Confessions Of A Public Art Artist

Recently I was walking my sister’s dog Max in Calgary’s Signal Hill community when I came upon a piece of public art next to a children’s playground. I had often seen the piece in the distance when driving to my sister’s house, but thought it was part of the playground.  

  To me, from this angle all of the shapes look like houses a young child might draw. It looks very inviting for a child to run around and through it. It is also interesting to see how the shape of the artwork’s element echo those of the houses in the background.

To me, from this angle all of the shapes look like houses a young child might draw. It looks very inviting for a child to run around and through it. It is also interesting to see how the shape of the artwork’s element echo those of the houses in the background.

Village Fun

To my surprise the artwork was by Cecila Gossen who I have know since ‘80s when I was at the Muttart Art Gallery and she was doing her PhD in art at the University of Calgary.  

I immediately loved the titled “Village,” along with its bright colours and ambiguous shapes that looked both like houses and figures.  While it is a sculpture, it also make references to the line drawings young children make with their crayons.  

I thought “what a fitting addition to a playground.”

I have long thought playgrounds should be designed by artists so they can serve a dual purpose of being both a playground and a small art park. I couldn’t stop thinking about the piece when I got home so I contacted Cecila to find out more about the work and how it got there.  

She was quick to respond and most willing to share her experience

Backstory

Turns out the piece was originally proposed for the 4th Street SW in Mission as part of their Business Improvement Area’s sculpture program that started in the ‘90s as a means of enhancing the streetscape for pedestrians.  

FYI: There are several pieces along 4th Street SW from 13th to 26th St. SW.   

Cecila decided to submit to the 4th St. Sculpture Program back in 2005, so she built a little maquette and submitted it to the art jury, however her piece wasn’t chosen. Several months later, she received a call from Robin Robertson an art consultant who was one of the 4th Street jurors asking Cecila if she would be interested in a commission from the Signal Hill Community Association for a sculpture in one of their parks. 

The Association had a large piece land that had been set aside for a park and a possible future school and they wanted a sculpture on the site.  Cecila was thrilled and immediately said “Yes!”  

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Inspiration 

Cecila’s inspiration for “Village” was the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Remember the piece was proposed for a sidewalk along 4th St SW.  Her idea was people could walk through the different house shapes and perhaps it would become a meeting place on the street where people would gather and chat about the sculpture or life in general.

She loved the idea of creating a little village in the middle of Mission a historic community that was becoming an urban village. The bright primary colours were meant to remind us of our childhood, as was the size of the structures. 

Of course, being in a park next to a playground where there might one day be a school worked too. 

How $25,000 becomes $200

Shortly thereafter, she was told the budget was $25,000, so she calculated what she thought her costs to fabricate and install the piece might be and decided she had plenty of money to do a good job.

She had never done an outdoor piece before, but had done some large 8 ft by 8 ft indoor pieces and was aware of the safety considerations and the material needs and costs associated with larger works.

Then she received a copy of letter from City Parks to Robin, listing their conditions for the permit to install the sculpture in a public park. 

She needed: 

  • architect to produce ‘reproducible mylar drawings' of the sculpture 

  • engineer had to design the concrete base to support the sculpture

  • engineer’s stamp 

  • structural consultant’s approval 

  • contact utilities to mark the spot was safe for construction

  • re-plant the landscape as needed to original state

  • repair any damages to existing irrigation if needed

Out of the $25,000 she ended up having to pay for:

  • The excavation of the site

  • Pouring of an 8 ft by 8 ft by 8 inch concrete base for the sculpture

  • Fabrication of the steel pieces of the sculpture

  • Powder coasting

  • Sod, gravel, twelve wood railway ties for the perimeter

  • 7 guys from a local rugby team (more later)

She notes, “originally the base was to be a circle, but she couldn’t afford the pavers to form the circle, so I had to go with a rectangle, something that could be done with railway ties. She says “next time I would find somebody to help me with all the City regulations.”

When all was said and done she cleared about $200.

But that doesn’t include gas and mileage (every time anyone showed up at the site, I had to be present), postage, steaks and beer for the rugby team (more later). Fortunately, Signal Hill Community Association was able to get the engineer and architect services donated, and there was no damage to the irrigation system. 

  From this angle it looks like two adults, a child and a house.

From this angle it looks like two adults, a child and a house.

  From this angle it looks more like parade or a group of figures walking together on a sidewalk .

From this angle it looks more like parade or a group of figures walking together on a sidewalk.

Confession

Yes, Cecila would do it again. She did not do it for the money, but she was terribly worried it would end up costing her money.  She is very proud of the piece. 

She found, “Parks was a bear to deal with. I think they did not want the sculpture there. As a matter of fact, the original site for the sculpture was at the corner of Sirocco Drive and Signal Hills Heights. I would have loved the original site because the sculpture would have been visible from different approaches by more people.”

In the end, there was a party for the unveiling, lots of people came and everybody loved it.  Today kids use it as bit of a climbing structures, run around and through as they like to do and some use it as a bike rack. It still looks as fresh today as when it was installed in 2007. 

Over the years, many people who know Cecila and see the sculpture will call her or send her a text like I did, telling her how much they like the piece.  

I guess that is the only dividend for artists who create public art, it sure ain’t the money.   

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Rugby Team Connection  

Cecila and her husband attended a fund-raiser for her son Andy’s rugby team while the installation details were being worked out. One of the silent auction items was something like “Five Guys, One Afternoon: Clean out your basement, Do yard work!” whatever.  She bid on it and got it. 

She then told the guys her plan was to get them to help with the sculpture installation and promised them a beer and a steak dinner at her house when they finished. Seven players showed up and did a magnificent job of spreading pea gravel under the sculpture, putting the railway ties in place and sodded the entire area that had been disturbed. It was a very fun afternoon and a fun way to finish the project.

There goes the $200.  

Last Word

Cecila notes, “when we hear how much some public art pieces cost, I wonder what percentage goes back to city offices for the various permits and how much of the budget is spent in things other than the sculpture itself.” 

She still “laughs at the size and bulk of the concrete pad that was required. Someday, hundreds of years from now, some archaeologist will dig this huge concrete cube and try to figure out its purpose.”

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

Confessions of public art juror.

Do we really need all of this public art?

“Rodger That” says 12-year old Matt re public art

 

 

New Condos Help Kensington Thrive!

With the addition of several new condos – Kensington by Bucci, Ezra by Birchwood and Lido by Battistella – Kensington Village now has 10,000 people living within walking distance, a number considered by many urban strategists to be the threshold needed for street retail, restaurants and cafes to thrive. 

  Kennsington has a lively pedestrian animation year-round (especially when the sky is blue).

Kennsington has a lively pedestrian animation year-round (especially when the sky is blue).

Annie says…

Annie MacInnis has been the Executive Director of the Kensington Business Improvement Association (BIA) for the past 15 years. She recognizes the important role the new condos and their 1,000+ new residents have played not only in increasing the number of shoppers and diners, but also the new energy these newcomers have brought to the community.  She is looking forward to next wave of condos - Annex by Minto and Memorial Drive by Anthem Properties – that will add to the growing vibrancy. 

MacInnis has a long personal history with Kensington, living in the community when the LRT was first proposed in the early ‘80s and opposed by many in the neighbourhood.  

She laughs when she thinks about how today, the community’s LRT connection to the downtown and the University of Calgary is one of the community’s key attractions. 

One of the biggest changes she has noticed over the past 15 years is how the BIA and the Community Association are now working together to build a vibrant community. It wasn’t always the case.  

Fifteen years ago, the business district was in a decline, the public realm needed replacement, and the BIA and the community association were not working easily together.

 Another watershed moment happened in the ‘90s when the two anchors at each end of the village were established - Safeway renovating its store on the north end of 10thStreet NW and Shoppers Drug Mart opening its store at the west end of Kensington Road – together, meeting most residents’ everyday needs.  

Since the opening of Calgary’s first Starbucks in the mid ‘90s next to the independent café Higher Ground, not only have both survived, but together they’ve enhanced Kensington’s reputation as Calgary’s premier coffee house destination.

While The Plaza theatre has had its ups and downs, it is a key differentiator for the village and critical to it ongoing vibrancy. 

  Ezra on Riley Park is now completed and is expanding Kensington’s urban living west towards 14th St. SW  .

Ezra on Riley Park is now completed and is expanding Kensington’s urban living west towards 14th St. SW.

  Lido (foreground) and Pixel (behind) by Battistella Developments have transformed 10th Avenue into a more vibrant pedestrian street.

Lido (foreground) and Pixel (behind) by Battistella Developments have transformed 10th Avenue into a more vibrant pedestrian street.

  Battistella has plans to create a new condo project on this site, while retaining some of the elements of the church.

Battistella has plans to create a new condo project on this site, while retaining some of the elements of the church.

Reinvesting Parking Revenues

In 2015/16, MacInnis worked with the City of Calgary to manage the six million dollar makeover of Kensington’s public realm – new sidewalks, street lighting, furniture and replacement of all the unhealthy trees. The results have exceeded her expectations and will enhance the street for existing and new businesses for decades.  

In fact, the Kensington BIA won two international awards in 2014 for the innovative funding of the public realm improvements – “Best in the West” Excellence Award for Downtown Leadership and Management at the BIABC/International Downtown Association Western Canada and Pacific Northwest US Conference, as well as a Merit Award for Downtown Leadership and Management at the International Downtown Association conference. What particularly made the project unique was the securing of $4.5 million from the City of Calgary’s surplus parking revenues which opened the door for negotiations between Calgary’s Business Improvement Districts (BIA) and the City for an ongoing parking revenue sharing program for public realm improvements.  

In 2016, the City of Calgary, in partnership with Calgary Parking Authority and the BIAs developed an annual Parking Surplus Reinvestment Program, making monies available to any BIA or community with paid street parking for public realm improvements.   

  Summer patios are another way Kensington enhances the pedestrian experience.

Summer patios are another way Kensington enhances the pedestrian experience.

  Pages Books’ enhances the sidewalk experience with its outdoor book displays.

Pages Books’ enhances the sidewalk experience with its outdoor book displays.

  Kensington still has its small town charm even with all of the new condos.

Kensington still has its small town charm even with all of the new condos.

The More Art The Better

With the streetscape now upgraded, MacInnis is focusing her efforts on enhancing Kensington’s alleys and side yards. “More murals and more art” is her mantra today.  Building on the existing street art in the back alley along the east side of 10thStreet NW, she has several projects on the go.  Three alleys between buildings have been activated with murals and lighting - east side of Pulcinella, east side of Norfolk Housing Association, and east side of 10thSt by Charisma.  

She is also working on installing a 17-foot tall kinetic, wind sculpture that is also have an interactive seat for two at its base, as well as a bicycle that allows you to you to charge your phone as you pedal. 

MacInnis’ vision for Kensington is for it to be an “irresistible destination where people want to come because there is cool art and whimsical activations to charm and delight, as well as lots of interesting shops and places to eat and drink in between exploring all its nooks and crannies.”

  The summer Container Bar is great use of a side alley.

The summer Container Bar is great use of a side alley.

  The Oak Tree was way ahead of its time when it commissioned this mural many years ago.

The Oak Tree was way ahead of its time when it commissioned this mural many years ago.

  The back alleys in Kensington have become outdoor art galleries for street artists.

The back alleys in Kensington have become outdoor art galleries for street artists.

Last Word

MacInnis is very optimistic about the future of Kensington. With several more condos in the works, the future of Kensington continues to look bright, as a fun place to live, eat, drink, play and shop in Calgary.  

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

Kensington: One of North America’s Healthiest Communities

A Sunday Walkabout In Kensington

Kensington Legion: The Taller The Better?

Chinatown Makeover: You can’t please everyone!

Does Chinatown get swallowed up as the downtown highrises (office and residential) creep northwards toward the Bow River.

Or, does it become a pedestrian oasis that celebrates Calgary’s 135-year old Chinese culture?

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Let the debate begin

 Rendering of the the two residential and one hotel tower that is proposed for the Chinatown parking lot above.

Rendering of the the two residential and one hotel tower that is proposed for the Chinatown parking lot above.

Parking vs Towers

That is the question Calgary’s City Council will debate on Nov 12th, 2018 when they are asked to approve a Land Use change and Development Permit for a huge mixed-use development that includes two-28 storey residential towers, a 12-story hotel and street retail.   

There are at least two sides to the El Condor Land debate – “El Condor” referring to the company that owns the land in question. The site encompasses almost the entire block from 2nd Street to 1st Street SW and from 2nd Ave to 3rd Ave SW.  

 Rendering of the proposed pedestrian mews with shops, cafes and restaurants at street level with hotel and residential above.

Rendering of the proposed pedestrian mews with shops, cafes and restaurants at street level with hotel and residential above.

A bit of context…

Calgary’s Chinatown has been stagnant, some might argue even in decline - for the past decade or more. The 2013 Calgary Flood hit the business community hard. The cost of recovery was significant for the many “mom and pop” businesses and Calgary’s current downtown economy is not contributing to revitalization.

Additionally, many property owners and merchants, now in their 60 to 80s, are actively considering selling their property and businesses and retiring. 

Chinatown At A Glance

  • 49 retail shops

  • 46 restaurants

  • 10 grocery/butcher/seafood

  • 11 personal services

  • 16 medical/pharmacy/Traditional Chinese Medicine

  • 16 salons

  • 6  business services

  • 23 corporate offices

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Change is in the wind…

“Chinatown needs private investment and development plus a relaxation of municipal bylaws (esp. parking) to revitalize the commercial/retail sector of this community,” says Terry Wong, Executive Director of the Chinatown District Business Improvement Area (BIA). 

