Calgary's Coolest Neighbourhoods: Beltline

Locals and visitors often ask me “what is Calgary’s coolest neighbourhood?” My reply is, “It depends on what you like to do.”  Just for fun I thought I would do a series of blogs on what makes Calgary’s City Centre neighbourhoods (Beltline, Bridgeland, East Village, Eau Claire/Downtown West, Downtown Core, Inglewood, Kensington and Mission) are all cool.

This blog explores the Beltline community. 
  You know a neighbourhood is cool when a church offers services in English, Ethiopian and Hispanic every Sunday and to top it off offers a "New Life Journey" Sunday evening.  

You know a neighbourhood is cool when a church offers services in English, Ethiopian and Hispanic every Sunday and to top it off offers a "New Life Journey" Sunday evening. 

Beltline

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 10.42.41 AM.png

Calgary’s Beltline community boundaries are from the Elbow River west to 14th St SW and from 17th Avenue SW north to the railway tracks.

In reality, it is three distinctly different neighbourhoods – East Beltline (EABE), which includes everything east of 4th Street SW with 1st Street SW as its pedestrian corridor; North Beltline (NOBE), which is the 10th & 11th Avenue SW pedestrian corridor (at one time this area was known as Electric Avenue for all of the bar signage) and South Beltline (SOBE), which is the area next to the 16/17th Avenue SW pedestrian corridor (was nicknamed The Red Mile as ten of thousands of Calgary Flames jersey fans took over the street during the Flames Stanley Cup Playoff run in 2004).

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 10.53.47 AM.png

Festivals/Events

As Stampede Park is within its boundaries, the Beltline could claim everything from Calgary Expo to Calgary Stampede as its signature event.  It doesn’t get much better than that.    

  The Banks of Bow Sculpture, by Bob Spaith and Rich Roenisch at Stampede Park becomes an amazing playground during Stampede. 

The Banks of Bow Sculpture, by Bob Spaith and Rich Roenisch at Stampede Park becomes an amazing playground during Stampede. 

  Only cool neighbourhoods use their back alleys as backyards for parties. 

Only cool neighbourhoods use their back alleys as backyards for parties. 

Shops

  Gravity Pope is bit like an acid trip.  

Gravity Pope is bit like an acid trip. 

Gravity Pope is arguably Calgary’s coolest retail store not only from a design perspective but also for their amazing footwear and fashions.

It is a “must see” for anyone visiting Calgary.

Long-time 17th Ave anchor shops like Reid’s The Stationery Store (this is not your typical stationary store) Rubaiyat (jewellery, art glass, home accessories) and Mona Lisa Artist’s Materials are unique and fun places to browse.  

Mountain Equipment Co-op’s flagship Calgary store at the corner of 10th Ave and 8th St SW has been a citywide destination for decades. Across the street is Atmosphere -another outdoor wear store.

    Metrovino's   front door is in the back alley . 

Metrovino's front door is in the back alley

Cork dorks won’t want to miss Metrovino and its carefully curated selection of wines.  Bonus – double your fun here as it is located at the back of the Cookbook Company retail store with its 2,000+ cookbooks in stock (largest in Western Canada) as well as cookware. 

 

 

The Beltline is also home to some funky designer stores like Roche Bobois, Kit Interior Objects, Shaun Ford & Co. and Chintz & Company flagship store.

    MEC'  s colourful display of canoes in the front window is very cool. 

MEC's colourful display of canoes in the front window is very cool. 

  Every time I go to the    Camera Store    is it has a great buzz...I love this place.

Every time I go to the Camera Store is it has a great buzz...I love this place.

  17th Avenue has some great eye glass shops like Eye Candy and Brass Monocle. 

17th Avenue has some great eye glass shops like Eye Candy and Brass Monocle. 

    Heritage Posters and Music   is a must see for audiophiles. 

Heritage Posters and Music is a must see for audiophiles. 

Cafés

The Beltline is blessed with numerous independent cafés including the iconic Caffe Beano, where artists and hipsters have been hanging out for decades. Other notable cool coffee spots include Kawa Espresso Bar, Analog, Bumpy’s Café and Good Earth Cafe.

  The corner of 7th Ave and 17th St SW is center ice for Calgary's 17th Ave stroll. 

The corner of 7th Ave and 17th St SW is center ice for Calgary's 17th Ave stroll. 

Restaurants

There are a plethora of good restaurants in the Beltline, some of my favourites being Yellow Door (yes, it really does have yellow doors), Foreign Concept and Model Milk for their innovative menus and cool interior design.  Bonterra Trattoria, a traditional favourite has arguably Calgary’s best al fresco patio.  Beltline offers several great pizza parlours – Cibo, Posto Pizzeria and Bar, Una Pizza + Wine.

If you are looking for some late-night dining, Ten Foot Henry is a good bet. The cuisine is “new North American,” i.e. creative, vegetable focused and built for sharing. Currently on their menu is a “Crispy Pickerel” with almond purre, brussel leaves and pickled grapes.

Then there’s a Beltline hidden gem - the Mermaid Inn Restaurant located in the mellow yellow-coloured Danish Canadian Club building built in 1964.  While the club is for members and their guests, they will happily sign you in as a “special guest.”  The food is great as is the price.  Note: it is closed Sundays; the Saturday brunch is outstanding.

  You can't miss The Danish Canadian Club with the Mermaid Inn Restaurant entrance on the side.   

You can't miss The Danish Canadian Club with the Mermaid Inn Restaurant entrance on the side.  

  RE:GRUB's patio shouts out "this is a cool place." 

RE:GRUB's patio shouts out "this is a cool place." 

 Calgarians love their early morning breakfast meetings.  Hommage to Eward Hopper. 

Calgarians love their early morning breakfast meetings.  Hommage to Eward Hopper. 

  Nando's Portuguese restaurant on 17th Ave is like walking into an artwork. 

Nando's Portuguese restaurant on 17th Ave is like walking into an artwork. 

  Tea time in the Beltline is very popular too!

Tea time in the Beltline is very popular too!

Art & Architecture

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 10.24.33 AM.png

The Beltline lays claim to most of Calgary’s major commercial galleries, which are clustered in and around the 700 block of 11th Ave SW. There you will find Herringer Kiss, Paul Kuhn and New Zone Galleries.  Other galleries nearby include Gibson, Lattitude, Gerry Thomas, Trepaneir Baer and Webster Galleries.

Loch Gallery, over on 4th St SW is definitely worth checking out.

And if you are walking by Hotel Arts, pop in and check out the art in the lobby and beyond as there is lots of it and it is very good.  Be sure to look up at the glass installation on the ceiling in the entrance. 

 As for public art, the Beltline’s signature piece is “Calgary Scroll” by David Rokeby, a huge S-curve that spans from one side of the 8th Street underpass to the other looking a bit like a monorail track. 

The “track” is actually an LED screen that displays bits of old Calgary news from the early 20th century that pedestrians can read as they stroll from the Beltline to downtown. 

FEC7ECD8-E5F2-485D-8A62-7DE61B236725.JPG

Or is it “Chinook Arc” by Joe O’Connell and Blessing Hancock in the Barb Scott Park. This is an interactive, illuminated sculpture that glows in the dark.  The shape was inspired in part by the Beltline street cars and Chinook arch cloud formation that periodically forms in the Calgary sky.

A mural program was launched in 2017 at various locations on the sides of buildings and in alleys with several more murals to be completed in 2018.

Beltline is home to the new Decidedly Jazz Dance Centre that includes dance studios and offices as well as 230-seat space for performances.  DJD’s performances are nothing but cool and at night, you can check out the colourful mural of dancers that adorns the rooftop of the building.

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 10.17.00 AM.png

In 2005, the 1911, Tuscan style Wesley United Church was converted into the Calgary Opera Centre (now called the Arrata Opera Centre).

It is used for rehearsals, wardrobe shop, education programs, offices and even the occasional performance by Calgary Opera.

When it comes to architecture the Memorial Park Library is a “must see.”  This majestic Edwardian Classicism building opened in 1912 and is surrounded by a lovely, two-hectare park/garden. It is one of 150 libraries built in Canada with funding from the American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and is still a functioning library so be sure to go inside.

When it comes to modern architecture, the Beltline is home to several new condo towers, with Mark on 10th being perhaps the most distinguished with its playful use of a yellow tinted glass atrium at the corner to the pastel-coloured panels on the exterior that draw the eye up to the roof-top resident lounge projecting over the edge of the building.  

 Calgary is known as the "Sandstone City" for its many early 20th Century sandstone churches, schools and library, many of which are located in the Beltline. Calgary Collegiate Institute was built in 1908 (903 13th Ave SW).

Calgary is known as the "Sandstone City" for its many early 20th Century sandstone churches, schools and library, many of which are located in the Beltline. Calgary Collegiate Institute was built in 1908 (903 13th Ave SW).

  Grace Presbyterian Church, 1009 15th Ave SW.

Grace Presbyterian Church, 1009 15th Ave SW.

  Walk inside Chinook Arc an interactive, illuminated sculpture by Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock and you get a cool perspective on NORR architects Aura Tower condo.

Walk inside Chinook Arc an interactive, illuminated sculpture by Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock and you get a cool perspective on NORR architects Aura Tower condo.

  Palliser South is a funky new office tower that is cantilevered over top of an old parkade to create a unique shape.  

Palliser South is a funky new office tower that is cantilevered over top of an old parkade to create a unique shape.  

Parks/Plaza/Pathways

The Beltline is blessed with three historic urban parks - Lougheed House and Beaulieu Gardens (1891), Central Memorial Park (1912) and Tomkins Park (1915).  It is also home to a new urban dog park in Connaught Park, the new Barb Scott Park and the brand new Thomson Family Park, the latter replacing the Calgary Lawn Bowling club facility.

The Beltline is part of Calgary’s City Centre Cycle Track program with a dedicated bike lane along 12th Avenue, from 11th St SW to 4th St SE and 5th Street from 3rd Ave SW to 17th Ave SW.

  As you walk along the Beltline's 13th Ave, you would never know that you are in the middle a dense high-rise community as the streets have a lovely tree canopy that make them pedestrian friendly.  

As you walk along the Beltline's 13th Ave, you would never know that you are in the middle a dense high-rise community as the streets have a lovely tree canopy that make them pedestrian friendly.  

  Speaking of streets, while wandering the Beltline be sure to keep your eye out for fun sidewalk stamps like this one from 1909. 

Speaking of streets, while wandering the Beltline be sure to keep your eye out for fun sidewalk stamps like this one from 1909. 

  Memorial Park is Calgary's oldest park, recent renovations added this playful fountain, a restaurant and more seating.  

Memorial Park is Calgary's oldest park, recent renovations added this playful fountain, a restaurant and more seating. 

  Who says families don't live in the City Centre. Haultain park's playground, playing field and tennis courts are well used by all ages.

Who says families don't live in the City Centre. Haultain park's playground, playing field and tennis courts are well used by all ages.

  Humans and canines both enjoy the Beltline's mini dog park. 

Humans and canines both enjoy the Beltline's mini dog park. 

Fitness/Recreation

The Beltline lays claim to the oldest the oldest purpose-built social service building in Calgary - the Beltline Y.W.C.A. opening in 1911.  Today, the Beltline Aquatic and Fitness Centre (its current name) is a busy place as over 23,000 people live close by.  Two other major fitness centers include Heaven’s Fitness and Yoga Passage. There is also a winter skating rink at the new Thomson Family Park.

  The lawn behind the Lougheed House makes for perfect playing field. 

The lawn behind the Lougheed House makes for perfect playing field. 

  In the winter this same space becomes a curling rink for the Beltline Bonspiel. (photo credit: Lougheed House)

In the winter this same space becomes a curling rink for the Beltline Bonspiel. (photo credit: Lougheed House)

Pubs & Clubs

The Ship & Anchor is Calgary’s iconic pub. Even in the middle of winter its sunny patio can be packed with hipsters enjoying Calgary’s brilliant winter sunshine.  On weekend mornings it becomes a popular spot for soccer fans to congregate while the Saturday afternoon jams are packed with Yuppies.  A close second would be the Rose & Crown pub on 4th.

If your idea of a good time is sampling beer (and whose isn’t) you have to visit Craft Beer Market’s original beer hall with its 100+ beers on tap.  Or, visit Trolley 5 Brewery Restaurant where the 400 seats await you to try out their craft beer brewed on site.

If live music is your thing, a good bet would be Broken City and Hifi Club who have both been hosting live music since 2004 and 2005 respectfully. While Mikey’s on 12th is a new location, Mikey has been curating live music shows for decades and his Saturday afternoon blues jam is very popular with locals.

  17th Avenue becomes a beer garden in the summer with its numerous patios.

17th Avenue becomes a beer garden in the summer with its numerous patios.

Fun/Funky/Quirky 

Enjoying a couple of maple bacon doughnuts at Jelly Modern Doughnuts (you can’t eat just one) is perhaps the quintessential FFQ Beltline experience.  Or, is it enjoying an “A-bomb” hot dog at Tubby Dog at 2 am?

Some might even say it doesn’t get any cooler than enjoying an ice cream cone at the Beltline’s two signature ice cream parlours - Made by Marcus or Village Ice Cream -when it’s -30C outside.

  Tubby Dog is also Tubby arcade...how quirky is that?

Tubby Dog is also Tubby arcade...how quirky is that?

  On an early February, Tuesday afternoon there were half a dozen people enjoying some Marcus ice cream. 

On an early February, Tuesday afternoon there were half a dozen people enjoying some Marcus ice cream. 

  It doesn't get much quirkier than the Beltline's "Happy Together" Convenience & Grocery Store.  

It doesn't get much quirkier than the Beltline's "Happy Together" Convenience & Grocery Store. 

  You will also find some funky fashions on the streets of the Beltline.

You will also find some funky fashions on the streets of the Beltline.

  Hand Signals is a fun piece of public art by Derek Besant. It spells out the word DREAM. You will find it on 4th Avenue between 14th and 15th St SW.

Hand Signals is a fun piece of public art by Derek Besant. It spells out the word DREAM. You will find it on 4th Avenue between 14th and 15th St SW.

Last Word

Even the Beltline’s name is cool.  It is named after the Calgary Municipal Railway’s Route #5 that was nicknamed the “belt line” as its route used to wind its way back and forth from 17th Ave SW to downtown like a conveyor belt in a manufacturing plant.

I have only scratched the surface of the cool things to see and do in the Beltline. 

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

Calgary: Beautifying The Beltline

Beltline: North America's Best Hipster/GABEster Community

11th Street SW is Calgary's Green Street

Augusta National Is Bootylicious?

Yes, bootylicious is the word that best describes Augusta National Golf Course, with its fairways and greens having the bumps and curves of a voluptuous woman.  While spectators (oops patrons) like me couldn’t get on the greens, you could tell they were as smooth as the skin of a Paris model.  In addition, the golf course has had more “facelifts” than an aging movie star.

  Lipstick on the collar...

Lipstick on the collar...

Augusta is well-manicured, even the pine needles under the trees have been combed so they are neat and tidy. The reds and pinks of the flowers resemble the lipsticks found in an upscale cosmetic boutique.

The untouched white sand traps that dot the fairways and guard the greens look ornamental, like a broach or necklace.  The smooth mirror-like ponds add a definite narcissistic element to the golf course.

  The greens are well guarded by huge bunkers. 

The greens are well guarded by huge bunkers. 

Vixen or Siren?

Some might even call Augusta a vixen, with holes that can be both seductive and ill-tempered. Others might say she is a siren for her seductive beauty that entices men to go for shots they shouldn’t. 

  The fairways are generous but there are few flat spots. 

The fairways are generous but there are few flat spots. 

Bikini-waxed?

In 1994, pro golfer and CBS commentator Garry McCord got banned from Augusta for saying “Augusta's 17th green was so fast it could have been bikini-waxed.” Ironically, when I first arrived and walked on the fairways they looked and felt like artificial turf so I immediately reached down to feel the grass. Indeed, it had a very waxy, plastic feel.  McCord’s comment rang true to me.

After spending a day at Augusta National for a practice round and then watching The Masters the next weekend I have a much greater appreciation for the sensuality and seductiveness of the golf course.  Augusta is drop-dead gorgeous; definitely eye-candy.   

I expect I too will be banned for life, if any of the Board Members read this blog.

  Augusta National is drop dead gorgeous. 

Augusta National is drop dead gorgeous. 

Practice Round Surprises

The crowd was overwhelming for me; it was like Disneyland for golfers. It took me awhile to get use to the masses of people swarming everywhere (40,000 I think).  I found it difficult to really appreciate the course with so many people on it. 

I also found it hard to appreciate the fairways looking at them from the sides. To me you have to walk down the middle of the fairways and onto the greens to really understand the golf course terrain.

Unlike a tournament day where most patrons would sit and watch, on practice days it is chaos as people walk all over the golf course. The same was true of the players - they wandered all over the course hitting balls from different spots on the fairway and greens. 

There wasn’t the intensity I expected - I saw players bouncing balls up and down off their club as then walked down the fairway.  For me there was more intensity on the driving range as players worked with their coaches on their swing. I was also intrigued by all the swing aides used on the driving range and putting green. 

The pro shop was an amazing experience.  Patrons were herded through a maze to get into the shop as they control how many people are inside at any one time.  Once in, it is a feeding frenzy as people are literally running around grabbing things and throwing them into their shopping bags.  I heard the average person spends $700 US buying hats, shirts, balls etc etc etc., which means the course takes in about $25 million per day just in souvenirs. 

  There are patrons everywhere...

There are patrons everywhere...

  It just another tournament?

It just another tournament?

Practice Makes Perfect

I watched several of the players routinely miss 4 footers on the practice green. I didn’t see anyone sink 10 in a row like you often see on TV. I would also say most of the players spent little time on the chipping area, which surprised me.

While I knew the rough was short at Augusta I was surprised at how little difference there is and that is what makes the fairways look so wide open. 

I was also surprised that the shots off the tee boxes are not as narrow as they look on TV. Jordan Spieth might not agree with me.

However, the elevation changes along the fairways and into the greens are more severe than what you see on TV. I tried to capture the changes on camera but could not.

And don’t let them tell you how hard it is to hit off the pine needles under the trees! They have been raked and cleaned so that golfers are almost guaranteed a good lie.  As well, the lower tree branches have been cut to allow room for a good swing. 

  I was impressed that Jordan carried his own balls to the driving range. He was one of the few players who hit two bags of balls.

I was impressed that Jordan carried his own balls to the driving range. He was one of the few players who hit two bags of balls.

  The elevation changes are gradual rather than dramatic.

The elevation changes are gradual rather than dramatic.

  My biggest surprise was how the fairway grass looks and feels like artificial turf -  so green and dense like nothing I have seen before.  Perhaps that is because there are never any golf carts on the course, very limited play and heavy use of herbicides and pesticides. The rough is on the left side.

My biggest surprise was how the fairway grass looks and feels like artificial turf -  so green and dense like nothing I have seen before.  Perhaps that is because there are never any golf carts on the course, very limited play and heavy use of herbicides and pesticides. The rough is on the left side.

  The pine needles under the trees is carefully groomed as are the lower branches. 

The pine needles under the trees is carefully groomed as are the lower branches. 

  Another use for your Sharpie.

Another use for your Sharpie.

  They definitely take their putting seriously. 

They definitely take their putting seriously. 

  Nobody is smiling for the camera.

Nobody is smiling for the camera.

  Three hands are better than two.

Three hands are better than two.

  Jordan having fun with Rickie on the range...

Jordan having fun with Rickie on the range...

Cemetery Corner

Amen Corner is just as pretty as it looks on TV.  I found out it used to be called Water Loop, before the term Amen Corner was coined.  I am thinking a better term might be Cemetery Corner as it is where many a golfer’s dream of winning The Masters dies. All the beautiful flowers reminded me of a funeral home.

FYI. The $1.50 pimento cheese sandwiches are disgusting and unless you have a special pass the best you can do is cafeteria food.

  Funeral flowers?

Funeral flowers?

  Yucky!

Yucky!

Media Slut

The strangest experience I had was, while standing on the 18th fairway watching Tiger, Phil and Freddie walk by I heard the camera guy in front of me say “We’ve got this shot. Now, let’s get some footage of the flowers.” I asked “Do you have a secret spot? I love flowers.” Then another guy behind me says “Can I chat with you?” I hadn’t realized it was a local TV crew doing a story about the flowers at Augusta. I ended up doing an interview.  Once a media slut, always a media slut.

The most unique experience was having an Augusta member (yes, one of those guys in the infamous green jackets) kindly ask me, “Do you want me to take a picture of you?”  I happened to be taking a picture the Eisenhower cabin (one of several houses on the course, this one was where President Eisenhower stayed when he played Augusta) and he saw me and thought I’d probably like a selfie.

There are no cell phones allowed on the course and taking a selfie with a camera isn’t easy. Though not a big a fan of getting my picture taken, it was kinda cool to be asked by an Augusta Member to take your picture. We chatted a bit, he told me that normally going even on the front yard is out of bounds for the patrons, yet he allowed me to go up to the porch.

  Me toasting August National and The Masters at Eisenhower Cabin, thanks to a member.

Me toasting August National and The Masters at Eisenhower Cabin, thanks to a member.

Happy Place...

I should also mention there were many young people in green golf shirts asking if we were having a good time. Indeed, for one week of the year, Augusta is a welcoming place for those lucky enough to win the lottery.  Yes, they hold a lottery to issue tickets to the public each year. 

I would like to thank my golf buddy RS who won the lottery last year and asked me if I wanted to join him and two other buddies from our home course Redwood Golf and Country Club. It was definitely an experience of a lifetime for me, although RS only ranked it #4 of his lifetime golf experiences. 

  Rory McIlroy spent a long time signing autographs.   

Rory McIlroy spent a long time signing autographs.  

  One happy patron...

One happy patron...

  Another successful Masters....

Another successful Masters....

Golf Lesson Learned

Forget the drives; forget the putting. I am going to work on my swagger this year. All of the young players have very cocky, confident swagger as they move around the golf course.  It has got to be easier than trying to emulate their swings.  Isn’t golf a game of confidence?

Last Word

On the back of my day pass, I noticed a quote from Bobby Jones co-founder of Augusta National that reads “In golf, customs of etiquette and decorum are just as important as rules governing play. It is appropriate for spectators to applaud strokes in proportion to difficulty but excess demonstration by a player or his partisans are not proper because of the possible effect upon other competitors.” 

So, if the term “spectators” is good enough for Jones, I wonder why the Augusta Board demand they be called “patrons.”  

  Everyone gets a guide to the golf course and history when you enter. Why don't they call it the PATRON GUIDE?

Everyone gets a guide to the golf course and history when you enter. Why don't they call it the PATRON GUIDE?

Downtown Living Is Cooler Than You Think!

Downtown Calgary ‘flies under the radar” for most Calgarians when is comes to being a place to live.  However, that is not true for the 9,000 people who live in what the City of Calgary calls the “Downtown Commercial Core” (i.e. from 3rd St SE to 9th St SW and from 9th Ave to 4th Ave SW.

  Anthem Properties' Waterfront project one of several new luxury condo projects built over the past 10+ years in downtown Calgary along the south shore of the Bow River. 

Anthem Properties' Waterfront project one of several new luxury condo projects built over the past 10+ years in downtown Calgary along the south shore of the Bow River. 

  It doesn't get any nicer than strolling along the Eau Claire Promenade which is part of the Bow River Pathway that extends on both side of the river from one end of downtown to the other . 

It doesn't get any nicer than strolling along the Eau Claire Promenade which is part of the Bow River Pathway that extends on both side of the river from one end of downtown to the other

Screen Shot 2018-04-09 at 4.47.32 PM.png

Downtown vs Beltline

While the Beltline, Bridgeland, Inglewood and Kensington get all the attention as Calgary’s urban living hot spots, when you combine Downtown West End, Commercial Core, Downtown East Village (the City’s official names for these three communities), Eau Claire and Chinatown (together they are roughly the same geographical size as the Beltline) there are over 18,000 people living downtown vs. Beltline’s 21,357 and Hillhurst/Sunnyside’s 10,345). 

While downtown's shiny office towers get all the attention – good and bad – downtown (using the broader boundaries) is definitely a cool place to live.

Here’s why!

  Olympic Plaza is a great spot to sit and watch the world go by or chat with a friend.  Downtown has some amazing public spaces. 

Olympic Plaza is a great spot to sit and watch the world go by or chat with a friend.  Downtown has some amazing public spaces. 

  Hotchkiss Gardens is also a fun place to sit and chat with friends.

Hotchkiss Gardens is also a fun place to sit and chat with friends.

  Chinatown is a   fun place to shop for groceries.

Chinatown is a fun place to shop for groceries.

  Shaw Millennium Park provides not only a unique view of downtown, but also unique recreational and entertainment experiences. 

Shaw Millennium Park provides not only a unique view of downtown, but also unique recreational and entertainment experiences. 

Festivals/Events

There is a festival or major event in downtown almost every weekend. Everything from the High Performance Rodeo to major international festivals (Children, Film, Folk and SLED) Downtown also hosts Calgary’s largest single day event - The Calgary Stampede Parade the first Friday every July. 

Major outdoor concerts and music festivals also happen at Shaw Millennium Park and Fort Calgary Park every summer.

  The Calgary International Folk Festival is just one of the many festivals that take place on Prince's Island. 

The Calgary International Folk Festival is just one of the many festivals that take place on Prince's Island. 

Shops

An amazing diversity of shopping opportunities exists in Downtown – department stores (Hudson’s Bay, Simons and Holt Renfrew) to the uber chic Core and grassroots Chinatown.

In addition there are shop at Bankers Hall, Scotia Centre and Bow Valley Square.  Calgary’s downtown shopping not only surpasses anything Portland, Nashville or Austin have, but also rivals Calgary’s Chinook Centre (one of Canada’s top malls).

There are also off-the-beaten path shops like Map World with its incredible collection of wall maps, globes, travel and topographical maps.  Or, if you are into fly-fishing, Hanson’s Fishing Outfitters in the Grain Exchange building has everything you might need. Bonus: you can walk from Hanson’s to fish in the Bow River in just a few minutes.  How cool is that?

  The Core is an amazing shopping experience with 3 floors of shops, 4th floor food court and links to shopping at Holt Renfrew, Hudson's Bay, Simons and Bankers Hall. Imagine having this in your backyard!

The Core is an amazing shopping experience with 3 floors of shops, 4th floor food court and links to shopping at Holt Renfrew, Hudson's Bay, Simons and Bankers Hall. Imagine having this in your backyard!

 Holt Renfew offers an upscale shopping experience. 

Holt Renfew offers an upscale shopping experience. 

  Power hour on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Power hour on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Cafe Culture

Downtown Calgary is blessed with an amazing array of coffeehouses. Alforno Café and Bakery is arguably Calgary’s coolest café. Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters has two locations Simmons Building and on Stephen Avenue.  Calgary based, Good Earth Café also has two locations Eau Claire Market and 7th Avenue at 5th Street. Caffe Artigiano has two locations along Barclay Mall. Calgary’s Monogram Coffee can be found in Fifth Avenue Place.  

Downtown also has a very unique Starbucks in Eighth Avenue Place with its  minimalist open design with long communal tables rather than individual small tables for two and four. 

  Simmons building is a popular meeting spot on the weekends as it is right on the Riverwalk which is part of the Bow River pathway system.

Simmons building is a popular meeting spot on the weekends as it is right on the Riverwalk which is part of the Bow River pathway system.

  Downtown is full of fun surprises like these bike cafes.  How cool is that?

Downtown is full of fun surprises like these bike cafes.  How cool is that?

Restaurants

Downtown Calgary offers both high and lowbrow dining.  It includes four signature Calgary restaurants, the rustic River Café, classic Teatros, Murietta’s West Coast Bar & Grill, and Sky 360, the revolving restaurant at the top of the Calgary Tower.  The new kid on the block is Charbar in the Simmons Building, its roof-top patio offers spectacular views of the Bow River and RiverWalk.

There is a kaleidoscope of ethnic restaurants downtown, Anatolia (Turkish), Atlas (Persian), Jonas (Hungarian), Pure Contemporary Vietnamese Kitchen + Bar to name just four.  And of course, there is no shortage of Asian restaurants in Chinatown. 

If you love Alberta beef, downtown offers five signature steakhouses – Buchanan’s, Caesar’s, Hy’s, The Keg and Saltlik.  Buchanan’s Chop House is known not only for food, but for its its selection of more than 300 malt whiskeys from around the world.

The Fairmont Palliser offers a themed afternoon tea by reservation.  The theme at the time of this blog posting was a Mad Hatter Tea Party that included Tweeledum Tweedeldee Yuzu tarts and Queen of Hearts red velvet cupcakes – very cool.

John Gilchrist, Calgary’s renowned food and restaurant critic has called downtown’s Stephen Avenue Walk one of the best restaurant rows in Canada. 

  The Guild on Stephen Avenue Walk brings the cooking to the street.

The Guild on Stephen Avenue Walk brings the cooking to the street.

  Stephen Avenue is chock-a-block full of patios.

Stephen Avenue is chock-a-block full of patios.

  Charbar's roof top patio overs great views of the Bow River and downtown skyline.

Charbar's roof top patio overs great views of the Bow River and downtown skyline.

Art/Architecture

There area few places in Canada let alone Calgary that can match downtown for its combination of architecture and public art all within a few blocks of each other.  From the historic sandstone buildings (old City Hall and McDougall Centre) to the glittering glass office towers (Bow Tower, Eighth Avenue Place, Nexen Tower and 505 7th Avenue) to the three iconic bridges (Peace, King and Centre Street) and the National Music Centre. 

Coming soon are two new architectural gems – the new Calgary Public Library and Telus Sky office/residential tower. The Library was designed by internationally renowned architectural firm, Snohetta from Oslo while Telus Sky’s was designed by the esteemed Bjarke Ingels Group from Copenhagen. 

Downtown has literally hundreds of artworks along its streets, in its parks and plazas and along its pathways.  You could easily stroll around downtown all say enjoying the art - from the Famous Five tea party at Olympic Plaza to the Wonderland on the Bow Tower plaza to the Conversation on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Did you know that there are artworks in almost every downtown office lobby?  The Eighth Avenue Place lobby includes works of renowned Canadian painters Jean Paul Riopelle and Jack Shadbolt.  There are also some fun contemporary paintings in relatively new Calgary Centre office tower.

Downtown Calgary is one huge public art gallery waiting to be discovered.

 The Chinese Community Centre is a downtown hidden gem.

The Chinese Community Centre is a downtown hidden gem.

  I always smile when I flaneur past Sadko & Kabuki by Sorrel Etrog.  Public art like this adds a nice element of fun and colour to downtown living. 

I always smile when I flaneur past Sadko & Kabuki by Sorrel Etrog.  Public art like this adds a nice element of fun and colour to downtown living. 

  Calgary Tower and Scotia Centre take on a Salvador Dali-like metamorphosis when reflected in the glass facade of another building. 

Calgary Tower and Scotia Centre take on a Salvador Dali-like metamorphosis when reflected in the glass facade of another building. 

  Tea Time in downtown takes on a different meaning at the Famous Five sculpture.

Tea Time in downtown takes on a different meaning at the Famous Five sculpture.

  Downtown's urbanscape, a rich collage of public art, heritage and modern architecture, makes for a very pedestrian-friendly experience. 

Downtown's urbanscape, a rich collage of public art, heritage and modern architecture, makes for a very pedestrian-friendly experience. 

  The lobbies of most downtown office buildings are like mini art galleries.  

The lobbies of most downtown office buildings are like mini art galleries.  

Parks/Plazas/Pathways

Calgary’s downtown is also blessed with some of the best public spaces of any city its size and age in North America.  Any city would be hard pressed to match Prince’s Island (one of the best festival sites in Canada) and St. Patrick’s Island parks.

Add Shaw Millennium Park and Fort Calgary Park to the mix and you have four major downtown urban parks. Let’s not forget about Century (soon to get a mega makeover), Devonian and Hotchkiss Gardens, as well as James Short, McDougall and Sein Lok Parks. Impressive!

Downtown also boasts Eau Claire and Olympic Plaza, both with wadding pools in the summer, with the latter becoming a skating rink in the winter.

As for pathways, downtown offers easy access to people of all ages wanting to walk, run, board, blade or bike along the Bow River pathways.  In addition, there is the a-mazing 20 km +15 elevated walkway.

  St. Patrick's Island is a special place for families. 

St. Patrick's Island is a special place for families. 

  The Eau Claire wading pool is also popular for young families. 

The Eau Claire wading pool is also popular for young families. 

  The nature walk at the east end of Prince's Island is lovely oasis as well as educational. 

The nature walk at the east end of Prince's Island is lovely oasis as well as educational. 

  Downtown is a place where you can lie back and relax.

Downtown is a place where you can lie back and relax.

  The +15 walkway is the perfect place to bump into someone you haven't seen for years.  

The +15 walkway is the perfect place to bump into someone you haven't seen for years.  

Fitness/Recreation

The Eau Claire Y has been a very popular family fitness center for decades.  Its proximity to the Eau Claire Promenade and Bow River pathway system has resulted in creating a busy year-round outdoor running track.

Downtown also has several private fitness centres – Bankers Hall, Bow Valley Club and two Good Life Fitness Centres (including one in the historic 1931 Bank of Montreal building with its gold leaf ceiling on Stephen Avenue).

  Downtown is a great place to walk, run, cycle or just sit.

Downtown is a great place to walk, run, cycle or just sit.

  Stephen Avenue, downtown's Main Street is full of fun surprises. 

Stephen Avenue, downtown's Main Street is full of fun surprises. 

Culture/Nightlife

Downtown Calgary is home to Arts Commons with its 3,200 seats in five performing art spaces, as well as the Theatre Junction Grand, Palace Theatre, Lunchbox Theatre, Vertigo Theatre (two spaces). If you stretch the boundaries a bit, there is also the Pumphouse Theatre way on the west side.  It is also home to the Globe Theatre and Cineplex Odeon Eau Claire for movie buffs. 

Live music venues include The Palomino Smokehouse and Dickens Pub, as well as three churches – Knox United, Anglican Church of the Redeemer and Central United Church.

Downtown also is home to The Glenbow Museum, National Music Centre, Fort Calgary and Contemporary Calgary, as well as several private art galleries.

Culture vultures love living downtown as theatre, concerts and exhibitions are all within easy walking distance.

  Downtown offers a variety of nightlife options. 

Downtown offers a variety of nightlife options. 

Pubs/Beer/Spirits

The James Joyce pub on Stephen Avenue is downtown’s quintessential pub, followed closely by Dickens, Fionn MacCool’s, Garage Sports Bar and Unicorn. In the summer the patios along Stephen Avenue Walk create one long beer garden.

Downtown is home to Calgary Co-op’s World of Whiskey Store with its 850 different varieties of whiskey.  It is located on the +15 level at 333-5th Avenue SW.  In East Village’s N3 condo, the Brewer’s Apprentice offers up 48 craft brews. Not only can you sample a few, but you can take home a freshly poured growler or crowler of your favourites.

I recently heard Caesar’s Lounge described as nearest thing to time travel in Calgary – think Mad Men. This family-owned Calgary institution hasn’t changed since it opened in 1972.  It is known for its “Emperor” size cocktails, i.e. 3oz of your favourite spirits.

  Downtown's East Village is undergoing a mega makeover designed to create a vibrant urban village for 10,000+ people. 

Downtown's East Village is undergoing a mega makeover designed to create a vibrant urban village for 10,000+ people. 

Fun/Funky/Quirky (FFQ) Factor

For some, POW (Parade of Wonders) is the best FFQ event in Calgary.  Every spring as part of Calgary Expo, hundreds of Calgarians of all ages get dressed up in their favourite fantasy character and parade from Eau Claire to Olympic Plaza.  It is literally a sea of vibrant colours and characters.

For others, Calgary’s Gay Pride Parade each August ranks as the best FFQ event in the City. It attracts thousands of colourful participants and tens of thousands of spectators. 

Downtown Calgary’s “Power Hour” (term coined by a former downtown Hudson’s Bay department store manager in the mid ‘90s for the thousands of downtown workers who power shop at noon hour) is like a parade as tens of thousands downtown workers parade up and down Stephen Avenue.

It doesn’t get much quirkier than having an authentic bush plane hanging from the ceiling in the lobby of the Suncor Centre.  Or does it? The Udderly Art Pasture on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade is definitely FFQ.  Here you will find a herd (10) of life-size cows with names like Chew-Choo or Moony Trader who have been put out to pasture.

  Everybody loves a parade...this is the annual POW Parade.

Everybody loves a parade...this is the annual POW Parade.

Last Word

Downtown Calgary is a hidden gem when it comes to urban living and it is only going to get better with several new residential developments in East Village, Telus Sky and the new West Village towers under construction. 

I can’t wait to see the “Northern Lights” light show on the façade of Telus Sky developed by Canadian artist, Douglas Coupland.  I have been advocating a Northern Lights inspired light show for a downtown office building for over 20 years.

  The new Vogue condo is located right in heart of downtown's commercial core.

The new Vogue condo is located right in heart of downtown's commercial core.

 Cidex Group of Companies is currently constructing the first tower of their ambitious West Village Towers project designed by NORR's Calgary and Dubai offices. 

Cidex Group of Companies is currently constructing the first tower of their ambitious West Village Towers project designed by NORR's Calgary and Dubai offices. 

Note: This is the second in a series of blogs examining what makes Calgary’s City Centre neighbourhoods so cool.

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

Calgary's Downtown Power Hour

Downtown Calgary Glows With Fun

Downtown Calgary puts the PARK in parkades

Old Course St. Andrews vs Augusta National Golf Club

At first glance you probably couldn’t get two golf courses more different than the raw, rustic (almost primal) Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland (the birthplace of golf) and the pristine, pastoral Augusta National Golf course, in Augusta, Georgia.

After attending a practice round for this year’s Masters Tournament, hosted every year at Augusta National, I thought it would be fun to compare and contrast the two most famous golf courses in the world. I played the Old Course at St. Andrews back in 2007.

  Reflections at Augusta

Reflections at Augusta

Perhaps the biggest link between the two courses is the fact they each host one of the most prestigious golf tournaments in the world – the Masters and The Open Championship. For non-golfers The Open Championship is sometimes called The British Open to distinguish it from tournaments like the US Open and Canadian Open.  The Old Course at St. Andrews hosts The Open Championship in a rotation with other several other British courses, while The Masters is always hosted at Augusta National Golf Course.

  Memories of the Old Course, St. Andrews

Memories of the Old Course, St. Andrews

Public vs Private

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two courses is you can play the Old Course as it is a public course (you do have to have an authorized handicap under 24 for men and 36 for women) and you can’t play Augusta. In fact, the Old Course is built on common land held in trust by The St. Andrews Link Trust under an act of Parliament. Along with tee times for the general public, several golf club members also have playing privileges including the oldest and most renowned club, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.

Augusta National is very exclusive members-only club.  You can only play if you are invited -good luck with that! They are very protective of who is a member as membership is by invitation only. No official list of the membership is published and the criteria for membership is not known. It said “if you have to ask, the answer is no.” 

  On Sundays The Old Course becomes a public park.  Families love to have a picnic and play on the course which has the best sand boxes. 

On Sundays The Old Course becomes a public park.  Families love to have a picnic and play on the course which has the best sand boxes. 

What’s In A Name?

The most obvious link (pun intended) between the two courses is the #10 hole at The Old Course is named for Bobby Jones, who was not only the best golfer of his time, but the co-designer of Augusta National.  

The first time Jones played The Open Championship at the Old Course, he ended up in the infamous Hell Bunker on the 11th hole during his first round and took four shots to get out. Some say he ripped up his scorecard immediately; others say he simply just didn’t turn in his scorecard - either way, he disqualified himself. 

He returned a few years later to win The Open Championship and over time, The Old Course became his favourite course. He has been quoted as saying “if I could only play one course for the rest of my life it would be The Old Course.”  

Many have said The Old Course is “an acquired taste, like a good whiskey.”
  Hole names at Augusta National Golf Course. 

Hole names at Augusta National Golf Course. 

Another link between the two golf courses is that all of the holes have names.

In the case of Augusta each is named after a flower, while The Old Course hole names have no theme, some are descriptive e.g. the Road Hole is played to a green by the road.  

The 18th hole, is named after Tom Morris are in recognition of the famous greenskeeper, club maker and four time Open Champion. 

At The Old Course, each of the 112 bunkers (sand traps) also have a name, while that isn’t the case for Augusta.  Personally, I love the names of the Old Course bunkers eg. Principal’s Nose (#16). I wish naming holes and bunkers was a more common practice at more golf courses.

  Hole names, St. Andrews Old Course

Hole names, St. Andrews Old Course

Religious Experience

  Hell Bunker, on the treeless, Old Course, St. Andrews

Hell Bunker, on the treeless, Old Course, St. Andrews

The most famous bunker at The Old Course is aptly called “Hell Bunker” because it is 10 feet deep. You can almost see “hell” from the bottom and often the word “hell” is often heard coming from down below. 

Not only was it the demise of Bobby Jones’ first Open Championship, but in 1995 Jack Nicklaus took five attempts “to get out of hell.” 

Another religious reference at The Old Course is the depression at the front of the 18th green called the “Valley of Sin,” which has punished more than one pro golfer trying to win The Open Championship and many amateurs. 

A third link with religion at The Old Course is the fact it was Archbishop John Hamilton, in 1552 AD who gave the townspeople of St. Andrews the right to play on the golf course.

Augusta’s religious connections begin with its famous “Amen Corner” which comprises the 11th, 12th and 13th holes, which put the fear of God into even the most experienced golfers because of the tricky wind and Rae’s Creek. 

The name actually isn’t a direct religious reference as Herbert Warren Wind coined it in a 1958 issue of Sports Illustrated story.  He referred to the three holes as “Amen Corner” based on a jazz song called “Shoutin’ in Amen Corner.” The reference to jazz music is appropriate given Amen Corner often requires golfers to improvise shots they wouldn’t normally play.

  Augusta's 12th Hole in the middle of Amen's Corner is both beautiful and bewildering. 

Augusta's 12th Hole in the middle of Amen's Corner is both beautiful and bewildering. 

For avid golfers visiting The Old Course or Augusta is a sacred experience. It is like a pilgrimage. Both courses evoke a sense of awe, a feeling of reverence and respect for tradition and are full of rituals. For avid golfers, the clubhouses at the Old Course and Augusta are like cathedrals. And the term term “cathedral of pines” has been used to describe the pine trees at Augusta. 

  The Cathedral of Pines at Augusta National. 

The Cathedral of Pines at Augusta National. 

The Greens

The Old Course is unique in that it has 7 double greens which allows the course to be played clockwise or counter clockwise.  Today, the course is played counter-clockwise expect for one day a year or for special tournaments. (Note: In the past it was reversed several times a week).  As a result of the double greens, the Old Course has huge greens, which means you can sometimes find yourself with an extremely long putts with huge swales and breaks if you end up on the wrong side of the other green. FYI. So you know which hole to aim at, the flags on the outbound 9 are white and the inbound are red.

Augusta’s greens are known not so much for their size but for their speed and undulations.  I recall one pro golfer practiced in his putting on his garage floor to prepare for The Masters. Some say the greens at Augusta are the fastest on the planet. Some even swear there are “VW Beetles” buried under the greens, given the severe undulations. Ironically, at the Masters the pros make more 3 to 10 foot putts than at any other tournament, but make the least number of 10+ foot putts.

So, for both courses the ability to read the greens and make putts is critical to playing well. 

  The massive double green shared by the 3rd hole (white flag in the far distance) and the 15th hole (red flag) with the Cartgate bunker in the middle of the green. Photo courtesy of   Talking Beautiful Stuff

The massive double green shared by the 3rd hole (white flag in the far distance) and the 15th hole (red flag) with the Cartgate bunker in the middle of the green. Photo courtesy of Talking Beautiful Stuff

  The Augusta greens are not only fast but the severe humps and bumps guarding the greens add another layer of difficulty. 

The Augusta greens are not only fast but the severe humps and bumps guarding the greens add another layer of difficulty. 

Design Changes

Both golf courses have undergone many changes over the years, often as a result of technology changes.  The original Old Course, established in 1552 with just 11 holes, was expanded later to 22 holes and then reduced by Old Tom Morris in 1764 to 18 holes, which then became the standard for all championship golf courses.  In 1904, 13 bunkers were added to The Old Course in response to the new livelier Haskell ball. Hallet’s Bunker, on the 18th hole halfway between the Swilcan Bridge and the Grannie Clark’s Wynd has also removed. 

Look close and you can actually still see the “March Stones,”(small grave-like markers) in middle of the 5th and 7th fairways and the 2nd and 11th tees that marked the original golf course boundaries.

Augusta has been a constantly evolving golf course since its beginning.  Immediately after the inaugural Masters Tournament in 1934, the nines were reversed and each year since the course is altered - sometimes more subtly than others.  It is not uncommon to add mature 50 foot or taller trees to alter the tee shot by narrowing the fairway and reducing the ideal landing area.  Tee boxes have been enlarged to make holes longer as a result of new club and ball technology allowing golfers to this the ball further.  Over the years the length of the course has grown by 500+ yards.

Mother nature has also caused changes at Augusta, the most famous being the ice storm of 2014 that damaged the famous Eisenhower Tree on the 17th hole and ultimately led to its removal.

  Bobby Jones hitting shots as means of testing out the progress in the design of Augusta National. 

Bobby Jones hitting shots as means of testing out the progress in the design of Augusta National. 

Architects

The Augusta National’s co-designer was Alister MacKenzie, born near Leeds, England but with strong Scottish roots, spending his summers near Lochinver. 

  Alister MacKenzie, co-designer of Augusta National.

Alister MacKenzie, co-designer of Augusta National.

While his earliest golf experiences were based on Scottish link golf courses (like The Old Course), he was the originator of many of the modern golf course design principles – undulating greens, long and narrow greens angled from the centre of the fairway, fairly large and free-formed bunker shapes and substantial additional contouring of the course. 

In 1924, he completed renderings of the Old Course that are thought by many to be some of the best documentation of the course at that time. 

He relocated to the United States in the late 1920s and completed the Augusta National in 1933.

The design of both The Old Course and Augusta National involved the participation of a famous golfer. Old Tom Morris, the best golfer of his era, was the designer The Old Course, transforming it from 22 holes to 18.  Bobby Jones, the best golfer of his era, worked side-by-side with MacKenzie to design the original Augusta National Golf Club.

 Old Tom Morris, architect St. Andrews Old Course 

Old Tom Morris, architect St. Andrews Old Course 

Vegetation

  In the spring the gorse plant is a pretty yellow, but for most of the year it is just a thorny bush. 

In the spring the gorse plant is a pretty yellow, but for most of the year it is just a thorny bush. 

Both golf courses are well known for their vegetation. 

In the case of The Old Course, the signature vegetation is the “gorse.” Gorse is a yellow-flowered thorny shrub that gobbles up golf balls and is impossible to play out of – even the name has a nasty ring to it. 

Heather another hearty shrub with a mixture of subtle colours commonly grows in rocky areas around the golf course - not a good thing for golfers. “Au natural” pretty much sums up the vegetation at the Old Course.

  Good luck hitting out of the tangled web of gorse branches and roots. 

Good luck hitting out of the tangled web of gorse branches and roots. 

Augusta National is the polar opposite. It is like walking into a botanical garden, with its signature vegetation being - magnolia trees and the azaleas.  The entrance to Augusta is called Magnolia Lane, with 60 magnolia trees planted from seeds in the 1850s, which now create a magical 330-yard (or a short par 4 in golfer lingo) canopy.

Rumour has it that in warm years or when the Masters is later in April, the azaleas are frozen to make sure they bloom at the right time.  Also, the course superintendent isn’t afraid to use a bit of green paint to cover up some of the brown or bald spots on the course.

  Augusta is part golf course, part botanical garden. 

Augusta is part golf course, part botanical garden. 

Famous Bridges

Both the Old Course and Augusta are known for their famous arched stone bridges. The Swilcan Bridge is a small bridge that spans the Swilican Burn (creek) in the fairway between the 1st and 18th hole on The Old Course.  It was originally built 700+ years ago to help shepherds get livestock across the burn. 

  It is hard to resist taking a photo standing on Swilican Bridge when you play the Old Course. 

It is hard to resist taking a photo standing on Swilican Bridge when you play the Old Course. 

Today, it provides a great backdrop with the grand Royal and Ancient Clubhouse and Hamilton Hall in the background. It is customary for The Open champions to publicly pay homage to the bridge. 

In 2010, Tom Watson, a five-time winner of The Open Championship, was captured kissing the bridge by a photographer.

Augusta has three iconic bridges – Hogan, Nelson and Sarazen. The Sarazen Bridge (15th hole) was the first to be dedicated.

In 1955, the 20th anniversary of Gene Sarazen’s famous double-eagle (a two on a par five) that helped him win The Masters in 1935.  Both the Hogan and Nelson Bridges were dedicated in 1958 - the Ben Hogan Bridge (12th hole) in recognition of his record low 72 hole round to 274 (-14) in 1950 and Byron Nelson Bridge (13th hole) in honour of Nelson’s 1937 Masters win where he made up six strokes on Holes 12 and 13.

  All three bridges at August have a similar look....

All three bridges at August have a similar look....

Last word

Personally I found it very interesting to gather these factoids that compare two famous golf courses.  However in sharing a draft of this blog with a good friend, and golfing buddy he offered a very different, insightful and valid perspective.

“Frankly, the comparison doesn't make a lot of sense to me. To me, the story of the two courses centers around the philosophy and accessibility behind them.  St. Andrews is golf for the masses, owned by a public trust, with guaranteed and highly affordable access to all residents.  Golfers from everywhere in the world are welcomed with open arms. The course is closed to the golfing public on Sundays and opened to strollers, picnickers, wedding pictures, dog walking, etc.  The course is not walled off from the public, and pedestrians can stand along the fairways on the Road Hole and 18 to watch play anytime.

Augusta epitomizes the exclusivity, privilege, and power that golf assumed in North America.  Other than a few handpicked members (multi, multi, millionaires as a starting point) and their guests, no one will ever play Augusta. You cannot even drive onto the grounds.  And with the exception of the Masters coverage, you cannot even see the course.  And in today's world, it likely best explains why golf is failing in North America.”

Last Last Word 

After researching and writing this blog, I have come to the conclusion the Old Course at St. Andrews is a masculine course (raw, scruffy, and natural) while Augusta is more feminine (beautiful, curved and manicured). More on this male, female thing in a future blog. 

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

Redwood Reflections 

Irish Golf: The Bold, The Beautiful, The Beer And The Bad

 

Atlanta is fun, funky and quirky!

I must confess Atlanta wasn't on my bucket list of cities to visit.  But when I got an opportunity to go to Augusta, GA for a practice round of The Masters golf tournament via Atlanta, I thought why not. 

I have often said, "I can find interesting things to see and do in any city!"

  One of the things I like best about flaneuring is the surprises.  This has to be one of the best surprises I have encountered in a long time.  Note the empty bottle and piece of litter. Indeed every picture tells a story...

One of the things I like best about flaneuring is the surprises.  This has to be one of the best surprises I have encountered in a long time.  Note the empty bottle and piece of litter. Indeed every picture tells a story...

18,000 Step  Program

Everyone I asked about what to see and do in Atlanta said, "You will need a car." As everyday tourist, we loved a challenge.

Brenda and I spent 14 days in Atlanta's City Centre and found lots to see and do either on foot (averaging 18,000 steps a day, highest was 27,000+) or using the MARTA train (Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Association).

  Brenda found this strange and quirky gravestone at the Oakland Cemetery. 

Brenda found this strange and quirky gravestone at the Oakland Cemetery. 

Game on!

We found great vintage, antique and thriftshops along Chamblee's Antique Row and a great craft brewery HopStix. Living across the street from Piedmont Park (Atlanta's equivalent to NYC's Central Park) was a delight. While Atlanta's City Centre doesn't have any streets with contiguous retail and restaurants we did find some hidden gems. 

We loved the buzz at Ponce City Market a repurposed Sears Roebuck Co. store and distribution centre. It made me rethink, "Why Calgary's Eau Claire Market didn't work? Would it work today?

Atlantic Station a reclaimed steel factory on the other side of the interstate highway from Midtown was also enlightening.  Its grid of mid-rise brick condos with street retail and restaurants mimicking an early 20th century warehouse district was a very pedestrian friendly. It has many of the elements of Calgary's University District and West District. It made me wonder, "if East Village shouldn't of had more midrise buildings with street retail to create a more human scale?"

Beltline was bustling

I was gobsmacked by the number of people strolling Atlanta's Beltline a reclaimed railway line that has become a multi-use trail modelled after NYC's High Line without all the fancy furnishing and finishings.  I bet there were 50,000+ people of all ages strolling the promenade on the 10km stretch that I experienced on a warm Saturday afternoon.

I was surprised they allowed cyclists (probably about 5% of the users) to use the concrete pathway when it was so busy.  I can't believe how aggressive and inconsiderate many of the cyclists were. Brenda headed home early as it was too unpleasant for her liking.  

After spending 14 days in Atlanta's City Centre, I am pleased to say the city was more fun, funky and quirky (FFQ) than I could have hoped for. 

Check out this FFQing photo essay and let me know what you think.  FYI. I have saved the best for last....

  Found this strange dude hanging out at the Antique Factory (huge warehouse of mid-century modern artifacts) in Chamblee's Antique Row, which is easy to get to by MARTA (transit train).

Found this strange dude hanging out at the Antique Factory (huge warehouse of mid-century modern artifacts) in Chamblee's Antique Row, which is easy to get to by MARTA (transit train).

  Found "Dolly" in the American League thrift store in Chamblee's Antique Row. 

Found "Dolly" in the American League thrift store in Chamblee's Antique Row. 

  Everywhere we went we kept running into funky shops like this one. Around the corner was a fun little printing studio.  While Atlanta has no main streets (i.e. streets with continuous shops on both sides of the street), it does have fun off-the-beaten path shops.

Everywhere we went we kept running into funky shops like this one. Around the corner was a fun little printing studio.  While Atlanta has no main streets (i.e. streets with continuous shops on both sides of the street), it does have fun off-the-beaten path shops.

  If you are looking for curated funky mid-century modern furnishings and artwork you have to go to   Decades Antiques and Vintage   at 1886 Cheshire Bridge Rd NE.  There are several antique and thriftstores in the area. 

If you are looking for curated funky mid-century modern furnishings and artwork you have to go to Decades Antiques and Vintage at 1886 Cheshire Bridge Rd NE.  There are several antique and thriftstores in the area. 

  Little Five Points is like walking into a "magical mystery tour" as all of the building facades are colourful and playful. It reminded us of Berlin.

Little Five Points is like walking into a "magical mystery tour" as all of the building facades are colourful and playful. It reminded us of Berlin.

  On Easter Sunday, there were lots of outdoor celebrations like this adult only party that included an egg toss on the front lawn.

On Easter Sunday, there were lots of outdoor celebrations like this adult only party that included an egg toss on the front lawn.

  Even the cement trucks are works of art in Atlanta! 

Even the cement trucks are works of art in Atlanta! 

  Aren't these folk art portable toilets at the outdoor science fair in Piedmont Park quirky?

Aren't these folk art portable toilets at the outdoor science fair in Piedmont Park quirky?

  Thought this was a Claes Oldenburg sculpture in   Centennial Olympic Park  , but it turned out to be an information booth in front of the World of Coca-Cola building.  Too much fun!

Thought this was a Claes Oldenburg sculpture in Centennial Olympic Park, but it turned out to be an information booth in front of the World of Coca-Cola building.  Too much fun!

  Another fun, funky, quirky facade...but with a social and political statement. 

Another fun, funky, quirky facade...but with a social and political statement. 

  Atlanta is known as a auto-centric city, but we found using transit was a viable option.  This fun sculpture titled "Autoeater" by German artists Julia Venske and Gregor Spanle is located at an intersection that is busy with cars and pedestrians in Midtown

Atlanta is known as a auto-centric city, but we found using transit was a viable option.  This fun sculpture titled "Autoeater" by German artists Julia Venske and Gregor Spanle is located at an intersection that is busy with cars and pedestrians in Midtown

  It would have been easy to miss this sun dial at the Inman Middle School in the Virginia/Highland community. It took me two trips to realize it wasn't just a clock.

It would have been easy to miss this sun dial at the Inman Middle School in the Virginia/Highland community. It took me two trips to realize it wasn't just a clock.

  Found this Jetson sculpture in the lobby of the luxurious student study hall/library lobby with roof top garden that is on par with what you might find at a luxury urban hotel.  The Starbuck stays open until 2 am Sunday to Thursday!

