Music Cities: Nashville vs Calgary

Great cities have signature streets that reflect the soul of the city. In Nashville (aka Music City), its signature street is Lower Broadway (from 1st to 5th Avenue S) where 25+ honky tonk bars offer free live music (no cover charge, no tickets) from 10 am to 3 am every day.

Lower Broadway “shouts out” Nashville is a Music City!
Lower Broadway by week day!

Lower Broadway by week day!

Lower Broadway by week night!

Lower Broadway by week night!

Music Every Day!

After work fun!

After work fun!

Yes, 365 days of the year you can stroll Lower Broadway and listen to music from the street (stages are at the street windows; and windows are almost always open).

Or, wander in and out of the bars at your leisure to have a drink and listen to music.  I have not encountered anything like it in any other city including Memphis’ famous Beale Street and Austin’s 6th Street. 

But for a music purist, it is not the greatest place to listen to music as the bands are playing almost on top of each other and the audiences (those inside and those strolling by outside) are talking and socializing more than listening.

But there is no denying it is an “Experience.”

Musician Sweat Shop

What was most alarming was to learn the bands (and they are generally very good experienced musicians) are playing only for tips. I was told by several local musicians that on a good night, the late night band members might make $300 each (includes tips and CD sales), while those in the late morning and afternoon might make $100 or $150 each for about 5 hours of non-stop playing.  Most of the musicians are lucky if they get one or two gigs a week.

Given the heat and humidity I experienced in Nashville in the middle of October, I can only imagine what it must be like playing Lower Broadway during their long hot, humid summers. 

It was disturbing to me that Nashville’s Lower Broadway is in many ways a “sweat shop,” with bar owners raking in the money from beverage and food sales, while the musicians work for minimum wage in harsh conditions. 

I am told on good authority that if the musicians complained, the bar owner would simply find someone else - there being over 20,000 aspiring musicians, singers and songwriters living in Nashville waiting for an opportunity to play on Lower Broadway.

Eskimo Brothers must have been exhausted after their very entertaining and energetic performance at Layla's on lower Broadway.

Eskimo Brothers must have been exhausted after their very entertaining and energetic performance at Layla's on lower Broadway.

Street Photographer Heaven

In addition to the music, Lower Broadway is a fun place to people watch.

Though a grittier version of The Strip in Vegas, it is not without it own glitz and glitter. The sequined clothing, boots and hats make for some unique fashion statements.

It is a popular destination for bachelorette parties - hundreds of young ladies arrive on Thursday and leave on Sunday.  

You often hear them before you see them, as they seem to love to hoot and holler as they meander the streets on “pedal taverns” i.e. bars on wheels that use pedal power to move along the street.   

They are in full party mode, love to say “Hi” as hey pass by and are not camera shy.

Pedal Taverns like this one are popular not only on Lower Broadway but throughout the City Centre. 

Pedal Taverns like this one are popular not only on Lower Broadway but throughout the City Centre. 

Every picture tells a story...I wonder what the story is here?

Every picture tells a story...I wonder what the story is here?

Nashville is more than just live music, it also has a plethora of museums, musical instrument, books and record stores, as well as recording studios, music publishers and managers.  Even on a Monday morning, Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum is busy with hundreds of visitors. 

Nashville is more than just live music, it also has a plethora of museums, musical instrument, books and record stores, as well as recording studios, music publishers and managers.  Even on a Monday morning, Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum is busy with hundreds of visitors. 

Hallelujah at the Ryman

Just off Lower Broadway sits the Ryman Auditorium, first known as the Union Gospel Tabernacle (1892), then becoming the home of the Grande Ole Opry House (1943 to 1974).  It was vacant for almost 20 years before Emmylou Harris, in 1991, performed 3 concerts in the then dilapidated building (while the auditorium’s capacity is over 2,000, her concerts were limited to 200 people). Harris’ concerts spearheaded a movement to restore the building. By 1993, renovations began, converting it into a world-class concert hall, while retaining as much of the historical architecture as possible, including all the original oak pews. 

It is true to its moniker, i.e. the Ryman Auditorium is the mother church of country music.

Ryman tours allow you to explore the building which is home to many artifacts, displays and photo ops. 

Ryman tours allow you to explore the building which is home to many artifacts, displays and photo ops. 

The Ryman offers daily back stage tours, which I highly recommend. 

In the evening, the auditorium hosts concerts by various headliners, which I would also highly recommend.

Many describe it as a religious experience and I can believe that.

While we were there, local Americana singer songwriter Jason Isbell was performing several nights but all were sold out.  However, we decided to check just before show time to see if they might have any tickets and were lucky to get seats just 10 rows from the stage.  We didn’t know who Isbell was, but the crowd sure did. The young people in front of us were singing along with him like they were gospel singers at church on Sunday.  There was more than one standing ovation in the middle of the concert not just the end. 

