Calgary residential developers upping the “fun factor" for millennials!

Calgary’s City Centre residential market is very competitive these days, which means developers are looking for ways to differentiate their new project from others.  One method is to offer the latest and greatest amenities. 

For example, Calgary-based developer Battistella lists one of the amenities at their new condo project, “NUDE” is a “Community Coordinator.” 

SODO’s party room has all the elements of a cool lounge.

SODO’s party room has all the elements of a cool lounge.

While there are no specific images of NUDE’s amenities on their website, here is what they are promising.

While there are no specific images of NUDE’s amenities on their website, here is what they are promising.

Computer rendering of new Annex in Kensington condo’s rooftop amenities.

Computer rendering of new Annex in Kensington condo’s rooftop amenities.

Lifestyle Curator?

Not to be outdone, The Underwood on First Street SW next to Haultain Park will be hiring a “Lifestyle Curator,” aka concierge to book reservations at restaurants, get theatre tickets, collect deliveries and give tips on what to see and do in the city. 

While the concept of residential developers providing a “community coordinator” might seem like it is a new idea, luxury condos have, for decades, had doorman who offered some of these services.  Leanne Woodward, The Underwood’s manager notes even with new amenity rich developments “if you visit them not long after occupation, the amenities will almost always be underutilized and, if used, used individually rather than in a community sense.”  

As a result, The Underwood will be much more proactive in managing its amenities.  Woodward says, “we will engage personal trainers who will come to site to show residents how to use the equipment and create a fitness plan and yoga teachers to teach classes. Our entertainment lounge will host tenant appreciation parties, be available for private parties, but also rotating life seminar classes such as how to invest, tax tips during tax season, wine tasting from local merchants.” 

She adds, “the lifestyle curator’s role is to create a community within the building, to curate what the residents need to make their home into a community for all. The lifestyle curator will create blogs on the interactive tenant portal, curates gatherings, arranges specialized services when necessary and promote community and vitality throughout the building. The secondary role is to assist residents on an individual basis with parcel deliveries, recommendations for dining, transportation, hotel bookings, dry cleaning drop off and similar

Creating a strong sense of community, be it in a building, or in the ‘hood, is also evident in East Village where Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (who is managing East Village’s mega makeover) has three staff who help organize and promote everything from yoga to concerts, from pop-up events to this summer’s Bounce - a funky basketball court on an empty lot.  All in an attempt to foster a stronger sense of community.  University District staff are also busy organizing events to attract people to come and see what is happening in their new community and help new residents meet their neighbours.   

CMLC staff manage a very active year round program of activities for people of all ages which they promote heavily on social media.

CMLC staff manage a very active year round program of activities for people of all ages which they promote heavily on social media.

University District is also very active promoting its events on social media.

University District is also very active promoting its events on social media.

 Huge Market

Today, there are more than 7 million millennials (defined as those born between 1981 and 1996) in Canada. A 2018 Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation survey found millennials make up half of all first time homebuyers in Canada. Currently, about 300,000 millennials call Calgary home.

Given the condo is the new starter home, the millennial demographic is a huge market for condo developers.

In a 2017 Stanford University Press blog, Bob Kulhan (adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Columbia Business School, and the Founder and CEO of Business Improv) says, “millennials just want to have fun.” 

Indeed, many millennials have had their lives curated for them since infancy. Many have never had a summer off to hang out on their own and make their own fun with neighbour kids. They went to week-long camps all summer – science, computer, sports, music, art etc. Their parents organized their lives to maximize their fun from cradle to condo.  

So, it’s logical for Calgary multi-family residential developers to change how they not only design their suites, but also what amenities they provide to make living in their buildings more fun. 

N3 rooftop patio with BBQs, seating and great views of downtown and mountains.

N3 rooftop patio with BBQs, seating and great views of downtown and mountains.

Mark on 10th rooftop patio includes a hot tub.

Mark on 10th rooftop patio includes a hot tub.

SODO’s communal kitchen area.

SODO’s communal kitchen area.

Mark on 10th penthouse lounge is like a huge communal living room where you can easily mix and mingle with your neighbours.

Mark on 10th penthouse lounge is like a huge communal living room where you can easily mix and mingle with your neighbours.

More Like Hotels  

Many of the new City Centre residential developments are being designed with hotel-like amenities – meeting rooms, gyms, party rooms, hot tubs and yes, a concierge - something only available in luxury condos in the past.    

For example, when Qualex Landmark found penthouse units didn’t sell well in Calgary, they designed their Mark on 10thproject (opened in 2016) with its top floor being an amenity space for use by all residents.  With a hot tub, BBQ, kitchen and a huge lounge where everyone can mix, mingle and party. And, it offers some of the best mountain and downtown views in the city.  It is a great place to chill, meet your neighbours or host a party that will impress your friends.  

Today, it is common practice for mid and high-rise residential buildings in Calgary to have roof-top amenities.  

Bucci Development’s recently completed Radius in Bridgeland offers 16,000 square feet of amenities including separate studios for yoga/barre, spin, weight and cardio training with state of the art equipment. It also offers the “SPUD” room, a common pantry that allows residents to order groceries online (at SPUD.ca) and have them delivered any day of the week.  In addition, its 8,000 square foot roof-top patio is like having your own private pocket park. 

SODO, another recently completed residential development on 10thAvenue SW in the Beltline has 38,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor amenities.  On the fifth floor is a demonstration kitchen with a wine chiller and Nespresso coffee bar, as well as a Games Room with a huge pool table, 70” TV and a built in retro ‘60s arcade game system. Who needs to go to the sports bar? There is also a fully quipped gym.  Outside are several BBQs, lots of lounge chairs and even a dog run.  

This is SODO’s lobby, it could easily be mistaken for a hotel lobby.

This is SODO’s lobby, it could easily be mistaken for a hotel lobby.

Radius condo includes not only a well equipped gym, but also a yoga studio.

Radius condo includes not only a well equipped gym, but also a yoga studio.

Laptop Generation 

Joe Starkman, CEO at Knightsbridge Homes who built the four University City condos calls millennials the “laptop generation” as they do everything on their laps. They don’t need space for a big TV as they watch Netflix and YouTube on their laptops or iPads, more than mainstream TV.  They don’t need big kitchens as they eat takeout on their laps while listening to music. They don’t need space for a big stereo system complete with monster speakers as they use tiny wireless ear pieces or headphones.  The phone is the new stereo.  

He also says they like to entertain and have a large circle of friends making an open concept kitchen, dining, living space a must.  Used to having their own bedroom and bathroom, a luxury master bedroom with spa-like bathroom is also important in attracting millennials.  

SODO’s modern open kitchen design is perfect for hosting friends.

SODO’s modern open kitchen design is perfect for hosting friends.

Last Word

What’s next? One City Centre high-rise residential developer is looking at either a craft brewery or distillery on site, perhaps even a small Food Hall with several micro food kiosks – think coffee, ice cream, tacos, sushi and donuts.  

21stcentury urban development is all about creating fun entertainment experiences and conveniences. And developers are fully aware that these don’t just appeal to millennials. Empty nesters are attracted by these too! 

Note: An edited version of this blog, was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condo section on Saturday, June 29th 2019.

If you like this book you will like these links:

Calgary vs Vancouver: Affordability & Liveability

New Condos Help Kensington Thrive

Calgary Condos: A Pop Of Colour

 

 

 

Calgary Stampede 2019: Have We Lost That Luvn Feeling Revisited

In 2015, I wrote a blog about how fewer and fewer of Calgary’s downtown merchants and landlords are embracing the Stampede spirit by decorating their windows, lobby and street fronts.

I concluded the blog with “Has Calgary become too big for it britches to celebrate what is truly one of North America’s oldest, largest and most unique festivals? Where is that community spirit?

Link: Stampede 2015: Have we lost that luvn feeling?

Only a few of the 100+ Calgary downtown office buildings have their entrances decorated to celebrate Stampede this year. It use to part of the Stampede tradition to create fun (and yes tacky for some) windows.

Only a few of the 100+ Calgary downtown office buildings have their entrances decorated to celebrate Stampede this year. It use to part of the Stampede tradition to create fun (and yes tacky for some) windows.

Stampede 2019

This week I was downtown and I have to say the situation has gotten worse over the past four years. Few of the retail windows along Stephen Avenue or in the Core shopping Centre had any reference to Stampede.

Even major hotels seemed to lack any sense of Stampede spirit from the street. You could easily walk, cycle or drive by and not know Stampede was happening.

If it wasn’t for the restaurants along Stephen Avenue you wouldn’t even know it was Stampede time, and even some of them had minimal decorations.

Don't believe me! Here are a few photos to prove my point.

The Cactus Club Cafe’s Stephen Avenue location makes no reference to the Stampede from the street.

The Cactus Club Cafe’s Stephen Avenue location makes no reference to the Stampede from the street.

The Westin hotel also seems to have forgotten it is Stampede time.

The Westin hotel also seems to have forgotten it is Stampede time.

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Retailers on Stephen Avenue make no attempt to join in the Stampede fun.

Retailers on Stephen Avenue make no attempt to join in the Stampede fun.

While Simons did have a chuckwagon outside their Stephen Avenue entrance, they made no reference to the Stampede with their windows along the +15 system or on 7th Avenue.

While Simons did have a chuckwagon outside their Stephen Avenue entrance, they made no reference to the Stampede with their windows along the +15 system or on 7th Avenue.

Perhaps the worst offender was Earls who while extending their hours for Stampede used “YEEHAW!” instead of the official Stampede cry of “YAHOO!” on their sandwich board. REALLY! This isn’t Earls first rodeo!

Perhaps the worst offender was Earls who while extending their hours for Stampede used “YEEHAW!” instead of the official Stampede cry of “YAHOO!” on their sandwich board. REALLY! This isn’t Earls first rodeo!

Kudos To Some

Harry Rosen’s entrance definitely made an upscale Stampede statement.

Harry Rosen’s entrance definitely made an upscale Stampede statement.

As did the window of Supreme Men’s Wear on Barclay Mall.

As did the window of Supreme Men’s Wear on Barclay Mall.

It use to be that most of the office buildings had murals like this painted on their windows, today very few do.

It use to be that most of the office buildings had murals like this painted on their windows, today very few do.

Last Word

In a recent blog i stated “While not everyone appreciates what the Calgary Stampede does for the City locally, nationally and internationally, in my opinion, every city needs a mega festival like the Caglary Stampede that annually celebrates its unique history and sense of place.”

I know downtown has fallen are hard times but surely the merchants and landlords could afford to decorate for Stampede and put on a good show for all the tourist in town and for those Caglarians who only come downtown for Stampede.

Calgary’s needs to get its mojo back as an urban playground. And, it has to start with downtown businesses and property owners embracing the Stampede as Calgary’s “shout out” to the world that we are alive and kicking.

I am really beginning to wondering if the Calgary Stampede will still be around in 2112 to celebrate its bicentennial.

Link: Stampede 2015: Have we lost that luvn feeling?

If you like thing blog you will like these links:

Stampede Park 2025

Flaneuring Calgary Stampede Poster Parade

Stampede Park: Art Gallery & Museum

Urban Living: 49% of Calgarians Live In Complete Communities?

After 50+ years of designing cities to accommodate automobile traffic, cities around the world - Calgary included - are now focusing on how to make new and old communities more walkable.  The vision is to create “complete communities” where residents can walk to many of their daily and weekly activities and cycle and drive to other activities as needed.  

I think it would surprise many Calgary planners and politicians to know that 49% of Calgarians surveyed in 2018 thought they lived in a “complete community” today. The study also found 78% of Calgarians find the concept of “complete communities” to be an appealing one.

At the same time, the elements of a complete community are not high on Calgarians priority list when it comes to buying a house. Confused? Read on….

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Screen Shot 2019-06-16 at 2.41.56 PM.png

Survey says…

A survey of 1239 Calgarians conducted by Calgary-based ThinkHQ Public Affairs in June 2018 for BILD Calgary Region (an association of developers and home builders) provides some interesting insights.  

When Calgarians were asked, “How appealing is the concept of a “Complete Community” to you?” a whopping 78% said a “complete community” is appealing to them (35% said “very appealing” and 43% “fairly appealing”). 

FYI: A “complete community” was defined as a mini-city, with housing and employment options and walkability to shops and restaurants all located within one community.  

Those living in the inner-city (83%) were more likely to say a “complete community” is appealing to them than those in other parts of the city. An overwhelming 95% of those with young families thought living in a “complete community” would be appealing.  

Do you live in a “complete community?”

 Then Calgarians were asked, “How well would you say the phrase ‘complete community’ describes the community where you are currently living today?”  

