police boots - the Black Strathcona Boot is the most popular.

Alberta Boot Company, Calgary


A pair of custom hand-made boots starts at about $350. You get to choose the leather, style and custom stitching; as well it includes a personal guided tour of the factory. FYI. There is no regular factory tour program so if you want a tour you have to buy some boots!

Link: How the Alberta Boot Company Makes a Cowboy Boot


ABC now makes men’s and women’s shoes that are very fashion forward and also come with a tour.

Alberta Boot Company shoes


All of ABC’s stitch patterns are named after Alberta towns and cities. One of the most popular patterns is "Edmonton."


There is on average over 5,000 boots in the showroom so you can buy off the shelf.  We found a pair from the 1988 Olympics that would be a great collector’s item. 

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 2.58.26 AM.png


The Company is still a family owned business, with grandson Ben now the General Manager after taking over from father Tim who took over from his father Clement.


And yes they still have the colourful, politically incorrect, hand-painted children’s benches originally made for a shoe store in Bowness.

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. 

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Calgary: Time to think outside the car?

It seems everyday for the past month or so there have been one or more articles on my Twitter or Flipboard feeds dealing with how car ownership in North America is declining and the impact this will have on cities in the future.

It started in mid September with a Flipboard headline that read “Lyft’s President Says Car Ownership will ‘All But End’ in U.S. Cities by 2025.”  While it is hard to believe car ownership will end by 2025, it does make one think – what if car ownership was to shrink by 15% by 2025 and by 30% by 2050 from the current level of approximately million vehicles.   

A 2016 GasBuddy Calgary poll (22,044 voters) indicated 16% of Calgary households have 4 or more vehicles, 20% three or more, 40% two vehicles, 21% one vehicle and only 1% no vehicle.

What if some Calgarians were to decide they could live with one less car and use car-sharing to replace it? Could this already be happening?

Research says… 

In July 2016, Elliot Martin and Susan Shaheen, of the University of California, Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Resource Center published, “Impacts of car2go on vehicle ownership, modal shift, vehicle miles travelled, and greenhouse gas emissions:

An analysis of five North American cities. ” Calgary was one of those cities.

The Calgary findings for 2015 were enlightening:

  • Car2go removed an estimated 6,058 vehicles from Calgary roads (existing car owners who sold their car or individuals who were planning on buying a car but decided against doing so.
  • Car2go reduced overall vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by up to an estimated 52.9 kilometers for the year or 6% reduction in VMT traveled per car2go household.
  • Car2go prevented up to an estimated 8,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from polluting Calgary’s air. That’s an estimated 4% reduction. 
  • Car2go resulted in a slight increase in walking and bicycle ridership frequencies (10% and 2%, respectively). 

These findings are based on a sample of 1,498 Calgary car2go users. Similar results were found in the other four cities studied – San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver and Washington DC.

Link: Impact of Car2go...

 The Times They Are A Changin’

Obviously some Calgarians have already or are now making the decision to live with one less car  - or without a car at all. This number is going to increase as car-sharing programs expand the geographic area they operate in. As well, new competition will result in more cars and better pricing, which will make car-sharing even more attractive to more Calgarians. 

In addition, services like Uber and Lyft are sure to become commonplace over the next 5 years in Calgary and Calgary will probably have a bike-sharing program in the near future (over 500 cities world-wide already have programs), making living without two cars, more feasible especially in the inner city.

And then there is Calgary’s multi-billion dollar transit expansion plans like the Green-Line and several cross-town Bus Rapid Transit routes designed to make transit a more viable option for Calgarians’ everyday transportation needs.  

In addition, the Calgary Regional Partnership is piloting (October 2016 to October 2018) a regional transit system for Black Diamond, High River, Okotoks and Turner Valley, which may be expanded to Strathmore and Chestermere in 2018.

Little by little, Calgarians are being offered more options for commuting to work and other activities. 

I suspect many Calgary households would be willing to give up one of their cars if offered a viable alternative - especially for their Monday to Friday commute.  Who wouldn’t want to save some of the $10,000+ per year it costs to drive a car in Calgary, not counting parking fees and hassles if going downtown? Money that could be used to buy a bigger home, take a vacation or save for a child’s education.

Looking ahead…

Is it possible that we could return to building houses with just a single garage?  What impact would that have on how we build new suburbs?

Could we see more condos and apartment buildings with no parking (like N3 in East Village)?  Will the next generation rather spend $50,000 (the cost of an underground parking space) on a bigger condo than a parking stall for a car that sits idle 95% of the time?
Could we see downtown, hospital, post-secondary and airport parkades being converted to new uses?  
Could driving around looking for a parking spot at Chinook Centre, Market Mall and Southcentre at Christmas all but disappear?

With fewer cars on the road, could gridlock on Deerfoot, Glenmore and Crowchild Trails become a thing of the past?

And heaven forbid we might even see lower downtown parking rates as supply exceeds demand?

Fewer cars and less demand for parking would also make it easier to create wider sidewalks and more bike lanes where appropriate.  

Never Say Never…

I remember in the early ‘90s when the City of Calgary’s GO Plan set a goal of a 50/50 modal split for downtown commuters by 2020 i.e. 50% would use transit and 50% would drive many said it would never happen. Today the Downtown modal split is 49% transit, 10% walk/cycle and 41% drive.

Link: City of Calgary, 2016 Calgary Downtown Cordon Count 

While Calgarians love their cars, they are also young and highly educated, the ideal demographics for car and bike sharing programs, as well as services like Uber and Lyft (90% of Uber users are 16 to 44 years of age and 80% have a post-secondary degree). 

LInk: Rideshare Passenger Demographics 

Indeed, Calgarians have already demonstrated they love car-sharing with 99,000 car2go members, second only to Vancouver (118,000 members) in North America. 

