Confessions Of A Public Art Artist

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

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

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

Village Fun

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

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

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

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

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

Backstory

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

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

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

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

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Inspiration 

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

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

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

How $25,000 becomes $200

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

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

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

She needed: 

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

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

  • engineer’s stamp 

  • structural consultant’s approval 

  • contact utilities to mark the spot was safe for construction

  • re-plant the landscape as needed to original state

  • repair any damages to existing irrigation if needed

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

  • The excavation of the site

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

  • Fabrication of the steel pieces of the sculpture

  • Powder coasting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confession

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

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

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

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

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

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Rugby Team Connection  

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

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

There goes the $200.  

Last Word

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

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

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

Confessions of public art juror.

Do we really need all of this public art?

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

 

 

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.

Postcards From Calgary’s Reader Rock Garden 

I can’t believe it took us 25+ years to check out Calgary’s Reader Rock Garden.  In my defense for many years it was more or less abandoned, however that is no excuse. In fact, it would have been fun to explore a deserted overgrown garden.

Enough said!

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Garden & Cemetery

Reader Rock garden first opened in 1913, the brainchild of the City’s Superintendent of Parks, Cemeteries & Recreation (1913 to 1942) William Roland Reader. He lived in a house at the top of the hill just south of Stampede Park, enjoying spectacular views of downtown. 

Over the years, he experimented with upwards of 4,000 different plant species from around the world, many of which ended up in parks across the city, as the City of Calgary’s first nursery was at the base of the gardens. 

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Not Always Rosy

In 2006, it received provincial historical resource designation and this year, 2018, it received national historic designation.  However, things were not always rosy (pun intended). In 1961, maintenance records began to indicate the garden was being neglected, in the ‘70s, trees were being cut down and garden beds removed.  In the ‘80s, the greenhouses were removed for LRT construction.

Then more than two decades later, in 2003, Friends of Reader Rock Garden Society (FoRRGS) was established and in 2004, the garden is fenced off for renovations by volunteers and paid staff.  The garden reopened in 2006, with improvements added each year since then.

Link: Friends of Reader Garden

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Food & Flowers

In addition to the gardens, there is a lovely café in the house at the top of the hill with daily specials (including a pastry special) and a popular Sunday brunch. As well there are special events like the High Tea on Sunday, August 26th 2018 from 3 to 4pm – reservations required.

If you want to bring your own food for a picnic, there are lots of places to have a family or romantic picnic.

Link: Reader’s Garden Café   

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Tips

  • Several historical plaques tell the story of the gardens and the people involved.  It is a mini outdoor history museum as well as a garden.
  • The Garden are not very wheelchair or stroller-friendly.
  • Bring your phone and camera, you will want to take photos.
  • Bring some water if it is going to be hot.
  • Wear good shoes, as there is lots of climbing on rock steps.
  • The Union Cemetery is next to the gardens and makes for some additional strolling and a history lesson as several Calgary pioneers are buried here.
  • Plan on spending one hour exploring the garden, even more if you plan to have something to eat.
  • The Garden is very close to the Erlton LRT Station, or about a 30-minute walk from downtown. 
  • Parking is FREE at the base of the gardens on 25th Ave just east of Macleod Trail.
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Last Word

We spent two hours on a lovely Sunday afternoon strolling the gardens and part of the cemetery.  There is a lovely tranquility in this garden oasis. 

We highly recommend you take visiting family and friends who are in town from May to September.  If they are really into gardens you will also want to take them to see the Silver Springs Botanical Garden and Senator Patrick Burns Rock Gardens.

Everyday Tourist Blog Link: Silver Springs Botanical Garden

Everyday Tourist Blog Link: Senator Patrick Burns Rock Garden

West Hillhurst: Portrait Of My Neighbourhood

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

That makes West Hillhurst an inner-city neighbourhood.

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

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

Hidden diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parks & Recreation Amenities 

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

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

  We have great climbing trees, who needs climbing walls?

We have great climbing trees, who needs climbing walls?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  We have several lovely natural pebble beaches. 

We have several lovely natural pebble beaches. 

  Our pathways are amazing.

Our pathways are amazing.

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

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

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

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

  We even have our own luge/bobsled track. 

We even have our own luge/bobsled track. 

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

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

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

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

Caring Community 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Churches

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Parkdale Grace Fellowship is also located in West Hillhurst. 

Parkdale Grace Fellowship is also located in West Hillhurst. 

Architecture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small Businesses 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  We even have some back alley industries . 

We even have some back alley industries

Art & Culture

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

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

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

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

  We do have a big angry cat scultpure? 

We do have a big angry cat scultpure? 

  We have lots of little libraries. 

We have lots of little libraries. 

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

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

  We also have a classic sculpture garden.

We also have a classic sculpture garden.

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

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

  We also have a cow from the Udderly Art project. 

We also have a cow from the Udderly Art project. 

Diversity of Housing

  Modern rental apartments.

Modern rental apartments.

  Mid century rental apartments

Mid century rental apartments

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

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

  New townhomes.

New townhomes.

  Post war homes are still abundant in West Hillhurst. 

Post war homes are still abundant in West Hillhurst. 

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

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

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

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

  We also have walk-up row housing. 

We also have walk-up row housing. 

Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Calgary Neighbourhoods?

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

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

Link: Avenue Best Neighbourhoods Methodology

The top ten were:

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Woodbine is wonderful!

Mount Royal: City Beautiful

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

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

Playground as Sculpture Park?

For as long as I can remember, I have thought playgrounds should do double duty as sculpture parks. To my delight, while exploring Atlanta’s large and lovely Piedmont Park recently, I discovered they have a playground designed by renowned sculptor Isamu Noguchi.

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Noguchi was born in Los Angeles in 1904 and during his lifetime (he died in 1988), he designed a vast array of art - from abstract sculptures to gardens, to furniture and fountains, to parks and plazas.

And yes, even playgrounds.

The Piedmont Park playground entitle “Playscapes,” was commissioned to honor Atlanta’s bicentennial and opened in 1976.

The playground is spacious with lots of room between the different sculptural elements which is what gives it a sculpture park look - each piece having its own space that allows you to walk around it. 

While Playscapes has traditional playground equipment, i.e. slide, swings and sand box – they all have a contemporary sculptural twist.  Each piece has a dominant shape – cylinder, rectangle, triangle and square which remind me of the infant toy that you have to fit different-shaped blocks into the right holes. 

I love that children get to climb into the lighthouse-like slide and can see through or crawl through some of the pieces.  While Noguchi uses bright colours, they are more somber than the bold, neon-like colours of the cookie-cutter new playgrounds across Canada today. 

Have a look. Let me know what you think?
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Other Cities

Here is a collection of photos taken in other cities of public art and playground structures that could easily be integrated to create a playground that is also a sculpture park. 

  Everybody loved this temporary installation of hammock swings in Mexico City's Central Plaza. They would make a great addition to a community park. I love the idea of moving them every few weeks. 

