Chinatown Makeover: You can’t please everyone!

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

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

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

Let the debate begin

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

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

Parking vs Towers

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

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

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

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

A bit of context…

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

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

Chinatown At A Glance

  • 49 retail shops

  • 46 restaurants

  • 10 grocery/butcher/seafood

  • 11 personal services

  • 16 medical/pharmacy/Traditional Chinese Medicine

  • 16 salons

  • 6  business services

  • 23 corporate offices

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Change is in the wind…

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

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

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

El Condor Land Development at a glance:

  • 524      residential units

  • 150      hotel rooms

  • 23        commercial units

  • 470      parking stalls

  • 466      bike stalls 

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

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

The BIA says…

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

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

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

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

Changes Needed 

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

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

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

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

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

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

All reasonable requests you would think! 

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

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

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

Community Engagement Consultant says…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Step    

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan Morris: Saskatoon: The Wonder, HUB, POW City?

This blog is another excerpt from Jan Morris’ 1990s book “City to City,” subtitled, Canada through the eyes of the greatest travel writer of our day. The book is a series of essays commissioned by Toronto’s, Saturday Night Magazine. Link: Jan Morris

The title for Morris’ Saskatoon essay is “The happy surprise” and her first sentence is “Saskatoon struck me as Canada’s best surprise,” followed by “I expected the worst.” She said her 10-day visit taught her a lesson not to jump to conclusions.  Having recently visited Saskatoon I was surprised at how her observations rung true even today. 

  I love urban surprises, we stumbled upon this street festival on a side street just off of 21st Ave.

I love urban surprises, we stumbled upon this street festival on a side street just off of 21st Ave.

Prosaic Names

Morris found Saskatoon in the early ‘90s to be “intellectually vivacious, physically it was invigorating, and aesthetically I thought it, in certain lights as least, in certain moods, very beautiful.”

She loved the name Saskatoon, loved enunciating it, but otherwise she thought Saskatoon and most Canadian cities have “too many prosaic imported names e.g. European saints names that have no reference to Canada or names inherited from Scottish estates or other European places.” She liked that Saskatoon is “allegedly derived from the Cree word for a local berry, misaskwatomin, it is as indigenous a name as one could wish for, besides being euphonious, exotic and slightly comical.” Overall, Saskatoon struck her as the “most thoroughly Canadian of Canadian cities” but doesn’t really say why.

She then lists Saskatoon’s various monikers over time – The Wonder City (in its youth), the Hub City (when the railway arrived), the Fastest Growing City on Earth (which it once claimed to be) and City of Bridges (it has seven). 

It is one city in Canada that “does not seem greatly interested in the affairs of the United States.”  

  The University Bridge is Saskatoon’s iconic bridge. You would think it would have a more meaningful name.

The University Bridge is Saskatoon’s iconic bridge. You would think it would have a more meaningful name.

Tyranny   

Saskatoon reminded her of Aberdeen, Scotland given its role as the powerhouse of the Saskatchewan hinterland, sustaining the economy of hundreds of thousands of square miles (its own terrestrial ocean) not just for the wheat fields but for potash, uranium, and gold mines. 

Morris acknowledges “while there is a majestic beauty to Saskatoon’s lonely per-eminence, there are cruel oppressions, too.  As artists in particular have observed before me, that infinite horizon is a kind of tyranny – one feels that even trying to challenge it, in soaring art or architecture….would be no more than a senseless impertinence.”

She recognized 21stStreet at an “architectural gem” where you can see a fair cross section of local society, economically and socially. The street is home to the chateau-style Bessborough Hotel, the modernist Canadian National building, the Saskatoon Club and the old Eaton’s store that is now an Army & Navy store.  

“Saskatoon is a patchwork of rich and poor, rough and smooth. Its history has fluctuated from boom to bust and back again, and its social fabric is correspondingly interwoven.”

  Bessborough Hotel, designed by Archibald and Schofield, opened in 1935 and was considered one of Canada’s grand railway hotels.

Bessborough Hotel, designed by Archibald and Schofield, opened in 1935 and was considered one of Canada’s grand railway hotels.

  The streets of Saskatoon are quite playful today.

The streets of Saskatoon are quite playful today.

 The old Hudson’s Bay Department store has become condos, but still retains its department store shape and the lovely mural.

The old Hudson’s Bay Department store has become condos, but still retains its department store shape and the lovely mural.

PhDs

“Nearly all the people, it seemed, rich or poor, scholar or scavenger, Scottish, Russian or Cree by origin, had something specifically Saskatonian in common. During my 10 days in this city, I experienced no single instance of unfriendliness – not a single annoyance.  Saskatoon claims to have more PhDs per capita than anywhere else in Canada, is full of lively theatre, and is a very hive of gifted writers.”  

  Remai Modern’s contemporary exhibition and programming is provocative and challenging, perhaps too much for some.

Remai Modern’s contemporary exhibition and programming is provocative and challenging, perhaps too much for some.

 “Saskatoon also has a powerful instinct for communal duty, communal purpose. An almost intimate sense of fellowships seems to characterize the city.

Its public institutions are often named for still living local worthies and its University Bridge built by local engineers.

The Mendel Art Gallery is not only open 363 days of the year, twelve hours a day, but attracts an annual attendance almost as great as the entire population of the city (note the Mendel is now closed having been replaced by the controversial Remai Modern which is not open 363 days of the year or twelve hours a day.)  

If you build a new house, the city gives you two free trees. And everywhere there are commemorative plaques.”  

  The University of Saskatchewan’s campus integrates the design of its new buildings with its old buildings to create an architectural harmony that is delightful.

The University of Saskatchewan’s campus integrates the design of its new buildings with its old buildings to create an architectural harmony that is delightful.

  Found these two shelves of books in a thrift store…thought this said something about Saskatoon intellectualness.

Found these two shelves of books in a thrift store…thought this said something about Saskatoon intellectualness.

  Loved these bike racks/tree grates that also tells the history of the Riversdale community in a fun way.

Loved these bike racks/tree grates that also tells the history of the Riversdale community in a fun way.

Restaurants

Morris was not big fan of Saskatoon’s restaurants saying “seldom have I eaten more depressingly” even though the city claimed to have more restaurants per capita than any other Canadian city. She thought the city was cosmopolitan, with its fertile ethnic melange and constant infusion of outsiders, but remarkably introspective.

Saskatoon’s restaurant scene has changed significantly since Morris’ visit with award winning chef Dale Mackay’s three signature restaurants - Ayden Kitchen & Bar, Little Grouse on the Prairie and Sticks & Stones. If you don’t believe me check out this link: 17 Bucket List Restaurants You Need To Try In Saskatoon.

