City divides as population multiplies
Calgary evolving into five cities
One of Calgary’s advantages during the past 50 years has been its ability to annex land and surrounding communities as it grows.
Examples include Forest Lawn and Midnapore in 1961, or Bowness in 1963.
As a result, Calgary has been able to evolve as a single city with a healthy inner city and suburban neighbourhoods, rather than a fragmented urban region such as Edmonton with large, suburban edge cities (OK, Calgary may not be perfect, but it’s better than most.)
This is not the case for most North American cities.
In most cases, the original city was surrounded by smaller towns with their own town council, as well as fire, water, safety and school systems.
During the past 50 years, these small “edge towns” have mostly become large, independent cities able to offer lower taxes and housing because they didn’t have transit systems, social programs or an aging infrastructure.
This resulted in more and more residents and businesses choosing to locate to such places.
For example, in 1961, the City of Vancouver’s population was 384,522, with a regional population of 827,000.
Today, the lower mainland of B.C. has a population of 2.5 million divided into 21 municipalities, with Vancouver representing only 23 per cent of the metro population — down from 46 per cent in 1961.
On the other hand, Calgary’s population in 1961 was 249,641, or 89 per cent of the regional population of 279,000.
Today, the City of Calgary’s population is 1,071,515, or 81 per cent of the regional population.
During the past 50 years, Airdrie has grown to a city of 39,822, Okotoks to 23,201, Cochrane to 15,424 and Strathmore to 12,139 — but they are still, for the most part, bedroom communities of Calgary.
In the past, this growth has been mostly residential.
However, more and more these edge cities are experiencing retail and industrial growth as a result of no business taxes
C MFor other Richard White columns, visit our website under the heading: ‘More News and Views.’ and lower land costs.
Calgary will not be able to annex these cities as they did in the past, which could lead to fragmented development in the future.
As Calgary has grown, even internally, its residents have begun to think less and less like those of a unified city and more and more like a fragmented one.
One of the unique features of Calgary is that despite living in a city of more than a million, for the most part people live in one of four quadrants.
If you divide them into 250,000 people apiece, that’s roughly a city the size of Saskatoon or Victoria for each quadrant.
Many Calgarians living in the northwest never cross the Bow River except to go downtown to work.
Similarly, those who live in the southwest also never cross the Bow River except to get to the airport.
More and more Calgarians are identifying with the quadrant they live in.
When it comes to new infrastructure, the city is currently very divided.
The airport tunnel, though an issue for businesses and residents in the northeast, is a nonissue for the rest of the city.
The southeast LRT extension, though a key issue for southeast downtown commuters, isn’t an issue for southeasterners who don’t work downtown — nor for those who live in the city’s other three quadrants.
The ring road connection is a key issue for those in the southwest now that they have their LRT connection to downtown, but less so for others.
More and more, Calgary is a city divided. We are now living in a “what about me” (WAM) society.
Most 20th century cities — including Calgary — are now dealing with problems based on that century’s downtowncentric model of planning cities.
In other words, downtown was made the focal point for all commercial, cultural and civic activities, as well as roads and transit.
While there are few cities in the world as downtown- centric as Calgary, our downtown struggles to thrive in the evenings and weekends when commuters are back home in the suburbs.
And while downtown is still Calgary’s economic engine, other parts of the city are developing their own character, charm and culture.
Another problem is that while downtown remains important to the everyday lives of 20 per cent of Calgarians, for the other 80 per cent, it is not part of their urban experience on a monthly, quarterly, or for some even an annual basis.
I see Calgary quickly evolving into five distinct “cities,” each with their own economic base, amenities and culture: the Learning City, the Airport City, the Playground City, the Corporate City and the Health care City.
I thought it might be interesting to look at how Calgary might evolve over the next 50 years:
The Learning City — This is primarily the northwest quadrant of the city running from the Bow River to the city’s northern limits, and from Deerfoot Trail to the city’s western limits.
Its employment centres are the University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre (teaching hospital), SAIT Polytechnic and Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD).
This is where the majority of professors, instructors, doctors, nurses and other staff live, work and play.
It has two major parks: Nose Hill and Bowness Park. Recreationally, it has Canada Olympic Park and Shouldice Athletic Park, as well as several major recreation centres
It has more than five million square feet of retail, including Market Mall, Northland Village mall, North Hill Mall, Brentwood Mall and Crowfoot Power Centre.
It is also home to Calgary’s first urban village — Kensington, with its cafe culture and Plaza Theatre. About 325,000 people live in the Learning City.
The Airport City — This is basically the northeast quadrant of the city, an area from east of Deerfoot Trail and north of 17th Avenue S.E.
The airport is the key differentiator for this “city.” and the driver for its economy is the almost 40-million square feet of industrial space and six-million square feet of suburban office space surrounding the airport.
It is home to about 230,000 Calgarians, who not only work there but shop (International Avenue, Marborough Mall, Sunridge Mall and CrossIron Mills could be included as part of the Airport City) and play (Rotary Park and Elliston Park) there.
The Airport City could also be called our multicultural city.
The Playground City — This is all communities east of the Bow River and north of 25th Avenue S.W. It is where the majority of corporate Calgary lives and plays.
It is home to Chinook Centre, Calgary’s largest shopping centre, as well as IKEA, Southcentre, WestHills and Shawnessy Power Centres — almost 10 million square feet of retail space.
It is also home to amenities such as the Westside, Southland and Trico recreation centres, as well as Glenmore Reservoir, Weaselhead, Fish Creek and Heritage Parks, along with Spruce Meadows.
It is served by two legs of the LRT.
Surrounded by golf courses at its edges, it also has three private clubs — Calgary Golf and Country Club, Earl Grey, and Canyon Meadows — within its boundaries.
It has two non-retail employment centers — Mount Royal University/Westmount Office Park and Manchester industrial area.
About 400,000 people live in our Playground City.
The Corporate (Centre) City — This is the area from Inglewood to Sunalta, from Crescent Heights to Roxboro (in other words, the Bow/Elbow River Valley.)
It overlaps with the Learning City on the north side of the river. It is the heart, soul and face of Calgary.
It is the only urban area in the city home to Kensington Village, Uptown 17th, Stephen Avenue Walk, Design District, 4th Street and Inglewood Village.
It is also home to more than 60 million square feet of offices, hotels, retail, restaurants, attractions and condos.
It is one of the most densely developed areas in North America.
It is Calgary’s corporate, cultural and civic headquarters — home to most of our cultural, festival and sporting events.
Not only is it the economic engine for Calgary and one of the top five economic engines for Canada, it is home to Stampede Park, Shaw Millennium Park and Prince’s Island Park, as well as signature recreation facilities such as Talisman Centre, Bankers Hall Club and Eau Claire Y.
More than 150,000 Calgarians come to work here each workday, with about 50,000 calling it home.
The Health care City — This is Calgary’s newest city. Located in the far southeast, it will soon be dominated by the new mega-South Health Campus in Seton.
It is also Calgary’s largest industrial area, with more than 45.9 million square feet of industrial space and more than three million square feet of suburban office space, including the new Quarry Park development.
Existing recreational and park amenities include Calgary Soccer Centre, Fish Creek Park and Carburn Park. It is currently home to about 75,000 people but it is expected to grow to more than 120,000 by 2020.
Cities are a human creation. They are part of the ongoing human adventure.
They are a work in progress. We are still experimenting.
Calgary needs to rethink the North American city of the 21st century.
We need to stop trying to Europeanize our city and develop a winter/prairie urban model that embraces the car, transit, pedestrians and bikes.
Calgary could be a leader in the development of new urban models, rather than imitating what cities did 100 years ago.
We need to look inward, not outward, and start thinking and planning in terms of how can we foster the development of five (or maybe more) distinct sustainable Calgary cities — each with their own quality of life, their own sense of place, and their own mix of employment, residential, retail/restaurant, parks, recreation and cultural centres.
Glenmore Reservoir is seen as being part of the emerging ‘Playground City’ within Calgary.
The South Health Campus, under construction in Seton in the southeast, is seen as part of the emerging ‘health care city.’