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?

 

Southern Alberta Road Trip: Folk Art & Architecture Postcards 

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

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

Here are some postcards from our tour….   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even some of the lampposts have a Star Trek connection.

Even some of the lampposts have a Star Trek connection.

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

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

The park has several colourful light boxes.

The park has several colourful light boxes.

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

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

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

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

Even the crosswalks have a Star Trek link.

Even the crosswalks have a Star Trek link.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loved these hand cut steel street signs.

Loved these hand cut steel street signs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loved the oversized arches of the School Division building.

Loved the oversized arches of the School Division building.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What a great name for a cafe….

What a great name for a cafe….

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfect bench!

Perfect bench!

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think it would make a great birdhouse!

I think it would make a great birdhouse!

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Yes the hotel still uses room keys.

Yes the hotel still uses room keys.

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

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

One of the many charming cottages in Waterton.

One of the many charming cottages in Waterton.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twin Butte population 10.

Twin Butte population 10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quilt shop window…

Quilt shop window…

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

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

There is lots of fun local history artifacts.

There is lots of fun local history artifacts.

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

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

I am a sucker for minimalist architecture.

I am a sucker for minimalist architecture.

I am also a sucker for brick and rounded corners.

I am also a sucker for brick and rounded corners.

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

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

Blue Sky Motel.

Blue Sky Motel.

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

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

A blast from the past….

A blast from the past….

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

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

Calgary 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

Eau Claire: Still a work in progress 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eau Claire Market vs Granville Island Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Granville Island is more more than just a public market.

Granville Island is more more than just a public market.

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

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

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

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

Eau Claire vs East Village 

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

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

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

Somehow East Village gets all the media attention and accolades.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eau Claire’s Revitalization History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet, Eau Claire Market has struggled. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future of Eau Claire Market?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prince’s Island park is an urban oasis.

Prince’s Island park is an urban oasis.

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

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

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

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

Lesson Learned?

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

Urban revitalization is not a science. 

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

Eau Claire Market’s Mega Makeover Revisited

Avenida Village: Food Hall Madness

East Village Envy

East Village A Masterpiece In the Making

Calgary vs Vancouver: Affordability & Livability

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affordability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary’s City Centre has an amazing patio scene.

Calgary’s City Centre has an amazing patio scene.

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

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

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

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

Calgary also has some pretty cool places to sit.

Calgary also has some pretty cool places to sit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vancouver has is fair share of fun strange red sculptures.

Vancouver has is fair share of fun strange red sculptures.

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

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

Vancouver Art Gallery has funky exhibitions.

Vancouver Art Gallery has funky exhibitions.

Calgary’s Glenbow Museum has fun exhibitions also.

Calgary’s Glenbow Museum has fun exhibitions also.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beltline vs West End 

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

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

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

Link: Beltline Embraces Density

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17th Avenue also has a diverse independent cafe culture.

17th Avenue also has a diverse independent cafe culture.

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

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

The Beltline’s equivalent would be Tomkins Park.

The Beltline’s equivalent would be Tomkins Park.

Vancouver’s West End has funky bike racks.

Vancouver’s West End has funky bike racks.

Calgary’s Beltline also has funky bike racks.

Calgary’s Beltline also has funky bike racks.

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

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

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

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

East Village vs Yaletown 

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

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

Link: East Village a billion dollar work of art!

Vancouver’s signature central library in Yaletown.

Vancouver’s signature central library in Yaletown.

Calgary’s signature new central library in East Village

Calgary’s signature new central library in East Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yaletown’s pedestrian pathway is lined with residential buildings.

Yaletown’s pedestrian pathway is lined with residential buildings.

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

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

There are several parks located along Yaletown’s pathway.

There are several parks located along Yaletown’s pathway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eau Claire / Downtown West vs Coal Harbour

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

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

Link: Downtown West a quiet evolution

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

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

Calgary’s Eau Claire shoreline.

Calgary’s Eau Claire shoreline.

Calgary’s Downtown West shoreline.

Calgary’s Downtown West shoreline.

Coal Harbour’s waterfront pathway

Coal Harbour’s waterfront pathway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Across the Water 

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary can’t match the Kitsilano beach.

Calgary can’t match the Kitsilano beach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kitsilano has several fun murals.

Kitsilano has several fun murals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tobogganing is popular with families in Bridgeland.

Tobogganing is popular with families in Bridgeland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kensington Village is home to the iconic Plaza theatre.

Kensington Village is home to the iconic Plaza theatre.

Kensington Village has numerous great restaurants with sidewalk summer patios.

Kensington Village has numerous great restaurants with sidewalk summer patios.

Kensington also has the fun Container Bar.

Kensington also has the fun Container Bar.

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

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

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

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

Mission vs South Granville

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

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

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

Link: Mission is marvellous

The Stanley Theatre anchors South Granville street.

The Stanley Theatre anchors South Granville street.

South Granville has numerous mid-century apartments.

South Granville has numerous mid-century apartments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historic Districts

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

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

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

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

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

Link: Inglewood Calgary’s most unique community

Vancouver’s Gastown is very popular with tourists.

Vancouver’s Gastown is very popular with tourists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inglewood is home to Calgary’s live music scene.

Inglewood is home to Calgary’s live music scene.

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

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

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

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

In My Opinion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Window Licking Fun In Vancouver

Those of you who are regular readers of the Everyday Tourist blogs will know I love taking photos of urban street life in storefront windows. For me, it is the best format for “street photography” as I can be incognito.

