A New East Village Tower, With a Twist

Embassy Bosa 3D renderingCalgary Municipal Land Corporation The planned tower — in another East Village.

It’s a familiar story in the East Village — the once-grungy neighborhood made cool attracts new investment marked by glittering glass condo towers. Here’s the latest project by developer Embassy Bosa: a 700,000 sq. ft. mixed-use development. The deal was done in late 2010 and sales are expected to begin early next year.

Before you take to the comments in a paroxysm of anti-yuppie fervor, I should let you know something. These three towers will rise not in The East Village, New York, New York but in East Village (no The), Calgary, Alberta. Yes, there’s a shadowy doppelganger of our neighborhood stirring to life in Western Canada.

The neighborhood’s boosters are not shy about playing up to the reputation of its New Yorker sister. This week a competition to name the Embassy Bosa condos came to a close and the winner will be whisked down to The East Village, New York for a vacation.

“The East Village started in a similar way: a rough derelict area that needed a bit of love and care,” said Susan Veres a spokeswoman for the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, referring to our neighborhood. The hope is the prize will link the two neighborhoods in the minds of Calgarians and show them what their East Village could be like in the future.

The irony, though, is that the sorts of buildings going up in Calgary — multifamily, mixed-use, to use the language of developers — are the sorts of things that would no doubt be the subject of multi-hour, mixed-opinion Community Board 3 debates were they to appear here. In Calgary, the rejuvenation of the neighborhood has been greeted with near-universal acclaim.

East Village Aerial RenderingCalgary Municipal Land Corporation Planned development for that other East Village.

The historical arcs of the two East Villages are eerily similar. In the early 20th century, the Calgary neighborhood was a busy center of commerce in young city. But over time business moved elsewhere and by the 1940’s, the signs of neglect were becoming obvious and the neighborhood became a haven for prostitutes and bootleggers. The area continued to fare poorly in the urban renewal schemes of the 1960’s. Older buildings were razed to make way for Robert Moses-style superblocks, but by the end of the decade the money ran out and the plans were halted and the neighborhood left to fester.

For years, East Village lay largely abandoned. The 49-acre neighborhood is home to just 2,634 people – although that is on the rise – with an average income of 17,253 Canadian dollars (or $18,178) compared with 67,238 Canadian dollars (or $70,841) for the city as a whole. Then in 2007, the city got its act together and drew up a master plan, bringing in British planning firm Broadway Malyan for the job. Hundreds of millions of (Canadian) dollars have since poured into the area and Calgary Municipal Land Corporation has sold off land half of the land it owned in the area.

East Village lies just to the east of Calgary’s municipal center and has Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Streets. It is bordered by a river and the city’s Chinatown. The similarities are more than a bit disconcerting.

But driving around on Google Street View the area still looks largely undeveloped — when work started, explained Ms. Veres, the roads did not even have asphalt surfaces and new telephone lines had to be laid. (Take the tour yourself at the end of this post.)

“The whole area was really devoid of infrastructure,” Ms. Veres said.

That is slowly changing. Shelly Tupper relocated her print shop, First on Colour, to the neighborhood in April 2010. “‘East Village has turned from ‘You are moving where?  Why?’ to ‘What an excellent choice and business decision’,” she said in an e-mail. There are no more “dark alleys” in the area, Ms. Tupper added.

EV street fair Calgary mayorEast Village Street Fair Committee Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi in East Village.

Ms. Tupper also organized the first Canada Day (like the Fourth of July, but on the First) street fair in East Village this year. 4,000 people showed up, including Naheed Nenshi, the city’s newly elected mayor. He has he has been an important supporter of the development, and, if pictures of the event are anything to go by, he had a great time rubbing shoulders with some of the younger residents.

Touring East Village

Take a tour of our neighborhood’s municipal doppelganger.

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