Mission is marvellous

I have always thought Mission would be a marvellous place to live.  It has a grocery store, two drug stores, banks, restaurants, galleries, fitness and medical services galore. 

It has charming old homes, as well as low, mid and high rise condos (new and old).  It even has its own elementary, junior and high school – not many City Centre communities in North America can boast that. There is a community garden and lovely pathways along the Elbow River too. 

Who could ask for anything more?

Mission is home to numerous charming walk-up apartments like the Avonlea.

Mission is home to numerous charming walk-up apartments like the Avonlea.

It is also home to lots of new low-rise condos.

It is also home to lots of new low-rise condos.

It is also home to multi-million dollar waterfront condos along the Elbow River. 

It is also home to multi-million dollar waterfront condos along the Elbow River. 

Walkability

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Fourth Street SW, Mission’s Main Street, extends from 26th Avenue to 17th Avenue SW and even beyond.  It has a lovely diversity of pedestrian-oriented businesses - independent cafes like Purple Perk and Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters, upscale restaurants like Wurst and Mercato, neighbourhood pubs like Ducky’s and Joyce on 4th and one of Calgary’s oldest commercial art galleries - Masters Gallery.

The Walk Score website gives Mission a Walk Score of 84, making it the 11th most walkable neighbourhood in Calgary.

The only reason the score isn’t higher is because there is no LRT stop in the community otherwise, everything is within walking distance – downtown, Stampede Park, Memorial Park Library, 17th Ave shops and Repsol Sport Centre.

Mission's La Boulanderie Bakery Cafe offers a little bit of Paris in Calgary.   

Mission's La Boulanderie Bakery Cafe offers a little bit of Paris in Calgary.  

Purple Perk is one of Calgary's signature independent cafes. 

Purple Perk is one of Calgary's signature independent cafes. 

Frankly Heisler's Dream Fragment has weathered nicely outside the BMO branch on 4th Street SW.

Frankly Heisler's Dream Fragment has weathered nicely outside the BMO branch on 4th Street SW.

Architecture & History

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Mission is home to St Mary’s Cathedral looks like it has been there forever but in reality only since 1956. The original St. Mary’s Church was a massive sandstone building with twin-domed towers built in 1889 and consecrated as a cathedral in 1913.

The architect for the new cathedral, a modernist interpretation of Gothic architecture dominated by its 40-meter bell tower, was Maxwell Bates, best known as a highly respected painter whose art can be seen at Masters Gallery.

Not many Calgarians are aware that tucked away at 141- 18th Street SW sits St. Mary’s Parish Hall, built in 1905 and sold to the Canadian Northern Railway in 1911, who converted the building into a train station which operated until 1971. It is now home of Alberta Ballet and its dance studio.

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Mission was also home to Calgary’s first major hospital - the Holy Cross, built in 1892 and expanded in 1928 and 1950.  Though none of the original hospital remains, the NcNabb wing, with its distinctive pillars built in 1947, still exists right on 2nd St. SW.

In an ironic twist, while Mission’s history is dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, Calgary’s Jewish community in 1930 acquired a site on Centre Street at 18th Avenue SW to build the House of Israel. However, it wasn’t until 1949 that the Art Deco building was finally completed and became the centre of Jewish life in Calgary. In 1960, the Tzedec Synagogue was built next door, but the “flight to the suburbs” in the late 20th century resulted in a new Jewish Centre in the community of Palliser in 1979.  After sitting vacant for several years the Mission buildings were sold and transformed into condominiums in 1998. 

I love that the former street names have been added to the street signs as reminder of the history of the community. 

I love that the former street names have been added to the street signs as reminder of the history of the community. 

The new St. Mary's church.

The new St. Mary's church.

Last Word

Built in 1973, the Mission Centre office building's curved architecture foreshadows that of the Bow Tower and has a better interface with the street.  

Built in 1973, the Mission Centre office building's curved architecture foreshadows that of the Bow Tower and has a better interface with the street.  

Mission is indeed marvellous and is an example of a Jane Jacob’s (late 20th century advocate for the importance of diversity and human scale development in creating vibrant inner-city communities) village in Calgary with its mix of old and new, affordable, modest and luxury homes along with shops that meet residents’ everyday needs.

