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

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

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

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Refresh?

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

Link: City Centre Plan Refresh

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

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

Let’s have a look.

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Name / Boundary Change 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parking to People

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

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

Since 2007: 

  • Residents increased by 31% 

  • Residences increased by 46% 

  • Children under the age of 15 increased by 131% 

One of several illustrations from the current Centre City Plan.

One of several illustrations from the current Centre City Plan.

Boom to Gloom 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Last Word

The Centre City Plan vision statement reads:

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

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

May I suggest:

“A City Centre where diversity thrives!”

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

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

All downtowns must reinvent themselves

Calgary: The World’s Most Walkable City Centre

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

 

 

Hey Calgarians you don’t own the street!

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

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

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

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

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

No Free Parking?

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

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

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

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

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

Cash Cow?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Infill Development Barrier 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LRT / Hospitals/ Schools

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

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

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

Link: Petition to eliminate parking fees at hospitals

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

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

Parking Ombudsman 

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

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

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

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

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

Not a divine right…

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

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

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

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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.

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

Design Wars: Its Edmonton vs Calgary for the architecture cup

Edmonton vs Calgary: Who has the best River Parks?

Brewery Districts: Edmonton vs Calgary

Calgary's Municipal Development Plan: A Herculean Task!

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

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

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

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

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

It is the blueprint for Calgary’s future.

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

A noble goal.

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Herculean Task

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

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

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

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

It impacts our collective carbon and economic footprint.

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

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

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

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

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

EASIER SAID THAN DONE

Calgary's MDP was adopted back in 2009.  

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

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

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

Link: MDP Monitoring Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demographics matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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This is not a fair fight!

The City admits this is an issue.  

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

Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 11.55.09 AM.png

LAND, LAND AND MORE LAND. 

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

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

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

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

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

WHEN FREE ISN'T FREE

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

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

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

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

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

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

AFFORDABILITY

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

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

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

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

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

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Progress Is Being Made 

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

We are heading in the right direction. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linking Vision With Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

Is Calgary ready for real urban living?

80% of Calgarians must live in the ‘burbs

Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary


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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Confessions Of A Public Art Artist

Recently I was walking my sister’s dog Max in Calgary’s Signal Hill community when I came upon a piece of public art next to a children’s playground. I had often seen the piece in the distance when driving to my sister’s house, but thought it was part of the playground.  

To me, from this angle all of the shapes look like houses a young child might draw. It looks very inviting for a child to run around and through it. It is also interesting to see how the shape of the artwork’s element echo those of the houses in the background.

To me, from this angle all of the shapes look like houses a young child might draw. It looks very inviting for a child to run around and through it. It is also interesting to see how the shape of the artwork’s element echo those of the houses in the background.

Village Fun

To my surprise the artwork was by Cecila Gossen who I have know since ‘80s when I was at the Muttart Art Gallery and she was doing her PhD in art at the University of Calgary.  

I immediately loved the titled “Village,” along with its bright colours and ambiguous shapes that looked both like houses and figures.  While it is a sculpture, it also make references to the line drawings young children make with their crayons.  

I thought “what a fitting addition to a playground.”

I have long thought playgrounds should be designed by artists so they can serve a dual purpose of being both a playground and a small art park. I couldn’t stop thinking about the piece when I got home so I contacted Cecila to find out more about the work and how it got there.  

She was quick to respond and most willing to share her experience

Backstory

Turns out the piece was originally proposed for the 4th Street SW in Mission as part of their Business Improvement Area’s sculpture program that started in the ‘90s as a means of enhancing the streetscape for pedestrians.  

FYI: There are several pieces along 4th Street SW from 13th to 26th St. SW.   

Cecila decided to submit to the 4th St. Sculpture Program back in 2005, so she built a little maquette and submitted it to the art jury, however her piece wasn’t chosen. Several months later, she received a call from Robin Robertson an art consultant who was one of the 4th Street jurors asking Cecila if she would be interested in a commission from the Signal Hill Community Association for a sculpture in one of their parks. 

The Association had a large piece land that had been set aside for a park and a possible future school and they wanted a sculpture on the site.  Cecila was thrilled and immediately said “Yes!”  

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Inspiration 

Cecila’s inspiration for “Village” was the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Remember the piece was proposed for a sidewalk along 4th St SW.  Her idea was people could walk through the different house shapes and perhaps it would become a meeting place on the street where people would gather and chat about the sculpture or life in general.

She loved the idea of creating a little village in the middle of Mission a historic community that was becoming an urban village. The bright primary colours were meant to remind us of our childhood, as was the size of the structures. 

Of course, being in a park next to a playground where there might one day be a school worked too. 

How $25,000 becomes $200

Shortly thereafter, she was told the budget was $25,000, so she calculated what she thought her costs to fabricate and install the piece might be and decided she had plenty of money to do a good job.

She had never done an outdoor piece before, but had done some large 8 ft by 8 ft indoor pieces and was aware of the safety considerations and the material needs and costs associated with larger works.

