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.

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

 

 

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.

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:

Screen Shot 2018-10-15 at 1.06.41 PM.png

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

Screen Shot 2018-10-05 at 1.21.17 PM.png

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…

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.

Calgary: Parades Celebrate Cowtown’s Cosmopolitan Culture 

As the saying goes….everyone loves a parade! In Calgary’s case, “everyone” reflects the City’s evolution from being the bastion of Western Canada’s corporate, cowboy conservative culture into Canada’s third most ethnically diverse city.  The city boasts four major annual parades, each celebrating an element of the city’s growing heterogeneity – Stampede, Pride, Nagar Kirtan and Parade of Wonders. It’s spectrum of parades exemplifies Calgary’s dramatic cultural transformation over the past 30 years - from a frontier town to a cosmopolitan city.  

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Calgary is no longer a “one horse town.”

Stampede Parade

When I moved to Calgary in the early ‘80s, the Calgary Stampede and its parade was the only game in town.  The parade is a popular as ever. About 350,000 people come to celebrate Calgary’s rich agricultural, ranching and indigenous cultures each year. It is still Calgary’s premier parade with 116 entries, 32 floats, and 12 marching bands involving 4,000 people and 750 horses travelling along its 4.5 km route through the downtown. 

The Stampede Parade is a celebration of Calgary’s pioneer spirit. 

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Calgary Pride Parade

This year’s Calgary’s Pride Parade took place on the Sunday of the Labour Day weekend, attracting an estimated 80,000 spectators along its 2 km downtown route. The 190 colourful entries included “everyone” from politicians to LBGT groups, from financial institutions to law firms and from kids to dogs.  It is no longer an underground protest march, but a celebration of the city’s diversity.

From its humble beginning in 1990 when a about 100 people many wearing paper bags over their heads or Lone Ranger masks (to disguise their identity in case family, friends or employers might recognize them) protested for gay rights, it has become the City’s fastest growing parade. It became mainstream in 2011 when Mayor Naheed Nenshi was parade marshal and corporations like the Calgary Flames started sponsoring floats.

Calgary’s Pride Parade signifies the city’s growing openness to people of all orientations. 

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Nagar Kirtan Parade

The Nagar Kirtan Parade, organized each May by the Dashmesh Culture Centre happens each May in the northeast community of Martindale. The annual parade is held in celebration of Vaisakhi, one of the most significant holidays in the Sikh calendar. Nagar Kirtan refers to the procession of the Sikh Congregation through the town singing holy hymns. Calgary’s Nagar Kirtan parade featuring lots of singing and floats, invites “everyone” to watch or participate. It attracted of 60,000 spectators in 2018. 

Calgary is not only home to the third largest Sikh community in Canada, but is home to people of 240 different ethnic origins. 

This parade is a celebration of “equality, freedom and justice for all.”

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POW (Parade of Wonders) Parade

POW is part of Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, a cosplay festival that takes place every spring in celebration of pop-culture, fantasy and imagination. The parade, introduced into the Expo’s calendar of events in 2013, attracted over 4,000 participants in 2018. All parade participants – of all ages and backgrounds - must dress up as their favourite character from movies, TV shows, comics, video games or books.  

The 2-km parade winds its way through the downtown from Eau Claire Market to Olympic Plaza at noon on the Friday of Calgary Expo. It attracted over 15,000 spectators from infants to grandparents, many of whom also dressed up as their favourite fantasy character.  It is a riot of colour and the biggest smiles you will ever see.

POW is a celebration of Calgary as a creative, fun and imaginative city. 

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Last Word

Cowtown, as Calgary used to be referred to, is no longer the redneck city that some thought it was (and some still think it is).  And though, it still has its roots in the pragmatic, pioneer prairie conservatism, its branches are full of leaves of different shapes, sizes and colours.  

Every city has it flaws, but over the past 30+ years, Calgary has evolved from a singular small-town sensibility into a diverse cosmopolitan urban playground that “everyone” can enjoy.  Our parades are a testament to that. 

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

Everyday Tourist Does Calgary Expo

Colourful Stampede Postcards

Calgary's 2018 Festival Fun

Does Calgary have too many neighbourhoods?

Calgary has 185 neighbourhoods and counting. But can we afford all of these neighbourhoods, each with their own Community Association and Community Centre? Many of which are chronically struggling for volunteers and funding. Is there an opportunity to merge some of the neighbourhoods to create more logical, viable and vibrant communities?

I'm torn. So I checked with Jane Jacobs the grandmother of modern urban thinking and harry Hiller, urban sociologist at the University of Calgary. Hiller thinks neighbourhoods are possibly irrelevant in the modern world. Jane thinks bigger is better. 

Let the debate begin...

 Calgary has 185 neighbourhoods and counting. Traditionally, the City has been divided into four quadrants, however, in reality there are at least eight different districts.

Calgary has 185 neighbourhoods and counting. Traditionally, the City has been divided into four quadrants, however, in reality there are at least eight different districts.

Small town = Small Minded?

Creating great neighbourhoods is critical to our City’s present and future prosperity as they attract young people to want to live here. It is young people with new ideas and new energy who are the future of any city. A good neighbourhood fosters social connectedness, economic diversity, well-being and civic pride.

One of Calgary’s urban living advantages since the ‘60s has been how it has fostered small town neighbourhoods of about five to ten thousand people. From the new Legacy in the far south, to Cliff Bungalow in the core – our city has kept our communities relatively small even as it grew from 250,000 to over one million.

These small town-like neighbourhoods of about 10,000 people made it easy for hundreds of thousands of Canadians who moved here mostly from small towns to assimilate into the big city. It also psychologically makes us feel more connected to people around us. On a personal level, I know I have come to love my neighbourhood – West Hillhurst - because of its idiosyncrasies. 

However, Jane Jacobs, the legendary writer on cities and urban design, always maintained that small communities are a sentimental longing for the past. AND that we should be fostering larger more urban districts of 50,000+ citizens. She even suggests that small-town size neighbourhoods foster NIMBYism. Something we all know Calgary is plagued with.

Jacob's argued that bigger neighbourhoods are better. And as our city continues to grow, the temptation to create 'bigger' neighbourhoods looms.

Certainly there would be a cost saving in duplicated resources, and larger communities might hold more sway with city council and developers. But I think good things come from small neighbourhoods. 

