New Condos Help Kensington Thrive!

With the addition of several new condos – Kensington by Bucci, Ezra by Birchwood and Lido by Battistella – Kensington Village now has 10,000 people living within walking distance, a number considered by many urban strategists to be the threshold needed for street retail, restaurants and cafes to thrive. 

  Kennsington has a lively pedestrian animation year-round (especially when the sky is blue).

Kennsington has a lively pedestrian animation year-round (especially when the sky is blue).

Annie says…

Annie MacInnis has been the Executive Director of the Kensington Business Improvement Association (BIA) for the past 15 years. She recognizes the important role the new condos and their 1,000+ new residents have played not only in increasing the number of shoppers and diners, but also the new energy these newcomers have brought to the community.  She is looking forward to next wave of condos - Annex by Minto and Memorial Drive by Anthem Properties – that will add to the growing vibrancy. 

MacInnis has a long personal history with Kensington, living in the community when the LRT was first proposed in the early ‘80s and opposed by many in the neighbourhood.  

She laughs when she thinks about how today, the community’s LRT connection to the downtown and the University of Calgary is one of the community’s key attractions. 

One of the biggest changes she has noticed over the past 15 years is how the BIA and the Community Association are now working together to build a vibrant community. It wasn’t always the case.  

Fifteen years ago, the business district was in a decline, the public realm needed replacement, and the BIA and the community association were not working easily together.

 Another watershed moment happened in the ‘90s when the two anchors at each end of the village were established - Safeway renovating its store on the north end of 10thStreet NW and Shoppers Drug Mart opening its store at the west end of Kensington Road – together, meeting most residents’ everyday needs.  

Since the opening of Calgary’s first Starbucks in the mid ‘90s next to the independent café Higher Ground, not only have both survived, but together they’ve enhanced Kensington’s reputation as Calgary’s premier coffee house destination.

While The Plaza theatre has had its ups and downs, it is a key differentiator for the village and critical to it ongoing vibrancy. 

  Ezra on Riley Park is now completed and is expanding Kensington’s urban living west towards 14th St. SW  .

Ezra on Riley Park is now completed and is expanding Kensington’s urban living west towards 14th St. SW.

  Lido (foreground) and Pixel (behind) by Battistella Developments have transformed 10th Avenue into a more vibrant pedestrian street.

Lido (foreground) and Pixel (behind) by Battistella Developments have transformed 10th Avenue into a more vibrant pedestrian street.

  Battistella has plans to create a new condo project on this site, while retaining some of the elements of the church.

Battistella has plans to create a new condo project on this site, while retaining some of the elements of the church.

Reinvesting Parking Revenues

In 2015/16, MacInnis worked with the City of Calgary to manage the six million dollar makeover of Kensington’s public realm – new sidewalks, street lighting, furniture and replacement of all the unhealthy trees. The results have exceeded her expectations and will enhance the street for existing and new businesses for decades.  

In fact, the Kensington BIA won two international awards in 2014 for the innovative funding of the public realm improvements – “Best in the West” Excellence Award for Downtown Leadership and Management at the BIABC/International Downtown Association Western Canada and Pacific Northwest US Conference, as well as a Merit Award for Downtown Leadership and Management at the International Downtown Association conference. What particularly made the project unique was the securing of $4.5 million from the City of Calgary’s surplus parking revenues which opened the door for negotiations between Calgary’s Business Improvement Districts (BIA) and the City for an ongoing parking revenue sharing program for public realm improvements.  

In 2016, the City of Calgary, in partnership with Calgary Parking Authority and the BIAs developed an annual Parking Surplus Reinvestment Program, making monies available to any BIA or community with paid street parking for public realm improvements.   

  Summer patios are another way Kensington enhances the pedestrian experience.

Summer patios are another way Kensington enhances the pedestrian experience.

  Pages Books’ enhances the sidewalk experience with its outdoor book displays.

Pages Books’ enhances the sidewalk experience with its outdoor book displays.

  Kensington still has its small town charm even with all of the new condos.

Kensington still has its small town charm even with all of the new condos.

The More Art The Better

With the streetscape now upgraded, MacInnis is focusing her efforts on enhancing Kensington’s alleys and side yards. “More murals and more art” is her mantra today.  Building on the existing street art in the back alley along the east side of 10thStreet NW, she has several projects on the go.  Three alleys between buildings have been activated with murals and lighting - east side of Pulcinella, east side of Norfolk Housing Association, and east side of 10thSt by Charisma.  

She is also working on installing a 17-foot tall kinetic, wind sculpture that is also have an interactive seat for two at its base, as well as a bicycle that allows you to you to charge your phone as you pedal. 

MacInnis’ vision for Kensington is for it to be an “irresistible destination where people want to come because there is cool art and whimsical activations to charm and delight, as well as lots of interesting shops and places to eat and drink in between exploring all its nooks and crannies.”

  The summer Container Bar is great use of a side alley.

The summer Container Bar is great use of a side alley.

  The Oak Tree was way ahead of its time when it commissioned this mural many years ago.

The Oak Tree was way ahead of its time when it commissioned this mural many years ago.

  The back alleys in Kensington have become outdoor art galleries for street artists.

The back alleys in Kensington have become outdoor art galleries for street artists.

Last Word

MacInnis is very optimistic about the future of Kensington. With several more condos in the works, the future of Kensington continues to look bright, as a fun place to live, eat, drink, play and shop in Calgary.  

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

Kensington: One of North America’s Healthiest Communities

A Sunday Walkabout In Kensington

Kensington Legion: The Taller The Better?

