Calgary: Wake up and smell the lilacs!

Too often we forget – or never even give a thought to Calgary once having been mostly sloughs and prairie grasslands, with a few wooded areas along the rivers.  It wasn’t until William Reader, hired as Calgary’s Park Superintendent in 1913 that a vision of Calgary as a city of beautiful parks, streets and pathways was created.   Some of his most famous projects were Memorial Park (Beltline) and Reader Rock Gardens (on the hill on the southeast corner of Macleod Trail at 25th Avenue SE).

Reader was inspired by the early 20th century, international City Beautiful Movement, which envisioned the entire city planned as a beautiful place with a formal master plan.

Healthy lilacs add colour, charm and privacy to homes in many early 20th century communities in Calgary.

Reader’s Vision:

Unfortunately the historic lilacs along the boulevard of Bowness Road have not been properly cared for. 

His vision was to develop Calgary into one of the most desirable cities of western Canada. The intent was to illustrate that Calgary was a civilized city with high quality public spaces. One of his principal initiatives was the creation of streets lined with trees and developed with landscaped boulevards and medians. In 1913, Reader stated "I doubt that any other public improvement will tend to create and foster a civic pride in Calgary to the same extent as will the making of boulevards, and planting of trees on our streets, nor will any other feature of our city impress visitors so favorably." (Source: City of Calgary website)

Evidence of Reader’s vision is everywhere amidst Calgary’s early 20th century luxury residential communities like Elbow Park, Mission, Mount Royal, Roxboro and Scarboro all on the south side of the Bow River. 

On the north side of the Bow River, there is one street in particular that epitomizes Reader’s implementation of the City Beautiful Movement principles in Calgary. That is Bowness Road from 14th Street NW to 17th Street N. It is unique for its regularly spaced purple flowering Common Lilacs planted in 1932 along the street’s boulevard. 

In addition to the tree-lined street and lilac median, the 1700 block of Bowness Road is home to one of Calgary’s oldest lawn bowling clubs, also built in 1932 and including a lovely garden originally created by Reader himself in 1936.

Today lilacs have fallen our of favour for new flowering ornamental trees like these planted next to the Bow Valley Lawn Bowling Club. My friends at Ground3 Landscape Architecture tell me they are Amur Cherry trees. 

Why Lilacs?

Lilacs are very hardy shrubs, able to withstand the heavy frost, Calgary experiences every winter. They also grow rapidly and have an attractive early spring flower with a lovely fragrance (that was very alluring to early settlers after a long winter) and attractive green foliage when not in bloom. 

Lilac hedges and trees are popular in Calgary inner city communities.  It is not coincidental that the 4th Street Lilac Festival is one of Calgary’s most popular annual events attracting over 100,000 people to the Mission neighbourhood in late May.

Advocates of the City Beautiful Movement believed high quality designed streets and public spaces would foster a harmonious social order that would enhance the quality of life of its citizens and reduce undesirable social behavior.  It may seem far-fetched, but walking along these blocks of Bowness Road can be like a walk back in time; an ethereal tranquility may even come over you.

There are still many small cottage homes along the 1600 and 1700 blocks of Bowness Road that retain the small town charm that was once Calgary. 

A reminder of how modest homes were 100 years ago - hard to believe that a family of ten or more could have lived in a house like this. 

Last Word

It is truly one of Calgary’s beautiful places, especially in the spring when you can revel in stopping to smell the lilacs. Only a lucky few Calgarians can live on one of these three blocks.  While today there are many modern million-dollar homes on the street, it still retains a sense of when Calgary was a sleepy little prairie town. 

Editors's Note: This blog was commissioned by inner city specialist realtor Ross Aitken. I thought I would repost it in honour of this Sunday being Calgary's popular Lilac Festival. Perhaps the City should declare next week Lilac Week to celebrate the importance of lilacs in Calgary's early urban placemaking history. 

Colourful new infills have allowed Bowness Road in Hillhurst and West Hillhurst to evolve into a very attractive 21st century address.

Gone are the lilacs in favour of other ornamental tress and shrubs. 

Seattle at a glance!

#10

You never have to ask a local if there is a Starbucks nearby. There always is.

While their is Starbucks on almost every block in downtown Seattle there is only one Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room located in Seattle's hipster community of Capitol Hill. It is like a brew pub for coffee lovers. You get to taste some of their experimental coffee flavours. 

#9

Seattle has an amazing urban forest everywhere - from their City Centre to the University of Washington campus.

Typical tree lined street in Seattle's City Centre. There is a wonderful filtered sunlight on the sidewalks that enhances the pedestrian experience. 

The University of Washington is like going to school in a forest or park. 

Child and dad practising their zip lining in a wonderful treed park in Seattle's city centre. 

#8

If the number of clocks on downtown streets is any indication, Seattlelites have been obsessed with time for a long time.

In the early 20th century many jewellery stores would have an iconic clock on the sidewalk outside the store or attached to the building - they always make me stop and look. 

#7

What’s with the biscuit culture? You’d think you were in the South given the number places with biscuits on the menu. But they are REALLY good!

We began noticing biscuits on the menu of restaurants almost immediately upon arrival, but it wasn't until we discovered Morsel Biscuits & Coffee in the U-District  next to the University of Washington that we actually tried them.  This tiny cafe was hopping with people, so we thought it must be good.  We ordered the buttermilk biscuit with fixin! Fixins include - tomato jam, raspberry jam, strawberry balsamic jam, honey butter, apple butter, maple butter, chocolate hazelnut butter, fig honey, herbed goat cheese or bacon jam.  Guess which one Brenda chose.  

#6

Seattlelites love their dogs!  Never seen so many dogs on urban streets. Even found a private downtown Dog Club or should I say doggy day spa.

This doggie day care is located in a retail space at ground level of a new condo building in downtown with windows onto the sidewalk. This was a first for us. Could this be a new trend in street retail?

#5

What’s with the “Seattle Freeze?” Debbie, our local, incidental bus buddy to the Sunday Freemont Flea Market shared with the insider story about “The Seattle Freeze” as referring to the fact that while Seattleites are friendly it is hard for new comers to get to know people. We found everyone very friendly; it must be one of those urban myths.  Even the sea gulls were friendly, especially the one that landed on the window ledge at the Mayflower Park Hotel while I sat enjoying my morning coffee.

I never did find out his name but he sat on the Mayflower Park Hotel's window ledge for several minutes as I had my morning coffee and enjoyed the view of the city and waterfront. 

#4

Amazon is taking over downtown Seattle, one block at a time. Every young male we talked to had just moved to Seattle to work for Amazon.

Amazon has purchased three blocks in downtown Seattle to create an urban campus. The purple tower in this photo is the first of several modern colourful office towers that will reshape the link between downtown and Belltown and Denny Triangle. 

#3

What’s with all the fire trucks? Never saw a fire (except in the wood-burning ovens in many restaurants) but sure saw and heard lots of fire trucks. 

This is the new downtown fire station. Love the synergy of modern and traditional aesthetics.  Good architecture links the past with the present and creates as sense of place.  Love the red doors!

Sentinels by Gloria Bornstein was inspired by forms found in Asian art, architecture and folk craft.  Located next to a downtown Fire Station, they are guardians of the Chinatown, International District and Pioneer Square neighbourhoods just like the staff inside.  

#2

Seattle is the “City Of Happy Hours.” Every hotel, bar and restaurant seems to have one.  We especially loved the free beer at Hotel Max and free wine at Hotel Monaco. That’s what we call a “HAPPY HOUR.”

Happy Hour in the lobby of the Hotel Max with Samuel Beckett looking on.

Happy Hour at Kimpton's Hotel Monaco is a lively time where guests mix and mingle.  We met and chatted with a lovely couple from Chicago and shared some Seattle tips, as well as our thoughts about Chicago and Calgary. 

#1

Seattlelites have balls.  Not baseballs and footballs, but the balls to use the acronym S.L.U.T for their “South Lake Union Trolley.”

South Lake Union Trolley is part of a diverse transit system that includes streetcars, buses, LRT and a monorail. 

Ride the SLUT tshirt

Bonus Lesson:

We loved all of the free art. The Frye Art Museum is free every day. Their outdoor Olympic Sculpture Park is also  free anytime. We were lucky enough to be in town on the second Thursday of the month when SAM (Seattle Art Museums) is free. Tour their Convention Centre for free and enjoy 100s of artworks for free. We were also treated to a free photography show at Hotel Max (every floor features a different photographer’s work on the room doors) and our Hotel Monaco room was like living in a pop art painting right out of the ‘60s. Too much fun! 

We called this our cloud bed - Hotel Monaco. The entire suite was full of bright, playful art and design.  We called it our happy place!

Just one of the many photographs on doors of each hotel room at Hotel Max.  Each floor features a different local photographer creating mini exhibitions each with their own theme. 

Olympic Sculpture Park is a wonderful calm oasis full of blockbuster artworks and spectacular views of the water and city skyline. 

Close up of an installation at the Seattle Convention Centre, just one of hundreds of art works available for free viewing by the public seven days a week. 

Port Angeles: The World's Best Art Park?

Officially it is called Webster’s Woods Art Park (WWAP), but in many ways, it is a forest or art trail.  Regardless, it is definitely not like any art park I have ever seen before - in person or on the Internet. The five-acre park, with its 125 artworks located on a hill just a 20-minute walk from downtown Port Angles is arguably the best art park in North America and maybe the world. It is definitely a hidden gem!

 No joke. Just a few days earlier, we were in Seattle enjoying and marvelling at their Olympic Park with its mega iconic sculptures by world-renowned artists but it didn’t come close to engaging us visually, mentally and physically, as did WWAP.  Nor did it take us two hours to explore, or get us as excited by the constant joy of discovery.

I will let the photos and art speak for themselves.

WWAP is a heavily forested (almost rain forest-like) park with rustic, root-infested trails overgrown with ground cover; this is no walk in the park. And though there is an open meadow area that makes for a more conventional art park, the majority of the park is up and down for the most part gentle hills that do however require some tricky footwork. This is not a groomed park with static artworks but a living artwork that changes with the seasons.  For those of you familiar with Calgary, it would be like transforming the Douglas Fir Trail into an art park.  Hey – that a good idea!

It certainly appealed to our love of treasure hunting. As you walk gingerly along the narrow trails you have to constantly keep your eyes looking up, down and all around to “find” the unmarked art.  Most of the art is well integrated into nature, so you really have to look. Over the years, some become overgrown by nature, merely adding to the integration of art and nature.

The aesthetic experience doesn’t end with the man-made artworks.  The quality of the light filtered by the trees and vegetation is mesmerizing. The shapes of the living and dead vegetation create their own art forms.  The synergy is exhilarating.

Forest canopy

With few labels and information panels and no maps; this is not a pretentious art park that thinks it is a museum.  Nobody is trying to impress you with a “who’s who” of public artists.  The artworks range from decorative, to whimsical and from political to social commentary, some are very clever, while others are kitschy.

The park is open daylight hours year round and is free, as is the Port Angeles Art Centre, a contemporary house that offers intimate exhibitions, a small gift shop and restrooms. Spend 30 minutes or 3 hours here, it will appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds.  However, you will need good footwear and the ability to climb uneven trails.

 

Where to stay?

