University District: My Final Resting Place?

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

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

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

Something For Everyone

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

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

Link: Video University District

Everyday Needs

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

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

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

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

Big News 

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

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

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

Computer rendering of University Districts pedestrian shopping street. 

Computer rendering of University Districts pedestrian shopping street. 

FYI

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

If you like this blog, you will like: 

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

Calgary's Learning City Is Blooming

University District: Tree Strategy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bridgeland/Riverside's Rebirth

You gotta like it when a plan starts coming together - that is exactly what is happening in Bridgeland/Riverside (B/R).  It was back in 1999 that Sturgess Architecture completed The Bridges Masterplan for the City of Calgary after the controversial implosion of the Calgary General Hospital on October 4, 1998.  Today, Bridgeland/Riverside (B/R) is enjoying an amazing rebirth as a vibrant 21st century urban community.

Note: Both St. Patrick's and St. George's Islands are within the boundaries of Bridgeland Riverside, not East Village and Inglewood as most people might think. 

Note: Both St. Patrick's and St. George's Islands are within the boundaries of Bridgeland Riverside, not East Village and Inglewood as most people might think. 

It is hard to believe this was Riverside 100+ years ago.

It is hard to believe this was Riverside 100+ years ago.

McDougall Park is a popular place for families to hang out year round.  

McDougall Park is a popular place for families to hang out year round.  

The Bridges Plan

The Bridges is the land made available for development by the implosion included the 10 acre hospital site as well as existing city owned open space to allow for a more comprehensive 37-acre (just a little bigger than St. Patrick’s Island) redevelopment in the middle of B/R community. The ambitious plan was not only Calgary’s first Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Plan, but Calgary’s first attempt to transform an established early 20th century community into a contemporary 21st century urban village with a higher density and diversity of residential dwellings with ground floor retail or townhomes. The plan consisted of three phases.

Yes, even in winter McDougall Park is well used. 

Yes, even in winter McDougall Park is well used. 

Phase 1

This phase included eight parcels for condo development, as well as the new Murdoch Park and the General Avenue Plaza. Three of the four parcels along 1st Avenue N.E. are mixed use development with retail at street level and residential units on the upper levels. The fourth parcel, on 1st Avenue N.E. accommodates residential, live-work units and commercial uses.

The other four parcels are located on the north side of Centre Avenue N.E. between 7A Street N.E. and 9A Street N.E. are mid-rise residential developments with building heights ranging from 4 to 6 storeys. The buildings emphasize a street-orientation with townhouses at street level and apartments on the upper levels.

Phase 1 is now complete and included these condos:

  • The Piazza by Townscape Properties Ltd. 
  • Olive by Homes by Avi 
  • Bella Citta & Bella Lusso by Bucci Developments Ltd. 
  • Acqua & Vento by Windmill Developments Ltd. 
  • Pontefino I and II by Sandelwood Development Ltd. 

Phase 2

This phase includes four sites located between McDougall Road N.E. and Memorial Drive. Two sites are now complete, one is slated for completion in 2017 while the fourth site is under review for a land use amendment and expected to be released for sale in 2018.

Three of the sites are designated for multi-family residential development with building heights being five to six storeys. The fourth parcel, adjacent to Memorial Drive, is slated for affordable multi-family housing development.

Phase two is not yet completed, it includes these projects:

  • Steps Bridgeland by Assured Developments Ltd. and Guistini Bridges Inc. (under construction)
  • Bridgeland Crossing I by Apex Cityhomes 
  • Bridgeland Crossing II by GableCraft Homes and Apex Cityhomes 
  • McPherson Place by Bridges Attainable Housing Society and New Urban Development (affordable housing) 

Phase 3

This last phase includes three parcels of land situated east of 9th Street N.E. between Centre Avenue and McDougall Road.Radius by Bucci Development Ltd is under construction. The City’s Real Estate & Development Services is currently working on plans to bring the three parcels of The Bridges to market in the near future at 1018 McDougal Road NE, 70 & 90 9A Street and 950 McPherson Square NE. (source: City of Calgary)

The Bridges Plan was approved after extensive community consultation and if memory serves me correctly, was enthusiastically endorsed by the community who could foresee the benefits not only of a new park, new community centre and new shopping, dining and professional service amenities, but of new residents who would hopefully revive the community.

Radius is the news B/R condo project by Bucci Developments a 201-unit condo with spectacular views of the Bow River, East Village and Downtown. Prices range from $330,000 to $850,000.    Link:   Bucci Developments

Radius is the news B/R condo project by Bucci Developments a 201-unit condo with spectacular views of the Bow River, East Village and Downtown. Prices range from $330,000 to $850,000.  Link: Bucci Developments

The Bridges has not only transformed the area around the old Calgary General Hospital into an urban village, but also Edmonton Trail has been revitalized with numerous new condo developments. 

The Bridges has not only transformed the area around the old Calgary General Hospital into an urban village, but also Edmonton Trail has been revitalized with numerous new condo developments. 

Bridgeland Today

Fast-forward to 2017.  The Bridges has indeed been the catalyst to transform Bridgeland/Riverside into one of Calgary’s most desirable communities.

In fact, it was chosen as Calgary's #1 Community in the Calgary Herald's 2017 Readers' Choice Awards. 

B/R's Tool Library is just one of the many ways residents are working together to create a sharing community.   

B/R's Tool Library is just one of the many ways residents are working together to create a sharing community.  

As an avid Twitter reader, I am constantly impressed by what is happening in B/R. Bridgeland Betty is always tweeting out the fun things to do in her community, things like their Tool Lending Library, evening walks to learn about the community’s amazing array of churches and the Vegan/Gluten-Free Stampede Breakfast.   

Lukes is just too cool...

Lukes is just too cool...

Today, B/R is home to some of Calgary’s coolest places – Cannibale with its barbershop in the front and cocktail lounge in the back, Bike and Brew where coffee and bike cultures meet and Luke’s Drug Mart that is a drug store/post office/ grocery store/record store/general store/café. 

Lukes is one of three grocers in B/R, the others being Bridgeland Market and Blush Lane Organic Market, a sure sign hipsters and YUPPIES have invaded this once sleepy community.

The most interesting B/R project I learned about on Twitter recently was their 4th Avenue Flyover Project. So intrigued by the photos of children painting the roadway under the flyover, I had to check it out myself.

The 4th Street Flyover plan now approved by the City of Calgary will see the development of a fun park (McDougall Rd NE and Edmonton Trail) under the concrete flyover complete with a rain garden, public art, sidewalk patios and colourful painting of the concrete abutments.

It will be a unique urban, all ages PLAYground developed as a result of an amazing collaboration between the community’s Grade 6 Langevin School students and Landscape Architect students at the University of Calgary.

McDougall Road's new funky streetscape.

McDougall Road's new funky streetscape.

Flyover Plaza Fun

Flyover Plaza Fun

Future new pocket park site

Future new pocket park site

Success or Failure?

Greg Morrow, who held the Richard Parker Professorship Metropolitan Growth and Change position at the University of Calgary from 2015 to 2017 (and who now is the Fred Sands Professor of Real Estate and Executive Director of the Sands Institute at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles) when asked his assessment of B/R’s transformation said, “It's still infilling, so it's unfair to look at how it is today and judge it on how it will eventually perform. I think it will ultimately be a success but I think there are also a few things the City could do to improve it.”

When probed further, he added, “First, it's not a traditional Transit-Oriented Development (TOD). It's a retrofit condition, so we shouldn't judge it on whether it ticks off all the TOD boxes. First, no development is possible on the entire south half of the LRT station area (St. Patrick’s Island). And since there is a pre-existing main street not far away, the area right around the station is not going to be ground-floor retail. And it suffers from the typical Calgary problem of having LRT stations in the middle of a major road, which is less than ideal for access/walkability. You lose a hundred metres just getting over the roadway.”

When asked how The Bridges can be improved he quickly remarks, “It was a big mistake not to rezone the north side of 1 Ave. A one-sided main street is always a handicap. Moreover, the north side is the sunny side, which works best for outdoor patios. So, I suggest re-zoning the north side of 1 Ave for mixed-use, mid-rise buildings, with appropriate lower heights at the rear of the buildings to transition to the single family housing to the north.”

Morrow also believes “the park is a good move, although it will take some time before it makes sense. Right now, you have a lot of vacant parcels so it makes the park space seem underutilized and unnecessary. But the idea is to create some decent density in the parcels around the park, so as that fills in more, you will see why the park in the middle makes good sense. Just give it some time.”

LRT Stations in the middle of major roads are not pedestrian friendly.

LRT Stations in the middle of major roads are not pedestrian friendly.

Last Word

A check of the City of Calgary’s Community Profile demonstrates the community’s population is growing again, after years of decline and stagnation.  It grew by 8% from 2012 to 2016, vs City of Calgary’s 10% increase.

It has become a very cool community for young families. In fact, 7% of the B/R’s population is under 4 years of age, the same as the City of Calgary’s.  However, only 6.5% of B/R’s population is between ages 5 to 19, significantly lower than the 18% City average.

It will be interesting to see if today’s young families remain in B/R and embrace the urban living lifestyle or do they migrate en masse to the outer suburbs for cheaper, bigger homes to raise their growing families as previous generations have done.   

Monument to Calgary General Hospital with Calgary Tower in the background. 

Monument to Calgary General Hospital with Calgary Tower in the background. 

