Public Art: Capturing a sense of time and place.

This guest blog, by architect Tom Tittemore (former chair Calgary Public Art Board) and a long time Everyday Tourist reader, looks at three public artworks that had a major impact on him on his recent European travels.

The Importance of Statuary (or, ‘Clothes make the man’, Mark  Twain)

John A. MacDonald statue smeared with red paint in Montreal. 

John A. MacDonald statue smeared with red paint in Montreal. 

Calgarians reside in a place where “statuary” (statues regarded collectively) is predominantly of the barnyard variety:  horses and cows mainly.  We also reside in a country where figurative honorific statuary is becoming increasingly scrutinized and ‘shamed’ through new cultural and political lenses. 

For example, this week’s vandalism of John A. MacDonald’s statue in Montreal by anarchists due to claims of his racism towards indigenous peoples. 

In contrast, Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland offer a rich palette of statuary that portray key participants in their regions’ respective lengthy, complex, inspiring and tumultuous histories. Three statues within unique, specific sites resonated with me during my recent travels there.  Each reveres the individual’s notable contributions to Western thought, politics and culture.

Man on the Street (Dublin, Ireland – 1990)

 “James Joyce's fictional universe centres on Dublin, and is populated largely by characters who closely resemble family members, enemies and friends from his time there. Ulysses in particular is set with precision in the streets and alleyways of the city.” (Wikipedia)
Detail of James Joyce statue.

Detail of James Joyce statue.

The commemorative statue of this avant garde 20th century writer by Marjorie Fitzgibbon is located on Talbot Street in a recently modernized, pedestrian-focused precinct of Dublin. 

Its ordinary street setting contrasts with the nearby formal O’Connell Street that honors many of the country’s political heroes instrumental in Ireland’s fight for national autonomy one hundred years ago. 

James Joyce’s roughly hewn bronze statue is human-scaled, approachable, tactile, haughty, stylish and proud.  

He stands slightly above the many passerbys, who are likely caught up in their own daily ‘streams of consciousness’ (or ‘interior monologues’ that typify Joyce’s writing style).

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” James Joyce
Locals and tourists alike encounter Joyce as part of their everyday experience.

Locals and tourists alike encounter Joyce as part of their everyday experience.

Shifting Reason (Edinburgh, Scotland – 1997)

“David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist and essayist who is best known today for his highly influential system of philosophical empiricism, skepticism and naturalism.” (Wikipedia)

David Hume’s sculptural representation by Alexander Stoddart on the historic Royal Mile in Edinburgh evokes the spirit of pre-Christian society. Whilst balancing his seminal ‘A Treatise of Human Nature,’ his pose and simple adornment portrays to me the philosopher’s anti-rational moral philosophy grounded in causal determinism, sentimentalism and atheism.

Whoa! Yes, all heedy stuff here!!  However, this personage is a nadir of what I refer to as the “18th Century Enlightened Scottish Renaissance.”  Hopefully, some of the tourist throng exploring Edinburgh will discover, as I did, how Hume and his other Scottish contemporaries embellished our 21st century lives with increased knowledge, greater freedom, improved health and ample convenience.

“A wise man, therefore, proportions his beliefs to the evidence.”  David Hume
Statues often become urban meeting places and performance spaces for locals and tourists. 

Statues often become urban meeting places and performance spaces for locals and tourists. 

Protestation (Belfast, Northern Ireland – late 20th century)

OK, this example isn’t statuary, but should be considered a variation of my theme.

Murals can be integrated in various ways into urban landscape. 

Murals can be integrated in various ways into urban landscape. 

The political upheaval that took place during the ‘70s and ‘80s has left a perceptible residue of unease and tension that I perceived during my brief afternoon stay and Black Cab tour (a specially selected fleet of drivers who have intimate knowledge of Belfast storied history and will take you on a personal tour of the city). 

The two warring religious-based camps created homage to their respective heroes from this still unresolved event in the form of extensive mural art throughout the city.

The mural of Kieran Nugent, the first ‘blanket man,’ exists within a working class, predominantly Catholic neighbourhood.  Along with others of his generation – my generation – many of whom met a self-sacrificial fate, he speaks daily to pedestrians and motorists from an ordinary brick building.

Without question, this Black Cab tour of Belfast that provided my wife Carol and I with a personal tour of the city through the eyes of, in our case, a Protestant driver, was one of the most memorable events of my trip.

‘When sentenced to three years, Nugent refused to wear a prison uniform and said the prison guards would have to "...nail it to my back.”’
Murals can be very effective as reminders of a city's history. 

Murals can be very effective as reminders of a city's history. 

Conclusion

Appreciating public art, not unlike any other art genre, often takes effort in the form of curiosity and research – plus a good pair of walking shoes! If one subscribes to the notion that a purpose of public art is to tell, or reinterpret, a story of Place from the artist’s perspective, then one has to understand the Place in all its many facets.

As an avid ‘Urban Trekker,’ not unlike a flaneur, public art provides me with a source of wonder and fascination in understanding the culture of our cities.

The statues of Adam Smith, William lll of Orange, William Playfair, King George lll, Molly Malone, General Wellington, Robbie Burns and Dugald Stewart’s - and their stories - also contributed to my enjoyment of this unique region. A region that has strong historical and cultural affiliation with Calgary.

Everyday Tourist Rebuttal

While Tom thinks most of Calgary’s statuary art is of the barnyard variety, three of Calgary’s most popular and prominent pieces are in fact figurative and function much like what he experienced in Europe. 

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The “Famous Five,” an ambitious work by Edmonton sculptor Barbara Paterson, celebrates the five women who successfully lobbied for womens' rights in the early 20th century. 

It is a lovely work that integrates well with Olympic Plaza and invites the public to stop and interact with it. 

Another popular statuary art in Calgary is “The Conversation” by William McElcheran, located in front of Hudson’s Bay department store on Stephen Avenue.  This piece depicts two businessmen engaged in a face-to-face discussion with strong hand gestures.  Given downtown Calgary has one of the largest concentrations of corporate headquarters in North America, this work and its location (i.e. in the middle of our CBD) is very appropriate for our city’s culture.

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Finally, no discussion of statuary art in Calgary would be complete without looking at “The Brotherhood of Mankind,” known by some as “The Family of Man.” Created by Spanish artist Mario Armengol as part of the British Pavilion for Montreal's Expo ’67, these 10 huge (each approx. 6.5m tall and 680 kilograms) naked stick figures were purchased at auction and donated to the City of Calgary for tax purposes by Calgary businessman Robert Cummings.

Backstory: When the figures were first set up, the pieces weren't in the circle formation we see today. Rather, they were spread out as part of an exhibit called Britain in the World. The oversized figures were meant to suggest the dominance of man and stood next to what the Brits determined were their “gifts” to the modern world – things like language, government systems, law and traditions.  Ironically, when they arrived in Calgary there were no installation instructions so City staff decided they should be in a circle and thus became a family – perhaps reflecting Calgary’s strong family orientation.

Last Word

Tittemore is correct Calgary does have lots of barnyard statues, but many do reflect our history and culture which includes ranching and agriculture.

Close up of Begg's sculpture of Sitting Eagle.

Close up of Begg's sculpture of Sitting Eagle.

Joe Fafard’s seven galloping horses in Hotchkiss Gardens and Richard Loffler’s Outlaw (the Calgary’s Stampede’s legendary bull that was only ridden once) are two good examples. 

I would also be remise if this blog didn’t recognize Don Begg’s statue of a very proud and welcoming Sitting Eagle (also known as John Hunter) located downtown at the corner of 7th Ave and 6th St. SW. 

Perhaps a blog showcasing Calgary’s statutory art is what I should be working on. 

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

Dublin Revisited in 36 Postcards

The Famous Five at Olympic Plaza

Stampede Park sculpture becomes family playground

 

Downtown Calgary: Black & White / Inside & Out

Over the past few weeks I have enjoyed exploring the streets and indoor +15 walkway of Calgary's downtown searching for dramatic lighting for black and white photos.  In addition, I was attempting to capture Calgary's unique urban sense of place.

Hope you enjoy this photo essay - feedback is always welcomed.

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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: East Village Envy

It all happened so innocently. I saw a tweet inviting East Village residents to visit the National Music Centre (NMC) free on Sunday, August 6th and tweeted back “Why were only East Village residents getting in free?” I was quickly bombarded with tweets and an interesting twitter conversation ensued over the next 10 hours.

Some thought it was a great idea, given East Village residents have had to put up with construction for so many years.  Others thought it would be great for the seniors living in the affordable housing complexes who can’t afford regular admission.  Yet others like me, thought it was strange that one community had been singled out for free admission. 

Studio Bell or National Music Centre is a massive building that has attracted significant attention from the international design community for its unique shape and design. 

Studio Bell or National Music Centre is a massive building that has attracted significant attention from the international design community for its unique shape and design. 

Calgary's East Village is perhaps one of the largest urban construction sites in North America with several new condos, hotels and retail developments, as well as an iconic new library currently under construction. 

Calgary's East Village is perhaps one of the largest urban construction sites in North America with several new condos, hotels and retail developments, as well as an iconic new library currently under construction. 

Truth Is…

On Monday morning, I checked with the National Music Centre to learn what the rationale was for free admission for those living in East Village only.  Turns out the free admission was sponsored by Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), the city body responsible for managing the redevelopment of East Village and one of the investors in the Museum.  

In 2017, CMLC has a $1.5 million dollar budget just for Community Relations and Marketing - no other community in Calgary has anything near that, not even ones with a Business Improvement Area levy like downtown, 17th Ave, Kensington or 4th Avenue.

For me this was another reminder East Village has a special status that no other Calgary community has.  Over the past year, I have been hearing comments like “How did East Village get a deluxe community garden given to them when we had to raise our own money? How did East Village get St. Patrick’s Island redevelopment while our park gets little or no attention? I sure love the benches in St. Patrick’s Island; how can we get one in our park?  Who is paying for all the free community events happening in East Village every weekend?” 

In fact, no community in Calgary has received as much municipal investment in such a short time as East Village. 

Yes, some of the investment like St. Patrick’s Island Park and Central Library are citywide amenities, but if that is the case, then the Rivers District Community Revitalization Levy (RDCRL) probably shouldn’t fund them.

Riverwalk has become a very popular place on the weekends for people to sit and stroll.  It has been heavily programmed by CMCL as a marketing strategy for selling condos.

Riverwalk has become a very popular place on the weekends for people to sit and stroll.  It has been heavily programmed by CMCL as a marketing strategy for selling condos.

What is the RDCRL?

To accomplish the mega makeover of East Village, the City of Calgary set up a special Rivers District Community Revitalization Levy in 2007. To date City Council has authorized $276M (additional revenue has been generated by the sale of city owned land in East Village) to be borrowed to make all the necessary infrastructure and other improvements needed to create a 21st century urban village, with the loan payments being paid for by the new property tax revenue from new developments.  

The RDCRL boundaries not only include East Village, but Victoria Park and Stampede Park and downtown.

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Council also set up the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (with its own Board of Directors) as a “wholly owned subsidiary of the City of Calgary with a mandate to implement and execute a public infrastructure program approved by the City of Calgary and the Province of Alberta to kick-start Calgary’s urban renewal in East Village.”

CMLC has done an amazing job of the mega makeover of East Village converting it from a sea of surface parking lots, a prostitute stroll and drug dealers’ den to a haven for YUPPIEs and empty nesters. 

To date, CMLC has attracted $2.7 billion of new construction in East Village which has generated the $357 million in levy revenues and it is anticipated to be whopping $801 million by 2027 when the RDCRL expires.  

Calgary's "float boat" shaped Central Library with its playful geometric decals is destined to become Calgary's newest postcard to the world.    

Calgary's "float boat" shaped Central Library with its playful geometric decals is destined to become Calgary's newest postcard to the world.    

How has the $357 million been invested to date?

The first wave of projects were budgeted at $143 million for infrastructure improvements (raising the roads, sewer, environmental clean-up and new sidewalks) $55 million for the 4th Street Underpass and $23 million for phase I & II of RiverWalk.  

St. Patrick's Island has been transformed from an under utilized, almost forgotten park, into a wonderful urban playground for the growing number of families living in the City Centre. 

St. Patrick's Island has been transformed from an under utilized, almost forgotten park, into a wonderful urban playground for the growing number of families living in the City Centre. 

The second wave of projects were less infrastructure projects and more about making East Village a 21st century urban playground. 

Specifically, the St. Patrick’s Island makeover cost $20 million plus $25 million to replace the existing pedestrian bridge. 

There was $22 million to restore historical buildings, $70 million to the New Central Library once it was decided it would be located in East Village (total cost of the new library is $245 million) and $10 million to the National Music Centre.

Bloom by Michel de Broin is just one of several public art pieces (permanent and temporary) that CMCL has commissioned for East Village. 

Bloom by Michel de Broin is just one of several public art pieces (permanent and temporary) that CMCL has commissioned for East Village. 

As well, smaller projects included the Elbow River Traverse pedestrian/cycling bridge ($5 million), C-Square, a plaza along the LRT tracks designed as a passive gathering / small event space ($3million) and a community garden with 80 plots ($75,000).

Collectively, all of these projects convinced developers the new East Village was an attractive place to invest and they have worked with CMLC to transform East Village from an urban wasteland to an urban playground.

Excerpt from CMLC 2017 - 2019 Business Plan.

Excerpt from CMLC 2017 - 2019 Business Plan.

Is $357 million too much?

While I appreciate East Village was woefully ignored by the City for many years and therefore in need of a huge investment to kick-start the redevelopment, I think the investment of $357 million by the City of Calgary via CMLC in one community is excessive.

When I pointed out to Calgary’s Twitter community that while East Villagers have indeed put up with a lot of construction, they have gotten - or are getting - a lot in return – spectacular new library and museum, beautiful new RiverWalk, lovely sidewalks with hanging baskets, a wonderful redeveloped park, new playground and an upscale community garden, I was (not surprisingly) lambasted by some and applauded by others. 

These benches in St. Patrick's Island have a contemporary sculptural look with the mix of wood, concrete and minimalist sensibility. The design is very clever as one person can be lying down on one side while two people can be sitting on the other side of the back support and two more on the concrete slab.  Not that I have ever seen that happen. Wouldn't they be lovely in parks across the city?

These benches in St. Patrick's Island have a contemporary sculptural look with the mix of wood, concrete and minimalist sensibility. The design is very clever as one person can be lying down on one side while two people can be sitting on the other side of the back support and two more on the concrete slab.  Not that I have ever seen that happen. Wouldn't they be lovely in parks across the city?

Perhaps the most poignant tweet was by Elise Bieche, President of the Highland Community Association who wrote “And we thought asking for the creek to be daylighted was too much for the developer or the city to handle.” 

(FYI. Daylighting in this case refers to that community’s request to have the creek that used to run through the Highland Golf Course and has been covered over for decades (the water currently run through a pipe underneath the golf course) to be returned to its natural state and become an public amenity for the entire community.)

Indeed, the first wave of East Village projects were much needed infrastructure improvements – raising the roads, new underpass to connect to Stampede Park, flood protection, new water and sewer lines and sidewalks (about 50% of investments to date).

However, I don’t believe RDCRL revenues should have helped pay for the new Central library, National Music Centre, redevelopment of a regional park (St. Patricks’ Island), a deluxe community garden and children’s playground. These are not infrastructure projects, as per the intent of the levy

I do not blame CMLC. They have done an amazing job. But I am questioning how much taxpayers’ money has been invested in East Village to create a public realm that raises the bar way beyond what the City can provide in other communities.  

These summer chairs look like something you might find on a cruise ship.  They create a very welcoming sense of place along the Riverwalk.

These summer chairs look like something you might find on a cruise ship.  They create a very welcoming sense of place along the Riverwalk.

Nenshi’s Cultural Entertainment District Proposal

It is very possible the next wave of RDCRL projects could be a new arena in Victoria Park and an expanded convention/trade show centre in Stampede Park. They will be the equivalent of East Village’s Central Library and National Music Centre. Other projects included in Nenshi’s Bold Plan include renovations to Olympic Plaza (Riverwalk), Expanded Arts Commons (St. Patrick’s Island/Bridge) and Victoria Park development (Traverse Bridge).

Indeed, the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation is lobbying the City to create a CRL to fund their new arena/events center be it in Victoria Park or West Village. 

I ask – “Is this the best, most appropriate way for the City to fund these two mega projects?” I am not sure it is. It is my understanding that CRL's work best when the levy's pay for infrastructure projects that are the catalyst for private sector (tax paying) projects.  

Perhaps it is time to rethink how Community Revitalization Levy funds are used to ensure fairness to all Calgarians.

Mayor Nenshi kicked off his 2017 re-election campaign announcing his bold vision for Culture and Entertainment District that not only included East Village, but Victoria Park, Stampede Park and the existing cultural district around Olympic Plaza. FYI: All of these ideas and projects were included in CMLC 2017 - 2019 Business Plan published earlier in the year. 

Mayor Nenshi kicked off his 2017 re-election campaign announcing his bold vision for Culture and Entertainment District that not only included East Village, but Victoria Park, Stampede Park and the existing cultural district around Olympic Plaza. FYI: All of these ideas and projects were included in CMLC 2017 - 2019 Business Plan published earlier in the year. 

Last Word

As my father of four used to say “If I give it to you, I have to give it to the other three.”  While I realize not all communities are created equal (i.e. not all communities have the potential to attract $2.7 billion in new investments like East Village), I do think it might be time to rethink the RDCRL. 

Do CRLs create an uneven playing field for private developers in Calgary where they have to pay for all of the public amenities and pass on the cost to the new home buyers? Think Currie, Seton, Quarry Park or University District?

And yes, I am envious of all the lovely amenities in East Village. I think many other Calgarians are too.

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

East Village: The Lust Of The New Playground

East Village: A Masterpiece In The Making?

Crazy Idea: New Arena In Victoria Park

Calgary's Audacious New Library 

 

 

 

 

Public Art? Rocks, Keys, Dog & Bone?

Controversial public art raised its ugly head again in Calgary recently with the commencement of the construction of the Bowfort Tower artwork on the off ramp of the TransCanada Highway and Bowfort Road NW.  Yes, it is a strange place for public art. Yes, it is a strange name for a public artwork - sounds more like a new downtown condo or office tower. 

And yes, it seems like a strange choice as the NW gateway to Calgary. 

Bowfort Towers public artwork on the Trans Canada Highway at Bowfort Road. 

Bowfort Towers public artwork on the Trans Canada Highway at Bowfort Road. 

Change of heart?

When I first checked the City of Calgary's website to see what information they had posted about the piece, it included a statement about how the artwork referenced Calgary's Indigenous culture however that statement has been removed.  Link: City of Calgary, Bowfort Towers

Also since all of the controversy Mayor Nenshi and Chiefs of Treaty 7 have issued a joint statement saying that the piece was never intended to reference Calgary Indigenous Culture. Link: Nenshi Treaty 7 Chief's Joint Statement

However, on August 3, 2017, CBC posted the following statement as part of their coverage of the newly installed public art: 

The Bowfort Towers on the south side of the interchange were designed by artist Del Geist, who is based in New York, N.Y. Sarah Iley (Manager Arts & Culture, city of Calgary) said Geist drew inspiration from the Blackfoot people, and the towers capture the "essence, personality and history" of the area. "Those four towers relate to the Blackfoot cultural symbolism that talks about the four elements, the four stages of life (and) the four seasons," Iley said.

Link: CBC: Gateway to the City: Art Installation

Sorry I don't think you can just now say the piece doesn't make reference to the Blackfoot culture after saying it was. 

Blackfoot burial platform

Blackfoot burial platform

Calgary we have a problem

As a former public art gallery curator and frequent public art juror, I have often wondered why modern public art seems to be skewed towards the conceptual and minimalist genres, rather than just being fun.  I think this is especially true for what I call “drive-by public art,” i.e. public art that the public can’t get close, or have a chance to take some time to examine it, reflect and ponder its meaning, its concepts, which is critical to understanding and appreciating conceptual art.

When I saw the Bowfort Tower, I immediately knew we were in for another round of public art outrage. I passed by it almost everyday for a week waiting to see how it was going to look, but it just stayed the same – eight iron or wood pillars (hard to tell the difference when driving by) with flat rocks floating in the pillars.  It looked unfinished. It looked like part of the construction site. And yes, is did remind me of indigenous burial sites.

Perhaps, before any public artwork is installed, it should be vetted by a larger public than just a jury and administration. Perhaps, City Council should have final approval of all public art works just like they do all secondary suites. Just kidding!

Obviously, the current open invitation, which is short-listed by administration, with the final decision being made by a different jury of art professionals, community representatives and administration for each piece is isn’t working. In fact, many experienced artists won’t submit to juried competitions because they know the process is flawed. Sad, but true!

However, not all is lost when it comes to public art in Calgary…or is it? Depends on who you are talking to. Read on...

Close-up view of UNLOCKED a new temporary public artwork on 17th Avenue SW.  

Close-up view of UNLOCKED a new temporary public artwork on 17th Avenue SW. 

UNLOCKED 

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While Bowfort Towers was getting all the attention by public art zealots, over the past two weeks, few were commenting on Calgary’s other two new public artworks – Boney, located in SETON at the entrance to the new Medical Professional Building and UNLOCK, in the middle of the sidewalk on the 200E block of 17th Ave SE.  

UNLOCK, while also visually fun, is a more thought provoking piece.  It consists of a wire mesh archway (12 feet long, 6 feet wide and 8 feet high) located on the sidewalk on 17th Ave SE, between Centre Street and 1 Street SE in front of a new apartment block.  Artist Joanne MacDonald sees keys as a signifier of personal memories – first bike lock, first car keys, first keys to your apartment.  In a letter to local businesses along 17th Ave SE, she asked them to donate keys to be installed on the archway.  It is also her intention to encourage the public to participate at upcoming community events by donating keys as well.

In her letter to businesses along the block, she hoped UNLOCKED would “promote discussion on themes like accessibility, opportunity, privilege, employment, ownership and gentrification.” I think this is a big leap to think the keys will be the catalyst to promote discussion, however the archway does create a fun pedestrian experience whether you walk through or around it.   

We visited at twilight and the setting sun sparkled off the metal keys created a lovely ambience while we lingered for a few minutes before moving on.

Unlock could become a very interesting installation in the right location. 

Unlock could become a very interesting installation in the right location. 

Personally, I like the way the artist’s references the wire mesh fences that are used at construction sites everywhere in her arch. I think it is great when public art can connect with its site in some manner. I like the simplicity of the structure and to me, the archway visually creates a pageantry-like experience that enhances the everyday sidewalk experience.

What I didn’t see in the artist’s statement or city explanation is the that artwork is an interesting spin on the world wide phenomena of lovers (often as tourists) placing locks in public places as a declaration of their love for each other.  When I first read about the piece, I assumed the artist and the City were encouraging couples and families to come to the archway and add their keys to the artwork as a symbol of their love of each other – a modern love-in you might say.

I love interactive public art.

Backstory: Unlocked is one of four public art pieces being installed this August as part of a new program called The cREactive Realm developed by Blank Page Studio in collaboration with The City of Calgary. It is seen as a way to support businesses along 17th Avenue while streets are torn up to replace water and sanitary lines, repair and rebuild the road and make public realm improvements – new sidewalks, benches, trees and streetlights. The goal is to create interactive, playful experiences using public art that will draw Calgarians to the blocks while they are under construction.  The total budget for the four artworks is $50,000.
This is another of the four public artworks being produced and temporarily installed along 17th Ave SW during construction as a means of attracting people to visit 17th while it gets new sidewalks and utilities. Budget $15,000.

This is another of the four public artworks being produced and temporarily installed along 17th Ave SW during construction as a means of attracting people to visit 17th while it gets new sidewalks and utilities. Budget $15,000.

The signage says: CONNECT is a project designed to bring an artist workspace into the Public Realm. Working towards the creation of a piece of public furniture Laura and Micheal Hosaluk are designing and developing their ideas as they share their creative process with you.     Using the lathe and the bandsaw to cut and form Red Cedar from B.C. and Milk Paint to add colour this duo will be working to transform raw materials into a celebration of the process.

The signage says: CONNECT is a project designed to bring an artist workspace into the Public Realm. Working towards the creation of a piece of public furniture Laura and Micheal Hosaluk are designing and developing their ideas as they share their creative process with you. 

Using the lathe and the bandsaw to cut and form Red Cedar from B.C. and Milk Paint to add colour this duo will be working to transform raw materials into a celebration of the process.