Everybody loved this temporary installation of hammock swings in Mexico City's Central Plaza. They would make a great addition to a community park. I love the idea of moving them every few weeks. 

  Found this sculpture in downtown Hamilton, that looks exactly like a child's toy. Wouldn't it be fun in a playground? Wouldn't it be great as an interactive piece of art? Too bad it is located in a place devoid of any sense of public animation.

Found this sculpture in downtown Hamilton, that looks exactly like a child's toy. Wouldn't it be fun in a playground? Wouldn't it be great as an interactive piece of art? Too bad it is located in a place devoid of any sense of public animation.

  Found this fun playground in Berlin. It a whimsical fairy tale appearance that was both sculptural, functional and playful. 

Found this fun playground in Berlin. It a whimsical fairy tale appearance that was both sculptural, functional and playful. 

  This chair/sculpture in downtown Palm Springs would make for a fun playground element.  Kids would love to climb it, sit on it and crawl under it. I know some of you are saying "what about the sharp corners?" Well our Grand Trunk Playground has a playground piece with similar corners and it was Canadian Standards Approved.  

This chair/sculpture in downtown Palm Springs would make for a fun playground element.  Kids would love to climb it, sit on it and crawl under it. I know some of you are saying "what about the sharp corners?" Well our Grand Trunk Playground has a playground piece with similar corners and it was Canadian Standards Approved.  

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This public artwork by Calgary artist Jeff de Boer at the entrance to the ENMAX Park at Stampede Park would be a fun addition to a playground. I have often wondered what Jeff would create if he was commissioned to design a playground. 

  Calgary's Westmount Park has several sculptural elements like these two in its playground. 

Calgary's Westmount Park has several sculptural elements like these two in its playground. 

  Calgary's Grand Trunk Park's teeter-totter has some nice sculptural characteristics. 

Calgary's Grand Trunk Park's teeter-totter has some nice sculptural characteristics. 

  This contemporary teeter-totter could easily be a work of art. 

This contemporary teeter-totter could easily be a work of art. 

  Many of the new playgrounds have artistic qualities to them if viewed from the right angle.  

Many of the new playgrounds have artistic qualities to them if viewed from the right angle. 

Last Word

On the Playscapes plaque, Noguchi is quoted as saying, “When an artist stops being a child, he stops being an artist.” I am not sure I totally agree with that statement, but I do agree some artists function best when they “think and feel like a child.”

Personally, I try to live everyday with the curiosity of a child.

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

Public Art vs Playgrounds

Playgrounds Gone Wild?

Stampede Park: Calgary's Best Children's Playground

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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Atlanta vs Calgary: Coca-Cola vs Oil & Gas

Whenever I told people I was going to Atlanta for 14 days of flaneuring, I was warned I would need to rent a car. Not true! Even on Day 14, I was discovering new fun things to see and do within walking distance of my Midtown Airbnb. 

Metro Atlanta, the fifth largest U.S.A. city with 5.8 million residents is the primary transportation hub of the southeastern U.S.A. It boasts the busiest airport in the world.  Home to the headquarters of Coca-Cola, Home Depot, UPS, Delta Air Lines and Turner Broadcasting; it is the business capital of southeastern U.S.A. It hosted the 1996 Olympic Summer Games.

While Calgary is obviously a much smaller city (1.3 million), we share many of the same characteristics – a major transportation hub, business capital of Western Canada, and former Olympic host city. I found myself often comparing the two cities.

  Atlanta's midtown skyline, with Piedmont Park in the foreground.

Atlanta's midtown skyline, with Piedmont Park in the foreground.

  Downtown Calgary with Prince's Island Park in the foreground.

Downtown Calgary with Prince's Island Park in the foreground.

Atlanta’s Midtown vs Calgary’s Downtown

  Atlanta's Symphony Tower.

Atlanta's Symphony Tower.

Over the past few decades, many of the amenities you would expect in a traditional downtown have migrated from Atlanta’s old downtown to Midtown, about 3 km north. Today, Midtown has over 20 million square feet of office space (Calgary’s downtown has 43 million) with over 23 new office buildings in the past 15 years. 

The 41-storey Symphony Tower, completed in 2005 by Pickard Chilton Architects is a sister tower to Calgary’s Eighth Avenue Place, designed by the same firm.

Midtown is where you will find the Woodruff Arts Centre (5 performance spaces; 3,400 seats), and High Museum of Art.  Calgary’s equivalent would be Arts Commons (5 performance spaces; 3,200 seats) and The Glenbow. 

Midtown also is home to the historic 4,665-seat Fox Theatre, as well as 14th Street Playhouse, Museum of Design Atlanta and Centre for Puppetry Arts.   Calgary’s Theatre Junction GRAND, Lunchbox Theatre and Vertigo Theatre and Palace Theatre would match Atlanta’s performing arts scene.

Midtown is also home to 24,000+ postsecondary students attending Georgia Tech, Emory University Hospital, Savannah College of Art & Design, John Marshall Law School and Westwood College.  Calgary’s equivalent would be Bow Valley College, and SAIT/ACAD with about 10,000 students in all.

Advantage: Calgary (office vitality); Atlanta (student vitality)
  Atlanta's Woodruff Arts Center, combines theatre, concert hall and art museum. 

Atlanta's Woodruff Arts Center, combines theatre, concert hall and art museum. 

  World Events is a 26-foot high sculpture by Tony Cragg at the entrance to Atlanta's Woodruff Arts Center's concert hall.  

World Events is a 26-foot high sculpture by Tony Cragg at the entrance to Atlanta's Woodruff Arts Center's concert hall.  

  Calgary's, Wonderland, by Jaume Plensa on the plaza in front of the Bow office tower designed by Norman Foster. 

Calgary's, Wonderland, by Jaume Plensa on the plaza in front of the Bow office tower designed by Norman Foster. 

  Typical Midtown streetscape in Atlanta.

Typical Midtown streetscape in Atlanta.

  While most of downtown Calgary's streets are lined with office towers like Atlanta, Stephen Avenue Walk is a pedestrian mall by day and road at night. It is  a very popular place for office workers to stroll at lunch hour. It is lined with patios and street vendors in the summer, creating a festival like atmosphere.

While most of downtown Calgary's streets are lined with office towers like Atlanta, Stephen Avenue Walk is a pedestrian mall by day and road at night. It is  a very popular place for office workers to stroll at lunch hour. It is lined with patios and street vendors in the summer, creating a festival like atmosphere.

  While Atlanta's Midtown does have two subway stations, it has nothing to match Calgary's LRT system and it 7th Avenue SW Stations.  Atlanta also can't match Calgary's FREE fare zone in the downtown. 

While Atlanta's Midtown does have two subway stations, it has nothing to match Calgary's LRT system and it 7th Avenue SW Stations.  Atlanta also can't match Calgary's FREE fare zone in the downtown. 

  Altanta's MARTA subway stations are dark and dingy. Note the street is lined with above ground parkades vs Calgary's underground parkades.  

