Chinatown Makeover: You can’t please everyone!

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

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

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

Let the debate begin

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

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

Parking vs Towers

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

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

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

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

A bit of context…

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

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

Chinatown At A Glance

  • 49 retail shops

  • 46 restaurants

  • 10 grocery/butcher/seafood

  • 11 personal services

  • 16 medical/pharmacy/Traditional Chinese Medicine

  • 16 salons

  • 6  business services

  • 23 corporate offices

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

Change is in the wind…

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

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

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

El Condor Land Development at a glance:

  • 524      residential units

  • 150      hotel rooms

  • 23        commercial units

  • 470      parking stalls

  • 466      bike stalls 

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

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

The BIA says…

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

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

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

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

Changes Needed 

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

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

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

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

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

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

All reasonable requests you would think! 

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

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

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

Community Engagement Consultant says…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Step    

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halifax: Art & Artifacts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   Dugger window 2

Dugger window 2

   Dugger window 3

Dugger window 3

   Widow licking along Quinpool Road was fun.

Widow licking along Quinpool Road was fun.

   Why do most eye wear shops have great windows?

Why do most eye wear shops have great windows?

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

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

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

Live, Laugh, Lick….words to live by?

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

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

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

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

   Loved these doors with fantasy figures painting on the doors.

Loved these doors with fantasy figures painting on the doors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  The ornamental entrance to the Halifax Public Gardens was exquisite.

The ornamental entrance to the Halifax Public Gardens was exquisite.

  More telephone pole art.

More telephone pole art.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   Loved how this mural literally glowed in the dark.

Loved how this mural literally glowed in the dark.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

Frankfurt: Found Street Art

Staircases As Art

Berlin Wall Artifact: Best Flaneur Find Ever!


Balcony Fun?

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

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

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

 Berlin

Berlin

 Berlin

Berlin

 Calgary

Calgary

 Halifax

Halifax

 Halifax

Halifax

 Montreal

Montreal

Theory vs Reality

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

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

 Florence

Florence

 Berlin

Berlin

 Berlin

Berlin

Private vs Common Area 

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

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

 Berlin

Berlin

 Berlin

Berlin

 Berlin (same building as above)

Berlin (same building as above)

 Berlin

Berlin

 Berlin

Berlin

So, what makes for a good balcony? 

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

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

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

  • Located away from noisy equipment and garbage areas.

 Calgary

Calgary

Did You know… 

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

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

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

 Atlanta

Atlanta

Types of balconies 

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

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

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

 Calgary

Calgary

 Calgary

Calgary

 Calgary

Calgary

 Calgary

Calgary

Last Word

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

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

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

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

Calgary Condos: A Pop Of Colour

Condo Design: Lobby Appeal

New Condos: Hidden/Invisible Density

 

 

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

 

 

Canada: A Country Of Prosaic Cities - Toronto!

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

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

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

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

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

Jan Who?

Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 10.05.27 AM.png

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

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

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

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

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

Toronto the capital of the Ice Kingdom  

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

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

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

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

  Toronto Caribana Parade (photo credit: Caribana Toronto)

Toronto Caribana Parade (photo credit: Caribana Toronto)

Hinterland 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Destination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuclear Attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Futuristic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escape Tunnels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Joie de vivre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

City Travel: Canada vs USA

Canada: The Foundations of its future


 








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?

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?

 

 

POSTCARDS from BROOKLYN

Brooklyn has been on my list of places to go for a few years now as I have been reading and hearing lots of interesting things about its renaissance.  

Link: Brooklyn 101

I was a bit jealous when I recently learned my friend Tom Tittemore (architect and public art advocate) was heading to Brooklyn so I told him to take lots of photos and perhaps think about doing guest blog.  

And he did....
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Postcards from Tom

I recently enjoyed my fifth visit to New York City, and planned a day visit to Brooklyn as part of my ambitious itinerary.  This Borough of NYC was a complete mystery to me, although walking across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time on New Year’s Day in 2015 provided some initial, fleeting glimpses.  Coney Island, Carol King and the Brooklyn Dodgers were some of the cultural references I had accumulated over the years relative to this renowned community.

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Joined by my wife Carol, and dear friends Terry and Denise from Kitchener, I embarked on the ‘F’ subway mid-morning from the Rockefeller Station in Midtown Manhattan. Upon leaving the underground section beneath the East River, the ‘F’ line continued on an elevated platform for the better part of an hour, offering wonderful vistas of Brooklyn until we reached the end terminal at Coney Island.

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The Atlantic Ocean, Brighton Beach, protruding wharves, the Boardwalk, embellished storefronts and rectangular designated ride ‘precincts’ define the ‘layered’ parti of this iconic midway.  I took a ride on the ‘Cyclone’, constructed in the late 1920s and a true Mecca for rollercoaster enthusiasts.  Enjoying the front seat solo, my smile changed quickly to a grimace once the G forces kicked in on the first vertical plunge.  Exhilarating!!

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My return destination on the ‘F’ Line took us through the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, where I discovered Atlantic Avenue, an older distant cousin of 9th Avenue in Inglewood.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to explore nearby Brooklyn Heights Brownstone residential neighborhoods, nor the famed Brooklyn Museum.  Next time …

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Atlantic Avenue’s western end merges gracefully into the promenade of the Brooklyn Bridge Park, an inspiring redevelopment of the former Brooklyn dockyards.  A number of the former piers have been repurposed into popular recreation zones. Pier 3 is a soccer pitch and Pier 5 accommodates a number of short basketball courts.  Along the entire Parkway, tremendous vistas of lower Manhattan are presented, ending, of course, at the Brooklyn Bridge.

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My second trek across the Bridge was every bit as memorable as the first.  Crowded, a bit dangerous with cyclist sharing the route – a complete New York experience.

The north-east ‘F’ Line concludes at the Jamaica Station in Queens.  Guess where I’m going next time I visit The Big Apple!

Lessons Learned

  1. The overall subway experience highlighted by the Rockefeller Centre station, the panoramic, above grade trip through Brooklyn itself, the middle / Coney Island Station, and the end / Grand Central Station made me think Calgary should aspire to having a light rail transit system with such iconic and memorable stations that invite people to simply travel the system for its own sake and explore the city.
  2. The development of Calgary’s Bow River promenade has the same basis as the Brooklyn Bridge Park, albeit on a significantly reduced scale: meandering beside a significant river, views to prominent and in most cases good architecture, places for rest and people watching, natural landscaping, higher density housing, complimentary pedestrian and cycling lanes, local history made it a very pleasant experience. 
  3. Brooklyn Bridge reminded me that sometimes, you need to invest in unique and iconic artifacts to celebrate the place where you live and make the basic needs of walking – memorable!

Tom Tittemore

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Now I'm really jealous...

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I'd love to flaneur DUMBO, short for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass” which has become Brooklyn's most expensive neighborhood, as well as New York City's fourth-richest community overall owing to its large concentration of technology startups, its close proximity to Manhattan and its large number of former industrial buildings that have been converted into spacious luxury residential lofts.

The neighborhood currently serves as the corporate headquarters for e-commerce retailer Etsy, home furnishing store West Elm and Bjarke Ingles Group (BIG) architects who just happen to be the architects of Calgary’s newest signature building Telus Sky. 

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The Brooklyn Bridge is not only an architectural/engineering gem, it is a popular commuter route with 10,000 pedestrians and 3,500 cyclists on weekdays and this total can swell to 30,000+ on weekends in the summer. It is often called the “Times Square In the Sky” because it is such a popular public space like Times Square. 

It is 1825m long or about 14 times the length of Calgary’s Peace Bridge.   This is on my "bucket list."

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I would also like to check out the Brooklyn Bridge Park to see how it compares to other river parks I have experienced in other cities from Hong Kong to Frankfurt, from Berlin to Calgary. 

And I love wandering residential urban streets, so Brooklyn Height's brownstones will be at the top of my list. 

Unlike Tom, when I go to Brooklyn it will be for at least a week, not a day. 

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

Chicago's Gold Coast: Stairways To Heaven

A FREE trip to NYC (Almost)

River Cruising in Chicago

 

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

Bow River Promenade vs Downtown Penetrator?

