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Fall Calgary survey: Citizens are mostly content, but worry about housing, safety, and the future

While three-quarters of surveyed Calgarians believed the city is a great place to live, public safety and housing affordability are significant issues to them.

Further, the lowest number of Calgarians in five years say Calgary is moving in the right direction to ensure “a high quality of life for future generations.”

Those were some of the insights included in the City of Calgary’s 2023 fall benchmarking survey results package, delivered during the Oct. 17 regular meeting of council. The City of Calgary produces spring and fall survey results after interviews with Calgarians (done from Aug. 2 to Sept.4).

This telephone survey of 2,500 people was done using both landlines and cell phones to obtain a random and statistically representative sample of Calgarians. The margin of error for a sample of this size is +/- two per cent, 19 times out of 20. SURVEY RESULTS BELOW.

“Calgarians are navigating significant and interrelated economic and social pressures. They are seeking safety and security and are grappling with worries about the cost of living and the preservation of their quality of life,” said Krista Ring with the City of Calgary.

“In this environment, we will expect to see some declines in our numbers and our success can be seen in maintaining some of our key metrics.”

In the results, 94 per cent of Calgarians indicated that housing affordability was an issue, with 72 saying it was a significant issue. Further, affordable housing was also a concern, with 88 per cent marking it as an issue, with 66 per cent rating it significant.

Calgary rents have jumped by more than 20 per cent year-over-year, according to groups tracking those numbers. The benchmark price of a typical single-family detached home was $696,100, according to the Calgary Real Estate Board’s September report.  

Ring said later that the high ranking of housing affordability marked a significant shift for Calgarians, who have perenially ranked infrastructure, traffic and roads as their number one issue.

“The question itself is meant to be open-ended. So it’s not leading in any way and it’s really meant to capture what’s top of mind,” she said.

“Not since 2008 has that top issue been anything other than infrastructure, traffic and roads, so it is very significant.”

Perception and reality

On the public safety side, 56 per cent agree that Calgary is safe for residents and visitors. Nearly half believe crime has increased in their neighbourhood over the past three years. One in three believe that Calgary Transit is safe for all users.

Nine in 10 believe the City of Calgary should be doing more to address safety issues in the downtown, and only four in 10 believe the city is doing a good job of addressing those issues.

Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said that she was worried that perception of safety is the story instead of the data. She questioned how they could communicate the actual data on safety better to citizens.

Ring said it was a challenge as one-in-three Calgarians gets their information from social media. She said that makes it very difficult to control perceptions. They’re working on several measures to better communicate to Calgarians what actions the City of Calgary is taking.

“I absolutely think that our perceptions need to be considered and balanced with the hard data and it is important also to recognize that the perceptions of Calgarians are their reality,” Ring said.

Penner said it’s a “battle of the airwaves.” Getting the data out there to dispel public perception is important, she said.

“We're taking all these safety measures to make things safe and Calgarians are reflecting back to us, like it's still not good enough,” Penner said.

“What I see is we have a crisis of community. We have people who are unwilling to take care of each other and showing up on our data, that people, for a variety of reasons, are feeling unsafe because we're simply not taking care of each other because we're simply not extending grace and kindness and compassion.”

The future of Calgary

While in recent years survey respondents have been in favour of property tax increases to expand or maintain services, the fall results reflect a change in tone.  Forty-five per cent of citizens indicated a desire to increase taxes to pay for more services, and an equal number wanted services cut to maintain tax levels or cut further to reduce taxes.

“They both feel economic pressure and value and want investment in the service the city provided with each proposed solution being almost equally supported,” said Ring.

“There was no clear direction from Calgarians.”

Future-wise, the City of Calgary matched a three-year low in sentiment that the city is on track to be a better city 10 years from now. Still, seven in 10 believe it’s on the right track.  There was a substantial drop in belief Calgary is moving in the right direction for future generations.

After remaining steady for the past four years at around 50 per cent who agree, that number dropped to less than four in 10.

“This may be indicative of a variety of concerns both locally and beyond and may also simply reflect declining confidence in being able to prove and being able to predict what the future holds,” said Ring.

Coun. Penner said though she wasn’t privy to focus group responses,  that lower number could be reflective the pace of change in general.

“If we look at the pace of change in the last 10 years alone and some of the things we've all collectively been through, how do we how do we predict a certain future?” Penner said

“Whether it is technology, whether it is pandemics, whether it's climate change? I think that uncertainty is an acknowledgment that we're moving at a rapidly accelerating pace generally towards change. So, for people to make those future decisions, it's trickier. It's harder.”

2023 Fall Calgary Municipal Benchmark survey by Darren Krause on Scribd