The response - 49% of Calgarians think they already live in a “complete community,” 28% say they don’t live in a complete community, with 23% not sure.   Those living in the inner city were more likely to say they lived a complete community than those living elsewhere in Calgary, but only by a slight margin.  

Surprisingly, 66% of parents of young families think they already live in a “complete community,” while only 44 of empty nesters think they live in a complete community.  This may reflect that empty nesters live in established communities built in the mid 20th century without modern amenities, while young families live in new master planned communities with lots of amenities.   

As I stated earlier, I bet most Calgary politicians, planners and urbanists who read ThinkHQ’s “Calgary Growth Perspectives” were surprised 49% of Calgarians (66% with young families) think they already live in a “complete community.”   

While there is some differences, about 50% of Calgarians feel they live in a “complete community.”

While there is some differences, about 50% of Calgarians feel they live in a “complete community.”

What is really important?

 ThinkHQ’s survey then dug deeper to find out what attributes of a “complete community” were really important to Calgarians.   

Of key importance is access to stores, restaurants and services, followed by easy and safe access for walking and cycling in the community, then quality public spaces, playgrounds, parks, then by access to healthcare options and finally access to transit.  

Of modest importance is access to recreation, health & fitness centers, followed by living close to where you work, then access to schools (this was surprise), then employment opportunities within the community, followed by mixed-use developments and finally diversity of housing options.  

Of least importance is seniors’ housing options, followed by communities with a sustainable footprint, then diverse neighbourhood, public art and heritage preservation and finally of least importance was access to arts and cultural facilities.   

The survey documented that Calgarians (young/ old, inner-city/suburban, condo/single family dweller) all think alike when it comes to the top five things they are looking for in a “complete community.”

The higher on the list and the darker the green the more desirable the attribute. Note public art, heritage preservation and access to art and cultural facilities are the lowest in importance. At the top are things like stores, restaurants, walking cycling paths and parks.

The higher on the list and the darker the green the more desirable the attribute. Note public art, heritage preservation and access to art and cultural facilities are the lowest in importance. At the top are things like stores, restaurants, walking cycling paths and parks.

Price beats community

However, when Calgarians were asked to rank what are the most importance factors in the purchase of a home:

  • 88% said:  A price that is well within my budget 

  • 77% said:  Amenities of the home (size/layout/#bedrooms/bathrooms, yard) 

  • 52% said:  A specific quadrant of the city

  • 43% said:  Type of community (new/suburb or established or inner city)

  • 41% said: “Completed Community” elements

Last Word

The ThinkHQ survey clearly demonstrates that when push comes to shove Calgarians have two key considerations when purchasing a home - PRICE and the AMENITIES of the home itself not the community. 

So, while 78% of Calgarians think living in a “complete aka walkable community” is appealing, it is not a high priority.  And communities with sustainable environmental footprints and higher density was ranked #13 in importance out of 16 attributes of a “complete community.” 

What does this all mean?  

If the City of Calgary wants more people to live in older communities as per the Municipal Development Plan, it must find a way to work with developers building infill homes – be they condos or single family – that are more affordable compared to those on the edge of the city.

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

Is Calgary’s City Centre the most walkable in the world?

Walk Score vs Life Style Score

80% of Calgarians Must Live In the Suburbs  

 

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!

 

 

 

Eau Claire: Still a work in progress 

Recently, Harvard Developments Inc. announced yet another delay in their planned mega redevelopment of the forlorn Eau Claire Market site they bought in 2004. Though unfortunate, it’s understandable given the current economic reality of Calgary.  

In fact, the current plan may never happen as Eau Claire has struggled to adapt to changing economics and urban design thinking. 

Harvard Development Inc. has ambitious plans for the development of the Eau Claire Market site in downtown Calgary.

Harvard Development Inc. has ambitious plans for the development of the Eau Claire Market site in downtown Calgary.

Today Eau Claire is a ribbon of residential development with the Bow River and Prince’s Island on one side and the downtown office towers on the other.

Today Eau Claire is a ribbon of residential development with the Bow River and Prince’s Island on one side and the downtown office towers on the other.

Eau Claire Market vs Granville Island Market

Eau Claire Market opened to much fanfare in 1993 as part of an urban renewal scheme for to create an urban village next to Prince’s Island. Unfortunately, the Market didn’t thrive as hoped and has waiting to be redeveloped for almost 15 years now.  

While most people think the original concept for Eau Claire Market was based on the success of Vancouver’s Granville Island, nothing could be further from the truth.  Granville Island’s success was the result of its being a huge mixed-use development, not just a farmers’ market and a few shops.  

I recently toured Granville Island for a day and was amazed by the critical mass of things to see and do. It includes over 100 small shops, boutiques and art galleries, 75 food outlets in addition to the farmers’ market, 10 restaurants and 12 theatre/entertainment venues.  It is also the hub for a number of water adventures (including the fun False Creek Sea Ferries) and small businesses.  Originally, it was home of the Emily Carr School of Art, which recently moved to a spectacular new campus, leaving the old school now being redeveloped.  

Calgary Eau Claire Market was an early attempt at creating an entertainment retail hub by combining some food kiosks, boutiques, theme restaurants, a brand name nightclub (Hard Rock Café) and a small cinema complex (including Calgary’s first IMAX.)  However, it lacked the critical mass and the unique Calgary sense of place needed to become a tourist attraction. 

 And thought it was popular with locals for a few years, once the “lust of the new” wore off, locals moved on to Chinook (which was revitalized in the late ‘90s) and other malls for their retail therapy. 

Eau Claire Market is a small two storey building with a dozen so food, restaurant, coffee and retail vendors on the main floor.. The second floor has a cinema complex and offices.

Eau Claire Market is a small two storey building with a dozen so food, restaurant, coffee and retail vendors on the main floor.. The second floor has a cinema complex and offices.

Granville Island is more more than just a public market.

Granville Island is more more than just a public market.

The Public Market on Granville Island is just one of dozens of tourist attractions on the site.

The Public Market on Granville Island is just one of dozens of tourist attractions on the site.

Granville Island includes other markets, performance spaces, art galleries etc. It is a village.

Granville Island includes other markets, performance spaces, art galleries etc. It is a village.

Eau Claire vs East Village 

In fact, Eau Claire has perhaps more in common with Calgary’s East Village than Granville Island.  Many new Calgarians don’t realize Eau Claire in the ‘80s was much like East Village with its huge surface parking lots and lots of undesirable activities.

