What happened to "On Your Left!"

Guest Blog: Marie White, 84-year-old walker and former urban cyclist (she gave up biking in downtown Hamilton last year) and mother of the “everyday tourist.”

I have been visiting Calgary for over 25 years and always enjoyed walking along your wonderful pathway system. It was here many years ago that I was first heard the “on your left” greeting from cyclists who were about to pass by me.  It wasn’t just one or two who were so courteous, it was almost every cyclist. It was most appreciated.  It made it a pleasure for a senior like myself to share the pathways.

I was so impressed I started to say “on your left” when riding my bike along the shared pathway at the Waterfront Trail in Hamilton rather than ring my bell.  It just seemed more friendly and personal.

I am sad to say Calgary’s polite cycling culture seems to have all but disappeared from my experience this visit (March/April 2015).   I don’t feel as safe on your pathways as I used to.

Glenmore Reservoir pathway was a busy place on March 29, 2015.

We don't have eyes in the back of our heads!

In fact, over several visits during the past few years I have experienced more and more cyclists passing (racing pass in some cases) without any type of warning. This week seldom heard “on your left” or ringing bell when we walked along the gorgeous Glenmore Reservoir pathway on the weekend and several times walking on the Bow River pathways  from Crowchild Trail to downtown. 

Ironically, in reading the Herald during this visit I also noticed stories about Calgary wanting to create a friendly walking and cycling culture.  Seems to me one of the first and simplest things (and at no cost) would be bring back the “on your left” warning by cyclists, joggers or even walkers as they pass by others on the pathway. Contrary to what some mothers say none of us have “eyes in the back of our heads.”

Downtown pathways can get very busy on nice days. 

Downtown pathways can get very busy on nice days. 

Walkers Behaving Badly

At the same time, walkers could also be more respectful of cyclists by staying on right side of the pathway and not wandering all over the place, so cyclists, joggers and even faster walkers have room to pass easily.  A little cooperation and consideration on both sides can go a long way to enjoying a stress free walk, jog or ride.

Walkers behaving badly. 


Wouldn’t it be great if Calgarians could relearn how to share their wonderful pathways? You can spend all the money you want on signage and other infrastructure, but it won’t help if there isn’t a basic level of respect and  friendliness.

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First Street Underpass Transformation Finally Underway

Editor's Note:

This blog was written for the Hotel Arts newsletter in April 2013. Unfortunately the First Street Underpass didn't go forward as planned that summer due to the Great Flood of 2013.  Fortunately, the plan for transforming the underpass is currently underway.  

Given the pedestrian traffic that uses the CPR underpasses connecting the Beltline with the downtown core and their very poor conditions one has to wonder why they weren't given priority over Poppy Plaza, Memorial Drive decorations or the Peace Bridge. 

Plans are also underway to transform the 8th Street Underpass into a much more inviting place for pedestrians 24/7.  That blog will have to wait until another time. 

First Street Underpass Transformation 

Before Calgary became an oil and gas city, it was a railway town. In fact, not only does the Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CPR) main line still run right through the downtown, its head office is located downtown on 9th Avenue at 3rd Street, at least until its planned move to the Ogden Rail Yards in a few years.  The Steam Locomotive #29 sits, as a sentinel in front of the building on the plaza (fyi its steam whistle blows daily at noon). Placed there in 1996 when CPR moved its headquarters from Montreal to Calgary, it symbolizes a significant milestone in Calgary’s evolution as one of North America’s major corporate headquarter cities. Locomotive 29 also has the unique distinction of being the last CPR-operated, steam locomotive to close out the railway's steam era on November 6, 1960 - one day shy of the Company's 75th anniversary of driving the last spike.

It is the CPR that shaped Calgary’s downtown in the early 1880s, when it decided to locate the Calgary Train Station on the west side of the Elbow River. Why? Because, there was too much land speculation in the Inglewood area, so by placing the train station on the west side of the Elbow River, CPR could control the sale (profits) from all of the land around the new train station.

The CPR’s mainline (between 9th and 10th Avenues) meant building underground roads to link the warehouse district on the south with the commercial and residential districts on the north.  Yes, the land north of the tracks used to be mostly residential.  Nobody in their wildest imagination back then could have ever imagined Calgary’s downtown would become one of the densest in North America on par with Manhattan and Chicago.  

Interesting to see the First Street roadway being shared by a street car, tow horse driven carts and cyclist 100 years ago. 

Consequently, there are seven underpasses at 4th 2nd (Macleod Trail) and 1st Streets SE and 1st 4th 5th and 8th Streets SW. Of all the underpasses, the First Street SW underpass, built in 1908, is one of the oldest, busiest and dingiest. It is well known for the brownish liquid leaking from the tracks down the retaining walls to the sidewalk – looking like something from a bad horror movie.  The idea of building bright, clean and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks hadn’t even been thought of when this underpass was built.  Although there have been some attempts over the years to improve the lighting and hide the leaking  and staining of the retaining wall, the ugly patina soon returned.   

Then in November 2011, the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (the arm of the city responsible for developing the land east of City Hall), unveiled its very sleek and shiny 4th Street SE Underpass.  Using 21st century thinking, they created a bright and open (an incline that allowed pedestrians and others to see from one side to the other) underpass, with subtle streetscape ornamentation and lampposts that directed light on the road and the sidewalk. 

4th Street SE Underpass (photo credit: JordanW.ca on Flickr)

It didn’t take long for the City to realize the need to make all underpasses linking the Beltline (south downtown) community with the downtown core more attractive.  Up next is the First Street SW Underpass, with construction slated to begin late this summer.

In the mid '90s, Calgary artist Luke Lakasewich created a large mural crafted out of steel to animate the underpass.

First Street SW itself is significant in two ways. It is the only street from the 1913 Mawson Plan for Calgary that was actually built. Thomas Mawson was an early 21st century urban planner, who not only created a master plan for the City of Calgary, but also the City of Regina, University of Saskatchewan and Vancouver’s Stanley Park. It is also the only street in Calgary that links the Elbow and Bow Rivers. For Hotel Arts’ guests, it is THE gateway to the downtown – to Stephen Avenue Walk, CORE shopping center, Calgary Telus Convention Centre, EPCOR Performing Arts Centre, Bow River Promenade and Prince’s Island.

Starting late summer and hopefully finished by Christmas (plans are to do most of the work off-site to minimize the need for closure of the underpass), the First Street underpass will be completely transformed into a pedestrian friendly corridor linking the south and north sides of downtown. The City of Calgary has awarded the project to Calgary’s Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative. The project is more complex than you might think, as the new design must balance function, purpose and aesthetic design. Boutin is an good choice - not only is he an award-winning architect, but also as his former office was a block away. He knows the space and its challenges first-hand.

He and his creative team have generated a clever design that will convert the underpass into a work of art.  There design consists of using two layers of a thin perforated aluminum screen mounted on the retaining wall to hide the stained concrete and allow for new water channeling infrastructure.  One layer of the perforated aluminum screens are designed to reflect the new LED lighting such that it will create a mountain landscape mural on the west side retaining wall and prairie landscape on the east side wall.  The second aluminum screen will have perforations that create the word “DOWNTOWN” to pedestrians walking north and “BELTLINE” to those walking south.

Rendering of the new wall of light that will adorn the underpass as part of the 21st century transformation. 

Surrealist rendering of the underpass hints at the transformation intended to make the underpass cleaner, brighter and more welcoming. 

Above the roadway along the railway tracks, the existing billboard advertising will be removed and a huge aluminum frame lit in blue will be erected, creating a huge, picture frame-like rectangle that will transform the passing night trains or skyline into works of art.  Ultimately, the pedestrian experience will be like walking into a cool outdoor cocktail lounge, or maybe a surrealistic painting with trains overhead.  

Not only will the entire street be cleaner and brighter, but there also will be more people than ever using the underpass, morning, noon and night.  It will be become the preferred way to get to and from downtown by Beltliners and Hotel Arts guests.  Unfortunately, due to space constraints, there is no room for a designated bike lane, but cyclists can dismount and walk their bikes through this avant-guard corridor.

Could this new underpass is destined to become another downtown Calgary "postcard" like the Peace Bridge, Wonderland sculpture on the plaza of the Bow Tower or the Trees outside Bankers Hall?  

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Are school sites sacred cows?

I may be opening up a can or worms, but every time I walk by a school site with a vast expanse of land devoted to playground and playing fields I wonder, “Is this the best use of the site?”  The spaces are empty or near empty most weekends and evenings during the school year and in July and August. What a waste?

Recently, I introduced the idea of “school site redevelopment” in a blog about Altadore as a potential model 21st century community given they have a huge school site with two schools, two playgrounds and a huge area for playing fields that are under-utilized.

Don’t get me wrong – I am all for kids and families have easy access to green spaces to play and picnic, but how much space do we need?

Cliff Bungalow School looks more like a house with its pitched roof and two side yards, rather than one humongous playing field. 

When I walk by the 1920 Cliff Bungalow School, the first thing I notice is how small the school and playgrounds are.  It fits into the neighbourhood, almost like a house and with two side yards.  I can’t help but wonder if this is the model we should be seriously considering for future elementary and junior high schools. 

When I walk around my nearby neighbourhoods of Hillhurst, West Hillhurst and Parkdale, all I see are huge spaces taken up by school sites, which would make ideal sites for diversifying our predominately single-family communities.  The sites are all within walking, cycling or easy transit to downtown, University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre and SAIT.  It is “live, work, play” heaven.

Cliff Bungalow playground is an intimate garden-like space beside the school. 

School-Oriented Villages

Call me radical, but why can’t school sites accommodate other uses? Instead of one-storey schools, we could create two maybe three 4-storey buildings around the periphery of the block with an interior green space.

I envision the school on the ground floor with the upper floors being affordable housing for young teachers and seniors, maybe artists’ live/work spaces. Perhaps even some townhomes with enough space for young families. The upper floors would also accommodate a diversity of professional services – medical, fitness, legal, accounting.  Other ground floor uses would include day care, after school care, café or bistro and other convenience retail to create a small village.

The buildings could be modular (think sea containers), allowing classrooms to be added or subtracted based on need or being replaced with residential, retail or office spaces. Imagine a school-oriented village that evolves with the community as it ages and then rejuvenates. Transit Oriented Development is all the rage in Calgary with plans for Brentwood, Westbrook and Anderson Stations, why not school- oriented development.

Lousie Dean School site along Kensington Road offers an excellent opportunity for redevelopment as the playing fields are rarely utilized.  

Edmonton kicks our butt

A quick check of the situation in Edmonton and I found out their Mayor posted a paper in October 2014 titled “The Important Role of Surplus School Sites.” Their City’s website has lots of information on how that city is pushing forward with the redevelopment of several school sites.  In contrast it is hard to find much about what is happening with surplus school sites.

What I love about the Edmonton model – and think it would be applicable to Calgary - is that it focuses on first homebuyers.  A key issue facing Calgary’s established communities in Calgary is lack of moderately priced homes for young families who don’t $200,000+ family incomes. They simply can’t afford duplexes and fourplexes starting at $750,000, nor can they live in the 600sq feet $300,000 condos or the 1,2000 square foot bungalows in need of $100,000+ renovations.   

Constipation of consultation

I expect it is the same people who are protesting any changes to their community are the same ones who also protest the closing of schools because of lack of enrollment. They likely the ones who protest against the conversion of old 600 square foot cottage homes on inner city lots into mini-mansions, duplexes and fourplexes or heaven forbid a developer gets a chance to buy three or four contiguous lots to build a small apartment or condo.

It seems to me the loud minority all too often dominates the urban renewal debates of our cities.  I am all for public engagement but at some point we need to limit the debate, demonstrate some leadership and well-informed decision-making. We will never please everyone.

Why wait?

Many of Calgary’s schools built in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s are at the end of their life span. As the School Boards don’t have money to bring them up to modern standards, now is a great time to be creative and work with the private sector to look at how school sites could be reconfigured to allow for new development which would also result in new schools. The goal would be surrounded the school with compatible activities that would create 7/12 (seven days a week, 12 months of the year). Imagine a school-oriented village with animated sidewalks, streets, parks, patios, playgrounds and playing fields.  Let’s be proactive and not wait until the schools fall apart or are closed.

Altadore school site prime location for redevelopment into a mixed-use urban school village. 

Sacred Cows?

If we want to have vibrant inner-city communities, we are wise to let them evolve slowly over decades, but every once in awhile we have to make a quantum leap. For the past three decades, many of Calgary’s inner city communities have been slowly diversifying their housing inventory with infill projects. It makes sense that the next big discussion must be on how to redevelopment their school sites to enhance the entire community. They can’t be sacred cows.

This blog was first published in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section titled "Are School Sites Becoming Sacred Cows?" on March 28, 2015.