The River

  Bill Epp’s 1989 artwork title “Tribute to Youth” which Morris references reflects the Saskatoon’s sense of play and togetherness.

Bill Epp’s 1989 artwork title “Tribute to Youth” which Morris references reflects the Saskatoon’s sense of play and togetherness.

She notes, “Physically the place depends for all of its charm upon the river, and this Saskatoon has used magnificently. The seven bridges do give a noble flourish to Saskatoon, while its river banks have been fastidiously exploited as trail and parkland, unobtrusively equipped with the standard educational displays, and mercifully embellished, as far as I discovered, by only two pieces of sculpture – one depicting a gambolling group of Saskatonian adolescents, some of them upside down, the other depicting a Metis slumped on his horse.”  

Morris observes, “almost everything seems new in this mise en scene, and this is hardly surprising, because Saskatoon is one of the most sudden of all the world’s cities….The thirty-odd blocks of downtown are like the rings of a chopped tree…the solid red-brick emporiums of the early boom years, the years of the Wonder City.

Here is the glass and steel of the 1970s, when a spurt in several of Saskatoon’s industries made it POW City, meaning the city riding the boom in Potash, Oil and Wheat.  And in between these emblems of success are the symptoms of successive relapses, stores that never quite made it, building lots never quite built upon.”  

Later she laments about the removal of the rail yards and train station from the City Centre, “To this day the absence of the yards gives the city centre a sense of lacuna and deprives it of symbolism.”  

  The South Saskatchewan River next to the downtown is a fun urban playground for people of all ages and backgrounds.

The South Saskatchewan River next to the downtown is a fun urban playground for people of all ages and backgrounds.

  Splash park along the river.

Splash park along the river.

  Kinsman Park is Saskatoon’s signature and historic downtown park is located just off the river. It has a lots of activities for families.

Kinsman Park is Saskatoon’s signature and historic downtown park is located just off the river. It has a lots of activities for families.

Verandering?

She also comments about the suburban development “thousands of houses built in the first half of the century create a ring around the city centre with hardly any two alike as they have been embellished with every kind of decorative caprice, equipped with all permutations of gabling, pillaring, shingling and verandering, ranging from mock Tudor to glimmering modernism.”

  There are lots of tree-lined streets with lovely homes just south of the University. I loved this modest house with an art installation in the front yard. It is evidence of how Saskatoon has become less prairie pragmatic and more a funky, fun and quirky place to live.

There are lots of tree-lined streets with lovely homes just south of the University. I loved this modest house with an art installation in the front yard. It is evidence of how Saskatoon has become less prairie pragmatic and more a funky, fun and quirky place to live.

Pioneer vigour 

I was surprised when she commented that the boom of the 1970s that created the sprawling malls, industrial estates and housing developments is “where one still feels a sense of pioneering vigour.”  She adds, “If you really want a sensation of the frontier in Saskatoon, probably the best place of all to go is to the big industrial zone in the northern part of town, which looks as though it has just been off-loaded piecemeal from a container train and is remarkably like photographs of pioneer Saskatoon in the earliest days of Wonder City.” 

I love Morris’ sense of urban humour. “Saskatoon is short on bravado, and, in its social being as in its contemporary architecture, seems anxious not to shock, or even surprise…while all this does not make the city feel disappointed, exactly, it does make it feel a little resigned – like a woman in middle age who, contemplating her husband across the dinner table, realizes without rancour that life’s romantic possibilities have come and gone.” 

  This conversion of an old egg plant in the downtown’s warehouse district is an example that Saskatoon is embracing contemporary urban redevelopment.

This conversion of an old egg plant in the downtown’s warehouse district is an example that Saskatoon is embracing contemporary urban redevelopment.

  While this looks like NYC this is in fact downtown Saskatoon. How cool is this?

While this looks like NYC this is in fact downtown Saskatoon. How cool is this?

  This is one of several robotic creatures found at the entrance to a scrap yard in Saskatoon’s industrial district.

This is one of several robotic creatures found at the entrance to a scrap yard in Saskatoon’s industrial district.

  This is the scrap yard where you can hunt for buried treasures.

This is the scrap yard where you can hunt for buried treasures.

  Prairie Sun Brewery can be found in Saskatoon’s industrial district next to the fun scrap yard.

Prairie Sun Brewery can be found in Saskatoon’s industrial district next to the fun scrap yard.

  I found numerous examples of how small ordinary buildings had enhanced their facades and entrances with fun contemporary urban design elements.

I found numerous examples of how small ordinary buildings had enhanced their facades and entrances with fun contemporary urban design elements.

Heroic to banal

Near the end of the essay she summarizes her feeling about the city, “But then excitement is not what Saskatoon purveys. It is part of the civic genius – part of the Canadian genius, too – to reduce the heroic to the banal.” 

  13-storey mural on the side of the First Nation’s Bank of Canada by artist Emmanuel Jarus is one of the best murals I have seen this year. It is well executed, the subject matter is appropriate for the site and it is monumental which is what murals should be. To me it is heroic!

13-storey mural on the side of the First Nation’s Bank of Canada by artist Emmanuel Jarus is one of the best murals I have seen this year. It is well executed, the subject matter is appropriate for the site and it is monumental which is what murals should be. To me it is heroic!

Last Word

I recently visited Saskatoon and found it was a great long weekend getaway, not sure how I would spend 10 days there.  I am happy to say the restaurant scene has improved, as it has in most Canadian cities since the ‘90s.  Saskatoon, like most North American cities, has caught the craft beer bug with the north industrial area providing some fun beer tasting spots. The City Centre is currently undergoing a slow renaissance with new shops, restaurants, bars, fitness studios and condos popping up everywhere. The river valley continues to be a popular public place for people of all ages with new publics spaces, trails and events.    

From an architectural perspective, the University of Saskatchewan has perhaps the best blend of old and new architecture in Canada. The new Remai Modern art gallery is a definite attempt to create a modern architectural statement with its cubist, container-like design.

The architecture and programming are diametrically opposed to what the Mendel Art Gallery used to offer.  Like it or not, it is a move away from the banal, the prosaic towards the “bravo” that Morris’ said was missing in Saskatoon’s sense of place.  

I agree with Morris that Saskatoon has a lot of commemorative plaques, statues and monuments. However, what impressed me most were the provocative murals and street art - some of the most thoughtful and appropriate images that I have seen anywhere. 

  This detail of a mural on the side of the City Centre Church which serve at-risk children and youth, single mothers, and run food programs for the homeless. It too is monumental and has a strong social/political statement that reminded me of the great Mexican muralists.