With the completion of the West Eau Claire Park, Calgary now has one of the best urban river shorelines in North America, perhaps even the world.  

  The new West Eau Claire Park is creating a special place to sit and linger along the Bow River Promenade.  

The new West Eau Claire Park is creating a special place to sit and linger along the Bow River Promenade.  

What’s so special about the Bow River as it passes through the City Centre (Edworthy Park to Harvie Passage) is that it is still more or less natural - no concrete, canal-like retaining walls; no theme-park bars and restaurants lining the shore.  You can still walk to the river, throw stones, dip your toes in, go fishing, launch a small water craft or even river surf.  

The Bow River is one of Calgary’s key urban differentiators. 

  Looking east along the Bow River pathway at the entrance into downtown. 

Looking east along the Bow River pathway at the entrance into downtown. 

 The Princeton's interface with the Bow River Promenade creates a lovely garden setting for both residents and those using the promenade. This is how public/private spaces should look like.

The Princeton's interface with the Bow River Promenade creates a lovely garden setting for both residents and those using the promenade. This is how public/private spaces should look like.

Bow River Promenade

Over the past two decades, the City of Calgary has invested over 100 million dollars to create a pedestrian-friendly urban edge to the Bow River – complete with parks, plazas, promenades, pathways, public art and bridges. Today, it has ten bridges including three signature ones - the historic Centre Street Bridge, Peace Bridge and King Bridge. It also links to several parks – Prince’s Island, St. Patrick’s Island, Fort Calgary, Sien Lok, Shaw Millennium and Nat Christie.  

Perhaps it is time to come up with a unifying name for the 4+ km south shore public spaces - at present, it has a collage of names.  In East Village segment is officially called the Jack & Jean Leslie RiverWalk, most people know it simply as RiverWalk.  

From Chinatown to just past Eau Claire Market, it becomes the Bow River Pathway and then changes to West Eau Claire Park for the section west of St. Patrick’s Island at the base of the Peace Bridge till the 10th Street bridge where it becomes Bow River pathway again until you get to the Nat Christie Park just east of the 14th Street bridge. 

 Bow River Promenade snakes its way from Centre Street bridge to East Village. It is kept clear of snow in the winter, making it a popular public space year round. 

Bow River Promenade snakes its way from Centre Street bridge to East Village. It is kept clear of snow in the winter, making it a popular public space year round. 

  In the summer it is a poplar place for people of all ages and background.  It has become a very popular place for those floating the Bow River to take out their rafts. 

In the summer it is a poplar place for people of all ages and background.  It has become a very popular place for those floating the Bow River to take out their rafts. 

  There are numerous spot so sit and linger along the promenade. It has a very vibrant c Canada goose community.  

There are numerous spot so sit and linger along the promenade. It has a very vibrant c Canada goose community.  

  New residential developments next to Sien Lock Park create an attractive link between Chinatown and the Bow River.  

New residential developments next to Sien Lock Park create an attractive link between Chinatown and the Bow River.  

  New condos in East Village with dog park in the foreground are converting what was once a mega parking lot for downtown workers into an attractive new urban neighbourhood. 

New condos in East Village with dog park in the foreground are converting what was once a mega parking lot for downtown workers into an attractive new urban neighbourhood. 

New Name?

From both a local and tourist perspective, the entire pathway should have one name.  I don’t suggest RiverWalk as it would be seen as if we are trying to imitate San Antonio’s famous River Walk – nothing could be further from the truth. 

What about Bow River Promenade? Bow River Stroll? Bow River Parade? Maybe even Bow River Loop (as you can loop back along the north shore and take in Poppy Plaza and get a better view of the Calgary’s ever-changing downtown skyline which is quickly becoming dominated by new condo towers)? 

Urban Living Renaissance

As a result of all the public improvements, the Bow River’s south shore has become a mecca for urban living.  Since the mid ‘90s, new condos on or near the Bow River have been completed every few years creating an interesting urban design history lesson.  

 Eau Claire 500's  is an example of poor urban design as it turns it back onto the public space and allows for no interaction.   

Eau Claire 500's  is an example of poor urban design as it turns it back onto the public space and allows for no interaction.   

The earliest is Eau Claire 500, the two, dark brown brick buildings designed with the enclosed courtyard and completed in 1983 by SOM, one of the world’s most renowned architectural firms.  

The complex literally turns its back to the pathway and river - no townhomes face the promenade, just a blank wall.  This would never happen today.

Neither would the River Run townhome condos completed in 1995 behind Eau Claire Market with no set-back from the promenade.  At that time, the City was desperate to see some residential development in downtown so they approved this low-density project that looks like it has been imported from the suburbs. 

  River Run complex was part of the failed Eau Claire Market urban revitalization project.  A new mega redevelopment plan is currently in the works.

River Run complex was part of the failed Eau Claire Market urban revitalization project.  A new mega redevelopment plan is currently in the works.

  Late 20th century residential development in West Downtown neighbourhood is located on the edge of  Bow River Promenade.

Late 20th century residential development in West Downtown neighbourhood is located on the edge of  Bow River Promenade.

The 21st century has seen the completion of the two Princeton towers on Riverfront Avenue with low rise buildings facing the promenade (which minimize shadowing on the promenade and park) with its timeless red brick façade and sandstone coloured accents.  East Village is home to several contemporary condos facing St. Patrick’s Island Park. 

 The Princeton's (left) early 21st century design creates a sharp contrast to the '80s design of Eau Claire 500 (right). 

The Princeton's (left) early 21st century design creates a sharp contrast to the '80s design of Eau Claire 500 (right). 

The two newest condos are the Concord at the Peace Bridge and the Waterfront at Sien Lok Park, both with glass facades that step-down to the river to maximize views of the river, pathway and downtown. Anthem Properties’ ambitious Waterfront project is the biggest condo project in Calgary’s history with 1000 homes in ten different buildings.  

Today, the Bow River’s south shore is one of Calgary’s most desirable places to live and one of North America’s best examples of the 21st century urban living renaissance.

  The Bow River Promenade is not only home to luxury condos but also a mega homeless shelter that some have nicknames the Hilton Homeless Shelter for its high quality design and materials. 

The Bow River Promenade is not only home to luxury condos but also a mega homeless shelter that some have nicknames the Hilton Homeless Shelter for its high quality design and materials. 

  Chinatown offers some affordable condos along the RiverWalk.

Chinatown offers some affordable condos along the RiverWalk.

It Almost Didn't Happen? 

The postwar oil boom resulted in hordes of head offices moving to Calgary which led to a huge increase in traffic into the downtown.  By the early ‘60s, civic leaders felt part of the problem was that downtown was hemmed in by the Bow River to the north and the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks to the south so they pitched the idea of moving the CPR tracks to the river so downtown could spread out into what is now the Beltline.  

However, by 1964, City Council killed the relocation of the rail lines amid bickering and cost issues and came up with a new Downtown Plan. 

  Illustration from 1964 Downtown Master Plan.

Illustration from 1964 Downtown Master Plan.

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Then in 1968, a transportation study called for several new Calgary highways - Crowchild Trail, Blackfoot Trail, 14th Street West freeway, Anderson Trail, and the Downtown Penetrator (Yes, that was the name!).  

The Downtown Penetrator was a proposed major freeway that would have extended from Sarcee Trail into the downtown along what is now 2nd and 3rdAvenues SW. 

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The plan called for demolishing 400 homes, many in low-income areas that were considered skid rows. The Centre Street, Louise and Langevin (now Reconciliation) bridges would have been replaced with new bridges. Chinatown would have been relocated and much of East Village, (called Churchill Park then), would have been destroyed.   

Fortunately, the Downtown Penetrator died as a result of public protest (especially from Chinatown) creating the opportunity to rethink our connection to the Bow River.

Last Word

Many developers and urban planners in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s said downtown residential would never happen in Calgary.  It was a time when the single-family reigned and most Calgarians turned their noses up at the idea of communal condo living.  