The City’s Eau Claire revitalization plan revolved around enticing private developers to build an urban village at the base of Barclay Mall, the new pedestrian link to the downtown core next to the lagoon and the new Eau Claire YMCA. The plan called for residential towers, mixed with a new hotel, office towers and a retail, restaurant and cinema complex.   

That is not very different from East Village’s masterplan with River Walk, St. Patrick Island redevelopment, new library, new museum and the new Fifth & 3rd grocery store/retail complex slated to open in 2020. 

Somehow East Village gets all the media attention and accolades.

Eau Claire has lots of public spaces, but there are not as well integrated and programmed as East Village’s.

Eau Claire has lots of public spaces, but there are not as well integrated and programmed as East Village’s.

Eau Claire’s wading pool is the gateway to Prince’s Island.

Eau Claire’s wading pool is the gateway to Prince’s Island.

East Village’s St. Patrick’s Island's pebble beach is popular with families as there are lots of weekend programs in the summer.

East Village’s St. Patrick’s Island's pebble beach is popular with families as there are lots of weekend programs in the summer.

East Village’s RiverWalk is an upscale multi-use pathway with high-end materials and furnishings like these lounge chairs.

East Village’s RiverWalk is an upscale multi-use pathway with high-end materials and furnishings like these lounge chairs.

East Village’s summer pop-up container park converts a surface parking lot into a funky people place thanks to CMLC. Eau Claire residents would love to see their parking lots programmed like this.

East Village’s summer pop-up container park converts a surface parking lot into a funky people place thanks to CMLC. Eau Claire residents would love to see their parking lots programmed like this.

Eau Claire would love to have a community garden like East Village’s.

Eau Claire would love to have a community garden like East Village’s.

Eau Claire’s Revitalization History

Eau Claire’s revitalization began in 1981 with the completion of Eau Claire 500 condo complex.  Designed by Chicago’s famous SOM architects who have designed signature buildings around the world for the past 40 years. The building reflects urban thinking of the time, i.e. luxury residential communities should be behind a wall to protect resident’s privacy.

Big mistake by today’s urban design aesthetics and urban living dynamics. 

Unfortunately, Trudeau Sr’s National Energy Program hit in 1982 and downtown went into a decline.  Sound familiar? 

Then in 1986 the first phase of Barclay Mall opened linking downtown to Eau Claire. But by 1988, optimism began to return to Eau Claire with the opening of both the new Y, the Canterra office Tower, Shaw Court and the completion of Barclay Mall.  More development followed and by 1992, the Chinese Cultural Centre has opened, followed by Eau Claire Market in 1993 and Sheraton Suites Hotel, River Run and Prince’s Island Estates condos by 1995. 

The early 21stCentury has seen a building boom in Eau Claire with the completion of the two- tower Princeton condo project with its low rise townhomes, as well as the massive Waterfront development (on the old Bus Barns site) east of Eau Claire Market added another 1,000 homes.  And, the luxury Concord condo is nearing completion.  

Several more office towers were added including Ernst Young Tower (2000), Livingston Place (2007), Centennial Place East and West (2010), City Centre (2016) and Eau Claire Tower (2017).  

The City has also made significant improvements to Eau Claire’s public realm including improvements to Prince’s Island and Bow River Pathway (1999), the $22M Peace Bridge (2012) and the $11M West Eau Claire Park (2018). 

And yet, Eau Claire Market has struggled. 

River Run townhouse condos opened in 1995 as part of the ‘90s attempt to convert Eau Claire into a mixed-use urban village.

River Run townhouse condos opened in 1995 as part of the ‘90s attempt to convert Eau Claire into a mixed-use urban village.

Princeton (left, opened in early ‘00s)) and Eau Claire 500 (right, opened in 1981) was the beginning of the redevelopment of Calgary’s Eau Claire community from small cottage homes into an urban village. The redevelopment is still not complete almost 40 years later. There are still large surface parking lots dominating the landscape.

Princeton (left, opened in early ‘00s)) and Eau Claire 500 (right, opened in 1981) was the beginning of the redevelopment of Calgary’s Eau Claire community from small cottage homes into an urban village. The redevelopment is still not complete almost 40 years later. There are still large surface parking lots dominating the landscape.

New Eau Claire office towers from the ‘90s, ‘00s and ‘10s.

New Eau Claire office towers from the ‘90s, ‘00s and ‘10s.

Over the past 30 years the City of Calgary has made significant improvements to Eau Claire’s public realm including the Peace Bridge and expansion of the Bow River promenade.

Over the past 30 years the City of Calgary has made significant improvements to Eau Claire’s public realm including the Peace Bridge and expansion of the Bow River promenade.

The City has also made significant improvements to Prince’s Island to accommodate festivals like the Calgary International Folk Festival.

The City has also made significant improvements to Prince’s Island to accommodate festivals like the Calgary International Folk Festival.

The new West Eau Claire Park includes a pebble beach that has become a poplar place sit people watch.

The new West Eau Claire Park includes a pebble beach that has become a poplar place sit people watch.

Future of Eau Claire Market?

Harvard Development’s ambitious Eau Claire Market redevelopment master plan announced in 2013 called for the creation of about 800,000 sf office space (think two 30-storey office buildings), 800,000 sf of residential space (8,000 units at 1,000 square feet per unit), 600,000 square feet of retail (three times the existing Eau Claire Market) and 200,000 sf hotel (think Alt Hotel in East Village). 

Though probably the right plan in 2013 if it had been executed immediately, it is likely not the right plan for the 2020s given what is happening in East Village and proposed for Victoria Park.  Both of those projects benefit from the Community Revitalization Levy that has - and will -pump hundreds of millions of tax dollars into those communities to make them attractive places to live, work and play. 

As well, several residential developments under construction or approved for Beltline, Bridgeland and elsewhere in Eau Claire that probably make more economic sense than the massive Eau Claire Market site redevelopment. 

So, it is really no surprise Harvard has delayed its plans given there is a glut of office and residential space available in Calgary’s City Centre. Several new hotels have also opened – Alt Hotel and Hilton Garden Inn (both in East Village) and the Beltline’s new Marriott Residence Inn.  PBA Land and Development has plans for The Dorian, a 27-storey 300 room hotel and Calgary Municipal Land Development is actively courting a new hotel as part of the BMO Centre expansion.  

If that isn’t bad enough, retail is struggling throughout the entire City Center from 17th Avenue SW to Kensington. 