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

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

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History of Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  It truly was a community effort.

It truly was a community effort.

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Summer of Murals: Beltline

Vancouver: Mural Festival Fun & Fantasy

Doug Driediger: Public Art That Is Uplifting!

Brad Lamb: Big On Calgary's Beltline Beat 

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

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

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

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

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

Like Toronto’s King West Neighbourhood 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Architecture & Urban Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about Orchard?

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

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

It would sure help his Orchard project become viable again. 

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

Reader Response:

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

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

Calgary’s 10th Ave Renaissance

Calgary’s Rail Trail

Beautifying The Beltline

 

 

Bow River Promenade vs Downtown Penetrator?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bow River Promenade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Name?

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

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

Urban Living Renaissance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Chinatown offers some affordable condos along the RiverWalk.

Chinatown offers some affordable condos along the RiverWalk.

It Almost Didn't Happen? 

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

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

  Illustration from 1964 Downtown Master Plan.

Illustration from 1964 Downtown Master Plan.

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

It is amazing what can happen over a few decades.  

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

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

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

East Village: The Lust Of The New Playground

Downtown Calgary Power Hour

Calgary: A tale of three pedestrian bridges

Calgary: Saturday Afternoon Bike Ride Fun

I love Calgary’s summers – warm days, cool evenings, no humidity, no bugs and big blue skies.

What’s not to love? 

  River surfing on the Bow River at the 10th St Wave is not easy....but fun to watch!

River surfing on the Bow River at the 10th St Wave is not easy....but fun to watch!

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46 Minutes Took 4 Hours

Last Saturday, I took a bike ride to enjoy Calgary’s great urban outdoors along the south shore of the beautiful Bow River, to check out the reopened Harvie Passage.

 It was a lovely ride - along the way I encountered the Nat Christie sculpture park, Shaw Millennium Park, Eau Claire Promenade, Prince’s Island Park, Eau Claire Plaza, Sien Lok Park, Riverwalk, East Village Plaza, St. Patrick’s Island, Fort Calgary Park, Calgary Zoo on St. George’s Island, Harvie Passage, Bow Habitat Station and Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.  I am sure I missed something.

It is a 7-km ride that Google Maps says should take 23 minutes each way - it took me four hours round trip. 

Here’s why:

  The Eau Claire Plaza and the bridge to Prince's Island is still the most popular spot along the Bow River pathway from 14th St. bridge to Harvie Passage.

The Eau Claire Plaza and the bridge to Prince's Island is still the most popular spot along the Bow River pathway from 14th St. bridge to Harvie Passage.

  The new West Eau Claire park is a great place to sit, chat and catch some rays.

The new West Eau Claire park is a great place to sit, chat and catch some rays.

  The Centre Street Bridge provides a sense of history, as well as a great view of the Bow River and city skyline.

The Centre Street Bridge provides a sense of history, as well as a great view of the Bow River and city skyline.

  The Simmons Building in East Village is a popular gathering place as it is home to cafe and bakery. There is also a lovely roof-top patio. 

The Simmons Building in East Village is a popular gathering place as it is home to cafe and bakery. There is also a lovely roof-top patio. 

  There is public art scattered all along the Bow River's edge, including this one that has become home to nesting pair of Osprey. 

There is public art scattered all along the Bow River's edge, including this one that has become home to nesting pair of Osprey. 

  Found this lovely playground in Inglewood as the pathway winds its way through some century-old streets with large and small century homes and new infills. 

Found this lovely playground in Inglewood as the pathway winds its way through some century-old streets with large and small century homes and new infills. 

Shaw Millennium Park

  Millennium Park combines a mega skate park, with a concert bowl, basketball courts and beach volleyball. 

Millennium Park combines a mega skate park, with a concert bowl, basketball courts and beach volleyball. 

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Harvie Passage Fun

Harvie Passage has both a Class 2 and Class 3 rapids for public use. 

  • Eastern (river left) passage: This is considered a Class 3 passage. This passage should not be used by inexperienced or less-experienced boaters as the risk is significant. Experienced boaters should still exercise caution while navigating this passage.
  • Western (river right) passage: This is a Class 2 passage. The waters are slower moving; however, caution is still required when navigating through this passage.

There are also opportunities for less-experiences boaters to exit the river before the passage and portage the major water features.

Additional benefits of the project include the new shoreline spaces along the passage that have been developed for people wishing to enjoy the beauty of the Bow River from land. There are tree-lined walkways and pebble beach areas for the public. 

The passage recently opened up after being destroyed by the 2013 flood. 

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  Kids love climbing on Lorna Jordan's artwork that reminds me of a log jam in the river.  I am thinking all public art should be designed in a way that kids can climb on them or at least so people can touch it.  

Kids love climbing on Lorna Jordan's artwork that reminds me of a log jam in the river.  I am thinking all public art should be designed in a way that kids can climb on them or at least so people can touch it.  

  Just a few meters inland from Harvie Passage is the Bow Station Habitat which has a free fishing pond for kids.  I didn't see anyone catch anything but there were some very big trout in the pond. 

Just a few meters inland from Harvie Passage is the Bow Station Habitat which has a free fishing pond for kids.  I didn't see anyone catch anything but there were some very big trout in the pond. 

Bow River Living

Since the mid '90s new condos have been completed every few years along the Bow River from West Downtown to East Village. It is hard to believe that in the mid 20th century the Bow River's shoreline was almost completely ignored as a place to live and play - both Eau Claire and East Village were best known for their prostitute strolls. 

