Myth of Excellence

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

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

Myth of Excellence (Calgary Herald)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Rocky Ridge Recreation Centre 

Excellence in Parks & Recreation 

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

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

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

New SETON Recreation Centre 

When do we just say "No!"

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

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

Calgary Herald, February, 2011

New Quarry Park Recreation Centre 

Last Word

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Calgary: Needs vs Wants?

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Calgary: The City of Parks & Recreation 

Calgary's Italian Supermarkets create urban buzz

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

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

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

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

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

Impressive

Wall of cheese 

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

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

The Price Is Right

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

Gelato display looked very tempting.

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

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

Everybody loves pizza.

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

Start Up Hiccups

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

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

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

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

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

More, Please!

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

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

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

We were impressed by the number of Sunday shoppers. 

The produce looked fresh and well priced. 

Last Word

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

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Storm Before The Calm or Vertical Rivers?

Guest blog by: Keith Walker of Peak Aerials

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

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

Incoming storm clouds, near Balzac 

Incoming storm clouds, near Balzac 

Storm forming, near Balzac

Something is brewing, near Balzac

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

Downtown before the storm.

Southeast Calgary before the storm.

These passengers are in for an exciting ride!

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

Storm over South Health Campus 

Strange storm cloud over Auburn Bay

Something is happening here, intersection of Hwy 567 and 766

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

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

The original photo of the vertical river. 

About Peak Aerials

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

Chance Meetings: Garden, Volleyball, Sidewalk

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

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

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

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

Parkdale's community garden's lush vegetable plots.

Parkdale's community garden's lush vegetable plots.

Off the beaten alley 

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

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

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

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

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

Dave's backyard urban farm

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

Dave with his friend in his garden. 

2-year olds 

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

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

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

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

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

One of Calgary's oldest sidewalk stamps in Hillhurst.

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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Calgary evolving into five cities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"A Tale of Five Cities"

By Richard White, Calgary Herald June 11, 2011

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

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

Fragmentation of North American cities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A City Divided?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Future Cities?

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

The Learning City

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

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

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

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

SAIT campus (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

University of Calgary campus (photo credit peak aerials) 

Foothill Medical Centre (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

The Airport City

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

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

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

The Airport City could also be called our multicultural city.

Calgary International Airport (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

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

The Playground City

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

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

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

About 400,000 people live in our Playground City.

The Corporate (Centre) City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Healthcare / Railway City

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

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

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

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

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

Fish Creek Library (Peak Aerials)

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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Understanding Calgary's DNA

 

Starbucks Tasting Room vs Simmons Building

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

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

Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room in Seattle.

Simmons Building facing East Village's Riverwalk. 

Let the competition begin!

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

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

SRRTR looks like a science lab.

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

Calgarians lined up for their coffee at Phil & Sebastians.

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

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

Charbar restaurant in the Simmons Building.

The bar at Charbar. 

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

Sidewalk Citizen bakery at the Simmons Building.

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

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

The Library at SRRTR

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

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

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

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

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

My Last Word

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

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

John Gilchrist's Last Word

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

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

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

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

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Stanley Glacier Hike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sentinels of the past.

Always read the small print

Relaxing at the top of our hike enjoying the vista. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Differences & Similarities between Hiking & Golfing 

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

This was my view for most of the hike.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Where's The Stampede Spirit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good Guys!

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

Office lobby reflections create attractive Stampede streetscape.

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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Stampede 2014: Footnotes

Calgary leader in addressing urban issues?

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

What Other Cities Are Doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary’s Environment Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary’s Urban Design Leadership

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

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

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

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

Map of the Rotary Mattamy Greenway.

Map of the Rotary Mattamy Greenway.

Calgary’s Transportation Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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21st Century: Century of the Condo

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

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

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

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

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

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

YUPPIEs & DINKs

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

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

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

RUPPIEs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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Redwood Reflections

While wandering onto the 6th green at Redwood Meadows golf course some reflections caught my eye in the pond next to the green.

I putted out, but the reflections continued to haunt me.  Given we were a twosome and nobody was behind us, I quickly walked into the wooded area next to the pond to take a closer look.  The mid-morning spring sunlight that filtered through the trees and onto the water was both playful and magical.

In a matter of seconds, my mindset changed from golfer to artist. I have always been intrigued by the elements of abstraction that exists in nature and in our everyday world.  I love the interplay of eye and the mind in how we see the world. 

For the rest of the round I had my iPhone out almost as much as my driver and putter, looking for other reflections and nature’s everyday artworks. 