I was half expecting some Hallelujahs at the end.  
Jason Isbell performing at Ryman Auditorium.

Jason Isbell performing at Ryman Auditorium.

Off (Off) Lower Broadway

For a better music experience, I suggest heading off Lower Broadway.  The Sunday Night Bluegrass Jam at the Station Inn in The Gulch is definitely worth checking out – note the line up starts an hour before the 7 pm start. The Bourbon Street Boogie Bar in Printer’s Alley and 3rd & Lindsley also have curated music programs that are highly respected. 

Personally, I also enjoyed the bands at Barlines in the Omni Hotel.  They played lots of cover tunes to an attentive audience and there is lots of room for dancing if that is your thing.  The beer is better than Lower Broadway too…my favourite being Nashville’s own Jackalope’s Bearwalker Maple Brown Ale. 

If you go even further “off, off” Lower Broadway, Douglas Corner Bar is an interesting spot.  The music is a bit hit and miss, so do your research, but the space and sound is great.  We happened upon a fun wedding party concert that was open to the public.  The band, Yo’ Mama featured Jonell Mosser (who has done back up vocals for the likes of B.B. King, Etta James, Waylon Jennings and Bruce Cockburn to name a few) along with Cathy Stamps and Kathy Mac.  Mosser has great pipes and all had great stories from their university days back in the ‘70s – well worth the $10 cover for the 2-hour concert.

Every Sunday night people line up to get into the Bluegrass Jam at the Station Inn in Nashville's Gulch district, their equivalent to Calgary's East Village.  

Every Sunday night people line up to get into the Bluegrass Jam at the Station Inn in Nashville's Gulch district, their equivalent to Calgary's East Village.  

Music Mile Madness

Suffice to say Calgary, we have a long, long way to go before we can legitimately call ourselves a music city.  Music personifies the city of Nashville; it is infused into its everyday life. Guitar stores in Nashville are as common as bike shops are in Calgary.

Nashville's 16th Ave South aka Music Row is lined with music related businesses including managers, marketing and publishing. 

Nashville's 16th Ave South aka Music Row is lined with music related businesses including managers, marketing and publishing. 

What makes Nashville a “music city” is the army of music-makers, a supportive audience, a diversity of live music venues and a sense of competition to discover and be discovered.  

In the same way as Calgary has an army of engineers and geologists looking to discover the next oil and gas reserve.

Nashville has dozens of specialty shops like Manuel Couture Clothing & Accessories that focus on fashions for musicians. 

Nashville has dozens of specialty shops like Manuel Couture Clothing & Accessories that focus on fashions for musicians. 

Studio Bell is nice, but the heart and soul of any good music city lies in its live local music venues and audience, not its museums.  

Ironwood Stage & Grill along with Blues Can and Festival Hall and numerous old houses and apartments make Inglewood and its sister community Ramsay an ideal place for artists to work, live and play.  

Ironwood Stage & Grill along with Blues Can and Festival Hall and numerous old houses and apartments make Inglewood and its sister community Ramsay an ideal place for artists to work, live and play. 

While some have tried to brand 9th Avenue (between the National Music Centre and the Blues Can) as the Music Mile”, the concept is premature and misleading in my mind. 

In reality, only two venues along that stretch provide live music seven days a week – Blues Can and Ironwood Bar & Grill

What would make more sense would be to foster Inglewood as a Music (or artist’s) Village - a place where musicians live, work and play.  A place filled with private live music venues, record stores and recording studios.  

Inglewood need to create affordable housing for artists in the community, not just upscale condos and infills.
Recordland in Inglewood is home to one of the largest collections of used records in North America. 

Recordland in Inglewood is home to one of the largest collections of used records in North America. 

Not Nashville North

In the past, Calgary has been called Nashville North, but today Calgary is nothing like Nashville - historically, culturally or economically.

Calgary has some great music festivals, but it is what happens in the non-festival periods that is  critical to creating a 365-day musical buzz.

We should be determining how we make the Calgary Folk Festival’s Festival Hall in Inglewood, new King Eddy in East Village, new Big Four Roadhouse at Stampede Park and the Palace Theatre on Stephen Avenue sing every night of the week.  

And, how can we capitalize on Studio Bell’s incredible collection of musical instruments as a catalyst for making Calgary a must place for musicians to record. We need to attract musicians from across Canada to come to Calgary to play and make music. It is not about building a new Saddledome for mega concerts. 

