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: Neighbourhood Walkabout Postcards

One of our favourite things to do is take a walk in one of Calgary’s 200+ neighbourhoods…especially in the summer. I thought it would be fun to share some of the quirky, strange and fun things we have discovered on our neighbourhood adventures. Everything from little free libraries to birdhouses, from artworks to pathways and from doors to porches.

Hope you enjoy this virtual walkabout….

Southern Alberta Institute of Technology

Southern Alberta Institute of Technology

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Beltline

Beltline

Downtown

Downtown

Bow River / Poppy Plaza

Bow River / Poppy Plaza

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Parkdale

Parkdale

17th Ave SW

17th Ave SW

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

St Andrews Heights

St Andrews Heights

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Altadore

Altadore

Inglewood

Inglewood

Bridgeland

Bridgeland

Bowness

Bowness

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Beltline

Beltline

Eau Claire

Eau Claire

Downtown

Downtown

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Bowness

Bowness

Mission

Mission

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Alberta Children’s Hospital

Alberta Children’s Hospital

Bankview

Bankview

Sunalta

Sunalta

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Downtown

Downtown

Chinatown

Chinatown

Montgomery

Montgomery

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Briar Hill

Briar Hill

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Beltine

Beltine

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Bridgeland

Bridgeland

Beltline

Beltline

Parkdale

Parkdale

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Banff Trail

Banff Trail

Altadore

Altadore

Cliff Bungalow

Cliff Bungalow

Chinatown

Chinatown

Bowness

Bowness

Bankview

Bankview

Crescent Heights

Crescent Heights

Bridgeland

Bridgeland

Renfew

Renfew

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

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South Calgary

South Calgary

Altadore

Altadore

Inglewood

Inglewood

Parkdale

Parkdale

Montgomery

Montgomery

Sunalta

Sunalta

Altadore

Altadore

Parkdale

Parkdale

Bridgeland/Riverside

Bridgeland/Riverside

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Inglewood

Inglewood

Beltline

Beltline

Renfrew

Renfrew

Downtown

Downtown

Beltline

Beltline

Banff Trail

Banff Trail

Inglewood

Inglewood

Briar Hill

Briar Hill

Inglewood

Inglewood

Eau Claire

Eau Claire

Beltline

Beltline

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Riley Park

Riley Park

Parkdale

Parkdale

Hounsfield Heights

Hounsfield Heights

Bowness

Bowness

Bridgeland

Bridgeland

Briar Hill

Briar Hill

Briar Hill

Briar Hill

Inglewood

Inglewood

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Beltline

Beltline

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Ramsay

Ramsay

Mission

Mission

Confederation Park

Confederation Park

Pumphouse Theatre Park

Pumphouse Theatre Park

Bankview

Bankview

Hillhurst

Hillhurst

Pumphouse Theatre Park

Pumphouse Theatre Park

Crescent Heights

Crescent Heights

Parkdale

Parkdale

Renfrew

Renfrew

Banff Trail

Banff Trail

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Crescent Heights

Crescent Heights

Sunalta

Sunalta

Downtown

Downtown

Sunalta

Sunalta

Sunalta

Sunalta

West Hillhurst

West Hillhurst

Last Word

Congratulations you made to the end of virtual walkabout. If you aren’t too tired and you’d like to walk through some more neighbourhoods here are few links that might interest you.

Forensic Walks In Calgary

Front Yard Fun

Sitting On The Porch

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?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lifestyle Curator?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Huge Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark on 10th rooftop patio includes a hot tub.

Mark on 10th rooftop patio includes a hot tub.

SODO’s communal kitchen area.

SODO’s communal kitchen area.

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

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

More Like Hotels  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laptop Generation 

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

If you like this book you will like these links:

Calgary vs Vancouver: Affordability & Liveability

New Condos Help Kensington Thrive

Calgary Condos: A Pop Of Colour

 

 

 

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'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.

Was Calgary TOO focused on making the new Central Library an iconic building?

Imagine being all excited about seeing the new Central Library but then you see a sandwich board that says “Elevator access for visitors using wheelchairs or with mobility challenges use the east side of the Library off 4th St SE,” (in other words, the back door). That is EXACTLY what happens to Calgarians with mobility challenges upon arrival at Calgary’s new Central Library.  

