Canmore Flaneur Find: Electric Grizzly Tattoo Parlour?

I have no desire for a tattoo. I never have. But I am still fascinated with them as works of art and as identity statements. Over the years, I have seen friends, who I never thought would get them and their teenage children get them. I don’t get the attraction, but obviously some – in fact many – do.

About ten years ago I was introduced to yoga and by the nature of yoga apparel, I was also introduced to people of all ages and body types having tattoos. Tattoos of all sizes and in all places – some entire backs, arms and legs, some very subtle. Some have spiritual words and phrases tattoos; others are beautiful images from nature (trees and flowers) and some I don’t understand at all. I am still surprise by some of the young women who have significant body tattoos –guess I am old school.

Award winning tattoos by Derek Turcotte.

Recently, after a day of flaneuring in Canmore – thrift store, Main Street, disc golf course and abandoned golf course, we headed with friends to Red Rock Pizza for dinner.  We chose an outside picnic table, which happened to provide not only a great view the Three Sisters Mountains, but also tattoo parlour next door.  One “eagle eye” in our group noticed there was a guy on the bed getting a tattoo. We also noticed a cougar pelt on the wall, making the space even more intriguing and authentic given it was Cougar Creek Drive after all! 

We got chatting about tattoos and why would people get one (none of us have one). Our world traveller friend said that in his opinion Canadians have more tattoos any other place he as visited. I said I would try and check it Canada is in fact the tattoo capital of the world.

Curiosity didn't kill this cat?

Smiling cougar pelt on the wall of Electric Grizzly Tattoo Parlour.

Just as we were leaving (the Mango Tango pizza is very good by the way) the guy getting the tattoo, his girl friend and the tattoo artist came out to get some fresh air and take a break from the ordeal (my word not his). My curiosity getting the better of me, I struck up a conversation asking questions like “Is this your first tattoo? How did you decide on the image? How much does it cost? How long does it take?”

They were all more than willing to answer my questions (and the others’) and share their story.  Turns out the guy getting the tattoo and his girlfriend had travelled from Fort McMurray to Canmore to get his tattoo.  And it also this wasn’t their first trip to get tattoos by Canmore tattoo artist, Derek Turcotte.  And turns out this wasn’t his first tattoo as he rolled up his other pant leg showing me an entire leg tattooed.  His theme is super heroes and Turcotte is a master when it comes to the super hero, science fiction and surrealism. Turns out Derek is in demand across Alberta – there’s at least one other regular who lives in Lloydminster. 

Close up of leg tattoo of client who was getting his other leg done. 

Who knew people travelled so far to get a tattoo? And they aren’t cheap; a full body tattoo can cost $100,000.  The one we saw being done - about 16 inches high by 5 inches wide was estimated to cost about $1,500 and takes 10 to 15 hours to do.   They had started the tattoo at 2 pm and they were still working on it at 9 pm.  And although the tattoo customer said it didn’t hurt much then, he said it would really hurt in a day or two.

I asked if it is true that Canada is the tattoo capital of the world. They said they didn’t know if that was true but Derek said Calgary has 100+ tattoo parlours while Edmonton has 130.

The operating table -oops tattoo table. 

Tiny ink jars used to create the rich deep colours of Turcotte's tattoos. 

Derek invited us inside (he’d just opened six days ago) and of course we jumped at the chance.  Inside, there was also a grizzly bear; appropriate given it was called the Electric Grizzly Tattoo Parlour.  The parlour’s decor not only includes the cougar and grizzly hides but numerous animal skulls and scary, surreal airbrush paintings by Derek. It is gallery, taxidermy and tattoo parlour all rolled into one – you gotta like that! 

Below air brush artworks by Turcotte.

About Derek Turcotte

Born in Ottawa, Turcotte move to Calgary about 11 years ago and to Canmore just a few years ago.  He trained under Cye Delaney and Blake McCully the latter being one of the most influential motorcycle artists.  In 2012, Derek won the “most realistic” and “best full sleeve” (full sleeve is a tattoo that covers an entire arm or leg) competition organized by the Perfect Image Tattoos  & Piercing Studio in Banff.

Turcotte is most intrigued by wildlife images, hence the hides and skulls. He loves the work of Robert Bateman and H.R. Giger.  Yet what he loves most about being a tattoo artist – “the great people you meet, develop a friendship with.  The relationship between a tattoo artist and their client is very special”.

Tattoo Capita of the World?

A quick google search found one site proclaiming Paris is the tattoo capital of the world as it was hosting a major tattoo convention.  The site also claimed a good tattoo artists in Paris can make 250 euros per hour.  Another site ranked USA cities based on the number of tattoo parlours per 100,000 people.  Austin has 7.5 parlours per 100,000 people, while Portland has 12 and Miami Beach was #1 with 24 parlours per 100,000 people. So I am not sure Canada is the tattoo capital of the world, but we in the running.

Last Word

It was a perfect ending to a perfect day of flaneuring. You never know what fun experiences you will happen upon if you keep your eyes, ears and mind open. And let your curiosity get the better of you! 

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CalgaryNEXT: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, The Bold

Finally. The Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) came forward with their proposal for a new Calgary arena (Events Centre) and stadium (Field House) for West Village. I can now see why their vision of a massive integrated enclose arena and stadium complex would not fit at Stampede Park as per my Flamesville vs. Stampede Park blog (posted August 14, 2015). 

Now that CSEC’s idea, called CalgaryNEXT has been hatched, here are my thoughts on the good, bad, ugly and bold aspects of what has been presented.

Rendering of the CalgaryNEXT stadium and arena in the middle of West Village. The white buildings in the foreground and the taller buildings along the LRT and CPR tracks are the new tax generating building that would generate new tax revenue to pay off the Community Revitalization Levy loan. 

West Village with its proximity to the Bow River and downtown has the potential to be a very attractive and active mixed-use urban district with or without the addition of an arena, stadium and fieldhouse. 

The Good

The biggest GOOD that could come from CalgaryNEXT is the redevelopment of West Village, an underutilized urban wasteland with three car dealerships and the dying Greyhound Bus Terminal – not exactly the best use of land along the Bow River next to our vibrant downtown. The vision is CalgaryNEXT will attract hotel, condo, restaurant, bar, pub, lounge developers to redevelop all of the land surrounding the arena and stadium, creating a vibrant new urban community where Calgarians can “Live, Work & Play!”

CalgaryNEXT will also fast track the cleaning up of a creosote contamination on land next to the Bow River, something which should have been done long ago.  That is GOOD!

The proposed complex will also be unique in North America - maybe even in the world; this is no cookie cutter development. It is ambitious and contrary to Calgary’s usual pragmatic prairie conservative mantra. It will capture the attention of sports fans and urban tourists across North America.

It is GOOD that the stadium/field house will be enclosed allowing it to be used year-round and for more than just football and amateur events. This is a wonderful adaptation to Calgary’s harsh climate – cold in winter and evening hail and thunderstorms in the summer. It will also be designed with the idea Calgary might be able to attract professional soccer in the future.

There is also a $300 million savings by building the two integrated facilities vs. three separate facilities at different sites. That is GOOD!

It is also GOOD that the Calgary Stampede & Exhibition can move forward with evolving its master plan, knowing that a new arena will not be part of the vision. In addition, the University of Calgary can begin to determine how it might capitalize the McMahon Stadium lands.

Conceptual rendering of proposed new arena, stadium and fieldhouse west of 14th Street bridge

The Bad

Conceptual rendering of how the arena and stadium will be under one roof. 

Conceptual rendering of how the arena and stadium will be under one roof. 

The proposed funding program is a BAD deal for taxpayers with CSEC only contributing $200 million of the estimated $890 million direct costs of the facility and nothing to the possible billion dollars it will take to clean up of the site and upgrade several interchanges and roads.  Most major developments in Calgary today, have the developer sharing the cost of infrastructure requirements needed for the development.

The fact CSEC didn’t present some sort of business plan or time line for negotiations, community engagement and construction was a BAD mistake. I would suggest the best-case scenario for a timeline is:

  • 2015   determine the cost of contamination cleanup, infrastructure improvements
  • 2016   develop a master plan for West Village with CalgaryNEXT as centerpiece
  • 2017    finalize funding program with municipal, provincial and federal governments
  • 2018   commence clean up/ commence roads and infrastructure improvements 
  • 2019   finalize design and building permits
  • 2020   start construction
  • 2023   opening of complex 

As well, it would have been helpful if CSEC had introduced development partners like a major hotel and condo developer as part of their concept.  A residential/hotel development above CalgaryNEXT would make the project more viable as it would increase the tax base.

What about announcing a name sponsor for the project. Surely CalgaryNEXT is not the real name for the complex.  Imagine if CSEC had come forward with corporate sponsors for say $100million for 20 years for the two complexes and that the money would be used to cover capital not operating costs. That would have added credibility to the project and improved the funding structure.

Rendering of the proposed translucent roof that will give the feel of an outdoor stadium. 

As well, there were many references to the fact West Village could be developed using a Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) like in East Village. While that looks good on the surface, East Village had a master plan that included almost 7 million square feet of development (office, retail and condos) in addition to its two sites for public (non-tax paying) uses (National Music Centre and Central Library).  East Village development has strategically staged private and public developments like The Bow Tower and condos with River Walk and 4th Street Underpass. 

For CSEC’s idea to work it would have to lead with the arena, stadium/fieldhouse (not tax paying projects) and hope that 7 million square feet of private projects will follow. A BAD scenario! For a CRL to work private development must happen at least concurrently with the public projects. 

It was also BAD when CSEC announced there was a $300 million savings by integrating the three complexes and didn’t say immediately that some of those savings would be passed on to the City. A good gesture would have been to say the City’s contribution to the fieldhouse would be $125 million instead of $200million as a result of cost savings.

The Ugly

While CSEC made reference to the need for road and transit improvements to accommodate the increased traffic to the arena, stadium and potential office, hotel and condo buildings, there was no understanding of the costs and who would pay for them.  In most if not all new developments the developer and the city share the costs of new roads and interchanges; in some cases, the developer pays 100% of the costs.  CSEC could have at least said they would expect to share in the cost, which would be determined in negotiations with the City.

The Sunalta station is designed for hundreds not ten of thousands of transit riders. 

While there was lots of attention given to where the province and/or the city would get the $300 million for cleanup and $200 million for the field house, what about the $1 billion for road work and upgrade to the Sunalta LRT Station. As it stands this could be an UGLY negotiation.

The cost to upgrade the Crowchild and Bow Trail interchange could easily be $500 million and take several years to design and build, it is on par with the Macleod and Glenmore Trail project. It will be ugly when and if the Crowchild, Bow Trail, 10th Avenue interchange gets redesigned.

In addition, 14th Street interchanges at 9th Avenue and Memorial Drive would have to be upgrades, as would Memorial Drive and Crowchild Trail and the enlargement of the Sunalta LRT Station.

The entire west end of Calgary City Center would be an UGLY, two billion-dollar nightmare for probably five years with roadwork, infrastructure work and construction of CalgaryNEXT.

Google Earth image showing the four major interchanges that would have to be upgraded and the Sunalta LRT station. The Bow River and the Canadian Pacific Railway main line also make this a very difficult site for access and egress. 

The Bold

While there are a lot of questions to be answered and terms to be negotiated, CSEC has put a BOLD idea on the table for debate.  If this debate results in Calgary getting a new arena, stadium, fieldhouse, environmental cleanup and a fix to the chaos on Crowchild Trail, it will be a win-win-win-win-win situation for Calgarians.

As with any BOLD mega project, it will require significant negotiations (think Ring Road, Cancer Centre and Green Line LRT), with give and take on all sides – government, owners, public, community associations and developers.  At least with CSEC’s BOLD announcement we no longer have to speculate on the site or the scope of the project. Let the negotiations begin!

Brilliant vs. Boondoggle

There is no perfect development for West Village, some have called it a brilliant idea, others a billionaires boondoggle. CalgaryNEXT deserves to be dissected and debated to determine if we can link vision with reality. We must roll up our sleeves, keep an open minded and work together to see if we can add another dimension to the vitality of our City Centre in a cost-effective manner.

Perhaps the best next step is to create a CalgaryNEXT steering committee with diverse representation and expertise to determine the feasibility of the idea of an arena, stadium and fieldhouse as the catalyst to transform West Village into something Calgarians will be proud of not only in 2023 (when phase 1 could open), but also in 2073 when it is 50 years old.

Last Word

Let's see if we can make CalgaryNEXT work, and if not - at least we tried.  Remember East Village had several unsuccessful redevelopment plans before the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation's plan commenced.

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Front Yard Fun???

For decades, city dwellers and developers have abandoned the front yard as key element of a home’s livability, especially in new suburbs where the front porch was replaced by the two-car garage that left room for just a modest landing at the front door. 

This photo of a front yard patio/living room was sent to me a few weeks ago when I tweeted out I was working on a front yard blog. It is located along 19th Avenue in West Hillhurst.

But it was not just suburbanites who turned their backs on the street. Many inner city homes with back alley garages also seemingly forgot they have a front yard.  Sure they often had a small porch, but it was more for decoration than use. While they often held chairs, maybe a small table and a plant or two, but we rarely saw anyone sitting on them.  And too, often the inner-city front yard had a tree or two, a patch of lawn and a narrow sidewalk (seldom used as their residents entered the house from the back where the garage is). There are more similarities than differences between new suburban and new inner city homes than one might expect at a glance.

However, more recently, we have noticed while out on our community walkabouts, that more and more inner city Calgarians are discovering their front yard is a great space for a diversity of uses.  And this is a good thing, as it means more interaction with neighbours, as there are no six-foot fences and more eyes on the street.

This little cottage home uses the front yard as an outdoor living room. 

Playgrounds 

At first it was the swing on the trees that caught our attention.  Then it was the addition of comfy soft seating on the porch, or in some cases, a front-yard plaza/deck to sit and people watch rather than hide behind a six-foot backyard fence.

Found this fun front yard water slide in Altadore.  It was being used for a birthday party. How cool is a front yard birthday party!