The BIA, now three years old, has been working diligently with the City, businesses, property owners and various community groups to create a shared vision and plan to help Calgary’s Chinatown thrive in the 21stcentury. The vision is to enhance Calgary’s Chinatown as an iconic and cultural placevalued locally and nationally for its heritage, vitality, streetscape and architecture.  The goal is to create a walkable, accessible and livable community, a thriving authentic small-business district, an intergenerational social and community hub, and a tourist destination. 

The mega mixed use development being presented to City Council for approval could be the catalyst to make this happen, or it could be the end of Calgary’s historic Chinatown.  It depends on who you are talking to. 

El Condor Land Development at a glance:

  • 524      residential units

  • 150      hotel rooms

  • 23        commercial units

  • 470      parking stalls

  • 466      bike stalls 

 Note the project has almost as many bike stalls as vehicle ones, I am not aware of any project in Calgary that has equal bike/car parking.

Note the project has almost as many bike stalls as vehicle ones, I am not aware of any project in Calgary that has equal bike/car parking.

The BIA says…

“The BIA and other Chinatown stakeholders have worked with the City to establish eight guiding principles for future Chinatown development and the planned establishment of a ‘Cultural Plan for Chinatown’ and a ‘Culturally-based Local Area Plan’ as directed by City Council in 2016. A ‘Made in Calgary’ Cultural Plan will define what should be the culturally distinct characteristics (i.e. social, economic, environmental) of Calgary’s Chinatown” says Wong. 

 He adds, “This would then lead to defining how this 9-square block community should be developed and revitalized through land development, the new or renovation buildings, transportation and pedestrian streetscape, recreation and public spaces.” 

“The BIA and Chinatown community are generally in favour of new development as a path to Chinatown renewal, but they want to be sure it is designed in a way that will benefit everyone – other property owners, business, residents, community and visitors who are there to shop, dine or be entertained,” states Wong.   

Currently Wong says the community is not in favour of the proposed development, however, they would be if three key amendments are made. 

Changes Needed 

First, there should be no entrances or exits for the underground parkade on 2ndAvenue. That’s in keeping with the vision for 2nd Avenue SW is that it will become their pedestrian oriented Main Street from 2nd St SW to Riverfront Avenue with the Chinese Cultural Centre in the middle.

This makes good sense given the Green Line will have an underground station at 2nd St and 2nd Ave SW, making the area ideal for a pedestrian oriented shopping and dining promenade linking Eau Claire to Chinatown and ultimately, to East Village. 

Second, they are concerned the current development permit has commercial space (retail/restaurants) only at street level and doesn’t allow for a major anchor tenant needed to make Chinatown a more attractive city-wide destination. If the new development is going to be the catalyst for the revitalization of the Chinatown, it will need to provide quality retail and restaurants space not only for today, but into the future. A two-floor commercial space (of higher) would allow for +15 connection to Sun Life Towers.

The current plan has no +15 connection to the Sun Life Towers across 3rdAvenue, which they feel is critical to the success of the development and will provide a much-needed link to tens of thousands of downtown office workers just a few blocks away.

 I must agree with this. One of the failures of Eau Claire Market was that it didn’t have a +15 link, in effect “isolating” the shops from the downtown workers during Calgary’s long winters. I also think having a +15 link to the downtown would be a huge differentiator for the residential towers, given there are very few residential towers in the City Centre with a +15 connection to downtown. Imagine not having to put a coat on in the winter to go to work every day; this would be a huge selling feature. 

Finally, the fourth concern of the BIA is that the hotel tower is in the wrong spot. The BIA supports a right-sized, quality hotel placed on 3rd Avenue and 1st Street SW where there is mid-point access to downtown, the Green Line LRT plus the existing 7th Avenue north-south and east-west LRT lines, the Chinese Cultural Centre, Chinatown retail, and the riverfront park and pathway system. This placement would also preserve 2nd Avenue as the pedestrian-oriented ‘linking promenade’ Main Street while allowing current multi-residential tenants the comfort of knowing roads and sidewalks are both comfortable and safe to walk on.

All reasonable requests you would think! 

It should be noted Wong is a former manager at The City of Calgary and fully understands land use, transportation, and community neighbourhoods. Additionally, having grown up in Vancouver’s Chinatown during the 60s and 70s, he is fully aware of Chinese community and retail culture and does not want to see the loss of Calgary’s culturally distinct Chinatown like has already happened in Vancouver.

  Proposed entrance to mid-block mews that would connect 2nd and 3rd Avenues SW with shops and restaurants.

Proposed entrance to mid-block mews that would connect 2nd and 3rd Avenues SW with shops and restaurants.

Community Engagement Consultant says…

Lourdes Juan, an urban planner with strong ties to the Asian community (note Chinatown is more of an Asian town these days with the last three new restaurants being Korean) was hired by the developer in May 2018 to help work with all the stakeholders to understand their concerns and listen to their ideas and help the community understand how the proposed project links with the community’s vision while also meeting economic and urban design realities.  

The developer has spent $100,000 and the City over $400,000 in community engagement initiatives since the proposed Land Use change and project design was unveiled. Literally thousands of hours have been spent working with the stakeholders to explain the development and why it is designed in the manner it is.  Translators were at every meeting and all documents were translated into Chinese to make sure everyone understood what was being said and being proposed.

Juan told me that each of the above issues have been addressed with the community but unfortunately not everyone was prepared to accept the rationale for why the City and/or the developer wants the projects developed the way it is being proposed.

First, the City is not interested in additional parking at the site, as it is adjacent to the new underground 2ndSt LRT station for the Green Line and only four blocks from the 7thAvenue Transit corridor.  The focus of the development will be on transit-oriented development, not auto-oriented.  

The developer’s research indicates that second floor retail doesn’t work in Chinatown today, and that the proposed development doesn’t have a commercial podium at its base, like office buildings downtown.   Rather, the project is designed with a mid-block mews from 2nd to 3rd Ave SW that will allow pedestrians to wander 23 small independent shops and restaurants along the mews, rather than national franchised shops.  

They did indicate that provisions will be made for a potential +15 connection from Sun Life Plaza at a future date.  

The hotel location also makes sense when you understand how the mews works and other restrictions of the site that is too complicated to explain here.

It has been very frustrating from both the City and the Juan’s perspective as they have tried very hard to communicate how the project’s design (by Perkins + Will’s Calgary office) will benefit the community.  

It should be noted that Juan is a young, independent urban planner who is uniquely connected not only to Calgary’s Chinese community, but also Calgary at large. Despite working very hard to document and communicate how the proposed project fits with the community’s eight principles, she couldn’t get the BIA and some other community leaders to support the proposed project.

Next Step    

Now it is up to Council to make the final approval. Council can’t make any amendments to the project, they can only approve it or reject. If rejected, the developer would have to continue to modify the project to get community and Council support. If approved, the community could appeal this decision to the Development Appeal Board.

I do know Councillor Farrell’s and her Dale Calkins her Senior Policy & Planning Advisor have been working with the community, applicant, and City planners on this project for the past 3.5 years. And that it has been incredibly challenging, as everyone wants to ensure Chinatown is a vibrant, resilient, and complete community.

“They just disagree on what that exactly looks like and how to get there.”

  The site is currently a surface parking lot, which is full during the week with office workers parking all day, but empty most evenings and weekends as are lots of parking lots in the downtown.

The site is currently a surface parking lot, which is full during the week with office workers parking all day, but empty most evenings and weekends as are lots of parking lots in the downtown.

Last Word

I always say “no plan is perfect. You can’t please everyone.” And the old saying “there is more than one way to skin a cat” might apply here too.  

This is a huge development that will shape the future of Chinatown for decades, so yes, it is important to get it right. But right for whom!

While some in the community will lament the loss of their surface parking lot, the reality is the best thing that can happen for Chinatown is the parking lot gets developed. Surely, the addition of a 150-room hotel, 500+ new homes and 20+ new retail/restaurant spaces will add much needed vitality our struggling Chinatown.  And hopefully, spur on other property owners and shop keepers to up their game.  

That’s my opinion after chatting with both sides.  And it hasn’t changed from when I first wrote about this proposal back in July 2016 in my Calgary Herald column.

Link:What is the future of Calgary’s Chinatown”  

 Calgary’s Chinatown needs to attract more young people to live, work, play and invest in the community.

Calgary’s Chinatown needs to attract more young people to live, work, play and invest in the community.

Halifax: Art & Artifacts

One of the things that impressed me most about Halifax was that there was interesting art and artifacts everywhere - often in the most unexpected places.

I thought it would be fun to share them with you and in the process hopefully give you a feel for Halifax’s unique “sense of place.”

  In Halifax telephone poles often became mini art galleries with their layers of weathered posters. I found this one particularly provocative.

In Halifax telephone poles often became mini art galleries with their layers of weathered posters. I found this one particularly provocative.

 The Kent Monkman exhibition at the Nova Scotia Art Gallery exhibition titled, “Shame and Prejudice” A Story of Resilience, was a very clever and thoughtful exhibition. Titled “The Scream,”this painting speaks to the pain and trauma caused by the Canadian government’s removal of children from their indigenous families to go to residential schools.

The Kent Monkman exhibition at the Nova Scotia Art Gallery exhibition titled, “Shame and Prejudice” A Story of Resilience, was a very clever and thoughtful exhibition. Titled “The Scream,”this painting speaks to the pain and trauma caused by the Canadian government’s removal of children from their indigenous families to go to residential schools.

 It was the best exhibition I have seen in 2018 and one of the most powerful and political I have seen in a long time. The use of symbolism, surrealism and realism to create contemporary narratives and commentary is very successful. The size of the paintings (approximately 10 ft by 6 ft) make them seem like billboards. I love the ambiguity of the Picasso’s cubist figure in this piece titled “Struggle For Balance,” is she being robbed or helped.

It was the best exhibition I have seen in 2018 and one of the most powerful and political I have seen in a long time. The use of symbolism, surrealism and realism to create contemporary narratives and commentary is very successful. The size of the paintings (approximately 10 ft by 6 ft) make them seem like billboards. I love the ambiguity of the Picasso’s cubist figure in this piece titled “Struggle For Balance,” is she being robbed or helped.

   The Daddies, 2016, 60” x 112”, acrylic on canvas, Kent Monkman is a play on Robert Harris’ famous group portrait of the Fathers of Confederation. The nude in the foreground is Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Monkman’s alter ego.

The Daddies, 2016, 60” x 112”, acrylic on canvas, Kent Monkman is a play on Robert Harris’ famous group portrait of the Fathers of Confederation. The nude in the foreground is Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Monkman’s alter ego.

 It was interesting to compare the Monkman depiction of early Canadian family life with the innocence and romanticism of the Tom Forrestall painting that I found in the lobby of the Children’s Hospital.

It was interesting to compare the Monkman depiction of early Canadian family life with the innocence and romanticism of the Tom Forrestall painting that I found in the lobby of the Children’s Hospital.

  Found these guys in the lobby of an older office building, with the words “Brave New World” over the doorway - of course I had to go in. I was surprise to find a mini-exhibition of goalie masks. Turns out they are from 2008, when artists were given a goalie mask modelled after Jacque Plante’s famous 1959 design and asked to create an original piece of art. There were two cases of masks like this one. It was a lovely hidden gem .

Found these guys in the lobby of an older office building, with the words “Brave New World” over the doorway - of course I had to go in. I was surprise to find a mini-exhibition of goalie masks. Turns out they are from 2008, when artists were given a goalie mask modelled after Jacque Plante’s famous 1959 design and asked to create an original piece of art. There were two cases of masks like this one. It was a lovely hidden gem.

   I was most impressed with the windows of Dugger’s Menswear shop, they could have easily of been an art installation in a contemporary art gallery.

I was most impressed with the windows of Dugger’s Menswear shop, they could have easily of been an art installation in a contemporary art gallery.

   Dugger window 2

Dugger window 2

   Dugger window 3

Dugger window 3

   Widow licking along Quinpool Road was fun.

Widow licking along Quinpool Road was fun.

   Why do most eye wear shops have great windows?

Why do most eye wear shops have great windows?

 The art of knot tying with the Citadel in the background.

The art of knot tying with the Citadel in the background.

   Live, Laugh, Lick….words to live by?

Live, Laugh, Lick….words to live by?

   I am just guessing…the Seahorse Tavern has/has some wild parties.

I am just guessing…the Seahorse Tavern has/has some wild parties.

   A tangled web of wires along the side of an old houses was common in Halifax.

A tangled web of wires along the side of an old houses was common in Halifax.

   Loved these doors with fantasy figures painting on the doors.

Loved these doors with fantasy figures painting on the doors.

  I was surprise at the number of Asian grocery stores in Halifax. I am always impressed at how artful they are inside.

I was surprise at the number of Asian grocery stores in Halifax. I am always impressed at how artful they are inside.

   Loved this traffic circle artwork along a quiet residential street. Would like to see more of this in Calgary and other cities.

Loved this traffic circle artwork along a quiet residential street. Would like to see more of this in Calgary and other cities.

  Titled “Lace Up” this artwork by Ilan Sandler was created 2013 next to the outdoor Emera Oval created for the Canada Games. Love that the City offers free rental of ice skates in the winter and rollerblades and bikes in the summer for anyone who wants to use the oval.

Titled “Lace Up” this artwork by Ilan Sandler was created 2013 next to the outdoor Emera Oval created for the Canada Games. Love that the City offers free rental of ice skates in the winter and rollerblades and bikes in the summer for anyone who wants to use the oval.

  The iron work at the back of Saint Antonios Antiochian Orthodox Church was a beautiful work of art.

The iron work at the back of Saint Antonios Antiochian Orthodox Church was a beautiful work of art.

  The ornamental entrance to the Halifax Public Gardens was exquisite.

The ornamental entrance to the Halifax Public Gardens was exquisite.

  More telephone pole art.

More telephone pole art.

   Found this well weathered, faceless, wooden fire fighter monument next to downtown fire station.

Found this well weathered, faceless, wooden fire fighter monument next to downtown fire station.

