Calgary’s Re-localize Fair demonstrates possibilities for community-based economies

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We are pleased to share some of the exciting work being undertaken by the We Are Cities cross-Canada convenor network! In addition to hosting and supporting We Are Cities roundtables this past spring, several convenors have been working on demonstration projects in their communities that test new approaches to resilient and livable cities. These projects are meant to engage convenors’ networks while forging new connections to strengthen localized city-building efforts. Demonstration projects range from pop-up public citizen spaces to neighborhood fairs to public transit experiments.

In this blog, we adapted the reflections of Calgary convenor Gerald Wheatley, Manager at the Arusha Centre, on their demonstration project: the Re-localization Fair, held at Calgary’s Bridgeland Riverside Community Association on April 18, 2015, as part of the 2015 Down to Earth Week

relocalize fair logo.

About the Re-localization Fair

What is Re-localization? Put simply, it is a movement away from global dependences and towards building resilience through strong local economies. It’s about buying local, yes, but also involves capitalizing on each community’s unique capacities to share knowledge and resources to build autonomy. (See here for an explanation of Re-localization from Megan Quinn Bachman). from In that vein, the Fair was an afternoon gathering of workshops, a market, and keynote speech all about the local movement, featuring Re-localization expert and author Michael Shuman. The event featured local music, waste diversion, pedal powered demonstration, and family activities. All this took place in a community association building located in a Transit-oriented Development (TOD) community with a tool lending library, farmers market, grassroots granting program and rooftop garden. The Re-localize Fair attracted 450 attendees and 26 market vendors; many attendees participated in one of the eight workshops on topics central to the Re-localization movement (workshops are described in detail below).

The Fair had several positive impacts on surrounding communities. First of all, it demonstrated that there is popular interest in Re-ocalization, a concept that is emerging and includes important social justice and environmental sustainability principles which have not been widely embraced. The event had a synergistic buzz of excitement between attendees, vendors, and workshops engaged in food, economy, and livability.

Second, the spirit of sharing and learning that characterized the Fair is central to the development of new economies based on knowledge-transfer. The Fair had an atmosphere of popular education with many local resource people sharing with Calgary citizens and businesses. These interactions were linked to networks of community economic development such as THRIVE employment development and the Respect for Earth and All Peoples (REAP) triple bottom line business network.

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Showcasing Calgary dollars - a local currency!

Workshops

One of the standout features of the Fair were a series of eight one-hour workshops covering topics from gardening and composting to social engagement and activism. Using social media and word-of-mouth advertising, the sessions each brought crowds from five to 40. Many attendees were vocally supportive of the hosts and the workshop format, as many were hearing of the organizations and topics for the first time. Sessions on SPIN farming and Viegages (a community model that provides affordable financing– the opposite of “mort”gage) provided an opportunity to learn about something new, while the We Are Cities Mobilization (in which roundtable participants discovered the power of funny hats!) and Bike Calgary sessions provided ways to be active in community-building in Calgary. The experience was an empowering one, as people were able to learn, display, and activate a depth of skills and interests in a socially conscious and intimate setting.

SPIN farming

SPIN (Small-Plot INtensive) farming: look at those beautiful greens!

The Fair also featured speaker Michael Shuman, who offered insights from his work with the Business Alliance for a Local Living Economy (BALLE). Michael is the author of “Small Mart Revolution” and “Local Dollars, Local Sense” and ensured that attendees understood the social and environmental benefits of localization. Building on the theme of strengthening local economies, the Fair accepted Calgary dollars (Calgary's complementary currency system, started by the Arusha Centre in 1995), as well as promoting egalitarian business models being used in Calgary and beyond, such as the Canadian Worker Coop and Grain Exchange Worker Owned Bakery.

Finally, on the creative side, Ecoliving Events showcased chairs made from shipping pallets, and renowned local artist Daniel J. Kirk unveiled “Relocalize the Box”, an interactive art piece that allows users to create a three dimensional art piece from wood pieces featuring different themes. The Kidzone offered do-it-yourself buttons, a scavenger hunt, pedal powered lights, and three live music performers.

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Artist Daniel J. Kirk demonstrates the interactive art piece “Relocalize the Box”

Given the success of the Re-localize Fair, many participants and vendors expressed interest in a similar event next year. We are excited to continue following the Arusha Centre and other participating organizations’ work, and find out what might be in store for 2016!

You can see more photos of the fair on Arusha’s Facebook page.

 

About the Arusha Centre

The Arusha Centre is a collectively run, member-supported organisation that provides resources and initiatives on social justice and environmental issues. We help Calgarians through community economic development and community resilience programs and offers varied practical resources, animating activities which educate, inspire and connect with and between people and projects. Click here to learn more about their mission and here to find out what they’re up to and who they’re collaborating with.