If Calgary really wants to stand out in the music world, it must invite and integrate the music of Calgary’s diverse ethnic communities. We have to go beyond classical, country, blues, rock and roots. We must go beyond City Centre bars, pubs and coffee houses. We must foster what is happening in community centres, and churches in the suburbs.

One of the things we learned from Nashville’s museums is that music is a collaborative, grassroots process and the best music comes from the fusion of different genres of music. A good example of this would be Calgary's Sled Island Festival that happens every June and has become one of Calgary's signature festivals.

We also learned great music was not created by iconic public buildings, meaningless government policies and white papers, or by politicians, but by passionate individuals willing to risk everything to make music and to see and hear things in new ways.  

Link: Alberta Music Cities Initiative

Question?

Does Calgary’s have the music mavericks who can transform our City into a music city?  

Calgary vs Nashville: HQ vs SHED

On paper Calgary and Nashville share many similarities. Both are inland, river cities, next to major parks and mountains and have a metro population of about 1.5 million.  Perhaps most importantly both also have international signature brands - Nashville as the home of country and western music and Calgary as the home of the Calgary Stampede. 

Assuming the City Centre is the heart and soul of a city, I thought it might be interesting to see how the two City Centres compare with each other.

A view of the Nashville skyline from our luxury Omni Hotel suite. 

A view of the Nashville skyline from our luxury Omni Hotel suite. 

A view of Calgary skyline from the N3 condo rooftop patio with the new Central Library in the foreground. 

A view of Calgary skyline from the N3 condo rooftop patio with the new Central Library in the foreground. 

Like Calgary Nashville has a major railway line running through its City Centre. This coal train is the equivalent to Calgary's bitumen trains.

Like Calgary Nashville has a major railway line running through its City Centre. This coal train is the equivalent to Calgary's bitumen trains.

Main Street Animation

Lower Broadway, Nashville’s signature street is animated from 10am to 3am 365 days of the year with free live music being offered in 25+ honky tonk bars. In comparison, Calgary’s Stephen Avenue is busy mostly over weekday lunch hours when thousands of office workers head out for a bite to eat (25+ upscale restaurants) or a relaxing walk.

While Stephen Avenue is a conservative upscale restaurant row, Lower Broadway is loud, fun-loving gritty urban playground which every weekend is invaded by dozens of Bachelorette Parties.   

Advantage: Nashville

Nashville's main street is animated all day long, but really comes alive at night - every night not just on weekends. 

Nashville's main street is animated all day long, but really comes alive at night - every night not just on weekends. 

While Nashville's City Centre is undergoing a massive makeover, lower Broadway is still an eclectic collection of gritty buildings from yesteryears. 

While Nashville's City Centre is undergoing a massive makeover, lower Broadway is still an eclectic collection of gritty buildings from yesteryears. 

Calgary's Stephen Avenue comes alive in the summer at noon hour and all day during Stampede but for most of the year it is very subdued, especially on weekends when the office towers are empty. It is unique in that it is a pedestrian mall by day but has one-way traffic at night.  It connects the Olympic Plaza Cultural District with a national historic district and Calgary's Financial District.  

Calgary's Stephen Avenue comes alive in the summer at noon hour and all day during Stampede but for most of the year it is very subdued, especially on weekends when the office towers are empty. It is unique in that it is a pedestrian mall by day but has one-way traffic at night.  It connects the Olympic Plaza Cultural District with a national historic district and Calgary's Financial District.  

The 300 block of Stephen Avenue has been called centre ice for Calgary's CBD with its  200 floors of corporate offices in six office towers. 

The 300 block of Stephen Avenue has been called centre ice for Calgary's CBD with its  200 floors of corporate offices in six office towers. 

Retail

Nashville has nothing to match The Core, Calgary’s urban retail mecca, nor does it have a signature department store like The Bay.  It is also missing the office tower retail offerings of a Bankers Hall, Bow Valley Square or Scotia Centre.

Nashville has nothing close to the pedestrian experience offered by Calgary’s 17th Avenue, 11th Avenue, 4th Street, Atlantic Avenue, 10th Street and Kensington Road.

Advantage Calgary

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's three block long Core shopping centre in the middle of its downtown. 

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's three block long Core shopping centre in the middle of its downtown. 

Calgary's 17th Avenue is just one of several pedestrian streets in its downtown.   

Calgary's 17th Avenue is just one of several pedestrian streets in its downtown.  

Calgary's Kensington Village has two pedestrian streets with a mix of retail and restaurants that appeal to both students at Alberta College of Art & Design and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology as well as oil & gas, medical and university professionals.

Calgary's Kensington Village has two pedestrian streets with a mix of retail and restaurants that appeal to both students at Alberta College of Art & Design and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology as well as oil & gas, medical and university professionals.

