Mission is marvellous

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

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

Who could ask for anything more?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walkability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Architecture & History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new St. Mary's church.

The new St. Mary's church.

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marda Loop Madness

Bridgeland/Riverside Rebirth

Britannia's Urban Transformation

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

N3: No parking! No cars! No worries!

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

Looking west to downtown...

Looking west to downtown...

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

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

Communal living room...

Communal living room...

IKEA Connection

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

Double decker bike parking...

Double decker bike parking...

Top To Bottom Appeal

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

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

Rooftop view looking NE...

Rooftop view looking NE...

Rooftop view looking south...

Rooftop view looking south...

Mixed Use

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

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

Entrance to N3 is from the mews...

Entrance to N3 is from the mews...

View from balcony....

View from balcony....

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

No parking! No Problem!

Condo Living: More Time For FUN!

21st Century: Century of the condo!

Calgary leads Vancouver in condo design?

Palm Springs: Real & Surreal?

Why can't every retailer have great windows?  I am currently in Palm Springs staying at The Twist on Via Lola in the Design District. I am  loving the amazing windows full of mid-century modern (old and new) furniture, fashions, art and home accessories along N Palm Canyon Drive aka Main Street. They are the best I have seen since flaneuring Florence's Via Tornabuoni three years ago.  

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Where are the people?

In addition to great windows, Palm Springs' Design District has some great architecture and fun public art which combine to make for a great pedestrian experience.  Ironically there are very few pedestrians to be found, except at the night market on Thursday.  So much for the theory - if you create interesting pedestrian environments they will come.

It is surreal how empty Palm Springs' sidewalk and streets are - both the Design District and Downtown - given the temperatures day and night are ideal for strolling and window licking.

This photo essay combines real images of windows in both the Design District and Downtown with surreal ones (created using the app UNION to overlap two or more real images).  Sometimes it is hard to tell what is real and what is surreal. 

Can you tell which ones are real and which ones are surreal? The answers are at the end. 

Enjoy the stroll aka scroll!
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Last Word

I thought it would be fun to see if people can tell which images are real and which are surreal. 

Answers:

#1 Real  #2  Real  #3  Real  #4  Real #5  Surreal  #6 Surreal  #7 Real  #8 Real  #9 Surreal

#10 Surreal  #11 Surreal  #12 Surreal #13 Real  #14 Real  #15 Real  #16 Real  #15 Real #16 Surreal    

#17 Surreal #18  Surreal #19 Surreal #20 Real #21 Real #22Real #23 Surreal #24 Real #25 Real #26 Real 

 

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

Window licking along Florence's Via Tornabuoni

Window Licking In Chicago

Flaneuring Fun In Downtown Tucson

 

 

 

National Music Centre: The Red Flag?

I intentionally waited for over a year before visiting Calgary’s new National Music Centre (NMC), aka Studio Bell. I wanted to give it time to work out the bugs and get all of its exhibitions and programming in place.  But, It was hard. The reviews of the interior architecture were all glowing. What I didn’t hear was how great the exhibitions or programs were.  All the talk was about how spectacular the building was.  To me, this was a red flag!

However, after returning from Nashville and experiencing their music museums I decided needed to check out NMC. I called up a friend who also hadn’t made it to the Center yet (even though he had an annual membership for the first year) and made plans to go together.

National Music Centre's lobby invites visitors to play pianos and guitars.

National Music Centre's lobby invites visitors to play pianos and guitars.

Great First Impression

I loved that as I entered the National Music Centre I immediately heard live music. It was young girl playing the Dean Stanton-decorated piano in the lobby. Then I heard a young man tickling the ivories on another piano in the lobby, as well as some guitar sounds from the exhibition space just off the lobby.

GREAT - lots of hands-on opportunities for people to play and hear musical instruments.

Uplifting

The lobby was visually uplifting with its five-storey central atrium and stairwell to the heaven (pun intended) with slivers of light shining through.  Indeed, there was a sense of reverence - a cathedral-like sense of place. 

It is easy to get seduced by the museum's striking architecture.  

It is easy to get seduced by the museum's striking architecture. 

Unfortunately, as we proceeded through the exhibitions we both became less and less enchanted.  There were lots of galleries that seemed to have very little in them or they had material to read but not much in the way of things to listen to or play with.

A lot of the information was easily available on the Internet or was old news.

An example of large exhibition space devoted to information that is easily accessible on the Internet.

An example of large exhibition space devoted to information that is easily accessible on the Internet.

Some Things Missing

Given the Centre’s collection of over 2,000 musical instruments, we expected to see and hear hundreds of instruments. While there were some displays of instruments, it was often the same ones we had seen at the old Cantos Centre in the Customs House.  And while there were some places with headphones that allowed you to hear the instruments, they were too few and the music offered too short.

An example of one of the exhibition from the museum's collection.

An example of one of the exhibition from the museum's collection.

I was also expecting some kind of introductory video summarizing Canada’s music history. Something that would get me excited about what I was about to see and put Canada’s music into perspective.

This exhibition of "Trailbrazers" looks like billboard. This would have been a great place for a video documenting the how Canadians have been music "trailblazers" for over a century.  

This exhibition of "Trailbrazers" looks like billboard. This would have been a great place for a video documenting the how Canadians have been music "trailblazers" for over a century.  

But surprising to us both, there wasn’t and we didn’t see it anything that would helped international visitors appreciate the unique regional music of Canada.  For example, the role of the kitchen party in Maritimes and its links to Celtic music.  It seemed logical to both of us there would be separate galleries celebrating each region with listening stations that would invite you to sit and listen to a spectrum of the region’s music.

I was expecting something like the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale, which organizes its huge collection of instruments into dozens of displays based on musical genre and countries.

I missed the in-depth historical story-telling I experienced in musical museums in both Nashville and Memphis.  For example, at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville, there was a very large display of Shania Twain artifacts that not only told the story of her rise to fame, but also how she is responsible for linking country music to pop music, and thus significantly changing contemporary music.

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I didn’t find NMC’s k.d. lang exhibit with its display of outfits and interview particularly insightful.  I would have loved to have seen a video of her performances and how they changed as her career evolved. I will never forget seeing Lang at Calaway Park in the early  ‘80s wearing a wedding dress and cowboy boots and dancing like a possessed shaman.  I wanted to be "wowed" by her exhibition. Link: Early k.d. lang performance

k.d. lang exhibition seemed more focused on fashion than on music and performances.

k.d. lang exhibition seemed more focused on fashion than on music and performances.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was we couldn’t see and hear the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, as it is located in the King Eddy wing of the Centre, which is only open for special events. 

The state-of-the-art exhibitions I was expecting were not to be. I came away with the impression that the champions of the Centre spent lots of money and attention on the building design, but little on the exhibitions and programming of the space. 

Highlight

On the upside, the highlight for me was the 15-minute live demonstration of the 1924 Kimball Theatre Organ that was used to make music and sounds for silent movies. The thundering sound of this huge instrument - the size of main floor of a 1950s house - was impressive, as were the range of sounds it could make.    

This is what I was expecting more of - turns out it was the only live demonstration of the day.  If you came in the morning, there were no live demos. I would have loved to hear someone play some early Elton John on the white Elton John piano.  Or how about a demo of the Theremin - a musical instrument that you control by waving your hands over it, rather than physical contact.  I want to hear the instrument, not just read about them.

To me, the key to a music museum is the ability hear lots of different types of music, not just read about it.   And when the museum has a large collection of rare instruments, I want to see and hear them performed.

Poor Design

While everyone is blown away by the architecture, it doesn’t really work well as a museum space.

The open central atrium and tiled surfaces mean sound echoes through out the building.

The ramp/stairwell of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg has many of the same design vs function issues at the National Music Centre. 

The ramp/stairwell of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg has many of the same design vs function issues at the National Music Centre. 

It was really annoying when kids were talking loudly in the lobby (as you would expect) but you could hear them throughout the building. 

