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!
I imagined starting the year off with a message with a bit more joy and reflection on my 2020 that has brought me here. A celebration of sorts.
This past week of events in Calgary, Alberta, and across North America has me asking myself and wondering: what on earth I’m doing endeavoring to go into politics? Is this what I really want to be a part of?
The answer is no. I don’t want to be a part of any of what we’re currently watching - lying, rule breaking, entitlement, inciting division and hatred, and an abject failure to take responsibility.
I am horrified, disgusted, and saddened at the events that are playing out this week. These events will (and should) reverberate into the months and years ahead.
As I watch, I wonder how we can turn this around? How do we build trust again? How do we overcome the fear, fatigue, and loneliness so many are feeling leading to our collective distaste for government and the people who are elected and hired into positions of power?
Before the how, we need to ask why. Why is it important to us, to me, to want something different? Why are we afraid? Why are we tired of the current state of politics? Why do we feel alone?
The answer is either deeply complex but more likely, incredibly simple. I’m going to be critical and say those from across the political spectrum are collectively speaking words and using language which drives us into a deficit mindset: one of feeling alone and afraid. The words of those in power falsely create enemies of each other by implying nothing another does is ever good enough, talking about resources as if there’s a finite amount for only certain kinds of people, pointing to differences rather than commonalities. When this messaging is reinforced by all leaders regardless of political stripe, the void between us grows.
The result: we have adults who are so deeply hurting that rather than leaning into their families and communities for support, they lash out at strangers with verbal and physical violence. This is happening in person and to a horrific degree, online. We are broken and there is no spirit of leadership to work together, to overcome challenges through intentional conversation and action.
It is not lost on me that in a time where we are physically more isolated than ever, a time when we are sharing collective grief, missing friends, family, and community, we have been divided more than ever. In a time when we could have been united, when those who lead could have set aside politics in favour of humanity and humility, they didn’t. Covid has been a situation when we could have found more in common with each other than different.
The disconnect is obvious - even my children are confused. I say to my kids, you don’t have to like or agree with everyone, but you need to be kind.
So why am I running? I’m a human who can see hurt but also hope in others. I’m the optimist who recognizes that moving forward requires consensus built through a pragmatic and realistic approach. The need to embrace innovation, build community, and compromise has never been more urgent. The need for real truths, hard truths, and discomfort must be embraced with humility by those who lead and reflected in their language.
What does this sound like and look like?
Writing this allows me to reflect on my values and the values I’ve set out for this campaign. This allows you to hold me to account to practice that which I’d like to see.
I am hopeful for 2021. I know incredible people building community, building a resilient innovative future, and can’t wait to meet more of them throughout this campaign.