MBA students envision Safewalk program in Calgary downtown core

Reported Downtown social disorder on the rise, while feeling of safety among Calgarians falls

Calgary Police Service members respond to an incident in downtown Calgary on Saturday, December 11, 2021. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

A group of University of Calgary accelerated MBA students is looking at bringing a Safewalk program to the downtown core.

The group focused in on downtown core safety as part of their entrepreneurial thinking class. They identified that not all Calgarians feel safe walking through the core.

“There’s an obvious need here—people are feeling uncomfortable,” said Ryan Foulkes, one of the group’s members.

The idea began after Ranjita Sunuwar, another one of the group’s members, brought up that people working downtown, like her, don’t always feel safe at night.

“Pre-pandemic, and post-pandemic, I feel like people are more like scared now versus before when downtown used to be more lively,” she said.

The University of Calgary offers Safewalk to students, staff, and visitors to their downtown campus locations. But this service is only available within campus boundaries for insurance reasons. Safewalk programs provide a person a safe escort when walking from one location to another.

The group’s survey found that 81 per cent of respondents sometimes felt unsafe walking alone downtown.

They’re now looking for additional feedback at SafeWalkCalgary@Outlook.com to see if Calgarians would use a downtown Safewalk service.

Social disorder in downtown Calgary

According to the City of Calgary, there has been a steady rise in social disorder encountered by their corporate security team. They said that their partner agencies have also reported similar rises in social disorder downtown.

They included an increasing number of overdoses attended to by City of Calgary Corporate Security Staff.

Foulkes said that one of the challenges the MBA students faced is the gap between reported incidents and people who have not reported feeling uncomfortable.

"So that perception is actually the key. The fact that people can perceive risk, whether or not they actually experienced something, that discomfort is still very real," he said.

Group member Philip Turnbull said that when the group examined the perception of safety trends across the county, the overall perception was that safety was diminishing.

In 2019, a City of Calgary survey on attitudes of Calgarians who lived in the city centre showed that 32 per cent believed safety had worsened.

Safewalk programs have been widely implemented at universities and colleges across the country.

In Calgary, in addition to the University of Calgary, Mount Royal University, and SAIT have Safewalk programs.

Lethbridge and Winnipeg are among the Canadian cities that have implemented Safewalk programs within their downtown areas.

Taking steps towards a downtown Safewalk

The team has now finished their MBA class on entrepreneurial thinking. They still see a gap in the marketplace that could be filled.

"You know, talking about it as a team, we all kind of agree that this is a real problem and there's something that could be done here. It's just a matter of figuring out the time and how you move that business model forward," said Turnbull.

Their survey performed as part of the class also identified that respondents had negative feelings towards a pay-for-walk model. For that reason, they are looking at creating a non-profit social enterprise structure.

They've looked at both donation and government grant models as well.

"If we were going to make it a reality, we're going to make it a pay-what-you-want thing, so we will get donations from actual users if they wanted to pay," said Sunuwar.

They are also looking to see if organizations would be willing to partner with them on the idea.

"If there were interest from other not-for-profits, or from the government, it would certainly help us kind of organize an approach or find some kind of structure that we could use to implement it," said Foulkes.

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