Perhaps we don’t need to spend billions on Crowchild Trail, but rather fast track bigger and better car-sharing programs and private transportation services like Uber and Lyft?

Last Word 

Maybe it is high time to think outside the car!

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Car2go A Game Changer?

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Community Engagement: The Community's Perspective

Over the past few months, I have done a Q&A with Greg Morrow, an urban growth academic at the University of Calgary and Chris Ollenberger, an experienced Calgary developer about Calgary’s community engagement process. To close the circle, I thought a Q&A with a community leader was needed.

Recently, I met with Elise Bieche President of the Highland Park Community Association who has been leading the community’s response to the redevelopment of the Highland Golf Course. I was impressed with her professionalism - no ranting, no name-calling and no unrealistic demands. 

  Centre Street is already a busy bus route, in the future it will be home to the new LRT Green Line. 

Centre Street is already a busy bus route, in the future it will be home to the new LRT Green Line. 

Q: What are your biggest frustrations with the City’s current community engagement process?

The fact the engagement process wasn’t lead by the City’s administration from the beginning. The developer “hosted” some engagement sessions, asked for the community’s feedback on two options and then things went really silent for a long time. We learned, after the fact, what the developer submitted to the City didn’t resemble what the community “endorsed.”  Then as the file was being completed to submit it to Planning Commission, the City hosted an “information session.” This gave residents the false belief their feedback would be incorporated into the final submission, but it was too late. 

We were frustrated we were never able to easily access the file as it progressed through the City’s approval process. The community wasn’t treated as a key stakeholder.

 Highwood Golf Course tree-lined fairway.

Highwood Golf Course tree-lined fairway.

Q: What changes would you like to see in how the City implements in their engagement process?

I believe the City should own the engagement process from the beginning when big developments are first proposed in established communities. This is a 50-acre site that will radically change our community and the entire north central area of the city over the next 25 years.

I think the City had an obligation to seek feedback from the community early and understand what we valued to ensure the development is complementary to both the topography of the site and existing community. I think the City should be obligated to respect and incorporate the community’s feedback wherever possible.

There needs to be a mechanism in the community engagement process that when major changes have been made to the proposed development after the community has endorsed it, then there must be a re-engagement with the community before it goes to Planning Commission. In our case, the community was presented with slope adaptive buildings, the re-establishment of the buried creek and a density of 1600 in the original plan. All of these were important to the community yet were missing both in the Planning Commission and City Council submissions.

Our community recently participated in a charrette for the Green Line’s 40th Ave North Station (includes the Highland Golf course redevelopment site) organized by the City and lead by Gary Andrishak from IBI’s Los Angeles office. It was very useful. and should be the model for community engagement.

I believe a charrette should be done as early as possible with the community, developer and city to foster a shared vision and key principles to guide major developments in established communities.

 Highwood development is closer to downtown than many people think...that is the Bow Tower in the background. 

Highwood development is closer to downtown than many people think...that is the Bow Tower in the background. 

Q: What changes would you recommend to developers in engaging with a community where they are proposing a major new development?

Make sure you are doing genuine engagement. The community is not your enemy; we should and could be your ambassadors. I am positive getting community support early would save the developer and City money not only during the approval process but also as the project is being built.  Don’t think you can “outsmart” the community - be transparent throughout the process.

It’s really important for there to be integrity in the entire planning process. A developer should not present options to a community and then take something completely different to administration. I think developers have an obligation to ensure they aren’t “falsely advertising” something to the community.  

I would highly recommend developers spend more time in the community and get to know the community before they develop their plan. Find out what the issues are and talk to key individuals. 

 Old multi-family housing on the west edge of the golf course. 

Old multi-family housing on the west edge of the golf course. 

Q: How do you respond to the claims by some that the Highland Park’s community’s protest to the golf course redevelopment is just another case of NIMBYism? 

If you look closely, our neighbourhood is very much in favour of the development of the golf course. Our community was also in favour of the Centre Street alignment of the Greenline. We just want quality redevelopment.

Volunteers from our community have literally put in thousands of hours on this issue because we learned early on we could not rely on City administration to represent our interests.  Communities are often criticized for being too vehement about their wants and desires, but ultimately the poor engagement process forces communities into this role.

I think the City’s community engagement process fosters NYMBYism by allowing the developer and administration to develop the initial site plan without the community at the table. This means when the draft plan is presented to the community they have a lot of catching up to do and when they question or reject some or the entire proposed plan they are immediately labeled as NYMBYist.   That is not fair.

I also think the planning process shouldn’t be just focused on just the proposed project but should look at it within the context of the entire community. You can’t evaluate a 50-acre site properly without evaluating how the proposed development will impact the pre-existing community.

Q: What advice would you give other Community Associations in established communities facing major developments?

  • Get involved as early as possible in the planning process.
  • Be constructive, reasonable and respectful at all times. 
  • Accept development is going to happen. Taking a position of “no development” is not a reasonable option.
  • Learn as much as you can about the complexities of the City’s development approval process, as well as how the Calgary Municipal Development Plan and Province’s Municipal Government Act apply to the site’s development.
  • Ask lots of questions of your community, the developer and administration.
  • Communicate clearly and concisely.
  • Accept the new development will not right all the wrongs of the past.
  • Be prepared to ensure mistakes of the past aren’t repeated, especially when it comes to green space.
  • Don’t expect City Administration to look after your community’s interests.
  • Be prepared to review and comment on documents on short notice.
  • Foster a good relationship with your Councillor.
  Public Welcome?

Public Welcome?

Something To Think About? 

In chatting with Bieche, a couple of new ideas were hatched. What if the City hired third-party professionals to manage all future community engagement so there is no conflict of interests? The City and the developer would share the costs 50/50. Ideally, a standard community engagement protocol should be developed so all communities would be treated equally when a major new development is being proposed.

