In 2018 a man walked into the Beakerhead office on 4th street close to Safeworks. He was clearly in distress needing to use. I watched my co-workers freeze and one picked up the phone to call the police. We were two blocks away from the Chumir. I stood up and introduced myself, asked his name, and offered to walk him down to the site. My friend and co-worker joined me as we walked and made small talk about the weather.
The province is set to close Safeworks, the Safe Consumption Site at the Sheldon Chumir with plans to reallocate to 'partner organizations' (likely shelters) according to this recent article. I worry about the strain on social agencies to provide increased care and service for vulnerable populations. I see the continued stigma and assumptions made about users.
Access to a site assumes you are proximal or have means to use transportation to arrive. It also assumes the site will feel safe, welcoming, and inclusive. We have users of all genders, ethnicities, and span socio-economic statuses who need a site. Have these factors been considered when choosing new locations?
First - locations should have been chosen in partnership with the City of Calgary. I am not certain this is the case.
Second - by moving the consumption sites to shelter or social agency sites, we are stigmatizing who uses and casting a broad assumption that all users are homeless or living in the shelter system. We know this isn't the case.
I will say that I support having locations within social service agencies IF there are other sites as well and IF those sites are staffed (funded) by the province and the expectation of staffing does not suddenly become part of the agency's operating budget without funding from the Province.
Third - the recognition that need for sites does not exist solely in the beltline or downtown core; drug use is not a geographic phenomenon.
The need for MORE sites exists. We see this in the number of users at the Chumir site, and in the spillover for the users who are unable to access the site. I have spoken with communities and Calgary Police who see users at sites such as transit stations - because they are monitored with cameras and help buttons.
There isn't one answer to solving the challenges associated with drug use. I believe we need a comprehensive approach that is supported by the Province and the City which support both users and communities. We need funding for mental health care, housing, safe consumption sites, addictions treatment, and funding for social service agencies as early interveners. We need training for our first responders, bylaw and transit officers, and community leaders to be part of the solution in communities.
Mostly we need to talk about users as people - humans with complex emotions, needs, and histories. We need to see that we are all part of the problem when we stigmatize users but can also be part of the solution when we see users as humans who are for their own reasons, in a position where drug use is part of their life. Is this easy, not always. I believe we need to keep talking about it, openly and candidly. I am committed to these conversations to support all Calgarians regardless of the situation they find themselves in.
I've put out three simple surveys in the last few weeks to ask you about how you're interacting with their city. From teen girls, to kids, to adults. I am curious about what is good, and what can be improved in your eyes.
Most importantly, the overall sense I got from reading your answers, was that being in community was important to you including the amazing connections you have to your neighbours.
You focused on the elements you interact with most in active modes. No one flagged roads as the thing they want to keep, or a specific built form of houses. To me, this signals, what we value in our neighbourhoods, what I feel is so key to humanity, places to be around others and build relationships.
Kids identified that the number one thing that makes them feel safe in their community is knowing their neighbours. When we have streets, sidewalks, and parks that help us know each other, we support even our youngest residents in their participation in community. Their fears: coyotes (totally valid).
Teen girls had this to say about their interactions in their neighbourhoods...
What does this all this mean as I ask to be your representative at city hall? It means that I recognize the amenities of neighbourhoods which you value, and I value them too. I want to ensure we continue to support the amenities which foster relationships (like community halls and rec centres), the local economy (supporting residential adjacent businesses), and active living (ensuring quality pathways and park spaces).
Earlier this year, I made a birthday wish list for Calgary for my 40th. There is lots of overlap between the keep/add lists.
It's not to late to give your answers. Here are the links to the original blogs/surveys:
The Kids Point of View (best for kids in elementary)
Girls in the City
Changing Communities - What do you want to see?
Here's hoping I will see you out on the pathways!
We know kids have a much different point of view of moving around their neighbourhoods than adults do.
Often when we think about city planning, programming, and design, we have conversations exclusively among adults for spaces that affect children. As a parent myself with children in this age bracket, I know they have strong opinions and a sense of what makes their neighbourhoods great. That's right - they have two neighbourhoods as their dad and myself live in different communities. They interact differently based on proximity to parks and greenspaces, have different routes to these areas, and the amenities differ.
My ask - if you have a K-6 child in your house, have them complete one or both of these activities.
1. A short survey designed with kids in mind.
2. Save and print the following images (designed for standard paper). Take a photo and share on social (tag me @kourtbranagan) or email me the photo at email@example.com
What do we know about Calgarians - but more specifically, what do we know about how Calgarians vote?
Calgary collects both its own data about citizens and uses the federal census to provide community profiles.
In the fall of 2020 I embarked on a project with the Tech Skills Initiative program from Bow Valley College. I have supported the program through the last two years in my role with Rainforest Alberta. In the fall I had the opportunity to design an industry project for the students which used multiple data sets around election data and community demographics to support candidates in the upcoming election. That project has come to life through the website Calgary Election Candidates, with the help of friend and political enthusiast Sarah Elder-Chamanara of Madame Premier.
Working on this project I have become passionate about two changes I would like to see going forward for Calgary. The first is data around voter demographics. The second is the language we use to identify individuals.
A bit of a background. I started learning more about diversity and inclusion, the language used, and the tools of measurement in the last few years. Specifically, I worked on another project when I was with Rainforest Alberta around attendance at events (real live ones if you remember those) and the diversity of persons attending.