This detail of a mural on the side of the City Centre Church which serve at-risk children and youth, single mothers, and run food programs for the homeless. It too is monumental and has a strong social/political statement that reminded me of the great Mexican muralists.

  The entire mural from across the street.

The entire mural from across the street.

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


 








Hamilton: Mulberry Street Porchin' Band

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

Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 4.23.48 PM.png

Too Much Fun!

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did I not know this? 

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

How cool is that?

More Info: Mulberry Street Porchin’ Band

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suburban Sprawl: Birth/Death Differential & Managing Growth

The key to city building is linking vision with the realities of the current market, economy and desired quality of life, as well as anticipating the future. It aint’ easy.   

  In Calgary, numerous residential towers are now an integral part of the urban skyline.

In Calgary, numerous residential towers are now an integral part of the urban skyline.

Downtown Towers Not Enough

Recently David Gordon, The School of Urban & Regional Planning at Queen’s University published the report, “Still Suburban – Growth in Canada Suburbs, 2006 to 2016.”  The key finding was “the population of Canadian auto-dependent communities are growing much faster than the national growth rate, which is significant to note when implementing policies guiding public health, transportation, education planning, political decisions, and community design.”  

This is happening despite the efforts of every major Canadian city to develop planning policies to encourage the densification of inner-city communities. The report states, “In all our largest metropolitan areas, the portion of suburban residents is over 80%, including the Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. Their downtowns may be full of new condo towers, but there is five times as much population growth on the suburban edges of the regions.”  

  Calgary's Beltline's streets are lined with new residential buildings with several more under construction. It is one of the City's fastest growing neighbourhoods.

Calgary's Beltline's streets are lined with new residential buildings with several more under construction. It is one of the City's fastest growing neighbourhoods.

Calgary is #1

The same is true for Calgary, where dozens of new condos and thousands of infill homes have been completed in our inner-city communities since 2006, yet the vast majority of our growth has been in the ‘burbs. In fact, Calgary has the dubious ranking of being Canada’s leader in suburban growth with 91% of our growth being in the suburbs; followed by Edmonton at 90%, Montreal 84%, Toronto 83%, Vancouver 79% and Ottawa 74%. 

Screen Shot 2018-08-26 at 9.32.25 AM.png
  Recent Calgary population growth indicates that many of the communities near downtown are experiencing healthy population increases i.e. green areas.

Recent Calgary population growth indicates that many of the communities near downtown are experiencing healthy population increases i.e. green areas.

Is Calgary an urban densification leader? 

In fact, I contacted Gordon early this year to see if he could confirm my hypothesis that “Calgary was Canada’s leader when it came to urban densification on a per capita basis.”  This hypothesis was based on the numerous new urban village projects at various stages of development in Calgary: Garrison/ East Village / University District / Brentwood Station / Bridges / Currie / West District / Quarry Park / SETON.  Garrison Woods and Garrison Green alone added 5,000+ new residents in the early ‘00s. 

As well, the dozens of condos have completed, under construction or approved for the Beltline, Kensington, Inglewood and Marda Loop.  In fact, the 2017 Census showed the Beltline had the largest population increase of any Calgary community and that many of Calgary’s inner-city communities are indeed experiencing good population growth.  Perhaps, this is due in part to the 5,000 new infill homes (15,000 people at 3 people per home) in Calgary’s inner-city communities over the past five years. That is the equivalent of building two new Aspen Wood neighbourhoods.  

While I realize these projects were in their infancy from 2006 to 2016, I was hoping Gordon might have some stats and projections based on planned urban densification projects for Canadian cities.

Gordon responded with “As an urban designer, I find the infill projects like the Bridges, East Village, Currie /Garrison Woods, University District and Brentwood to be fascinating and follow them closely.  But our research has forced me to look again at overall patterns of metropolitan growth. And across Canada, the population of every metropolitan area was growing many times faster at the edges than by infill. Even our poster child for urbanism, Vancouver, has over 86% of its population growth occurring at the edges from 2006-2011.”

This didn’t answer my question, however, it did get me to rethink how we measure and think about inner-city and suburban growth.  

  The Bridges project continues to add new urban homes for Calgarians including many families.

The Bridges project continues to add new urban homes for Calgarians including many families.

  Calgary's East Village project will add 10,000+ new residents to the downtown over the next 10 years.

Calgary's East Village project will add 10,000+ new residents to the downtown over the next 10 years.

Birth/Death Differential 

Intuitively, I sensed we need to look at the population growth differently to understand what is happening. This led me to examining how the birth and death stats for suburbs vs inner-city might factor in. I contacted the City but they don’t track birth by new suburbs (developingcommunities is the City’s term) vs established communities (developedcommunities is the City’s term).  A quick look at the demographics of new suburbs vs established communities and you quickly realize there is a huge difference that puts developed communities at a HUGE disadvantage when it comes to population growth.  

I decided to do some math.

Each year Calgary has about 16,000 births, so let’s assume 70% of the births are in the newer communities or about 11,000, compared to only 5,000 in older communities.  This means every year the new communities grow twice as fast without building a single home.  

Calgary averages about 5,500 deaths each year. If we assume 90% of the deaths each year are from established neighbourhoods (where the vast majority of the old people live) this means collectively they will decline by 5,000 people each year. Ironically, this is offset by the 5,000 births, so our inner-city’s natural population growth is neutral. 

Contrastingly, in new suburbs, there are 11,000 births and only 500 deaths, so the natural population increase is 10,500, about 50% of Calgary’s 21,000 population growth migration accounted for the other 10,500) last year (2017 Census).  

This is pretty rough math, but it demonstrates urban sprawl when measured by population growth is significantly skewed in favour of the new suburbs (whoops, developing communities).    

  City of Calgary Community Profiles illustrates how new communities like Cranston have significantly higher numbers of children (red numbers) and less seniors than the city average (grey numbers).

City of Calgary Community Profiles illustrates how new communities like Cranston have significantly higher numbers of children (red numbers) and less seniors than the city average (grey numbers).

  Many older communities have less children and significantly more seniors.

Many older communities have less children and significantly more seniors.

Affordability Factor 

The inner-city is also at a huge disadvantage in attracting population growth compared to new suburbs as a result of affordability. In 2014, I posted a blog documenting that 80% of Calgarians can’t afford to live in the inner-city where the land costs are many times higher than in a developing community. The cost of a home in an inner-city duplex can cost a million dollars and cost of a lot $300,000.

