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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(December 2018, timessquarenyc.org)   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Calgary Telus Convention Centre also calls Stephen Avenue home.

The Calgary Telus Convention Centre also calls Stephen Avenue home.

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

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

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

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

Stephen Avenue Walk also has some quirky urban design features.

Stephen Avenue Walk also has some quirky urban design features.

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

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

Collage of just some of the Stephen Avenue patios.

Collage of just some of the Stephen Avenue patios.

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

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

But it still struggles. Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Avenue needs to be more quirky than corporate.

Stephen Avenue needs to be more quirky than corporate.

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

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

Stephen Avenue needs more fun things to see and do.

Stephen Avenue needs more fun things to see and do.

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

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

Tough Competition 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Changes Needed

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Great streets must capture the imagination of locals.  

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

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

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

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

Glenbow’s Fabulous First Thursdays

Fixing Calgary’s Ghost Town Downtown

How to build a pedestrian friendly retail district?

 

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.

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

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

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Montreal & Toronto Examples

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

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

  1. Operate it without a major tenant

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

  3. Decommission it

  4. Demolish it 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potential Other Uses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have we tried hard enough?

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

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

Are we being too sentimental?

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

Calgary Wants vs Needs: Convention Centre, Stadium, Arena

Sports & Entertainment: Nashville vs Calgary

 

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

Calgary History: Grand Trunk Cottage School

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

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

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

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

Grand Trunk School a community initiative 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand Trunk School’s original design.

Grand Trunk School’s original design.

The School’s Architecture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why the name “Grand Trunk?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Map of West Hillhurst from City of Caglary website

Map of West Hillhurst from City of Caglary website

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

Link: Calgary Heritage Strategy. 

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

Link: Calgary Heritage Week At A Glance.

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

West Hillhurst: Portrait of my community

Urban Cottages vs Gentrification

Does Calgary Have Too Many Neighbourhoods?

 

Historical Postcards From The Calgary Stampede

Over the years I have collected a few old Calgary Stampede images in my photo library as I come across them in my research. Given it will soon be Stampede time in Calgary (July 5 to 14, 2019), I thought I would see just what I had and would it make for a fun blog. I didn’t really have enough so I started hunting around the internet and found some more, then I hit the motherlode - the Calgary Stampede website has dozens of old photos.

I also discovered the Calgary Stampede website is full of great information. Things like “Frequently Asked Questions” the covers almost everything you could think of asking. It also has great information on the Stampede’s Public Art Program - murals and sculptures. And, you can learn about quirky things like the history of stampede breakfasts.

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Fun Facts

If you are looking for some interesting internet reading I would highly recommend the Calgary Stampede website. Here are some fun facts:

  • Stampede Park is a bit bigger than Disneyland.

  • Each rodeo animal is inspected by a veterinarian daily to ensure their well-being.

  • Over 100,000 people visit the Stampede’s art show, making it one of the biggest art exhibitions on the prairies.

  • Over 2,300 volunteers help to make the Calgary Stampede happen each year.

  • The world’s tallest flagpole (204 feet) is located at the Elbow River Camp, formerly the Indian Village.

  • It wasn’t until 1968 that the Stampede became a 10 day event.

  • Did you know there is a App for locating where Stampede breakfasts are located?

  • The University of Calgary is heavily involved in the Calgary Stampede. Researchers in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine provide critical advice and innovative solutions to ensure animal care practices are cutting edge. The Galileo Educational Network, within the Werklund School of Education, developed a website to educate people on the long-standing and important history of the Treaty Seven Nations at the Stampede.Historians and experts in the faculty of arts have written the book on the Calgary Stampede and teach a Canadian Studies course on it every year.

Link: The Calgary Stampede and Treaty Seven Nations

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Fun historical postcards from the Calgary Stampede.

FYI: There are two postcards at the end that I expect will surprise many of you!

Note the horse is wearing a hat and smoking a cigar…Indeed the world has changed dramatically over the past 100+ years.

Note the horse is wearing a hat and smoking a cigar…Indeed the world has changed dramatically over the past 100+ years.

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A Sky scaper foreshadows Calgary become a skyscraper city by the end of the 20th century?

A Sky scaper foreshadows Calgary become a skyscraper city by the end of the 20th century?

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Stampede Park early 20th century

Stampede Park early 20th century

1953

1953

Stampede Parade along Calgary’s historic Stephen Avenue. The first Stampede Parade was held in 1912 and was attended by 75,000 people and included 1,800 First Nation individuals.

Stampede Parade along Calgary’s historic Stephen Avenue. The first Stampede Parade was held in 1912 and was attended by 75,000 people and included 1,800 First Nation individuals.

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On the morning of July 9, 1923 (first day of Stampede) Guy Weadick persuaded some of the chuckwagon drivers to go downtown to give a glimpse of their wagons to the public. Jack Morton unloaded his stoves and set up shop cooking pancakes and giving them out free to those who had come out to watch. And that’s how the free stampede breakfast history got started.  LInk:  Stampede Breakfast History

On the morning of July 9, 1923 (first day of Stampede) Guy Weadick persuaded some of the chuckwagon drivers to go downtown to give a glimpse of their wagons to the public. Jack Morton unloaded his stoves and set up shop cooking pancakes and giving them out free to those who had come out to watch. And that’s how the free stampede breakfast history got started.

LInk: Stampede Breakfast History

Yes the Stampede was held in Winnipeg in 1913. Imagine how Calgary and Winnipeg would be different today if Winnipeg was home of the “Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth” not Calgary.

Yes the Stampede was held in Winnipeg in 1913. Imagine how Calgary and Winnipeg would be different today if Winnipeg was home of the “Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth” not Calgary.

Yes in the 1960s the Calgary Stampede looked at moving from its current downtown location to the outskirts fo the city near the intersection of today’s Glenmore and Crowchild Trails. Imagine how the would have change Calgary’s inner-city development.

Yes in the 1960s the Calgary Stampede looked at moving from its current downtown location to the outskirts fo the city near the intersection of today’s Glenmore and Crowchild Trails. Imagine how the would have change Calgary’s inner-city development.

Last Word

Today the Calgary Stampede has evolved into one of the world’s most unique festivals. In fact, it combines seven different festivals offering something for almost everyone:

  1. Agricultural Fair

  2. Rodeo

  3. Chuckwagon Races

  4. Grandstand Show

  5. Midway

  6. Music Festival

  7. Visual Art Festival

When I first moved to Calgary I have to admit I wasn’t a big fan of the Stampede, but over the past 35+ years I have developed an appreciation for how it has shaped the city and given it a unique sense of place. 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.

A mega makeover is planned for the Stampede Park over the next decade that will hopefully allow it to continue be evolve and be something Calgarians can continue to be proud of.

Link: Calgary Stampede Digital Collection

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

Flaneuring Stampede Poster Parade

Colourful Stampede Parade of Postcards

Stampede Park 2025

Stampede Park: Art Gallery / Museum

Urban Living: 49% of Calgarians Live In Complete Communities?

After 50+ years of designing cities to accommodate automobile traffic, cities around the world - Calgary included - are now focusing on how to make new and old communities more walkable.  The vision is to create “complete communities” where residents can walk to many of their daily and weekly activities and cycle and drive to other activities as needed.  

I think it would surprise many Calgary planners and politicians to know that 49% of Calgarians surveyed in 2018 thought they lived in a “complete community” today. The study also found 78% of Calgarians find the concept of “complete communities” to be an appealing one.

At the same time, the elements of a complete community are not high on Calgarians priority list when it comes to buying a house. Confused? Read on….

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Survey says…

A survey of 1239 Calgarians conducted by Calgary-based ThinkHQ Public Affairs in June 2018 for BILD Calgary Region (an association of developers and home builders) provides some interesting insights.  

When Calgarians were asked, “How appealing is the concept of a “Complete Community” to you?” a whopping 78% said a “complete community” is appealing to them (35% said “very appealing” and 43% “fairly appealing”). 

FYI: A “complete community” was defined as a mini-city, with housing and employment options and walkability to shops and restaurants all located within one community.  

Those living in the inner-city (83%) were more likely to say a “complete community” is appealing to them than those in other parts of the city. An overwhelming 95% of those with young families thought living in a “complete community” would be appealing.  

Do you live in a “complete community?”

 Then Calgarians were asked, “How well would you say the phrase ‘complete community’ describes the community where you are currently living today?”  

The response - 49% of Calgarians think they already live in a “complete community,” 28% say they don’t live in a complete community, with 23% not sure.   Those living in the inner city were more likely to say they lived a complete community than those living elsewhere in Calgary, but only by a slight margin.  

