Thinking outside the box on homelessness.


Less than a month ago, Calgary’s ambitious ten year plan to end homelessness came to an end. While Calgary bureaucrats and folks within the established social services industry are trying to sugarcoat the outcome, it is clear that the plan was an abject failure. With roughly 3,200 people remaining homeless after a decade of effort, there really is no reasonable way to call the plan a success. That is down a few hundred folks but then again, Calgary’s population growth has been stunted this last few years. The plan was supposed to end homelessness either way, not simply slow the growth of it.

As with so many programs spawned by the establishment, they insist on linear thinking and placing more merit on the intention of their plan than they do with the outcome. Rather than look at the ten year plan as a failure, most of those in the homeless industry (and it is an industry) keep insisting that we need to follow the same path and perhaps spend even more money.

The first thing that needs be added to plans to address homelessness is a strong dose of reality. Homelessness will never be ended, it can only be mitigated. Let’s stop setting lofty but unrealistic goals and model plans based on what can actually be accomplished. We can reduce and mitigate homelessness and need to set our goals based on that.

It is in everybody’s interest to reduce homelessness. Homelessness impacts us all and costs us all through social services, correctional services and health care costs. Every homeless person who can be permanently housed helps reduce pressures on society on all levels and we need to seek those secure homes for these people where they may have a better chance of stabilizing their lives.

Shelters are important but who can really build a stable life when living in such conditions over the long term? How can one settle down, maintain a job, build personal possessions and get that ever important sense of self worth while living on a cot?

Investment in support services for addiction and mental health is critical of course. Simply putting a roof over the head of a homeless person does little to address the root issues that got that person into a state of homelessness in the first place. People need support to get off the street and stay off the street. These supports are expensive however and when we waste so much money on inefficient housing, we find ourselves lacking in the resources needed to truly help people rebuild their lives.

Housing in Calgary and most major cities is simply very damn expensive. There is only one way to reduce the cost of housing in Calgary. We must increase supply. Rent controls are always a failure and we are already fully utilizing all of the subsidized housing that we can.

The current way of thinking in addressing the supply shortage however is the old way. They want to maintain the system but spend more money. This simply isn’t sustainable. Look at the projected numbers below:

Projected unit costs are huge and are not taking into account the massive maintenance deficit that exists in current subsidized housing projects.

Now I am going to get to the guy who is thinking outside the box.

I have written on Paul Hughes a couple times before. What I most like about Paul is that he doesn’t ask, he simply does. Rather than contact the city and ask about an idea in order to give bureaucrats an excuse to explain why the idea won’t work (and then work to stop it), Paul acts and gets the job done. It is tough for bureaucrats to pooh pooh a notion when Paul has already proven that it can and does work. That is what Paul did with his Grow Calgary site which I wrote about last fall.

Paul has done an excellent job in addressing local food supply and has now turned towards addressing local housing supply.

Appalled by the projected $200,000 per unit projections for housing units, Paul Hughes has been working with micro homes to seek far more affordable housing solutions.

With common sense applied and bureaucrats moved aside, we can do all sorts of things for a fraction of the cost. Who can forget the Toronto man who built a set of stairs in a local park for $550 when the city bureaucrats has determined that $65,000 needed to be spend to address the issue? Sure the $550 set may not have been adequate but he proved that $65,000 was an obscenely high number when a couple thousand would have been more than enough.

It takes solid examples to prove the naysayers wrong when they come out with their grossly inflated numbers in project costs.

Paul has been building a micro home on the Grow Calgary site with volunteer help and donated materials. So far at virtually no costs, he has a little home that will be quite habitable for a person very soon.

With a tiny footprint and the use of a loft or sleeping quarters, a person can live quite comfortably in this micro home. Utility and maintenance costs are minimal in such a small abode too. What these little homes can do though is provide stable, private home spaces for people where they can settle and get things together.

Hughes understands that he doesn’t know it all by any means and he knows that there are all sorts of great and creative folks out there who can contribute to this project. That is why he has put out the call for others and is holding a micro-home building contest on the Grow Calgary site. Details can be found in the poster below and applications and rules on the Grow Calgary website.

