Tag Archives: Calgary

Downtown Calgary

I realized that while Wendy had posted some great photos of Alberta, I hadn’t gotten around to them yet.  Here are some photos of downtown Calgary that I grabbed after we arrived in Calgary and took the LRT downtown.

Nexen Building, Calgary

The back of the Nexen Energy Building.


You just about hear someone say, “I want no one to have any fun in this park, ever.”

Oliver breaking the rules in Century GardensIMGP0237

Century Gardens is an urban park located in Calgary’s downtown core that was originally developed in 1975 to celebrate Calgary’s Centennial. The Devonian Group donated the park land for the creation of a place of respite within the hustle and bustle of a busy downtown. Designed and built as an artistic expression of a landscape referred to as Brutalist; the fountains and water are symbolic of the area’s mountains and rivers. The City recognizes this park and its unique features listing it in Calgary’s inventory of evaluated historic resources.

What’s interesting is that Calgary points out that the park is pretty much worn out and is at the end of it’s lifecycle so they are planning to redevelop it.  Something that Saskatoon should start to do with Meewasin which is showing it’s age.

Westview Heights

Westview Heights.  A highrise building built in 1972 consisting of a parkade, commercial offices, and apartments. The apartments dominate the building, consisting of the 14th to 39th floors.

The parkade makes up the second to seventh stories of the building, while the commercial section of the building consists of floors 8 through 10 and the 40th and 41st floors. Floors 11 and 12 are mechanical floors while floor 13 (identified as "R" for "recreation") consists of recreational facilities for tenants (a swimming pool, exercise facilities, a lounge, etc.)
The building was renamed from Century Garden to Westview Heights shortly after a 2002 electrical fire.

Century Park in Downtown CalgaryThe University of Calgary’s downtown campus

The University of Calgary’s downtown campus.

Parkade in downtown Calgary

This parkade reminded me that parking garages don’t have to be ugly.  On the outside of it are reflective pieces of lightweight metal.  They provide a bit of protection for the cars inside but they also move and ripple in the wind so they do a good job of providing some visual interest to the street where there is none.

It is details that make a downtown great and all over Calgary you see that.

Western Canadian Place

Western Canadian Place consists of two buildings, the taller North Tower and the shorter South Tower.  It was designed by the architectural firm, Cohos Evamy (the same firm who designed Bankers Hall – East and Bankers Hall – West in Calgary) in late modernist style and was built in 1983.  It is the headquarters of Husky Energy and Apache Canada.

Around this time, I got a DM from Dave King who wanted to see if we wanted to grab a bite to eat in downtown Calgary.  We ended up at The King and I, an amazing Thai food place that if I say anymore about, Wendy will get upset because she is doing a review of it for Zomato.  So I’ll add a link to it when she posts it.

Calgary TowerCalgary TowerLewis Stationary Ltd.

Built in 1910 for the J.H. Ashdown Hardware Co. in 1910, this warehouse space remained a store for Ashdown’s overstock until the Lewis Stationery company purchased the building in 1972. In 1995 it became another addition to Calgary’s loft developments.

Home of Saneal Cameras, the Lancaster Building in downtown Calgary

Home of Saneal Cameras, the Lancaster Building in downtown Calgary.  The Lancaster Building was constructed between 1912 and 1918.  Designed by architect James Teague of Victoria, British Columbia, the building incorporates the Edwardian style of architecture. Calgary’s first 10-storey structure downtown, this building was named after the House of Lancaster, one of the sides in the British War of the Roses as the subject of history was an interest to the building’s original owner, J.S. Mackie.

National Beer Hall

Calgary seems to understand the importance of all sides of a building better than Saskatoon does.   This is at the back of the legendary beer hall in downtown Calgary.


Banker’s Hall in downtown Calgary.

IMGP0272The Calgary Tower from a different perspective

So many good memories of the Calgary Tower.  It is now Oliver’s favorite spot in Calgary.  Especially the glass floor.  After we went to the top of the Tower and Oliver looked out every single observation binoculars, we headed towards The Bow.

