News   Apr 03, 2020
 2.5K     1 
News   Apr 02, 2020
 4.5K     3 
News   Apr 02, 2020
 2.2K     0 

Calgary, the next Detroit?

JonnyCanuck

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Feb 15, 2017
Messages
1,433
Reaction score
4,375
The comparison between the two cities is being made as usual by the misinformed and some who badly want to see Calgary and Alberta fail (which also means a part of Canada fails). Putting aside the obvious socio-economic issues that Detroit experienced and that Calgary is not facing; in the last 30 years there has been significant diversification in this city. For one we have become a very large transportation and logistics hub that is unique to Western Canada. Sure, oil and gas companies are still a lifeblood but not the be all and end all.
It is the same misinformed people that are predicting the end of fossil fuels by 2050. They believe that somehow in 30 years, we will have all of the wind, solar and hydroelectric infrastructure in place to power all of our homes, businesses, and transportation. That is extremely naive and also ignorant of the fact that 40% of fossil fuels is used in the manufacture of a wide variety of products that we consume everyday. There will be no easy substitutes for these.
No .... Calgary is not going the way of Detroit!
 
Last edited:

DougB

Active Member
Member Bio
Joined
Apr 12, 2017
Messages
449
Reaction score
821
Location
On the Beach
Others have already raised racial tensions as a key difference in the challenge faced by Detriot. Also add:
-corrupt municipal government (Google Coleman Young as an example)
-largely blue collar workforce

Calgary does have the advantage of being a white collar city, as the skills tend to be more transferable.
 

JTron

Active Member
Member Bio
Joined
Sep 25, 2020
Messages
117
Reaction score
346
Yeah corruption in Detroit was notoriously bad. You could add drug problems to the list of issues as well. Combine all of those things and it's a crazy story. If I had to pinpoint why Detroit was much worse off than other U.S. cities I would say, it was the combination three things that happened at roughly the same time. Typical white flight due to race issues, happening at the same time as manufacturing flight (auto industry moving to the burbs) and decline of jobs in general in the auto industry due to automation and foreign competition.
Other factors such as drugs, corruption, lack of skilled workforce, the city's bad reputation making things even worse by keeping potential investment away helped in the overall plunge.

I was in Detroit a couple of years ago, and got a chance to check out Downtown to Midtown and the area around the arena. It's an improvement over when I was there in the 90s, but they have their work cut out for them. If you leave Woodward and head in east or west a few blocks it starts to go downhill quickly. They have the right ideas though, build up a decent core from downtown along Woodward heading north, and continue to radiate that core outward. It might be the only way to save the city. Anywhooo, the struggles they have are light years difference from anything we have here in Calgary. It's not even close.
 
Last edited:

Beltline_B

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Apr 18, 2016
Messages
1,132
Reaction score
4,221
Location
Calgary
While we can all agree Detroit’s problems are altogether on another level, there are some minor similarities. The obvious one is heavy dependency on one industry. Calgary’s doing a better job at diversification than Detroit did. Related to that dependence is the tax base issue. Detroit was hit hard by the loss of taxes when the people and plants moved to the burbs. We’ve now seen the effect of reliance on taxes from office towers has had a similar effect.
In both cases though we are doing better than Detroit, though that isn’t hard to do.

We won’t experience the same fate as Detroit, but we need to learn from their history and keep on top of things. Something I think we are doing.
 

Silence&Motion

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Aug 7, 2008
Messages
2,181
Reaction score
5,224
Location
Marda Loop
The thing to remember about Detroit is that the city itself died while the region prospered. There is nothing similar happening in Calgary and there likely never will be.

I think this is really a key point. When it comes to talking about demographics and economics, you need to focus on the metro region, not the city. While the City of Calgary represents the vast majority of the Calgary metro region, the City of Detroit is really just a small part of the Detroit metro region. Metro Detroit has seen steady demographic and economic growth throughout the 20th and 21st centuries and is now home to about 5 million people. For various reasons (racism being the most important) the City of Detroit has been treated like a gangrenous limb, and isolated from the rest of the region.

Efforts to revitalize downtown Detroit typically involve building things that will motivate suburbanites to drive through a ring of impoverished, high-crime neighbourhoods. As a result, you have insular, car-focused development projects like sports stadiums or the Renaissance Center. There's very little economic spillover from these kinds of developments to other areas of the City of Detroit.

Calgary is similar to Detroit mainly in the sense that it is big enough that it will continue to grow in spite of a declining major industry, primarily because it has a critical mass of hospitals, universities, transportation infrastructure, etc.