There is a great flat space on the Grow Calgary site where these houses will be constructed and they can eventually be utilized to house volunteers to work on the fantastic farm there.

It is going to be quite exciting to see what kind of units are built and at what kind of costs they come in at.

Hughes has a broader vision for these micro-homes and how homelessness can be addressed with the great capital savings.

Paul’s vision is pretty high level and there are surely details that would need some ironing but it is compelling and even if not implemented in whole, it surely is worth trying in part.

Hughes estimates that with good design and economies of scale that good micro-homes can be built for about $10,000 each. If building for 4,000 homeless there would be an initial capital cost of $40,000,000.

In order to avoid developing slums or enclaves, Hughes is looking at 400 communities of 10 micro homes each.

Paul understands that supports beyond simple housing are required. Let’s say that each community of 10 has one social worker, one job manager for training, one health/farm manager (I expect he wants to incorporate urban farming in the communities), and one administrator. That is four people supporting every ten housed. Assuming costs of $60k per year each for those folks, that comes in at $96,000,000.

With a miscellaneous budget of $20,000,000 built in Hughes plan comes in at with a capital cost of $40 million and an annual cost of $116 million for the manpower and supports. I imagine there are many other unanticipated costs and land costs have not been accounted for but this is still a tiny fraction from the projected $200,000 per unit for unsupported housing in current plans.

As is expected, the city and established homeless groups aren’t enthusiastic about Paul’s plans. Too many are simply too invested in the status-quo.

The hipster dominated urban planning festival of “Bacon Fest” snubbed Paul and prevented him from even bringing flyers to the event. They like to jealously guard their vision of urban planning unfortunately.

Undeterred of course, Hughes is plowing ahead and I expect he will promote and round up some great competitors for his competition.

Is Hughes vision too ambitious? Perhaps. Is it a panacea? Of course not.

What Paul is proposing though is a radical departure from what has already been tried and failed. He is looking at a new approach and we dearly need one.

Micro-homes have applications outside of aiding in homelessness as well. Seniors looking at downsizing, veterans establishing themselves after leaving the service, young people and under employed people could all potentially use micro-homes. It is nearly impossible these days to get into the housing market if a person doesn’t have a head start. Micro homes could provide a great way to start building equity in a home until a person is ready to move into something larger.

I can’t see any authority signing off on a 4000 micro home project quite yet. I don’t see why we can’t try at least a few of these communities on an experimental basis and then expanding on that if it is successful. Its not like the city can point to their resounding success with the current strategy.

It will be harder to say no when a small community is built and functioning at Grow Calgary as well. Paul as always is leading by example and taking excuses away from those who fear trying new things.

I really look forward to seeing what is springing up there in the coming months and seeing how these innovations can be applied throughout Calgary and beyond. I encourage others to contact Paul if they are interested in participating or lending a hand. He can be reached through the website.   Drop him a line and see about dropping by Grow Calgary’s location. It is impressive and well worth the visit to see what can be accomplished by a guy who just goes out and gets things done rather than asking or waiting for others to do it.

Grow Calgary gets the job done.

Paul Hughes and I don’t always see eye to eye on issues. He trends a little more towards the hippy sort and has more of an environmentalist streak in him than I. I can’t help but admire how Paul doesn’t just bitch about things or ask others to fix things. When Hughes wants an issue addressed he literally gets his hands dirty and works on it. Paul doesn’t ask, he just does.

Paul Hughes is probably best known for his advocating for urban chickens in Calgary and his past run for Mayor. He has always been quite focused on domestic food supply. Food is indeed a need for us all.

We all would be better off if more folks took on that kind of attitude.

A few days ago, I found myself driving into West Calgary on Highway 1 when I passed the Grow Calgary site.

A few years ago, Hughes set up shop on a few acres of vacant city land and began Grow Calgary. This lot is just West of Canada Olympic Park. The land will eventually be developed for the Calgary portion of the Ring Road but as we all know, that may still be over a decade away. In the meantime, the land has languished vacant, weed filled and of little purpose. Why not bring the land into production for the time being? It is a pretty unique venture.

My timing was lucky. I saw perhaps a couple dozen folks working with shovels digging up a potato plot as I drove by which caught my interest and spurred my impulse visit. Paul was with them and they were just about to break for lunch leaving Paul free to give me a tour of the area.

One of my first questions to Paul was to ask who all those people were. It turns out that they were a group of volunteers from Crescent Point Energy. It turns out that Hughes has attracted corporate sponsorship from multiple companies that doesn’t just translate into funds, but into manpower. Different corporate and student groups have volunteered time all year to help develop the urban farm. A healthy day out for the volunteers and invaluable service for the project.

Grow Calgary isn’t a charity and isn’t taking tax dollars. It is reliant on donors and volunteers. It appears that the base of both are growing.

The site looks pretty and eclectic as you wander between what appear to be random plots growing everything from sunflowers to tomatoes to hemp. To a libertarian like me seeing a little chaos is not a problem and in looking closer one can see that there is more planning to the setup than meets the eye. Water is limited and this year’s drought had a rough impact on the farm. Plots were chosen based on potential irrigation and access.

Small greenhouses have been constructed which are quite effective. These were built with completely recycled and donated materials and yes, it shows.

Opponents to Grow Calgary often cite aesthetics in order to demand that this venture be halted. Do we want pretty or do we want effective? Do we want to truly recycle items as Hughes has done or do we simply want to green wash with giant fabricated plastic buildings that will claim to have used some tiny degree of recycled materials? Everything Paul used here was donated and it all would have ended up in a landfill had he not made use of it. The greenhouses are in the center of the area and don’t look bad anyway. As can be seen in this picture, they are loaded with great tomatoes even this late into a dry season.

Paul also constructed what he calls an “earthship”, More hippy stuff but still some effective and interesting engineering.

Using all donated materials including wood, glass, tires, concrete and cans Paul has created a year round growing facility that uses no power. He excitedly showed me his charts as he had tracked the ambient temperature within the structure all winter. The lowest he ever recorded was just above freezing on a day in January when the outside temperature was likely well into the -20s. Not bad for a spot that uses no outside power sources.

The central area houses donated porta-potties along with a few structures that are used for everything from secure storage to a small hydroponic growing system. Donors have been so generous that Hughes has gardening and farm implements stacked and stored in every nook and cranny. Waste is not accepted so I expect that everything will be used in time including a monstrous pile of compost that was donated. It is hard not to be impressed by how much equipment and material has been built up through such a modest project. Security services have been donated by a local company as well. People really do like pitching in on this one.

While the drought reduced crops, there still was a very impressive harvest of fresh produce that has all been donated to various societies in need throughout the city.

This is the sort of thing that can happen when people such as Paul Hughes along with many many helpers say to hell with government bureaucracy and simply work to get the damn job done. The city has been pulled along grudgingly with this venture at best and established food charities have been rather cold as Hughes is producing massive amounts of product without having a giant administration and hand in the taxpayer cookie jar as they do.

Using excuses such as the appearance of the place all the way to liability issues I am sure that the busybodies in Calgary City Hall will work their hardest to shut Grow Calgary down. There are few things parasitic bureaucrats despise more than successful operations existing without their constant and heavy handed oversight. It exposes their uselessness. Paul is pretty determined though and is only setting his roots deeper. I suspect that Grow Calgary isn’t going anywhere soon.

Eventually, the city will develop that land and Grow Calgary will have to move from that site. This is reasonable and such is life. What is to be hoped though is that some lessons have been learned. There will be all sorts of unused city land all over the place at that time. There always is. I see no reason why Grow Calgary wont be able to move in and produce food for those in need on those new locations when the time comes. I mean, why the hell not?

Taxpayers are more than tired of grossly expensive and ineffective government initiatives to ease poverty. Donors to charities are tired of reading how the majority of their donations end up eaten by administrative costs as the bureaucratic worms dine on the bulk of the funds before the people in need see even a nickle of the donated resources. Grow Calgary has bypassed all of that crap. It is run with the most minuscule of administration and directly uses all volunteer time, items and dollars for the production of food. Efficiency is critical.

