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?

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. 

Mesa: Viewpoint RV & Golf Resort Is Heavenly!

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

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

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

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

People-Friendly

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

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

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

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

Street-Friendly

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

Sharing the road....

Sharing the road....

On site amenities

Tennis anyone?

Tennis anyone?

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

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

You could of had the pool to yourself this morning!

You could of had the pool to yourself this morning!

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

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

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

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

Mesa 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living Options

Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 6.11.41 PM.png

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

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

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

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

Jack's Place

Lovely side yard.

Lovely side yard.

Density & Diversity Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fountain of Youth

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

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

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November golf at Raven Golf course was heavenly!

November golf at Raven Golf course was heavenly!

Last Word

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

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Phoenix "Last Chance" Shopping Frenzy!

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.

IMG_9807-EFFECTS.jpg

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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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.

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University District: My Final Resting Place?

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

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

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

Something For Everyone

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

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

Link: Video University District

Everyday Needs

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

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

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

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

Big News 

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

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

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

Computer rendering of University Districts pedestrian shopping street. 

Computer rendering of University Districts pedestrian shopping street. 

FYI

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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Bridgeland/Riverside's Rebirth

You gotta like it when a plan starts coming together - that is exactly what is happening in Bridgeland/Riverside (B/R).  It was back in 1999 that Sturgess Architecture completed The Bridges Masterplan for the City of Calgary after the controversial implosion of the Calgary General Hospital on October 4, 1998.  Today, Bridgeland/Riverside (B/R) is enjoying an amazing rebirth as a vibrant 21st century urban community.

Note: Both St. Patrick's and St. George's Islands are within the boundaries of Bridgeland Riverside, not East Village and Inglewood as most people might think. 

Note: Both St. Patrick's and St. George's Islands are within the boundaries of Bridgeland Riverside, not East Village and Inglewood as most people might think. 

It is hard to believe this was Riverside 100+ years ago.

It is hard to believe this was Riverside 100+ years ago.

McDougall Park is a popular place for families to hang out year round.  

McDougall Park is a popular place for families to hang out year round.  

The Bridges Plan

The Bridges is the land made available for development by the implosion included the 10 acre hospital site as well as existing city owned open space to allow for a more comprehensive 37-acre (just a little bigger than St. Patrick’s Island) redevelopment in the middle of B/R community. The ambitious plan was not only Calgary’s first Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Plan, but Calgary’s first attempt to transform an established early 20th century community into a contemporary 21st century urban village with a higher density and diversity of residential dwellings with ground floor retail or townhomes. The plan consisted of three phases.

Yes, even in winter McDougall Park is well used. 

Yes, even in winter McDougall Park is well used. 

Phase 1

This phase included eight parcels for condo development, as well as the new Murdoch Park and the General Avenue Plaza. Three of the four parcels along 1st Avenue N.E. are mixed use development with retail at street level and residential units on the upper levels. The fourth parcel, on 1st Avenue N.E. accommodates residential, live-work units and commercial uses.

The other four parcels are located on the north side of Centre Avenue N.E. between 7A Street N.E. and 9A Street N.E. are mid-rise residential developments with building heights ranging from 4 to 6 storeys. The buildings emphasize a street-orientation with townhouses at street level and apartments on the upper levels.

Phase 1 is now complete and included these condos:

  • The Piazza by Townscape Properties Ltd. 
  • Olive by Homes by Avi 
  • Bella Citta & Bella Lusso by Bucci Developments Ltd. 
  • Acqua & Vento by Windmill Developments Ltd. 
  • Pontefino I and II by Sandelwood Development Ltd. 

Phase 2

This phase includes four sites located between McDougall Road N.E. and Memorial Drive. Two sites are now complete, one is slated for completion in 2017 while the fourth site is under review for a land use amendment and expected to be released for sale in 2018.

Three of the sites are designated for multi-family residential development with building heights being five to six storeys. The fourth parcel, adjacent to Memorial Drive, is slated for affordable multi-family housing development.

