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?

Chinatown Makeover: You can’t please everyone!

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

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

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Let the debate begin

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

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

Parking vs Towers

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

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

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

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

A bit of context…

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

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

Chinatown At A Glance

  • 49 retail shops

  • 46 restaurants

  • 10 grocery/butcher/seafood

  • 11 personal services

  • 16 medical/pharmacy/Traditional Chinese Medicine

  • 16 salons

  • 6  business services

  • 23 corporate offices

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Change is in the wind…

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

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

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

El Condor Land Development at a glance:

  • 524      residential units

  • 150      hotel rooms

  • 23        commercial units

  • 470      parking stalls

  • 466      bike stalls 

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

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

The BIA says…

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

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

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

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

Changes Needed 

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

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

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

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

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

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

All reasonable requests you would think! 

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

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

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

Community Engagement Consultant says…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Step    

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halifax: The Blade Sign Capital Of Canada?

Blade signs are ones that hang out from the side of the building. They are great for pedestrians as you can not only see them above the heads of the other pedestrians on the street. And you can also see them halfway down the block.

  This is my nomination for the best blade sign in Halifax.

This is my nomination for the best blade sign in Halifax.

  How many blade signs can you count on this block?

How many blade signs can you count on this block?

Blade Signs Are The Best

They are much better than signs that are flush with the facade of the building, as you have to stand in the street to see them.

And, they are also better than those annoying sandwich boards some merchants place in the middle of the sidewalk so you have to dodge around them and sometimes fall over them while you are checking Google Maps to see if you are close to the &(*HO^!@^ the store, cafe or restaurants you are looking for

One of the first things I noticed was the abundance of blade signs and not just any blade signs but fun, quirky, custom-designed ones.

Here is a sample. You tell me, aren’t these the best collection of blade signs you have ever seen?

  The blade sign was good but the GIG Street sign was a stroke of genius.

The blade sign was good but the GIG Street sign was a stroke of genius.

  Super Mike’s is definitely off the beaten path, but that didn’t stop him from having perhaps the best blade sign…definitely had the most colourful facade.

Super Mike’s is definitely off the beaten path, but that didn’t stop him from having perhaps the best blade sign…definitely had the most colourful facade.

  The donair is Halifax’s official food and the King of Donair on Quinpool is where it all started in 1973. The King is expanding into Western Canada as you read this….

The donair is Halifax’s official food and the King of Donair on Quinpool is where it all started in 1973. The King is expanding into Western Canada as you read this….

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  Woozles is a children’s bookstore…what a great name…love the yellow house too.

Woozles is a children’s bookstore…what a great name…love the yellow house too.

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  I was told this is the oldest hobby/craft store in Canada. The sign could be original.

I was told this is the oldest hobby/craft store in Canada. The sign could be original.

  We not only loved this blade sign, but the sandwiches, soup, dessert and breads inside were to die for.

We not only loved this blade sign, but the sandwiches, soup, dessert and breads inside were to die for.

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  This Highwayman sign looked like a woodblock etching ready for inking and printing. The restaurant inside looked just as intriguing. Would make a great t-shirt.

This Highwayman sign looked like a woodblock etching ready for inking and printing. The restaurant inside looked just as intriguing. Would make a great t-shirt.

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  This place is almost as old as me….

This place is almost as old as me….

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  Even Tim Hortons has a blade sign…..

Even Tim Hortons has a blade sign…..

Last Word

So what do you think? Do you think blade signs should be mandatory for all shops along the street? I do!

Not only are they a great wayfinding tool, but they add colour, charm and character to the pedestrian experience. I am thinking in Calgary, 17th Ave SW, 4th Street SW, Kensington and Inglewood would all benefit from a fun blade sign program.

I know there are lots of great blade signs in other cities, but as a collection, I think Halifax has the best I have seen to date.

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

Urban Ornamentation

Chicago: Stairways To Heaven?

The Curse Of Minimalism

Inner City Communities: Future = Past?

