Calgary: Needs to foster more "Transit Oriented Communities"

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

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

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

The answers were very insightful and informative….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is TOD?

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

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

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

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Calgary lags behind

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link: 21 Major Developments Plan Near SkyTrain Stations

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

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

The Metrotown Station is very inviting at ground level.

The Metrotown Station is very inviting at ground level.

Metrotown office towers.

Metrotown office towers.

Metroopolis shopping centre has mostly underground parking.

Metroopolis shopping centre has mostly underground parking.

Metropolis entrance by car.

Metropolis entrance by car.

Metrotown has sky bridges over busy streets.

Metrotown has sky bridges over busy streets.

Here’s what I learned…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link: TOD Bridgeland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developer frustrations…

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOD Planner says….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transit Oriented Communities 

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

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

  • Public/Private collaboration

  • First/Last Mile connectivity

  • Real Community Engagement in the planning process 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not a pedestrian friendly place.

This is not a pedestrian friendly place.

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

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

 Calgarians love their single family homes

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Something to think about?

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

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

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

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

Link: Calgary’s Great TOD Neighbourhoods

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

Eveyday Tourist Transit Tales

Love it: On It Regional Transit

Calgary Transit: The Good & The Ugly

 

 

 

 

 

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

A Walk In The Park: Stanley & Nose Hill

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

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

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Walk In The Park

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

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

Why?

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

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Stanley Park

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

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

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

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Nose Hill Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Collective Psyche

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

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

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

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

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

Link: What makes a good urban park?

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Last Word 

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

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

Parks are a MUST for urban living

Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways

Calgary: A brief history of Bow River Islands

Calgary: 59+ Free Fun Things To See & Do

Every travel blogger must have a list of fun things to see and do in his/her home town.  I can’t believe I haven’t done a list before.  Better late than never, right? 

Here are my picks for FREE things to see and do with links to websites and blogs that will give you more details. I have tried to make sure the information is correct at the time of posting (May 2019) but always best to check their website before you go.  

Note: This is not a complete list of free things, but just some of the ones I know and like.  If you have others, let me know and I will add to the list.  I am short on free things to do in the suburbs as I don’t frequent those communities as often as perhaps I should.

Tourists love Calgary’s parks, plazas, public art, markets, streets, museums, art galleries, trails, pathways, promenades, rivers etc etc…..

Tourists love Calgary’s parks, plazas, public art, markets, streets, museums, art galleries, trails, pathways, promenades, rivers etc etc…..

Free Gardens

Calgary has two rock gardens to wander – Reader and Senator Patrick Burns.  The Botanical Gardens of Silver Springs (totally a community volunteer initiative) and the historic Beaulieu Gardens at Lougheed House are both delightful places to wander. Best to visit these outdoor gardens from May to September. 

Calgary’s downtown boasts two lovely indoor gardens that can be enjoyed year round – Devonian Gardens (fourth floor of The Core shopping centre) and Jamieson Place’s winter garden.

Link: Postcard from Reader Rock Garden

Link: Stop and smell the flowers in Silver Springs 

In the summer, Olympic Plaza becomes Olympic Gardens with beautiful hanging baskets, trees and other ornamentation.

In the summer, Olympic Plaza becomes Olympic Gardens with beautiful hanging baskets, trees and other ornamentation.

Historic Beaulieu Gardens at Lougheed House

Historic Beaulieu Gardens at Lougheed House

Reader Rock Garden

Reader Rock Garden

Silver Springs Botanical Garden labyrinth

Silver Springs Botanical Garden labyrinth

Devonian Gardens

Devonian Gardens

Jamieson Place’s winter garden with three David Chihuly glass sculpture, infinity ponds and living wall.

Jamieson Place’s winter garden with three David Chihuly glass sculpture, infinity ponds and living wall.

Free Museums

The YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre is fun for everyone, with educational exhibits including The Forensic Lab, True Crime Stories, as well as Alberta’s largest collection of policing artifacts – uniforms, weapons and vehicles.  

At the Grain Academy & Museum (open Monday to Friday), learn about how the prairies were settled, early pioneer life and see the world’s largest model train display showing the movement of grain from the prairies to the terminals at Vancouver. 

In the lobby of their ATCO building at 11th Ave and 8th St SW is a mini museum with artifacts from the power industry.  Both Smithbilt Hats and Alberta Boots Company have a flagship stores that double as museums with lots of artifacts. 

And the Glenbow Museum is free the first Thursday of every month after 5 pm. 

Link: Police Interpretive Centre

Link: Grain Academy & Museum

YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre

YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre

Glenbow Museum Free First Thursday Nights

Glenbow Museum Free First Thursday Nights

Grain Academy at Stampede Park

Grain Academy at Stampede Park

Free Walks in the Parks

While New York City has Central Park, Calgary has two huge parks – Nose Hill Park in the north and Fish Creek Park in the south.  Nose Hill, a natural prairie grassland park, offers spectacular 360 degree views of the prairies, city, foothills and mountains.  Fish Creek Provincial Park offers walks in a natural forest setting along a trickling creek.  These are just two of the over 5,000 parks in Calgary. 

Downtown’s Prince’s Island Park includes a small sculpture park, as well as the Chevron Learning Pathway (an innovative urban wetland environment) and fun children’s playground.  

Just a few kilometers from the City Centre is the Douglas Fir trail up the Bow River escarpment. This is the furthest east where Douglas Fir trees grow - truly a forest in the middle of the city.

The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is a fun place to wander and see what birds, fish and mammals you can spot.  There is even a fishing pond for kids. A short walk away lies Harvie Passage where you might catch kayakers shooting the Bow River rapids. 

Link: Edmonton vs Calgary: Who has the best river valley parks?

Link: Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary’s fishing pond. You can easily see the trout you are trying to catch.

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary’s fishing pond. You can easily see the trout you are trying to catch.

Harvie Passage fun

Harvie Passage fun

Douglas Fir Trail (photo credit: Hiking with Barry)

Douglas Fir Trail (photo credit: Hiking with Barry)

Prince’s Island sculpture park

Prince’s Island sculpture park

Calgary has over 5,000 parks offering lots of fun walks.

Calgary has over 5,000 parks offering lots of fun walks.

Chevron Interpretive Trail is also in Princes’ Island Park

Chevron Interpretive Trail is also in Princes’ Island Park

Fish Creek Park is one of the largest urban parks in Canada. It offers numerous trails, as well as the historic Bow Valley Ranche restaurant.

Fish Creek Park is one of the largest urban parks in Canada. It offers numerous trails, as well as the historic Bow Valley Ranche restaurant.

 Free Art Galleries

For those who like art, Calgary has lots of free things to see.  The downtown is literally a free public art gallery with 100s of artworks along the sidewalks, on the plazas and in the lobbies of the larger skyscrapers.  

On the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade you will discover a herd of colourful and playful, life-size cows.   The Udderly Art Pasture is the legacy from the Colourful Cows project in 2000, when over 100 cows grazed in the downtown.  In addition to the cows the pasture has several information panels that tell the story of Calgary’s most successful public art project to date. 

Highlights include works by modern Canadian master painters Bush, Riopelle and Shadbolt at Eighth Avenue Place and Dale Chihuly glass works in Jamieson Place. 

In Calgary City Centre office tower’s lobby hangs a huge expressionistic canvas drawing (32 feet by 16 feet) in its lobby of the Zeppelin by Saskatoon artist, Alison Norlen along with 19 other artworks in the building’s public space. 

The two towers for Bankers Hall have numerous artworks in the lobbies and outside entrances including several interactive Weather Vanes in the southeast lobby that you can actually turn.  

And don’t forget to ask at Eighth Avenue Place and City Centre for their booklet about their art program. 

Calgary also has three free public art galleries. The Esker Art Gallery in the Atlantic Avenue Block in Inglewood, the Nickle Art Gallery in the Taylor Family Digital Library at the University of Calgary and the Illingworth Kerr Gallery at the Alberta Arts University (formerly called Alberta Collage of Art and Design or ACAD). All offer engaging exhibition programs. 

You should definitely check out cSpace a grand old sandstone school in Marda Loop that has been converted into artists studio, a craft gallery space and performance space. It is a fun place to explore with rotating exhibitions in the old school hallway. The preservation and repurposing of the building is exquisite.

The Beltline community just south of downtown has several murals that make for a fun walking tour, especially if you also visit the Beltline’s commercial galleries along the way – Gibson Fine Art, Herringer Kiss Gallery, Loch Gallery, Paul Kuhn, New Zones, Trepanier Baer and VivianArt.

Stampede Park also has numerous murals and artworks that are available for viewing year-round, including the Parade of Historical Posters on the 2nd floor walkway from the LRT Station to the Corral.  They too have an art walk map. 

Link: Calgary has a free public art map 

Link: Beltline Mural map 

Link: Stampede Art Walk Map

Link: Downtown’s Udderly Cow Pasture

Stampede Park has numerous murals and sculptures scattered throughout the park. At the entrance to the Park from the LRT Station on Macleod Trail is a contemporary tipi inspired sculpture - the semi-circle design depicts the historic iconography of the Kainai, Piikani, Siksika, Stoney Nakoda and Tsuut’ina nations. The sculpture sits on the original site of Stampede’s Indian Village which was Sun Tree Park.

Stampede Park has numerous murals and sculptures scattered throughout the park. At the entrance to the Park from the LRT Station on Macleod Trail is a contemporary tipi inspired sculpture - the semi-circle design depicts the historic iconography of the Kainai, Piikani, Siksika, Stoney Nakoda and Tsuut’ina nations. The sculpture sits on the original site of Stampede’s Indian Village which was Sun Tree Park.

Jack Shadbolt painting in the lobby of Eighth Avenue Place office tower is a great place to sit. There is a coffee shop right there.

Jack Shadbolt painting in the lobby of Eighth Avenue Place office tower is a great place to sit. There is a coffee shop right there.

The Cow Pasture is fun for people of all ages.

The Cow Pasture is fun for people of all ages.

There is public art on almost every block downtown, as well as in the lobbies of most office towers. Free artwalk!

There is public art on almost every block downtown, as well as in the lobbies of most office towers. Free artwalk!

Barclay Mall aka 3rd Street SW has numerous sandstone sculptures as it winds its way from Stephen Avenue to Prince’s Island.

Barclay Mall aka 3rd Street SW has numerous sandstone sculptures as it winds its way from Stephen Avenue to Prince’s Island.

Nickle Art Gallery at the University of Calgary

Nickle Art Gallery at the University of Calgary

The Esker Art Gallery has not only great exhibitions, but it is housed in a mixed-use building full of art.

The Esker Art Gallery has not only great exhibitions, but it is housed in a mixed-use building full of art.

For those interested in local art and design cSpace is a great place to visit as it has a diversity of studios from jewelry to fashion, as well as a craft shop and the main hallway is an intimate art gallery space.

For those interested in local art and design cSpace is a great place to visit as it has a diversity of studios from jewelry to fashion, as well as a craft shop and the main hallway is an intimate art gallery space.

There are numerous murals and street art scattered throughout Calgary’s City Centre, making it an outdoor art gallery.

There are numerous murals and street art scattered throughout Calgary’s City Centre, making it an outdoor art gallery.

Free Street Markets 

During the summer Calgary offers numerous street markets from 4th Streets Lilac Festival that attracts over 100,000 people to monthly Night Markets in historic Inglewood.

If you like the thrill of the hunt while mingling with locals, the Sunday morning Hillhurst Flea Market (Hillhurst Community Centre) is your place.  In the winter, the two gyms are full of treasures; in the summer the market spills out onto the plaza.  

Crossroads Market is a year-round farmers’ market, as well as antique and boutique market, with something for everyone.   

Link: A Sunday walkabout in Hillhurst

Link: Where on Earth Did You Get That

Inglewood’s Night Market fun

Inglewood’s Night Market fun

Hillhurst Sunday Flea Market

Hillhurst Sunday Flea Market

 Live Music

Calgary is home to not one, not two but three free Saturday afternoon blues jams – Blues Can, Ironwood and Mikey’s Juke Joint.  Beer is extra.  All three venues also have Sunday jams and live music Monday to Wednesday nights with no cover charge.  Tom Phillips’ Sunday afternoon jam at Mikey’s is about as authentic as it gets for country music jam.

The Ship & Anchor is not only Calgary’s iconic pub, but it also hosts live music especially on the weekends.  In Bowness, Hexters Pub has a fun Motown Jam on Sunday afternoons that will make you want to dance. 

Link: Nashville vs. Calgary: Music Cities

LInk: Hexter Pub

Link: Blues Can

Link: Ironwood

Tim Williams hosts the Saturday Blues Jam at the Blues Can. Wiliams won the 2014 International Blues Competition in Memphis not only as the best solo/duo performer, but as best guitarist.

Tim Williams hosts the Saturday Blues Jam at the Blues Can. Wiliams won the 2014 International Blues Competition in Memphis not only as the best solo/duo performer, but as best guitarist.

Ship & Anchor is always a good bet for local live music

Ship & Anchor is always a good bet for local live music

Free History Tours 

Stephen Avenue is a designated National Historic district with thirty plus early 20thcentury buildings along a 3 block stretch.  Information panels along the pedestrian mall help tell some of Calgary’s history. For more detailed information, get the City of Calgary printable self-guided tour map.

9thAvenue (originally known as Atlantic Avenue) is Calgary’s first main street.  Today it still has much of the charm it did early in the 20thcentury with its mix of shops, cafes and restaurants.   

Three proud Calgarians aka “Walk The YYC” with lots of travel experience offer both free and paid tours.  Check their website to see what they are offering.

Link: Discover Calgary’s Secret Heritage Walking Tour

Link: City of Calgary Self-Guided Tour

Link:  WalkYYC Free Tours

Stephen Avenue Walk (8th Avenue from 1st St SE to 3rd St SW) is lined with historical buildings from the early 20th century.

Stephen Avenue Walk (8th Avenue from 1st St SE to 3rd St SW) is lined with historical buildings from the early 20th century.

In the summer you will want to be on Stephen Avenue Walk at noon hour when 10,000+ people walk the walk. It is full of patios and vendors that create a festival-like atmosphere.

In the summer you will want to be on Stephen Avenue Walk at noon hour when 10,000+ people walk the walk. It is full of patios and vendors that create a festival-like atmosphere.

The Hudson’s Bay Company department store is the jewel of the Stephen Avenue Historic District..

The Hudson’s Bay Company department store is the jewel of the Stephen Avenue Historic District..

Memorial Park Library is just one of dozens of historic sandstone buildings in Calgary’s City Centre.

Memorial Park Library is just one of dozens of historic sandstone buildings in Calgary’s City Centre.

cSpace is a must see for anyone interested in historical preservation and repurposing. It is fun to visit anytime, but on Saturdays in the summer is has a farmers’ market that adds a nice buzz.

cSpace is a must see for anyone interested in historical preservation and repurposing. It is fun to visit anytime, but on Saturdays in the summer is has a farmers’ market that adds a nice buzz.

Window shopping in historic Kensington Village is free and fun.

Window shopping in historic Kensington Village is free and fun.

Exploring Calgary’s Chinatown is fun. Be sure not to miss the ceiling of the Chinatown Cultural Centre.

Exploring Calgary’s Chinatown is fun. Be sure not to miss the ceiling of the Chinatown Cultural Centre.

Walk around downtown and you will discover an intriguing mix of old and new architecture.

Walk around downtown and you will discover an intriguing mix of old and new architecture.

Free Wading  

In the summer, there is free wading (no lifeguards) in the Bow River at Edworthy Park and along the Elbow River at Stanley Park and Sandy Beach (which isn’t actually sandy).  Free wading pools can be found in Bowness Park, Eau Claire Plaza, Prairie Winds Park and Riley Park.  Memorial Park as some fun small fountains that kids love to run through.  

Link: City of Calgary Wading Pool and Splash Parks

Wading fun downtown on St. Patrick’s Island.

Wading fun downtown on St. Patrick’s Island.

Riley Park wading pool

Riley Park wading pool

Memorial Park fountain fun.

Memorial Park fountain fun.

There are pebble beaches all along both the Bow and Elbow Rivers.

There are pebble beaches all along both the Bow and Elbow Rivers.

Free Skating

The Shaw Millennium Park has one of the world’s largest free public skate parks (skateboarding and BMX biking) – with separate areas for beginners, intermediates and experts.  In the winter, free ice skating at Bowness Park and Olympic Plaza is very popular.

Link: Shaw Millennium Park

Link: Bowness Park

Link: City of Calgary outdoor rinks

Bowness Park skating fun

Bowness Park skating fun

Olympic Plaza skating fun (photo credit: todoCanada)

Olympic Plaza skating fun (photo credit: todoCanada)

Skateboarding fun at Shaw Millennium Park

Skateboarding fun at Shaw Millennium Park

Roller blading along East Village’s RiverWalk…

Roller blading along East Village’s RiverWalk…

Free +15 Skywalks

Explore Calgary’s +15 walkway, the world’s longest elevated indoor walkway (20km) with 60+ bridges connecting over 100 buildings in the downtown.  This is an especially great idea for a winter adventure when too cold to walk outside.  It is known as the Plus 15 because the bridges are 15 feet above the sidewalks. It is like a futuristic indoor city with shopping, cafes, gardens, hotels and lots of public art.  

Make it a treasure hunt. Without going outside, can you find the bush plane hanging from the ceiling (at Suncor Energy Centre) or the hanging Chihuly glass sculptures (over the infinity pool in Jamieson Place winter garden), the First Nations masks (in Devonian Gardens), the painted cows (in the Centennial Parkade) and the etched poetry on the glass (on the bridge from First Alberta Place)?  Don’t worry if you get lost.  Calgarians are very friendly and they will help you find your way.

Link: Calgary’s +15: Love It or Hate It?

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The Core Shopping Centre is the hub of the +15 system with four floors of shops.

The Core Shopping Centre is the hub of the +15 system with four floors of shops.

Bush Plane hanging from the ceiling of the Suncor Centre office tower lobby.

Bush Plane hanging from the ceiling of the Suncor Centre office tower lobby.

There are lots of cafes and places to grab a bite to eat while you explore the +15 maze.

There are lots of cafes and places to grab a bite to eat while you explore the +15 maze.

The +15 system is full of atriums that become an urban oasis in the winter. Brookfield Place Atrium.

The +15 system is full of atriums that become an urban oasis in the winter. Brookfield Place Atrium.

Some of the +15 bridges are like walking through a work of art like this one linking the Municipal Building to Arts Commons. Each of the 60+ bridges are different.

Some of the +15 bridges are like walking through a work of art like this one linking the Municipal Building to Arts Commons. Each of the 60+ bridges are different.

The + 15 is full of fun fountains, waterfalls, plazas, winter gardens and public art.

The + 15 is full of fun fountains, waterfalls, plazas, winter gardens and public art.

Free Recreation 

For a real challenge, join locals on the Memorial Drive stair climb.  There are 167 steps divided into 11 flights and make for a great workout whether you walk or run them! Maybe even take the “10 laps stair” challenge, starting at the bottom and finishing at the top.  Do it in under 17 minutes and you are an Olympic athlete. Supposedly, 28 to 35 minutes is average but personally I think if you can’t finish, you are average.

Calgary also offers over 1,000 km of free cycling, running and walking trails throughout the city. You are never very far from a pathway.  

For those who want a real challenge, there is the 130km Rotary/Mattamy Greenway pathway that that encircles circles the entire city. 

Memorial Park stair challenge

Memorial Park stair challenge

The climb to the top is worth it as it offer a spectacular view of the city’s skyline, the mountains and the Bow River valley.

The climb to the top is worth it as it offer a spectacular view of the city’s skyline, the mountains and the Bow River valley.

Running along the Bow River is a popular recreational activity with the Peace Bridge being one of the highlights.

Running along the Bow River is a popular recreational activity with the Peace Bridge being one of the highlights.

The Edworthy Park Hill challenge - run or ride - up or down!

The Edworthy Park Hill challenge - run or ride - up or down!

The Rotary Mattamy Greenway is family friendly with lots of playgrounds and other places to stop and play.

The Rotary Mattamy Greenway is family friendly with lots of playgrounds and other places to stop and play.

Free fly fishing along the Bow River - bring your equipment!

Free fly fishing along the Bow River - bring your equipment!

Bow River Promenade

The quintessential Calgary experience is to walk along the 3 km Fort Calgary to the 14th Street Bridge. Not only will you get to enjoy the majestic Bow River, but you will also discover the quaint linear Nat Christie Sculpture Park, The Wave (river surfing) at the 10th Street bridge, the iconic Peace Bridge by Santiago Calatrava, Barclay Plaza with its wading pool, Jaipur Bridge to Prince’s Island, catch a glimpse of the beautiful Chinatown Cultural Centre and Sien Lok park, the historic Centre Street Bridge with its majestic lions, the historic Simons Building in East Village and the very cool George King Bridge to St. Patrick’s Island with its pebble beach, public art and other amenities.  Final destination - Fort Calgary where the Elbow River flows into the Bow River.  

Along the way, enjoy Calgary’s stunning skyline with iconic towers by international architectural firms like Norman Foster, Bjarke Ingles (BIG) and SOM. In the summer, especially on weekends, you will be joined by hundreds of colourful rafts floating down the river. 

Link: Calgary: A Bow River Bike Ride

Link: Bridges Over The Bow

You will find lots of public art as you walk along the Bow River like these pieces near the 14th Street bridge.

You will find lots of public art as you walk along the Bow River like these pieces near the 14th Street bridge.

River surfing at the Louise Crossing Bridge wave.

River surfing at the Louise Crossing Bridge wave.

Enjoy a sunset at Eau Claire’s pebble beach with the Peace Bridge in the background.

Enjoy a sunset at Eau Claire’s pebble beach with the Peace Bridge in the background.

The Eau Claire Promenade is the perfect spot for a leisurely walk and some good people watching.

The Eau Claire Promenade is the perfect spot for a leisurely walk and some good people watching.

There are lots of great places to sit in Prince’s Island.

There are lots of great places to sit in Prince’s Island.

Historic Centre Street Bridge

Historic Centre Street Bridge

One of the best spots to stop along the Bow River for refreshments and people watch is at the Simmons Building in East Village.

One of the best spots to stop along the Bow River for refreshments and people watch is at the Simmons Building in East Village.

There is a great roof top patio on the roof of the Simmons building but it isn’t free.

There is a great roof top patio on the roof of the Simmons building but it isn’t free.

Free chaise lounge chairs

Free chaise lounge chairs

You never know what you will happen upon when exploring Calgary’s Bow River pathways.

You never know what you will happen upon when exploring Calgary’s Bow River pathways.

While walking along the Bow River you will find several pedestrian bridges allowing you to criss-cross back and forth to enjoy the river and downtown architecture from different perspectives.

While walking along the Bow River you will find several pedestrian bridges allowing you to criss-cross back and forth to enjoy the river and downtown architecture from different perspectives.

Central Library

Calgary’s newest free fun thing to do is to hang out at the new Central Library, stunning inside and out.  Built over a transit tunnel, kids will love watching the trains disappear and emerge from the tunnel from the brow of the building (shaped like a fly-fishing float boat or a luxury cruise ship).  There is also great children’s play area.  The TD Great Reading Room pays homage to the library tradition of having a communal place for patrons to read at long communal tables.  As well, the Calgary’s Story area will appeal to anyone interested in local history. Grab a book, find a chair and read to your heart’s content.

 Link: Step Inside The World’s Most Futuristic Libraries

Calgary’s new Central Library is being heralded as one of the most beautiful new buildings of 2018. photo credit Architectural Digest

Calgary’s new Central Library is being heralded as one of the most beautiful new buildings of 2018. photo credit Architectural Digest

Free Train Ride

Calgary’s LRT trains are free in the downtown, so walk from one end of downtown to the other (about 2km) and then take the train back. Or take the train both ways.  Kids love hopping on and off.  You can do it as many times as you want - for FREE.

Link Downtown Calgary’s 7th Ave Corridor: Good but not great!

Hop on and hop off the LRT in downtown Calgary as many times as you wish for free.

Hop on and hop off the LRT in downtown Calgary as many times as you wish for free.

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Last Word 

So, there you have some my picks for FREE fun things to see and do in Calgary.  I hope this list will be useful not only to anyone planning a visit toCalgary, but also to those who live in Calgary and have visiting family and friends looking for some fun things to do.

Remember, if you have others, let me know and I will add them to my list. 

Here are some links to other blogs that will be helpful to tourists or visiting family and friends looking for things to see and do.

The Streets of Calgary

Fun Calgary Restaurants

Uniquely Calgary Shopping Experiences

Calgary Military Museums

 

Beltline Embraces Density 

Calgary’s Beltline has been growing in leaps and bounds since the community took the rather unusual step to develop its own vision document, “Blueprint for the Beltline” in 2003.

The vision - to create a vibrant community of 40,000 people by 2035. 

Qualex-Landmark have completed six condo towers in the Beltline since 2006, with a total of 1,300 new homes.