I use the term “window licking” because it sounds a bit weird and fun at the same time. The term is from the French words for window shopping, which when translated literally into English is “window licking.”

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Window Licking History

“The eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries saw an evolution in shopping spurred by a faster turnover of manufactured "fashionable" goods and an increase in department stores selling them. These shops pioneered new techniques of window display. Rather than piling their stock up - as had been common in markets and bazaars - they sold goods in mannered and self-conscious window displays, intended to sell nonessential goods.”

Link: Window Displays


There was a time when department stores would have full-time window dressers who like curators at a public art galleries, would research and carefully plan seasonal window displays to capture the pubilic’s imagination. To “wow” them to come into the store. This is still the case in fashion centres like New York, Paris, London and Milan, but not so much in places like Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg or Hamilton.

Selfridges in London has perhaps the most iconic storefront windows. Harry Selfridge the founder of one of the world’s signature department stores was adamant when designing his store in 1909 that it must have large windows facing the street. He even brought with him a widow dresser from the American department store Marshall Field’s which was noted for their window displays. Many of the early episodes of the TV show Mr. Selfridge focus on the importance of the windows as a means of attracting people into the store and the important role of the “window dresser” as part of the stores branding.

Today the use of street windows as a key marketing and sales tool has been forgotten by most retailers. As a result most “Main Street” experiences aren’t as much fun as they use to be.

Great cities are often defined by their great shopping or “High” streets. Places where the sidewalks are animated with people coming and going. Places, where the windows are carefully curated with art gallery-like exhibitions of objects. They can make a street become a tourist attraction.

Link: Video Selfridges Christmas window

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Vancouver Window Licking

I was pleasantly surprised to find the art of window dressing still very much alive in Vancouver, especially in the high end fashion shops along and near Alberni Street.

Link: Retailers Continue to descend on Vancouver’s Luxury Zone.

However, it wasn’t only Alberni Street. I found fun windows wherever I went from Strathcona to South Granville. Sure many of them were in upscale shops, but some of the more unique ones were in off the beaten path places like the BC Stamp Works. I found great windows in local grocery stores, as well as the Army & Navy store in New West.

Here are some of my favourite Vancouver windows….

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Last Word

In my opinion, cities today are placing too much attention (and money) on the design of the streetscape as a means of attracting people to their shopping streets. If landlords and retailer want to attract more people to visit their shops they would be far better off hiring a professional window dresser to create fun, funky and quirky windows on a regular basis - at least quarterly if not monthly.

If you like this blog you will like:

Window Licking in Paris

Window Licking in Chicago

Window Licking in Florence

The Pandrol Clip: Art vs Engineering

I bet most people just walk, drive or cycle by this object at the corner of 9th St and 4th Ave SW thinking that is just another piece of contemporary art. In fact, it is a huge Pandrol Clip that I have enjoyed for years as I walk over the Louise Bridge that connects downtown to Kensington Village.

A What? You ask?

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A Pandrol Clip?

The information panel next to the object says it is “an important component in keeping Calgary’s CTrain system together. The Pandrol Clip is part of a railway fastening system developed in 1959 by Norwegian railway engineer Per Pande Rolfsen.

Physically the clip weights less than two pounds and has a diameter of approximately 20 mm. However, this unique system offers a lightweight, low-cost rail fastener where spring and torsion works together to provide a high clamping force - each clip exerts a force of approximately two tonnes on the foot of the rail. This holds the rail foot in place, keeping the rail fastened to the underlying base-plate.

The proven benefits of the Pandrol Clip include a very long and virtually maintenance free life. It is safe, secure, can be inserted and removed manually and will continue to grip the rail under vibration. It is now used by hundreds of railways systems around the world.

But, can it also be considered art….

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Clip vs Figure vs Gate vs Frozen River vs Blue Ring vs Bloom

It has all the ingredients of sculpture - shape, space, form, line, texture. In fact it reminds me of bit of a Henry Moore reclining figure, as well as Kosso Eloul’s “Nova Gate” at the entrance to the old Nova Building downtown.

Henry Moore, Reclining Woman

Henry Moore, Reclining Woman

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Nova Gate at the 7th Avenue SW Entrance to what was originally called the Nova Tower by Kosso Eloul.

Nova Gate at the 7th Avenue SW Entrance to what was originally called the Nova Tower by Kosso Eloul.

It also reminds me of Frozen River by Stephen Glassman located next to the Emergency Operation Centre at 673 First St NE - a long way from the river. The information panel reads,  “This winding structure of local stone and bent pipe is a gesture to the native glacial and prairie landscape, and its people. Like a frozen river, the artwork appears across the horizon, fixed in motion and defying gravity.

It also reminds me of Frozen River by Stephen Glassman located next to the Emergency Operation Centre at 673 First St NE - a long way from the river. The information panel reads, “This winding structure of local stone and bent pipe is a gesture to the native glacial and prairie landscape, and its people. Like a frozen river, the artwork appears across the horizon, fixed in motion and defying gravity.