Note: An edited version of this blog was published by CBC Calgary as part of their online “Calgary At A Crossroads” feature. This blog is a much more in-depth look at the user-friendliness of Calgary’s new Central Library.

Anyone who needs an elevator to get to the 2nd floor entrance of the new Central Library must use the back door.

Anyone who needs an elevator to get to the 2nd floor entrance of the new Central Library must use the back door.

The new library is spectacular inside and has been very popular with Calgarians of all ages and backgrounds. It is more like a community centre than a library - which is a good thing.

The new library is spectacular inside and has been very popular with Calgarians of all ages and backgrounds. It is more like a community centre than a library - which is a good thing.

Sacrilegious

It is probably sacrilegious to say perhaps the Central Library building team was TOO focused on creating a new iconic building. And perhaps some City Council members and Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (a wholly owned subsidiary of the City Calgary that manages the implementation of the City’s Rivers District Community Revitalization Plan which includes East Village) are trying TOO hard to make East Village Calgary’s ‘poster community’ for Calgary quest to become an international design city.  

Yes, the library has received rave reviews internationally. But that is what you expect when hiring a “starchitect” firm like Snohetta.  Architectural Digest says it is one of the most “futuristic” new libraries in the world while Azure magazine calls it “one of the best Civic Landmark built in 2018.”  But did these out-of-town reviewers look beyond the design? Did they consider how the building functions for different users – mobility challenges, families with young children and seniors? 

As one Calgarian said to me, “at $1,000 per square foot, it should be spectacular looking and functional too!”  FYI: Cost was $245 million and the building is 240,000 square feet. 

The new Calgary Central Library glows at night.

The new Calgary Central Library glows at night.

The interior atrium and staircase is awesome.

The interior atrium and staircase is awesome.

The reading room is both futuristic and traditional.

The reading room is both futuristic and traditional.

I thought the facade of Calgary’s new library was unique until I learned of the York Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence at York University which opened in 2016 looks very similar to Calgary’s new Central Library. I assumed it was designed by Snohetta, but in fact it was designed by ZAS architects + Interiors and Arup Engineering. I wonder who copied who?

I thought the facade of Calgary’s new library was unique until I learned of the York Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence at York University which opened in 2016 looks very similar to Calgary’s new Central Library. I assumed it was designed by Snohetta, but in fact it was designed by ZAS architects + Interiors and Arup Engineering. I wonder who copied who?

Not Everybody Loves The New Library

Several Calgarians have shared with me concerns about the building’s functionality. Some were willing to let me use their name; others were not, (especially the architects as their professional ethics says they don’t criticize the work of other architects.) I also expect they also don’t want to jeopardize potential contracts with the City of Calgary or Canada Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC). 

Architect and mother of a young toddler, Erin Joslin in her email says, “The central core is an awe-inspiring space worthy of all the accolades being given in terms of aesthetics. An initial visit is a total architectural experience, where you want to meander and experience everything it has to offer. Where the new Library falls short is when you have a purpose and its meandering circulation around the central staircase becomes a huge hinderance.”   She also has concerns about how the stair railings throughout the building lacked lower bars for children, even in the children’s area. 

After touring the building on another visit with Debbie Brekke, professional interior designer and mother of an adult son who is in a wheelchair, says thought “both the interior and exterior design of the entire building forces those in wheelchairs to take the long route.” The landing areas by the elevators on the upper floors are also very tight and don’t accommodate a couple of parents with strollers and a wheelchair user trying to get on or off the elevator.” 

And one local architect, who I toured the building with became downright angered, by the sandwich boards directing those who needed an elevator to go to the back of the building. Given the future is transit-oriented, he was shocked more consideration wasn’t given to the connectivity between the library and the City Hall LRT station to the west. He told me, “Universal accessibility is one of the top five priorities for architects designing a building today. 

How could this have been missed?”  The access to the building’s front entrance is embarrassing and should never happened the 21st century! 

Definitely Not Wheelchair-Friendly

Let’s take a roll on a wheelchair from the City Hall side of the LRT Station and see what it is like. 

First, you have to negotiate the LRT station ramp with trees in the middle to get to the corner of 3rd St SE corner. Then, cross 3rdSt SE to the east side where there is limited access to the sidewalk ramp because a traffic signal post sits almost in the middle of it. 

Next, you have to negotiate the difficult-to-open LRT gates, traverse over the LRT rails then negotiate more LRT gates before you get to the sidewalk from where you can roll your way along a cold, grey concrete wall for three quarters of a block to a small elevator lobby. 

