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Opinion: Pitching suburban ‘family’ life sells Calgary short

This piece by Kourtney Branagan is a rebuttal to the Richard White CBC opinion piece: Calgary’s slogan should be ‘The Family Friendly City.’

I’ve never once thought that Calgary wasn’t a family-friendly city. I was raised here.

Nor did I attach it to the dwelling in which one lived.

Indeed, we’ve got a plethora of things many big cities have that appeal to children – the zoo, a science centre, recreation centres, playgrounds. These are excellent amenities for middle class and better families.

Before I go further, let me explain that I’m a parent of two elementary school girls who enjoy many aspects of our city – both paid and free. We do festivals and playgrounds, libraries and our backyard. But I’m going to check my privilege right there.

This also isn’t about a suburbs-versus-the-core conversation. The home I live in is one small measure I’d use in determining family-friendliness.

Remember, home is where you hang your hat.

Many factors affect Calgary’s ‘attraction’

What we’re really talking about is what kind of values our city embodies. As we look to diversify our economy towards tech and innovation, attracting those kinds of companies and recruiting that talent, our city needs to accommodate for a vast spectrum of individuals.

Not just those who yearn for a double front garage and a lawn to mow.

We’re recruiting talent globally and the idea of promoting a 1960s vision of life in suburban Canada isn’t going to cut it anymore.

We can talk in circles about the cost of living, including house prices and commute times. We can quantify these and benchmark against other cities. (For the record – We need to be adding full costs to the equation, not just the price of a house.)

But I’m going to challenge the notion that in any city, even Calgary, it’s not the things that we own that make our lives liveable or make us attractive to single adults or families alike.

Rather, it’s the people we associate with, the activities (adults and children alike can engage in. It’s how we find a sense of belonging and purpose. It’s a spirit and energy.

Do our neighbourhoods foster a sense of community? Do our employers promote a work-life balance that accommodates our time outside of work, be it outdoor pursuits, gaming, raising children, or all of it? Are we welcoming of diversity in family makeup? Are the events and activities in our city bringing together a variety of ethnocultural groups to promote diversity? How are we accommodating disabilities both seen and unseen? Better yet, how are we leading through inclusion?

More importantly, what are we doing that signals this to those considering a move to Calgary? Are we spreading a message that no matter your choice in house, mode of transportation, family style, that you are welcome in Calgary?

That’s how we should be marketing our great city.

Demand doesn’t currently reflect an overwhelming suburban desire

Focusing it on single-family homes with double lots is naïve at best, and only caters to a fraction of the potential market. Even BILD Calgary’s CEO said their industry realizes it needs to provide housing of all types to meet the market demand – and Calgary’s sustainability targets.

Further, the Calgary Real Estate Board’s 2019 Q2 and Q3 reports showed year-to-date declines in the purchase of single-family homes (detached), yet substantial growth in apartment, semi-detached and row housing sales.  

Let’s look at the start of 2020. There’s been an 18.55 per cent increase in apartment sales year-over-year comparing January 2019 with January 2020. Single family? Six per cent rise. Now tell me where there’s demand. February, though early, is already showing similar trends – though single-family sales are down.

But, are we really talking about houses as Calgary’s main attraction?

Selling Calgary is much more than housing

It takes all kinds of people colliding with ideas and dreams to grow a city. It also takes open hearts and open minds that are willing to adopt new points of view, let the status quo be challenged, and work towards a common goal of making a city that welcomes all people.

Yes, it takes work. Our city is ripe for change and a generation of investment through a unique perspective and a wickedly creative skillset. We have people investing in our communities through volunteerism. We have spectacular local businesses wanting to grow. We have an arts scene that won’t give up.

Cars and houses are not novel. Mindsets are.

Let’s put ourselves on the map with our bold embrace of innovation, investment into people and the public places that serve them, and the creativity to be leaders in policy that support an inclusive and equitable society where no Calgarian is left behind.

That’s the Calgary I want to live in.