Union, God, and country was all we ever knew
Everybody meet back here after the Americans get all high on democracy and ruin the planet. If your computer still works and the stock market hasn’t whipped everyone into a sword-bearing fervor and the seas don’t rise to meet the God King Trump in his eternal seat at White Home you should keep reading this newsletter. Please.
There’s something odd about this picnic table. Sitting at one end, you realize you can’t usually sit at one end, and face someone else at the other. The benches tend to be affixed lengthwise, maximizing the seating, so that about four people can gather comfortably. In this case, you have a picnic by yourself.
This might be something to submit as feedback. You interpreted “COVID-distanced picnic tables” to mean they were merely placed far apart, not that they were funny shapes. Fortunately each table in this long row is affixed with a note welcoming Calgarians to the space, and offering a QR code to “Tell us what you think!”
The real excitement might have already passed when many people visit this park if, indeed, Twitter spats are the pinnacle of excitement. On Monday, October 5, the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association (BNA)—in partnership with the Calgary Parking Authority and other civic initiatives—unveiled High Park, a refurbished parking lot on the top floor of the City Centre Parkade, 340 10th Avenue SW. Six storeys up, the park offers views of the middle sections of high rises, and other parking lots. It’s all painted in pastel colours. In addition to picnic tables, the park’s wooden structures include a boardwalk and scaffolding-like supports for Instagram-friendly phrases like “WE ALWAYS THINK ABOUT YOU” and “THIS COULD BE THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE”. There are two acres of cement to stroll, interspersed with AstroTurf off cuts. Sidewalk chalk lets you add your own transitory touch.
Whether all this sounds inciting or disappointing is a matter of individual preference. The Twitter exchanges between #yyc boosters (represented by BNA President Peter Oliver and Ward 8 City Councillor Evan Woolley) and constructive critics (represented by The Sprawl’s Ximena González) became heated during the launch week. Confusion might be a built-in feature, however. As González points out, there are mixed messages in billing the project as “Phase 1”, asking for public input for the next phase, and then balking when the admittedly limited budget effort isn’t received with unbridled enthusiasm.
The polarized positions indicated above still leave many questions off the pastel picnic table. The new park has much more in common with Calgary’s existing downtown spaces than the city’s abundant green spaces outside the core, let alone High Line in NYC or Toronto’s High Park. Seemingly innocuous benefits to the project—that it offers as “escape” or that it’s a place to “stay safe”—reveal much about the intended purpose of this public space.
High Park is the fresh air version of the +15, Calgary’s skywalk network and the world’s most extensive indoor pedestrian system. Originally earning praise in urban planning circles upon its opening in 1970, the +15 came to be associated with a decline in street life in subsequent decades. A liminal environment with features of a mall, office, and warehouse, but none of these specifically, the +15 is public use with market-defined parameters. The network and its recycled air are key plot elements in the 2000 workplace satire Waydowntown from Calgary filmmaker Gary Burns, an interesting watch in the present moment, when not only are the streets empty— but 30-40% of the offices too.
The +15 divides the city centre between its intended users—mid-salary office workers—and everyone else, including service workers and residents, housed and unhoused. For the second group, there is seemingly no downtown space at all.
Surely all are welcome in High Park, but it’s a different scene than the nearby and more conventional Memorial Park. Looking around High Park on a warm Saturday afternoon (the last one of the season, it turns out), you notice selfies being taken, dogs being walked, gaggles of teens drinking bubble tea. It’s middle income, maybe not the office worker crowd, but peripheral to it—an open-ended, 2020 update.
A few blocks north, a space just as distinctly Calgarian as the +15 is undergoing renovation. Century Gardens is a “Passive Park” where you definitely can’t skateboard or bound over its angular concrete structures. They’re currently held in storage anyway. The fenced off, soil-filled square next to the 8th Street LRT station no longer offers Calgary Transit riders slabs of Brutalism during commutes.
The philosophical approach of Brutalism is a reaction against artificiality: to be honest in the use of materials and the purpose of space. It’s amusing that Calgary ended up with several historical significant examples, like Century Gardens and the Centennial Planetarium, among more derivative eyesores like the old Central Library and the Harry Hays Building.
“Repurposing” a space doesn’t have much of a foundation in Brutalism, wherein spaces are purpose built by skilled professionals. Certainly the term comes from cycles of urban renewal the High Park development completely skips over: abandonment (not simply underuse), squatting, deep and true community building on the margins. Spaces become less valuable, and then fully decommodified. 2013’s Wreck City project in Calgary’s Sunnyside community stands as an interesting example of taking cues from “reclaiming” efforts but staying “official”. With Wreck City, artists created exhibitions and performances in homes slated for demolition, with developer sponsorship and blessing.
