Confessions Of A Public Art Artist

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

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

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

Village Fun

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

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

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

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

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

Backstory

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

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

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

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

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Inspiration 

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

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

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

How $25,000 becomes $200

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

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

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

She needed: 

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

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

  • engineer’s stamp 

  • structural consultant’s approval 

  • contact utilities to mark the spot was safe for construction

  • re-plant the landscape as needed to original state

  • repair any damages to existing irrigation if needed

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

  • The excavation of the site

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

  • Fabrication of the steel pieces of the sculpture

  • Powder coasting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confession

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

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

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

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

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

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Rugby Team Connection  

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

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

There goes the $200.  

Last Word

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

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

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

Confessions of public art juror.

Do we really need all of this public art?

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

 

 

Chinatown Makeover: You can’t please everyone!

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

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

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Let the debate begin

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

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

Parking vs Towers

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

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

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

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

A bit of context…

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

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

Chinatown At A Glance

  • 49 retail shops

  • 46 restaurants

  • 10 grocery/butcher/seafood

  • 11 personal services

  • 16 medical/pharmacy/Traditional Chinese Medicine

  • 16 salons

  • 6  business services

  • 23 corporate offices

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Change is in the wind…

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

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

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

El Condor Land Development at a glance:

  • 524      residential units

  • 150      hotel rooms

  • 23        commercial units

  • 470      parking stalls

  • 466      bike stalls 

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

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

The BIA says…

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

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

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

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

Changes Needed 

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

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

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

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

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

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

All reasonable requests you would think! 

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

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

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

Community Engagement Consultant says…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Step    

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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History of Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  It truly was a community effort.

It truly was a community effort.

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Summer of Murals: Beltline

Vancouver: Mural Festival Fun & Fantasy

Doug Driediger: Public Art That Is Uplifting!

2018: The Summer of Murals (Beltline)

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

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

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

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

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

Do we expect too much?

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

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

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

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  Faith47’s BUMP mural

Faith47’s BUMP mural

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

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

BUMP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

Below are some other murals in the Beltline….

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hamilton: Mulberry Street Porchin' Band

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

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Too Much Fun!

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did I not know this? 

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

How cool is that?

More Info: Mulberry Street Porchin’ Band

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary: Parades Celebrate Cowtown’s Cosmopolitan Culture 

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

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Calgary is no longer a “one horse town.”

Stampede Parade

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

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

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Calgary Pride Parade

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

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

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

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Nagar Kirtan Parade

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

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

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

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POW (Parade of Wonders) Parade

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

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

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

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Last Word

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

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

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

Everyday Tourist Does Calgary Expo

Colourful Stampede Postcards

Calgary's 2018 Festival Fun

Does Calgary have too many neighbourhoods?

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

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

Let the debate begin...

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

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

Small town = Small Minded?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jane’s Logic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowing this, should we plan our cities differently?

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

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

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

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

CALGARIANS LOVE THEIR NEIGHBOURHOODS

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

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

  From Avenue Magazine's 2018 ranking of Calgary neighbourhoods.

From Avenue Magazine's 2018 ranking of Calgary neighbourhoods.

  Avenue Magazine's top five neighbourhoods.

Avenue Magazine's top five neighbourhoods.

Why I love West Hillhurst….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEIGHBOURHOODS MUST EVOLVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet I think we must temper this ambition.

SIZE MATTERS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Hillhurst: Portrait Of My Neighbourhood

Calgary's Million Dollar Neighbourhoods

Altadore: A Model 21st C Neighbourhood?

Condo Living: Too Many Amenities? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBQs to Bocce Courts 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bikes / Beer / Zen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

I wonder what is next!

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

Importance of Comfort, Convenience & Privacy 

Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary

21st Century: Century of the condo?

Inner City Communities: Future = Past?

While many urban planners are quick to criticize Calgary’s inner-city communities for their lack of walkability, I think some rethinking is in order.

Why? Because these communities were built in the ‘50s ‘60s and ‘70s when urban living and homebuyer expectations were very different from those today. 

Also because the future of urban living could look at lot more like the mid-20th century with home delivery of almost all of our everyday needs. 

  Wander any Calgary established neighbourhood and you are likely to find several new infill residential developments.  

Wander any Calgary established neighbourhood and you are likely to find several new infill residential developments.  

Walkability

One of the major criticisms of Calgary’s older communities is the lack of walkability to everyday amenities like grocery stores, cafes, drugstores, pubs, restaurants, boutiques and fitness studios.  

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However, back then “essentials” like milk, bread, eggs and butter were often delivered to the home.  

And a corner convenience store also supplied other everyday essentials which often included cigarettes.  

And then there was the Fuller Brush Man and Avon Lady….it was a VERY different time.  

There was no need for organic grocery store or farmers markets - many city dwellers used their mid-century big backyards for their own garden; some even had family or friends living on nearby farms who’d share their big garden harvest.

  Marda Loop's farmers' market is just one of the ever increasing number of weekly neighbourhood markets in Calgary. 

Marda Loop's farmers' market is just one of the ever increasing number of weekly neighbourhood markets in Calgary. 

Neighbours often shared the extra tomatoes, cukes and zucchini with those neighbours who didn’t have gardens.

