Recently I came across an early 20th century postcard showcasing Calgary’s 13th Avenue SW. It was an image of a street lined with lovely new homes that immediately struck me as looking exactly like a new street in any one of Calgary’s many new communities on the edge of the city.
It also reminded me that 13th Avenue was Calgary’s first millionaires row, with the most well known mansion being the Lougheed House and its lovely garden.
Why 13th Ave?
This caused me ponder and reflect. Why would Calgary’s rich and famous choose 13th Avenue SW.? I am guessing it was because it was close to where they lived, worked and played i.e. downtown – but not too close. It was far enough away from the CPR rail tracks and the warehouses along 10th Avenue, but close enough to the passenger train station. And, it was near the new Carnegie library in Central Park, now Memorial Park.
Right Side Of The Tracks
In the late 19th and early 20th century, the CPR rail line was the only transportation route into and out of our then the frontier city. It essentially divided the City in half - business on the north side and residential on the south side, a divide that still exists today.
This then had me wondering what other major transportation decisions over the past century have shaped urban living in Calgary today.
Deerfoot Trail Divide
Harry Hiller, urban sociologist at the University of Calgary coined the term “Deerfoot Divide” in the ‘90s in reference to how the creation of Deerfoot Trail in the ‘70s divided the city into residential development to its west and commercial development to its east. Deerfoot Trail has since become part of the CANAMEX Corridor, an important trucking route linking Western Canada with the western United States and Mexico, pivotal in allowing Calgary to become a major inland port.
Over the past 30+ years, the land east of the Deerfoot has increasingly become home to mega warehouses, distribution centres and intermodal facilities. Only recently has there been new communities developed east of the Deerfoot Divide.
Backstory: Deerfoot Trail was originally called the Blackfoot Trail Freeway when the first section opened in 1971. However, it was renamed in 1974 to honour Deerfoot (1864 – 1897) a late 19th century Siksika Nation long distance runner, known for his exceptional speed. He served as a foot carrier who carried messages between forts in southern Alberta and northern Montana.
A statue of Deerfoot was located at the entrance to Deerfoot Mall, now being redeveloped as Deerfoot City.
Mcleod Trail has a similar history earlier in the 20th century, as most of the land to the east of Mcleod is industrial and commercial uses, while to the west is all residential.
The LRT Influence
Fast forward to the late ‘70s. The route for the NW LRT was announced and immediately there was controversy.
People living in Sunnyside were not happy to have the noise and congestion that the LRT (then an unknown commodity) would bring to their peaceful bohemian community.
Early NIMBYism? Over time, the houses next to the LRT line became very tired and rundown. Only recently have new upscale condo development near the station has begun to happen – Pixel and LIDO by Battisella Developments and Kensington and Ven by Bucci Developments.
In fact, it has taken decades for the land around the NW LRT stations to attract new urban development – Renaissance condos at Lions Park Station, University City condos at Brentwood Station and The Groves of Varsity at the Dalhousie Station.
However, today more and more Calgarians are adopting the urban living lifestyle that is more oriented to transit, cycling and walking than driving. Future Transit-Oriented sites include Anderson, Banff Trail, Chinook and Westbrook Stations.
However, 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, Los Angeles) sees a big problem in having LRT stations in the middle of a major road, “as it is less than ideal for walkability because you must walk a hundred metres to just get over the roadway.”
Green Line New Deerfoot?
With the recent announcement of the Green Line LRT route, one can only wonder what impact it will have on the urban living in Calgary’s future. When fully built, it will be 46 km long with 28 stations. Will it be the new Deerfoot Trail?
In the case of the Green Line, master planned urban communities are already being developed in anticipation of its construction. Remington Developments conceived Quarry Park in the early 21th century as a “work, live, play” community knowing the LRT would eventually connect it to the downtown.
Today, it sports its own shopping centre, recreation centre, library, diversity of housing options and signature 90-acre nature reserve along the Bow River. It is home to several major head offices including Imperial Oil. Already, about 1,500 people live in Quarry Park and 10,000 people work there. When fully built out, it will be home to 4,000 residents and 20,000 workers. It is anticipated 25% of those living in Quarry Park will also work there and that 80% will live in a condo or apartment buildings.
Another up and running community is SETON (which stands for SE town). It was conceived by Brookfield Residential as a transit-oriented complete community with its downtown anchored by the South Health Campus. It was designed as an urban hub at the end of the SE leg of Calgary’s LRT system as it was called before the SE and North legs were combined to become the Green Line.
Similarly, Brookfield Residential planned Livingston at the north end of the Green Line as a mixed-use, transit-oriented community even before the Green Line was approved.
Indeed, there are lots of other examples of how changes in urban transportation in Calgary have shaped our city’s built form. Perhaps the biggest of all was the relocation of the Calgary International Airport in the mid ‘70s to what was then the northeast edge of the city. Today, not only is the airport a major employment center, but all of the land surrounding the airport has become a huge warehouse distribution centre. For many years the airport was a barrier to residential development, as nobody wanted to leave north or east of the airport, however, in the past decade the demand for housing with easy access to the Airport City has created a housing boom in Airdrie, as well as new northeast Calgary communities - Redstone, Skyview Ranch, StoneGate Landing and Cityscape.
People want to live close to work today, just like they did in the Beltline then know as Connaught in the early 20th century – just like in my postcard.
Over the last 100+ years, each of Calgary’s mega transportation projects has dramatically reshaped how Calgarians “live, work and play.” It will be very interesting in 50 years to see how the Ring Road has influenced urban living in Calgary.
Note: This blog was originally commissioned for Condo Living Magazine and published in two part in September and October 2017.