For folks who want to donate some time or resources, I can’t endorse this venture more strongly.

The site is Grow Calgary.

They get things done.

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. 😉

“Sustainable”: code for massive municipal social engineering.

There are many terms and words that are overused and abused by many in the political world. In Calgary municipal politics there is no doubt that sustainable/sustainability top the list. The definition of the word is open to broad interpretation which gives license to people to utilize the term to encapsulate and hide a broader agenda. The word is used in a way to stifle debate often as we see politicos state: “We must be sustainable”. We see virtually every report and plan coming from city hall in Calgary noting sustainability as a goal yet often never defining just what makes an issue, plan, process, industry, practice or product “sustainable”.

Today I am locked into a motel room due to some rather nasty thunderstorms making my workplan for the day unsustainable. This has provided me with some time to read and review some of the pap and reports that have been commissioned and released by our city. Rest assured, when trying to read, absorb and stomach much of these terribly expensive reports a person needs a good deal of free time without distractions. Gravol helps too.

This morning I punished myself by reading the:  “CALGARY FOOD SYSTEM ASSESSMENT & ACTION PLAN”.

The terms of reference for this dog can be found here along with cost estimates but nothing solid.

The above document was produced by the “Calgary Food Committee” which was formed by  The Office of Sustainability” (yes there really is a city hall office dedicated to this). This office is modelled through the “ImagineCalgary” Which has a vague mandate of coming up with a 100 year plan for the city that will be presumably sustainable.

The above mess is tied in with “Plan it” which is a city hall division that routinely churns out reports and studies further seeking means of planning to live in a sustainable environment.  The proposals of “Plan it Calgary” are routinely rejected as they simply are not fiscally viable.  Despite this, the pointy heads slaving away in that department will continue to roll out more reports, plans and propositions at great expense to taxpayers.

It is outright overwhelming when one begins to dig through the City of Calgary website and sees just how many committees and groups are spawned and funded to look into and report on damn near everything. There is clearly a huge cottage industry in creating reports for the City of Calgary and while Mayor Nenshi has often spoken of streamlining City Hall, I don’t recall him trying to touch the report/study generation department. I suspect it is because that department makes for such a great employment program for old school chums who have tired of working in the barista field. While it is easy to find all these departments, reports and committees; it is damned tough finding the costs of these things (unsurprisingly).

Need, viability or even a fragment of realism are not required in generating these reports. Lack of all of the aforementioned are all present in the “Calgary Food System Assessment & Action Plan”.  This thing is so horrible I am outright compelled to break it up and tear it apart piece by piece.

Let’s start with need. Is there a food sustainability crisis in Calgary by any measure that demands a huge report and insanely intrusive “action plan”? Do we see mass or even minor starvation in Calgary? Is it difficult to find sources of food in Calgary? Is food in Calgary more expensive than other jurisdictions? Are we at risk of starvation or even rationing of food within Calgary? The answer to all of the questions is a resounding NO! 

Canada and Calgary within it have some of the lowest prices for consumer products (including food) as a ratio to income in the entire world. We have a vast variety of food products from the inexpensive & healthy basics to delicacies and specialty foods. We are by far a net exporter of agricultural products and are not at any risk of running out of domestically produced food.  There are countless big-bag grocery stores within the city and thousands of smaller stores whether Mom & Pop shops, butchers or even large gas stations for small purchases. We have a transit system and good roadways for access to food suppliers. There simply is no food crisis in Calgary nor a looming one by any measure.

One does have to wonder what the reasoning is behind producing a large and expensive report on a non-issue is aside from employing it’s authors. In reading the entire report though it is easy to see the underlying agenda. There are an element of people who want to go back in time to the days when people lived on small farms where they often did live in food independent environments. Never mind that the life expectancies of these folks was 40 back then or that there was mass starvation on those farms as recently as the 30s due to drought. With some highly rose-colored glasses some report generating idealists have determined that this organic and independent lifestyle is attainable and desirable to most people if they simply would embrace going back in time. There is of course a general feeling of loathing of large scale and corporate agriculture throughout the report despite those things being what actually have made food affordable and plentiful to large urban populations.

