Calgary: NE is on the rise!

For many Calgarians, the NE quadrant (east of Deerfoot) is a bit of an unknown. Other than going to the airport, or speeding by on the Deerfoot, we rarely venture into the hodgepodge of residential communities, small shopping centres and business parks that make up Ward 5.

However, the future of Calgary could well be in the NE - Calgary’s Airport City!

Ward 5 is dominated by the Calgary International Airport that takes up almost half of the landscape.

Ward 5 is dominated by the Calgary International Airport that takes up almost half of the landscape.

Eye Opener

I first became intrigued with Ward 5 when I went to the annual train show at the Genesis Centre a few years ago. I was shocked at the size and vibrancy of the centre. Then a friend introduced me to Afghan Kabob Cuisine, which he warned was nearly impossible to find. It was. But I enjoyed exploring the area’s maze of shopping centres and back alley shops, the restaurant, which sits next to the Apna-Punjab Sweets & Samosa, as well as several small industrial shops was an eye opener! 

Then earlier this year, when driving to the Canal at Delacour golf course, I was gob-smacked by the residential development - mix of single family, row houses and low-rise condos - along Country Hills Boulevard east of the Deerfoot.  New communities with intriguing names like – Redstone, Skyview Ranch and Cityscape lead me to do some research.  

Afghan Kabob restaurant is tucked away in a building that looks more like a big house that is accessed off of what looks like an alley for a auto body repair shop. It was an adventure to find, but totally worth it. There is lovely bakery next door.

Afghan Kabob restaurant is tucked away in a building that looks more like a big house that is accessed off of what looks like an alley for a auto body repair shop. It was an adventure to find, but totally worth it. There is lovely bakery next door.

Taradale vs Beltline

In Ward 5, only 29% of the population lives in single-family homes compared to 59%, city wide.  I was surprised to learn the density of Taradale is just 15% less than the Beltline, Calgary’s most densely populated community, one that is full of highrise towers. The tallest building in Ward 5 is the 10-storey Homewood Suites Hotel. 

Obviously, you can create dense communities without highrises. While the rest of Calgary is trying to get used to the idea of living in denser communities, many Ward 5 residents are already there.  

For years we have heard about mixed-use master planned urban communities in many other parts to the city – Bridges, Currie, Greenwich, Quarry Park, SETON Trinity Village, University District, West District and Westman Village. But none in the NE.  It begs the question, “Why not?”

Population growth from 2017 to 2018 of Calgary’s 14 Wards.

Population growth from 2017 to 2018 of Calgary’s 14 Wards.

The rise of the NE 

While we all know about the fall of downtown, do we know about the rise of the northeast?  Despite the decline in the oil and gas sector, the Calgary International Airport experienced a 3.8% increase in passenger traffic from 2015 to 2017 and it is on pace for a whopping 7% increase in 2018, and cargo tonnage is up 9% since 2015.   

Kent Bacon, a principal at Avison Young says the northeast Calgary and Balzac area is a highly desirable location for warehouses companies because of its location - next to the TransCanada Highway, the CANAMEX corridor (Deerfoot/QE II highway) and the airport. The area is also one of only three foreign trade zones in Canada.  (FYI: foreign trade zones have tax and duty advantages for warehouse distribution centers.) Currently, there are 2.2 million square feet of new construction in Ward 5 - that’s 30% larger than The Bow. 

Ward 5 is also Calgary’s fastest growing ward. Over the past year, its population increased by 6,522 (2018 Census), almost double any other ward. This is amazing given about a third of the ward’s land mass is taken up by the airport and business/industrial parks. 

Recently, I sat down with Ward 5 Councillor George Chahal to learn more about Calgary’s unique NE communities.  Born and raised in Saddle Ridge, Chahal holds a Master’s degree in planning with his thesis titled, “Planning for Ethnic Diversity.”     

Q: What are some of the Ward 5’s hidden gems? 

One would have to be the annual Nagar Kirtan Parade, Calgary’s second largest parade, organized each May by the Dashmesh Culture Centre in the community of Martindale. It attracted about 60,000 spectators in 2018. It features lots of singing and floats and everyone is invited - to watch or participate. 

Another hidden gem is the Country Thunder music festival in Prairie Winds Park. It has become one of Calgary’s signature summer festivals.  Take a walk in Prairie Winds Park and you will find out what the NE is all about. It is a mix of Riley Park, Bowness Park and Nose Hill Park.  

Ward 5 is home to 20+ different religious institutions, with several having architecturally significant buildings. 

Nagar Kirtan Parade

Nagar Kirtan Parade

Country Thunder music festival in Ward 5’s Prairie Winds Park.

Country Thunder music festival in Ward 5’s Prairie Winds Park.

Cricket match? practice? Saturday morning at Prairie Winds park.

Cricket match? practice? Saturday morning at Prairie Winds park.

Q: What are the biggest issues facing Ward 5 today? 

A: Bridging Calgary’s cultural gap. Ward 5 is Calgary’s most culturally diverse community with 50+ languages spoken.  It is home to the third largest Sikh community in Canada. We desperately need more programs and services to integrate newcomers our communities are home to about 50% of the City’s new immigrants.  

Diversity is our strength, but we also want to integrate into the broader Calgary community when it comes to working together to plan Calgary’s future. The City of Calgary is working on eliminating communication barriers through multilingual communication and engagement policies, however, there is still lots of work to do.

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Q. Is there a transformative project(s) that you would like to see happen in the NE? 

A: The expansion of the LRT into our northern communities, as well to the airport is critical as Ward 5 residents are one of the City’s biggest users of transit. 

A second major recreation centre, library and multi-use sports fields would also be transformative as the Genesis Centre is currently operating at capacity. 

The huge Calgary Train Show at Ward 5’s Genesis Centre is a must see for anyone who likes trains.

The huge Calgary Train Show at Ward 5’s Genesis Centre is a must see for anyone who likes trains.

Q. Do you believe religion and family play a bigger role in the lives of Ward 5 residents than in other wards? 

Yes, I would say so - 86% of Ward 5 residents have religious beliefs vs only 68% in the rest of Calgary.  And for many residents, attending a religious institution is a daily, not a weekly experience.  

Family is also important to Ward 5 residents, with more than one generation living under one roof being the norm. The average number of residents per household is much higher in Ward 5 than the rest of Calgary.  

It is critical for the development industry and those at City Hall to understand the cultural and family dynamics of Ward 5 so our communities are designed to meet our unique market demand.

Q. Do you think the NE is under appreciated by Calgarians? 

A. Yes.  Most Calgarians don’t appreciate how Ward 5 is a growing logistics hub for Western Canada. The future of the logistics sector is very positive - with things such as autonomous vehicles, commercial drone deliveries and other artificial intelligence advancements.  Ward 5’s importance as one of Calgary’s economic hubs will continue to grow.  Look for Ward 5 to be home to some ground breaking innovations in the future.

While there are no conventional main streets, our communities are full of small businesses and entrepreneurs.  Ward 5 is home to 100+ small businesses catering to different flavors around the world, from meat stores to local grocery stores, 234 restaurants and 2,200+ businesses in total.  As of November 2018, 318 new businesses were licensed, of which 60% were home based. 

Grant Galpin, who’s lived in Ward 5 since 2000 and led the $35M community fundraising campaign for Ward 5’s Genesis Centre (their $120 million, 225,000 square foot “living room”) agrees with Chahal, saying “the growing entrepreneurial base in the NE is due to the fact the offshore education of newcomers is largely not recognized, so they turn to small business, to establish themselves.  The result is a creative, family-based, small business culture that is largely under appreciated by Calgarians, government, economic and cultural leaders.”

Ward 5’s McKnight Westwinds LRT station is ripe for a mixed-use Transit Oriented Development, with a major grocery store already nearby.

Ward 5’s McKnight Westwinds LRT station is ripe for a mixed-use Transit Oriented Development, with a major grocery store already nearby.

Last Word 

Could it be that’s Calgary’s NE will take the lead in the diversification of Calgary’s economy over the next 25+ years? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condos section on January 26, 2019.

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Jan Morris: Edmonton A Six-Day Week?

Never visit Edmonton in the winter!

This was Jan Morris’ warning in the prologue to her 1990 essay about the City of Champions for Saturday Night magazine. She arrived and it was “COLD, VERY COLD and while everyone was friendly and the city seemed to be handsome and all of her creative comforts were satisfied she felt defeated.”

The longer she stayed the more she wondered “why on earth would anyone want to live there and she left a day early.” 

Today Edmonton celebrates its long cold winters with its ice sculpture festival in Hawrelak Park. Today, Morris could have used Uber instead of renting a car to get there. I am sure she would be impressed with how Edmonton has evolved since the early ‘90s.

Today Edmonton celebrates its long cold winters with its ice sculpture festival in Hawrelak Park. Today, Morris could have used Uber instead of renting a car to get there. I am sure she would be impressed with how Edmonton has evolved since the early ‘90s.

Jan Who?

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. The series of essays on Canadian cities in her book “City To City” were commissioned for Saturday Night magazine.  

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?

This is from Edmonton’s Downtown Saturday street market from a few years back  .

This is from Edmonton’s Downtown Saturday street market from a few years back.

Poor First Impression 

It didn’t start well with her decision to attend the Full Moon Hootenanny at the John Janzen Nature Centre to listen to the hooting of owls and learn how to hoot herself. Blinded by snow flurries and baffled by the intersections, the city’s numbering of streets and avenues and the one-way bridges she couldn’t find the place. “I circled helplessly in the gloom.”   

The initial venture into local culture was a complete failure.  Not a good first impression, but read on as she has some nice things to say.

The second day wasn’t much better as she explored the city centre where the streets were half-deserted with only a few cars and trolley cars on the slippery streets and the subway stations looked abandoned. 

When she arrived at the downtown commercial district she thought, “I might be in Houston, Denver or almost any other provincial business city of the United States. The Legislature could easily be the capitol of one of the smaller American states and she notes it was American-designed. The unmistakably Canadian building, the venerable railway-baronial Macdonald Hotel was boarded up.” 

This was not a good start.

She did think Edmonton was a “forceful place” mostly because of the magnificent North Saskatchewan River. Adding, “The architecture is predominantly late Bauhaus with few post-modernist tomfooleries…seems to me to offer an urban vista of world class.” 

