Sunalta: Ripe For Redevelopment!

While Calgary’s Beltline (i.e. the community south of the CPR tracks) gets most of the attention as downtown’s funky bedroom community, Sunalta south of the tracks and west of 14th Street SW (some think of it as lower Scarboro) is quietly evolving into a hip City Centre community.  

Rumour has it the name is a contraction of “Sunny Alberta.”

Robots & Pencils front yard is very fun.

Robots & Pencils front yard is very fun.

The Sunalta Community Centre makes a bold statement with its farm-like architecture and colour.

The Sunalta Community Centre makes a bold statement with its farm-like architecture and colour.

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Mishmash?

For many Calgarians, their image of Sunalta is a mishmash of small residential and commercial buildings, viewed while driving along 10th, 11th, and 12th Avenues. However, venture south of 12th Avenue you will find charming tree-lined streets with lovely century homes, reflecting Sunalta’s history which dates back to the early 20th century when the CPR extended the city’s boundaries westward.  

Currently, Sunalta is home to 3,215 Calgarians (2016 census) most of whom are singles or couples without children. It is home to the historic Sacred Heart Church, Calgary Tennis Club, Sunalta School and Sacred Heart Church.  Its LRT Station is perhaps Calgary’s most dramatic station, rising 15 meters (five storeys) above the street.   

One Way Foods & Deli is just one of Sunalta’s fun hidden gems. Best banana bread in town!

One Way Foods & Deli is just one of Sunalta’s fun hidden gems. Best banana bread in town!

It is hoped that in the future the Sunalta LRT station and plaza will become a hub for a vibrant 10th Ave Main Street.

It is hoped that in the future the Sunalta LRT station and plaza will become a hub for a vibrant 10th Ave Main Street.

New mural at the Sunalta LRT Station

New mural at the Sunalta LRT Station

Sacred Heart Church add as nice historical element to Sunalta.

Sacred Heart Church add as nice historical element to Sunalta.

Sunalta is an incubator for small businesses.

Sunalta is an incubator for small businesses.

Sunalta has perhaps the best tree canopied streets in Calgary.

Sunalta has perhaps the best tree canopied streets in Calgary.

Sunalta is home to dozens of charming two-storey century homes that fit nicely with the contemporary new infills.

Sunalta is home to dozens of charming two-storey century homes that fit nicely with the contemporary new infills.

Calgary Tennis Club Cafe is a hidden gem.

Calgary Tennis Club Cafe is a hidden gem.

10th Ave SW Arts & Craft District

Did you know Sunalta has its own arts hub? The block west of 19th St SW along 10th Avenue is home to West Village Theatre, EMMEDIA Gallery & Production, Motion Gallery, Quickdraw Animation Society and Ghost River Theatre.  Rubiayat Stained Glass Studio, Levis Fine Art Auctions, Appraisals & Art Storage, as well as one of Calgary best contemporary private galleries - Herringer Kiss Gallery are all located along or near 10th Avenue. And the Pumphouse Theatre is just the other side of Bow Trail. 

You know a community is on the rise when it gets its own craft brewery. Two House Brewing Company (opened in July 2019) at 1516 - 10th Ave offers an attractive patio, as well as great beer and food.

FYI: The name comes from the two historic homes – McCall and McIntosh – that front the large warehouse where the brewery is located. 

Two House Brewhouse is a great addition to Sunalta’s urban playground.

Two House Brewhouse is a great addition to Sunalta’s urban playground.

Back alley entrance to the West Village Theatre space. This building includes several other arts groups.

Back alley entrance to the West Village Theatre space. This building includes several other arts groups.

Truck Gallery’s Contemporary Art Mobile Public Exhibition Rig is parked in the same alley.

Truck Gallery’s Contemporary Art Mobile Public Exhibition Rig is parked in the same alley.

Millennial Appeal

The Sentry Box is a mecca for gamers and those interested in fantasy, science fiction, military games, books and miniatures.  Stocking over 100,000 different items, it is Canada’s largest gaming store.  

A hidden gem on 10th Avenue is All Season Motorsports a boutique shop offering numerous different sports rentals – motorcycles, sea-doos, ski-doos, ATVs, dirt bikes and scooters.

And, while 14th Street from 10th Avenue to 17th Ave SW is currently an eclectic collection of businesses, it has the potential to become a fun restaurant row – with Cluck N Cleaver, Ke Charcoal Grill & Sushi and Boyd’s Lobster Shop on the Sunalta side of the street.  

Businesses like SmartyPantz Escape Room, Zoe’s (Thrift) Store, Tri It Multisport (boutique sports equipment store) and Robots and Pencils (app developer) are all indicators that Sunalta has millennial appeal. 

The newest development is the opening of a Mediterranean corner store, Tiba’s Grocery and Convenience, in the old Fair’s Fair bookstore location at the corner of 17th Ave and 14th Street SW.  

Obviously Sunalta, has lots to offer in the way of “a place to live” amenities for millennials and even some empty nesters too. 

Sentry Box is huge. If they don’t have, you don’t need it!

Sentry Box is huge. If they don’t have, you don’t need it!

Robots & Pencils’ front yard is a reminder that Sunalta is home to numerous fun, funky and quirky small businesses.

Robots & Pencils’ front yard is a reminder that Sunalta is home to numerous fun, funky and quirky small businesses.

Show us the development

One would have thought the opening of the Sunalta LRT Station in 2012 would have been the catalyst for high-rise residential development by now.  But to date there has been no major new development. 

This could soon change as former Mayor Dave Bronconnier is championing a major project at the corner of 14th St and 10th Ave SW – i.e. a two tower residential building with retail at street along 10th Ave SW.  The project would add 353 new homes, including 71 affordable homes.  

The proposed development fits with Sunalta’s current Area Redevelopment Plan which calls for 10th Ave to become a pedestrian main street with the LRT Station plaza and the Sunalta Community Centre Park as its public spaces. 

And, further south on 14th St SW at 17th Avenue, the Arlington Group is working on getting approval for Sentinel another two tower residential development on the northwest corner where the funky blue roofed Condon Building currently sits.  Its plan calls for the bottom two floors to be retail (including grocery store) with 600 new residential homes above.  

These two residential developments alone could add up to 1,500 new residents to Sunalta, as well as new retail, restaurant and café spaces – game changers for Sunalta. 

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Link: Arlington’s Sentinel Project

Last Word

While no major new residential construction has started yet, Jenn Balderston, Sunalta Community Association’s Executive Director says “both developers have been great at engaging the community about their plans and being transparent.” And she is pleased they “have included retail at street level and are paying attention to enhancing the public realm by widening sidewalks, having great lighting, greenery, bike parking and street patios.”

Balderston is quick to note while Sunalta lacks a big grocery store, ”One Way Foods” is more than just a convenience store - it is a popular grocer for many Sunaltans! She encouraged me to try their famous banana bread, which I plan to do.  

Indeed, Sunalta is ripe for redevelopment. 

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, October 5 2019.

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Strathmore: Amazing Amenities!

When it comes to Calgary’s bedroom communities you don’t hear as much about Strathmore, as say Airdrie, Cochrane, Okotoks or Chestermere, however, it has slowly and quietly evolved into Calgary’s most complete bedroom community. 

I was recently invited to come out and tour the town by Justin Rebello, Manager of Development Services to see for myself what the community has to offer.  I jumped at the offer.

Strathmore’s downtown already has shops, restaurants and patios at street level with office and residential above.

Strathmore’s downtown already has shops, restaurants and patios at street level with office and residential above.