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

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

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

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

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

Walkability

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

Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 1.07.08 PM.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No need for the fancy community garden so popular today.

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

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

  Is the future of grocery shopping home delivery? 

Is the future of grocery shopping home delivery? 

Home Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playgrounds & Fitness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is what we now call “active living.” 

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

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

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

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

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

Shopping wasn’t a hobby

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saving vs Spending?

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

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

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

Community Garden vs Backyard Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death of the grocery store?

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

Link: Death of grocery store

Link: Why Canada is wary of online grocery shopping.  

  Urban grocery store in Bridgeland.

Urban grocery store in Bridgeland.

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

Link: Death of retail as we know it.

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

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

Link: City of Calgary Main Street Program

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Futurists?

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atlanta vs Calgary: Coca-Cola vs Oil & Gas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atlanta’s Midtown vs Calgary’s Downtown

  Atlanta's Symphony Tower.

Atlanta's Symphony Tower.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Typical Midtown streetscape in Atlanta.

Typical Midtown streetscape in Atlanta.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piedmont Park vs Calgary Urban Parks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atlantic Station vs East Village

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday morning church service in Atlantic Station's Central Plaza

  One of Atlantic Station's several shopping streets. 

One of Atlantic Station's several shopping streets. 

  Setting up for Sunday artisan market at Atlantic Station. 

Setting up for Sunday artisan market at Atlantic Station. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shopping & Dining

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Ponce City Markets massive outdoor patio. 

Ponce City Markets massive outdoor patio. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rivers & Pathways

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

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

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

  There are huge pubs along Atlanta's BeltLine. 

There are huge pubs along Atlanta's BeltLine. 

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

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

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

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

Centennial Park vs Olympic Plaza

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

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

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

Advantage Atlanta
  Every city needs to have more dancing fountains. 

Every city needs to have more dancing fountains. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arena, Stadium & Convention Centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word  

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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  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

Is Calgary's City Centre going to pot?

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

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

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

Kehoe says....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seedy or Friendly?

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

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

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

Nelson BC's main street cannabis shop.

Nelson Experience

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

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

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

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

FYI:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

Nelson: Fun, Funky & Quirky!

RED MILE: Calgary's Urban Playground

 

 

Downtown Living Is Cooler Than You Think!

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

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

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

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

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

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Downtown vs Beltline

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

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

Here’s why!

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

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

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

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

  Chinatown is a   fun place to shop for groceries.

Chinatown is a fun place to shop for groceries.

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

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

Festivals/Events

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

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

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

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

Shops

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

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

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

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

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

 Holt Renfew offers an upscale shopping experience. 

Holt Renfew offers an upscale shopping experience. 

  Power hour on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Power hour on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Cafe Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restaurants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art/Architecture

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

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

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

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

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

 The Chinese Community Centre is a downtown hidden gem.

The Chinese Community Centre is a downtown hidden gem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parks/Plazas/Pathways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fitness/Recreation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Culture/Nightlife

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

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

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

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

  Downtown offers a variety of nightlife options. 

Downtown offers a variety of nightlife options. 

Pubs/Beer/Spirits

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

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

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

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

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

Fun/Funky/Quirky (FFQ) Factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary's Downtown Power Hour

Downtown Calgary Glows With Fun

Downtown Calgary puts the PARK in parkades

Hamilton: Atelier Vsaint A Timeless Hidden Gem

We were just walking along minding our own business, when for some unknown reason we noticed the sign in the window said “OPEN.”  We could have easily walked by this tired two storey brick building in downtown Hamilton with its modest window display in an otherwise dark-looking interior.

But there was something intriguing about the surrealistic-looking poster in the Atelier Vsaint shop window saying watch repair that drew us in, despite not having a watch needing repair.  

Perhaps it was the curiosity of being an everyday tourist calling?

  Was it the poster or the red door that made us want to go in?

Was it the poster or the red door that made us want to go in?

