Keeping Calgary sustainable means keeping our small businesses alive

SteepsArticle by: Marta

Calgary is a forever growing city where some small businesses struggle to stay afloat with rising overhead costs.

Steeps, a teahouse, was a local business that attempted to become a local mainstay, but struggled with the rising costs of doing business in Calgary. Steeps served baked goods, homemade meals, and a great deal of tea to the folks downtown on the Mount Royal strip just off of 17th ave and 8th street. Unfortunately Steeps closed its doors early last year.

I sat down with the manager of Oolong, Chelsey McRedmond, to talk about what caused the closure and gain her insights on what could have been done differently to save her local business, offering lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs in our city.

Steeps1Oolong purchased Steeps in the summer of 2009 and kept the name and décor the same as before purchase. When asked about the ambiance within Steeps, McRedmond responds, “There were a lot of contributing factors to the Steeps vibe including the tea itself ( Camillia sinensus) which tends to create a very relaxed atmosphere and ambiance, food, décor, music, and last but absolutely not least the people”.

When asked why Steeps shut down, I didn’t get a quick answer from McRedmond but the jist of it was “We [the owners and staff] could no longer sustain ourselves.”.

Oolong opened another location in McKenzie towne on top of purchasing Steeps. When things slowed down economically and other tea franchises and corporations began popping up around the city, business slowed down immensely.

“The choice had to be made: lose all three tea shops, or close two and keep one, the original Oolong Tea House in Kensington location. We were faced with this difficult decision in 2013 and that summer Steeps and Oolong McKenzie towne closed their doors for good,” McRedmond says.

Businesses cannot thrive without customers. If the community wants places like Steeps to stay open, we need to support them as integral parts of our local economy. Many of us say that we want out precious tea shops and coffee shops and record stores to stay open but many of us buy our records online and buy our groceries at Safeway. Local markets can be pricey but they try to provide us with healthy alternatives. It doesn’t hurt to pay a little extra so that we don’t see another one of our local hubs get destroyed. The bottom line is that businesses need to make money to stay open so make sure that you are supporting the businesses you love so much so that they can stay open.

 

 

Committing to Place: Re-making the Urban Landscape (pt. 2)

Part 2: Re-making the Urban Landscape

(Read Part 1 of this article, Committing to Place: Intentional Rural Living)

By Alla Guelber

After five rejuvenating days off-grid at Breitenbush Hot Springs, my friend Lindsay and I – and five of our new friends from the course – loaded into a white van for the two hour ride into Portland to get dropped off at our next destination. DSC_1309

We arrived in South East Portland, where a remarkable gem of community living can be found innocuously concealed on a quiet city block. Our host, Jordan Fink, himself one of the original founders of City Repair, eagerly welcomed us to Fosterville.

Prior to arriving at Fosterville, I’d learned from their fundraising video (as well as online discussions with Jordan), that this was an urban eco-village of three houses, 12 people, 10 chickens, four ducks, two bee hives, and more than 100 species of plants and trees. With two combined lots, the ecovillage takes up nearly 1/3 acre of land. Started 10 years ago as one house situated on a gravel lot, it has grown through their collaborative efforts into a food forest, a resource for neighbors and other people in the community on sustainable living practices, a habitat for migrating birds, the home of the first fully permitted straw bale house in Portland, a gathering place for community and much more.

Welcome to Fosterville

Welcome to Fosterville

Lindsay and I were welcomed with open arms, as we were invited to join in for shared community meals, philosophical conversations, sight-seeing, a political organizing potluck, as well as to share our own work in community economic development and social permaculture.

Several days after we arrived, we hosted a Sunday afternoon workshop on meaningful work in the Purple ‘Art house’s living room, called Meaningful Work: Creating Opportunities in the New Economy. We had connected with our hosts initially through the Meaningful Work Project (an initiative that I founded in 2009, and Lindsay has been involved with consistently since she attended the first Meaningful Work Retreat in 2010).