And then there is Travelling Light aka Giant Blue Ring by Inges Idee a glorified street light, which is probably as much an engineering exercise, as it is an artistic statement. (photo credit Inges Idee)

And then there is Travelling Light aka Giant Blue Ring by Inges Idee a glorified street light, which is probably as much an engineering exercise, as it is an artistic statement. (photo credit Inges Idee)

Speaking of street lights, this public art work on St. Patricks’ Island title “Bloom” by Michel de Broin, that incorporates vintage street lampposts welded to tripod is also as much an engineering feat, as an artist’s statement.

Speaking of street lights, this public art work on St. Patricks’ Island title “Bloom” by Michel de Broin, that incorporates vintage street lampposts welded to tripod is also as much an engineering feat, as an artist’s statement.

Last Word

I wonder how many other engineering objects there are like the Pandrol Clip that blur the boundary between form and function, object and art. Calgary is often called “The City of Engineers” as it has one of the highest per capital number of engineers in Canada, maybe the world.

Perhaps it is fitting that our public art and engineering communities are linked.

Sometimes Calgary’s urban design and arts communities refer to Calgary as a “city built by engineers” when frustrated by the City’s inability to embrace the arts, creativity and experimentation. Indeed, Calgary has a reputation (nationally and perhaps internationally) of being a bastion for pragmatic prairie conservatism.

Perhaps instead, we should be embracing our engineering culture and working together to create something unique. The Beakerhead festival that combines art, engineering and science was a great first step. We need to take few more steps….

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

Beakerhead Festival

Confessions of a public art juror

Do we need all of this public art?

Uniquely Calgary Shopping Experiences

If you are visiting Calgary, perhaps new to Calgary or just want to get out of your shopping rut, here are some Everyday Tourist recommendations for uniquely Calgary shopping experiences.  

Even if you don’t like to shop, or don’t need to buy a souvenir each of these shops are interesting for their design, artifacts or the community that they are located in.

Alberta Boot, #50 - 50th Ave SE

Perhaps the quintessential Calgary shopping experience would be to buy a pair of locally made cowboy boots from Alberta Boots.  Clem Gerwing moved from the family farm in Saskatchewan to Calgary in 1963 and purchased a wholesale footwear company. For several years he sold Quebec, Mexican and American made boots.  Not happy with the quality, he decided the world’s best boots should be made in Calgary and so Alberta Boots was born in 1978.  The Gerwing family has since made boots for the likes of Will and Kate (yes, THAT Will and Kate), Tom Selleck, Brad Pitt, Kevin Costner, Owen Wilson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Fred Couples, Jerome Iginla, Gordie Howe, Paul Brandt, Keifer Sutherland and many other big names. 

Their huge store and factory in Calgary’s up and coming Manchester district is definitely worth a visit.  And a surprise – they don’t just make cowboy boots now!

Link: Alberta Boot

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Aquila Books, 826 - 16th Avenue NW

 Who would think the little building with the blue awning on the TransCanada Highway (aka 16th Ave N) is home to one of North America’s best antiquarian bookstores?  Aquila specializes in books dealing with polar expeditions, Western Canadiana, mountaineering and the Canadian Pacific Railway. As much a museum as a bookstore, it is filled with antique maps, prints, photos, letters, postcards, scientific instruments and even an Inuit kayak hanging from the ceiling.  It is well worth the visit if you love history and/or books.

Link: Aquila Books

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Circa Glass, 1226A - 9th Ave SE

If you like eye candy, you will love Circa.  Owner and curator Brian Imeson has created a one-of-a-kind gallery in Canada that showcases mid-century modern art glass from around the world. A visit to Circa is an educational experience, as Imeson is more than willing to spend time sharing his vast knowledge of European art glass. 

A souvenir from Circa is something you will enjoy for a lifetime. 

Link: Circa Glass

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Crown Surplus, 1005 - 11st St SE

You could easily walk by the Crown Surplus site thinking it is just a junk shop filled with old army surplus equipment - not that there is anything wrong with that. Established in 1953 originally as R&S Surplus, Crown Surplus has a long history of selling decommissioned army equipment. But inside there is so much more. It is a military treasure hunters dream with stuff hanging from the ceiling and stuffed into every corner, but you can also find great outdoor clothing and equipment deals. 

Link: Crown Surplus 

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espy, 1009 9th Ave SE

Located in the timeless Atlantic Avenue Arts Block, espy is an affordable fashion boutique for women and men.  The staff pride themselves on being able to find their clients – no matter their size or age - the perfect pair of jeans. They specialize in the difficult, by carrying sizes from 00 to plus 16 for women and special sizes for men with long arms and long legs. 

Could there be a better souvenir of Calgary than a perfect fitting pair of blue jeans? And yes, they’re more than just jeans.

Link: espy

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Gravity Pope, 1126 - 17th Ave SE

Gravity Pope is a must visit for anyone interested in fashion and interior design.  The open multi-level floor plate with its 70s psychedelic design is simply dazzling with mirrors everywhere reflecting the light and objects to create a magical mystery tour.   A commissioned colorful art installation by artist Kristi Malakoff embellishes the visual feast.  And then there are 200 footwear brands displayed on pedestals like works of art.  

It is like an art installation that you might see at a major contemporary art gallery in London or New York – but this is one where you can take a “piece” home.

Link: Gravity Pope

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Heritage Poster & Music, 1316 - 11th Ave SW

Here you will find not only vintage vinyl, but new and out-of-print music, rare concert tour and gig posters, photos, movie posters and just about anything “music.” Holger Petersen of Stony Plain Records says, “Heritage Music has the best collection of Blues, Folk, Roots and Jazz records in Canada.” I don’t argue that.

