How about bring­ing fun to the core?

Read­ers are in­vited to sub­mit ideas

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - New Condos - RICHARD WHITE

Irecently shared some of the fun things to see and do in down­town Spokane, Wash. — and spoke of how, if Cal­gary wants to have an at­trac­tive, vi­brant down­town, it is vi­tal to cre­ate en­ter­tain­ing and even purely whim­si­cal things for peo­ple to en­joy.

This week, I want to open up the dis­cus­sion as to how we might add more fun to Cal­gary’s rather staid, of­fice­cen­tric core, where sober prac­ti­cal­ity can too of­ten be an ex­cuse for lack of imag­i­na­tion and en­gage­ment.

Ar­guably, the most fun spot in our down­town is the Colour­ful Cows for Cal­gary ex­hi­bi­tion, which is hid­den away on the sec­ond floor of the Cen­ten­nial Parkade.

Where, and what, you say? That’s where a dozen or so of the Ud­derly Art cow sculp­tures were put out to pas­ture, so to speak, at a city parkade on Fifth Street near Eighth Av­enue around the cor­ner from the Globe The­atre.

Ud­derly Art was a char­ity event that took place in the sum­mer of 2000. Us­ing copies of the same fi­bre­glass cow as a tem­plate, artists were spon­sored by com­pa­nies to em­bel­lish and mod­ify them — the more whim­si­cal and imag­i­na­tive the cow, the bet­ter.

The re­sult was ev­ery­thing from a Mae Westin­spired en­try named Moo West to a Holy Cow that was per­fo­rated with holes. The cows stood on streets and other lo­ca­tions through­out down­town — one was even in the Bow River la­goon be­tween Prince’s Is­land and Eau Claire Mar­ket.

The his­tory of one of Canada’s most suc­cess­ful pub­lic art projects is there for ev­ery­one to en­joy. But 13 years later, per­haps it is time for another fun sum­mer pub­lic art pro­gram.


Cal­gary used to have a down­town Santa Claus Pa­rade, cre­at­ing an an­nual fun event for fam­i­lies to do in the core.

I think some of us still have childhood mem­o­ries of go­ing down­town to see the an­i­mated Christ­mas win­dows at The Bay and Ea­ton’s.

Flag­ship re­tail­ers in New York, Chicago and Paris pride them­selves on their mag­i­cal Christ­mas win­dows, at­tract­ing tens of thou­sands of peo­ple to their down­towns at Christ­mas time.

Per­haps we could con­vince busi­nesses along Stephen Av­enue, a.k.a. Cal­gary’s main street, to cre­ate amaz­ing Christ­mas win­dow dis­plays each year that would add some fun and ex­cite­ment to the street for ev­ery­one.

While some of the cur­rent win­dows are nice, none have the magic of past Christ­mases. We need to kick it up a notch, per­haps through a con­test in which peo­ple would be en­cour­aged to visit the Christ­mas dis­plays, with prizes of­fered by par­tic­i­pat­ing busi­nesses.

Every­body loves a train

Is it just me, or is there some­thing fun about a train?

Did you know that at noon ev­ery day, the steam whis­tle on the Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­way No. 29 steam lo­co­mo­tive goes off in front of the Gulf Canada Square build­ing on 9th Av­enue?

Too bad this couldn’t hap­pen more of­ten; it would be great if any­one could come up to the train at any­time, pull a lever and sound the whis­tle. I hope down­town doesn’t lose the en­gine when the rail­way com­pany moves its head­quar­ters out of down­town.

If it is moved, per­haps it could be re­placed by a mon­ster oil­sands truck.

Last time, I talked about Spokane’s pop­u­lar Big Wagon slide. It con­sists of a gi­ant ver­sion of a Ra­dio Flyer red wagon that stands four me­tres tall and weighs 26 tons.

The bar or tongue that would have been used to pull the wagon has in­stead been turned into a slide that even moms and dads can’t re­sist.

How about Cal­gary get­ting a de­com­mis­sioned truck and turn it into a slide? Maybe with a lit­tle imag­i­na­tion, it could also be­come a climb­ing ap­pa­ra­tus for kids.

What kid (even dads) wouldn’t want into climb the big truck? We need some fun vis­ual re­minders down­town that we are one of the world’s lead­ing oil and gas cen­tres.

Climb­ing walls?

Speak­ing of climb­ing, if we want to add some fun to our down­town and give a nod to the Rocky Moun­tains and our pas­sion for recre­ation, we need a mega down­town climb­ing wall.

Per­haps we could start by turn­ing the Cal­gary Tower into a huge climb­ing wall. Wouldn’t it be fun to watch peo­ple climb the out­side of the tower?

The colour­ful hand and foot holds, with their funky shapes and pat­terns, would make the tower look like a totem sculp­ture. If the Cal­gary Tower doesn’t work, per­haps an ex­ist­ing or new of­fice de­vel­oper could cre­ate a climb­ing wall on the out­side of their build­ing or in the lobby.

Can­more has a climb­ing wall in their new recre­ation cen­tre in a space that looks re­mark­ably just like an of­fice lobby — wouldn’t that an­i­mate a ster­ile of­fice build­ing.

I could see the space be­ing used by all kinds of peo­ple for dif­fer­ent events. For any­one who ar­gues the li­a­bil­ity lawyers would have a field day with this idea, I re­cently toured the Univer­sity of Idaho’s climb­ing wall fa­cil­ity, which has one of the high­est walls in the world. It turns out in­juries are min­i­mal and they have had no li­a­bil­ity is­sues.