It is also home to several old and new office buildings which help to give it a buzz weekdays, as well as evenings and weekends.

Watch for new Mission residential developments by Grosvenor on 4th St. at 17th Ave. SW and InDevelopments on the old Peking Dragon Site on 4th St. and 19th Ave. SW.

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An edited version of this blog was commissioned for the January 2018 issue of Condo Living magazine. 

N3: No parking! No cars! No worries!

I recently had a chance to tour Knightsbridge Homes’ and Metropia’s controversial new N3 condo in East Village, which has absolutely no parking for residents or visitors. While some saw the lack of parking as a huge risk in a city where most citizens can’t live without a car, Joe Starkman, President Knightsbridge Homes and his team did their research and realized while the market in Calgary for a condo with no parking was small, all he needed was 167 people in a city of over one million to sign up. 

Looking west to downtown...

Looking west to downtown...

Turns out he was correct. The 460 to 620 square foot condos were quickly snapped up. Today, the building is fully occupied with residents who love living East Village where almost everything is - or soon will be - within walking distance or a quick transit ride away.

While the homes are small, I and the two other housing professionals I was with were very impressed with their efficient designed.  While one might think N3’s market would be a haven for millennials, many were empty nesters.   

Communal living room...

Communal living room...

IKEA Connection

What I found really interesting too was that every buyer was given a $500 IKEA gift card to help outfit their condo, a Lifetime Car2Go Membership, $500 in Car2Go mileage credits and a $500 gift card to Bow Cycle. Obviously, N3 was destined to become a haven for walkers and cyclists, who only needed a car occasionally.  I also learned a special weekend IKEA bus (hourly service starting at 11 am) was established not only for N3 but all East Village residents and the City Center at the N3 condo show suite – it still operates today.

Double decker bike parking...

Double decker bike parking...

Top To Bottom Appeal

Calgary’s GEC architects designed a handsome building, which includes a spectacular roof top patio, complete with kitchen facilities and workout space.  The patio has million dollar views of the downtown skyline, as well as great views of the new Central Library, the river and mountains. The rooftop patio was very well used this summer, becoming a communal living room for all residents. It is a view that will never disappear, as all of the surrounding buildings will never get any taller.

Its basement is probably the best bike storage in Calgary.  It comes complete with a bike repair and washing area.  There is direct access to the mews between N3 and St. Louis hotel with a bike friendly ramp and of course state-of-the-art secure storage racks.  The bike room is bright and airy, not a dark and dingy basement.

Rooftop view looking NE...

Rooftop view looking NE...

Rooftop view looking south...

Rooftop view looking south...

Mixed Use

Like all good City Centre condo developments, N3 includes commercial uses at ground level.  Tim Hortons has recently opened along the 4th Street SE street frontage while The Brewer’s Apprentice has opened in the mid-block mews that separates N3 from the historic St. Louis Hotel.  Apprentice is a unique, high-tech concept that offers 48 different craft beers from Alberta and beyond.  They offer tastings and in addition to buying beer in cans and bottles, you can get freshly poured growlers and tallboys.

Kudos to the GEC architectural team who chose to make the entrance to N3 from the mews and not from 8th Ave SE or 4th St SE, thereby allowing for better commercial space at street level and a funky, European-like space in the mews.

Entrance to N3 is from the mews...

Entrance to N3 is from the mews...

View from balcony....

View from balcony....

Last Word

While N3 offered the lowest cost new condo prices in East Village and probably in all of the City Centre, it is by no means a low cost building. The amenities rival those of luxury condos.  I chatted with several residents during my tour and everyone was very happy with their purchase.

N3 has been so successfully Starkman and his team are going to “do it again.” Well, not exactly. They are currently developing plans for the 14-storey Velo, which will have a mix of housing types including mico-suites (under 250 sq. ft.), seniors’ housing and housing for the ably-disabled all in one tower.  And yes it will have some parking but not the typical amount.

As for the significance of the name N3, officially it stands for New attitude, New vision and New lifestyle, my interpretation is No parking, No cars, No worries!

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section, Dec 23, 2017.

