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.

Everyday Live In Africa: Republic of Mali & the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire

This past winter I received hundreds of photos and detailed emails from Bob White (no relation) as he and his wife Anne explored remote villages in Africa for three months. The emails were fascinating as Bob shared with family and friends the trials and tribulations of travelling the back roads to get to “off the beaten path” places where they observe and capture the everyday life of Africans.

When they got back I asked if they would be interested in sharing some of their photos and experiences with Everyday Tourist blog readers as I know many of us have never been to Africa and if we have it probably wasn’t to the villages that they travelled to.

I am pleased they have agreed to share their experiences and insights with the Everyday Tourist community.

Travels with Anne & Bob

The border between Guinea and the Ivory Coast was closed during the Ebola crisis in 2014 and remained closed when we made our trip in 2016. We were forced to make a large detour into Mali before we could enter Guinea and continue our planned trip.

We stayed in the Ivory Coast resort town of Grand Bassam, where only a few months earlier three armed gunmen linked to al-Qaeda killed 19 tourists on the beach of this quiet town. We were more troubled and afraid of spending two days in this resort than our having to make a large diversion into Mali. 

 Fortunately, we had no problems during our time in the two countries, either from terrorists or Ebola.  We were welcomed and treated with friendship as was the norm during all our travels in West Africa.

Bob White

We hiked through the hills above the town of Siby, Mali to the Kamarjan Arch, a natural formation in the red sandstone cliffs. The arch and caves in the surrounding area have been used for animist and fetish religious rites for centuries.

We hiked through the hills above the town of Siby, Mali to the Kamarjan Arch, a natural formation in the red sandstone cliffs. The arch and caves in the surrounding area have been used for animist and fetish religious rites for centuries.

Women carrying their babies in slings on their backs is traditional throughout much of Africa. Women commonly clean, cook, shop and work at jobs while carrying their babies. The photo was taken in a roadside market south of Bamako, Mali.

Women carrying their babies in slings on their backs is traditional throughout much of Africa. Women commonly clean, cook, shop and work at jobs while carrying their babies. The photo was taken in a roadside market south of Bamako, Mali.

We took an early morning walk in the blocks around our hotel in the small city of Sikasso, Mali. A woman was doing a bustling business cooking up a sweet dough mix in a dimpled pan over a wood fire, a steady stream of locals bought the treats as quickly as she could cook them. We purchased a few and found they had a texture similar to a cake-style doughnut, and that they were delicious!

We took an early morning walk in the blocks around our hotel in the small city of Sikasso, Mali. A woman was doing a bustling business cooking up a sweet dough mix in a dimpled pan over a wood fire, a steady stream of locals bought the treats as quickly as she could cook them. We purchased a few and found they had a texture similar to a cake-style doughnut, and that they were delicious!

Our Lady of Peace Basilica, Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire   This huge church was built during the presidency of Felix Houphouët-Boigny, the first president of the Ivory Coast after independence from France in 1960. It can seat over 18,000 people, but normally draws only a couple of hundred for religious services in this mainly Muslim country. Houphouët-Boigny hoped that the basilica would become a pilgrimage site for African Catholics.

Our Lady of Peace Basilica, Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire

This huge church was built during the presidency of Felix Houphouët-Boigny, the first president of the Ivory Coast after independence from France in 1960. It can seat over 18,000 people, but normally draws only a couple of hundred for religious services in this mainly Muslim country. Houphouët-Boigny hoped that the basilica would become a pilgrimage site for African Catholics.

Anne Tapler White

Afternoon in the Mosque, Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire   We entered the Mosque which was quite large and spacious, cool and airy in the afternoon heat. The two girls were in a very intense conversion and did not notice my presence. What lead me to take the photo was how small they looked in such a large building.

Afternoon in the Mosque, Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire

We entered the Mosque which was quite large and spacious, cool and airy in the afternoon heat. The two girls were in a very intense conversion and did not notice my presence. What lead me to take the photo was how small they looked in such a large building.

Leading the Blind, Bouake, Cote d’Ivoire   We were sitting having tea along the main street of the town. The young girl was so attentive to the older woman, carefully guiding her along. What touched me was the young helping the old

Leading the Blind, Bouake, Cote d’Ivoire

We were sitting having tea along the main street of the town. The young girl was so attentive to the older woman, carefully guiding her along. What touched me was the young helping the old

Quarry Workers, near Korhogo, Cote d’Ivoire   We saw this work carried out both in quarries and along the roadside. It is a monumental task, breaking large boulders into gravel-sized rocks using only hand tools. The job takes many hours in the extreme heat, often entire families, including children, can be seen hammering at the rocks.