Sunday Night R&R

One of the things we love to do on nice summer Sunday night (not sure why even in retirement we are still fixated on the Sunday night as the end of the weekend) is to head to another inner city community and flaneur its streets and alleys. 

Loved these colourful front yard birdhouses.

Loved these colourful front yard birdhouses.

Why do we choose Calgary’s inner city communities? To us they are all in an interesting transition period - new infill homes (some spectacular, some “not so much”) mixed with charming (sometimes tired) older homes. 

We also love the urban surprises that we almost always encounter - could be sculpture on the front lawn, a lovely front garden or a century old vegetable garden in the backyard or maybe a porch swing, a unique door or a folk art mailbox. 

You never know what you might find when you flaneur an older community.

R&R????

Our most recent Sunday night R&R took us to the two of Calgary’s oldest communities – Roxboro (est. 1923) and Rideau Park (est. 1911).  However, you would be hard pressed to find many homes from that period still standing today.  Two of the wealthiest communities in Calgary, most of the homes have been replaced by mega modern mansions – some look like boutique hotels, others are just plain tacky - IMHO. 

New vs Old

New vs Old

Highlight Of The Night

On this 2-hour Sunday night flaneur we were hoping to find some interesting gardens that might inspire us with new ideas for our own garden.  What we found was little is the way of new or different plants or landscaping ideas. We didn’t even see any real exotic planters, which you might expect in an upscale community. I am guessing these communities’ conservative politics extends to its garden design sensibility.  Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was the lack of people anywhere – it was like a ghost town.   

Yes, for the most part we were disappointed by the gardens - except for one in Rideau Park.  It was truly spectacular; there was a dead blossom to be deadheaded or a weed anywhere in the grass. It was truly immaculate.

It was amazing.  We have never seen anything like it in Calgary or any other city for that matter. Located at the corner of Rideau Road and 33 Ave SW. It was the highlight of the night as they say on TSN.

Here are some postcards from our restful and relaxing Sunday Night flaneur of Roxboro & Rideau Park. Yes there were a few surprises and fun finds. 

Hope you enjoy.

This little guy was very friendly and allowed me to get very close and never did fly away. 

This little guy was very friendly and allowed me to get very close and never did fly away. 

This was not a pink flamingo....

This was not a pink flamingo....

Two door knockers?

Two door knockers?

Folk art fun...

Folk art fun...

Dirty laundry?

Dirty laundry?

Every picture tells a story????

Every picture tells a story????

How fun is this?

How fun is this?

Designer mail boxes?

Designer mail boxes?

Highlight Of The Night

Could this really be Calgary?

Could this really be Calgary?

Did I say immaculate?

Did I say immaculate?

Dare I say it again?

Dare I say it again?

No sidewalk, no problem.

No sidewalk, no problem.

Enchanted pathways?

Enchanted pathways?

Perfect hostas

Perfect hostas

Past Perspectives 

How welcoming is this?

How welcoming is this?

Is it just me or does yellow just shout out "cheerfulness." 

Is it just me or does yellow just shout out "cheerfulness." 

A few charmers from the past.

A few charmers from the past.

Fredric Sara brought scouting to Calgary. The Sara Scout Hall built in 1927, was heavily damaged in the 2013 flood, but has been restored. Link: History of Sara Scout Hall 

Fredric Sara brought scouting to Calgary. The Sara Scout Hall built in 1927, was heavily damaged in the 2013 flood, but has been restored. Link: History of Sara Scout Hall 

Street Trees

Calgary's older communities have some amazing trees. It hard to realize that 100 years ago these communities where part of the treeless prairies. 

Calgary's older communities have some amazing trees. It hard to realize that 100 years ago these communities where part of the treeless prairies. 

You can't see the house for the trees.

You can't see the house for the trees.

The perfect grass on this boulevard looked almost artificial. 

The perfect grass on this boulevard looked almost artificial. 

Reflections

Window Reflection I

Window Reflection I

Window Reflection II

Window Reflection II

Mission bridge (1915) over the Elbow River

Mission bridge (1915) over the Elbow River

Reflections from setting sun on the Elbow River

Reflections from setting sun on the Elbow River

Even young adults love their funny rafts.

Even young adults love their funny rafts.

Calgarians sure do love their rivers.

Calgarians sure do love their rivers.

Found this old photo of the Elbow Boulevard Park along the Elbow River on the edge of Rideau Park. This is almost the same spot as the photo above. 

Found this old photo of the Elbow Boulevard Park along the Elbow River on the edge of Rideau Park. This is almost the same spot as the photo above. 

The Oarsman by Robert Spaith.

The Oarsman by Robert Spaith.

Last Word

Next time you are feeling like going for a walk, or want a change of scenery, try exploring a community in your city that you have never explored on haven't explored recently.  It is like a mini-vacation. 

Looking for more information on Calgary's history and guided walks checkout this link to:  Chinook Country Historical Society Calgary Historic Week happens the first week of August each year.  It includes some very interesting guided walks and talks.

If you like this blog, you will like:

Banff Trail Postcards

Forensic LRT Station Walks 

Garden Flaneuring: Try It, You Might Like It

Sunday in Bowness Park

Calgary’s Bowness Park has been a popular place for Calgarians to chill for over a century. 

The 74-acre park along the Bow River at the western edge of the City of Calgary was donated by John Hextall in 1911 - as part of a deal to secure the extension of the streetcar into Bowness Estates which he was developing as an exclusive new suburb.  The park was also conceived to entice Calgarians or those moving to Calgary to live in the new community of Bowness.  It was the Fish Creek or Nose Hill Park of its time.

Sound familiar? 

It is eerily similar to the current push to develop the Green Line today, linking new communities like Livingston and SETON to the City Centre.  It also has parallels to the East Village redevelopment where the River Walk and St. Patrick’s Island redevelopment were built first to entice Calgarians to move back to the community after decades of community decay. 

The Original Bowness Park

Bowness Park was indeed a gem with an outdoor swimming pool (closed in 1959) and lagoon for canoeing and boating.  The lagoon even had an Orthophonic (a phonograph in the middle of the lagoon) that played music which required someone to canoe out to change the records.  It stopped working in 1961.  There was also a large dance pavilion (closed in 1960) and even a carousel, whose home is now Heritage Park. 

It was the quintessential picnic site. Hundreds of picnic tables, some under shelters as well as several playgrounds with swings and teeter-totters.  Camping sites and even cabins that could be rented by the week or month (these were removed in 1946) we available for long stays.  There was even an informal “lovers’ walk” along the lagoon.

The Park was hugely popular with over 25,000 Calgarians visiting on summer weekends. It was so popular 28 streetcars were assigned to the route on weekends offering 15 minutes service from 1913 to 1950. 

Bowness Park Today

Despite the Bow River flood of 2013 which caused extensive damage, the Park has again become one of the gems of Calgary’s City Parks system after extensive clean up and redevelopment the park,

Today, not only are there canoeing and paddle boating in the lagoon, but the Park is popular spot for hundreds of rafters, kayakers and canoers to enter the Bow River for a lovely Sunday day-trip along the Bow River to downtown.

Hundreds of picnic sites (complete with fire pits and BBQs) attract families from all over the city - it is like a meeting of the United Nations.

The modern colourful playground is very popular and loud with kids shouting and squealing with glee.

The redeveloped park also includes the popular mini-train that was introduced to the park in the early ‘50s.

 

Toot Toot!

After being badly damaged in the flood, with silt covering the train from top to bottom, it has been restored. It got a new engine and a new silver, burgundy and yellow paint job modelled after the CP Rail’s luxury passenger train “The Canadian” that began cross-country trips in 1955. 

Seasons restaurant on the lagoon offers fine dining with a charming patio on the water. It has popular weekend brunch menu. As well there is a take-out café for those who prefer to stroll or sit with a coffee and snack. 

And yes, there still is an informal “Lovers’ Walk,” along the creek away from the crowds for those wanting to take a quieter more secluded quiet walk in the park with a special someone.

Sunday  Postcards

Last Word

Bowness Park continues to attract thousands of visitors on a nice Sunday afternoon.   While the weekend attendance numbers don’t match the 25,000 of its heyday years, it is still a vibrant urban playground people of all ages and backgrounds.  Perhaps the numbers are down due to the fact Calgary now has over 5,000 parks – that’s one park for every 250 Calgarians!

PS…The park desperately needs an ice cream vendor. Packaged, commercial frozen treats on a stick just don’t cut it.

If you like this blog, you will like:

Calgary: Beautifying The Beltline

Wake Up And Smell The Lilacs

Beautiful Downtown Bowness

 

Transit Oriented Living: Berlin vs Calgary

I have a new appreciation for both transit-oriented living and Google Maps after spending a month in Berlin where everywhere we wanted to go was EASILY accessible by transit.  I was amazed how easily we could get to hundreds of museums, tourist attractions, parks, shopping and even IKEA by transit in a totally unfamiliar city.

One key to transit oriented living is a transit system that offers 5 minute or less service.  It can be buses, subways, trams or LRT as long as it is frequent. 

One key to transit oriented living is a transit system that offers 5 minute or less service.  It can be buses, subways, trams or LRT as long as it is frequent. 

Google Maps Is Great!

I simply typed in where I wanted to go in Google Maps and it told me the route and how long it would take to drive, cycle, walk or take transit. In almost every case, transit was the best option.  The station (or bus stop) was always less than a pleasant five-minute walk and when we arrived, transit was there in minutes. 