Found this Jetson sculpture in the lobby of the luxurious student study hall/library lobby with roof top garden that is on par with what you might find at a luxury urban hotel.  The Starbuck stays open until 2 am Sunday to Thursday!

  How fun is this three storey bench in the lobby of the Georgia Tech School of Architecture building?

How fun is this three storey bench in the lobby of the Georgia Tech School of Architecture building?

  Stairs as sculpture? This quirky staircase it at the King Memorial MARTA Station.  The entire station is an interesting brutalist / modernist design. 

Stairs as sculpture? This quirky staircase it at the King Memorial MARTA Station.  The entire station is an interesting brutalist / modernist design. 

  This wall of axes was just part of the fun of exploring the   Highland Woodworking   store at Highland and Virginia.  Think Lee Valley but bigger and totally focused on woodworking tools and material s.   It is a must see for any woodworker....

This wall of axes was just part of the fun of exploring the Highland Woodworking store at Highland and Virginia.  Think Lee Valley but bigger and totally focused on woodworking tools and materials.  It is a must see for any woodworker....

  One of my favourite things to do is porch sitting.  Our Airbnb in Atlanta was just across the street from   Piedmont Park   with a lovely big porch.  It was a great place to people watch as there was an endless parade of joggers, dog walkers, cyclist and people just strolling along the edge of the park.  

One of my favourite things to do is porch sitting.  Our Airbnb in Atlanta was just across the street from Piedmont Park with a lovely big porch.  It was a great place to people watch as there was an endless parade of joggers, dog walkers, cyclist and people just strolling along the edge of the park.  

  Found these fun doors in various spots in   Ponce City Market,   telling the history of this old Sears Roebuck & Co store and distribution centre.  Who knew Sears used to have an Animal Department that sold a Spider Monkey for $31.39 or 25 day-old Farm Master While Leghorn chicks for $1.90!  They also sold baby alligators but didn't give a cost.   Urban living was very different in the 1940s.

Found these fun doors in various spots in Ponce City Market, telling the history of this old Sears Roebuck & Co store and distribution centre.  Who knew Sears used to have an Animal Department that sold a Spider Monkey for $31.39 or 25 day-old Farm Master While Leghorn chicks for $1.90!  They also sold baby alligators but didn't give a cost. Urban living was very different in the 1940s.

  Beltline midweek, with its funky whirligig artworks. 

Beltline midweek, with its funky whirligig artworks. 

  No idea who create this troll or why, it is guarded one of the many underpasses along the Beltline.  Kids loved climbing up the hill to the troll.

No idea who create this troll or why, it is guarded one of the many underpasses along the Beltline.  Kids loved climbing up the hill to the troll.

  Found this evil winged gargoyle on a post in the front yard or a house behind our Airbnb. I loved it but can't imagine many would. 

Found this evil winged gargoyle on a post in the front yard or a house behind our Airbnb. I loved it but can't imagine many would. 

  Several vendors a the City Market offered whole pigs for sale.  How much fun would it be to order a pig from "Porky Pig?" 

Several vendors a the City Market offered whole pigs for sale.  How much fun would it be to order a pig from "Porky Pig?" 

  Found this handmade swing on an island space in the middle of a busy intersection.  I had to give it a try.  It was a great way to pass the time waiting for the light to change. 

Found this handmade swing on an island space in the middle of a busy intersection.  I had to give it a try.  It was a great way to pass the time waiting for the light to change. 

  Atlantans love bean bag tossing saw these in several locations from parks to outside offices.  I was amazed when Brenda stepped and landed two of her four blue bean bags in the hole from 30 feet. I made none.

Atlantans love bean bag tossing saw these in several locations from parks to outside offices.  I was amazed when Brenda stepped and landed two of her four blue bean bags in the hole from 30 feet. I made none.

  Atlanta has lots of funky art, like this piece hanging from a tree in Piedmont Park near the dog park. 

Atlanta has lots of funky art, like this piece hanging from a tree in Piedmont Park near the dog park. 

 This piece of art was in the front yard of a modest house. I would love to have one for my garden. It is no wonder we didn't go to the High Art Museum, given all the art along the streets and parks of the city.

This piece of art was in the front yard of a modest house. I would love to have one for my garden. It is no wonder we didn't go to the High Art Museum, given all the art along the streets and parks of the city.

  Found these origami pieces lined up on the counter a Java Jive a funky diner with great midcentury furnishings. We were told there were made by a 9-year old customer.  

Found these origami pieces lined up on the counter a Java Jive a funky diner with great midcentury furnishings. We were told there were made by a 9-year old customer.  

 You can find the strangest things at antique stores.  This totem was found at Antiques & Beyond a huge antique market on Cheshire Bridge.

You can find the strangest things at antique stores.  This totem was found at Antiques & Beyond a huge antique market on Cheshire Bridge.

  I wonder why these New Era scientifically process potato chips aren't still available? Treasure hunting in thrift, vintage and antique shops in Atlanta is just too much fun.

I wonder why these New Era scientifically process potato chips aren't still available? Treasure hunting in thrift, vintage and antique shops in Atlanta is just too much fun.

    Paris on Ponce   is an eclectic market with 83 vendors offer mostly vintage treasures.  There is an amazing lounge that they use for special events.  Unfortunately they didn't have any events happening while we were there. This art installation is at the entrance to the lounge. 

Paris on Ponce is an eclectic market with 83 vendors offer mostly vintage treasures.  There is an amazing lounge that they use for special events.  Unfortunately they didn't have any events happening while we were there. This art installation is at the entrance to the lounge. 

  One of the first quirky things I notice about the Atlanta streets were all the utility markings on the sidewalk.  It wasn't just one or two streets it was everywhere in the downtown and midtown.  I mean everywhere.  I even ran into a guy who was repainting the lines.  

One of the first quirky things I notice about the Atlanta streets were all the utility markings on the sidewalk.  It wasn't just one or two streets it was everywhere in the downtown and midtown.  I mean everywhere.  I even ran into a guy who was repainting the lines.  

  Good food and great chandeliers can be found at   Amelie's Bakery  .  Loved this pots and pans chandelier, but it was only one of a dozen very quirky chandeliers in the store. Note the sign saying "dessert first." This was my happy place.

Good food and great chandeliers can be found at Amelie's Bakery.  Loved this pots and pans chandelier, but it was only one of a dozen very quirky chandeliers in the store. Note the sign saying "dessert first." This was my happy place.

  Found these amazing tree shadows on the sidewalk the evening I walked to Blind Willies blues bar on Highland.  This was on my way there, not back and the photo has not been enhanced.

Found these amazing tree shadows on the sidewalk the evening I walked to Blind Willies blues bar on Highland.  This was on my way there, not back and the photo has not been enhanced.

 We saw a lot of FFQ work spaces during our Atlanta walkabouts but nothing better than  Matchstic . We were peeking in the doorway when the President happening to be leaving and he invited us in. We commented on how much we like the playful mural and then he showed us a wall of small drawings on small clipboards by staff members similar to the mural. We loved them and he told us to take a couple.  We are now proud owners of three Matchstic drawings! 

We saw a lot of FFQ work spaces during our Atlanta walkabouts but nothing better than Matchstic. We were peeking in the doorway when the President happening to be leaving and he invited us in. We commented on how much we like the playful mural and then he showed us a wall of small drawings on small clipboards by staff members similar to the mural. We loved them and he told us to take a couple.  We are now proud owners of three Matchstic drawings! 

  This reflective angular block serves as both an artwork and an ATM machine on the AECOM plaza.  It was a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by even on a Sunday when the building was closed.  Went back the next day to take some more photos of the intriguing artwork in the lobby and was told no photos.  

This reflective angular block serves as both an artwork and an ATM machine on the AECOM plaza.  It was a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by even on a Sunday when the building was closed.  Went back the next day to take some more photos of the intriguing artwork in the lobby and was told no photos.  

  We passed by this fun artwork almost everyday. I love it when art is both fun and makes a social statement. 

We passed by this fun artwork almost everyday. I love it when art is both fun and makes a social statement. 

Last Word

As you can imagine Atlanta has been very fruitful when it comes to ideas for blogs. Over the next month you can expect blogs comparing Calgary's City Centre to Atlanta's, a piece on Ponce City Market, Atlantic Station, Piedmont Park, Oakland Cemetery and the Beltline Trail. 

If you liked this blog, you will like: 

FFQing in Montreal

Nelson: Fun, Funky, Quirky

FFQing in Tri-Cities (Kennwick, Pasco, Richland)

 

Community Associations & Urban Development

Recently a former neighbour who moved to Sunnyside shared with me a copy of the Feb 2017 Hillhurst Sunnyside Voice (community bulletin) thinking I would be interested to see all of the new development projects in the community. 

Indeed I was!
  One of the many sites in Hillhurst/Sunnyside that is a potential new development site. 

One of the many sites in Hillhurst/Sunnyside that is a potential new development site. 

I was surprised to see a two page spread with summaries of five major projects at various states of development:

  • Royal Bank, 413, 10th St NW
  • Former CBC site, 1724 Westmont Blvd NW
  • Russell Red “Glo” Project, 916 – 926 2nd Ave NW
  • Sunnyside Grocery, 802, 2nd Ave NW
  • Truman Condo, 922, 926, 928 Memorial Dr.

This got me to wondering! How does the Hillhurst Sunnyside Planning Committee must be spending with developers, City and community to gather information, listen to presentations, discussing how City policies and plans are being followed, understanding the short and long-term the community-at-large implications and then respond to the application.

Then I thought - this is just one community!  What about all the other inner city communities where new infill projects are routinely being proposed.  Do they all have Planning Committees and how do they find qualified volunteers who are willing and able to spend the time to do all of this volunteer work?

Having served on the City of Calgary’s Planning Commission for two years I know first hand how hard it is to understand all of the City’s plans, policies and zoning regulations, as well as how detailed the development application documents can be. 

A quick check of the Hillhurst Sunnyside website revealed they have full-time staff member to help with urban planning issues and communications.  Hmmm…now I am wondered how many other communities have a paid urban planning position?

So I checked with Lisa Chong, Hillhurst/Sunnyside’s Urban Planning Coordinator since 2013 to learn more about what she and the volunteer Planning Committee do.

  Everyone has a different idea of what is important to them and the future of their community.

Everyone has a different idea of what is important to them and the future of their community.

Q&A with Chong

What is the role of the Hillhurst/Sunnyside’s Planning Coordinator?

I coordinate all the community’s education and engagement activities with respect to planning issues – infill developments, heritage, safety, public spaces and public realm.  This includes not only coordinating Planning Committee meetings, but numerous guest presentations to the community on development and other issues. I also spend significant time on planning communication by way of community newsletters - Voice, monthly e-newsletters and social media posts.

We also do our best to engage with the community and make sure their feedback is discussed and incorporated into our formal feedback to developers and the City of Calgary.

  The new Ezra condo on 5th Avenue next to the Hillhurst/Sunnyside community centre was opposed by some community members. 

The new Ezra condo on 5th Avenue next to the Hillhurst/Sunnyside community centre was opposed by some community members. 

How many people are on the Hillhurst/Sunnyside Planning Committee? 

Approximately 16. But people come and go depending on their interest and what is on the agenda. At one time I had 60+ people on the email list. Typically, we have about 10 members at each meeting and anywhere from 2 to 50 interested guests. At max, we’ve had 65 people attend one of our guest presentations.

We also have folks we consider community leaders who we ask for input on specific issues.  In addition there are volunteers who help with the distribution of leaflets to households immediately adjacent to proposed developments.

  The approval of St. Johns on Tenth condo was delayed for several years to meet the community and neighbours' concerns before approval was granted.

The approval of St. Johns on Tenth condo was delayed for several years to meet the community and neighbours' concerns before approval was granted.

Can you share with me the qualifications of committee members?

Members are not required to have specific qualifications but are required to keep up with planning education (Federation of Calgary Communities’ “Partners in Planning” courses, newsletters and other forms of communication).

Some are long-time residents others have lived in Hillhurst Sunnyside for a few years. We have a mix of homeowners and renters and from single-family homes and condos, with ages ranging from 30s to 60s.

The planning committee team draws from a pool of members with professional in  architecture, planning, engineering, development, heritage, local business, law, oil and gas, arts, education and entrepreneurial.

As this is just one of 151 community associations in Calgary,  I wondered what does the citywide picture look like.  I contacted the Federation of Calgary Communities (FCC). Turns out the FCC has two full-time urban planners on staff to help community associations with planning issues and to coordinate education programs. 

Carrie Yap one of the FCC planners was more than pleased to answer my questions.

  This fun house now has a development sign on the front yard. 

This fun house now has a development sign on the front yard. 

How many CA’s have standing planning committees?

There are approximately 95 communities with standing planning committees that actively participate in the planning process. Participation in the planning process is different with each community association depending on their capacity and the magnitude and controversy of developments in their community.

She confirmed Hillhurst Sunnyside is the only Community Association with a full-time Planning Coordinator.

  The old CBC site on Memorial Drive NW is slated to become a major residential development. 

The old CBC site on Memorial Drive NW is slated to become a major residential development. 

How many volunteer hours are contributed each year by Planning Committee members?

We estimate the 95 Planning Committees members contribute a total of about 12,000 to 15,000 hours of per year performing the following tasks:

  • Reviewing development applications,
  • Preparing formal responses back to the city,
  • Researching applicable policies, meeting with developers or builders,
  • Attending engagement sessions on local or city wide projects,
  • Getting acquainted with new policy or land uses
  • Notifying neighbours or residents of new developments
  • Hosting engagement sessions or open houses for residents
  • Writing articles for the community newsletters, website, or social media 
  • Building relationships with their Councilor and Project file managers
  • Attending Council or City of Calgary Committee meetings
  • Attending and preparing for appeal boards
  • Being a community representative on external committees
  • Leading community-planning exercises.  
  • Educating themselves on the planning process through Federation courses

I don’t know about you but I am intimidated and exhausted after reading this list.  No wonder many CA Board and Committee members suffer from volunteer fatigue.

Note: I misinterpreted the original information I received from Carrie Yap as 12,000 to 15,000 volunteer hours per Planning Committee vs the number being the total of all 95 Planning Committee members.  Unfortunately this misinformation was published online by the Calgary Herald.  I am now thinking this number is conservative given what I know about how much time it takes to do all of the above activities. 
  Truman Homes placed with Sounding Board in the Legion Parking lot on Kensington Rd NW so anyone walking by could leave comments. Information on the proposed development was located on the other side. 

Truman Homes placed with Sounding Board in the Legion Parking lot on Kensington Rd NW so anyone walking by could leave comments. Information on the proposed development was located on the other side. 

How many project per year are reviewed each year? Which communities are the busiest?

The Federation does not track how many projects per year are reviewed by each community. However, we have seen a direct correlation between policies the City is working on and a community’s lifecycle with how active a community is with planning issues.

The busiest planning committees are the ones dealing major redevelopment projects or major City of Calgary planning initiatives like the Main Streets Initiative and Green Line Corridor.

Based on the information on the city website, for the month of January 2018, alone 467 applications (development permit, land use amendments, or subdivision applications) were circulated to our community associations.

Leslie Evans, Executive Director of the Federation of Calgary Communities thinks, “Planning committees and community associations are one of Calgary’s hidden gems. They are the people that help build community character, advocate for your neighbourhood needs and they do it without any recognition but simply because they love their community and this city.

  Proposed redesignation signs like this are popping up more frequently in Caglary's inner city communities. 

Proposed redesignation signs like this are popping up more frequently in Caglary's inner city communities. 

Last Word

In reality not all Community Association Planning Committees are created equal. Not all have broad representation from their community like Hillhurst/Sunnyside.  In some cases the membership on the Planning Committee doesn't represent the diversity of opinions with respect to development of the entire community.  While many of the members of the 95 Planning Committees are educated professionals, few are fully versed on the complexities of City's overall planning policies and how they impact their community. 

Former City Councillor, Brian Pincott says "while some Community Association Planning Committees are very well managed and representative of the community, in some cases it is whoever shows up." 

With that being said, a follow up blog will examine the experience Pincott and others have had in working with Community Associations positively and negatively.

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

Urban Planning Is Not A Science

Group Think or Good Urban Planning

Urban Planning: The Power Of Observation

Calgary Wins Gold Medal For Cycling

Given that spring is in the air, which means many of us will be starting to think about getting out and cycling more, I thought it would be interesting to check in with Tom Thivener Calgary’s Cycling Coordinator to get an update on how Calgary is doing in its quest to create am more cycling friendly city.

I emailed him a few questions and here are his responses.

IMG_7539.JPG

What have been the key accomplishment to date with respect to cycling infrastructure?

Calgary should be very proud of the off-street pathway network. The river path network and connections into some of the communities are very good. It is a blessing to have so many bridges across the rivers. Rivers can be a barrier to cycling, but clearly Calgarians figured out a long time ago bridges can be a true asset to the city. 

The downtown cycle track network has proven, in a short amount of time to be a huge success in extending the protection and comfort of the pathway network into the heart of the downtown and Beltline, through on-street in the form of separated bike lanes.  People of all ages and abilities bicycle, roller blade and skate board on them.  It’s great to see.

IMG_0852.jpg

What have been the biggest disappointments?

The most disappointing piece of infrastructure in Calgary is the maze gates in many suburban communities.  They usually show up on walkways between two homes on a corridor that goes to a park, an LRT station or university campus. These corridors are a perfect place to walk or bike to destinations except for the fact that a set of two strategically placed steel gates are there to keep cyclists from flying down them.

The placement of these gates makes it next to impossible to get a bike with a trailer, wheel chair or a large stroller through them. We have so many of them across the city but we have identified a few locations to be retrofitted with simpler treatments this summer as part of the Spot Improvement Program I oversee. 

5864077E-858D-4895-A0E5-6915F06221B6.JPG

What have been the surprises?

The biggest surprise is the level of interest in Bike Share in Calgary. Several companies have approached The City to discuss launching bike share soon here. The typical model is very similar to Car2Go in that members can find a bike through a smart phone app and GPS technology.

Seattle, in a short amount of time has gone from having zero bicycles to 9,000 bicycles. And with that they are giving citizens and visitors a healthy, inexpensive and fast way to get around town, especially trips under 5 km. If one of the companies doesn’t launch this summer, I anticipate next summer for sure.

BE1654E5-5D33-458D-ADFD-1D1B4394E4A5.JPG

Where does Calgary rank as a cycling city in Canada? North America?

In the USA, the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) organization has a thorough application and review process that has ranked over 400 cities in terms of bike friendliness.  They focus on the 5 E’s (engineering, evaluation, education, encouragement and enforcement), arguing that you need to be strong in all these areas to be truly bike friendly. An organization in Ontario has adopted this model to rank cities there, but we don’t have similar national organization in Canada. 

But having been through the LAB process when I worked in Tucson, I’d say we’re approaching their level of bike friendliness, which is Gold rated.  While there is a lot to be proud of in Calgary, there is still a lot of work remaining, to graduate to Platinum or Diamond status.