We also wondered if there may be a role for the Provincial government to play given ultimately some of the development issues are governed by the Municipal Government Act.  Perhaps the funding of the community engagement process then should be a third, a third, a third. Something to think about?

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Community Engagement: The Developer's Perspective

Community Engagement & Growth: The Academic's Perspective

Community Engagement Gone Wild

Why NIMBY's speak louder than YIMBYs

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 (  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.


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Everyday Tourist Transit Tales

Ramsay Calgary's Funky Industrial District

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Calgary 2026 Olympics: To bid or not to bid?

An edited version of this blog was published by CBC News Calgary as part of their "Calgary at a Crossroads" feature, January 23, 2017.  

“How many Calgarians does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: Ten. One to screw in the light bulb and nine to talk about how great the ’88 Winter Olympics were.”  This was a popular joke in Alberta in the early ‘90s. 

This is not a joke!

Speaking of jokes, it seemed like a joke in June 2016 when the rumour started that Calgary was thinking about bidding for the 2026 Winter Olympics given the City and Province is in the middle of one of its biggest recessions in their history.  That “joke” seems to be getting more and more traction especially with City Council giving five million dollar to a hand-picked committee of sport and Olympic boosters to determine if indeed Calgary should bid again.

It’s the ‘80s all over again!

It is ironic that the current economic climate is very similar to that of the early ‘80s when the ‘88s bid was made.  The City’s collective swagger had disappeared in the early ‘80s after the boom of the ‘70s, not unlike today.

Calgary’s energy industry was in the dumpster in the ‘80s (due to the National Energy Policy introduced by then Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau). Today, it is in the dumpster because of a glut of world oil and the introduction of a Carbon Tax (introduced by now Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau) due to current research that carbon fuels (in particular, the oil sands) are dirty energy.

Downtown’s vacant office space reached 18% in the mid ‘80s; today it is 22% and rising.  Another interesting comparison - the Performing Arts Centre (now Arts Commons) opened in 1985, in 2016 the new National Music Museum opened and the new Central Library will open in 2018. 

Back in 1981 the south leg of the LRT opened followed by the 1985 opening of the northeast leg with the northwest line linking downtown with the University of Calgary  - in time for the 1988 Olympics. Fast forward to today - in 2012 the West Leg of LRT opened and today we are looking at how to finance the Green Line (i.e. the North and Southeast leg combined).

The early ‘80s also saw the completion of Deerfoot Trail to the southern edge of the city; today’s equivalent is the completion of the Ring Road.

In the 1980 municipal election, few expected Ralph Klein to become mayor; in the 2010 election, few expected Naheed Nenshi to win.  Klein served three terms winning subsequent elections in landslides.  Nenshi has announced he will seek a third term in 2017 and everyone expects he will win easily.  Both were/are populist politicians and masters of the media.

In the ‘80s, Calgary was suffering Edmonton envy as they had an NHL team and we didn’t.  Today, Calgary’s envy is because they have a shiny new NHL arena and we don’t.

Is this the right time?

One could argue “Yes” as all of the ’88 legacy facilities are in desperate need of updating. The Olympic Plaza’s bricks are crumbling; the Saddledome doesn’t work for NHL hockey or major concerts, the Oval and Canada Olympic Park’s facilities don’t meet current Olympic standards. 

The Mayor has indicated CalgaryNext (new arena, stadium and fieldhouse proposal) would not be tied to any Olympic bid as the International Olympic Committee looks more favourably on cities that refurbish existing facilities. But you can bet that if we get the Olympics, we will get a new arena and upgraded stadium.    

Since the ’88 Olympics, Calgary has become the adopted home of many winter athletes who live and train here year-round.  Today, eight national winter sports organizations call Calgary home. In the early ‘80s, there were none.  Continuing to have Calgary as Canada’s premiere winter sports city is important to Calgary’s identity and tourism.

As hosting the Winter Olympics also includes a major cultural celebration, it would allow Tourism Calgary to showcase our new arts, architecture and attractions.  

Since 1988, Salt Lake City (2002) and Vancouver (2010) have hosted successful Winter Olympics, which have elevated their status as world-class skiing, event and tourism cities.

Is this the wrong time?

The times have changed since 1988. It is estimated the bill for security alone for the 2026 Winter Olympics could exceed 1.5 billion dollars (the Vancouver Olympics spent one billion). One could easily argue this money would be better spent on schools, hospitals and recreation centres used by all Calgarians.  It is costing the City $5 million just to determine if we want to bid or not, which could have built 25 affordable homes for needy families and individuals. 

Others question why Calgary and Canada would want to be involved with the Olympic movement given the corruption of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members and the prevalence of athlete doping.  IOC members have a history of secret bank accounts, taking bribes and/or opulent gifts in return for their vote. They also travel in 5 star hotels and restaurants, while the athletes, (including Canada’s) live near poverty levels.

Every potential 2022 Olympic host city with a democratically elected government pulled out of the bidding, many citing cost concerns. The only two cities left in the bidding were Beijing, China and Almaty, Kazakhstan.  Beijing won. What does that say?

The Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008 were widely considered a success, mainly because it helped the nation show the world how much it had emerged as a modern economic power. "Beijing did it as an advertisement. They got tremendous value because they didn't care about the cost. It was like buying a ton of television ads," said Mark Rosentraub, a professor of sports management at the University of Michigan. (CNN Money, July 30, 2012)

No other mega–project consistently overruns its budget like the Olympics. Research also points out there are always significant government costs that should be, but aren’t attributed to the Games (in Calgary, that could include new arena, stadium improvements and LRT to airport). In addition, the economic benefits of the Games that are postulated by government agencies are rarely realized.

(Riley, Charles. “6 Olympic Budget Blowouts.” CNN Money. 2014. Updated January 20, 2014. Accessed: November 19, 2014.)