Now is simply just not the time for a mega new mixed use development in the downtown and it is likely to be 10+ years before anything major new development will be built downtown.

In a recent column about the success of the Avenida Food Hall, I suggested Eau Claire Market’s best bet might be to convert itself back to a “Food Hall” as times have changed - there are more neighbouring condos and office buildings today than there were in the ‘90s to support a food hall complex, and Calgarians have become more food savvy and love the farm to table concept.

On Saturday, April 13 the City of Calgary hosted a drop-in session at Eau Claire Market seeking public input on how to redesign Eau Claire to “create great public spaces that will make it a great place to live, work, play and shop and help attract long-term growth and development.” The City’s words, not mine. 

Joyce Tang, Program Manager at the City of Calgary told me the public wanted “a greater emphasis on event programming and patio spaces in Eau Claire Plaza. People wanted to see spaces for markets and events, along with areas for recreation along the Prince’s Island lagoon.” 

Indeed, they want what East Village has.  They don’t just want pretty public spaces, but someone to program them like Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) does for the East Village space.  CMLC has a team of three full-time staff managing events year-round - everything from free days at the National Music Centre to food truck festivals, from concerts to outdoor yoga. 

One of the unintended consequences creating first class public spaces in East Village and the aggressive programing of those spaces is that all City Centre communities – Beltline, Bridgeland/Riverside, Hillhurst and Inglewood now want the same quality spaces and programing.  Unfortunately, they don’t have the benefit of a CMLC and a Community Revitalization Levy to make that happen. 

Eau Claire has numerous public spaces to sit and enjoy Prince’s Island Park, especially downtown workers at lunch..

Eau Claire has numerous public spaces to sit and enjoy Prince’s Island Park, especially downtown workers at lunch..

The Prince’s Island lagoon has skating in the winter weather permitting.

The Prince’s Island lagoon has skating in the winter weather permitting.

Prince’s Island park is an urban oasis.

Prince’s Island park is an urban oasis.

Eau Claire is home to one of Calgary’s best restaurants - River Cafe.

Eau Claire is home to one of Calgary’s best restaurants - River Cafe.

Eau Claire has several cafes and restaurants scattered throughout the community, but it lacks a Main Street or a town square.

Eau Claire has several cafes and restaurants scattered throughout the community, but it lacks a Main Street or a town square.

Lesson Learned?

Perhaps the biggest lesson we can learn from Eau Claire’s revitalization is that it takes a long time to revitalize a community - several decades in fact. Mistakes will be made and false starts will happen due to economic, political and social shifts that can’t be anticipated.  

Urban revitalization is not a science. 

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

Eau Claire Market’s Mega Makeover Revisited

Avenida Village: Food Hall Madness

East Village Envy

East Village A Masterpiece In the Making

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.

 

 

A Walk In The Park: Stanley & Nose Hill

Every city should have a “must see / must do” experience.  Vancouver’s “must do” experience is to visit the city’s signature park - Stanley Park.  Indeed, it is a unique urban experience to be in the middle of an old growth forest on the edge of a downtown.  It is a walk back in time, when trees dominated the skyline, before Europeans arrived to create a city of tall glass towers that now dominates Vancouver’s peninsula skyline.  

For many, a walk in Stanley Park is the quintessential Vancouver experience.

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Walk In The Park

While recently spending a month exploring Vancouver, we took two leisurely walks in Stanley Park - one through the more natural interior and the other along the man-made sea wall that looks out into the vast space where sea meets sky.  

Soon after arriving back home to Calgary, friends suggested we get together and go for a walk, so I suggested Nose Hill Park.  

Why?

Partly because I had never walked the park - shame on me.  Partly because I wanted to compare the experience with Stanley Park knowing the two parks were polar opposites. And partly to help answer my ongoing question, “What role do parks play in defining a city?”  

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Stanley Park

Stanley Park, unlike most urban parks, is not the creation of a landscape architect’s masterplan but has evolved organically with most of the structures built between 1911 and 1937 under the supervision of Park Superintendent, W.S. Rawlings.  Much of the park remains heavily forested with an estimated half a million trees. But it also includes several man-made attractions including Vancouver Aquarium, a huge outdoor swimming pool, numerous playgrounds, two restaurants in historical buildings, a pitch and putt golf course and a large tennis facility.  It also home to one of the largest urban blue heron colonies in North America.  

Opened in 1888, the park is named after Lord Stanley, Canada’s sixth Governor General (yes, the same guy the Stanley Cup is named after) and it was designated a National Historic Site in 1988.   

It is a 4 square kilometer park at the end of a peninsula that juts out into the Burrard Inlet, a busy cargo and cruise ship passageway, as well as a recreational boating playground.  I had forgotten there is busy and noisy road through the middle of the park that links the City Centre to Vancouver’s north shore communities. 

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Nose Hill Park

Calgary’s Nose Hill Park, which covers 11 square kilometers (almost 3 times the size of Stanley Park) of rolling hills and native grasslands, is the antithesis of Stanley Park. In many ways, it is more natural than Stanley Park, as there are no attractions, not even a children’s playground.  It is a place to walk and ponder man’s place in nature. 

Historically, Nose Hill was an important site for Blackfoot Confederacy for not only was it was a place to hunt buffalo, but also a sacred place for ceremonies, and a lookout for weather and other dangers.  A recent marker representing a Siksikaitsitapi Circle signifies the world of the four nations who visited the hill - Akainai, Siksika, Piikani and Amskapipikuni.  

Peter Fidler, a Hudson Bay Company trader was the first European to visit Nose Hill in 1779 and traders continued to visit the site for the next 100 years. It was a popular place for early explorers and pioneers to experience Calgary’s Chinook winds that can raise the temperature in winter by 20 degrees Celsius in a matter of hours.  The buffalo herds that visited Nose Hill were decimated by 1879.  During Calgary’s construction boom in early 20thcentury brothels thrived on the hill.  By the 1970s the city’s had grown to the point where the site was ripe for residential development. 

Yes, Nose Hill Park almost didn’t happen! In 1971, Hartel Holdings who owned the land, planned to create a new residential community with outstanding views of the City and mountains.  However, a grassroots group of locals, consisting mostly of residents from the neighbouring North Haven community and individuals from the Calgary Field Naturalists’ Society lobbied to protect the land from development.  It wasn’t until 1984 when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the City had the right to purchase the land, that Nose Hill Park was realized. 