Nashville has several guitar and music stores located in its City Centre, perhaps the most iconic is Gruhn Guitars.  Guitar shops are to Nashville what bike shops are to Calgary.

Nashville has several guitar and music stores located in its City Centre, perhaps the most iconic is Gruhn Guitars.  Guitar shops are to Nashville what bike shops are to Calgary.

What Nashville does have is a plethora of cowboy boot stores like French's Shoes & Boots. 

What Nashville does have is a plethora of cowboy boot stores like French's Shoes & Boots. 

The Sutler is just one of many popular weekend brunch spots in Nashville along emerging 8th Ave South district.

The Sutler is just one of many popular weekend brunch spots in Nashville along emerging 8th Ave South district.

Cultural Centres

I was shocked at how busy Nashville’s museums and art galleries were even during the week. Perhaps this is not surprising as Nashville attracted 13.9 million visitors in 2016 vs. Calgary’s  7.2 million. While on paper Nashville’s new Country Music Hall of Fame and Calgary’s National Music Centre are on par, Calgary lacks the likes of the Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Musicians Hall of Fame Museums. They also have an African American Music Museum under construction.

Calgary’s Glenbow would be on par with the Frist Art Gallery (located in Nashville’s Art Deco fromer Post Office) and Tennessee State Museum.  Nashville also has the Ryman Theatre the original home of the Grande Old Opry, which today offers daily tours and headliner performances in the evening.  Calgary’s Palace Theatre pales in comparison as a tourist attraction/cultural icon.

Both cities have a performing arts centre, symphony hall and central libraries that are more or less on par with each other.

Advantage: Nashville

Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum is the heart and soul of its downtown.  It is busy seven days a week. 

Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum is the heart and soul of its downtown.  It is busy seven days a week. 

Nashville has several music museums and two Hall of Fames.  The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum was particularly enlightening as it told the story of the studio musicians who are the backbone of the Nashville music industry. 

Nashville has several music museums and two Hall of Fames.  The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum was particularly enlightening as it told the story of the studio musicians who are the backbone of the Nashville music industry. 

Nashville boast a lovely art deco public art gallery. 

Nashville boast a lovely art deco public art gallery. 

Nashville's Ryman Auditorium is the mother church of the city's music industry. 

Nashville's Ryman Auditorium is the mother church of the city's music industry. 

Calgary's National Music Centre is part of a growing east side cultural community that includes the new Central Library, DJD Dance Centre and Youth Campus at Stampede Park.

Calgary's National Music Centre is part of a growing east side cultural community that includes the new Central Library, DJD Dance Centre and Youth Campus at Stampede Park.

Hotels/Convention Centre

Calgary has nothing to compare to Nashville’s 800 room Omni Hotel, a luxury urban resort attached to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.  Our executive suite offered a postcard view of the downtown. It was a true urban oasis. 

Nashville also has two heritage hotels compared to Calgary’s one.  And we were gobsmacked by the professionally curated contemporary art exhibition at the 21c Museum Hotel.

Nashville’s new mega convention centre makes Calgary Telus Convention Centre look second class.  Even if when you add in the BMO Centre, Nashville’s Convention and Trade Show facilities far surpass Calgary’s.

Advantage: Nashville

The Music City Convention Centre is massive, however, the streets devoid of any vitality most of the time. 

The Music City Convention Centre is massive, however, the streets devoid of any vitality most of the time. 

The lobby of Nashville's Union Station Hotel (yes, it is a converted historical railway station) is impressive. 

The lobby of Nashville's Union Station Hotel (yes, it is a converted historical railway station) is impressive. 

Nashville's 1908 Hermitage Hotel is a reminder of the elegance and grandeur of the past. Calgary's equivalent would be the 1914 Fairmont Palliser Hotel 

Nashville's 1908 Hermitage Hotel is a reminder of the elegance and grandeur of the past. Calgary's equivalent would be the 1914 Fairmont Palliser Hotel 

Recreation/River/Parks

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary’s river pathways with its plethora of walkers, runners and cyclists 365 days of the year.  Nor does it have anything to match Calgary’s recreational facilities - Eau Claire Y, Repsol Sports Centre or Shaw Millenium Park.

I also didn’t encounter anything in Nashville that compares to Calgary’s island parks or Memorial Park.

Advantage: Calgary

Calgary's recently renovated St. Patrick's Island is lovely family friendly park in the middle of the Bow River. 

Calgary's recently renovated St. Patrick's Island is lovely family friendly park in the middle of the Bow River. 

Nashville has a lovely green beach along the Cumberland River, but it lacks the pathways along the river to link the City Centre to rest of the city. 