Edmonton has numerous parks and colour public art that I am sure Morris would enjoy if she visited today.

Edmonton has numerous parks and colour public art that I am sure Morris would enjoy if she visited today.

Strathcona to WEM to UofA

On the third day she “ignored downtown and went to the unmistakably indigenous quarter of Strathcona, whose very name struck me as allegorically of the country.” Here she found the archetypal prairie settlement of the 19th century, still recognizable and offers a homey contrast to the skyscraper clump in downtown. 

She loved Strathcona’s main street (Whyte Avenue) which still feels like a main street with grand old hotel, theatre, car dealerships, pinball arcade and various shops and restaurants. However, it offered her “no rumbustious vibration,” she sensed the “inherited strain of reserve to the Canadianness of Edmonton.” 

Morris found it strange that while the city swarms with every kind of foreigner it did not feel in the least like an immigrant city. “Even the few Indians I saw looked more integrated than most…it was hard to realize that only a few generations ago, Cree and Blackfoot lived in tribal panoply, pitching their tents on Whyte Avenue sometimes.”

“The Canadianness of the place worked on me rather slyly” she says, things like the destination names at the Greyhound Bus Station – Wandering River, Elk Point, Red Deer and Rocky Mountain House. She also met several interesting people that made her stay interesting. She noted her view out her hotel window was very Canadian in a “distinctly insidious way: the Great West Saddlery Co. Ltd., Café Budapest, W.C. Kay the Gold and Gem Merchants, the gentrified Boardwalk Market decorated with fairy lights, stacked office towers beyond, and the illuminated thermometer on a building across the street registering minus 27 degrees centigrade.”  

She acknowledges Edmonton’s one big international claim to fame is the West Edmonton Mall and so she decided to visit and judge for herself as someone had told her the Mall is “aimed at an average mental age of nine.” 

To her it is “mostly artificial, largely derivative, it is a very declaration of contemporary capitalism, the world-conquering ideology of our time. It is beyond nationality, beyond pretension actually, and however much you may detest it yourself, you must be a sourpuss indeed to resist the eager excitement in the faces of people young and old, for better or worse, as they enter its shameless enclave.” 

At the end of her fourth day she wondered “if the fantasy of West Edmonton Mall was the one thing in Edmonton that I really got the hang of.  For the rest of the city seemed to be losing, rather than gaining, clarity in my mind…so indeterminate does the civic message seem to be. Edmonton has few instantly recognizable features, and so far as I could see no very pronounced local characteristics.

People did not talk in a recognizably Edmonton way, or cook specifically Edmonton dishes…I noticed very few striking-looking people in Edmonton.” 

She concluded her rant with “sometimes I thought it the least Canadian of cities, in its lack of icons or traditions.” But then says “at other times I thought it the most Canadian of cities, but of an indistinct kind. I expected it to stand, temperamentally speaking, somewhere between Saskatoon and Calgary…in the end I concluded its character to be altogether unique!” 

This is followed by “Edmonton does not feel like a young city. There is nothing brash about it except the mall…it seemed to me a gradualist kind of place…Edmonton appears to have developed, through many a boom and many a bust, with persistent reasonableness.” 

She was not a big fan of the University of Alberta either, “the buildings look more or less indistinguishable from the apartment blocks and office buildings nearby.”   

She recognizes that Edmonton has always been a liberal city, a place of bureaucrats and academics. She also acknowledges “theatres abound, art galleries are two a penny, bookshops are nearly all within reach. The natural history dioramas in the provincial museum are the best I have ever seen. A professional symphony flourishes, there are several publishing houses, the Edmonton Journal isn’t bad and there is a lively film industry.” 

She concludes the essay with “For a city of its size Edmonton is cultivated not just by North American but by European standards. And yet it left me curiously indifferent – not cold exactly, except in a physical sense, but unengaged.”

Ultimately, she decided to leave a day early, hence the title of the essay “Edmonton, A Six-Day Week!” 

Edmonton’s nickname in the ‘90s was “Deadmonton.” Fortunately, Edmonton has got its mojo back today.

Edmonton’s nickname in the ‘90s was “Deadmonton.” Fortunately, Edmonton has got its mojo back today.

Edmonton’s downtown streetscapes have improved significantly since 1990.

Edmonton’s downtown streetscapes have improved significantly since 1990.

What was she thinking? 

In her essay, you can sense Morris’ frustration that she simply couldn’t understand the city’s sense of place, or why anyone would choose to live there. It is too bad she chose to visit in the winter, I am sure she would have had a completely different experience in the summer.  

Still I am surprised she wasn’t able to understand how the West Edmonton Mall (WEM) was a logically adaptation to winter, providing a warm and inviting place for shopping, entertainment and recreation.  How it became the city’s town square? How it usurped downtown as the city’s gathering place. How it reflected a city dominated by its new suburbs.  

I couldn’t help but wonder why she loved Toronto’s Eaton’s Centre and hated WEM? Aren’t they pretty much the same thing?  In fact WEM, has a better mix of uses.

I also found it strange Morris was frustrated with the roads on her first day. I would have thought an experienced traveller would know anyone getting into a strange car and driving in a strange city almost always ends up getting lost and frustrated by the quirks of the city’s streets.

Add to that it was cold and snowing and one has to ask “what was she thinking?” 

The Art Gallery of Alberta adds some fun to Edmonton’s downtown.

The Art Gallery of Alberta adds some fun to Edmonton’s downtown.

Alberta’s Provincial Museum that Morris liked has moved downtown’s cultural district.

Alberta’s Provincial Museum that Morris liked has moved downtown’s cultural district.

Edmonton’s downtown is in the middle of a mega makeover with several new residential buildings.

Edmonton’s downtown is in the middle of a mega makeover with several new residential buildings.

Even Edmonton’s suburban transit hubs are fun.

Even Edmonton’s suburban transit hubs are fun.

Last Word

Morris found Edmonton to “disarmingly modest, in the biggest-west-of-Winnipeg mode.” This is not surprising as she finds all Canadian cities lacking in “bravado.” 

I wonder what she would think of Edmonton today with its shiny new downtown toys - arena, art gallery, museum, office and condo towers.  Surely, she would be impressed by how it has become one of North America’s best festival cities and how its river valley park system is one of the best in the world.  And I wonder what she would think of Edmonton’s current “ICE District” bravado?

Perhaps if she visited today, winter or summer, her essay would be titled Edmonton: An Eight-Day Week!

It is amazing how cities evolve.

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Downtown West: A Quiet Evolution

While Calgary’s Downtown’s East Village has been getting lots of attention for its amazing transformation, Downtown West is quietly being transformed into an urban village also.   

Downtown West is the gateway to Calgary’s City Centre by car, bike, transit or walking.

Downtown West is the gateway to Calgary’s City Centre by car, bike, transit or walking.

It is home to Shaw Millennium Park, that includes one of the best skate parks in the world.

It is home to Shaw Millennium Park, that includes one of the best skate parks in the world.

While Downtown West doesn’t have a fancy river pathway like Eau Claire or East Village, it does have a very functional pathway along the Bow River that includes the Nat Christie Park. The Downtown West pathway is popular place for Calgarians of all ages to stroll year-round .

While Downtown West doesn’t have a fancy river pathway like Eau Claire or East Village, it does have a very functional pathway along the Bow River that includes the Nat Christie Park. The Downtown West pathway is popular place for Calgarians of all ages to stroll year-round.

Bet you have never heard of the The Nat Christie Park or that it is home to The Stone Sculptor Guild of North America’s small art park with several intimate stone sculptures.

Bet you have never heard of the The Nat Christie Park or that it is home to The Stone Sculptor Guild of North America’s small art park with several intimate stone sculptures.

Downtown West’s quiet evolution is about to get a bit louder with the West Village project that is going to be another architectural landmark for Calgary.

Downtown West’s quiet evolution is about to get a bit louder with the West Village project that is going to be another architectural landmark for Calgary.

Hidden Gem

Indeed, East Village has lots of headline grabbing projects in East Village – the spectacular new library and museum, the mixed-use St. Patrick’s Island Park, bridge, riverwalk, the fun community garden and playground, as well as the shiny new condo towers. 

At the other end of downtown, Downtown West, has quietly been evolving since the mid ‘90s with new condos, parks and public art making it an ever more attractive place to “live and play.”  So much so, that over the next 10 years, it could become a hidden gem. But first it needs to sort out its name as some City documents refer to it as Downtown West, while others call it Downtown West End. The Community Association calls itself Downtown West so that is what I’m going with.   

Personally, I would love it if they renamed it Mewata, a Cree word for “pleasant place” or “to be happy.”  Seems appropriate to me.

Link: Downtown West Community Association

The University of Calgary’s Downtown Campus Building’s snake-like facade proceeded that of of East Village’s National Music Centre.

The University of Calgary’s Downtown Campus Building’s snake-like facade proceeded that of of East Village’s National Music Centre.

Downtown West was home to Calgary’s Planetarium and Science Centre, which is ear marked to become a public art gallery. It is the gateway into the downtown for LRT riders.

Downtown West was home to Calgary’s Planetarium and Science Centre, which is ear marked to become a public art gallery. It is the gateway into the downtown for LRT riders.

In 1911, Downtown West became the home of Mount Royal College on the parking lot on the north side of the LRT Station. In 1949, the college expanded adding the modern red brick Kerby Memorial Building that still stands today on the south side of the Station. The College moved to Lincoln park in 1972, the original building was demolished and the Kerby Memorial Building become the Kerby Centre for Seniors.  Backstory: Rev. George Kerby established the Methodist College in 1910, in what is now the Central United Church. It became the Mount Royal College when it wanted provincial accreditation. Rumour has it Premier Rutherford said it needed a new name so Kerby looked out the window and saw the new Mount Royal neighbourhood and suggest that should be the name. (credit: Historic Walks of Caglary, Harry M. Sanders)

In 1911, Downtown West became the home of Mount Royal College on the parking lot on the north side of the LRT Station. In 1949, the college expanded adding the modern red brick Kerby Memorial Building that still stands today on the south side of the Station. The College moved to Lincoln park in 1972, the original building was demolished and the Kerby Memorial Building become the Kerby Centre for Seniors.