  Bow River looking east with West Downtown condos in the foreground.  The white dome is the old planetarium/science centre which will be converted into a contemporary art gallery hopefully by next year. 

Bow River looking east with West Downtown condos in the foreground.  The white dome is the old planetarium/science centre which will be converted into a contemporary art gallery hopefully by next year. 

  Bow River looking west with condos lining the shore and office towers in the background.  

Bow River looking west with condos lining the shore and office towers in the background. 

  Those living along the River enjoy some spectacular sunsets. 

Those living along the River enjoy some spectacular sunsets. 

  The ever changing Bow River is a very cool place summer or winter.

The ever changing Bow River is a very cool place summer or winter.

Last Word

This ride confirmed my view that Calgary has ONE of the best and most unique urban river edges in the world. I love the fact that it has three outdoor concert venues, while at the same time has numerous lovely places to be alone and just sit and relax.  I love that it is a place where locals of all ages and means can bike, skate, board, fish, surf, float and paddle. It is an urban recreational paradise.  

Yes some cities might have more touristy restaurants, bars and hotels, including floating ones along their river, but I love the fact our river isn’t “tarted-up” for tourists. 

And it is getting better every year!

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

East Village: A Billion Dollar Work of Art!

A brief history of the Bow River Islands

Calgary: Canada's Bike Friendly City

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

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

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

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

  Rainbow underpass pathway

Rainbow underpass pathway

  The Chinese Cultural Centre is an architectural gem.

The Chinese Cultural Centre is an architectural gem.

Calgary’s City Centre is very cool

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

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

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

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

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

Shopping 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  It also has great places to browse. 

It also has great places to browse. 

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

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

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

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

Coffee Culture

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

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

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

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

  Cafe Beano a Calgary landmark.

Cafe Beano a Calgary landmark.

Restaurants

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Patio dining on the river is always an option.

Patio dining on the river is always an option.

Art & Architecture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  New public artworks are being installed almost monthly. 

New public artworks are being installed almost monthly. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Spaces

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Chillin' on Riverwalk in East Village.

Chillin' on Riverwalk in East Village.

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

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

Fitness/Recreational Opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Family fun in downtown.

Family fun in downtown.

Pubs & Clubs 

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

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

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

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

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

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

  17th Avenue is lined with pubs and patios. 

17th Avenue is lined with pubs and patios. 

Festivals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FFQ Elements

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

  Old school outdoor shoe shine fun in Kensington!

Old school outdoor shoe shine fun in Kensington!

  Saturday afternoon dancing in Tomkins Park anyone? 

Saturday afternoon dancing in Tomkins Park anyone? 

  Sunday afternoon fishing in the Bow!

Sunday afternoon fishing in the Bow!

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary's Coolest Neighbourhoods: Inglewood

Mission is marvellous

Beltline: Calgary's Hipster/Nester Community

Bridgeland/Riverside's Rebirth

Kensington: Calgary's Left Bank is cool!

Downtown Living is cooler than you think!

Everyday Flaneuring Street Photo Fun

Regular readers of the Everyday Tourist blog know that I love to flaneur everyday the streets and alleys wherever I am - be it for 10 minutes or 10 hours.   I also love to flaneur my photos several times a week - it is like a mini vacation.  

Here are some photos from a recent photo flaneur mostly from Calgary, Atlanta and Dublin, but there are a few other places thrown in. Can you tell which city they are from? 

And as they say "every picture tells a story" or "every picture is worth 1,000 words," so have fun making up stories and sharing them with me. 

But, PLEASE no more than 1,000 words. 

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Last Word

I hope you have enjoyed your flaneur. If you would like to do some more flaneuring check out these links: 

Ten Commandments Of A Flaneur

The Best Flaneur Find Ever!

Flaneuring Fun In Hamilton

 

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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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

Kensington: Calgary's "Left Bank" is trés cool.

When it comes to cool communities in North America, Calgary’s Kensington Village has to be near the top.  It truly is a village in the middle of the city with its two main streets 10th St NW and Kensington Road NW (most communities are lucky to have one) surrounded, until recently, by mostly single-family homes in the historic communities of Hillhurst and Sunnyside.

  10th Street NW has a great mix of shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants.  It even has two grocery stores. 

10th Street NW has a great mix of shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants.  It even has two grocery stores. 

  Kensington Road also has a great mix of retail, restaurants, cafes, patios and pubs.

Kensington Road also has a great mix of retail, restaurants, cafes, patios and pubs.

  Sunnyside's residential streets still have the look of   an early 20th century prairie town. 

Sunnyside's residential streets still have the look of an early 20th century prairie town. 

Mega Makeover

Today, Kensington’s mega-makeover means it is evolving from a quaint, early 20th century village to a bustling 21st century urban village with the addition of several low and mid-rise condos, as well as numerous infill houses. 

Kensington is where professionals, empty nesters and students (ACAD, SAIT and University of Calgary) mingle.  From coffee to curling, from cricket to cupcakes, from flea market to farmers’ market, Kensington is trés cool.  

It is Calgary’s Left Bank!

(FYI: The term “left bank” references Paris’ bohemian district on the left side of the Seine River as it flows through that city).

  Two new condo developments by Battisella Developments have dramatically changed the look of 10th St. NW.

Two new condo developments by Battisella Developments have dramatically changed the look of 10th St. NW.

  Small, older homes are being replaced by mid-rise condos like Ezra on Riley Park, along all major corridors in Kensington.

