Southern Alberta Road Trip: Folk Art & Architecture Postcards 

Recently we decided to take a three day road trip south from Calgary to Lethbridge, over to Waterton National Park and then home.  Along the way we dropped into numerous small towns and villages like Carseland, Vulcan, Carmongay, Barons, Nobleford, Picture Butte, Magrath, Cardston, Pincher Creek and Longview to check out their main streets, side streets and back alleys to see what fun surprises there might be.

We weren’t disappointed. We found some mega birdhouses, quirky, quasi public art, historic churches, artifacts and architecture and funky street signs. We began to call it the folk art and architecture tour.

Here are some postcards from our tour….   

Was surprise to find this fish monument celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the town Carseland (population 525) which is near, but not next to the Bow River.

Was surprise to find this fish monument celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the town Carseland (population 525) which is near, but not next to the Bow River.

Loved this quirky homemade birdhouse that combines traffic lights with railway cars. The entire front yard was like a folk art gallery.

Loved this quirky homemade birdhouse that combines traffic lights with railway cars. The entire front yard was like a folk art gallery.

The architecture of the Carseland School reminded me of the old wooden grain sheds that dot the prairies.

The architecture of the Carseland School reminded me of the old wooden grain sheds that dot the prairies.

Aspen Crossing at Mossleigh is a real hidden gem. The Aspen Crossing Railway is a heritage railway in Southern Alberta, southeast of Calgary. In 2002 the last CP train ran through Mossleigh, however, after 6 years of negotiations Jason Thornhill, the creator of Aspen Crossing, was successful in securing the rights to 14 miles of rail line. Today, you can enjoy Champagne Brunch, Dinner Theatre, High Tea or Aies on Rails while riding a vintage train. They even have a Circus Train. More info:  https://www.aspencrossing.com/railway

Aspen Crossing at Mossleigh is a real hidden gem. The Aspen Crossing Railway is a heritage railway in Southern Alberta, southeast of Calgary. In 2002 the last CP train ran through Mossleigh, however, after 6 years of negotiations Jason Thornhill, the creator of Aspen Crossing, was successful in securing the rights to 14 miles of rail line. Today, you can enjoy Champagne Brunch, Dinner Theatre, High Tea or Aies on Rails while riding a vintage train. They even have a Circus Train. More info: https://www.aspencrossing.com/railway

We enjoyed just wandering the grounds that includes several vintage railway cars, gift shop and greenhouse.

We enjoyed just wandering the grounds that includes several vintage railway cars, gift shop and greenhouse.

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The highlight of the Aspen Crossing visit was having a coffee in the Diefenbaker Dinaing Car. It was purchased from Chicago to become Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s “whistle-stop” rail car from 1958 to mid-1960. After 1962, John George Diefenbaker used the Pullman car as his private business car. Rumour has it, it once belonged to an “infamous gangster club.”

The highlight of the Aspen Crossing visit was having a coffee in the Diefenbaker Dinaing Car. It was purchased from Chicago to become Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s “whistle-stop” rail car from 1958 to mid-1960. After 1962, John George Diefenbaker used the Pullman car as his private business car. Rumour has it, it once belonged to an “infamous gangster club.”

Next Stop Vulcan (population 1,917), where the entire town has embraced the Star Trek theme as a means of attracting tourists and adding some fun to living there.

Next Stop Vulcan (population 1,917), where the entire town has embraced the Star Trek theme as a means of attracting tourists and adding some fun to living there.

Even some of the lampposts have a Star Trek connection.

Even some of the lampposts have a Star Trek connection.

At first I thought this was public art as it looks like a series of grain elevators. But I quickly learned it is a Solar Park that is both fun and educational with its didactic panels. Love the linking of science, art and a park.

At first I thought this was public art as it looks like a series of grain elevators. But I quickly learned it is a Solar Park that is both fun and educational with its didactic panels. Love the linking of science, art and a park.

The park has several colourful light boxes.

The park has several colourful light boxes.

Found these all over town…this one was at the entrance to the Library. How fun!

Found these all over town…this one was at the entrance to the Library. How fun!

Many of the shop windows make some reference to Star Trek.

Many of the shop windows make some reference to Star Trek.

Even the crosswalks have a Star Trek link.

Even the crosswalks have a Star Trek link.

If you explore Vulcan a bit more you will find bizarre buildings like this one.

If you explore Vulcan a bit more you will find bizarre buildings like this one.

This is Vulcan’s Visitor Information Centre which includes a small Star Trek museum.

This is Vulcan’s Visitor Information Centre which includes a small Star Trek museum.

Driving by on the highway you see the model of the Starship Enterprise and a huge fun solar flower both foreshadowing what there is to see if you stop and explore the town.

Driving by on the highway you see the model of the Starship Enterprise and a huge fun solar flower both foreshadowing what there is to see if you stop and explore the town.

Next stop Carmangay (population 242), which is known for its fire tower. Link:  Village History

Next stop Carmangay (population 242), which is known for its fire tower. Link: Village History

At the entrance to Carmangay is a wind turbine blade lying on the ground that allows you to appreciate just how large they are. Also makes for a great piece of public art with its distinctive shape and soft flowing lines. A nice surprise.

At the entrance to Carmangay is a wind turbine blade lying on the ground that allows you to appreciate just how large they are. Also makes for a great piece of public art with its distinctive shape and soft flowing lines. A nice surprise.

We were surprise to find this well preserved church on a side street, it was a reminder of the importance of churches in establishing communities across the prairies a 100 years ago.

We were surprise to find this well preserved church on a side street, it was a reminder of the importance of churches in establishing communities across the prairies a 100 years ago.

I expect this was a garage, today it would make a great artist’s studio. We found several corner buildings with similar rounded form like this on our adventure.

I expect this was a garage, today it would make a great artist’s studio. We found several corner buildings with similar rounded form like this on our adventure.

Next stop Champion (population 317) where we found this enchanting birdhouse on one the side streets.

Next stop Champion (population 317) where we found this enchanting birdhouse on one the side streets.

Next stop Barons (population 341), which once had a lovely tree line boulevard for its main street. Today looks very much like a ghost town. It is the northern tip of what is know as the Palliser Triangle. It is perhaps most famous as being a filming location for a scene in the 1978 Superman film.

Next stop Barons (population 341), which once had a lovely tree line boulevard for its main street. Today looks very much like a ghost town. It is the northern tip of what is know as the Palliser Triangle. It is perhaps most famous as being a filming location for a scene in the 1978 Superman film.

Nature is slowly taking over this old motel on Main Street.

Nature is slowly taking over this old motel on Main Street.

Someone has tried to brighten up this building and main street with a mural, but it has seen better days.

Someone has tried to brighten up this building and main street with a mural, but it has seen better days.

The quilt-like mural is composed of blocks each with a name of a local family.

The quilt-like mural is composed of blocks each with a name of a local family.

Loved these hand cut steel street signs.

Loved these hand cut steel street signs.

This one made me think of my Mom who calls herself “The Queen of the Rails.”

This one made me think of my Mom who calls herself “The Queen of the Rails.”

Next stop Nobleford population 1,280 where we found this charming wooden train in a backyard. Nobleford has realized an amazing revitalization since 2005 with a population increase of 50%, a 300% increase in employment and possibly the lowest municipal taxes in Canada.

Next stop Nobleford population 1,280 where we found this charming wooden train in a backyard. Nobleford has realized an amazing revitalization since 2005 with a population increase of 50%, a 300% increase in employment and possibly the lowest municipal taxes in Canada.

Not sure if this is suppose to be folk art or some contemporary art installation about how we clutter our lives with things.

Not sure if this is suppose to be folk art or some contemporary art installation about how we clutter our lives with things.

This old ice cream parlour with its board walk in Picture Butte (population 1,810) caught our attention, but unfortunately it is closed.

This old ice cream parlour with its board walk in Picture Butte (population 1,810) caught our attention, but unfortunately it is closed.

However, we did find this folk art gate. We haven’t seen one like this before.

However, we did find this folk art gate. We haven’t seen one like this before.

After an over night stay in Lethbridge our next stop was Magrath (population 2,374) where we were greeted by its unique skyline.

After an over night stay in Lethbridge our next stop was Magrath (population 2,374) where we were greeted by its unique skyline.

Love how this modern grain elevator has a miniature historic grain elevator on the top, but with a rounded roof rather than a pointed pitched roof.

Love how this modern grain elevator has a miniature historic grain elevator on the top, but with a rounded roof rather than a pointed pitched roof.

I have never seen a Civic Ave in any town or city before.

I have never seen a Civic Ave in any town or city before.

What is it about small towns and fun fire hydrants. Some might see then a kitschy but I love them.

What is it about small towns and fun fire hydrants. Some might see then a kitschy but I love them.

Some might also see this mural as kitschy but I found it intriguing.

Some might also see this mural as kitschy but I found it intriguing.

Next stop Cardston population 3,585. This log house was built by Charles Ora Card who in the autumn of 1887 led the first group of Mormons from Utah to Canada. It was one of the first buildings in the new Cardston townsite and remained for many years the centre of Cardston’s development.

Next stop Cardston population 3,585. This log house was built by Charles Ora Card who in the autumn of 1887 led the first group of Mormons from Utah to Canada. It was one of the first buildings in the new Cardston townsite and remained for many years the centre of Cardston’s development.

Loved the oversized arches of the School Division building.

Loved the oversized arches of the School Division building.

Guess a coat of paint made this building the New Block.

Guess a coat of paint made this building the New Block.

Cardston’s lovely historic Main Street was deserted on Saturday morning as everyone was at church.

Cardston’s lovely historic Main Street was deserted on Saturday morning as everyone was at church.

The Art Deco theatre was the architectural highlight of the street.

The Art Deco theatre was the architectural highlight of the street.

This old hotel dominated Cardston’s Main Street like a ghost of past prosperity.

This old hotel dominated Cardston’s Main Street like a ghost of past prosperity.

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What a great name for a cafe….

What a great name for a cafe….

Not sure if I like the paint job or not, but love the rounded corner.

Not sure if I like the paint job or not, but love the rounded corner.

As the Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association I ignited one of the first “Say No To Panhandlers” campaigns in Canada. You don’t hear much about panhandling problems anymore are there fewer or have we just accepted them.

As the Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association I ignited one of the first “Say No To Panhandlers” campaigns in Canada. You don’t hear much about panhandling problems anymore are there fewer or have we just accepted them.

On Main Street was a charming Mormon bookstore. It was an very interesting place to explore as it had a very different vibe with everyone dressed up as they were going or coming from church. It also had some unique books like this one.

On Main Street was a charming Mormon bookstore. It was an very interesting place to explore as it had a very different vibe with everyone dressed up as they were going or coming from church. It also had some unique books like this one.

Perfect bench!

Perfect bench!

The clouds in the background created a surreal sense of place for the temple entrance.

The clouds in the background created a surreal sense of place for the temple entrance.

Sandstone buildings always have charm and warmth that makes them timeless.

Sandstone buildings always have charm and warmth that makes them timeless.

Next stop Waterton (population 104) and the majestic Prince of Wales hotel.

Next stop Waterton (population 104) and the majestic Prince of Wales hotel.

I think it would make a great birdhouse!

I think it would make a great birdhouse!

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Yes the hotel still uses room keys.

Yes the hotel still uses room keys.

Was surprised to find this 20th century artifact in downtown Waterton.

Was surprised to find this 20th century artifact in downtown Waterton.

One of the many charming cottages in Waterton.

One of the many charming cottages in Waterton.

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Love how the roof of the church mirrors the mountain behind. By design or chance?

Love how the roof of the church mirrors the mountain behind. By design or chance?

Classic mid century garage today not only serves the needs of vehicles, but also rents bikes and kayaks, as well as being a convenience store.

Classic mid century garage today not only serves the needs of vehicles, but also rents bikes and kayaks, as well as being a convenience store.

One of the reason for out trip was to experience the live music at the Twin Butte General Store that was recently written up as one of Alberta’s best honky-tonks.  Link: Searching for Calgary’s true country heart  We had front row seats, but I wouldn’t call it a real honky-tonk as it is more a restaurant than a live music venue - I’d take Calgary’s Blues Can any day. But if you are in the area it is a must stop as it is a quirky general store.

One of the reason for out trip was to experience the live music at the Twin Butte General Store that was recently written up as one of Alberta’s best honky-tonks. Link: Searching for Calgary’s true country heart We had front row seats, but I wouldn’t call it a real honky-tonk as it is more a restaurant than a live music venue - I’d take Calgary’s Blues Can any day. But if you are in the area it is a must stop as it is a quirky general store.