Phase two is not yet completed, it includes these projects:

  • Steps Bridgeland by Assured Developments Ltd. and Guistini Bridges Inc. (under construction)
  • Bridgeland Crossing I by Apex Cityhomes 
  • Bridgeland Crossing II by GableCraft Homes and Apex Cityhomes 
  • McPherson Place by Bridges Attainable Housing Society and New Urban Development (affordable housing) 

Phase 3

This last phase includes three parcels of land situated east of 9th Street N.E. between Centre Avenue and McDougall Road.Radius by Bucci Development Ltd is under construction. The City’s Real Estate & Development Services is currently working on plans to bring the three parcels of The Bridges to market in the near future at 1018 McDougal Road NE, 70 & 90 9A Street and 950 McPherson Square NE. (source: City of Calgary)

The Bridges Plan was approved after extensive community consultation and if memory serves me correctly, was enthusiastically endorsed by the community who could foresee the benefits not only of a new park, new community centre and new shopping, dining and professional service amenities, but of new residents who would hopefully revive the community.

Radius is the news B/R condo project by Bucci Developments a 201-unit condo with spectacular views of the Bow River, East Village and Downtown. Prices range from $330,000 to $850,000.    Link:   Bucci Developments

Radius is the news B/R condo project by Bucci Developments a 201-unit condo with spectacular views of the Bow River, East Village and Downtown. Prices range from $330,000 to $850,000.  Link: Bucci Developments

The Bridges has not only transformed the area around the old Calgary General Hospital into an urban village, but also Edmonton Trail has been revitalized with numerous new condo developments. 

The Bridges has not only transformed the area around the old Calgary General Hospital into an urban village, but also Edmonton Trail has been revitalized with numerous new condo developments. 

Bridgeland Today

Fast-forward to 2017.  The Bridges has indeed been the catalyst to transform Bridgeland/Riverside into one of Calgary’s most desirable communities.

In fact, it was chosen as Calgary's #1 Community in the Calgary Herald's 2017 Readers' Choice Awards. 

B/R's Tool Library is just one of the many ways residents are working together to create a sharing community.   

B/R's Tool Library is just one of the many ways residents are working together to create a sharing community.  

As an avid Twitter reader, I am constantly impressed by what is happening in B/R. Bridgeland Betty is always tweeting out the fun things to do in her community, things like their Tool Lending Library, evening walks to learn about the community’s amazing array of churches and the Vegan/Gluten-Free Stampede Breakfast.   

Lukes is just too cool...

Lukes is just too cool...

Today, B/R is home to some of Calgary’s coolest places – Cannibale with its barbershop in the front and cocktail lounge in the back, Bike and Brew where coffee and bike cultures meet and Luke’s Drug Mart that is a drug store/post office/ grocery store/record store/general store/café. 

Lukes is one of three grocers in B/R, the others being Bridgeland Market and Blush Lane Organic Market, a sure sign hipsters and YUPPIES have invaded this once sleepy community.

The most interesting B/R project I learned about on Twitter recently was their 4th Avenue Flyover Project. So intrigued by the photos of children painting the roadway under the flyover, I had to check it out myself.

The 4th Street Flyover plan now approved by the City of Calgary will see the development of a fun park (McDougall Rd NE and Edmonton Trail) under the concrete flyover complete with a rain garden, public art, sidewalk patios and colourful painting of the concrete abutments.

It will be a unique urban, all ages PLAYground developed as a result of an amazing collaboration between the community’s Grade 6 Langevin School students and Landscape Architect students at the University of Calgary.

McDougall Road's new funky streetscape.

McDougall Road's new funky streetscape.

Flyover Plaza Fun

Flyover Plaza Fun

Future new pocket park site

Future new pocket park site

Success or Failure?

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 in Los Angeles) when asked his assessment of B/R’s transformation said, “It's still infilling, so it's unfair to look at how it is today and judge it on how it will eventually perform. I think it will ultimately be a success but I think there are also a few things the City could do to improve it.”

When probed further, he added, “First, it's not a traditional Transit-Oriented Development (TOD). It's a retrofit condition, so we shouldn't judge it on whether it ticks off all the TOD boxes. First, no development is possible on the entire south half of the LRT station area (St. Patrick’s Island). And since there is a pre-existing main street not far away, the area right around the station is not going to be ground-floor retail. And it suffers from the typical Calgary problem of having LRT stations in the middle of a major road, which is less than ideal for access/walkability. You lose a hundred metres just getting over the roadway.”