However, Calgary is the opposite of Detroit when it comes to the geographic distribution of wealth. Calgary's richest neighbourhoods are located in the inner-city, surrounding its downtown core. Its poorest neighbourhoods are in the suburbs.
 

heightjunkie

Active Member
Member Bio
Joined
Apr 1, 2019
Messages
170
Reaction score
468
Didn't we already do this once a couple years ago?

I lived in Detroit. I also lived in Ann Arbor, an incredibly prosperous town with google offices just 30 minutes away. A few have already nailed it here, but the story of Detroit's fall is often very muddled and confused with the economic death of an industry. The region of Detroit is just fine, of course it had its ups and downs through all the layoffs, but it's of course still a thriving metropolis that powers Michigan, a reasonably large and wealthy state in the US. The city of Detroit died due to a number of complex socio economic factors, zoning, poor investment, and outright corruption (check out how many mayors have outright gone to prison...)
 

ByeByeBaby

Active Member
Member Bio
Joined
Jan 18, 2017
Messages
369
Reaction score
2,050
Location
403/YYC/T2S
I think this is really a key point. When it comes to talking about demographics and economics, you need to focus on the metro region, not the city. While the City of Calgary represents the vast majority of the Calgary metro region, the City of Detroit is really just a small part of the Detroit metro region. Metro Detroit has seen steady demographic and economic growth throughout the 20th and 21st centuries and is now home to about 5 million people. For various reasons (racism being the most important) the City of Detroit has been treated like a gangrenous limb, and isolated from the rest of the region.

Metro Detroit (the six county MSA) is closer to being home to 4 million people than to 5 million. It was also close to being home to 4 million people in 1960, back when Calgary had a quarter of a million people. The figure below is from Wikipedia.
1637191562392.png


Which doesn't mean that there aren't parts of the region that are doing well (or nearby cities in the extended region -- although while Ann Arbor is doing well - another point for 'education' as a key driver of the economy in the future, that extended region also includes Flint, which isn't doing so well). And, honestly, the idea that the kind of growth that cities like Calgary have had over the past 50 years is not indefinitely sustainable or desirable or likely. But how many people on these boards would be happy if Calgary had 1.5 million people in 2071, putting us just below Winnipeg, with Toronto in the 12 million range, Vancouver and Montreal in the 6 million range and Ottawa in the 3 million range?
 

Surrealplaces

Administrator
Staff member
Member Bio
Joined
Sep 24, 2015
Messages
10,246
Reaction score
40,725
Location
Calgary
As pointed out, Detroit's region has been generally prosperous, with a few ups and downs but not as prosperous as most other large US cities. They can't seem to catch a break, aside from the auto industry struggles and mechanization, one of the factors effecting Detroit as a region, more than other cities is the great reverse migration - African Americans moving south, mainly to Atlanta, but also cities like Houston, Charlotte, Dallas, as well as cities like Washington. Not just that, but in general there has been a general flow of people from the northeastern U.S. to the sunbelt cities.
 
Last edited:

Surrealplaces

Administrator
Staff member
Member Bio
Joined
Sep 24, 2015
Messages
10,246
Reaction score
40,725
Location
Calgary
Didn't we already do this once a couple years ago?
The Detroit discussion comes up now and then, for a couple of reasons.
- here in Calgary we often hear the comparison to Detroit, and that Calgary will be the next Detroit.
- for many of us who are interested in urban topics, the collapse of Detroit is one of the grand daddy topics of all time. It's sad, and depressing, but super intriguing.
 

adamyyc

Active Member
Member Bio
Joined
Jul 19, 2020
Messages
379
Reaction score
1,474
Considering Calgary continued to have a positive population growth rate during the bust years, which were consistent with the population growth rates during the boom years, I don't see how Calgary ever becomes the "next Detroit". Even with a stubbornly high unemployment rate, Calgary continues to be one of the fastest growing cities in Canada.

As noted by others above, the decline of the auto industry in Detroit was not the sole cause of the city's decline, and the comparison of the decline of Detroit's auto industry and Calgary's O&G industry is an oversimplification.

Is O&G in a decline? Yes, but it will be a long and slow decline, which is why Calgary will not be the next Detroit. When oil prices crashed, companies in Calgary shed employees quickly, but the industry had become bloated. As a result, companies became nimble and profitable in low price conditions. Even now, when O&G prices are elevated, companies are not drastically increasing their capital spending or the number of employees. They are buying back shares and paying down debt, and quickly. They are also diversifying their portfolios.

