On Thursday, March 2 I went to the Downtown Economic Summit hosted by Calgary Economic Development (CED). It was an honour to be invited to this amazing event. There must have been at least 300 people attending with so many different organizations represented, with leaders from businesses, local government, NGOs, and academia. The main premise of the summit was to discuss the challenges Calgary is facing in this current economic crisis, and how can we find solutions to make Calgary a resilient city that is less impacted by the booms and busts of an economy that primarily relies on oil.
Some facts that I found very interesting was that 150,000 Calgarians work downtown and that Downtown carried most of the tax burden. Calgary is also in the process of transitioning some of its capital budget to investments, that way the city can grow that money. It’s interesting to think about Calgary being more than just oil and gas, as that is what most people associate Calgary with. But the major industries that are showing opportunity are agri-business, logistics, financial services, creative industries, and tourism. I was also interested to learn that Calgary is a prime market for Silicon Valley companies like Tesla, SAP, and Cisco.
I liked the layout of the summit, it had some great speakers and was still very collaborative. Each table was given an iPad to post our thoughts on what strengths or changes in Calgary should be made for Calgary to be a more resilient city. All our comments were displayed live on the front screens and all the feedback was compiled into ten main themes. These ten themes represented what people thought would be important for Calgary to become a resilient city. These ten themes were: (1) residential densification, (2) arts/culture district, (3) creating more entrepreneurial hubs and innovation centers, (4) repurposing existing downtown real-estate, (5) events/festivals, (6) bring more post-secondary campuses downtown, (7) walkability/bike infrastructure, (8) music city/district and supports, (9) new arena, (10) convention center expansion. Then from these ten items, each table had to rank the importance of each theme based on the question of “will this contribute to Calgary’s resilience and innovation and will it tell the story of how Calgary reinvented itself?”
We also got to hear from the mayor of Pittsburgh about the economic crisis that city faced back in the 70’s and 80’s when the steel industry in Pittsburgh collapsed. Steel companies left the city and in a very short period of time Pittsburgh went from a city of 660,000 to 330,000. Much of the young population left the city in search of opportunity elsewhere and Pittsburgh become the second in the USA for oldest population. What I realized through this presentation is that Calgary is nowhere near this situation. Yes, our economy is hurting and some people have left our city in search of work elsewhere, but not anything like what happened to Pittsburgh. Calgary has many strengths that make this city livable and people want to stay. It is important that we focus on our strengths while still allowing new innovations to take place. That could mean innovation in our current industries or allowing new industries to pop up.
Looking back on this Summit, I was glad to have attended and contribute my thoughts and ideas to the ongoing discussion. However, I am a little bit critical of the way we had this conversation though. In my opinion, there was little diversity at the event, and I would have liked to see more young people like me there. I think we are an important part of this conversation. I wish they had also invited members of First Nations communities in the area, like from the Tsuu T’ina nation. Our aboriginal population needs to be included in these conversations. We can only be a resilient city if everyone is allowed a seat at the table. Everyone has different perspectives and we can learn a lot from each other. On a final note, I really resonated with what Mayor Nenshi said: “mercy, compassion, love, and community is not weakness. It is powerful.”
Written by Brayden Boerchers, Ambrose University Student