Quarry Workers, near Korhogo, Cote d’Ivoire

We saw this work carried out both in quarries and along the roadside. It is a monumental task, breaking large boulders into gravel-sized rocks using only hand tools. The job takes many hours in the extreme heat, often entire families, including children, can be seen hammering at the rocks.

Sacred Boulder, near Korhogo, Cote d’Ivoire   A short walk in sweltering heat and sun took us to this fetish site. Despite being mainly Muslim, many people rely on their animist traditions to get answers to personal problems. Fetish priests conduct rituals and animal sacrifices of chickens, sheep, and goats at this large boulder. A patch of chicken feathers stuck to the rock with blood is clearly visible. Shortly before we arrived, the lamb had been sacrificed to divine the solution to a problem. The lamb was carved into pieces for cooking and eating by the family that night.

Sacred Boulder, near Korhogo, Cote d’Ivoire

A short walk in sweltering heat and sun took us to this fetish site. Despite being mainly Muslim, many people rely on their animist traditions to get answers to personal problems. Fetish priests conduct rituals and animal sacrifices of chickens, sheep, and goats at this large boulder. A patch of chicken feathers stuck to the rock with blood is clearly visible. Shortly before we arrived, the lamb had been sacrificed to divine the solution to a problem. The lamb was carved into pieces for cooking and eating by the family that night.

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

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

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

Public Art?

Public Art?

More public art?

More public art?

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

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

Everybody loves a train ride!

Everybody loves a train ride!

First Stop: Irricana (population 1,216) 

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

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

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

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

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

Main Street Irricana.

Main Street Irricana.

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

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

Second Stop:  Beiseker (population 819) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old and new, train station becomes City offices.

Old and new, train station becomes City offices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love the graphics on the old games….

Love the graphics on the old games….

Love the fun factor…

Love the fun factor…

Third Stop: Horseshoe Canyon Park 

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

Horseshoe Canyon

Horseshoe Canyon

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Fourth Stop: Drumheller (population 7,982)

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

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

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

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

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

Downtown Drumheller has an eclectic collection of shops to explore.

Downtown Drumheller has an eclectic collection of shops to explore.

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

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

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

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

There are dinosaurs everywhere you look in Dumheller.

There are dinosaurs everywhere you look in Dumheller.

Drumheller has preserved a sense of past in its downtown.

Drumheller has preserved a sense of past in its downtown.

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

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

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

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

 Fifth Stop: Wayne (population 40)

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

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

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

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Sixth Stop: East Coulee (population 148) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All aboard….

All aboard….

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

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

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Atlas Coal mine site

Atlas Coal mine site

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

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

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Loved this coal dust sand box….

Loved this coal dust sand box….

Public Art?

Public Art?

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Seventh Stop: Rosebud (population 87) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link: Rosebud Theatre 

Link: The Hamlet of Rosebud 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson Learned

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

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

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

Flaneuring Fun In Maple Creek

Delacour: Ghost Town or Golf Town

Meeting Creek: Ghost Town Could Be Art Town

Everyday Life In Africa: Republic of Sierra Leone

We had a lot of surprises while traveling the countries on the west coast of Africa, and the vast majority were good surprises. Sierra Leone was a very nice surprise.

What I knew of Sierra Leone was mainly what I remembered from news reports of their civil war that was fought between three separate groups from 1991 to 2002.

The term ‘child soldier’ was coined as a result of the forced conscription of children as young as 8 years old into the military forces. The use of children in fighting was mainly by the RUF rebel group, but other groups were also guilty of using children.

Daniel’s Courtyard Neighbor, Makeni, Sierra Leone

Daniel’s Courtyard Neighbor, Makeni, Sierra Leone

Gold & Diamonds?

Sierra Leone has rebounded considerably since the end of the civil war, partly due to the resources of gold and diamonds. Unfortunate, the revenues from these two valuable resources leads to corruption where most of the profits generated from sales end up being grabbed by the ruling elite and their close business partners. 

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China has also played a major role in the economic rebound. The Chinese have built a good highway system, shipping ports, railroads and developed a huge iron ore mine. The normal way China finances these developments is to loan the money to the government and then take mineral resources as payment on the loans.

As we drove through the country, we saw numerous agricultural developments with Chinese names; probably also financed with the crops being used for payment.

The Ebola epidemic that ravaged parts of Africa from 2014 to 2016 infected over 28,000 people and resulted in 11,325 deaths in Sierra Leone alone. While riding in a taxi in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, the driver commented on a garbage dump that we were passing and called it ‘Ebola Central.’ Fortunately, the epidemic had been declared over before our trip.