   The Army & Navy Store on Agricola Street was fun to explore. Again this display of “War & Piece” could easily be an art installation in an contemporary gallery.

The Army & Navy Store on Agricola Street was fun to explore. Again this display of “War & Piece” could easily be an art installation in an contemporary gallery.

  The Nova Scotia Archives has an art gallery in the lobby that hosts local exhibitions. I was a bit shocked at the graphic nature of the work by Maria Valverde and Flavia Nasrin on display when we visited. These were not the pretty paintings or craftwork that you would normally expect in a government gallery. The works dealt with the grief of suicide, violence against women, divorce and death of parents in a very graphic way. The two artists held nothing back.

The Nova Scotia Archives has an art gallery in the lobby that hosts local exhibitions. I was a bit shocked at the graphic nature of the work by Maria Valverde and Flavia Nasrin on display when we visited. These were not the pretty paintings or craftwork that you would normally expect in a government gallery. The works dealt with the grief of suicide, violence against women, divorce and death of parents in a very graphic way. The two artists held nothing back.

  There wasn’t a lot of contemporary architecture in Halifax but their new central library certainly makes a contemporary statement. I am not sure if it was the intent of the architects to create what looks like a shipping container balancing precariously on the roof - but that is what it look like to me. I am thinking the “shipping container” motif is appropriate given Halifax is a major port and has thousands of shipping containers stacked up along its waterfront at any given time. The architects for this building were the Danish architecture firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen, with the local office Fowler Bauld & Mitchell.

There wasn’t a lot of contemporary architecture in Halifax but their new central library certainly makes a contemporary statement. I am not sure if it was the intent of the architects to create what looks like a shipping container balancing precariously on the roof - but that is what it look like to me. I am thinking the “shipping container” motif is appropriate given Halifax is a major port and has thousands of shipping containers stacked up along its waterfront at any given time. The architects for this building were the Danish architecture firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen, with the local office Fowler Bauld & Mitchell.

  At the opposite end of the architectural spectrum is the minimalist and forboding new athletic centre at Dalhousie University. It shares the same container-like aesthetics as the downtown library - perhaps some futuristic cargo ship. The Dalplex was designed by FBM and MJMA Architects.

At the opposite end of the architectural spectrum is the minimalist and forboding new athletic centre at Dalhousie University. It shares the same container-like aesthetics as the downtown library - perhaps some futuristic cargo ship. The Dalplex was designed by FBM and MJMA Architects.

  While flaneuring the campus of Dalhousie University we found this phallic piece by Robert Hedrick titled “Marine Venus” standing proudly in the boulevard of University Drive. Obviously, Dal (as locals call the university) is not afraid of a little controversial art.

While flaneuring the campus of Dalhousie University we found this phallic piece by Robert Hedrick titled “Marine Venus” standing proudly in the boulevard of University Drive. Obviously, Dal (as locals call the university) is not afraid of a little controversial art.

  Inside Dal’s Art Centre we found these stately aboriginal sticks from Australia  was tucked behind the staircase.

Inside Dal’s Art Centre we found these stately aboriginal sticks from Australia was tucked behind the staircase.

  The old post office which is now the Nova Scotia Art Gallery has some menacing looking figures.

The old post office which is now the Nova Scotia Art Gallery has some menacing looking figures.

   No trip to Halifax is complete without seeing Maud Lewis’ house that it at the Nova Scotia Art Gallery. If you get a chance you should see the movie “     Maudie     ,” or check out the National Film Board documentary   Link:  Maud Lewis: A Word Without Shadows

No trip to Halifax is complete without seeing Maud Lewis’ house that it at the Nova Scotia Art Gallery. If you get a chance you should see the movie “Maudie,” or check out the National Film Board documentary Link: Maud Lewis: A Word Without Shadows

  Lewis painted her entire house with colourful and cheerful images. It became a work of art. There are lots of other colourful houses in Halifax that made for charming and cheerful streetscapes, but nothing like this.

Lewis painted her entire house with colourful and cheerful images. It became a work of art. There are lots of other colourful houses in Halifax that made for charming and cheerful streetscapes, but nothing like this.

   You would never know that there is an art gallery at the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design at the waterfront as their is no signage and even though it is right along the sidewalk you can’t see in as the building is literally a huge blank wall. What a shame? What were they thinking? Luckily we like to explore even when it looks like there is nothing there. The security guard was more like a gallery docent, willing to chat about the art, his thoughts on it and those of visitors.

You would never know that there is an art gallery at the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design at the waterfront as their is no signage and even though it is right along the sidewalk you can’t see in as the building is literally a huge blank wall. What a shame? What were they thinking? Luckily we like to explore even when it looks like there is nothing there. The security guard was more like a gallery docent, willing to chat about the art, his thoughts on it and those of visitors.

   There were not a lot of murals in Halifax, but there were a few and they were not just decoration or upscale graffiti.

There were not a lot of murals in Halifax, but there were a few and they were not just decoration or upscale graffiti.

   Loved how this mural literally glowed in the dark.

Loved how this mural literally glowed in the dark.

   Cliff Eyland’s huge mural titled “Library Cards” located in the lobby of the Halifax Central Library consists of hundreds of small artworks the size of a library card. The paintings cover a spectrum of subjects and styles that are fun to look at. There is even a window in the middle where you get a glimpse of librarians working behind the wall.      Eyland has a similar piece in the lobby of the Winnipeg’s Central Library that is 24 ft by 28 ft. In order to see the pieces at top binoculars are available to borrow, or you can bring your own.

Cliff Eyland’s huge mural titled “Library Cards” located in the lobby of the Halifax Central Library consists of hundreds of small artworks the size of a library card. The paintings cover a spectrum of subjects and styles that are fun to look at. There is even a window in the middle where you get a glimpse of librarians working behind the wall.

Eyland has a similar piece in the lobby of the Winnipeg’s Central Library that is 24 ft by 28 ft. In order to see the pieces at top binoculars are available to borrow, or you can bring your own.

   Close up view of Eyland’s “Library Cards.”

Close up view of Eyland’s “Library Cards.”

   The recycling bins at St. Mary’s University have a pop-art element to them.

The recycling bins at St. Mary’s University have a pop-art element to them.

Last Word

Hope you have enjoyed this photo tour of Halifax’s art and artifacts. If you like this blog, you will like these links:

Frankfurt: Found Street Art

Staircases As Art

Berlin Wall Artifact: Best Flaneur Find Ever!


Balcony Fun?

When in Dubai many years ago, I was gobsmacked by the spectrum of balcony designs in its old town.  In fact, balconies were the signature design feature of the streetscape.

Since then, I have often taken photos of buildings with interesting balconies, but haven’t done anything with them, until recently when a colleague suggested it would be an interesting subject.  

So I gathered up some of my photos (unfortunately I don’t have any of the Dubai photos), did a little research and made balconies the subject of my November Condoscape column for Condo Living magazine.

 Berlin

Berlin

 Berlin

Berlin

 Calgary

Calgary

 Halifax

Halifax

 Halifax

Halifax

 Montreal

Montreal

Theory vs Reality

In theory, a balcony is like the front porch of a house, a place to sit and watch the world go by.  It is an outdoor living/dining room where you can read, nap, chat, listen to music, browse on the laptop and even BBQ a gourmet meal.  It can even be your outdoor office space for part of the year.  

Yet in reality, in Calgary it is often too windy or too cold to do the above very often. Or, if your balcony faces south or west, it can be too hot and too sunny to be out on the balcony. You can’t win!  

 Florence

Florence

 Berlin

Berlin

 Berlin

Berlin

Private vs Common Area 

Many first-time condo owners think the balcony is their private space. However, in most condos it is considered “common space” as it is maintained by the condo association, which means there are rules about what can and can’t be on the balcony.  Read your condo bylaws.

In Calgary, the balcony is not a place to hang your clean laundry, unlike in Europe where you often see clothes neatly hung out to dry, creating a charm to the streetscape – in my opinion.  Something often lacking in our sterile North American urban landscapes.  

 Berlin

Berlin

 Berlin

Berlin

 Berlin (same building as above)

Berlin (same building as above)

 Berlin

Berlin

 Berlin

Berlin

So, what makes for a good balcony? 

  • Not so deep as to prevent sunlight entering the apartment below.

  • Large enough to comfortably accommodate least two chairs, small table and a BBQ.  

  • Screens and/or wall to filter sunlight and wind, as well as privacy. 

  • Located away from noisy equipment and garbage areas.

 Calgary

Calgary

Did You know… 

Balconies are a requirement in Calgary’s Land Use Bylaw. However, the City will relax this requirement if there are adequate equal common amenity area either inside or outside.

Balconies can contribute to the safety of the street as the people on them are eyes on the street. 

“Overlooking” from balconies is a big issue for adjacent neighbours living in single-family homes in inner-city condo development. Bruce McKenzie VP Operations at NORR’s Calgary’s office said, “the City is encouraging semi-recessed balconies on most urban sites. This provides some sheltering and to some extent discourages overlooking.”  

 Atlanta

Atlanta

Types of balconies 

A recessed balcony is one that is set into the building’s façade, rather than jutting out from it.  Some think recessed balconies are best because they provide better privacy and better protection from the weather. Some also like the sleek look they give the façade of the building. 

A cantilevered balcony hangs out over the side of the building, exposing it to the wind, rain and snow.  From round to square, rectangular to triangular, the shape and repetition of the balcony adds a texture and pattern, that contributes to the distinct aesthetic statement of the building. 

A Romeo & Juliet balcony is just railings attached to the outside of the building with in-swing doors or sliders. 

 Calgary

Calgary

 Calgary

Calgary

 Calgary

Calgary

 Calgary

Calgary

Last Word

Look at any condo anytime and you rarely see anyone out on the balcony. So why do they have them?  In a winter city, wouldn’t it make more sense to have that space inside the condo where it would be useable year-round? 

Apparently not. In chatting with a few condo dwellers, they all love their balconies, keeping heaters and blankets close by so they can use them as much as possible.   

Several architects and developers indicated large balconies are a big selling feature, helping to differentiate one condo project from another.  Although, I was also told shared roof-top patios are quickly becoming the “in-thing” for outdoor living of condo dwellers. 

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

Calgary Condos: A Pop Of Colour

Condo Design: Lobby Appeal

New Condos: Hidden/Invisible Density

 

 

Halifax: The Blade Sign Capital Of Canada?

Blade signs are ones that hang out from the side of the building. They are great for pedestrians as you can not only see them above the heads of the other pedestrians on the street. And you can also see them halfway down the block.

  This is my nomination for the best blade sign in Halifax.

This is my nomination for the best blade sign in Halifax.

  How many blade signs can you count on this block?

How many blade signs can you count on this block?

Blade Signs Are The Best

They are much better than signs that are flush with the facade of the building, as you have to stand in the street to see them.

And, they are also better than those annoying sandwich boards some merchants place in the middle of the sidewalk so you have to dodge around them and sometimes fall over them while you are checking Google Maps to see if you are close to the &(*HO^!@^ the store, cafe or restaurants you are looking for

One of the first things I noticed was the abundance of blade signs and not just any blade signs but fun, quirky, custom-designed ones.

Here is a sample. You tell me, aren’t these the best collection of blade signs you have ever seen?

  The blade sign was good but the GIG Street sign was a stroke of genius.

The blade sign was good but the GIG Street sign was a stroke of genius.

  Super Mike’s is definitely off the beaten path, but that didn’t stop him from having perhaps the best blade sign…definitely had the most colourful facade.

Super Mike’s is definitely off the beaten path, but that didn’t stop him from having perhaps the best blade sign…definitely had the most colourful facade.

  The donair is Halifax’s official food and the King of Donair on Quinpool is where it all started in 1973. The King is expanding into Western Canada as you read this….

The donair is Halifax’s official food and the King of Donair on Quinpool is where it all started in 1973. The King is expanding into Western Canada as you read this….

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  Woozles is a children’s bookstore…what a great name…love the yellow house too.

Woozles is a children’s bookstore…what a great name…love the yellow house too.

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  I was told this is the oldest hobby/craft store in Canada. The sign could be original.

I was told this is the oldest hobby/craft store in Canada. The sign could be original.

  We not only loved this blade sign, but the sandwiches, soup, dessert and breads inside were to die for.

We not only loved this blade sign, but the sandwiches, soup, dessert and breads inside were to die for.

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  This Highwayman sign looked like a woodblock etching ready for inking and printing. The restaurant inside looked just as intriguing. Would make a great t-shirt.

This Highwayman sign looked like a woodblock etching ready for inking and printing. The restaurant inside looked just as intriguing. Would make a great t-shirt.

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  This place is almost as old as me….

This place is almost as old as me….

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  Even Tim Hortons has a blade sign…..

Even Tim Hortons has a blade sign…..

Last Word

So what do you think? Do you think blade signs should be mandatory for all shops along the street? I do!

Not only are they a great wayfinding tool, but they add colour, charm and character to the pedestrian experience. I am thinking in Calgary, 17th Ave SW, 4th Street SW, Kensington and Inglewood would all benefit from a fun blade sign program.

I know there are lots of great blade signs in other cities, but as a collection, I think Halifax has the best I have seen to date.

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

Urban Ornamentation

Chicago: Stairways To Heaven?

The Curse Of Minimalism

2018: The Summer of Murals (Northern Hills Mural Project)  

While NHMP isn’t as catchy acronym as BUMP (the Beltline mural program I shared with you last week), it has more community buy-in than any public art / mural program Calgary has ever seen.  The idea for the mural came from Kim Walker an artist living in the community who saw the 850 meter six-foot high blank residential fence along several blocks of Country Hills Blvd as a blank canvas.  

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History of Calgary

Walker thought what if the fence, instead of being a barrier, brought the community together and became a source of community pride?  