No need for the fancy community garden so popular today.

However, the economics of food distribution, home delivery and corner stores changed dramatically in the ‘70s.  There was also the introduction of the mega-store chain store mentality – grocery stores, drug stores and hardware stores were no longer small, independent neighbourhood stores. 

Ironically, we seem to be returning to mid-century urban living with home delivery of not only of groceries, but almost anything you need. Is marijuana replacing cigarettes? Perhaps we should allow the new marijuana stores to become the new corner store offering all kinds of convenience items.

  Is the future of grocery shopping home delivery? 

Is the future of grocery shopping home delivery? 

Home Entertainment

In the middle of the 20thcentury, meeting a friend for coffee didn’t mean going to a trendy café shelling out $4 for a coffee and $3 for a muffin, but rather going to someone’s home for homemade coffee (often instant) and home baked goods.  

So, there was much less of a need for a neighbourhood café.  In fact, even today’s neighbourhood cafés are less a place to meet friends and more a workspace given tiny condos are too small to “live, work and/or play.” 

The same is true for the neighbourhood pub.  When our inner city communities were built, meeting up for a beer or a drink meant going to someone’s home, often to the basement’s rumpus room that had a bar.  Interestingly, there is a return to the basement rumpus room/bar, but now it is called the “media centre.”  

A costly craft beer at a fancy pub with multiple TVs broadcasting sports from around the world didn’t exist when the focus was more local than global.  

Going out to a restaurant for dinner was also not a common activity in the mid 20th century. Rather most families, it was something they did a few times a year, on very special occasions.  

This is why there aren’t a lot of neighbourhood restaurants in our inner-city communities.

  Is the patio the new basement? The new back deck? 

Is the patio the new basement? The new back deck? 

  Will the next generation of Calgarians be so focused on going out to eat and drink versus eating at home.

Will the next generation of Calgarians be so focused on going out to eat and drink versus eating at home.

Playgrounds & Fitness

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The big mid-century backyards were often used as the children’s playground - two swings, a slide and sand box (maybe even a tree fort in a real tree).

No need for those $250,000+ mega community playgrounds.  

In the winter, someone on the block had a backyard ice rink that everyone used.  There was an elementary school within a 5 to 10-minute walk that provided the neighbourhood playground equipment and playing fields.  No need to duplicate school and community amenities. 

  Queen Elizabeth Elementary School playground is just one block away from the West Hillhurst Park playground. 

Queen Elizabeth Elementary School playground is just one block away from the West Hillhurst Park playground. 

Having a local fitness, cycling or yoga studio nearby was also not an issue 60 years ago. I don’t recall my parents or parents of my friends ever working out, doing yoga or wanting to cycle like a maniac to music. Similarly, the need for community fitness centres was non-existent, people were happy with an arena and curling rink nearby. 

  Tuesday morning yoga in the park with kids. You would never have seen this in the '60s. 

Tuesday morning yoga in the park with kids. You would never have seen this in the '60s. 

Besides, fitness for men 60 years ago was cutting the grass, gardening and doing odd jobs around the house. It was a time when the workshop was the man cave, a place where Dad could (and needed to) fix and build things.

It is what we now call “active living.” 

And the same for women. The daily tasks, like cooking, cleaning, canning and laundry (which meant taking the clothes outside to dry) was all the fitness they needed.  Hence the adage, “A women’s work is never done!” Especially when the average family was 6+ people. 

Will the current interest in paying to going to a gym continue or will it be a generational fad?  Will parents get tired of driving their kids all over the city for extracurricular activities?  

Will our mega regional recreation centers become a thing of the past as people return to playing on the street, family walks and playing in the neighbourhood park?   

  Helicopter Park in West Hillhurst is just one of hundreds of funky new neighbourhood playgrounds in Calgary.    Calgary has something like 1,200 city playgrounds for 185 neighbourhoods and that doesn't include school playgrounds. 

Helicopter Park in West Hillhurst is just one of hundreds of funky new neighbourhood playgrounds in Calgary.  Calgary has something like 1,200 city playgrounds for 185 neighbourhoods and that doesn't include school playgrounds. 

Shopping wasn’t a hobby

There was no need for lots of clothing shops in the mid 20thcentury. Have you seen the tiny closets in those mid-century houses! Moms often sewed dresses for themselves and their daughters. There was less shopping for kid’s clothes “hand-me-downs” came from family and friends. Less of a need for consignment and for thrift stores as well.  

Moms would also repair clothes (I wore a lot of pants with iron-on knee patches) and darn socks with holes in them rather than throw them out. Today’s online shopping is not that much different from the Eaton’s and Sears catalogue shopping in the 50s and 60s.  What is old is new again?

  For many the shopping mall is the new Main Street i.e. a place to stroll with friends and doing a little window shopping.

For many the shopping mall is the new Main Street i.e. a place to stroll with friends and doing a little window shopping.

  In the early 21st century, the shopping mall became a second living room with soft seating that often exceeds anything we have at home.

In the early 21st century, the shopping mall became a second living room with soft seating that often exceeds anything we have at home.

Saving vs Spending?

