Nelson: Downtown's glorious future plan lies in ruins

These days, few Calgarians crack smiles about the state of downtown

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Should we just shut it down? Downtown Calgary, that is, and let the addicts, the homeless and the criminals have it.

Is that where we’re headed?

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We’re already leery to board public transit heading to the core and now the city’s considering shuttering part of the Plus-15 aboveground walkway system — one that’s served citizens well for decades — as an answer to downtown’s nastiest woes.

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What a difference a few years has made to the brain trust at city hall. Remember that 100-page document celebrating the promised road to reinvention, entitled Calgary’s Greater Downtown Plan? Today, it seems as curious an oddity as those famous Dead Sea Scrolls.

Cast your mind back to when this plan first rolled off the presses with such fanfare, trumpeting a bright, new, inclusive dawn for citizens in some soon-to-be magical metropolis by the Bow. The rhetoric flowed, the path ahead was chosen and the predicted price tag was in the multimillions.

Its goal went far beyond simple revitalization or dealing with the perennial problem of high office vacancy rates. This was going to transform society itself, which, looking back, might have been the problem — having such lofty aims that vital areas such as Calgarians’ safety got lost among all the virtue-signalling.

Here’s part of the plan’s introduction: “In 2020, systemic racism was brought to the forefront and further highlighted the need for effective measures to achieve equality for all. This is the right thing to do. This plan provides direction for further study, action and investment in equality, inclusion and accessibility over the next decade.”

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It was accompanied by computer-generated images of happy citizens wandering across traffic-less streets with smiles so broad they must have shared some record lottery prize.

That was then. This is now. These days, few Calgarians crack smiles about the state of downtown.

Unless there’s no other option, we avoid the place — not just because of insufficient and ludicrously expensive parking, but because sections of downtown are becoming increasingly dangerous.

That’s why a volunteer committee was asked by the city to devise ways of tackling social disorder in the core. To be fair, its subsequent report, released last week, is wide-ranging, concise and mercifully lacking the usual civic bafflegab that invariably pollutes such exercises. Regardless, council won’t find it pretty reading.

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The biggest bombshell is a suggestion to identify sections of the Plus-15 walkways suitable for dismantling or closure, because the network is rife with safety issues and prone to vandalism and violence due to a lack of security and policing.

Why is it regular folk who rely upon a service, whether a CTrain or an aboveground heated walkway in the depths of winter, are those to suffer? Why are their lives affected through no fault of their own? And how in heaven did we get to this point, less than four years after being promised the city was endeavouring to make life better every day, for everyone?

Maybe council took its collective eye off the ball. Those lengthy debates over nitwits harassing parents taking their kids to a drag queen show at the local library, or the moral quagmire the use of paper bags posed, might have exhausted councillors’ emotional intelligence.

There was also the rather large issue of just how high they could jack up tax rates before igniting a full-scale revolt.

Anyhow, downtown’s woes are now becoming old hat. No point crying over spilt milk, as they say.

Council is currently intent on casting a much wider net, by throwing out those old, boring zoning regulations involving residential development.

The whole of suburban Calgary is now in play, regarding who can build what in neighbourhoods everywhere. There’s probably another civic blueprint ready to roll off the presses praising this latest glorious plan.

What could possibly go wrong?

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