Balcony Fun?

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

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

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

 Berlin

Berlin

 Berlin

Berlin

 Calgary

Calgary

 Halifax

Halifax

 Halifax

Halifax

 Montreal

Montreal

Theory vs Reality

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

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

 Florence

Florence

 Berlin

Berlin

 Berlin

Berlin

Private vs Common Area 

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

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

 Berlin

Berlin

 Berlin

Berlin

 Berlin (same building as above)

Berlin (same building as above)

 Berlin

Berlin

 Berlin

Berlin

So, what makes for a good balcony? 

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

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

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

  • Located away from noisy equipment and garbage areas.

 Calgary

Calgary

Did You know… 

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

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

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

 Atlanta

Atlanta

Types of balconies 

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

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

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

 Calgary

Calgary

 Calgary

Calgary

 Calgary

Calgary

 Calgary

Calgary

Last Word

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

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

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

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

Calgary Condos: A Pop Of Colour

Condo Design: Lobby Appeal

New Condos: Hidden/Invisible Density

 

 

Brad Lamb: Big On Calgary's Beltline Beat 

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

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

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

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

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

Like Toronto’s King West Neighbourhood 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Architecture & Urban Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about Orchard?

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

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

It would sure help his Orchard project become viable again. 

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

Reader Response:

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

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

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

Calgary’s 10th Ave Renaissance

Calgary’s Rail Trail

Beautifying The Beltline

 

 

Condo Living: Millennials, In Condos, Drinking Wine 

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

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

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

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

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

Work, Live, Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_6776.JPG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

  Living the good life in the Beltline…

Living the good life in the Beltline…

Canada: A Country Of Prosaic Cities - Toronto!

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

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

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

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

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

Jan Who?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toronto the capital of the Ice Kingdom  

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

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

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

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

  Toronto Caribana Parade (photo credit: Caribana Toronto)

Toronto Caribana Parade (photo credit: Caribana Toronto)

Hinterland 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Destination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuclear Attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Futuristic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escape Tunnels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Joie de vivre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

City Travel: Canada vs USA

Canada: The Foundations of its future


 








Is Calgary going to the dogs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Dog Parks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I love dog parks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  It is even busy in the winter....

It is even busy in the winter....

Are they crazy?

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word 

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

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

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

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

Dog Parks Foster A Sense Of Community 

Calgary: The Dog Park Capital of North America

Public Art: Rocks? Keys? Dog & Bone?

Bow River Promenade vs Downtown Penetrator?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bow River Promenade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Name?

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

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

Urban Living Renaissance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Chinatown offers some affordable condos along the RiverWalk.

Chinatown offers some affordable condos along the RiverWalk.

It Almost Didn't Happen? 

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

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

  Illustration from 1964 Downtown Master Plan.

Illustration from 1964 Downtown Master Plan.

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

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

Screen Shot 2018-07-17 at 3.58.04 PM.png

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

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

Last Word

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

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

It is amazing what can happen over a few decades.  

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

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

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

East Village: The Lust Of The New Playground

Downtown Calgary Power Hour

Calgary: A tale of three pedestrian bridges

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?

Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 10.32.50 PM.png

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!

Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 10.30.30 PM.png

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. 

Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 10.31.48 PM.png

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.   

Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 10.31.28 PM.png

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!

Calgary: At The Forefront Of North America's Urban Densification Revolution?

For 50+ years Calgarians have watched numerous master-planned communities get built at the city’s edge. Only recently, have we begun seeing them pop up our inner-city neighbourhoods

 The Bridges is master-planned community created a new heart for Bridgeland/Riverside one of Calgary's oldest communities.  It has become a haven for young families with its access to major parks, schools, downtown and its own main street.

The Bridges is master-planned community created a new heart for Bridgeland/Riverside one of Calgary's oldest communities.  It has become a haven for young families with its access to major parks, schools, downtown and its own main street.

First there was The Bridges on the old General Hospital site in Bridgeland/Riverside in 2005, followed by the development of East Village, where its first condo was completed in 2015. Both projects were City of Calgary-led initiatives and both are in the City Centre.

  The N3 condo in East Village built with not parking sold out in a weekend.  It is part of the mega makeover of East Village that will become home for 12,000 people by 2025.

The N3 condo in East Village built with not parking sold out in a weekend.  It is part of the mega makeover of East Village that will become home for 12,000 people by 2025.

Today, there are three master-planned, urban villages (low, mid and high rise condos) reshaping Calgary’s older suburbs – Currie by Canada Lands Corporation (CLC) on the old Canadian Forces Base: University District by West Campus Development Trust on vacant University of Calgary lands; and West District by Truman Homes on the western edge of the city ,in the community of Wentworth.

What is a master-planned urban village?

It is a community with a comprehensive land use plan that focuses on predominately mixed-use, multi-family buildings with significant office, retail, restaurant, recreational and other uses where most of the residents’ everyday needs are within walking distance.  They also offer accessibility to enhanced transit, bike lanes, multi-use pathways and a central park. Urban villages are often part of, or next to, a major employment centre allowing residents to walk, cycle or take transit to work.

Currie

Currie, a 400-acre mega infill project that includes Garrison Woods and Garrison Green, will transform the historic Canada Forces Base that straddled Crowchild Trail at Richard Road/Flanders Avenue into a city within a city.

Currie’s 15 mews (i.e. side yards between buildings won’t be dead space but activated with small cafes, shops and bistros) when added to the street retail, restaurants and urban grocery store, will make Currie’s town center a pedestrians’ paradise.  Currie will also offer the most diverse housing types of any new Calgary urban village, from estate homes to high-rise residential towers, from townhomes to mid-rise condos, all within walking distance to 23 acres of parks and plazas

Currie is within walking distance to Mount Royal University and Lincoln Park Business campus. Ultimately, the SW BRT and several existing bus routes will provide residents with several transit options. Cyclists will enjoy the Quesnay Wood Drive dedicated cycle lanes.  

A strategic partnership between CLC and Embassy Bosa will see the later build approximately 2,500 condo homes and the majority of Currie’s retail in 2019.

Currie received the Charter Award for Neighbourhood, District and Corridor by the Chicago-based Congress of New Urbanism for its application of new urbanism principles.

  Artist's rendering of one of the 15 mews that will make Currie a pedestrian paradise. 

Artist's rendering of one of the 15 mews that will make Currie a pedestrian paradise. 

  Artist's rendering of Currie's Main Street.  

Artist's rendering of Currie's Main Street.  

University District

University District (UD) is a new inner-city community surrounding the Alberta Children’s Hospital.  Unlike other master-planned communities where the land is sold to developers who then build the homes, UD land will be developed based on a 99-year prepaid land lease, based on the successful UBC Properties Trust  model in Vancouver.

UD’s townhomes and mid-rise residential buildings, will be designed to appeal to families, seniors, young professionals and empty nesters.  Already under construction are townhomes by Brookfield (Ivy) and Truman (Noble). Construction begins later this year on Truman’s Maple condo for independent seniors’ living and Brenda Strafford Foundation’s Cambridge Manor, an assisted living and long-term care facility. As well, Avi Urban launched its August condo project in March. Just over 1,000 residential units will be under construction by fall of 2018, with the first residents moving in beginning late 2018.

Also under construction is Gracorp’s Rhapsody, a six-storey mixed-use building with a Save-On-Foods grocery store on the main level and residential above. Rhapsody will anchor the nine-block main street designed to create a “Kensington-like” pedestrian experience.

University District will become the heart and soul of Calgary’s second largest employment hub that includes University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre, Alberta Children’s’ Hospital, Market Mall and University Research Park.

UD is a LEED ND Platinum certified community, the first in Alberta and the largest in Canada. 

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Screen Shot 2018-06-16 at 4.16.49 PM.png

West District

IMG_4611.JPG

While Currie and University District have government affiliations, West District is a legacy project for Truman Homes a private Calgary developer.  The inspiration for West District was the human-scale, walkable neighbourhoods of Portland’s Pearl District and Vancouver’s False Creek.

