The Main — March 22: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Calgary’s Guidebook Madness

1. A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Calgary’s Guidebook Madness 2. Why Women Don't Run for Office

As you read this, Calgary City Council is holding public hearings for its divisive Guidebook for Great Communities. Expect things to get heated.

As Calgary already knows, if you mess with the housing status quo you should expect drama. Many residents of Canadian cities have built barriers to change by fighting to maintain the ‘character’ of their neighbourhoods. Usually, the definition of character put forward prioritizes detached, single-family housing and undermines other forms (and, in code, the people living in these other types of housing). The code can get perverse. In Toronto, a neighbourhood group is currently suggesting a parking lot is the “heart” of their community. This realization came after an affordable, multi-family housing project was proposed.

The Guidebook has landed in the middle of a growing election campaign. We’ve assembled a quick, ahem, guide to the intrigue.

LOST IN GUIDEBOOK ‘FACTS’ 

Last week, the Calgary Herald ran a front page ad that offered an ominous and factually challenged view of the Guidebook. “Unless you act now, the proposed Guidebook for Great Communities will change your neighbourhood forever.” The ad joins a second advertorial (meaning editorial that’s bought and controlled by a client) that ran in Calgary’s Avenue magazine. 

This campaign is tonally similar to tweets from mayoral candidate Jeremy Farkas and also to messaging from the political-action committee (PAC), Alberta Proud.

Farkas and fellow conservative councillor Sean Chu have called for the Guidebook decision to be delayed until after the October election. 

But who paid for these ads?

The intrepid journalists at The Sprawl dug to find out. So did we, by the way, but we only received unsubstantiated rumours that we won’t report. Regardless, the person who spoke to The Sprawl on behalf of the group behind the ad is a resident of Elbow Park. The Sprawl also reported that the Elbow Park Residents Association has been running Facebook ads that direct people to the website that lays out the considerable community opposition to the Guidebook, Calgaryguidebook.ca

To read more, The Sprawl story is here

WHAT IS THE GUIDEBOOK?

But what is the Guidebook? In a sentence, it’s a proposal to simplify the complex, timely bureaucratic process for creating a plan for development in new neighbourhoods, or redevelopment in older ones. This currently takes huge amounts of time. As Mayor Naheed Nenshi said, the process starts “from scratch” with each and every development plan.

The Guidebook is an attempt to make that process more logical, faster, and fairer, as well as one more geared to Calgary’s development goals (less sprawl, more financial sustainability). You might even call the Guidebook cutting red tape and fiscally conservative.

Yep, we said that.

The Guidebook is about the future, in neighbourhoods that either aren’t built or that are but don’t have local area plans. In a nutshell, these plans define what can and can’t be built in a neighbourhood.

As you can see, the Guidebook is not the automatic plan to densify every inch of Calgary that some have portrayed it to be. But as always, don’t expect facts to get in the way of a good story.

Even the Calgary Herald, which accepted and ran the ad, reported it in this less ominous light. Journalist Madeline Smith wrote in the Herald: “The guidebook doesn’t introduce zoning changes that would automatically bring more density to a neighbourhood. It doesn’t change the city’s land-use bylaw, and people would still have to go through the existing process to redesignate a piece of land for a higher-density use.”

WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN?

Fireworks are guaranteed. But in a more concrete sense, mayoral candidate Jyoti Gondek has proposed an amendment to the Guidebook

Aside from that, we at Rage Against the Municipal expect the usual coded fights between those who want to keep their neighbourhoods only for those in their own socio-economic classes and those who see the need for Calgary to grow more sustainably and equitably.

Expect more from us on this in future. 

-TQ

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Women in Politics Panel

Join us at 8PM on March 24, on Facebook Live.

Have you ever thought about gender parity in politics? Why do we care who makes decisions at the local level? Join us for a discussion on how women can get involved, how you can support them, and what challenges or opportunities exist in the October 2021 municipal elections.

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Why Do We Still Have to Talk About Women in Politics?

When we look at the history of progress there are issues that began hundreds of years ago, or more, that are still at play today in a world that’s been mostly designed by men. Women in politics is one of them. 

