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City Vital Signs up and down in 2021: Calgary Foundation

The Calgary Foundation’s latest 2021 vital signs report painted a complex picture of the past year for Calgarians.

Statistics like 30 per cent of Calgarians foresee moving from the city in the near future contrast with 88 per cent believe it is a good place for families to live.

The report was intended to highlight and present those contradictions, and to provoke conversations.

“The intent was always that it was a bit of fodder for conversation that you might take back to your workplace and say, ‘Did you know and where can we, you know, move the lever a little bit to have an impact,’” said Taylor Barrie, vice president of communications for the Calgary Foundation.

The outcomes from the annual reports have also helped guide the Calgary Foundation’s giving. Over the past year the foundation has granted $66.9 million to 1,105 different organizations.

Topics in this year’s report included quality of life, seniors, mental health, racism, and the pandemic.

Quality of life perceptions down generally, up for seniors

The majority of respondents, 64 per cent, believe that Calgary offers a good quality of life.

This is down from 2020’s 75 per cent. It was lower than the 69 per cent in 2019 and 75 per cent in 2018.

“That up and down is pretty normal,” said Barrie.

“I think that ebb and flow just kind of comes and goes depending on what’s happening in our city.”

Calgary has had a consistent belief in the quality of life being good. Although Barrie noted 64 per cent is the lowest they’ve seen in recent years.

The past three years have also seen a significant increase in the perception that Calgary is a good place for seniors. From a low of 44 per cent in 2019 to 70 per cent now.

The perception that Calgary is a good place for young people to live is even higher at 83 per cent and up to 88 per cent for families. Only 68 per cent of respondents thought the city was a good place to raise kids in 2019.

Young Calgarians can’t find support and plan on leaving Alberta

Overall nearly a third of respondents said they plan on leaving Calgary. Of those, 60 per cent under the age of 25 plan on leaving within five years. And 82 per cent plan on leaving Alberta.

The province has already seen its sharpest decline in inter-provincial migration since 2016 with a net loss of 9,179 Albertans in quarters one and two of this year, according to Statistics Canada.

“You’ve sort of heard that peripherally right in the last few months about young people leaving the city and the city getting a bit older in terms of average age,” said Barrie.

“So that was interesting to see that confirmed with the results.”

Half of Calgarians were worried about young people leaving the city.

“When I look at how young people especially don’t feel that sense of connection with their communities and their city, that’s very concerning,” said Barrie.

Only 28 per cent of respondents said they have a strong sense of belonging to Calgary.

Pandemic causes areas of concern

The Vital Signs report shows that many of these factors are pandemic related. Factors of concern included mental health, finding balance, and having sufficient health supports.

“I think a lot of that has really illustrated that many community members continue to be challenged by the pandemic,” she said.

A third of respondents said they have felt frequently stressed and frequently exhausted. Comparatively, this was 47 per cent for stress and 35 per cent for exhaustion for 18- to 24-year-olds.

Compounding what has been a devastating year in the opioid crisis for the province, 60 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds said they don’t have access to addiction services or support.

A total of 55 Albertans in that age range have died from opioids up to March of this year according to the province's substance use surveillance data.

Business and the arts looking up for the city

The report also highlighted the ways in which Calgarians saw their work environments change. Half of Calgary’s workforce worked from home most of the time, while only 12 per cent worked equally between the office and home.

According to Statistics Canada data, the Calgary census municipal area peaked for business closures at over 4,800 during 2020, but is now trending lower than in years past.

The arts have continued to be important for Calgarians. Two-thirds believed that the arts are important to creating a livable city. A majority of Calgarians also believe they have good or excellent access to the arts at 56 per cent.

Barrie saw the arts as a way to connect Calgarians back to their city.

“We're pretty clear that they feel strongly that the arts are a really important part of any city, and especially this city, and that [the arts] create a sense of belonging,” she said. 

“They help us appreciate other cultures. Calgarians still want art to be really accessible and affordable.”

Hundreds of demonstrators stood in front of city hall to send a message to elected officials to denounce the violence in the region that has been ongoing during May of this year. (OMAR SHERIF / LIVEWIRE CALGARY)

Political engagement and understanding up

Calgarians saw increases in both their comfort to engage in politics and their willingness to do so this year.

More than 77 per cent of respondents said they feel comfortable exercising their rights and freedoms. A full 20 per cent did that by engaging in human rights events, up from four per cent in 2020.

“You know, I think there's sort of a collective awakening right now as a country,” said Barrie. 

“They are feeling locally as well about understanding that racism exists in the city, and Calgarians acknowledge that and desire to dig into the real work of truth and reconciliation.”

Increasingly Calgarians are seeing those issues as important with 78 per cent having said they think it's important to learn about shared history from an Indigenous perspective.

Calgarians were less likely this year to believe that people from diverse backgrounds are accepted. A drop to 61 per cent in 2021 from 65 per cent in 2020.

Barrie said that reports like the Vital Signs help Calgarians view other beliefs and cultures.

“At a time when we're increasingly polarized, I think, if we can just start to acknowledge other perspectives exists and that, we're not really going to truly understand someone else's worldview unless we try to shift our perspective a bit.”

The full report is available at calgaryvitalsigns.ca.