Wandering the park today, you can still find evidence of the early residential development and even some of the old vehicle trails (there were no roads) as it was a popular place for Calgarians to drive to for picnics and views of the mountains in the middle of the 20thcentury.  

Nose Hill is a place to see the big picture - to ponder how man and nature have worked together over the past 100 years and wonder about the future co-existence of city’s and nature. 

I am not sure anyone would think of Nose Hill as a “must see / must do experience” but I am thinking perhaps it should be.   As one of my fellow walkers said “what I think is unique about Nose Hill Park is that it visually and spiritually brings you into contact with the essence of Alberta - grasslands, foothills, vast open space, big blue sky and grandeur of the mountains – at a glance.  

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Collective Psyche

While wandering both Stanley Park and Nose Hill Park, I could help but wonder - Is a city’s collective psyche partly shaped by its geography and climate? 

 What does the lush forest of Stanley Park (and most of Vancouver for that matter) say about Vancouver’s sense of place vs the barren beauty of Nose Hill say about Calgary’s? 

Vancouver is known for its liberal attitudes, it is the birthplace of Greenpeace and home to many environmentalists. It is an international urban playground for tourists, millennials and empty nesters.  

Calgary, on the other hand, is seen as a pragmatic, provincial, conservative corporate city full of engineers.  It is a place where young people and families come to work hard and get ahead. Calgary is home to warm Chinooks winds one day and cold blizzards winds the next, echoing the city’s boom and bust economy.  

Link: How urban parks are bringing nature closer to home?

Link: What makes a good urban park?

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Last Word 

Then again, as one of my fellow Nose Hill walkers said, “A better geographical comparison would have been Stanley Park and Calgary’s Fish Creek Park.” Guess where I will be walking soon?

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

Parks are a MUST for urban living

Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways

Calgary: A brief history of Bow River Islands

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.   

Origin at Spring Creek is an all-inclusive seniors’ complex is perfectly integrated into the community’s Main Street.

Origin at Spring Creek is an all-inclusive seniors’ complex is perfectly integrated into the community’s Main Street.

I love that Origin has a pub at street level where locals and mingle with residents.

I love that Origin has a pub at street level where locals and mingle with residents.

Could Murdoch Manor (low income seniors’ housing) in East Village could have a nice pub or cafe at street level in the future?

Could Murdoch Manor (low income seniors’ housing) in East Village could have a nice pub or cafe at street level in the future?

Many of the Spring Creek condos have shops at street level.

Many of the Spring Creek condos have shops at street level.

East Village also has street retail and a fun pop-up container park in the summer.

East Village also has street retail and a fun pop-up container park in the summer.

Stay with me…still more similarities.

Both have new hotels. Spring Creek, has the new Malcolm Hotel, Canmore’s first four star hotel (pool, restaurants, café) that is the hub of the community, plus two more hotels planned. East Village has Alt Hotel and Hilton Garden Inn.  

Spring Creek has a replica of the Canmore Opera house as its event and meeting space for residents and the broader Canmore community, while East Village has the new Central Library.

Both Spring Creek and East Village have many community events and activities organized for residents to meet their neighbours. 

alt Hotel in Calgary’s East Village

alt Hotel in Calgary’s East Village

Malcolm Hotel, Spring Creek, Canmore

Malcolm Hotel, Spring Creek, Canmore

Replica of Canmore Opera House at Spring Creek

Replica of Canmore Opera House at Spring Creek

The original Canmore Opera House

The original Canmore Opera House

Calgary Central Library and the Municipal Building (its older brother) in East Village. (photo credit CMLC website)

Calgary Central Library and the Municipal Building (its older brother) in East Village. (photo credit CMLC website)

Yes, there is a major difference….

 Spring Creek is a private development with no tax subsidies; Calgary’s East Village development is a City of Calgary initiative that has received hundreds of the millions of tax dollar to create the community’s amenities i.e. park, plaza, RiverWalk, community garden, playground and library.

More similarities…

Spring Creek is a master-planned community (as is East Village) by Canmore developer Frank Kernick, whose family has owned the land since 1927 when it was their dairy farm. It is his family’s legacy project. Kernick engaged Bill Marshall and his team at MTA Architects in Calgary to create the master plan. Ironically, MTA was involved in East Village’s master-plan development.  

It is worth noting Kernick and Chris Ollenberger (who managed the development of East Villages’ master planning and early development) are colleagues and friends. Strange but true, Spring Creek and East Village were not only conceived around the same time, are being developed in similar phases and will be complete by the late ‘20s.  

Kernick likes to boast that his project was approved first.

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Last Word

Indeed, Canmore’s Spring Creek and Calgary’s East Village are like brother communities! Brothers from a different father?

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

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

East Village: A Masterpiece In The Making

Grassi Lakes Trail Treasure Hunting

Canada Day In Canmore

 

Calgary developers love public art!

It is amazing what you can learn about public art by simply accepting an invitation to tour a fabrication plant in Calgary’s Foothills Industrial Park.  

Recently, Heavy Industries’ President Ryan Bessant invited me to tour their facility where they are creating humongous public artworks for internationally renowned artists with commissions in Los Angles, Boston, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Saskatoon.

And yes, Calgary too.  

I learned that Calgary developers love to include public art as part of the branding and creating a unique identity for their new communities or new condo developments. And, It was a real eye opener to learn Calgary is becoming a hub for public art fabrication.

Boney in SETON is just one of dozens of public artworks commissioned by Calgary housing developers as part of branding their new community or new condo development as fun and unique.

Boney in SETON is just one of dozens of public artworks commissioned by Calgary housing developers as part of branding their new community or new condo development as fun and unique.

East Village has numerous whimsical public artworks throughout the village to help create a more pedestrian friendly community.

East Village has numerous whimsical public artworks throughout the village to help create a more pedestrian friendly community.

I loved this “LIV” sculpture at the entrance to Brookfield’s new community called Livingston at the northern edge of the city. It is a fun piece that is a play on the community’s name, as well as a call to action ie. “live at Livingston.” It also allows the public to interact with the piece by adding their lock to the piece as a symbol of their love and connection to the community.

I loved this “LIV” sculpture at the entrance to Brookfield’s new community called Livingston at the northern edge of the city. It is a fun piece that is a play on the community’s name, as well as a call to action ie. “live at Livingston.” It also allows the public to interact with the piece by adding their lock to the piece as a symbol of their love and connection to the community.

You could easily miss this sculpture that is at the entrance to the Xenex condo. If you go up close the piece is full of miniature figures and elements that create an fun fairytale like narrative.

