Thursday, April 26, 2007

Community Associations -- the right model?

This morning, Naheed Nenshi discussed the role of community associations with Jim Brown on CBC Radio One's the Calgary Eyeopener. Calgary is unique in the role we give formal community associations.

Not only do these associations perform an important service in offering community-based programs, they also have a quasi-official role in advocacy within city governance. Is this appropriate? Should your neighbours have a say in the design of your new deck? What happens if the association is losing members (as many are) and no longer represents the majority? What, if anything, is the alternative?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Grumpy in the morning

Naheed Nenshi will be on the Calgary Eyeopener on CBC Radio One tomorrow morning at 6:20 am discussing the role of community associations in Calgary's civic governance. Given how grumpy he normally is, what will he be like that early in the morning? You can listen live at (click on the Calgary feed) as well.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

This really happened.

We'll have some commentary on the Alberta Budget later this week as we work through some of the impenetrable documents. (Does it really call for a steep decline in arts funding over the next four years? We MUST be reading that wrong.)

But to tide you over, faithful readers, here's an amusing weekend anecdote: Naheed was picking up a Toronto friend from the airport on Saturday am. Out of longstanding NE Calgary habit, he was heading south on Barlow, rather than Deerfoot when his visitor exclaimed "Hey, is that Hidy and Howdy on the signs? That's awesome!" So, it seems that someone notices the signs after all. (She loved them, actually, and was crestfallen to hear they are being scrapped. She even wrote a letter to the Herald about it on her Blackberry.)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Happy trails, Hidy and Howdy...

While we are a little bit sad about the departure of Hidy and Howdy from our entranceways, it's probably time. After all, the majority of people living in Calgary now were not here during the 88 Olympics.

However, the shocking part of this story comes back to our usual theme: Council has lost all perspective on money. Somehow, it will take a year to design and create new signs (even though there is a beautiful new one on the TransCanada that could presumably be copied). So, we are spending $75,000 on temporary signs for one year -- just so delegates to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference next month will see nice new signs. We're spending the money -- six Craig Burrows courses worth -- so that the mayor of Toronto, if he looks up from his Blackberry out the window of his cab, may see a sign that he will never remember for a split-second. Stop the madness and reject this one on Monday, Council.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Budget Day!

The Alberta government releases its new budget on Thursday. It'll be interesting to see how Premier Stelmach goes on a few issues of vital importance to Calgary. We bet that we'll see a big commitment to affordable housing (though not rent control,of course) and a moderate increase in arts funding. The big question will be whether or not the government will commit to the full $1.4 billion in infrastructure funding, or just the first year or two. Check back later tomorrow afternoon for our thoughts.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Good, on balance

Some good news, some mixed, from today's Council meeting.

Starting with the good news, Council unanimously approved the recommendation from the Calgary Arts Development Authority that significant investments be made in our cultural infrastructure over the next several years -- $150MM over sever years, to be exact. This is a real sign that Council is finally over the "roads above all" infrastructure mentality.

In the "something is better than nothing" department, we'll finally have curbside recycling in Calgary. But not until 2009. And only for single-family homes, not apartments or condos. And we'll still have a parallel depot system (because why should we try to reduce costs)? And it ignores wet compost-ables, the most important part of the system. And it will be the only universal civic service that will have a separate user fee, despite all of Kate's good arguments against this. And Council acted in the most disgusting election-year grandstanding in passing it. But, we will have it, so that's something.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Big Monday

Huge Council agenda this week. Never let it be said these folks don't work hard. They'll be deciding on the 6th Avenue closure for construction of the Bow (just get it done and quit dithering), the newest plan for the Rivers, née East Village (hey,didn't we approve that last year, and the year before that, and 1995, and ...? See dithering, above, and ask yourself why the district now juts out to include the Bow, also above), and, of course, curbside recycling. Alderpeople Jones and Larocque, the swing votes on this one, were on the Calgary Eyeopener this morning, and gave pretty strong signals that they would support the current half-a-loaf plan after asking some good questions. See our take on this, below.

Land-use Bylaws and grumpiness

Naheed's op-ed did appear in today's Calgary Herald. It's not behind the subscriber-only firewall this time, so the link should take you right there. What do you think? is the bylaw too restrictive? How do we balance the need to control development with allowing creativity and innovation?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

We got Belinda'd...

For those who were wondering what happened to Naheed Nenshi's op-ed in Thursday's Herald (which was previewed in Wednesday's paper), we got Belinda'd, as the editor told us. Sunday's paper includes another preview, so it should be on Monday's editorial page. This one should get a lot of reaction; it manages to be critical both of the proposed Land Use Bylaw and those who are trying to gut it. Naheed assures us it actually makes sense, but he was clearly really grumpy when he wrote it. We'll post the link on Monday and the full text after the Herald's exclusive expires.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Text of Op-Ed on curbside recycling

Here is the text of the op-ed on curbside recycling, which had a great deal of response. What do you think? Do you favour curbside recycling? What about user fees?