Qualex-Landmark have completed six condo towers in the Beltline since 2006, with a total of 1,300 new homes.

Cove Properties built these four condo towers near the Stampede LRT Station in the early ‘00s in the east end of the Beltline aka Victoria Park.

Cove Properties built these four condo towers near the Stampede LRT Station in the early ‘00s in the east end of the Beltline aka Victoria Park.

Blueprint for success

Yes, the community produced its own vision, at its own cost and then presented it to the City.  And, while the “Blueprint for the Beltline” had no official status with the City, it served as the catalyst to get the City to approve a new Beltline Area Redevelopment Plan in 2006. Ultimately, it resulted in the amalgamation of Connaught and Victoria Park, two of Calgary’s oldest communities with a population base of 17,500.  

While the Blueprint identified the need for more amenities like green spaces, public realm improvements and character districts, it also embraced the idea that the community needed more density.  

Yes, you read right. They wanted more high-rises and mid-rises as a means of creating a vibrant community with lots of urban amenities - grocery stores, shops, pubs, clubs, lounges, galleries, festivals, bike lanes and great streets. 

So, while other communities protest new residential towers in their community, Beltliners have been embracing them for over a decade.  

The new Canadian Tire and Urban Fare stores on the Beltline’s 8th St promenade adds to the many new urban living amenities added to the community over the past 10+ years.

The new Canadian Tire and Urban Fare stores on the Beltline’s 8th St promenade adds to the many new urban living amenities added to the community over the past 10+ years.

17th Avenue is the Beltline’s Main Street.

17th Avenue is the Beltline’s Main Street.

Beltline is a walkable community….

Beltline is a walkable community….

Blueprint for success

Indeed, the Beltline’s evolution as Calgary’s premier urban neighbourhood has been outstanding.  It was Avenue Magazine’s Best Neighbourhood in 2015, 2016 and 2018 (slipping into second place in 2017). Last year, it was also Calgary’s fastest growing community with a population increase of 1,668, just edging out Saddleridge’s 1,656 newcomers.

This is definitely not a one year blip given the Beltline’s population has steadily increased by a healthy 3,530 since 2014 to 24,887.

Community events and festivals like the annual curling bonspiel make the Beltline a fun place to live.

Community events and festivals like the annual curling bonspiel make the Beltline a fun place to live.

Decorating party for Pride Parade float at the Beltline’s Aquatic & Fitness Centre

Decorating party for Pride Parade float at the Beltline’s Aquatic & Fitness Centre

Beltline Urban Mural Program party celebrated the addition of several new murals last summer.

Beltline Urban Mural Program party celebrated the addition of several new murals last summer.

Beautifying the Beltline

And yes, with the increased density has come a variety of improvements – including the new Barb Scott Park and Thomson Family, a lovely renovation to Memorial Park, a dedicated bike lane along 12thAve SW, infrastructure and sidewalk improvements to 17thAvenue SW and the 13thAvenue Greenway. As well, over the past two summers, the Beltline has been transformed into an intriguing outdoor art gallery with 11 major murals.  

Link: Beltline Urban Mural Project

In addition, all of the underpasses linking the Beltline with downtown are getting mega makeovers to make them more pedestrian-friendly, benefitting the many Beltliners who work downtown.  To date, the 8th and 2nd St SW and 4th St SE underpasses have been completed. 

8th Street SW underpass today

8th Street SW underpass today

8th Street Underpass before

8th Street Underpass before


Condo vs Rental 

In the early years of the Beltline renaissance, almost all of the new residential development were condominiums, of which some units were rentals.  However, over the past few years, most of the residential development has been purpose-built rental towers.  

And there are good reasons for the rise in rentals. 

Probably the major reason is that 74% of Calgary’s rental properties are pre 1979, meaning they lack the amenities today’s urban dwellers, be that an empty nester or young professional, are looking for. Things like an ensuite bathroom, larger closets, washer and dryer in the unit, high ceilings and an open concept layout.   Also, the new rental towers offer other desirable amenities like rooftop patios, BBQs and fire pits, games rooms, demonstration kitchens and even dog runs.

There are currently seven new purpose-built Beltline residential towers at various stages of development, representing about 1,500 new homes coming on stream over the next few years.

I toured the recently completed SODO tower (10thAve just west of 5th Street SW) and it is more like a hotel than an apartment.  Next up is One, Strategic Group’s 37-storey One tower with 379 new homes (201 - 10th Ave SE) including two luxury penthouse suites.  Also, under construction is phase one of Hines’ 500 Block two tower project (461 homes) at the corner of 4th St and 12th Ave SW and The Underwood, 192 homes at 202 - 14th Ave SW. 

Strategic Group is also finishing up the conversion of an older 7-storey office building across from the Midtown Co-op into a 65 funky residences, with rooftop amenities.  

All of these new purpose-built rental buildings are designed to meet the growing demand for urban rentals in Calgary’s fastest growing community.  

In addition, there are seven new condo towers, representing about 1,000 new homes, at various stages of development. This includes the recently completed Park Point, by Qualex Landmark (which has a second tower in the works) and the soon-to-be-occupied The Royal by Bosa Developments which includes a Canadian Tire urban format store and Urban Fare (opening soon).  The “new kid” under construction is Intergulf’s 11th+ 11thproject which, at 44-storeys will be the tallest building in the Beltline. 

Hine’s 500 Block residential development (the white ghost building is a second tower) in the middle of the Beltline is under construction.

Hine’s 500 Block residential development (the white ghost building is a second tower) in the middle of the Beltline is under construction.

InterGulf’s 11th and 11th residential tower on the west side of the Beltline is also under construction.

InterGulf’s 11th and 11th residential tower on the west side of the Beltline is also under construction.

Strategic Group’s One residential tower on the east side of the Beltline is under construction.

Strategic Group’s One residential tower on the east side of the Beltline is under construction.

Last Word 

The addition of purpose-built rental towers in the Beltline should be good news for condo developers and owners, as today’s renter is probably tomorrow’s buyer.  In fact, the Canadian Home Builder’s Association’s Earncliffe National Poll documented that 79% of Canadian renters would like to own their own home (April 2018).  And, BILD Calgary Region’s survey (June 2018) found 75% of Calgarians think owning a home provides greater financial security.  

Great communities provide a diversity of housing options (rental and ownership) for people of all ages and backgrounds. It would remiss not to acknowledge the Beltline’s vision as Calgary’s premier urban community includes its fair share of social housing and services including the expansion of the Mustard Seed, the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre and the relocation of CUPS to the Beltline. 

The addition of 2,500 new homes (for about 4,000 new residents) over the next few years will keep the Beltline on track to achieving its path to a population of 40,000 by 2035.

Note: This blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condos feature on March 9th, 2019.

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

Beltline: Calgary’s Hipster/Nester Community

BUMP: Beltline Urban Murals Project

Beautifying the Beltline




Condo Living: The Missing Middle

Being a sucker for a good alliteration I love the new urban planning term the “missing middle.” What is “missing middle” you ask?  

The term coined by Dan Parolek (President, Opticos Design, in San Francisco) includes duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, backyard suites, courtyard apartments, town/row houses, small multiplexes with five to ten homes and work live spaces. In Calgary’s established communities duplexes, triplexes etc have been common place for years. Backyard suites and small town/row and multiplexes are beginning to be seen more and more often these days.

photo credit Optics Design

photo credit Optics Design

What is missing in Calgary are mid-rise residential buildings, those between 6 storeys (low-rise) and 12+ storeys.  There are lots of wood-frame four storey condos (mostly in the suburbs) and lots of concrete high-rises in the City Centre, but not a lot of mid-rises which offer benefits both aesthetically and financially. One of the reasons they don’t get built is that those living in the single family houses nearby don’t want the extra height and traffic.

Let’s have a look at some the benefits….

The six storey recently approved Courtyard 33 in Marda Loop is a good example of how Calgary has evolved from cookie cutter 4 storey infill condos, to innovative mid-rise developments that offer a unique urban living experience with its interior courtyard where residence and neighbours will mix and mingle. Link:  Courtyard 33

The six storey recently approved Courtyard 33 in Marda Loop is a good example of how Calgary has evolved from cookie cutter 4 storey infill condos, to innovative mid-rise developments that offer a unique urban living experience with its interior courtyard where residence and neighbours will mix and mingle. Link: Courtyard 33

Affordability

Why is the “missing middle” important? Because these buildings provide inner city housing at a more affordable prices than row housing or low-rise buildings. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out, that if you add two or three more floors to a 4-storey building to allow for say 25 more homes you can spread the land and development cost to more buyers and thereby charge less per home.  

Mid-rise buildings also don’t create the same problems high-rise buildings. For example, they don’t stick out like a sore thumb in a sea of single family homes.  They are what urbanists like to call “human scale” buildings as they also don’t over-power the pedestrians walking by.  

As well, they are large enough to allow for retail at the street level which in turn enhances the pedestrian experience.  

European City Centers are full of them. It is what makes those cities so pleasant to explore on foot. 

Berlin mid-rise residential street.

Berlin mid-rise residential street.

In Berlin the river is lined with mid-rise residential development and the river becomes their front yard.

In Berlin the river is lined with mid-rise residential development and the river becomes their front yard.

Calgary Examples

In Calgary, we are beginning to see more “missing middle” projects like the AVLI condos in Inglewood and Pixel, LIDO and Ezra on Riley Park in Kensington. 

Perhaps one of the best and first examples of a new “missing middle” project on a high profile inner city site was St. John’s Tenth St. completed in 2014.  The 9-story Annex will be the next mid-rise in Kensington, with other mid-rise projects in the works for Bridgeland/Riverside, Winston Heights and West Hillhurst. 

Outside the inner city, Truman’s West District is almost entirely a “missing middle” community. While there will be a few townhouses on the edge of the community, the rest will be mid-rise residential, office and institutional buildings.  Truman is currently completing construction of Gateway the first two buildings of their ambitious project in the community of Wellington, on Calgary’s west side. Their Kensington Legion site condo is good example of a “missing middle” development in the inner city.

Bottom line - the “missing middle” is all about trying to create more diverse housing options in our inner city communities, at a lower price point.

The eight storey Gateway condo currently under construction in the new community of West District include one, two and three bedroom homes starting at $299,000.

The eight storey Gateway condo currently under construction in the new community of West District include one, two and three bedroom homes starting at $299,000.

Pixel in Kensington is a good examples of mid-rise residential development next to lots of urban amenities including an LRT station.

Pixel in Kensington is a good examples of mid-rise residential development next to lots of urban amenities including an LRT station.

Good News / Bad News

The good news is there are currently about 25 construction cranes scattered throughout the city building new multi-family residential buildings, ranging from 4 to 40 storeys.  This is a healthy sign.

The bad news is that BOSA Development has taken down the cranes that were supposed to build the two-tower ARRIS project above the retail podium that will include the long awaited City Market by Loblaws.  

The good news is the retail is still going ahead and is scheduled to open in early 2020.  The fact Truman hasn’t moved forward with the development of the Kensington Legion site is also bad news.  Is this a sign Calgary’s City Centre condo market is saturated at the moment? 

The good news is four new condo projects are being marketed south of the tracks. In the Beltline, Battistella Developments is marketing Nude and TAK Developments is selling Fifth. In Mission, Matrix is being actively marketed by Mission 19 Ltd. and a new developer Bowman Development needs to sell a few more condos and he will be able to proceed with The Nest on the Elbow River.

University District continues to share good news as they have signed up new tenants like Analog Café, J. Webb Market Wines, Cineplex VIP Cinemas, OEB Breakfast, Orangetheory and YYC Cycle for their main street.

Editor’s Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the March 2019 issue of Condo Living Magazine.

The Nest in Mission is offering new homes on the Elbow river starting in the low $200,000.

The Nest in Mission is offering new homes on the Elbow river starting in the low $200,000.

The Hat on 7th is mid-rise rental development in downtown’s West End is currently under construction right on the LRT.

The Hat on 7th is mid-rise rental development in downtown’s West End is currently under construction right on the LRT.

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

The concourse aka winter garden of Edmonton’s new Rogers Place arena is simply stunning.

The concourse aka winter garden of Edmonton’s new Rogers Place arena is simply stunning.

Calgary’s new Central Library is just as stunning and is busy seven days a week from opening to closing, not just during events.

Calgary’s new Central Library is just as stunning and is busy seven days a week from opening to closing, not just during events.

Bigger Picture

I was surprised by Braid’s observation. Where is this negativity coming from? Was I that out of touch with what is happening in Edmonton? I recently spent four days exploring downtown Edmonton to see for myself.

A new arena and a few other developments should not be the measure downtown renewal.   If we look at the bigger picture when it comes to urban living amenities, Calgary has projects that match or exceed those of Edmonton’s.

