Strong Neigbourhoods, One CED Initiative at a Time

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by Elisha Kittson

In 2010, the City of Calgary introduced its Strong Neighborhoods initiative, a 10-year resident-led community development undertaking focusing on neighborhoods with modest concentrations of poverty. In partnership with organizations like Momentum, who deliver programming for Calgarians living on low incomes, the City aims to stimulate social change in eight tipping point neighborhoods.

“The conversations we’re having are about slowly nurturing the growth of leadership in these communities,” shares Philip Lozano, Community Economic Development (CED) Facilitator at Momentum and recent graduate of Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Certificate Program for Community Economic Development.

Lozano deliberately sidestepped any jargon and broke CED down for us as “establishing connections around some form of business, or creating a business that allows people to connect.” Simplifying the inherently complex work that requires government officials, service providers, businesses and residents to collaborate is part of Lozano’s toolkit as a CED practitioner.

“One of my instructors at SFU, Charles Eisenstein, spoke about remembering your audience. We want labels and words to make it all black and white, but it’s not. For instance when I hear words like social innovator, I think of an entrepreneur. Then a problem-solver, then just someone who takes accountability and gets it done.”

Lozano’s encouragement to dive deeper beneath the surface of our language is a refreshing reminder that impacting systemic change requires us to get real. And part of that reality is that building capacity in our communities takes time.

To understand the needs of his ‘Strong Neighborhoods’ Lozano often teams up with a community social worker (CSW). “It can take a lifetime to get to know the social capital that exists in the area, community social workers are well versed in their community’s specific challenges and opportunities,” says Lozano.

In Calgary’s north neighborhood of Highland Park, Lozano is working closely with resident door-knocker and CSW Elaine Stringer.

“We are a community in transition. We are incomplete because of the side by side development in the area that does not accommodate our mixed demographic. We are also trying to improve the quality of life here by working with the City on an area redevelopment plan to improve our pathways to reunite our parks,” says Stringer.

Working together on bigger picture community actions, Lozano and Stringer have stimulated participation in a CED working group which targets poverty reduction and local employment opportunities. One area of focus is to capitalize on the local assets and plug economic leakages by networking the industrial business sector with area high school students.

“Because this is all volunteer-driven, we are really benefiting from the organized quarterly gatherings Phil’s introduced. We have a lot of automotive and bodyshop businesses in the area and a shortage in skilled tradespeople. By releasing a local business directory this spring (championed by high school students) and sending some of our experts to the school for job fairs, we hope to create local ties between students and businesses,” says area business owner and working group volunteer Terry Ohlahauser.

Lozano says getting people together to talk about a community issue or opportunity isn’t usually a problem. It’s what happens after, when everyone goes back to juggling everyday life while aiming to engage in a collective process that requires us to practice patience.

“The best facilitation experiences I’ve had happen when you know you’ve asked the right questions, and accountability just unfolds. But then, it takes time because systemic change is an inclusive process. In the meantime, the work is so inspiring, in Highland Park it’s amazing to witness the makings of long-term impacts through reciprocity between residents and business owners.”

For more information on the CED work taking place in the Strong Neighborhoods, don’t hesitate to connect with Lozano directly by email philipl@momentum.org.

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