BONEY 

This bone is perched near the roof-top of the EFW Radiology building in one of Calgary's newest communities - SETON. 

This bone is perched near the roof-top of the EFW Radiology building in one of Calgary's newest communities - SETON. 

Boney is a whimsical 9-foot tall purple dog consisting of nine bone shaped pieces designed by the German arts collective Inges Idee (yes, this is the same collective that brought us Travelling Light, better known as the Giant Blue Ring), fabricated and installed by Calgary’s Heavy Industries, who have been responsible for the fabrication of many of Calgary’s new public artworks.  Adding, to add to the whimsy, the dog is looking up to the top of the building where another bone is on the roof. 

Trevor Hunnisett, Development Manager of Brookfield Residential says, “the response to date has been excellent. Given the piece’s location across from the South Health Campus and at the front door of our new medical building, we wanted something that would put a smile on a person’s face regardless of age and personal circumstances.”  In this case, the piece was chosen and paid for by Brookfield Residential - no jury, no City money and no controversy.  Hunnisett wouldn’t divulge the exact price of the artwork but did say it was less than 1% of cost of the building.

Before the snarky public art purists say something like “Sure, all Calgarians want are fluff pieces of horses and other kitschy art,’ I would like to remind them that Jeff Koons has become one of the world’s most famous artists creating artworks that look like the balloon animals pone would see at a child-oriented event. His work is collected by many knowledgeable collectors and is in the collection of art museums around the world. 

If I had one criticism of Boney, it is that it is derivative; one could even say plagiarizes Koons’ work. It is the polar opposite of Bowfort Towers in that it has no hidden meaning, concepts or social statements.  

It is just plain fun – and what’s wrong with that? In my mind Calgary’s new public art is too skewed to obscure conceptual art; sometimes public art can (should) just be fun!

BONEY looking up at the bone on the roof. I love that BONEY's tail and ears are bone-shaped and the cheerful purple colour. Is it just coincidence that Boney is Nenshi purple????     I also love the simple seating that is all around the piece inviting the public to sit and chat; that's being public friendly. 

BONEY looking up at the bone on the roof. I love that BONEY's tail and ears are bone-shaped and the cheerful purple colour. Is it just coincidence that Boney is Nenshi purple????

 I also love the simple seating that is all around the piece inviting the public to sit and chat; that's being public friendly. 

Another view of BONEY with the South Health Campus in the background. 

Another view of BONEY with the South Health Campus in the background. 

Last Word

Sometimes I think artists and curators expect too much from public art. While it can be a catalyst for discussion and debate, in most cases, the public glances at the art, likes it or doesn’t like it, and moves on. There is not a lot of thinking, pondering and reflecting on its meaning, concepts, social or political statements. 

What it does do in subtle and subliminal ways is make the pedestrian experience more interesting. To me, urban places are often defined by the diversity and quality of their public art, even if we don’t always realize it.

Personally the best NEW piece of public art in Calgary was a grassroots one in the LRT pedestrian underpass from Sunnyside to 10th Street at Riley Park. 

This rainbow was painted to celebrate Calgary's Gay Pride Week.  I love the fact that someone has taken the time to clean up the area around the underpass. After I took this photo they toss the garbage in a dumpster nearby.      I am thinking that if the Bowfort Road / Trans Canada Highway underpass had been painted like this on a permanent basis, it would have been well received.  In addition to adding some colour to a concrete grey underpass, it would also have delivered an uplifting message i.e. Calgary is an inclusive city or perhaps Calgary is a city hope and optimism. Both of which are true and would be very appropriate for a gateway artwork. 

This rainbow was painted to celebrate Calgary's Gay Pride Week.  I love the fact that someone has taken the time to clean up the area around the underpass. After I took this photo they toss the garbage in a dumpster nearby.  

I am thinking that if the Bowfort Road / Trans Canada Highway underpass had been painted like this on a permanent basis, it would have been well received.  In addition to adding some colour to a concrete grey underpass, it would also have delivered an uplifting message i.e. Calgary is an inclusive city or perhaps Calgary is a city hope and optimism. Both of which are true and would be very appropriate for a gateway artwork. 

University District: My Final Resting Place?

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

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

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

Something For Everyone

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

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

Link: Video University District

Everyday Needs

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

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

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

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

Big News 

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

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

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

Computer rendering of University Districts pedestrian shopping street. 

Computer rendering of University Districts pedestrian shopping street. 

FYI

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

If you like this blog, you will like: 

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

Calgary's Learning City Is Blooming

University District: Tree Strategy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calgary: What's our colour...drink...animal..car...movie character?

Recently, I was invited to a focus group by Tourism Calgary, so they could pick my brain (along with another 15+ Calgarians) about Calgary’s identity and brand.  Always game to be a guinea pig (that’s how I met my wife…another story), so I quickly said, “YES!”

Do Calgarians live in a bubble? 

Do Calgarians live in a bubble? 

Same Stories?

I was intrigued by one of the introductory remarks – “this not going to be about picking a new logo or new moniker, but more an open discussion about Calgary’s identity and unique sense of place.” Interesting.

One of the take-away ideas from the facilitator’s introduction was that almost every city around the world is telling the same stories to tourists - how great their festivals are, bragging about their new museums, parks and plazas and boasting about their culinary culture and craft beers. 

A related key message was - what cities are not doing is understanding and/or communicating what makes them different, unique or special.  Note: Something I hope I am trying to do with my blogs from Calgary or other places I visit, I am always looking for something unique.

We then were divided into three groups of about 6 people each for some group exercises.  Here are two that I found both interesting and strange at the same time.

Calgarians young and old love to play "dress up."

Calgarians young and old love to play "dress up."

Calgarians are colourful.

Calgarians are colourful.

First Exercise:

Answer this question: What would the world miss if Calgary didn’t exist? 

Yikes…my immediate thought was “nothing.”  In fact I would hazard a guess 80% of the world probably doesn’t even know Calgary exists and if they do, they know very little about us.  An obvious answer is “energy” but in reality that doesn’t come from Calgary.  Then there is the Stampede, but not sure the world would really miss it if it didn’t happen, anymore than the world would miss Carnival, Marda Gras or Oktoberfest.  I don’t think the world would miss our museums, public art, restaurants, shopping or fishing on the Bow River either.

Our group didn’t come up with anything and neither did the other groups. I am not sure how productive this question was. Love to hear from readers if there is something they can think of.

We love our public art? 

We love our public art? 

Calgary: Where deals are done on a handshake!

Calgary: Where deals are done on a handshake!

Calgary is made up of 200+ communities each with its own community centre, park, playground and most have an outdoor community hockey rink. 

Calgary is made up of 200+ communities each with its own community centre, park, playground and most have an outdoor community hockey rink. 

Calgary has some amazing festivals, but would the world miss any of them if they didn't happen?

Calgary has some amazing festivals, but would the world miss any of them if they didn't happen?

Next Exercise

What _________ (fill in the blank with the following words - colour, drink, animal, car, movie character) would best describe your city? Again, interesting but wondered what possible insights this might reveal.

What’s OUR colour?

Two of the groups chose blue. One group picked Sky Blue to reflect the warm blue skies Calgarians enjoy every month of the year.  One person pointed out that even when is -30 degrees C in the winter, our bright blue sky, makes it seems warmer.  Try telling that to someone from Vancouver or Southern Ontario.  I pointed out that because of our clean blue skies, our downtown skyline and the mountain vistas are much more vivid than in other cities I have visited.  I remember once reading a letter-to-the-editor from an overseas visitor gobsmacked by the quality of light in Calgary, describing it as “celestial.”

The second “blue” group picked Twilight Blue, pointing out that as the sun sets in Calgary, the light becomes quite magical.  Ah yes, I miss those golden sunsets on Bankers Hall that we used to have before the rise of Eighth Avenue Place.

The third group picked red, the colour associated with all our sports teams, the Calgary Tower (20th century icon) and Peace Bridge (21st century icon).  Nobody said it, but I am sure a few thought it - many Canadians also think of Calgary as a haven for “rednecks.”

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Calgary is a city of hope, where dreams take flight!

Calgary is a city of hope, where dreams take flight!

Calgary's best public art are the surrealistic architectural reflections off of our shiny skyscrapers. 

Calgary's best public art are the surrealistic architectural reflections off of our shiny skyscrapers. 

