July 21, 2021 | Barb Livingstone
New downtown community association gives voice to 8,500 residents and countingThe creation of a new downtown community association, the first from the city's core in a decade, is a sign of the growth of a healthy city as it emerges from the pandemic, says the executive director of the Federation of Calgary Communities.
"A lot of people have said the community association model is dead," said Leslie Evans. "And while there have been funding cuts on buildings, enriching our lives is not dead. As we focus on local and come out of the pandemic, the model is more relevant than ever."
The Downtown Core Community Association, representing 8,500 current residents in an area whose population is expected to double under Calgary's Greater Downtown Plan, will be the newest of the 150-plus members of the 60-year-old federation.
The Downtown Commercial Core is bounded by four other neighbourhoods already represented by community associations in Eau Claire, East Village, Downtown West End and the Beltline.
Organizer Paul Fairie says discussions surrounding the new association have been underway since March, with a core group of six or seven residents spearheading the work. The group is expected to receive legal society status from the province in August.
"My biggest surprise in this has been that I have met more people in setting this up than I ever did in the previous 11 years, including people in my own building." - Paul Fairie, Downtown Core Community Association organizer
Fairie, an 11-year resident of the Downtown Commercial Core, says the benefits of an association include input into city developments and policies, as well as a greater sense of community and the ability to plan events for residents.
"My biggest surprise in this has been that I have met more people in setting this up than I ever did in the previous 11 years, including people in my own building," he said.
The biggest challenge, he says, has been the fact that 40 to 50 residential towers – which are locked to outsiders – dominate the area, as opposed to single-family homes in suburban communities.
To combat this lack of access, Fairie and his fellow organizers have been identifying champions in each building to communicate with other residents, while also reaching out through social media.
The downtown core will continue to see growth through construction of new residential buildings and the conversion of some vacant office buildings into housing, as signalled in the City's Greater Downtown Plan.
Most new community associations are seen in Calgary's suburban communities – the latest was established in Livingston – but Evans says the advantages of an association in drawing people together might be even more important in an area dominated by multi-unit highrises.
Whether addressing safety issues, lobbying for a dog park or setting up a street festival, she says a community association provides a unified voice to its residents during any communication with city officials.
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