Will the next generation realize they could save a lot of money by adopting the home entertainment culture of the ‘50s and ‘60s? By my calculations, a coffee a day cost about $150/month, drinks and/or dinner once a week could cost another $150/month per person, so by entertaining at home you could easily save $250/month which if applied to a mortgage would make inner-city living more affordable.  

  Trendy cafes like this one in Banff Trail are popping up in every established neighbourhood.

Trendy cafes like this one in Banff Trail are popping up in every established neighbourhood.

Community Garden vs Backyard Garden

Will the next generation wake up and realize they could have their own garden, thereby saving significant dollars on buying pricey organic food at the farmers’ market?  

This is already starting to happen with Calgary’s plethora of community gardens (there are almost 200 community gardens in Calgary).

  A backyard vegetable garden in a mid century house in Parkdale. This garden has existed for decades, it is not a trendy new backyard garden. 

A backyard vegetable garden in a mid century house in Parkdale. This garden has existed for decades, it is not a trendy new backyard garden. 

  Parkdale community garden just across the alley from the house in the previous photo.

Parkdale community garden just across the alley from the house in the previous photo.

Death of the grocery store?

Is the mega grocery store destined for extinction, like the department store? soon to become extinct? Sylvain Charlebois, professor in food distribution and policy and associate dean at the College of Management and Economics, University of Guelph said back in 2014 that “the days of the typical grocery store are numbered.” Since then, online grocery store shopping in North America has grown significantly, US online grocery shopping is expected to grow from 7% of the market to 20% by 2025. Amazon’s takeover of Whole Foods in 2017 could well signal the beginning of the end for the mega grocery store. 

Link: Death of grocery store

Link: Why Canada is wary of online grocery shopping.  

  Urban grocery store in Bridgeland.

Urban grocery store in Bridgeland.

The same could be true for other bricks and mortar retailers. Department stores have been dying for decades,  Sears being the latest victim.  While some say the death of retail is premature. Warren Buffett says “that in 10 years, the retail industry will look nothing like it does today.” In May 2017, he sold all of his Walmart shares.  Who would bet against Buffett, one of the most successful and respected investors in the world since the 1960s? 

Link: Death of retail as we know it.

Will there be support for a traditional “main street” in the future? The City of Calgary’s planners are currently focused on how to create or enhance 24 traditional main streets in Calgary’s older communities.  Many of Calgary’s new urban villages are planned around an urban grocery store as its anchor.  

One has to wonder - are we planning for the future or the past? 

Link: City of Calgary Main Street Program

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Futurists?

Planners and politicians need to be futurists. They need to envision the future and build a city with a variety of different communities to meet the diverse and changing expectations of its citizens and market.  

Have we replaced the sea of cookie-cutter single-family houses with cookie-cutter town homes and condos?  

Will the master-planned communities being built today, meet the needs of Calgarians 20 years from now when they are fully built-out? 

  Brookfield Residential's Livingston is just one example of many new master planned communities that employs 21st century urban design principles for creating mixed-use neighbourhoods at the edge of the city.

Brookfield Residential's Livingston is just one example of many new master planned communities that employs 21st century urban design principles for creating mixed-use neighbourhoods at the edge of the city.

Last Word

Calgary’s inner-city communities are in fact much loved by those who live there today - as they were 50+ years ago. They have not become rundown and undesirable communities like in some cities.   They are an oasis for many Calgarians. Hence, the strong desire to preserve rather than develop them. 

Too much of today’s city building is about imitation - planners, developers and politicians borrowing ideas from other cities without understanding the unique nature of their city.  

Calgary is not Vancouver. Nor is it Toronto or Montreal.  And we are VERY different from European and US cities. 

Calgary’s inner-city communities may not require as much change as many planners think given the return to home delivery for food, clothing and other everyday needs. The UPS and FedEx trucks arrive on my street almost every day; often more than once.  Our everyday needs are being delivered to us, rather than us walking, cycling or driving to pick them up.  

Perhaps we should just let them evolve naturally based on economic, technological and market changes with a dash of good urban design. 

  A typical street of mid 20th century homes in West Hillhurst. 

A typical street of mid 20th century homes in West Hillhurst. 

  A typical street of new infill homes in West Hillhurst.  These two streets are literally side-by-side. 

A typical street of new infill homes in West Hillhurst.  These two streets are literally side-by-side. 

  19th Street NW is a good example of a mid 20th century main street evolving slowly into the 21st century.

19th Street NW is a good example of a mid 20th century main street evolving slowly into the 21st century.

  Marda Loop's 33rd & 34th Ave SW are both undergoing mega makeovers with new mixed-use buildings and condos.  

Marda Loop's 33rd & 34th Ave SW are both undergoing mega makeovers with new mixed-use buildings and condos.  

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. 

 

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  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

Urban Sprawl: Who wants to live way out here?

I really do need to get out more. Specifically, to the edges of the city, to see what is happening in Calgary’s new frontier.  Recently, I was reminded of this when driving some buddies (inner-city boys) out for a round at Canals of Delacour golf course, which meant we had to drive past the airport.  Who does that?

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Our immediate reaction as we passed the airport was to marvel at all of the development happening east of the airport.  After a bit of chatter, one buddy said “Who would want to live out here?” My response, “That is exactly what people said when Lakeview, Lake Bonavista and Dalhousie were built at the edge of the city 40+ years ago.”