West District will be a mid-rise community with a diversity of mixed-use residential and commercial buildings from 6 to 9 storeys (aka human scale.)  Led by Calgary’s CivicWorks Planning + Design, it will be a model for “smarter growth” showcasing how walkable, dense and diverse communities can be achieved without high rises.

The 7-block long main street, will not only integrate shops, bistros and cafes, with office, financial, recreation and medical hubs, but also enhanced sidewalks and a dedicated bike lane to maximize pedestrian and cycling accessibility.

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 12.22.02 PM.png

Central Park, its 8-acre public space will include a 500-seat amphitheater, skate park, skating rink, spray park, basketball court, playground, dog park and a large amenity/event building will be a year-round, all ages urban playground.

West District won Calgary’s 2015 Mayor’s Urban Design Award for City Edge Development. 

  West District's Central Park also features a major water feature. 

West District's Central Park also features a major water feature. 

  West District's skate park and basketball courts is part of Central Park.

West District's skate park and basketball courts is part of Central Park.

  Model of West District "main street" with retail at ground level and separate cycling lanes in the West District sales centre. 

Model of West District "main street" with retail at ground level and separate cycling lanes in the West District sales centre. 

Last Word

The biggest challenge facing North American cities today is how to reshape their older residential dominated, auto-centric suburbs into mixed-use, multi-modal (driving, transit, cycling and walking) 21st century communities.  

In November 2017, I blogged about why I think Calgary is the infill capital of North America when it comes to inner-city single-family, duplex and row housing.

Link: Infill Capital of North America: Calgary vs Nashville

Currie, University District, West District and their two forerunners - East Village and The Bridges, as well as projects like Quarry Park, SETON, Medicine Hill and Greenwich - put Calgary at the forefront of North America’s current urban densification revolution.

  SETON by Brookfield Residential is a mega new 300-acre urban centre under construction at the southeast edge of Calgary.  It will include 1.5M sf of office space, 1M sf of retail, 6,000 to 7,000 new home (towns and condos), South Health Campus, high school and largest YMCA in the world.

SETON by Brookfield Residential is a mega new 300-acre urban centre under construction at the southeast edge of Calgary.  It will include 1.5M sf of office space, 1M sf of retail, 6,000 to 7,000 new home (towns and condos), South Health Campus, high school and largest YMCA in the world.

  Trinity Hills at Canada Olympic Park by Trinity includes 670,000sf retail, 125,000sf office and 2,355 homes (towns and condos) is currently under construction.

Trinity Hills at Canada Olympic Park by Trinity includes 670,000sf retail, 125,000sf office and 2,355 homes (towns and condos) is currently under construction.

  Greenwich by Melcor is under construction across the street from Medicine Hill. It includes 200,000sf office, 120,000sf of retail and 1,200 townhomes and low-rise condos. 

Greenwich by Melcor is under construction across the street from Medicine Hill. It includes 200,000sf office, 120,000sf of retail and 1,200 townhomes and low-rise condos. 

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's May 2018 edition of Condo Xtra. 

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

Currie: Calgary's newest historic district

West District: A model mid-rise community!

University District: My final resting place?

 

 

Downtown Living Is Cooler Than You Think!

Downtown Calgary ‘flies under the radar” for most Calgarians when is comes to being a place to live.  However, that is not true for the 9,000 people who live in what the City of Calgary calls the “Downtown Commercial Core” (i.e. from 3rd St SE to 9th St SW and from 9th Ave to 4th Ave SW.

  Anthem Properties' Waterfront project one of several new luxury condo projects built over the past 10+ years in downtown Calgary along the south shore of the Bow River. 

Anthem Properties' Waterfront project one of several new luxury condo projects built over the past 10+ years in downtown Calgary along the south shore of the Bow River. 

  It doesn't get any nicer than strolling along the Eau Claire Promenade which is part of the Bow River Pathway that extends on both side of the river from one end of downtown to the other . 

It doesn't get any nicer than strolling along the Eau Claire Promenade which is part of the Bow River Pathway that extends on both side of the river from one end of downtown to the other

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Downtown vs Beltline

While the Beltline, Bridgeland, Inglewood and Kensington get all the attention as Calgary’s urban living hot spots, when you combine Downtown West End, Commercial Core, Downtown East Village (the City’s official names for these three communities), Eau Claire and Chinatown (together they are roughly the same geographical size as the Beltline) there are over 18,000 people living downtown vs. Beltline’s 21,357 and Hillhurst/Sunnyside’s 10,345). 

While downtown's shiny office towers get all the attention – good and bad – downtown (using the broader boundaries) is definitely a cool place to live.

Here’s why!

  Olympic Plaza is a great spot to sit and watch the world go by or chat with a friend.  Downtown has some amazing public spaces. 

Olympic Plaza is a great spot to sit and watch the world go by or chat with a friend.  Downtown has some amazing public spaces. 

  Hotchkiss Gardens is also a fun place to sit and chat with friends.

Hotchkiss Gardens is also a fun place to sit and chat with friends.

  Chinatown is a   fun place to shop for groceries.

Chinatown is a fun place to shop for groceries.

  Shaw Millennium Park provides not only a unique view of downtown, but also unique recreational and entertainment experiences. 

Shaw Millennium Park provides not only a unique view of downtown, but also unique recreational and entertainment experiences. 

Festivals/Events

There is a festival or major event in downtown almost every weekend. Everything from the High Performance Rodeo to major international festivals (Children, Film, Folk and SLED) Downtown also hosts Calgary’s largest single day event - The Calgary Stampede Parade the first Friday every July. 

Major outdoor concerts and music festivals also happen at Shaw Millennium Park and Fort Calgary Park every summer.

  The Calgary International Folk Festival is just one of the many festivals that take place on Prince's Island. 

The Calgary International Folk Festival is just one of the many festivals that take place on Prince's Island. 

Shops

An amazing diversity of shopping opportunities exists in Downtown – department stores (Hudson’s Bay, Simons and Holt Renfrew) to the uber chic Core and grassroots Chinatown.

In addition there are shop at Bankers Hall, Scotia Centre and Bow Valley Square.  Calgary’s downtown shopping not only surpasses anything Portland, Nashville or Austin have, but also rivals Calgary’s Chinook Centre (one of Canada’s top malls).

There are also off-the-beaten path shops like Map World with its incredible collection of wall maps, globes, travel and topographical maps.  Or, if you are into fly-fishing, Hanson’s Fishing Outfitters in the Grain Exchange building has everything you might need. Bonus: you can walk from Hanson’s to fish in the Bow River in just a few minutes.  How cool is that?

  The Core is an amazing shopping experience with 3 floors of shops, 4th floor food court and links to shopping at Holt Renfrew, Hudson's Bay, Simons and Bankers Hall. Imagine having this in your backyard!

The Core is an amazing shopping experience with 3 floors of shops, 4th floor food court and links to shopping at Holt Renfrew, Hudson's Bay, Simons and Bankers Hall. Imagine having this in your backyard!

 Holt Renfew offers an upscale shopping experience. 

Holt Renfew offers an upscale shopping experience. 

  Power hour on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Power hour on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Cafe Culture

Downtown Calgary is blessed with an amazing array of coffeehouses. Alforno Café and Bakery is arguably Calgary’s coolest café. Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters has two locations Simmons Building and on Stephen Avenue.  Calgary based, Good Earth Café also has two locations Eau Claire Market and 7th Avenue at 5th Street. Caffe Artigiano has two locations along Barclay Mall. Calgary’s Monogram Coffee can be found in Fifth Avenue Place.  

Downtown also has a very unique Starbucks in Eighth Avenue Place with its  minimalist open design with long communal tables rather than individual small tables for two and four. 