Here is Kate's piece in full:

Curbside recycling is just like the smoking bylaw all over again. Everyone else has already done it, we know it's the right thing and we want to do it, but we're nervous. Maybe not yet, and maybe we should change the rules several times for no overall gain.

On the main principles, the vast majority agrees: banning smoking is good for our health; recycling is good for the environment.

On the smoking bylaw, council responded to the fears of a few people by delaying (and delaying, and delaying) the implementation as if that would somehow soften the imaginary blow to businesses.

Now that the ban is in place, the sky has not fallen, bars are busier than ever, and everyone agrees it was the right thing to do.

Now curbside recycling is also facing a debate on timing, and discussion on funding muddies the whole scheme.

In the early 1990s, Calgary chose community recycling depots (CRD) as a more complete and cost-effective solution over curbside recycling. CRD works very well when people use it. It has a lower environmental impact, since there are no special vehicle trips -- people tend to drop off the recyclables when they are going to the store anyway.

Compostables are conveniently contained in people's very own backyard composter. No extra emissions from curbside pickup and no need to fund a regional composting facility.

Unfortunately, people don't use it. After 15 years of the CRD system, Calgary's waste diversion rate is only 15 per cent. If you compare that with Edmonton's rate of 60 per cent, a curbside system starts to look worthwhile.

Since Edmonton began curbside recycling in 1988, Calgary has done little except demonstrate that Calgarians are too busy to bother participating in the depot system.

So, all in favour, but how do we fund it? Strangely, user fees are proposed. Public outcry about the cost of the program ensues. Council responds by reducing the recycling services offered in the program. This isn't what we want.

Calgary wants the full program at a reasonable cost. The original proposal before council was a monthly user fee of $21 or $252 per household per year.

Compare that with the average cost per single family dwelling in Edmonton of $180. Council should be asking why the program would cost 40 per cent more in Calgary. How do private companies do the job for less right now? Why isn't council addressing these questions instead of blindly accepting the cost estimates of administration?

Instead of looking into the program costs, they redistribute them by proposing to fund garbage collection from property taxes and cutting back the recycling program by excluding organics. The actual cost of the program remains unchanged.

Then there's the spurious argument for user fees. Such fees are useful in two situations: either when not everyone receives a service, or to financially motivate a decrease in use.

For example, swimming pool fees mean those who don't swim don't pay as much as those who do, and metering water results in reduced consumption.

Neither reason applies to curbside recycling. Everyone needs waste and recycling services and get it regardless of how much they throw out or recycle. Keep the optical politics out of the real issue by funding the program through property taxes.

Other funding also needs to be investigated. Is the city eligible for funding under Alberta Environment's Resource Recovery Grant Program or Waste Management Assistance Program? Are public-private partnerships an effective way to reduce program costs? Should we implement bag fees for garbage and tax the behaviour we actually want to reduce?

It's time to remind our aldermen that their job is to find out what Calgarians want and ensure cost-effective implementation.

Calgary wants curbside recycling. Council needs to lead city employees to find innovative ways to reduce costs to the taxpayer.

Kate Easton takes her recyclables to the depot on her bike and returns home with a pannier full of groceries. Even other Better Calgary Campaign volunteers think she's a bit crazy. More info at

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Op-Ed in today's Herald

BCC member, Kate Easton, writes on recycling in today's Calgary Herald.

The article doesn't seem to be on the Herald's main webpage, but w'll post the full text on this blog in the next day or so (after the Herald's exclusive expires).

Sunday, April 1, 2007

BCC in NYT (sort of)

A member of the Better Calgary Campaign was quoted in a New York Times article on Calgary ... we'd like to take credit, but...

If you haven't seen last month's New York Times article on Calgary
, you really should. It's certainly declassé to be all excited that the big city noticed us, but this is a really well-written piece.

Best part, though, is:

While the beneficiaries of Calgary's boom are easy to spot, it's not all good news for long-term residents. Tom Booth, a young lawyer who was buying wine on Stephen Avenue, noted that the population influx has meant a huge rise in living costs and an encroachment on the space and independence Calgarians once took for granted. Downtown parking lots charge up to $30 a day and homes in former working-class suburbs are selling for close to $850,000, pushing out the middle class, not to mention the poor. “It's forced Calgary to think about how to be a big city,” Mr. Booth said.

Tom is, of course, the Communications Chair for the BCC. We'd love to take credit for getting him into the world's most important newspaper, but he really was just buying wine when he was approached by the Times reporter. Nonetheless, we'll take it where we get it!