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Infill Capital of North America: Calgary vs Nashville

For decades now, I thought Calgary was the infill capital of North America.  This belief comes not from any scientific-based research but rather from wandering the inner city streets of Austin, Denver, Chicago, San Diego, Montreal, Ottawa, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver and several other cities over the past decade.  And in that time, I have not seen anything that compares to Calgary’s plethora of new homes being built in Calgary’s established communities. 

To be clear, I am not talking about infill condos but infill single family, duplex, triplex and row housing. 

New infill homes homes in Nashville's City Centre are very popular.

New infill homes homes in Nashville's City Centre are very popular.

It was surprising how many of the infill homes didn't have garages in Nashville and if they did often is was just a single car garage. 

It was surprising how many of the infill homes didn't have garages in Nashville and if they did often is was just a single car garage. 

At least, that’s what I thought, until I went to Nashville!

After spending three days at the lovely Omni Hotel in the heart of downtown Nashville, we moved to an Airbnb in the trendy 12 South district, situated about 4 km from downtown. Across the street was a lovely new, two-story, single-family house while two doors down was an infill duplex not unlike what we would see in Calgary’s Altadore or Parkdale communities. 

Skinny Homes

Who knew I had chosen an Airbnb in the infill epicentre of Nashville! Not only were there new infill homes on almost every block, but the back lanes were filled with what they call “guest homes.”  Most often these homes were built above the garage but in some cases they were completely independent homes.  

Nashville’s infill homes are known locally as “Tall Skinnys,” which was in fact what the earlier Calgary infills were often called.  While Calgary’s infill housing dates back to the late ‘80s, in Nashville it is a relatively new phenomenon starting around 2010. 

However – and not surprisingly - communities there are protesting how infills are negatively changing the architecture of the communities.  In true southern style, attractive early and mid-century brick, colonial and craftsman homes with lovely big porches on huge lots (it is not uncommon for lots to be 100 by 200 feet) populate Nashville’s established communities.  

It is vastly different from the cookie-cutter homes that were built in the ‘40s ‘50s and ‘60s in Calgary’s inner city.

An example of a large corner lot with three houses (one old and two new) with room still lots of grass. Note: no sidewalk. 

An example of a large corner lot with three houses (one old and two new) with room still lots of grass. Note: no sidewalk. 

An older duplex with the umbilical cord attachment between the two new houses. 

An older duplex with the umbilical cord attachment between the two new houses. 

As I wandered, I also noticed many of the new infill houses had strange connections between them, including one that looked like a +15 bridge.  

I later learned a previous building code required some kind of attachment between the two dwellings on the same lot, leading to small shared walls nicknamed “umbilical cords.”

Fortunately, the city has cut the “umbilical cord” and they are no longer required.

In the 12 South community, a new heritage bylaw no longer allows developers to demolish an old house. Instead, they have to renovate and incorporate it into the new larger home which often becomes a duplex with one home facing the street and one the back alley.  In some cases, three homes can be squeezed onto a corner lot.

Construction of two houses on one lot, one at the front and one in the back.  Note there are no basements in most Nashville homes. 

Construction of two houses on one lot, one at the front and one in the back.  Note there are no basements in most Nashville homes. 

An older home being renovated with the addition of second floor and new home at the back. 

An older home being renovated with the addition of second floor and new home at the back. 

Nashville back alley home.

Nashville back alley home.

Design

Nashville’s skinnys are also made to appear skinnier by design elements that accentuate the vertical nature of the homes.  Most have steep pitched, gabled roofs. The siding is often installed vertically rather than horizontally creating an even more of a sense of height.

This could easily be in any one of dozens of Calgary's inner-city communities, but this is in Nashville's 12 South District. 

This could easily be in any one of dozens of Calgary's inner-city communities, but this is in Nashville's 12 South District. 

Some have both a porch and balcony above, resulting in pillars or posts that give the home’s façade a more vertical thrust.  

For some reason, almost all homes in Nashville are built several feet above the roadway even though they don’t have basements. 

In effect, this can add another half story to the house, creating a taller effect.

New homes at the front and at the back of the lot create four new homes on one large lot.

New homes at the front and at the back of the lot create four new homes on one large lot.

Vertical siding is also quite common in Nashville.

Vertical siding is also quite common in Nashville.