The cost of community engagement, complexity and uncertainties of the approval process also increases the cost of inner-city houses and condos. Affordability is a huge reason why not only Calgarians, but most Canadians HAVE to live in the new urban suburbs.  

Until, Calgary (or any city) can provide equivalent housing at similar costs in older suburbs, as they can in new suburbs, most of our population growth in our city will be at the edge.  The issue is land economics and demographics, not urban design and planning. 

Link: 80% of Calgarians Must Live In The Suburbs

 New master planned communities have a diversity of housing from low rise condos to row housing to estate homes. The master plan also integrates future employment and retail districts, as well as present and future transit oriented living.

New master planned communities have a diversity of housing from low rise condos to row housing to estate homes. The master plan also integrates future employment and retail districts, as well as present and future transit oriented living.

New Suburbs Are Not Evil 

It should also be recognized new suburbs are not evil like those of the middle to late 20thcentury with their sea of cookie cutter homes and little else.  New communities like Quarry Park, SETON and Providence are designed as “live/work/play” communities with a mix of housing (singles, towns, row and condos) with employment districts, as well as, retail, restaurant and recreational amenities all strategically located.  

They are designed to foster walking, transit and cycling as much as possible. In fact, Brookfield Residential’s Livingston neighbourhood will have 96% of its homes within 300m of a transit stop and a density on par with Hillhurst/Sunnyside.  

Indeed, Calgary’s new master-planned communities are a hybrid of the low-density, big box suburbs and the mixed density, main street urban villages of the future. While they aren’t perfect (no community is) they reflect the needs of today’s families for a community that has most of its amenities just a short drive away and in some cases within walking and cycling distance. And is affordable!

  Typical '50s or '60s street with single family, single story homes are large lots. While many once housed 6+ people today they are home for one maybe two people.

Typical '50s or '60s street with single family, single story homes are large lots. While many once housed 6+ people today they are home for one maybe two people.

  Streetscape in the new community of Livingston has two story homes on much smaller lots than those built 50+ years ago. This looks like inner-city communities without the trees.

Streetscape in the new community of Livingston has two story homes on much smaller lots than those built 50+ years ago. This looks like inner-city communities without the trees.

Last Word 

Studies like Gordon’s don’t help us understand the complexities of city-building and managing urban growth. The media loves to grab these studies and create a sense the “sky is falling.” That simply is not true. 

In reality Calgary and all Canadian cities are evolving to become more densified and more transit, walking and cycling friendly. However it is too quickly for some and too slowly for others.  

  While Calgary like all Canadian cities is focused on trying to manage growth without sprawl it is very difficult due to not only demographic differences, but also do to job employment growth being primarily on the edge of the city.

While Calgary like all Canadian cities is focused on trying to manage growth without sprawl it is very difficult due to not only demographic differences, but also do to job employment growth being primarily on the edge of the city.

Condo Living: Too Many Amenities? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBQs to Bocce Courts 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bikes / Beer / Zen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

I wonder what is next!

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

Importance of Comfort, Convenience & Privacy 

Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary

21st Century: Century of the condo?

Inner City Communities: Future = Past?

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

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

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

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

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

Walkability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No need for the fancy community garden so popular today.

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

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

  Is the future of grocery shopping home delivery? 

Is the future of grocery shopping home delivery? 

Home Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playgrounds & Fitness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is what we now call “active living.” 

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

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

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

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

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

Shopping wasn’t a hobby

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saving vs Spending?

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

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

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

Community Garden vs Backyard Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death of the grocery store?

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

Link: Death of grocery store

Link: Why Canada is wary of online grocery shopping.  

  Urban grocery store in Bridgeland.

Urban grocery store in Bridgeland.

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

Link: Death of retail as we know it.

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

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

Link: City of Calgary Main Street Program

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Futurists?

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bow River Promenade vs Downtown Penetrator?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bow River Promenade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Name?

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

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

Urban Living Renaissance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Chinatown offers some affordable condos along the RiverWalk.

Chinatown offers some affordable condos along the RiverWalk.

It Almost Didn't Happen? 

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

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

  Illustration from 1964 Downtown Master Plan.

Illustration from 1964 Downtown Master Plan.

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

It is amazing what can happen over a few decades.  

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

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

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

East Village: The Lust Of The New Playground

Downtown Calgary Power Hour

Calgary: A tale of three pedestrian bridges

Do Homeowner/Resident Associations create two-tiered communities?

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

  Arbour Lake, Calgary

Arbour Lake, Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How are renters affected by HOA/RAs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Q: Do all new communities have HOA fees?

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

Community Associations & Urban Development

Not All Community Associations Are Created Equa

Urban Living: Importance of BIAs

University District: A Community For All Ages

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

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

  University District site

University District site

  University District site construction

University District site construction

  Early concept rendering of pedestrian streetscape. 

Early concept rendering of pedestrian streetscape. 

Touchdown! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 All Ages Welcomed

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

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

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

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  Concept rendering for Alt Hotel / Residential development under construction.

Concept rendering for Alt Hotel / Residential development under construction.

  University District Discovery Centre

University District Discovery Centre

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

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

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

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

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Parks

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Link: MyUniversityDistrict Video 

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

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Not All Community Associations Are Equal

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

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

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

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

What are the challenges facing Community Associations in Calgary today? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Community Associations & Urban Development

Community Engagement: The Community's Perspective

Calgary: The Dog Park Capital of North America

 

Is Calgary's City Centre going to pot?

It certainly looks that way as dozens of cannabis stores could be coming to Calgary's City Centre this summer.  The City of Calgary received 226 cannabis store applications on the first day of accepting applications, most in the first 17 minutes.

  Cannabis Centre on 14th St. SW located between the South Calgary and Elbow Park communities. 

Cannabis Centre on 14th St. SW located between the South Calgary and Elbow Park communities. 

Kehoe says....

Michael Kehoe, founder of Fairfield Commercial Real Estate, who has been leasing retail space in Calgary for over 35 years has never seen anything like it. 

He says “cannabis retailers are tying up all the best retail spaces they can across the city.  They are willing to pay above asking prices for rent to get the right space. This is likely to happened in East Village and several other inner-city locations.” 

Kehoe has already nicknamed Inglewood as “Ingleweed” as its High Street (pun intended) as Ninth Avenue SE could have as many as six cannabis stores.  

Fifteen applications were made on or near 17th Ave SW, which might result in the RED Mile being rebranded the Weed Mile. The City is looking at seven applications in Kensington and five in the Marda Loop business district.