Though, Google Maps tells you when the next bus, train or tram will arrive at a particular stop, I just ignored that information, as transit was so frequent, it didn’t matter.  It also didn’t seem to matter if we needed to take couple of trains or a train and bus, as connections were seamless. 

Note the differences in time between driving, cycling and transit. When you add in time to get to your car and find a place to park driving becomes even less attractive. 

Note the differences in time between driving, cycling and transit. When you add in time to get to your car and find a place to park driving becomes even less attractive. 

Lessons Learned

Berlin transit offers a number of different payment options – single fare, daily fare, weekly and monthly passes (with even a non-prime time option for those travelling after 10 am weekly or monthly passes).  How good is that!

Another great thing about Berlin’s transit system is that the trains seem to drop you off in the middle of the action, not at the edge as they do in Calgary – take Stampede, University, Chinook, Anderson and even Bridgeland stations for example.

A great transit system benefits drivers too.  I was shocked when, taking the bus at rush hour, it never had to wait for more than one traffic light.  More people using transit means more road capacity for those who have to drive, which in turn means less rush hour traffic jams.

Good transit systems have good connections and attractive places to wait. 

Good transit systems have good connections and attractive places to wait. 

Too Downtown-Centric

In Berlin, transit is decentralized, to best serve the mini-downtowns scattered throughout the city.  In contrast, Calgary’s transit is downtown-centric i.e. almost all transit is oriented to get people downtown. However, only 25% of the people work in the greater downtown area and 5% live there.

The City of Calgary’s Go-Plan back in the mid-90s, actually did call for the development of mini-downtowns at the edge of our city next to new LRT Stations. Somehow they instead became big box power centres. I often wonder how different urban living would be in Calgary if late 20th and early 21st century suburban power centres were designed as walkable mini downtowns, each with a mix of multi-storey retail, restaurants, residential and recreational buildings, rather than so car-oriented retail centres.

Imagine…Crowfoot Crossing and Shawnessy power centers could each have been a mini-downtown with grid-patterned tree-lined streets, residential and office development above big box retail and a regional transit hub station.  I expect with time they will evolve more into mini downtowns but we missed the opportunity to do so from the“get go.”

It is ironic that today, Currie Barracks and University District are both being developed as mini-downtowns yet neither has or will have a LRT Station.

This map of the Berlin's Transit system illustrates not only how extensive the system is, but also how decentralized it is.  

This map of the Berlin's Transit system illustrates not only how extensive the system is, but also how decentralized it is.  

To be fair, Calgary has plans to develop its LRT and BRT service with more crosstown routes in the future. Today only the Blue and Red lines exist. 

To be fair, Calgary has plans to develop its LRT and BRT service with more crosstown routes in the future. Today only the Blue and Red lines exist. 

Transit-Oriented Living (TOL) Gurus

While Calgary is in its infancy when it comes to creating mixed-use communities next to LRT Stations, Berlin is arguably the guru of TOL.  Instead of surrounding transit stations with massive residential highrises that block the sun, create wind tunnels and dwarf pedestrians, Berlin’s transit stations are usually in the middle of a platz (plaza) that allows for various programming – usually a farmers’ market and/or flea market – but most of the time just a gathering/meeting place for locals and tourists.

I loved that each platz in Berlin has its own character and charm, its own sense of place.
Five minute service even at 10 am. 

Five minute service even at 10 am. 

Alexander Platz

A good example is the Alexander Platz.  While the history of the area around this platz dates back to the 13th century, most of the existing buildings are relatively new as the area was destroyed during WWII.  The revitalization of the Alexander Platz began in 1969 with the construction of the Berliner Fernsehturm TV tower. Topping out at 368m tall, it has a viewing platform at 203m and revolving restaurant at 207m, which is very similar to the Calgary Tower.

Today, it is a vibrant pedestrian zone, surrounded by a major subway train station, as well as several, “at grade” LRT lines. It is also home to major department stores Galleria Kaufhof and Primark, the ALEXA shopping centre and several smaller shops all facing onto the huge plaza.

It is a shopping/tourist mecca 7 days a week.
Alexander Platz is full of people at 10 am on a weekday even when there are no special events. 

Alexander Platz is full of people at 10 am on a weekday even when there are no special events. 

Alexander Platz is surrounded not only by several transit stops and a major station, but it has a diversity of things to see and do including cinemas, shopping and tourist attractions, not just condos and apartments.   

Alexander Platz is surrounded not only by several transit stops and a major station, but it has a diversity of things to see and do including cinemas, shopping and tourist attractions, not just condos and apartments.  

Calgary’s Platz Attempt

Ironically, Calgary’s downtown urban renewal project also started in the late ‘60s with a tower – Husky Tower, now the Calgary Tower. It also included Palliser Square (retail, cinemas, offices and parkade), as well as the Calgary Convention Centre, Four Seasons Hotel (now the Marriott) and Glenbow Museum complex.

Then 8th Avenue SW became the Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall; 7th Avenue became the downtown transit corridor, which was followed by the opening of the Performing Arts Centre and finally Olympic Plaza, our equivalent of a platz.

Unfortunately, Calgary’s late 20th century urban renewal didn’t include the residential part of the transit oriented living equation that is critical to evening and weekend urban vitality.  As well, Olympic Plaza has never really captured the imagination of Calgarians except when hosting a major festival or event. It is not a place where Calgarians meet and linger.  It is not a place we take visitors to showcase Calgary’s unique sense of place.

It is not a mecca!
Olympic Plaza is pretty to look at but it doesn't attract people outside of special events and weekday noon hours when office workers enjoy an outdoor lunch. 

Olympic Plaza is pretty to look at but it doesn't attract people outside of special events and weekday noon hours when office workers enjoy an outdoor lunch. 

Olympic Plaza on a nice Saturday in spring is devoid of any urban vitality as most of the buildings surrounding it are closed or have limited activity. While there is a large apartment building, museum and hotels nearby, it doesn't have the everyday appeal that a public plaza should have.

Olympic Plaza on a nice Saturday in spring is devoid of any urban vitality as most of the buildings surrounding it are closed or have limited activity. While there is a large apartment building, museum and hotels nearby, it doesn't have the everyday appeal that a public plaza should have.

Last Word

Berlin’s platze seem to be busy all the time and without any special programming.  Berlin’s planners, developers and politicians seem to understand how to integrate transit, residential, commercial and public space to create lively and liveable urban places. 

Instead of focusing on Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Calgary and other North American cities should be focused on Transit Oriented Living (TOL) i.e. what makes living next to a train station or transit hub a great place to live? Too often the current focus in on creating high-rise and mid-rise condos next to the station, but TOL is more about “diversity of uses” than density.  Density without diversity is sterility.

If you have a chance, visit Berlin and experience transit-oriented living for yourself.

Note: This blog was originally published in the New Condos section of the Calgary Herald on Saturday July 16, 2017.

Transit Oriented Living allows you extra time to relax and read.  I was amazed at how many people I saw reading books on the trains in Berlin.   

Transit Oriented Living allows you extra time to relax and read.  I was amazed at how many people I saw reading books on the trains in Berlin.  

Calgary: Luxury Condo Living Beyond The City Centre

This past May there were two important ground breaking events in the evolution of Calgary’s condo culture AVLI on Atlantic in Inglewood and The Residences of King Edward in Marda Loop.  While both communities have seen their fair share of new condos and infill homes over the past 10 years, are the first truly luxury condos to be built outside Calgary’s City Centre. 

Luxury Living In Inglewood

AVLI on Atlantic by Greenwood Developments was designed by one of Calgary’s most respected architects - Jeremy Sturgess.  He was part of the design team for the Bow Tower, Water Centre, in Manchester and the redesign of downtown’s 7th Avenue Transit Corridor.  He is known for his contemporary design that goes to the edge but never falls into the school of “wacky architecture.”  Sturgess has been creating interesting condos since the early ‘90s - his Connaught Gardens, completed in 1991 listed on the Alberta Association of Architects’ Chronicle of Significant Alberta Architecture.

For AVLI on Atlantic, Sturgess and his team seems to have been inspired by the renowned 20th century prairie architect Frank Lloyd Wright whose signature was flat roof homes with strong horizontal lines (inspired by the horizon line that dominates the prairie landscape), large windows and commitment to craftsmanship.

The 7-storey AVLI has a cool white South Miami Beach look, with large triangular balconies that seem to float off of the building.  It has the look of a modern piece of sculpture and will contrast nicely with the contemporary warehouse look of the Atlantic Avenue Art Block across the street with its wave roof.  Together, they will create a contemporary 21st century sense of place synergistic with the Inglewood’s historic Main Street from the early 20th century. 

The “AVLI on Atlantic” name is derived from the fact it is located on 9th Avenue whose historic name is Atlantic Avenue, with “avli” being Greek for courtyard and the developers are Greek. 

AVLI condo in Inglewood will enhance Atlantic Avenue aka 9th Ave SE as Inglewood's historic Main Street with its contemporary architecture and retail at street level.  Photo credit: Sturgess Architecture

AVLI condo in Inglewood will enhance Atlantic Avenue aka 9th Ave SE as Inglewood's historic Main Street with its contemporary architecture and retail at street level.  Photo credit: Sturgess Architecture

The King Is Back

“The Residences of King Edward” is the next phase in an ambitious redevelopment of the iconic sandstone King Edward School site that has been vacant since the ‘90s.  Earlier this year, artists and other creative types began moving into the studio/work spaces and in May, the Alberta Craft Council moved into its gallery space.  Later this year, a multi-purpose 150-seat theatre space will open.