Calgary is doing what it can to diversify its economy to attract industries of the future. You can also see that people in the city are no longer relying on O&G jobs, and are seeking opportunities in other industries.

Calgary and Alberta are friendly places to do business. Calgary has a highly educated population. Alberta has relatively low corporate taxes. Calgary has a high quality of life, with low home/living costs relative to comparable cities.

The point is, it's not like there are any delusions about the declining role that O&G will have for the City/Province anymore. The writing on the wall has been read, and the City and Province are laying out the welcome mat for new industries, before O&G's decline reaches critical mass.

Final thought is that those who compare Calgary to Detroit likely have little tie to the City, and therefore have no personal interest in the City's future success, or actually take delight in seeing Calgary falter.
 

UrbanWarrior

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Mar 28, 2016
Messages
5,012
Reaction score
26,074
Location
Mission
^^ well I certainly remember more than a few members of SSP who seriously schadenfreuded/delighted/boasted when the seriousness of the oil crash and the tens of thousands of layoffs started happening in 2015. Just pathetic. Some of them still seem to delight any time something bad happens here. But jokes on them, we’re still f*cking crushing it 7 years later. 💅🏽
 
Last edited:

MichaelS

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Jul 5, 2016
Messages
2,120
Reaction score
12,861
But how many people on these boards would be happy if Calgary had 1.5 million people in 2071, putting us just below Winnipeg, with Toronto in the 12 million range, Vancouver and Montreal in the 6 million range and Ottawa in the 3 million range?
Honestly, I would probably be pretty okay with this, especially if the additional few people came in the form of continued intensification of a handful of main streets or in the downtown. While I think buildings/highrises and urban development are neat and fascinating, for quality of life, I feel once a city gets too big, it starts to lose its appeal for me. Great places to go visit for a long weekend or even a week long holiday, but the constant grind of congestion (even on transit), noise/construction, etc... starts to get old fast. A city of about 1.5 million is kind of the sweet spot for me, large enough to have most of the amenities you would want, but not so large to have many of the issues associated with big cities.

I just see how Banff/K-Country are almost essentially no-go zones on weekends already, imagine what they will be like if we have a population of 2.5 million? We often hold those parks up as a great benefit of Calgary, and they no doubt are, but if they become even more congested/crowded, that appeal goes away.

Maybe I am just getting old and cranky though.....
 

Urban Outdoorsman

Active Member
Member Bio
Joined
Oct 15, 2019
Messages
592
Reaction score
4,395
Well in any case I have a really hard time imaging Calgary's population not growing at a sustained pase. Perhaps not the levels we've seen in the past, but given the way the GTA and lower mainland have effectively become unaffordable I suspect that cities like Ottawa, Calgary, Winning, etc., will begin to receive a greater share of immigration. I mean unless you're making 6 figures the benefits of living the Toronto or Vancouver don't really seem to outweigh the cost of effectively being trapped in the lower middle class and likely never being able to own a home. My guess is Calgary's low cost of living and high quality of life will ensure continued growth.

That being said I'd never even thought about how bad k-country will be at 2+ million 😓 maybe the province will have to create some kind of bus/shuttle service going up and down highway 40.
 

CBBarnett

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
May 22, 2016
Messages
1,235
Reaction score
6,950
Honestly, I would probably be pretty okay with this, especially if the additional few people came in the form of continued intensification of a handful of main streets or in the downtown. While I think buildings/highrises and urban development are neat and fascinating, for quality of life, I feel once a city gets too big, it starts to lose its appeal for me. Great places to go visit for a long weekend or even a week long holiday, but the constant grind of congestion (even on transit), noise/construction, etc... starts to get old fast. A city of about 1.5 million is kind of the sweet spot for me, large enough to have most of the amenities you would want, but not so large to have many of the issues associated with big cities.

I just see how Banff/K-Country are almost essentially no-go zones on weekends already, imagine what they will be like if we have a population of 2.5 million? We often hold those parks up as a great benefit of Calgary, and they no doubt are, but if they become even more congested/crowded, that appeal goes away.

Maybe I am just getting old and cranky though.....
I tend to agree with this - that 1.5 million is a pretty good scale - but I think there is really strong opportunity to stretch that "ideal" size city much further. Essentially: how can we feel like a city of 1.5 million, but actually be 3 million? The more I think about it, the more I am convinced it's largely all about reducing the dependence on private vehicles.