The stairwell, atrium and other design elements also mean there is actually less exhibition space than one would think given the size of the building.  

I had many of the same feelings, when I visited the Canadian Museum for Rights in Winnipeg. 

In both cases, the champions built a uniquely shaped building but that doesn’t function as a great exhibition space and has lots of wasted space.

Canadian Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg. 

Canadian Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg. 

National Music Centre aka Studio Bell in Calgary.

National Music Centre aka Studio Bell in Calgary.

Importance of Programming

As a former art gallery director and curator, I am very cognizant of the fact the exhibitions and programming are the key to a successful gallery or museum, not the architecture.  In fact, you don’t really need to pay admission to appreciate the NMC’s architecture - you do that from the outside and the lobby.

Over the two hours we were there on a Friday afternoon in November, there were perhaps 35 people in the entire museum and only 11 showed up for the Kimball Organ demo. This pales in comparison to my experience at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum a week earlier where hundreds of people packed the museum on a Monday morning.

We were told it was a slow day.
Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum was busy even first thing on a Monday morning. 

Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum was busy even first thing on a Monday morning. 

Value for Money

While, the 163,000 square foot National Music Centre costs $191 million to build, I feel it would have been better to budget $125 million (for which you could still get a stunning building) and then raise $50 million as an endowment to create stunning exhibitions and programming, including having the King Eddy fully operational with live music 7 days a week.  I am told the King Eddy will open full-time in July 2018.

In fact, the 210,000 square foot expansion of bass clef-shaped Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which opened in 2014, cost $130CDN million and has very similar specs.

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Last Word

Though just my opinion, it is an informed and honest one. Just in case you are wondering, the opinion of my fellow visitor was “the Centre is sterile and underwhelming.” 

I was expecting a lot of Calgarians to disagree with these observations, however, the response (10 emails and 2 calls) to date (Dec 7th) has all been in support of these observations. 

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

Canadian Museum for Human Rights: Money Well Spent?

Postcards: International Musical Instruments Museum

Music Museums In Memphis

National Music Museum accepts authenticity challenge

Urban Villages: Calgary defeats Nashville

Nashville is one of the fastest growing cities in North America today - construction cranes are everywhere.  Yet Calgary, even in a recession, could easily give it a run for its money when it comes to creating urban villages.  Calgary's East Village blows Nashville's Gulch away as a model 21st century urban community. 

In fact, Calgary's diversity of urban villages surpass anything Nashville, Austin, Portland or Denver has to offer. 

Public art a critical and fun part of the revitalization of both Nashville's Gulch and Calgary's East Village. I loved this piece in the Gulch. Every time I passed by someone interacting with it - a sure sign of a successful public artwork. 

Public art a critical and fun part of the revitalization of both Nashville's Gulch and Calgary's East Village. I loved this piece in the Gulch. Every time I passed by someone interacting with it - a sure sign of a successful public artwork. 

The Gulch's Main Street. 

The Gulch's Main Street. 

Calgary's East Village is a multi-billion dollar master-planned development  just to the east of the downtown core has a vibrant river walk plaza. 

Calgary's East Village is a multi-billion dollar master-planned development  just to the east of the downtown core has a vibrant river walk plaza. 

The Gulch vs East Village 

The Gulch, a LEED Certified community just southwest of Nashville’s downtown, is their most developed urban village with hotels, numerous condos (1,500 homes to date), office buildings, restaurants, clubs and a small urban grocery store.  However, it pales in comparison to Calgary’s East Village.  It lacks the parks, public spaces, natural setting along a river, transit links and the density of development that makes East Village so special.

The Blue Grass Jam at the Gulch's iconic Station Inn live music venue is packed every Sunday night - standing room only.  Unfortunately, Calgary's King Eddy Hotel in East Village has been renovated, gentrified and sits empty most nights. 

The Blue Grass Jam at the Gulch's iconic Station Inn live music venue is packed every Sunday night - standing room only.  Unfortunately, Calgary's King Eddy Hotel in East Village has been renovated, gentrified and sits empty most nights. 

Fortunately, East Village's historic Simmons Building along the East Village Riverwalk, has been renovated to accommodate an upscale restaurant, coffee shop and bakery while retaining its historical character.  

Fortunately, East Village's historic Simmons Building along the East Village Riverwalk, has been renovated to accommodate an upscale restaurant, coffee shop and bakery while retaining its historical character.  

Nashville's Gulch District has several street patios creating an attractive pedestrian experience. 

Nashville's Gulch District has several street patios creating an attractive pedestrian experience. 

Nashville's Gulch has nothing to match the amazing public realm of Calgary's East Village. 

Nashville's Gulch has nothing to match the amazing public realm of Calgary's East Village. 

Calgary's East Village is a multi-billion dollar development that will eventually be home to 12,000 residents immediately east of the downtown core. 

Calgary's East Village is a multi-billion dollar development that will eventually be home to 12,000 residents immediately east of the downtown core. 

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's riverside living be it in East Village, Eau Claire or Mission. 

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's riverside living be it in East Village, Eau Claire or Mission. 

East Nashville vs Inglewood 

Many consider East Nashville to be the City’s coolest neighbourhood with its bohemian vibe, including numerous old houses converted to record stores, pizza parlours, guitar and vintage shops.  However, the restaurants, shops and clubs are chaotically – there is no real Main Street.  Also East Nashville is cut off from downtown - not only by the river but by the huge NISSAN Stadium surrounded by surface parking lots. 

Calgary’s Inglewood with its historic Main Street, various music venues, Esker Foundation Art Gallery, Recordland, Crown Surplus store and indie shops, is every bit as is cool as East Nashville.

East Nashville is dotted with interesting new and old commercial and condo buildings but they are not located in a contiguous manner or with any connectivity. 

East Nashville is dotted with interesting new and old commercial and condo buildings but they are not located in a contiguous manner or with any connectivity. 

Calgary's Inglewood district is a mix of old and new buildings that are mostly located along 9th Ave SE. to create an inviting 5-block pedestrian street with a mix of retail, restaurants, cafes and live music venues. This building combines retail, restaurant, cafe, offices and contemporary art gallery. 

Calgary's Inglewood district is a mix of old and new buildings that are mostly located along 9th Ave SE. to create an inviting 5-block pedestrian street with a mix of retail, restaurants, cafes and live music venues. This building combines retail, restaurant, cafe, offices and contemporary art gallery. 

Many of East Nashville's corners are waiting to be developed. 

Many of East Nashville's corners are waiting to be developed. 

Inglewood's Main Street aka 9th Avenue aka Atlantic Avenue, Calgary's first commercial street has retained its historical character with major new developments at its east and west entrances.  

Inglewood's Main Street aka 9th Avenue aka Atlantic Avenue, Calgary's first commercial street has retained its historical character with major new developments at its east and west entrances.  

Other Urban Villages

Sandwiched between Vanderbilt and Belmont University is the three-block long 21st Ave S Village. This community has much the same feel as Calgary’s Kensington Village. It even has a historic arthouse cinema - the two-screen Belcourt Theatre. What it lacks though is Kensington’s grocery store, drug store, walkability to downtown and transit connections.

Nashville's 12th Ave South district is a lovely 7-block pedestrian zone with a few new condo buildings and high-end retailers and restaurants, but lacks grocery, drug or convenience store.   

Nashville's 12th Ave South district is a lovely 7-block pedestrian zone with a few new condo buildings and high-end retailers and restaurants, but lacks grocery, drug or convenience store.   

12 South is Nashville’s upscale pedestrian area that is perhaps best known for being home to Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James shop.  Indeed it is bustling street with lots of restaurants, cafes and women’s fashion boutiques.

But look a little closer and you’ll see it doesn’t provide the necessities of urban living - grocery store, drug store and professional offices. 

Calgary’s equivalent would be Britannia with its lovely plaza street that does have a grocery store and other everyday amenities that are required to create a walkable community or Mission/Roxboro.