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Time Machine

As we opened the bright red door into the dimly lite space a bell rang and a friendly voice said “Come in.”  Quickly looking around the minimalist space, it looked as if it hadn’t changed for over a 100 years.  The well-dressed man behind the antique counter introduced himself as Vincent Cino, asking, “How can I help you?” 

We must have looked a bit puzzled as he quickly began to explain us that in addition to fixing watches he also makes custom watches and began showing us some of his impressive work.   

Really! Who knew there are people who actually still make watches by hand? It was like we were in a time machine that had taken us back 100+ years. 

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Backstory:  The first wristwatch was made for a woman, Countess Koscowicz of Hungary, by Swiss watch manufacturer Patek Philippe in 1868. Although it was the first timekeeping device to be designed specifically for use on the wrist, it was intended primarily as a piece of decorative jewelry.
It has been claimed that pocket watches were adapted to be worn on wrist bracelets prior to 1868, perhaps as early as the 1570s, though there is no concrete evidence to support this. Wristwatches were a natural progression from pocket watches, but men did not initially take to the idea, preferring to rely on the larger, more traditional and “masculine” timepiece.
The practicalities of the wristwatch, which could be operated with one hand rather than two, eventually won over popular opinion, appealing especially to those in the military, who needed to be able to monitor the time while also operating machinery and weaponry. Consequently, the first wristwatches to be produced in large quantities were those manufactured specifically for the German military in the 1880s by Swiss watchmaker Girard-Perregaux. (Source: Guinness World Records)
  Vincent explaining to me how he will put my watch back together. He  takes photos of every step as he takes it apart.  

Vincent explaining to me how he will put my watch back together. He  takes photos of every step as he takes it apart.  

Putting It Back Together

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Back to our adventure

Vincent then told us the story of the building. It dates back to the 1820s and has been home to a watchmaker since the 1870s when Edwin K. Pass first leased the store and later bought the building. The Pass family operated their watchmaking business out of the building for 100+ years. At one time they were so busy they employed five full-time watchmakers.

He still uses the original 18th century safe to lock up the watchers and materials every night.

That was in April of 2017. Fast forward to February 2018.  

As I was planning my trip to visit my Mom, I began thinking  about my Hamilton Automatic Estoril watch that wasn’t keeping good time and wondering if Vincent could fix it. 

I did a Google search - his shop didn’t come up. I checked Google Maps - it wasn’t there.  Wondering if he was still in business, I asked my Mom to check and she said she went by on the bus and it looked like he was.

So I took my watch with me and on the first morning I headed to his shop. Sure enough, he was there.  I showed him my watch and he assured me he could fix it.  Said he have a look and see what the problem was and give me a call.  He called the next day saying it just needed a good cleaning, so I gave the “go ahead” and was to pick it up three days later before I left for home.

By chance, on next the next morning I happen to be walking by and the “Open” sign was on so I tried the door and sure enough he was there. Vincent asked, “Do you want to see your watch?” Sure….so he pulls out a small, Tupperware-like container with various compartments with all of the tiny pieces of my watch sorted. I didn’t say anything but I was thinking “I sure hope he knows how to put this back together.” 

Tuesday morning the watch is waiting for me and he says it is keeping good time.  As I am leaving he says, “it might lose a few seconds a day!” I smiled and said, “that would be OK.”

It has been keeping perfect time ever since.

  Custom Vsaint watch, with the cool logo integrated into the face.

Custom Vsaint watch, with the cool logo integrated into the face.

About Vincent Cino

Born in Hamilton, Vincent became interested in watchmaking in 1974 when visiting family in Turin, Italy. There a he saw his cousin working away at his watchmaker’s bench fixing watches and became fascinated with the world of micro-mechanics and horology – the science of watchmaking.  Upon returning home, he signed up for the British Horological Institute’s online learning program and as they say, the rest is history.

Today, Vincent is an expert at building Swiss chronograph watches.  He sources all of his materials for creating custom Vsaint Timepieces from Switzerland, so one could say “there are Swiss watches made in Canada.” As well, all of the parts he needs for watch repairs are also Swiss. 

