Unbuilt Calgary: Civic Centre

As Caglary looks at a mega (over half a billion dollar) redevelopment of Art Commons, Olympic Plaza and Stephen Avenue Walk, I thought it would be fun to look at what happened 40 years ago when a comprehensive Calgary Civic Centre proposal was rejected by Calgarians in a 1978 plebiscite.

Today’s Calgary’s Civic Centre aka Olympic Plaza District is home to our historic old city hall, new municipal building, Arts Commons (five performing arts spaces 3,200 seats), restored historic Burns Building for offices, Olympic Plaza, restored Calgary Public Building (Jack Singer Concert Hall), Glenbow Museum, Calgary Telus Conventions Centre. (photo credit, Peak Aerials).

Today’s Calgary’s Civic Centre aka Olympic Plaza District is home to our historic old city hall, new municipal building, Arts Commons (five performing arts spaces 3,200 seats), restored historic Burns Building for offices, Olympic Plaza, restored Calgary Public Building (Jack Singer Concert Hall), Glenbow Museum, Calgary Telus Conventions Centre. (photo credit, Peak Aerials).

Calgary Civic Centre Proposal

The 1970s Civic Centre $234M master plan ($920M in today’s dollars) envisioned a five-block redevelopment around what is now Olympic Plaza. It included a new city hall, new performing arts centre, restoration of historic buildings and a block long pedestrian oriented space. And while the plebiscite defeated the proposal, most of the elements of the plan were eventually built.

The Calgary Civic Centre design and plan was the work of respected Canadian architect Ray Moriyama (and his colleagues at Moriyama & Teshima Architects), who became an internationally renowned architect receiving a Canadian Architect’s highest honour, the RAIC Gold Medal, in 1997.

The following is an excerpt from Stephanie White’s (no relation) book “Unbuilt Calgary” published in 2012 that looks at what the Calgary Civic Centre would have looked like and what impact it might of had on our downtown if it was built.

Link: Unbuilt Calgary, Dundurn Publishers of fine books

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The author goes on to discuss other unbuilt projects in the the City Centre.

The author goes on to discuss other unbuilt projects in the the City Centre.

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What did get built?

Arts Commons with three theatre spaces, concert and multi-purpose performance space.

Arts Commons with three theatre spaces, concert and multi-purpose performance space.

Restoration of Burns Building, new Municipal Building plaza.

Restoration of Burns Building, new Municipal Building plaza.

Olympic Plaza and Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall.

Olympic Plaza and Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall.

Municipal Building next to the old city hall with +15 link to Burns Building and Arts Commons. It also has a major underground parkade. The building’s stepped architecture reflects Moriyama’s building design in his master plan.

Municipal Building next to the old city hall with +15 link to Burns Building and Arts Commons. It also has a major underground parkade. The building’s stepped architecture reflects Moriyama’s building design in his master plan.

Arts Commons Future

The back side (east side) of the Municipal Building created a wall separating downtown’s east end from East Village.

The back side (east side) of the Municipal Building created a wall separating downtown’s east end from East Village.

Arts Commons has ambitious plans to renovate and expand its performing art spaces to meet the growing needs of Calgary patrons. The City of Calgary has approved $25M to begin the design work for the mega makeover.

In August, the federal government has approved $80M in funding for this project from the Community, Culture and Recreation program, contingent on the City and Province contributing the remaining dollars needed to complete the project.

Phase One is the construction of the Road House. The Road House will provide the much needed increase in the number of venues and spaces necessary to meet growing market demand and community aspirations. The Road House will become home to most of the resident companies, as well as the 200+ community groups that use the facility, while renovation work is underway in Phase 2 of ACT.

Phase Two is the revitalization of the existing 560,000 square foot Resident House, which will address the $71M in lifecycle challenges. It will also elevate the public’s experience through upgraded amenities and technology throughout the facility.

Link: Arts Commons Transformation 

Conceptual rendering of what the redevelopment and expansion of Arts Commons around Olympic Plaza could look like. (photo credit: Arts Commons website)

Conceptual rendering of what the redevelopment and expansion of Arts Commons around Olympic Plaza could look like. (photo credit: Arts Commons website)

Conceptual rendering of redevelopment of Arts Commons into a more transparent people oriented place. Interesting to note the integration of white tree like structures similar to what is on the Bankers Hall/Core block of Stephen Avenue Walk. (photo credit: Arts Commons website)

Conceptual rendering of redevelopment of Arts Commons into a more transparent people oriented place. Interesting to note the integration of white tree like structures similar to what is on the Bankers Hall/Core block of Stephen Avenue Walk. (photo credit: Arts Commons website)

Last Word

I can’t help but wonder how different the Olympic Plaza district and East Village would look today if the Calgary Civic Centre didn’t go to a plebiscite.

I also wonder what might have happened if the 2009 East Village master plan or the 2019 Rivers District master plan that includes the redevelopment of Stampede Park, Victoria Park and Arts Commons would have been put to a plebiscite.

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

Olympic Plaza Needs A Mega Makeover?

Calgary’s CBD is unique!

CBC: Fixing Calgary’s downtown ghost town

Sunalta: Ripe For Redevelopment!

While Calgary’s Beltline (i.e. the community south of the CPR tracks) gets most of the attention as downtown’s funky bedroom community, Sunalta south of the tracks and west of 14th Street SW (some think of it as lower Scarboro) is quietly evolving into a hip City Centre community.  

Rumour has it the name is a contraction of “Sunny Alberta.”

Robots & Pencils front yard is very fun.

Robots & Pencils front yard is very fun.

The Sunalta Community Centre makes a bold statement with its farm-like architecture and colour.

The Sunalta Community Centre makes a bold statement with its farm-like architecture and colour.

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Mishmash?

For many Calgarians, their image of Sunalta is a mishmash of small residential and commercial buildings, viewed while driving along 10th, 11th, and 12th Avenues. However, venture south of 12th Avenue you will find charming tree-lined streets with lovely century homes, reflecting Sunalta’s history which dates back to the early 20th century when the CPR extended the city’s boundaries westward.  

Currently, Sunalta is home to 3,215 Calgarians (2016 census) most of whom are singles or couples without children. It is home to the historic Sacred Heart Church, Calgary Tennis Club, Sunalta School and Sacred Heart Church.  Its LRT Station is perhaps Calgary’s most dramatic station, rising 15 meters (five storeys) above the street.   

One Way Foods & Deli is just one of Sunalta’s fun hidden gems. Best banana bread in town!

One Way Foods & Deli is just one of Sunalta’s fun hidden gems. Best banana bread in town!

It is hoped that in the future the Sunalta LRT station and plaza will become a hub for a vibrant 10th Ave Main Street.

It is hoped that in the future the Sunalta LRT station and plaza will become a hub for a vibrant 10th Ave Main Street.

New mural at the Sunalta LRT Station

New mural at the Sunalta LRT Station

Sacred Heart Church add as nice historical element to Sunalta.

Sacred Heart Church add as nice historical element to Sunalta.

Sunalta is an incubator for small businesses.

Sunalta is an incubator for small businesses.

Sunalta has perhaps the best tree canopied streets in Calgary.

Sunalta has perhaps the best tree canopied streets in Calgary.

Sunalta is home to dozens of charming two-storey century homes that fit nicely with the contemporary new infills.

Sunalta is home to dozens of charming two-storey century homes that fit nicely with the contemporary new infills.

Calgary Tennis Club Cafe is a hidden gem.

Calgary Tennis Club Cafe is a hidden gem.

10th Ave SW Arts & Craft District

Did you know Sunalta has its own arts hub? The block west of 19th St SW along 10th Avenue is home to West Village Theatre, EMMEDIA Gallery & Production, Motion Gallery, Quickdraw Animation Society and Ghost River Theatre.  Rubiayat Stained Glass Studio, Levis Fine Art Auctions, Appraisals & Art Storage, as well as one of Calgary best contemporary private galleries - Herringer Kiss Gallery are all located along or near 10th Avenue. And the Pumphouse Theatre is just the other side of Bow Trail. 

You know a community is on the rise when it gets its own craft brewery. Two House Brewing Company (opened in July 2019) at 1516 - 10th Ave offers an attractive patio, as well as great beer and food.

FYI: The name comes from the two historic homes – McCall and McIntosh – that front the large warehouse where the brewery is located. 

Two House Brewhouse is a great addition to Sunalta’s urban playground.

Two House Brewhouse is a great addition to Sunalta’s urban playground.

Back alley entrance to the West Village Theatre space. This building includes several other arts groups.

Back alley entrance to the West Village Theatre space. This building includes several other arts groups.

Truck Gallery’s Contemporary Art Mobile Public Exhibition Rig is parked in the same alley.

Truck Gallery’s Contemporary Art Mobile Public Exhibition Rig is parked in the same alley.

Millennial Appeal

The Sentry Box is a mecca for gamers and those interested in fantasy, science fiction, military games, books and miniatures.  Stocking over 100,000 different items, it is Canada’s largest gaming store.  

A hidden gem on 10th Avenue is All Season Motorsports a boutique shop offering numerous different sports rentals – motorcycles, sea-doos, ski-doos, ATVs, dirt bikes and scooters.

And, while 14th Street from 10th Avenue to 17th Ave SW is currently an eclectic collection of businesses, it has the potential to become a fun restaurant row – with Cluck N Cleaver, Ke Charcoal Grill & Sushi and Boyd’s Lobster Shop on the Sunalta side of the street.  

Businesses like SmartyPantz Escape Room, Zoe’s (Thrift) Store, Tri It Multisport (boutique sports equipment store) and Robots and Pencils (app developer) are all indicators that Sunalta has millennial appeal. 

The newest development is the opening of a Mediterranean corner store, Tiba’s Grocery and Convenience, in the old Fair’s Fair bookstore location at the corner of 17th Ave and 14th Street SW.  

Obviously Sunalta, has lots to offer in the way of “a place to live” amenities for millennials and even some empty nesters too. 

Sentry Box is huge. If they don’t have, you don’t need it!

Sentry Box is huge. If they don’t have, you don’t need it!

Robots & Pencils’ front yard is a reminder that Sunalta is home to numerous fun, funky and quirky small businesses.

Robots & Pencils’ front yard is a reminder that Sunalta is home to numerous fun, funky and quirky small businesses.

Show us the development

One would have thought the opening of the Sunalta LRT Station in 2012 would have been the catalyst for high-rise residential development by now.  But to date there has been no major new development. 

This could soon change as former Mayor Dave Bronconnier is championing a major project at the corner of 14th St and 10th Ave SW – i.e. a two tower residential building with retail at street along 10th Ave SW.  The project would add 353 new homes, including 71 affordable homes.  

The proposed development fits with Sunalta’s current Area Redevelopment Plan which calls for 10th Ave to become a pedestrian main street with the LRT Station plaza and the Sunalta Community Centre Park as its public spaces. 

And, further south on 14th St SW at 17th Avenue, the Arlington Group is working on getting approval for Sentinel another two tower residential development on the northwest corner where the funky blue roofed Condon Building currently sits.  Its plan calls for the bottom two floors to be retail (including grocery store) with 600 new residential homes above.  

