Derek Williams said after hearing people talk about some of the challenges in Calgary, it was time to be a part of changing it.
That’s why the long-time hospitality industry professional has put his name forward to run in Calgary’s Ward 7. It’s a seat with seven current candidates to replace Druh Farrell, who announced she wouldn’t run earlier this year.
“I felt like this was the time to run for myself because if you’re sick and tired and stuff, if you want to make change, you have to go out and do it,” he said.
“You can’t just sit idly by and wait for somebody else to enact the change that you want for your community in your city.”
Williams said he’s become more interested in how the city’s been shaped over the past decade.
It was an experience during the Bowness revitalization effort that really made Williams stand up and take notice. When work is done in a neighbourhood and citizens have concerns, who’s there to stand up for them, Williams asked.
He talked to some former politicians, local business leaders and community members and that got the ball rolling.
“Those first couple steps are baby steps and then those first couple baby steps move into some big giant leaps,” he said.
“So here we are today.”
Downtown revitalization a top issue
Williams said making the downtown a vibrant place should be high on the city’s to do list. He said while some wonder why there’s such an effort put towards the recent downtown strategy, Williams said it’s pretty straightforward.
The downtown’s success impacts the entire city. He’s hoping to be a part of attracting new businesses and industries to the core, but also have a sustainable community for those businesses to flourish.
He also said that residents in Ward 7 are have a stake in the city’s planning efforts. Williams said there’s worry that the city isn’t listening to residents as it goes about some of the rezoning in the area.
“I think that there is an opportunity for the city to do a little bit more listening to residents,” he said.
“I think the city just needs to be a little more transparent in decisions when it comes to community revitalization and building. Zoning, I think, is a really big issue in the inner city communities.”
Green light for Green Line, arena
Williams said he’s typically not for having public dollars sunk into a private deal. In this case, he’s not looking at the Events Centre as a hockey rink, per se.
He sees the potential of the entire area’s redevelopment as the big win for the city of Calgary. He understands where the opposition comes from, but feels a majority of Calgarians see that bigger picture.
“The revitalization and the impact that will have not only the downtown community, but our city in general, makes the arena deal a viable one,” he said.
As for the Green Line, Williams said this is a project that should have been in place 20 years ago.
“That train is long overdue,” he said.
He pointed to the number 3 bus route and how busy the bus loop is in Beddington carrying thousands of passengers daily.
Williams said transportation and transit is one of the top ways to help move Calgary’s economy forward. He believes many of those against the Green Line construction are people who don’t rely on it in their daily lives.
“They don’t see the people that use a train every day to get to work, they get to school, that get childcare taken care of, get services done, take it to the registry, all those certain things,” he said.
Williams lives in an inner-city community. He’s behind seeing their responsible densification and revitalization.
“It doesn’t harm the neighbourhood. It moves it forward and brings younger families in, it increases property values,” he said.
There’s fear, especially around the recently discussed Guide for Local Area Plans, that the R1 and R2 areas are going to be wiped out in favour of 12-storey condos.
He said these are plans for the future. As long as neighbourhood character can be preserved, historic homes or tear down trees, neighbourhoods should grow and evolve.
Williams said Calgary isn’t very dense at all when compared with other major cities. Sure, the lots have gotten smaller, but he said he doesn’t hear his own neighbours.
“It’s important to hear all those voices, and to really represent the majority of voices in your community,” he said.
“Like I said before, I think the vocal people in a lot of these decisions might not necessarily be the majority.”
On the right track
Generally speaking, Williams thinks the city’s moving in the right direction.
He said now is the time to invest for the future to ensure Calgary doesn’t take a step backward. The investments must be targeted and responsible.
“If it makes sense for the future for building a great city, like we all know Calgary can be, I think that we need to invest in infrastructure, and social programs,” he said.
One area the city could do more is in affordable housing. He pointed to a stat that Calgary still lags major cities in affordable housing stock. Williams believes the sooner this is addressed, there will be a domino effect. It will help Calgary get a handle on other problems like crime and addiction.
Williams wants to see action. He thinks many Calgarians do.
He’s heard residents talk about how they’re tired of politicians working their own agendas and not listening to the people.
“Well, then they should stop voting for those kind of politicians. Politicians that don’t represent the community as a whole, they represent special interests or unions, people that have quiet donors,” he said.
“I think that they need to elect people that talk to them and that they want to be engaged in the community, and that’s exactly what I plan on being.”