Lets have a look at what that report lists as it’s goals from the imagineCalgary targets:

By 2036, Calgarians support local food production.

OK so apparently Calgarians need to be trained/convinced/mandated or something to support food production. Does this mean polling in a majority or every single Calgarian? In support does this mean participating? Will there be mandated home gardens? Mandated hours dedicated to working in collective gardens and urban ranches?

There is some polling in the report that indicates that Calgarians are generally supportive of the vague concept of local food production. Does that fill the 2036 quota or is their definition of “support” indeed something more? If that is indeed what is considered support, then what is this goal even trying to accomplish? We are already there.

The above speculations sound absurd on the surface but in reading the entire report I put little beyond these people. What I suspect would happen though is that all Calgarians would find themselves mandated through taxation to support local food production through punitive taxes added to imported foods and massive subsidies to local foods (as local/urban production is not fully sustainable).

The statement itself is as broad broad beyond reason and is a ridiculous goal for a report/action plan.

By 2036, Calgary maintains access to reliable and quality food sources.

Well that certainly does indeed sound like a nice goal. Of course I had not realized that such a threat to access actually existed. I suspect that access to food will be maintained simply due to supply and demand. Hungry people are not prone to closing roads, railways and farms. There is no exclusive access to food. We do not have people being denied food due to race or religion. Access simply is not an issue.

This statement goes a little deeper when one reads the report though. On page 90 the apparent issue is broken down.

The authors of this report feel that it is catastrophic that many Calgarians live more than 1km from a major grocery store. Keep in mind this is “major” stores such as Safeway or Superstore. Convenience stores have been categorized strangely as eating establishments and thus are not considered secure sources of food purchasing.

Now lets look at the makeup of our city. The majority of areas where one could find themselves more than 1km from a large grocery store are suburban and are middle class areas. These areas are predominantly populated by people who are mobile and have chosen to live in areas that are predominantly residential and have limited retail facilities. I bolded “chosen” because individual choice is so often ignored by city planning social engineers.

Now there are some lower income people who do not have access to a vehicle and for whom getting to a large grocery store could be more troublesome. The maps and charts in this report show where we have most of our low income people however and the vast bulk of them live in older, denser and more developed areas that have many retail options including large grocery stores. The number of people who live more than a kilometer from a large grocery store and who can’t actually get to one is microscopic. It certainly does not warrant rezoning the entire city.

Oh but wait! Zoning is exactly what is being proposed. Yes, below I will quote exactly what this report recommends to address this non-crisis of access to large food retailers:

Work with Land Use Planning and Policy to analyze the physical accessibility to grocery stores in the established areas and in the development of future policy in local area plans.
Explore potential programs and initiatives to encourage the location of food retail outlets in areas of
need. Collaboration with Family and Community Support Services, Land Use Planning and Policy, Federation of Calgary Communities and Business Revitalization Zones.

Note that with all of these calls for “collaboration” that developers and retailers are left off the list. Retailers base their locations on where they find the most demand. It is as simple as that. How does this group plan to “encourage” retailers to set up shop where business is not viable? Will the encouragement be punitive or through massive subsidies (yes us the taxpayers again)? Aside from existing districts, what will happen in new suburbs where large tracts have been zoned for large grocery retailers if no retailers want to move in? Will we force businesses to open? Will we have large city owned grocery stores? I toured the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Rest assured people, government is not who you want in charge of food production and retailing. They really are not very good at it.

Mandating a major grocery provider so that every person in the city is within a kilometer of one is simply impossible and stupid in it’s proposal.

By 2036, 100% of Calgary’s food supply derives from sources that practice sustainable food production.

The above proposal is dipping right into the realm of  insanity. How intrusive would policy have to be in order to do this? They are not even saying “most”, they are proposing nothing less than 100% of our supply would be provided by sources that they determine to practice sustainable food production.

