It is difficult for most to envision what a new community will look like when it is in the early stages of construction. Sure, there may be computer renderings and “fly-by” videos but it is still hard to visualize what the community will look like when upon arriving at the on-site sales centre, you only see dirt, diggers, signage and perhaps a few buildings and roads under construction.
Take Calgary’s new University District development (north of Alberta Children’s Hospital) for example. While a few new condo buildings, a dog park and playground park are completed, it still looks a bit random, like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces scattered everywhere.
So, when I was in Vancouver recently, I checked out the University of British Columbia Land Trust’s Wesbrook Village, as it was the model for the University of Calgary’s West Campus Development Trust’s University District.
I was very impressed with how much has been accomplished at Wesbrook Village over the past 10 years. It already looks like an established community, thanks in part to Vancouver’s great climate for growing trees and shrubs. With lush landscaping everywhere and six small urban parks strategically positioned so all residents enjoy park side living.
New Community Planning
The plan for Wesbrook Village was approved in 2005, then revised in 2011 and again in 2016. While there is still lots of construction happening, you can see not only how the community is coming together, but also the similarities and difference with Calgary’s University District.
University District’s plan was approved in 2016, but it too has moved quickly with construction of residential, commercial, parks and public spaces. It is a much larger development 184 acres compared to Wesbrook’s 25.7 acres as it includes 40-acres of parks, ponds and public spaces. However, Wesbrook located next to the 1,850-acre Pacific Spirit Park with its 54 kilometres of walking/hiking trails, means it has less need for parks and pathways.
When completed, Wesbrook Village will be home to about 12,500 people. Today, the current population is about 6,000 people, a number that’s increasing by about 700 people/year. When fully built out, University District will have 7,000 homes, creating a new community of about 14,000 people. Currently, about 400 people call University District home.
When it comes to residential development, both communities are similar in that all the buildings are multi-family - townhomes and low rise (4 to 6 storeys) with a few towers (7 to 20 storeys). In Calgary, the best comparison might be The Bridges in Bridgeland with its mix of low and mid-rise housing.
Wesbrook has about 35 businesses - 9 food, 8 retail and 18 services (banks medical and professional offices) - totalling about 126,000 square feet, built around a small town square plan. No additional commercial development is currently planned.
University District’s masterplan calls for 300,000 square feet of retail on a nine-block main street that will be developed in four phases. Already signed up is an interesting mix of commercial amenities – Analog Coffee, OEB Breakfast Co., Orangetheory, Press’d Sandwich Shop, UC Noodles and BBQ, University District Dental, YYC Cycle, Blaze Pizza, Copper Branch, Freshii, Curious Hair Skin Body, Scotiabank, and Denim & Smith Barbershops, along with the Alt Hotel. Wesbrook has no plans for a hotel.
University District’s “big win” is its signing of Cineplex VIP Theatres, to be part of phase 2 of the retail plan, slated to break ground later in 2019. (“VIP” means adults only, as you can enjoy food and drinks (alcohol) delivered to you in your upscale recliner seats.)
But perhaps the most obvious similarity between Wesbrook Village and University District is that they share the same anchor i.e. Save-On-Foods grocery store. In Wesbrook’s case, Save-On-Foods anchors a town centre plan that includes a major community center, as well as shops, a high school and playing fields.
At University District, Save-On-Food will anchor the nine-block main street (think Kensington Village’s 10thStreet and Kensington Road combined). However, rather than being a stand-alone building, University District’s Save-On-Foods store will be incorporated into a low rise residential building with 288 rental homes above.
I was very impressed by Wesbrook’s University Hill Secondary School where students could be seen wandering the village adding much-needed daytime animation. With a designated site for a future elementary school when needed, Westbrook is a complete community.
Surprise, surprise - University District also has provision for a school site if and when the Calgary Board of Education deems one is necessary.
Upon returning back to Calgary, I decided to drop by University District again to see what has been happening. I was impressed – I counted seven buildings at various stages of construction. While it is still hard to envision how everything will eventually fit together, a lot has been accomplished in just three years. 2020 will be a big year - the opening of the Save-On-Foods building will mark the beginning of University District’s main street.
The only disappointment I had was finding Wesbrook Village has a new condo development called “IVY on the Park”, almost the same name as Brookfield’s “The Ivy” at University District. I couldn’t help but wonder “Who copied who and why?”