Are downtowns relevant in the 21st century city?

Everyday Tourist Note:

I recently asked Harry Hiller, urban sociologist at the University of Calgary in an email if he would comment on the importance of a vibrant downtown from his urban sociological perspective. His comments may surprise you ….they surprised me.

I have taken his email and with his permission formatted it as a thought provoking blog on the future of downtowns, not only in Calgary but for many cities.

Downtown Calgary Skyline (photo credit: Tourism Calgary).

Downtown & Consumption

The notion of a downtown as the central core of a city is a somewhat outdated concept because many activities - formerly occurring only in the core - now take place in many locations throughout the city. 

Historically, the central core of cities had three functions: trade, worship (e.g. cathedrals) and governance. It was not a place to live. 

Industrialization altered this pattern somewhat primarily because factories and warehouses were built in the city center adjacent to transportation networks such as railroads and waterways.

In the summer at noon hour, Stephen Avenue comes alive with downtown workers and a few tourists. 

Post-industrialization transformed the central core of cities yet again as employment shifted from factories (blue collar jobs) to offices (so-called white collar jobs) in high-rise towers.  This process contributed to another transformation in which consumption through entertainment, shopping, museums, galleries, and dining have become economic engines for downtowns.

These leisure activities (beyond the 9 to 5 pm working hours) opened up the possibility for a very different downtown core, one that is less about workers and more about urban living and playing.

This creates a vibrancy of a different type downtown. But this concept has not caught on in Calgary yet? Why not?

7th Avenue Transit corridor station

Stephen Avenue is a inhospitable place in the winter when it cold and windy.

Barclay Mall or 3rd Street SW, downtown's other pedestrian-oriented street linking Stephen Avenue with the Bow River.

Is downtown still relevant?

17th Avenue sidewalks are full of pedestrians even in February.  Calgary wasted a great opportunity to capital on the Red Mile brand as a tourist attraction. 

The problem for Calgary is the city is still young, suburban and dominated by child-rearing families. In addition there is little incentive for families to come downtown after office hours and most downtown workers just want to "escape" it.

It needs to be recognized contemporary cities are now multi-nucleated, meaning that there are many nodes for shopping, dining, entertainment and professional services away from the downtown core.  Suburban malls or pedestrian streets like 10th Street NW, 17th Avenue SW, 33rd Avenue SW or even strip malls minimize the need for people to go downtown. In fact, many suburbanites never need to visit the central core for any reason at all.

Downtown is less relevant to more Calgarians than ever before.

In fact many want to avoid or "escape" downtown.

 

Calgary Next would add two major event facilities to our downtown, with the potential to host major events as well as sports teams. 

Calgary Next would add two major event facilities to our downtown, with the potential to host major events as well as sports teams. 

Downtown as a tourist attraction?

This is where the current proposal for CalgaryNEXT needs to be evaluated.  The idea of building new arenas, stadiums, ballparks and convention centres is currently in vogue in many cities across North America because it provides anchors and a site for both residential and consumptive activity.  

Edmonton's Ice District and Winnipeg's downtown SHED (sports, hospitality, entertainment district) is meant to play a role in rejuvenating the downtown. Certainly, sport facilities (BC Place and Rogers Arena), convention facilities, and cultural activities have played a major role in making Vancouver an attractive place to live and play even superseding downtown’s role as an employment center.

But there is another important point to be made.  Great cities always support downtown tourism (e.g. New York or San Francisco) where people (suburbanites or visitors from other places) come to the downtown core for the weekend, stay in hotels, go shopping and dining, and take in cultural or sport events.  

I discovered hotels in San Francisco are busier on the weekends than they are during the week as people come from everywhere to enjoy the options in the downtown core.  If you look at cities with vibrant downtowns, they are almost always tourist hot spots.

Unfortunately, Calgary lacks the 5+ million population within a 2 or 3-hour drive that cities like San Francisco, New York, Vancouver, Seattle, Toronto or Montreal have.  Some argue you need this population base to support an urban playground on weekends.  If just 2% of the people decide to head downtown on any given weekend that is 100,000 people. That's about the population of Calgary’s weekday downtown core workforce!

Downtown Calgary boast many great parks and pathways for recreational activities that are slowing attracting more people to want to live downtown.

Our downtown must become a place “to play”

I was at an event with Ken King recently and told him I believe many people do not understand the potential of the CalgaryNEXT proposal to create a hub of activity synergistic with other consumption activities in the central core along the LRT line.

Alternative sites for CalgaryNEXT (McMahon Stadium site or site adjacent to the Deerfoot) do not acknowledge how the proposed project could contribute to a more vibrant central core. 

Yes the proposed West Village site is complex, but in many ways it is also ideal with its proximity to LRT, major roads, downtown and the river.

Urban development is always complex.

The Core, downtown shopping centre is one of the largest and most attractive indoor shopping centres in Canada, but it has not capture the imagination of suburban Calgarians to come down and shop on weekends. Tourists on the street outside often don't even know it exists. 

Other than Stephen Avenue, the streets in the downtown core have nothing for pedestrians to see or do.  It is a ghetto of office buildings for office workers. 

9th Avenue, downtown Calgary

Macleod Trail, downtown Calgary

Last Word

Much of the current debate about CalgaryNEXT could be improved by greater public awareness and discussion about the role our downtown core should play in the future of the city.  From my perspective, our downtown must become more than just a place to work, which is the current reality. The sooner the better!

Dr. Harry Hiller, Faculty Professor of Urban Sociology at the University of Calgary.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Downtown Calgary: Historical Postcards

Calgary's Downtown Power Hour

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Fun Ideas for Downtown Calgary

Calgary's Mewata Village, Siksika Trail & Makhabn River?

Editor’s Note: Regular visitors to the Everyday Tourist website will know we are keen to celebrate Calgary’s unique history and sense of place within the context of the larger world we share.  We love to do pieces on Calgary’s history and pleased to publish guest editorials from time to time that provide a fresh perspective on our city.  Recently, the idea of being more creative with our street names has struck a cord with our readers, with two submissions for guest blogs.

Celebrating the history of the First Nations 

It may be because I spent two summers living on the prairie north of Rosemary, Alberta. We lived in a 20-foot trailer and my job in the summer of 1975 was to break up 960-acres of prairie sod. I went over every inch of this land three times with my Massey Fergusson tractor and 22-foot cultivator. The following year, we planted our first crop of wheat and canola and irrigated it with water from the creek.

I could smell the sage and sweet grass growing along the Matsawin Creek, which flowed through our land. The deer visited in the morning and the evening. The coyotes could sometimes be seen during the day but most often heard at night. I watched the eagles hunt for rabbits and gophers. Occasionally, a skittish herd of antelope would warily circle our property. The wind was ever present as was a great big sky.

Reconnecting & Celebrating The Past

It didn’t occur to me until much later that my experience of prairie was similar to those who hunted on this land hundreds or even thousands of years earlier. I was living in the territory of the Siksika people, whose reserve is now 40 miles to the west. I never thought about the previous owners at the time. We were farmers intent on getting our land ready for our crops.

Fast-forward to today and I feel a strong need to reconnect not only to the recent past, but the ancient one of the First Nations. I want to honour their wisdom, their vigour and their stewardship of this land.

It has taken me awhile to appreciate the importance of our relationship with the First Nations people who lived here long before we came along to lay claim to the land and shape it to suit our purposes.

I recently attended the screening of “Elder in the Making” (elderinthemaking.com). This is a moving documentary about a Chinese newcomer to Canada, Chris Hsiung, and a young Blackfoot man, Cowboy SmithX, and it tells the history of the land occupied by the Blackfoot tribes of Southern Alberta.

As a Chinese immigrant, the filmmaker had no knowledge of the people who lived on this land for thousands of year. Hsiung did note we use various First Nation names for our highways, but he didn't know the history or significance of these names. I doubt he is alone in this. For a long time, Calgary has named our major thoroughfares using the English names of famous Aboriginal leaders such as Crowfoot or the First Nation's name like Sarcee, even though T’suu Tina’ is the proper term.

Weasel Calf (name given to him by settlers) and his wife.

Better Process

The City of Calgary has recently proposed a revision of its naming policy. If approved, the policy will require aboriginal names to be used on all freeways and expressways constructed in Calgary. While a change in policy is welcomed, I suggest that further discussion is needed. There may be occasions when a non-Aboriginal name is preferred for an expressway (e.g. Memorial Drive).  We may wish to honour someone whose name and reputation stands the test of time (e.g. Peter Lougheed).  

We need to include First Nations elders in the naming and blessing of expressways or “trails”. A participatory approach has been adopted throughout New Zealand resulting in the extensive use of Maori place names. Honouring First Nations people with appropriate names for places and “trails” might lead to other efforts to include and honour the Treaty 7 peoples and the special places where they lived, worked, and played.   

The policy should also allow for the renaming of existing expressways. For example, Blackfoot Trail could add “Siksika Trail,” or simply become Siksika Trail.  Sarcee Trail could become "T’suu Tina Trail".   

Bow River (Makhabn River) looking west with Prince's Island and Eau Claire lumber mill in the distance.  This photo is from the current exhibition at the Lougheed House. 

Better Context

Maybe we can do better by providing the appropriate First Nations name to a particular place. Do we begin to use the Siksika word “Makhabn also spelt Manachban” which means “river where bow reeds grow” as an alternative name for the Bow River (it is kinda of dumb to have both a Bow and Elbow River)?  Mokintsis is the First Nation name for the Elbow River, it means, “elbow” and is based on the sharp elbow-like turn it makes at Stampede Park before entering the Makahabn River (whoops) Bow River. 

The confluence of the Bow and the Elbow Rivers might be called Ako-katssinn (Siksika for a place where all come to camp) to celebrate its earliest human occupation alongside the historic Fort Calgary site. Ako-katssinn would be a great name for the new pedestrian bridge at the confluence.

We already use some First Nation language, but not in the right context. For example Mewata Armoury serves a military use, yet “mewata” means “to be happy, pleasant place or be joyful.” Similarly, “paskapoo” means blindman and I am not sure what that has to do with sandstone and “shaganappi” means “raw hide” which makes no sense to how we use it today.

Last word

The fact we have retained the term “trails” rather than using the term freeways or numbered highways for our major roads (as is the case for most cities), is exactly what I am talking about.  It may seem like a small token of appreciation for the past, but it is part of what makes Calgary unique and proper names can bring new context and vitality to a place. 

Maybe we could start by renaming West Village, Mewata Village – who wouldn’t want to live work and play in “a happy, pleasant, joyful place?” 

About Lawrence Braul

Lawrence currently works as the CEO of Trinity Place Foundation of Alberta. He was born and raised in Calgary. He believes the old adage, "You can take the boy out of the prairie, but you can't take the prairie out of the boy."

If you like this blog, you might like:

University District: What's In a Name?

Calgary: Naming Challenge

Calgary: The History Capital of Canada?

 

Calgary: Tea Trader & Lapsang Souchong

I can’t remember when I first discovered Lapsang Souchong tea, but probably at university (a lot of experimenting happened then), but I have continued to enjoy its smoky (or as someone likes to say “smelly socks”) essence ever since.  Over the years, I have purchased my tea from a variety of suppliers, but for the past few years my favourite supplier, hands down, has been Tea Trader in Inglewood. 

Tea Trader's entrance on 9th Ave SE, aka Atlantic Avenue, or Inglewood's Main Street. 

Tea Trader's entrance on 9th Ave SE, aka Atlantic Avenue, or Inglewood's Main Street. 

I love that the entrance is just a door on Atlantic Avenue which, upon entering, immediately leads you up a steep narrow stairway to the warehouse-like store.

Authenticity

When you arrive, you are immediately immersed in a world of tea – from the wall of tea tins to the burlap bags of tea piled up on the floor.  It feels authentic and like an oasis at the same time.  And the soft-spoken Kate, the store manager who always seems to be there when I go echoes the sense of tranquillity. 