As part of the site development, the land on the east and west sides of the site has been set aside for residential development.  Award-winning Rockwood Custom Homes has teamed up with Dan Jenkins, another experienced and respected Calgary architect, to create 19 uber-luxury homes called “The Residences of King Edward.”

Jenkins cleverly designed the building’s façade to look like a series of attached infills, allowing it to visually fit nicely into the community’s existing single-family home streetscape. In reality, it is a 3-storey condo building, with units ranging in size from 1,400 to 3,600 sq. ft. It is “bungalow living” in a condo. 

There is also a sense of craftsmanship in the combination of materials that includes sandstone, stucco and zinc cladding, giving it both a contemporary and traditional look.  Jenkins too has employed Frank Lloyd Wright’s strong horizontal lines and interplay of different materials to create a building that has character and charm.

The Residences of King Edward are located along 17th St SW, from 29th to 30th Ave SW.  The scale and design is very compatible with the new infills homes that are transforming the neighbourhood into a vibrant 21st century community. 

The Residences of King Edward are located along 17th St SW, from 29th to 30th Ave SW.  The scale and design is very compatible with the new infills homes that are transforming the neighbourhood into a vibrant 21st century community. 

Original concept for King Edward School redevelopment school being transformed into a cultural hub with residential on either side.  The Residences of King Edward are on the left side, with seniors' housing on the right.   Link: cSPACE  

Original concept for King Edward School redevelopment school being transformed into a cultural hub with residential on either side.  The Residences of King Edward are on the left side, with seniors' housing on the right.  Link: cSPACE 

Last Word

The fact two experienced Calgary developers are moving forward with these luxury condo projects at this time is strong evidence Calgarians are embracing condo living.  It also shows Calgary’s economy is stronger than some may think.

This blog was commissioned for my Condoscapes column in the July 2017 edition of Condo Living Magazine.

If you like this blog, you will be interested in:

Are School Site Sacred Cows?

Marda Loop Madness

Inglewood Calgary's most unique community

 

 

 

 

 

Marda Loop Madness?

If you haven’t been to Marda Loop for awhile, you will hardly recognize it.  Like downtown Calgary in the late ‘70s, construction is seemingly happening on every corner. 

While some might not like all the gentrification that comes with all the new construction, Calgary historian Harry Sanders, a long time resident of Marda Loop is “delighted with the expansion of the business district. I like the densification in principle, but I'm always sorry to see old houses disappear. Mine is from 1950, and it's getting to be a rare oddity! Living in a hilly neighbourhood with retaining walls made from fieldstone and recycled bits of concrete make for a delightful neighbourhood with many surprises, including some beautiful and eclectic gardens.”

Marda Loop 101

The origin of Marda Loop’s name is two-fold.  It references the 490-seat Marda Theatre at the corner of 33rd Ave and 21st Street SW (later, the Odeon) that opened in 1953, closed in 1988 and demolished in 1990. It also pays tribute to the streetcar line that ran along 33rd Ave SW and “looped” back at 24th St (now Crowchild Trail.)

The completion of the hugely successful 161-acre Garrison Woods development by Canada Lands in 2004 was a turning point for Marda Loop.  This master planned community pioneered new urban planning principles for more diversity and density for inner city communities with 1,600 homes (including extensive row housing, small condos and luxury homes on small lots), as well as new retail including a modern Safeway store was hugely successful. 

Since then, new infill homes have become commonplace in the neighbouring Altadore and South Calgary communities while the retail along 33rd and 34th Avenues SW has been evolving with the community’s changing demographics.

Then in 2010, Marda Loop got its first real mixed-use urban building when Cidex Homes and Ronmor teamed up to build the six-storey Treo at Marda Loop at the corner of 33rd Ave and 20th St. SW. It consisted of ground floor retail, one floor of offices and four floors of condos above that.  The street retail was anchored by a Shoppers Drug Mart and a Phil & Sebastian flagship café.

Recently Completed

Garrison Corner is a three-storey retail/office building at the NW corner of 34th Ave and 22nd St SW withDAVIDsTEA, Village Ice Cream and COBS Bread as street anchors with level a daycare and offices above.  

At the NE corner of 33rd Ave and 20th St SW, the Odeon, has only recently been completed with Blush Lane as its anchor street tenant and offices above. 

Today, Marda Loop has 130 shops, boutiques, restaurants and professional services –  with more to come.

Under Construction

A block east of the Odeon Avenue, 33 by Sarina Homes is under construction at the corner of 33rd Ave and 19th St SW.  It will add 36 flats and lofts geared to young professionals, as well as new street level retail.

Just a block south of Avenue 33 will be Infinity at Marda Loop, a 38-unit condo project by the SNR Group. In addition to the condos, it will include multi-tenant ground floor retail anchored by Good Earth Café.Last but not least, Rockwood Custom Homes broke ground in May for its 19 uber-luxury Residences of King Edward project at the King Edward School site along 17th St. SW between 29th and 30th Aves SW.  This Dan Jenkins’ designed project, with its high-end finishes and larger units (1,400 to 3,400 sq.ft.), will definitely appeal to empty nester.Speaking of the historic sandstone King Edward School, it is nearing its completion as cSpace, a creative hub with studios and workspaces for artists and other creative types as well as a 150-seat theatre.

Last Word

While some will see all the construction in Marda Loop and say, “stop the madness,” it always amazes me how long it actually takes to revitalize a community. 

You can walk along 33rd Avenue (i.e. Main Street Marda Loop) today and still find pre-1950s cottages homes, ‘60s single storey suburban retail with surface parking at the front and small walk-up apartment blocks. 

One block over, on 34th Avenue just east of 20th Avenue, is a lovely stretch of small, brightly painted cottage homes that have been converted to retail.

When I explored Marda Loop recently, I immediately thought of the late Jane Jacobs, renowned North American community activist who said, “community revitalization should be evolutionary, not revolutionary.” 

I think she would be pleased with how Marda Loop is evolving.

 

If you want to check out what is happening for yourself, a good time might be this year’s Marda Gras Street Festival on Sunday August 13 from 10 am to 5 pm.  This year marks its 33rd year making it Calgary’s oldest street festival. And, unlike the infinitely more famous New Orleans Mardi Gras, this is a fun family-oriented street festival. 

White House Garden: Up Close & Personal

In celebration of the end of spring, I thought I would do a blog about the White House's spring garden.

I love spring time. It is not only the beginning of another golf season, but also the beginning of the gardening season.  I love watching the snow melting and the perennials struggling to come to life.  

Also it is when the days get longer...

One of the things I love to do in the spring is grab my morning coffee and wander the White House garden and see what has changed over night. Yes, sometimes it seems that while I am sleeping mother nature is at work.  

I also love saying Hi! to the kids who are being dropped of a the Honey Bee Daycare across the street.

It might only be 10 or 15 minutes, but it is a lovely way to start the day....

The White House garden is not that big as we live on a 30 by 120 foot lot, so most of the space is taken up by the house and the garage.  

However, the neighbours have been very generous and allowed us to let our garden grow onto their property.  You could say we are invasive gardeners.

So we have a front garden that spans three homes, a patio garden in the back yard and the secret garden between two garages.

The garden is also not very diverse as Calgary's climate is limiting in what will grow here.  

But even so, springtime brings some brilliant colours, beautiful shapes and strange juxtapositions.  

Mother Nature is the best artist!

I also love taking photos of the garden and then manipulating them into artworks.  

I am always amazed and surprise when I take close up photos and then magnify  them even more what interesting forms and colours come to life.  It is like a different world.

Back Story: Perhaps my interest in magnification is a result of many years as a university biology student looking down a microscope.   

Painting vs Photography

I love the softness that happens as the focus of the photographs begin to breakdown and the foreground and backgrounds blends. I see parallels with the art of Claude Monet, Lauren Harris,  Georgia O'Keeffe  and Emily Carr or any of the Fauvists.  I often wonder what kind of art they would produce in the 21st century, given new technologies.  

Would they still be painters?

I also think of Calgary photographer Neil Zeller and his stunning sky photographs, especially the northern lights and wonder what he might create if he was to turn his attention to gardens. 

Bold, Brilliant & Beautiful

I thought I would share some of these up close and personal images from the White House garden and get your feedback.  I hope you enjoy this exhibition titled "Bold, Brilliant & Beautiful" from the White House garden and have a great summer....

 

Elysian

Mysterious 

Mysterious 

Eerie

Eerie

Plume

Plume

Lavish

Lavish

Emerging 

Emerging 

Crinkle 

Crinkle 

Reaching 

Reaching 

Chroma

Chroma

Nebula

Nebula

Dichotomy

Dichotomy

Celestial 

Celestial 

Voluptuous 

Voluptuous 

Purity 

Purity 

Passion

Passion

Ethereal 

Ethereal 

Tinge

Tinge

Bleeding

Bleeding

Ruche

Ruche

Emerging

Emerging

Mystic 

Mystic 

Enchanted

Enchanted

Last Word

After posting this blog, I had a request for a photo of the White House Garden.

A Sunday Walkabout In Hillhurst!

When asked by visitors, “what is there to do on a Sunday in Calgary?” I often suggest a walkabout in Calgary’s tony Hillhurst community.  

All of shops, restaurants and cafes are open Sundays.  There is definitely some Sunday window licking fun to be had. 

All of shops, restaurants and cafes are open Sundays.  There is definitely some Sunday window licking fun to be had. 