Twin Butte population 10.

Twin Butte population 10.

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Next stop Pincher Creek population 3,642 with its pleasant Main Street.

Next stop Pincher Creek population 3,642 with its pleasant Main Street.

This strange sculpture marks the entrance to downtown. The plaque gives no information on the artist or its significance. Turns out it is an enlarged pincer that would be used for trimming the feet of horses. Turns out in 1868 when a group of prospectors lost a pincer in the small creek at this location and in 1876 the North-West Mounted Police discovered the rusting tool in the creek and named the area Pincher Creek.

This strange sculpture marks the entrance to downtown. The plaque gives no information on the artist or its significance. Turns out it is an enlarged pincer that would be used for trimming the feet of horses. Turns out in 1868 when a group of prospectors lost a pincer in the small creek at this location and in 1876 the North-West Mounted Police discovered the rusting tool in the creek and named the area Pincher Creek.

it has the typical historic murals, as well as some surprises.

it has the typical historic murals, as well as some surprises.

Who let this cow out of the pasture? Is this one of Calgary’s “Udderly Art” cows? The cow is on the balcony of the historic King Edward Hotel.

Who let this cow out of the pasture? Is this one of Calgary’s “Udderly Art” cows? The cow is on the balcony of the historic King Edward Hotel.

Quilt shop window…

Quilt shop window…

Pincher Creek’s Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village is definitely worth a visit. They had an amazing quilt show when we were there.

Pincher Creek’s Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village is definitely worth a visit. They had an amazing quilt show when we were there.

There is lots of fun local history artifacts.

There is lots of fun local history artifacts.

The Museum also includes a village that is very much like Calgary’s Heritage Park but on a smaller scale.

The Museum also includes a village that is very much like Calgary’s Heritage Park but on a smaller scale.

I am a sucker for minimalist architecture.

I am a sucker for minimalist architecture.

I am also a sucker for brick and rounded corners.

I am also a sucker for brick and rounded corners.

Next stop Longview population 307 and a popular watering hole along Highway #22. The towns Main Street has two iconic hotels - Twin Cities Hotel and Blue Sky Motel. It has also become a bit of an artists colony with several art galleries and cafes.

Next stop Longview population 307 and a popular watering hole along Highway #22. The towns Main Street has two iconic hotels - Twin Cities Hotel and Blue Sky Motel. It has also become a bit of an artists colony with several art galleries and cafes.

Blue Sky Motel.

Blue Sky Motel.

We were surprise to find The Film Experience Camera Store with its huge collection of film cameras and accessories. It literally has hundreds, maybe over a thousand vintage film cameras, lenses and accessories. It is rumoured to be the largest film camera store in Canada. Owner David Marshall is very friendly and knowledgeable. Next door is the Prairie Light Gallery that feature his photography ,as well as others.

We were surprise to find The Film Experience Camera Store with its huge collection of film cameras and accessories. It literally has hundreds, maybe over a thousand vintage film cameras, lenses and accessories. It is rumoured to be the largest film camera store in Canada. Owner David Marshall is very friendly and knowledgeable. Next door is the Prairie Light Gallery that feature his photography ,as well as others.

A blast from the past….

A blast from the past….

Our adventure ended as it began with a front yard full of pieces of folk art.

Our adventure ended as it began with a front yard full of pieces of folk art.

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:

Should we finish East Village before starting the Stampede/Victoria Park Makeover

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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?

 

Road Trip: Postcards From Alberta's Badlands & Ghost Towns

This summer we decided to explore some of the off-the-beaten path places in southern Alberta. Our first adventure was to Drumheller (where we haven’t been for decades) and to some of the small town “main streets” along the way, as well as the Badlands.  

This road trip strengthen our resolve to think outside the “city.”

Public Art?

Public Art?

More public art?

More public art?

HOPE….found this book sculpture at the Salvation Army in Drumheller.

HOPE….found this book sculpture at the Salvation Army in Drumheller.

Everybody loves a train ride!

Everybody loves a train ride!

First Stop: Irricana (population 1,216) 

Its name is a contraction of the words “irrigation canals” which are found in the area.  Settlement dates back to 1909 and it was incorporated as a village on June 9, 1911, by which time it had a post office, hotel and general store operated by the Irricana Trading Company.  Today, though the store’s building is still standing, is abandoned and much of the Main Street consists of vacant lots making it look like a ghost-town. While there are some attempts to add some colour and charm with murals, it seems a bit futile.  

However, just outside of town on the highway #9, sits a fun installation of farm equipment mounted high up on posts promoting, Pioneer Acres, where I am told you will find a dozen buildings filled with unique exhibits and artifacts from the early prairie pioneers.  Too bad those buildings weren’t located in the town along Main Street. 

Link:Pioneer Acres https://www.pioneeracres.ab.ca

The Irricana Hotel a reminder of the community’s once bustling Main Street. Today “Old Smoky” stands guard. The plaque says the horse was fabricated by Kevan Leycraft and donated by Melvin Brown to commemorate his residence in Irricana since 1952. He passed away in 1997.

The Irricana Hotel a reminder of the community’s once bustling Main Street. Today “Old Smoky” stands guard. The plaque says the horse was fabricated by Kevan Leycraft and donated by Melvin Brown to commemorate his residence in Irricana since 1952. He passed away in 1997.

Main Street Irricana.

Main Street Irricana.

One of several large paintings attached to the sides buildings in downtown Irricana to add some colour and charm. These were done by artists Leona Fraser in 2009.

One of several large paintings attached to the sides buildings in downtown Irricana to add some colour and charm. These were done by artists Leona Fraser in 2009.

Second Stop:  Beiseker (population 819) 

Lying in a belt of rich black soil, Beiseker was developed as an agricultural service centre. It was founded by the Calgary Colonization Company, whose purpose was to promote settlement by demonstrating the grain-growing potential of the area. The village is named after Thomas Beiseker, a partner and vice president of the company. The surrounding area became known as "World Wheat King Capital" because of its ability to grow wheat. Today, a  small park at the end of main street tells the history of the town. It even has a tiny sod house that you can explore. 

The village began to grow in 1910 when the branch line of the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed. The Grand Trunk Pacific line - now owned by Canadian National Railway - was constructed in 1912 to the east of the central business district

With the construction and intersection of Highways 9, 72 and 806 being at the northeast edge of the village, Beiseker came to have a very favourable location in terms of road and rail access. Almost equidistant from Calgary and Drumheller, Beiseker began to emerge as a local service and trade centre for the surrounding rural agricultural area. 

Beiseker currently serves as a centre for local agricultural services including fertilizer, seed cleaning, and soil testing. There is a local UFA outlet, and a Canadian Malting Co. grain elevator serving farmers in the area. Local industries serve the oil patch.  

It is also home to the Canadian office of Lampson International, a large international company specializing in construction cranes and a biomedical incinerator which handles medical waste from hospitals in Alberta, Canada and internationally.  

Not unlike Irricana, wandering Beisker’s main street on a Saturday morning was akin to walking in a ghost town -  nobody on the streets, lots of the main street buildings are gone and those that remain look like they are struggling to survive.

Old and new, train station becomes City offices.

Old and new, train station becomes City offices.

It is hard to imagine that people actually lived year round in these tiny homes. Put the new “Tiny Homes” trend into perspective.

It is hard to imagine that people actually lived year round in these tiny homes. Put the new “Tiny Homes” trend into perspective.

If you wander around the residential streets your will find these fun gnome fire hydrants. We have seen these before in small Alberta towns. Not sure if this is an Alberta thing, prairie thing or small towns everywhere. They sure are fun.

If you wander around the residential streets your will find these fun gnome fire hydrants. We have seen these before in small Alberta towns. Not sure if this is an Alberta thing, prairie thing or small towns everywhere. They sure are fun.

We decided to have a coffee and pastry at Arcada Cafe….great cinnamon buns…and we almost missed the fact they have a vintage arcade room in the back. A must see for anyone into old arcade games.

We decided to have a coffee and pastry at Arcada Cafe….great cinnamon buns…and we almost missed the fact they have a vintage arcade room in the back. A must see for anyone into old arcade games.

Love the graphics on the old games….

Love the graphics on the old games….

Love the fun factor…

Love the fun factor…

Third Stop: Horseshoe Canyon Park 

 While not the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Canyon sits just off Hwy 9, 17 km west of Drumheller in the Canadian Badlands. It is an eye-popping sight. Stand at the edge of this huge U-shaped canyon and try to imagine what it was like when the dinosaurs roamed a lush sub-tropical habitat some 70 million years ago. Today, marked trails guide your wandering down into the canyon to get a closer look at the different soils, rock formations and plants. There are even helicopter rides available on-site.  The park is free and there is lots of free parking. 

Horseshoe Canyon

Horseshoe Canyon

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Fourth Stop: Drumheller (population 7,982)

When we first moved to Alberta in the early ‘80s, Drumheller was best known as the home of the Drumheller Institution (aka prison). Opened in 1967 as a medium security facility, a minimum security facility was added in 1997. Today, it has a capacity of 704 (582 medium security and 122 minimum security). The Institution provides a stable economic and employment base for Drumheller and surrounding area. 

In the late 1980s, Drumheller became famous as a center for dinosaur tourism and research with the opening of the Tyrell Museum in 1985 (it subsequently received “Royal” status in 1990.  Located 6 km northwest from Drumheller, the museum is situated in the middle of the fossil-bearing strata of the Late Cretaceous Horseshoe Canyon Formationand holds 130,000 fossil specimens from the Alberta badlands, Dinosaur Provincial Park and the Devil's Coulee Dinosaur Egg Site.  In the first year it attracted over 500,000 visitors from over 100 countries. Today, it averages about 350,000 visitors annually. 

We opted to skip the museum (a new exhibition had just opened and it was a zoo) to flaneur downtown Drumheller. To our pleasant surprise, the downtown has several charming shops, restaurants - even a Saturday farmers’ market.  What impressed us most is how the city has capitalized on the dinosaur theme with fun creatures at every downtown corner making for great photo ops. We encounter several families exploring the downtown taking photos of the kids with the dinosaurs.

Love these fun cartoonish characters waiting for you to sit beside them. Perhaps cities take their public art programs too seriously. People just want to have fun….perhaps big cities take their public art too seriously?

Love these fun cartoonish characters waiting for you to sit beside them. Perhaps cities take their public art programs too seriously. People just want to have fun….perhaps big cities take their public art too seriously?

Downtown Drumheller has an eclectic collection of shops to explore.

Downtown Drumheller has an eclectic collection of shops to explore.

Treasure hunters will enjoy Drumheller’s downtown art galleries and antique stores.

Treasure hunters will enjoy Drumheller’s downtown art galleries and antique stores.

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Couldn’t resist one more postcard of the fun benches. I preferred these to the World’s largest dinosaur (86 ft high and 151 feet long) that is located a few blocks from downtown.

Couldn’t resist one more postcard of the fun benches. I preferred these to the World’s largest dinosaur (86 ft high and 151 feet long) that is located a few blocks from downtown.

There are dinosaurs everywhere you look in Dumheller.

There are dinosaurs everywhere you look in Dumheller.

Drumheller has preserved a sense of past in its downtown.

Drumheller has preserved a sense of past in its downtown.

How clever? All of the streets have not only old names but new dinosaur names. How fun!

How clever? All of the streets have not only old names but new dinosaur names. How fun!

Just outside of Drumheller on the way to Wayne is Asterroid a must stop for those who like ice cream. No road trip is complete with out an ice cream cone.

Just outside of Drumheller on the way to Wayne is Asterroid a must stop for those who like ice cream. No road trip is complete with out an ice cream cone.

 Fifth Stop: Wayne (population 40)

Wayne, located 10 km southeast of Drumheller was once a thriving coal mining town whose population is estimated to have reached a high of 10,000 in 1932. The last mine closed in 1957 and today it is home to about 40 diehard souls. Half the fun of visiting Wayne is navigating a winding road with 11 (no word of a lie)  one-lane bridges along a moon-like landscape to get there. 

In its heyday, Wayne had a school, hospital, hotel, theatre and several stores along its main street.  Today, all that remains is the Rosedeer Hotel which surprisingly still operates as a hotel and its Last Chance Saloon, now a popular watering hole for touring motorcycle groups.  The hotel has only 6 rooms, each with a different theme – Titanic, Golf, Harley, Miners, Honeymoon and Music Room.  

The Saloon often has live music and hosts the annual WayneStock music festival (this year’s festival is from August 30 to Sept 2, 2019).  While we were there the Maybellines were playing the afternoon set – it was magical. 