  Simmons building is a popular meeting spot on the weekends as it is right on the Riverwalk which is part of the Bow River pathway system.

Simmons building is a popular meeting spot on the weekends as it is right on the Riverwalk which is part of the Bow River pathway system.

  Downtown is full of fun surprises like these bike cafes.  How cool is that?

Downtown is full of fun surprises like these bike cafes.  How cool is that?

Restaurants

Downtown Calgary offers both high and lowbrow dining.  It includes four signature Calgary restaurants, the rustic River Café, classic Teatros, Murietta’s West Coast Bar & Grill, and Sky 360, the revolving restaurant at the top of the Calgary Tower.  The new kid on the block is Charbar in the Simmons Building, its roof-top patio offers spectacular views of the Bow River and RiverWalk.

There is a kaleidoscope of ethnic restaurants downtown, Anatolia (Turkish), Atlas (Persian), Jonas (Hungarian), Pure Contemporary Vietnamese Kitchen + Bar to name just four.  And of course, there is no shortage of Asian restaurants in Chinatown. 

If you love Alberta beef, downtown offers five signature steakhouses – Buchanan’s, Caesar’s, Hy’s, The Keg and Saltlik.  Buchanan’s Chop House is known not only for food, but for its its selection of more than 300 malt whiskeys from around the world.

The Fairmont Palliser offers a themed afternoon tea by reservation.  The theme at the time of this blog posting was a Mad Hatter Tea Party that included Tweeledum Tweedeldee Yuzu tarts and Queen of Hearts red velvet cupcakes – very cool.

John Gilchrist, Calgary’s renowned food and restaurant critic has called downtown’s Stephen Avenue Walk one of the best restaurant rows in Canada. 

  The Guild on Stephen Avenue Walk brings the cooking to the street.

The Guild on Stephen Avenue Walk brings the cooking to the street.

  Stephen Avenue is chock-a-block full of patios.

Stephen Avenue is chock-a-block full of patios.

  Charbar's roof top patio overs great views of the Bow River and downtown skyline.

Charbar's roof top patio overs great views of the Bow River and downtown skyline.

Art/Architecture

There area few places in Canada let alone Calgary that can match downtown for its combination of architecture and public art all within a few blocks of each other.  From the historic sandstone buildings (old City Hall and McDougall Centre) to the glittering glass office towers (Bow Tower, Eighth Avenue Place, Nexen Tower and 505 7th Avenue) to the three iconic bridges (Peace, King and Centre Street) and the National Music Centre. 

Coming soon are two new architectural gems – the new Calgary Public Library and Telus Sky office/residential tower. The Library was designed by internationally renowned architectural firm, Snohetta from Oslo while Telus Sky’s was designed by the esteemed Bjarke Ingels Group from Copenhagen. 

Downtown has literally hundreds of artworks along its streets, in its parks and plazas and along its pathways.  You could easily stroll around downtown all say enjoying the art - from the Famous Five tea party at Olympic Plaza to the Wonderland on the Bow Tower plaza to the Conversation on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Did you know that there are artworks in almost every downtown office lobby?  The Eighth Avenue Place lobby includes works of renowned Canadian painters Jean Paul Riopelle and Jack Shadbolt.  There are also some fun contemporary paintings in relatively new Calgary Centre office tower.

Downtown Calgary is one huge public art gallery waiting to be discovered.

 The Chinese Community Centre is a downtown hidden gem.

The Chinese Community Centre is a downtown hidden gem.

  I always smile when I flaneur past Sadko & Kabuki by Sorrel Etrog.  Public art like this adds a nice element of fun and colour to downtown living. 

I always smile when I flaneur past Sadko & Kabuki by Sorrel Etrog.  Public art like this adds a nice element of fun and colour to downtown living. 

  Calgary Tower and Scotia Centre take on a Salvador Dali-like metamorphosis when reflected in the glass facade of another building. 

Calgary Tower and Scotia Centre take on a Salvador Dali-like metamorphosis when reflected in the glass facade of another building. 

  Tea Time in downtown takes on a different meaning at the Famous Five sculpture.

Tea Time in downtown takes on a different meaning at the Famous Five sculpture.

  Downtown's urbanscape, a rich collage of public art, heritage and modern architecture, makes for a very pedestrian-friendly experience. 

Downtown's urbanscape, a rich collage of public art, heritage and modern architecture, makes for a very pedestrian-friendly experience. 

  The lobbies of most downtown office buildings are like mini art galleries.  

The lobbies of most downtown office buildings are like mini art galleries.  

Parks/Plazas/Pathways

Calgary’s downtown is also blessed with some of the best public spaces of any city its size and age in North America.  Any city would be hard pressed to match Prince’s Island (one of the best festival sites in Canada) and St. Patrick’s Island parks.

Add Shaw Millennium Park and Fort Calgary Park to the mix and you have four major downtown urban parks. Let’s not forget about Century (soon to get a mega makeover), Devonian and Hotchkiss Gardens, as well as James Short, McDougall and Sein Lok Parks. Impressive!

Downtown also boasts Eau Claire and Olympic Plaza, both with wadding pools in the summer, with the latter becoming a skating rink in the winter.

As for pathways, downtown offers easy access to people of all ages wanting to walk, run, board, blade or bike along the Bow River pathways.  In addition, there is the a-mazing 20 km +15 elevated walkway.

  St. Patrick's Island is a special place for families. 

St. Patrick's Island is a special place for families. 

  The Eau Claire wading pool is also popular for young families. 

The Eau Claire wading pool is also popular for young families. 

  The nature walk at the east end of Prince's Island is lovely oasis as well as educational. 

The nature walk at the east end of Prince's Island is lovely oasis as well as educational. 

  Downtown is a place where you can lie back and relax.

Downtown is a place where you can lie back and relax.

  The +15 walkway is the perfect place to bump into someone you haven't seen for years.  

The +15 walkway is the perfect place to bump into someone you haven't seen for years.  

Fitness/Recreation

The Eau Claire Y has been a very popular family fitness center for decades.  Its proximity to the Eau Claire Promenade and Bow River pathway system has resulted in creating a busy year-round outdoor running track.

There is also Shaw Millennium Park's mega skateboard park and river surfing on the Bow River under the Louise Bridge. 

Downtown also has several private fitness centres – Bankers Hall, Bow Valley Club and two Good Life Fitness Centres (including one in the historic 1931 Bank of Montreal building with its gold leaf ceiling on Stephen Avenue).

  River surfing is become more and more popular on the Bow River.

River surfing is become more and more popular on the Bow River.

  The skateboard part has three separate areas - beginners, intermediate and experts. It is one of the largest free public skate parks in the world.

The skateboard part has three separate areas - beginners, intermediate and experts. It is one of the largest free public skate parks in the world.

  Downtown is a great place to walk, run, cycle or just sit.

Downtown is a great place to walk, run, cycle or just sit.

Culture/Nightlife

Downtown Calgary is home to Arts Commons with its 3,200 seats in five performing art spaces, as well as the Theatre Junction Grand, Palace Theatre, Lunchbox Theatre, Vertigo Theatre (two spaces). If you stretch the boundaries a bit, there is also the Pumphouse Theatre way on the west side.  It is also home to the Globe Theatre and Cineplex Odeon Eau Claire for movie buffs. 

Live music venues include The Palomino Smokehouse and Dickens Pub, as well as three churches – Knox United, Anglican Church of the Redeemer and Central United Church.

Downtown also is home to The Glenbow Museum, National Music Centre, Fort Calgary and Contemporary Calgary, as well as several private art galleries.

Culture vultures love living downtown as theatre, concerts and exhibitions are all within easy walking distance.

  Downtown offers a variety of nightlife options. 

Downtown offers a variety of nightlife options. 

Pubs/Beer/Spirits

The James Joyce pub on Stephen Avenue is downtown’s quintessential pub, followed closely by Dickens, Fionn MacCool’s, Garage Sports Bar and Unicorn. In the summer the patios along Stephen Avenue Walk create one long beer garden.