Established in 1914, Hillhurst is one of Calgary’s oldest communities and still has a small town atmosphere with quaint cottage homes mingling with new infill homes with a few mid-rise condos thrown into the mix. As well, it boasts two Main Streets – 10th Street NW and Kensington Road – both lined with cafes, restaurants and shops.

But what I love about wandering Hillhurst are the things that are a bit off the beaten path – up the hill, across the park and down 5th Avenue NW.

The SAIT campus offers a wonderful juxtaposition of the old and new. 

The SAIT campus offers a wonderful juxtaposition of the old and new. 

Riley Park is a great place to sit.

Riley Park is a great place to sit.

Hillhurst Flea Market (13th Street and 5th Avenue NW)

Early birds can check out the Hillhurst Flea Market, which opens every Sunday between 7am, (but doesn’t really get bustling until about 9 am) and 2 pm.  Located in the Hillhurst Community Association building, vendors fill two gymnasiums, the small food court and even spill outside in the summer. 

Like any good flea market, you will find a hodgepodge of things to see, touch and potentially take home.  It is mostly smaller household items, records, books and collectables that are easy for tourists to pack in your suitcase. There is a good chance you might find a piece of authentic Calgary memorabilia as a unique souvenir of your visit.

Give yourself 30 to 45 minutes 

One of two gyms full of collectables for those who like the "thrill of the hunt." 

One of two gyms full of collectables for those who like the "thrill of the hunt." 

A flea market collage. 

A flea market collage. 

Riley Park / Senator Patrick Burns Rock Garden

Just east of the flea market is the lovely Riley Park with its popular summer wading pool.  It is also home to one of Canada’s oldest (1908) cricket pitches in the middle of the park, don’t be surprised if there is a game going on or some guys practising.  And on the east side, sits a small garden with benches for contemplation while just and then just up the 10th Street hill is the Senator Patrick Burns Rock Garden.

The rock gardens were created in the 1950s and named after Senator Patrick Burns who was a successful businessman (Burns Foods), rancher, politician and philanthropist. He was one of the four investors in Calgary’s first Stampede.  The gardens incorporate over 20,000 pieces of fieldstone taken from his 18-room mansion that was across the street from Memorial Park (4th St SW and 13th Avenue) when it was torn down.

Plan for 30 to 45 minutes to wander the park and gardens, unless you decide to watch some cricket.

The wading pool is very popular on Sundays.

The wading pool is very popular on Sundays.

Batter up?  Are they called batters? 

Batter up?  Are they called batters? 

You never know what you will encounter in Riley Park.  Those millennials are always having fun.

You never know what you will encounter in Riley Park.  Those millennials are always having fun.

An oasis in the middle of the city.

An oasis in the middle of the city.

SAIT Campus

Murals above doorways in Heritage Hall. 

Murals above doorways in Heritage Hall. 

It is a bit of a hike up the hill to SAIT Campus, but you are amply rewarded with spectacular views of Calgary’s stunning skyline.

The SAIT campus itself has a wonderful mix of old and new architecture.  The signature building, Heritage Hall completed in 1922, is an excellent example of the Collegiate Gothic architecture - twin towers with parapet, gothic arches and gargoyle stonework. (FYI: The twin towers of this building are repeated in both the Stan Grad Centre and Clayton Carroll Automotive Centre.) If you can get inside, check out the stairwell with its collection of vintage murals and the terrazzo flooring. 

The Johson-Cobbe Energy Centre, with its goblet-like entrance, is perhaps one of the most futuristic looks of any building in Calgary.  Not to be outdone next door is the Aldred Trades and Technology Complex with its massive wavy roof and glass façade.

SAIT parkade's futuristic entrance with playing field and downtown skyline in the background.  

SAIT parkade's futuristic entrance with playing field and downtown skyline in the background.  

Speaking of glass, seek out the entrance to the SAIT Parkade (Vancouver’s Bing Tom Architects and Calgary’s Marshall Tittemore Architects) with its intersecting acute triangular glass shapes that seem to be taking off like a futuristic plane.

In reality, the glass “sculpture” functions as a huge sunroof, allowing sunlight into the parkade. This unique parkade even has a playing field on top and the façades on the east and south sides are an incredible work of art (modern mural) by Vancouver artist Roderick Quinn. 

Backstory: The parkade’s metal façade, with its thousands of holes resembling opened tabs of a beer can, each strategically punched, create a giant (560 feet long for the east wall and 260 feet for the south wall) landscape artwork titled "The Ombrae Sky" inspired by the dramatic prairie clouds and skies. The “functional artwork” not only changes throughout the day with the changing light, but also allows natural light into the parkade.  

Give yourself at least an hour to tour the campus. Bring a camera as it is very photogenic.  Link: SAIT Campus Map

SAIT Parkade's ever changing cloud mural titled "The Ombrae Sky." 

SAIT Parkade's ever changing cloud mural titled "The Ombrae Sky." 

Kensington Village

Just south of Riley Park and Burns Rock Gardens is Kensington Village, one of Calgary’s best pedestrian-oriented streets with shops, restaurants and cafes along 10th Avenue and Kensington Road. It is home to two of Calgary’s oldest cafes - Higher Ground and The Roasterie if you want to experience Calgary’s café culture.

It also home to Calgary’s signature art house cinema, The Plaza. While it isn’t an architectural gem, the place has lots of charm and a great schedule of movies.  I totally recommend a Sunday matinee.

Right beside The Plaza is Pages, perhaps Calgary’s best independent bookseller with a great selection of books on Calgary’s history and by Calgary authors. 

Plaza art house cinema with Pages books store next door. 

Plaza art house cinema with Pages books store next door. 

Street performers make for a lively pedestrian experience.

Street performers make for a lively pedestrian experience.

Food For Thought

Kensington offers a wide spectrum of cuisines from a Ramen Bar to classic Italian. Here are a few recommendations.

  • Best Brunch: Vero Bistro Moderne
  • Best Pizza: Pulcinella
  • Best Burger: Flipp’n Burgers
  • Best Patio: Container Bar
  • Best Pub: Oak Tree Tavern
  • Best Takeout: Chicken On The Way (a Calgary icon)
Squeezed into a side yard between two buildings this patio makes for a intimate place to hang out.

Squeezed into a side yard between two buildings this patio makes for a intimate place to hang out.

Street Art

It ‘s also worth a visit to Calgary’s grittier side – the alley behind the shops on the east side of 10th Street. It’s numerous street artworks combine to create a fun outdoor art gallery.  Don’t miss the most ambitious piece under the patio deck of the Oak Tree Tavern, near where Kensington Road meets 10th Street NW.

Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 9.17.13 AM.png
Entrance to Pixel condo at 235 - 9A St NW is very cool.

Entrance to Pixel condo at 235 - 9A St NW is very cool.

Streets of Hillhurst

Fun can also be had by wandering the residential streets of Hillhurst and its sister community Sunnyside (east of 10th Street), where you can still find quaint 75+ year old cottage homes, side-by-side with contemporary two storey infills.

FYI: Calgary might just be the “Infill Capital” of North America.  Each year hundreds of older 20th century inner-city homes are replaced by modern single-family and duplex homes.  In some cases the 50-foot lots are divided into two lots for the new houses, in other cases the 600 square foot cottage homes are replaced by 2,500+ square foot mini-mansions. Either way, the new infill homes help to revitalize Calgary’s inner city communities, as they are very attractive to young families.

Too me, the interesting juxtaposition of old and new, reminds us of just how much urban living has evolved over the past century.  

Tiny, tony cottage home.

Tiny, tony cottage home.

Trendy infill homes are popping up like dandelions in Calgary's inner city communities. 

Trendy infill homes are popping up like dandelions in Calgary's inner city communities. 

Where to Stay:

For visitors looking for a recommendation on where to stay or perhaps Calgarians wanting a romantic weekend, I recommend The Kensington Riverside Inn with its luxury rooms with fireplaces, patios or balconies that overlook the Bow River and views of the Calgary’s stunning downtown skyline. Homemade cookies are served all day and Callebaut chocolates are part of the turndown service. 

It is also home to the Oxbow restaurant serving up a creative menu with things like rhubarb ice cream-topped shortcake and duck wings with crushed cashews and Saskatoon berries along with a carefully curated wine list. It is no wonder this boutique inn has the coveted Relais & Chateaux designation.

Last Word

Calgary is made up of 200+ communities, each with their own distinct charm and character. One of the things I love about Calgary is that we all live in “small towns of 5,000 to 15,000 people.”  It truly is a big city with small town charm.   

Berlin is definitely quirky!

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

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

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

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

How about a candy floss transit station?

How about a candy floss transit station?

Or a banana slide....

Or a banana slide....

Pedestrian Light Icon

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

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

Link: Ampelmannchen Story

S&Q Flea Markets

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

Link: Berlin Flea Market Story

Photo Booths

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

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

Link: Photoautomat Project Story 

Water Pumps

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

Link: Berlin Water Fountain Story 

Cemetery Cafés

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

Link: Cemetery Cafe Story

Pink & Purple Straws

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

Link: Pink Pipes Story

Food Couriers

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

Link: Hard & Fast Life Food Couriers

Screen Shot 2017-05-28 at 10.39.47 PM.png

Glass Igloos

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

Sidewalk Furniture

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

Graffiti vs Street Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Is Dead

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

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

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

Strange Playgrounds

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

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

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

Cash is King

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

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

Late Night Buses

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

Beer 24/7

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

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

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

And There Is More

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very futuristic entrance to an office building. 