Let’s have a look at Edmonton and Calgary’s urban revival projects since 2010, when Edmonton adopted a new Downtown Plan – the catalyst for its revival. 

Link: Capital City Downtown Plan 

Summary of developments in Edmonton’s City Centre. orange is proposed surface lot, yellow is upcoming, blue is under construction and green is park & public spaces, red is proposed building demolished.

Summary of developments in Edmonton’s City Centre. orange is proposed surface lot, yellow is upcoming, blue is under construction and green is park & public spaces, red is proposed building demolished.

Buss Marketing’s map of Calgary’s current residential developments

Buss Marketing’s map of Calgary’s current residential developments

There are 50+ City led initiatives recently completed, under construction or in the works to make our City Centre a better place to “live work and play.” This does not include new residential, office or other private developments. Green = parks & public spaces Blue = streetscape projects Red = City Partners Light blue = underpass enhancements Yellow = other projects

There are 50+ City led initiatives recently completed, under construction or in the works to make our City Centre a better place to “live work and play.” This does not include new residential, office or other private developments. Green = parks & public spaces Blue = streetscape projects Red = City Partners Light blue = underpass enhancements Yellow = other projects

Stantec Tower vs Telus Sky 

 Edmonton’s Stantec Tower and Calgary’s Telus Sky are both mixed-use buildings. Stantec’s first 29 floors are office space with its 30th to 66th floors being residential (454 homes) giving it a height of 251 meters. Coincidentally, Telus Sky also has 29 floors of offices, but only 29 floors of residential (326 homes) for a height of 221 meters.  Architecturally, they are polar opposites.  And while the rectangular, translucent glass Stantec Tower may be taller, Telus Sky, with its bold cubist twisting shape that narrows as it reaches skyward will be an architectural gem.  But wait, Calgary’s new sleek modernist Brookfield Place glass tower, is perhaps a better match for Stantec Tower both architecturally and is just 4 meters shorter.  

Bigger is not always better!

The Stantec Tower with Roger Arena in the fore ground is an impressive addition to both Edmonton’s skyline and streetscape.

The Stantec Tower with Roger Arena in the fore ground is an impressive addition to both Edmonton’s skyline and streetscape.

Calgary’s new Marriott Residence Inn and SODO residential towers on 10th Ave at 5th Street SW.

Calgary’s new Marriott Residence Inn and SODO residential towers on 10th Ave at 5th Street SW.

Calgary has two new signature towers over 50 storeys, Brookfield Place and Telus Sky on the left with Suncor Centre and The Bow on the right.

Calgary has two new signature towers over 50 storeys, Brookfield Place and Telus Sky on the left with Suncor Centre and The Bow on the right.

ICE District vs East Village

Edmonton’s ICE District, with its glittery new arena, two office towers, hotel/condo and public plaza (under construction), along with a new LRT station hopes to have 1,300 new homes completed by 2021.  

East Village’s The Bow, (twice the size of the Stantec Tower in square footage), two hotels, award-winning Riverwalk, St. Patrick’s Island Park, a beautiful community garden and playground, six new condo buildings (1,264 new homes and more to come) blows away the ICE district.  And that doesn’t even include the stunning Calgary’s stunning new central library and music museum! 

Edmonton’s Ice District skyline January 2019.

Edmonton’s Ice District skyline January 2019.

Ice District is actually just a few blocks, but it has been a huge catalyst not only for new development, but also in enhancing civic pride.

Ice District is actually just a few blocks, but it has been a huge catalyst not only for new development, but also in enhancing civic pride.

This is an image of just four blocks of Calgary’s East Village with numerous new condo towers already completed and more under construction.

This is an image of just four blocks of Calgary’s East Village with numerous new condo towers already completed and more under construction.

Construction cranes in Calgary’s East Village, September 2017. Does this look like a downtown in decline?

Construction cranes in Calgary’s East Village, September 2017. Does this look like a downtown in decline?

Calgary’s East Village Riverwalk is outstanding.

Calgary’s East Village Riverwalk is outstanding.

Edmonton Centre vs The Core

There is simply no comparison between Edmonton’s tired indoor shopping centre and Calgary’s sunny, four-storey, The Core (redeveloped in 2011) which boast a dazzling, two-block long skylight and renovated Devonian Gardens.  The Core is home to a new Simons department store, while Edmonton’s two Simons stores are in the burbs. 

Edmonton’s City Centre is a multi-storey indoor shopping centre with a huge skylight.

Edmonton’s City Centre is a multi-storey indoor shopping centre with a huge skylight.

The Core in Calgary has a huge two and half block long skylight that links The Bay to Holt Renfrew with four levels of shopping, a mega food court and Devonian Gardens.

The Core in Calgary has a huge two and half block long skylight that links The Bay to Holt Renfrew with four levels of shopping, a mega food court and Devonian Gardens.

Quarters vs Bridgeland/Riverside 

Edmonton’s plans for the revival of The Quarters was more or less “put on ice” while the City focused on the ICE District.  One project was abandoned for 4 years, before Calgary-based Cidex Group recently came to the rescue and will build a 24-storey residential tower.

Calgary’s equivalent might be the master-planned redevelopment of Bridgeland, the result of the closing of the Calgary General Hospital.  Twelve new condos buildings will have been complete for a total of about 1,500 new homes that will accommodate 2,500 new residents, by the end of 2019.  Bridgeland/Riverside, with its revived main street, has evolved into one of Calgary’s most popular family communities over the past 10 years. Yes, families!

The Quarters has seen some public realm improvements and some new development, but nothing like Calgary’s Bridges.

The Quarters has seen some public realm improvements and some new development, but nothing like Calgary’s Bridges.

The Bridges project includes a new park that is popular year round as well as several new mixed-use residential developments and Main Street improvements.

The Bridges project includes a new park that is popular year round as well as several new mixed-use residential developments and Main Street improvements.

This new tree lined street mixes easily with the other single family home streets with their century old tree canopies.

This new tree lined street mixes easily with the other single family home streets with their century old tree canopies.

The Bridges Main Street enhancements have created an inviting gathering place.

The Bridges Main Street enhancements have created an inviting gathering place.

Churchill Square vs Olympic Plaza 

Both Edmonton’s Churchill Square and Calgary’s Olympic Plaza are the hearts of their respective city’s cultural district, as they are surrounded by a concert hall, theatres, museum, and City Halls.  

And while Edmonton has its funky new Art Gallery of Alberta building, I was not impressed by their exhibitions as I have been by Calgary’s Glenbow Museum’s recent exhibition programming.  The new $375 million Royal Alberta Museum was nice but didn’t impress me as much as I thought it might. Touring the lobby, I didn’t get the feeling this was a “must see” place.  For my money, the Glenbow offers the same art and history experience Edmonton has to offer. Programming trumps architecture. 

Similarly, Edmonton’s Win spear Concert Hall and Citadel Theatre and Calgary’s Art Commons offer pretty much the same experiences for those interested in the performing arts. When it comes to the literary arts, Edmonton is renovating its old library for $85 million into a shiny new building while Calgary spent $245 million on a new library building that has received international acclaim. 

Churchill Square is currently undergoing a mega makeover. Calgary is a few years behind with its cultural makeover, but a $400+ million makeover of Art Commons complex and Olympic Plaza is in the works.  There are also plans for a new public art gallery in Calgary’s old Science Centre/Planetarium at the west end of downtown. 

Conceptual image of renovated Central Library on the edge of Churchill Square.

Conceptual image of renovated Central Library on the edge of Churchill Square.

Calgary’s recently completed Central Library has been widely acclaimed internationally. It has attracted over

Calgary’s recently completed Central Library has been widely acclaimed internationally. It has attracted over

Edmonton’s new Art Gallery of Alberta is also located on the edge of Churchill Square.

Edmonton’s new Art Gallery of Alberta is also located on the edge of Churchill Square.

Calgary’s old planetarium / science centre is currently being redesigned to become a public art gallery.

Calgary’s old planetarium / science centre is currently being redesigned to become a public art gallery.

The new Royal Albert Museum recently opened a block from Churchill Square.

The new Royal Albert Museum recently opened a block from Churchill Square.

Calgary’s National Music Centre opened in 2016, just a few blocks from Olympic Plaza.

Calgary’s National Music Centre opened in 2016, just a few blocks from Olympic Plaza.

Conceptual image of Calgary’s new BMO convention centre which is current at the request for proposals stage.

Conceptual image of Calgary’s new BMO convention centre which is current at the request for proposals stage.

Edmonton’s Churchill Square has been a popular festival and gathering place for decades.

Edmonton’s Churchill Square has been a popular festival and gathering place for decades.

Calgary’s Olympic Plaza is also a popular gathering and festival site.

Calgary’s Olympic Plaza is also a popular gathering and festival site.

Northlands Park vs Stampede Park 

While, the future of Edmonton’s Northlands Park is uncertain, Calgary’s Stampede Park flourishes - not only as home to the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” but to numerous major events like Calgary Expo, one of Canada’s largest cosplay showcases.  

Quietly, Stampede Park has been evolving with new buildings like the Agrium Western Events Centre and its new Youth Campus that includes the TransAlta Performing Arts Studios, Calgary Arts Academy, BMO Amphitheatre and ENMAX Park.  

The construction of three major condo towers is also evidence of the district’s quiet revival. Next step a major expansion of the BMO Centre. 

Plans for the revival of Stampede Park and Victoria Park Calgary over the next 20 years are WAY ahead of those for Northlands Park district. 

Over the past few years, Calgary’s Stampede Park has been realizing its vision of a Youth Campus. There are also ambitions plans expand the BMO Centre, build a new arena, open up the park along 17th Ave and 4th St, as well as create more year-round public spaces.

Over the past few years, Calgary’s Stampede Park has been realizing its vision of a Youth Campus. There are also ambitions plans expand the BMO Centre, build a new arena, open up the park along 17th Ave and 4th St, as well as create more year-round public spaces.

New condo developments next to Stampede Park.

New condo developments next to Stampede Park.

Urban Parks

While Edmonton undoubtedly has the most dramatic river valley, it is not easily accessible from its City Centre communities.  

In contrast, Calgary’s Bow and Elbow rivers are both intimately linked to the everyday lives of those living in our City Centre thanks to constant improvement to the river pathways.  Edmonton has nothing to match Calgary’s Riverwalk, West Eau Claire Park and two spectacular pedestrian bridges.

Kudos to Edmonton’s City Council who boldly approved the expropriation of 18 lots in the middle of downtown to create a much-needed, 3-acre park, the equivalent of Calgary’s Harley Hotchkiss Gardens that opened a few years ago.  

Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 8.58.56 PM.png
Calgary has some sunning new parks like the Eau Claire West Park.

Calgary has some sunning new parks like the Eau Claire West Park.

The revitalization of St. Patrick’s Island is truly outstanding.

The revitalization of St. Patrick’s Island is truly outstanding.

The Alberta Legislature buildings fountain and wading pond is a popular spot on Canada Day.

The Alberta Legislature buildings fountain and wading pond is a popular spot on Canada Day.

At noon hour Harley Hotchkiss Gardens it becomes a popular meeting place and perhaps play a little bocci ball.

At noon hour Harley Hotchkiss Gardens it becomes a popular meeting place and perhaps play a little bocci ball.

The new Thompson Family Park. Calgary’s City Centre is blessed with dozens of parks, plazas and pathways.

The new Thompson Family Park. Calgary’s City Centre is blessed with dozens of parks, plazas and pathways.

Urban Living 

In addition to the above comparisons, Edmonton has nothing to match Calgary’s funky Inglewood community with its historic main street, Esker Gallery and new condo developments.  Nor does it have anything to match Calgary’s Mission district or how Calgary’s Zoo and Telus Spark easily connect to our City Centre by LRT and pathways.  

Yes, I was impressed with how Edmonton has implemented its 2010 Downtown Plan which includes adding 12,200 new residential units by 2045.  To date an impressive 1500 new units have been completed and 858 are under construction with more proposed.

In Calgary one developer, Qualex Landmark alone has built 1300 units in the Beltline. Today, Calgary has a whopping 9,000+ residential units (75% of Edmonton’s goal) at various stages of development in its City Centre. 

Calgary’s historic Main Street aka Atlantic Avenue has a diversity of shops, cafes, restaurants, galleries and live music venues in early 20th century buildings.

Calgary’s historic Main Street aka Atlantic Avenue has a diversity of shops, cafes, restaurants, galleries and live music venues in early 20th century buildings.

Edmonton also doesn’t have anything to match Caglary’s Kensington Village with its new condos and animated sidewalks.