Downtown is home to Calgary Co-op’s World of Whiskey Store with its 850 different varieties of whiskey.  It is located on the +15 level at 333-5th Avenue SW.  In East Village’s N3 condo, the Brewer’s Apprentice offers up 48 craft brews. Not only can you sample a few, but you can take home a freshly poured growler or crowler of your favourites.

I recently heard Caesar’s Lounge described as nearest thing to time travel in Calgary – think Mad Men. This family-owned Calgary institution hasn’t changed since it opened in 1972.  It is known for its “Emperor” size cocktails, i.e. 3oz of your favourite spirits.

  Downtown's East Village is undergoing a mega makeover designed to create a vibrant urban village for 10,000+ people. 

Downtown's East Village is undergoing a mega makeover designed to create a vibrant urban village for 10,000+ people. 

Fun/Funky/Quirky (FFQ) Factor

For some, POW (Parade of Wonders) is the best FFQ event in Calgary.  Every spring as part of Calgary Expo, hundreds of Calgarians of all ages get dressed up in their favourite fantasy character and parade from Eau Claire to Olympic Plaza.  It is literally a sea of vibrant colours and characters.

For others, Calgary’s Gay Pride Parade each August ranks as the best FFQ event in the City. It attracts thousands of colourful participants and tens of thousands of spectators. 

Downtown Calgary’s “Power Hour” (term coined by a former downtown Hudson’s Bay department store manager in the mid ‘90s for the thousands of downtown workers who power shop at noon hour) is like a parade as tens of thousands downtown workers parade up and down Stephen Avenue.

It doesn’t get much quirkier than having an authentic bush plane hanging from the ceiling in the lobby of the Suncor Centre.  Or does it? The Udderly Art Pasture on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade is definitely FFQ.  Here you will find a herd (10) of life-size cows with names like Chew-Choo or Moony Trader who have been put out to pasture.

  Everybody loves a parade...this is the annual POW Parade.

Everybody loves a parade...this is the annual POW Parade.

Last Word

Downtown Calgary is a hidden gem when it comes to urban living and it is only going to get better with several new residential developments in East Village, Telus Sky and the new West Village towers under construction. 

I can’t wait to see the “Northern Lights” light show on the façade of Telus Sky developed by Canadian artist, Douglas Coupland.  I have been advocating a Northern Lights inspired light show for a downtown office building for over 20 years.

  The new Vogue condo is located right in heart of downtown's commercial core.

The new Vogue condo is located right in heart of downtown's commercial core.

 Cidex Group of Companies is currently constructing the first tower of their ambitious West Village Towers project designed by NORR's Calgary and Dubai offices. 

Cidex Group of Companies is currently constructing the first tower of their ambitious West Village Towers project designed by NORR's Calgary and Dubai offices. 

Note: This is the second in a series of blogs examining what makes Calgary’s City Centre neighbourhoods so cool.

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

Calgary's Downtown Power Hour

Downtown Calgary Glows With Fun

Downtown Calgary puts the PARK in parkades

Am I an urban densification hypocrite?

Yes I am a city building geek! Yes, I live in a detached 2,000 square foot home in an inner city community surrounded by detached homes, some old tiny cottage homes, but more and more by modern large infill homes some might call McMansions. 

  Large contemporary two and three storey infill homes are slowly replacing the mid-century bungalows in most of Calgary's inner-city communities. 

Large contemporary two and three storey infill homes are slowly replacing the mid-century bungalows in most of Calgary's inner-city communities. 

And, yes I have and will continue to champion the benefits of older communities like mine becoming more dense and diverse residential buildings and office buildings with commercial uses at street level along transit routes.

And I, like thousands of urban planners, politicians, developers and architects have been advocating for decades the need for North American cities like Calgary to add more density - usually in the form of 4 to 12+ storeys residential and office buildings along major roads and transit routes and old malls in established suburban communities.   And in some cases even higher than 12 storeys where it makes sense.

Meanwhile, I live in my relatively big house (only two of us have ever lived in it) with a front and back yard, two-car garage and still drive to most of my activities. For me, walking and cycling remains mostly a recreational not an everyday activity.  

Yes, I feel guilty about that too!  

  As well, infill developers are strategically identifying sites for more intense densification like this project near Crowchild Trail.   

As well, infill developers are strategically identifying sites for more intense densification like this project near Crowchild Trail.  

  Here is what the new condo with 45 new homes looks like today.  

Here is what the new condo with 45 new homes looks like today.  

  Another redesignation sign in West Hillhurst along Kensington Road at 19th St NW which has the potential to become a vibrant Main Street. 

Another redesignation sign in West Hillhurst along Kensington Road at 19th St NW which has the potential to become a vibrant Main Street. 

Am I a hypocrite….

Because I champion higher density development but live in a low-density home on a low-density street? 

I believe most City Council members in major North American cities (maybe excluding larger urbanized cities like New York City and San Francisco) in detached single-family homes on streets without any major condo buildings. I have no empirical evidence for this.

Tell me I am wrong!

I also believe most senior urban planners (both private and public sector) live in single-family homes outside the City Centre.

Again, show me I am wrong.

When I sat on the Calgary Planning Commission, no members lived in condos or in dense communities, yet we were often approving major densification projects the local community was protesting.  I believe the same is true for today’s Planning Commission. 

Again, while I have no empirical data, I have informally gathered data over the past 20+ years by simply asking urban advocates where they live. Rarely have they said “in a high-rise condo in the city centre” or “in a mid-rise condo in an older community.”

Is it a case of urban densificationists saying, “do as we say, not as we do?”

Charles Olfert, a Saskatoon architect says “Ouch! Guilty as charged. But in fairness, we moved here in 1983 when there really wasn’t an alternative to the suburbs. Our main concerns were schools and an accessible home for our daughter. I am now working on the very early stages of two, new, substantial, mixed-use, inter generational, infill housing developments that could be places we might want to move to within the next 4-8 years. It helps ease the conscience. I think you are right. Most of our 40 city hall planning staff live in suburbs. Very few bike. However, our new mayor actually lives in a core neighborhood.” 

I expect Olfert's situation is similar to that of the majority of Calgarians.  I recently chatted  with my millennial dental hygienist who lives in the Beltline in the Calla condo near the Lougheed House, but looks forward to moving to a house to raise a family as does her twin sister. 

I know, not empirical data - keep reading.

  New infill condo on 17th Ave SW is creeping west from Crowchild to Sarcee Trail.  However, this is not new as there are several residential buildings taller than four storeys from the 70s and 80s. 

New infill condo on 17th Ave SW is creeping west from Crowchild to Sarcee Trail.  However, this is not new as there are several residential buildings taller than four storeys from the 70s and 80s. 

Why do people hate density?

Most people hate tall buildings and would prefer to live in a detached home or perhaps a small complex of homes with both  front and back yards.  This time I do have some empirical evidence. In October 2017, Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation (CMHC) surveyed 2,507 Canadians who intended to buy a new home in the next two years. 

When asked what type of home buyers were planning to buy, “single detached homes are preferred by the majority, especially by current owners where 74% expected to buy a detached home, Apartments and condos were second, followed by semi-detached houses including duplexes and townhomes.”  

And, Calgary had the lowest percentage of buyers interested in buying an apartment condo of any of Canada’s major cities.”

  The four colourful condo towers at the Brentwood LRT near the Co-op grocery store, and within walking distance to the University of Calgary were opposed by neighbours. 

The four colourful condo towers at the Brentwood LRT near the Co-op grocery store, and within walking distance to the University of Calgary were opposed by neighbours. 

