Making a Better Calgary

I decided that I needed to spell out what I see as my objectives for #BetterYYC.  Some of them I have stated previously, other details may have only been implied or expressed through my action.  One of the things that spurred this was a conversation on twitter that I’d been hoping to have.  I’ve longed for a great example that demonstrated some of the side effects our efforts can create.  I’ve wanted to demonstrate how the smallest of actions can lead to major changes in our city.  I think I can show that better than ever now.  

The origins of @BetterYYC came about after Calgary’s 2010 municipal election.  This may seem to be obvious today, but hopefully in five or ten years it will become somewhat clouded over with time.  It is a time of heightened interest and people who were previously detached finding new and interesting ways to engage with their city.  My hope with @BetterYYC is to both correct mistakes we have collectively made in the recent past and to re-establish what I believe to be heart of Calgary’s identity from the years I’ve lived in this city and continue that spirit moving forward.  

The idea of Better Calgary did not originate from me and I happily admit I’m standing upon the shoulders of giants.  Many of our citizens have worked hard to create a better Calgary, just as many of our friends and neighbours continue to work very hard to make our city a better place to grow, to learn, to work, to retire, to explore, to enjoy and to live.  BetterYYC should not be considered new or innovative, it should be a recognition of the hard work so many others have established and an invitation for all citizens to find other ways to contribute.

Calgary has been a growth city for as long as I’ve known it.  I grew up in rural southern Alberta and Calgary was the city we’d flock to for goods and services, but it is the people that make the city what it is.  In 1983, I moved to Calgary for good and was welcomed by friends.  Calgary is a welcoming city because for so much of our history we have needed good people to come and create the very city in which we live.  Every influx of immigration has created a new layer to the complexity and richness of the city and we show off our stripes like strata from a core sample.  Those who are surprised that we could elect a mayor such as Naheed Nenshi have not experienced the richness and diversity of Calgary and have not understood that we did not elect a Muslim immigrant, we elected one of our own who completely believes in our city as we believe it in ourselves.

Unconstrained or undirected growth creates problems and Calgary has been subjected to some and avoided others.  We are not a city of gated communities and ghettos, we are a city where no one cares who your father was but remains interested in your talents and abilities.  We are a city where crime has sometimes become a serious problem, but a city where beat cops can make a huge difference through acting responsibly firm and helpful.  We are a city that is struggling with unconstrained growth on the fringes and we collectively are demonstrating a capability of having in depth and decisive conversations about how best to address our issues of logistics, transportation, schools and hospitals.

We are educated and industrious.  We want great people to come and share our city because we have great things to accomplish.  We bristle at PhD holders driving taxis, we desperately want our citizens to live up to their potential.  We want schools that will teach our children the skills they need to thrive in the world we are creating for them.  We have boundless opportunity around us, we don’t want people to be homeless and on the sidelines - we want them involved and succeeding and participating in the bounty of our society.  

We are human, and with humanity comes imperfection and mistakes and those so-called cracks in our system.  Each one of those can be treated as an opportunity to improve something around us.  Every last one of us has a sphere of influence where we can act to make a difference in the world around us.  There is an immediacy to our actions that may have an impact, but there is also a longer term effect.  The stated long term goal of all my actions is to make my city - Calgary - a better city.

I have four premises I’m building from.

  1. You must be observant and recognize things around you which can be improved.
  2. You must care enough about your city and the issues you spot to want to act.
  3. You must create positive change by following through with action over your concerns
  4. You must share your story with others to create inspiration and gain new ideas.
    The actions and the problems around you are entirely personal and the choice must be yours to make.  There are people out there doing hundreds of things each and every day that makes Calgary better.  There are people who have literally devoted their lives to it.  For them it is simply a choice of being aware of one specific task, following through and talking about it.  Some days it’s a huge job just to find that one thing and you really have to go out of your way.  It isn’t a contest, there’s not an exam, it’s a responsibility you take upon yourself.  You can’t pass, you can’t fail, you can’t do it all, just please find one opportunity around you and act upon it.

The things to accomplish are vast and varied.  I often talk about picking up a bag of garbage because it is a big bugaboo of mine and there is ample opportunity for me in my neighbourhood.  I’m impressed with the difference I’ve made, but there is much more to be done.  We have awareness to be raised, charities to support, people to teach and to mentor.  Every choice you make can improve Calgary - make a choice purposefully and act to make a positive change.

  • Rake up your leaves and the leaves don’t clog the sewer and the runoff flows properly and we don’t need to call out a city crew to fix it so often saving you tax dollars so the taxes can be redirected to a school which teaches a kid who grows up to make a good income and become a good citizen.

  • Shovel your walk so your mailman doesn’t slip so he considers your neighbourhood a plum route so he wants to keep it and makes sure you get great service.

  • Pick up the garbage on the green area so when the city comes to mow they don’t hit that smashed car part and damage the blade and have to spend extra shop time getting it repaired and sharpened.  In return, you can pick entire pieces of garbage instead of garbage that’s been shredded by a mower blade.

That’s the little stuff we can all do.  There are things we can do that are less tangible and no less important.  

The conversation I referred to at the top was about annoyance with the HAWCS helicopter and subsequently with an elitist attitude from the city police.  It’s hard to present an involved argument within 140 characters and retain full clarity, but this is a beautiful example of how #BetterYYC can flounder or be successful.

The HAWCS helicopter is the very example of how one person, acting within their sphere of influence, can make a difference in the world and create a Better Calgary.  If you don’t know the story, CPS Constable Rick Sonnenberg was struck and killed by a stolen car.  His sister worked tirelessly to create a memorial fund to purchase a helicopter.  I didn’t think it was a good idea.  I argued we’d be better off with more cops on the street than one bird in the air.  “Why weren’t we asking the cops about this?” I asked.  The reply I got was, “We did.  They wanted the helicopter.“  QED.

The things we do to fix a problem will carry unintended consequences.  Some times they are going to be consequences we have to address.  We’re not making a perfect Calgary, we’re making a Better Calgary.  It’s as simple as that.

So if the helicopter annoys you by waking you late at night, my challenge in return was to actually call the police, make a complaint and find out why HAWCS was circling overhead.

Someone - in reality a whole lot of other people - believed that getting Calgary a police helicopter made for a better Calgary.  A whole lot of people feel annoyed that we’re woken up yet again by that blasted thing.  The very essence of #BetterYYC is to come together and have a meaningful conversation about what truly makes Calgary a better city and what needs to be done about it.  Let me run it through the steps above!

1.  Observe the effects of HAWCS.  How effective has it been with policing?  What are the consequences of having it fly?
2.  How much does the noise affect you?  It keeps me up later some nights and occasionally wakes me in the early morning.  I don’t care enough to act, but someone else did.
3.  Call and complain.  Discover why it’s up there.  Engage with the police and let them know of your concerns but also become aware of the situation around you.
4.  Discuss your concerns with your neighbours.  Maybe you need better lighting on your block.  Perhaps it was a one off emergency call you can’t affect but you don’t expect to repeat.  Become aware and share that awareness with the others who have been affected.

Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.

BetterYYC is about finding problems that can and need to be addressed.  Then it requires action by either solving the problem, reporting the problem or forming a coalition of like minded people to solve the problem.  Afterward we must discuss the effects, what worked and what needs improvement.

BetterYYC is a daily process.  It touches every aspect of life in Calgary.  In words I love from a friend I now treasure, it’s about embracing Calgary with your entire being.  It needs to be simple, attainable and focused towards positive change.  It is about engagement with our city.

Find how it fits into your life.  Take up the challenge and do one thing today to make your city better.