  The recreation centre and park in the foreground is in West Hillhurst, while the Queen Elizabeth School and fields across the street is in Hillhurst. Does this matter? (photo credit: Ross Aitken Re/Max Real Estate Central)

The recreation centre and park in the foreground is in West Hillhurst, while the Queen Elizabeth School and fields across the street is in Hillhurst. Does this matter? (photo credit: Ross Aitken Re/Max Real Estate Central)

Jane’s Logic

In 1960, Jacobs wrote the definitive book on creating great neighbourhoods – “Death and Life of Great American Cities.” Note: I have been re-reading this book over the summer.

It has become the bible for many of today’s urbanists – planners, politicians, architects and other urban influencers. You’d think someone who fought to preserve mid-century neighbourhood life, would love small neighbourhoods. But, you'd be wrong. Here’s what she said in her chapter “The Uses Of City Neighborhoods”

Neighborhood is a word that has come to sound like a Valentine. As a sentimental concept, ‘neighborhood’ is harmful to planning. It leads to attempts at warping city life into imitations of town or suburban life. Sentimentality plays with the sweet intentions in place of good sense.”

Well, Calgary certainly has suburban life – imitation or not. And we've even tried to create a vision of 19th century 'towns' – think Mackenzie Town.

Later she says: “In its pure form the ideal is a neighborhood composed of about 7,000 persons, a unit supposedly of sufficient size to populate an elementary school and to support convenience shopping and a community center.”

But, then Jacobs goes on to say the focus should be on creating districts of about 50,000 to 100,000 people.  This, she argues, would create a critical body of voters which could in turn influence politicians.

Ironically, this fits nicely with Calgary’s 14 Wards, with populations ranging from 70,000 to 105,000, each with their own schools, major park, library, recreation centre and shopping mall. But, it's probably fair to say most of us don't identify with our Ward. We are still stuck on community.

And maybe there is something to this. Maybe it is time to stop thinking of our neighbourhoods as pristine little imagined communities. Maybe we need to relax a bit when it comes to our community associations trying to gobble up resources so we can each have our very own little library or pool, school or soccer pitch, dog park or city contribution to some cultural event.

I have to admit Jane’s logic makes more sense now than perhaps it did in the ‘60s. Today, urban living means a home in one part of the city, while working in another and playing in yet another. We are just as connected with someone on the other side of the city, as we are someone on the other side of the street.

Most kids don’t grow up in their neighbourhood anymore– their daycare, schools and extra-curricular activities are rarely in their ‘hood. Recreation centers, libraries and churches are mega regional facilities that attract people from all over the quadrant.  Few walk to the library, playing field or recreation centre anymore.

Knowing this, should we plan our cities differently?

  Calgary's Ward system corresponds nicely with Jane Jacob's suggestions that a city should be divided into districts of about 50,000 to 100,000 people.

Calgary's Ward system corresponds nicely with Jane Jacob's suggestions that a city should be divided into districts of about 50,000 to 100,000 people.

  Interestingly, Paris is divided into 20 neighbourhoods, each with about 100,000 people.

Interestingly, Paris is divided into 20 neighbourhoods, each with about 100,000 people.

CALGARIANS LOVE THEIR NEIGHBOURHOODS

Humans have lived in small towns for millenniums. We like it when we see people we recognize at the dog park, playground or at the store. Even if we don’t know their name we will say “Hi” if we see a person frequently enough. Living in small neighbourhoods is in our DNA.

I don’t have any empirical data but based on my 35+ years of living in Calgary, I believe most Calgarians like living in their small town-like neighbourhoods. Living in West Hillhurst for over 25 years, I have come to enjoy the diversity of my community and I expect that is true for most of Calgarians.

  From Avenue Magazine's 2018 ranking of Calgary neighbourhoods.

From Avenue Magazine's 2018 ranking of Calgary neighbourhoods.

  Avenue Magazine's top five neighbourhoods.

Avenue Magazine's top five neighbourhoods.

Why I love West Hillhurst….

West Hillhurst was originally part of the massive 146,000-hectare Cochrane Ranch owned by the Riley family. Over the years the land has had names like Grand Trunk, Upper Hillhurst, Westmount, Parkdale Annex and Happyland.

Today it is home to 6,500 people, with the heart of the neighbourhood being West Hillhurst Park and recreation centre. It may not have all of the bells and whistles of the new mega million-dollar recreation centers on the outskirts of the City but it is works just fine.

I love that West Hillhurst is more than just a sea of luxury infill homes. Even though there has seemingly been a new infill being built on every other block for 25+ years, there are still lots of tiny cottage homes and single-story mid-century homes. I love how the past and present intermingles.

It's a bit of a jumble – schools, parks, homeless shelters, affordable housing, an abortion clinic, an ENMAX transformer, senior centres, a Lion's club, churches, a river, roads, rec centres, playgrounds, shops, and a hundred other 'things'. All of which form 'community'.

I love the social cohesion that exists in my neighbourhood - how people of all ages and backgrounds mix. I doubt West Hillhurst is unique, I expect all of Calgary’s 185 communities have their own charm and appeal.

In a big city you need a spectrum of communities that will appeal to the diversity of lifestyles from highrise living to estate homes, from co-op housing to affordable housing. A city’s richness come from the diversity of its neighbourhoods. Calgary is blessed with such!

But, it may be time for some of this wonderful uniqueness, to merge.

  This early 20th century map indicates that there were several neighbourhoods in what is now Hillurst and West Hillhurst.

This early 20th century map indicates that there were several neighbourhoods in what is now Hillurst and West Hillhurst.

NEIGHBOURHOODS MUST EVOLVE

Today West Hillhurst is divided east and west by the Crowchild Trail Divide (most people think the west side is actually Parkdale).  Most people think West Hillhurst ends at Crowchild Trail and Parkdale starts on the west side of Crowchild Trail, but in fact it doesn’t start until 29th St. in fact there is are three churches that are named Parkdale but are actually in West Hillhurst.  Crowchild trail is a natural boundary / barrier between those who live on one side and those on the other of Crowchild trail.  

I will probably be tarred and feathered for saying this but perhaps it is time to re-evaluate our boundaries. They are only imaginary anyway.