Working with the City of Calgary and 40 individual homeowners who each owned part of the fence, she and another volunteer Laura Hack, were able to get everyone onside to create what would become Canada’s longest outdoor mural.  

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A Northern Hills Mural Project Committee was formed to manage the project and conduct extensive community engagement.

They obtained funding to allow them to hire an experienced artist to help create the design based on the theme “History of Calgary.”

Local artist, Mark Vazquez-Mackay was chosen from an open request for proposals, based on his painting expertise and teaching skills. Vazquez-Mackay’s role was to develop the mural design and paint a template (think huge colouring book) of the various icons and images identified by the community to trace Calgary’s history from the glaciers to the present in small sections along the along the 850 meter fence.  

Walker and Vazquez-Mackay then organized volunteer artists to oversee 150 foot sections the fence to help guide individuals and families in painting specific section based on their interests, to paint in the details of Vazquez-Mackay sketch.

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The fence was painted in 3 days over the August long weekend as hundreds volunteer muralist mostly from the community, but with some help from Calgarians from other communities and even outside the Calgary.  

Most had little or no painting experience but that didn’t deter them.

And finally, with a little touch up by Vazquez-Mackay, Walker, Makenna Millot and Josh Chilton the mural was completed and unveiled on Sept 22, 2018 at a community celebration.  

Images range from Calgary’s first train to the 1886 fire, from Fort Calgary to the ’88 Olympics, from the Stanley Cup to the Grey Cup, from VIVO Centre to whiskey traders. 

The community raised a total of $63,000 in cash and in-kind donations in three months to pay to repair the fence (some boards were rotting) and to scrape and pressure wash the fence.  Then approximately 415 gallons of paint products (paint, three coats of UV protection and one coats of anti-graffiti protections) were used to ensure the mural stays looking fresh for at least the next eight years.

Everyone is invited to come and see the, bring visiting family and friends to learn about history of Calgary and or our city’s amazing community spirit.   

  It truly was a community effort.

It truly was a community effort.

Last Word

Indeed, the summer of 2018 will be remembered as the “Summer of Murals,” not only for the Beltline and Northern Hills projects but for several other mural projects.  

The Downtown West community also initiated a mural program with two provocative pieces on the side of buildings (two more are in progress) and Calgary Municipal Land Corporation commissioned a mural for the 4th Street SE underpass linking East Village to Stampede Park.

It will be interesting to see how all of these murals age. Will they become valued community icons or will they just quietly fade away.  

If so, perhaps that is OK, public art doesn’t have to be permanent. 

While some public art has received a negative reaction from the public, all of the murals have been well received by their community. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here i.e. let the community initiate and manage the public art program.  

I truly hope the Beltline, Northern Hills and the Downtown West mural projects meet a better fate than previous attempts in Calgary to use murals and public art to create a sense of community.  

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

2018 Summer of Murals: Beltline

Vancouver: Mural Festival Fun & Fantasy

Doug Driediger: Public Art That Is Uplifting!

2018: The Summer of Murals (Beltline)

Do murals enhance neighbourhoods?   Do they foster community pride? Do they make people stop, look and ponder? 

  Natalie Nehlawi’s playful mural is meant to “activate the imagination about a species vital to our ecosystem.”

Natalie Nehlawi’s playful mural is meant to “activate the imagination about a species vital to our ecosystem.”

 Mikhail Miller and Rachel Ziriada’s playful mural reminds me of Matisse’s cut-out artworks.

Mikhail Miller and Rachel Ziriada’s playful mural reminds me of Matisse’s cut-out artworks.

Do we expect too much?

This summer two major mural projects were undertaken in Calgary - one in the Beltline, the other in Northern Hills (a coalition of four communities), both with the goal of enhancing their community.  The Beltline Urban Mural Program (BUMP) was the more traditional model where professional artists were selected to create murals on blank walls throughout the community. The Northern Hills Mural Project (NHMP) was more community-based with hundreds of community members, as well as others from across the City and beyond helping to paint an 850 meter fence along a section of Country Hills Blvd. 

Both were successful in generating lots of social media and community attention, but how long before the thrill of the new murals fade, just as the murals themselves will?  This is not the first time and won’t be the last where murals and public art have been used to try to enhance a neighbourhood. 

Do we expect too much from public art to transform ugly, boring urban spaces into something fun and attractive?

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  Faith47’s BUMP mural

Faith47’s BUMP mural

  Jill Stanton’s mural pays homage to Calgary’s upscale cowboy culture on the side of Gravity Pope one of the city’s best fashion boutiques.

Jill Stanton’s mural pays homage to Calgary’s upscale cowboy culture on the side of Gravity Pope one of the city’s best fashion boutiques.

BUMP

“Our vision is to use powerful, awe-inspiring, whimsical, thought-provoking and stunning art to create beautiful places, invoke dialogue, challenge ideas and foster connections,” says the BUMP website. Link: BUMP website

Those are lofty expectations for the 15 murals which range from the decorative to narrative, mysterious to indigenous and fantasy to illustrative.  There was even a BUMP Festival, Aug 30 to Sept 1stwith tours of the murals, artists talks and an alley party.  I participated in two of the tours which attracted about 100 people each and heard only positive comments about the murals and the project.   

One of the murals that stood out for me was Los Angeles, artist Faith47’s huge cougar with the words “Fortes et Liber” on the side.  Not sure I understand the context of the cougar which appears to be ready to pounce on an unsuspecting pedestrian, however, the Latin words for “strong and free” make some sense given Canada’s national anthem. The mural’s scale (10 storeys) and its monochromatic brownish wash gives it a dream-like quality that looks like it is already fading away.  

Montreal’s Kevin Ledo’s mural on the west side of the Calgary Parking Authority’s City Centre Parkade at 10thAve and 5thStreet SW was also well received.  This artwork, with its huge indigenous figure staring into the Beltline community has a look of contemplation. Only later, when I checked the website did I learn the title of this piece is “Sohkatisiwin” Cree for “Strength/Power.”

An interesting choice given Calgary is located in the traditional territory of the Blackfoot Nation, not the Cree and the artist is from Montreal. Nor did I realize the figure is a real person - Angela Gladue, an internationally recognized dancer in both aboriginal and hip hop genres.  Not sure how this all relates to the Beltline or Calgary.

Although, BUMP’s website has a complete list of the murals and info on the artists, I found most of the jargon-loaded text not very helpful in understanding the context of the work to the Beltline’s sense of place.

There is a printable map of the murals, which would make for a fun walkabout on a nice fall or winter afternoon.  

The funding for the murals came from the Beltline Community Investment Fund, City of Calgary Parking Revenue Reinvestment Program and mural sponsors - Battistella Developments and Hotel Arts. 

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  Kevin Ledo mural on 4th St at 10th Ave SW

Kevin Ledo mural on 4th St at 10th Ave SW

  Kalum Teke Dan’s mural in progress on the side of 17th Ave Framing. It is intended to “develop understanding and foster reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.”

Kalum Teke Dan’s mural in progress on the side of 17th Ave Framing. It is intended to “develop understanding and foster reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.”

Last Word

This is not the first time Calgary’s City Centre communities have tried to use public art to make them a more interesting place to live and visit. 

In the ‘90s, the Uptown 17thBusiness Revitalization Zone (BRZ) organized a series of murals created by well-known Calgary artists on the side of buildings to create an outdoor art gallery.  Unfortunately, after many years, they were removed as “mother nature” had gotten the better of them.

The 4th Street BRZ commissioned sculptures to be located along the street also in the 90s. While many of them are still there, I doubt anyone would say they have become valued community icons.  

I hope the BUMP murals will indeed become an attraction for more people to want to live and visit the Beltine. 

Below are some other murals in the Beltline….

  In the relatively new Thompson Family Park there is a decorative mural with the words “The Readiness is All” embedded in it. The phrase comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet where Hamlet debates the meaning of life….

In the relatively new Thompson Family Park there is a decorative mural with the words “The Readiness is All” embedded in it. The phrase comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet where Hamlet debates the meaning of life….

  Found this mural while on the BUMP tour in someone’s backyard. Interesting mix of nature and indigenous elements.

Found this mural while on the BUMP tour in someone’s backyard. Interesting mix of nature and indigenous elements.

  I love the series of paintings along the fence of playground next to Connaught elementary school that speaks to issue of “belonging.” They have aged well, and are perfect message for the Beltline one of Calgary’s most diverse neighbourhoods, including many new Canadians.

I love the series of paintings along the fence of playground next to Connaught elementary school that speaks to issue of “belonging.” They have aged well, and are perfect message for the Beltline one of Calgary’s most diverse neighbourhoods, including many new Canadians.

Jan Morris: Saskatoon: The Wonder, HUB, POW City?

This blog is another excerpt from Jan Morris’ 1990s book “City to City,” subtitled, Canada through the eyes of the greatest travel writer of our day. The book is a series of essays commissioned by Toronto’s, Saturday Night Magazine. Link: Jan Morris

The title for Morris’ Saskatoon essay is “The happy surprise” and her first sentence is “Saskatoon struck me as Canada’s best surprise,” followed by “I expected the worst.” She said her 10-day visit taught her a lesson not to jump to conclusions.  Having recently visited Saskatoon I was surprised at how her observations rung true even today. 

  I love urban surprises, we stumbled upon this street festival on a side street just off of 21st Ave.

I love urban surprises, we stumbled upon this street festival on a side street just off of 21st Ave.

Prosaic Names

Morris found Saskatoon in the early ‘90s to be “intellectually vivacious, physically it was invigorating, and aesthetically I thought it, in certain lights as least, in certain moods, very beautiful.”

She loved the name Saskatoon, loved enunciating it, but otherwise she thought Saskatoon and most Canadian cities have “too many prosaic imported names e.g. European saints names that have no reference to Canada or names inherited from Scottish estates or other European places.” She liked that Saskatoon is “allegedly derived from the Cree word for a local berry, misaskwatomin, it is as indigenous a name as one could wish for, besides being euphonious, exotic and slightly comical.” Overall, Saskatoon struck her as the “most thoroughly Canadian of Canadian cities” but doesn’t really say why.

She then lists Saskatoon’s various monikers over time – The Wonder City (in its youth), the Hub City (when the railway arrived), the Fastest Growing City on Earth (which it once claimed to be) and City of Bridges (it has seven). 

It is one city in Canada that “does not seem greatly interested in the affairs of the United States.”  

  The University Bridge is Saskatoon’s iconic bridge. You would think it would have a more meaningful name.

The University Bridge is Saskatoon’s iconic bridge. You would think it would have a more meaningful name.

Tyranny   

Saskatoon reminded her of Aberdeen, Scotland given its role as the powerhouse of the Saskatchewan hinterland, sustaining the economy of hundreds of thousands of square miles (its own terrestrial ocean) not just for the wheat fields but for potash, uranium, and gold mines. 

Morris acknowledges “while there is a majestic beauty to Saskatoon’s lonely per-eminence, there are cruel oppressions, too.  As artists in particular have observed before me, that infinite horizon is a kind of tyranny – one feels that even trying to challenge it, in soaring art or architecture….would be no more than a senseless impertinence.”

She recognized 21stStreet at an “architectural gem” where you can see a fair cross section of local society, economically and socially. The street is home to the chateau-style Bessborough Hotel, the modernist Canadian National building, the Saskatoon Club and the old Eaton’s store that is now an Army & Navy store.  

“Saskatoon is a patchwork of rich and poor, rough and smooth. Its history has fluctuated from boom to bust and back again, and its social fabric is correspondingly interwoven.”

  Bessborough Hotel, designed by Archibald and Schofield, opened in 1935 and was considered one of Canada’s grand railway hotels.

Bessborough Hotel, designed by Archibald and Schofield, opened in 1935 and was considered one of Canada’s grand railway hotels.

  The streets of Saskatoon are quite playful today.

The streets of Saskatoon are quite playful today.

 The old Hudson’s Bay Department store has become condos, but still retains its department store shape and the lovely mural.

The old Hudson’s Bay Department store has become condos, but still retains its department store shape and the lovely mural.

PhDs

“Nearly all the people, it seemed, rich or poor, scholar or scavenger, Scottish, Russian or Cree by origin, had something specifically Saskatonian in common. During my 10 days in this city, I experienced no single instance of unfriendliness – not a single annoyance.  Saskatoon claims to have more PhDs per capita than anywhere else in Canada, is full of lively theatre, and is a very hive of gifted writers.”  

  Remai Modern’s contemporary exhibition and programming is provocative and challenging, perhaps too much for some.

Remai Modern’s contemporary exhibition and programming is provocative and challenging, perhaps too much for some.

 “Saskatoon also has a powerful instinct for communal duty, communal purpose. An almost intimate sense of fellowships seems to characterize the city.

Its public institutions are often named for still living local worthies and its University Bridge built by local engineers.

The Mendel Art Gallery is not only open 363 days of the year, twelve hours a day, but attracts an annual attendance almost as great as the entire population of the city (note the Mendel is now closed having been replaced by the controversial Remai Modern which is not open 363 days of the year or twelve hours a day.)  

If you build a new house, the city gives you two free trees. And everywhere there are commemorative plaques.”  

  The University of Saskatchewan’s campus integrates the design of its new buildings with its old buildings to create an architectural harmony that is delightful.

The University of Saskatchewan’s campus integrates the design of its new buildings with its old buildings to create an architectural harmony that is delightful.

  Found these two shelves of books in a thrift store…thought this said something about Saskatoon intellectualness.

Found these two shelves of books in a thrift store…thought this said something about Saskatoon intellectualness.

  Loved these bike racks/tree grates that also tells the history of the Riversdale community in a fun way.

Loved these bike racks/tree grates that also tells the history of the Riversdale community in a fun way.

Restaurants

Morris was not big fan of Saskatoon’s restaurants saying “seldom have I eaten more depressingly” even though the city claimed to have more restaurants per capita than any other Canadian city. She thought the city was cosmopolitan, with its fertile ethnic melange and constant infusion of outsiders, but remarkably introspective.