Then she received a copy of letter from City Parks to Robin, listing their conditions for the permit to install the sculpture in a public park. 

She needed: 

  • architect to produce ‘reproducible mylar drawings' of the sculpture 

  • engineer had to design the concrete base to support the sculpture

  • engineer’s stamp 

  • structural consultant’s approval 

  • contact utilities to mark the spot was safe for construction

  • re-plant the landscape as needed to original state

  • repair any damages to existing irrigation if needed

Out of the $25,000 she ended up having to pay for:

  • The excavation of the site

  • Pouring of an 8 ft by 8 ft by 8 inch concrete base for the sculpture

  • Fabrication of the steel pieces of the sculpture

  • Powder coasting

  • Sod, gravel, twelve wood railway ties for the perimeter

  • 7 guys from a local rugby team (more later)

She notes, “originally the base was to be a circle, but she couldn’t afford the pavers to form the circle, so I had to go with a rectangle, something that could be done with railway ties. She says “next time I would find somebody to help me with all the City regulations.”

When all was said and done she cleared about $200.

But that doesn’t include gas and mileage (every time anyone showed up at the site, I had to be present), postage, steaks and beer for the rugby team (more later). Fortunately, Signal Hill Community Association was able to get the engineer and architect services donated, and there was no damage to the irrigation system. 

From this angle it looks like two adults, a child and a house.

From this angle it looks like two adults, a child and a house.

From this angle it looks more like parade or a group of figures walking together on a sidewalk .

From this angle it looks more like parade or a group of figures walking together on a sidewalk.

Confession

Yes, Cecila would do it again. She did not do it for the money, but she was terribly worried it would end up costing her money.  She is very proud of the piece. 

She found, “Parks was a bear to deal with. I think they did not want the sculpture there. As a matter of fact, the original site for the sculpture was at the corner of Sirocco Drive and Signal Hills Heights. I would have loved the original site because the sculpture would have been visible from different approaches by more people.”

In the end, there was a party for the unveiling, lots of people came and everybody loved it.  Today kids use it as bit of a climbing structures, run around and through as they like to do and some use it as a bike rack. It still looks as fresh today as when it was installed in 2007. 

Over the years, many people who know Cecila and see the sculpture will call her or send her a text like I did, telling her how much they like the piece.  

I guess that is the only dividend for artists who create public art, it sure ain’t the money.   

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Rugby Team Connection  

Cecila and her husband attended a fund-raiser for her son Andy’s rugby team while the installation details were being worked out. One of the silent auction items was something like “Five Guys, One Afternoon: Clean out your basement, Do yard work!” whatever.  She bid on it and got it. 

She then told the guys her plan was to get them to help with the sculpture installation and promised them a beer and a steak dinner at her house when they finished. Seven players showed up and did a magnificent job of spreading pea gravel under the sculpture, putting the railway ties in place and sodded the entire area that had been disturbed. It was a very fun afternoon and a fun way to finish the project.

There goes the $200.  

Last Word

Cecila notes, “when we hear how much some public art pieces cost, I wonder what percentage goes back to city offices for the various permits and how much of the budget is spent in things other than the sculpture itself.” 

She still “laughs at the size and bulk of the concrete pad that was required. Someday, hundreds of years from now, some archaeologist will dig this huge concrete cube and try to figure out its purpose.”

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

Confessions of public art juror.

Do we really need all of this public art?

“Rodger That” says 12-year old Matt re public art

 

 

New Condos Help Kensington Thrive!

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

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

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

Annie says…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reinvesting Parking Revenues

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

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

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

Summer patios are another way Kensington enhances the pedestrian experience.

Summer patios are another way Kensington enhances the pedestrian experience.

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

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

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

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

The More Art The Better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

Kensington: One of North America’s Healthiest Communities

A Sunday Walkabout In Kensington

Kensington Legion: The Taller The Better?

Chinatown Makeover: You can’t please everyone!

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

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

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Let the debate begin

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

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

Parking vs Towers

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

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

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

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

A bit of context…

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

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

Chinatown At A Glance

  • 49 retail shops

  • 46 restaurants

  • 10 grocery/butcher/seafood

  • 11 personal services

  • 16 medical/pharmacy/Traditional Chinese Medicine

  • 16 salons

  • 6  business services

  • 23 corporate offices

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Change is in the wind…

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

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

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

El Condor Land Development at a glance:

  • 524      residential units

  • 150      hotel rooms

  • 23        commercial units

  • 470      parking stalls

  • 466      bike stalls 

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

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

The BIA says…

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

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

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

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

Changes Needed 

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

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

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

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

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

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

All reasonable requests you would think! 

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

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

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

Community Engagement Consultant says…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Step    

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halifax: Art & Artifacts

One of the things that impressed me most about Halifax was that there was interesting art and artifacts everywhere - often in the most unexpected places.

