I wasn't quite awake yet when Mayor Nenshi took the stage at the CREB Forecast Conference on January 15. The grainy pancakes weren't helping either. It turns out, he's a real person, not just an entertaining twitter feed. He has a way of poking you with a few good jokes, softly speaking some facts to perk up your mind, and then hitting you with an espresso shot of cold hard truth.
'The music they played as I walked to the stage made me feel like a rock star. Welcome to the stage... Neil Young!... Well, maybe not Neil Young.' (139 characters without the extra periods)
Okay, Mr Mayor, I'm starting to want to listen...
After a few minutes praising new rental apartment construction and touching on his favorite topic, secondary suites, you could see that he wasn't in a joking mood anymore. Exasperated, he rehashed the previous night where City Counsel had a three hour debate about turning a duplex in Killarney into a fourplex. In the end, it wasn't approved.
My eyes are fully open at this point...
Nenshi pointed the finger at the wealthy residents of Killarney concerned with their own property value. 'They are worried these undesirables will be driving 3 Series BMWs, not 5 Series BMWs.' Though I chuckled, and I often agree with Nenshi, this time I think he missed the mark.
As Nenshi pointed out, in Calgary it's easy to build single family houses and rental apartments. It's really hard to build fourplexes. Killarney's development plan is from 1986, and Calgary has changed more slightly since then. Simply, Calgary needs to get denser.
Later on in the day, Ian Hanomansing spoke about the changes he's seen and reported on Vancouver's real estate market since 1989. At first, Vancouver residents resisted densification. They, like us, wanted a house with a yard on a quiet street and a short commute to work. But their city had evolved into something different.
Vancouver residents first accepted, then embraced densification. They've found the value of walking and cycling over a commute. The younger generations have accepted that the first home they purchase will not be their last; it won't even be the home where their kids grow up. A condo apartment gets you in the property door and up the property ladder. So as your life changes, your home changes too.
We're starting to understand this in Calgary. But I don't think we've fully embraced it.
Vancouver residents understand urban planning and discuss it openly. It's as much a part of the general conversation as house prices, line brawls, and 54-40. (For great urban planning info follow Brent Toderian
In Calgary, we complain after the plans have been approved. And we base our complaints on property value, not value added to the community - and that has to be a conversation, not a statistic.
So let's talk about Calgary. Let's talk about new communities and old ones. Let's talk about car traffic, city transit, bike trails, walking to our favorite shops, front garages vs. laned homes, and everything else that Calgary does well or can do better.
The best part is, after we've talked about it, tweet about it. Our Mayor actually listens, even responds! He wants to be part of that conversation.
Lastly, Nenshi called REALTORS out on something we are all guilty of: 'We've said in Calgary that certain neighbourhoods are for certain kinds of people.'
Nothing like a shot to the heart to fully wake you up.
I'm guilty of stigmatizing certain neighbourhoods. Feeling that a client would be less comfortable in one community because of the colour of their skin, their age, or their sexual preferences. Calgary is diverse everywhere. As Nenshi says: 'You're welcome at every Sobeys regardless of your tattoos.'