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.
Yes, there are some other ways to increase some supply of housing. Nenshi has had the legalization of basement suites as something of a pet project for some time though it has not been able to pass council yet. More basement suites will help to some degree should they be added but what Calgary really needs is new housing and soon. Changing the status of the legality of basement suites will only add a limited supply as there really are only so many people out there who want to rent out part of their houses. Many of those who do want to rent out their basements are already doing so illegally.
There is an ideology that has become prevalent in Calgary city hall that almost fervently calls for increased urban density at all costs. That sort of ideology led to the hiring of planning extremists like Rollin Stanley. Despite squeezing supply in hopes that Calgarians simply throw up their hands and move into condos, developments such as the much vaunted “East Village” wither while the vast majority of new Calgarians seek homes in the suburbs.
It seems to be forgotten that over 85% of Calgarians do NOT live or commute downtown. To try and force more population into the core will actually make commute times longer for many as they head to industrial areas, schools, hospitals or one of the myriad of other employment zones that are distant from downtown. We need to plan and develop with this reality in mind.
The bottom line is that Calgary does not need extremely high downtown density. The city is surrounded by literally thousands of square miles of available land. Calgary is not like a coastal or mountain city with hard limits on where it may grow. There is no excuse or good reason to keep trying to hinder the natural outward growth of the city.
Finally, density efforts have been an utter failure that has actually led to even more of the ever demonized “sprawl” anyway. People are voting with their wallets and feet and are moving to bedroom communities in record numbers. Okotoks lifted it’s growth cap, Chestermere has just put forward a massive new growth plan and Airdrie and Cochrane are experiencing explosive growth. Despite what some may wish, Calgary can’t put up an iron curtain to keep people from leaving the city limits to escape the escalating costs due to a lack of land supply.
If the powers that be in Calgary City Hall truly do want to address the shortage of affordable housing, it is simply without question that more serviced lots and developments must be approved and as soon as possible. How critical will Nenshi and City Hall let this problem get before they relent, face reality and begin to release the supply of land that Calgarians are demanding? We have the space, let’s use it!
To begin with on this rant, I will shed the label “progressive” for policies and refer to them for what they are on the spectrum: “left wing”. The left/right political spectrum is an accurate measure in describing general political leanings particularly with policies if not with people. Many keep wrongly trying to claim that the left/right concept on the political spectrum is out of date or inaccurate. Almost invariably those trying to hide from the left/right descriptor are people who land on the left side of things as they try to describe themselves as “progressive” (despite opposing most forms of progress). Left leaning folks in Canada are understanding that hard left-wing policy is unsalable to the electorate when presented openly thus while retaining the philosophies they try to mask the real intent politically. We see this most often in civic politics where the lack of a party structure has allowed many hard-left leaning candidates slip by the electorate when they typically would have been rejected.
One of the biggest contradictions in the left-wing world has been their constant claims of wanting to support the poor while supporting so many policies that harm the poor further. There are two factors that strongly affect people in low income situations; the economy and the cost of living. If we really want to ease the pain for low income people, we should be ensuring that we have a strong economy so that income may be found for those who seek it and that the cost of living remains as reasonable as possible. Unfortunately, left wing initiatives only harm the economy and shoot the cost of living through the roof.
With the left gravitating so much towards civic politics, we have seen quite a trend of an almost religious-like urbanism that is zealously focused on increasing population density at all costs. In Calgary we have seen this with the importing and hiring (at huge cost) of American municipal planner Rollin Stanley who is so obsessively density focused that he is actually controversial and somewhat well known. It takes quite the extreme viewpoints for one to stand out so much in the typically dry world of urban planning but Stanley has managed to do so with his unreasonable anti-vehicle and consumer outlooks.
Through regulatory abuse and red tape, Mayor Naheed Nenshi along with left-wing allies on council such as Druh Farrell and Brian Pincott have essentially frozen suburban development. 97% of Calgary’s growth has been in the suburbs over the years and there is a good reason for that: it is affordable and people don’t want to raise their families squashed like sardines in a dense urban environment. Despite such overwhelming demand by consumers, the density obsessed are working hard to take away consumer choice through regulation. There is a great little saying about socialism: “Ideas so good that they have to be mandatory.” We can’t let those unwashed citizens choose where to spend their lives and dollars! It is upon the urban planners to force these people into what we see as “sustainable” living.