We lived in an Airbnb for 7 days in the 12 South District and our biggest frustration was that it was a 20-minute walk (often without sidewalks) in the other direction to a grocery store. There was no bakery where we could buy bread, bagels or buns (we were disappointed to find out the Five Daughters Bakery was just a donut shop). While I could buy some craft beer, there was no liquor store.  Not even a convenience store where you could get some milk, beer and wine.  We were very surprised to find there was no live music venue along 12 South, although there was a guitar and drum shop.

We found nothing in Nashville has nothing to match the urban lifestyle that Calgary’s Beltline and Mission communities offer, nor did we find any budding new urban villages like Bridgeland/Riverside or Marda Loop.

All Calgary urban villages have grocery, drug stores, banks and other everyday services  essential to urban living like Marda Loop. 

All Calgary urban villages have grocery, drug stores, banks and other everyday services  essential to urban living like Marda Loop. 

The Sutler is part of a cluster of restaurants that a buzzing on weekends at brunch. It is part of an emerging vintage/antique district along 8th Ave South.  Several new low-rise condos have recently been built or are under construction along 8th Ave South. 

The Sutler is part of a cluster of restaurants that a buzzing on weekends at brunch. It is part of an emerging vintage/antique district along 8th Ave South.  Several new low-rise condos have recently been built or are under construction along 8th Ave South. 

Unfortunately 8th Ave South is not pedestrian friendly with poor or no sidewalks to encourage pedestrian traffic.  

Unfortunately 8th Ave South is not pedestrian friendly with poor or no sidewalks to encourage pedestrian traffic.  

This is the Nashville infill project just off of Charolette Ave at 16th Ave. North with downtown in the background.

This is the Nashville infill project just off of Charolette Ave at 16th Ave. North with downtown in the background.

The Calgary equivalent would be Garrison Woods/Marda Loop with its mix of housing types and commercial development. 

The Calgary equivalent would be Garrison Woods/Marda Loop with its mix of housing types and commercial development. 

Nashville has nothing like Calgary's University City with its link to the Brentwood LRT station and University of Calgary. 

Nashville has nothing like Calgary's University City with its link to the Brentwood LRT station and University of Calgary. 

Nashville has nothing like Calgary's Beltline community with its mix of old houses and small apartments, as well as older and modern highrises with several pedestrian streets.

Nashville has nothing like Calgary's Beltline community with its mix of old houses and small apartments, as well as older and modern highrises with several pedestrian streets.

Nashville has nothing like Calgary's master planned Bridge's project in Bridgeland/Riverside just northeast of the downtown.  

Nashville has nothing like Calgary's master planned Bridge's project in Bridgeland/Riverside just northeast of the downtown.  

Nashville had nothing comparable to Calgary's Kensington Village's mix of retail, restaurants, cafes, condos and single family homes all located near an LRT station. 

Nashville had nothing comparable to Calgary's Kensington Village's mix of retail, restaurants, cafes, condos and single family homes all located near an LRT station. 

Calgary's 17th Avenue   is the equivalent of Nashville's Lower Broadway. 

Calgary's 17th Avenue is the equivalent of Nashville's Lower Broadway. 

Calgary's Urban Villages

If you haven't guessed already, an urban village has a mix of uses - retail, restaurants, recreation, cafes, pubs, live music venues, galleries, theatres, cinemas, bookstores, grocers, drug stores, financial and medical services all within a few blocks.  It also includes a mix of housing types - single family, duplex/triplex, row housing and multi-family (mid and hi-rises).  They often have one or more employment centres - office, government, school and hospital. Urban Villages are pedestrian oriented often with a Main Street as the meeting place for residents.  

Calgary boasts the following urban villages in various stages of evolution:

Calgary has numerous local urban grocers that are key to a vibrant urban village. 

Calgary has numerous local urban grocers that are key to a vibrant urban village. 

City Center

  • Beltline
  • Mission
  • Chinatown
  • East Village
  • Kensington
  • Bridgeland/Riverside
  • Eau Claire/West End

Inner City

Calgary has a vibrant independent cafe culture. 

Calgary has a vibrant independent cafe culture. 

  • Marda Loop 
  • Britannia
  • Currie (under construction)
  • University District (under construction)
  • University City/Brentwood

Suburbs

  • Quarry Park
  • West District
  • SETON 

 

Lessons Learned:

I left Nashville with a much better appreciation of the importance of creating long contiguous pedestrian streets like 17th Avenue SW or 4th Street SW as part of urban villages. 

I think Calgary is on the right path with its Main Street program which is looking at ways to foster more pedestrian oriented everyday shopping/services streets throughout the city. 

My Nashville experience also gave me a better appreciation of the importance of providing the "necessities" of everyday living rather than “just the niceties” when it comes to fostering urban villages.  

Thirdly, I have a better appreciation for just how well Calgary is doing in fostering the development of new and existing urban villages. 

Yes, Calgary's collection of urban villages at various stages of development surpass anything Nashville, Austin, Portland or Denver has. 

Currie   is new 195-acre mixed-use urban village (7 kilometres from downtown) under construction that will become home to 12,000 Calgary residents.  Photo Credit: Currie Life website.

Currie is new 195-acre mixed-use urban village (7 kilometres from downtown) under construction that will become home to 12,000 Calgary residents.  Photo Credit: Currie Life website.

University District   a master planned urban community located at the western edge of the University of Calgary campus is currently under construction and will take 15 years to build out.  It includes a 9 block Main Street with a Save-On-Foods grocery store and hotel. It will be a mix of multi-family buildings that will become home for 7,0000+ Calgarians (families, seniors, empty nesters and young professional).  

University District a master planned urban community located at the western edge of the University of Calgary campus is currently under construction and will take 15 years to build out.  It includes a 9 block Main Street with a Save-On-Foods grocery store and hotel. It will be a mix of multi-family buildings that will become home for 7,0000+ Calgarians (families, seniors, empty nesters and young professional).  

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

Calgary 24 Main Streets?

Bridgeland/Riverside Rebirth 

Marda Loop Madness

 

 

 

Infill Capital of North America: Calgary vs Nashville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skinny Homes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nashville back alley home.

Nashville back alley home.

Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vertical siding is also quite common in Nashville.

Vertical siding is also quite common in Nashville.

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

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

Strangest Infill Project Ever

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary: Still The Reigning Infill Capital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Point Mckay: A Garden Paradise

Many times I have said “don’t judge a community until the trees are taller than the houses.”  I was reminded of this over the summer as I picked up a golf buddy once a week at his townhome in Point McKay before heading out to Redwood Meadows.  As the summer unfolded, so did the amazing trees and flowers that make the northwest community of Point McKay a garden paradise.

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It is bounded at the north by Bowness Road, at the east by 37 Street NW, at he south by the Bow River and at the west by the Edworthy Park parking lot.  For many, Point McKay is the two brown brick highrise condo towers (Riverside I and II) along Parkdale Boulevard next to the Edworthy Park parking lot, or the townhome backyards you can see when you walk or cycle along the north shore of the Bow River. In reality, it is a hidden gem.

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Point McKay was one of Calgary’s first attempts at creating an urban village.  The 21- storey Riverside I and II towers (completed in 1979 and 1981 respectfully) create the high density (295 units) with retail and a fitness centre at street level they are similar in many ways to the new towers in the Beltline.

It isn’t until you drive into the townhome area to the east of the towers that you begin to appreciate how this urban village is a garden oasis.

The curved, tree-lined streets are divided into six clusters (built from 1977 to 1980) totalling 505 town homes and 30 duplexes.  What makes them really special is the lovely side and backyards that open up to common areas lush with flowers, trees and expanses of green grass. 

 

There are no detached single-family homes in Point McKay, the same as University District one of Calgary’s new 21st century urban villages, currently being built just a few kilometers away.

Lush garden pathways create pastoral backyards.

Lush garden pathways create pastoral backyards.

Best side yards in Calgary?

Best side yards in Calgary?