Arusha logo with Programs lowres

About We Are Cities

We Are Cities was launched by a number of organizations that believe that a prosperous future for Canada depends on thriving cities. For cities to succeed, citizens need to take an active role in identifying a path forward to achieve resilience, prosperity and inclusivity. Through community roundtables and an online idea forum, Canadians are helping to build a vision and action plan to make Canadian cities healthy and exciting places to live, work and play. We Are Cities is also connecting existing city-building work in order to strengthen and mobilize our collective efforts to enable the change we need. Stay tuned for details on We Are Cities Day, coming up September 15!

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Faith Groups Energized to Map Their Community’s Assets

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Exercise part of second interfaith community hub workshop

By: Kathryn Cormier

FaithHubs_Workshop-Edit-LGOn Jan. 17, more than thirty people came together from all corners of Calgary for a workshop that explored how faith communities could serve as community hubs. It was the second event Knox Presbyterian Church and the Interfaith Council of Calgary hosted on this topic as part of their efforts to implement the Enough for All strategy.

Enough for All defines community hubs as intentionally designed spaces that facilitate connections between residents for community building, and to improve access to programs and services that support individual and family resiliency.

Community hubs are one way we can reduce poverty in Calgary. Hubs can empower people within a community to work together to develop actions that meet their needs and help them realize their vision for the future.

The workshop was facilitated by Vibrant Communities Calgary’s Darrell Howard and passionate changer-maker Amber Cannon and centered on finding abundance, creating resiliency, and building trust through community mapping.

“Too often we are stuck thinking about what is wrong with our community; we only see problems and focus our efforts on what we believe people need,” notes Howard. “We underestimate the gifts of individuals and the assets within our neighbourhoods. Truly innovative solutions to our most pressing issues start by understanding our collective strengths and connecting them together in meaningful ways. Asset-based community mapping is one way to begin that process.”

While the community mapping noted the community’s challenges, it paid particular focus on their assets.

Focusing on a community’s assets doesn’t mean outside resources aren’t required. It helps people build on their community’s strengths and concentrate on agenda-building and supporting the problem-solving capacity of residents, and it also supports local determination, investment, creativity, and control.

At the January session, participants walked through the community mapping exercise and were excited by the assets they discovered.

Participants at the workshop engaged in a lively discussion about the possibilities of community mapping. They agreed to reconvene in the coming months and share how learnings from both faith-hubs workshops have influenced “next steps” at their congregations.

Is your community interested in asset mapping and building community hubs? We encourage you to get involved by contacting Darrell Howard (Darrell@vibrantcalgary.com) for more information.

Community Hubs support the Enough for All strategy in the following ways:

Through supporting its vision
Calgarians have the resources, means, choices and power to acquire and maintain self sufficiency; to be able to be an actively participate in community life.

Through supporting the following key goals
All Calgary communities are strong, supportive and inclusive. Everyone can easily access the right supports, services and resources.

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New Scoop is a new Calgary news co-op, using generative journalism to explore and share stories of our thriving city. The pilot phase has received support from Cities for People.

This blog was originally written for Vibrant Communities Calgary and was posted to New Scoop Calgary news co-op on 11 February 2014. We received permission to re-post.


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Team Pioneering Calgary News Co-op Pauses to Reflect, Express Gratitude

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New model for supporting local, community-based stories that are life-giving, generative is off to a positive start

By: Michelle Strutzenberger

The New Scoop team recently took time to reflect as well as thank all those who have helped launch the news initiative in Calgary.

Cities-for-people-logo-150Officially live for about 14 weeks, New Scoop has been a rapid experiment in surfacing, supporting and circulating local, community-based stories that are life-giving and generative. Early feedback has been encouraging.

People are sharing appreciation and encouragement as they read the stories. The number of people engaging through the New Scoop Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as with the New Scoop e-publication provide statistical evidence that this initiative is being received as useful and worthy of time and attention.

New Scoop would not be where it is today without the commitments and gifts of a number of people and organizations.

Sarah Arthurs, a key champion of the effort, expresses gratitude for all of these supporters, including New Scoop steering committee members who have come together and worked to help make this initiative happen over the last six months: Mark Durieux, Sidney Craig Courtice, Greg O’Neill, Sharon Ulrich and Peter Pula.

Basic CMYK“Sydney and Mark have been fabulous,” Sarah says. “They’re both very well networked people both personally and in their professional lives and have been able to bring those links to the work we’ve been able to do so far.”

