Mayor Naheed Nenshi spoke at an open forum in front of a friendly but focused crowd at the Unitarian Church of Calgary this afternoon. He arrived without fanfare, and precisely on time, wasted very little time getting organized. He was casually dressed, in blue jeans, a white shirt and brown sports coat. Mr. Nenshi promptly and unceramoniously sat himself down right on stage steps in front of the crowd of a couple of hundred to adjust his microphone before getting up to speak. He was composed and relaxed, and spoke without pretense. Many times he had the crowd laughing with his quick wit and delightful sense of humour which he called upon frequently to lighten up the occasion. I was able to capture some candid photos during the final moments before his departure.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi anwering serious questions from concerned citizens - Barry Wilkinson looks on
His presentation, "Looking at Calgary's Past and Visioning Calgary's Future" was relevant and informative, followed by a question and answer period. This transcription of the event is intended as reference and is not written verbatim, but to the best of my ability, I tried to capture the precedings in his own words.
How cities and communities work, Calgary's physical growth utilizing map references from the Saturdays Calgary Herald newspaper. New communities are being built on the outskirts. Starter homes under 400K. The City of Calgary has been working with developers building communities for different income levels rather than working towards the integration and creation of diverse communities within the communities we already have.
Observations of Calgary in Naheed-time
- Population of Calgary in 1994 - 738,000
- Population of Calgary today 1,182,500
This rapid growth has caused increase congestion and there has not been enough infrastructure upgrades to keep up with this growth. For example, Calgary has increased C-trains from 31 to 37 during this period.
- East village has gone nowhere in spite of years of promises.
- Homeless has increased from 450 in '94 to an astounding 4060 in 2008.
- Calgary's image is changing from that of a Big small-city to small big-city.
- When we look at the larger centres like Los Angeles, California, and Curitiba, Brazil, 85% and 75% of the populations respectively, utilize public transit whereas our numbers are dismal.
The Evolution of Calgary
Ethnicity maps show non-whites are congregating in the NE. Especially Coral Springs in '96. In 2006 ethnicities have increased numbers throughout the city but are still far more concentrated in the NE. There is a practice of real estate agents to REDLINE which is steering clients to a particular area based on names or ethnicity. This causes a high risk of "ghettoization", and the practice has been confirmed using bait buyers.
Children were evenly distributed across the city in 1996. Now, it is the outlying areas of the city which have more young families. Kids are not where the schools are, and so services are replicated which is very costly. The city will be building new recreation centers. Some of this is politically motivated.
Seniors over 65 in 2001 were centrally located, and now they are moving outward. Based on income levels in 2006, the high income areas are moving into the city centre, where the average household income now averages over 800K.
Crimes against people are scattered evenly around the city regardless of income. Nenshi suggests diversity in neighborhoods is a key building block for health communities.
We are connected to our communities. Whether social, cultural or physical, these communities are mixed, safe and just. They welcome meaningful participation from everyone, and people move freely between them
Some time ago his volunteers took a poll asking "Why did you choose where you live?"
Young people liked certain vibes, diverse, intersections of the world, neighborhoods that do not threaten their identity, where they want to engage in new experiences, forcing re-examination of self, and help foster innovation. Immigrant and ethnic presence are welcomed, as are the basic simple needs identified for survival such as safety, schools, and amenities.
ACHIEVING A GREAT CITY
How do we do it?
- Fight urban sprawl
- Create a new transportation strategy
- Improve human potential and social inclusion maximizing the benefits of immigration tuning up the economic development fostering creativity and culture Building great universities increasing civic engagement
- The challenge is to engage young people to become involved in the problem solving process.
- RECREATIONAL FACULITIES - Within the city are not keeping pace to the demand. Nenshi wants to ensure that we all take an active role in invest in our communities.
Then he gave us our homework!
Mayor Nenshi challenged those present , starting today and within the next few days, encourage others to become involved at a higher level in their communities and democratic processes at all levels. Create opportunities to share, and notify his office. Some of the stories will be featured over the next several months.