Nashville has a lovely green beach along the Cumberland River, but it lacks the pathways along the river to link the City Centre to rest of the city. 

Calgary's equivalent to Nashville's green beach would be the East Village plaza along the Bow River .

Calgary's equivalent to Nashville's green beach would be the East Village plaza along the Bow River.

Nashville has nothing to match the love tree-lined City Centre river pathways along both the Bow and Elbow Rivers.

Nashville has nothing to match the love tree-lined City Centre river pathways along both the Bow and Elbow Rivers.

Memorial Park is one of many City Center parks in Calgary.  

Memorial Park is one of many City Center parks in Calgary.  

Calgary's City Centre boast dozens of children's playgrounds. I did't see a single playground in Nashville's City Centre. 

Calgary's City Centre boast dozens of children's playgrounds. I did't see a single playground in Nashville's City Centre. 

Nashville has nothing to match the enhance public spaces of Calgary's City Centre like Olympic Plaza. 

Nashville has nothing to match the enhance public spaces of Calgary's City Centre like Olympic Plaza. 

Arena/Stadium

Nashville’s 20-year old Bridgestone arena is very much integrated into their downtown – right next to Lower Broadway street animation and across the street from the convention centre. However, the streets around it are devoid of any pedestrian activity except for a few hours before and after game times.

Calgary’s Saddledome arena is on par with the Bridgestone arena in architecture and size.  With better programming (food trucks and live bands) and marketing I expect Olympic Way could function like Lower Broadway to create a more animated streetscape on game days.

Nashville’s Nissan stadium, located across the river from Lower Broadway, is surrounded by a huge vacant parking lot except for the eight Sundays when the Titans have a home game.  Calgary’s McMahon Stadium, while smaller, functions much the same way being used just a few times a year.  At least the parking lot at McMahon Stadium is used for “park and ride” during the week.

Advantage: Tied

The entrance to Nashville's Bridgestone Arena built in 1996 is located right downtown on lower Broadway aka Main Street. 

The entrance to Nashville's Bridgestone Arena built in 1996 is located right downtown on lower Broadway aka Main Street. 

Nashville's Nissan Stadium opened in 1999.  It provides a nice vista but it has not been a catalyst for development on the surrounding land. 

Nashville's Nissan Stadium opened in 1999.  It provides a nice vista but it has not been a catalyst for development on the surrounding land. 

Calgary's Stampede Park located at the southeast edge of the City Centre is not only the City's fairground but it is also home to the iconic Scotiabank Saddledome and the BMO Centre which hosts major trade shows and conventions.   

Calgary's Stampede Park located at the southeast edge of the City Centre is not only the City's fairground but it is also home to the iconic Scotiabank Saddledome and the BMO Centre which hosts major trade shows and conventions.   

Architecture/Urban Design

While, Nashville has several new contemporary glass office towers that would be on par with Calgary’s Brookfield Place or 707 Fifth, however they lack the integration with street via plazas, public art and retail.

I encountered nothing in Nashville that match Calgary’s two new iconic pedestrian bridges and the historic Centre Street bridge. Yes, Nashville has a huge historic truss bridge completed in 1909 that spands the Cumberland River and at 960m it is one of the longest in the world, but I rarely saw anybody use it at there is little on the other side of the river except the stadium.

When it come to public plazas, Nashville had two – the Courthouse Square above parkade and the Walk of Fame Park next to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.  Calgary’s equivalent would be Olympic Plaza, James Short Park and McDougal Centre.

Nashville has no LRT, and their bus service pales in comparison to Calgary.  

Advantage: Calgary

Calgary's Jaume Pensa sculpture "Wonderland" sits on the plaza of the 58-storey Bow Tower designed by Sir Norman Foster. 

Calgary's Jaume Pensa sculpture "Wonderland" sits on the plaza of the 58-storey Bow Tower designed by Sir Norman Foster. 

Nashville's Plensa sculpture "Isabella" is located at the Frist Center For The Visual Arts. Perhaps the contrast between these two public artworks best manifest the differences between Nashville and Calgary.  

Nashville's Plensa sculpture "Isabella" is located at the Frist Center For The Visual Arts. Perhaps the contrast between these two public artworks best manifest the differences between Nashville and Calgary.  

Nashville historic pedestrian bridge links the City Centre to the Nissan Stadium. 

Nashville historic pedestrian bridge links the City Centre to the Nissan Stadium. 

Calgary has several pedestrian bridges linking the north and south shores of the Bow River like the Santiago Calatrava design Peace Bridge that is very popular with runners and cyclists. 

Calgary has several pedestrian bridges linking the north and south shores of the Bow River like the Santiago Calatrava design Peace Bridge that is very popular with runners and cyclists. 