Now when one meddles with the law of supply and demand there is always a consequence. In Calgary (and many other cities) housing is being choked by ideologically extreme councils thus causing the cost of housing to go through the roof. Many of density zealots love to wistfully speak of Manhattan and San Francisco as great density models to follow. What these ideologues constantly forget to mention is that these centers are catastrophically expensive to live in with average homes costing over a million dollars in Manhattan and nearly as much in San Francisco.
Housing is one of the largest expenses in everybody’s lives. People with low incomes are harmed terribly when housing supply is choked. The poor who the left claim to care about get pushed further and further from urban centers seeking affordable housing which of course leads to even more suburban growth which is second only to the holocaust in it’s evil! To fight this trend, Nenshi has been supporting huge property tax hikes every year along with development levies in order to make suburban living as expensive as living in a downtown density paradise. The left wing density gang does realize that they can’t reduce the cost of living downtown so they hope that in raising the cost of living artificially elsewhere that they can at least equalize the poverty throughout the city.
The poor in cities are now being driven further and further out from the city centers as left-wing policies make living untenable for them. While Nenshi and his followers love to pejoratively toss out the word “sprawl” and feed a myth that the suburbs are subsidized, they are actually feeding outward growth as they raise the cost of living for our most vulnerable. While bedroom communities offer more affordable housing, they often have less employment opportunities nearby so lower income folks either have to commute great distances (environmental evil) or remain unemployed.This comes at a cost to the low-income in lost personal time and in transportation.
The cycle only gets uglier as civic governments try to battle with reality along with supply and demand. Large urban governments are constantly demanding more taxation powers along with charters that will allow them to bully neighboring smaller communities. Satellite cities have seen explosive growth as people retreat from the high costs and purposely traffic-hindered downtowns caused by density focused civic governments. Mayors like Nenshi want to use taxes as a hammer along with control of neighboring communities in order to force a halt to the consumer exodus from their cities.
As the urban poor get hammered by high housing costs caused by left-wing local governments, they get hit yet again through increases in their costs of consumer goods. Protectionism and opposition to big-box product distribution causes the costs of all goods to rise quickly. Mayor Nenshi called new big-box developments “crap” when trying to justify why city hall was using red tape (something Nenshi claimed to oppose) to hinder a viable development. Well, Nenshi not every person can afford to ride a bike to Kensington to purchase handcrafted items from local artisans. Those poor that the left claim to care about get harmed terribly when affordable consumer options are taken from them.
In the early 90s I made my living through pizza delivery. Much of my diet consisted of food from work and what other consumer goods I bought at that time were limited and dear. I remember financing the purchase of a VCR over two years. I think I paid about $500 dollars for that thing by the time I was finished paying. Through open foreign trade and big-box distribution, those types of items along with clothing and countless other things are a fraction of the cost that they were 20 years ago. Despite this, the left wing opposes free trade and large product distribution. Let the poor buy designer clothing I guess.
Ahh but electronics are wants not needs right? Well the left leaves no stone unturned and is ensuring that needs are expensive too. Despite scientific realities proving no nutritional benefits to organic produce, grossly lower crop yields with organic produces, no definable flavor difference with organic products and a massively higher cost for organic products, the left supports these products. GMOs have proven to be harmless and have greatly increased yields thus lowering the cost of food around the entire planet. Despite this, the left hysterically opposes GMOs as the real target of the left is an anti-corporate outlook rather than food safety or affordability. Meanwhile the cost of foods goes up and up.
Idiotic “100 mile diets” which ignore our local climate and consumer demand are pushed along with a raft of other loopy food policies laid out in Calgary’s food plan which was inspired by the insane ImagineCalgary plan which Nenshi participated in building. These plans go as far as trying to force food stores to carry local products and to force them to build into areas that don’t have enough consumer demand to support them (to save the world from long shopping drives). These costs are of course passed along to the consumer and yet again the poor get hit hard.
Now it is pretty clearly established that left-wing policies hurt the poor terribly when it comes to the cost of housing, eating, entertainment, travel and pretty much every other consumer good, let’s have a look at how the left harms the economy.
Lowering the cost of living helps mitigate some of the challenges of being low-income but it does not solve the problem that put the person into a low-income situation in the first place. Big intrusive government does not ease poverty. What people in low income situations need is a strong economy with growing local employment leading to a high labor demand which of course leads to full work weeks at higher pay. Left wing people really do have some sort of mental deficit that makes the concept of supply and demand incomprehensible to them unfortunately. This leads to those who claim to care for the poor constantly championing against industry which is actually the only thing that will ease the poverty.
