RelativeCity: The Good in the Hood

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4 seas

mC:t    2015.06.09    #makeCalgarytalk


Recently, an urban focus within Calgary has been centred around East Village. It is even said by designers in the city that the East Village redevelopment is a movement towards reconciliation for decades of neglect for Calgary’s east. However, the conversation never moves beyond East Village; and the question that begs to be asked is, what lies east of East Village?


To many Calgarians, Forest Lawn is a stain on Calgary’s urban fabric. What makes it a stain in Calgary also paints a picture of what makes Forest Lawn unique and significant. A dichotomy exists within Calgary’s “hood,” it is a place where many cease to go, but is also a place where many choose to stay.


Paradise Lanes


The fractured connection between Forest Lawn and the rest of Calgary goes back over a hundred years. In 1912, two American entrepreneurs purchased a plot of land, hoping to sell it off and develop a town. However, the price on the land was too high and the transportation to Calgary was too poor to attract prospective buyers. In hopes to make the offer more alluring, the two conmen laid railway ties in the town and began a rumour; a streetcar was to be developed linking Forest Lawn to Calgary. The scheme was discovered, but the two developers had already disappeared, leaving the residents to use the railway ties as firewood. In 1961, the town of Forest Lawn was annexed by the City of Calgary, a relationship that was further segregated by the construction of Deerfoot Trail in 1971. Deerfoot Trail created a new barrier between east and west that was more than simply a freeway, it interrupted the social connectivity between Calgary and its new east.


17 Avenue SE maintains a nostalgic integrity that stems from its small town roots. There is no general centre of services and stores one finds within suburban communities, instead there is a main street. All times of the year, 17th Avenue SE is filled with residents: mothers with their children, people waiting for the bus, and teens walking to the local corner stores. As Jane Jacobs argued a well-used street is the safer street, the energetic life on 17 Avenue SE is proof that the reputation the area holds is not it’s all cracked up to be.


Little Saigon

The social and urban exclusion of the area has lead to a cultural inclusion. The lower rent and higher walkability has made it prime real estate for newcomers; over decades, immigrants from all over the world have come to Calgary, and many landed in Forest Lawn.  However, Forest Lawn is quite different from the immigrant ghetto it is connoted as being.


It is its immigrant population that is one of Forest Lawn’s most powerful attributes. Travelling down 17 Avenue SE one will notice an array of diverse restaurants and businesses illustrating the colourful and quilted nature of the community, from the Little Saigon strip mall to a collection of Ethiopian restaurants. The town-within-a-city character that has developed from its urban history has created a node in which cultural communities can flourish, a unique home where these peoples can establish their new lives while still maintaining some practices of their old ones. The lack of urban connectivity between Forest Lawn and Calgary has developed another sense of connection, a global one.


In a city as safe as Calgary, it is not as simple as staying away from a neighbourhood for personal safety. The misunderstandings surrounding Forest Lawn have existed for generations, and will undoubtedly continue for many more. By designating Forest Lawn as a dangerous place and its residents as such, the community has been separated socially from Calgary as a whole. Identity has then become connected with the community rather than the city. In the case of Forest Lawn, it has created connections stronger than community, it has created connections that cross oceans and borders. Forest Lawn may not be much to Calgary, but it is something to the rest of the world.




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