These two residential developments alone could add up to 1,500 new residents to Sunalta, as well as new retail, restaurant and café spaces – game changers for Sunalta. 

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Link: Arlington’s Sentinel Project

Last Word

While no major new residential construction has started yet, Jenn Balderston, Sunalta Community Association’s Executive Director says “both developers have been great at engaging the community about their plans and being transparent.” And she is pleased they “have included retail at street level and are paying attention to enhancing the public realm by widening sidewalks, having great lighting, greenery, bike parking and street patios.”

Balderston is quick to note while Sunalta lacks a big grocery store, ”One Way Foods” is more than just a convenience store - it is a popular grocer for many Sunaltans! She encouraged me to try their famous banana bread, which I plan to do.  

Indeed, Sunalta is ripe for redevelopment. 

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, October 5 2019.

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Dubai & Abu Dhabi: Urbanism On Steroids 

Harry Hiller is Faculty Professor of Urban Sociology at the University of Calgary and specializes in the urban impact of mega-events like the Olympics and Expositions.  Recently, he visited the Dubai which will be hosting Expo 2020 and was blown away by how the UAE are creating amazing 21st century cities almost overnight. The hundreds of new buildings, the futuristic architecture, the innovation and “can do” attitude were mind boggling.  

It is a reminder that we NEED to be more aware of what is happening in other cities around the world.

In an email to me, Hiller referred to the what is happening In Dubai and Abu Dhabi as “URBANIZATION on STEROIDS!”  He agreed to allow it to be converted into a guest blog. 

Dubai’s Museum of the Future

Dubai’s Museum of the Future

Dubai is home to the world’s largest indoor ski hill. It is open year-round inside a mega shopping mall.

Dubai is home to the world’s largest indoor ski hill. It is open year-round inside a mega shopping mall.

The Apple store in Dubai is the largest and most luxurious in the world.

The Apple store in Dubai is the largest and most luxurious in the world.

Wow! Wow! Wow!

I am totally astounded, amazed, yet also perplexed by what we saw during our recent 10-day visit to UAE’s cities. In some ways, it doesn’t make any sense.  

 How does a small country about the size of Austria, in essentially a desert and a pile of sand, having periods of the year with temperatures 40 to 50 degrees Celsius, totally dependent on air conditioning, having limited fresh water requiring desalinization of sea water, producing very little of their own food, and a relatively small native population known as Emirati create thriving 21st century cities? 

How are they making Dubai and Abu Dhabi into a powerhouse and global city attracting capital, expertise, and people from all over the world?  How can one explain the level of post-modern architecture everywhere that makes your head spin? Buildings of every colour and shape imaginable shock your senses. Even the airport control tower in Abu Dhabi is built with an attractive curved swoop.  

How can you explain that 25% of all construction cranes in the world are located here? Where are all the people coming from to fill these buildings anyway? It really blows your mind.

Dubai’s population in 1990 was 472,701, today it is 4.2 million.

Dubai’s population in 1990 was 472,701, today it is 4.2 million.

What about all these high class hotels? I don’t know who does the ratings on number of stars but I was told and found some evidence online that the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi is the only 7-star hotel in the world.  Our friends took us there for camel burgers.

You are saying “WOW” multiple times every day.  And it has happened so fast…maybe the last 10-20 years or so.

Link: How you can stay in Abu Dhabi’s most luxurious hotel

Emirates Palace (hotel) in Dubai

Emirates Palace (hotel) in Dubai

Burj Al Arab Jumeriah hotel in Dubai

Burj Al Arab Jumeriah hotel in Dubai

Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. It was designed by Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architects. The same firm that designed Eau Claire Estates condo and the new 707 Fifth office tower. It is surrounded by malls, hotels and condominiums in downtown Dubai.

Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. It was designed by Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architects. The same firm that designed Eau Claire Estates condo and the new 707 Fifth office tower. It is surrounded by malls, hotels and condominiums in downtown Dubai.

UAE 101 

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was formed in 1971 by joining seven Emirates (an emirate is a political territory that is ruled by a dynastic Arabic or Islamic monarch-styled emir. The term may also refer to a kingdom) into one country - the Abu Dhabi Emirate is the biggest in territorial size with the city of Abu Dhabi as its capital, but the Dubai Emirate is the most populated  (roughly 4 million people in 14 square miles growing from a population density 176 per square kilometer to 763 per square kilometer in 20 years!).  

While the territories that surround the two cities are larger than the cities themselves, they almost act as city states.  (Note: The other five Emirates are much smaller and not well-known). Something I never knew before is that Dubai and Abu Dhabi are only about a 90-minute drive apart on a highway that, at points, is 16 lanes across. 

Yes, there is significant oil in the region, especially in Abu Dhabi, but oil now only contributes about 5% to the economy of Dubai. It has become a major trade and financial center, and tourism has become huge.  

Dubai shares many similarities with Singapore, but the steroid level seems to be much more intense in Dubai.

Link: Hiller: Singapore: Dare To Be Different

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Dubai is a major shipping centre.

Dubai is a major shipping centre.

Dubai’s airport is one of the busiest in the world with 89 million passengers in 2018. It is like a huge shopping centre.

Dubai’s airport is one of the busiest in the world with 89 million passengers in 2018. It is like a huge shopping centre.

Dubai has the largest completely automated, driverless metro in the world.

Dubai has the largest completely automated, driverless metro in the world.

Diversification 

So, here is my take. Energy hydrocarbons have had two enormous second level consequences.  One is that oil revenue has been used to transform their economy and built environment in creative ways.  

One of the best illustrations is the establishment of new airlines, seemingly having come out of nowhere with  huge global implications.  Emirates (based in Dubai, founded in 1985) and Etihad (based in Abu Dhabi, founded in 2003) have taken the industry by storm, and now provide superior global service (and why Air Canada fights to restrain them from expanding beyond Toronto (and even lobbied to limited flights) to all other airlines.  

All flights go through the UAE which supports their goal to be a hub for finance, trade, and tourism.  And it works! From here, you can connect to anywhere in the world such as Moscow, Manchester, Milan, India, Asia, Australia in a matter of 5-6 hours (or less) in many cases.  

On the tourism side, people flying from London to Singapore for example break up what would otherwise be a long trip into two segments of six hours or so with a tourist stopover at one of many resorts/hotels in UAE enjoying the warm weather and beaches.  People also just for vacations from the UK or Germany and other parts of Europe in just four hours for guaranteed heat and sun. 

So, the vision was to put the UAE at the crossroads of trade and finance and attract people with a superior standard of living. I have already referred to spectacular architecture of which the 170-story Burj Khalifa (world’s tallest building) is perhaps the most well-known.  But there are many, many more amazing buildings that symbolize a thriving economy. 

What really sticks out is how leisure has been commodified in spectacular ways.  Magnificent malls such as the Dubai Mall is not only known for its size (competing to be the world’s largest mall) but is a huge tourist attraction with its spectacular nightly presentation of the “world’s largest choreographed fountain.” The Emirates Mall with high end stores possesses the “world’s largest indoor ski hill.”  Other leisure attractions such as Ferrari World (with the steepest fastest 220 km/hr), largest roller coaster in the world, several fantastic water parks and theme parks like Legoland, Global Village, Warner Brothers etc. 

Abu Dhabi also has the stunning new Louvre (Yes, a branch of Paris’ Louvre), Opera House and Formula 1 race track – see what money will buy.  

Dubai’s Expo 2020, the first ever in the Arab world, will be held in Dubai next year.  It will feature 192 country pavilions with three themes – Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability.  

FYI: Both Montreal and Vancouver benefited immensely from hosting a world Expo. While Calgary’s bid to host the 2005 Expo failed, the vision of a revitalized  East Village and Stampede Park which was part of the 2005 vision lived on and is currently being realized. A testimony to the powerful impact of thinking BIG and hosting major international events like an Expo or an Olympics can play in establishing a city as a world player. 

Oh yes! Their land reclamation projects have produced spectacular developments such as Palm Jumeirah where reclaimed land has been developed like fronds of a palm tree with water access for all housing built there. Even mosques such as the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, as much tourist attraction as houses of worship, hosts thousands of visitors every day because it is so spectacular.  No photo can ever do it justice.  

I could go on and on.  In other words, the oil money is being used to develop these two cities in ways otherwise not imaginable - physical changes with economic impact that reveal a new kind of city.

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Ferrari World theme park in Dubai.

Ferrari World theme park in Dubai.

Dubai’s Park & Resorts

Dubai’s Park & Resorts

Dubai’s Atlantis, The Palm Hotel is one of over 600 hotels in the city including 113 five-star hotels. I don’t think Canada has 113 five-five star hotels. It is part of a huge housing development The Palm.

Dubai’s Atlantis, The Palm Hotel is one of over 600 hotels in the city including 113 five-star hotels. I don’t think Canada has 113 five-five star hotels. It is part of a huge housing development The Palm.

The Palm is built on reclaimed land.

The Palm is built on reclaimed land.

Houses along the man-made beaches of The Palm.

Houses along the man-made beaches of The Palm.

Aerial view of The Palm development with high-rise, shopping, office buildings and Atlantis hotel.

Aerial view of The Palm development with high-rise, shopping, office buildings and Atlantis hotel.

Can Do Attitude 

The second major impact of what I call the “UAE renaissance” is the fostering of a “can-do” entrepreneurial attitude that goes far beyond what exists (or used to exist) in Calgary and Alberta. 

 I am not sure why or how this has happened but there is an attitude in Dubai and now Abu Dhabi “to be the best,” to compete with the rest of the world as financial, trade and tourism centre.  Not only is this reflected in the physical structures, but the goal is to be a leader in innovation and technology even in fields like health care and sustainability.  

Much of this apparently comes from the sheik leadership.  It was striking to see a ruling leader in the Middle East create inspirational quotes like: 

  • “Wealth is not money. Wealth lies in people. This is where true power lies, the power we value. This is what has convinced us to direct all our resources to build the individual, and to use the wealth which God has provided us in the service of the nation."            

  • "He who does not know his past cannot make the best of his present and future, for it is from the past that we learn."

  • "You are the real wealth, not the 3 million barrels of oil. You are the future of this nation’s security and safety net. We are in a good condition now but we want to establish the vision for 50 years ahead.”  

There are also quotes about women making up half the population and that they should not be kept in poverty or poorly educated.  Given our stereotypes, would you wouldn’t have expected this in the Middle East? And, how do you like this progressive indicator - people with handicaps are called “people of determination” and even labelled that way at special parking spots at the mall?

There are also real sustainability issues in the UAE. I heard much about directives from the Sheik about attacking sustainability concerns as a national goal – especially with  regard to the forthcoming Expo 2020 to prove they are a world leader. 

Expansion in innovative activity is particularly viewed as a deliberate attempt to create a thriving society beyond oil.  One example of innovation we saw was the harnessing of pedestrian foot traffic as a form of energy. In short, I did not expect this kind of attitude in the Middle East, especially given the instability elsewhere in the region.

People of Determination signage.

People of Determination signage.

