As efforts continue to revitalize Calgary’s downtown core, the city’s mayor said safety improvements will be key but will take time.
It comes as new data from the Calgary Police Service shows violent crime in the city has reached a five-year high with the increase driven by common assaults and incidents of assaults with a weapon.
Violent crime has increased 10 per cent from the five-year average across the city and 7.5 per cent above the five-year average in the city’s downtown core.
But the rate of crime in Calgary is only slightly above levels recorded in 2019.
“It has been very busy, there have been several calls for service not only during the night but during the day,” Insp. Clare Smart of the CPS said.
Social disorder calls have also increased compared to the five-year average, with increases of violence and disorder incidents on the CTrain line trending upward. However, CPS said higher rates have been recorded in previous years.
“Many people don’t feel safe coming (downtown),” Smart said. “That is why, not only is the Calgary police working with numerous partners, but we’re trying to look at what are the best ways of making people feel safe to come back downtown.”
A lot of that work takes place at the Safety Hub on 8 Avenue S.W. While it isn’t a police station, it’s designed as a place where Calgary police, bylaw officers and transit peace officers can co-ordinate their efforts to improve public safety.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek, along with some stakeholders in the city’s plans to revitalize the downtown core, took a tour of the facility on Thursday.
“People have been away, they’ve been away from downtown, they’ve been away from their jobs, they’ve been working from home, and as they’re starting to come back downtown, they’re readapting to the types things they used to see,” Gondek said.
“But it’s not just the feeling of being uncomfortable, there is a safety issue.”
According to Gondek, the city’s plan to improve safety in the core is a “holistic model” and has to strike a balance between tackling crime and supporting people in vulnerable positions.
“People that are practising criminal behaviour, they need to be dealt with and we rely very heavily on the Calgary Police Service to deal with that,” she said.
“But when it comes to ensuring our downtown is a place that’s focused on public safety and public well-being, you have to take care of folks without housing, without access to mental health supports, people struggling with addictions.”
CPS has plans in the works to open another Safety Hub in the East Village in July, which would include outreach groups and downtown ambassadors.
According to Smart, the additional facility will help build relationships with the community and will also bolster a security presence after the relocation of several police facilities out of the downtown core.
“Our Calgary police headquarters moved up to Westwinds, our arrest processing unit has moved into the north,” Smart said.
“We’re hoping that by having these safety hubs, getting out and being closer to the community, we’ll be able to develop those relationships, because we can’t do it alone.”
Last year, the previous city council approved an initial $200-million investment in the Greater Downtown Plan, which aims to incentivize the redevelopment of vacant office space to residences, fund projects to improve vibrancy in the core and create amenities throughout downtown to help attract residents and business to the city’s centre.
“We had an awful lot of job loss since 2014, so we’ve needed this plan since 2014,” Aspen Properties executive chair Scott Hutcheson said. “We’re attracting a lot of talent from around Canada and outside, and a lot of new companies to the downtown, so it’s a really exciting time.
“As an office owner, I haven’t been as excited about our future since 2005.”
Gondek estimates it will take between seven and 10 years to execute everything included in the downtown plan, which has already seen $117 million invested into downtown office conversion projects following the city’s incentive program.
But when it comes to attracting people downtown, Gondek said public safety will be an important aspect of the overall plan.
“I’m committed to making it better, and at the same time, taking care of those people in impossible positions where they desperately need somebody to pay attention and take care of them,” she said.
“I see it (and) I live it with folks who write in to us, and council is taking it very seriously.”