Should West Hillhurst and Parkdale amalgamate? Or should West Hillhurst become part of larger Hillhurst/Sunnyside community. Maybe we should even think bigger and create a North Hill community that would combine Hillhurst/Sunnyside, West Hillhurst, Parkdale, St. Andrew’s Heights, Briar Hill and Hounsfield Heights. Should Sunalta be part of the Beltline? Should Renfrew be part of Bridgeland/Riverside? Should East Village, Downtown Commercial, Eau Claire, Chinatown and Downtown West become one downtown neighbourhood?

Many inner-city community boundaries don’t make any sense anymore. Most of them were established based on city and homebuilders’ subdivisions that are 50 years out-of-date. We just don't live that way anymore. We use our city differently.

Indeed, amalgamations have already worked for some neighbourhoods. In 2004, the communities of Connaught and Victoria Park (two of Calgary’s oldest neighbourhoods) merged to become the Beltline.

This has allowed for better planning and development. Now unified, the city was able to devised a “Blueprint for the Beltline” that charted a much more practical vision for the area. A better use of land and limited resources.

The Northern Hills Community Association is another example of where six ‘90s suburb neighbourhoods - Harvest Hills, Coventry Hills, Country Hills Estates, Panorama Hills Estates, Country Hills and Panorama Hills have come to think of themselves as one big community. Even while they keep their names, they've found collective action can bind them to each other. Thus, their recent 850m mural project - the longest in Canada.

So, perhaps it's time to stop playing the Freudian civic game of, 'who has the biggest YMCA', and start thinking about how we can better share our shiny new civic toys within the content of macro neighbourhoods. Certainly the folks at city hall, trapped in seemingly endless rounds of 'consultation' on every darn project with a near endless list of concerned citizens from 'the local neighbourhood' might, just might, find it easier to get stuff done if they had to deal with fewer folks.

Yet I think we must temper this ambition.

SIZE MATTERS?

While Jacobs thinks fostering small town living “warps” cities, I beg to differ.

I don’t think wanting to live in a small town is “a sentimental longing for the past,” but rather an intrinsic part of human happiness and well-being. So, do researchers from McGill and the Vancouver School of Economics who published a paper in May 2018, documenting that Canadians who live in small towns are happier than those living in big cities. 

Lucky for Calgarians, despite the endless sprawl, we all continue live in small towns. Perhaps that's why we are generally happy and satisfied with our quality of life.  A 2015, Stats Can study found Calgarians’ life satisfaction is higher than Vancouver’s or Toronto’s. A 2017 City of Calgary Citizen Satisfaction survey found 85% of us rated our quality of life a good. Obviously, Calgary is doing something right. Whether it's an itty bitty place like Mission, or a bigger lake-community in the south. Vive la difference!

What's critical is fostering a sense of community, a sense of belonging and personal happiness.

Perhaps we don’t need all 185 neighbourhoods. Perhaps there should be some amalgamations, but for the most part Calgary has been, and will continue to be, well served by fostering a sense of small-town living in an ever-bigger city. 

  This map was posted on Twitter recently, indicating that Inglewood Ramsay was once 12 different neighbourhoods.

This map was posted on Twitter recently, indicating that Inglewood Ramsay was once 12 different neighbourhoods.

Last Word

I asked Dr. Harry H. Hiller, professor of sociology at the University of Calgary, a macro sociologist and urban sociologist if he thought Calgary has too many neighbourhoods.  He responded with:

The most important thing to know is the distinction between community of place vs. community of interest.  We often assume that community is a geographic or place based phenomenon.  While that is true, it is also a phenomenon that people create community based on mutual interests where place is irrelevant.  

We build subdivisions using principles such as walkability and community associations because we assume that people create community based on proximity of residence.  But that is no longer true.  People now may drive all over a city to find people with similar interests to their own.  This is also heightened by the creation now of digital communities where geographic proximity is totally irrelevant.  

One of my best examples of this was the old notion that every subdivision had to keep a double lot for the establishment of a local church that may have serviced 200-500 people.  Now that is not done any more as mega-churches have been created that people travel from all over to attend (e.g. Centre Street church), or people may choose to attend a church or model railroading club or lodge that services a quadrant of a city or just the city as a whole.  Community then occurs based on common interests and is not related to a local sense of community.  

We have a friend in Calgary who has become quite fascinated by a church in Dallas which I looked up and I discovered that they tell people that they can become an e-member.  So community might be local or city-wide but it can also be virtual.  

The ultimate point is that community based on place requires a much broader interpretation and geographic location might even be totally irrelevant.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published by CBC Calgary news as part of their "Road Ahead" feature. on Saturday, Sept 8, 2018.  

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

West Hillhurst: Portrait Of My Neighbourhood

Calgary's Million Dollar Neighbourhoods

Altadore: A Model 21st C Neighbourhood?

Condo Living: Too Many Amenities? 

There seems to be a bit of “one-upmanship” happening, these days in Calgary when it comes to condo amenities. Bruce McKenzie, Vice President, Business Development, NORR Architects Engineers Planners tells me they are working on a project that will have luxury guest suites in a prime location looking out onto the Elbow River, a jogging/walking track, a large garden also overlooking the Elbow River and a solar cell phone charging area. It will even have its own dog park. 

Could it be that new City Centre condos in Calgary have too many amenities?  Why is that a concern? Read on.....

  Imagine this is your communal living room! If I lived at Qualex Landmark's Mark on 10th condo, I don't think I would ever leave the building.  

Imagine this is your communal living room! If I lived at Qualex Landmark's Mark on 10th condo, I don't think I would ever leave the building.  

  Bucci's Radius condo in Bridgeland will have a community garden on its rooftop. What a great way to meet your neighbours without leaving the building.

Bucci's Radius condo in Bridgeland will have a community garden on its rooftop. What a great way to meet your neighbours without leaving the building.

BBQs to Bocce Courts 

He also notes their University District’s Rhapsody condo will have a huge rooftop deck with everything from cabanas and BBQ stations to bocce courts. He said, “It seems like everyone is trying to outdo the next guy!” 

This may well have started in about 2014 when Concord condo was announced with its all-season garden (i.e. garden in the summer; private skating rink in the winter), two story garages so you can store all of your four and two-wheel toys and even have your own work bench. There is also a golf simulator, luxury pool area with its own resort-like lounge, as well as an upscale workout/yoga studio.  

  This could be all yours if you lived at the Concord....why would you want to leave?