Calgary needs to get its swagger back

I was surprised when I asked dozens of friends and colleagues over the holidays “Do you think Calgary should bid for the 2026 Olympics?” Nobody said,  “Yes!” 

In fact, one parent of a potential athlete at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018 said he didn’t think it is a good idea because of the corruption of the IOC and the fact Olympic funding for programming and facilities benefits less than 1% of Canadian athletes. 

One of the things that made the Calgary Winter Olympics unique and successful was the use of thousands of volunteers (the teal green Olympic coats were worn proudly for years after the Olympics). It was their gold medal. The volunteers not only allowed the Games to make a profit, but it brought the city together. There was a common goal to make these games a financial success after the Montreal Olympic fiasco. 

When the 1988 Calgary Olympics were over there was a tremendous sense of civic pride, a renewed confidence and a feeling Calgary could become be transformed from a provincial Canadian prairie city to a more cosmopolitan city. Calgary got its swagger back in ’88.

Will it take until ’26 to get it back this time!

An Expert’s Opinion

Harry Hiller, urban sociologist at the University of Calgary whose research is focused on the impact of the Olympics and World Fairs on cities told me “Mega events are always controversial.  These projects can fragment a city in the planning stages; while at the same time bring the city together during the event. They are valuable in grabbing the world’s attention and sending a message to the world that the city is ambitious.” At the same time, agrees that they are notoriously difficult to budget accurately and most often run over budget. 

Hiller notes, “Federal and provincial governments respond to city projects. If there are no projects, there is no reason to them to give Calgary extra money, it will go to some other city.” He points to how the Green Line project has enabled the Calgary to get special funding from senior levels of government.  

In Hiller’s experience “the Olympics give a city new purpose, new energy, it mobilizes people and bring them together.  Nothing touches people globally like the Olympics. People watch the Games who aren’t interested in sports at any other time.  The opening and closing ceremonies have some of the highest TV ratings ever.” 

His final comment to me -  “It is never black or white.”

Backstory: It is interesting to note that Hiller was not approached by the City to be on the Olympic Bid Evaluation Committee despite being probably the most qualified person to do so.


If the politicians have an extra billion dollars to spend on security for the Olympics, a better idea might be to spend it on developing the infrastructure to create a major volunteer-based winter event in Calgary that will attract international attention annually not just for two weeks in 2026. 

Maybe something that rivals the Calgary Stampede (or perhaps something that builds on the Stampede) putting Calgary and Canada on the international map every winter - or even biennially - not just once every 40 years.  Something we control, not something we have to bid for!

Any brilliant ideas?   

If you like this blog, you will like: 

YYC Needs vs Wants: Arena, Stadium, Convention Centre 

Olympic Cities: Calgary vs Salt Lake City

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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.


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!

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Ollenberger: Developers Do Listen & Make Changes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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Calgary's Growth Revisited: Greg Morrow, UofC Parker Chair 

Why NIMBYs speak louder than YIMBYs?

Community Engagement: You Can't Make Everyone Happy!


Calgary's Billion Dollar Gamble????

Could Calgary be on the cusp of becoming a major arts centre? And could the arts become a major element of Calgary’s economic diversification program?  With a billion dollars of private and public investment, one would sure hope so.

Yes, you read right.  A billion dollars!

Probably the biggest criticism of Calgary by left wing, bohemian artsy folks is the city lacks a vibrant arts scene. However, this is quickly changing with the opening of the new Bell Studio (National Music Centre) which has generated international attention including a piece by the prestigious Architectural Digest titled “Canada Just Opened a Massive Museum Dedicated Solely to Music.” 

Unfortunately, it didn’t say, “Calgary Just Opened a Massive….”

National Music Centre a massive construction project is now the southern gateway to Calgary's East Village community from the south. 

Is Calgary on the international art map yet?

While Calgary is not yet on the international art map, things like the Calatrava’s Peace Bridge and Jaume’s Wonderland (sculpture of young girl’s head on the plaza at the Bow Tower) are attracting international attention in some circles. 

And, flying under the radar was the opening of the opening of the $90 million, 787-seat Bella Concert Hall in at Mount Royal University (MRU) in September 2015.  It is part of the world-renowned Mount Royal Conservatory, whose roots go back to 1911 and today boasts over 4,000 students.  How many Canadians or even Calgarians know MRU was a huge musician incubator?

Fact:  Calgary has 190 venues for live performances?

And coming up next is cSpace, the $29 million transformation of the historic King Edward School in Marda Loop into a multi-use arts centre. The majestic sandstone school looking over the City Centre, being reborn as a creative hub, will have 29 tenants representing over 1,000 artists – an eclectic mix of fashion designers, film makers, musicians, theatre groups, writers, jewellery makers and the Alberta Craft Council’s Calgary office/gallery.  It will also include an intimate multi-purpose theatre and a Montessori School. 

The east side of the site has been sold for a 56-home active living seniors complex while the west side was sold for upscale townhomes – deals helping finance the project.

The fact cSpace had three times as many arts group and artists interested in renting space than they could accommodate is a strong indication of Calgary’s growing arts community.  In the past, Calgary’s prosperity resulted in emerging artists often moving to other cities with a lower cost of living.  However today, more and more artists want to stay and make Calgary home.

Fact: Calgary has 19,000 establishments involved in creative industries employing over 67,000 workers?

The Taylor Centre For The Performing Arts at Mount Royal University includes the Bella Centre as well as teaching and practice spaces. 

