Here is an article by Allan Connery about Calgary, Alberta which mentions City Comforts. It ran in The Calgary Herald on Aug. 12, 2003.
The author offers a couple of footnotes in advance to set the stage for out-of-towners:
• Calgary has an unusually concentrated downtown core, with more than 20 per cent of the city's half-million jobs concentrated in about a square mile.
• About 45 per cent of downtown workers use public transit.
• The Stephen Avenue Walk is a six-block stretch of the main street, turned into a pedestrian mall in the early 1970s.
• The Plus-15 system is a network of enclosed overhead walkways (nominally 15 feet above grade) joining most major downtown buildings. It's still well-regarded, but skeptics say it has a deadening effect on public outdoor space.
Then, the article itself:
The best parts of Stephen Avenue Walk are the old ones, built before high-rise developments turned their back on the sidewalks. The section east of 1st Street S.W. is finally coming into its own, after the difficult decades that began when the first suburban shopping malls began to challenge the city core. Ironically, the core fought back by adopting the malls’ strategy. Most downtown retail space nowadays is built into block-sized high rise developments linked by the Plus-15 walkway system. The downtown retail area has by and large turned itself into another indoor shopping mall. As Richard White of the Calgary Downtown Association likes to point out, West Edmonton Mall – still the largest in North America – has less retail space than Calgary’s city core. This mallification did save the downtown from becoming merely an over-sized office park. There was a cost, however: the sidewalks outside these huge new developments lost some of their vitality.
Walking along the easterly part of the mall where old buildings survive is a lively experience. Every few steps there’s another show window, another shop entrance, another building with different architectural details.
Venture westward from 2nd Street S.W., however, and you’ll find yourself on a very different street, even though the name’s the same. Banker’s Hall to the left of you, TD Centre to the right of you – we won’t even speak of those ersatz steel trees overhead.
There’s a wonderful variety of shops inside those unwelcoming walls, but they don’t offer much hint of their existence to passers-by on the mall. Even the ground-floor shops, for the most part, ignore the street and open inward to corridors.
A corridor is not a street. Once inside, you could be downtown, you could be in Market Mall, you could be in Southcentre. If you come across a roller coaster, you’re probably in the West Edmonton Mall.
Meanwhile, in a further irony, the enclosed malls that were threat and example for downtown Calgary have gone out of style. Suburban shopping centres have rediscovered the wonders of individual shops that open to the outdoors. They seem to do all right, too, even in the winter weather that was one of the rationales for the Plus-15 system in the first place.
I was reminded of all this when I ran across the work of David Sucher, a city planner who’s now in private business in Seattle. He has proposed three simple rules for creating what he calls “walkable shopping neighbourhoods.”
• Build out to the sidewalk, and keep the floor inside as close as possible to sidewalk level. Full marks here to TD Centre and Bankers’ Hall, points off for Petro Canada Centre.
• Make the building front “permeable.” Connect the inside of the building and the sidewalk outside with windows and doors. And don’t allow mirrored glass or window coverings that block visibility.
• Prohibit parking in front of the building. Sucher actually recommends traffic and on-street parking for downtown retail, but he rejects the usual layout for strip-malls. Put the convenience store or whatever out front at the sidewalk, he says, with the parking out back.
Notice that the first two rules pretty much sum up the difference between the old and the new buildings along the Stephen Avenue Mall.
Sucher has written a book, City Comforts, that has evidently become an underground classic. The first edition has sold out, and used copies are selling for $75 to nearly $200 U.S. A second edition is coming pretty soon, but for now you can get a taste of the book at www.citycomforts.com
As Sucher himself describes it, “The book shows examples of small things - City Comforts - that make urban life pleasant: places where people can meet, methods to tame cars and to make buildings good neighbors, art that infuses personality into locations and makes them into places. Many of these small details are so obvious as to be invisible.”
Sounds good. I’m looking forward to a copy I can afford.
Well I have been looking forward to that, too. An announcement, in days.