When is a good time to invest in our future?
Also available on the Calgary Herald’s Q.
Several years ago Rick Bell wrote one of my favourite lines about Calgary. He called it, “the city planning forgot.” At the time, I whole-heartedly agreed. It was the mid-90s and it seemed the city was pulling itself apart after a period of growth that all areas of civic infrastructure had not kept up with. In short, Calgary was not prepared for the kind of city it was becoming.
I am very impressed with recent Councils determination to not see this happen again. Even the average citizen can see that planning is a priority for the Mayor and Alderman. And everyone will agree Calgary will be better because of that foresight.
As someone who works in the creative industries, I was especially impressed with the creation of a Civic Arts Policy because, at the time, this kind of advanced planning by our Council almost seemed foreign to me. After extensive surveys, focus groups and reviews of best practices Council set forth determined to invest in “creat[ing] a city where people want to live and do business … by establishing a community enriched by artistic, recreational and cultural choices”. A noble cause, and yet one with its expectations planted firmly in reality. They knew this would not happen overnight and that it would require continued vision and creativity to make this goal come to life.
There is no good time to invest money – especially with all the competing interests City Council deals with on a regular basis. During the recent “boom” arts and culture funding increases found it hard to come to realization because of the high cost of everything else Council was trying to build. That investment would have to wait. And now that the economy has slowed, the citizens of Calgary hear from some that we need to tighten our belts and arts and culture funding might need to be a casualty of that. It is a no-win situation. When is the right time to focus on the noble goals of the Civic Arts Policy?
Here are some interesting numbers that show the “uncultured” stereotypes about Calgary are not true:
- Calgarians more per capita on art works and events than any of Canada’s major metropolitan centres.
- Maclean’s magazine recently published a scientific study proving Calgary was Canada’s “most cultured city”.
- 13.5% of Calgarians work in the cultural industries.
- At $29.43 dollars leveraged from other sources for every City dollar invested, Calgary’s arts organizations achieve the highest leverage of funds from other sources on the City’s municipal investment ($19.86 Winnipeg leverage, $17.53 Edmonton leverage, $15.00 Toronto leverage; and $12.78 Vancouver leverage).
- Albertans spent 75% more on live performing arts ($140 million) than on live sports events ($81 million in 2005. In addition, nearly twice as many Alberta households spent at least some money on live performing arts (43% of households) than on live sports events (23%) in 2005.
Given these numbers ranking us so high on the cultural front, I think it is fair to say Calgary should not rank last on a list of benchmark cities’ investment in the culture per capita.
To create the kind of city we all want to live in we need not only planning but commitment to achieve the goals we have set out for ourselves. That includes reducing EMS wait times, improving traffic flow, increasing LRT ridership, and “establishing a community enriched by artistic, recreational and cultural choices.”
We need to be prepared for the kind of city we are becoming. And there will never be a better time to invest in our future than right now.