Richard White the urban strategist at Ground3 Architecture has written about urban design and urban living for over 25 years. Email Richard@ground3; follow @everydaytourist

EH emailed: 

"I read your piece in Saturday's Herald with great interest. My wife and I currently live in Windsor Park, home of Windsor Park school, disused for some years now. It occupies one city block. Previously, I lived in Haysboro, which has two underutilized schools, Haysboro Elementary and Eugene Coste. Each is perched on substantial real estate.  As far as I am aware, each of the aforementioned three schools retains some kind of minor school board function, but hardly any justification for their retention in inventory. Apart from the disused Windsor Park school, Elboya Elementary, an active school about 5 blocks north, also sits on a full city block.

We live in a fast-becoming-extinct 60 year-old bungalow, most of which are being replaced by infills and their attendant young families. And with those young families will soon come the need, once again, for schools. But as you say, hopefully not in the configuration as built 60-plus years ago.

I would heartily agree with you that the focus must shift to new and innovative uses for the land on which these schools sit. A rough calculation of the current value of the Windsor Park property alone would be $10 million. Considering the land is already assembled and contiguous, probably closer to $12 million. Sale of just one property would come close to paying the lease on CBE headquarters for a year.

But as you say, redevelopment of the sites would be the ideal, especially in addressing the educational needs of older neighbourhoods experiencing a rebirth. Perhaps this type of redevelopment is ripe for a P3 partnership.

Now the question remaining is, How does one get things moving? Your idea is more than thought-provoking; it's exciting. I hope it gains traction."

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SETON's Gateway Surprise

A few weeks back I found a pinkish orange, very cool, very contemporary art/architectural photo from SETON on Twitter.  Since then I have been trying to track down more information about the image from Brookfield Residential.  Turns out it isn’t public art, or a building but SETON’s Gateway feature. 

It is part of an ambitious urban design plan that includes this Gateway feature and several significant architectural and/or art elements at strategic corners and locations throughout the community.   Over the next few years - as SETON buildings start to be completed - four more art/architectural objects will be unveiled; with many more to follow as SETON is completed.

SETON Gateway at twilight.

The Gateway

So intrigued by SETON’s Gateway structure, I took the 74-kilometer round trip (took me 30 minutes to get back to West Hillhurst at 3 pm on a Wednesday) from my home to check it out in person. And I am glad I did.  You can’t miss it.  It is a three-storey, bright white structure with human-sized white letters spelling the word “SETON” at the entrance to the community exiting off Deerfoot Trail at Seton/Cranston exit.

My immediate reaction - this is very similar to the “MEMORIAL” letters at Poppy Plaza along Memorial Drive at the gateway to downtown from Kensington. However, the SETON Gateway is much more contemporary and cheerful.  There is a playfulness in the forest of leaning white pillars and the three pick-up stick-like poles that reach out through a skylight in the pure white canopy.  From a different perspective it reminds me of a mid-century modern gas station, while at the same time it is more futuristic, with the canopy panels looking a bit like the fuselage of the Challenger spacecraft.  I love the ambiguity.

Standing inside the structure, you are immediately drawn to the circular opening in the roof with its two triangular slits on opposite sides (later realized this is the SETON logo).  You can’t help but look skyward and contemplate the universe.  A wonderful play of light creates shadows on the ground and a shimmering mirage on the roof.

I am told the piece really comes alive at night when its sophisticated lighting system allows for an endless number of light shows - from fireworks at New Year’s (and other times of celebration) to a Northern Lights program that has dancing blue, green and purple hues that is used in the winter.   The lighting system is capable of producing any colour within the lighting spectrum.

SETON Gateway daytime.

SETON letters create a fun Kodak moment.

SETON letters create a fun Kodak moment.

Design Team

The SETON Gateway is a collaborative project designed by:

  • Brookfield Residential – Project Sponsor
  • Gibbs Gage – Architect
  • DBK Engineering – Electrical Engineer
  • Mike Walker Consulting Ltd. - Lighting Programmer
  • 818 Studios – Landscape Architect
  • MMM – LEED
  • MMP – Structural Engineer
  • Jubilee Engineering – Civil Engineer
  • Elan – General Contractor

It was not created as part of a public art program, but rather as part of a comprehensive urban design strategy with both art and architecture design elements where they are appropriate and where they can add value to the overall sense of place for the community.  It is not design for design’s sake.

The goal was for the SETON Gateway to be seen from far away as far away as Deerfoot Trail, yet be part of an overall community wayfinding system, one that is distinct but synergistic with the South Health Campus, as well as be inviting to all (pedestrians, cyclists and drivers), be urban and be memorable.  A tall task for sure.

The SETON Gateway forrest with patio on left side.

This is definitely not your typical suburban new community entrance with a big rock with the community’s name stenciled onto it, some trees and shrubs and maybe a water feature. This is a high-tech, high-design that is both puzzling and provoking. It begs questions like; Why is it here? What is it? Does it have a function? It would easily fit into the urban design sensibility of the Beltline, Downtown or East Village.

It’s its clean, contemporary, big, bold and yes beautiful.  Some might see it a cross between the Peace Bridge and the Big White Trees on Stephen Avenue.

The SETON Gateway is testament to Brookfield Residential’s commitment to fostering a unique urban sense of place for SETON, through contemporary urban design elements strategically placed along the community’s streets, parks and entrances to buildings and retail centres.  They are committed to creating North America’s best new 21st century master-planned mixed-use community in Calgary.

White sentinels serve as way finding, night lights and add to the urban design element in the middle of the storm water swale. 

SETON skylight.

Last Word

Though too early to judge the success of the SETON Gateway project, they have gotten off on the right foot.

If I had to draw parallels to other Calgary projects, it has some of the architectural and lighting elements of TELUS Spark combined with the artistic sensibility of Chinook Arc (Beltline’s Barb Scott Park) and the LED lighting of the Langevin Bridge, 7th Avenue LRT stations and Calgary Tower.  I should add Brookfield has received no government funding for the SETON Gateway.

I am told that to date, Brookfield has had nothing but positive comments and I personally have heard nothing negative either.  One of the tests of a good urban sense of place is that there are surprises – and the SETON Gateway is a pleasant surprise.  I can’t wait to see some of the other surprises they have planned.

See For Yourself!

If you want to see the SETON Gateway for yourself, just take Deerfoot to the Seton/Cranston  turn off.  Head east to the South Health Campus and it will be right there.  There is lots of free parking in the retail centre immediately to the west.  Plan to spend an hour or so exploring the Gateway and the South Health Campus, maybe even meet up for a coffee or lunch.  I am planning a trip back in the evening to see the light show. 

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Peyto: Calgary's Every Street Walker

Editor’s Note:

David Peyto has authored three Calgary Walking Guide books – Walk Calgary’s Escarpments and Bluffs, Calgary LRT Walks: The Northwest Stations and Calgary LRT Walks: The South Stations. He has also published three books on Calgary’s Parks and Green Spaces. He is currently working on Calgary LRT Walks: The Downtown and West Stations. His grandfather was Walter H. Peyto the first District One Fire and Game Warden in Rocky Mountains Park, later renamed Banff National Park.

In September 2013 I set my own challenge for “every street walking” in Calgary. The goal is to walk the streets of all Calgary’s residential communities. By the middle of March 2015, 175 days of walking for 1,475 kilometers had been completed. It is still too soon to know how many walks and how many kilometers will be required to complete the goal. I have posted hundreds of photos on walkcalgarycommunities’ albums on Flickr.

Most of the walks have been in the area bounded by the Bow River on the north, the Elbow River on the east and south and as far west as the communities on the western edge of the city. Cemetery Hill, Erlton, Inglewood, Ramsay, Radisson Heights, Albert Park and part of Forest Lawn have also been walked in southeast Calgary. South of the Elbow River Rideau Park and Roxboro have been walked. North of the Bow River the communities from Shaganappi Trail east to Deerfoot Trail that are south of Canmore Park, Confederation Park, Queen’s Park Cemetery and the former Highland Park Golf Course have also been walked.

Musical fence in Parkdale.

Observations from “every street walking”in Calgary

Many communities have Little Free Libraries – some of these libraries even have chairs or benches so you can sit and read. One library had a large umbrella for shade. Highland Park and Tuxedo have numerous libraries in close proximity to each other.

The kindness of some people is very evident. One resident placed a bench beside a community mailbox so neighbours can sit and read their mail. Another resident placed a bench and a garbage can at a bus stop that had no bench. Several residents have placed benches along the edge of their yard for walkers to sit and rest for a few minutes. During a construction road closure, one resident put up a sign saying it was okay to use their driveway to turn around.

Fun sculpture in yard in Crescent Heights. 

Fun sculpture in yard in Crescent Heights. 

Public art can be best appreciated when walking. Many communities have colourful murals on schools, community halls or walls.

In older communities there are buildings that have been converted from their previous use into a home. These include a fire hall, a church, several corner groceries and even a former utility building.

Sidewalk stamps provide a unique look at history. Some are over 100 years old. Some show the former names of streets.

One corner in Bridgeland has a pole with FIRE written on it (this pole dates back to when there were fire alarm boxes on corners).

Bridgeland/Riverside has a large number of places of worship. This community also has many sets of interesting public stairs.

I have discovered a variety of fences and walls on my walks. Two of the most memorable ones have a distinctly Canadian theme – one was made of skis and the other, hockey sticks.

Ski fence in Altadore

Some homeowners have included flag colours in their yard showing their family’s nationality. The colours are painted on walls or fences, on flower pots or chimneys.

Old agricultural equipment in front yard in Hillhurst.

Old agricultural equipment in front yard in Hillhurst.

The yard art and gardens created by homeowners can be very interesting. The yard art might include wagon wheels, wagons, animals, sculptures, imitation water wells or lighthouses.

One interesting garden had flowers planted in a canoe. The ambitious community association of Cougar Ridge has planters located along main roads, in parks and playgrounds and beside community mailboxes.

The many plaques and cornerstones spread throughout the city can tell their own story. The cornerstone at the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer at 7th Ave and 1st St SE has the name of former Canadian Governor General, Earl of Minto engraved on the stone. The cornerstone for the former Baptist Leadership Training School (now Rundle Academy) on 16th St SW, was laid by former Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker.

Interesting messages are often found written on sidewalks or stairs. In Garrison Woods, quotes by Bruce Lee and Eleanor Roosevelt were written in chalk on the sidewalk.

One interesting garden had flowers planted in a canoe. The ambitious community association of Cougar Ridge has planters located along main roads, in parks and playgrounds and beside community mailboxes.

The many plaques and cornerstones spread throughout the city can tell their own story. The cornerstone at the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer at 7th Ave and 1st St SE has the name of former Canadian Governor General, Earl of Minto engraved on the stone. The cornerstone for the former Baptist Leadership Training School (now Rundle Academy) on 16th St SW, was laid by former Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker.

Interesting messages are often found written on sidewalks or stairs. In Garrison Woods, quotes by Bruce Lee and Eleanor Roosevelt were written in chalk on the sidewalk.

Doug Driediger's 1998 mural "The Promise" in Alex Ferguson School yard is 18 feet by 60 feet. 

Doug Driediger's 1998 mural "The Promise" in Alex Ferguson School yard is 18 feet by 60 feet. 

What is an “every street walker?”

There are several types of every day walkers from those who decide to walk all the streets in their community to those who walk every day along the same or similar route. Some even decide to walk every street in their town or city. The challenge becomes huge if the walker lives in a large city like New York, Seattle or Calgary.  

There are many positive aspects to “every street walking.” The walker has the opportunity to visit streets and communities in their city for the first time. The every street walker explores at a much slower pace than driving or even cycling, so you notice more, get a more “up close and personal” experience.

Cow on balcony in Cliff Bungalow.

Cow on balcony in Cliff Bungalow.

“Every Street Walking” Tips

  • Take photos as you walk.
  • Take a photocopied page from a city map book and use a felt marker to record the streets you have walked.
  • Walking in communities with a grid system of streets is easy for route planning.
  • Walk the grid streets in a north to south direction and then switch to walking the streets in an east to west direction to arrive back at the starting point.
  • Walking communities without a grid system is more challenging. The map page is a necessity to prevent walking the same street several times or missing some streets. Fortunately in some communities, the planners have included paths that connect cul-de-sacs.

Other “every street walkers”

Matt Green has completed over 6000 miles of his goal to walk every public street in the five boroughs of New York. Learn more: imjustwalkin.com

Peggy Burns completed her four-year, 6-pair of shoes, 2,722 mile walk of all Seattle streets in April 2014. Learn more: walkingseattle.blogspot.ca

Alan Waddell (1914 – 2008) walked every street in over 291 suburbs of Sydney, Australia. Learn more: http://walksydneystreets.net/

Mark McClure is currently walking the streets of Portland, Oregon regularly posting photos on Flickr. Learn more: @walkingInOregon’s albums on Flickr.


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Bridges over the Bow!

Great river cities are often defined by their iconic bridges.  A recent trip to Dublin, Ireland gave me a better appreciation for just how important bridges are - not only as a means of transportation, but also as a means of celebrating local history and a city’s sense of design.

While Calgary lacks the 1,000s of years of history Dublin has, we do have several bridges along the Bow in the downtown with historical and architectural significance.  We have four historic bridges - Centre Street, Langevin, Hillhurst (Louise) and Mewata. Two are brand spanking new multi-million dollar pedestrian bridges by international designers - Peace and St. Patrick’s Island Bridges.  

