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?

 

Calgary: Neighbourhood Walkabout Postcards

One of our favourite things to do is take a walk in one of Calgary’s 200+ neighbourhoods…especially in the summer. I thought it would be fun to share some of the quirky, strange and fun things we have discovered on our neighbourhood adventures. Everything from little free libraries to birdhouses, from artworks to pathways and from doors to porches.

Hope you enjoy this virtual walkabout….

Southern Alberta Institute of Technology

Southern Alberta Institute of Technology

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Beltline

Beltline

Downtown

Downtown

Bow River / Poppy Plaza

Bow River / Poppy Plaza

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Parkdale

Parkdale

17th Ave SW

17th Ave SW

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

St Andrews Heights

St Andrews Heights

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Altadore

Altadore

Inglewood

Inglewood

Bridgeland

Bridgeland

Bowness

Bowness

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Beltline

Beltline

Eau Claire

Eau Claire

Downtown

Downtown

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Bowness

Bowness

Mission

Mission

IMG_6923.jpg
Alberta Children’s Hospital

Alberta Children’s Hospital

Bankview

Bankview

Sunalta

Sunalta

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Downtown

Downtown

Chinatown

Chinatown

Montgomery

Montgomery

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Briar Hill

Briar Hill

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Beltine

Beltine

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Bridgeland

Bridgeland

Beltline

Beltline

Parkdale

Parkdale

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Banff Trail

Banff Trail

Altadore

Altadore

Cliff Bungalow

Cliff Bungalow

Chinatown

Chinatown

Bowness

Bowness

Bankview

Bankview

Crescent Heights

Crescent Heights

Bridgeland

Bridgeland

Renfew

Renfew

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

IMG_2740.jpg
South Calgary

South Calgary

Altadore

Altadore

Inglewood

Inglewood

Parkdale

Parkdale

Montgomery

Montgomery

Sunalta

Sunalta

Altadore

Altadore

Parkdale

Parkdale

Bridgeland/Riverside

Bridgeland/Riverside

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Inglewood

Inglewood

Beltline

Beltline

Renfrew

Renfrew

Downtown

Downtown

Beltline

Beltline

Banff Trail

Banff Trail

Inglewood

Inglewood

Briar Hill

Briar Hill

Inglewood

Inglewood

Eau Claire

Eau Claire

Beltline

Beltline

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Riley Park

Riley Park

Parkdale

Parkdale

Hounsfield Heights

Hounsfield Heights

Bowness

Bowness

Bridgeland

Bridgeland

Briar Hill

Briar Hill

Briar Hill

Briar Hill

Inglewood

Inglewood

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Beltline

Beltline

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Ramsay

Ramsay

Mission

Mission

Confederation Park

Confederation Park

Pumphouse Theatre Park

Pumphouse Theatre Park

Bankview

Bankview

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Pumphouse Theatre Park

Pumphouse Theatre Park

Crescent Heights

Crescent Heights

Parkdale

Parkdale

Renfrew

Renfrew

Banff Trail

Banff Trail

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Crescent Heights

Crescent Heights

Sunalta

Sunalta

Downtown

Downtown

Sunalta

Sunalta

Sunalta

Sunalta

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Last Word

Congratulations you made to the end of virtual walkabout. If you aren’t too tired and you’d like to walk through some more neighbourhoods here are few links that might interest you.

Forensic Walks In Calgary

Front Yard Fun

Sitting On The Porch

Everyday Life in Africa : Senegal

This past winter I received hundreds of photos and detailed emails from Bob White (no relation) as he and his wife Anne explored remote villages in Africa for three months. The emails were fascinating as Bob shared with family and friends the trials and tribulations of travelling the back roads to get to “off the beaten path” places where they observe and capture the everyday life of Africans.

When they got back I asked if they would be interested in sharing some of their photos and experiences with Everyday Tourist blog readers as I know many of us have never been to Africa and if we have it probably wasn’t to the villages that they travelled to.

I am pleased they have agreed to share their experiences and insights with the Everyday Tourist community.

Arithmetic on the Wall, St Louis, 2016   This image caught my eye because the children were concentrating on doing their lesson so intently my presence went undetected. I surmised that the lack of paper and pencils made the building the next best thing to write on.

Arithmetic on the Wall, St Louis, 2016

This image caught my eye because the children were concentrating on doing their lesson so intently my presence went undetected. I surmised that the lack of paper and pencils made the building the next best thing to write on.

Anne Tapler White: Red Earth in Black & White Project

My Africa project, entitled “Red Earth in Black & White, began in 2013. I am interested in documenting the everyday life of the African people, and to some extent, portrays similarities to our own lives, all bound by common threads. The images tell a story that at times goes beyond the scope of written words, becoming a frozen narrative capturing a fleeting moment and perhaps in the eyes of the viewer creating a private story.

The Red Earth not only describes the iron-rich soil but is a symbol of its people and their visceral bond with the land that sustains them. It is in the vastness of the never-ending landscape with its small villages and in the streets of the more urban centers that you see their struggles, resilience, and their pride in being African.

Clean Sweep, Cape Skirring, 2016   It was the start of the tourist season and the women of the community all joined together to sweep the streets in preparation for the onslaught of tourists. True community spirit, with an abundance of brooms.