Throughout the rest of the week, Jordan graciously toured us throughout the 20 year history of Portland’s urban revitalization. We visited the place that began it all, Share-it Square, where neighbours have gathered every year to host a block party and re-paint their intersection. In addition, they have created shared bulletin boards, the longest running free public tea station in the world, and an outdoor, covered play space for the neighbourhood’s children.

We stumbled onto Oak’s Bottom Forge, an urban forge, located in a visible storefront, where patrons can purchase hand-forged knives or take hands-on classes to learn how to do their own blacksmithing work.

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A community-run playhouse at Share-It Square in Portland.

We visited a number of other sites, showing the true power of community when neighbours feel empowered to gather and act toward a common goal.

Eager to create functional public spaces as well as experiment with green building techologies, Portlanders built benches and green roofs on neighbourhood notice boards until technology regulations caught up to allow for larger-scale projects that now pepper the Pacific North West.

A community message board helps neighbours connect

A pac-mac inspired Little Library offers up VHS for anyone interested in retro videos.

They are all examples of placemaking, one of the most effective tools available for community building that brings neighbours together as part of the project planning, consultation and construction processes. These projects have successfully made neighbourhoods safer by slowing traffic and lowering crime rates and helped to create resiliency through continued community engagement.

(left-right): Jordan Fink, Alla Guelber, Mark Lakeman and Lindsay Meads.

(left-right): Jordan Fink, Alla Guelber, Mark Lakeman and Lindsay Meads.

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Students at Oaks Bottom Forge learn how to work with metal

There is more to share on the many outstanding examples of community collaboration in Portland, but the question remained: what could be glean from all of this inspiration, and return back to our burgeoning city on the other side of the Rocky Mountains?

Inspired by our experiences in Oregon, we decided to partner with Kym Chi of Giggling Chi Tree, an artist and permaculture teacher as well as urban designer Natalia Zoldak to bring Mark Lakeman to Calgary.

We wanted to offer Calgarians an opportunity to hear firsthand about the way communities can gather to create long-lasting, tangible change on the neighbourhood level. Community bookshelves, impromptu street tea parties in the street, neighbourhood “water coolers”, community gardens, and more helped shape Portland’s vibrant, village culture. These smaller projects gave way to major changes in the public right of way, leading to ever-greater support for citizen-led projects from the municipal government. Eventually, changes to public ordinances and bylaws dramatically shifted what was possible in Portland, and led to the creation of the innovative green city we see today.

For the City Repair Calgary team, it’s realizing a long-time dream to bring Mark back to Calgary to share his unique brand of urban revitalization.

Please join us for two exciting learning experiences:

Cracks in the Pavement: Placemaking and the Remaking of a Modern City with Mark Lakeman

Thursday July 17, 7pm – 9pm | Doors: 6:30 pm
John Dutton Theatre, Calgary Public Library. 616 Macleod Trail SE
Advance Tickets: $20 Regular, $15 Student | Door Tickets: $25 Regular, $20 Student 100% Calgary Dollars Accepted

This presentation will provide an overview of how North American communities are retrofitting their neighborhoods through grassroots involvement. By gathering and discussing how they experience and feel about their own communities, residents are able to identify both strengths and places for improvement in the environments where they live. In short, we will look at how we can create the sense of living in a village in the city. This presentation will also illustrate detailed examples of new forms of shared community amenities, including urban agriculture, community gathering places, alternative transport amenities, youth-involvement projects and more.

