Inclusivity is the heart of Sunalta

Many Calgarians have struggled financially and emotionally during the pandemic. For some, the pandemic has only intensified a reality of unstable employment, food security, isolation, and the struggle to make ends meet. These challenges are often compounded for new Canadians and refugees settling into a new country and seeking the comfort of a community.

But what if things could be different? What if isolated Calgarians had access to a free community, commercial kitchen to start up a baking business? A place where they could batch cook meals and meet their neighbours? A plot in a community garden to grow their ingredients and share gardening tips?

These are just some of the innovative ideas that are part of the Sunalta Community Hub project.

In 2017, Sunalta was selected as one of six communities to be a part of the Community Hubs Initiative, a partnership between The City of Calgary, the United Way of Calgary and Area, and the Rotary Club of Calgary. The Community Hubs Initiative aims to create strong, supportive, inclusive communities where everyone can access required services and supports. The Initiative was able to provide $1.25 million in funding over five years (2017-2021) that was used to fund community engagement, the business and feasibility plans, and scoping reports, among others.

“We learned a lot about food scarcity and the feeling of isolation in the neighborhood through our year-long community engagement process,” says Jenn Balderson, executive director at the Sunalta Community Association.

Inner-city Sunalta sees growth, density, and development as a critical part of its future. Sunalta is a neighbourhood where one in four residents live in poverty, 25 per cent are newcomers (27 per cent of which came to Canada as refugees), and over 34 per cent live alone – which is three times the city average. It is also a neighbourhood where residents self-report being isolated and food insecure.

The Hub envisions a “community living room” that will deliver programming to residents and businesses, as well as act as a social enterprise, generating income that will flow back into the community. The inclusive Hub aims to be economically self-sustaining with a focus on creating opportunities for employment, training, and community service delivery. 

“We're really excited about what the commercial kitchen is going to allow us to do – create community connections and then provide food for folks who are hungry,” continues Jenn. “We envision being able to use cooking classes as a way to celebrate different cultural foods and cultural practices, and also to be able to teach people skills to cook for themselves. And renting the kitchen to others can generate the revenue we need to fund our charitable work, but then it can also help us meet food security challenges.”

In addition to a commercial kitchen, a coffee shop, an expanded community facility, and outdoor sports amenities, the Hub will also provide more options for gardeners, including plans for a rooftop greenhouse.

“Right now we have three community gardens for residents to enjoy. The first is a plot-based garden where individuals, households, or a group of folks garden their plot on their own,” explains Jenn. “We also have a communal garden that is gardened and harvested collectively and has a greater educational component to it. And lastly, we have the wildflower garden that is full of plants native to Alberta and a medicinal garden bed for learning about traditional Indigenous medicinal uses.”

Recently, the Sunalta Community Association received a $2 million contribution from The City of Calgary’s Established Area Investment Fund, part of the Established Area Growth and Change Strategy. The Established Area Investment Fund provides funding for public realm projects that support growth and change happening in established areas like Sunalta and is supporting 13 public realm projects that are undergoing engagement, design, and construction in 2021 and 2022.

“We will have a lot to celebrate this year. This funding is enabling us to be innovative in our approach to solving challenges specific to Sunalta,” says Jenn. “I am so thrilled that we've raised an additional $1.6M for the project, thanks to the Calgary Foundation ($600,000K) and the Province’s Community Facility Enhancement Program ($1M). We've also received a lot of support from individual residents and our local businesses that are excited about this project and what it's going to bring to our community.”

With this recent funding, the Sunalta Community Association will go to tender this fall with the groundbreaking for the new Green Globes certified building planned for 2023.

Learn more at sunalta.net/imagine

Did you know?

The “public realm” is publicly owned places and spaces that belong to and are accessible by everyone? It includes places and spaces like roads, sidewalks, parks, plazas, pathways, and community buildings.

Established Area Investment Fund

Between 2021 and 2023, $30M is being invested in 15 public realm improvement projects, across 17 communities.

Public realm improvements supported are different in each community, to meet their unique needs as they grow and change.

Making it safer and easier for people to travel through the community, whether they are walking, wheeling, or driving.

Updating and improving parks and public spaces to best meet the needs of current and future residents and businesses.

Calgary.ca/establishedarea

Categories: Community, Established areas