City Beautiful Movement

One Sunday afternoon, I cycled over to explore the community on foot.  I was gobsmacked by how beautiful the side yards and interior common areas were. I was immediately reminded of the “City Beautiful” movement popular in Canada in the early 20th century, with its principles of creating urban communities that were less grid-like and more park-like. This meant curved streets, irregular lot shapes, boulevards, an abundance of parks and architectural controls; not dissimilar to what we saw in Calgary’s late 20th century communities.

View of Point McKay from the Bow River pathways (north side).

View of Point McKay from the Bow River pathways (north side).

Amenities

Point McKay has easy access to the Bow River pathway - for cycling downtown to work and/or play, or perhaps a recreational walk in the evenings or on weekends.  You could walk to work if you worked at the Foothills Medical Centre.

It is also close to both Edworthy (pebble beach) and Shouldice (sports fields) Parks. It is also only a short walk to Angel’s Cappuccino & Ice Cream café in Edworthy Park or the Lazy Loaf Café, Extreme Bean or Lic’s Ice Cream in Parkdale.

Cottage-like streets are child friendly even without sidewalks. 

Cottage-like streets are child friendly even without sidewalks. 

Backstory:

In 1977, Cinema Park Drive-In, with its parking lot that accommodated 1036 cars, was demolished to make way for the Point McKay upscale high-rise/townhouse development.  The development is named after Alfred Sidney McKay (1860–1940), a Calgary who homesteaded the land that is now Point McKay and Parkdale.  He built a sandstone home near the Bow River at 1st Ave and 37th St NW that is still there today albeit hidden in the middle of Point McKay and rented to an architectural firm. Yes you can still walk in and see it.  

FYI: There are also four 100 year old brick homes along 37th Street that were built as a parade of show homes when the new community of Parkdale was McKay built as show homes when he was first being developed. 

A 100 year old show home.....

A 100 year old show home.....

Last Word

Today, Point McKay is home to some lucky 1,348 people who live in a garden paradise that is unique to Calgary.

Note: This blog was originally published in the November 2017 Issue of Condo Living Magazine. 

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Calgary: Back Alley Envy?

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

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

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The Red Thread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melbourne’s Laneways

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

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

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

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

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

Melbourne lane way animation. 

Melbourne lane way animation. 

Leipzig, Germany alley animation. 

Leipzig, Germany alley animation. 

Calgary Back Alley Experiments

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

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

Metro Vino back alley entrance.

Metro Vino back alley entrance.

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

Village Ice Cream's parking lot patio. 

Village Ice Cream's parking lot patio. 

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

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

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

Art of Vintage back alley entrance. 

Art of Vintage back alley entrance. 

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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City Building: Impact Of Calgary's Mega Transportation Projects

Recently I came across an early 20th century postcard showcasing Calgary’s 13th Avenue SW. It was an image of a street lined with lovely new homes that immediately struck me as looking exactly like a new street in any one of Calgary’s many new communities on the edge of the city.

It also reminded me that 13th Avenue was Calgary’s first millionaires row, with the most well known mansion being the Lougheed House and its lovely garden.

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Why 13th Ave?

This caused me ponder and reflect. Why would Calgary’s rich and famous choose 13th Avenue SW.? I am guessing it was because it was close to where they lived, worked and played i.e. downtown – but not too close.  It was far enough away from the CPR rail tracks and the warehouses along 10th Avenue, but close enough to the passenger train station.  And, it was near the new Carnegie library in Central Park, now Memorial Park.

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Right Side Of The Tracks

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the CPR rail line was the only transportation route into and out of our then the frontier city. It essentially divided the City in half - business on the north side and residential on the south side, a divide that still exists today.

This then had me wondering what other major transportation decisions over the past century have shaped urban living in Calgary today.

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

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

Deerfoot Trail Divide

Harry Hiller, urban sociologist at the University of Calgary coined the term “Deerfoot Divide” in the ‘90s in reference to how the creation of Deerfoot Trail in the ‘70s divided the city into residential development to its west and commercial development to its east.  Deerfoot Trail has since become part of the CANAMEX Corridor, an important trucking route linking Western Canada with the western United States and Mexico, pivotal in allowing Calgary to become a major inland port.

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

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

Over the past 30+ years, the land east of the Deerfoot has increasingly become home to mega warehouses, distribution centres and intermodal facilities. Only recently has there been new communities developed east of the Deerfoot Divide.

Backstory: Deerfoot Trail was originally called the Blackfoot Trail Freeway when the first section opened in 1971.  However, it was renamed in 1974 to honour Deerfoot (1864 – 1897) a late 19th century Siksika Nation long distance runner, known for his exceptional speed. He served as a foot carrier who carried messages between forts in southern Alberta and northern Montana. 

A statue of Deerfoot was located at the entrance to Deerfoot Mall, now being redeveloped as Deerfoot City.

 

Mcleod Trail has a similar history earlier in the 20th century, as most of the land to the east of Mcleod is industrial and commercial uses, while to the west is all residential. 

The LRT Influence

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

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

Fast forward to the late ‘70s. The route for the NW LRT was announced and immediately there was controversy.

People living in Sunnyside were not happy to have the noise and congestion that the LRT (then an unknown commodity) would bring to their peaceful bohemian community.

Early NIMBYism?  Over time, the houses next to the LRT line became very tired and rundown. Only recently have new upscale condo development near the station has begun to happen – Pixel and LIDO by Battisella Developments and Kensington and Ven by Bucci Developments.

In fact, it has taken decades for the land around the NW LRT stations to attract new urban development – Renaissance condos at Lions Park Station, University City condos at Brentwood Station and The Groves of Varsity at the Dalhousie Station.

However, today more and more Calgarians are adopting the urban living lifestyle that is more oriented to transit, cycling and walking than driving.  Future Transit-Oriented sites include Anderson, Banff Trail, Chinook and Westbrook Stations.   

However, Greg Morrow, who held the Richard Parker Professorship Metropolitan Growth and Change position at the University of Calgary from 2015 to 2017 (and who now is the Fred Sands Professor of Real Estate and Executive Director of the Sands Institute at Pepperdine University, Los Angeles) sees a big problem in having LRT stations in the middle of a major road, “as it is less than ideal for walkability because you must walk a hundred metres to just get over the roadway.”

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

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

Green Line New Deerfoot?

With the recent announcement of the Green Line LRT route, one can only wonder what impact it will have on the urban living in Calgary’s future.  When fully built, it will be 46 km long with 28 stations. Will it be the new Deerfoot Trail? 

In the case of the Green Line, master planned urban communities are already being developed in anticipation of its construction.  Remington Developments conceived Quarry Park in the early 21th century as a “work, live, play” community knowing the LRT would eventually connect it to the downtown. 

Today, it sports its own shopping centre, recreation centre, library, diversity of housing options and signature 90-acre nature reserve along the Bow River.  It is home to several major head offices including Imperial Oil.  Already, about 1,500 people live in Quarry Park and 10,000 people work there. When fully built out, it will be home to 4,000 residents and 20,000 workers.  It is anticipated 25% of those living in Quarry Park will also work there and that 80% will live in a condo or apartment buildings.

Another up and running community is SETON (which stands for SE town). It was conceived by Brookfield Residential as a transit-oriented complete community with its downtown anchored by the South Health Campus.  It was designed as an urban hub at the end of the SE leg of Calgary’s LRT system as it was called before the SE and North legs were combined to become the Green Line. 

Similarly, Brookfield Residential planned Livingston at the north end of the Green Line as a mixed-use, transit-oriented community even before the Green Line was approved.  

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

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

Airport City

Indeed, there are lots of other examples of how changes in urban transportation in Calgary have shaped our city’s built form. Perhaps the biggest of all was the relocation of the Calgary International Airport in the mid ‘70s to what was then the northeast edge of the city.  Today, not only is the airport a major employment center, but all of the land surrounding the airport has become a huge warehouse distribution centre.  For many years the airport was a barrier to residential development, as nobody wanted to leave north or east of the airport, however, in the past decade the demand for housing with easy access to the Airport City has created a housing boom in Airdrie, as well as new northeast Calgary communities - Redstone, Skyview Ranch, StoneGate Landing and Cityscape. 