The Hyatt in Calgary

Suncor Energy Centre

Wanderland in front of The Bow

View of The Bow

Some random urban design thoughts

  1. I was at the Peace Bridge tonight.  A couple hundred people crossed it while I was there.  Lots of tourists and families taking photos of their “accomplishment” and documenting the bridge.  Name me one place in Saskatoon where that happens.  It’s infrastructure and a tourist attraction.   Even Mark and Oliver thought it was the greatest thing they had ever seen.
  2. There was an open air concert near there and yes, there were cars parking all over the place but there were hundreds of bikes down there.  a) Can you imagine the carnage that would happen if you didn’t have bike and pedestrian infrastructure in place to get people downtown. b) How much vibrancy would you lose without it as people said, “I’m not driving downtown?”  World class cycling infrastructure means less congestion for those that have to drive.
  3. The Peace Bridge is wide, a lot wider than Saskatoon’s under bridge sidewalks.  Wide pedestrian lane and a wide cycling lane one each side.  In Saskatoon we talk of pedestrians vs. cyclists but in Calgary their multi-use path are 3x larger than Meewasin or twice as large as the path along 33rd.  Cycling infrastructure is more than just protected bike lanes, it means building all sorts of things so cyclists can use it.
  4. The Cycle Track is busier (I took some time to watch it) than I expected.  It also isn’t perfect and has some design flaws as it begins and ends but it is being used by a lot of people.   I (and others) have always said, “build it and they will come”.  It is happening in Calgary.
  5. When I was in Banff, I was shocked by how little parking there is downtown.  Only a few spots and then they use parkades.  Like in Calgary and even in some malls, it gives you a real time update of how many spots they have left.  In Chinook Centre, they even had lights to tell you where there were open spots . Saskatoon could do that kind of stuff but first we would have to invest in some parking garages.  I can’t see it happening but it would totally change downtown and give designers so much flexibility into making it into a people centric place again.
  6. In downtown Saskatoon, we have this idea that since we have Meewasin, we don’t need any downtown parks while in Calgary, there is the river and guess what, several amazing downtown squares and parks.  One of the most interesting ones was a temporary park put up by where the Telus Sky will be.  It’s just a placeholder for a future development but it looks really good and isn’t surface parking.  I’m assuming there is a tax incentive for doing this but why can’t Saskatoon do the same thing.  Why does everything torn down have to be turned into the Impark Empire.
  7. Banff has a pedestrian bridge.  It isn’t even for tourists but locals but it looks great.  Think about that, Banff has a bridge for pedestrians.
  8. Speaking of Banff, they integrate cyclists really well despite no protected bike lanes.  They are so natural there that you expect bikes (and elk) to be everywhere.  Drivers accommodate them.  I believe in excellent cycling infrastructure but drivers who respect cyclists goes a long way.  I think Saskatoon and SGI could do a lot more to educate people.  It would take decades but it could make a big difference.
  9. Does anything think that Saskatoon’s North Commuter Bridge will look anything other than the cheapest design that can be built?  Why can’t we have any signature infrastructure at a time when it is increasingly part of the urban fabric?
  10. Saskatoon will never be the next Calgary.  There is a boldness and arrogance that has long been a part of Calgary that has always demanded to be seen on the same level as Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal.  It has always punched above it’s weight, even in times of deep recession.  Saskatoon doesn’t have that kind of leadership and spirit. 
  11. I don’t think that is entirely our fault.  There is a different business culture with agriculture, uranium and potash then with oil and natural gas. 
  12. Calgary has much higher design standards than Saskatoon.  The architecture is better in Calgary in part because they demand it.  The result is that the city has incredible design even for things like parkades while Saskatoon has the Sturdy Stone Centre.  It’s not just the market that is different, city design standards are higher.  If companies want to play in Calgary, they have to pay.  Proponents of build cheaply say that the costs are passed on and they are right but the entire wage structure is different in Calgary so it can absorb it.  Great cities are expensive, Saskatoon is trying to become one by being cheaper than everywhere else.  It isn’t going to work.   For this I blame Lorne Calvert who recruited people to come back to Saskatchewan because it was cheaper than everywhere else.
  13. You know, Lorne Calvert probably isn’t responsible but still, it bugged me when he did that then and it still bugs me now.  You don’t invite people to come back because of cheap utility and insurance. 
  14. Macleod Trail is as ugly as street as I have ever seen anywhere outside of Winnipeg.    Luckily Calgary is trying to fix it.