Backstory: Rev. George Kerby established the Methodist College in 1910, in what is now the Central United Church. It became the Mount Royal College when it wanted provincial accreditation. Rumour has it Premier Rutherford said it needed a new name so Kerby looked out the window and saw the new Mount Royal neighbourhood and suggest that should be the name. (credit: Historic Walks of Caglary, Harry M. Sanders)

Downtown West 101

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Downtown West is the neighbourhood between 8th and 14th Streets SW and between the CPR tracks and the Bow River.  

It is home to University of Calgary’s Downtown Campus building, the historic Mewata Armoury, Shaw Millennium Park and the Kerby Centre. 

 Its two LRT Stations, (at 8th and 11th Street SW) give its residents connections to both LRT legs.  

Back in the late ‘90s, (i.e. long before East Village’s renaissance), new residential towers were popping up everywhere in Downtown West – including Axxis, Discovery Pointe, The Barclay and The Macleod at Riverwest, Five West and Tarjan Pointe. These were the first new residential developments in Calgary’s City Centre since the late ‘70s. 

One of the key developers to kickstart the ‘90s Downtown West condo craze was Vancouver’s Nat Bosa, father of Ryan Bosa, President of BOSA Development who today ironically is the leading condo developer in East Village (he is also building Royal condo in the Beltline).  The BOSA Development website’s section on Calgary proudly states, “In the mid-’90s we offered an alternative, delivering a series of five high-quality condominium developments in the downtown West End.”

Today, Downtown West it home to 2,757 Calgarians.  The community’s largest cohort is 25 to 34 year olds i.e. young professionals, who love the fact they can walk to work, run along the river and/or play at Shaw Millennium Park.  

Fast forward a decade or so later. Early in the 21stcentury, Downtown West development began to stagnate as other City Centre communities became more attractive– Beltline, East Village, Mission and Bridgeland.  In fact, there was no increase in the community’s population from 2009 to 2014, and an increased of only 470 since then.   

Unfortunately, Downtown West without a master plan to guide its development and a walkable main street to provide those important the everyday walkable amenities (e.g. grocery store, cafes, restaurants, medical services) is at a huge disadvantage compared to Calgary’s other City Centre communities. 

Several new condos were constructed in Downtown West in the ‘90s, creating a very urban streetscape.

Several new condos were constructed in Downtown West in the ‘90s, creating a very urban streetscape.

Unfortunately over the past 10 years many of the empty lots in Downtown West have not been maintained, however this is about to change.

Unfortunately over the past 10 years many of the empty lots in Downtown West have not been maintained, however this is about to change.

Mewata Armoury was completed in 1918 and is still used by several Arm Forces groups. It would make a great weekend farmers’ market.

Mewata Armoury was completed in 1918 and is still used by several Arm Forces groups. It would make a great weekend farmers’ market.

New Developments  

Until recently, that is. First, Grosvenor/Cressy completed phase one of their two tower upscale Avenue West project adding 195 new condos.  Then, La Caille completed Vogue, their art deco -inspired 36-storey project, adding 232 new condos. Cidex isactively building phase 1 of their Dubai-inspired West Village Towers (the project was co-designed by NORR’s Dubai and Calgary architectural teams), a three towers project that will see 575 new homes and 90,000 square feet of retail added to the community. 

In fact, West Village Towers could be a game changer for Downtown West if the retail space includes a urban grocery store and other key amenities to make urban living in the community more attractive. I do wonder thought about the confusing name “West Village” as this project not in West Village a proposed new community west of 14th Street SW several blocks away.  

In addition, a major $10 million redevelopment of Century Gardens is currently underway at the southeast edge of the community will provide a passive urban space that will complement Shaw Millennium Park. 

Link: Revitalizing Calgary’s Downtown West

Avenue West is Downtown West’s first luxury condo in many decades.

Avenue West is Downtown West’s first luxury condo in many decades.

West Village is destined to become one of Calgary’s architectural gems.

West Village is destined to become one of Calgary’s architectural gems.

The new Century Gardens will be more open and better linked to the streets. It will included a space for a cafe and will have a splash pond for families.

The new Century Gardens will be more open and better linked to the streets. It will included a space for a cafe and will have a splash pond for families.

East Village vs Downtown West 

The iconic Jack Long-designed Planetarium/Science Centre built in 1967 is about to become a new public art gallery. While not on the scale of East Village’s new Central Library or the National Music Centre, it will put Downtown West on Calgary’s art and cultural map.  While East Village has Calgary’s two new iconic buildings (Library and National Music Centre), West Village has Calgary’s best historic iconic building – Mewata Armouries.  It is like having a castle in your backyard! 

Shaw Millennium Park is home to numerous summer festivals, and the equivalent of East Village’s St. Patrick’s Island Park. 

While Downtown West doesn’t have a high profile public art program like East Village’s, the lovely Nat Christie Sculpture Park along the Bow River just east of the 14thStreet bridge and several other pieces scattered in the community definitely make it more attractive. 

Downtown West is not only well connected to the downtown, but it is within easy walking distance to Kensington with its shops and major grocery store, as well as to the Beltline and its tow two grocery stores. While East Village will be getting a grocery store eventually, it can’t match Downtown West’s array of grocery stores, including Kay’s, an independent grocery store and the “coming soon” Urban Fare in the Beltline. 

Like East Village’s N3 condo, which has no parking, Cidex Group has plans for “The Hat on 7th” building at the 11th Street LRT station with no parking. 

Millennium Park is a popular spot for photographers and painters.

Millennium Park is a popular spot for photographers and painters.

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Community involvement on the rise

The Downtown West Community Association was successful this past summer in lobbying the City to create three murals, a temporary park on land that is currently unused and the sprucing up of the small plaza next to the Avatamsaka Monastery as a means of making the community more attractive.  Proof positive that Downtown West’s residents are taking pride and ownership of their community’s future.  

Even without a master plan, a champion and the investment of mega tax dollars in infrastructure, public spaces and buildings, Downtown West has seen significant improvements over the past 25 years as a place to live and play.  Imagine what might happen as the community becomes even more involved in shaping its future. 

Downtown West has one of the most thought provoking new murals in the city on the side of the Attainable Homes building. Attainable homes is an organization that helps low income families buy homes and the child in the mural lives in one of their projects. How appropriate? The piece is titled “Chalk Drawing” and is by Jason Botkin.

Downtown West has one of the most thought provoking new murals in the city on the side of the Attainable Homes building. Attainable homes is an organization that helps low income families buy homes and the child in the mural lives in one of their projects. How appropriate? The piece is titled “Chalk Drawing” and is by Jason Botkin.

Bet you have never heard of Downtown West’s Poet Plaza! Yep this is it. It is small so you could easily miss it.

Bet you have never heard of Downtown West’s Poet Plaza! Yep this is it. It is small so you could easily miss it.

Poet Plaza is home to Ascension a public art work by INCIPIO MODO an artist collective founded by two sculptors, Danira Miralda and Edward Beltran from Mexico City.

Poet Plaza is home to Ascension a public art work by INCIPIO MODO an artist collective founded by two sculptors, Danira Miralda and Edward Beltran from Mexico City.

Game Changers 

A real game changer for Downtown West would be if the City and community work together on the redevelopment of the huge Louise Crossing site - currently an ugly surface parking lot on the southeast side of the Louise Bridge.  Technically the site is in Eau Claire but really should be part of Downtown West. At one time this site was considered for the new Central Library, while I believe some thought it might be a good home for an Opera House.  It could be (and should be) something special. 

The time has come to set up a steering committee to look at the biggest and best use of the site to create an attractive link between Downtown West End, Eau Claire and Kensington, as well as create another multi-user urban playground along the Bow River.   

It is also an opportunity to create a vibrant mixed-use TOD (transit-oriented development) around the 11th Street SW LRT station, given the Kerby Centre’s plans to relocate and its adjacent surface parking lot begging to be developed. 

The Louise Crossing site is waiting for an innovative and imaginative project that will make it the waterfront playground for not only Downtown West but the entire west side of the inner city. It would link Downtown West, Eau Claire and Kensington.

The Louise Crossing site is waiting for an innovative and imaginative project that will make it the waterfront playground for not only Downtown West but the entire west side of the inner city. It would link Downtown West, Eau Claire and Kensington.

The Downtown West LRT Station is also a prime site for development with a mix of retail, restaurants and residential.

The Downtown West LRT Station is also a prime site for development with a mix of retail, restaurants and residential.

The 8th St LRT Station is on the eastern edge of Downtown West.

The 8th St LRT Station is on the eastern edge of Downtown West.

Westmount Towers was completed in 1979 and sat alone for 15 years, until new condos were built in the mid 1990s. It is another example of a strange Downtown West building name as Westmount is the historic name for the community across the Bow River from Downtown West where the old CBC building was located.

Westmount Towers was completed in 1979 and sat alone for 15 years, until new condos were built in the mid 1990s. It is another example of a strange Downtown West building name as Westmount is the historic name for the community across the Bow River from Downtown West where the old CBC building was located.

Last Word

While East Village is shouting out “look at me,” Downtown West is quietly positioning itself to become the City Centre’s next vibrant urban village.  

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condos section on Nov 17, 2018.

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Halifax: Quinpool Road is very cool!

Halifax’s Quinpool Road is a very cool place to flaneur.  Why? Because of its fun mix of old and new shops and buildings. No other street in Canada that I have visited has so many merchants with a 25+ year history on the same street.  

Quinpool Shoe Repair is just one many merchants who have called Quinpool home for decades.

Quinpool Shoe Repair is just one many merchants who have called Quinpool home for decades.

Quinpool’s Organic Earth Market has large stuffies hanging out in strange places throughout the store. Very cool.

Quinpool’s Organic Earth Market has large stuffies hanging out in strange places throughout the store. Very cool.

Old & New

At first glance, many might dismiss the street as being old and tired, especially if you are just driving by.  But if you get out of your car, or off the bus and walk along the sidewalk, you will begin to realize there is more to Quinpool Road than meets the eye. 

I think Jane Jacobs (an urban writer and activist who championed new, community-based approaches to planning from 1960 until her death in 2006), approve of how Quinpool Road is evolving with a nice mix of the old and the new.  

Halifax’s Quinpool Road is an eclectic mix of old and new “mom and pop” shops.

Halifax’s Quinpool Road is an eclectic mix of old and new “mom and pop” shops.

The Keep, Quinpool’s new mixed use condo project is just the beginning of a mega makeover.

The Keep, Quinpool’s new mixed use condo project is just the beginning of a mega makeover.