Both Calgary and Nashville have ubiquitous modern glass facade office towers. 

Both Calgary and Nashville have ubiquitous modern glass facade office towers. 

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Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's LRT system and our 7th Avenue Transit Corridor. 

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's LRT system and our 7th Avenue Transit Corridor. 

Urban Living

Like Calgary, Nashville is experiencing an urban living renaissance with dozens of new condo developments in its City Centre. The Gulch is Nashville’s equivalent of Calgary’s East Village – minus the huge investment in public amenities. 

Inglewood/Ramsay with its numerous music and bohemian venues parallels East Nashville. Nashville’s upscale trendy 12 South is similar to Calgary’s Britannia. Calgary’s Kensington Village would be on par with 21st Ave S near Vanderbilt and Belmont Universities.  Marda Loop would be Calgary’s equivalent to Nashville’s 8th Ave S district. 

What Nashville doesn’t have is anything to match Calgary’s vibrant Beltline, Bridgeland or Mission communities.  

Advantage: Calgary

Calgary's East Village is in the middle of multi-billion dollar makeover to accommodate 10,000+ residents. 

Calgary's East Village is in the middle of multi-billion dollar makeover to accommodate 10,000+ residents. 

Nashville Gulch district is the equivalent of Calgary's Beltline with a mix of new residential, retail and office development. 

Nashville Gulch district is the equivalent of Calgary's Beltline with a mix of new residential, retail and office development. 

Calgary's Beltline community is home to 22,000+ residents and four pedestrian streets - 11th Avenue, 11th Street, First Avenue and 17th Avenue. Nashville has no City Centre community of this size and diversity. 

Calgary's Beltline community is home to 22,000+ residents and four pedestrian streets - 11th Avenue, 11th Street, First Avenue and 17th Avenue. Nashville has no City Centre community of this size and diversity. 

East Nashville is similar to Calgary's Inglewood/Ramsay   with a mix of new condos and working-class homes. It has numerous pedestrian hubs, but no contiguous pedestrian streets. 

East Nashville is similar to Calgary's Inglewood/Ramsay with a mix of new condos and working-class homes. It has numerous pedestrian hubs, but no contiguous pedestrian streets. 

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's plethora of new high-rise condo buildings. 

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's plethora of new high-rise condo buildings. 

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's cafe scene. 

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's cafe scene. 

Calgary has nothing to match Nashville's live music scene. 

Calgary has nothing to match Nashville's live music scene. 

Last Word

Calgary and Nashville’s City Centres are as different as night and day, as different as engineers and musicians.  Calgary’s has a clean, conservative, corporate sense of place, while Nashville’s is a gritty, party, touristy place. 

Calgary’s City Centre is a calm HQ (headquarters) quarter, while Nashville’s is a chaotic SHED (sports, hospitality, entertainment, district). Each has its inherent advantages and disadvantages.   

Cities can’t be all things to all people.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on Nov 11, 2017. 

If you like this blog, you will like these links:

Calgary vs Austin vs Portland vs Nashville for Tourist

Calgary vs Seattle: Capturing the tourists' imagination!

Calgary: Off The Beaten Path For Tourists!

 

Richard White can be reached at rwhiteyyc@gmail.com or follow him on twitter @everydaytourist

Calgary: Back Alley Envy?

One of the buzzwords in urban design these days is “back alleys” or “back lanes. For some, it is about laneway housing, for others, it is the animation of back alleys with murals, cafes and shops as a means of creating a unique urban experience.

Never liking to be left out of any new urban design trends, it was not surprising Calgary hosted a Backyard Alley Party on 17th Avenue SW, the last two September weekends.

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The Red Thread

Will Craig, Senior Associate with Kasian Architecture Interior Design and Planning, invited me to join him on a sneak-a-peek walkabout of the back alleys on the north side of 17th Avenue SW just before the first Backyard Alley party weekend.  I was shocked to find over 100 empty parking stalls on a late Friday morning just before lunch hour.  Furthermore, I was surprised at how peaceful it was without any traffic. 

However, seeing all the everyday clutter of that alleys with industrial-sized garbage bins, fences, poles and barriers, it was hard to imagine the alley could be turned into a fun people place for patios, games, vendors and movies.  But that is exactly what happened!

On the first Saturday, I was amazed by the amazing transformation of the back alley with artificial turf over most of the asphalt and the addition of picnic tables, bars and BBQs and various equipment for games. There was even a red line painted down the middle (aka red carpet), nicknamed “The Red Thread.” 