Calgary’s corporate executives lived in houses along the Elbow River in Roxboro or “on the hill” (aka Mount Royal), not along the Bow River.  Eau Claire, Chinatown and East Village were mostly old homes, skid rows and a prostitute stroll.  Eau Claire 500 sat alone for almost 15 years before another condo tower joined it. 

It is amazing what can happen over a few decades.  

The Bow River, its islands and riverbank have gone from a neglected jewel in the ‘70s to a vibrant urban playground in the ‘10s. I can see the promenade extending all the way from Edworthy Park to Harvie Passage in the future. 

It’s time to give our unique collection of urban public spaces along the Bow River a meaningful and memorable name!  In addition to promenade, stroll and loop, perhaps the Makhabn Passage (Makhabn being the Blackfoot name for the Bow River) might be an appropriate name? 

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

East Village: The Lust Of The New Playground

Downtown Calgary Power Hour

Calgary: A tale of three pedestrian bridges

West Hillhurst: Portrait Of My Neighbourhood

West Hillhurst is about a 45 to 90 minute walk to Stephen Avenue depending on where you live and how fast you walk.  It is on the edge of the City Centre by my definition i.e. anywhere that is about a 30 to 40 minute walk from the middle of the Central Business District.  

That makes West Hillhurst an inner-city neighbourhood.

  West Hillhurst Park is the heart of not only our neighbourhood but of the entire North Hill district. It has a funky old arena, squash courts, tennis/pickle ball courts, a gym, a day care, seniors' lounge, outdoor swimming pool, community garden, playground and playing fields. It may not be as big or fancy as new recreation centres in the 'burbs but it does the job. It is also home to the The Barn, a quaint pub where you can watch what is happening in the arena.   (photo credit: Ross Aitken Re/Max Real Estate Central)

West Hillhurst Park is the heart of not only our neighbourhood but of the entire North Hill district. It has a funky old arena, squash courts, tennis/pickle ball courts, a gym, a day care, seniors' lounge, outdoor swimming pool, community garden, playground and playing fields. It may not be as big or fancy as new recreation centres in the 'burbs but it does the job. It is also home to the The Barn, a quaint pub where you can watch what is happening in the arena. (photo credit: Ross Aitken Re/Max Real Estate Central)

Hidden diversity

For most Calgarians, the image of inner-city neighbourhoods is one of tree-lined streets with a mix of small, mid-20th century bungalows and large new two story infill homes.  There might be an old school or two and a small shopping plaza and but not much else.

Living in West Hillhurst for 25+ years I have come to appreciate the hidden diversity of my community, which I expect  is true for many other inner-city neighbourhoods in Calgary.

Let's go for a West Hillhurst adventure, as my four and two-year old neighbour boys would say when they want me to take them for a walkabout of our neighbourhood. We always find something new even after over 100 adventures.

  West Hillhurst has strange boundaries. It would seem more logical for the boundary to extend to 29th St on the west and 14th Street on the east? Note the south boundary includes the southern shore of the Bow River, which means we have some great beaches and pathways. 

West Hillhurst has strange boundaries. It would seem more logical for the boundary to extend to 29th St on the west and 14th Street on the east? Note the south boundary includes the southern shore of the Bow River, which means we have some great beaches and pathways. 

  A map from the early 20th century illustrates how the boundaries and names of the neighourhoods have changed.  I love the name Parkdale Happyland, perhaps we should bring it back.  

A map from the early 20th century illustrates how the boundaries and names of the neighourhoods have changed.  I love the name Parkdale Happyland, perhaps we should bring it back.  

Parks & Recreation Amenities 

  A Sunday morning church picnic at Grand Trunk Park attracts all ages and backgrounds.

A Sunday morning church picnic at Grand Trunk Park attracts all ages and backgrounds.

  We have great climbing trees, who needs climbing walls?

We have great climbing trees, who needs climbing walls?

  Our outdoor pool is a great gathering place in the summer. 

Our outdoor pool is a great gathering place in the summer. 

  The Bowview field is one of the best soccer field in the city and attracts some of the best soccer players in the city. 

The Bowview field is one of the best soccer field in the city and attracts some of the best soccer players in the city. 

  We also have numerous other soccer fields for those learning the game. 

We also have numerous other soccer fields for those learning the game. 

  Helicopter Park is one of the most popular parks in the City.  The name comes from the fact that the STARS helicopter takes off and lands at the nearby Foothill Medical Centre.  West Hillhurst has five funky playgrounds, in addition to school playgrounds.

Helicopter Park is one of the most popular parks in the City.  The name comes from the fact that the STARS helicopter takes off and lands at the nearby Foothill Medical Centre.  West Hillhurst has five funky playgrounds, in addition to school playgrounds.

  We have some of the best dressed playground Dad's in the city. 

We have some of the best dressed playground Dad's in the city. 

  We even have our own stretch of the Bow River, with our own islands.  

We even have our own stretch of the Bow River, with our own islands.  

  We have several lovely natural pebble beaches. 

We have several lovely natural pebble beaches. 

  Our pathways are amazing.

Our pathways are amazing.

  Our dog park is busy year-round. It offers great views of the downtown skyline.

Our dog park is busy year-round. It offers great views of the downtown skyline.

  We have several outdoor skating rinks in the winter, like this one that is shared by hockey players and figure skaters. 

We have several outdoor skating rinks in the winter, like this one that is shared by hockey players and figure skaters. 

  We even have our own luge/bobsled track. 

We even have our own luge/bobsled track. 

  West Hillhursters love to cycle. While we don't have any cycle tracks we do have the highest number of people cycling to work of any neighbourhood in Calgary.  We start them young! 

West Hillhursters love to cycle. While we don't have any cycle tracks we do have the highest number of people cycling to work of any neighbourhood in Calgary.  We start them young! 

  West Hillhurst's multi-use courts are use for both tennis and pickle ball. Inside is a very popular squash club.  

West Hillhurst's multi-use courts are use for both tennis and pickle ball. Inside is a very popular squash club.  

Caring Community 

  Centre 2507 operated by the Calgary Drop-In Centre is a safe place for homeless to sleep. 

Centre 2507 operated by the Calgary Drop-In Centre is a safe place for homeless to sleep. 

  The mega Bethany Care Centre is located at the NE edge of the neighbourhood.

The mega Bethany Care Centre is located at the NE edge of the neighbourhood.

  The Louise Dean Centre (formerly the Kensington School) is for young moms with children. 

The Louise Dean Centre (formerly the Kensington School) is for young moms with children. 

 Crowchild Kiwanis Manor is just one of several senior care facilities in our community. 

Crowchild Kiwanis Manor is just one of several senior care facilities in our community. 

 The Parkdale Kiwanis Manor is located across the street from the Crowchild Manor above. Don't let the name fool you, it is located in West Hillhurst. 

The Parkdale Kiwanis Manor is located across the street from the Crowchild Manor above. Don't let the name fool you, it is located in West Hillhurst. 

  Bow view Apartments is owned by Highbanks Society. It provides shelter and access to education and resources for single moms 16 to 24 years old.  The Dairy Lane operating since 1950, is Calgary's iconic diner. They make a classic milkshake. 

Bow view Apartments is owned by Highbanks Society. It provides shelter and access to education and resources for single moms 16 to 24 years old.  The Dairy Lane operating since 1950, is Calgary's iconic diner. They make a classic milkshake. 

Churches

  The West Hillhurst Gospel Hall is where Paul Brandt began singing as a child.

The West Hillhurst Gospel Hall is where Paul Brandt began singing as a child.

 West Hillhurst has several churches but you might miss them as they often look like houses.  This is the Faith Chapel of Hillhurst. 

West Hillhurst has several churches but you might miss them as they often look like houses.  This is the Faith Chapel of Hillhurst. 

  This is the Parkdale Seventh Day Adventist Church, but it really is in West Hillhurst.

This is the Parkdale Seventh Day Adventist Church, but it really is in West Hillhurst.

  Parkdale Grace Fellowship is also located in West Hillhurst. 

Parkdale Grace Fellowship is also located in West Hillhurst. 

Architecture

  The Girl Guide of Canada building design has a funky juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary elements and materials.

