On the Role & Future of Calgary’s Community Associations
Calgary’s 151 volunteer-run, non-profit community associations (CAs) need updated and clearly defined roles as they strive to deliver programs and services to their neighbourhoods, and advocate in local planning issues. With a council-driven mandate to begin a review of CAs’ roles in community representation, The City of Calgary has a prime opportunity to help them to better deliver local government to the people whose interests they represent. This paper is intended to inform The City’s review by examining the forces at play in Calgary’s network of CAs, such as the need to maintain aging infrastructure, competition with residents associations and The City itself in providing recreational amenities, misaligned expectations in local planning and volunteer burnout. The paper explores the neighbourhood association systems in Seattle and Portland, two cities that undertook large-scale institutional formalization in the late 1980s and 2000s, respectively, and outlines best practices that are applicable to the local context. Potential solutions to the problems CAs face involve partnering with local businesses and other community-oriented organizations, bringing together CAs into a district-based system that elevates neighbourhood decisions above the block-face – aggregating multiple perspectives up to The City and directing money and resources down to individual neighbourhoods – and generally moving beyond the present system which focuses primarily on neighbourhood livability. The City of Calgary needs to decide the extent of its own future involvement in community governance, and this paper provides several prospective methods from which to choose. Including strengthening the support services already provided, taking a leadership role in neighbourhood representation, or downloading authority and resources to a dedicated third-party, such as the non-profit Federation of Calgary Communities. Key to governance is reviewing how the system is funded. If the role of CAs is valued, then dedicated funding needs to extend beyond facility maintenance. Furthermore, creating opportunities to support CAs partnering with residents associations – instead of competing – would aid in resolving problems faced by CAs connected with funding, resources, space-sharing, amenities and volunteers. Calgary’s CAs have come a long way from the informal community “get-togethers” of the early 20th century. As they continue to evolve, The City must take charge to prevent existing problems from languishing, and strengthen CAs’ ability to provide the programming and services Calgarians expect and enjoy.
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