White: Are we too critical of Calgary’s urban planning?

We have so much to do for our city — let’s celebrate it

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A great thing about traveling is that by discovering other cities, it helps put your own city into perspective.

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This summer, while sitting around the pool in the huge backyard of my niece’s house in downtown London, Ontario, a neighbor shared her thoughts on Calgary (recently came to see her sister ). I was a bit shocked when she said, “I loved Auburn Bay! It’s so walkable”, and even more shocked when this comment was followed by “But mahogany is even nicer with these lakefront condos. As the mother of a young son, she had also visited the residential Brookfield YMCA in Seton, and I was impressed that she knew it was the largest YMCA in the world. She also told me that they had breakfast at Dairy Lane (West Hillhurst) and loved the mix of old and new houses in the area.

After chatting further, she said, “Calgary seems like such a well-planned city.

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I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Still, I probably shouldn’t be surprised by his comments given that Calgary has been ranked as one of the most livable cities in the world for years. But I was. Maybe it’s because living in Calgary all I seem to hear and read these days is how bad our road network is, public transit is terrible, new suburbs suck , dividers are destroying the charm of our downtown neighborhoods and downtown is dead.

During my week-long stay in London, exploring its downtown and other neighborhoods, comments that Calgary is a “well-planned city” kept haunting me. City planners and politicians are constantly reminding Calgarians of all the flaws in our city’s past and present development, especially in the new suburbs.

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Why so much negativity?

If we want to attract new businesses and entrepreneurs to our city, we need to realize that while our city has a lot of room for improvement (what city doesn’t), it also has a lot of good things to do.

We should celebrate our successes in planning more and lament less about our failures. We should be proud of the fact that Calgary has a plethora of infill projects. Single family homes, duplexes and townhouses in more than 25 downtown neighborhoods, plus new urban villages – Bridges, Currie, East Village, Quarry Park, Westman Village, West District and University District.

For those who complain about our lack or our legacy, let’s remember that Calgary has the Glenbow Museum (Western Canada’s largest museum/art gallery), Studio Bell/National Music Centre, Fort Calgary, Heritage Park, military museums, dozens of museums preserved and still in-use schools and sandstone buildings, as well as three historic districts – Stephen Avenue in downtown, Atlantic Avenue in Inglewood, and 10th Street and Kensington Road in Hillhurst .

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For a prairie city with few natural trees, Calgary now boasts an impressive urban forest, with more than 7,000 parks and green spaces. Instead of critiquing the loss of hundreds of trees to infill development in the downtown core, let’s focus on the thousands of new trees planted in the suburbs, creating an ever-expanding urban forest.

When it comes to city parks, there’s none better than Memorial Park, Prince’s Island, St. Patrick’s Island, and Riley Park. There’s nothing better than Calgary’s Eau Claire and East Village RiverWalk.

Calgary: an early adopter

Calgary has a long history of early adoption of new ideas in city building. In the early 1990s, when New Urbanism (mixed-use neighborhoods, with pedestrian streets, a mix of housing types, access to public transport and a commercial downtown) was in its infancy, McKenzie Towne (established in 1995) in Calgary was one of the first new communities to be developed based on New Urbanism principles. It is recognized by the Urban Land Institute as one of 26 exceptionally planned communities in the world. Since then, every new Calgary suburb and downtown community has been developed based on a master plan, for example, the Bridges, East Village, Seton, Quarry Park, Garrison Woods, and the New Alpine Park.

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Calgary was an early adopter of LRT when in 1981 the South Line opened. Calgary had an LRT long before Vancouver or Portland. It was soon followed by the Northeast and Northwest lines, resulting in Calgary having the highest number of LRT riders in North America by the end of the 20th century.

Calgary was also one of the first cities in Canada, perhaps the world, to create a city-wide network of trails creating walkable neighborhoods with links to local and regional parks, playgrounds , rivers, lakes and streams. Today, Calgary has over 1,000 kilometers of trails that are popular community gathering places for people of all ages and backgrounds.

When it comes to large, mixed-use recreation centers, Calgary is also a leader. The city’s impressive collection of major recreation centers includes the Repsol Sport Center in the city center to the largest and second largest YMCAs in the world – Brookfield Residential YMCA in Seton and Shane Homes YMCA in Rocky Ridge, respectively . Also impressive are the Genesis Center to the northeast, the Westside Leisure Center to the west of the city, and Vivo to the north.

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And in 2000, Calgary opened Shaw Millennium Park, which was the largest skatepark in the world at the time and is still the largest in Canada.

Last word

I love how Calgary has retained its small-town structure and sense of community, even with its ever-expanding new suburbs. Planners and politicians too often get caught up in the “best practice syndrome”, ie they always want to be the best! Better transit. Better cycling network. Best public domain. The best arenas. The best libraries. Best… you name it.

Maybe we’re a little too hard on ourselves. Yes, we need to push ourselves to improve, but at the same time we recognize that no city can be the best at everything.

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