Decidedly Jazz Dance Centre is just one of several exciting new cultural facilities being added to the east side of Calgary's City Centre. (photo credit: CANA Construction)


  • August  2015             Bella Centre ($90 million)
  • April      2016             DJD Dance Centre ($26 million)
  • May       2016             Film Centre ($28 million)
  • July       2016             Bell Studio ($191 million)
  • Spring   2017             cSpace ($29 million)
  • Winter   2017            Youth Campus TransAlta Performing Arts Studios ($20 million est)
  • Fall        2017             Youth Campus BMO Amphitheatre ($7 million est.)
  • Winter   2018             Youth Campus Calgary Arts Academy ($20 million est.)
  • Fall        2018              New Central Library ($245 million)   
  • TBD                            Youth Campus Calgary Opera Centre ($23 million est)

If we include the cultural spaces in Calgary’s new recreational centers (i.e. theatres, studios and gallery space) and new theatres like Webber Academy’s Performing Arts Centre we are closing in on a billion dollars in public and private investment in new cultural facilities over the past five years.

Fact: Calgary is third in Canada in attracting cultural migrants?

cSpace is nearing completion with occupancy later in 2017. 

Grassroots Cultural Centres  

It is also important to note there are many smaller DIY art group projects that are just as important as the mega million dollar projects in transforming Calgary from a corporate city to a creative city.

For example, the Beddington Community Hall has been recently. Renamed the the Bedding Heights Community Arts Centre, it is home to two of Calgary’s longest running community theatre companies - StoryBook Theatre and Front Row Centre Players. 

In Sunalta, underneath the gritty Bow/Crowchild Trail spaghetti interchange, sits a non-descript, bluish-grey building that is now home to TRUCK Contemporary Art, Ghost River Theatre and West Village Theatre

Flying under the radar is how the community of Forest Lawn has become a magnet for many Calgary artists to live. artBOX on 17E (converted retail paint store), an initiative of the International Avenue BRZ, which serves as their performance and exhibition space has been so successful a shipping container was dropped on the front lawn this past summer to serve as a retail incubator space for artisans.  

Market Collective, founded in 2008, is a group of local artisans who have organized weekend pop-up sales of their work all over the city- old car dealership on International Avenue, Simmons Building in East Village, Chinese Cultural Centre, downtown and King Edward School (soon to be cSpace) in Marda Loop.  

Artpoint Gallery & Studio Society is Calgary’s off-the-beaten path, hidden gem cultural facility. It is hidden from the street and sidewalk in an old warehouse next to the railway tracks above the 12th street railway bridge underpass in Inglewood.  Tucked inside are 23 artists’ studios, three gallery spaces and an ambitious year-round exhibition program.

Computer rendering of Calgary Stampede's Youth Campus which is currently under construction.

Last Word

Need we go on? It is too bad that Calgary’s corporate culture gets all the attention - in good times and bad – while the ongoing growth of our cultural sector flies under the radar. 

Perhaps with a billion dollars of new investment in cultural facilities, Calgarians and Canadians will realize our city is more than just oil & gas head offices. 

Note: All of the facts are from Calgary Economic Development’s website.

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Canada: The Foundations Of Its Future

Given 2017 is Canada’s 150th anniversary, I think every Canadian should read a book about Canada – past, present or future. This idea occurred to me when I recently found the book “Canada: The Foundations Of Its Future” in a Montreal thrift store. 

Inside back cover artwork

True confession

I admit I was originally attracted to the book by its lovely coloured reproduction of historical paintings of Canada.  Then I became more intrigued when I noticed the author was none other than Stephen Leacock.  I had always thought of him as humourist, never as a historian.

Upon closer look, it turns out the book is “a private and limited edition” copy published by The House of Seagram in MCMXLI (yes, they used Roman numerals in the old days). 

Ironically, the 1941 publishing date is almost exactly in the middle of Canada’s history, i.e. 76 years from today and 74 years from Confederation.  

Painting by Adam Sherriff Scott, A.R.C.A., Montreal, P.Q., 1941

painting by Frederick H. Varley, A.R.C.A., Vancouver, B.C. 1941

painting by Hal Ross Perrigard, A.R.C.A., Montreal, P.Q., 1941

Better Perspective

Written in a reader-friendly manner (not even once did I fall asleep), the book is a wealth of information. For this baby boomer, it brings back memories of what I learned (forgot) about Canadian history decades ago in history classes at school.  It was so much different reading Leacock’s stories now having since visited every province in Canada and one territory, as well as internationally. Consequently, a much broader perspective of Canada and the world, enables me to understand and appreciate the history of our country.

The older I get, the more interested I am in history. Funny how that is.

Charles W. Jefferys, R.C.A., Toronto, Ont., 1941

Lessons Learned

painting by Charles W Jefferys, R.C.A., Toronto., 1941

What is amazing is how relevant the book is to the plethora of issues facing Canada today – First Nations poverty, Arctic Sovereignty, Immigration Policy, Natural Resources, Climate Change, Religious Persecution, Economic Change, Booms & Busts and Technological Change.

It was interesting to re-read the history of arctic exploration, specifically the search for the Northwest Passage in the context of today’s climate change.  A hundred years ago, the shrinking of the polar ice caps would have been good news.  It also made me wonder about Canada’s claim to arctic sovereignty given we have so little settlement there.

I now have a much greater appreciation for the longstanding and entrenched French vs. English duality of Canada, which is still influences Canada politically, culturally and economically even today.

painting by Adam Sherriff Scott, A.R.C.A., Montreal, P.Q., 1941

Perhaps the biggest surprise was Leacock’s stories about the violence and injustices between the early settlers and First Nations.  Having lived next to and worked on the Siksika Reserve near Gleichen Alberta in the early ‘80s, I now have a hands-on appreciation of both sides. Indeed, one of Canada biggest issues today has to be the well-being of our First Nations people.  I wish I had answers!  

I was also reminded of the everyday hardships faced by early Canadian settlers – a far cry from the comforts and conveniences of our everyday lives today.  How easily we forget!  We really should focus more on being grateful than griping.