Edmonton also doesn’t have anything to match Caglary’s Kensington Village with its new condos and animated sidewalks.

New condo construction along Atlantic Avenue in Inglewood will add even more vitality to the street and community.

New condo construction along Atlantic Avenue in Inglewood will add even more vitality to the street and community.

The Atlantic Avenue Art Block includes a public art gallery, offices, restaurant, cafe, grocery store and boutiques.

The Atlantic Avenue Art Block includes a public art gallery, offices, restaurant, cafe, grocery store and boutiques.

I didn’t find anything in Edmonton to match Calgary’s public art.

I didn’t find anything in Edmonton to match Calgary’s public art.

Calgary & Edmonton both on the rise!

I am surprise at how a new arena can blind people into thinking Edmonton is booming and Calgary is declining because it doesn’t have one. For too long Calgary has measured the success of its downtown by the number of new office buildings and the number of people working downtown.  

A better measure of downtown revival is the number of new residential developments and the number of people choosing to live near the downtown core.  The fact the Beltline was the fastest growing community in Calgary last year and that there are several major residential developments under construction in our City Centre is testament to the fact Calgary’s downtown revival is on the rise, not decline. 

And, I am happy to report Edmonton’s downtown is also on the rise. In some cases Edmonton is ahead of Calgary when it comes to urban revival and in other cases Calgary is ahead of Edmonton.

Every city evolves in its own way.

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

Edmonton vs Calgary: Who has the best river?

Battle of Alberta: Urban Design

Brewery Districts: Edmonton vs Calgary

Calgary: NE is on the rise!

For many Calgarians, the NE quadrant (east of Deerfoot) is a bit of an unknown. Other than going to the airport, or speeding by on the Deerfoot, we rarely venture into the hodgepodge of residential communities, small shopping centres and business parks that make up Ward 5.

However, the future of Calgary could well be in the NE - Calgary’s Airport City!

Ward 5 is dominated by the Calgary International Airport that takes up almost half of the landscape.

Ward 5 is dominated by the Calgary International Airport that takes up almost half of the landscape.

Eye Opener

I first became intrigued with Ward 5 when I went to the annual train show at the Genesis Centre a few years ago. I was shocked at the size and vibrancy of the centre. Then a friend introduced me to Afghan Kabob Cuisine, which he warned was nearly impossible to find. It was. But I enjoyed exploring the area’s maze of shopping centres and back alley shops, the restaurant, which sits next to the Apna-Punjab Sweets & Samosa, as well as several small industrial shops was an eye opener! 

Then earlier this year, when driving to the Canal at Delacour golf course, I was gob-smacked by the residential development - mix of single family, row houses and low-rise condos - along Country Hills Boulevard east of the Deerfoot.  New communities with intriguing names like – Redstone, Skyview Ranch and Cityscape lead me to do some research.  

Afghan Kabob restaurant is tucked away in a building that looks more like a big house that is accessed off of what looks like an alley for a auto body repair shop. It was an adventure to find, but totally worth it. There is lovely bakery next door.

Afghan Kabob restaurant is tucked away in a building that looks more like a big house that is accessed off of what looks like an alley for a auto body repair shop. It was an adventure to find, but totally worth it. There is lovely bakery next door.

Taradale vs Beltline

I was surprised to learn the population of Taradale is just 15% less than the Beltline, Calgary’s most densely populated community and one that is full of highrise towers. The tallest building in Ward 5 is the 10-storey Homewood Suites Hotel. 

Obviously, you can create dense communities without highrises. While the rest of Calgary is trying to get used to the idea of living in denser communities, many Ward 5 residents are already there.  

For years we have heard about mixed-use master planned urban communities in many other parts to the city – Bridges, Currie, Greenwich, Quarry Park, SETON Trinity Village, University District, West District and Westman Village. But none in the NE.  It begs the question, “Why not?”

One of the major differences between Taradale and the Beltline is that it has much larger family sizes.

One of the major differences between Taradale and the Beltline is that it has much larger family sizes.

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Population growth from 2017 to 2018 of Calgary’s 14 Wards.

Population growth from 2017 to 2018 of Calgary’s 14 Wards.

The rise of the NE 

While we all know about the fall of downtown, do we know about the rise of the northeast?  Despite the decline in the oil and gas sector, the Calgary International Airport experienced a 3.8% increase in passenger traffic from 2015 to 2017 and it is on pace for a whopping 7% increase in 2018, and cargo tonnage is up 9% since 2015.   

Kent Bacon, a principal at Avison Young says the northeast Calgary and Balzac area is a highly desirable location for warehouses companies because of its location - next to the TransCanada Highway, the CANAMEX corridor (Deerfoot/QE II highway) and the airport. The area is also one of only three foreign trade zones in Canada.  (FYI: foreign trade zones have tax and duty advantages for warehouse distribution centers.) Currently, there are 2.2 million square feet of new construction in Ward 5 - that’s 30% larger than The Bow. 

Ward 5 is also Calgary’s fastest growing ward. Over the past year, its population increased by 6,522 (2018 Census), almost double any other ward. This is amazing given about a third of the ward’s land mass is taken up by the airport and business/industrial parks. 

Recently, I sat down with Ward 5 Councillor George Chahal to learn more about Calgary’s unique NE communities.  Born and raised in Saddle Ridge, Chahal holds a Master’s degree in planning with his thesis titled, “Planning for Ethnic Diversity.”     

Nagar Kirtan Parade

Nagar Kirtan Parade

Q: What are some of the Ward 5’s hidden gems? 

One would have to be the annual Nagar Kirtan Parade, Calgary’s second largest parade, organized each May by the Dashmesh Culture Centre in the community of Martindale. It attracted about 60,000 spectators in 2018. It features lots of singing and floats and everyone is invited - to watch or participate. 

Another hidden gem is the Country Thunder music festival in Prairie Winds Park. It has become one of Calgary’s signature summer festivals.  Take a walk in Prairie Winds Park and you will find out what the NE is all about. It is a mix of Riley Park, Bowness Park and Nose Hill Park.  

Ward 5 is home to 20+ different religious institutions, with several having architecturally significant buildings. 

Country Thunder music festival in Ward 5’s Prairie Winds Park.

Country Thunder music festival in Ward 5’s Prairie Winds Park.

Q: What are the biggest issues facing Ward 5 today? 

A: Bridging Calgary’s cultural gap. Ward 5 is Calgary’s most culturally diverse community with 50+ languages spoken.  It is home to the third largest Sikh community in Canada. We desperately need more programs and services to integrate newcomers our communities are home to about 50% of the City’s new immigrants.  

Diversity is our strength, but we also want to integrate into the broader Calgary community when it comes to working together to plan Calgary’s future. The City of Calgary is working on eliminating communication barriers through multilingual communication and engagement policies, however, there is still lots of work to do.

Cricket match? practice? Saturday morning at Prairie Winds park.

Cricket match? practice? Saturday morning at Prairie Winds park.

Q. Is there a transformative project(s) that you would like to see happen in the NE? 

The expansion of the LRT into our northern communities, as well to the airport is critical as Ward 5 residents are one of the City’s biggest users of transit. 

A second major recreation centre, library and multi-use sports fields would also be transformative as the Genesis Centre is currently operating at capacity. 

The huge Calgary Train Show at Ward 5’s Genesis Centre is a must see for anyone who likes trains.

The huge Calgary Train Show at Ward 5’s Genesis Centre is a must see for anyone who likes trains.

Q. Do you believe religion and family play a bigger role in the lives of Ward 5 residents than in other wards? 

Yes, I would say so - 86% of Ward 5 residents have religious beliefs vs only 68% in the rest of Calgary.  And for many residents, attending a religious institution is a daily, not a weekly experience.  

Family is also important to Ward 5 residents, with more than one generation living under one roof being the norm. The average number of residents per household is much higher in Ward 5 than the rest of Calgary.  

It is critical for the development industry and those at City Hall to understand the cultural and family dynamics of Ward 5 so our communities are designed to meet our unique market demand.

Q. Do you think the NE is under appreciated by Calgarians? 

Yes.  Most Calgarians don’t appreciate how Ward 5 is a growing logistics hub for Western Canada. The future of the logistics sector is very positive - with things such as autonomous vehicles, commercial drone deliveries and other artificial intelligence advancements.  Ward 5’s importance as one of Calgary’s economic hubs will continue to grow.  Look for Ward 5 to be home to some ground breaking innovations in the future.

While there are no conventional main streets, our communities are full of small businesses and entrepreneurs.  Ward 5 is home to 100+ small businesses catering to different flavors around the world, from meat stores to local grocery stores, 234 restaurants and 2,200+ businesses in total.  As of November 2018, 318 new businesses were licensed, of which 60% were home based. 

Grant Galpin, who’s lived in Ward 5 since 2000 and led the $35M community fundraising campaign for Ward 5’s Genesis Centre (their $120 million, 225,000 square foot “living room”) agrees with Chahal, saying “the growing entrepreneurial base in the NE is due to the fact the offshore education of newcomers is largely not recognized, so they turn to small business, to establish themselves.  The result is a creative, family-based, small business culture that is largely under appreciated by Calgarians, government, economic and cultural leaders.”

Ward 5’s McKnight Westwinds LRT station is ripe for a mixed-use Transit Oriented Development, with a major grocery store already nearby.

Ward 5’s McKnight Westwinds LRT station is ripe for a mixed-use Transit Oriented Development, with a major grocery store already nearby.

Last Word 

Could it be that’s Calgary’s NE will take the lead in the diversification of Calgary’s economy over the next 25+ years? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald’s New Condos section on January 26, 2019.

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

Calgary: An Inland Port?

Calgary’s SUPERTRAIN is super fun for everyone!

Calgary is evolving into five different cities?








 

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Billion Dollar Question: Is Calgary the recreational capital of Canada?

The City of Calgary has invested almost a half a billion dollars (that’s $500,000,000) over the past three years in four major new recreation centres – Brookfield Residential YMCA at Seton (largest YMCA in the world), Shane Homes YMCA at Rocky Ridge (second largest YMCA in the world), Remington YMCA in Quarry Park and Great Plains Recreation Facility (eastern edge of the city).  

Given this huge investment, one could ask, “Is Calgary the recreational capital of Canada?”

However, the recreational capital isn’t necessarily the one with the biggest recreational facilities, it could have good facilities overall, with few strengths and no major weaknesses.  Or it could be the city with the best recreational programs with the most participation.  

Not only is Calgary’s new Rocky Ridge YMCA is the second largest in North America, but it is also a bold architectural statement for those living in new communities on the northwest edge of the City.

Not only is Calgary’s new Rocky Ridge YMCA is the second largest in North America, but it is also a bold architectural statement for those living in new communities on the northwest edge of the City.

Calgary has been building iconic recreation centres since the early ‘80s. This is the Repsol Sports Centre built in 1983 for the Western Canada Summer Games.

Calgary has been building iconic recreation centres since the early ‘80s. This is the Repsol Sports Centre built in 1983 for the Western Canada Summer Games.

Calgary’s 131 km Rotary Mattamy Greenway is a unique recreational experience.

Calgary’s 131 km Rotary Mattamy Greenway is a unique recreational experience.

And what do we mean by recreation? 

Judy Birdsell, one of the founders of IMAGINE Citizens Collaborating for Health, reminded me that the definition of recreation is “any activity done for enjoyment when one is not working.”  She thinks we shouldn’t equate recreation with sports and fitness, but include everything from dancing to gardening, from quilting to reading.” Hmmm, perhaps it should also include flaneuring and dog walking too?

Calgary shines when it comes to community gardens, not sure about gardening, dance or quilting.  We had 169 community gardens as of July 2016, (Calgary Horticultural Society website); Edmonton had 80 as of July 2018 and City of Vancouver (not metro Vancouver) 110. 

Calgary has 150 public off-leash areas in our multi-use parks for Calgarians and their dogs to enjoy. In fact, “Calgary may have the largest number of off-leash areas and combined amount of off-leash space (more than 1,250 hectares) in North America,” says the City of Calgary website. Perhaps this is not surprising as Calgary has the highest per capita dog ownership in Canada with 1 dog for every 12 people, just ahead of Winnipeg and Edmonton (CTV New Winnipeg, March 29, 2017). 

The City of Calgary website also says we have “the most extensive urban pathways and bikeway network in North America.” Mary Kapusta, Director, Communications at the Calgary Public Library says the number of visitors to our 20 libraries is one also one of the highest in North America with 6.8 million visits, 688,000 active members, 14.6 million items in annually. That’s a whopping 14 books per person per year.