Upon getting home I wondered what the images would look like in black and white. The results were eerie, ereathral and exquisite.

Regular “Everyday Tourist” readers know I am fascinated by reflections, be they the multi-layered reflections in shop windows along a street or the abstractions and distortions created in the multi-planed office towers.

It has been said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.”  I am thinking, “Golf is a good walk for reflecting.” 

I will let the photos speak for themselves. Comments are always welcomed.

totoem

PS.

Yes I did par the next hole (one of the most difficult on the course) and I had my usual combination for pars, birdies and double birdies for the rest of the round. Who says you have to stay focused to play golf?  

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We can have SW Ring Road + Cancer Clinic + SE LRT for under $5B?

Recently, during a round of golf the banter turned to politics and the need for the government to rethink how they approach capital projects. Perhaps we don’t need to always have the Cadillac (or perhaps in today’s world the Audi or BMW) model for our mega projects.  As I like to say in golf after a decent drive that has landed close to the fairway, “good enough!” We don’t have to build the best of everything – best roads, best transit, best recreation centers, best hospitals, best pedestrian bridges etc. etc.  Sometimes “good enough” is perfectly okay!

One of the foursome told me in confidence that an independent review of the SW Ring Road conducted by an experienced engineering and construction specialists came back with an estimate of $3.5 billion (including the payments and transfers to the Tsuu Tina) versus the $5 billion originally quoted by the province. if changes were made to the design of the interchanges, the amount of land being used and the way it was being financed. Yes, a $1.5 billion dollar savings for basically the same result.

Then we got talking about the Tom Baker Cancer Clinic and the difference between the projected $500M cost to build it at the South Health Campus versus the cost of $1.3B to build it at Foothills Hospital site.  We were both in agreement this was a no brainer. If you can save $800M, why not do it? 

Think about what $800M would buy!

We immediately thought of southeast Bus Rapid Transit, (connecting communities in southeast communities to downtown) which is estimated to cost about $800M or the upgrade to full LRT status. This would provide Calgarians with rapid transit access to the South Health Campus and a new Cancer Clinic, something which doesn’t exist at the Foothills Medical Centre campus. 

We both laughed and thought this is how we do our budgeting at home when we need to balance the need for three major projects - home improvements, new car and a vacation.  We don’t build an addition to the house but renovate the basement to get another bedroom. We don’t get the BMW, but the Honda. And we opt for a one-week vacation in Canada versus a two-week in Hawaii.   We make compromises and accept the sacrifices.

Do the math!

If I am doing the math correct, this means that for $5 billion dollars we could build not only the SW section of the ring road, but the Cancer Clinic AND the SE bus rapid transit instead of just one mega Cadillac project.

Billion$

3.5     Basic designed SW section of the Ring Road                                                                         .5     Cancer Hospital at South Health Campus                                                                               .8     SE Bus Rapid Transit or upgrade to LRT                                                                                 4.8   Total Cost of three mega projects 

Governments at all levels have to really start thinking how can they can maximize the value of every tax dollar they spend and not isolate budgets in silos like transportation and health. 

We need to link vision with economic reality. We need to find the most cost-effective economical way to build infrastructure that is “good enough!” 

Aerial view of South Health Campus and land available for Cancer Hospital. photo credit: Peak Aerials 

Last Word

Why does the public always seem to restrict its comments to the fringes of public spending, the one percenters such as art and bicycle paths and pedestrian bridges; while remaining relatively silent on the really big ticket items such as $5 billion for a ring road or $1.3 billion for a hospital?

If we are not confident the bureaucrats in government can make the right decision when it comes to buying a piece of art for $1 million or less; then why would we be confident they can make the right decisions when spending billions. Where is the public outcry to spend every tax dollar as wisely as possible?

Click here for more information on the history of the Calgary Ring Road. 

What is "Maximalism" you ask?

Bet you didn’t guess that “Maximalism” is the catalogue title for Seattle’s Hotel Max’s art collection. Yes, the hotel not only has a wonderful art collection, but also like a public art museum, they have documented all of the hotels artworks (250) reproduced in full colour and each artist has two pages with an artist’s statement and bio. In addition, there is an introduction by curator Tessa Papas and a very readable short essay by Bruce Guenther, Chief Curator at the Portland Art Museum.

In the catalogue, Guenther writes, “This adventurous act of cultural patronage suggests a new, creative ways to bring serious art into the public’s experience and celebrates the plentitude of its practitioners and of aesthetic attitudes at work in Seattle.”