Then there is a reminder of the important role immigrants (mostly poor) played in shaping the identity and development of Canada since Day One.  Immigration issues are still top of mind today.   In 1913, a whopping 400,870 new immigrants came to Canada, which then had population of 7.5 million. Leacock states, “There were more foreign-language newspapers in the Canadian West than anywhere else in the world.  Immigrants were exchanging European poverty for a new chance…we have to remember that their energy and industry and their new patriotism towards their new home played a large part in the making of our Western Dominion.”

Perhaps the biggest enlightenment was how our attitude towards nature and the exploitation of natural resources has changed over the past 150 years.  Leacock constantly references the importance of exploiting our natural resources as the key to Canada’s future.  It is amazing how that attitude has changed. 

It was interesting to also be reminded how Canada’s economy has evolved from one of fur trading, to fishing, to forestry and then mining. There was no mention of oil and gas.

Oh, how much the world has changed and yet how it is still the same.

painting by Hal Ross Perrigard, A.R.C.A., Montreal, P.Q., 1941

Samuel Bronfman’s Preface

“It is no magic fiat which achieves this: it is the people of Canada who have made and are making Canada. The coureur de bois; the merchant-adventurer; the explorer; the colonist; the homesteader; all who came early, wrestled with Nature; and won – these are the precursors who made our country.”

artwork by Ernest Neumann, Montreal, P.Q., 1941 

“Certainly the future decades of this century, which in the words of the late Sir Wilfred Laurier “belong to Canada,” will see Canadians zealously dedicating themselves to the further development of the boundless resources of our country, and will see, too, those resources flowing to the farthest corner of the world – a Canadian contribution to the welfare of humanity.”

Nor can we leave unmentioned the part which Canada is playing and will continue to play as intermediary between the two greatest forces for good that exist in the world to-day.  Because of our geographic location upon this continent, and our spiritual location with the Empire, we are destined – as we indeed, have already seized that destiny – to bring closer together the best of the Old World and New.

Leacock’s Libations

Canadians instinctively think more of what is still to come in their country than of what has happened in the past. People of older lands typically and commonly look back. They think of their thousands of years of history…majesty of the past.”

“The emigrant ship….was the world’s symbol of peace and progress…”

“Then came the discovery of gold and quickened the pace of life.”

“Life received a new wakefulness from the arc lamp and the electric light bulb…”

“Many came in caravans of prairie schooners – children, chattel and all.”

“Calgary was non-existent at Confederation. When the Canadian Pacific was built it was just a poor place, a few shacks. They moved it a mile or so, on ropes, rather than move the railway line.”

painting by T.M. Schintz,  High River, Alta., 1941

painting by W.J.Phillips, R.C.A., Winnipeg, Man., 1941

Last Word

I leave this to Bronfman wrote in the preface, “To encompass them the vision of the early pioneers must still be with us still, for where there is no vision, the people perish. It is the vision of a free Canada, a united Canada, a mighty Dominion…are manifested the various groups of different origins and separate creeds, working together in harmonious unison, each making its own contribution to the complete achievement which is the Canadian mosaic.” 

Does Canada have a vision today?  

It would be an interesting 2017 project for the Globe & Mail, Postmedia or Maclean’s Magazine to ask our Prime Minister, Premiers and big city mayors to independently submit their vision for Canada’s future.  It would be interesting to see how much they have in common? 

Maybe we should also ask corporate CEOs too (perhaps one from each province and territory). Why stop there - lets ask social agency, cultural and postsecondary CEOs also.

I wonder, "Is it realistic in today’s world for any democracy to work in harmonious unison?” 

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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MBAM: The Human Hand

When I visit an art gallery/museum, I can’t help but look at the exhibition(s) from a curator’s perspective and wonder what would I do differently.  It’s a bit of a case of “once a curator, always a curator,” having organized 100+ exhibitions over 10 years at Calgary’s Muttart Public Art Gallery from 1985 to 1995 (a precursor to what is now Contemporary Calgary). 


Upon entering a gallery, my mind immediately starts questioning.  Is there an exhibition theme? What is the curator trying to say to the public? Why did the curator choose these particular works? Why are they hung like they are? Is there a more logical way to group the art?  Why is this work beside that one?

I never read the curator’s statement first (though it is usually on the wall at the entrance to the gallery), as I don’t want to be influenced by his/her thinking.  But often I will read it after I have reviewed the exhibition and then sometimes revisit the artworks to determine how well the art and statement connect.  Does it help me gain new insights about the art and the exhibition? Is the statement public friendly or art gibberish? As I said, “Once a curator, always a curator!”

Especially when visiting large galleries with many exhibitions, I like to make it fun by looking at all the art with one theme in mind. Maybe a colour, brushwork, shadows, faces or architecture – whatever catches my eye first.

Why Hands?

Recently, when at the Musee des beaux-arts de Montreal (MBAM), Canada’s second largest art gallery, (the largest being the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto), I decided to study how hands were portrayed in various artworks from contemporary to traditional, from photography to sculptures.

Backstory: The idea came from a photo I took of the lovely second floor columns of the historic Bourgie Concert Hall, across the street from the MBAM. When I checked the photo, I surprisingly, noticed, a cluster of fingers in the foreground where the head should be of life-size “winged figure” sculpture. 

It was only when working on this blog, that I learned the sculpture by David Altmejd’s titled is titled “The Eye.”  


My curatorial statement can be found at the end of the blog for those interested. I should also add that if you are in Montreal, be sure to designate a few hours to visit MBAM. 

Without further adieu, here is my curated exhibition of close-up photos of hands from various artworks on exhibit at MBAM in December 2016. 

Curatorial Statement

The images were chosen to reflect the tremendous range of emotions that can be – and are - portrayed by the human hand - from a sense of innocence to strength and power; from tenderness to love and passion.  The images hopefully also evoke a sense of individuality, human interaction and/or intimacy that strike a cord with everyone's personal experiences. 