Each time I go to get my little bag of Lapsang Souchong tea, I also get a little more of Tea Trader’s backstory. However on my most recent visit I asked Kate about other teas that I might like, and without hesitation and like an octopus, she enthusiastically started grabbing tins, while telling me about each of them, and inviting me to smell them. It was then that I realized Kate and my little tea shop was a pretty special Calgary business.

Kate loves to talk about the art and science of teas.

Backstory

Tea Trader, is owned by Ted and Colleen Jones, is located above Robinson’s Camera on 9th Avenue SE (formerly Atlantic Avenue) and has been in business since 1994 (It was the first tea only shop in Calgary).   I only found out recently that its current location is its fourth in Inglewood. It started directly across the street sharing space with one of the many, at the time, antique stores, then it moved two shops west sharing with a craft store, then for a few years it was east of the Blackfoot Truck stop until it settled in its present location for the last eight years.

Its roots lie in Ted’s working in London in the late ‘80s amongst a wide group of commodity traders coal, oil, and notably tea and coffee. Wanting his own business and liking the combination of tea, its customers and the buying/selling environment were key factors in the creation of Tea Trader.

The office/warehouse. 

Calgary Perfect

Ted a Brit, met Colleen from Ontario, while both were working in London and after three years in Cape Town, South Africa, they decided in 1990 that they wanted to live in the Western Canada. Even though they liked Vancouver, housing was too expensive even then. Calgary's lower cost of living, proximity to mountains and the fact they fell in love with Inglewood on their first visit to Cowtown made it a perfect place to start their new life and business.  

Over the years, Tea Trader has shipped tea to customers in Portugal, Britain, Japan, Australia, South Korea, Germany and Mexico, as well as all over North America. About 30% of their business is mail order and 60% is in-store.  Though, they couldn’t give me an exact volume of sales in pounds or kilograms, Kate did confirm “We sell tons of tea and at 3 grams a cup, that is a lot of tea!”

There is a small collection of vintage tea cups and pots. 

There is a small collection of vintage tea cups and pots. 

Alberta Clipper Tea

At any given time, they have 100 to 160 teas in stock. Because tea is a seasonal commodity, they have to buy enough tea for the whole year when it becomes available; otherwise they miss the boat.  The Jones buy from an assortment of suppliers in India, China, Sri Lanka and Taiwan – some are actual tea garden growers while others are tea agents for growers. 

The Jones create many of their own tea blends - customers’ favourites being Bow River Breakfast (a blend of Assam BOP and Darjeeling first flush black teas) and Alberta Clipper (a blend of Darjeeling, Assam and Yunnan second flush black teas).  blends. Eight Bells is one of their most popular teas - an Earl Grey combining vanilla and passion fruit petals.

Tea Trader was the first store in Calgary to offer non-tea infusions like rooibos, which brought a whole new clientele of South Africans to the shop. Today, hundreds of regulars for whom tea is part of their everyday life, come in like clockwork to buy  at Tea Trader. 

The wall of teas is impressive. 

Funny Stories

Ted was once stopped at Heathrow Airport in London when his bag had 3kg of tea in it.  The security guard, by the look on his face, thought he had the bust of a lifetime, though Ted said it was just tea.  He walked to his supervisor standing nearby and Ted watched patiently as he explained what he had found. The supervisor listened for a few minutes, looked over at Ted and without coming over to the table, waved Ted through.

Perhaps the strangest request they have had was an inquiry for tea to make a special paint for industrial use. The Jones put the prospective customer in touch with Twinings in South Carolina knowing they stocked large quantities of broken tea leaves, which would do the job, and have the specific skills for such a request.

There are lots of fun subliminal messages. 

There are lots of fun subliminal messages. 

Good Tea

Cooking & Baking

Kate informed me tea can be used in cooking and baking. For example, Matcha, a powdered green tea can be added to shortbread, macaroons and even ice cream. Adding my favourite Lapsang Souchong can impart its smoky flavour when roasting meats or fish.

Japanese green teas can be brewed and used to add a full, rich flavour to soup broth. Tea can also be fermented using a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) to produce a drink called Kombucha.

Tea Trader offers a good selection of accessories.

Last Word

On my last visit, Kate informed me Lapsang Souchong is a pine-smoked variety of china black tea - the smoky flavour is not inherent to the tea leaf but rather the result of the smoke drying process. The story goes, the tea was created during the Qing dynasty (1644 to 1912) when the passage of armies delayed the annual drying of the tea leaves in the Wuyi Mountain in southeast China. Eager to satisfy demand, tea producers sped up the drying process by having their workers dry the tea leaves over fires made from local pine trees. It was Winston Churchill’s favourite tea; I heard he would also add a few drops of Lapsang Souchong tea to his scotch.

She also sent me home with a sample of a Keemun Mao Feng that she thought I might like (free taster bags, gotta like that). She was right!

Info:

  • Location: 1228A - 9th Avenue SE, 1-888-676-2939 / 403-264-0728
  • Open: Tuesday to Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm / Sunday, noon to 4 pm MST.
  • Website: teatrader.com
  • Email: shop@teatrader.com

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2015: Everyday Tourist's Best Public Art / Street Art photos

My 2014 Christmas gift to myself was a Sony RX100 camera which, along with two iPhones, were put to good use (some might not agree, particularly my Redwood golfing buddies who were always asking “what are you taking a picture of now?”) last year taking 12,682 photos.

I love surfing through my photos on an almost daily basis. It is like a visual diary of both being both a tourist in other cities and an everyday flaneur in and around Calgary. It is fun reliving and rethinking where you have been.

Tony Oursler's "Braincast" sculpture is installed inside the wall along the escalator of Seattle's Central Library. It consists of a series of three videos cast on to eye-ball like forms. I had to ride the escalator several times to watch the videos. 

Bad Editor...

As 2015 came to a close I started to reflect on the highlights of 2015.  After spending hours reviewing my photos and wondering if I could reduce 2015 to just 10 photos.  (I love top ten lists) I came to the conclusion that was impossible for me. I have never been a good editor. 

I then thought maybe I could do a couple of top ten lists based on certain subjects and activities with some common denominators.  After identifying about 250 favourite images (about 2% of the 2015 portfolio) seven subjects surfaced.

So rather than one large blog with dozen of images, I created seven subject specific blogs that reflect the fun and surprises of being an everyday tourist and flaneur in 2015.  

Art in unexpected places...

Expect the unexpected as my street art and public art photos are not just about sculptures and statues, rather how art can be found in strange places. 

The glass canopy at the 6th Street LRT station on 7th Ave in downtown Calgary has been converted into a work of art by Stuart Keller.  Titled "SWARM" it consists of thousands of images of winged seeds (also called keys, helicopters, whirlers, twisters, whirligigs) produced by some trees.  The pattern of the seeds was inspired by the swarming of birds taking flight at dusk.  I liked the interplay with the art, sky, building and construction crane.   

The glass canopy at the 6th Street LRT station on 7th Ave in downtown Calgary has been converted into a work of art by Stuart Keller.  Titled "SWARM" it consists of thousands of images of winged seeds (also called keys, helicopters, whirlers, twisters, whirligigs) produced by some trees.  The pattern of the seeds was inspired by the swarming of birds taking flight at dusk.  I liked the interplay with the art, sky, building and construction crane.   

The juxtaposition of the colourful and temporary Day of the Dead skeleton figure with the permanent, dark winged-horse and figure statue captured my eye.  Located in the plaza in front of Mexico City's Bellas Artes concert hall. 

This colourful and complex collage of images is from a piece of playground equipment in the West Hillhurst in Calgary.  I love it when I find images like this in unexpected places. 

"By the Banks of the Bow" is one of the largest bronze sculptures in North America.  Create by Bob Spaith and Rich Roenisch, it consists of 15 horses and two cowboys crossing Calgary's Bow River.  I love public art that allows the public to interact with it. 

Strange Reflections

These three mirage images of female faces are reflections in the window of the +15 hallway next to Holt Renfrew looking out to the LRT station in downtown Calgary. 

This image  was taken looking into the window of the Out There store on Stephen Avenue in downtown Calgary.  There is a wonderful narrative in this artwork.

Ballard is a suburban of Seattle with a wonderful Main Street that hosts a vibrant Sunday street market.  This artwork is one of the many wonderful reflections of Ballard's street life in the store windows.    

Loved the surrealism of this jail-like image created in a pedicure shop window in Seattle's tony Belltown.

"Reflections," inside the Experience Music Project Museum, Seattle. 

This window reflection is a visually stunning collage of architecture and facades in a downtown Calgary window. 

Objects 

Found this still life image along Calgary's 7th Avenue transit corridor. 

Wake , Richard Serra, 125 feet long weathered steel, Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle. 

"Wonderland", 39 foot sculpture by Jaume Plensa, (plaza in front of The Bow office tower, downtown Calgary) 

"Echo" 46 foot sculpture by Jaume Plensa  (Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle) 

Typewriter Eraser, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle. 

From the sidewalk

Street art in Calgary's Sunnyside community. 

Street art in Victoria, BC. 

Found this abandoned piano key board while walking to a Goodwill store on the outskirts of Seattle's City Centre.  It had a found art quality for us - wonderful colour, shape, pattern and rhythms.  If we could have brought it home we would have. We did bring home a single key as found artwork which we have added to our home collection. 

2015: Everyday Tourist's Best Street People Photos

 

My 2014 Christmas gift to myself was a Sony RX100 camera which, along with two iPhones, were put to good use (some might not agree, particularly my Redwood golfing buddies who were always asking “what are you taking a picture of now?”) last year taking 12,682 photos.

I love surfing through my photos on an almost daily basis. It is like a visual diary of both being both a tourist in other cities and an everyday flaneur in and around Calgary. It is fun reliving and rethinking where you have been.

As 2015 came to a close I started to reflect on the highlights of 2015.  After spending hours reviewing my photos and wondering if I could reduce 2015 to just 10 photos.  (I love top ten lists) I came to the conclusion that was impossible for me. I have never been a good editor. 

I then thought maybe I could do a couple of top ten lists based on certain subjects and activities with some common denominators.  After identifying about 250 favourite images (about 2% of the 2015 portfolio) seven subjects surfaced.

So rather than one large blog with dozen of images, I created seven subject specific blogs that reflect the fun and surprises of being an everyday tourist and flaneur in 2015.  

Black & White Narratives

I was surprised at how many black and white photos I took in 2015 and how many still captured my interest.  There is something about black and white images that elevates the drama of everyday life. While some readers have said the black and white images are depressing and sad, others love the quality of light and sense of the narrative that is revealed in them.

Architecture As Art

My architectural photos rarely isolate a single building into a static documentary image, but rather focus on the interplay of design, styles and built forms.  I am always looking for a different perspective that captures an artistic interpretation of architecture.

Flaneuring Fun

I love wandering the streets wherever I am, looking for urban surprises and usually I am not disappointed.  It could be anything from a dandelion gone to seed illuminated by a setting sun to fun doorway.  I love the thrill of the hunt.

Playgrounds

I have always loved the colour and sense of joy that happens at community playgrounds.  This year I bonded with the little guy next-door (he will be 2 years old in January 2016) and explored literally dozens of playgrounds all within a short walk of our house.  As a result I have made a point over the past year to visit as many playgrounds as I can both in Calgary and beyond.

Street People

One of my goals for 2015 was to capture the everyday urban life of the street, plaza, park and pathway, while respecting everyone’s privacy.

Street Art / Public Art Surprises

Expect the unexpected as my street art and public art photos are not just about sculptures and statues, rather how art can be found in strange places like amazing collages created in the reflections of storefront windows.

Skyscapes

Over the past year, I have been treated to some some amazingly works of art created by Mother Nature.  For the most part these are not your romantic sunsets and sunrises, but rather dramatic moments that are part of one’s everyday experiences.

Last Word

I hope you will enjoy these compilations as much as I have in putting them together.   As always, comments are welcomed.  Feel free to share with me some of your favourite photos of 2015.