Dubai’s old town’s souk continues to thrive even with all of the new developments.

Dubai’s old town’s souk continues to thrive even with all of the new developments.

Dubai’s souk is popular with locals, as well as tourist.

Dubai’s souk is popular with locals, as well as tourist.

Dubai is home to the world’s largest gold market.

Dubai is home to the world’s largest gold market.

You can still take a tradition water taxi in the harbour.

You can still take a tradition water taxi in the harbour.

Past vs Present

While there are clear signs of a more liberal consumerist society, faith and a strong moral code still prevail.  Prayer is still a part of daily public observance (it is interesting to hear the call to prayer even in the post-modern mega-mall) and traditional dress is still practiced even in modern business circles among the Emirati.  

But this leads to another critical point, namely that Emirati are considered the real citizens of the society and everyone else is considered temporary. Did you know that 80% of the population are considered expatriates (i.e. 1.5 million citizens, 8 million expats)?    

The UAE needs thousands of workers to do all this construction. Virtually all are expats from places like India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. One construction company vice president that I met has  35,000 people on its payroll!  Customer service workers in retail are overwhelmingly from the Philippines. Professional workers are primarily from Europe. 

The big draw is no income tax! 

It is interesting that the government has promoted 2019 as the “year of tolerance” as a way of accepting population diversity. Expats are everywhere and are an overwhelming majority - a unique phenomenon on the face of the earth.  People are moving hear from all over the world even though they have no hope of citizenship or unqualified permanent residence. 

Dubai’s Grand Mosque: Grand Bur Dubai Masjid

Dubai’s Grand Mosque: Grand Bur Dubai Masjid

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center in Abu Dhabi.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center in Abu Dhabi.

Engines Of Growth 

So, what does all this mean? To me Dubai and Abu Dhabi represent new engines of growth and change in the world – not unlike what has emerged in other small territories like Singapore and Hong Kong.  It is interesting to note they exist outside the control of more powerful world empires - US, Russia and China. 

They have become international players in their own right and demonstrate how local leaders with their own pools of capital can create new – an unexpected - centres of urban energy.   

How this all happens in the Middle East, a region otherwise in turmoil, is particularly compelling. Experiencing it in person serves as a critical reminder that things are happening elsewhere of which we often have only marginal awareness. 

Travel Tips

  • Coming here in September is still the hot time of year. It has been 40 degrees Celsius every day and about 32 at night. At home you put on your jacket when you go outside. Here it is the reverse (you often need covering inside because of AC).  When you go out, your glasses always fog up and off come the sweaters.  The best time to travel to this region is in our late fall, winter, or early spring.

  • English is everywhere and serves as the language of communication among all diverse groups.  These are orderly societies in which breaking the law is not tolerated. Speed on the highway? Expect a ticket by text within an hour. Taxis also are highly controlled and safe.

  • There are a lot of nice resorts in this area which are particularly well-priced in low season.  I would go back in a heartbeat even though it is a long flight from the west. It was fun being in the heat as long as air conditioning was available when you had enough.

  • If you are looking for excitement and a cultural experience, try a night safari where they take you to the desert for dune bashing with a 4x4 vehicle plus a meal and entertainment in a Bedouin village.  

Last Word

I felt compelled to document my visit to the UAE cities because what is happening in these cities is just another indication of how the contours of our world are changing.  It actually shocked me into trying to understand how and why this is happening. 

However, being here for ten days (we had been in Dubai before but only for a couple of days in transit) for a doctoral dissertation on the topic of sustainability and mega events using the Expo 2020 as a case study does not make me any kind of expert. This report is not meant to be definitive.  

Harry Hiller (Guest Blogger) 

Everyday Tourist Note:

What I received from Harry was an email with what he called his GRAM Report attached. Turns out it is a Hiller family tradition for everyone who travel to send out a report of their adventure to other family members to honour his mother “GRAM” who loved travel and lived vicariously through the travels of her family through “Gram Reports.”  She passed away at the age of 101, but her character inspires the Hiller family to this day, just like my 88 year old Mom’s (i.e. Queen of the Rails) travels continues to do for me and my family. 

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

Dubai’s Rapid Development

Is the rise Dubai and Abu Dhabi sustainable?

Calgary’s Learning City is blooming!

Eau Claire Estates linked to Dubai’s Burj Khalifa

 

 

 

 

Strathmore: Amazing Amenities!

When it comes to Calgary’s bedroom communities you don’t hear as much about Strathmore, as say Airdrie, Cochrane, Okotoks or Chestermere, however, it has slowly and quietly evolved into Calgary’s most complete bedroom community. 

I was recently invited to come out and tour the town by Justin Rebello, Manager of Development Services to see for myself what the community has to offer.  I jumped at the offer.

Strathmore’s downtown already has shops, restaurants and patios at street level with office and residential above.

Strathmore’s downtown already has shops, restaurants and patios at street level with office and residential above.

Amazing Amenities

While Strathmore’s population is 13,528 (2018 Census) - about the same as Calgary’s Lake Chaparral, New Brighton, Signal Hill or McKenzie Lake communities - it has an incredible list of amenities including: 

  • 10 schools (K to 12) 

  • Bow Valley College 

  • 100 acres of parks and 23 km of pathways 

  • Hospital with 23 acute care beds, emergency, rehab and outpatient services 

  • Arena with hockey in winter, lacrosse, ball hockey and roller hockey in the summer

  • Aquatic centre 

  • Curling rink 

  • 18 hole golf course 

Special mention should be made of two unique recreational amenities - Strathmore Motor Products Sports Centre - a 53,000 square foot field housing two gymnasiums as well as an artificial turf field that allows for a multitude of activities including soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, basketball and rugby. It also boasts an elevated walking and running track.  

Strathmore Stampede Grounds is not only home to the second largest rodeo in Canada, but also the “Run with the Bulls,” an event which sees 70 participants compete with each other running alongside wild bulls in the infield.  Winner gets $1,000 and bragging rights until next year. 

And all this within a five by five kilometer square for 13,528 people.  Impressive! 

Strathmore offers an amazing array of amenities for a community that is only about 25 square kilometres.

Strathmore offers an amazing array of amenities for a community that is only about 25 square kilometres.

Strathmore’s Field House (one half)

Strathmore’s Field House (one half)

Strathmore’s Field House (other half)

Strathmore’s Field House (other half)

One of Strathmore’s 10 schools.

One of Strathmore’s 10 schools.

Strathmore’s Aquatic Centre

Strathmore’s Aquatic Centre

Wheatland Elementary School is often referred to by the students as the crayon box school because of the playful colours and shapes.

Wheatland Elementary School is often referred to by the students as the crayon box school because of the playful colours and shapes.

Yes Srathmore has its own skate park

Yes Srathmore has its own skate park

Strathmore’s Library

Strathmore’s Library

Strathmore is home to 100 acres of parks and 23 km of multi-use pathways

Strathmore is home to 100 acres of parks and 23 km of multi-use pathways

Strathmore’s Kinsmen Park is located at one of its downtown main streets.

Strathmore’s Kinsmen Park is located at one of its downtown main streets.

More than a bedroom community 

While 39% of Strathmorians drive into Calgary to work, the majority actually work in or near Strathmore.  Strathmore boasts 1.4 million square feet of commercial/retail space (larger than Chinook Centre).  It also has 748,000 square feet of industrial space, the equivalent of one of those huge warehouse buildings you see out by the Calgary airport. 

When it comes to major grocery retailers Strathmore has Tina’s No Firills, as well as Sobeys, Calgary Co-op and Walmart. And Its lovely downtown has two main streets with several restaurants and shops and lots of potential for more.  Rumour has it a craft distillery will open up in downtown soon. 

Strathmore’s Main Street.

Strathmore’s Main Street.

Strathmore’s downtown streetscape improvements are just the beginning of a major downtown renaissance.

Strathmore’s downtown streetscape improvements are just the beginning of a major downtown renaissance.

Downtown Strathmore’s modern architecture

Downtown Strathmore’s modern architecture

Champagne Country 

And yes, Strathmore has its own craft brewery - Origin - located in a light industrial area very similar to Calgary’s Manchester (aka the Barley District). Origin is unique in that it grows and malts its own barley which it uses not only to brew its beer, but sells to over 80 breweries including many of Calgary’s craft breweries. 

Link: Origin

I was told Alberta is considered “champagne region” for barley with its warm days, cool nights and good soil.  

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While we were the Eighty-Eight brewing boys were picking up their supplies.

While we were the Eighty-Eight brewing boys were picking up their supplies.

Entrepreneurial 

Strathmore is home to some very interesting entrepreneurial businesses, like Waterford Farms a 9,000 square-foot shrimp farm with a capacity to produce 100,000 pounds of shrimp per year.  And, Germany’s Solar Krafte is building a 40.5 megawatt solar farm on 320 acres of industrial land, which interestingly also includes planting of lots of flowers to allow existing beekeepers to keep their colonies on site. 

Bow Valley College has even set up an Entrepreneur Centre in the old downtown Co-op store.  

Did you know that Strathmore is home to G&S Airport Conveyor, an industry leader in implementing baggage handling systems in airports across North America.

Did you know that Strathmore is home to G&S Airport Conveyor, an industry leader in implementing baggage handling systems in airports across North America.

Strathmore is home to numerous small businesses and start-ups.

Strathmore is home to numerous small businesses and start-ups.

Place to live

Strathmore is comprised of 12 neighbourhoods including Lakewood, its newest community that includes a 16.5 acre lake with a 3.5 acre island, wraparound beach and a large grass area for picnics, games and a playground.  

Or you can choose to live in established neighbourhoods within easy walking distance to downtown shops, restaurants and cafes.  Strathmore has very ambitious plans for transforming its downtown into a vibrant pedestrian place.

If living near a park is what you are looking for, Kinsmen Park, at the east end of downtown, offers a dock for fishing, playground, walking paths and a new spray park. Future plans include more amenities like beach volleyball and tobogganing. 

Did you know Strathmore not only has the most affordable homes in the Calgary region, but also the second lowest property taxes (after Airdrie)? 

Link: Strathmore Living

Imagine having four major grocery stores just minutes away.

Imagine having four major grocery stores just minutes away.

Kinsmen Spray Park

Kinsmen Spray Park

Strathmore has numerous community events like the annual Downtown Night Market and lighting of the Christmas Tree.

Strathmore has numerous community events like the annual Downtown Night Market and lighting of the Christmas Tree.

Last Word

Strathmorians love to brag “almost everything we need is a 5 minute drive away.”  I can’t think of any community in the Calgary region that can match Strathmore’s impressive list of amenities 

It is also an easy commute for those working on Calgary’s east side, with the added bonus of not having to deal with the gridlock on Glenmore, Deerfoot or Crowchild Trails.  

As the City of Calgary continues to grow, it must do so in synergy with its neighbouring cities and towns. Calgary isn’t the only game in town when it comes to attractive places to live.

Link: Strathmore History

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in The Calgary Herald’s New Condo section on September 21, 2019.

If you like this blog you will like these links:

Airdrie: The Drivable City

Goin’ To The Hat!