This home had not one but three tree swings. I love the sculptural quality of the three swings individually and collectively.

This front yard swing gets lots of use. 

Not your traditional front yard; this one has a sandbox and other fun kids play areas.

Art Parks / Gardens

Others have turned their front yard into an art park - one local house even has a cow from the Colourful Cows for Calgary art project back in the year 2,000.  It is a “must see” spot with 20-month neighbour boy has to go see the “Moo” whenever he joins us on our walkabouts.  Another neighbour has created a sandbox for their kids in the front yard. Several neighbours replace the front lawn with raised vegetable gardens.

This is "Moo" who lives down the street from us.

This front yard sculpture garden can be found in Crescent Heights. 

A street art display case in Bridgeland.

Raised vegetable gardens in the front yard are popping up all over Calgary.

LFL

Another great front yard phenomena are the – Little Free Libraries (LFL).  Calgary now boasts over 200 of these libraries and growing weekly. It simply doesn’t get any better than inviting neighbours walking by to stop and look at what you have been reading - perhaps taking a book home or leaving a book of their own.   I love that fact that many of the LFL have a theme, some are lower to the ground and obviously for children, other contain more philosophical books and some are arts oriented. We always stop and check them out.

Just one of 200+ Little Free Libraries across Calgary.

Perhaps the best example of Calgarians rediscovering their front yards was seen on a recent bike ride - not one, but two, children’s playhouses were located on the front lawns along Broadview Road between 14th and 19th Streets.  How cool is that?

How cool is this play house in the front garden? It has a children's story book quality about it. 

Note this play house even includes the kitchen sink!

Last Word

I expect I there are hundreds, if not thousands of examples of innovative new uses for front yards in Calgary.  Send me your photos (richardlw@shaw.ca) of front yard animation in your community and I’ll post them to this blog.

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Everyone needs to find their sanctuary?

Recently, I joined friends on a walkabout of the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. It had been on my list of places to check out this summer after repairs of the pathways severely damaged in the Flood of 2013.  

Grabbing my bike and off I went for a leisurely ride along the Bow River (I love riding my bike; it makes me feel like a kid again) I stopped several times to take photos. It never ceases to amaze me the number of things there are to see and do along the Bow River from Deerfoot to Shaganappi Trails (which area highways for readers not who familiar with the fact Calgary calls its major roads ‘trails’).  I especially love the Bow River pathway on summer weekends with thousands colourful rafters.

Where are the birds?

To be fair, our walkabout was on a hot summer afternoon when birds are probably enjoying a siesta. But I really thought we’d see something better than a robin. Those visit my backyard birdbath all the time.  We wandered for over an hour and struck out when it came to seeing birds.  We weren’t the only ones - even the serious photographers with their two-foot long lenses (I think there are some serious cases of lens envy at the sanctuary) had to resort to taking photos of dragonflies. 

I see more birds while golfing at Redwood Meadows – flickers, whiskey jacks, blue jays, warblers, redwing black birds, several kinds of ducks and Canadian Geese. Although we saw a couple of deer at Inglewood Bird Sanctuary from a distance, at Redwood my golf mates and I often see a family of deer no more than a chip shot away.   

Redwood also has a few resident rainbow trout in its crystal clear ponds, while the ponds at Inglewood Bird Sanctuary were murky and full of algae and debris.  I realize Mother Nature is not always pretty or the best housekeeper, but when I think of a “sanctuary,” I picture lush forest, sparkling creeks/rivers and immaculate ponds.

Debris from the 2013 flood is evident everywhere at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary creating wonderful new wildlife habitat. 

The woods were still filled with debris from the flood, which I thought might make for interesting photography, but no matter how much I looked, I didn’t find the mysterious light and shadows often found in the woods along the pathways at Redwood. 

In all fairness, because all the trails aren’t yet open, we didn’t actually get to the Bow River where we might have spotted some pelicans, maybe even a Bald Eagle or osprey.  Ironically, on my way home, I passed by the West Hillhurst osprey family nest across Memorial Drive at the Boy Scouts/ Girl Guide offices and where two young osprey were posing for everyone to take a photo. 

At Redwood, with its easy access to the Elbow River along the 13th hole and on the tee box at 14, there is a series of rapids that have a mystifying magnetism for me.  I often wander over to the river even if my ball isn’t anywhere near that side of the fairway (yes, sometimes I am in the fairway) for a brief glimpse of the river.

And though the Colonel Walker historic house at the bird sanctuary was nice to look at, it wasn’t open for us to go inside. We all thought it would make a great restaurant like the Ranche in Fish Creek Park. It also made me realize how fortunate I am to be able to visit the old Riley House just a few blocks from my home.

Inglewood Sanctuary is a haven for wildlife photographers. 

Still lots of work to do to repair the flood damages. 

A collage of debris from the flood in the pond. 

Spoiled or Lucky?

I hate to be negative about the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, but when I think of a sanctuary, I think of a place that is sacred, special and surreal.  In reality, when we were there the pathways were crowded with people (which is great on one hand), but hardly makes for the retreat or refuge experience. 

Pond grasses on the sixth hole at Redwood. 

Maybe I am jaded because I have easy access to the Bow River from my house.  I can walk or bike in minutes to the south side of the Bow between Crowchild Trail and Edworthy Park and enjoy amazing rock beaches, hidden ponds, the pathway and the Douglas Fir Trail pretty much to myself.  If anyone wants to be alone to think and ponder, you couldn’t find a better spot.  Calgarians are lucky to have many different sanctuaries in all quadrants of the city.

In chatting to a friend about my reaction and the idea of doing a blog about my love of walking Redwood Meadows several times a week he said, “Well, you won’t gain many friends comparing a flood-damaged, public-funded, volunteer-driven, partially rehabilitated historic site to a membership-focused, green fee-funded, professionally landscaped golf course.  He suggested I look at the Inglewood space as a work-in-progress, what some would call a “naturally raw area in the middle of the city.”

But what I love about Redwood Meadows Golf Course is not the professionally landscaped golf course, but the natural beauty and serenity of the river, ponds and wooded areas on the edges. 

Surrealistic light along the pathway from the tee box to the green on hole #8. 

Earlier this summer we saw this sun halo as we were teeing off. Since then we have seen them twice more. It must be a special place.

Redwood pond reflections change by the minute.  I never get tired of them. 

As I experience more outdoor places like the Stanley Glacier Hike, Grassi Lakes or the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary walkabout, I am developing a better understanding of why I love playing golf at Redwood Meadows four and five times a week. It is not for the golf, but for the leisurely walk where I get to experience the cloud formations, the ever-changing river, the reflections in the pond, the filtered light in the woods and the wildlife. 

I love checking on the young ducklings, which have grown up quickly this year (we are all surprised that they have not become lunch for the coyotes).  We all had a good laugh one round when six very young ducklings were jumping out of the water to catch bugs out of the air on hole #8.  We admire the proud bucks, with their racks in the Fall, as they get ready for mating.  It is not unusual to have four or five deer greet us on one of the tee boxes or run across the fairway as we play.

A family of deer grazing next to the tee box on hole #5. 

Above is a family of resident ducks on the #15 hole pond and below is a family of mushrooms found at Redwood. 

Last Word

This whole experience got me to thinking "everyone needs to find their sanctuary in this world we share." For me, golfing is like a walk in a sanctuary, at least at Redwood Meadows, in the winter it is yoga at the Bohdi Tree. 

Calgarians, we are lucky to have many possible sanctuaries across the city, for people of all ages, backgrounds and interest. And for bird watchers, the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is their special place. I respect that. 

As my father use to say, "We are lucky everyone doesn't like/want the same things!" 

A secluded pond along the south shore of the Bow River across from West Hillhurst/Parkdale has the potential of a sanctuary for someone. 

Bow River rock beach at Crowchild Trail is obviously a sanctuary for somebody.

Flamesville vs Stampede Park???

EDT Update 18/08/15: With the announcement in the Herald today that the Flames vision is perhaps for a mega mega sports complex all under one roof, Stampede Park would not work. If this is the Flames vision the complex will put Calgary on the map as it would be unique in the world.  It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.   

With great interest I have been following all the speculation surfacing around the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation’s (CSEC) plans for a new, mega, sports-oriented urban village west of Mewata Armoury.  I admire and respect CSEC for not wanting to debate the merits of their idea in the media until they have political support and financing in place.  However, at the same time, I wonder how open they will be to new ideas sure to surface from the public, given they have spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours developing the proposal. 

I fear we are reverting back to the old “design and defend” developer mentality so prevalent in the late 20th century.  It was a time when the developer would come up with what they thought was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and then defend it with all their resources.

I am always leery when someone says, “Trust me. You will love this proposal when you see it” which is what Ken King, President of CSEC said months ago. This raises everyone’s expectations and no plan can please everyone. I really hope Ken is right.

The Saddledome is one of Calgary's best examples of iconic architecture. 

Too Big!

Jane Jacobs, the 1960s guru of urban renewal, said good urban development is “incremental not revolutionary” meaning good urban renewal is the result of lots of little projects that get built over an extended period of time.  Good examples would be the Beltline, Mission or Inglewood where new projects happen almost every year, but none are mega block projects. 

Jacobs also warned against grouping too many mega buildings (libraries, museums, public art galleries, convention centres, arena and stadiums) close together this kills any chance of urban vitality.  Any building that takes up an entire block and has only one or two entrances is destined to be street vitality killer.   Locate two or three together can spell disaster. Look no further than the lack of street vitality around the Glenbow, Art Commons and Convention Centre.

SHEDs

That being said, Sports, Hospitality, Entertainment Districts (SHEDs) are being created in many cities, including Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto. These districts include arenas, stadiums (football/baseball), convention centres, hotels, casinos and many sports bars and lounges.

Calgary actually already has a SHED – better known as Stampede Park with its two arenas, two major event centres (BMO Centre and Big Four Building) and an underutilized stadium (Grandstand). 

For years I have wondered why the Calgary Sports & Entertainment Corporation and Stampede Board couldn’t develop a shared vision for Stampede Park that would elevate the Park into a vibrant 21st century mixed-use park.  A place with a modern arena and a stadium (that could accommodate the rodeo, chuckwagon races, grandstand show, CFL football, concerts and track and field events).  A place that would open up to Mcleod Trail and to East Village and not be a gated community.

Google Earth image of Stampede Park with its current access to two LRT station and one future LRT station, as well as existing Saddledome and Grandstand/Stadium.

Google Earth image of Stampede Park with its current access to two LRT station and one future LRT station, as well as existing Saddledome and Grandstand/Stadium.

Not the right site?

I am not convinced the West Village is the best site for a new SHED, given the cost to overcome the issues of contamination, major roadway redevelopment, land ownership and lest we forget, flood prevention. It could take years, if not a decade, to resolve just the Crowchild Trail, Bow Trail and Memorial Drive bottleneck.

West Village would be much better developed incrementally over the next 20 years with a mixture of projects including residential development for 10,000+ people. West Village has tremendous potential as a mixed-use “live work play” community with its easy access to the river pathway, LRT, downtown, universities of Calgary and Mount Royal, as well as Foothills and Children’s Hospitals.

As the Flames’ email to season ticket holders included the “live work play” brand; this means residential could be the new dimension to their West Village vision they will be announcing on Monday. If the Flames vision for West Village included approximately one third residential development, one third work and one third play that would be a game changer, as it would have the elements of a real mixed-use urban village.

Google Earth image of West Village an site of possible new arena at the Greyhound Bus site and the location of Sunalta LRT station and key interchanges for access and egress from the site.

Last Word

Still, I believe the City should ask the Calgary Stampede Board and CSEC to work together to create an innovative and exciting plan for Stampede Park that will include all the major sports and associated entertainment facilities Calgary will need for the next 50 years. 

An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, August 15, 2015 titled "Flames shouldn't overlook using Stampede Park for megaproject." 

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Reader Comments: 

As of Aug 16th over 1,000 people have read this blog and not one has emailed or tweeted that they like the West Village site over the Stampede Park.  

BL writes: 

I agree that it seems like the attitude of the city, the Flames and the Stampede Board is that the Stampede area is screwed up; so instead of trying to fix it, let's go screw up somewhere else.

The West Village concept is OK as a potential site for a stadium, arena and entertainment district. But is it really necessary to go there? From a city planning perspective, wouldn't it be better to complete all of the development on the lands east of Macleod Trail between the Bow and the Elbow; and thereafter go looking to develop the West Village?

The planners have put similar restrictions on suburban development, basically saying that everything can't be built at the same time; so why not do likewise in the inner city?

 

The Art of Architecture and Colour

For the past 35 years, I have observed - with interest - the evolution of Calgary’s urban design culture from its pragmatic prairie conservatism to today’s more liberal contemporary designs. Perhaps the biggest change has been the use and abuse of colour.  I was reminded of this when recently exploring the Beltline and seeing Lake Placid Group’s The Park - the new condo next to Memorial Park with its dark blue glass facade. 

I was a bit shocked as it was, to my eyes, so strikingly different from the promotional renderings which showed a more transparent, light green building, like a huge green house and more synergistic with the greens of the park.  My first impression of the deep blue was it was too dark, too heavy and too gloomy.  I have the same reaction to the dark glassed Keynote Towers just further east.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and my eyes are always attracted to buildings with bright, bold, cheerful colours like the Alberta Children’s Hospital.  Guess I am a kid a heart!

Original computer rendering of The Park condo from Memorial Park.

Actual photo of The Park condo from Memorial Park.

Actual photo of The Park condo from Memorial Park.

Does anyone care?

I decided to ask Rob Taylor, President of the Beltline Community Association to see what he and his group thought of the change of the design. He informed me many people didn’t even notice the change and some that responded negatively at first, later changed their minds. He reminded me “that not everyone has to like every building.” How true!

I then thought I would get some other insights into Calgary’s new culture of colour. Joe Starkman, Partner at Knightsbridge Homes is the guy responsible for those bright orange and yellow University City condos on Crowchild Trail at the Brentwood LRT Station.  He indicated the public response has been a 50/50 split between those who like the colours and those who don’t.  The colours by the way were inspired by colours of grasses, bushes, flowers and trees at different seasons in Nose Hill, Blakiston Park, Strathcona Hill and Canada Olympic Park - all of which can be seen from the condo’s picture windows.

