How about bringing fun to the core?
Readers are invited to submit ideas
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
RICHARD WHITE HAS WRITTEN ABOUT ART, ARCHITECTURE AND URBAN CULTURE FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS. HE IS CURRENTLY THE URBAN STRATEGIST AT GROUND 3 LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE. HE CAN BE REACHED AT
[email protected] FOLLOW HIM AT TWITTER.COM/EVERYDAYTOURIST. VISIT HISWEBSITE AT
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.