I thought it would be fun to share them with you and in the process hopefully give you a feel for Halifax’s unique “sense of place.”

In Halifax telephone poles often became mini art galleries with their layers of weathered posters. I found this one particularly provocative.

In Halifax telephone poles often became mini art galleries with their layers of weathered posters. I found this one particularly provocative.

The Kent Monkman exhibition at the Nova Scotia Art Gallery exhibition titled, “Shame and Prejudice” A Story of Resilience, was a very clever and thoughtful exhibition. Titled “The Scream,”this painting speaks to the pain and trauma caused by the Canadian government’s removal of children from their indigenous families to go to residential schools.

The Kent Monkman exhibition at the Nova Scotia Art Gallery exhibition titled, “Shame and Prejudice” A Story of Resilience, was a very clever and thoughtful exhibition. Titled “The Scream,”this painting speaks to the pain and trauma caused by the Canadian government’s removal of children from their indigenous families to go to residential schools.

It was the best exhibition I have seen in 2018 and one of the most powerful and political I have seen in a long time. The use of symbolism, surrealism and realism to create contemporary narratives and commentary is very successful. The size of the paintings (approximately 10 ft by 6 ft) make them seem like billboards. I love the ambiguity of the Picasso’s cubist figure in this piece titled “Struggle For Balance,” is she being robbed or helped.

It was the best exhibition I have seen in 2018 and one of the most powerful and political I have seen in a long time. The use of symbolism, surrealism and realism to create contemporary narratives and commentary is very successful. The size of the paintings (approximately 10 ft by 6 ft) make them seem like billboards. I love the ambiguity of the Picasso’s cubist figure in this piece titled “Struggle For Balance,” is she being robbed or helped.

The Daddies, 2016, 60” x 112”, acrylic on canvas, Kent Monkman is a play on Robert Harris’ famous group portrait of the Fathers of Confederation. The nude in the foreground is Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Monkman’s alter ego.

The Daddies, 2016, 60” x 112”, acrylic on canvas, Kent Monkman is a play on Robert Harris’ famous group portrait of the Fathers of Confederation. The nude in the foreground is Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Monkman’s alter ego.

It was interesting to compare the Monkman depiction of early Canadian family life with the innocence and romanticism of the Tom Forrestall painting that I found in the lobby of the Children’s Hospital.

It was interesting to compare the Monkman depiction of early Canadian family life with the innocence and romanticism of the Tom Forrestall painting that I found in the lobby of the Children’s Hospital.

Found these guys in the lobby of an older office building, with the words “Brave New World” over the doorway - of course I had to go in. I was surprise to find a mini-exhibition of goalie masks. Turns out they are from 2008, when artists were given a goalie mask modelled after Jacque Plante’s famous 1959 design and asked to create an original piece of art. There were two cases of masks like this one. It was a lovely hidden gem .

Found these guys in the lobby of an older office building, with the words “Brave New World” over the doorway - of course I had to go in. I was surprise to find a mini-exhibition of goalie masks. Turns out they are from 2008, when artists were given a goalie mask modelled after Jacque Plante’s famous 1959 design and asked to create an original piece of art. There were two cases of masks like this one. It was a lovely hidden gem.

I was most impressed with the windows of Dugger’s Menswear shop, they could have easily of been an art installation in a contemporary art gallery.

I was most impressed with the windows of Dugger’s Menswear shop, they could have easily of been an art installation in a contemporary art gallery.

Dugger window 2

Dugger window 2

Dugger window 3

Dugger window 3

Widow licking along Quinpool Road was fun.

Widow licking along Quinpool Road was fun.

Why do most eye wear shops have great windows?

Why do most eye wear shops have great windows?

The art of knot tying with the Citadel in the background.

The art of knot tying with the Citadel in the background.

Live, Laugh, Lick….words to live by?

Live, Laugh, Lick….words to live by?

I am just guessing…the Seahorse Tavern has/has some wild parties.

I am just guessing…the Seahorse Tavern has/has some wild parties.

A tangled web of wires along the side of an old houses was common in Halifax.

A tangled web of wires along the side of an old houses was common in Halifax.

Loved these doors with fantasy figures painting on the doors.

Loved these doors with fantasy figures painting on the doors.

I was surprise at the number of Asian grocery stores in Halifax. I am always impressed at how artful they are inside.

I was surprise at the number of Asian grocery stores in Halifax. I am always impressed at how artful they are inside.

Loved this traffic circle artwork along a quiet residential street. Would like to see more of this in Calgary and other cities.

Loved this traffic circle artwork along a quiet residential street. Would like to see more of this in Calgary and other cities.

Titled “Lace Up” this artwork by Ilan Sandler was created 2013 next to the outdoor Emera Oval created for the Canada Games. Love that the City offers free rental of ice skates in the winter and rollerblades and bikes in the summer for anyone who wants to use the oval.

Titled “Lace Up” this artwork by Ilan Sandler was created 2013 next to the outdoor Emera Oval created for the Canada Games. Love that the City offers free rental of ice skates in the winter and rollerblades and bikes in the summer for anyone who wants to use the oval.

The iron work at the back of Saint Antonios Antiochian Orthodox Church was a beautiful work of art.

The iron work at the back of Saint Antonios Antiochian Orthodox Church was a beautiful work of art.

The ornamental entrance to the Halifax Public Gardens was exquisite.

The ornamental entrance to the Halifax Public Gardens was exquisite.

More telephone pole art.

More telephone pole art.

Found this well weathered, faceless, wooden fire fighter monument next to downtown fire station.

Found this well weathered, faceless, wooden fire fighter monument next to downtown fire station.

The Army & Navy Store on Agricola Street was fun to explore. Again this display of “War & Piece” could easily be an art installation in an contemporary gallery.

The Army & Navy Store on Agricola Street was fun to explore. Again this display of “War & Piece” could easily be an art installation in an contemporary gallery.

The Nova Scotia Archives has an art gallery in the lobby that hosts local exhibitions. I was a bit shocked at the graphic nature of the work by Maria Valverde and Flavia Nasrin on display when we visited. These were not the pretty paintings or craftwork that you would normally expect in a government gallery. The works dealt with the grief of suicide, violence against women, divorce and death of parents in a very graphic way. The two artists held nothing back.

The Nova Scotia Archives has an art gallery in the lobby that hosts local exhibitions. I was a bit shocked at the graphic nature of the work by Maria Valverde and Flavia Nasrin on display when we visited. These were not the pretty paintings or craftwork that you would normally expect in a government gallery. The works dealt with the grief of suicide, violence against women, divorce and death of parents in a very graphic way. The two artists held nothing back.

There wasn’t a lot of contemporary architecture in Halifax but their new central library certainly makes a contemporary statement. I am not sure if it was the intent of the architects to create what looks like a shipping container balancing precariously on the roof - but that is what it look like to me. I am thinking the “shipping container” motif is appropriate given Halifax is a major port and has thousands of shipping containers stacked up along its waterfront at any given time. The architects for this building were the Danish architecture firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen, with the local office Fowler Bauld & Mitchell.

There wasn’t a lot of contemporary architecture in Halifax but their new central library certainly makes a contemporary statement. I am not sure if it was the intent of the architects to create what looks like a shipping container balancing precariously on the roof - but that is what it look like to me. I am thinking the “shipping container” motif is appropriate given Halifax is a major port and has thousands of shipping containers stacked up along its waterfront at any given time. The architects for this building were the Danish architecture firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen, with the local office Fowler Bauld & Mitchell.

At the opposite end of the architectural spectrum is the minimalist and forboding new athletic centre at Dalhousie University. It shares the same container-like aesthetics as the downtown library - perhaps some futuristic cargo ship. The Dalplex was designed by FBM and MJMA Architects.

At the opposite end of the architectural spectrum is the minimalist and forboding new athletic centre at Dalhousie University. It shares the same container-like aesthetics as the downtown library - perhaps some futuristic cargo ship. The Dalplex was designed by FBM and MJMA Architects.

While flaneuring the campus of Dalhousie University we found this phallic piece by Robert Hedrick titled “Marine Venus” standing proudly in the boulevard of University Drive. Obviously, Dal (as locals call the university) is not afraid of a little controversial art.

While flaneuring the campus of Dalhousie University we found this phallic piece by Robert Hedrick titled “Marine Venus” standing proudly in the boulevard of University Drive. Obviously, Dal (as locals call the university) is not afraid of a little controversial art.

Inside Dal’s Art Centre we found these stately aboriginal sticks from Australia  was tucked behind the staircase.

Inside Dal’s Art Centre we found these stately aboriginal sticks from Australia was tucked behind the staircase.

The old post office which is now the Nova Scotia Art Gallery has some menacing looking figures.

The old post office which is now the Nova Scotia Art Gallery has some menacing looking figures.

No trip to Halifax is complete without seeing Maud Lewis’ house that it at the Nova Scotia Art Gallery. If you get a chance you should see the movie “     Maudie     ,” or check out the National Film Board documentary   Link:  Maud Lewis: A Word Without Shadows

No trip to Halifax is complete without seeing Maud Lewis’ house that it at the Nova Scotia Art Gallery. If you get a chance you should see the movie “Maudie,” or check out the National Film Board documentary Link: Maud Lewis: A Word Without Shadows

Lewis painted her entire house with colourful and cheerful images. It became a work of art. There are lots of other colourful houses in Halifax that made for charming and cheerful streetscapes, but nothing like this.

Lewis painted her entire house with colourful and cheerful images. It became a work of art. There are lots of other colourful houses in Halifax that made for charming and cheerful streetscapes, but nothing like this.

You would never know that there is an art gallery at the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design at the waterfront as their is no signage and even though it is right along the sidewalk you can’t see in as the building is literally a huge blank wall. What a shame? What were they thinking? Luckily we like to explore even when it looks like there is nothing there. The security guard was more like a gallery docent, willing to chat about the art, his thoughts on it and those of visitors.

