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Fund them, unify them: says U of C report on resident and community associations

Calgary administration is looking at roles of resident and community associations for a report coming before council

Calgary's community associations started out as a way to augment recreational offerings for residents. They've since grown to have a seat at the table for important city-shaping decisions.

Helen Pike/ Metro

Calgary's community associations started out as a way to augment recreational offerings for residents. They've since grown to have a seat at the table for important city-shaping decisions.

Community Associations and Residents Associations are coming face to face with a council-directed review of their roles – opening up possible changes for the volunteer-run groups.

On Wednesday, the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy released their take on the future role of Calgary’s Community Associations. The report, meant as a guiding hand to the City of Calgary's administration’s probe, details seven recommendations that range from small tweaks to large institutional changes.

“Are the roles of community associations valued from a corporate City of Calgary perspective?” asked Brian W. Conger, one of the authors.  “If they are, then there are some small tweaks that would really help them out.”

Calgary has 151 community associations with their own ideas, mandates and rules – and one of the overwhelming conclusions of the report says unifying those voices will benefit the furthering of big community issues. The report suggests roles for these voices need to be clarified, they need consistent funding and should also be lumped into community districts.

“There’s an opportunity here if we say ‘yes, community associations are important and I think they’re very important, they play an important role, then what do they need?'” Conger said. “Support for operations, clear mandate on their roles, the advocacy nature of community associations leads to frustration.”

Ali McMillan gives over 30 hours of her week to the Bridgeland Riverside Community Association, and she does it because she sees a difference to be made, and a voice that needs to be heard.

“I think this is a really important discussion, obviously I see value in the community association’s voice and the work we do,” McMillan said. “I’d like to see more resources given to community associations.”

McMillan said she’s still digesting what the report says, but stresses the importance of being at the table as the city puts these associations under the microscope.

Leslie Evans is the executive director of the Federation of Calgary Communities. The federation supports the community associations in the city, not-for-profits and some residents associations.

Evans heard the reports findings for the first time Wednesday, her early impression of the report shows they’re on the right track, because they’ve been having similar conversations already.

“What the report doesn’t talk about is the uniqueness of Calgary’s community association model,” Evans said. Compared to Portland and Seattle, Calgary’s associations don’t have city staff involved, they are run by volunteer efforts.

“In this proposal my thought is a serious amount of resources is needed on a bureaucratic level. It will be an extra level of operations.”

She said her concern with some of the proposals would be adding more responsibility to volunteers who already give so much of their time, and dampening the array of community voices.

The recommendations:

Clarify expectations: If the city sees community associations as city builders, they need to understand their role. This includes thinking about how much influence they should have on decision making. The report underlines this could cut down on frustrations and NIMBY-ism during planning processes.

Provide consistent funding: These groups are offering a ton of programs through membership funding and fund raising cash – there's no certainty, or consistency. The report suggests tying a percentage of municipal departmental budgets for these programs.

Think broadly: Interaction between the business revitalization folks, clubs, service organizations and other community initiatives can broaden local perspective beyond just livability.

Partnerships with resident associations: Working together with these associations could help stabilize funding, and help run both operations smoothly.

Shared spaces: Calgary is mandating more mixed-use developments for community amnesties. This can open up private and public sector partnership opportunities and give community associations access to amnesties they couldn't otherwise afford, or keep up.

Community Districts: Creating larger community districts made up of several community associations can help with filtering community information and highlighting big button issues.

Formalize the city's role: The report is asking to fold the Federation of Calgary Communities current function into the City of Calgary or giving resources to the federation so they can continue their work.

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