How the West Was Once

After two days of being up at 4:45 a.m., I feel like I am slacking and sleeping in today.  It’s almost 7 a.m. 

Today we are heading to Heritage Park.  I haven’t been there since I was in Grade 4.  Much as stayed the same but a lot has changed.  That was so long ago that the school I attended for Grade 4 has closed.

Before we go to Heritage Park, I need to take Mark to Chinook Centre so we can hit up the Apple Store and he can get a new iPod Nano.   His died and then I leant him my old iPod Touch which he then dropped.  So here we go again.  I wonder if he can get an Otter Box for it.

Oliver doesn’t know there is a Lego store in that mall but I can’t see us walking by it and not going in.

After that it is to the park where we will wander around aimlessly and eat homemade food, ride a steam engine, take a cruise on a paddle wheeler, and see how Calgary was once.

The Rockies

Another obscenely early morning around here.  Wendy posted late last night about the trip out here.

I am waiting for the crew to get ready before we head downstairs to grab breakfast and then hit the road to Banff National Park today.  We are taking the old highway through Cochrane along a winding road to Canmore.   From there we will make a quick detour into Banff for some fresh bread and food before heading to Johnston Canyon where will hike the trail to the second large waterfall.  It isn’t so much of a hike then a stroll.  It’s also a great place to people watch as there are tourists from all over the globe there and they are fascinated by a lot of things (like squirrels) that we find mundane.

From there we are heading to a picnic area called Sawback where we will have a quick picnic lunch, then proceed up the Bow Valley Parkway until we get to Lake Louise.  Along the way we are checking out a campground that we plan to stay at next year.  It looks good online but it’s always nice to see it first hand.

After we explore the Chateau Lake Louise, we are heading back to Banff where the Banff Gondola and Cave and Basin National Historic site wait for us.  After dinner the plan is to see the Bow Falls chill out (or warm up) in the Upper Banff Hot Springs before heading back to Calgary.

The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is one of my favourite spots on earth.  I loved going there as a kid and I can’t wait until I can show Wendy, Mark, and Oliver the site.  As for the Chateau Lake Louise, it was there that I proposed to Wendy so it will be fun heading back there.

Out of here

Tim Horton's on 33rd Street in SaskatoonIn a couple of minutes, we will be leaving zombie like for a family vacation to Calgary and Banff National Park.  My coffee is being made while the car has been loaded up for the trip.  The alarm is being set and the dogs are starting to realize they aren’t going.  After a quick stop at Tim Horton’s for a cappuccino for Wendy, we’ll be on the road.  Hopefully the boys will fall back asleep in the car.  Since they are both zombie like right now, that should not be a problem.

We’ve loaded two large duffle bags, four backpacks (for stuff to hike in Banff with), six camera bags (one large bag to carry our gear and one smaller bag each), and a cooler full of drinks and breakfast stuff. 

We are stopping in Hanna to photograph the abandoned and some say haunted, Hanna Roundhouse and then grabbing a quick lunch in Drumheller while we let Oliver cool off and burn some energy while running to the top of the world’s largest dinosaur.

We’ll be in Calgary in the early afternoon.  Our hotel is right on a CTrain line which we will take downtown as we explore downtown Calgary, the Calgary Tower, The Bow, and the Peace BridgeMark and Wendy are also clamouring to check out Mountain Equipment Co-op and The Camera Store.

Liability concerns prompt some cities to ban sledding

Saskatoon holds firm and allows kids to be kids

Tobogganing is coming under threat as cities across the U.S. and Canada move to restrict – and in some cases outright ban – the activity.

Saskatoon isn’t on the list of cities considering a sledding ban, but the beloved winter pastime remains a dangerous one, say officials.

“Every year we see a lot of these types of injuries,” said MD Ambulance spokesperson Troy Davies, who confirmed that paramedics were called to three sledding incidents this past weekend.

The three most common types of injuries stemming from sledding are typically concussions, dislocated knees and twisted ankles, said Davies.

“With the rate of speed that people can get nowadays it’s become fairly common for us to deal with these types of calls,” he said.

Councillor Mairin Loewen said a sledding ban is unlikely. “This isn’t something that I would entertain,” said Loewen. “There’s typically some risk associated with most winter activities, but this isn’t anything that I’ve heard about.”