He smiled and sheepishly admitted that when he moved to Charleswood in the early ‘60s, it too was treeless, there was no University of Calgary, no Brentwood Mall or LRT station and indeed, people asked him “Why do you want to live so far out?”  The other buddy agreed that it was the same for him when he moved to Calgary 40+ years ago and chose to live in Beddington before moving to the inner-city. 

When I pointed out people living in these new northeast communities have easy access to Stoney Trail, the airport, CrossIron Mills (shopping and cinema), Lowe’s Home Improvement and the New Horizon shopping centre opening this summer – and of course, Costco.  

I then hit them with buddy’s motto “If Costco doesn’t have it, I don’t need it,” which resulted in agreement all around.  I also reminded them that with the popularity of online shopping for groceries, clothing, electronics and other everyday needs, having stores nearby isn’t as important as it once was.

Both admitted living out here might not be that bad after all and that getting a bigger home by living further from downtown was one of the reasons they chose to live on the edge of the city when they moved to Calgary and had young families. One even said, “who needs to live near downtown.  I never go there anyway.” Ouch!

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Not your parent’s suburbs

However, what is different about these new suburbs, compared with those 40 or 50 years ago is they are not a sea of single-family homes on huge lots, but a diversity of housing options including, single-family homes, duplexes, row houses and mid-rise condos (4 to 6 storeys high). 

Two days later, when heading out to play another round at Canal at Delacour, (yes, I love the course) I decided to leave early to explore these new communities and see for myself what was happening. 

I was gobsmacked by Truman’s Orchard Sky project with its cluster of seven condo buildings totalling 423 new homes within walking distance of a school, park and pathway in the new community called Skyview Ranch.  I also saw what looked to be a large, 6 storey wood frame residential building nearby, as well as other four-story residential buildings along the main corridor.  While it might not be the Beltline or East Village, it is certainly not the low-density suburbs of the mid to late 20th century. 

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Name Game

It can all get a bit confusing when you read the marketing information and learn there is a new community in the northeast called Savanna that is actually in the community of Saddle Ridge.  Or, when there is both a Cornerstone and Cornerbrook community in the northeast. I think one might be within the boundaries of the other, but it wasn’t clear.  As if the naming of the streets wasn’t confusing enough with all of the street names looking the same, now the community names also overlap.   

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Last Word

It is not only at the northeast edge that Calgary’s condo invasion is happening. It is also in the southwest, southeast, west side and directly north up Centre Street.  A quick check with the City of Calgary and there are currently 23 condo construction sites in new communities creating 2,693 new homes for Calgarians. 

Condo living is not only just starter home for young Calgarians in the suburbs. It is a lifestyle option for people of all ages and backgrounds in in the 21st century.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the July 2018 edition of Condo Living Magazine. 

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

80% of Calgarians must live in the suburbs!

Everyday Tourist's Road Trip to the 'burbs!

Not Your Parent's Suburbs!

Do Homeowner/Resident Associations create two-tiered communities?

Are you confused by what the difference is between a Home Owners’ Association, Resident’s Association or a Community Association?  You aren’t alone.

  Arbour Lake, Calgary

Arbour Lake, Calgary

In Calgary we use the term HOA (Home Owners’ Association) and RA (Residents’ Association) almost interchangeably as both maintain green spaces and amenities established by a developer, have a volunteer board of directors and operate under the registered by-laws of a non-profit organization.

Often in Calgary we identify HOA for non-profits that mange the beautification of pathways and entrances in communities, while RAs manage a community "building" or "feature" amenity (i.e. lake or water park).

The board of each HOA/RAs sets the fees annually.  The fees can range from as little as $50 to about $880 (lake community) per year. These fees are mandatory so 100% of the homeowners have to participate or legal action is taken against non-compliant homeowners.  Homeowners who fail to pay their HOA/RAs fees can be sued.  Some also charge credit card rate interest fees (18%+) putting a homeowner experiencing hard times in a very difficult position.

Interestingly, there is no master list of how many RAs or HOAs there are in Calgary.  Nobody seems to know what the first one even was, but the best guess is Lake Bonavista in 1967.

Community Associations (CAs) differ from HOA/RAs in that they have no mandatory fees or membership.  They may or may not operate a building, but they do manage various year-round community activities and programs. They too have a volunteer Board of Directors and most of their activities are managed by volunteers.  There are over 200 Community Associations in Calgary, with the Federation of Calgary Communities (FCC) providing support.

I checked with Leslie Evans, Executive Director of the FCC to get more insights on how HOAs, RAs and CAs work - or don’t work - in Calgary.

  Yoga on the Lake? Lake Bonavista, Calgary (photo credit: carpediem.cd)

Yoga on the Lake? Lake Bonavista, Calgary (photo credit: carpediem.cd)

Q: Does an HOA create a two-tiered community system in Calgary?  

A: It depends! Sometimes the developer creates an HOA for a specific piece of land, while others might create an HOA/RA for an entire community they are building, whose boundaries might or might not align with the City’s community association boundary.  This causes confusion and can result in frustrations between HOA/RA and CAs.

When the relationship between the HOA/RA and CA is good, you have the best of both worlds. The HOA/RA's amenities combined with the CA's ability to provide social, recreational and educational activities creates a vibrant community.