How the hell do they think they will do this? Will imported foods be banned? Will certain farms be allowed to sell to Calgary while others are not based on what this committee feels is “sustainable”?

Is this even possible under a municipal government? If not, what the hell business do these guys have in even proposing it as a goal?

Now the word “sustainable” appears 88 times in the report and is applied to damn near everything so it is tough to determine which context is in mind whenever it appears. With this crappy statement though it is expanded on later on in the document on page 110:

Environmental sustainability has been defined as the protection of air, land and water, critical for
achieving healthy ecosystems by minimising green house gas emissions, potable water use and waste
and maximising efficient use of land, air quality, water quality and biodiversity. In addition, the food
system should support community development and action taken locally to create economic
opportunities in the community on a sustainable and inclusive basis.

Quite the definition eh? So not only will these people somehow determine that 100% of Calgary’s food suppliers meet the above environmental criteria, they will somehow ensure that it is on an “inclusive” basis whatever that means.

Ahh but of course these fanatics do not stop there. On page 111 they go into a long diatribe about organic foods. You see, these people now want to expand into controlling exactly what you eat and they feel that they should somehow compel us all to eat organic food.

Now to each their own. If a person wants to pay a premium to purchase and consume organically produced food they of course have every right to. The same goes for producers. Of course I support the right of people to produce, consume and sell non-organic foods too and that is where I quickly part ways with our appointed, tax funded authors of this report.

If the goal of this food “sustainability” plan really is to ensure that healthy food is available to all at a reasonable price and with a limited footprint, then organics are the exact opposite way to go!

Let’s begin with nutritional content. Despite the perception of many, it has been outright proven that organic produce has no nutrional advantages over conventionally produced food (aside from increased protein gained through wormy organic apples).

Lets look at cost and environmental. Organic foods cost much more than conventional foods and cause a larger environmental footprint due to the much lower crop yields. In large scale farming one can’t simply pull weeds or apply a little detergent to aphids as we can in our gardens. No farmhouse will ever compost enough food scraps to fertilize a large operation. Due to this yields are consistenly lower in organic farming which in turn requires greater landuse at a greater cost to the environment and the consumer.

Personally I see it as cut and dry on the organics thing. Still though, some see it as debatable (everything is). There is simply no way that any benefits of organic food production can merit mandating that a percentage of it be a part of Calgary’s consumption despite that being an apparent goal on page 111 of the report.

By 2010, 100 % of Calgarians have access to nutritious foods.

Pure redundancy. 100% of Calgarians have access to nutritious foods already. Unless of course one wants to redefine what nutritious or access are. Get over it guys, food need not be organic in order to be nutritious. A person over 1km from a Superstore is not being denied access to food.

There are people in deep poverty who indeed have trouble getting to stores. Those are poverty issues rather than food ones however. The food bank and Meals on Wheels deal with this to some degree. There could be more work to be done on these issues but that really is not the part of a city-wide food mandate (or it sure shouldn’t be).

Some could claim that the cost alone of food is barring access for some from nutritional meals. That is simply a load of BS and this groups own report shows that.

On page 87 of the report, a piece is written on the role and successes of the Community Kitchen Program of Calgary. This is a great and proactive program that helps teach people how to shop efficiently and cost effectively. Menu planning is provided as well as direction to food specials. Now in their own statement they say: “The Community Kitchen Program can help you prepare delicious food for your family at an average cost of $1.85 per person per meal while saving you time and energy.” Yes, with effort a person can feed a family of four a healthy meal for less than $8.

We have no real food access issues in Calgary.

By 2036, sustainable urban food production increases to 5%.

Now by nature Calgary has a limited amount of urban food production. Calgary has a growing period of roughly 114 days which hugely limits the variety of foods that can be grown and the volume. Being surrounded by tens of thousands of square miles of agricultural land makes urban food production more than a little uncompetitive with major producers as a food source.

Many people garden and it is an excellent hobby. Good fresh food can be produced at home, it is nice to get outside and one can even save a few bucks. Gardening is not for everybody however. Many people simply do not have the time to plant and maintain a garden. Many people simply do not want to garden! I had to bold that because it is another one of those personal choices that social engineers despise.

