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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lifestyle Curator?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Huge Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark on 10th rooftop patio includes a hot tub.

Mark on 10th rooftop patio includes a hot tub.

SODO’s communal kitchen area.

SODO’s communal kitchen area.

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

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

More Like Hotels  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laptop Generation 

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

If you like this book you will like these links:

Calgary vs Vancouver: Affordability & Liveability

New Condos Help Kensington Thrive

Calgary Condos: A Pop Of Colour

 

 

 

Calgary better than Vancouver for cycling?

“A friend emailed me your Calgary Herald article about the Beltline vs West End just now, and I loved it. While some might think your article pretty kind to the Beltline, I'd back your thesis that Calgary’s City Center communities are both very affordable and attractive compared to other major North American cities like Vancouver.” Roy Brander (Everyday Tourist reader)

He then goes on to say what makes Calgary’s City Centre so attractive is “the cycling is better than in Vancouver.”

Link: Calgary vs Vancouver: Affordability & Livability

It is a bit of free-for-all along Vancouver’s pathways says Everyday Tourist reader Roy Brander (photo credit: Roy Brander)

It is a bit of free-for-all along Vancouver’s pathways says Everyday Tourist reader Roy Brander (photo credit: Roy Brander)

Brander much prefers Calgary’s City Centre pathways because they are less busy and have separated pathways for cyclists and pedestrians in many cases. (photo credit: Roy Brander)

Brander much prefers Calgary’s City Centre pathways because they are less busy and have separated pathways for cyclists and pedestrians in many cases. (photo credit: Roy Brander)

Calgary’s City Centre Cycling network includes both dedicated bike lanes and multi-purpose pathways.

Calgary’s City Centre Cycling network includes both dedicated bike lanes and multi-purpose pathways.

Brander says…

From 2008 to 2012, my commute from Montgomery to the Water Centre in Manchester was through the Beltline.  So, I watched the Beltline grow up from just a few shops and bars to something that reminds me very much of Vancouver’s West End. I now live in Vancouver’s West End across the street from Stanley Park so I have a good appreciation of both.

As you stated the Beltline is "landlocked," not because of its lack of access to a waterfront, but also it has no easy access to a big park like Stanley Park, those who live in Vancouver West End do.  But there is a huge benefit to living in Calgary’s City Centre that I'm coming to appreciate more and more - the cycling.

Yes, Calgary’s City Centre is a better place to cycle than Vancouver’s!

For the most part, Calgarians seem to be able to share the river pathways.

For the most part, Calgarians seem to be able to share the river pathways.

Calgary’s City Centre river pathways are popular weekdays and weekends.

Calgary’s City Centre river pathways are popular weekdays and weekends.

Calgary’s City Centre pathways are child-friendly.

Calgary’s City Centre pathways are child-friendly.

Calgary’s pathways can get busy especially in the Eau Claire and East Village areas.

Calgary’s pathways can get busy especially in the Eau Claire and East Village areas.

What, am I mad? 

Vancouver is so pro-cycling.  How could Calgary be better?  What I miss is working up a sweat, which is not easy in Vancouver’s City Centre, especially starting from the West End.   Cycling in Stanley Park and along the famous seawall, from Canada Place to Stanley Park and around False Creek is frustrating - there isn’t enough capacity to handle all of the traffic. Meandering around tourists and recreational cyclists and pedestrians,means you are lucky if you can go 10 km/hr. 

Sure, one can work up a sweat going up and down hills in Stanley Park, but I quickly tired of it - Stanley Park is just over one square mile, and the cycling paths are few and far between - just a few kilometres.

By contrast, Calgary’s Bow and Elbow River pathways have the capacity to allow for cyclists to average 25 km/hr for most of their commute without endangering others. FYI, I often would stay late to avoid the rush hour cyclists and pedestrians.  My commute from Shouldice Park (through Lowery Gardens) to the Water Centre involved not a single light and rarely dropped below 20 km/hr. I arrived grinning at both work and home every day.

Calgary's pathway system is a remarkable achievement.   