 

Stephen Avenue Walk Makeover (Part 2) Meet You on THE WALK?

It is laudable that the internationally renowned New York City based Gehl Studio has been engaged to lead the public consultation and creation of a much needed new design for Stephen Avenue Walk.

However it will take more than a mega makeover to capitalize on Stephen Avenue potential as a people place.  It will require:

  • the various cultural and corporate stakeholders working together to capitalize on the existing things to see and do, as well as creating new ones

  • a branding of Stephen Avenue Walk as a fun place for Calgarians to hang out, meet up and to bring visiting family and friends, as well as tourists

  • a paradigm shift in the thinking of all Stephen Avenue stakeholders, as well as Calgarians about how we perceive THE WALK

We will need to adopt a more “Meet you on THE WALK!” attitude!

Link: Stephen Avenue Walk Needs More Than Just A Makeover (Part 1)

Stephen Avenue Walk can be an amazing place during a weekday noon hour in summer when thousands of downtown office workers and tourist stroll the pedestrian mall. (photo credit: Jeff Trost)

Stephen Avenue Walk can be an amazing place during a weekday noon hour in summer when thousands of downtown office workers and tourist stroll the pedestrian mall. (photo credit: Jeff Trost)

Times Square before and after the Gehl Studio makeover. (Photo Credit Gehl Studio website)

Times Square before and after the Gehl Studio makeover. (Photo Credit Gehl Studio website)

Nobody expects Stephen Avenue to have the vitality of Times Square.

Gehl Studio is an off-shoot of Copenhagen’s Gehl Architects, founded by Jan Gehl who is considered by many as an urban placemaking guru.  Gehl’s mantra is “making cities for people,” meaning redesigning cities to accommodate more pedestrians and cyclists, rather than cars.  

Gehl and his colleague’s claim to fame is the redesign of Times Square in 2009, creating a series of public plazas (which included removing traffic) to double the amount of pedestrian space.  

Today, Times Square’s pedestrian traffic is incredible – in part due to Gehl Studio’s redesign, but also in part because there are 50+ hotels within a few blocks. 

  • Nearly 380,000 pedestrians enter the heart of Times Square each day.

  • On the busiest days, Times Square has pedestrian counts as high as 450,000.

  •  Times Square stays busy late, with over 85,000 pedestrians between 7pm and 1am.

(December 2018, timessquarenyc.org)   

Heck, Stephen Avenue doesn’t have 85,000 pedestrians from 7am to 7 pm on weekdays when the 100+ office buildings nearby are full of workers.  On a regular day Times Square has three time the number of pedestrians than Calgary has downtown workers.

 While nobody expects Stephen Avenue to have the vitality of Times Square, in theory should be a vibrant place.

Aftercall, it has all of the ingredients of a people place - a major museum, a major performing arts centre, a convention centre, Olympic Plaza (numerous festivals and events), Devonian Gardens, historic and modern architecture, a historic department store, a mega indoor shopping centre (The Core), a major music venue (The Palace), access to a major public transit corridor and thousands of $2 evening and weekend parking spots. 

Stephen Avenue is home to one of Canada’s largest museums.

Stephen Avenue is home to one of Canada’s largest museums.

The historic Hudson’s Bay department store has the potential to become a unique shopping experience. Stephen Avenue needs several retail champions who can create a unique shopping experience.

The historic Hudson’s Bay department store has the potential to become a unique shopping experience. Stephen Avenue needs several retail champions who can create a unique shopping experience.

Stephen Avenue is home to Arts Commons a mega performing arts complex that includes a major concert hall as well as four other performance spaces. It is currently working on a $400M expansion program.

Stephen Avenue is home to Arts Commons a mega performing arts complex that includes a major concert hall as well as four other performance spaces. It is currently working on a $400M expansion program.

The Calgary Telus Convention Centre also calls Stephen Avenue home.

The Calgary Telus Convention Centre also calls Stephen Avenue home.

While Stephen Avenue doesn't have a lot of hotels nearby there are several like the Hyatt Hotel. The Calgary Tower is also located just off of Stephen Avenue with its revolving restaurant.

While Stephen Avenue doesn't have a lot of hotels nearby there are several like the Hyatt Hotel. The Calgary Tower is also located just off of Stephen Avenue with its revolving restaurant.

Stephen Avenue Walk has a unique mix of historic and contemporary architecture, sometimes in the same complex.

Stephen Avenue Walk has a unique mix of historic and contemporary architecture, sometimes in the same complex.

Stephen Avenue Walk also has some quirky urban design features.

Stephen Avenue Walk also has some quirky urban design features.

Stephen Avenue has the best collection of patios in Calgary, perhaps Western Canada. it should be as popular as Montreal’s Crescent Street.

Stephen Avenue has the best collection of patios in Calgary, perhaps Western Canada. it should be as popular as Montreal’s Crescent Street.

Collage of just some of the Stephen Avenue patios.

Collage of just some of the Stephen Avenue patios.

Stephen Avenue should be top of mind as the place for Calgarians to bring visiting family and friends for some unique fine dining.

Stephen Avenue should be top of mind as the place for Calgarians to bring visiting family and friends for some unique fine dining.

But it still struggles. Why?

Stephen Avenue lacks the density of residential, hotel and university/college development needed to make it animated in the evenings and weekends. Take Montreal’s Saint Catherine Street and Vancouver’s Robson Street - both are vibrant streets day and night, weekdays and weekends as they are surrounded by an equal mix of office, hotel and residential buildings, as well as numerous post-secondary campuses. In comparison, SAW is deserted in the evening and weekends because it is mostly surrounded by empty office buildings at that time.  

Even during the day office workers are there to work - not shop, visit art galleries, museums and tourist attractions. They aren’t there to stroll the streets like hotel tourist or students coming and going at all times of the day and night. Also most of the Calgary’s downtown hotels are business oriented, which means their guests are working all day (and sometimes evening) then heading home for the weekend. 

Great streets have a diverse mix of retail, restaurants, cafes, attractions and other pedestrian oriented businesses at street level.  Stephen Avenue is mostly a restaurant row, which means it can get busy at lunch hour weekdays and dinner time, but deserted afternoon, evenings and weekends.  

Combine this with the fact several of Stephen Avenue’s key corners being occupied by banks (not open in the evenings and weekends) and you don’t get the vitality you expect from your signature main street.  

On a positive note - the redevelopment of the old Scotia Bank pavilion into a retail restaurant food hall and a roof-top restaurant has the potential to help make Stephen Avenue a more unique entertainment destination.

The completion of the Telus Sky and the conversion of Baron building will add much needed residential development nearby. 

Stephen Avenue needs to be more quirky than corporate.

Stephen Avenue needs to be more quirky than corporate.

Stephen Avenue needs more small live music venues and street performers.

Stephen Avenue needs more small live music venues and street performers.

Stephen Avenue needs more fun things to see and do.

Stephen Avenue needs more fun things to see and do.

Stephen Avenue Walk needs to capitalize on its National Historic District designation.

Stephen Avenue Walk needs to capitalize on its National Historic District designation.

Tough Competition 

While some blame Calgary’s +15 walkway for the lack of pedestrian activity, remember Saint Catherine street has an underground network of shopping centers that is larger than Calgary’s and is accessible by subway vs Calgary’s street level LRT system.  

Don’t blame the +15 - it is also dead evenings and weekends.  

One of the reasons Stephen Avenue struggles is the surrounding residential communities have their own pedestrian streets. This means those living near Stephen Avenue don’t see it as their urban playground. To make matters even worse, East Village will soon have its own indoor shopping mall and the new plans for Stampede Park will challenge Stephen Avenue as Calgary’s premier culture and entertainment district.  

Also when it comes to walkable public spaces, those living in the downtown core are more inclined to walk along the Bow pathways than head to Stephen Avenue, the latter being  a cold, dark and often windy place from October to April.  Multi-million dollar upgrades to the Bow River pathway over the past 10 years have transformed it into one of North America’s most attractive pedestrian strolls 

As well, the new Central Library downtown’s new “go to” public space, has no synergy with Stephen Avenue because it is hidden behind the Municipal Building.

Indeed, Stephen Avenue has become a bit of an orphan. 

East Village’s 5th & Third mixed-use project will have a Loblaws City Market, Olympia Liquor store, Shoppers Drug Mart, Winners, Scotiabank and more! I assume this means the Winners on Stephen Avenue Walk will close, but haven’t received confirmation. (photo credit, East Village website)

East Village’s 5th & Third mixed-use project will have a Loblaws City Market, Olympia Liquor store, Shoppers Drug Mart, Winners, Scotiabank and more! I assume this means the Winners on Stephen Avenue Walk will close, but haven’t received confirmation. (photo credit, East Village website)

Mission has its own collection of cafes, restaurants, shops, galleries and fitness studios.

Mission has its own collection of cafes, restaurants, shops, galleries and fitness studios.

There are dozens of fun places to hang out with friends in Calgary’s City Centre without going to Stephen Avenue Walk.

There are dozens of fun places to hang out with friends in Calgary’s City Centre without going to Stephen Avenue Walk.

Kensington Village has not one but two main streets full of shops and patios, with lots of sun.

Kensington Village has not one but two main streets full of shops and patios, with lots of sun.

The City Centre also has dozens of neighbourhood pubs like this one on First Street and craft breweries. Over the past 10+ years Calgary’s City Centre neighbourhood’s have created their own main streets, so no need to go to Stephen Avenue.

The City Centre also has dozens of neighbourhood pubs like this one on First Street and craft breweries. Over the past 10+ years Calgary’s City Centre neighbourhood’s have created their own main streets, so no need to go to Stephen Avenue.

Many of the neighbourhoods surrounding Stephen Avenue Walk have summer farmers’ markets, night markets and annual signature events.

Many of the neighbourhoods surrounding Stephen Avenue Walk have summer farmers’ markets, night markets and annual signature events.

Big Changes Needed

While a redesign of Stephen Avenue Walk will certainly help make it more pedestrian-friendly, what is really needed is a change in the tenant mix along the street and more collaboration and creativity between and by the merchants. 

Retailers and restauranteurs need to be more creative in attracting people to come to Stephen Avenue Walk. Some restaurants’ window are so dark you think they are closed when they are open.

Restauranteurs need to have the happiest happy hours in the city. They need to work together to develop special Stephen Avenue Walk food events.  Stephen Avenue needs to have its own signature event. The Santa Claus Parade us to be the kick off to the Christmas shopping season.  What about summer weekend patio parties? Maybe an annual summer sidewalk sale?  How about collaborating with the Glenbow’s Free First Thursdays specials? 

Stephen Avenue Walk needs some new street-front anchor tenants, ideally unique to Calgary like the new Simons store.  It is unfortunate Calgary-based Sport Chek didn’t create a flagship concept store on Stephen Avenue Walk when they had the chance. Unfortunately, when it comes to attracting major international retailers, Stephen Avenue Walk simply can’t compete with the likes of Chinook Centre, Market Mall or even The Core. 

The Glenbow Museum on Stephen Avenue Walk attracts thousands of people to their First Thursday Night program. Why not make it a Stephen Avenue Walk event, with neighbouring merchants having First Thursday specials.

