Down­town cores: Denver vs. Cal­gary

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - New Condos - DENVER VS. CAL­GARY AT A GLANCE: TALE OF TWO MALLS DOWN­TOWN LIV­ING

A re­cent visit to Denver re­minded me of how sim­i­lar, yet dif­fer­ent, its down­town is to Cal­gary’s.

Down­town Denver is di­vided into 10 districts en­com­pass­ing an area of about eight square kilo­me­tres. This would be the equiv­a­lent in Cal­gary of the down­town, Down­town West, the East Vil­lage, Belt­line, Sunalta, Hill­hurst, Sun­ny­side, Bridge­land and In­gle­wood.

While Cal­gary’s cen­tral busi­ness district has twice as much of­fice space and sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter shop­ping (Denver has noth­ing to match our Hud­son’s Bay, The Core or Holt Ren­frew), Denver of­fers more mu­se­ums, a base­ball park and a huge con­ven­tion cen­tre. Both cities have two wa­ter­ways lined with parks, path­ways and con­dos — Denver has the South Platte River and Cherry Creek while Cal­gary has the Bow and El­bow rivers. While down­town Denver fo­cuses on pro­fes­sional sports fa­cil­i­ties, Cal­gary’s down­town forte is its recre­ational cen­tres. Denver boasts its El­itch Gar­dens (a sum­mer mid­way fair­ground and botan­i­cal gar­den) while Cal­gary has Stam­pede Park and the Zoo. Denver’s spank­ing new Union Sta­tion is the hub for an ex­ten­sive re­gional tran­sit sys­tem while Cal­gary’s 7th Av­enue serves as its tran­sit hub.

From a pub­lic space per­spec­tive, Denver has 69 hectares of parks (Civic Cen­tre Park, Con­flu­ence Park, Commons Park and Cen­ten­nial Gar­dens), but Cal­gary can go toe-to-toe with its 68 hectares, in­clud­ing Olympic Plaza, Prince’s Is­land, Me­mo­rial Park, Shaw Mil­len­nium Park, Fort Cal­gary Park, Eau Claire River Prom­e­nade and East Vil­lage River Walk.

From a con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign per­spec­tive, Denver’s mod­ern gems are the Denver Art Mu­seum (ar­chi­tect, Daniel Libe­skind) and Pub­lic Li­brary (ar­chi­tect Michael Graves). Cal­gary eas­ily matches that with The Bow (ar­chi­tect, Nor­man Fos­ter), the Peace Bridge (ar­chi­tect, San­ti­ago Calatrava) and Eighth Av­enue Place (ar­chi­tect Pickard Chilton) and Ho­tel Le Ger­main (ar­chi­tect, LEMAYMICHA­UD).

From an ur­ban de­sign per­spec­tive, both cities’ down­towns are dom­i­nated by pedes­trian malls, which serve as their ur­ban back­bone, link­ing their re­spec­tive neigh­bour­hoods, at­trac­tions and ameni­ties. The cre­ation of down­town pedes­trian malls was all the rage in the 1970s and ’80s. How­ever, most have not suc­ceeded in re­vi­tal­iz­ing their down­town as a shop­ping and din­ing des­ti­na­tion, es­pe­cially in large cities. Most of the North Amer­i­can pedes­trian malls have been aban­doned while oth­ers have added some car or tran­sit traf­fic.

Cal­gary’s Stephen Av­enue Walk and Denver’s 16th Street Mall are two of the more suc­cess­ful, large city pedes­trian malls in North Amer­ica. Denver’s 16th Street Mall is 16 blocks long, run­ning from its Civic Cen­ter district through its Cen­tral Busi­ness District (CBE), LOGO and ter­mi­nat­ing at Union Sta­tion and the South Platte River. Tech­ni­cally, the 16th Street Mall is no longer a ‘pedes­trian mall,’ as it now has a free shut­tle bus (the equiv­a­lent to Cal­gary’s free fare LRT zone) that runs back and forth ev­ery five min­utes, rel­e­gat­ing pedes­tri­ans to side­walks. While the 16th Street Mall links sev­eral districts, most of the ma­jor at­trac­tions are sev­eral blocks off the mall, in­clud­ing the Li­brary, Art Mu­seum, Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter, Chil­dren’s Mu­seum and Aquar­ium.

While Cal­gary’s Stephen Av­enue Walk (also not a true pedes­trian mall be­cause it has traf­fic on it at night) is only six blocks long, how­ever it con­nects pedes­tri­ans to the front door of an amaz­ing num­ber of its down­town ac­tiv­i­ties and at­trac­tions such as City Hall, Olympic Plaza, Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre, Glen­bow Mu­seum, Con­ven­tion Cen­tre, his­toric district, Devo­nian Gar­dens and the Fi­nan­cial and Fash­ion districts.

Af­ter vis­it­ing the 16th Street Mall, I think it might it be time to con­sider ex­tend­ing Stephen Av­enue to 11th Street SW, mak­ing it 12 blocks long. In do­ing so, it would pro­vide a pedes­trian-friendly link from the thou­sands of new con­dos planned for down­town’s West End, as well as to Shaw Mil­len­nium Park and the po­ten­tial new con­tem­po­rary pub­lic art gallery (at the old Sci­ence Cen­tre) to the down­town and the down­town’s bur­geon­ing East End. An ex­panded and re­designed Stephen Av­enue could also ac­com­mo­date cy­cling. The days of restrict­ing ur­ban streets to just one mode of trans­porta­tion are gone. Good ur­ban de­sign evolves with changes in ur­ban liv­ing. To­day, the fo­cus for cre­at­ing vi­brant ur­ban places is on cre­at­ing good pedes­trian, tran­sit, cy­cling and ve­hic­u­lar ac­cess.

Denver has made sig­nif­i­cant res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment gains dur­ing the past 15 years, es­pe­cially along the South Platte River and in LOGO. Cur­rently, 66,000 res­i­dents live in their 10 down­town districts, with an­other 7,000 condo units un­der con­struc­tion or planned. A sim­i­lar com­par­i­son of the 10 com­mu­ni­ties sur­round­ing Cal­gary’s down­town adds up to 65,000 res­i­dents. Re­cently, Al­tus Group (Cal­gary Herald, May 15, 2014) es­ti­mated there are 12,447 res­i­den­tial units pro­posed, in pre-con­struc­tion and con­struc­tion stages in our City Cen­tre, and this doesn’t in­clude those com­mu­ni­ties north of the Bow River or east of the El­bow.

Most of Denver’s new condo de­vel­op­ments are mid-rise (10 to 15 storeys) com­pared to Cal­gary’s mul­ti­ple 20-plus storey con­dos. Denver’s LODO (lower down­town) district is the equiv­a­lent of Cal­gary’s Belt­line. Both are vi­brant hip­ster and yup­pie hang­outs with di­verse restaurant­s, pubs and clubs next to their re­spec­tive cen­tral busi­ness districts. Twenty years ago, LODO was just a vi­sion — to­day it is a lively ur­ban vil­lage. This au­gurs well for Cal­gary’s East Vil­lage.

Pho­tos: Richard White

Im­pres­sive pub­lic art out­side a mu­nic­i­pal build­ing in Denver.

The Denver Art mu­seum is a mod­ern ar­chi­tec­tural gem.

The 16th Street Mall in Denver is 16 blocks long.

The LODO district in Denver is the equiv­a­lent of Cal­gary’s Belt­line.

Like Cal­gary, Denver has 2 wa­ter­ways lined with parks and con­dos.

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