It is very common to have a few step at the sidewalk to get up to the front lawn and then more steps at the house help enhance the image of a tall skinny house.

It is very common to have a few step at the sidewalk to get up to the front lawn and then more steps at the house help enhance the image of a tall skinny house.

Strangest Infill Project Ever

We love to get off the beaten path, which one day included a bus transfer in the Gulch community (aka Calgary’s East Village) where we decided to wander a bit before catching the next bus. 

Crossing under an overpass, we encountered the strangest City Centre infill project I have ever seen. It was a completely new subdivision with tiny identical homes on huge lots, all with manicured lawns, no fences and not a person in sight.  It was a surreal, pastoral suburban-looking community sitting just blocks away from new highrises.  Turns out it is a public housing project that replaced an older inner-city apartment project.

It seemed such a waste of land in the middle of the city.

New City Centre infill community in Nashville.  You can see the new condo and office cranes in the distance . Nashville has nothing to compare to Calgary's mega East Village, Currie or University District urban villages. 

New City Centre infill community in Nashville.  You can see the new condo and office cranes in the distance. Nashville has nothing to compare to Calgary's mega East Village, Currie or University District urban villages. 

Calgary: Still The Reigning Infill Capital

Since 2012, 4,876 new infill homes (single and duplex) have been built in Calgary. By the end of September 2017, already 659 new infill homes have been built or are under construction. 

Altadore leads the way with 421 new infills, followed by Killarney/Glengarry (368), Mount Pleasant (346), Richmond (229) and West Hillhurst (208).

Wandering more streets in other communities around Nashville’s City Centre, it was obvious that while infill housing is happening in all of its established communities, 12 South is the epicentre. 

I contacted Craig Owensby, Nashville’s Planning Department’s Public Information Officer to see if I could get similar stats for Nashville, but unfortunately they don’t keep records of infill development as a separate sub-category for new builds.

So while Nashville indeed has a very active infill housing market, is not nearly as old, widespread or vibrant as Calgary’s.  So, in my opinion, Calgary remains the “Infill Capital of North America.”

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Homes section on Saturday, November 25, 2017.  

Calgary's inner-city communities were dominated by these small single story homes on 50 by 120 foot lots until the 1980s when new infill homes started to become popular. 

Calgary's inner-city communities were dominated by these small single story homes on 50 by 120 foot lots until the 1980s when new infill homes started to become popular. 

This street in Parkdale is on the block immediately west of the one above. It is lined with new infills that illustrate the diversity of infill designs that can be found in Calgary.

This street in Parkdale is on the block immediately west of the one above. It is lined with new infills that illustrate the diversity of infill designs that can be found in Calgary.

This is a street in Calgary's Hillhurst community, it looked like a suburban parade of show homes when I took the photo a few years ago. These homes are very popular with young families, which helps to revitalize established communities, creating a healthy inner-city.     Today, even in a recession there are new infill homes being built on almost every other block in all established communities within 5 to 10 km of downtown. 

This is a street in Calgary's Hillhurst community, it looked like a suburban parade of show homes when I took the photo a few years ago. These homes are very popular with young families, which helps to revitalize established communities, creating a healthy inner-city.

Today, even in a recession there are new infill homes being built on almost every other block in all established communities within 5 to 10 km of downtown. 

Mesa: Viewpoint RV & Golf Resort Is Heavenly!

Recently, I was invited by a golf buddy to drive with him to Mesa, Arizona - to share the driving and get in some rounds of golf. A perfect win-win.

While I expected a fun week of golf, I didn’t expect to have my “view” of trailer park living in Mesa radically changed.  After a week at Viewpoint RV & Golf Resort, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

Don't Worry Be Happy is everyone's mantra at Viewpoint!

Don't Worry Be Happy is everyone's mantra at Viewpoint!

People-Friendly

No sooner had we parked the car, when the Iowa neighbours (you couldn’t miss their large Iowa University Haweyes’ flag on the front of the trailer) across the street came over and introduced themselves.  They immediately invited us to the Happy Hour block party that day – in fact, it happens every Thursday afternoon.  Turns out, everyone takes a turn hosting the weekly event. Everyone brings their own beverage and appies to share to this no fuss party.  Later, we also discovered every Monday is Burger Night at the on-site golf course restaurant for the 1700 block party people.