More typical now, however, are breweries decorated to look like repurposed lofts in industrial bays built five years ago. No need to bother with the decades of deindustrialization and renewal—or even art installations—to get the look.
It’s awful, but you love it. High Park mashes up DIY aesthetics and temples to self-absorbed excess (like the garish Museum of Ice Cream) in its uninformed artificiality. It’s appealingly earnest. “This is sad” and “hey we tried” exist on the same plane where the public gets to feast on scraps under private, empty glass towers.
You’d like to go back with a friend—you’d planned to, in fact. But mid-October snow and below zero temperatures interfered, as they do in that typical Calgary way. Maybe Phase 2 will debut when it’s warm again, in 6-8 months. You realize your thoughts are a bit dense for an online survey, but it’s not really that complicated. Calgary doesn’t have much public space in the inner city, but you don’t need a special trip to experience a frozen parking lot.
-Karen, Team Advantage
🐧Ol’ Gristle Neck is coming to suck out your collagen to grant him eternal youth. Sorry.
🦈Among the early health care casualties from the Shandro shitshow is a maternity clinic that ran the prenatal care for half of the births in Medicine Hat.
🐃Your kids are going to learn that John A. Macdonald was a sweetie pie who just loved to kiss and hug every tribe and band in the country and then said Canada was a mosaic and everybody just cried their hearts out and ate corn together all day.
🐓Did the CPS do a war crime? Of course they did!
🦔The harpies of the UCP base are bathing in the blood of their victory and have collectively decided, hey, instead of a blood bath let’s go for an Olympic-sized pool.
☃️Again the government of Alberta is going to make you regret hitting snake-eyes on the craps table of chronic disease. Fuck you and the genetics you rode in on. If you wanted cancer you should have been rich.
🐲Cuts are coming to every area of healthcare, which should be great for all the paramedics out there driving in the snow to make sure people don’t die. Lovely way to pay them back for the brain-breaking work of scooping up the dying and being the first to comfort next of kin. I would love to watch Tyler Shandro explain some cuts directly to the people they impact. I bet he would shrink away like a little worm in the face of the badasses who deal with COVID et al every day. I bet he would cry.
🍳In the hit series NYPD Blue, they killed Jimmy Smits by giving him a gum infection that traveled to his heart. Like the Grinch it swelled multiple sizes and then he became dead. This is just to say that your teeth can kill you and dental coverage should be universal. So, you know, beware your teeth.
🥜RCMP performance in Nova Scotia is a good way to get their police union decertified. All we have to do is make it so that you can’t have a labour union if you are just standing around looking fucking stupid and not doing labour.
🥯Australia is being boiled and roasted to death.
🥡Azerbaijan continues to bomb the fuck out of and take territory in Nagorno-Karabakh while referring to Armenians as the ones overlooked by genocide (along with Turkish officials) so, yeah, a hearty middle finger to Azerbaijan this week.
🍤 Canada, the eternal exporter, made sure that they filled the demand in the United States for test subjects in medical testing.
🥥Real shit is going down in Belarus, named for being BELow RUSsia. I will not be taking corrections.
🏉The newsletter would like to send a hearty “eat shit” to the Christo-fash that took Bolivia, and we hope they cry as they watch the absolute Chads in MAS undo all their dumb shit.
🩰Everything the Liberals do is heavily asterisk-laden, and this is no exception - The Feds will rapidly build* housing** to alleviate homelessness*** during the COVID pandemic****. See if you can guess the billion caveats.
🏍Everyone aside from administrators and tenured professors are exploited pretty hard. That adjunct that went long on a cookie or whatever in your Proust class? Broke as hell, probably. This is all to say we wish a healthy and successful strike to University of Ottawa support staff.
📉My podcast comrades got an honest to god GIANT BADASS on the phone for an interview. Behold seth cardinal dodginghorse, perhaps the only cool person in the province.
🎧The impossibly named and impossibly talented Paris Marx has Xiaowei Wang on their show to talk about rural China and it is RIVETING. Seriously.
🔇Je suis extraordinairement mauvais pour parler et lire le français, mais des gens plus intelligents que moi disent cet épisode des whips Le Plancher De Vaches. Si vous êtes intelligent et non un mannequin monolingue comme moi, vous devriez l'écouter. Oui, j'ai utilisé Google Translate quoi de ça.
🎚️Do I feel uncomfortable that the best writer in comics is a former C.I.A. spook? Yes, what of it? Listen to this Kino Lefter episode anyway.
🛰A solidary march for MikMaki and land defenders will take place in Calgary on Saturday, October 24. More information on the event page.