Quinpool is a walk back in time when inner city communities each had their own Main Street populated by “mom and pop” shops located in a hodge-podge of buildings. There is not designer furniture, street lights or public art. It is an authentic Main Street.

Quinpool is a walk back in time when inner city communities each had their own Main Street populated by “mom and pop” shops located in a hodge-podge of buildings. There is not designer furniture, street lights or public art. It is an authentic Main Street.

Old School  

Freeman’s Little New York restaurant and bar has been on Quinpool since 1956.  Open 24 hours, it remains a popular spot for those who want a late night pizza – to stay or go! A popular happy hour spot too, it is a great place to mix with locals.

Quinpool Road is home to perhaps Canada’s best shoe repair shop.  I am not kidding. Quinpool Shoe Repair has been operating in the same location since 1958.  I was immediately intrigued by the its blade sign that not only includes a shoe, but a skate too.  

Vintage skate sharpening machine at Quinpool Shoe Repair is very cool.

Vintage skate sharpening machine at Quinpool Shoe Repair is very cool.

Yes, inside sits an old skate sharpening machine that brought back memories of when I was a kid who used to drop off my skates at a house on the way to elementary school where an old guy (everyone is old when you are 7 or 8) sharpened them on a similar machine in his basement. I would pick them up on the way home.

Cost….30 cents I think!  But I digress.

Quinpool’s Shoe Repair shop is a walk back in time. Note the money on the cash register.

Quinpool’s Shoe Repair shop is a walk back in time. Note the money on the cash register.

Quinpool Shoe Repair often will do repairs while you wait.  While we were there, a lady brought in her shoes for a simple repair and was immediately asked, “Do you want to wait for them?”  

While the classic shoe repair shop aroma of leather and polish is in the air, this is no little “hole in the wall” shop.  Large, bright, clean and very well organized, including a six-foot long wall of shoe laces – there’s an immediate sense of pride of ownership and craftmanship when you walk in.

Quinpool’s Armore Tea Room, has been a Halifax landmark since 1958.  Its name harkens back to its early days. Today, it is best described as old fashioned diner serving all day breakfast (including homemade meatloaf, liver and onions) and great milkshakes. Open from 5 am to 8 pm daily, it remains old school with its “cash only” policy.

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Across the street from Armore is Canada’s first donair shop, “King of Donair” which opened there in 1973. In 2015, Halifax Regional Council proclaimed the donair the official food of Halifax.  

When I went in and said I was from Calgary, it was quickly pointed out that real donairs have only onions, tomatoes and a sweet and garlicky donair sauce, “none of that lettuce, pickles or cheese junk they add in Western Canada.”  You could tell the King is proud to have developed the original recipe.  

In addition to multiple locations in Halifax, King of Donair has expanded elsewhere in Eastern Canada, as well Western Canada - including Calgary, Edmonton and Grande Prairie. 

Backstory: Original owner, Peter Gamoulakos created the original 'doner' (what he called it briefly) with lamb topped with tzatziki. But Haligonians did not take to it. So Gamoulakos being an astute businessman, changed the protein to beef, developed the sweet garlicky sauce (using Carnation evaporated milk no less), changed the name to “donair” and a legend was born. He sold the store many years later and King of Donair has changed hands a couple of times since. Despite a few people trying to take credit for the donair, it remains Gamoulakos' legacy. 

Further up the “Road” is Aerobic First in what at first glance looks like an old, rather non-descript house (because that is what it is). However, curiosity made me walk in to discover a place packed with shoes, skis, boots and other sports wear equipment. Their claim to fame - “our staff are among the best shoe and boot fitters in Canada” according to their website and I believe them. I tried a few pairs on, but resisted as I really don’t need anymore flaneuring shoes.  The staff were very friendly and let me browse without feeling awkward. Eventually I struck up a conversation with one of the staff, who turned out to be the owner, who told me they have been in business on Quinpool since 1980. 

I really wish I needed new flaneuring shoes.  

Old houses make great boutique stores, cafes and restaurants.

Old houses make great boutique stores, cafes and restaurants.

Cool New Merchants 

Intermingled with the old timers on Quinpool are the “new kids on the road,” the cool new merchants. 

Sarah and Tom,” a Korean pop culture store recently opened on Quinpool, a sure sign that young people are moving in.  At first, I mistook it for a cool kid toy store. It all started when Sarah Milberry from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia went to Korea to teach English, met her husband Tom Yun (aka Tom) and together they decided to bring a bit of Korean retail culture to Canada – they have stores in Toronto and now Halifax.  I love today’s global world these days and how it leads to creating cool streets where a Korean toy store meets a skateboard shop. 

As just across the street from Sarah and Tom sits another new kid on the road, Pro Skate home of Halifax’s skateboarding community. But rather than the typical bohemian looking skater shop, Pro Skate has a friendly upscale atmosphere that even includes a micro café at the front with a few seats looking out onto the street. Very cool.   

Halifax’s popular Morris East Restaurant + Wine Bar recently opened its third location in Quinpool Road’s The Keep, a mid-rise condo complex. While the restaurant has a full menu, whenever we walked by, it seemed more like a busy pizza parlour where the cool people hang out.  Every street needs a couple of good pizza places.  In fact, there probably should be a “Pizza Index” to measure street vitality i.e. the more pizza places, the more vitality.

Then there is the new home décor store, Zephyr Rug & Home that offers amazing rugs as well as contemporary Canadian, American and Italian furniture. With all the area’s new condos projects (recently opened, under construction and planned) in Halifax’s City Centre, Zephyr could be the catalyst for Quinpool to become a design district.  After all, Secord Gallery, one of the longest established art galleries and framing shops in Atlantic Canada dating back to 1979 is also on Quinpool. 

Looks like a children’s toy store to me….I was wrong!

Looks like a children’s toy store to me….I was wrong!

Eclectic Eats

 Quinpool has an amazing array of ethnic restaurants and grocery stores – Korean, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Lebanese and Chinese.  There is also a healthy independent café culture along the road with great names like Atomic Café, Heartwood Bakery and Café, Lucky Penny Coffee Co., Dilly Dally Coffee Café and Other Bean. And yes, a Starbucks and a Tim Horton’s too.  

Sweet Hereafter Cheesecakery’s décor is as rich and yummy as its cheesecakes (see photo).  Open noon to 10 pm, it is cool a spot for a sweet afternoon delight or a nightcap. They offer a different selection of cheesecakes that very everyday.  My choices when I was there were: maple pumpkin, autumn apple, apple pecan and banana bread. My pick - maple pumpkin – decadent and I was not disappointed! 

Sweet Hereafter Cheesecakery’s decor has a cheesecake richness.

Sweet Hereafter Cheesecakery’s decor has a cheesecake richness.

Quinpool is home to an array of ethnic restaurants.

Quinpool is home to an array of ethnic restaurants.

Even the Time Hortons seems to fit into the retro feel of Quinpool.

Even the Time Hortons seems to fit into the retro feel of Quinpool.

Anchors

Quinpool Road is unique in that while it is mostly small “mom and pop” shops, one block is dominated by large format stores - Canadian Tire, Atlantic Superstore and Nova Scotia Liquor Store. Fortunately, the stores have street entrances with all the surface parking in the back, offering the best of both worlds - walkable at the front, drivable at the back. I wish more developers and big box stores would do this as it makes for a much better streetscape. That being said, the facades of all three stores are due for an update - it could become a very funky block.  

The Atlantica Hotel Halifax, a 230-room four star hotel located at the east end of Quinpool Road adds another dimension to the mix. Every good street needs a hotel or two.

The Canadian Tire and its sister big box stores provide the everyday needs of locals living near Quinpool.

The Canadian Tire and its sister big box stores provide the everyday needs of locals living near Quinpool.

In addition to the Atlantic Superstore, Quinpool has several ethnic grocery stores and a major health food store.

In addition to the Atlantic Superstore, Quinpool has several ethnic grocery stores and a major health food store.

Mixed-use Madness  

While Quinpool Road is currently surrounded mostly by modest homes, this is going to change. Like most urban streets in vibrant cities across North America, Quinpool is on the cusp of a mega-makeover.  

Recently completed is The Keep, an 8-floor, 74 unit residential project with ground floor retail - Starbucks, upscale outdoor retailer, (The Trail Shop which moved from its original home on Quinpool that it had occupied since 1968) and Morris Eats.  (FYI: A “keep” is the innermost and strongest structure or central tower of a castle. The name is a “metaphor for the strength of the building and its central location in Halifax” says The Keep’s website.) 

After 80 years, the art deco Oxford theatre closed in 2017 and was sold to a developer - a sure sign that change is in the wind for Quinpool Road.  

Other projects in the planning stages include the controversial The Willow Tree, a 25-floor residential building with street retail and the Drexel, an 15-floor mixed-use development. At Quinpool and Robie, plans are currently being finalized for an 18-floor condo tower on the site of the former Cruikshank’s Funeral Home, as well as an 11 and 22-floor residential tower next to it.

The addition of these new mixed-use condos projects should benefit existing merchants as well as add new retailers, restauranteurs and entrepreneurs to the mix of existing shops.

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Last Word 

In 1960, Jane Jacobs, in her “The Death And Life of Great American Cities,” wrote the ideal mix for street vitality was to have “one third of the buildings new, one third old and one third middle aged.” 

While I realize streets must evolve, I hope it does so gradually so it doesn’t lose the charm of its older homes and buildings too quickly.  The cool mix of old and new, the chic and the shabby chic is an aesthetic worth keeping.   

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Chinatown Makeover: You can’t please everyone!

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

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

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Let the debate begin

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

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

Parking vs Towers

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

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

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

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

A bit of context…

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

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

Chinatown At A Glance

  • 49 retail shops

  • 46 restaurants

  • 10 grocery/butcher/seafood

  • 11 personal services

  • 16 medical/pharmacy/Traditional Chinese Medicine

  • 16 salons

  • 6  business services

  • 23 corporate offices

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Change is in the wind…

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

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

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

El Condor Land Development at a glance:

  • 524      residential units

  • 150      hotel rooms

  • 23        commercial units

  • 470      parking stalls

  • 466      bike stalls 

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

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

The BIA says…

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

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

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

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

Changes Needed 

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

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

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

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

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

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

All reasonable requests you would think! 