Human Scale

There is in fact lots of data, documenting that when it comes to urban living humans like what is called “human scale” buildings commonly thought of as being no taller than nine or 10 storeys – think Paris or Barcelona.   Yet, it is rare a new Calgary condo project (even when it is under 10 storeys) proposed in older community next to single-family homes isn’t greeted by neighbours kicking and screaming about how this is going to ruin their neighbourhood. 

Four examples are, St. John’s on Tenth and Ezra on Riley Park (both in Kensington), Legion (in West Hillhurst) and AVLI (in Inglewood).  Eventually, all four got approved but not without a fight.  Currently, two new battles are about to erupt - The Grid (in Inglewood) and Carlisle Group’s Glendale project. A recent visit to Hamilton and the same was happening that city and in Burlington.

The density advocates just roll their eyes, when they hear people’s concerns about parking, shadows, increased traffic and crime, or that the proposed development is out of context with the scale of the other nearby buildings.

While many densification advocates dismiss the neighbours’ concerns as a case of NIMBYism, I am beginning to wonder if it is the densificationists (planners, politicians and developers) who are the NIMBYist in that they are prepared to propose, approve and build high-density developments in locations as long as they are not in their backyards.

Indeed, I could be accused of this as I publicly supported the conversion of the single story Legion building in West Hillhurst to be redeveloped to accommodate an 8-storey condo and 4-storey office development in my neighborhood that was adamantly opposed by many in my community.

To me redevelopment of the Legion site made perfect sense. It is along a major bus route and within walking and cycling distance to downtown and just blocks to the Bow River pathway.  There is an emerging main street along 19th Street NW and it is close to schools and a recreation center.  Sounds like a recipe for an urban living node if I ever saw one.

But, full disclosure, it was 10 blocks away from my home so not exactly in my backyard. 

  Along 20th Ave NW from 14th St to 19th St you can see how the scale of housing evolves from mid 20th century to early 21st century.  Note the height of the 3 storey condo building isn't any higher than the infill duplex.  

Along 20th Ave NW from 14th St to 19th St you can see how the scale of housing evolves from mid 20th century to early 21st century.  Note the height of the 3 storey condo building isn't any higher than the infill duplex.  

  Human scale condo on 19th St NW add to the potential of creating a vibrant main street with neighbourhood shops at street level along 19th St NW.

Human scale condo on 19th St NW add to the potential of creating a vibrant main street with neighbourhood shops at street level along 19th St NW.

Experts love the mid-rise…

Jennifer Keesmaat, Canada’s current urban planning guru and former chief planner for the City of Toronto has been  advocating the advantages of mid-rise buildings for infill projects along major roads and transit routes for many years. As has Brent Toderian, former Manager of Centre City Planning + Design in Calgary, Director of Planning, City of Vancouver and now an international urban development consultant. (FYI…when Toderian lived in Calgary, his home was n a low rise multi-family building in Inglewood; I don’t believe he even owned a car. In fact, I believe he took is first child home from the hospital on a city bus in Vancouver. He is no hypocrite!)

The rationale: mid-rise buildings have the ability to synergistically connect with existing suburban development as their “human scale” integrates better with single-family homes while still creating the density needed to support better transit service. Mid-rise buildings also accommodate larger tenants like grocery stores, family restaurants, recreation, health and office buildings which complement the smaller boutique shops, cafes and bistros.

Never the less in reality, few Canadians welcome large infill condo buildings near their house. Just ask Margaret Atwood who opposed a proposed modest eight-storey, 16-unit condo building near her home in 2017. 

  Mid-rise development is changing the face of Kensington's 10th St. NW with retail and restaurants at street level and residents above. 

Mid-rise development is changing the face of Kensington's 10th St. NW with retail and restaurants at street level and residents above. 

Densification: Revolution or Evolution

Indeed, the biggest challenge facing urban planners in North American today is trying to figure out how to densify and diversify their late 20th century communities that are a sea of detached homes and little else.  The urban density missionaries tell us these communities are not sustainable in the 21st century.   However, there are hundreds of millions of people who love their 20th century suburb just the way it is.

As long as the Canadian dream is still to own a home with a front and back yard on a street with other single-family homes, the urban densification battle will continue. Every new infill condo will be a battle between the locals and the outsiders (developers and urban planners).   Some see urban densification as an urban revolutionary process, while others see it as the natural evolution of any city as it grows and adapts to new economics, markets and attitudes.

  5th Avenue at 12th Street NW illustrating how older homes are being replace by mid-rise condos.  5th Ave also has the potential to become an attractive cycling route, with parks, schools, community and recreation centers nearby.

5th Avenue at 12th Street NW illustrating how older homes are being replace by mid-rise condos.  5th Ave also has the potential to become an attractive cycling route, with parks, schools, community and recreation centers nearby.

  Townhomes at the base of mid and highrise condos create a transition from low to mid density.

Townhomes at the base of mid and highrise condos create a transition from low to mid density.

  In Britannia the mid-rise mixed-use building steps down next to the single-family home to create an attractive transition.

In Britannia the mid-rise mixed-use building steps down next to the single-family home to create an attractive transition.

Last Word

I am not sure who will win the war, but in the meantime I will enjoy my detached home, two car garage, front and backyard gardens, great neighbours and the park across the street for probably another decade and then decide where I want to live.

Perhaps I should spend less time on Twitter reading and responding to the incestuous tweets back and forth from the urban densification missionaries that make me feel like a hypocrite.  

Richard White aka The Hypocrite

  My front yard.

My front yard.

Beltline: Calgary's hipster/nester community?

“What is a hipster/nester community?” It is a community that appeals to both the hipsters and empty nesters.

“Over the past 10+ years Calgary’s Beltline has very quietly evolved into one of North America’s best urban villages.  I don’t expect that “flying under the radar status” to last much longer” says David Bell of Urban Systems’ Vancouver office. He adds, “Steps away from work but also a ton of cool cultural, entertainment and foodie venues in a mix of old and new buildings, the Beltline is a lot like Vancouver’s Yaletown or Seattle’s Belltown. For workers and residents in the Beltline, being able to walk or cycle to things rather than being stuck in traffic is also a huge bonus.”

  Just another weekend afternoon in Tomkins Park. 

Just another weekend afternoon in Tomkins Park. 

FYI

The Beltline stretches from 14th St SW to the Elbow River, from 10th Avenue S to 17th Ave S, including all of Stampede Park. It is the amalgamation of two of Calgary’s oldest communities - Connaught and Victoria Park, which happened in 2003.  The Beltline name comes from the old streetcar route that used to wind through the district linking 17th Avenue S to downtown.

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  Condos come in all shapes and sizes in the Beltline.

Condos come in all shapes and sizes in the Beltline.

Here are six reasons why Calgary’s Beltline deserves to be on the list of North America’s top hipster/nester communities:  

#1 Pubs & Clubs

In today’s world, no community is hip without having several places to enjoy local and international craft beer, as well as curated cocktails.  Beltline is home to dozens of neighbourhood pubs from traditional ones like Bottlescrew Bills (home of “Around the World in 80 Beers” passport), Ship & Anchor (best street patio in Calgary) and Rose & Crown to the new kids on the block – CRAFT Beer Market, Commonwealth Bar and Stage, Beer Revolution, 1410 World Bier Haus and Home and Away. Looking for local brews Beltliners have Brewsters, Trolley 5 Brewpub and Last Best Brewing & Distillery.

As for crafted cocktails, the Beltline is home to the Raw Bar, in the funky Hotel Arts, Model Milk (a popular “meet-up” spot), with the new kid on the block being Run Pig Run Urban Eatery & Bar. 

  Yes there are a lot of things happening in the Beltline. 

Yes there are a lot of things happening in the Beltline. 

  Life is good in the Beltline.

Life is good in the Beltline.

#2 Café /Patio Culture

Whether you are a hipster or a nester, you likely need your daily caffeine fix.  The Beltline’s independent cafes could give Vancouver or Seattle a run for their beans.

