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." 

If you like this blog, click on these links for related blogs:

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The suburbs move to the City Centre in Calgary

Calgary: The importance of a good mayor!

 

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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Urban Living is in its infancy in Calgary!

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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?  

If you like this blog, click on these links for similar blogs: 

Downtown YYC: Paint It Black

Iconic Canadian art hidden in office lobby

Window licking along Florence's Via Tornabuoni

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!)

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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. 

Mean Streets, Main Streets, Pretty Streets

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

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

Be careful what you wish for?

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

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

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

Mean Streets

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

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

Pretty streets don't attract people

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

New Identities

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

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

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

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

Recruitment

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

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

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

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

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

Too focused on the 3 Rs

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

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

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

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

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

Landowners are the key

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

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

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

Connectivity

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

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

Nothing over Four Floors

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

Length matters

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Readers's Comments:

BL wrote: 

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

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

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

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

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

CO wrote: 

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

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

 If you like this blog, you might like:

Montgomery: Calgary's newest urban village.

Beautiful Downtown Bowness

Flaneuring the TransCanada Highway 

Mount Pleasant & Calgary's other 4th Street



 

 

University District: What's In A Name?

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

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

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

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

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

 Brilliant Street Naming Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

 University District At A Glance

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

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

University District Boundaries

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

Walk Score

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary's MAC attack?

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

Calgary's Name & Placemaking Challenge? 

Montana aka Nellie: What's in a name?

Calgary Region: An Inland Port

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

#7       Economic Impact

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

#6       Truck Advantage

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

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

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

#5       Education

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

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

#4       Rail Advantage

CN Rail's Calgary Logistic Park 

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

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

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

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

Calgary rail yard. (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

#3       Airport Advantage

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

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

Calgary International airport in the late '70s.  

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

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

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

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

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

#2       Mega Distribution Hubs

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

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

 #1       Vision/Collaboration

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

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

 Last Word

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

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

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

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

 

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Calgary: Are we too downtown centric?

Calgary/Hamilton: Cities of Opportunity? 

Understanding Calgary's DNA

Calgary: Postcards from the sky?

 

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

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

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

Hope you enjoy!

Postcard Water Centre.jpg

About Peak Aerials

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

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  1. Postcards from cSpace
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BOSA Family: Past/Present/Future

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

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

Liberte condo in Calgary Eau Claire neighbourhood.

The '90s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word 

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Currie Barracks: Calgary's newest historic district

Union Square: Living on the park! 

East Village Condo: No Parking, No Problem 

+15 walkway: Love vs Hate!

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: City of Calgary, online +15 brochure 

Photo credit: City of Calgary, online +15 brochure 

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

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

Pedestrian Counts July 2001. The City of Calgary website

Pedestrian Counts January 2012. The City of Calgary website 

Wayfinding 

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: City of Calgary, +15 online brochure

Photo credit: City of Calgary, +15 online brochure

Design  

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

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

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

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

+15 bridge in the winter over Barclay Mall. 

+15 bridge in the winter over Barclay Mall. 

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

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

+15 bridge connecting Centennial Parkade and Eight Avenue Place.

+15 bridge connecting Centennial Parkade and Eight Avenue Place.

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

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

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

+15 Highlights 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Udderly Art Pasture in the Centennial Parkade. 

Udderly Art Pasture in the Centennial Parkade. 

Bush plane suspended from the ceiling of Suncor Centre. 

Bush plane suspended from the ceiling of Suncor Centre. 

Devonian Gardens early morning. 

Devonian Gardens early morning. 

Jamieson Place Winter Garden with infinity pools and living wall. 

Jamieson Place Winter Garden with infinity pools and living wall. 

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

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

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

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

Footnote 

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

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

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


Fun Factoids 

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

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

Mount Pleasant & Calgary's Other 4th Street

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

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

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

The Red Cap Corner, home to the Velvet Cafe. 

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

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

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

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

Art Connection

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

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

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

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

French Flavour

They don't build schools like this anymore.

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

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

The modern playground at King George School.

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

Do we really need families living in our Centre City?

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

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

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

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

Major Flaw

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

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

Families Love Infills Communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s The Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cost vs Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

 If you like this blog, you might like:

Urban living is in its infancy in Calgary 

Intelligent Infilling or Living in a bubble?

The Suburbs Move to City Centre in Calgary