You would never know that there is an art gallery at the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design at the waterfront as their is no signage and even though it is right along the sidewalk you can’t see in as the building is literally a huge blank wall. What a shame? What were they thinking? Luckily we like to explore even when it looks like there is nothing there. The security guard was more like a gallery docent, willing to chat about the art, his thoughts on it and those of visitors.

There were not a lot of murals in Halifax, but there were a few and they were not just decoration or upscale graffiti.

There were not a lot of murals in Halifax, but there were a few and they were not just decoration or upscale graffiti.

Loved how this mural literally glowed in the dark.

Loved how this mural literally glowed in the dark.

Cliff Eyland’s huge mural titled “Library Cards” located in the lobby of the Halifax Central Library consists of hundreds of small artworks the size of a library card. The paintings cover a spectrum of subjects and styles that are fun to look at. There is even a window in the middle where you get a glimpse of librarians working behind the wall.      Eyland has a similar piece in the lobby of the Winnipeg’s Central Library that is 24 ft by 28 ft. In order to see the pieces at top binoculars are available to borrow, or you can bring your own.

Cliff Eyland’s huge mural titled “Library Cards” located in the lobby of the Halifax Central Library consists of hundreds of small artworks the size of a library card. The paintings cover a spectrum of subjects and styles that are fun to look at. There is even a window in the middle where you get a glimpse of librarians working behind the wall.

Eyland has a similar piece in the lobby of the Winnipeg’s Central Library that is 24 ft by 28 ft. In order to see the pieces at top binoculars are available to borrow, or you can bring your own.

Close up view of Eyland’s “Library Cards.”

Close up view of Eyland’s “Library Cards.”

The recycling bins at St. Mary’s University have a pop-art element to them.

The recycling bins at St. Mary’s University have a pop-art element to them.

Last Word

Hope you have enjoyed this photo tour of Halifax’s art and artifacts. If you like this blog, you will like these links:

Frankfurt: Found Street Art

Staircases As Art

Berlin Wall Artifact: Best Flaneur Find Ever!


Balcony Fun?

When in Dubai many years ago, I was gobsmacked by the spectrum of balcony designs in its old town.  In fact, balconies were the signature design feature of the streetscape.

Since then, I have often taken photos of buildings with interesting balconies, but haven’t done anything with them, until recently when a colleague suggested it would be an interesting subject.  

So I gathered up some of my photos (unfortunately I don’t have any of the Dubai photos), did a little research and made balconies the subject of my November Condoscape column for Condo Living magazine.

Berlin

Berlin

Berlin

Berlin

Calgary

Calgary

Halifax

Halifax

Halifax

Halifax

Montreal

Montreal

Theory vs Reality

In theory, a balcony is like the front porch of a house, a place to sit and watch the world go by.  It is an outdoor living/dining room where you can read, nap, chat, listen to music, browse on the laptop and even BBQ a gourmet meal.  It can even be your outdoor office space for part of the year.  

Yet in reality, in Calgary it is often too windy or too cold to do the above very often. Or, if your balcony faces south or west, it can be too hot and too sunny to be out on the balcony. You can’t win!  

Florence

Florence

Berlin

Berlin

Berlin

Berlin

Private vs Common Area 

Many first-time condo owners think the balcony is their private space. However, in most condos it is considered “common space” as it is maintained by the condo association, which means there are rules about what can and can’t be on the balcony.  Read your condo bylaws.

In Calgary, the balcony is not a place to hang your clean laundry, unlike in Europe where you often see clothes neatly hung out to dry, creating a charm to the streetscape – in my opinion.  Something often lacking in our sterile North American urban landscapes.  

Berlin

Berlin

Berlin

Berlin

Berlin (same building as above)

Berlin (same building as above)

Berlin

Berlin

Berlin

Berlin

So, what makes for a good balcony? 

  • Not so deep as to prevent sunlight entering the apartment below.

  • Large enough to comfortably accommodate least two chairs, small table and a BBQ.  

  • Screens and/or wall to filter sunlight and wind, as well as privacy. 

  • Located away from noisy equipment and garbage areas.

Calgary

Calgary

Did You know… 

Balconies are a requirement in Calgary’s Land Use Bylaw. However, the City will relax this requirement if there are adequate equal common amenity area either inside or outside.

Balconies can contribute to the safety of the street as the people on them are eyes on the street. 

“Overlooking” from balconies is a big issue for adjacent neighbours living in single-family homes in inner-city condo development. Bruce McKenzie VP Operations at NORR’s Calgary’s office said, “the City is encouraging semi-recessed balconies on most urban sites. This provides some sheltering and to some extent discourages overlooking.”  

Atlanta

Atlanta

Types of balconies 

A recessed balcony is one that is set into the building’s façade, rather than jutting out from it.  Some think recessed balconies are best because they provide better privacy and better protection from the weather. Some also like the sleek look they give the façade of the building. 