Yes we love red.

Yes we love red.

In fact we love lots of colours!

In fact we love lots of colours!

What’s OUR drink?

Two of the groups picked “beer” which seems a bit cliché as every city in North America has been infected by the craft beer craze.  See above comment on take-away ideas i.e. “all cities tell the same stories.”

Our group picked beer originally, then talked about the Caesar, (invented in Calgary) and finally settled on Vodka. The rationale - you can drink it straight or mix it with anything.  We all immediately grabbed onto the notion that while Calgary is very clean and white, we are Canada’s third most ethnically diverse City, and an interesting mix of Canadians from East Coast, West Coast, Central Canada and the Prairies.

As I like to say, “Calgary is the most Canadian city in Canada as we are a mix of Canadians who hail from all regions of our country.”

Calgarians love their beer...

Calgarians love their beer...

Calgary has long history of craft brewing.

Calgary has long history of craft brewing.

We also love a glass or two of vino, even if we can't grow it here.

We also love a glass or two of vino, even if we can't grow it here.

What’s is OUR animal?

I quickly picked Magpie. Beautiful and exotic upon your first glance, they become very loud and brash the more you see it. As well, magpies are considered to be one of the most intelligent animals in the world; as well they are intensely social with a strong sense of community.  I thought this described Calgary to a T.

Overruled, our group ultimately chose “dog,” for it’s friendliness and loyalty, which we all felt were Calgary qualities.  One person was even specific, suggesting a herding dog (border collie), as we love to work hard.  I have often said that Calgary is the place where Canadians come to “work hard and get ahead.”   Someone also pointed out we have some of the best dog parks in the world.  Point well taken.

The group sitting right behind me actually did pick the Magpie – I think they overheard my pitch and bought it. 

The third group picked Bison. Though, originally picking the horse, one person in the group pointed out that in a storm, horses run away while bisons charge into the storm, which is what Calgarians do when faced with a challenge.  That received applause from the entire room. 

River Park on a winter day is busy with walkers of all shapes and sizes. 

River Park on a winter day is busy with walkers of all shapes and sizes. 

Calgarians love to horse-around on Stephen Avenue. 

Calgarians love to horse-around on Stephen Avenue. 

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What is OUR car?

This is a great question for Calgary as our city has one of the highest levels of car ownership in the world.  One group chose the SUV, an obvious choice given Calgary’s demographics are dominated by families.  A hybrid between a sports car and a sedan, it is a good metaphor for our city that combines fast living with family life.

Our group unanimously chose the Ford 150. It is a well known Calgary is the pickup capital of Canada. One members pointed out he knows a billionaire in Calgary who drives a Ford 150.  It nicely references our rural roots, our connection with the land and our strong work ethic. 

Being the contrarian (surprise, surprise) I suggested the Car2Go smart cars as Calgary has one of the highest Car2Go memberships, pointing our it references Calgary’s growing “sharing culture” as well as our aspiration to be a “smart city.”

As luck would have it, the group behind me did choose Car2Go – I do think I was in the wrong group!

I went to a Ford dealership in Calgary to get a photo and found an entire row of Ford 150 trucks, must have been 50+ including several blue ones. 

I went to a Ford dealership in Calgary to get a photo and found an entire row of Ford 150 trucks, must have been 50+ including several blue ones. 

How many Car2Go can you count?  I believe all of them were taking their dog to River Park, one of Calgary's best dog parks. 

How many Car2Go can you count?  I believe all of them were taking their dog to River Park, one of Calgary's best dog parks. 

What’s OUR movie character?

Two groups chose Woody from “Toy Story.”  This was too obvious as Woody dresses up like a cowboy but isn’t really a cowboy; how perfect is that.  But the references go much deeper - Woody is Andy’s favourite toy and the leader of all of his toys, but his status as the favourite is challenged.  Indeed, for much of the late 20th and early 21st century, Calgary had to fight to be recognized as one of Canada’s leading economic engines, a budding urban playground and the favourite city for Canadians to move to. 

The other group chose R2D2, however I can’t recall what their rationale was. Perhaps it reflects our position as a high tech, future-oriented city or our love of cosplay.

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 8.45.38 AM.png
Stampede Park sculpture welcomes everyone to the grounds. 

Stampede Park sculpture welcomes everyone to the grounds. 

Kinda like R2D2....

Kinda like R2D2....

Viral Video?

Upon reflection, I wonder if Tourism Calgary was soliciting ideas for a fun viral tourist video about Calgary. 

Tacky cowboy icon on the Red Mile is too much fun.

Tacky cowboy icon on the Red Mile is too much fun.

I can see it now. It will have a couple of redneck cowboys in a blue Ford 150 with their border collie in the back, while two cowgirls hop into a Car2Go and suburban family all in Star Wars attire (one as R2D2) jump into their red SUV while a murder of magpies play in the trees.

The redneck cowboys head to the Red Mile’s Trolley Five (via Memorial Drive so they can pass by the red Peace Bridge (with hundreds of walkers and cyclists and then up Centre Street for a shot of the red-topped Calgary Tower) for a vodka martini with a Beltline lager chaser and a bison burger on a lively patio while their loyal dog (a blue heeler) waits on the sidewalk being admired by a parade of pedestrians (beside him, a blue bowl labelled “fresh Bow River water.”)

Dancing at Calgary's International Folk Festival is mandatory. 

Dancing at Calgary's International Folk Festival is mandatory. 

Meanwhile, the blue jeaned-attired cowgirls head to Inglewood (passing by the bison at Fort Calgary), to do some shopping and checking out the new exhibition at the Esker Foundation before meeting up with friends for dancing at the Saturday blues jam at the Blues Can hosted by Tim Williams (winner of the International Blues Competition in 2014).  

The Star Wars family heads to the nearest LRT Park & Ride in their red SUV (with a shot of some public art along the way), then hop on Little Ralph’s Train (on which, to their surprise, a couple of young aspiring singer songwriters are jamming some tunes) to the Stampede Red LRT Station where they become part of tens of thousands of people enjoying the annual Calgary Expo (aka cosplay) with huge posters for Big Rock, Village and Wild Rose breweries in the background.

It ends with a shot of the magic blue twilight sky and setting sun on the Bow River full of rafters and paddlers with Downtown skyline glowing in the background and the byline: 

Imagine Being In Calgary!

The Bow and Elbow Rivers become urban playgrounds in the summer. 

The Bow and Elbow Rivers become urban playgrounds in the summer. 

Calgary's magical blue at twilight.

Calgary's magical blue at twilight.

Welcome everyone to Calgary!

Welcome everyone to Calgary!

Last Word

I can't help but wonder if this exercise will be any more successful than those that generated the "Heart of the New West" or "Be Part of the Energy." I didn’t get to pitch my idea that Calgary’s moniker should be the:

“City of Parks & Pathways.”

Rationale: We have 5,200+ parks, including two of the largest urban parks in the world (Nose Hill and Fish Creek), two great festival parks (Prince’s Island and Stampede Park), a park-like zoo, great family parks, great dog parks (e.g. St. Patrick’s and Bowness), the world’s longest elevated indoor walkway (+15), 700+km of pathways city wide and new the 133km Greenway that encircles the city.  Need I say more?  OK - Banff National Park (many tourists already think of Calgary as the gateway to Banff), Kananaskis and Dinosaur Provincial Parks are a few just hours away. 

Who wouldn’t want to visit the City of Park & Pathways? Who wouldn’t want to move to the City of Parks & Pathways for a job?  Works for both tourism and economic development, don’t you think?

Do I have a seconder?

Calgarians love their parks....

Calgarians love their parks....

Reader's Feedback

Vanessa Gagon, Tourism Calgary's Brand Manager writes:

I love how you weave photos of all the awesomeness in our city into your post! 

The response to this project has been really great, people are excited! Over the last few weeks we've conducted a residents survey (800 Calgarians - with approximately 200 from NW, NE, Central and South Calgary), 4 workshops (81 participants) and focus groups with community leaders (29 participants), that's 910 people who have been involved! Oh and we did a staff workshop so 930 people! Folks have been so gracious with their time and are eager to help in any way they can, confirms we live in the best city in Canada! :) 

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Urban Design: Does the public care?

Does the average Calgarian really care about urban design? David Down, Architect and Chief Urban Designer at the City of Calgary thinks we do.