This could be all yours if you lived at the Concord....why would you want to leave?

Not to be outdone Qualex/Landmark did away with the penthouse suites in their Mark on 10th project, replacing them with amazing rooftop amenities for all residents. This includes an outdoor BBQ area with a large hot tub with spectacular mountain views and a huge lounge area with kitchen floor to ceiling window overlooking downtown.

  Who needs to go to the spa when this is your hot tub at Mark on 10th? 

Who needs to go to the spa when this is your hot tub at Mark on 10th? 

Bikes / Beer / Zen

  N3 condo's roof top offers amazing views of the downtown and sunsets while you cook up dinner on the BBQ. 

N3 condo's roof top offers amazing views of the downtown and sunsets while you cook up dinner on the BBQ. 

Even the “no parking” N3 condo project in East Village, has a spectacular outdoor roof-top amenity with great views of new Central Library, the National Music Centre, Stampede Park, downtown, Bow and Elbow Rivers and the Rockies.

It also has an attractive indoor roof-top exercise room and the BBQ area has become the communal living room for residents.

Right outside their front door is the funky Brewer’s Apprentice offering 48 beers on tap that you can take home and just around the corner is Tim Hortons. No need to venture very far. 

Parham Mahboubi, Vice President, Planning & Marketing, Qualex Landmark tells me “When we design building common areas and amenities, we are thoughtful of how these spaces contribute to bringing neighbours together. For example, in Park Point, about 9,000 square feet of amenity areas offer homeowners a place to converge, whether it is the outdoor Zen Terrace, the infrared sauna, gym, yoga/pilates spaces or the outdoor lounge and BBQ area." 

As I was writing this piece for Condo Living Magazine,  I happened upon Minto Communities’ Annex project in Kensington designed by Calgary's Nyhoff Architecture. I learned they will have a multi-use roof-top that will include dog run, a fire pit area, BBQs and what looks like a shuffleboard area.  

  Minto Communities' Annex condo rooftop in Kensington will offer spectacular views of downtown, as well as a private urban playground. Who needs noisy street patios? 

Minto Communities' Annex condo rooftop in Kensington will offer spectacular views of downtown, as well as a private urban playground. Who needs noisy street patios? 

Last Word

The trend to building in-house amenities in new condos may well be counter-productive, as the whole idea of increasing the number of people living in the City Center was to create more street life.  

In theory the new urbanites would live in their condos but leave them to mix and mingle in their neighbourhood cafes, lounges, bistros, yoga/fitness studios, parks and pathways - be that Beltline, East Village, Eau Clare, Downtown or Mission.  

Who is going to do that when you have your own lounges, fitness areas, pools, hot tubs and park-like spaces in your own building. 

I wonder what is next!

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

Importance of Comfort, Convenience & Privacy 

Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary

21st Century: Century of the condo?

Is Calgary going to the dogs?

For a long time now, I have been telling developers (both urban and suburban) they should create more amenities for dog owners.  Finally, it looks like they are listening!

In fact, it might be said Calgary is “going to the dogs,” but in a good way. I have said it before and I am saying it again, Calgary is "Dog Park capital of North America!" If you love dogs, you will love this blog! 

  Calgary has over 100 off-leash areas scattered across the city.

Calgary has over 100 off-leash areas scattered across the city.

  However, there there is a void of dog parks in the City Centre, but that could be changing soon.

However, there there is a void of dog parks in the City Centre, but that could be changing soon.

Urban Dog Parks

It seems everywhere I go and everybody I talk to these days is telling me about how developers are adding dog-friendly elements to their communities. 

Recently, University District opened their North Park which features a small fenced off dog park area. What I love most about this is that the dog park has been completed before anyone even moves into University District.  And it is proving to be popular with those living in nearby Montgomery, Varsity and University Heights.  Hmmm…is this a clever sales strategy?

And, Bruce McKenzie, Vice President, Business Development, NORR Architects Engineers Planners tells me they have designed for a developer a large luxury condo project in Mission that will include its own dog park.  And the multi-use rooftop at Minto Communities’ Annex project in Kensington, designed by Nyhoff Architecture will include dog run.  How cool is that?

East Village has embraced dogs also, opening up a temporary fenced-in dog park on a little triangular piece of land across from Ron Moppett’s mural made up of 950,000 colourful tiles. I am thinking they need to find a site for a permanent dog park given the Village will eventually be home to 10,000+ people.  With Calgary currently having about one dog for every 10 people, that could be a lot of dogs living in East Village when fully built out.  

The Beltline learned about the importance of dog parks a few years ago so they renovated Connaught Park 2015 to include a fenced-off dog park.  It has since become one of the community’s most popular hangout places.  Too bad they didn’t make the new East Victoria Park a dog park - I rarely see anyone in the park along Macleod Trail.  I bet if they converted it to a dog park, it would have people (and dogs) there all the time.  

  The Annex's model shows a roof-top dog run, I am thinking this is a first in Calgary. 

The Annex's model shows a roof-top dog run, I am thinking this is a first in Calgary. 

  Connaught Park has a fenced in dog park is a popular place for those living in the Beltline to hang out with friends - human and canine. 

Connaught Park has a fenced in dog park is a popular place for those living in the Beltline to hang out with friends - human and canine. 

  The new temporary dog park in East Village occupies a small piece of unused grass.  Dog parks can utilize spaces that are difficult to develop. 

The new temporary dog park in East Village occupies a small piece of unused grass.  Dog parks can utilize spaces that are difficult to develop. 

Why I love dog parks?

Full disclosure – I don’t own a dog and never have in my adult life. But I do dog sat regularly for friends in Altadore.  That means trips to River Park twice, sometimes three times a day.  What impresses me most about River Park is how devoted many dog owners are to walking their dog and how social the experience is for both the owners and the dogs. 

I have seen dozens of people walking their dogs in blizzard conditions. One night at -30 degrees, there was a dog walking group out walking. That’s dedication! 

What I love about dog parks is that they are used seven days a week, morning, noon and night, 12 months of the year.  I am not sure any of Calgary’s other 5,200 parks can claim that - most only get used seasonally. 

I also enjoy the fact that not only do the dogs come in all shapes and sizes but dog parks are full of people from all walks of life. I often see young families and small groups of retirees out walking their dogs and chatting with each other, as well as individuals.  Almost always they will smile and say “Hi” and in some cases we strike up a conversation.