Editor’s Note: I will be posting a new 2015 Best Everyday Tourist Photos blog each Sunday beginning January 3rd.

 

Found these two young girls crawling towards me after a Zombie Walk in Mexico City's Revolution Monument Plaza. There parents and they were keen to have me take their picture.  

This little guy caught me by surprise. Mexico City

Love these ladies, Calgary

Found these children using temporary swings under bleachers set up for the World Archery Competition in Mexico City. 

Walking next to the EMP museum designed by architect Frank Gehry is a surreal experience. 

Musician walking to Revolution Subway station in Mexico City.

Hand-holding, Mexico City. 

Beautiful, Mexico City

Relaxing, Mexico City

Asking For Directions, Mexico City

Lunch, Lady of Guadalupe Plaza, Mexico City 

Stampede fun on Stephen Avenue, Calgary

ive

Give Me 10, Crescent Heights Stairs, Calgary

Mirror, Mirror, Freemont Flea Market, Seattle

Hola Hoop

Fun Run, East Village, Calgary

Retro Fun, Pike Market, Seattle

School Trip, +15 bridge, Calgary

Princess, Revolution Monument Plaza, Mexico City

Big Smile, +15 bridge, Centennial Parkade, Calgary

Beauty & The Beast, Mexico City

Three Stooges, Mexico City

Skeleton Boy, Mexico City

Poem: Naming The Streets of Calgary

"Naming the Streets of Calgary" is simply a lament that we have failed to lend substance to 'place' by ascribing only numbers to our pathways...a monumental failure in my mind." Gord Menzies

 

I follow her on a Monday meandering

through the Cold Garden under blue sky

damning and cursing the grid work of 1904

watching the numbers fall from street signs

clattering over the curbs as she passes

streets and avenues dropping numbers

and demanding words of remembrance

she almost prances as she speaks them

Brown Bottle Lane, Riverwalk Avenue

Prairie Wind and Magpie Streets

Dancing Horse Drive, she touches

street signs as she passes and I

follow, writing them all down, some

just rediscovered and given life again

as she peels up the asphalt, touches earth

her fingers finding letters 'midst the stone

her lips finding adjectives, in shadow

and river spray wanderings, knowing

we cannot sink our roots into numbers

only names can make these places ours

in Gaelic and Siksika and English

Alainn Street, Ki'somma Avenue

our pathways come to life and rise

I determine not to kiss her on 6th Avenue,

but take her by the slender waist

on Winter Rose Lane, and the moment,

is planted like a flag in the pressing of lips,

and fixed as a star among our names

By Gordon R. Menzies, 2016

Menzies' Backstory 

Since coming to Calgary five years ago I've always found the numbering system somewhat unsettling from the perspective of both my literary and historical eye...so the seed of the poem has been present for some time.  The loss of historical perspective and aboriginal consideration in light of current societal pressures of various kinds impacts the heritage of everyone laying down roots here.  

For example, I have heard Carseland repeatedly referred to as "Car's Land" whereas the origin is Auld (Old) Scots - 'carse' is a fertile river land.  Calgary itself is of Gaelic origin, though its meaning is debated.  I chose one of them 'cold garden' for the poem.  The intended name, of course, would only be known to James MacLeod, who may or may not have had a solid mastery of the language.  

The etymology remains uncertain today.  In any case, the naming of things is unique to our species and of incredible historical and cultural importance, though admittedly only in our hearts and minds...the earth knows its own names and what we assign is ultimately only of true importance to our various peoples.  

Menzies' Last Word:

Although numbers do have the capacity to become iconic, memorable or impactful, e.g. 9/11, Area 51, Prisoner 24601, 1984, etc., the truest of powers resides in words.  We name things - our children, our homes, our lands, our weapons - to give them strength and identity.  

We should not be living in binary code, we need the warmth and sense of place that comes with written language.

TELUS Spark sparks reflection

Shame on me! Why? Because until today (January 26, 2016) I had not visited the stunning TELUS Spark building which opened in October 2011.  In my defense, I have no children. Nor had anybody said to me “you must see TELUS Spark.”  

That is until Erin Christensen, TELUS Spark’s Marketing & Communications Coordinator emailed me an invite last week to ask if I might be interested in doing a blog about their new exhibition, BODY WORLDS Vital.

I jumped at the chance. 

Close up image of the incredible intricacies of the human body. It will be a long time before we forget this exhibition.  Yes in some ways human flesh does  look like bacon.

Architecture 

On a grey winter day TELUS Sparks blends into the sky and the parking lot.

I do love the tension created by the various angular shapes of the building’s exterior seemingly piled on top of each other.  The steel grey skin seems a little dull by day but becomes a wonderful canvas for the nightly illuminated colour show that makes the building look like a brilliant gemstone to those travelling by on the adjacent Deerfoot Trail.  

Once inside the building, it is very bright, open and very functional, not distracting like so many contemporary, “weird & wacky” buildings.  The entrance is spacious and inviting without being overwhelming. I loved the fact that immediately upon entering, the joyous voices of children playing and having fun could be heard.  It was alive.

The gallery spaces also seem spacious and synergistic with the programming and exhibitions.  As a former public art gallery executive director and curator, this is exactly what you want. Kudos to Calgary’s DIALOG architects.

At the entrance I found this strange juxtaposition of shapes, colours, angles and letters. 

Body WORLDS Vital 

TELUS Sparks bills Vital as “One of the world's most ground-breaking travelling exhibitions at Calgary's science centre. BODY WORLDS Vital celebrates the living human body in its optimal state - healthy, vibrant, vigorous and in motion. The exhibition presents the leading health concerns of contemporary times, the causes of these conditions and diseases and ways to prevent or manage them.”

This human head has an eerie stare. It looks like something Salvador Dali might have done.

This human head has an eerie stare. It looks like something Salvador Dali might have done.

Upfront, they caution visitors this exhibition is not for everyone given the exposure of complete, real bodies including genitalia, prenatal development, (including embryos and foetuses) and on Thursday nights “a representation of sexual intercourse.”

Erin explained that, “we do have a coupling exhibit at BODY WORLDS Vital. It’s open on Thursday evenings starting in February. This includes the Thursdays we have Adults Only Night as well as the Thursdays we are open for extended hours from February to May for all ages.

 

The exhibit is placed in its own room with a door that can be closed. There is carefully placed signage noting that this is a discretionary section. We wanted to make the coupling exhibit available, while also being mindful of our regular family visitors and school groups. We do not have any photos of this exhibit as there is a photography ban put in place by BODY WORLDS on this particular exhibit.”

The exhibition consists of real human bodies that have been skinned allowing viewers to see every bone, muscle, nerve, organs etc.  In many cases, parts of the body cavity have also been “peeled back” so one can see deeper inside.  The end result in many cases is a very abstract perspective on the human body.

This head reminded me of some of the Inuit sculptures I have seen. 

For some, I can imagine this could be very disturbing, hence their wise warning, but for me, I was simply left wondering what all the fuss was about. And, I did not hear anyone gasping in horror at what they saw.  Because of the process called plastination everything looks plasticized; there is no sense of the messy blood or guts, and it all seems very sanitized.  As a former artist and contemporary art curator, it looked more like art than science.  This is not a bad thing.

I loved the athletic shapes the bodies were placed in - from ballet dancer to soccer player – giving them a sculptural sense of shape and form. Some of the cut-aways looked like something by Picasso or his cubist colleagues or works by one of the surrealists artists or maybe the work of an Inuit carver. 

The first full figure you are confronted with is this jumping male ballet dancer in mid-air. The piece is held up by the peeling back of the spinal cord to reveal all of the inner organs and muscles. It is a very powerful piece. 

I spent about 90 minutes in the exhibition and could have spent more.  We’d recommend getting the audio guide as we found many of the information panels a little light on information. However, there is a roving educator on site to answer questions that enquiring minds might have.

Though I am not sure of the scientific or educational value of the exhibition (most of the information being readily available and with videos much more explicit and realistic).

At the same time, it does provide a unique and amazingly 3D visual look at the almost infinite intricacies and complexity of the human body.  

 

 

 

 

 

Up Close And Personal

This close up further documents the astounding/mindboggling complexity and fragility of the human body. 

It was enlightening to see how all of our internal organs fit together so neatly and compactly.  

This is the body of a female gymnast on the pommel horse.

Other On-site Fun

While on-site, I took advantage of the opportunity to quickly explore other parts of TELUS Spark.  I loved the other exhibition areas. And we weren’t alone as there were many enthusiastic (some squealing with delight) children both with their parents and school groups. I was pleased to see lots of Calgary/Alberta-centric information especially on our oil, gas and wind power industries. 

This climbing object is full of climbing "holds." It is very sculptural and can be used by kids of all ages, as well as adults.

What really surprised me was the space and content devoted to young adults and adults.  It was nice to see so many young couples in the galleries on a Tuesday afternoon.  I had been told by parents that TELUS Spark really only appealed to children aged 4 to about 10 and while would agree that is the “sweet spot” for visiting, there is something for almost everyone. 
Erin told me, TELUS Spark routinely attracts 2,000 visitors for their Adult Only nights! We did not take in the films in the Dome Theatre, which would have no doubt added another dimension to our experience.

I love the Top Ten Tips for Saturdays on TELUS Spark’s website which outlines an entire day of activities.  Though it was posted November 2015, I expect it is still valid and might even work for a Sunday.

I was also impressed by the unique outside playground for kids aged 5 and up. It has none of the traditional equipment and seemed a lot more challenging than the colourful, cookie-cutter playgrounds you see around town. I liked the fact that while it would interest toddlers, it would also be challenging and fun for teens, something missing from most playgrounds.

Love this contemporary teeter totter. 

Value For Money

I think you might need a science degree to figure out all of the pricing for TELUS Spark. I have two science degrees and I am not sure I understand it.

Regular Price

Adult (18-64) $19.95 | Senior (65+) $17.95 | Youth (13-17) $15.95 | Child (3-12) $12.95 | Admission for children under 3 is free.

I believe there is normally and additional charge for films in the Dome Theatre but couldn’t find the price online.  I believe that if you want the “full meal deal” and see two films (they are short), the cost for an Adult would be in the $30 range, Senior $25, Youth $20 and Child $18 depending on the film.

BODY WORLDS Vital + other exhibitions + one Dome show

Adult (18-64) $30.00 | Senior (65+) $28.00 | Youth (13-17) $26.00 | Child (3-12) $23.00 | Admission for children under 3 is free.

I won’t even try to explain how the membership works and what is included in the various options. But I expect it is the best deal if you have kids and plan on visiting on a frequent basis.

For context purposes, the regular prices are pretty much in line with similar Calgary venues such as the Calgary Zoo and Glenbow. Scotiabank Theatre Chinook charges $16.25 for a regular film and as much as $24.25 for a D-Box UltraAVX movie (whatever that is).

Gas Exchange - Cross Section of the Thoracic Cavity. 

Last Word

Upon reflection, the best lesson learned from this exhibition is an appreciation for how well my old body works given all the things that could go wrong. 

Erin tells me TELUS Spark is hoping to attract 100,000+ to this special exhibition. If you are into science or art, you are in for a treat.  Body WORLDS Vital is on exhibit at TELUS Spark until May 31, 2016.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary: Military Museums

Paintball: Game or Cult?

Canadian Museum for Human Rights: Money Well Spent?

 

 

 

 

 

2015: Everyday Tourist's Best Playground Photos

My 2014 Christmas gift to myself was a Sony RX100 camera which, along with two iPhones, were put to good use (some might not agree, particularly my Redwood golfing buddies who were always asking “what are you taking a picture of now?”) last year taking 12,682 photos.

I love surfing through my photos on an almost daily basis. It is like a visual diary of both being both a tourist in other cities and an everyday flaneur in and around Calgary. It is fun reliving and rethinking where you have been.

As 2015 came to a close I started to reflect on the highlights of 2015.  After spending hours reviewing my photos and wondering if I could reduce 2015 to just 10 photos.  (I love top ten lists) I came to the conclusion that was impossible for me. I have never been a good editor. 

