More on downtown’s (non) vibrancy

SB |

mc:t 2015.02.13


When I got admission to University of Calgary, I was ecstatic! Being a completely sheltered person who had never left the shores of my home country, this was a dream come true for two reasons: it fulfilled my long awaited and desired international experience but most importantly, it provided me with a great opportunity to be exposed to the vibrant downtown night life of a first world country that I had heard of and read about! So imagine my surprise and disappointment when, on my first night out on the town in Calgary, the downtown core was completely deserted when I arrived at 9pm! (See related article:


Over time, I have come to understand the reason for this. There is no question that Calgary is predominantly a suburban city which explains why majority of its residents troop into the core between 9am and 5pm and head back to the suburbs afterwards, leaving the core dead after hours and on weekends. Fortunately, a lot is being done by the city to introduce some life into downtown. For one, there is a proposed increase in residential units to about 3,900 in the city center which will provide accommodation for approx. 11,000 people within the next 13 years. The #IAMDOWNTOWN campaign which was initiated by Evan Hunt in conjunction with the Calgary downtown Association in 2013 targets urban inner city residents and with the use of advertisements through Instagram and social media contests, on c-trains and flash ads, creates awareness about the unique experiences that can only happen in the downtown core. Thirdly, the revamp of East Village, an urban village within the city’s downtown area, into a vibrant, mixed-use, creative city neighborhood also promises to bring vitality into the city core.


Now, I love to snoop around, and although much is already being done to bring life into downtown Calgary, I went looking for activities that could supplement these efforts. After all, perfection is an asymptote that we must continually travel towards, even if we never reach it! So I compiled a list of activities that I, as a resident of Calgary, think could potentially help amp downtown post working hours and the weekends.


Weekend-long film festivals

I’m a movie fanatic…and I know that lots of Calgarians are too! That’s why I believe that an event that appeals to movie-lovers across the city, held in downtown and weekend long could make the city core a social hub. Take Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival for example. Since its inception in 1999, it has put downtown Birmingham on the world map and has drawn hundreds of film lovers and screenwriters to it. Every year, enthusiastic crowds and film-makers troop to downtown Birmingham for a weekend of parties, Q&A panels, film screening, and mingling. Purely a volunteer-based and not-for-profit event, and held in multiple venues, including the 2,200-seat Alabama theater within the downtown, the low-priced passes attract all walks of life and encourage movie-lovers to move from one movie screening to another to explore the different independent movies being showcased whiles patronizing local restaurants, bars and shops.


sidewalk film festival

 Street party following the opening night screening of ‘All American High Revisited’ at the Alabama Theater as a part of the Sidewalk Film Festival.


Recurring Food and Wine Events

I always find that a mundane activity such as going out to eat can have an exciting appeal to it if it is branded as an event. So why not have a weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly food event that makes simply meeting friends for dinner an exciting adventure? In collaboration with restaurants and bars in downtown, the city could have a common location where they gather to showcase their menu specials, services and even have a food or wine tasting element, giving attendees a night of food, music and dance. Plus, what better way to advertise downtown restaurants and bars? Precedent? Melbourne’s Food and Drink Festival. With humble beginnings in 1993 with only 12 events, the festival has grown into a world-known event that attracts thousands of food and wine lovers to Melbourne and to the region of Victoria. This year’s festival features about 200 events over 17 days where the expected 250,000 visitors are promised the time of their lives with creative dishes by leading chefs in Melbourne, a two-day Langham MasterClass where visitors take classes with top world chefs and try their signature dishes, regional events that take them to other locations within Victoria and so much more.


 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival


Indoor Playgrounds and Water Parks for Families

Let’s give families in the suburbs a reason to come to downtown all week and weekends especially, by providing amenities that appeal to kids such as water features, playgrounds and even ski rings. Better yet, let’s spread it out in different venues in the city core giving families options to choose from and requiring them to move from one venue to the other. I bet on a beautiful winter day such as we have been having this season, families will be up for having lunch in the various outdoorsy restaurants in downtown. Or parents would even take a break from the bustling energy of the kids and have a drink at a local downtown bar! This, coupled with some music, is sure to bring some life into downtown! Why not have a mini Fallsview Indoor waterpark right in downtown Calgary? Or several Kids Play All Day indoor centers in the city core?

kids play

KidsPlay-All Day, Silverado, SE Calgary


Permanent Public/Farmer’s markets

Who can say no to daily access to fresh vegetables, fruits, meat and other food products? A farmer’s market located in the city core which is open all week and features fresh produce from local farmers is sure to entice residents to come into downtown. Mix it up by including other arts and crafts vendors which is bound to bring to light the amazing talents that I know Calgary holds. Why is Calgary’s Farmer’s market not in the city center? More importantly, why is there only one of it? Eugene’s Fifth Street Public market sits in the heart of its downtown and is open Monday to Sunday. NYC Union Square Greenmarket is in central location in New York City and is open all year round. famers market

LA’s Farmers’ Market located on 3rd St and Fairfax Ave.


All I’m saying is: “Bring it all to downtown!”

I recognize that Calgary’s winter conditions could be an impediment to some of these activities but with the gorgeous winter days that we’ve been having lately, I see a light at the end of the tunnel for their successful implementation!

What do you think of these ideas? Plausible or too far-fetched?


Previous Article: Vibrancy and the Street Wall

Next Article: Simon Says



Buzzbuzz News. Calgary is set to bring vibrancy back to its downtown core”. March 26, 2012. URL: Calgary Municipal Land Corporation.

East Village/Master Plan. URL: Retrieved on Jan 25, 2015.

Evans Hunt. “Getting people excited about going in on the weekend” #IAMDOWNTOWN. URL: Retrieved on Feb. 01, 2015

Official website. Sidewalk Film Festival. URL:

Official website. Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. URL:

Official website: Fallsview Water Park. URL:

Links for Images