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Sixth Stop: East Coulee (population 148) 

We “passed” on stopping at the Hoodoos Park just east of Drumheller and proceeded directly to East Coulee and the Atlas Coal mine (a national historic site) site 16 km east of Drumheller. Once home to about 3,000 residents, its heyday was between 1920s and 1950s when, like Wayne, the coal mines were excavating hundreds of thousands of tons of coal.  Today, the old school has been converted into a museum which also hosts an annual spring music festival “SpringFest.”  Unfortunately we arrived just after 5 pm too late to get into the museum. 

The streets of East Coulee are lined with huge trees, giving it an oasis-like feeling compared to the barren surrounding landscape. The tiny miners’ homes are a reminder of how early pioneers lived in modest small homes, each probably housed six or more people.

Nothing is left of its main street except one large building that has been converted into a studio for the manufacturing of dinosaur-related items for museums, movie studios, parades and theme parks.  There is also a small gift shop with a lovely garden.  

Just across the river from East Coulee is The Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site that operated from 1936 to 1979. It is the most complete historic coal mine in Canada and is home to the country's last standing wooden coal tipple. In fact, it’s  the largest still standing in North America. Designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 1989, it achieved  National Historic Site of Canada status in 2002. 

Various guided tour options exist. You can take a train ride through the site, walk up the tipple or tour the 210 foot underground conveyor tunnel. The facilities are open to visitors from May to Thanksgiving weekend. 

With not enough time to do a tour (we arrived 20 minutes before closing) we instead walked up the dead end road west of the parking lot where we had heard there was an art installation.  Sure enough, at the end of the road, stood dozens of five foot tall tree limbs with alien head-like nobs stuck in the ground with rock piles at their base to help them stay standing. Many of the limbs had various small trinkets hanging or sitting on them, creating a somber, graveyard sense of place.  There is no markings or signs indicating who did them, why there are there, which only adds to the mystique. 

You can hardly see the homes for the trees and shrubs in East Coulee. It is like time has passed this community by.

You can hardly see the homes for the trees and shrubs in East Coulee. It is like time has passed this community by.

We were shocked to find a gift shop in East Coulee.

We were shocked to find a gift shop in East Coulee.

All aboard….

All aboard….

Railway bridge from Atlas Coal mine to East Coulee and beyond.

Railway bridge from Atlas Coal mine to East Coulee and beyond.

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Atlas Coal mine site

Atlas Coal mine site

There is lots of mine artifacts next to the parking lot with information panels.

There is lots of mine artifacts next to the parking lot with information panels.

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Loved this coal dust sand box….

Loved this coal dust sand box….

Public Art?

Public Art?

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Seventh Stop: Rosebud (population 87) 

It was founded in the 1885 by James Wishart, while following the Gleichen Trail with his family on their way to Montana. Arriving in the dark, they awoke the next  morning to discover the river valley covered by wild roses- Alberta’s official flower. Wishart then reportedly said, "Here's the promised land; we go no further." 

The beauty of the valley has attracted many people throughout the years, from nature lovers to artists. Notable Canadian artists A. Y. Jackson and H. G. Glyde, members of the Group of Seven, spent the summer of 1944 painting in the area. 

 Over the years, farming and coal mining have been the primary industries. In 1972, the Severn Creek School was shut down as part of an Alberta-wide education consolidating process, forcing local children to be bussed to Standard and Drumheller.  This resulted in the closure of  many local businesses and the hamlet population dropping to under a dozen people. 

But at Easter 1973, a group of young adults from Calgary brought about 40 teenagers out and camped in the then empty mercantile building. This pilot event initially evolved into a summer camp funded by a grant from the Alberta government and then later, Rosebud Camp of the Arts supported by Crescent Heights Baptist Church in Calgary. 

In 1977, a high school was founded using the old buildings of the town as classrooms and emphasizing practical visual, music and the performing arts in its curriculum. In the 1980s, Rosebud School of the Arts began to operate theatre, which eventually developed into Rosebud Theatre and the school shifted its emphasis to post-secondary education. 

Today, Rosebud Theatre runs as a fully professional company that offers programming year round and is a tourist attraction drawing patrons largely from Calgary and Drumheller.  It has a few shops, an art gallery and an excellent museum along its two main streets.  There were probably a dozen people wandering the streets while we were there. There are even an inn and bed & breakfast accommodations for those not wanting to drive home after the theatre. 

While tourism might save Rosebud, it can’t save every small town and village in Alberta. 

Link: Rosebud Theatre 

Link: The Hamlet of Rosebud 

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The old hotel is now the offices for the Rosebud Theatre.

The old hotel is now the offices for the Rosebud Theatre.

The Rosebud Museum/Library has an extensive collection of early 20th century artifacts documenting the life of the early prairie settlers. Admission is FREE.

The Rosebud Museum/Library has an extensive collection of early 20th century artifacts documenting the life of the early prairie settlers. Admission is FREE.

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In the Library…the tag reads “Tailored by Suzanne est. 1952. Dress donated by Minnie Neufeld (Ziegler). Worn during the time Minnie waitressed for the Carolina a well-known restaurant in downtown Calgary. Off duty standards for dress and behaviour were very strict. No gum chewing, spitting or swearing in public.

In the Library…the tag reads “Tailored by Suzanne est. 1952. Dress donated by Minnie Neufeld (Ziegler). Worn during the time Minnie waitressed for the Carolina a well-known restaurant in downtown Calgary. Off duty standards for dress and behaviour were very strict. No gum chewing, spitting or swearing in public.

While wandering the streets we found this house with an elaborate model railway in the front yard. The house next door was in the process of being remodelled to sell model railway pieces.

While wandering the streets we found this house with an elaborate model railway in the front yard. The house next door was in the process of being remodelled to sell model railway pieces.

Lesson Learned

On our way home, we chatted about how this road trip was a good reminder of how Alberta and the prairies have evolved over thousands of years from roaming dinosaurs, to nomadic indigenous people, to agricultural and resource pioneers (first coal, then oil and gas), to today’s corporate farming and resource development.  

It is good for us city folks to get out and explore the real towns and villages (not just the tourist attractions and tourist towns - aka Banff and Canmore) to get a better perspective of the world we share.  While much of the media attention these days is about the urbanization of Canada and decline of rural living, there are still a significant number of people living in rural Alberta communities - 656,048 according to 2016 Census of Canada.

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

Flaneuring Fun In Maple Creek

Delacour: Ghost Town or Golf Town

Meeting Creek: Ghost Town Could Be Art Town

Calgary: Needs to foster more "Transit Oriented Communities"

One of the things I was most impressed with during my month long visit to Vancouver was the amazing Transit Oriented Development (TOD) that has happened in that city over the past 15 years.  I couldn’t help but think the future of urban living in North American cities is linked to creating vibrant, dense communities next to LRT stations. 

Followed by, why isn’t Calgary fast tracking TOD development next to existing LRT Stations, rather than expanding LRT to the north and SE edges of the city. And why hasn’t anything happened at Westbrook Station which open in December 2012?

So I decide to ask David Couroux (City of Calgary’s TOD planner), Joe Starkman (a developer with TOD experience) and Gary Andrishak (a planner with 25+ years of TOD planning experience across North America, who lives in Vancouver) why Calgary isn’t a leader when it comes to TOD development?

The answers were very insightful and informative….

FYI: A shorter version of this blog was published by CBC Calgary as part of their feature “Caglary At A Crossroads.” It didn’t include Andrishak’s thoughts on why he has stopped using the term “TOD.” And, the photos are all different.

Calgary’s Chinook LRT Station is in the bottom right hand corner and Chinook (shopping) Centre is in the top left corner. (sorry couldn’t figure out how to mark them using the new Google Earth). The land use around the Chinook LRT Station is dominated by surface parking lots, which is the poorest use of the land.

Calgary’s Chinook LRT Station is in the bottom right hand corner and Chinook (shopping) Centre is in the top left corner. (sorry couldn’t figure out how to mark them using the new Google Earth). The land use around the Chinook LRT Station is dominated by surface parking lots, which is the poorest use of the land.

Google Earth image of Calgary’s Anderson LRT Station (see red mark, not sure why it worked on this one) surrounded by surface parking lots and major roads. There is poor pedestrian connectivity to the Southcentre shopping mall, Fish Creek Library and surrounding neighbourhoods. .

Google Earth image of Calgary’s Anderson LRT Station (see red mark, not sure why it worked on this one) surrounded by surface parking lots and major roads. There is poor pedestrian connectivity to the Southcentre shopping mall, Fish Creek Library and surrounding neighbourhoods. .

Vancouver’s Metrotown not only includes the SkyTrain station and the mega MetroTown Mall, but numerous high-rise condos, office buildings, public library and several park spaces. There is very little surface parking.

Vancouver’s Metrotown not only includes the SkyTrain station and the mega MetroTown Mall, but numerous high-rise condos, office buildings, public library and several park spaces. There is very little surface parking.

What is TOD?

Transit oriented development (TOD) is commonly defined as high-density, mixed-use development within a 15 minute walk of a transit station. TOD provides a range of benefits including increased transit ridership, reduced regional congestion and pollution, and healthier, more walkable neighborhoods. TOD neighborhoods have a mix of affordable and market-rate housing, as well as a mix of commercial amenities – grocers, restaurants, cafes, shops, fitness studios and professional services.  

Every TOD needs to be a mixture of uses and a mix of housing types.

Every TOD needs to be a mixture of uses and a mix of housing types.

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Calgary lags behind

I was gobsmacked by the numerous high-rise residential towers next to the Metrotown SkyTrain station and Metrotown Mall in Burnaby.  I couldn’t help but wonder why there hasn’t been major residential development next to Calgary’s Chinook and Anderson LRT stations as they have much the same conditions as Metrotown i.e. both have major malls and major road nearby. The Metrotown SkyTrain didn’t open until 1985, while Chinook and Anderson opened in 1981.  

The more I rode Vancouver’s Skytrain train the more impressed I was with how almost every station is surrounded not only by mid and high-rise residential, but with grocery stores and other amenities to create an urban village.  

By clustering a large share of the region’s population and employment growth and new major public spaces, community facilities and cultural amenities in locations well-served by public transit Vancouver has become a being a leader in the development of walkable, transit oriented communities throughout the region not just in the City Centre.  Metro Vancouver currently has nine major town centres and 18 smaller ones, each with its own LRT station. 

Recently the Daily Hive an online Vancouver newspaper published a list of 21 mega transit-oriented developments in the works for the lower Main Land. These are not just one or two towers next to an LRT station but entire new communities like Calgary’s East village, University District and Currie.  Some of the plans are so big they include four separate LRT Stations. 

While Calgary has its share of 21st century TOD happening – Bridgeland, East Village, Brentwood and Dalhousie, we are lagging behind cities like Vancouver and Portland who both opened their LRT after us.  

Upon arriving home, I contacted several planners and developers to try to understand why Calgary hasn’t seen more TOD development.  I was especially curious why TOD along the South Leg - Chinook, Anderson, Stampede Park, Manchester (39th Street) hasn’t happened given they are all surrounded by underutilized land perfect for mixed-use TOD development 

Link: 21 Major Developments Plan Near SkyTrain Stations

Metrotown Station lets you off across the street from the Metrotown Mall, three office towers and numerous residential buildings.

Metrotown Station lets you off across the street from the Metrotown Mall, three office towers and numerous residential buildings.

The Metrotown Station is very inviting at ground level.

The Metrotown Station is very inviting at ground level.

Metrotown office towers.

Metrotown office towers.

Metroopolis shopping centre has mostly underground parking.

Metroopolis shopping centre has mostly underground parking.

Metropolis entrance by car.

Metropolis entrance by car.

Metrotown has sky bridges over busy streets.

Metrotown has sky bridges over busy streets.

Here’s what I learned…

I first met with David Couroux, the City of Calgary’s TOD Planner, and he informed me the biggest barrier to TOD development in Calgary is funding for the infrastructure needed to undertake TOD development – everything from upgrading water and sewer, to the need for better sidewalks, parks and integrating bus services with trains i.e. a transit hub.  

He said with a smile, “creating policy and plans is cheap, it is the implementation that is expensive.”   

Indeed, the City often gets bog down in creating endless policy and plans that often act as a barrier to development vs an incentive.  And, while many think infill projects in established communities are free to the City i.e. no need for more roads, water, sewer, parks, police and emergency services, that is not true as all of the infrastructure is old and won’t support more development. 

That being said, Couroux noted Calgary has seen significant new TOD development in East Village, Bridgeland, Brentwood and Dalhousie and Stampede Station over the past 15 years. 

