‘Foodie city’ cooks up street vitality
Cowtown follows in Stumptown’s footsteps
The following is the second of a twopart series comparing the downtowns of trendy, sustainable Portland, Ore., and Calgary.
Previously, we looked at how the city centres of Portland and Calgary stacked up as urban playgrounds with respect to bike lanes, pathways and cultural amenities.
While each city had its own strengths and weaknesses, there was no obvious winner. This week, we look at public spaces, office, retail and hospitality, as well as street life, which are arguably the most important factors in creating urban vitality.
Just outside downtown Portland lies the 64-hectare Washington City Park. You could easily spend a day or two exploring the Rose Test Garden, Japanese Garden, Hoyt Arboretum, World Forestry Centre, Portland Children’s Museum and Oregon Zoo.
Even if Calgary amalgamated the Calgary Zoo/Botanical Gardens, Telus Spark science centre, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and the Bow River's Harvie Passage, we’d still not have the critical mass of Washington City Park.
Portland has some lovely old linear parks throughout its downtown that have amazing tree canopies. They include South Park Blocks, a 14-blocklong park that is home to the Downtown Farmers’ Market.
Its Calgary equivalents would be Riley Park, with its historic cricket field, and the majestic Central Memorial Park that surrounds the Memorial Park Library.
Portland’s 15-hectare Tom McCall Waterfront Park, which stretches about three kilometres along the Willamette River, has several activity nodes for festivals and events, including the Rose Festival midway.
In Calgary, Shaw Millennium Park, Prince’s Island, Fort Calgary Park, Eau Claire Promenade and East Village River Walk would easily be our equivalent.
Add in the Peace Bridge, Poppy Plaza, the soon-to-be-completed St. Patrick’s Island redevelopment with its signature bridge, and the Calgary Stampede’s plans to create a new Riverfront Park along the Elbow River during the next few years and Calgary might come out ahead of Portland.
It will be interesting to see how our riverfront public spaces get redeveloped after the recent flood. A tremendous opportunity exists to create something spectacular as a legacy.
Portland also is home to two famous contemporary fountains — Lovejoy Fountain and the Ira Keller Fountain, both in the Cultural District. Calgary’s answer to these would be the water features at Century Gardens and McDougall Centre, as well as wading pools at Olympic and Eau Claire Plazas and the more traditional fountains at Central Memorial Park.
Portland’s Pioneer Square is often referred to as its downtown’s “living room,” the place where urbanites hang, meet and celebrate. Calgary’s Olympic Plaza shares many of the same features and design elements, but for some reason, it is not as popular with Cowtown’s urbanites.
Perhaps it is because Calgary has the Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall, a linear plaza by day which morphs into downtown’s dining room at lunch hour in the summer thanks to its many outdoor patios and food vendors.
Portland’s Alder Street Food Pod with more than 60 food carts (the largest concentration of street food in North America) is Portland’s equivalent.
Public spaces advantage: tied.
Office/retail/ hospitality districts
Although downtown Portland is about 20 square kilometres, its central business district is only about 40 blocks (one square kilometre). Calgary’s office
Some of the hundreds of food carts that bring life to downtown Portland, Ore. core — from City Hall on the east to 8th Street on the west and from 9th Avenue on the south to the Bow River on the north — is about 80 blocks, twice the size of Portland’s.
Unlike Calgary, Portland has only a few skyscrapers, adding up to 25.3 million square feet of office space and 87,588 workers compared to Calgary’s 40 million square feet and 160,000 workers.
However, Portland offers about 20,000 hotel rooms in 37 different hotels compared to our 4,000 hotel rooms in a dozen hotels. This means on any given day, there are probably more than 25,000 tourists wandering downtown Portland versus Calgary’s 5,000.
Portland’s Pioneer Place is an upscale indoor shopping mall consisting of four blocks of retail, dining (100 stores) parking and an office tower. Signature retailers include Macy’s, Nordstrom and Nike Portland. With its six office towers, Calgary’s retail complex of Holt Renfrew, The Core, Bankers Hall, Scotia Centre, and The Hudson Bay Co. is about four times that size.
Northeast of Portland’s downtown, across the Willamette River in the Lloyd District, sits the city’s massive convention centre. Its one million square feet of exhibition and meeting space is almost three times the size of Calgary Telus Convention Centre and Calgary Stampede BMO Centre combined.
Next to it are two arenas — the Rose Garden (home of the Portland Trail Blazers) and Memorial Coliseum. The district also includes a few office buildings, hotels and Lloyd Centre, a shopping mall with another Macy’s and Nordstrom, as well as a Sears and Marshalls.
If we combined the Calgary Stampede Grounds with North Hill Centre, Calgary would still come up short.
Office/retail/hospitality advantage: tied.
Urban design /renewal
Architecturally, Portland has nothing to match Calgary’s iconic contemporary office towers — Bankers Hall, Centennial Place, Eighth Avenue Place, Nexen, Suncor or The Bow. Nor do any of Portland’s new condos challenge the avant-garde designs of Arriva, Alura, Colours, Nuera, Sasso and Vetro.
While Portland has many great early 20th-century buildings scattered throughout its downtown, there is not a contiguous historic street like Calgary’s Stephen Avenue or Atlantic Avenue in Inglewood.
From an urban renewal perspective, the Pearl District (now home of k.d. lang) is 10 years ahead of East Village and has a huge advantage thanks to numerous older buildings, adding immediate charm and character to the neighbourhood.
However, outside of the Pearl District, evidence of new condo construction and infill housing is almost non-existent.
The international urban planning community under-appreciates the diversity and density of urban living options in downtown Calgary, which includes new single-family homes, duplexes, town homes, mid-rise and highrise condos.
Calgary is a leader in urban renewal for cities its size. The infill developments in Beltline, Bridgeland, Currie Barracks, East Village, Kensington, Marda Loop, University City and all inner-city communities are unmatched in North America.
Urban design/renewal advantage: Calgary.
Portland is perhaps best known for its food carts found almost everywhere; there are over 700 of them.
They are not food trucks (a common misconception) as much as they are permanently parked food outlets located in parking lots in the downtown or in empty lots throughout the city. Most often, there are several located together in what is called a “pod” — a bit like an outdoor food court.
While not always the most attractive (some pods look like shanty towns), most are quite appealing thanks to picnic tables, tents and beer gardens, as well as potted trees and flowers.
And there seems no limit as to what food they can serve, with great names like EuroTrash, Big Egg, Koi Fusion and Pyro Pizza.
Portland’s food carts have become so famous internationally that local entrepreneur
C MFor more photos and Richard White’s first column in this series, visit our website under the heading: ‘More News and Views.’ Downtown Cultural District University District Pearl District NW District Old Town/Chinatown Waterfront Park Lloyd District Central Eastside Alberta Street Arts District Hawthorne Boulevard Brett Burmeister has created a business conducting lunchtime tours, assisting event planners and land developers on cart management and speaking internationally at food conferences (visit the website at foodcartsportland.com).
Calgary’s 50-plus food trucks just don’t cut it.
Street shopping in Portland’s core is mainly along 23rd Avenue in the Northwest District (think Kensington in Calgary) along Morrison and Yamill Streets (think Stephen Avenue) and along 10th and 11th Avenues of the Pearl District (think 17th and 11th Avenues).
Portland’s street shopping includes Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, West Elm and several other trendy retailers — the likes of which you can’t find in downtown Calgary. Another bonus for Portland is that shopping is tax-free.
Also worth noting, Portland has two interesting shopping streets outside its downtown — Alberta Street and Hawthorne Boulevard. Both are about 15 blocks long and full of interesting local shops.
Alberta Street has several indie art galleries (hence the name Alberta Arts District) Downtown* Olympic Plaza Cultural District SAIT Polytechnic/Alberta College of Art and Design East Village Kensington and Hawthorne Boulevard — which could be branded as the Vintage Village — is noted for its collection of vintage clothing, furniture and home accessory stores.
Both streets offer a good day of exploring on foot. In Calgary, the only thing that comes close to in scale and size is International Avenue (17th Avenue S.E.), which, for all its charm, is not pedestrian oriented.
Street life advantage: Portland.
Urban neighbourhoods comparison
Portland has a reputation as a foodie city, not only because of its food carts, but also due to its leadership in the “farmto-table” movement, along with wineries and craft breweries and a budding distillery industry.
The likes of CNN, New York Times and Food & Wine magazine have all touted Portland as one of the best places to eat.
In many ways, Calgary is following in Portland’s footsteps. Salt & Straw is the two-yearold “it” ice cream store (think Village Ice Cream), and people can be lined up for hours RiverWalk/Promenade/Prince’s Island/Millennium Park Beltline/Stampede Park Manchester 17th Avenue /4th Street International Avenue *Bolding indicates where one neighbourhood has the upper hand. If no bolding, consider them on par with each other. to get a Bacon Maple Bar at Voodoo Doughnut (think Jelly Modern Doughnuts).
However, Calgary does have its iconic foodie spots — such as Peters’ Drive-In and My Favourite Ice Cream Shoppe or Chicken On The Way — that Portlandians might enjoy.
But Calgary has nothing to match Portland’s Saturday Farmers’ Market, which is on two blocks in a linear park near the Portland State University campus.
Maybe we could do something similar in Riley Park, or in the huge parking lot at SAIT Polytechnic overlooking downtown. Time magazine called Portland “America’s new food Eden,” which is no exaggeration given its lush vegetation.
Known as the craft beer capital of North America — and perhaps the world — Portland has more than 60 breweries. Imagine, you could almost enjoy a different beer every day of the year.
At best, Calgary can claim only a handful of homemade breweries. However, what we lack in craft beers, we make up in cafes and roasteries.
Portland can’t match our independent cafe scene, which includes Beanos, Bumpy’s, deVille, Gravity, Higher Ground, Kawa, Phil & Sebastian, Roasterie and Rosso, to name a few.
Calgary even has a Stumptown Cafe (Portland’s signature roasterie) at Luke’s Market in Bridgeland. Given Portland’s hipster reputation, we were shocked at how few cafes there were in the Oregon city.
Foodie advantage: Portland.
Stumptown versus Cowtown
Portland is supposed to be the home of the modern hipster movement; I’m not sure what I was expecting, but when all is said and done, Portland, or Stumptown (when Portland was first developed, they had to cut down huge trees and often left the stumps to rot), is really not much different than Cowtown when it comes to being an urban playground.
I’m not sure how the sister cities program works, but if any two cities in North America should be linked, I think Portland and Calgary are a natural fit.
Customers line up for hours at Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland.