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Calgary planning: Mistakes and missed opportunities – Part 5 – Social housing

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There are some mistakes made in every city in North America that came of age in the middle of the 20th Century. Things like segregated land-use and zoning (i.e. building residential here and industrial there), the design of suburban communities and abandoning transit in favour of auto-oriented development.  

Over the past several months I have had conversations with Art Froese (Planning Director 1983 to 1988), Bob Holmes (Planning Commissioner, 1988 to 2001), Richard Parker (City planner from 1974 to 2003, Director of Planning from 1988 to 2003) and Barry Lester (private sector engineer in Calgary since 1978), as well as several other architects, engineers, planners and developers who have played a role in shaping our City. 

RELATED: Calgary planning: Mistakes and missed opportunities – Urban renewal

MMI – Part 2University of Calgary / Foothills Medical Centre

MMI – Part 4 – Roadway network, LRT

Social housing part of Calgary

Froese thinks the decision “in the middle of the 20th Century, to locating most of its social services and low-end housing in the older east side communities where land was cheap and locals didn’t want to live anymore, was a huge mistake.”

East Village became home to the Booth Centre, Salvation Army Centre of Hope, the Drop-in Centre and the four large apartment blocks for low income, hard-to-house seniors.  The east end of the Beltline became home to Alpha House and the Mustard Seed. 

Parker noted, “East Village was mostly an industrial area at the time. Fort Calgary didn’t exist, it was the CN Rail yards until the City bought it. It was different time, everyone thought differently about urban planning, homeless, housing and social services.” 

In addition, much of Calgary’s low-cost family housing built in the ‘60s and ‘70s was concentrated east of the Deerfoot in the communities of Penbrooke and Forest Lawn.    

Collectively, these decisions created an image of Calgary’s east side, north of Peigan Trail, as a less desirable place to live, something that lingered into the 21st century. 

How spreading the affordable housing helped

It could be argued the lack of social housing in northwest and southwest quadrants has resulted in some of the strongest that exists in Calgary today. 

In Wildwood (main photo above), the development team met with the community 24 times to try and get their support for an affordable housing project on Bow Trail. It met all of the city’s guidelines for an infill on the site and still the community opposed the project when it went to city council. 

The site was started in May 2017 and completed in October 2018. It has 48 suites dedicated to provide housing for people with lower income.

Today it’s a very attractive complex that nobody would know is an affordable housing project.