I had to ask…Vincent himself owns only two watches - one is his own creation and the other is a Rolex Submariner. 

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Last Word

I also learned my Hamilton Estoril watch was from the late 1960s. It wasn’t until 1964 that Seiko invented the automatic (self winding) chronograph and unveiled it at the Tokyo Olympics.  Later Heuer, Breitling and Hamilton and movement specialist Dubois Depraz developed the technology for the first automatic chromatics like mine. 

Now the dilemma is, do I want him to make me a custom watch?  He showed me one I really like that he was working on that was $1,250.  Really isn’t that expensive considering the cost of a watch battery these days. 

Full Disclosure: I paid full price for the cleaning of my watch, it was only afterwards that I decided to do this blog. 

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

Calgary: Art of Vintage: A hidden gem

Hamilton's James Street North is a hidden gem

Turner Valley Gas Plant: A Hidden Gem

Flaneuring Fun in Hamilton!

Regular readers of the Everyday Tourist blog know I love to flaneur i.e. wander aimlessly the streets, alleys, parks and pathways of Calgary or any other city where I might be.  

Recently I was in Hamilton, visiting my Mom and found some time everyday  to flaneur the streets of what use to be Steel Town but is now affectionally known as The Hammer.  

As I wandered, I was surprised at how often I felt like I was back in Dublin, Nashville, Memphis, Leipzig (Germany) or Kreuzber (Berlin).

  I love shop owners who extend their stores out onto the street. Kudos to Vintage Soul Geek, International Village. 

I love shop owners who extend their stores out onto the street. Kudos to Vintage Soul Geek, International Village. 

Streets of Hamilton 

While visually you couldn't get two City Centres more different than Calgary with its glittering glass office and condo towers and Hamilton with its redbrick low-rise buildings, surprisingly there were lots of similarities. 

  • Hamilton's Locke Street had many of the elements of Calgary's Inglewood, before it became gentrified.  
  • Hamilton's Durand with is charming brick mansions reminded me of Calgary's Mount Royal, without the new mega homes.  
  • Hamilton's Corktown with all of its live music venues had many elements of Calgary's Inglewood.  
  • Hamilton's International Village with its colourful storefronts reminded me of colourful facades and a doors in Dublin.
  • Hamilton's James Street North had elements of Calgary's 4th Street and  Kensington Village, as well as urban grit of Kreuzberg. 

I thought since I had so much flaneuring fun I would share it with you as a photo essay.  

Streetscapes 

  Fun sandwich boards are a great way to enhance the pedestrian experience. Kudos to House of Java on James St. S.

Fun sandwich boards are a great way to enhance the pedestrian experience. Kudos to House of Java on James St. S.

  There should be awards for stores with the best names and signage. Into the Abyss is a record store on Locke Street. 

There should be awards for stores with the best names and signage. Into the Abyss is a record store on Locke Street. 

  Dr. Disc was a great find...loved the fun display in the stairwell...be sure to leave some time to search the 3 for $1 records. 

Dr. Disc was a great find...loved the fun display in the stairwell...be sure to leave some time to search the 3 for $1 records. 

  Empty storefront becomes an exhibition space on James St. N. Why doesn't every landlord with an empty window space do this? 

Empty storefront becomes an exhibition space on James St. N. Why doesn't every landlord with an empty window space do this? 

  Jane Jacobs would love the urban clutter along Locke St.

Jane Jacobs would love the urban clutter along Locke St.

  One of the strangest things about Hamilton's City Centre is the number of scooters you encounte r.   They replace the mega strollers of cities like Calgary. 

One of the strangest things about Hamilton's City Centre is the number of scooters you encounter.  They replace the mega strollers of cities like Calgary. 

  Somehow it seemed ironic that there were all these signs saying "Stop For Pedestrians" but there wasn't a pedestrian (other than me) anywhere in sight. 

Somehow it seemed ironic that there were all these signs saying "Stop For Pedestrians" but there wasn't a pedestrian (other than me) anywhere in sight. 

Window Wonderland 

  I was surprised at how many great window displays there were in downtown Hamilton stores.  

I was surprised at how many great window displays there were in downtown Hamilton stores.  

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  I was also surprised at the number of independent used bookstores in Hamilton's City Centre -  another sign of a healthy community.

I was also surprised at the number of independent used bookstores in Hamilton's City Centre -  another sign of a healthy community.

  Inside I found intriguing vignettes. 

Inside I found intriguing vignettes. 

  Hamilton's City Centre is full of funky coffee shops with great windows for people watching.  

Hamilton's City Centre is full of funky coffee shops with great windows for people watching.  

  This could easily be in Dublin or Berlin.

This could easily be in Dublin or Berlin.

  I want a craft beer kitchen in my neighbourhood. 

I want a craft beer kitchen in my neighbourhood. 

  Hamilton's City Centre is full of small boutiques.

Hamilton's City Centre is full of small boutiques.

Corktown: Hamilton's Music District

  If you are in Hamilton on a Tuesday night, be sure to check out the Irish Jam at the Corktown Pub. It was as good as anything I experienced in Dublin. At one point I counted 23 musician jamming at the same time.

If you are in Hamilton on a Tuesday night, be sure to check out the Irish Jam at the Corktown Pub. It was as good as anything I experienced in Dublin. At one point I counted 23 musician jamming at the same time.

 The Corktown pub also has great blues jam on Sunday afternoons. It reminded me of being back in Memphis at the International Blues Competition.  

The Corktown pub also has great blues jam on Sunday afternoons. It reminded me of being back in Memphis at the International Blues Competition.  

  Hamilton's Mississippi Queen aka Connie (FYI: she owns the Mississippi Queen restaurant in Hamilton and is from the delta) was at the Blues Jam entertaining everyone with her dancing. 

Hamilton's Mississippi Queen aka Connie (FYI: she owns the Mississippi Queen restaurant in Hamilton and is from the delta) was at the Blues Jam entertaining everyone with her dancing. 

  If you are into guitars you will want to check out The Acoustic Room on James St. N, near St. Joe's Hospital.  Yes, they only sell acoustic guitars.  It is like an art gallery for guitars. 

If you are into guitars you will want to check out The Acoustic Room on James St. N, near St. Joe's Hospital.  Yes, they only sell acoustic guitars.  It is like an art gallery for guitars. 

  The Cat "N" Fiddle reminded me both of Dublin and Nashville. Dublin because of the architecture and colours, Nashville because the bands playing in the front window.

The Cat "N" Fiddle reminded me both of Dublin and Nashville. Dublin because of the architecture and colours, Nashville because the bands playing in the front window.

  I am thinking Hamilton must be the neighbourhood pub capital of Canada.  

I am thinking Hamilton must be the neighbourhood pub capital of Canada.  

  In Hamilton any house can become a pub. 

In Hamilton any house can become a pub. 

Night Walks

  Ever since the two-year old new door introduced me to the joy of "night walks" I make a point of flaneuring at night when I am in a new city.  

Ever since the two-year old new door introduced me to the joy of "night walks" I make a point of flaneuring at night when I am in a new city.  

  Brightly coloured rooms are all the rage at trendy contemporary art galleries today.  In the past year I have seen "Colour Room" exhibitions at the Esker Gallery, Calgary; Palm Springs Art Museum and one of the galleries at Leipzig's Spinnerei.  In Hamilton, you don't need to go to an art museum to see contemporary art just wander the streets.  

Brightly coloured rooms are all the rage at trendy contemporary art galleries today.  In the past year I have seen "Colour Room" exhibitions at the Esker Gallery, Calgary; Palm Springs Art Museum and one of the galleries at Leipzig's Spinnerei.  In Hamilton, you don't need to go to an art museum to see contemporary art just wander the streets.  

  There is an interesting narrative here, as all of the chairs are faced to look out onto the street. It is as if they are starring at you.  

There is an interesting narrative here, as all of the chairs are faced to look out onto the street. It is as if they are starring at you. 

  Hommage to Edward Hopper.

Hommage to Edward Hopper.

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  I passed by this alley many times during my stay. Something about it fascinated me. 

I passed by this alley many times during my stay. Something about it fascinated me. 

Colourful Store Fronts

   The note on the door says "you won't know unless you come it." Inside, you will meet Pat who sells everything from vintage typewriters to books, from pens to rubber stamps.  It is a hidden gem.  

 The note on the door says "you won't know unless you come it." Inside, you will meet Pat who sells everything from vintage typewriters to books, from pens to rubber stamps.  It is a hidden gem. 

  Perhaps Hamilton's best one two combination...a great bookstore beside funky cafe...it doesn't get any better. 

Perhaps Hamilton's best one two combination...a great bookstore beside funky cafe...it doesn't get any better. 

  Unless it is the Thrifty Designer and a flower shop.

Unless it is the Thrifty Designer and a flower shop.

  The Burnt Tongue has great soups (as well as a great name). Next door is Smalls cafe (it has just one seat to sit at the window).  

The Burnt Tongue has great soups (as well as a great name). Next door is Smalls cafe (it has just one seat to sit at the window).  

 Choises Musicales aka Musical Chairs is a fun vintage boutique. 

Choises Musicales aka Musical Chairs is a fun vintage boutique. 

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Art & Architecture 

  All along the sidewalks of Lock Street are fun word plaques that make you stop and think.   Wow -  fun, clever and inexpensive - public art! 

All along the sidewalks of Lock Street are fun word plaques that make you stop and think.   Wow -  fun, clever and inexpensive - public art! 

  Thought Hamilton's downtown there are amazing relief artworks form the early to mid-20th Century. I am thinking we need to bring this kind of public art back. 

Thought Hamilton's downtown there are amazing relief artworks form the early to mid-20th Century. I am thinking we need to bring this kind of public art back. 

  This brutalist parkade comes alive at night with light and colour.  How simple, effective and affordable is that.  

This brutalist parkade comes alive at night with light and colour.  How simple, effective and affordable is that. 

  Love this collage of old and new architecture. 

Love this collage of old and new architecture. 

  Hamilton's Gore Park is an eerie spot at night. This artwork/signage seems surreal in the deserted space.

Hamilton's Gore Park is an eerie spot at night. This artwork/signage seems surreal in the deserted space.

 This barn-like sculpture outside of the Hamilton's Farmers' Market adds a sense of playfulness to the pedestrian experience. I love contrast between the chaotic lines of artwork and the ordered linear lines of the market windows.  A nice metaphor for entropy of urban living.

This barn-like sculpture outside of the Hamilton's Farmers' Market adds a sense of playfulness to the pedestrian experience. I love contrast between the chaotic lines of artwork and the ordered linear lines of the market windows.  A nice metaphor for entropy of urban living.

  I don't know if it is true, but it seemed to me that there are more churches per block Hamilton's City Centre than an other city I have visited. 

I don't know if it is true, but it seemed to me that there are more churches per block Hamilton's City Centre than an other city I have visited. 

  When I first saw this piece I thought it was a real person sleeping on the bench. This is outside St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church.  

When I first saw this piece I thought it was a real person sleeping on the bench. This is outside St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church. 

Hamilton vs Kreuzberg & Leipzig 

  This could easily be in Kreuzberg a neighbourhood in Berlin that has been called the best hipster community in the world even though it is the dirtiest community (graffiti and litter everywhere) I have ever visited, that wasn't a slum.  It is a haven for artists from around the world who love the bohemian lifestyle. The same is true for parts of Leipzig, two hours from Berlin that is also a haven for artists.  

This could easily be in Kreuzberg a neighbourhood in Berlin that has been called the best hipster community in the world even though it is the dirtiest community (graffiti and litter everywhere) I have ever visited, that wasn't a slum.  It is a haven for artists from around the world who love the bohemian lifestyle. The same is true for parts of Leipzig, two hours from Berlin that is also a haven for artists.  

 Found this on the window of a door along James St N.  How cool is this as an artwork?

Found this on the window of a door along James St N.  How cool is this as an artwork?

  Found this on the hoarding (plywood walls) at construction site, it too could be in a contemporary art gallery exhibition.  

Found this on the hoarding (plywood walls) at construction site, it too could be in a contemporary art gallery exhibition.  

 Another doorway artwork that would be at home in Kreuzberg or in a contemporary art exhibition.  

Another doorway artwork that would be at home in Kreuzberg or in a contemporary art exhibition.  

  I wonder what is the connection between Hamilton and Franz Liszt? 

I wonder what is the connection between Hamilton and Franz Liszt? 

Last Photos

  This looks like a checklist of what any urban planner would tell you a City Centre needs to be vibrant place. And yet, Hamilton's City Centre struggles to attract the right mix of live, work and play elements to foster urban vitality. It is obviously not for a lack of trying. 

This looks like a checklist of what any urban planner would tell you a City Centre needs to be vibrant place. And yet, Hamilton's City Centre struggles to attract the right mix of live, work and play elements to foster urban vitality. It is obviously not for a lack of trying. 

  And yes, Hamilton (home to Tim Hortons) has a trendy boutique donut maker. Monster is located at the south end of Locke Street. 

And yes, Hamilton (home to Tim Hortons) has a trendy boutique donut maker. Monster is located at the south end of Locke Street. 

Calgary's Design District Revisited

After spending a week hanging out in Palm Spring’s Design District, I wondered what happened to Calgary’s fledgling Beltline Design District along 11th and 10th Avenue between 4th and 14th Street SW.

I realize several key players have left – Domicile, Robert Swift, BoConcept and Maria Tomais. And soon F2 and Industrial Element will also have to leave to make way for a new residential development at the corner of 11th Ave and 11th St. SW. 

Yes there are still a few design-oriented shops like Banbury Lane, Chintz & Company, Interior Living, Kits Objects, Pomp & Circumstance and Shaun Ford & Co still operating, but the district is becoming more diverse. 

  Mark on 10th, shouts out "this is a design district." 

Mark on 10th, shouts out "this is a design district." 

  Kit is like a mini furniture museum.

Kit is like a mini furniture museum.

Shop

  Chris Cran at Trepanier Baer Gallery.  

Chris Cran at Trepanier Baer Gallery. 

The 700 block of 11th Ave SW with its cluster of commercial galleries - Herringer Kiss, New Zones and Paul Kuhn creates a “Gallery Block” at the heart of the Calgary's design district.

The Gallery Block is also home to Metrovino and Cookbook Company (over 2,000 cookbooks, largest selection in Western Canada) and Brulee Patisserie, all have been anchors for over 20 years.

Other art galleries in the area include Trepanier Baer Gallery, Webster Galleries, Gibson Fine Art and Latitude Art Gallery and VivianeArt.  Perhaps it should become the Gallery District?

  Camera Store always has a great urban buzz. 

Camera Store always has a great urban buzz. 

Add in other eclectic shops like Heritage Posters & Music, Stuff (men’s fashions and accessories) two piano stores. 

Add in The Camera Store (I often pop in to check out the books) and you have the makings of funky pedestrian district.  

There are two new micro retailers (100 square feet) Bezel House (men’s watches) and Kokeldama! (moss ball plants) tucked away at the back of The Audio Room and Stuff respectively.

Other anchor retailers include Mountain Equipment Coop, Atmosphere, The Source, The Bike Shop and Speedmatrix.

  Mountain Equipment Coop is a huge two storey outdoor store. If MEC doesn't have it you don't need it! 

Mountain Equipment Coop is a huge two storey outdoor store. If MEC doesn't have it you don't need it! 

  Love the interplay of the old and new urban design sensibilities in this building. 

Love the interplay of the old and new urban design sensibilities in this building. 

