Calgary needs to make Left turn
Alberta city, like Paris, has its own Left Bank
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.
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.
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.