Dubuque, Iowa, is set to ban toboggans in nearly all its 50 parks. Other cities, including Des Moines, Iowa; Montville, New Jersey;

Lincoln, Nebraska; and Columbia City, Indiana, are following suit by restricting certain runs or posting signs warning people away.

When I was 8, I was sledding in a private park in the Canyon Meadows neighbourhood in Calgary.  It was a long and steep hill which has a slight curve in it.  It was well lit at night by light standards that were on the top of the bowl.  I was sledding on one of the circular saucers which always made you go down backwards.  

As I was descending this steep and icy hill… backward, I rose up the side of the hill and hit one of the light standards hard and almost straight on with my spine.

I hit the light standard just off centre so I managed to take the full impact but still keep going up over the top of the bowl and back down the other side.

I remember laying on my back and kind of doing a medical version of the song, “Do the hokey, pokey”.

“Put your left foot in”

Okay, that is working

“Take your left foot out”

So that foot isn’t broken.

“Shake it all about”

Now that hurts a bit.

I was fine but had a bruise going from my one butt cheek to my shoulder.

After some adults confirmed that I was only slightly concussed, I was back on the slope.  Since my neighbourhood didn’t have a private park (or a toboggan hill) anything less than a collapsed lung and I would have fought to stay on that hill.

My point is that Councillor Mairin Loewen is completely right.  All of us knew there was considerable risk of putting small children on fast devices on a hard service with no safety devices.  We did it any ways and our parents encouraged it.

It is natures way of deciding who can live on the prairies and who has to move to the west coast.

A fresh start

So I heard Derek Powazek talking on Twitter about having a fresh start on Twitter.  Someone posted a YouTube video with code on how to unfollow everyone.  After a couple of days of considering it, I decided to try it and saw me unfollow almost 1100 people.

So as soon as I did that, I decided to go look for interesting people to follow.  Of course there was some family and friends but I decided to find local people to follow and started to click “follow”.  It was a lot of fun and some people that I was aware of and enjoyed their tweets and never followed were added to the list.

That took me to about 300 followers and then I looked at who I should be following.  It was all Alberta names!  Apparently many of us in Saskatoon keep an idea on what is going on in Calgary and Edmonton.

I added a few national voices to my followers, photographers, and photography sites and I found myself back at about 900 followers.  I also realized that Saskatoon now has a lot of journalists covering city hall.  You can blame Dave Hutton for that.

I also followed some MLAs from both sides of the floor.  My advice for them is to be more like Brad Wall, Cam Broten, Trent Weatherspoon, or Dustin Duncan.  It’s okay to act more like humans and less like robots folks!

The people I left behind were the spin doctors, NFL pundits, and a lot of American political voices.  They can be fun to follow but don’t contribute much to my life.

If I unfollowed you and haven’t followed you back, don’t take it personally.  It will take some time to track down everyone I left behind and I’ll get to you soon.

Resolved, 2015

Hi 2015, it’s nice to meet you.  Since our relationship is rather new and still optimistic, I thought I would make some goals before I kick you to the curb a year from now.

Hike to Grey Owl’s Cabin

As Wendy noted, we have never done our expedition to Grey Owl’s cabin.  It’s a two day walk into the backwoods of Prince Albert National Park.  It should be a lot of fun.

Explore & photograph some great urban locations

I hate to think of Moose Jaw as a great urban location but it does have some great architecture as does Calgary and Winnipeg.  My camera and I need to do some some travelling and exploring.  Let’s not take too long to reflect on the fact that Moose Jaw has some of the best architecture in Saskatchewan.

It's Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

So the plan is to spend a day photographing and exploring Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, and hopefully a couple of days in Calgary.

Make progress on my book

Last year I was sitting in a Saskatoon City Council meeting listening to our finest elected leaders talk about residential snow clearing and then voting on cleaning some of our streets.  At the same time I was following Calgary City Council make plans for taking over the world.

Saskatoon City Council chambers

Since then I have read more about the formation of cities than I care to think of.  Why do some cities turn into Calgary or New York City while others turn into Cleveland, Detroit or Regina?  Why does it feel like we are wasting the boom?  Why do some cities like Saskatoon allow themselves to be defined by low taxes while other cities defined by the quality of life?