He pointed out in 2009 the City approved the Hillhurst Sunnyside ARP Transit Oriented Development and almost immediately mid-rise developments began to happen – St. John’s on Tenth, Ven, Pixel, Lido and Kensington with the new Memorial Drive and Annex condos currently under construction and Theodore being marketed.  

Couroux thinks The Bridges is perhaps the best example of TOD in Calgary. It has proceeded slowly but steadily and there are only 2 or 3 parcels of land left to develop. It features all the characteristics of TOD one would expect, higher density, mixed-use development, a pedestrian focus to the mobility network, parks, mains street and upgraded public realm.   

Anderson station remains an unrealized opportunity, as do other south-line station areas like Heritage and Southland. The requirement to maintain park and ride spaces adds significant cost to the redevelopment of these site for TOD because it would need to be accommodated by an expensive underground parkade. 

Couroux is optimistic that redevelopment around stations like Brentwood and Dalhousie and get long-awaited projects at stations like Anderson and Heritage will get off the ground in the near future.

Link: TOD Bridgeland

The Bridgeland LRT Station sits in the middle of Memorial Drive making it difficult to integrate it into the community. Many of Calgary’s LRT Stations are in the middle of busy roads, resulting in lots of stairs to climb to bridges over the road and long walks before you get into the community.

The Bridgeland LRT Station sits in the middle of Memorial Drive making it difficult to integrate it into the community. Many of Calgary’s LRT Stations are in the middle of busy roads, resulting in lots of stairs to climb to bridges over the road and long walks before you get into the community.

Another view of the Bridgeland LRT Station illustrating how isolated the station is from the community with major road on either side.

Another view of the Bridgeland LRT Station illustrating how isolated the station is from the community with major road on either side.

The Crowfoot Station which opened in 2009 sits in the middle of Crowchild Trail freeway. It is going to be impossible and expensive to integrate this station into the community. Perhaps in the future we will built a new community over-top of the roads at LRT stations?

The Crowfoot Station which opened in 2009 sits in the middle of Crowchild Trail freeway. It is going to be impossible and expensive to integrate this station into the community. Perhaps in the future we will built a new community over-top of the roads at LRT stations?

By contrast Calgary’s Sunnyside Station is integrated into the community with grocery store next to it, shops just a block away and homes right next to it. This is the ideal way to design TOD redevelopment into an existing community. Even the station design has a home-like look to it.

By contrast Calgary’s Sunnyside Station is integrated into the community with grocery store next to it, shops just a block away and homes right next to it. This is the ideal way to design TOD redevelopment into an existing community. Even the station design has a home-like look to it.

Developer frustrations…

Joe Starkman, President of Knightsbridge Homes, expressed in a telephone chat his frustration with the City’s focus on creating plans and policy vs implementation.  Starkman who is responsible for the playful yellow, red and green condo towers at the Brentwood station, says he wouldn’t do TOD again. Why? Because it takes too long to get approvals - it took four years and one million dollars to get University Village approved.  He said he wouldn’t go to the City for a “rezoning” today as it is too costly and there is too much uncertainty if you will get approval.  

He pointed out Westbrook Station’s “Request For Proposals” was 400 pages making it too arduous to review and understand.  In his opinion, the red tape at City Hall is getting worse not better. 

He is frustrated by the City’s double talk i.e. they say they want more density near transit corridors, but when a developer comes to them with a proposal instead of being fast tracked it, it gets bogged down in endless reviews and community engagement.  He noted “it is often City Roads and Water engineers who are barrier to TOD development, not the planners.”  

Other developers have shared similar experiences with me over the years.

Google Earth image of University City condos next to Brentwood Mall and Coop grocery store with Brentwood LRT station in the bottom left hand corner.

Google Earth image of University City condos next to Brentwood Mall and Coop grocery store with Brentwood LRT station in the bottom left hand corner.

TOD Planner says….

I then contacted Gary Andrishak, Director, IBI Group in Vancouver, who has over 30 years of experience in TOD planning in North America to get his insights into Calgary’s TOD history and future.  Given has been involved in the development of many of Calgary’s TOD plans (including the new Green Line) so he knows Calgary’s situation well.  

Andrishak was indeed insightful and forthright in his comments.  He said upfront comparing Calgary is Vancouver is unfair as “Vancouver is as good as it gets when it comes to TOD development in North America and it is a very different city than Calgary.”  He quickly added “a city that can sprawl will sprawl, “which is Calgary’s problem as there are no barriers to sprawl like the ocean or mountains in Vancouver.  

One of the biggest failures in Calgary is Council hasn’t linked transportation and land use planning, i.e. all of the land along transit corridors and near LRT stations has be zoned for mixed-use, multi-family development to stream line TOD development.

He also suggested that early on the City treated rapid public transit as a utility rather than the “glue that can hold a city together. Calgary lost a generation of TOD over cities like Portland, who saw the synergies of building density adjacent to transit back it he ‘90s.”

Some of the other barriers to good TOD development in Calgary include the fact that too much TOD development is still negotiated between the Councillors and the developers, shutting out the planners, which leads to complications later. 

He also noted most of Calgary’s TOD developments are not well designed when it comes to the mix of uses and the incorporation of mid-rise buildings.  Andrishak thinks Calgary has a tendency “to go too big, too quickly.”  He said in Vancouver developers understand the importance of investing in quality useable public realm that creates a more attractive walkable pedestrian experience; that is not the case for most developments in Calgary. 

With respect to the South Leg of the LRT, Andrishak thinks the decision to use the CPR right-of-way has resulted in making TOD development difficult as people simply don’t want to live next to heavy rail lines due to noise and safety concerns.  

Similarly, the decision to run the NW leg in the middle of Crowchild Trail is also a barrier as you need to be able to build right up to the station to have good TOD development.  Building LRT in next to or in the middle of a freeway just doesn’t work in Andrishak’s experience. 

The New Westminster SkyTrain station is right next to heavy train tracks, like the south leg of Calgary’s LRT but they have managed to still create urban village next to the tracks.

The New Westminster SkyTrain station is right next to heavy train tracks, like the south leg of Calgary’s LRT but they have managed to still create urban village next to the tracks.

The train tracks separate the downtown from the river’s edge requiring several pedestrian bridges.

The train tracks separate the downtown from the river’s edge requiring several pedestrian bridges.

The SkyTrain station is integrated into a huge parking lot and high-rise development with a grocery store as the anchor.

The SkyTrain station is integrated into a huge parking lot and high-rise development with a grocery store as the anchor.

There is a lovely linear park between the tracks and river creating a mixed-use recreational destination. TOD must include creating public spaces where people can meet, relax and play.

There is a lovely linear park between the tracks and river creating a mixed-use recreational destination. TOD must include creating public spaces where people can meet, relax and play.

Transit Oriented Communities 

In fact, Andrishak has stopped using the term Transit Oriented Development and instead says we should be focused on “Transit Oriented Communities,” as transit is just one element of a creating good communities, which should be the ultimate goal.  

He thinks there are three keys to successful TOC development are: 

  • Public/Private collaboration

  • First/Last Mile connectivity

  • Real Community Engagement in the planning process 

Good public/private collaboration includes respecting each other’s needs, willingness to negotiate trade-offs, understanding with density comes amenities and a willingness to work together.  

In the urban planner world “First/Last mile connectivity” refers to the fact that most important part of the transit experience happens as you get on and off the bus/train - be that driving to the station/bus stop and finding a place to park or walking/cycling to the station/bus stop and waiting for the transit.  It refers to what everyday amenities are available within walking distance of transit so you don’t have to make extra stops.   

Andrishak thinks “real community engagement” happens when you combine EQUALLY the best insights of planning professionals, with best practices from committed local knowledge.”   

Finally, as Andrisak noted, “the car – no, make that the pick-up truck - is still king in Calgary,” adding “Calgary has one foot in the city and one in the country; there is still lots of room to grow.  You can still see the downtown from the edge of the city, so people think What’s the problem.” 

I wonder when Calgary will be able to wean itself off of its addiction to suburban “park and ride” lots and convert those parking lots into mixed-use town centres, rather than being so downtown centric.  

Calgary’s Sunalta Station is perhaps the most similar to Vancouver’s Skytrain as it has an elevated station next to railway tracks and major roads.

Calgary’s Sunalta Station is perhaps the most similar to Vancouver’s Skytrain as it has an elevated station next to railway tracks and major roads.

This is not a pedestrian friendly place.

This is not a pedestrian friendly place.

This is the ramp network on the north side of the Sunalta station to get to the, old Bus station and the future West Village community.

This is the ramp network on the north side of the Sunalta station to get to the, old Bus station and the future West Village community.

 Calgarians love their single family homes

Not only do Calgarians love their cars and pick-ups but they also love home ownership and living in single family homes.   

One of the key factors driving the incredible demand for new condos in Vancouver is the high cost of single family homes. "Single family homes, generally speaking, are beyond the reach of most households that don't already have very significant savings or a home of their own," said University of British Columbia economist Tom Davidoff in a September 2018 CTV Vancouver digital post based on a Zoocasa blog (Canadian real estate blog). 

A 2018 survey by Mustel Group for Sotheby’s International Realty Canada found 78% of Metro Vancouver’s young families reported they would like to own a single-family home, however, only 46 percent actually bought a detached house, with 27 percent buying a townhome and 27 percent a condo. The survey also found that 55% of those who don’t own a single family home today have given up any plans to do so.  

The same study found “the preference for single family home ownership (91%) is higher in Calgary than in any other metropolitan area in Canada. In addition, the rate of single family home ownership is significantly higher than any other city at 74% as the price of home ownership is more accessible in Calgary than other major cities. 

Link: https://mustelgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/2018-Modern-Family-Home-Ownership-Trends-Mustel_Sothebys-International-Realty-Canada.pdf 

The fact Calgary has the highest home ownership of any major city in Canada and the most affordable single family home prices means our market for TOD development which is exclusively mid to high-rise multi-family residential is smaller than any city in Canada. 

 Something to think about?

After all of these discussions, I couldn’t help but wonder would it be better for the city, province and federal governments to fund infill projects at LRT stations in major cities vs constructing new LRT lines.  

Rather than taking the LRT out to the edges of Calgary i.e. Green Line, which will just encourage more developments in places like Airdrie, Cochrane and Okotoks and more new edge community development in Calgary, wouldn’t it be better if we invested in the infrastructure needed to create more housing where we already have LRT and bus service? 

FYI: Calgary actually has a long history of TOD development dating back to the early 20th Century. For more information on this check out these links:

LInk: How Calgary’s Historic Street Car Network Shaped Our Inner-city

Link: Calgary’s Great TOD Neighbourhoods

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

Eveyday Tourist Transit Tales

Love it: On It Regional Transit

Calgary Transit: The Good & The Ugly

 

 

 

 

 

Calgary's University District vs Vancouver's Wesbrook Village

It is difficult for most to envision what a new community will look like when it is in the early stages of construction. Sure, there may be computer renderings and “fly-by” videos but it is still hard to visualize what the community will look like when upon arriving at the on-site sales centre, you only see dirt, diggers, signage and perhaps a few buildings and roads under construction.  

This is what the northwest corner of University District looked like in October 2015, with Market Mall in the background.

This is what the northwest corner of University District looked like in October 2015, with Market Mall in the background.

Today some of University District’s Main Street buildings are starting to take shape.

Today some of University District’s Main Street buildings are starting to take shape.

Computer rendering of University District’s future Main Street.

Computer rendering of University District’s future Main Street.

Impressed

Take Calgary’s new University District development (north of Alberta Children’s Hospital) for example. While a few new condo buildings, a dog park and playground park are completed, it still looks a bit random, like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces scattered everywhere.

So, when I was in Vancouver recently, I checked out the University of British Columbia Land Trust’s Wesbrook Village, as it was the model for the University of Calgary’s West Campus Development Trust’s University District. 

I was very impressed with how much has been accomplished at Wesbrook Village over the past 10 years. It already looks like an established community, thanks in part to Vancouver’s great climate for growing trees and shrubs.  With lush landscaping everywhere and six small urban parks strategically positioned so all residents enjoy park side living.  

Wesbrook Village truly is a garden city.

Wesbrook Village truly is a garden city.

The streetscapes of Wesbrook Village are outstanding.

The streetscapes of Wesbrook Village are outstanding.

How cool is this?

How cool is this?

Front yard? Back yard?

Front yard? Back yard?

Wesbrook is a child-friendly community.

Wesbrook is a child-friendly community.

New Community Planning

The plan for Wesbrook Village was approved in 2005, then revised in 2011 and again in 2016. While there is still lots of construction happening, you can see not only how the community is coming together, but also the similarities and difference with Calgary’s University District.  