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

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

Last Word

People want to live close to work today, just like they did in the Beltline then know as Connaught in the early 20th century – just like in my postcard.

Over the last 100+ years, each of Calgary’s mega transportation projects has dramatically reshaped how Calgarians “live, work and play.” It will be very interesting in 50 years to see how the Ring Road has influenced urban living in Calgary.

Note: This blog was originally commissioned for Condo Living Magazine and published in two part in September and October 2017.

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Office-To-Residential Conversions: Won't Save Calgary's Downtown

The BIG IDEA that arose from the City of Calgary’s “Downtown Economic Summit” this past March was the need to convert some of our downtown’s vacant office space into residential. Doing so would help create a more vibrant downtown in evenings and weekends when it tends to become a ghost town when the 150,000 downtown office workers leave.

There are numerous smaller, older office buildings surrounding Hotchkiss Gardens in downtown Calgary, that could potentially be converted to residential. However, due to lack of parking, building code requirements and other factors many are not suitable for conversion. 

There are numerous smaller, older office buildings surrounding Hotchkiss Gardens in downtown Calgary, that could potentially be converted to residential. However, due to lack of parking, building code requirements and other factors many are not suitable for conversion. 

Feasibility?

This idea is not new. In the early ‘90s (also a time when Calgary’s downtown office vacancies were very high), Paul Maas, an architect and urban planner at the City of Calgary championed the idea that Calgary’s downtown core needed more residential development.  He advocated for residential above the shops in the historic buildings along Stephen Avenue. He also thought old office buildings would make for ideal conversions to residential. His ideas fell on deaf ears, partly because at that time, there was no market for residential development in the core or surrounding \ communities.  

The Calgary Downtown Association even had an architect on staff for a time, researching the feasibility of office conversions to residential.  His conclusion - conversions were too costly, complex and there was no market for residential in the core.

Built in 1958, the owners of Sierra Place (7th Ave and 6th St. SW) have decided to convert the 92,000 sq.ft. of office space to 100 residential units. 

Built in 1958, the owners of Sierra Place (7th Ave and 6th St. SW) have decided to convert the 92,000 sq.ft. of office space to 100 residential units. 

Have Times Changed?

Fast forward to today. There has been an incredible renaissance in urban living, not only in Calgary but in major cities across North America for more than a decade now.  Today, new residential buildings are routinely under construction in the communities surrounding our downtown - West Downtown, Eau Claire, East Village, Bridgeland/Riverside, Inglewood, Victoria Park, Beltline, Mission and Hillhurst. 

But in the downtown core itself (9th to 4th Ave SW and 8th St SW to Centre Street), there has only been two buildings with any residential component built since the ‘90s - Germain hotel, office, condo project and the TELUS Sky, currently under construction.

Telus Sky currently under construction at 7th Avenue and Centre St. will have 422,000 sq.ft. of office space on the lower level and 341 residential units on the top floors. It has been designed by the world renown architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group. 

Telus Sky currently under construction at 7th Avenue and Centre St. will have 422,000 sq.ft. of office space on the lower level and 341 residential units on the top floors. It has been designed by the world renown architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group. 

Office Conversions Are Difficult

Over the years, numerous studies have documented the difficulties of office-to-residential conversions - building code issues, costs, lack of market and parking requirements being the key ones.

To get a current picture of the feasibility of office conversion in Calgary, I spoke with decided with Bruce McKenzie, Vice President, Business Development, NORR Calgary office as they have probably designed more urban residential buildings in Calgary than any other architectural firm.

He was quick to agree - office conversions face many challenges including:

  • Inability to control construction costs due to unforeseen extras (renovation / code extras).
  • Lack of parking means most likely these properties will remain rental (and probably should as people aren’t apt to take the risk of an old building and the potential future condo fee escalations).
  • Mechanical systems are totally unusable from office to condo/rental so a total gut job is usually needed.
  • Never able to achieve National Energy Code of Canada for buildings’ envelop requirements.
  • Floor plate sizes are too deep to create usable residential space at appropriate scale i.e. smaller units, which are typically what the market wants in conversion buildings.

That being said, NORR Calgary is currently doing several conversion studies, with one downtown Calgary project in working drawings.

Rocky Mountain Plaza is another example of an older building that might be considered for conversion given it proximity to Olympic Plaza, Art Commons, Stephen Avenue Walk and Glenbow. 

Rocky Mountain Plaza is another example of an older building that might be considered for conversion given it proximity to Olympic Plaza, Art Commons, Stephen Avenue Walk and Glenbow. 

Criteria For Conversion

I also connected with Strategic Group who owns a number of older buildings in downtown Calgary and are doing an office-to-residential conversion of the Harley Court building in downtown Edmonton.

COO Randy Ferguson, indicates his firm is a big proponent of conversion when certain criteria are met: 

  1. Design efficiency.  (Note: Not as many office buildings are designed in a way that facilitate repurposing as many people would think – side core; offset core; odd rectangular buildings; oversized floor plates all drive inefficiency and quickly are eliminated as they can’t meet this requirement. Also must be able to accommodate built-in amenities - rooftop terrace, fitness, community space.)
  2. Location. Must have urban living amenities nearby - grocery, street life, churches, arts facilities, sports facilities, cool restaurants, bars and shopping
  3. Near major employment districts
  4. Close proximity to high speed public transportation
  5. Walkable 24/7 streets
  6. Rental demand in the neighbourhood
  7. A mix of architectural expression and affordability in the neighbourhood
Older buildings along downtown's 7th Avenue are more attractive for conversions even though they lack parking, as they have excellent access to transit.   

Older buildings along downtown's 7th Avenue are more attractive for conversions even though they lack parking, as they have excellent access to transit.  

He indicated the three biggest barriers to conversions are:

  1. Inefficiency of design
  2. Zoning
  3. Lack of demand for residential

Ferguson says Strategic Group “is currently studying the assets they own in Calgary to ascertain which may be appropriate for conversion and whether or not office or residential are the highest and best use” adding “some office buildings are too successful to convert.”

When asked how the City of Calgary could foster more office conversions his response is plain and clear - “We believe the call to action is not to provide incentives, rather to facilitate the approval process by expediting matters such as zoning, permitting and plans examination. This would outweigh any incentive a municipality is at liberty to provide.”

Recently, while surfing Twitter, I learned Winnipeg-based Artis REIT has proposed the redevelopment of Calgary’s Sierra Place (7th Ave and 5th St SW) office building to residential. Zeidler BKDI architects have recently submitted a development permit on their behalf, proposing to convert the ten-storey, 92,000 square foot building into a 72-suite residential building. 

Obviously, while converting old office buildings to residential is difficult, it is not impossible.  

The PanCanadian Building (located across from the Fairmont Palliser Hotel) has been renamed The Edison and is being marketed as a funky space for start-ups.  Already Silicon Valley's RocketSpace has leased 75,000 sq.ft. for a co-working space that could accommodate as many as 1,000 start-ups. 

The PanCanadian Building (located across from the Fairmont Palliser Hotel) has been renamed The Edison and is being marketed as a funky space for start-ups.  Already Silicon Valley's RocketSpace has leased 75,000 sq.ft. for a co-working space that could accommodate as many as 1,000 start-ups. 

Old Buildings Are Not The Problem

Calgary’s downtown office space vacancy problem is not with its older buildings, but rather with its tall shiny new buildings.  Some quick math shows older office buildings (C Class) make up only 6% of the total downtown office space (or about 2.3 million square feet) of which 630,000 square feet is vacant.  The conversion of three or four older office buildings will not solve our downtown office vacancy problem.

