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Ten Years Together - Building Great Neighbourhoods

A Story of Building Great Neighbourhoods

Ten Years Together – Neighbourhoods

Calgary is a huge city, both in terms of geographic size, and because so much of the regional population lives within the city boundaries. That means that many people identify with their quadrant, their side of the river, or their neighbourhood. Back in 2005, as a volunteer for Imagine Calgary, I learned something very interesting.  When you asked people what kind of a neighbourhood they wanted to live in, they almost all said the same thing: “I want to live in a neighbourhood where I can walk to the store.  Where my kids can walk to school.  Where my parents can live nearby.  Where my kids can be with kids from all kinds of different families.”  So, that’s what I wrote in what became Calgary’s 100-year vision.

We are each connected to our communities. Whether social, cultural or physical, these communities are mixed, safe and just.

But I was left with a problem: if it was so clear what people wanted in their neighbourhoods, why weren’t we building those neighbourhoods?

For the last ten years, we’ve been trying to do exactly that.  Whether it’s new suburbs that look very different than those built a decade ago (they are much more walkable and much easier to serve by transit, for example), or bringing families back to inner city neighbourhoods, or helping existing suburbs think about how they can reinvent themselves, we are getting closer to a city of great and inspiring neighbourhoods.

The East Village is a great example.  When I was in high school, it was a place you just wouldn’t go.  15 years ago, almost all residents were low-income, and the seniors in those towers were afraid to go outside.  Many would only go to the laundry room in pairs.  Mayor Bronconnier and his team laid the groundwork for changing this, and I got to help make it happen.

Let’s talk to Brett Bergie, raising her son in the neighbourhood, something that would have been unthinkable a decade ago.

“Our building was built because of the intervention of City Hall to allow for more affordable units. It’s given us access to great amenities and being downtown as part of that central hub,” she says.

“We consider the neighbourhood to be an extension of our suite. My family and I love to cross the road and bring books with us, or colouring material in the case of my son, and go have coffee at the National Music Centre. It’s a beautiful building with beautiful architecture we get to access it for the price of coffee and a cookie.”

The East Village is a shiny showpiece, providing that postcard view of neighbourhood building.  

But this is happening across the city.  When I was in junior high, working the counter of my family’s laundromat on 17th Avenue SE, the City had been promising change and investment in that neighbourhood for decades, never following through.

Alison Karim-McSwiney, the executive director of the International Avenue Business Revitalization Zone offers this take.

“Twenty-four years ago, when I started in this role, The City was not putting any money into the area. So we took it upon ourselves to make our own plan. It was a redesign of the street and how it could develop, in a vision document. We did take it to the City, and I can tell you we were literally almost laughed out of city hall,” she recalls.

“But in In 2004/05, we partnered with the U of C and came up with an award-winning document that would use 17 Ave as a multi-modal boulevard, so people could walk safely and all sorts of transport options could be used on that street. It would enhance the experience and improve the businesses’ profitability.

The significant change was about 2013 when (The City) stood up to help east Calgary become what it always should have been, which is a shining jewel in the east. It was over 100 years in the making to get to where we are today.”

The City doesn’t do this alone.  We partner with thoughtful developers who take the risk and build the vision. Alkarim Devani of RNDSQR has built a very successful business that specializes in redevelopments in trendy parts of town.  But his heart is in a Greater Forest Lawn.

“My parents migrated here as refugees from Africa in the 1970s. They landed in Montreal when they first came over, but he heard there was work here, so they jumped on a train to Calgary. We grew up in the Forest Lawn/Dover area.”

He discusses finding ways to work with The City to meet its goals and targets for development, but also a larger, philosophical goal for the company.

“How do we start to backfill some of those gaps and look at the ideas of building complete communities, and enhance the public spaces in those types of communities?”

In April 2019, RNDSQR was announced as the development partner, along with the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, of the repurposing and redevelopment of the old David D. Oughton school site in the communities of Albert Park/Radisson Heights. He tells quite a story about his connection to the area.

“I’m humbled to get to come back and work on a site that could absolutely revitalize a part of this city that deserves it more than anywhere else. It’s hard to talk about, because I remember when my mum first told me when she first came to Canada, we had an older brother who ended up passing away from cancer when he was 4 years old. So my mom’s first experiences in this country was just trying to navigate the transit system to take her kid to the hospital for chemotherapy. My dad couldn’t really help, because he was working a day job and a night job.

“So when I talk about the opportunity for us to make a significant difference, this site hits close to home. It gave my parents a chance to grow as Calgarians when they first migrated over. There are so many things in that area that make me feel that it’s time we reinvest back into that community and give them what they deserve.”

We all deserve to live in safe neighbourhoods that inspire us and give us the platform we need to achieve our dreams.  And, luckily, Calgary is full of them.

Categories: Building Great Neighbourhoods

This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Mayor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.