|Calgary glows and Calgary blows. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are a citys failings so much a product of its (and the provinces) successes. Fast Forwards Best of Calgary 2006 survey bears this out. Readers are enjoying boom time in a city flush with jobs and money. They laud accompanying urban revitalization. Readers also cite rising house prices and traffic congestion as the booms worrisome fun-dampers. Calgarians have plenty of things to celebrate about their city and plenty to crab about. Likewise, do Fast Forwards stable of writers.
Best reason to leave Calgary
Calgary is rapidly becoming a city where only the upper middle class and the rich will be able to afford a house, putting the city in the same league as Vancouver and Toronto (but without all the arts and cultural amenities). With the average price of a house hovering around $400,000 the city risks ending up in a Fort McMurray-type situation where middle class professionals like teachers and RCMP officers qualify for subsidized housing. Right now the number of homeless in our shelters and on our streets is soaring and theres no end in sight. Newcomers to Calgary are having to live in campgrounds or homeless shelters even though theyre filling much-needed positions in the middle of an acute labour shortage.
The labour shortage is leading to shittier service in many cases and severe desperation on the part of employers. Case in point, the child labourers at Paramount Chinook who all appear to be 13 or 14 years old and are understandably completely overwhelmed by the hordes of people standing in line at the concession stands.
Meanwhile, the local and national media reports in ceaselessly glowing terms about Calgarys boom, giving the impression that everyone in the city lives in a mansion and drives a Jaguar. People are thus enticed to move here though they may very well end up in a campground or a homeless shelter after they arrive.
Instead of expressing any concern about the downside to Calgarys boom, Mayor Dave Bronconnier is busily white-hatting a tiny newborn Calgarys one-millionth resident. There is an upside of course for those who happen to be lucky enough to have bought real estate before the housing market went beserk. No doubt theres a fair number of people pondering cashing in and moving to a locale where the cost of living is less insane. (AS)
Best part of Calgarys boom
Cowtowns redneck image is rapidly being diluted by the large number of people arriving from other parts of Canada and the world who are making the city a much more interesting place.
Vietnamese subs, pho and bun are becoming as ubiquitous as burgers and fries, a burgeoning number of cultural festivals such as GlobalFest, Afrikadey and Expo Latino are showcasing the citys growing multiculturalism and you can hear dozens of different languages spoken when riding the C-Train or hanging out in a mall. One of the fastest-growing immigrant populations in the city is from Sudan. The African Sudanese Association estimates there are now around 10,000 Sudanese people who call Calgary home.
Also illustrating the ethnic diversity present in Calgary, the city will soon be home to one of North Americas largest mosques. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which has 1500 members, is spending $14 million on a new mosque, which they hope will be constructed by the end of 2007 in northeast Calgary. If the building ends up looking anything like the architectural drawings it will feature a beautiful, large dome and Turkish style minaret. The mosque will be large enough to house 1,000 worshippers at one time. (AS)
Best socially responsible suburban development
Mckenzie Towne (very relatively)
Since Calgary now roughly equals New York City in size, but has about a tenth the population, a category for responsible suburban development seems fitting.
Sprawl is an incredibly complex issue with no simple solution, but if Calgary continues to accrete never-ending layers of sparsely-populated suburbs, it will put an even greater strain on transit, inevitably making commuting even more difficult for everybody, particularly those who dont drive. Among other things, this could lead to increasing economic imbalances between sectors of the city, meaning the creation of slums.
A general look at Calgarys newest fringe communities is discouraging. Most consist of your typical, sprawling single-unit detached homes and have lamentable access to transit. However, there is a silver lining. Many analysts say Calgary is taking steps toward increasing density, and the example most often cited is Mckenzie Towne.
Sitting near the remote southeast edge of the city, Mckenzie Towne was designed to stir nostalgia, featuring a classic, old tyme town square, a retail centre that looks like small town main street and a child paid to chase a hoop down the street with a stick every Sunday afternoon (probably). The homes themselves emulate past architectural styles.
Mckenzie Townes design is officially neo-traditional and, in theory, is intended to champion such admirable goals as walkable distance to shopping centres from all residences, transit access, a mix of housing prices including low income, seven units per acre minimum density and jobs within the community.