I love that everyone says “Hi” as they pass by - be it walking, cycling or in a golf cart.  I also love the fact almost everyone has a front patio/porch that is well used, with residents and visitors often “spilling out” onto their carport which can easily be transformed into a lovely outdoor living space. No hiding out in the privacy of a backyard here!

Yes, I was a little tipsy when I took this pic.

Yes, I was a little tipsy when I took this pic.

Street-Friendly

No sidewalks, no problem! Everyone shares the road – cars, bikes, pedestrians and golf carts all on the roadways with seemingly equal status.  It was interesting to experience a community where the speed limit for cars is 25 km/hr.  Not only were the slow moving cars less intimidating, but it was much quieter.

Sharing the road....

Sharing the road....

On site amenities

Tennis anyone?

Tennis anyone?

As the week unfolded, I became more and more impressed with the amazing array of recreational amenities Viewpoint offers residents. Along with 18 and 9- hole golf courses on site, there are dozens of tennis and pickle ball courts, as well as shuffleboard, several swimming pools and hot tubs, two fitness centers and a very attractive softball diamond.

You can’t help but want to be active! If I were to winter here, my active living would definitely increase, maybe adding years to my life.

You could of had the pool to yourself this morning!

You could of had the pool to yourself this morning!

In addition to recreational facilities, there is a large library, a huge mixed-use ballroom/banquet hall (live concerts, church services, dances, show and sales) and dozens of special interest clubs (e.g. aviator, creative writing, computer, Mah Jong, quilting, photography, hiking etc). I understand there is an impressive quilt show in the spring.

Pretty much everything you could ask for in the way of everyday needs is just a short distance away – an easy cycle to the grocery store and coffee shop, short drive to major shopping, cinemas and just off the #202 freeway, you have easy access to Mesa and Phoenix airports, other Phoenix area attractions and many hiking trails. 

I'm going to knock this one out of the park....

I'm going to knock this one out of the park....

Mesa 101

Friends who have been going to Mesa for February and March every year tell me the city is definitely under-rated.  They love the free weekly outdoor concerts at the Mesa Art Centre, the fun bronze sculpture walk along Mesa’s Main Street, catching an Oakland Athletics and Chicago Clubs spring training ball game, visiting the mega Mesa Market Swap Meet, taking visitors to The Commemorative Air Force Museum at Falcon Field, Barleen’s Arizona Opry (dinner show) and Organ Stop Pizza.

They love that there are lots of reasonably priced golf courses and great hiking spots - Silly Mountain, Usery Mountain or Superstition Mountain are favourites – all less than a 30 minute drive away. Link: Hiking in Mesa

Mesa’s great freeways let you get to places like the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Phoenix Zoo, Phoenix Botanical Gardens and the Musical Instruments Museum - annual “must-see” places for them and visitors.

Phoenix's Botanical Gardens is a great walk in a park .  LInk:  Botanical Garden: Right Place! Right Time!

Phoenix's Botanical Gardens is a great walk in a park.  LInk: Botanical Garden: Right Place! Right Time!

Scottsdale's Musical Instruments Museum has five exhibition space each the size of a Target store. Learn Why!   Link:     Postcards from the Musical Instruments Museum

Scottsdale's Musical Instruments Museum has five exhibition space each the size of a Target store. Learn Why! Link: Postcards from the Musical Instruments Museum

Living Options

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Currently, you can buy an existing trailer home for between $8,000 and $50,000US depending on size, upgrades and location (golf course sites command more money).  Or, you can buy a new manufactured home starting at $90,000US.  

Homeowners lease the site, so there is a monthly fee that includes lease, taxes and free access to all amenities (except golf – but green fees are very reasonable). 

My friend’s 900 square foot, circa 1980s one-bedroom midpoint-priced home, came completely furnished (including two flat screen TVs), as well as an upscale golf cart, two bikes and a grill. Just bring your clothes, toothbrush, clubs and move in!

It quickly became my friend’s home-away-from-home. 
Jack's Place

Jack's Place

Lovely side yard.

Lovely side yard.