While Calgary has just these two “thin strips” of water, nothing compared to Vancouver having the Fraser, False Creek, Burrard Inlet, and the Pacific Freaking Ocean, they have absolutely maximized the contact a Calgarian can enjoy with a green, fragrant river valley in a dry land that is brown for much of the year.

Because of our free place at my mother-in-law's place in Calgary’s Shawnee community, I still spend weeks at a time in Calgary, and last fall bought an "ebike" and I simply love it.  I still get the same workout, it doesn't make you lazy - it just allows a cyclist to cover more ground.   

I'm starting to question why would I bring my ebike to Vancouver because an ebike is best at covering long distances which Calgary’s pathway system allows.  When I visit Calgary now, I love taking 40 or 50 km trips from Shawnee to downtown and points north. Calgary, with all its hills, is perfect for an ebike - way better than Vancouver.   

I can hardly believe I said that.  Somewhere in Vancouver City Hall, a bike infrastructure coordinator is crying.

During my recent March/April stay in Vancouver, I didn’t find their pathways as busy as I thought they would be. This is a nice Sunday afternoon in Coal Harbour.

During my recent March/April stay in Vancouver, I didn’t find their pathways as busy as I thought they would be. This is a nice Sunday afternoon in Coal Harbour.

While the pathway near Canada Place was busy, there was still lots of room for everyone. However, I did notice there weren't a lot of cyclists, so maybe they just avoid the waterfront pathways.

While the pathway near Canada Place was busy, there was still lots of room for everyone. However, I did notice there weren't a lot of cyclists, so maybe they just avoid the waterfront pathways.

In My Opinion (Roy’s)

With the plans to redevelop Stampede Park, Beltline residents on the east side will have better access to the Elbow River pathway and those on the west side aren’t that far from Bow River pathway.  For most Beltliners, this means 7 months a year they can be on the pathway system in minutes and enjoy an experience that rivals Vancouver’s Stanley Park or Seawall for fragrance, green space and the sounds of moving water.

Richard, If you aren't a cyclist, partner with one and do an article on Calgary’s pathway system - it's a jewel!

When in Atlanta in the April 2018, I was shocked at the traffic along their Beltline pathway system. Its was the first time I have ever felt unsafe as a pedestrian. Cyclist when whipping by without any notice, Brenda was so uncomfortable she turned back after just 15 minutes. Unfortunately cyclist and pedestrians don’t mix well when multi-use pathways get busy.

When in Atlanta in the April 2018, I was shocked at the traffic along their Beltline pathway system. Its was the first time I have ever felt unsafe as a pedestrian. Cyclist when whipping by without any notice, Brenda was so uncomfortable she turned back after just 15 minutes. Unfortunately cyclist and pedestrians don’t mix well when multi-use pathways get busy.

Sunday afternoon on Atlanta’s Beltline pathway is chaos.

Sunday afternoon on Atlanta’s Beltline pathway is chaos.

Pedestrians in Calgary like to walk side-by-side while chatting often taking up the entire pathway and frustrating cyclists.

Pedestrians in Calgary like to walk side-by-side while chatting often taking up the entire pathway and frustrating cyclists.

Everyday Tourist Note:

While not an avid cyclist, I am a “fearless” cyclist (as defined in the City of Calgary’s 2011 Cycling Strategy (see chart below) as I am just as comfortable riding on city roads as I am on the pathways. I once cycled from Mount Royal University to my home in West Hillhurst via Crowchild Trail and would do it again if need be. 

I also do have family and friends in Calgary who are avid cyclists with at least one owning an ebike and have heard similar comments i.e. Calgary’s multi-use pathway system makes urban living in Calgary very attractive.  

Ironically, on the same day I got this email from Vancouver, I also received an email from a friend who was cycling with his son in New York City and he too said Calgary has a much better pathway system than NYC. This might surprise some, as NYC like Vancouver, is considered to be a leader in cycling infrastructure.

I realize Calgary’s pathway system and cycling infrastructure isn’t perfect, especially when it comes to sharing the pathways between those who are using them as a means of transportation and those who are out for a recreational ride or walk. However, it is better than many would have you think. 