Amazing Amenities

While Strathmore’s population is 13,528 (2018 Census) - about the same as Calgary’s Lake Chaparral, New Brighton, Signal Hill or McKenzie Lake communities - it has an incredible list of amenities including: 

  • 10 schools (K to 12) 

  • Bow Valley College 

  • 100 acres of parks and 23 km of pathways 

  • Hospital with 23 acute care beds, emergency, rehab and outpatient services 

  • Arena with hockey in winter, lacrosse, ball hockey and roller hockey in the summer

  • Aquatic centre 

  • Curling rink 

  • 18 hole golf course 

Special mention should be made of two unique recreational amenities - Strathmore Motor Products Sports Centre - a 53,000 square foot field housing two gymnasiums as well as an artificial turf field that allows for a multitude of activities including soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, basketball and rugby. It also boasts an elevated walking and running track.  

Strathmore Stampede Grounds is not only home to the second largest rodeo in Canada, but also the “Run with the Bulls,” an event which sees 70 participants compete with each other running alongside wild bulls in the infield.  Winner gets $1,000 and bragging rights until next year. 

And all this within a five by five kilometer square for 13,528 people.  Impressive! 

Strathmore offers an amazing array of amenities for a community that is only about 25 square kilometres.

Strathmore offers an amazing array of amenities for a community that is only about 25 square kilometres.

Strathmore’s Field House (one half)

Strathmore’s Field House (one half)

Strathmore’s Field House (other half)

Strathmore’s Field House (other half)

One of Strathmore’s 10 schools.

One of Strathmore’s 10 schools.

Strathmore’s Aquatic Centre

Strathmore’s Aquatic Centre

Wheatland Elementary School is often referred to by the students as the crayon box school because of the playful colours and shapes.

Wheatland Elementary School is often referred to by the students as the crayon box school because of the playful colours and shapes.

Yes Srathmore has its own skate park

Yes Srathmore has its own skate park

Strathmore’s Library

Strathmore’s Library

Strathmore is home to 100 acres of parks and 23 km of multi-use pathways

Strathmore is home to 100 acres of parks and 23 km of multi-use pathways

Strathmore’s Kinsmen Park is located at one of its downtown main streets.

Strathmore’s Kinsmen Park is located at one of its downtown main streets.

More than a bedroom community 

While 39% of Strathmorians drive into Calgary to work, the majority actually work in or near Strathmore.  Strathmore boasts 1.4 million square feet of commercial/retail space (larger than Chinook Centre).  It also has 748,000 square feet of industrial space, the equivalent of one of those huge warehouse buildings you see out by the Calgary airport. 

When it comes to major grocery retailers Strathmore has Tina’s No Firills, as well as Sobeys, Calgary Co-op and Walmart. And Its lovely downtown has two main streets with several restaurants and shops and lots of potential for more.  Rumour has it a craft distillery will open up in downtown soon. 

Strathmore’s Main Street.

Strathmore’s Main Street.

Strathmore’s downtown streetscape improvements are just the beginning of a major downtown renaissance.

Strathmore’s downtown streetscape improvements are just the beginning of a major downtown renaissance.

Downtown Strathmore’s modern architecture

Downtown Strathmore’s modern architecture

Champagne Country 

And yes, Strathmore has its own craft brewery - Origin - located in a light industrial area very similar to Calgary’s Manchester (aka the Barley District). Origin is unique in that it grows and malts its own barley which it uses not only to brew its beer, but sells to over 80 breweries including many of Calgary’s craft breweries. 

Link: Origin

I was told Alberta is considered “champagne region” for barley with its warm days, cool nights and good soil.  

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While we were the Eighty-Eight brewing boys were picking up their supplies.

While we were the Eighty-Eight brewing boys were picking up their supplies.

Entrepreneurial 

Strathmore is home to some very interesting entrepreneurial businesses, like Waterford Farms a 9,000 square-foot shrimp farm with a capacity to produce 100,000 pounds of shrimp per year.  And, Germany’s Solar Krafte is building a 40.5 megawatt solar farm on 320 acres of industrial land, which interestingly also includes planting of lots of flowers to allow existing beekeepers to keep their colonies on site. 

Bow Valley College has even set up an Entrepreneur Centre in the old downtown Co-op store.  

Did you know that Strathmore is home to G&S Airport Conveyor, an industry leader in implementing baggage handling systems in airports across North America.

Did you know that Strathmore is home to G&S Airport Conveyor, an industry leader in implementing baggage handling systems in airports across North America.

Strathmore is home to numerous small businesses and start-ups.

Strathmore is home to numerous small businesses and start-ups.

Place to live

Strathmore is comprised of 12 neighbourhoods including Lakewood, its newest community that includes a 16.5 acre lake with a 3.5 acre island, wraparound beach and a large grass area for picnics, games and a playground.  

Or you can choose to live in established neighbourhoods within easy walking distance to downtown shops, restaurants and cafes.  Strathmore has very ambitious plans for transforming its downtown into a vibrant pedestrian place.

If living near a park is what you are looking for, Kinsmen Park, at the east end of downtown, offers a dock for fishing, playground, walking paths and a new spray park. Future plans include more amenities like beach volleyball and tobogganing. 

Did you know Strathmore not only has the most affordable homes in the Calgary region, but also the second lowest property taxes (after Airdrie)? 

Link: Strathmore Living

Imagine having four major grocery stores just minutes away.

Imagine having four major grocery stores just minutes away.

Kinsmen Spray Park

Kinsmen Spray Park

Strathmore has numerous community events like the annual Downtown Night Market and lighting of the Christmas Tree.

Strathmore has numerous community events like the annual Downtown Night Market and lighting of the Christmas Tree.

Last Word

Strathmorians love to brag “almost everything we need is a 5 minute drive away.”  I can’t think of any community in the Calgary region that can match Strathmore’s impressive list of amenities 

It is also an easy commute for those working on Calgary’s east side, with the added bonus of not having to deal with the gridlock on Glenmore, Deerfoot or Crowchild Trails.  

As the City of Calgary continues to grow, it must do so in synergy with its neighbouring cities and towns. Calgary isn’t the only game in town when it comes to attractive places to live.

Link: Strathmore History

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in The Calgary Herald’s New Condo section on September 21, 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(December 2018, timessquarenyc.org)   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Calgary Telus Convention Centre also calls Stephen Avenue home.

The Calgary Telus Convention Centre also calls Stephen Avenue home.

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

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

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

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

Stephen Avenue Walk also has some quirky urban design features.

Stephen Avenue Walk also has some quirky urban design features.

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

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

Collage of just some of the Stephen Avenue patios.

Collage of just some of the Stephen Avenue patios.

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

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

But it still struggles. Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Avenue needs to be more quirky than corporate.

Stephen Avenue needs to be more quirky than corporate.

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

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

Stephen Avenue needs more fun things to see and do.

Stephen Avenue needs more fun things to see and do.

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

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

Tough Competition 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Changes Needed

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Great streets must capture the imagination of locals.  

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

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

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

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

While everyone seems excited that Stephen Avenue is getting a makeover by internationally renowned urban designers, I am less so. Why? Because I think Stephen Avenue Walk (SAW) needs more than a physical makeover.   

Full disclosure: I was involved in the management of SAW from 1995 to 2005 as the Executive Director of the Calgary Downtown Association.  

Yes, SAW needs to be redesigned to better accommodate, pedestrians, bikes, scooters and cars. And I truly wish Gehl Studio all the best in creating a better SAW design that will attract more Calgarians and tourists to want to play, live and work on our historic main street.  But don’t expect a new design to solve all of its problems.  

Stephen Avenue becomes very animated at lunch hour Monday to Friday when the weather is nice.

Stephen Avenue becomes very animated at lunch hour Monday to Friday when the weather is nice.

Needs Unique Merchants

What SAW needs most is more diversity of things to see and do. Over the past 20 years, it has evolved into a restaurant row for the business community i.e. a lot of high priced expense account restaurants.  Many of the restaurants don’t even open during the day on weekends. Some of the restaurants are so exclusive they have windows so dark they look closed even when they’re open.  And, more recently chain restaurants like Earls, Milestones and Cactus Club have unfortunately become SAW’s anchor restaurants - all available elsewhere so no need to come to SAW. 

What SAW needs are new merchants and property owners who are less corporate and conservative in their thinking.  Calgary-based Sport Chek missed a golden opportunity to create a flagship concept store on SAW. Instead, they created a suburban store that captured nobody’s interest. 

Stephen Avenue needs more unique things to see and do which hopefully with happen with the mega makeover of the old Scotia Bank pavillion a the corner of 2nd street.

Stephen Avenue needs more unique things to see and do which hopefully with happen with the mega makeover of the old Scotia Bank pavillion a the corner of 2nd street.

Needs less restaurants

Gone are retailers like Soundsaround, McNally Robinson, Arnold Churgan, Riley McCormick and Out There.  The addition of Simons department store in the Lancaster Building is great, but it has a poor entrance to SAW.  As well, you can easily walk by Banks Hall and The Core entrances on SAW and not know there are 150+ retailers inside.  I have had many a tourist ask me “Where are all the shops?” when they were standing next to Bankers Hall and TD Square!  Even Hudson’s Bay has leased out its SAW street frontage to an upscale restaurant, so it’s not obvious is a department store inside. 

One of my biggest pet peeves is that retailers like Indigospirit, Winners and Lammle's Western Wear rarely change their windows and while Holts and Brooks Brothers windows, are too conservative to capture anyone’s attention. The retail windows along SAW at Stampede this year were lame and the same holds true at Christmas.  

SAW’s current mix restauranteurs, retailers and property owners do very little to create a unique experience.  The street is too conservative, too corporate and too contrived to be funky or quirky.   

The new owners of Stephen Avenue Place are looking at creating a unique entertainment experience in the old Scotia Bank pavilion - I hope they are successful. 

The Guild’s patios along Stephen Avenue is inviting in the summer but not so much in the winter. It hides the fact that there is a major department store behind it.

The Guild’s patios along Stephen Avenue is inviting in the summer but not so much in the winter. It hides the fact that there is a major department store behind it.

This entrance doesn’t say there is a major shopping centre inside unless you go right up to the doors.

This entrance doesn’t say there is a major shopping centre inside unless you go right up to the doors.

Simons doesn’t take advantage of its corner location to create an inviting entrance for Stephen Avenue pedestrians - too many blank windows.

Simons doesn’t take advantage of its corner location to create an inviting entrance for Stephen Avenue pedestrians - too many blank windows.

Needs Funky Signage 

What will help Stephen Avenue is for the City to relax their signage rules to allow more neon signs, more advertising billboards, to add colour and animation to the streetscape. 

SAW needs is to have the happiest happy hours in North America, a great live music scene, and some mega new anchors unique to Calgary. Stephen Avenue needs to have its own signature event – what about a huge summer sidewalk sale or patio party? 

It would be great to have more neon signs on Stephen Avenue, but we have to loose the black, blank windows. It almost looks like it is closed. Surely the windows could be used to better advantage.

It would be great to have more neon signs on Stephen Avenue, but we have to loose the black, blank windows. It almost looks like it is closed. Surely the windows could be used to better advantage.

Needs More Residential 

What SAW needs most is more residential and hotel development nearby. Though Telus Sky and the Baron Building conversion will add a few hundred more people, what is really needed is thousands, tens of thousands of people living along or near Stephen Avenue.

What would be best for Stephen Avenue would be if all of the surface parking lots along 9th Avenue were suddenly transformed into residential towers.

While I am sure some want to ban vehicle traffic on SAW 24/7,  I think doing so would be a huge mistake.  Pedestrian malls were tried in the ‘70s and ‘80s across North America and failed. Sure this is a different time, but great streets most often are multi-modal i.e. accommodate cars, transit, pedestrians and cyclists all sharing the space. Both Denver’s 16th Street Mall and Minneapolis’ Nicolet Mall are examples of successful incorporation of pedestrians and transit. 

Stephen Avenue will become the backyard for those living at the new Telus Sky tower.

Stephen Avenue will become the backyard for those living at the new Telus Sky tower.

What Stephen Avenue needs is for the 9th Avenue surface parking lots to be converted into thousands of homes for residents who would adopt Stephen Avenue as their urban playground.

What Stephen Avenue needs is for the 9th Avenue surface parking lots to be converted into thousands of homes for residents who would adopt Stephen Avenue as their urban playground.

Traffic 24/7 in the winter

Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes Calgary planners made was segregating transit to 7thAvenue, pedestrians to 8thAvenue and cars to 6thand 9thAvenues. Look at some historic photos of Stephen Avenue and you will see a street bustling with street cars, horse and buggies, cars and lots of pedestrian traffic.  I think the new design should allow vehicle traffic 24/7 from November to March, when the patios are gone and there is lots of room on the sidewalks for pedestrians.  Merchants would benefit from having people next to their windows and the sidewalks would look more animated as pedestrians wouldn’t be scattered all over the road.  

SAW’s vitality is also hindered by it being Calgary’s Financial District – Bankers Hall, TD Square, Royal Bank Tower, TD Canada Trust Tower, Scotia Centre (now Stephen Avenue Place) – it is more like Wall Street and Bay Street than Queen Street or Robson Street.

And, while some like to blame the +15 system for the lack of street vitality, it too lacks vitality evening and weekends. 

Stephen Avenue was a bustling street early in the 20th Century with pedestrians mingling with street cars, automobiles and even horse and buggies. Perhaps we have too many rules governing how we use Stephen Avenue aka Eight Avenue.

Stephen Avenue was a bustling street early in the 20th Century with pedestrians mingling with street cars, automobiles and even horse and buggies. Perhaps we have too many rules governing how we use Stephen Avenue aka Eight Avenue.

There are too many banks at key corners along Stephen Avenue, although that is changing.

There are too many banks at key corners along Stephen Avenue, although that is changing.

This door way is purely ornamental.

This door way is purely ornamental.

This is The CORE shopping centre on a summer Saturday afternoon. Not exactly a busy place.

This is The CORE shopping centre on a summer Saturday afternoon. Not exactly a busy place.

Needs more clutter 

 Great pedestrian streets are messy and cluttered, filled with small UNIQUE shops, restaurants, cafes, lounges and pubs, with a mix of office, hotel and residential buildings and signature anchor tenants.  Sometimes you have to face reality – SAW is in the middle of a 40 block office district, in a harsh winter city! 

Don’t give me the argument Scandinavians cities are also winter cities. They don’t get weeks of -30 Celsius and snow that lingers for months on end. And, they don’t have high-rise buildings that result in streets that get no sun for six months of the year like Stephen Avenue.

We have tried winter festivals on Stephen Avenue several times since the 1988 Winter Olympics with little success.

We have tried winter festivals on Stephen Avenue several times since the 1988 Winter Olympics with little success.

It would be great to get a Starbucks Reserve on Stephen Avenue, even better would be to have one of Calgary’s own roasters create a signature Stephen Avenue Walk cafe that is open 18/7.

It would be great to get a Starbucks Reserve on Stephen Avenue, even better would be to have one of Calgary’s own roasters create a signature Stephen Avenue Walk cafe that is open 18/7.

Last Word

The reality is SAW thrives when downtown’s corporate Calgary thrives. And right now corporate Calgary is struggling to survive. 