Café Beano, the Beltline’s “go-to” café for decades, has been joined by places like Analog, Bumpy’s, Kawa Espresso Bar, Sucre Patisserie & Café, Boxcar Board Game Café and Café Rosso. 

  Beltline's street life happens year-round.

Beltline's street life happens year-round.

  Patio fun on 17th Ave.

Patio fun on 17th Ave.

#3 Parks

  An evening stroll....

An evening stroll....

There was once a time, not that long ago, the Beltline was lacking when it came to parks. This is not longer true. 

It is home to Calgary’s oldest and prettiest park – Central Memorial Park built in 1912, with its fountains, gardens, bistro and library.  Speaking of pretty parks, the Lougheed Park with the Beaulieu Gardens is a hidden gem along the pastoral tree-canopied 13th Avenue.

Other parks include Thomson Family Park, not to be confused with the Beltline’s Tomkins Park, Barb Scott Park with its illuminated Chinook Arc sculpture, Humpty Hollow Park and Connaught Park (with Calgary’s only urban dog park).  There is also Haultain Park with is busy playground (who says families don’t live downtown), tennis courts and soccer field.

And of course, there is Stampede Park, home to festivals year round, everything from the Calgary Expo, one of North America’s best cosplay festivals to the Tattoo and Arts Festival and of course that little cowboy festival.  

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  Funky new residential towers, next to Barb Scott Park. 

Funky new residential towers, next to Barb Scott Park. 

#4 FFQ Factor

Beltline has a plethora of fun, funky and quirky places to eat.  It doesn’t get more fun than the Yellow Door with its Alice in Wonderland-like décor to the steel barrel booths at REGRUB (makes a mean burger and shake). For funky dining there is Tubby Dog (know to some as Tubby Arcade) and Nandor’s, which is like walking into a 3D street art mural with its two-storey graffiti mural on one wall. As for quirky eating, nothing beats brunch at the Mermaid Inn in the mellow yellow Danish Canadian Club building.

Fine dining options include Bonterra (best back alley patio, in Calgary), Vintage Chophouse and La Chaumiere.

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The first annual Beltline Bonspiel at the Lougheed House took place on February 25th 2017.  It was the first outdoor bonspiel in Calgary in over 100 years. The winners are awarded the Brewer’s Trophy Cup that dates back to 1915, but had not been awarded to any team since 1966. The 2018 bonspiel took place on the Family Day weekend and the CBC team took home the trophy for the second year in a row.

In September 2017, the City of Calgary and merchants on 17th Avenue piloted a Backyard Alley party concept where parking and loading areas were cleverly converted into outdoor patios and game areas.  A huge success, plans are underway to expand the alley parties in 2018.

If you are into music, Beltline has Broken City, Commonwealth Bar and Stage, The Hifi Club and Mikey’s on 12th.  You know you are in a hipster/nester community when there is a monthly Flamenco Jam (its held the last Saturday of the month at Café Koi).

  Beltline is a fun mix of the old and the new. 

Beltline is a fun mix of the old and the new. 

  Funky murals are popping up everywhere these days in the Beltline.

Funky murals are popping up everywhere these days in the Beltline.

  Calgary Expo at Stampede Park is fun for people of all ages.

Calgary Expo at Stampede Park is fun for people of all ages.

#5 Parkside Living

The Beltine has a wonderful mix of old and new condos, from one of Calgary architects Jeremy Sturgess’ earliest works - Connaught Gardens - to Lamb Development’s 6th and Tenth condo. It also has some of the few real loft condos in Calgary in the old warehouses along 10th Avenue.

Beltline developers have taken full advantage of the neighbourhood parks to offer luxury parkside living opportunities. Currently, four new residential towers are under construction or recently completed next to parks – The Guardian at Stampede Park, The Royal at Tomkins Park, Park Pointe at Central Memorial Park and Underwood Tower at Haultain Park.

  The new Thomson Family Park has picnic tables, playground, playing field and ice rink in the winter.

The new Thomson Family Park has picnic tables, playground, playing field and ice rink in the winter.

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#6 Grocery Stores Galore

In addition to two traditional grocery stores (Safeway and Calgary Co-op), the Beltline is home to Community Natural Foods, Calgary’s signature organic food store. It is also home to Sunterra Calgary’s home grown urban format grocery store.

The Beltline will also soon be home to Calgary’s first Urban Fare grocer in The Royal, Embassy Bosa’s mixed-use development that will also include a Canadian Tire.

And let’s not forget the Kalamata Grocery Store - Calgary’s “go to” place for olives.

  Best selection of olives in town, a bit of old world charm. 

Best selection of olives in town, a bit of old world charm. 

  Beltline is home to Calgary's next generation of entrepreneurs. 

Beltline is home to Calgary's next generation of entrepreneurs. 

Last Word

While most neighbourhoods struggle to have one Main Street the Beltline five – 17th Avenue SW, 10th & 11th Ave (design district) First Street SW, Fourth St SW and 11th Street SW. 

Indeed, today’s Beltline is now on the right side of the tracks.  

Note: An edited version of this blog titled "Beltline Bridges Past and New" was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on Saturday March 3, 2018. 

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

Discover Calgary's Secret Heritage Walk

Calgary: Beautifying The Beltline

11th St SW is Calgary's Green Street

 

 

Calgary: West District: A model mid-rise community!

An urban oasis in a sea of suburbia has begun construction on Calgary’s west side in the community of West Springs.  Currently called West District, it will probably be renamed, hopefully to something like Broadcast Hill, in recognition the area’s history as home to CFCN, Canada’s first independent television station.

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West District is a very ambitious project by Truman, a family-owned Calgary developer and builder who, to date, has invested over $100 million in assembling the land, developing the master plan and managing the complex approval process.

It has taken 5+ years to get to the construction stage which included a four-phase community engagement process (April to November 2014) which resulted in 1,200+ ideas from the community that were then evaluated and where feasible included in the first draft of the master plan. Truman then participated in a City-led engagement process to complete the final plan Council approved in late 2017.

When completed West District will have approximately 2,500 new homes (98% of them condos or townhomes) for 4,500 people. As well, 825,000 square feet of office/institutional and 300,000 square feet of retail will employ approximately 3,600 people. 

It is the perfect balance of live, work and play.

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Perfect Park

West District’s crown jewel will be its unnamed $15.5 million central park (my vote goes for Buck Shot Park, in recognition of the popular CFCN children’s show Buck Shot enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of children from 1967 to 1997) that took over a year to get approved in principle.

Why so long? Because it the first park of its kind in Canada that incorporates an integrated storm water pond with a public park (normally storm water ponds have no public access). 

The 8.4-acre park will also include a 500-seat amphitheatre, skate park, skating rink, spray park, basketball court, playground, great lawn, pathways and a large amenity/event building – think East Village’s Simmons Building on steroids. 

The park will be a hybrid between Olympic Plaza and St. Patrick’s Island Park.

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Active Main Street

It will also have a seven-block long main street lined with shops at street level and seven floors of residences above. The feel will be one of a modern Paris streetscape. In fact, nearly 80% of the buildings in West District will be between 5 and 8-storeys high, creating one of the highest densities of mid-rise buildings in Canada. The master plan doesn’t include any highrises  (above 12-storeys).

Another unique feature of West District’s Main Street will be its “activity centre street,” classification which includes a wide sidewalk for pedestrians and patios, a dedicated bike lane and two traffic lanes each way.  In the future, it will be home to a transit hub connecting the community to nearby amenities and LRT. 

There will be no surface parking lots in West District.

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Rise of the Mid-rise

Jennifer Keesmaat, Canada’s current urban planning guru and former chief planner for the City of Toronto has been advocating the advantages of mid-rise buildings for infill projects for years.  

The rationale - mid-rise buildings have the ability to synergistically connect with existing suburban development as their human scale integrates better with single-family homes while still creating the density needed to offer better transit service.