The left has become so fanatical against conventional energy generation that they now oppose all initiatives no matter what. Even the reversal of a safe and harmless pipeline is now being opposed though these extremists never present realistic alternatives to the energy that they are opposing. Until we see an invention of the flux-capacitor or some other fictional (for now) form of energy generation, fossil fuels are by far our best means of powering our society. The left’s chronic opposition to all forms of energy is costing the poor terribly.
One of the best ways to keep a strong local economy is to have a business friendly climate. A couple weeks ago Mayor Nenshi went on a tirade where he demonized local business leaders and referenced jetsetting and such in ways that would have made Marx proud. Nenshi is now fundraising and building a polarized us vs them climate in Calgary where the affluent and hardworking are demonized. Now think about it, as a business considering locating in a city like Calgary would you really want to move to a place where the Mayor is prone to decrying you as an evil rich industrialist? It is hard to measure the exact amount of damage being caused by Nenshi’s anti-industry attitude but it is very real. While Calgary’s Mayor is not attacking all business people, he has made it clear that he will not hesitate to do so when he feels irked. His tantrum with the homebuilder’s association was almost embarrassing in it’s vitriol.
The left does like firing out the simplistic cries of “tax the rich” or “tax the corporations”! People should have a look at where the vast majority of charitable contributions come from. When people of any income get tax hikes they re-examine their expenditures and charities often are among what gets cut from spending. Charities are often much more effective in poverty mitigation as they target their programs based on real need as opposed to government organizations that more often are based on mass employment of bureaucrats and scoring points for political optics.
The left almost always overlooks philanthropy when attacking those they have determined to be “too rich” in their envious and divisive eyes. As Naheed Nenshi continues his crusade against Cal Wenzel in Calgary, I wonder how this will affect Wenzel’s decisions on his charitable works in the city? Cal Wenzel’s donations to the arts and housing charities in Calgary are well into seven figures. Why should he continue to invest in a city like that when the Mayor works so actively to demonize him?
Naheed Nenshi is a classic example of one who campaigns from the center and governs from the left. One need not scratch Nenshi’s increasingly thin skin much to find that the color underneath is not purple, it is very red. Nenshi’s quest for larger government, higher taxes and his clear loathing of industry are showing his true nature and this bodes poorly for attracting new industry or retaining current industry in Calgary.
Yes indeed, some rich folks do jet around the world and live in big houses. Some of them drive big cars and some can be pretty darned arrogant (though Nenshi has no high horse to ride on regarding arrogance). You don’t have to like those nasty successful people but you had better recognize that we need them. The arrogant rich guy may be annoying but he also potentially employs thousands. While your altruistic Uncle Bob may be a real sweet guy, he won’t be building industry in a city. We need those large industries and the general income that comes with them.
Demonizing the affluent and taxing the crap of them only causes them to leave. Capital and people are mobile and they can and will leave. Yet again in such cases, the poor are stuck holding the bag.
Let’s imagine such a city without evil industries where those nasty, selfish business people have been driven out. Oh what sort of paradise would we have? Well, last year I worked on a contract in Stuebenville Ohio for a while and took some video while down there. Have a look at how a city looks when the rich have gone away.
Imperial Oil, CP, CN and other companies are leaving downtown Calgary. These businesses will go outward to follow the labor migration to the suburbs and to escape the demonization of their industries by local governments and the fanatics supported by them. Developments are fleeing too and we will see more giant malls such as Cross Iron Mills being built just outside of the city limits to avoid punitive local governments. Supply and demand will always win in the end but ideologues such as Nenshi can do terrible damage to the poor in trying to fight it.
The world is full of contradictions and hypocrisy. There are few areas more glaring in this than that of the left claiming to care about the poor. If you care for the state of the poor, avoid “progressives” at the polls at all costs.
April was an exceptional month of faux-outrage, hyperbole and a fabricated political controversy spurred on by none other than His Worship Mayor Naheed Nenshi himself. A grainy recording of a speech by a Cal Wenzel (founder of Shane Homes) in front of 150 attendees of an industry meeting (hardly a hidden conspiratorial group) was released to the media some months after the fact. In the secret recording, it was revealed that Wenzel did not like the direction that some members of council were going in and was encouraging others to use legal political means to try and facilitate the election of council members who have a more favorable outlook on the home development industry. There really was utterly nothing wrong with this and special interest groups have been participating in elections since the very beginning of elections.
This whole episode was really a non-issue until Mayor Nenshi spotted and took advantage of the opportunity to try and create local outrage against a well respected and established business in Calgary in hopes of polarizing the electorate in His Worship’s own favor. If nothing else, Nenshi has proven himself to be a canny political player if not a principled one. Nenshi even puffed up and scheduled a press conference where he reported that utterly nothing had changed aside from his remaining outraged that people in Calgary may hold a view differing from His. It was a striking spectacle indeed to watch our Mayor create such a fuss over so little.