Then there is the lesser-known Jaipur Bridge (named after Calgary’s sister city in India) that links Eau Claire to Prince’s Island.   And, we even have “No Name” bridges – 4th/5th Ave Flyover (three bridges - two for vehicles and one for LRT), the 9th St West LRT bridge with its pedestrian bridge below) and the Prince’s Island to Sunnyside bridge at the Calgary Curling Club.

Five bridges cross the beautiful Bow River at the northeast entrance to downtown. (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

Jaipur Bridge recognizes the friendship and goodwill between Calgary and Jaipur, India.  In the winter the Bow River lagoon becomes a skating rink.  It is the entrance to Prince's Island Park on of North American's best urban parks. 

Centre Street Bridge

Did you know that the first Centre Street Bridge was built in 1906 by Archibald John McArthur so he could market his subdivision of Crescent Heights? So even 100 years ago, private developers were paying for urban infrastructure to facilitate growth!  The current bridge, which opened in 1916, was under construction when McArthur’s bridge collapsed in the 1915 flood.

 It’s best known for its four concrete kiosks each topped by a stately lion and two bison heads.  Designed by City employee James Langlands Thompson, they were patterned them after the lions in London’s Trafalgar Square.  The bridge offers spectacular views of the Bow River and city skyline, especially the juxtaposition of the Calgary Tower and Bow Tower.

Centre Street Bridge is a popular pedestrian link between upper and lower Chinatown. 

 Langevin Bridge

The current Langevin Bridge, opened in 1910, is named after Sir Hector-Louis Langevin, one of the Fathers of Confederation.  It is a “Camelback” bridge as the framework of structural steel looks like a camel’s back in profile.

Langevin Bridge by day.

Like the Centre Street Bridge, this is the second bridge at this site. The first one, a wood truss bridge opened in 1890 was called the Dewdney Bridge (after Dewdney Street, now 4th Street SW).  It provided more convenient access for settlers who chose to live on the unserviced lots across the river and the brothels along Nose Creek.

Today, it is best known for its 5,600 LED lights that can be programed in 156 different colour configurations to celebrate holidays or charity events.  (Back story: there was no public consultation for this lighting project and it cost just $350,000 – sometimes you just have to do it!)

Langevin Bridge at night. 

Hillhurst (Louise) Bridge

This bridge at 10th Street has connected downtown’s West End to Kensington since 1922.  It replaced the Louise Bridge a steel truss bridge (1906 to 1927), which had replaced the original Bow Marsh Bridge (1888 to 1906). The former was named after Louise Cushing, daughter of William Henry Cushing, Calgary’s mayor from 1900 to 1901. 

The current concrete bridge coexisted with the popular Louise Bridge for five years.  While the original name of today’s bridge was Hillhurst, Calgarians continued to refer to it as the Louise so in 1970, it was officially renamed it the Hillhurst (Louise) Bridge.

Made of reinforced concrete with five 32m wide arched wall spans over its 172m length, the bridge was rehabilitated in 1997, with a design by Calgary’s Simpson Roberts Wappel Architects at a cost of $5.1 million. 

The Hillhurst bridge provides some of the best views of the Bow River and the downtown skyline. 

Mewata Bridge

Built in 1954, the Mewata Bridge (14th Street) was the first major river crossing built in Calgary since the Louise Bridge in 1921.  It helped facilitate post-war suburban growth in northwest Calgary and the establishment of a system of one-way streets in downtown.

A mid-century modern design, it was inspired by the recently completed Waterloo Bridge in London, England. Built using “box-girder” technology, it uses steel-reinforced concrete beams shaped like a tube with multiple walls. When built, it was the longest box-girder span in North America, the first in Western Canada, and the first in Canada to use the new technique of butt-welded, reinforcing steel.

St. Patrick’s Island & Peace Bridges

Much has been written about Calgary’s two new pedestrian bridges – Peace and St. Patrick’s Island - each costing about $25M. Both are quickly becoming postcard images of Calgary’s new urbanity. Together, they create a pleasant, circular stroll along the shore of the Bow River offering engaging views of downtown’s modern architecture, Prince’s Island and the new St. Patrick’s Island (opening this summer).

The St. Patrick's bridge shines onto the water rather than into the night sky creating an eerie atmosphere. 

The Peace Bridge looks more dramatic at night all light up than it does during the day - just my humble opinion. 

No Name Bridges

The 4th/5th Avenue Flyover at Edmonton Trail are the busiest bridges collectively transporting almost 60,000+ vehicles cars in and out of downtown every day, as well as pedestrians and bikes.  A spectacular introduction to our downtown for many tourists and business travellers, it deserves a name and an enhanced sense of arrival (perhaps they could be lined with the flags of the world as a way of welcoming visitors). 

The 5th Ave flyover (built in 1972), the 4th Ave flyover (built in 1981) and NE LRT bridge (built in 1982), create a brutalistic statement about Calgary as a futuristic city.  Brutalism was a ‘60s design movement focusing on the use of raw concrete as an exterior façade material.

The modern, white, minimalist West End LRT Bridge with its suspended pedestrian bridge underneath creates the perfect yin to the yang of the early 20th Century Hillhurst (Louise) Bridge to its west.   This bridge, opened in 1987, is an important legacy to the 1988 Winter Olympics, linking downtown and University of Calgary venues.  Perhaps “Olympic Bridge” is fitting. 

The Prince’s Island to Sunnyside pedestrian bridge built in 1972 and designed by Chandler Kennedy Architects is a bit like the ugly, older sister in Calgary’s family of pedestrian bridges. It carries the same number of pedestrians and cyclists as the Peace Bridge, but gets no respect.  As part of the Memorial Drive mega-makeover, the ramps to the bridge were improved, but the bridge itself hasn’t changed in over 30 years.  With some modern updating (maybe some LED lighting), it has the potential to be just as spectacular as the Peace or Patrick’s Island Bridges.  Perhaps it could be the “Remembrance Bridge” which would be in keeping with the Memorial Drive theme and it is close to where we celebrate Remembrance Day.

The LRT Bridge built for the 1988 Olympics also serves as a pedestrian bridge connecting downtown's west end with Kensington. It is just a few minutes from the Peace Bridge to the east and the Hillhurst bridge to the west. 

The  4th and 5th Avenue Flyover bridges as seen from Riverwalk.  The City of Calgary informed me that neither bridge has a name, but when taking this photo I notice a plaque tucked up on the concrete beam above saying the 5th Ave Flyover is actually the Henry Kroeger Bridge a former Minister of Transportation. 

The pedestrian bridge links Prince's Island to Sunnyside. A coat of paint with some LED lighting and this could be a signature bridge. 

Dublin bridge bag

Last Word

Doesn’t every bridge deserve a name?  Perhaps we need a public naming contest for our “No Name” bridges? Maybe there are better names than Centre Street or St. Patrick’s Island?

Many river cities have postcards and souvenirs celebrating their bridges. I wonder when this might happen in Calgary.



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One night in Florence

There is something magical about wandering the streets of Florence as night.  No it isn't just the gelato!  Partly it is the vibe of the thousands of tourist and students wandering the streets aimlessly. But mostly I think it has to do with the sense of past, when humans were much more into mythical figures, the spirituality of gods and less focused on earthly pursuits.  

This is a photo tour of "One night in Florence." 

One of several fountains in Florence where people can take a drink - if they dare! We saw a young student fill up his water bottle in this one and take a drink. I believe it was a bit of a dare.  Later we found out these communal drinking fountains have been used for centuries and are a wonderful reminder of the how urban life has evolved from one of sharing to one of privacy (they are perfectly safe to use).

David by Michelangelo was completed in 1504 and is considered one of the great masterpieces of the Renaissance. At 17 ft high it is three times life size, which creates a monumental impact on the viewer. 

Medici Lion, one of two lions, one of which is an ancient lion from 200 AD that was removed from a relief, reworked and moved to the piazza, the other was commissioned in 1594 by Vacca. 

Medici Lion, one of two lions, one of which is an ancient lion from 200 AD that was removed from a relief, reworked and moved to the piazza, the other was commissioned in 1594 by Vacca. 

The rape of Polyxena, Pio Fedi, 1865 takes on a whole new meaning in the 21st century. 

The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna.

The fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati, 1565, has a wonderful surreal blue in the evening light (this iPhone image has not been altered).  

Many of the churches are open in the evening offering a surprisingly different spiritual and surreal experience than during the day. 

You can even enjoy an free evening organ concert, that spills out onto the street. You may even feel like you have died and gone to heaven. 

Forget twitter, leave a note for God. 

Twitter notes? 

Even if you are non-religious you can't help but be impacted by the sense of life and death that engulfs you in ancient cities like Florence.

Calgary's Downtown Night Lights Revisited

One of my greatest laments is the decline in the use of large flashing blade sign neon lighting as part of urban placemaking.   Neon lights added so much colour, animation and playfulness to the downtown streets of most North American cities in the middle of the 20th century; today they have all but disappeared. Even in Vegas the iconic mega neon signs have been laid to rest in a graveyard. (Learn more: Las Vegas: Neon Boneyard) 

In the '50s and '60s bright, bold, flashing lights were synonymous with the nightlife fun that downtowns used to offer. Today, most of our downtowns are visually sterile, corporate and just plain banal for my taste.

While LED lighting is bringing some of the colour and a bit of the animation back to urban placemaking, they are not as playful as neon - at least not Calgary.  In some cities, there are amazing light shows on the sides of buildings, but they are usually temporary in nature.  

The Calgary Tower and Langevin Bridge changing LED lights are a nice decorative feature, but the show isn’t bold enough to add a WOW factor.  Neon lights flashed quickly off and on, like an excited heart beat, while Calgary's LED lighting fades in and out slowly.  

Fort Calgary and East Village lighting adds some colour at night, but doesn't light up the sidewalk and create any electricity in the air like Neon lights can.  Even in the daytime the cartoon like neon images added a playfulness that is simply missing from our modern urban streetscapes. 

LED lighting Centrium Place

Calgary Tower revolving restaurant lighting at dawn. 

Calgary Tower revolving restaurant lighting at dawn. 

Riverwalk at night is an eerie place to be.

Riverwalk at night is an eerie place to be.

Langevin Bridge lights add colour at night to a dull grey bridge by day.

Langevin Bridge lights add colour at night to a dull grey bridge by day.

Fort Calgary's sentinels look like burning iron ingots at night, but the sidewalk and park are covered blackness. 

Fort Calgary's sentinels look like burning iron ingots at night, but the sidewalk and park are covered blackness. 

Jamieson Place LED lights.

How charming is this? 

Camera Fun

Recently, by accident, I discovered I could create some pretty surreal and abstract lighting effects by very quickly moving my new Sony RX100 III camera as I took a picture.

My “learning” happened one evening when I wanted some night photos of the LED lights on the Langevin Bridge for a Condo Living Magazine feature titled “Bridges Over the Bow.”  For some reason, I moved while taking a picture, which resulted in streaks of coloured lights across the sky over the bridge. It looked kinda cool so I kept it.  The image haunted me and the idea of creating my own downtown light show intrigued me, so I headed downtown a few nights later to experiment.

It was fun to see what would happen as I jerked the camera different ways to see what kind of image I would get (I hope nobody was looking as my technique undoubtedly made me look a little deranged).  It was also frustrating, as I didn’t have any control over the images. Definitely hit or miss.

But in the end, I love the playfulness of these images with just hints of Calgary’s architecture. There is diversity of light is delightful - to my eye anyway.  The images are a wonderful combination of fireworks, neon lights and northern lights.  There is a surreal narrative at play in some, while others look like something from a '60s acid dream (not that I would know anything about that).

I need some feedback, so I thought I’d share some of the images with you and invite your candid comments.

Richard White, March 15, 2015  

Langevan Bridge accident. 

Langevan Bridge accident. 

Peace Bridge and downtown skyline

Peace Bridge and downtown skyline

Lights on trees in corporate plaza 

Spotlights over 4th Avenue

Spotlights over 4th Avenue

West End condo light show.

West End condo light show.

Centre Street Bridge. The visual complexity of this photograph is astounding - the various qualities of light, the etching like lines, the  billowing white clouds contrasting with the electrical wire lines.  

Centre Street Bridge. The visual complexity of this photograph is astounding - the various qualities of light, the etching like lines, the  billowing white clouds contrasting with the electrical wire lines.  

Downtown / Kensington LRT Bridge 

Downtown / Kensington LRT Bridge 

Peace Bridge or Peace Train?

Peace Bridge or Peace Train?

Grain Exchange Building

Light waves 

Light waves 

Downtown temples?

Downtown temples?

Edward Hopper meets Francis Bacon?

Edward Hopper meets Francis Bacon?

An acid dream I'm sure....

Barclay Mall

Love to get your feedback. 