Very futuristic entrance to an office building. 

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

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

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

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

Last Word

I love quirky cities!

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

If you like this blog, you will like:

Freakn Fun in Boise's Freak Alley

Fun, Funky Quirky Colorado Springs

Mexico City: Fun Urban Surprises

Calgary: Everyday Stills (May 2017)

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

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

Here we go....

uplifting. smiling.

uplifting. smiling.

billowing. shadowing.

billowing. shadowing.

patina. bronzes.

patina. bronzes.

wrinkles. cracks.

wrinkles. cracks.

feet. waiting.

feet. waiting.

telephone. red.

telephone. red.

floating. peaceful.

floating. peaceful.

swan. floating.

swan. floating.

head. technology. 

head. technology. 

landing. steel.

landing. steel.

eye. clouds.

eye. clouds.

perspective. boxes. 

perspective. boxes. 

twins. heritage.

twins. heritage.

trap. fedora. 

trap. fedora. 

mom. searching. 

mom. searching. 

build. island.

build. island.

follow. listening. 

follow. listening. 

impromptu. squares. 

impromptu. squares. 

hidden. wheel.

hidden. wheel.

pieces. manifest.

pieces. manifest.

queen. collage.

queen. collage.

crossing. blues.

crossing. blues.

Klee. cubism. 

Klee. cubism. 

journey. path.

journey. path.

under. buildings. 

under. buildings. 

flaneur. meander. 

flaneur. meander. 

innocence. fun.

innocence. fun.

vanishing. journey. 

vanishing. journey. 

challenge. night.

challenge. night.

oasis. tranquility. 

oasis. tranquility. 

beauty. heaven.

beauty. heaven.

Is Calgary ready for REAL urban living?

Calgary has a long, long, long way to go before it can say it has created its first real urban community. 

After spending a month living like a local in Berlin’s hip Kreuzberg community I have a much better appreciation for what urban living is all about.  While some Calgarians might think the Beltline, Bridgeland, Downtown West End, East Village, Eau Claire, Inglewood and Kensington are urban communities in many ways they are just modified suburbs. 

It is hard to believe that this streetscape is in the Beltline, Calgary's densest residential community. It has a very suburban aesthetics with its front lawns and porches.  

It is hard to believe that this streetscape is in the Beltline, Calgary's densest residential community. It has a very suburban aesthetics with its front lawns and porches.  

In Sunnyside/Hillhurst most of the streets have a very attractive but suburban character. 

In Sunnyside/Hillhurst most of the streets have a very attractive but suburban character. 

The General Hospital site in Bridgeland has been redeveloped with condos that increase the density but still have a suburban character with townhomes that include front yards and porches. 

The General Hospital site in Bridgeland has been redeveloped with condos that increase the density but still have a suburban character with townhomes that include front yards and porches. 

The same is true of the Princeton in Eau Claire.  In urban streetscapes the ground level spaces would be offices, daycares, shops, restaurants, bakeries etc. 

The same is true of the Princeton in Eau Claire.  In urban streetscapes the ground level spaces would be offices, daycares, shops, restaurants, bakeries etc. 

Not everyone gets a balcony in urban neighbourhoods.

Not everyone gets a balcony in urban neighbourhoods.

There are no gaps between buildings in urban communities. 

There are no gaps between buildings in urban communities. 

When and if Calgary's City Centre becomes truly urban, this is what streets like 10th, 11th, 12th and 17th Avenues will look like with retail at ground level and 5+ storeys of residential above. The same for 10th and 14th Streets and Kensington Road in the northwest.  Atlantic Avenue or 9th Avenue in Inglewood will also have this kind of look, as will 1st Street NE in Bridgeland and 4th and 5th Streets in Mission. 

When and if Calgary's City Centre becomes truly urban, this is what streets like 10th, 11th, 12th and 17th Avenues will look like with retail at ground level and 5+ storeys of residential above. The same for 10th and 14th Streets and Kensington Road in the northwest.  Atlantic Avenue or 9th Avenue in Inglewood will also have this kind of look, as will 1st Street NE in Bridgeland and 4th and 5th Streets in Mission. 

Chaos in the streets

The first thing you notice about living in Kreuzberg is the chaos in the streets, as pedestrians, cyclists, cars, strider bikes and strollers, bob and weave around each other. While there are bike lanes, cyclists often ride on the wide sidewalks, especially parents with young children. 

Cyclists never use bells to warn you they are about to fly by you at full speed and drivers do not stop for pedestrians.

Yet in the 300+ hours we spent on the streets we never saw one collision of any kind. Somehow it just works.

While not all of the streets in urban neighbourhoods are animated like this one, the sidewalks and parks often full of people of all ages hanging out.  There is not much grass in the public spaces as they are so heavily used. 

While not all of the streets in urban neighbourhoods are animated like this one, the sidewalks and parks often full of people of all ages hanging out.  There is not much grass in the public spaces as they are so heavily used. 

Calgary's City Centre streets are too often devoid of people, too decorative, too pristine.

Calgary's City Centre streets are too often devoid of people, too decorative, too pristine.

Families & Urban Living

Good urban communities are full of families - we couldn’t walk a half a block in Kreuzberg without encountering a stroller or two.  There were daycares on almost every block, tucked away in buildings you would never imagine suitable for a daycare. 

There were also playgrounds on every other block, which included not only equipment for younger children, but often a multi-purpose fenced in area for soccer, basketball and skateboarding. 

We saw these hipsters carry the bench out of the shop (located in the basement) to the sidewalk so they could enjoy their morning coffee. 

We saw these hipsters carry the bench out of the shop (located in the basement) to the sidewalk so they could enjoy their morning coffee. 

In Kreuzberg, even side streets will have at least one cafe, a few restaurants that spill out onto the sidewalk. 

In Kreuzberg, even side streets will have at least one cafe, a few restaurants that spill out onto the sidewalk. 

Instead of backyard, kids play in the local playground which is surrounded by mid-rise residential blocks. 

Instead of backyard, kids play in the local playground which is surrounded by mid-rise residential blocks. 

Goodbye Single Family Homes 

There were no single-family homes, most of the buildings opened right onto the street.  There were also no skyscrapers, rather density was horizontal, so there was no feeling of being dwarfed by tall buildings and less wind tunneling. It was like taking a 40-story tower and laying it on its side.

You have to go a long way from the City Centre before you find a single family home in cities like Berlin or Montreal. 

You have to go a long way from the City Centre before you find a single family home in cities like Berlin or Montreal. 

Smaller is better

There was a plethora of grocery stores to choose from.  Not the mega 40,000+ square foot stores we have but  five to 10,000 square foot neighbourhood grocery stores that fit seamlessly into the community.  There were one or two grocery stores near every train station.  Even though they were much smaller than our grocery stores, they seemed to have everything we needed. 

Goodbye Car 

I also learned Transit Oriented Development doesn’t mean building tall residential towers at transit stations. In Berlin transit stations are often located in he middle of large open urban spaces called platzs. The platzs are great places to hang-out or meet up, and are often used for local markets.

Urban living also means you are never far from a transit station or bus stop that offers 5-minute or less service all day, not just rush hour. Urban living means a car is optional.

I also learned there is no correlation between how clean a community is and how safe it is.  Kreuzberg is very gritty with a ribbon of graffiti covering most of the buildings from the sidewalk to above the doorways.  The sidewalks are like huge ashtrays, as it seems like the majority of locals smoke. There are also beer bottle caps and broken glass everywhere as it is legal to drink on the street and in the parks.  As well the sidewalks are often full of garbage waiting to be collected.  

Yet at no time did we feel unsafe.  One night after clubbing in one of the seedier looking areas of the city we walked 2 km at 2:30 am (even though transit was available) home and never once felt unsafe. 

While fewer people own cars, the streets are still lined with cars as their is little to no underground parking for residents, retail or restaurants. There are no fancy curbs, bike lanes, crosswalks, speed bumps - they just make it work.   

While fewer people own cars, the streets are still lined with cars as their is little to no underground parking for residents, retail or restaurants. There are no fancy curbs, bike lanes, crosswalks, speed bumps - they just make it work.   

Last Word

Living in Kreuzberg I learned creating vibrant urban communities isn’t about banners, planters, fancy street furniture, new sidewalks and public art, nor is it about keeping the area graffiti and litter free. In fact, in Berlin it seemed the more graffiti and litter the more vibrant the streets and public areas. I had the same observations in Mexico City, Austin and Montreal. 

I wonder if Calgarians are ready for urban living? I know that I'm not.  I love my front porch and garden, love my own garage and our backyard where the neighbour kids love to play. 

Note: This an edited version of this blog was originally published in the May edition of Condo Living Magazine. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

What is urban living and does anybody care? 

 

 

 

Jane's Walk (Talk): Beltline Bottle Picker's Blues

I couldn’t resist when I read in Swerve Magazine that there was going to be a Jane’s Walk hosted by a bottle picker.

The announcement read:

Downtown Calgary: Through the eyes of bottle pickers. Calgary Can, an organization dedicatee to reducing waste by working with the bottle-picking community, leads a walk with pickers who will talk about the unspoken rules of picking and the stereotypes they face. 

This off-the-beaten path guy couldn't think a better way to spend a Saturday morning.

People from all walks of life showed up. There was even a mother breast feeding her infant.   

People from all walks of life showed up. There was even a mother breast feeding her infant.  

