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Andrea Cox / For CREB®Now
Andrea Cox / For CREB®Now

March 05, 2021 | Andrea Cox

Community Profile: Forest Lawn is a beacon of cultural diversity and entrepreneurial spirit

When one thinks about Calgary's southeast community of Forest Lawn, one of the first things that come to mind is its lively food scene.

"I try to take a meander through the area at least once a month, exploring new restaurants and grabbing some great ingredients from the local ethnic food stores," said Jenna McNab, who loves to whip up authentic culinary gems. Although she doesn't live in the neighbourhood, like many Calgarians she considers Forest Lawn's International Avenue a can't-miss destination.

However, Forest Lawn is about more than just food. It's also about diversity and inspiration.

"We are trying to create better connections to space and to place making," said Alison Karim-McSwiney, executive director of the International Avenue Business Revitalization Zone (BRZ). "It's really all about the people who live here, and that is what makes this place so incredibly interesting."

Over 26 per cent of the area's almost 8,000 residents (50,000 if you count everyone in the greater Forest Lawn area) speak a language other than English, and with that comes a rich cultural mix. Here the village feel is evident. People are connected and entrepreneurial spirit takes centre stage.
"It's really all about the people who live here, and that is what makes this place so incredibly interesting." - Alison Karim-McSwiney, International Avenue BRZ executive director

"We have 435 businesses that operate on 17th Avenue and 545 that operate in the greater Forest Lawn area, so we have a significant number of home-based businesses," said Karim-McSwiney.

To that end, the BRZ has created some innovative strategies directed at building community and business. Its emergeHUB initiatives are some of the most cutting-edge in the country, designed to give entrepreneurs in the community the economic edge that comes with working together in a hub of minds, ideas and collaborations. It includes everything from shared workspaces, to an affordable commercial-kitchen incubator with rental space for start-up culinary businesses, and a moveable, modified shipping containing available for retail endeavours.

"We wanted to see how we could build the community even better through a series of economic development strategies," said Karim-McSwiney.

Along similar lines, Fuse 33, a new communal makerspace located at 17th Avenue and 33rd Street S.E., is creating quite the stir. The space is outfitted with a woodshop, metal shop, sewing lab, laser cutter and 3D printing studio.

"We have hundreds of artists that live in the area," said Karim-McSwiney.

Fuse 33 is just one way for them to create. The area's $1.1-million public art initiative is another (it was grandfathered in through city council despite cuts to public art funding). Part of that initiative includes 12 murals themed around celebrating cultural communities. The murals are framed and moveable, and the artists all have a local connection. A new mural in the collection is slated for unveiling next week.

"All of these initiatives are so important in creating a holistic and well-rounded community, one that connects ideas and entrepreneurship," said Karim-McSwiney.

Tagged: 17th Avenue | Alison Karim-McSwiney | brz | Calgary Community | emergeHUB | Feature | Forest Heights | Forest Lawn | International Avenue | International Avenue Business Revitalization Area

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