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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(December 2018, timessquarenyc.org)   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Calgary Telus Convention Centre also calls Stephen Avenue home.

The Calgary Telus Convention Centre also calls Stephen Avenue home.

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

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

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

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

Stephen Avenue Walk also has some quirky urban design features.

Stephen Avenue Walk also has some quirky urban design features.

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

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

Collage of just some of the Stephen Avenue patios.

Collage of just some of the Stephen Avenue patios.

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

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

But it still struggles. Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Avenue needs to be more quirky than corporate.

Stephen Avenue needs to be more quirky than corporate.

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

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

Stephen Avenue needs more fun things to see and do.

Stephen Avenue needs more fun things to see and do.

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

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

Tough Competition 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Changes Needed

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Great streets must capture the imagination of locals.  

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

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

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

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

Glenbow’s Fabulous First Thursdays

Fixing Calgary’s Ghost Town Downtown

How to build a pedestrian friendly retail district?

 

Condo Living RNDSQR: No Cookie-cutter Condos! 

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

These are definitely not cookie-cutter condos.

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

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

RNDSQR Award Winners

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

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Creating A Community 

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

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

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

Grow is currently under construction.

Grow is currently under construction.

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

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

Conceptual rending of roof top gardens.

Conceptual rending of roof top gardens.

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

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

Courtyard Y33 (CY33) 

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

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

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

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Last Word

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

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

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

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

Live Wire: Marda Loop Diving Into Densification

Altadore: Opportunity to create ideal 21st century community!

Marda Loop Madness



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

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

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Montreal & Toronto Examples

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

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

  1. Operate it without a major tenant

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

  3. Decommission it

  4. Demolish it 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potential Other Uses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have we tried hard enough?

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

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

Are we being too sentimental?

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

Calgary Wants vs Needs: Convention Centre, Stadium, Arena

Sports & Entertainment: Nashville vs Calgary

 

Dominion condo's design evolution

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

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Cold Calling Works

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

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

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

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

Radius condo

Radius condo

Three Tries…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Balcony vs Veranda

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

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

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Last Word

Maxime Laroussi

Maxime Laroussi

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

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

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

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

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

Bridgeland/Riverside Rebirth

Calgary Condos Add A Pop Of Colour

Welcome to the era of neuro-design

Calgary History: Grand Trunk Cottage School

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

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

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

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

Grand Trunk School a community initiative 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand Trunk School’s original design.

Grand Trunk School’s original design.

The School’s Architecture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why the name “Grand Trunk?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Map of West Hillhurst from City of Caglary website

Map of West Hillhurst from City of Caglary website

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

Link: Calgary Heritage Strategy. 

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

Link: Calgary Heritage Week At A Glance.

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

West Hillhurst: Portrait of my community

Urban Cottages vs Gentrification

Does Calgary Have Too Many Neighbourhoods?

 

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.

Screen Shot 2019-07-05 at 9.19.08 PM.png
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….

Screen Shot 2019-06-16 at 2.07.34 PM.png
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.

Screen Shot 2019-06-16 at 8.39.45 AM.png

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