Hmmm…perhaps I was right when I did my blog title “Calgary: Canada’s Bike Friendly City!” back in 2013.  

Link: Calgary: Canada’s Bike Friendly City

 

From City of Calgary’s 2011 Cycling Strategy

From City of Calgary’s 2011 Cycling Strategy

If you like this blog you might want to read the Calgary Herald piece that was the catalyst for Brander’s email to me:

Link: Calgary Herald: Calgary Affordability & Liveability 

 

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: Recreation Centre the new cathedral? 

With the opening of the 330,000 square foot Brookfield Residential YMCA at SETON Calgary now boasts the largest and second largest YMCAs in the world. Yes, the world!  The second largest is also in Calgary - Shane Homes YMCA at Rocky Ridge which opened in January 2018.   

 Both are more than just a YMCA, they serve as a mega community centers. 

The roof of the Repsol Sports Centre evokes a celestial sense of place.

The roof of the Repsol Sports Centre evokes a celestial sense of place.

The Shane Homes at Rocky Ridge entrance has a huge circular opening that links earth and sky.

The Shane Homes at Rocky Ridge entrance has a huge circular opening that links earth and sky.

Remington YMCA at Quarry Park has a heavenly glows at night.

Remington YMCA at Quarry Park has a heavenly glows at night.

Recreation: The new religion?

In my opinion, recreation amenities are the key to creating successful communities today. More so than a grocery store, retail or restaurants. Why? Because in Calgary, recreation plays the biggest role in our everyday lives.  Most families have their kids in two or three recreational activities at any given time and weekends are spent at one or more recreation centres. Singles and young couples love to go to the gym, swim or participate in a yoga or spin class several times a week.  

It is almost like fitness is the new religion. 

My parents and grandparent’s generation never went to a gym, but nearly all of my friends 55+ years of age are actively engaged in recreational activities several times a week.  As for grocery shopping, we fit that in once or twice a week often on the way to or from recreational activities. 

This is just one of several new private fitness studios that have opened up in Calgary’s trendy Kensington Village recently. The new University District community has already signed up a couple of fitness operators for their Main Street.

This is just one of several new private fitness studios that have opened up in Calgary’s trendy Kensington Village recently. The new University District community has already signed up a couple of fitness operators for their Main Street.

In addition to hundreds of private gyms across the city, the new mega recreation centres also have mega workout rooms that are use by all ages.

In addition to hundreds of private gyms across the city, the new mega recreation centres also have mega workout rooms that are use by all ages.

Calgary is also home to numerous specialize private recreational facilities like this major climbing centre. Facilities like this didn’t exist in Calgary or any Canadian city 40 years ago.

Calgary is also home to numerous specialize private recreational facilities like this major climbing centre. Facilities like this didn’t exist in Calgary or any Canadian city 40 years ago.

Recreation Centre: The New Cathedral

It is isn’t no coincidence the naming sponsor for many of Calgary’s new suburban YMCAs are real estate developers or home builders, as they realize the recreation center is to Calgary’s suburban communities, what the cathedral and historic town square is to European city centres. It is the gathering place for almost everyone living in the surrounding communities.  And like the European cathedral, the new centres are also architectural wonders. 

When I chat with suburban developers about urban development issues and trends they often remind me “they are not in the business of building homes, but developing communities.”  While having a park, playground and pathways used to be sufficient for creating new communities, today having a mega multi-use recreation centre is a must. 

In fact, I am surprised Calgary’s new inner-city communities - Currie, East Village and University District - don’t have a boutique recreation centre as part of their master plans. To be fair, both are very close to post-secondary campuses with large recreational facilities that might be used by residents.

Some of Calgary most contemporary architecture is its recreation centres, like Shane Homes at Rocky Ridge YMCA.

Some of Calgary most contemporary architecture is its recreation centres, like Shane Homes at Rocky Ridge YMCA.

Several older recreation centres have major plans for expansion like this one for VIVO, which will enhance its role not only as a regional gathering place for all ages and backgrounds, but as the most architecturally significant building in the community.