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

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

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

Community Engagement Consultant says…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Step    

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halifax: The Blade Sign Capital Of Canada?

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

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

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

How many blade signs can you count on this block?

How many blade signs can you count on this block?

Blade Signs Are The Best

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This place is almost as old as me….

This place is almost as old as me….

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Even Tim Hortons has a blade sign…..

Even Tim Hortons has a blade sign…..

Last Word

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

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

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

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Condo Living: Millennials, In Condos, Drinking Wine 

Recently I had a chance to chat over a glass of wine with four professional female millennials (two grew up in Calgary, one in Red Deer and one in Edmonton) who all live in Calgary’s City Centre about what they like and don’t like about urban living in our city. 

There are lots of things to see and do for millennials in Calgary’s Beltline community.

There are lots of things to see and do for millennials in Calgary’s Beltline community.

However, the #1 reason millennials choose to live in Calgary’s Beltline community is the ability to walk to work.

However, the #1 reason millennials choose to live in Calgary’s Beltline community is the ability to walk to work.

Work, Live, Play

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It was unanimous, the key factor in choosing to live downtown was being close to work - no more than a 15-minute walk to work.  A close second was walking distance to lots restaurants and bars.  The key word being LOTS, as eating and drinking was their main source of entertainment.  

This explain to why the bars and restaurants are busy despite the decline in the downtown economy that has been puzzling me and my baby boomer friends for the past few years.  

17th Avenue and 4th Street is the epicenter of their entertainment, Stephen Ave and Kensington wasn’t really on their radar.  

I was surprised safety was not a huge issue. Even when one of them has to walk to work from Mission to downtown at 5:30 am and another lives near Alpha House.

They all recognized there are unsafe places where they wouldn’t walk alone, but with friends they felt safe everywhere. They did lament that Central Memorial Park is beautiful but wouldn’t go there at night. 

Shopping wasn’t a big factor in their lives, but access to a gym was probably the third most important amenity.  

When asked “what was missing in the way of shops” they all agreed it would be nice to have a have a Walmart, Costco, HomeSense or London Drugs somewhere to get more things for the home. They were all glad to learn Canadian Tire was coming to The Royal as they had heard the deal was dead.  

Some millennials enjoying the new Beltline murals. Note the Bridal advertisement….there are often bridal billboards in the Beltline. Coincidence?

Some millennials enjoying the new Beltline murals. Note the Bridal advertisement….there are often bridal billboards in the Beltline. Coincidence?

 Other things they would like to see in the Beltline were a bowling alley, rock climbing wall, an outdoor curling rink and more community gardens and events like the Inglewood night market

I asked them what they thought of the new Beltline mural program and they all agreed it really didn’t interest them, even though one knew one of the mural artists.  

This led to an interesting discussion of how each City Center community appeals to a specific sector of the millennial population.  From their perspective, Bridgeland, Inglewood and Kensington are where the trendy people live - artists and hipsters. Beltline and Mission are more for the young yuppies.  

They like the Beltline best because it has lots of new condos with better insulation against noise and better security systems. Mission would be a more attractive place to live if it has more new condos and East Village wasn’t really on their radar yet - still too new. 

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When I asked if they had gotten to know their neighbours, they all said yes. But they quickly added connecting with neighbors isn’t really important to them, as hang with friends.

They all agreed the Beltline is a friendly place where it is easy to get to know people.

One said, “It might not be Vancouver (where she was living before moving to Calgary), but I was shocked how good Calgary is when it comes to restaurant and bars and it is way safer as you don’t have to dodge all the umbrellas. And people are much friendlier.”

All agreed they wouldn’t continue to live in the City Centre for long, probably a few years before they either moved on to other cities for professional opportunities or decided to buy a house outside the city centre. One even has chosen their forever community – Altadore.   

While most young Beltliners will move away when they start to have a family, not all do as evidenced by the playgrounds and schools in the area.

While most young Beltliners will move away when they start to have a family, not all do as evidenced by the playgrounds and schools in the area.

The new Canadian Tire and Urban Fare grocery store as part of The Royal condo project will be a welcome addition to the Beltline .

The new Canadian Tire and Urban Fare grocery store as part of The Royal condo project will be a welcome addition to the Beltline.

Last Word

As I looked around the 550ish square foot condo I couldn’t help but think how different the world is today, then when I was in my 20s. There was no TV, no huge stereo unit, no dining table, just a comfy contemporary couch and a couple of chairs with floor to ceiling windows looking out over downtown.  

The place was minimalist, just like in a magazine it was almost like no-one lived there, however, in really, they are living the good life along the streets of our City Centre. And they know it.

Note: An edited version of this blog was commissioned for the 2018 October issue of Condo Living Magazine.

Living the good life in the Beltline…

Living the good life in the Beltline…

Hamilton: SuperCrawl is Super Fun


Hamilton’s SuperCrawl has evolved over the past 10 years into one of Canada’s biggest and best music/street festivals.  It is a great success story. 

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Grass Roots

It all started when a group of fledgling art galleries along James Street North (aka Little Portugal) decided to host an Art Crawl the second Friday of every month. This was not a particularly novel idea - most cities across North America had such event in the ‘90s and ‘00s. In Hamilton’s case, it started as an experiment to attract more people to downtown’s new arts district.  However, soon new restaurants, cafes and boutiques were popping up along James Street North and wanted to join in the fun. 

Each month, the Art Crawl grew in popularity. 

Then in 2009, as an experiment, the James Street North merchants convinced the City to close the street for their September Art Crawl so they could add stages for music and create a real street festival - hence the name “SuperCrawl!” The first year attracted 3,000 visitors; today SuperCrawl is an annual 3-day festival the second weekend in September that attracts over 200,000 visitors from across southern Ontario and beyond (i.e. more than the Tiger-Cats attract all season). 

In many ways, SuperCrawl has put Hamilton on the art scene map!  

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SuperCrawl 2018

After attending a regular Art Crawl a few years back and being impressed, I added the Super Crawl to my list of things to see.  This was the year.    

In 2018, this eight-block festival, had two major stages (75+ music and theatre performances), hundreds of artists’/makers’ tents, 15 fashion shows, a block of food trucks, several art installations and a family fun zone.

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Music

The music program is very eclectic. This year’s program ranged from Broken Social Scene to Ian Thomas with the Hamilton All-Star Blues Band in the middle. Over the years, the festival has featured groups like Hamilton’s own Arkells (in 2014), to Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings (the late Jones being called the “female, James Brown” (in 2015). Other notables over the years - Sheepdog, Sam Roberts, Tanya Tagaq and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings.   

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Found this grunge band playing in a dark back alley half a block off of James St N. Anything goes during SuperCrawl.

Found this grunge band playing in a dark back alley half a block off of James St N. Anything goes during SuperCrawl.

Fashion Shows 

One of the festival’s hidden gems is the fashion shows that showcase local designers.  I discovered this stage late on Saturday night. I loved the Cosplay Masquerade and was sorry to miss the Hamilton Vintage Community and The Thrifty Designer shows. Other interesting shows included Madjita: Indigenous Stories and Design and TroyBoy Drag Show.    

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Tents

I was surprised at the number of tents that filled up not only the street but every nook and cranny, creating a fun, flea market-like atmosphere.  From the usual artisans to people selling used records and books – there were treasures to be found.  

By day…

By day…

By night…

By night…

Food Trucks 

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In addition to the many restaurants along James St. North, there were 35+ food trucks.

The food trucks ranged from Hamilton’s famous Gorilla Cheese to one called The Flyin’ G’Nosh.  

I was intrigued by Buster’s Bloomin Onion Company’s truck with its huge multi-level trays each holding hundreds of whole peeled onions waiting to be battered, fried and served with Buster’s own chipotle mayo, peppercorn ranch dipping sauce or nacho cheese drizzle.  

I didn’t try them (I hate long lines) but given the long line-up, I bet they were good. 

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SuperCrawl also showcases how downtown Hamilton’s King William Street (one of the adjacent side streets) has evolved into a restaurant row with lovely patios.

In the evenings, it was like being on Calgary’s Stephen Avenue or perhaps in Montreal’s Plateau on a warm summer evening.  

And of course, there was candy floss (it wouldn’t be a street festival without it) and Tim Horton’s Coffee.  Kudos to Timmy’s for sponsoring the entire block that hosted the family fun activities.  

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Art Installations 

The art installations this year were a big disappointment.  I had seen photos of some of the past installations and was ready to be wowed.  Perhaps my expectation’s “bar” was set too high.  However, I was not alone in thinking the art installations looked junky - I overheard many people saying “this just looks like a pile of junk,” and in several cases, that literally is what they were. 

Robert Hengeveld's artist statement reads, “Howl, a perpetual coyote-and-bunny chase races along the bright green tracks of a custom-built rollercoaster. It is never quite clear which decoy is chasing the other. Both decoys fall well short of the reality they stand to represent, and yet the spectacle of their wild and persistent action seems to make up for their lack of living breath or the occasional blemish in the stab at authenticity. Situated beneath the looping track is a vibrant landscape formed through the heaping piles of shredded paper. Accents of purple, neon pink, and red pop like wild flowers in what becomes an over-romanticized semblance of nature. The abridged world it creates is fantastical despite the ever-present reality of its modest materiality.”

Robert Hengeveld's artist statement reads, “Howl, a perpetual coyote-and-bunny chase races along the bright green tracks of a custom-built rollercoaster. It is never quite clear which decoy is chasing the other. Both decoys fall well short of the reality they stand to represent, and yet the spectacle of their wild and persistent action seems to make up for their lack of living breath or the occasional blemish in the stab at authenticity. Situated beneath the looping track is a vibrant landscape formed through the heaping piles of shredded paper. Accents of purple, neon pink, and red pop like wild flowers in what becomes an over-romanticized semblance of nature. The abridged world it creates is fantastical despite the ever-present reality of its modest materiality.”

Most people I overheard talking about it saw it as a hodgepodge of junk thrown together, that seemed to have no focus.  There were a few laughs next to the roller coaster, not sure the artist’s message was received.

Most people I overheard talking about it saw it as a hodgepodge of junk thrown together, that seemed to have no focus. There were a few laughs next to the roller coaster, not sure the artist’s message was received.

Male-Dominated by Vanessa Crosby Ramsay. “ using 6,000 ft of hand-knit computer cable, this piece considers historical ‘women’s work’ and our continued under-representation in fields dominated by me in the present” says the information panel.