Though well above the other new outlying communities, in practice, the neighbourhood still falls short on every single one of these ideals. Though all homes are near some kind of retail outlet, few are within walking distance of main street. Most of the house prices are well above the market average, particularly for rentals. Once fully realized (the area is still largely under construction), its density will fall well short of the 12,000 units per square mile goal but, at about 4000 units, will still be significantly higher than the average in Calgary. The few jobs in the area are low-paying retail jobs which in no way could support the cost of living in Mckenzie Towne.
Finally, the transit access is only automobile competitive during peak times. The last bus leaves Anderson Station before midnight. So unless a Mckenzie Towne resident is willing to go home at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night, or pay nearly $20 for a cab ride home from the station, their social activities are confined to the neighbourhood, with its less than vibrant night life. (SM)
Best Place to get that tramp stamp removed
Laser Rejuvenation Clinics and Spa
You may remember a feeling of profound sadness when, for a brief, inglorious historical moment, Karolyne Smith became famous after getting Goldenpalace.com tattooed on her forehead for just $10,000, decisively proving that there is no idea too appalling when it comes to people and tattoos.
Is Smith going to be out of luck when that online casino inevitably disappears, or domain names as we know them change? Are all bearers of lower-back tramp stamps and Linkin Park tattoos doomed to a permanent reminder of their lack of taste long after they realize the error of their decisions?
Apparently not, because those bad decisions have created a growth industry in laser tattoo removal. According to Dr. Tom Woo, a dermatologist at Laser Rejuvenation Clinics and Spa, the technology has improved over the last decade, meaning there is hope for people who have second thoughts about their tattoos after the procedure (assuming they had first thoughts).
According to Woo, todays technology makes scarring a rare occurrence.
Once upon a time, a laser tattoo removal could easily cost several thousand dollars, but at Woos clinic, it starts at $198, varying depending on the size.
When you think about it, enduring the six to 10 sessions required to remove any given tattoo should be easy compared to the painful experience of rationalizing a cheesy armband design to ones friends. (SM)
Best German delis
Paolinis, The City Bakery, Gunthers Bakery
Recently, someone told me that Calgary was void of any good authentic delis. Well, Calgary is chock full of European delicatessens that my family has enjoyed for years! Our fair city isnt just overflowing with loads of American mega-market chain stores. If you look closely, youll find Calgary is home to a number of genuine delis. From one Kraut to
well, you here are the best of the German delicatessens in Calgary.
The name Paolinis is misleading. This deli carries a variety of German, Austrian and Swiss products including syrups, cookies, baking products, cheeses and drinks. As a butcher shop, the store also supplies a wide variety of wursts and brats. And the staff is uber friendly! Get it? Huh? "Uber"? Oh me!
The City Bakery has been a fixture in the Brunnhofer household for over 20 years. Theyre known for their delicious pastries and cakes my favourite is the hazelnut coffee one with the yellow icing. They also make an array of traditional breads.
Gunthers Bakery supplies a host of delis and restaurants with fine breads, buns and pretzels. The latter was a favourite of my dear Grandpas eat them with any meal, or enjoy alongside a fine beer. Specializing in many goodies, including Kaiser rolls and semmel (a roll that is covered in salt flakes and caraway seeds), their treats are yummy!
Runners up the Edelweiss Delicatessen and the Sourdough Bakery. (AB)
Best dryer hands down
When youre in a public restroom, the only thing more frustrating than not knowing who used the toilet last is electric hand dryers that are a waste of time and energy. I found one hand dryer so weak that even though the heat it spat out was enough to sear my skin, my hands stayed wet. More often than not, I stand in front of a dryer for two minutes before giving up and using my pants as a towel. I have noticed some men have neatly circumvented the problem by simply not washing their hands. Thats not an option for me.
Thats why the washrooms at Broken City and Ming are so great. Even though Broken City can smell a little funky and Mings darkroom red-light ambiance makes it hard to see anything, they both employ the Xlerator from EAD dryers and, boy, does it live up to its name. (Fast Forward correspondents have also found them in the mens room at Dragon City Mall and Empire Studio 10 theatres.)