Altanta's MARTA subway stations are dark and dingy. Note the street is lined with above ground parkades vs Calgary's underground parkades.  

Piedmont Park vs Calgary Urban Parks

Midtown’s 200-acre Piedmont Park is the South’s greatest park and Atlanta’s “backyard.”  It encompasses the Atlanta Botanical Garden, a huge playing field area, a lagoon, outdoor swimming pool, pub/restaurant, paved pathways, trails, two dog parks (one for large dogs; one for small dogs) and lots of places to sit. It hosts several signature festivals – Dogwood, Jazz, Food & Wine, Road Race, Arts, Music Festival, Gay Pride and Kite. A lamppost banner said there are over 3,000 events annually in Midtown.

Calgary could counter with its four signature urban parks - Prince’s Island, St. Patrick’s Island, Riley and Central Memorial Parks.  Add in Stampede Park and Shaw Millennium Park with all of their festivals and events and Calgary matches Atlanta’s Midtown for parks and festivals.

Advantage: Tied
  An outdoor science fair in Piedmont Park, is a popular annual family event.

An outdoor science fair in Piedmont Park, is a popular annual family event.

  Piedmont Park is also a popular place for people to read, picnic and play.

Piedmont Park is also a popular place for people to read, picnic and play.

  Calgary's Prince's Island Park is transformed into a huge "love-in" during the Calgary International Folk Festival. 

Calgary's Prince's Island Park is transformed into a huge "love-in" during the Calgary International Folk Festival. 

  Calgary's St. Patrick's Island has recently been transformed into a popular public space for Calgarians of all ages. 

Calgary's St. Patrick's Island has recently been transformed into a popular public space for Calgarians of all ages. 

 Murdoch Park in Bridgeland is a popular family park even in Calgary's winter.

Murdoch Park in Bridgeland is a popular family park even in Calgary's winter.

  Shaw Millennium Park is one of the best skate parks in North America. It also has a festival area, beach volleyball and basketball courts.   

Shaw Millennium Park is one of the best skate parks in North America. It also has a festival area, beach volleyball and basketball courts.  

Atlantic Station vs East Village

Like Calgary, Midtown is undergoing an urban living renaissance with 8,000+ new mid and highrise homes under construction or about to break ground. 

On the northwestern edge of Midtown sits Atlantic Station, a mega 138-acre redevelopment of an old steel mill.  It includes a multi-block midrise condo town center with ground floor retail above a mega 7,200-space underground parking garage. It has grocery store, Dillard’s department store, 16-screen Regal movie theatre, as well as 30 other retail stores and 20 restaurants.  It also includes office and hotel towers, with a Target and Ikea store nearby.  When completed, it will have 12 million square feet of retail, office, residential and hotel space as well as 11 acres of public parks.  It will be home for 10,000 people.

Calgary’s equivalent would be the 120-acre redevelopment of East Village, which will also be home to about 10,000 people when completed.  It too will have a grocery store, retail and restaurants and hotel. Instead of office towers it will have two major public buildings – New Central Library and National Music Center.  It includes the 31-acre St. Patricks’ Island, 40-acre Fort Calgary Park and the 2-km RiverWalk.

While Atlantic Station is further advanced development-wise than East Village, it is not as well connected to its neighbouring communities and its public spaces are not as attractive.  It has nothing to match East Village’s Bow River. 

Advantage: Calgary
  Sunday morning church service in Atlantic Station's Central Plaza

Sunday morning church service in Atlantic Station's Central Plaza

  One of Atlantic Station's several shopping streets. 

One of Atlantic Station's several shopping streets. 

  Setting up for Sunday artisan market at Atlantic Station. 

Setting up for Sunday artisan market at Atlantic Station. 

  Atlantic Station and Georgia Tech are both separated from downtown and midtown by huge highway. However, the overpasses have very large pedestrian sidewalks. 

Atlantic Station and Georgia Tech are both separated from downtown and midtown by huge highway. However, the overpasses have very large pedestrian sidewalks. 

  Calgary's East Village is a massive master-planned urban village project on the eastern edge of the downtown.   

Calgary's East Village is a massive master-planned urban village project on the eastern edge of the downtown.  

  Roof-top dining on the Simons Building on the banks of the Bow River in East Village.

Roof-top dining on the Simons Building on the banks of the Bow River in East Village.

  In addition to East Village, Calgary's City Centre has several other major condo projects along the Bow River in Eau Claire and West Downtown, as well as Kensington, Beltline, Inglewood and Bridgeland. 

In addition to East Village, Calgary's City Centre has several other major condo projects along the Bow River in Eau Claire and West Downtown, as well as Kensington, Beltline, Inglewood and Bridgeland. 

Shopping & Dining

Atlanta is missing a main street like Stephen Avenue in its urban core (25 sq. km.). Other than Atlantic Station and Ponce City Market, there is no retail in downtown or midtown. Calgary's Eau Claire Market pales in comparison. 

However, Atlanta has nothing to match Calgary’s mega downtown shopping mall - The Core - or the main street shopping and patio dining of  Kensington, Inglewood, Beltline or Mission.   

Advantage: Calgary
  Ponce City Market is a massive Sears Roebuck & Co. retail store, warehouse and regional office.  Today it is home to restaurants and shops.  It is surrounded by new condo developments.

Ponce City Market is a massive Sears Roebuck & Co. retail store, warehouse and regional office.  Today it is home to restaurants and shops.  It is surrounded by new condo developments.

  Ponce City Market is a popular place on weekend to meet up with friends.

Ponce City Market is a popular place on weekend to meet up with friends.

  Ponce City Markets massive outdoor patio. 

Ponce City Markets massive outdoor patio. 

  Calgary's The Core is a three-block long retail centre with The Bay and Holt's department stores anchoring the two ends.  It also has a major indoor park. 

Calgary's The Core is a three-block long retail centre with The Bay and Holt's department stores anchoring the two ends.  It also has a major indoor park. 

  The historic Hudson's Bay department store in downtown Calgary.  

The historic Hudson's Bay department store in downtown Calgary. 

  Calgary's 17th Ave SW is lined with patios, cafes and shops from 2nd to 14th Street.

Calgary's 17th Ave SW is lined with patios, cafes and shops from 2nd to 14th Street.

Rivers & Pathways

Atlanta also has nothing to match the natural beauty of Calgary’s Bow and Elbow Rivers and their lovely multi-use pathways.  However, Atlanta does have an old abandoned railway line called the BeltLine, which has recently been converted into a promenade attracting tens of thousands of pedestrians and cyclists on weekends. It has already been a catalyst for several mid-rise condo developments and mega pubs.  It has a huge potential to create a vibrant urban corridor.

Advantage: Calgary
  Atlanta's BeltLine is a popular multi-use pathway that has been a huge catalyst for development. 

Atlanta's BeltLine is a popular multi-use pathway that has been a huge catalyst for development. 