Surprisingly, 66% of parents of young families think they already live in a “complete community,” while only 44 of empty nesters think they live in a complete community.  This may reflect that empty nesters live in established communities built in the mid 20th century without modern amenities, while young families live in new master planned communities with lots of amenities.   

As I stated earlier, I bet most Calgary politicians, planners and urbanists who read ThinkHQ’s “Calgary Growth Perspectives” were surprised 49% of Calgarians (66% with young families) think they already live in a “complete community.”   

While there is some differences, about 50% of Calgarians feel they live in a “complete community.”

While there is some differences, about 50% of Calgarians feel they live in a “complete community.”

What is really important?

 ThinkHQ’s survey then dug deeper to find out what attributes of a “complete community” were really important to Calgarians.   

Of key importance is access to stores, restaurants and services, followed by easy and safe access for walking and cycling in the community, then quality public spaces, playgrounds, parks, then by access to healthcare options and finally access to transit.  

Of modest importance is access to recreation, health & fitness centers, followed by living close to where you work, then access to schools (this was surprise), then employment opportunities within the community, followed by mixed-use developments and finally diversity of housing options.  

Of least importance is seniors’ housing options, followed by communities with a sustainable footprint, then diverse neighbourhood, public art and heritage preservation and finally of least importance was access to arts and cultural facilities.   

The survey documented that Calgarians (young/ old, inner-city/suburban, condo/single family dweller) all think alike when it comes to the top five things they are looking for in a “complete community.”

The higher on the list and the darker the green the more desirable the attribute. Note public art, heritage preservation and access to art and cultural facilities are the lowest in importance. At the top are things like stores, restaurants, walking cycling paths and parks.

The higher on the list and the darker the green the more desirable the attribute. Note public art, heritage preservation and access to art and cultural facilities are the lowest in importance. At the top are things like stores, restaurants, walking cycling paths and parks.

Price beats community

However, when Calgarians were asked to rank what are the most importance factors in the purchase of a home:

  • 88% said:  A price that is well within my budget 

  • 77% said:  Amenities of the home (size/layout/#bedrooms/bathrooms, yard) 

  • 52% said:  A specific quadrant of the city

  • 43% said:  Type of community (new/suburb or established or inner city)

  • 41% said: “Completed Community” elements

Last Word

The ThinkHQ survey clearly demonstrates that when push comes to shove Calgarians have two key considerations when purchasing a home - PRICE and the AMENITIES of the home itself not the community. 

So, while 78% of Calgarians think living in a “complete aka walkable community” is appealing, it is not a high priority.  And communities with sustainable environmental footprints and higher density was ranked #13 in importance out of 16 attributes of a “complete community.” 

What does this all mean?  

If the City of Calgary wants more people to live in older communities as per the Municipal Development Plan, it must find a way to work with developers building infill homes – be they condos or single family – that are more affordable compared to those on the edge of the city.

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

Is Calgary’s City Centre the most walkable in the world?

Walk Score vs Life Style Score

80% of Calgarians Must Live In the Suburbs  

 

Calgary: Needs to foster more "Transit Oriented Communities"

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

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

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

The answers were very insightful and informative….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is TOD?

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

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

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

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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 University District vs Vancouver's Wesbrook Village

It is difficult for most to envision what a new community will look like when it is in the early stages of construction. Sure, there may be computer renderings and “fly-by” videos but it is still hard to visualize what the community will look like when upon arriving at the on-site sales centre, you only see dirt, diggers, signage and perhaps a few buildings and roads under construction.  

This is what the northwest corner of University District looked like in October 2015, with Market Mall in the background.

This is what the northwest corner of University District looked like in October 2015, with Market Mall in the background.

Today some of University District’s Main Street buildings are starting to take shape.

Today some of University District’s Main Street buildings are starting to take shape.

Computer rendering of University District’s future Main Street.

Computer rendering of University District’s future Main Street.

Impressed

Take Calgary’s new University District development (north of Alberta Children’s Hospital) for example. While a few new condo buildings, a dog park and playground park are completed, it still looks a bit random, like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces scattered everywhere.

So, when I was in Vancouver recently, I checked out the University of British Columbia Land Trust’s Wesbrook Village, as it was the model for the University of Calgary’s West Campus Development Trust’s University District. 

I was very impressed with how much has been accomplished at Wesbrook Village over the past 10 years. It already looks like an established community, thanks in part to Vancouver’s great climate for growing trees and shrubs.  With lush landscaping everywhere and six small urban parks strategically positioned so all residents enjoy park side living.  