I then thought maybe I could do a couple of top ten lists based on certain subjects and activities with some common denominators.  After identifying about 250 favourite images (about 2% of the 2015 portfolio) seven subjects surfaced.

So rather than one large blog with dozen of images, I created seven subject specific blogs that reflect the fun and surprises of being an everyday tourist and flaneur in 2015.  

Black & White Narratives

I was surprised at how many black and white photos I took in 2015 and how many still captured my interest.  There is something about black and white images that elevates the drama of everyday life. While some readers have said the black and white images are depressing and sad, others love the quality of light and sense of the narrative that is revealed in them.

Architecture As Art

My architectural photos rarely isolate a single building into a static documentary image, but rather focus on the interplay of design, styles and built forms.  I am always looking for a different perspective that captures an artistic interpretation of architecture.

Flaneuring Fun

I love wandering the streets wherever I am, looking for urban surprises and usually I am not disappointed.  It could be anything from a dandelion gone to seed illuminated by a setting sun to fun doorway.  I love the thrill of the hunt.

Playgrounds

I have always loved the colour and sense of joy that happens at community playgrounds.  This year I bonded with the little guy next-door (he will be 2 years old in January 2016) and explored literally dozens of playgrounds all within a short walk of our house.  As a result I have made a point over the past year to visit as many playgrounds as I can both in Calgary and beyond.

Street People

One of my goals for 2015 was to capture the everyday urban life of the street, plaza, park and pathway, while respecting everyone’s privacy.

Street Art / Public Art Surprises

Expect the unexpected as my street art and public art photos are not just about sculptures and statues, rather how art can be found in strange places like amazing collages created in the reflections of storefront windows.

Skyscapes

Over the past year, I have been treated to some some amazingly works of art created by Mother Nature.  For the most part these are not your romantic sunsets and sunrises, but rather dramatic moments that are part of one’s everyday experiences.

Last Word

I hope you will enjoy these compilations as much as I have in putting them together.   As always, comments are welcomed.  Feel free to share with me some of your favourite photos of 2015.

Editor’s Note: I will be posting a new 2015 Best Everyday Tourist Photos blog each Sunday beginning January 3rd.

Making Roads, Grand Trunk Park playground

Peek-a-boo. King George School, Calgary

Colour and Shadow Fun, West Hillhurst, Calgary

Another Day At The Office, West Hillhurst Community Centre Playground, Calgary

Oasis, Inglewood, Calgary

Artwalk maze playground, Victoria

Colour & Shadow Play, Hillhurst Community Centre, Calgary

Look what we found. West Hillhurst, Calgary

Bucket Seat Swings, Seattle

Bucket Seat Swings, Seattle

Alien space craft? West Hillhurst, Calgary 

Interplay: Sky, Tree & Playground, Riley Park, Calgary

Learning to tightrope walk, St. Patrick's Island, Calgary

Who needs a playground when you can play under the LRT bridge in Eau Claire?

Who needs a playground when you can play under the LRT bridge in Eau Claire?

The plaza behind the McDougall Centre makes for a great skateboard park. These guys travelled all the way from Edmonton to check out downtown Calgary's hot skating spots. 

Snowboarding near 14th Street across from the Jubilee Theatre. Another hidden gem playground.

This sure beats my Fisher Price garage at home. 

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Playgrounds vs Public Art

Rome: Playground Lunch 

 Front Yard Fun

Postcards from "Buffalo The Bold"

With the advent of cell phone/camera, I doubt (with the exception of Postcard Willie who has taken the art of postcard writing to a higher level) many of you send postcards to family and friends when travelling anymore. Why would one?

Though postcards are relatively cheap, the postage is not – case in point we paid $3 last year to mail one from Italy to Calgary - and half the time you arrive home before the post card.  It is hard to compete with free and immediate photos and messages via texts, emails, tweets and instagrams. But the problem with these generic images is people glance at them once, often never to be looked at again. On the flipside, the great thing about postcards is they are often kept for months, years and sometimes even decades.  I see my photos as custom postcards, images of the off-the-beaten path, hidden gems we find when prowling the streets and alleys of a cities we visit.

Recently, we had a chance to spend three days in Buffalo, New York. We loved it - especially the history, the architecture, the food, the beer, the art and the renaissance.  There is a unique urbanity to Buffalo that makes it true to itself and not trying to be like everyone else. There is an compelling contrast between the modest working class homes and the majestic mansions, between the brutalist architecture of cement grain elevators and the art deco design of their City Hall. There is subtle boldness to Buffalo’s early 21st century renaissance that it beginning to match the City’s heyday a century ago.

I hope you will enjoy these everyday tourist postcards of “Buffalo The Bold.”

Douglas: Jim Hodges, Look and See, sculpture creates a wonderful Matisse like cut-out abstract shapes of sky, architecture and sculpture. You would love it.  Cheers! R

Charles: WOW, this paper sculpture hangs from the top of one of the abandoned grain elevators. You could easily miss it if you didn't look up. The silo tour was definitely a highlight of our visit. RnB (just found out these are paper gears created by Daniel Seiders a landscape architect for the City of the Night public art show in 2013) 

Mom: You would have loved Henry Hobson Richardson's (father of the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style) mega state-of-the-art Buffalo State Assylum for the Insane in 1872 and opened in 1880. It is currently being converted into Hotel Henry: Urban Resort Hotel & Conference Centre and Buffalo Architecture Museum. Love Richard

Knox: You would love these canoes by Nancy's Rubins. The real title"Stainless Steel, Aluminum, Monochrome I, Built to Live Anywhere, at Home Here" seems pretentious. Can you say pretentious? Roscoe 

Don: A pay phone as an art gallery with iPad fireplace can be found at Hydraluic Hearth Pizza and Brewery in Larkinville. The food and beer was good too. RW

Ashley:  I think this fun, funky, quirkly Elmwood Laundry would be fun for you and Knox to check out.. R

Judy: Yes there are buffalos in Buffalo, this one is on the iconic Post Office Building. So many great turn of the century buildings. You would love it here.  R

Chris: The kids would love these bikes.  Buffalo is a great winter city. Everyone loves ice biking at Buffalo's Canalside skating rink - the size of three NHL rinks. They even have a Tim Hortons' across the street. R

Chris: The kids would love these bikes.  Buffalo is a great winter city. Everyone loves ice biking at Buffalo's Canalside skating rink - the size of three NHL rinks. They even have a Tim Hortons' across the street. R

C:  You would love COOCOOU27 salvage warehouse. This postcards says it all...wish you were here. R

Barbara: Loved the Martin House. The celebrated sculpture, Winged Victory of Samothrace, commonly known as the Nike of Samothrace, is a sculpture of the Greek goddess Nike. The statue was a favorite of Frank Lloyd Wright and he used reproductions of it in a number of his buildings including the Martin House in Buffalo. Best Wishes! RW

Ken: Simply amazing. Sol Lewitt's largest scribble drawing title "WALL DRAWING #1268: SCRIBBLES: STAIRCASE (AKAG), CONCEIVED 2006; EXECUTED 2010" encompasses the entire staircase connecting the 1905 and 1962 buildings. It is created entirely by scribble lines. R

David: These ruins from at Riverworks will become the coolest summer patio in 2016. R

Charlie: Gothic City has everything including the bath tub...perfect for your next project. RW

Lawrence: The Pierce Arrow Museum was a great find...loved the playboy car but this hood ornament and hundreds of others made me envious. R

Knox: Now this is a drink! These Labatt Blue Cans are abandoned grain elevator silos 10 storeys tall and are part of Riverworks sports oriented entertainment complex. RW

Tom: Robert Motherwell's Elegy to the Spanish Republic XXXIV is one of many American masterpieces in the Albright Knox Art Gallery's collection. You should get to Buffalo next time you are in Toronto. R

Amy: You would love the acoustics inside the cement silo grain elevators. George: they are a fun place to photograph...wish you both were here. RW

Linda/Charlie: You'd love this porch at Inn Buffalo. You'd love to stay at the Inn, the place oozes history and breakfast is DELICIOUS...RnB

Inner-City Revitalization: More Than Just Building Condos

Creating vibrant inner city communities is more complicated than just building more infill homes and condos to increase residential density. Equally as important is increasing the diversity of activities that happen in the community - daytime and evenings, weekdays and weekends.  Calgary’s inner-city communities are currently dominated by single-family homes and therefore serve as bedroom communities to the surrounding downtown, post-secondary or hospital campuses.

To become 21st century communities they need to have all three elements of the “live, work, play” equation that makes for vibrant and viable communities.  This means they need new offices buildings, as well as retail, cafés, restaurants and convenience services (e.g. dry cleaners, florists, medical and financial) at key corners and along key streets easily accessible by car, transit, bike and foot.

Marda Loop Revitalization

Construction cranes building Odeon, Marda Loop. 

A good example of an emerging vibrant inner-city community would be Marda Loop with 33rd Avenue SW as its “main street.”  Treo@Marda Loop is a six-storey building that includes 52 condos above street level retail (anchored by a Shoppers Drug Mart which is open 8 am to 10 pm seven days a week and Phil & Sebastian’s first storefront cafe) and a second floor of office spaces.   Across the street, on the northeast corner of 20th St and 33rd Ave SW, sits the currently-under-construction handsome Odeon building designed by McKinley Burkart Design Group. It too has retail at street level but with three floors of offices above.  If 33rd Ave SW is to become a viable 15/7 (7 am to 10 pm, 7 days a week) pedestrian-oriented street, it must become a mini-employment centre.

Treo@Marda Loop mixes retail, office and residential uses along 33rd Ave in Marda Loop. 

And just a few bocks away, the 1912-built King Edward School is currently being transformed into cSPACE, an arts centre that will include a wonderful mix of uses – everything from artists’ studios, performance spaces and offices for arts groups to new residential development.  It has huge potential to continue Marda Loop’s evolution from a bedroom community to a vibrant “live, work, play” neigbourhood.

Schematic of the redevelopment of the King Edward School in Marda Loop. 

Lower Edmonton Trail Revitalization

Another up and coming vibrant inner city district is 4th Street NE and Edmonton Trail couplet at Memorial Drive with its scattering of pedestrian-oriented shops, cafes, restaurants and small office buildings, including the flagship Lukes Drug Mart established in 1951 surrounded.

Remington Development Corp’s new, seven-storey Meredith Block will anchor the lower Edmonton Trail district with its 170,000 square feet of office and 9,000 square feet of retail space will attract hundreds of workers and visitors to the area Monday to Friday when fully leased-out.  This traffic is sure to serve as the catalyst for other developments in the surrounding blocks like the new Whitehall restaurant in the 1910 de Waal Block (one of Calgary Herald restaurant reviewer John Gilchrist’s top new restaurants in 2015).  The revitalization won’t happen overnight; rather it will be a gradual redevelopment of neighbouring blocks, which are all ripe for mixed-use redevelopment.

Just a few blocks away, O2 Planning + Design and Minto Communities have proposed the redevelopment of the 1.5-arcre, Bridgeland School site in a manner that converts the 1921 sandstone school into residential condos along with townhomes along the streets next to it.  If approved (like every inner city development, NIMBYism seem to reign supreme), this development will attract new people to the community, which in turn will enhance existing, as well as attract new small businesses to enhance the districts “live, work, play” equation.

Meredith Block will anchor the lower Edmonton Trail district. 

West Hillhurst Revitalization

This northwest community is also showing signs of evolving from its suburban residential-only roots to a vibrant urban community. If Truman Development’s proposal for a four-storey office and eight-storey condo building on the existing Legion site (18th St NW and Kensington Road) gets approved (yes NIMYism is in full force here too), it would serve as the east end anchor of the community’s new “main street.”  A little further west, sit two school sites - perfect opportunities for development into unique, mixed-use redevelopments that integrate the schools.

Venture Communications’ relocation to West Hillhurst (where Kensington Road meets Memorial Drive) after the flood in 2013 is a very exciting, not-your-average office building and would be the logical west anchor at 25th Street to create a 7-block future West Hillhurst “main street.”  Headed up by Arlene Dickenson of Dragon’s Den fame, the first two floors are the “District Ventures Accelerator, where entrepreneurs can get help to succeed” says Justin Burrows (Chief of Staff, Venture Communications), who goes on to say “it is a place where experienced entrepreneurs, with a new product that already has some sales can get help with branding and venture capital.” What is perhaps most interesting is the Accelerator focuses on new consumer packaged goods, food & beverage and health & wellness, NOT oil & gas opportunities.”

Calgary Co-op has also discovered Kensington Road with its new liquor & spirits store next door to Venture Communications.

Between Venture Communications and the Legion at 19th Street is West Hillhurst’s historic “main street” with several small retailers, restaurants and small offices including the historic Dairy Lane diner established in 1950.  Two small sites are currently being looked at for redeveloped to add new street level retail with offices and residential above adding to the diversity of activities.

At the corner of 19th Street and 5th Avenue is the increasingly busy West Hillhurst Recreation Centre that offers up numerous programs and amenities for people of all ages and backgrounds including the relatively new and funky The Barn Public House overlooking the arena ice.

Venture Communications' District Accelerator adds a new dimension to the West Hillhurst's "live, work, play" equation. 

Last Word

Healthy cities have inner-city communities that are evolving to meet the diversity of new needs of the next generation of families and small businesses. Calgary is very fortunate, all of its inner-city communities have been experiencing continued revitalization for the past 20+ years. 

Editor's Note: An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section on Saturday "Inner-City Evolution," Saturday January 16, 2018

If you like this blog, you might like:

Kensington Legion Redevelopment: Taller is Better!

Flaneuring the Fringe: 19th Street NW

Calgary's NoBow: Jane Jacob's Could LIve Here!

Container Condo Coming Soon to Calgary?

For decades one of the key decisions for savvy condo buyers has been “Do I want to live in a concrete or wood building?”  Concrete buildings are quieter, fire-resistant and can be built higher thus offering better views.  On the other hand, wood-framed multi-family buildings’ biggest benefit to the purchaser is that they are cheaper. For the developer, the biggest negative of wood-framed buildings was they could only be four storeys high; this has been increased to six storeys recently. 

Ladacor massive warehouse workshop.

However, there soon may be a new kid in town - container buildings. Around the world, reusing heavy steel sea containers as building blocks (think Lego) to create multi-family buildings is all the rage. It is only a matter of time before it happens in Calgary.

In fact, Calgary could well become a leader in contain construction for two reasons. First, as one of North America’s largest inland ports, we have a surplus of sea containers.   Yes, literally thousands of sea containers arrive in Calgary every month via rail or truck from China and other countries full of everything from electronics to furniture. With nothing to send back they become surplus. 

Second, Calgary-based Ladacor has developed an “Advanced Modular System,” a proprietary modular construction method that allows for high quality container construction which meets if not exceeds all Canadian Safety Approval standards and can be used to construct buildings up to 12-storeys high.  Ladacor is on the leading edge, having already built the largest container hotel in Canada, are currently in discussion with developers to pilot a multi-family residential building in Alberta. Will it be Edmonton or Calgary?

Containers for hotel under construction.

Containers for hotel under construction.

There are many benefits to container construction for condominiums.  Perhaps the biggest being it is very cost effective - 10% less than wood-framed.  It is cost-effective partly because 80% of the on-site activities are moved indoors, which means optimization of materials, labour and reduction of theft and lost hours due to inclement weather.  Because it is metal, it is non-combustible making it safer and it doesn’t warp or shrink and allows for superior sound-insulation between units, container buildings are quieter.

When it comes to infill development, neighbours and communities will love the fact that on-site, container-based construction happens 30 to 50% faster than conventional construction, which means significant decrease in the inconvenience of road and sidewalk closures.

Container construction is also environmentally-friendly given the repurposing of surplus shipping containers. From a design perspective, container buildings don’t have to look significantly different current condos both in their exterior or interiors.  From the street they can have a funky colourful industrial urban look or they can be clad with vinyl siding to fit with neighbouring suburban homes.

In a nutshell, container condos are “cheaper, faster and better” than conventional condo construction. This should make them very attractive to purchasers and developers.  In addition, from a developer’s perspective the buildings are occupied sooner than conventional construction, which means a quicker return on investment.

Sunnyside's Container Park is an ideal site Calgary's first shipping container condo building. 

Sunnyside's Container Park is an ideal site Calgary's first shipping container condo building. 

Last Word 

Calgary, for all of its talk of entrepreneurship and innovation, is still a pretty conservative market when it comes to home buying.  It is only in the last decade that Calgarians have really embraced the idea of condo living.  Could the next step in Calgary’s urban living evolution be to embrace container living? 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Urban Living is in its infancy in Calgary

Increased density doesn't always mean more traffic?

Condo Living: More Time For Fun!

 

2015: Everyday Tourist Best Flaneuring Photos

My 2014 Christmas gift to myself was a Sony RX100 camera which, along with two iPhones, were put to good use (some might not agree, particularly my Redwood golfing buddies who were always asking “what are you taking a picture of now?”) last year taking 12,682 photos.

I love surfing through my photos on an almost daily basis. It is like a visual diary of both being both a tourist in other cities and an everyday flaneur in and around Calgary. It is fun reliving and rethinking where you have been.

As 2015 came to a close I started to reflect on the highlights of 2015.  After spending hours reviewing my photos and wondering if I could reduce 2015 to just 10 photos.  (I love top ten lists) I came to the conclusion that was impossible for me. I have never been a good editor. 

I then thought maybe I could do a couple of top ten lists based on certain subjects and activities with some common denominators.  After identifying about 250 favourite images (about 2% of the 2015 portfolio) seven subjects surfaced.

So rather than one large blog with dozen of images, I created seven subject specific blogs that reflect the fun and surprises of being an everyday tourist and flaneur in 2015.  

Black & White Narratives

I was surprised at how many black and white photos I took in 2015 and how many still captured my interest.  There is something about black and white images that elevates the drama of everyday life. While some readers have said the black and white images are depressing and sad, others love the quality of light and sense of the narrative that is revealed in them.

Architecture As Art

My architectural photos rarely isolate a single building into a static documentary image, but rather focus on the interplay of design, styles and built forms.  I am always looking for a different perspective that captures an artistic interpretation of architecture.

Flaneuring Fun

I love wandering the streets wherever I am, looking for urban surprises and usually I am not disappointed.  It could be anything from a dandelion gone to seed illuminated by a setting sun to fun doorway.  I love the thrill of the hunt.

Playgrounds

I have always loved the colour and sense of joy that happens at community playgrounds.  This year I bonded with the little guy next-door (he will be 2 years old in January 2016) and explored literally dozens of playgrounds all within a short walk of our house.  As a result I have made a point over the past year to visit as many playgrounds as I can both in Calgary and beyond.

Street People

One of my goals for 2015 was to capture the everyday urban life of the street, plaza, park and pathway, while respecting everyone’s privacy.

Street Art / Public Art Surprises

Expect the unexpected as my street art and public art photos are not just about sculptures and statues, rather how art can be found in strange places like amazing collages created in the reflections of storefront windows.

Skyscapes

Over the past year, I have been treated to some some amazingly works of art created by Mother Nature.  For the most part these are not your romantic sunsets and sunrises, but rather dramatic moments that are part of one’s everyday experiences.

Last Word

I hope you will enjoy these compilations as much as I have in putting them together.   As always, comments are welcomed.  Feel free to share with me some of your favourite photos of 2015.

Editor’s Note: I will be posting a new 2015 Best Everyday Tourist Photos blog each Sunday beginning January 3rd.

 

This is the entrance to the Pixel condominiums in Sunnyside, Calgary. Very cool!

Exquisite Form collage found at the Fremont Sunday Flea Market in Seattle.  Highly recommended if you are in Seattle on a Sunday.

Loved the juxtaposition of the modern spirit figure workart and the old church in Mexico City. The ironic thing was I had seen the artwork in the alley next to the Toy Museum in another part of the city the day before. 

Found this lovely green trail in the playing field in Calgary's Parkdale community.  It was a great summer evening flaneur as we also found the outdoor hockey rink had been converted to a beach volley ball pitch, a new community garden had been created next to the community centre and a local gardener invited us to inspect his backyard garden.  Flavouring doesn't get any better than that. 

Found these Christmas lights in Briar Hill...never did get to see them on at night. 

Found this lovely green beach along the Elbow River in Calgary's Stanley Park community. 

Loved the evening light on the overgrown stairs going up to the front entrance of a home in Calgary's Hounsfield Heights community. 

I am fascinated by the names of mid-century condos in Calgary's inner-city communities.  This might just be the best one, found in Sunalta.  Whycocomah is Scottish and three is a rural community in Nova Scotia with the same name next to the We'koqma'q First Nations community. 

Found some amazing gardens in Port Angeles walking back from their Art Park. 

There was a wonderful tranquility around this spiral of rock on the huge gravel bar at next to the busy Memorial Drive and Crowchild Trail intersection. 

Found this happy fence, when taking Rossi for a walk in the River Park dog park. 

Found this Bow River fisherman in a suit and tie one Sunday afternoon. 

The Elbow River looked like it was on fire on morning when walking Rossi along the ridge at River Park dog park. 

I love finding art in strange places. This is close up of a mural painting on the wall on the second floor of the Interfaith Furniture Store. 

Found these in the field that will soon be Calgary's newest inner-city community - University District.  Looks like someone has already moved in. 

This sunset dandelion just appeared to me as we were walking along the streets of West Hillhurst, Calgary. 

Found this flower sculpture in a garden along one of our summer evening walks. 

2015: Everyday Tourist Best Architectural Photos

My 2014 Christmas gift to myself was a Sony RX100 camera which, along with two iPhones, were put to good use (some might not agree, particularly my Redwood golfing buddies who were always asking “what are you taking a picture of now?”) last year taking 12,682 photos.

I love surfing through my photos on an almost daily basis. It is like a visual diary of both being both a tourist in other cities and an everyday flaneur in and around Calgary. It is fun reliving and rethinking where you have been.

As 2015 came to a close I started to reflect on the highlights of 2015.  After spending hours reviewing my photos and wondering if I could reduce 2015 to just 10 photos.  (I love top ten lists) I came to the conclusion that was impossible for me. I have never been a good editor. 

I then thought maybe I could do a couple of top ten lists based on certain subjects and activities with some common denominators.  After identifying about 250 favourite images (about 2% of the 2015 portfolio) seven subjects surfaced.

So rather than one large blog with dozen of images, I created seven subject specific blogs that reflect the fun and surprises of being an everyday tourist and flaneur in 2015.  

Black & White Narratives

I was surprised at how many black and white photos I took in 2015 and how many still captured my interest.  There is something about black and white images that elevates the drama of everyday life. While some readers have said the black and white images are depressing and sad, others love the quality of light and sense of the narrative that is revealed in them.

Architecture As Art

My architectural photos rarely isolate a single building into a static documentary image, but rather focus on the interplay of design, styles and built forms.  I am always looking for a different perspective that captures an artistic interpretation of architecture.

Flaneuring Fun

I love wandering the streets wherever I am, looking for urban surprises and usually I am not disappointed.  It could be anything from a dandelion gone to seed illuminated by a setting sun to fun doorway.  I love the thrill of the hunt.

Playgrounds

I have always loved the colour and sense of joy that happens at community playgrounds.  This year I bonded with the little guy next-door (he will be 2 years old in January 2016) and explored literally dozens of playgrounds all within a short walk of our house.  As a result I have made a point over the past year to visit as many playgrounds as I can both in Calgary and beyond.

Street People

One of my goals for 2015 was to capture the everyday urban life of the street, plaza, park and pathway, while respecting everyone’s privacy.