The support of Mark, a social entrepreneur and author of Social Entrepreneurship for Dummies, has also been highly valued. And Greg has been a great coach and mentor with respect to launching the initiative as a co-op. “Greg has contributed a lot of pro bono work, (sharing) his wisdom and smarts in terms of what steps need to be in place as we (form the co-operative),” Sarah says.

Sharon’s strengths and background in editing and writing have also been much appreciated, including her crafting of one of New Scoop’s inaugural stories.

Versett

And Peter and Axiom News have been “right down in the trenches building this with us,” Sarah says. The Axiom News team has provided the website design, written content and publishing and social media services, not to mention the consultative support from Peter, some of it pro bono.

Otherwise, New Scoop is grateful to Versett Inc. for its pro-bono design of the New Scoop logo as well as to Cities for People and the J. W. McConnell Family Foundation for their financial and moral backing. “We wouldn’t have been able to do this without that catalytic support and recognition that what we were doing was worthy of (support),” Sarah says.

With its commitment to operating as a co-operative, it’s hoped New Scoop will model an alternative, sustainable approach to supporting local, community-based stories that are life-giving and generative.

mcconnellfoundation_logo_150The work could be described as both collecting stories and shaping Calgary’s cultural story, all of which is centred on themes such as relatedness, co-operation, local vitality, resilience and creativity.

“We’re hoping that within the scope of New Scoop we can create more space for an alternate story with a capital S to have time and exposure and value,” Sarah says.
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New Scoop is a new Calgary news co-op, using generative journalism to explore and share stories of our thriving city. The pilot phase has received support from Cities for People. These are only a few of the many energy points in Calgary that the New Scoop has spotlighted since its launch:

A version of this article was originally written for the New Scoop Calgary news co-op and this version was posted by Axiom News on Monday 19 January 2015. We received permission to re-post.
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Michelle Strutzenberger has more than 10 years of experience in Generative Journalism with Axiom News. Her areas of interest include deep community, social-mission business, education that strengthens a sense of hope and possibility, and journalism that helps society create its preferred future.
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Click here to read about becoming a New Scoop member and supporter.
You can comment on this story below, or e-mail michelle(at)axiomnews.com.

Network Seeks to Change Calgarians’ Relationship with Their Money

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Strategist Salimah Kassam shares what she sees as possible

By: Michelle Strutzenberger

When it comes to changing people’s relationship with their money, Salimah Kassam loves things that create simplicity and allow for planning that isn’t painful — such as an automated savings set-up.

With these tools, people can be automatically improving their financial health even while they’re working through the deeper psychological aspects of their relationship with money.

Salimah is convinced that if more people were using these kinds of automated tools, it would be tremendously beneficial to the financial well-being of citizens across the city.

And thanks to a network she’s joined, she’s feeling more hopeful than ever that that can happen.

Salimah Kassam Salimah is a strategist with Financial Futures Calgary, a network of more than 40 organizations ranging from non-profit social service agencies to government departments and financial institutions.

This group is committed to strengthening the capacity of the entire community, including people living in poverty, to both build their own assets and create a new and improved relationship with money.

Salimah describes one part of her dream for the work this way: “I would really love to see every social worker at every agency in Calgary have the ability to understand what it takes to help someone manage their money, build assets and move out of poverty.”

Changing one’s relationship with one’s money. Building assets. It all sounds somewhat mysterious and complex.

But Salimah’s stories and examples begin to reveal a much clearer picture. What she and all her cohorts of the Financial Futures Calgary network are trying to encourage, support and equip people to do is essentially be wise when it comes to finances. Save money. Set up a system to automatically pay off debts over time. Consider not buying those high-cost luxury items on credit during one of Calgary’s boom periods.

Salimah recalls her years working with a non-profit agency in Calgary that supported people to gain or regain their financial health. She was repeatedly amazed at who came in — people about to be evicted, had ruined their credit, or lost everything they’d built — and the year before they’d been bringing in very nice-sized salaries.

“I see it all the time in Alberta and it’s just like, ‘Wow, you couldn’t think maybe to put $10,000 away? No? That wasn’t interesting?” Salimah says.

She’s speaking half in jest. All of this is easier said than done — as plain wisdom too often seems to be.

Hence the need for mentorship, counselling and support, not to mention automated tools. Hence the creation of a network with a bold goal of fortifying the entire community’s capacity to build assets and form a new and improved relationship with money.

Salimah is especially hopeful about the network’s effort given the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative (CPRI) as it brings poverty reduction to a central and visible stage in the city.

But there’s still lots of room for people to come out and play.

For instance, Salimah sees opportunities for Calgary’s corporate and financial sectors joining in to share their wisdom and strengths on financial literacy.