Flaneuring Austin & SXSW


Guest Blog from GABEster (geologist, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers) G. Taylor an Everyday Tourist wannabe. This is a steam of consciousness blog consequently the different fonts and text sizes and casual grammatical structure. Enjoy!

We got to Austin today safe and sound and got picked up by Dave’s wife (air b&b renters). She was super nice as we headed into the heart of Austin. Once getting in we checked out our apartment (which is quite nice) and then headed to Whole foods on Lamar street (the ORIGINAL whole foods).

I forgot to pack any socks or briefs so I needed to get me some organic briefs at a high marked up price. When we got inside, wholy shit!

Brisket & Beer 

Brisket & Beer 

This place had quality organic everything that tasted amazing - a coffee roaster that continuously roasts coffee in store. A fresh seafood restaurant and a BBQ joint that makes killer brisket. 

And yes, a bar that serves liquor and has taps for draught beer in a grocery store. 

Essentially whole foods has everything from red bananas to organic cotton briefs for the desperate traveler.

We went to the Ginger Man Bar and had a few drinks to end our night!

The mother ship Whole Foods store! 

The mother ship Whole Foods store! 

City of no plastic bags

One of the reasons I really like this city is how they take hard stances on subjects like no plastic bags allowed. Very few businesses are allowed to use them, resulting in a lot of bio degradable paper bags.


The first day of SXSW was dripping in anticipation for me. Having been in Austin for about two days before it began, I wasn’t sure if this festival was as big as I had heard. The night before the streets were empty. In the morning there was sparse traffic but people started to percolate through Austin’s grid system streets and avenues.

And then like an explosion, everyone was here. And everything was happening, right in that same moment, all at the same time!

Dumb ass

FIRST EVENT: panel on SXSW film tips

Really good information but also a VERY great way to start channelling some positive energy,  feel extremely fortunate to be here. The one thing I want to mention was the MC told a story about how one year he was walking down the street looking for a free lunch (which legitimately free food and drinks everywhere during the interactive festival). A girl was yelling, “free lunch! Free lunch!” holding a sign. He decided to go in, and lo and behold, it was an intimate chat with the founder of Yahoo!

This describes the true heart of this festival - it is literally an adventure, no one knows everything that is going on, and with that, no one knows what the “best thing” is going to be - you have to guess and walk through many doors for no reason other than your curiosity.

SECOND EVENT: let’s walk around Austin

We went for a long walk through the downtown of Austin and found a big exhibit Google had put on showcasing new wireless technology that allows insane bandwidth. They also show cased virtual reality tech they are working on including a bird simulator which you fly like a bird (really fun) as well as… Wait for it… Card board box virtual reality glasses that use your smart phone. Don’t believe me? Well I got to take one home, so I can show you!

cardboard mask

FILM EVENT: 808 - 4.0/5.0 - Documentary

We saw the world premiere of 808, a film about the Roland 808 and how it is in EVERYTHING YOU HEAR!! Insane. I knew a lot about the 808 through my musical journey and software but had never seen one and b)never knew what the fuss was about. Highly recommend this movie for anyone who listens to any music. Also some very funny interviews in the movie (50 artists interviewed). The best being beastie boys, but I won’t ruin it.

FILM EVENT: 7 days in hell - 4.0/5.0 - Comedy Short

Andy Sandberg and crowd make a ridiculous short mockumentary about a tennis match that never happened. Definitely for the young adult that enjoys the SNL and lonely planet humour. One of the best parts was the Q&A at the end where Will Forte and Andy Sandberg face time in through two separate iPhones and then end up talking to each other’s face timing phone.

MUSIC EVENT: Hotline Miami 2 Release Party w/Magic Sword

As if my day couldn’t get any better after seeing two world premieres, I convinced Justin to come with me to a video game release party. After the intro DJ these two guys took the stage, hooded in cloaks with LED masks (very Daft Punk esque). The music blew me away, and it was a super intimate concert.

It is a very big deal when I find new music that impacts me so this was almost sensory overload from an already amazing day. We were supposed to see another movie across the river, which meant we had to leave mid act. As I fumbled for my words trying to mention we had to leave soon, Justin responded with why would we leave this?! Which made me extraordinarily happy that we could finish the act.

And… Then we saw a midnight screening world Premiere (yes, this day seemed like I never end with awesomeness).

FILM EVENT: The Invitation - 4/5 - Thriller/Horror Creepy cult movie that was actually quite good. Adult milk shakes were amazing.

Stay tuned for more!

Calgary's newest historic district?

Calgary is about to get a new historic district, can you guess where? When it comes to local history most people’s first thoughts are probably the Glenbow, Heritage Park, Fort Calgary or Military Museums, maybe places like Stephen Avenue, Inglewood or Kensington.  Bet you didn’t guess Currie Barracks!

Currie Barracks History 101

The Currie Barracks land just east of Crowchild Trail at Richard’s Road was first designated for military use in 1911, when the City of Calgary’s population was 43,704 and the southwest edge of the City was Mount Royal.  It wasn’t until 1933 when a new Canadian military base was announced and named after Sir Arthur William Currie one of Canada’s most decorate military figures.

The area around Currie Barracks remained undeveloped until 1948, when the Department of Defence purchased the neighbouring land for the Currie Married Quarters. In 1968 the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force became the Canadian Forces and Currie Barracks was designated the Canadian Forces Base Calgary (CFB Calgary).

Currie Barracks has been home at various times to the Calgary Highlanders, the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians), 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s and Canadian Light Infantry.

In 1995, when the Government of Canada announced the closure of the CFB Calgary, Canada Lands Company (CLC), a self-financing federal Crown corporation and real estate development company took on the task of transforming this site into a 21st century model mixed-use community by creating the CFB West Master Plan, which includes Currie Barracks along with Lincoln Park Permanent Married Quarters (now Garrison Green), Mount Royal College, ATCO and Westmount Business Park.

Currie Barracks gate opening onto Parade Square, facing 24th Street SW, now Crowchild Trail. (Photo Credit: Canada Lands Corporation). 

Hidden Gem

Most Calgarians know little about Calgary’s first gated community, unless we had some connection with the Canada’s Armed Forces.  At best, it was that curious asphalt plaza with cast iron fence thingy that we whizzed by along Crowchild trail.  

It wasn’t until 2004, that Calgarians began to appreciate the hidden gem that was Currie Barracks with the opening of several temporary uses in various existing building - Calgary Farmers’ Market, Wild Rose Brew Pub and J. Webb Wine & Spirits, several movie and television production companies, Riddle Kurczaba Architects and several charter schools.  It even hosted Calgary’s first Cirque du Soleil extravaganzas.

For the first time, Calgarians could freely roam the barracks and appreciate the history of the place especially Parade Square surrounded by several distinctive wide low-rise, white stucco, cottage-style red shingled roof buildings.

Preservation vs. Prosperity

Over the past 10 years, CLC has been strategically developing all of the land around Currie Barracks in preparation for the ultimate mega-makeover project that will create a new 21st century urban village.  While the new Currie Barracks will be home to new buildings – condos, townhomes, office, hotel, grocery store, shops, cafes and pubs – it will also include the preservation of all the Provincially designated historical buildings, sites and landscaping.

Parade Square

Designed in 1935, Parade Square was the site of inspections, drills and training exercises; it was literally the heart of the daily activity of the Barracks for several decades, as well as special ceremonies.  It is surrounded by several 1950s historical buildings (Athlone, Bennett and Besborrough), which frame the Square and give is a homogenous, formal and symmetrical boundary.

Parade Square is 207 meters by 119 meters (the size of two CFL football fields) and was once the largest square in the British Empire.  It was the largest Depression-era public works program in Alberta.

Parade Square will become a large central multi-purpose gathering space for major community events with links to the many park spaces scattered throughout Currie Barracks. The historical buildings surrounding the square will be converted into multiple modern uses (e.g. schools, offices and restaurants). 

Currie Barracks circa 1941 (photo credit: Canada Lands Corporation) 

Other Historic Buildings

The Officers’ Mess and formal garden are located in the southwest edge of Currie Barracks away from the structures associated with daily operations of the base, which was typical at the time.  The Mess is an X-shaped building with the same red cottage style shingled roof and with stucco façade.  It is connected to the Officers Precinct by the formal tree-lined Trasimene Crescent and has an enclosed veranda on the south side to a formal garden. Inside are two luxurious ballrooms that hosted formal events from homage to fallen comrades to celebrating achievements. 

Ramshead House, simplified English Cottage style home with pitched roof and white rough cast stucco facade and cut stone entry. (Photo Credit: Canada Lands Corporation)

Ramshead (1936) and Brad (1938) houses are examples of simplified English Cottage style architecture with it pitched roof structure, white rough cast stucco façade and cut stone entry. Ramshead House was originally built as the residence for the commanding officer of the Royal Canadians. Brad House was the residence of the District Officer Commanding Military District #13.  Their cottage-style design conveys a sense of domesticity that contrasts with the barracks-style residences that housed the majority of the men stationed at the base.

The Stables Building completed in 1936 is a K-shaped structure with four symmetrical wings that each could accommodate 25 horses. It was a horse stable from 1936 to 1939, then became training centre and finally accommodation space for new recruits.

Officer's Mess and Formal Garden, completed in 1936. (Photo Credit: Canada Lands Corporation) 

Currie Barracks at a glance

  • First LEED-ND Gold Neighbourhood District approved in Canada
  • Largest LEED-ND Gold Project in the world (at the time of approval in 2009)
  • 10,000+ residents
  • 3,000+ workers
  • Flanders Point a pedestrian-oriented retail/restaurant activity node
  • Walkable community
  • 8 different open spaces totalling 21.4 acres or 14.6% of site 

Last Word

The decision to build Currie Barracks in Calgary in 1933 reflected in part the personal influence of Prime Minister Richard Bennett, whose home riding was Calgary West, as wells as significant recognition of Alberta’s growing status as a full partner in Canadian Confederation. 

While in the past Calgary has torn down its old buildings to make way for new ones, CLC has worked hard to develop a plan that will preserve historical buildings and a public spaces, but find new uses for them as well.

Kudos to the CLC team for creating a unique sense of place for Calgarians to live, work and play.

This blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's Condo section on March 14, 2015 titled "Where a gated community meets with history." 

Richard White has written urban development and urban living for over 20 years. He is the Urban Strategist at Ground3 Landscape Architecture.Email Richard@ground3.com  follow @everydaytourist

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Calgary: Interchanges as art?

A few weeks ago,  I became intrigued with a tweet by @roadknots with its attached Google Earth photo collage of some of the world’s most complex and convoluted interchange.  Upon opening the photo I was startled by the images and puzzled by the term “road knots,” never before having encountered the term.  

This is the collage of international Road Knots created by Nicholas Rougeux for google maps.

Note: After posting this blog received a tweet from Nicholas Rougeux saying, " Road Knots is a silly name i came up with for complex and beautiful interchanges. Glad you like them."  It will be interesting to see if this catches on. 

This is a collage of some of Calgary's road knots created by Peak Aerials.  Note: one of them is not a road. Can you tell which one? 

A quick Google search didn’t help – it seems this a new term.  However, it is appropriate given many of the interchanges have elements of some of the knots I learned as a Boy Scout many, many years ago – the Bowline, the Sheepshank and the trusty old Clove Hitch.

Never wanting Calgary to be left out of any new urban design discussion, I started surfing Google Earth to see how our interchanges compared.  I quickly found some interesting Calgary road knots. 

Then I contacted Keith Walker at Peak Aerials who I knew has a collection of aerial photos (mostly from Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Fort McMurray) to see if he might have documented some of Calgary’s incredible, implausible, inconceivable and improbable interchanges. 

Sure enough, in his 250,000+ collection of aerial images he had many photos of Calgary’s road knots.

Calgary's interchanges take on a whole new context from the air with their sensual twists and turns.  Some looked like cartoon figures,others like abstract drawings or petroglyphs.  It was also intriguing to see how they changed with the seasons.   

Below are the ten Calgary road knots I found the most interesting.  I have chosen not to identify their location so you can appreciate them for their aesthetic qualities first and place second.  Hopefully they will engage your imagination as they did mine.  Send me your favourite road knots or share some of your thoughts on  these or other road knots. Did I save the best for the end?

Figuring out which knots they most closely resemble I will leave up to you. 

Calgary's Top Ten Road Knots?

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Google Earth 

Photo Credit: Google Earth

Photo Credit: Google Earth

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Google Earth  

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Google Earth 

Comments welcomed!

Sydneysider loves Cowtown?

Guest Blog: Marissa Toohey

I grew up in Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, well known for its surf culture and miles of coastline. A few years ago, I set my sights on North America and was fortunate enough to find my way to Calgary in October 2012. I had heard it was a city with bright job prospects, lower taxes than other Canadian cities, a welcoming community and a lovable mayor. And, of course, cowboys. I have to admit I was nervous about winter weather though, having watched the airport scene of the Cool Runnings movie too many times before my arrival.

These days, I spend my free time playing hockey and skiing the Rocky Mountains, rather than going to the beach or firing up the barbie. In chatting with Calgary’s Everyday Tourist, we thought it would be interesting for me to compare the two cities from a Sydneysider’s perspective.  