The mid-size buildings also accommodate larger tenants like, grocery stores, family restaurants, recreation, health and office buildings which complement the smaller boutique shops, cafes and bistros.

Diversity of scale is also important to creating a vibrant urban community.

Last Word

Truman, working with Calgary’s CivicWorks Planning + Design, are creating a model mid-rise community that could well serve as a model - on a smaller scale - near LRT stations across Calgary.

West District is the legacy project for George Trutina, President of Truman, who has devoted 30+ years building communities in Calgary, Chestermere and High River.

Trutina is a huge fan of the mid-rise and aspires to become Calgary’s “master of the mid-rise.”

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the March 2018 edition of CondoLiving Magazine. 

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

The Rise of the Mid-rise Condo

21st Century: The Century of the Condo

West District: Community Engagement Gone Wild

 

Calgary Condos: A Pop of Colour

Calgary’s suburban communities have often been critized by urbanists as brown, beige and boring. The same could be said for most of Calgary’s early City Centre condo towers like Westmount Place (1979), The Estate (1980) and Eau Claire 500 (1983) immediately come to mind.

It is true - the preponderance of dull and dreary brown and beige buildings makes for a very depressing urban landscape, especially during Calgary’s winter when the grass is brown, the streets are covered with gravel and the leafless trees are a brownish grey. 

Thank goodness for Calgary’s deep blue winter skies!

Fortunately at the turn of the 21st century, Calgary architects and developers began to experiment, integrating coloured glass and panels into their exterior designs.

 GEC Architecture utilized bold colours to create 

GEC Architecture utilized bold colours to create 

Pop of Colour

  The front entrance of Pixel looks like a hip New York  nightclub. 

The front entrance of Pixel looks like a hip New York  nightclub. 

Battistella Development’s Orange Lofts (2003), designed by Kasian Kennedy of Vancouver, used a bright orange-red, ladder-like element on the exterior of the building creating an eye-catching industrial look that began the rebirth of East Village. 

Colours (2008) employs a two-story, stain glass like “Art Wall” that encloses and attractively disguises the building’s above ground parkade.

Pixel (2014) not only sports bright yellow squares randomly wrapping around a few balconies but also has a very cool and colourful entrance that looks like a hip New York nightclub.

  Colours by Battistella has one of the best above-ground parkade designs I have ever seen. 

Colours by Battistella has one of the best above-ground parkade designs I have ever seen. 

Not to be outdone, Knightsbridge and Metropia engaged Calgary’s GEC architects to design four big, bold and colourful condos at the Brentwood LRT station from 2010 to 2014 named University City.  Each tower is distinguished by a brightly coloured angular plane that thrusts itself out of the middle of the each building.

  University City's colours remind me of neighbourhood playground. This playfulness will become more appropriate as the planned transit oriented develop next to the Brentwood LRT station creates an urban playground. 

University City's colours remind me of neighbourhood playground. This playfulness will become more appropriate as the planned transit oriented develop next to the Brentwood LRT station creates an urban playground. 

 The inspiration for University City's colours (red, yellow, green and orange) come from native prairie grasses, bushes and flowers.

The inspiration for University City's colours (red, yellow, green and orange) come from native prairie grasses, bushes and flowers.

 The I.D. Inglewood condo by Sarina Homes completed in 2016 at the east end of 9th Avenue SE, features three-storey high red balcony boxes that recall the red ladder of the Orange Lofts and perhaps the Alberta Children’s Hospital windows.

The I.D. Inglewood condo by Sarina Homes completed in 2016 at the east end of 9th Avenue SE, features three-storey high red balcony boxes that recall the red ladder of the Orange Lofts and perhaps the Alberta Children’s Hospital windows.

Marda Loop’s GLAS condo (2017) designed by Calgary’s Sturgess Architecture recently won a Honourable Mention at the Mayor’s 2017 Urban Design Awards. Its design is dominated by the two-storey high salmon-coloured window boxes that definitely recall the fun oversized windows of the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

  GLAS in Marda Loop

GLAS in Marda Loop

  Alberta Children's Hospital was designed with input from children.

Alberta Children's Hospital was designed with input from children.

  NORR architects employed bold coloured lines to give Auroa I both a vertical and horizontal thrust.   

NORR architects employed bold coloured lines to give Auroa I both a vertical and horizontal thrust.  

All these examples use pops of bold colour to create a more visually interesting exterior.  However, that is not always the case.

Colour Gone Wild?

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Built in 1999, the Point on the Bow condo in Eau Claire is a case in point. It was Calgary’s first condo to embrace the new coloured glass curtain wall technology that would become architects “go to” technology in the 21st century. 

The architects at Gibbs Gage covered almost the entire façade with emerald green glass that some thought harmonized nicely with the green hues of the Bow River at certain times of the year.

Others think it was a case of “colour gone wild.”

And then there is Attainable Homes’ Mount Pleasant 1740 condo designed by Calgary’s Sturgess Architecture and completed in 2016.  The façade is dominated by glowing (some say gaudy) neon greenish yellow panels that may have residents across the street wearing sunglasses. 

There is certainly nothing drab or boring its design. 

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Dare To Be Different

All the above examples employ the use of bold colours. However, Landmark-Qualex’s Mark on 10th (corner of 10th Ave and 8th St SW) dares to be different.  Designed by Vancouver’s Raffi architects, it incorporates panels of pastel blue, yellow and green hues randomly inserted into the opaque panels, creating a softer more feminine façade.  The uniqueness of the building is reinforced with the cantilevered yellow box at the top and the two-storey yellow glass greenhouse space with its bamboo tree growing at the 10th Ave entrance. 

The design is bold yet subtle.
  Mark on 10th utilizes several pastel colours with a strong vertical and horizontal lines to create a contemporary stain glass design that recalls the art of Piet Mondrian.  

Mark on 10th utilizes several pastel colours with a strong vertical and horizontal lines to create a contemporary stain glass design that recalls the art of Piet Mondrian. 

  Arriva completed on 2007, also utilized pastel colours to create a warm and inviting facade enhanced by the contrast between the curved balconies and the sharp edges of the windows and corners of the building.  There is a pleasing softness to this rounded design. 

Arriva completed on 2007, also utilized pastel colours to create a warm and inviting facade enhanced by the contrast between the curved balconies and the sharp edges of the windows and corners of the building.  There is a pleasing softness to this rounded design. 

Last Word

Incorporating colour and architecture is not as easy as one thinks. If not done right, it can quickly make a building tacky, gaudy and often becomes quickly dated. I have even heard from different sources that “architects are afraid of colour.”   

Perhaps that is why most timeless architecture has little colour.
  NORR architects edgy new University of Calgary residence creates a strange juxtaposition withthe beige residences from the 70s and 80s that surround it. 

NORR architects edgy new University of Calgary residence creates a strange juxtaposition withthe beige residences from the 70s and 80s that surround it. 

An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's Condo Xtra magazine, February, 2018, hence the focus on condos in this blog. 

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

The Art of Architecture & Colour

Calgary: What's Our Colour

Downtown Calgary: Black & White / Inside & Out

 

Stampede Park 2025

During the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, Nashville received a lot of attention for how its downtown came alive on game days as the Predators strived to win the Cup. On game nights, tens of thousands of fans who didn’t have game tickets flooded their downtown to watch the game on huge screens outside the arena. 

Nashville’s arena and the next door convention centre were thought by some to be the model for what a new arena and expanded convention centre could do for Calgary’s Stampede Park and City Centre.  

I had to see this for myself, so I planned to be in Nashville for the opening home game of the Predators’ 2017/18 season.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald (New Condos section), titled, "Nashville is wrong model for reviving Stampede Park" on Feb, 3, 2018. 

  Bridgestone Arena plaza that open up to Lower Broadway is empty most of the time even though it is also home to Nashville Tourist Information Centre. 