The Girl Guide of Canada building design has a funky juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary elements and materials.

 We have a very cool curvaceous white pedestrian bridge by a "no name" designer. Ours goes over a river of cars not water, but otherwise it is just as beautiful as those famous ones down the road. 

We have a very cool curvaceous white pedestrian bridge by a "no name" designer. Ours goes over a river of cars not water, but otherwise it is just as beautiful as those famous ones down the road. 

  The Dave Freeze pedestrian bridge does cross the Bow River underneath the Crowchild Trail bridge.  Backstory: This bridge cost the City nothing as Dave an avid walker paid for it as a gift to Calgarians.  It was designed I believe pro bono by Calgary architect Bill Milne, a good friend of Dave.   

The Dave Freeze pedestrian bridge does cross the Bow River underneath the Crowchild Trail bridge.  Backstory: This bridge cost the City nothing as Dave an avid walker paid for it as a gift to Calgarians.  It was designed I believe pro bono by Calgary architect Bill Milne, a good friend of Dave.   

  The Lions Village our newest seniors complex, by NORR combines an industrial and contemporary look, which is fitting as it is located next to a major ENMAX transformer.    

The Lions Village our newest seniors complex, by NORR combines an industrial and contemporary look, which is fitting as it is located next to a major ENMAX transformer.    

  The Kensington Clinic (abortion) designed by Caglary architect Andrew King is emblematic of minimalist modern architecture.  Backstory: The area around Crowchild Trail and 5th Avenue NW has been home to an abortion clinic for decades . 

The Kensington Clinic (abortion) designed by Caglary architect Andrew King is emblematic of minimalist modern architecture.  Backstory: The area around Crowchild Trail and 5th Avenue NW has been home to an abortion clinic for decades

  This round mid-century building is currently being converted into a medical facility.

This round mid-century building is currently being converted into a medical facility.

  The Grand Trunk School built in 1911 is one of the oldest buildings in Calgary outside of the downtown. 

The Grand Trunk School built in 1911 is one of the oldest buildings in Calgary outside of the downtown. 

  West Hillhurst is also home to the Thomas Riley House built in 1910.  Backstory: It was sold for $1 in 1987, as it had to be moved from its original 24th Street and 7th Avenue NW location to allow for the widening of Crowchild Trail.  Today it is hidden in the back alley of 8th Ave and 28th St NW.     FYI: At one time it was an abortion clinic!

 West Hillhurst is also home to the Thomas Riley House built in 1910.  Backstory: It was sold for $1 in 1987, as it had to be moved from its original 24th Street and 7th Avenue NW location to allow for the widening of Crowchild Trail.  Today it is hidden in the back alley of 8th Ave and 28th St NW.    FYI: At one time it was an abortion clinic!

Small Businesses 

  19th Street NW, West Hillhurst's main street is undergoing a renaissance with new shops like Made by Marcus Ice Cream. 

19th Street NW, West Hillhurst's main street is undergoing a renaissance with new shops like Made by Marcus Ice Cream. 

  The Daylight Grocery store has been operating for over 50 years. 

The Daylight Grocery store has been operating for over 50 years. 

  If you are a camper or a hiker, you probably know about SA Meat Shops as their dried meats are very popular. SA provides a range of meat products, baked goods and grocery items unique to South Africa. We also have Jan's Meats & Deli, an authentic Polish Market offering fresh meats, specialty cheeses and other groceries. I am in love with the apple strudel. 

If you are a camper or a hiker, you probably know about SA Meat Shops as their dried meats are very popular. SA provides a range of meat products, baked goods and grocery items unique to South Africa. We also have Jan's Meats & Deli, an authentic Polish Market offering fresh meats, specialty cheeses and other groceries. I am in love with the apple strudel. 

  The Scout Shop is a hidden gem for campers.  I am told they have great deals on tents.  Fashionistas love their collection of badges.  

The Scout Shop is a hidden gem for campers.  I am told they have great deals on tents.  Fashionistas love their collection of badges.  

  The new Kensington Legion building combines an neighbourhood restaurant with a Legion lounge and office space. It is the first phase of a mega redevelopment of the Kensington Legion site, that will create a mix-use hub at the corner of Kensington Road and 19th St NW.  It is also an example of West Hillhurst's new architectural renaissance.

The new Kensington Legion building combines an neighbourhood restaurant with a Legion lounge and office space. It is the first phase of a mega redevelopment of the Kensington Legion site, that will create a mix-use hub at the corner of Kensington Road and 19th St NW.  It is also an example of West Hillhurst's new architectural renaissance.

 West Hillhust is full of small businesses like this one that are integrated into the community.   

West Hillhust is full of small businesses like this one that are integrated into the community.   

  District Ventures is an accelerator for start-ups in the food and agricultural sector.   

District Ventures is an accelerator for start-ups in the food and agricultural sector.  

  Vintage Cafe is one of the many new small businesses in West Hillhurst. They recently opened a second store in Cross Iron Mills.

Vintage Cafe is one of the many new small businesses in West Hillhurst. They recently opened a second store in Cross Iron Mills.

  St. Lawrence Bagels opened recently at 2638 Parkdale Drive with a wood burning oven.  The owner/baker spent 10+ years working at Montreal's iconic St. Viateur Bagel Shop. 

St. Lawrence Bagels opened recently at 2638 Parkdale Drive with a wood burning oven.  The owner/baker spent 10+ years working at Montreal's iconic St. Viateur Bagel Shop. 

  Amato Gelato is one of many pedestrian oriented shops along Kensington Road.

Amato Gelato is one of many pedestrian oriented shops along Kensington Road.

  We even have some back alley industries . 

We even have some back alley industries

Art & Culture

  Artists make good use of our pebble beaches to create very interesting installations. 

Artists make good use of our pebble beaches to create very interesting installations. 

  We don't have any museums but we do have this very interesting gate .

We don't have any museums but we do have this very interesting gate.

  We do have a big angry cat scultpure? 

We do have a big angry cat scultpure? 

  We have lots of little libraries. 

We have lots of little libraries. 

  We might not have a giant blue ring, but we have lots of little gnomes. 

We might not have a giant blue ring, but we have lots of little gnomes. 

  We also have a classic sculpture garden.

We also have a classic sculpture garden.

  We are also adding to Calgary's growing number of murals/street art. 

We are also adding to Calgary's growing number of murals/street art. 

  We also have a cow from the Udderly Art project. 

We also have a cow from the Udderly Art project. 

Diversity of Housing

  Modern rental apartments.

Modern rental apartments.

  Mid century rental apartments

Mid century rental apartments

  New infills come in all shapes and sizes, from modern to traditional.  

New infills come in all shapes and sizes, from modern to traditional. 

  New townhomes.

New townhomes.

  Post war homes are still abundant in West Hillhurst. 

Post war homes are still abundant in West Hillhurst. 

  Gradually the community is transitioning to early 20th century infills to accommodate more families. 

Gradually the community is transitioning to early 20th century infills to accommodate more families. 

  We are seeing more and more lane homes being built in West Hillhurst.

We are seeing more and more lane homes being built in West Hillhurst.

  We also have walk-up row housing. 

We also have walk-up row housing. 

Future

  Crowfoot Trail Divide? Crowfoot Trail divides West Hillhurst in half - east and west.  Many people think the west half is in Parkdale. It is currently undergoing a mega makeover that will hopefully be more pedestrian, cycling and driver friendly.

Crowfoot Trail Divide? Crowfoot Trail divides West Hillhurst in half - east and west.  Many people think the west half is in Parkdale. It is currently undergoing a mega makeover that will hopefully be more pedestrian, cycling and driver friendly.

  The old Kensington Legion is gone, soon to be replaced by a mid-rise condo with main floor retail.  This will be a game changer for our community. 

The old Kensington Legion is gone, soon to be replaced by a mid-rise condo with main floor retail. This will be a game changer for our community. 

  Hope you had a great day exploring West Hillhurst with me.

Hope you had a great day exploring West Hillhurst with me.

Best Calgary Neighbourhoods?