However, the relationship is sometimes strained, or can vary year-to-year with changing board volunteers on both side.  It is most often strained because the HOA/RA is a "have organization" with funds and an amenity while the CA is often perceived as a "have not organization" with only a volunteer membership.  So, yes sometimes HOAs/RAs can create a two-tiered community.  

For example, in Tuscany, the developer for Tuscarora (a small sub-section of Tuscany) did not wish to contribute to the Tuscany HOA/RA so the homeowners of Tuscarora were not allowed access to the Tuscany community building or waterpark.  However, new home buyers didn’t realize this and it became a huge source of controversy. So, Tuscany’s HOA/RA board decided if Tuscarora residents wanted to belong they could, however, they would have to pay a premium fee and have (at their expense) a caveat added to their land title forever committing that home to be a member of the Tuscany HOA/RA.  This definitely creates a “have” and “have not” situation.

Q: How are renters affected by HOA/RAs?

A: When renters rent in HOA/RA communities they may or may not have access to the HOA amenities.  Some have policies that restrict use to the "homeowner." Some "homeowners" don't provide their key to the renter so they have no access to community amenities that their neighbours have.  HOAs, in many ways, are private homeowner clubs.

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Q: What are the good things about an HOA/RA? 

A: HOA/RA amenities are in place when residents "buy" so the water park, lake or hall can be enjoyed as soon as they move in. HOAs are financially sustainable assuming the board manages it well, as have a steady source of revenue to carry out the mandate.

On the other hand, Community Association buildings often take decades to build because residents have to fundraise for the building, negotiate land from the City and struggle to operate the building with no mandatory fees.

HOA/RAs are usually heavily supported by the developer until build out – allowing time for volunteer boards to learn what their role is.  In addition, the funds usually cover a paid staff person or two which really adds continuity to the organization.  

As well, HOA/RA’s amenities are built on private land; this means there is still another 10% of the development allocated to parks, schools and a CA site within the community.  

HOA amenities are not "gifts" from the developer. Rather, they are mortgaged amenities to the HOA homeowners i.e. homeowners pay for the entire development, maintenance and life cycle of these amenities through the annual fee system. 

Q: What are the not-so-good things about an HOA/RAs? 

A: They are confusing.  Multiple HOA/RAs within the same CA causes mass confusion. Developers don't always work together especially when multiple landowners develop the land side-by-side. 

For example, in West Springs/Cougar Ridge, there is one CA with but more than 25 HOAs.  There are 25 boards all trying to enhance the entranceways and green spaces, which is an incredible waste of volunteer time that takes away from other possible community building activities. 

The volunteers are also potentially paying more for maintenance contracts because they are contracting small jobs without collaborating together.  What is worse is the CA has no idea how to contact them to try to collaborate on community building activities.  That’s because there is no HOA/RA registry.  Lawyers doing individual homeowner title transfers but do not know who to call.  They often call the Federation of Calgary Communities because they think we can help, but we can’t.  Some lawyers and real estate agents don’t even know the difference between a CA and HOA/RA.

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Q: Do all new communities have HOA fees?

A: This is definitely the trend, but not all new communities have HOA fees. It is the developer’s decision.  The City likes HOAs because they don’t have to maintain the green spaces and entranceways.

Last Word

Jason Palacsko, VP of Calgary Communities for Brookfield Residential, one of North America’s largest home builders, agrees with Evans that while HOA/RA can be confusing, they are important in fostering a sense of community and thus why all of Brookfield’s new communities in Calgary have a HOA/RA.  He strongly feels “HOA/RAs create places where people play, connect and experience belonging which is important in a world where people are feeling increasingly isolated.”

So, there you have it.  I hope this clears up the confusion.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's on June 16, 2018.

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

Community Associations & Urban Development

Not All Community Associations Are Created Equa

Urban Living: Importance of BIAs

University District: A Community For All Ages

It is amazing how successful James Robertson, CEO and President West Campus Development Trust has been quarterbacking the development of University District (vacant land west of University of Calgary, next to Alberta Children’s Hospital) community in the midst of a major economic downturn.  

It is impressive how he has developed a game plan totally different from East Village and Currie, Calgary’s other inner-city, master-planned urban villages. 

  University District site

University District site

  University District site construction

University District site construction

  Early concept rendering of pedestrian streetscape. 

Early concept rendering of pedestrian streetscape. 

Touchdown! 

He has completed “passes” to several condo developers for touchdowns, early in the game, just like East Village and Currie.  But he has thrown touchdown passes much earlier in the game with the players like Save On Foods (grocery store), Brenda Strafford Foundation’s Cambridge Manor (seniors housing) and most recently, the ALT Hotel. 

How he convinced Save On Foods to be part of the first quarter of the game is remarkable. Usually, a grocery store wants to see a critical mass of residents before they commit. Given University District is only minutes (by car) from three Safeway stores (Market Mall, Montgomery and Brentwood) and a Calgary Co-op (Brentwood), this was a long bomb completion. 

Construction has begun of the 38,000 square foot Save On Foods as part of a mixed 288-unit residential development.  The building - to include a coffee shop, restaurant, pet store and wine merchant - will be the anchor for University District’s main street. 