  There are huge pubs along Atlanta's BeltLine. 

There are huge pubs along Atlanta's BeltLine. 

  In summer, Calgary's Bow River pathway on the edge of downtown is a special place to stroll. 

In summer, Calgary's Bow River pathway on the edge of downtown is a special place to stroll. 

  The Peace Bridge is a popular spot to cross the Bow River for cyclist, runners and walkers.

The Peace Bridge is a popular spot to cross the Bow River for cyclist, runners and walkers.

Centennial Park vs Olympic Plaza

Atlanta beats Calgary when it comes to creating a tourism legacy from the Olympics.  Their 21-acre Centennial Olympic Park located downtown includes the Fountain of Rings, a dancing fountain that families love to run through, a Ferris wheel and playing fields.

In addition, it is surrounded by the World of Coca-Cola museum, Georgia Aquarium, CNN Centre and National Centre for Civil and Human Rights. It is a huge year-round tourist attraction.

The vitality of Calgary’s Olympic Plaza pales in comparison except when the Calgary International Children’s Festival or some other major event is happening.

Advantage Atlanta
  Every city needs to have more dancing fountains. 

Every city needs to have more dancing fountains. 

  Even though there was nobody on the Ferris Wheel, it creates a playful sense of place.

Even though there was nobody on the Ferris Wheel, it creates a playful sense of place.

 Gotta love the Coca-Cola sponsored funky information booth at Centennial Olympic Park, that looks like a Claes Oldenburg sculpture. Note the cafe and aquarium in the background. 

Gotta love the Coca-Cola sponsored funky information booth at Centennial Olympic Park, that looks like a Claes Oldenburg sculpture. Note the cafe and aquarium in the background. 

  Calgary's Olympic Plaza has little urban vitality except when an event is taking place, despite being surrounded by a major library, City Hall, municipal building, arts center, museum and convention centre. It has limited tourist appeal. 

Calgary's Olympic Plaza has little urban vitality except when an event is taking place, despite being surrounded by a major library, City Hall, municipal building, arts center, museum and convention centre. It has limited tourist appeal. 

Arena, Stadium & Convention Centre

Atlanta has clustered their new Mercedes Benz Stadium, Phillips Arena and World Congress Center (convention center) around a large plaza just south of its Centennial Park. Unfortunately, it is not well connected to either Centennial Olympic Park or downtown. And with no everyday amenities, it was like a ghost town the April afternoon we visited. 

Calgary’s equivalent is Stampede Park with its two arenas, Grandstand and the BMO exhibition centre. Hopefully, the new Stampede Entertainment District Plan will create a mix of everyday uses and connect the district with its neighbours – 17th Ave, East Village and Inglewood.

Advantage: Tied
Screen Shot 2018-05-25 at 1.26.47 PM.png
  Atlanta's lovely plaza that links the stadium, arena and convention centre is devoid of any animation most of the time.    Clustering large single use special event facilities is a big "No No" in Jane Jacob's book.

Atlanta's lovely plaza that links the stadium, arena and convention centre is devoid of any animation most of the time.  Clustering large single use special event facilities is a big "No No" in Jane Jacob's book.

  Calgary's Stampede Park is amazing public space during the 10 days of Stampede.  It is also home to numerous other major events.   

Calgary's Stampede Park is amazing public space during the 10 days of Stampede.  It is also home to numerous other major events.  

  Stampede Park can be a desolate place when there are no events happening.   

Stampede Park can be a desolate place when there are no events happening.  

  Calgary's Saddledome arena with downtown skyline in the background.

Calgary's Saddledome arena with downtown skyline in the background.

Last Word  

While Atlanta might be five times bigger than Calgary, its urban core (25 sq. km) is no match for Calgary’s. Almost all of its large buildings have huge multi-floor, above-ground parkades that destroy street life on three sides.  Calgary is fortunate most of its urban parking is underground, sometimes even with a park on top e.g. James Short Park.

Calgary is also fortunate its urban core is compact. Olympic Plaza Arts District, Stephen Avenue National Historic District, Financial District, Music Mile, urban parks and shopping districts are all within easy walking distance.

What Atlanta’s City Centre does have that Calgary could definitely use more of is postsecondary school campuses. What a great use for downtown’s empty office space. I am sure somebody is on it!

  One of dozens of above ground parkades in Atlanta's urban core that destroys the street life. 

One of dozens of above ground parkades in Atlanta's urban core that destroys the street life. 

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Parks: A must for urban living!

After spending 14 days living across the street from Atlanta’s mega 200-acre Piedmont Park, I have an even greater appreciation for the value of urban parks. Twitter is full of urbanists bantering about the value of parks and trees on the quality of the air we breathe, as well as on mental health and well. But seeing is believing.  

  Atlanta's Piedmont Park offers a pastoral setting for passive activities like reading. Sometimes we just need our space. 

Atlanta's Piedmont Park offers a pastoral setting for passive activities like reading. Sometimes we just need our space. 

For some, the urban concrete and asphalt jungle can be depressing, especially for those living in condos with no front or back yards – some don’t even have a balcony.  The medical community has coined the term “nature deficit disorder” to describe people living in cities who suffer depression because of their lack of contact with nature. 

  Just one of many new high-rise condo towers in Midtown Atlanta near Piedmont Park. 

Just one of many new high-rise condo towers in Midtown Atlanta near Piedmont Park. 

  Small condo balconies are often more ornamental than functional. 

Small condo balconies are often more ornamental than functional. 

  Many of Atlanta's high-rise buildings have huge above ground parkades attached to them that kills the street life. 

Many of Atlanta's high-rise buildings have huge above ground parkades attached to them that kills the street life. 

Studies have shown that when humans are in large parks, their walking slows to a stroll and are more likely to take time to sit, relax, soak in the sun and watch the world go by. Personally, I find people are friendlier when they are in a park than on at street or plaza.

I experienced all of the above living next to Piedmont Park where literally thousands of people walked, biked and jogged along the tree-canopied pathways in my front yard from sunrise to sunset. 

Link: Parks Improve Mental Health and Quality of Life 

  Piedmont Park has not only great pathways for strolling but also a huge area with well-use playing fields. 

Piedmont Park has not only great pathways for strolling but also a huge area with well-use playing fields. 

  Piedmont Park is home to a popular Green Market on Saturdays.  It has great live music.  

Piedmont Park is home to a popular Green Market on Saturdays.  It has great live music.  

I thought Calgary was an active city but compared to Atlanta, we seem just average. I have never seen so many joggers and walkers – perhaps it was just Spring Fever.  I was so impressed I almost went jogging myself. 

 This was a scene one afternoon, on the sidewalk across from our Piedmont Airbnb at the edge of the park. It was a constant stream of joggers (not always topless) on weekends. 

This was a scene one afternoon, on the sidewalk across from our Piedmont Airbnb at the edge of the park. It was a constant stream of joggers (not always topless) on weekends. 

Two Dog Parks!

And don’t get me started about the dog walking.  I used to think River Park in Altadore was the best dog park in North America, until I saw Piedmont Park. It is just one huge dog park.  Not only are there two off leash, fenced-in dog parks - one for larger dogs (with an agility course) and one for smaller dogs - but in reality, the entire park is an off-leash dog park (despite lots of signs saying otherwise) and nobody seems to mind. 

  I am thinking Atlanta must be the dog capital of the USA, maybe the world.  I have never seen so many dogs.  Maybe it was just the Midtown district and our proximity to the park.  

I am thinking Atlanta must be the dog capital of the USA, maybe the world.  I have never seen so many dogs.  Maybe it was just the Midtown district and our proximity to the park. 

Park / Art Park / Playground 

Piedmont Park also offers huge playing fields, lots of funky art, historic monuments, meandering trails, a pub (which servers $1 beer if it is raining)  and a quirky playground design by world-renowned artist Isamu Noguchi.

Who could ask for anything more?

 This slide/sculpture was very popular. Note the dog in the playground. 

This slide/sculpture was very popular. Note the dog in the playground. 

  Looking across Piedmont Park's Lake Clara Meer to the midtown condos. 

Looking across Piedmont Park's Lake Clara Meer to the midtown condos. 

Last Word

It is no wonder there are several major condos going up in Atlanta’s Midtown district next to Piedmont Park as city dwellers clamour to try to be closer to nature.

Park-oriented development (POD) is also happening in Calgary.  There is Qualex-Landmark’s Park Point next to Central Memorial Park (Beltline) and Birchwood Properties’ Ezra on Riley Park (Hillhurst), Anthem’s Water Front and Concord Pacific’s, Concord project next to Prince’s Island and all the East Village condo projects with their proximity to St. Patrick’s Island. 

And in Calgary’s suburbs, Fish Creek Exchange by Graywood Developments and Sanderson Ridge near Fish Creek Park are two POD examples.   

While the City of Calgary is focused on creating or enhancing 24 different “main streets” across Calgary, I couldn’t help but wonder if we shouldn’t be spending more time identifying how to capitalize on our 5,000+ parks and 850 km of pathways as catalysts for creating quality urban living opportunities across the city. 

Hot Travel tip 

If you are in Atlanta on a Saturday, don't miss the Saturday morning Piedmont Park free tours compliments of the Piedmont Park Conservatory.  They are about 90 minutes long - very entertaining and very informative.  Link: Piedmont Park Tours

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

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

Beautifying The Beltline

Dog Parks Foster A Sense Of Community

Calgary's St. Patrick's Park: An Urban Oasis

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)

 

Calgary: The World's Most Walkable City Center?

Note: After posting this blog on Twitter I got a lot of flak from a few of Calgary's urban advocates - perhaps a dozen or so.  But I also got lots of support via email and personal conversations. 

While I appreciate the statement is a bit of stretch it is in the form of a question. And while the naysayers had some good points, they didn't convince me that my statement isn't true.  While some thought European cities were more walkable and asked if I had been to Paris, Berlin or Dublin - yes I have. I would counter in Paris cars park on the sidewalks and the roads are often grid-locked with cars, buses and taxis creating a very hostile environment.  Yes Paris has great parks, but nothing better than Calgarians and I love our river pathways better than theirs.  I love that our rivers are still natural and not canal-like as they are in most European cities. 

Berlin and Dublin are nice but the streets are chaotic with pedestrians, cyclists, cars, buses, trams etc. Calgary's City Centre is very civilized.  I also find our grid street system much easier to navigate than European cities.  

Have a read and let me know what you think....

 The area inside the red oval is what I approximate to be Calgary's City Centre. 

The area inside the red oval is what I approximate to be Calgary's City Centre. 

One of the best things about Calgary’s City Centre is its walkability.  I have visited dozens of cities around the world from Hong Kong to Amsterdam and I haven’t found a city more pedestrian-friendly than Calgary. 

Here are eight reasons why I think Calgary’s City Centre is one of the most walkable urban places in the world.

  Even streets in the middle of Calgary's CBD are pedestrian friendly. 

Even streets in the middle of Calgary's CBD are pedestrian friendly. 

  Even the back alleys are pedestrian friend in the City Centre.

Even the back alleys are pedestrian friend in the City Centre.

#1 Drivers stop for pedestrians!

If you are new to Calgary or visiting, don’t be surprised if a driver stops in the middle of the road to let you cross the street. It won’t happen on busy downtown streets, but will definitely happen on side streets.

Pedestrians will also find our downtown streets (outside of rush hour) are not nearly as chaotic as European streets where pedestrians, cyclists, scooters, motorcycles, cars, trams and bus all compete for the same space.

  This car stopped to let these pedestrian cross the street.  Calgary has the most pedestrian friendly drivers I have encountered anywhere.  

This car stopped to let these pedestrian cross the street.  Calgary has the most pedestrian friendly drivers I have encountered anywhere.  

#2 Flat  & Compact

Calgary’s City Centre is a flat as a Stampede pancakes, making it easy to walk everywhere.  With our City Centre only about 4 km (from east to west and from north to south), you can walk from one end to the other in an hour.   

Our City Centre included several distinct neighbourhoods Beltline, Bridgeland/Riverside, Chinatown, East Village, Eau Claire, Inglewood, Kensington and Mission, each with their own main street, and each within walking distance of the downtown.

  This is probably the biggest elevation change in Calgary's City Centre. 

This is probably the biggest elevation change in Calgary's City Centre. 

#3 Pathways

Calgary’s City Centre has amazing pathways along both sides of the Bow River, with numerous pedestrian bridges allowing pedestrians to crisscross back and forth as desired.  You can walk the entire length of the City Centre, east to west without ever encountering a car.  The historic Centre Street Bridge with its iconic lions offers a postcard view of the Bow River and the City skyline, as do the Peace and King pedestrian bridges.

The downtown office core’s network of 60+ above ground pedestrian bridges (called +15 bridges as they are 15 feet above the street) link 100+ buildings to create an a-mazing 20 km walkway.  It is the longest in the world.

As well, during the day, Stephen Avenue (aka 8th Ave SW) is a pedestrian mall for the five blocks between Macleod Trail and 3rd Street SW.  Strolling along it at noon hour (aka power hour) when tens of thousands of office workers come out to stretch their legs offers great people watching.  

Barclay Mall (aka 3rd Street SW) is a very pedestrian-friendly connection to the Bow River pathway with its wide and winding sidewalks, planters and public art.

  Stephen Avenue can be busy even in the middle of winter. 

Stephen Avenue can be busy even in the middle of winter. 

  Stephen Avenue is one of the best pedestrian malls in Canada.

Stephen Avenue is one of the best pedestrian malls in Canada.

  RiverWalk in East Village has lovely places to stop and enjoy the majestic Bow River on your way to St. Patrick Island Park via the King Bridge. 

RiverWalk in East Village has lovely places to stop and enjoy the majestic Bow River on your way to St. Patrick Island Park via the King Bridge. 

  Moms living in the City Centre love to take the kids for a walk along the Bow River. This photo was taken in February i.e. the middle of winter. 

Moms living in the City Centre love to take the kids for a walk along the Bow River. This photo was taken in February i.e. the middle of winter. 

 Calgarians loves how the winter sun floods the +15 walkway connecting over 100 buildings via 60+ bridges in the downtown. It creates a lovely pedestrian experience with cafes, shops, food courts and amazing atriums. 

Calgarians loves how the winter sun floods the +15 walkway connecting over 100 buildings via 60+ bridges in the downtown. It creates a lovely pedestrian experience with cafes, shops, food courts and amazing atriums. 

#4 Parks & Garden Strolls

Calgary’s City Centre offers one of the best collections of urban parks in the world.  There’s Central Memorial Park, Calgary’s oldest park, opened in 1912. And Stampede Park with its numerous murals and sculptures, Parade of Stampede Posters along the pedestrian corridor from the LRT Station to the historic Coral arena, is a fun place for a walk-about.

At the west end lays Shaw Millennial Park, one of the world’s largest skate parks as well as popular festival site. Prince’s Island Park has lovely nature walk around its ponds at the eastern edge and small sculpture park, as well as boasting one of the best restaurants in the city – River Café.  St. Patrick’s Island Park, our newest urban park with its pebble beach has become a very popular family destination.

In the summer, you can also walk to Reader Rock Garden near Stampede Park, Beaulieu Garden at Lougheed House and Senator Patrick Burns Memorial Rock Gardens near Riley Park.  Speaking of Riley Park it is home to Sunday afternoon cricket matches in the summer and a popular wading pool making it a popular walking destination.

  Calgary's City Centre parks like Memorial Park offer lots of pathways for pedestrians to spread out. 

Calgary's City Centre parks like Memorial Park offer lots of pathways for pedestrians to spread out. 

  Stampede Park pathway stroll.

Stampede Park pathway stroll.

#5 Tour de Cafe

Pedestrians need their caffeine fixes, be that at the beginning, middle or end of the walkabout.  Calgary has a plethora of independent cafes; in fact one could easily take a day and just tour from one café to the next.  Some of the hot spots include: Gravity (Inglewood), Phil & Sebastians (Stephen Avenue Walk), Bumpy’s and Kawa Espresso Bar (Beltline), Purple Perk (Mission) Analogue and Café Beano (17th Ave SW), Vendrome (Sunnyside), Roasterie, Higher Ground and Regal Cat Café (Kensington), deVille, Monogram and Caffe Artigiano (downtown) and Alfrono Bakery Café (Eau Claire).

  Sidewalk cafes are scattered throughout the City Centre. 

Sidewalk cafes are scattered throughout the City Centre. 

  Even in winter you can still enjoy your coffee outside. 

Even in winter you can still enjoy your coffee outside. 

#6 Take An Art Walk Everyday

Art is everywhere in Calgary’s City Centre, from murals to memorials, from statues to street art – even on utility boxes.  Make sure you pop into the lobbies of the office towers as most have artworks on the main floor – Bankers Hall, Eighth Avenue Place and City Centre towers are perhaps the best.  An entire day can be spent wandering to look at the art and still never see them all.

The “temporary” abstract paintings on the façades of our glass towers, created by the reflection of one building on the façade of another are both spectacular and ever changing.  It is a bit like the northern lights.

Being able to enjoy art as you walk always enhances the pedestrian experience.

  The Famous Five sculptures on Olympic Plaza is a popular place to stop and take a photo. 

The Famous Five sculptures on Olympic Plaza is a popular place to stop and take a photo. 

#7 Window Licking While You Walk

One of my favourite things to do as a pedestrian is “window shop” or as the French say “faire du leche-vitrines” which translates to “window licking.” Calgary’s City Centre has several great pedestrian oriented streets for “window licking”  – 11th and 17th Avenue SW; 9th Ave SE; 10th Ave NW and Kensington Road NW.   Some of the windows are like mini art exhibitions.

  Window licking fun along 17th Avenue. 

Window licking fun along 17th Avenue. 

#8 Entertainment

You can easily walk to two art house cinemas (Plaza and Globe), two museums (Glenbow, National Music Centre), theatres (Big Secret, Engineer Air, Max Bell, Martha Cohen, Lunchbox, The GRAND, Vertigo) concert halls (Jack Singer, The Palace, Festival Hall), DJD Dance Centre, Convention Centre, BMO Centre, Saddledome and dozen of live music venues. 

No matter where you are in the City Centre, you can literally walk to dozens of restaurants, pubs and lounges within 10 minutes and probably 50+ in 20 minutes.

  You never know where you might find some entertainment along the streets of Calgary's City Center.

You never know where you might find some entertainment along the streets of Calgary's City Center.

Last Word

I would be remiss if I didn’t add the streets of Calgary’s City Centre are some of the cleanest and safest I have encountered.  At the same time there is lots of work to do to make our City Centre streets more accessible and barrier free. As well we need to do a better job of snow removal in the winter.  That being said, our City Centre is one of the most pedestrian friendly places I have ever visited.

  Even in the middle of winter, Calgarians love to bundle up and go for a walk.  

Even in the middle of winter, Calgarians love to bundle up and go for a walk.  

David Peyto wrote:

I have completed 530 walks, totally almost 4,100 km so far in my attempt to walk all of the sidewalks in Calgary. There is still quite a bit to walking yet to do as I decided with all the snow on the residential streets this winter to start walking in the industrial areas where the streets were better.

I agree with your comments about Manchester being a very interesting area. I was surprised how many small older houses are still in that area.

I find Calgary's sidewalks are usually in good condition in the winter. Sometimes I wait until the ice formed overnight from the previous day's thawing melts again.

I find the drivers to be very good. I have noticed that many are careful not to splash pedestrians when passing especially when walking along roads without sidewalks.

Overall I have found the city to be very walkable. There have been very few areas where I have found any problems. Once in awhile there are two adjacent communities where it is a bit of a challenge to walk from one to the other. A good example of this is crossing Shaganappi between Hidden Valley and Hamptons.

I read your article about the overpass by Hillhurst School being in poor shape. I think the city needs to replace some of the older ones such as the two over Crowchild near your home although they will probably be replaced when Crowchild is widened.

There are also some others in that aren't great such as on 16th Avenue NE by 19th Street and on Crowchild Trail near Garrison Green.

I don't know enough about walking in other cities to offer comments in comparison to Calgary.

Beltline: Calgary's hipster/nester community?

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

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

  Just another weekend afternoon in Tomkins Park. 

Just another weekend afternoon in Tomkins Park. 

FYI

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

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  Condos come in all shapes and sizes in the Beltline.

Condos come in all shapes and sizes in the Beltline.

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

#1 Pubs & Clubs

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

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

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

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

  Life is good in the Beltline.