To provide some context, Sydney was founded by the British in 1788 and it attracted a significant number of immigrants. Today, Sydney is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, with around 4.8 million residents spread across an area about 12,368 square kilometers. It is divided into over 30 local government areas with elected councils responsible for functions delegated by the state government.

Calgary’s history, on the other hand, as a city begins in about 1875 or one hundred years later. It is a city of 1.2 million and covers an area of 825 square kilometers for the city proper and if you add in some of the satellite cities and towns it is an additional 704 square kilometers. Calgary is famous for its rivers, parks and access to the Rocky Mountains.

Calgarians love to stroll Stephen Avenue Walk. 

Sydneysiders love going to the beach.

Parks & Recreation

In Sydney, the weather is always warm and the landscape is dominated by waterways and bushland making for an incredible selection of natural attractions - some iconic ones being Hyde Park, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney Harbour and the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk. Local councils maintain a multitude of free public beaches and rock pools, while volunteer lifeguards keep swimmers safe.

The innercity offers some excellent play areas too, such as the Darling Quarter community with its climbing ropes, swings, slides, and a flying fox (zip line). It’s surrounded by hip restaurants, wine bars and often has festivals and outdoor movies, making it a great area for the entire family to enjoy day or night.

Similarly, Calgary has many natural attractions including the world famous Rocky Mountain playground.  I love the city’s great urban outdoors - Fish Creek Provincial Park, the pathways along the Bow and Elbow rivers, Canada Olympic Park, as well as the many outdoor ice rinks throughout the city in winter. I still can’t get enough skating at Prince’s Island surrounded by fairy lights and listening to friendly tunes.

In the summer, my favourite thing to do is float lazily down the Bow River. In fact, just getting outdoors any time of year is a treat because you can see the environment adapting with the change of seasons.

Sydney's botanical gardens is an urban oasis next to the City Centre.

Calgarians love their 800+ kilometres of walking, running and biking pathways.  The red pedestrian bridge in the background is the Peace Bridge designed by the world famous Santiago Calatrava. This is lunch hour downtown!

Calgary's Fish Creek Park is one of the world's largest urban parks.

Calgarians love to float down the Bow and Elbow Rivers enjoying the sandstone cliffs, Douglas Fir forest and downtown skyline. 

Urban Design

There are many examples in Sydney where art installations have transformed underused areas and attracted more people. The City of Sydney is implementing a laneway regeneration program, investing in infrastructure that turns hidden laneways into pedestrian thoroughfares, while using public art displays to create more welcoming spaces.

One of the more interesting projects is the new paving, lighting and stunning permanent birdcage art installation (it plays the songs of 50 birds once heard in central Sydney) in downtown’s Angel Place laneway. Today, an average of 4,000 visitors pass through the laneway every day, double the number from 2007.

Calgary’s also has some great public art pieces.  I love the Chinook Arc, Promenade (next to the Drop-In Centre), and Wonderland at The Bow.  But for me,

the real standouts - from a creative city perspective - have been Calgary’s temporary installations and unique festivals. Wreck City last year transformed an entire residential block into a massive work of art before it was demolished. Exploring dramatically transformed homes was a lot of fun. Beakerhead, an event where citizens interact with a smash up of art, science and engineering over the space of a week in September feels distinctly Calgarian.

When it comes to great architecture, Sydney has its Opera House and the Coathanger Bridge (named because of its arch-shaped design).  Not to be outdone, Calgary has the Peace Bridge and The Bow. Sydney has the Opera House, Calgary has the Saddledome. Both cities have strong central business districts dominated by office tower and corporate headquarters architecture.

Forgotten Songs was created by Dave Towey, Dr. Richard Major, Michael Thomas Hill and Richard Wong.  The piece commemorate the songs of 50 birds once heard in central Sydney, before they were gradually forced out by European settlement. The calls, change as the day shifts to night; the daytime birds' songs disappearing with the sun, and those of the nocturnal birds, which inhabited the area, sound into the evening. 

One of the signature things to do when visiting Sydney is to walk across the Coathanger bridge. 

Calgary's Saddledome arena is located in Stampede Park (the greatest outdoor show on earth) on the southeastern edge of the City Centre. 


Sydney has one of the longest reported commute times in the western world, with residents navigating a dizzying system of highways, tolled freeways, main streets, laneways and a growing cycle network. The 3-kilometre drive across the City Centre in peak traffic can take up to an hour and driving in Sydney often costs a considerable amount of money in tolls at the Harbour Bridge, Harbour Tunnel, the Eastern Distributor and several other freeways. The alternative to driving is utilizing an extensive public transit system made up of ferries, light rail, buses and trains that extend to the outer suburbs. A free inner-city shuttle circuit connects visitors to tourist attractions.

In contrast, Calgary’s clever downtown grid of roads and the ring road that connects the outer suburbs are extremely easy to navigate. The fact that many roads are numbered rather than named makes it foolproof to find your way around.

Best of all, the roads are free too. The fare-free C-Train zone downtown is brilliant. As a young city, Calgary’s public transit system still has a lot of room to grow and City Council and administration have the opportunity to learn from other cities and to implement new infrastructure in ways that are conscious of future growth.

I believe better transportation to and from the airport as well as easier connections to more tourist attractions would help in attracting some of Banff’s visitors to stay in the city as well. My brother has visited from Australia three times in the last 15 months to ski and hike the Rockies and to eat, shop and relax in Calgary. Unfortunately, he had to drive to destinations like Canada Olympic Park, Heritage Historical Park and CrossIron Mills shopping centre because of limited transit. But he happily explores the innercity by foot and has discovered some lovely little art galleries around Inglewood that even I wasn’t aware of.

Map of Sydney's public transit system. 

Despite a comprehensive transit system, traffic jams like this are a common occurrence in Sydney.

Urban Living

Residential architecture in Sydney has evolved over many years evidenced by the variation in styles along innercity and suburban streets. A lot of Sydneysiders live in heritage housing styles such as terrace houses, workers’ cottages and federation homes. After World War II, the “Great Australian Dream” of home ownership produced a sprawl of detached homes, often with wide verandas and swimming pools in the backyard. High-rise and mid-rise buildings were erected in transit hubs during the following years to increase density.

Nowadays, it’s common for residents to buy an old home or land in a more affordable area in order to build a new oversized “McMansion” that doesn’t quite fit with its surroundings. Yet, the co-existence of conflicting styles adds to the character of many neighbourhoods.  It is very similar to what is happening in many of Calgary’s older communities.

These days, Sydney’s housing prices are among the most expensive in the world, with the median house price around $850,000 (Canadian and Australian dollars are currently at par with each other). That will get you a detached home around 1,200 square feet 30 km from the City Centre or a small two-bedroom inner-city apartment with no view and no parking. The average rent for a small one-bedroom, apartment is around $2,000 a month. With the cost of living in Sydney, it’s not surprising that many people share accommodation or are long-term renters with no plans to ever own a home.

The variety in Calgary’s housing stock both in the innercity and suburbs is impressive, with row houses, laneway housing and mid-rise condominium developments on the rise. The former Calgary suburban trend of building tidy rows of beige homes seems to be shifting as many new communities are featuring bright colours and walkable amenities. The city is also increasing density with infills, resulting in new homes being built alongside older homes in existing communities.

The relatively reasonable cost of living in Calgary was one of the things that attracted me to the city but with the average house price now approaching $500,000 and monthly rent over $1,200 for a decent sized apartment, the landscape is quickly changing. Fortunately, community leaders (private and public) seem focused on improving the mix of housing and affordability for all citizens, with several innovative home ownership programs.

Small cottage homes are being replaced my McMansions in both Calgary and Sydney. 

A parade of new infills on one inner city block in Calgary just 3 kilometres from the downtown core. 

New high-rise condos are changing the skylines of both Calgary and Sydney. 

 Last Word

While Sydney has diverse cultural, recreational and creative offerings, the commute times and cost of living detract from its many upsides.

If you’re not afraid of living with arctic temperatures for a few weeks, it is hard to beat Calgary’s lifestyle and employment opportunities even with the downturn in the energy sector.  I had no job when I landed in Calgary, but within a week I had secured a great position.

I could live anywhere.  I choose Calgary. The city is doing a good job of attracting people here for work and play. But one of the challenges I now face is staying here, as it is not easy to renew a visa.

 Calgary has the advantage of being young enough to learn from the mistakes made by cities like Sydney.  And, with its ambitious and infectious energy, I am confident Calgary will only get better and better as it grows up. I can’t wait to explore the new St. Patrick’s Park this summer.

 While the grass is greener longer in Sydney, the sky is bluer in Calgary. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary vs Paris 

Olympic Cities: Calgary vs Salt Lake 

Denver vs Calgary: A Tale of Two Thriving Downtowns 



Editor's Note: Marissa Toohey is currently the Communications Manager at Attainable Homes, in Calgary, Alberta. She has travelled extensively around Asia Pacific, Europe, and North America and her career includes a stint in Vietnam working for Habitat for Humanity International.  She loves to live, work and play in Calgary, not necessarily in that order. 

NIMBYism gone wild?

Seems like we can’t do anything these days without a group of citizens shouting “not in my backyard.” There seems to always be a loud minority who can’t accept that Calgary’s urban landscape has always been evolving and will have to continue to evolve if we want to be a viable and vibrant city for everyone. Let’s stop the madness.

School Yard Bullies

In Scenic Acres, you can’t build a school on a site that had always been intended to be used for a school because some neighbours thought is was going to be a park forever. 

In Varsity, 30 residents launched a lawsuit against the Calgary Board of Education to prevent the relocation of the Christine Meikle School for 120 special needs students on land that has been designated as a school site since 1971.

Back story: Since 1957, the Christine Meikle School has successfully operated in Bridgeland with some students even giving back to the community, through its volunteer program.  The new site near the Alberta Children’s Hospital means not only a better school to meet the needs of today’s students, but importantly allows as access to special therapy these students often need.

Who are these “schoolyard bullies?” Calgary is lucky nobody lived in Varsity in the mid ’60s when the University of Calgary was being proposed. Can you imagine the stink they would have raised at the thought of building a university for 30,000+ students next to them?

We may never have gotten a university! 

School yard bullies vandalizing sign announcing new school illustrates just how childish some adults can be sometimes. Living in a city means sharing space with others. 

Living on the Edge

And then there's Edgemont where some residents feel you can’t build a skatepark in a park because there are houses nearby.  What’s next - maybe we shouldn’t modernize and expand playgrounds in parks because there are houses nearby? Don’t we WANT skateparks built where there are homes close by so the community kids can walk to the park and play unsupervised?

Sure skateboarding is noisy, but so are lawnmowers, kids jumping on backyard trampolines and dog yapping at all times of the day – perhaps we should ban these also.

While there are 500 people on the petition against the skatepark, there can’t be more than a dozen homes that are actually within earshot of the proposed skatepark.  Interesting that in this case the Community Association is onside, but not the immediate neighbours – truly a “not in my back yard” issue. 

Skateboarding is one of the most popular activities of young Calgarians. The City has mobile skate parks around the city in the summer but what about the other three seasons.  When we have a winter like this one, the kids would be using the park year-round.

Live on the edge; let the kids play!

As you can see there are no houses in immediate proximity to the skatepark site. The closest are those across a busy street and then they are set back by large setback.  

Evolve or Die

In Bridgeland, some community members don’t want the 1921 Bridgeland School, which has been sold to developers to be turned into lofts surrounded by townhouses.  Personally, I think converting old school sites into mixed residential sites (lofts, townhouses, low-rise condos) is a great idea.  It will attract new people to the community something needed continue Bridgeland’s wonderful revitalization.  The townhouses will be ideal for young families, who can’t afford the million dollar new infills, yet want to live closer to the city’s downtown.  This project is more about diversifying the communities housing stock than density.

The protesters are probably the same people who complain that we can’t close inner-city schools because of declining enrollment, yet they won’t let the community evolve to attract young families.  You can’t have it both ways.

Communities must evolve or they die!

The proposal takes two surface parking lots and turns them into town homes, isn't that a good thing? Adds new tax revenues so the City can reinvest in established communities. 

Cougar Attack 

And then there’s the “Save The Slopes” residents group (mostly Cougar Ridge) up in arms over the Trinity Hills project east of Canada Olympic Park along the Paskapoo Slopes.  If you check out the proposed redevelopment, you’ll find out the land is privately owned and people have be using it as recreational space ONLY because the owner has allowed them to do so.

I drive by the site almost daily in the summer and most times never see anyone there.  The proposal has 69 hectares of the upper slopes (the most sensitive land) becoming a true park with public access to proper trails for biking and walking that will preserve the slopes.

The proposed village with hotel, retail, restaurants and residential is very synergistic to all of the year-round activities happening at Canada Olympic Park. Seems to me this one is a win-win!

Thank God there was no Cougar Ridge community in the early ‘80s when the city was making its bid for the 1988 Olympics.  Can you imagine how they would have attacked the idea of building Canada Olympic Park on the Paskapoo Slopes? We can’t preserve everything!

