Category Archives: urban

Downtown Calgary

I realized that while Wendy had posted some great photos of Alberta, I hadn’t gotten around to them yet.  Here are some photos of downtown Calgary that I grabbed after we arrived in Calgary and took the LRT downtown.

Nexen Building, Calgary

The back of the Nexen Energy Building.

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You just about hear someone say, “I want no one to have any fun in this park, ever.”

Oliver breaking the rules in Century GardensIMGP0237

Century Gardens is an urban park located in Calgary’s downtown core that was originally developed in 1975 to celebrate Calgary’s Centennial. The Devonian Group donated the park land for the creation of a place of respite within the hustle and bustle of a busy downtown. Designed and built as an artistic expression of a landscape referred to as Brutalist; the fountains and water are symbolic of the area’s mountains and rivers. The City recognizes this park and its unique features listing it in Calgary’s inventory of evaluated historic resources.

What’s interesting is that Calgary points out that the park is pretty much worn out and is at the end of it’s lifecycle so they are planning to redevelop it.  Something that Saskatoon should start to do with Meewasin which is showing it’s age.

Westview Heights

Westview Heights.  A highrise building built in 1972 consisting of a parkade, commercial offices, and apartments. The apartments dominate the building, consisting of the 14th to 39th floors.

The parkade makes up the second to seventh stories of the building, while the commercial section of the building consists of floors 8 through 10 and the 40th and 41st floors. Floors 11 and 12 are mechanical floors while floor 13 (identified as "R" for "recreation") consists of recreational facilities for tenants (a swimming pool, exercise facilities, a lounge, etc.)
The building was renamed from Century Garden to Westview Heights shortly after a 2002 electrical fire.

Century Park in Downtown CalgaryThe University of Calgary’s downtown campus

The University of Calgary’s downtown campus.

Parkade in downtown Calgary

This parkade reminded me that parking garages don’t have to be ugly.  On the outside of it are reflective pieces of lightweight metal.  They provide a bit of protection for the cars inside but they also move and ripple in the wind so they do a good job of providing some visual interest to the street where there is none.

It is details that make a downtown great and all over Calgary you see that.

Western Canadian Place

Western Canadian Place consists of two buildings, the taller North Tower and the shorter South Tower.  It was designed by the architectural firm, Cohos Evamy (the same firm who designed Bankers Hall – East and Bankers Hall – West in Calgary) in late modernist style and was built in 1983.  It is the headquarters of Husky Energy and Apache Canada.

Around this time, I got a DM from Dave King who wanted to see if we wanted to grab a bite to eat in downtown Calgary.  We ended up at The King and I, an amazing Thai food place that if I say anymore about, Wendy will get upset because she is doing a review of it for Zomato.  So I’ll add a link to it when she posts it.

Calgary TowerCalgary TowerLewis Stationary Ltd.

Built in 1910 for the J.H. Ashdown Hardware Co. in 1910, this warehouse space remained a store for Ashdown’s overstock until the Lewis Stationery company purchased the building in 1972. In 1995 it became another addition to Calgary’s loft developments.

Home of Saneal Cameras, the Lancaster Building in downtown Calgary

Home of Saneal Cameras, the Lancaster Building in downtown Calgary.  The Lancaster Building was constructed between 1912 and 1918.  Designed by architect James Teague of Victoria, British Columbia, the building incorporates the Edwardian style of architecture. Calgary’s first 10-storey structure downtown, this building was named after the House of Lancaster, one of the sides in the British War of the Roses as the subject of history was an interest to the building’s original owner, J.S. Mackie.

National Beer Hall

Calgary seems to understand the importance of all sides of a building better than Saskatoon does.   This is at the back of the legendary beer hall in downtown Calgary.

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Banker’s Hall in downtown Calgary.

IMGP0272The Calgary Tower from a different perspective

So many good memories of the Calgary Tower.  It is now Oliver’s favorite spot in Calgary.  Especially the glass floor.  After we went to the top of the Tower and Oliver looked out every single observation binoculars, we headed towards The Bow.

The Hyatt in Calgary

Suncor Energy Centre

Wanderland in front of The Bow

View of The Bow

Election 2015: Saskatoon

Hey, I am pretty much sitting out this campaign.  I’ll wait to see how the campaign platforms come together to decide if I will write a local endorsement but until then, it won’t be that political around here.  I have friends who are candidates for different parties and I respect them for making the effort of going to Ottawa to do what the PMO tells them what to do and when to do it.

I did great a quick election guide for all candidates in Saskatoon.  You can find it here.  It lists all of the campaign contact information for all of the campaigns, except for Kevin Waugh (and I can’t find his yet).  So if you want to check out a campaign in Saskatoon, it’s all there for you.

Some random urban design thoughts

  1. I was at the Peace Bridge tonight.  A couple hundred people crossed it while I was there.  Lots of tourists and families taking photos of their “accomplishment” and documenting the bridge.  Name me one place in Saskatoon where that happens.  It’s infrastructure and a tourist attraction.   Even Mark and Oliver thought it was the greatest thing they had ever seen.
  2. There was an open air concert near there and yes, there were cars parking all over the place but there were hundreds of bikes down there.  a) Can you imagine the carnage that would happen if you didn’t have bike and pedestrian infrastructure in place to get people downtown. b) How much vibrancy would you lose without it as people said, “I’m not driving downtown?”  World class cycling infrastructure means less congestion for those that have to drive.
  3. The Peace Bridge is wide, a lot wider than Saskatoon’s under bridge sidewalks.  Wide pedestrian lane and a wide cycling lane one each side.  In Saskatoon we talk of pedestrians vs. cyclists but in Calgary their multi-use path are 3x larger than Meewasin or twice as large as the path along 33rd.  Cycling infrastructure is more than just protected bike lanes, it means building all sorts of things so cyclists can use it.
  4. The Cycle Track is busier (I took some time to watch it) than I expected.  It also isn’t perfect and has some design flaws as it begins and ends but it is being used by a lot of people.   I (and others) have always said, “build it and they will come”.  It is happening in Calgary.
  5. When I was in Banff, I was shocked by how little parking there is downtown.  Only a few spots and then they use parkades.  Like in Calgary and even in some malls, it gives you a real time update of how many spots they have left.  In Chinook Centre, they even had lights to tell you where there were open spots . Saskatoon could do that kind of stuff but first we would have to invest in some parking garages.  I can’t see it happening but it would totally change downtown and give designers so much flexibility into making it into a people centric place again.
  6. In downtown Saskatoon, we have this idea that since we have Meewasin, we don’t need any downtown parks while in Calgary, there is the river and guess what, several amazing downtown squares and parks.  One of the most interesting ones was a temporary park put up by where the Telus Sky will be.  It’s just a placeholder for a future development but it looks really good and isn’t surface parking.  I’m assuming there is a tax incentive for doing this but why can’t Saskatoon do the same thing.  Why does everything torn down have to be turned into the Impark Empire.
  7. Banff has a pedestrian bridge.  It isn’t even for tourists but locals but it looks great.  Think about that, Banff has a bridge for pedestrians.
  8. Speaking of Banff, they integrate cyclists really well despite no protected bike lanes.  They are so natural there that you expect bikes (and elk) to be everywhere.  Drivers accommodate them.  I believe in excellent cycling infrastructure but drivers who respect cyclists goes a long way.  I think Saskatoon and SGI could do a lot more to educate people.  It would take decades but it could make a big difference.
  9. Does anything think that Saskatoon’s North Commuter Bridge will look anything other than the cheapest design that can be built?  Why can’t we have any signature infrastructure at a time when it is increasingly part of the urban fabric?
  10. Saskatoon will never be the next Calgary.  There is a boldness and arrogance that has long been a part of Calgary that has always demanded to be seen on the same level as Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal.  It has always punched above it’s weight, even in times of deep recession.  Saskatoon doesn’t have that kind of leadership and spirit. 
  11. I don’t think that is entirely our fault.  There is a different business culture with agriculture, uranium and potash then with oil and natural gas. 
  12. Calgary has much higher design standards than Saskatoon.  The architecture is better in Calgary in part because they demand it.  The result is that the city has incredible design even for things like parkades while Saskatoon has the Sturdy Stone Centre.  It’s not just the market that is different, city design standards are higher.  If companies want to play in Calgary, they have to pay.  Proponents of build cheaply say that the costs are passed on and they are right but the entire wage structure is different in Calgary so it can absorb it.  Great cities are expensive, Saskatoon is trying to become one by being cheaper than everywhere else.  It isn’t going to work.   For this I blame Lorne Calvert who recruited people to come back to Saskatchewan because it was cheaper than everywhere else.
  13. You know, Lorne Calvert probably isn’t responsible but still, it bugged me when he did that then and it still bugs me now.  You don’t invite people to come back because of cheap utility and insurance. 
  14. Macleod Trail is as ugly as street as I have ever seen anywhere outside of Winnipeg.    Luckily Calgary is trying to fix it.

Some summer photography posts

Here are some longer pieces I wrote for the Don’s Photo Blog this summer.

Those that can’t… write tutorials about how to do it.

Speaking of photography, I finally went out last night with my new Pentax K-3.  It was dark before Wendy and I left the house so using a new camera with only the light of street lights was fun but I was happy with the results… you know the results that I could see.

Horray for the High Bridge

I like this article in City Journal about the High Bridge in New York City.

The restored High Bridge, New York City’s oldest standing span, not only has great views and a high-quality path connecting two largely minority neighborhoods, it also serves a social purpose; kids from the Bronx will now have easy access to the High Bridge Pool in Manhattan.

The histories of great cities are replete with stories of Herculean efforts to supply them with clean water. New York is no exception. Originally dependent on surface and groundwater supplies, early New Yorkers dealt with water that was insufficient in quantity and frequently polluted. Diseases were common. An 1832 cholera outbreak, followed by a lack of water to fight the Great Fire of 1835, prompted the city to take action: it built the original Croton Aqueduct system, including the High Bridge, to carry clean water 41 miles into the city.

Completed in 1848 and constructed as a series of masonry arches in the form of a Roman aqueduct, the High Bridge is, in effect, a pre-industrial artifact. While it was in use, water flowed across the bridge not in an open trough, but in twin, three-foot, cast-iron pipes. The top was a pedestrian walkway. After it was decommissioned as an aqueduct in 1917, the city planned to demolish the bridge to improve navigation. Protesters wanted it preserved, so the city replaced the spans over the Harlem River with a steel arch section in 1928. The arch span replacement was built for what was basically an obsolete bridge, making the High Bridge an early historic-preservation success, if only a partial one.

In the mid-twentieth century, the walkway attracted crowds, often just for a see-and-be-seen pleasure stroll. “New Yorkers from either side would put on their Sunday best and parade from one borough to another. It was far more than an aqueduct, it was the center of a social world,” Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver noted at the reopening. But the High Bridge and its social life fell into decline, along with much of New York City, as the century progressed. The structure decayed, and there were reports of people throwing stones at passing ships from the walkway. The Parks Department isn’t sure when it was closed or why, but by 1970 the High Bridge was off-limits to pedestrians.

Over the years, various groups called for the High Bridge’s restoration. In 2006, the Bloomberg administration took up the task in earnest as one of eight major regional parks investments in the PlaNYC initiative. This included a commitment of $50 million in city money toward the $61 million total project cost. While Mayor de Blasio treats his predecessor as He Who Shall Not Be Named—and failed to attend the bridge opening—the High Bridge restoration was in fact a good handoff of the baton.

The restoration—including masonry repairs such as tuckpointing—was complicated by needing to be performed on a bridge spanning two freeways, a river, and an active Metro-North rail line. The faded and peeling lead-based paint had to be removed. While before-and-after photos show a sharp contrast in appearance, the bridge was actually repainted the same color as the original. “We sent the paint chips off to the lab for matching,” says the Parks Department’s Ellen Macnow.

The fiscally conservative City Journal asks if it is worth it?

It’s worth asking whether, with its $61 million price tag, the High Bridge project was really needed. Strictly speaking, the answer is: No. The structure was in no danger of falling down. And, just a half mile to the north, the Washington Bridge provides a functional, if unpleasant, pedestrian crossing over the Harlem River. Yet, the High Bridge is an important part of New York history and deserves its loving restoration. Spending serious money on outlying neighborhoods that are mostly minority and heavily poor to give their residents a humane environment instead of a minimalistic one shows that New York does care about all its citizens. Great cities don’t just do great things in a sanitized downtown Green Zone for visitors. They create greatness in their workaday neighborhoods, too, with projects that speak not merely to the pragmatic, but to the human spirit. The High Bridge restoration again shows what great commercial success allows a city to do for its citizens.

What side of history is Saskatoon on?

Thought provoking piece in the Toronto Star by Christopher Hume about John Tory and the Gardiner Expressway

The Gardiner, a relic of an earlier age, dates from a time when the car was king. Today, the world is a different place. No question cars are here to stay, but in the decades since the Gardiner was constructed, we have learned that city-building is about more than taming traffic congestion. Successful cities manage to balance the two — cars and people — without sacrificing one on the altar of the other.

Ironically, Toronto has arrived at this point because of its chronic unwillingness to spend the money needed to keep the aging expressway standing. Now Tory would have us spend an extra $500 million to keep it standing.

In the meantime, urban highways around the world are disappearing as cities liberate themselves from the shackles of the car. But old habits die hard, nowhere moreso than in Toronto, where car dependency remains enshrined, amber-like, in public policy.

Like the Gardiner he defends, Tory, tragically, is a relic. The Toronto he imagines he represents no longer exists. He and his supporters seem not to have noticed that the city is transformed; people in their thousands now live in areas once given over to industry and then forgotten. The waterfront is a perfect example; the long-neglected precinct is now being turned into a series of mixed-use neighbourhoods that have attracted more than $4 billion in (private-sector) investment with much more to come.

“This is a pivotal moment in the history of Toronto,” argues Toronto architect and planner Michael Kirkland. “It is an opportunity to correct the devastating mistakes made during the mid-20th-century industrial era. We have the chance to reconnect the city to its greatest natural asset, Lake Ontario. Not taking down the Gardiner would be seen by our descendants as the great mistake of our age.

“This is a transportation issue, and we should focus on other forms of transportation. Congestion can only be resolved through a proliferation of transportation options. Increasing automobile access won’t improve congestion; indeed, it will only make it worse.”

Meanwhile Saskatoon prepares to add a freeway, highway, two three four (maybe five) bridges, turn residential streets into arterials, and keeps on building low density neighbourhoods like there is no tomorrow while doing nothing on the downtown and north downtown plans. 

America’s Bias Against the Common Good

From the New Yorker

There is a popular notion at large, part of a sort of phantom “bi-partisan” centrist conviction, that the degradation of American infrastructure, exemplified by the backwardness of our trains and airports, too, is a failure of the American political system. We all should know that it is bad to have our trains crowded and wildly inefficient—as Michael Tomasky points out, fifty years ago, the train from New York to Washington was much faster than it is now—but we lack the political means or will to cure the problem. In fact, this is a triumph of our political system, for what is politics but a way of enforcing ideological values over merely rational ones? If we all agreed on common economic welfare and pursued it logically, we would not need politics at all: we could outsource our problems to a sort of Saint-Simonian managerial class, which would do the job for us.

What an ideology does is give you reasons not to pursue your own apparent rational interest—and this cuts both ways, including both wealthy people in New York who, out of social conviction, vote for politicians who are more likely to raise their taxes, and poor people in the South who vote for those devoted to cutting taxes on incomes they can never hope to earn. There is no such thing as false consciousness. There are simply beliefs that make us sacrifice one piece of self-evident interest for some other, larger principle.

What we have, uniquely in America, is a political class, and an entire political party, devoted to the idea that any money spent on public goods is money misplaced, not because the state goods might not be good but because they would distract us from the larger principle that no ultimate good can be found in the state. Ride a fast train to Washington today and you’ll start thinking about national health insurance tomorrow.

The ideology of individual autonomy is, for good or ill, so powerful that it demands cars where trains would save lives, just as it places assault weapons in private hands, despite the toll they take in human lives. Trains have to be resisted, even if it means more pollution and massive inefficiency and falling ever further behind in the amenities of life—what Olmsted called our “commonplace civilization.”

Part of this, of course, is the ancient—and yet, for most Americans, oddly beclouded—reality that the constitutional system is rigged for rural interests over urban ones. The Senate was designed to make this happen, even before we had big cities, and no matter how many people they contain or what efficient engines of prosperity they are. Mass transit goes begging while farm subsidies flourish.

Explains the bias against public transit in places like, you know, Saskatoon.