Life is good in the Beltline.

#2 Café /Patio Culture

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

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

  Beltline's street life happens year-round.

Beltline's street life happens year-round.

  Patio fun on 17th Ave.

Patio fun on 17th Ave.

#3 Parks

  An evening stroll....

An evening stroll....

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

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

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

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

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  Funky new residential towers, next to Barb Scott Park. 

Funky new residential towers, next to Barb Scott Park. 

#4 FFQ Factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#5 Parkside Living

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

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

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

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

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#6 Grocery Stores Galore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

Discover Calgary's Secret Heritage Walk

Calgary: Beautifying The Beltline

11th St SW is Calgary's Green Street

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Perfect Park

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

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

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

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

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Active Main Street

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

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

There will be no surface parking lots in West District.

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Rise of the Mid-rise

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

The Rise of the Mid-rise Condo

21st Century: The Century of the Condo

West District: Community Engagement Gone Wild

 

Calgary's Coolest Neighbourhoods: Inglewood

Locals and visitors often ask me “what is Calgary’s coolest neighbourhood?”  My reply is, “It depends on what you like to do.” 

Just for fun I thought I would do a series of blogs on what makes Calgary’s City Centre neighbourhoods (Beltline, Bridgeland, East Village, Eau Claire, Downtown West, Downtown Core, Inglewood, Kensington and Mission) all cool depending on your perspective.

  You know a neighbourhood is cool when you find kids playing on a mini plaza in front of retail store along its Main Street.    This is 9th Ave aka Atlantic Ave in Inglewood. 

You know a neighbourhood is cool when you find kids playing on a mini plaza in front of retail store along its Main Street.  This is 9th Ave aka Atlantic Ave in Inglewood. 

What makes a cool neighbourhood?

My template of what I think are the key elements of a cool neighbourhood is:

  1. Festivals/Events
  2. Shops
  3. Cafés
  4. Restaurants
  5. Art/Architecture
  6. Parks/Plaza/Pathways
  7. Fitness/Recreation
  8. Pubs/Clubs/Beer
  9. Fun/Funky/Quirky
  This is one of two barns that still exist in Inglewood - how cool is that.  

This is one of two barns that still exist in Inglewood - how cool is that. 

Inglewood

Inglewood’s boundaries are difficult to share in words as you can see by this illustration from the City of Calgary’s website.  It is one of Calgary’s oldest communities and was once known as Brewery Flats as it was home to the mammoth Calgary Brewing and Malting Company site which is now closed and waiting for redevelopment. Given the rise in popularity of craft beer around the world, Inglewood might want to use Brewery Flats as part of its branding.

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Festivals/Events

Inglewood is home to not one but three signature events every summer.  The Inglewood Night Market will take place on June 8, July 13, August 10 and September 14 this year.  The Calgary Fringe Festival takes place from Aug 3 to 11, while Sunfest happens Saturday August 24.

Shops

Inglewood has an ever-changing array of eclectic shops from exquisite Circa Vintage Art Glass to bibliophile’s Fair’s Fair Books’ with its 7,000 used books. 

  Fair's Fair and Galleria share a building on the western edge of Inglewood. 

Fair's Fair and Galleria share a building on the western edge of Inglewood. 

But wait. It gets better.

Two "must visits" are Crown Surplus store where you can find some very interesting outdoor and tactical gear (maybe even a surplus military tent) and Recordland where you can hunt for that elusive vintage record you have always wanted (one of the largest collections of used records in North America.) 

  Recordland is a "must visit" for audiophiles.  

Recordland is a "must visit" for audiophiles. 

  Tea Trader's has the charm of an old world warehouse.

Tea Trader's has the charm of an old world warehouse.

Teetotallers will want to check out Tea Traders’ large selection of teas that they import directly to Calgary their world headquarters.

Foodies won’t want to miss The Silk Road either for its huge collection of spices, herbs and seasonings from around the world.

Knifewear offers Canada’s largest selection of Japanese knives - $2,500 is their most expensive knife; it is a work of art.  And, Kevin Kent (aka El Presidente) is one of North America’s leading authorities on knives.

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Kent of Inglewood (El Presidente’s other store) is a walk back in time, as not only is the building over 100 years old, but the products are a “blast from the past.” 

This is a “man’s man” shop where their “passion is classic shaving equipment, cocktails, axes, and all things fantastic.”

It even has an in-house barbershop.

When in Inglewood you must stop in “espy” women and men’s fashion boutique.  They are well known for their selection of denim jeans (1,000 jeans in stock) and for their professional denim fitting i.e. they are 100% honest about what looks good on you and what doesn’t!

The espy experience is not to be missed.
 Cira Vintage Art Glass with its mid century modern glass pieces is a one of kind gallery in Canada. It is an engaging kaleidoscope of colour and light.  Great for souvenir or gift shopping. 

Cira Vintage Art Glass with its mid century modern glass pieces is a one of kind gallery in Canada. It is an engaging kaleidoscope of colour and light.  Great for souvenir or gift shopping. 

  Now doesn't this look tasty....

Now doesn't this look tasty....

  I really wanted this clothes peg bench at Le Belle Arti, but I don't have a house big enough for it.  Wouldn't it be great in a children's playground? 

I really wanted this clothes peg bench at Le Belle Arti, but I don't have a house big enough for it.  Wouldn't it be great in a children's playground? 

Cafés

Gravity Espresso & Wine Bar, opened in 2012, has quickly established itself as the Inglewood hangout spot, not only for the espresso and wine but for its live music featuring local musicians every Friday and Saturday evening. 

The new kid on the block - ROSSO Coffee Roasters, named the ATB Small Business of the Year in 2017, by Calgary Chamber of Commerce is also worth a visit.

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Restaurants

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While restaurants come and go, Rouge Restaurant in the historic 1891 Cross House has been rated one of Calgary’s top 10 restaurants since 2001.

In fact, in 2010, it was ranked #60 in the world by San Pellegrino Awards. 

In 2014, Michael Noble (one of Canada’s leading chefs) opened The Nash and Off Cut Bar in the historic National Hotel (1907).   And in 2016, Sal Howell (one of Calgary’s best restaurant owners) reopened the Deane House (1906) next to Fort Calgary complete with an edible garden. 

If you are into dining in historical settings, Inglewood is definitely your place.

If you are looking for an authentic Calgary dining experience, you can’t do much better than Spolumbo’s family restaurant (owned by three former Calgary Stampeders players) using old world family recipes to create the perfect sausages. 

No community can be cool without a “go to” pizza place. In Inglewood’s that would be Without Papers Pizza.

  Funny Story: Kevin Kent a former chef started his Japanese knife importing business to sell knives to Calgary chefs our of his backpack.  It become so popular he opened up a store in Inglewood, which also became successful and today he has Knifewear stores in Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver.  Some of the knives are like works of art, that you could hang on the wall, which in fact he as done in Inglewood store. 

