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College Towns and Destinations: Canada’s Small Indie Music Hotspots

Following up on my post on Canada’s indie music hotspots, this post looks at smaller centres in the country where large concentrations of artists are making and sharing original music. Once again, I’ve used artist information from CBC Music and data on Census Agglomerations from Statistics Canada.

Two Hours Traffic
Flickr/Threthny
Two Hours Traffic from Charlottetown, PEI.

Largest Census Agglomerations Per Capita

In addition Census Agglomerations, several towns that didn’t make this category due to size had high numbers per capita. The following list is what I call Destination Towns, popular locations for tourism or lifestyle choices.

Largest Destination Towns Per Capita

The list is comprised of (mountain-based) recreation centres, as well as college towns with a small permanent population (Wolfville and Antigonish).

Trends in Small Music Scenes
A few things that stood out:

The Atlantic and Pacific Reign Once Again: Atlantic and Pacific metros stood out in the previous rankings, and it’s no surprise that Charlottetown and Fredericton rank high here. The two Atlantic CAs rank higher in concentration than all but four CMAs (Halifax, Victoria, Vancouver, Guelph).

College Towns – Big or Small – Are Hotspots: Many cities and towns on the list boasts either a university with a strong presence – UPEI in Charlottetown, UNB and St. Thomas in Fredericton, Acadia in Wolfville, Mt. Allison in Sackville, St.FX in Antigonish.

Destination Towns Can Build a Scene: The places that are not college-oriented are invariably vacation or lifestyle destination spots. The British Columbia cities are clustered on the island or along the coast, or in the interior – opposite Alberta’s mountain towns. The Ontario cities are near mountain destinations, and/or have recognized cultural scenes (Stratford is famous for its Shakespeare Festival; Owen Sound has been named a cultural capital). Several of the cities – Salmon Arm, Canmore, Owen Sound, Yellowknife – also host relatively popular folk festivals.

Being a Regional Centre Matters: The CAs that showed up at the top of the list are all regional centres, and especially in Charlottetown and Fredericton’s case, share many functional characteristics with CMAs.

If You’re Serious About Your Career, It’s Best to Move to a CMA: New music is being created and shared all over the country, but few of the artists outside CMAs are recognizable, or seem to have large following (outside, perhaps, their immediate local community.

Charlottetown Deserves Recognition: It stands out amongst CAs, having produced nationally-followed indie acts such as Two Hours Traffic, Paper Lions, and Boxer the Horse. There are much larger metros that can’t boast even that many recognizable or popular names.

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Jasper Ave Blues: Small Investments, Big Returns

If you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ve probably gathered that – while not inherently opposed to mega-projects – I am often skeptical of their value and actual vs. promised benefits. I tend to think that smaller, more creative investments can often yield greater returns. Having seen successful catalyst/anchor tenant projects in other cities, I think the key is for them to be built in scale with the surrounding environment, rather than overwhelming it. But I also believe, as I said, there are creative, cost-effective ways to improve the livability of an area as well. If you think of Whyte Avenue, High Street, and 4th Street Promenade – to my mind Edmonton’s three most successful examples of (re)development in the city core, you’d be hard pressed to name an anchor tenant or single driving project for any of the three. Rather, the sum product of various small(er) businesses and amenities is what makes each area so great.

Andy’s suggestion of chess parks in Edmonton got me thinking about such small investments. There are examples, both permanent and temporary, in downtown Edmonton of such small investments, and creative use of space. The Alley of Light, and the upcoming Blink pedway pop-up restaurant event come to mind.

Pocket Parks, and Target Activities in Parks
Having evolved, and been built (and rebuilt) over decades, not everything downtown fits into neat lines or parcels. That means that there are going to be underused spaces, or properties that don’t fit an obvious, conventional use. The aforementioned Alley of Light is one example of turning a dead space into something functional, and this can be built on.

Pocket parks are one way to fill this void. The 7th and Penn Parklet in downtown Pittsburgh is one of my favourite examples (it was created after demolishing an adult bookstore).

7th & Penn Parklet

As the Parklet, with its focus on public art, shows, there also need to be things that will get people outside and using them. My observation is that unless there is a specific event happening, most of downtown Edmonton’s parks go unused even on nice days. Why not try putting chess boards, or a bocce ball court, or something that will make them stand out and draw people in? The basketball hoops that go up in Churchill Square every summer are a good example of where this is already being done. Twitter exchanges with Andy and others quickly identified the following possibilities for a chess park downtown: the area behind Milner Library, the space just north of Scotia Tower, Beaver Hills Park on 105th and Jasper, along Rice Howard Way adjacent to patios. And that’s just off the top of our heads. There are numerous creative things we can do with public space that will encourage more use, and pedestrian traffic, in good and bad weather.

Art in Unexpected Places
Murals and statues are popular forms of art, but I enjoy seeing art in other places and forms, in particular when it transforms something that’s otherwise mundane.

Power and Colour

Throughout downtown Victoria, many of the power boxes are painted, bringing colour and life to otherwise unremarkable (aesthetically-speaking) objects.

Flora in Creative Places
Like with art, this is a way to bring character, and colour, to a street or building. A couple of my favourite examples:

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The plants growing on this building in Boston (somewhere between Newbury Street and Storrow Drive) make it stand out amongst a row of identical brick buildings.

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The potted plants along the edge of the parkade (background) add life to an otherwise sterile building in Chicago’s Loop.

Heat and Fire to Extend the Patio Season
It amazes me how little Edmonton businesses do to extend patio season. While only the heartiest Edmontonians (probably not enough to create a value proposition for business owners) would use a patio in -20 weather, I think a combination of heating, warm clothes, and alcohol to warm the blood would make patios a viable proposition when it’s around freezing, if not even a bit colder.

Cadillac Ranch
This patio at the Cadillac Ranch restaurant in downtown Cleveland has a fire pit to keep guests warm. This was taken on a November day, when weather (with the wind chill) was probably around freezing.

A couple of examples from San Diego. Yes, San Diego, with average low temperatures of 10 degrees celsius.

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The heat lamps above each table at Fred’s Mexican Cafe on 5th make the patios hospitable late into the night, and allow guests the option of whether or not they want to use them.

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Davanti in Little Italy not only has outdoor heaters for its back patio, but the patio itself is a creative use of space. They expanded and took over the back alley in order to add this section.

It just stuns me that they do this effectively in San Diego, yet neither business owners nor consumers are promoting this in Edmonton.

Improving the livability of downtown, and making it more interesting and amenable to spend time in (especially along the street) is a key, cost-effective way to make downtown a more interesting place to be. I noted some initiatives already underway, and I hope we continue to build on them, and pursue other initiatives of this type to improve our downtown.