SETON Gateway structure is just one example how Calgary developers are paying more attention to the importance of urban design. The Gateway was designed by Allen DeBoer at Calgary's Gibbs Gage architects and paid for entirely by Brookfield Residential. 

SETON Gateway structure is just one example how Calgary developers are paying more attention to the importance of urban design. The Gateway was designed by Allen DeBoer at Calgary's Gibbs Gage architects and paid for entirely by Brookfield Residential. 

A good example of Calgary's improved urban design can be found in the Beltline with Barb Scott Park (12th Ave and 9th St SW), designed by Calgary's Scatliff+Miller+Murray landscape architects.   The park includes Chinook Arch ($370,000) a public artwork by Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock from Tucson, AZ.   Kudos should go to the Beltline community who spear headed the development of this park (cost $3 million).    Across the street are two colourful modern apartments designed by NORR's Calgary office, and are good examples of the enhance urban design of residential towers in Calgary today.  

A good example of Calgary's improved urban design can be found in the Beltline with Barb Scott Park (12th Ave and 9th St SW), designed by Calgary's Scatliff+Miller+Murray landscape architects. The park includes Chinook Arch ($370,000) a public artwork by Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock from Tucson, AZ. Kudos should go to the Beltline community who spear headed the development of this park (cost $3 million).

Across the street are two colourful modern apartments designed by NORR's Calgary office, and are good examples of the enhance urban design of residential towers in Calgary today.  

The new 8th St SW underpass ($8.8 million) transformed a tired and crumbling old pedestrian corridor used by over 8,000 pedestrians a day to a hip, modern walkway. The lead desinger was Renee Daoust at architecture et urbaniste, in Montreal, working with a local team consisting of Marshall Tittemore, Scattlif+Miller+Murray and Watt Consulting.    Toronto artist David Rokeby created "Calgary Scroll" the electronic sign board that connects one side of the sidewalk to the other with rolling text of stories from Calgary's past.  You can text to 587-318-0092 key word and see what stories come up. 

The new 8th St SW underpass ($8.8 million) transformed a tired and crumbling old pedestrian corridor used by over 8,000 pedestrians a day to a hip, modern walkway. The lead desinger was Renee Daoust at architecture et urbaniste, in Montreal, working with a local team consisting of Marshall Tittemore, Scattlif+Miller+Murray and Watt Consulting. 

Toronto artist David Rokeby created "Calgary Scroll" the electronic sign board that connects one side of the sidewalk to the other with rolling text of stories from Calgary's past.  You can text to 587-318-0092 key word and see what stories come up. 

Public art has become an important part of all suburban LRT stations in Calgary.

Public art has become an important part of all suburban LRT stations in Calgary.

Critical Mass

Down feels the level of public interest in urban design has increased significantly over the last decade and it is not just an interest in mega projects like the Peace Bridge, Bow Tower or TELUS Sky, but at the residential level as well. “There is now, more than ever, a critical mass of residential buildings, both single and multi family, designed by both large and small local architectural firms, which are pushing the design envelope in a way that didn’t exist in the late 20th century. 

In addition, new public forums focussing on urban design like Dtalks and Baconfest are attracting capacity crowds,” points out Down.

“Calgary has undergone significant positive physical change over the past ten years in the quality of the design of its buildings, streets and public spaces and the improvements are continuing to occur,” he notes. 

“Also Calgary’s improved urban design is beginning to be recognized globally” adds Down, “for example, Calgary will be hosting the prestigious Walk21 September 19 to 22 (previous locations for this conference include Vienna, Berlin, Melbourne and Hong Kong).” Calgary will also host the International Play Association World Conference September 13 to 17th.

Poppy Plaza was designed by Caglary's Marc Boutin Architcture Collective.     Learn More:   Poppy Plaza Review Revisited

Poppy Plaza was designed by Caglary's Marc Boutin Architcture Collective.

Learn More: Poppy Plaza Review Revisited

RiverWalk was designed by Stantec's Calgary office as one of the kick off projects to the transformation of East Village from a derelict to a dynamic community. This project cost $23 million.

RiverWalk was designed by Stantec's Calgary office as one of the kick off projects to the transformation of East Village from a derelict to a dynamic community. This project cost $23 million.

“Urban Design” Defined

Urban design is the design of individual buildings, groups of buildings, master planning of new communities, redevelopment of established communities, as well as the design of parks, plazas, pathways, public art and streetscapes. It is an inter-disciplinary practice that includes architects, landscape architects, planners, engineers and community engagement.

Denver based Civitas, and New York based W Architecture, have transformed St. Patrick’s Island into a charming urban playground with a pebble beach, picnic grove, pathways, playgrounds, plaza and private places to sit. Cost of the redevelopment was $45M, which includes $25M for a new pedestrian bridge to the island.     Learn More:   St. Patrick's Island: The Good, The Bad, The Nice

Denver based Civitas, and New York based W Architecture, have transformed St. Patrick’s Island into a charming urban playground with a pebble beach, picnic grove, pathways, playgrounds, plaza and private places to sit. Cost of the redevelopment was $45M, which includes $25M for a new pedestrian bridge to the island.

Learn More: St. Patrick's Island: The Good, The Bad, The Nice

Backstory

The first evidence of the rise in importance of urban design in Calgary came in 2003 when the City created an “Urban Design Review Panel” to review major City Centre projects to ensure they would enhance the quality of living for Calgarians.  Then, in 2005, the City hired David Down as Senior Architect/Urban Designer to advocate for better urban design within the Planning Department. 

Also in 2005, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) instituted the Urban Design Awards program, inviting Canadian cities to participate in a two-tiered (in odd years there is a local award competition; in even years the local winners are eligible for national awards) Urban Design Award program to recognize excellence in urban design in Canada and demonstrate its importance to the general public at both the local and national levels.  Both David Watson, then General Manager of the City’s Planning Department and then Mayor Dave Bronconnier were supportive of the staff’s request to join the RAIC program.  

Calgary became one of first cities to join the program.

Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall which dates back to 1970 was one of Calgary's first attempts in modern times to employ the new urban design philosophy of "pedestrians first."  

Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall which dates back to 1970 was one of Calgary's first attempts in modern times to employ the new urban design philosophy of "pedestrians first."  

Past National Award Winners

In 2016, Calgary’s The Bench Project won the National Award for Community Initiatives (after winning the local award in 2015). This grass roots initiative involved an anonymous group of Calgarians leaving colourful handmade benches around the city with the intent of“creating spaces for Calgarians to have a seat and enjoy our city.”

Two years earlier, in 2014, The Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative Inc. won the national Civic Design Projects Award for “The Landscape of Memory: Poppy Plaza” project. 

And in 2012, Broadway Malyan with Roland Berger Strategy Consultants won for their East Village Master Plan in the same category.  In 2010, Stantec Consulting Ltd. won a national award in the category of Urban Design Plans for The River Walk Master Plan.

The futuristic looking new Rocky Ridge Recreation Center is a absolutely stunning was designed by Calgary's GEC architecture, who also designed the Saddledome and Olympic Oval. Cost $191M.

The futuristic looking new Rocky Ridge Recreation Center is a absolutely stunning was designed by Calgary's GEC architecture, who also designed the Saddledome and Olympic Oval. Cost $191M.

How the Mayor’s Urban Design Awards Program Works?

David Down, the City of Calgary’s Chief Urban Designer, in collaboration with the Mayor’s office, manages the program.

Anyone can make a submission for consideration by the jury, but it is usually someone from the project team who submits. Detailed submission requirements are on the City of Calgary website (link http://calgary.ca/PDA/pd/Pages/Mayors-Urban-Design-Awards/Mayor-Urban-Design-Awards.aspx?redirect=/muda).  In any given year, about 50 to 60 submissions are received.

Suggestions for jury members are solicited from a group of design industry “advisors” and a list is created of experts from the fields of urban design, architecture, landscape architecture, planning, community advocacy, arts and media.

Jury members are from Calgary and elsewhere to ensure a balance of local knowledge and “outside” best practice experience.  

Not all new public art is controversial, this piece by Saskatchewan artist Joe Fafard is the centre piece for the Hotchkiss Gardens. Below the garden is a 700 stall parking garage. This artwork and installation cost $500,000 and was paid for by donations from an individual and corporation.

