The Future Face of Calgary
The West Village
The Plan: The redevelopment of the West Village, a 45-hectare swath of land along the Bow River at downtown’s western edge, is gutsy, to say the least.
Concept drawings make it look like the Emerald City of Oz. High-rise office and condo buildings jut out from radiantly green parks and tree-laden pathways in an area that’s now covered by concrete, asphalt and a mix of industrial-style buildings. Yet, city planners foresee a massive green space in the area, made possible by relocating a portion of Bow Trail further south, and freeing up some of the land that’s now home to the Greyhound Bus Terminal, a couple of car dealerships, the Telus World of Science and Shaw Millennium Park.
Other plans for the West Village include two pedestrian bridges — one crossing the Bow River between Crowchild Trail and 14th Street S.W., and and another that goes over 9th Avenue, linking the river pathway to the yet-to-be-built Sunalta CTrain Station, which is part of the west LRT expansion. The area may also become home to a new Alberta College of Art + Design and the proposed Global Energy Centre.
However, before any work can begin, there are a number of challenges that remain. The most pressing is the remediation of the contaminated former Canada Creosote plant site, which was used to preserve wood between 1924 and 1962, and is rumoured to be a nasty polluted mess.
Development of the West Village looks, on paper, as if it might be free of some of the boondoggles that have plagued its counterpart, the East Village. The City of Calgary already owns 95 percent of the land in the area (compared to about 50 percent in the East Village), including the Greyhound Bus Terminal, which should make development easier. And, to finance the project, the City plans to use the familiar formula of redirecting property taxes from the area to pay for the costly infrastructure work.
The Place: The West Village borders the Bow River to the north, Crowchild Trail to the west, 11th Street S.W. to the east and the CPR railway tracks to the south.
The Timeline: Development will occur slowly over the next 25 years.
The West LRT
The Plan: The West LRT extension is expected to relieve gridlock in one of Calgary’s fastest growing areas.
Over the next 20 years, communities west of downtown, and between the Bow River and the Glenmore Reservoir, are expected to add more than 30,000 people. The eight kilometres of new LRT track venturing into the area is expected to deal with that population explosion and shave as much as 20 to 30 minutes off the time commuters spend on the road.
The Place: The West LRT will continue westward from its current terminus at 7th Avenue and 9th Street S.W., along 7th Avenue and onto Bow Trail. Once it hits Westbrook Mall it will veer south onto 17th Avenue, along which it will continue west until it ends at 69th Street.
The Timeline: All six LRT stations on the west portion of the LRT, as well as the two Park and Ride lots, are scheduled to open and be ready for use by December 2012.
The Peace Bridge
The Plan: Nestled along the banks of the Bow River, the Peace Bridge will serve about 5,000 people per day when it’s finished later this year. The $24.5-million bridge will need no beams, arches or cables to support itself; it will rely instead on a steel helix that runs along its entire 130-metre length. Designed by famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the bridge has been derided by some Calgarians as a gaudy, fire engine-red waste of money and praised by others as an elegant contribution to the city’s downtown.
The Place: The Peace Bridge will lie across the Bow River just off the western tip of Prince’s Island Park.
The Timeline: Pedestrians and cyclists should be able use the Peace Bridge by the end of 2010.
The East Village
The Plan: For decades, work on the East Village languished in limbo as developers shied away from the area, despite the fact it sits on a desirable stretch of riverfront land. The reason was simple: the area would be a money loser, since its collection of derelict buildings and reputation as a seedy stroll for hookers and drug dealers would likely keep people away.
To remedy this, the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), an agency created by city council to transform the downtown community, began work about two years ago to renovate the parks, pathways and streets in the area. So far, streets have been realigned and paved with trendy brick stones, street lights reminiscent of a Charles Dickens novel have been installed, low-lying areas have been raised above the flood plain level, the park and pathway system along the Bow River has been relandscaped and a pedestrian bridge that connects the East Village to St. Patrick’s Island and Bridgeland is expected to be built sometime next year.
To heat new and existing residential and commercial buildings in the area, a Downtown District Energy Centre has also been built on the south side of 9th Avenue. The energy centre provides heat to nearby buildings through a network of underground-insulated pipes and is more efficient than traditional heating systems with a separate boiler system that’s built into every building.
According to the CMLC, the massive infrastructure upgrades are part of its plan to lure in deep-pocketed developers that share its goal of turning the area into an urban village with a “mixed use” character, meaning a single building will house both people and businesses to, in theory, create around-the-clock vibrancy. Last year, to further that goal, the CMLC released a master plan that breaks the East Village into six “character areas,” including a new gateway into the neighbourhood and a waterfront area the CMLC hopes one day will be filled with pubs, cafes and restaurants.
The CMLC is now trying to land deals with developers that’ll make that vision a reality. So far, the only to bite has been from the Cantos Music Foundation, a Calgary non-profit that promotes music in the community. Cantos has procured funding from three levels of government to restore the King Edward Hotel — long a popular blues venue — and build the National Music Centre, which will also act as Cantos’ new headquarters. More initiatives like Cantos are definitely needed. And only time will tell if the CMLC’s “if we build, they will come” approach will bring in the developers needed to catalyze the East Village’s rebirth.
The Place: The East Village’s boundaries are the Bow River to the north, 3rd Street S.E. to the west, the Elbow River to the east, and 9th Avenue to the south.
The Timeline: According to the CMLC, work on the East Village should wrap up by 2020.
The 4th Street S.E. Underpass
The Plan: Ushering people out of the Stampede Grounds and into the East Village, the 4th Street S.E. Underpass will alleviate northbound traffic congestion after big events like Flames games with a road that burrows underneath the now un-crossable railway tracks between 9th and 10th avenues S.E. When complete, the $70-million underpass will have cycling lanes, a sidewalk for pedestrians and two traffic lanes running in each direction that can be reversed to clear traffic in a hurry.
The Place: The underpass will run along 4th Street S.E., underneath the railway tracks between 9th and 10th avenues S.E.
The Timeline: Construction has begun and traffic should start flowing by the end of 2011.
High-Speed Rail Station
The Plan: If Mayor Dave Bronconnier’s “it’s just a matter of time” proclamation rings true, the downtown will one day have a high-speed rail station that whisks Calgarians to and from Edmonton at speeds nearing 300 km/h. In 2007, the City of Calgary purchased a parcel of land, 3.6 hectares in size, just a few blocks north of the Stampede Grounds that could be used as a high-speed railway station. However, provincial budget cuts and crazy cost projections have conspired to keep the project — an idea that’s been kicking around since the 1970s — at bay. the place: South of the CPR tracks that parallel 9th Avenue S.E., between 3rd and 7th streets S.E.
The Timeline: Not anytime soon — in fact, even if work started today, provincial Transportation Minister Luke Ouellette has lamented it would probably be 12 to 15 years before anyone would be able to hitch a ride.