Falling in love with Calgary a little bit more

Post Date: Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Glenbow painting on the street
Adding a bit of purple to a Glenbow Museum
street art project
I write a monthly column in the Calgary Sun. Here is the full July story which appeared only in print which can now be read online at the Calgary Sun.

This has certainly been some week. It started with some out-of-town visitors, a very nice newlywed couple from Britain, and moved smoothly into Stampede craziness. While this is far from my first rodeo, it is in fact my first rodeo as your mayor (or, as one wag put it, "Cowboy-in-Chief") and it's been great to once again experience Calgary at its best.

(As for my favourite Stampede experiences, representing Calgarians to Their Royal Highnesses was a great honour, as was riding a horse in the parade. Even better were the Duke--and especially the Duchess--saying I looked good on my horse. However, the less said about the Doughnut Burger Incident, the better.)

But in the midst of the smiles and good times, there are some deeper lessons we can take from how we present our city to ourselves and to visitors this week.

A walk down Stephen Avenue on a sunny afternoon shows people enjoying their city--out in public, on patios, sitting on benches, listening to music. It is, in fact, the very picture of urban vibrancy. Of course, it's made all the better this week by the organizations, businesses, and thousands of volunteers helping us to enjoy the Calgary Stampede. How could anyone visiting this city not fall in love with it just a little bit? Or, in the case of we long-term Calgarians, fall in love a little bit more?

But let's break this down. What makes this scene work? We can't control the weather (City Council keeps turning down my proposal for a giant WeatherDome (tm)), but we can help influence some of the other factors.

First, the streets are safe, thanks to visible police patrols and a "broken windows" philosophy from government, the Calgary Downtown Association, and individual business owners and citizens who keep the place tidy, and clean up litter and unwanted graffiti.

There is far less visible homelessness than there once was, in part due to great strides made in the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness.

The public spaces are attractive. There are great flowers in the warmer months, and really terrific lighting in the winter. There is plenty of comfortable seating.

Music is everywhere from formal stages to a multitude of buskers. A program to reduce regulations and make it much easier for buskers to play and earn a living has meant a great increase in their numbers (and their talent!).

And then there are the patios themselves. There are 180 licensed patios in the Centre City, ranging from WEST's patio (600 person capacity, 15,000 sq ft) to a few chairs outside of a coffee shop. We've actively encouraged the creation of patios and continue to remove red tape to help businesses succeed and grow.

What's interesting about this is that it's really driven by private business, acting individually and collectively through their Business Revitalization Zone. But that government, acting for the citizens of Calgary, also has a role to play. We need to set expectations, create the infrastructure for business to succeed, and then get out of the way.

This really matters. Calgary is competing on a global stage now, and we need to ensure that the best people around the world want to move here, invest here, start businesses here, and raise families here.

Certainly, we have to be efficient. We have to get snow off the roads, and pick up the garbage, and supply clean water, and have police and fire and 911 looking after us, and we have to do it all at a fair price in taxes and fees.

But these are just tickets to the game. We also have to have a winning team on the field, and this means having an attractive city where people want to live. That means building on what really works and having even greater urban vibrancy.

I've got some visitors from out of town this weekend. They've never been to Calgary before. I'm taking them out to a patio for dinner, showing them the Stampede, sending them to do a long run on the East Calgary Greenway, and taking a raft trip down the river.

Want to bet they won't want to leave?

- Mayor Naheed Nenshi