It is scheduled to open in 2020 at approximately the same time as many of the University District’s first residents move into their homes. In comparison, residents in East Village had to wait several years before they got their grocery store and to get their own retail/restaurant, while Currie residents are still waiting.

 Save On Foods residential development concept rendering. Currently under construction.

Save On Foods residential development concept rendering. Currently under construction.

 All Ages Welcomed

While most master-planned urban villages start with mid to high-end condos as a means of creating a market for signing-up the retail, shopping and services players. University District committed to housing for seniors (not known to be big spenders) at the outset.  

Construction of Cambridge Manor, a 240-unit assisted and long-term seniors’ care facility has begun. It is set to also open in 2020.  Developed by the West Campus Development Trust in partnership with Brenda Strafford Foundation, the goal is to engage the entire University of Calgary campus in a multi-disciplinary approach to aging in place.  How innovative and mindful is that?

By design, Noble (by Truman Homes) and Ivy (by Brookfield Residential), University District’s first two residential projects include larger townhomes as a means of attracting families to live and stay living in the district as their families “grow and shrink.” Robertson has heard and responded to the criticism that Calgary’s inner city condo development lacks larger units more suitable to the needs of families.  

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  Concept rendering for Alt Hotel / Residential development under construction.

Concept rendering for Alt Hotel / Residential development under construction.

  University District Discovery Centre

University District Discovery Centre

 Still from "MyUniversityDistrict" concept video (photo credit: West Campus Development Trust) 

Still from "MyUniversityDistrict" concept video (photo credit: West Campus Development Trust) 

 Still from "MyUniversityDistrict" concept video (photo credit: West Campus Development Trust) 

Still from "MyUniversityDistrict" concept video (photo credit: West Campus Development Trust) 

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Parks

Work is also currently underway on University District’s three-acre Central Park led by Denver-based Civitas and Calgary’s Gibbs Gage Architects, with an anticipated opening in 2021.  But beforehand, the two-acre North Pond and dog park will open this summer

 Still from "MyUniversityDistrict" concept video (photo credit: West Campus Development Trust) 

Still from "MyUniversityDistrict" concept video (photo credit: West Campus Development Trust) 

 Still from "MyUniversityDistrict" concept video (photo credit: West Campus Development Trust) 

Still from "MyUniversityDistrict" concept video (photo credit: West Campus Development Trust) 

Last Word

Robertson believes the reason he has been successful in attracting developers in a recession is the “mindful integration of different lifestyles, combined with a remarkable location and community-based planning which has resulted in a complete community. The strong multi-generational community vision is what our development partners have been attracted to. Creating multi-generational homes offers major benefits for residents of all ages and might be the housing shift Calgary needs as a changing city.”

Robertson respects “the city we live in was built by seniors. It's important to us that there's a place for them in University District.”

While the game isn’t over yet, Robertson and his team are off to a fast start.

Link: MyUniversityDistrict Video 

Note: An edited version of this blog appeared in the May edition of Condo Living Magazine. 

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Delacour: Ghost Town turns Golf Town?

I bet many Calgarians and tourists have whizzed by the Delacour corner at the intersection of secondary Highways #564 and #791 and wondered if the frontier-looking, well-aged tiny wooden General Store building is really still open as the sign says. Or what’s with the Girl Guide building. I know I have. 

  The turnoff to the Delacour Store is well signed, but I have no idea what is the history of Broadway Avenue sign. 

The turnoff to the Delacour Store is well signed, but I have no idea what is the history of Broadway Avenue sign. 

For the past 10+ years, I have played a couple of rounds at the Canal at Delacour golf course across the street from the General Store/Girl Guide site, but have ever gone in. Until this year.

I decided recently to leave a bit early for my tee time and check it out. I am happy to report, “Yes, the Delacour General Store is still open” and as you would expect it offers a little of everything. And ”yes,” the Girl Guide building is still used for meetings and a few other functions each year. 

Upon entering the General Store, I was greeted enthusiastically by the new owners and given a little history and tour of the building.  I was then encouraged to wander the site which was a unique walk back in time.  Indeed, it was as if time has stood still on this site.  The old baseball backstop had me hearing kids screaming with joy as they played ball a hundred years ago. I wish I had brought a bat and ball. I also wondered how long will still be here.

  Yep, the store looks like something out of a Hollywood western movie from the '50s. 

Yep, the store looks like something out of a Hollywood western movie from the '50s. 

  The porch has these lovely tables for anyone wanting to sit and have a coffee or perhaps a Coke and sandwich and enjoy the big prairie sky. 

The porch has these lovely tables for anyone wanting to sit and have a coffee or perhaps a Coke and sandwich and enjoy the big prairie sky. 

  The inside is bright and cheerful.  This area use to the post office space. 

The inside is bright and cheerful.  This area use to the post office space. 

  Recent renovations converted the living quarters at the back into store space. 

Recent renovations converted the living quarters at the back into store space. 

  You can get the staples - milk, eggs, meat, juice and pop. 

You can get the staples - milk, eggs, meat, juice and pop. 

Delacour’s History

The Delacour was named after the foreman of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway construction crew. It was originally believed Delacour was a French name meaning “of the heart,” however; recently this has come into question as Mr. DeLacour was from Denmark.