The Glenbow Museum on Stephen Avenue Walk attracts thousands of people to their First Thursday Night program. Why not make it a Stephen Avenue Walk event, with neighbouring merchants having First Thursday specials.

Last Word

Yes, creating a new design for Stephen Avenue Walk will help make it more attractive for pedestrians and cyclists, but it won’t make it a vibrant street.  Street vitality happens when there are lots of things to see and do, for people of all ages, at all times of the day – everyday.

Good design is important, but it is secondary to the diversity of activities. 

In reality, there is only so much the City and Calgary Downtown Association can do to program the Stephen Avenue Walk with events and activities.  Great streets don’t need lots of programming, it is the inherent street life of locals and tourists mingling about that attracts people to not only want to go there, but to want to stop, linger and bring visiting family and friends.

Great streets must capture the imagination of locals.  

When was the last time you said to visiting family and friends, “we must take you to stroll Stephen Avenue to experience the great architecture, the unique shops, the theatres, concert hall, the museum, the restaurants and the nightlife.” 

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condos section on September 8, 2019.

Full Disclosure: As Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association (CDA) from 1995 to 2005, my team was responsible for the programming and management of Stephen Avenue Walk. 

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

Glenbow’s Fabulous First Thursdays

Fixing Calgary’s Ghost Town Downtown

How to build a pedestrian friendly retail district?

 

Stephen Avenue Walk Needs More Than A Makeover (Part 1)

While everyone seems excited that Stephen Avenue is getting a makeover by internationally renowned urban designers, I am less so. Why? Because I think Stephen Avenue Walk (SAW) needs more than a physical makeover.   

Full disclosure: I was involved in the management of SAW from 1995 to 2005 as the Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association.  

Yes, SAW needs to be redesigned to better accommodate, pedestrians, bikes, scooters and cars. And I truly wish Gehl Studio all the best in creating a better SAW design that will attract more Calgarians and tourists to want to play, live and work on our historic main street.  But don’t expect a new design to solve all of its problems.  

Stephen Avenue becomes very animated at lunch hour Monday to Friday when the weather is nice.

Stephen Avenue becomes very animated at lunch hour Monday to Friday when the weather is nice.

Needs Unique Merchants

What SAW needs most is more diversity of things to see and do. Over the past 20 years, it has evolved into a restaurant row for the business community i.e. a lot of high priced expense account restaurants.  Many of the restaurants don’t even open during the day on weekends. Some of the restaurants are so exclusive they have windows so dark they look closed even when they’re open.  And, more recently chain restaurants like Earls, Milestones and Cactus Club have unfortunately become SAW’s anchor restaurants - all available elsewhere so no need to come to SAW. 

What SAW needs are new merchants and property owners who are less corporate and conservative in their thinking.  Calgary-based Sport Chek missed a golden opportunity to create a flagship concept store on SAW. Instead, they created a suburban store that captured nobody’s interest. 

Stephen Avenue needs more unique things to see and do which hopefully with happen with the mega makeover of the old Scotia Bank pavillion a the corner of 2nd street.

Stephen Avenue needs more unique things to see and do which hopefully with happen with the mega makeover of the old Scotia Bank pavillion a the corner of 2nd street.

Needs less restaurants

Gone are retailers like Soundsaround, McNally Robinson, Arnold Churgan, Riley McCormick and Out There.  The addition of Simons department store in the Lancaster Building is great, but it has a poor entrance to SAW.  As well, you can easily walk by Banks Hall and The Core entrances on SAW and not know there are 150+ retailers inside.  I have had many a tourist ask me “Where are all the shops?” when they were standing next to Bankers Hall and TD Square!  Even Hudson’s Bay has leased out its SAW street frontage to an upscale restaurant, so it’s not obvious is a department store inside. 

One of my biggest pet peeves is that retailers like Indigospirit, Winners and Lammle's Western Wear rarely change their windows and while Holts and Brooks Brothers windows, are too conservative to capture anyone’s attention. The retail windows along SAW at Stampede this year were lame and the same holds true at Christmas.  

SAW’s current mix restauranteurs, retailers and property owners do very little to create a unique experience.  The street is too conservative, too corporate and too contrived to be funky or quirky.   

The new owners of Stephen Avenue Place are looking at creating a unique entertainment experience in the old Scotia Bank pavilion - I hope they are successful. 

The Guild’s patios along Stephen Avenue is inviting in the summer but not so much in the winter. It hides the fact that there is a major department store behind it.

The Guild’s patios along Stephen Avenue is inviting in the summer but not so much in the winter. It hides the fact that there is a major department store behind it.

This entrance doesn’t say there is a major shopping centre inside unless you go right up to the doors.

This entrance doesn’t say there is a major shopping centre inside unless you go right up to the doors.

Simons doesn’t take advantage of its corner location to create an inviting entrance for Stephen Avenue pedestrians - too many blank windows.

Simons doesn’t take advantage of its corner location to create an inviting entrance for Stephen Avenue pedestrians - too many blank windows.

Needs Funky Signage 

What will help Stephen Avenue is for the City to relax their signage rules to allow more neon signs, more advertising billboards, to add colour and animation to the streetscape. 

SAW needs is to have the happiest happy hours in North America, a great live music scene, and some mega new anchors unique to Calgary. Stephen Avenue needs to have its own signature event – what about a huge summer sidewalk sale or patio party? 

It would be great to have more neon signs on Stephen Avenue, but we have to loose the black, blank windows. It almost looks like it is closed. Surely the windows could be used to better advantage.

It would be great to have more neon signs on Stephen Avenue, but we have to loose the black, blank windows. It almost looks like it is closed. Surely the windows could be used to better advantage.

Needs More Residential 

What SAW needs most is more residential and hotel development nearby. Though Telus Sky and the Baron Building conversion will add a few hundred more people, what is really needed is thousands, tens of thousands of people living along or near Stephen Avenue.

What would be best for Stephen Avenue would be if all of the surface parking lots along 9th Avenue were suddenly transformed into residential towers.

While I am sure some want to ban vehicle traffic on SAW 24/7,  I think doing so would be a huge mistake.  Pedestrian malls were tried in the ‘70s and ‘80s across North America and failed. Sure this is a different time, but great streets most often are multi-modal i.e. accommodate cars, transit, pedestrians and cyclists all sharing the space. Both Denver’s 16th Street Mall and Minneapolis’ Nicolet Mall are examples of successful incorporation of pedestrians and transit. 

Stephen Avenue will become the backyard for those living at the new Telus Sky tower.

Stephen Avenue will become the backyard for those living at the new Telus Sky tower.

What Stephen Avenue needs is for the 9th Avenue surface parking lots to be converted into thousands of homes for residents who would adopt Stephen Avenue as their urban playground.

What Stephen Avenue needs is for the 9th Avenue surface parking lots to be converted into thousands of homes for residents who would adopt Stephen Avenue as their urban playground.

Traffic 24/7 in the winter

Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes Calgary planners made was segregating transit to 7thAvenue, pedestrians to 8thAvenue and cars to 6thand 9thAvenues. Look at some historic photos of Stephen Avenue and you will see a street bustling with street cars, horse and buggies, cars and lots of pedestrian traffic.  I think the new design should allow vehicle traffic 24/7 from November to March, when the patios are gone and there is lots of room on the sidewalks for pedestrians.  Merchants would benefit from having people next to their windows and the sidewalks would look more animated as pedestrians wouldn’t be scattered all over the road.  

SAW’s vitality is also hindered by it being Calgary’s Financial District – Bankers Hall, TD Square, Royal Bank Tower, TD Canada Trust Tower, Scotia Centre (now Stephen Avenue Place) – it is more like Wall Street and Bay Street than Queen Street or Robson Street.

And, while some like to blame the +15 system for the lack of street vitality, it too lacks vitality evening and weekends. 

Stephen Avenue was a bustling street early in the 20th Century with pedestrians mingling with street cars, automobiles and even horse and buggies. Perhaps we have too many rules governing how we use Stephen Avenue aka Eight Avenue.

Stephen Avenue was a bustling street early in the 20th Century with pedestrians mingling with street cars, automobiles and even horse and buggies. Perhaps we have too many rules governing how we use Stephen Avenue aka Eight Avenue.

There are too many banks at key corners along Stephen Avenue, although that is changing.

There are too many banks at key corners along Stephen Avenue, although that is changing.

This door way is purely ornamental.

This door way is purely ornamental.

This is The CORE shopping centre on a summer Saturday afternoon. Not exactly a busy place.

This is The CORE shopping centre on a summer Saturday afternoon. Not exactly a busy place.

Needs more clutter 

 Great pedestrian streets are messy and cluttered, filled with small UNIQUE shops, restaurants, cafes, lounges and pubs, with a mix of office, hotel and residential buildings and signature anchor tenants.  Sometimes you have to face reality – SAW is in the middle of a 40 block office district, in a harsh winter city! 

Don’t give me the argument Scandinavians cities are also winter cities. They don’t get weeks of -30 Celsius and snow that lingers for months on end. And, they don’t have high-rise buildings that result in streets that get no sun for six months of the year like Stephen Avenue.

We have tried winter festivals on Stephen Avenue several times since the 1988 Winter Olympics with little success.

We have tried winter festivals on Stephen Avenue several times since the 1988 Winter Olympics with little success.

It would be great to get a Starbucks Reserve on Stephen Avenue, even better would be to have one of Calgary’s own roasters create a signature Stephen Avenue Walk cafe that is open 18/7.

It would be great to get a Starbucks Reserve on Stephen Avenue, even better would be to have one of Calgary’s own roasters create a signature Stephen Avenue Walk cafe that is open 18/7.

Last Word

The reality is SAW thrives when downtown’s corporate Calgary thrives. And right now corporate Calgary is struggling to survive. 

Note: An edited version of this blog was published by Live Wire, Calgary’s 21st century online community news publication.

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

Downtown Calgary’s Power Hour

Downtown Living Is Cooler Than You Think!

Downtown Calgary Needs To Be More Fun!

Downtown Spokane More Fun than Downtown Calgary

 

Condo Living RNDSQR: No Cookie-cutter Condos! 

Some of the most interesting condo development happening in Calgary are by developers working on boutique infill projects outside the City Centre. For example, RNDSQR (stands for round square) currently has two very interesting projects – “Grow” in Bankview and “Courtyard 33” in Marda Loop.  

These are definitely not cookie-cutter condos.

CY33 is one of several residential developments in Marda Loop that will add 500+ more people living along its Main Street. It is just one of RNDSQR’s funky residential projects in Calgary.

CY33 is one of several residential developments in Marda Loop that will add 500+ more people living along its Main Street. It is just one of RNDSQR’s funky residential projects in Calgary.

RNDSQR Award Winners

Alkarim Devani, spokesperson and co-founder of RNDSQR (along with his brother Afshin) is a born and raised Calgarians who love inner-city living and development. Alkarim has 20+ years of retail experience - first selling homes, then building funky infill townhomes before evolving into a condo builder. RNDSQR was recently chosen by Calgary Municipal Land Corporation to be their partner in developing the former David D. Oughton School site in southeast Calgary 

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Creating A Community 

With each project, RNDSQR works with community leaders and architects to create a unique building. The goal is to enhance what the community already has by providing not only new housing but where possible new live/work spaces, retail and an improve public realm.   