When asked how The Bridges can be improved he quickly remarks, “It was a big mistake not to rezone the north side of 1 Ave. A one-sided main street is always a handicap. Moreover, the north side is the sunny side, which works best for outdoor patios. So, I suggest re-zoning the north side of 1 Ave for mixed-use, mid-rise buildings, with appropriate lower heights at the rear of the buildings to transition to the single family housing to the north.”

Morrow also believes “the park is a good move, although it will take some time before it makes sense. Right now, you have a lot of vacant parcels so it makes the park space seem underutilized and unnecessary. But the idea is to create some decent density in the parcels around the park, so as that fills in more, you will see why the park in the middle makes good sense. Just give it some time.”

LRT Stations in the middle of major roads are not pedestrian friendly.

LRT Stations in the middle of major roads are not pedestrian friendly.

Last Word

A check of the City of Calgary’s Community Profile demonstrates the community’s population is growing again, after years of decline and stagnation.  It grew by 8% from 2012 to 2016, vs City of Calgary’s 10% increase.

It has become a very cool community for young families. In fact, 7% of the B/R’s population is under 4 years of age, the same as the City of Calgary’s.  However, only 6.5% of B/R’s population is between ages 5 to 19, significantly lower than the 18% City average.

It will be interesting to see if today’s young families remain in B/R and embrace the urban living lifestyle or do they migrate en masse to the outer suburbs for cheaper, bigger homes to raise their growing families as previous generations have done.   

Monument to Calgary General Hospital with Calgary Tower in the background. 

Monument to Calgary General Hospital with Calgary Tower in the background. 

Transit Oriented Living: Berlin vs Calgary

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

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

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

Google Maps Is Great!

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

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

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

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

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

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

Too Downtown-Centric

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transit-Oriented Living (TOL) Gurus

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

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

Five minute service even at 10 am. 

Alexander Platz

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary’s Platz Attempt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does "Smarter Growth" mean?

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

Makes sense.  Seems reasonable.

The devil is in the details.

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

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

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

Everything You Need To Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something To Think About

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

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

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Calgary: Time to think outside the car?

It seems everyday for the past month or so there have been one or more articles on my Twitter or Flipboard feeds dealing with how car ownership in North America is declining and the impact this will have on cities in the future.

It started in mid September with a Flipboard headline that read “Lyft’s President Says Car Ownership will ‘All But End’ in U.S. Cities by 2025.”  While it is hard to believe car ownership will end by 2025, it does make one think – what if car ownership was to shrink by 15% by 2025 and by 30% by 2050 from the current level of approximately million vehicles.   

A 2016 GasBuddy Calgary poll (22,044 voters) indicated 16% of Calgary households have 4 or more vehicles, 20% three or more, 40% two vehicles, 21% one vehicle and only 1% no vehicle.

What if some Calgarians were to decide they could live with one less car and use car-sharing to replace it? Could this already be happening?

Research says… 

In July 2016, Elliot Martin and Susan Shaheen, of the University of California, Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Resource Center published, “Impacts of car2go on vehicle ownership, modal shift, vehicle miles travelled, and greenhouse gas emissions:

An analysis of five North American cities. ” Calgary was one of those cities.

The Calgary findings for 2015 were enlightening:

  • Car2go removed an estimated 6,058 vehicles from Calgary roads (existing car owners who sold their car or individuals who were planning on buying a car but decided against doing so.
  • Car2go reduced overall vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by up to an estimated 52.9 kilometers for the year or 6% reduction in VMT traveled per car2go household.
  • Car2go prevented up to an estimated 8,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from polluting Calgary’s air. That’s an estimated 4% reduction. 
  • Car2go resulted in a slight increase in walking and bicycle ridership frequencies (10% and 2%, respectively). 

These findings are based on a sample of 1,498 Calgary car2go users. Similar results were found in the other four cities studied – San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver and Washington DC.

Link: Impact of Car2go...

 The Times They Are A Changin’

Obviously some Calgarians have already or are now making the decision to live with one less car  - or without a car at all. This number is going to increase as car-sharing programs expand the geographic area they operate in. As well, new competition will result in more cars and better pricing, which will make car-sharing even more attractive to more Calgarians. 

In addition, services like Uber and Lyft are sure to become commonplace over the next 5 years in Calgary and Calgary will probably have a bike-sharing program in the near future (over 500 cities world-wide already have programs), making living without two cars, more feasible especially in the inner city.

And then there is Calgary’s multi-billion dollar transit expansion plans like the Green-Line and several cross-town Bus Rapid Transit routes designed to make transit a more viable option for Calgarians’ everyday transportation needs.  

In addition, the Calgary Regional Partnership is piloting (October 2016 to October 2018) a regional transit system for Black Diamond, High River, Okotoks and Turner Valley, which may be expanded to Strathmore and Chestermere in 2018.

Little by little, Calgarians are being offered more options for commuting to work and other activities. 

I suspect many Calgary households would be willing to give up one of their cars if offered a viable alternative - especially for their Monday to Friday commute.  Who wouldn’t want to save some of the $10,000+ per year it costs to drive a car in Calgary, not counting parking fees and hassles if going downtown? Money that could be used to buy a bigger home, take a vacation or save for a child’s education.

Looking ahead…

Is it possible that we could return to building houses with just a single garage?  What impact would that have on how we build new suburbs?

Could we see more condos and apartment buildings with no parking (like N3 in East Village)?  Will the next generation rather spend $50,000 (the cost of an underground parking space) on a bigger condo than a parking stall for a car that sits idle 95% of the time?
Could we see downtown, hospital, post-secondary and airport parkades being converted to new uses?  
Could driving around looking for a parking spot at Chinook Centre, Market Mall and Southcentre at Christmas all but disappear?

With fewer cars on the road, could gridlock on Deerfoot, Glenmore and Crowchild Trails become a thing of the past?

And heaven forbid we might even see lower downtown parking rates as supply exceeds demand?

Fewer cars and less demand for parking would also make it easier to create wider sidewalks and more bike lanes where appropriate.  

Never Say Never…

I remember in the early ‘90s when the City of Calgary’s GO Plan set a goal of a 50/50 modal split for downtown commuters by 2020 i.e. 50% would use transit and 50% would drive many said it would never happen. Today the Downtown modal split is 49% transit, 10% walk/cycle and 41% drive.

Link: City of Calgary, 2016 Calgary Downtown Cordon Count 

While Calgarians love their cars, they are also young and highly educated, the ideal demographics for car and bike sharing programs, as well as services like Uber and Lyft (90% of Uber users are 16 to 44 years of age and 80% have a post-secondary degree). 

LInk: Rideshare Passenger Demographics 

Indeed, Calgarians have already demonstrated they love car-sharing with 99,000 car2go members, second only to Vancouver (118,000 members) in North America. 

Perhaps we don’t need to spend billions on Crowchild Trail, but rather fast track bigger and better car-sharing programs and private transportation services like Uber and Lyft?

Last Word 

Maybe it is high time to think outside the car!

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Community Engagement: The Community's Perspective

Over the past few months, I have done a Q&A with Greg Morrow, an urban growth academic at the University of Calgary and Chris Ollenberger, an experienced Calgary developer about Calgary’s community engagement process. To close the circle, I thought a Q&A with a community leader was needed.

Recently, I met with Elise Bieche President of the Highland Park Community Association who has been leading the community’s response to the redevelopment of the Highland Golf Course. I was impressed with her professionalism - no ranting, no name-calling and no unrealistic demands. 

Centre Street is already a busy bus route, in the future it will be home to the new LRT Green Line. 

Centre Street is already a busy bus route, in the future it will be home to the new LRT Green Line. 

Q: What are your biggest frustrations with the City’s current community engagement process?

The fact the engagement process wasn’t lead by the City’s administration from the beginning. The developer “hosted” some engagement sessions, asked for the community’s feedback on two options and then things went really silent for a long time. We learned, after the fact, what the developer submitted to the City didn’t resemble what the community “endorsed.”  Then as the file was being completed to submit it to Planning Commission, the City hosted an “information session.” This gave residents the false belief their feedback would be incorporated into the final submission, but it was too late. 

We were frustrated we were never able to easily access the file as it progressed through the City’s approval process. The community wasn’t treated as a key stakeholder.

Highwood Golf Course tree-lined fairway.

Highwood Golf Course tree-lined fairway.

Q: What changes would you like to see in how the City implements in their engagement process?

I believe the City should own the engagement process from the beginning when big developments are first proposed in established communities. This is a 50-acre site that will radically change our community and the entire north central area of the city over the next 25 years.

I think the City had an obligation to seek feedback from the community early and understand what we valued to ensure the development is complementary to both the topography of the site and existing community. I think the City should be obligated to respect and incorporate the community’s feedback wherever possible.

There needs to be a mechanism in the community engagement process that when major changes have been made to the proposed development after the community has endorsed it, then there must be a re-engagement with the community before it goes to Planning Commission. In our case, the community was presented with slope adaptive buildings, the re-establishment of the buried creek and a density of 1600 in the original plan. All of these were important to the community yet were missing both in the Planning Commission and City Council submissions.

Our community recently participated in a charrette for the Green Line’s 40th Ave North Station (includes the Highland Golf course redevelopment site) organized by the City and lead by Gary Andrishak from IBI’s Los Angeles office. It was very useful. and should be the model for community engagement.

I believe a charrette should be done as early as possible with the community, developer and city to foster a shared vision and key principles to guide major developments in established communities.

Highwood development is closer to downtown than many people think...that is the Bow Tower in the background. 

Highwood development is closer to downtown than many people think...that is the Bow Tower in the background. 

Q: What changes would you recommend to developers in engaging with a community where they are proposing a major new development?

Make sure you are doing genuine engagement. The community is not your enemy; we should and could be your ambassadors. I am positive getting community support early would save the developer and City money not only during the approval process but also as the project is being built.  Don’t think you can “outsmart” the community - be transparent throughout the process.

It’s really important for there to be integrity in the entire planning process. A developer should not present options to a community and then take something completely different to administration. I think developers have an obligation to ensure they aren’t “falsely advertising” something to the community.  

I would highly recommend developers spend more time in the community and get to know the community before they develop their plan. Find out what the issues are and talk to key individuals. 

Old multi-family housing on the west edge of the golf course. 

Old multi-family housing on the west edge of the golf course. 

Q: How do you respond to the claims by some that the Highland Park’s community’s protest to the golf course redevelopment is just another case of NIMBYism? 

If you look closely, our neighbourhood is very much in favour of the development of the golf course. Our community was also in favour of the Centre Street alignment of the Greenline. We just want quality redevelopment.

Volunteers from our community have literally put in thousands of hours on this issue because we learned early on we could not rely on City administration to represent our interests.  Communities are often criticized for being too vehement about their wants and desires, but ultimately the poor engagement process forces communities into this role.

I think the City’s community engagement process fosters NYMBYism by allowing the developer and administration to develop the initial site plan without the community at the table. This means when the draft plan is presented to the community they have a lot of catching up to do and when they question or reject some or the entire proposed plan they are immediately labeled as NYMBYist.   That is not fair.

I also think the planning process shouldn’t be just focused on just the proposed project but should look at it within the context of the entire community. You can’t evaluate a 50-acre site properly without evaluating how the proposed development will impact the pre-existing community.

Q: What advice would you give other Community Associations in established communities facing major developments?

  • Get involved as early as possible in the planning process.
  • Be constructive, reasonable and respectful at all times. 
  • Accept development is going to happen. Taking a position of “no development” is not a reasonable option.
  • Learn as much as you can about the complexities of the City’s development approval process, as well as how the Calgary Municipal Development Plan and Province’s Municipal Government Act apply to the site’s development.
  • Ask lots of questions of your community, the developer and administration.
  • Communicate clearly and concisely.
  • Accept the new development will not right all the wrongs of the past.
  • Be prepared to ensure mistakes of the past aren’t repeated, especially when it comes to green space.
  • Don’t expect City Administration to look after your community’s interests.
  • Be prepared to review and comment on documents on short notice.
  • Foster a good relationship with your Councillor.
Public Welcome?

Public Welcome?

Something To Think About? 

In chatting with Bieche, a couple of new ideas were hatched. What if the City hired third-party professionals to manage all future community engagement so there is no conflict of interests? The City and the developer would share the costs 50/50. Ideally, a standard community engagement protocol should be developed so all communities would be treated equally when a major new development is being proposed.

We also wondered if there may be a role for the Provincial government to play given ultimately some of the development issues are governed by the Municipal Government Act.  Perhaps the funding of the community engagement process then should be a third, a third, a third. Something to think about?

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Condos: If you build them they will come?

Recession, what recession? I can’t believe the number of developers who keep announcing plans for major new condos or are proceeding with development permits applications despite the economic downturn in Calgary’s economy.  It seems that every week a new project is announced.

Ezra condo's construction is moving forward - I was wrong.

This is especially happening in the communities near downtown where the employment population has declined the most, which should result in a decreased demand for City Centre condos. Perhaps condo developers know something I don’t?

I was sure Ezra by Birchwood Properties wouldn’t go ahead in Hillhurst at Riley Park, but I was wrong. It is out of the ground and the site is buzzing with workers.

The same is true for Truman’s Upper West condo on 2nd Ave NW at Crowchild Trail where 3 single-family homes are becoming a 45-unit boutique condo building.

Battisella Developments plans to break ground by the end of year on Ink in East Village with its micro condos i.e. four units at or under 400sf.  

Avli on Atlantic is moving forward in Inglewood while Bucci has broken ground in Bridgeland on their Radius project.

As for Qualex-Landmark they remain bullish on the Beltline, before they finished up Mark on Tenth this summer, they had already started Park Point across from Memorial Park. 

Computer rendering of Ink condo in Calgary's bustling East Village community. 

In October, Wexford Developments and Oxford Properties indicated they had engaged Zeidler Partnership Architects and BKDI Architects to design 37 and 19 storey condo towers (585 condos in total) for the old Calgary Co-op site (the block bounded by 11th and 12th Ave SE and 1st and Centre Streets).

Embassy Bosa is full steam ahead on The Royal condo, which will include a Canadian Tire (second floor) and Urban Fare (street level), making it one of the most complex and ambitious condo projects in Calgary’s history.

And though, the Concord Pacific Development’s uber luxury condo in Eau Claire designed by iconic Canadian architect Arthur Erickson has been struggling since construction began in April 2015 (it was a big hole, with nothing happing this summer) now has a crane on site and a neighbour living in the Princeton next door says, “they are going full-bore, six days a week.”

I couldn’t even finish this column without another project being announced.  Village in Bankview by developer RNDSQR and designed by MoDA architects is at funky 78-unit condo that will have 30 unique floor plans.  It is designed to appeal to empty nesters, young professions, families and those with special accessibility needs; that is why it called Village.

Computer rendering of the proposed Village in Bankview project. 

By The Numbers!

It is not my imagination there is a condo boom in Calgary’s City Centre, CMHC’s stats show 862 new condo unit starts in the first nine months of 2016 – an 87% increase over the same period last year.

Not only were the number of starts impressive but so were the number of completions – 1,786 condo units were completed in the first nine months of 2016. Granted not all of the units are sold, this still means there are probably 2,500 more people living in the City Centre today than there were this time last year.

Outside The City Centre

While the City Centre is hot, condo starts overall in Calgary for the first nine months are down significantly from 4,333 in 2015 (a record year for condo construction city-wide) to 2,882 this year.  However, some recent non City Centre condo development announcements might be an indicator of optimism in 2017.

In September, West Campus Development Trust announced its first two University District residential projects - Ivy by Brookfield Residential and Noble by Truman Homes. And, in October, Calgary Co-op announced it is looking to redevelop its Oakridge site with a new grocery store surrounded by condos. 

Phase One of Park Point is now above ground and construction is on schedule for occupancy summer of 2018. 

Last Word

As 2016 comes to a close, I am cautiously optimistic 2017 will be a turnaround year for Calgary’s economy and I am not alone.  Bruce McKenzie, VP Business Development, NORR architects’ Calgary office recently told me they are busy with “new projects for Truman, Birchwood, Cardel, Cedarglen, Brookfield Residential, Hopewell and others.”

He added, “They are all well financed, strategically located, mostly out of the inner city with at least half are mixed-use mid or high rise projects.”  

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