When urbanists talk about creating inclusive gathering places – nothing beats a dog park.  

 River Park in the summer is a busy place from sunrise to sunset. 

River Park in the summer is a busy place from sunrise to sunset. 

  It is even busy in the winter....

It is even busy in the winter....

Are they crazy?

While writing this piece, I was shocked by a twitter post by Josh White, General Manager, Development at Dream Unlimited (a real estate developer) noting Calgary Parks objected to the inclusion of a one-acre, off-leash dog park as part of a 14-acre community park in their new southwest community of Providence. Why? Because it “caters to one user instead of a variety of users.”  

The dog park will cater to people of all ages and backgrounds and it will be used year-round.  It will be the most important community building amenities in the new community.  

I hope Parks will get their head out of the sand and let Josh build his dog park. In my opinion, we should be insisting all new communities and major condos include a dog park or dog run. 

  West Hillhurst dog park offers great views of the City's skyline, as well as a chance to chat with friends and neighbours. 

West Hillhurst dog park offers great views of the City's skyline, as well as a chance to chat with friends and neighbours. 

Last Word 

Yes, I do make a point of researching and visiting dog parks when I am visiting others cities.  I have seen some amazing ones in Las Vegas, Palm Springs and some pretty ugly ones in places like Berlin.  But I have never seen anything to match Calgary’s River Park or upper Edworthy Park for their size, varied terrain and spectacular views.  

I am thinking Calgary has the potential to become the “dog park capital of the world.”  

An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section August 26, 2018.

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

Dog Parks Foster A Sense Of Community 

Calgary: The Dog Park Capital of North America

Public Art: Rocks? Keys? Dog & Bone?

Welcome to the era of neuro-design?

Could it be that in the near future urban designers will be collaborating with neuroscientist and psychologists to design buildings that make people feel comfortable rather than disoriented and encourage socialization vs isolation that is too often the case.

It could happen!  It has happened?

  In fact, the Alberta Children's Hospital was designed based on input from the children who wanted large windows and bright colours.  They wanted it to be a happy looking place.    Perhaps rather than consulting with   neuroscientist and psychologists    the design team shou ld consult with the end users more. To me this is a happy, welcoming place - exactly what it should be.

In fact, the Alberta Children's Hospital was designed based on input from the children who wanted large windows and bright colours.  They wanted it to be a happy looking place.  Perhaps rather than consulting with neuroscientist and psychologists the design team should consult with the end users more. To me this is a happy, welcoming place - exactly what it should be.

 The old children's hospital was a dull, depressing, institutional building.

The old children's hospital was a dull, depressing, institutional building.

Collaboration?

Indeed, the Conscious Cities Conference in London in 2017 brought together architects, designers, engineers, neuroscientists and psychologists, all of whom cross paths at an academic level, but rarely do so in practice, to discuss how they might collaborate.

What did they learn? 

Intuitively we all know the shape, colour and size of buildings affect the mood and well-being of humans. Now scientists have discovered specialized cells in the hippocampal region of the human our brains that processes each individual’s unique sense of geometry and space.  

  More and more architects in Calgary are using bold colours as a key element of the building's facade. Public art is also being use more to create a more varied and interesting streetscape.

More and more architects in Calgary are using bold colours as a key element of the building's facade. Public art is also being use more to create a more varied and interesting streetscape.

 Calgary's City Centre parkade is a good example of late '70s early '80s bland, utilitarian parkade design.

Calgary's City Centre parkade is a good example of late '70s early '80s bland, utilitarian parkade design.

  The Centennial parkade is a good example of how modern parkades are created to enhance the sense of place. In this case the parkade mirrors the warehouse history of the land next to the CPR tracks in its use of brick and its height. 

The Centennial parkade is a good example of how modern parkades are created to enhance the sense of place. In this case the parkade mirrors the warehouse history of the land next to the CPR tracks in its use of brick and its height. 

  The SAIT parkade is also a huge mural that can be enjoyed by tens of thousands of LRT riders everyday. It is a work of art! No more blank walls!

The SAIT parkade is also a huge mural that can be enjoyed by tens of thousands of LRT riders everyday. It is a work of art! No more blank walls!

Rounded vs Rectangular 

Using modern technology scientists have attempted to measure humans’ physiological responses to architecture and streetscapes, using wearable devices such as bracelets that monitor skin conductance (a marker of physiological arousal), smartphone apps that ask subjects about their emotional state, and electroencephalogram (EEG) headsets that measure brain activity relating to mental states and mood. 

A recently published study using visual reality technology concluded most people like curved edges and rounded contours rather than sharp-edged rectangular shaped buildings and rooms. However, the design students among the participants preferred the opposite. This could be a red flag! 

A study in Iceland found participants viewed various residential street scenes and found the ones with the most architectural variation the most mentally engaging. Not exactly rocket science, Jane Jacobs (author book “Death and Life of American Cities” in 1961) and others have been saying this for decades. 

  The curved staircase at Calgary's new Shane Homes Rocky Ridge Recreation Centre is an example of creating more public friendly urban design. 

The curved staircase at Calgary's new Shane Homes Rocky Ridge Recreation Centre is an example of creating more public friendly urban design. 

  The Royal a condo/retail project is an example of the sharp edge rectangular design preferred by urban designers.   

The Royal a condo/retail project is an example of the sharp edge rectangular design preferred by urban designers.   

Surprise! Surprise!

Another study looked at street patterns and found being lost and disoriented creates negative feelings.  Cities with grid-pattern numbered streets like New York are easy to navigate London’s hotchpotch of neighbourhoods all orientated differently is notoriously confusing. Another study documented districts with high-rises are more confusing and unpleasant to walk around than those with low-rise buildings.

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 11.34.49 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 11.46.57 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 11.49.57 AM.png
  Urban streetscapes like this are not public friendly. 

Urban streetscapes like this are not public friendly. 

Red Flag 

The fact that design students in the virtual reality study preferred hard-edges and rectangular shapes the opposite to the general public participants is a definite red flag.  

Could it be the brains of those attracted to the urban design professions are wired diametrically opposed to the general publics?  That would be an interesting study!

I know when I was a public art gallery curator it was obvious to me there is a huge gap between what artists and curators  finds interesting and what the public like to see in the way of art exhibitions.  Hence the term “art for art’s sake” i.e. that the chief aim of a work of art is the self-expression of the artist.  