The multi-coloured University City condos at the Brentwood LRT Station.

Mid '90s green glass condos in Calgary West End.

Arriva condo in Victoria Park -  subtle use of colour. 

Beige/Brown City

Bruce McKenzie, VP at NORR architects, who designed the striking AURA I and II across the street from the Beltline’s Barb Scott Park shared with me that when he and his family arrived back in Calgary in 1991 after four years in Bermuda (where architecture celebrates the vitality of the island with vibrant colours), they were astonished at the “brownness” of the city.  He is a big fan of integrating colour into architecture and looking to nature for colour inspiration. At the same time, he cautions the use of bold colours in large scale as they create a “look at me architecture without any meaning or relevance to sense of place.”

New Pixel condo in Kensington.

Paul Battistella, General Manager at Battistella Developments has championed the idea of colour and condo design for several decades now. For him “colour is very personal and is reflective of a person’s personality.”  His design team uses colour both literally (bright yellow balcony highlights in Pixel) and psychologically. “We try and tap into the psychological appeal of colour and how it connects to a person’s self image.” Orange was chosen as the name for their ‘90s East Village condo (when East Village was only a dream) because the colour matched the “eclectic creative” people that live there.  Their new East Village project named “Ink” will have multiple colours on its exterior, reflecting the diversity of psychological profiles of purchasers.

A not-to-be-named architect once confided in me, saying, “many architects do not understand colour. Many are afraid of colour as it adds a complexity to the form, rhythm and light of the architecture which confuses them.”

AURA condo from Barb Scott Park.

Last Word 

Starkman, an architect by training, thinks “the new architecture we are seeing being built in Calgary today is quite refreshing and spectacular in many circumstances…all contributing to a dynamic rebirth of downtown Calgary.”  I think most Calgarians would agree with this statement.

Note: An edited version of this blog was commissioned by Condo Living Magazine.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Downtown Calgary: Paint it black

Tale of three Calgary Pedestrian Bridges

Chicago: Architecture River Cruise

Everyday Tourist follower Sonny Tomic sent in this photo of a colourful new boutique office building in downtown Calgary.



St. Patrick's Island: The Good, The Bad, The Nice To Have

Note: I have received several emails and tweets supporting the ideas and comments in this blog.  Thought I would share this one with you from architect Tom Tittemore which I think provides an informed perspective on the Island and East Village design and development. 

TT writes: "Carol and I walked the upgraded St Patrick's Island yesterday - Sunday - and we concur with most of your observations. The public art piece is a clever amalgm of largely highway-scaled light fixtures, but we, as your blog noted, merely observed and walked on.  However, I would like to see it at night to finalize my opinion.  It may also perform better during cold, icy winter days. For us, the Island and George King Bridge, the River Walk, renovated Simmons Building, East Village etc., makes for a most pleasant stroll or powerwalk or bike ride …While New York has its Highline, I must say that the Island / River Walk makes great strides (that's a pun) towards a similar urban pedestrian experience that enables people to view the City with fresh eyes."

Blog: St. Patrick's Island: The Good, The Bad, The Nice To Have

It is with much anticipation that I have been waiting for St. Patrick’s Island to reopen.  On July 31, 2015, after being closed for two years of renovations, St. Patrick’s Island opened again to the public just in time for the August long weekend to much fanfare.

For two-years before the closure, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) conducted a comprehensive public engagement process to determine what Calgarians wanted to see in their new urban park.  Open houses, social media and an on-line survey collected ideas, which were clustered and prioritized for further public engagement to finalize the wish list.

CMLC’s call for proposals then went out to local and international landscape architect firms. Seventeen proposals were received and CMLC awarded the contract for the $20 million makeover to the joint team of New York-based W Architecture and Denver-based CIVITAS.

Loved

I love the mix of uses on the island. From quiet seating areas near the river to a hill with a fire pit on the top. From a children’s playground to pebble beach and wading pond. There is even a site-specific artwork. 

Knowing one of the public’s requests was to keep the island as natural as possible, I was pleased to see many areas where the river, trees, shrubs and rocks have been left undisturbed.

There is also a welcoming sense of arrival, be that from the elegant George C. King Bridge on the west side or from the zoo parking lot on the east. 

I was very impressed with the toboggan hill called The Rise, which was created in the middle of the island using soil from the reclaimed lagoon filled in during a previous renovation. The grass on The Rise was as lush as anything I have ever seen in Calgary. It was inviting people to just tumble down the hill – and some did!  This would be a great site for a permanent “slip and slide,” allowing year-round use.  

The children’s playground is not your cookie-cutter community playground that looks like it was built from a box of Crayola Crayons.  While the slides are bright red, most of the equipment is wood. The wobbly low bridge seemed particularly popular with people of all ages.

Overall, I love the new St. Patrick’s Island and how it has been divided up into smaller public spaces for different interests and uses.

The wobbly bridge/steps are popular with children and adults. 

At various points on the Island there are information panels that tell the history of the island. 

On of the several natural areas still on St. Patrick's Island.

Collectively these benches have a contemporary sculptural look with the mix of wood, concrete and lines. The design is very clever as one person can be lying down on one side while two people can be sitting on the other side of the back support.  

Room for Improvement

I am not sure how many people will use the larger seating area with the arboretum over top of the chairs and tables at the east entrance. It feels too much like you are sitting in a parking lot and you have limited view of the Bow River.  I realize when the water levels are higher, the area might be more animated with rafters getting off the river at this point, but I am wish this lovely seating area was closer the river with unobstructed views of the river and city skyline. 

I assume and hope Food Trucks will be allowed to park next to the East Entrance as the Island has no café or restaurant (there were no trucks on the Monday of the August long weekend).  Something like Boxwood (in Memorial Park), River Café (in Prince’s Island) or Angel’s Cappuccino & Ice Cream Cafe (at Edworthy Park) would be a good future addition to the St. Patrick’s Island. 

There is a need for way more bike parking in almost all areas of the park. I overheard this comment several times on both opening day and the holiday Monday.

The stairs up to the top of The Rise for tobogganing (and hopefully “slip & sliding”) are very steep and will not only be difficult for young children or seniors to climb and will be difficult to shovel in the winter. Might a ramp have worked better?

At the east entrance is this wonderful bistro seating area, but in my three visits to the island I saw very little use.

Climbing the stairs to The Rise will be a bit of a challenge for some, especially with in the winter.   

These picnic tables don't look that inviting and are too far removed from the playground nearby. Parents need to be able to see their kids. It is surprising that the seating is fixed, it would be great if families could move table and seating to suit there needs.

Back to nature

I was surprised there wasn’t more use of natural materials for people to sit on.  The concrete slab seating seemed out of keeping for a park with huge trees and natural areas. In a couple of cases, the concrete slabs did have wood backs for seating and lounging that was very attractive. Similarly, there is a long metal pathway that seems totally out of context.

I was also surprised the children’s playground didn’t incorporate some of the new thinking on playground design that invites children to explore more natural areas and objects – logs, rocks and trees - to climb over, jump off or crawl under.  The playground seems to focus only on young children, given the family nature of the Island it would benefit from more activities for older children and even teens.

These spring loaded stepping platforms didn't get any use when I was hanging out on the Island.  I am thinking they are too far from each other for kids to jump from one to another.  I saw something similar in Rome but the platforms were closer and they were very popular. 

This long metal walkway over a wetland area, seemed out of context on the Island.

This bench found in Parkdale would be great on St. Patrick's Island as kids could climb all over it and others could sit on it. A nice to have?

This fun modern playground can be found at Las Vegas' Container Park.  It is popular with kids by day and young adults at night. Playgrounds should be designed for all ages. 

The Beach

As promised, the new St. Patrick’s island has a beach. Though not a sand beach but a pebble beach, it was very popular with families on the hot August long weekend. However, what I had envisioned (hoped for), was a green beach like in Frankfurt, Germany along its River Main where a long stretch of grass along the river offers families, teens, young adults, seniors and couples a lovely place to sit, picnic and people watch.  I was hoping it would be integrated into the south side of the island where you could look out over the Bow River to Fort Calgary, East Village and downtown.  I believe the idea of a “green beach” was one of the more popular ideas with citizens as part of the Master Plan process. I hold out hope for a green beach in the area under the new public artwork.

St. Patrick's Island's pebble beach with wading pond. 

The lush grass at the bottom of The Rise is a very attractive place to sit and linger. It has some of the elements of a green beach.

Frankfurt's green beach is a people magnet. In the foreground is the outdoor bar serving up draft beer for the beach. How civilized?

It would be nice to have a green beach right on the river like this one in Calgary's Stanley Park on the Elbow River.

Bloom or Bust?

St. Patrick’s Island’s a new piece of public art called Bloom is by Montreal artist Michel de Broin.  To date, most social media attention has been positive, interestingly as the piece has much in common with both the controversial and much hated, “Travelling Light” aka “giant blue ring” by the airport (which is actually a fancy street light) and the equally controversial big white metal trees on Stephen Avenue.

Bloom is an assemblage of nine industrial grey street lampposts, three forming a tripod on the ground to support the other six (with actual streetlight fixtures that light up at night) sticking out in different directions like stamens and pistils of a flower.

By day, the artwork seems awkward, or as one passerby said to me “out of scale with the island.”  It also lacks the colour associated with a flower in bloom and competes negatively (in my humble opinion) with the elegant and playful George C. King (“skipping stone”) pedestrian bridge.

It is my understanding the idea behind the artwork is to connect natural elements of the island with urban street life. For me it is all urban, nothing natural. As it is, people seem to give bloom a glance and move on, it doesn’t really capture the public’s imagination.  

I couldn’t help but think this would have been perfect for some sort of interactive artwork like Chicago’s Millennium Park.   Something like, Jaume Plensa’s, 50 foot glass block tower Crown Fountain would have been perfect for St. Patrick’s Island as would Anish Kapoor’s 12 foot high 110 foot long reflective “Cloud Gate.”  Something, created by Calgary’s Jeff deBoer’s in the same vein as his “When Aviation was Young” in the West Jet wing of the Calgary International Airport would have been perfect. 

Bloom artwork with George King bridge in the background.  While the location is next to a high traffic walkway, people stop, glance quickly at the artwork and move on.  

Crown Fountain with its wading pond attracts thousands of visitors a day to stop, watch and play, seven days a week, daytime and evening. I would have been nice to have an interactive artwork like this on St. Patrick's Island. 

Cloud Gate's curved, reflective surface captures the imagination of people of all ages and backgrounds.  It is a very popular "selfie" location. 

Last Word

It is too early to judge the success of St. Patrick’s Island $20 million mega makeover. That will be determined in several years when the lust of the new has worn off. However, I am optimistic St. Patrick’s Island will, quickly loved by Calgarians as much as St. George’s Island and Prince’s Island are today. 

In many ways the combination of the Simmons Building, Riverwalk and St. Patrick’s Island redevelopment with the condos and offices, parallels what happened in the ‘90s with Eau Claire Y, Market, Promenade and Prince’s Island redevelopment. How St. Patrick's Island and East Village stand the test of time will be interesting to see.

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Vegas Crazy Container Park 

Public Art vs Playgrounds in the 21st Century 

Rome: A Surprise Playground Lunch 

Does Calgary need an urban beach? 

 

CANADA Vacations Unlimited 1951 (Part 2)

In Part 1, of CANADA Vacations Unlimited magazine looked looked at the first 20-pages of a 50-page magazine produced by the Canadian Government Travel Bureau in 1951 to entice Americans to visit Canada that was devoted to profile its Provinces.  Part 2 will summarize how the magazine promoted the "things to see and do" in Canada for tourist. I hope you will find it as enlightening and entertaining as I did. 

National Parks

The two-page spread on the National Parks of Canada includes photos of golfing in Banff National Park, trail riding in Riding Mountain National Park, fishing in Fundy National Park, lawn bowling in Prince Edward National Park, alpine meadows in Yoho National Park, Highland Games in Cape Breton National Park and a painter in Jasper National Park. 

Taking photos of wildlife at close range seems to be encouraged, “The animals, which have learned man will not harm them within the parks, have become astonishingly tame often approaching humans within a few yards…bighorn sheep allow visitors within camera range.” Yikes!

Canada’s Vacation Highways

A three-page spread promotes “Canada’s 150,000 miles of highways ranging from two-lane, crushed stone country roads to the four-lane, boulevarded super-highway.  There is scant danger of being stranded in Canada because of mechanical breakdown. Service stations and repair garages are plentiful and all popular U.S and British automobile makers maintain dealer units and parts depots across Canada.”

Photos include a couple eating at a roadside picnic table by the St. Lawrence River, a mounted police officer chatting with another couple in their red convertible in downtown Montreal and Niagara Falls, the “Honeymoon Haven” as well as Hope-Princeton highway and roads in Rockies and Laurentians, Atlantic inlet, Alaska Highway, St. John River and Gaspe Peninsula.

Fishing

The two-page spread on fishing features images with tags like: “Battling bass from historic streams,” “the battle is over for this Atlantic Salmon,” the fishing’s as exciting as the scenery,” “they grow ‘em big in prairie lakes,” “you can even cast from the highway” and “the morning’s catch sizzling in the pan.”

Canoeing and Camping

Canoeing and camping also gets a two-page spread with photo captions like: “shaving in cold water really isn’t so bad,” “somehow the food seems better outdoors” and my favourite “careful with that axe, Daddy.”

Swim and Relax

Yes, that is the title of a two-page spread about Canada having more than half the world’s fresh water offering visitors “sun-drenched sand, cool breezes and crystal-clear lakes and rivers.” The text ends with “Yes, there’s good reason why, in the season of sweltering heat, thousands of vacationers head north each summer to Canada, land of air-conditioning sunshine.”

I loved the photo of the Saskatchewan beach with a two parents and what looks like five kids with a canoe, inner tube and boat with the caption “small fry enjoying themselves.” But the best one - “cooling one’s heels is fun, this way!” referring to three bikini clad girls sitting on a rock ledge of small water falls dangling their feet in the rushing water alongside a young man ready to jump into the water.

Cruise Time

I never thought of Canada as a major cruise travel destination, but two-pages of the magazine pitch vacation cruising on Ontario’s Muskoka Lakes, speed boating in the Eastern Townships, cruising in Banff National Park, sailing off the coast of British Columbia and an inland steamer in BC. It also notes that Canadian yacht clubs extend a welcome to visiting U.S. yachtsman.  

Roughing it in Canada

This two-page spread covers everything from an Alpine Club of Canada hike and rock climbing in the Canadian Rockies to horseback riding and cycling. Did you know that “many Canadian resorts have saddle horses for their guests?”

Scenic Transportation

“By air, by land, by sea” reads the byline with images of “modern buses ply through the Laurentian area of Quebec, a Trans-Canada Air Lines plane wings its way over quiet Ontario countryside, Canada National Steamships vessel at Skagway, CPR train winds through Kicking Horse Pass” as well as cruise steamer on Saguenay River and Canadian Pacific steamer passing below the Lions’ Gate Bridge in Vancouver.”

Golf, Tennis, Winter Sports

One and a half pages are devoted to golf in this four-page section. One photo caption reading “Bing Crosby putts it out on the course at Jasper during the annual Totem Pole Tournament.”  Interesting factoids include a reference to “Canada’s northland” where the most northerly golf course in the Western Hemisphere - at Pangnirtung on Baffin Island with eight members and at “Yellowknife the clubhouse is a crashed B-29 aircraft, which proved too difficult to haul out of the wild.” 

Skiing is the only winter sport promoted. Skiing in in Canada is described as, “There’s Scandinavian-style skiing in Eastern Canada and the dashing Alpine kind in the West, each with plenty of accommodation comfort close at hand.”

Golf Tennis

Shrines and Historic Sites

The photo collage that accompanies this two-page feature includes Fort Ste. Marie (Midland, Ontario) restoration, Port Royal Habitation (Nova Scotia), Lower Fort Garry (Winnipeg), Brother Andre’s shrine (Montreal), Christ Church Cathedral (Fredericton), Ste. Anne de Beaupre (Quebec City), Old Fort Henry (Kingston), Fort Lennox Ile au Noix (Quebec), Fort Chambly (Montreal) and St. Andrew’s Church (Lockport, Manitoba).

Shopping

Can you believe shopping warrants only one page and the last page at that! “Part of the thrill of a Canadian vacation is shopping for native handicrafts…so many delightful ‘different’ things in Canadian stores…wood carving, hooked picture rugs, Indian beaded jackets and moccasins. It’s easy to find the Canadian handicrafts on display outside Canadian farms and village homes…and gracing the counters of many tourist courts and villas.” 

There is no mention of department stores like Hudson Bay Company and Eaton’s or specialty shops like Birks.

Mother Knows Best!

I emailed a draft of this blog to my Mom (who has lived all 80+ years of her life in Hamilton, Ontario, but who in her later years has visited the capital cities of all the Provinces and Territories except for Iqaluit, Nunavut) for her insights and thoughts on the magazine and my reaction.

Her comments were, “that is exactly what Canada was like in 1951.Toronto was hardly known, Montreal was the only city in Canada with any international awareness….the West was almost unheard of even in Ontario. We did know the Maritimes though.  There wasn’t anything on cities because there wasn’t really much to see in the cities then. Hard for you to understand in 1951, we were still an unknown country and Americans did not visit except for the cities along the border – maybe.”

This made me think she is right. I remember her and my Dad telling me stories about how young couple from Hamilton and Southern Ontario headed to Buffalo, not Toronto, if they wanted a fun weekend of dancing and drinking in the late ‘40s and ‘50s.

Last Word 

I defer to her for this blog’s Last Word, her email response ended with,  “This magazine sure has been an eye opener for you, as it will be for most of your readers.”

If you like this blog, you might like:

CANADA Vacations Unlimited 1951 (Part 2) 

Cities of opportunity: Calgary/Hamilton 

Understanding Calgary's DNA

Car2go a Calgary Game Changer

Calgarians are loving Car2go, so much so our city has the second highest number of membership 80,000, not far behind Vancouver with 88,000 and if you factor in that Vancouver has 750 vehicles versus Calgary’s 550, we have the most members per vehicle in the entire system.  Both cities have comparable Home Area (the area of the city where you are allowed to park your vehicle for free), with Vancouver’s area being 120 square kilometers with 90 dedicated parking spaces, while Calgary’s area is 115 square kilometers and has only 75 dedicated parking spaces.

Calgary beats out cities like Toronto with only 43,000 members, Seattle, the U.S. leader at 67,000 members and Austin (Car2go headquarters) at 53,000 and Portland with 35,000 members.

Car2go beside the colourful ski fence in Altadore.

However, the number of memberships is perhaps not the best measurement of Car2go usage as a city could have lots of members, but they might not be very active.  I have to confess that I joined in the first few weeks that Car2go memberships were offered in Calgary and I have never used it.  A friend who joined with me has used it a few times. 

 

 

Car2go’s External Communications Manager, Dacyl Armendariz check for me and Calgary still ranks #2 and Vancouver #1 when it comes to “utilization rates (the amount of time the vehicles in the fleet in any given city are used by that membership).” 

Why do Calgarians love Car2go?

It doesn’t surprise me Calgarians have embraced Car2go given it offers free parking and our downtown has some of the highest parking rates in North America. In some ways Car2go is Calgary’s equivalent to a bike share program. The cars aren’t much bigger than a bike; they make way more sense in our winter climate and can operate with existing infrastructure. 

I counted 23 car2go cars one evening at the south end of River Park.  I am told one of the popular uses of car2go is to float down the rivers.

Harry Hiller, Sociology professor at the University of Calgary, thinks Calgary’s demographics makes it ideal city a car share program.  “We know that most of the migration to Calgary in the last 15 years has been young adults between 18-35.  Most of these people come on speculation wanting to try out the job market but without major resources.  In my view, this is the most important explanation for why Calgary ranks so high on the user rankings- and on a per capita basis, even surpasses Vancouver.  Vancouver has a high residential population downtown whereas Calgary's downtown residential population is still developing.  Yet, there are far more jobs downtown than there is living spaces downtown.  All of this supports car2go use.”

Line up of car2go on 50th Ave SW near River Park. 

Other reasons why young Calgarians might love Car2go:

Anyone wanting to find a car2go just has to type in an address on the app and up comes a map with the location of cars nearby. 

  1. The system is most effective with smart phones and young adults are most familiar with the usage of smart phones for many things. 
  2. Youth are more interested in experimentation than older adults and the small one time membership fee encourages younger people to experiment with the system. 
  3. You get some of the benefits of car ownership without the ongoing costs of gas, insurance, repairs and parking. (remember a parking stall in a new condo can cost $50,000).

Car2go confirmed that in fact the vast majority of Calgary members are 25 to 25 years old, but also indicated that they have members from 18 to some in their ‘90s.  I was also told that membership is almost 50/50 between males and females. 

Transit and Bike Lanes Factor

Another factor in Calgarians enthusiasm for Car2go could be that is our transit system to downtown (bus and LRT) is filled to capacity for commuters.  On weekday LRT “park and ride” lots are full making it difficult to use the LRT for short trips to downtown, SAIT or University of Calgary.  Bus service at non-peak times is infrequent on most routes making it less than ideal for short meetings or travelling at night.  In the winter, you have to wait outside to catch transit versus a quick walk to the nearest Car2go, which can check on your cell phone to make sure there is one nearby.

This image is from the car2go app that shows you where cars are in proximity to where you are located.  If you zoom in, you can get the exact street address for you waiting car. I chose this image as it best illustrated the concentration of vehicles in the greater downtown area. 

Another factor, might be that our transit system is very downtown centric, which means the 20% of Calgarians work downtown have good transit service, but those who don’t work downtown - 80% of Calgarians – have less than ideal transit service.

One might also argue while Calgary has arguably the best recreational bike paths in the world, it is lacking in functional bike lanes that allow for bike use for everyday activities including commuting to work, meeting up with friends for a meal or a coffee or to run an errand.

It is therefore not surprising that most popular destination for Calgary Car2go members by far is downtown, representing 20% of all trips. In March 2015, Calgary’s City Council received sufficient complaints about Car2go vehicles taking up too many of the downtown street parking spaces they decided to restrict their vehicles on any given downtown block to 25% of the parking spaces.

 

Other popular destinations are SAIT, University of Calgary, Mount Royal University, Chinook and Market Mall.  Recently, I counted 25+ cars parked at the River Park entrance in Altadore two beautiful spring evenings in a row, perhaps they should rename it Dog2go! 

Last Word

From Hiller’s perspective as an urban sociologist “the interesting question is whether Car2go encourages density and he says it does because it gives the urban resident a transportation option that fills in the gaps where public transportation does not go or where public transportation is less convenient.  The relationship between the two is symbiotic. 

Having access to a car when you need it but without paying for storage or insurance gives the high-density dweller a sense of freedom that they don't have when they depend totally on public transportation.”

There seems to be a nice symbiotic relationship developing between Car2go and creating attractive inner-city urban communities in Calgary. 

If you like this blog, you might like:

Is Calgary too downtown centric?

Drivers, Cyclist & Pedestrians need to learn to share!

 

CANADA Vacations Unlimited 1951 (Part 1)

My, my, how times have changed! Today I received a package of Calgary and Banff artifacts from a 3rd cousin living in Los Angeles who my Mom recently reconnected with. She is a big collector and loves treasure hunting at flea markets and fairs in the LA area.  When my Mom told her about my interest in old Calgary artifacts, she said she’d keep that in mind. 

I really never gave it much thought until very recently my Mom told me to expect a package in the mail from Sally.  Today it arrived - a nice two-page handwritten letter (can’t remember the last time I saw one of those), a dozen postcards and a magazine entitled “CANADA Vacations Unlimited,” all purchased at the Glendale, California, Vintage Paper Fair.  

While the postcards were wonderful, it was the 50-page, 1951, full-colour magazine that immediately caught my attention. Produced by the Canadian Government Travel Bureau (part of the department of Resources and Development), the magazine was aimed at enticing Americans to visit Canada.  It was captivating to see how Canada branded itself as a tourist destination 60+ years ago.

I was immediately struck by the lack of any information about Canadian cities; it is dominated by images of hunting, fishing, swimming, beaches, horseback riding and golf. Everything is family, rural and quaint. Shopping gets only minimal attention and food and dining isn’t even on the radar. 

No advertisements, no hotel listings, no phone numbers and no coupons and about festivals, museums, art galleries 

Branding the Provinces

The first 20 pages area devoted to profiling our 10 provinces – photo heavy and text light. And, nothing on the Territories.

British Columbia is branded as “Canada’s Pacific Province” with “great mountain ranges like Switzerland, deep costal inlets like Norway and valleys with pastoral charm of England’s quiet shires.” There is no mention of the charms of Vancouver except to say “it is the largest city in British Columbia, with more population than any state capital in the U.S. with the exception of Boston.  Images include the Empress Hotel (Victoria), Cathedral Grove (Alberni), Skyline Trail (Yoho Valley) and a generic game fishing photo. 

Cathedral Grove, Alberni (full page photo, quality of this image is similar to the one in the magazine as are most of the other images). 

The Empress Hotel, Victoria / Yoho Valley from Skyline Trail, Yoho National Park 

Alberta is branded as “Canada’s Mile-High Mountain Playground” where “cowhands and reservation Indians still roam Alberta’s grazing lands against the splendor of the Canadian Rockies, and the Calgary Stampede gets more spectacular each year.” The images are of “cowgirls sitting on a fence at Stampede, picnic at Waterton Lakes National Park, lookout on Banff Jasper Highway and Bow River from Banff Springs Hotel.”

Bow River Valley from Banff Springs Hotel (full page) 

Lookout Banff-Jasper Highway / Picnic with a view at Waterton Lakes National Park.

Saskatchewan branded as “Land of the last frontier” is where there’s fishing, hunting, swimming, boating, camping, hiking, golf, tennis and riding.” Images include Qu’Appelle Valley, public gardens (Regina), picnicking (Lake Waskesiu), golf (Prince Albert Park) and boating (unnamed river/lake).

Scene in the North Saskatchewan parklands (full page) 

Golf at Prince Albert National Park 

Manitoba is branded as “Inside the rim of Adventure” (whatever that means). The entire text is focused on fishing and hunting with no mention of Winnipeg as a tourist destination. But, it does point out that “the adventurous, if they have a special licence, can hunt the belugas and great white whales of Hudson Bay – boats and harpoons are supplied at Churchill and the big mammals sometimes weigh up to 2,000 pounds.” Images include ruins of old fortress at Churchill, a couple on the shore of Whiteshell Reserve, beach on Lake Winnipeg and shore of Clear Lake.”

On the shores of Clear Lake (full page) 

Ontario is “Canada’s All-Year Vacation Province” and includes names of the 14-tourist reception centres and how the climate ranges from Arctic temperatures in the north to peach, strawberry and tobacco growing in the extreme south, which by the way is south of northern California.  There are small photos of a Mountie and the Peace Tower in Ottawa, swimming in a quiet lake, sentry at Kingston’s Fort Henry, Niagara Falls and a “Niagara Peninsula blossom queen. No mention of Toronto - how can that be?

Full page image for Ontario 

When autumn paints Ontario woodlands / Summer sunning at a quiet lake

Quebec is “Canada’s French Heritage” that offers “vacation charm with a French-Canadian accent, exhilarating scenery, Scandinavian-type skiing as well as hunting and fishing.  Quebec City is North America’s only walled city and cosmopolitan Montreal is the largest in all Canada, as well as being the world’s greatest inland port.”  Images include a cruise ship passing Chateau Frontenac, looking out over the city of Montreal from Mount Royal, Gaspe Bay fisherman and highway along Lake Massawippi.  What? No mention of maple syrup or poutine!

