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Vivacity showcase tackles the experience of newcomers to Calgary

The student projects are on display at the Central Library in downtown Calgary.

When Katie Saxon and her Vivacity teammates dove into the topic of newcomers arriving in Calgary, they wanted to look into the lack of resources.

They actually found there are plenty of newcomer resources. So, instead, they focused on barriers to accessing to those resources.

It’s all part of the 19-student Vivacity showcase set up at the Central Library in downtown Calgary. Students in the Vivacity class come together from several post-secondary schools in Calgary with a focus on ways of making the city a better place to live.

The showcase is the culmination of that work, including the results of citizen experiments.

Saxon’s group found that while there may be a lot of resources, there’s no streamlined way to access them. One barrier that stood out was access to health care services.

“There’s not much diversity within the health care services such as mental health care, which is an area that can be improved,” she said.

Kirstyn Valentine, another student in the program, said her group set out to find out more about what makes newcomers feel a sense of belonging. She said their idea encompassed some of the barriers explored in other student projects.

“When you can’t access these things, and you can’t find jobs, and you can’t go to class and you can’t speak the same language and you can’t find places that offer you the same food that you want, that you just don’t feel like you belong in the city,” she said.

They wanted to determine if belonging was a place or a feeling.

“It was really something where Calgary easily has the ability to make everyone feel like they belong here,” Valentine said.

“We wanted to kind of pinpoint on where we can increase that and how we can really include everyone into the city instead of making people feel like they don’t belong in a space.”

Tackling civic issues

Catherine Pearl, associate professor at Mount Royal University, said this program has been ongoing since 2017. Back then, they examined empty office space in the downtown. Since that time, they’ve looked at the millennial brain drain, the light in the downtown, the creative economy and tech for good.

This year, it was newcomer experience when coming to Calgary. 

Calgary expects to add more than 88,000 people by 2026 – mostly through the growth of newcomers to the city.

“The numbers are incredible in terms of who’s coming to Calgary and the infrastructure is not necessarily there,” Pearl said.

This year, there are students from a variety of disciplines: Social work, information technology, design, arts, innovation and biology.

“The groups work with individuals that they probably have never worked with before and be from a very different background, which makes their experiments kind of interesting,” she said.

The students had to research their topic and then create a citizen experiment that examines their topic area. Displays of each topic are at the Central Library.

Pearl said that for many students the greatest outcome is awareness. Especially for those students who aren’t newcomers.

Admittedly, neither Saxon nor Valentine were newcomers. The experience was eye-opening for them.

Valentine said with two newcomers in her group, she felt it was hard to contribute because she had no lived experience.

“It was really an eye-opener to have my other group members just spilling as much as they could onto this page,” she said.

“They were like, ‘I’ve gone through this, I’ve gone through this, I’ve gone through this and it was just a huge shock to me.”