On the other hand, Class A and AA office space (newer buildings, best location, best amenities) make up 72% of the total downtown office space.  Currently, there is about 7 million square feet of vacant A and AA space (or about 65% of the total current vacant space – becoming higher with the completion of Brookfield Place and TELUS Sky).   The reality is Class A or AA office buildings are not good candidates for conversions from both a design perspective and location, as well the owners (pension funds) have deep pockets and for them the best return on their investment is still as offices. 

At the beginning of 2017, Calgary has more office space under construction than any city in Canada, even more than Toronto. Downtown Calgary's office space surplus is the result of too much new construction over the past few years. 

At the beginning of 2017, Calgary has more office space under construction than any city in Canada, even more than Toronto. Downtown Calgary's office space surplus is the result of too much new construction over the past few years. 

Just one of several new office towers being built for the Amazon campus in downtown Seattle. They are all quite spectacular. 

Just one of several new office towers being built for the Amazon campus in downtown Seattle. They are all quite spectacular. 

Last Word

Also let’s not forget a healthy downtown needs older office buildings. They offer the cheaper rent and funky character spaces that are often very attractive to start-up business, i.e. the exact businesses we want to attract downtown to help diversify the economic base.

Today’s start-up in a tired older office building could be tomorrow’s Amazon, which by the way, has created a funky, new multi-new building campus (9 million square feet in all) in downtown Seattle, for its 25,000+ employees.  

Office-to-residential conversions will not save our downtown!

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on September 30, 2017.

If you like this blog, checkout these links:

Why Amazon might pick Calgary for HQ2?

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All downtowns must reinvent themselves.

Why Amazon might pick Calgary for HQ2?

Amazon created a feeding frenzy when it announcement plans to open a second North American headquarters that would result in 50,000 new jobs and $5 billion in capital expenditures for the chosen city. Politicians, economic development CEOs and planners were busy tweeting out why their city should be the winner in the Amazon HQ2 Sweepstakes.   

Calgary's West Village approved redevelopment plan would fit perfectly with Amazon's plans for a second headquarters. The proposed Riverfront Promenade along the Bow River would become a vibrant 18/7 urban playground.

Calgary's West Village approved redevelopment plan would fit perfectly with Amazon's plans for a second headquarters. The proposed Riverfront Promenade along the Bow River would become a vibrant 18/7 urban playground.

West Village aka Amazon Village is the land between the Bow River and CPR railway tracks from Crowchild Trail to Mewata Armouries.   Most of the land is owned by the city, which would allow them to negotiate a deal.      While it would be ideal if Amazon HQ2 could just take up the 10 million square feet of existing office space in downtown Calgary many of those buildings would be difficult to retro-fit for Amazon's needs. 

West Village aka Amazon Village is the land between the Bow River and CPR railway tracks from Crowchild Trail to Mewata Armouries. Most of the land is owned by the city, which would allow them to negotiate a deal.  

While it would be ideal if Amazon HQ2 could just take up the 10 million square feet of existing office space in downtown Calgary many of those buildings would be difficult to retro-fit for Amazon's needs. 

If Amazon chose West Village for HQ2 their employees could body surf in the Bow River at lunch and after work.

If Amazon chose West Village for HQ2 their employees could body surf in the Bow River at lunch and after work.

Can't Imagine A Better Place

Calgary mayor Nenshi was among them. He noted we have been selling our city to some of the biggest brands in the world for decades.  "Non-disclosure agreements prevent me from saying too much on specific files we've been working on," Nenshi added, "But I can tell you that we're very familiar with this particular pitch and were not surprised by Amazon bringing this forward now. Looking at the criteria Amazon has put forward, he couldn't imagine a place that meets their needs better than Calgary.”

Calgary Economic Development President and CEO, Mary Moran, quickly confirmed Calgary would be making a strong pitch to Amazon.  "The value proposition that we offer aligns with what Amazon is looking for. This is an innovative city with a highly educated and globally connected workforce, we have affordable available real estate, low-cost of doing business, exceptional transportation links and quality of life for their employees,” said Moran.

The West Village plan calls for several plaza and pedestrian oriented streets. 

The West Village plan calls for several plaza and pedestrian oriented streets. 

The West Village plan envisions mid and high-rise buildings with a mix of uses to create street vitality daytime and evenings, weekdays and weekends.

The West Village plan envisions mid and high-rise buildings with a mix of uses to create street vitality daytime and evenings, weekdays and weekends.

Calgarians of all ages love to test their strength and agility wherever and whenever they can.  This just happens to be under the LRT bridge linking downtown to Kensington Village. 

Calgarians of all ages love to test their strength and agility wherever and whenever they can.  This just happens to be under the LRT bridge linking downtown to Kensington Village. 

Top Picks

The New York Times went so far as to pick the perfect city for Amazon HQ2. From 25 cities, they short-listed Portland, Denver, Washington and Boston areas, then. picked Denver as the winner.

Link: Dear Amazon, We Picked Your New Headquarters for you

Brookings Institute picked Charlotte N.C., Bloomberg thought Boston was the best choice and Creative class guru Richard Florida is betting on Washington, D.C.

The only city in Canada that got any real attention in the scramble to predict a winner in the Amazon HQ2 Sweepstakes was Toronto.  Then Jens Von Bergmann posted “Amazon – The Canadian Data” on twitter, looking at Amazon’s HQ2 requirements and Canadian cities and guess who came out on top – Calgary.  

Link: Amazon- The Canadian Data.

Calgary's downtown has one of North America's largest collection of corporate headquarters (oil&gas, financial, accounting and law firms) located in over 42 million square feet of office space. 

Calgary's downtown has one of North America's largest collection of corporate headquarters (oil&gas, financial, accounting and law firms) located in over 42 million square feet of office space. 

Downtown's Stephen Avenue Walk takes on a festival atmosphere at lunch when 20,000+ workers pour out of the offices along the Walk. Stephen Avenue is a National Historic District.

Downtown's Stephen Avenue Walk takes on a festival atmosphere at lunch when 20,000+ workers pour out of the offices along the Walk. Stephen Avenue is a National Historic District.

Calgary’s Pitch

After reviewing Amazon’s Request for Proposals (RFP), here are my thoughts on why Calgary would be a good fit for Amazon HQ2.  I will not address all of the technical issues and of course I can’t comment on what incentives our municipal, provincial or federal government might be able to give, which will be huge factor in their decision. 

Rather, I will focus on three key areas identified in the RFP as important factors in Amazon’s decision: Thinking Big, Urban Living and Unique Culture.

Calgary's bike culture dates back to 1869.  

Calgary's bike culture dates back to 1869.  

Calgary's higher education goes back over 100 years at SAIT where the past meets the future.

Calgary's higher education goes back over 100 years at SAIT where the past meets the future.

Thinking Big

Calgary was an early adopter (1981) of LRT as a core element of its city-wide transit system, long before Seattle, Denver or any American city for that matter.  Today Calgary has the highest per capita LRT ridership in North America and with the development of the Green Line (46 kilometers, 28 stations, serving 27 communities) it will also have one of longest. In addition, Calgary is currently constructing two BRT routes as part of its ambitious rapid transit vision.  And, if that isn’t enough, in 2001, our LRT became the first wind-powered public transit system in North America.

Calgary has an ambitious transit vision.

Calgary has an ambitious transit vision.

Downtown's 7th Avenue Transit Corridor is the hub for Calgary's transit system. 

Downtown's 7th Avenue Transit Corridor is the hub for Calgary's transit system. 

Calgary is also the cleanest city in the world as a result of our commitment to state-of-the-art water treatment plants.  According to the Mercer Global Financial list, Calgary has been the world’s cleanest city in the world for several years now based on:  availability and drinkability of water, waste removal, quality of sewage system, air quality and traffic congestion.  