Montreal lies below the lookout atop Mount Royal 

New Brunswick is branded as “Canada’s Unspoiled Province by the Sea” with more information about fishing, beach colonies and a quick mention of Magnetic Hill and Reversing Falls. Images include a woman sitting on the edge of canoe, salmon fishing in the Miramichi River, fishing smacks at Caraquet, fine game bird shooting and Bay of Fundy. 

Autumn comes to the St. John River Valley (full page image) 

“Canada’s Ocean Playground” is Nova Scotia’s brand, “where every village has a story and usually there is a historic background to the tale.”  Visitors who stay for more than a few days are eligible for the ‘Order of the Good Cheer’ North America’s first social club formed in 1606 by Samuel de Champlain.”  Images are of the beach at Ingonish, landing a giant tuna at Wedgeport and small sailboats in North West Arm in Halifax.

The North West Arm at Halifax (full page) 

A giant tuna is landed at Wedgeport / On the beach at Ingonish, looking towards Cape Smoky

Prince Edward Island is “Canada’s Garden Island Province” with “specialties of potato growing and oyster farming and where a lack of heavy industry have kept it from being better known.” (I am not making this stuff up; this is their promotional material.) There are photos of Parliament Buildings, silks and sulkies, north shore beach, Keppoch Beach and rural countryside.

Two-page spread promoting Prince Edward Island 

Lastly, Newfoundland is “Canada’s Newest Province” which in 1951 was a big deal as it just became the 10th province in 1949. There is a whole paragraph on St. John’s history and the city’s role in the American War of Independence, War of 1812 and World War II. The text ends with “The Canadian dollar has been the accepted currency in Newfoundland since 1894.”  Images include a fishing cove, Gander airport, lumber mill (Corner Brook) and scenic highway on the Humber River. I can’t believe there is no mention of icebergs or a photo of one.

Scene along the Humber River (full page) 

Lumber mills at Corner Brook / S.S.Gulfport nearing Newfoundland shores / Gander Airport

Lumber mills at Corner Brook / S.S.Gulfport nearing Newfoundland shores / Gander Airport

Last Word

If you found this blog insightful, you will definitely want to read CANADA Vacations Unlimited Part 2 (later this week), which will look at how Canada’s Travel Bureau promoted National Parks, Vacation Highways, Fishing, Canoeing, Camping, Swimming, Relaxing, Shrines and Historic Sites to Americans.  You will be surprised, maybe even shocked at how we branded shopping in Canadian shopping.

If you like this blog, you might like:

CANADA Vacations Unlimited 1951 (Part 2) 

Cities of Opportunity: Calgary/Hamilton 

Understanding Calgary's DNA


Myth of Excellence

Editor's Note: Earlier this week I participated in a twitter debate about the importance of striving for excellence in city building with two Councillors and several twitter followers.  It all started when I questioned the need strive for excellence in "urban design" with projects like Paskapoo Slopes, when so much of master planning is subjective and changes over time. I became the lone wolf in the debate which went on for several hours.

Afterwards I started thinking about the book "Myth of Excellence" I had read several years ago and wondered if I could find my book report.  Not only did I find the book report, but also my Calgary Herald column I wrote on the this very enlightening book, so I thought I'd post it for you to read and comment on. 

Myth of Excellence (Calgary Herald)

In 2001, Fred Crawford and Ryan Mathews published “Myth of Excellence” that recommended businesses should not get caught up in the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of their business. Their research showed companies that pursue excellence at everything ended up not being “world-class” at anything. Their research recommended businesses focus on being excellent in one key management area, above average in one or two other areas and just average for others areas.  It was their conclusion that it is a myth that you have to be excellent at everything to succeed!   

What has this got to do with cities you ask? Personally, I think a lot.  Too many cities are trying to be “world-class” or “best of class” in too many areas. Too often you hear politicians and special interest advocates say – we must have “world-class” architecture, parks, sports and recreation facilities, tourist attractions, airports, roads, transit, bike paths, libraries or recycling programs.   Too often we are commissioning “Best Practices” studies which then leads to Best Practices Syndrome. 

Today we seem obsessed with city ranking. Every week there seems to be a new ranking - which city is ranked highest for liveability or walkability, which is the most attractive to the creative class, families or retirees, which city is the most affordable or most expensive, which is the most wired or has the lowest taxes, which is most business friendly. These rankings are then used by politicians and advocates to lobby for more funding to improve their cities ranking. Note - Calgary often ranks very high in most world-wide city reports, but it is not usually at the top, except for being the world's cleanest city!  

Rather than beating ourselves up because we don’t have the best recycling program, the best bike lanes, the best snow removal program or the best contemporary architecture. We should accept that these are not our priorities.  Calgary can’t be all things to all people.  As the book states,  we only need to be average in most areas and excellent in one or two.  

Let’s not fool ourselves, people live in Calgary because there are lots of jobs here, in particular private sector jobs, not because we have the best library, art gallery or bike paths. Yes there are nice to have but the key to Calgary’s past and future success will be our ability to foster an environment that will continue to attract business investment to Calgary.  For example, Calgary doesn’t have the history, climate, geography or proximity to major markets to be a major year-round tourist city.  

In many ways Calgary is still a frontier city, looking for pioneers who will come and invest in the development of our natural resources for profit. As such Calgary, must be focused on being a “Business First” community.  Calgary must be excellent at Economic Development. 

We also need to be above average in the area of City Planning. A rapidly growing boom/bust city like Calgary must have a robust planning department able to meet the needs of a very diverse and discerning population.  Planning that is decisive, that can conduct the analysis and consultation to make good decisions quickly re: suburban planned communities, new urban villages, urban renewal programs, business parks, downtown office developments, road and transit planning. All these things must happen at the same time in a complex and coordinated manner that will enhance the quality of life for Calgarians.  

New Rocky Ridge Recreation Centre 

Excellence in Parks & Recreation 

One of Calgary’s key differentiators should be our Parks/Recreation.  I think these two areas go hand-in-hand in a young family-oriented city like Calgary. In the summer parks of all sizes and in the winter indoor recreational facilities are critical to making Calgary an attractive place for  families to live.  Calgary should be a “Families First” community (that doesn't mean we ignore singles, DINKS and seniors).

Calgary’s moniker should be “The City of Parks and Pathways” as we have an amazing collection of parks from Fish Creek to Nose Hills, from Stampede Park to Heritage Park, from Prince’s Island to the Calgary Zoo.  Calgary is blessed with one of the world’s best recreational pathway systems and one of the most unique urban pedestrian systems - +15 walkway – both need to be celebrated.   

From a recreational perspective, yes we have a lot of needs and wishes – more arenas, more soccer fields - but we also have a lot to be thankful for like our excellent recreation centres.  We also have some very unique recreational facilities – Olympic Oval (speed skating), Canada Olympic Park (luge, bobsled, centre of excellent for Winter Olympic athletes), Spruce Meadows (equestrian), Calgary Polo Grounds and Riley Park (cricket). 

New SETON Recreation Centre 

When do we just say "No!"

In all other areas of city management we just need to be average, OK, good enough. We have to make choices we simply can’t be excellent at everything. When do we say - “No?”  When do we say - “enough is enough?”

Do we really need a new airport tunnel that won’t be needed for several years and some say will never be needed with a $300+ million price tag? Do we really need two iconic pedestrian bridges at $25 million each over the Bow River? Do we need a signature Central Library at another $200+ million?  Do we need a comprehensive commuter bike path system for a few thousand people most who will use it for only six months of the year at $28 million?  Just asking!

Calgary Herald, February, 2011

New Quarry Park Recreation Centre 

Last Word

This Herald Column was written in early 2011, while the airport tunnel debate was top of mind. Since then we have completed or started construction on most of the projects listed above.  At the same time we have also started construction on four new recreation centres - Rocky Ridge (opens in 2017, cost $191M), SETON (opens in 2018, cost $200M), Quarry Park (open in 2016, cost $63M) and Great Plains (opens in 2016, cost $33M). In addition, the has created several new parks and renovated others both in the suburbs and City Centre - Barb Scott Park, ENMAX Park, St. Patrick's Island Park, Bowness Park and Ralph Klein Park, as well as the 132km Rotary Mattamy Greenway.  

Collectively, these investments enhances Calgary's reputation as "The City of Parks & Recreation.   

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Calgary: Needs vs Wants?

Calgary: Preservation vs Prosperity Perdicament

Calgary: The City of Parks & Recreation 

Calgary's Italian Supermarkets create urban buzz

Calgary long history of having a strong Italian community presence (Bridgeland being called “Little Italy”) has diminished over the last few years as Italian bakeries, restaurants, grocers and old world backyard vegetable gardens have been largely replaced by a ethnic and hipster cafes, diners and organic grocers. Yet, evidence of Bridgeland’s Italian heritage can be found at LDV Pizza Bar and La Brezza Ristorante.

Also, just north of Bridgeland sit two of Calgary’s longstanding Italian institutions - Italian Super Market (265 20th Ave NE) and Lina’s Market & Cappuccino Bar (2202 Centre St NE), two destination spots for for foodies for decades.

The rain had put a bit of a damper on the outdoor patio as we arrived. 

The cafe/restaurant area was popular with people of all ages.

However, there is a new Italian kid on the block, and it is on the border of Calgary’s hidden gem communities of Acadia and Willow Park - Spinelli’s Italian Centre Shop at 9919 Fairmount Drive SE.  Opening in what had been a Safeway, then a Salvation Army Thrift store and most recently a Sobeys, it is now an urban grocery store, café and pizza destination. We happened upon it late one Sunday afternoon when we needed to hunt down a baguette to take to a realized dinner at a friends’ home in Acadia. So we thought we’d check it out.

Impressive

Wall of cheese 

Impressed and impressive are how we described our first reactions. Love the large front, garage-size windows that open up to the sidewalk creating an attractive café ambience with colourful umbrellas and tables.  We were impressed at how many people were shopping, eating and chatting at 5:45 pm on a Sunday. The wall of cheese is impressive, as was the wall of cherries. 

As I was taking pictures, a staff member in the produce department came up to me and said, “You should come back tomorrow. We are getting 200 cases of figs!” Impressive.

The Price Is Right

I was also impressed that bananas (my bell weather item for price checks) were 10 cents less than Safeway and Calgary Co-op.  We also noticed two-for-one pricing on their in-store bread, hotdog and hamburger buns. 

Gelato display looked very tempting.

The deli was busy and visually looked impressive (I am not the shopper in the family and I am in no way a food expert). I do love my desserts and the bakery was very impressive, both breads and sweets. It also included a small gelato stand - two scoops for $3.75; this brought back memories of Florence where I went out every night for a stroll and a two-scoop tub of gelato.

I asked a young couple if I could take a picture of their pizza as it looked yummy, they agreed and without prompting said it was “very good.”

Everybody loves pizza.

If you believe the comments on the website there are lots of people driving from the north just for the sandwiches. 

Start Up Hiccups

When we got to our foodie friends’ home for dinner we told them how impressed we were with the new Italian Centre. They too thought it was impressive, not only in the quality of product but the selection, saying they could probably do all their shopping there except for paper goods.  We made tentative plans to meet up, and check out the pizza. 

A few weeks later, unfortunately, our friends “trial pizza run” was less-than-ideal as the service was lacking, as was the staff's knowledge of what they were serving.  

However, we are all confident that this was just a “start-up, hic-up” soon corrected as owner Teresa Spinelli is committed to creating a quality experience.  And Spinelli is no beginner grocer; her father started the Italian Centre Shop as a family business in Edmonton in the ‘50s and now has three stores in that city. When visited the one in Edmonton’s Little Italy last year, our first thought was “we need more shops like this in Calgary.”  It was very impressive!

This employee was very excited I was taking her picture. Gotta love the enthusiasm. 

Is that a pie I see? I love pie. I would have bought the pie, but I was told that we were having pie for dinner that night. 

More, Please!

Now with one Italian Centre Shop, I can’t help but wonder when Calgary might get more.  From comments on their website, it looks like a NW location would be very popular.  Maybe the new University District for a sister shop?

Currie Barracks in the SW quadrant would also be a great spot (or perhaps in Marda Loop). So too might the Italian Centre Shop be perfect for East Village, but I expect with the mega Loblaws store that is not going to happen.  It would have been a great tenant for the Simmons Building with all of the new residents moving into East Village later this summer.

Eau Claire Market would be another good downtown location.  And of course, Bridgeland would be a logical site - maybe in Remington’s new Meredith Block with its easy access from Memorial Drive and Edmonton Trail.

We were impressed by the number of Sunday shoppers. 

The produce looked fresh and well priced. 

Last Word

It is great to see how Calgary’s established communities like Acadia and Willow Park are evolving into interesting 21st century communities with shops like Italian Centre Shop, Calgary Farmers’ Market and the Willow Park Shopping Center anchored by Canada’s largest wine and spirit store.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Top ten places to eat like a local in Cowtown.

Calgary: North America's newest cafe city?

Flaneuring in Florence: Markets/Streets

Chicago: Lincoln Park Whole Foods Experience

Storm Before The Calm or Vertical Rivers?

Guest blog by: Keith Walker of Peak Aerials

"Vertical Rivers." Too learn more read blog below.

A couple of interesting weather days in Calgary last Tuesday and Wednesday, to say the least!  On Tuesday evening my wife, Sue, and I decided on a little storm chasing excursion just north of the city, from east of Balzac and west to highway 766.  The storms stayed safely north of us, but we were treated to some spectacular views.  The yellow canola fields glowing in the evening light were the perfect foreground to the ominously dark and powerful storm clouds.  Once the storms started dissipating, we were treated to a smorgasbord of different colours and textures.

Incoming storm clouds, near Balzac 

Incoming storm clouds, near Balzac 

Storm forming, near Balzac

Something is brewing, near Balzac

Wednesday morning, I had a photo flight booked into Calgary from 10:30am to 1:30pm.  The weather was perfect at the High River Airport when we took off, but we could already see large storm clouds gathering to the north.  My pilot and I decided to head into the city and we managed to get all of my sites flown before turning tail to beat the storms just after noon.

Downtown before the storm.

Southeast Calgary before the storm.

These passengers are in for an exciting ride!

Although it was exciting from the air, the drive back from High River to Calgary was when things got really interesting.  Entering the city from the south was like watching a Hollywood blockbuster Armageddon scene in real life.  I exited off Deerfoot at Cranston Boulevard (South Health Campus) and took a few photos, including some of airliners trying to navigate to YYC.

Storm over South Health Campus 

Strange storm cloud over Auburn Bay

Something is happening here, intersection of Hwy 567 and 766

I continued to the SE corner of the Stoney Trail ring road to watch the memorizing sight of rivers flowing up the sides of the storm cell.  For ten minutes, the immense power of the updrafts sucked water off the sloughs and created vertical waterfalls on the outside of the storm cell. I have seen lots of waterfalls, but have never seen them flowing up!

Ten minutes later, everything calmed down and the grand show was over.  That evening, I downloaded my photos and knew that I wanted to create an artwork called “Vertical Rivers”.

The original photo of the vertical river. 

About Peak Aerials

The aerial viewpoint is one that captures the interest and imagination of the viewer.  Peak Aerials, (formerly Peak Experience Imagery), is an aerial photography service company that has completed over 1000 aerial photo missions since 1999.  Their clients are a diverse mix of multi-national corporations, small businesses and government agencies who have found that aerial photos are a valuable business resource for communicating, documenting and promoting with clarity and ease.  While based in Calgary, Peak Aerials has scheduled and custom flights across Canada.   Learn more:Peak Aerials

Chance Meetings: Garden, Volleyball, Sidewalk

One of the things we love to do in the summer is to go flaneuring in the evening and see what we can find in our extended neighbourhood.  This week we headed west, across the Crowchild Divide at 5th Avenue NW and quickly encountered a Little League baseball game about to start so we stopped and watched for bit. 

Soon our feet were itching to move along, so we continued west where we came to Parkdale Community Centre. There we noticed the usually dormant outdoor hockey rink full of young people jumping around. As we got closer, it turns out the rink had been converted into four beach volleyball courts.  How inventive! I was impressed; love to see mixed-uses of public spaces for year-round use. 

Next our eye was attracted to the adjacent new community garden, now in its second season with two rows of lush plant-filled raised gardens boxes, an herb garden and three men constructing a large shed. As I was taking pictures, a gentleman approached me and humbly suggested said I take photos of his garden, pointing to his backyard that faces onto the community garden.

Parkdale's Community Garden is a great addition to their community block that includes the community centre, playing fields, outdoor hockey rink and beach volleyball court and a wonderful train-themed playground. 

Parkdale's community garden's lush vegetable plots.

Parkdale's community garden's lush vegetable plots.

Off the beaten alley 

Never passing up an opportunity to explore something, “off the beaten alley” I headed with him. He immediately told me he was growing more vegetables than the entire community garden.  Being a “Doubting Dick,” my skeptism quickly turned to awe when I saw his backyard garden.

In half of the yard of a typical inner city lot, he had arguably the most intense garden I have seen in my life. His 90 hills of potatoes will produce over 700 pounds of potatoes.  He estimates his garden will also produce, 300 cobs of corn and enough beets for 50 quarts of pickled beets (yellow, orange and purple).  He’ll also be harvesting two types of lettuce, 100s of cucumbers, several 5-gallon pails full of both peas and beans. In addition, he has various types of melons and a healthy raspberry patch.  Now, he does have help – his 98-year old mother who lives with him, helps with the garden and is in charge of canning 50+ quarts of tomatoes.

I sheepishly asked his name and without hesitation he said, “David K Weisbeck, its German.”  I asked if I could use his name in a blog and take a picture and he said, “OK” then shared some family history.

Turns out his family have been urban farmers in Parkdale for generations. They used to own a lot of the land around the block that is now the Parkdale Community Centre. For him, urban farming is a year-round hobby that starts in February when he starts many of plants that he grows from seeds and continues to the fall harvest and food preservation. 

I asked him if he ever goes on vacation and he said he couldn’t remember one, though he did admit, “I take off November and December because I have to focus on getting my 26,000 Christmas lights up!”  Dave was one proud man! We parted ways with me making a promise to drop off a print copy of the blog, as he doesn’t bother with modern technology.

Dave's backyard urban farm

Dave's garden is full of different types of squash. 

Dave with his friend in his garden. 

2-year olds 

Wow, how much fun was that chance encounter!  And while I was off with David, Brenda was involved in trying to catch a runaway dog (it turns out, according to its owner that a 2-year old “let the dog out). Happy to report owner and dog safely reconnected.

We then headed back to watch some beach volleyball where we met cute (big blue eyes and blonde curly hair) 2-year old Isla and her Mom who had driven from Queensland to watch her dad play. 

Heading towards home, we noticed a young couple out for a walk who looked a bit puzzled. I ask, “Can I help you?”  They said, “No, we are just looking for sidewalk markers.”  Too funny, as bunch us history/Twitter nerds had been tweeting about sidewalk markers (they are officially called sidewalk stamps) just a couple of months ago including a flurry of photos of different stamps from various communities.

Given they lived in West Hillhurst I told them they should check out the unique Saint Barnabas Church stamp and the 1912 stamp at the corner of 5th Ave and 11th St NW.  As we moved on the young women said "what a great chance meeting!"

Winter outdoor hockey rink becomes a summer outdoor beach volleyball facility in Parkdale.

One of Calgary's oldest sidewalk stamps in Hillhurst.

Since this photo was taken the sidewalk has been repaired, but city work crews carefully preserved this stamp. If you look carefully at the top you can see two circles and lines radiating outwards as if from the heavens above. Wouldn't it be great to have more art and names in our contemporary sidewalks.  Would make a great public art project, don't you think? 

Last Word

You gotta love it when you go for a walk and you get to meet interesting people.

It seems to me every community in Calgary these days is building a bigger and better community garden - some even have orchards.  I am most familiar with the three along 5th Avenue NW – Hillhurst Community Centre, West Hillhurst Community Centre and the newest one at Parkdale Community Centre.  

They are indeed a catalyst for fostering a greater sense of community letting strangers from Acadia to Silver Springs and beyond get to know each other. They are also a great source of community pride!

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Wake up and smell the flowers in Silver Springs

Flaneuring Fun along 19th St NW

Ten Commandments of a Flaneur

Peyto: Calgary's Every Street Walker

Calgary evolving into five cities

Over the past week or so I have had several discussions with people about the pros and cons of the City of Calgary's proposed Scenario A and Scenario B changes to the existing 14 Ward boundaries.  Some see the changes as major, others as minor.  Kudos to the city for publishing the two scenarios they think would work best on their website and asking public input. 

Personally, I am thinking the two scenarios are not significantly different and that we should be looking a radical boundary changes that will significantly change how our city is governed in the future.  Here are a few other scenarios that should be considered: 

Scenario C -  The map below illustrate how the City is are monitor growth in our city and where their is land available for both residential and commercial growth.  It is interesting to note from a strategic growth planning perspective the City has created eight sectors based on several common denominators, not 14. Therefore, why not have just 8 Wards with boundaries that match these sectors?  

Scenario D - Perhaps we should even go further and develop just five Wards - Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, Northwest and Centre.  We could have two Councillors for each ward for a total of 10, four less than the current 14.  

Scenario E  - We could be even more radical and have no Wards and just elect 10 Councillors at large. Perhaps this would help remove the urban/suburban split that exists in Council today as all of the members would have city-wide mandates, versus the special interests of their Ward. 

I am thinking a few more scenarios would create much more debate and perhaps result in real change. 

These sectors are based upon general planning, housing markets and servicing criteria. The suburban sectors have strong relationships to future servicing and infrastructure requirements. (City of Calgary, Suburban Residential Growth 2015 - 2019 Report).

Current residential population and employment in each of the City's geomatic sectors. 

In thinking about this issue, I remembered a column I did for the Calgary Herald back in 2011 about "Calgary evolving into five cities." I have reprinted it below as it is no longer available on the Herald's website.  I hope that you will find it thought provoking. 

"A Tale of Five Cities"

By Richard White, Calgary Herald June 11, 2011

One of Calgary’s advantages during the past 50 years has been its ability to annex land and surrounding communities as it grows.  Examples include Forest Lawn and Midnapore in 1961, or Bowness in 1963.

As a result, Calgary has been able to evolve as a single city with a healthy inner city and suburban neighbourhoods, rather than a fragmented urban region such as Edmonton with large, suburban edge cities (OK, Calgary may not be perfect, but it’s better than most.) This is not the case for most North American cities.

Fragmentation of North American cities

In most cases, the original city was surrounded by smaller towns with their own town council, as well as fire, water, safety and school systems. During the past 50 years, these small “edge towns” have mostly become large, independent cities able to offer lower taxes and housing because they didn’t have transit systems, social programs or an aging infrastructure. This resulted in more and more residents and businesses choosing to locate to such places. For example, in 1961, the City of Vancouver’s population was 384,522, with a regional population of 827,000.

Today, the lower mainland of B.C. has a population of 2.5 million divided into 21 municipalities, with Vancouver representing only 23 per cent of the metro population -down from 46 per cent in 1961. On the other hand, Calgary’s population in 1961 was 249,641, or 89 per cent of the regional population of 279,000. Today, the City of Calgary’s population is 1,071,515, or 81 per cent of the regional population.

During the past 50 years, Airdrie has grown to a city of 39,822, Okotoks to 23,201, Cochrane to 15,424 and Strathmore to 12,139 -but they are still, for the most part, bedroom communities of Calgary. In the past, this growth has been mostly residential. However, more and more these edge cities are experiencing retail and industrial growth as a result of no business taxes and lower land costs.

Calgary will not be able to annex these cities as they did in the past, which could lead to fragmented development in the future.  As Calgary has grown, even internally, its residents have begun to think less and less like those of a unified city and more and more like a fragmented one.

One of the unique features of Calgary is that despite living in a city of more than a million, for the most part people live in one of four quadrants. If you divide them into 250,000 people apiece, that’s roughly a city the size of Saskatoon or Victoria for each quadrant.

Many Calgarians living in the northwest never cross the Bow River except to go downtown to work. Similarly, those who live in the southwest also never cross the Bow River except to get to the airport. More and more Calgarians are identifying with the quadrant they live in.

Downtown is an island of skyscrapers in a sea of low rise buildings.  In this photo you can see how the Bow River divides the western half of the city into north and south quadrants. (photo credit Peak Aerials).

A City Divided?

When it comes to new infrastructure, the city is currently very divided. The airport tunnel, though an issue for businesses and residents in the northeast, is a nonissue for the rest of the city. The southeast LRT extension, though a key issue for southeast downtown commuters, isn’t an issue for southeasterners who don’t work downtown -nor for those who live in the city’s other three quadrants. The ring road connection is a key issue for those in the southwest now that they have their LRT connection to downtown, but less so for others.

More and more, Calgary is a city divided. We are now living in a “what about me” (WAM) society. Most 20th century cities -including Calgary -are now dealing with problems based on that century’s downtowncentric model of planning cities.  In other words, downtown was made the focal point for al commercial, cultural and civic activities, as well as roads and transit.

While there are few cities in the world as downtowncentric as Calgary, our downtown struggles to thrive in the evenings and weekends when commuters are back home in the suburbs. And while downtown is still Calgary’s economic engine, other parts of the city are developing their own character, charm and culture.

Another problem is that while downtown remains important to the everyday lives of 20 per cent of Calgarians, for the other 80 per cent, it is not part of their urban experience on a monthly, quarterly, or for some even an annual basis.

Fish Creek Park divides the communities north and south of this huge provincial park within the city limits. 

Weaselhead Flats and the Glenmore Reservoir serve as a natural dividing line between the inner city and established communities to the south. 

I see Calgary quickly evolving into five distinct “cities,” each with their own economic base, amenities and culture: the Learning City, the Airport City, the Playground City, the Corporate City and the Healthcare/Rail City.

Five Future Cities?

I thought it might be interesting to look at how Calgary might evolve over the next 50 years.

The Learning City

This is primarily the northwest quadrant of the city running from the Bow River to the city’s northern limits, and from Deerfoot Trail to the city’s western limits. Its employment centres are the University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre (teaching hospital), SAIT Polytechnic and Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD). This is where the majority of professors, instructors, doctors, nurses and other staff live, work and play.

It has two major parks: Nose Hill and Bowness Park. Recreationally, it has Canada Olympic Park and Shouldice Athletic Park, as well as several major recreation centres. It has more than five million square feet of retail, including Market Mall, Northland Village mall, North Hill Mall, Brentwood Mall and Crowfoot Power Centre.

It is also home to Calgary’s first urban village - Kensington, with its cafe culture and Plaza Theatre. About 325,000 people live in the Learning City.

University District will become a new urban village on the west side of the University of Calgary campus. (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

SAIT campus (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

University of Calgary campus (photo credit peak aerials) 

Foothill Medical Centre (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

The Airport City

This is basically the northeast quadrant of the city, an area from east of Deerfoot Trail and north of 17th Avenue S.E.

The airport is the key differentiator for this “city.” and the driver for its economy is the almost 40-million square feet of industrial space and six-million square feet of suburban office space surrounding the airport.

It is home to about 230,000 Calgarians, who not only work there but shop (International Avenue, Marborough Mall, Sunridge Mall and CrossIron Mills could be included as part of the Airport City) and play (Rotary Park and Elliston Park) there.

The Airport City could also be called our multicultural city.

Calgary International Airport (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

New suburban residential development at the edge of the city. (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

The Playground City

This is all communities south the City Centre and Mcleod Trail. It is where the majority of corporate Calgary lives and plays. It is home to Chinook Centre, Calgary’s largest shopping centre, as well as IKEA, Southcentre, WestHills and Shawnessy Power Centres -almost 10 million square feet of retail space. It is served by two legs of the LRT.

It is also home to amenities such as the Westside, Southland and Trico recreation centres, as well as Glenmore Reservoir, Weaselhead, Fish Creek and Heritage Parks, along with Spruce Meadows. Surrounded by golf courses at its edges, it also has three private clubs -Calgary Golf and Country Club, Earl Grey, and Canyon Meadows -within its boundaries.

It has two non-retail employment centers -Mount Royal University/Westmount Office Park and Manchester industrial area.

About 400,000 people live in our Playground City.

The Corporate (Centre) City

This is the area from Inglewood to Sunalta, from Crescent Heights to Roxboro (in other words, the Bow/Elbow River Valley.) It overlaps with the Learning City on the north side of the river. Not only is it the economic engine for Calgary and one of the top economic engines for Canada. It is the heart, soul and face of Calgary.

It is home to Calgary's truly urban districts -  Kensington Village, Uptown 17th, Stephen Avenue Walk, Design District, 4th Street and Inglewood Village.

It is also home to more than 60 million square feet of offices, hotels, retail, restaurants, attractions and condos. It is one of the most densely developed areas in North America.

It is Calgary’s corporate, cultural and civic headquarters and home to most of our cultural, festival and sporting events. It is home to Stampede Park, Shaw Millennium Park and Prince’s Island Park, as well as signature recreation facilities such as Talisman Centre, Bankers Hall Club and Eau Claire Y.

More than 150,000 Calgarians come to work here each workday, with about 70,000 calling it home.

Municipal Building with old City Hall (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

Shaw Millennium Park & Mewata Armories (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

New condo in downtown's West End (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

The Healthcare / Railway City

This is Calgary’s newest city. Located in the southeast, it will soon be dominated by the new mega-South Health Campus in Seton.

It is also Calgary’s largest industrial area, with more than 45.9 million square feet of industrial space and more than three million square feet of suburban office space, including the new Quarry Park development.

Existing recreational and park amenities include Calgary Soccer Centre, Fish Creek Park and Carburn Park. It is currently home to about 75,000 people but it is expected to grow to more than 120,000 by 2020.

South Health Campus anchors the new SETON community which will create a new city with in the city complete with its own downtown. (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

Quarry Park office, retail and residential development (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

Fish Creek Library (Peak Aerials)

Conclusion

Cities are a human creation. They are part of the ongoing human adventure. They are a work in progress. We are still experimenting. Calgary needs to rethink the North American city of the 21st century.

We need to stop trying to Europeanize our city and develop a winter/prairie urban model that embraces the car, transit, pedestrians and bikes.

Calgary could be a leader in the development of new urban models, rather than imitating what cities did 100 years ago.

We need to look inward, not outward, and start thinking BIG and planning in terms of how can we foster the development of five distinct sustainable Calgary cities - each with their own quality of life, their own sense of place, and their own mix of employment, residential, retail/restaurant, parks, recreation and cultural centres.

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Starbucks Tasting Room vs Simmons Building

In December 2014, Starbucks opened its “coffee cathedral” in the former circa 1920s Packard automobile dealership building in Seattle’s tony Capitol Hill neighbourhood.  It was designed to roast and showcase Starbucks’ small batch, reserved coffees.   The 15,600 square foot Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room (SRRTR) building has quickly become a mecca for local and international coffee cynics and zealots.

Not to be outdone, in June 2015, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation opened up its “flagship foodie fun spot” in the 1912 Alaska Bedding Company (ABC) warehouse building aka Simmons Building (in 1919 the Simmons Bedding Company purchased the building from ABC).  The 16,000 square foot building has quickly become the epicenter of Calgary’s growing café and food culture and could well be the project that puts Calgary on the international coffee/food map.

Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room in Seattle.

Simmons Building facing East Village's Riverwalk. 

Let the competition begin!

As one would expect, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room (SRRTR) dwarfs the Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters’ space in the Simmons building.  While both have roasterie machinery, SRRTR has the look and feel of brewpub - lots of shiny machinery, an amphitheater space for viewing and learning about the bean-to-brew process.  Yet there is still a vibrant café atmosphere with lots of seating, huge windows to watch the “sidewalk ballet” that invites you to linger. There is even a library space if a quiet space to read or have a small meeting is what you’re after. We loved the idea that you could get a flight of coffees (three brews for $15) like you might have at a wine bar or craft brewery. 

Compare that to Phil & Sebastian’s café and coffee where the experience didn’t differ significantly from any other P&S café or other Calgary cafes. Advantage: SRRTR.

SRRTR looks like a science lab.

Seattle hipsters tasting the coffee, food and treats at SRRTR.

Calgarians lined up for their coffee at Phil & Sebastians.

SRRTR has its own Coffee Ambassadors – and there were many - young coffee experts from Starbuck cafes around the world who greet you at the door, find you a place to sit, bring you free water, answer your questions and engage you in a discussion.  On the flip side, Simmons Building seems a bit confusing as you have to line up to buy your coffee in one place, then line up again to buy your dessert, salad or sandwich at another vendor in the building.  Advantage SRRTR.

While SRRTR’s focus is definitely on coffee, it does have a Tom Douglas (Seattle celebrity restaurateur) Serious Pie restaurant on site, which is well known in Seattle for its pizzas and desserts.  Similarly, the Simmons Building is home to Charbar owned by Calgary’s celebrity restaurant owners Connie DeSousa and John Jackson.  I would have to award the restaurant advantage to Calgary’s Charbar with its more interesting menu, which offers up ocean, prairie and local garden ingredients.  It also offers a vegetarian small plates options. Advantage: Simmons Building.

Charbar restaurant in the Simmons Building.

The bar at Charbar. 

Tom Douglas’ Serious Pie pizza restaurants are also well known in Seattle for their desserts but my mouth still waters whenever I think of the Sidewalk Citizen’s Bourbon Bread Pudding and Earl Gray Apple cake we had a week ago.  Aviv Fried, owner of Sidewalk Citizen quietly putting Calgary on the map, has amazing sourdough bread and pastries.  Advantage: Simmons Building.

Sidewalk Citizen bakery at the Simmons Building.

From an overall design perspective, I loved the open, transparent, sunlight feel of SRTR over the Simmons Building that seems dark, closed and confined.  Both buildings have their historical exteriors preserved but there is little sense of history in the contemporary warehouse interiors. Simmons Building wins the design competition with its rooftop patio offer spectacular views of the city skyline and river valley. Advantage: Simmons Building.

SRRTR is a bright and airy space with lots of places to sit and chat, people watch or learn about coffee. It is part laboratory and part classroom. 

The Library at SRRTR

If you like to shop, SRRTR offers a small retail area with all kinds of coffee paraphernalia.  Simmons Building has no retail for those would need their shopping fix. Advantage: SRTR.

The retail space at SRRTR with the Serious Pizza in the background.

In the real estate world, it is all about “location, location, location.” While SRRTR has a great urban location at the junction of downtown and Capitol Hill, it is no match for the Simmons Building’s location on the East Village Riverwalk, next to the Bow River, near the soon-to-be best new urban park in North America - St. Patrick’s Island and what is shaping up to be one of North America’s finest early 21st century urban villages – East Village. Advantage: Simmons Building.

Simmons Building roof-top pato with Bow River and East Village Riverwalk below. (photo credit @GiantBlueRing

Simmons Building rooftop patio. (photograph by Colin Way, courtesy of CMLC) 

My Last Word

Yes, as a Calgarian I am biased.  Yes, I did love the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room and would recommend you check it out if you are in Seattle. It is one of the most welcoming and friendly places I have visited in a long time with a great buzz to it.  But when push comes to shove, I feel the Simmons Building offers a more interesting and diverse urban experience for tourists and locals alike.  

My only wish is that by next summer, Calgary’s own Village Ice Cream has a space in the Simmons Building so I can buy a cone while wandering the Riverwalk and St. Patrick’s Island.

John Gilchrist's Last Word

In chatting with John Gilchrist (CBC Radio One's Calgary Eyeopener food critic for 33 years, best selling author and international food writer and judge) while I was putting the final touches on this blog - he would argue Calgary is already on the North American coffee/culinary map. He reminded me Calgary baristas have won four of the last five national barista championships and Ben Put of Monogram Coffee just finished 3rd in the World Championships. As well, Phil &Sebastian's coffee has been sold nationally for a few years now and is respected internationally.

On the food scene, he emphatically stated "Calgary has become a culinary destination not only nationally but internationally. One small example is that the US-based Women Chefs and Restaurateurs Association is holding its annual conference in Calgary this fall, the first time it’s been held outside the USA."

Insofar as the Simmons building is concerned, he too would like to see Village Ice Cream join the family. John feels, "the Simmons building showcases three of Calgary’s fine culinary entrepreneurs, exposing them to more than the usual foodie cognoscenti. That’s great but we not always want a full meal or even a coffee in the afternoon. But ice cream is always welcome."

He added, "the Simmons is one of the most notable development in Calgary’s culinary scene I’ve ever seen. The partnership between the City and these three entrepreneurs is a fine example of private and public enterprise. And especially impactful in the development of the new East Village neighbourhood."

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Stanley Glacier Hike

I am always looking to try new things.  For several years now, I have been hinting to Peter Snell, Past President of the ESSO Annuitant (Pensioner’s) Hiking Club that I would go on a hike with him as he is always teasing me about these fun weekly hikes he goes on with his retired buddies.  What he didn’t tell me was that I had to sign a waiver (after reading their 30+ page hiker’s policies and guidelines document), and I could be on a bus with 55 other people, driven by a driver who is really a realtor (who I actually know – what Jonathan Crawford won’t do to get a listing)!

Starting in May, we tried to find a date that would work. Conflicting schedules meant we missed the Porcupine Hills in Longview area hike, as well as the Badlands in Drumheller one. Finally, the Stanley Glacier hike on July 9th worked for both of us (which turned out to probably be the hottest day of the year at +33 on a hike with few trees).

Peter sent me the trail notes ahead of time.  It didn’t look too bad - 10.4 km long with an elevation gain of 650 meters.  How hard can that be?  After all I walk about 7 km 3 to 5 times a week at the golf course and 650 meters is just a long par 5 on a golf course. 

Stanley Glacier with two waterfalls that are the beginning of Stanley Creek.  We hiked up to the top of the first waterfall. Note the loose and uneven rocks in the right corner - I am surprised someone didn't at least sprain their ankle. 

Peter carefully negotiating his way down to the base camp which was the green patch you can see in the distance on the right side half way up the photo.

Peter carefully negotiating his way down to the base camp which was the green patch you can see in the distance on the right side half way up the photo.

At the beginning of the hike there is a wonderful combination of old burnt stumps, new growth and colourful wild flowers.

Sentinels of the past.

Always read the small print

Relaxing at the top of our hike enjoying the vista. 

I should have read the trail notes in more detail. The Stanley Glacier hike is pretty much a straight up and straight down hike.  There is no halfway house and no cart girl.  Yes, they take a short break after every 100 meters in elevation change, but it is at best a 5 minute one (some golfers take that long just to line up a putt) to quickly drink some water and make sure everyone is OK as our old tickers are getting a workout (they even have walkie talkies with them to keep in touch in case there’s a problem).

Though I rarely sweat playing golf even when it is +30 out, I was sweating like I was in a sauna on this hike. Perhaps that is not surprising given there had been a forest fire many years ago and the tallest tree was maybe 4 feet (I am used to Redwood Meadows golf course where lovely tall trees provide shade when we need it (yes they can also get in the way of our shot, but that is another story).  Basically, we were in a sauna for 4+ hours, or maybe hot yoga.

If I had read trail notes, I also would have known that at the 3.4 km point the trail steepens, becomes rocky and leads to an outwash plain below a “terminal” moraine – the word terminal should have been a warning.

I made it to the top (not the first one and not the last) where everyone quickly unpacked their lunches and chowed down. No sooner had I settled down than a woman comes over and says “who wants to scramble over some rocks along a ledge to reach the base of the glacier?” I thought she said, “Scrabble” and said to Peter “let’s do it.”

Seriously, I had a look at where she was pointing and it didn’t look that tough - there was even a faint path and said to myself I didn’t come this far just to wimp out – I’m in!

In the end, only four people of the 20 or so people who made it to the “terminal” moraine wanted to go – that too should have told me something. We got about halfway up where we could get a good view of the glacier and the waterfall below and then turned back.

Nobody told me that scrambling up those loose rocks was the easy part; it is coming down that is hard.  Hey, I am a golfer; I’ve had some tough stances in the bunkers but nothing like this. I managed to get back to base camp where everyone had left without us. So, we jogged back to the parking lot, or at least it felt that way – hey it was all downhill.   I was grateful for my good friend Catherine’s advice to take the walking poles I got as a retirement gift from the Ability Hub in December. 

The base camp was a green oasis with trees, mosses and the raging Stanley Creek.

I couldn't help but wonder what indigenous people thought of this "spirit figure" on the rock wall. 

I love to bring home rock souvenirs from my hikes.  I have rocks from Newfoundland to Haida Gwaii. I was very tempted to bring this rock home, but wasn't sure if that was allowed 

I am always humbled by the raw beauty of the Rockies.

The soothing sound of falling water accompanied us for most of the hike. 

Differences & Similarities between Hiking & Golfing 

Keeping your head down in hiking is critical or you will trip and fall and surely break something (this is not cushy grass and sand; it is lots of uneven different sized sharp rocks). I think our hike was about 4 hours with 99% of the time looking at my feet and making endless decisions on where to step next so I didn’t fall and break my neck.  Did I say I had a great time?

This was my view for most of the hike.

 

Instead of handicaps like they have in golf, in hiking they rank people as A1, A2, B1, B2 or C based on how fast and far you can hike.  I am thinking golf should adopt this ranking system.  Everyone could be assigned a tee time based on how fast they play with the fastest players going out first.  This would surely end the “slow play” issues.

I think hikers should take a page out of the golfers’ handbook by dividing each hike up into 18 segments and after each segment you get a break to enjoy the vistas, take photos and have a drink.