Recently, Avenue Magazine published their Calgary Best Neighbourhoods for 2018 and the results were surprising. The methodology involved surveying Calgarians re: what is important to them (restaurants, cafes and bars, walk and transit scores, community engagement, crime rates and access to parks, pathways and recreational opportunities) and then all 185 neighbourhoods were ranked based on relevant data from various sources.

This was not a popularity contest as is often the case with neighbourhood rankings. 

Link: Avenue Best Neighbourhoods Methodology

The top ten were:

  1. Beltline
  2. Arbour Lake
  3. Hamptons
  4. Signal Hill
  5. Bowness
  6. Edgemont
  7. Crescent Heights
  8. Brentwood
  9. Eau Claire
  10. Downtown

Interestingly, Hillhurst ranked #27 and Inglewood #50, both of which have been ranked as some of the best neighbourhoods in Canada by professional planners.  Hmmmm....what does that say? 

West Hillhurst was ranked #105, just ahead of Collingwood (106), North Glenmore Park (107) and Midnapore (108) and behind the likes of Glendale (102), Southview (103) and Britanna (104).

  Everybody knows what makes a great neighbourhood is having great neighbours. These are mine.

Everybody knows what makes a great neighbourhood is having great neighbours. These are mine.

Last Word

For me is having great neighbours, which we have had for the entire 25+ years we have lived here.  It is also about great accessibility to all of the things like to do, some in walking distance, some just a 5 or 10 minute drive.  We have never been big transit users.

I am not about to question why West Hillhurst was ranked so low.  But, perhaps it is because what makes a great neighbourhood isn't really measurable.  It is personal! 

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

Woodbine is wonderful!

Mount Royal: City Beautiful

Aspen Woods: Home to Calgary's "Nouveau Riche"

Shane Homes Rocky Ridge YMCA Gone Wild?

I promised myself that this summer I would be a tourist in my own city and explore beyond Calgary’s City Centre.  Having heard great things about the new recreation centre in Rocky Ridge and seeing the amazing computer rendering I decide to check it out one day after golf. 

It is literally at the edge of the City.  And it didn't disappoint!

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Futuristic?

It is nestled into the base of a hill, looking like some strange spaceship has landed or a slithering alien creature is about to invade the city.  Its curvaceous shape and rich bronze façade is in sharp contrast to the cheap big box stores facades and the hard edges of the houses, condos and other buildings in the surrounding communities.  

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New Kid On The Block

Move over National Music Centre and the new Central Library there is a new kid in town when it comes to iconic public building architecture.  And it was designed by Calgary’s own GEC architects, not by some international firm.

FYI: GEC also designed the Saddledome one of Calgary other iconic buildings.  

The 284,000 square foot building opened in January 2018 at a cost of $192 million.  The City of Calgary paid for the building and the YMCA is the operator.   Shane Homes paid $3.5 million for naming rights.  It is designed to server the 150,000 people living in the new communities at the northwest edge of the city.  

It is the largest Y in the world, at least for the rest of this year. The   new 333,000 square foot SETON Y is scheduled to open in January 2019. 

 

Screen Shot 2018-07-21 at 8.07.57 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-07-21 at 7.54.57 AM.png
  Flock by Team of Haddad/Design is one of two public artworks planned for the site.  

Flock by Team of Haddad/Design is one of two public artworks planned for the site.  

  Calgary's National Music Centre

Calgary's National Music Centre

  Calgary's new central library is the white building on the left. 

Calgary's new central library is the white building on the left. 

Amazing Amenities

  • 25-metre, 8 lane competition pool
  • Spectator viewing area
  • Leisure pool with a wave system and waterslide
  • Hot tubs and steam room
  • 1 multi-purpose ice rink
  • 1 leisure ice surface
  • 3 full gymnasiums with multi-purpose flooring
  • Fitness centre with cardio and strength training equipment
  • Fitness/aerobics studios
  • 160-metre running/walking track
  • Large and small rooms for use as studios, classrooms and meeting spaces
  • 3,000 sq. ft. library with access to print and digital materials, hold pick up, public seating and study space
  • Art making, studio and gallery space
  • 250-seat theatre
  • Childcare/child-minding
  • Food services
  • Physiotherapy/medical clinic
  • Outdoor basketball court
  • Pathways and nature trails/interpretative
  • Outdoor play structures
  • Skateboard park (completion in summer 2018)
  •  
  • Video: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/calgary-rocky-ridge-ymca-1.4517102
  The pool gets so busy some days they have to turn people away. 

The pool gets so busy some days they have to turn people away. 

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  This is the library which was unmanned when I was there? Interesting open concept and honour system? 

This is the library which was unmanned when I was there? Interesting open concept and honour system? 

Iconic Entrance

Screen Shot 2018-07-21 at 8.04.15 AM.png
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  I love how these benches echo the colour and shape of the exterior.  

I love how these benches echo the colour and shape of the exterior.  

Last Word 

Calgary’s love their recreational activities. Shane Homes YMCA @ Rocky Ridge sold 9,700 memberships in its first two weeks.   I was there at about 3 pm on a Wednesday in the middle of Stampede and the place was busy.  I can only imagine how busy it will be in the winter, when there are fewer outdoor options.

This new YCWA is one of four new recreation centers built by the City of Calgary over the past few years, the others being Great Plans (designed by the Calgary’s MTA architecture and Toronto's MJMA), Remington YMCA @ Quarry Park (also designed by GEC) and the futuristic looking SETON YMCA (designed by Calgary’s Gibbs Gage architecture).  

Screen Shot 2018-07-21 at 1.20.13 PM.png

The total cost of all four recreation centres totalled $480 million. And, yes each came with a public art project, which could be the subject of a future blog.

While Calgarians living in the City Centre are getting a signature library and museum, the suburbs are getting signature recreation centres. All with iconic architecture, no cookie cutter boxes anymore. 

At $675 per square foot, some say it is easy to create an iconic building, the challenge should be to create great architecture with a more modest building. This too could be the subject of a future blog. Stay tuned!

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

Urban Design: Does Anybody Really Care?

Calgary's Audacious New Central Library

National Music Museum: The Red Flag

Calgary’s City Centre: One Of North America’s Best?

Ever since the Calgary Herald published my column “Does Calgary Have The World’s Most Walkable City Centre?” in March, I have been criticized by some urbanists for being a “Calgary cheerleader” who sees my city with rose-coloured glasses. 

Link: Does Calgary have the most walkable City Centre in the world?

Brent Toderian, a former City of Calgary Planner for our City Centre, then Director of Planning for Vancouver and now an international planning consultant even asked his 49,000 Twitter followers “What in their opinion is the most walkable City Centre in the world?” As one would expect cities like Paris, Barcelona and Melbourne topped the list and Calgary wasn’t included. No surprise Calgary flies under the radar for national and international urbanists.

  Rainbow underpass pathway

Rainbow underpass pathway

  The Chinese Cultural Centre is an architectural gem.

The Chinese Cultural Centre is an architectural gem.

Calgary’s City Centre is very cool

Over the past few months I have posted a number of blogs on my everydaytourist.ca website documenting why Calgary’s major City Centre communities, i.e. Beltline, Bridgeland, Downtown, Inglewood, Kensington and Mission, are all very cool places to live, play and visit. 

In each blog, I documented how over the past decade or two, our City Center with the addition of dozens of new condo complexes and thousands of new infill homes, improved public spaces, new festivals, as well as new shops, restaurants, cafes and pubs has evolved to be on par or better than what other North American cities.  These blogs were also dismissed by some national and international urbanists as simply “cheerleading.”

Here is why I think “Calgary’s City Centre is one of the best in North America” and perhaps the BEST for any city with a population under two million people.  The rationale is not based on stats and figures, but on decades of personal observation of various key elements of urban vitality in dozens of cities in North America and Europe.

  Gotta love this life-size Victor Cicansky chair at the Glenbow Museum. I have a much smaller version with a potato! 

Gotta love this life-size Victor Cicansky chair at the Glenbow Museum. I have a much smaller version with a potato! 

