+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 

 

 

 

 

Playgrounds Gone Wild?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new Riley Park playground.

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

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

Playground on west side of Hillhurst School. 

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

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

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

 Last Word

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

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

Public Art & Playgrounds  

Rome: A Surprise Playground Lunch

Plaza Design: Dos & Don'ts

Condo Living: More time for fun!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live, Work, Play Mantra

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

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

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

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

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

More time to relax with friends!

More time to relax with friends!

More time to work out with friends!

More time to work out with friends!

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

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

More time to cycle with family and friends. 

More time to cycle with family and friends. 

More time to smell the flowers vs weed the garden.

More time to smell the flowers vs weed the garden.

More time to check out the museums and galleries.

More time to check out the museums and galleries.

More time for pick-up game of soccer. 

More time for pick-up game of soccer. 

Dynamic Downtown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Condo living in Eau Claire / Chinatown. 

Condo living in Eau Claire / Chinatown. 

Condo living in Chinatown.

Condo living in Chinatown.

Condo living next to University at LRT station. 

Condo living next to University at LRT station. 

Condo living in the Beltline. 

Condo living in the Beltline. 

Last Word

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

 

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

 

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

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

Nanton's Bomber Command Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The Hanger

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

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

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

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

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

There is an entire room devoted to engines.

Cheetah IX
Cheetah info

Nose Art 

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

 

Nanton at a glance

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

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

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

Soup and sandwich at Main Street Cafe

Soup and sandwich at Main Street Cafe

A collection of Fireman Helmets waiting for the right collector.

A collection of Fireman Helmets waiting for the right collector.

You never know what artifacts you will discover in Nanton.

You never know what artifacts you will discover in Nanton.

 Last Word

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

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

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Attainable Homes unique to Calgary

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

Glenbrook Park, Attainable Homes newest project. 

Glenbrook Park, Attainable Homes newest project. 

How does it work?

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

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

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

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

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

Rendering of Mount Pleasant condo project by Attainable Homes.

Successes

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

Attainable Homes condo under construction

Challenges

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

Attainable homes happy family.

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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Eau Claire Estates linked to Burj Khalifa?

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

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

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

Eau Claire Estates

Eau Claire Estates & Burj Khalifa?

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

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

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

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

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

Estate wall

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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Everyday Tourist's road trip to the 'burbs!

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

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

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

Enjoy your private wine cellar and tasting bar with friends. 

Imagine your own yoga workout studio. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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What happened to "On Your Left!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downtown pathways can get very busy on nice days. 

Downtown pathways can get very busy on nice days. 

Walkers Behaving Badly

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

Walkers behaving badly. 

Footnote:

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

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First Street Underpass Transformation Finally Underway

Editor's Note:

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

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

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

First Street Underpass Transformation 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Are school sites sacred cows?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School-Oriented Villages

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

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

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

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

Edmonton kicks our butt

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

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

Constipation of consultation

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

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

Why wait?

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

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

Sacred Cows?

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

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

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

EH emailed: 

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

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

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

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

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

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SETON's Gateway Surprise

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

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

SETON Gateway at twilight.

The Gateway

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

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

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

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

SETON Gateway daytime.

SETON letters create a fun Kodak moment.

SETON letters create a fun Kodak moment.

Design Team

The SETON Gateway is a collaborative project designed by:

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

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

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

The SETON Gateway forrest with patio on left side.

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

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

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

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

SETON skylight.

Last Word

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

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

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

See For Yourself!

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

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Peyto: Calgary's Every Street Walker

Editor’s Note:

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

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

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

Musical fence in Parkdale.

Observations from “every street walking”in Calgary

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

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

Fun sculpture in yard in Crescent Heights. 

Fun sculpture in yard in Crescent Heights. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ski fence in Altadore

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

Old agricultural equipment in front yard in Hillhurst.

Old agricultural equipment in front yard in Hillhurst.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is an “every street walker?”

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

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

Cow on balcony in Cliff Bungalow.

Cow on balcony in Cliff Bungalow.

“Every Street Walking” Tips

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

Other “every street walkers”

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

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

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

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

 

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Bridges over the Bow!

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

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

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

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

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

Centre Street Bridge

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

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

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

 Langevin Bridge

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

Langevin Bridge by day.

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

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

Langevin Bridge at night. 

Hillhurst (Louise) Bridge

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

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

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

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

Mewata Bridge

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

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

St. Patrick’s Island & Peace Bridges

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

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

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

No Name Bridges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dublin bridge bag

Last Word

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

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

 

 

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One night in Florence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna.

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

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

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

Forget twitter, leave a note for God. 

Twitter notes? 

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

Calgary's Downtown Night Lights Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

LED lighting Centrium Place

Calgary Tower revolving restaurant lighting at dawn. 

Calgary Tower revolving restaurant lighting at dawn. 

Riverwalk at night is an eerie place to be.

Riverwalk at night is an eerie place to be.

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

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

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

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

Jamieson Place LED lights.

How charming is this? 

Camera Fun

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

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

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

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

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

Richard White, March 15, 2015  

Langevan Bridge accident. 

Langevan Bridge accident. 

Peace Bridge and downtown skyline

Peace Bridge and downtown skyline

Lights on trees in corporate plaza 

Spotlights over 4th Avenue

Spotlights over 4th Avenue

West End condo light show.

West End condo light show.

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

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

Downtown / Kensington LRT Bridge 

Downtown / Kensington LRT Bridge 

Peace Bridge or Peace Train?

Peace Bridge or Peace Train?

Grain Exchange Building

Light waves 

Light waves 

Downtown temples?

Downtown temples?

Edward Hopper meets Francis Bacon?

Edward Hopper meets Francis Bacon?

An acid dream I'm sure....

Barclay Mall

Love to get your feedback. 

Flaneuring Austin & SXSW

 

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

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

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

Brisket & Beer 

Brisket & Beer 

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

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


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

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

The mother ship Whole Foods store! 

The mother ship Whole Foods store! 

City of no plastic bags

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

DAY ONE

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

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

Dumb ass

FIRST EVENT: panel on SXSW film tips


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

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

SECOND EVENT: let’s walk around Austin


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

cardboard mask

FILM EVENT: 808 - 4.0/5.0 - Documentary


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for more!

Calgary's newest historic district?

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

Currie Barracks History 101

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

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

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

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

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

Hidden Gem

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

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

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

Preservation vs. Prosperity

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

Parade Square

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

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

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

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

Other Historic Buildings

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

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

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

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

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

Currie Barracks at a glance

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

Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

If you like this blog, you might like:

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Calgary: Military Museums 

Is Calgary too downtown centric? 

Calgary: Interchanges as art?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calgary's Top Ten Road Knots?

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Google Earth 

Photo Credit: Google Earth

Photo Credit: Google Earth

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Google Earth  

Photo Credit: Peak Aerials 

Photo Credit: Google Earth 

Comments welcomed!