Calgary's Centre City Plan Revisited: Where diversity thrives?

Kudos to the City for taking the initiative to update the 2007 Centre City Plan rather than letting it gather dust.  Visions and urban plans often reflect the mood of the city at the time they are developed.

In 2007, Calgary’s City Centre was in a boom, today there is a feeling of doom, so there could be major changes. 

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Refresh?

Over the past six months the City has conducted what they call a “strategic foresight” process with various Centre City stakeholders to gather information, ideas, issues, opportunities so they can update the Center City Plan.  A draft of what they are calling “The Future of Calgary’s Center City: 2038 Through a Strategic Foresight Lens” is in the process of being developed and will be shared with the public and stakeholders in 2019 for more feedback.  

Link: City Centre Plan Refresh

There are big challenges facing the City Centre’s private and public stakeholders today – aging public buildings and spaces, contaminated land in West Village and thousands of empty office spaces to name a few. 

One might even ask: “Is Centre City the right name?” and “Do we have the right boundaries?” Perhaps we should revise the plan to accommodate a decline versus growth of our City Center. 

Let’s have a look.

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Name / Boundary Change 

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The first two changes I would make would be to change the name and boundaries.  

The name “Centre City” is confusing as most cities refer to the area around their Central Business District (CBD) as the City Centre and most of Calgary’s directional signage says “City Centre.

I wish urban planners would come up with a common terminology as it would help the public better understand what they are talking about. 

Calgary’s City Center should include Sunalta, Hillhurst/Sunnyside, Bridgeland/Riverside, Mission, Cliff Bungalow, Erlton and Inglewood.

All of these communities share many of the same development issues and opportunities as those in the current Centre City Plan. 

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Calgary’s City Centre is a much larger area than what the City’s current Centre City plan includes.

Calgary’s City Centre is a much larger area than what the City’s current Centre City plan includes.

Parking to People

Perhaps the biggest change since 2007 is the renaissance of urban living in the Centre City with dozens of new residential developments replacing surface parking.  

Anthem’s Waterfront project with 1,000+ condos is the largest condo project in the city’s history. The Le Germain condos sold out quickly at $1,000 per square foot, in 2010. Qualex Landmark alone has completed six condo buildings (1,298 suites) in the Beltline over the past 10 years.  And the East Village’s sea of parking is quickly disappearing. 

Since 2007: 

  • Residents increased by 31% 

  • Residences increased by 46% 

  • Children under the age of 15 increased by 131% 

One of several illustrations from the current Centre City Plan.

One of several illustrations from the current Centre City Plan.

Boom to Gloom 

Ten years ago, the City Center was booming, plans were being finalized for East Village, National Music Centre, new Central Library and West LRT. 

Everyone was excited about the possibility of the new RiverWalk, St. Patrick’s Island renovations and construction of the new George C. King Bridge.   

Bow Valley College was looking at a major expansion of its City Centre campus and the University of Calgary has just established its downtown presence.  

It was also boom time for new office buildings, plans for the Bow were announce in 2006 and the conversion of Penny Lane Mall into the elegant Eight Avenue Place were underway.

Fast forward to today and no new pipelines, the rise of the US oil & gas production has resulted in the collapse of Calgary as a major international oil and gas headquarters. The loss of 30,000 jobs and the construction of several mega office buildings has resulted 25% of downtown’s office space being empty.  The loss of property tax revenue City Centre office buildings has created a city wide tax crisis.  

Since 2007, Calgary’s City Centre has evolved from boom to doom and gloom. 

East Village’s new Studio Bell museum didn’t exist in 2007.

East Village’s new Studio Bell museum didn’t exist in 2007.

East Village’s new condos didn’t exist in 2007.

East Village’s new condos didn’t exist in 2007.

Downtown’s 7th Avenue transit corridor has been significantly improved since 2007.

Downtown’s 7th Avenue transit corridor has been significantly improved since 2007.

Unfortunately, downtown’s once hot business economy has turned cold since 2007.

Unfortunately, downtown’s once hot business economy has turned cold since 2007.

Big Challenges

Over the next 10 years our City Centre’s public and private leaders will have to tackle the following challenges, with a lot less tax revenue than in 2007.  

  • How to ensure the Green Line is a catalyst for private investment? 

  • Will Victoria Park revitalization including the new arena and expanded BMO center will be Calgary’s next East Village?  And what impact will that have on the much needed Arts Commons, Glenbow Museum and Olympic Plaza upgrades.  

  • Is there room for both the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre and BMO centre in the future. 

  • Stephen Avenue needs a major makeover to better accommodate pedestrians, cyclist and evening traffic which was not part of the original design. Perhaps extend it all the way to 8th or 11th Street SW. 

  • Do we finally clean up the creosote in West Village? Is there a need for West Village?

  • How to fill-up or redevelop the 10+ million square feet of empty office space for new uses. 

  • Will there be a demand for more residential development if the downtown core doesn’t recover?

How Victoria Park and Stampede Park could evolve over the next 20 years?

How Victoria Park and Stampede Park could evolve over the next 20 years?

Concept drawing for new BMO Convention / Event Centre at Stampede Park. Construction could begin in 2019.

Concept drawing for new BMO Convention / Event Centre at Stampede Park. Construction could begin in 2019.

The new Green Line will add a new dimension to the Centre City as it passes underground through downtown.

The new Green Line will add a new dimension to the Centre City as it passes underground through downtown.

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Last Word

The Centre City Plan vision statement reads:

“To make Centre City a livable, caring and thriving place: That is a premier urban living environment; That is a national and global centre of business; That is a centre for the arts, culture, recreation, tourism and entertainment, and; That welcomes people, in all their diversity, to live, work and visit here.”

It is a nice convoluted motherhood statement. However, I was once told a good vision statement is no longer than about 10 words and should be something aspiring, memorable and something everyone can recite easily. 

May I suggest:

“A City Centre where diversity thrives!”

Diversity to me includes: a diversity of housing options, diversity of businesses (sizes and sectors), diversity of parks and public spaces, diversity of festivals and events, diversity of entertainment/arts, diversity of restaurants/retail, a diversity of streets, a diversity of transportation options and a diversity of architecture (old and new). 

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

All downtowns must reinvent themselves

Calgary: The World’s Most Walkable City Centre

Calgary’s City Centre on of the best in North America

 

 

Hey Calgarians you don’t own the street!

One of the biggest misconceptions by Calgary homeowners is that think they own the street parking in front of their house. They don’t.

It is a public parking space anybody can use. Unfortunately, by issuing residential parking permits for street parking, the City of Calgary gives home owners the impression street in front of their house indeed their personal parking spot.  

Note: An edited version of this blog was posted online as part of CBC Calgary’s “Road Ahead” feature on December 1st 2018.

Residential parking signs like this one is very common in Calgary’s inner-city streets. 39,000 households in Calgary have exclusive use of their street parking even though most have garages or parking pads in the alley.

Residential parking signs like this one is very common in Calgary’s inner-city streets. 39,000 households in Calgary have exclusive use of their street parking even though most have garages or parking pads in the alley.

No Free Parking?

And this is becoming a bigger problem as the City wants to diversify and densify our inner-city neighbourhoods as parking is a key barrier to new development. (We will get to this later.)

Street parking is a valuable asset the City must manage more creatively to enhance the vitality of our inner-city communities for both commercial and residential development.  

One idea could be to charge residents fair market rate for street parking and make street parking a bigger cash cow for the City! 

I always smile when I pass by this “One Minute” parking zone in West Hillhurst.

I always smile when I pass by this “One Minute” parking zone in West Hillhurst.

Cash Cow?

Residential Permit parking gives Calgarians the solid (and defendable!) position the street in front of their homes is their personal parking spot.  Currently, the City allows residents of a block who gather up enough signatures to “privatize” the parking on “their street” in front of their houses for FREE.  And FOR LIFE.  

The residential permit parking process doesn’t look at whether or not the houses on the street in question have garages or parking pads, just number of signatures.  The permit parking provides private privilege to permit holders at no cost, no additional property taxes paid for the exclusive use.

Yet the city is still obligated to maintain, repair, plow, sand and protect the “public” right of way.

Perhaps one way to even the playing field between residents and short stay visitors is to charge residents for street parking permits based on fair market rates. For example, if the fee for monthly parking at the nearby institution is $200/month, then charge $100/month for a residential street parking permit. 

If the street parking fee is $2.00/hour on the nearby commercial street then charge the residents $1.00/hr over the same period i.e. $10/day for a permit i.e. $250/month (or $3,000/yr.).  

The City is always looking for new sources of revenue. Here is an obvious one. If there are 39,000 residential parking permits in Calgary and if the City were to charge, on average, $1,000/year/household for each permit it would generate $39 million/year.  This could be used to spruce up neighbouring “main streets.”

Let’s see how many people apply for residential parking permits when they have to put some skin in the game.  

A typical inner city street in Calgary is lined with cars evenings and weekends even though every house has a garage or parking pad in the back alley.

A typical inner city street in Calgary is lined with cars evenings and weekends even though every house has a garage or parking pad in the back alley.

A typical inner city alley in Calgary two car garages or parking pads for every house. There is no need to park on the street unless you have two or more vehicles and if that is the case perhaps you should pay to park them on the street in high demand areas.

A typical inner city alley in Calgary two car garages or parking pads for every house. There is no need to park on the street unless you have two or more vehicles and if that is the case perhaps you should pay to park them on the street in high demand areas.

Infill Development Barrier 

Often the biggest complaint when a new infill development is proposed for an inner-city community is it will create parking issues, especially if it has commercial uses at the street. 

Too often inner-city residents say they want more amenities in their neighbourhood - cafés, bistros, urban grocery stores, medical offices etc. - but as soon as one is proposed, the complaints roll in about parking and traffic issues. They demand underground parking, which costs $40,000 to $70,000 a stall and then wonder why the cost of the condos and the restaurant or café prices are so high.    

In some cases, part of the traffic issue is people driving around looking for a parking spot even though there are dozens of empty street parking spots, but they are all reserved for those with FREE residential permits. 

Why shouldn’t the businesses have access to the street parking near them also? After all, they pay twice the taxes on a per square foot basis as residential property owners.  Don’t they and their customers also have a right to the street parking?

Ironically, if we want to make our inner-city communities more walkable we will have to share the street parking. Small businesses need the patronage of people driving from other communities to make them viable. 

This homeowner has installed his/her own parking signage. I am wondering if any senior can use it.

This homeowner has installed his/her own parking signage. I am wondering if any senior can use it.

LRT / Hospitals/ Schools

For those living near LRT stations, hospitals or large schools, the concern is people will park on the street all day when at work, rather than pay to park on site.  The easy solution: limit street parking in the area to a specific time period (could be two to four hours depending on what is appropriate).  Yes, some people will just come out and move their car, but that is the exception, not the rule.

Rather than building more parkades that take up valuable land and drive up housing costs, we need to put our existing street parking to better use.  An added benefit is people will be parking and walking further to their ultimate destination which will make them healthier. It will also put more eyes on the street, creating a safer neighbourhood. 

And yes, I know there are parking issues in places near special events, but “come on,” it is just a few times a year. Can’t we just suck it up and let people park on the street.  

Link: Petition to eliminate parking fees at hospitals

This corner lot near the Foothills hospital has room to park 6 cars even though the home owner has a large driveway and two car garage. Why not allow 2-hour parking for hospital visitors? Park and walk would be good for their health.

This corner lot near the Foothills hospital has room to park 6 cars even though the home owner has a large driveway and two car garage. Why not allow 2-hour parking for hospital visitors? Park and walk would be good for their health.

Parking Ombudsman 

Currently, there is no oversight to the parking permit process. It essentially happens automatically once a street gathers up enough signatures.  No council oversight, no planning oversight, and essentially little consultation with businesses or potential redevelopment opportunities.

Permit parking should be based on true need balanced against society or Municipal Development Plan goals, not the rule.  Generating commercial activity (to generate more taxes, employment, complete communities) should take a higher priority than private car storage for FREE. Most residential parking is only “needed” at night as most residents go to work during the day leaving lots of empty parking spots.  

Perhaps we need a parking ombudsman who can review existing and future requests to determine what is best for the city-at-large.  Some might say the Calgary Parking Authority acts as an ombudsman, but I would disagree.  

Their mandate is to generate revenue for the City. I have seen them convert 2-hour street parking that was working just fine into paid parking as a means of generating more revenue.  In some cases, their system has both paid and 2-hour free on the same street! How confusing is that?

What we don’t need is Council reviewing every residential parking permit request!  

Not a divine right…

If City Council really wants to foster innovative initiatives for the redevelopment of established neighbourhoods into more mixed-use complete communities, they should abolish residential street permits ASAP.  

Obviously, there will be some special cases like handicap parking but these should be very limited. 

Politicians will have to tell Calgarians “it is not your divine right to park your car on the street, in front of your house.”  

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


Calgary: City Planners Rethinking Community Plans

For decades, one of the key planning tools for community development in Calgary was the “Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP).” However, with the increasing number of communities (now over 200), the task to create new plans and update old ones has become formitable.  

So, the City of Calgary is experimenting with the idea of creating 40 or so “community districts,” each with their own strategic growth plans that incorporates the needs and aspirations of several neighbouring communities in a synergistic manner. 

That’s the hope anyway….

Does Calgary have too many communities?

Does Calgary have too many communities?

Is this a good idea? 

Jane Jacobs thinks so.  In her 1960s book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (which has become the bible for North American urban planning in the 21stcentury), she says “cities have too many communities - and that it leads to small town, inward thinking.” In her opinion, communities should be larger, about 50,000+ people, to allow for more diversity in perspectives and attitudes.  

At this scale, she feels a community will have sufficient votes to capture the politician’s attention and allow for more comprehensive planning rather than being fragmented into small neighbourhood plans.

Link: Video of Green Line LRT route

The Green Line is going to shape the redevelopment of Calgary for the next 50 years. It is going to be the catalyst for major changes in dozens of communities.

The Green Line is going to shape the redevelopment of Calgary for the next 50 years. It is going to be the catalyst for major changes in dozens of communities.

North Hill Communities 

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The City of Calgary’s first larger “community district” will be called North Hill.  

It will encompass  Highland Park, Mount Pleasant, Tuxedo Park, Winston Heights-Mountainview, Crescent Heights, Renfrew, Captiol Hill and Thorncliffe Greenview (south of Mcknight Blvd).  

These communities are all experiencing significant growing pains.

Infill housing developments of all shapes and sizes, as well as several major developments on the horizon - Highland Golf Course redevelopment, Green Line LRT and the 16thAvenue BRT will all dramatically reshape urban living in these communities.  

Edmonton Trail has huge potential to become a vibrant pedestrian street.

Edmonton Trail has huge potential to become a vibrant pedestrian street.

Did you know that 4th St NW is the site of Calgary’s first McDonald’s?

Did you know that 4th St NW is the site of Calgary’s first McDonald’s?

North Mount Pleasant Arts Centre is a hidden gem.

North Mount Pleasant Arts Centre is a hidden gem.

In the future Centre Street will (could) become a vibrant pedestrian street with an LRT station near this intersection.

In the future Centre Street will (could) become a vibrant pedestrian street with an LRT station near this intersection.

Centre Street as it passes through Highland Park with the Bow Tower in the background is ripe for redevelopment.

Centre Street as it passes through Highland Park with the Bow Tower in the background is ripe for redevelopment.

Is Bigger Better?

At this early stage the City will be hosting community meetings to gather ideas, issues and opportunities. It has a website https://engage.calgary.ca/NorthHill that allows everyone not just residents to ask questions and learn more about the plans for a North Hill Community Growth Plan.  

In the past the City, would have had to manage eight separate area redevelopment plans for communities ranging in size from 3,337 to 8,849 residents. The new “bigger is better” thinking model will develop one plan for 45,760 people.

Ironically this size fits with Jacobs’ belief.   

This is not the first time the City has developed growth plans that combined several neighbouring communities. Back in 2007, the City developed the Center City Plan which included Eau Claire, Chinatown, East Village, Downtown Core, Downtown West and the Beltline, recognizing that collectively, these urban mixed-use, high-rise communities shared a lot in common.  

Today, they have a combined population of 43,492, again near Jacob’s benchmark.  

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But wait there is more.   

Traditionally, Calgary’s communities have been established based on how developers and the City subdivided the land and built new homes. 

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However, the northwest community association of Northern Hills (not to be confused with North Hill) which includes Harvest Hills, Coventry Hills, Country Hills Estates, Panorama Hills Estates, Country Hills and Panorama Hills were all built in the ‘90s.  

All of these communities surround the regional VIVO (formerly Cardel Place) recreation and wellness centre which has become the heart, soul and gathering place for all six communities. 

It should be noted that the formation of the Northern Hills Community Association was led by the community, not by city planners or politicians.  

And it has a population of about 60,000 people. 

VIVO is a busy place….

VIVO is a busy place….

Last Word

The City of Calgary has moved to a more regional and integrated model for amenities like recreation and library facilities in the 1980s and developers have also moved to more regional shopping and entertainment centers since then. 

The concept of small independent communities (5,000 to 10,000 people) needs to evolve as urban living changes from being more local to more regionally based.   

VIVO and Calgary’s other mega recreation/leisure/library/wellness centres with their associated parks, playgrounds and playing fields have become the modern equivalent of the town squares of European cities built hundreds of years ago.  

City building is a continuous series of adaptations and the City of Calgary, developers and communities are obviously adapting to Calgary’s as it grows towards two million people and over 200 communities.  

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the December issue of Condo Living magazine.

If you like this blog you will like these links:

Does Calgary have too many neighbourhoods?

Mount Pleasant: Calgary’s Other 4th Street

Calgary’s Highland Park Deserves Better

 

 




Calgary's Municipal Development Plan: A Herculean Task!

Calgary has to do something to stop urban sprawl.  We have to find a way to encourage more Calgarians to live in communities that already exist, rather then continue our rather relentless suburban march outward to Okotoks, Strathmore, Airdre and Cochrane.   

To meet the MDP’s target of 50% of Calgary’s population growth in developed areas, means the City and developers have to approve and build about 150 projects this size each year from now until 2069.

To meet the MDP’s target of 50% of Calgary’s population growth in developed areas, means the City and developers have to approve and build about 150 projects this size each year from now until 2069.

The City’s economists estimate that from 2009 to 2069, Calgary will add 1.3 million people. That's a doubling. So where will we put everyone?

Calgary’s Municipal Development Plan (MDP) has set a very ambitious target that 50% of all population growth from 2009 until 2069 will be in older established communities called the Developed Area. 

It is the blueprint for Calgary’s future.

Yikes, that means adding 650,000 to our existing neighbourhoods - if we achieve the 1.3 million population increase.

A noble goal.

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Herculean Task

But in reality, it'll be very difficult, if not impossible to convince Calgarians to move into inner-city communities for various reasons.

To accommodate 650,000 new people via infill, new build, rebuild and other projects in our established communities, we'd need to add about 10,000 people to those communities per year. That is like adding one East Village every year, for the next 50 years somewhere in our City Centre or the older suburbs.  

When you understand how the differential death/birth rates, demographics, household sizes, land assembly and approval times, all significantly favour population growth in suburbs you being to appreciate the City has set itself a Herculean task!

We all have skin in this game. The MDP is our roadmap for shaping the kind of city we want to live in. It affects roads and transit planning and residential property taxes.

It impacts our collective carbon and economic footprint.

It's a plan we need to understand in detail as it will mean many of us will have to change the way we live!

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To meet the MDP targets will mean more high-rises at strategic sites in many inner-city communities.

To meet the MDP targets will mean more high-rises at strategic sites in many inner-city communities.

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Note since 2012 the cumulative growth in developed areas has grown to 25% which is encouraging.

Note since 2012 the cumulative growth in developed areas has grown to 25% which is encouraging.

EASIER SAID THAN DONE

Calgary's MDP was adopted back in 2009.  

That was a time of a different reality for our city - pre downturn - but still, it's the vision we are using as we move forward.  

The City’s mid-term target is for 33% of all of Calgary’s population growth between 2009 and 2039, to be in established communities and 50% by 2069. 

To give you an idea of the radical change this would be, from 2006-2016, about 91% of Calgary's growth was in suburbs, and only 9% or so was in developed communities. 

Link: MDP Monitoring Report

To go from 9% population growth in the Developed Areas to 50% is going to mean a paradigm shift in how the City, developers and Calgarians live. The City would need to devote considerably more time and tax dollars to making the inner-city communities a more attractive and affordable place to “live, work and play” than it has ever done before.  

This will mean new mid-rise condos along major transit routes and the conversion of old shopping centre, church and school sites into mixed-use, multi-building developments in every inner-city community. 

Think Stadium Shopping Centre, Kensington Legion or Westbrook Village on the old Ernest Manning High School site happening in almost every inner-city community.

This will mean huge investments in things like inner-city Bus Rapid Transit, bike lanes, public spaces, park and recreational facility upgrades. It will also mean finding land, conducting complex public engagement and approvals and completing infrastructure upgrades to build 250,000+ new homes – singles, duplexes, row housing and low, mid and high-rise buildings in every established community.

How this will happen and can this mega makeover happen is complicated. There are a bunch of numbers and indicators that really question if the city has created a target that is impossible to achieve. 

T he MDP encourages increased density along major transit routes throughout the inner-city.

The MDP encourages increased density along major transit routes throughout the inner-city.

Demographics matter

Back to that 9% number and how our growth has always been and still is mostly in suburbs. Right now, despite thousands of new infill homes, multifamily builds, and hundreds of new condo buildings, developed neighbourhoods account for a very small bit of Calgary's growth.

How's this possible?  Get ready for some math.

It probably shouldn’t surprise anyone, but the older suburbs are where the older Calgarians live. A quick check of the City of Calgary’s community profiles showed that in Lake Bonavista 22% of the population is over 65, Acadia 17%, Silver Springs 17% and Lakeview 20%. Whereas new communities like Aspen Woods, Bridlewood, Evanston and Auburn Bay have 5% of less of their population over 65. 

So, you'll find more grey hair, like mine, in the middle ring suburbs (communities built between 1950 - 2000).  

On average the City of Calgary forecasts about 7,500 deaths each year, unfortunately the City doesn’t track deaths by community. However, it is fair to say that significantly more deaths occur in the developed areas than the developing one. 

Similarly, there is a significant difference in the birth rates in Calgary’s established communities vs new ones. Again the City doesn’t track how Calgary’s annual 17,000 births are distributed throughout the city. But a review of the City’s community profiles shows there are significantly more young children in the new communities at the edge of the city than there are in older communities.  

In addition, established communities are more likely to have older teens and young adults who will be moving out of the house, which will further decreased their population over the next 25+ years.  

Simply put, the older suburbs don’t stand chance against the new suburbs when it comes to their population growth vs new suburbs given their low birth and high death rates.


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This is not a fair fight!

The City admits this is an issue.  

Their Municipal Development Plan / Calgary Transportation Plan 2018 Monitoring Progress Report states, “to meet the 33 per cent growth share of the Developed Area for the 2006-2039 period, approximately 47 percent of the growth will need to be captured annually in the Developed Areas over the next 20 years. 

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LAND, LAND AND MORE LAND. 

Then there's this.... most land in established communities is, by definition, developed – already built on.  So, how does the City expect developers to go about amassing sufficient land in these areas to build the 250,000 or so new homes that will be needed to accommodate the 650,000 more people the city expects to live there by 2069. 

The City and developers are going to face a hard time approving inner-city projects in established communities given the increasing complications of community engagement and infrastructure upgrades needed. 

But let's say we do build up, that also presents financial problems. 

To meet the MDP targets the City is going to have to work with developers to foster major residential development next to all inner-city LRT stations.   And the market demand will have to be there to ensure the developments are successful.

To meet the MDP targets the City is going to have to work with developers to foster major residential development next to all inner-city LRT stations. And the market demand will have to be there to ensure the developments are successful.

WHEN FREE ISN'T FREE

People often assume infill projects are free for the city, as they don’t need any new roads, transit, schools, police and fire stations etc. This is not true.   

More people create more pressure on old infrastructure. Which comes with a cost.

For example, the city is spending $44 million to replace aging on infrastructure upgrades along the 17th Avenue SW to make it more attractive for future business and residential development. In Forest Lawn, to accommodate future development the City is investing $96 million in BRT to connect the communities along International Avenue (17th Ave SE) to the City Centre, as well as create a more pedestrian friendly experience. 

And then is East Village, where the City has invested mega millions in new infrastructure, a well as new library, museum, public art, community garden, dog park and redevelopment of St. Patrick’s Island Park.  

If we are going to accommodate up to 650,000 more people living in inner-city communities they are going to want more amenities equivalent the new suburbs – iconic recreation centres. Smacking down 10 thousand new people next to an older smaller library, or with a less developed park or community centre, is going to increase demands for better 'stuff'. 

But even if there is a commitment to redeveloping older neighbourhoods, and we come up with the money, it is the 'cost' of the actual 'house' itself, which will make the target of up to 650,000 more people in established communities difficult.

AFFORDABILITY

Most Calgarians today simply can’t afford the cost of homes in established communities.  

Think of it this way. In the 'burbs' a modern single family home can, lock stock and barrel, easily cost $500,000. In developed communities, especially the inner city a lot, just the lot, can cost $500,000. 

Yes, we could try to focus on condos replacing single family homes in redeveloping older neighbourhoods, but the cost of a condo can be twice as much in the City Center vs. one in the suburbs, especially if you are looking at a concrete building with underground parking.  

And it is going to take a huge shift in thinking to get Calgary families to adopt condo living as their preferred way of living.

Until the City and developers can find a way to build more affordable high-density infill housing, Calgarians will continue to gravitate to living in the city’s new suburbs or even in edge cities like Airdrie and Cochrane.

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Progress Is Being Made 

More and more niche infill developers are building small row housing projects or small condo complexes to replace two or three small mid-century homes in inner-city communities as a means of providing more affordable housing in established neighbourhoods.   

We are heading in the right direction. 

Many of our inner-city communities are bustling with new infill projects and the City Centre is full of cranes building new highrise residential towers.  In fact, the 2018 census showed a significant increase the population of the City Centre and the inner-city communities around it. 

However, there was a decline in the older suburbs between the inner-city ring and the new suburbs that offset most of the growth near the city centre. 

The evolution of the mid to late 20thcentury communities from almost exclusively single-family residential neighbourhoods to a mix of housing types will take more than two generations i.e. 60 years.  

Communities like West Hillhurst, Bridgeland and Altadore have been experiencing infill development for over 30 years and only recently have their populations begun to grow beyond what they were in the 60s.   

We have a long, long way to go, and a lot to think about, and a plan that needs to be more realistic to early be helpful. 

This map illustrates population change in Calgary’s 200+ neighbourhoods. The greener the better - pun intended. The grey and yellow neighbourhoods are the ones that are going to be difficult to redevelop - but not impossible.

This map illustrates population change in Calgary’s 200+ neighbourhoods. The greener the better - pun intended. The grey and yellow neighbourhoods are the ones that are going to be difficult to redevelop - but not impossible.

Linking Vision With Reality

Rhetoric or aspirational thinking that is not based in reality is a dangerous thing. While it can inspire, inform, encourage and energize people, it can also have the opposite effect. Rhetoric (which there is no shortage in our culture), that falls flat time and again, will jade the community and ultimate lose its power to motivate change.  

We must be careful of not setting impossible targets in the name of 'doing something' about sprawl, environmentalism, and economic development. 

The intent of the MDP is good, there are lots of good ideas and policies but the targets need to be achievable.  

We need to rethink the target of 33% of all Calgary’s population growth between 2009 and 2039, to be in established communities and 50% by 2069.   

A better target would be to achieve continuous improvement from the 90/10 new vs. old community split with perhaps getting to a 50/50 split by the year 2069.  

Or perhaps to establish different goals for the City Centre and older inner-city communities vs. the mid to late 20th century and early 21st century communities recognizing each have their own inherent opportunities for and barriers to diversification and densification.  


Calgary is not alone in struggling to get more people to live in the inner-city vs. outer suburbs.

Calgary is not alone in struggling to get more people to live in the inner-city vs. outer suburbs.

Last Word

Good plans are not static, they adapting to new information, opportunities and realities as they become apparent. In a discussion with the City staff, I learned the City is indeed planning a review and updating of both the Municipal Development Plan and Calgary Transportation Plan early in 2019.  

And YES there will be an opportunity for community engagement. So, put on your thinking caps and let the City know how we can realistically better manage our City’s growth to slow down urban sprawl. 

Let’s work together to make our city better….

Note: An edited version of this blog was published by CBC Calgary as part of its Road Ahead feature. Link: Can Calgary really cram 650,000 more people into existing communities?

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

Is Calgary ready for real urban living?

80% of Calgarians must live in the ‘burbs

Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary


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?

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

Let the debate begin

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

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

Parking vs Towers

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

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

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

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

A bit of context…

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

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

Chinatown At A Glance

  • 49 retail shops

  • 46 restaurants

  • 10 grocery/butcher/seafood

  • 11 personal services

  • 16 medical/pharmacy/Traditional Chinese Medicine

  • 16 salons

  • 6  business services

  • 23 corporate offices

Screen Shot 2018-11-05 at 3.21.18 PM.png

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.

2018: The Summer of Murals (Beltline)

Do murals enhance neighbourhoods?   Do they foster community pride? Do they make people stop, look and ponder? 

Natalie Nehlawi’s playful mural is meant to “activate the imagination about a species vital to our ecosystem.”

Natalie Nehlawi’s playful mural is meant to “activate the imagination about a species vital to our ecosystem.”

Mikhail Miller and Rachel Ziriada’s playful mural reminds me of Matisse’s cut-out artworks.

Mikhail Miller and Rachel Ziriada’s playful mural reminds me of Matisse’s cut-out artworks.

Do we expect too much?

This summer two major mural projects were undertaken in Calgary - one in the Beltline, the other in Northern Hills (a coalition of four communities), both with the goal of enhancing their community.  The Beltline Urban Mural Program (BUMP) was the more traditional model where professional artists were selected to create murals on blank walls throughout the community. The Northern Hills Mural Project (NHMP) was more community-based with hundreds of community members, as well as others from across the City and beyond helping to paint an 850 meter fence along a section of Country Hills Blvd. 

Both were successful in generating lots of social media and community attention, but how long before the thrill of the new murals fade, just as the murals themselves will?  This is not the first time and won’t be the last where murals and public art have been used to try to enhance a neighbourhood. 

Do we expect too much from public art to transform ugly, boring urban spaces into something fun and attractive?

Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 2.00.59 PM.png
Faith47’s BUMP mural

Faith47’s BUMP mural

Jill Stanton’s mural pays homage to Calgary’s upscale cowboy culture on the side of Gravity Pope one of the city’s best fashion boutiques.

Jill Stanton’s mural pays homage to Calgary’s upscale cowboy culture on the side of Gravity Pope one of the city’s best fashion boutiques.

BUMP

“Our vision is to use powerful, awe-inspiring, whimsical, thought-provoking and stunning art to create beautiful places, invoke dialogue, challenge ideas and foster connections,” says the BUMP website. Link: BUMP website

Those are lofty expectations for the 15 murals which range from the decorative to narrative, mysterious to indigenous and fantasy to illustrative.  There was even a BUMP Festival, Aug 30 to Sept 1stwith tours of the murals, artists talks and an alley party.  I participated in two of the tours which attracted about 100 people each and heard only positive comments about the murals and the project.   

One of the murals that stood out for me was Los Angeles, artist Faith47’s huge cougar with the words “Fortes et Liber” on the side.  Not sure I understand the context of the cougar which appears to be ready to pounce on an unsuspecting pedestrian, however, the Latin words for “strong and free” make some sense given Canada’s national anthem. The mural’s scale (10 storeys) and its monochromatic brownish wash gives it a dream-like quality that looks like it is already fading away.  

Montreal’s Kevin Ledo’s mural on the west side of the Calgary Parking Authority’s City Centre Parkade at 10thAve and 5thStreet SW was also well received.  This artwork, with its huge indigenous figure staring into the Beltline community has a look of contemplation. Only later, when I checked the website did I learn the title of this piece is “Sohkatisiwin” Cree for “Strength/Power.”

An interesting choice given Calgary is located in the traditional territory of the Blackfoot Nation, not the Cree and the artist is from Montreal. Nor did I realize the figure is a real person - Angela Gladue, an internationally recognized dancer in both aboriginal and hip hop genres.  Not sure how this all relates to the Beltline or Calgary.

Although, BUMP’s website has a complete list of the murals and info on the artists, I found most of the jargon-loaded text not very helpful in understanding the context of the work to the Beltline’s sense of place.

There is a printable map of the murals, which would make for a fun walkabout on a nice fall or winter afternoon.  

The funding for the murals came from the Beltline Community Investment Fund, City of Calgary Parking Revenue Reinvestment Program and mural sponsors - Battistella Developments and Hotel Arts. 

Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 12.41.42 PM.png
Kevin Ledo mural on 4th St at 10th Ave SW

Kevin Ledo mural on 4th St at 10th Ave SW

Kalum Teke Dan’s mural in progress on the side of 17th Ave Framing. It is intended to “develop understanding and foster reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.”

Kalum Teke Dan’s mural in progress on the side of 17th Ave Framing. It is intended to “develop understanding and foster reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.”

Last Word

This is not the first time Calgary’s City Centre communities have tried to use public art to make them a more interesting place to live and visit. 

In the ‘90s, the Uptown 17thBusiness Revitalization Zone (BRZ) organized a series of murals created by well-known Calgary artists on the side of buildings to create an outdoor art gallery.  Unfortunately, after many years, they were removed as “mother nature” had gotten the better of them.

The 4th Street BRZ commissioned sculptures to be located along the street also in the 90s. While many of them are still there, I doubt anyone would say they have become valued community icons.  

I hope the BUMP murals will indeed become an attraction for more people to want to live and visit the Beltine. 

Below are some other murals in the Beltline….

In the relatively new Thompson Family Park there is a decorative mural with the words “The Readiness is All” embedded in it. The phrase comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet where Hamlet debates the meaning of life….

In the relatively new Thompson Family Park there is a decorative mural with the words “The Readiness is All” embedded in it. The phrase comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet where Hamlet debates the meaning of life….

Found this mural while on the BUMP tour in someone’s backyard. Interesting mix of nature and indigenous elements.

Found this mural while on the BUMP tour in someone’s backyard. Interesting mix of nature and indigenous elements.

I love the series of paintings along the fence of playground next to Connaught elementary school that speaks to issue of “belonging.” They have aged well, and are perfect message for the Beltline one of Calgary’s most diverse neighbourhoods, including many new Canadians.

I love the series of paintings along the fence of playground next to Connaught elementary school that speaks to issue of “belonging.” They have aged well, and are perfect message for the Beltline one of Calgary’s most diverse neighbourhoods, including many new Canadians.

Brad Lamb: Big On Calgary's Beltline Beat 

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

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

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

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

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

Like Toronto’s King West Neighbourhood 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Architecture & Urban Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about Orchard?

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

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

It would sure help his Orchard project become viable again. 

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

Reader Response:

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

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

Calgary’s 10th Ave Renaissance

Calgary’s Rail Trail

Beautifying The Beltline

 

 

Canada: A Country Of Prosaic Cities - Toronto!

I love flaneuring through the books in thrift stores and used bookstores to see if I might find a hidden gem.  That is exactly what happened recently at J.H. Gordon Books on King St. E in Hamilton, Ontario. 

Often, I find books I didn’t even know existed, like Jan Morris’ “City to City” which is subtitled “through the eyes of the greatest travel writer of our day.” I have a couple of Morris’ books in my collection but had never seen this one.   

A quick check found it was published in 1990 and the cities ranged from St John’s and Saskatoon to Yellowknife and Vancouver, as well as a few cities in between. I thought it would be interesting to see how an outsider saw Canada and our cities almost 30 years ago (a generation). Needless to say, I bought the book.  

This is the image Jan Morris and most of the world had of Canada and Canada cities in 1990. (photo credit: Tourism Toronto).

This is the image Jan Morris and most of the world had of Canada and Canada cities in 1990. (photo credit: Tourism Toronto).

Jan Who?

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Jan Morris, born in 1926, is a Welsh historian, author and travel writer who has written extensively about cities around the world since the ‘60s. She has an amazing ability to observe, ask questions and articulate her thoughts on the underlying character of a city – good, bad and ugly. These are not fluffy travelogues, but urban character studies.   

She first visited Canada in the early 1950s, getting to know its cities and its people better than many Canadians ever do.

Her comments about Canada and Canadian cities are often not very flattering and sometimes I wonder how, in such a relative short visit, she can feel so confident about her ability to capture the pulse and sense of place of a city accurately.  Perhaps I am jealous?

By the end I was amazed at how many times she used the word “prosaic” to describe Canada, and our cities. However, that being said, she does make some very thought provoking observations.

Over the next few months I will share excerpts from her essays that were commissioned for Saturday Night magazine.   

Toronto the capital of the Ice Kingdom  

Morris’ Toronto essay was written in 1984 when she visited the city for its sesquicentennial. She acknowledges the city has become more metropolitan now (i.e. 1990) more Americanized and more assertive as evidenced by….wait for it… “the increasing number of jay-walkers!” 

In her opinion, Toronto is one the most highly disciplined and tightly organized cites of the Western World.  Morris also notes she had never heard of the word “multiculturalism” or “heritage language” until she visited Toronto.  She writes “Far more than any other of the great migratory cities, Toronto is all things to all ethnicities. The melting-pot conception never was popular here, and sometimes I came to feel that Canadian nationality itself was no more than a minor social perquisite.”

She thought the word multiculturalism is to Toronto, what “ooh-la-la” is to Paris, “ciao” to Rome, “nyetto” Moscow and “hey you’re looking great” to Manhattan. 

But she also noted “Toronto was not all brotherly love and folklore, saying wherever she went she heard talk of internecine (destructive to both sides) rivalries, felt a darkly conspiratorial side to multiculturalism and that one could easily stumble into cafes in which plotters organized distant coups.”  

Toronto Caribana Parade (photo credit: Caribana Toronto)

Toronto Caribana Parade (photo credit: Caribana Toronto)

Hinterland 

One of the main themes of the essays is the role of the transcontinental train as Canada’s iconic experience, as evidenced by this paragraph:

“And best of all, early one morning I went down to Union Station to watch the transcontinental train come in out of the darkness from Vancouver. Ah, Canada! I knew exactly what to expect of this experience, but still it stirred me: the hiss and rumble of it, the engineers princely in their high cab, the travel-grimed gleam of the sleeper cars…the grey faces peering out of the sleeper windows, the proud exhaustion of it all, and the thick tumble of the disembarking passengers, a blur of boots and lumberjackets and hoods and bundled children, clattering down the steps to breakfast, grandma, and Toronto, out of the limitless and magnificent hinterland.”

Oh, how Toronto and Canada HAS changed. The transcontinental train is iconic no more, and Union Station is filled with day commuters, with briefcases, backpacks and coffee cups from edge cities, not people from the hinterland.

Hard to believe the west was still thought of a Canada’s hinterland in the mid ‘80s by outsiders.

Union Station is best known today as the hub of Toronto’s edge cities commuter system, not at the hub of the transcontinental train.

Union Station is best known today as the hub of Toronto’s edge cities commuter system, not at the hub of the transcontinental train.

Destination

I love the strange and insightful questions Morris asks of cities. In the case of Toronto, it was “What were the intentions of this city?” She then links this question to her observation of the “mural sculpture on the wall of the stock exchange ‘Workforce” by Robert Longo and she begins to contemplate its significance. The mural has eight figures, ranging from a stockbroker to what seems like a female miner, none of which look happy.” Whereupon she exclaims, “the pursuit of happiness, after all is not written into the Canadian constitution.”   She also notes, “Nor do they look exactly inspired by some visionary cause…. they are marching determinedly, but joyously, arm-in-arm, upon an undefined objective. Wealth? Fame? Security?”  Interesting contradiction here, as earlier she says they don’t look happy but later they are “joyously, arm-in-arm.”

Morris then poses the question, “Do cities have to have destinations?” And answers with “Perhaps not, but most of them do, if it is only a destination in the past, or in the ideal. Toronto seems to me, in time as in emotion, a limbo-city. It is not, like London, England obsessed with its own history. It is not an act of faith, like Moscow or Manhattan. It has none of Rio’s exuberant sense of young identity. It is neither brassily capitalist or rigidly public sector. It looks forward to no millennium, back to no golden age. It is what it is, and the people in its streets, walking with that steady, tireless, infantry-like pace that is particular to this city, seem on the whole resigned, without either bitterness or exhilaration, to being just what they are.”

Morris also perceived, “Among the principal cities of the lost British Empire, Toronto has been one of the most casual (rather than the most ruthless) in discarding the physical remnants of its colonial past. In Sydney, in Melbourne, in Wellington, even in Capetown, not to mention the cities in India, where the imperial memorials remain inescapable, sometimes even dominant…

Nobody, could possibly mistake this for a British City now.” “There is no mistaking this for a city of the United States, either….it is not a free-and-easy, damn Yankee sort of city – anything but,” she adds later.

Will Alsop’s addition to the Ontario College of Art is just one of many buildings that shout out “Toronto is a creative city.”

Will Alsop’s addition to the Ontario College of Art is just one of many buildings that shout out “Toronto is a creative city.”

Frank Gehry’s addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario enhances Toronto’s image as futuristic city even if the streetscape is harsh.

Frank Gehry’s addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario enhances Toronto’s image as futuristic city even if the streetscape is harsh.

Royal Ontario Museum’s bold new addition by architect Daniel Libeskind was inspired by the museums gem and mineral collection.

Royal Ontario Museum’s bold new addition by architect Daniel Libeskind was inspired by the museums gem and mineral collection.

Nuclear Attack

Morris observes that while government authority is strong and respected in Toronto you could hardly call it “Orwellian – it seems without malevolence; but at the same time nobody can possibly ignore it, for it seems to have a finger almost everywhere (she hates the Liquor Control Board stores).”

She notes how public art is not only the work of the artist, but has to be authorized and approved by several government bodies before it is installed, or how it is the government that sells you a bottle of scotch and how well-mannered we are addressing criminals in course as “sir.”   

She postulates that if a nuclear bomb was to go off nearby, Torontonians would wait for the lights to change before running for cover.

Later she notes “Only in Toronto, I think, will a streetcar stop to allow a pedestrian to cross – surely one of the most esoteric experiences of travel in the 1980s? (Hmmmm, in Calgary cars stop all the time to let pedestrians cross the street, I wonder what she would make of that) Only in Toronto are the subways so wholesome, the parks so mugger-less, the children so well behaved.” 

She also recognizes Toronto isn’t a “provincial city” describing it as a huge, rich, splendid city, a metropolitan in power, a money centre of universal importance.

“Toronto is Toronto and perhaps that is enough….it is a city clean, neat, and ordered, built to a human scale, unhurried and polite. It has all the prerequisites of your modern major city – your revolving restaurants, your Henry Moore (today, that might be a Santiago Calatrava Bridge or a Jaume Plensa sculpture or a Norman Foster or BIG building), your trees with electric lights in them, your gay bars, your outdoor elevators, your restaurants offering deep fried pears stuffed with ripe camembert on a bed of nutmeg-scented spinach.”

Yet, by and large it has escaped the plastic blight of contemporary urbanism. 

The Flatiron building built in 1891 by architect David Robert has perhaps Toronto’s most popular piece of public art. The eye-catching mural by Calgary artist Derek Besant was painted in 1998 and consists of over 50 panel attached to a steel frame mounted on the wall.

The Flatiron building built in 1891 by architect David Robert has perhaps Toronto’s most popular piece of public art. The eye-catching mural by Calgary artist Derek Besant was painted in 1998 and consists of over 50 panel attached to a steel frame mounted on the wall.

Today more and more Canadian cities have scramble intersections for pedestrians like this one in Toronto.

Today more and more Canadian cities have scramble intersections for pedestrians like this one in Toronto.

The Henry Moore sculpture outside the Art Gallery of Ontario is a popular place to play for children.

The Henry Moore sculpture outside the Art Gallery of Ontario is a popular place to play for children.

Futuristic

She adds later “Everywhere has its galleria nowadays, Singapore to Houston, but none is quite so satisfying as Toronto’s Eaton Centre – just like one of the futuristic cities magazine artists like to depict in the 1930s.”

Morris says “Only the greatest of the world’s cities can outclass Toronto’s theatres, cinemas, art galleries, and newspapers, the variety of its restaurants, the number of its TV channels, the calibre of its visiting performers. Poets and artists are innumerable.” 

“What has not happened to Toronto is as remarkable as what has happened. It ought by all the odds to be a brilliant, brutal city, but it isn’t. Its downtown ought to be vulgar and spectacular, but is actually dignified, well proportioned, and indeed noble. Its sex-and-sin quarters, are hardly another Reeperbahn, and the punks and Boy Georges to be seen parading Yonge Street on a Saturday night are downright touching in their bravado, so scrupulously are they ignored.” 

Toronto’s Eaton Centre with its Michael Snow artwork of Canadian geese opened in 1977 and quickly became an iconic urban shopping centre internationally. It has been copied by most Canadians cities with poor results.

Toronto’s Eaton Centre with its Michael Snow artwork of Canadian geese opened in 1977 and quickly became an iconic urban shopping centre internationally. It has been copied by most Canadians cities with poor results.

Toronto’s new City Hall opened in 1965 and was the beginning of the city’s transformation into an international design city.

Toronto’s new City Hall opened in 1965 and was the beginning of the city’s transformation into an international design city.

Escape Tunnels

Morris is not a big fan of the city’s street life, “Toronto is the most undemonstrative city I know, and the least inquisitive. The Walkman might be made for it. It swarms with clubs, cliques, and cultural societies, but seems armour-plated against the individual. There are few cities in the world where one can feel, as one walks the streets or rides the subways, for better or for worse, so all alone.” 

She likes Toronto’s underground PATH walkway better than the streets saying “Among the innumerable conveniences of Toronto, which is an extremely convenient city, one of the most attractive is the system of tunnels which lies beneath the downtown streets, and which, with its wonderful bright-lit sequences of stores, cafes, malls and intersections, is almost a second city in itself. I loved to think of all the warmth and life down there, the passing crowds, the coffee smells, the Muzak, and the clink of cups, when the streets above were half-empty in the rain, or scoured by cold winds; and one of my great pleasures was to wander aimless through those comfortable labyrinths, lulled from one Golden Oldie to the next, surfacing now and then to find myself on an unknown street corner far from home, or all unexpectantly in the lobby of some tremendous bank.” 

She adds, “But after a time, I came to think of them as escape tunnels. It was not just that they were warm and dry; they had an intimacy to them, a brush of human empathy, a feeling absent from the greater city above our heads.” 

Toronto’s underground PATH system is used by over 200,000 people daily.

Toronto’s underground PATH system is used by over 200,000 people daily.

Toronto’s 30 kilometre long PATH system is recognized as an important element fo the economic viability of the city’s downtown core which is one of the strongest in the world.

Toronto’s 30 kilometre long PATH system is recognized as an important element fo the economic viability of the city’s downtown core which is one of the strongest in the world.

No Joie de vivre

She later says, “Sometimes I think it is the flatness of the landscape that causes this flattening of the spirit – those interminable suburbs stretching away, the huge plane of the lake, those long grid roads which deprive the place of surprise or intricacy. Sometimes I think it must be the climate, numbing the nerve endings, or even the sheer empty vastness…Could it be the underpopulation; ought there be a couple of million more people in the city, to give it punch or jostle? Could it be the permanent compromise of Toronto, neither quite this or altogether that, capitalist but compassionate, American but royalist, multicultural but traditionalist.” 

When Morris asked immigrants what they thought of Toronto they said the “people are cold…they just mind their own business and make the dollars…neighbours don’t smile and say hullo (sic), how’s things…nobody talks.” 

To this she adds her own observations “in the course of its 150 years of careful progress, so calculated, so civilized, somewhere along the way Toronto lost, or failed to find, the gift of contact or of merriment…even the most naturally merry of the immigrants, the dancing Greeks, the witty Poles, the lyrical Hungarians seem to have forfeited their joie de vivre when they embrace the liberties of this town.”

In the end she concludes, “Your heart may not be singing, as you contemplate the presence around you Toronto the Good, but it should not be sinking either.

Cheer up! You have drawn the second prize, I would say, in the Lottario of Life.” 

Indeed, Toronto has added over a million more people since 1990. The city centre is being transformed from a place to work to a place to “live, work and play” with the addition of hundreds of new residential buildings.

Indeed, Toronto has added over a million more people since 1990. The city centre is being transformed from a place to work to a place to “live, work and play” with the addition of hundreds of new residential buildings.

Sidewalk patios are common place in Toronto and Canadian cities today; this was not the case in 1990.

Sidewalk patios are common place in Toronto and Canadian cities today; this was not the case in 1990.

Cycling and urban living is become more and more common place in Toronto and Canada’s other major cities.

Cycling and urban living is become more and more common place in Toronto and Canada’s other major cities.

Last Word

Toronto the “Capital of the Ice Kingdom” is Morris’ term, not mine. However, it would seem to capture her view of Canada and our cities as cold, conservative and controlled places with little merriment. Hence the prolific use of the word “prosaic.”

I have to admit I have never been a big fan of Toronto, but then most Canadians other than those living in the metro Toronto area seem to despise the city that thinks it is the “centre of the universe.”  I am probably even more anti-Toronto than most as growing up in Hamilton we hated “Hogtown!”  I was surprised on a recent visit to Hamilton how much the anti-Toronto sentiment still exists.  

While reading the essay I couldn’t help but wonder what she might think of Calgary with our indoor +15 walkway, our brutally cold winters, beautiful icy rivers and huge parks.  What would she think of Stephen Avenue, the Calgary Tower or our iconic recreation centres? I got a sense of what she might have thought in her essay on Edmonton, entitled “A Six-Day Week!” 

Despite all the changes in Canada’s cities over the past 30 years I expect this is still the view most people outside of Canada have of our cities.

Despite all the changes in Canada’s cities over the past 30 years I expect this is still the view most people outside of Canada have of our cities.

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

City Travel: Canada vs USA

Canada: The Foundations of its future


 








Suburban Sprawl: Birth/Death Differential & Managing Growth

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

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

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

Downtown Towers Not Enough

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

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

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

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

Calgary is #1

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

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

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

Is Calgary an urban densification leader? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birth/Death Differential 

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

I decided to do some math.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many older communities have less children and significantly more seniors.

Many older communities have less children and significantly more seniors.

Affordability Factor 

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

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

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

Link: 80% of Calgarians Must Live In The Suburbs

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

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

New Suburbs Are Not Evil 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word 

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

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

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

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

Condo Living: Too Many Amenities? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBQs to Bocce Courts 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bikes / Beer / Zen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

I wonder what is next!

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

Importance of Comfort, Convenience & Privacy 

Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary

21st Century: Century of the condo?

Welcome to the era of neuro-design?

Could it be that in the near future urban designers will be collaborating with neuroscientist and psychologists to design buildings that make people feel comfortable rather than disoriented and encourage socialization vs isolation that is too often the case.

It could happen!  It has happened?

In fact, the Alberta Children's Hospital was designed based on input from the children who wanted large windows and bright colours.  They wanted it to be a happy looking place.    Perhaps rather than consulting with   neuroscientist and psychologists    the design team shou ld consult with the end users more. To me this is a happy, welcoming place - exactly what it should be.

In fact, the Alberta Children's Hospital was designed based on input from the children who wanted large windows and bright colours.  They wanted it to be a happy looking place.  Perhaps rather than consulting with neuroscientist and psychologists the design team should consult with the end users more. To me this is a happy, welcoming place - exactly what it should be.

The old children's hospital was a dull, depressing, institutional building.

The old children's hospital was a dull, depressing, institutional building.

Collaboration?

Indeed, the Conscious Cities Conference in London in 2017 brought together architects, designers, engineers, neuroscientists and psychologists, all of whom cross paths at an academic level, but rarely do so in practice, to discuss how they might collaborate.

What did they learn? 

Intuitively we all know the shape, colour and size of buildings affect the mood and well-being of humans. Now scientists have discovered specialized cells in the hippocampal region of the human our brains that processes each individual’s unique sense of geometry and space.  

More and more architects in Calgary are using bold colours as a key element of the building's facade. Public art is also being use more to create a more varied and interesting streetscape.

More and more architects in Calgary are using bold colours as a key element of the building's facade. Public art is also being use more to create a more varied and interesting streetscape.

Calgary's City Centre parkade is a good example of late '70s early '80s bland, utilitarian parkade design.

Calgary's City Centre parkade is a good example of late '70s early '80s bland, utilitarian parkade design.

The Centennial parkade is a good example of how modern parkades are created to enhance the sense of place. In this case the parkade mirrors the warehouse history of the land next to the CPR tracks in its use of brick and its height. 

The Centennial parkade is a good example of how modern parkades are created to enhance the sense of place. In this case the parkade mirrors the warehouse history of the land next to the CPR tracks in its use of brick and its height. 

The SAIT parkade is also a huge mural that can be enjoyed by tens of thousands of LRT riders everyday. It is a work of art! No more blank walls!

The SAIT parkade is also a huge mural that can be enjoyed by tens of thousands of LRT riders everyday. It is a work of art! No more blank walls!

Rounded vs Rectangular 

Using modern technology scientists have attempted to measure humans’ physiological responses to architecture and streetscapes, using wearable devices such as bracelets that monitor skin conductance (a marker of physiological arousal), smartphone apps that ask subjects about their emotional state, and electroencephalogram (EEG) headsets that measure brain activity relating to mental states and mood. 

A recently published study using visual reality technology concluded most people like curved edges and rounded contours rather than sharp-edged rectangular shaped buildings and rooms. However, the design students among the participants preferred the opposite. This could be a red flag! 

A study in Iceland found participants viewed various residential street scenes and found the ones with the most architectural variation the most mentally engaging. Not exactly rocket science, Jane Jacobs (author book “Death and Life of American Cities” in 1961) and others have been saying this for decades. 

The curved staircase at Calgary's new Shane Homes Rocky Ridge Recreation Centre is an example of creating more public friendly urban design. 

The curved staircase at Calgary's new Shane Homes Rocky Ridge Recreation Centre is an example of creating more public friendly urban design. 

The Royal a condo/retail project is an example of the sharp edge rectangular design preferred by urban designers.   

The Royal a condo/retail project is an example of the sharp edge rectangular design preferred by urban designers.   

Surprise! Surprise!

Another study looked at street patterns and found being lost and disoriented creates negative feelings.  Cities with grid-pattern numbered streets like New York are easy to navigate London’s hotchpotch of neighbourhoods all orientated differently is notoriously confusing. Another study documented districts with high-rises are more confusing and unpleasant to walk around than those with low-rise buildings.

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Urban streetscapes like this are not public friendly. 

Urban streetscapes like this are not public friendly. 

Red Flag 

The fact that design students in the virtual reality study preferred hard-edges and rectangular shapes the opposite to the general public participants is a definite red flag.  

Could it be the brains of those attracted to the urban design professions are wired diametrically opposed to the general publics?  That would be an interesting study!

I know when I was a public art gallery curator it was obvious to me there is a huge gap between what artists and curators  finds interesting and what the public like to see in the way of art exhibitions.  Hence the term “art for art’s sake” i.e. that the chief aim of a work of art is the self-expression of the artist.  

Could the same be said for architects, landscape architects or interior designers? Could that be why they design minimalist buildings, lobbies and public spaces that are often alienating to the public? Are they designing for themselves and their colleagues not for the public? 

The question is: “Would architects, landscape architects and interior designers be willing to collaborate with neuro scientists and psychologist to have they designs tested to make sure they are “people friendly” before they get built.

Calgary's four tallest buildings illustrate how architecture has evolved from the early '80s (Suncor Energy Tower, former Petro Canada Tower) to the new Telus Sky currently under construction.   

Calgary's four tallest buildings illustrate how architecture has evolved from the early '80s (Suncor Energy Tower, former Petro Canada Tower) to the new Telus Sky currently under construction.   

Brookfield Place is a good example of minimalist architecture with its monolithic, monochromatic, translucent glass facade from the base to the roof.  Unlike the big box offices of the '70s it has rounded corners to give it a softer appearance more elegant appearance. 

Brookfield Place is a good example of minimalist architecture with its monolithic, monochromatic, translucent glass facade from the base to the roof.  Unlike the big box offices of the '70s it has rounded corners to give it a softer appearance more elegant appearance. 

The triangular Next Tower, formerly Nova Tower, would be a good example of the hard-edge minimalist architecture of the '80s that some found very confrontational.   

The triangular Next Tower, formerly Nova Tower, would be a good example of the hard-edge minimalist architecture of the '80s that some found very confrontational.   

Telus Sky is the polar opposite of Brookfield Place with its articulated facade that tapers as the use changes from office for the lower floors to residential for the upper floors, creating an intriguing and unique shape. 

Telus Sky is the polar opposite of Brookfield Place with its articulated facade that tapers as the use changes from office for the lower floors to residential for the upper floors, creating an intriguing and unique shape. 

Bow Valley Square is a good example of '80s rectangular office tower architecture. 

Bow Valley Square is a good example of '80s rectangular office tower architecture. 

Architect says…

A quick email to a few architects resulted in some interesting comments. Charles Olfert a principle at aobdt architecture + interior design in Saskatoon perhaps said it best, “I do think the education of architects plays a big role in the way we design and perceive beauty in buildings.

We are taught to appreciate clean, modern spaces and the magazines we read reinforce this. The winners of architectural competitions and awards tend to encourage this perspective as well. The result is indeed a disconnect with people who have not had that ‘education’, so I am not surprised the general public would not be excited by what most architects are.”

However, Olfert thinks “to try somehow do a scientific and social analysis of aesthetics doesn’t seem useful. I have come to appreciate much later in my career the experience of a building is really complicated and aesthetics might be a relatively minor factor. Why are you at the building? Does it work for what you wanted? Do you already have some preconceptions because of who owns it, works in it or what it represents? What’s the neighborhood context?

A few years ago I read “The Architecture of Happiness” by AlainDeBotton.  It was pivotal, and changed my approach to the design of projects. Instead of focussing on what the program or client ask for, I now tend to first try make sure the building has at least a few spaces and/or details that make you happy. It’s actually not that hard. It usually involves strategic windows and an opportunity for some “wow” factor, even at a small scale.”

The new Mount Royal University's parade uses vertical neon green bars to break up what would have been a dull horizontal wall. 

The new Mount Royal University's parade uses vertical neon green bars to break up what would have been a dull horizontal wall. 

The designers of this is small condo project in the Marda Loop used colour to create not only a playful rhythm but to add the illusion of huge windows.    To me this is a happy building.

The designers of this is small condo project in the Marda Loop used colour to create not only a playful rhythm but to add the illusion of huge windows.  To me this is a happy building.

Architect Jack Long's 1961, Calgary Planetarium and Science Center was a classic example of  "Brutalist" architecture. 

Architect Jack Long's 1961, Calgary Planetarium and Science Center was a classic example of  "Brutalist" architecture. 

The colour elements were added later to make it more child-like and playful.  Or as some might say "tarted it up!" 

The colour elements were added later to make it more child-like and playful.  Or as some might say "tarted it up!" 

Are architects doing better job? 

Do we like The Princeton better than Eau Claire 500 condo next door? Do we like the condo towers in East Village better than those built in West Downtown in the ‘90s? Do we like the University City’s bold yellow, orange, green and red towers at the Brentwood LRT Station better than SASS0 and NUERA at Stampede Station? Do we like the new condos being built today at SETON compared to those around Market Mall in the ‘70s and ‘80s? 

Princeton condo (on the left) is an example of theearly 21st century's architecture with a distinct base, middle and roof-top, softer edges and warmer colours.  On the right, is the '80s architecture of Eau Claire 500 with its hard edges, flat facade and brooding colour. 

Princeton condo (on the left) is an example of theearly 21st century's architecture with a distinct base, middle and roof-top, softer edges and warmer colours.  On the right, is the '80s architecture of Eau Claire 500 with its hard edges, flat facade and brooding colour. 

Do Calgarians like The Bow with its curved shape and diagonal lines, plaza and public art, better than the minimalist Brookfield Place with its rounded edges and public lobby.

Do we like edgy Eighth Avenue Place with its articulated roof top, vertical thrust and cathedral-like lobby versus it neighbour Husky Towers with rounded gold coloured glass edges. 

Do we like new Telus Sky with its twisted articulated façade and strange bottle-like shape versus the oval-shaped reflective deep blue glassed 707 Fifth street office building? How do they compare to  ‘70s TD Square or Scotia Tower and the ‘80s Bankers Hall?

Do we like the oval shaped, patterned façade of the new Calgary Central Library better than the strange shaped, dark snake-like skinned of National Music Centre or translucent glass, crystal shaped TELUS Spark building better? How do they compare with the Glenbow? Do we like the South Health Campus building better than the Rockyview Hospital? 

Calgary's new central library has many of the elements that neuroscientist and psychologists say make a building more public friendly. 

Calgary's new central library has many of the elements that neuroscientist and psychologists say make a building more public friendly. 

Calgary's old Central Library opened 1963 as part of an urban renewal project planned for the Downtown's East End. 

Calgary's old Central Library opened 1963 as part of an urban renewal project planned for the Downtown's East End. 

Last Word

Could it be that those big square box office and residential buildings that dominated Calgary’s City Centre in the mid to late 20thcentury actually negatively affect our mood and well-being. 

Could it be Calgary’s cookie cutter suburban homes and boring streets also negatively affect our well-being? What about those big box power centres - are they places where we want to linger and socialize with family and friends?

Just asking?

Reader Comments:

I received several emails in response to this blog.  I thought this one from Art Froese, who was the project manager for the Alberta Children's Hospital was particularly enlightening.  

As usual, you’re on to something but needs more time. Finding the truth & the essence of things takes time. Remember always there are two questions: “ What’s new? / What’s old?”

Round is the world of our historic ancestors. Every aboriginal shelter is round: teepee [really egg-shaped]; igloo; gurt in Mongolia; African homes, crawls etc; Australia - follow the list. Round is harder to build.

The Children’s Hospital gathering space in the middle of the building is round. This is not an accident. The philosophy of the building is three concentric circles: the children; the caregivers; the landscape. It took forever to get the architects to understand the concept. It took seconds for my native advisory panel of Elders from Treaty Seven to understand. 

The biggest price we’ve paid in developed countries is that we’ve dulled our senses. I have many examples of this from my wilderness adventures. Or just read “Tribe” by Sebastian Junger.

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

The Curse Of Minimalism

Calgary: A Pop Of Colour

Urban Design: Does Anybody Really Care?

 

 

Inner City Communities: Future = Past?

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

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

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

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

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

Walkability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No need for the fancy community garden so popular today.

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

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

Is the future of grocery shopping home delivery? 

Is the future of grocery shopping home delivery? 

Home Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playgrounds & Fitness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is what we now call “active living.” 