Clean Sweep, Cape Skirring, 2016

It was the start of the tourist season and the women of the community all joined together to sweep the streets in preparation for the onslaught of tourists. True community spirit, with an abundance of brooms.

Good Bye Look, Sippo Island, 2016   We spent several hours in a classroom that was taught by one teacher. The grades ran from Kindergarten to junior high. The children displayed the most amazing penmanship. The young girls gaze from the window was irresistible.

Good Bye Look, Sippo Island, 2016

We spent several hours in a classroom that was taught by one teacher. The grades ran from Kindergarten to junior high. The children displayed the most amazing penmanship. The young girls gaze from the window was irresistible.

Village Bakery, N’ Doul, 2016   The bakery was housed in a small industrial building, there were no counters and the bread was dispensed from boxes. The children who were working there ranged in age from maybe eight to twelve. Child labor is a continuing problem and one that I witnessed too often in my travels.

Village Bakery, N’ Doul, 2016

The bakery was housed in a small industrial building, there were no counters and the bread was dispensed from boxes. The children who were working there ranged in age from maybe eight to twelve. Child labor is a continuing problem and one that I witnessed too often in my travels.

Everyday Culture

“We got hooked on Africa partly because so few other tourists go there, we like to be off the beaten path, going to places and seeing things that haven’t been overdone and over-run. We are more interested in the people living their everyday lives and the culture of the countries” noted Bob White.

The rich musical history of Africa, especially from Ghana, Cote d’ Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal, is also fascinating. Virtually everywhere we traveled in West Africa we saw almost no other Caucasians and extremely few tourists, with the exception of South Africa.  

The sights we have seen are much lower key than the pyramids and other ancient sights in Egypt. The sights in West Africa may not have the awe factor of the popular tourist attractions, but we often find more personal connections to what we see.

Senegal is more Westernized than many other places in West Africa. Cape Skirring and a handful of other spots along the Atlantic coast regularly attract tourists from Europe, primarily from France due to Senegal being a former French colony. St. Louis in northern Senegal was of particular interest due to its history of being a regular stop on the original airmail route bringing mail from the US to Europe through South America and Africa.

As far as our photography shooting styles, Anne is much more deliberate in choosing her shots; I tend to take lots of pictures of everything I see and hope I get a scattering of good pictures. Anne has the eye to pick out the less obvious compositions and likes to include people in most of her photos.

Note: Bob always takes colour photos while Anne takes black and white.

When we visited Sippo Island, we had to provide a large bag of rice as an entrance fee to wander around the island and take photos. In the photo, the rice is being divided to share with all of the local families. It was nice to see that the rice didn’t go only to the village chief and his family.

When we visited Sippo Island, we had to provide a large bag of rice as an entrance fee to wander around the island and take photos. In the photo, the rice is being divided to share with all of the local families. It was nice to see that the rice didn’t go only to the village chief and his family.

We were in Senegal at the height of the harvest season for many fruits and melons. It was common to see piles of watermelons along the roads and stacked on sidewalks, like the ones in the photo. Many of these fruit stands seemed to be unattended, I assume that buyers would select a melon and then pay the grower directly.

We were in Senegal at the height of the harvest season for many fruits and melons. It was common to see piles of watermelons along the roads and stacked on sidewalks, like the ones in the photo. Many of these fruit stands seemed to be unattended, I assume that buyers would select a melon and then pay the grower directly.

A group of colorful fishing boats in the harbor at St. Louis, Senegal. St. Louis is a major port for Senegal and a large portion of the people earn their living from the sea. Much of the fishing is done at night and the boats return in the morning to sell their catch.

A group of colorful fishing boats in the harbor at St. Louis, Senegal. St. Louis is a major port for Senegal and a large portion of the people earn their living from the sea. Much of the fishing is done at night and the boats return in the morning to sell their catch.

The fishing beach, St. Louis, Senegal. Hundreds of dilapidated houses, little more than shacks, crowd the edge of the beach in St. Louis, often with fishing boats tucked between them well above the tide. The children mainly play on the beach as there is virtually no other open space in the fishing village. Adults seem to commonly use the beach as a sidewalk to visit friends and neighbors. We were tolerated, but not really welcome on this garbage-strewn beach. We had hoped to see the boats coming in and unloading their catch, but our timing was off.

The fishing beach, St. Louis, Senegal. Hundreds of dilapidated houses, little more than shacks, crowd the edge of the beach in St. Louis, often with fishing boats tucked between them well above the tide. The children mainly play on the beach as there is virtually no other open space in the fishing village. Adults seem to commonly use the beach as a sidewalk to visit friends and neighbors. We were tolerated, but not really welcome on this garbage-strewn beach. We had hoped to see the boats coming in and unloading their catch, but our timing was off.

Last Word

Africa became a project for me. It appealed to my preference for shooting in busy chaotic situations. The markets and streets display endless photographic possibilities. My interest is more social documentary in nature, presenting a more candid view of the people and their cultures in everyday life situations.  

I prefer the black and white image as opposed to color, because it draws out the essence of a moment, and simplifies the image. It is hard to explain why I take certain images. For me, it's very immediate when some or all of the photographic elements come together. 

For more photos checkout Anne’s website: Anne Tapler White

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

William Kentridge: Procession

Off The Beaten Path: Gleichen, Blackfoot Crossing, Medicine Hat

Mexico City: Full of fun surprises