Not all new public art is controversial, this piece by Saskatchewan artist Joe Fafard is the centre piece for the Hotchkiss Gardens. Below the garden is a 700 stall parking garage. This artwork and installation cost $500,000 and was paid for by donations from an individual and corporation.

Funny Jury Story

Down says it is fascinating to watch the jurors in action - some are quick to make their selections, while others are slower and more considered.  The best example was in 2007.  “The late Bing Thom, arriving late from Vancouver, made all of his choices in less than 10 minutes; others took two days,” says Down adding, “the jurying process can be both entertaining and exhausting as juries often ask to tour their shortlist of winners and in a few cases, have been convinced for or against a selection by seeing it in situ.” 

Over the past 15 years, Calgary's SAIT campus has added numerous modern buildings like the Johnson-Cobbe Energy Centre designed by Calgary's Gibbs Gage Architects. 

Over the past 15 years, Calgary's SAIT campus has added numerous modern buildings like the Johnson-Cobbe Energy Centre designed by Calgary's Gibbs Gage Architects. 

Strange Categories

The RAIC determines the categories, which includes some strange and ambiguous names like Civic Design Projects, Approved or Adopted Urban Design Plans, Conceptual/Theoretical Urban Design Projects, Urban Fragments, Student Projects and Urban Architecture.

Fortunately, Calgary has added some additional categories to better reflect our City’s unique urban design culture and simply make more sense.  These include:

The Mawson Urban Design Award

Building(s) that achieve urban design excellence and creativity through awareness of the Calgary culture.

City Edge Development

Urban design plans, architecture and landscape designs that respond to needs in newly developing areas of the city (This award was created to encourage more suburban projects submissions as in the past, the awards were very City Centre-centric).

Great City, Great Design

Building and infrastructure designs, urban design plans, landscape designs, planning studies and individual site elements that contribute to the quality of life in Calgary.

Green City

Building(s) that achieve sustainable design while seeking to reduce energy and resource consumption of buildings.

Housing Innovation

Residential design projects, constructed or approved, of any size or scale, which demonstrate innovation in the areas of accessibility, affordability, and “aging in place.” This is a new category this year

I am told there will also be a People’s Choice award this year, but the City is still working out the details. The deadline for all submissions is September 5, 2017, with the gala awards ceremony happening on November 15, 2017. 

The SAIT Parkade is definitely not your typical parking garage, it has a playing field on the roof and a stunning metal mural on the facade.  The Parkade was designed by Vancouver's Bing Thom Architects and Calgary's MTA Architects, while the mural was done by Vancouver's Roderick Quinn. Learn More:   Calgary's Stunning Parkades Get No Respect

The SAIT Parkade is definitely not your typical parking garage, it has a playing field on the roof and a stunning metal mural on the facade.  The Parkade was designed by Vancouver's Bing Thom Architects and Calgary's MTA Architects, while the mural was done by Vancouver's Roderick Quinn. Learn More: Calgary's Stunning Parkades Get No Respect

Last Word

Down thinks (and I agree) that over the past decade, Calgary’s local urban design community - with the assistance of signature international designers - have created a critical mass of good urban design projects that have captured the attention of the international design community.   

Diverse projects, like the futuristic Rocky Ridge Recreational Centre, the stunning SAIT Polytechnic Parkade, the glowing SETON Gateway feature, the playful Alberta Children’s Hospital and St. Patrick’s Island all demonstrate how Calgary’s suburbs, inner city and City Center communities are all experiencing enhanced urban design projects.  The days of the public accepting a boring concrete box building are history.

It will be very interesting to hear what urban design professionals from around the world think of our city when they visit this September.  Stay tuned!

Note: An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section on Saturday, August 12, 2017.

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Transit Oriented Living: Berlin vs Calgary

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

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

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

Google Maps Is Great!

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

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

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

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

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

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

Too Downtown-Centric

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transit-Oriented Living (TOL) Gurus

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

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

Five minute service even at 10 am. 

Alexander Platz

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary’s Platz Attempt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colourful Calgary Stampede Postcards

Yahoooooo! Its Stampede time in Calgareeeeee!

These postcards have been curated to document the Calgary Stampede's sense of place and pageantry.  They are meant to show the Stampede is more than the rodeo, chuckwagons and pancake breakfasts. Rather it is a unique Calgary cultural statement that includes a multitude of music, dance, arts and crafts programming.  While the Stampede doesn't appeal to everyone, nor should it, it does appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds.

They are also curated to document Stampede Park is indeed a park with a river running around it and various pathways, green spaces and plazas.   Enjoy....

The sky is the limit....

The sky is the limit....

Not everybody at Stampede is doing the two-step. 

Not everybody at Stampede is doing the two-step. 

Stampede Park is home to one of the best and most unique children's playgrounds in Canada. Link:    Stampede Park: Calgary's Best Children's Playground

Stampede Park is home to one of the best and most unique children's playgrounds in Canada. Link: Stampede Park: Calgary's Best Children's Playground

You can never have enough stuffies. 

You can never have enough stuffies. 

Wish you were here.....

Wish you were here.....

Not everybody at Stampede wears a cowboy hat!

Not everybody at Stampede wears a cowboy hat!

Fashion fun is everywhere at Stampede. 

Fashion fun is everywhere at Stampede. 

You can get up close and personal with the animals.

You can get up close and personal with the animals.

There is a rare history lesson in the parade of posters (100+) along the elevated concourse (+15) from the LRT Station to Saddledome. It is fun to look at how the Stampede has evolved over the years and the famous people who have performed.  Link:      Flaneuring Calgary's Stampede Poster Parade

There is a rare history lesson in the parade of posters (100+) along the elevated concourse (+15) from the LRT Station to Saddledome. It is fun to look at how the Stampede has evolved over the years and the famous people who have performed. Link: Flaneuring Calgary's Stampede Poster Parade

Stampede Corral built in 1950 may not last until 2020 as the Stampede has plans to tear it down to make way for an expanded BMO Trade Show & Convention Centre.  Inside is a modest sport museum that is not to be missed.    Link:  Stampede Park: Art Gallery or Museum?

Stampede Corral built in 1950 may not last until 2020 as the Stampede has plans to tear it down to make way for an expanded BMO Trade Show & Convention Centre.  Inside is a modest sport museum that is not to be missed. Link: Stampede Park: Art Gallery or Museum?

Calgary Canadians?????

Calgary Canadians?????

The Calgary Stampede has a distinct sense of place, history and pageantry. 

The Calgary Stampede has a distinct sense of place, history and pageantry. 

These symbols represent the Five Nations who signed Treaty 7 on 22 September 1877: Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (Blood), Piikani (Peigan), Stoney-Nakoda, and Tsuu T’ina (Sarcee).  Link:  Stampede's Iconic Entrance

These symbols represent the Five Nations who signed Treaty 7 on 22 September 1877: Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (Blood), Piikani (Peigan), Stoney-Nakoda, and Tsuu T’ina (Sarcee). Link: Stampede's Iconic Entrance

Just one of the many murals that grace the walls of several Stampede Park buildings. (link: Calgary Stampede Public Art)

Just one of the many murals that grace the walls of several Stampede Park buildings. (link: Calgary Stampede Public Art)

This is suppose to be fun right??????

This is suppose to be fun right??????

Stampede foot fun...

Stampede foot fun...

Does it get more colourful than this?

Does it get more colourful than this?

Stampede still life...

Stampede still life...

The judges gave this budding cowboy a 7.6

The judges gave this budding cowboy a 7.6

Clean up! Clean up! Everybody clean up!

Clean up! Clean up! Everybody clean up!

Stampede is more than just mini donuts...

Stampede is more than just mini donuts...

I never miss getting my $2 milk & cookies.   

I never miss getting my $2 milk & cookies.  

Pageantry preparation...

Pageantry preparation...

Form meets function...

Form meets function...

Contemporary western art showcase...

Contemporary western art showcase...

While it may be crowded around the midway, there are quiet spots like this at the edge of the Stampede Park. 

While it may be crowded around the midway, there are quiet spots like this at the edge of the Stampede Park. 

Yes Stampede Park is indeed a park at Stampede time.

Yes Stampede Park is indeed a park at Stampede time.