However, being a sunny Saturday afternoon, the alley on the north side of 17th Ave SW was in shade while the sidewalk (front yard) was beaming in sunlight.  So, not surprisingly, the back alley yard party was very quiet while the street patios were full of patrons. I understand the back alley animation picked up when the sun went down.

FYI: Craig actually spent some time in Melbourne, studying how that city adapted its alleys for commercial uses and upon returning to Calgary, was keen to pilot something in Calgary.  The 17th Avenue Backyard Alley Party was an experiment and will be tested a few more times as 17th Avenue SW businesses temporarily lose their sidewalk access due to construction. Lessons learned will help identify other City Centre alley experiments that might eventually lead to permanent commercial uses.

The back alley behind the Ship & Anchor on a normal day. 

The back alley behind the Ship & Anchor on a normal day. 

The Ship & Anchor back alley parking lot converted into s fun picnic games space. 

The Ship & Anchor back alley parking lot converted into s fun picnic games space. 

Ship & Ancho's 17th Avenue street patio on the same day as the back alley party. 

Ship & Ancho's 17th Avenue street patio on the same day as the back alley party. 

Melbourne’s Laneways

City Centre back alleys and laneways in Calgary (and most North American cities) are often seen as seedy places where illicit things happen, deliveries take place and garbage and recycling bins sit.  The same is not true outside North America - Melbourne’s City Centre has become a popular tourist attraction because of the fun things to see and do in their back alleys, called laneways.

Australian Tourism’s website describes Melbourne’s hidden laneways as, “ Today you can escape Melbourne's modern-day traffic in these charming backstreets. Let the aroma of good coffee and gourmet outlets tempt you to Degraves Street and Centre Place. Stop in at housewares stores along each. There's more great café culture along Crossley Street, as well as stylish boutiques and small, popular lunch places.”

It doesn’t stop there. “Check out the funky boutiques and flagship stores clustered around Little Collins Street. Hunt down a piece by a local fashion designer in Manchester or Flinders Lane, where the city's rag trade began. For true retail elegance, visit the heritage-listed Royal and Block Arcades, with their mosaic-tiled floors and opulent finishings.”

Melbourne's laneways have also become spaces for artistic expression. “See colourful, constantly-changing graffiti murals in Hosier Lane and along Union Lane. Cocker Alley features the work of graffiti artist Banksy.”

After reading this, it was all I could do to resist immediately booking a flight.

Melbourne lane way animation. 

Melbourne lane way animation. 

Leipzig, Germany alley animation. 

Leipzig, Germany alley animation. 

Calgary Back Alley Experiments

Perhaps Calgary’s best back alley hot spot was in the historic Grain Exchange Building where in the ‘80s, the basement Beat Niq jazz club (later it became Wino’s and now vacant) was a popular nightspot. With the entrance from the alley on the south side of Stephen Avenue, it had just the right amount of seediness that you would expect of a New York City back alley jazz club - especially with the Pic Niq restaurant upstairs. 

Metrovino opened in 1996 (and is still open) as part of the redevelopment of a common Beltline warehouse building in the middle of the 700 block of 11th Avenue SW (once known as the Design District). The building included Metovino, The Cookbook Company, Paul Kuhn Art Gallery, a restaurant (currently Decadent Brulee) and offices (CityScope Magazine, now Avenue Magazine and Sturgess Architecture).  It predates the East Village’s mixed-use Simmons Building by 20 years and was a private entrepreneurial enterprise.

Metro Vino back alley entrance.

Metro Vino back alley entrance.

Though you can access Metrovino from 11th Avenue SW by walking through the Cookbook Company store, the front door actually is in the alley at the back of the now metal-cladded industrial-looking building.  Most days owner Richard Harvey’s bike sits in the alley on what was once a loading dock, magnifying the urbanity of the alley.

Village Ice Cream's parking lot patio. 

Village Ice Cream's parking lot patio. 

Village Ice Cream is yet another success story, opening up in 2012 in an unused space at the back of an Engineering Office at the end of 10th Avenue SE in Victoria Park.  Talk about off the beaten path!  However, it has been so successful, two new locations have since opened – one in Britannia and the other in Marda Loop.

Then recently, I stumbled upon Art of Vintage - in the back alley of a small non-descript commercial building at the corner of 23rd Avenue and 29th Street SW in - of all places - Killarney. It is an intimate space full of curated Western Canadian artifacts – some for sale, some for rent (yes, you can rent them for your next theme dinner party).

I believe it is exactly the kind of place you would find in a Melbourne laneway.

Art of Vintage back alley entrance. 

Art of Vintage back alley entrance. 

As is The Brewer's Apprentice a new craft beer store in East village that is located in the alley between N3 condo and St. Louis Hotel.  In fact the entrance of the N3 condo is in the alley so the entire building could be considered laneway housing.  