Density & Diversity Revisited

Viewpoint is huge - over 2,000 sites.  The lots are small, each block lined with similar-looking homes with a single car carport.  To me, it seemed a bit like camping - all the sites lined up and you can clearly hear your neighbours’ conversations (but nobody seemed to mind). 

While suburban cookie-cutter homes have a very negative reputation in urban living and planning circles, I began to wonder what is the issue with having homes all lined up and looking alike.  Who decides what urban aesthetics are beautiful and what is ugly?  Why have trailer parks gotten such a bad rap?

The community spirit I experienced at Viewpoint was as good as any place I have ever lived or visited.  Perhaps it was because of the homogeneity - everyone being seniors, same socio-economic background and having similar interests.  At the same time it was interesting how easily the Americans and Canadians mixed given their different social and political beliefs.

Hmmmm…Is the importance of diversity in fostering community vitality over-rated?  And, why is the City of Calgary closing trailer parks, when perhaps it should be encouraging them?

I am all for integration and diversity, but perhaps we also need to accept and tolerate that humans love to live amongst people with similar life experiences and interests.  Isn’t that why most North American cities in the early 20th century had community names like Little Italy, Chinatown, Jewish Quadrant, Germantown? Food for thought!

Typical Viewpoint streetscape at mid-day. Yes it looks sterile and deserted pretty much all of the time as everyone is out playing something. Perhaps street vitality is not always a great measure of community vitality. 

Typical Viewpoint streetscape at mid-day. Yes it looks sterile and deserted pretty much all of the time as everyone is out playing something. Perhaps street vitality is not always a great measure of community vitality. 

Fountain of Youth

Indeed, it was heavenly to be sitting out on the deck in shorts with a nice cold beer after golf, or having dinner and breakfast al fresco in early November, while knowing Calgarians were experiencing their first taste of winter.

It was also heavenly to go for a quick swim and sit in the hot tub before an afternoon siesta or to go to the free library and grab a book to read on the deck.  I would have loved to try pickle ball and perhaps take a few swings and shag a few balls on the baseball diamond.  In some ways, it took me back to my youth when all I wanted to do was be outside playing sports 24/7. 

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November golf at Raven Golf course was heavenly!

November golf at Raven Golf course was heavenly!

Last Word

On my last day, while enjoying an evening glass of wine on the deck, my friend said to me “I love it here. Everyone is happy!”  I agreed!

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City Building: Impact Of Calgary's Mega Transportation Projects

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.

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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.

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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.

8th Avenue became Calgary's Main Street early in the 20th century partly because the City's first street cars came down the street. 

8th Avenue became Calgary's Main Street early in the 20th century partly because the City's first street cars came down the street. 

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.

Most of Calgary's residential development is west of Deerfoot Trail (blue line) while the land to the east has been mostly industrial, warehouse land until recently.  

Most of Calgary's residential development is west of Deerfoot Trail (blue line) while the land to the east has been mostly industrial, warehouse land until recently.  

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

LIDO condo  next to the LRT tracks in Calgary tony Sunnyside community. 

LIDO condo  next to the LRT tracks in Calgary tony Sunnyside community. 

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.”

Many of Calgary's suburban LRT Stations are in the middle of a major highway, surrounded by Park & Ride lots, which makes for a long walk before you get to the neighbouring communities. 

Many of Calgary's suburban LRT Stations are in the middle of a major highway, surrounded by Park & Ride lots, which makes for a long walk before you get to the neighbouring communities. 

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.  

Calgary's Green Line will bring LRT transit to dozens of new communities.  It will reinforce downtown as Calgary's transit hub which will further enhance downtown's position as Calgary's premier economic and cultural hub. 

Calgary's Green Line will bring LRT transit to dozens of new communities.  It will reinforce downtown as Calgary's transit hub which will further enhance downtown's position as Calgary's premier economic and cultural hub. 

Airport City

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. 

This illustration clearly documents Calgary's three large industrial areas. The Blackfoot area is the oldest and was east of Macleod Trail which served as the divide in the mid 20th century.  However, in the late 20th century Deerfoot Trail became the dividing line with the development of NW aka Airport industrial lands and SE industrial area.  