Integrate Evernote into my workflow

I have some big plans for Evernote in 2015 but the biggest is incorporating it into my workflow for columns, roundtables, and this blog.


I use it right now and find it invaluable but I know I can more with it in the future.

Enjoy 2015 more than 2014

2014 was okay but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to.  Here is to more coffees on patios, more late nights on decks, and more fires in the backyard.

Starbucks Patio

Mark posted his New Year’s resolutions here while Wendy posted her’s over on her weblog.

How to fall in love with Saskatoon

Winnipeg columnist Brent Bellamey has written a fantastic column on how people fall in love with a city.  He is talking about Winnipeg but he could be talking about Saskatoon.

The difficult solution to many of the city’s issues is to increase opportunity and prosperity for its citizens, improving their quality of life, growing the economy and civic revenue.
In business, the greatest success is rarely the result of following trends. Wealth comes from being ahead of the curve, predicting and investing in what’s coming next. A city is no different. Prosperity, particularly in this age of unparalleled mobility, can only be achieved by building a city that inspires and attracts the next generation.

Often called generation Y, 18- to 35-year-olds make up the largest demographic in North America today, with the greatest spending power and highest level of mobility. Their lifestyle choices will have a significant effect on the economy and competitiveness of cities across the continent. Those that are most successful at retaining and attracting a young, creative population will flourish in the future.

Winnipeg loses 3,000 to 5,000 (mostly young) people per year to other provinces, yet we continue to focus on creating the city of our postwar dreams. Our auto-centric urban-design template has taken the city from being a place with unique neighbourhoods and a distinct personality to one filled with low-density, cul-de-sac development, making it indistinguishable from any other.

Cities across North America are beginning to understand the baby boomer, suburban dream is less often the dream of the next generation.

North American young people are showing a clear shift to a mobile and flexible lifestyle supported by a greater level of density and urbanization. They live in smaller spaces than their parents did when they were young, focussing more on the dream neighbourhood than the dream house. For the first time, car ownership is dropping across the continent. In 2009, American youth drove 23 per cent less than they did in 2001. During that same period, bike trips increased by 24 per cent and walking rose by 16 per cent. Canadian transit ridership is growing at twice the rate of the population, and more than 100,000 of us belong to car-share programs.

These statistics show young people are gravitating in larger numbers to a lifestyle that is much more urban than past generations did. Walkable streets, vibrant public spaces and accessible amenities are beginning to replace the two-car garage and sprawling front-yard dream. The cities Winnipeg often loses its young people to, the places we compete with for investment, immigration and tourism are looking to the future, reacting to and investing in these changing trends.

I am surprised how many people who are in their 20s and 30s aspire to leave Saskatoon still.  They want to live in Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal for the very reasons that Bellamey is mentioning; walkable neighbourhoods, excellent public transit, bike lanes and vibrant public spaces.  None of them mention the phrase starter home or time of commute in their discussions.

It seems like Saskatoon is trying to build the dream city of the past rather than the future.  It is a decision that we could really come to regret, especially as cities like Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, and even Winnipeg (which has a far superior transit service compared to ours) continues to pull ahead.

Let me put it this way, either Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Halifax are correct is striving to build cities that can attract global talent (and therefore become more prosperous) or Saskatoon’s method of building more roads and lowering taxes is.

Here is the City of Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nensh’s take on this

Even more important than that, for Canada to survive, we must attract the best talent from around the world. So we need the top graduating engineers in Shanghai or Dubai or Mumbai to say, “I can be at the top of my profession in Canada, and that’s a place I want to live. We need the financiers to come to Toronto and Calgary as much as they go to Wall Street. And for those people to make those sorts of decisions, we have to have great places to live.

People from Toronto are always shocked when I tell them this, but the oil sands are not located under downtown Calgary. That tower is not, in fact, a derrick. The oil sands are a 2.5- to three-hour flight away. So why are all those great, taxpaying, head-office jobs in Calgary and not a slightly longer flight away, in Houston or Shanghai? Its because people want to live in Calgary. And what makes people want to live in our city is the fact that the transit is good, the road network is good, we have clean water and all those things that make cities work well.