Saskatoon’s restaurant scene has changed significantly since Morris’ visit with award winning chef Dale Mackay’s three signature restaurants - Ayden Kitchen & Bar, Little Grouse on the Prairie and Sticks & Stones. If you don’t believe me check out this link: 17 Bucket List Restaurants You Need To Try In Saskatoon.

The River

  Bill Epp’s 1989 artwork title “Tribute to Youth” which Morris references reflects the Saskatoon’s sense of play and togetherness.

Bill Epp’s 1989 artwork title “Tribute to Youth” which Morris references reflects the Saskatoon’s sense of play and togetherness.

She notes, “Physically the place depends for all of its charm upon the river, and this Saskatoon has used magnificently. The seven bridges do give a noble flourish to Saskatoon, while its river banks have been fastidiously exploited as trail and parkland, unobtrusively equipped with the standard educational displays, and mercifully embellished, as far as I discovered, by only two pieces of sculpture – one depicting a gambolling group of Saskatonian adolescents, some of them upside down, the other depicting a Metis slumped on his horse.”  

Morris observes, “almost everything seems new in this mise en scene, and this is hardly surprising, because Saskatoon is one of the most sudden of all the world’s cities….The thirty-odd blocks of downtown are like the rings of a chopped tree…the solid red-brick emporiums of the early boom years, the years of the Wonder City.

Here is the glass and steel of the 1970s, when a spurt in several of Saskatoon’s industries made it POW City, meaning the city riding the boom in Potash, Oil and Wheat.  And in between these emblems of success are the symptoms of successive relapses, stores that never quite made it, building lots never quite built upon.”  

Later she laments about the removal of the rail yards and train station from the City Centre, “To this day the absence of the yards gives the city centre a sense of lacuna and deprives it of symbolism.”  

  The South Saskatchewan River next to the downtown is a fun urban playground for people of all ages and backgrounds.

The South Saskatchewan River next to the downtown is a fun urban playground for people of all ages and backgrounds.

  Splash park along the river.

Splash park along the river.

  Kinsman Park is Saskatoon’s signature and historic downtown park is located just off the river. It has a lots of activities for families.

Kinsman Park is Saskatoon’s signature and historic downtown park is located just off the river. It has a lots of activities for families.

Verandering?

She also comments about the suburban development “thousands of houses built in the first half of the century create a ring around the city centre with hardly any two alike as they have been embellished with every kind of decorative caprice, equipped with all permutations of gabling, pillaring, shingling and verandering, ranging from mock Tudor to glimmering modernism.”

  There are lots of tree-lined streets with lovely homes just south of the University. I loved this modest house with an art installation in the front yard. It is evidence of how Saskatoon has become less prairie pragmatic and more a funky, fun and quirky place to live.

There are lots of tree-lined streets with lovely homes just south of the University. I loved this modest house with an art installation in the front yard. It is evidence of how Saskatoon has become less prairie pragmatic and more a funky, fun and quirky place to live.

Pioneer vigour 

I was surprised when she commented that the boom of the 1970s that created the sprawling malls, industrial estates and housing developments is “where one still feels a sense of pioneering vigour.”  She adds, “If you really want a sensation of the frontier in Saskatoon, probably the best place of all to go is to the big industrial zone in the northern part of town, which looks as though it has just been off-loaded piecemeal from a container train and is remarkably like photographs of pioneer Saskatoon in the earliest days of Wonder City.” 

I love Morris’ sense of urban humour. “Saskatoon is short on bravado, and, in its social being as in its contemporary architecture, seems anxious not to shock, or even surprise…while all this does not make the city feel disappointed, exactly, it does make it feel a little resigned – like a woman in middle age who, contemplating her husband across the dinner table, realizes without rancour that life’s romantic possibilities have come and gone.” 

  This conversion of an old egg plant in the downtown’s warehouse district is an example that Saskatoon is embracing contemporary urban redevelopment.

This conversion of an old egg plant in the downtown’s warehouse district is an example that Saskatoon is embracing contemporary urban redevelopment.

  While this looks like NYC this is in fact downtown Saskatoon. How cool is this?

While this looks like NYC this is in fact downtown Saskatoon. How cool is this?

  This is one of several robotic creatures found at the entrance to a scrap yard in Saskatoon’s industrial district.

This is one of several robotic creatures found at the entrance to a scrap yard in Saskatoon’s industrial district.

  This is the scrap yard where you can hunt for buried treasures.

This is the scrap yard where you can hunt for buried treasures.

  Prairie Sun Brewery can be found in Saskatoon’s industrial district next to the fun scrap yard.

Prairie Sun Brewery can be found in Saskatoon’s industrial district next to the fun scrap yard.

  I found numerous examples of how small ordinary buildings had enhanced their facades and entrances with fun contemporary urban design elements.

I found numerous examples of how small ordinary buildings had enhanced their facades and entrances with fun contemporary urban design elements.

Heroic to banal

Near the end of the essay she summarizes her feeling about the city, “But then excitement is not what Saskatoon purveys. It is part of the civic genius – part of the Canadian genius, too – to reduce the heroic to the banal.” 

  13-storey mural on the side of the First Nation’s Bank of Canada by artist Emmanuel Jarus is one of the best murals I have seen this year. It is well executed, the subject matter is appropriate for the site and it is monumental which is what murals should be. To me it is heroic!

13-storey mural on the side of the First Nation’s Bank of Canada by artist Emmanuel Jarus is one of the best murals I have seen this year. It is well executed, the subject matter is appropriate for the site and it is monumental which is what murals should be. To me it is heroic!

Last Word

I recently visited Saskatoon and found it was a great long weekend getaway, not sure how I would spend 10 days there.  I am happy to say the restaurant scene has improved, as it has in most Canadian cities since the ‘90s.  Saskatoon, like most North American cities, has caught the craft beer bug with the north industrial area providing some fun beer tasting spots. The City Centre is currently undergoing a slow renaissance with new shops, restaurants, bars, fitness studios and condos popping up everywhere. The river valley continues to be a popular public place for people of all ages with new publics spaces, trails and events.    

From an architectural perspective, the University of Saskatchewan has perhaps the best blend of old and new architecture in Canada. The new Remai Modern art gallery is a definite attempt to create a modern architectural statement with its cubist, container-like design.

The architecture and programming are diametrically opposed to what the Mendel Art Gallery used to offer.  Like it or not, it is a move away from the banal, the prosaic towards the “bravo” that Morris’ said was missing in Saskatoon’s sense of place.  

I agree with Morris that Saskatoon has a lot of commemorative plaques, statues and monuments. However, what impressed me most were the provocative murals and street art - some of the most thoughtful and appropriate images that I have seen anywhere. 

  This detail of a mural on the side of the City Centre Church which serve at-risk children and youth, single mothers, and run food programs for the homeless. It too is monumental and has a strong social/political statement that reminded me of the great Mexican muralists.

This detail of a mural on the side of the City Centre Church which serve at-risk children and youth, single mothers, and run food programs for the homeless. It too is monumental and has a strong social/political statement that reminded me of the great Mexican muralists.

  The entire mural from across the street.

The entire mural from across the street.

Brad Lamb: Big On Calgary's Beltline Beat 

Recently, I had a chance to sit down with Brad Lamb, arguably Canada’s most active condo developer, in the comfy second floor lounge of his recently completed 6th and Tenth condo on in Calgary’s Beltline to get his insights into Calgary’s City Centre condo market. 

Lamb, a Toronto realtor and developer, has sold 29,000 condos for over $8.5 billion since 1988. He currently has 25 projects at various stages of development in Ontario.  His record in Alberta is not as impressive – cancelling two projects in Edmonton and one in Calgary (Orchard in Victoria Park).  Link: Lamb Development Corp.

Yet, Lamb is still very high on Alberta and especially Calgary.  

  Brad Lamb’s 6th & Tenth condo is one of several new condo towers in Caglary’s hip Beltline district. 10th Avenue SW next to the CPR’s main line was once a warehouse district, today it is quickly becoming a trendy street with bars, restaurants, condos, a new hotel and even a very busy bottle depot.

Brad Lamb’s 6th & Tenth condo is one of several new condo towers in Caglary’s hip Beltline district. 10th Avenue SW next to the CPR’s main line was once a warehouse district, today it is quickly becoming a trendy street with bars, restaurants, condos, a new hotel and even a very busy bottle depot.

Like Toronto’s King West Neighbourhood 

When asked what he liked about Calgary’s City Centre, Lamb quickly answered, “I love the Manhattan-esque landscape with the two rivers creating an island in the middle of the city.  

 He also likes the young party scene and the excellent restaurants. “When I am thinking of developing in a new city or new community, I do is a walkabout to see if there are lots of hip people on the streets, in the restaurants and bars; these are my buyers.”

He loves the Beltline beat, “it reminds me of King West in Toronto in 2004.” FYI. King West is a trendy urban village in Toronto’s City Centre that is also nestled up against railway tracks. 

When asked what he didn’t like, he quipped “the bland pre-2008 office, residential and retail architecture. To me architecture is critical to creating an interesting place to live.” Ouch! He did say he likes The Bow, Telus Sky and Brookfield Place.  

  Calgary’s Beltline is a funky mix of old and new architecture, with several urban parks and an increasing number of public artworks and murals. It has become a very popular place for millennials and empty nesters to live, work and play.

Calgary’s Beltline is a funky mix of old and new architecture, with several urban parks and an increasing number of public artworks and murals. It has become a very popular place for millennials and empty nesters to live, work and play.

Architecture & Urban Design

Lamb’s promotion of 6th and Tenth said it would be “unlike anything the city has seen before.” In looking at the finished building, I would say it is attractive but not outstanding.  It is unique in that it is set back from the sidewalk, allowing for small plaza with a water feature, seating and two big black horse sculptures. He hopes the plaza will become a popular Beltline meeting place. He is proud of the first-class commercial space on the main floor with its 25-foot high ceiling giving it a museum-like feel. He added that Lamb Corporation is retaining the space and looking for a high-end restaurant to locate there.

He was adamant “it won’t be a fast food or convenience store.” 

  6th and Tenth’s mini plaza and water feature were designed to enhance the pedestrian experience and be a meeting place for those living in the area.

6th and Tenth’s mini plaza and water feature were designed to enhance the pedestrian experience and be a meeting place for those living in the area.

  The plaza wraps around the tower and includes two large horse sculptures at the entrance off of 6th St. SW.

The plaza wraps around the tower and includes two large horse sculptures at the entrance off of 6th St. SW.

When I asked why he didn’t use local architects for his Calgary projects, he said he uses only two architectural firms, both in Toronto – Core Architects and The Design Agency.  As these two firms have been with him since the beginning, he enjoys a great working relationship with them that results in a better, faster and cheaper designs than if he worked with a different architect in each city. From his perspective, having a like-minded architect is critical to a successful project. He recognizes there are good architects in Calgary, but this being his first project in Calgary he didn’t want anything to go wrong. 

Backstory: The original design for 6thand Tenth was a brick building, but he couldn’t find anyone in Calgary to do that much brickwork cost effectively. Too bad, as brick has a timeless quality to it and would have respected the 10thAvenue’s historic brick warehouse past. It is interesting to note all of Calgary’s late ‘70s and early ‘80s condo towers were brick – Eau Claire 500, The Estate, Westmount Place, Riverstone and Roxboro House.

  The Estate condo tower next to the Ranchman’s Club is one of several condos built in the late ‘70s early ‘80s with brick facades.

The Estate condo tower next to the Ranchman’s Club is one of several condos built in the late ‘70s early ‘80s with brick facades.

What about Orchard?

Then I asked the tough question “What happened with Orchard?” i.e.  the two-tower project with an urban orchard in the middle on 11thAvenue SE at the edge of the Stampede Grounds. Lamb was forthright saying “We had a great launch in November 2014 selling 50% of the units, but with the drop in oil prices shortly thereafter we didn’t sell many units after that. All the contracts had a clause stating we had to be in the ground by November 15, 2017 or the project would be cancelled and everyone gets their money back. It was a tough decision but we decided not to go ahead given Calgary’s current economic climate, on November 20th 2017, everyone got their money back. It was the prudent thing to do.” 

That being said, Lamb thinks Victoria Park and the plans Calgary Municipal Land Corporation is currently developing for the area are exciting. He added, “I hope the Mayor and Flames’ owners can find a way to work together to create an arena district. It is too good an opportunity to be missed.”

It would sure help his Orchard project become viable again. 

  Lamb’s Orchard project consisted of two condo towers with a mini orchard in the middle along 12th Avenue SE.

Lamb’s Orchard project consisted of two condo towers with a mini orchard in the middle along 12th Avenue SE.

  Calgary Municipal Land Corporation is currently working on a plan to redevelop Victoria Park one of Calgary oldest communities. The concept illustration above shows a new arena in pink, an expanded BMO Centre in middle left and a lots of new buildings between 12th Ave and the CPR railway tracks in yellow. It would be on a similar scale to the East Village mega makeover that won’t be completed until 2027 on the north side of the tracks.

Calgary Municipal Land Corporation is currently working on a plan to redevelop Victoria Park one of Calgary oldest communities. The concept illustration above shows a new arena in pink, an expanded BMO Centre in middle left and a lots of new buildings between 12th Ave and the CPR railway tracks in yellow. It would be on a similar scale to the East Village mega makeover that won’t be completed until 2027 on the north side of the tracks.

Last Word

Lamb was quick to say, “he plans on doing more Calgary projects once the condo market supply and demand situation improves.” It is obvious, he is pleased with how 6thand Tenth turned out and has not soured on the Calgary market. 