Calgary is on the path to becoming a premier green energy hub in North America, according to a Delphi Group’s study of the Calgary Region’s Green Energy Economy. The research showed in 2015, Calgary’s green energy economy was responsible for generating $3.63 billion in gross output, $1.78 billion in gross domestic product, and approximately 15,470 jobs. (Calgary Economic Development website)

Calgary, the largest logistic hub in Western Canada and one of the largest inland ports in North America, fits perfectly with Amazon’s operations. 

Link: Calgary: An Inland Port

Calgary also thinks big when it comes to parks and pathways.  We have over 5,200 parks, including two of the largest urban parks in the world – Fish Creek (13.5 sq. km) and Nose Hill (11 sq. km).  Calgary has 150 public off-leash areas across the city. Our three City Centre island parks (Prince’s, St. Patrick’s and St. George’s) in the middle of the Bow River are spectacular urban oasis. And don’t forget our easy access Banff National Park and Kananaskis Provincial Park.

Calgary's 138 km Rotary/Mattamy Greenway circles the city. And yes we are working on the completion of a ring road around the city also.

Calgary's 138 km Rotary/Mattamy Greenway circles the city. And yes we are working on the completion of a ring road around the city also.

In addition to our City Centre bike lanes (something asked for in the RFP) we also have over 1,000 km of pathways city-wide including the new 138 km Rotary/Mattamy Greenway that encircles the city connecting over 400,000 Calgarians. Calgary is a cyclist’s paradise for commuters and recreational cyclists.

Calgarians of all ages love to cycle.

Calgarians of all ages love to cycle.

Bow Cycle is one of the largest bike shops in the world. It sponsors the annual Tour de Bowness race. 

Bow Cycle is one of the largest bike shops in the world. It sponsors the annual Tour de Bowness race. 

Young & Active

As well, Calgary is currently building four mega recreation facilities (to the tune of almost half a billion dollars) – Rocky Ridge, Seton, Great Plains and Quarry Park.

The iconic Repsol Sports Center (formerly the Talisman Centre) with its iconic Teflon-coated semi-transparent fibreglass dinosaur-like roof is the second most used recreation facility in North America attracting over 1.8 million visitors annually.  It opened in 1983 and was the catalyst for creating mega, multi-use recreation centers across the city.

The Crescent Heights stairs are a popular spot for Calgarians to challenge their fitness levels.    With 167 steps divided into 11 flights, most people find once is enough. But there is fun challenge on the internet, based on 10 laps starting at the bottom and finishing at the top. Under   17 minutes = olympian,   17 – 20 minutes = professional, top amateur,   20 – 24 minutes = very athletic.

The Crescent Heights stairs are a popular spot for Calgarians to challenge their fitness levels.  With 167 steps divided into 11 flights, most people find once is enough. But there is fun challenge on the internet, based on 10 laps starting at the bottom and finishing at the top. Under 17 minutes = olympian, 17 – 20 minutes = professional, top amateur, 20 – 24 minutes = very athletic.

There is a walk or run in Calgary almost every weekend for charity.

There is a walk or run in Calgary almost every weekend for charity.

Yes we love our hockey.

Yes we love our hockey.

Calgarians also love their rivers - Bow and Elbow.  This scene is repeated 25+ times along the two rivers from May to September. 

Calgarians also love their rivers - Bow and Elbow.  This scene is repeated 25+ times along the two rivers from May to September. 

Urban Living

Having visited Seattle, Denver, Portland and Austin recently, none of those cities can match Calgary’s amazing infill housing development occurring in our City Centre and inner-city communities.  Tour any community within 10 km of Calgary’s downtown and you will find old homes being torn down and new family homes being built in their place on almost every block.  You will also find dozens of multi-family buildings being built at strategic locations.

And, Calgary currently has seven mega new urban villages in various stages of construction in our inner city – Bridges, Currie, East Village, Eau Claire, Stadium, University District and University City/Brentwood.

In addition, Inglewood was chosen as “Canada’s Greatest Neighbourhood” by the Canadian Institute of Planners and Kensington was short-listed in 2014 (both communities have improved since then).

Add in the Beltline (the hipster capital of North America), Chinatown, Erlton, Mission, Ramsay and Sunalta and Calgary offers some of the most diverse and affordable urban living options in North America - from penthouses to micro-condos, from single-family infills to mansions, from transit-oriented living (N3 condo in East Village has no parking) to walking and cycling-oriented living.  

All at affordable prices compared to most major North American cities.

Link: NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here

Link: Beltline: Hipster/GABSTER Capital of North America

Impromptu couples dancing in Tomkins Park in RED (Retail, Entertainment District). 

Impromptu couples dancing in Tomkins Park in RED (Retail, Entertainment District). 

Calgary has a very strong independent coffee/cafe culture that dates back to the '70s.

Calgary has a very strong independent coffee/cafe culture that dates back to the '70s.

17th Avenue aka The Red Mile is a popular people watching and dining and beer drinking hot spot.

17th Avenue aka The Red Mile is a popular people watching and dining and beer drinking hot spot.

Kensington Village has a vibrant street culture as the Alberta College of Art & Design and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology are nearby.  It is full of cafes, shops, restaurants and an arthouse movie theatre. There is even a cat cafe.

Kensington Village has a vibrant street culture as the Alberta College of Art & Design and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology are nearby.  It is full of cafes, shops, restaurants and an arthouse movie theatre. There is even a cat cafe.

The Bow River pathway on the edge of downtown is a popular spot for walking, cycling and running weekdays and weekends.

The Bow River pathway on the edge of downtown is a popular spot for walking, cycling and running weekdays and weekends.

Penthouse living....

Penthouse living....

You can find new condos on almost every other block in Calgary's Beltline community. It is Calgary's most dense and diverse community with 22,000+ residents.

You can find new condos on almost every other block in Calgary's Beltline community. It is Calgary's most dense and diverse community with 22,000+ residents.

East Village is a new master planned urban village  on the east side of downtown, when completed in 2027 it will be home to 12,000+ residents. Calgary already has over 70,000 people living in its City Centre. 

East Village is a new master planned urban village  on the east side of downtown, when completed in 2027 it will be home to 12,000+ residents. Calgary already has over 70,000 people living in its City Centre. 

Calgary boast one of the most diverse inner city living options of any major city in North America, from mansions to cottages, from high-rises to mid-rises, from duplexes to row homes. There is new construction on almost every other block within 10 km of downtown Calgary. 

Calgary boast one of the most diverse inner city living options of any major city in North America, from mansions to cottages, from high-rises to mid-rises, from duplexes to row homes. There is new construction on almost every other block within 10 km of downtown Calgary. 

Unique Culture

Calgary is home to one of North America’s most unique annual festivals – Beakerhead. It is a smash up of science, engineering, technology, innovation, art and culture that takes place at multiple sites across the city. In 2017, there are 14 sites that area expected to attract over 125,000 participants over five days.   It is exactly the kind of funky, futuristic, techy stuff Amazon loves.

The Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo is Canada’s second largest comic-com event attracting over 100,000 visitors.  Theatre Sports, the precursor to the current improve theatre craze was invented in Calgary, at the University of Calgary in 1977.

Calgary is quickly becoming a major music city with the opening of the National Music Centre.  We also have several major music festivals including Calgary International Folk Festival, Sled Island and the Performing Arts Festival (4,000 entries, 12,000 participants, makes one of the largest amateur competition music festivals in North America). The Honens Piano Competition is one of the world’s most prestigious events of its kind in the world. Cowtown Opera Company takes their satirical performances to the streets and shopping malls of the city.

Calgary’s High Performance Rodeo has been showcasing the best in contemporary international performance every January since 1986.  In 2017, it featured 28 shows over 32 days with 150 performances by 200 artists from around the world. Calgary’s Lunchbox Theatre is North America’s longest running lunchtime theatre company.

Calgary’s unique culture also includes an amazing diversity of recreational opportunities from speed skating to show jumping. Spruce Meadows is one of the best equestrian centres in the world and Shaw Millennium Park has one of the largest public skate parks in North America.  Canada Olympic Park offers unique recreational experiences - downhill skiing, zip line, mountain biking, luge and bobsled.  Calgary’s Olympic Oval has the fastest speeedskating ice in the world. In the winter Calgary boasts over 100 outdoor community skating rinks.