Could the same be said for architects, landscape architects or interior designers? Could that be why they design minimalist buildings, lobbies and public spaces that are often alienating to the public? Are they designing for themselves and their colleagues not for the public? 

The question is: “Would architects, landscape architects and interior designers be willing to collaborate with neuro scientists and psychologist to have they designs tested to make sure they are “people friendly” before they get built.

 Calgary's four tallest buildings illustrate how architecture has evolved from the early '80s (Suncor Energy Tower, former Petro Canada Tower) to the new Telus Sky currently under construction.   

Calgary's four tallest buildings illustrate how architecture has evolved from the early '80s (Suncor Energy Tower, former Petro Canada Tower) to the new Telus Sky currently under construction.   

 Brookfield Place is a good example of minimalist architecture with its monolithic, monochromatic, translucent glass facade from the base to the roof.  Unlike the big box offices of the '70s it has rounded corners to give it a softer appearance more elegant appearance. 

Brookfield Place is a good example of minimalist architecture with its monolithic, monochromatic, translucent glass facade from the base to the roof.  Unlike the big box offices of the '70s it has rounded corners to give it a softer appearance more elegant appearance. 

 The triangular Next Tower, formerly Nova Tower, would be a good example of the hard-edge minimalist architecture of the '80s that some found very confrontational.   

The triangular Next Tower, formerly Nova Tower, would be a good example of the hard-edge minimalist architecture of the '80s that some found very confrontational.   

  Telus Sky is the polar opposite of Brookfield Place with its articulated facade that tapers as the use changes from office for the lower floors to residential for the upper floors, creating an intriguing and unique shape. 

Telus Sky is the polar opposite of Brookfield Place with its articulated facade that tapers as the use changes from office for the lower floors to residential for the upper floors, creating an intriguing and unique shape. 

  Bow Valley Square is a good example of '80s rectangular office tower architecture. 

Bow Valley Square is a good example of '80s rectangular office tower architecture. 

Architect says…

A quick email to a few architects resulted in some interesting comments. Charles Olfert a principle at aobdt architecture + interior design in Saskatoon perhaps said it best, “I do think the education of architects plays a big role in the way we design and perceive beauty in buildings.

We are taught to appreciate clean, modern spaces and the magazines we read reinforce this. The winners of architectural competitions and awards tend to encourage this perspective as well. The result is indeed a disconnect with people who have not had that ‘education’, so I am not surprised the general public would not be excited by what most architects are.”

However, Olfert thinks “to try somehow do a scientific and social analysis of aesthetics doesn’t seem useful. I have come to appreciate much later in my career the experience of a building is really complicated and aesthetics might be a relatively minor factor. Why are you at the building? Does it work for what you wanted? Do you already have some preconceptions because of who owns it, works in it or what it represents? What’s the neighborhood context?

A few years ago I read “The Architecture of Happiness” by AlainDeBotton.  It was pivotal, and changed my approach to the design of projects. Instead of focussing on what the program or client ask for, I now tend to first try make sure the building has at least a few spaces and/or details that make you happy. It’s actually not that hard. It usually involves strategic windows and an opportunity for some “wow” factor, even at a small scale.”

  The new Mount Royal University's parade uses vertical neon green bars to break up what would have been a dull horizontal wall. 

The new Mount Royal University's parade uses vertical neon green bars to break up what would have been a dull horizontal wall. 

  The designers of this is small condo project in the Marda Loop used colour to create not only a playful rhythm but to add the illusion of huge windows.    To me this is a happy building.

The designers of this is small condo project in the Marda Loop used colour to create not only a playful rhythm but to add the illusion of huge windows.  To me this is a happy building.

  Architect Jack Long's 1961, Calgary Planetarium and Science Center was a classic example of  "Brutalist" architecture. 

Architect Jack Long's 1961, Calgary Planetarium and Science Center was a classic example of  "Brutalist" architecture. 

  The colour elements were added later to make it more child-like and playful.  Or as some might say "tarted it up!" 

The colour elements were added later to make it more child-like and playful.  Or as some might say "tarted it up!" 

Are architects doing better job? 

Do we like The Princeton better than Eau Claire 500 condo next door? Do we like the condo towers in East Village better than those built in West Downtown in the ‘90s? Do we like the University City’s bold yellow, orange, green and red towers at the Brentwood LRT Station better than SASS0 and NUERA at Stampede Station? Do we like the new condos being built today at SETON compared to those around Market Mall in the ‘70s and ‘80s? 

  Princeton condo (on the left) is an example of theearly 21st century's architecture with a distinct base, middle and roof-top, softer edges and warmer colours.  On the right, is the '80s architecture of Eau Claire 500 with its hard edges, flat facade and brooding colour. 

Princeton condo (on the left) is an example of theearly 21st century's architecture with a distinct base, middle and roof-top, softer edges and warmer colours.  On the right, is the '80s architecture of Eau Claire 500 with its hard edges, flat facade and brooding colour. 

Do Calgarians like The Bow with its curved shape and diagonal lines, plaza and public art, better than the minimalist Brookfield Place with its rounded edges and public lobby.

Do we like edgy Eighth Avenue Place with its articulated roof top, vertical thrust and cathedral-like lobby versus it neighbour Husky Towers with rounded gold coloured glass edges. 

Do we like new Telus Sky with its twisted articulated façade and strange bottle-like shape versus the oval-shaped reflective deep blue glassed 707 Fifth street office building? How do they compare to  ‘70s TD Square or Scotia Tower and the ‘80s Bankers Hall?

Do we like the oval shaped, patterned façade of the new Calgary Central Library better than the strange shaped, dark snake-like skinned of National Music Centre or translucent glass, crystal shaped TELUS Spark building better? How do they compare with the Glenbow? Do we like the South Health Campus building better than the Rockyview Hospital? 

  Calgary's new central library has many of the elements that neuroscientist and psychologists say make a building more public friendly. 

Calgary's new central library has many of the elements that neuroscientist and psychologists say make a building more public friendly. 

  Calgary's old Central Library opened 1963 as part of an urban renewal project planned for the Downtown's East End. 

Calgary's old Central Library opened 1963 as part of an urban renewal project planned for the Downtown's East End. 