The Port Angeles Red Lion Hotel is well situated and centrally located l right on the waterfront. Get a room on the harbour side and you can watch the boats and ferry come and go. Book a bike (they rent them and the first hour is free to ride up WWAP or along the waterfront trail.

You can also easily explore historic downtown Port Angeles with its murals, sculptures, shops and eateries on foot from the Red Lion.

Red Lion Hotel, Port Angeles, Washington on the water's edge.

Mac's Mural is dedicated to H. Mac Ruddell, past president of the NorWester Rotary Club of Port Angeles, for his vision, energy and enthusiasm, which made the NorWester Rotary Mural project a reality. This mural is of the art deco Black Ball Ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria. 

We thought the art centre was in the concrete circular building at first but then realized that you have to walk into the Fine Arts Centre and as you do you begin to discover the art and the trails. 

Mean Streets, Main Streets, Pretty Streets

Over the past few months the City of Calgary’s Main Street team has hosted dozens of workshops in various communities around the city asking Calgarians what they think about creating a new Main Street in their community.  The facilitated workshops are well organized with not only information panels, but also nine tables where community members work with a City Planner to document everyone’s ideas into three categories – issues, opportunities and outcomes.

I participated in two workshops (Kensington Road and Montgomery) and the passion and pride Calgarians have for their community is outstanding.  I especially loved working with the three young guns (30 somethings, young Dads, newcomers to Montgomery, professionals, cyclists) from Montgomery where we were exploring ways to transform both Bowness Road and the Trans Canada Highway into Main Streets.

Be careful what you wish for?

One of the problems with public engagement can be raising the public’s expectations that any idea they have, no matter how unrealistic, is going to happen. One of the common denominators at both workshops was the idea their current “main street” was a “mean street” with traffic, poor lighting, tired business facades, few trees and patios.

Everyone agreed that it would be nice to have a boulevard or promenade like streetscapes with new traffic signals, cross walks, street lamps, banners, benches, sidewalks, trees, flowers and bike lanes.  I expect all the workshops identified this as an issue, opportunity or outcome.

Great idea, but who is going to pay for this?  It could easily cost $5 million dollars to upgrade a few blocks (eg. traffic signals cost $300,000, cross walks $80,000. At $5 million for 24 Main Streets the City could be on the hook for a $120 million dollar streetscape program.

Mean Streets

Kensington Road sidewalk next to school yard fence is a "mean street." 

On the south side of Kensington Road is dominated by a crazy quilt of fences and unkept backyards of single family homes.   

Pretty streets don't attract people

While everyone loves the idea of pretty streets, they don’t necessarily attract people. Look at East Village, for the past several years it has had some of the prettiest streets in North America - banners, hanging flower baskets, ornamental street lighting, new roads and sidewalks – but it is still like a ghost town.  Why? Because there is nothing to see and do yet!  This will all change when the condos, hotel, museum, retail and restaurants open.

16th Avenue NW has an diversity of shops and restaurants, as well as an upgraded streetscape with new lighting, median etc. but it has yet to attract any significant pedestrian traffic. 

16th Avenue NW has an diversity of shops and restaurants, as well as an upgraded streetscape with new lighting, median etc. but it has yet to attract any significant pedestrian traffic. 

 

Perhaps a better example is 16th Ave (aka Trans Canada Highway), it was prettified several years ago, but so far it hasn’t attracted any major new development and there are not a lot of pedestrians along the north-side sidewalks even with improved sidewalks, decorative lighting and median.  There are a variety of shops, some very bohemian (comics, used books, records and audio equipment).  However the six lanes of traffic and no street parking, make for a poor pedestrian experience. 

Why do Calgarians love wandering Kensington, Inglewood, 4th Street or 17th Avenue? Because they have a diversity of things to see and do – cafes, boutiques, restaurants, galleries, pubs, live music venues, patios and cinemas – not because of their pretty streetscapes.

Peters' Drive-In is a Calgary mid-century icon and is a good example of 16th Avenue NW's car centric DNA.

New Identities

Both Montgomery and Kensington Road groups talked about creating an identity for their Main Street.  A loud cheer went out when someone said “Bowness Road stops in Bowness!” The Montgomery Young Guns, thought Bowness Road in Montgomery should be renamed Montgomery Boulevard and look like a boulevard. 

The West Hillhursters were clear that Kensington Road should NOT be an extension of Kensington.  So perhaps a new name is needed to kick start a new identity. How about Grand Trunk Village (West Hillhurst use to be called Grand Trunk) which would encompass both 19th St SW and Kensington Road, from 18th to 20th Street.

Bowness Road in Montgomery has already begun its transformation into a 21st century Main Street with the addition of new building with retail at street level and condos above.  Residents would like to rebrand the street create a stronger community identity. 

The addition of small pocket parks and town squares as community meeting places are also desired by many residents. 

Recruitment

One of the things we talked about is how can we recruit new retailers to locate on the proposed new main streets, especially a couple of good neighbourhood pubs – for the Montgomery Young Guns that was top of mind.  The wish list for Kensington Road included a pub, but the butcher, baker, candlestick maker and even a small grocery store.

While these would all be nice to have, it is not very realistic to expect retailers to locate in fringe commercial districts just because the residents think it is good idea. It takes thousands of customers a week for a local retailer to survive, and the economics of “pioneering” into a new area can be very risky. 

The discussion also wasn’t realistic when people talked about creating Main Streets that are 5+ blocks long.  Most good neighbourhood pedestrian streets are just one or two blocks long – Britannia would be a good example.  Better to have two good blocks than four or five blocks that have half the space empty. 

Kensington Road has an eclectic mix of merchants this block has yoga studio, small grocery store, gas station and restaurant. Around the corner is medical building and dentist. 

While everyone would love to get a building of this quality from both a design and tenant mix, the Atlantic Avenue Art Block is not likely to be repeated again soon in Calgary.  It should be noted that transformation of Inglewood from a rundown hookers' stroll, with pawn shops and second hand stores into Canada's Best Neighbourhood has taken over 30 years and is still only in the middle of its transformation. 

Too focused on the 3 Rs

Most of the workshop discussion focused on new retail, restaurants and residential development, but in reality a good main street is just as much about office development. The traditional Main Street was where all of the local business took place; unfortunately much of that business today takes place online.

Pedestrian oriented street level medical and financial offices add sidewalk traffic on weekdays when the residents are at work. Upper floors can make good office space for small professional firms like accountants, engineers, fitness clubs and lawyers.

Condo on the opposite block to school on the same day provides a pleasant pedestrian experience. 

Marda Loop is an example of a contemporary pedestrian streets with retail shops at street level and condos above.  They bring new residents and retailers to help revitalize the community with many of the shops open 7 days a week and into the evening.

Communities should also be encouraging more office developments in and around their main streets to provide a more diversified client base for the cafes, restaurants and shops. 

Landowners are the key

In Montgomery one of the issues was the ugly facade of the businesses along Bowness Road.  The city has separate meeting set up with the landowners to discuss ways to encourage them to upgrade their buildings or to redevelop.  Many cities like Edmonton and Hamilton have incentives for landowners and business owners to make improvements.

In Calgary, many of the landowners are not very motivated to sell as they face huge capital gains taxes. They also aren’t interested in improvements as they are making a good rate of return without having to invest any money into their buildings or business.  It should also be noted the older, tired buildings provide more affordable rents for local “mom and pop” businesses to survive.

Many of the main street being studied have fragmented ownership like these apartments along Kensington Road, making it difficult to assemble sufficient land for a new mixed-use development. 

Connectivity

In both workshops connectivity was an issue and an opportunity.  In Montgomery, there needs to be better pedestrian connectivity between Bowness Road (aka Montgomery Boulevard), Safeway Mall, the Motel district on the Trans Canada Highway, Shouldice Park and the River.

In West Hillhurst (aka Grand Trunk) it was surprising to see how close the SunAlta LRT Station if only there was a direct pedestrian link over Memorial Drive and the Bow River. Retail connectivity was also an issue with a few shops clustered on 19th Street SW, some on Kensington Road between 18th and 21st Street and others further west at the intersection of Crowchild Trail, Kensington Road and Memorial Drive.

Nothing over Four Floors

It was interesting density was not an issue in either workshop I attended, people understood that density was critical to creating a more diverse community with more amenities.  However it was clear at the Kensington Road workshop, that nobody wanted anything over four floors.  It was also clear they didn’t just want cookie cutter condo blocks, but quality architecture and materials.

Length matters

In chatting with some of my colleagues with Main Street redevelopment experience, one of the issues facing the Calgary project is that it was originally conceived as a Corridor program.   As a result, all of the study areas are 6+ blocks long, which is not the right scale for a traditional Main Street.  As one colleague said, “the core or signature stretch of Robson Street in Vancouver is 3-blocks, in Calgary’s Inglewood it is only 2-blocks.”  Perhaps the first step in Calgary’s Main Street program would be to focus on just a 2 or 3-block area where there already is some pedestrian-oriented commercial development.

Roberta Brandes Gratz (urban critic, author of The Living City: Thinking Small in a Big Way) suggested one of the best ways to promote urban revitalization is to strengthen what already exists before building new. 

Last Word

As one Main Street expert said to me “communities need a bit of a reality check on the investment required to kick start residential and retail interest. East Village, Kensington, Mission, 17th Avenue and Inglewood to some extent benefit from being next door to the downtown and/or the river. Creating neighbourhood Main Streets takes time and relatively small moves that build like a snowball.”

While the City and communities have ambitious ideas I hope they will be able to link vision with reality. The development of 24 new Mains Streets is very ambitious going to take time. It is the landowners who hold all the cards for Main Street development.  The focus should be on them, not the community.

An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald's Condo section on Saturday May 16, 2015. 

Readers's Comments:

BL wrote: 

The first issue for me in creating Main Streets is on-street parking , usually but not always combined with two-way single lane traffic. This may seem like a typical engineer's approach to a planning/architectural/environment problem but if you stop and look at what separates a good urban street from a "mean" street you might notice this to be true. 

The east end of Kensington between 10th and 14th, arguably the busiest section for traffic, has on-street parking which facilitates successful retail business; but the portion of Kensington west of 14th has no on-street parking but also very little traffic. It would cost the city very little to introduce on-street parking along most of this stretch.

The second issue is to determine what is the principal use of the street. Is it a shopping street or is it a through way? No amount of effort will ever turn the TransCanada Highway into a pleasant place to spend time strolling or shopping. So why not accept that TCH through Montgomery is a through way, and focus our "Main Street" efforts exclusively on Bowness Road.

Further isn't it time to stop using 16th Avenue as the TransCanada Highway? One has only to look at a broader map of Alberta to see that the TCH detours north just east of Strathmore; a political move made over fifty years ago to appease the business interests in Strathmore at the time of the TCH construction. It would be a simple move to direct TCH traffic along the Highway 22 alignment through the southern part of Calgary diverting north at either Bragg Creek or the soon to be built(??) southwest ring road.

One of the oft-ignored principles of urban planning is that the right kind of car traffic is a good and a necessary component of creating successful main streets. Did the attendees at these Main Street planning meetings include transportation engineers?