If we add in the cost of the new Central Library and National Music Centre (Birdsell says it is growing international trend for physicians to prescribe social or recreational activities to help patients with certain illnesses) to the $500,000,000 investment in mega recreation centres, we are almost a BILLION dollars (not all City of Caglary dollars).

Just sitting and watching the Bow River flow could be considered a recreational activity by some.

Just sitting and watching the Bow River flow could be considered a recreational activity by some.

Calgary is his home to one of the world’s largest public skate parks.

Calgary is his home to one of the world’s largest public skate parks.

Strolling Stephen Avenue Walk at lunch hour is a recreational activity for many.

Strolling Stephen Avenue Walk at lunch hour is a recreational activity for many.

Stopping to make a snowman just because you the mood strikes you as this couple did is also a recreational activity.

Stopping to make a snowman just because you the mood strikes you as this couple did is also a recreational activity.

Or chilling at a music festival is a recreational for some.

Or chilling at a music festival is a recreational for some.

Or it could be puttering in your backyard garden.

Or it could be puttering in your backyard garden.

Is bigger better? 

This then opens the door to question, “Should we be building mega multi-million dollar regional multi-use recreation complexes, or should the focus be on local facilities and programs that foster everyday activities and socialization with one’s immediate neighbours?”  

Cynthia Watson, Chief Evolution Officer at Vivo (formerly Cardel Place) notes her facility is a “gathering place for the community.  We are the afterschool place, the youth space, the older adult social connector, the health services touchpoint, the social entrepreneur incubator, the healthy living collaborator...oh and yes - we do have swimming lessons and fitness classes too!” home to a diversity of community, cultural, sport, faith-based, education and recreation groups.  

She adds, “Vivo is home to several older adult groups like SPRY in the Hills. It is a Girl Guide clubhouse, a Spirit of Math classroom and the Dawat E-Islamic Centre Calgary’s Friday afternoon prayer group worship space. And we are a meeting space for Northern Hills Connect a group of 25+ social entrepreneurs.”  

She notes “you get better economies of scale and operating efficiencies when you combine multiple uses in one facilities vs scattering several single-use facilities in different communities.  Larger facilities are also more cost effective from a staffing perspective.” 

Multi-use facilities are also more convenient for parents when little Johnny has a hockey game, older sister Sally can go to the library and Mom can have a coffee klatch with other parents or perhaps even do her own workout.  Watson thinks “the City did a good job when they started to combine traditional recreation centres with libraries and other activities.”  

Vivo’s catchment started with 75,000 people in 2004 and has grown to well over 145,000 today. It includes established communities like Northern Hills, Sandstone MacEwan, Beddington, Huntington Hills, Hidden Valley, growing communities like Evanston, Kincora, Sage Hill and new communities like Livingston and Carrington. 

Today it has approximately 1.3 million visitors a year, with plans in place for an $60 million 85,000 square foot addition due to the popularity of its facilities and programs. The expansion will include an indoor park that can be used in the winter by seniors who just want to walk without fear of falling on the ice, while young families can enjoy the playground as they do in the summer. The park will also accommodate festivals and events like movie-in-the-park in the winter adding another dimension to the community’s socialization.   

Watson said users are telling them “they want more flexible, social gathering places where they can come and go base on their own schedule.  Places where they can just hang out or do things in a less structured way.” 

When I chatted with Glenda Marr, Business Development Manager for the Genesis Center in the northeast, the story was the same – programs are popular, operating at capacity and looking at expansion.  In fact, many of Calgary’s older regional recreation centres as so popular they are operating at or near capacity and have plans for expansion. 

Large facilities like the Genesis Field House not only host sporting event, but events like the annual mega Train Show that takes over the entire facility.

Large facilities like the Genesis Field House not only host sporting event, but events like the annual mega Train Show that takes over the entire facility.

VIVO expansion plans include an indoor park with playground and field for casual play and relaxation by all ages.

VIVO expansion plans include an indoor park with playground and field for casual play and relaxation by all ages.

Recreation can be meeting a friend for coffee.

Recreation can be meeting a friend for coffee.

So, what does the City of Calgary think?

In discussion with James McLaughlin, Acting Director of Calgary Recreation, I was surprised to learn “there is currently no standard benchmarking in Canada regarding the recommended amount of recreation facilities per capita.” I was hoping there would be some definitive measurements like number of hockey rinks, swimming pools or sports fields or total square feet of recreational facilities per 100,000 people.  

I was also told any comparison gets complicated by the fact no city has a comprehensive collection of all the private, city and community facilities and their program participation.  

I did learn Calgary has developed a unique partnership model where the City of Calgary builds these new regional recreation centers, but they are operated by others like regional community associations or the YMCA.  Speaking of the YMCA, perhaps one of the most innovative recreational partnerships in Canada is at the South Health Campus (hospital) which also includes a YMCA.    

McLaughlin shared with me that 93% of Calgarians are satisfied with the City’s recreation programs and 92% are satisfied with our recreation facilities based on The City of Calgary’s 2018 Citizen Satisfaction Survey.  That’s impressive, almost hard to believe. 

This surprised me as I have heard from numerous parents and grandparents, of how poor our playing fields can be in the summer with dandelion infestation that makes the fields slippery and dangerous.  Others have said the grass is sometimes so long when the younger kids kick the ball it hardly moves.  I have also heard the cost of ice time in Calgary is significantly higher than in other cities because of a lack of rinks.  And yet others have told me that when they go to other cities for soccer, hockey and ringette tournaments, they are often surprised at how much better their facilities are than Calgary’s. The high satisfaction rating is also surprising given over the past year two City recreational centres have been closed due to roof issues.  

 McLaughlin shared “comparing recreational participation levels from city to city is difficult due to different demographics Calgary being a younger city you might expect its citizens to be more active.  However, Vancouver and Victoria have more retirees who often have more time to be active than parents working and raising a family.  It gets complicated.” 

Perhaps the most enlightening learning from McLaughlin was that recreation leaders in Calgary and other cities are moving away from focusing on sports and fitness and towards a more active living wellness model.   

Guess, Birdsell was correct and Watson and her colleagues are on the leading edge.  

Calgary also boast numerous private recreation facilities like the massive new Rocky Mountain Climbing centre just west of Canada Olympic Park. It is one of three Rocky Mountain Climbing centres in Calgary.

Calgary also boast numerous private recreation facilities like the massive new Rocky Mountain Climbing centre just west of Canada Olympic Park. It is one of three Rocky Mountain Climbing centres in Calgary.

Recreation can also include an afternoon of painting in the park.

Recreation can also include an afternoon of painting in the park.

Learning to fish is another recreational activity.

Learning to fish is another recreational activity.

Calgary has 22 city-maintained toboggan hills with many more community hills like this one in Bridgeland Riverside.

Calgary has 22 city-maintained toboggan hills with many more community hills like this one in Bridgeland Riverside.

ParticipACTION

So, being the recreational capital of Canada shouldn’t just be about the quality and quantity of facilities, it should also be about citizen participation in everyday activities.  So, are Calgarians the most active Canadians?  

Remember the federal government’s ParticipACTION (launched in 1971 ceased in 2001 and relaunched in 2017) whose shaming message was “the average Canadian adult was like a 60-year Swede old when it came to physical fitness?”  Its goal was to get Canadians off the couch and do something, even if just for 20 minutes.  While there is lots of information on how successful ParticiACTION was as an awareness program, it is less clear if adult Canadians are gaining on the 60-year old Swedes.  

According to data from the Canadian Community Health Survey,  26.7 per cent of Canadians were obese in 2015, up from 23.1 per cent in 2004 - not a good sign.  Another study published in the scientific journal Nature in 2017, documented that Canada ranks third from the bottom in how much we walk per day by a group of researchers who looked at smartphone data to see how much walking people do in 111 countries and tracked their steps over an average of 95 days.

Link:  Nature Worldwide physical activity data

 Stats Canada last documented the prevalence of obesity in major Canadian cities in 2012 and Calgary at 22.1% was higher than Toronto (20.2%), Victoria (19.6%), Vancouver (17.4%) and Kelowna’s was the lowest at 17.0%. But this doesn’t say how active the rest of us are. 

According to The Conference Board of Canada’s 2016 City Health Ranking, which looked at such aspects as life satisfaction, healthy lifestyles and access to health care, Saskatoon came out on top as Canada’s healthiest city, with Calgary second.  

 An Expedia blog in 2018 attempted to rank Canada’s most active cities based on average number of marathons and hiking trails, access to bike paths, trails and races, per capita and abundance of outdoor activities such as kayaking, canoeing.  Calgary came in 4thbeat out by Whistler #3, Golden #2 and Vancouver #1. 

Link: Active Cities In Canada Ranked

As stated earlier, the City of Calgary doesn’t have comprehensive stats that would include both visits to City, private and community traditional recreation facilities, as well as other non-work pursuits. However, most of Calgary’s 26 major recreation centers are operating at or near capacity for most of the year with several having plans for expansion – suggesting Calgarians are indeed very active.

So, while Calgary is not at the top of every health and wellness ranking, it is near the top so it could be in the running for being the “recreational capital of Canada.”

Let’s dig deeper! 

It is impossible to track all of the neighbourhood events in Calgary or any other city for that matter.

It is impossible to track all of the neighbourhood events in Calgary or any other city for that matter.

For some people surfing the Bow River Wave is recreational.

For some people surfing the Bow River Wave is recreational.

This family is off to the Riley Park wading pool.

This family is off to the Riley Park wading pool.

Who ever heard of a dog park in the ‘70s?  

Today, literally tens of thousands of Calgarians religiously walking their dog(s), often more than once.  As stated earlier, Calgary is the dog park capital of North American and has the highest dog ownership in Canada. 

This is nothing to sniff at. 

Daily dog walking is one of the best active living habits urban dwellers can have and it is the cheapest one for the City to provide.  A British study published in the BMC Public Health Journal in 2017 showed the dog owners average 22 minutes more walking per day, than those who don’t have a dog. And while the study acknowledged some were just dawdling, many were walking at a pace that provide as much health benefits as running.  

Could it be that dog walking and dog parks, not the mega recreation center make “Calgary, the recreational capital of Canada” or should I say “active living capital of Canada.”  

Walking the dog in one of Calgary’s many dog parks might just be what qualifies Calgary as “the recreation capital of Canada.”

Walking the dog in one of Calgary’s many dog parks might just be what qualifies Calgary as “the recreation capital of Canada.”

Strong Case

I don’t think anyone knows definitively what Canadian city has the best overall recreational facilities and programs, or which city has the most active citizens.  

But I am guessing our old and new multi-purpose, mega recreation, community, leisure centres with their millions of visitors each year place Calgary near the top.  Add in 5,000+ parks, largest urban pathway system, community gardens and a library system that one of the busiest in Canada and Calgary could make a strong case for being “the recreational capital of Canada.”  

In addition, I challenge any major Canadian city to beat the 90+% satisfaction rating Calgarians give their recreation programs and facilities.  Even if I do find the number hard to believe.

It is no wonder Calgary is one of the most livable cities in the world.  

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

Community Gardens: The New Yoga Studio?

Calgary: The dog park capital of North America?

Calgary: Canada’s Bike Friendly City

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19 Reasons NOT to visit Calgary, Alberta, Canada in 2019

Back in 2014, Calgary, Alberta, Canada was one of the New York Times top 52 places to travel.  Calgary was lauded for its thriving public art scene, the Peace Bridge and of course, the Stampede.   

Calgary is no longer on that list. (After this blog was posted, Calgary got back on the NYT 2019 list, as a result of the opening of the new Central Library, not sure anyone would visit Calgary just to see a library). Their public art program has been ridiculed locally and internationally for some poor choices and its once thriving downtown is more like a ghost town with 25% office vacancy.  

I have compiled 19 reasons NOT to visit Calgary in 2019.

Even the locals don’t like their public art.

Calgarians’ hatred for their public art can be traced back to 2013 with the installation of a giant blue ring on the side of a highway bridge over some railway tracks in the middle of nowhere. Locals were outraged the City paid $470,000 for what amounted to a glorified lamppost to the European based inges indee art group.  Even the Mayor didn’t like it. 

The good news is Calgary is full of GREAT public art. The downtown has 100+ works of art scattered along its streets, plaza, parks and pathways.  There are hundreds more of museum quality art in the lobbies of downtown office buildings. It is literally one huge public art gallery.  

Link: Top 10 public artworks in Calgary???? 

Yes, Calgary has a major Jaume Plensa sculpture….

Yes, Calgary has a major Jaume Plensa sculpture….

And, yes Calgary also has three lovely Dale Chihuly sculptures in the winter garden of the Jamieson Place office building. FYI…there is also a Dennis Oppenheim piece around the corner.