Speaking of drinks, I think hiking would be more fun with cold beer during the hike just like in golf.  I distinctly heard one of the female hikers post-hike say “beer tastes best when it is cold and the weather is hot.”  If this is true, why wait until the end of the hike?  (Oh yea, maybe it’s because mountain hiking is dangerous, can’t drink and walk on these trails.)

Golf is way better than hiking if you like to look at the clouds, the vistas, reflections in ponds as you have lots of time to look around take photos etc. while you wait for the next foursome to tee off, hit there second shot and line up their third putt from 12 inches.  

Who left this tree stump in the middle of the trail.  Must have been the same designer as Redwood Meadows Golf course, where we have trees on the edge of the fairway and guarding the greens. 

 

Retirees who hike or golf are both the same in that they joke about looking their skill level, in hiking it is becoming an A2 after years of being an A1, while in golf it is becoming a double digit handicap after years of being a single digit or having to move up from the blue tees to the white tees. 

 

Hikers like golfers love talk about different courses they have played or would like to play. The Hikers throw out names like Edith Pass, Wind Ridge, Rockbound Lake and Paradise Valley, while golfers use names like Wolf Creek, Paradise Canyon and Shadow Mountain.  Hikers use the term “shit hikes” for those they don’t like, while golfers call courses they don’t like “gimmicky.”

 

While it looks like a lot of people heading out for the hike, we quickly thinned out as groups settled into their own pace. 

Last Word

Didn’t somebody once say “golf is a good walk spoiled by a little white ball.” I am thinking hiking is a good walk spoiled by a lot of rocks.  I am not giving up golf, but I am thinking I will add a hike or two to my monthly schedule of summer activities. Variety is the spice of life.

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Stampede 2015: Have we lost that luv'n feeling?

On Saturday (July 4th), I thought I’d head downtown and check out what is new this year in terms of Stampede window cartoons and other street decorations.  I thought the cartoon art would add a whole new dimension to the “window licking art” I love so much.  

I realize some of the art purists or high-art nerds don’t think of it as art, but the Stampede graphics add a sense of fun and colour to our otherwise contrived conservative corporate downtown.

While there was some great windows (see photos below). I also found lots of street fronts on Stephen Avenue Walk disappointing?  I was thinking places like Sports Chek (Calgary based) and Winners (has been located on Stephen Avenue for years) would do a better job of dressing-up their windows – No!

Looks like just another Saturday at Winners on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Hys, Brook Brothers and Holts seemed to forget entirely that the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” was happening. The Stephen Avenue entrance to The Core showed no evidence of Stampede spirit. 

 

Where's The Stampede Spirit?

The Hyatt had nothing; same with Marriott on 9th Avenue.  The Glenbow, Convention Centre and Calgary Economic Development also showed no Stampede spirit. Even the Municipal Plaza had no real evidence of Stampede, unless you count the one window painting at the Municipal Building. Neither the Central Library, nor the Simmons Building in East Village had any Stampede spirit. 

Entrance to the Hyatt on Stephen Avenue, not even a hay bale?

Hard to believe Calgary Telus Convention Centre on Stephen Avenue could look this sterile during Stampede. 

The Marriott Hotel facing 9th Avenue doesn't exactly shout out "Stampede!" 

Where's the spirit? Where's the energy? Calgary Economic Development block shows no sign of Stampede spirit, or a sense of energy? 

Interesting, the Calgary Tower had a painting that said Yee Haw…I am pretty sure the Stampede cry is - Yahoo! 

Not only did the Simmons Building have no Stampede decorations, you couldn't even get an adult beverage at 3 pm.  What's with that?

I get there is a downturn in the economy, but this was a sad statement on our Stampede Spirit. Walking by the McDougall Centre on the way home, all they had was one small banner of Stampede flags across the entrance. 

Except for three blocks of Stephen Avenue Walk, our downtown looked deserted as it usually does on a weekend.  I seem to recall in the past most of the buildings and +15 bridges had stampede windows. Not this year - you would be hard pressed to know that Stampede was even happening. 

The Good Guys!

David's Tea I thought had one of the best windows.

Office lobby reflections create attractive Stampede streetscape.

I was surprise how few +15 bridges had window paintings in them this year. 

Most of the banks downtown were good at decorating their window with kitschy cartoons. 

Is that Ralph Klein on the window of the City Hall LRT Station?

Last Word

Has Calgary become too big for it britches to celebrate what is truly one of North America’s oldest, largest and most unique festivals?  Where is that community spirit?

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Stampede 2014: Footnotes

Calgary leader in addressing urban issues?

In May Huffington Post published a list of ten cities that are frequently mentioned as innovators in addressing urban life issues – specifically, environmental, social, transportation and urban design. While there were no real surprises in the list of cities identified and what they have accomplished or were attempting to accomplish, I was immediately struck that Calgary could and should be on the list. Yet again, Calgary flies under the radar of the international news media for the incredible work the public and private sectors have done to create a city with one of the highest standards of urban living in the world.

What Other Cities Are Doing?

Vancouver makes the list for its work in creating policies that allow more families to live in the city centre, its mandatory composting program and supervised safe injection site.  Stockholm is praised for its “Walkable City” plan that focuses on making all streets pedestrians and cycling-friendly and “Vision Zero” plan to reduce road deaths.

New York City’s $20 billion plan to defend the city against future storms was on the list. Reykjavik’s unique geology allows for its use geothermal heating to produce electricity and heat 95% of its buildings. Berlin’s claim to fame is its ability to repurpose old buildings like power plants into nightclubs and the Nazis Tempelhof Airport into a giant public park.

Singapore has introduced free subway fares to riders who leave the system before 7:45 am as a means of unclogging both street and transit traffic during peak commuter hours.  Hong Kong has created a very handy service where airline passengers check their bag sat a designated station along the Airport Express subway line and it gets taken right to the plane.

Paris’ tentative plan will give the City first right of refusal on 8,000 new apartments being built which they plan to turning into subsidized housing to help eliminate gentrification of communities helps it make the top 10 list.

Copenhagen is noted for its plan to be completely carbon neutral by 2025 through the use of wind power, biomass fuel and other alternate energies.  San Francisco’s DataSF project collects comprehensive data for use by citizens and businesses to foster a better quality of life and increase accountability. For example, Yelp uses the data to give its users information on restaurants’ latest health inspections as a means of reducing food bourne illnesses.

While these are all commendable projects and some are innovative, when it comes to innovative urban living initiatives, Calgary is providing as much leadership as any of these cities. Don’t believe me? Read on!  

Calgary’s Environment Leadership

Not only is Calgary is currently ranked at the cleanest city in the world (and has consistently ranked in the top three for many years) of Mercer Global Financial and HR Consulting “world’s cleanest city.” The ranking is based on water availability and drinkability, waste removal, quality of sewage systems, air pollution and traffic congestions.  The $430-million Pine Creek Wastewater Treatment Centre is one of the most technologically advanced and environmentally-friendly wastewater treatment plants in the world.

When it comes to responding to perils of Mother Nature, Calgary’s Emergency Management System shares data from 32 partner organizations from the police to Calgary Board of Education, as well as draws information from social media sites.  The system has been praised as the best in the world and was instrumental in the highly successful response to Calgary’s great flood of 2013.

Did you know Grow Calgary has an 11-acre farm just west of Canada Olympic Park, where a group of volunteers manages Canada’s largest urban farm - all of the fresh produce being donated to the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank?

Grow Calgary farm within the city limits. (photo credit: paulin8@blogspot.com)

Grow Calgary farm within the city limits. (photo credit: paulin8@blogspot.com)

Pine Creek Water Treatment Plant (photo credit: City of Calgary)

Calgary’s Urban Design Leadership

Calgary is arguably the “Infill Capital of North America.”  When it comes to redevelopment of established communities, Calgary boasts several mixed-use urban villages – Currie Barracks, East Village, Quarry Park, SETON, University District and West District.  What other city builds Transit-Oriented Development before the transit has been built – SETON and Quarry Park? Our downtown is surrounded by vibrant urban communities experiencing a renaissance due to dozens of infill condo developments. And thousands of  new “family friendly” homes being built in ALL of our inner-city neighborhoods. 

Green spaces have been identified as critical to healthy urban living.  Calgary boasts over not only 5,000 parks, two being the among the largest in the world (Fish Creek and Nose Hill), as well as one of the world’s longest urban pathway systems that is quickly closing in on being 1,000 km. 

The Calgary Parks Foundation is working on the 138 km Rotary/Mattamy Greenway project that will create a network of parks and pathways around the perimeter of the city connecting over 100 communities.

Our City Centre has recently completed or in the process of completing at least six new or renovated parks and plazas including the St. Patrick’s Island mega makeover.

Map of the Rotary Mattamy Greenway.

Map of the Rotary Mattamy Greenway.

Calgary’s Transportation Leadership

Calgary was an early adopter of “Light Rapid Transit” in 1981 and in 2001, was the first public transit system to claim all of its electricity from emission-free wind power.  Today, Calgary’s LRT ridership is the third highest in North America, behind Toronto and Guadalajara, both cities having w a population five times that of Calgary and ahead of cities like Vancouver and Portland twice our size.

The Pembina Institute report “Fast Cities: A comparison of rapid transit in major Canadian Cities” (2014) states Calgary leads Canada in rapid transit infrastructure per capita (53km/million citizens) and has, over the past decade built the most rapid transit 22 km. 

For decades, Calgary has implemented some of the most restrictive downtown parking bylaws in North America, including allowing developers to build only 50% of the estimated required parking for new office buildings.  As a result, 60% of downtown commuters use transit, an impressively high percentage and one unheard of in North America except for places like Manhattan. Further to that, City Council recently unanimously approved Canada’s first condo with no parking – N3 in East Village. 

In my mind, Calgary is one of the most pedestrian and cycling-friendly cities in the world. Where else do drivers routinely stop so pedestrians and cyclists can safely cross the street?  I am constantly reminded of this when visiting other cities.

Cars routinely stop to let cyclists and pedestrians cross the road in Calgary. 

Cars routinely stop to let cyclists and pedestrians cross the road in Calgary. 

N3 condo in Calgary's East Village will have no parking stalls for residents. 

N3 condo in Calgary's East Village will have no parking stalls for residents. 

Last Word

Calgary doesn’t get the respect it deserves from the international media and planning communities with respect to the numerous, significant, successful and innovative urban living initiatives recently or currently being implemented by both the private and public sectors. Sure, we have our problems and our urban sense of place isn’t for everyone.

But when push comes to shove, Calgary is at the top of most quality of urban living lists and should have been included in the “top 10 cities shaping the future of urban living.”

This blog was published in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section on June 27th titled "Calgary a top-ten city." 

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21st Century: Century of the Condo

Historians in North America will probably look back at the 20th century and coin it as the “century of the single family home.”  It was a time where the dream of every young married couple was to buy a home with front and back yards to raise their children.  The single family home was also where seniors wanted to live out their lives, kicking and screaming when their adult children suggested their home was too big and too much work to maintain. The single family home was everyone’s “castle.”

On the other hand, the 21st century is shaping up to be known s the “century of the condo” as more and more people - young and old - are choosing condo living.  It became crystal clear when recently when visiting Seattle and seeing the multitude of condos being constructed in that city. It seemed like on every city centre block was a condo recently completed or under construction.  While some were low and mid-rise, many were in the 40-storey range.

This got me reflecting on to recent visits to Chicago, Portland and Denver recalling they too had abundant of condo construction activity in their city center neighbourhoods.   And we all know that Toronto and Vancouver can’t seem to build condos fast enough.

High-rise condos are abundant in Seattle's Denny Triangle district. 

Mid-rise condo in Seattle's Belltown, would look right at home in Calgary's Mission District. 

Condo block in Denver's LoDo district could easily fit into Calgary's  Bridgeland or Kensington communities. 

YUPPIEs & DINKs

It is no surprise that many 21st century young urban professionals (YUPPIEs) and double income no kids (DINKs) have adopted condo living as their preferred lifestyle for many (not all) they have no interest in spending a lot of time cooking, cleaning, home maintenance or gardening.  In chatting with Joe Starkman, developer of University City Village at Brentwood Station and N3 (East Village condo with no parking) awhile back he told me his research showed many young buyers don’t want a big kitchen as they mostly eat “takeout” and don’t need room for a big screen TV as they watch movies on their laptop.

Another friend recently said their son and his girlfriend wanted to move from their 650 square foot condo in Kensington, as it was “too big to keep clean.”  I have often shaken my head when I saw my middle-age friends cutting grass or shovelling snow while their teenage kids slept in.   I suspect the idea of owning a home for young people today is daunting.

High-rise condos in Calgary's Beltline community just south of the central business district.

RUPPIEs

For many retired urban professionals (RUPPs) who have worked all their life downtown, the idea of living in or near the downtown, an area of familiarity, and enjoying the food, festival and cultural scene is very attractive.  Seattle, like Calgary, has very attractive walkable residential communities surrounding its vibrant downtown - Belltown, Capitol Hill and South Union Lake. In both cities, new restaurants and cafes seem to open weekly and festivals happen almost every weekend.

Retired professionals often want the freedom condo living brings – just close the door and drive away or jet off on the next travel adventure. Or, enjoy more time to bike, walk or meet up with friends, rather than spend time painting the fence, cutting the grass or cleaning the garage.

Montana condo near RED, Calgary's retail /entertainment district. 

St. John's condo in Calgary's tony Kensington Village would fit into almost any major city in North America. 

Block of new condos in Calgary's popular Bridgeland neighbourhood.

Even in Calgary's suburbs condos are as prevalent at single-family homes.

Last Word

And the 21st century condo living phenomenon is not limited to the city centre either. More and more condos are being built in suburban communities too.  In some cases, this is driven by price as the condo has become the “new suburban starter home” for first time buyers while in other cases, is it driven by the easy living lifestyle that condos preferring to retire in the ‘burbs near grandkids and friends.

Given that the evolution of urban living for centuries has been all about increasing “convenience and comfort,” it is perhaps not surprising that condo living is the next step in that evolution. 

An edited version of this blog was commissioned for  Condo Living Magazine.

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