CO wrote: 

Good blog....a couple of other barriers to developing Main Streets in Calgary include:

  • Calgary's Land Use Bylaw essentially sterilize pubs from being near residential and restaurants too small to be viable
  • Planners fight surface parking or loading facilities: both essential for retail to survive in suburbs
  • Planners assume all retail is boutique or mom and pop and actively fight larger stores that act as anchors 

 If you like this blog, you might like:

Montgomery: Calgary's newest urban village.

Beautiful Downtown Bowness

Flaneuring the TransCanada Highway 

Mount Pleasant & Calgary's other 4th Street



 

 

University District: What's In A Name?

Over the years, I have been a big advocate of the importance of picking a “mindful” name for a new community, condo or development project.  I have always believed East Village should be named Fort Calgary Village given its proximity to Calgary’s birthplace and to celebrate our city’s history and sense of place.  

 Similarly downtown’s West Village could be rebranded as Mewata. Did you know that Mewata means, “to be happy” or “pleasant place” in Cree? The name dates back to 1906 when Rev. John McDougall (one of the most well known Calgary area missionaries) named the popular picnicking, football, baseball and playground area, “Mewata Park.”  It would be a very fitting name if the site becomes the home of Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation’s Flames new sports district.

Choosing a new community name is not as easy as you might think.  For example, when the West Campus Development Trust group (WCDT) wanted to develop a name for their new community on the west side of the University of Calgary campus, they undertook an extensive strategic process beginning in 2014 that involved a stakeholder workshop, focus groups, surveys just to identify possible names, followed by more focus groups, more testing and another stakeholder workshop.

And the winner is: University District! In testing this name, 47% of people made it their first choice and 22% their second choice.  (No other name garnered over 25% support as either first or second choice.)  People liked that the name has a direct connection and association with not only the University of Calgary but also of the neighbouring communities of University Heights and Varsity Village.  It tested well as being accurate, honest, welcoming and modern.

Aerial view of Calgary's new University District community. (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

 Brilliant Street Naming Strategy

Former Canadian astronaut and University of Calgary alumnus Dr. Robert Thirsk is the University's current chancellor.

But WCDT didn’t stop with just mindfully picking a community name. They also wanted “meaningful” street names.  After much debate, a brilliant idea emerged -  why not name the streets after the 13 University of Calgary Chancellors!  As a refresher, the University Chancellor is a volunteer who is elected by their peers from the University Senate.  A Chancellor is someone who has made a significant lifetime contribution to enhancing the quality of life for Calgarians. Their role is to be an ambassador for the University of Calgary and connect the University to the diversity of communities across the city.  So given the University District is all about fostering a sense of community, it made perfect sense. 

  • Dr. Jim Dinning (2010-2014)
  • Dr. Joanne A. Cuthbertson (2006-2010)
  • Dr. William J. Warren (2002-2006)
  • Dr. J. Jack Perraton (1998-2002
  • Dr. M. Ann McCaig (1994-1998)
  • Dr. David B. Smith  (1990-1994)
  • Dr. James S. Palmer (1986-1990)
  • Dr. Brian Norford (1982-1986)
  • Dr. Louis Lebel (1978-1982)
  • Dr. Muriel Kovitz (1974-1978)
  • Dr. William A. Friley (1970-1974) 
  • Dr. C. Campbell McLaurin (1966-1970) 

WCDT will also be respectful of Calgary’s inner city street naming history by continuing to name all north/south routes “streets” and east/west routes “avenues.”

University District's proposed street names, neighbourhoods and parks. (image credit: West Campus Development Trust)

 University District At A Glance

  • 40 acres of open space (7 spaces)
  • 11,000 new residents
  • 5,500 new jobs
  • 8.6 million square feet of residential, retail and commercial development
  • No “cookie cutter” buildings
  • Walkable connected community
  • Kensington style main street
  • Central Park
  • 8 km of multi-use pathways and trails 

Some people have already claimed their spot in Calgary's new University District. 

University District Boundaries

  • North Boundary – 32nd Avenue
  • South Boundary – TransCanada Highway
  • East Boundary – Collegiate Road
  • West Boundary – Shaganappi Trail

Walk Score

Walk Score measures the diversity of places one can walk to as part of one’s everyday activities (e.g. work, shopping, dinning, entertainment, recreation and learning.)  

The existing communities neighbouring the University District have walk scores ranging from 62 to 73 (100 being the best). However, with the addition of the University District’s amenities the walk score of the entire area is expected to exceed 85.

  • Walkability to work - University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre, Alberta Children’s Hospital and Innovate Calgary Research Park
  • Walkability to its new pedestrian oriented  “Main Street”
  • Walkability to three performing art spaces and one art gallery
  • Walkability to Market Mall (shopping and work) 
  • Walkability to numerous fitness facilities

Last Word

Sure some people will question the fact Calgary has two other universities – Mount Royal and St. Mary’s University College, making the name University District a bit confusing. But for most Calgarians, the University of Calgary is top of mind when thinking of Calgary’s university (sorry Mount Royal University).

In most other major cities, their universities have been the catalyst for a vibrant bohemian urban community with small live music venues, cafes, galleries, bookstores and trendy shops and restaurants. They are often one of the most vibrant places in the city to live. Montreal’s city centre is so vibrant in part because of its connection to several post-secondary institutions, the same in Berkeley in the San Francisco area.  

To date, the University of Calgary, SAIT and Mount Royal University have not spilled out beyond their boundaries to create a hipster community.   University District is about to change all this and Calgary will be better for it.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary's MAC attack?

What's with the names Arts Commons and Contemporary Calgary?

Calgary's Name & Placemaking Challenge? 

Montana aka Nellie: What's in a name?

Calgary Region: An Inland Port

Calgary has a more resilient economy than many people believe.  Yes, Calgary’s key economic engine is oil and gas, but over the past 10 years, our economy has diversified quite significantly.

Calgary is a major education center with seven post-secondary schools – University of Calgary, Mount Royal University, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, Alberta College of Art and Design, Bow Valley College, St. Mary’s University and Ambrose College.  

Calgary is a major medical centre with Foothills Medical Centre, Rockyview Hospital, Peter Lougheed Hospital, South Campus Wellness Centre, Alberta Children’s Hospital and University of Calgary Medical School. 

Calgary’s growth and development as a major education and medical centre is likely less of a surprise than the fact that the Calgary region is now one of North America’s major inland ports.  An inland port is a specialized facility that allows for efficient transfer of goods via both trucks and rail using standard shipping containers across a specific region.

 

The purple areas indicate Calgary's industrial lands which are a low density land-use, but critical to the city's economic diversification. (source: City of Calgary website)

 

This image illustrates the influence on development having a major airport within the city boundaries has on development. (source: City of Calgary website)

Top 7 things you should know about the Calgary Region Inland Port:

#7       Economic Impact

Transportation and logistics industries employ over 76,000 Calgarians in 4,966 businesses and have a Gross Domestic Product of $4.79 billion.  Add in manufacturing and you add another 47,100 employees, 1,830 businesses and $6.72 billion in GDP.  There are 70% more Calgarians employed in these three related sectors than in the Energy sector. (Source: Calgary Economic Development)

#6       Truck Advantage

Calgary sits at the epicenter of major east/west/north/south highway routes, connecting not only eastern and western Canada but also northern Canada with the United States and Mexico (through the CANAMEX corridor).

Within one truck’s day drive of Calgary, (13 hours being a trucker’s standard day) you can access a market in excess of 18 million people.  Extend that to a 24-hour day and you can access over 50 million people.

One of many distribution centres in Calgary with trucks loading and unloading goods to be truck to destinations across western Canada. (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

#5       Education

Secondary and post-secondary school systems in Calgary are increasing their focus on providing essential learnings in transportation supply chain and logistics.  The U of C’s Haskayne School of Business, Mount Royal University, SAIT Polytechnic and Bow Valley College all provide or are developing courses that support the multiple entry level positions in Supply Chain Management, Distribution, Warehousing and Transportation.  Why? Because it is estimated there will be demand for over 5,000 more jobs in these sectors due to growth over the next 10 years.

As well, Calgary’s Van Horne Institute is recognized internationally as a leader in public policy, education and research in transportation, supply chain, logistics and regulated industries.

#4       Rail Advantage

CN Rail's Calgary Logistic Park 

The Calgary Region is home to two major intermodal operations. CP Rail not only has their headquarters in Calgary, but they also built a state-of-the-art facility in 1999 on a 100-acre site in Dufferin Industrial Park. In 2013, they averaged 550 to 800 trucks a day and an average monthly volume of 15,000 handlings a month.

CN Rail opened its new $200 million Calgary Logistics Park in January 2013 just outside the city limits in Conrich with 680 acres for future development. The Park has great connections to not only Vancouver and eastern Canada, but also to the port of Prince Rupert BC, which is advantageous for access to the lucrative Far East market.

Collectively, the two intermodal sites handled 822,000 containers in 2014, which is more than the Port of Prince Rupert, which for an inland port, is very significant.

Calgary has excellent connectivity to eight international seaports by rail and truck - Vancouver, Seattle, Tacoma, Prince Rupert, Houston, Galveston, Montreal and Halifax.

Calgary rail yard. (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

#3       Airport Advantage

Calgary International Airport (YYC) is located on a 21-square kilometer tract of land with 142,398 square meters of terminal buildings. Four runways can handle the largest planes in the world today as well as the anticipated next generation of planes.  It is a hub for Canada’s two largest airlines – West Jet and Air Canada. 

Calgary International Airport continues to expand its capacity for both passenger and cargo traffic. 

Calgary International airport in the late '70s.  

YYC is also a connecting hub for cargo services between North America, Asia and Europe.  As well, it one of only two airports in Canada that offer cargo and passenger service to both Europe and Asia.  From YYC, you can access almost any point in the world either directly or with only one stop. 

In 2014, over 128,000 tonnes of cargo were shipped through the Calgary Airport, a 5.5% increase over 2013. YYC, with its three million square feet of warehouse space on airport land, has more than any other Canadian airport.

YYC is also Canada’s third busiest passenger airport - 200 flights per day travel to 78 non-stop destinations.

With YYC having over 24,000 jobs on airport land and being responsible for creating 48,000 jobs across the city, it . contributes $8.28 billion to Calgary’s economy each year (Source: Calgary International Airport Authority).

This Google Earth map shows how the Calgary International Airport has become a hub for both warehouse and housing development. Northeast Calgary is a booming airport city, similar to Richmond in British Columbia and Mississauga in Ontario.  The northeast now has more hotel rooms than downtown.

#2       Mega Distribution Hubs

Calgary has attracted several major distribution hubs - Costco, Walmart, Loblaws, Sears, Canadian Tire Group, Marks’ Work Warehouse, Forzani Group, Canada Safeway, Gordon Foods Service, Sysco and the soon-to-open, one million square foot Home Depot facility - to supply Western Canada.

Warehouse space in use at the end of 2014 was about 120 million square feet, up from 75 million in 1990 – a 60% increase over 14 years.

 #1       Vision/Collaboration

 The Calgary Region has a shared vision to capitalize on the region’s potential as a major distribution hub/inland port.  A strong collaborative approach exists between Calgary Economic Development, the Calgary Regional Partnership, The Calgary Logistics Council, Calgary Airport Authority and the Van Horne Institute. 

