“It’s hard to say how Calgary fell so far behind Edmonton in downtown revival and major amenities. The trend just sort of crept up on us over the past half-dozen years, as Edmonton got a provincial art gallery, the Royal Alberta Museum, Rogers Place, massive additions to downtown MacEwan University, and much else. Not nearly as much was happening here,” wrote Don Braid in his December 19, 2018, Calgary Herald column.
I was surprised by Braid’s observation. Where is this negativity coming from? Was I that out of touch with what is happening in Edmonton? I recently spent four days exploring downtown Edmonton to see for myself.
A new arena and a few other developments should not be the measure downtown renewal. If we look at the bigger picture when it comes to urban living amenities, Calgary has projects that match or exceed those of Edmonton’s.
Let’s have a look at Edmonton and Calgary’s urban revival projects since 2010, when Edmonton adopted a new Downtown Plan – the catalyst for its revival.
Link: Capital City Downtown Plan
Stantec Tower vs Telus Sky
Edmonton’s Stantec Tower and Calgary’s Telus Sky are both mixed-use buildings. Stantec’s first 29 floors are office space with its 30th to 66th floors being residential (454 homes) giving it a height of 251 meters. Coincidentally, Telus Sky also has 29 floors of offices, but only 29 floors of residential (326 homes) for a height of 221 meters. Architecturally, they are polar opposites. And while the rectangular, translucent glass Stantec Tower may be taller, Telus Sky, with its bold cubist twisting shape that narrows as it reaches skyward will be an architectural gem. But wait, Calgary’s new sleek modernist Brookfield Place glass tower, is perhaps a better match for Stantec Tower both architecturally and is just 4 meters shorter.
Bigger is not always better!
ICE District vs East Village
Edmonton’s ICE District, with its glittery new arena, two office towers, hotel/condo and public plaza (under construction), along with a new LRT station hopes to have 1,300 new homes completed by 2021.
East Village’s The Bow, (twice the size of the Stantec Tower in square footage), two hotels, award-winning Riverwalk, St. Patrick’s Island Park, a beautiful community garden and playground, six new condo buildings (1,264 new homes and more to come) blows away the ICE district. And that doesn’t even include the stunning Calgary’s stunning new central library and music museum!
Edmonton Centre vs The Core
There is simply no comparison between Edmonton’s tired indoor shopping centre and Calgary’s sunny, four-storey, The Core (redeveloped in 2011) which boast a dazzling, two-block long skylight and renovated Devonian Gardens. The Core is home to a new Simons department store, while Edmonton’s two Simons stores are in the burbs.
Quarters vs Bridgeland/Riverside
Edmonton’s plans for the revival of The Quarters was more or less “put on ice” while the City focused on the ICE District. One project was abandoned for 4 years, before Calgary-based Cidex Group recently came to the rescue and will build a 24-storey residential tower.
Calgary’s equivalent might be the master-planned redevelopment of Bridgeland, the result of the closing of the Calgary General Hospital. Twelve new condos buildings will have been complete for a total of about 1,500 new homes that will accommodate 2,500 new residents, by the end of 2019. Bridgeland/Riverside, with its revived main street, has evolved into one of Calgary’s most popular family communities over the past 10 years. Yes, families!
Churchill Square vs Olympic Plaza
Both Edmonton’s Churchill Square and Calgary’s Olympic Plaza are the hearts of their respective city’s cultural district, as they are surrounded by a concert hall, theatres, museum, and City Halls.
And while Edmonton has its funky new Art Gallery of Alberta building, I was not impressed by their exhibitions as I have been by Calgary’s Glenbow Museum’s recent exhibition programming. The new $375 million Royal Alberta Museum was nice but didn’t impress me as much as I thought it might. Touring the lobby, I didn’t get the feeling this was a “must see” place. For my money, the Glenbow offers the same art and history experience Edmonton has to offer. Programming trumps architecture.
Similarly, Edmonton’s Win spear Concert Hall and Citadel Theatre and Calgary’s Art Commons offer pretty much the same experiences for those interested in the performing arts. When it comes to the literary arts, Edmonton is renovating its old library for $85 million into a shiny new building while Calgary spent $245 million on a new library building that has received international acclaim.
Churchill Square is currently undergoing a mega makeover. Calgary is a few years behind with its cultural makeover, but a $400+ million makeover of Art Commons complex and Olympic Plaza is in the works. There are also plans for a new public art gallery in Calgary’s old Science Centre/Planetarium at the west end of downtown.
Northlands Park vs Stampede Park
While, the future of Edmonton’s Northlands Park is uncertain, Calgary’s Stampede Park flourishes - not only as home to the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” but to numerous major events like Calgary Expo, one of Canada’s largest cosplay showcases.
Quietly, Stampede Park has been evolving with new buildings like the Agrium Western Events Centre and its new Youth Campus that includes the TransAlta Performing Arts Studios, Calgary Arts Academy, BMO Amphitheatre and ENMAX Park.
The construction of three major condo towers is also evidence of the district’s quiet revival. Next step a major expansion of the BMO Centre.
Plans for the revival of Stampede Park and Victoria Park Calgary over the next 20 years are WAY ahead of those for Northlands Park district.
While Edmonton undoubtedly has the most dramatic river valley, it is not easily accessible from its City Centre communities.
In contrast, Calgary’s Bow and Elbow rivers are both intimately linked to the everyday lives of those living in our City Centre thanks to constant improvement to the river pathways. Edmonton has nothing to match Calgary’s Riverwalk, West Eau Claire Park and two spectacular pedestrian bridges.
Kudos to Edmonton’s City Council who boldly approved the expropriation of 18 lots in the middle of downtown to create a much-needed, 3-acre park, the equivalent of Calgary’s Harley Hotchkiss Gardens that opened a few years ago.
In addition to the above comparisons, Edmonton has nothing to match Calgary’s funky Inglewood community with its historic main street, Esker Gallery and new condo developments. Nor does it have anything to match Calgary’s Mission district or how Calgary’s Zoo and Telus Spark easily connect to our City Centre by LRT and pathways.
Yes, I was impressed with how Edmonton has implemented its 2010 Downtown Plan which includes adding 12,200 new residential units by 2045. To date an impressive 1500 new units have been completed and 858 are under construction with more proposed.
In Calgary one developer, Qualex Landmark alone has built 1300 units in the Beltline. Today, Calgary has a whopping 9,000+ residential units (75% of Edmonton’s goal) at various stages of development in its City Centre.
Calgary & Edmonton both on the rise!
I am surprise at how a new arena can blind people into thinking Edmonton is booming and Calgary is declining because it doesn’t have one. For too long Calgary has measured the success of its downtown by the number of new office buildings and the number of people working downtown.
A better measure of downtown revival is the number of new residential developments and the number of people choosing to live near the downtown core. The fact the Beltline was the fastest growing community in Calgary last year and that there are several major residential developments under construction in our City Centre is testament to the fact Calgary’s downtown revival is on the rise, not decline.
And, I am happy to report Edmonton’s downtown is also on the rise. In some cases Edmonton is ahead of Calgary when it comes to urban revival and in other cases Calgary is ahead of Edmonton.
Every city evolves in its own way.