Last Word

I have taken thousands of photos while flaneuring Stampede Park over the past six years.  I pride myself in finding the strange, the absurd and the everyday as I wander streets, parks and festival sites around the world.  The Stampede is truly a one-of-a-kind community festival.  It combines an agricultural fair, with a music festival, contemporary art show, midway, musical grandstand show, rodeo and horse racing. 

For those of you who have attended the Stampede many times I hope this will give you different perspective on the "Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth" and for those who have never been, I hope it will motivate you to add it to your bucket list.

If you like this blog, you might enjoy:

Stampede Park: Art Gallery or Museum?

Flaneuring Calgary's Stampede Poster Parade

Stampede Park: Calgary's Best Children's Playground

Jeff de Boer: Art with beauty and meaning

 

Flaneuring In Berlin: Everyday street photography

Street photography is most often associated with provocative black and white images of urban streets.  The lack of colour often creates a starkness and dreariness, which I think is unfair to the modern streetscape.  

In this blog I have tried to capture a sense of Berlin's everyday street life I experienced  while wandering the city's streets for the month of March 2017.   This photo essay includes everything from fun garbage trucks to people with boxes on their heads, from reading books to public art. 

I have included a few black and white photos so you can compare with the coloured images. You tell me which ones you like the best.

A Sunday Walkabout In Hillhurst!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riley Park is a great place to sit.

Riley Park is a great place to sit.

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

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

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

Give yourself 30 to 45 minutes 

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

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

A flea market collage. 

A flea market collage. 

Riley Park / Senator Patrick Burns Rock Garden

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

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

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

The wading pool is very popular on Sundays.

The wading pool is very popular on Sundays.

Batter up?  Are they called batters? 

Batter up?  Are they called batters? 

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

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

An oasis in the middle of the city.

An oasis in the middle of the city.

SAIT Campus

Murals above doorways in Heritage Hall. 

Murals above doorways in Heritage Hall. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kensington Village

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

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

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

Plaza art house cinema with Pages books store next door. 

Plaza art house cinema with Pages books store next door. 

Street performers make for a lively pedestrian experience.

Street performers make for a lively pedestrian experience.

Food For Thought

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

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

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

Street Art

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

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

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

Streets of Hillhurst

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

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

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

Tiny, tony cottage home.

Tiny, tony cottage home.

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

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

Where to Stay:

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

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

Last Word

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

Berlin is definitely quirky!

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

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

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

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

How about a candy floss transit station?

How about a candy floss transit station?

Or a banana slide....

Or a banana slide....

Pedestrian Light Icon

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

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

Link: Ampelmannchen Story

S&Q Flea Markets

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

Link: Berlin Flea Market Story

Photo Booths

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

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

Link: Photoautomat Project Story 

Water Pumps

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

Link: Berlin Water Fountain Story 

Cemetery Cafés

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

Link: Cemetery Cafe Story

Pink & Purple Straws

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

Link: Pink Pipes Story

Food Couriers

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

Link: Hard & Fast Life Food Couriers

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Glass Igloos

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

Sidewalk Furniture

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

Graffiti vs Street Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Is Dead

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

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

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

Strange Playgrounds

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

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

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

Cash is King

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

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

Late Night Buses

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

Beer 24/7

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

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

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

And There Is More

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very futuristic entrance to an office building. 

Very futuristic entrance to an office building. 

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

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

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

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

Last Word

I love quirky cities!

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

If you like this blog, you will like:

Freakn Fun in Boise's Freak Alley

Fun, Funky Quirky Colorado Springs

Mexico City: Fun Urban Surprises

Calgary: Everyday Stills (May 2017)

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

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

Here we go....

uplifting. smiling.

uplifting. smiling.

billowing. shadowing.

billowing. shadowing.

patina. bronzes.

patina. bronzes.

wrinkles. cracks.

wrinkles. cracks.

feet. waiting.

feet. waiting.

telephone. red.

telephone. red.

floating. peaceful.

floating. peaceful.

swan. floating.

swan. floating.

head. technology. 

head. technology. 

landing. steel.

landing. steel.

eye. clouds.

eye. clouds.

perspective. boxes. 

perspective. boxes. 

twins. heritage.

twins. heritage.

trap. fedora. 

trap. fedora. 

mom. searching. 

mom. searching. 

build. island.

build. island.

follow. listening. 

follow. listening. 

impromptu. squares. 

impromptu. squares. 

hidden. wheel.

hidden. wheel.

pieces. manifest.

pieces. manifest.

queen. collage.

queen. collage.

crossing. blues.

crossing. blues.

Klee. cubism. 

Klee. cubism. 

journey. path.

journey. path.

under. buildings. 

under. buildings. 

flaneur. meander. 

flaneur. meander. 

innocence. fun.

innocence. fun.

vanishing. journey. 

vanishing. journey. 

challenge. night.

challenge. night.

oasis. tranquility. 

oasis. tranquility. 

beauty. heaven.

beauty. heaven.

Postcards from the OTHER London

The top tier cities (London, New York, Paris, Rome, Tokyo) get all the attention when it comes to travel blogs.  But we love to explore cities that are off the radar – like Boise, Idaho, Missoula, Montana and Nelson, British Columbia.

Recently we found ourselves in London, Ontario with a couple of hours to kill on a Sunday morning so we decided of (course) to check out their downtown.  We were pleasantly surprised at by the architecture (old and new), the shop windows, the downtown arena and farmers’ market.

One of our early discoveries in downtown London was this DEEP dish apple pie and a BIG smile in the window of Billy's Downtown Deli.  Did we or didn't we have a piece?  You will find out if you read this blog. 

One of our early discoveries in downtown London was this DEEP dish apple pie and a BIG smile in the window of Billy's Downtown Deli.  Did we or didn't we have a piece?  You will find out if you read this blog. 

London at a glance

London, located halfway between Toronto and Detroit, was first settled in the early 1800s. Today it is the 11th largest city in Canada with a metropolitan population of 474,786.  It is home to the University of Western Ontario, one of Canada’s leading universities.

Yes, London is named after London, England and no surprise the river that runs through the city is called the Thames. The original settlers - mostly British - intended the city to become the capital of Upper Canada (now Ontario), however, that honour ultimately went to Fort York (now known as Toronto.)

The City has a rich corporate history.  Carling (1840) and Labatt (1847) breweries were founded there, as was Canada Trust (1864), London Life Insurance Company (1874), Imperial Oil (1880) and Club House Foods (1883).

Link: London History

Last Word

These postcards from the OTHER London, will hopefully entice you to explore downtown London the next time you are in the area.

London is also know as the Forest City.  Ironically it was the dozens of brightly coloured metal trees in downtown that caught our attention. 

London is also know as the Forest City.  Ironically it was the dozens of brightly coloured metal trees in downtown that caught our attention. 

I am sucker for humour. 

I am sucker for humour. 

Loved the old and new contrast in the downtown architecture.  

Loved the old and new contrast in the downtown architecture.  

This might well be the best example of brutalist architecture in Canada. Link: Brutalist Architecture 

This might well be the best example of brutalist architecture in Canada. Link: Brutalist Architecture 

London's downtown Federal Building is a lovely example of Art Deco architecture. 

London's downtown Federal Building is a lovely example of Art Deco architecture. 

Great downtowns have great churches, London has at least two. 

Great downtowns have great churches, London has at least two. 

Loved this whimsical parklet with the twisted bench and seats. Nice synergy between public art and urban design. 

Loved this whimsical parklet with the twisted bench and seats. Nice synergy between public art and urban design. 

Every downtown needs a diner and a fast bike. 

Every downtown needs a diner and a fast bike. 

Great downtowns have great food and cold beer.  Who could ask for anything more?

Great downtowns have great food and cold beer.  Who could ask for anything more?

With its brewery history it is not surprising that downtown London has a brew pub.  Gotta love the name - tres Canadian. 

With its brewery history it is not surprising that downtown London has a brew pub.  Gotta love the name - tres Canadian. 

How fun is this window? 

How fun is this window? 

Every downtown needs a rainbow cross walk. 

Every downtown needs a rainbow cross walk. 

Who knew London had their own Music Hall of Fame?

Who knew London had their own Music Hall of Fame?

A little bit of New York City in London. 

A little bit of New York City in London. 

Another whimsical window. 

Another whimsical window. 

Yes we did go back to Billy's for lunch and a piece of pie. It was as good as it looks. 

Yes we did go back to Billy's for lunch and a piece of pie. It was as good as it looks.