The images were also selected to illustrate how different media - from photography to painting and artists have employed different genres from realism to primitivism - for centuries to convey a sense of the human experience. 

And thirdly, images with a strong narrative were chosen in the hope they would spark some thoughtful personal reflection and memories about the viewer's life.    

No artists’ names or artwork titles are included, thereby allowing the viewer to focus on the image and not be distracted or swayed by peripheral information. Ponder the hands based on your own experiences and ideas to create your own meaning and significance for each image and for the exhibition as a whole.

Ideally, in doing so you will have gained a new appreciation for the “human hand” both in art and in everyday life. 

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What is "Maximalism" you ask?

Condos: If you build them they will come?

Recession, what recession? I can’t believe the number of developers who keep announcing plans for major new condos or are proceeding with development permits applications despite the economic downturn in Calgary’s economy.  It seems that every week a new project is announced.

Ezra condo's construction is moving forward - I was wrong.

This is especially happening in the communities near downtown where the employment population has declined the most, which should result in a decreased demand for City Centre condos. Perhaps condo developers know something I don’t?

I was sure Ezra by Birchwood Properties wouldn’t go ahead in Hillhurst at Riley Park, but I was wrong. It is out of the ground and the site is buzzing with workers.

The same is true for Truman’s Upper West condo on 2nd Ave NW at Crowchild Trail where 3 single-family homes are becoming a 45-unit boutique condo building.

Battisella Developments plans to break ground by the end of year on Ink in East Village with its micro condos i.e. four units at or under 400sf.  

Avli on Atlantic is moving forward in Inglewood while Bucci has broken ground in Bridgeland on their Radius project.

As for Qualex-Landmark they remain bullish on the Beltline, before they finished up Mark on Tenth this summer, they had already started Park Point across from Memorial Park. 

Computer rendering of Ink condo in Calgary's bustling East Village community. 

In October, Wexford Developments and Oxford Properties indicated they had engaged Zeidler Partnership Architects and BKDI Architects to design 37 and 19 storey condo towers (585 condos in total) for the old Calgary Co-op site (the block bounded by 11th and 12th Ave SE and 1st and Centre Streets).

Embassy Bosa is full steam ahead on The Royal condo, which will include a Canadian Tire (second floor) and Urban Fare (street level), making it one of the most complex and ambitious condo projects in Calgary’s history.

And though, the Concord Pacific Development’s uber luxury condo in Eau Claire designed by iconic Canadian architect Arthur Erickson has been struggling since construction began in April 2015 (it was a big hole, with nothing happing this summer) now has a crane on site and a neighbour living in the Princeton next door says, “they are going full-bore, six days a week.”

I couldn’t even finish this column without another project being announced.  Village in Bankview by developer RNDSQR and designed by MoDA architects is at funky 78-unit condo that will have 30 unique floor plans.  It is designed to appeal to empty nesters, young professions, families and those with special accessibility needs; that is why it called Village.

Computer rendering of the proposed Village in Bankview project. 

By The Numbers!

It is not my imagination there is a condo boom in Calgary’s City Centre, CMHC’s stats show 862 new condo unit starts in the first nine months of 2016 – an 87% increase over the same period last year.

Not only were the number of starts impressive but so were the number of completions – 1,786 condo units were completed in the first nine months of 2016. Granted not all of the units are sold, this still means there are probably 2,500 more people living in the City Centre today than there were this time last year.

Outside The City Centre

While the City Centre is hot, condo starts overall in Calgary for the first nine months are down significantly from 4,333 in 2015 (a record year for condo construction city-wide) to 2,882 this year.  However, some recent non City Centre condo development announcements might be an indicator of optimism in 2017.

In September, West Campus Development Trust announced its first two University District residential projects - Ivy by Brookfield Residential and Noble by Truman Homes. And, in October, Calgary Co-op announced it is looking to redevelop its Oakridge site with a new grocery store surrounded by condos. 

Phase One of Park Point is now above ground and construction is on schedule for occupancy summer of 2018. 

Last Word

As 2016 comes to a close, I am cautiously optimistic 2017 will be a turnaround year for Calgary’s economy and I am not alone.  Bruce McKenzie, VP Business Development, NORR architects’ Calgary office recently told me they are busy with “new projects for Truman, Birchwood, Cardel, Cedarglen, Brookfield Residential, Hopewell and others.”

He added, “They are all well financed, strategically located, mostly out of the inner city with at least half are mixed-use mid or high rise projects.”  

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Everyday Tourist: Postcards From 2016

I am not sure why but I have always loved postcards.  I have spent the past few weeks looking at all the photos I have taken in 2016 to see which ones might make good postcards.  

I thought I'd try to choose one for each month, but that didn't work out as some months were better than others.  Then I thought maybe 16, given it was 2016 - so sixteen it is.  

These are not necessarily the best photos or the year, nor are they your typical postcards. I hope you find them insightful and intriguing. In many cases I have added a link to a blog that relates to the postcard if you would like more information or see more photos.

Happy Holidays and all the best in 2017!

If you have a chance to go to Buffalo, NY - GO!  We loved the early 20th century architecture, especially the mansions and Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin D. Martin house.  But the highlight for me was the abandoned Grain Silos that you can tour.  I loved the way the City has used the facade to create a wonderful light show and inside they have allowed artists to create installations.  These paper gears that float at the top of one of the silos were created by Daniel Seiders, a landscape architect, for the City of the Night public art project in 2013. Link: Postcards From Buffalo The Bold

  It is always best to take the road less travelled. We found about 20 of these children's rocking horses on a farmer's fence post along Highway #845 as we headed north from Picture Butte back to Calgary from a fun weekend in Lethbridge.  We really must take more road trips in 2017.    