While Calgary was once way ahead of Edmonton in creating and executing a cycling strategy, I recently read they may soon exceed Calgary. Is this true? If so why did this happen?

Edmonton has a lot to be proud with the addition of their Calgary inspired cycle track network downtown. While they are currently spending about three times what Calgary is spending on infrastructure upgrades for people walking or cycling they have not caught up to us yet.

DSC07141.JPG

What new cycling infrastructure can Calgarians look forward to this summer?

We have three corridors slated to get Complete Street improvements to them this summer. This includes bike lanes or cycle tracks, continuous sidewalks, traffic calming treatments, improved pedestrian crossings and intersection improvements for all modes of traffic.

In Midnapore, Midlake Blvd SE has been identified for improvements. While I don’t expect many people to bike to downtown from there, there are lots of local destinations including schools, shopping centers, lakes and Fish Creek park nearby. 

In Southview and Forest Lawn/Heights, 19 Av SE has been identified for similar improvements in conjunction with the Bus Rapid Transit project happening on International Avenue.  This project will connect to a new bridge with a pathway that will connect with Inglewood over Deerfoot Trail.  

And in Mission/Beltline 2 Street SW has been identified for some improvements. We still have several gaps in the network in the Centre City but this project will finally connect people from Elbow River Path into the Centre City network.

DSC01173.JPG

What is on your wish list of things to add to Calgary’s cycling infrastructure?

Our Pathway and Bikeway Plan is being updated right now. We need to continue to tackle and retrofit our collector street network in Calgary.  These are the streets, similar to the ones mentioned above, that connect people from their community to popular local destinations. These streets have so much potential to be great places to walk and bike but the design of the roadway needs to be improved first.

We also need to install a few more pedestrian bridges over the rivers and over barriers such as Deerfoot Trail. When you have to go a few kilometers out of your way to get to a safe crossing that deters many people from walking or cycling.

The other major thing to work on is the next phase of cycle track network in the inner city. Every community outside of Centre City deserves at least one safe way to bike into city core, where most of the jobs and entertainment lies.

There has been much criticism of the 12th Ave SW roadway design to accommodate cycling lanes?  How do you think it can be improved for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians?

You can either design a road to meet the needs of those driving across town or you can design it for those who live and work there.  We have heard people don’t like the lane jog. But on the other hand we’ve heard from people living/working there that there are strong parking demands that switch from side to side as you go down the corridor.  We are trying to balance the needs of both with the current design. 

F3AA6C4B-34A1-4F3E-BF9A-375FDBB55F6B.JPG

Can you comment on how the pilot project of having cyclist use Stephen Avenue has been going?

The pilot to allow cyclists during the day on Stephen Avenue was approved by Council in December 2016. It is now permanent that cycling is allowed all day and in both directions on Stephen Avenue. People cycling share the space with people walking during the day and at night share the street with taxis and other vehicles.  We haven’t seen any real problems with adding cycling there. As we have seen in other cities in Europe and Asia people cycling tend to regulate themselves and even dismount when it gets too busy, like during the summer months.

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 11.30.46 AM.png

What are the myths/misconceptions Calgarians have about cycling in Calgary?

Probably that bike infrastructure is expensive. The City spent nearly $2M to upgrade a really deficient pedestrian underpass in the community of Bowness this summer.  We managed to double the width for people walking and biking and improved the transitions to and from the roadway.  The work was nothing flashy but residents and people traveling through Bowness will get to enjoy the improvement every day for the next 100 years or so.

$2M sounds expensive but that won’t even buy you one C-Train car

IMG_4088.JPG

Do we know how many Calgarians cycle year-round today as compared to 5 years ago?

We have seen a lot of growth in the last five years in terms of ridership. Since the Cycling Strategy was approved in 2011, we have installed or improved 87 km of bikeway and in turn we have doubled the number of people cycling.

We have a couple sources for this data. Calgary’s Civic Census asks the question about how people get to work and that result went from just under 1 percent in 2011 to just under 2 in 2016. 

Ever year in May, the transportation Department monitors all traffic entering and exiting downtown. The portion of trips by bike has risen from just under 2% in 2010 to just under 4% in 2017. Whether you think this is a lot or a little, there are still several thousand Calgarians who bike, many year round. 

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 8.19.43 AM.png
Screen Shot 2017-11-16 at 1.16.25 PM.png

Last Word

Every spring I say to myself I am going to cycle more, but I never seem to do it.  Perhaps this year will be different! 

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the April 2018 issue of Condo Living magazine. 

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

What happened to saying, "On Your Left."

Calgary: Canada's Bike Friendliest City?

Could Calgary have the largest bike shop in the world?

 

 

 

Calgary: The World's Most Walkable City Center?

Note: After posting this blog on Twitter I got a lot of flak from a few of Calgary's urban advocates - perhaps a dozen or so.  But I also got lots of support via email and personal conversations. 

While I appreciate the statement is a bit of stretch it is in the form of a question. And while the naysayers had some good points, they didn't convince me that my statement isn't true.  While some thought European cities were more walkable and asked if I had been to Paris, Berlin or Dublin - yes I have. I would counter in Paris cars park on the sidewalks and the roads are often grid-locked with cars, buses and taxis creating a very hostile environment.  Yes Paris has great parks, but nothing better than Calgarians and I love our river pathways better than theirs.  I love that our rivers are still natural and not canal-like as they are in most European cities. 

Berlin and Dublin are nice but the streets are chaotic with pedestrians, cyclists, cars, buses, trams etc. Calgary's City Centre is very civilized.  I also find our grid street system much easier to navigate than European cities.  

Have a read and let me know what you think....

 The area inside the red oval is what I approximate to be Calgary's City Centre. 

The area inside the red oval is what I approximate to be Calgary's City Centre. 

One of the best things about Calgary’s City Centre is its walkability.  I have visited dozens of cities around the world from Hong Kong to Amsterdam and I haven’t found a city more pedestrian-friendly than Calgary. 

Here are eight reasons why I think Calgary’s City Centre is one of the most walkable urban places in the world.

  Even streets in the middle of Calgary's CBD are pedestrian friendly. 

Even streets in the middle of Calgary's CBD are pedestrian friendly. 

  Even the back alleys are pedestrian friend in the City Centre.

Even the back alleys are pedestrian friend in the City Centre.

#1 Drivers stop for pedestrians!

If you are new to Calgary or visiting, don’t be surprised if a driver stops in the middle of the road to let you cross the street. It won’t happen on busy downtown streets, but will definitely happen on side streets.

Pedestrians will also find our downtown streets (outside of rush hour) are not nearly as chaotic as European streets where pedestrians, cyclists, scooters, motorcycles, cars, trams and bus all compete for the same space.

  This car stopped to let these pedestrian cross the street.  Calgary has the most pedestrian friendly drivers I have encountered anywhere.  

This car stopped to let these pedestrian cross the street.  Calgary has the most pedestrian friendly drivers I have encountered anywhere.  

#2 Flat  & Compact

Calgary’s City Centre is a flat as a Stampede pancakes, making it easy to walk everywhere.  With our City Centre only about 4 km (from east to west and from north to south), you can walk from one end to the other in an hour.   

Our City Centre included several distinct neighbourhoods Beltline, Bridgeland/Riverside, Chinatown, East Village, Eau Claire, Inglewood, Kensington and Mission, each with their own main street, and each within walking distance of the downtown.

  This is probably the biggest elevation change in Calgary's City Centre. 

This is probably the biggest elevation change in Calgary's City Centre. 

#3 Pathways

Calgary’s City Centre has amazing pathways along both sides of the Bow River, with numerous pedestrian bridges allowing pedestrians to crisscross back and forth as desired.  You can walk the entire length of the City Centre, east to west without ever encountering a car.  The historic Centre Street Bridge with its iconic lions offers a postcard view of the Bow River and the City skyline, as do the Peace and King pedestrian bridges.

The downtown office core’s network of 60+ above ground pedestrian bridges (called +15 bridges as they are 15 feet above the street) link 100+ buildings to create an a-mazing 20 km walkway.  It is the longest in the world.

As well, during the day, Stephen Avenue (aka 8th Ave SW) is a pedestrian mall for the five blocks between Macleod Trail and 3rd Street SW.  Strolling along it at noon hour (aka power hour) when tens of thousands of office workers come out to stretch their legs offers great people watching.  

Barclay Mall (aka 3rd Street SW) is a very pedestrian-friendly connection to the Bow River pathway with its wide and winding sidewalks, planters and public art.

  Stephen Avenue can be busy even in the middle of winter. 

Stephen Avenue can be busy even in the middle of winter. 

  Stephen Avenue is one of the best pedestrian malls in Canada.

Stephen Avenue is one of the best pedestrian malls in Canada.

  RiverWalk in East Village has lovely places to stop and enjoy the majestic Bow River on your way to St. Patrick Island Park via the King Bridge. 

RiverWalk in East Village has lovely places to stop and enjoy the majestic Bow River on your way to St. Patrick Island Park via the King Bridge. 

  Moms living in the City Centre love to take the kids for a walk along the Bow River. This photo was taken in February i.e. the middle of winter. 

Moms living in the City Centre love to take the kids for a walk along the Bow River. This photo was taken in February i.e. the middle of winter. 

 Calgarians loves how the winter sun floods the +15 walkway connecting over 100 buildings via 60+ bridges in the downtown. It creates a lovely pedestrian experience with cafes, shops, food courts and amazing atriums. 

Calgarians loves how the winter sun floods the +15 walkway connecting over 100 buildings via 60+ bridges in the downtown. It creates a lovely pedestrian experience with cafes, shops, food courts and amazing atriums. 

#4 Parks & Garden Strolls

Calgary’s City Centre offers one of the best collections of urban parks in the world.  There’s Central Memorial Park, Calgary’s oldest park, opened in 1912. And Stampede Park with its numerous murals and sculptures, Parade of Stampede Posters along the pedestrian corridor from the LRT Station to the historic Coral arena, is a fun place for a walk-about.

At the west end lays Shaw Millennial Park, one of the world’s largest skate parks as well as popular festival site. Prince’s Island Park has lovely nature walk around its ponds at the eastern edge and small sculpture park, as well as boasting one of the best restaurants in the city – River Café.  St. Patrick’s Island Park, our newest urban park with its pebble beach has become a very popular family destination.

In the summer, you can also walk to Reader Rock Garden near Stampede Park, Beaulieu Garden at Lougheed House and Senator Patrick Burns Memorial Rock Gardens near Riley Park.  Speaking of Riley Park it is home to Sunday afternoon cricket matches in the summer and a popular wading pool making it a popular walking destination.

  Calgary's City Centre parks like Memorial Park offer lots of pathways for pedestrians to spread out. 

Calgary's City Centre parks like Memorial Park offer lots of pathways for pedestrians to spread out. 

  Stampede Park pathway stroll.

Stampede Park pathway stroll.

#5 Tour de Cafe

Pedestrians need their caffeine fixes, be that at the beginning, middle or end of the walkabout.  Calgary has a plethora of independent cafes; in fact one could easily take a day and just tour from one café to the next.  Some of the hot spots include: Gravity (Inglewood), Phil & Sebastians (Stephen Avenue Walk), Bumpy’s and Kawa Espresso Bar (Beltline), Purple Perk (Mission) Analogue and Café Beano (17th Ave SW), Vendrome (Sunnyside), Roasterie, Higher Ground and Regal Cat Café (Kensington), deVille, Monogram and Caffe Artigiano (downtown) and Alfrono Bakery Café (Eau Claire).

  Sidewalk cafes are scattered throughout the City Centre. 

Sidewalk cafes are scattered throughout the City Centre. 

  Even in winter you can still enjoy your coffee outside. 

Even in winter you can still enjoy your coffee outside. 

#6 Take An Art Walk Everyday

Art is everywhere in Calgary’s City Centre, from murals to memorials, from statues to street art – even on utility boxes.  Make sure you pop into the lobbies of the office towers as most have artworks on the main floor – Bankers Hall, Eighth Avenue Place and City Centre towers are perhaps the best.  An entire day can be spent wandering to look at the art and still never see them all.

The “temporary” abstract paintings on the façades of our glass towers, created by the reflection of one building on the façade of another are both spectacular and ever changing.  It is a bit like the northern lights.

Being able to enjoy art as you walk always enhances the pedestrian experience.

  The Famous Five sculptures on Olympic Plaza is a popular place to stop and take a photo. 

The Famous Five sculptures on Olympic Plaza is a popular place to stop and take a photo. 

#7 Window Licking While You Walk

One of my favourite things to do as a pedestrian is “window shop” or as the French say “faire du leche-vitrines” which translates to “window licking.” Calgary’s City Centre has several great pedestrian oriented streets for “window licking”  – 11th and 17th Avenue SW; 9th Ave SE; 10th Ave NW and Kensington Road NW.   Some of the windows are like mini art exhibitions.

  Window licking fun along 17th Avenue. 

Window licking fun along 17th Avenue. 

#8 Entertainment

You can easily walk to two art house cinemas (Plaza and Globe), two museums (Glenbow, National Music Centre), theatres (Big Secret, Engineer Air, Max Bell, Martha Cohen, Lunchbox, The GRAND, Vertigo) concert halls (Jack Singer, The Palace, Festival Hall), DJD Dance Centre, Convention Centre, BMO Centre, Saddledome and dozen of live music venues. 

No matter where you are in the City Centre, you can literally walk to dozens of restaurants, pubs and lounges within 10 minutes and probably 50+ in 20 minutes.

  You never know where you might find some entertainment along the streets of Calgary's City Center.

You never know where you might find some entertainment along the streets of Calgary's City Center.

Last Word

I would be remiss if I didn’t add the streets of Calgary’s City Centre are some of the cleanest and safest I have encountered.  At the same time there is lots of work to do to make our City Centre streets more accessible and barrier free. As well we need to do a better job of snow removal in the winter.  That being said, our City Centre is one of the most pedestrian friendly places I have ever visited.

  Even in the middle of winter, Calgarians love to bundle up and go for a walk.  

Even in the middle of winter, Calgarians love to bundle up and go for a walk.  

David Peyto wrote:

I have completed 530 walks, totally almost 4,100 km so far in my attempt to walk all of the sidewalks in Calgary. There is still quite a bit to walking yet to do as I decided with all the snow on the residential streets this winter to start walking in the industrial areas where the streets were better.

I agree with your comments about Manchester being a very interesting area. I was surprised how many small older houses are still in that area.

I find Calgary's sidewalks are usually in good condition in the winter. Sometimes I wait until the ice formed overnight from the previous day's thawing melts again.

I find the drivers to be very good. I have noticed that many are careful not to splash pedestrians when passing especially when walking along roads without sidewalks.

Overall I have found the city to be very walkable. There have been very few areas where I have found any problems. Once in awhile there are two adjacent communities where it is a bit of a challenge to walk from one to the other. A good example of this is crossing Shaganappi between Hidden Valley and Hamptons.

I read your article about the overpass by Hillhurst School being in poor shape. I think the city needs to replace some of the older ones such as the two over Crowchild near your home although they will probably be replaced when Crowchild is widened.

There are also some others in that aren't great such as on 16th Avenue NE by 19th Street and on Crowchild Trail near Garrison Green.

I don't know enough about walking in other cities to offer comments in comparison to Calgary.

Seedy Saturday in Calgary

The Seedy Saturday doors at the Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Association building opened at 10 am, I arrived at 10:30ish and there was already aBUZZ.  It was like bees at a beehive with people of all ages popping in and out looking at tables filled with small brown envelopes of seeds. 

I was the 287th bee and there were many more right behind me – with more arriving as I left at noon.

  Seedy Saturday created a real buzz at the Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Centre, Saturday, March 17, 2018.

Seedy Saturday created a real buzz at the Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Centre, Saturday, March 17, 2018.

  Seedy Saturday was both educational and entertaining...

Seedy Saturday was both educational and entertaining...

It has been a long tough winter in Calgary with record amounts of snowfall (my garden is still under three feet of snow) that shows no signs of quitting.

In fact, there was a snow squall at 9:30 am just before the Seedy Saturday doors opened. However gardeners, especially in Calgary where the average number of frost-free days is only 117 are eternal optimists.

Who knew too that Seedy Saturday is a worldwide event, bringing together regional seed collectors with the public! I wouldn’t have gone had my neighbour not asked me if I was going (as she was going to be away).  I thought, “Why not?”

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 8.41.44 AM.png

What I found….

In addition to the buzz of the “human” bees, there were two gyms at the Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Centre full of displays, perhaps about half were selling seed (15 or so) others were selling seedlings. 

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 8.43.24 AM.png

As you would expect, there were also several volunteer organizations like Calgary Horticultural Society, Calgary Rock and Alpine Society, Friends of Reader Rock Garden, Green Calgary, Community Crop and Grow Calgary. 

So too were there a couple of exhibitors selling funky hand-made gardening tools, that were like works of art. 

There was even a seed exchange. Rats I should have collected and brought some of my Joe Pye weed seeds from last fall! Perhaps next year?

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 8.41.09 AM.png
  My Joe Pye weed garden....

My Joe Pye weed garden....

  Just one of the many seed vendor tables.

Just one of the many seed vendor tables.

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 8.42.04 AM.png

Lessons Learned….

  • When I use Miracle Grow fertilizer with high nitrogen content, I am literally feeding the aphids -  they love the free nitrogen. I need to use a slow release fertilizer. 
  • Composting is like rocket science.  Most of the compost you buy at Costco or the hardware stores is dead compost that has been pasteurized.  You want live compost not dead. In addition, I am going to have to rethink my random throw whatever and toss whenever of my composter, as it is definitely not proper composting.
  • Yes you can grow flowers from seeds in Calgary.  I will believe it when I see the beautiful, good sized plants with prolific bloom!
  • Flowers and vegetables love to grow together. 
  • Mushrooms will save bees.  Donna Balzer, Calgary’s guru gardener informed us of new research linking the health of bees to mycelia in mushrooms.  She encouraged us to spread bark in our garden and leave tree branches and leaves to rot.
  Donna Balzer was one of several presenters sharing ideas about how to improve your garden this summer.

Donna Balzer was one of several presenters sharing ideas about how to improve your garden this summer.

  Hand-made garden tools. 

Hand-made garden tools. 

Armchair Gardener

If you are like me, anxious to get into the garden, I would recommend NetFlix’s Big Dreams, Small Gardens. They It is not just about small gardens, nor is it just about, gardens. The stories about why the people want to create a garden are heart warming, ranging from parents wanting a special space for their special needs children to converting the front yard into a community garden and from two neighbours taking down a fence and combining their yards to a woman wanting to create a garden in memory of her deceased sister.   

  Monty Don with two novice gardeners helping them convert their backyard from a place to park their car into an oasis. 

Monty Don with two novice gardeners helping them convert their backyard from a place to park their car into an oasis. 

Last Word

  There was even a little ladybug in attendance.

There was even a little ladybug in attendance.

The diversity of human interests and passions continue to amaze me and it is what makes city life so fascinating and fun.

Who knew Calgary had such a vibrant seedy culture? 