Small, older homes are being replaced by mid-rise condos like Ezra on Riley Park, along all major corridors in Kensington.

  Hundreds of new infill homes are attracting families to live Kensington. 

Hundreds of new infill homes are attracting families to live Kensington. 

Festivals/Events

Each year, volunteers transform an unused grassy knoll next to Memorial Drive just west of the Centre Street Bridge into a field of crosses to celebrate Remembrance Day.  Even when driving by the Field of Crosses is truly a sobering and thought-provoking experience.

Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Centre is home to numerous events year-round from rummage sales to a long-standing Sunday Flea Market. 

Recently, it hosted Calgary’s Seedy Saturday event - a huge hit with gardeners across the city.   It is also home to a weekly farmers’ market in the summer.

  Each year, Kensington hosts the Field of Crosses.

Each year, Kensington hosts the Field of Crosses.

  The Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association building is used for a variety of events year round including the popular Sunday Flea Market . 

The Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association building is used for a variety of events year round including the popular Sunday Flea Market

Shops

One of the most attractive things about Kensington is its abundance of independent boutique shops like Livingston Cavill Extraordinary Toys.

Owned and operated by two experienced museum professionals, it is part toy museum / part toy store. Definitely one-of-a-kind.

  Livingston Cavill Toys is packed with replica vintage toys and games, as well as modern ones. It is definite "must see, must buy" place.

Livingston Cavill Toys is packed with replica vintage toys and games, as well as modern ones. It is definite "must see, must buy" place.

As is Hillhurst Hardware whose motto is “building Calgary since 1945.” This tiny hardware store at 134 - 10th St NW packs a lot of tools and hardware into a tiny space.  Speaking of tiny spaces, Sunnyside Art Supplies next door stocks everything needed to become the next Picasso or Rembrandt.  Kensington is also home to Pages Books on Kensington, Calgary’s best independent bookstore. 

  Sunnyside Art Supply is a quaint shop full of art supplies for budding and established artists. It has been serving Calgary's art community for over 50 years.

Sunnyside Art Supply is a quaint shop full of art supplies for budding and established artists. It has been serving Calgary's art community for over 50 years.

IMG_9700.jpg
  Hillhurst Hardware is packed with all the toys a serious handyman might need.  

Hillhurst Hardware is packed with all the toys a serious handyman might need.  

Kensington’s hippy past lives on at the corner of Kensington Road and 14th St SW where you will find Birkenstock Sandals and Futons for Less shops, located in two old houses.

Today, Kensington is home to two bike shops - Ridley’s Cycle and Lifesport (located in an old church) – keeping the bikesters happy.

Framed on Fifth is a hidden gem with exhibitions showcasing local artists, as well as a profession frame shop all packed into a tiny house. Yes, it is on 5th Ave NW (between 11A and 12th Streets NW).  Next door is Pushing Petals, a funky neighbourhood florist. Sit on the bench outside these two shops and enjoy free Wi-Fi.

  The Lifesport located in a 100+ year old church is not only a great bike shop, but it also carries disc golf and cross-country ski equipment.

The Lifesport located in a 100+ year old church is not only a great bike shop, but it also carries disc golf and cross-country ski equipment.

  Healthy urban villages always have a few older houses that have been converted to retail and restaurants.

Healthy urban villages always have a few older houses that have been converted to retail and restaurants.

  I love the shop windows along Kensington Road and 10th St NW.  How cool is this window?

I love the shop windows along Kensington Road and 10th St NW.  How cool is this window?

Coffeehouses

Kensington had a vibrant coffee culture long before the Starbucks invasion in the 90s.  Higher Ground have been around forever as has The Roasterie (which, as you might imagine, still roasts its own beans on site.)

There are several new kids on the block with Vendome perhaps providing the coolest experience given its turn-of-the-century building in the middle of quaint Sunnyside and across the street from Container Park.

  The Roasterie's walls are full of fun coffee artifacts.  You can often smell the Roasterie before you see it.

The Roasterie's walls are full of fun coffee artifacts.  You can often smell the Roasterie before you see it.

  Higher Ground is popular with the artsy crowd is directly across the street from The Plaza theatre. 

Higher Ground is popular with the artsy crowd is directly across the street from The Plaza theatre. 

  Vendome offers a bit of the Parisan coffee house/bakery experience.

Vendome offers a bit of the Parisan coffee house/bakery experience.

Restaurants

Kensington is blessed with a plethora of restaurants - from the iconic Chicken on the Way to the newcomers like Cotto Italian Comfort Food and Oxbow in the uber cool Kensington Riverside Inn.  For Sunday brunch Vero Bistro Moderne is very popular and for Alberta beef, you can’t beat Modern Steak.

Kensington has one of Calgary’s signature pizza parlours too – Pulcinella’s. A member of the exclusive Associazione Pizzaioli Napolitani, it is almost like having the Pope bless your pizza!

  Kennsington Inn home to the Oxbow restaurant is just across the street from the Bow River and a block from the intersection of Kensington Road and 10th St. SW. It is a popular tourist spot, sometimes even celebrities when they are in town.

Kennsington Inn home to the Oxbow restaurant is just across the street from the Bow River and a block from the intersection of Kensington Road and 10th St. SW. It is a popular tourist spot, sometimes even celebrities when they are in town.

  You can't miss Chicken on the Way!

You can't miss Chicken on the Way!

    Pulcinella 's  custom pizza oven is designed especially for their Napolitana pizza.

Pulcinella's custom pizza oven is designed especially for their Napolitana pizza.