Note: An edited version of this blog was published by Live Wire, Calgary’s 21st century online community news publication.

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

Downtown Calgary’s Power Hour

Downtown Living Is Cooler Than You Think!

Downtown Calgary Needs To Be More Fun!

Downtown Spokane More Fun than Downtown Calgary

 

Condo Living RNDSQR: No Cookie-cutter Condos! 

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

These are definitely not cookie-cutter condos.

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

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

RNDSQR Award Winners

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

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Creating A Community 

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

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

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

Grow is currently under construction.

Grow is currently under construction.

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

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

Conceptual rending of roof top gardens.

Conceptual rending of roof top gardens.

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

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

Courtyard Y33 (CY33) 

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

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

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

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Last Word

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

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

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

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

Live Wire: Marda Loop Diving Into Densification

Altadore: Opportunity to create ideal 21st century community!

Marda Loop Madness



Condo Living: Lessons Learned From Vancouver Airbnb

After spending a month living in a condo (Airbnb) in downtown Vancouver I learned several lessons about what to look for in an urban condo when I eventually decide to move from my single family home.  

One of the things I found attractive about Longsdale was that many of the new condos were a block or two off of the main street, away from the noise and traffic.

One of the things I found attractive about Longsdale was that many of the new condos were a block or two off of the main street, away from the noise and traffic.

Here they are: 

First thing I would do is check to see how far away is the closest fire/police station and emergency hospital and if I am on an emergency route as sirens at all times of the day and night can get annoying.  This is perhaps not as big a concern in modern buildings if they have good windows. Always good to double check what kinds of windows your condo has.  We were near both a fire station and hospital which meant lots of sirens at all times of the day and night.

Speaking of noise, you probably don’t want to hear everything going on next door so getting an end unit or making sure the wall are sound proof is a great idea.  Living on the top floor also has the benefit that there is nobody walking on your ceiling. 

Next, I would look for where is the closest grocery store and is it one that I would be prepared to shop at regularly.  Part of the fun of urban condo living is being able to walk as much as possible. In Vancouver, we had an urban IGA store that had everything we needed and the prices were good.  We found the walk from our condo to the grocery store wasn’t much longer than the walk for the grocery store from the parking lot in many suburban malls. 

I would definitely want to have in-suite laundry facilities. While I did learn to share in kindergarten, sharing washing machines and driers with others is not something I want to do at my age.  Having some in suite storage is also a necessity, who want to go down to the parking garage all the time.   

I didn’t think having a gym was important to me, but I was wrong.  Our converted office to condo building had a gym in the basement that I found very convenient to use almost a daily basis.  

Also, I don’t think I want to live right on a busy street even if it is a main street with lots of shops and people.  It is just too noisy.  Living a block or two away from the main street creates a much better residential experience. 

I read somewhere that there is something like 30 grocery stores in Vancouver’s City Centre.  This two level IGA integrated into a residential building providing a human scale structure next to the pedestrian street.

I read somewhere that there is something like 30 grocery stores in Vancouver’s City Centre. This two level IGA integrated into a residential building providing a human scale structure next to the pedestrian street.

There was often a line up that snaked its way around the main floor of the IGA near our condo.  Their were often 10 or so cashiers open and the line-ups moved quickly as nobody had a shopping cart full of groceries.  It was all very civilized.

There was often a line up that snaked its way around the main floor of the IGA near our condo. Their were often 10 or so cashiers open and the line-ups moved quickly as nobody had a shopping cart full of groceries. It was all very civilized.

Mixed grocery stores and residential developments were also found in Kits and other Vancouver neighbourhoods.  The Whole Foods created an attractive pedestrian experience with a small plaza where we often found people chatting or people watching.

Mixed grocery stores and residential developments were also found in Kits and other Vancouver neighbourhoods. The Whole Foods created an attractive pedestrian experience with a small plaza where we often found people chatting or people watching.

Everywhere we went in Vancouver there were neighbour ethnic grocery stores that added colour and charm to the streets, as well as convenient shopping.

Everywhere we went in Vancouver there were neighbour ethnic grocery stores that added colour and charm to the streets, as well as convenient shopping.

Last word

Before you move into a condo or any new home for that matter you need to assess what you like to do most frequently.  

  • If you have dog and walk it daily, being close to dog park is important. 

  • If you like to hang out or work at a café, then being close to a good café is important. 

  • If you like to use the library regularly like my Mom does than being close to a library is most important.  

  • If you like live music than living in a community like Calgary’s Inglewood would make the most sense.  

I am a big fan of staying in Airbnbs while on vacation as a means of testing out what you REALLY need before downsizing to a condo, or buying a condo as your first home.

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

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

The rise and fall of the grocery store!

Calgary’s Grocery Store Saga

Calgary’s Italian Grocery Store Creates A Buzz!

Grocery Store as urban village hub!

Greater Vancouver developers are investing billions of dollars in the redevelopment of old shopping centres.  The focus is on repurposing them into a multi-use villages where people can live, play and work – not just shop.  

So, Instead of the old shopping mall template having two department stores anchoring each end, the new Leisure Centres (that is what they are being called) are more like traditional downtowns with an outdoor main street having a mix of restaurants, movie theatres, bars, fitness studios, concept stores(e.g. Apple and Nike) and yes, even some chain stores.  For example, the $2 billion redevelopment of Burnaby’s Brentwood Mall will not only have 250 shops, but 11 office and residential towers (and I mean towers - some are 60+ storeys). 

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Calgary Opportunities 

In Calgary, we have yet to see a major mall redevelopment that includes residential development.  Chinook, Southcentre and Market Mall have all seen major expansions but no residential added. In the case of Chinook and Southcentre, the most plausible scenario would for residential development on the huge surface parking lots near the mall and next to their LRT station.  With Market Mall having no access to LRT,  it is not ideal for higher density residential development. 

On the other hand, North Hill Center, Calgary’s oldest mall, is ripe for redevelopment given its proximity to the adjacent Lions Park LRT Station.  The closing of the Sears store and the huge surface parking lot on the east end of the mall create a unique opportunity for redevelopment. Unfortunately due to environmental contamination of the site from a former gas station and the current economy, it is unlikely we will see any redevelopment of this 12-acre site for many years.  On the upside, Concord Pacific, its new owner, has lots of experience in mega mixed-use urban development projects. 

The redevelopment of the Stadium Shopping Centre  though approved is on hold waiting for the economy to improve and the Cancer Centre to open. 

In Montgomery, the Safeway grocery store site would also be an ideal candidate for some residential development given its access to Shouldice Park and the Bow River Pathway. It could anchor the west end of Montgomery’s main street and be the catalyst for its revitalization.  

Indeed, there are dozens of old grocery store sites in Calgary’s established communities that could be converted into mini urban villages, helping established communities continue to thrive.  

The Safeway site in Montgomery is ripe for residential redevelopment.

The Safeway site in Montgomery is ripe for residential redevelopment.

Calgary Co-op: A Leader

Calgary Co-op, in partnership with Quarry Bay Investments (the Co-op’s residential partner)

has big plans to redevelop several of its grocery store sites in established communities.  

At Dalhousie, Co-op wants to construct a new 47,000 square foot food store, relocate its gas bar and convenience store, and add 40,000 square feet of new retail space for restaurants, shops and more. Two residential towers - one 22-storey and one 10-storey - will create 444 new homes.  There are plans for a rooftop greenhouse to be used by some of Co-op’s local produce suppliers.  This two-phase development, called The Boulevard at Dalhousie, will help transform the Dalhousie LRT Station into a true urban village with a strong transit orientation.  