An ongoing irritation over the course of this conceived dustup was the abuse of the word “partisan”. The Manning Institute was dragged into the whole affair as Wenzel had spoken of developers and homebuilders contributing to the institute to aid in the training of candidates. The manufactured indignation was repellent as “partisanship” was decried by our Mayor and his legion of hipsters supporting him on social media.
To begin with, there are no parties in civic politics in Alberta. While the word can be used in broad definitions, it really is not appropriate when speaking of Calgary civic candidates or interest groups. What we have happening in Calgary civic politics is a clash of ideologies which while more subtle, is far more concerning than partisanship will ever be.
The Alberta Party was built by Chima Nkemdirim (Naheed Nenshi’s Chief of Staff) to be a post-partisan party. What that contradiction meant was that the party would mask all forms of coherent policy through fluffy, broad and feelgood platitudes in hopes of masking the left-wing ideology of it’s supporters. It was recognized that Albertans soundly reject hard left wing policies at the polls so this consensus style party was created to try and slide their ideology past the electorate. With Nenshi’s unexpected win as Calgary’s Mayor, the Alberta Party lost the leader expected to take them to the 2012 election and Nkemdirim fled along with Nenshi into City Hall. By masking their partisanship and in having no real leadership, the Alberta Party fizzled to a dismal 1.3% finish in the 2012 Alberta provincial election. The voters were not fooled. Real partisanship has a role and the electorate demands it.
Part of why Nenshi has been decrying a non-existent partisanship within the Manning Insitute has been to mask the hypocrisy in his being a founder of and supported by CivicCamp which is an ideological special interest group that is trying to influence the Calgarian civil political government exactly as the Manning Institute is. Both groups are exactly the same in their basic nature, the only difference is a wide gap in the ideologies.
The Manning Institute is at least honest in their ideology. They say outright that they want to encourage and facilitate conservative policy in municipal politics. There is utterly nothing wrong with that.
CivicCamp on the other hand is very disingenuous in their goals. While they spit out the term “partisan” as a pejorative and try to paint themselves as being a democratic service in municipal politics, they are very clearly ideologically driven with some pretty distinct goals. CivicCamp takes strong and direct stands on policy initiatives such as the ideologically extreme PlanIt document which was spawned from the outright insane ImagineCalgary pap. If you are going to take direct policy stands as a group, you have moved well out of the public service role and right into ideologically driven advocacy. Again there is nothing wrong with this but CivicCamp should be more honest about what they are. Reading through the site quickly indicates the hard-left lean of the group.
CivicCamp carefully tries to avoid mention of the names of the people involved with them as well. One can hide the policies of the group but it is hard to hide the intent when the names of the founders can be seen. Just as the name Manning makes it clear that the Manning Institute is a conservative leaning group, the heavy involvement of occupy Calgary organizer and extreme left-wing activist Grant Neufeld in CivicCamp gives a strong indication of just how far out there the group’s ideology really is. Calling Neufeld a left-wing extremist is hardly an exaggeration when you consider that the guy wants to actually ban air-travel and compared people who use flight to travel to murderers. The hyperpartisan Green candidate for Calgary Centre (Chris Turner) is heavily involved with CivicCamp which is rather telling of the group’s nature as well.
Naheed Nenshi and his followers are ideologues and the clash that is happening in Calgary is ideological rather than partisan despite Nenshi’s attempts to deflect from that. There is an ideology that is heavily stuck on environmentalism, big intrusive government and massive increases of city density and it is pretty clear that Nenshi and some other council members are strong adherents to this ideology. This is not shadowy conspiracy, it is right in the open if people want to look at it. Nenshi helped build ImagineCalgary and the agenda is more than clear in that document. Hiring density zealots such as Rollin Stanley is among the least of the things Nenshi wants to do. Look at how fervently he wants broad municipal powers granted in a City Charter and to increase the taxation reach of the city. Nenshi needs these things if he hopes to meet the goals in ImagineCalgary.
Ideologues are inflexible and linear in the pursuit of their goals. They do not care about collateral damage on the way to what they see as an end and will stop at little to get there. Ideologues tend to be thin skinned when it comes to any critique of their agenda as was seen in Nenshi’s now legendary tantrum with a local developer.
Like it or not, we need parties and the partisanship that comes along with them. We need ideals and idealists too to set goals and broad agendas. Let’s call things what they are though and not try to hide agendas.
