How residents help to create great neighbourhoods
There are 148 community associations currently operating in Calgary, said Leslie Evans, executive director of the Federation of Calgary Communities.
This is high number considering the concept of a community association run by volunteers in the neighbourhood is unique to our city. Edmonton has community leagues, and municipalities run associations in the rest of Canada, but Evans said the Calgary model is unheard of anywhere else in the country.
"They're all independent, not-for-profit organizations that are registered with the Societies Act of Alberta," said Evans about Calgary community associations.
"They all have a similar mandate, but how they carry out their work is unique as the communities are," she added.
When the communities of Rocky Ridge and Royal Oak in northwest Calgary were established in the mid '90s, Bill Scott saw a need for a community association soon after he moved in.
Describing himself as the "instigator," Scott, along with four of his neighbours, banded together to create the Rocky Ridge Royal Oak Community Association.
"I think, like in every new community, there are issues that are not resolvable by one individual," said Scott, who was the president of the community association for 10 years.
"And they can only be successfully resolved by groups coming together."
For Rocky Ridge and Royal Oak, the main issue, said Scott, is the unfulfilled promise by the developers of the community to build amenities such as pathways and green spaces.
Although Scott said they weren't doing anything illegal, he stated many residents felt like they were not getting the community they believed they had bought their homes in.
"We had an issue that brought a group of residents together for a common purpose; to form an association so that we had a voice," he said.
Once the community association was officially formed in 1997, Scott and his fellow board members had to tackle two problems that face all new community associations: finding volunteers and having enough money to operate.
"The biggest challenge is to convince people that they can make a difference," Scott said.
"They are an integral part of the whole (community) and without their assistance we may not be able to achieve that which they feel they have bought into — a sense of community. Without involvement, without an act of participation, things aren't going to happen."
This is difficult, he added, "especially in new communities, people are more concerned with drapes and sodding their lawns than they are with anything else."
Reaching out to residents is also a main concern of Frederic Ghogomu, the president of the Sky View Ranch Community Association.
With the group slightly more than a year old, Ghogomu said the association's board members are going "door-to-door to explain what the community association started for and to encourage (residents) ... to really get involved and come with ideas with how we can help the community to grow."
One way both Ghogomu and Scott said is an easy way for young community associations to gain members is to start a children's soccer program.
Ghogomu said having a soccer program also helps to ensure the community will succeed for years to come, because it will "help these kids to be leaders of the community tomorrow."
However, beginning a soccer program, along with administrative and insurance needs, requires a financial commitment. A community association can be registered for only $50; however, the organizations require a few thousand dollars a year to operate.
In the case of the Rocky Ridge Royal Oak Community Association, Scott said the founding members reached into their pockets to get the association going. They later made a membership fee mandatory as part of the registration for athletic programs.
Sky View Ranch's association, meanwhile, relied on a donation from a local dental clinic to run its soccer program this year, said Ghogomu. He said he hopes other businesses in the community will be able to help them continue with the soccer program as well as the financial means to add others.
Another issue facing new community associations is where they can run their programs or hold meetings. Unlike those in more established neighbourhoods, Scott said new community associations don't usually own their own buildings and must rely on local public spaces.
However, some developers are taking note of this need. The new subdivisions of Mahogany and Copperfield in the southeast have been developed with community associations in mind, providing a home to the Marquis de Lorne Community Association. Hopewell, the developer who built both communities, provided the community association with a building to use, said Leslie Haubrich, the president of the Marquis de Lorne Community Association, who is also the sales co-ordinator for Hopewell.
Haubrich goes on to say that Hopewell was instrumental in developing the community association, although the association is run by volunteers.
Nonetheless, the association still faces the same problems that other communities, which don't have the help of developers, struggle with.
"We do have our growing pains," said Haubrich. "It takes a lot of volunteer time. It's like a small business where you have to mother it and make it grow."
But if the fact that Calgary has almost 150 communities proves anything, it's that the positives of having a community association greatly outweigh the time and effort it takes to create one.
"They're a place that you can walk to, to meet your neighbours, to enjoy recreational activities, to create a sense of belonging," said Evans, of the Federation of Calgary Communities.
"I think they are the hubs for community life."