Helping Heroes, Residents, and The City Find A Way Forward
East Riverside has the largest concentration of affordable housing in Calgary. After many years, we recognize that we want and need seniors to be integrated into their communities rather than in big facilities that fail to do this adequately.
Published on April 16, 2018
As you know, right now the community of Bridgeland-Riverside, The City of Calgary, and I are working on the new area redevelopment plan which is being driven primarily by the great work the community did on the East Riverside Master Plan. We’re also working on the MainStreets program whose goal it is to transform 1 Avenue NE into a more thriving and vibrant high street for the neighbourhood. While discussing those medium- and long-term projects, we remain focused on day-to-day items as well, such as parking, social disorder and crime, mobility freedom and the ongoing crush of redevelopment proposals – whether they are residential or non-residential (such as the Bridgeland Complex Care Centre – you can watch my video on that development here).
There’s a lot going on in Bridgeland-Riverside and I know that people who are dealing with these things on a day-to-day basis are feeling a little bit overwhelmed, but we'll get through all of this.
Homes for Heroes’ Development Proposal
During the election period, it came to my attention that City Administration was negotiating with a group called Homes for Heroes to place them, as a sub-lessee, on a City-owned piece of land in East Riverside down in the corner on the Canadian National Institute for the Blind's site.
That was news to me and a lot of people in the community who had been working hard on the master planning and the local area plan process.
CNIB’s Advocacy in East Riverside
The historic Riverside area of Bridgeland-Riverside is divided into three sub-areas: The Bridges in the middle; Riverside proper to the west of the Bridges; and, the institutional landscape of East Riverside. There is general consensus that Riverside, with the exception of some potential heritage streetscapes, that Riverside is the part of the community where the densities associated with transit oriented development (TOD) is most appropriate and two years ago residents, businesses, and community institutions started having a series of conversations about the future of the community with that consensus as a starting point. One of the community institutions that initiated this conversation was the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (the “CNIB”), which sits on a piece of land in East Riverside in a long-term lease with the City of Calgary.
Several years ago, CNIB approached me and they indicated that as an institution that sits on a giant lot, next to an LRT station and beautiful park space, that they were in a building that did not adequately serve their purpose. They also indicated that as an institution that serves many Calgarians and Albertans, they wanted to put themselves on a stronger financial footing and to have a conversation with the City of Calgary about extending their lease and finding a private sector partner who would develop this land with them to provide them with a better space and the City with an actual tax base of TOD dwellers.
Silver for Seniors in East Riverside
At the same time, I was approached by Silvera for Seniors who identified the same opportunities as CNIB. Like CNIB, they indicated that their operation represents a previous era's best practice for working with vulnerable populations. Silvera for Seniors would would like to better care for the low-income seniors in their care by building a state-of-the-art facility with an economy of scale which stops the cycle writing a cheque annually from the government to keep the lights on and keep these citizens fed.
The Over-Representation of Low-Income Housing, Seniors Housing and Social Ills in East Riverside
Bridgeland-Riverside in general, and East Riverside specifically, has the largest concentration of affordable housing in the City of Calgary. The folks who live in East Riverside are disconnected from the life of the community. After many years, we as a society after recognize that we want and need seniors to be integrated with children, brought into their communities to join in celebrating and enjoying them rather than building big facilities that fail to do this adequately.
East Riverside’s Development Impact on Seniors and Social Disorder
During the East Riverside Master Plan development planning process, one of the things that was being talked about was better integrating seniors into their community and their main street on 1 Avenue NE. It was realized that a lot of these seniors’ mobility freedom was challenged and that for so many of them, the journey from East Riverside to 1 Avenue NE was simply too far.
Bringing the Community to a Prosperous East Riverside
An amazing idea emerged from this discussion - what if we brought the community to the seniors?
1 Avenue NE peters out as a commercial street at around 9A Street NE and becomes more residential. Instead of looking to change residential areas to commercial areas, there was massive support for continuing the main street by running it down 9 Street NE and then along McDougall Road NE, and supporting that main street by creating a pathway system that ran along Bow Valley Drive NE and connects to the LRT station.
With this idea, all of a sudden, East Riverside becomes a center of community where the largest concentration of affordable housing in the city of Calgary gets diluted and enhanced by young families and young people and adults achieved through density and working with the community institutions to better support their clients who too often were forgotten and too far away to participate in their communities and have their happiest and most prosperous life in a great community.
This idea incorporated into the East Riverside Master Plan provided a lot of wins – wins for the institutions, wins for their clients, wins for the residents of Bridgeland-Riverside and wins for the City and Calgarians at large. The East Riverside Master Plan had strength behind it because Bishop O’Byrne, CNIB, and Silvera for Seniors were all at the table and invested in taking East Riverside from a “big box”, under-used, demographically-uniform (and sometimes social-disorder affected part of the) community to a mixed-use, mixed-income community for people of all ages, all wages, and all stages in life.
It's a win for the city and, with that thinking, the East Riverside Master Plan was born, and we had CNIB at the table. We had Bishop O'Byrne at the table. We had Silvera for Seniors. We had the City of Calgary and some of our lessees in this area, and early on we had Alberta Health Services, which is one of the reasons why we're pushing back on the BCC as being ... another institutional use is not a good idea.
The Left Hand v. The Right Hand
All of those ideas came together in the East Riverside Master Plan that was assisted, supported, and championed by The City of Calgary’s Planning and Development (P & D) which resulted in the next generation local area plan for Bridgeland-Riverside. That work towards a denser, more mixed use, more enriched, mixed-income future for East Riverside was finally being worked towards.
During this time, another branch of the City of Calgary, namely, the Real Estate & Development Services (REDS) department was negotiating with Homes for Heroes to find a place for a very special approach to working with veterans who have serious issues with post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction issues, and some who may have fallen into homelessness.