On a recent trip to Seattle, we stayed at the Hotel Max for a few nights and we were most impressed with the art; it was everywhere! And, this art is not just a bunch of pretty pictures; this is hardcore modern art. The hotel has respected the art and the artwork, each of the artworks has its own label and in the catalogue is the email of each artists if guest wished to contact them to comment or perhaps buy one of their works. 

I am sorry I can't reproduce all of the artworks in this blog, you will just have to check out Hotel Max for yourself next time you are in Seattle. 

I loved this haunting image of Samuel Beckett that greets you as you enter the hotel.  It immediately shouts, "This is a cool place!" The artwork is by local artist Stephen Kaluza. 

I was most impressed by the Hotel Max’s guest floor hallway art program. Nine photographers were selected and each given a floor to showcase their work creating nine mini exhibitions with 17 photos per floor. All of the art in the rooms and lobby were also selected from local artists.

What makes the hallway exhibitions really unique is they aren’t in standard fames on the wall but rather large format photographs covering the entire room doors with the doorframe doing double duty as the frame for the artwork.  Dark hallways with lighting focused on the black and white photography create a dramatic and pensive sense of space, in sharp contrasts with the rooms, which have light, bright and full of colourful artworks.

Byan Smith, Upside, mixed media 40' x 24' was the feature artwork in our room.  It would fit easily into our art collection and made us feel at home. We even had a turntable with Seattle indie group records in our room 9as did all rooms on the 5th floor) given the subject of the photographs was Seattle's music scene. How fun is that? 

I have never experienced anything like “maximalism” anywhere else.  The entire hotel is like a giant installation artwork with literally hundreds of contemporary artworks that have been thoughtfully selected and installed.

The hallway on the fifth floor as we exit the elevator. 

Amy Mullen, Untitled, photograph, 8th floor 

Paul Sundberg, Mr. Smith #3, photograph, 4th Floor (there was a series of Mr. Schmidt photographs, other titles included: Mr. Schmidt comes home, Mr Schmidt goes to work 

John Armstrong, Dancing Neon Couple, photograph, 10th floor

Charles Peterson, Nirvana, Los Angeles, 1990, 5th floor

Charles Petterson, Laughing Hyenas, Seattle, 1991, 5th Floor

Erin Shafkind, Her head is in the world, photograph, 2nd floor

Joan Broughton, Magical Tom Frank, photography, 3rd Floor

Joan Broughton, Greg Spence Wolf, photography, 3rd Floor 

Lesson learned?

I have never experienced anything like “maximalism” anywhere else.  The entire hotel is like a giant installation artwork with literally hundreds of contemporary artworks that have been thoughtfully selected and installed.

I have often thought hotels (Calgary and elsewhere) could do a much better job of selecting artwork that reflects the “sense of place” where they are located. A downtown Calgary hotelier once blasted me when I questioned their choice of art for a new hotel because all the imagery was of the mountains, nothing reflecting Calgary urban sense of place.  

My thinking was this new hotel would enhance the visitors’ stay by providing them with images (realistic and abstract) of the fun things to see and do in Calgary - architecture, parks, plazas, streetscapes and public art that are right in the hotel’s backyard!

I even suggested commissioning several local artists (painters, printmakers, photographers) to explore the city and create a portfolio of images from which the hotelier could create a unique art collection. Kudos to Calgary's Hotel Arts for their commitment to contemporary urban art as part of their brand. 

Hotels across the world - big and small, luxury and economy - could learn from Hotel Max how create a unique hotel experience for visitors.

Even the room keys are mini works of art from the hotel; this was my room key.  It was a reproduction of a photograph from the 10th floor by John Armstrong, titled "Rue Reamumur, Paris."  I keep mine as a souvenir.   

Last Word

If we want to make downtown Calgary a tourist attraction (and I think we do), more must be done to promote our unique urban sense of place.  In addition to hoteliers becoming ambassadors for urban tourism, so too should restaurants and retailers.  Everyone could help by using local art that reflects local spaces and places as part of their interior design or window displays.

Any hotelier interested in creating a unique, special and meaningful experience for their guests should visit Seattle to check out the Hotel Max.  And if you are tourist visiting Seattle, for business or pleasure, Hotel Max is the best place to stay.