Shopping 

Very few City Centers in North America under two million people still have major department stores and shopping centres. Calgary boasts three department stores – Hudson’s Bay, Holts and Simons and The Core, Bankers’ Hall and Scotia Center combine to create one of the largest indoor shopping malls of any City Centre in North America. 

Our City Centre is also blessed with six major pedestrian streets (Main Streets) – Stephen Avenue, 4th St SW, 10th St NW, Kensington Road, 9th Ave SE and 17th Ave SW, as well as, four secondary ones – First St SW, 11th St SW, 11th Ave SW (Design District) and 1st Ave NE (Bridgeland).  Most City Centres are lucky to have two or three.

It also has four major grocery stores – Safeway (Kensington, Connaught and Mission), as well as Midtown Co-op.  In addition, Sunterra (Victoria Park), Community Natural Foods (Beltline), Bite (Inglewood), Sunnyside Organic Market and Bridgeland Market, Luke’s Drug Mart and Blush Lane Organic Market (both in Bridgeland) serve as niche grocers. And, while Calgary doesn’t have a year-round central market, we do have weekly summer markets in Hillhurst and Bridgeland. 

  The Core shopping centre's skylight is impressive as are the shops, if only they could get the public garden to stop leaking.  

The Core shopping centre's skylight is impressive as are the shops, if only they could get the public garden to stop leaking.  

  Calgary's City Centre has lots of pedestrian oriented streets. 

Calgary's City Centre has lots of pedestrian oriented streets. 

  17th Ave aka Red Mile is a mix of retail, restaurant and residential buildings of all sizes and shapes. 

17th Ave aka Red Mile is a mix of retail, restaurant and residential buildings of all sizes and shapes. 

  It also has great places to browse. 

It also has great places to browse. 

  Calgary's City Centre as several large grocery stores, as well as several boutique ones. 

Calgary's City Centre as several large grocery stores, as well as several boutique ones. 

  Keynote combines a market, cafe, liquor store with an office tower and two residential towers.

Keynote combines a market, cafe, liquor store with an office tower and two residential towers.

Coffee Culture

Calgary has had a strong independent coffee culture long before Starbucks was even thought of.  Kensington has been home to two independent coffee houses - Higher Ground and the Roasterie since the ‘80s.  Café Beano has been a hipster hangout since before the term hipster was popularized in the 21st century.  Mission’s Purple Perk has also been around for decades.

Recently, a plethora of Calgary-based coffee houses have invaded the City Centre – Alforno, Analog, Gravity, Monogram, Phil & Sebastian, Rosso and Vendome to name a few.  Indeed, you are never far from a café in Calgary’s City Centre.

  There are literally new coffee shops popping up ever month.  This one is in the a-mazing 20 km indoor +15 pedestrian system. 

There are literally new coffee shops popping up ever month.  This one is in the a-mazing 20 km indoor +15 pedestrian system. 

  Cafe Beano a Calgary landmark.

Cafe Beano a Calgary landmark.

Restaurants

Like most North American cities, the restaurant scene has exploded in Calgary’s City Centre over the past 20+ years.  EnRoute Magazine’s list of top new Canadian restaurants list has routinely included one or more Calgary City Centre restaurants including Bar Von Der Fels (2017), while Pigeon Hole was ranked their “The Best New Restaurant” in Canada (2015).

John Gilchrist, Calgary Herald food and restaurant writer and author of “My Favourite Restaurants Calgary and Banff,” had 49 favourite restaurants in downtown alone and over 150 in the City Center in his last book.  He points out Calgary’s City Centre offers both upscale dining -Teatro, Blink and Charcut – as well as many ethnic dining spots – Falafel King, Pure and Jonas. Gilchrist also notes Calgary’s Chinatown is small, but has some great dim sum spots, and Stephen Avenue has an abundance of pubs and restaurant patios. 

  It doesn't get much better than al fresco dining on Stephen Avenue under the Bay's colonnade. 

It doesn't get much better than al fresco dining on Stephen Avenue under the Bay's colonnade. 

  If you are into funky places Re:Grub where you can dine in a barrel...how appropriate is that. 

If you are into funky places Re:Grub where you can dine in a barrel...how appropriate is that. 

  Patio dining on the river is always an option.

Patio dining on the river is always an option.

Art & Architecture

Over the past two decades, Calgary has upped its game when it comes to urban design. Calgary’s City Centre boasts a major office tower by Norman Foster (The Bow), a mixed office/residential tower by Bjarke Ingles (Telus Sky), a bridge by Santiago Calatrava that is unlike any other he has designed (Peace Bridge) and an iconic new Central Library by Sinohetta. There is also Pickard Chilton’s two tower Eighth Avenue Place and London’s Arney Fender Katsalidis Brookfield Place office tower, both featuring cathedral-like public lobbies. 

  BIG's Telus Sky but it is quickly becoming known as The Twist. Can't wait to see Douglas Coupland's light show on the side of the building.  

BIG's Telus Sky but it is quickly becoming known as The Twist. Can't wait to see Douglas Coupland's light show on the side of the building. 

  Stephen Avenue an eclectic mix of shops, office towers, pubic art and architecture (both old and new).

Stephen Avenue an eclectic mix of shops, office towers, pubic art and architecture (both old and new).

Calgary also has an early SOM architects residential tower (Eau Claire 500 built in 1979) and a new SOM office tower (707 Fifth Street, built in 2017). SOM, one of the largest and most influential architecture, interior design, engineering, and urban planning firms in the world designed the iconic Birj in Dubai, the tallest building in the world.

When it comes to public art, Calgary boasts 100+ artworks in its City Centre including “Wonderland” by internationally acclaimed artist Jaume Plensa. Some of Calgary’s best public art is by local artists like Ron Moppett’s huge mosaic “THESAMEWAYBETTER/READER” made up of 956,321 tiny glass tiles and Joe Fafard’s stampeding horses titled “Do Re Me Fa Sol La Si Do.”  

  New public artworks are being installed almost monthly. 

New public artworks are being installed almost monthly. 

  Giving Wings to the Dream, Doug Driediger, east wall of old CUPS building on 100 block of 7th Ave SE. This mural has held up well given it is 20+ years old.  Again I like the fact the piece relates to the site, which was home to Calgary Urban Projects Society (helping people in need) when it was first commissioned. I think it talks nicely about Calgary as a caring city. 

Giving Wings to the Dream, Doug Driediger, east wall of old CUPS building on 100 block of 7th Ave SE. This mural has held up well given it is 20+ years old.  Again I like the fact the piece relates to the site, which was home to Calgary Urban Projects Society (helping people in need) when it was first commissioned. I think it talks nicely about Calgary as a caring city. 

  Calgary also has a budding street art culture. This piece "Eyes on the Street" was done by a teenager who lives in the Hillhurst/Sunnyside community. 

Calgary also has a budding street art culture. This piece "Eyes on the Street" was done by a teenager who lives in the Hillhurst/Sunnyside community. 

Calgary’s City Center is also home to many historical buildings including dozens of early 20th Century sandstone buildings. Stephen Avenue is a designated National Historic Site with its collection of early 20th century buildings.  Atlantic Avenue aka 9th Avenue SE - Calgary’s original main street - also has an important collection of early 20th century brick buildings. Other important historical sites include the Lougheed House with the Beaulieu Garden, Reader Rock Gardens and Senator Burns Rock Gardens.

When it comes to the arts, Arts Commons is one of the larger performing arts centres in North America (3,200 seats in 5 performance spaces), Glenbow is one of Canada’s largest museums and Lunchbox Theatre is longest running noon-hour theatre in North America.  There is also Theatre Junction Grand and Decidedly Jazz dance studio offering diverse programming while two arthouse cinemas – The Globe and Plaza offer alternative and main stream films. Yes, I know we don’t have a major contemporary art gallery -  you can’t have everything!

  The Glenbow has developed a very insightful curatorial program linking past and present. 

The Glenbow has developed a very insightful curatorial program linking past and present. 

Public Spaces

Calgary’s City Centre boast an impressive best collection of parks - from the 100+ year old Memorial Park to the new St. Patrick’s Island park complete with pebble beach. Few City Centres can boast a park with an active cricket pitch (Riley Park) or one with a family toboggan hill (Murdoch Park).  Prince’s Island has been called one of the best music festival sites by many Calgary International Folk Festival performers.  

And then there is Stampede Park. It hosts not only “The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth” but also is home to a major arena (hockey, lacrosse, ice shows and concerts), a major trade and convention facility as well as numerous other buildings that host hundreds of events year-round.

When it comes to pathways, Calgary’s Bow River promenade from 14th Street Bridge to Fort Calgary is truly in a class of its own.  The enhancement of the West Eau Claire section of the promenade this year will make it truly one of the great urban strolls in North America. 

The +15 system with its 60+ bridges connecting 100+ buildings helps make our City Centre one of the most walkable in the world.  Not only does it make walking more attractive in poor weather, but it also means you can walk without worrying about crazy drivers and cyclists.

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  Calgary's Olympic Plaza is a colourful oasis in the summer.  

Calgary's Olympic Plaza is a colourful oasis in the summer.  

 Chillin' on Riverwalk in East Village.

Chillin' on Riverwalk in East Village.

  containR Park in Hillhurst Sunnyside is home to numerous planned and unplanned events. 

containR Park in Hillhurst Sunnyside is home to numerous planned and unplanned events. 

Fitness/Recreational Opportunities

The Repsol Sports Centre, opened in 1983, is one of the busiest recreation centers in North America today. It is interesting to note its pure white translucent Teflon roof – shaped like a turtle - predates the current obsession for creating strange-shaped public buildings by 20 years. 

Shaw Millennium Skateboard Park is not only one of the largest free public skate parks in the world, but also offers beach volleyball and basketball courts.  Haultain Park has a tennis courts, a playing field and popular children’s playground. 

The Bow River pathway system is a very popular running route morning, noon and night, evenings and weekends year round. 

The City Centre is also home to dozens of private fitness centers and yoga studios including the busy Eau Claire Y.

  Calgarians are good at improvising when it comes to recreational infrastructure. 

Calgarians are good at improvising when it comes to recreational infrastructure. 

  Family fun in downtown.

Family fun in downtown.

Pubs & Clubs 

Calgary, has a budding music scene with Mikey’s, Ironwood, Palomino and Blues Can offering live music seven days a week.  The new National Music Centre with the King Eddy enhances Calgary claim to be North America’s next music city.

Every Calgary City Centre community has its signature pub, from James Joyce on Stephen Avenue to Kensington Pub in Kensington, as well as the Ship & Anchor to Trolley Five on 17th Ave SW. 

  The Ironwood Stage & Grill is just one of several music venues in the City Centre. 

The Ironwood Stage & Grill is just one of several music venues in the City Centre. 

  There is a sense of authenticity at the Blues Can in Inglewood.

There is a sense of authenticity at the Blues Can in Inglewood.

  17th Avenue is lined with pubs and patios. 

17th Avenue is lined with pubs and patios. 

Festivals

Another defining element of a good City Centre is its signature festivals. Here is a list of Calgary’s major festivals that take place in our City Centre with a national or international component.

  • High Performance Rodeo (January)
  • Big Taste (March)
  • Calgary Expo (April)
  • Calgary International Children’s Festival (May)
  • Lilac Festival (May/June)
  • SLED Island (June)
  • Calgary Stampede (July)
  • Calgary International Folk Festival (July)
  • Beakerhead (September)
  • Calgary International Film Festival (September)
  • Wordfest (October)
 The Calgary Stampede is the mother of all Calgary festivals. It is more than just a rodeo, it is an agricultural fair, chuckwagon races, a midway, a music festival, a grandstand show and mega fireworks show. 

The Calgary Stampede is the mother of all Calgary festivals. It is more than just a rodeo, it is an agricultural fair, chuckwagon races, a midway, a music festival, a grandstand show and mega fireworks show. 

  Prince's Island and the Calgary International Folk Festival is a magical experience.

Prince's Island and the Calgary International Folk Festival is a magical experience.

  Calgary hosts one of the biggest and best cosplay festivals in Canada.

Calgary hosts one of the biggest and best cosplay festivals in Canada.

FFQ Elements

Great City Centers have fun, funky and quirky things to see and do.  Calgary’s offers Friday Night Drumming Circles in Inglewood, to Sunday afternoon cricket matches in Riley Park, to three Saturday afternoon blues jams Calgary’s City Centre. Family fun can be had at Canada’s second largest Zoo on an island in the middle of the Bow River and next door is the quirky looking TELUS Spark science center.  Wander the lobbies of downtown’s office buildings and you will find a real bush plane hanging from the ceiling of an office building (Suncor Centre), or a bison skeleton in the Sun Life Plaza or lobby full of masterpieces of Canadian Art by the likes of Shadbolt and Riopelle (Eighth Avenue Place).  Need I go on?

  Old school outdoor shoe shine fun in Kensington!

Old school outdoor shoe shine fun in Kensington!

  Saturday afternoon dancing in Tomkins Park anyone? 

Saturday afternoon dancing in Tomkins Park anyone? 

  Sunday afternoon fishing in the Bow!

Sunday afternoon fishing in the Bow!

Last Word

I am not alone in thinking Calgary has a great City Centre.  In 2014 the Canadian Institute of Planners chose Inglewood as “Canada’s Best Neighbourhood,” with Kensington being one of the runner-ups.  Both have gotten better since then with exciting new condo projects.

While I recognize our City Centre isn’t perfect, I stand by my observation that it is one of the best in North America. In fact, based on the City of Calgary community profiles, over 75,000 Calgarians (6% of overall city population) live in our City Centre and 5,600 (7.5%) are children under the age of 14 (based on 2014 Census). These are healthy numbers on a per capita basis and are on par with Vancouver, considered by many urbanists to be one of the world’s best places for urban living.

Every time I visit another North American city, I develop a better appreciation for Calgary’s City Centre as a clean, safe and interesting place to live. While it is hard for Calgary to compete with larger and older cities like Montreal, Boston, New York, Chicago and San Francisco, I would put Calgary’s City Centre communities up against those of Vancouver, Portland, Austin, Nashville or Denver anytime. 

Oh, and if you still want to call me a “Calgary cheerleader,” I am OK with that.

If you want to learn more about Calgary City Centre checkout these links:

Calgary's Coolest Neighbourhoods: Inglewood

Mission is marvellous

Beltline: Calgary's Hipster/Nester Community

Bridgeland/Riverside's Rebirth

Kensington: Calgary's Left Bank is cool!

Downtown Living is cooler than you think!

Saskatoon Stories: Picasso Birdhouses & Gory Puppets 

Everywhere we go, it’s “eyes wide open!”  We are always on the lookout for something different, something off-the-beaten path, something you won’t find (at least not easily) online. Saskatoon didn’t disappoint. 

  You will find these two colourful birdhouses outside of JR's birdhouse workshop at the corner of Spadina Cr. and 20th St. E.

You will find these two colourful birdhouses outside of JR's birdhouse workshop at the corner of Spadina Cr. and 20th St. E.

  The Stumped Productions workshop on the UofS campus was a fun even if somewhat gory surprise.  

The Stumped Productions workshop on the UofS campus was a fun even if somewhat gory surprise. 

Picasso Birdhouses

On our first evening, we were invited to a friends’ house for dinner where we enjoyed a great evening, highlighted by their quirky art collection and great backyard.  Yes, the one with the amazing pavilion! But what impressed us most were the Picasso-inspired birdhouses.  We had to have one. Well, maybe two.

Turns out we could – and did. And so can you!

They are made by John Remai (if the surname sounds familiar, it could be because his brother’s wife donated big bucks for Saskatoon’s controversial new Remai Art Museum, but that is another story) and he makes them in his parking garage studio in the downtown Saskatoon riverside residential tower where he lives.  

  John Remai's (JR to his friends) garage/workshop.

John Remai's (JR to his friends) garage/workshop.

Once a builder always a builder?