The region is strategically planning for long-term requirements 50 years out, including a second ring road.  Already, the visioning and collaboration has resulted in the creation of the “High Wide Corridor to accommodate larger oversized truck loads across the Province.

 Last Word

 Many Calgarians have little or no appreciation for what happens east of the Deerfoot Divide.  Ward 3 in the north and Ward 12 in the southeast are Calgary’s two fastest growing wards at 8.5% and 9.3% respectively – three times the city’s average. It is no wonder Calgary’s fastest growing communities are in the NE and SE quadrants and developers like Brookfield Residential creating new mini-downtowns in the south (SETON) and the north (Livingston).

Too often Calgary’s urban sprawl critics assume Calgary’s massive footprint is because of the demand for single-family residential development and that the major roads and interchanges are for downtown commuters. This assumption is wrong as only 20% of those who live in the ‘burbs work downtown.  Warehousing, logistics and manufacturing require large amounts of land for massive one-story buildings. The expansion of Calgary’s roads and interchanges is directly linked to Calgary’s expanding manufacturing, distribution and logistic sectors, our new and growing economic engines and a key part of Calgary’s 21st century DNA.

It’s high time we realize Calgary is no longer a one-horse town; perhaps our new moniker should be the “City of Trains, Planes and Trucks!”

An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald, May 2, 2012 titled: "Calgary region is an inland port." 

 

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Calgary: Are we too downtown centric?

Calgary/Hamilton: Cities of Opportunity? 

Understanding Calgary's DNA

Calgary: Postcards from the sky?

 

Recently, Keith Walker at Peak Aerials (formerly Peak Experience) gave me access to their amazing library of aerial photography from Calgary.  While we have all seen Calgary from the sky when taking off or landing at the Calgary airport the Peak Aerials images seemed much more intense, dramatic and surreal than the fleeting image you see from a passenger plane.

It was fun to see and study Calgary from a different perspective.  I was immediately struck by how wonderful and unique these images would be as postcards so I decided to choose 10 and share them with the everyday tourist community.  

Choosing 10 was not as easily as I thought, so I have decided I will do a couple of blogs showcasing different perspectives of Calgary from the sky over the next few months.  This blog will look at the strange buildings Calgary has created, while others will look at parks and public spaces and another will probably look at abstract images.

Hope you enjoy!

Postcard Water Centre.jpg

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

  1. Postcards from cSpace
  2. Postcards from St. George's Island
  3. Postcards from Moscow Idaho
  4. Postcards from "Off The Beaten Strip" Vegas

BOSA Family: Past/Present/Future

Recently, Embassy Bosa announced their new luxury condo 36-storey The Royal at the Beltline corner of 9th Street and 16th Avenue, or as some people call the area, Lower Mount Royal.  Yes, this is the same developer who was one of the pioneers in East Village.  And, for those following Calgary’s condo capers, they are also going to be a major player in the Currie Barracks mega makeover saga. Clearly, Ryan Bosa, President of Vancouver-based Embassy Bosa, is keen on Calgary, so keen in fact, that the company has all its eggs in one basket – Calgary. 

Ryan’s love of Calgary originated back in the early ‘90s when his Dad, Nat Bosa pioneered new urban living in Calgary by building five condos (Liberte, 1999; Axxis, 2000; Marquis, 2001; Barclay/Macleod at Riverwest, 2003, 2004) in downtown’s West End community, i.e. west of 8th Ave SW.   

Liberte condo in Calgary Eau Claire neighbourhood.

The '90s

The backstory reads like this. In the early ‘90s, there had been little new residential development in the downtown for over 10 years. The Calgary Downtown Association (I was the executive director at the time) commissioned IBI Group in 1996 to conduct interviews with condo developers in Calgary and Vancouver to ask “Why?”  The key finding in the report – Calgarians are only interested in single-family homes be those immediately accessible in the communities surrounding downtown or those in the suburbs only 30 minutes away.  Why live in a condo when you can live in a house? was the message.

Ironically, about a year after the report, Nat Bosa (one of the Vancouver developers interviewed) started construction on his first Calgary condo with the younger impressionable Ryan as part of the team.   While Calgary’s downtown was lacking residential amenities, he loved the city’s youthful enthusiasm and civic pride.  Ryan was blown away by how the entire city embraced the spirit of the Calgary Stampede, “you’d never get that to happen in Vancouver” he told me.

While the Bosa family moved on to projects in other cities (namely San Diego) to continue his urban makeovers, Ryan began making his own way in the world of condo development.  In 2010, he made East Village history by announcing Embassy Bosa Inc.’s commitment to building 700,000 square feet of mixed-use residential development. This was the turning point for East Village.

BOSA's new condo developments in East Village will welcome their first residents in the Fall of 2015.

“When I first saw the East Village vision, toured the site and saw the infrastructure improvements, I thought, wow this is the best urban development plan in North America” says Ryan.   He was also impressed with how much Calgary’s downtown and city centre had changed since the ‘90s - there was an urban buzz all around East Village with exciting plans for Inglewood, Bridgeland and Stampede Park. He decided very quickly he was “all in!”

It didn’t take long for Ryan to identify other opportunities for Embassy Bosa in Calgary’s growing condo living market.  Canada Lands Corporation’s (CLC) master plan to transform the Currie Barracks historic site into an urban village was a perfect fit for Embassy Bosa.   Today, CLC and Embassy Bosa are working together to create a new “live, work, play” community adjacent to Mount Royal University and West Mount Business Park and just minutes from downtown.

Ryan Bosa on the left  and Michael Brown (CEO, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation) on the right at the ground breaking ceremony for their East Village project. (photo credit: Condo Living magazine).

Last Word 

With past behaviour being a reasonably good predictor of future behaviour, I highly suspect The Royal is not the final chapter in the Bosa Family saga of shaping urban living in Calgary.

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Currie Barracks: Calgary's newest historic district

Union Square: Living on the park! 

East Village Condo: No Parking, No Problem 

+15 walkway: Love vs Hate!

Editor's Note: The Everyday Tourist will be hosting a +15 walkabout as part of Jane's Walk on Saturday, May 2, 2015 at 10am.  Meet on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade. 

Calgarians have a love-hate relationship with downtown’s +15 system – the public loves them, the planners and politicians hate them. The public (downtown workers) loves them as it means on poor weather days, they don’t have to put on a coat to attend a business meeting, meet a friend for coffee, lunch or a happy hour drink, or find a quiet place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the office.

The +15 is also a popular route for those who work in one building but workout in another, be that in the morning, noon or after work.  Another thing downtown workers love about the +15 is you are almost always guaranteed to run into someone you haven’t seen for years and have been meaning to catch up with.  It is a great place for impromptu networking.

The +15 walkway creates a unique urban design experience especially in the cathedral-like lobbies of the office buildings. 

The +15 walkway creates a unique urban design experience especially in the cathedral-like lobbies of the office buildings. 

Photo credit: City of Calgary, online +15 brochure 

Photo credit: City of Calgary, online +15 brochure 

Planners and politicians generally hate them because they think they destroy downtown street life.  Funny thing, both Toronto and Montreal have underground pathway systems and nobody talks about how they have destroyed the street life in those cities. The unique reality is Calgary’s downtown is almost exclusively made up of office buildings, which simply don’t generate street life, be that Calgary or New York City’s Wall St. district or Bay St. in Toronto.

The City of Calgary conducted +15 pedestrian counts in January 2011 and again July 2011. They found use of the +15 drops about 70% in the summer. This proves that when the weather is nice, downtown workers love to walk outside but when it isn’t, they are happy to use the +15 as their indoor sidewalk. We have the best of both worlds.

Pedestrian Counts July 2001. The City of Calgary website

Pedestrian Counts January 2012. The City of Calgary website 

Wayfinding 

Wandering the +15 walkway is bit like negotiating your way through a maze.  However there is an elaborate map and signage program to help new explorers.  At each bridge is an illuminated map with the details of the immediate area are highlighted.  You can also look for a man in “white hat and stairs” to direct you to a staircase that will get you to the street. 

Above the bridges, horizontal signage gives you the name of the building and tells you if you are headed North, South, East or West.

  • North signs have a fish background which means you are heading to the Bow River, which runs along the northern edge of the downtown on its way from the Bow Glacier to Hudson’s Bay. 
  • South signs have a train that represents the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks, which form the southern boundary of downtown. 
  • East signs have a fort motif paying tribute to the 1875 Northwest Mounted Police’s Fort Calgary on the eastern edge of downtown.
  • West signs have a mountain motif in the background reflecting the majestic Canadian Rockies dominate the downtown skyline to the west. 

Still, it is easy to get lost in the +15 system, but that is half of the fun. Newbies should not be afraid to admit they are lost and ask for directions - Calgarians are more than willing to point you in the right direction.

Photo credit: City of Calgary, +15 online brochure

Photo credit: City of Calgary, +15 online brochure

Design  

Most of the bridges are designed to connect buildings mid-block, but that is not always possible when you are connecting an older building to new building.  Older buildings have to be retrofitted on the 2nd floor to create a pedestrian walk through building and sometime two or three smaller buildings have to connect to one large new building; this is what results in the maze-like routes, rather than a linear grid like the streets below.

The idea of creating an elevated walkway system was not only based on climate but also on public health and safety.  The thinking was that by removing pedestrians from the street, the City would reduce the number of pedestrian/vehicle interactions, resulting in fewer accidents.   From a health perspective, the enclosed walkway also meant downtown workers and visitors not only wouldn’t have to breathe in the pollution of cars, but can also enjoy a healthy brisk 10-km walk at lunch even when it is -30C, snowing or raining.

The early bridges were simple rectangles without much thought into creating an urban design statement. However, that began to change with the Bankers Hall double decker bridges over Stephen Avenue, which makes its own architectural design statement. 

Since then, many bridges make their own unique design statement. For example, the +15 bridge connecting Eighth Avenue Place and Centennial Parkade and looking out to the CPR’s main rail line uses a traditional trestle bridge design popular for early prairie railway bridges.  

+15 bridge in the winter over Barclay Mall. 

+15 bridge in the winter over Barclay Mall. 

Bankers Hall double decker +15 bridge over Stephen Avenue at the 300 block.

Bankers Hall double decker +15 bridge over Stephen Avenue at the 300 block.

+15 bridge connecting Centennial Parkade and Eight Avenue Place.

+15 bridge connecting Centennial Parkade and Eight Avenue Place.

Interior of the +15 bridge connecting Municipal Building and Arts Commons.  Kids love looking out at the urban landscape from the +15 vantage point. 

Walking the +15 system early in the morning as downtown workers arrive is a surreal experience. 

Walking the +15 system early in the morning as downtown workers arrive is a surreal experience. 

+15 Highlights 

The +15 level of the Centennial Parkade is home to the Udderly Art Pasture, a celebration of the very popular Colourful Cows for Calgary art project that saw over 100 fun cow created by artists installed around the downtown in 2000.  Today, over 10 cows have found a permanent pasture in the +15.

Devonian Gardens, a 2.5-acre indoor park/garden created in 1977 and underwent a $37 million renovation in 2012, is integrated with The Core shopping center.  It is an ideal place to meet a friend, have some alone time or take young children to run and play in the playground area.