If you like this blog, you might like to click on these links to related Everyday Tourists blogs:

 

 

Window Licking in Seattle

For me, one of the fun things to do when visiting another city is to check out the reflections of streetscapes in windows. I first discovered this obsession (yes, I think it has become a bit of an obsession) when visiting Paris where many of the storefront windows are like mini art exhibitions.  You might expect this given the Paris' fashion culture, but it was more than just upscale shoes and purses, it was the juxtaposition of the people, architecture and the sense of spontaneity and surprise.  

What was also interesting in Paris were the great windows weren't just on the retail streets, but also in the little shops in the residential neighbourhoods.

Let me out....

Picture perfect? 

Why window licking? 

Some might just call this "window shopping,” but in French window shopping is called it "faire du leche-vitines," which literally translates into “window licking” in English. Since Paris, I have made sure that in every city I visit, I spend some time "window licking."

While it is not measurable, I am convinced there is a direct correlation between the quality of the street windows and the quality of the street life.  Unfortunately today, too many retailers and others with street windows don't appreciate the importance of great windows in making people stop, look and think.

Our recent trip to Seattle provided me with some great "window licking" experiences. Not only was downtown Seattle populated with some interesting windows, but so were the the neighbouring communities like Pioneer Square that offered some great surprises.  But the best window licking was along Ballard Avenue, i.e. main street for the community of Ballard. 

This is downtown Ballard when the Sunday market takes over its main street. It is a great people watching experience and has some of the best windows in Seattle.

Window licking in Pioneer Square.

It wouldn't be Seattle without some glass art window licking.

Last Word

While Richard Florida has coined the terms  Bohemian Index, Diversity Index and Gay Index as a way of measuring the health of a community, I am thinking he might want to look at the "Window Licking Index."  This index would look at how often and long people stop and look in the windows along a given street, as a measure of the street's attractiveness to pedestrians. 

Intuitively, I'd probably give Seattle an 8.5 out of ten on my "Window Licking" index.  Have a look at these some more samples and the links to window licking in Paris, Chicago and Florence and let me know what images you like best.

PS. In reviewing my window licking images I realized that almost everyone has trees in it.  One of the first things I noticed about Seattle and loved about the city's streets was the wonderful filtered light from the canopy of wonderful trees. 

Surrealism is a frequent theme in window licking art.

Luxury fashion shops are always good for window licking photos.

The classic mannequin historical building window.

This is perhaps the most unique window I have experience to date. 

If you like this blog, click on these links to other window licking blogs:

Window licking In Paris

Window licking in Chicago 

Window licking along Florence's Via Tornabuoni

 

 

 

Garage Sales Help Build Community

We have been having an annual garage sale now for about 10+ years.  It first started as a way to get rid of some junk to make room for some new junk; oops I mean “new treasures.”  While I wouldn’t call us hoarders, we do love to collect things, especially when we are on holidays. For us a garage sale is an opportunity to relive all of our vacations…a book from a used bookstore New York City, a painting from Value Village in Victoria, a bracelet from a San Diego street fair, a beer glass from Strasbourg, France or an Armadillo mask from Playa del Carmen, Mexico. You get the picture.  What we didn’t realize is just the annual garage sale would become the catalyst for creating an enhanced sense of community amongst our neighbours.

The garage is packed full of treasures, waiting for some treasure hunters. 

A close up of some of the fun and strange things we had to offer.

How can you tell we are low tech people?

Some of the shelves each with their own theme.

Neighbours are the best....

Initially, curious neighbours would come by to see what was for sale or to ask if buyers could move their cars so they could get our of their garage.  Soon we were chatting about our junk vs. their junk (who isn’t interested in each other peoples' junk and the stories about where and why they bought it). Eventually a few neighbours joined in the sale by opening their garages also, but most are happy to simply drop by for a chat. 

Things really changed a couple of years ago when a neighbour couple (let’s call them Pat and Don), spent more than a few minutes chatting and eventually invited us to come by for a glass of wine after the sale wrapped Saturday afternoon. We had so much fun at this impromptu, inaugural Happy Hour that we agreed we should do this again - and invite some of the other neighbours.  This was the beginning of our every few months neighbours Happy Hours.

This year, the garage sale became a truly communal effort with one neighbour couple who are moving to condo in Sunnyside contributing some of their artifacts including bookshelves, which we were told we have to keep for others to use in future garage sales. And the young mom next door, a garage sale virgin, was also game to host a sale. In addition, we had contributions from friends in Lakeview, Acadia and Mission in our garage sale. It was indeed an eclectic mix.

OK who is bringing the dessert?

The Lakeview contributor used his photography skills and his wife’s Facebook skills to get the word out to friends and colleagues, resulting in many friends showing up that we hadn’t seen for years. Who knew garage sales are such a good networking/reconnecting opportunity? 