Reader Response:

JM…wrote to say that Lamb is not one of Canada’s biggest condo developers and in fact not even the biggest in Toronto. He sent this graphic:

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

Calgary’s 10th Ave Renaissance

Calgary’s Rail Trail

Beautifying The Beltline

 

 

Condo Living: Millennials, In Condos, Drinking Wine 

Recently I had a chance to chat over a glass of wine with four professional female millennials (two grew up in Calgary, one in Red Deer and one in Edmonton) who all live in Calgary’s City Centre about what they like and don’t like about urban living in our city. 

 There are lots of things to see and do for millennials in Calgary’s Beltline community.

There are lots of things to see and do for millennials in Calgary’s Beltline community.

  However, the #1 reason millennials choose to live in Calgary’s Beltline community is the ability to walk to work.

However, the #1 reason millennials choose to live in Calgary’s Beltline community is the ability to walk to work.

Work, Live, Play

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It was unanimous, the key factor in choosing to live downtown was being close to work - no more than a 15-minute walk to work.  A close second was walking distance to lots restaurants and bars.  The key word being LOTS, as eating and drinking was their main source of entertainment.  

This explain to why the bars and restaurants are busy despite the decline in the downtown economy that has been puzzling me and my baby boomer friends for the past few years.  

17th Avenue and 4th Street is the epicenter of their entertainment, Stephen Ave and Kensington wasn’t really on their radar.  

I was surprised safety was not a huge issue. Even when one of them has to walk to work from Mission to downtown at 5:30 am and another lives near Alpha House.

They all recognized there are unsafe places where they wouldn’t walk alone, but with friends they felt safe everywhere. They did lament that Central Memorial Park is beautiful but wouldn’t go there at night. 

Shopping wasn’t a big factor in their lives, but access to a gym was probably the third most important amenity.  

When asked “what was missing in the way of shops” they all agreed it would be nice to have a have a Walmart, Costco, HomeSense or London Drugs somewhere to get more things for the home. They were all glad to learn Canadian Tire was coming to The Royal as they had heard the deal was dead.  

 Some millennials enjoying the new Beltline murals. Note the Bridal advertisement….there are often bridal billboards in the Beltline. Coincidence?

Some millennials enjoying the new Beltline murals. Note the Bridal advertisement….there are often bridal billboards in the Beltline. Coincidence?

 Other things they would like to see in the Beltline were a bowling alley, rock climbing wall, an outdoor curling rink and more community gardens and events like the Inglewood night market

I asked them what they thought of the new Beltline mural program and they all agreed it really didn’t interest them, even though one knew one of the mural artists.  

This led to an interesting discussion of how each City Center community appeals to a specific sector of the millennial population.  From their perspective, Bridgeland, Inglewood and Kensington are where the trendy people live - artists and hipsters. Beltline and Mission are more for the young yuppies.  

They like the Beltline best because it has lots of new condos with better insulation against noise and better security systems. Mission would be a more attractive place to live if it has more new condos and East Village wasn’t really on their radar yet - still too new. 

IMG_6776.JPG

When I asked if they had gotten to know their neighbours, they all said yes. But they quickly added connecting with neighbors isn’t really important to them, as hang with friends.

They all agreed the Beltline is a friendly place where it is easy to get to know people.

One said, “It might not be Vancouver (where she was living before moving to Calgary), but I was shocked how good Calgary is when it comes to restaurant and bars and it is way safer as you don’t have to dodge all the umbrellas. And people are much friendlier.”

All agreed they wouldn’t continue to live in the City Centre for long, probably a few years before they either moved on to other cities for professional opportunities or decided to buy a house outside the city centre. One even has chosen their forever community – Altadore.   

  While most young Beltliners will move away when they start to have a family, not all do as evidenced by the playgrounds and schools in the area.

While most young Beltliners will move away when they start to have a family, not all do as evidenced by the playgrounds and schools in the area.

  The new Canadian Tire and Urban Fare grocery store as part of The Royal condo project will be a welcome addition to the Beltline .

The new Canadian Tire and Urban Fare grocery store as part of The Royal condo project will be a welcome addition to the Beltline.

Last Word

As I looked around the 550ish square foot condo I couldn’t help but think how different the world is today, then when I was in my 20s. There was no TV, no huge stereo unit, no dining table, just a comfy contemporary couch and a couple of chairs with floor to ceiling windows looking out over downtown.  

The place was minimalist, just like in a magazine it was almost like no-one lived there, however, in really, they are living the good life along the streets of our City Centre. And they know it.

Note: An edited version of this blog was commissioned for the 2018 October issue of Condo Living Magazine.

  Living the good life in the Beltline…

Living the good life in the Beltline…

Hamilton: SuperCrawl is Super Fun


Hamilton’s SuperCrawl has evolved over the past 10 years into one of Canada’s biggest and best music/street festivals.  It is a great success story. 

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Grass Roots

It all started when a group of fledgling art galleries along James Street North (aka Little Portugal) decided to host an Art Crawl the second Friday of every month. This was not a particularly novel idea - most cities across North America had such event in the ‘90s and ‘00s. In Hamilton’s case, it started as an experiment to attract more people to downtown’s new arts district.  However, soon new restaurants, cafes and boutiques were popping up along James Street North and wanted to join in the fun. 

Each month, the Art Crawl grew in popularity. 

Then in 2009, as an experiment, the James Street North merchants convinced the City to close the street for their September Art Crawl so they could add stages for music and create a real street festival - hence the name “SuperCrawl!” The first year attracted 3,000 visitors; today SuperCrawl is an annual 3-day festival the second weekend in September that attracts over 200,000 visitors from across southern Ontario and beyond (i.e. more than the Tiger-Cats attract all season). 

In many ways, SuperCrawl has put Hamilton on the art scene map!  

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SuperCrawl 2018

After attending a regular Art Crawl a few years back and being impressed, I added the Super Crawl to my list of things to see.  This was the year.    

In 2018, this eight-block festival, had two major stages (75+ music and theatre performances), hundreds of artists’/makers’ tents, 15 fashion shows, a block of food trucks, several art installations and a family fun zone.

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Music

The music program is very eclectic. This year’s program ranged from Broken Social Scene to Ian Thomas with the Hamilton All-Star Blues Band in the middle. Over the years, the festival has featured groups like Hamilton’s own Arkells (in 2014), to Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings (the late Jones being called the “female, James Brown” (in 2015). Other notables over the years - Sheepdog, Sam Roberts, Tanya Tagaq and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings.   

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 Found this grunge band playing in a dark back alley half a block off of James St N. Anything goes during SuperCrawl.

Found this grunge band playing in a dark back alley half a block off of James St N. Anything goes during SuperCrawl.

Fashion Shows 

One of the festival’s hidden gems is the fashion shows that showcase local designers.  I discovered this stage late on Saturday night. I loved the Cosplay Masquerade and was sorry to miss the Hamilton Vintage Community and The Thrifty Designer shows. Other interesting shows included Madjita: Indigenous Stories and Design and TroyBoy Drag Show.    

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Tents

I was surprised at the number of tents that filled up not only the street but every nook and cranny, creating a fun, flea market-like atmosphere.  From the usual artisans to people selling used records and books – there were treasures to be found.  

  By day…

By day…

  By night…

By night…

Food Trucks 

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In addition to the many restaurants along James St. North, there were 35+ food trucks.

The food trucks ranged from Hamilton’s famous Gorilla Cheese to one called The Flyin’ G’Nosh.  

I was intrigued by Buster’s Bloomin Onion Company’s truck with its huge multi-level trays each holding hundreds of whole peeled onions waiting to be battered, fried and served with Buster’s own chipotle mayo, peppercorn ranch dipping sauce or nacho cheese drizzle.  

I didn’t try them (I hate long lines) but given the long line-up, I bet they were good. 

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SuperCrawl also showcases how downtown Hamilton’s King William Street (one of the adjacent side streets) has evolved into a restaurant row with lovely patios.

In the evenings, it was like being on Calgary’s Stephen Avenue or perhaps in Montreal’s Plateau on a warm summer evening.  

And of course, there was candy floss (it wouldn’t be a street festival without it) and Tim Horton’s Coffee.  Kudos to Timmy’s for sponsoring the entire block that hosted the family fun activities.  

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Art Installations 

The art installations this year were a big disappointment.  I had seen photos of some of the past installations and was ready to be wowed.  Perhaps my expectation’s “bar” was set too high.  However, I was not alone in thinking the art installations looked junky - I overheard many people saying “this just looks like a pile of junk,” and in several cases, that literally is what they were. 

  Robert Hengeveld's artist statement reads, “Howl, a perpetual coyote-and-bunny chase races along the bright green tracks of a custom-built rollercoaster. It is never quite clear which decoy is chasing the other. Both decoys fall well short of the reality they stand to represent, and yet the spectacle of their wild and persistent action seems to make up for their lack of living breath or the occasional blemish in the stab at authenticity. Situated beneath the looping track is a vibrant landscape formed through the heaping piles of shredded paper. Accents of purple, neon pink, and red pop like wild flowers in what becomes an over-romanticized semblance of nature. The abridged world it creates is fantastical despite the ever-present reality of its modest materiality.”

Robert Hengeveld's artist statement reads, “Howl, a perpetual coyote-and-bunny chase races along the bright green tracks of a custom-built rollercoaster. It is never quite clear which decoy is chasing the other. Both decoys fall well short of the reality they stand to represent, and yet the spectacle of their wild and persistent action seems to make up for their lack of living breath or the occasional blemish in the stab at authenticity. Situated beneath the looping track is a vibrant landscape formed through the heaping piles of shredded paper. Accents of purple, neon pink, and red pop like wild flowers in what becomes an over-romanticized semblance of nature. The abridged world it creates is fantastical despite the ever-present reality of its modest materiality.”

  Most people I overheard talking about it saw it as a hodgepodge of junk thrown together, that seemed to have no focus.  There were a few laughs next to the roller coaster, not sure the artist’s message was received.

Most people I overheard talking about it saw it as a hodgepodge of junk thrown together, that seemed to have no focus. There were a few laughs next to the roller coaster, not sure the artist’s message was received.

 Male-Dominated by Vanessa Crosby Ramsay. “ using 6,000 ft of hand-knit computer cable, this piece considers historical ‘women’s work’ and our continued under-representation in fields dominated by me in the present” says the information panel.

Male-Dominated by Vanessa Crosby Ramsay. “ using 6,000 ft of hand-knit computer cable, this piece considers historical ‘women’s work’ and our continued under-representation in fields dominated by me in the present” says the information panel.

  Christopher McLeod's social art project EMERGENCY asks two simple yet complex questions of public participants: What’s the emergency? What can be done about it? Through the production of art as an instrument for change — a pillar beacon with a suggestion box-style cavity for gathering written submissions from the public — the project strives to be emblematic, participatory, and supportive.  Most people just ignored it…there were volunteers there sometimes to engage pedestrians to submit a ballot indicating “what is their emergency?”

Christopher McLeod's social art project EMERGENCY asks two simple yet complex questions of public participants: What’s the emergency? What can be done about it? Through the production of art as an instrument for change — a pillar beacon with a suggestion box-style cavity for gathering written submissions from the public — the project strives to be emblematic, participatory, and supportive.  Most people just ignored it…there were volunteers there sometimes to engage pedestrians to submit a ballot indicating “what is their emergency?”

  Bystanders by Megan Press was assembly of three temporary fixed sculptures made out of everyday materials strapped together. “Bystanders entice audiences to contemplate the familiarity of their identity and configuration as substitutes for human form, architectural structures and discrete objects” says the artist’s statement.  They looked like a smash-up of random materials to me. Most of the time people just walked by and didn’t engage with the work. But did find this impromptu moment, not sure if the young women is responding to the art or to her friends.

Bystanders by Megan Press was assembly of three temporary fixed sculptures made out of everyday materials strapped together. “Bystanders entice audiences to contemplate the familiarity of their identity and configuration as substitutes for human form, architectural structures and discrete objects” says the artist’s statement. They looked like a smash-up of random materials to me. Most of the time people just walked by and didn’t engage with the work. But did find this impromptu moment, not sure if the young women is responding to the art or to her friends.

  Members of    Flagship Gallery    (237 James St. N., Hamilton) offer a visual meditation the theme of "rest” in A Place of Rest. An outdoor installation of artwork created using church pews, dovetailed with an in-gallery exhibition, the piece invites visitors to pause and reflect. This piece seemed be the successful of the art installation as people did stop and where engaged by the piece.

Members of Flagship Gallery (237 James St. N., Hamilton) offer a visual meditation the theme of "rest” in A Place of Rest. An outdoor installation of artwork created using church pews, dovetailed with an in-gallery exhibition, the piece invites visitors to pause and reflect. This piece seemed be the successful of the art installation as people did stop and where engaged by the piece.

  One of the more interesting art experiences was provided by Kelsey Knight who would chat with you and then create a custom poem for you.   I also enjoyed the installation below in one of the permanent art galleries along James St. North.

One of the more interesting art experiences was provided by Kelsey Knight who would chat with you and then create a custom poem for you. I also enjoyed the installation below in one of the permanent art galleries along James St. North.

Circus Orange 

For the past four years, SuperCrawl has showcased Circus Orange, a local performance group that combines acrobatics and pyrotechnics into a fun family evening event. Think Cirque du Soleil up close and personal.  I was able to stand by the fence next to the performers on both nights with great views of the behind the stage warm-up and set-up, as well as watching the performance ringside.  A “front row seat” for FREE!

“It is not every company that can say they have a forensic gun expert working alongside a clown. Or, dancers who are also licensed pyrotechnicians and actors who happily dangle 80 feet in the air from industrial cranes. It is this kind of diversity that is our greatest asset and truly represents the Circus Orange company culture.” (Circus Orange website)

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Urban Renewal Spark

SuperCrawl is a good example of how festivals can serve as the catalyst for change - helping transform a tired and forgotten street and neighbourhood, to a trendy, vibrant urban playground.  