I bet Calgary could have a Seedy Saturday every Saturday in March and April and they would all be packed.

My Dad, an avid flower gardener in retirement, used to say he liked to experiment with trying to grow one new flower per year. 

This year, my experiment will be to create a seed garden and add some vegetable plants to my garden.

That is, if the snow ever melts.  As my Mom likes to say, “this too shall pass.”

If you like this blog, you will like:

Garden Flaneuring: Try It You Might Like It!

Silver Springs: Stop And Smell The Flowers

The Art Of Gardening

Yellowknife: Winter Fun & Games

What makes for a quality urban adventure? 

It often starts with an interesting, historic community, a vibrant arts scene, ancient traditions, many small private galleries, character neighbourhoods, colourful architecture, friendly people, fantastic coffee, local craft brewing, wonderful views, and plenty of great, unusual restaurants all within walking distance of your VRBO houseboat?

That sounds good, but it's even better when your houseboat is frozen into the ice beside Old Town in Yellowknife right under the amazing aurora borealis.

(10).jpg
  The Aurora Borealis is spectacular, constantly changing and lighting up the night sky. 

The Aurora Borealis is spectacular, constantly changing and lighting up the night sky. 

Too Much Fun

  Hockey rink developed and maintained by the houseboat community.

Hockey rink developed and maintained by the houseboat community.

Looking out the window right now there are cross country skiers, kite surfers, a hockey game, many skidoos, kids throwing snowballs, the giant Snowking Ice Castle, along with a parade of colourful neighbouring houseboats that look like a Ted Harrison painting.

A bunch of college kids have built a structure to occupy while they make hot chocolate on an open fire on the ice (together with their six dogs that are rolling and tumbling like the Muddy Waters blues song). The dogs are making big, fluffy, white clouds of snow while the leap in the air, flip, and instantly change direction while falling all over each other.

There are many fat tire bikes on trails crossing ski trails and it's busy. You need to pay attention if you are driving the ice road to Detah.

  Bullocks Bistro, one of many quirky eating establishments.

Bullocks Bistro, one of many quirky eating establishments.

Hipsters Fun

  Mario's Marvellous Movie Emporium and Coffee Shop. The green flag is up.

Mario's Marvellous Movie Emporium and Coffee Shop. The green flag is up.

The local coffee ship (it really is a ship) and movie emporium is not on Trip Advisor.

They don't advertise because they don't want any more business. It's underground and strictly word of mouth.

It’s just down the snow path on the other side of a little rock island.

When the green flag is up, it’s open. Red flag, it's closed. The barista lives next door and opens when he feels like it.

Last night he was the showing of the 1951 classic; "The Thing From Outer Space" on a snow sculpted screen built by another neighbour. There is free popcorn, and there might also have been a little extra (under the counter) that can be poured into your coffee when you are at the outdoor fire pit on the deck. They know how to celebrate winter in Yellowknife.

Yesterday afternoon we went for a dog sled ride; shared with three polite Asian girls wearing fur hats that look like Hello Kitty animals. Beck's Kennels have 160 dogs and they make so much noise it's understandable why the neighbours are mostly storage depots and industrial supply companies. Their kennels are right next to a lake, which is perfect for a very smooth and incredibly scenic mushing experience.

From our urban houseboat, we can walk to several architectural offices. There could be a happy hour late on a Friday afternoon and then it's just a short walk to local craft brewery - NWT Brewing Co. (circa 2017). Locals told us the brewery started just last year by a few young entrepreneurs and is already an institution.

  Mushing with sled dogs on one of the nearby smaller lakes.

Mushing with sled dogs on one of the nearby smaller lakes.

Breaking The Rules Fun

This is a community where everyone seems to know your name within 48 hours. You just might meet the lady who sold you the sheared beaver hand warmers on the deck of the coffee ship the next morning.

  Architectural detail from the North West Territories capital building evoke sense of the ice snow and light that creates a unique sense of place in winter. 

Architectural detail from the North West Territories capital building evoke sense of the ice snow and light that creates a unique sense of place in winter. 

The NWT legislature is an amazing building that looks like science fiction, even though it is more than 25 years old.

Designed by Vancouver architect Kiyoshi Matsuzaki in association with FSC architects, the building exhibits characteristics of the Arthur Ericson tradition, with detailing and material treatments that are completely appropriate to this unique northern context.

We couldn't have the normal tour because the guides were all suffering from the flu, but no problem. The receptionist gave us pins and postcards along with the official and unofficial history through a few juicy stories involving some of the colourful politicians represented here.

Did I mention the ice road to Detah?

  Joggers on the ice highway.

Joggers on the ice highway.

This is an amazing 150-foot wide, totally slippery, extremely busy thoroughfare right in front of our houseboat.

It is an official, seasonal highway that links Yellowknife to the neighbouring indigenous communities across the bay.

There are joggers, ice fishers, ATV's, cross country skiers, Asian tourists, dozens of big trucks, skidoos, dogs, more Asian tourists; many taking “selfies” with the ice, and even more trucks.

It's fun to do donuts on the ice. It's probably not legal, but this is not a place that cares much about legality. It's more about civility, safety, and being considerate of your neighbours.

Off The Grid Fun

Last night after a house party, we were able to walk home; well after midnight on the airport ice runway enjoying the incredible northern lights for the entire half hour walk.

  Living off the grid in a VRBO houseboat frozen into Great Slave Lake.

Living off the grid in a VRBO houseboat frozen into Great Slave Lake.

If you are off the grid, you might need to re-ignite the pilot light in the heater and the separating toilet requires some training before you use it.

One story was told of an unusual freeze cycle a few years ago that saw houseboats freeze at an angle. For the entire winter they could only drink a half a cup of coffee at a time.

Today we enjoyed a three-hour ice fishing adventure with Greg Robertson (Bluefish Services). He picks you up in his Sno-bear specialty caterpillar track van. This has holes in the floor, special fishing seats, and comes with a hands free camera that is dropped below the ice linked to a viewing screen that lets you see the fish biting your hook. Sometimes the camera itself is bitten. It's amazing.

We missed the old time fiddling competition today because we chose fishing. We had previously decided not to do the late night electronica dance party on Friday. There are activities and events going on all the time in the Snowking Winter Festival in March.

  The unique sno-bear mobile ice fishing machine.

The unique sno-bear mobile ice fishing machine.

  Winter bikers passing the sno-bear.

Winter bikers passing the sno-bear.

 We love Yellowknife.

We love Yellowknife.

Last Word

Maybe skip Palm Springs next year and enjoy some real Canadian Northern adventure. Asians are raving about it. They are currently getting 20,000 tourists a year and it's growing.

This is a city with opportunities. We thought the connections were largely to Alberta, but we are meeting mostly easterners. People from Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes love this city.

Western Canadians seem to prefer Palm Springs in the winter, but once you have been to Yellowknife  in March for the Northern Lights Snowking Winter Festival we can't understand why more people don't give this town a try. 

Everyday Tourists: Charles & Leila Olfert

 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Calgarians embrace winter?

Are we winter wusses?

Calgary: Snowman Fun!

Am I an urban densification hypocrite?

Yes I am a city building geek! Yes, I live in a detached 2,000 square foot home in an inner city community surrounded by detached homes, some old tiny cottage homes, but more and more by modern large infill homes some might call McMansions. 

  Large contemporary two and three storey infill homes are slowly replacing the mid-century bungalows in most of Calgary's inner-city communities. 

Large contemporary two and three storey infill homes are slowly replacing the mid-century bungalows in most of Calgary's inner-city communities. 

And, yes I have and will continue to champion the benefits of older communities like mine becoming more dense and diverse residential buildings and office buildings with commercial uses at street level along transit routes.

And I, like thousands of urban planners, politicians, developers and architects have been advocating for decades the need for North American cities like Calgary to add more density - usually in the form of 4 to 12+ storeys residential and office buildings along major roads and transit routes and old malls in established suburban communities.   And in some cases even higher than 12 storeys where it makes sense.

Meanwhile, I live in my relatively big house (only two of us have ever lived in it) with a front and back yard, two-car garage and still drive to most of my activities. For me, walking and cycling remains mostly a recreational not an everyday activity.  

Yes, I feel guilty about that too!  

  As well, infill developers are strategically identifying sites for more intense densification like this project near Crowchild Trail.   

As well, infill developers are strategically identifying sites for more intense densification like this project near Crowchild Trail.  

  Here is what the new condo with 45 new homes looks like today.  

Here is what the new condo with 45 new homes looks like today.  

  Another redesignation sign in West Hillhurst along Kensington Road at 19th St NW which has the potential to become a vibrant Main Street. 

Another redesignation sign in West Hillhurst along Kensington Road at 19th St NW which has the potential to become a vibrant Main Street. 

Am I a hypocrite….

Because I champion higher density development but live in a low-density home on a low-density street? 

I believe most City Council members in major North American cities (maybe excluding larger urbanized cities like New York City and San Francisco) in detached single-family homes on streets without any major condo buildings. I have no empirical evidence for this.

Tell me I am wrong!

I also believe most senior urban planners (both private and public sector) live in single-family homes outside the City Centre.

Again, show me I am wrong.

When I sat on the Calgary Planning Commission, no members lived in condos or in dense communities, yet we were often approving major densification projects the local community was protesting.  I believe the same is true for today’s Planning Commission. 

Again, while I have no empirical data, I have informally gathered data over the past 20+ years by simply asking urban advocates where they live. Rarely have they said “in a high-rise condo in the city centre” or “in a mid-rise condo in an older community.”

Is it a case of urban densificationists saying, “do as we say, not as we do?”

Charles Olfert, a Saskatoon architect says “Ouch! Guilty as charged. But in fairness, we moved here in 1983 when there really wasn’t an alternative to the suburbs. Our main concerns were schools and an accessible home for our daughter. I am now working on the very early stages of two, new, substantial, mixed-use, inter generational, infill housing developments that could be places we might want to move to within the next 4-8 years. It helps ease the conscience. I think you are right. Most of our 40 city hall planning staff live in suburbs. Very few bike. However, our new mayor actually lives in a core neighborhood.” 

I expect Olfert's situation is similar to that of the majority of Calgarians.  I recently chatted  with my millennial dental hygienist who lives in the Beltline in the Calla condo near the Lougheed House, but looks forward to moving to a house to raise a family as does her twin sister. 

I know, not empirical data - keep reading.

  New infill condo on 17th Ave SW is creeping west from Crowchild to Sarcee Trail.  However, this is not new as there are several residential buildings taller than four storeys from the 70s and 80s. 

New infill condo on 17th Ave SW is creeping west from Crowchild to Sarcee Trail.  However, this is not new as there are several residential buildings taller than four storeys from the 70s and 80s. 

Why do people hate density?

Most people hate tall buildings and would prefer to live in a detached home or perhaps a small complex of homes with both  front and back yards.  This time I do have some empirical evidence. In October 2017, Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation (CMHC) surveyed 2,507 Canadians who intended to buy a new home in the next two years. 

When asked what type of home buyers were planning to buy, “single detached homes are preferred by the majority, especially by current owners where 74% expected to buy a detached home, Apartments and condos were second, followed by semi-detached houses including duplexes and townhomes.”  

And, Calgary had the lowest percentage of buyers interested in buying an apartment condo of any of Canada’s major cities.”

  The four colourful condo towers at the Brentwood LRT near the Co-op grocery store, and within walking distance to the University of Calgary were opposed by neighbours. 

The four colourful condo towers at the Brentwood LRT near the Co-op grocery store, and within walking distance to the University of Calgary were opposed by neighbours. 

Human Scale

There is in fact lots of data, documenting that when it comes to urban living humans like what is called “human scale” buildings commonly thought of as being no taller than nine or 10 storeys – think Paris or Barcelona.   Yet, it is rare a new Calgary condo project (even when it is under 10 storeys) proposed in older community next to single-family homes isn’t greeted by neighbours kicking and screaming about how this is going to ruin their neighbourhood. 

Four examples are, St. John’s on Tenth and Ezra on Riley Park (both in Kensington), Legion (in West Hillhurst) and AVLI (in Inglewood).  Eventually, all four got approved but not without a fight.  Currently, two new battles are about to erupt - The Grid (in Inglewood) and Carlisle Group’s Glendale project. A recent visit to Hamilton and the same was happening that city and in Burlington.

The density advocates just roll their eyes, when they hear people’s concerns about parking, shadows, increased traffic and crime, or that the proposed development is out of context with the scale of the other nearby buildings.

While many densification advocates dismiss the neighbours’ concerns as a case of NIMBYism, I am beginning to wonder if it is the densificationists (planners, politicians and developers) who are the NIMBYist in that they are prepared to propose, approve and build high-density developments in locations as long as they are not in their backyards.

Indeed, I could be accused of this as I publicly supported the conversion of the single story Legion building in West Hillhurst to be redeveloped to accommodate an 8-storey condo and 4-storey office development in my neighborhood that was adamantly opposed by many in my community.

To me redevelopment of the Legion site made perfect sense. It is along a major bus route and within walking and cycling distance to downtown and just blocks to the Bow River pathway.  There is an emerging main street along 19th Street NW and it is close to schools and a recreation center.  Sounds like a recipe for an urban living node if I ever saw one.

But, full disclosure, it was 10 blocks away from my home so not exactly in my backyard. 

  Along 20th Ave NW from 14th St to 19th St you can see how the scale of housing evolves from mid 20th century to early 21st century.  Note the height of the 3 storey condo building isn't any higher than the infill duplex.  

Along 20th Ave NW from 14th St to 19th St you can see how the scale of housing evolves from mid 20th century to early 21st century.  Note the height of the 3 storey condo building isn't any higher than the infill duplex.  

  Human scale condo on 19th St NW add to the potential of creating a vibrant main street with neighbourhood shops at street level along 19th St NW.

Human scale condo on 19th St NW add to the potential of creating a vibrant main street with neighbourhood shops at street level along 19th St NW.

Experts love the mid-rise…

Jennifer Keesmaat, Canada’s current urban planning guru and former chief planner for the City of Toronto has been  advocating the advantages of mid-rise buildings for infill projects along major roads and transit routes for many years. As has Brent Toderian, former Manager of Centre City Planning + Design in Calgary, Director of Planning, City of Vancouver and now an international urban development consultant. (FYI…when Toderian lived in Calgary, his home was n a low rise multi-family building in Inglewood; I don’t believe he even owned a car. In fact, I believe he took is first child home from the hospital on a city bus in Vancouver. He is no hypocrite!)

The rationale: mid-rise buildings have the ability to synergistically connect with existing suburban development as their “human scale” integrates better with single-family homes while still creating the density needed to support better transit service. Mid-rise buildings also accommodate larger tenants like grocery stores, family restaurants, recreation, health and office buildings which complement the smaller boutique shops, cafes and bistros.

Never the less in reality, few Canadians welcome large infill condo buildings near their house. Just ask Margaret Atwood who opposed a proposed modest eight-storey, 16-unit condo building near her home in 2017. 

  Mid-rise development is changing the face of Kensington's 10th St. NW with retail and restaurants at street level and residents above. 

Mid-rise development is changing the face of Kensington's 10th St. NW with retail and restaurants at street level and residents above. 

Densification: Revolution or Evolution

Indeed, the biggest challenge facing urban planners in North American today is trying to figure out how to densify and diversify their late 20th century communities that are a sea of detached homes and little else.  The urban density missionaries tell us these communities are not sustainable in the 21st century.   However, there are hundreds of millions of people who love their 20th century suburb just the way it is.

As long as the Canadian dream is still to own a home with a front and back yard on a street with other single-family homes, the urban densification battle will continue. Every new infill condo will be a battle between the locals and the outsiders (developers and urban planners).   Some see urban densification as an urban revolutionary process, while others see it as the natural evolution of any city as it grows and adapts to new economics, markets and attitudes.

  5th Avenue at 12th Street NW illustrating how older homes are being replace by mid-rise condos.  5th Ave also has the potential to become an attractive cycling route, with parks, schools, community and recreation centers nearby.

5th Avenue at 12th Street NW illustrating how older homes are being replace by mid-rise condos.  5th Ave also has the potential to become an attractive cycling route, with parks, schools, community and recreation centers nearby.

  Townhomes at the base of mid and highrise condos create a transition from low to mid density.

Townhomes at the base of mid and highrise condos create a transition from low to mid density.

  In Britannia the mid-rise mixed-use building steps down next to the single-family home to create an attractive transition.

In Britannia the mid-rise mixed-use building steps down next to the single-family home to create an attractive transition.

Last Word

I am not sure who will win the war, but in the meantime I will enjoy my detached home, two car garage, front and backyard gardens, great neighbours and the park across the street for probably another decade and then decide where I want to live.

Perhaps I should spend less time on Twitter reading and responding to the incestuous tweets back and forth from the urban densification missionaries that make me feel like a hypocrite.  

Richard White aka The Hypocrite

  My front yard.

My front yard.

Hamilton: Atelier Vsaint A Timeless Hidden Gem

We were just walking along minding our own business, when for some unknown reason we noticed the sign in the window said “OPEN.”  We could have easily walked by this tired two storey brick building in downtown Hamilton with its modest window display in an otherwise dark-looking interior.

But there was something intriguing about the surrealistic-looking poster in the Atelier Vsaint shop window saying watch repair that drew us in, despite not having a watch needing repair.  

Perhaps it was the curiosity of being an everyday tourist calling?

  Was it the poster or the red door that made us want to go in?

Was it the poster or the red door that made us want to go in?

Window Ad Keeper.jpg

Time Machine

As we opened the bright red door into the dimly lite space a bell rang and a friendly voice said “Come in.”  Quickly looking around the minimalist space, it looked as if it hadn’t changed for over a 100 years.  The well-dressed man behind the antique counter introduced himself as Vincent Cino, asking, “How can I help you?” 

We must have looked a bit puzzled as he quickly began to explain us that in addition to fixing watches he also makes custom watches and began showing us some of his impressive work.   

Really! Who knew there are people who actually still make watches by hand? It was like we were in a time machine that had taken us back 100+ years. 

IMG_1711.jpg
Backstory:  The first wristwatch was made for a woman, Countess Koscowicz of Hungary, by Swiss watch manufacturer Patek Philippe in 1868. Although it was the first timekeeping device to be designed specifically for use on the wrist, it was intended primarily as a piece of decorative jewelry.
It has been claimed that pocket watches were adapted to be worn on wrist bracelets prior to 1868, perhaps as early as the 1570s, though there is no concrete evidence to support this. Wristwatches were a natural progression from pocket watches, but men did not initially take to the idea, preferring to rely on the larger, more traditional and “masculine” timepiece.
The practicalities of the wristwatch, which could be operated with one hand rather than two, eventually won over popular opinion, appealing especially to those in the military, who needed to be able to monitor the time while also operating machinery and weaponry. Consequently, the first wristwatches to be produced in large quantities were those manufactured specifically for the German military in the 1880s by Swiss watchmaker Girard-Perregaux. (Source: Guinness World Records)
  Vincent explaining to me how he will put my watch back together. He  takes photos of every step as he takes it apart.  