After the Friday night (Day 1) of the 2-day sale, our simple chili, salad and wine dinner for sellers, expanded to include homemade cornbread by one neighbour and homemade banana bread and appetizers by another. The impromptu potluck dinner was such a hit that it was suggested our Happy Hours should become potluck dinners.

Our garage sale has become a bit like a potlatch - neighbours dropping by, buy each other’s stuff (often just give it away or swap), chat and catch up. This has lead to communal snow shoveling, grass cutting and gardening – even babysitting.

Yes, we all live in big new infill homes, but that hasn’t prevented us from being good neighbours – nor has the fact that our ages range from early 30s to mid-60s.  It has also been a great bonding opportunity between the adults and the children.    

This man's best friend is his dog, who is making friends with a stranger.

Happy City

Charles Montgomery, in his book “Happy City,” says “Most of all, [the city] should enable us to build and strengthen the bonds between friends, families, and strangers that give life meaning, bonds that represent the city’s greatest achievement and opportunity.”

While many (including Montgomery) blame the increase in automobile use vs. transit, urban sprawl and other late 20st century city planning and urban design for the decline in the sense of community in today’s cities, I don’t buy it.

Just because you take transit doesn’t mean that you will talk to your seatmate, especially in this day and age when everyone seems plug into some electronic device and shutting out their everyday world.

Some people seem to always want to blame someone else for their problems. Sure, blame the urban planner or the developer for creating big houses, with six-foot fences, attached garages in communities where you can’t walk to anything other than maybe a playground or pathway. If people didn’t like these homes and communities, developers wouldn’t build them.

Everyone's happy in this photo as we share our yard with our neighbours kids i.e. no fences here.

Say Hi to a stranger....

What I think is missing from late 20th / early 21st century is the willingness to say “Hi!” to strangers.  It is too bad that we have to teach children “not to speak to strangers” as what we need is more people saying “Hi” when walking by people - be that in the parking lot of a mall or along the sidewalk.  We find that when we initiate conversation with a “Hi” with people on the bus, in the store or even in restaurants - when the opportunity presents itself.  This has often leads to interesting conversations or a laugh.

So, if you really want to get to know your neighbour, be the first to say “Hi!” Be the first to invite them in for a coffee or an adult beverage. Shovel their snow or cut their front grass while you are doing yours. Or, have a garage sale and invite them to see your “treasures.” 

Creating a sense of community starts with “YOU,” say “Hi” to a stranger everyday!

Let the bargaining begin.

Memories/stories from our 2015 Garage Sale!

An older gentleman said, “If people are defined by their stuff, you guys must be FUN!” (We took that as a compliment.) An older visitor said, “As I get older I am more and more attracted to older stuff!” (Isn’t that the truth!) One of the sellers looked at the slide ruler we trying to sell and said “Did anyone ever really use a slide ruler in real life.” We all greed we didn’t, he then quickly quipped, “When we said in school that we’d never use calculus, physics etc. we were RIGHT!”  (Yes we are getting old!)

The KISS!  A neighbours’ 4-year old granddaughter was over playing with another neighbour’s 4-year old boy. When told it was time to say goodbye, the girl ran to the boy and they gave each other a big hug and kiss on the lips.  (I won’t soon forget that.)

A 4-year old shopper said, “I’m hungry - I like cheese!”  Luckily, we had some cheese and crackers out for the sellers in our kitchen so we brought them out and she had her snack. Several teachers told us to advertise our sale to neighbourhood schools, as teachers would love our treasures for their classrooms. (We are always looking for marketing tips.)

“Hey Mister, can I ride your horsey?” asked a young shopper who spotted the vintage playground toy in the backyard.  (Yes, she got to ride it.)

An older lady in a whisper said, “I’d like to have a garage sale but my stuff has too many memories, most of it is older than the Province!” (I’d love to go to her garage sale, if she ever has one.)

For years our signs have said “G-SALE” and it never fails that someone always says, “I had to check out what a G-SALE is all about.

A shopper subtly hands me his business card, which simply reads, “Do you have any firearms?” (BTW, we had none.)

Want a souvenir of 911? These items were confiscated from travellers at the Calgary Airport after 911.  Five of a dollar.

“Hey Mister, can I ride your horsey?” asked a young shopper who spotted the vintage playground toy in the backyard.  (Yes, she got to ride it.)

An older lady in a whisper said, “I’d like to have a garage sale but my stuff has too many memories, most of it is older than the Province!” (I’d love to go to her garage sale, if she ever has one.)