“There is actually this huge asset of people who know very well how to do that kind of stuff, who want to have meaningful volunteer opportunities,” Salimah says.

Or what if the banking sector got involved in creating safe credit products for those in poverty? This could combat predatory lending options that are on the rise in Alberta, provide a healthier option for people in poverty needing money and act as a win-win for the bank, which generates a more positive community profile.

“I’m hoping that with the CPRI and just more of an overall effort being put towards this stuff that we will get some more senior level engagement from the traditional banking sector on this, which would be a huge asset,” Salimah says.

As for how any change from financial empowerment might be measured, Salimah is less keen on the proposal to look at credit-risk scores and their improvement.

The better measure of financial health, she suggests, is to look at changes in the net worth of Calgarians.

This is a measure that should soon be much more possible thanks to a new financial vulnerability index about to be released by Prosper Canada and the Canadian Council on Social Development.

“I think especially with the financial vulnerability index we will be able to actually see if we can change the net worth of Calgarians . . . Is someone in poverty, for example, going from a negative net worth to a positive net worth where you are saving for the future, where you do have an asset or two under your name?”

To learn more about Financial Futures Calgary and get involved, click here.

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New Scoop is a new Calgary news co-op, using generative journalism to explore and share stories of our thriving city. The pilot phase has received support from Cities for People.

This article was originally written for the New Scoop Calgary news co-op on 5 February 2015. We received permission to re-post.


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Michelle Strutzenberger has more than 10 years of experience in Generative Journalism with Axiom News. Her areas of interest include deep community, social-mission business, education that strengthens a sense of hope and possibility, and journalism that helps society create its preferred future.


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Click here to read about becoming a New Scoop member and supporter.

You can comment on this story below, or e-mail michelle(at)axiomnews.com.

Elders Summit Creates Space for Community to Happen

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Feb. 6 gathering intended to help lead youth and community to increased sense of self awareness, cultural identity, and healing

By: Michelle Strutzenberger

CUIA-Round-Dance-EditPeople have experienced the healing touch of conversations that allow you to be heard and to listen to one another’s stories and wisdom. Put those in the context of your particular culture, and these conversations can have an added depth of meaning.

A Feb. 6 gathering, the Fourth Annual Calgary Urban Aboriginal Initiative Elders Summit, offers a haven for such conversations to take place.

“We want to provide space for our community to have conversations and connect with the youth and the youth to connect with themselves,” organizer Jennifer Fournier says.

The hope and anticipation is that through connection and conversation, people, especially youth, will be able to take steps towards healing, deepened self-awareness and a strengthened sense of cultural identity.

“Sometimes when you’re moving from reserve or a different province and you’re aboriginal, you can get lost in the fray of the big city,” Jennifer says.

“So we’re really hoping that with the summit this year we can connect youth with other youth, with community members, with the elders in our community, so that they can see if they need healing or gain an increased sense of self-awareness, or cultural identity — which is a huge thing and which the elders can also provide.

“That’s why it’s called a summit — it’s about bringing everybody together and just having everyone in the same room, so that those conversations can take place.”

Thirty elders, 65 youth and more than 100 community members are already registered to attend the summit, which includes a selection of keynote presentations and the opportunity to join one of four traditional teaching circles.

The day is hosted by the Calgary Urban Aboriginal Initiative (CUAI) Services Domain in collaboration with the Calgary United Way and the CUAI Youth committee.

CUAI is energized by a mission “to provide a home for ongoing discussion, co-ordination, and informed action in support of Calgary urban aboriginal issues and initiatives.”

“This summit also gives us the opportunity to discuss any barriers or gaps in services that youth are experiencing,” Jennifer says.

To learn more about the Elders Summit, click here.

To learn more about CUAI, click here.

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New Scoop is a new Calgary news co-op, using generative journalism to explore and share stories of our thriving city. The pilot phase has received support from Cities for People.

This article was originally written for the New Scoop Calgary news co-op on 3 February 2015. We received permission to re-post.


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Michelle Strutzenberger has more than 10 years of experience in Generative Journalism with Axiom News. Her areas of interest include deep community, social-mission business, education that strengthens a sense of hope and possibility, and journalism that helps society create its preferred future.


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Click here to read about becoming a New Scoop member and supporter.

You can comment on this story below, or e-mail michelle(at)axiomnews.com.

Life as a Cohouser: Prairie Sky Resident John Michell Shares his Story

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‘That sense of mutual support, that’s what’s important to me’

By: Michelle Strutzenberger

Every once in a while John (“Mich”) Michell and his wife, Duff Bond, think about what their lives might have been like if they hadn’t joined Prairie Sky Cohousing.

“We probably would have sold our house,” Mich reflects in a telephone interview with New Scoop. “We probably would be living in a condo somewhere. We might or might not know our neighbours. Our lives would be very much circumscribed.”

But the Calgary couple were intrigued by a different possibility when they learned of a cohousing initiative in 2001.

Realizing that they would soon become empty nesters — their only daughter was 14 — they were starting to think realistically about the next phase of their lives.

With their extended family living in Ontario and the U.S., and an old house that was taking time and money to maintain, they began picturing a different kind of future for themselves.

“We weren’t comfortable being in a single-family house in a trendy neighbourhood,” Mich says. “We wanted something that was easier to maintain and had a smaller ecological footprint, and we wanted some community around us for ourselves and our daughter.”

When Duff saw the notice at their church about a proposed cohousing development, they decided to attend an information session. In July, 2001, land for Calgary’s first cohousing project had been purchased and Mich and Duff joined as equity members. They were among the 29 adults and 24 children moving in when the place opened in May, 2003.

In the ensuing 12 years, Mich and Duff have experienced a number of “neighbours-helping-neighbours” scenarios that demonstrate for them how great it is to be living at Prairie Sky.

Just last year, as one example, Mich had recently undergone an operation, when the kitchen sink faucet needed replacing. He was definitely in no shape to do the work. Then a neighbour came and spent the evening installing a new faucet. During that same time, different neighbours — Mich calls them friends — were very helpful to both him and Duff in other ways. “They helped me get moving around; I wasn’t very mobile at the time,” he says.

Then there are the social events that happen at Prairie Sky — weddings and house concerts, birthday parties and movie nights — the sort of thing “that builds community and lets you enjoy your neighbours,” Mich says.

“I really feel part of a community,” he adds.

What About Cohousing Creates Community?

The intentional proximity of the units, the large common space complete with a full-service kitchen for about-weekly community meals and other indoor gatherings, the lounge and the ping-pong room. These are some of the cohousing’s physical features that are conducive to folks crossing paths, enjoying one another’s company and getting to know one another — to building community.

There’s also the intentionality of those who’ve joined the community; they’ve come looking for close community and are therefore more likely to be open to arranging and joining social events, helping their neighbours, and working through the inevitable challenges that arise in this kind of shared living scenario.

Prairie-Sky-with-snow-and-lights-500Mich also describes another lesser-known aspect of cohousing that contributes to community building — the business dealings related to running the community.

Typically, at least 14 of the 18 households attend these monthly meetings.

And while the business is the reason for the meeting, community engagement is at least as important as the business, so each meeting starts with members sharing the events of their past month.

The way business such as creating parking policies or determining how the budget should be spent over the coming year is addressed also has a quality about it that contributes to community building. Prairie Sky operates on a consensus method, which lends itself well to getting to know one another even better while providing an opportunity to demonstrate mutual respect for one another’s opinions.

“When you have consensus as a method of making your decisions, no one feels steamrollered, no one feels that, ‘Oh they didn’t listen to me’,” Mich says.

Who Might be Most Interested in Cohousing?

People who have something of a community spirit are most likely to thrive in cohousing.

“You need to want that environment and you need to be willing to throw yourself into that kind of situation,” Mich says.

“You also need to be able to give up a little bit of that ‘my home is my castle’ feeling.”

In other words, neighbourhood children just might run across your front porch, and speaking of that front porch, you could be sitting there reading a magazine on a lovely Sunday afternoon and a neighbour could call hello from the cohousing walkway only 15 feet off.

That isn’t to say there’s no private space — almost everyone has a back deck that’s a little more separate.

But largely “people who want their home to be separate from their neighbours and live in a little cocoon aren’t going to be that happy here,” Mich says.

The common wisdom about cohousing is that difficulties, if they arise, are likely to be about children and pets. Some people want quiet and others love the noise of kids bounding around in the courtyard. Sometimes somebody lets their cat out and that makes the dog one house over bark. So there are frictions that come up.

“For the most part we’ve been able to handle (the friction) by talking among ourselves, coming up with policies that people can commit to,” Mich says.

A group called Community Care exists to remain aware of areas of friction in the community and help people work through them, either as mediators or by bringing the issue to a general discussion at one of the business meetings.

“That Community Care group is very important to us,” Mich says.

And all that said, cohousing entails a lot of “learning to live in community.”

“It’s not easy, it’s not simple; it’s a lot easier in concept than in practice,” Mich says.

Even so, after 11 and a half years, Prairie Sky has had a total of only eight sales and none was due to residents who left dissatisfied with cohousing living.

