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U of C geography professor Dr. Byron Miller.
Vivian Leung/the Gauntlet

Designing downtown

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What will the city of Calgary look like 100 years from now? Four prominent Calgarians discussed what the future might hold for our growing city during last week's Alberta Global Forum Hot Topics, co-hosted by the University of Calgary's faculty of communication and culture and the Glenbow Museum. The discussion centered largely on imagineCALGARY--a city-led, community-owned initiative to create a long-term vision for a sustainable city.

"ImagineCALGARY is the city's largest municipal vision document," said Don Braid, a columnist for the Calgary Herald. "It gives us a unique advantage because we now know what Calgarians want."

The two-year project surveyed over 18,000 Calgarians, asking them to provide their personal dreams and vision for the city. At the top of most Calgarians' agendas were a cleaner city, a healthy civil centre, reduced poverty levels, better transportation and an end to the private car, noted Braid.

Despite the great intentions revealed by the project, however, all four panelists agreed Calgary has many obstacles to overcome first.

"A great city isn't just a bunch of buildings downtown or suburbs that stretch all the way to Montana," said Braid. "Child poverty has doubled and there is a growing gap between the rich and the poor."

According to Dr. Kabir Jivraj, United Way of Calgary board of directors chair and professor in the U of C faculty of medicine, our social system is in a crisis. He noted homelessness has increased by 30 per cent since 2004, with 3,500 people currently homeless. He said the city is also struggling with affordable housing, the highest high school drop-out rate in Canada and one out of every three senior citizens having less than one social interaction a month.

"People are saying, 'Come to Calgary because the streets are paved with gold,'" said Dr. Jivraj. "But for a city to be great it has to be great for everyone."

Some of the speakers suggested better controls and planning for urban development to deal with suburban sprawl. Currently, sustainable developments in Calgary are rare. Places like Garrison Woods and The Bridges--two award-winning developments--are exceptions to the rule, said U of C geography professor Dr. Byron Miller.

"Right now, the decisions are being made by fragmented voices--small special-interest groups and huge developers," noted Miller. "The key here is a participatory democracy in which everyone's voice is being heard and included in the development process."

Ward 7 alderman Druh Farrell also addressed the need to change Calgarians' attitudes toward city planning. The current feelings of self-entitlement, brashness and arrogance that most Calgarians exhibit should be modified into more caring traits like humility, innovation and generosity, said Farrell.

"How can we be a city that people want to write songs about?" Farrell asked the crowd. "We should no longer be viewed as children of the province. Let's get treated like adults. Let's grow up."

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