Several older recreation centres have major plans for expansion like this one for VIVO, which will enhance its role not only as a regional gathering place for all ages and backgrounds, but as the most architecturally significant building in the community.

Not A New Idea

Indeed, Calgary’s home builders have a long history with sponsoring community recreation centres.  The Trico Centre opened in 1983 as the Family Leisure Centre (they were called leisure centres back then), and was called that until 2008 when Trico Homes purchased the naming rights for $1.5 million.  Today, the 150,000 square feet building attracts over 1 million visitors per year. 

Backstory: The original building cost only $9.4 million dollars (there are single family homes that cost more today), but the 2010 addition of a new arena and other renovations cost $17.2 million.  While the Trico Centre doesn’t have a library inside, the Fish Creek Park Library sits next door and Southcentre Mall is across the street, creating a community hub. 

The South Fish Creek Complex, which opened in phases beginning in 2001, combines the Bishop O’Byrne High School, Shawnessy YMCA, Shawnessy Library, Chinook Learning Centre and South Fish Creek Recreation Association.  Then in 2015, the Association entered into a 10-year naming rights partnership with Cardel Homes, becoming Cardel Rec South.  

Cardel Place opened in 2004 in north-central Calgary and quickly become the heart and soul of Calgarians living in the city’s north central suburbs.  After the ten year naming relationship with Cardel Homes expired, both parties amicably agreed it was time for a new name. As a not-for-profit community facility, it was decided the new name needed to reflect its new vision of “raising healthier generations.” “VIVO” a Latin word meaning “with life and vigour,” was chosen with the subtext “for Healthier Generations.” 

In the northeast, the Genesis Centre opened in 2012 and quickly became the “living room” for over one million visitors each year from Calgary’s northeast communities. Genesis Land Corporation contributed five million dollars for the naming rights as part of the community’s $40 million dollar fundraising campaign for the $120 million, 250,000 square foot building. 

Another slightly more modest 94,000 square foot, Remington YMCA in Quarry Park opened in September 2016.  FYI: Remington Development is responsible for the ambitious vision of converting a gravel pit into a new master-planned, mixed-use urban community that integrates a major employment district (Imperial Oil moved its head office there in 2014) with a retail/recreational district and a residential district with a mix of single-family and multi-family homes.  

I am surprised a home builder hasn’t attached its name to the Westside Recreation Centre which opened in 2000 and ten years later completed a major renovation. 

Westside Recreation Centre’s indoor public skating rink.

Westside Recreation Centre’s indoor public skating rink.

While Calgary has no beaches, it does have numerous pools, many with waterslides and a few with wave machines.

While Calgary has no beaches, it does have numerous pools, many with waterslides and a few with wave machines.

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Last Word 

In the mid 20thcentury, separate buildings for arenas, indoor pools and other recreational activities were scattered around the city, rather than centralized. And, developers were busy building lakes and golf courses as the recreational amenities to attract home buyers. 

Today, there has been a paradigm shift to creating mega, integrated multi-user community centres that include not only an indoor arena with a couple of sheets of ice, but perhaps a curling rink, a couple of gyms, a pool, with separate areas for families and lane pool swimmers, as well as public library, art, dance, martial arts and yoga studios and meeting rooms.  

Caglary still has hundreds of outdoor community rinks like this one.

Caglary still has hundreds of outdoor community rinks like this one.

As one friend said to me recently, “we’ve come a long way from the neighbourhood outdoor skating rinks and pools with perhaps a small building as a change room.”  

Others have asked, “Is this a good thing?”

Today, the City and developers are thinking about community not as individual neighbourhoods based on subdivisions or even quadrants, but rather as districts based on logical boundaries like major roads, transit routes and geographic features.  

As Bob Dylan said in 1964, “For the times they are a-changin’.”  

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

Is Calgary the recreational capital of Canada?

Shane Homes Rocky Ridge YMCA: Architecture Gone Wild?

Calgary: Playgrounds gone wild

  

 

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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