In working on those projects, in reviewing the community demographics posted by the City of Calgary, I noticed a trend. The terminology used to capture identities is outdated.
When I dug into the issue, I was alerted that the terminology used in the City of Calgary documents is language which is consistent with the Government of Canada. Yikes! With Census 2021 launching in a few days, I hope the terminology has shifted, in particular for Indigenous Canadians and populations who do not identify themselves as White.
The current terms are Aboriginal (losing favour as the preferred term) and Visible Minority. Visible Minority could be replaced with terms such as Racialized Populations, Ethnicity, or other non-dominant coded language. Even if Census Canada doesn’t change their language, I would like to see the City of Calgary update demographic reporting with appropriate, sensitive, and modern terminology regardless of Stats Canada use. It is appropriate to then use notations to describe terminology and links when necessary for contextual information.
Further to understanding our population, what we lack knowledge about is our voter demographics. It is important to note that not all Calgarians over 18 are eligible to vote. (Another topic for another day.)
Calgary has no data on the demographics of voter turnout, not even notes on a gender split. This is problematic because how can we (Elections Calgary/The City of Calgary) appropriately target messaging about an election if we don’t know which voter groups are missing? This could be age, income, gender, or ethnicity. It could be home owner vs renter. We have data on voter turnout by area - but knowing if it’s low (or high) is not necessarily well understood.
At this point you might be wondering, why am I so passionate about demographics? Its not the demographics per se - but the data, or the lack of data, which interests me. Data is one part of the story but it paints a picture for us to start asking questions towards exploring solutions.
How do we improve democratic participation if we don’t understand who is and isn’t participating?
In the case of voters - I do think we need to be talking openly about who feels equipped to cast a vote. What means allow them access to information to make a decision? Which means allow them the ability to show up on election day? Do we need to (re)think where we have mobile polling stations? Do we need to (re)think where we place regular voting stations? Do we need to have better translation services?
I believe there needs to be a commitment to capturing voter demographics. This will likely not be realized for 2021 but it is certainly an initiative I would push for in future elections if elected.
Get outside - enjoy the weather! Have a little competitive fun with your family.
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.
Ward 11 has a broad range of neighbourhoods. From the still being built Quarry Park, or recently new Garrison Green, to established communities seeing transformation in housing types through zoning changes and, and those communities on the cusp of changes mostly centred around current commercial locations. This variance means amenities like playgrounds and transit stations are at different life cycle stages, some infrastructure is still to be built, and there are also utility considerations surrounding re-development.
This week, the Guidebook for Great Communities goes before the Planning and Urban Development (PUD) committee to be voted on to refer to council for a vote for adoption (March 2021). The Guidebook is a high level planning document which lays the groundwork for re-imagining the functions and form of our neighbourhoods.
I've been fortunate to be part of the working group to shape the Guidebook. I came to be on the group through my work as a community advocate in Haysboro on the planning committee and as president of the community association. To the group I brought the perspective of community members and advocated strongly for the use of language that was common - ie. not planner speak. I also know that there is much concern over how the guidebook can affect communities and specifically individual properties around zoning. This FAQ page answers many issues including the fact that the guidebook does not make a blanket zoning change in neighbourhoods.
I endorse the guidebook. In part because yes, I was on the working group, have been a part of multiple planning exercises for Haysboro and Ward 11, but also I see the the opportunity the guidebook affords us in thinking about some of the larger challenges established neighbourhoods face around aging infrastructure and amenities. The guidebook lays the framework for tools being created in the Established Areas working groups (which I'm also a part of) - this is the conversation on how dollars are invested into neighbourhoods when development happens. The guidebook also is the basis for a Local Area Plan - in which multiple communities actively work together to imagine the future. The guidebook by very nature set the stage for participatory planning, this is its greatest success.
Yes, it is an ambitious piece of policy that encourages densification. It also encourages local commercial integration into neighbourhoods so businesses can thrive. It demonstrates how commercial and residential can operate in tandem to create a vibrant sense of community. It makes space for thinking about the neighbourhood as a whole rather than individual lots - this leads to thinking about how green spaces, parks, libraries, schools, transit, and recreation amenities continue to stay viable and operational through a well populated residential strategy. This is as much about the future economy as it is about the future of how we can live sustainably in our neighbourhoods, flexing through housing types as our needs change throughout the years.
Currently, most Ward 11 communities are below peak population. Densification gets us our best return on investment for services - fire, police, snow clearing, transit, utility upgrades and delivery. I want neighbourhoods where schools aren't at risk of closure. I want residents to be able to operate a thriving local business in their community - restaurants, flower shops, massage studios. I want to be able to walk to get milk or a coffee. I want playgrounds to be upgraded not through fundraising but because there is a tax base which provides the City with the funds needed to take on upkeep.
I want you to know that I'm aware of the concerns many have. I am invested in supporting communities through planning. I believe that new residential units bring people coming to your community - neighbours, friends, volunteers, students, local business owners. People are what make communities, not buildings. Providing choice, space, and opportunity for many is what I support.
Be sure to thank the many volunteers who make winter activities possible for us. Most community rinks are volunteer led efforts as are many activities. And, if we've missed anything on the map, please let us know!