The Core Shopping Center is perhaps the epicenter of the +15, especially for shoppers.  It links the historic Hudson Bay’s department store with the contemporary Holt Renfrew store with four floors of shops. Its claim to fame is the German-engineered skylight the size of three football fields, making it the largest in the world.

 The Jamieson Place Winter Garden wins hands down as the most tranquil spot in downtown, with its infinity ponds, living plant walls and its spectacular hanging David Chihuly glass sculptures, each weighing 500 pounds.

The Suncor Place’s +15 lobby is home to an authentic Noorduyn Norseman Plane hanging from the ceiling. Used extensively in early oil and gas exploration as it could land on snow, water or land - very fitting given downtown Calgary is home to most of Canada’s oil & gas companies.

DAYDREAM Derek Besant’s public artwork in the +15 connecting West Alberta Place with Petro Fina is a hidden gem.  It consists of 24 etchings on the +15 windows accompanied by thought-provoking text like “WHERE DOES HE FIT INTO MY LIFE?“

If travelling along the +15 walkway in the Arts Commons building (formerly the EPCOR Centre) be sure to look in the window where, down below, you can watch the designers working on the next set design for a Theatre Calgary or Alberta Theatre Projects play.

Udderly Art Pasture in the Centennial Parkade. 

Udderly Art Pasture in the Centennial Parkade. 

Bush plane suspended from the ceiling of Suncor Centre. 

Bush plane suspended from the ceiling of Suncor Centre. 

Devonian Gardens early morning. 

Devonian Gardens early morning. 

Jamieson Place Winter Garden with infinity pools and living wall. 

Jamieson Place Winter Garden with infinity pools and living wall. 

The Core retail complex connects directly with three office towers, +15 walkways on two levels and Devonian Gardens.

The Core retail complex connects directly with three office towers, +15 walkways on two levels and Devonian Gardens.

The +15 walkway functions like outdoor pedestrian street with buskers, patios, cafes, shops and services. 

The +15 walkway functions like outdoor pedestrian street with buskers, patios, cafes, shops and services. 

Footnote 

Exploring Calgary’s +15 system is our city’s most unique urban experience.  While New York City is famous for its High Line (an elevated linear park on abandoned railway line that meanders through Manhattan), Calgary’s +15 walkway preceded it by 40 years. Calgarians should be proud of their +15 walkway.

In fact I am so proud of our +15 I will be wearing my Frontier Metropolis.com +15 shirt when I host a Jane's Walk through the +15 at 10am on May 2, 2015.  If you want to join us we are meeting on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade. 

In fact I am so proud of our +15 I will be wearing my Frontier Metropolis.com +15 shirt when I host a Jane's Walk through the +15 at 10am on May 2, 2015.  If you want to join us we are meeting on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade. 


Fun Factoids 

  • Harold Hanen a Calgary urban planner championed the +15 system in ‘60s.
  • Named +15 because the bridges are 15 feet above ground.
  • First +15 bridge connected Calgary Place to Westin Hotel in 1973.
  • 62 bridges create 18 km of walkways – the longest elevated enclosed walkway in the world.
  • 22,000 people cross the +15 bridge between Centrum Place and Energy Plaza over 6th Ave every weekday making it the busiest bridge in the system.
  • 150+ buildings are connected by +15 bridges.
  • Eighth Avenue Place is home several masterpieces of Canadian art including two Jean-Paul Riopelle paintings.
  • Calgary will never have double decker buses, as they won’t fit under the bridges.
  • Calgary’s +15 was the focus of Calgary filmmaker Gary Burns’ movie “waydowntown” in 2000.
  • The +15 is home to seven shoe shine chairs.
One of eight shoe shine stations in the +15 walkway. 

One of eight shoe shine stations in the +15 walkway. 

Mount Pleasant & Calgary's Other 4th Street

Some things you will only find in Mt. Pleasant.  Learn more later in this blog.

Thanks to the Bee Kingdom boys, I have discovered the up and coming community of Mount Pleasant, Velvet Café and Calgary’s newest Main Street (aka 4th Street NW from 23nd to 27th Avenues) – not to be confused with 4th St. SW in Mission. Mount Pleasant, home to 5,442 Calgarians, is bounded on the north by 32nd Avenue and Confederation Park, on the east by 2nd St. NW, on the west by 10th St. NW with 16th Ave NW at the south end.  Just 4 km to downtown and even less to the SAIT campus, it is full of recently completed or under construction infill developments that are attracting many new residents.

Back Story: Over the past year, I have become infatuated with the funky glass creatures and objects created by Ryan Marsh Fairweather and Phillip Bandura (aka Bee Kingdom) in a non descript garage behind a modest mid-century bungalow just off of 4th Street in east Mount Pleasant.  Though I have known and written (Galleries West magazine) about Bee Kingdom for a few years, it was their exhibition at the Glenbow Museum last summer and visit to their Fall studio open house that really got me excited about their work. As a result, we have been hanging out at Velvet Café strategizing about Bee Kingdom’s future.

The Red Cap Corner, home to the Velvet Cafe. 

The Velvet Café is nestled into a small two storey mixed-use development called Red Cap Corner (Yes, it has a red roof) that includes a couple of other shops at ground level and residences above.  Tough more suburban than urban with its off-street parking, it still creates great street ambience with its sidewalk patio and windows looking out onto the street. 

John Gilchrist (author of My Favourite Restaurants, Calgary, Canmore and beyond) speaks about Velvet as “a neighbourhood-friendly menu of fresh-made soups, hand-crafted Panini, delicately constructed pastas and house-baked muffins, all paired with Salt Spring Island coffee.”  He goes on to say, “Mount Pleasant’s 4th Street NW is burgeoning with restaurants – Shigatsu, 4th Spot, John’s Breakfast, Flavours and The Block.”

Did you know…Calgary’s first McDonald’s opened in 1968, at the corner of 4th St and 23rd Ave NW where a modern McDonald’s now sits? Mount Pleasant’s Main Street is also home to Plantation, a boutique garden centre located in what looks like an old service station.  Jane Jacobs, the late American/Canadian community revitalization activist and author of “The Death and Live of Great American Cities” would not only have been pleased with this adaptive reuse but also the eclectic nature of the merchants and architecture along 4th St. NW.

Plantation Garden Centre is located in a converted gas station.  Inside are lots of fun garden ornaments including the green globes.

Art Connection

North Mount Pleasant Arts Centre helps create a unique character to Mount Pleasant and 4th Street NW.

Mount Pleasant’s Main Street has two very unusual anchors - St. Joseph Elementary and Junior High School playing field and the North Mount Pleasant Arts Centre (NMPAC).  The latter located at the corner of 4th Street and 27th Avenue NW, is housed in the 1913 North Mount Pleasant School, one of only three original prototype “bungalow” schools built exclusively for Calgary between 1905 and 1913. For more information: North Mount Pleasant School . Today, this Centre is a multi-discipline visual arts facility with classes for all ages and skill levels, with a major focus on ceramics.  

Dean Stanton, one of Calgary's most popular muralist has  created a colourful, playful block-long mural along their 4th Street fence at the St. Joseph's school playing field, adding character and charm to the street and enhance the emerging artsy sense of place in Mount Pleasant.

Dean Stanton's Mural on 4th St NW on the fence of St. Joseph School. 

French Flavour

They don't build schools like this anymore.

This community is also unique with its two French Immersion schools – King George Elementary School and Ecole de la Rose Sauvage French Junior and Senior High School.  The King George School, built in 1912, is a fine example of Calgary’s early 20th century sandstone schools and a reminder that Mount Pleasant was annexed by the City way back in 1910 with development beginning in 1912. 

King George has arguably one of Calgary’s best schoolyards. Not only is there a modern playground and large playing field, but also a picnic area next to a berry garden and a natural space with rocks, trees and bushes for exploring and creative play.  And next to the modern playground are several huge tree trunks that make for a fun, natural climbing apparatus (for kids) and seating (for adults).

The modern playground at King George School.

These huge logs are great for climbing on, hiding in or sitting on.  Way more fun than a picnic table or a bench. 

King George School natural area.  Hidden in the shadows of the tree on the left is a fun chair carved out of wood.  

Last Word

Calgary’s inner-city communities are undergoing an amazing transformation as they convert from sleepy, early to mid-20th century single-family communities, into fun and funky 21st century ones, each with their own Main Street.   Add Mount Pleasant to your list of communities to flaneur this spring.

4th Street NW is home to the Mount Pleasant community garden.  Who needs a farmers' market when you have your own garden?

This is one of over a dozen infill construction sites near 4th Street; this one caught my attention as it was in a back alley. Mount Pleasant is obviously on the the leading edge of urban living in Calgary. 

Do we really need families living in our Centre City?

A hot topic of debate for urban planners and politicians these days is how to get more families living downtown, especially in higher density condo neighbourhoods.  Many urban living advocates think the more families living in a neighbourhood the healthier it is. I am not so sure about that.

Some Calgary urban advocates think our Centre City communities (Downtown core, West End, Eau Claire, Chinatown, East Village, Beltline) suffer from a lack of families living in them.  Some have even gone so far as to suggest the City should mandate developers to build more three-bedroom condos and apartments to attract more families to live downtown in the belief “that if you build them, families will come.”  

Calgary isn’t alone. Planners, politicians and developers in Vancouver and Toronto have also been debating for the past 10 years or more, how to create attractive, affordable housing for families in urban communities.  In fact, back in 2009, Toronto’s City Council contemplated requiring condos with 100+ dwelling units to have at least 10% of the units be three-bedrooms (or at least the ability to easily be converted to 3- bedrooms units). The changes to their Official Plan (city’s master plan to manage growth and development) have never been approved and the debate continues.

Recently, the Globe & Mail reported on a family of 7 (two adults and kids ranging from 2 to 8 years of age) happily living in a 1,023 square foot condo in Vancouver. The family pays $2,150 to rent the highrise condo in Yaletown.  The story goes on to say that rumour has it, another 60 kids live in the building which suggests more families in Vancouver are choosing urban living.  Some are thinking (perhaps praying is a better word), that this will be the 21st century model for family living – urban and minimal.  Could there be  a segment of the modern family housing market who don’t want big houses, with double vanity sinks, spa-like bathrooms, walk-in closets, massive kitchens, media rooms and oversized double garages to park their two SUVs? Time will tell.  

Major Flaw

There is a flaw in the theory that if you build 3-bedroom condos, families will happily live downtown. A Toronto media story recently profiled how a large 3-bedroom downtown condo made a perfect bachelor pad for three young male professionals.  I see a 3-bedroom condo also being ideal for Ruppies  (retired urban professionals) who want a downtown pad with room for a couple of offices that can be converted into bedrooms when kids or grandkids comes to visits. To me, it’s no coincidence that in Calgary, some of the largest condos are in the Eau Claire area, which also happens to also be our retirement village – 21% of residents are 65+ years of age, twice the city average of 10%.

In a free market system, just because you build 3-bedroom condos doesn’t mean you can guarantee young families will live in them.  For families in Calgary wanting to enjoy urban living, they see many better options than highrise condo in higher density neighbourhoods.

Families Love Infills Communities

A little digging found Calgary actually has as many children living in its greater downtown communities, as does Vancouver (thought by many planners to be a leader in urban family living).  In Calgary’s Downtown Core, 10% of residents are under the age of 19 with 6% being under the age of 4, very close to the City average of 7%.  The Beltline is a bit lower with 8% under 19, half of those under the age of 4.  In Vancouver’s downtown communities, the number of children under 19 also hovers just under the 10% level.

The Haultain Park playground in the Beltline Calgary's highest density community is popular with young families. In Calgary, condo living is great for young families, but that soon changes as they grow up and need more space. 

The playground a Cliff Bungalow School provides an idyllic place for young families to hang out. 

I also checked out the communities near downtown. Though Mission/Cliff Bungalow was also under the 10% threshold, cross the Bow and Elbow Rivers and it is a totally different story. 

In Hillhurst and West Hillhurst (lower density single-family home neighbourhoods) a whopping 21% of residents are under the age of 19 - close to the city average of 25%.  Inglewood has 19% of its population under 19; Ramsay 17% and Bridgeland 15%.

Go a step or two further and you find 25% of Rosedale’s residents under the age of 19 (the same as the city average), Roxboro has 24% (with a whopping 16% in the 5 to 14-age bracket, twice the city average), Mount Royal and Scarboro are not far behind at 23%.

Obviously, Calgary has several family-friendly neighbourhoods (read single family homes) within just a few kilometers of the downtown office core.

On a recent Saturday walkabout in West Hilllhurst I encountered two street hockey games. 

The Queen Elizabeth School complex (elementary, junior high and high school) playground makes Hillhurst and West Hillhurst a haven for families. 

Westmount Charter Elementary School makes Parkdale a very attractive place for young families to live. From Parkdale you can walk or cycle to to downtown, University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre and Alberta Children's Hospital. 

What’s The Problem

Is it really important we have families living in the highrises in the Beltline, East Village or Eau Claire? (Note: 7% of the Eau Claire population is under 4 years of age, same as city average, but only 1% in the 5-14 years bracket and none in the 15-19 group). 

So what if many young families “start” in the City Centre and then move out as their families grow larger or as the kids get bigger and they need and/or want more space? Some planners think that a measure of a neighbourhood’s health is the number of families living in the community. I am not so sure it is!

There was much media attention last fall for the Halloween Index, a supposed measure of the health of a community, based on the number of trick & treaters coming to the door.  Again, a cute idea but really not important in the big scheme of city building.      

And yes, it may be a “warm fuzzy” thing to say that lots of families live downtown, but really, does it make any significant difference if a community is made up mostly of YUPPIES AND RUPPIES? Does it really matter if the sidewalks are full of patios and pedestrians?  Do all communities have to look the same?  Do they all have to have the same mix of people?  As long as the streets and public spaces are safe (day and night) and people like their community, isn’t that enough?

Yuppies and Ruppies are attracted to the maintenance free condo lifestyle in Calgary's West End neighbourhood. 

On the north side of the Bow River less than 2 kilometres from downtown families can enjoy a modern new single family home with streets that encourage family activities and a school that is just a block away. 

Here is the other street hockey game I encountered on my walk home from yoga recently. 

Here is the other street hockey game I encountered on my walk home from yoga recently. 

Cost vs Space

In Vancouver and Toronto the cost of a three-bedroom inner city condo in a concrete building is significantly less than an inner city wood-framed home with about the same square footage - if you can find one. So it is no surprise there is a stronger market in those two cities for three bedroom condos than in Calgary where the opposite is true. 

Here, the cost of new wood frame infill home near downtown is significantly less than a similar sized concrete condo. For example, along Kensington Road in Hillhurst, there are 1,900 square foot town homes for $610,000 and Brookfield Residential offered couple of 2,000 square foot side-by-sides with full basements and two car garages that were 2,000 square feet for $800,000 last year.

Compare that to a 1,200 square foot concrete condo (probably the minimum square footage for a family of four these days) at a cost of about $720,000 ($780,000 if you want two parking stalls). So, for about the same price or less, a family can purchase a new infill house, five minutes from downtown.  

When push comes to shove, most (not all) Calgary families would (and do) opt for the conveniences a new home with backyard, basement, two-car garage and three bathrooms.

Condo living is popular for young urban families especially on the west side of the Beltline where there is a school and two grocery stores.  

New infill homes are a common site on almost every block in Calgary's  inner city communities. Calgary has probably one of the most diverse infill home building programs in inner-city neighbourhoods in North America.   Most of these homes will be occupied by young families. 

Last Word

The Calgary Foundation’s Vital Signs survey (2014) found 87% of respondents describing themselves as happy and 91% feel they are surrounded by loving family, companions and friends.  You can’t ask for much more than that.

Planners and politicians have – or should have - bigger and better things to worry about than whether or not Calgary developers are building enough 3-bedroom condos.  If the demand is there, developers will build them.  Let’s not get into mico-managing condo size and design.

Rather, let’s build upon the fact Calgary’s urban centre is already an attractive place to live for Calgarians of all ages AND has been improving every year for the past decade by providing a diversity of housing options. Let’s focus on investing in things like new and improved urban parks, pathways, underpasses, sidewalks, bike lanes, arts, entertainment and recreational amenities that will enhance the attractiveness for both current and future residents.

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Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary 

Intelligent Infilling or Living in a bubble?

The Suburbs Move to City Centre in Calgary 

 

 

 

 

Playgrounds Gone Wild?

Editor's Note: Looks like the Everyday Tourist is wrong on this one. Majority of readers say "can't have enough playgrounds! 

As spring arrives and I start to wander my neighbourhood streets more, I especially love walking by the many colourful playgrounds just to hear the happy shrieks and shouts of kids and parents enjoying Calgary’s great urban outdoors. We are blessed with a plethora of playgrounds in Calgary’s northwest inner city communities; it seems like there is one every few blocks.

As well, over the past few years, there seems to have been an explosion of playground renewal renovation in our area - from the uber-popular Helicopter Park to the not quite yet completed Riley Park playground.

It is the latter which got me thinking. Perhaps we have too many playgrounds? “How is that even possible?” you ask?  Well, it is possible when there are four playgrounds all basically on the same block – yes, FOUR! And, where you ask is that?

Hillhurst Community Centre playground's play window for kids to look down and adult to look up at each other.

Hillhurst Community Centre playground's play window for kids to look down and adult to look up at each other.

It’s on the Hillhurst Community Centre block (6th Ave. on the south, 7th Ave. on the north, 14th St. on the west and 12th St. on the east). There is one at the west side of the Community Centre (next to the community garden/orchard and easily visible to those walking, cycling and driving by on 6th Avenue NW).

There are two playgrounds just north at the Hillhurst School - one on the west side of the school and one on the east.  I am sure there is a good reason for two playgrounds, but I am afraid to ask. I suspect one is for younger children and the other for older ones. If this is the case, I wonder what this teaches children about sharing and interacting with different age groups.  I went to kindergarten to grade 8 school and we all shared the same playground and I don’t recall any major problems. Lessons taught, or not taught, at an early age can result in unintended consequences later in life.

The yellow pins indicate the location of the four playgrounds.  The white shape in the upper right corner is the wading pool in Riley Park. The orange pin is in the middle of the block where a major condo complex is currently under construction. 

The fourth playground is at the extreme southwest corner of Riley Park, across the street from Hillhurst Community Centre. It is a strange location given how far away from it is from the park’s popular children’s wading pond.  The old playground has been removed and a new playground is currently being constructed on the same site, which will soon be almost in the backyard of a new Ezra condo complex. (Backstory: Ezra Hounsfield Riley who once had a huge ranch that encompassed most of what is now Hillhurst, West Hillhurst, Parkdale and Montgomery, donated the land for Riley Park.)

The new Riley Park playground.

I can just hear it now -  “Who’s bright idea was it to totally rebuild a playground next to a residential block with three playgrounds just steps away?”  This would have been a good time to perhaps relocate the playground to the wading pool area or perhaps remove it entirely and let families use the school or community playgrounds a half a block away.

After a recent yoga class at the Bodhi Tree on 14th Ave NW across from the Hillhurst School, I paced out the distance between the playgrounds.  It was about 60 steps from the playground on the west side of the school to the one on the east. From there it was 252 steps to the new Riley Park playground and then another 189 steps to the Hillhurst Community Centre playground.

Playground on west side of Hillhurst School. 

Playground on the east side of the historic sandstone Hillhurst School. 

I realize we can’t have young children walking from the schoolyard to a playground a half a block away or have daycare children walking to a playground across the street.  Yet somehow it seems wrong to have four playgrounds - with a total cost I estimate at well over $500,000 - all within a few steps of each other. Especially given playgrounds are relatively empty most of the time. (When I walk by rarely do I see more than two families at a time, except in school grounds at recess and lunch.)

I heard somewhere that the public isn’t supposed to use school playgrounds on school days. Is that true? I have always thought schoolyards to be public spaces as schools are funded by taxpayer dollars and the land is government-owned. I think any school that wants to ban the public from their schoolyard should also be banned from receiving any of my tax dollars.  I have never seen a no trespassing sign on a schoolyard, so I am thinking and hoping it is a shared public space! 

 Last Word

Shouldn’t playgrounds be meeting places for young families? So, wouldn’t fewer playgrounds encourage more walking and more interaction with others? Isn’t that a good thing? I am thinking one large central community/schoolyard playground would be best?

Perhaps herein lies an important urban planning lesson i.e. we need to link schools, daycares, parks and community centres so they can share playgrounds and playing fields to maximize the interaction of people of all ages and backgrounds.  This is an important step in helping create a sense of community.

Are their other communities in Calgary where we have “gone wild” in creating too many playgrounds?  Drop me a note and I will add it to this blog!

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Condo Living: More time for fun!

 

Once upon at time, Calgary was known as the “single family home” capital of Canada.  This was due in large part to the city’s 9.5-fold growth, from 1951 to 2001, a time when owning a single family home was the North American dream. Today, Calgary boasts one of the most diverse housing markets in North America – new single family, townhomes, low-rise and high-rise condo construction is happening across the city.  2014 was a watershed year for condo construction with 10,637 starts vs only 6,494 single family starts.

New condos on a side street in Mission on of Calgary's most attractive urban neighbourhoods for both empty nesters and YUPPIES. . 

New condos on a side street in Mission on of Calgary's most attractive urban neighbourhoods for both empty nesters and YUPPIES. . 

Dr. Harry Hiller, Sociology Professor, University of Calgary postulates “Until the late ‘70s, most new residents to Calgary were from rural communities which meant they were used to living in a single family detached house with grass on all four sides. High density apartment living was seen as something for students, seniors and renters.”

But today, Hiller notes “more and more new Calgarians come from urban centers where high density living is more typical.  In addition, families are smaller and childbearing delayed, both opening the door for young professionals to adopt the condo lifestyle.” He adds, “The rise of the condo as an owned unit in a high density building where equity can be sustained is a relatively recent development that is becoming more popular.”

By the ‘90s, Calgary planners, politicians and developers began to realize the need to plan a city that would be more cost effective to manage. This meant rethinking how to build new communities on the city’s edge, diversifying housing in post 1950s residential-only communities and attracting more people to live near downtown.

Mission's Millionaire's Row started in the '80s.

Mission's Millionaire's Row started in the '80s.