This illustration clearly documents Calgary's three large industrial areas. The Blackfoot area is the oldest and was east of Macleod Trail which served as the divide in the mid 20th century.  However, in the late 20th century Deerfoot Trail became the dividing line with the development of NW aka Airport industrial lands and SE industrial area. 

Last Word

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.

Screen Shot 2017-09-30 at 4.18.43 PM.png

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  

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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.

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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. 

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. 

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Richard Florida: I was wrong!

When Richard Florida, the 21st century urban guru, speaks lots of people listen. Ears really perked up when Florida admitted, “I got wrong that the creative class could magically restore our cities, become a new middle class like my father’s and were going to live happily forever after.  I could not have anticipated among all this urban growth and revival there was a dark side to the urban creative revolution, a very deep dark side.”  (Houston Chronicle, Oct 24, 2016).

Staging area for POW! Parade of Wonders at Eau Claire.

Jane Jacobs Revisited

Back in 2000, Florida published his first book “The Rise of the Creative Class” and immediately became a media star with his mantra, “if your city is attractive to the creative class, they will come.”

He quickly converted many urban planners and politicians to his dogma, which, in many ways, was just a reworking of Jane Jacobs’ key messages about the importance of bohemia and small-scale development in her 1961 book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”

Tim Williams and friends at the Blues Can in Inglewood, one of Canada's best communities. 

Tim Williams and friends at the Blues Can in Inglewood, one of Canada's best communities. 

Creative Class 101

Florida hypothesized a key paradigm shift in the employee/employer relationship was happening - no longer would workers move to where the jobs are, but rather employers will move to where employees want to live. He preached that if a city wanted new businesses to locate in their city, all they had to do was create a city where the creative class wanted to play, live and then work.

The creative class was a broad term that included software, computer game and app developers, 3D computer artists as well as painters and sculptors.  It also included architects, interior designers, graphic artists, actors, musicians, writers, chiefs, film and video makers. 

His research included creating indexes to measure a city’s attractiveness to the creative class – Talent, Technology, Bohemian, Mosaic, Gay (today, that would be the LGBT Index), and Tolerance Indices.

Container Bar in Calgary's Kensington district.

If you build it, they will come...

Florida’s research documented the creative class wanted things like a vibrant festivals, music and café culture. They also love places - to skateboard, play disc golf, fly a kite, bike ride, roller blade or just hang out.

Today, Florida, a University of Toronto professor admits appealing to the creative class won’t work for every city.  In fact, it will only work for a few.  And to add insult to injury where it has succeeded (Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Washington), it has resulted in skyrocketing house prices to the point where only the highly paid can live. 

Indeed, appealing to the creative class actually became a catalyst for gentrification not diversification and vitalization.

Ship & Anchor patio in March. 

Creative Class Loves Calgary?

At the turn of this century, Calgary’s City Centre had many of the ingredients Florida identified as those appealing to the creative class. We had great urban parks and pathways – Prince’s Island, Shaw Millennium Park and an extensive river pathway system.  Calgary’s construction of the world’s largest skateboard park in 2000 is exactly what Florida would have recommended to attract the creative class.

We also had a small but vibrant live music scene and a local café culture.  Our festival scene was taking off with the likes of SLED Island and our International

Film Festival and Underground Film Festivals.  We also had fun theatre festivals like the High Performance Rodeo, Animated Objects (puppet) and One Act Play festivals. In addition, Calgary’s cuisine scene was sizzling with the opening of Laurier Lounge, The Living Room and numerous sushi restaurants.  

The growth of Calgary’s cosplay festival (Calgary Expo) over the past 10 years into Canada’s second largest and our Pride Parade from a few thousand people to over 60,000 is evidence Calgary has been successful in attracting the creative class to our city.

However, Calgary’s creative class is unique as it is dominated by a strong GABEsters culture i.e. geologists, accountants, brokers, bankers and engineers.  Indeed, for the past 50 years, Calgary has attracted the cream of the crop of new GABEsters from universities across Canada and beyond to work in the oil patch.

Call them whatever you want young professionals began to revitalize the Beltline, Kensington, Bridgeland and Inglewood 20 years ago.  And it is still continuing today even with the downtown in the economy.  Places like Bridgeland’s

Luke’s Mart, Cannibale Barbershop & Cocktails and Bridgett Bar in the Beltline make Calgary’s City Centre very attractive to young hipsters. 

