Northeast evolving into ‘airport city’

Vancouver has one and Toronto has one — does Calgary need one?

The B.C. and Ontario metropolises have an independent airport city. In Vancouver, it is called Richmond. In Toronto, it is Mississauga — but in Calgary, it is currently simply the city’s northeast quadrant.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, seaports and train stations were the hubs of economic activity in North America. In the mid- to late-20th century, highways were the economic engines.

Today, with the global economy, airports are the leading economic engines for prosperous cities. Around the world, multi-billion-dollar airport cities are being created in old and new urban areas such as London and Dubai.

Aerotropolis: The Key to a Prosperous, 21st Century City was the title of an ArchDaily blog March 19 that explored the increasing importance of airports as a catalyst for city building.

The blog begins with the quote: “The rapid expansion of airport-linked commercial facilities is making today’s air getaways anchors of the 21st-century metropolitan development where distant travelers and locals alike can conduct business, exchange knowledge, shop, eat, sleep and be entertained without going more than 15 minutes from the airport,” says John Kasarda, professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina and director of Kenan Institute’s Center for Air Commerce. “This functional and spatial evolution is transforming many city airports into airport cities.”

As Canada’s three strongest urban economies, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary have one thing in common — strong airport-based economies. The similarities of these airport cities are striking.


Richmond, home to the Vancouver International Airport, has a population of 205,133. Of these, 60 per cent are immigrants — the highest of any Canadian city. It is connected to Vancouver’s downtown by the recently-built Canada Line light rapid transit system.

Richmond has an employment base of 135,000 and it is home to several large corporations, including Nintendo Canada. It also has 672 hectares of parkland, 50 kilometres of trails, 60 kilometres of road paths and 121 parks.

The Golden Village is Richmond’s retail hub, with seven shopping malls in close proximity.

With its numerous restaurants, Alexandra Road is the city’s food street. Richmond also has a popular Night Market on weekends that attracts thousands of locals, as well as tourists.

For lovers of the arts, Richmond has its own city hall, performing arts centre, art gallery and library.

The city is governed by a mayor and eight councillors, who oversee an area of 129 square kilometres.

Its vision is “to be the most appealing, livable and well-managed community in Canada.”


Home to Toronto Pearson International Airport, Mississauga has a population of 729,000, making it larger than the city of Vancouver.

The GO Train connects it to downtown Toronto and the 401 highway is the distribution corridor for a large chunk of eastern North America from Detroit to Montreal.

Mississauga is 288 square kilometres and 49 per cent of residents are visible minorities. It also has its own mayor and council representing 11 wards.

The city has 425,000 employees and is home to 61 Fortune 500-based global or Canadian-based head offices.

It has 480 parks, several major trail systems and is linked to the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail, which is an ambitious, 780-kilometre trail along the edge of Lake Ontario from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the Quebec border.

Mississauga has a planned town centre whose hub is the Square One Shopping Centre, along with a city hall, central library, performing arts centre and several new highrise condos.

These include the Absolute World twin tower skyscraper complex, nicknamed the Marilyn Munro towers due to their curvaceous, hourglass-like shape.


Home to the Calgary International Airport, the city’s northeast has a population of about 150,000 people. It is connected to downtown Calgary by the northeast leg of the city’s LRT system.

With its western boundary being the QE2 highway north to south, and the Trans-Canada Highway running east to west through the centre, it is the major distribution hub of the Prairies.

The boundaries of Calgary’s airport city roughly correlate with wards 5 and 10, giving it two aldermen on a 12-person council.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi also happens to live in the northeast, although he represents the entire city.

The area supports 125,000 employees and is home to several major Calgary employers, including WestJet. It boasts 10 major parks and is part of the city’s 700 kilometres of urban pathways, as well as the first phase of the Calgary Greenway — a 138-kilometre, multi-use pathway system that will encircle the city.

Unlike Richmond or Mississauga, there is no planned “town centre” for northeast Calgary. Apart from what it shares with the rest of the municipality, it has no city hall, central library, major performing arts centre of its own.

There aren’t even any highrise condo towers or transit-oriented development (TOD) villages in Calgary’s “airport city.”

Shopping is scattered throughout the area, but 36th Street N.E. has the largest concentration of major shops. Sunridge Mall anchors the north end and Marlborough Mall the south end.

A major new power centre shopping mall, CrossIron Mills, opened in 2009 just a few minutes drive from the airport.

The largest single-level shopping centre in Alberta, the mall is just outside the city of Calgary’s boundaries near Balzac, but it is definitely part of the emerging “airport city.”

The mall offers shuttle bus service from the airport for travellers with long layovers.

Not far from northeast Calgary, there’s a restaurant row along nearby 17th Avenue S.E. branded “International Avenue” that’s noted for its Around the World in 35 Blocks festival each spring.

Along 17th Avenue toward Chestermere, Elliston Park is home to Global Fest. One of Canada’s largest firework competitions, it celebrates the growing global community that lives in Calgary.