And, while James St N still has a long way to go, there is evidence of revitalization. New condos are being built; new shops and restaurants are joining the traditional Portuguese ones that have been there for many years.

There is a new fully leased WilliamThomas luxury student residence that will add 350+ students to the neighbourhood.  This 21-storey, 169-unit residence is named after the 1850s WilliamThomas building that was on the site until it had to be demolished in 2010 as it was falling down.  The four-storey façade of the original building along James St N was saved and reconstructed as part of the new student tower to enhance the pedestrian-friendliness of street.  At present, it is looking for a couple of new retail or restaurant tenants.  

  One of the reminders that James St N was once known as Little Portugal.

One of the reminders that James St N was once known as Little Portugal.

  The restored Lister Block in the foreground with the WilliamThomas student residence in the background.

The restored Lister Block in the foreground with the WilliamThomas student residence in the background.

Last Word

If you are in the Hamilton area on the second Friday of any month, check out Art Crawl.  And if you love music/art festivals, I highly recommend you plan a weekend vacation in Hamilton and take in the entire festival.  And did I mention it is FREE!

While there you can also check out the Hamilton Art Gallery and the Cotton Factory two other fun art adventures.

  There is lots of interesting architecture in downtown Hamilton, take some time to wander and you will be rewarded.

There is lots of interesting architecture in downtown Hamilton, take some time to wander and you will be rewarded.

Canada: A Country Of Prosaic Cities - Toronto!

I love flaneuring through the books in thrift stores and used bookstores to see if I might find a hidden gem.  That is exactly what happened recently at J.H. Gordon Books on King St. E in Hamilton, Ontario. 

Often, I find books I didn’t even know existed, like Jan Morris’ “City to City” which is subtitled “through the eyes of the greatest travel writer of our day.” I have a couple of Morris’ books in my collection but had never seen this one.   

A quick check found it was published in 1990 and the cities ranged from St John’s and Saskatoon to Yellowknife and Vancouver, as well as a few cities in between. I thought it would be interesting to see how an outsider saw Canada and our cities almost 30 years ago (a generation). Needless to say, I bought the book.  

  This is the image Jan Morris and most of the world had of Canada and Canada cities in 1990. (photo credit: Tourism Toronto).

This is the image Jan Morris and most of the world had of Canada and Canada cities in 1990. (photo credit: Tourism Toronto).

Jan Who?

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Jan Morris, born in 1926, is a Welsh historian, author and travel writer who has written extensively about cities around the world since the ‘60s. She has an amazing ability to observe, ask questions and articulate her thoughts on the underlying character of a city – good, bad and ugly. These are not fluffy travelogues, but urban character studies.   

She first visited Canada in the early 1950s, getting to know its cities and its people better than many Canadians ever do.

Her comments about Canada and Canadian cities are often not very flattering and sometimes I wonder how, in such a relative short visit, she can feel so confident about her ability to capture the pulse and sense of place of a city accurately.  Perhaps I am jealous?

By the end I was amazed at how many times she used the word “prosaic” to describe Canada, and our cities. However, that being said, she does make some very thought provoking observations.

Over the next few months I will share excerpts from her essays that were commissioned for Saturday Night magazine.   

Toronto the capital of the Ice Kingdom  

Morris’ Toronto essay was written in 1984 when she visited the city for its sesquicentennial. She acknowledges the city has become more metropolitan now (i.e. 1990) more Americanized and more assertive as evidenced by….wait for it… “the increasing number of jay-walkers!” 

In her opinion, Toronto is one the most highly disciplined and tightly organized cites of the Western World.  Morris also notes she had never heard of the word “multiculturalism” or “heritage language” until she visited Toronto.  She writes “Far more than any other of the great migratory cities, Toronto is all things to all ethnicities. The melting-pot conception never was popular here, and sometimes I came to feel that Canadian nationality itself was no more than a minor social perquisite.”

She thought the word multiculturalism is to Toronto, what “ooh-la-la” is to Paris, “ciao” to Rome, “nyetto” Moscow and “hey you’re looking great” to Manhattan. 

But she also noted “Toronto was not all brotherly love and folklore, saying wherever she went she heard talk of internecine (destructive to both sides) rivalries, felt a darkly conspiratorial side to multiculturalism and that one could easily stumble into cafes in which plotters organized distant coups.”  

  Toronto Caribana Parade (photo credit: Caribana Toronto)

Toronto Caribana Parade (photo credit: Caribana Toronto)

Hinterland 

One of the main themes of the essays is the role of the transcontinental train as Canada’s iconic experience, as evidenced by this paragraph:

“And best of all, early one morning I went down to Union Station to watch the transcontinental train come in out of the darkness from Vancouver. Ah, Canada! I knew exactly what to expect of this experience, but still it stirred me: the hiss and rumble of it, the engineers princely in their high cab, the travel-grimed gleam of the sleeper cars…the grey faces peering out of the sleeper windows, the proud exhaustion of it all, and the thick tumble of the disembarking passengers, a blur of boots and lumberjackets and hoods and bundled children, clattering down the steps to breakfast, grandma, and Toronto, out of the limitless and magnificent hinterland.”

Oh, how Toronto and Canada HAS changed. The transcontinental train is iconic no more, and Union Station is filled with day commuters, with briefcases, backpacks and coffee cups from edge cities, not people from the hinterland.

Hard to believe the west was still thought of a Canada’s hinterland in the mid ‘80s by outsiders.

  Union Station is best known today as the hub of Toronto’s edge cities commuter system, not at the hub of the transcontinental train.

Union Station is best known today as the hub of Toronto’s edge cities commuter system, not at the hub of the transcontinental train.

Destination

I love the strange and insightful questions Morris asks of cities. In the case of Toronto, it was “What were the intentions of this city?” She then links this question to her observation of the “mural sculpture on the wall of the stock exchange ‘Workforce” by Robert Longo and she begins to contemplate its significance. The mural has eight figures, ranging from a stockbroker to what seems like a female miner, none of which look happy.” Whereupon she exclaims, “the pursuit of happiness, after all is not written into the Canadian constitution.”   She also notes, “Nor do they look exactly inspired by some visionary cause…. they are marching determinedly, but joyously, arm-in-arm, upon an undefined objective. Wealth? Fame? Security?”  Interesting contradiction here, as earlier she says they don’t look happy but later they are “joyously, arm-in-arm.”

Morris then poses the question, “Do cities have to have destinations?” And answers with “Perhaps not, but most of them do, if it is only a destination in the past, or in the ideal. Toronto seems to me, in time as in emotion, a limbo-city. It is not, like London, England obsessed with its own history. It is not an act of faith, like Moscow or Manhattan. It has none of Rio’s exuberant sense of young identity. It is neither brassily capitalist or rigidly public sector. It looks forward to no millennium, back to no golden age. It is what it is, and the people in its streets, walking with that steady, tireless, infantry-like pace that is particular to this city, seem on the whole resigned, without either bitterness or exhilaration, to being just what they are.”

Morris also perceived, “Among the principal cities of the lost British Empire, Toronto has been one of the most casual (rather than the most ruthless) in discarding the physical remnants of its colonial past. In Sydney, in Melbourne, in Wellington, even in Capetown, not to mention the cities in India, where the imperial memorials remain inescapable, sometimes even dominant…

Nobody, could possibly mistake this for a British City now.” “There is no mistaking this for a city of the United States, either….it is not a free-and-easy, damn Yankee sort of city – anything but,” she adds later.

  Will Alsop’s addition to the Ontario College of Art is just one of many buildings that shout out “Toronto is a creative city.”

Will Alsop’s addition to the Ontario College of Art is just one of many buildings that shout out “Toronto is a creative city.”

  Frank Gehry’s addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario enhances Toronto’s image as futuristic city even if the streetscape is harsh.

Frank Gehry’s addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario enhances Toronto’s image as futuristic city even if the streetscape is harsh.

  Royal Ontario Museum’s bold new addition by architect Daniel Libeskind was inspired by the museums gem and mineral collection.

Royal Ontario Museum’s bold new addition by architect Daniel Libeskind was inspired by the museums gem and mineral collection.

Nuclear Attack

Morris observes that while government authority is strong and respected in Toronto you could hardly call it “Orwellian – it seems without malevolence; but at the same time nobody can possibly ignore it, for it seems to have a finger almost everywhere (she hates the Liquor Control Board stores).”

She notes how public art is not only the work of the artist, but has to be authorized and approved by several government bodies before it is installed, or how it is the government that sells you a bottle of scotch and how well-mannered we are addressing criminals in course as “sir.”   

She postulates that if a nuclear bomb was to go off nearby, Torontonians would wait for the lights to change before running for cover.

Later she notes “Only in Toronto, I think, will a streetcar stop to allow a pedestrian to cross – surely one of the most esoteric experiences of travel in the 1980s? (Hmmmm, in Calgary cars stop all the time to let pedestrians cross the street, I wonder what she would make of that) Only in Toronto are the subways so wholesome, the parks so mugger-less, the children so well behaved.” 

She also recognizes Toronto isn’t a “provincial city” describing it as a huge, rich, splendid city, a metropolitan in power, a money centre of universal importance.

“Toronto is Toronto and perhaps that is enough….it is a city clean, neat, and ordered, built to a human scale, unhurried and polite. It has all the prerequisites of your modern major city – your revolving restaurants, your Henry Moore (today, that might be a Santiago Calatrava Bridge or a Jaume Plensa sculpture or a Norman Foster or BIG building), your trees with electric lights in them, your gay bars, your outdoor elevators, your restaurants offering deep fried pears stuffed with ripe camembert on a bed of nutmeg-scented spinach.”

Yet, by and large it has escaped the plastic blight of contemporary urbanism. 

  The Flatiron building built in 1891 by architect David Robert has perhaps Toronto’s most popular piece of public art. The eye-catching mural by Calgary artist Derek Besant was painted in 1998 and consists of over 50 panel attached to a steel frame mounted on the wall.

The Flatiron building built in 1891 by architect David Robert has perhaps Toronto’s most popular piece of public art. The eye-catching mural by Calgary artist Derek Besant was painted in 1998 and consists of over 50 panel attached to a steel frame mounted on the wall.

  Today more and more Canadian cities have scramble intersections for pedestrians like this one in Toronto.

Today more and more Canadian cities have scramble intersections for pedestrians like this one in Toronto.

  The Henry Moore sculpture outside the Art Gallery of Ontario is a popular place to play for children.

The Henry Moore sculpture outside the Art Gallery of Ontario is a popular place to play for children.

Futuristic

She adds later “Everywhere has its galleria nowadays, Singapore to Houston, but none is quite so satisfying as Toronto’s Eaton Centre – just like one of the futuristic cities magazine artists like to depict in the 1930s.”

Morris says “Only the greatest of the world’s cities can outclass Toronto’s theatres, cinemas, art galleries, and newspapers, the variety of its restaurants, the number of its TV channels, the calibre of its visiting performers. Poets and artists are innumerable.” 

“What has not happened to Toronto is as remarkable as what has happened. It ought by all the odds to be a brilliant, brutal city, but it isn’t. Its downtown ought to be vulgar and spectacular, but is actually dignified, well proportioned, and indeed noble. Its sex-and-sin quarters, are hardly another Reeperbahn, and the punks and Boy Georges to be seen parading Yonge Street on a Saturday night are downright touching in their bravado, so scrupulously are they ignored.” 

  Toronto’s Eaton Centre with its Michael Snow artwork of Canadian geese opened in 1977 and quickly became an iconic urban shopping centre internationally. It has been copied by most Canadians cities with poor results.

Toronto’s Eaton Centre with its Michael Snow artwork of Canadian geese opened in 1977 and quickly became an iconic urban shopping centre internationally. It has been copied by most Canadians cities with poor results.

  Toronto’s new City Hall opened in 1965 and was the beginning of the city’s transformation into an international design city.

Toronto’s new City Hall opened in 1965 and was the beginning of the city’s transformation into an international design city.

Escape Tunnels

Morris is not a big fan of the city’s street life, “Toronto is the most undemonstrative city I know, and the least inquisitive. The Walkman might be made for it. It swarms with clubs, cliques, and cultural societies, but seems armour-plated against the individual. There are few cities in the world where one can feel, as one walks the streets or rides the subways, for better or for worse, so all alone.” 

She likes Toronto’s underground PATH walkway better than the streets saying “Among the innumerable conveniences of Toronto, which is an extremely convenient city, one of the most attractive is the system of tunnels which lies beneath the downtown streets, and which, with its wonderful bright-lit sequences of stores, cafes, malls and intersections, is almost a second city in itself. I loved to think of all the warmth and life down there, the passing crowds, the coffee smells, the Muzak, and the clink of cups, when the streets above were half-empty in the rain, or scoured by cold winds; and one of my great pleasures was to wander aimless through those comfortable labyrinths, lulled from one Golden Oldie to the next, surfacing now and then to find myself on an unknown street corner far from home, or all unexpectantly in the lobby of some tremendous bank.” 

She adds, “But after a time, I came to think of them as escape tunnels. It was not just that they were warm and dry; they had an intimacy to them, a brush of human empathy, a feeling absent from the greater city above our heads.” 

  Toronto’s underground PATH system is used by over 200,000 people daily.

Toronto’s underground PATH system is used by over 200,000 people daily.

  Toronto’s 30 kilometre long PATH system is recognized as an important element fo the economic viability of the city’s downtown core which is one of the strongest in the world.

Toronto’s 30 kilometre long PATH system is recognized as an important element fo the economic viability of the city’s downtown core which is one of the strongest in the world.

No Joie de vivre

She later says, “Sometimes I think it is the flatness of the landscape that causes this flattening of the spirit – those interminable suburbs stretching away, the huge plane of the lake, those long grid roads which deprive the place of surprise or intricacy. Sometimes I think it must be the climate, numbing the nerve endings, or even the sheer empty vastness…Could it be the underpopulation; ought there be a couple of million more people in the city, to give it punch or jostle? Could it be the permanent compromise of Toronto, neither quite this or altogether that, capitalist but compassionate, American but royalist, multicultural but traditionalist.” 