Male-Dominated by Vanessa Crosby Ramsay. “ using 6,000 ft of hand-knit computer cable, this piece considers historical ‘women’s work’ and our continued under-representation in fields dominated by me in the present” says the information panel.

Christopher McLeod's social art project EMERGENCY asks two simple yet complex questions of public participants: What’s the emergency? What can be done about it? Through the production of art as an instrument for change — a pillar beacon with a suggestion box-style cavity for gathering written submissions from the public — the project strives to be emblematic, participatory, and supportive.  Most people just ignored it…there were volunteers there sometimes to engage pedestrians to submit a ballot indicating “what is their emergency?”

Christopher McLeod's social art project EMERGENCY asks two simple yet complex questions of public participants: What’s the emergency? What can be done about it? Through the production of art as an instrument for change — a pillar beacon with a suggestion box-style cavity for gathering written submissions from the public — the project strives to be emblematic, participatory, and supportive.  Most people just ignored it…there were volunteers there sometimes to engage pedestrians to submit a ballot indicating “what is their emergency?”

Bystanders by Megan Press was assembly of three temporary fixed sculptures made out of everyday materials strapped together. “Bystanders entice audiences to contemplate the familiarity of their identity and configuration as substitutes for human form, architectural structures and discrete objects” says the artist’s statement.  They looked like a smash-up of random materials to me. Most of the time people just walked by and didn’t engage with the work. But did find this impromptu moment, not sure if the young women is responding to the art or to her friends.

Bystanders by Megan Press was assembly of three temporary fixed sculptures made out of everyday materials strapped together. “Bystanders entice audiences to contemplate the familiarity of their identity and configuration as substitutes for human form, architectural structures and discrete objects” says the artist’s statement. They looked like a smash-up of random materials to me. Most of the time people just walked by and didn’t engage with the work. But did find this impromptu moment, not sure if the young women is responding to the art or to her friends.

Members of    Flagship Gallery    (237 James St. N., Hamilton) offer a visual meditation the theme of "rest” in A Place of Rest. An outdoor installation of artwork created using church pews, dovetailed with an in-gallery exhibition, the piece invites visitors to pause and reflect. This piece seemed be the successful of the art installation as people did stop and where engaged by the piece.

Members of Flagship Gallery (237 James St. N., Hamilton) offer a visual meditation the theme of "rest” in A Place of Rest. An outdoor installation of artwork created using church pews, dovetailed with an in-gallery exhibition, the piece invites visitors to pause and reflect. This piece seemed be the successful of the art installation as people did stop and where engaged by the piece.

One of the more interesting art experiences was provided by Kelsey Knight who would chat with you and then create a custom poem for you.   I also enjoyed the installation below in one of the permanent art galleries along James St. North.

One of the more interesting art experiences was provided by Kelsey Knight who would chat with you and then create a custom poem for you. I also enjoyed the installation below in one of the permanent art galleries along James St. North.

Circus Orange 

For the past four years, SuperCrawl has showcased Circus Orange, a local performance group that combines acrobatics and pyrotechnics into a fun family evening event. Think Cirque du Soleil up close and personal.  I was able to stand by the fence next to the performers on both nights with great views of the behind the stage warm-up and set-up, as well as watching the performance ringside.  A “front row seat” for FREE!

“It is not every company that can say they have a forensic gun expert working alongside a clown. Or, dancers who are also licensed pyrotechnicians and actors who happily dangle 80 feet in the air from industrial cranes. It is this kind of diversity that is our greatest asset and truly represents the Circus Orange company culture.” (Circus Orange website)

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Urban Renewal Spark

SuperCrawl is a good example of how festivals can serve as the catalyst for change - helping transform a tired and forgotten street and neighbourhood, to a trendy, vibrant urban playground.  

And, while James St N still has a long way to go, there is evidence of revitalization. New condos are being built; new shops and restaurants are joining the traditional Portuguese ones that have been there for many years.

There is a new fully leased WilliamThomas luxury student residence that will add 350+ students to the neighbourhood.  This 21-storey, 169-unit residence is named after the 1850s WilliamThomas building that was on the site until it had to be demolished in 2010 as it was falling down.  The four-storey façade of the original building along James St N was saved and reconstructed as part of the new student tower to enhance the pedestrian-friendliness of street.  At present, it is looking for a couple of new retail or restaurant tenants.  

One of the reminders that James St N was once known as Little Portugal.

One of the reminders that James St N was once known as Little Portugal.

The restored Lister Block in the foreground with the WilliamThomas student residence in the background.

The restored Lister Block in the foreground with the WilliamThomas student residence in the background.

Last Word

If you are in the Hamilton area on the second Friday of any month, check out Art Crawl.  And if you love music/art festivals, I highly recommend you plan a weekend vacation in Hamilton and take in the entire festival.  And did I mention it is FREE!

While there you can also check out the Hamilton Art Gallery and the Cotton Factory two other fun art adventures.

There is lots of interesting architecture in downtown Hamilton, take some time to wander and you will be rewarded.

There is lots of interesting architecture in downtown Hamilton, take some time to wander and you will be rewarded.

Postcards From Calgary’s Reader Rock Garden 

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

Enough said!

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Garden & Cemetery

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

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

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Not Always Rosy

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

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

Link: Friends of Reader Garden

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Food & Flowers

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

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

Link: Reader’s Garden Café   

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Tips

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

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

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

Everyday Tourist Blog Link: Silver Springs Botanical Garden

Everyday Tourist Blog Link: Senator Patrick Burns Rock Garden

Atlanta vs Calgary: Coca-Cola vs Oil & Gas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atlanta’s Midtown vs Calgary’s Downtown

Atlanta's Symphony Tower.

Atlanta's Symphony Tower.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Typical Midtown streetscape in Atlanta.

Typical Midtown streetscape in Atlanta.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piedmont Park vs Calgary Urban Parks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atlantic Station vs East Village

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday morning church service in Atlantic Station's Central Plaza

One of Atlantic Station's several shopping streets. 

One of Atlantic Station's several shopping streets. 

Setting up for Sunday artisan market at Atlantic Station. 

Setting up for Sunday artisan market at Atlantic Station. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shopping & Dining

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponce City Markets massive outdoor patio. 

Ponce City Markets massive outdoor patio. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rivers & Pathways

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

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

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

There are huge pubs along Atlanta's BeltLine. 

There are huge pubs along Atlanta's BeltLine. 

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

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

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

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

Centennial Park vs Olympic Plaza

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

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

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

Advantage Atlanta
Every city needs to have more dancing fountains. 

Every city needs to have more dancing fountains. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arena, Stadium & Convention Centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word  

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

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

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

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

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

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Restaurant Designs Express Calgary's Sense of Place

When it comes to shaping a city, architects (building and landscape) and artists (public art, muralists) get the lion’s share of the media and public attention - good and bad. However, interior designers play an important role too, especially when it comes to restaurant design. After all, you probably only glance at a building or public artwork for a minute, maybe less, but you are in a restaurant for an hour or more.

While some argue a well-designed restaurant doesn’t distract from the food and conversation, I say “bah hamburg!” Good restaurant design has numerous eye-catching components – features like a cool mural, a quirky bathroom, funky artwork, unique furniture or creative use of materials – all being common conversation starters. 

To make my point, I chose seven Calgary restaurants I believe combine great design (all by Calgary designers) and reflect Calgary’s personality, i.e. youthful, colourful and playful.

After I submitted my piece to City Palate, I discovered Nando's on 17th Avenue. It was like walking into an art installation at a contemporary art gallery.  To me it captured the sense of youth and play that epitomizes Caglary. 

After I submitted my piece to City Palate, I discovered Nando's on 17th Avenue. It was like walking into an art installation at a contemporary art gallery.  To me it captured the sense of youth and play that epitomizes Caglary. 

Yellow Door Bistro, 119 - 12 Ave SW

Yellow Door at Hotel Arts is a great example of creating fun eye candy. Full disclosure: yellow is my favourite colour.  Carl and Andrea Raimondi from Ingenium Designs created a space full of “delightful surprises,” the intent according to Fraser Abbott, Director of Business Development at Hotel Arts.  Beginning with the human-sized horse with lampshade on its head to the plastic, Lego-like chairs, this place is full of surprises. The colour yellow pops up everywhere - chairs, window shades and yes, the yellow door at the 12th Ave SW entrance. Yellow Door remains as fresh and playful as when it opened.

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Home & Away Calgary Kitchen, 1331 - 17 Ave SW

I love 17th Avenue’s Home & Away Calgary Kitchen because it focuses mostly on local sports history.  It is not a cookie cutter sports bar that could be anywhere in North America.  Sarah Ward, one of Calgary’s busiest restaurant designers, was able to access and recycle the hardwood floor from the Deer Run Community Centre gym. The floorboards were installed randomly so the colourful basketball, volleyball and badminton markings pop out everywhere, creating an after the ticker tape-like parade atmosphere.

The feature wall, covered with 50 vintage skateboards from California, is clever given it’s located a few blocks from Shaw Millennium Park, home of one of the world’s largest public skate parks.

The subtle use of old trophy figures as tap handles is simply brilliant.

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Bridgette Bar, 739 - 10th Ave SW

Bridgette Bar is divided into three rooms - the bar, the living room and the kitchen/dining room. Overall, the décor is an eclectic mix of artifacts, everything from two motorcycles to a large Chris Cran psychedelic artwork.  Many of the pieces are the personal property of Victor Choy, one of the owners who worked with Kelly Morrison of Frank Architecture to create Bridgette’s whimsical design.

The living room has an inviting mid century modern feel with its oval teak coffee table, wood accented chairs and retro hanging fireplace oh-so popular in the ‘70s. The most puckish artifacts are the many macramé pieces that adorn the dining room.

As they say, “everything that is old is new again.”

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RE:GRUB, 625 - 11Ave SW

RE:GRUB is a tiny space that packs a big punch, from the street art on its patio wall to the peacock blue and canary yellow interior colour scheme. You might want to leave your sunglasses on.  When you walk in you are immediately accosted by the cut-out metal barrels wonderfully transformed into chairs.  Quickly your eyes dart to the dramatic yellow rope strung from floor to ceiling creating a see-through wall separating the larger dining area from the entrance.