Remai, now in his ‘80s, was one Saskatoon’s biggest developers before retiring a few years ago. As a philanthropist, Remai has been a big supporter of various Saskatoon charities, as well as the local Children’s Hospital.  However, he wanted to not only make personal donations but help encourage others to also give back to their community.  As a result, he decided in retirement to design and build birdhouses to sell to the public with all proceeds going to the Saskatoon’s Children’s Hospital.  Who could resist buying one or perhaps four (our host now has four) birdhouses, three at home and one at work?   

The public can buy a Remai birdhouse Monday through Thursday in the basement of the office building at the corner of Spadina and 20thStreet.  Depending on design, the birdhouses sell for $75 to $100, which is great value given the craftsmanship and complexity of designs.  

Given we were in town on a weekend, we were fortunate our host knew Remai and was able to arrange a downtown studio visit to see the birdhouses actually being built and meet Mr. Remai, a very cordial host and unassuming gentleman.

Indeed, the Remai’s huge workshop (probably the size of quadruple car garage) is located in the underground parkade of a residential tower.  It is neatly divided up into three spaces, one with all the While we were there, two volunteers from the building were painting pieces of his latest design, a “parrot birdhouse” in preparation for assembly.

A lovely sense of order and calmness filled this windowless, grotto-like studio.  Here are some photos, which I hope will convey the scale of the operations and the diversity of the birdhouses being produced.  

  JR with three of his most popular birdhouses.

JR with three of his most popular birdhouses.

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  Volunteers from the building help JR with the painting and assembling. Note other birdhouse designs on the shelves in the background.

Volunteers from the building help JR with the painting and assembling. Note other birdhouse designs on the shelves in the background.

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  The Assante building is where you can get your own birdhouse. 

The Assante building is where you can get your own birdhouse. 

  JR has a binder with the different birdhouses and other items for sale. 

JR has a binder with the different birdhouses and other items for sale. 

For more information: JR's Designer Birdhouses 

U of S: Timeless

  The Douglas Cardinal designed Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre is just one of many new buildings that are synergistic to the older buildings on campus. 

The Douglas Cardinal designed Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre is just one of many new buildings that are synergistic to the older buildings on campus. 

Whenever we are in a new city we make a point of exploring the postsecondary campuses.  They are often full of interesting, under-the-radar places.

The University of Saskatchewan (U of S) is no exception as it is home to an Antiquities Museum, a Natural History Museum and three art galleries.  

The campus is an architectural gem as the facades of almost all of the buildings have been built with sandstone or Tyndall stone facades giving it a timeless quality I have not experienced anywhere else. 

From a design perspective, it may well be the best campus in Canada! 

  The Bowl is the heart of the campus. 

The Bowl is the heart of the campus. 

A-Mazing Campus

The U of S, like most campuses, is a maze of seemingly randomly placed buildings.  Note: I often wonder why postsecondary campuses never used the grid street system, which is so much easier to navigate. The grid street design has been around since before Christ for heaven’s sake, you’d think one or more universities would have used it. However, the good thing about the maze system is you often get lost and in doing so, you see things you might not have if you knew where you were going.  For us, getting lost lead to finding artisans making puppets for this summer’s Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan (River). 

  The U of S a-mazing campus is huge at almost 3,000 acres or 12 square kilometres. It is home to 25,000 students. 

The U of S a-mazing campus is huge at almost 3,000 acres or 12 square kilometres. It is home to 25,000 students. 

Gory Puppets 

While trying to find our bearings, we noticed some quirky-looking objects in the basement windows of a building we had no intention of going into. However, they became the impetus for us to head in. Once inside, we immediately peeked into a large studio with three people working away making puppets. We were invited in come in dozens of puppets at various stages of completion.  Turns out they were making all of the 44 puppets for this summer’s production of TITUS A. Puppet Revenge, July 12 to August 19th.

Backstory: TITUS A. Puppet Revenge will tell the story of the most violent and bloody tragedy ever performed at the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan festival.  Dismemberment, disembowelment and cannibalism will all play out with an amazing set of carefully crafted rod puppets in a small tent tucked into a corner of the site.  It is billed as a delightfully disturbing romp for mature audiences. Due to the detailed nature of puppets, I recommend attendees bring opera glasses or binoculars. 

Turns out we were welcomed by Kristi Friday of Stumped Productions who along with some hired hands were building all of the puppets. After looking around and chatting a bit, she asked if we wanted to come with her to the basement where they had set up a small rehearsal stage to test out the puppets and we could see the finished puppets.  We said “Hell Yes!” It was fun to get a behind the scene tour and an up close and personal look at the puppets.  

  Puppets in various stages of completion.  

Puppets in various stages of completion. 

  An up close and personal view of the inner workings of the puppets. 

An up close and personal view of the inner workings of the puppets. 

  The handmade puppet are glued, stitched and clamped together. 

The handmade puppet are glued, stitched and clamped together. 

  Taking a break....

Taking a break....

  Hanging out....

Hanging out....

  The rehearsal stage...

The rehearsal stage...

Secret UofS Museum

Next door to the rehearsal stage, was the basement room that attracted us to go inside the building in the first place. Here we were rewarded with the opportunity to see some of the fun stage costumes other production from bubble wrap dresses to vintage hat boxes.

It was like finding a buried treasure or an unknown museum. 

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Lessons Learned

#1 Always travel with your eyes and mind wide open.  

#2 Always leave extra time to explore unexpected opportunities. 

#3 Don't be shy!

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

Birdhouse vs Nest Box

Footnotes: University of Arizona 

University of New Mexico: A-Mazing 

Staircases As Art

I will let the staircases speak for themselves.....

 Museo Soumaya, Mexico City

Museo Soumaya, Mexico City

  Post Office, Mexico City

Post Office, Mexico City

  Antinori Chianti Classico Winery Parkade, Bargino, Italy

Antinori Chianti Classico Winery Parkade, Bargino, Italy

  Atlanta Convention Centre, Atlanta

Atlanta Convention Centre, Atlanta

  Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

  National Music Centre, Calgary, Alberta

National Music Centre, Calgary, Alberta

  The Kiss, Leipzig, Germany

The Kiss, Leipzig, Germany

Colourful Staircases

  Adventure Hotel, Nelson, BC

Adventure Hotel, Nelson, BC

  Palais des congres de Montreal, Montreal, Quebec

Palais des congres de Montreal, Montreal, Quebec

  The Twist, Palm Springs, California

The Twist, Palm Springs, California

  Memorial Park Library, Calgary, Alberta

Memorial Park Library, Calgary, Alberta

  Central Library, Seattle, Washington

Central Library, Seattle, Washington

  Riddell Library & Learning Centre, Mount Royal University, Calgary

Riddell Library & Learning Centre, Mount Royal University, Calgary

  Lions Park Station, Calgary

Lions Park Station, Calgary

  Zion Park, Utah

Zion Park, Utah

  Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

Emergency Staircases

  Sunalta Station, Calgary

Sunalta Station, Calgary

  Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs, California

 Backstairs, Montreal 

Backstairs, Montreal 

  Hillhurst School, Calgary, Alberta

Hillhurst School, Calgary, Alberta

  The Mustard Seed Co-op, Hamilton, Ontario

The Mustard Seed Co-op, Hamilton, Ontario

Black & White 

  Mexico City

Mexico City

  Mexico City

Mexico City

  Plateau, Montreal, 

Plateau, Montreal, 

  West Hillhurst, Calgary, 

West Hillhurst, Calgary, 

  Crowchild Trail Overpass, West Hillhurst, Calgary

Crowchild Trail Overpass, West Hillhurst, Calgary

  King Memorial Transit Station, Atlanta

King Memorial Transit Station, Atlanta

  Sunalta Station, Calgary

Sunalta Station, Calgary

A Place To Sit

  Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon

  Palm Springs Art Museum

Palm Springs Art Museum

  Spanish Steps, Rome, Italy

Spanish Steps, Rome, Italy

  Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

Last Word

I hope you enjoyed this photo essay. If you have a favourite staircases photo you'd like to share send it to me at rwhiteyyc@gmail.com and I will add it to the blog. Thanks for reading! 

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

The curse of minimalism

Chicago: Gold Coast Staircases

Calgary: Best Places To Sit