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Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 7:28 PM
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Busiest Downtowns in Canada

This is a resurrection of a thread I posted last year that gained some traction: https://skyscraperpage.com/forum/sho...d.php?t=237508

I wanted to organize the conversation better this time around and split it into categories:

1. Population of downtown.
2. Total employment population/commercial activity.
3. Pedestrian activity (ie. Shops, restaurants, parks, attractions).

Use those categories to rank your cities. If anyone thinks of other categories to add please share. I'm only ranking Ontario because I don't have much experience/knowledge of the cities outside of this province.

Ontario
1. Toronto
2. Ottawa
3. Hamilton
4. London
5. Niagara Falls (If that's considered a Downtown)
6. Mississauga
7. Kitchener/Waterloo
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  #2  
Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 7:41 PM
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I guess this is more of a liability right now.

I was looking at street view and noticed Dresden Row and Spring Garden Road in Halifax. Street view sometimes captures what a place is like or sometimes captures odd times. This one's pretty good for showing what it's like in person on a nice day (admittedly it's been a couple years). You can spin the camera around to see more people:

https://www.google.com/maps/@44.6428...7i16384!8i8192

There is a lot of construction in this area so I think it will be much busier soon. It doesn't have the nicest buildings but it's a very flexible area that keeps getting remade over and over into something busier and more vibrant. Many larger North American cities don't have anything comparable.

Last edited by someone123; Mar 29, 2020 at 7:52 PM.
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Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 7:50 PM
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The downtown areas of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are all consistently busy with a diverse mix of people, simply because they have dense concentrations of office workers, residents, tourists and students. There are lots of downtown supermarkets, bars and restaurants that keep things busy well into the evening. All three cities have eliminated most of the dead pockets they once had.

Calgary and Ottawa are generally quieter, especially on evenings and weekends. But they have pockets of nightlife and downtown residential areas that are relatively busy throughout the day. In terms of overall activity I would guess that Ottawa has the edge because the Byward Market/Rideau Centre area is more consistently busy than anywhere in downtown Calgary. Parts of downtown Calgary are remarkably sleepy despite being intensively built up. Maybe it's the Plus-15 system, maybe it's the car culture. Not sure.

Quebec City punches well above its weight. It would say its downtown area (St-Roch, St-Jean and the old town) is as busy as Ottawa and Calgary, thanks to a large residential population and high numbers of tourists. It's been a long time since I have visited Halifax or Victoria, but from what I remember they also have very lively downtown areas despite being small cities.
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Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 8:12 PM
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Very difficult to see Downtown (ish) Ottawa area being busier than Calgary. The office district is a lot larger in Calgary, and the Beltline looks much larger and denser than any Downtown Ottawa neighbourhood.

Same thing for Quebec City. No real large office district,and no real dense residential districts.
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Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 8:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by logan5 View Post
Same thing for Quebec City. No real large office district,and no real dense residential districts.

Eh? The core-adjacent neighbourhoods of Saint-Roch and Saint-Jean-Baptist are some of the densest and most urban in the country. Blocks and blocks of this kinda stuff: https://goo.gl/maps/fdFSB5bsFx2yugTw6
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Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 9:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by logan5 View Post
Very difficult to see Downtown (ish) Ottawa area being busier than Calgary. The office district is a lot larger in Calgary, and the Beltline looks much larger and denser than any Downtown Ottawa neighbourhood.

Same thing for Quebec City. No real large office district,and no real dense residential districts.
It depends on if the office district is multi-use.

Centretown in Ottawa is very quiet during the evening/weekend, simply because there isn't a lot of reason to be there outside of working hours. A few blocks to the east is quite busy because it's an entertainment district, has a university and many residents who are out and about.

I'm not an expert on Calgary, but certain parts of downtown Ottawa (Eglin St, along the Rideau Canal and along Rideau St. itself) can be quite busy at all times.

There are very large cities (Phoenix, AZ comes to mind) that don't have very busy downtowns despite their size.
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Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 9:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by logan5 View Post
Very difficult to see Downtown (ish) Ottawa area being busier than Calgary. The office district is a lot larger in Calgary, and the Beltline looks much larger and denser than any Downtown Ottawa neighbourhood.

