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?

Screen Shot 2018-11-05 at 3.32.47 PM.png

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

Screen Shot 2018-11-05 at 3.21.18 PM.png

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.

Calgary's Design District Revisited

After spending a week hanging out in Palm Spring’s Design District, I wondered what happened to Calgary’s fledgling Beltline Design District along 11th and 10th Avenue between 4th and 14th Street SW.

I realize several key players have left – Domicile, Robert Swift, BoConcept and Maria Tomais. And soon F2 and Industrial Element will also have to leave to make way for a new residential development at the corner of 11th Ave and 11th St. SW. 

Yes there are still a few design-oriented shops like Banbury Lane, Chintz & Company, Interior Living, Kits Objects, Pomp & Circumstance and Shaun Ford & Co still operating, but the district is becoming more diverse. 

  Mark on 10th, shouts out "this is a design district." 

Mark on 10th, shouts out "this is a design district." 

  Kit is like a mini furniture museum.

Kit is like a mini furniture museum.

Shop

  Chris Cran at Trepanier Baer Gallery.  

Chris Cran at Trepanier Baer Gallery. 

The 700 block of 11th Ave SW with its cluster of commercial galleries - Herringer Kiss, New Zones and Paul Kuhn creates a “Gallery Block” at the heart of the Calgary's design district.

The Gallery Block is also home to Metrovino and Cookbook Company (over 2,000 cookbooks, largest selection in Western Canada) and Brulee Patisserie, all have been anchors for over 20 years.

Other art galleries in the area include Trepanier Baer Gallery, Webster Galleries, Gibson Fine Art and Latitude Art Gallery and VivianeArt.  Perhaps it should become the Gallery District?

  Camera Store always has a great urban buzz. 

Camera Store always has a great urban buzz. 

Add in other eclectic shops like Heritage Posters & Music, Stuff (men’s fashions and accessories) two piano stores. 

Add in The Camera Store (I often pop in to check out the books) and you have the makings of funky pedestrian district.  

There are two new micro retailers (100 square feet) Bezel House (men’s watches) and Kokeldama! (moss ball plants) tucked away at the back of The Audio Room and Stuff respectively.

Other anchor retailers include Mountain Equipment Coop, Atmosphere, The Source, The Bike Shop and Speedmatrix.

  Mountain Equipment Coop is a huge two storey outdoor store. If MEC doesn't have it you don't need it! 

Mountain Equipment Coop is a huge two storey outdoor store. If MEC doesn't have it you don't need it! 

  Love the interplay of the old and new urban design sensibilities in this building. 

Love the interplay of the old and new urban design sensibilities in this building. 

Play

A vibrant district needs a variety of restaurants, bars and cafes.  New condos have brought new amenities like Sucre Patisserie, in Mark on 10th and Donna Mac in Versus.  

  The Concorde Group’s Bridgette restaurant, bar and lounge is a perfect fit, with its mid-century modern design located in an old warehouse building.

The Concorde Group’s Bridgette restaurant, bar and lounge is a perfect fit, with its mid-century modern design located in an old warehouse building.

Beer Revolution, Bonterra Tratttoria and its sister Posto Pizza and Bar provide an excellent line up of places to eat and relax. REGRUB is the district’s funky “go to” burger place.

  Mikey's on 12th offers live music every night and hosts a popular blues jam on Saturday afternoons. 

Mikey's on 12th offers live music every night and hosts a popular blues jam on Saturday afternoons. 

The area is also home to two live music venues – Mikey’s on 12th and the Commonwealth Bar & Stage.

And for those whose idea of play is working out Heaven’s Fitness has some the best classes and equipment in the city. 

And yogis have Yoga Passage.  

 

 REGRUB's metal barrel booths reflects the shop owner's quirky sense of design.

REGRUB's metal barrel booths reflects the shop owner's quirky sense of design.

Live

The recently completed Qualex-Landmark’s Mark on 10th, Lamb Development Corp’s 10th and 6th, ONE Properties’ Versus, Intergulf-Cidex’s Aura I and II and Statesman Group’s The Metropolitan have added 1,500 new homes to the Design District.  And, they will soon be joined by 33-storey 360-room Residence Inn by Marriott (largest in Canada) and its sister 300-unit residential tower.

The district also includes three grocery stores – Safeway, Midtown Calgary Co-op and Community Natural Foods. As for schools, there is even the Connaught elementary school nearby and Western Canada High School is within walking distance.  

The district has a walkscore of 98, making it one of the best places in the City to “live, work and play.”

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 10.15.29 AM.png

New Name

The district deserves a higher profile as one of Calgary’s hip pedestrian streets.  Back in the ‘80s, 11th Avenue SW was nicknamed “Electric Avenue” for the lively nightlife generated by the plethora of bars and nightclubs along the avenue.   Today, it has a more eclectic mix of shops, galleries, restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs.

Perhaps it is time for a new name, one reflecting the new identity and captures the imagination of Calgarians and tourists. In many cities, the area would be nicknamed SODO, for its south downtown location.  

FYI: HIPville has been taken. It is the name of new Business Improvement Area (BIA) for the Highland Industrial Park. It will be interesting to see how the collaboration of those businesses becomes a catalyst for development.

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 10.29.01 AM.png

Last Word

Hmmm….perhaps the area would benefit if the businesses banded together and formed a their own BIA. Certainly, 17th Avenue, 4th Street, Kensington Inglewood and Marda Loop have all thrived as a result of the marketing and lobbying efforts of their respective BIAs.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section, Saturday February 17, 2018. 

