Calgary’s downtown commercial core isn’t often viewed as a bustling residential area.
Tall buildings in a concrete jungle; for many Calgarians, this is the heart of our city’s economy – not necessarily a community.
A quick bit of trivia: Calgary’s downtown commercial core is home to nearly 8,700 residents. What may surprise you even more is there’s been a 30 per cent growth in residents now living there compared with 2000. Even with the spike in downtown office vacancy, the population has stayed stable – or increased – since 2017.
While most of Calgary’s neighbourhoods are represented by the more than 150 community associations, the downtown commercial core is not.
That’s why one area resident, Paul Fairie, is looking at creating a working group to see if they need one.
With increased talk of office building conversions and creating a residential focus in the downtown, it’s an opportune time, Fairie said.
“I don’t even want to say my position is that we should definitely have one, but I would say that at least we should think about it,” he said.
One of two councillors representing the downtown area, Ward 7’s Druh Farrell, said given the downtown’s projected evolution, the formation of a community association is a great idea.
“We have thousands of people who live in the downtown core and they have been voiceless,” Farrell, who also spearheaded the creation of a downtown strategy, said.
“They don’t have an organization to speak for them.”
‘The right time would have been 20 years ago.”: Coun. Farrell
Farrell said that over the past two decades she’s been on council the city has struggled to engage people in the downtown commercial core.
“We’ve been meeting them where they’re at,” she said.
Whether it’s the Peace Bridge, Devonian Gardens or community-focused services for children, engagement been ad hoc, at best, Farrell said.
“It’s more challenging, simply because it’s a very large downtown and the residential is peppered throughout, with very little connective tissue to bring them together,” Farrell said.
Fairie said the idea started with an issue in his area back in November of 2019. He remembered thinking would be a good one to raise with a community association. He Googled a bit and then asked around and there wasn’t a CA to speak of.
Not only would it be a chance for the residents to speak collectively on issues, but also to create neighbourhood bonds, Fairie said.
“You look around Calgary and you see what community associations get up to; there’s the events and the public stuff but they’re the main vehicle for the city hall to engage residents on all sorts of issues,” he said.
“Certainly, friends of mine who are involved in their community associations – obviously not in downtown – talk about how it’s a great sort of venue to get to know your neighbours a little bit better.”
Next steps for a downtown CA
There’s a Downtown West Community Association, one for Eau Claire, Chinatown and East Village. There’s a strong community association in the Beltline to the south.
The downtown commercial core is surrounded by community associations. Yet, it has a population of at least two, if not three times the size of all, except the Beltline.
Fairie said he’s hoping to generate conversation on it more than anything.
“Step one is sort of waving the banner, saying, ‘hey, anybody want to talk about downtown as a place to live and whether or not we need something like a Community Association or maybe to join with a different Community Association, or maybe not have anything at all,’” he said.
He said if anything comes from those conversations, they can spend the rest of the spring and summer charting the course forward.
“I don’t really have a great sense of what everyone else thinks so it’s sort of this process to maybe root that out, see if there’s any enthusiasm,” Fairie said.
If you’re interested in joining the working group for a downtown commercial core community association, you can sign up here.