A cantilevered balcony hangs out over the side of the building, exposing it to the wind, rain and snow.  From round to square, rectangular to triangular, the shape and repetition of the balcony adds a texture and pattern, that contributes to the distinct aesthetic statement of the building. 

A Romeo & Juliet balcony is just railings attached to the outside of the building with in-swing doors or sliders. 

Calgary

Calgary

Calgary

Calgary

Calgary

Calgary

Calgary

Calgary

Last Word

Look at any condo anytime and you rarely see anyone out on the balcony. So why do they have them?  In a winter city, wouldn’t it make more sense to have that space inside the condo where it would be useable year-round? 

Apparently not. In chatting with a few condo dwellers, they all love their balconies, keeping heaters and blankets close by so they can use them as much as possible.   

Several architects and developers indicated large balconies are a big selling feature, helping to differentiate one condo project from another.  Although, I was also told shared roof-top patios are quickly becoming the “in-thing” for outdoor living of condo dwellers. 

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

Calgary Condos: A Pop Of Colour

Condo Design: Lobby Appeal

New Condos: Hidden/Invisible Density

 

 

Halifax: The Blade Sign Capital Of Canada?

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

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

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

How many blade signs can you count on this block?

How many blade signs can you count on this block?

Blade Signs Are The Best

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This place is almost as old as me….

This place is almost as old as me….

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Even Tim Hortons has a blade sign…..

Even Tim Hortons has a blade sign…..

Last Word

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

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

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

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

Urban Ornamentation

Chicago: Stairways To Heaven?

The Curse Of Minimalism

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

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

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History of Calgary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It truly was a community effort.

It truly was a community effort.

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Summer of Murals: Beltline

Vancouver: Mural Festival Fun & Fantasy

Doug Driediger: Public Art That Is Uplifting!

2018: The Summer of Murals (Beltline)

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

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

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

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

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

Do we expect too much?

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

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

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

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Faith47’s BUMP mural

Faith47’s BUMP mural

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

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

BUMP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

Below are some other murals in the Beltline….

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan Morris: Saskatoon: The Wonder, HUB, POW City?

This blog is another excerpt from Jan Morris’ 1990s book “City to City,” subtitled, Canada through the eyes of the greatest travel writer of our day. The book is a series of essays commissioned by Toronto’s, Saturday Night Magazine. Link: Jan Morris

The title for Morris’ Saskatoon essay is “The happy surprise” and her first sentence is “Saskatoon struck me as Canada’s best surprise,” followed by “I expected the worst.” She said her 10-day visit taught her a lesson not to jump to conclusions.  Having recently visited Saskatoon I was surprised at how her observations rung true even today. 

I love urban surprises, we stumbled upon this street festival on a side street just off of 21st Ave.

I love urban surprises, we stumbled upon this street festival on a side street just off of 21st Ave.

Prosaic Names

Morris found Saskatoon in the early ‘90s to be “intellectually vivacious, physically it was invigorating, and aesthetically I thought it, in certain lights as least, in certain moods, very beautiful.”

She loved the name Saskatoon, loved enunciating it, but otherwise she thought Saskatoon and most Canadian cities have “too many prosaic imported names e.g. European saints names that have no reference to Canada or names inherited from Scottish estates or other European places.” She liked that Saskatoon is “allegedly derived from the Cree word for a local berry, misaskwatomin, it is as indigenous a name as one could wish for, besides being euphonious, exotic and slightly comical.” Overall, Saskatoon struck her as the “most thoroughly Canadian of Canadian cities” but doesn’t really say why.

She then lists Saskatoon’s various monikers over time – The Wonder City (in its youth), the Hub City (when the railway arrived), the Fastest Growing City on Earth (which it once claimed to be) and City of Bridges (it has seven). 

It is one city in Canada that “does not seem greatly interested in the affairs of the United States.”  

The University Bridge is Saskatoon’s iconic bridge. You would think it would have a more meaningful name.

The University Bridge is Saskatoon’s iconic bridge. You would think it would have a more meaningful name.

Tyranny   

Saskatoon reminded her of Aberdeen, Scotland given its role as the powerhouse of the Saskatchewan hinterland, sustaining the economy of hundreds of thousands of square miles (its own terrestrial ocean) not just for the wheat fields but for potash, uranium, and gold mines. 

Morris acknowledges “while there is a majestic beauty to Saskatoon’s lonely per-eminence, there are cruel oppressions, too.  As artists in particular have observed before me, that infinite horizon is a kind of tyranny – one feels that even trying to challenge it, in soaring art or architecture….would be no more than a senseless impertinence.”

She recognized 21stStreet at an “architectural gem” where you can see a fair cross section of local society, economically and socially. The street is home to the chateau-style Bessborough Hotel, the modernist Canadian National building, the Saskatoon Club and the old Eaton’s store that is now an Army & Navy store.  