In Oakridge, Co-op plans to build a 56,000 square foot food store incorporated into a two-storey retail and professional building, as well as four residential buildings - 13, 7, 6 and 4 floors high for a total of 249 new homes. It will be rebranded as Oakridge Crossing.  This redevelopment is synergistic with the new SW Bus Rapid Transit system currently under construction nearby. 

Two other Calgary Co-op inner-city store redevelopments - Brentwood and North Hill - are currently on hold until the Co-op, community and City can agree on a design that meets the needs of all three stakeholders.  

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Transforming established communities

It is multi-family residential-oriented infill projects in key locations like these that slowly but surely transform established communities into more walkable communities for all ages. 

Damon Tanzola, Calgary Co-op VP – Facilities Development and Real Estate believes these projects will not only help “differentiate us in a very competitive marketplace. As a major land owner in the City of Calgary, we recognize the opportunity to redevelop underutilized sites to provide for mixed use developments to engage our community and provide services to our members.”

If the City of Calgary is serious about wanting to increase the density and diversity of housing in its established communities, it should be fast tracking, maybe even providing incentives for, the redevelopment of all major grocery store sites that are nearing their best before dates. 

The Co-op’s Midtown Market in the Beltline has been the catalyst for numerous residential developments including the conversion of an office building to residential and a new 40+ storey residential high-rise.

The Co-op’s Midtown Market in the Beltline has been the catalyst for numerous residential developments including the conversion of an office building to residential and a new 40+ storey residential high-rise.

Last Word 

After living in Vancouver for a month this spring, I have a better appreciation for the convenience of living near a grocery store and how it increases how much one walks.   When I decide to move into a condo, I definitely will want to live near a grocery store…the closer, the better. 

IGA grocery store located at the base of a residential tower on Burrard St. at Smithe St. was a busy place morning, noon and night.

IGA grocery store located at the base of a residential tower on Burrard St. at Smithe St. was a busy place morning, noon and night.

Westman Village: Urban Resort Living

While many Calgary urbanists (myself included) sing the praises of the new master planned inner city developments (East Village, Currie or University District) and the densification and redevelopment of Beltline, Bridgeland, Kensington or Marda Loop, Westman Village in the suburb of Mahogany is not on our song sheet. 

I have followed the development of Westman Village for years and visited the site a few years ago when it was in its infancy, making a note to return when there was more to see.  Recently, I made the 25 km road trip from my Calgary home to wander the village and tour some of the amenities and condos.  

It was an eyeopener!

The high street….

The high street….

The sun room….

The sun room….

Communal patio….

Communal patio….

Westman Village 101 

Westman Village is the brainchild of Jay Westman, who formed Jayman Homes (now called Jayman BUILT) together with his father Alvin in 1980.  It is designed as a legacy to his father and the Westman family who, over the past 35+ years have become one of Calgary’s leading homebuilders. It is a unique development in North American - resort style living within the boundaries of a major city. 

By resort style, I mean you have access to a man-made lake almost outside your door. You also have access to a private 40,000 square foot recreation centre (aka community centre) with everything from a small library to a large demonstration kitchen, from a huge swimming pool complex to a mega wine cellar/tasting room.  There is also a 50-seat theatre space, as well as a room with pool tables and another with a golf simulator. It includes an arts and craft studio and a woodworking shop too. And yes, it has all the fitness equipment you will ever need.  

It is like living in a hotel – there is even a concierge to help you with whatever you need. 

The demonstration kitchen…

The demonstration kitchen…

The wine cellar/lounge…

The wine cellar/lounge…

The pool…

The pool…

Workshop….

Workshop….

Craft room…ceramics is big…

Craft room…ceramics is big…

Urban Village 

Just like those trendy new inner city urban villages, Westman Village has no single family homes, rather a cluster of low rise multi-family buildings around the recreation complex and its one-block main street. 

The main street is lined with shops and eateries like Analog Café and Diner Deluxe, as well as dental, medical and other services, all with residential above. It is a 10-minute walk to a major grocery store and other shops.

There is mix of housing types - from owner occupied to rental (you can even get a 10-year lease, which is great for empty nesters trying to manage their retirement finances).  There are small 600 square foot units, as well as larger 1,600+ square foot penthouse units over-looking the lake.  It even includes The Journey Club a seniors’ complex designed to offer everything from independent living and private assisted living, to memory care housing, allowing residents to age in place. 

The homes we toured were well designed, very modern and functional, including being wheelchair accessible. While most of the people we saw were 55+, I was told buyers range from 18 to 94 years of age.  

 Westman Village is not for everyone (heck, it’s not for me), but it is very attractive to many Calgarians. While touring the site, one woman voluntarily just said “I love living here!” and as we walked around, we constantly felt the sense of comradery and community.  

While other projects in the city are struggling, Westman Village is thriving. The retail spaces are 85% occupied and will be 100% by the end of the summer. The homes are selling out almost as fast as they can build them. All 860 homes will be completed by 2021 and are projected to be fully occupied by 2022.  

The pathway…

The pathway…

All ages street patio…

All ages street patio…

The high street…

The high street…

Last Word

A plaque on the façade of the Recreation Centre, with an image of Alvin Westman, says “the design and built form of our homes has been inspired by the belief that our journey through life changes every five years. We have set out to bring this inspiration to life. Westman Village is the culmination of everything experienced and learned – all in one place.”  

Having toured the village for two hours, I truly believe that!

An edited version of this blog was published in the Caglary Herald’s New Condo section on Saturday, July 27, 2019.

FYI: Some readers have recently asked me if my New Condo column is just propaganda for developers. To you, as with them, I reply all of the content in my columns are written without any influence by any developer or the Calgary Herald.  It is my opinion based on my research and knowledge. 

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

Calgary: Not your parents’ suburbs!

Can Calgary really cram 650,000 more people into existing neighbourhoods?

80% of Calgarians must live in the suburbs!

 

Dominion condo's design evolution

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

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Cold Calling Works

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

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

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

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

Radius condo

Radius condo

Three Tries…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Balcony vs Veranda

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

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

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Last Word

Maxime Laroussi

Maxime Laroussi

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

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

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

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

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

Bridgeland/Riverside Rebirth

Calgary Condos Add A Pop Of Colour

Welcome to the era of neuro-design

Road Trip: Postcards From Alberta's Badlands & Ghost Towns

This summer we decided to explore some of the off-the-beaten path places in southern Alberta. Our first adventure was to Drumheller (where we haven’t been for decades) and to some of the small town “main streets” along the way, as well as the Badlands.  

This road trip strengthen our resolve to think outside the “city.”

Public Art?

Public Art?

More public art?

More public art?

HOPE….found this book sculpture at the Salvation Army in Drumheller.

HOPE….found this book sculpture at the Salvation Army in Drumheller.

Everybody loves a train ride!

Everybody loves a train ride!

First Stop: Irricana (population 1,216) 

Its name is a contraction of the words “irrigation canals” which are found in the area.  Settlement dates back to 1909 and it was incorporated as a village on June 9, 1911, by which time it had a post office, hotel and general store operated by the Irricana Trading Company.  Today, though the store’s building is still standing, is abandoned and much of the Main Street consists of vacant lots making it look like a ghost-town. While there are some attempts to add some colour and charm with murals, it seems a bit futile.  

However, just outside of town on the highway #9, sits a fun installation of farm equipment mounted high up on posts promoting, Pioneer Acres, where I am told you will find a dozen buildings filled with unique exhibits and artifacts from the early prairie pioneers.  Too bad those buildings weren’t located in the town along Main Street. 