More info and registration:http://cracksinthepavement.brownpapertickets.com

Weekend Workshop: Placemaking Nuts and Bolts with Mark Lakeman and Friends

July 18, Meet and Greet, 6pm – 9pm | Blank Page Studio | 1221 B Kensington RD NW
July 19 & 20, 9am – 5pm | ContainR in Sunnyside

Full Price: $250 | Student/Low Income: $150 | Scholarships available | Calgary Dollars accepted up to 25%

Portland’s Mark Lakeman and Mighk Simpson host a 2.5 day workshop together with local community experts. Over the weekend, we will learn:

-The foundations and theory of placemaking
-How to build more functional and creative relationships on the neighbourhood level
-How to assess the needs and wants of the neighbourhoods we live in
-To create our own placemaking activities or initiatives
-Ways to overcome and work with City bylaws and ordinances

To close our time together we will put our skills into action and facilitate a public placemaking festival at the ContainR site, in conjunction with the Sun and Salsa Festival in Kensington. This adventure has been designed for individuals or groups who want to make change at a grassroots level with the participation of neighbours and friends and through the deepening of relationships where they live.

More info and registration: http://nutsandboltsofplacemaking.brownpapertickets.com    

Poster-NEW

 

Scott Weir

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Growing moral capacity through urban farming

Article by: Marta 

Passionate about sustainability, Scott Weir has started a successful urban farm in Calgary

Passionate about sustainability, Scott Weir has started a successful urban farm in Calgary

Starting an urban farm is not an easy task according to Scott Weir, but he has made it happen in a city where pursuing genuinely sustainable practices is yet to be taken seriously. Although Growing Gardeners Calgary Urban Farms started just one year ago, the idea and inspiration for it started much earlier. Founder Scott Weir says he’s always been inspired by the green movement and has been interested in hydroponics and building systems since he was only eleven, when he first got a glimpse of the technology at the EPCOT centre in Orlando, Florida. Since then, his interests have evolved and he now believes aquaponics is the way to go. After receiving a small grant to build his own aquaponics system, he started coaching others on building their own systems. He has developed course curriculum and websites, taught classes on the topic, and even presented the information to government officials. He says it addresses agricultural and societal hurdles such as “labour, water scarcity, waste, and cost issues.”

Our interview turned into a bit of a lesson plan for starting up your own business. Weir has a way of turning the conversation on you, so that it’s no longer about him; suddenly he’s teaching you the essentials of starting up a business so you don’t run into the same problems he encountered. There have been a lot of challenges with starting the farm, and Weir insists doing it alone isn’t the way to go: “the more support the better,” he says. He recommends that you “don’t buy anything new for your farm. Borrow or buy used equipment.” And, he says a key principle to the success of any entrepreneurial venture is to keep money for your business and money for your living expenses totally separate.

Weir hard at work on the farm

Weir, hard at work on the farm

Although Weir made it clear he’s had a rough couple of years starting the farm, he doesn’t want to discourage those interested in pursuing urban farming or gardening. “It can be difficult” he says, stating he put in eighteen hour days for months and noted challenges such as unexpected costs, poor land conditions, and crop failure, but he reflects saying “it’s one of those things where you have so much adversity before you, but also so much support behind you to help you succeed.” Now that the farm is seeing it’s last growing season, Weir isn’t worried; he says the land will most likely be sectioned off into growing plots for restaurant owners and the potential for growing will continue.

In the meantime, he’s had plenty of other commitments to keep him busy. He is a permanent board member of the University of Calgary Student Union Sustainability Board, the Parkdale Community Association Garden Community, and CJSW Radio Station. He has also been Vice President Operations and Finance of the UofC Students’ Union. He recently received one of three Calgary Arch Alumni awards given to future graduates the university deems “the innovators of tomorrow.”

He hopes urban farming continues to grow in Calgary, but more importantly he hopes that the “core values that go along with urban farming such as promoting organic and sustainably produced food and community involvement are integrated and supported on all farms that are local to us.”

If you’re hanging around the UofC campus, keep an eye out for Scott Weir. He’s happy to share useful information and knowledge gained through his many successful ventures. However busy, he always makes time to credit all those who have inspired him and helped him along the way. A future leader in sustainable practices, Scott Weir has the passion, focus, and credentials to keep us all on the right path toward meaningful economies and communities.