The line became part of the Canadian National Railway in 1914, the same year Delacour was incorporated as a hamlet. The first passenger train went through on February 28, 1914, the same year a small store was established in the community. Yes, the same General Store that is still there today. The store also became the local post office in 1915.

As the railway moved west, Delacour was built around one of many prairie grain elevators connecting the agricultural community to the railroad. At the same time a canal was built to allowed agriculture to thrive.  

Though the grain elevator has long since been demolished, an active community is still centred around the Delacour Community Hal in the hamlet of Delacour. The Community Club was incorporated by early residents in 1928, followed by the Agricultural Society - both are still thriving today.

  The Girl Guide House is still in good shape and used today. 

The Girl Guide House is still in good shape and used today. 

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  The old baseball diamond looks like it hasn't been used in many many years. 

The old baseball diamond looks like it hasn't been used in many many years. 

Delacour’s Future

Today, Delacour has a few old homes as well as some large acreage homes located along the railway tracks and a community center just down the road from the General Store.  However, plans to sell residential lots on the golf course could be the catalyst to convert what looks like a ghost town (to the casual observer) into a thriving golf town. 

The Canal at Delacour, which officially opened for play in 2005, is one of Alberta’s premier championship golf courses. This link style course is one of the first to open in the spring and last to close in the fall.  The greens are fast and challenging and the course is always in good shape.  It offers perhaps the best golf for the money in southern Alberta. 

With Delacour’s easy access to the Calgary International Airport, Stoney Trail and CrossIron Mills Mall, Costco, Walmart and Lowe’s Home Improvement, as well as the Horizon Mall set to open this summer, it could easily become a mecca for Southern Alberta retirees. 

  The Canal at Delacour Golf Course is perhaps the best links golf course in Western Canada and one of the top courses in Alberta.  

The Canal at Delacour Golf Course is perhaps the best links golf course in Western Canada and one of the top courses in Alberta.  

  Concept plans for the proposed Fairways at Delacour residential development. 

Concept plans for the proposed Fairways at Delacour residential development. 

Last Word

Next time you are out and about (on foot, on bike or in a vehicle) and think “we should stop and check out this out,” don’t just think about it, DO IT! You will be glad you did. 

  You gotta like the Hurst gear shifter that has been converted into a door handle for the store.   

You gotta like the Hurst gear shifter that has been converted into a door handle for the store.  

Not All Community Associations Are Equal

In my March column on the role Community Associations (CA) play in shaping our City, I promised to follow up with a piece about how not all CAs are created equal.  To do this, I chatted with former City of Calgary Councillor, Brian Pincott.

Pincott served as Ward 11 Councillor from Oct 2007 to Oct 2017.  During that 10-year period, he worked with 19 CAs on a variety of contentious issues including the River Park/Sandy Beach/Britannia Slopes redevelopment, SW Ring Road and Southwest BRT (SWBRT), as well as smaller projects like parks and playground improvements. 

  A new fence dividing River Park into an off-leash and on-leash area was part of the controversial renovations to the park. 

A new fence dividing River Park into an off-leash and on-leash area was part of the controversial renovations to the park. 

What are the challenges facing Community Associations in Calgary today? 

The biggest challenge is the unrealistic expectation placed on CAs by the City to do community programming, building maintenance, comment on development issues and fundraise. In addition, community members expect CAs to fight for their community and often their individual personal interests. Residents often forget the board and committee members are volunteers.   

A second challenge is the uncertainty of their role as a CA. They often make comments on a new development or policy not specifically related to the project or planning issues. The result: their comments are not taken into consideration, which then causes some citizens to say “why bother?” and creates a cynicism towards the City.

What are the challenges facing City Council and Administration in working with CAs?

The key challenge Councillors and Administration face is to ascertain whether or not the CA’s comments and positions truly represent the entire community. Do the 10 people on the CA’s board really understand and represent the 7,000 (more or less) people in the community, given they are often elected by a mere handful of people who show up at the AGM?  While they are called CAs, sometimes they represent the opinion of fewer than 50 people! 

A second challenge is determining the competency and knowledge brought to the table by volunteers. While in some cases, the individuals are very professional and informed with a view to the “common good”; in other cases, the individuals are only interested in their personal agenda and special interests.

Because of all the uncertainty as to who is actually at the table with you, who they represent and how they form their opinions, it is impossible to treat all Community Associations equally. This is where the Councillor’s knowledge and relationship with each CA is critical in providing clarity at Council meetings. 

  SW BRT route. The dedicated transitway (red) is the controversial section.  (photo credit: City of Calgary)

SW BRT route. The dedicated transitway (red) is the controversial section.  (photo credit: City of Calgary)

What are your thoughts on Calgary’s "community engagement" process?

Community engagement is a bit of a punching bag for everyone. If a small group of people want to disrupt it, they will and they can. It doesn’t matter how good it is. We see that in project after project, the SWBRT being the latest.

Over my 10 years on Council I feel we tried everything when it came to engagement and there were always a few people who said “they weren’t engaged.” The redevelopment of Britannia Slopes/Sandy Beach/River Park is a great example.