While all three of Canada’s airport cities have grown significantly during the past 25 years to become major players in the economy of their respective metropolitan areas, they also have struggled to develop their own sense of place.

This is partly because they were located in industrial areas surrounded by huge warehouse buildings with no residential, retail, entertainment or parks amenities to speak of.

Although Richmond and Mississauga have recently attempted to create master-planned town centres based on new urbanist principles, residents have resisted adopting these new centres as the heart and soul of their cities.

In the case of Mississauga, the city was only formed in 1974 after a forced amalgamation of a number of smaller towns and villages, each with their own identity and main streets.

After almost 40 years, the tie to the old towns and villages remains stronger to these communities than to the actual city of Mississauga.

In Richmond, the city struggles to deal with the complexity of multiculturalism in a global world. Thanks to the Internet, new immigrants are no longer cut off from their original homelands when they move to Canada.

This means it is taking longer for them to identify with Canada and learn English.

In the 2011 census, 40 per cent of the population of Richmond identified a Chinese language as their mother tongue, about the same percentage as those who identified English as their first language.

This has resulted in some businesses using “Chinese only” signs, heightening alienation by some in the non-Chinese community.

In more than 200 years, francophones and anglophones in Montreal have not been able to resolve their language issues, so it is doubtful Richmond’s problems will get resolved soon.

Calgary’s collective of northeast working class communities is perhaps different from Richmond and Mississauga because they have grown up as part of Calgary since the beginning.

Calgary’s city structure is, and continues to be, based on creating small communities of 5,000 to 10,000 people — each with their own name and identity — but in all cases, these are also part of the city at large.

With no attempt to artificially create an identity for the northeast quadrant, it has grown organically — some might say chaotically — without a traditional main street or any pedestrian-oriented thoroughfares.

Calgary is a unique kind of “uni-city.” Although 90 per cent of its population lives without the large edge cities common in a place like Toronto, it is uniquely segregated into quadrants. Most people live and play in their quadrant, only going outside to go to work.

It is only recently that northeast Calgary has reached the diversity and critical mass of a city thanks to the expansion of the Calgary International Airport, the construction of numerous major regional warehouses and mega new master-plan residential communities, and the coming of age of International Avenue as a multicultural district.

Quietly, without the intervention of master plans and revolutionary changes, it is evolving. Yes, it is very car-oriented, but its drive score is very good; everything you need is within a five- or 10-minute drive, which for many residents is just what they are looking for — a short drive.


Perhaps it is time to think of Calgary less as a unicity and more as four or five different cities, each needing their own governance plan.

Under this way of thinking, the northwest quadrant is our Learning City because it contains the Alberta College of Art and Design as well as the University of Calgary, Foothills Hospital and SAIT Polytechnic.

The southeast quadrant, too, is also evolving into its own city due to new communities such as Quarry Park and Seton providing new options to live, work and play.

Perhaps planners are being too downtown-centric, because only 20 per cent of Calgarians work downtown and only and five per cent live there. Perhaps more focus should be given on how to make the Calgary a unique quadrant city, with each area cultivating its own live, work and play culture.

Richard White has written on art, architecture and urban culture for more than 20 years. He is currently the urban strategist at Ground3 Landscape Architecture. He can be reached at Follow him at Visit his website at


The Calgary International Airport is flexing its economic muscles.

The airport saw 13.6 million total passengers, or 37,000 a day, last year, said the Calgary Airport Authority at its recent annual general meeting — up from 12.8 million in 2011. Revenue for 2012 was $308 million, up $18 million compared to 2011.

In its annual report, the authority’s five-year outlook predicted revenue of $339 million this year, increasing to $426 million by 2017.

The predictions are buoyed by two major projects — a new runway and an international concourse.

The runway is to be operational by mid-2014 and will be 4,267-metres long and 61-metres wide — the largest commercial runway in Canada. The cost of that project is $620 million.

The new international terminal is scheduled to be completed by late 2015 and will double the size of the current terminal, adding two million square feet on five levels, with 22 aircraft gates and a 300-room hotel. The cost of that project is $1.43 billion.

— Calgary Herald staff


The Calgary International Airport has come a long way from a grass airstrip in Bowness in 1914.

More than $800 million will be invested in the airport this year, the single-largest capital investment for any year in its history. Capital investment in 2012 alone was $476 million and has totalled about $2 billion in the past 20 years.

The new runway and terminal currently under construction— the longest runway in Canada to offset Calgary’s thinner air due to the city’s altitude — will allow direct flights to and from anywhere in the world, as well as accommodate larger aircraft.

— Calgary Herald staff

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald


Calgary resale home average prices to balloon to more than half a million dollars – Report says average to hit $517,016 in 2017

The average price for a resale home in Calgary will balloon to more than half a million dollars by 2017, according to a new real estate report released Tuesday.

The Conference Board of Canada’s Autumn Metropolitan Housing Outlook, commissioned by Genworth Canada, said the average price for all residential property in Calgary will grow from $431,760 this year to $517,016 in 2017.

“Calgary is facing a lack of inventory in particular areas,” said Tanya Eklund, a realtor with RE/MAX Real Estate (Central) in Calgary.

“Buyers looking for land for redevelopment and homes for renovation have been in very short supply and have driven up pricing due to multiple offers and low inventory. Low interest rates, strong unemployment rates, low vacancy rates and an overall strong economy have also added to strength in the Calgary market.”

Ben Brunnen, an economic consultant in Calgary, said the city’s population has grown each year for the past four years and this has helped drive residential construction activity and home prices.

“Net-migration can have a big impact on the housing market, as an influx of people and families into our city can often increase housing demand unpredictably,” he said.

“In the current market, vacancy rates are low, rents are high and population growth is strong. Combined with a good economy and favourable job prospects, people are more willing to buy than they were a few years ago. The last time we’ve seen comparable population growth was from 2004 to 2006, when the economy entered a boom. While we won’t see similar house price appreciations due to different global economics at play, Calgary house prices should stay strong for the near future.”

Calgary’s economy and housing demand continue to thrive as energy sector activity remains healthy. Rising GDP is spurring employment growth,” said the report.

“On the resale housing market front, solid sales will lead to sound price gains this year and next. The new housing market is benefitting from strong absorptions, which are trimming unsold stocks of new units and fostering new construction. The medium term also looks decent.

“Ongoing economic growth will continue to produce gains in resale sales and prices and keep housing starts above their 20-year average. Good housing affordability, measured against local incomes, is an ongoing benefit to this market and allows single-family starts to maintain a high market share compared with other cities covered in this report.”

The report said summertime flooding in Calgary will limit Calgary’s GDP to 3.3 per cent growth in 2013, modest by recent standards. Output will rise a slightly faster 3.4 per cent in 2014, spurred by government-funded rebuilding efforts.

The job market will continue to expand, with annual growth of 2.4 per cent this year and 2.8 per cent in 2014 cutting the unemployment rate from 4.9 per cent this year to 4.6 per cent in 2014. Economic health should continue between 2015 and 2017, with GDP expanding roughly three per cent and employment rising about two per cent each year, it said.

“Calgary’s strong economic fundamentals allowed its resale market to largely shrug off the floods. Seasonally-adjusted sales and the average resale price actually rose during June, the flood month, and have subsequently advanced,” said the report.

“Price growth is accelerating, although increases remain far below boom-era advances. We expect the market to remain balanced and price growth to stay healthy in 2014 and over the following few years.”

The report’s forecast for average prices over the next few years and annual growth rate are: 2013, $431,760, 4.7 per cent; 2014, $451,798, 4.6 per cent; 2015, $473,470, 4.8 per cent; 2016, $497,139, 5.0 per cent; and 2017, $517,016, 4.0 per cent.

Forecast for sales in the resale market for the next few years and annual growth rate are: 2013, 28,111, 5.5 per cent; 2014, 28,793, 2.4 per cent; 2015, 29,418, 2.2 per cent; 2016, 30,027, 2.1 per cent; and 2017, 30,620, 2.0 per cent.

“Unsurprisingly, Calgary’s resale prices are rising briskly. Year-over-year growth has averaged a solid 4.6 per cent in the latest four quarters, including a first quarter jump near eight per cent,” said the report. “These increases will lift Calgary’s average price 4.7 per cent in 2013, the largest gain since 2007 and finally exceeding that year’s peak value. Similar price growth is expected between 2014 and 2016, with a slight tapering in growth to four per cent in 2017.

“These increases will slightly erode local housing affordability. Principle and interest charges on Calgary’s average resale home were under 16 per cent of average household income the last two years and are expected to remain there in 2013. But house prices will rise faster than incomes, pushing the ratio to roughly 20 per cent by 2017. This remains decent, as affordability is better only in Edmonton, Ottawa, and Winnipeg among the cities in this report.”

The report said buoyant housing demand is also energizing the new home market. Absorption of new units averaged 11,200 units in the four quarters to the second quarter of 2013, up 25 per cent from a year earlier. This included a surge to an annualized 15,000 units in the second quarter, the most since 2008. This strength will lift absorptions to a full-year total of 12,140 units in 2013, up 25 per cent from 2012. Another increase of nearly six per cent in absorptions is expected for 2014, but still trailing the peak of 13,700 units reached in 2008.

“Healthy new-unit take-up fuelled a big jump in housing starts to 13,186 units in 2012, more than double the recessionary trough in 2009, but well off peak levels of the last decade,” it said. “We expect starts to ease a modest 2.7 per cent in 2013 as an 11 per cent dip in multiple starts slightly outweighs a seven per cent gain in single-detached starts. For 2014, rebounding multiple starts will fuel a five per cent increase in total starts despite relatively unchanged single-detached construction.

“In the medium term, we expect housing starts to ease slightly, as both single-family and multiple construction dip. By 2017, we expect 11,400 units to get under way; this would slightly outpace the 20-year average of housing starts. While multiple starts are expected to increase their market share, they are forecast to make up only 52 per cent of total starts between 2013 and 2017.”


© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald