Cal­gary needs to make Left turn

Al­berta city, like Paris, has its own Left Bank

Calgary Herald New Condos - - New Condos -

The Left Bank of Paris — so-called be­cause if you float down­stream on the Seine River, it is on your left side — has been world fa­mous for cen­turies for be­ing home to the city’s artists, cre­ative peo­ple and in­tel­lec­tu­als.

It con­tains such no­table ar­eas as the Latin Quar­ter, Mont­martre and Mont­par­nasse, which are neigh­bour­hoods well known for their stu­dent/artist vi­tal­ity.

The Left Bank is also home to Shake­speare and Com­pany, an English-lan­guage book­store where fa­mous writ­ers such as Ernest Hem­ing­way and James Joyce once hung out.

With­out the Left Bank, the City of Light would be dim­mer. It would be miss­ing an in­te­gral part of its charm and ap­peal for tourists.

But some­how, Cal­gary’s Left Bank com­mu­ni­ties are not even in­cluded in our think­ing about down­town.

This is a ma­jor over­sight. If we en­vi­sion our city to evolve its own sense of place — a sense of place to ri­val that of other in­ter­na­tional cities — we must in­clude our Left Bank.

It is like we are only us­ing one side of our brain.

We must in­clude the two post-sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions on North Hill — SAIT Polytech­nic and Al­berta Col­lege of Art and De­sign (ACAD). We must fos­ter Kens­ing­ton Vil­lage, Cen­tre Street, 14th and 19th streets, Ed­mon­ton Trail and 1st Av­enue in Bridge­land as pedes­trian shop­ping streets.

Kens­ing­ton is home to Cal­gary’s early cafe cul­ture through places such as Roast­er­rie and Higher Ground. The Plaza The­atre should be a Cal­gary icon for tourists. Aquila Books on 16th Av­enue should be a “must see” for any vis­it­ing book lovers.

Dur­ing the past 25 years, while our Right Bank (Belt­line, East Vil­lage, Erl­ton and Mis­sion) com­mu­ni­ties have been un­der­go­ing a mas­sive trans­for­ma­tion thanks to bil­lion-dol­lar shinny tow­ers and high­rise condo tow­ers, new per­for­mance spa­ces (Grand, Na­tional Mu­sic Cen­ter) up­graded parks (Me­mo­rial Park and Devo­nian Gar­dens), $50 mil­lion in two new pedes­trian bridges, mil­lion-dol­lar pub­lic art and even an en­tire new $250-mil­lion­plus com­mu­nity (East Vil­lage), our Left Bank has been all but for­got­ten.

As part of its Cen­tre City plan, mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials cur­rently de­fine Cal­gary’s core as the area from the Bow River to 17th Av­enue S.W. and from 14th Street S.W. to the El­bow River, in­clud­ing all of Stam­pede Park.

Since the ap­proval of the plan in 2007, the area has been sub­ject to a num­ber of city stud­ies and projects:

17th Av­enue S.W. Ur­ban De­sign Strat­egy;

Cal­gary Down­town Re­tail District Strat­egy;

Down­town Un­der­pass Ur­ban De­sign Guide­lines;

East Vil­lage Area Re­de­vel­op­ment Plan;

Eau Claire Area Re­de­vel­op­ment Plan;

Belt­line Area Re­de­vel­op­ment Plan;

West Vil­lage Area Re­de­velop-

C MFor more pho­tos, visit our web­site un­der the head­ing: ‘More News and Views.’ ment Plan; Bird-Friendly De­sign Guide­lines; Cen­tre City Il­lu­mi­na­tion Guide­lines;

8th Street Cor­ri­dor Pub­lic Realm Vi­sion; 13th Av­enue Her­itage Green­way; Po­etic Park.

Our Left Bank left out?

On the left side of the Bow River, ev­ery­thing is still pretty much as it was in the ’80s.

Hill­hurst/Sun­ny­side is still a sleepy lit­tle neigh­bour­hood with many lit­tle cot­tage homes from the early 20th cen­tury.

Yes, Bridge­land did get some at­ten­tion when the Cal­gary Gen­eral Hospi­tal was de­mol­ished, re­sult­ing in some new con­dos and new park, but for the most part, the boom of 1990s and 2000s passed our Left Bank by.

It’s true Me­mo­rial Drive and 16th Av­enue (a.k.a. Trans-Canada High­way) got makeovers, but th­ese im­prove­ments haven’t been the cat­a­lyst for any ma­jor new res­i­den­tial, re­tail or of­fice devel­op­ment.

Shouldn’t 16th Av­enue from Ed­mon­ton Trail to, say, 14th Street S.W. be the Left Bank’s equiv­a­lent to the south’s 17th Av­enue?

I am pleased to see Cal­gary’s Left Bank has started to see some more ur­ban devel­op­ment in the past year. There are cur­rently three mid-rise con­dos un­der con­struc­tion in Hill­hurst — Pixel, St. John’s Tenth Street and Ven — the first in 20 years — and there are more to come.

Kens­ing­ton Road west of 14th Street has some in­ter­est­ing po­ten­tial. The Royal Cana­dian Le­gion site at 20th Street is slated for re­de­vel­op­ment, as is the north­west cor­ner of 19th Street.

Just north of Kens­ing­ton Road sits two re­tail blocks right out of late ur­ban ex­pert Jane Ja­cobs’ de­sign hand­book. There is Cen­tral Blends cafe, Dairy Lane Diner, Vina Pizza, a yoga stu­dio, paint store, dry clean­ers, florist, woman’s new/re­sale cloth­ing shop, as well as lawyer and ac­coun­tants’ of­fices.

There is even a small stu­dio apart­ment block above Dairy Lane. It is right out of the ’50s.

The 16th Av­enue area is also start­ing to come to life due to plans for new projects east and west of Cen­tre Street. Land­star is look­ing to cre­ate a new of­fice build­ing on the east side at 6th Street and La­Caille group is look­ing at some mid-rise con­dos on the west side.

It has taken some time for the re­designed av­enue to take off, but it looks like it might just hap­pen.

What I am wait­ing for is the cre­ation of a bo­hemian col­lege vil­lage next to SAIT and ACAD.

SAIT has re­cently un­der­gone a rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion with the com­ple­tion of sev­eral new build­ings — all de­sign gems. They even have what might be the most at­trac­tive and in­no­va­tive ur­ban parkade in Canada.

The fa­cade is an enor­mous etch­ing that changes with the light, while the roof is a full-size play­ing field. SAIT, com­bined with ACAD and Ju­bilee The­atre, should be the an­chor for a vi­brant ur­ban vil­lage.

But I am sad to say that isn’t the case. There are no walk­a­ble “han­gout” spots for af­ter-the­atre so ev­ery­one gets into their cars and goes home or else­where for a drink or pre/postthe­atre meal.

With a lit­tle en­cour­age­ment, I be­lieve a new bo­hemian col­lege vil­lage could be devel­oped around SAIT and ACAD with funky stu­dent and in­struc­tor hous­ing, cafes, mu­sic venues and shops.

Let’s think about how the sur­face park­ing lots and parkade next to the LRT Sta­tion could be­come bustling mixed-use sites. They have bil­lion­dol­lar views of the sky­line and river. What about de­sign­ing a pedes­trian stroll along the bluff from 14th Street to 10th Street that could also have a grand stair­case con­nect­ing to Ri­ley Park —think Cres­cent Heights.

Last word

Ald. Druh Far­rell and city plan­ning head Rollin Stan­ley have re­cently been go­ing on walking tours of Cal­gary’s Left Bank com­mu­ni­ties with key mem­bers of the neigh­bour­hoods.

Both were im­pressed with the in­cred­i­ble ur­ban de­sign knowl­edge and pas­sion that ex­ists in the Left Bank. This is not sur­pris­ing, given it is pop­u­lated with many of Cal­gary’s lead­ing artists, ar­chi­tects, tran­sit and ur­ban plan­ners.

Stan­ley for ex­am­ple, was sur­prised and pleased to find “the most in­formed and in­cred­i­bly en­gaged in a pos­i­tive way cit­i­zen he has ever en­coun­tered.”

Far­rell is ex­cited by the com­mu­nityled Bow to Bluff project — a cit­i­zen ini­tia­tive to reimag­ine the pub­lic cor­ri­dor along the Sun­ny­side LRT line from the Bow River to McHugh Bluff — that demon­strates how com­mu­ni­ties in the fu­ture will lead the shap­ing of their fu­tures.

Both Far­rell and Stan­ley in­di­cated the key to good ur­ban den­si­fi­ca­tion is to “show the ben­e­fits of new devel­op­ment early and in­cre­men­tally as the devel­op­ment is hap­pen­ing and not wait­ing un­til the end.”

In­deed, if Cal­gary’s plans for the Cen­tre City area are to achieve their full po­ten­tial, we need our Left Bank to flour­ish.

Cal­gary Her­ald/files

A waiter nav­i­gates ta­bles at a restau­rant in the Left Bank of Paris. Cal­gary, too, has a Left Bank — one that the city needs to pay more at­ten­tion to.

The Bow to Bluff ini­tia­tive shows how the ar­eas along the Left Bank of the Bow River are be­ing re-ex­am­ined.

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