University District’s plan was approved in 2016, but it too has moved quickly with construction of residential, commercial, parks and public spaces. It is a much larger development 184 acres compared to Wesbrook’s 25.7 acres as it includes 40-acres of parks, ponds and public spaces. However, Wesbrook located next to the 1,850-acre Pacific Spirit Park with its 54 kilometres of walking/hiking trails, means it has less need for parks and pathways.

When completed, Wesbrook Village will be home to about 12,500 people. Today, the current population is about 6,000 people, a number that’s increasing by about 700 people/year.  When fully built out, University District will have 7,000 homes, creating a new community of about 14,000 people.  Currently, about 400 people call University District home. 

When it comes to residential development, both communities are similar in that all the buildings are multi-family - townhomes and low rise (4 to 6 storeys) with a few towers (7 to 20 storeys).  In Calgary, the best comparison might be The Bridges in Bridgeland with its mix of low and mid-rise housing.  

Urban Amenities 

Wesbrook has about 35 businesses - 9 food, 8 retail and 18 services (banks medical and professional offices) - totalling about 126,000 square feet, built around a small town square plan. No additional commercial development is currently planned. 

University District’s masterplan calls for 300,000 square feet of retail on a nine-block main street that will be developed in four phases.  Already signed up is an interesting mix of commercial amenities – Analog Coffee, OEB Breakfast Co., Orangetheory, Press’d Sandwich Shop, UC Noodles and BBQ, University District Dental, YYC Cycle, Blaze Pizza, Copper Branch, Freshii, Curious Hair Skin Body, Scotiabank, and Denim & Smith Barbershops, along with the Alt Hotel. Wesbrook has no plans for a hotel.  

University District’s “big win” is its signing of Cineplex VIP Theatres, to be part of phase 2 of the retail plan, slated to break ground later in 2019. (“VIP” means adults only, as you can enjoy food and drinks (alcohol) delivered to you in your upscale recliner seats.)  

But perhaps the most obvious similarity between Wesbrook Village and University District is that they share the same anchor i.e. Save-On-Foods grocery store.  In Wesbrook’s case, Save-On-Foods anchors a town centre plan that includes a major community center, as well as shops, a high school and playing fields.  

At University District, Save-On-Food will anchor the nine-block main street (think Kensington Village’s 10thStreet and Kensington Road combined). However, rather than being a stand-alone building, University District’s Save-On-Foods store will be incorporated into a low rise residential building with 288 rental homes above. 

I was very impressed by Wesbrook’s University Hill Secondary School where students could be seen wandering the village adding much-needed daytime animation.  With a designated site for a future elementary school when needed, Westbrook is a complete community.   

Surprise, surprise - University District also has provision for a school site if and when the Calgary Board of Education deems one is necessary.   

Wesbrook town square has a European look.

Wesbrook town square has a European look.

Wesbrook Save On Food is a hybrid between a suburban and urban design.

Wesbrook Save On Food is a hybrid between a suburban and urban design.

One of Wesbrooks shopping streets.

One of Wesbrooks shopping streets.

Wesbrook Community Centre

Wesbrook Community Centre


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Wesbrook School

Wesbrook School

Last Word 

Upon returning back to Calgary, I decided to drop by University District again to see what has been happening.  I was impressed – I counted seven buildings at various stages of construction. While it is still hard to envision how everything will eventually fit together, a lot has been accomplished in just three years. 2020 will be a big year - the opening of the Save-On-Foods building will mark the beginning of University District’s main street. 

The only disappointment I had was finding Wesbrook Village has a new condo development called “IVY on the Park”, almost the same name as Brookfield’s “The Ivy” at University District. I couldn’t help but wonder “Who copied who and why?”

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University District streetscape is still in its infancy.

University District streetscape is still in its infancy.

University District’s first park.

University District’s first park.

Calgary's Historical Architecture: Then & Now

Though I’ve never been a big history buff, I do appreciation of the importance of preserving historical buildings and sites.They are critical to telling a city’s story and creating a unique sense of place.

Calgary is often criticized for focusing too much on the prosperity of the present and future at the expense of the preservation of the past. For many (including me) our philosophy is “we are creating Calgary’s history today.” But cities really are built over decades and centuries, not years.

To me, Calgary is just a young teenager striving to find its own identity, its own personality.

I thought it would be interesting to look back and see what buildings we have lost over the past 100 years that we might like to still have today. And to see what has replaced them.

Entrance to Grain Exchange Building

Entrance to Grain Exchange Building

Hull Opera House (606, Centre St. S.)

Imagine it is the early 1890s. Calgary rancher, entrepreneur and philanthropist William Roper just commissioned a 1,000-seat opera house be built at 606 Centre St. S. (known as McTavish Street until 1904) by architects Child and Wilson at a cost of $10,000. One of Calgary’s first major sandstone and brick buildings, it hosted opera, theatre, school concerts, and community dances. It is hard to believe a frontier city with a population of only 4,000 people could support such a large opera house. But it did, for 13 years anyway.

In 1906, it was renovated to accommodate street level retail, residential on the upper floors and renamed the Albion Block. Then in 1960s, George Crystal bought the building and demolished it to create parking for his adjacent York Hotel. The York Hotel was demolished to make way for the Bow office tower, (its facade brickwork is now safely numbered and stored so it can be integrated into a new building on the corner of Centre Street and 7th Avenue S.W. sometime in the future).

So, we lost one icon and gained another in the Bow Tower. If we still had the Hull Opera House, it would have made a great public market, along the same lines as the Centro Market in Florence, Italy.



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CPR Train Station (115 9th Ave. S.E.)

Yes, Calgary had a downtown train station, but I have been told it wasn’t anything as grand as say Grand Central Station or Penn Station in New York City. It wasn’t even as grand as Winnipeg’s train stations given that in the late 19th century, it was Winnipeg that was going to be capital of the prairies and the rival to Chicago. It was a time of Winnipeg’s heyday – it boasted the most millionaires per capita in North America. Calgary, on the other hand, was still a frontier town with a population 4,000 people. My, my, how times have changed!

Calgary’s CPR station was demolished in 1966, making way for the Palliser Square and Calgary Tower (then called the Husky Tower) as part of a Calgary’s first modern urban renewal project that included the Convention Centre, Marriott Hotel (the Four Seasons Hotel) and the Glenbow.

I now think our historic train station would have made a great modern art gallery like the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.

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The CPR train station it home today to the Calgary Tower and Palliser Square.

The CPR train station it home today to the Calgary Tower and Palliser Square.


Central (James Short) School (Centre Street S. between 4th and 5th avenues)

James Short School was Calgary’s first large three-story square sandstone school. It proudly opened as Central School in 1905 and was noted for its impressive cupola above the entrance. When, by the late ’60s, the school-age population in downtown wasn’t sufficient to keep the school open, all but the cupola (now located on the northwest corner of Centre Street S. and 5th Avenue) was demolished to make way for redevelopment.

Today, James Short (a pioneer teacher, principal of the school and later a school board member, he was also the lawyer for the Anti-Chinese League) is best known as a park and parkade. If it were still around today, what a great boutique hotel it would make.

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James Short Park today.

James Short Park today.

Southam (Calgary Herald) Building (130 7th Ave. S.W.)

The Southam Building was touted as the “finest home of any newspaper in Canada” when it opened its doors in 1913. It was well known for its terracotta gargoyles (made by Doulton Lambeth of England) that adorned the roofline and depicted various newspaper trades.

Built in 1913, this magnificent Gothic structure was occupied by the Calgary Herald until 1932, when the paper needed more space. In the 1940s, the building was sold to Greyhound, which used it for 30-plus years as a bus depot, gutting the main floor to allow for the buses to drive through. Eventually demolished in 1972, it made way for the Len Werry Building. All of the gargoyles were rescued when the building was demolished in 1972 and some can now be found on the second floor of the north building of the TELUS Convention Centre.

Today, it would have a phenomenal character office building.

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The Calgary Herald building site is now home to Brookfield Place office tower and plaza.

The Calgary Herald building site is now home to Brookfield Place office tower and plaza.

Burns Residence (501 13th Ave. S.W.)

Patrick Burns, a rancher, businessman and one of the “Big Four” who founded the Calgary Stampede, built his grand mansion with ornate sandstone carvings in 1901. Designed by the famous Victoria, B.C., architect Francis M. Rattenbury, the mansion and English garden rivalled the still-standing 1891 Lougheed House and garden two blocks west on 13th Avenue. It is hard to imagine that 13th Avenue S.W. was Calgary’s millionaires’ row a hundred years ago. The Burns mansion was demolished in 1956, replaced by the Colonel Belcher Hospital, which in turn got demolished to build the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre, which opened in 2008.

The Burns Manor restaurant and lounge would have a nice ring to it, a bigger version of Rouge (in the Cross House) in Inglewood.

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Burns residence site is now home to the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre.

Burns residence site is now home to the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre.

Stephen Avenue East

Calgary historian Harry Sanders would like to have back the entire east end of 8th Avenue all the way to 4th Street S.E. It was all demolished in the 1970s and ’80s clearing the way for the Municipal Building, Olympic Plaza and the Epcor Centre (Calgary’s second attempt at modern urban renewal).  Sanders imagines a lively pedestrian street full of small shops, cafes and restaurants all the way from Holt Renfrew (the façade of the current Holt Renfrew building is that of Calgary’s old Eaton’s department store) to East Village.

Indeed, downtown Calgary lacks a grand boulevard or wide prairie Main Street typical of most major cities. For all of its charm and character, Stephen Avenue still lacks a WOW factor (expect perhaps at lunch hour in the summer).

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Stephen Avenue today.

Stephen Avenue today.

Stephen Avenue today.

Stephen Avenue today.

Last Word

While some may lament the loss of some of Calgary’s sense of the past, in many ways we have done a better job of preserving our history than most people think. Most of the buildings along Inglewood’s Atlantic Avenue (Calgary’s first Main Street) have been preserved.

As well, Stephen Avenue’s 100 and 200 West blocks are designated National Historic District. And, while the Fort Calgary was not preserved, there is a major effort today to preserve the spirit of the place and two of the original buildings. We also have a wonderful collection of buildings from our Sandstone period, including the Memorial Park Library and McDougall School.

That being said, it would still be nice to have a few more historical buildings with their different facade materials and architectural styles to add more visual variety in our downtown.

In the words of poet William Cowper, “Variety is the spice of life, that gives it all its flavour (The Task, 1785).

Note: This blog was originally published in the Calgary Herald in 2015.

If you like this blog, you might be interested in these links:

Discover Calgary’s Secret Heritage Walk

Understanding Calgary’s DNA

Calgary’s Motel History

Was Calgary TOO focused on making the new Central Library an iconic building?

Imagine being all excited about seeing the new Central Library but then you see a sandwich board that says “Elevator access for visitors using wheelchairs or with mobility challenges use the east side of the Library off 4th St SE,” (in other words, the back door). That is EXACTLY what happens to Calgarians with mobility challenges upon arrival at Calgary’s new Central Library.  

Note: An edited version of this blog was published by CBC Calgary as part of their online “Calgary At A Crossroads” feature. This blog is a much more in-depth look at the user-friendliness of Calgary’s new Central Library.

Anyone who needs an elevator to get to the 2nd floor entrance of the new Central Library must use the back door.

Anyone who needs an elevator to get to the 2nd floor entrance of the new Central Library must use the back door.

The new library is spectacular inside and has been very popular with Calgarians of all ages and backgrounds. It is more like a community centre than a library - which is a good thing.

The new library is spectacular inside and has been very popular with Calgarians of all ages and backgrounds. It is more like a community centre than a library - which is a good thing.

Sacrilegious

It is probably sacrilegious to say perhaps the Central Library building team was TOO focused on creating a new iconic building. And perhaps some City Council members and Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (a wholly owned subsidiary of the City Calgary that manages the implementation of the City’s Rivers District Community Revitalization Plan which includes East Village) are trying TOO hard to make East Village Calgary’s ‘poster community’ for Calgary quest to become an international design city.  

Yes, the library has received rave reviews internationally. But that is what you expect when hiring a “starchitect” firm like Snohetta.  Architectural Digest says it is one of the most “futuristic” new libraries in the world while Azure magazine calls it “one of the best Civic Landmark built in 2018.”  But did these out-of-town reviewers look beyond the design? Did they consider how the building functions for different users – mobility challenges, families with young children and seniors? 

As one Calgarian said to me, “at $1,000 per square foot, it should be spectacular looking and functional too!”  FYI: Cost was $245 million and the building is 240,000 square feet. 

The new Calgary Central Library glows at night.

The new Calgary Central Library glows at night.

The interior atrium and staircase is awesome.

The interior atrium and staircase is awesome.

The reading room is both futuristic and traditional.

The reading room is both futuristic and traditional.

I thought the facade of Calgary’s new library was unique until I learned of the York Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence at York University which opened in 2016 looks very similar to Calgary’s new Central Library. I assumed it was designed by Snohetta, but in fact it was designed by ZAS architects + Interiors and Arup Engineering. I wonder who copied who?

I thought the facade of Calgary’s new library was unique until I learned of the York Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence at York University which opened in 2016 looks very similar to Calgary’s new Central Library. I assumed it was designed by Snohetta, but in fact it was designed by ZAS architects + Interiors and Arup Engineering. I wonder who copied who?

Not Everybody Loves The New Library

Several Calgarians have shared with me concerns about the building’s functionality. Some were willing to let me use their name; others were not, (especially the architects as their professional ethics says they don’t criticize the work of other architects.) I also expect they also don’t want to jeopardize potential contracts with the City of Calgary or Canada Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC). 

Architect and mother of a young toddler, Erin Joslin in her email says, “The central core is an awe-inspiring space worthy of all the accolades being given in terms of aesthetics. An initial visit is a total architectural experience, where you want to meander and experience everything it has to offer. Where the new Library falls short is when you have a purpose and its meandering circulation around the central staircase becomes a huge hinderance.”   She also has concerns about how the stair railings throughout the building lacked lower bars for children, even in the children’s area. 

After touring the building on another visit with Debbie Brekke, professional interior designer and mother of an adult son who is in a wheelchair, says thought “both the interior and exterior design of the entire building forces those in wheelchairs to take the long route.” The landing areas by the elevators on the upper floors are also very tight and don’t accommodate a couple of parents with strollers and a wheelchair user trying to get on or off the elevator.” 

And one local architect, who I toured the building with became downright angered, by the sandwich boards directing those who needed an elevator to go to the back of the building. Given the future is transit-oriented, he was shocked more consideration wasn’t given to the connectivity between the library and the City Hall LRT station to the west. He told me, “Universal accessibility is one of the top five priorities for architects designing a building today. 

How could this have been missed?”  The access to the building’s front entrance is embarrassing and should never happened the 21st century! 

Definitely Not Wheelchair-Friendly

Let’s take a roll on a wheelchair from the City Hall side of the LRT Station and see what it is like. 

First, you have to negotiate the LRT station ramp with trees in the middle to get to the corner of 3rd St SE corner. Then, cross 3rdSt SE to the east side where there is limited access to the sidewalk ramp because a traffic signal post sits almost in the middle of it. 

Next, you have to negotiate the difficult-to-open LRT gates, traverse over the LRT rails then negotiate more LRT gates before you get to the sidewalk from where you can roll your way along a cold, grey concrete wall for three quarters of a block to a small elevator lobby. 

Once there, take the elevator to the second floor (aka entrance level), then go back outside to the plaza to get to the front door. 

I am exhausted just writing this. 

To be fair, a 125m long ramp (the length of a CFL football field) is at the main entrance. It is used by many parents with strollers and some wheelchair patrons.  But if you need an elevator, your only option is to go around the block to the back door.

This is what everyone who gets off the City Hall LRT station is faced with on their way to the library.

This is what everyone who gets off the City Hall LRT station is faced with on their way to the library.

On the other side of 3rd St SE. the small ramp area is made even worse with a sandwich board, concrete half-wall and street signal post.

On the other side of 3rd St SE. the small ramp area is made even worse with a sandwich board, concrete half-wall and street signal post.

These gate are very awkward for anyone in a wheelchair or walker to try to open.

These gate are very awkward for anyone in a wheelchair or walker to try to open.

Once across the LRT tracks you are greeted be a large blank concrete wall.

Once across the LRT tracks you are greeted be a large blank concrete wall.

Then a bank of concrete stairs….

Then a bank of concrete stairs….

Finally you make it to the doors to the lobby where the elevator takes you up one floor to the main entrance plaza.

Finally you make it to the doors to the lobby where the elevator takes you up one floor to the main entrance plaza.

Yes, some use the ramp to get to the second floor entrance doors, rather than going all the way around the building to the back door.

Yes, some use the ramp to get to the second floor entrance doors, rather than going all the way around the building to the back door.

Inside also has issues…

Once inside the lobby those with mobility challenges are again confronted with stairs. Note signage directs those in wheelchairs to go the long way around to get to the books and services.

Once inside the lobby those with mobility challenges are again confronted with stairs. Note signage directs those in wheelchairs to go the long way around to get to the books and services.

Even once you are inside, the elevator access to the upper floors is tight for those in walkers, wheelchairs and strollers.

Even once you are inside, the elevator access to the upper floors is tight for those in walkers, wheelchairs and strollers.

The interior ramp for those in wheelchairs or with strollers located on the perimeter of the building, is also very restrictive.

The interior ramp for those in wheelchairs or with strollers located on the perimeter of the building, is also very restrictive.

A simple solution not taken

Ironically, an elevator (it is for access to the theatre space from inside) exists inside the building just a few meters away from the stairs leading to the main entrance from 3rd Street SW (which is where most of the people enter the library). It is used to access the theatre from inside the building. Why couldn’t a handicapped entrance have been integrated into the façade of the building here?

When I pointed this out to Brekke, she quickly observed there is also adequate room for a street handicap drop off spot at this point which would further enhance the building’s accessibility (rather than having to take the convoluted route to the back of the building to drop someone off.)   

I met with Kate Thompson, Vice President of Development, at the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (who was responsible for managing the design and building of the library) at the library to discuss the accessibility and other issues. She indicated having the theater elevator also be the main entrance for those with mobility issues was discussed but rejected by the library as they didn’t like the idea of having two access points to the library. She did say a retrofit could be done in the future and the City is looking at how it can improve access from the LRT station. 

I couldn’t help but share my architect colleague’s sentiments that “universal accessibility is a must for any public building today.”  

But let’s move on…

There are exit doors (window area) from the theatre on 3rd St SE that could be adapted to allow those who need an elevator to use the one located just a few meters inside. There is also room on the street here to have a drop off zone for those who need one.

There are exit doors (window area) from the theatre on 3rd St SE that could be adapted to allow those who need an elevator to use the one located just a few meters inside. There is also room on the street here to have a drop off zone for those who need one.

Where’s the +15? 

Several people have asked me why there is no +15 bridge to the Municipal Building and its huge parkade. Yes, there is a crosswalk with lights linking the building with the library but it means more stairs.  “Having a +15 to access the parkade would also help address the mobility-challenged issue” said Brekke.

Richard Parker, former City of Calgary Planning Director was shocked when he took his grandchildren to the library on a Sunday shortly after it opened to find out, after parking in the parkade, that the Municipal building is closed on weekends meaning they had to walk around the block to get to the library.  Parker isn’t alone. I heard similar comments from many others how stupid it was this winter not to be able to walk through the Municipal Building to the get to the library

Thompson noted a +15 connection had been discussed and could happen in the future. She added a new $80 million, 500-stall parkade on 9th Ave SE across the street from the Library is currently under construction; however, there will be no +15 bridge.  

FYI: In fact, East Village’s master plan has no + 15 bridges, so don’t expect to see one soon. 

There is an entrance to the Municipal Building on 3rd St SE that is at almost exactly the same height as the Library’s main entrance. A +15 link to allow for easy access between the two buildings and easier access to the Olympic Plaza Arts District and downtown would enhance the public friendliness of both buildings.

There is an entrance to the Municipal Building on 3rd St SE that is at almost exactly the same height as the Library’s main entrance. A +15 link to allow for easy access between the two buildings and easier access to the Olympic Plaza Arts District and downtown would enhance the public friendliness of both buildings.

East Village’s next signature building is an $80M state-of-the-art 500 stall parkade that will incorporate a floor and a half of office space. Some questioned the logic of adding new office space to the a downtown that already has a surplus of 10 million square feet. The parkade was heralded by others for its futuristic designed that allows it to be easily converted to other uses when it is no longer needed for parking. FYI: the cost of a normal 500 stall above-ground parkade would be in the neighbourhood of $20M.

East Village’s next signature building is an $80M state-of-the-art 500 stall parkade that will incorporate a floor and a half of office space. Some questioned the logic of adding new office space to the a downtown that already has a surplus of 10 million square feet. The parkade was heralded by others for its futuristic designed that allows it to be easily converted to other uses when it is no longer needed for parking. FYI: the cost of a normal 500 stall above-ground parkade would be in the neighbourhood of $20M.

Street Level Entrance: A Must

Personally, I think all public building entrances should be at street level, not only for universal accessibility, but to create the most welcoming pedestrian experience for everyone.  

Thompson, assured me they tried very hard to create a grand street entrance but just couldn’t make it work. The site’s huge hole in the middle - where the LRT trains emerge from the tunnel - meant the building had to be built 18 feet above the street over top of the tracks.  CMLC confirmed building over the LRT tracks added $20 million dollars to the cost. 

Because of the additional costs and limitations associated with building over the tracks and no ability to have underground parking, Thompson said the site wasn’t viable for private development, nor did it work as a park or plaza.  If nothing was built on the site, she and her colleagues were concerned the site was destined to be a haven for undesirable activity.  

This made me begin to wonder if this was the best site for a major public library. 

The LRT tunnel divides the library site into two narrow strips of land on either side. They were once a small park and surface parking lot.

The LRT tunnel divides the library site into two narrow strips of land on either side. They were once a small park and surface parking lot.

This is the 3rd St SE entrance (aka front door) to the new Central Library. Not only is it inaccessible for those who need an elevator it is not very inviting to anyone with its many stairs and the often dark forbidding plateau at the top.

This is the 3rd St SE entrance (aka front door) to the new Central Library. Not only is it inaccessible for those who need an elevator it is not very inviting to anyone with its many stairs and the often dark forbidding plateau at the top.

The 3rd St SE entrance from the south side is more inviting with the Chris Moeller’s two million dollar bobbing bird-like sculptures (a third bird is located at the back door). But the entrance is still very dark even in the winter when the sun is low in the sky.

The 3rd St SE entrance from the south side is more inviting with the Chris Moeller’s two million dollar bobbing bird-like sculptures (a third bird is located at the back door). But the entrance is still very dark even in the winter when the sun is low in the sky.

No better than Municipal Building

I think Thompson was offended when I said “I feel the Library turns its back on East Village, in the same way the Municipal Building does.”  

For years, urban designers have publicly lambasted the designers of the Municipal Building (aka Blue Monster) because not only did it cut off downtown from East Village, but its east side is pedestrian-unfriendly. 

CMLC’s website has a photo of the Municipal Building and new Library side by side that clearly shows the size and shape of the two buildings are amazingly similar with their concrete base and pointed “nose.” There are more similarities between these two buildings than people realize.

CMLC’s website has a photo of the Municipal Building and new Library side by side that clearly shows the size and shape of the two buildings are amazingly similar with their concrete base and pointed “nose.” There are more similarities between these two buildings than people realize.

Too many stairs

Yes, the new Library has a fun bobbing alien sculpture to greet you at the back door (aka 4th Street SE entrance), but only after you walk by the long blank concrete wall and confronted by poorly designed concrete stairs, not unlike the Municipal Building’s east side (aka back door) entrance.  

Having personally entered the new library several times by the back door (aka the east entrance), I have witnessed on several occasions someone saying “these stairs are dangerous.” Why?

Because the concrete stairs are next to concrete seating areas that look just like stairs, but a bit higher.  It is easy to inadvertently sway into the seating area and before you know it - you stumble. On one occasion, I did see a young women stumble and fall. Fortunately, she wasn’t seriously hurt. 

In my opinion, the east façade of the new library is not much better than the Municipal Building’s when it comes to being pedestrian friendly.

Screen Shot 2019-05-31 at 9.10.14 PM.png
3rd Street SE backdoor entrance to the Municipal Building has been criticized for being very pedestrian unfriendly because of its stairs and dark entrance.

3rd Street SE backdoor entrance to the Municipal Building has been criticized for being very pedestrian unfriendly because of its stairs and dark entrance.

This is the entrance to the library from 9th Ave SE which will link to the new parkade across the street.

This is the entrance to the library from 9th Ave SE which will link to the new parkade across the street.

Front Door Not Great

As for the front entrance (aka 3rd St SE), it isn’t much better with its 32 steps.  On one visit, I found an older lady huffing and puffing as she struggled to climb the stairs bouncing a small piece of luggage, stair by stair. She was most appreciative of my offered to help. Too bad she couldn’t use the elevator just a few meters away.  I doubt this is an isolated case. 