So he mentioned road network.  How do you get a functioning road network?

It really is about consistent underinvestment by federal and provincial governments in this kind of infrastructure, and particularly transit. Think about the fact that, in all of Canada, there are two cities that have subways. There are fewer subway lines in Canada than there are in the city of Boston.

The reason the United States has so much transit is because the federal government started playing a very significant role in this in the 1960s and 70s. In Calgary, in Vancouver, and especially in the GTA, its unconscionable how much we have underinvested in our transit systems. Look, I’ll be a rhetorical politician for a minute: Investments in public transit are among the very best investments any government can make. Think about all the benefits that accrue from that: There are environmental benefits. There are real benefits in congestion savings, which means you’re giving citizens back time that has been stolen from them. Transit is also an investment in social mobility, because if you make it easier to live and work and go to school without needing your own car, suddenly you open up the ability to participate in the economy to far more people. But I think our provincial and federal governments have often seen transit as being at the bottom of the list.

You know what, if we won’t build the kind of infrastructure people want, some other city will.  We have seen people leave before and they will do it again.

Column: Making Winters Work

My column in today’s The StarPhoenix

A well-travelled friend once told me that Saskatoon and northern Saskatchewan were the greatest places on Earth to be in the summer and the world’s worst places to live in the winter.

How much I agree with him depends on the wind chill.

Winters here are long and dreary, and they last from October until May some years. Not only does the snow linger, for many of us, the winter mindset dominates our thinking on all sorts of policies and decisions even during the heat of summer.

We argue about new ideas for the city all of the time. “We can’t have bike lanes because it snows half the year.” “The winter is too long to waste money on a pedestrian bridge.” “Money on parks is wasted because they never get used in the winter.”

There is much we don’t do because of this white stuff – even when we are complaining about the heat in the summer.

Other cities aren’t held captive to winter in the same way.

Many Nordic cities with far worse winters than ours have excellent bike infrastructure and keep the trails cleared year-round.

Edmonton struck a committee last year to help manage winters better.

I am not sure if I agree with the approach that Winnipeg and Calgary have taken with elevated walkways, but I was able to walk all over Winnipeg in -40 C temperatures with only a light jacket.

A report prepared for the Minneapolis-St. Paul region mentioned that nine of the 10 happiest American states are ones that feature cold winters, and listed examples of cities that do winter really well.

In Germany, Austria, and France, people look forward to outdoor holiday markets where they can find a festive atmosphere along with holiday decorations, seasonal gifts, and warm food and drink.

New York City has imported the idea and has set up massive outdoor markets across Manhattan. Before you scoff at the idea, look at the large crowds that come out in any weather to Wintershines. People will come if you give them reason to do so.

December is easy, but we have to make February tolerable. Winnipeg is doing an excellent job. The city pays a lot more for winter snow and not only can you drive around, the sidewalks are cleared. Imagine being able to drive and get around on foot. It can happen.

Winnipeg has also installed heated bus shelters at a growing number of stops. Even in -40 C with a brutal wind, I was able to take off my tuque, gloves, and unzip my jacket while waiting for a bus.

The city has slowly added winter warming shacks as attractions along its rivers. It started as a local idea, and now gets international attention from architects and designers. Those shacks get you out of the wind and give you an excuse to brave the elements.

No matter the weather, thousands of people are having fun all winter long.

Adding a few warming huts each year would make a cold and windy Saskatoon riverfront a lot more tolerable. It would also help connect the different business districts which are spread out because of our river.

Holiday seasonal markets would also be perfect in the Saskatoon Farmers Market. Who knows? It could even one day expand into something other than a weekend destination.

The first step is not warming huts or outdoor markets, however – it is to convince council to get serious about residential snow removal. And our business improvement districts must get serious about keeping sidewalks clear.

Then it relies on everyone figuring out ways to make winters more enjoyable.

Maybe it’s a restaurant opening its deck on milder days, or community associations holding outdoor parties in the winter, like they do in the summer.

It requires the city looking at ways of making our parks winter-friendly, perhaps with more fire pits, or ensuring bike lanes are cleared all season long.