Play

A vibrant district needs a variety of restaurants, bars and cafes.  New condos have brought new amenities like Sucre Patisserie, in Mark on 10th and Donna Mac in Versus.  

  The Concorde Group’s Bridgette restaurant, bar and lounge is a perfect fit, with its mid-century modern design located in an old warehouse building.

The Concorde Group’s Bridgette restaurant, bar and lounge is a perfect fit, with its mid-century modern design located in an old warehouse building.

Beer Revolution, Bonterra Tratttoria and its sister Posto Pizza and Bar provide an excellent line up of places to eat and relax. REGRUB is the district’s funky “go to” burger place.

  Mikey's on 12th offers live music every night and hosts a popular blues jam on Saturday afternoons. 

Mikey's on 12th offers live music every night and hosts a popular blues jam on Saturday afternoons. 

The area is also home to two live music venues – Mikey’s on 12th and the Commonwealth Bar & Stage.

And for those whose idea of play is working out Heaven’s Fitness has some the best classes and equipment in the city. 

And yogis have Yoga Passage.  

 

 REGRUB's metal barrel booths reflects the shop owner's quirky sense of design.

REGRUB's metal barrel booths reflects the shop owner's quirky sense of design.

Live

The recently completed Qualex-Landmark’s Mark on 10th, Lamb Development Corp’s 10th and 6th, ONE Properties’ Versus, Intergulf-Cidex’s Aura I and II and Statesman Group’s The Metropolitan have added 1,500 new homes to the Design District.  And, they will soon be joined by 33-storey 360-room Residence Inn by Marriott (largest in Canada) and its sister 300-unit residential tower.

The district also includes three grocery stores – Safeway, Midtown Calgary Co-op and Community Natural Foods. As for schools, there is even the Connaught elementary school nearby and Western Canada High School is within walking distance.  

The district has a walkscore of 98, making it one of the best places in the City to “live, work and play.”

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New Name

The district deserves a higher profile as one of Calgary’s hip pedestrian streets.  Back in the ‘80s, 11th Avenue SW was nicknamed “Electric Avenue” for the lively nightlife generated by the plethora of bars and nightclubs along the avenue.   Today, it has a more eclectic mix of shops, galleries, restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs.

Perhaps it is time for a new name, one reflecting the new identity and captures the imagination of Calgarians and tourists. In many cities, the area would be nicknamed SODO, for its south downtown location.  

FYI: HIPville has been taken. It is the name of new Business Improvement Area (BIA) for the Highland Industrial Park. It will be interesting to see how the collaboration of those businesses becomes a catalyst for development.

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Last Word

Hmmm….perhaps the area would benefit if the businesses banded together and formed a their own BIA. Certainly, 17th Avenue, 4th Street, Kensington Inglewood and Marda Loop have all thrived as a result of the marketing and lobbying efforts of their respective BIAs.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section, Saturday February 17, 2018. 

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

Calgary's Rail Trail Stroll

Calgary's 10th Avenue Renaissance

Importance of BIAs

 

Calgary's Coolest Neighbourhoods: Inglewood

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

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

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

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

What makes a cool neighbourhood?

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

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

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

Inglewood

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

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Festivals/Events

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

Shops

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

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

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

But wait. It gets better.

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

  Recordland is a "must visit" for audiophiles.  

Recordland is a "must visit" for audiophiles. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It even has an in-house barbershop.

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

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

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

  Now doesn't this look tasty....

Now doesn't this look tasty....

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

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

Cafés

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

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

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Restaurants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art/Architecture

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Calgary International Folk Festival's Festival Hall. 

Calgary International Folk Festival's Festival Hall. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link: Calgary is the Infill Capital of North America

  Just a few of the historic homes in Inglewood.

Just a few of the historic homes in Inglewood.

Parks/Plazas/Pathways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fitness/Recreation

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

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

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

A typical summer evening of lawn bowling in Inglewood. 

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

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

Pubs/Clubs/Beer

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

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

Fun/Funky/Quirky Factor

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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