Once your eyes adjust to the bright colours, you notice one wall is actually made up of asphalt shingles. Yes, the same ones you see on the roofs of tens of thousands of Calgary homes.  Another wall is made from recycled warehouse pallets, as is the light fixture, chipboard walls and tabletops. The corrugated metal undersides of the counters add to this fun industrial chic vibe. 

RE:GRUB’s design is a collaborative effort of Lindsay O. Creative and owner Jose Azares.

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Alloy, 220 - 42 Ave SE

It has been said by many the McKinley Burkart-designed Alloy restaurant is one of the prettiest and coolest rooms in the city. Faux cherry blossom trees share the space with white decorative brick walls back lit with soft pink lighting.

The result: a light and airy, spring-like feel - no wonder Alloy is a popular wedding spot.

The six large white leather semi-circular banquettes with warm walnut tables in the center of the room are so popular there have literally been fights over who gets one.  Restaurants are often defined by their art. In Alloy’s case, it is the lunge’s harmless but very visually aggressive Mark Mullin abstract painting.  Perhaps too aggressive for some as one patron literally demanded another table because she “wasn’t going to face that painting that looks like intestines.”  Interestingly, the title of the piece is “Meltdown.”

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OEB, 222 - 5th Ave SW

John Gilchrist very fittingly describes OEB’s downtown location’s interior as “yolky” in his CBC review, others might think of it as “eggs gone wild” theme. The entire room is adorned with yolk yellow and egg white elements.  And the huge, egg-shaped booths are a modern twist on furniture designer Arne Jacobsen’s famous 1958 Egg chair.

Designed by Hribar Design Group, the interior has a definite mid-century feel with a contemporary twist, mixing uncluttered and sleek lines with geometric forms, strange juxtapositions and bold use of colour. The result: a cheerful and charming atmosphere. Overall, the design creates a visual vibrancy that mirrors the vitality of a packed restaurant at breakfast or brunch. 

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Foreign Concept, 1011 - 1st St. SW

Owner/chef Duncan Ly and designer Alykhan Velji worked together to create a colonial-inspired decor with sleek modernist elements for Foreign Concept. An immediate feeling of tranquility sets in as you enter and see the large mural of birds and butterflies playing in a garden behind the reception desk.

Colourized floor-to-ceiling images of a Chinese man in one dining room and Vietnamese woman in the other create an old-world charm and acknowledge the importance of respecting the past.  The wall of antique moon cake moulds in the lounge adds an element of both past and playfulness.  Ly and Velji also make great use of the large sidewalk windows of its corner site, allowing patrons to enjoy the street theatre while dining.

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Calgary: A Design City?

One could easily have chosen dozens of other Calgary restaurants with interesting and inventive designs – Model Milk, Teatros, Klein/Harris, Rouge, River Café or Vin Room at the airport immediately come to mind. 

Indeed, Calgary is becoming not only one of North America’s most interesting foodie cities, but also one of the most interesting design cities when it comes to architecture, public art (good, bad and ugly), public space, restaurant and retail design.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in May/June 2018 edition of City Palate

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

Calgary's Design District Revisited

Calgary Condos: A Pop Of Colour

Calgary is NOT on the cusp of becoming a Design City

 

Calgary's Coolest Neighbourhoods: Beltline

Locals and visitors often ask me “what is Calgary’s coolest neighbourhood?” My reply is, “It depends on what you like to do.”  Just for fun I thought I would do a series of blogs on what makes Calgary’s City Centre neighbourhoods (Beltline, Bridgeland, East Village, Eau Claire/Downtown West, Downtown Core, Inglewood, Kensington and Mission) are all cool.

This blog explores the Beltline community. 
You know a neighbourhood is cool when a church offers services in English, Ethiopian and Hispanic every Sunday and to top it off offers a "New Life Journey" Sunday evening.  

You know a neighbourhood is cool when a church offers services in English, Ethiopian and Hispanic every Sunday and to top it off offers a "New Life Journey" Sunday evening. 

Beltline

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Calgary’s Beltline community boundaries are from the Elbow River west to 14th St SW and from 17th Avenue SW north to the railway tracks.

In reality, it is three distinctly different neighbourhoods – East Beltline (EABE), which includes everything east of 4th Street SW with 1st Street SW as its pedestrian corridor; North Beltline (NOBE), which is the 10th & 11th Avenue SW pedestrian corridor (at one time this area was known as Electric Avenue for all of the bar signage) and South Beltline (SOBE), which is the area next to the 16/17th Avenue SW pedestrian corridor (was nicknamed The Red Mile as ten of thousands of Calgary Flames jersey fans took over the street during the Flames Stanley Cup Playoff run in 2004).

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Festivals/Events

As Stampede Park is within its boundaries, the Beltline could claim everything from Calgary Expo to Calgary Stampede as its signature event.  It doesn’t get much better than that.    

The Banks of Bow Sculpture, by Bob Spaith and Rich Roenisch at Stampede Park becomes an amazing playground during Stampede. 

The Banks of Bow Sculpture, by Bob Spaith and Rich Roenisch at Stampede Park becomes an amazing playground during Stampede. 

Only cool neighbourhoods use their back alleys as backyards for parties. 

Only cool neighbourhoods use their back alleys as backyards for parties. 

Shops

Gravity Pope is bit like an acid trip.  

Gravity Pope is bit like an acid trip. 

Gravity Pope is arguably Calgary’s coolest retail store not only from a design perspective but also for their amazing footwear and fashions.

It is a “must see” for anyone visiting Calgary.

Long-time 17th Ave anchor shops like Reid’s The Stationery Store (this is not your typical stationary store) Rubaiyat (jewellery, art glass, home accessories) and Mona Lisa Artist’s Materials are unique and fun places to browse.  

Mountain Equipment Co-op’s flagship Calgary store at the corner of 10th Ave and 8th St SW has been a citywide destination for decades. Across the street is Atmosphere -another outdoor wear store.

Metrovino's   front door is in the back alley . 

Metrovino's front door is in the back alley

Cork dorks won’t want to miss Metrovino and its carefully curated selection of wines.  Bonus – double your fun here as it is located at the back of the Cookbook Company retail store with its 2,000+ cookbooks in stock (largest in Western Canada) as well as cookware. 

 

 

The Beltline is also home to some funky designer stores like Roche Bobois, Kit Interior Objects, Shaun Ford & Co. and Chintz & Company flagship store.

MEC'  s colourful display of canoes in the front window is very cool. 

MEC's colourful display of canoes in the front window is very cool. 

Every time I go to the    Camera Store    is it has a great buzz...I love this place.

Every time I go to the Camera Store is it has a great buzz...I love this place.

17th Avenue has some great eye glass shops like Eye Candy and Brass Monocle. 

17th Avenue has some great eye glass shops like Eye Candy and Brass Monocle. 

Heritage Posters and Music   is a must see for audiophiles. 

Heritage Posters and Music is a must see for audiophiles. 

Cafés

The Beltline is blessed with numerous independent cafés including the iconic Caffe Beano, where artists and hipsters have been hanging out for decades. Other notable cool coffee spots include Kawa Espresso Bar, Analog, Bumpy’s Café and Good Earth Cafe.

The corner of 7th Ave and 17th St SW is center ice for Calgary's 17th Ave stroll. 

The corner of 7th Ave and 17th St SW is center ice for Calgary's 17th Ave stroll. 

Restaurants

There are a plethora of good restaurants in the Beltline, some of my favourites being Yellow Door (yes, it really does have yellow doors), Foreign Concept and Model Milk for their innovative menus and cool interior design.  Bonterra Trattoria, a traditional favourite has arguably Calgary’s best al fresco patio.  Beltline offers several great pizza parlours – Cibo, Posto Pizzeria and Bar, Una Pizza + Wine.

If you are looking for some late-night dining, Ten Foot Henry is a good bet. The cuisine is “new North American,” i.e. creative, vegetable focused and built for sharing. Currently on their menu is a “Crispy Pickerel” with almond purre, brussel leaves and pickled grapes.

Then there’s a Beltline hidden gem - the Mermaid Inn Restaurant located in the mellow yellow-coloured Danish Canadian Club building built in 1964.  While the club is for members and their guests, they will happily sign you in as a “special guest.”  The food is great as is the price.  Note: it is closed Sundays; the Saturday brunch is outstanding.

You can't miss The Danish Canadian Club with the Mermaid Inn Restaurant entrance on the side.   

You can't miss The Danish Canadian Club with the Mermaid Inn Restaurant entrance on the side.  

RE:GRUB's patio shouts out "this is a cool place." 

RE:GRUB's patio shouts out "this is a cool place." 

Calgarians love their early morning breakfast meetings.  Hommage to Eward Hopper. 

Calgarians love their early morning breakfast meetings.  Hommage to Eward Hopper. 

Nando's Portuguese restaurant on 17th Ave is like walking into an artwork. 

Nando's Portuguese restaurant on 17th Ave is like walking into an artwork. 

Tea time in the Beltline is very popular too!

Tea time in the Beltline is very popular too!

Art & Architecture

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The Beltline lays claim to most of Calgary’s major commercial galleries, which are clustered in and around the 700 block of 11th Ave SW. There you will find Herringer Kiss, Paul Kuhn and New Zone Galleries.  Other galleries nearby include Gibson, Lattitude, Gerry Thomas, Trepaneir Baer and Webster Galleries.

Loch Gallery, over on 4th St SW is definitely worth checking out.

And if you are walking by Hotel Arts, pop in and check out the art in the lobby and beyond as there is lots of it and it is very good.  Be sure to look up at the glass installation on the ceiling in the entrance. 

 As for public art, the Beltline’s signature piece is “Calgary Scroll” by David Rokeby, a huge S-curve that spans from one side of the 8th Street underpass to the other looking a bit like a monorail track. 

The “track” is actually an LED screen that displays bits of old Calgary news from the early 20th century that pedestrians can read as they stroll from the Beltline to downtown. 

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Or is it “Chinook Arc” by Joe O’Connell and Blessing Hancock in the Barb Scott Park. This is an interactive, illuminated sculpture that glows in the dark.  The shape was inspired in part by the Beltline street cars and Chinook arch cloud formation that periodically forms in the Calgary sky.

A mural program was launched in 2017 at various locations on the sides of buildings and in alleys with several more murals to be completed in 2018.

Beltline is home to the new Decidedly Jazz Dance Centre that includes dance studios and offices as well as 230-seat space for performances.  DJD’s performances are nothing but cool and at night, you can check out the colourful mural of dancers that adorns the rooftop of the building.

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In 2005, the 1911, Tuscan style Wesley United Church was converted into the Calgary Opera Centre (now called the Arrata Opera Centre).

It is used for rehearsals, wardrobe shop, education programs, offices and even the occasional performance by Calgary Opera.

When it comes to architecture the Memorial Park Library is a “must see.”  This majestic Edwardian Classicism building opened in 1912 and is surrounded by a lovely, two-hectare park/garden. It is one of 150 libraries built in Canada with funding from the American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and is still a functioning library so be sure to go inside.

When it comes to modern architecture, the Beltline is home to several new condo towers, with Mark on 10th being perhaps the most distinguished with its playful use of a yellow tinted glass atrium at the corner to the pastel-coloured panels on the exterior that draw the eye up to the roof-top resident lounge projecting over the edge of the building.  

Calgary is known as the "Sandstone City" for its many early 20th Century sandstone churches, schools and library, many of which are located in the Beltline. Calgary Collegiate Institute was built in 1908 (903 13th Ave SW).

Calgary is known as the "Sandstone City" for its many early 20th Century sandstone churches, schools and library, many of which are located in the Beltline. Calgary Collegiate Institute was built in 1908 (903 13th Ave SW).

Grace Presbyterian Church, 1009 15th Ave SW.

Grace Presbyterian Church, 1009 15th Ave SW.

Walk inside Chinook Arc an interactive, illuminated sculpture by Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock and you get a cool perspective on NORR architects Aura Tower condo.

Walk inside Chinook Arc an interactive, illuminated sculpture by Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock and you get a cool perspective on NORR architects Aura Tower condo.

Palliser South is a funky new office tower that is cantilevered over top of an old parkade to create a unique shape.  

Palliser South is a funky new office tower that is cantilevered over top of an old parkade to create a unique shape.  

Parks/Plaza/Pathways

The Beltline is blessed with three historic urban parks - Lougheed House and Beaulieu Gardens (1891), Central Memorial Park (1912) and Tomkins Park (1915).  It is also home to a new urban dog park in Connaught Park, the new Barb Scott Park and the brand new Thomson Family Park, the latter replacing the Calgary Lawn Bowling club facility.

The Beltline is part of Calgary’s City Centre Cycle Track program with a dedicated bike lane along 12th Avenue, from 11th St SW to 4th St SE and 5th Street from 3rd Ave SW to 17th Ave SW.

As you walk along the Beltline's 13th Ave, you would never know that you are in the middle a dense high-rise community as the streets have a lovely tree canopy that make them pedestrian friendly.  

As you walk along the Beltline's 13th Ave, you would never know that you are in the middle a dense high-rise community as the streets have a lovely tree canopy that make them pedestrian friendly.  

Speaking of streets, while wandering the Beltline be sure to keep your eye out for fun sidewalk stamps like this one from 1909. 

Speaking of streets, while wandering the Beltline be sure to keep your eye out for fun sidewalk stamps like this one from 1909. 

Memorial Park is Calgary's oldest park, recent renovations added this playful fountain, a restaurant and more seating.  

Memorial Park is Calgary's oldest park, recent renovations added this playful fountain, a restaurant and more seating. 

Who says families don't live in the City Centre. Haultain park's playground, playing field and tennis courts are well used by all ages.

Who says families don't live in the City Centre. Haultain park's playground, playing field and tennis courts are well used by all ages.

Humans and canines both enjoy the Beltline's mini dog park. 

Humans and canines both enjoy the Beltline's mini dog park. 

Fitness/Recreation

The Beltline lays claim to the oldest the oldest purpose-built social service building in Calgary - the Beltline Y.W.C.A. opening in 1911.  Today, the Beltline Aquatic and Fitness Centre (its current name) is a busy place as over 23,000 people live close by.  Two other major fitness centers include Heaven’s Fitness and Yoga Passage. There is also a winter skating rink at the new Thomson Family Park.

The lawn behind the Lougheed House makes for perfect playing field. 

The lawn behind the Lougheed House makes for perfect playing field. 

In the winter this same space becomes a curling rink for the Beltline Bonspiel. (photo credit: Lougheed House)

In the winter this same space becomes a curling rink for the Beltline Bonspiel. (photo credit: Lougheed House)

Pubs & Clubs

The Ship & Anchor is Calgary’s iconic pub. Even in the middle of winter its sunny patio can be packed with hipsters enjoying Calgary’s brilliant winter sunshine.  On weekend mornings it becomes a popular spot for soccer fans to congregate while the Saturday afternoon jams are packed with Yuppies.  A close second would be the Rose & Crown pub on 4th.

If your idea of a good time is sampling beer (and whose isn’t) you have to visit Craft Beer Market’s original beer hall with its 100+ beers on tap.  Or, visit Trolley 5 Brewery Restaurant where the 400 seats await you to try out their craft beer brewed on site.

If live music is your thing, a good bet would be Broken City and Hifi Club who have both been hosting live music since 2004 and 2005 respectfully. While Mikey’s on 12th is a new location, Mikey has been curating live music shows for decades and his Saturday afternoon blues jam is very popular with locals.

17th Avenue becomes a beer garden in the summer with its numerous patios.

17th Avenue becomes a beer garden in the summer with its numerous patios.

Fun/Funky/Quirky 

Enjoying a couple of maple bacon doughnuts at Jelly Modern Doughnuts (you can’t eat just one) is perhaps the quintessential FFQ Beltline experience.  Or, is it enjoying an “A-bomb” hot dog at Tubby Dog at 2 am?

Some might even say it doesn’t get any cooler than enjoying an ice cream cone at the Beltline’s two signature ice cream parlours - Made by Marcus or Village Ice Cream -when it’s -30C outside.

Tubby Dog is also Tubby arcade...how quirky is that?

Tubby Dog is also Tubby arcade...how quirky is that?

On an early February, Tuesday afternoon there were half a dozen people enjoying some Marcus ice cream. 

On an early February, Tuesday afternoon there were half a dozen people enjoying some Marcus ice cream. 

It doesn't get much quirkier than the Beltline's "Happy Together" Convenience & Grocery Store.  

It doesn't get much quirkier than the Beltline's "Happy Together" Convenience & Grocery Store. 

You will also find some funky fashions on the streets of the Beltline.

You will also find some funky fashions on the streets of the Beltline.

Hand Signals is a fun piece of public art by Derek Besant. It spells out the word DREAM. You will find it on 4th Avenue between 14th and 15th St SW.

Hand Signals is a fun piece of public art by Derek Besant. It spells out the word DREAM. You will find it on 4th Avenue between 14th and 15th St SW.

Last Word

Even the Beltline’s name is cool.  It is named after the Calgary Municipal Railway’s Route #5 that was nicknamed the “belt line” as its route used to wind its way back and forth from 17th Ave SW to downtown like a conveyor belt in a manufacturing plant.

I have only scratched the surface of the cool things to see and do in the Beltline. 

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

Calgary: Beautifying The Beltline

Beltline: North America's Best Hipster/GABEster Community

11th Street SW is Calgary's Green Street

Downtown Living Is Cooler Than You Think!

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

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

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

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

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

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Downtown vs Beltline

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

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

Here’s why!

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

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

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

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

Chinatown is a   fun place to shop for groceries.

Chinatown is a fun place to shop for groceries.

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

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

Festivals/Events

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

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

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

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

Shops

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

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

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

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

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

Holt Renfew offers an upscale shopping experience. 

Holt Renfew offers an upscale shopping experience. 

Power hour on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Power hour on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Cafe Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restaurants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art/Architecture

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

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

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

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

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

The Chinese Community Centre is a downtown hidden gem.

The Chinese Community Centre is a downtown hidden gem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parks/Plazas/Pathways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fitness/Recreation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Culture/Nightlife

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

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

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

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

Downtown offers a variety of nightlife options. 

Downtown offers a variety of nightlife options. 

Pubs/Beer/Spirits

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

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

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

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

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

Fun/Funky/Quirky (FFQ) Factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary's Downtown Power Hour

Downtown Calgary Glows With Fun

Downtown Calgary puts the PARK in parkades

Beltline: Calgary's hipster/nester community?

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

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

Just another weekend afternoon in Tomkins Park. 

Just another weekend afternoon in Tomkins Park. 

FYI

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

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Condos come in all shapes and sizes in the Beltline.

Condos come in all shapes and sizes in the Beltline.

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

#1 Pubs & Clubs

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

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

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

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

Life is good in the Beltline.

Life is good in the Beltline.

#2 Café /Patio Culture

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

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

Beltline's street life happens year-round.

Beltline's street life happens year-round.

Patio fun on 17th Ave.

Patio fun on 17th Ave.

#3 Parks

An evening stroll....

An evening stroll....

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

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

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

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

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Funky new residential towers, next to Barb Scott Park. 

Funky new residential towers, next to Barb Scott Park. 

#4 FFQ Factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#5 Parkside Living

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

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

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

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

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#6 Grocery Stores Galore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

Discover Calgary's Secret Heritage Walk

Calgary: Beautifying The Beltline

11th St SW is Calgary's Green Street

 

 

Calgary's Design District Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

Kit is like a mini furniture museum.

Kit is like a mini furniture museum.

Shop

Chris Cran at Trepanier Baer Gallery.  

Chris Cran at Trepanier Baer Gallery. 

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

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

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

Camera Store always has a great urban buzz. 

Camera Store always has a great urban buzz. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yogis have Yoga Passage.  

 

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

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

Live

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

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

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

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New Name

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

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

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

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Last Word

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

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

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

Calgary's Rail Trail Stroll

Calgary's 10th Avenue Renaissance

Importance of BIAs

 

Calgary's Coolest Neighbourhoods: Inglewood

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

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

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

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

What makes a cool neighbourhood?

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

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

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

Inglewood

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

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Festivals/Events

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

Shops

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

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

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

But wait. It gets better.

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

Recordland is a "must visit" for audiophiles.  

Recordland is a "must visit" for audiophiles. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It even has an in-house barbershop.

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

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

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

Now doesn't this look tasty....

Now doesn't this look tasty....

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

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

Cafés

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

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

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Restaurants

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

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

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

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

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

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