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How to replace Calgary's NIMBYs with YIMBYs

Capitol Hill accessible housing project just one example of how to gain community support

Capitol Hill is getting this 45-unit group home for Calgarians with limited mobility. The project was put forward without a big outcry from the community.

Accessible Houinsg Calgary

Capitol Hill is getting this 45-unit group home for Calgarians with limited mobility. The project was put forward without a big outcry from the community.

Could Calgary become a city of YIMBYs? A place known for saying Yes In My Back Yard instead of a shrill, repeated “NO?” Sure we could.

Just look at what’s been happening in the northwest neighbourhood of Capitol Hill.

Not familiar with the goings on there? Neither was I, until last week. And there’s a good reason for that.

The community is getting a new 45-unit group home for Calgarians with limited mobility, replacing an 11-unit building built in the 1970s.

But there haven’t been all kinds of fireworks regarding the bigger project. No protests. No fighting in the media.

Just an important affordable housing project, quietly moving ahead.

This week, Accessible Housing, the local agency behind the group home, will recognize the Capitol Hill Community Association with the organization’s first-ever YIMBY award.

The agency developed the award to “change the narrative of NIMBYism” in Calgary, says CEO Jeff Dyer.

“I think sometimes communities fear the numbers and the idea of people who need affordable housing, whereas Capitol Hill went out of their way to get to know the residents that would actually be a part of their community,” says Dyer. “They saw our residents as human beings.”

The story is an instructive one, and not as simple as you might expect.

It did not go like this: agency announces new housing project and community eagerly says yes.

“They pushed to make sure that we didn’t just ram an idea into their neighbourhood that didn’t fit the community design they had in mind,” says Dyer.

The agency reached out early on. Dyer recalls meeting the community association’s president at the site, overlooking Confederation Park, before the organization had even decided to build.

“I talked to him about the idea and the dream, and then asked him questions about what he and the other members of the community association wanted in new development,” he says.

They held design meetings and introduced community association reps to the architects. “From the very first moment, Capitol Hill became designers in the project, in a way.”

It’s clearly a sage approach. Laying this groundwork helps ensure that when all is said and done, locals see projects like these with a sense of pride, not resentment.

This is where other agencies, in the past, have sometimes made missteps by making a plan and simply announcing it.

“It’s been my experience in Calgary that as long as communities are engaged early and really heard, they want to weave people who are vulnerable into their neighbourhoods,” says Dyer. “But when we surprise them, they get defensive.”

“Agencies like ours need to honour the neighbourhoods that we serve in, and think as community members—not simply as social agencies.”

The Capitol Hill story shows that with a little more care and consideration on all sides, Calgary could be more YIMBY than NIMBY.

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