Calgary – a green city?

I’m here, I reached Canada, the country I dreamed to live in at least once, the country I said as a teenager that I might emigrate to when I grow up. People replied that I can’t know this if I haven’t ever lived there. So now, here I am and here I will be for the next 5 months at least.

After I have traveled to the East of Canada in 2015 (to Quebec and Ontario), I’m going to explore the West this time. In a country like Canada, which is the second-largest country in the world after Russia, it seems impossible to visit the whole country in one go. For this reason, I will concentrate on a small part in the coming months that I am going to discover in-depth.

Quick Fact: Although Canada is the world’s second-largest country, only about 37 million people live here in 2019.

 

Arriving at Calgary

Last weekend, Mr. Explorer and I landed in Calgary, Alberta. 🇨🇦 While I’m staying for an entire exchange semester, he will only stay for the next 3 weeks. Two of these weeks, we spend together with his brother’s family.

So far, I didn’t arrive in my mind in the “land of longings and dreams”. The dimensions of the country, even the one of the province of Alberta, and the wide-open spaces are barely tangible; the size of the average car (the pick-up truck) barely comprehensible (why these are necessary); as well as a poorly-developed public transport network in a city of 1.2 million residents barely understandable.

In the Sherwood neighborhood, in which we spend the night, priority is given even optically to cars: The double garage is brought to the fore, while the front door is hidden on one side of the house. The driveway to the garage is concreted and offers room for two additional vehicles that couldn’t fit in the double garage. Garage and driveway almost extend over the width of the front of the building. There is not much space left for a front yard.

At first glance, Calgary does not appear as a large city. Apart from the roughly 60 high-rise buildings in the downtown (heights > 100 meters), the rest of the city consists of 1 to 2 story-buildings. This is also evident in the population density of 1,500 inhabitants per square kilometer, which is half the density of Stuttgart (with double population). The topography is rather flat with smaller hills (maximum height difference of 200 meters).

In contrast to German cities, the houses within a neighborhood resemble each other as if they were ordered via the same catalog. According to the brother, a guideline by law prohibits that the houses look alike. Therefore, each one has some small variations (the arrangement of the windows, the wall paint or by means of an alcove).

Girl sitting on a bench in a green park in front of skyline

The Skyline of Calgary’s Downtown: These are the only high buildings in the city.

 

Environmental protection: Is Calgary as green as it appears at first glance?

Although I imagined Canada with its inviting nature to be a green paradise, the “green” does not include eco-friendliness as much. Many things are reminiscent of the USA. Canada is among the ten biggest environmental polluters in the world (based on its CO2-emissions) after the US on the second and Germany on the sixth rank. Until Trudeau became prime minister, environmental protection and climate change were not that high on the political agenda.

When you stroll or drive through the city of Calgary, you may find green spaces to relax around every corner. This is a major plus if I visit a city. However, there is more to environmental protection than just parks. As much as I appreciated the wide range of recreational areas, I was taken aback by its current state of environmental awareness.

In recent years, I occupied myself intensively with the topics environmental protection and climate change. Therefore, I want to write down some thoughts about my findings in Calgary. The list is not exhaustive and wishes to mirror single, personal experiences. Maybe you can identify with them (in Calgary, in another Canadian city or even in a city in a different country). The city of Calgary may understand this list as an invitation to improve its climate friendliness.

The Peace Bridge in Calgary, Alberta, with skyline in the background

The peace bridge with a view to Calgary’s skyline

 

Environmentally harmful behavior in Calgary city which is NOT green!

  • First of all, I would like to mention the big cars and pickup trucks with high fuel consumption, which represent the majority in the streets. I always wonder: Does one really need this much horsepower inside the city every day? Or would it be okay to rent a bigger vehicle once it’s needed? Fuel is too cheap in Northern America that I expect any longterm changes in habits. (Today we paid 0.98 CAD for one liter of gas, which is less than 0.70 €/liter!!)
  • Then, I noticed the handing out of meals inside the CORE shopping center. The food court offered only disposable tableware (single-use paper plates, boxes or plastic cutlery) for takeaway as well as to eat on the spot.
  • In the average showers, you cannot adjust the amount of water that is coming out. (Normally, you can only adjust the temperature.) Hence, a lot of water is wasted unnecessarily.
  • Front yards are practically non-existing (e.g. in neighborhoods like Sherwood) and are used as concreted car parks. The tiny space to the house next door is a gravel desert (which is a trend in Germany as well) or at max a lawn. Wildflowers and plants seem out of place here. (Good-bye, biodiversity!)
  • In addition, the public transport network is not very well developed. Busses may be available at regular intervals during the week. Latest on weekends, timetables are not harmonized with other busses and trains arriving and departing. This results in long waiting times.
  • In suburbs, supermarkets and restaurants are located in commercial areas outside the residential areas, which almost forces residents to buy a car (if not for the poor public transport).
Green park with a couple overviewing the skyline of Calgary

One of Calgary’s most famous parks: the Prince’s Island Park

 

Green, environment-friendly behavior in Calgary city

 

This was my little compilation about environmental protection in Calgary. I don’t want to say that the situation in Germany is any better (you read that its CO2 emissions are even higher). Way too less cities currently deal with the forthcoming climate crisis.

Some of the negative examples I brought forward remind me of living in the countryside in Germany. However, it is important to understand that we are talking about a city here. Especially cities have big potentials to improve public transportation and introduce returnable beakers, just to give two examples for climate-friendly approaches.

For sure, there will be some environmentally conscious people in Calgary who do their small contribution. Yet, what I wish to see are political actions and stronger legal guidelines for industries.

What do you think: Do we need more environmental awareness in cities? How is your attitude towards environmental protection? In which countries were you especially shocked by the situation?

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