Friday, July 24, 2009

Citizen safety program considered for downtown Calgary

People say that the heart of a city is in its downtown, and with all of the summer events and festivals going on in Calgary’s core, it’s easy to see. Protecting the spirit of Calgary, then, means keeping our downtown clean and safe, something those living and working in Centre City discussed at a public meeting yesterday.

“If people don’t feel safe here,” said Maggie Schofield, executive director of the Calgary Downtown Association (CDA), “they won’t come.”

That’s what was happening in a Dallas, Texas neighbourhood before they launched the Safety Courtesy Ambassador Program.

Schofield described how the program helped the community grow from virtually no population in 2000 to over 1,000 in 2009 and reduced crime by an impressive 60 per cent.

How? A courtesy team, wearing bright yellow golf shirts and out on the streets 24 hours a day, got to know the people in the neighbourhood and worked co-operatively with the police to transform the community into a healthy, vibrant centre.

And she wants to bring it to Calgary.

Schofield envisions a local program based on the same concept, with ambassadors out on our streets, in the Plus 15 system and near businesses and residential areas 24 hours a day, and that includes a safe walk program. They would complement the role of security officers by adding more eyes and ears on the streets, helping to reduce crime and improve how comfortable people feel downtown.

This would expand on CDA’s existing summer Hospitality Outreach Safety Team (HOST) program – you’ve probably seen them, wearing bright red shirts and white cowboy hats and adding a friendly vibe to the core.

Even with the increased security presence, Schofield explained, this program is necessary in Calgary because of the sheer size of the downtown area.

The Calgary Downtown Association is currently meeting with business safety executives in Centre City to get three-year funding commitments to support the program. They need a minimum of 10 partners and already have interest from over 30. Schofield hopes to start hiring in six months.

To stay up to date on issues specific to Centre City, check out the Centre City Talk blog.

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