Live, Work, Play Mantra

Today, new master planned communities on the edge of the city offer a balance of single family (on smaller lots) homes, townhomes and low-rise condos. Wendy Jabush, VP Calgary Homes, Brookfield Residential says, “We continue to see the condo market grow in Calgary with the changing demographics. Condo living is very attractive to smaller households and people of all ages looking for maintenance-free living.” She adds,  “Both the City and industry want choice in communities. Both parties are looking for a diversity of housing types to serve the changing face of Calgary and one that is inclusive of everyone's needs.”  

Some new suburban communities have almost as many condos as they do single-family homes. 

Some new suburban communities have almost as many condos as they do single-family homes

Calgary’s established communities are being revitalized with numerous master-planned condo communities like Bridges, East Village and West District, as well as mixed of condo, townhome and single family communities like Currie Barracks, Quarry Park and Garrison Woods.

Today, it’s all about the new mantra, “live, work, play” communities where residents can do most of their everyday living without leaving the community - some even work in the community.  Unlike the mid to late 20th century, when new communities were 90% residential, today new communities approximate 50% residential, 25% commercial and 25% retail, restaurant and recreation

More time to relax with friends!

More time to relax with friends!

More time to work out with friends!

More time to work out with friends!

Fishing in the Bow River, which is in your backyard if you live in a condo in Eau Claire, East Village or Inglewood. 

Fishing in the Bow River, which is in your backyard if you live in a condo in Eau Claire, East Village or Inglewood. 

More time to cycle with family and friends. 

More time to cycle with family and friends. 

More time to smell the flowers vs weed the garden.

More time to smell the flowers vs weed the garden.

More time to check out the museums and galleries.

More time to check out the museums and galleries.

More time for pick-up game of soccer. 

More time for pick-up game of soccer. 

Dynamic Downtown

Calgary has one of the most dynamic downtowns in North America - built at the same density as Manhattan or Chicago. Unfortunately, most of downtown’s growth in the late 20th century was high-rise office towers. 

By the late 20th century Calgary’s urban culture came of age with festivals like Folk Festival, Art Walk, High Performance Rodeo and SLED Island. At the same time, Business Revitalization Zones in and next to downtown were successfully fostering street life – 4th Street, 17th Avenue, Kensington, Stephen Avenue and Inglewood.

According to John Gilchrist, author of My Favourite Restaurants Calgary & Banff, “In 1985, Calgary’s downtown dining options were largely hotel dining rooms or Chinatown restaurants. Today, there are hundreds of great restaurants in and around downtown with interesting new ones opening up every month. It’s an interesting place to live.”  

By the mid ‘90s, condos were organically (no master plan) popping up on surface parking lots in the Beltline, Eau Claire, Mission and West Downtown. This was followed by master-planned communities like East Village and Bridges. In 2015, new condo development with retail at street level is happening in Altadore, Bankview, Bridgeland, Kensington, Marda Loop, Montgomery, Parkdale, Brentwood and West Hillhurst.   

Parham Mahboubi, Vice-president Planning & Marketing with Vancouver’s Qualex-Landmark Group thinks “Calgary’s eclectic Beltline offers an urban experience on par with Vancouver’s Main Street, Granville Street, Gastown, Kitsilano and  West End.”

Ryan Bosa, President, Embassy BOSA is currently building condos in East Village (and soon Currie Barracks and Beltline) echoes that sentiment. He fell in love with downtown back in the ‘90s when his Dad, Nat Bosa pioneered condo living in Calgary with the construction of five condos in Calgary’s West End.  “When he first saw Calgary Municipal Land Corporation’s vision for East Village, toured the site and saw how our downtown had evolved, his immediate thought was “this is hands down the best condo play in North America. I am all in!”

Condo living in Victoria Park, next to Stampede Park and minutes from downtown. 

Condo living in Victoria Park, next to Stampede Park and minutes from downtown. 

Condo living next to 17th Ave. aka Red Mile. 

Condo living next to 17th Ave. aka Red Mile. 

Condo living in Eau Claire / Chinatown. 

Condo living in Eau Claire / Chinatown. 

Condo living in Chinatown.

Condo living in Chinatown.

Condo living next to University at LRT station. 

Condo living next to University at LRT station. 

Condo living in the Beltline. 

Condo living in the Beltline. 

Last Word

For Calgarians Richard and Debbie Brekke, the idea of moving from their Elbow Park home after 25 years to a condo in Mission, was a no-brainer. “It simplified our lives and gave us more time for fun.” Richard loves their floor to ceiling view of downtown and doesn’t miss looking out his Elbow Park window and feeling guilty because he hasn’t “cut the lawn or weeded the garden.” Debbie, loves the street life on 4th - “I didn’t want to wait 10 years!” 

 

Note: This blog was commissioned by the Calgary Herald and was first published on April 10, 2015 in their CONDO XTRA special publication. 

 

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Enjoying urban street life in Calgary's funky Kensington district. 

Enjoying urban street life in Calgary's funky Kensington district. 

Nanton's Bomber Command Museum

We have probably driven by the Bomber Command Museum in Nanton, Alberta well over 50 times since moving to southern Alberta in 1981. We have visited Nanton many times to wander its quaint Main Street with its many antique stores and café.  I have even played golf there a couple of times. But we have never ventured into the museum, until recently that is. 

With my mom visiting from Hamilton, we were looking for fun and new things to do. Nanton came up as a great day trip.  Backstory: Last summer, it was Calgary’s Military Museums, which I had passed by thousands of times on Crowchild Trail SW but had never visited until my Mom came in August. We decided to check out the Museum and WOW what a great surprise. Though not a big history or military buff, Museum blew us away.  Learn more: Everyday Tourist visits Calgary Military Museums.

While the day was ugly (weather-wise), our trip to Nanton was great.  The Bomber Command Museum of Canada exceeded our expectations. While it doesn’t look like much from the outside (its just a big metal warehouse building - no $100+ million architectural icon here), but once inside, the volunteer-run museum is most attractive.

Admission is by donation, which I think is great; this way visitors can give based on the value they received.  I have always thought that this is the best way for a museum or art gallery to really judge the value they are giving their visitors, as well as remove any barriers to visiting for those who aren’t sure it worth the cost and for families who just don’t have the money to spend on museum visits.

At the entrance to the Museum, sit several display cases packed with artifacts and wonderful facts and stories about them.  What makes the museum authentic and special is that most of the artifacts are from the people of southern Alberta; these items are truly part of the area’s history and culture.

The well-stocked Museum gift shop had the usual shirts, hats and knickknacks, as well as some great books and some fun fashions, including cute bomber jackets for kids. 

Canada Kid
Nanton display case
Story of a tire
Lancaster Tire evokes memories
Lady Pilots

 The Hanger

After exploring the entrance area, you enter the main exhibition space, which is a humungous hanger space full of airplanes.  My camera was soon overheated and its battery drained, as I couldn’t stop taking pictures.  It was a real feast for the eyes. 

One of the main attractions is a preserved Avro Lancaster bomber, which doesn’t fly but they do start-up the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines every once in awhile.  You can also check out the RAF Bomber Command aircraft including a Bristol Blenheim Mk IV. 

In addition there are many intriguing artifacts and displays  - from engines to bicycles to local stories about those who flew in the various wars. As a former visual art curator, I was very intrigued by the Nose Art i.e. the art painted on the nose of the aircraft.  I love the erotic, playboy, comic book-like art works.  It was obvious these were lonely, frustrated young males.

There was sadness about it all, as the museum tells the stories of how 10,659 young Canadian men lost their lives flying bombers. I will let these postcards from the museum share some of the stories and hopefully entice you to visit.

The Hanger
Hanger 2
restoration work
There is an entire room devoted to engines.

There is an entire room devoted to engines.

Cheetah IX
Cheetah info

Nose Art 

Nose art info
Willie The Wolf From The West
IMG_8184.jpg
Notorious Nan
Seven Dwarfs

 

Nanton at a glance

While in Nanton, there are many fun things to see and do.  Dressing Up, the not-for-profit thrift store on Main Street is an opportunity to find your own historical artifact or treasure.  There are several antique/vintage/retro stores, which are fun to explore. Brenda’s find this trip was an early 1900s vial of French perfume talc - still with it contents, for $1.  Tres chic; tres vintage!

Nanton is also home to the Ultimate Trains and Big Sky Garden Railway, which we have been told is great family fun.  It is an outdoor large-scale model trains in a garden setting that is open from May 1st to Thanksgiving long weekend.  Sounds like another road trip in the making. Big Sky Garden Railway 

The Main Street Café is our go-to spot for lunch – good home food.  This time we each had a bowl of tangy hamburger soup, I had a sandwich loaded with chicken, bacon and lettuce, we shared a slice of homemade Boston Cream pie and we all had one of their gooey cinnamon buns (cream cheese added to order at no extra cost) - all for $29. The Cafe is definitely a walk back in time, as Glenn Andrews one of the owners came over and asked us how our meal was.  We said how wonderful the Hamburger soup was and then got chatting about soups and he gave us a taste and history lesson on the new "soup of the day" Mulligatawny (the popular Hamburger soup had run out).  Nicely rested we headed out to explore the shops. 

Soup and sandwich at Main Street Cafe

Soup and sandwich at Main Street Cafe

A collection of Fireman Helmets waiting for the right collector.

A collection of Fireman Helmets waiting for the right collector.

You never know what artifacts you will discover in Nanton.

You never know what artifacts you will discover in Nanton.

 Last Word

One of the great things about being an “everyday tourist” is that you are always open to and looking for fun new things to do - be that checking out a new community in the city you live in or taking a road trip to a small town nearby.

 Why is the tendency to always wait for visiting family and friend to explore our own city?

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Attainable Homes unique to Calgary

Calgary has an amazing spectrum of home programs, but the one that is perhaps the most unique to Calgary is “Attainable Homes Calgary Corporation (AHCC).”  What is an attainable home you ask?  David Watson, President & CEO of Attainable Homes like to refer to his team’s mandate as “we help everyday Calgarians with everyday jobs who qualify for a mortgage, but struggle to save for the down payment in Calgary’s market buy a home.”  He is quick to add, “Attainable Homes is not subsidized housing and is a self sustaining program that receives no funding from the City of Calgary or any other government.”

Glenbrook Park, Attainable Homes newest project. 

Glenbrook Park, Attainable Homes newest project. 

How does it work?

On their website it says “We’re a non-profit organization and wholly owned subsidiary of The City of Calgary that works to deliver well-appointed, entry-level homes for Calgarians who have been caught in the city’s growing affordability gap.”  This is a nice way of saying that after paying their rent many Calgarians have little room for saving money that could be used for a down payment even though their mortgage cost would be similar to their rental payments.

Attainable Homes helps people who qualify for a mortgage, meet maximum household income qualification and are willing to take a home education course by helping out with the down payment.

Calgarians with a maximum household income of $90,000 per annum for families and $80,000 for singles with no dependents who qualify for a mortgage with the bank, have assets of less than 20% of the purchase price of the home (up to maximum of $50,000) and have $2,000 to invest in a down payment qualify.  More info at: http://ahcc.attainyourhome.com/ownership.php

Attainable Homes partners with builders and developers to obtain homes at a discounts and then pass on the savings to the homebuyers, with the caveat that when you sell your home AHCC get part of the appreciation. For example if you sell you home in 1 to 2 years you get to keep only 25% of any appreciation, after 2 to 3 years the appreciation is split 50/50 and after 3 years the home buyer gets to keep 75%.