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

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

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

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

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

Shopping wasn’t a hobby

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saving vs Spending?

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

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

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

Community Garden vs Backyard Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death of the grocery store?

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

Link: Death of grocery store

Link: Why Canada is wary of online grocery shopping.  

Urban grocery store in Bridgeland.

Urban grocery store in Bridgeland.

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

Link: Death of retail as we know it.

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

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

Link: City of Calgary Main Street Program

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Futurists?

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bow River Promenade vs Downtown Penetrator?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bow River Promenade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Name?

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

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

Urban Living Renaissance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chinatown offers some affordable condos along the RiverWalk.

Chinatown offers some affordable condos along the RiverWalk.

It Almost Didn't Happen? 

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

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

Illustration from 1964 Downtown Master Plan.

Illustration from 1964 Downtown Master Plan.

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

It is amazing what can happen over a few decades.  

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

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

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

East Village: The Lust Of The New Playground

Downtown Calgary Power Hour

Calgary: A tale of three pedestrian bridges

Calgary: At The Forefront Of North America's Urban Densification Revolution?

For 50+ years Calgarians have watched numerous master-planned communities get built at the city’s edge. Only recently, have we begun seeing them pop up our inner-city neighbourhoods

The Bridges is master-planned community created a new heart for Bridgeland/Riverside one of Calgary's oldest communities.  It has become a haven for young families with its access to major parks, schools, downtown and its own main street.

The Bridges is master-planned community created a new heart for Bridgeland/Riverside one of Calgary's oldest communities.  It has become a haven for young families with its access to major parks, schools, downtown and its own main street.

First there was The Bridges on the old General Hospital site in Bridgeland/Riverside in 2005, followed by the development of East Village, where its first condo was completed in 2015. Both projects were City of Calgary-led initiatives and both are in the City Centre.

The N3 condo in East Village built with not parking sold out in a weekend.  It is part of the mega makeover of East Village that will become home for 12,000 people by 2025.

The N3 condo in East Village built with not parking sold out in a weekend.  It is part of the mega makeover of East Village that will become home for 12,000 people by 2025.

Today, there are three master-planned, urban villages (low, mid and high rise condos) reshaping Calgary’s older suburbs – Currie by Canada Lands Corporation (CLC) on the old Canadian Forces Base: University District by West Campus Development Trust on vacant University of Calgary lands; and West District by Truman Homes on the western edge of the city ,in the community of Wentworth.

What is a master-planned urban village?

It is a community with a comprehensive land use plan that focuses on predominately mixed-use, multi-family buildings with significant office, retail, restaurant, recreational and other uses where most of the residents’ everyday needs are within walking distance.  They also offer accessibility to enhanced transit, bike lanes, multi-use pathways and a central park. Urban villages are often part of, or next to, a major employment centre allowing residents to walk, cycle or take transit to work.

Currie

Currie, a 400-acre mega infill project that includes Garrison Woods and Garrison Green, will transform the historic Canada Forces Base that straddled Crowchild Trail at Richard Road/Flanders Avenue into a city within a city.

Currie’s 15 mews (i.e. side yards between buildings won’t be dead space but activated with small cafes, shops and bistros) when added to the street retail, restaurants and urban grocery store, will make Currie’s town center a pedestrians’ paradise.  Currie will also offer the most diverse housing types of any new Calgary urban village, from estate homes to high-rise residential towers, from townhomes to mid-rise condos, all within walking distance to 23 acres of parks and plazas

Currie is within walking distance to Mount Royal University and Lincoln Park Business campus. Ultimately, the SW BRT and several existing bus routes will provide residents with several transit options. Cyclists will enjoy the Quesnay Wood Drive dedicated cycle lanes.  

A strategic partnership between CLC and Embassy Bosa will see the later build approximately 2,500 condo homes and the majority of Currie’s retail in 2019.

Currie received the Charter Award for Neighbourhood, District and Corridor by the Chicago-based Congress of New Urbanism for its application of new urbanism principles.

Artist's rendering of one of the 15 mews that will make Currie a pedestrian paradise. 

Artist's rendering of one of the 15 mews that will make Currie a pedestrian paradise. 

Artist's rendering of Currie's Main Street.  

Artist's rendering of Currie's Main Street.  

University District

University District (UD) is a new inner-city community surrounding the Alberta Children’s Hospital.  Unlike other master-planned communities where the land is sold to developers who then build the homes, UD land will be developed based on a 99-year prepaid land lease, based on the successful UBC Properties Trust  model in Vancouver.

UD’s townhomes and mid-rise residential buildings, will be designed to appeal to families, seniors, young professionals and empty nesters.  Already under construction are townhomes by Brookfield (Ivy) and Truman (Noble). Construction begins later this year on Truman’s Maple condo for independent seniors’ living and Brenda Strafford Foundation’s Cambridge Manor, an assisted living and long-term care facility. As well, Avi Urban launched its August condo project in March. Just over 1,000 residential units will be under construction by fall of 2018, with the first residents moving in beginning late 2018.

Also under construction is Gracorp’s Rhapsody, a six-storey mixed-use building with a Save-On-Foods grocery store on the main level and residential above. Rhapsody will anchor the nine-block main street designed to create a “Kensington-like” pedestrian experience.

University District will become the heart and soul of Calgary’s second largest employment hub that includes University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre, Alberta Children’s’ Hospital, Market Mall and University Research Park.

UD is a LEED ND Platinum certified community, the first in Alberta and the largest in Canada. 

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West District

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While Currie and University District have government affiliations, West District is a legacy project for Truman Homes a private Calgary developer.  The inspiration for West District was the human-scale, walkable neighbourhoods of Portland’s Pearl District and Vancouver’s False Creek.

West District will be a mid-rise community with a diversity of mixed-use residential and commercial buildings from 6 to 9 storeys (aka human scale.)  Led by Calgary’s CivicWorks Planning + Design, it will be a model for “smarter growth” showcasing how walkable, dense and diverse communities can be achieved without high rises.

The 7-block long main street, will not only integrate shops, bistros and cafes, with office, financial, recreation and medical hubs, but also enhanced sidewalks and a dedicated bike lane to maximize pedestrian and cycling accessibility.

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Central Park, its 8-acre public space will include a 500-seat amphitheater, skate park, skating rink, spray park, basketball court, playground, dog park and a large amenity/event building will be a year-round, all ages urban playground.

West District won Calgary’s 2015 Mayor’s Urban Design Award for City Edge Development. 

West District's Central Park also features a major water feature. 

West District's Central Park also features a major water feature. 

West District's skate park and basketball courts is part of Central Park.

West District's skate park and basketball courts is part of Central Park.

Model of West District "main street" with retail at ground level and separate cycling lanes in the West District sales centre. 

Model of West District "main street" with retail at ground level and separate cycling lanes in the West District sales centre. 

Last Word

The biggest challenge facing North American cities today is how to reshape their older residential dominated, auto-centric suburbs into mixed-use, multi-modal (driving, transit, cycling and walking) 21st century communities.  

In November 2017, I blogged about why I think Calgary is the infill capital of North America when it comes to inner-city single-family, duplex and row housing.

Link: Infill Capital of North America: Calgary vs Nashville

Currie, University District, West District and their two forerunners - East Village and The Bridges, as well as projects like Quarry Park, SETON, Medicine Hill and Greenwich - put Calgary at the forefront of North America’s current urban densification revolution.

SETON by Brookfield Residential is a mega new 300-acre urban centre under construction at the southeast edge of Calgary.  It will include 1.5M sf of office space, 1M sf of retail, 6,000 to 7,000 new home (towns and condos), South Health Campus, high school and largest YMCA in the world.

SETON by Brookfield Residential is a mega new 300-acre urban centre under construction at the southeast edge of Calgary.  It will include 1.5M sf of office space, 1M sf of retail, 6,000 to 7,000 new home (towns and condos), South Health Campus, high school and largest YMCA in the world.

Trinity Hills at Canada Olympic Park by Trinity includes 670,000sf retail, 125,000sf office and 2,355 homes (towns and condos) is currently under construction.

Trinity Hills at Canada Olympic Park by Trinity includes 670,000sf retail, 125,000sf office and 2,355 homes (towns and condos) is currently under construction.

Greenwich by Melcor is under construction across the street from Medicine Hill. It includes 200,000sf office, 120,000sf of retail and 1,200 townhomes and low-rise condos. 

Greenwich by Melcor is under construction across the street from Medicine Hill. It includes 200,000sf office, 120,000sf of retail and 1,200 townhomes and low-rise condos. 

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's May 2018 edition of Condo Xtra. 

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

Currie: Calgary's newest historic district

West District: A model mid-rise community!

University District: My final resting place?

 

 

University District: A Community For All Ages

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

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

University District site

University District site

University District site construction

University District site construction

Early concept rendering of pedestrian streetscape. 

Early concept rendering of pedestrian streetscape. 

Touchdown! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 All Ages Welcomed

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

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

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

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Concept rendering for Alt Hotel / Residential development under construction.

Concept rendering for Alt Hotel / Residential development under construction.

University District Discovery Centre

University District Discovery Centre

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

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

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

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

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Parks

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Link: MyUniversityDistrict Video 

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

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