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Calgary's Downtown Dilemma

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.
I really hope this decade there is a push to revisit those roads, and make changes that more accurately represents traffic flow throughout the whole day, and makes them more pedestrian/community friendly.
 
I really hope this decade there is a push to revisit those roads, and make changes that more accurately represents traffic flow throughout the whole day, and makes them more pedestrian/community friendly.
I was downtown recently and took a walk down 5th ave and 6th ave, and yeah, those avenues have such a cold sterile feeling to it. The lights are timed in a way so as to move as much traffic as efficiently as they can, with the result being there is no traffic at all for periods of time, and the avenues feel lifeless, and then periods of time where there is a rush of traffic racing along, and the avenues feel hostile. Either way there's no nice feel to it. Conversely the only streets that have any kind of life or decent feel to them are the more narrow two way traffic roads such as 8th street, 1st Street, Centre Street , or 8th avenue.

Two way traffic isn't the magic bullet fix for downtown, but it would be an improvement.
 
It's just really depressing to see people making the same argument about downtown parking that you can find being made all over North America in the 1940s: that downtown is dying and the only way to save it is to create lots of cheap/free parking and unobstructed expressways. In only a couple decades, that kind of thinking turned vibrant, European-style cities across North America into decaying wastelands of empty lots and fortress-like office complexes. The few downtowns that managed to survive this thinking have become the most high-valued real estate on the continent. As I say, it's just really depressing to see these same views being expressed 80 years later despite everything we've witnessed over that time.
 
It's just really depressing to see people making the same argument about downtown parking that you can find being made all over North America in the 1940s: that downtown is dying and the only way to save it is to create lots of cheap/free parking and unobstructed expressways. In only a couple decades, that kind of thinking turned vibrant, European-style cities across North America into decaying wastelands of empty lots and fortress-like office complexes. The few downtowns that managed to survive this thinking have become the most high-valued real estate on the continent. As I say, it's just really depressing to see these same views being expressed 80 years later despite everything we've witnessed over that time.
Has there ever been a mainstream public voice - politician, columnist etc. - that is actually a downtown urbanite in this city? Like someone that spends their life actually walking around the city centre?

There's been plenty of politicians and commentators who get the argument about the importance of urban public space, walking, transit etc. but I am curious if there actually been anyone that walk-the-walk so to speak - like someone who lives in the Beltline or in downtown proper rising to the level of a monthly column in the Calgary Herald, but pro-sidewalk and pedestrian.

Regarding parking, I wonder what an alternative policy environment would look like for downtown:
  • No new surface parking lot supply allowed, temporary or permanent.
  • No parking requirements for development at all, just can't be at grade and you have to connect from the alley.
    • The knock-on effect is any existing parking is allowed to be de-bundled so owners can rent out what exists permanently as they are not required to have any amount for their own uses anymore
  • Market rate for parking
 
Unfortunately I don't think so. Nobody that I can think of off hand. So far the voice for this stuff has been mainly in social media as most of it comes from younger people, and those are same people who have been tuning out the Sun and Herald, etc..
Media outlets such as Livewire and The Sprawl have had that kind of voice, but of course they are on smaller scale........for now.

Has there ever been a mainstream public voice - politician, columnist etc. - that is actually a downtown urbanite in this city? Like someone that spends their life actually walking around the city centre?
 
Walking around on Saturday, I do think that extending the free street parking that is normally on Sunday also to Saturday would help downtown businesses and restaurants. That would not be a major impact to commuters who work M-F. That seems like a no-brainer to me. Thoughts?
 
A pretty good (albeit, a bit depressing) article by Richard White today, pointing out it is not just empty office towers we need to worry about:
 
A pretty good (albeit, a bit depressing) article by Richard White today, pointing out it is not just empty office towers we need to worry about:
Wow until you see these all on a list, you would not think there were so many abandoned buildings. You can add the YWCA building which is still there and empty but the site is supposed to be developed by Great Gulf ... who knows when?
What is not talked about very much are the dozens of empty storefronts in downtown and the Beltline, that are looking for tenants. This trend started before the pandemic and has only accelerated since then. How are landlords going to attract retailers and small business to the core when the daytime population (ie workers/commuters) has been getting smaller and not likely to improve that much? This to me is a greater sign that our downtown is severely depressed.
 
Wow until you see these all on a list, you would not think there were so many abandoned buildings. You can add the YWCA building which is still there and empty but the site is supposed to be developed by Great Gulf ... who knows when?
What is not talked about very much are the dozens of empty storefronts in downtown and the Beltline, that are looking for tenants. This trend started before the pandemic and has only accelerated since then. How are landlords going to attract retailers and small business to the core when the daytime population (ie workers/commuters) has been getting smaller and not likely to improve that much? This to me is a greater sign that our downtown is severely depressed.
I do wonder how this compares to other cities. "Downtown Calgary" is actually a massive geographic area (about 2.2 km2, not including the East Village). That is waaaaay bigger than the central business districts of Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal. In fact it's almost as big as the entire downtown peninsula in Vancouver, or the entire area of downtown Toronto from Union Station to Bloor, Church to University Ave. I'm going to guess that you can find a comparative number of weird specialty institutional/historical buildings in those cities that are sitting around empty or under utilized waiting for someone to come up with a new use for them.

That said, clearly Downtown Calgary is facing challenges that those other cities do not face. Hopefully at some point down the road we will see some of these empty buildings as important opportunities in the transformation of the area and not a sign of its irreversible decline.
 
People underestimate how exceptional Calgary's CBD is (and not in a good way). Calgary was a mid-century planners dream with a blank canvas after nearly all single family homes in what is now the CBD and Eau Claire were demolished to allow for new downtown road network which is almost exclusively car oriented. Then throw in a ton of oil revenue for office tower construction and you get Calgary's CBD. It is a really sad legacy of the planning principles from that era. I'm just happy that most of the surrounding neighbourhoods were spared
 
To follow up on my previous point about seeing empty, underused buildings as potential assets rather than liabilities, it's worth keeping in mind Jane Jacob's famous line about new ideas requiring old buildings. Yes, the conditions that gave rise to this neighborhood seem to be gone for good, but the availability of a lot of cheap space may present opportunities that don't exist particularly in cities with massively over-heated real estate markets like Vancouver and Toronto.

In some ways it reminds me of the vast swaths of empty industrial space in places like SoHo in Manhattan and King Street West in Toronto. It's crazy to think about it now, but both cities insisted on keeping the areas zoned for industrial uses, which they saw as a key component of their economies. They actually saw artists and incoming residents as threats who were stealing space from industry! Eventually they gave in and changed the zoning rules (1970s in SoHo, 1990s in King West). I still remember all the bellyaching in Toronto back in the 1990s about how the city was becoming a "bedroom community" and how we needed to protect traditional blue-collar employment space.

Anyway, I see a similar potential dynamic in Downtown Calgary. Despite the changing economy, there are still a lot of people out there who think that the only solution is to try to return to the old days, as if we're going to get enough corporate headquarters to fill most of downtown back up with office workers who drive in from the suburbs and eat lunch in the plus15. And, to some extent, you can't blame them. At the moment it seems like an impossible task to do anything else. As has been said many times on this board, most of these buildings do not adapt well to residential purposes. Most of them are ugly and outdated. How can you do anything with a 1970s office building except renovate it and fill it back up with cubicles and office workers?

Of course, all of these things were also being said about the sterile brick boxes on King Street West. They were considered ugly and unusable for anything other than industrial purposes. Industrial chic was not yet a thing. Few considered them to be of heritage value. The point, however, is that all of this cheap, plentiful space ended up being a huge asset for new activities that no one could have predicted at the time.
 
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People underestimate how exceptional Calgary's CBD is (and not in a good way). Calgary was a mid-century planners dream with a blank canvas after nearly all single family homes in what is now the CBD and Eau Claire were demolished to allow for new downtown road network which is almost exclusively car oriented. Then throw in a ton of oil revenue for office tower construction and you get Calgary's CBD. It is a really sad legacy of the planning principles from that era. I'm just happy that most of the surrounding neighbourhoods were spared
The massive quantity of virtually free office space will be hugely attractive to someone. Cheap real estate brought live-work spaces to, for example, lower Manhattan in 70's and spawned a renaissance. Who knows what it could bring to Calgary. The fact that it is being subsidized by eastern public sector pension funds is even better.
To follow up on my previous point about seeing empty, underused buildings as potential assets rather than liabilities, it's worth keeping in mind Jane Jacob's famous line about new ideas requiring old buildings. Yes, the conditions that gave rise to this neighborhood seem to be gone for good, but the availability of a lot of cheap space may present opportunities that don't exist particularly in cities with massively over-heated real estate markets like Vancouver and Toronto.

In some ways it reminds me of the vast swaths of empty industrial space in places like SoHo in Manhattan and King Street West in Toronto. It's crazy to think about it now, but both cities insisted on keeping the areas zoned for industrial uses, which they saw as a key component of their economies. They actually saw artists and incoming residents as threats who were stealing space from industry! Eventually they gave in and changed the zoning rules (1970s in SoHo, 1990s in King West). I still remember all the bellyaching in Toronto back in the 1990s about how the city was becoming a "bedroom community" and how we needed to protect traditional blue-collar employment space.

Anyway, I see a similar potential dynamic in Downtown Calgary. Despite the changing economy, there are still a lot of people out there who think that the only solution is to try to return to the old days, as if we're going to get enough corporate headquarters to fill most of downtown back up with office workers who drive in from the suburbs and eat lunch in the plus15. And, to some extent, you can't blame them. At the moment it seems like an impossible task to do anything else. As has been said many times on this board, most of these buildings do not adapt well to residential purposes. Most of them are ugly and outdated. How can you do anything with a 1970s office building except renovate it and fill it back up with cubicles and office workers?

Of course, all of these things were also being said about the sterile brick boxes on King Street West. They were considered ugly and unusable for anything other than industrial purposes. Industrial chic was not yet a thing. Few considered them to be of heritage value. The point, however, is that all of this cheap, plentiful space ended up being a huge asset for new activities that no one could have predicted at the time.
The massive quantity of virtually free office space will be hugely attractive to someone. Cheap real estate brought live-work spaces to, for example, lower Manhattan in 70's and spawned a renaissance. Who knows what it could bring to Calgary. The fact that it is being subsidized by eastern public sector pension funds is even better.
 

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