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

 

 

 

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. 

Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 6.14.39 PM.png
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!

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

A Country Estate Voyeur Adventure

Exploring Phoenix Without A Car?

Phoenix Must See: Wright's Taliesin

Phoenix "Last Chance" Shopping Frenzy!

Public Art: Capturing a sense of time and place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man on the Street (Dublin, Ireland – 1990)

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

Detail of James Joyce statue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shifting Reason (Edinburgh, Scotland – 1997)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murals can be integrated in various ways into urban landscape. 

Murals can be integrated in various ways into urban landscape. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Everyday Tourist Rebuttal

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

Screen Shot 2017-11-15 at 8.54.20 AM.png

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

Close up of Begg's sculpture of Sitting Eagle.

Close up of Begg's sculpture of Sitting Eagle.

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

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

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

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

Dublin Revisited in 36 Postcards

The Famous Five at Olympic Plaza

Stampede Park sculpture becomes family playground

 

Downtown Calgary: Black & White / Inside & Out

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

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

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Calgary vs Nashville: HQ vs SHED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main Street Animation

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

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

Advantage: Nashville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retail

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

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

Advantage Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cultural Centres

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

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

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

Advantage: Nashville

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

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

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

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

Nashville boast a lovely art deco public art gallery. 

Nashville boast a lovely art deco public art gallery. 

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

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

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

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

Hotels/Convention Centre

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

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

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

Advantage: Nashville

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recreation/River/Parks

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

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

Advantage: Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arena/Stadium

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

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

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

Advantage: Tied

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

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

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

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

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

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

Architecture/Urban Design

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

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

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

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

Advantage: Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Living

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

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

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

Advantage: Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's cafe scene. 

Nashville has nothing to match Calgary's cafe scene. 

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

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

Last Word

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

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

Cities can’t be all things to all people.

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

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

Calgary vs Austin vs Portland vs Nashville for Tourist

Calgary vs Seattle: Capturing the tourists' imagination!

Calgary: Off The Beaten Path For Tourists!

 

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

Point Mckay: A Garden Paradise

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Lush garden pathways create pastoral backyards.

Lush garden pathways create pastoral backyards.

Best side yards in Calgary?

Best side yards in Calgary?

City Beautiful Movement

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

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

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

Amenities

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

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

Cottage-like streets are child friendly even without sidewalks. 

Cottage-like streets are child friendly even without sidewalks. 

Backstory:

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

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

A 100 year old show home.....

A 100 year old show home.....

Last Word

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

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

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Calgary: Back Alley Envy?

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

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

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The Red Thread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melbourne’s Laneways

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

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

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

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

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

Melbourne lane way animation. 

Melbourne lane way animation. 

Leipzig, Germany alley animation. 

Leipzig, Germany alley animation. 

Calgary Back Alley Experiments

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

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

Metro Vino back alley entrance.

Metro Vino back alley entrance.

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

Village Ice Cream's parking lot patio. 

Village Ice Cream's parking lot patio. 

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

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

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

Art of Vintage back alley entrance. 

Art of Vintage back alley entrance. 

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Freakn Fun in Freak Alley: Boise

Is Calgary Really Ready For Urban Living?

Calgary: Sitting On The Porch

 

Downtown Calgary: The Elephant In The Room?

While everyone seems to be in shock that Calgary's downtown office vacancy rate its 25%  our downtown still has more occupied office space than Vancouver, Portland or Austin. Cities with vibrant downtowns.  

Do we need to panic? Should we offer incentives for companies to move to Calgary? That is the elephant in the room....

Downtown Calgary's central business district has one of the largest concentrations of office buildings in North America. 

Downtown Calgary's central business district has one of the largest concentrations of office buildings in North America. 

The lights are still on, but is anyone still home in downtown Calgary. 

The lights are still on, but is anyone still home in downtown Calgary. 

SWEET DEALS

In 2001, Chicago got Boeing to move its head office from Seattle with a sweet deal - $60 million in tax breaks and incentives. In 2015, General Electric moves its head office from Fairfield Connecticut to Boston thanks to a whooping $145 million in incentives.

There's a general acknowledgement that tax incentives work. That they are a key tool for getting major corporations to bring business to town. But Calgary hasn't used this economic siren song to lure new business.

Is it time we did? Should we offer huge tax incentives to lure Amazon to downtown Calgary? Do drastic times call for drastic measures?

HERE'S THE PROBLEM

Look downtown and you'll see a whopping 10 million square feet of vacant office space.

It's hard to wrap your head around those kind of numbers, but it's the equivalent of 5,000 empty single-family suburban homes, or 10,000 condos, or about seven Chinook Centres.  Yikes.

Now traditionally, Calgary’s oil and gas sector has absorbed an average of 500,000 square feet of office space per year. So, even when (or if ) we get back to the old normal, it could take well over a decade to fill up the existing vacancy.

That being said, I remember planners and politicians in the mid ‘90s saying, that Calgary had so overbuilt, there would never would never be another new office building built in downtown Calgary again.  They were wrong.  We've added over a dozen new towers since then.

Clearly, we aren’t very good at predicting the future.  