  Ingleweed will get a new look this summer when several "pot shops" open up along 9th Avenue SE.  The grey balloons indicate sites with pending applications. Bottles indicate liquor stores and flags schools. (source: City of Calgary website)

Ingleweed will get a new look this summer when several "pot shops" open up along 9th Avenue SE.  The grey balloons indicate sites with pending applications. Bottles indicate liquor stores and flags schools. (source: City of Calgary website)

  The Red Mile will become the Weed Mile this summer as perhaps as many as a dozen "pot shops" open on or near 17th Ave SW. (source City of Calgary website).

The Red Mile will become the Weed Mile this summer as perhaps as many as a dozen "pot shops" open on or near 17th Ave SW. (source City of Calgary website).

Seedy or Friendly?

When it comes to store fronts and pedestrian friendliness, the “pot shops” will probably be all over the map.  Some may be like seedy “peep shows” with windows covered up and a buzzer at the front door to get in.  Others are expected to be more highbrow (there is that pun again) with attractive storefront windows and welcoming entrance.  After all, there is nothing illegal happening here. 

Kehoe thinks, “as cannabis retailing become mainstream, it will create an entire new category of retailing.  It will be interesting to see the approach the cannabis retailers take with the design and marketing of their stores. 

My expectations are high – no pun intended.”
 Nelson BC's main street cannabis shop.

Nelson BC's main street cannabis shop.

Nelson Experience

That being said, retailers are prohibited from operating within 150 meters of a school, 10 meters of a daycare and 300 meters from each other.  Similar restrictions exist for liquor stores.

A few years back, we travelled to Nelson BC, Pot Capital of Canada, perhaps North America.  They already had a pot shop on their High Street. It was very attractive.  It was like going into a high-end (there is that pun again) jewellery store. The fifty or so samples of the different cannabis options were attractively presented in glass cases with a description and price. It wasn’t seedy at all. 

However, it wasn’t like Costco i.e. no free sample here.
  Nelson's cannabis shop's product presentation was very attractive and informative.

Nelson's cannabis shop's product presentation was very attractive and informative.

FYI:

No licences will be approved until after the Federal government announces a firm date for legalization, which is expected to be August or mid-September.  However, if it is anything like the Trans Mountain Pipeline (could be another pun here) fiasco, who knows when the approval might actually happen.

  Kensington will not be left out of the "pot shop" invasion. 

Kensington will not be left out of the "pot shop" invasion. 

 Marada Loop will also get its fair share of "pot shops." 

Marada Loop will also get its fair share of "pot shops." 

  The Beltline's Design District will take on a new look with perhaps seven "pot shops."

The Beltline's Design District will take on a new look with perhaps seven "pot shops."

Last Word

Interestingly; Quebec is allowing only 15 cannabis stores province-wide this summer, Ontario only 40 and Saskatchewan 51 (they had 1,500 applications).  Alberta will have no limit on the number of cannabis stores, however, no company can own more than 15% of the stores.  Stores will be able to be open 10 am to 2 am (same as liquor stores), with local municipalities being able to adjust the hours.

It is expected Calgary could have as many as 250 stores by the end of 2018. The City Centre could easily have 30+ stores, with additional applications for “pot shops” in Calgary’s downtown, along Centre Street and in Bridgeland. They will add a new dimension to the City Centre shopping experience.

Yes, it looks like Calgary’s City Centre could be going to pot!

No, I haven’t heard anyone proposing to convert some of the empty downtown office space into cannabis farms, but I wouldn’t put it past some enterprising entrepreneur to be looking at the feasibility.

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

Nelson: Fun, Funky & Quirky!

RED MILE: Calgary's Urban Playground

 

 

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

Atlanta is fun, funky and quirky!

I must confess Atlanta wasn't on my bucket list of cities to visit.  But when I got an opportunity to go to Augusta, GA for a practice round of The Masters golf tournament via Atlanta, I thought why not. 

I have often said, "I can find interesting things to see and do in any city!"

  One of the things I like best about flaneuring is the surprises.  This has to be one of the best surprises I have encountered in a long time.  Note the empty bottle and piece of litter. Indeed every picture tells a story...

One of the things I like best about flaneuring is the surprises.  This has to be one of the best surprises I have encountered in a long time.  Note the empty bottle and piece of litter. Indeed every picture tells a story...

18,000 Step  Program

Everyone I asked about what to see and do in Atlanta said, "You will need a car." As everyday tourist, we loved a challenge.

Brenda and I spent 14 days in Atlanta's City Centre and found lots to see and do either on foot (averaging 18,000 steps a day, highest was 27,000+) or using the MARTA train (Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Association).

  Brenda found this strange and quirky gravestone at the Oakland Cemetery. 

Brenda found this strange and quirky gravestone at the Oakland Cemetery. 

Game on!

We found great vintage, antique and thriftshops along Chamblee's Antique Row and a great craft brewery HopStix. Living across the street from Piedmont Park (Atlanta's equivalent to NYC's Central Park) was a delight. While Atlanta's City Centre doesn't have any streets with contiguous retail and restaurants we did find some hidden gems. 

We loved the buzz at Ponce City Market a repurposed Sears Roebuck Co. store and distribution centre. It made me rethink, "Why Calgary's Eau Claire Market didn't work? Would it work today?

Atlantic Station a reclaimed steel factory on the other side of the interstate highway from Midtown was also enlightening.  Its grid of mid-rise brick condos with street retail and restaurants mimicking an early 20th century warehouse district was a very pedestrian friendly. It has many of the elements of Calgary's University District and West District. It made me wonder, "if East Village shouldn't of had more midrise buildings with street retail to create a more human scale?"

Beltline was bustling

I was gobsmacked by the number of people strolling Atlanta's Beltline a reclaimed railway line that has become a multi-use trail modelled after NYC's High Line without all the fancy furnishing and finishings.  I bet there were 50,000+ people of all ages strolling the promenade on the 10km stretch that I experienced on a warm Saturday afternoon.

I was surprised they allowed cyclists (probably about 5% of the users) to use the concrete pathway when it was so busy.  I can't believe how aggressive and inconsiderate many of the cyclists were. Brenda headed home early as it was too unpleasant for her liking.  

After spending 14 days in Atlanta's City Centre, I am pleased to say the city was more fun, funky and quirky (FFQ) than I could have hoped for. 

Check out this FFQing photo essay and let me know what you think.  FYI. I have saved the best for last....

  Found this strange dude hanging out at the Antique Factory (huge warehouse of mid-century modern artifacts) in Chamblee's Antique Row, which is easy to get to by MARTA (transit train).

Found this strange dude hanging out at the Antique Factory (huge warehouse of mid-century modern artifacts) in Chamblee's Antique Row, which is easy to get to by MARTA (transit train).