Street Art / Public Art Surprises

Expect the unexpected as my street art and public art photos are not just about sculptures and statues, rather how art can be found in strange places like amazing collages created in the reflections of storefront windows.

Skyscapes

Over the past year, I have been treated to some some amazingly works of art created by Mother Nature.  For the most part these are not your romantic sunsets and sunrises, but rather dramatic moments that are part of one’s everyday experiences.

Last Word

I hope you will enjoy these compilations as much as I have in putting them together.   As always, comments are welcomed.  Feel free to share with me some of your favourite photos of 2015.

Editor’s Note: I will be posting a new 2015 Best Everyday Tourist Photos blog each Sunday beginning January 3rd.

 

"Looking Up" (Revolution Plaza Monument, Mexico City) 

"Strange Reflections" (pedestrian bridge, East Village, Calgary)

"Peace" (Bow River, Calgary)

"True Skyscraper" (Eight Avenue Place, Calgary)

"Skin" (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Parkade, Calgary)

"Hex" (Soumaya Museum, Mexico City)

"Folds" (Experience Music Museum, Seattle)

"Torre BBVA Bancomer Tower" (Mexico City) 

Close up of the outdoor garden of the Torre BBVA Bancomer office tower. 

Balcony (condo on Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City)

Skylight, Mexico City 

"Plensa playing with Foster" (Wonderland sculpture and Bow office tower, downtown, Calgary)

"Second Street Collage" (downtown, Calgary)

"Chinese Kaleidoscope" (Chinese Cultural Centre, Calgary)

"Many Angles" (downtown, Calgary)

"Connectivity" (Washington State Convention Centre, Seattle)

"Blue Skying" (Bankers Hall, Calgary) 

"Glass Ceiling" (The Core, Calgary) 

"Ivory Tower" (downtown Calgary)

"9th Avenue Collage" (downtown, Calgary)

"Pick-up sticks", (Seton, Calgary) 

"Old & New" Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, Calgary

Thrifting Fun in Victoria B.C.

One of our favourite things to do when visiting a new city is to check out the thrift stores.  We are regularly rewarded with discovering new and upcoming neighbourhoods as thrift stores are often located in old grocery or larger retail stores in strip malls in communities on the edge of the city centre that are being repopulated by hippies, hipsters, yuppies and artists i.e. those who love thrifting.

Probably our most surprising location for a thrift store was in Hong Kong - don’t remember the name of the street, but we were barely out of our hotel and on the street to beginning flaneuring and there was a Salvation Army beaconing us in. 

However, the best city for thrifting in our experience has to be Victoria, B.C., Canada.  Brenda says it is because the city is a mecca for older people who are downsizing and university students who are always buying things and then moving away. We especially love the great artworks we find and think it is due to those who are downsizing, as well as art students at the University of Victoria who can keep everything that they create and retirees who take up art as a hobby in their later years.

Abstraction by R. Sylvester was purchased at Super Chance, nicely framed and matted. (29" x 20" framed) $90.00  

Abstraction by R. Sylvester was purchased at Super Chance, nicely framed and matted. (29" x 20" framed) $90.00  

We love thrifting in Victoria because there are so many stores within walking or short bus ride of downtown.  We have also noted over the years the quality and presentation of goods is higher in Victoria than in other cities we have visited.  Many of the thrift stores are more like boutiques than a second hand store, especially the WIN store (no relation to WINS in Calgary) in Cook Village. 

The mother lode of thrift stores in Canada and perhaps North America has to be the Value Village in Victoria’s Chinatown.  It is a huge store (not sure if it is the biggest Value Village in the chain but it is the biggest and busiest we have experienced) that is full of clothing, housewares, books, records and great art. It is always busy and thus the product moves fast so we often will visit a couple of times if we are in town for a week or so. 

Value Village, the motherlode of thrift stores, in Victoria, BC

Art Collecting Fun

One of our goals when visiting a new city is to find a new artwork for our collection of thrift store art that now numbers 23 pieces.  I am not sure but I think this may have started many years ago in Victoria - golf fish canvas from Value Village. On our last visit in the spring of 2015 the Value Village had a least a dozen abstract expressionism work both large and small for under $100.  I was tempted to buy a large 40” by 30” piece but Brenda talked me out of it and so I finally settled on a small 10” by 8”piece.  

Usually our first stop in Victoria is to Value Village to check out the art, followed by the Super Chance consignment store (with thrift store prices) in St. James Village, which is a must visit for thrifters as it always has a good selection of art.  We are rarely disappointed.  In one case I bought an artwork by Joe Plaskett, titled “Hakim Paris” in one thrift store and then commissioned Super Chance to sell it for me. My first quick flip!

Untitled, Kimball, 1962, purchased at Kilshaw's Auctioneers for $10, (29" x 25" framed canvas)

Thrill of the Hunt

The fun thing about thrifting is the thrill of the hunt - you don’t even know what you are hunting for until you see it.   Brenda’s tastes are much more eclectic than mine, she is could spend hours searching the back of every shelf and the bottom of every bin for that special treasure that some other picker has missed. 

Untitled, unknown artist, purchased at Super Chance $60 (framed, 20" x 14")

 

 

Brenda’s finds this last Victoria trip were:

 

  • A 1950s dime holder made by the B&R (no relation) Manufacturing Co. of New York bought at WIN Resale Shop for $1.95
  • A charming 1937 cardboard“learn to type” fingering diagram that you prop up in front of a typewriter keyboard, that is very fun.  $2
  • Children’s Metal Shoe Size Measurer for $4
  • Set of 3 vintage nesting teak snack bowls circa 1940s for $3
  • Framed unused Tuck’s Postcard (printed in England) for $.99 Vintage, women’s off-white, long Max Mayers gloves for $3
  • Small, brand new, yellow Moleskin notebook $.99
  • Some of the things she will keep for a while and add to her various vignettes in her office, others she will resell at her annual vintage garage sale.

List of Victoria Thrift stores:

Downtown

  • Beacon Community Thrift Shop, 715, Pandora Ave.
  • Salvation Army Thrift Store, 525, Johnson St.
  • Value Village, 1810 Store St.
  • Women In Need, 785 Pandora Ave.
  • St. Vincent de Paul, 833 Yates Ave

On the edge of Downtown

  • Bible 4 Missions, 2520 Government Street
  • Women In Need, 1803 Cook St.
  • Super Chance, 435, Simcoe Street,
  • Oak Bay United Church, 1355 Mitchell St

Bus Ride Away

  • Salvation Army, 3934 Quadra
  • Salvation Army, 1551 Cedar Hill Cross Road
  • Pickers 3948 Quadra
  • Beacon2723 Quadra

Auction Houses

  • Kilshaw's Auctioneers, 115 Fort Street
  • LUNDS Auctioneer, 926 Fort Street 
Untitled, unknown artists, Value Village find spring 2015 $15 (10" x 8")

Untitled, unknown artists, Value Village find spring 2015 $15 (10" x 8")

Last Word

Thrifting is not only a fun way to find a unique souvenir of your visit to any city, but also a great way to find some hidden gem authentic communities to explore and not just the tarted up touristy places and spaces. 

We have even found an upscale thrifty hotel (yes, there is such a thing).  The Red Lion Hotel Victoria at 3366 Douglas St. is well located not only for thrifting, but for cycling as the Galloping Goose Trail is at the back door and shopping (Uptown and Mayfair shopping malls are just a few blocks away).

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Santa Fe: The early bird gets the thrift art

Five FAVS For Everyone in Victoria

Port Angeles: A 24hr Quickie

 

Calgary's 10th Ave Renaissance

While most of the talk about the urban living renaissance in Calgary has revolved around the neighbourhoods of Bridgeland/Riverside, Eau Claire, East Village, Inglewood and Mission, Calgary’s warehouse district along 10th Avenue SW has been quietly flying under the radar.  For decades, 10th Avenue has been the wrong side of the tracks from downtown; a no man’s land between downtown and trendy Uptown 17th. 

The Canadian Pacific Railway's main line travels through Calgary's City Centre, dividing the central business district on the north side and the Beltline to the south. 

10th Avenue 101

The heyday for 10th Avenue was in the early 20th century when it was lined with bustling warehouses that stored goods being shipped to Calgary by the Canadian Pacific Railway.  For the first half of the 20th century, 10th Avenue served as the main distribution hub for all of southern Alberta.  Gradually, this role eroded away with the shift to truck transportation and the north side became overflow parking for downtown office workers.  Today it is home to two of Canada’s largest above ground parkades - City Centre Parkade, with 1530 stalls and Tower Parkade, with 1,398 stalls.

A view of the massive City Centre Parkade along north side of 10th Ave from 2nd to 4th Streets. 

I expect few people realize the current renaissance in urban living in Calgary actually started on 10th Avenue in 1993. That was when the 1909 Hudson Bay warehouse building at the corner of 10th Avenue and 5th Street SW was converted into the Hudson Loft condos (Calgary’s first warehouse loft conversion).

Today, 10th Avenue, from Macleod Trail to 11th Street is in the midst of a mega makeover into a mixed-use street with new office, retail, restaurant, residential and social service developments that rivals what is happening in East Village, albeit without all the fanfare and $500+ million of public realm improvements (library, museum, parks, plazas, underpasses, pedestrian bridges, designer sidewalks).

10th Ave surface parking lots next to the tracks. 

One of the many old warehouse buildings along 10th Avenue still remaining. 

Recent 10th Ave Developments

Strategic Group has approval to build a 32-storey mixed-use tower at the corner of 1st St. SE and 10th Avenue that will include 100,000 square feet of Class A office space on the bottom floors and 227 condo units above.

Kitty-corner is Aspen Properties’ 19-storey Palliser South office completed in 2009 on 10th Ave at Macleod Trail. The all-glass building’s strange upside down “L” shape was created by cantilevering the building overtop of the Tower Parkade, allowing the floor plates to increase in size from 10,785 square feet on the 3rd floor to 21,767 on the 19th.  The shape of the building is further enhanced by the fact that the light green glass on the east façade cantilevers over the sidewalk. Designed by Calgary’s Gibbs Gage Architects, it is one of my favourite buildings in Calgary.

A few blocks further west is 1010 Centre, the Mustard Seed’s 12-storey, 224-unit apartment tower that opened in 2014 after much controversy about the potential negative impact it would have on the livability of the surrounding blocks.  Time will tell if this is true.

Continuing westward, the south side of the 200 and 300 west blocks of 10th Avenue are the only blocks that have retained the warehouse character of 100 years ago with their timeless brick façades.  Today they home to some of Calgary’s best bars, restaurants and retailers – Briggs Kitchen + Bar, Craft Beer Market, HiFi Club, National on 10th, Roche Bobois, Rodney’s Oyster House and Thai Sa-On.

Cross over 4th Street SW and you will discover the work of Centron Group, who single-handedly changed this block of 10th Avenue with two massive, horizontal, shiny glass office buildings from 4th to 5th Streets – Centre 10 (completed in 2013) and Place 10 (scheduled to open in 2017).  Collectively, these buildings will add one million square feet of office space, enough for about 5,000 workers, as well as retail/restaurant spaces at street level for the likes of Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse.

Lamb Development Corp and Fortress Real Development are currently building the 31-storey, 6th and Tenth condo (named after the corner it is located on) that will have 230 units (about 400 new residents) right next to the busy and somewhat seedy Uptown Bottle Depot.

Construction has begun on GWL Realty Advisors’ mega makeover of the old Alberta Boot site on 10th Avenue west of 5th Street SW, right next to the tracks. When it is completed probably by 2018, it will include a block-long 4-storey podium of retail and restaurants with two towers, a 37-storey, 303-residential tower and a 33-storey, 390-room hotel.

Then there is Qualex Landmark(the unofficial king of the Beltline, having built more condos in the Beltline than any other builder) who is nearing completion of its sold-out 34-storey, 270-unit Mark on 10th condo tower at 8th Street and 10th Ave SW. This project not only includes street retail, but also a major public art work by internationally-acclaimed artist Douglas Coupland.  Right next door sits WAM Development Group’s 440 unit, 17 and 34 storey residential complex, with a series of small retail/restaurant spaces at street level. 