In fact, Prairie Sky’s success in terms of its appeal has the potential to create what could be considered a challenge — depending on how one looks at it. Those 24 children of a dozen years ago are down to seven. And the number of adults is about the same at 31, but they’re all doing what we all do — aging.

Soon enough, this could become an adults-only community. New young families interested in Prairie Sky could be dissuaded by the lack of other children to befriend their own.

There’s also the fact that Prairie Sky wasn’t created as a seniors’ housing place, so there may be some challenges ahead for some residents with increasing mobility issues, for example.

But Mich doesn’t seem too concerned about those physical infrastructure issues either.

It’s that he’s able to age in a place where a sense of mutual support is strong — that’s what’s important to him.

“My daughter now lives in Regina. I do have a church community that’s important to me, but Prairie Sky is a major part of my life,” he says.

“It’s just really good to work on things together and create a nice living environment, not to mention that our costs are lower than they would have been in a condo.”

Cohousing is seeing increasing interest in North America, especially among seniors eager to create an owned-community scenario for themselves. A recent Globe and Mail article asked this question, “Can Seniors Make Cohousing Go Mainstream?”

Mich points out that setting up cohousing is not an easy or smooth option. Since 2003, Prairie Sky is still the only cohousing in Alberta. Another one that was attempted last year — with 33 of the 36 projected units already sold – fell through after it was discovered it would cost much more than originally planned to build on the hilly land that had been bought for the project.

That said, there are folks still interested to learn more about cohousing and possibly investing to make it a way to realize their dreams of aging in community.

Just this week, people wanting to take next steps in exploring aging in community options can join an introduction to cohousing and also learn about an upcoming series of aging in community study groups.

To learn more and register for the first session on Jan. 31, click here.

Otherwise, check out this great website on seniors’ cohousing.

And here’s the article mentioned earlier, Can Boomers Make Co Housing Mainstream.

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New Scoop is a new Calgary news co-op, using generative journalism to explore and share stories of our thriving city. The pilot phase has received support from Cities for People.

This article was originally written for the New Scoop Calgary news co-op on 27 January 2015. We received permission to re-post.


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Michelle Strutzenberger has more than 10 years of experience in Generative Journalism with Axiom News. Her areas of interest include deep community, social-mission business, education that strengthens a sense of hope and possibility, and journalism that helps society create its preferred future.


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Click here to read about becoming a New Scoop member and supporter.

You can comment on this story below, or e-mail michelle(at)axiomnews.com.

Ushering in the New Economy at the Local Level

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Thrive Calgary introduces new learning community in January

By: Michelle Strutzenberger

If more people have access to community economic development learning opportunities, more community economic development action will emerge in Calgary.

That’s the bet, if you will, that Thrive Calgary, the city’s community economic development network, is making as it prepares to launch a new learning community early in the new year.

It’s a big and exciting shift for the network, though Thrive has always sought to be a relevant, effective force for ushering in Calgary’s new economy.

In the past, however, the work has centred on collaborating to put community economic development on the local policy map. In the last few years, that goal has largely been achieved.

Thanks to Thrive and others, community economic development is now a part of the city’s new Enough for All poverty reduction strategy as well as the economic development strategy hosted by the conventional economic developmental agency, Calgary Economic Development.

Now Thrive is sharpening its focus in 2015: Community economic development leadership and learning is its refreshed mandate.

The shift builds on a number of education achievements Thrive has already spearheaded. As an example, in 2014, a big focus was bringing the Simon Fraser University Community Economic Development certificate program to Calgary for the first time.

The 21 graduates of this program are now acting to improve the local community in many concrete ways. For instance, one graduate is preparing to launch a co-operative housing project in Ogden. The idea is to make it easy for seniors to establish income suites in their basements so they can live longer in their homes.

Another graduate led the development of the Calgary EATS! Strategy which was just approved by city council. This strategy for a local, sustainable food system includes community economic development as a core principle.

A third graduate works at the Calgary Regional Partnership, where community economic development is emerging as an important focus area for the region. This means that community economic development could become part of the fabric of how the 11 municipalities in the region interact.

Thrive has determined to make learning its official strategic focus following a series of community consultations and discussions with various partner organizations over the past several months.

Shaping this new effort is a belief that the most effective learning both builds human capital and creates a frame for political empowerment.

“It’s one thing to move people through a curriculum and learn what’s on the page,” says Barb Davies, Thrive’s community economic development co-ordinator, who over the past few months has done some great work herself building community economic development capacity in the community. She has taught introductory community economic development workshops to18 students at the faculty of social work and 23 community members through the Ethnocultural Council of Calgary. She aso co-hosted Calgary’s first Social Impact Failure Wake, a celebration of community economic development projects that didn’t work out as expected.

Barb Davies

“We’re really trying to inspire people to question the frame we live in in the first place and really seed a broad, diverse community of leaders who are ready to take action in their own communities,” Barb says.

Thrive’s learning community will offer a balance of opportunities for people to learn from those who hold new knowledge, as well as to create their own knowledge as peer learners.

Again, this is an approach it’s taken in the past. In 2014, for instance, Thrive provided Calgarians the opportunity to learn from well-recognized community economic development thought leaders such as Charles Eisenstein, Michael Shuman, and Anne Docherty. The graduates of the Simon Fraser University Community Economic Development certificate program now support each other with implementing community economic development strategy and ideas.

“We want to create the most permeable membrane between a learning environment, action environment and community as we can,” says Barb, noting a key inspiration for the effort is the Storytellers’ Foundation in Hazelton, BC.

The shaping of this learning community comes as Calgary moves into the next phase of actualizing its Enough for All strategy – a bold plan to reduce poverty in the city by half within the next 10 years.

Momentum’s community relations director, Carolyn Davis, sees the learning community as one strong path to realizing that goal.

Carolyn Davis

 “I really believe that we’re not going to be able to do that unless there is a sea change in the way that we think,” she says. Her sincere hope is that through the learning community people are empowered and inspired to take the kind of action that generates a shift in systems and root causes leading to significant change for people.

The time is also ripe for an effort of this sort as local energy grows around new economy concepts and action, thanks to people and groups such as REAP Business Association actively bringing them into the mainstream.

Thrive wades into this new effort with a collection of robust assets, including an engaged and committed network as well as steering committee that brings a rich diversity of perspectives on community economic development. Thrive’s parent organization Momentum, which has both a sturdy reputation and significant support from the community as well as a great team, is also a solid asset.

Thrive also counts itself blessed to have the funders it does — Family and Community Support Services of Calgary and the United Way of Calgary and Area. Both put forward visionary leadership in understanding that reducing poverty ultimately comes down to creating an economy that works better for more people.

Looking ahead, the opportunity and challenge is to present the intent and possibilities in this learning community in a way that reveals it as a real and concrete force for good, Carolyn says.

“One way this has worked so far is through partnership with post-secondary institutions and community organizations,” she adds. “In the last six weeks of 2014 Thrive reached over 120 people through learning events and workshops. This gives me energy as Barb and I develop the learning calendar for 2015.”

Committed to walking the new economy talk with respect to how it ensures the sustainability of this effort, Thrive is moving to a revenue model that includes both funders and participation from those who join its programs and events. In this way, it is striving to create a balance between ensuring a level playing field and accessibility.

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New Scoop is a new Calgary news co-op, using generative journalism to explore and share stories of our thriving city. The pilot phase has received support from Cities for People.

This article was originally written for the New Scoop Calgary news co-op on 7 January 2015. We received permission to re-post.


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Michelle Strutzenberger has more than 10 years of experience in Generative Journalism with Axiom News. Her areas of interest include deep community, social-mission business, education that strengthens a sense of hope and possibility, and journalism that helps society create its preferred future.


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Click here to read about becoming a New Scoop member and supporter.

You can comment on this story below, or e-mail michelle(at)axiomnews.com.

When You Build Community, You Build Love

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The story of Soul of the City Neighbour Grants

By: Megan Zimmerman

soulofthecity-776
In December 2013, Calgary Economic Development and The Calgary Foundation launched the inaugural Soul of the City Neighbour Grants. Dozens of grant applications were submitted and in April five groups were selected by a live audience to be the recipients of these $5,000 grants. The money would be used to turn their grassroots ideas of how to enhance or revitalize their neighbourhood into reality and these projects would be undertaken alongside their neighbours.

The result? Five diverse Calgary communities came together to undertake some very meaningful projects. The best part? Their entire journey was captured in a 30-minute documentary to inspire and delight you: Our City, Our Soul – Five Neighbourhood Stories.

A group of residents from Dover turned an unused tennis court into an open community garden and used the grant to create a colourful community mural to welcome people to enjoy the once forgotten space.

Children and youth from the northeast communities of Saddle Ridge, Castleridge, Falconridge, Taradale, Martindale, Coral Springs, and Skyview Ranch gathered for a weekly writing class and learned to overcome their fears of writing and then sharing their stories with their peers.

Community leaders from Haysboro engaged their neighbours in the creation of family crests which now decorate the outside of their community hockey rinks and have created a personalized and safe place for the kids to ride their scooters.