  Found "Dolly" in the American League thrift store in Chamblee's Antique Row. 

Found "Dolly" in the American League thrift store in Chamblee's Antique Row. 

  Everywhere we went we kept running into funky shops like this one. Around the corner was a fun little printing studio.  While Atlanta has no main streets (i.e. streets with continuous shops on both sides of the street), it does have fun off-the-beaten path shops.

Everywhere we went we kept running into funky shops like this one. Around the corner was a fun little printing studio.  While Atlanta has no main streets (i.e. streets with continuous shops on both sides of the street), it does have fun off-the-beaten path shops.

  If you are looking for curated funky mid-century modern furnishings and artwork you have to go to   Decades Antiques and Vintage   at 1886 Cheshire Bridge Rd NE.  There are several antique and thriftstores in the area. 

If you are looking for curated funky mid-century modern furnishings and artwork you have to go to Decades Antiques and Vintage at 1886 Cheshire Bridge Rd NE.  There are several antique and thriftstores in the area. 

  Little Five Points is like walking into a "magical mystery tour" as all of the building facades are colourful and playful. It reminded us of Berlin.

Little Five Points is like walking into a "magical mystery tour" as all of the building facades are colourful and playful. It reminded us of Berlin.

  On Easter Sunday, there were lots of outdoor celebrations like this adult only party that included an egg toss on the front lawn.

On Easter Sunday, there were lots of outdoor celebrations like this adult only party that included an egg toss on the front lawn.

  Even the cement trucks are works of art in Atlanta! 

Even the cement trucks are works of art in Atlanta! 

  Aren't these folk art portable toilets at the outdoor science fair in Piedmont Park quirky?

Aren't these folk art portable toilets at the outdoor science fair in Piedmont Park quirky?

  Thought this was a Claes Oldenburg sculpture in   Centennial Olympic Park  , but it turned out to be an information booth in front of the World of Coca-Cola building.  Too much fun!

Thought this was a Claes Oldenburg sculpture in Centennial Olympic Park, but it turned out to be an information booth in front of the World of Coca-Cola building.  Too much fun!

  Another fun, funky, quirky facade...but with a social and political statement. 

Another fun, funky, quirky facade...but with a social and political statement. 

  Atlanta is known as a auto-centric city, but we found using transit was a viable option.  This fun sculpture titled "Autoeater" by German artists Julia Venske and Gregor Spanle is located at an intersection that is busy with cars and pedestrians in Midtown

Atlanta is known as a auto-centric city, but we found using transit was a viable option.  This fun sculpture titled "Autoeater" by German artists Julia Venske and Gregor Spanle is located at an intersection that is busy with cars and pedestrians in Midtown

  It would have been easy to miss this sun dial at the Inman Middle School in the Virginia/Highland community. It took me two trips to realize it wasn't just a clock.

It would have been easy to miss this sun dial at the Inman Middle School in the Virginia/Highland community. It took me two trips to realize it wasn't just a clock.

  Found this Jetson sculpture in the lobby of the luxurious student study hall/library lobby with roof top garden that is on par with what you might find at a luxury urban hotel.  The Starbuck stays open until 2 am Sunday to Thursday!

Found this Jetson sculpture in the lobby of the luxurious student study hall/library lobby with roof top garden that is on par with what you might find at a luxury urban hotel.  The Starbuck stays open until 2 am Sunday to Thursday!

  How fun is this three storey bench in the lobby of the Georgia Tech School of Architecture building?

How fun is this three storey bench in the lobby of the Georgia Tech School of Architecture building?

  Stairs as sculpture? This quirky staircase it at the King Memorial MARTA Station.  The entire station is an interesting brutalist / modernist design. 

Stairs as sculpture? This quirky staircase it at the King Memorial MARTA Station.  The entire station is an interesting brutalist / modernist design. 

  This wall of axes was just part of the fun of exploring the   Highland Woodworking   store at Highland and Virginia.  Think Lee Valley but bigger and totally focused on woodworking tools and material s.   It is a must see for any woodworker....

This wall of axes was just part of the fun of exploring the Highland Woodworking store at Highland and Virginia.  Think Lee Valley but bigger and totally focused on woodworking tools and materials.  It is a must see for any woodworker....

  One of my favourite things to do is porch sitting.  Our Airbnb in Atlanta was just across the street from   Piedmont Park   with a lovely big porch.  It was a great place to people watch as there was an endless parade of joggers, dog walkers, cyclist and people just strolling along the edge of the park.  

One of my favourite things to do is porch sitting.  Our Airbnb in Atlanta was just across the street from Piedmont Park with a lovely big porch.  It was a great place to people watch as there was an endless parade of joggers, dog walkers, cyclist and people just strolling along the edge of the park.  

  Found these fun doors in various spots in   Ponce City Market,   telling the history of this old Sears Roebuck & Co store and distribution centre.  Who knew Sears used to have an Animal Department that sold a Spider Monkey for $31.39 or 25 day-old Farm Master While Leghorn chicks for $1.90!  They also sold baby alligators but didn't give a cost.   Urban living was very different in the 1940s.

Found these fun doors in various spots in Ponce City Market, telling the history of this old Sears Roebuck & Co store and distribution centre.  Who knew Sears used to have an Animal Department that sold a Spider Monkey for $31.39 or 25 day-old Farm Master While Leghorn chicks for $1.90!  They also sold baby alligators but didn't give a cost. Urban living was very different in the 1940s.

  Beltline midweek, with its funky whirligig artworks. 

Beltline midweek, with its funky whirligig artworks. 

  No idea who create this troll or why, it is guarded one of the many underpasses along the Beltline.  Kids loved climbing up the hill to the troll.

No idea who create this troll or why, it is guarded one of the many underpasses along the Beltline.  Kids loved climbing up the hill to the troll.

  Found this evil winged gargoyle on a post in the front yard or a house behind our Airbnb. I loved it but can't imagine many would. 

Found this evil winged gargoyle on a post in the front yard or a house behind our Airbnb. I loved it but can't imagine many would. 

  Several vendors a the City Market offered whole pigs for sale.  How much fun would it be to order a pig from "Porky Pig?" 

Several vendors a the City Market offered whole pigs for sale.  How much fun would it be to order a pig from "Porky Pig?" 

  Found this handmade swing on an island space in the middle of a busy intersection.  I had to give it a try.  It was a great way to pass the time waiting for the light to change. 

Found this handmade swing on an island space in the middle of a busy intersection.  I had to give it a try.  It was a great way to pass the time waiting for the light to change. 