Bridgestone Arena plaza that open up to Lower Broadway is empty most of the time even though it is also home to Nashville Tourist Information Centre. 

What I found

I spent 12 days in Nashville, wandering the area around the arena and convention centre almost every day. 

What I found was the streets next to the arena and convention centre were dead except on game days.

  Gold Walk, Nashville Predator hockey players

Gold Walk, Nashville Predator hockey players

Only once did I find the arena plaza animated and that was for the annual “Gold Walk.” That’s when, before the first home game of the season, at around 4 pm the Predator players walk into the arena along a gold-coloured carpet.

Lined with fans and cheerleaders, it’s a bit like how football players enter the stadium before a game.  Though, it seemed a bit hokey to me, the few hundred Nashvillans in attendance clearly enjoyed it.

But, on opening game night, it was not hockey but the 50th anniversary celebration of the nearby Tootsie’s Orchard Lounge that drew thousands of people to the street outside the arena.  The block of Lower Broadway - across from the arena - was closed for an all night outdoor concert with free live music by the likes of Alberta’s own Terri Clark.

  There was no street animation at any time on three sides of the arena that are blank walls to the street. 

There was no street animation at any time on three sides of the arena that are blank walls to the street. 

For the entire 12 days, the cavernous 2-block long convention centre was empty, or at least it appeared so from the street. I did go in several times but nothing significant was happening and it certainly did nothing to create street vitality.

The Bridgestone all-purpose arena was built in 1996. However, only now, 20 years later are new private sector developments happening around it – Bridgestone and Pinnacle office towers, a mixed-use building (including the National Museum of African American Music) under construction, as well as numerous hotels.  

It is the new convention centre, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the growing popularity of the live music experience along Lower Broadway that are the real catalysts for new downtown developments like the impressive Omni hotel.

Nashville’s main street, Lower Broadway is a gritty street lined with of loud honky-tonk bars that offer free (no cover charge) live music from 10 am to 3 am. The bands play at the front the bars with the windows open so you can hear the music and see the musicians as you stroll along.  Think of it as one long street party 365 days of the year. 

Over the past decade or so, Nashville has done a good job of revitalizing its downtown by making it a major tourist attraction.  The key to the revitalization is the free music 365 days of the year (similar to Las Vegas’ gambling and shows). Note: The NISSAN stadium, home of the NFL Titans, is across the river from downtown sits vacant most of the time. Opened in 1999, to date there has been no other development around it. That should be a “red flag” to anyone thinking a downtown stadium is an automatic catalyst for other developments.

  The new convention centre looked lovely, but I never saw anyone use this patio during our 12 days stay, not did I see the centre full of people at any time.

The new convention centre looked lovely, but I never saw anyone use this patio during our 12 days stay, not did I see the centre full of people at any time.

Lessons Learned

As Calgary contemplates the development of an expanded BMO Centre and new arena at Stampede/Victoria Park, we need to be realistic with our expectations. Calgary’s ability to become a mega urban tourist attraction is limited by our accessibility to major tourist markets.  For example, there are 12 million people within a 2.5 hr. drive of Nashville and 250 million within a 2-hour flight. In comparison, Calgary has but a small fraction of that – one million within a 2.5 hr. drive and maybe 15 million within a 2.5-hour flight.

Our weather is also a factor.  In North America, the peak convention and trade show months are from September to June, which for Calgary means cool if not downright cold weather.  In Nashville, even in mid October it was warm enough for shorts - daytime and evenings.

And to be brutally honest, Calgary also lacks a unique sense of place or history essential to becoming a year-round urban tourist attraction.  Nashville is well known internationally as the birthplace of country music, which it has capitalized on to become a year-round music destination. Unfortunately, the Calgary Stampede, a 10-day event, doesn’t allow for a year-round tourist experience.

If Calgary is serious about becoming a tourist city, albeit not on the scale of Nashville, we need to transform Stampede Park into vibrant Sports Hospitality Entertainment District (SHED) for locals first and then tourists.

  Stampede Park has been trying to expand for over 20 years.  Will a new arena and expansion of the BMO Centre be the catalyst to create a vibrant year-round sports, entertainment, hospitality district (SHED)?

Stampede Park has been trying to expand for over 20 years.  Will a new arena and expansion of the BMO Centre be the catalyst to create a vibrant year-round sports, entertainment, hospitality district (SHED)?

  Does it really make sense to spend $500M+ to build a new arena just a block away that will have less seats for public and more seats for corporate fans?

Does it really make sense to spend $500M+ to build a new arena just a block away that will have less seats for public and more seats for corporate fans?

What is needed?

  • Expand the BMO Centre and repurpose the downtown Calgary TELUS Convention Center. We can’t afford to market and manage two similar facilities.
  • Create a vibrant Main Street (live music venues, pubs, restaurants, cinemas, cafes, shops) along 4th Street SE linking East Village, Victoria Park and Stampede Park. 
  • Build a new arena or an upgraded Saddledome and manage it as a major entertainment/events facility not just a sports centre.
  • Build a Stampede Museum/IMAX where tourists and visiting family and friends can enjoy the history and “spills and thrills” of the Stampede experience year-round.
  • Open up Stampede Park along Mcleod Trail so passers-by can see into the park. 
  • Open up the 17th Avenue entrance to vehicular traffic.
  • Remove guard huts at the entrances to allow free flowing traffic through the park 24/7
  The next evolution of Stampede Park will be from restricted gated-community to an open community where people are free to walk, cycle and drive through like any other community in Calgary. 

The next evolution of Stampede Park will be from restricted gated-community to an open community where people are free to walk, cycle and drive through like any other community in Calgary. 

Stampede Park: A place to live?

Given Calgary doesn’t have access to a large tourist market, the key to a vibrant Stampede Park SHED will be to surround it with thousands of condos that are attractive and affordable to Calgarians of all ages and means. 

Stampede Park must become the front yard, back yard and outdoor living room for thousands of Calgarians living in East Village, Victoria Park, Erlton, Inglewood and Ramsay.  It must become a year-round urban playground.

We need residential projects like Lamb’s The Orchard (485 units), Anthem’s Crosstown (874 units + grocery store) at Erlton Station and Cidex’s HAT@Elbow River (1,200 units) on the Elbow River Casino site to happen sooner rather than later.

  Anthem Properties has plans to build four condo towers next to Stampede Park and the Erlton LRT station in the future.  Stampede Park would be their playground. 

Anthem Properties has plans to build four condo towers next to Stampede Park and the Erlton LRT station in the future.  Stampede Park would be their playground. 

  Lamb Corporation has plans for two towers along 11th Avenue and 5th St SE. 

Lamb Corporation has plans for two towers along 11th Avenue and 5th St SE. 

  This is a conceptual plan developed by Sturgess Architects for the redevelopment of the land next to Erlton Station with the Anthem towers included.

This is a conceptual plan developed by Sturgess Architects for the redevelopment of the land next to Erlton Station with the Anthem towers included.

  Remington Developments owns the land south of the CPR tracks that was at one time earmarked for the mega Railtown development that would have included office, condos, shops, LRT and high speed train station.  

Remington Developments owns the land south of the CPR tracks that was at one time earmarked for the mega Railtown development that would have included office, condos, shops, LRT and high speed train station.  

Last Word

Calgary will be hosting 25,000 International Rotarian Convention attendees in 2025.  What a great opportunity to showcase Calgary’s new 21st century Stampede Park as a year-round tourist destination to the delegates.

There’s no time to waste. The Stampede Board, Mayor, Council, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation and Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation must begin working quickly to develop an exciting share vision for Stampede Park.

We MUST work together if we want to make our city a major year-round tourist attraction.

Richard White can be reached at rwhiteyyc@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @everydaytourist

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

Linking East Village & Stampede Park: The Next Step

Calgary Wants Vs Needs: Arena, Convention Centre, Stadium

Flamesville vs Stampede Park