Hardly a week goes by when we don’t hear from some apparently self-loathing urban dwelling Calgarian wistfully sighing about how Calgary must become like <insert ancient European city here> if indeed are to become “world class”,
Last week during one of the countless obscure festivals that seem to bubble up we saw this attitude in spades at the “Spur Festival” (whatever that is). Guest speaker & American Author Daniel Brook derided Calgary’s “urban character” as being a “Texas in the Arctic” to the roomful of giddy collected hipsters. Brooks then went on plugging his book which celebrates cities such as Shanghai, Mumbai and St. Petersburg and the autocratic regimes that brought them about. I do become uncomfortable when people show admiration for the efficiency of autocratic regimes. Stalin’s 5 year plans did wonders for Eastern European development for example but came at a rather steep price. All of the aforementioned cities developed over 1000 years before Calgary did and in utterly different cultural structures but apparently we somehow can and should become more like them. Maybe if Nenshi had more autocratic powers…… Ahh that speculation goes down the city charter road which is fodder for another posting.
Next up of course was Calgary’s controversial and density obsessed city planner Rollin Stanley. Stanley retreated from his prior gig in Maryland after having offended most of the county having labelled those who challenge his density goals as being “rich white women” who apparently travel in a “coven”. Yes, Stanley is all class and we should be proud that Nenshi managed to scoop him up for us. Surely the room was breathless as Stanley gave his stock speech on why we must fight consumer demand and press development inward.
The trend of berating people who dare speak up for their communities in the suburbs and the contempt shown to them is troubling.
I am sick of hearing how Calgary must change it’s character. I tire of some people within our own city calling the Calgary Stampede our biggest claim to shame. I tire of people wagging their fingers at the 90% or so of Calgarians who dare to choose not to live downtown no matter how hard city council tries to stuff the vaunted “East Village” down our throats. I am tired of whining hipsters labelling us all as rednecks every time a civic policy goes against the density mantra.
Calgary is a city that is booming and growing. That growth is far and away predominantly outward as the vast majority of Calgarians pursue single detached households in the suburbs. We need to quit whining about that reality and begin planning for it. Nenshi’s virtual development freeze has only led to a boom in development among bedroom communities and a catastrophically expensive downtown. These kinds of efforts to fight the natural development and evolution of our city are indeed changing the character of the city but not for the better.
Calgary is still the frontier. People of ambition are coming from all over the world to settle in and make a life in the city. Most of these people are working in the energy industry whether directly or indirectly and the vast majority of these people do NOT want to live downtown. There is nothing to be ashamed of in this. Perhaps those people who can’t handle the realities of the true character of Calgary should drop the spite and move to Manhattan where they can split rent on a $3500 per month tiny apartment with 7 other baristas and liberal arts graduates to see just what a paradise urban density can be.
Calgary is unique in culture and general nature. Let’s embrace that instead of aspiring to be something else. The self-esteem movement sure works hard to ensure that individuals accept and embrace who they are instead of trying to be somebody else. That concept should apply to entire cities as well.