Same thing for Quebec City. No real large office district,and no real dense residential districts.
Downtown Calgary's business district is larger and denser than Downtown Ottawa's by far. Calgary's CBD punches well above its weight for a city its size. What hurts Ottawa in this respect is the decentralization of employment areas (Hull, Tunney's Pasture, Confederation Heights, Kanata North...)

That said, Ottawa's Cetretown, the equivalent to Calgary's Beltline, is denser (11,344.2/km2 (2016) vs 8,580/km2 (2018) according to Wikipedia).

I've never been to Calgary, so I can compare the general liveliness, but Cetretown's Bank Street is a busy thoroughfare with a diverse mix of businesses, while Elgin Street is one of Ottawa's premier bar and restaurant districts.

Beltline and Cetretown look quite similar at a quick glance.





Québec City, like Ottawa, has a very decentralized workforce. Unlike Calgary and Ottawa, they don't have a clearly defined CBD. The entire central area however, seems very lively all day everyday.
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Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 9:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by logan5 View Post
Very difficult to see Downtown (ish) Ottawa area being busier than Calgary. The office district is a lot larger in Calgary, and the Beltline looks much larger and denser than any Downtown Ottawa neighbourhood.

Same thing for Quebec City. No real large office district,and no real dense residential districts.
Office and residential density are certainly major factors, but it's important to also remember the entertainment and hospitality industries. For instance, in Halifax there tends to be a lot of tourists in the summer and students the rest of the year making downtown seem far busier than if it was just normal office and downtown residential. I'm guessing Ottawa and QC have a lot of downtown visitors due to being major tourist destinations.
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Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 9:28 PM
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The presence of schools are important as well, and to my knowledge Ottawa also has a larger student population than Calgary.
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Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 9:34 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by logan5 View Post
Very difficult to see Downtown (ish) Ottawa area being busier than Calgary. The office district is a lot larger in Calgary, and the Beltline looks much larger and denser than any Downtown Ottawa neighbourhood.

Same thing for Quebec City. No real large office district,and no real dense residential districts.
I've been to all major cities in Canada. I would say that Ottawa and Calgary are quite comparable as far as being busy but I'd say that Ottawa's downtown is more dense and traffic is heavier. Plus you also have downtown Hull (Gatineau) across the river that adds to it. Plus, there is more population within a 2 hour drive to Ottawa than to Calgary.
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Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 9:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by logan5 View Post
Very difficult to see Downtown (ish) Ottawa area being busier than Calgary. The office district is a lot larger in Calgary, and the Beltline looks much larger and denser than any Downtown Ottawa neighbourhood.

Same thing for Quebec City. No real large office district,and no real dense residential districts.
St-Roch, St-Jean and Montcalm are low-rise but very densely built along narrow streets. Their population density is between 150-300 people per hectare, which is about the same as the Beltline. And their commercial streets are way busier than anything in Calgary with a lot of small-scale supermarkets, people doing their daily errands by foot and so forth.

I think Ottawa and Calgary are roughly equivalent. You're right that downtown Ottawa neighbourhoods aren't quite as dense, and yet their commercial streets have more intact urban fabric which seems to encourage more pedestrian activity. 17th Avenue can be very busy on weekends and in the summer, but on an average weekday its pedestrian activity is a bit one-dimensional. It doesn't help that it still has quite a few strip malls and parking lots even if the surrounding blocks are fairly dense.
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Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 9:52 PM
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In the main retail/nightlife area of 17 Avenue (1 Street SW to 8 Street SW) there is only one strip mall (at the bottom of an 8 story apartment building) between 4 and 5 Street's, there is also a single gas station, and a 4-car parking lot in front of a Vietnamese sub place. Wouldn't really call that "quite a few" unless you're talking about the uninhabited area between 1 Street and the Ctrain tracks. The block between 1 Street and 2 Street needs some serious love though. On 1 Street, the two blocks between 14 and 17 Aves (there is no 16 Ave for whatever railway planner bullshit reason ) need to be filled. Once those two gaps are filled, it'll be pretty awesome to have a stable connection of retail, restaurants, and nightlife uninterrupted from Stephen Avenue, down 1 Street to 17 SW, 17 Avenue to 8 Street, and 4 Street from about 13th to 25 Avenue's. Hopefully that day isn't too far away.


Quote:
Originally Posted by MonkeyRonin View Post
The presence of schools are important as well, and to my knowledge Ottawa also has a larger student population than Calgary.
Yes, the fact that Calgary and Ottawa are roughly equal is more of a testament to Calgary's downtown population, due to Calgary having no major educational institutions within 2 km of the core (downtown/beltline). Ottawa is verrry lucky to have two fairly major universities within an easy walking distance of/within the core. It's unfortunate that Mount Royal University took the former Airforce Base instead of Stampede Park. It would have been so much better for the city.
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Last edited by Chadillaccc; Mar 29, 2020 at 10:04 PM.
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Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 10:13 PM
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It's been deserted here lately, and I mean before the pandemic.

George Street can be relief upon for busy street life, even on a lazy weekday evening:

Video Link


And it's insane during a holiday weekend:

Video Link


And Water Street does well during the summer:

STJs Summer 2014 by R C, on Flickr

Other than that... meh. It never gets busy. You'll never see more than a couple dozen people if you stand still and spin in a circle.

Old Shots by R C, on Flickr

Old Shots by R C, on Flickr

Old Shots by R C, on Flickr

Old Spring Photos by R C, on Flickr
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Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 10:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by J.OT13 View Post
Downtown Calgary's business district is larger and denser than Downtown Ottawa's by far. Calgary's CBD punches well above its weight for a city its size. What hurts Ottawa in this respect is the decentralization of employment areas (Hull, Tunney's Pasture, Confederation Heights, Kanata North...)

That said, Ottawa's Cetretown, the equivalent to Calgary's Beltline, is denser (11,344.2/km2 (2016) vs 8,580/km2 (2018) according to Wikipedia).

I've never been to Calgary, so I can compare the general liveliness, but Cetretown's Bank Street is a busy thoroughfare with a diverse mix of businesses, while Elgin Street is one of Ottawa's premier bar and restaurant districts.

Beltline and Cetretown look quite similar at a quick glance.





Québec City, like Ottawa, has a very decentralized workforce. Unlike Calgary and Ottawa, they don't have a clearly defined CBD. The entire central area however, seems very lively all day everyday.
Yikes, that photo of the Beltline is over 10 years old and 12 000 people ago. Gross And the number you cited for the Beltline includes the uninhabitable/undevelopable privately held Stampede Park, about 25% of the neighbourhood landmass, and of course that skews the results. The Beltline's actual density is 11,312 (2.2 km2 developable/inhabitable area). Another testament to this high density is that the majority of blocks within three blocks of Stampede Park - the entire former neighbourhood of Victoria Park - were razed in the 70s by the crony capitalists of the Stampede Board (who were also city councillors) and are still entire blocks of parking lots to this day. The core area of the Beltline - formerly known as Connaught and West Connaught - basically from 1 Street SW to 14 Street, has a density of around 15 000/km at about 1.8 km2 in total area.

The Beltline only became a neighbourhood when the four neighbourhoods, the Connaughts and the VPs, united in 2003.

Just a little history/geography/statistics 101 of the dynamics of the Beltline for yall


All of what I've said can be confirmed easily on the City of Calgary census website cross referenced with a quick search of Google Maps satellite view.
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Last edited by Chadillaccc; Mar 29, 2020 at 10:30 PM.
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Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 10:34 PM
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From what I remember from my visits Calgary felt larger and busier than Ottawa, but not by a ton.

My rank of busyness from my travels for cities I’ve been to:

1. Toronto
2. Montreal
3. Vancouver
4. Calgary
5. Ottawa
6. Quebec City
7. Halifax
8. Hamilton
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Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 10:35 PM
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Calgary's Beltline feels more like Ottawa's Centretown which is the urban district between the CBD-Parliament zone and the Glebe.

Centretown is a mix of spillover office buildings from the CBD, condo and apartment towers, smaller apartment buildings, main street commercial (retail on the ground, apartments above) and even some old single family houses on tiny lots.

Centre town is about 12 blocks by 12 blocks.

Beltline is about 6 blocks by 12 blocks.

Beltline is fine and benefits from being THE place for a lot of urban(e) stuff in Calgary.

But I do think with the exception of the CBD (which I will get to in a minute), Ottawa has a more impressive downtown and inner with the Byward Market (no equivalent in Calgary) and also areas like the Glebe, Westboro, Wellington West, New Edinburgh, Old Ottawa South and even a secondary downtown core in Hull (Gatineau).

Of course Calgary's CBD office cluster kicks the pants off Ottawa's. It almost feels worthy of a major U.S. city like Houston or Dallas.
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Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 10:37 PM
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It shouldn't be a surprise that Calgary and Ottawa are similar given that they have a roughly similar population. Calgary is slightly bigger and it has the benefit of having many more downtown office workers, which is balanced on Ottawa's part by being older and having a number of streets with a more enclosed, traditionally urban feel.

I was in both cities over the winter and my impression was that there were some parts of downtown Ottawa that felt more bustling than their Calgary equivalents. Byward Market is like a cross between 1st Street SW and Eau Claire Market but it's a lot busier than either of those. And Bank Street feels like a more complete urban street than 17th Avenue.

Still, based entirely on my own impressions, Calgary has more of a big city feel than Ottawa. Maybe it's because there are more towers and downtown is just that much more expansive. The East Village is impressive and the Beltline has developed a lot in recent years. The city feels way more substantial than it used to. I think if we return to this topic in 10 years, Calgary will have outpaced Ottawa by quite a bit in terms of how busy its downtown area feels. It's just that, for the moment, they are still equivalent.
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Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 10:51 PM
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I dunno about the 10 years from now. With the economic troubles from COVID, which might trigger an economic slump that lasts throughout the early 2020s, Calgary could be especially hard hit given that O&G is probably going to slump pretty hard. By contrast, Ottawa's economy is dominated by the federal government (which never really shrinks), and the high-tech sector, which is the one sector of the economy that, IMO, is going to do well in the next few years. So I wouldn't be surprised if for the next few years or so Ottawa is the fastest growing major city in the country and overtakes Calgary in population by 2026. And a lot of Ottawa's growth is refocusing on the inner core, so if the city grows, so will the core.

As someone who lives in Ottawa, this does not excite me. I feel like the city is already growing way too fast; everything from our public transit to our roads to our housing supply to our hospitals is simply not keeping up with the growth we're having now. I do not relish the thought of these problems getting worse. Honestly, I'd like some stagnation.
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Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 10:52 PM
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Calgary will unquestionably be the hardest hit major city in the country economically. However, the Calgary CBD and Beltline have nearly as many rental apartment and condo units under construction as the entire city of Ottawa combined (including SFH). So regardless of the economic slump, the core of Calgary is going to massively outpace the growth of central Ottawa.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Acajack View Post
Calgary's Beltline feels more like Ottawa's Centretown which is the urban district between the CBD-Parliament zone and the Glebe.

Centretown is a mix of spillover office buildings from the CBD, condo and apartment towers, smaller apartment buildings, main street commercial (retail on the ground, apartments above) and even some old single family houses on tiny lots.

Centre town is about 12 blocks by 12 blocks.

Beltline is about 6 blocks by 12 blocks.

Beltline is fine and benefits from being THE place for a lot of urban(e) stuff in Calgary.

But I do think with the exception of the CBD (which I will get to in a minute), Ottawa has a more impressive downtown and inner with the Byward Market (no equivalent in Calgary) and also areas like the Glebe, Westboro, Wellington West, New Edinburgh, Old Ottawa South and even a secondary downtown core in Hull (Gatineau).

Of course Calgary's CBD office cluster kicks the pants off Ottawa's. It almost feels worthy of a major U.S. city like Houston or Dallas.
If you're comparing a 12x12 area and a 12x6 area, then you should also consider that Calgary's downtown core/Beltline is ringed by historic, dense, walkable, and extremely active areas during day and night. Mission, Inglewood, Kensington, and Bridgeland. All of which has analogues in Ottawa within a nearly identical geographic area.
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Old Posted Mar 29, 2020, 10:54 PM
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Yikes, that photo of the Beltline is over 10 years old and 12 000 people ago.
The Centretown photo also dates from around 10 years ago. A good dozen towers are completed or u/c since then (a few of which would be out of frame).

Lots more residential development, part of a rental market boom, going up along the Confederation and Trillium Lines within the urban core, particularly at Dow's Lake and along Scott Street. Rideau Street, a short walk from Rideau Station, is also experiencing quite a revival, including a new student residence, an office conversion (to a student residence) and eight other residential towers.

Zibi's a significant new entertainment district that will help bridge the gap between the Downtowns of Ottawa and Hull. If LeBreton can ever gets off the ground, it will be a major boost to central core.
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