“Saskatoon is a patchwork of rich and poor, rough and smooth. Its history has fluctuated from boom to bust and back again, and its social fabric is correspondingly interwoven.”

Bessborough Hotel, designed by Archibald and Schofield, opened in 1935 and was considered one of Canada’s grand railway hotels.

Bessborough Hotel, designed by Archibald and Schofield, opened in 1935 and was considered one of Canada’s grand railway hotels.

The streets of Saskatoon are quite playful today.

The streets of Saskatoon are quite playful today.

The old Hudson’s Bay Department store has become condos, but still retains its department store shape and the lovely mural.

The old Hudson’s Bay Department store has become condos, but still retains its department store shape and the lovely mural.

PhDs

“Nearly all the people, it seemed, rich or poor, scholar or scavenger, Scottish, Russian or Cree by origin, had something specifically Saskatonian in common. During my 10 days in this city, I experienced no single instance of unfriendliness – not a single annoyance.  Saskatoon claims to have more PhDs per capita than anywhere else in Canada, is full of lively theatre, and is a very hive of gifted writers.”  

Remai Modern’s contemporary exhibition and programming is provocative and challenging, perhaps too much for some.

Remai Modern’s contemporary exhibition and programming is provocative and challenging, perhaps too much for some.

 “Saskatoon also has a powerful instinct for communal duty, communal purpose. An almost intimate sense of fellowships seems to characterize the city.

Its public institutions are often named for still living local worthies and its University Bridge built by local engineers.

The Mendel Art Gallery is not only open 363 days of the year, twelve hours a day, but attracts an annual attendance almost as great as the entire population of the city (note the Mendel is now closed having been replaced by the controversial Remai Modern which is not open 363 days of the year or twelve hours a day.)  

If you build a new house, the city gives you two free trees. And everywhere there are commemorative plaques.”  

The University of Saskatchewan’s campus integrates the design of its new buildings with its old buildings to create an architectural harmony that is delightful.

The University of Saskatchewan’s campus integrates the design of its new buildings with its old buildings to create an architectural harmony that is delightful.

Found these two shelves of books in a thrift store…thought this said something about Saskatoon intellectualness.

Found these two shelves of books in a thrift store…thought this said something about Saskatoon intellectualness.

Loved these bike racks/tree grates that also tells the history of the Riversdale community in a fun way.

Loved these bike racks/tree grates that also tells the history of the Riversdale community in a fun way.

Restaurants

Morris was not big fan of Saskatoon’s restaurants saying “seldom have I eaten more depressingly” even though the city claimed to have more restaurants per capita than any other Canadian city. She thought the city was cosmopolitan, with its fertile ethnic melange and constant infusion of outsiders, but remarkably introspective.

Saskatoon’s restaurant scene has changed significantly since Morris’ visit with award winning chef Dale Mackay’s three signature restaurants - Ayden Kitchen & Bar, Little Grouse on the Prairie and Sticks & Stones. If you don’t believe me check out this link: 17 Bucket List Restaurants You Need To Try In Saskatoon.

The River

Bill Epp’s 1989 artwork title “Tribute to Youth” which Morris references reflects the Saskatoon’s sense of play and togetherness.

Bill Epp’s 1989 artwork title “Tribute to Youth” which Morris references reflects the Saskatoon’s sense of play and togetherness.

She notes, “Physically the place depends for all of its charm upon the river, and this Saskatoon has used magnificently. The seven bridges do give a noble flourish to Saskatoon, while its river banks have been fastidiously exploited as trail and parkland, unobtrusively equipped with the standard educational displays, and mercifully embellished, as far as I discovered, by only two pieces of sculpture – one depicting a gambolling group of Saskatonian adolescents, some of them upside down, the other depicting a Metis slumped on his horse.”  

Morris observes, “almost everything seems new in this mise en scene, and this is hardly surprising, because Saskatoon is one of the most sudden of all the world’s cities….The thirty-odd blocks of downtown are like the rings of a chopped tree…the solid red-brick emporiums of the early boom years, the years of the Wonder City.

Here is the glass and steel of the 1970s, when a spurt in several of Saskatoon’s industries made it POW City, meaning the city riding the boom in Potash, Oil and Wheat.  And in between these emblems of success are the symptoms of successive relapses, stores that never quite made it, building lots never quite built upon.”  

Later she laments about the removal of the rail yards and train station from the City Centre, “To this day the absence of the yards gives the city centre a sense of lacuna and deprives it of symbolism.”  

The South Saskatchewan River next to the downtown is a fun urban playground for people of all ages and backgrounds.

The South Saskatchewan River next to the downtown is a fun urban playground for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Splash park along the river.

Splash park along the river.

Kinsman Park is Saskatoon’s signature and historic downtown park is located just off the river. It has a lots of activities for families.

Kinsman Park is Saskatoon’s signature and historic downtown park is located just off the river. It has a lots of activities for families.