Link:Pioneer Acres https://www.pioneeracres.ab.ca

The Irricana Hotel a reminder of the community’s once bustling Main Street. Today “Old Smoky” stands guard. The plaque says the horse was fabricated by Kevan Leycraft and donated by Melvin Brown to commemorate his residence in Irricana since 1952. He passed away in 1997.

The Irricana Hotel a reminder of the community’s once bustling Main Street. Today “Old Smoky” stands guard. The plaque says the horse was fabricated by Kevan Leycraft and donated by Melvin Brown to commemorate his residence in Irricana since 1952. He passed away in 1997.

Main Street Irricana.

Main Street Irricana.

One of several large paintings attached to the sides buildings in downtown Irricana to add some colour and charm. These were done by artists Leona Fraser in 2009.

One of several large paintings attached to the sides buildings in downtown Irricana to add some colour and charm. These were done by artists Leona Fraser in 2009.

Second Stop:  Beiseker (population 819) 

Lying in a belt of rich black soil, Beiseker was developed as an agricultural service centre. It was founded by the Calgary Colonization Company, whose purpose was to promote settlement by demonstrating the grain-growing potential of the area. The village is named after Thomas Beiseker, a partner and vice president of the company. The surrounding area became known as "World Wheat King Capital" because of its ability to grow wheat. Today, a  small park at the end of main street tells the history of the town. It even has a tiny sod house that you can explore. 

The village began to grow in 1910 when the branch line of the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed. The Grand Trunk Pacific line - now owned by Canadian National Railway - was constructed in 1912 to the east of the central business district

With the construction and intersection of Highways 9, 72 and 806 being at the northeast edge of the village, Beiseker came to have a very favourable location in terms of road and rail access. Almost equidistant from Calgary and Drumheller, Beiseker began to emerge as a local service and trade centre for the surrounding rural agricultural area. 

Beiseker currently serves as a centre for local agricultural services including fertilizer, seed cleaning, and soil testing. There is a local UFA outlet, and a Canadian Malting Co. grain elevator serving farmers in the area. Local industries serve the oil patch.  

It is also home to the Canadian office of Lampson International, a large international company specializing in construction cranes and a biomedical incinerator which handles medical waste from hospitals in Alberta, Canada and internationally.  

Not unlike Irricana, wandering Beisker’s main street on a Saturday morning was akin to walking in a ghost town -  nobody on the streets, lots of the main street buildings are gone and those that remain look like they are struggling to survive.

Old and new, train station becomes City offices.

Old and new, train station becomes City offices.

It is hard to imagine that people actually lived year round in these tiny homes. Put the new “Tiny Homes” trend into perspective.

It is hard to imagine that people actually lived year round in these tiny homes. Put the new “Tiny Homes” trend into perspective.

If you wander around the residential streets your will find these fun gnome fire hydrants. We have seen these before in small Alberta towns. Not sure if this is an Alberta thing, prairie thing or small towns everywhere. They sure are fun.

If you wander around the residential streets your will find these fun gnome fire hydrants. We have seen these before in small Alberta towns. Not sure if this is an Alberta thing, prairie thing or small towns everywhere. They sure are fun.

We decided to have a coffee and pastry at Arcada Cafe….great cinnamon buns…and we almost missed the fact they have a vintage arcade room in the back. A must see for anyone into old arcade games.

We decided to have a coffee and pastry at Arcada Cafe….great cinnamon buns…and we almost missed the fact they have a vintage arcade room in the back. A must see for anyone into old arcade games.

Love the graphics on the old games….

Love the graphics on the old games….

Love the fun factor…

Love the fun factor…

Third Stop: Horseshoe Canyon Park 

 While not the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Canyon sits just off Hwy 9, 17 km west of Drumheller in the Canadian Badlands. It is an eye-popping sight. Stand at the edge of this huge U-shaped canyon and try to imagine what it was like when the dinosaurs roamed a lush sub-tropical habitat some 70 million years ago. Today, marked trails guide your wandering down into the canyon to get a closer look at the different soils, rock formations and plants. There are even helicopter rides available on-site.  The park is free and there is lots of free parking. 

Horseshoe Canyon

Horseshoe Canyon

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Fourth Stop: Drumheller (population 7,982)

When we first moved to Alberta in the early ‘80s, Drumheller was best known as the home of the Drumheller Institution (aka prison). Opened in 1967 as a medium security facility, a minimum security facility was added in 1997. Today, it has a capacity of 704 (582 medium security and 122 minimum security). The Institution provides a stable economic and employment base for Drumheller and surrounding area. 

In the late 1980s, Drumheller became famous as a center for dinosaur tourism and research with the opening of the Tyrell Museum in 1985 (it subsequently received “Royal” status in 1990.  Located 6 km northwest from Drumheller, the museum is situated in the middle of the fossil-bearing strata of the Late Cretaceous Horseshoe Canyon Formationand holds 130,000 fossil specimens from the Alberta badlands, Dinosaur Provincial Park and the Devil's Coulee Dinosaur Egg Site.  In the first year it attracted over 500,000 visitors from over 100 countries. Today, it averages about 350,000 visitors annually. 

We opted to skip the museum (a new exhibition had just opened and it was a zoo) to flaneur downtown Drumheller. To our pleasant surprise, the downtown has several charming shops, restaurants - even a Saturday farmers’ market.  What impressed us most is how the city has capitalized on the dinosaur theme with fun creatures at every downtown corner making for great photo ops. We encounter several families exploring the downtown taking photos of the kids with the dinosaurs.

Love these fun cartoonish characters waiting for you to sit beside them. Perhaps cities take their public art programs too seriously. People just want to have fun….perhaps big cities take their public art too seriously?

Love these fun cartoonish characters waiting for you to sit beside them. Perhaps cities take their public art programs too seriously. People just want to have fun….perhaps big cities take their public art too seriously?

Downtown Drumheller has an eclectic collection of shops to explore.

Downtown Drumheller has an eclectic collection of shops to explore.

Treasure hunters will enjoy Drumheller’s downtown art galleries and antique stores.

Treasure hunters will enjoy Drumheller’s downtown art galleries and antique stores.

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Couldn’t resist one more postcard of the fun benches. I preferred these to the World’s largest dinosaur (86 ft high and 151 feet long) that is located a few blocks from downtown.

Couldn’t resist one more postcard of the fun benches. I preferred these to the World’s largest dinosaur (86 ft high and 151 feet long) that is located a few blocks from downtown.

There are dinosaurs everywhere you look in Dumheller.

There are dinosaurs everywhere you look in Dumheller.

Drumheller has preserved a sense of past in its downtown.

Drumheller has preserved a sense of past in its downtown.

How clever? All of the streets have not only old names but new dinosaur names. How fun!

How clever? All of the streets have not only old names but new dinosaur names. How fun!

Just outside of Drumheller on the way to Wayne is Asterroid a must stop for those who like ice cream. No road trip is complete with out an ice cream cone.

Just outside of Drumheller on the way to Wayne is Asterroid a must stop for those who like ice cream. No road trip is complete with out an ice cream cone.

 Fifth Stop: Wayne (population 40)

Wayne, located 10 km southeast of Drumheller was once a thriving coal mining town whose population is estimated to have reached a high of 10,000 in 1932. The last mine closed in 1957 and today it is home to about 40 diehard souls. Half the fun of visiting Wayne is navigating a winding road with 11 (no word of a lie)  one-lane bridges along a moon-like landscape to get there. 

In its heyday, Wayne had a school, hospital, hotel, theatre and several stores along its main street.  Today, all that remains is the Rosedeer Hotel which surprisingly still operates as a hotel and its Last Chance Saloon, now a popular watering hole for touring motorcycle groups.  The hotel has only 6 rooms, each with a different theme – Titanic, Golf, Harley, Miners, Honeymoon and Music Room.  