Fam­ily days

In the early 1990s, the Cal­gary Down­town As­so­ci­a­tion or­ga­nized a Kids’ Days event.

But rather than the usual face-paint­ing and art­mak­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, how about an an­nual or monthly down­town scav­enger hunt that en­cour­ages fam­i­lies to ex­plore, learn and have fun down­town.

Per­haps it could even be self-guided, en­cour­ag­ing fam­i­lies to find in­ter­est­ing things, such as a bush plane hang­ing from a ceil­ing . . . or a buf­falo skeleton . . . or the Cowabunga skate­board­ing cow from Ud­derly Art.

Might we con­vince Cal­gary Tran­sit to of­fer free rides on the LRT to down­town on the first weekend of the month? Kids love to ride the train and come down to the “tall city” (as my nephew used to re­fer to Cal­gary’s down­town when he was three years old).

Kids ban­ners

We could also have an an­nual fun ban­ner pro­gram down­town.

In­stead of the text-ori­ented de­signs used for most of the cur­rent ban­ners, chil­dren’s work­shops could be or­ga­nized through­out the city to gen­er­ate art de­pict­ing what they like about Cal­gary.

Judges could choose which ones get made into ban­ners, while oth­ers could be dis­played as part of ex­hi­bi­tions at City Hall and the Devo­nian Gar­dens. Every­body loves chil­dren’s art as it is al­ways colour­ful and fun.

Imag­ine if ev­ery lamp post down­town had a kids ban­ner on it? Imag­ine how the Sev­enth Av­enue tran­sit cor­ri­dor could be trans­formed into a chil­dren’s art gallery — now that would change down­town’s sense of place.

Li­brary/Telus Sky

The pro­posed new down­town li­brary is an op­por­tu­nity wait­ing for some fun ur­ban de­sign. We should let kids in on de­sign­ing the li­brary; they did a great job on the Al­berta Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal.

At min­i­mum, they should be part of the cre­ation of the li­brary’s chil­dren’s area.

The pro­posed Telus Sky build­ing also has an el­e­ment of fun in its de­sign, which I think (and hope) could prob­a­bly be played up even more as the de­sign evolves. Maybe one of th­ese two projects could in­cor­po­rate the climb­ing wall?

Al­ley art gallery

While re­cently strolling through down­town Boise, Idaho, my wife and I re­cently came upon an al­ley full of young girls and their moms. We won­dered what was hap­pen­ing.

It turns out it was a dance com­pany that was us­ing their “Freak Al­ley” paint­ings as a back­drop for a photo ses­sion. Even a place in a state known for its po­tato pro­duc­tion is will­ing to fly its freak flag — how fun is that?

The walls of the build­ings fac­ing the al­ley and an ad­ja­cent sur­face park­ing lot are full from the ground to the rooftops of street art by nu­mer­ous artists, whose styles range from graf­fiti to re­al­ism.

It is a won­der­ful out­door gallery and a nice ur­ban sur­prise.

If we use a lit­tle imag­i­na­tion and co-op­er­a­tion, Cal­gary’s down­town has plenty of al­leys that could be­come out­door art gal­leries.

Down­town is al­ready a mega ur­ban art park that con­tains more than 100 pub­lic sculp­tures, not to men­tion a few mu­rals.

Per­haps the city’s bonus den­sity pro­gram — a mu­nic­i­pal pol­icy that al­lows de­vel­op­ers to build more floors in re­turn for cre­at­ing pub­lic ameni­ties like in­door gar­dens, plazas, pub­lic art and Plus-15 bridges — could in­clude cre­at­ing an al­ley art gallery.

It would be fun to have an al­ley art walk that peo­ple could ex­pe­ri­ence any­time they are down­town.


Freemont Street in Las Ve­gas is very much like Stephen Av­enue — both are pedes­trian malls. One of Freemont’s big at­trac­tions is a zi­pline down the mid­dle of the street.

I am not sure this would work on Stephen Av­enue, but per­haps it would some­where else down­town; maybe in Shaw Mil­len­nium Park or on Prince’s Is­land. How about across the Bow River (a reader once sug­gested this to me) go­ing both ways.

It could add a whole new di­men­sion for those walk­ing to work and would be a fun ac­tiv­ity.

Bring back the neon

In the hey­day of down­towns in the mid-20th cen­tury, the streets were “brighter,” as ’60s singer Pe­tula Clark once noted in her song, Down­town.

But that is not true to­day. Most of the streets in down­town Cal­gary are dark, with lit­tle or no light on the side­walks. Any signs you come across are very sub­tle and cor­po­rate.

We need to bring back the flash­ing blade signs of the neon era that shout out that some­thing fun is hap­pen­ing in­side. A great place to start would be to an­i­mate the Ep­cor Cen­tre and the Glen­bow with some great neon signs.

Last word

Th­ese are just a few of my wacky, fun ideas — but I am sure there are more and bet­ter ones out there. Email me your thoughts on how to make our down­town or city cen­tre a more fun place for ev­ery­one and I will send out the word through my tweets and blog.




Pho­tos: Richard White/For the Cal­gary Her­ald

A bush plane in Cal­gary’s Sun­cor En­ergy Cen­tre brings a much-needed splash of whimsy.

Freak Al­ley mu­rals like this one in Boise, Idaho, draw crowds.

The Univer­sity of Idaho fea­tures a huge wall for climb­ing that could work well in Cal­gary.

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