Placing your hands under the aerodynamically designed vent engages the motor and the air stream that blasts out is enough to not only dry your hands, but also actually move any loose skin around to the opposite side of your hand. The downside it sounds like a freaking jet engine. Be prepared.
After years of sub-standard bathroom hardware, the fact that your hands can be bone dry in 20 seconds is a bit unsettling. If youre like me, you will use the extra time marvelling at just how powerful that dryer is. Now, if we could only do something about guys who pee on the floor instead of in the urinals. (JL)
Best place to get shivved
The East Village
The city has decided to ignore the rampant crack and crystal meth problem in our inner-city neighbourhoods. These areas are subsequently ridden with crime and violence that make it impossible for the people who choose to live in these neighbourhoods to feel safe. These people are addicts and need help.
These problems are not hidden and will not just disappear like some Calgarians would hope. No, its all out in the open people smoking crack in bus terminals, violent brawls in back alleys, prostitution and theft. If the city doesnt step up and take control of this situation, and soon, urban dwellers young people and the low and fixed-income residents who chose to live and stay in the East Village (and other inner-city areas just like it) are going to have bigger problems than the odd smashed car window and a little graffiti. (KK)
Best worst diner
Deer Head Cafe
If youre looking for an affordable, quality breakfast at a place stripped of all pretension, look no further than the Deer Head Café the best worst restaurant in the city.
Located next to a Kal-Tire on Edmonton Trail, the Deer Head is most unashamedly a place of the people. Every morning, tradespeople and labourers chow down eggs, hash browns and sausage. The place almost looks like a movie set. The walls have wood panelling, and there is you guessed it a giant deer head that hangs on the back wall.
For under $5, one can drink bad coffee and eat a hearty breakfast while reading over the Calgary Sun and breathing in cigarette smoke. Its not exactly fine dining, but keep in mind that this is a place of the people. Most Deer Head patrons are hard-working folk that put in long days and are grateful for some vittles before they press the ol nose to the grindstone.
In my experience, the Deer Head is welcoming even to those of us who spend our days in air-conditioned offices. The straight-talking waitresses often joke around and make fun of patrons as well, sometimes offering unsolicited advice on romance.
Speaking of romance, the Deer Head is a fine, albeit somewhat unconventional place for a date. The three booths against the south wall have kitschy posters above the tables. Depending on where you are in your relationship, you can choose the booth with the appropriate poster. "Best Pals," "Puppy Love" and "More than Friends" are the options. (JK)
Best singing broadcaster
Darrel Janz is best known for reading the news from the anchors chair for CTV Calgary. Indeed, you can hardly walk 20 feet in this city without having Darrel stare at you from the side of a bus, a billboard or those checkout divider thingys at grocery stores.
But the veteran newscaster has another, less advertised talent: he throws down a wicked bass in his singing group, the Haven of Hope Gospel Quartet. Janz, 65, has been singing since he was old enough to make melodies, and is arguably the best singing anchor in the city.
"As a child growing up in a Mennonite home, singing was always such a big part of the home and the church," says Janz. "I remember when we were little kids, my dad would line us up and have us sing
Its always been in the genes, I guess."
With a voice that booms like a Russian Orthodox basso profondo, Janz hits the low notes for the Haven of Hopes traditional spiritual tunesreligious classics like "It is Well With my Soul" and "Theres Power in the Blood."
"Southern gospel music, of which we do some, lets the bass go really low and thats the part I love," says Janz. "Im the guy goin way down low."
The quartet has made a couple of CDs, and often performs at local churches and gospel jamborees. Janz says that sometimes he even brings a bit of song into the newsroom, along with reporter Bill McFarlane, who sings in a local Anglican choir.
"Bill McFarlane and I usually head up the singing of happy birthday (in the newsroom)," says Janz.
Over the 40-plus years hes been working in the news industry, Janz has had an impressive career. In April, the Radio-Television News Directors Association awarded him with their lifetime achievement award, one of the most prestigious awards in broadcasting.
