On Wednesday, 13th June, the City of Calgary Utilities and Corporate Services committee of Council, which includes several council members, unanimously voted in the Climate Resilience Strategy for the city! Only because we were there, this climate plan was approved with a special amendment put in to ensure that going forwards, this plan would be implemented in consultation with the community, when previously it had only called on working with industry.
We were there – our growing group of doctors, law students, entrepreneurs, community builders, kids, social workers, solar installers, graduate researchers, teachers, designers, pharmacists and more. We’re tired mums with kids, worried grandparents, quiet dads, aunts, uncles, sisters and brothers. We sported wispy silver hair tied back with clips, brunette locks, frazzled blonde curls, dark, slick crop cuts, bald pates, and buzz cuts. There was laughter, nervousness, determination and a definable sense of getting-things-done.
This climate plan? It’s only a start – important things like accountable targets and enabling funding have yet to be clarified, so the hard work lies ahead – but! The third thing we asked for, that of bringing the community into the conversation with the City – that we achieved, resoundingly, because we were there, on a cold weekday morning where some of us had to take time off school and work.
We spoke up and shared our stories, like Sadie (she’s 12 years old) who came here instead of school to share how, like Harry Potter, we all need to be brave! And, we were heard, by Councillors willing to lead.
Fuelled with many cups of coffee that morning, we put on our stickers and badges and huddled up for a pow-wow, at the café next to the Calgary Municipal Hall, before heading into the committee session.
Stone lions stare at you as you climb the steps into the concrete Calgary Municipal Hall. Round the corner in the park, there was a mobile police van, where uniformed officers were chatting. I got to the chamber where the discussions were being held, and went through a security screening set up just outside the room. No drinks allowed, although the pasta lunch one of us had made (he was expecting it to be a long morning, and he was right) made it through. Police officers were there, and I emptied my bag and answered their polite questions as I walked through the scanners.
I marveled at these people I had just met at the café, some of whom were nervous to speak publicly, yet here they were, pushing themselves to lend their voice in support of this climate plan. Impact – put together, these people were having impact, even if it was hard to see because we were tired and a little nervous that early morning.
Within the chamber, partial walls topped with glass plates separated the public from the committee, who sat on elevated seats in a semi-circle. A stenographer sat in the middle. The ceiling was incredibly high. There was a formal rostrum, with a microphone, which we had to use to address the committee. If you wanted to speak, you had to put your name down on a sign-up sheet.
A lot of people stood up to sign their names.
Although the formality was a little nerve-wracking for some, they all felt they had to share their story, even if just for the 5 minutes each of us was allowed.
The comforting presence of young children and the antics of the older and wiser among us helped – this was a formal space, yet made informal by the connections between us, however new. We had all made the effort to be there, that morning, for each other, and for the places we lived in, and the people in our lives.
There was a warmth which reassured me, being there.
The police presence, the formal chambers, the separation between climate planning and the community being planned for, the sacrifice to miss school and work to be there on a weekday. This disparate but determined gathering of tired mums, quiet dads, young kids, worried grandparents, concerned community members. The rules and protocol we had to obey to speak and be heard, on the City’s terms.
I wondered, what about those who couldn’t afford to be there? Who didn’t know? Who might have been too nervous to speak so formally? Or who were a little anxious, like me, at the police in the park, the security scanners, and the glass walls?
As a Geography student of participatory governance and climate change, I wonder at these informal/formal spaces we create and have to communicate across. How might we re-imagine participation, on the community’s terms, to build workable and accountable climate policies?
Much of this, at least at the start, is simply about showing up, reclaiming and remaking civic spaces. Being part of this emerging connection across diverse lives, pulled together by the serendipity of simply being here, in Calgary – it’s a privilege.
With this small but significant win for the community and climate, I’m excited to see how it all unfolds. But, there’s a lot more work to be done.
There were other voices, loud voices, there that morning, asking for the plan to be delayed, and casting doubt. Being there, young and old from all walks of life – we made a difference; but it’s only a first step.
If you’d like to be part of the climate conversation here in Calgary with the City, join us at our next meeting as part of the emerging Climate Hub, or check out the other awesome community groups like the Calgary Climate Action Network, and Calgarian Citizens for Climate Change!