Wesbrook Village truly is a garden city.

Wesbrook Village truly is a garden city.

The streetscapes of Wesbrook Village are outstanding.

The streetscapes of Wesbrook Village are outstanding.

How cool is this?

How cool is this?

Front yard? Back yard?

Front yard? Back yard?

Wesbrook is a child-friendly community.

Wesbrook is a child-friendly community.

New Community Planning

The plan for Wesbrook Village was approved in 2005, then revised in 2011 and again in 2016. While there is still lots of construction happening, you can see not only how the community is coming together, but also the similarities and difference with Calgary’s University District.  

University District’s plan was approved in 2016, but it too has moved quickly with construction of residential, commercial, parks and public spaces. It is a much larger development 184 acres compared to Wesbrook’s 25.7 acres as it includes 40-acres of parks, ponds and public spaces. However, Wesbrook located next to the 1,850-acre Pacific Spirit Park with its 54 kilometres of walking/hiking trails, means it has less need for parks and pathways.

When completed, Wesbrook Village will be home to about 12,500 people. Today, the current population is about 6,000 people, a number that’s increasing by about 700 people/year.  When fully built out, University District will have 7,000 homes, creating a new community of about 14,000 people.  Currently, about 400 people call University District home. 

When it comes to residential development, both communities are similar in that all the buildings are multi-family - townhomes and low rise (4 to 6 storeys) with a few towers (7 to 20 storeys).  In Calgary, the best comparison might be The Bridges in Bridgeland with its mix of low and mid-rise housing.  

Urban Amenities 

Wesbrook has about 35 businesses - 9 food, 8 retail and 18 services (banks medical and professional offices) - totalling about 126,000 square feet, built around a small town square plan. No additional commercial development is currently planned. 

University District’s masterplan calls for 300,000 square feet of retail on a nine-block main street that will be developed in four phases.  Already signed up is an interesting mix of commercial amenities – Analog Coffee, OEB Breakfast Co., Orangetheory, Press’d Sandwich Shop, UC Noodles and BBQ, University District Dental, YYC Cycle, Blaze Pizza, Copper Branch, Freshii, Curious Hair Skin Body, Scotiabank, and Denim & Smith Barbershops, along with the Alt Hotel. Wesbrook has no plans for a hotel.  

University District’s “big win” is its signing of Cineplex VIP Theatres, to be part of phase 2 of the retail plan, slated to break ground later in 2019. (“VIP” means adults only, as you can enjoy food and drinks (alcohol) delivered to you in your upscale recliner seats.)  

But perhaps the most obvious similarity between Wesbrook Village and University District is that they share the same anchor i.e. Save-On-Foods grocery store.  In Wesbrook’s case, Save-On-Foods anchors a town centre plan that includes a major community center, as well as shops, a high school and playing fields.  

At University District, Save-On-Food will anchor the nine-block main street (think Kensington Village’s 10thStreet and Kensington Road combined). However, rather than being a stand-alone building, University District’s Save-On-Foods store will be incorporated into a low rise residential building with 288 rental homes above. 

I was very impressed by Wesbrook’s University Hill Secondary School where students could be seen wandering the village adding much-needed daytime animation.  With a designated site for a future elementary school when needed, Westbrook is a complete community.   

Surprise, surprise - University District also has provision for a school site if and when the Calgary Board of Education deems one is necessary.   

Wesbrook town square has a European look.

Wesbrook town square has a European look.

Wesbrook Save On Food is a hybrid between a suburban and urban design.

Wesbrook Save On Food is a hybrid between a suburban and urban design.

One of Wesbrooks shopping streets.

One of Wesbrooks shopping streets.

Wesbrook Community Centre

Wesbrook Community Centre


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Wesbrook School

Wesbrook School

Last Word 

Upon returning back to Calgary, I decided to drop by University District again to see what has been happening.  I was impressed – I counted seven buildings at various stages of construction. While it is still hard to envision how everything will eventually fit together, a lot has been accomplished in just three years. 2020 will be a big year - the opening of the Save-On-Foods building will mark the beginning of University District’s main street. 

The only disappointment I had was finding Wesbrook Village has a new condo development called “IVY on the Park”, almost the same name as Brookfield’s “The Ivy” at University District. I couldn’t help but wonder “Who copied who and why?”

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University District streetscape is still in its infancy.

University District streetscape is still in its infancy.

University District’s first park.

University District’s first park.