Last Word

Could it be that those big square box office and residential buildings that dominated Calgary’s City Centre in the mid to late 20thcentury actually negatively affect our mood and well-being. 

Could it be Calgary’s cookie cutter suburban homes and boring streets also negatively affect our well-being? What about those big box power centres - are they places where we want to linger and socialize with family and friends?

Just asking?

Reader Comments:

I received several emails in response to this blog.  I thought this one from Art Froese, who was the project manager for the Alberta Children's Hospital was particularly enlightening.  

As usual, you’re on to something but needs more time. Finding the truth & the essence of things takes time. Remember always there are two questions: “ What’s new? / What’s old?”

Round is the world of our historic ancestors. Every aboriginal shelter is round: teepee [really egg-shaped]; igloo; gurt in Mongolia; African homes, crawls etc; Australia - follow the list. Round is harder to build.

The Children’s Hospital gathering space in the middle of the building is round. This is not an accident. The philosophy of the building is three concentric circles: the children; the caregivers; the landscape. It took forever to get the architects to understand the concept. It took seconds for my native advisory panel of Elders from Treaty Seven to understand. 

The biggest price we’ve paid in developed countries is that we’ve dulled our senses. I have many examples of this from my wilderness adventures. Or just read “Tribe” by Sebastian Junger.

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

The Curse Of Minimalism

Calgary: A Pop Of Colour

Urban Design: Does Anybody Really Care?

 

 

Calgary vs. Edmonton: Who has the best river valley parks? 

Recently I tweeted out that Calgary may well have the best urban river public spaces in the Canada - maybe even the world. While many agreed with me, one response from an Edmonton follower shared an excerpt from Wikipedia saying:

Edmonton has the largest urban park system in Canada with 20 major parks and attractions.”  

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 The City of Edmonton's website.

The City of Edmonton's website.

Really?

Quick mental calculations made me think Calgary could easily match or exceed that with our three amazing river valleys – Bow, Elbow and Fish Creek.  And Calgary easily has over 160 kilometres of river pathways. 

So, I tweeted back, "The challenge is on!” 

And I immediately started doing the math to see if Calgary’s river valley could beat 20 parks and attractions.

Bow River Valley Parks

  1. Bowness Park
  2. Bowmont Park
  3. Edworthy Park
  4. Douglas Fir Trail 
  5. Shouldice Athletic Park
  6. Shaw Millennium Park
  7. Prince’s Island Park
  8. St. Patrick’s Island Park
  9. Calgary Zoo and Botanical Garden 
  10. Inglewood Bird Sanctuary/Fish Hatchery  
  11. Harvie Passage 
  12. Sue Higgins Park 
  13. Carburn Park 
 William Hawrelak Park is perhaps Edmonton's signature urban park. 

William Hawrelak Park is perhaps Edmonton's signature urban park. 

 Prince's Island is Calgary's signature urban park. 

Prince's Island is Calgary's signature urban park. 

  Edmonton's North Saskatchwan River Vallery is a place to escape from the city.

Edmonton's North Saskatchwan River Vallery is a place to escape from the city.

  The Douglas Fir Trail is just one of the many places in Calgary's river valley where you can escape the city.   

The Douglas Fir Trail is just one of the many places in Calgary's river valley where you can escape the city.  

Elbow River Valley Parks

  1.   Weaselhead Flats
  2.   Glenmore Reservoir
  3.   Heritage Park
  4.   North & South Glenmore Parks
  5.   River Park/Sandy Beach
  6.   Riverdale Park
  7.   Stanley Park
  8.   Lindsay Park
  9.   Stampede Park 
  10.   Fort Calgary Park

And then of course there is the massive, Fish Creek Park that encompasses the entire creek valley within the city’s boundaries. One of the largest urban parks in North America, it stretches 19 km from east to west. At 13.5 square kilometers, it is over three times the size of Vancouver's Stanley Park.

  S.S. Moyie on Calgary's Glenmore Reservoir.

S.S. Moyie on Calgary's Glenmore Reservoir.

  Early morning walk along Calgary's Elbow River. Can you spot the walker?

Early morning walk along Calgary's Elbow River. Can you spot the walker?

  Elbow River Camp at Stampede Park.

Elbow River Camp at Stampede Park.

Attractions along the river

Edmonton’s Kinsmen Centre and Calgary’s Repsol Sport Centre (in Lindsay Park) are probably on par with each other as recreational facilities, but ours is an architectural gem. 

Calgary can’t match Edmonton’s Convention Centre, but our equivalent would be Stampede Park, which includes the BMO Centre.

Edmonton has a baseball diamond in their river valley, Calgary has the Saddledome on the Elbow River. 

While Edmonton has riverboat cruises, Calgary has the S.S. Moyie paddlewheeler on the Glenmore Reservoir.  In addition, Calgary has thousands of floating rafts, kayaks, canoes and paddle boarders something I understand Edmontonians don’t do as much. Oh, and what about river surfing at Louise Bridge and some the best fly-fishing in the world all along the Bow River.

What does Edmonton have to match the Calgary Zoo, Fort Calgary, Heritage Park and Shaw Millennium Park?  Fort Edmonton for sure and the Muttart Conservatory? Anything else? 

Edmonton has the 100th St funicular (an elevator for small groups of people and bikes) that links downtown with the river valley.  Calgary’s river valleys are more accessible so we don’t really need a funicular.  Calgary has the Crescent Heights staircase that we have turned into a unique recreation experience. 

Edmonton’s Folk Festival in Gallagher Park is definitely more internationally renowned than Calgary’s.  But we do have that world’s “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” happening at Stampede Park which just happens to be along the Elbow River.

What about golf courses within the city limits? Calgary has six: Valley Ridge, Inglewood, Calgary Golf & Country Club, Lakeview, McKenzie Meadows and Blue Devil. Edmonton also has six: Windermere, Royal Mayfair, Victoria, Riverside, Rundle Park and Raven Crest.

  Calgary's International Folk Festival's home is Prince's Island which is located on the edge of downtown in the middle of the Bow River.

Calgary's International Folk Festival's home is Prince's Island which is located on the edge of downtown in the middle of the Bow River.

  Edmonton Folk Festival in Gallagher Park (photo credit: CTV News)

Edmonton Folk Festival in Gallagher Park (photo credit: CTV News)

  Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre is built into the bank of the North Saskatchewan River. 

Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre is built into the bank of the North Saskatchewan River. 

  Muttart Conservatory is one of Edmonton's architectural gems.

Muttart Conservatory is one of Edmonton's architectural gems.

  Repsol Sport Centre is one of Calgary's architectural gems. 

Repsol Sport Centre is one of Calgary's architectural gems. 

  Edmonton's High Level Bridge at night.

Edmonton's High Level Bridge at night.

  Calgary's Reconciliation Bridge at night.

Calgary's Reconciliation Bridge at night.

  Edmonton's new Waterdale Bridge.

Edmonton's new Waterdale Bridge.

  Fort Edmonton Park.

Fort Edmonton Park.

  Calgary's Heritage Park.

Calgary's Heritage Park.

Public spaces along the river

Does Edmonton have the numerous natural pebble beaches along their river valley that Calgary has?  

What about urban promenades like Calgary’s Eau Claire or East Village? Can Edmonton match these urban gems?

Can Edmonton’s downtown workers easily walk to the river and back at lunch hour?

Can Edmonton match Calgary’s iconic river bridges – Centre Street, Peace Bridge and George King Bridge? Yes, Edmonton has the High Level Bridge.

Can Edmonton match Calgary’s Elbow River Camp (formerly Indian Village) at Stampede Park? What about a theatre space like Calgary's Pumphouse Theatre?  

What about river island parks? Does Edmonton have anything to match Prince’s, St. Patrick and St. George’s islands?

  Edmonton's downtown beach.

Edmonton's downtown beach.

  The green beach in Calgary's Stanley Park. 

The green beach in Calgary's Stanley Park. 

 The pebble beach in downtown Calgary's St. Patrick's Park is a popular family spot. 

The pebble beach in downtown Calgary's St. Patrick's Park is a popular family spot. 

  River surfing has also become a popular activity in downtown Calgary.

River surfing has also become a popular activity in downtown Calgary.

  Paddling along the Bow River has become a very popular summer activity in Calgary. (photo credit @surrealplaces) 

Paddling along the Bow River has become a very popular summer activity in Calgary. (photo credit @surrealplaces) 

Second opinions

I decided to send my unscientific analysis to a couple of friends who live in Edmonton but have lived in Calgary to see if I was being fair. Both were adamant I wasn’t.  

Terry Bachynski who had lived in both cities for about 18 years each wrote:

“Calgary has a great river valley, but Edmonton's river valley is spectacular. 

Comparing the two river valleys against one another is not an apples to apples thing.  The two cannot be compared and "winner" identified.   The two valleys are completely different, not only in their geography, but how each river valley relates to and is integral to the respective city.   

Edmonton's river valley is a sharp, well defined river escarpment running through the heart of the city with very little commercial or residential development. Calgary's river valleys are much more tapered.  The entire downtown and beyond is built at the bottom of the escarpment, right on the river flood plain.  You don't even climb out of the south side of the Bow River Valley until you climb up to the green on the first hole of the Calgary Golf and Country Club.  

 Calgary's river valley is integrated into the rhythm and flow of the urban downtown experience because the downtown is in the river valley.  While Edmonton's river valley is more an escape from the city right in the heart of the city.  

 Being a veteran of 60 marathons and a dozen ultra-marathons, I have logged a lot of miles in both river valleys.  I have run literally thousands of kilometers in Calgary and Edmonton along the rivers and I have to concede that Edmonton's river path system is second to none.  You can literally run for hours and not even be aware there is a city all around you.  Edmonton's River Valley is a near continuous, uninterrupted park experience. 

Not so with Calgary's trails.  There are constant reminders of the city confronting you all along the trail, from Fish Creek Park all the way to Bowness Park.  Calgary's river valley is urban by necessity and design."  

 Ice Castles in Edmonton's Hawrelak Park. 

Ice Castles in Edmonton's Hawrelak Park. 

To each their own!

Terry continues, "Both work for both cities.  But, if I had my choice, the escape from the city is preferred.  

 In your analysis you kind of skimp on the other pluses of the Edmonton River Valley.  The Muttart Conservatory, three river valley ski hills inside city limits, the sandy beaches that pop up every summer to enjoy, The Edmonton Zoo (granted, it can't hold a candle to the Calgary Zoo, but for a day's outing with a young family, still very rewarding), the Equestrian Centre just down the road from Fort Edmonton, where you can go horseback riding along the river, mountain bike trails (also great for ultra-marathon training), canoeing and the many, many parks offer everything you can think of.  

So, in my mind, both river valleys really reflect the cities and both work for both cities.  Neither wins.  To say one is better than the other is like saying golf is better than baseball.  To each his/her own.  

Chris White (no relation) wrote “I would say your draft is not "fair" but very enjoyable none the lessYour blog talks about "things," but people don't have things, they have experiences. Of course, your challenge is that experiences are subjective. But we shouldn't pretend that "things" are objective. If I were to sum up the difference for me, I would say the Edmonton valley is a more private experience. I’m very glad the two cities don’t try to duplicate each other. I don’t want to sound harsh, but a point-for-point comparison seems misguided, even un-Canadian.”

  Edmonton's spectacular new funicular and stairs is a lovely urban public space.

Edmonton's spectacular new funicular and stairs is a lovely urban public space.

  Roof top patio in Calgary's East Village offers great views of the Bow River. 

Roof top patio in Calgary's East Village offers great views of the Bow River. 

  Likewise, Calgary's new West Eau Claire park with the Peace Bridge is a great place to sit. 

Likewise, Calgary's new West Eau Claire park with the Peace Bridge is a great place to sit. 

 Edmonton's Quarters redevelopment. 

Edmonton's Quarters redevelopment. 

  Calgary's massive East Village redevelopment next to the Bow River.

Calgary's massive East Village redevelopment next to the Bow River.

Best For Who?

Fair enough! One can never say something is the “best” as it really depends on each individual’s perspective and interests. While my friends love how Edmonton’s river valley is an escape from the city, I love to embrace the urban experience.  

Perhaps the Canadian thing to do is say both Calgary and Edmonton have great river valley experiences, Calgary’s being more urban while Edmonton’s is more natural.

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

Battle of Alberta: Urban Design

Edmonton/Calgary: Let's Plan Together?

Brewery Districts: Calgary vs Edmonton