It’s bus shelters that actually do keep us warm. Once we figure out how to shed the shackles of a cold winter and enjoy it, we will find out that even our summer months can get better.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

How Calgary’s Oil Boom is Threatening to Destroy It’s Middle Class

From the Globe and Mail

When Necole Hines moved to Calgary from Toronto nine years ago, she was offered teller positions at four different banks. When she got laid off from a recent job at a stock photography company, she easily found another in sales and administration at a magazine.

Ms. Hines – who spent a year in university but has no degree – has always made lower-end but respectable wages, most recently around $50,000 a year.

But that salary doesn’t go very far in what has become one of Canada’s most expensive cities, where an oil boom has created reams of new money and driven up the cost of everything from housing to groceries.

The signs of wealth are everywhere – from the frenzy to build the new tallest skyscrapers, skyrocketing sales at the four-year-old Bentley dealership, and plans for high-end malls and neighbourhoods at every turn.

In the country’s energy capital, where business people, lawyers, engineers and geologists earn some of the highest salaries in Canada, households making less than a six-figure income – who many would classify as middle class – face a tough slog.

Calgary families earning up to $68,175 still qualify for a three-bedroom social housing unit, proof that even amid Calgary’s wealth, middle-class households are being increasingly squeezed. The tight labour market created by the expansion of the energy industry has not eliminated the issue of income inequality. Far from it – the rise in the cost of living is adding to the pressure.

Ms. Hines will attest that if you’re not working for an oil and gas company, or one of the other corporate towers that make up the landscape of the downtown, it’s an expensive place to be.

“If you don’t get into that right industry, you’re still having to pay for the same things as somebody else making that amount of money,” Ms. Hines said.

She found she needed a car because public transit isn’t reliable, and food basics such as produce and cereal are more expensive. (The Consumer Price Index was higher in Calgary in 2012 than any other city in Canada, except for Edmonton.) In a city where home ownership is prized, the average single-family home costs more than $516,000, so the single mother of three rents the main floor of a house. Although she is the main breadwinner for her family, Ms. Hines has never felt as if she’s been able to get ahead. “In this city, it’s not that easy.”

Alberta’s bountiful oil and gas resources have given many people steady work, and have made others rich. Calgary is home to more than one in 10 of Canada’s wealthiest tax filers, those with an annual income of at least $201,400. Between 1989 and 2010, its share of the national total more than doubled, to 11 per cent from 5 per cent.

But the influx of money and 20,000 newcomers to the city each year – whether it’s for views of the Rocky Mountains or the low unemployment rate – means the demand for every service, from housing to hairdressers, has gone up.

“It’s not all sunshine and rainbows in Calgary,” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said in an interview. “There are a lot of people who are vulnerable. There are a lot of people who are living on the margins.”

While Calgary has become home to one of the country’s highest family median annual incomes – now at $93,410 – increasing wealth has not affected everyone equally. In an analysis of Statistics Canada income-tax data, the University of Alberta’s Parkland Institute says Calgary is Canada’s most unequal city, as the bottom 90 per cent of income earners saw an average increase in pay (adjusted for inflation) of only $2,000 between 1982 and 2010.

Alberta has the highest average hourly wages in the country, but certain sectors routinely benefit more than others. For instance, while people in business, finance or sales saw large average increases in hourly rates over the past 12 months, wages in art, culture and recreation occupations dropped.

100 Ideas to Improve Saskatoon: 1. Cut Red Tape

Saskatoon loves to talk about how it is a business friendly city and touts our lower taxes. As other cities have learned, being business friendly means a lot more than lower taxes, it means less red tape.

In 2010 the City of Calgary created the Cut Red Tape program to reduce red tape at The City of Calgary. The focus of the program was to remove red tape and make changes that result in our citizens and businesses seeing visible improvements. Some of those changes were small, constant irritants and others may be larger, fundamental issues in regulations or business processes. The aim is to shift our culture from a regulator perspective to a facilitator. The program has been supported by Council and funded through approved applications to the Council’s Innovation Fund on a project-by-project basis.

There are some real cost savings both to taxpayers and to the city.  Take a look below.

Cut red tape total savings

Cities around the word are hearing from world class businesses that “business friendly” is a lot more than low taxes, it’s about creating a climate where business can be conducted easily.  It’s something that Saskatoon has a way to go on but as Calgary is showing, it is something that can be improved.