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Panel issues downtown Calgary safety report, putting onus on city council

It’s now Calgary city council’s turn to implement fresh recommendations for a safer and more prosperous downtown core, after a panel released its findings following extensive consultations.

“The recommendations here will be frank and focused on what we need to do for better safety outcomes for all Calgarians,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek told reporters Wednesday.

The 25-page report, Downtown Safety Leadership Table, Outcomes and Recommendations, lumps challenges facing the core into four broad categories: government response, strategic communication, community collaboration and specialized initiatives.

Gondek said the stakeholders around the table — first responders, social-support organizations, tourism groups, post-secondary institutions, property developers and many others — have demonstrated they are in it for the long haul.

“My greatest fear would have been that we have this table, a certain amount of time to deliver results, and they would hand it to us and say, ‘OK we are out,'” she said.

“That is not what’s happened.”

The executive director at the Calgary Downtown Association says the report addresses specific areas, such as the city’s Plus-15 network, a system of pedestrian skywalks connecting more than 100 buildings.

“We heard there were some issues related to access to the Plus-15s and we need to take a more comprehensive look at access, closures or supportive services that may be required … as part of the complications around mental health and addictions,” Mark Garner said.

Garner is a co-chair of the leadership table, along with Heather Morley, chief executive officer of Inn from the Cold, a service provider for unhoused people.

Morley says the recommendations are also categorized into time commitments: quick wins that can be knocked off in under a year; initiatives actionable between one and three years; and system impacts that cover longer term actions beyond three years.

“There is a lot of work to be done,” she said.

“We know that between the housing crisis, the affordability issues and an opioid epidemic like we have never seen, providers and organizations working with the most vulnerable and at-risk populations, we need to move quicker to catch up.”

The report provides 28 recommendations, with some requiring council approval and others needing funding from different levels of government.

Terry Wong is the Calgary city councillor for Ward 7.
Terry Wong is the city councillor for Ward 7. He says the downtown needs to be clean and safe so businesses can thrive and people feel safe. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong said it’s important to keep the city core vibrant and financially strong.

“We need to support our businesses and corporations out there because if we don’t provide a place that is clean and safe, a lot of the businesses cannot survive and people cannot feel comfortable coming down to work, and then we don’t have the economy that is going to drive our tax base — and that’s what we need.”

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