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

Calgary's Rail Trail Stroll

Calgary's 10th Avenue Renaissance

Importance of BIAs

 

Urban Living: Importance of BIAs

Business Improvement Districts (BIA) are like Community Associations but for businesses. They lobby, foster, facilitate and advocate for improvements to their neighbourhood. 

  Bow Cycle one of the largest bike stores in the world is the anchor tenant for the Bowness BIA.

Bow Cycle one of the largest bike stores in the world is the anchor tenant for the Bowness BIA.

Backstory 

You might know that as BRZ (Business Revitalization Zones) which is what they were originally called in Alberta but have recently converted to the BIA terminology that is used in the rest of Canada. 

Over the past 40+ years, BIAs in Calgary have evolved from shopping districts to mixed-use streets with vibrant café and restaurant cultures, as well as health and fitness spaces (there were no yoga and spin studios in the ‘80s), and retail shops.  They have been incubators for hundreds of small independent Calgary business start-ups.

As a result of this transformation, streets surrounding Calgary’s BIAs have become attractive places to live, as evidenced by the numerous new condos recently completed or under construction next to them.

Full disclosure: I was the Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association (CDA) from 1995 to 2006.  The CDA is a BRZ/BIA but chose to call itself an association as the Board thought the term “revitalization” gave the Downtown a negative connotation.

 4th Street, Lilac Festival (photo credit: 4th St BIA)

4th Street, Lilac Festival (photo credit: 4th St BIA)

BRZ/BIA/BID 101

In the ‘80s, old pedestrian streets in established neighbourhoods across North America were struggling to survive as shoppers flocked to the big new suburban malls. In an effort to save their businesses, shop owners across North America rallied together to set up Business Revitalization Zones (or BRZs as they were then, recently they have been renamed Business Improvement Areas or BIAs in line with the rest of Canada). In the United States, they are called Business Improvement Districts (BIDs).

The world’s first BIA was set up in Toronto in 1970 for the Bloor West Village. Today, Toronto has 80+ BIAs.  The Alberta Municipal Government Act (MGA) allowed for the formation of Business Revitalization Zones in 1983, with 17th Avenue BRZ being the first (established in September 1984) and Marda Loop the second (December, 1984). Today the 12 BIAs in Calgary represent over 5,000 businesses.  

The MGA allows a BIA to be established when the majority of business owners within a defined area vote in favour of setting up a BIA.  Once established, a Board of Directors are elected who develop an annual work plan and budget, which is submitted to the City of Calgary.  The City then determines the tax levy based on the total assessment on commercial properties in the defined area needed to generate the revenue requested in the BIA.  The BIA levy is in addition to municipal taxes, so the BIAs are self-funded.

Screen Shot 2017-12-21 at 1.04.35 PM.png
  Paradise Lanes is one of International Avenue's iconic businesses. 

Paradise Lanes is one of International Avenue's iconic businesses. 

Why are BIAs needed?

BIAs are created where business owners feel services provided by the City with existing tax revenues are inadequate in creating a clean, safe and attractive place for their customers.

Calgary BIAs proactively work with Calgary Parking Authority on parking issues, with police and social agencies on panhandling and homeless issues and with City of Calgary Transportation and Planning on sidewalks, roadwork, cycling lanes, street furniture and reviewing new developments. Some BIAs even have their own “Clean & Safe” programs, hiring people to pick up litter, remove graffiti and identify safety concerns to police.

In addition, BIAs typically manage their own banner program and baskets programs, marketing initiatives and maintain a website to promote business events and news.

  Marda Loop is home to an eclectic collection of shops, restaurants and cafes. 

Marda Loop is home to an eclectic collection of shops, restaurants and cafes. 

Public Art/Signature Events

In the early years, several Calgary BIAs developed public art programs designed to make their street more attractive and interesting places for pedestrians. 17th Avenue and International Avenue had ambitious mural programs; 4th Street had a sculpture program and the CDA a “Benches as sculpture” program. 

Signature events were also a key tool to attract people from other quadrants of the City to visit a BIA and see for themselves what it has to offer.  For example, in 1990, 4th Street established the Lilac Festival to kick off spring in Calgary - today it attracts over 100,000 people May.

International Avenue fostered the development of “Around the World in 35 blocks Food Tour” in 1997 to showcase the array of ethnic food available along its 35 blocks 17th Ave SE; the program still exists today. 

For many years, the Downtown Association hosted the annual Santa Claus Parade and today coordinates events on Stephen Avenue Walk.

  Dream Fragment, Frankly Heisler, 1992  is one of several public artworks along 4th Street commissioned by the 4th St BIA. 

Dream Fragment, Frankly Heisler, 1992  is one of several public artworks along 4th Street commissioned by the 4th St BIA. 

Last Word

Alison Karim-McSwiney has been the Executive Director of the International Avenue BIA (17th Ave SE from 26th to 61st Street SE) since 1993.  She notes, “Revitalization is not for the faint at heart.  It takes at least a couple of decades to turn around an area and you’ll encounter many setbacks along the way.  Then there will be a certain tipping point where it all starts falling into place. Our community building effort is not to gentrify as we don’t want to lose what makes our area unique.  We are an affordable, inclusive neighbourhood. ”

Indeed, International Avenue is in the midst of a mega transformation to accommodate the 17Ave SE BRT.

Travel Tip:

Whenever I travel to a new city, one of my first Google searches is for BIAs or BIDs, as it will routinely identify the best places to discover the local urban buzz.

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

International Avenue Follows Jane Jacobs Advice

Kensington: One of North America's Healthiest Urban Villages

Marda Loop Madness