The only thing more troubling than an ideologue is one who is trying to hide their nature. Deflecting and pointing at the ideology of others while hypocritically pursuing one’s own ideology is hardly productive.
Among the buzzwords that have been so overused such as “vibrant” and “sustainable” is the word “transparency”. Despite that word being used so much by our Mayor, we have more in-camera council meetings than ever and the top man seems to be anything but transparent in his ideology. That is unfortunate as the ideology is what it really is all about in the end.
It has hardly been a secret in the last few years that the anti-“sprawl” zealots have held a disproportionate degree of sway over Calgary’s city council and planners. Despite the vast majority of the city not being within the barista/hipster city center crowd, city decisions have acted as if most of our populace wanted to live in some sort of expensive, dense Manhattan style of city.
I am not exaggerating when I describe the anti-“sprawl” crowd as zealots either. If you are on twitter, only a short observation of the Calgary bike cult or the armchair city planners on #yycccc will quickly drive home that there is a collection of people who are outright fervent beyond reason when it comes to the idea that our city is growing outward and that people are daring to drive cars. This would be simply laughable if city hall treated these folks as the fringe element that they are but in light of the ridiculous decisions and plans from city hall it is clear that this minority tail is heavily wagging the majority dog here.
The reality is that 97% of Calgary’s growth has been in non-core areas. People do not want to live in a dense, bike laden hipster’s paradise and they are moving in droves to the suburbs. Despite the infrastructure challenges of a fast growing city, our city council has been focused on idiotic navel-gazing about how to find millions to decorate a new LRT line with art projects and building ugly pedestrian bridges.
This folks is how simply stupid it is getting. Even if that idiotic plan does not actually get implemented, how much did we spend to have these fools design it? They have actually targeted one of the most congested roads in the entire city and are proposing to make it smaller! Do you really think there is a traffic backup of bikes just waiting to use new lanes? Do you really think that people will give up their cars in the tens of thousands to ride bikes to work in January if we simply choke off enough major arteries in our city? Our fanatics in city planning seem to think so.
The hiring of the controversial and extreme city planner Rollin Stanley reflects the mindset of city hall right now. Ignoring how clearly city residents are voting with their feet and wallets in moving to the suburbs, the city has sought out and found a planner who wants to somehow force upward growth in Calgary. This is a man who actually celebrates parking problems and does not hide his disdain for strip-malls (that service the majority of the city population).
The game is vicious in downtown Calgary as corporate headhunters snipe talented employees from each other. It is critical for every energy company to gain the best people that they can from geologists to production accountants and Imperial has just played a master stroke.
City hall and their density obsessed planners have always worked under the assumption of “if you build it they will come”. These planners have assumed that if they simply force the issue though congestion and zoning that citizens would comply and resign themselves to living in an urban environment. People have put lie to that with their home purchases and now corporate Calgary is following the people.
Every other energy company in Calgary should worry about any of their employees who live in South Calgary right now. Downtown workers have endured years of wasted time due to the purposeful choking of traffic into and out of downtown Calgary by our deluded city managers and planners. Downtown workers have spent countless millions in parking fees and fuel to get downtown. Now with Imperial Oil able to offer employees in the South an extra ten hours a week of their lives along with the parking and fuel savings, they will be very well placed to snipe and retain some prime people.
I have seen some caught up in the density cult already chirping about putting punitive taxes and such on Southern heathens who may dare to live and work within the suburbs. This again demonstrates their total disconnect with the simple and invariable concept of supply and demand.
Okotoks crowed for years about their growth cap as a community outside of Calgary. Reality and consumer demand caught up and Okotoks has rescinded what was an unviable and idealistic policy. Now should our city be foolish enough (and I fear it may be) to continue to harangue suburban dwellers, all we will see is movement to satellite cities such as Okotoks, Strathmore, Cochrane etc. as corporate offices move to city fringes to follow the people. Sorry kids but in such a circumstance there will not be enough coffee shop facilities and bike rent stations to keep the “vibrant” urban core that some desire. You need real players and real money for that and our city is driving them out.
I feel that the idiot who proposed closing a lane on Macleod Trail for bikes should be fired for complete incompetence and disconnect with reality. On the other hand though, I almost hope that our city council is indeed stupid enough to rip up all six lanes of Macleod with this purpose in mind. That perhaps will finally be the final straw which will encourage voters to get off their butts and vote out the extremists we have on council such as Druh Farrell, Brian Pincott and Gian-Carlo Carra.