Hugo Haley, MCIP is an urban planner working in Vancouver and was previously a Senior Planner with the City of Calgary.
Naheed Nenshi has now been sworn in as the new mayor of Calgary. In his recent, come-from-behind election victory he upset two better financed ‘establishment’ candidates. His campaign – dubbed the purple revolution – captured the public’s imagination, connecting through social media with a new generation of voters (35 and under) and others that had become cynical their vote could make a difference. Nenshi offered a clear vision for Calgary and has promised change to the established way city hall works – striving to make it (among many other things) more accountable to citizens, and less beholden to unhealthy, entrenched relationships between municipal politicians and the suburban land development industry.
Reflecting on his victory over the past few days, it struck me how much Nenshi’s victory can be seen to have grown out of two important planning processes completed in the past 5 years – the ImagineCALGARY Plan for Long Range Urban Sustainability, and the subsequent PlanIt Calgary Integrated Land Use and Transportation Plan.
Though interested in urban policy and civic affairs (he wrote a book on the subject in 2002) Nenshi was a member of the imagineCALGARY Roundtable – and advisory panel of engaged citizens that guided the process of developing the City’s urban sustainability plan. The roundtable introduced Nenshi to the way City Hall did – and didn’t – work. More importantly, through imagineCALGARY Nenshi and other roundtable members identified and articulated strategies for positive change and how they ought to be realized. Many of these ideas can be found in his campaign literature and in the series of Better Idea promotional videos.
The systems thinking based approach of ImagineCALGARY supported the subsequent initiative to integrate city-wide land use and transportation planning with the PlanIt Calgary project. Through its broad public engagement strategy, PlanIt Calgary provided Nenshi with a forum to again participate in real urban policy debates. He was a regular at PlanIt Calgary open houses and other citizen’s forum events and wrote many newspaper columns on the important public policy choices at hand.
In the face of strong lobbying from the development industry against the PlanIt Calgary targets for suburban and mixed use densities, Nenshi collaborated with other engaged citizens to form Civic Camp – officially, a public advocacy group engaged in building a more socially, and fiscally sustainable community. Civic Camp was the umbrella under which Nenshi and other citizen supporters of PlanIt Calgary gathered to coordinate and strengthen their efforts to ward off a forceful effort by the suburban development industry to quash many of the progressive (and fiscally responsible) policies articulated in the PlanIt Calgary policies. Though the organization is officially non-partisan, many of Civic Camp members rallied in support of Nenshi in his recent mayoral campaign.
While Calgary’s new mayor Naheed Nenshi a remarkable individual and ran a brilliant campaign – few if any others could have seized the opportunity to unseat the front runners – I can’t help but wonder how much longer it would have taken him to become Mayor without the venue for broad public dialogue and thoughtful discussion of Calgary’s urban future provided by the imagineCALGARY and PlanIt Calgary planning processes.
Here is an interview with Naheed Nenshi on CBC’s “the current”