Calgary’s downtown safety leadership table has finally met after three months of nailing down logistics and their committee selection.
Now, they said they’re ready to start putting ideas into action.
The task force was first announced on July 5 by Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek, with Calgary Downtown Association executive director Mark Garner and Inn from the Cold’s executive director Heather Morley taking on the co-chair duties. At that time, it was thought to be a 120-day endeavour to find strategic ways to improve safety in Calgary’s downtown.
Ninety days in, in their first official sit down with Calgary media, Morley and Garner outlined the group’s plans as the clock officially starts counting down now on their 120 days.
To start, they’ve announced committee members, including:
- CPS Supt. Scott Boyd
- Brett Bergie
- Jay Islam
- Clare LePan
- Katelyn Lucas
“It’s been trying to find the appropriate partners to be at the table that represent the various sectors that are connected to the issues at a very street-based level,” said Garner.
Morley said the selection process was important, and they balanced not being too broad and cumbersome, with one that could be responsive to what’s happening in downtown Calgary.
“What you see before you is a smaller group comprised of people; they’re all stakeholders in the issues in downtown Calgary, so they all either work and, or live in downtown,” Morley said.
While the list is lacking specific neighbourhood representation, both Garner and Morley said they would be hearing from various communities that make up the greater downtown Calgary area.
Calgary’s downtown situation has evolved – and deteriorated from a safety and vitality perspective – since the economic downturn in 2015. The issue was further compounded as the remaining workers coming to the downtown largely abandoned the core during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Those things, and the confluence of economic hardship faced across the spectrum, created a further breeding ground for social disorder and crime.
Moving forward on downtown safety
Morley said that now that the team is in place and their logistics are nailed down – they will be meeting every other week on Thursday mornings – it’s time for action.
“We don’t want to be a table that is too long-lived and bloated,” she said.
“We want to be a table that takes in the information and then is able to produce the recommendations as quickly as possible.”
The plan is to have a set of final recommendations by January, but Morley said that doesn’t mean they won’t be putting things into motion before then. The safety table will propose recommendations to the city but will operate independently of it.
“We heard nothing about an approval process in between. In fact, we’ve talked about the importance of us having that autonomous voice,” Morley said.
The City of Calgary is looking at its Public Transit Safety Strategy, and it recently approved a new housing strategy. Garner sees the work this group is doing as complementary to those actions already underway.
“There’s some immediate things that we need to address, we can deal with what I’ve always referred to as the perception of safety issues. So, cleanliness, more banners, more activations,” he said.
“Then there’s the longer term. That’s what we’ll identify is, what can the city do now to improve the experience? Then how does it feed to sort of the mid-term and longer-term initiatives.”
Garner said they hope to use the various data collected – not only by the Calgary Downtown Association but through all the potential stakeholders, like police, fire, transit and others – to help inform their recommendations. Further, he wants a comprehensive, coordinated data strategy to be one of the recommendations that comes from the safety table.
Long live the safety table?
While Morley said she didn’t expect this safety table to be too long-lived, there’s an aspect of this that can – and should – survive beyond the safety table’s recommendations. She said she sees this table as a catalyst for an ongoing conversation about safety in the downtown.
It could become particularly important as the City of Calgary continues its push to populate the downtown with more residents rather than office workers.
“I think we’ve moved into uncharted territory, where safety does need to be first and foremost on the city’s agenda and all the stakeholders involved,” she said.
Garner said he sees this as an opportunity to use the information they gain, and the recommendations they come up with, to advocate for future support for safety endeavours in Calgary and other Canadian cities.
“I think the main theme that you’re going to see is the federal government has got the cash, the provinces got the jurisdiction, and the municipalities got the problem,” Garner said.
“It’s got to be bottom up to tell what the problems are and make sure that all three levels of government are working together in a way that they’ve never worked together before. That’s going to be a big advocacy piece that comes out of this.”