This goal is where these planners start to tie themselves in knots a bit too in a few ways. While always pushing for a far denser urban environment, these people are also demanding that space be kept open for gardening whether community or personally. You simply can’t have it both ways people.

For a solution the heavy city hammer of zoning is proposed of course. Land is far too valuable (particularly in dense areas) to be set aside to grow veggies for 114 days per year. If we crunch space even further with mandated community gardens, we will an increase in property values again which of course leads to higher rents which of course leads to higher general cost of living which of course harms the low income people that these social engineers love to crow that they are protecting. Is there really a benefit in raising urban rent by say $50 per month on average so that land can be set aside to grow potatoes that for 5% of people that could have been purchased for 59 cents per pound at Safeway? These planners seem to think so.

Other means are proposed in the document. Rooftop gardens are a neat idea. They are rarely actually efficient and produce food that costs far more than simply purchasing it however. How would rooftop gardens be “encouraged”? Will owners have any say?

Now the foodie crowd wants to of course expand into further food production in suburban yards too. On page 40 of the report, it is suggested that people raise chickens, goats and bees in their yards! 

I do wish I was kidding here. Anybody who has spent time near goats knows that they are terribly smelly animals that make a racket and are prone to wandering. If I wanted to live next to a yard full of chickens and goats I would move to the damn country and I suggest the same to anybody who wants to raise livestock.

On page 40 the report speaks of wool and leather being produced in urban settings too. I guess sheep and cattle in backyards are not unreasonable to these people.

How about bees? Sure honey bees are generally non aggressive and they create a great benefit in their pollination efforts. Do you really want to live next to an amateur beekeeper though? How many stings will I get when my neighbor accidentally hits his beehive with the weedwhacker? What if myself or my kids are deathly allergic to bee stings as are so many people? Who will we sue? The city or my neighbor? Either way we will all pay in the end if such idiocy comes to pass.

Concepts of supply, demand and economies of scale are totally lost on the sorts who created this report and set these goals. If indeed we hit 5% urban food production it should only be because masses of citizens chose to do so on their own accord. We can’t force these things.

By 2036, the consumption of urban and regionally produced food by Calgarians increases to 30%.

This is the final little goal here. Now they have coupled urban and “regional” to come with a number of 30%. This goes back to the concept of the “100 mile diet” that eco-types have been pushing around the world. It is quite possible if a person lives in the tropics to have such a diet. Being in Calgary however, people would soon tire of the mass wheat and canola intakes and likely would miss citrus fruits and such.

Transportation of food goods does indeed add to consumption of fuels thus making an environmental impact. This does lead to increased costs though so typically supply and demand ensures that things remain in balance between local and imported foods (until social engineers meddle with the system. Look at Ukraine last century for example).

What really gets me in this report though is that they propose and encourage the use of “bio-fuels”  in transporting food in order to reduce environmental impact on page 60 and other parts of the report. Regulated minimum biofuel use actually caused food scarcity and pressured the poor in Mexico because corn was being burned as fuel rather than consumed as food!

Yes, the folks who want to feed the world are proposing that we switch to a fuel that burns food and has been proven to cause harm to the world’s hungriest and most vulnerable. Just brilliant.

To summarize, this report is nothing less than a pile of idealistic and unrealistic garbage produced in the name of some weird definition of “sustainability”. The City of Calgary blows millions on these idiotic reports and could cost us hundreds of millions if they actually tried to reach the goals of this one. The contents of the report are laughable but the cost and potential costs are unfortunately not.

“Food insecurity” is not what threatens the well being and prosperity of Calgarians. Bureaucratic and idealistic nuts who produce reports like this and the politicians who approve the intrusive legislation in applying the suggestions of these reports are a huge threat to the prosperity of us all. I know it is dull reading through these things, but Calgary voters really need to get a look at what their tax dollars are going towards and what they may be going towards in the future. This has to be reigned in and only the electorate can do it. Get up and vote to fire any city councilor who supports this trash in 2013.