You could easily miss this sculpture that is at the entrance to the Xenex condo. If you go up close the piece is full of miniature figures and elements that create an fun fairytale like narrative.

Also in the Beltline are these two horses at the entrance to Lamb Development’s 6th and Tenth condo.

Also in the Beltline are these two horses at the entrance to Lamb Development’s 6th and Tenth condo.

Harmony vs Carrington vs SETON

For example, Bordeaux Development commissioned Heavy Industries to manufacture and install “Cultivate” by Seattle-based artist Dan Corson for Harmony, their new community west of Calgary.  “Cultivate,” is three large steel sculptures with a rusted patina which makes them look like abandoned pieces of farming equipment at first glance.  While inspired by the shape of an old plow, they are ambiguous enough to also be seen as a crown, a harlequin hat or depending on the viewing angle, the wings of a bird of prey. Walk up close to discover the steel has hundreds of intricate thistle-shaped cut outs, that remind me of Matisse’s playful cut outs.  It is a simple, yet sophisticated piece that creates a unique and welcoming entrance to the community.  

Link: Cultivate: Making An Entrance

Cultivate glows at night like a campfire.

Cultivate glows at night like a campfire.

During the day Cultivate creates an inviting entrance to the Harmony a new estate community just west of Calgary.

During the day Cultivate creates an inviting entrance to the Harmony a new estate community just west of Calgary.

A second example is in Carrington, Mattamy Homes’ new community in Calgary’s northeast.  Mattamy partnered with NAK design who created and Heavy Industries who fabricated and installed an aspen tree-inspired sculpture that provides a fun canopy over the community’s skate park and playground, a popular community gathering place.  At night, its special lighting creates a warm welcoming entrance to the community.

Entrance artwork for Carrington a new community in NE Calgary. photo credit: Heavy Industries

Entrance artwork for Carrington a new community in NE Calgary. photo credit: Heavy Industries

At the base of one of the Carrington's public art pieces is a skatepark. credit: codaworx

At the base of one of the Carrington's public art pieces is a skatepark. credit: codaworx

Thirdly, Brookfield Residential has made a huge commitment to enhanced urban design as part of branding, their new master-planned community at the southeast edge of Calgary - SETON.  The striking white pavilion-like structure at the entrance to the community from Seton Boulevard at Seton Way shout out to everyone that this community is different. It is futuristic! There are several other public art works completed or in the works for SETON. “Boney,” a whimsical purple nine-foot dog that looks like a balloon animal kids get at festivals welcomes everyone walking through the small plaza at the entrance to the EFW Radiology building.  And, if you look up to the roof-top, you’ll see Boney’s bone. 

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SETON Entrance pavilion

SETON Entrance pavilion

SETON Entrance

SETON Entrance

Calgary: A Public Art Fabrication Hub

Travelling Light aka Giant Blue Ring is a street lamp installed in the middle of a bridge on a busy highway away from any pedestrian traffic.

Travelling Light aka Giant Blue Ring is a street lamp installed in the middle of a bridge on a busy highway away from any pedestrian traffic.

Heavy Industries are the guys responsible for fabricating the controversial “Travelling Light” (aka Giant Blue Ring) by Berlin, Germany-based art collective Inges Idee, as well as “Wonderland” (aka Giant White Head) by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. As a result of working with these famous international artists on Calgary projects, Heavy Industries have become their “go to” guys for building their artworks for other cities. 

Over the past 15 years, Bessant and his team have become more than just public art fabricators, they have become turn-key public art managers, working with clients from early concept development, to choosing the artist through to final installation. From a two-person business in 2003, they’re now at 70 full-time employees, and growing.

Currently, Heavy Industries is working with the artists and city administrators in Calgary, Edmonton and East Chicago to create new artworks as part of their public art programs. In addition, they are working with developers like Westbank Corp. (two pieces, one in Vancouver and one in Calgary), Mattamy Homes (new piece for the new Yorkville community in Calgary’s deep southwest) and Bordeaux Development (another piece for Harmony) and two pieces for Halifax developer Amour Group. 

Heavy Industries, along with Calgary’s two other public art fabricators - F&D Scene Changes and Studio Y – they are making Calgary a North American public art production centre.  This means public art is generating tax dollars, not just spending them.

One of the many huge work spaces at Heavy Industries.

One of the many huge work spaces at Heavy Industries.

Works in progress at Heavy Industries

Works in progress at Heavy Industries

Working on Wonderland at Heavy Industries

Working on Wonderland at Heavy Industries

Another work in progress Heavy Industries

Another work in progress Heavy Industries

Vancouver Condo Art

It is not just Calgary condo developers who love to use public art to enhance the curb appeal of their buildings. While flaneuring in Vancouver, I discovered many condos with interesting public art at their entrances including one of the most ambitious pieces of public art I have ever encountered.

On the side to the 43 floor The Charleston condo is a 416 foot tall and 30 foot wide painting by Vancouver artist Elizabeth McIntosh by developer Onni Group. The colourful artwork looks like a huge abstract lightening bolt. Titled “Finger Paint” the piece does have the innocence and playfulness of a child’s painting which is kinda ironic as their is a childcare facility in the building.

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Last Word

With almost every city around the world actively trying to become the next great design city with spectacular architecture, urban design and public art, the potential for Calgary to become a growing centre for public art design and manufacturing is huge.  Creating public art has become a high tech industry.  Long gone are the days of starving artists hand-crafting sculptures in their loft studios.  

While some might think Calgary’s public art program adopted back in 2004 has been a huge failure due to a couple of controversial pieces, overall it has been a huge success.  Today, public art is attached to almost every major new project in Calgary – public and private, inner-city or new community in the burbs. 

Be it Harmony, Carrington, SETON or East Village, Calgary developers are integrating public art into their master-planned communities as a means of creating a more welcoming, unique and attractive sense of place. That wasn’t the case 20 years ago.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condo section on Saturday April 27th 2019.

The latest piece of condo developer commissioned public art is located at Anthem’s Waterfront condo project along a pedestrian pathway that links the project to Sien Lok Park where there are several other public artworks.

The latest piece of condo developer commissioned public art is located at Anthem’s Waterfront condo project along a pedestrian pathway that links the project to Sien Lok Park where there are several other public artworks.

Avenida Village - Calgary’s Next Urban Village?

I have been visiting Avenida Village regularly over the past few years as it is home to Golf Traders and I still believe you can “buy” a golf game.  And, every time I visit, I think what a great place for an urban village as it already has an eclectic mix of shops and medical offices and is within walking distance to Canyon Meadows LRT Station and Southcentre Mall. 

Now it has a “Food Hall” it is ripe (pun intended) for a couple of mid-rise residential developments with restaurants and shops at street level to transform it into a 21st century urban village. And could the Food Hall concept help to revitalize other sites in Calgary like Eau Claire Market.

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A Little History

Avenida Village, built in the early 80s, was one of Calgary’s first big box developments.  Located next to Mcleod Trail just east of the Canyon Meadows LRT station, sits its five single storey white stucco buildings each with arched colonnades, creating a faux Mediterranean-village look (albeit without the signature red roofs).  Originally, each building had its own parking and was home to one major tenant (e.g. Sport Chek) or a few smaller tenants.  Now, it is a tired looking with most of the original tenants having left for new power centres decades ago. 

 But, fortunately, over the past few years, Avenida Village has become home to some trendy places like Pies Plus, YYC Cycle, Breathe Hot Yoga and Spectacular Eyewear, as well as an expanded Golf Traders. It has also become a bit of a medical hub with numerous health-related offices.  

And then, in Fall 2018, the Avenida Food Hall opened.  It could be the catalyst for a mega-makeover.  

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What is a Food Hall, you ask? 

It’s a hybrid between a farmers’ market, food court and restaurant.  Food Halls are designed to serve people as quickly as possible, but rather than franchised outlets serving bland food, the vendors are experienced, local food producers and chefs.  Don’t be surprised if Calgary superstar chef Duncan Ly of Foreign Concept himself serves up your order from Takori, his new Asian taco shop.  And yes, Food Halls also have vendors where you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables to take away.  

Link: A World Of Food Awaits At Avenida Food Hall

The Food Hall could well be the game changer for Avenida Village’s future. Its 40 vendors are attracting thousands of people every weekend creating an urban buzz that is sure to bring more trendy shops. Think craft brewery, maybe a distillery, a major restaurant - perhaps a bike shop. 

I recently checked in with Strategic Group, the owners of Avenida Village to see if they had any plans to transform the site into a true mixed-use urban village.  Though Daorcey Le Bray, Strategic’s Director, Brand and Community was unable to provide details about plans for the site, I noticed they are removing the gas station at the south end and replacing it with a new building designed to become home for four new tenants.   

Given Strategic’s bullish approach to urban residential development in Calgary’s City Centre, it won’t take long for them to realize (if they haven’t already) Avenida Village is ripe for residential development.  

FYI: Strategic is currently building 1,000 new homes in multi-family buildings - including the conversion of the iconic Barron Building downtown into 94 residences.  They are quickly positioning themselves as a leader in urban multi-family residential development in Calgary.

Link: Avenida Food Hall

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Food Hall Madness

I couldn’t help but wonder where else in Calgary the Food Hall concept might work? Maybe Eau Claire Market? I know the concept didn’t work in the early ‘90s when it first opened, but it isn’t the ‘90s anymore. 

Today, Calgarians are much more into unique local food experiences. Also, there are many more people living and working near Eau Claire Market today 20 years ago. Case in point: Anthem’s mega Riverside project immediately east of Eau Claire Market alone provides 1,000+ homes that didn’t exist in the ‘90s. 

Yes, I know there are plans for a mega makeover of the site, but I am betting it is 5+ years before we see any new construction there.  Creating a Food Hall could be a wise move to add some much needed life into the building and surrounding community in the interim.  

Another possible site for a Food Hall might be the old Central Library downtown. Or, what about the old SEARS building at North Hill Shopping Centre?  It offers lots of parking and LRT access, as well as lots of new multi-family development nearby.  Future plans call for upscale residential development on the site, which could easily incorporate a food hall into its design. Why not experiment now?

What about Northland Mall? It was suppose to be home to Calgary’s first Whole Foods store. Perhaps a Food Hall with local producers, chefs and restauranteurs would be an even better way to revitalize the mall.

Ken Aylesworth, the master mind behind the Avenida Food Hall, was instrumental in the development of the Calgary Farmers’ Market and the Symons Valley Ranch Market. Rumour has it he is close to announcing another new project soon.

FYI: The Calgary Farmer’s market will be opening a second location in 2020 in the new community of Greenwich across from Canada Olympic Park. It will have many of the elements of a Food Hall. 

The new community of Greenwich by Melcor Developments. (photo credit: Greenwich website)

The new community of Greenwich by Melcor Developments. (photo credit: Greenwich website)

This is the artist’s image of the new Greenwich Farmers’ Market from the website. While it will take a few years for the trees to grow this big, the architecture of the market and the plaza look very attractive. The concept looks good.

This is the artist’s image of the new Greenwich Farmers’ Market from the website. While it will take a few years for the trees to grow this big, the architecture of the market and the plaza look very attractive. The concept looks good.

Eau Claire Market when it open in early ‘90s had many of the elements of today’s Food Halls. While it didn’t succeed then, it might now given 1,000s of new residents and office workers in the immediate area. As well, as the renaissance in shopping at farmers’ markets and the growth of Calgary’s local food producers, could make it work today.

Eau Claire Market when it open in early ‘90s had many of the elements of today’s Food Halls. While it didn’t succeed then, it might now given 1,000s of new residents and office workers in the immediate area. As well, as the renaissance in shopping at farmers’ markets and the growth of Calgary’s local food producers, could make it work today.

Computer rendering of the proposed redevelopment of the Eau Claire Market site is very ambitious and is now many years away.

Computer rendering of the proposed redevelopment of the Eau Claire Market site is very ambitious and is now many years away.

Last Word

Avenida Village could well become a shining example of how Calgary’s big box retail sites can and will evolve into mixed-use urban villages in the future.   

It will be interesting to see how - or even if - Strategic Group capitalizes on the success of their new Food Hall. What would be really exciting is if a master plan was developed which integrates the redevelopment of the four neighbouring car dealerships, Nutrien’s head office building and the Canyon Meadows Cinema into a model 21st century mixed-use urban development.  

Calgary’s Municipal Development Plan envisions the addition of hundreds of thousands of more people into established communities like Lake Bonavista and Canyon Meadows.  Avenida Village’s redevelopment provides a perfect opportunity to create a transit-oriented village in the middle of these two communities.    

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condos section on March 30, 2019.  

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