The Saloon often has live music and hosts the annual WayneStock music festival (this year’s festival is from August 30 to Sept 2, 2019).  While we were there the Maybellines were playing the afternoon set – it was magical. 

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Sixth Stop: East Coulee (population 148) 

We “passed” on stopping at the Hoodoos Park just east of Drumheller and proceeded directly to East Coulee and the Atlas Coal mine (a national historic site) site 16 km east of Drumheller. Once home to about 3,000 residents, its heyday was between 1920s and 1950s when, like Wayne, the coal mines were excavating hundreds of thousands of tons of coal.  Today, the old school has been converted into a museum which also hosts an annual spring music festival “SpringFest.”  Unfortunately we arrived just after 5 pm too late to get into the museum. 

The streets of East Coulee are lined with huge trees, giving it an oasis-like feeling compared to the barren surrounding landscape. The tiny miners’ homes are a reminder of how early pioneers lived in modest small homes, each probably housed six or more people.

Nothing is left of its main street except one large building that has been converted into a studio for the manufacturing of dinosaur-related items for museums, movie studios, parades and theme parks.  There is also a small gift shop with a lovely garden.  

Just across the river from East Coulee is The Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site that operated from 1936 to 1979. It is the most complete historic coal mine in Canada and is home to the country's last standing wooden coal tipple. In fact, it’s  the largest still standing in North America. Designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 1989, it achieved  National Historic Site of Canada status in 2002. 

Various guided tour options exist. You can take a train ride through the site, walk up the tipple or tour the 210 foot underground conveyor tunnel. The facilities are open to visitors from May to Thanksgiving weekend. 

With not enough time to do a tour (we arrived 20 minutes before closing) we instead walked up the dead end road west of the parking lot where we had heard there was an art installation.  Sure enough, at the end of the road, stood dozens of five foot tall tree limbs with alien head-like nobs stuck in the ground with rock piles at their base to help them stay standing. Many of the limbs had various small trinkets hanging or sitting on them, creating a somber, graveyard sense of place.  There is no markings or signs indicating who did them, why there are there, which only adds to the mystique. 

You can hardly see the homes for the trees and shrubs in East Coulee. It is like time has passed this community by.

You can hardly see the homes for the trees and shrubs in East Coulee. It is like time has passed this community by.

We were shocked to find a gift shop in East Coulee.

We were shocked to find a gift shop in East Coulee.

All aboard….

All aboard….

Railway bridge from Atlas Coal mine to East Coulee and beyond.

Railway bridge from Atlas Coal mine to East Coulee and beyond.

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Atlas Coal mine site

Atlas Coal mine site

There is lots of mine artifacts next to the parking lot with information panels.

There is lots of mine artifacts next to the parking lot with information panels.

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Loved this coal dust sand box….

Loved this coal dust sand box….

Public Art?

Public Art?

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Seventh Stop: Rosebud (population 87) 

It was founded in the 1885 by James Wishart, while following the Gleichen Trail with his family on their way to Montana. Arriving in the dark, they awoke the next  morning to discover the river valley covered by wild roses- Alberta’s official flower. Wishart then reportedly said, "Here's the promised land; we go no further." 

The beauty of the valley has attracted many people throughout the years, from nature lovers to artists. Notable Canadian artists A. Y. Jackson and H. G. Glyde, members of the Group of Seven, spent the summer of 1944 painting in the area. 

 Over the years, farming and coal mining have been the primary industries. In 1972, the Severn Creek School was shut down as part of an Alberta-wide education consolidating process, forcing local children to be bussed to Standard and Drumheller.  This resulted in the closure of  many local businesses and the hamlet population dropping to under a dozen people. 

But at Easter 1973, a group of young adults from Calgary brought about 40 teenagers out and camped in the then empty mercantile building. This pilot event initially evolved into a summer camp funded by a grant from the Alberta government and then later, Rosebud Camp of the Arts supported by Crescent Heights Baptist Church in Calgary. 

In 1977, a high school was founded using the old buildings of the town as classrooms and emphasizing practical visual, music and the performing arts in its curriculum. In the 1980s, Rosebud School of the Arts began to operate theatre, which eventually developed into Rosebud Theatre and the school shifted its emphasis to post-secondary education. 

Today, Rosebud Theatre runs as a fully professional company that offers programming year round and is a tourist attraction drawing patrons largely from Calgary and Drumheller.  It has a few shops, an art gallery and an excellent museum along its two main streets.  There were probably a dozen people wandering the streets while we were there. There are even an inn and bed & breakfast accommodations for those not wanting to drive home after the theatre. 

While tourism might save Rosebud, it can’t save every small town and village in Alberta. 

Link: Rosebud Theatre 

Link: The Hamlet of Rosebud 

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The old hotel is now the offices for the Rosebud Theatre.

The old hotel is now the offices for the Rosebud Theatre.

The Rosebud Museum/Library has an extensive collection of early 20th century artifacts documenting the life of the early prairie settlers. Admission is FREE.

The Rosebud Museum/Library has an extensive collection of early 20th century artifacts documenting the life of the early prairie settlers. Admission is FREE.

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In the Library…the tag reads “Tailored by Suzanne est. 1952. Dress donated by Minnie Neufeld (Ziegler). Worn during the time Minnie waitressed for the Carolina a well-known restaurant in downtown Calgary. Off duty standards for dress and behaviour were very strict. No gum chewing, spitting or swearing in public.

In the Library…the tag reads “Tailored by Suzanne est. 1952. Dress donated by Minnie Neufeld (Ziegler). Worn during the time Minnie waitressed for the Carolina a well-known restaurant in downtown Calgary. Off duty standards for dress and behaviour were very strict. No gum chewing, spitting or swearing in public.

While wandering the streets we found this house with an elaborate model railway in the front yard. The house next door was in the process of being remodelled to sell model railway pieces.

While wandering the streets we found this house with an elaborate model railway in the front yard. The house next door was in the process of being remodelled to sell model railway pieces.

Lesson Learned

On our way home, we chatted about how this road trip was a good reminder of how Alberta and the prairies have evolved over thousands of years from roaming dinosaurs, to nomadic indigenous people, to agricultural and resource pioneers (first coal, then oil and gas), to today’s corporate farming and resource development.  

It is good for us city folks to get out and explore the real towns and villages (not just the tourist attractions and tourist towns - aka Banff and Canmore) to get a better perspective of the world we share.  While much of the media attention these days is about the urbanization of Canada and decline of rural living, there are still a significant number of people living in rural Alberta communities - 656,048 according to 2016 Census of Canada.

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

Flaneuring Fun In Maple Creek

Delacour: Ghost Town or Golf Town

Meeting Creek: Ghost Town Could Be Art Town

Calgary Stampede 2019: Have We Lost That Luvn Feeling Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

Stampede 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kudos To Some

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

If you like thing blog you will like these links:

Stampede Park 2025

Flaneuring Calgary Stampede Poster Parade

Stampede Park: Art Gallery & Museum

Calgary: Needs to foster more "Transit Oriented Communities"

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

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

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

The answers were very insightful and informative….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is TOD?

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

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

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

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Calgary lags behind

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link: 21 Major Developments Plan Near SkyTrain Stations

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

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

The Metrotown Station is very inviting at ground level.

The Metrotown Station is very inviting at ground level.

Metrotown office towers.

Metrotown office towers.

Metroopolis shopping centre has mostly underground parking.

Metroopolis shopping centre has mostly underground parking.

Metropolis entrance by car.

Metropolis entrance by car.

Metrotown has sky bridges over busy streets.

Metrotown has sky bridges over busy streets.

Here’s what I learned…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link: TOD Bridgeland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developer frustrations…

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOD Planner says….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transit Oriented Communities 

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

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

  • Public/Private collaboration

  • First/Last Mile connectivity

  • Real Community Engagement in the planning process 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not a pedestrian friendly place.

This is not a pedestrian friendly place.

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

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

 Calgarians love their single family homes

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Something to think about?

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

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

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

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

Link: Calgary’s Great TOD Neighbourhoods

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

Eveyday Tourist Transit Tales

Love it: On It Regional Transit

Calgary Transit: The Good & The Ugly

 

 

 

 

 

Calgary's Historical Architecture: Then & Now

Though I’ve never been a big history buff, I do appreciation of the importance of preserving historical buildings and sites.They are critical to telling a city’s story and creating a unique sense of place.

Calgary is often criticized for focusing too much on the prosperity of the present and future at the expense of the preservation of the past. For many (including me) our philosophy is “we are creating Calgary’s history today.” But cities really are built over decades and centuries, not years.

To me, Calgary is just a young teenager striving to find its own identity, its own personality.

I thought it would be interesting to look back and see what buildings we have lost over the past 100 years that we might like to still have today. And to see what has replaced them.

Entrance to Grain Exchange Building

Entrance to Grain Exchange Building

Hull Opera House (606, Centre St. S.)

Imagine it is the early 1890s. Calgary rancher, entrepreneur and philanthropist William Roper just commissioned a 1,000-seat opera house be built at 606 Centre St. S. (known as McTavish Street until 1904) by architects Child and Wilson at a cost of $10,000. One of Calgary’s first major sandstone and brick buildings, it hosted opera, theatre, school concerts, and community dances. It is hard to believe a frontier city with a population of only 4,000 people could support such a large opera house. But it did, for 13 years anyway.

In 1906, it was renovated to accommodate street level retail, residential on the upper floors and renamed the Albion Block. Then in 1960s, George Crystal bought the building and demolished it to create parking for his adjacent York Hotel. The York Hotel was demolished to make way for the Bow office tower, (its facade brickwork is now safely numbered and stored so it can be integrated into a new building on the corner of Centre Street and 7th Avenue S.W. sometime in the future).

So, we lost one icon and gained another in the Bow Tower. If we still had the Hull Opera House, it would have made a great public market, along the same lines as the Centro Market in Florence, Italy.



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CPR Train Station (115 9th Ave. S.E.)

Yes, Calgary had a downtown train station, but I have been told it wasn’t anything as grand as say Grand Central Station or Penn Station in New York City. It wasn’t even as grand as Winnipeg’s train stations given that in the late 19th century, it was Winnipeg that was going to be capital of the prairies and the rival to Chicago. It was a time of Winnipeg’s heyday – it boasted the most millionaires per capita in North America. Calgary, on the other hand, was still a frontier town with a population 4,000 people. My, my, how times have changed!

Calgary’s CPR station was demolished in 1966, making way for the Palliser Square and Calgary Tower (then called the Husky Tower) as part of a Calgary’s first modern urban renewal project that included the Convention Centre, Marriott Hotel (the Four Seasons Hotel) and the Glenbow.

I now think our historic train station would have made a great modern art gallery like the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.

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The CPR train station it home today to the Calgary Tower and Palliser Square.

The CPR train station it home today to the Calgary Tower and Palliser Square.


Central (James Short) School (Centre Street S. between 4th and 5th avenues)

James Short School was Calgary’s first large three-story square sandstone school. It proudly opened as Central School in 1905 and was noted for its impressive cupola above the entrance. When, by the late ’60s, the school-age population in downtown wasn’t sufficient to keep the school open, all but the cupola (now located on the northwest corner of Centre Street S. and 5th Avenue) was demolished to make way for redevelopment.

Today, James Short (a pioneer teacher, principal of the school and later a school board member, he was also the lawyer for the Anti-Chinese League) is best known as a park and parkade. If it were still around today, what a great boutique hotel it would make.

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James Short Park today.

James Short Park today.

Southam (Calgary Herald) Building (130 7th Ave. S.W.)

The Southam Building was touted as the “finest home of any newspaper in Canada” when it opened its doors in 1913. It was well known for its terracotta gargoyles (made by Doulton Lambeth of England) that adorned the roofline and depicted various newspaper trades.

Built in 1913, this magnificent Gothic structure was occupied by the Calgary Herald until 1932, when the paper needed more space. In the 1940s, the building was sold to Greyhound, which used it for 30-plus years as a bus depot, gutting the main floor to allow for the buses to drive through. Eventually demolished in 1972, it made way for the Len Werry Building. All of the gargoyles were rescued when the building was demolished in 1972 and some can now be found on the second floor of the north building of the TELUS Convention Centre.

Today, it would have a phenomenal character office building.

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The Calgary Herald building site is now home to Brookfield Place office tower and plaza.

The Calgary Herald building site is now home to Brookfield Place office tower and plaza.

Burns Residence (501 13th Ave. S.W.)

Patrick Burns, a rancher, businessman and one of the “Big Four” who founded the Calgary Stampede, built his grand mansion with ornate sandstone carvings in 1901. Designed by the famous Victoria, B.C., architect Francis M. Rattenbury, the mansion and English garden rivalled the still-standing 1891 Lougheed House and garden two blocks west on 13th Avenue. It is hard to imagine that 13th Avenue S.W. was Calgary’s millionaires’ row a hundred years ago. The Burns mansion was demolished in 1956, replaced by the Colonel Belcher Hospital, which in turn got demolished to build the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre, which opened in 2008.

The Burns Manor restaurant and lounge would have a nice ring to it, a bigger version of Rouge (in the Cross House) in Inglewood.

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Burns residence site is now home to the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre.

Burns residence site is now home to the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre.

Stephen Avenue East

Calgary historian Harry Sanders would like to have back the entire east end of 8th Avenue all the way to 4th Street S.E. It was all demolished in the 1970s and ’80s clearing the way for the Municipal Building, Olympic Plaza and the Epcor Centre (Calgary’s second attempt at modern urban renewal).  Sanders imagines a lively pedestrian street full of small shops, cafes and restaurants all the way from Holt Renfrew (the façade of the current Holt Renfrew building is that of Calgary’s old Eaton’s department store) to East Village.

Indeed, downtown Calgary lacks a grand boulevard or wide prairie Main Street typical of most major cities. For all of its charm and character, Stephen Avenue still lacks a WOW factor (expect perhaps at lunch hour in the summer).

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Stephen Avenue today.

Stephen Avenue today.

Stephen Avenue today.

Stephen Avenue today.

Last Word

While some may lament the loss of some of Calgary’s sense of the past, in many ways we have done a better job of preserving our history than most people think. Most of the buildings along Inglewood’s Atlantic Avenue (Calgary’s first Main Street) have been preserved.

As well, Stephen Avenue’s 100 and 200 West blocks are designated National Historic District. And, while the Fort Calgary was not preserved, there is a major effort today to preserve the spirit of the place and two of the original buildings. We also have a wonderful collection of buildings from our Sandstone period, including the Memorial Park Library and McDougall School.

That being said, it would still be nice to have a few more historical buildings with their different facade materials and architectural styles to add more visual variety in our downtown.

In the words of poet William Cowper, “Variety is the spice of life, that gives it all its flavour (The Task, 1785).

Note: This blog was originally published in the Calgary Herald in 2015.

If you like this blog, you might be interested in these links:

Discover Calgary’s Secret Heritage Walk

Understanding Calgary’s DNA

Calgary’s Motel History