And, yes Calgary also has three lovely Dale Chihuly sculptures in the winter garden of the Jamieson Place office building. FYI…there is also a Dennis Oppenheim piece around the corner.

In addition to the giant Blue Ring, we also have the giant Red Paper Clip located on the University of Calgary campus, creating a grand entrance to the Olympic Oval skating rink.

In addition to the giant Blue Ring, we also have the giant Red Paper Clip located on the University of Calgary campus, creating a grand entrance to the Olympic Oval skating rink.

This little guy loved the “Famous Five” sculpture in Olympic Plaza.

This little guy loved the “Famous Five” sculpture in Olympic Plaza.

One of the most popular things to do at the Calgary Stampede is to climb all over the “By The Banks Of The Bow” bronze sculpture.

One of the most popular things to do at the Calgary Stampede is to climb all over the “By The Banks Of The Bow” bronze sculpture.

In downtown Calgary there are artworks literally everywhere. FYI…these five hands by Derek Besant spell “DREAM.” How clever is that?

In downtown Calgary there are artworks literally everywhere. FYI…these five hands by Derek Besant spell “DREAM.” How clever is that?

I love this whimsical artwork in East Village along the Riverwalk.

I love this whimsical artwork in East Village along the Riverwalk.

Ah, yes here is the infamous “Travelling Light” aka Giant Blue Ring by inges indee (photo credit: inges indee)

Ah, yes here is the infamous “Travelling Light” aka Giant Blue Ring by inges indee (photo credit: inges indee)

It is still just a frontier town. 

This is kinda true. One of the city’s biggest tourist attractions is Heritage Park, Canada’s largest living history museum, situated in a picturesque 127-acre park on the edge of the Glenmore Reservoir. The park has over 100 exhibits, a passenger train with two working steam locomotives, an antique midway, an early 20th century main street and Gasoline Alley Museum showcasing and extensive collection of antique cars and related memorabilia. 

Still standing on Stephen Avenue, a national historic district is a small wooden building that survived the Calgary fire of 1886.  Early 20th century homes – Dean House and Cross House – are now upscale restaurants.

Today Calgary is a modern metropolis that is know better for its spectacular new buildings than its frontier shacks.   

Link: Heritage Park  

Heritage Park (photo credit: Travel Alberta)

Heritage Park (photo credit: Travel Alberta)

Heritage Park’s Gasoline Alley

Heritage Park’s Gasoline Alley

Does this look like a frontier town to you?

Does this look like a frontier town to you?

The place is a concrete jungle.

You will definitely think that if you entered downtown on the LRT train above Bow Trail high above the huge Shaw Millennium Park skate park (one of the largest free skate parks in the world).

And yes, some of the downtown buildings are bland concrete blocks, but Calgary’s City Centre is full of shiny glass towers that together create one of the best skylines of any city in North America.  The reflections created by the interplay of glass buildings create amazing surrealistic abstractions. 

And, the City Centre is actually full of some amazing green spaces, from Prince’s and St. Patrick’s Island parks in the middle of the Bow River to urban parks like Memorial Park and Riley Park in residential districts. 

Link: Calgary’s City Centre is one of the best in North America

Olympic Plaza is stunning in the summer. It is also nice in the winter with its skating rink.

Olympic Plaza is stunning in the summer. It is also nice in the winter with its skating rink.

Prince’s Island park both a festival park, as well as green space to sit and relax that is literally downtown.

Prince’s Island park both a festival park, as well as green space to sit and relax that is literally downtown.

Memorial Park is popular couples spot….

Memorial Park is popular couples spot….

Does this look like a downtown with no green spaces?

Does this look like a downtown with no green spaces?

It has no hipster districts. 

Sure, Calgary is more an engineer, banker, geologist city than a hip artsy city, but don’t let that fool you. Calgary’s GABEsters (Geologists, Accountants, Bankers, Brokers and Engineers) know how to wear plaid, eat yogurt and do yoga.  

Fact is, Calgary has some great hipster districts – Beltline and Inglewood being the two best.  If you are looking for live music, check out the Ship & Anchor, Palominos or Ironwood. It if is music festivals you are into, you won’t want to miss Sled Island, the Calgary International Folk Festival or Country Thunder.  If you are into film, you won’t want to miss the Calgary International Film Festival, Calgary Underground Film Festival and Artifact Small Format Film Festival. There is also two arthouse cinemas – Globe Cinema and Plaza Theatre.

Link: Beltline: One of North America’s best hipster neighbourhoods

17th Ave is home to Calgary’s hipster street culture.

17th Ave is home to Calgary’s hipster street culture.

Kensington Village is also popular with hipsters.

Kensington Village is also popular with hipsters.

Village Ice Cream’s patio in the parking lot is very popular with the Beltline hipsters in the summer.

Village Ice Cream’s patio in the parking lot is very popular with the Beltline hipsters in the summer.

It is more a “pick-up truck” than a “food truck” kinda town!

 This is true. Calgary is considered to be the pick-up truck capital of Canada, but they are not beat up old pick-ups, but luxury fully-loaded models. And while we might not be the “food truck” capital of Canada, we do have a healthy community of food trucks with fun names like Rolls Rice and Jane Bond BBQ. And you can get everything from Hawaiian, Mexican and Caribbean flavours at Awko Taco, to chorizo wrapped scotch eggs at Crack’d YYC to Venezuelan gluten-free dough stuffed pockets at Arepa Boss. 

Calgary even has a YYCFoodTrucks App that lets you find out where your favourite food truck any time that street food craving hits.  

Lunch hour in downtown Calgary.

Lunch hour in downtown Calgary.

On any given weekend a surface parking lot can become a music food truck venue.

On any given weekend a surface parking lot can become a music food truck venue.

Food Trucks on East Village’s Riverwalk.

Food Trucks on East Village’s Riverwalk.

Food Trucks on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Food Trucks on Stephen Avenue Walk.

There are no good places to eat.

While that might have true 20 years ago, it’s definitely false today.  Recently, 16 Calgary restaurants were included in Canada’s top 100 restaurants compiled by Open Table.  That was second to Toronto but ahead of Vancouver and Montreal.  And on a per capita basis Calgary was #1 in Canada.   

Calgary also routinely places restaurants on EnRoute magazine’s annual top 10 new restaurants in Canada list. 

Calgary has a great mix of restaurants - from traditional steak houses to contemporary fusion.  You can dine in a revolving restaurant 50-storeys above downtown, a rustic cottage on an island in the middle of the Bow River or in a 100+ year old house next to the Elbow River and Fort Calgary. 

John Gilchrist, Calgary’s long time food and restaurant guru, reviews almost 300 favourites, in his 8th edition of “My Favourite Restaurants (Calgary, Canmore and beyond),”

Link: Avenue 25 best restaurants 2018

Link: Top 10 Places To Eat Like A Local In Cowtown

Link: Calgary’s Playful Restaurants

Check out REgrub where everything but the food is recycled. How appropriate and fun is it to enjoy a meal in Calgary sitting in a barrel?

Check out REgrub where everything but the food is recycled. How appropriate and fun is it to enjoy a meal in Calgary sitting in a barrel?

Bridgette’s Lounge is tres cool.

Bridgette’s Lounge is tres cool.

Yellow Door is like eating with Alice in Wonderland.

Yellow Door is like eating with Alice in Wonderland.

Calgary is a city of “Yahoos!”

It is true, every year for 10 days in July, Calgarians from all walks of life get dressed up as cowboys and cowgirls and start yelling “yahoo” sometimes for no reason at all. They love to watch real cowboys climb up on wild horses and bulls, just to see how quickly they will get bucked off.  They love the annual Stampede Midway, the chuckwagon races, the Grandstand show, the agricultural exhibitions, the Western Art Show and the many, many concerts.   

The Calgary Stampede isn’t called the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” for nothing, it is literally seven festivals in one. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. 

Link: Stampede 2019

Calgary’s Stampede Park is home to millions of Yahoos each summer.

Calgary’s Stampede Park is home to millions of Yahoos each summer.

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There is no street life in Calgary.

True, Calgary doesn’t have the street life of big cities like New York, Chicago, Paris or London or even smaller European cities like Leipzig or Florence.  However, it’s not to say there aren’t pedestrian hot spots!

Check out downtown’s Power Hour (spring to fall) when 20,000+ downtown office workers invade Stephen Avenue Walk to shop, dine and stroll.   Or wander downtown’s 20-km maze of 60+ sky bridges (known by locals at the +15) that connect over 100 office, hotel, shopping and public buildings, joining thousands of others scurrying to get to meetings, grab a coffee or a bite to eat.  

Calgary also boasts several pedestrian streets worth exploring on the edge of downtown – 4thStreet in Mission, 17thAve SW from 4th St to 14thSt SW, Kensington Road and 10thStreet NW, as well as, 9thAvenue in Inglewood.  

Link: Calgary’s Power Hour

Noon hour on Stephen Avenue Walk….

Noon hour on Stephen Avenue Walk….

Cafe Beano in the winter….

Cafe Beano in the winter….

Ship & Anchor’s patio on 17th Ave is busy year-round….

Ship & Anchor’s patio on 17th Ave is busy year-round….

Calgary’s love to run in the streets….

Calgary’s love to run in the streets….

Calgary has no weird, wild, wacky architecture

You will hear people say that. Don’t believe them.  Calgary has some amazing contemporary architecture and urban design.  Some are by star international architects/artists like Bjarke Ingels (Telus Sky), Norman Foster (The Bow), Santiago Calatrava (Peace Bridge) and SOM Architects (707 Fifth), Allied Works Architecture (National Music Centre) and Calgary’s latest architectural gem the new Central Library by Snohetta.  

There are also architectural gems by local architects - Nexen Building by Fredrick Valentine, Jack Long’s Planetarium, Albert Dale’s iconic Calgary Tower and Barry Graham’s Saddledome. 

And there is Calgary’s +15 walkway system (60+ sky bridges), the brainchild of Bill Milne back in the early ‘70s that has since evolved to become a defining feature of Calgary’s unique sense of place.  It is Calgary’s subway, but instead of dark dingy tunnels, it has shiny, sunny bridges with lots of public art, cafes, food courts and shopping along the 20 kms of indoor walkways.  

Calgary’s downtown is home to some mega cathedral-like skylights be it Bankers Hall, Western Canada Place or Fifth Avenue Place, as well as the mega, three-block long Core shopping centre skylight.  Calgarians love to enjoy their 320+ days of sunshine, especially in the winter.  

Link: Calgary’s Award Winning Architecture

How about Cowtown’s arena with it’s saddle-shaped roof?

How about Cowtown’s arena with it’s saddle-shaped roof?

The Water Centre, looks a bit like the cross-section of a culvert.

The Water Centre, looks a bit like the cross-section of a culvert.

Studio Bell aka National Music Centre has a jazzy design.

Studio Bell aka National Music Centre has a jazzy design.

How about the Alberta Children’s Hospital that looks like the kids built it out of Legos?

How about the Alberta Children’s Hospital that looks like the kids built it out of Legos?

While this may look like a space ship has landed, in reality, it is the Career Exploration Centre, at Calgary’s Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, where Grade 9 and 10 students are invited to come and explore career options through different experiments.

While this may look like a space ship has landed, in reality, it is the Career Exploration Centre, at Calgary’s Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, where Grade 9 and 10 students are invited to come and explore career options through different experiments.

Calgary’s new Central Library and ‘80s Municipal Building create a strange couple.

Calgary’s new Central Library and ‘80s Municipal Building create a strange couple.

Calgary has too many parks. You can’t possibly visit them all.

Calgary boasts 5,200 parks including two of the largest urban parks in the world – Nose Hill Park and Fish Creek Park, both being over three times the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park or New York’s Central Park.  Calgary also boasts three of the most picturesque urban parks in Canada - Prince’s Island Park, St. Patrick’s Island Park and Memorial Park.  Oh, and don’t forget the previously mentioned skatepark in Shaw Millennium Park and Rotary Challenger Park, the latter specifically designed for people with special needs. 

If you are a dog lover (and who isn’t these days), Calgary is home to over 150 designated dog parks making it the “dog park capital of North America.”  If you are visiting and are missing your dog, head to River Park to get your “fix” with literally hundreds of dogs walking their owners from sun-up to sun-down year-round. 

And, if you like rock gardens, Calgary has two - the historic Reader Rock Gardens, a designated national historic site with its lovely café and the Senator Patrick Burns Rock Gardens next to Riley Park.   

And if you want to meet local gardeners, check out the kilometer long Botanical Gardens of Silver Springs, created and maintained by community volunteers. 