Vincent explaining to me how he will put my watch back together. He  takes photos of every step as he takes it apart.  

Putting It Back Together

IMG_5432.jpg
IMG_5428.jpg
IMG_5427.jpg
IMG_5407.jpg
IMG_5412.jpg
IMG_5406.jpg
IMG_5403.jpg
IMG_5397.jpg

Back to our adventure

Vincent then told us the story of the building. It dates back to the 1820s and has been home to a watchmaker since the 1870s when Edwin K. Pass first leased the store and later bought the building. The Pass family operated their watchmaking business out of the building for 100+ years. At one time they were so busy they employed five full-time watchmakers.

He still uses the original 18th century safe to lock up the watchers and materials every night.

That was in April of 2017. Fast forward to February 2018.  

As I was planning my trip to visit my Mom, I began thinking  about my Hamilton Automatic Estoril watch that wasn’t keeping good time and wondering if Vincent could fix it. 

I did a Google search - his shop didn’t come up. I checked Google Maps - it wasn’t there.  Wondering if he was still in business, I asked my Mom to check and she said she went by on the bus and it looked like he was.

So I took my watch with me and on the first morning I headed to his shop. Sure enough, he was there.  I showed him my watch and he assured me he could fix it.  Said he have a look and see what the problem was and give me a call.  He called the next day saying it just needed a good cleaning, so I gave the “go ahead” and was to pick it up three days later before I left for home.

By chance, on next the next morning I happen to be walking by and the “Open” sign was on so I tried the door and sure enough he was there. Vincent asked, “Do you want to see your watch?” Sure….so he pulls out a small, Tupperware-like container with various compartments with all of the tiny pieces of my watch sorted. I didn’t say anything but I was thinking “I sure hope he knows how to put this back together.” 

Tuesday morning the watch is waiting for me and he says it is keeping good time.  As I am leaving he says, “it might lose a few seconds a day!” I smiled and said, “that would be OK.”

It has been keeping perfect time ever since.

  Custom Vsaint watch, with the cool logo integrated into the face.

Custom Vsaint watch, with the cool logo integrated into the face.

About Vincent Cino

Born in Hamilton, Vincent became interested in watchmaking in 1974 when visiting family in Turin, Italy. There a he saw his cousin working away at his watchmaker’s bench fixing watches and became fascinated with the world of micro-mechanics and horology – the science of watchmaking.  Upon returning home, he signed up for the British Horological Institute’s online learning program and as they say, the rest is history.

Today, Vincent is an expert at building Swiss chronograph watches.  He sources all of his materials for creating custom Vsaint Timepieces from Switzerland, so one could say “there are Swiss watches made in Canada.” As well, all of the parts he needs for watch repairs are also Swiss. 

I had to ask…Vincent himself owns only two watches - one is his own creation and the other is a Rolex Submariner. 

IMG_1834.jpg
IMG_6375.JPG

Last Word

I also learned my Hamilton Estoril watch was from the late 1960s. It wasn’t until 1964 that Seiko invented the automatic (self winding) chronograph and unveiled it at the Tokyo Olympics.  Later Heuer, Breitling and Hamilton and movement specialist Dubois Depraz developed the technology for the first automatic chromatics like mine. 

Now the dilemma is, do I want him to make me a custom watch?  He showed me one I really like that he was working on that was $1,250.  Really isn’t that expensive considering the cost of a watch battery these days. 

Full Disclosure: I paid full price for the cleaning of my watch, it was only afterwards that I decided to do this blog. 

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

Calgary: Art of Vintage: A hidden gem

Hamilton's James Street North is a hidden gem

Turner Valley Gas Plant: A Hidden Gem

Beltline: Calgary's hipster/nester community?

“What is a hipster/nester community?” It is a community that appeals to both the hipsters and empty nesters.

“Over the past 10+ years Calgary’s Beltline has very quietly evolved into one of North America’s best urban villages.  I don’t expect that “flying under the radar status” to last much longer” says David Bell of Urban Systems’ Vancouver office. He adds, “Steps away from work but also a ton of cool cultural, entertainment and foodie venues in a mix of old and new buildings, the Beltline is a lot like Vancouver’s Yaletown or Seattle’s Belltown. For workers and residents in the Beltline, being able to walk or cycle to things rather than being stuck in traffic is also a huge bonus.”

  Just another weekend afternoon in Tomkins Park. 

Just another weekend afternoon in Tomkins Park. 

FYI

The Beltline stretches from 14th St SW to the Elbow River, from 10th Avenue S to 17th Ave S, including all of Stampede Park. It is the amalgamation of two of Calgary’s oldest communities - Connaught and Victoria Park, which happened in 2003.  The Beltline name comes from the old streetcar route that used to wind through the district linking 17th Avenue S to downtown.

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 10.32.13 PM.png
  Condos come in all shapes and sizes in the Beltline.

Condos come in all shapes and sizes in the Beltline.

Here are six reasons why Calgary’s Beltline deserves to be on the list of North America’s top hipster/nester communities:  

#1 Pubs & Clubs

In today’s world, no community is hip without having several places to enjoy local and international craft beer, as well as curated cocktails.  Beltline is home to dozens of neighbourhood pubs from traditional ones like Bottlescrew Bills (home of “Around the World in 80 Beers” passport), Ship & Anchor (best street patio in Calgary) and Rose & Crown to the new kids on the block – CRAFT Beer Market, Commonwealth Bar and Stage, Beer Revolution, 1410 World Bier Haus and Home and Away. Looking for local brews Beltliners have Brewsters, Trolley 5 Brewpub and Last Best Brewing & Distillery.

As for crafted cocktails, the Beltline is home to the Raw Bar, in the funky Hotel Arts, Model Milk (a popular “meet-up” spot), with the new kid on the block being Run Pig Run Urban Eatery & Bar. 

  Yes there are a lot of things happening in the Beltline. 

Yes there are a lot of things happening in the Beltline. 

  Life is good in the Beltline.

Life is good in the Beltline.

#2 Café /Patio Culture

Whether you are a hipster or a nester, you likely need your daily caffeine fix.  The Beltline’s independent cafes could give Vancouver or Seattle a run for their beans.

Café Beano, the Beltline’s “go-to” café for decades, has been joined by places like Analog, Bumpy’s, Kawa Espresso Bar, Sucre Patisserie & Café, Boxcar Board Game Café and Café Rosso. 

  Beltline's street life happens year-round.

Beltline's street life happens year-round.

  Patio fun on 17th Ave.

Patio fun on 17th Ave.

#3 Parks

  An evening stroll....

An evening stroll....

There was once a time, not that long ago, the Beltline was lacking when it came to parks. This is not longer true. 

It is home to Calgary’s oldest and prettiest park – Central Memorial Park built in 1912, with its fountains, gardens, bistro and library.  Speaking of pretty parks, the Lougheed Park with the Beaulieu Gardens is a hidden gem along the pastoral tree-canopied 13th Avenue.

Other parks include Thomson Family Park, not to be confused with the Beltline’s Tomkins Park, Barb Scott Park with its illuminated Chinook Arc sculpture, Humpty Hollow Park and Connaught Park (with Calgary’s only urban dog park).  There is also Haultain Park with is busy playground (who says families don’t live downtown), tennis courts and soccer field.

And of course, there is Stampede Park, home to festivals year round, everything from the Calgary Expo, one of North America’s best cosplay festivals to the Tattoo and Arts Festival and of course that little cowboy festival.  

DSC03824.JPG
  Funky new residential towers, next to Barb Scott Park. 

Funky new residential towers, next to Barb Scott Park. 

#4 FFQ Factor

Beltline has a plethora of fun, funky and quirky places to eat.  It doesn’t get more fun than the Yellow Door with its Alice in Wonderland-like décor to the steel barrel booths at REGRUB (makes a mean burger and shake). For funky dining there is Tubby Dog (know to some as Tubby Arcade) and Nandor’s, which is like walking into a 3D street art mural with its two-storey graffiti mural on one wall. As for quirky eating, nothing beats brunch at the Mermaid Inn in the mellow yellow Danish Canadian Club building.

Fine dining options include Bonterra (best back alley patio, in Calgary), Vintage Chophouse and La Chaumiere.

IMG_5350.JPG

The first annual Beltline Bonspiel at the Lougheed House took place on February 25th 2017.  It was the first outdoor bonspiel in Calgary in over 100 years. The winners are awarded the Brewer’s Trophy Cup that dates back to 1915, but had not been awarded to any team since 1966. The 2018 bonspiel took place on the Family Day weekend and the CBC team took home the trophy for the second year in a row.

In September 2017, the City of Calgary and merchants on 17th Avenue piloted a Backyard Alley party concept where parking and loading areas were cleverly converted into outdoor patios and game areas.  A huge success, plans are underway to expand the alley parties in 2018.

If you are into music, Beltline has Broken City, Commonwealth Bar and Stage, The Hifi Club and Mikey’s on 12th.  You know you are in a hipster/nester community when there is a monthly Flamenco Jam (its held the last Saturday of the month at Café Koi).

  Beltline is a fun mix of the old and the new. 

Beltline is a fun mix of the old and the new. 

  Funky murals are popping up everywhere these days in the Beltline.

Funky murals are popping up everywhere these days in the Beltline.

  Calgary Expo at Stampede Park is fun for people of all ages.

Calgary Expo at Stampede Park is fun for people of all ages.

#5 Parkside Living

The Beltine has a wonderful mix of old and new condos, from one of Calgary architects Jeremy Sturgess’ earliest works - Connaught Gardens - to Lamb Development’s 6th and Tenth condo. It also has some of the few real loft condos in Calgary in the old warehouses along 10th Avenue.

Beltline developers have taken full advantage of the neighbourhood parks to offer luxury parkside living opportunities. Currently, four new residential towers are under construction or recently completed next to parks – The Guardian at Stampede Park, The Royal at Tomkins Park, Park Pointe at Central Memorial Park and Underwood Tower at Haultain Park.

  The new Thomson Family Park has picnic tables, playground, playing field and ice rink in the winter.

The new Thomson Family Park has picnic tables, playground, playing field and ice rink in the winter.

IMG_0001.JPG

#6 Grocery Stores Galore

In addition to two traditional grocery stores (Safeway and Calgary Co-op), the Beltline is home to Community Natural Foods, Calgary’s signature organic food store. It is also home to Sunterra Calgary’s home grown urban format grocery store.

The Beltline will also soon be home to Calgary’s first Urban Fare grocer in The Royal, Embassy Bosa’s mixed-use development that will also include a Canadian Tire.

And let’s not forget the Kalamata Grocery Store - Calgary’s “go to” place for olives.

  Best selection of olives in town, a bit of old world charm. 

Best selection of olives in town, a bit of old world charm. 

  Beltline is home to Calgary's next generation of entrepreneurs. 

Beltline is home to Calgary's next generation of entrepreneurs. 

Last Word

While most neighbourhoods struggle to have one Main Street the Beltline five – 17th Avenue SW, 10th & 11th Ave (design district) First Street SW, Fourth St SW and 11th Street SW. 

Indeed, today’s Beltline is now on the right side of the tracks.  

Note: An edited version of this blog titled "Beltline Bridges Past and New" was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on Saturday March 3, 2018. 

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

Discover Calgary's Secret Heritage Walk

Calgary: Beautifying The Beltline

11th St SW is Calgary's Green Street

 

 

Flaneuring Fun in Hamilton!

Regular readers of the Everyday Tourist blog know I love to flaneur i.e. wander aimlessly the streets, alleys, parks and pathways of Calgary or any other city where I might be.  

Recently I was in Hamilton, visiting my Mom and found some time everyday  to flaneur the streets of what use to be Steel Town but is now affectionally known as The Hammer.  

As I wandered, I was surprised at how often I felt like I was back in Dublin, Nashville, Memphis, Leipzig (Germany) or Kreuzber (Berlin).

  I love shop owners who extend their stores out onto the street. Kudos to Vintage Soul Geek, International Village. 

I love shop owners who extend their stores out onto the street. Kudos to Vintage Soul Geek, International Village. 

Streets of Hamilton 

While visually you couldn't get two City Centres more different than Calgary with its glittering glass office and condo towers and Hamilton with its redbrick low-rise buildings, surprisingly there were lots of similarities. 

  • Hamilton's Locke Street had many of the elements of Calgary's Inglewood, before it became gentrified.  
  • Hamilton's Durand with is charming brick mansions reminded me of Calgary's Mount Royal, without the new mega homes.  
  • Hamilton's Corktown with all of its live music venues had many elements of Calgary's Inglewood.  
  • Hamilton's International Village with its colourful storefronts reminded me of colourful facades and a doors in Dublin.
  • Hamilton's James Street North had elements of Calgary's 4th Street and  Kensington Village, as well as urban grit of Kreuzberg. 

I thought since I had so much flaneuring fun I would share it with you as a photo essay.  

Streetscapes 

  Fun sandwich boards are a great way to enhance the pedestrian experience. Kudos to House of Java on James St. S.

Fun sandwich boards are a great way to enhance the pedestrian experience. Kudos to House of Java on James St. S.

  There should be awards for stores with the best names and signage. Into the Abyss is a record store on Locke Street. 

There should be awards for stores with the best names and signage. Into the Abyss is a record store on Locke Street. 

  Dr. Disc was a great find...loved the fun display in the stairwell...be sure to leave some time to search the 3 for $1 records. 

Dr. Disc was a great find...loved the fun display in the stairwell...be sure to leave some time to search the 3 for $1 records. 

  Empty storefront becomes an exhibition space on James St. N. Why doesn't every landlord with an empty window space do this? 

Empty storefront becomes an exhibition space on James St. N. Why doesn't every landlord with an empty window space do this? 

  Jane Jacobs would love the urban clutter along Locke St.

Jane Jacobs would love the urban clutter along Locke St.

  One of the strangest things about Hamilton's City Centre is the number of scooters you encounte r.   They replace the mega strollers of cities like Calgary. 

One of the strangest things about Hamilton's City Centre is the number of scooters you encounter.  They replace the mega strollers of cities like Calgary. 

  Somehow it seemed ironic that there were all these signs saying "Stop For Pedestrians" but there wasn't a pedestrian (other than me) anywhere in sight. 

Somehow it seemed ironic that there were all these signs saying "Stop For Pedestrians" but there wasn't a pedestrian (other than me) anywhere in sight. 

Window Wonderland 

  I was surprised at how many great window displays there were in downtown Hamilton stores.  

I was surprised at how many great window displays there were in downtown Hamilton stores.  

Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 8.36.36 AM.png
  I was also surprised at the number of independent used bookstores in Hamilton's City Centre -  another sign of a healthy community.

I was also surprised at the number of independent used bookstores in Hamilton's City Centre -  another sign of a healthy community.

  Inside I found intriguing vignettes. 

Inside I found intriguing vignettes. 

  Hamilton's City Centre is full of funky coffee shops with great windows for people watching.  

Hamilton's City Centre is full of funky coffee shops with great windows for people watching.  

  This could easily be in Dublin or Berlin.

This could easily be in Dublin or Berlin.

  I want a craft beer kitchen in my neighbourhood. 

I want a craft beer kitchen in my neighbourhood. 

  Hamilton's City Centre is full of small boutiques.

Hamilton's City Centre is full of small boutiques.

Corktown: Hamilton's Music District

  If you are in Hamilton on a Tuesday night, be sure to check out the Irish Jam at the Corktown Pub. It was as good as anything I experienced in Dublin. At one point I counted 23 musician jamming at the same time.

If you are in Hamilton on a Tuesday night, be sure to check out the Irish Jam at the Corktown Pub. It was as good as anything I experienced in Dublin. At one point I counted 23 musician jamming at the same time.

 The Corktown pub also has great blues jam on Sunday afternoons. It reminded me of being back in Memphis at the International Blues Competition.  

The Corktown pub also has great blues jam on Sunday afternoons. It reminded me of being back in Memphis at the International Blues Competition.  

  Hamilton's Mississippi Queen aka Connie (FYI: she owns the Mississippi Queen restaurant in Hamilton and is from the delta) was at the Blues Jam entertaining everyone with her dancing. 

Hamilton's Mississippi Queen aka Connie (FYI: she owns the Mississippi Queen restaurant in Hamilton and is from the delta) was at the Blues Jam entertaining everyone with her dancing. 

  If you are into guitars you will want to check out The Acoustic Room on James St. N, near St. Joe's Hospital.  Yes, they only sell acoustic guitars.  It is like an art gallery for guitars. 

If you are into guitars you will want to check out The Acoustic Room on James St. N, near St. Joe's Hospital.  Yes, they only sell acoustic guitars.  It is like an art gallery for guitars. 

  The Cat "N" Fiddle reminded me both of Dublin and Nashville. Dublin because of the architecture and colours, Nashville because the bands playing in the front window.

The Cat "N" Fiddle reminded me both of Dublin and Nashville. Dublin because of the architecture and colours, Nashville because the bands playing in the front window.

  I am thinking Hamilton must be the neighbourhood pub capital of Canada.  

I am thinking Hamilton must be the neighbourhood pub capital of Canada.  

  In Hamilton any house can become a pub. 

In Hamilton any house can become a pub. 

Night Walks

  Ever since the two-year old new door introduced me to the joy of "night walks" I make a point of flaneuring at night when I am in a new city.  

Ever since the two-year old new door introduced me to the joy of "night walks" I make a point of flaneuring at night when I am in a new city.  

  Brightly coloured rooms are all the rage at trendy contemporary art galleries today.  In the past year I have seen "Colour Room" exhibitions at the Esker Gallery, Calgary; Palm Springs Art Museum and one of the galleries at Leipzig's Spinnerei.  In Hamilton, you don't need to go to an art museum to see contemporary art just wander the streets.  

Brightly coloured rooms are all the rage at trendy contemporary art galleries today.  In the past year I have seen "Colour Room" exhibitions at the Esker Gallery, Calgary; Palm Springs Art Museum and one of the galleries at Leipzig's Spinnerei.  In Hamilton, you don't need to go to an art museum to see contemporary art just wander the streets.  

  There is an interesting narrative here, as all of the chairs are faced to look out onto the street. It is as if they are starring at you.  

There is an interesting narrative here, as all of the chairs are faced to look out onto the street. It is as if they are starring at you. 

  Hommage to Edward Hopper.

Hommage to Edward Hopper.

Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 8.24.02 AM.png
  I passed by this alley many times during my stay. Something about it fascinated me. 

I passed by this alley many times during my stay. Something about it fascinated me. 

Colourful Store Fronts

   The note on the door says "you won't know unless you come it." Inside, you will meet Pat who sells everything from vintage typewriters to books, from pens to rubber stamps.  It is a hidden gem.  

 The note on the door says "you won't know unless you come it." Inside, you will meet Pat who sells everything from vintage typewriters to books, from pens to rubber stamps.  It is a hidden gem. 

  Perhaps Hamilton's best one two combination...a great bookstore beside funky cafe...it doesn't get any better. 

Perhaps Hamilton's best one two combination...a great bookstore beside funky cafe...it doesn't get any better. 