We would never have gotten the Olympic games, which put Calgary on the international map.

The Outline Plan clearly illustrates how the sensitive upper slopes will remain as green space with all of the development along the bottom with links to Canada Olympic Park. 

Six Month Limit

Too often it is the developer who gets pummeled by the community for proposing new developments with new uses and higher density.  But in reality, increased density and diversity of uses in established communities has been mandated by City Council, based on extensive research showing that a more compact city is more cost effective to manage.

Recently attending the City’s Open House for the proposed new Currie Barracks development, I was surprised to learn that since September 2013, 39,050 flyers have been distributed to surrounding community residents, and 230 hours of community engagement and four previous open houses had taken place.  And still people who weren’t happy. Obviously no matter how much community engagement you have you can never may everyone happy.

While I am all for public engagement, Council needs to realize they can’t please everyone no matter how long we take. The City needs to place a six-month limit on a well-planned public engagement process, integrating community ideas that are feasible based on accepted urban design principles, economic realities and the overall City’s Master Plan. Random personal opinion of what is appropriate should not make for endless debate.

Last Word

There are many different public(s) living in Calgary. Given that, it’s to be expected that people’s wants, needs and wishes are diametrically opposed.  Community consultation is currently costing the City and the development community millions of dollars each year in unnecessary unproductive, endless engagement.  This cost results in higher taxes and higher housing costs. I’m guessing, few if any of us want that.

Let’s stop the madness now!

If you like this blog, you might like: 

 West District: Community Engagement Gone Wild?

Make Multifamily a permitted use! 

Reform Calgary's Development Appeal Board 

Dublin vs Calgary / Apples vs Oranges

Dublin is a city steeped in history, dating back over 1,000 years when the Vikings first settled the area in 841 AD. However, while there are many buildings or ruins dating back to the Middle Ages, such as Dublin Castle founded in 1204 AD, most historical buildings are from the 18th century Georgian period and later. In the 18th century, for a short period of time, Dublin was the second largest city of the British Empire and fifth largest in Europe with a population of 130,000.  Today, Dublin has a population of 527,612 with an urban population of 1,110,627, which is very similar to Calgary’s. But that is where the similarity ends.

By comparison, while First Nation peoples have visited the Calgary area for centuries, it was just a little over 100 years when a permanent settlement was established. And, it is only the in past decade or so that Calgary has really become a global city. 

In 2012, while Dublin was ranked (based on global connectivity in the areas of accounting, advertising, banking, finance and law) as an “Alpha–“ city (Alpha++ being the highest ranking), Calgary is rated a “Beta-“city (Beta being the second highest ranking).

Anyone who visits Dublin can’t help but see that this city definitely puts the PLAY into the axiom “live, work, play.” The sidewalks, shops, restaurants and especially the pubs are full of locals.

Anyone visiting Calgary on the other hand, would think we are a bunch of workaholics as with our downtown sidewalks are empty except at lunch hour.  Calgary’s urban streets are dominated by the hoarding of the construction sites not people.

Pub Culture vs Café Culture

One of the biggest differences between Dublin and Calgary is that Dubliners hang at pubs while Calgarians love their cafes.  Dublin’s pub culture is one where people of all ages hang out, chat, listen to local musicians or watch sports – pubs are like a community living rooms. Hurling is my new favourite sport - an action-packed game that combines elements of lacrosse, field hockey, rugby, soccer and football. There is no hunching over the laptop while nursing a vegan soy peanut butter latte all day in Dublin!

There is literally a pub on every block, even in residential areas.  What is also great about pubs is that they don’t close at 9 pm like most cafes.  In fact, that is about the time things are just getting started with live music.  One of our most memorable experiences was listening to a Saturday jam session of string players from our front row bar seats in a little pub on the edge of a plaza in Smithville district with people from 5 to 85.  

There is a neighbourhood pub on almost every block and they have live music everyday of the week. 

Pedestrian Malls

Dublin has not one, but two pedestrian malls (one on each side of the river), both being magnets for locals and tourists looking to shop or people watch.  These streets are filled with one of the quintessential sounds of Dublin - the clickity clack of luggage wheels being pulled along their streets (the other quintessential sound is that metal Guiness kegs clanging as they are rolled down the sidewalk to a pub).  And it was not just one or two people; often dozens of suitcase-dragging tourists could be found along the Dublin malls.  I can’t remember the last time I saw someone pulling luggage down Stephen Avenue. 

Dublin had some of the best buskers I have ever seen. 

On the south side of the Liffey River is the Grafton Street Mall that links St. Stephen’s Green with Trinity College and is home to an eclectic mix of local, national and international shops.  On the north side of the river is the Henry Street Mall, dominated by department stores.  Both malls had literally thousands of people on them any time of the day. 

The fact that no tall office towers surround Dublin’s pedestrian malls could well be the key to their pedestrian vitality. 

Indeed, most of the people are in downtown Dublin to play. Those who are there to work are serving those who are playing.

It was very common to see tourist dragging their suitcases down the street.  This photo was taken at about 3 pm on a Wednesday. 

Parks / Public Spaces / Rivers

Though Dublin’s two urban parks - St. Stephen’s and Merrion Square are very nice, they are no match for Calgary’s Prince’s Island, Memorial Park, Shaw Millennium Park, Fort Calgary, Riley Park and the new St. Patrick’s Island.

Similarly, Dublin’s canal-like River Liffey, River Dodder, Royal Canal and Grand Canal, can’t compete with the natural beauty of the tree-lined shores and glacier water of the Bow and Elbow Rivers with their active pedestrian and cycling pathways.

Dublin's rivers and canals were very attractive as you moved away from the City Centre. This is at high tide, at low tide they can be more like mud pits.

Phoenix Park, at the northwest edge of Dublin’s city centre is a huge 1,762 acre park (for reference, Nose Hill is 2,780 acres) that includes the residence of the President of Ireland, the Victorian People’s Flower Garden, Dublin Zoo and a herd of free-roaming Fallow deer.  Calgary’s equivalent would be the combination of the Calgary Zoo, TELUS Spark, Tom Campbell’s Hill Natural Park, Pearce Estate Park, Inglewood Wildlands Park and Inglewood Bird Sanctuary on the eastern edge of our City Centre.


Ha'penny Bridge was probably the busiest pedestrian bridge I have ever seen. It functioned well to connect to pedestrian areas on either side of the river. It was experiential. 

I was most impressed with the 16 bridges that span the River Liffey along a 4 km stretch of Dublin’s City Centre.  I loved that many of the bridges were named after key figures from Dublin’s rich history– James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Sean O’Casey, and O’Connell.  

The most popular bridge was the white cast iron Ha’penny pedestrian bridge, built in 1816 to replace the ferry service. Having had various names over the years, its current one reflects the ha’penny toll charged for first 103 years.

Today, over 30,000 people cross the bridge each day.  Perhaps in a century or two, Calgary’s Peace and St. Patrick’s Island pedestrian bridges will have the same traffic.

Calatrava has designed two bridges in Dublin. This is the Samuel Beckett Bridge, the other is the Jams Joyce Bridge further upstream. The bridge cost 60 million Euros or about $86 million Canadian.

Character Districts

The sidewalks of the International Financial District were mostly void of people. 

Dublin’s city centre is comprised of several character districts, each easily worth a half-day of exploration.  Although the International Financial Services Centre is a 12–block area of mostly new office buildings with a striking contemporary Convention Centre and new arena, it pales in comparison to Calgary’s 40-block downtown office core when it comes to daytime vitality. At night, both are relatively quiet, sterile places.

Calgary has nothing to match Dublin’s Viking/Medieval Area and Cathedral District with its St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin Castle and the Chester Beatty Library Galleries.

Temple Bar (originally St. Andrews Parish and a suburb of the medieval area back in about 1300AD) is home to hundreds of bars and ten of thousands of nightly party people (including many “stag parties” and “hen nights”) and spectators. The closest Calgary comes to having something like the Temple Bar nightlife was in the ‘80s when 11th Avenue SW was known as Electric Avenue.

This Trinity College sign says "Keep Off." Seems strange to have a piece of public art out in the open like this and not encourage people to have a closer look. 

Trinity College is considered by many to be the heart of Dublin with its famous Book of Kells (an illuminated manuscript Gospel Book in Latin, created in 800AD). And though Calgary’s downtown Bow Valley College is no match for Trinity College, the SAIT campus is.  While SAIT can’t match Trinity College’s centuries of history, SAIT’s Heritage Hall, which opened in 1916, is as monumental as anything I saw on the Trinity College campus.  This along with SAIT’s striking uber-contemporary Trades and Technology Complex, the Art Smith Aero Centre, Brawn Fieldhouse and parking garage and the spectacular view of downtown and Bow River Valley makes SAIT a more inspiring campus than Trinity College.     

The Liberties, Dublin’s charming working class neighbourhood noted for its antique/vintage shops and street market, is no match for Calgary’s Inglewood community with its diversity of art galleries, shops, restaurants and music venues.

The Smithfield Plaza with its grocery store, hotel, condos and Jamieson Brewery was empty most of the time.  We did see a guy with walking a horse one day, but that was the most animation.   

In addition, Dublin has nothing to match Calgary’s ambitious East Village urban renewal project.  The closest comparison would be Smithfield with the renowned Jamieson Distillery as its anchor.  It has a few new condos and a hotel, but most of the retail at street level is vacant, except for an urban grocery store. It would be great if East Village could attract a cinema complex like the funky Light House Cinema with its eclectic mix of arthouse and Hollywood movies, as well as special events.  

Dublin’s trendy shopping streets like Camden, Rathmaines and Capel with their vibrancy day and night beat out Calgary’s 17th Avenue, 4th and 10th Streets and Kensington Road.

Last Word

Comparing Calgary and Dublin is like comparing apple and oranges. Dublin flourished hundreds of years before Calgary, meaning it had to adapt to a completely different history of innovations in technology, revisions in urban planning theory, as well as economic and political changes.  Like apples and oranges, I like both Dublin and Calgary. 

For comparison images of Calgary's urban culture check out these blogs:

Calgary: North America's Newest Cafe City?

Calgary's got its mojo working?

Calgary's NoBow: Jane Jacobs could live here!

Calgary's Rail Trail 

By Richard White, March 1 2015

Richard White has written urban development and urban living for over 20 years. He is the Urban Strategist at Ground3 Landscape Architecture. Email Richard@ground3.com  follow @everydaytourist 

This blog was published in the Calgary Herald titled "Let's Compare Calgary and Dublin" on February 28, 2015.

Most fun you can have with your shoes on?

Today I did something that I have never done before - I had a professional shoeshine.  A shame really, that in the 20+ years I worked downtown, I never stopped to have a shoeshine at one various stations around the downtown.   Today (February 24) was different. Having gotten an unexpected lift downtown (instead of walking) from my neighbour (who was shoveling the snow off my back patio), so I ended up being about an hour early for my coffee meeting.

I thought I’d wander Calgary’s a-mazing +15 system and see what I could find to amuse myself.  Within the first minute, I happened upon a shoeshine station at Western Canadian Place office tower beckoning me.  On the spur of the moment I decided, “Yes, I should have a shoeshine.” Indeed, my shoes were looking pretty ratty after months of walking in snow and slush along city streets and in dog parks, never once (I am embarrassed to say) having been polished.  One of the ten commandments of an everyday tourist is “thou shalt try new things.”

Enrique and his throne-like chairs.

Though the sign said “Jeronimo’s Shoe Shine,” I quickly found out “Jeronimo” leases the station to Enrique, my shoe shiner from San Salvador who moved to Canada in 2002.  Carefully rolling up my pant leg and untying my shoe laces he got right at it - first cleaning the shoes, then polishing, them before buffing with a brush and then a final cloth buffing. When they were done, fourteen minutes later, I could almost seem my face in them.

As Enrique and I were chatting, Rick jumped up into the chair beside me and gave me a quizzical look as I was taking photos and asking strange questions.  Explaining I was a blogger, we soon got chatting. Turns out Rick gets his shoes shined every 2 or 3 days, as he rotates through several pairs and has been doing this for over 30 years. Not only might Rick have the best shined shoes in downtown, but he says his shoes last longer because they are shined regularly.

I learned the average shoeshine takes 10 to 15 minutes and the cost is $6 (for shoes) and $8 (for boots).  Enrique, on a good day, polishes 15 pairs of footwear from walk ups, as well as 5 pairs that are dropped off (with his record being 12 pairs dropped off in one day). There are seven shoeshine stations strategically located along the 20 km of downtown’s +15 walkway.


Banker's Hall shoeshine station also on the +15 level. 

I immediately had a strange feeling (in a nice way), as I walked away.  My feet and shoes did feel different, kind of like the feeling one gets after a hair cut.  Isn’t there a saying “the shoes make the man?”  Even while walking home (5 km) in the snow three hours later, I kept looking down at my nicely polished shoes and feeling good.  