Link: Calgary: City of Parks & Pathways

Calgary’s green beach….

Calgary’s green beach….

The pond at Bowness Park is a great place to skate in the winter and paddle in the summer.

The pond at Bowness Park is a great place to skate in the winter and paddle in the summer.

Harvie Passage in the Bow River is popular with kayakers. It is next to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and close to the Calgary Zoo.

Harvie Passage in the Bow River is popular with kayakers. It is next to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and close to the Calgary Zoo.

Canada Olympic Park offers some fun activities.

Canada Olympic Park offers some fun activities.

River Park is a popular dog park year-round .

River Park is a popular dog park year-round.

Calgary has 905 km of multi-purpose pathways and 95 km of trails that are popular year-round.

Calgary has 905 km of multi-purpose pathways and 95 km of trails that are popular year-round.

In the summer, Calgary offers visitor two lovely rock gardens on the edge of the City Centre that are easy to get to by LRT.

In the summer, Calgary offers visitor two lovely rock gardens on the edge of the City Centre that are easy to get to by LRT.

Calgarians don’t know the difference between craft beer and arts & crafts.  

Not true. In fact, Calgary’s beer making history dates back to 1892, when the Calgary Brewery & Malting Co. was established in Inglewood (and it didn’t close until 1994). When it comes to artisan breweries, Calgary had one of Canada’s first, when Ed McNally opened Big Rock brewery in 1985. 

 Today, Calgary boasts 50+ craft breweries scattered around the city and just beyond.  Calgary is also home to several beer festivals including the Calgary International Beerfest and The Mashing Calgary.  The Craft Beer Market on 10thAve in the Beltline has 100 beers on tap, while one at Southcentre Mall has 120.  There is even an emerging Brewery Flats neighbourhood.

In addition, southern Alberta has 13 craft distilleries, including many award winners – one being Secret Barrel white rum which won silver at the 2018 New York Spirits Competition.  Downtown is also home to Calgary Co-op’s World of Whiskey, a unique store that sells 700 different whiskies, from the finest 60 year-old scotch to trendy Taiwanese and Japanese whiskey. 

Link: 17 Craft breweries to bring the gang to this summer

Calgary’s original craft brewery dates back to 1892.

Calgary’s original craft brewery dates back to 1892.

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Calgary has no cycling infrastructure.

While Calgary is no Amsterdam or Copenhagen when it comes to urban cycling infrastructure, it does have over 1,000 kilometers of mixed-use pathways. It even has the 138-km Rotary Mattamy pathways that encircles the city.  In the winter, over 400 km of paved pathways are cleared of snow.  

Three of the most popular rides - around the Glenmore Reservoir, along the Bow River from Harvie Rapids, through downtown to Edworthy Park and anywhere in Fish Creek Park. 

In 2019, Calgary will host the Winter Cycling Congress.  Local writer Tom Babin, literally wrote the book on winter cycling “Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling.”  

And, Calgary may well be home to the largest bike shop in North America - Bow Cycle.

Link: Could Calgary have the largest bike shop in North America?

Link: Frostbike Review

Link: 10 Epic Bike Pathways In Calgary

Calgary’s Riverwalk is such a popular cycling spot, these guys decided to set up a pop-up cafe.

Calgary’s Riverwalk is such a popular cycling spot, these guys decided to set up a pop-up cafe.

Families love Calgary’s 905 kilometres of multi-use pathways.

Families love Calgary’s 905 kilometres of multi-use pathways.

Lime Bikes set up shop in Caglary in 2018.

Lime Bikes set up shop in Caglary in 2018.

If you are a history buff, you will hate Calgary.

Sure, Calgary doesn’t have centuries old buildings and there haven’t been any world altering events happen, i.e. no wars, no great inventions and no really, really famous people were born here or lived here for long.  

But, yes we do have lots of history be it the Glenbow Museum or the National Music Centre, or how about Fort Calgary or Heritage Park with its antique car museum.  Did you know Calgary has the second largest War Museum in Canada?

Oh, and by the way, Calgary is home to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame with 2,000+ artefacts and 12 galleries. It is a must see for sports fans.

Stephen Avenue a national historic district with its collection of turn-of-the-century buildings is like a walk back in time as is Inglewood’s 9thStreet (aka Atlantic Avenue) a lovely historic main street full of shops, cafes, galleries and restaurants.  

Calgary is also home to a lovely collection of early 20th century local Paskapoo sandstone buildings, from the old city hall to schools and the quaint Memorial Park Library.  

Don’t you just hate all this history…

Link: Discover Calgary’s past and present on foot. 

The Glenbow Museum curates some fun exhibitions like this Paul Hardy exhibition that combines contemporary and historical fashions.

The Glenbow Museum curates some fun exhibitions like this Paul Hardy exhibition that combines contemporary and historical fashions.

Calgary War Museums

Calgary War Museums

Memorial Park Library opened in 1912 is a Carnegie Library.

Memorial Park Library opened in 1912 is a Carnegie Library.

Calgary Collegiate Institute, 1908

Calgary Collegiate Institute, 1908

There are no family-friendly tourist attractions in Calgary. 

Think again! The Calgary Zoo is one of Canada’s best family attractions because it is very walkable and has lots unique things for kids to see and do - panda bears and penguins. Telus Spark (Science Centre) is not only an architectural gem but also has some great kids’ activities including a unique outdoor playground.  Side by side on the northeast edge of the downtown, the pair make for a fun family day or weekend.   

Bonus – If you are staying downtown, add to the adventure by taking the quick and easy train ride to the Zoo or Telus Spark. In fact, riding the LRT trains for a few hours as it weaves its way around the city can be a very fun adventure in itself for young children. 

The Glenbow’s hands-on activity room and its historical and modern exhibitions are a great indoor family-friendly option.  

 In the summer, young families will want to check out Calaway Park with its 32 family-friendly rides just a few minutes west of the City.   

Link: Where Magazine: 50 Things To Do With Kids in Calgary 

Calgary Zoo’s penguin walk is very popular with families.

Calgary Zoo’s penguin walk is very popular with families.

The Calgary Zoo’s Prehistoric Park is also very popular.

The Calgary Zoo’s Prehistoric Park is also very popular.

Calaway Park is fun for young families.

Calaway Park is fun for young families.

Kids love Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame with its hands-on activities.

Kids love Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame with its hands-on activities.

There are no beaches, lakes or oceans.

Yes, Calgary is landlocked but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its share of fun water activities.  River surf at the base of the Louise Bridge, float or paddle the Bow or Elbow Rivers, or sail or row in the Glenmore Reservoir. 

And while we don’t have any white sand beaches, we have pebble beaches that can be a lot of fun. Who doesn’t like to throw rocks in the water?

 Link: 21 Water Activities To Try in Calgary

St. Patrick’s Island’s pebble beach is popular with families

St. Patrick’s Island’s pebble beach is popular with families

Harvie Passage is popular for kayakers.

Harvie Passage is popular for kayakers.

Or you can go for a leisurely paddle along with the Bow or Elbow Rivers.

Or you can go for a leisurely paddle along with the Bow or Elbow Rivers.

Just another summer Sunday on the Elbow River.

Just another summer Sunday on the Elbow River.

Calgary is a one horse town.

It used to be.  But today, Calgary has a full calendar of eclectic festivals from the High Performance Rodeo theatre festival (kicks off the year off each) to Calgary Expo, (one of Canada’s largest cosplay festivals), SLED Island (contemporary music and arts) to summer Blues, Folk, Afrikadey, Taste of Calgary and Country Thunder festivals.  In the fall there is Beakerhead (a unique mash-up of science, art, engineering), Artwalk, Tattoo & Arts and Wordfest.  And if you decide to come in December, Zoolights is spectacular.  

There are also several street festivals with the biggest being the Lilac Festival along 4th Street SW in Mission that attracts over 100,000 people. It’s Calgary’s rite of spring. 

While the Calgary Stampede Parade is the biggest parade in town, the Nagar Kirtan and the Calgary Pride parades are colourful fun attracting thousands of participants and tens of thousands of spectators.  

Link: Calgary’s Festival Fun For Everyone!

Calgary’s rite of spring, the 4th Street Lilac Festival

Calgary’s rite of spring, the 4th Street Lilac Festival

Calgary’s Arab community takes over Olympic Plaza ever summer. Calgary is the third most ethnically diverse city in Canada.

Calgary’s Arab community takes over Olympic Plaza ever summer. Calgary is the third most ethnically diverse city in Canada.

Shaw Millennium Park is busy every weekend in the summer with music and bike/skate festivals and competitions.

Shaw Millennium Park is busy every weekend in the summer with music and bike/skate festivals and competitions.

The shopping sucks.

 Maybe… if you are from a really big city or international tourist town, but Calgary holds its own with most cities.  There is downtown’s shopping corridor from the historic Hudson’s Bay department store to the modern Holt Renfrew designer department store. In between are over 200 shops.   

Chinook Mall is one of Canada’s biggest malls with Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Hudson’s Bay as the anchors for its 250+ stores.  The newest kid on the block is the CrossIron Mills outlet mall with 200+ specialty and outlet stores.  

If you are looking for local street shopping, you are in luck.  Calgary has several great local shops. In Inglewood there is Knifewear (Canada’s best selection of Japanese Knives) or Kent of Inglewood (“every man should have a stiff axe, a stiff cocktail and a perfect shave” says its website), NERD (a roller derby boutique), Circa Vintage Art Glass and Tea Traders to just name a few. 

Along 17th Avenue SW, you will want to check out Rubaiyat for its curated collection of home accessories and jewellery, Gravity Pope for unique shoes and fashions and Reid’s, a fun party/stationery store, as well as 100+ stores.  

In Kensington, don’t miss Livingstone & Cavell Extraordinary Toys, while in Mission, Masters Gallery is one of Canada’s best private art galleries and inspirati offers an expansive collection of fine linens. 

Link: Shopping In Calgary

Gravity Pope is a very fun place to shop, especially for shoes.

Gravity Pope is a very fun place to shop, especially for shoes.

Downtown’s The Core shopping centre with its huge skylight is three blocks long.

Downtown’s The Core shopping centre with its huge skylight is three blocks long.

CrossIron Mills is mega outlet shopping mall.

CrossIron Mills is mega outlet shopping mall.

Calgarians don’t know the difference between an espresso and instant coffee. 

Actually, that is not true. Calgary’s independent coffee culture dates back to the early 80s, well before Starbuck’s invasion.  In Kensington, Higher Ground café has been serving fine coffee since 1982, and The Roasterie has been roasting its own beans since 1984.  Café Beano has been a hit with Calgary’s bobo culture along Uptown 17thsince 1990.  

Today, Calgary is home to several homegrown roasters and cafes that make it one of the more interesting coffee cultures in North America. If you are a contemporary coffee aficionado, here are some caffeine hot spots. 

Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters started out as pop-up coffee shop at the Calgary Farmer’s Market in 2006. Today, is has several locations across the city including two unique sites in the downtown - one in the historic Hudson block on Stephen Avenue that it shares with the ATB bank/art gallery (how cool is that) and one in East Village’s trendy Simmons Building. 

In 2007, Café Rosso opened in the community of Ramsay in an old Dominion Bridge industrial building definitely off-the-beaten path. But they made it work and before you knew it, they had several locations around the city.  Not only that, in 2012 they started to experiment with roasting their own beans, which they now ship across Canada.  In 2018, one of the partners Cole Torode placed 5that the World Barista Championships.  Café Rosso, has a flagship café in the new National Music Centre.

In 2012, Jeremy Ho won the title of Best Barista in Canada and in 2014 his buddy Ben Put won the championship for the second year in a row, while working at Phil & Sebastian. Together they capitalized on their fame to create Monogram Coffee Co. that is both a custom roasterie and operates boutique cafes.

How to do you fix up the family’s tired old drug store? If you are Gareth Lukes, you add a café at the entrance, grocery in the basement, some shelves for records and other hip items and “voila” - hipster hangout.  This is exactly what he did in 2012 with the families Bridgeland drug store and he hasn’t looked back.   He was an early adopter of Portland’s Stumptown beans, but he continued to source new beans and still continues to do so.  He has just opened a flagship café in Calgary’s stunning new Central Library. 

If you are looking for an old school bohemian coffee house from the ‘60s, Calgary has two - Bell’s in Marda Loop and Weeds in Capitol Hill.  

 Link: Calgary: North America’s Newest Cafe City?

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Last Word

So, there you have it, 19 reasons NOT to visit Calgary in 2019.  

A big thanks to Buzzfeed for the idea for this satirical blog.  I saw their Twenty One Reasons You Should Never Visit Colombia and thought it would be fun to do something similar on Calgary.