How we live: the city is full of people magnets

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In our wistfully short summers, I long to be outside. And when the weather gods smile on us, I can’t get enough of hiking, biking, people-watching and alfresco dining in our beautiful city.

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This is especially true after nearly 2 1/2 years of pandemic restrictions, a time when we all flocked to parks, trails, and people to escape our four walls and take a deep breath. Public spaces are more important than ever for our health and well-being.

It prompted me to think about what makes a public space successful. For me, it’s places that are free and open to everyone, and places that get you out of your car. They provide a focal point for people-watching and not just during special events, which often require an entrance fee.

Usually they are located near water, greenery and trees, sometimes in the inner city. We are attracted to them because there are other people. Things happen and there’s a positive vibe, an energy that we want to be a part of. To increase the fun of being outside with others, there is usually somewhere nearby to sit, watch the socializing, and have a snack, drink, or coffee.

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In these gathering places, we might nod to other people, smile at their children and dogs, and talk about the weather. The shortest social interactions make us feel like we belong. In no small measure, they serve to build a community and strengthen the bonds of society.

In cities around the world, there are public spaces where people go to see and be seen. If Barcelona has La Rambla and countless smaller local hangouts, Calgary also has its big and small people magnets. Without further ado, here are six of my favorites:

A group of friends and classmates from Notre Dame High School celebrate their graduation at Peace Bridge on May 29, 2022. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia
A group of friends and classmates from Notre Dame High School celebrate their graduation at Peace Bridge on May 29, 2022. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Photo by Azin GhaffariAzin Ghaffari/Postmedia

The Peace Bridge: This is where Calgarians and tourists alike come to take graduation photos, wedding portraits and selfies and take beauty shots of the striking bridge itself. It’s hard to believe that the infamous red “Finger Trap Bridge” sparked outrage when Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava unveiled its design. Since its opening in 2012, the bridge has become one of the city’s main attractions. (Note: The Peace Bridge is a gateway to other popular public spaces — Eau Claire Plaza, Bow River Pathway, and the RiverWalk — but they are currently under construction with the Downtown Flood Barrier Project and the Eau Claire Area Improvements Program.)

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People can be seen enjoying a warm day along the Bow River at Harvie Passage.  Postmedia files
People can be seen enjoying a warm day along the Bow River at Harvie Passage. Postmedia files Brendan Miller/Postmedia

Harvey Passage: This artificial riverside park on the Bow, adjacent to Pearce Estate Park and the cycle path, is the place for walking, cycling or paddling on hot days. There are large rocks to sit on, shady trails to stroll along, and beach areas for sunbathers and cold water enthusiasts. Here kayakers, SUPers and other boaters navigate the water either on the challenging Class 3 “river left” passage or the gentler Class 2 “river right” passage – great entertainment for paddlers and spectators alike.

Calgarians enjoy cooling off in the lagoon on St. Patrick's Island.  Gavin Young/Postmedia
Calgarians enjoy cooling off in the lagoon on St. Patrick’s Island. Gavin Young/Postmedia Gavin Young/Postmedia

St Patrick’s Island: One of Calgary’s oldest public spaces, circa 1890s, this treasure of an island park near the Calgary Zoo was redeveloped and reopened in 2015. Its clever “biophilic” landscape design connects people and nature. Picnic, hike through forests and wetlands, climb the big hill to survey the realm (sledding down in the winter!) and look out for nesting ospreys in this tranquil spot. It is beautiful to see little boy wading on the beach along a restored river channel.

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Calgary artist Larisa Nikonova paints the poppies in Riley Park.  Gavin Young/Postmedia
Calgary artist Larisa Nikonova paints the poppies in Riley Park. Gavin Young/Postmedia Gavin Young/Postmedia

Riley Park: With its wading pool, expansive lawns, formal gardens, playground and walking loop, this venerable northwest park is irresistible. Spend a summer evening here picnicking, attending a cricket match or watching potential circus performers practice their juggling, tightrope walking and hula hooping skills. (Note: A construction project underway to protect the Sunnyside community from stormwater flooding has impacted Senator Patrick Burns Memorial Rock Garden on the park’s north slope.)

Storm clouds roll over walkers in Edworthy Park.  Gavin Young/Postmedia
Storm clouds roll over walkers in Edworthy Park. Gavin Young/Postmedia Gavin Young/Postmedia

Edworthy Park and Angel’s Cafe: Once the site of a horticultural business and a sandstone quarry, the city bought the land in 1962 and turned it into a park. It’s popular for large family picnics and as a destination for cyclists, people taking their dogs for a swim in the Bow River, and hikers doing the nearby Douglas Fir Trail. Angel’s Café, located across the river via the Harry Boothman Bridge, is also a destination. It’s relaxing to sit there on the cafe terrace with a cappuccino or lunch, watching the river and a steady stream of passersby. Live music softens the experience.

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Village ice and stairs: This is an unlikely venue for a hangout, but ice cream parlors have always been attractive. One of the best, Village Ice Cream, was established here in 2012, and the parking lot and benches have evolved into a primo hangout. Or choose to sit on the stairs at the end of the 10th Avenue SE cul-de-sac overlooking the 4th Street SE underpass — a satisfying yet gritty place to eat a frozen treat while people watching.

Honorable Mentions: Any outdoor pool or public library; the growing selection of bike pump tracks for the younger set; Annie’s Café in Fish Creek Provincial Park; Tomkins Park at 17th Avenue SW; Central Memorial Park; the small square in front of the renovated Plaza Theater; Sandy Beach Park; Murdoch Park, the green space in Bridgeland Riverside, with a tempting combination of pizza, coffee and ice cream on 7a Street NE; Glenmore Reservoir, which is a magnet for people but in dire need of a good waterfront cafe with a patio.

What is your favorite public summer spot? Any hidden gems to share?

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