As I wandered home, I recalled our 10-day stay many years ago in Guadalajara, Mexico. One of my lasting images is that of a quiet plaza where a dozen or so shoeshine stations positioned around the periphery.  There were always one or two people getting their shoes shined.  It seemed so civilized.

By Richard White, February 26, 2015  



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Everyday Tourist goes to gaol

One of the most moving experiences we had in 2015 (perhaps in the last few years) was our tour of the Kilmainham Gaol (KG) in Dublin, Ireland.  Not big fans of guided tours, we decided to take the tour, as it was the only way to get inside. We were glad we did. Our tour guide made the experience so “moving,” sharing real life stories of the hardships and heroics associated with the Gaol.

At the end of the tour, we even both thought she was going to break down into tears when we were standing in the desolate “stone-breakers” yard, the site where several political leaders were executed.  Afterwards, when we asked her if she had any personal association with the events or people in the Gaol she said “No” but she, like most Dubliners, have a deep respect for their history and those who suffered for their beloved Ireland.

Kilmainham Gaol 101

KG opened in 1796 as a one of the most modern prisons in Ireland, yet the conditions were inhumane by today’s standards - no glass on the windows, no lighting, no heat; it was a cold, dark and damp place.  In the early years it was filled with prisoners detained for begging, stealing, assault, prostitution and drunkenness. 

The gaol doors have centuries of grime encrusted on them to create a rich patina. 

During the Irish Famine of 1845 to 1850, many women and children were charged with begging and stealing food and placed in jail.  Our tour guide told one story about a mother who stole a single loaf of bread for her starving children was thrown in the dungeon-like cells with a half a dozen drunks and murders who reeked of their own body fluids.

We were surprised to learn that women made up a significant portion of the population until 1881 when it became an all male prison. Persons convicted of violent crimes were routinely hanged in front of the gaol for everyone to see.  The last women to be hanged were in 1821.

In 1862, the spectacular east wing (large open space, high ceiling with huge skylight and grand staircase) was added based on the Victorian belief that the quality of prison architecture was crucial to the reform of the inmates.   The prison philosophy became one of silence and separation. Communication between prisoners was forbidden with most of their time spent alone in their cell so they could read the Bible, contemplate and repent their crimes.

In 1958, after years of neglect (prison was decommissioned in 1924) the KG Restortion Society was formed to preserve the Gaol as a monument to Irish Nationalism.  After years of clean up, the eventually turned it over to the state and it has become a major tourist attraction. 

Looking in the peep hole you see the open window which was too high for the prisoners to see out of and let in a only minimal amount of light. 

Political Prisoners

The hallways have a strange haunting glow that magnifies the decaying walls. 

The story of KG really begins with its link to Ireland’s violent political history of rebellions, guerilla warfare, imprisonment, hangings and executions in the mid 1800s. 

Following the failure of the Young Irelanders (inspired by the spirit of revolution in Europe) in 1848 and the Fenians in 1867 (a secret, oath-bound group sworn to overthrow British rule), the Gaol was cleared of common prisoners and security strengthened to accommodate political figures.

In 1881, the governing Irish Parliament Party rejected the British government land act and Charles Stewart Parnell, leader of the Party and his MPs were imprisoned from October 1881 to May 1882.

Four days after Parnell’s release, two senior officials of the British government were assassinated by members of the group called “The Invincibles,” an offshoot of the Fenians. Five members of the group were hanged at the gaol in 1883 for their role in the assassinations.  

The prison closed in 1910, only to be reopened in 1916 to house hundreds of men and women who participated in the Irish Republic’s Easter uprising.  Between May 3 and 12, 1916 fourteen men were executed by firing squad in the stone-breakers’ yard.  It was while standing in this yard, hearing this story that our tour guide’s voice cracked and many of us were moved close to tears.

When the War of Independence broke out in 1919, KG was used to hold captured Republican Army members, four of which were executed in the same yard.  The War of Independence differed from other rebellions with the introduction of guerrilla warfare between the Irish Republican Army, British forces and Dail (a radical republican party who won a landslide victory in the 1918 general election but refused to take their seats in the British Parliament). This war ended with a truce in July 1921.

However, the truce didn’t last long as tensions eventually erupted in a Civil War from 1922 to 1924.  From February to September 1923 during the Civil War over 300 girls and women between 12 and 70 were housed in KG.  The War ended in 1924 and its last prisoner, Eamon de Valera was released – he later became President of Ireland.

As a mid-20th century Canadian, who has never fought in a war, never fired a gun, never had to physically fight for anything, it is hard to understand the intense passion and pain that was endured over centuries by the people of Ireland as they fought for their independence.

In the museum area there are lots of artifacts, but the most touching were the letters which tell very intimate stories. This one is about Joseph Plunkett who married his wife the night before his execution. 

The cross marks the spot where the prisoners stood in the stone breakers yard waiting to be executed by gun fire. 

Old Idaho State Penitentiary, Boise, Idaho

One of the highlights of our 2014 travels was the discovery of Boise, Idaho with its vibrant downtown and university campus.  We loved the markets, auctions, restaurants and the neighbouring Snake River wine district.  One of the pleasant surprises of our visit was the Old Idaho State Penitentiary (OISP), which started as a single cell house in 1872.

Like KG, the stories and the conditions the prisoners of OISP endured are almost unbelievable. It housed over 13,000 inmates, including 215 were women from 1872 to 1973. One of the most famous inmates was Lyda Southard (aka Lady Bluebeard) who killed several husbands to collect the insurance money.

The penitentiary closed in 1973 after riots in 1971 and 1973 to protest the horrible living conditions.

The penitentiary is like a campus with 18 distinctive buildings surrounded by a 17 foot sandstone wall that was quarried by the convict from the ridges of the nearby hills (today they are wonderful walking trails).   While the men were kept busy with the construction of new buildings, maintenance and/or agricultural activities (including growing the best watermelons in the state) the women were engaged in repairing clothing, taking classes and reading the bible.

While Boise was part of the Wild West of the 1800s, the violence and hardship seemed pale in comparison to what the Irish suffered to gain their Independence.

The Idaho State Penitentiary seem charming in comparison to Kilmainham Gaol. 

The sand stone wall, guard house and walkway.  

The women cells were in a separate building. While the conditions were minimal there was some colour and lots of light. 

Last Word

We are not big history buffs and gaols are not usually on our list of must see places, but sometimes you have to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone.  Both were pleasant surprises.  One of the ten commandments of an everyday tourist is “Thou shalt never over research or over plan your trip.” 

By Richard White, February 25, 2015.  

Richard White has written urban development and urban living for over 20 years. He is the Urban Strategist at Ground3 Landscape Architecture. Email Richard@ground3.com  follow @everydaytourist 

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Boise Saturday Auction 

Freakn Fun in Freak Alley: Boise

Dublin: Newman University Church a hidden gem!

Dublin: FAB fun in The Liberties

The ugliest pedestrian bridge in the world?

The Ponte Vecchio is a stone three-arch pedestrian bridge over the Arno River in Florence, Italy. A bridge at this location dates back to Roman times, first appearing in documentation in 996AD, with bridges being destroyed in floods of 1117AD and 1333AD.  The current bridge, built in 1345AD and was spared destruction by the Germans in World War II, allegedly by an expressed order of Hitler.  And, more recently, it miraculously survived the massive flood of 1966.

Close up view of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. 

Ponte Vecchio from a little further back with reflection in Arno River.

Ponte Vecchio with garden-like river bank and on the right you can see the tourists lined up to enjoy the view of the river, buildings and bridge.

Tourist Trap

If you've seen one vendor shop window you have seen them all.

The bridge has always hosted shops and merchants (butchers, fishmongers, tanners etc.) but by 1442AD it was monopolized by butchers and the bridge stank from centuries of industrial waste. So in 1593, the Medici Grand Dukes, in an effort to enhance the prestige of the bridge prohibited butchers from selling there and decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers could have their shops on the bridge – a tradition that continues today.

To say the bridge is teeming with tourists is an understatement.  It is also, in my mind an understatement to say the place is a tacky tourist attraction with hucksters selling everything from bad art to kitschy trinkets (not much different than panhandling) in front of the permanent shops on the edge of the bridge.

This was early morning when the hucksters had not set up yet and the throngs of tourists had not arrived - still a popular place.

The bridge’s exterior design is also tacky with its ramshackled collage of protruding house-like shops in need of a good coat of paint.  It is an awkward mix of stone, stucco and wood (shutters). While some might see it as quaint, it doesn’t have the wonderful decoration, ornamentation and quality craftsmanship of the historic stone buildings and sculptures that dominate Florence’s urban design. It looks like a tired stucco bridge from the 1960s.The shops along the bridge could also use some tender loving care.  One usually associates goldsmith and jewelry with upscale shops and elegant presentations, not flea market stalls.

Above these shops is the Vasari Corridor, a walkway that runs over the shops and houses built by the Duke of Florence in the 16th century so he could commute between his two residences (Uffizi and Pitti Palace) without having to mix with the public.

Everything about the bridge didn’t fit with our design sensibilities.  We avoided it as much as we could (and with other bridges nearby, it was easy to do).

Pedestrian bridges should be designed to offer great vistas of the river and the city. 

This is one of my postcard images of Florence. 

Last Word

My immediate thought was “this is the world’s ugliest pedestrian bridge”.  I even tweeted that out.  Immediately I got people retweeting me that they liked it.

And, since coming back, several people have asked “Did you like the Ponte Vecchio Bridge?”  When I said, “I hated it!” they were shocked.  I guess if you are into history and can overlook/see past the tacky jewelry shops and the obnoxious souvenir sellers (who place their product on the ground so you almost trip over them), it could be an attractive place. We just avoided it!

In reading others’ blog post it seemed the bridge is a popular, romantic river evening stroll. Could the Everyday Tourist be wrong!

If you like this blog, you might like:

Tale of Three Calgary Pedestrian Bridges

Window Licking in Florence

Florence BFFs: Best Flaneur Finds 


Calgary: 1% for public art is a pittance!

Editor's Note: This blog was commissioned by the Calgary Herald and published as a guest editorial on Saturday, February 21st in response to City of Calgary Councillor Peter Demong's pending motion to suspend the City's spending on public art for 2015.) Photos and photos and reader's comments have been added to create a more engaging read. 

Downtown Calgary has hundred's of public artworks scattered throughout the streets, parks, plazas, lobbies and +15 elevated walkway. It is a huge art park! 

Reader's Comments: 

BL writes: With respect to public art. I am a great lover of art and a believer that art enhances life. The city's public art policy fails because it is arbitrary and because it is poorly implemented.

There are many great examples of public art in Calgary and around the world; so the debate should not be about the value of art, rather the debate should be about how to encourage and implement a public art policy which enhances our built environment instead of causing people to say WTF is that!? 

To date, most of the art projects funded by the city's policy have been of questionable quality. There are those who believe that art is of value for the simple fact that it incites a reaction, but let's face it, a piece of crap is still just a piece of crap even if you call it art.

We should be asking why the public art funded by many private donors and companies, is usually successful, while the "art" commissioned by the city often turns out to be so poor.

My simple answer to that question is that artists working for private benefactors are likely more motivated to ensure that they please those benefactors; while artists working for a public committee made up of volunteers and bureaucrats, none of whom have any "skin in the game" are less likely to produce a high quality result.

The whole selection process is also questionable since the private benefactor can use whatever sourcing manner he may wish, including very simply sole-sourcing the artist based solely on his merit; while the public process of judging and evaluation may even ensure that the very best artist may not be selected, and might even be discouraged to participate.

Like many good public policies, the concept may be sound but the devil is in the details.

Blog: Calgary: 1% for public art is a pittance!

Let the debate begin yet AGAIN? Is public art a luxury? Does it add any real value to the everyday lives of everyday Calgarians?

Before the current same old Council debate on public art goes any further, somebody on Council should say, “let’s stop the micro managing and act like Board of Directors and not like a working committee!”  Can you imagine the Board of Directors of an major oil company saying to their senior staff,’” I think we should start the cost cutting with the art acquisition budget!”

If Council really wants to save - or delay public art spending - in 2015, it would be wiser to look strategically at the City’s $22 billion dollar capital and operating budget for the 2015 to 2018 period.  It should really be asking Administration to provide them with a couple of scenarios that would result in say a 3% and 6% savings in 2015.

What would make even more sense would be to ask Administration to determine how they can better manage its capital projects to bring them in on budget. It is not unusual for the City’s capital projects to be tens of millions of dollars over budget. That is a luxury we can’t afford going forward.

Any budget cuts for 2015 should be strategic, not a “knee-jerk” decisions.  At this point we don’t even know how much money will be saved - Demong estimates $2 to $4 million, a pittance in multi-billion dollar budget. As some of my corporate board member friends like to say, “that is just a rounding out error.”

Value of Public art

One of the things I love about the City’s “1% for Public Art Policy” (1% of the budget for all capital projects up to $50 million must be set aside for public art and .5% for projects over $50 million) is that it places public art in our suburban parks, LRT stations, recreation centres and yes even bridges. 