A big bonus for all of these communities is they are within easy walking and cycling distance to downtown, which even with all the vacancies has more occupied office space than Austin, Portland or Vancouver. 

Fortunately, Calgary seems to have the best of both worlds. We have been able to attract the creative class, while avoiding the skyrocketing City Centre home prices plaguing places like Vancouver, Toronto, Seattle and San Francisco.  

Bridgeland has been evolving for the past 10+ years into a very attractive place for the creative class to live and play with work just a short walk or bike ride away in downtown.

New Urban Crisis

In 2017, Florida will be published his new book “The New Urban Crisis” which will address affordable housing shortages in gentrified districts, need to link suburbs to inner city with mass transit and need to raise wages of service workers so the can afford to live near the City Centre where their jobs are.

Again, Calgary appears to be ahead of Florida with numerous affordable inner city housing programs (Attainable Homes) and several new mass transit programs linking the suburbs to the City Centre – Green Line, SW and Forest Lawn BRT.

Future map of Calgary's rapid transit routes.

Last Word

Despite all our faults, Calgary has perhaps the most diverse, attractive and affordable collection of urban and suburban communities in North America.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on Saturday, March 24, 2017 titled "Richard Florida could take a page from Calgary's urban songbook."

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What does "Smarter Growth" mean?

We have likely all read or heard the term “smart growth” but do we know what the term means? Smart Growth America defines smart growth as “an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighbourhoods, and community engagement.”  

Makes sense.  Seems reasonable.

The devil is in the details.

In Calgary, the Smarter Growth Initiative website (smartergrowth.ca) is the work of BILD Calgary Region, the new name for the recent amalgamation of the Calgary Home Builders’ Association and the Urban Development Institute.

If you are at all interested in urban development or city building in Calgary, check this site out.  It is full of articles written in plain English covering almost every urban development or city building topic you can imagine. While some of the articles may be a bit too simplistic for some (writing for the public is a delicate balance between too much and too little information), in my opinion most Calgarians will benefit from the clear, concise and credible information presented.

It a also a great place to learn about the various acronyms that developers, planners and politicians throw around - like MGA (Municipal Government Act), MDP (Municipal Development Plan) or MAC (Major Activity Centre). Here, these and more are explained in layman’s language.

Everything You Need To Know

Want to understand the Calgary’s infrastructure saga? If so, there is a great article entitled “Who Pays For What?” outlining who pays for roads and pathways, streetlights, public spaces, traffic lights, sound barriers, water, sewer and other utilities. Dig deeper and you can download a Deputy City Manager’s Office Report to Council that details the new off-site levies bylaw and all the rates. It will be an interesting read for some.

Interested in Affordable Housing? The video,“4 Factors In Housing Affordability” is worth watching. Want to know more about the benefits of mixed-use developments, or what placemaking is or the new energy codes of Alberta Homes? Links to articles on these subjects and more can be found on the home page.

Or, click on the “Innovation” tab and you can read articles about “A Natural Cure For Urban Stress,” “Centres of Innovation,” and “Do tiny homes have a future in Canada?”

On the Policy page, you can read what Councillor Farrell thinks about growth, what Guy Huntingford, CEO, BILD Calgary Region thinks about the housing crunch or how to make sense of developer levies.

The Development page has instructive pieces like, “Main Streets YYC,” “Innovation in a New Complete Community,” “Designing Streets for Safety” and “Secondary Suites With A Difference.”

There is even a Smarter Growth Initiative newsletter that you can sign up for, which will keep you posted on new development news as it unfolds.

Something To Think About

The stated goal of the Smarter Growth Initiative is “to engage Calgarians in dialogue on the topics affecting planning and development.”  Given the municipal election this fall, it would be wise for all Calgarians to educate themselves about how Calgary can grow smarter.

Note: This blog was commissioned by the Smarter Growth Initiative. However, they had no influence on its content.  

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Ollenberger: Developers Do Listen & Make Changes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Q: Have community members unfairly criticized developers for not changing their development plans to accommodate community concerns?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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