Inspired by a friend, I made a birthday wish list for Calgary. May as well mark turning 40 with all I can!
This list is aspirational and (mostly) actionable. I wanted to dig in to how we interact with our neighbourhoods and our city. They are small things that add up to moments of joy and participation. I focused on items that were, as much as possible, about inclusivity, providing equity, and designing an environment which is sustainable, vibrant, and fun. We need more fun!!!
So here are my 40 birthday wishes for Calgary:
1 - That the majority of people buy a community association memberships
2 - That community associations ensure cost isn’t a barrier & have pricing options for residents (including free!)
3 - More little free pantries
4 - More community fridges
5 - More garbage cans at Edworthy off-leash dog park (not in 11 but we love it there)
6 - Allow paddle boarding on the reservoir
7 - More crosswalks, less pedestrian detours
8 - More naturalization along roadways & less grass to cut
9 - More perennial plantings that attract pollinators (less annuals)
10 - Explore the return of a block parent/block watch program (remember those days?!)
11 - Wider sidewalks in older neighborhoods
12 - More curb cuts at pedestrian crossings
13- More alley way garage door art
14 - More backyard suites & laneway housing
15 - Yes to hens in backyards
16 - Wider MUPs especially in busy areas where you can see people are frequenting the grassy area to the sides
17 - Dedicated walk/roll pathways in busy areas (South Glenmore needs more seperation)
18 - More pump tracks
19 - Clearing gravel from pathways sooner in the spring
20 - More pop up loose parts play in fields and at playgrounds
21 - More outdoor music including live and broadcast (could we even hang wind chimes?)
22 - More outdoor drama and theatre
23 - More painted garbage cans & utility boxes
24 - More public indoor gardens
25 - More public washrooms
26 - More engagement with students (especially high school)
27 - More community gardens
28 - More lit up buildings (like the Calgary tower & Telus sky)
29 - More murals, especially along LRT lines
30 - More public observation decks & rooftop patios
31 - Available sports equipment at fields for kids (adults too) to get outside and play (soccer balls, outdoor badminton, basketballs, hockey sticks)
32 - Less chain link fencing
33 - If we have to have chain link - then more fence art!
34- More protected mobility lanes
35 - More painted roads and crosswalks as traffic calming
36 - More outdoor markets
37 - More goats (rent-a-goat???)
38 - Better use of golf courses in the winter
39 - More festivals
40 - More women on council
There is no doubt that being a mother of three girls informs my view of our city. As they grow up, I explore the city through their lens. Walking to and riding the bus, spending time with friends, and opportunities to spend time in our city, outside, moving their bodies for both physical and mental health.
As the winter has passed and we've negotiated Covid restrictions, I've especially seen our two oldest girls struggle to find suitable outdoor space. Our middle is quickly outgrowing playgrounds in favour of climbing trees to challenge her abilities. Our oldest can find few spaces to be with friends that cater to the teen experience they crave (whatever it is, I am still trying to figure it out too TBH).
I look at how our city has invested in outdoor public recreation and I see a gap on where young women aren't going. It's not intentional, but it happens by unintentional design in not considering how different groups view spaces for their physical and psychological safety.
These spaces tend to attract young men and boys. To be clear: all men are not the problem here, but the perception of belonging gets skewed when a certain type of consistent traits appear over and over. It is the same for racialized groups entering homogenous white person filled spaces. It is not that men and boys exclude women and girls who do show up - but is it a place women and girls feel comfortable showing up to in the first place? Do they see themselves as part of that community; do they see users as their peers; is there room for them to experience failure in a psychologically safe environment?
I look at the rinks in our community. The large rink has been the one with the hockey nets. And yes, it attracts both genders, but more so the boys. My girls are not comfortable skating on the large rink in the midst of a pickup hockey game. So we are relegated to the smaller 15'x25' rink - about 1/4 the size of the large rink (honestly probably less). It's virtually impossible for the pre-teen to stretch her legs and get more than a few pushes in, I dislike it too.
Its not about abolishing hockey rinks or removing nets, but asking ourselves - should both rinks not be the same size to provide equal opportunity to skate within our neighbourhoods?
I don't have all the answers to providing safer and more equitable spaces for young women in our city. But I do have ideas and I am willing to ask the questions - of city planners, of parents, of girls themselves, and also the boys who need other recreational opportunities too. Here are just a few ideas I have:
But I want to hear from you, your children, especially your teen and tween girls. Use this survey to send me your ideas and dreams.
Our downtown is beleaguered, and this strains our capacity as a city economically and socially. I say this with a heavy heart while acknowledging the reality of the situation. We know what’s to blame: a combination of factors which no one could have predicted coinciding. We can focus on pointing fingers at what has gone wrong, or we can look forward to the work ahead with determination, boldness, and an unwavering commitment to learn from our mistakes
To date, there is strategy work led by the City underway to rethink components of downtown including Chinatown, The Green Line, East Village, Eau Claire, the Arts & Entertainment District, and Stephen Avenue. These are components of a broader overall downtown strategy. Our go forward adoption needs to be innovative, flexible, and have room to adapt as new demands from commercial and residential tenants, along with the needs of Calgarians and tourists, shift. Covid has taught us the future is unpredictable and when unprepared, devastating.
Covid has also taught us that we are resilient and capable of change. We can re-learn and re-think not only how we behave but how we want to interact with our city. Being forced to experience our city has made many people hyper-aware of both our challenges and opportunities.
We know that attraction is two-sided. Calgary needs to flirt with all they’ve got: flaunt our assets and showcase our willingness to create partnerships. With the City leading investment into the downtown core, we should have the confidence and belief to know the market will rise to meet us. With vacancy rates nearing 30% the market needs to know Calgarians are invested in their downtown space. The market, both commercial and residential, needs a home which offers tenants vibrancy, safety, livability, and predictability.
Revitalizing our downtown core will be as much about nurturing relationships among businesses, citizens and residents, and government as it will be about tackling climate objectives, homelessness, and economic prosperity. No single economy will be the future of Calgary. Having a downtown which supports vibrancy in arts and culinary ventures, fosters innovative companies, supports student learning, and bolsters our tourism industry must all be a priority while supporting existing industries from oil and gas to banking.
There are many proposals on the table for rethinking our vacancy rates. Converting buildings to housing is one of them. I am cautious about this approach because of two things: (1) The revenue the city retains from residential property tax is significantly lower than commercial property tax thus potentially creating further economic challenges. (2) The amenities to support additional density need to be part of the support system: grocery stores, pet stores, doctors, pharmacies, child care centers, schools, recreation, parks, playgrounds,
Part of the intention of a dense core is to encourage a walkable and bikeable neighborhood. At present, our downtown core is poorly equipped to support residents in this way. I am not saying conversion shouldn’t be part of a bold strategy. Striking the balance between what comes first, residents or commercial, is going to take commitment.
Another opportunity is for existing commercial spaces to rethink their leasing options. Size of space, term of lease, cost of lease, parking options, just to name a few. How can we (ie City of Calgary) incentivize property owners to innovate their leasing models to encourage new businesses to be part of downtown? Can we explore mechanisms for tax breaks to those properties which can attract new tenants? Can we waive or reduce fees for building and development permits? We will need to explore financial implications to the city if we choose to waive fees or give tax breaks in both short term budget cycles and long term planning.
I ask, knowing these are just surface level questions, which require all parties coming to the table willing to compromise, create, explore through trial and error, and willing to be open to change. It’s going to take consensus building through businesses, city departments, fellow council members, and citizens at large.