"Im blessed," says Janz. "I have a career with my speaking voice and a vocation with my singing voice." (JK)
Best downtown feng shui
If youre looking for a commercial building in Calgary that incorporates the ancient energy enhancing arts of feng shui, you might be on a long and lonely journey according to one of Calgarys leading interior designers.
Margo Trofimenkoff of Wind and Water Designs says most of the buildings in Calgary are a "nightmare" from a feng shui (pronounced fung shway) perspective.
"You have a desk in the middle of the room with the person sitting there with their back to a door or window," she says. "All of the energy is being sucked out."
The ancient practice from the Far East has at its core the arranging of component elements of buildings or homes to maximize positive energy flow or chi.
According to Trofimenkoff, although the tradition of feng shui has been carried out in parts of Asia for millennia (and more recently popularized in California for decades) it is still slow to catch on with Calgarys commercial builders.
"Very few buildings in Calgary are feng shui savvy," she says. "Business feng shui is odd because they dont want you to know they use feng shui."
So what is a guy or gal supposed to do when you find yourself in Calgarys concrete jungle in need of another hit of positive energy after getting the life sucked out of you from being at work all day? Trofimenkoff recommends heading to the Devonian Gardens where the lush plant life and flowing water will be restorative.
"There is life energy there," she says. "Nature is positive. Water represents the flowing of wealth and abundance."
Covering three levels in TD Square, Devonian Gardens, according to the City of Calgary website is, "one of the worlds largest indoor parks."And its also one of the best places in Calgary to pick up some chi. (WL)
Best Fishing Hole
The Shit Hole
The Bow River that flows through Calgary has become one of the premier blue ribbon trout rivers in North America. Huge brown and rainbow trout are caught throughout the southern half of the city, and people come from across the continent to fish the river south of the city towards Carsland.
What many Calgarians may not know is that it is the city itself that makes the Bow such a good fishery. The Bearspaw dam north of the city regulates the water flow, providing good consistent habitat for the fish below. However, it is the city's sewage treatment plants that really make the Bow great, providing a huge flow of nutrients and warmer water that support larger fish and larger populations of them.
To experience the true Calgary fishing experience, a trip to the Shit Hole, a prime fishing locale in Fish Creek Park where the large sewage pipe from the nearby treatment plant enters is a must. The spot, also dubbed the shizniter or the poop pipe, is very popular amongst local fishermen as the deep hole, full of fresh nutrients from the pipe, is packed with feeding fish. You may have to pick as many wads of toilet paper off your line as you do large trout, but there is no better place to experience Calgary's sewage-intensified fishing experience. Just take my advice and put the fish back for the next guy to catch. The Shit Hole is not where you want to go looking for your next meal. (JK)
Best neighborhood in which to beat oil-boom-fueled gentrification
North of the Bow River, the community of Bridgeland Riverside is thumbing its nose at the glazed-over banality of the boom that has seduced other areas and is managing to hang onto its unique identity.
To describe the area as eclectic doesnt do it justice. There are quaint bungalows, mingled with slender infills, and three-storey walk-ups. There are Italian restaurants, Latin bistros and German delis. Even the newly developed site of the General Hospital has a distinct style; there are no cookie-cutter houses with pink stucco in this neck of the woods. Instead, nouveau Italian would best describe the architecturally crisp and innovative condos that face onto the sprawling community park. Even though Starbucks has managed to skulk into the area, the Riverside coffee house has remained steadily busy with its walls filled with crocs and enormous lemon meringue pies.
There are no Wal-Marts or Safeways here, locals grab what they need at Lukes, a friendly, little drugstore where the pharmacists and staff banter back and forth behind the counters and theres a stellar selection of Italian periodicals.
Having lived in the area for five years, Im still astounded by the sense of community here. People say hello on the street. The staff at Paolinis knows how I like my deli meats sliced. Family-run Tazza whips up the best fatayer in town and they are quick with a joke or political observation. I can walk downtown in ten minutes. This is also the best place in town to catch the fireworks during the Stampede.
As the city bursts at the seams and becomes increasingly gentrified, its comforting to know this inner city gem hasnt lost its personality. (RM)