For some young Calgarians, it will be their first encounter with “real” art. It will be an opportunity for the child to say, “What’s that?” and for parents or grandparents to begin a discussion that could go on for years. Priceless.

Sure, I could go on and say things like public art is important for creating a sense of place, celebrating local history, adding character and charm, creating community pride or heaven forbid, “beauty.”

This little guy seems to be quite intrigued by the ghost-like figure made up of letters from different languages by Jaume Plensa. 

Importance of a Creative Culture

It is not easy to quantitatively measure the value of public art. In 2010, Calgary Economic Development’s 76-page profile of our City’s Creative Industries provides some facts and figures that relate to the significance of creative individuals in our city.

Did you know?

  • 67,000 Calgarians or 8% of the workforce work in creative industries, everything from artists to architects, from website developers to CEOs.
  • Calgary ranks 3rd of Canada’s major cities for attracting cultural migrants. Yes, people move to Calgary for reasons other than to work in the oil patch!
  • There are 19,000 creative establishments in Calgary – everything from artists’ studios to recording studios, from major architectural firms to private art galleries.
  • 7,000 students graduate each year from a creative industry program at one of Calgary’s post-secondary schools.
  • Cultural tourism is one of the fastest growing and lucrative segments of the North American travel industry.  
  • In the profile, Calgary Economic Development also recognizes the importance of fostering a creative (out-of-the-box thinking) culture as a critical to generating new ideas.  Great cities are incubators for new ideas!

While it is hard to say any one public artwork is critical to fostering a creative and critical thinking city, collectively, they make our city an attractive place to work for the creative class, as well as others.

Families love interacting with this public art piece in Vancouver's English Bay. 

Last Word

Over the past 30 years, I have sat on several selection committees for public art. Without exception the community representatives shared with the other jurors how excited the community is to be getting public art.

Brookfield Residential has already created a major piece of public art for its new community of SETON. Why? Because Brookfield gets it, recognizing the value of public art as one of the pillars of a great community.

The 1% for Public Art Policy, initiated in 2003, is just over 10 years old – a very short time in city building.  Calgary has over 200 communities; I don’t think we should stop creating public art until there are several pieces in each of these communities. 1% is a pittance to invest in making a good city GREAT!

By Richard White, February 21, 2015

Chicago's Millennium Park has become a mega tourist attraction mainly because of two fun interactive public artworks. 

Chicago's Millennium Park has become a mega tourist attraction mainly because of two fun interactive public artworks. 

Calgary: Preservation vs Prosperity Predicament

Though never been a big history buff, after spending almost two months in Europe, I now have a much better appreciation of the importance of preserving historical buildings and sites. They are critical to telling a city’s story and creating a unique sense of place.

Calgary is often criticized for focusing too much on the prosperity of the present and future at the expense of the preservation of the past.  For many (including me) our philosophy is “we are creating Calgary’s history today.”  But cities really are built over decades and centuries, not years. To me, Calgary is just a young teenager striving to find its own identity, its own personality.

Now with my new European adventure enlightenment, I thought it would be interesting to look back and see what buildings we have lost over the past 100 years that we might like to have today.

The Mawson Plan presented to City Council in 1914 would have dramatically changed the look of Calgary with its river centric vs railway centric orientation.  Calgary would have truly become "Paris on the prairies."  More information http://caa.ucalgary.ca/mawsonreportfull

Hull Opera House (606, Centre Street South)

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

In 1906, it was renovated to accommodate street level retail, residential on the upper floors and renamed the Albion Block. Then in 1960s, George Crystal bought the building and demolished it to create parking for his adjacent York Hotel.  The York Hotel was demolished to make way for the Bow office tower, (its façade brickwork is now safely numbered and stored so it can be integrated into a new building on the corner of Centre Street and 7th Avenue SW sometime in the future). So, we lost one icon and gained another in the Bow Tower.  If we still had the Hull Opera House, it would have made a great public market, along the same lines as the Centro Market in Florence, Italy.

Hull Opera House


CPR Train Station (115 – 9th Avenue SE)

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

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

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

Central (James Short) School (Centre Street South between 4th and 5th Ave)

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

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

Southam (Calgary Herald) Building (130 7th Avenue SW)

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

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

Today, it would have a phenomenal character office building integrated into the new Brookfield Place glass tower currently under construction. The contrast of the old and the new would have been spectacular. 

Burns Residence (501, 13 Avenue S.W.)

Patrick Burns, a rancher, businessman and one of the “Big Four” who founded the Calgary Stampede, built his grand mansion with ornate sandstone carvings in 1901.  Designed by the famous Victoria, BC architect Francis M. Rattenbury, the mansion and English garden rivaled the still-standing 1891 Lougheed House and garden two blocks west on 13th Avenue.  It is hard to imagine that 13th Avenue SW was Calgary’s millionaires’ row a 100 years ago.  The Burns mansion was demolished in 1956, replaced by the Colonel Belcher Hospital, which in turn got demolished to build the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre, which opened in 2008.

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

Stephen Avenue East

Calgary historian Harry Sanders would like to have back the entire east end of 8th Avenue all the way to 4th Street SE. It was all demolished in the ‘70s and ‘80s clearing the way for the Municipal Building, Olympic Plaza and the Epcor Centre (Calgary’s second attempt at modern urban renewal).  Sanders imagines a lively pedestrian street full of small shops, cafes and restaurants all the way from Holt Renfrew (the façade of the current Holt Renfrew building is that of Calgary’s old Eaton’s department store) to East Village. 

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

Stephen Avenue early 20th century.

Stephen Avenue early 20th century.

Stephen Avenue middle of the 20th Century.

Preservation of the past

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

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

Lougheed House and gardens

Grain Exchange Building recalls Calgary's beginnings as an agricultural centre.

Calgary architect Jack Long's modernist Science Centre predates Frank Gehry's famous modernist Guggenheim Museum in Bilboa Spain by 30 years. 

It is ironic that Calgary's old Science Centre could become a contemporary art museum by 2020. 

McDougall School built in 1907 has been preserved and converted into the southern headquarters for the Premier of Alberta.  


Last Word

That being said, it would still be nice to have a few more historical buildings with their different façade materials and architectural styles to have more visual variety in our downtown.  In the words of poet William Cowper “Variety’s the spice of life, that gives it all its flavour”  (The Task, 1785)

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary: History Capital of Canada  

Historic Downtown Calgary Postcards 

Calgary: Military Museums

NYC's High Line vs YYC's +15 Walkway

By Richard White, February 18, 2015 (This blog was commissioned by Source Media for Condo Living Magazine.)

In the January 15, 2015 edition of Metro Calgary, columnist Mike Morrison lamented that when he was recently in New York City (NYC) no one had heard of Calgary. I too have lamented at the lack of awareness of Calgary when visiting other cities, but then my friends at Tourism Calgary are also quick to remind me of some facts - Calgary was ranked #17 on the New York Times “52 Places to Go” and Alberta #9 on the UK’s Guardian “Holiday Hotspots” in 2014.   Another fact - in 2014 Calgary was added to the Ultimate Sports City shortlist the de facto benchmark of top sport cities around the world.  Now, Calgary has joined Vancouver as the only two Canadian cities on the list.  

Perhaps we are being a bit too hard on ourselves.  Perhaps we are being too impatient. As the Guardian said, “Calgary has gone from cowboy town to cosmopolitan cool.” YES! People are starting to notice!

High Line vs. +15

Morrison, like many others who have visited NYC recently are “gaga” over the city’s new iconic High Line project, an abandoned railway track converted into an elevated linear park with a great urban vibe. 

People of all ages enjoy strolling along the High Line a linear park that provides a unique perspective on the streets and sidewalks of NYC. (Photo credit: Lelia Olfert)

Evidence of the old elevated railway is evident in this photo.  Note the streets are not packed with people or traffic. (photo credit Leila Olfert).

The narrow park offers lots of resting spots for people watching or to study the urban design of a city. 

I like to remind people Calgary created its High Line in 1970, over 40 years before NYC. While some like to criticize the +15 system (60 bridges connect over 100 buildings to create a 20 km elevated walkway) for sucking the life out of the streets, I say it is the one really unique urban element our downtown has and it should be something we embraced not apologize for.

Why is it everybody raves about Montreal’s underground system, but not our 20km walkway? Both are full of cafes, shops and restaurants, but the +15 also offers more - public art, a mega indoor garden and amazing urban vistas.  Harold Hanen, the +15 visionary, saw it as a logical adaptation to our long cold winter. 

The +15 system could become a great tourist attraction if we would stop “bashing” it and start promoting its unique views of our every-changing downtown.  It could become our postcard like the canals of Venice or the alleys of Melbourne – it is all about how you look at it.


One of 60 glass bridges that are 15 feet off the ground connect buildings at the second floor over a 50-block area of the downtown core. 

One of 60 glass bridges that are 15 feet off the ground connect buildings at the second floor over a 50-block area of the downtown core. 

Along the walkway pedestrians find numerous quiet places to sit like this winter garden with a living wall, infinity ponds and bamboo plantings. 

There is even a formal 2.5 acre garden which is a popular meeting place.  It even includes an indoor playground for families. 

The +15 system connects to The Core shopping centre at the second, third and fourth floors. 

Each bridge offers a unique experience; this on connecting the Municipal Building to Arts Commons is like walking into a stain glassed window.  Kids love exploring the +15 with the huge windows onto the "Tall City" as my 3-year old nephew called it. 

This +15 connected to a 600+ stall parkade, offers pedestrians beautiful sunshine 12-months of the year, along with a parade of cows.  Unlike Montreal's underground and Toronto's PATH, Calgary's +15 offers downtown workers and visitor a chance to see what is happening outside.  

Just one of the many public art experiences along the 20-km +15 walkway. 


Stephen Avenue Walk pulses with new blood at noon hour. 

Morrison shuddered to think what Calgary would look like without visionaries like Councilor Druh Farrell (Peace Bridge, Memorial Drive, East Village and new Library), Andrew Mosker (National Music Centre) and the people at Canada Municipal Land Corporation (East Village, St. Patrick’s Island and Riverwalk).  

He laments that too many people are standing in the way of these visionaries and questions all of the petty squabbling about bike lanes, transit and disabled schools.  I choose to focus on what we have accomplished to attract what he calls “new blood.”   

For example, Myrna Dube, Calgary Parks Foundation’s President & CEO, was visionary for the new Rotary/Mattamy Greenway, a 138 km pathway that will circle the city connecting over 100 suburban communities (over 300,000 people, 25% of the city’s population). It is easily the equivalent of NYC’s High Line, just more suburban in nature.

What about the visionaries for Stephen Avenue walk or Calgary's amazing parks and city-wide pathway system (now the largest in the world). 

Or perhaps the visionaries at Brookfield Residential who are creating a new urban village that will be very attractive to the  "young blood" working the medical field at SETON.  

Attracting new blood

This leads to Morrison’s question, “Has anyone moved here because of it is super car-friendly or because of its endless suburbs?” and his opinion is “probably not.” In fact, one of Calgary advantages over Vancouver and Toronto (there are many) is that newcomers can buy a large family house for hundreds of thousands of dollars less and be just 30-minute car commute from work. Remember - not everyone can - or wants to - walk, cycle or take transit to work.

And, though it might be a tough pill to swallow for urban missionaries not everyone wants to live in dense high-rise communities like Manhattan. People are surprised when I tell them that on a per capita basis, Calgary has as many people living within 4 km of its downtown - 7% of the metro population.

But not to worry urban evangelists, Calgary has one of the most aggressive urbanization programs of any city in the world with a population under two million - Bridges, Currie Barracks, East Village, Greenwich, Inglewood Brewery, Quarry Park, SETON, Westbrook Station, West Campus and West District.   Collectively, they will provide urban homes for approximately 100,000 people and work places for 60,000+ in diverse, dense, vibrant urban neighbourhoods.

All of this is in addition to Calgary’s existing urban districts – Beltline, Eau Claire, Downtown West, Mission, Kensington and Inglewood, the latter of which was named Canada’s greatest neighbourhood by the Canadian Institute of Planners in 2014 (with Kensington being a finalist).

Great cities provide a diversity of communities for people to choose from.

I would argue the Calgary region has a nice mix of urban, established, master planned suburban communities, acreages and small towns for a city its size.

We must be doing something right as Calgary is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 livable cities in the world - NYC is not in the top 10.  In 2014, the Economist had Calgary tied for 5th only 1 point out of first place as of the world’s “most livable” cities.

Main Street, West Campus by West Campus Development Trust, it just one of many new urban villages planned for Calgary in the next few years.   West Village will be attractive to the "young blood" working at the University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre and Alberta Children's Hospital. 

Last Word

Obviously, what makes a city attractive is different for different people, and different at different times in their life. No city can be all things to all people. Calgary still in its formative (teenage) years, so yes, we still have a lot of growing up to do.

But, we should also be proud of what we have accomplished! 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary: The City of Parks & Pathways

Calgary deserves more respect from international planners

Calgary's got its mojo working

Calgary: GABEster capital of North America