  Atlantans love bean bag tossing saw these in several locations from parks to outside offices.  I was amazed when Brenda stepped and landed two of her four blue bean bags in the hole from 30 feet. I made none.

Atlantans love bean bag tossing saw these in several locations from parks to outside offices.  I was amazed when Brenda stepped and landed two of her four blue bean bags in the hole from 30 feet. I made none.

  Atlanta has lots of funky art, like this piece hanging from a tree in Piedmont Park near the dog park. 

Atlanta has lots of funky art, like this piece hanging from a tree in Piedmont Park near the dog park. 

 This piece of art was in the front yard of a modest house. I would love to have one for my garden. It is no wonder we didn't go to the High Art Museum, given all the art along the streets and parks of the city.

This piece of art was in the front yard of a modest house. I would love to have one for my garden. It is no wonder we didn't go to the High Art Museum, given all the art along the streets and parks of the city.

  Found these origami pieces lined up on the counter a Java Jive a funky diner with great midcentury furnishings. We were told there were made by a 9-year old customer.  

Found these origami pieces lined up on the counter a Java Jive a funky diner with great midcentury furnishings. We were told there were made by a 9-year old customer.  

 You can find the strangest things at antique stores.  This totem was found at Antiques & Beyond a huge antique market on Cheshire Bridge.

You can find the strangest things at antique stores.  This totem was found at Antiques & Beyond a huge antique market on Cheshire Bridge.

  I wonder why these New Era scientifically process potato chips aren't still available? Treasure hunting in thrift, vintage and antique shops in Atlanta is just too much fun.

I wonder why these New Era scientifically process potato chips aren't still available? Treasure hunting in thrift, vintage and antique shops in Atlanta is just too much fun.

    Paris on Ponce   is an eclectic market with 83 vendors offer mostly vintage treasures.  There is an amazing lounge that they use for special events.  Unfortunately they didn't have any events happening while we were there. This art installation is at the entrance to the lounge. 

Paris on Ponce is an eclectic market with 83 vendors offer mostly vintage treasures.  There is an amazing lounge that they use for special events.  Unfortunately they didn't have any events happening while we were there. This art installation is at the entrance to the lounge. 

  One of the first quirky things I notice about the Atlanta streets were all the utility markings on the sidewalk.  It wasn't just one or two streets it was everywhere in the downtown and midtown.  I mean everywhere.  I even ran into a guy who was repainting the lines.  

One of the first quirky things I notice about the Atlanta streets were all the utility markings on the sidewalk.  It wasn't just one or two streets it was everywhere in the downtown and midtown.  I mean everywhere.  I even ran into a guy who was repainting the lines.  

  Good food and great chandeliers can be found at   Amelie's Bakery  .  Loved this pots and pans chandelier, but it was only one of a dozen very quirky chandeliers in the store. Note the sign saying "dessert first." This was my happy place.

Good food and great chandeliers can be found at Amelie's Bakery.  Loved this pots and pans chandelier, but it was only one of a dozen very quirky chandeliers in the store. Note the sign saying "dessert first." This was my happy place.

  Found these amazing tree shadows on the sidewalk the evening I walked to Blind Willies blues bar on Highland.  This was on my way there, not back and the photo has not been enhanced.

Found these amazing tree shadows on the sidewalk the evening I walked to Blind Willies blues bar on Highland.  This was on my way there, not back and the photo has not been enhanced.

 We saw a lot of FFQ work spaces during our Atlanta walkabouts but nothing better than  Matchstic . We were peeking in the doorway when the President happening to be leaving and he invited us in. We commented on how much we like the playful mural and then he showed us a wall of small drawings on small clipboards by staff members similar to the mural. We loved them and he told us to take a couple.  We are now proud owners of three Matchstic drawings! 

We saw a lot of FFQ work spaces during our Atlanta walkabouts but nothing better than Matchstic. We were peeking in the doorway when the President happening to be leaving and he invited us in. We commented on how much we like the playful mural and then he showed us a wall of small drawings on small clipboards by staff members similar to the mural. We loved them and he told us to take a couple.  We are now proud owners of three Matchstic drawings! 

  This reflective angular block serves as both an artwork and an ATM machine on the AECOM plaza.  It was a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by even on a Sunday when the building was closed.  Went back the next day to take some more photos of the intriguing artwork in the lobby and was told no photos.  

This reflective angular block serves as both an artwork and an ATM machine on the AECOM plaza.  It was a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by even on a Sunday when the building was closed.  Went back the next day to take some more photos of the intriguing artwork in the lobby and was told no photos.  

  We passed by this fun artwork almost everyday. I love it when art is both fun and makes a social statement. 

We passed by this fun artwork almost everyday. I love it when art is both fun and makes a social statement. 

Last Word

As you can imagine Atlanta has been very fruitful when it comes to ideas for blogs. Over the next month you can expect blogs comparing Calgary's City Centre to Atlanta's, a piece on Ponce City Market, Atlantic Station, Piedmont Park, Oakland Cemetery and the Beltline Trail. 

If you liked this blog, you will like: 

FFQing in Montreal

Nelson: Fun, Funky, Quirky

FFQing in Tri-Cities (Kennwick, Pasco, Richland)

 

Community Associations & Urban Development

Recently a former neighbour who moved to Sunnyside shared with me a copy of the Feb 2017 Hillhurst Sunnyside Voice (community bulletin) thinking I would be interested to see all of the new development projects in the community. 

Indeed I was!
  One of the many sites in Hillhurst/Sunnyside that is a potential new development site. 

One of the many sites in Hillhurst/Sunnyside that is a potential new development site. 

I was surprised to see a two page spread with summaries of five major projects at various states of development:

  • Royal Bank, 413, 10th St NW
  • Former CBC site, 1724 Westmont Blvd NW
  • Russell Red “Glo” Project, 916 – 926 2nd Ave NW
  • Sunnyside Grocery, 802, 2nd Ave NW
  • Truman Condo, 922, 926, 928 Memorial Dr.

This got me to wondering! How does the Hillhurst Sunnyside Planning Committee must be spending with developers, City and community to gather information, listen to presentations, discussing how City policies and plans are being followed, understanding the short and long-term the community-at-large implications and then respond to the application.

Then I thought - this is just one community!  What about all the other inner city communities where new infill projects are routinely being proposed.  Do they all have Planning Committees and how do they find qualified volunteers who are willing and able to spend the time to do all of this volunteer work?

Having served on the City of Calgary’s Planning Commission for two years I know first hand how hard it is to understand all of the City’s plans, policies and zoning regulations, as well as how detailed the development application documents can be. 