Funny Story: Kevin Kent a former chef started his Japanese knife importing business to sell knives to Calgary chefs our of his backpack.  It become so popular he opened up a store in Inglewood, which also became successful and today he has Knifewear stores in Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver.  Some of the knives are like works of art, that you could hang on the wall, which in fact he as done in Inglewood store. 

Art/Architecture

Inglewood is Calgary’s live music district, home to the Blues Can, Ironwood Stage & Grill (both have music 7days a week) and Festival Hall (operated by the Calgary Folk Festival).  

Tim Williams, winner of the 2014 International Blues Competition for best solo/duo and best guitarist, hosts a blues jam every Saturday (no cover) at the Blues Can.

  The Blues Can has just the right amount of grit to be an authentic blues bar.

The Blues Can has just the right amount of grit to be an authentic blues bar.

  The Garry Theatre aka Ironwood Stage & Grill offers everything from blues jams to Big Band brunches.   

The Garry Theatre aka Ironwood Stage & Grill offers everything from blues jams to Big Band brunches.  

  Calgary International Folk Festival's Festival Hall. 

Calgary International Folk Festival's Festival Hall. 

Inglewood is home to the Esker Foundation/Contemporary Art Gallery, a privately funded, non-commercial, free gallery that curates three exhibitions per year – fall, winter and spring/summer. Challenging yet accessible, they are accompanied by educational programs and publications.

It is on the third floor of the Atlantic Avenue Art Block, an architectural work of art in itself with its wavy roof and how it integrates the historic red brick warehouse architecture with contemporary urban design. 

  Esker Foundation Art Gallery is a "must see" when you are in Inglewood. (photo credit: screen shot from website)

Esker Foundation Art Gallery is a "must see" when you are in Inglewood. (photo credit: screen shot from website)

Other art galleries in the neighbourhood include Galleria, Van Ginkel Art Gallery, Inglewood Fine Arts and Collector’s Gallery.   And, just a short walk up 12th St SE under the rail tracks lies the Artpoint Gallery and Studios Society with its three galleries and 23 studios.

History buffs will love walking along Inglewood’s New Street and you will discover a charming mix of heritage and contemporary homes.  One of the reasons Calgary’s City Center neighbourhoods are so vibrant is the hundreds of new infill homes being built every year.

Link: Calgary is the Infill Capital of North America

  Just a few of the historic homes in Inglewood.

Just a few of the historic homes in Inglewood.

Parks/Plazas/Pathways

With the northern boundary of Inglewood being the Bow River, Inglewood has a lovely walking and cycling pathway to downtown, St. Patrick’s Island, the Calgary Zoo, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and Harvie Passage. 

Inglewood is also home to Calgary’s original Main Street, aka 9th Avenue (as it is now called) aka Atlantic Avenue (its original name). The three blocks from 11th St to 14th St SE is a charming collection of early 20th century red brick buildings that house an eclectic array of shops today.   

Inglewood is also home to Bow Passage Overlook artwork by Lorna Jordan located along the Bow River pathway at the Harvie Passage where the Bow River takes a sharp turn south.  This large artwork looks like a typical log jam along the shore of the Bow River, except it has been carefully constructed so you can walk up to the outlook viewing platform or explore and sit amongst the rocks and rectangular man-made logs. 

  The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is a delightful place to meander, reflect and take photos.

The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is a delightful place to meander, reflect and take photos.

  Inglewood is home to a small art park at the corner of 9th Ave & 8th St SE across from the Dean House. 

Inglewood is home to a small art park at the corner of 9th Ave & 8th St SE across from the Dean House. 

Fitness/Recreation

For those looking for adventurous water sports you can float, canoe or kayak on the Bow River.  Harvie Passage is currently closed but will reopen in this summer (it was severely damaged in the 2013 flood) is one of the best urban kayaking spots in North America with channels for beginners and experts.

Lawn bowling in Calgary dates back to the late 1800s and is enjoying a resurgence today. The patch of grass at the corner of 8th Ave and 12th St. SE has been home to the Inglewood Lawn Bowling Club since 1946.  Don’t be surprised if you see a bunch of hipsters lawn bowling as you walk by.  And yes you can work up a thirst lawn bowling.

Heads Up: Watch out for cyclists as 8th Ave SE can be a busy cycling street.
  A typical summer evening of lawn bowling in Inglewood. 

A typical summer evening of lawn bowling in Inglewood. 

  The Bow Passage Overlook, in Pearce Estate Park, by Lorna Jordan offers a spectacular view of the Bow River with lots of places to sit and climb. 

The Bow Passage Overlook, in Pearce Estate Park, by Lorna Jordan offers a spectacular view of the Bow River with lots of places to sit and climb. 

Pubs/Clubs/Beer

In addition, the Blues Can and Ironwood, Inglewood is home to one of Calgary’s best pubs -  The Hose & Hound Neighbourhood Pub located in a 1906 firehouse.  

Inglewood is also home to two of Calgary’s best craft breweries. Cold Garden Beverage Company Tasting Room since January 2017 has become a popular place for locals to chill, as has High Line Brewery that opened in December 2016. .

Fun/Funky/Quirky Factor

The Nest is a funky, 500-square foot meeting space that not only looks like a nest but it is suspended from the roof in the middle of the main gallery space of the Esker Contemporary Art Gallery.  Very cool!

Not only is Nerd Roller Skates a quirky niche shop that specializes in roller derby skates and equipment, is also the hub for Calgary’s roller derby community.

And the long standing Friday Night Circles of Rhythm drum circle at the Inglewood Community Hall regularly attracts over 100 participants (no experience needed, they supply the drums, perfect for everyone from 5 to 95). Drop-in are welcome.

If you have a chance you must experience Carly’s Angels the riotous drag show in the quaint Lolita’s Lounge that has been entertaining Calgarians and visitors for 10 years.  Some shows sell out 4 to 8 weeks in advance and no minors allowed as it can get more than a little raunchy.

Last Word

Inglewood has just the right mix of old and new, highbrow and lowbrow things to see and do.  No wonder Inglewood was crowned “Canada’s Greatest Neighbourhood” by the Canadian Institute of Planners in 2014 - and it has only gotten better since then. 

The ultra chic new AVLI on Atlantic condo (currently under construction) designed by Calgary’s own Jeremy Sturgess could be just what makes Inglewood not only one of Calgary’s coolest neighbourhoods, but North America’s.

Note: This is the first in a series of blogs examining Calgary’s City Centre Neighbourhoods.

Note: My apologies to Calgary’s 200+ other neighbourhoods. While you may have a cool park or playground, a great recreation centre, maybe even a lake with a beach, or a few special shops, you don’t have the history and diversity of walkable things to see and do that makes for a cool urban neighbourhood from a tourist’s perspective. And after all, this is an every day tourist blog. That being said, I am open to changing my mind. So feel free to contact me and tell me why you think another neighbourhood(s) should be on my list of cool Calgary Neighbourhoods. 

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