The stairs as the back door are too narrow to allow a group of people to go up and down them at the same time.

The stairs as the back door are too narrow to allow a group of people to go up and down them at the same time.

Even inside the library the lobby stairs are dangerous with no railing on the edge between the stairs and the seating. The railings should also have lower railings for children to hang onto.

Even inside the library the lobby stairs are dangerous with no railing on the edge between the stairs and the seating. The railings should also have lower railings for children to hang onto.

Last Word

While some might see these flaws as petty, for me the new Central library is hostile to pedestrians (abled bodied and mobility-challenged) and does little to help connect East Village with downtown. 

I can’t help but wonder if perhaps Calgary should have simply renovated the old central library (maybe with an addition) as Edmonton with their mid-century central library for $84 million), rather than spending $245 million for a new iconic building on a difficult site.  

The old site would have allowed for a better link to the street, LRT station and bus stops, as well as better linkages to downtown and East Village. And, we could have saved a whack of cash for other uses (and we sure have a lot of those.)  

Edmonton’s renovated Central Library which sits on a prominent site in Churchill Square, will join the Art Gallery of Alberta and their City Hall as signature architectural gems.

Edmonton’s renovated Central Library which sits on a prominent site in Churchill Square, will join the Art Gallery of Alberta and their City Hall as signature architectural gems.

Could the old W.R. Castell Library have been renovated and perhaps expanded to create a fun, funky new library that would anchor the north-east corner of Olympic Plaza? I was told, that option was looked at, but the City officials didn’t want to close the library for a couple of years of renovations.

Could the old W.R. Castell Library have been renovated and perhaps expanded to create a fun, funky new library that would anchor the north-east corner of Olympic Plaza? I was told, that option was looked at, but the City officials didn’t want to close the library for a couple of years of renovations.

Don’t get me wrong  

I love the playful façade, the warmth of the wood and the uplifting feeling of the interior staircase and skylight.  

But I hate climbing the stairs to get in and out.  And I feel sorry for those with mobility issues who have to take the long convoluted route to get inside.  

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

Calgary’s Audacious New Library

Fairy Tale Postcards from University of British Columbia’s Library

Dublin’s Chester Beatty Library - Look but don’t touch!

 

 

 

Calgary vs Vancouver: Affordability & Livability

After recently spending a month living in the middle of Vancouver’s City Centre, exploring its different communities and checking out its condo market, I kept asking myself – how can millennials afford to live there?

And, for that matter how can empty nesters retire there? 

Calgary’s has numerous chill spots like Cold Garden a craft brewery in Inglewood that makes its City Centre a very attractive place to live, work and play.

Calgary’s has numerous chill spots like Cold Garden a craft brewery in Inglewood that makes its City Centre a very attractive place to live, work and play.

Dude Chilling Park is just one of many parks and public spaces that makes Vancouver’s City Centre one of the best places in North America for urban living.

Dude Chilling Park is just one of many parks and public spaces that makes Vancouver’s City Centre one of the best places in North America for urban living.

Affordability

The cost of a used condo in Vancouver is about $1,000/square foot. Translated, this means a modest 750 square foot condo is going to cost you $750,000. If you want a new 1,300 square foot condo be prepared to pay $2,000/square foot or $2,600,000.  That is more than twice the cost of a similar condo in Calgary.  

While you expect to pay a premium to live in downtown Vancouver because of its climate and amenities like Stanley Park, beaches and sea wall, that’s still a pretty stiff price to pay.  

I came away feeling Calgary’s City Centre communities while not on par with Vancouver’s in the way of amenities are not that far behind in their evolution as urban villages and all of them have significant upside potential.  

In chatting with several people in Vancouver and Calgary over the past few months I have often heard Calgary’s City Centre being called a “hidden gem” when it comes to urban living with potential to get even better.  

Let’s compare Calgary’s urban communities with Vancouver’s. 

Food trucks help to animate public spaces throughout Vancouver’s City Centre.

Food trucks help to animate public spaces throughout Vancouver’s City Centre.

Calgary’s City Centre has an amazing patio scene.

Calgary’s City Centre has an amazing patio scene.

Calgary also has a great pedestrian mall that is part of a National Historic District.

Calgary also has a great pedestrian mall that is part of a National Historic District.

The stairs in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery is a popular place to chill and catch some sun.

The stairs in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery is a popular place to chill and catch some sun.

Calgary also has some pretty cool places to sit.

Calgary also has some pretty cool places to sit.

Vancouver’s City Centre has numerous high streets offering upscale and fun places to shop.

Vancouver’s City Centre has numerous high streets offering upscale and fun places to shop.

Calgary has its fair share of quirky places to shop, including NERD a shop in Inglewood that specializes in fashion and accessories for roller skating.

Calgary has its fair share of quirky places to shop, including NERD a shop in Inglewood that specializes in fashion and accessories for roller skating.

Vancouver’s City Centre has dozens of funky residential developments.

Vancouver’s City Centre has dozens of funky residential developments.

It doesn’t get much cooler than the front entrance to Pixel condo in Calgary’s Kensington Village.

It doesn’t get much cooler than the front entrance to Pixel condo in Calgary’s Kensington Village.

Unless it might be the Colours condo in Calgary’s hipster Beltline community.

Unless it might be the Colours condo in Calgary’s hipster Beltline community.

Vancouver has is fair share of fun strange red sculptures.

Vancouver has is fair share of fun strange red sculptures.

Calgary Peace Bridge is one of North America’s signature pedestrian bridges.

Calgary Peace Bridge is one of North America’s signature pedestrian bridges.

Vancouver Art Gallery has funky exhibitions.

Vancouver Art Gallery has funky exhibitions.

Calgary’s Glenbow Museum has fun exhibitions also.

Calgary’s Glenbow Museum has fun exhibitions also.

Calgary’s City Centre has tons of things to see and do.

Calgary’s City Centre has tons of things to see and do.

Vancouver House is that city’s newest weird and wacky architecture.

Vancouver House is that city’s newest weird and wacky architecture.

Calgary has its fair share of weird and wacky architecture and public art.

Calgary has its fair share of weird and wacky architecture and public art.

Beltline vs West End 

In many ways, Calgary’s Beltline is the equivalent of Vancouver’s West End, with its tree-lined streets populated by a mix of old single family homes, scattered amongst small mid-century apartments and new mega highrise towers. The Beltline’s 17thAve is akin to Robson Street but with less shopping and more patios.  Tenth and 11th Aves are the equivalent to Davie St and Beltline’s 1st, 4th, 8th, 11th and 14th Street pedestrian corridors are Vancouver’s Denman St.  The Beltline’s Lougheed House and Beaulieu Gardens is much nicer than the West End’s Roedde House Museum and grounds.  

Calgary’s Memorial Park is very similar to the West End’s Nelson Park in scale but Memorial Park is home to a historic library that includes a very cool musical instrument lending program.  But the Beltline can’t match the West End’s amazing Mole Hill community housing block that includes the preservation of several century homes and a quaint garden pathway.  Both communities are home to their city’s respective LGBTQ communities. 

Where Vancouver’s West End really shines is in its easy access to parks and pathways along English Bay and Stanley Park. While Calgary’s Beltliners are land locked with no direct access to a major park or the Bow and Elbow Rivers. 

Link: Beltline Embraces Density

It is hard to beat Vancouver’s English Bay as an urban playground.

It is hard to beat Vancouver’s English Bay as an urban playground.

Vancouver’s West End streets not only have lovely tree canopies, but also enchanting front yards that gives it a very residential sense of place.

Vancouver’s West End streets not only have lovely tree canopies, but also enchanting front yards that gives it a very residential sense of place.

Vancouver’s West End is a mix of modern and traditional architecture.

Vancouver’s West End is a mix of modern and traditional architecture.

Calgary’s Beltline also funky modern architecture like Mark on 10th, which also has a roof top with hot tub, BBQ, kitchen and lounge for residents to mix and mingle. And yes we have food truck too.

Calgary’s Beltline also funky modern architecture like Mark on 10th, which also has a roof top with hot tub, BBQ, kitchen and lounge for residents to mix and mingle. And yes we have food truck too.

Calgary’s 17th Avenue is lined with sidewalk patios that make for great people watching.

Calgary’s 17th Avenue is lined with sidewalk patios that make for great people watching.

17th Avenue also has a diverse independent cafe culture.

17th Avenue also has a diverse independent cafe culture.

Jim Deva Plaza is a fun place for people of all ages to hang out along Davie Street.

Jim Deva Plaza is a fun place for people of all ages to hang out along Davie Street.

The Beltline’s equivalent would be Tomkins Park.

The Beltline’s equivalent would be Tomkins Park.

Vancouver’s West End has funky bike racks.

Vancouver’s West End has funky bike racks.

Calgary’s Beltline also has funky bike racks.

Calgary’s Beltline also has funky bike racks.

The Beltine has several pedestrian oriented main streets with pubs, patios, shops and restaurants.

The Beltine has several pedestrian oriented main streets with pubs, patios, shops and restaurants.

While the Beltline may not have as many grocery stores at the West End it has two major grocery stores as well as several specialty grocers like Community Natural Foods.

While the Beltline may not have as many grocery stores at the West End it has two major grocery stores as well as several specialty grocers like Community Natural Foods.

East Village vs Yaletown 

 East Village and the proposed new alliance with Victoria Park and Stampede Park could well become Calgary’s equivalent to Vancouver’s Yaletown. Give it time.  Yaletown had a head start, its transformation into a funky place to live began in the early ‘90s. East Village’s mega makeover started about 15 years later.  

The master plans are surprisingly similar, build highrise residential development next to an iconic new library, along with some major sports and entertainment facilities and a multi-use pathway along the water and people will want to live there. 

Link: East Village a billion dollar work of art!

Vancouver’s signature central library in Yaletown.

Vancouver’s signature central library in Yaletown.

Calgary’s signature new central library in East Village

Calgary’s signature new central library in East Village

The ARC a new residential building in Yaletown has fun hole in the middle.

The ARC a new residential building in Yaletown has fun hole in the middle.

Calgary’s National Music Centre is the gateway between East Village and Victoria/Stampede Park.

Calgary’s National Music Centre is the gateway between East Village and Victoria/Stampede Park.

Calgary’s East Village has nothing to match Granville Street with its mix of bars, clubs, shops, hotels and offices.

Calgary’s East Village has nothing to match Granville Street with its mix of bars, clubs, shops, hotels and offices.

Yaletown’s pedestrian pathway is lined with residential buildings.

Yaletown’s pedestrian pathway is lined with residential buildings.

Calgary’s RiverWalk in East Village is a popular chill place.

Calgary’s RiverWalk in East Village is a popular chill place.

There are several parks located along Yaletown’s pathway.

There are several parks located along Yaletown’s pathway.

East Village Plaza is a poplar meeting place and the gateway to St. Patrick Island.

East Village Plaza is a poplar meeting place and the gateway to St. Patrick Island.

St. Patrick’s Island’s pebble beach is located next to East Village.

St. Patrick’s Island’s pebble beach is located next to East Village.

East Village’s skyline is changing rapidly with new residential towers being added every year..

East Village’s skyline is changing rapidly with new residential towers being added every year..

East Village’s Fort Calgary is a popular outdoor concert venue in the summer.

East Village’s Fort Calgary is a popular outdoor concert venue in the summer.

Eau Claire / Downtown West vs Coal Harbour

Eau Claire and Downtown West combined are Calgary’s equivalent to Coal Harbour with their modern high-rise residential towers lined up along the water’s edge.  In this case, the master plans differ.  Coal Harbour is home to Vancouver’s mega convention centre and cruise ship terminal making it a tourist hub, whereas Calgary’s Eau Claire/Downtown West is more focused on recreational amenities for residents including the Bow River pathway, Prince’s Island Park, Shaw Millennium Park and Eau Claire Y.  

Eau Claire and Downtown West have tremendous potential, especially if you add in West Village which could become a funky innovation campus for start-ups businesses, perhaps even the next Amazon, Google or Apple if we play our cards right. 

Link: Downtown West a quiet evolution

Vancouver’s Coal Harbour is a boater’s paradise.

Vancouver’s Coal Harbour is a boater’s paradise.

Calgary’s Eau Claire shoreline.

Calgary’s Eau Claire shoreline.

Calgary’s Downtown West shoreline.

Calgary’s Downtown West shoreline.

