It’s hard to believe it’s already been 100 days in office for Mayor Jyoti Gondek.
The first three months have been marked by the ongoing pandemic, Calgary’s economic turmoil, soaring downtown office vacancy rates, and protestors at the mayor’s home over her vaccine and mask stance.
“One hundred days is too short an amount of time to expect big changes, but we are off to a strong start,” Gondek says.
As she reflects on this first milestone, Gondek admits there have been challenges but believes there is also reason for optimism.
“I would say the biggest challenge facing us as a council is the one that’s facing everybody right now — and it’s the pandemic. The uncertainty of how much longer and what are the implications,” she tells Calgary Citizen.
“We have heard from health care workers about the pressure they’re under. We’ve heard from teachers, we’ve heard from folks in the hospitality sector, people who are trying to serve those in positions of vulnerability — it is really taking its toll on all of us.”
That’s the biggest challenge facing council — how will the city come out of this pandemic?
“The number one thing that keeps us up at night is ‘What are we going to do until we get into recovery mode?’ So I would say, as a council, we are trying to do the right thing to come out of this pandemic.”
Re-establishing Calgary’s economic advantage
During Gondek’s campaign, she says she committed to creating a city that would attract new investment, re-establish its economic advantage, and foster stability for all Calgarians.
That’s why, as downtown is the central hub for business, innovation and creativity, the city has committed $255 million to revitalize it.
The revitalization strategy includes strategic investment, meaningful incentives, strong industry partnerships and effective municipal leadership to take this important revitalization project across the finish line.
Gondek believes investing in downtown while also leading the transition economy, and forging partnerships across all sectors will be key to our city’s success.
“We made a commitment … to really invest in our downtown revitalization strategy,” she says, adding council has embraced that vision.
“[This council] has invested more dollars into the incentive program that we created to do office to residential conversions, as well as other creative ideas to turn those old office vacancies into something new.”
Gondek says adding to the vibrancy downtown is the path to revitalization.
“It’s so much more than just office buildings. People understand the value of living downtown, but we have to make sure that we are providing the things they need,” she says, adding the city has started putting enough grocery stores downtown to serve the core.
“We need to make sure we’ve got recreation facilities, parks, that we’ve got great modes of transportation for people to get around, and childcare and education facilities. Our downtown needs to be a complete community and we are on our way to that.”
Calgary has a lot of great things on the horizon
Gondek says it’s critical to acknowledge the challenges that we face while also recognizing the things that we should be excited about, too.
“For too long now, the future of our city has been the subject of uncertainty. But today, I’m incredibly optimistic and I’m excited to talk about the next chapter in Calgary’s story: one of hope, renewed prosperity and the ability for all to thrive in our city.”
Gondek points to exciting projects including business accelerators, major strategic investments in infrastructure and high market demand in incentives for office conversions.
“The emerging tech sector has shown solid growth in our core, the vacancy rate is beginning to stabilize and we expect more announcements to come,” Gondek adds.
The city’s movie scene is also making a splash, recently announced as MovieMaker Magazine’s list of best places to live and work as a filmmaker in 2022, placing 10th among 25 big cities in North America.
“That was a pretty big boost to our status. And it has to do with having exceptional crews and facilities here. I think it’s also important to remember that our arts and culture community is also doing things beyond film that is incredible,” Gondek says, pointing to the city’s arts community.
“We had over 700 digital performances in the arts last year alone, which was an increase of over 1,000%. And you know that it gives you an indication that arts and culture as a sector is one that we need to be taking seriously if we are going to diversify our economy.”
Not your parents’ city
Equally as important, the city must prioritize caring for our most vulnerable, Gondek says, pointing to key commitments made in the last budget.
Those commitments include: investing in affordable housing, working to ensure safety for Calgarians experiencing homelessness, advancing truth and reconciliation starting with the Indigenous Gathering Place, and expanding and maintaining transit infrastructure and service.
“For Calgary to be a truly resilient city, we must take meaningful action to address disparities within our communities,” she adds.
“We must be innovative in our approach, not shying away from making needed changes to our systems, and working together with all stakeholders and other levels of government.”
Gondek says it’s no secret that Calgarians today are growing up in a very different world than previous generations. Natural and other disasters are increasing in both frequency and severity.
Alberta has seen record damage from flooding, hailstorms, and wildfires. These disasters have caused well over $10 billion in insured losses related to homes, businesses, and public infrastructure.
“Cities around the world are on the front lines of climate change and Calgary is no different,” Gondek says.
“We have taken important steps to show the world we mean business when it comes to climate, manage our own energy use, and prepare our city and infrastructure for a changing climate.
Gondek believes the city’s expertise in energy also gives Calgary the opportunity to establish itself as a centre of excellence in energy transformation by “bringing global energy industry experts, the brightest minds in clean-tech, world-class researchers and investors together as we build a world-leading energy transition hub.”
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