When Real Estate & Development Services was approached by Homes for Heroes, REDS, looking at City-owned land, realized that CNIB was sitting on a giant piece of land and they weren't using anywhere near all of it. From their point of view they believed that it was a good idea to place small clusters of tiny-houses on the land. What they failed to realize was their colleagues in P & D already had plans for the future of this land.
The Mission of Homes for Heroes
Homes for Heroes is an organization whose mission is to create small and beautiful cottage clusters that give people their own home but are connected to the life of a mini-village, in a caring environment. The organization aims to rescue heroes who have fallen into homelessness and addiction issues.
Homes for Heroes originally reached out to the City of Calgary and was looking at a site close to the downtown, on the pathway system, in the Eau Claire area. It was recognized that that location was not an appropriate place. Homes for Heroes indicated that they needed a location that is close to everything, while isolated enough for their clients to undergo treatment and start on their path back into civilian life.
The Inappropriateness of the CNIB Land for Homes for Heroes
While the planning and development concerns are very real for East Riverside, there is also a much more pressing issue with respect to the use of this land for Homes for Heroes whose intention would be to remain on the CNIB land for 15-20 years. What the Homes for Heroes in Bridgeland-Riverside proposal does not take into account is that there currently is a tremendous concentration of vulnerable people, affordable housing and considerable amounts of social disorder in this area. We know that it is not best practice to concentrate potential social issues into more and more density. What we now know is that it is a much better idea to dilute these social services and institutions into the general population, and actually create a much more robust and integrated community.
CNIB and Homes for Heroes’ Contrasting Visions for the East Riverside Lands
When I started to dig in and speak with the leadership of the CNIB, they indicated that they were in a tough spot and couldn’t readily and easily say no to their landlord – a landlord whom they would be asking for a lease extension. Additionally, they were sympathetic to the goals of Homes for Heroes. As you may know, CNIB was initially founded to help veterans who were coming back from the trenches of World War I who are suffering from blindness, and while this proposal would not be in their interest, they were relying on the process to work through these concerns.
A Proposed Solution to Creating the Best Possible Future for All
Quite frankly, the right hand of The City didn't know what the left hand of The City was doing and in so, got us to where we are now.
So I weighed in.
I love what Homes for Heroes is about and I understand how the location on the CNIB lands in East Riverside meets their locational criteria. Upon taking all the information we now have, we know that this location is not the best place for their work, and finding them a more appropriate site must be top of mind. In order to find a solution to this challenge, my office met and we had a thorough conversation about all the files within Ward 9 and we found what could be a brilliant idea.
Changing an Industrial Use to a Compassionate Use and Realizing a Long Desired Dream
This conversation is not about whether or not Homes for Heroes can do their great work in Ward 9. This is a conversation about the appropriateness of the location for them to do their work and having a thoughtful conversation about how we, working together, can effectively realize the goals, aims, and aspirations of as many stakeholders as possible and realizing multiple wins.
The brilliant idea that I spoke of above is in Inglewood. The new site being proposed is next to amazing parkland which has recently been subject to a major regional planning process to create a grand new park for Calgarians and Albertans – the Bend in the Bow.
The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary was set aside by the Federal Government in the 1920s when the country started to wake up to the importance of creating land where migratory birds could partake in their migratory lifestyles.
The Inglewood Wildlands is a former Gulf Oil refinery site, and its land that is being remediated from an industrial zone and converted into a conservation landscape.
From the photo of the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary you'll notice there's one last remnant piece of industrial land which is sitting there and they're not quite happy there, as obviously a park setting doesn't work well for industrial practices.
Parks’ Policy on the Vision for the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary
The City’s mission over time supported by City policy is to acquire this industrial land and turn it into parkland. It’s a difficult purchase because industrial land can be expensive. When looking at this entire matter from a birds’ eye view (no pun intended) we saw that as the ‘secret sauce’ in creating a multiple win situation for all parties.
- Instead of buying the industrial land, we could do a land swap (The City owns a lot of industrial land;
- Replacing the industrial use with a lower intensity use and footprint would be much better for the residents, and flora and fauna in the neighbourhood;
- The Homes for Heroes tiny-home clusters would be temporary (15-20 years) and would allow The City to begin converting the land to park space as identified in City policy; and
- It would meet all of Homes for Heroes’ criteria.
What’s Next and Where Do We Go from Here?
Right now we have some organizations that are on ‘path dependency’. What my job is going to be as the City Councilor for Ward 9 is to break out of that path dependency and pursue a better way.
I've had this very conversation with Homes for Heroes and they are not disinterested. Rather, they are two years and tens of thousands of dollars into looking for a site, doing their due diligence and trying to make it work.
With all of this, I am happy to say that Homes for Heroes participated in The City’s first tranche of a program where City land is given to not-for-profits that do social housing and they have secured a site on 36 Street SE in Forest Lawn that I think will be great.
However, Homes for Heroes wants to do another city and I believe that the best site for their second venture would be in Inglewood as opposed to East Riverside.
Starting the Conversation with Bridgeland-Riverside and Inglewood Residents, Steele’s Transfer, Canadian Polar Steam and Identifying All Stakeholders
This article is meant to begin a broad conversation about this issue. There are no hardened plans, only proposals. We still need to engage and discuss this with all potentially affected stakeholders and ensure that we come out on the other side of this stronger and with clear successes for all of our communities.
I’ll be updating Bridgeland-Riverside and Inglewood residents and stakeholders through my everybody on my email list, social media, Ward 9 Community Reports, and newsletters. If you aren’t on my email list, please sign up and click here.
Thank you so much for your interest. Don't hesitate to get in touch with the Ward 9 Office and I regarding this, or any other issue.