The residents of Wildwood turned garbage collected through their annual neighbourhood clean-up into a beautiful and unique water spiral which has become a gathering place and source of pride for the neighbourhood.

And a group of residents from Inglewood & Ramsay invited the community to ‘dance in the streets’ with them all summer long as they brought a variety of music and dancing to their successful Inglewood Night Markets.

What these Calgarians have created in their communities is an example of the people who make Calgary such a wonderful place to live. It is our hope that their stories will delight and inspire others to do something in their neighbourhood alongside their neighbours. As a group of elderly ladies and their youthful friends said in the film, “when you build community, you build love.”

Calgary Economic Development and The Calgary Foundation will be bringing the Soul of the City Neighbour Grants to the community again in 2015. Applications are open December 6 – March 17, 2015 and more information can be found at calgaryeconomicdevelopment.com.

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New Scoop is a new Calgary news co-op, using generative journalism to explore and share stories of our thriving city. The pilot phase has received support from Cities for People.

This article was originally written for the New Scoop Calgary news co-op on 4 December 2014. We received permission to re-post.


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Megan Zimmerman is manager of marketing, communications and research with Calgary Economic Development..


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Click here to read about becoming a New Scoop member and supporter.

‘Keeping it in the Community is our Strength”

Posted on:

Informal Calgary network addresses core needs of new Canadian women

By: Michelle Strutzenberger

WomenSupportGroupCalgary1920x1280Noreen Mahmood was volunteering at a local nonprofit centre where she works with new Canadians when she caught a vision for the possibilities that an informal women’s group could open up.

Fairly new to Canada herself – she moved from Pakistan in the spring of last year – Noreen had been active at the centre in Calgary’s northeast, helping with translation services.

“I used to wear a headscarf, so women from areas like South Asia . . . used to come and stop by. I looked like them, so they came to me and asked about different things,” Noreen recalls.

“And what I realized is that while they were very skilled women, many had no information about the resources available in the community.”

Having felt it herself, Noreen understood the hesitancy that many of the women felt about approaching professionals such as settlement counsellors or employment counsellors with their questions. Both language and culture differences created anxiety.

With a background in community development, Noreen was also keenly aware of the importance of social capital – and could see that this was a lack.

“So I thought of this informal setting where women can come and benefit from networking and gathering information,” Noreen says.

In October of 2013, the group’s first meeting took place. Four were present.

This fall, the Women Support Group Calgary celebrated its first-year anniversary.

More than 30 women are now engaged with the group.

Looking back, Noreen is energized to see that what she had envisioned for the group has come to fruition in many ways.

“It’s working,” she says.

Women are exchanging contact information so they can connect outside of the group meetings.

The group has identified topics they wish to learn about and then hosted guest speakers. In some cases, those guests have been employment and settlement counsellors. This allows the women to be introduced in the informal group setting. They then feel more confident about following up with the counsellors later.

The group has organized several social gatherings – a picnic in summer and anniversary celebration in October, with families, food and fun included.

“Keeping this within the community is our strength,” Noreen says. “People feel more comfortable, that this is ‘our’ group and we are coming here to participate based on what we need and want.”

She is proud of the group’s inclusive spirit. “If we want to enjoy the diversity of Calgary, we should be collaborating,” she says.

As for the future of the group, Noreen is brimming with ideas and possibilities. She and the group want to have more of a presence in other parts of the city. Currently the network meets in the city’s northeast. A non-profit centre, 1,000 Voices, allows the group to use one of its rooms for free.

But the scenario is not always ideal as the women who live in other parts of the city can sometimes find transportation difficult because of weather conditions, whether or not they have to access to vehicles and the extra time required on public transit. Satellite groups in various neighbourhoods could help address these concerns.

Noreen and the group have also discussed becoming more intentional about blending their gifts and strengths for the greater good of their community. One issue of concern to them is the disturbingly high rate of domestic violence in the city – the highest in the country.

They’re also keen to explore collaborating more with other organized groups.

And if their first year is any indication, those possibilities are most likely to come to life in a great way.

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New Scoop is a new Calgary news co-op, using generative journalism to explore and share stories of our thriving city. The pilot phase has received support from Cities for People.

This article was originally written for the New Scoop Calgary news co-op on 25 November 2014. We received permission to re-post.


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Michelle Strutzenberger has more than 10 years of experience in Generative Journalism with Axiom News. Her areas of interest include deep community, social-mission business, education that strengthens a sense of hope and possibility, and journalism that helps society create its preferred future.


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Click here to read about becoming a New Scoop member and supporter.

You can comment on this story below, or e-mail michelle(at)axiomnews.com.