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Calgary downtown vision good, but limited resident input on action items, Downtown West prez says

Dr. Farnaz Sadeghpour said the conversations she’s had with the city on the downtown strategy involved big picture vision statements and they didn’t ask about specifics.

The draft Greater Downtown Plan was presented at the Planning and Urban Development (PUD) committee meeting Wednesday.

Sadeghpour is president of the Downtown West Community Association and a professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Calgary and she participated in some of the stakeholder engagement sessions. She said that they were asked about feedback on big picture ideas.

“They have spent 99 per cent of the time talking about things that are undeniable good words. We want lively streets and we want more green space. We like things that everybody would love,” she told LiveWire Calgary.

“I loved the big picture of everything they said.”

It was typical big picture speaking that you hear around many City of Calgary projects, she said. There was nothing really to discuss. Yes, they wanted these things. They loved the plan.

Big picture items in the City of Calgary engagement plan.

When it came to the specific “action” items in the downtown strategy, Sadeghpour said that many of those items came as a surprise. She referenced the 11 Avenue underpass improvements.

“Wait a minute, how did you come up with that? How did you come up with these action items,” she said.

“Now I want to be engaged. You’re working in my community; I would like to have the opportunity to give you feedback on what works in our community.”

Public engagement on the strategy

We did put in a follow up request after our original interview with Thom Mahler, manager of urban initiatives with the City of Calgary. Our request was to talk specifically about public engagement.

That request was made Monday and no return response was received prior to the PUD meeting.

Mahler did talk about public engagement during the presentation on Wednesday.

He said the plan was developed by a broad cross-corporate team. That was done after “extensive public engagement since 2018.” He directed councillors and the public to the full “What We Heard” report online.

There were more than 10,000 online viewers to the city’s strategy page and 1,000 pieces of feedback. He outlined workshops involving 355 people from 36 city departments and 18 external stakeholder groups.  Pop-up events were also held with feedback from 180 people, and a virtual event in January 2021 with more than 300 participants.

Here is a summary of the engagement.

“I have witnessed an incredible level of innovation, creativity and collaboration to deliver a plan that genuinely reflects a one city voice,” Mahler said.

Sadeghpour said she’s tried to pinpoint what specific projects would be done in her area. She said she’s had no luck and had been told to wait to see the final project presentation.

‘Gateway to the highway’

Sadeghpour said taxpayers in her area pay more than most per square metre compared with other communities in Calgary. They should have the ability to provide more specific input.

Downtown West projects.

Their area is a cross section of roads and rails, with few areas for residents to gather. There’s mention of changes to Shaw Millenium Park, but it’s not a community park.

There’s the small Bowforth Park would like to see the city acquire. They “borrow” it from the city’s real estate department. The city used it in their presentation, but it’s not included in the list of action items.

“If you’re serious about bringing vibrancy to the city and to the community and to the people who live downtown, I feel we have to listen to what people are actually using,” she said during Wednesday’s presentation.

She said people in the area want to see sidewalk improvements. Residents in the area have left because they can’t walk their families in the area. Older members of the community have limited mobility.

“I have a friend in a wheelchair that I cannot go for a stroll on downtown, because the sidewalks don’t work,” she said.

The vision is great. The principles are great, she said. But they aren’t taking into account the voices of the people who live there.

She’s worried as their area is being treated like “the gateway to the highway.”

“This is where people put their foot on the gas pedal and speed out,” she said.

Proposed recommended amendments from the Downtown West Community Association.