This is an old graphic, but I expect the numbers haven't changed much.     Only 7% of downtown's vacant office space is in C class i.e. older properties with low rent that appeals to start-ups.  The A and AA space (63%) demands higher rents and operating costs that only larger corporation can afford.  They are also owned mostly by pension funds who will be very reluctant to offer big discounts, they would rather be patient and wait for the right long term deal. (credit Colliers: Calgary Office Market Report Q4, 2016)

This is an old graphic, but I expect the numbers haven't changed much.

Only 7% of downtown's vacant office space is in C class i.e. older properties with low rent that appeals to start-ups.  The A and AA space (63%) demands higher rents and operating costs that only larger corporation can afford.  They are also owned mostly by pension funds who will be very reluctant to offer big discounts, they would rather be patient and wait for the right long term deal. (credit Colliers: Calgary Office Market Report Q4, 2016)

ATTRACTING NEW BUSINESS

Over the past year, Calgary Economic Development has hosted numerous Real Estate Advisory Group meetings involving Calgary’s most experienced property owners, managers, leasing professionals and city staff. But where have these meeting got us. 

R. Scott Hutcheson, Executive Chair of the Board of Aspen Properties (which owns several downtown towers, including The Edison aka rebranded Pan Canadian building) is emphatic that “we need both Notley and Nenshi at the table, everybody needs to be working together.”  He adds, “a lot of work has already been done analyzing the situation and looking at many different strategies. We have looked at various case studies like converting office building to residential, but it doesn’t work without some sort of incentives.” 

While he and other downtown building owners won’t say it publically, it is going to take some drastically different thinking (i.e. incentives) to fill up 10,000 million square feet of office space.  

The Alberta government has a poor track record of “meddling” in the economy – failures include MagCan (a magnesium plant), Canadian Commercial Bank, Gainers (a meatpacking plant) and NovaTel (the cellular subsidiary of Alberta Government Telephones). 

In 2005, the City of Edmonton lured Dell to set up a call centre (that would create 1,000 jobs) with a 20-year agreement to waive property taxes, a concession worth $1.1 million over the first five years. The company closed the call centre and left 2008.  

One has to wonder just how wise it is to provide huge incentives to win the Amazon Sweepstakes.

Trevor Tombe, an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Calgary, “cautions governments against using scarce public dollars to try and attract individual businesses. Such incentives distort economic activity, lower our productivity and require tax dollars be levied elsewhere to pay for them. Cities are also particularly ill-equipped to lean against business cycles. We would be better served to focus on neutral policies that improve the city overall: ensuring taxes are competitive, ease zoning rules, and maintaining a highly livable city to attract young and skilled workers.” 

He points to the paper “Head Office Location: Implications for Canada” by Head and Ries at Saunder School of Business, University of British Columbia commissioned by the Government of Canada’s Competitive Policy Review Panel in 2008, where they concluded, “While it may be appealing to offer inducements to attract head offices, there is no compelling case for promotional policies. Subsidies are likely to be counter-productive, since they can be subject to misallocation based on lobbying and they are likely to serve mostly to attract away headquarters from one Canadian city to another Canadian city.”

Link: Calgary Economic Development Report: Calgary's Economy In Depth

Given that 80% of the current vacancy space is less than 15,000 square feet is positive as that is the size of space that "start-ups" in various sectors will be looking for.  (credit Colliers: Calgary Office Market Report Q4, 2016)

Given that 80% of the current vacancy space is less than 15,000 square feet is positive as that is the size of space that "start-ups" in various sectors will be looking for.  (credit Colliers: Calgary Office Market Report Q4, 2016)

DOWNTOWN’S FUTURE

What happens if the oil & gas sector doesn’t come back, how do we back fill 10+ million square feet of office space.  Could downtown Calgary become an “innovation district?”  

Yes, the new buzz term in city-building and economic development is “innovation district” but there is no recipe on how to create one. Most happen organically rather than by design.  Usually, two or more synergistic businesses that are on the cusp of new technology locate near each and become huge successes, so others flock to be near them hoping the success will rub off.  

Could downtown Calgary become a green energy innovation district?  Could Calgary attract major Canadian and international solar and wind energy research companies to locate downtown. In fact, Suncor has operated six wind farms since 2002? Alberta and Calgary is rich in solar and wind power opportunities - could this be our downtown’s future.

A hundred years ago, the Robin Hood Flour Mills dominated the downtown skyline where Gulf Canada Square now stands. Perhaps it isn’t too far fetched to think that in the future the names of our downtown office towers might be Alberta Wind Energy Company or the Calgary Solar Power Corp.  

Downtown's 9th Avenue in the 1970s. 

Downtown's 9th Avenue in the 1970s. 

Last Word

Do we let downtown Calgary evolve naturally based on market demand and entrepreneurial forces? Or do we try to manipulate the office market by providing incentives for select businesses like Amazon?

That is the elephant in the room...

The lights are still on and there are still thousands of businesses calling downtown Calgary home.  In fact, more than in Vancouver, Portland or Austin, which all have thriving downtowns. 

The lights are still on and there are still thousands of businesses calling downtown Calgary home.  In fact, more than in Vancouver, Portland or Austin, which all have thriving downtowns. 