Link: Heritage Posters

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Kent of Inglewood, 1319 - 9th Ave SE

Need a good axe? How about an old fashioned straight razor? You can get these and lots more at Kent of Inglewood man’s man store. Check out the Kent of Inglewood Boar Bristle Beard brush or their badger hair shaving brush.  There is also a barber on site where you can get a shave and a hair-cut, while others are exploring the shops of Inglewood.  

And yes, they have an entire wall of axes…. warning don’t try to shave with them.  And yes, they do offer shave classes.

Link:  Kent of Inglewood

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Knifewear, 1316 - 9th Ave SE

Across the street, along Inglewood’s main street you will find Knifewear’s museum-like flagship store that opened in 2008.  Owner Kevin Kent, (he also owns Kent of Inglewood), first fell in love with Japanese knives while working a sous-chef for the legendary chef Fergus Henderson at St. John’s restaurant in London, England.  Upon returning to Calgary in 2007, he began selling knives to Calgary chefs out of his backpack on his bike.  Today, he visits Japan a couple of times a year to learn more about the ancient art of knife-making and meet directly with the blacksmiths.  His staff are both enthusiastic and very knowledgeable. The dynamic mural on the wall is worth the visit alone.   

A Japanese knife will surely impress friends at your next dinner party. 

Link: Knifewear

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Livingstone & Cavell Extraordinary Toys, 1124 Kensington Rd NW

If you are a grandparent or love retro things, you will love Livingstone & Cavell. It is full of nostalgia-based toys, everything from shiny pedal cars to pick-up sticks, from toy soldiers to classic board games and wind-up tin toys. Livingstone & Cavell invites everyone to play again. Wind up a tin robot, twitch a marble with your thumb, play a few bars of “Happy Birthday” on a toy piano, and share your memories with friendly staff.  

Take home something educational for the grandkids and something fun for yourself. 

Link:  Livingstone & Cavell

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Map Town, 400 - 5 Avenue SW

When you're in the heart of downtown Calgary, there's a hidden gem that has been compared to the world's largest map store - Stanford's in London, England. Established in 1989, Map Town is Canada's largest map store offering 90,000 world, travel, country, topographic, landowner, provincial, nautical and aeronautical maps, as well as travel guides, traditional and solar globes, digital data for your GPS and novelty items. Map Town has delivered maps to over 99% of the postal and zip codes in Canada and the USA.  

There most unique map is an authentic Captain John Palliser's exploration of Western Canada in 1867. If it is still available it is yours for $28,000. Popular souvenirs include World Wall maps, and local hiking maps of the Canadian Rockies. It is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

Link: MapTown.com

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Recordland 1208 - 9th Ave SE

Opened in 1979, Recordland boasts an inventory of over one million obscure, classic and new records, making its Canada’s largest record store. Visit on a weekday and you can browse to your heart’s content. Visit on a weekend and you will be rubbing elbows with Calgary’s many audiophiles as the place is packed with floor-to-ceiling shelves that are only about three feet apart. Look up to see and records decorating the ceiling.  

Link: Recordland

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Reid’s The Stationary Store, 710 - 17th Ave SW

Reid’s has been a fixture on 17th Avenue for over 25 years.  A party store in the front and stationary store in the back, it is a FUN place to explore. Jam-packed with balloons and piñatas and gag gifts, as well as designer items from Alessi and Riedel, and a huge selection of cards and specialty paper.  Serious pen collectors won’t want to miss their large selection of designer writing utensils from Mont Blanc to Faber-Castell, from Lamy to Cross.  

If you can’t find a souvenir here, you aren’t really trying.

Link: Reid’s 

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Rubaiyat, 722 17th Ave SW

Rubaiyat, established in 1973 has been one of the retail anchors on Calgary’s 17thAvenue main street, since it opened at its current location in 1980. The store is unique as it combines a hand-blown glass gallery with upscale jewellery, as well as home décor accessories and furniture (indoor and outdoor).  At any given time, there are works by over 800 artisans.  It even has its own Stained Glass Studio at 1913 - 10thAve SW - definitely worth a visit for off-the-beaten path shoppers.  

If you can’t find a souvenir here, you really don’t want a souvenir.  

Link: Rubaiyat

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Smithbilt Hats, 1015 - 11th St SE 

No visit to Calgary is complete without a visit to the Smithbilt Hats new store, museum and factory in Inglewood.  Founded in 1919, Smithbilt is the maker of the famous Calgary “white cowboy hats” that have been presented to visiting dignitaries as the City’s symbol of hospitality and friendship since the 1940s.  Today the store offers a range of hats and other western fashion accessories. You can even custom cowboy hat made for you. The shop is full of hat-making artifacts and if you are lucky you might even see in progress hat-making. 

Link: Smithbilt Hats

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The Chocolate Lab 202D Centre St. SE, 

This tiny off-the-beaten-path shop in Chinatown offers chocolates that are ALMOST “to0 pretty to eat.” They are works of art.  Several of The Chocolate Lab’s bonbons – Orange Dreamsicle, the L.L. Dean and the Lychee Rose have won awards at the International Chocolate Awards.  If you go to The Lab, be sure to leave some time to explore the surrounding quaint Chinatown. 