A quick check of the Hillhurst Sunnyside website revealed they have full-time staff member to help with urban planning issues and communications.  Hmmm…now I am wondered how many other communities have a paid urban planning position?

So I checked with Lisa Chong, Hillhurst/Sunnyside’s Urban Planning Coordinator since 2013 to learn more about what she and the volunteer Planning Committee do.

  Everyone has a different idea of what is important to them and the future of their community.

Everyone has a different idea of what is important to them and the future of their community.

Q&A with Chong

What is the role of the Hillhurst/Sunnyside’s Planning Coordinator?

I coordinate all the community’s education and engagement activities with respect to planning issues – infill developments, heritage, safety, public spaces and public realm.  This includes not only coordinating Planning Committee meetings, but numerous guest presentations to the community on development and other issues. I also spend significant time on planning communication by way of community newsletters - Voice, monthly e-newsletters and social media posts.

We also do our best to engage with the community and make sure their feedback is discussed and incorporated into our formal feedback to developers and the City of Calgary.

  The new Ezra condo on 5th Avenue next to the Hillhurst/Sunnyside community centre was opposed by some community members. 

The new Ezra condo on 5th Avenue next to the Hillhurst/Sunnyside community centre was opposed by some community members. 

How many people are on the Hillhurst/Sunnyside Planning Committee? 

Approximately 16. But people come and go depending on their interest and what is on the agenda. At one time I had 60+ people on the email list. Typically, we have about 10 members at each meeting and anywhere from 2 to 50 interested guests. At max, we’ve had 65 people attend one of our guest presentations.

We also have folks we consider community leaders who we ask for input on specific issues.  In addition there are volunteers who help with the distribution of leaflets to households immediately adjacent to proposed developments.

  The approval of St. Johns on Tenth condo was delayed for several years to meet the community and neighbours' concerns before approval was granted.

The approval of St. Johns on Tenth condo was delayed for several years to meet the community and neighbours' concerns before approval was granted.

Can you share with me the qualifications of committee members?

Members are not required to have specific qualifications but are required to keep up with planning education (Federation of Calgary Communities’ “Partners in Planning” courses, newsletters and other forms of communication).

Some are long-time residents others have lived in Hillhurst Sunnyside for a few years. We have a mix of homeowners and renters and from single-family homes and condos, with ages ranging from 30s to 60s.

The planning committee team draws from a pool of members with professional in  architecture, planning, engineering, development, heritage, local business, law, oil and gas, arts, education and entrepreneurial.

As this is just one of 151 community associations in Calgary,  I wondered what does the citywide picture look like.  I contacted the Federation of Calgary Communities (FCC). Turns out the FCC has two full-time urban planners on staff to help community associations with planning issues and to coordinate education programs. 

Carrie Yap one of the FCC planners was more than pleased to answer my questions.

  This fun house now has a development sign on the front yard. 

This fun house now has a development sign on the front yard. 

How many CA’s have standing planning committees?

There are approximately 95 communities with standing planning committees that actively participate in the planning process. Participation in the planning process is different with each community association depending on their capacity and the magnitude and controversy of developments in their community.

She confirmed Hillhurst Sunnyside is the only Community Association with a full-time Planning Coordinator.

  The old CBC site on Memorial Drive NW is slated to become a major residential development. 

The old CBC site on Memorial Drive NW is slated to become a major residential development. 

How many volunteer hours are contributed each year by Planning Committee members?

We estimate the 95 Planning Committees members contribute a total of about 12,000 to 15,000 hours of per year performing the following tasks:

  • Reviewing development applications,
  • Preparing formal responses back to the city,
  • Researching applicable policies, meeting with developers or builders,
  • Attending engagement sessions on local or city wide projects,
  • Getting acquainted with new policy or land uses
  • Notifying neighbours or residents of new developments
  • Hosting engagement sessions or open houses for residents
  • Writing articles for the community newsletters, website, or social media 
  • Building relationships with their Councilor and Project file managers
  • Attending Council or City of Calgary Committee meetings
  • Attending and preparing for appeal boards
  • Being a community representative on external committees
  • Leading community-planning exercises.  
  • Educating themselves on the planning process through Federation courses

I don’t know about you but I am intimidated and exhausted after reading this list.  No wonder many CA Board and Committee members suffer from volunteer fatigue.

Note: I misinterpreted the original information I received from Carrie Yap as 12,000 to 15,000 volunteer hours per Planning Committee vs the number being the total of all 95 Planning Committee members.  Unfortunately this misinformation was published online by the Calgary Herald.  I am now thinking this number is conservative given what I know about how much time it takes to do all of the above activities. 
  Truman Homes placed with Sounding Board in the Legion Parking lot on Kensington Rd NW so anyone walking by could leave comments. Information on the proposed development was located on the other side. 

Truman Homes placed with Sounding Board in the Legion Parking lot on Kensington Rd NW so anyone walking by could leave comments. Information on the proposed development was located on the other side. 

How many project per year are reviewed each year? Which communities are the busiest?

The Federation does not track how many projects per year are reviewed by each community. However, we have seen a direct correlation between policies the City is working on and a community’s lifecycle with how active a community is with planning issues.

The busiest planning committees are the ones dealing major redevelopment projects or major City of Calgary planning initiatives like the Main Streets Initiative and Green Line Corridor.

Based on the information on the city website, for the month of January 2018, alone 467 applications (development permit, land use amendments, or subdivision applications) were circulated to our community associations.

Leslie Evans, Executive Director of the Federation of Calgary Communities thinks, “Planning committees and community associations are one of Calgary’s hidden gems. They are the people that help build community character, advocate for your neighbourhood needs and they do it without any recognition but simply because they love their community and this city.

  Proposed redesignation signs like this are popping up more frequently in Caglary's inner city communities. 

Proposed redesignation signs like this are popping up more frequently in Caglary's inner city communities. 

Last Word

In reality not all Community Association Planning Committees are created equal. Not all have broad representation from their community like Hillhurst/Sunnyside.  In some cases the membership on the Planning Committee doesn't represent the diversity of opinions with respect to development of the entire community.  While many of the members of the 95 Planning Committees are educated professionals, few are fully versed on the complexities of City's overall planning policies and how they impact their community. 

Former City Councillor, Brian Pincott says "while some Community Association Planning Committees are very well managed and representative of the community, in some cases it is whoever shows up." 

With that being said, a follow up blog will examine the experience Pincott and others have had in working with Community Associations positively and negatively.

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

Urban Planning Is Not A Science

Group Think or Good Urban Planning

Urban Planning: The Power Of Observation

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.