A long while ago, I was volunteer blogger for Tourism Vancouver’s blog, Inside Vancouver. My special self-chosen niche, was flogging outdoor Vancouver attractions, reachable by bike, foot or transit. So I zoomed into fabulous outdoor art, parks and scenic
vistas. Metro Vancouver is abundant with an array of jaw-dropping scenery, galleries and historic sites clustered within one another. A few years ago, a map was created by the local cycling group for cycling tourism in the downtown area.
Challenge 1: Disconnect- Tourism vs. Tips on Cycling, Walking Routes
Tourism Calgary just gives a link to the city’s bike map. Great. Now a tourist has to spend another hour or more, to pinpoint their choice destinations in relation to Calgary’s bike paths, bike lanes and streets, where visitors have no
idea which street is busier than others. Many car drivers would argue our grid street system makes it easy for any tourist. For certain, car drivers will bypass fast a lot of the art that I see by bike. Well, some of the art locations are in parks, inaccessible to cars.
Challenge 2: Distracting Drumbeat for Mountain Visits, Less Prairie City Stay
Long-time Calgarians joke and identify with many tourists from afar, after airport touchdown, they immediately scoot off 120 km. north to the majestic
Rocky Mountains, Banff National Park and glacier turquoise lakes. Tourists can simply avoid dipping 12 km south into the Calgary’s core. Can you blame them, when the Rockies and our rich, vast wilderness national parks, are Canada’s top tourist destinations for international visitors?
Appreciation of Calgary and other hinterland prairie cities takes a time. Clearly for some locals, it may take half of their lifetime before they wake up.
World-Class Cities: in Step with Lots of Art, Culture Nearby
After moving to Calgary 5 years ago, it was a bit of an appreciation slog for me, from Vancouver and prior, over 20 years in Toronto. I was accustomed in these former cosmopolitan cities, on the ease of getting around by transit, bike or walking in areas jammed with lots of diverse culture, festivals, foodie places and diverse arts.
Calgary with 1.3 million people, promotes itself, as a world-class city. Or at least it did a few years ago, before the local economy nose-dived with thousands of oil and gas industry worker layoffs. You still have spend a lot of time and patience to figure out the most scenic city areas, and learn culturally, what shaped the city and makes it tick.
Challenge 3: Understanding Value of Public Art, Civic Pride and Tourism
As a recent-prairie resident, I’ve noticed with some long-time locals in Calgary for several decades, have difficulty knowing how to promote Calgary. They talk a lot more about hiking up the mountains and into the national parks over 200 km. away from Calgary. I’ve also heard cringe-worthy remarks from people in person, and comments in the local news, that a lot of public art just isn’t worth taxpayers’ money.
Either it’s reflection of some people happy to look at endless ocean of waving field grass or people who only moved to Calgary to work. After all, they didn’t move, to ostensibly enjoy the “beauty” of this city itself. Right.
Setting aside 1% of public funds for outdoor art, from a large, local engineering infrastructure project, should be viewed as a long term investment for urban beautification for residents and to attract tourists to stay longer. Yes, for longer-staying tourists to wander in Calgary and spend money to prime the local ( now faltering) economy.
Challenge 4: Getting to Alot of Local Art- Easy, Not Well-Promoted
Maybe local citizen art naysayers, need an update. Or better yet, a bike. A blasphemous thought for a city that sprawls like a brainless amoeba into the suburbs.
Ever since I’ve lived here, I’ve discovered a lot of outdoor art sprinkled across Calgary. I often make a point of cycling to new art installations or happily, stop by an unexpected artist diligently painting their piece. Most artists welcome
a brief, friendly chat. Art is already struck down in society, as less critical than food and shelter. Their artistic skill set may be viewed in many quarters, not as highly valued in our knowledge-based, techno-driven society. But I wager, any home is made more pleasant with flowers aka Nature’s art, or a small picture whether a copy of a masterpiece or by your favourite grandchild.
I often cycle a bike route or two, that leads any tourist to several architectural worthy sites, intimate cafes, historic sites, art galleries, attractive streetscaping and at least over 25 different pieces of outdoor artwork within an 8 km. radius.
It’s not hard: it’s a bike route where 98% of the route, is shielded from cars whipping by too close. You could spend 1-2 whole relaxed days in the city, hopefully refreshed and enlightened abit about Calgary–beyond just touted cowboy–rodeo of Calgary Stampede which only covers 10 days each year.
Cycle Write blog reflects those explorations by bike. Hey, even the Calgary Stampede finally might be slowly breaking away from its cowboy, big pickup truck mindset: they’re offering some bike rack parking at the Stampede grounds.
Is your city, area promoted to encourage exploration by bike, walking or transit? Or you must have a car as the only option?
Some Visitor Resources
City of Calgary. Map Galleries. Note: Government organizations tend to be inventory-oriented on destinations since they own the artwork on their property. Downtown map gallery only shows a small percentage of public art.
City of Calgary. Utility Box Art.