In general, we were warmly welcomed and treated with great hospitality during our time in Sierra Leone. We were never treated badly or had any large amount of overt hostility directed at us in any of the countries we traveled through in Africa. In some cases, we were the subject of curiosity as most of these countries do not have any widespread tourism.

Anne Tapler White: Red Earth in Black & White

My “Red Earth in Black and White” project documents the everyday lives of the people of West Africa from Dakar, Senegal and carrying me down the west coast of Africa to Cape Town, South Africa. I have learned from my travels that we are all bound by common threads, joined together across distant lands. The photographs tell a story, becoming a frozen narrative capturing a fleeting moment. 

“My name is Daniel Conteh” is one such story. It begins in Makeni, Sierra Leone, late afternoon monsoon rains forced me to take shelter on a porch, where a family had set up a table selling soft drinks, beer and candy.

After purchasing something to drink I settled down on a bench for the rains to subside. But the rains were relentless and soon a boy named Daniel asked me to come off the porch into his home. The living area was crowded with people and I was introduced to Daniel’s mother, Grandmother, Aunt and siblings. A hall joined to an outer courtyard where neighbors sheltered from the rain. I was given permission to photograph the family and their neighbors. Daniel’s Grandmother told of her hip operation and lifted her dress to show the scar.

That chance encounter has left an indelible impression with me, especially that little boy who invited me into his home and who did not want his photo taken. But on the wall above his mother you will see that he had previously written “My name is Daniel Conteh” now for all the world to see.

Daniel’s Mother, Makeni, Sierra Leone

Daniel’s Mother, Makeni, Sierra Leone

Daniel’s Grandmother, Makeni, Sierra Leone

Daniel’s Grandmother, Makeni, Sierra Leone

Neighbors Sheltering from the Rain, Makeni, Sierra Leone

Neighbors Sheltering from the Rain, Makeni, Sierra Leone

Daniel’s Family, Makeni, Sierra Leone

Daniel’s Family, Makeni, Sierra Leone

Bob White’s Photos From Sierra Leone

We stopped along the road one day for a break on the edge of a village just as the local school was finishing for the day. We were quickly surrounded by about 100 curious students. They crowded around and some of our group who spoke French were able to converse and answer their questions. Nearly all the girls had intricately braided hair, and they were more than willing to pose for our pictures.

We stopped along the road one day for a break on the edge of a village just as the local school was finishing for the day. We were quickly surrounded by about 100 curious students. They crowded around and some of our group who spoke French were able to converse and answer their questions. Nearly all the girls had intricately braided hair, and they were more than willing to pose for our pictures.

Due to a mechanical breakdown on our truck, we spent nearly an entire day in the tiny village of Kambama. The people seem very accepting of us wandering around the village and taking pictures of their houses, school, and their activities. Most of the village is Christian and their children attend the small village school. These two boys were part of the Muslim minority and they receive instruction from an Imam who visits the village 1 or 2 days each week. They were proud to display their homework neatly written in Arabic.

Due to a mechanical breakdown on our truck, we spent nearly an entire day in the tiny village of Kambama. The people seem very accepting of us wandering around the village and taking pictures of their houses, school, and their activities. Most of the village is Christian and their children attend the small village school. These two boys were part of the Muslim minority and they receive instruction from an Imam who visits the village 1 or 2 days each week. They were proud to display their homework neatly written in Arabic.

This small church was built by freed slaves who returned to Sierra Leone. We were told the returned slaves were not well received by the local population and it took many years for them to successfully reintegrate into the local society.

This small church was built by freed slaves who returned to Sierra Leone. We were told the returned slaves were not well received by the local population and it took many years for them to successfully reintegrate into the local society.

One afternoon we were surprised to see a funeral party and pallbearers trooping down the beach to a small village that had no road access. At least two streams had to be forded by the group, that prevented many of the guests from getting to the village to attend the burial.

One afternoon we were surprised to see a funeral party and pallbearers trooping down the beach to a small village that had no road access. At least two streams had to be forded by the group, that prevented many of the guests from getting to the village to attend the burial.

Bure beach at sunset. Bure beach is a common destination for weekends and holidays for people living in nearby Freetown. There are a number of small hotels and scattered individual cottages along this stretch of fine sandy beach. We stayed at the pompously name Bure Beach Resort, it was not in the resort category by any standards. The corrugated iron roof over the lobby and dining area leaked so badly it was nearly as wet inside as in the afternoon downpour outside. The rooms were small and barren and the curtains on the windows had rotted to shreds. On the plus side, the plumbing mainly worked, the staff was amazingly accommodating and the meals were surprisingly good.

