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The trends in Calgary real estate have changed a lot over the last couple of decades, as have the trends for most metropolitan cities across North America. While at one time, everyone wanted larger houses and acreages on the outskirts of town, now, we are beginning to see a very clear return to the city centre, which is referred to as urbanization; a very real and long-term trend.
As the city’s demographic has changed we are seeing more people wanting to spend less time commuting and more time living, working and playing in their neighbourhoods. That attitude is changing the way our city is being developed. As a result, urbanization is reducing urban sprawl and creating a denser and more vibrant core.
People are shrinking their footprint. The demand for those McMansions out in the ‘burbs and the bland strip malls that accompany them is diminishing. That trend is going to continue because of the prosperity and the money that’s been poured into the central city — even as the price of oil has dropped. This trend is doing all kinds of great things for Calgary and we appreciate many of the benefits. The benefits correlate not just to business but to building vibrant metropolitan areas, which bring with them cultural, societal, pedestrian and economic benefits.
From 2000 to 2015, approximately 20 million square feet was added into the downtown core’s density. A little less than half of that was residential mixed use, which reflects that live/work/play attitude. That has done great things for the core: more people, more vibrancy, better streetscapes, better retail, and safer central neighbourhoods.
Building a vibrant city means, to me, investing in the lifestyle and atmosphere that brings people into areas. It’s what most people remember when they travel to any city. My company’s focus is on the development of Calgary’s Beltline, including areas of the downtown core and 17th Avenue.
The density up and down 17th Avenue is continuing to increase. A lot of new buildings have been constructed and there are many more in the works — a few of them from my company. I think we’re going to start seeing a lot of improvements being made to existing buildings too; upgrading spaces that haven’t been well taken care of and adding new structures to existing ones, modernizing the existing streetscape, while maintaining some of the history.
As things evolve, we’re going to see significantly more dynamic streetscapes. The growing number of successful restaurants and bars and their clientele, who live in the neighbourhood and also further afield, are beginning to attract other types of businesses, including fashion boutiques, furniture shops and other specialty retail.
I’d like to see 17th Avenue evolve into our own unique version of Vancouver’s Robson, Toronto’s Bloor, or Montreal’s St-Denis or St-Catherine. People will move away from coming to 17th just for a particular shop, restaurant or bar, and instead the street and the neighbourhood will become a destination unto itself. Our vision is for people to just say, “let’s head to 17th Avenue.”
Investing in vibrant cities rather than just the buildings within them has an exponentially higher return for all stakeholders and helps create communities that everyone wants to live in.
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Envision what ought to be there. Not what is. Then be courageous enough to create it.