Calgary: East Village Envy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth Is…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the RDCRL?

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

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

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 8.26.45 PM.png

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

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

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

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

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

How has the $357 million been invested to date?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt from CMLC 2017 - 2019 Business Plan.

Excerpt from CMLC 2017 - 2019 Business Plan.

Is $357 million too much?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nenshi’s Cultural Entertainment District Proposal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

East Village: The Lust Of The New Playground

East Village: A Masterpiece In The Making?

Crazy Idea: New Arena In Victoria Park

Calgary's Audacious New Library 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Feasibility?

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

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

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

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

Have Times Changed?

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

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

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

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

Office Conversions Are Difficult

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Criteria For Conversion

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

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

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

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

He indicated the three biggest barriers to conversions are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Buildings Are Not The Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

If you like this blog, checkout these links:

Why Amazon might pick Calgary for HQ2?

Calgary's CBD is unique?

All downtowns must reinvent themselves.

Why Amazon might pick Calgary for HQ2?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can't Imagine A Better Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Picks

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

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

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

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

Link: Amazon- The Canadian Data.

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

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

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

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

Calgary’s Pitch

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

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

Calgary's bike culture dates back to 1869.  

Calgary's bike culture dates back to 1869.  

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

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

Thinking Big

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

Calgary has an ambitious transit vision.

Calgary has an ambitious transit vision.

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

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

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

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

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

Link: Calgary: An Inland Port

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

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

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

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

Calgarians of all ages love to cycle.

Calgarians of all ages love to cycle.

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

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

Young & Active

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes we love our hockey.

Yes we love our hockey.

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

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

Urban Living

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

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

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

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

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

Link: NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here

Link: Beltline: Hipster/GABSTER Capital of North America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Penthouse living....

Penthouse living....

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unique Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada: A Safe Haven?  

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

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

West Village aka Amazon Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

Link: Amazon Request For Proposals

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

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

Must See: cSPACE & I Am Western

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

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

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

Old vs New

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

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

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

Free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hot Tip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marda Loop Farmers' Market fun.

Marda Loop Farmers' Market fun.

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

King Edward Village

Marda Loop Madness

Fun, Funky, Quirky Colorado Springs

 

 

 

 

 

Berlin: East Side Gallery Gong Show

Whenever I tell people we went to Berlin, they always ask what I thought of the Berlin Wall fragments and the East Side Gallery (ESG).  Berlin’s East Side Gallery is a 1.3 km long section of the Berlin Wall that has been preserved as an international memorial celebrating freedom. It is the longest open-air gallery in the world. 

This is the most famous artwork at the ESG...it is not the original. Link:    The Stolen Kiss

This is the most famous artwork at the ESG...it is not the original. Link: The Stolen Kiss

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Must See?

Immediately after the wall came down, in November 1989, hundreds of artists began painting sections of the wall in celebration of their newfound freedom.  The East Side Gallery opened as an open-air gallery on September 28, 1990 featuring the work of 118 artists from 21 different countries.  Today, the wall continues to feature the work of street artists and muralists from around the world. 

Given my interest in graffiti and street art since the mid ‘80s, this was a “must see” for me.  Perhaps my expectations were too high as it was probably the biggest disappointment of my 6-week stay in Berlin.

In a city filled with street art, I was expecting artwork that was provocative, poignant, politically charged. Though some pieces were well executed, most were mediocre, messy and moronic. 

In addition, the area has become a tacky tourist trap with tour groups, buskers, cheesy souvenirs and stupid selfie sticks.  It was a gong show.

Link: East Side Gallery History

The East Side Gallery gong show of people, clutter, construction and fences is not a great experience - IMHO!.

The East Side Gallery gong show of people, clutter, construction and fences is not a great experience - IMHO!.

In a city filled with street art, I was expecting artwork that was provocative, poignant, politically charged. Though some pieces were well executed, most were mediocre, messy and moronic. 

In addition, the area has become a tacky tourist trap with tour groups, buskers, cheesy souvenirs and stupid selfie sticks.  It was a gong show.

Link: East Side Gallery History

Tourists are more interested in selfies than looking at the art.  Perhaps you can't blame them when you have to look through a fence to see the art. 

Tourists are more interested in selfies than looking at the art.  Perhaps you can't blame them when you have to look through a fence to see the art. 

Last Word

Is it only me or does everyone see the irony that the East Side Gallery a remnant of the Berlin Wall which is suppose to be a memorial to freedom actually has a fence around it to protect it from vandals.   

Checkout this photo essay from ESG and let me know what you think or the art and the sense of place.

The ESG is a popular spot for professional photographers and models. 

The ESG is a popular spot for professional photographers and models. 

Across the street is a very loud construction site.  

Across the street is a very loud construction site. 

Public Art? Rocks, Keys, Dog & Bone?

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

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

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

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

Change of heart?

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

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

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

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

Link: CBC: Gateway to the City: Art Installation

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

Blackfoot burial platform

Blackfoot burial platform

Calgary we have a problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNLOCKED 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love interactive public art.

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

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

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

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

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

BONEY 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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