Verandering?

She also comments about the suburban development “thousands of houses built in the first half of the century create a ring around the city centre with hardly any two alike as they have been embellished with every kind of decorative caprice, equipped with all permutations of gabling, pillaring, shingling and verandering, ranging from mock Tudor to glimmering modernism.”

There are lots of tree-lined streets with lovely homes just south of the University. I loved this modest house with an art installation in the front yard. It is evidence of how Saskatoon has become less prairie pragmatic and more a funky, fun and quirky place to live.

There are lots of tree-lined streets with lovely homes just south of the University. I loved this modest house with an art installation in the front yard. It is evidence of how Saskatoon has become less prairie pragmatic and more a funky, fun and quirky place to live.

Pioneer vigour 

I was surprised when she commented that the boom of the 1970s that created the sprawling malls, industrial estates and housing developments is “where one still feels a sense of pioneering vigour.”  She adds, “If you really want a sensation of the frontier in Saskatoon, probably the best place of all to go is to the big industrial zone in the northern part of town, which looks as though it has just been off-loaded piecemeal from a container train and is remarkably like photographs of pioneer Saskatoon in the earliest days of Wonder City.” 

I love Morris’ sense of urban humour. “Saskatoon is short on bravado, and, in its social being as in its contemporary architecture, seems anxious not to shock, or even surprise…while all this does not make the city feel disappointed, exactly, it does make it feel a little resigned – like a woman in middle age who, contemplating her husband across the dinner table, realizes without rancour that life’s romantic possibilities have come and gone.” 

This conversion of an old egg plant in the downtown’s warehouse district is an example that Saskatoon is embracing contemporary urban redevelopment.

This conversion of an old egg plant in the downtown’s warehouse district is an example that Saskatoon is embracing contemporary urban redevelopment.

While this looks like NYC this is in fact downtown Saskatoon. How cool is this?

While this looks like NYC this is in fact downtown Saskatoon. How cool is this?

This is one of several robotic creatures found at the entrance to a scrap yard in Saskatoon’s industrial district.

This is one of several robotic creatures found at the entrance to a scrap yard in Saskatoon’s industrial district.

This is the scrap yard where you can hunt for buried treasures.

This is the scrap yard where you can hunt for buried treasures.

Prairie Sun Brewery can be found in Saskatoon’s industrial district next to the fun scrap yard.

Prairie Sun Brewery can be found in Saskatoon’s industrial district next to the fun scrap yard.

I found numerous examples of how small ordinary buildings had enhanced their facades and entrances with fun contemporary urban design elements.

I found numerous examples of how small ordinary buildings had enhanced their facades and entrances with fun contemporary urban design elements.

Heroic to banal

Near the end of the essay she summarizes her feeling about the city, “But then excitement is not what Saskatoon purveys. It is part of the civic genius – part of the Canadian genius, too – to reduce the heroic to the banal.” 

13-storey mural on the side of the First Nation’s Bank of Canada by artist Emmanuel Jarus is one of the best murals I have seen this year. It is well executed, the subject matter is appropriate for the site and it is monumental which is what murals should be. To me it is heroic!

13-storey mural on the side of the First Nation’s Bank of Canada by artist Emmanuel Jarus is one of the best murals I have seen this year. It is well executed, the subject matter is appropriate for the site and it is monumental which is what murals should be. To me it is heroic!

Last Word

I recently visited Saskatoon and found it was a great long weekend getaway, not sure how I would spend 10 days there.  I am happy to say the restaurant scene has improved, as it has in most Canadian cities since the ‘90s.  Saskatoon, like most North American cities, has caught the craft beer bug with the north industrial area providing some fun beer tasting spots. The City Centre is currently undergoing a slow renaissance with new shops, restaurants, bars, fitness studios and condos popping up everywhere. The river valley continues to be a popular public place for people of all ages with new publics spaces, trails and events.    

From an architectural perspective, the University of Saskatchewan has perhaps the best blend of old and new architecture in Canada. The new Remai Modern art gallery is a definite attempt to create a modern architectural statement with its cubist, container-like design.

The architecture and programming are diametrically opposed to what the Mendel Art Gallery used to offer.  Like it or not, it is a move away from the banal, the prosaic towards the “bravo” that Morris’ said was missing in Saskatoon’s sense of place.  

I agree with Morris that Saskatoon has a lot of commemorative plaques, statues and monuments. However, what impressed me most were the provocative murals and street art - some of the most thoughtful and appropriate images that I have seen anywhere. 

This detail of a mural on the side of the City Centre Church which serve at-risk children and youth, single mothers, and run food programs for the homeless. It too is monumental and has a strong social/political statement that reminded me of the great Mexican muralists.

This detail of a mural on the side of the City Centre Church which serve at-risk children and youth, single mothers, and run food programs for the homeless. It too is monumental and has a strong social/political statement that reminded me of the great Mexican muralists.

The entire mural from across the street.

The entire mural from across the street.