Beakerhead festival celebrates the connections between art, science and engineer every September. 

Beakerhead festival celebrates the connections between art, science and engineer every September. 

Prince's Island's signature event is the Calgary International Folk Festival.

Prince's Island's signature event is the Calgary International Folk Festival.

There are festivals and special outdoor events every weekend in the City Centre.

There are festivals and special outdoor events every weekend in the City Centre.

Canada: A Safe Haven?  

When Amazon announced they were looking to set up a second headquarters, they indicated that it could be anywhere in North America.  While most crystal ball gazers are assuming they will choose an American city, given the current political and social upheaval in the USA, Canada could well be a safe haven for Amazon.

Calgary is probably the most American friendly city in Canada.  We have a strong entrepreneurial, business-oriented, future thinking culture, while at the same time having a strong community spirit.  In 2016, Calgarians donated $55 million to United Way, the highest per capita United Way contribution in North America. 

West Village aka Amazon Village

West Village has parks at both ends along with beautiful Bow River waterfront linear park. Millennium Park has one of the world's largest public skateboard parks in the world, which would be very appealing to Amazon employees. It is also home to many festivals.

West Village has parks at both ends along with beautiful Bow River waterfront linear park. Millennium Park has one of the world's largest public skateboard parks in the world, which would be very appealing to Amazon employees. It is also home to many festivals.

The West Village Master Plan calls for four major landmark artworks, several urban plazas as well as open space and natural areas, making it ideal for the Amazon HQ2 campus.

The West Village Master Plan calls for four major landmark artworks, several urban plazas as well as open space and natural areas, making it ideal for the Amazon HQ2 campus.

The West Village Master Plan has a campus feel to it that would be ideal for Amazon HQ2.   It would be easy to phase in the development based on the existing area redevelopment plan .

The West Village Master Plan has a campus feel to it that would be ideal for Amazon HQ2. It would be easy to phase in the development based on the existing area redevelopment plan.

Amazon's plan is to duplicate their downtown Seattle HQ over time in another city.

Amazon's plan is to duplicate their downtown Seattle HQ over time in another city.

Last Word

In many ways, Calgary has retained all that is good about the pioneer culture that created our city just over 100 years ago.  While Calgary is a long shot to win the Amazon HQ2 headquarters, everyone loves an underdog. 

FYI: Calgary may have a little insider help. James Gosling, a Calgarian and University of Calgary grad, who invented the Java computer language found on 97 per cent of enterprise computer systems and virtual-machine systems, joined Amazon in May 2017.

Link: Amazon Request For Proposals

And yes Calgary has an observation tower - ours is just a bit taller and yours a bit older. We could be sister cities. 

And yes Calgary has an observation tower - ours is just a bit taller and yours a bit older. We could be sister cities. 

Must See: cSPACE & I Am Western

If you haven’t been to the renovated three storey, sandstone King Edward School (1720 – 30th Ave SW) in Marda Loop you must go. The handsome building was completed in 1913 and was one of 19 sandstone schools built by the Calgary public school board between 1894 and 1914.

cSpace is currently hosting the provocative "I Am Western" art exhibition which is a "must see" for anyone interested in the visual arts and social commentary.  

cSpace is currently hosting the provocative "I Am Western" art exhibition which is a "must see" for anyone interested in the visual arts and social commentary.  

Old vs New

While cSPACE is still a work in progress (the school renovation is finished and 29 artists and art groups are all in, but they are still constructing the new performance space and completing the front yard landscaping). You can already see how the juxtaposition of the old and new is creating something very special both for Calgary’s creative community and the public.

The majestic King Edward School is getting a new life as a creative hub.  The construction on the left side is the new performance space.  The site will also include luxury condos on the west side and a seniors complex on the east. 

The majestic King Edward School is getting a new life as a creative hub.  The construction on the left side is the new performance space.  The site will also include luxury condos on the west side and a seniors complex on the east. 

Free

There is a bit of an urgency to go before Oct 1st 2017 as the well worth seeing exhibition “I Am Western” closes then.  I hope these postcards from our recent visit will entice you (and maybe bring some friends) to visit both the space and the exhibition before the end of September.  It’s FREE!

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Lyndal Osborne and Sherri Chaba, The Space Between Cities, 2011 is a mixed media installation that resembles a small tool or garden shed.  It includes fossils, wasp nests, antlers, furniture, digital images, pelts, grain seedlings, paddle, bird nest, bird wing, sunflower roots and much much more. The artists intent is for the viewer to "meditate upon the constant transformation of our world." 

Lyndal Osborne and Sherri Chaba, The Space Between Cities, 2011 is a mixed media installation that resembles a small tool or garden shed.  It includes fossils, wasp nests, antlers, furniture, digital images, pelts, grain seedlings, paddle, bird nest, bird wing, sunflower roots and much much more. The artists intent is for the viewer to "meditate upon the constant transformation of our world." 

Loved this shed-like structure full of fun everyday artifacts from the farm. Especially liked this beehive made from old matchbooks. 

Loved this shed-like structure full of fun everyday artifacts from the farm. Especially liked this beehive made from old matchbooks. 

John Freeman, Now You See It Soon You Won't, 2011, inkjet in on translucent polyester fabric. This tryptic that combines image word association "Rye-Food," "Grain-Same" and "Canola-Same" with images of prairie agriculture.  

John Freeman, Now You See It Soon You Won't, 2011, inkjet in on translucent polyester fabric. This tryptic that combines image word association "Rye-Food," "Grain-Same" and "Canola-Same" with images of prairie agriculture.  

Be sure to check out the stairwells, as they are full of fun artworks - don't take the elevator. Kids will love these.

Be sure to check out the stairwells, as they are full of fun artworks - don't take the elevator. Kids will love these.

People of all ages and backgrounds will enjoy the Chagall-like mural.

People of all ages and backgrounds will enjoy the Chagall-like mural.

Kelly Johner, The Three Sirens: For The Love of Bling, Prairie Song, Belle of the Bale, 2014. The artist's materials relate to the land or to activities on the farm but are given new purpose and meaning - saddles become female silhouettes, bale twine is crocheted into a dress by her mother and horse tack and heel rope become a hoop skirt.    Below are some close-up views of The Three Sirens.

Kelly Johner, The Three Sirens: For The Love of Bling, Prairie Song, Belle of the Bale, 2014. The artist's materials relate to the land or to activities on the farm but are given new purpose and meaning - saddles become female silhouettes, bale twine is crocheted into a dress by her mother and horse tack and heel rope become a hoop skirt.

Below are some close-up views of The Three Sirens.

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Hot Tip

Maybe plan your trip on a Saturday, so you can stop by the Marda Loop Farmers’ Market (at the nearby Community Centre parking lot) and pick up a coffee and perhaps a treat (there is no café at cSPACE) before heading to the school.  Also note the Alberta Craft Council gallery isn’t open until noon; so don’t get there too early.

Alberta Craft Council's boutique is a great place to find a unique gift.  They also have an art gallery the showcases the work of Alberta craft persons. 

Alberta Craft Council's boutique is a great place to find a unique gift.  They also have an art gallery the showcases the work of Alberta craft persons. 

Love this magazine rack with a sample of the many great magazines published in Alberta.  It provided us with good reading for the rest of the weekend.

Love this magazine rack with a sample of the many great magazines published in Alberta.  It provided us with good reading for the rest of the weekend.

Even if the studios aren't open you can still look inside and see some of the interesting art being produced.

Even if the studios aren't open you can still look inside and see some of the interesting art being produced.

Marda Loop Farmers' Market fun.

Marda Loop Farmers' Market fun.

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

King Edward Village

Marda Loop Madness

Fun, Funky, Quirky Colorado Springs

 

 

 

 

 

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.