Once there, take the elevator to the second floor (aka entrance level), then go back outside to the plaza to get to the front door. 

I am exhausted just writing this. 

To be fair, a 125m long ramp (the length of a CFL football field) is at the main entrance. It is used by many parents with strollers and some wheelchair patrons.  But if you need an elevator, your only option is to go around the block to the back door.

This is what everyone who gets off the City Hall LRT station is faced with on their way to the library.

This is what everyone who gets off the City Hall LRT station is faced with on their way to the library.

On the other side of 3rd St SE. the small ramp area is made even worse with a sandwich board, concrete half-wall and street signal post.

On the other side of 3rd St SE. the small ramp area is made even worse with a sandwich board, concrete half-wall and street signal post.

These gate are very awkward for anyone in a wheelchair or walker to try to open.

These gate are very awkward for anyone in a wheelchair or walker to try to open.

Once across the LRT tracks you are greeted be a large blank concrete wall.

Once across the LRT tracks you are greeted be a large blank concrete wall.

Then a bank of concrete stairs….

Then a bank of concrete stairs….

Finally you make it to the doors to the lobby where the elevator takes you up one floor to the main entrance plaza.

Finally you make it to the doors to the lobby where the elevator takes you up one floor to the main entrance plaza.

Yes, some use the ramp to get to the second floor entrance doors, rather than going all the way around the building to the back door.

Yes, some use the ramp to get to the second floor entrance doors, rather than going all the way around the building to the back door.

Inside also has issues…

Once inside the lobby those with mobility challenges are again confronted with stairs. Note signage directs those in wheelchairs to go the long way around to get to the books and services.

Once inside the lobby those with mobility challenges are again confronted with stairs. Note signage directs those in wheelchairs to go the long way around to get to the books and services.

Even once you are inside, the elevator access to the upper floors is tight for those in walkers, wheelchairs and strollers.

Even once you are inside, the elevator access to the upper floors is tight for those in walkers, wheelchairs and strollers.

The interior ramp for those in wheelchairs or with strollers located on the perimeter of the building, is also very restrictive.

The interior ramp for those in wheelchairs or with strollers located on the perimeter of the building, is also very restrictive.

A simple solution not taken

Ironically, an elevator (it is for access to the theatre space from inside) exists inside the building just a few meters away from the stairs leading to the main entrance from 3rd Street SW (which is where most of the people enter the library). It is used to access the theatre from inside the building. Why couldn’t a handicapped entrance have been integrated into the façade of the building here?

When I pointed this out to Brekke, she quickly observed there is also adequate room for a street handicap drop off spot at this point which would further enhance the building’s accessibility (rather than having to take the convoluted route to the back of the building to drop someone off.)   

I met with Kate Thompson, Vice President of Development, at the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (who was responsible for managing the design and building of the library) at the library to discuss the accessibility and other issues. She indicated having the theater elevator also be the main entrance for those with mobility issues was discussed but rejected by the library as they didn’t like the idea of having two access points to the library. She did say a retrofit could be done in the future and the City is looking at how it can improve access from the LRT station. 

I couldn’t help but share my architect colleague’s sentiments that “universal accessibility is a must for any public building today.”  

But let’s move on…

There are exit doors (window area) from the theatre on 3rd St SE that could be adapted to allow those who need an elevator to use the one located just a few meters inside. There is also room on the street here to have a drop off zone for those who need one.

There are exit doors (window area) from the theatre on 3rd St SE that could be adapted to allow those who need an elevator to use the one located just a few meters inside. There is also room on the street here to have a drop off zone for those who need one.

Where’s the +15? 

Several people have asked me why there is no +15 bridge to the Municipal Building and its huge parkade. Yes, there is a crosswalk with lights linking the building with the library but it means more stairs.  “Having a +15 to access the parkade would also help address the mobility-challenged issue” said Brekke.

Richard Parker, former City of Calgary Planning Director was shocked when he took his grandchildren to the library on a Sunday shortly after it opened to find out, after parking in the parkade, that the Municipal building is closed on weekends meaning they had to walk around the block to get to the library.  Parker isn’t alone. I heard similar comments from many others how stupid it was this winter not to be able to walk through the Municipal Building to the get to the library

Thompson noted a +15 connection had been discussed and could happen in the future. She added a new $80 million, 500-stall parkade on 9th Ave SE across the street from the Library is currently under construction; however, there will be no +15 bridge.  