This is something Rajah Maggay found interesting as she participated in a new podcast through ParityYEG, called “Searching for Izena”, created through a collaboration by the YWCA Edmonton. The podcast hosts are Stacey Brotzel and Kim-Ann Wilson. It is a deep dive into women councillors in Edmonton’s history. There have only been 31 of them. 

Maggay is a campaign manager on Ashley Salvador’s campaign in Ward Metis, and a Parity YEG board member. Maggay says she enjoyed learning lessons by working on the podcast. “You learn about the circumstances [early women councillors were in] and how they still apply now. They would have name recognition because of their husbands but they were still very active, writing letters to boards recommending more female representation. It is exciting to see how they broke some traditional gender roles.” 

In 2021, those traditional gender roles haven’t gone away. Our work is still divided into large categories of ‘man’ or ‘woman,’ and we’re thereby given a list of expectations for the sort of work that we do.

This can limit the roles that women see themselves in. “A lot of women may be fearful of running because culturally, more traditional gender roles are imposed on them,” Maggay says. “Maybe their culture is used to seeing women take care of the home instead of seeing them in positions of leadership. There’s so many women who learn to balance their family life with being leaders in the community.”

In some ways, those traditional roles make women better suited for office than they may think, Maggay says. “Who better to serve, at the hyper-local level than women in the community, who know what it's like to go through those every day motions?” 

CULTURAL ASSUMPTIONS AFFECT SOCIAL POLICY

“It all started as a joke…” begins the first chapter of Caroline Criado Perez’s book, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. An official in Karlskoga, Sweden, remarked: “At least snow-clearing was something those ‘gender people’ can keep their noses out of.”

They were in for a surprise. Sweden’s Gender Mainstreaming in Government Agencies (GMGA) began to explore whether snow clearing affected women and men differently. Sure enough, they found the routine of clearing snow typically benefited men over women. 

In the winter, snow was cleared first on main roads that led into the city, benefiting commuters — who were mostly men headed to work. Foot- and cycle-paths were cleared last — not so good for pedestrians and cyclists, who were very often women traveling with children in strollers.

There was a cost to all this: 79 per cent of pedestrian injuries occurred in winter, of which 69 per cent of those injured were women.

So, even in a supposedly gender neutral conversation of snow clearing, more women in office could mean more women sharing their experiences. 

WHY DON’T WOMEN RUN?

Today, whenever an election is held, the topic of women running for office comes up. But is there a change because we are talking about it? Maggay thinks so. She says one of the barriers to seeing more women in office is still convincing women to run in the first place. 

“It is hard to convince women to run. They have to be convinced more than their male counterparts. With their work and home life, there may be more things to factor in. I hope this time around we can see these numbers finally translating to women getting elected.” 

Despite the cultural conversation about ‘electability’ and who can win, research shows this holds true for both women and people of colour. Women do get elected at the same rate as men, Maggay says.

It is that first step of getting women to run that still remains. 

LESS MONEY, MORE PROBLEMS

But it isn’t the only issue. Fundraising for women is also a challenge. “I think a lot of voters are used to seeing the same type of elected officials and in our mind that is an older male, so it is hard for younger women to fundraise. That was a big thing we saw in the last election,” Maggay says. 

So what is a candidate to do? “A lot of people are moving to monthly donations, or making sure that when people donate they feel like they are part of a team,” Maggay says. 

For those who want to consider themselves allies, Maggay says to find a candidate that you identify with and “put your money where your mouth is if you truly want to see women in council chambers next year.”

Women, and all other elected officials, bring their own lived experience to council chambers. In doing so, they can identify policies (even seemingly innocuous ones like snow clearing) and use their perspective to make a municipality a safer and more inclusive space for all. 

-DP

Clarification 3/24/21: Searching for Izena is a project collaboration between the YWCA and Parity YEG (plus the generous support of a lot of other organizations and volunteers). Stacey is one of two hosts, the other being Kim-Ann Wilson, who runs her own podcast and marketing business. You can learn all about it here www.searchingforizena.com


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