When Morris asked immigrants what they thought of Toronto they said the “people are cold…they just mind their own business and make the dollars…neighbours don’t smile and say hullo (sic), how’s things…nobody talks.” 

To this she adds her own observations “in the course of its 150 years of careful progress, so calculated, so civilized, somewhere along the way Toronto lost, or failed to find, the gift of contact or of merriment…even the most naturally merry of the immigrants, the dancing Greeks, the witty Poles, the lyrical Hungarians seem to have forfeited their joie de vivre when they embrace the liberties of this town.”

In the end she concludes, “Your heart may not be singing, as you contemplate the presence around you Toronto the Good, but it should not be sinking either.

Cheer up! You have drawn the second prize, I would say, in the Lottario of Life.” 

  Indeed, Toronto has added over a million more people since 1990. The city centre is being transformed from a place to work to a place to “live, work and play” with the addition of hundreds of new residential buildings.

Indeed, Toronto has added over a million more people since 1990. The city centre is being transformed from a place to work to a place to “live, work and play” with the addition of hundreds of new residential buildings.

  Sidewalk patios are common place in Toronto and Canadian cities today; this was not the case in 1990.

Sidewalk patios are common place in Toronto and Canadian cities today; this was not the case in 1990.

  Cycling and urban living is become more and more common place in Toronto and Canada’s other major cities.

Cycling and urban living is become more and more common place in Toronto and Canada’s other major cities.

Last Word

Toronto the “Capital of the Ice Kingdom” is Morris’ term, not mine. However, it would seem to capture her view of Canada and our cities as cold, conservative and controlled places with little merriment. Hence the prolific use of the word “prosaic.”

I have to admit I have never been a big fan of Toronto, but then most Canadians other than those living in the metro Toronto area seem to despise the city that thinks it is the “centre of the universe.”  I am probably even more anti-Toronto than most as growing up in Hamilton we hated “Hogtown!”  I was surprised on a recent visit to Hamilton how much the anti-Toronto sentiment still exists.  

While reading the essay I couldn’t help but wonder what she might think of Calgary with our indoor +15 walkway, our brutally cold winters, beautiful icy rivers and huge parks.  What would she think of Stephen Avenue, the Calgary Tower or our iconic recreation centres? I got a sense of what she might have thought in her essay on Edmonton, entitled “A Six-Day Week!” 

  Despite all the changes in Canada’s cities over the past 30 years I expect this is still the view most people outside of Canada have of our cities.

Despite all the changes in Canada’s cities over the past 30 years I expect this is still the view most people outside of Canada have of our cities.

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

City Travel: Canada vs USA

Canada: The Foundations of its future


 








Hamilton: Mulberry Street Porchin' Band

I love porches. I love live music. I love rock & roll and the blues. I love urban surprises. Combine all these and I think I have died and gone to heaven. This is exactly what happened when I attended Hamilton’s Super Crawl Sept 13 to 16th, 2018. 

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Too Much Fun!

There I was, Friday night wandering aimlessly, getting the lay of the land on James St N.  Hearing music coming from a side street (where there was no stage), I headed into the darken street was where I was treated to a brightly lit porch with six guys playing and singing their hearts out.  I just love it – and so did the other people watching, listening and dancing to the music.  People would come listen to a few songs and then move on, but there always seemed to be 50 or so people enjoying the free show.  

I decided to see if they were there on Saturday night after the Circus Orange performance at 10ish and sure enough the band was still in full swing.  There was even a larger crowd and more people dancing.  Too much fun!

Turns out this was not an impromptu porch performance for Super Crawl, but something that happens every Friday night from 6 to 9 pm, spring, summer and fall (weather permitting) and has been happening for the past 9 years.  

Yes one of the band members owns and lives in the house. 

  Some liked to listen, some liked to dance the guy with the cane was in a trance.

Some liked to listen, some liked to dance the guy with the cane was in a trance.

How did I not know this? 

Also turns out the band has an official name “Mulberry Street in’ Band,” a Facebook page and a CD. I also learned they even had the porch enlarged to make room for themselves and all of the equipment.  There are even groupies who show up regularly to listen and some love to dance.  

How cool is that?

More Info: Mulberry Street Porchin’ Band

Last Word

I was told the neighbours are all very supportive, even the 90 year old neighbour who lives next door. There is even a spot on the driveway where neighbours bring their chairs and beer so they can sit and listen to the music for the entire night if they wish.  

However, the porch performances may not last much longer as a large condo complex is under construction across the street.  I can’t imagine that all the new residents will love having loud music and noisy people dancing and playing in the street every Friday evening. They say all good things have to come to an end.  I hope “they” are wrong. 

But until then, if you happen to be in Hamilton on a Friday night (spring, summer or fall), check out the porch party near the corner of Mulberry and James St. N.  You can’t miss it.

PS. I wonder if I could use my porch for a music venue on Friday nights next summer? I will have to think about this over the winter.

  This is the Mulberry Street porch house by day. You could would never suspect it could be a fun live music venue by night.

This is the Mulberry Street porch house by day. You could would never suspect it could be a fun live music venue by night.

Suburban Sprawl: Birth/Death Differential & Managing Growth

The key to city building is linking vision with the realities of the current market, economy and desired quality of life, as well as anticipating the future. It aint’ easy.   

  In Calgary, numerous residential towers are now an integral part of the urban skyline.

In Calgary, numerous residential towers are now an integral part of the urban skyline.

Downtown Towers Not Enough

Recently David Gordon, The School of Urban & Regional Planning at Queen’s University published the report, “Still Suburban – Growth in Canada Suburbs, 2006 to 2016.”  The key finding was “the population of Canadian auto-dependent communities are growing much faster than the national growth rate, which is significant to note when implementing policies guiding public health, transportation, education planning, political decisions, and community design.”  

This is happening despite the efforts of every major Canadian city to develop planning policies to encourage the densification of inner-city communities. The report states, “In all our largest metropolitan areas, the portion of suburban residents is over 80%, including the Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. Their downtowns may be full of new condo towers, but there is five times as much population growth on the suburban edges of the regions.”  

  Calgary's Beltline's streets are lined with new residential buildings with several more under construction. It is one of the City's fastest growing neighbourhoods.

Calgary's Beltline's streets are lined with new residential buildings with several more under construction. It is one of the City's fastest growing neighbourhoods.

Calgary is #1

The same is true for Calgary, where dozens of new condos and thousands of infill homes have been completed in our inner-city communities since 2006, yet the vast majority of our growth has been in the ‘burbs. In fact, Calgary has the dubious ranking of being Canada’s leader in suburban growth with 91% of our growth being in the suburbs; followed by Edmonton at 90%, Montreal 84%, Toronto 83%, Vancouver 79% and Ottawa 74%. 

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  Recent Calgary population growth indicates that many of the communities near downtown are experiencing healthy population increases i.e. green areas.

Recent Calgary population growth indicates that many of the communities near downtown are experiencing healthy population increases i.e. green areas.

Is Calgary an urban densification leader? 

In fact, I contacted Gordon early this year to see if he could confirm my hypothesis that “Calgary was Canada’s leader when it came to urban densification on a per capita basis.”  This hypothesis was based on the numerous new urban village projects at various stages of development in Calgary: Garrison/ East Village / University District / Brentwood Station / Bridges / Currie / West District / Quarry Park / SETON.  Garrison Woods and Garrison Green alone added 5,000+ new residents in the early ‘00s. 

As well, the dozens of condos have completed, under construction or approved for the Beltline, Kensington, Inglewood and Marda Loop.  In fact, the 2017 Census showed the Beltline had the largest population increase of any Calgary community and that many of Calgary’s inner-city communities are indeed experiencing good population growth.  Perhaps, this is due in part to the 5,000 new infill homes (15,000 people at 3 people per home) in Calgary’s inner-city communities over the past five years. That is the equivalent of building two new Aspen Wood neighbourhoods.  

While I realize these projects were in their infancy from 2006 to 2016, I was hoping Gordon might have some stats and projections based on planned urban densification projects for Canadian cities.

Gordon responded with “As an urban designer, I find the infill projects like the Bridges, East Village, Currie /Garrison Woods, University District and Brentwood to be fascinating and follow them closely.  But our research has forced me to look again at overall patterns of metropolitan growth. And across Canada, the population of every metropolitan area was growing many times faster at the edges than by infill. Even our poster child for urbanism, Vancouver, has over 86% of its population growth occurring at the edges from 2006-2011.”

This didn’t answer my question, however, it did get me to rethink how we measure and think about inner-city and suburban growth.  

  The Bridges project continues to add new urban homes for Calgarians including many families.

The Bridges project continues to add new urban homes for Calgarians including many families.

  Calgary's East Village project will add 10,000+ new residents to the downtown over the next 10 years.

Calgary's East Village project will add 10,000+ new residents to the downtown over the next 10 years.

Birth/Death Differential 

Intuitively, I sensed we need to look at the population growth differently to understand what is happening. This led me to examining how the birth and death stats for suburbs vs inner-city might factor in. I contacted the City but they don’t track birth by new suburbs (developingcommunities is the City’s term) vs established communities (developedcommunities is the City’s term).  A quick look at the demographics of new suburbs vs established communities and you quickly realize there is a huge difference that puts developed communities at a HUGE disadvantage when it comes to population growth.  

I decided to do some math.

Each year Calgary has about 16,000 births, so let’s assume 70% of the births are in the newer communities or about 11,000, compared to only 5,000 in older communities.  This means every year the new communities grow twice as fast without building a single home.  

Calgary averages about 5,500 deaths each year. If we assume 90% of the deaths each year are from established neighbourhoods (where the vast majority of the old people live) this means collectively they will decline by 5,000 people each year. Ironically, this is offset by the 5,000 births, so our inner-city’s natural population growth is neutral. 

Contrastingly, in new suburbs, there are 11,000 births and only 500 deaths, so the natural population increase is 10,500, about 50% of Calgary’s 21,000 population growth migration accounted for the other 10,500) last year (2017 Census).  

This is pretty rough math, but it demonstrates urban sprawl when measured by population growth is significantly skewed in favour of the new suburbs (whoops, developing communities).    

  City of Calgary Community Profiles illustrates how new communities like Cranston have significantly higher numbers of children (red numbers) and less seniors than the city average (grey numbers).

City of Calgary Community Profiles illustrates how new communities like Cranston have significantly higher numbers of children (red numbers) and less seniors than the city average (grey numbers).

  Many older communities have less children and significantly more seniors.

Many older communities have less children and significantly more seniors.

Affordability Factor 

The inner-city is also at a huge disadvantage in attracting population growth compared to new suburbs as a result of affordability. In 2014, I posted a blog documenting that 80% of Calgarians can’t afford to live in the inner-city where the land costs are many times higher than in a developing community. The cost of a home in an inner-city duplex can cost a million dollars and cost of a lot $300,000.

The cost of community engagement, complexity and uncertainties of the approval process also increases the cost of inner-city houses and condos. Affordability is a huge reason why not only Calgarians, but most Canadians HAVE to live in the new urban suburbs.  

Until, Calgary (or any city) can provide equivalent housing at similar costs in older suburbs, as they can in new suburbs, most of our population growth in our city will be at the edge.  The issue is land economics and demographics, not urban design and planning. 

Link: 80% of Calgarians Must Live In The Suburbs

 New master planned communities have a diversity of housing from low rise condos to row housing to estate homes. The master plan also integrates future employment and retail districts, as well as present and future transit oriented living.

New master planned communities have a diversity of housing from low rise condos to row housing to estate homes. The master plan also integrates future employment and retail districts, as well as present and future transit oriented living.

New Suburbs Are Not Evil 

It should also be recognized new suburbs are not evil like those of the middle to late 20thcentury with their sea of cookie cutter homes and little else.  New communities like Quarry Park, SETON and Providence are designed as “live/work/play” communities with a mix of housing (singles, towns, row and condos) with employment districts, as well as, retail, restaurant and recreational amenities all strategically located.  

They are designed to foster walking, transit and cycling as much as possible. In fact, Brookfield Residential’s Livingston neighbourhood will have 96% of its homes within 300m of a transit stop and a density on par with Hillhurst/Sunnyside.  

Indeed, Calgary’s new master-planned communities are a hybrid of the low-density, big box suburbs and the mixed density, main street urban villages of the future. While they aren’t perfect (no community is) they reflect the needs of today’s families for a community that has most of its amenities just a short drive away and in some cases within walking and cycling distance. And is affordable!

  Typical '50s or '60s street with single family, single story homes are large lots. While many once housed 6+ people today they are home for one maybe two people.

Typical '50s or '60s street with single family, single story homes are large lots. While many once housed 6+ people today they are home for one maybe two people.

  Streetscape in the new community of Livingston has two story homes on much smaller lots than those built 50+ years ago. This looks like inner-city communities without the trees.

Streetscape in the new community of Livingston has two story homes on much smaller lots than those built 50+ years ago. This looks like inner-city communities without the trees.

Last Word 

Studies like Gordon’s don’t help us understand the complexities of city-building and managing urban growth. The media loves to grab these studies and create a sense the “sky is falling.” That simply is not true. 

In reality Calgary and all Canadian cities are evolving to become more densified and more transit, walking and cycling friendly. However it is too quickly for some and too slowly for others.  

  While Calgary like all Canadian cities is focused on trying to manage growth without sprawl it is very difficult due to not only demographic differences, but also do to job employment growth being primarily on the edge of the city.

While Calgary like all Canadian cities is focused on trying to manage growth without sprawl it is very difficult due to not only demographic differences, but also do to job employment growth being primarily on the edge of the city.