It is always best to take the road less travelled. We found about 20 of these children's rocking horses on a farmer's fence post along Highway #845 as we headed north from Picture Butte back to Calgary from a fun weekend in Lethbridge.  We really must take more road trips in 2017.   

Austin was too much fun.  We went back to the HOPE Outdoor Gallery several times as was such a playful place where everybody seemed to have great time.  I even bought some cans of spray paint to add my signature to the Gallery. It brought back memories of Gleichen, Alberta in the early '80s when I organized the Street Art For Gleichen project.  Link: Austin's Weird and Wonderful Outdoor Gallery. 

Austin threw me a great birthday party last year.  Each year, on the first Sunday of March Austin's Zilker Park is the site of a huge kite festival.  In 2016, it just happen to take place on my birthday. Link: Austin Kite Festival: Cheap, Colourful, Chaotic & Crazy! 

Everybody loves a parade! While Caglary is probably best known for the Calgary Stampede Parade, the Parade of Wonders (POW) that takes place as part of Calgary Expo (cosplay) allows spectators to get up close and personal with the parade participants.  Link: Everyday Tourist Visits Calgary Expo

 In May, I discovered Hamilton's monthly Art Crawl along James Street North. It is possibly North America's best kept art and festival secret.  It combines the best elements of an art walk with a night market. In September every year is the Super Crawl when the street is closed for the weekend for a huge street/music festival.  It should be on every Canadian's list of festivals to see.  Link: Hamilton's Art Crawl is indeed super!

In May, I discovered Hamilton's monthly Art Crawl along James Street North. It is possibly North America's best kept art and festival secret.  It combines the best elements of an art walk with a night market. In September every year is the Super Crawl when the street is closed for the weekend for a huge street/music festival.  It should be on every Canadian's list of festivals to see. Link: Hamilton's Art Crawl is indeed super!

It was a great spring for the garden in 2016. I had a lot of fun taking photos of the flowers. There is something primordial about this one that intrigues me. Link: Garden Flaneuring: Try it you might like it. 

2016 was the year of the playground for me.  I developed a whole new appreciation for the importance of playgrounds in community building.  We installed a new playground at the Grand Trunk Park across the street from our house and it is true "if you build it they will come." In the 20+ years we have lived in our house we have never seen so many kids at the playground. Link: The End Of The Grand Trunkers' Playground Envy!

  While at the Calgary Stampede this year I noticed that this public artwork "By The Banks Of The Bow" functioned like a playground for people of all ages and backgrounds. This got me to thinking wouldn't it be great if all public artworks engaged the public like this one does.   I wish I was rich and could commission a piece like this for Grand Trunk Park.  Link: Stampede Park: Calgary's best children's playground?

While at the Calgary Stampede this year I noticed that this public artwork "By The Banks Of The Bow" functioned like a playground for people of all ages and backgrounds. This got me to thinking wouldn't it be great if all public artworks engaged the public like this one does. I wish I was rich and could commission a piece like this for Grand Trunk Park. Link: Stampede Park: Calgary's best children's playground?

The Calgary International Folk Festival on Prince's Island in the middle of the Bow River on the edge of Calgary's skyscraper downtown is a special place.  This year I was able to sit just a few feet away from Canadian music legend Ian Tyson for what seemed like backyard concert. Link: Postcards from 2016 Calgary International Folk Festival

I love the interplay of architecture and sky in this image of the Art Gallery of Alberta, in Edmonton.  It was a tough decision on which 2016 architectural photo to include. Link: Calgary: Capturing The Art in ARchiTecture!

A trip to Kelowna BC was enlightening. Not only did we get to see the Kelowna Art Gallery's retrospective of John Hall's work, but we also got an appreciation for the wonderful transformation of their downtown and waterfront. I chose this painting as it reminded me of Mexico City (one of my best trips ever) and the Lucha Libre wrestlers. Link: John Hall: The Everyday Experience Bond

  I have always loved this two-storey high Untitled artwork by Cliff Eyland in the lobby of Winnipeg's downtown Millennium Library. It is composed of 1,000 miniature paintings, most of them 3"x5" the size of library catalogue card.  From a distance, it looks like   huge   pixilated TV screen, but up close they are fun landscape, figurative and abstract painting.  Guess I am not the only one who loves it, the new Halifax Library commissioned him to do one that has 5,000 miniature paintings in the lobby and another 1,000 on the 5th floor.  Perhaps Calgary will get one for their new library!  It would be fun to get   Eyland   to work with local children to make the paintings and see what happens.

I have always loved this two-storey high Untitled artwork by Cliff Eyland in the lobby of Winnipeg's downtown Millennium Library. It is composed of 1,000 miniature paintings, most of them 3"x5" the size of library catalogue card.  From a distance, it looks like huge pixilated TV screen, but up close they are fun landscape, figurative and abstract painting.  Guess I am not the only one who loves it, the new Halifax Library commissioned him to do one that has 5,000 miniature paintings in the lobby and another 1,000 on the 5th floor.  Perhaps Calgary will get one for their new library!  It would be fun to get Eyland to work with local children to make the paintings and see what happens.

Montreal was amazing - especially with their use of light both inside and outside.  This postcard captures the synergy of the coloured glass facade of the Palais des congres by Jean-Francis Cantin with The Constellation of Great Montrealers (the blue figure wall with name plates of individuals who have contributed to making Montreal a great city).  It was magical.

This is the Crew Collective & Cafe on a Sunday afternoon. What a great reuse of the 1928 former headquarters of the Royal Bank of Canada. It is not just a cafe, but a co-working space, meeting and event space. The ceiling is spectacular and note how they have incorporated the teller windows into the new space.  Brillant!

2016 was the year of the Knox Walk, we enjoyed hours of fun exploring our immediate neighbourhood, always finding something new. I think it captures the essence of being both a flaneur and an everyday tourist. Link: Flaneuring Fun in Montreal!