  How cool is   Flipp'n Burgers   back alley picnic area? 

How cool is Flipp'n Burgers back alley picnic area? 

    Sunnyside Natural Market   and   Sidewalk Citizen Bakery   share space in a very synergistic manner. 

Sunnyside Natural Market and Sidewalk Citizen Bakery share space in a very synergistic manner. 

Art/Architecture

  This is the cool entrance to Pixel condo.  

This is the cool entrance to Pixel condo.  

Kensington is home to Calgary’s fledgling street art culture.  Wander the alley behind the shops on the east side of 10th Avenue NW to find a street art gallery. 

The Pixel condo with its funky bright yellow cube balconies and neon-coloured entrance has the village’s most contemporary architecture. 

Kensington is also home to several historical buildings including the Hillhurst United Church (1907), St. Barnabas Anglican Church (1906) and the lovely St. John’s elementary school (1916) and the majestic sandstone Hillhurst School (1912).

Wander Kensington’s residential streets and you are sure to find some of the many “Free Little Libraries,” that are often fun folk art pieces.

  On the side of the Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association Building is a mural that has this young girl giving the "finger' to Pierre Trudeau.  Backstory: Back in 1982, then Prime Minister of Canada, Trudeau flipped the finger to protesters in Salmon Arm BC. It soon became known as the "Trudeau Salute." I am thinking many Calgarians would love to flip the finger these days to his son, Justin, who is now the Prime Minister. 

On the side of the Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association Building is a mural that has this young girl giving the "finger' to Pierre Trudeau.  Backstory: Back in 1982, then Prime Minister of Canada, Trudeau flipped the finger to protesters in Salmon Arm BC. It soon became known as the "Trudeau Salute." I am thinking many Calgarians would love to flip the finger these days to his son, Justin, who is now the Prime Minister. 

  Kensington's Street Art Gallery is located on the east side of 10th Street NW. 

Kensington's Street Art Gallery is located on the east side of 10th Street NW. 

  Pixel is an example of the contemporary architecture that is changing ambience of Kensington. 

Pixel is an example of the contemporary architecture that is changing ambience of Kensington. 

  Ezra on Riley Park is also helping to create a new sense of place for Kensington Village.

Ezra on Riley Park is also helping to create a new sense of place for Kensington Village.

  Pointe takes advantage of its triangular site to create a flatiron building. 

Pointe takes advantage of its triangular site to create a flatiron building. 

  Rumour has it the Hillhurst United Church pastor is considering converting their under-utlized gym into a micro-brewery. 

Rumour has it the Hillhurst United Church pastor is considering converting their under-utlized gym into a micro-brewery. 

Parks/Plazas/Pathways

In 1904, the Riley Family donated 8 hectares from their 146,000-hectare Cochrane Ranch to create Riley Park (north of 5th Avenue from 10th to 13th Streets NW).  It boasts one of the oldest cricket grounds in North America, a lovely children’s wading pool and the Senator Patrick Burns Memorial Rock Garden.  (FYI: The rock garden was created using 20,000 pieces of flagstone from Senator Patrick Burns’ mansion.)

Poppy Plaza, located at the corner of 10th St and Memorial Drive pays homage to Calgary and Canada’s war and peacekeeping efforts. It is a great place to enjoy the vista of the downtown skyline, the shimmering water of the Bow River and people walking, cycling, skateboarding and roller blading along the Bow River pathway.  You may even spot a fisherman.

  How cool is this fisherman, dressed up in a suit fishing on the shore of the Bow River at the Louise Bridge, that connects Kensington to downtown

How cool is this fisherman, dressed up in a suit fishing on the shore of the Bow River at the Louise Bridge, that connects Kensington to downtown

  Poppy Plaza provides interesting perspectives of the downtown skyline.

Poppy Plaza provides interesting perspectives of the downtown skyline.

 Kensington's Riley Park wading pool is a fun place for young families to hang out.  

Kensington's Riley Park wading pool is a fun place for young families to hang out.  

  containR Park is a multi-use space, that is popular with locals as a place to meet and popular with photographers wanting to do fashion shoots. 

containR Park is a multi-use space, that is popular with locals as a place to meet and popular with photographers wanting to do fashion shoots. 

Fitness/Recreation

In addition to the Riley Park cricket matches, Kensington is also home to the historic Calgary Curling Club (established in 1888, it moved to its current location 1953) and Bow Valley Lawn Bowling Club (1932). 

It is also home to several modern fitness clubs - Bodhi Tree Yoga Studio, 10th Street Boxing Gym, Orangetheory Fitness Studio, and Urban Fitness Studio to name a few.

  Practicing for a Sunday cricket match in Riley Park. 

Practicing for a Sunday cricket match in Riley Park. 

  Lawn bowling is more recreational fun than a sport. 

Lawn bowling is more recreational fun than a sport. 

Culture/Nightlife

The Plaza Theatre has been curating and showing indie films for over 40 years.  No reclining cushy seats here, just thought-provoking movies and respectful audiences.  There are lots of places to go before or after to eat, drink and debate current issues and the meaning of life. 

Jubilee Theatre may not technically be within Kensington boundaries but it is on the border and offers Kensingtonians easy access to everything from Broadway shows to ballet performances.  

  The Plaza is the "King" of Kensington.

The Plaza is the "King" of Kensington.