It is easy to miss the entrance to the Brewer's Apprentice in East Village. 

It is easy to miss the entrance to the Brewer's Apprentice in East Village. 

Last Word

Calgary has experimented with some back alley establishments over the years, but all have been “one-off” initiatives.  What is needed is a comprehensive back alley plan that would create a critical mass of things to see (murals) and do (cafés, bistros, boutiques) that create a unique urban experience and make living in our City Centre more attractive. 

Note: This blog was originally published in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section on October 28, 2017 titled "Back Alley Envy: City Life In The Lane." 

If you like this blog, you might like these links:

Freakn Fun in Freak Alley: Boise

Is Calgary Really Ready For Urban Living?

Calgary: Sitting On The Porch

 

Leipzig: Night Walk Postcards

Thanks to my 2-year old neighbour, who is now 3, I have become a big fan of “night walks.”  He and I have enjoyed flaneuring the streets and back alleys of our neighbourhood since he was just over a year old, but last September he started wanting to go for walks after dinner with his Papa and I got invited. 

I had never appreciated how different residential streets are in the evening. It is a great way to wind down and reflect on the day's happenings. 

I loved these walks so much I started to do my own “night walks” when on vacation in other cities.  Most recently, my “night walks” were along the historic streets and canals of Leipzig Germany which take on an entirely different look at night.

Here are a few postcards from Leipzig at night…hope you enjoy.

Calgary's Downtown GLOWS with fun!

You gotta go!

I am giving GLOW Calgary's new family-friendly interactive light festival an 8 out of 10. I hope these photos and videos will tell you why.

It is just too much fun for everyone. 

GLOW light shows happen 6:30 to 11:00 pm Saturday Feb 18, Sunday 19th and Monday 20th.  

GLOW maps and more information at DowntownCalgary

"Nibbles" by Australia's Amanda Peer, is an installation of cuddly illuminated bunnies that appeals to the toddlers and anyone who is young at heart. Hotchkiss Gardens

Canada 150 glowing tricycle was going up and down Stephen Avenue. 

Canada 150 glowing tricycle was going up and down Stephen Avenue. 

"Chopsticks + Chandelier" by Toronto's Jeremy Tsang is located at James Short Park near Chinatown.   

"Chopsticks + Chandelier" by Toronto's Jeremy Tsang is located at James Short Park near Chinatown.  

Even the people were glowing at Olympic Plaza. 

Even the people were glowing at Olympic Plaza. 

Rabbit Down? 

Rabbit Down? 

Top Three Picks:

  • Harley Hotchkiss Gardens is centre ice (Festival Hub) for GLOW with a fun family of glowing bunny rabbits, TROPICALGARY (a dancing light show with music), "Light Shower" booth and warming igloo (for kids only).
  • The Door at Eight Avenue Place's (9th Ave plaza) was a fun surprise for kids of all ages.
  • Olympic Plaza’s PRISMATICA should become a permanent winter installation on the plaza or somewhere in the downtown. 

Other Downtown Delights!

Downtown Calgary's other public art came alive with young children exploring them. 

Downtown Calgary's other public art came alive with young children exploring them. 

Downtown's glimmering and shimmering glass towers become jewel-like at night. 

Downtown's glimmering and shimmering glass towers become jewel-like at night. 

A stain glass window that is almost invisible by day glows at night. 

A stain glass window that is almost invisible by day glows at night. 

Wonderland, aka The BIG Head, on the plaza of the Bow office tower is transformed into a ghostly image at night. 

Last Word

I have to admit I was jealous, of Montreal’s amazing winter light shows, outdoor movies, interactive playgrounds scattered throughout their city center when we visited this past December. Montreal's En Lumiere festival takes place Feb 23rd to March 11th, 2017. 

Link: Montreal En Lumiere

However, I was very pleased to learn in January that the Calgary Downtown Association and Canada 150 had teamed up to produce GLOW a free family-friendly winter light festival for our Family Day Weekend. It didn’t disappoint. 

Now if only we can make GLOW an annual winter event and grow it into a major North American winter event. 

I’d love to see more use made of the making our spectacular office buildings GLOW in the night.

This image a photo of PRISMATICA was combined with the reflection of Eight Avenue Place on the facade of 707 Fifth office tower using the app "UNION."      I am thinking there is technology that could transform our downtown office buildings into unique colourful glowing artworks all winter long. 

This image a photo of PRISMATICA was combined with the reflection of Eight Avenue Place on the facade of 707 Fifth office tower using the app "UNION."  

I am thinking there is technology that could transform our downtown office buildings into unique colourful glowing artworks all winter long.