Bure beach at sunset. Bure beach is a common destination for weekends and holidays for people living in nearby Freetown. There are a number of small hotels and scattered individual cottages along this stretch of fine sandy beach. We stayed at the pompously name Bure Beach Resort, it was not in the resort category by any standards. The corrugated iron roof over the lobby and dining area leaked so badly it was nearly as wet inside as in the afternoon downpour outside. The rooms were small and barren and the curtains on the windows had rotted to shreds. On the plus side, the plumbing mainly worked, the staff was amazingly accommodating and the meals were surprisingly good.

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

AnneTaplerWhite Photography

Everyday Live in Africa: Senegal

Everyday Life in Africa : Senegal

This past winter I received hundreds of photos and detailed emails from Bob White (no relation) as he and his wife Anne explored remote villages in Africa for three months. The emails were fascinating as Bob shared with family and friends the trials and tribulations of travelling the back roads to get to “off the beaten path” places where they observe and capture the everyday life of Africans.

When they got back I asked if they would be interested in sharing some of their photos and experiences with Everyday Tourist blog readers as I know many of us have never been to Africa and if we have it probably wasn’t to the villages that they travelled to.

I am pleased they have agreed to share their experiences and insights with the Everyday Tourist community.

Arithmetic on the Wall, St Louis, 2016   This image caught my eye because the children were concentrating on doing their lesson so intently my presence went undetected. I surmised that the lack of paper and pencils made the building the next best thing to write on.

Arithmetic on the Wall, St Louis, 2016

This image caught my eye because the children were concentrating on doing their lesson so intently my presence went undetected. I surmised that the lack of paper and pencils made the building the next best thing to write on.

Anne Tapler White: Red Earth in Black & White Project

My Africa project, entitled “Red Earth in Black & White, began in 2013. I am interested in documenting the everyday life of the African people, and to some extent, portrays similarities to our own lives, all bound by common threads. The images tell a story that at times goes beyond the scope of written words, becoming a frozen narrative capturing a fleeting moment and perhaps in the eyes of the viewer creating a private story.

The Red Earth not only describes the iron-rich soil but is a symbol of its people and their visceral bond with the land that sustains them. It is in the vastness of the never-ending landscape with its small villages and in the streets of the more urban centers that you see their struggles, resilience, and their pride in being African.

Clean Sweep, Cape Skirring, 2016   It was the start of the tourist season and the women of the community all joined together to sweep the streets in preparation for the onslaught of tourists. True community spirit, with an abundance of brooms.

Clean Sweep, Cape Skirring, 2016

It was the start of the tourist season and the women of the community all joined together to sweep the streets in preparation for the onslaught of tourists. True community spirit, with an abundance of brooms.

Good Bye Look, Sippo Island, 2016   We spent several hours in a classroom that was taught by one teacher. The grades ran from Kindergarten to junior high. The children displayed the most amazing penmanship. The young girls gaze from the window was irresistible.

Good Bye Look, Sippo Island, 2016

We spent several hours in a classroom that was taught by one teacher. The grades ran from Kindergarten to junior high. The children displayed the most amazing penmanship. The young girls gaze from the window was irresistible.

Village Bakery, N’ Doul, 2016   The bakery was housed in a small industrial building, there were no counters and the bread was dispensed from boxes. The children who were working there ranged in age from maybe eight to twelve. Child labor is a continuing problem and one that I witnessed too often in my travels.

Village Bakery, N’ Doul, 2016

The bakery was housed in a small industrial building, there were no counters and the bread was dispensed from boxes. The children who were working there ranged in age from maybe eight to twelve. Child labor is a continuing problem and one that I witnessed too often in my travels.

Everyday Culture

“We got hooked on Africa partly because so few other tourists go there, we like to be off the beaten path, going to places and seeing things that haven’t been overdone and over-run. We are more interested in the people living their everyday lives and the culture of the countries” noted Bob White.

The rich musical history of Africa, especially from Ghana, Cote d’ Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal, is also fascinating. Virtually everywhere we traveled in West Africa we saw almost no other Caucasians and extremely few tourists, with the exception of South Africa.  

The sights we have seen are much lower key than the pyramids and other ancient sights in Egypt. The sights in West Africa may not have the awe factor of the popular tourist attractions, but we often find more personal connections to what we see.

Senegal is more Westernized than many other places in West Africa. Cape Skirring and a handful of other spots along the Atlantic coast regularly attract tourists from Europe, primarily from France due to Senegal being a former French colony. St. Louis in northern Senegal was of particular interest due to its history of being a regular stop on the original airmail route bringing mail from the US to Europe through South America and Africa.