For example, Grow (2502 16A St SW) is built on a site with a steep grade which RNDSQR and the MODA the architects capitalized on by creating a switch back design that allows each of the 20 homes (14 condos, 3 lofts and 3 townhomes) to have green roofs, as well as a communal roof top garden – hence the name Grow!  Devani has struck a deal with YYC Growers, a local urban farming co-operative, who will plant and harvest the communal plot while teaching residents what to do develop their own plot once they’ve moved in.  

Too often people living in condos complain they don’t know their neighbours - it is expected Grow homeowners will bond over their love of gardening. 

Grow is currently under construction.

Grow is currently under construction.

Computer rendering of what grow will look like after it is completed and wood has weathered.

Computer rendering of what grow will look like after it is completed and wood has weathered.

Conceptual rending of roof top gardens.

Conceptual rending of roof top gardens.

Explanation of how a slopped site can be a catalyst for innovative design of the building and diversity of housing types.

Explanation of how a slopped site can be a catalyst for innovative design of the building and diversity of housing types.

Courtyard Y33 (CY33) 

With CY33 (2232 33rd Avenue SW) RNDSQR has partnered with Winnipeg’s 546 Architecture to create a unique building inside and out.  Not only does it have 29 different floor plans, but they are organized in a strange manner - condos on floors 3 and 5 have hallways, while floors 4 and 6 do not. This means if you live on floors 4 and 6 you enter your home on the floor below and take stairs to your unit's private entrance. This unique designed provides increased security, privacy and reduce noise.  

As you might expect there is a huge courtyard with a mega mural in the middle of the building that will give it a European feel.  However, the courtyard will be open to the public to mix and mingle with their neighbours living at CY33.  

CY33 will have several retailers including a new concept by Diner Deluxe which will activate the laneway by being a restaurant by day and a speak easy by night. BMO will be an anchor tenant, as well as Brewster’s Apprentice and a permanent “pop-up” space. In addition, there will be an 8,000 square foot co-working space that is expected to be used by homeowners and the community at large.  By having a mix of uses, CY33 will animated this block of Marda Loop day and night. 

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Last Word

And the prices are right!  Grow has 14 units left starting at $287,900 and CY33 has 39 units left starting at $284,800, which is amazing for these unique inner city homes.  Sorry, I know this sounds a bit like a sales pitch, but after living in Vancouver for a month this spring and seeing tiny new condos selling for $750,000 and higher, I have a much better appreciation of how great a deal these inner-city condos are.   

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in Condo Living Magazine’s August edition.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the September 2019 issue of Condo Living magazine.

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

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Marda Loop Madness



Condo Living: Lessons Learned From Vancouver Airbnb

After spending a month living in a condo (Airbnb) in downtown Vancouver I learned several lessons about what to look for in an urban condo when I eventually decide to move from my single family home.  

One of the things I found attractive about Longsdale was that many of the new condos were a block or two off of the main street, away from the noise and traffic.

One of the things I found attractive about Longsdale was that many of the new condos were a block or two off of the main street, away from the noise and traffic.

Here they are: 

First thing I would do is check to see how far away is the closest fire/police station and emergency hospital and if I am on an emergency route as sirens at all times of the day and night can get annoying.  This is perhaps not as big a concern in modern buildings if they have good windows. Always good to double check what kinds of windows your condo has.  We were near both a fire station and hospital which meant lots of sirens at all times of the day and night.

Speaking of noise, you probably don’t want to hear everything going on next door so getting an end unit or making sure the wall are sound proof is a great idea.  Living on the top floor also has the benefit that there is nobody walking on your ceiling. 

Next, I would look for where is the closest grocery store and is it one that I would be prepared to shop at regularly.  Part of the fun of urban condo living is being able to walk as much as possible. In Vancouver, we had an urban IGA store that had everything we needed and the prices were good.  We found the walk from our condo to the grocery store wasn’t much longer than the walk for the grocery store from the parking lot in many suburban malls. 

I would definitely want to have in-suite laundry facilities. While I did learn to share in kindergarten, sharing washing machines and driers with others is not something I want to do at my age.  Having some in suite storage is also a necessity, who want to go down to the parking garage all the time.   

I didn’t think having a gym was important to me, but I was wrong.  Our converted office to condo building had a gym in the basement that I found very convenient to use almost a daily basis.  

Also, I don’t think I want to live right on a busy street even if it is a main street with lots of shops and people.  It is just too noisy.  Living a block or two away from the main street creates a much better residential experience. 

I read somewhere that there is something like 30 grocery stores in Vancouver’s City Centre.  This two level IGA integrated into a residential building providing a human scale structure next to the pedestrian street.

I read somewhere that there is something like 30 grocery stores in Vancouver’s City Centre. This two level IGA integrated into a residential building providing a human scale structure next to the pedestrian street.

There was often a line up that snaked its way around the main floor of the IGA near our condo.  Their were often 10 or so cashiers open and the line-ups moved quickly as nobody had a shopping cart full of groceries.  It was all very civilized.

There was often a line up that snaked its way around the main floor of the IGA near our condo. Their were often 10 or so cashiers open and the line-ups moved quickly as nobody had a shopping cart full of groceries. It was all very civilized.

Mixed grocery stores and residential developments were also found in Kits and other Vancouver neighbourhoods.  The Whole Foods created an attractive pedestrian experience with a small plaza where we often found people chatting or people watching.

Mixed grocery stores and residential developments were also found in Kits and other Vancouver neighbourhoods. The Whole Foods created an attractive pedestrian experience with a small plaza where we often found people chatting or people watching.

Everywhere we went in Vancouver there were neighbour ethnic grocery stores that added colour and charm to the streets, as well as convenient shopping.

Everywhere we went in Vancouver there were neighbour ethnic grocery stores that added colour and charm to the streets, as well as convenient shopping.

Last word

Before you move into a condo or any new home for that matter you need to assess what you like to do most frequently.  

  • If you have dog and walk it daily, being close to dog park is important. 

  • If you like to hang out or work at a café, then being close to a good café is important. 

  • If you like to use the library regularly like my Mom does than being close to a library is most important.  

  • If you like live music than living in a community like Calgary’s Inglewood would make the most sense.  

I am a big fan of staying in Airbnbs while on vacation as a means of testing out what you REALLY need before downsizing to a condo, or buying a condo as your first home.

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

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

The rise and fall of the grocery store!

Calgary’s Grocery Store Saga

Calgary’s Italian Grocery Store Creates A Buzz!

Grocery Store as urban village hub!

Greater Vancouver developers are investing billions of dollars in the redevelopment of old shopping centres.  The focus is on repurposing them into a multi-use villages where people can live, play and work – not just shop.  

So, Instead of the old shopping mall template having two department stores anchoring each end, the new Leisure Centres (that is what they are being called) are more like traditional downtowns with an outdoor main street having a mix of restaurants, movie theatres, bars, fitness studios, concept stores(e.g. Apple and Nike) and yes, even some chain stores.  For example, the $2 billion redevelopment of Burnaby’s Brentwood Mall will not only have 250 shops, but 11 office and residential towers (and I mean towers - some are 60+ storeys). 

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Calgary Opportunities 

In Calgary, we have yet to see a major mall redevelopment that includes residential development.  Chinook, Southcentre and Market Mall have all seen major expansions but no residential added. In the case of Chinook and Southcentre, the most plausible scenario would for residential development on the huge surface parking lots near the mall and next to their LRT station.  With Market Mall having no access to LRT,  it is not ideal for higher density residential development. 

On the other hand, North Hill Center, Calgary’s oldest mall, is ripe for redevelopment given its proximity to the adjacent Lions Park LRT Station.  The closing of the Sears store and the huge surface parking lot on the east end of the mall create a unique opportunity for redevelopment. Unfortunately due to environmental contamination of the site from a former gas station and the current economy, it is unlikely we will see any redevelopment of this 12-acre site for many years.  On the upside, Concord Pacific, its new owner, has lots of experience in mega mixed-use urban development projects. 

The redevelopment of the Stadium Shopping Centre  though approved is on hold waiting for the economy to improve and the Cancer Centre to open. 

In Montgomery, the Safeway grocery store site would also be an ideal candidate for some residential development given its access to Shouldice Park and the Bow River Pathway. It could anchor the west end of Montgomery’s main street and be the catalyst for its revitalization.  

Indeed, there are dozens of old grocery store sites in Calgary’s established communities that could be converted into mini urban villages, helping established communities continue to thrive.  

The Safeway site in Montgomery is ripe for residential redevelopment.

The Safeway site in Montgomery is ripe for residential redevelopment.

Calgary Co-op: A Leader

Calgary Co-op, in partnership with Quarry Bay Investments (the Co-op’s residential partner)

has big plans to redevelop several of its grocery store sites in established communities.  

At Dalhousie, Co-op wants to construct a new 47,000 square foot food store, relocate its gas bar and convenience store, and add 40,000 square feet of new retail space for restaurants, shops and more. Two residential towers - one 22-storey and one 10-storey - will create 444 new homes.  There are plans for a rooftop greenhouse to be used by some of Co-op’s local produce suppliers.  This two-phase development, called The Boulevard at Dalhousie, will help transform the Dalhousie LRT Station into a true urban village with a strong transit orientation.  

In Oakridge, Co-op plans to build a 56,000 square foot food store incorporated into a two-storey retail and professional building, as well as four residential buildings - 13, 7, 6 and 4 floors high for a total of 249 new homes. It will be rebranded as Oakridge Crossing.  This redevelopment is synergistic with the new SW Bus Rapid Transit system currently under construction nearby. 

Two other Calgary Co-op inner-city store redevelopments - Brentwood and North Hill - are currently on hold until the Co-op, community and City can agree on a design that meets the needs of all three stakeholders.  

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Transforming established communities

It is multi-family residential-oriented infill projects in key locations like these that slowly but surely transform established communities into more walkable communities for all ages. 

Damon Tanzola, Calgary Co-op VP – Facilities Development and Real Estate believes these projects will not only help “differentiate us in a very competitive marketplace. As a major land owner in the City of Calgary, we recognize the opportunity to redevelop underutilized sites to provide for mixed use developments to engage our community and provide services to our members.”

If the City of Calgary is serious about wanting to increase the density and diversity of housing in its established communities, it should be fast tracking, maybe even providing incentives for, the redevelopment of all major grocery store sites that are nearing their best before dates. 

The Co-op’s Midtown Market in the Beltline has been the catalyst for numerous residential developments including the conversion of an office building to residential and a new 40+ storey residential high-rise.

The Co-op’s Midtown Market in the Beltline has been the catalyst for numerous residential developments including the conversion of an office building to residential and a new 40+ storey residential high-rise.

Last Word 

After living in Vancouver for a month this spring, I have a better appreciation for the convenience of living near a grocery store and how it increases how much one walks.   When I decide to move into a condo, I definitely will want to live near a grocery store…the closer, the better. 

IGA grocery store located at the base of a residential tower on Burrard St. at Smithe St. was a busy place morning, noon and night.

IGA grocery store located at the base of a residential tower on Burrard St. at Smithe St. was a busy place morning, noon and night.

Calgary: Save The Sadddledome? Let’s Try Harder?

Could this be the end of Calgary’s signature postcard image from Scotsman Hill, i.e. the Saddledome in the foreground and the downtown skyline in the background?  Part of the deal for Calgary’s new arena (aka event centre), is the Saddledome must be demolished by the City at a cost of about $15 million.  

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Montreal & Toronto Examples

Many are asking, “Could the Saddledome be repurposed?”  Do we need to try harder to save the Saddledome and find a new use for it that won’t compete with the new arena? In fact, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver have retained their old NHL arenas. 

The Calgary Saddledome Potential Future Uses Study (June 2017) looked at potential new uses and came up with four options:

  1. Operate it without a major tenant

  2. Repurpose it into a recreation centre, convention centre, multi-use facility or an Olympic venue (Calgary was still looking at bidding for another Winter Olympics at the time) 

  3. Decommission it

  4. Demolish it 

It was concluded transforming the Saddledome into a recreation centre was the only feasible option. The plan was for 6 ice arenas and 3 indoor soccer pitches, with the cost to repurpose being $138 to $165 million.  Ouch! This means spending more money, which the City doesn’t have. 

The report also notes that of the 17 other cities (four in Canada and 13 in the United States) that have replaced NHL facilities with new buildings, 11 cities demolished their old arenas and six kept them, but three were later torn down.

Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens was repurposed into a Loblaws grocery store on the main floor and a second floor was added to create the Mattamy Athletic Centre for Ryerson University.  In Montreal, the old Forum was gutted to create a mega entertainment complex with cinemas, shops and restaurants.  

Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum still serves as an arena/event centre within Hastings Park which includes the Pacific National Exhibition and Hasting Racecourse (horses) and Playland.  Only, Edmonton has opted to demolish its Northlands Coliseum as part of a mega redevelop the entire Northlands Exhibition site. 

In all of these cases the new arenas were located some distance away from the old arena rather than just a block away.

And what works for one site and one building won’t necessarily work for another.  

Could it become a grocery store like this one in Maple Leaf Gardens?

Could it become a grocery store like this one in Maple Leaf Gardens?

Montreal Forum was converted into a mixed-use entertainment centre.

Montreal Forum was converted into a mixed-use entertainment centre.

Potential Other Uses

The Saddledome is a unique building on a unique site.  So, is there a unique opportunity to save it? Perhaps we could have an international call for proposals to repurpose the Saddledome. It would be interesting to see what ideas are generated.  

In fact, some Calgarians have already proposed some interesting ideas. For example, @desmondBLIEK’s suggested on Twitter that the Saddledome could become “a massive indoor waterpark with pool, beaches, slides, hotel, restaurant and retail.”  

Other ideas shared with me include a farmers’ market, a Stampede Museum, Olds College Calgary campus and an incubator for agriculture based start-ups. Could it be a conventional grocery store or even a downtown Costco? What about home to the Calgary Stampede Headquarters which will surely move as part of the new Stampede Park vision? Could a second floor be added to double the space, so there could be a diversity of uses?  

It has even been suggested it would make a great parkade!  Given it is the iconic shape of the building’s exterior that is most valuable, perhaps this isn’t such a bad idea.  

In Houston, their old arena the Compaq Centre was leased in 2005 to the Lakewood Church for $753,333 (US) per year. In 2010, the City agreed to sell the building to the Church for $7.5 million, considering the Church had invested $95M to renovate the building to converted it into a place of worship for its 40,000 weekly worshippers.  

Indeed a mix of uses would help make the building viable, as well as add to the vision of Stampede/Victoria Park as a year-round cultural and entertainment district.

Could it become a multi-use field house like this one in Strathmore?

Could it become a multi-use field house like this one in Strathmore?

Could one of the potential new uses be a huge climbing facility?

Could one of the potential new uses be a huge climbing facility?

Have we tried hard enough?

Barry Lester, retired VP with Stantec and engineer - who is very familiar with the Saddledome’s architecture - shared with me in an email “with the lower bowl of bleachers removed - a relatively easy task because they are not an integral part of the building - what remains is a 300 foot diameter floor (65,000 square foot) a clear span space useable for just about anything. “

He goes on to say, “Come on people! This is essentially a “free” building. Let’s not see it destroyed. It could be home to soccer, rodeo, water park, community hockey, Nashville North, livestock shows and auctions etc. Somebody just isn’t trying hard enough.”

Are we being too sentimental?

In another email, Chris Ollenberger, former President & CEO of Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, a respected urban development champion and an engineer shared with me “I think the repurposing discussion will likely be driven by non-profits who will need additional funding, subsidies and grants to repurpose the Saddledome.  I can’t foresee a fully private user looking to buy it or operate it on their own with NO subsidies.”  

He adds, “I think we can do something much better with the land after new arena exists. Something that adds true (tax paying) vitality to area. Nostalgia is nice, but in the case of something as big, difficult and expensive to operate as the Saddledome, it’s not a good reason to keep it around.” 

Last Word

I say, “where there is a will, there is a way!” We’ve got a few years before the wrecking ball strikes, so let’s put it to good use.  Let’s organize that international call for proposals and see what ideas come forth.

Let’s try harder to save an important piece of Calgary’s history!

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

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Calgary Wants vs Needs: Convention Centre, Stadium, Arena

Sports & Entertainment: Nashville vs Calgary

 

Westman Village: Urban Resort Living

While many Calgary urbanists (myself included) sing the praises of the new master planned inner city developments (East Village, Currie or University District) and the densification and redevelopment of Beltline, Bridgeland, Kensington or Marda Loop, Westman Village in the suburb of Mahogany is not on our song sheet. 

I have followed the development of Westman Village for years and visited the site a few years ago when it was in its infancy, making a note to return when there was more to see.  Recently, I made the 25 km road trip from my Calgary home to wander the village and tour some of the amenities and condos.  

It was an eyeopener!

The high street….

The high street….

The sun room….

The sun room….

Communal patio….

Communal patio….

Westman Village 101 

Westman Village is the brainchild of Jay Westman, who formed Jayman Homes (now called Jayman BUILT) together with his father Alvin in 1980.  It is designed as a legacy to his father and the Westman family who, over the past 35+ years have become one of Calgary’s leading homebuilders. It is a unique development in North American - resort style living within the boundaries of a major city. 

By resort style, I mean you have access to a man-made lake almost outside your door. You also have access to a private 40,000 square foot recreation centre (aka community centre) with everything from a small library to a large demonstration kitchen, from a huge swimming pool complex to a mega wine cellar/tasting room.  There is also a 50-seat theatre space, as well as a room with pool tables and another with a golf simulator. It includes an arts and craft studio and a woodworking shop too. And yes, it has all the fitness equipment you will ever need.  

It is like living in a hotel – there is even a concierge to help you with whatever you need. 

The demonstration kitchen…

The demonstration kitchen…

The wine cellar/lounge…

The wine cellar/lounge…

The pool…

The pool…

Workshop….

Workshop….

Craft room…ceramics is big…

Craft room…ceramics is big…

Urban Village 

Just like those trendy new inner city urban villages, Westman Village has no single family homes, rather a cluster of low rise multi-family buildings around the recreation complex and its one-block main street. 

The main street is lined with shops and eateries like Analog Café and Diner Deluxe, as well as dental, medical and other services, all with residential above. It is a 10-minute walk to a major grocery store and other shops.

There is mix of housing types - from owner occupied to rental (you can even get a 10-year lease, which is great for empty nesters trying to manage their retirement finances).  There are small 600 square foot units, as well as larger 1,600+ square foot penthouse units over-looking the lake.  It even includes The Journey Club a seniors’ complex designed to offer everything from independent living and private assisted living, to memory care housing, allowing residents to age in place. 

The homes we toured were well designed, very modern and functional, including being wheelchair accessible. While most of the people we saw were 55+, I was told buyers range from 18 to 94 years of age.  

 Westman Village is not for everyone (heck, it’s not for me), but it is very attractive to many Calgarians. While touring the site, one woman voluntarily just said “I love living here!” and as we walked around, we constantly felt the sense of comradery and community.  

While other projects in the city are struggling, Westman Village is thriving. The retail spaces are 85% occupied and will be 100% by the end of the summer. The homes are selling out almost as fast as they can build them. All 860 homes will be completed by 2021 and are projected to be fully occupied by 2022.  

The pathway…

The pathway…

All ages street patio…

All ages street patio…

The high street…

The high street…

Last Word

A plaque on the façade of the Recreation Centre, with an image of Alvin Westman, says “the design and built form of our homes has been inspired by the belief that our journey through life changes every five years. We have set out to bring this inspiration to life. Westman Village is the culmination of everything experienced and learned – all in one place.”  

Having toured the village for two hours, I truly believe that!

An edited version of this blog was published in the Caglary Herald’s New Condo section on Saturday, July 27, 2019.

FYI: Some readers have recently asked me if my New Condo column is just propaganda for developers. To you, as with them, I reply all of the content in my columns are written without any influence by any developer or the Calgary Herald.  It is my opinion based on my research and knowledge. 

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

Calgary: Not your parents’ suburbs!

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80% of Calgarians must live in the suburbs!

 

Dominion condo's design evolution

I recently sat down with Maxime Laroussi, an architect from Dublin who designed Dominion, Bucci’s new condo building under construction in Bridgeland. I was curious to know how a relatively unknown, small European architectural firm like Urban Agency lands a job in Calgary. 

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Cold Calling Works

Turns out it was a case of cold calling. He emailed a bunch of Calgary developers in 2016 and to his surprise 90% responded wanting to know more about his team.  This must have been some very convincing email given the response to most cold calls is less than 5%, which is what Laroussi expected.  

He immediately made plans to visit Calgary and meet as many developers as he could.  While visiting Calgary in 2017, he was impressed with was happening from an urban design perspective and the city’s overall vibe.  It reminded him of Dublin where he heads up Urban Agency’s office. 

Shortly after his visit, Mike Bucci engaged Laroussi and his team to be the design architects (Calgary’s Casola Koppe Architects are the local architects) for their new project Dominion, in Bridgeland. It is currently under construction at the corner of 9th St and McDougall Road NE, just below Bucci’s Radius condo which was recently awarded LEED Platinum status (the highest status you can achieve for creating an environmentally-friendly building.) 

Kudos to Bucci for not only designing environmentally-friendly buildings, but also for engaging different architects for their Calgary projects to ensure each has a unique look.  

Radius condo

Radius condo

Three Tries…

Laroussi team’s original design called for three narrow towers on a two floor podium that covered the entire site.  However, this didn’t work mostly due to size the floor plates – they needed to be increased to allow for larger condos to meet the Calgary condo market.  

The second design had two towers 8 and 12 storeys. I was told it is common practice when designing two towers on the same site to have them slightly different heights or slightly different shapes to create visual interplay between them – think Bankers Hall.

