Editor's Note: For Calgary at a Crossroads we invited Calgary councillors to write a New Year's message to their city. Here's one who took us up on the offer.

Calgary at a Crossroads

We have all said it one way or another: 2015 has been a year like no other in Calgary.

The political changes we have seen have been the equivalent of a seismic shift in our landscape. Those, combined with the economic shift, I hesitate to call it a downturn, have brought us to a crossroads, as this series posits.

Crossroads allow for a pause, for reflection of where we have come from and to consider our path forward.

A different city

Some of the changes came out of nowhere; at the start of 2015, no provincial election was in sight, let alone a shift in government.

Many of the elements are familiar in that we have been through them before, such as the downturn in the oil and gas sector. And some we have seen coming for years, such as the accelerating global demand to take action on climate change.

The familiar, the unseen, and the foreseen have all coalesced, giving us options for which direction to choose at the crossroads.

We have been preparing ourselves for this moment for years. Calgary is a fundamentally different city than it was in the 1980's when we last had such a significant economic "downturn." Then, Calgary almost shut down, with foreclosures running rampant and more people leaving our city than arriving.

Then, we truly were a one trick economic pony, relying almost exclusively on the oil and gas sector as our raison d'être.

Eggs in one basket

In the last 30 years, we have gone a way toward economic diversification. With all the talk of the need of diversification right now, it shows we haven't gone nearly far enough.

For the most part, our economic diversification over the past several years has been primarily around services to support the oil and gas sector. While a good way to grow our economy, our eggs remain in one basket; we have simply made that basket bigger.

Yet today, even in our "downturn," we are still experiencing job growth in Calgary, as our city shifts towards other economic areas.

Layoff Alternatives 20151211

The latest downturn in oil and gas has had a significant impact on Calgary but the city has grown more resilient as its economy diversifies, says Coun. Brian Pincott. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Our transportation and service sectors are growing, thanks to a recent concerted effort by organizations such as Calgary Economic Development and the Chamber of Commerce to support and grow local business.

We are seeing an economic shift playing out, and the result is we aren't seeing the foreclosures that we saw 30 years ago.

But, more importantly, we have been preparing ourselves as a city for this moment in our shift in priorities, as residents and also as local government.

A place to make a life

In 2006, Calgary developed its 100 year vision — a vision created by Calgarians for Calgarians.

Over the course of two years, tens of thousands of Calgarians participated in sharing their dreams, hopes and vision for our city. That plan, adopted by city council, has influenced and informed our city for the past 10 years.

The final line of the Imagine Calgary vision statement has been adopted by the city as it's guiding vision: "Calgary: a great place to make a living, a great place to make a life." For the past 10 years, and as we passed the million population mark, we have been building that great place to make a life.

Citizen priorities have focused around public infrastructure such as parks and public space. We have seen a renewal of our downtown public spaces, particularly along the rivers, that has been embraced by Calgarians across the city.

Calgary River Boaters

A Calgary Fire Department boat passes paddlers and floaters in all kinds of vessels enjoying a day out on the Bow River near downtown. (Robson Fletcher / CBC)

Public festivals and events continue to grow and thrive right across Calgary, to the point where we are becoming known as a city of festivals.

Investment in the public realm — not just by the public sector, but more importantly by the private sector — has added vibrancy to living in Calgary that we haven't had before.

​Different Priorities

When you shift focus from making a living to one of making a life, different priorities rise to the fore.

Transit and walkable communities become priorities over highways and malls. Parks and recreation opportunities become more important as citizens pay more attention to how they interact with their environment and each other.

We embrace our neighbours in need, as so vividly demonstrated in the 2013 flood, and we welcome newcomers to our city with open arms, as is being shown to the world with the arrival of refugees.

We are indeed at a crossroads, a place that we have been preparing ourselves for over the last 10 years. It is the opportunity for us to show the world who we really are.

We are a great place to make a life, and a great life at that!


Calgary at a Crossroads is CBC Calgary's special focus on life in our city during the downturn, a look at Calgary's culture, identity and what it means to be Calgarian. Read more stories from the series at Calgary at a Crossroads.