As far as our photography shooting styles, Anne is much more deliberate in choosing her shots; I tend to take lots of pictures of everything I see and hope I get a scattering of good pictures. Anne has the eye to pick out the less obvious compositions and likes to include people in most of her photos.

Note: Bob always takes colour photos while Anne takes black and white.

When we visited Sippo Island, we had to provide a large bag of rice as an entrance fee to wander around the island and take photos. In the photo, the rice is being divided to share with all of the local families. It was nice to see that the rice didn’t go only to the village chief and his family.

When we visited Sippo Island, we had to provide a large bag of rice as an entrance fee to wander around the island and take photos. In the photo, the rice is being divided to share with all of the local families. It was nice to see that the rice didn’t go only to the village chief and his family.

We were in Senegal at the height of the harvest season for many fruits and melons. It was common to see piles of watermelons along the roads and stacked on sidewalks, like the ones in the photo. Many of these fruit stands seemed to be unattended, I assume that buyers would select a melon and then pay the grower directly.

We were in Senegal at the height of the harvest season for many fruits and melons. It was common to see piles of watermelons along the roads and stacked on sidewalks, like the ones in the photo. Many of these fruit stands seemed to be unattended, I assume that buyers would select a melon and then pay the grower directly.

A group of colorful fishing boats in the harbor at St. Louis, Senegal. St. Louis is a major port for Senegal and a large portion of the people earn their living from the sea. Much of the fishing is done at night and the boats return in the morning to sell their catch.

A group of colorful fishing boats in the harbor at St. Louis, Senegal. St. Louis is a major port for Senegal and a large portion of the people earn their living from the sea. Much of the fishing is done at night and the boats return in the morning to sell their catch.

The fishing beach, St. Louis, Senegal. Hundreds of dilapidated houses, little more than shacks, crowd the edge of the beach in St. Louis, often with fishing boats tucked between them well above the tide. The children mainly play on the beach as there is virtually no other open space in the fishing village. Adults seem to commonly use the beach as a sidewalk to visit friends and neighbors. We were tolerated, but not really welcome on this garbage-strewn beach. We had hoped to see the boats coming in and unloading their catch, but our timing was off.

The fishing beach, St. Louis, Senegal. Hundreds of dilapidated houses, little more than shacks, crowd the edge of the beach in St. Louis, often with fishing boats tucked between them well above the tide. The children mainly play on the beach as there is virtually no other open space in the fishing village. Adults seem to commonly use the beach as a sidewalk to visit friends and neighbors. We were tolerated, but not really welcome on this garbage-strewn beach. We had hoped to see the boats coming in and unloading their catch, but our timing was off.

Last Word

Africa became a project for me. It appealed to my preference for shooting in busy chaotic situations. The markets and streets display endless photographic possibilities. My interest is more social documentary in nature, presenting a more candid view of the people and their cultures in everyday life situations.  

I prefer the black and white image as opposed to color, because it draws out the essence of a moment, and simplifies the image. It is hard to explain why I take certain images. For me, it's very immediate when some or all of the photographic elements come together. 

For more photos checkout Anne’s website: Anne Tapler White

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William Kentridge: Procession

Off The Beaten Path: Gleichen, Blackfoot Crossing, Medicine Hat

Mexico City: Full of fun surprises

Calgary: Needs to foster more "Transit Oriented Communities"

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

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

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

The answers were very insightful and informative….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is TOD?

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2019-06-16 at 8.39.45 AM.png

Calgary lags behind

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link: 21 Major Developments Plan Near SkyTrain Stations

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

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

The Metrotown Station is very inviting at ground level.

The Metrotown Station is very inviting at ground level.

Metrotown office towers.

Metrotown office towers.

Metroopolis shopping centre has mostly underground parking.

Metroopolis shopping centre has mostly underground parking.

Metropolis entrance by car.

Metropolis entrance by car.

Metrotown has sky bridges over busy streets.

Metrotown has sky bridges over busy streets.

Here’s what I learned…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link: TOD Bridgeland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developer frustrations…

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOD Planner says….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transit Oriented Communities 

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

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

  • Public/Private collaboration

  • First/Last Mile connectivity

  • Real Community Engagement in the planning process 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not a pedestrian friendly place.

This is not a pedestrian friendly place.

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

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

 Calgarians love their single family homes

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Something to think about?

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

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

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

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

Link: Calgary’s Great TOD Neighbourhoods

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

Eveyday Tourist Transit Tales

Love it: On It Regional Transit

Calgary Transit: The Good & The Ugly