For years our signs have said “G-SALE” and it never fails that someone always says, “I had to check out what a G-SALE is all about.

A young woman wants to buy some things but has no money, so she and our young neighbour/seller next door try to use their phones to transfer some money electronically.  When that doesn’t work, she hops into her car and goes to the ATM machine a half a block away.  She comes back with money to buy a large Ikea television stand, large antique wall mirror and some other smaller items. Problem is she only has a two door Altima, which won’t fit the larger items. Another neighbour comes to the rescue (again, let’s call them Pat and Don) offer to use their SUV to deliver her purchases to her nearby home at no charge.  (That’s what I call being REAL neighbourly!)

If you like this blog, you might want to click on these blogs:

 Tall Transit Tales

Creatures of comfort, convenience and privacy

What is urban living and who really cares?

Flaneuring Calgary's original craft brewery

Long before Portland, Denver or (insert the name a city here) became the Craft Brewery Capital of North America and certainly long before Calgary’s Big Rock, Village or Wild Rose Breweries, there was Calgary Brewing and Malt Company (CB&MC) established back in 1892. Unfortunately the site on 9th Ave and 15th Street in Inglewood has been closed since 1994 and the buildings have deteriorated significantly.

 A few years back I attended a presentation by Calgary architect Lorne Simpson who also happens to be the city’s most experienced historical restoration expert on the state of the CB&MC buildings.  He has been responsible for most Calgary’s restoration projects for the past 25+ years.  The key take home message I got from his workshop was that most of the buildings were beyond restoration, pointing that many of the buildings had been added in such a way that if on was removed you had to remove several others as they were all supported each other.

While many have seen the full buffalo sculpture from 9th Avenue, this art deco style buffalo head in the middle of the site is a hidden gem. It definitely deserves to be a focal point of public space. 

This sandstone Calgary beer logo attached to the facade of this building also deserves a more prominent location with a storyboard. 

 

 

He did however off some suggestions on how the site might be developed to retain the industrial design character of those buildings while adapting them to new uses and modern building codes. While some of the audience was very disappointed that more of the site couldn’t be preserved, others were excited by the opportunity to create a unique industrial district that would keep some connection with Calgary’s past. 

 

 

My longtime mantra of linking vision with reality was put to the test for while one’s vision of a 21st century charming century brewery district with multiple 100-year-old buildings and garden with fish ponds, just didn’t jive with current economic, design and building code realities.  

This iconic buffalo has aged gracefully and it along with the previous two artifacts should be integrated to create a unique public space for the future Inglewood Brewery District (IBD). 

But seeing is believing…

For a while I have been bugging Eileen Stan, Development Program Manager, M2i Development Corporation to give me a tour.  Recently, our schedules jived and I got my wish.

I can’t believe how complex the redevelopment will be with numerous buildings scattered throughout the site making the location of major new buildings (needed to pay for the restoration) difficult.

Just one of areas where the sandstone foundation of the builiding is beginning to form mini hoodoos. 

Then there is the utilities right of way, set back from the street, CPR tracks and 17th Avenue (which use to run right through the middle of the site) to contend with.

I saw for myself how the sandstone on the buildings is “more sand than stone.” Brush it with your hand and sand pours down the side of the building, in some places, miniature hoodoos are being formed.

Inside, I saw how the building’s structure would make it difficult to convert to modern uses. Perhaps reusing materials makes more sense than repurposing the buildings.

The gardens and two buffalo sculptures were wonderful and would make a great tribute to the past. It would be lovely to somehow incorporate them into a plaza or pocket park that would be the centerpiece of a new brewery district.  

That is 17th Avenue SE which use to run right through the site and still has a utility right of way attached to it. 

Postcards from CB&MC

I am hoping that these images will help you appreciate the complexities of redeveloping the historic Calgary Brewing and Malting Company site for current uses. 

I am a sucker for "ghost signs" like this one for the The Alberta Government Fish Hatchery. Not sure how you save this wall and incorporate it into a new building/new use! I am told that it could become part of a sunny historic plaza that would document the full history of the site. 

In the middle of the site is a lush oasis of trees, walkways, bridges and concrete ponds. Not sure they are in the right location for a contemporary pocket park and they are at the end of their lifespand. 

One of the few building that is still in good shape, unfortunately it is not in a great position. 