  Unless it is the Thrifty Designer and a flower shop.

Unless it is the Thrifty Designer and a flower shop.

  The Burnt Tongue has great soups (as well as a great name). Next door is Smalls cafe (it has just one seat to sit at the window).  

The Burnt Tongue has great soups (as well as a great name). Next door is Smalls cafe (it has just one seat to sit at the window).  

 Choises Musicales aka Musical Chairs is a fun vintage boutique. 

Choises Musicales aka Musical Chairs is a fun vintage boutique. 

Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 4.10.15 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 10.10.08 PM.png

Art & Architecture 

  All along the sidewalks of Lock Street are fun word plaques that make you stop and think.   Wow -  fun, clever and inexpensive - public art! 

All along the sidewalks of Lock Street are fun word plaques that make you stop and think.   Wow -  fun, clever and inexpensive - public art! 

  Thought Hamilton's downtown there are amazing relief artworks form the early to mid-20th Century. I am thinking we need to bring this kind of public art back. 

Thought Hamilton's downtown there are amazing relief artworks form the early to mid-20th Century. I am thinking we need to bring this kind of public art back. 

  This brutalist parkade comes alive at night with light and colour.  How simple, effective and affordable is that.  

This brutalist parkade comes alive at night with light and colour.  How simple, effective and affordable is that. 

  Love this collage of old and new architecture. 

Love this collage of old and new architecture. 

  Hamilton's Gore Park is an eerie spot at night. This artwork/signage seems surreal in the deserted space.

Hamilton's Gore Park is an eerie spot at night. This artwork/signage seems surreal in the deserted space.

 This barn-like sculpture outside of the Hamilton's Farmers' Market adds a sense of playfulness to the pedestrian experience. I love contrast between the chaotic lines of artwork and the ordered linear lines of the market windows.  A nice metaphor for entropy of urban living.

This barn-like sculpture outside of the Hamilton's Farmers' Market adds a sense of playfulness to the pedestrian experience. I love contrast between the chaotic lines of artwork and the ordered linear lines of the market windows.  A nice metaphor for entropy of urban living.

  I don't know if it is true, but it seemed to me that there are more churches per block Hamilton's City Centre than an other city I have visited. 

I don't know if it is true, but it seemed to me that there are more churches per block Hamilton's City Centre than an other city I have visited. 

  When I first saw this piece I thought it was a real person sleeping on the bench. This is outside St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church.  

When I first saw this piece I thought it was a real person sleeping on the bench. This is outside St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church. 

Hamilton vs Kreuzberg & Leipzig 

  This could easily be in Kreuzberg a neighbourhood in Berlin that has been called the best hipster community in the world even though it is the dirtiest community (graffiti and litter everywhere) I have ever visited, that wasn't a slum.  It is a haven for artists from around the world who love the bohemian lifestyle. The same is true for parts of Leipzig, two hours from Berlin that is also a haven for artists.  

This could easily be in Kreuzberg a neighbourhood in Berlin that has been called the best hipster community in the world even though it is the dirtiest community (graffiti and litter everywhere) I have ever visited, that wasn't a slum.  It is a haven for artists from around the world who love the bohemian lifestyle. The same is true for parts of Leipzig, two hours from Berlin that is also a haven for artists.  

 Found this on the window of a door along James St N.  How cool is this as an artwork?

Found this on the window of a door along James St N.  How cool is this as an artwork?

  Found this on the hoarding (plywood walls) at construction site, it too could be in a contemporary art gallery exhibition.  

Found this on the hoarding (plywood walls) at construction site, it too could be in a contemporary art gallery exhibition.  

 Another doorway artwork that would be at home in Kreuzberg or in a contemporary art exhibition.  

Another doorway artwork that would be at home in Kreuzberg or in a contemporary art exhibition.  

  I wonder what is the connection between Hamilton and Franz Liszt? 

I wonder what is the connection between Hamilton and Franz Liszt? 

Last Photos

  This looks like a checklist of what any urban planner would tell you a City Centre needs to be vibrant place. And yet, Hamilton's City Centre struggles to attract the right mix of live, work and play elements to foster urban vitality. It is obviously not for a lack of trying. 

This looks like a checklist of what any urban planner would tell you a City Centre needs to be vibrant place. And yet, Hamilton's City Centre struggles to attract the right mix of live, work and play elements to foster urban vitality. It is obviously not for a lack of trying. 

  And yes, Hamilton (home to Tim Hortons) has a trendy boutique donut maker. Monster is located at the south end of Locke Street. 

And yes, Hamilton (home to Tim Hortons) has a trendy boutique donut maker. Monster is located at the south end of Locke Street. 

Calgary: West District: A model mid-rise community!

An urban oasis in a sea of suburbia has begun construction on Calgary’s west side in the community of West Springs.  Currently called West District, it will probably be renamed, hopefully to something like Broadcast Hill, in recognition the area’s history as home to CFCN, Canada’s first independent television station.

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 7.30.50 PM.png

West District is a very ambitious project by Truman, a family-owned Calgary developer and builder who, to date, has invested over $100 million in assembling the land, developing the master plan and managing the complex approval process.

It has taken 5+ years to get to the construction stage which included a four-phase community engagement process (April to November 2014) which resulted in 1,200+ ideas from the community that were then evaluated and where feasible included in the first draft of the master plan. Truman then participated in a City-led engagement process to complete the final plan Council approved in late 2017.

When completed West District will have approximately 2,500 new homes (98% of them condos or townhomes) for 4,500 people. As well, 825,000 square feet of office/institutional and 300,000 square feet of retail will employ approximately 3,600 people. 

It is the perfect balance of live, work and play.

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 12.22.02 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 7.35.16 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 12.21.39 PM.png

Perfect Park

West District’s crown jewel will be its unnamed $15.5 million central park (my vote goes for Buck Shot Park, in recognition of the popular CFCN children’s show Buck Shot enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of children from 1967 to 1997) that took over a year to get approved in principle.

Why so long? Because it the first park of its kind in Canada that incorporates an integrated storm water pond with a public park (normally storm water ponds have no public access). 

The 8.4-acre park will also include a 500-seat amphitheatre, skate park, skating rink, spray park, basketball court, playground, great lawn, pathways and a large amenity/event building – think East Village’s Simmons Building on steroids. 

The park will be a hybrid between Olympic Plaza and St. Patrick’s Island Park.

Screen Shot 2018-01-11 at 5.32.55 PM.png

Active Main Street

It will also have a seven-block long main street lined with shops at street level and seven floors of residences above. The feel will be one of a modern Paris streetscape. In fact, nearly 80% of the buildings in West District will be between 5 and 8-storeys high, creating one of the highest densities of mid-rise buildings in Canada. The master plan doesn’t include any highrises  (above 12-storeys).

Another unique feature of West District’s Main Street will be its “activity centre street,” classification which includes a wide sidewalk for pedestrians and patios, a dedicated bike lane and two traffic lanes each way.  In the future, it will be home to a transit hub connecting the community to nearby amenities and LRT. 

There will be no surface parking lots in West District.

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 7.36.12 PM.png

Rise of the Mid-rise

Jennifer Keesmaat, Canada’s current urban planning guru and former chief planner for the City of Toronto has been advocating the advantages of mid-rise buildings for infill projects for years.  

The rationale - mid-rise buildings have the ability to synergistically connect with existing suburban development as their human scale integrates better with single-family homes while still creating the density needed to offer better transit service.

The mid-size buildings also accommodate larger tenants like, grocery stores, family restaurants, recreation, health and office buildings which complement the smaller boutique shops, cafes and bistros.

Diversity of scale is also important to creating a vibrant urban community.

Last Word

Truman, working with Calgary’s CivicWorks Planning + Design, are creating a model mid-rise community that could well serve as a model - on a smaller scale - near LRT stations across Calgary.

West District is the legacy project for George Trutina, President of Truman, who has devoted 30+ years building communities in Calgary, Chestermere and High River.

Trutina is a huge fan of the mid-rise and aspires to become Calgary’s “master of the mid-rise.”

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the March 2018 edition of CondoLiving Magazine. 

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

The Rise of the Mid-rise Condo

21st Century: The Century of the Condo

West District: Community Engagement Gone Wild

 

Wanted: Artist-Friendly Downtown Office Building Landlords

On Sunday February 18, 2018, CBC Calgary posted as part of their Road Ahead initiative my opinion piece suggesting some of the 15 million square feet of vacant downtown office space could/should be rented out to artists and other creative individuals.

  There is over a million square feet of empty office space in various older buildings that could be used by artists as work spaces, exhibition spaces etc....

There is over a million square feet of empty office space in various older buildings that could be used by artists as work spaces, exhibition spaces etc....

  Many of the smaller, older office spaces in downtown Calgary have vacant space that could be converted into affordable and attractive work space for artists and other creative individuals. 

Many of the smaller, older office spaces in downtown Calgary have vacant space that could be converted into affordable and attractive work space for artists and other creative individuals. 

Sunday Blogs

While I post a new blog every Sunday morning, I have never had such a tremendous response. Almost immediately the piece was being read by thousands of people, some times more than 500 at the same time. 

Soon I was receiving retweets from places like Madrid and Linkedin comments from New Zealand and personal emails from artists about their experience of leasing office space in other cities.  

Here are some of the comments, and for those of you who didn't see the CBC post titled: Why we should turn Calgary's empty office space over to the creative economy? 

David Alexander wrote:

I am an artist who lives in Lake Country, B.C. but originally from Vancouver and worked out of repurposed office buildings for years. I also lived in Saskatoon where I rented in the downtown for 9 years in a building that would have stood empty until it became economical to knock down for new and bigger towers for higher rent. We always worked in reused spaces in cities.  

I know Calgary artist Chris Cran and think Calgary would be a perfect place for an artist in the towers project. My artist friend in NYC had a studio on the 91st floor of the twin towers before their destruction. There are many empty office towers in every city and they would make great temporary studios of all kinds. New York city hall lets artists use them as studios as it takes months years to sell and renovate to suit a new renter. My friend was in the twin towers for 3 years.

Artists are adaptable to most spaces and you realize they can add to the advance of culture in a meaningful way. This could be a win win situation in Calgary.

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 9.49.41 AM.png
Image-1.jpg

Blog: Wanted: Artist-Friendly Downtown Office Building Landlords 

Could some of the 15 million square feet of vacant downtown Calgary office space (the equivalent of 7,500 suburban homes) be converted to studio/work space for creative individuals (painters, writers, musicians, sculptors, architects, 3D animators, fashion designers).

This was one of the ideas suggested by an Everyday Tourist reader a few weeks ago after I posted the blog on how the City might spend $100M to help fill up vacant downtown office space.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought “Why not?”

Artists as catalysts

For centuries, artists have moved into vacant buildings, especially old warehouses, converting them into studios and lofts. Why not office buildings? In cities like Berlin, New York, London and Paris, artists have been the catalyst for urban renewal of hundreds, if not thousands of buildings.

Why not Calgary?

Speaking of Berlin, last year I saw firsthand how artists routinely transform vacant buildings into funky workspaces for various artistic endeavours. For the past 20+ years, artists from around the world have flocked to Berlin to make art – including my 20-something nephew (an oil patch engineer turned electronic music composer – sidenote: his idea, not the result of layoffs) partly because of affordable studio/living space. 

Today, Berlin is one of the world’s leading art cities with hundreds of art galleries and thousands of artists creating a vibrant city 24/7. In Berlin, the arts are a major economic engine.

And, in Leipzig, Germany (2 hours from Berlin)I  toured Spinnerei, a 10-hectare old cotton mill industrial site transformed into 10 galleries, a huge art supply store, a communal arts centre and studio spaces for 100+ artists.  It was a wonderful place for the public to explore, experience, learn and buy art.

  Entrance to Spinnerei an artists colony with dozens of galleries, studios and other related small businesses in a former cotton factor in Leipzig, Germany.  

Entrance to Spinnerei an artists colony with dozens of galleries, studios and other related small businesses in a former cotton factor in Leipzig, Germany. 

Demand

Currently, Calgary is home to a number of co-operative artists’ studios in off-the-beaten-path older buildings – including Burns Visual Arts Society (Ramsay) and Artpoint Gallery & Studios (Inglewood) and Untitled Art Society (Beltline). Each has a waiting list.

In 2004, Art Central (at the corner of 7th Ave SW and Centre Street) David Neill, President of Encorp converted an old two-storey building into a funky mix of commercial galleries and studio spaces.  In its heyday, it was a bustling place and home of the first Deville Café. It was torn down in 2016 to make way for Telus Sky office/residential tower.

Recently, the $30 million cSPACE opened in the former King Edward School in South Calgary with its gallery and performance space, as well as 30-luxury studio spaces, which were all quickly snapped up. 

The demand for studio space is not surprising given 100+ students graduate from the Alberta College of Art & Design each year with the dream of becoming an artist.

  Along Chabanel Street in Montreal several older office buildings have become home to fashion designers and warehouse outlet stores. 

Along Chabanel Street in Montreal several older office buildings have become home to fashion designers and warehouse outlet stores. 

The Economics

Given the 15 million square feet of downtown office space is not likely to all get filled up for 10+ years perhaps there is an owner(s) willing to lease some of their space to artists and creative individuals to cover their operating costs. Operating costs for older buildings are in the $15 per square foot range so a 250 square foot studio would cost $3,750/year or $315/month (including utilities). A quick chat with a few artists indicated this would be attractive to them. 

Some of the open office concept space also might be leased to commercial galleries and/or small architectural/design firms or other creative types who don’t need or want walls.

  Did I mention there is millions of square feet of empty office space in downtown Calgary, that will probably be empty for many years? 

Did I mention there is millions of square feet of empty office space in downtown Calgary, that will probably be empty for many years? 

Feasibility

Architect Tom Tittemore, responsible for the retrofitting of the 8th and 8th Medical Center into the University of Calgary’s downtown campus, thought the idea of converting vacant office space to studios/workspaces was an excellent proposition.  Here are some of his thoughts:

  • Art studios are ideally located in simple spaces, with high unadorned ceilings (i.e. not T-bar as in office space) and exposed sealed concrete floors;
  • Exposed mechanical, electrical and structural systems are usually appreciated and provided in unfinished office towers;
  • The views from all directions could serve as an inspiration to any artist;
  • Corners usually allocated for “higher-food chain” employees would make excellent exhibition areas, as would the wall spaces comprising the central service cores.

Gord Menzies, former General Manager of Eighth Avenue Place and huge supporter of the arts, loves the idea but warns that “any artist working in oils is going to be impacted by the quality of the building’s HVAC system as other tenants are notoriously touchy about smells and fumes. It would require visionary ownership.”

James Midwinter recently retired, Executive Vice President at GWL Realty Advisors, in Calgary thought it would work best if an artists’ cooperative or non-profit umbrella organization committed to leasing a floor at a time and then offering it to artists.  

Calgary Arts Development (CAD) also identified the need for a key space operator or key leaseholder to manage a multi-tenant arts space way back in their 2007 “Arts Space Strategy & Capital Plan” study. Joni Carroll, Arts Spaces Consultant with CAD says, “in 2018 we will be sharing information with people who are interested in taking on spaces and then subletting those spaces to create multi-tenant arts hubs. And downtown office space at low rates with a suitably long lease length will likely be really attractive to people looking to start these hubs.”

And lastly chatting with a few experienced property owners, they thought one barrier might be when the economy recovers and rental rates go up or the owner wants to redevelop the building, there would be a backlash about kicking out the artists.

Reid Henry, the founding President and CEO of cSPACE  points out, “artists’ studios are not a one-size, fit-all scenario. Designer-makers, painters, photographers, musicians, dancers all require different spaces based on floor-to-ceiling height, ventilation, natural light, access to the public, sound attenuation, floor area configuration and loading and robust interior materiality.” 

Henry also thinks there could be a bit of a culture clash, saying there isn't exactly a shared world view between the artistic community and Calgary's downtown corporate culture.

So, if you surround 'art' types with 'suit-and-tie' types, Henry says, “keep in mind the nature of artists is to question the status quo, challenge our thinking, engage us in critical dialogue. I'm not convinced embedding them in our corporate office towers would provide an environment to nurture that role successfully.”

“Attracting artists isn’t solely about cheap space,” he says. “It has to have the qualities that support creation in all its complexity and provide a canvas creatives can 'imprint' their values onto, and feel empowered to build community within.”

While Henry is obviously not a big fan of the office-to-studio conversions, former landlord Gary Nissen and artist Chris Cran are.

Been There, Done That

Renting vacant downtown office space to artists can be a win-win in the mind of Gary Nissen who owned Sierra Place (a 10-floor office building at 706 - 7th Ave SW) in the early ‘90s (when office vacancies were at an all time high) and rented out vacant space to several Calgary artists including Chris Cran who recently had a major exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada. 

“I did exactly what you are describing and it worked well for a few years to recover costs.  Small floor plate, class C buildings likely work best for this concept” said Nissen.  “I would look at it again if I still owned property with vacant space. I felt like I was helping the arts community, met lots of cool people and covered some of my costs.” 

Ironically, I recently ran into Cran at an art gallery opening and he fondly remembers having a whole floor (8,000 square feet) that was a perfect studio for making art for several years, including some of the work in his National Gallery exhibition.

  Huge art supply store located at Spinnerei art campus, Leipzig, Germany

Huge art supply store located at Spinnerei art campus, Leipzig, Germany

Imagine

Imagine the impact on Calgary’s downtown if 100,000 square feet (less than 1% of the current vacant office space), which is likely to still be vacant five even 10 years from now, was converted into studio/work space for creative endeavours over the next year.

Imagine hundreds of creative types invading the downtown seven days a week at all times of the day.

Imagine the publicity Calgary would get if we launched a national or international ”We Have SPACE for YOU!” campaign, inviting creative individuals of all types to move to Calgary for affordable studio space. 

  Imagine if downtown Calgary had thousands of artists calling it home. The Burns Visual Arts Society started downtown in the Burns Building, but has to move outside of the downtown as the result of the building being redeveloped. 

Imagine if downtown Calgary had thousands of artists calling it home. The Burns Visual Arts Society started downtown in the Burns Building, but has to move outside of the downtown as the result of the building being redeveloped. 

Last Word

This is not as far fetched as one might think.  In Montreal, Chabanel St (aka the Garment District) is home to many fashion importers, designers and outlet shops located in old office buildings. 

What is needed is a landlord who can “think outside the office.” Someone who would allow the artists some liberty to use their sweat equity to transform the space into viable studio space.   We are not talking about hiring interior design firms to create luxury spaces; this is going to be guerrilla spaces – a “Halt & Catch Fire” space.

Perhaps some of the City of Calgary’s $100M Downtown Help Fund could be used to hire a coordinator to work with landlords to market and facilitate the conversion of office space that is past its due date to become work spaces for creative individuals and organizations.

Perhaps Calgary should be fishing for creative individuals and not just corporations to fill its vacant downtown office space.

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

Calgary's CBD is unique!

Save Downtown: Office To Residential Conversion Won't Work

Fixing Calgary's downtown ghost town