Pubs/Beer/Spirits

During Calgary’s pre-World War 1 boom, Kensington developed as a working-class, largely Anglo-Saxon suburb - hence the British street names. It is home to one of Calgary’s best neighbourhood pub appropriately named “The Kensington Pub.”  In 1983, the pub was created by combining the 1911 brick veneer residence of developer John Smith with the 62-year old duplex next door.

The Oak Tree Tavern, popular with the younger crowd, offers up “All You Can Eat Hot Dog Tuesdays,” as well as, comedy nights and live music.

For 26 years, Kensington Wine Market has offered a great selection of curated wines, beers and scotches.  Their popular Saturday afternoon samplings make browsing the shelves too much fun. They also have one of the best seminar and tasting programs in the city.

  Kensington Pub (upper right) fits right into the Kensington streetscape.

Kensington Pub (upper right) fits right into the Kensington streetscape.

  Kensington Wine Market block oozes bohemian charm. 

Kensington Wine Market block oozes bohemian charm. 

  The Oak Tree Tavern welcomes thirty pedestrians to drop in for a beverage. The patio offers great views of the downtown skyline.

The Oak Tree Tavern welcomes thirty pedestrians to drop in for a beverage. The patio offers great views of the downtown skyline.

  The Container Bar (summer only) is literally a container placed in a side alley along Kensington Road that serves as a bar with a few tables.

The Container Bar (summer only) is literally a container placed in a side alley along Kensington Road that serves as a bar with a few tables.

Fun/Funky/Quirky (FFQ) Factor

It doesn’t get much quirkier than The Plaza Theatre, originally built in the 1920s as an automobile garage, then in 1935, converted into a neighbourhood theatre, before evolving in 1970s into Calgary’s first arthouse cinema.  

Alpine Shoe Service is a walk back in time, when people fixed things rather than throwing out anything broken or worn out.  It’s small, easy-to-miss display case next to the entrance has ever-changing, thought-provoking quotes.

  "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Thomas Edison.

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Thomas Edison.

 How quirky is an outdoor shoe-shine station?

How quirky is an outdoor shoe-shine station?

  Kensington is also home to a cat cafe. How fun is that?

Kensington is also home to a cat cafe. How fun is that?

  Funky art can pop-up anywhere, anytime in Kensington - those crazy art students!

Funky art can pop-up anywhere, anytime in Kensington - those crazy art students!

  If you walk a block west of 14th St NW along Kensington Road you might stumble upon these solar panels designed to look like a funky flower. 

If you walk a block west of 14th St NW along Kensington Road you might stumble upon these solar panels designed to look like a funky flower. 

 The "rainbow" underpass epitomizes the essence of Kensington's sense of place.

The "rainbow" underpass epitomizes the essence of Kensington's sense of place.

Gated Community?

While people in Hillhurst don’t think of themselves as living in a gated community, in fact there are several streets with decorative gates that not only keep cars from cutting through the residential streets, but also evoke a sense of being a private street.   The gates serve as historical reference as they have the original names of the streets, before Calgary converted to numerical street names in 1904.

  While some might see these gates as charming, others might see them as pretentious.

While some might see these gates as charming, others might see them as pretentious.

Jane loves Kensington

I can’t help but think the late great urban guru Jane Jacobs would approve of how Calgary’s Left Bank (aka Hillhurst/Sunnyside, aka Kensington) is evolving with its mixture of old, new and middle age; human-scale commercial buildings housing mostly independent enterprises.

She would also approve of the diversity of housing stock – everything from cottage homes to co-op housing, to low and mid-rise condo buildings. 

NO high-rises along Calgary’s “Left Bank.”

Note: This is the fourth in a series of blogs examining what makes Calgary’s City Centre neighbourhoods so cool.  The others are Inglewood, Beltline and Downtown. 

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

Kensington: One of North America's Healthiest Urban Villages

Calgary: Field of Crosses

A Sunday Walkabout In Hillhurst

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

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.  

DSC03824.JPG
  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.

IMG_5350.JPG

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.

IMG_0001.JPG

#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

 

 

Urban Living: Importance of BIAs

Business Improvement Districts (BIA) are like Community Associations but for businesses. They lobby, foster, facilitate and advocate for improvements to their neighbourhood. 

  Bow Cycle one of the largest bike stores in the world is the anchor tenant for the Bowness BIA.

Bow Cycle one of the largest bike stores in the world is the anchor tenant for the Bowness BIA.

Backstory 

You might know that as BRZ (Business Revitalization Zones) which is what they were originally called in Alberta but have recently converted to the BIA terminology that is used in the rest of Canada. 

Over the past 40+ years, BIAs in Calgary have evolved from shopping districts to mixed-use streets with vibrant café and restaurant cultures, as well as health and fitness spaces (there were no yoga and spin studios in the ‘80s), and retail shops.  They have been incubators for hundreds of small independent Calgary business start-ups.

As a result of this transformation, streets surrounding Calgary’s BIAs have become attractive places to live, as evidenced by the numerous new condos recently completed or under construction next to them.

Full disclosure: I was the Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association (CDA) from 1995 to 2006.  The CDA is a BRZ/BIA but chose to call itself an association as the Board thought the term “revitalization” gave the Downtown a negative connotation.

 4th Street, Lilac Festival (photo credit: 4th St BIA)

4th Street, Lilac Festival (photo credit: 4th St BIA)

BRZ/BIA/BID 101

In the ‘80s, old pedestrian streets in established neighbourhoods across North America were struggling to survive as shoppers flocked to the big new suburban malls. In an effort to save their businesses, shop owners across North America rallied together to set up Business Revitalization Zones (or BRZs as they were then, recently they have been renamed Business Improvement Areas or BIAs in line with the rest of Canada). In the United States, they are called Business Improvement Districts (BIDs).