However, to make the economics work, the design was rejigged a second time to add more units so each tower. Now each tower is 15 stories high, with 75 new homes each.   Currently, phase one, which will include the podium and the first tower, is under construction.  

The two condo towers will be placed atop of a commercial podium designed to accommodate a restaurant and a co-working space, helping to animate the block day and night, seven days a week.   Part of the podium’s roof-top will become a garden, as well as a social area with BBQs, sundeck, a playground and yoga area for residents.  

Dominion is located just a block away from the Bridgeland LRT station and a block from a park and a main street.

Dominion is located just a block away from the Bridgeland LRT station and a block from a park and a main street.

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Balcony vs Veranda

One of the first things you notice when you see the renderings for Dominion is its façade is dominated by bold rectangular boxes somewhat similar to TelusSky. However, unlike those of TelusSky, these boxes will enclose large balconies of each unit.  Laroussi calls them “verandas” and are meant to be an extension of the interior space, just like the verandas of the older Bridgeland Riverside homes.  

Another unique feature is the façade material is reflective, so the colour of the building will change with the light. When the sky is blue, it will take on a bluish hue; at sunset it will be more yellow or orange while on a cloudy day, it will look grey.  

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Last Word

Maxime Laroussi

Maxime Laroussi

At 43, Laroussi is just coming into his prime as an architect. It will be interesting to see how his first building in North America is received both from an exterior design perspective by passersby and from a functional perspective i.e. home owners and restaurant patrons.   

From the renderings the building has a nice synergy between traditional rectangular design with a futuristic twist.  It isn’t some wild, weird and wacky design that shouts out “look at me” that is destined to become “tacky and kitschy” in a few years.  

Dominion is what I call “cubic architecture” that can be seen in other condos Calgary like Battisella’s “Pixel” in Kensington, or Avalon Master Builder’s Sturgess Architects designed “GLAS” in Marda Loop.  

Laroussi is currently in discussion with developers in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto to design future buildings. 

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

Bridgeland/Riverside Rebirth

Calgary Condos Add A Pop Of Colour

Welcome to the era of neuro-design

Calgary History: Grand Trunk Cottage School

You could easily walk, cycle or drive by the Grand Trunk Cottage School on 5thAve NW near Crowchild Trail and never realize it is anything special (let alone a century old school). No signage or plaque tells you about its storied history. Even those who live nearby are often surprised to learn it was one of Calgary’s first schools when I tell them. 

 So, I thought it would be interesting to dig deeper, to see what more I could find about this quaint, unassuming schoolhouse that could easily be mistaken for an older “infill-like” house.  

Grand Trunk School today. Note the two blank rectangles in the triangles above the stairs; this where the school’s name would have been.

Grand Trunk School today. Note the two blank rectangles in the triangles above the stairs; this where the school’s name would have been.

Grand Trunk School a community initiative 

The early 20thcentury was a boom time for Calgary with its population increasing from about 10,000 at the turn of the century to 47,000 in 1912. Classrooms were operating in rented space in the community of Grand Trunk as early as 1907. However, in September 1911, a petition signed by fifty residents of Grand Trunk requested a school be built in its community to serve the growing number of families. The Calgary Public School Board responded immediately by approving the purchase of a suitable site at the corner of 5thAvenue and 24thStreet NW (now Crowchild Trail) for the construction of a two-room, two-storey school. 

In accordance with provincial regulations set out in the Education Act, it and other cottage schools were designed to look like residential buildings to allow for their future resale. How visionary is that? Often placed on two to three lot parcels, they blended well with neighbouring residences, however, little room was made available for outdoor play space. 

The Grand Trunk School opened in 1912 as a temporary school, continued to operate until the spring 1958 when new larger schools like Queen Elizabeth and Louise Dean replaced it.  

FYI:  The Queen Elizabeth School was founded in 1910 as "Bowview School" which was originally a boarding school. Evidence for this can be found above the SW entrance by the cafeteria, where the previous school name is displayed. It was renamed in 1953 to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The original three-storey building (which includes the Drama room that was the original auditorium and cafeteria) opened in 1930. A large addition (including the band room, wood shop, north gym, current offices, classrooms) was opened in 1953. The third addition was completed in 1967 and includes the library and science labs.

In 1959, the City leased the Grand Trunk School building to the Western Canada Epilepsy League who established a residence for twenty people, as well as space for workshops for those suffering from epilepsy.  

Then in 1981, the school became the home of the Maritime Reunion Association (MRA). At its height, the MRA had over 600 members with the Grand Trunk Cottage school as its clubhouse. A paid recreation director tended to the day-to-day business and organized monthly dances. The events were very popular not only with members but non-Maritime Calgarians also.  

After ceasing operations in 2007, the site was rezoned from a single use Direct Control district to a new Land Use to permit a broader range of uses including businesses offices, personal service businesses, restaurants retail stores, child care facilities and commercial schools. The reason for the bylaw change - to help ensure the continued use of the Grand Trunk School and not let it sit empty and deteriorating.  

The bylaw was passed and the City issued a request for proposals both internally and externally. It was leased out to the City of Calgary Police Department in August 2007 for non-operational purposes, i.e. education and training. They are still the current occupants which unfortunately means the building is used only a few times a month. 

Grand Trunk School’s original design.

Grand Trunk School’s original design.

The School’s Architecture

The architectural style is vernacular, the architect was William Branton and the builder was J.A. McPhail. The building’s design with its verandah, pediment dormers, bevelled wood siding and wood shingles makes it look like the cottage houses that populated the community at the time, albeit larger.  At the time, it would have been one of the largest buildings in the community. Today it is about the same size as a new single family infill.  

The school was comprised of a classroom on each level, small storage spaces, and cloakrooms at the rear. The basement contained coal rooms and two lavatories for students. Classrooms could be entered separately through two distinct front entrances - a central door to the main floor classroom and a second door providing access to a stairway that lead to the upper floor. 

The building’s subsequent interior alterations have left little evidence of the original classrooms. The exterior has also undergone modification, including the addition of a modern fire escape, reworking of windows and new front stair configuration. 

All cottage schools were identified by a sign board which denoted a date and the building identification as a "cottage school."  Unfortunately, no identification of the building’s name or history remains on the site today. 

Found this old map online that still has street names instead of numbers Grand Trunk but street numbers for Parkdale and Happyland. Around 1911, street names fell out of favour and the City replaced them with the street numbers and quadrant system we have today.

Found this old map online that still has street names instead of numbers Grand Trunk but street numbers for Parkdale and Happyland. Around 1911, street names fell out of favour and the City replaced them with the street numbers and quadrant system we have today.

Why the name “Grand Trunk?” 

The subdivision plan, for Grand Trunk (now called West Hillhurst) filed in 1906 stated the landowner as well-known lawyer Clifford T. Jones. Speculation is Jones was involved in the early Calgary land acquisitions by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and probably happy to honour the company by naming his new community after them.  

Backstory: Fort Calgary was decommissioned in 1914 and sold to the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway who operated it as a rail yard for 61 years. During those years, the site was home to MacCosham’s warehouses, Calgary Scrap Metal, a battery factory and an abattoir to name a few. The only memory of the Fort was a cairn erected by the North West Mounted Police Veteran’s Association. Fortunately, in 1975, through the efforts of John Ayer, the City purchased the site and began the reclamation of Fort Calgary, which continues today.

Although West Hillhurst (Grand Trunk) was annexed by the City of Calgary in 1907, substantial development did not start until 1945 when many of the houses were built as "Victory Homes" for soldiers returning from World War II. Walk through the community today and you will still find a number of these homes still standing despite the fact many were intended to be temporary. Nicknamed “Strawberry boxes,” they looked similar to the boxes used to hold strawberries at that time. Today, they add charm and a sense of history to the community. 

Despite enquires to the City of Calgary, Federation of Calgary Communities, West Hillhurst Community Association, Calgary Real Estate Board and Calgary Heritage Authority, I was unable to discover when or why the Grand Trunk community name was changed to West Hillhurst.   Old maps of the area continued to have old community names like Grand Trunk, Upper Hillhurst, Westmount and Broadview on them until the mid ‘40s.  

Even the West Hillhurt Go-Getters history book “Harvest Memories” doesn’t say when the name changed, but it appears to have happened around 1945 when the West Hillhurst Ratepayers Association was formed. The book states, “In 1948, a group of men riding home on the old Grand Trunk streetcar decided to form the West Hillhurst community association to get playgrounds and various new facilities. The first playgrounds were at 23rdSt and 5thAve NW (Grand Trunk Park, next to Grand Trunk School) and 21stSt and 2ndAve NW.  In 1953, the Parkdale Community Association was formed for people living west of 28thSt NW.” 

Note: For years, I wrongly assumed Grand Trunk Park, next to the former school, was the school’s playground, later being converted into a park when the school closed.  

Early 20th Century maps included names like Parkdale, Happyland, Grand Trunk, Westmount and Upper Hillhurst within the boundaries of today’s West Hillhurst.

Early 20th Century maps included names like Parkdale, Happyland, Grand Trunk, Westmount and Upper Hillhurst within the boundaries of today’s West Hillhurst.

1945 map still had Westmount, Upper Hillhurst and Broadview as separate communities.

1945 map still had Westmount, Upper Hillhurst and Broadview as separate communities.

Map of West Hillhurst from City of Caglary website

Map of West Hillhurst from City of Caglary website

This is an aerial photo of looking west from 19th Street in the foreground and 14th Street NW in the background.  You can see Bow View School, now Queen Elizabeth and the Bow View Cottage School since demolished.  (photo credit: Provincial Archives via Alan Zakrison)

This is an aerial photo of looking west from 19th Street in the foreground and 14th Street NW in the background. You can see Bow View School, now Queen Elizabeth and the Bow View Cottage School since demolished. (photo credit: Provincial Archives via Alan Zakrison)

Last Word

The Grand Trunk Cottage School is a City-owned property that is on the City’s Inventory of Historic Resources but has yet to received formal designation that would protect it from redevelopment. 

Grand Trunk Cottage School was one of seven cottage schools, built in the early 20thcentury. Two others are included in the City of Calgary’s Facility Management’s Heritage Program: Capitol Hill Cottage School (1522 - 21 Ave NW) which is currently leased to the St. Cyprians Cubs and Scouts and North Mount Pleasant School (523 - 27 Ave NW) which is now home of the North Mount Pleasant Arts Centre.

Surely, the City of Calgary can find a better use for the charming Grand Trunk Cottage School than its current use. And let’s hope a historic plaque can be installed to help tell its story, including the fact Miss M. McKinnon, the school’s first principal, remained as such until her retirement 28 years later in 1939. 

To learn more about Calgary’s Heritage Preservation Strategy, check out this link: 

Link: Calgary Heritage Strategy. 

Did you know that it is Calgary Heritage Week, July 26 to August 5th 2019?

Link: Calgary Heritage Week At A Glance.

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

West Hillhurst: Portrait of my community

Urban Cottages vs Gentrification

Does Calgary Have Too Many Neighbourhoods?