Last but not least, is Calgary Urban Project Society, which offers a variety of services to low income adults and families. It moved from its in 7th Avenue SW to its current home (three times larger) on 10th Avenue at 9th Street SW., in 2012, as a result of the Bow tower development.

Mark on 10th Tower is just one of several upscale condos currently under construction along 10th Avenue. 

10th Ave Improvements

Complementing these developments, 10th Avenue is getting two refurbished underpasses at First and and 8th Streets SW. that will provide enhanced pedestrian connections to the downtown, 7th Ave LRT corridor and Bow River parks and pathways.

The 8th Street underpass linking 10th Ave with downtown's 9th Ave is currently under construction to create a more pedestrian friendly connection.  

Computer rendering of what the 8th Street underpass will look like after renovations are completed in 2016. 

This rendering illustrates how cool the renovated First street underpass will look when completed in 2016. 

What is also great about living on 10th Ave is that there are four grocery stores easily accessible – Sunterra Market at Keynote, Safeway, Midtown Co-op and Community Natural Foods.  It will be a long time before East Village, Kensington or any other Calgary community can match that.  An added bonus is 10th Ave is home to MEC, which as one of my outdoor enthusiast friends likes to say, “If MEC doesn’t have it, I don’t need it.”

 

The Mountain Equipment Co-op store is the anchor for 10th Avenue retail that includes upscale private gallery, restaurants, bars, cycle shops and other outdoor stores. 

Last Word

Urban living is all about diversity - the mixing of people of different social/economic groups all on the same block enjoying an array of different activities. It is about sharing the sidewalks, back alleys and parks.  It is about embracing the differences that define us as a city, rather than letting those differences divide us.

Many in the past might have questioned, “Who would want to live, work and/or play next to the railway tracks?”  While others questioned, “Who would want to live next to the Uptown Bottle Depot, Calgary Urban Projects Society (CUPS) or the Mustard SEED homeless shelter?”  

The answer:  thousands of Calgarians are excited by these new urban living opportunities being created in the Beltline, Eau Claire, East Village, The Bridges, Inglewood or Kensington.  By 2020, 10th Avenue alone could have over 2,500 new people calling it home. 

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald titled: "Warehouse District is being revitalized" January 2, 2016.

If you like this blog you might like:

Calgary: Beautifying The Beltline

Calgary's Rail Trail Stroll

Beltline: One of North America's best hipster communities

2015: Everyday Tourist's Best B&W Photos

My 2014 Christmas gift to myself was a Sony RX100 camera which, along with two iPhones, were put to good use (some might not agree, particularly my Redwood golfing buddies who were always asking “what are you taking a picture of now?”) last year taking 12,682 photos.

I love surfing through my photos on an almost daily basis. It is like a visual diary of both being both a tourist in other cities and an everyday flaneur in and around Calgary. It is fun reliving and rethinking where you have been.

As 2015 came to a close I started to reflect on the highlights of 2015.  After spending hours reviewing my photos and wondering if I could reduce 2015 to just 10 photos.  (I love top ten lists) I came to the conclusion that was impossible for me. I have never been a good editor. 

I then thought maybe I could do a couple of top ten lists based on certain subjects and activities with some common denominators.  After identifying about 250 favourite images (about 2% of the 2015 portfolio) seven subjects surfaced.

So rather than one large blog with dozen of images, I created seven subject specific blogs that reflect the fun and surprises of being an everyday tourist and flaneur in 2015.  

Black & White Narratives

I was surprised at how many black and white photos I took in 2015 and how many still captured my interest.  There is something about black and white images that elevates the drama of everyday life. While some readers have said the black and white images are depressing and sad, others love the quality of light and sense of the narrative that is revealed in them.

Architecture As Art

My architectural photos rarely isolate a single building into a static documentary image, but rather focus on the interplay of design, styles and built forms.  I am always looking for a different perspective that captures an artistic interpretation of architecture.

Flaneuring Fun

I love wandering the streets wherever I am, looking for urban surprises and usually I am not disappointed.  It could be anything from a dandelion gone to seed illuminated by a setting sun to fun doorway.  I love the thrill of the hunt.

Playgrounds

I have always loved the colour and sense of joy that happens at community playgrounds.  This year I bonded with the little guy next-door (he will be 2 years old in January 2016) and explored literally dozens of playgrounds all within a short walk of our house.  As a result I have made a point over the past year to visit as many playgrounds as I can both in Calgary and beyond.

Street People

One of my goals for 2015 was to capture the everyday urban life of the street, plaza, park and pathway, while respecting everyone’s privacy.

Street Art / Public Art Surprises

Expect the unexpected as my street art and public art photos are not just about sculptures and statues, rather how art can be found in strange places like amazing collages created in the reflections of storefront windows.

Skyscapes

Over the past year, I have been treated to some some amazingly works of art created by Mother Nature.  For the most part these are not your romantic sunsets and sunrises, but rather dramatic moments that are part of one’s everyday experiences.

Last Word

I hope you will enjoy these compilations as much as I have in putting them together.   As always, comments are welcomed.  Feel free to share with me some of your favourite photos of 2015.

Editor’s Note: I will be posting a new 2015 Best Everyday Tourist Photos blog each Sunday beginning January 3rd.

 

"Laughter" (church courtyard, Mexico City)

"Morning Shadows" (downtown Calgary)

"Waterfall" (Anthropology Museum courtyard, Mexico City) 

"Divine Light" (cemetery, Mexico City) 

"Mystery Spaces" (lobby Bellas Artes, Mexico City)

"Careful" (Mexico City) 

"Revelation" (Library, Mexico City) 

"Looking Away" (Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room, Seattle)

"Ripples" (Redwood Meadows)

"Serenity" (Redwood Meadows)

"Lines" (Soumaya Museum, Mexico City) 

"Scribble" (our garden)

"Crumbling" (4th street underpass, downtown Calgary)

"Staring" (Bankers Hall Plaza, Calgary)

"Stacks" (Seattle Central Library)

"Spikes" (St. James Cathedral, Seattle) 

"Intersection" (downtown Seattle)

"Readers" (Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City) 

"Alone" (+15 bridge, downtown Calgary)

"Alone" (+15 bridge, downtown Calgary)

"End of the rails" (Inglewood, Calgary)

Calgary: A Big Band Haven?

Calgary Jazz Orchestra 

For awhile now, I’ve known about Calgary’s Prime Time Big Band that performs regularly at the Ironwood in Inglewood. However, over the holidays, I was invited by friends to join them at a performance of Johnny Summers and the Calgary Jazz Orchestra’s “A Perfectly Frank Christmas.” While at the concert, I began to wonder, “how many big bands are there in Calgary?” 

Serendipitously, one of the other guests in our concert fivesome was John Towell, who is a trombonist and part of Calgary’s Big Band community.  When asked about Calgary’s Big Band music scene, he quickly exclaimed, “I don’t know if Calgary is a unique haven for big bands. It’s possible something similar happens in many cities. But it’s certainly ‘under the radar’ – people are often surprised to discover the level of activity here. And the big bands are just part of the picture. Add in concert bands, orchestras, choirs and numerous smaller groups and you realize there are a huge number of Calgarians actively involved in our music scene.” 

Trombone section. Wednesday Night Big Band (photo credit: Gerry David)

We continued our conversation about Calgary’s “big band” music scene after the concert at The Nash’s Sunday Dinner (probably the best meal I had in 2015; the $39 family style meal was as my two-year old friend would say, “DELICIOUS”). I wasn’t home more than an hour and I received an email from John saying, “here is a reasonably complete big band list for Calgary – there could be more.”

 

 

Calgary's Big Bands

 Source: “Anthony’s Community Music Pages” (Anthony Reimer: jazzace.ca/music)

Big Bands 101

During our discussion, I asked John what is the definition of a “Big Band” and he quickly said they usually have about 20 musicians and singers. The standard line-up is five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets, 3 to 4 rhythm instruments (piano, bass, guitar and drum) and one or more singers.

He went on to explain that not all “Big Bands” are called Big Bands. They may also be called Jazz Orchestras, Jazz Bands or Swing Bands (the latter 2 terms can also refer to smaller groups). Bands that get together primarily for fun (vs. money) may also be referred to as rehearsal bands, reading bands, hobby bands, weekend warriors or ‘kicks’ bands. Who knew?

Wednesday Night Big Band (photo credit: Gerry David)

Calgary’s Big Band Community

In Calgary, Big Band musicians come from all walks of life, from high school students to 80+-year-old seniors; from enthusiastic amateurs to talented professionals as good as you would find anywhere. It is a true community.

Some of Calgary’s Big Bands focus on dance music of the big band ‘swing’ era, while others are more into the jazz repertoire of the 1940’s to present. Most bands perform commercially available arrangements (charts), although a few feature compositions and arrangements by local musicians (i.e. Johnny Summers/Calgary Jazz Orchestra, Calgary Creative Arts Ensemble).

You will find Calgary’s big bands performing in all kinds of venues – nightclubs, churches, Legions, community centres, schools and senior citizens’ centres are the most common.

The Calgary Jazz Orchestra’s two sold-out “A Perfectly Frank Christmas” performances, for example were held at the River Park Church in Marda Loop. The made me wonder, “how many churches in Calgary double up as concert halls?” A quick check of their website and it looks like RPC is the home of CJO’s! (Perhaps Churches as Concert Halls could be the subject of a future blog)

I digress. Arguably the best spot to experience Calgary’s Big Band on a regular basis is the Saturday brunch with Prime Time Big Band at the Ironwood Stage & Grill in Inglewood (now in its 13th season and likely the only regular event of this kind in Canada). Every two weeks, the 20-piece Prime Time plays a new program to packed houses. All ages and backgrounds come to hear music ranging from Duke Ellington classics to The Big Phat Band’s exuberant contemporary tunes. Founded 20 years ago by bandleader Dave Jones, Prime Time’s membership is made up of almost all of the city’s most veteran jazz musicians, including Eric Friedenberg (on saxophones and woodwinds), Al Muirhead (on trumpet and flugelhorn), Brian Walley (on trombone), Kai Poscente (on bass) and John de Waal (on drums), playing alongside more recently established local pros and invited international guests. Hint: Order your tickets early, as it is almost always a sell-out.

If you are interested in a specific band’s performances they are usually publicized via each band’s own mailing list, website and Facebook page. Another good source of public performances is the JazzYYC website (jazzyyc.com).

Wednesday Night Big Band (photo credit: Gerry David)

Last Words

Given what must be hundreds, if not thousands of big band musicians calling Calgary home and many thousands more attending their concerts, it puzzles me that Calgary has struggled over the past 25 years to create a vibrant and viable Jazz Festival or a jazz club (like the now closed Beat Niq). 

Up close and personal....

Towell disagrees, “The rumours of demise of jazz in Calgary is highly exaggerated.  The JazzYYC Society has revived Calgary’s Summer Jazz Festival after superstitiously avoiding the “F” word for a couple of prior years’ events. And a scan of events on the JazzYYC website, or in Calgary Herald’s Swerve magazine, reveals Calgarians can get out and hear live local jazz musicians almost any day of the week. Go listen!"

If you like this blog, you might like:

Tim Williams: Calgary's Adopted Bluesman

Calgary: North America's Newest Music City? 

Little Blues Joints on the Prairies

Mexico City: A Kaleidoscope of colour

Recently I posted a slide show of black and white photographs of every day places and space in Mexico City that was very well received, however, several readers also pointed out that Mexico is known for its splendid colour.  I too was overwhelmed by the colour of streets of Mexico City and one of the reason I chose to take some b&w photos was to see how the city looked without all of the colour.  

Based on reader feedback, I decided to put together a slide show that would capture the wonderful colour of the everyday people and places of Mexico City.  I hope you will enjoy the slide show.

Below is the Mexico City: Noir slide show if you'd like to compare. 

Comments are welcomed!

Calgary: Bring back Stampede Wrestling?

Seems to me Calgary is always looking for ways to attract more tourists to our city.  Over the past few years, several new tourist attractions have been added or will soon be added to enhance our city as a tourist destination – new festivals (Beakerhead), new museums (National Music Centre, Canadian Sports Hall of Fame) and international events (formula one car racing).  After recently attending a Lucha Libre (aka Stampede Wrestling) event in Mexico City, I am thinking we should consider bringing back Stampede Wrestling and promote.

Lucha Libre (free style wrestling) is one of Mexico City’s biggest tourist attractions, with attendance in excess of one million people per year (tourists and locals).  Lucha Libre takes place every Tuesday and Friday night, with additional special matches during the year in the Arena Mexico (aka the cathedral of lucha libre).  This 16,500-seat arena built in 1956, hosted the boxing matches of the 1968 Summer Olympics.  Though the arena has seen better days (I don’t think it has been renovated since it was built), that doesn’t seem to bother the spectators. In fact, it seems like an appropriate and authentic location for this type of low-brow event.

The entire family gets into fun of a night out at Lucha Libre in Mexico City.

Lucha Libre 101

Mexico City’s wrestling history dates back to 1863 when free style wrestling was developed from Greco-Roman wrestling.  The modern version began in 1942, when a silver-masked wrestler El Santo (The Saint) made his debut by winning an 8-man battle royal without revealing his identity.  The public loved the mystery man and the fact they didn’t know his real identity - just like a real super hero. 

Today, a key element of the Lucha Libre spectacle is to not only to pin your opponent but to remove his or her mask to humiliate them (yes there are female wrestlers). The public hoots and hollers throughout the event but never moreso than when someone is de-masked. 


Stampede Wrestling 101

Calgary was at the forefront of the wrestling world back in 1948 when Stu Hart (one of the world’s most famous wrestlers) created Stampede Wrestling. Utilizing the Victoria Pavilion, Ogden Auditorium and Stampede Corral, the Hart family created one of the world’s earliest televised (hosted by Ed Whalen from 1957 to 1989) professional wrestling programs, which was broadcast to over 50 countries year-round. In many ways, it was as big as the Stampede itself in being a global ambassador for Calgary. 

Beginning in the ‘80s, with the advent of World Wrestling Federation (WWF), Stampede Wrestling started to struggle. The Harts sold the rights to Vince McMahon of WWF in 1984, but bought them back the next year.  After many years of ups and downs, (including a riot in 1983 during a match at the Ogden Auditorium, when Ed Whalen was so disgusted by the violence he resigned on air), Stampede Wrestling’s last performance was in 2008.  

 

Ballet-like Performance Art

Free-style wrestling is a hybrid between ballet and theatre.  All the moves are orchestrated and choreographed like a ballet and the costuming is ballet-like.  And the performers are a combination of actors and stand-up or improv comedians. If you don’t take yourself (or them) too seriously, the wrestling can be a hoot. Certainly, the people around me were having more fun than I have seen at any event in a long time.

Everything about the night is tacky - from the Las Vegas-like showgirls to the loud and crass announcers, to the chubby middle-aged men dressed in silly costumes tossing each other around and slapping each other like some bizarre Three Stooges-like skit.

Last Word

In Mexico City, lucha libre is a “must see” tourist attraction for many tourists. It was certainly popular with the guests at the Hostel Suites, with groups heading there every Tuesday and Friday night.  

The 6,457-seat Stampede Corral built in 1950 (same vintage as the Arena Mexico) would be ideally suited as a permanent home for a revitalized Stampede Wrestling program.  Given the global explosion in cosplaying (dressing up in costume) and interest fantasy superheroes by adults, a revamped Stampede Wrestling program could well become a huge year-round attraction for tourists and Calgarians alike.

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Everyone around me had a great time!

Urban Living in Calgary: 2015 in review

As 2015 quickly comes to a close, one can’t help but reflect on Calgary’s evolution over the past year from an urban living perspective.  While the news on the economic front has continued to worsen, from an urban residential development perspective, things have continued to evolve pretty much as predicted. 

In fact a record six new high-rises were completed in 2015 – First, Fuse, The Park, Outlook at Waterfront, Guardian I and Aura II. The previous record was five in 2008 and again in 2010.  Perhaps even better news - another six are anticipated to be completed in 2016.

The boldest condo announcement in 2015 was Knightsbridge Homes’ and Metropia Urban Landscapes’ plan for a 167-unit condo in East Village with no parking.  Not only did they announce their innovative project, but they got approval, sold out and started construction all in 2015.

Rendering of N3 condo in Calgary's East Village that has no parking.  I thought N3 stood for No Parking, No Problem, Nitwits, but was told it stands for New Attitude, New Vision, New Lifestyle. 

Beltline Bankruptcy Blues

This year, several abandoned projects from the 2007/08-mortgage collapse morphed into new projects.  Remember Astoria, the condo tower with its $10 million penthouse (on 10th Ave between 8th and 9th Avenue) that was abandoned when it was just a big hole in the ground? That has since been taken over by WAM Development Group and will be two towers 17 and 34-storeys.  This development will nicely integrate with Qualex-Landmark’s Mark on 10th at the corner of 10th Ave and 8th street.

As well, just a little further west at 1235-11th Avenue SW (the old Kai Tower project, named after Kai Mortensen Fine Furniture that used to be on the site) has evolved from initially being two vertical towers (Oslo and Copenhagen) into a single 13-storey horizontal building called Metropolitan by Statesman.

The Park condo in the Beltline was just a hole in the ground for several years until it was completed in 2015. 

In Victoria Park (aka Beltline East), Arriva, on the historic Victoria Park School site, was supposed to be an avant-garde, three-condo tower complex. However, it was abandoned after the first tower was completed.  Since then Hon Towers Ltd. picked up the pieces, redesigned the remaining two towers as two 44-floor South Beach-like white towers that will be the highest in Calgary. Rebranded as the Guardian Towers, the first tower is nearing completion while the second tower is more than half finished.

And in the heart of the Beltline (Memorial Park), Lake Placid Group of Companies completed The Park condo after a few years of no construction.  Across the street from Memorial Park, Qualex-Landmark has also broken ground for the first tower of their two-tower Park Point project  - sure to become one of the Calgary’s signature buildings.

It also looks like Strategic Group will be reviving the Sky Tower site at the corner of 10th Ave and 1st SE, having recently received approval for a 277-unit residence.

Ian Meredith a consultant at Altus Group Limited Residential Advisory Services, doesn’t expect to see any of the projects currently under construction to have financing issues given “the institutional level of investment at play now simply wasn’t present during the last downturn.  Over the past five years, Calgary has attracted most of the significant high-density developers from across Canada.  Even during a slower growth period there will be no shortage of long-term interests pushing towards the successful redevelopment of our inner city communities.”

Statesman purchased the old Kai Towers site and changed it from two vertical towers condos to one horizontal rental apartment block. 

Statesman purchased the old Kai Towers site and changed it from two vertical towers condos to one horizontal rental apartment block. 

Rendering of what Kai Towers were originally suppose to look like.  

Rendering of what Kai Towers were originally suppose to look like.  

WAM's two unnamed rental apartment towers are rising up from where the luxury Astoria condo which was just capped off at ground level when it went bankrupt. 

WAM's two unnamed rental apartment towers are rising up from where the luxury Astoria condo which was just capped off at ground level when it went bankrupt. 

The Astoria condo was announce back in 2007 with much fanfare especially for its $10 million dollar penthouse that never got built. 

The Astoria condo was announce back in 2007 with much fanfare especially for its $10 million dollar penthouse that never got built. 

Rendering of the original plans for Arriva block that included three sister condo towers, renovations of two schools and a major public artwork.

Bridgeland is Blooming 

The Bridges (aka old Calgary General Hospital site) redevelopment also came to a grinding halt in 2008, but gradually the entire Bridgeland/Riverside community is blooming into a lovely urban village. 

Vancouver’s Bucci Developments has been the “King of Bridgeland” for many years. Back Story: Owner and President, Fred Bucci’s father, the founder of the company was actually born at the Calgary General Hospital and grew up in the neighbourhood.

Bucci Developments not only built Bella Citta (2003) and Bella Lusso (2006) as part of Phase 1 of The Bridges, but also built NEXT (4th St and 7th Ave NE) nearby. Their new Bridges project Radius, planned for the southeast corner of Centre Avenue and 8th St. NE, will have a lovely view of The Bridges’ Central Park.  In addition to the 200 new homes, Radius’ modern design will add a new dimension to The Bridges with its rooftop terrace and garden.

As well, not only has GableCraft Homes’ modified Bridgeland Crossing II (mothballed for a few years) now nearing completion next to the LRT station, but they have also started Bridgeland Hill condos.

Not to be left out, Remington Developments’ new Meredith Block (office/retail) on Edmonton Trail just past Memorial Drive is further evidence that Bridgeland/Riverside is starting to bloom as Calgary’s newest vibrant urban village.

Bridgeland's Farmers' Market (photo credit: sustainablecaglary.com)

Urban Living Comes To The NW

The biggest urban living announcement in 2015 was the City’s approval of University District on the University of Calgary’s west campus land around the Alberta Children’s Hospital. They are already moving dirt on this 184-acre urban village (Calgary’s first 24/7 village given it will serve two hospital sites), that will include 6,000 multi-family residential units (home for about 15,000 people), 245,000 square feet of retail and restaurants in a Kensington-like pedestrian streets and 1.5 million square feet of office space for about 10,000 workers.  University District also includes 40 acres of parks, ponds, gardens and plazas and 12 km of pathways.  It holds the distinction of being the first ever new, master-planned urban village in Calgary’s northwest quadrant.

On a smaller scale, but still significant the Kensington Legion site redevelopment in West Hillhurst along Kensington Road at 18th St. NW has been called a “game changer” by both the NIMBYs and YIMBYs alike.  Truman Homes announced plans in 2015 to transform this large site into a mixed-use site with two buildings - a 4-storey office building and 8-storey condo, both with restaurants and retail at ground level. While there has been much controversy over the height of the condo building, everyone seems to agree the design of both buildings - especially the condo building with its cascading north façade – are very attractive. It could well become the “poster child” for the City of Calgary’s Main Street program (which includes Kensington Road from 14th Street to Crowchild Trail) and become the catalyst for the evolution of West Hillhurst into Calgary’s next vibrant walkable community.

University City at Brentwood LRT Station is a just one Calgary's many transit oriented developments.  Nearby is the University of Calgary, downtown is a short LRT ride and there are two grocery stores within walking distance.

Aerial view of University District site on the west end of the University of Calgary campus, with the Alberta Children's hospital in the middle. (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

Rendering of proposed pedestrian street with shops and cafes that will at the heart of new University District urban village. 

Kensington Legion site as it exists Fall of 2015. 

Kensington Legion site as it exists Fall of 2015. 

Proposed office (left) and condo (right) buildings for Kensington Legion block. (photo credit: Truman Development Ltd.)

Last Word 

In a recent full-page advertorial by Qualex-Landmark in the Herald’s New Condo section, comments made by Parham Mahboubi, Vice-President of Planning and Marketing with Qualex-Landmark resonated with me and bear repeating. 

“As developers, we have our sights on the long-term horizon.  I think this is something like the sixth temporary economic downturn Calgary has faced in over the past 30 years. It’s a cyclical market. Calgary has so much going for it that makes it one of Canada’s major metropolitan cities. We are not throwing in the towel. We will continue to respond to the ongoing demand for quality, high-density, inner-city communities by building new condos to further demonstrate our commitment to renewing the economic, social and cultural vibrancy of Calgary’s Beltline.”

This aptly captures the essence of what I have repeatedly heard from dozens of residential developers over the past year. Well said, Mr. Mahboubi!

Editor's Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condo section titled, "Calgary Growing From The Ground Up With Many Starts" on December 19, 2015.

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