The world’s first BIA was set up in Toronto in 1970 for the Bloor West Village. Today, Toronto has 80+ BIAs.  The Alberta Municipal Government Act (MGA) allowed for the formation of Business Revitalization Zones in 1983, with 17th Avenue BRZ being the first (established in September 1984) and Marda Loop the second (December, 1984). Today the 12 BIAs in Calgary represent over 5,000 businesses.  

The MGA allows a BIA to be established when the majority of business owners within a defined area vote in favour of setting up a BIA.  Once established, a Board of Directors are elected who develop an annual work plan and budget, which is submitted to the City of Calgary.  The City then determines the tax levy based on the total assessment on commercial properties in the defined area needed to generate the revenue requested in the BIA.  The BIA levy is in addition to municipal taxes, so the BIAs are self-funded.

Screen Shot 2017-12-21 at 1.04.35 PM.png
  Paradise Lanes is one of International Avenue's iconic businesses. 

Paradise Lanes is one of International Avenue's iconic businesses. 

Why are BIAs needed?

BIAs are created where business owners feel services provided by the City with existing tax revenues are inadequate in creating a clean, safe and attractive place for their customers.

Calgary BIAs proactively work with Calgary Parking Authority on parking issues, with police and social agencies on panhandling and homeless issues and with City of Calgary Transportation and Planning on sidewalks, roadwork, cycling lanes, street furniture and reviewing new developments. Some BIAs even have their own “Clean & Safe” programs, hiring people to pick up litter, remove graffiti and identify safety concerns to police.

In addition, BIAs typically manage their own banner program and baskets programs, marketing initiatives and maintain a website to promote business events and news.

  Marda Loop is home to an eclectic collection of shops, restaurants and cafes. 

Marda Loop is home to an eclectic collection of shops, restaurants and cafes. 

Public Art/Signature Events

In the early years, several Calgary BIAs developed public art programs designed to make their street more attractive and interesting places for pedestrians. 17th Avenue and International Avenue had ambitious mural programs; 4th Street had a sculpture program and the CDA a “Benches as sculpture” program. 

Signature events were also a key tool to attract people from other quadrants of the City to visit a BIA and see for themselves what it has to offer.  For example, in 1990, 4th Street established the Lilac Festival to kick off spring in Calgary - today it attracts over 100,000 people May.

International Avenue fostered the development of “Around the World in 35 blocks Food Tour” in 1997 to showcase the array of ethnic food available along its 35 blocks 17th Ave SE; the program still exists today. 

For many years, the Downtown Association hosted the annual Santa Claus Parade and today coordinates events on Stephen Avenue Walk.

  Dream Fragment, Frankly Heisler, 1992  is one of several public artworks along 4th Street commissioned by the 4th St BIA. 

Dream Fragment, Frankly Heisler, 1992  is one of several public artworks along 4th Street commissioned by the 4th St BIA. 

Last Word

Alison Karim-McSwiney has been the Executive Director of the International Avenue BIA (17th Ave SE from 26th to 61st Street SE) since 1993.  She notes, “Revitalization is not for the faint at heart.  It takes at least a couple of decades to turn around an area and you’ll encounter many setbacks along the way.  Then there will be a certain tipping point where it all starts falling into place. Our community building effort is not to gentrify as we don’t want to lose what makes our area unique.  We are an affordable, inclusive neighbourhood. ”

Indeed, International Avenue is in the midst of a mega transformation to accommodate the 17Ave SE BRT.

Travel Tip:

Whenever I travel to a new city, one of my first Google searches is for BIAs or BIDs, as it will routinely identify the best places to discover the local urban buzz.

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

International Avenue Follows Jane Jacobs Advice

Kensington: One of North America's Healthiest Urban Villages

Marda Loop Madness

 

 

16th Ave N Urban Corridor: What went wrong?

Back in 2011, with much fanfare, the City of Calgary completed the expansion and enhancement of 16th Ave NE from 6th St NE to 10th St NW. Originally budgeted at $20M, the project more than quadrupled to $89M as the project evolved from a simple addition of an addition land east and west to creating an “urban corridor” that - in theory - would attract new mixed-use developments with commercial at street level and residential above. 

In fact, a key reason for the increased cost of the project was the City’s acquisition of several sites to allow for immediate road expansion and future mixed-use development.  Unfortunately, now five years later, the new developments haven’t happened resulting in several huge vacant lots along what should be a showcase for Calgary’s new urban sense of place.

  There are several long vacant lots on the south side of 16th Avenue N that should have been developed by now even in the recession. 

There are several long vacant lots on the south side of 16th Avenue N that should have been developed by now even in the recession. 

  16th Avenue N is still very auto-focused.  

16th Avenue N is still very auto-focused.  

Why no new developments?

The City wants wider sidewalks while still retaining large right of ways on the remaining land, resulting in development sites that are too shallow for cost effective parkade designs that meet city standards.

The City’s Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP) zoned several key sites for major redevelopment, without considering how property lines or ownership were impacted. Some sites owned by one entity were split into two zonings with different densities and heights, but still the City wants to see one building. This makes development complex and therefore costly.

The ARP on 16th Ave N also lacked input from experienced mixed-use developers, critical to understanding the complex financial considerations associated with creating viable zoning, heights, site access and uses for viable mixed-use development.

Some areas of 16th Ave N still have huge by-lawed setbacks that sterilize key corners for viable pedestrian-friendly development.