This regional park was identified as needing a lot of work. So, the Parks department identified the stakeholders, i.e. CAs, dog walkers and environmental groups and asked them to appoint people to a steering committee. Over a course of a year, this group identified problems within the park and came up with solutions. They reported back to the groups and a couple of open houses were held.

When the final plan was then presented at an open house, all hell broke loose. People loved the park just the way it was and were upset any changes were being considered. Then a huge letter writing campaign to Council ensued which resulted in more consultation at a cost of another $250,000.

This time, we used every tool available: online, in person, town halls, flyers and newsletters - the works. In the end, 2,000 people participated in the engagement. When it came to Council, very few people came to speak and many said the engagement process was the model for the future! Those who were unhappy with the plan had participated, so while they didn’t get what they wanted, they at least understood the compromises made to accommodate all users. It was approved unanimously by Council.

Being it was a $6 million project, it took a couple of years to get the funding. When construction started, “all hell broke loose” again. People were outraged they hadn’t been consulted, they knew nothing about it.

Same thing with the SWBRT. We had nine open houses over five years, newspaper stories, community newsletters, updates from the Councillor, yet people said they didn’t know about it.  I think the underlying issue is the people who demand more consultation are not actually interested in engagement. They are interested in killing the project by any means necessary. The noise and vitriol they produce drives away those who wish to learn more and want to truly participate.

Unfortunately, there is a loud minority in every community, individuals who are generally not positive people and they hinder engagement for everyone. 

  The City of Calgary and developers are both looking at different ways to inform and engage the public about proposed developments.  This was near the sidewalk and bus stop at the Kensington Legion. On the other side of the information booth was information on the proposed development.  

The City of Calgary and developers are both looking at different ways to inform and engage the public about proposed developments.  This was near the sidewalk and bus stop at the Kensington Legion. On the other side of the information booth was information on the proposed development. 

What has been your most positive experience working with a CA?

I love Haysboro! Their CA is working to build a community for everyone. When Haysboro came into Ward 11 in 2010 after some boundary changes, the CA was mostly “fighting city hall!” They were opposed to any changes in their community. But, over a couple of years, Board Members retired and new people came onto the board who were truly interested in understanding community needs and finding ways to engage neighbours with each other.

The CA looked for ideas to achieve exactly that. So, they had parades and other events, built community gardens, natural parks and promoted cycling - all with the goal of building community pride.

They worked to understand where the community came from and where it could be going in the context of a growing and changing city. They studied things like the Municipal Development Plan so they could direct the change, rather than fight it. They have been successful on every front.

The community is welcoming more families who are more active and want more participation in the community. And developers are willing to come and talk to them about vision and how they can be a part of it. Today, the Haysboro CA is advocating for increased pedestrian and cycling connectivity, more transit – and sustainability embedded into everything. They are doing all this for their kids, and their kids’ kids.

They truly are an inspiration!
  Open House to share information on the proposed development for Currie Barracks.  There are hundreds of these open houses each year in Calgary's inner city communities. 

Open House to share information on the proposed development for Currie Barracks.  There are hundreds of these open houses each year in Calgary's inner city communities. 

How does role of Calgary’s CA differ from that of other Canadian cities?

Calgary has more CAs than anywhere else in Canada and our system is a foreign idea to many who move here.  Calgary gives more responsibility to CAs than most other cities. We expect them to comment on Development Permits, maintain their buildings, do community needs assessments and business plans. All this with little financial support from the City.

It is a lot to place on volunteers. 
  Calgary Real Estate Board's map of Calgary's communities. (photo credit: CREB)

Calgary Real Estate Board's map of Calgary's communities. (photo credit: CREB)

What advice for Calgarians or CAs when it comes to the role of citizens in reshaping their communities for the 21st century?  

Think about how you build community. Neighbourhood change is inevitable. I like to remind people downtown Calgary and the Beltline used to be mostly single family residential communities.

Think about how to make things better for people of all ages, abilities,  and backgrounds in the community; not just you and your friends. Build on the community’s existing assets and embrace opportunities to try new things.

Look at what other communities are doing - not only in Calgary - but around the world. If there are things you would like to add to your community, then find a way to do so.

Communities can’t thrive without leadership, open mindedness and honest communication. You need to foster your leadership, honesty and communication they don’t just magically happen.

What other thoughts would you like to share with Calgarians re CAs?

Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 9.53.12 PM.png

The membership of a CA Board or Planning Committee can change in a matter of months, which can then significantly change their position on development. 

Just look at the recent upheaval in Lakeview where the CA radically moved from a thoughtful participatory process to one of building walls. It is shocking; good people are resigning.

The direction and position a CA takes on an issue often depends on who shows up to the meeting as communities are made up of people with a diversity of ideas on what is “good” for their community. Consequently a community’s position can change dramatically from one meeting to the next depending on who shows up.

Last Word

Indeed, the diametrically opposed ideas of Calgarians on what makes a good city/community is what makes it challenging for the City of Calgary Administration and Council to make the tough decisions needed to redevelop our city for the future.

Note: An edited version of this blog titled "It's A Lot To Place On Volunteers" was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on Saturday May 5, 2018.

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

Community Associations & Urban Development

Community Engagement: The Community's Perspective

Calgary: The Dog Park Capital of North America