To me, the ideal sized city is one where I have:
  • 18 to 24 hour access for many/most things people need and want (groceries, coffee, restaurants, nightlife, parks)
  • Ability to leave the city is reasonably easy (nearby major airport, regional holiday opportunities like mountains, lakes etc.)
  • Enough diversity to support whatever lifestyle I choose (housing type, arts and amenity choice, demographics)
  • Reasonably affordable
  • Not dependent on car-ownership (and not dependent on the income required to support owning one, as well as not a victim of ever-increasing congestion issues)
The goal is to get all the benefits of scale while avoiding more of the downsides. The key is better, smarter development and smarter infrastructure capacity improvement. I grouped some ideas below.

Regional
A regionally significant example is that Banff /Bow Valley corridor, it's becoming such a mess that will only get worse - unless we scale up the infrastructure smartly. Often discussed, but never realized (yet) - an electric train that can do Calgary-Banff in 1 hour would be how you ramp up access, while mitigating the downsides of more people plus numerous resiliency, climate and environmental benefits. If we add more highway lanes instead, we will never outpace the downsides of more activity in the mountains - just more weekend traffic jams, highway closures and collisions snarling the corridor forever. K-country and Banff have only so many parking spots available too, unless we pave over half the park with more - it's not a scalable solution.

City
On a city level, big projects we can do are transit stuff - not just more Greenline(s) but capacity, speed and resiliency improvements for all LRT and bus projects. Make transit faster, better connected, easier to use, less prone to delays through a bunch of big (grade separations, new lines/technologies, dedicated right-of-ways, TOD) and small projects (fare cards, branding, safety, lighting, station connectivity).

Local
On a more local level, it's the small scale infrastructure - sidewalks and cycletracks, but smarter, scaled up to handle more people. Real infrastructure. A city of 3 million shouldn't be playing the same games we are with spot improvements and a block-at-a-time cycling infrastructure. Metaphorically speaking - I should be able to bicycle from Chinook Centre to U of C on main roads in protected lanes without relying on my memory of which turn to take, which side-street connects to and from a river pathway, where the pot-holes and icy stretches are, where do cars turn blindly, where it's too dangerous to be on the road, where the crossing buttons do or don't work etc. Scrap all that mickey mouse stuff and give me a consistent, 4 or 5m wide high-quality, protected cycletrack along Macleod to the Bow River.

Land Use
Finally, land uses need to keep changing too. Finding ways to better use space, put more people into neighbourhoods so they can be vibrant and economically sustainable while maintaining the diversity required (old, young, rich, poor). To do this it means being smarter with land (less useless open space by design, less underutilized right-of-ways, less parking) and smarter with design (more and different housing options, smaller but better designed units). It doesn't, shouldn't and can't always mean 30 storey towers (which have to start getting better designed as well). Keeping affordability is always a challenge - best way to do that is to allow people to buy smaller houses/units that still work for their needs. Smart design and amenity-rich locations is key to that.

Quality of Life
More people means more noise, garbage and interactions. Make these as pleasant as possible. 30 years of loud cars on 17th Avenue doesn't add to the ambiance of city life, especially now that there is 10,000 more people living within earshot. Restrict car access as needed, actually enforce noise bylaws, think about urban noise as a factor when buying vehicles (buses, garbage trucks, fire trucks). More garbages, benches and public washrooms everywhere too.

Back to my "ideal" size list - I didn't put a number on it because it's possible to have all those things at much smaller or much larger scales. Banff (pop. 8,000) fakes most of these characteristics fairly well, thanks largely to the tourist crowd giving a town better nightlife and services than many cities 10x as big. But it also describes huge amounts of European and Japanese cities as well from the many millions to towns under 100,000.

The key at any scale is having the right infrastructure and land uses so that more people doesn't mean a more oppressive place to be.
 

UrbanWarrior

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Mar 28, 2016
Messages
5,012
Reaction score
26,074
Location
Mission
A bus service wouldn’t be too difficult once the train to Banff is complete. Connect to the “Kananaskis Express” at Seebe or Canmore stations and boom.

In regard to the city hitting two million, it’s simply inevitable. We’ll almost certainly be the next metro to surpass two million, and after Montreal we’ll be the third municipality to surpass that number. Even at the lowest growth projections, the Calgary CMA will hit/surpass 2 million in 21 years (2043). Once the commuter/tourist rail to the mountains is complete, I could realistically see Canmore start to explode in population unless they implemented strict population control like Banff.
 

Top