There is an simplicity in the minimalist, cubist, industrial architecture of the brewery that could be respected in new buildings.  It is my understanding that the brick chimney will be preserved. It is kinda the Calgary Tower of Inglewood - should it remain the tallest structure in the community forever? 

There is a nice juxtaposition of the round and the rectangular shapes at IBD. 

This image illustrates how all of the building are interconnected, but each with different foundations and structures that makes restoration a nightmare. 

The interior spaces are very dramatic, but don't lend themselves to easy conversion to retail, office or residential uses. 

Some of the newer building from 1984 were never used and are actually overbuilt for future needs and have potential for adaptive reuse. 

Last Word

After walking around the site, I have a much better appreciation of the difficulties and complexities of redeveloping the site for modern uses - this is not a Currie Barracks, an East Village or a Bridges site. 

Rather than let the buildings further deteriorate and have a prominent site sit in limbo for another decade or more, the idea of developing the site incrementally starting with the Bottling Plant building as proposed by Stan’s team makes sense.  Great spaces and places happen organically, not systematically.

Though, some have suggested the need for a Master Plan before anything happens on the site, I disagree. We don’t want another “East Village” scenario (i.e. a new Master Plan developed every five to ten years with nothing happen for 30+ years).  Master Plans tend to all look the same anyway; I expect we will get something more unique and eclectic without a Master Plan.

 Jane Jacobs was also a big fan of incremental redevelopment rather than revolutionary redevelopment. I think she would have approved of starting by animating the 9th Avenue and 15th Street corner (across from the West Canadian Digital Print Centre) with some street retail like a ZYN wine and spirits store and warehouse. 

The Bottling Plant on the corner of 9th Avenue and 15th Street SE is being proposed as Phase 1 of the mega makeover of the Inglewood Brewery District. Different options for the restoration of the sign are being looked at. This is not the original sign.

This is a conceptual rendering of what the Bottling Plant and new streetscape will look like if Phase 1 is approved. 

This is the proposed site of the new BRT/ LRT station for Inglewood and Ramsay just two blocks from the Brewery District.  It will also link up with the 17th Avenue SE BRT route to create a major transit hub. The stars are beginning to align for two of Calgary's oldest communities.   

Walk Score vs Lifestyle Score?

One of the great things about living in a condo in an urban vs. suburban community is that you can walk to almost any and all of your everyday activities.  To promote that advantage, more and more condo developers are including the Walk Score of the address as part of their marketing plan. 

Walk Score is a number between 0 and 100 that measures the amenities in any given address that you can walk to: 

  • 90 – 100    walker’s paradise
  • 70 –   89    very walkable
  • 50 –  69     somewhat walkable
  • 25 –  49     mostly car dependent
  • 0   –  24     car dependent

Walk Score uses Google maps to find the stores, restaurants, bars, parks and other amenities within walking distance of your address.  Using this data from Zillow, a real estate database, the information is plugged into a complex algorithm (mathematical equation) to calculate the score. For example, amenities within 0.4 km are given 100, while those more than 1.6 km are given a zero with those in between assigned varying scores depending on the distance.

While steps have been taken to improve the methodology since it was first introduced in 2007 by Josh Herst, CEO of Walk Score in Seattle, there still remains problems.  For example, Google Maps doesn’t always include all of the amenities in a neighborhood.  As well, the methodology doesn’t take into account topography (e.g. if it is up hill), climate (e.g. icy sidewalks in winter) or how pleasant/unpleasant the walk might be (e.g. busy road vs. quaint homes).  It doesn’t take into account age and fitness level - for some a 1 km walk is very easy; for others, not so.

Living near a nature preserve or hiking trail won’t improve your Walk Score, this results in unfairly creating lower suburban neighbourhood scores. The scoring system is heavily biased to urban lifestyles.

 Lifestyle Factors  

  • If you have a dog that you walk twice a day, it is probably more important you are near a dog park than a grocery store you use twice a week. 
  • If you go to the gym or yoga several times a week, that should trump being close to a cupcake shop.
  • If you are a family of four, you are probably not walking to and from the grocery store, carrying home several bags of groceries - even if it is close by.  We are a family of two and when we go grocery shopping it is often difficult to carry the bags 30 feet from the garage to the back door. However, access to a playground that you might use several times a day is very important. 

For families living near a playground can be more important than living near a grocery store, bakery or cafe. 

Lastly, Walk Score doesn’t take into account that rarely are our daily trips planned around a single activity. Often when we head out the door, we have multiple stops to make over an extended period of time. 

