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Calgary's Downtown Dilemma

Alex_YYC

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There has been discussion in various threads about this, but I don't think we have a dedicated thread for it. The dilemma as mentioned in the article below is in regards to all the empty office space, but IMO there is a few different issues, and the empty office space is one of them. The other being that most of it is a dead zone after hours. That was an issue even when the vacancy rate was zero. What are some of the things we can do to fix the CBD?

 
Establishing another 10,000 student college downtown in select old buildings, along with moving ACAD/UArts downtown is THE solution.

It is the ‘easiest’ and weirdly for its cost (at least $1 billion upfront plus $100 million a year), probably the cheapest if we want to change the trajectory forever and not just replace the old industry with a new one with the same development pattern.
 
Instead of trying to make the entire downtown livable and vibrant, continue to focus efforts on the four main hubs .... East Village, West Village, Eau Claire and Stephen Ave/7 Ave LRT. Even with migration, Calgary will never have the population in the core to activate everywhere. Clearly most streets and avenues were designed for cars and not pedestrians. Too many office buildings are very cold and stark at street level. Most of that is irreversible so don't waste any time or money trying to attract residents, small business etc to these pockets of downtown. (i.e take any stretch of 5th Ave, 6th Ave between Macleod Trail and 8th St SW).
 
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Instead of trying to make the entire downtown livable and vibrant, continue to focus efforts on the four main hubs .... East Village, West Village, Eau Claire and Stephen Ave/7 Ave LRT. Even with migration, Calgary will never have the population in the core to activate everywhere. Clearly most streets and avenues were designed for cars and not pedestrians. Too many office buildings are very cold and stark at street level. Most of that is irreversible so don't waste any time or money trying to attract residents, small business etc to these pockets of downtown. (i.e take any stretch of 5th Ave, 6th Ave between Macleod Trail and 8th St SW).
I would add that 8th Street as another main hub.

It's is a fully functioning, mixed-use high density corridor with a high local population. It's population has grown uninterrupted during this time on both sides of the CPR tracks, none of the other north-south streets have that record. Functionally, 8th Street is pretty much the downtown many are hoping for but it already - mixed use, 24-hour activity, jobs, densely populated and great transit.

From 2016 Census Mapper - blue is active modes to work, purple is population density per hectare. Both are as high as any census tracts get in Alberta.
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How do we support an area of downtown that has been achieving for decades what many hope all of downtown becomes? Beyond the underpass improvement and yet-to-be-completed Century Garden upgrades, we have done next to nothing to support the area, in many cases we actually did things that made the area less livable. Sidewalks are shabby, narrow or variable width, all traffic signals prioritize turning vehicle traffic over local pedestrians and signal timing is way too long east-west for locals despite east west traffic peaking a few hours a day, while pedestrian traffic is far more all day. Every east-west road is mega over-sized and brings constant noise and speeding issues as this is where many of our avenues begin exiting the core and turn into bridges or freeways.

If we invested based on current need as opposed to trying to stimulate new demand or cater only to commuters and corporate landowner interests and their downtown business advocacy groups, 8 Street would have been redone decades ago.

A problem I see with all the downtown stuff is that the folks making suggestions/choices are often filtered to the politically-connected and powerful (e.g. big building owners, big companies etc.) All want a successful downtown, but following their suggestions often leads us to failure. After all, we spent 50 years catering to a corporate office/commuter audience to get us to the failed state of today - ironically it's by catering specifically to these groups so aggressively is why we are in the mess.
 
The city tried to improve 8th - apparently keeping excess road capacity for car commuters from Mount Royal is more important than the vastly higher number of pedestrians.
Exactly - it's not a lack of planning or the lack of measured demand on 8th Street in why it sucks. The problem is all in how we prioritize things in downtown.

Firstly, it's because we prioritize non-downtowners (more specifically car-commuter non-downtowners) use of downtown over locals. This problem manifests itself within downtown projects (e.g. we don't take away vehicle capacity in most cases so the projects aren't as strong as they could be) and in budget choices (e.g. we don't prioritize the downtowner-benefitting projects in general).

Secondly, we prioritize trying to generate demand rather than supporting demand where it exists. This is problematic because it has a dubious success rate (demand never materializes) and is makes public investment easily susceptible to private rent-seeking behaviour. We see this all the time in the downtown arena debates, but also influences the process throughout identifying and selecting "fixes" for downtown. When you don't prioritize actual demand you prioritize forecasting, sales pitches and who has louder/more powerful voices and have less ability to sort through the noise on what would actually improve downtown and what will just benefit certain parties over others.
 
Exactly - it's not a lack of planning or the lack of measured demand on 8th Street in why it sucks. The problem is all in how we prioritize things in downtown.

Firstly, it's because we prioritize non-downtowners (more specifically car-commuter non-downtowners) use of downtown over locals. This problem manifests itself within downtown projects (e.g. we don't take away vehicle capacity in most cases so the projects aren't as strong as they could be) and in budget choices (e.g. we don't prioritize the downtowner-benefitting projects in general).

Secondly, we prioritize trying to generate demand rather than supporting demand where it exists. This is problematic because it has a dubious success rate (demand never materializes) and is makes public investment easily susceptible to private rent-seeking behaviour. We see this all the time in the downtown arena debates, but also influences the process throughout identifying and selecting "fixes" for downtown. When you don't prioritize actual demand you prioritize forecasting, sales pitches and who has louder/more powerful voices and have less ability to sort through the noise on what would actually improve downtown and what will just benefit certain parties over others.
Clearly the case when you look at roads like 9th ave, or 11th/12th in the Beltline, and as mentioned the lack of improvement for 8th street. All so that cars can be jammed through for a couple of hours each day.
 
Secondly, we prioritize trying to generate demand rather than supporting demand where it exists. This is problematic because it has a dubious success rate (demand never materializes) and is makes public investment easily susceptible to private rent-seeking behaviour. We see this all the time in the downtown arena debates, but also influences the process throughout identifying and selecting "fixes" for downtown. When you don't prioritize actual demand you prioritize forecasting, sales pitches and who has louder/more powerful voices and have less ability to sort through the noise on what would actually improve downtown and what will just benefit certain parties over others.
Such a great point!! This is not just a problem in Calgary. A lot of cities have this issue and it is caused by two issues. First, places with existing demand often have entrenched interests that tend toward NIMBYism. Everyone probably wants some kind of improvement, but they have a much easier time agreeing on what they don't want than what they do want. Second, property owners within economically depressed areas often lobby the city to invest money in speculative redevelopment schemes because they stand to make huge profits. There's way more money to be made off the redevelopment of the East Village (turning empty lots into highrise condos), than in fixing up 8th Street.
 
Man, this Corbella chick is an idiot! Downtown is broken because parking is expensive and downtown gets cold. And somehow the Herald puts this near the top of the page. Too many people think Calgary is still the size of Lethbridge or something, and traffic isn't a real problem lol.

https://calgaryherald.com/news/loca...-our-downtown-and-blame-others-for-their-mess
I didn't read the whole article, but right off the top I could see it was flawed. People weren't avoiding downtown in droves when the oil industry was booming and covid didn't exist.

I agreed with her that it would be nice if there was more short term parking. When I worked outside of the core, I would often try meet people downtown for lunch or coffee, but it's difficult if you only have an hour and change, as taking the LRT or bus to and from isn't doable that time frame. I always wished there were a few extra spots in parkades designated for short term parking only, as you could never find a parking spot. Outside of that, the current setup was working as offices were packed of people.
 
Man, this Corbella chick is an idiot! Downtown is broken because parking is expensive and downtown gets cold. And somehow the Herald puts this near the top of the page. Too many people think Calgary is still the size of Lethbridge or something, and traffic isn't a real problem lol.

https://calgaryherald.com/news/loca...-our-downtown-and-blame-others-for-their-mess

Another in a long line of daily examples of Herald opinion writers having an ideology then finding a problem to shoehorn it in. They could probably just automate a script to write these and fire the writers - pick any topic, limit context to only points that support your ideology and throw in a swipe at City Hall, taxes, Nenshi, Trudeau, environmentalists. If you can put a bike lane reference in there (which I am surprised she didn't in this case) and a reference why the oil and gas sector is our only hope you get a gold star.

I'm really tired of commentators repeating this incorrect perception that downtown is dead. This bias is on repeat daily because of an unchallenged assumption - that wasn't true even in boom times - that downtown is for car commuting, corporate oil and gas office workers. Ironically, it was listening and catering to this bias too much that got us into the mess that segments of downtown is in in the first place. Windswept streets with tall, empty single-use buildings is a product of car-centric and commuter focused policy choices.

Thousands of people live downtown, tens of thousands more in the areas that aren't technically "downtown" but ideologically driven commentators draw little distinction between (e.g. Beltline). I would encourage this columnist (or anyone) to visit the LRT stations downtown on a Saturday or Sunday morning - it isn't rush hour busy, but it sure isn't empty. Thousands of people that don't get opinion columns pass through the city centre every hour of the day. In an effort to reduce tax impacts - the very same that the columnist is complaining about - all these people now wait even longer for the LRT.

This is to not say we shouldn't look at parking costs/flexibility (like the cheaper short stay options), and making changes to how taxes work so they are better. Lots of areas of improvement for sure. I just won't take those suggestions from an ideologically-driven privileged person that not only has a widely circulated media mouthpiece to air her grievances to thousands, but wrote a whole article about parking affordability and business owner taxes while she drove right by people that can't afford or don't drive a car and now having longer transit wait times in an attempt to placate her demands.

Lastly, I think it's funny the whole article references her parking in an Impark lot (Barclay Centre Parkade), not a public lot. Does CPA set the rate for Impark?
 
Great comment, pretty much sums up my thoughts on the article. The idea that downtown is only succesful if you get cheap convenient parking directly in front of your destination is extremely flawed. The fact that some people choose to live without cars isn't a hinderance on downtown, quite the opposite lol.
 
Still, Corbella brings up some good points. Nobody knows how dt will evolve, other than office leasing is unlikely to fill space for a very long time. The City should be removing barriers to getting people dt, and businesses opening dt. Given the high vacancy rate in CPA lots, why not lower the rates to lure more people? Rates can always go back up if demand returns. Calgary is unique in that the City controls so much of the parking supply, that it sets the rates for the market. If it lowered rates, Impark and others would follow. The City is making the situation even worse with the stupid Platform project in East Village.

The tax situation is inexcusable. No business can absorb double digit tax increases during a recession. The City should have slashed and burned whatever it would have taken to eat the decrease in commercial property taxes. That means workforce reductions.

Reviving dt will take experimentation, rather than top down vision. Getting as many people and businesses dt as possible will unleash the experimentation required to set the path forward.
 
Still, Corbella brings up some good points. Nobody knows how dt will evolve, other than office leasing is unlikely to fill space for a very long time. The City should be removing barriers to getting people dt, and businesses opening dt. Given the high vacancy rate in CPA lots, why not lower the rates to lure more people? Rates can always go back up if demand returns. Calgary is unique in that the City controls so much of the parking supply, that it sets the rates for the market. If it lowered rates, Impark and others would follow. The City is making the situation even worse with the stupid Platform project in East Village.
I'm baffled as to how you and Corbella think top-100 global conglomerates like Softbank (owner of Impark) and Vinci are somehow powerless to set their own prices for parking, especially if it means undercutting their competitor, a government of frankly a smallish city. And how somehow adding more supply is going to make prices higher?
 

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