Link: Chocolate Lab

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World of Whiskey, 333 - 5th Ave SW, (+15 level, west of Petroleum Club) 

Explore over 850 different varieties of whisky at Calgary Co-op’s World of Whiskey store, one of the first whiskey-only stores in North America.  Here you will find rare vintages from Scotland, Ireland, Japan, Taiwan, India and France, including a 50-year old single malt Glenfiddich going for the price of a well-equipped car.  

No smoking jacket required. 

Link: World of Whiskey

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Last Word

Obviously, there are many other retailers I could have included in this list. If you are looking to further explore Calgary’s unique shopping scene, I would suggest you explore these five districts. 

  • Inglewood: Along 9thAvenue SE

  • Beltline: 17thAvenue SW

  • Kensington: 10thSt NW and Kensington Road

  • Design District: 11thAve SW

  • Downtown Hudson’s’ Bay to Holt Renfrew (+15 level and above)

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

Restaurants That Define Calgary’s Sense of Place

19 Reason’s Not To Visit Calgary in 2019

Calgary: History Capital of Canada

 

Vancouver: Street Fun For Everyone

Did you know that back in th ‘90s the City of Vancouver actually created a Fun Coordinator position, because of criticism that the city was no fun? True story. I don’t believe the position still exists.

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From Humdrum to Fun

When I walk the street of cities I love to take photos of the fun things I see - things that make be smile and laugh. Quirky and funky things! Vancouver has not disappointed me.

Here are just a few examples of the fun photos that I have taken while flaneuring the streets of Vancouver over the past week.

Be sure to read to the end. The last example perhaps best illustrates how Vancouver has evolved from a humdrum city to a fun metropolis over the past 20+ years.

Vancouver’s luxury fashion retailers have great window designers. I wish more retailers would invest in creating fun windows that make you stop and look.

Vancouver’s luxury fashion retailers have great window designers. I wish more retailers would invest in creating fun windows that make you stop and look.

If cities are going to commission public art to enhance the pedestrian experience, be sure that it is fun and accessible to the pedestrians, like this Joe Fafard piece.

If cities are going to commission public art to enhance the pedestrian experience, be sure that it is fun and accessible to the pedestrians, like this Joe Fafard piece.

This installation by artist Yue Minjun next to the pathway at English Bay titled “A-maze-ing Laughter,” brings a smile to people of all ages. It never fails!

This installation by artist Yue Minjun next to the pathway at English Bay titled “A-maze-ing Laughter,” brings a smile to people of all ages. It never fails!

Even the Vancouver Art Gallery has some fun art on their roof. There are four ships, one white, one black, one red and one yellow. I just thought they were fun, but turns out they are a very serious art installation by Ken Lum. The First Nations boat is red, the Fujian ghost ship is yellow, the Komagata Maru is black and Captain Vancouver’s ship is white. The boats point north, south, east and west as a directional compass, asking viewers to situate themselves within a larger geography. You could easily miss them…I have for years…

Even the Vancouver Art Gallery has some fun art on their roof. There are four ships, one white, one black, one red and one yellow. I just thought they were fun, but turns out they are a very serious art installation by Ken Lum. The First Nations boat is red, the Fujian ghost ship is yellow, the Komagata Maru is black and Captain Vancouver’s ship is white. The boats point north, south, east and west as a directional compass, asking viewers to situate themselves within a larger geography. You could easily miss them…I have for years…

This playful window changes every few seconds, creating a fun pop art exhibition as you walk by.

This playful window changes every few seconds, creating a fun pop art exhibition as you walk by.

I am not sure anyone is ever happy about having to do laundry, however I love shops with fun names.

I am not sure anyone is ever happy about having to do laundry, however I love shops with fun names.

Found this fun scarecrow and two others while cycling on the Arbutus Greenway. We need more scarecrows.

Found this fun scarecrow and two others while cycling on the Arbutus Greenway. We need more scarecrows.

Found this fun, tiny house/truck on East Hastings…

Found this fun, tiny house/truck on East Hastings…

These pink bike racks along Davie Street are too much fun.

These pink bike racks along Davie Street are too much fun.

While most of the umbrellas in Vancouver are black and boring, this one made me smile.

While most of the umbrellas in Vancouver are black and boring, this one made me smile.

Even TransLink joins in the fun with this snowman icon warning people to be careful on the stairs at the stations.  Seem strange that Vancouver would use a snowman - ironic humour?

Even TransLink joins in the fun with this snowman icon warning people to be careful on the stairs at the stations. Seem strange that Vancouver would use a snowman - ironic humour?

Discovered this fun building while on the bus on East Hastings…how clever. More of this please….

Discovered this fun building while on the bus on East Hastings…how clever. More of this please….

Even the buses in Vancouver are fun.

Even the buses in Vancouver are fun.

Was surprise to find an indoor basketball court as part of the redevelopment of the block with the old Woodward Department Store. These guys were having a fun pick-up game.

Was surprise to find an indoor basketball court as part of the redevelopment of the block with the old Woodward Department Store. These guys were having a fun pick-up game.

Vancouver is a great place for night walks. Found this fun urban design that I would probably have missed during the day.

Vancouver is a great place for night walks. Found this fun urban design that I would probably have missed during the day.

This VanCity bank window made me smile…

This VanCity bank window made me smile…

Sandwich boards can add some fun to the pedestrian experience.

Sandwich boards can add some fun to the pedestrian experience.

