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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Not All Community Associations Are Equal

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

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

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

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

What are the challenges facing Community Associations in Calgary today? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Community Associations & Urban Development

Community Engagement: The Community's Perspective

Calgary: The Dog Park Capital of North America

 

16th Ave N Urban Corridor: What went wrong?

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

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

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

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

  16th Avenue N is still very auto-focused.  

16th Avenue N is still very auto-focused.  

Why no new developments?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  16th Ave N has wide sidewalks but no pedestrians. 

16th Ave N has wide sidewalks but no pedestrians. 

Rise of 17th Avenue NW

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

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

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

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

  Mount Pleasant 1740 condo project

Mount Pleasant 1740 condo project

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

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

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Good News For 16th Ave NW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Marquis on 16th condo from back alley. 

Marquis on 16th condo from back alley. 

Last Word

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

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

City's Response:

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

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

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

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

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

Flaneuring The Fringes: 16th Ave N

Calgary: TransCanada Highway's Motel History

Mean Streets, Main Streets, Pretty Streets