Attainable Homes invests the money it makes from the appreciation back into the program. To date they have sold over 500 homes, in 19 different communities. A typical home is a 1 or 2 bedroom condo, or a 2 to 3 bedroom townhomes, all in the low $200,000 to mid $300,000.  In 2014, 40% of the AHCC buyers had annual family household income between $50 and $65,000, and 80% were between 18 and 40 years of age.

Rendering of Mount Pleasant condo project by Attainable Homes.

Successes

  • AHCC has been a pioneer in laneway housing with its funky Mount Pleasant project at the corner of 9th Street and 17th Avenue NW. It is being developed by Lexington Development Management and includes 25 homes, underground parking and an interior courtyard.  Attainable Homes is proud to say that so far not a single development permit has been appealed.  
  • AHCC sales have increased every year since its inception with a 46% increase in 2014. 
  • AHCC currently has $6 million in shared equity that will be reinvested as owners sell their homes into the private market.
  • Over 16,000 Calgarians have registered on their website to participate in the program and 4,050 individuals have taken their homeowner education program.
Attainable Homes condo under construction

Attainable Homes condo under construction

Challenges

  • Most of the homes to date have been in the suburbs; AHCC would like to work with developers and landowners to create more Attainable Homes in inner-city communities.
  • Working with City and School Boards to identify underutilized land that would be ideal for residential development.
  •  Researching and identifying different economic models to broaden the program e.g. Land Trust
  • Attracting more builders to consider Attainable Home program as part of their economic pro forma.  For example, downtown and city centre condo builders could sell units in bulk to AHCC, as a means of reaching presales needs for financing.

Attainable homes happy family.

Last Word

AHCC conducts client surveys six weeks after homeowners take possession, first anniversary and an exist interview.  100% of the respondents said that their quality of life has improved since owning a home. 92% said that owning an attainable home has changed their outlook on the future. 

For Ryan, Amanda and their three children it meant no more moving from one dilapidated rental apartment to another. Finally they could create a home for their children.

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

This blog was first published in the Calgary Herald's New Condos section on April 4, 2015 titled " Attainable Homes unique to Calgary." 

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Eau Claire Estates linked to Burj Khalifa?

Built in 1981, Eau Claire Estates on the Bow River at 4th St SW, was one of city’s first luxury urban condos.  Though it was supposed to be the start of a mega Eau Claire urban renewproject by Oxford Properties who owned several blocks in Eau Claire, it sat all alone for nearly a decade.

Backstory: For newcomers to Calgary, it is hard to imagine in the ‘70s and ’80s, Eau Claire was a rundown community of old homes, surface parking lots (there are still lots of those) and women of the street.  When the Federal Government introduced the National Energy Program in October 1980, Calgary quickly slid into a recession and the hopes for a quick revitalization of the Eau Claire community quickly disappeared.  

It wasn’t until the mid ‘90s that Eau Claire’s revitalization was rebooted with opening of Eau Claire Market, Eau Claire Y, Sheraton Hotel and Prince’s Island Estates condos. But even that was a bit of false start as it took yet another 10 years to get projects like the Princeton and The Waterfront condos off the ground.

Eau Claire Estates

Eau Claire Estates & Burj Khalifa?

 A little known fact is Eau Claire Estates was designed by Chicago-based Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM) architects, a renowned highrise specialist since 1936. Today, SOM is best known as the architect of the world’s tallest building - Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai. 

The Burj Khalifa soars about all of Dubai's tall towers. 

The Burj Khalifa soars about all of Dubai's tall towers. 

Eau Claire Estates is interesting in that it is not a single tower, but rather a family of 10 towers (with 14 elevators), the tallest being 23 floors. Somewhat analogously, the Burj (163 floors, completed in 2010) is constructed as a series of 27 setbacks resulting in what looks a family of towers stacked on top of each other.

That is where the similarities end, as the Burj is a majestic, slender, bright glass structure that towers over everything else in the Dubai skyline, while Eau Claire Estates is a foreboding dark brown brick structure.  (Even one of the residents who lived there for 30 years thought the brick was too dark.) While the façade is a flat monochromatic brick wall that offers no articulation or decorative qualities from balconies or windows, it has hints of modernism with the various slanted rooftops that anticipate the roofs of future office buildings like First Canadian Place and Suncor Centre.

Estate wall

Eau Claire Estates, with no grand street entrance or townhomes with doors to the sidewalk, presents a dark, blank, gated community-like wall that is very pedestrian-unfriendly.  However, for the residents it is an oasis with its two interior courtyard gardens boasting spectacular flowers in the summer and a huge lobby that serves all 10 buildings.

Today, Eau Claire Estates lives in the shadows of the shiny blue glass Devon, Centennial and Millennium office towers and the timeless red brick brick and sandstone Princeton condo complex.

Eau Claire Estates from the '80s beside the Princeton from the '00s illustrates how urban designed evolved over 25 years. 

Eau Claire Estates from the '80s beside the Princeton from the '00s illustrates how urban designed evolved over 25 years. 

Last Word

The decision by Oxford Properties to hire SOM architects to design Eau Claire Estates in the late ‘70s was a bold a move. It was on par with the early 21st century decisions to hire famous international architects (UK’s Norman Foster, The Bow; Spain’s Santiago Calatrava, Peace Bridge and Denmark’s Bjarke Ingles, TELUS Sky) in an attempt to put Calgary on the map of international cities having iconic architecture. 

Yet while the decision was bold and the architect famous, Eau Claire Estates hasn’t truly stood the test of time. It hasn’t become a classic example of late 20th Century architecture.  Nor does it add any charm or character to Eau Claire’s sense of place.  Lesson learned - hiring an international iconic architect doesn’t guarantee you will get an iconic building.

Another lesson to be learned is that community redevelopment takes decades, Eau Claire has been at since the early ‘80s and there is still lots of work to be done.

By Richard White, March 21, 2015. This blog was commissioned by Condo Living Magazine for their March Edition.  

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Everyday Tourist's road trip to the 'burbs!

In March 2014, I embarked on an 8,907 six-week road trip to the southern US visiting places like Tucson, Albuquerque and Santa Fe. This March, I took a 74 km six-hour road trip to explore Calgary’s southern neighbourhoods, Evergreen, Cranston, Riverstone and Seton.

Top 10 things observed on my road trip to south Calgary:

1.     New communities are often criticized for being just a sea of residential housing without any other “uses.”  However, most of the homes I saw had an attractive office just inside the front door that would put the downtown office cubicles to shame.  And then there were also fully equipped home gyms, the wine cellars with attached wine bar, games rooms and multiple dining areas; these homes have much in common with an upscale downtown lounge or pub. Kitchens had multiple upscale appliances, coffee stations and large dinner areas that reminded me of the private dining rooms in downtown restaurants. And then there were the patios, one complete with their own wet bar, fireplace, fancy dancy BBQ and seating for a couple of dozen of your best friends. Perhaps we should stop calling them homes in favour of mixed-use villas.  

Enjoy your private wine cellar and tasting bar with friends. 

Imagine your own yoga workout studio. 

2.     The houses aren’t much different in size and space to the new inner city infills with their narrow lots sprouting up on every block of Calgary’s established communities. The biggest difference is there are no messy back alleys as garages are all in the front and the streets lined with cars.  And there wasn’t the variety of architectural designs and I did miss the large trees, but as I have said before, don’t judge a community until the trees are taller than the houses. Learn More: Don’t judge a community too soon!

3.     Large horizontal condo complexes (vs. the vertical ones in the City Centre) were prevalent along the main transit roads indicating some diversity in housing types.  I even saw some accordion buses (Calgary’s version of the double decker bus) indicating not everybody is addicted to their cars.

An example of one of the many condo complexes prevalent in new suburban communities. 

4.     There is a return to the outdoor neighbourhood mall complete with grocery store, pub, café, restaurant, liquor store, spa and other services – similar to Lakeview Mall or Stadium Shopping Centre from fifty years ago.

5.     The quality of the retail architecture seems to be improving especially in Seton.  Seton’s retail square even had painted bike paths and a futuristic-looking gateway design feature that shared some of the features as Kensington’s Poppy Plaza.

6.     Schools are bursting with kids at recess and noon hour, making it a kaleidoscope of largely pinks and blues darting about the playgrounds. There are signs everywhere about registering kids for sport teams. I was exhausted just reading them.

The suburbs are where people of all ages and backgrounds live and play.

7.     Humans obviously love homes with a view, be that in Evergreen looking out over Fish Creek Park or in Cranston living on the ridge looking out on the Bow River Valley or Riverstone with the Bow River in your back yard. The first two remind me of Crescent Heights, Houndsfield Heights, Briar Hill or St. Andrew’s Heights, while Riverstone is the 21st century equivalent of Roxboro.

8.     Traffic? What traffic? At 3 pm on a Wednesday I was able to travel from Seton to West Hillhurst through downtown via Memorial Drive in 30 minutes.

9.     While the inner city is all about “building up,” i.e. highrises condo towers and converting single story cottage homes into two story mansions, the ‘burbs are “building down” with their walk out basements.  Oh, and they call a side-by-side or duplex a “Villa” in new communities.

Attached townhomes are common in the new suburbs even in estate communities. These are not the suburbs of the '80s.

10.    Back to nature!  The suburbs have always been a hybrid between an urban home and country home.  For many humans wanting to be close to nature, close to the land is a primordial need.  I was reminded of this as deer crossed the backyard of a friend’s house in Evergreen as we chatted in her kitchen. I am told the night howls of the coyotes in Cranston are both moving and beautiful.  Easy access to Fish Creek Park (three times the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park and four times New York City’s Central Park) that stretches 19 km from east to west makes living in places like Brookfield Residential’s Cranston, Riverstone and Seton something very special.

Last Word

While the ‘burbs are personally not for me, if I had a family and didn’t work downtown (that’s 75% of Calgary families), they would hold great appeal. I am all for “different strokes for different folks!” Speaking of strokes, the southern communities have several golf courses just minutes away. Hmmm…. I might have to rethink this?

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Suburbs are moving downtown. 

80% of Calgarians must live in the 'burbs

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What happened to "On Your Left!"

Guest Blog: Marie White, 84-year-old walker and former urban cyclist (she gave up biking in downtown Hamilton last year) and mother of the “everyday tourist.” Be sure to read the comments at the end of the blog as Calgarians share their thoughts on the safety of our city's pathways.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downtown pathways can get very busy on nice days. 

Downtown pathways can get very busy on nice days. 

Walkers Behaving Badly

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

Walkers behaving badly. 

Footnote:

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

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Calgary: Canada's Bike Friendly City!

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First Street Underpass Transformation Finally Underway

Editor's Note:

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

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

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

First Street Underpass Transformation 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Are school sites sacred cows?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School-Oriented Villages

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

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

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

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

Edmonton kicks our butt

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

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

Constipation of consultation

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

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

Why wait?

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

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

Sacred Cows?

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

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

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

EH emailed: 

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

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

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

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

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

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West District: Community Engagement Gone Wild?

 King Edward School Revisited