This fairy garden in the West End created from kids toy figures was delightful. I am thinking I have to create a fairy garden this spring to entertain the children being dropped off in front of our house for the Honey Bee Daycare across the street. I must practice what I preach.

This fairy garden in the West End created from kids toy figures was delightful. I am thinking I have to create a fairy garden this spring to entertain the children being dropped off in front of our house for the Honey Bee Daycare across the street. I must practice what I preach.

Keep your eyes on the ground and you will be rewarded with these fun mosaics at the corners in downtown.

Keep your eyes on the ground and you will be rewarded with these fun mosaics at the corners in downtown.

Even Vancouver’s homeless have a sense of humour. This person wrote 10+ different positive statements in colourful chalk on a street corner on Robson Street and then asked for donations. Gotta give him A for effort and A for creativity.

Even Vancouver’s homeless have a sense of humour. This person wrote 10+ different positive statements in colourful chalk on a street corner on Robson Street and then asked for donations. Gotta give him A for effort and A for creativity.

Forget the Baskets, Banners, Furniture & Art

While many cities spend big bucks trying to spruce up their shopping streets with banners, baskets of flowers, street furniture and public art to make them more pedestrian friendly, I think they would be far better off if the merchants took ownership for creating a great pedestrian experience by improving window displays and putting things out on the street. In addition, building owners could painted blank walls with murals or enhance their building’s facade with some fun colour.

Perhaps cities could give building and shop owners a tax break for their efforts as an incentive to create a fun pedestrian experience. Just an idea…

Not far away from Happy Laundry in Vancouver’s East Village (2230 East Hastings) you will find Dayton Shoe Factory that has been there since 1949. Originally established to make boots for loggers, today they fun custom boots for anyone. But that is not the real fun. If you look in the background you will see two beer taps. No they aren’t just for decoration or for special events. Anybody who comes in to look around can enjoy Dayton Shoe Factory’s own craft beer. Now how fun is that….

Not far away from Happy Laundry in Vancouver’s East Village (2230 East Hastings) you will find Dayton Shoe Factory that has been there since 1949. Originally established to make boots for loggers, today they fun custom boots for anyone. But that is not the real fun. If you look in the background you will see two beer taps. No they aren’t just for decoration or for special events. Anybody who comes in to look around can enjoy Dayton Shoe Factory’s own craft beer. Now how fun is that….

Lacombe: Mural Capital of Alberta 

It seems like every town and hamlet in Alberta, Canada and North America has developed a mural program as a means of trying to attract tourists off the major highway and into town where they might spend a few bucks.  

In addition to attracting tourist, these mural programs can be the catalyst for fostering community pride in both the past and the present.  

In my opinion, fostering community pride is the most important aspect of sustaining community prosperity - be is a small town or a big city.  

Without civic pride, a town or city is destined to decline

Lacombe’s mural program is unique in that all of the murals are hidden in the downtown’s back lanes, rather than on side walls building that can be seen from the main street sidewalks.

Lacombe’s mural program is unique in that all of the murals are hidden in the downtown’s back lanes, rather than on side walls building that can be seen from the main street sidewalks.

I love that you can examine them close up to see the detail of the artist Tim Giles’ painting.

I love that you can examine them close up to see the detail of the artist Tim Giles’ painting.

While many mural programs are based on capturing the history of the community, Lacombe’s murals integrate the actual buildings into the mural so as you wander the alleys you begin to forget we live in the 21st century. I imagine, it is a bit like wander onto a movie set.

While many mural programs are based on capturing the history of the community, Lacombe’s murals integrate the actual buildings into the mural so as you wander the alleys you begin to forget we live in the 21st century. I imagine, it is a bit like wander onto a movie set.

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Murals to the rescue

The first town I remember to created a comprehensive curated mural program in Canada was Chemainus, BC back in 1981. The town’s lumber mill had closed and the town leaders looked to tourism to save the town.  It has been a huge success. Other towns followed - High River, Alberta just south of Calgary, Windsor, Nova Scotia and Huntsville, Ontario.  The later has 90 murals celebrating the work of the Canada’s Group of Seven (note to self, go to Huntsville next time you are in Ontario).  Even I, as an artist, got on the bandwagon, initiating the ill-fated Street Art For Gleichen project while living in Gleichen, Alberta back in 1983.   

Link: Best Outdoor Murals in Canada

Several years ago, I heard Lacombe (100 km south of Edmonton on the QEII highway) had a great mural program and made a mental note to check them out when I was in the neighbourhood. That is exactly what happened on a trip to Edmonton this past January.

There is something intriging about how the murals and the dumpsters are juxtaposed.

There is something intriging about how the murals and the dumpsters are juxtaposed.

Giles’ work successfully integrate the existing buildings into his murals to create a lovely narrative and realism.

Giles’ work successfully integrate the existing buildings into his murals to create a lovely narrative and realism.

More than just murals

Lacombe (population: 13,000) has a lovely historic downtown main street with lots of early 20th century buildings. Who knew they have six designated Provincial historic buildings and the most intact concentration of Edwardian buildings in the province? 

Lacombe has a rich history.  It is named after Father Albert Lacombe (1827 – 1916), a Roman Catholic Oblate missionary who is best known for brokering peace between the Cree and Blackfoot to allow the Canadian Pacific Railway to build Canada’s transcontinental railway. It is where Governor General Roland Michener (1967 to 1974) was born.  In 1907, the federal government set up the Lacombe Experimental Farm, establishing the town as the agricultural hub for the region.  And, it is home to Burma University, formerly the Seventh-day Adventist Canadian University College campus which can be traced back to 1909.  

There are some fun shops including a mid-century bowling alley that look like a hoot.  And they have not one, not two, but three museums – Flatiron Museum, Michener House Museum and Blacksmith Shop Museum. 

Link: Lacombe Historical Resources

Note to self: Next time you are in Lacombe area, give yourself more time so you can check out the Burman University campus and the museums. 

Link: Burman University

But I digress…

Next time I will definitely be booking a lane at Ambassador Lanes.

Next time I will definitely be booking a lane at Ambassador Lanes.

Flatiron Museum & Interpretive Centre

Flatiron Museum & Interpretive Centre

Lacombe United Church

Lacombe United Church

Michener House

Michener House

Main Street

Main Street

Burma University

Burma University

Mural Capital of Alberta 

I was surprised to discover that most of the murals are done by one guy – Tim Giles. Giles, a self-taught artist, who comes from a family of artists, started creating murals in 2004 as part of Lacombe’s effort to win the Canada-wide “Communities in Bloom” contest.  He didn’t know if his first mural would be temporary or permanent, however they were well received and he was asked to do more.  

“More” meant he would eventually do 20+ murals – all in the back alleys of downtown Lacombe and all depicting the life of early area pioneers (from 1890 to 1910). In 2009, he completed another series of murals depicting life in the 1930s. Using archival photos of local street scenes, his painterly realism style of painting transformed Lacombe’s downtown alleys into a lovely, walk back in time.   

Link: Lacombe Regional Tourism Murals

I was surprised the murals were in such great shape given some are 15 years old. After some digging I learned why. In 2015, St. Albert, Alberta muralist Robert Murray was hired to restore the murals.  There are also new murals being added. Local sign painter turned artist, John Ellenberger (known as Little John) recently created a mural titled Clydesdale Parade based the Clydesdales were the common draft horse used for field work at the Lacombe Research Station.  

While wandering Lacombe’s alleys you quickly began to feel that you were actually wandering into the back yards of homes and businesses at the turn of the century.

While wandering Lacombe’s alleys you quickly began to feel that you were actually wandering into the back yards of homes and businesses at the turn of the century.

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Last Word

What I most loved about Lacombe’s mural program is that it gives visitors an immediate sense of the community’s pride not only in its history, but in its present and future. Rather than let their downtown decline as many smaller rural towns have done, they have kept theirs alive.

They are so proud of their mural they have proclaimed themselves, “The Mural Capital of Alberta.” And, who is going to argue with them?

Lacombe is great example of the importance of “civic pride.” If people are proud of where they live they will take ownership in it. They will ensure it’s streets, alleys and buildings are clean, safe and in good repair, which in turn will make the community an attractive place to live, work and play for themselves, as well as potential newcomers. 

If you ever find yourself in the Lacombe area, check out the murals and experience the community pride for yourself. Even if you have only 30 minutes. 

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

Meeting Creek: Ghost Town Meets Art Town

2018 Summer of Murals: Beltline

2018 Summer of Murals: Northern Hills

Boise: Freakn Fun in Freak Alley 


Calgary City Centre: Residential Development is blooming!

If you are like me, you may well have been asking yourself, “Why are developers still building more City Center residential towers when downtown employment is in decline. Doesn’t that mean the demand for living near downtown is also in decline?” 

Cidex’s West Village Towers project will set a new benchmark for urban living in Calgary’s Downtown West community.

Cidex’s West Village Towers project will set a new benchmark for urban living in Calgary’s Downtown West community.

Currently the first tower is under construction.

Currently the first tower is under construction.

The project will include space for commercial developments like an urban grocery store.

The project will include space for commercial developments like an urban grocery store.

Also next to the railway tracks is One by Strategic Group at the corner of 10th Ave and 1st St SE. It too will provide hotel-like accommodation for renters.

Also next to the railway tracks is One by Strategic Group at the corner of 10th Ave and 1st St SE. It too will provide hotel-like accommodation for renters.

Expert Advice

I thought it best to consult with someone who understands the dynamics of residential development in Calgary better than I. This led me to Urban Analytics (UA), a company specializing in maintaining data on current multi-family development projects in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver (available to industry stakeholders on a subscription basis).

Kimberly Poffenroth, VP Business Development and Andie Daggett, Market & Rental Data Analyst (Alberta) both shared some of their data on the 186 actively selling multi-family projects they track across the city. 

I was surprised to learn, “Calgary’s rental market has remained strong throughout 2018 with 95% occupancy in the third quarter of the year.”  Poffenroth added, “the new mortgage rules that came into play at the beginning of 2018 helped drive some success in the rental market, as many potential purchasers failed to qualify for a mortgage. This, in combination with the increasing number of amenities offered at new rental products, plus rental incentives offered at a majority of rental projects, helped maintain a strong new rental market across the city throughout 2018.” 

Daggett add, “as a result, new rental product in Calgary has been able to increase the average net rent per square foot while maintaining low vacancy rates.”  

Poffenroth, chimed in with “I don’t believe the end goal for most Calgarians is to rent forever. They want to buy a condo or a home. However, the new mortgage rules may push potential purchasers to rent for longer than they originally anticipated. Condo developers have responded appropriately to the changes in the current market conditions through launching price-sensitive product that allows purchasers to obtain home ownership at a more affordable price. There have also been a number of successful higher-end projects, appealing largely to a downsizer crowd, which have continued to show signs of success.” 

Indeed, the 2018 Calgary survey “Calgary Growth Perspectives Tracking Study” by ThinkHQ Public Affairs found 79% of Calgary renters say that if it were feasible, they would like to own their own home.  

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Rental vs Condo

It is important understand the condo and rental markets are closely linked when it comes to multi-family residential development.  The “waters are muddied” when you add in the fact that over the past few years, some condo developers have converted their unsold units into rental units for the time being.  

In addition, many condo buyers are investors who rent their units. It is not uncommon for a new condo building to have as many as 25% of their units for rent. 

Another factor linking rental and condo developments is that today’s renter could well become tomorrow’s buyer.  I often say “empty nesters and young professionals should rent before they buy to determine how much space they really need and if they like the urban lifestyle.” 

Renting also allows you to test drive the community to determine if it has what you want i.e. Inglewood is not the Beltline; Bridgeland is not Kensington.  

The first of two rental residential towers by Hines at 12th Ave near Memorial Park is currently under construction.

The first of two rental residential towers by Hines at 12th Ave near Memorial Park is currently under construction.

Hat on 7th is Cidex’s other project in Downtown West. It will be Calgary’s second residential development without any resident parking.

Hat on 7th is Cidex’s other project in Downtown West. It will be Calgary’s second residential development without any resident parking.

New Condos, Good News

For the first time in three years, new condo projects have been announced in the City Centre. 

Nude by Battisella is a 177-unit development in the end of the Beltline. They began selling units in September and have sold 35 units in the first three months.  Their funky condo INK in East Village is now complete and purchasers have moved in.  It has only 10 units left to sell.  

TAK Developments started to market “The Fifth,” their 48-unit boutique condo at the corner of 17th Ave and 5th St. SW in the Fall of 2018. This is the beginning of CEO Frank Lonardelli’s vision of converting 17th Avenue into a vibrant high street with a mix of new retail, restaurant and residential developments.  And just a few blocks away in Mission, Mission 19 Ltd. has launched sales of their 67-unit Matrix condo. Also, in Mission, Bowman Developments has sold 20% of the units in their recently announced 82-unit condo, The Nest.

Intergulf’s 45-story 11th & 11th project is under construction and will add a new dimension to urban living in the west end of the Beltline.

Intergulf’s 45-story 11th & 11th project is under construction and will add a new dimension to urban living in the west end of the Beltline.

Nude by Batisella is the first new condo start in Calgary’s City Centre in a few years.

Nude by Batisella is the first new condo start in Calgary’s City Centre in a few years.

The Nest in Mission will offer waterfront living (Elbow River) at very attractive prices, partly because there are no parking stalls for tenants. This is truly urban living.

The Nest in Mission will offer waterfront living (Elbow River) at very attractive prices, partly because there are no parking stalls for tenants. This is truly urban living.

The first of the three tower Curtis Block project is under construction on the east side of the Beltline.

The first of the three tower Curtis Block project is under construction on the east side of the Beltline.

Curtis Block rendering

Curtis Block rendering

Other City-wide hot spots

The new northwest inner city community, University District (by The University of Calgary’s West Campus Development Trust) has been a huge success to date. As of the end of November 2018, 128 residents have moved into Brookfield Residential’s Ivy and Truman’s Noble projects.  It was also a busy year for new starts – Maple by Truman (independent living for seniors), Rhapsody by Gracorp (rentals with Sav-On Foods + 10 retail units), August by Avi Urban (just broke ground) and The Brenda Strafford Foundation’s assisted and long-term care building.  As well, University District has a call for proposals for two mixed-use blocks across from the Cineplex complex.   

In all, a whopping 800 multi-family homes are currently at various stages of construction in University District.

Westman Village in Mahogany has also been very well received. This unique, resort-style community that opened its first phase this year already has 230+ residents. This number will grow to 1,200+ people when all 860+ residences are completed.  

Construction at University District is going like gang busters. (photo University District).

Construction at University District is going like gang busters. (photo University District).

Construction view of Westman Village. (photo Jayman website)

Construction view of Westman Village. (photo Jayman website)

Last Word

It would appear there is a lot to be optimistic about when it comes to living near downtown.  The 2018 census showed the Beltline was Calgary’s fastest growing community with 1,668 new residents over the past year.  Downtown West and Eau Claire also showed healthy growth, with all communities surrounding downtown experiencing some growth.  

So, while downtown is struggling as a place to work, its surrounding communities are continuing to bloom (not boom) as places to live!  

Many of the communities surrounding the downtown core are experiencing population growth.

Many of the communities surrounding the downtown core are experiencing population growth.

Edmonton is NOT kicking Calgary’s butt when it comes to urban revival? 

“It’s hard to say how Calgary fell so far behind Edmonton in downtown revival and major amenities. The trend just sort of crept up on us over the past half-dozen years, as Edmonton got a provincial art gallery, the Royal Alberta Museum, Rogers Place, massive additions to downtown MacEwan University, and much else. Not nearly as much was happening here,” wrote Don Braid in his December 19, 2018, Calgary Herald column.

Link: Braid: Calgary’s downtown is set to relaunch and maybe catch Edmonton