The City went out of its way to expand 16th Ave N to six lanes for vehicular traffic, recognizing its importance as a crucial east-west link, but then prohibited vehicular access except from rear lands. 

The City left key pieces missing from expansion plans (e.g. former gas station at 16 Ave and 11 St NW) where they didn’t expand sidewalks or address access leaving the costs to the developer - and ultimately new residents - which in effect rules out competitively priced mixed-use projects.

Large sections of 16th Avenue N on its south side are isolated, unpleasant and very noisy with giant sound walls reflecting traffic noise back at the pedestrians.

Chris Ollenberger, Managing Principal at QuantumPlace Developments Ltd. (and mastermind of the East Village master plans) thinks, “that while 16th Ave expansion was a vehicle transportation-focused project, it is plagued by some questionable planning regulations that haven’t worked. It hasn’t realized the development the City planners were hoping for due to fiscal, physical, market and commercial considerations that didn’t have the voice needed during the planning process.”

Today, Ollenberger’s office is right on 16th Ave N at 10th Street and he has been working on three projects along the corridor. If anyone could make a project work on 16th Avenue, it would be him.  He has observed that locals often use the back alley on the north side between 16th and 17th Ave as their east-west pedestrian corridor, avoiding 16th Ave sidewalks all together.

(see response from City Planner, Jordan Furness re: changes made in 2017 to 16th Ave Area Redevelopment Plan at the end of this blog)

  16th Ave N has wide sidewalks but no pedestrians. 

16th Ave N has wide sidewalks but no pedestrians. 

Rise of 17th Avenue NW

Ironically, while 16th Ave N has struggled to attract development, 17th Ave N has been booming with new major residential developments on almost every block from Centre St to 10th St NW.

One of these is the recently completed and sold out Attainable Homes’ 31-unit Mount Pleasant 1740 at the corner of 9th St and 17th Ave NW.  A bit further east under construction is Trico’s Delaney, a 44-unit condo (12 units being affordable housing of which 10 are wheelchair accessible). It is interesting to note the Delaney is oriented to the alley between 17th and 16th Avenue as per Ollenberger’s observation.

Further east, Castle Mountain Developments have dug the hole for Elm on 17th and two newer condos have also been completed and occupied.

The good news - this increased 17th Ave N residential development will ultimately make the 16th Ave N more viable for commercial developments as they will provide the patrons needed to help make pubs, cafes, restaurants etc. viable.

  Mount Pleasant 1740 condo project

Mount Pleasant 1740 condo project

  Delany condo is oriented to the alley between 16th and 17th Ave N

Delany condo is oriented to the alley between 16th and 17th Ave N

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Screen Shot 2018-01-02 at 1.41.04 PM.png

Good News For 16th Ave NW

The Calgary Co-op, in conjunction with Quarry Bay Investments, have submitted a combined development permit and land use redesignation (re-zoning) application for their existing 16 Ave N site. The development proposes five buildings containing a new supermarket, liquor store, financial institution, office, gas bar, car wash, and 115 residential units.

The Marquee Group, a hotel developer turned condo developer, has also recently completed Marquee on 16th a nine storey 138-home residential development on 16th Ave at 1st St NE. Located near the Calgary Co-op site, these two developments could mark the beginning of a vibrant 16th Ave urban streetscape. 

Several interesting businesses along the north side of 16th Ave N – Aquila Books, Earl’s, The Cat’n Fiddle Pub, Turn It Up Records & HiFi, Guitar Works, Phoenix Comics, Namskar Fine East Indian restaurant and White’s Flowers – could become important building blocks for future pedestrian-oriented blocks.

As well, the City is working on making 16th Avenue N a major cross town BRT route which should result in more pedestrian traffic on 16th Ave (i.e. transit users getting off and on the bus) and remove some of the cars, helping with some of the noise.

Councillor Druh Farrell admits, "the ARP was overly complicated and restrictive and has since been simplified drastically." Ollenberger thinks it is great the City has acknowledge the ARP flaws.  He adds, "the best thing the City could do is sell the remaining land it has quickly and  then collaborate with the development and investment industry to enabling viable new developments to happen." 

  Calgary Co-op site could become anchor 16th Avenue transformation. 

Calgary Co-op site could become anchor 16th Avenue transformation. 

  Marquis on 16th condo from back alley. 

Marquis on 16th condo from back alley. 

Last Word

While in the past 16th Avenue N as part of the Trans Canada Highway was car-oriented, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t also be pedestrian-oriented in the future.  For example, Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue is a wide car-oriented street yet also a popular pedestrian destination. The same goes for South Granville in Vancouver.

Ironically, 16th Avenue N is no longer the TransCanada Highway. Signs at both the east and west entrances to the City no longer direct drivers to take the 16th Ave N but rather the ring road, bypassing the City altogether. 

City's Response:

Note: An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald, titled "Roadblocks stall City's Vision for 16th Avenue N,"on January 20, 2018.  On January 23, I received the following email:

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I would like to thank Jordan for taking the initiative to contact me with this information which indicates that the City is trying to address the problems associated with 16th Ave N redevelopment and that there is still a need for improvement. 

I am optimistic that as the City finalizes plans for the Green Line LRT along Centre Street that further improvements will be made to help transform 16th Avenue into a vibrant urban street. 

As I like to say, "it takes decades for urban transformations."    

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

Flaneuring The Fringes: 16th Ave N

Calgary: TransCanada Highway's Motel History

Mean Streets, Main Streets, Pretty Streets