Naheed Nenshi has a dream. In Nenshi’s utopia, Calgarians will eschew suburban living and automobiles en masse while embracing high density downtown condo living and riding bicycles or taking transit to work. Calgary will turn into some sort of North American Amsterdam and lead the world in urbanist dreams. Industrial districts will vanish along with those nasty railroads that move consumer goods. Calgary will offer food trucks, art galleries and coffee shops as main industries. Hipsters from around the world will travel to Calgary to ride bicycles and gaze upon public art created by sole sourced foreign artists.
Despite using every tool at His disposal, Nenshi’s dream so far has pretty much been an utter failure. There is one factor that is foiling Nenshi’s every move to create this beautiful fantasy city. That factor is consumer choice!
Yes, those damned unwashed Calgarians just refuse to embrace Nenshi’s dream. Citizens are voting with their wallets and moving to bedroom communities in record numbers to flee the congestion and costs that are growing under Nenshi’s high-density stewardship of Calgary. Calgarians are still refusing to jam themselves like sardines into aromatic city transit or ride bicycles to work in winter as well. The personal auto is still by far the most popular means of transportation in Calgary.
Nenshi has tried every punitive means at his disposal to try to get people out of cars. Streets are being given away for a non-existent cyclist demand and parking spaces removed as quickly as possible. City Hall is now even considering charging people to park in front of their own homes. Those damned drivers are still ignoring Nenshi’s efforts to save them from themselves.
Rather than respect the wishes of Calgarians, Nenshi wants the province to empower him to force people to give up their autos and force neighboring municipalities to plan based on His own ridiculous density targets.
Nenshi has long been begging the province to grant him additional taxation powers. Property taxes alone are inadequate to feed Nenshi’s spending lust despite constant massive annual increases. Property taxes and fees do not allow Nenshi to punish behavior he doesn’t like and direct the unwashed masses into the mold He dreams of. Nenshi wants the power to charge for auto registrations and to tax the hell out of fuel. He wants to make automotive use as expensive and unviable as possible.
Nenshi’s city hall has been strangling development in the suburbs through bureaucratic means and he has dedicated profound energy to demonizing people who choose to live in the suburbs and those businesses that dare to service such demand. Instead of squeezing into Nenshi’s square hole however, people are simply moving away from Nenshi’s playground altogether.
Nenshi’s plan to curb the exodus of citizens and businesses from the city is even more odious than his taxation dreams. Nenshi has been pushing and making ridiculous demands for a provincially mandated Municipal Development Plan which would give Him a veto power over development plans in neighboring municipalities and impose Calgary’s density requirements upon them.
Nenshi’s unbending demands for authority over other municipalities has stunted any chance of a regional development agreement being developed. Regional planning is a good thing but it simply has to be cooperative. Rather than subject themselves to Nenshi’s dictatorial dreams, the MDs of Foothills, Wheatland and Rocky View have told Nenshi to kiss their collected asses. Okotoks and Airdrie have refused to participate and so far the provincial government has refused to intervene.
So far no provincial ministers have indulged Nenshi in His fervent demands as they pretty much know that doing so would be committing political suicide in rural constituencies.
We must remain on guard though. Nenshi is a canny political strategist and he can smell vulnerability in the Progressive Conservative Party right now. You can bet that Nenshi is pressuring the individual leadership candidates to promise a provincially forced Municipal Development Plan and it is possible that one of those candidates may foolishly commit to such a promise in hopes of securing the Purple Endorsement in both the leadership and the next provincial election.
If people wanted to live in Nenshi’s dream, they would choose to. The ever vaunted and subsidized “East Village” languishes undeveloped and suburbs remain popular. Auto sales continue in record numbers and weekend road trips remain more popular than art festivals. Nenshi will never understand and respect the reality that he is supposed to serve the will of the electorate rather than direct it. That is why Nenshi consistently resorts to the hammer rather than accommodating the needs and wants of citizens. That of course is why it is critical that we ensure that our provincial government never empowers Nenshi as he is demanding. It would be damned tough to get that toothpaste back into the tube.