Jane’s Walk 101

The first weekend in May is “International Jane’s Walk Weekend.  “Jane” refers to Jane Jacobs, the American community activist who wrote THE book on how to create vibrant communities “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” in 1961. (I own a copy of the 50th Anniversary Edition.) The book has since become the bible for urban planners and she a cult figure for community activists. In cities around the world, local volunteers take others on tours sharing their special knowledge and insights of different neighbourhoods.

In Calgary, there were 80 tours this year organized by Calgary Foundation. Link: Calgary Foundation Jane's Walks

This picker passed by us while on the walk, but few even noticed as they were looking in the other direction. It would have been interesting to talk to him, find out what he had picked that morning.  I also wondered how difficult it must be to push his cart along the downtown streets, sidewalks and back alleys.   There would have been something authentic about a chance encounter and chat with a picker.  

This picker passed by us while on the walk, but few even noticed as they were looking in the other direction. It would have been interesting to talk to him, find out what he had picked that morning.  I also wondered how difficult it must be to push his cart along the downtown streets, sidewalks and back alleys. There would have been something authentic about a chance encounter and chat with a picker.  

Uptown Bottle Depot ATM?

Tour participants were told to meet at the popular and busy Uptown Bottle Depot on 10th Avenue between 5th and 6th Streets SW at 10 am on Saturday May 6. I estimate about 75 people showed up for the 2 km walking tour.  It was like meeting at a construction site with the upscale new high-rise condo under construction to the west and a new condo and Marriott across the street.

The Uptown Bottle Depot, in business since the ‘70s, is the only bottle depot in the City Centre, making it very popular not only for the downtown bottle pickers, but also for the growing number of area residents. It is not uncommon to see BMWs and shopping carts vying to get into the parking lot.

For bottle pickers, it is their ATM. An aside: One can’t help but wonder how long the new upscale neighbours will tolerate having bottle depot next door.

Kate, from Calgary Can provided us with a bit of the background about their mandate to help pickers and then handed over the mike to our host a picker.

Over the next 90 minutes, he and Kate shared with us the trials and tribulations of Calgary’s bottle pickers as we wandered from the Uptown Bottle Depot to the Mustard Seed and back.

Link: Calgary Can

In Memorial Park, we were lectured by a picker on how the City was guilty of "relocation of population by urban design i.e. getting pickers and homeless to not sleep in public spaces." 

In Memorial Park, we were lectured by a picker on how the City was guilty of "relocation of population by urban design i.e. getting pickers and homeless to not sleep in public spaces." 

Lessons Learned

Calgary’s approximate 1,000 bottle pickers have their own advocacy group called Calgary Can. Calgary Can is a group of Calgarians dedicated to reducing waste and improving recycling opportunities in Calgary by collaborating with the bottle picking community. 

Pickers don’t have their own territory. It operates on a “first come, first get” basis and most pickers respect that.

Pickers earn anywhere from $10 to $200 a day.  Most pick for about 4 to 5 hours and walk 15+ kilometres. The most lucrative time is during Stampede and summer is better than winter. Summer generates more cans; winter more bottles.  A picker’s shoes last about one month.

“Blue bins are not yours.” This comment surprised me.  From a picker’s perspective, once bottles and cans are placed in the blue bins, they are in the public domain and residents no longer own them.

Though grocery store shopping carts are illegal on city streets, 50% of pickers use them. Others just use big, heavy-duty garbage bags.

Pickers like the fact they have no boss and set their own hours.  If they get $50/day, most are happy.  (We were told that’s enough for food, smokes and even drugs if they are a user.)

The new City bylaw requiring all condo buildings to have a recycling program could benefit pickers as condos could partner with them to pick up recyclables on a daily basis.  I suggested an “adopt-a-picker” program to Kate who thought that might work. 

The worst part of the occupation is when “garbage juice” spills all over you.

The Calgary Drop In Centre recognizes bottle picking as a job and therefore provide pickers with bag lunches.

Experienced pickers help new pickers learn the informal rules and code of conduct of picking – things like respecting others, getting to know the neighbours and restaurateurs where you pick, cleaning up back alley messes they encounter if possible, picking up needles and disposing of them safely, and looking out for other pickers who might be sick or in trouble.

Park benches designed so pickers can't sleep on them. 

Park benches designed so pickers can't sleep on them. 

Health Issues

Cuts, scrapes (which easily get infected) and pulled muscles are common occupational hazards. These often become magnified because pickers don’t or can’t seek medical attention as they have to work every day to earn money for everyday expenses. Pickers survive day-to-day, not payday-to-payday.

The Sheldon Chumir Health Centre is considered a safe place to seek treatment and pickers trust the staff there.  There is even a place at the entrance to park their carts.  Problem is if a cart is full, a picker won’t leave it there as it may get stolen.  As a result, the cart parking is rarely used.

About 50% of pickers are homeless, however, the picking profession and homeless shelters are incongruent.  Why? Because the shelters don’t allow clients to leave at 4 or 5 am to head out for work. Also they have no safe place to store any bottles and cans they might have with them at evening check-in time. This leads to pickers often staying up all night to guard their stash or sleep outdoors, both of which carry health and safety risks.

Lack of access to adequate public washrooms means personal hygiene is very compromised.

We did walk down one alley, just west of the Mustard Seed but it had no dumpster or bins.  It was as clean as a whistle. 

We did walk down one alley, just west of the Mustard Seed but it had no dumpster or bins.  It was as clean as a whistle. 

Beltline Bottle Picker Blues

There is a “love-hate” relationship between pickers and public. Some Calgarians will leave a bag of bottles and cans next to bins so pickers don’t have to root through the bins; others will chase them away.

One of the strangest things I heard a picker say, when we were in Memorial Park, was this is “relocation of population by urban design.” Wow…was this guy an urban planner! He pointed out how some benches in the park have armrests in the middle of them so nobody can sleep on them. He then shared with us all of the other public “anti-sleeping” urban designs throughout the City Centre.  He was not clearly happy about the City taking away places to sleep in public.

One of the saddest things I heard was when a picker was asked about the ratio of male to female pickers. He said, “there are very few female pickers; it is too degrading for them. They’d rather do favours for money.”  It is pretty hard to shock me given my history with street poverty (I was instrumental in setting up the Calgary Homeless Foundation and a founding Director; I researched and organized the “Make Real Change With Your Spare Change” panhandling program and have done the ride along with the EXIT Van visiting prostitutes on the street to check on their health and safety.) But this shock and sadden me.

Cart parking spots for pickers at the front entrance of the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre are never used.

Cart parking spots for pickers at the front entrance of the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre are never used.

Just My Opinion

I was expecting to explore the back alleys and see first hand what pickers encountered and maybe check out a dumpster or two.  It would have been interesting to see how many bottles and cans we could collect in 90 minutes and see what looks we might get from strangers.  I was expecting a more hands-on appreciation of the sights and smells of the yucky life/job of being a picker.  

It seemed to me Calgary Can was very careful to manage the messaging.  At the tour’s end, Calgary Can volunteers handed out a postcard with these compelling facts:

  • 26,000 bottle and cans are sent to the landfill every two hours in Calgary (shame on us)
  • It is estimated over 1,000 bottle pickers venture out into neighbourhoods throughout Calgary every day to help divert bottles and cans from landfills.
  • Bottle pickers face social exclusion, unsteady and low pay and unsafe work conditions on a daily basis to make a living.
  • Bottle pickers are entrepreneurs, environmental stewards, waste diverters and community members. 

To me This Jane’s Walk was more like a Jane’s Talk in that it could easily have been a PowerPoint lecture. The locations we visited didn't provide us with any special insights into bottle picker's world. While I respect the work being done by Calgary Can, it all seemed a bit too sanitized and rehearsed for me.

 

 

 

Calgary's SUPERTRAIN: Super Fun For Everyone!

I think I found train heaven….

One of the highlights of the show was the model based on downtown Calgary made of lego.  I especially loved the use of colour.  The narratives and sense of humour in the models was outstanding.  Be sure to checkout the strange vignette section later in this blog.

One of the highlights of the show was the model based on downtown Calgary made of lego.  I especially loved the use of colour.  The narratives and sense of humour in the models was outstanding.  Be sure to checkout the strange vignette section later in this blog.

Others!

One of the great things about living in a city are the numerous opportunities to learn more about what makes others tick. And the hobbies and interests of others intrigue me – be they cosplay, gardening, quilting, orchids, bingos, skateboarding or in this case, those who bring their trains trains out of their basements to share with others.

For years, I have seen the banners on the overhead bridges promoting an annual Calgary Train Show but never attended – until this year.

An added bonus was it was being held at the Genesis Centre in the far northeast one of Calgary’s growing number of mega community centres (with multiple arenas, gyms, meeting rooms, as well as a YMCA and Calgary Public Library), which I have never been to.

The Bow Tower with the Happy Head in place of ghost-like Wonderland sculpture was a fun surprise!

The Bow Tower with the Happy Head in place of ghost-like Wonderland sculpture was a fun surprise!

Train Heaven

We (I have a three year old friend who loves trains and thought it would be fun to go with him and his Dad) arrived shortly after it opened on Sunday morning at 10 am to find the parking lot already almost full. 

There was a mini three-car CPR train next to the parking lot for kids to play on and for photos - definitely, a good first impression. As did the many food trucks lining the grand sidewalk to the Centre.

Admission was quick and easy - kids under 15 are free; adults $15. 

A few steps and you are looking down into a vast multiple arena expanse that has been magically transformed into train heaven – whether you love to play with trains, learn about Canada train history, find out more about unique train trip opportunities, create your own basement train heaven, or even just people watch.

The 100+ exhibitors were very friendly and knowledgeable, willing to share information about their model train experiences.  There were lots of new and vintage train sets to purchase along with hands-on opportunities to learn how to construct buildings, trees and other elements to create your own fun vignettes.  Did you know,  you can download templates for miniature life-like buildings for only a few dollars?  There were lots of great tips being shared.

Here are some SUPERTRAIN postcards?

This was only half of the displays and exhibitions. 

This was only half of the displays and exhibitions. 

Anxiously awaiting the arrival of the next train. 

Anxiously awaiting the arrival of the next train. 

This is a work in progress, started 10 years ago by Ross and Scott Tyler who are now 17 and 15 years old respectively. 

This is a work in progress, started 10 years ago by Ross and Scott Tyler who are now 17 and 15 years old respectively. 

It was fun to learn about all of the railway adventures and museums in Western Canada.

It was fun to learn about all of the railway adventures and museums in Western Canada.

Just a few of the railway artifacts available. 

Just a few of the railway artifacts available. 

This gentleman was demonstrating how the telegraph worked. 

This gentleman was demonstrating how the telegraph worked. 

Big kids in a candy store? 

Big kids in a candy store? 

Model building demonstration. 

Model building demonstration. 

All of the buildings in this model were built using templates downloaded from the internet. 

All of the buildings in this model were built using templates downloaded from the internet. 

Strange Vignettes

For those with a keen eye, the best surprise of the event for me was the subtle - and not so subtle - sense of humour of the vignettes the model railroad builders have created.  

Who says grumpy old guys (yes, it seems to be mostly an old men’s club, just like quilting is a women’s club) don’t have a sense of humour?

For those who don't know, K D Lang is a famous Alberta singer songwriter and an advocate for not eating meat. 

For those who don't know, K D Lang is a famous Alberta singer songwriter and an advocate for not eating meat. 

What at first looks like an everyday busy street scene has nude sunbathers on the rooftop, as well as two guys mooning the neighbours.  

What at first looks like an everyday busy street scene has nude sunbathers on the rooftop, as well as two guys mooning the neighbours.  

This search is happening at a US/Mexican boarder crossing, while next to them immigrates are crawling under the fence (see next photo).  

This search is happening at a US/Mexican boarder crossing, while next to them immigrates are crawling under the fence (see next photo).  

Another street scene -  look closely and you will see police shouting at people at the Transit Hotel and what looks like ladies of the night on the front porch of the hotel. 

Another street scene -  look closely and you will see police shouting at people at the Transit Hotel and what looks like ladies of the night on the front porch of the hotel. 

Many of the vignettes seem to deal with crashes.  Boys will be boys?

Many of the vignettes seem to deal with crashes.  Boys will be boys?

Look carefully and you will see the cafe is on fire and someone is being taken to the ambulance. There is more rooftop activity and of course the "Jesus Saves" sign. 

Look carefully and you will see the cafe is on fire and someone is being taken to the ambulance. There is more rooftop activity and of course the "Jesus Saves" sign. 

You could easily miss this rescue mission as this was part of a huge display.  Note the rock climbers on the left as well as the rescue taking place.  

You could easily miss this rescue mission as this was part of a huge display.  Note the rock climbers on the left as well as the rescue taking place.  

The attention to detail and the narrative in the displays was amazing. 

The attention to detail and the narrative in the displays was amazing. 

Loved the slam dunk in this vignette. 

Loved the slam dunk in this vignette. 

This maze had the smallest people I have ever seen in a model.  I couldn't help but wonder if the designers of this model making a statement about modern life? 

This maze had the smallest people I have ever seen in a model.  I couldn't help but wonder if the designers of this model making a statement about modern life? 

SUPERTRAIN History (from website)

SUPERTRAIN is presented by the Calgary Model Railway Society (CMRS). CMRS has almost 400 members from Calgary and area who share an interest in the hobby of Model Railroading, and a desire to showcase the hobby to the public.

Organized model railroading in Calgary goes back to 1934, when the first club, Calgary Model Trainmen, was started. CMT continues today, and over the years has spawned dozens of other groups and clubs. Throughout the years the various clubs held their own shows and exhibits. In 1994, several of these clubs decided to work together to put on a major Model Railroad Show for the public.

The first model train show to use the name SUPERTRAIN was held in March 1995 at Mewata Armouries, featuring 28 displays and exhibits. By 1999, SUPERTRAIN had outgrown Mewata, and a new venue in the Big Four Building at the Stampede Grounds became home for the show. By this time, SUPERTRAIN had become an annual event on Family Day Weekend, and as many as 14,000 people attended over the two day show.

Today SUPERTRAIN has become Canada's biggest and best annual train show. If you are interested in becoming a member of the Calgary Model Railway Society.

Visit them at www.calgarymodelrailway.ca

Last Word 

SUPERTRAIN is just one of many fun festivals and events that happen almost continuously in larger cities.  In just the past week, alone film buffs got to enjoy CUFF (Calgary Underground Film Festival), pet lovers had Calgary Pet Expo and train fanatics had the SUPERTRAIN.

Later this week, 100,000 costume lovers will invade Stampede Park for Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo (April 27 to 30), as well as the colourful and playful Parade of Wonders happens on Friday, April 28th from Eau Claire to Olympic Plaza. And the Calgary Horticultural Society's Garden Show happens at Spruce Meadows this weekend. 

Gotta love the quirkiness of urban living!

If you like this blog, you will like:

Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo Fun 2016

Austin's Kite Festival: Colourful, Crazy & Chaos

 

Calgary Underground Film Festival

 

 

 

11th Street SW is Calgary's Green Street

While 2nd, 4th and 8th Streets SW get most of the attention as the Beltline’s trendy pedestrian corridors, for my money 11th St SW wins hands-down.  It is home to the historic sandstone Connaught School, the charming Kalamata Grocery Store and Calgary Co-op’s Midtown store. It also has Good Earth Café’s flagship store, as well as the historic Galaxie Diner.

Deadending at 17th Avenue SW, it gets limited vehicle traffic, making for a pleasant pedestrian experience.  And with four green spaces – the Connaught schoolyard, Connaught Park, Thomson Family Park and Shaw Millenium Park – we should all be green with envy!

Backstory

In the early 20th century, 11th Street was the main street for those living on the west side of Connaught community that extended from 4th to 14th St. SW and from railway tracks to 17th Ave. SW (today’s Beltline was formed in 2003 by the merger of Connaught, founded in 1905 and Victoria Park, founded in 1914). 
The red brick 1912 Brigden Block is a nice reminder of the mixed-use buildings (retail at street level and residential above) that lined 11th Street a century ago.  Walter James Brigden was a London-born grocer and butcher and the building has been home to a neighbourhood grocery store since it opened.  
In 1978, Jim Kokos opened the Kalamata Grocery store, (named after the olive-rich region in Greece where he was from) and today his two sons operate it. 
And yes, they carry a wide array of olives. 

New Parks / New Art

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 10.10.23 PM.png

This past June, 11th Street’s appeal increased significantly with the addition of Calgary’s first off-leash urban dog park.  Designed by Calgary’s Studio 818 in the existing Connaught Park, the east half of the park now has separate fenced areas for big and little dogs, seating for owners and a water fountain for the dogs.

The Beltline is home to 650 licensed dogs and who knows how many unlicensed ones.  Like all dog parks, it is a popular community hangout for humans and canines summer and winter.   

Too bad the gate didn't stay in the park.

Too bad the gate didn't stay in the park.

Then just four months later, Thomson Family Park, designed by Calgary’s Ground3 Landscape Architects opened to much fanfare. 

This park space dates back to 1923 when it was the home of the Calgary Lawn Bowling Club, which recently moved to Spruce Cliff. 

Today, this welcoming contemporary urban park for all ages includes a contemporary playground, a hill with a slide, a promenade, picnic area, grass playing field, winter outdoor skating rink (with overhead lighting for night use) summer water feature and public artwork.  

It might surprise some that 750 children under the age of 4 and 1,200 under 14 (2014 Civic Census) call the Beltline home. 

One of the parks highlights is neon-coloured mural created by Calgary artist Sergey Ryutin with help from young people as part of the “Painted City Street Art Program for Youth.” Look carefully and you will see the words “The Readiness is All” which is taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2.

This is an interesting choice for a “family park” given it refers to Hamlet’s “readiness to die.”  The City of Calgary’s website explains “Throughout the play, Hamlet constantly debates the meaning of life… this line demonstrates Hamlet’s new thinking and that he is at peace with the inevitable. In a general sense, this line is a good reminder, to everyone, to always be ready for anything. Everyone will face either a difficult situation or decision at some point in their lives, and being prepared for that can make a significant difference.”

Most park visitors just glance at the art and think, “that’s colourful and playful.” Others will notice the words, but have no idea of the meaning and forget about it. And a few others might know the meaning (or go home and look it up as I did) and think about what it might mean in the context of a public space and the diversity of people who hang out there.

Last Word

Good streets, parks and public art should appeal to citizens of all ages and backgrounds on many different levels - 11th Street SW does just that.

An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section, April 8, 2017.  White is an avid urban flaneur. Follow him on twitter @everydaytourist or read his blogs at everydaytourist.ca

If you like this blog, you will like:

Beltline: One of North America's Best Hipster Villages

Beautifying The Beltline

Beautiful Downtown Bowness