Coal Harbour’s waterfront pathway

Coal Harbour’s waterfront pathway

The new West Eau Claire Park pebble beach is the perfect sunset watching spot with the Peace Bridge on the horizon.

The new West Eau Claire Park pebble beach is the perfect sunset watching spot with the Peace Bridge on the horizon.

River surfing on the Bow River is popular at the Louise Bridge in Eau Claire

River surfing on the Bow River is popular at the Louise Bridge in Eau Claire

Calgary’s old science centre planetarium in West Downtown is currently being converted into a public art gallery.

Calgary’s old science centre planetarium in West Downtown is currently being converted into a public art gallery.

Calgary’s West Village has huge potential to become a vibrant urban village on the Bow River.

Calgary’s West Village has huge potential to become a vibrant urban village on the Bow River.

Shaw Millennium Park, combined with the new civic art gallery will become the heart of vibrant urban community in the near future. Photo credit: Canadian Society of Landscape Architects

Shaw Millennium Park, combined with the new civic art gallery will become the heart of vibrant urban community in the near future. Photo credit: Canadian Society of Landscape Architects

Across the Water 

Hillhurst, Sunnyside, Bridgeland and Crescent Heights being across water from downtown have many parallels to Vancouver’s Kitsilano and False Creek. “No way” you say! 

From an urban living perspective Calgary’s northsiders have two islands playgrounds. St. Patrick’s Island (which officially belongs to Bridgeland Riverside, not East Village) and St. George’s Island aka Calgary Zoo offer locals an urban playground for families that is hard to beat.  

Granville Island is the urban playground for those living in Kits and False Creek, however, Granville Island is more a tourist attraction than an amenity for residents. You can find fresh food at better prices in lots of places and without the crowds, than Granville’s Farmers’ Market. While Kitsilano’s 4th Street and West Broadway are its two pedestrian streets, Calgary’s north shore communities have 10th St and Kensington Road as their traditional main streets, with budding new main streets along Edmonton Trail, Centre Street and 8th Street.

While Calgary’s north shore communities don’t have the beaches of Kitsilano, they do have some lovely parks with stunning view of the mountains and the downtown skyline. 

Link: Calgary’s NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here

Calgary can’t match the Kitsilano beach.

Calgary can’t match the Kitsilano beach.

Calgarians like to dress up when then go fishing on the weekend.

Calgarians like to dress up when then go fishing on the weekend.

Kitsilano’s Main Street is lined with shops, cafes and restaurants.

Kitsilano’s Main Street is lined with shops, cafes and restaurants.

Kits is home to both a Whole Foods Market and Safeway grocery store.

Kits is home to both a Whole Foods Market and Safeway grocery store.

Kits is home to numerous great restaurants. We had a great lunch at Jam Cafe, where there is almost always a line-up.

Kits is home to numerous great restaurants. We had a great lunch at Jam Cafe, where there is almost always a line-up.

Kitsilano has several fun murals.

Kitsilano has several fun murals.

Vancouver’s City Centre is also home to Granville Island with its Public Market.

Vancouver’s City Centre is also home to Granville Island with its Public Market.

Vancouver’s False Creek residents enjoy easy access to the waterfront and Granville Island.

Vancouver’s False Creek residents enjoy easy access to the waterfront and Granville Island.

Calgary’s Crescent Height stairs not only offer a great workout but spectacular views of downtown and the Rocky Mountains..

Calgary’s Crescent Height stairs not only offer a great workout but spectacular views of downtown and the Rocky Mountains..

Tobogganing is popular with families in Bridgeland.

Tobogganing is popular with families in Bridgeland.

In Calgary’s City Centre there are street festivals pretty much ever weekend from May to September like this one outside Bridgland’s iconic Lukes Drug Mart a funky cafe, record store, grocery store, drugstore and post office.

In Calgary’s City Centre there are street festivals pretty much ever weekend from May to September like this one outside Bridgland’s iconic Lukes Drug Mart a funky cafe, record store, grocery store, drugstore and post office.

Bridgeland/Riverside has a tool lending library - how cool is that?

Bridgeland/Riverside has a tool lending library - how cool is that?

Coming soon to Bridgeland is the mixed-use Dominon project which will include a co-work space, as well as retail and restaurant.

Coming soon to Bridgeland is the mixed-use Dominon project which will include a co-work space, as well as retail and restaurant.

Calgary’s Kensington Village has two Main Street - 10th St and Kensington Road.

Calgary’s Kensington Village has two Main Street - 10th St and Kensington Road.

Kensington Village is home to the iconic Plaza theatre.

Kensington Village is home to the iconic Plaza theatre.

Kensington Village has numerous great restaurants with sidewalk summer patios.

Kensington Village has numerous great restaurants with sidewalk summer patios.

Kensington also has the fun Container Bar.

Kensington also has the fun Container Bar.

The Bow to Bluff along the LRT tracks in Sunnyside is now fully funded and will create a fun urban gathering space for all ages.

The Bow to Bluff along the LRT tracks in Sunnyside is now fully funded and will create a fun urban gathering space for all ages.

Funky new condos are popping up everywhere in and around Kensington Village.

Funky new condos are popping up everywhere in and around Kensington Village.

Mission vs South Granville

Mission/Erlton and 4th St SW is Calgary’s equivalent to Vancouver’s South Granville.  Both have a main street with upscale shops, galleries and restaurants, mixed in with some mid-rise residential development.  

Mission/Erlton residents have the added bonus of the Elbow River in their backyard and easy access to Stampede Park and Repsol Sports Centre.  

South Granville has more in the way of shops and galleries, as well as the historic Stanley Theatre for its residents to enjoy. 

Link: Mission is marvellous

The Stanley Theatre anchors South Granville street.

The Stanley Theatre anchors South Granville street.

South Granville has numerous mid-century apartments.

South Granville has numerous mid-century apartments.

The side street next to South Granville have lots of smaller apartments, very similar to those found in Calgary’s Mission and Cliff Bungalow.

The side street next to South Granville have lots of smaller apartments, very similar to those found in Calgary’s Mission and Cliff Bungalow.

Meinhardt has been been a Western Canadian culinary destination since it opened in 1996.

Meinhardt has been been a Western Canadian culinary destination since it opened in 1996.

Calgary’s summer festival season kicks off each year with the Lilac Festival along 4th Street in Mission.

Calgary’s summer festival season kicks off each year with the Lilac Festival along 4th Street in Mission.

River rafting along the Elbow River through Mission is popular in the summer.

River rafting along the Elbow River through Mission is popular in the summer.

Mission’s 4th Street is lined with restaurants, cafes, galleries and shops.

Mission’s 4th Street is lined with restaurants, cafes, galleries and shops.

Historic Districts

Inglewood / Ramsay with its historic main street has many of the attributes of Vancouver’s Gastown, without the hordes of tourist, that make living there a nightmare in the summer.  The 2010 completion of the historic Woodward department store site redevelopment was the catalyst for Gastown’s revitalization. It includes a mix of uses from affordable and market housing to SFU School for Contemporary Arts, from the National Film Board office to a grocery and drug store.  

Inglewood’s revitalization was the result of Main Street Program in the ‘90s that focused on the façade restoration of the historic buildings along 9thAvenue to create a mixed-use pedestrian street. More recently new commercial buildings like the Atlantic Avenue Arts Block and West Canadian Digital Imaging building become workplace anchors for its main street.   

As well, several recent condo developments, co-work spaces and numerous craft breweries have made Inglewood/Ramsay a very attractive place to live, work and play.   

Inglewood’s Calgary Brewery site and Ramsay’s Dominion Bridge site and the coming Green Line all have the potential to make Inglewood/Ramsay a model for 21stcentury urban living.

While Calgary’s Chinatown is much smaller than Vancouver’s, it benefits from not having the spillover of undesirable activities from East Hastings. 

Link: Inglewood Calgary’s most unique community

Vancouver’s Gastown is very popular with tourists.

Vancouver’s Gastown is very popular with tourists.

Gastown is becoming increasingly popular as a place to live with the redevelopment of the old Woodwards department store.

Gastown is becoming increasingly popular as a place to live with the redevelopment of the old Woodwards department store.

Gastown streets are not only filled with pedestrians but cars also.

Gastown streets are not only filled with pedestrians but cars also.

Inglewood is getting a mega makeover with several new mixed-use condo buildings along its main street.

Inglewood is getting a mega makeover with several new mixed-use condo buildings along its main street.

Inglewood is home to Canada’s Knifewear’s flagship store as well as numerous other independent shops, restaurants, pubs and shops.

Inglewood is home to Canada’s Knifewear’s flagship store as well as numerous other independent shops, restaurants, pubs and shops.

Inglewood is home to Recordland one of Canada’s biggest and best used record stores.

Inglewood is home to Recordland one of Canada’s biggest and best used record stores.

Inglewood is home to Calgary’s live music scene.

Inglewood is home to Calgary’s live music scene.

Inglewood’s Harvie Passage is fun for hikers, kayakers and bikers.

Inglewood’s Harvie Passage is fun for hikers, kayakers and bikers.

Gotta love public art that you can climb on like this one at Inglewood’s Harvie Passage

Gotta love public art that you can climb on like this one at Inglewood’s Harvie Passage

In My Opinion

As a place to live, Calgary’s City Centre offers as much to its residents in the way of festivals, entertainment, culture, restaurants, bars, shops, parks and pathways as does Vancouver’s. 

What Calgary is missing are the amazing array of urban grocery stores - big and small - that Vancouver offers. However, this is gradually being addressed with the opening of Urban Fare in the Beltline this year and City Market in East Village next year.

What really makes Calgary’s City Center MOST attractive as a place to live is its affordability not only compared to Vancouver, but also Seattle, San Francisco and Toronto.

Now is the perfect time for Calgary to attract more young techies from across North America (who can live anywhere) to establish their live/work lifestyles and grow their businesses here. 

What is needed is a clever marketing campaign that captures the imagination of young entrepreneurs re: why Calgary is perhaps the most affordable and livable urban playground in North America. 

Theodore is Calgary’s newest City Centre condo with homes starting at $290,000.

Theodore is Calgary’s newest City Centre condo with homes starting at $290,000.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condos section on May 18, 2019.

 

 

Brother Communities: Canmore’s Spring Creek & Calgary’s East Village

Canmore’s new Spring Creek community has many, many parallels with Calgary’s East Village. “No way,” you say! Hear me out.

Spring Creek’s pathway along the water.

Spring Creek’s pathway along the water.

East Village’s RiverWalk along the Bow River

East Village’s RiverWalk along the Bow River

Spring Creek pedestrian bridge

Spring Creek pedestrian bridge

East Village pedestrian bridge

East Village pedestrian bridge

Master Plans

Spring Creek is a new, condo-only residential community just east of downtown Canmore. Same as Calgary’s East Village.  Both communities also have strong architectural guidelines as part of an effort to create a unique sense of place. 

 Granted East Village’s design is very bright, modern and futuristic, while Spring Creek’s is more rustic, woodsy and traditional.  

Both too are designed to create a unique pedestrian experience as well as spectacular views. All Spring Creek buildings are four storeys or less, meaning they don’t block the view of the mountains and maximize the amount of sun reaching the sidewalks. No high-rises here.  Also, the buildings have been placed so that main street frames the Three Sisters Mountain in the distance.  

As for East Village, it’s mostly high-rises which offer outstanding views of the downtown skyline, Bow River Valley and Rocky Mountains, particularly for those living in the upper floors. 

Spring Creek’s masterplan allows for low-rise buildings only with the architecture being traditional mountain chalet style.

Spring Creek’s masterplan allows for low-rise buildings only with the architecture being traditional mountain chalet style.

East Village is dominated by high-rise, contemporary architecture.

East Village is dominated by high-rise, contemporary architecture.

And that’s not all  

Many of Spring Creek’s condo buildings have either commercial at grade or live/work space along its main street meaning there are galleries, shops and a pub within easy walking distance.  There are also plans for a Village Square with café, bistro, convenience store and other amenities. Similar to East Village’s Simmons Building amenities.   

Spring Creek has a unique seniors’ residence, in that the community’s pub is accessible from the street or its lobby. How cool is that?  Perhaps Trinity Place Foundation that operates several seniors’ buildings in East Village should think about opening a ground floor pub in one of their buildings. Nothing like a good beer to get people of all ages to meet and connect.  

It also is located so residents can walk out their back door and onto the communities 2.5 km perimeter nature trail along Spring Creek, which are all accessible to those with mobility challenges. It is great to see seniors not be allocated an out of the way site, but rather a prime on Spring Creek. While East Village’s seniors residences don’t have direct access to the River Walk it is designed with accessibility in mind.