Doing it right.


When I saw that Paul Hughes and Tavis Ford had set up what appeared to be yet another protest that was clashing with Calgary bylaw enforcement I immediately thought “Oh here we go again”. I am still on a bit of time off and decided to take the dog out to go see what my twitter nemesis was up to this time. I arrived and was happily surprised to see that what was being done was a simple setup soliciting input on the disposition of a currently vacant lot in Sunnyside.

As Paul Hughes and Tavis Ford both have reputations for participating in protests such as “Occupy”, they have earned extra scrutiny and concern when they get up to one of their public activities. Like it or not, there is a higher potential for these two to escalate something small into a more troubling conflict with city officials so it doesn’t take long before bylaw enforcement drops in on them along with jerky bloggers like myself. In the case of their setup in Sunnyside though they are not only doing nothing wrong, I think they are doing something very productive.

I won’t go into too much detail on the issue itself that has prompted Paul and Tavis to set up. There was an old warehouse in the neighborhood that had been torn down a few months ago. There remains an empty lot (pictured below) that is owned by the city and of course there are many opinions as to what should be done with the space. There are vague statements and broad plans out there for the space, but it appears that nothing concrete has been established yet.

The lot in question is sizable and is in a prime location. There is an LRT station right there and it is a very short walk to the Kensington shopping district as well as the river or downtown Calgary. Many people would like to do many things with that lot whether using it for community gardens to low-income housing to what I would imagine could be some very lucrative and expensive condo developments. As this lot is owned by the City of Calgary, public (particularly local) input should be a top priority in deciding what to do with the space.

The lot in Sunnyside is not in particularly bad shape nor has it been vacant all that long. While I don’t see the need for immediate development in Sunnyside as being acute, the issue of derelict properties is a real one and is very serious in my neighborhood as I wrote a few weeks ago.

What I see Paul and Tavis doing is adding to local awareness on the issue and they are asking what neighbors think should be done with the lot. A real tragedy in communities has been the loss of a sense of community. While my community association has some very important local issues to address, we can barely make quorum at our annual general meetings. The public does care but can be prone to apathy and is easily disengaged. By setting up right next to the lot and politely engaging people, Tavis and Paul have brought it to the attention of countless Sunnyside residents and made them think on an issue that they otherwise may not have noticed until it was too late.

Paul and Tavis were also asking people what they would like to see on that lot. I was quite impressed by the number of people who stopped by to chat and who had a variety of ideas that they would like to see. Let’s face it, getting people out to public meetings for such purposes is tough at the best of times. I expect that much of the feedback will have a bias and will be of limited use in actual planning but what is important is that residents are now thinking of it. If Alderman Druh Farrell holds a meeting on this down the road, she likely will have a more informed and engaged turnout of residents on this issue thanks to Paul and Tavis.

I differ very strongly with Paul Hughes and Tavis Ford ideologically on many issues. I can’t help but respect and appreciate what they did this time.

As opposed to the potato debacle that trespassed on private land or the “occupy” thing where a public park was turned into a shantytown, this effort was reasoned, polite and had a straightforward goal. People passing by were not harassed and traffic was not impeded. When bylaw enforcement did arrive, there was a rational and polite discussion. The tent was moved off the street and the table moved back from the sidewalk.  Bylaw enforcement is happy and Paul and Tavis are content in using the allowed space to get their message out. There are no hysterics or screams that rights have been infringed by any means.

At times it takes a non-conventional approach to an issue to get things happening. Non-conventional activism can still be legal and non-annoying while being effective. Paul and Tavis achieved that in their setup this week.  I hope to see more active and engaged community members throughout the city like that.

I do look forward to scrapping them again when they decide to go outside the bounds of reason and law in their future activist efforts though. 😉