QUESTION AND ANSWER PERIOD FOLLOWING THE PRESENTATION
Question: Calgary Centre for Global communities speaker giving thanks for all the good work he has doen for the city to date.
Response: He does what he can but it requires the input from everyone.
Question: Larry Leach thanked Mayor Nenshi for walking the walk.
Answer: The city has not been doing a good job of representing the citizens preferring political maneuvering. Even when consensus is given they have not been implementing good ideas because there has been no accountability or perspective. Mayor Nenshi encourages citizens to keep communications open to politicians.
Queston: There are discriminatory practices in professional fields not being allowed to work in their professions.
Answer: This is a complete waste of human potential. Don't blame federal, provincial or civic bodies. We all need to step up and voice these types of concerns to raise awareness.
Question: Developers are giving people what there is a demand for.
Answer: I am a big proponent of choice, that being said, in the case of making choices, there needs to be regulation to ensure that neighborhoods offer free market choices and not limit available options. Also making choices based on the best information available and not what is just presented.
Question: Will a living wage come up as a possibility?
Answer: Living wage net impact policy was a bad policy. I wasn't satisfied with the analysis that was presented. Non profits were telling me that if the policy was implemented, they could no longer afford to hire.
Question: Increasing police presence, including cameras, why is it happening? The asker feels that people are unhappy about this. It appears to be an effort to control people economically rather than by necessity.
Answer: The statement is too harsh. The police are the largest single department. We may feel like a police state but we are very far from it. Calgary is a safe city categorically. We need to ensure that communities are safe by design. The Calgary Police are an important part of it. We are blessed with an outstanding police force with many challenges. The police are trained to deal with many types of people, and they need to ensure that they are helping the community to live better lives. Perception is reality, so it's important to ensure that the streets are kept safe. Recent changes have made an enormous difference. Nenshi feels that the police department was very cooperative in providing reduced budget on request of city council.
Question: Housing Choices; Bernie Amell; Feels that there is not enough choices available to the consumer, young families etc. In particular single family homes are about the only option available to them. Wants to know why the city isn't doing more to encourage more cooperative alternatives by providing financial assistance and options.
Answer: It is hard for the city to look outside of the box, sometimes taking up to 7 years to get a new idea put through. Your proposal is news to me and I would like to hear more. Please send me more information so I can have a look at it.
Question: With respect to the C-train, Why aren't there more buses running to the C-train stations as it is very difficult to commute
Answer: Starting March there will be significantly improved service on a number of routes. The city is trying to build up express buses. They are looking a lot at this, including express busses to the airport. This is an important area to him and they should notify 311 and let them know specific areas of concern.
Question: I share the walkable communities vision but how will it work for central and new developments. How about the older communities?
Answer: There is a donut around the city as the city grew outward. Changes require mind shift changes by the people living in those areas. In 2005 more than 80% of neighborhoods lost populations. Older communities have opportunities now for younger families but they need to be reasonably cost effective. We need to look at reworking our existing communities and in particular the legalization of secondary suites. The stature of community associations is unique in Calgary, but there is some powerful associations which do not reflect the residents. Make sure that you check this out by attending meetings and participating.
Question: Rumor has it that credit cards are coming but what about debit cards? What are they doing to attract more C-train riders?
Answer: Yes, there are plans to increase availability to more riders by offering more payment options, In addition, increased service, improving the experience, investment in signage and fair payment options. Planning for mid 2011, we intend to have electronic signs at bus stops to notify when the next bus is coming. These signs are GPS equipped. There is smart card technology coming as well. He is unsure if the new ticket machines will give change.
Question: Do you see Calgary playing a larger role on the world scene?
Answer: I am focused on making Calgary a better place for Calgarians, and if the end result is that we will make a difference on a global level and that would be great. Calgary is a good example of how positive change can and does make a huge difference. Let Calgary serve as a model to the world so we can all learn from each other.
Larry Leach banters with Mayor Naheed Nenshi
Mayor Nenshi then thanked everyone for attending a and did not rush off, allowing people to question him personally, shake his hand and even sign autographs, for as long as was required. What a refreshing change this is and certainly a first in my recollection, for any politician!