FYI: In fact, East Village’s master plan has no + 15 bridges, so don’t expect to see one soon. 

There is an entrance to the Municipal Building on 3rd St SE that is at almost exactly the same height as the Library’s main entrance. A +15 link to allow for easy access between the two buildings and easier access to the Olympic Plaza Arts District and downtown would enhance the public friendliness of both buildings.

There is an entrance to the Municipal Building on 3rd St SE that is at almost exactly the same height as the Library’s main entrance. A +15 link to allow for easy access between the two buildings and easier access to the Olympic Plaza Arts District and downtown would enhance the public friendliness of both buildings.

East Village’s next signature building is an $80M state-of-the-art 500 stall parkade that will incorporate a floor and a half of office space. Some questioned the logic of adding new office space to the a downtown that already has a surplus of 10 million square feet. The parkade was heralded by others for its futuristic designed that allows it to be easily converted to other uses when it is no longer needed for parking. FYI: the cost of a normal 500 stall above-ground parkade would be in the neighbourhood of $20M.

East Village’s next signature building is an $80M state-of-the-art 500 stall parkade that will incorporate a floor and a half of office space. Some questioned the logic of adding new office space to the a downtown that already has a surplus of 10 million square feet. The parkade was heralded by others for its futuristic designed that allows it to be easily converted to other uses when it is no longer needed for parking. FYI: the cost of a normal 500 stall above-ground parkade would be in the neighbourhood of $20M.

Street Level Entrance: A Must

Personally, I think all public building entrances should be at street level, not only for universal accessibility, but to create the most welcoming pedestrian experience for everyone.  

Thompson, assured me they tried very hard to create a grand street entrance but just couldn’t make it work. The site’s huge hole in the middle - where the LRT trains emerge from the tunnel - meant the building had to be built 18 feet above the street over top of the tracks.  CMLC confirmed building over the LRT tracks added $20 million dollars to the cost. 

Because of the additional costs and limitations associated with building over the tracks and no ability to have underground parking, Thompson said the site wasn’t viable for private development, nor did it work as a park or plaza.  If nothing was built on the site, she and her colleagues were concerned the site was destined to be a haven for undesirable activity.  

This made me begin to wonder if this was the best site for a major public library. 

The LRT tunnel divides the library site into two narrow strips of land on either side. They were once a small park and surface parking lot.

The LRT tunnel divides the library site into two narrow strips of land on either side. They were once a small park and surface parking lot.

This is the 3rd St SE entrance (aka front door) to the new Central Library. Not only is it inaccessible for those who need an elevator it is not very inviting to anyone with its many stairs and the often dark forbidding plateau at the top.

This is the 3rd St SE entrance (aka front door) to the new Central Library. Not only is it inaccessible for those who need an elevator it is not very inviting to anyone with its many stairs and the often dark forbidding plateau at the top.

The 3rd St SE entrance from the south side is more inviting with the Chris Moeller’s two million dollar bobbing bird-like sculptures (a third bird is located at the back door). But the entrance is still very dark even in the winter when the sun is low in the sky.

The 3rd St SE entrance from the south side is more inviting with the Chris Moeller’s two million dollar bobbing bird-like sculptures (a third bird is located at the back door). But the entrance is still very dark even in the winter when the sun is low in the sky.

No better than Municipal Building

I think Thompson was offended when I said “I feel the Library turns its back on East Village, in the same way the Municipal Building does.”  

For years, urban designers have publicly lambasted the designers of the Municipal Building (aka Blue Monster) because not only did it cut off downtown from East Village, but its east side is pedestrian-unfriendly. 

CMLC’s website has a photo of the Municipal Building and new Library side by side that clearly shows the size and shape of the two buildings are amazingly similar with their concrete base and pointed “nose.” There are more similarities between these two buildings than people realize.

CMLC’s website has a photo of the Municipal Building and new Library side by side that clearly shows the size and shape of the two buildings are amazingly similar with their concrete base and pointed “nose.” There are more similarities between these two buildings than people realize.

Too many stairs

Yes, the new Library has a fun bobbing alien sculpture to greet you at the back door (aka 4th Street SE entrance), but only after you walk by the long blank concrete wall and confronted by poorly designed concrete stairs, not unlike the Municipal Building’s east side (aka back door) entrance.  

Having personally entered the new library several times by the back door (aka the east entrance), I have witnessed on several occasions someone saying “these stairs are dangerous.” Why?

Because the concrete stairs are next to concrete seating areas that look just like stairs, but a bit higher.  It is easy to inadvertently sway into the seating area and before you know it - you stumble. On one occasion, I did see a young women stumble and fall. Fortunately, she wasn’t seriously hurt. 

In my opinion, the east façade of the new library is not much better than the Municipal Building’s when it comes to being pedestrian friendly.

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3rd Street SE backdoor entrance to the Municipal Building has been criticized for being very pedestrian unfriendly because of its stairs and dark entrance.

3rd Street SE backdoor entrance to the Municipal Building has been criticized for being very pedestrian unfriendly because of its stairs and dark entrance.

This is the entrance to the library from 9th Ave SE which will link to the new parkade across the street.

This is the entrance to the library from 9th Ave SE which will link to the new parkade across the street.

Front Door Not Great

As for the front entrance (aka 3rd St SE), it isn’t much better with its 32 steps.  On one visit, I found an older lady huffing and puffing as she struggled to climb the stairs bouncing a small piece of luggage, stair by stair. She was most appreciative of my offered to help. Too bad she couldn’t use the elevator just a few meters away.  I doubt this is an isolated case. 

The stairs as the back door are too narrow to allow a group of people to go up and down them at the same time.

The stairs as the back door are too narrow to allow a group of people to go up and down them at the same time.

Even inside the library the lobby stairs are dangerous with no railing on the edge between the stairs and the seating. The railings should also have lower railings for children to hang onto.

Even inside the library the lobby stairs are dangerous with no railing on the edge between the stairs and the seating. The railings should also have lower railings for children to hang onto.

Last Word

While some might see these flaws as petty, for me the new Central library is hostile to pedestrians (abled bodied and mobility-challenged) and does little to help connect East Village with downtown. 

I can’t help but wonder if perhaps Calgary should have simply renovated the old central library (maybe with an addition) as Edmonton with their mid-century central library for $84 million), rather than spending $245 million for a new iconic building on a difficult site.  

The old site would have allowed for a better link to the street, LRT station and bus stops, as well as better linkages to downtown and East Village. And, we could have saved a whack of cash for other uses (and we sure have a lot of those.)  

Edmonton’s renovated Central Library which sits on a prominent site in Churchill Square, will join the Art Gallery of Alberta and their City Hall as signature architectural gems.

Edmonton’s renovated Central Library which sits on a prominent site in Churchill Square, will join the Art Gallery of Alberta and their City Hall as signature architectural gems.

Could the old W.R. Castell Library have been renovated and perhaps expanded to create a fun, funky new library that would anchor the north-east corner of Olympic Plaza? I was told, that option was looked at, but the City officials didn’t want to close the library for a couple of years of renovations.

Could the old W.R. Castell Library have been renovated and perhaps expanded to create a fun, funky new library that would anchor the north-east corner of Olympic Plaza? I was told, that option was looked at, but the City officials didn’t want to close the library for a couple of years of renovations.

Don’t get me wrong  

I love the playful façade, the warmth of the wood and the uplifting feeling of the interior staircase and skylight.  

But I hate climbing the stairs to get in and out.  And I feel sorry for those with mobility issues who have to take the long convoluted route to get inside.  

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

Calgary’s Audacious New Library

Fairy Tale Postcards from University of British Columbia’s Library

Dublin’s Chester Beatty Library - Look but don’t touch!

 

 

 

Eau Claire: Still a work in progress 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eau Claire Market vs Granville Island Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Granville Island is more more than just a public market.

Granville Island is more more than just a public market.

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

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

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

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

Eau Claire vs East Village 

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

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

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

Somehow East Village gets all the media attention and accolades.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eau Claire’s Revitalization History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet, Eau Claire Market has struggled. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future of Eau Claire Market?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prince’s Island park is an urban oasis.

Prince’s Island park is an urban oasis.

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

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

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

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

Lesson Learned?

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

Urban revitalization is not a science. 

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

Eau Claire Market’s Mega Makeover Revisited

Avenida Village: Food Hall Madness

East Village Envy

East Village A Masterpiece In the Making