It could involve a trip to the recreation centre, then to a café in another community to meet up with a friend, then drop some books off at the library, then go to the wine store with the best sale this week (often not the closest) and pick up some groceries before heading way home.  This is not a trip that lends itself to walking – or even cycling for that matter.

A Better Walk Score?

It would be ideal to have a formula allowing individuals to plug-in their five most frequent weekly activities, as well as how far you are willing to walk and then calculate how walkable a street or neighbourhood is for you and your family.

Buyer beware - just because a community has a high or low Walk Score doesn’t mean you should automatically embrace or reject it. 

Pedestrian-Friendly vs. Pedestrian-Safety

I have always thought of Calgary as a very pedestrian-friendly city.  There are few other big cities where, in residential areas, cars will stop and let pedestrians walk across the street.  Try that in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver or big American cities!

One of Calgary's 1,270 signalized pedestrian cross walks.

There also are thousands (1270 signalized pedestrian cross walks and 7,118 signed crosswalks) of dedicated pedestrian crosswalks in addition to traffic signals helping pedestrians easily and safely cross busy streets. I also learned that a City of Calgary Bylaw states, “every intersection is a crosswalk unless otherwise posted” so drivers should yield to any pedestrian at a corner who indicates they are going to cross.  Who knew?

As well, I have always thought our recreational pathways were a wonderful amenity that encouraged walking. However, after recent experiences on the pathways with my 80+ year old spry Mom and her experience sharing the pathways with cyclists, I am not so sure walking the pathways is always a pleasant experience for those wanting a recreational walking experience.

Recent media coverage of Calgary’s pedestrian-vehicle collisions and fatalities’ data also point to the fact that walking in our city is not a safe as it needs to be to encourage walking.  Consequently, the City of Calgary is currently undertaking a major community engagement project to identify how to make our city more pedestrian-friendly for everyone.  I hope that we explore some simple common sense solutions before spending hundreds of millions of dollars.

For example, I’d like to see a ban on headphones for walkers, joggers and cyclists.  We all need to be able to see and listen for others when we are out on the streets and pathways. It is a shared responsibility.

Calgary has a pedestrians first culture, where cars routinely stop to let pedestrians and cyclist cross the road even when it is not a cross walk. 

Calgary has a pedestrians first culture, where cars routinely stop to let pedestrians and cyclist cross the road even when it is not a cross walk. 

Calgary boasts almost 1,000 km of shared pathways for people of all ages and abilities. 

Pedestrians should have to wear reflective clothing when out in the dark so cyclist they are more visible to cyclists and motorists.  Too often pedestrians are dressed in black and are almost impossible to see.

The one infrastructure improvement I’d like to see is better sidewalk lighting.  I don’t know if it is just me, but the roads in Calgary seem to be getting darker as the city installs new street lamp posts and LED bulbs. I have always had a problem with street lighting that is solely focused on the road and nothing on the sidewalk.  If we want people to feel safe walking in the dark (14 hours of the day in the winter), every lamppost should have a light on the road and one on the sidewalk.

Last Word

In addition to Walk Scores, there are also Transit Scores, Bike Scores and Park Scores for those who love numbers.  I am waiting for the Drive Score as I am sure most Calgarians also intuitively factor in how quickly they can drive to their weekly activities – school, work, recreation centre, arena, soccer field, grocery store and gym.

I expect we all have our own “algorithm” for calculating what is the best community for us and don’t really need some quasi-scientific score to help us determine where we want to live. 

An edited version of this blog was commissioned by the Calgary Herald and published in the New Condo section on May 30th, 2015 titled " More to Walk Score Than Just A Number."

BL emailed: 

The fundamental question should be "who decided that walking is such an important criteria?"

For me today,  the most important activities in my life are visiting my kids and my grandkids, none of whom I can visit by walking; and going golfing, ditto. Pretty good life right?

But even back in the days prior to retirement, my principal daily activity, going to work, could not be accommodated by walking. Nor could I attend university, go to school (except for elementary), attend a football or hockey game, go skiing or golfing, visit my cabin at the lake, or any of the other myriad of activities which have filled my whole life.

Planning our communities around the rare individuals whose limited range of activities can be accommodated by walking would be like planning our entire food industry around organic vegans. Desirable objective, maybe; but practical? Definitely not.

For most of us the Walk Score would fall into the category of "who cares?" It's nice to have a walk down 17th Avenue on a sunny Saturday afternoon when there is nothing better to do, but the majority of the folks out strolling the avenue probably got there in their cars. How about judging communities by the "Park Score" i.e. How close can I park my car?

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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.