Pop The Question: Gian-Carlo Carra

Raised in both Calgary and New York City, Gian-Carlo Carra was elected to serve his first term as Alderman for Ward 9 in October 2010. Having obtained a Masters in Environmental Design/Urban Design at the University of Calgary and serving on the City’s Standing Policy Committee on Land Use Planning & Transportation, Carra brings a passion for building walkable, safe and fiscally responsible communities to City Hall. CREB® caught up with Alderman Carra to talk a little bit about Calgary.

CREB®>> What’s the biggest challenge you face at your job as Alderman?

Carra>> On the one hand we’re member of the board for a multi-billion corporation and we’re trying to pursue strategic change, and then we also play the role of the complaints department. In some ways it’s a really interesting deep dive into how the organization works, in other ways it works against the strategic role that council should play. Reconciling those two opposite functions I think is one of the most difficult challenges that any alderman faces.

CRBE®>> What’s the biggest issue facing the City?

Carra>> I think the biggest issue facing the city – and Ward 9 is a great laboratory for addressing it – is opening up an urban market and establishing a city that resembles what we’re talking about in our new municipal plan – a city of complete communities. A city where one can walk and get most of the things they need and can use transit just as conveniently as it currently is to drive a car. Basically making the transition from an automobile-scaled suburban city to a city that provides walkable human habitat as a viable option for a critical mass of citizens. I think Ward 9 is by-and-large probably the most significant assemblage of walkable neighbourhoods in the city. So we have revitalization, we have figuring out to become a laboratory for that change on a city scale as a major challenge and a major opportunity.

CREB®>> If you could change on thing about Calgary, what would it be?

Carra>> I like the weather in Calgary actually. People complain about Calgary being a winter city and that’s why we drive so much and that’s why we don’t spend enough time outside, but having come from the East Coast I can tell you that when it gets cold there, it’s a lot more miserable than when it gets cold here. So I don’t honestly buy the weather argument. So I would say the biggest thing we have to change is we have to become a much more urban city over time.

CREB®>> What’s your favourite way to spend a day off in or around Calgary?

Carra>> That’s a tough one. I think recently, because we have a seven-month-old child, my wife and I are really enjoying living in Inglewood and being able to take advantage of both the amazing pathway and park systems and our proximity to the zoo, but also the main street where we can go and walk and visit our merchant friends and partake in the food that’s offered there and do our shopping. I think it’s just reveling in the complete community that Inglewood is and is becoming more of.

CREB®>> What’s been the biggest change in the city during your time in office?

Carra>> I think the biggest that city has undertaken is the Nenshi effect. I think there’s an amazing sense of optimism, and I’m not saying it’s Nenshi’s fault, but I think he’s sort of the poster child for the real shift in the city that’s expressed in everything in the city from the mayor we elected to the fact we’re the 2012 Cultural Capital of Canada to this sense of optimism and excitement about our future.

CREB®>> Being raised in both Calgary and New York, how would you compare the two cities?

Carra>> I think that New York is probably the classic exceptional example of the industrial era urban city and I think Calgary is probably the exceptional example of the post-war suburban city. So in many ways they’re completely opposite places. The things are great about both though is the sense of neighbourhood and community, so in some ways they’re totally opposite ends of the spectrum and in other ways they’re both just great places to live. But I don’t think, on a move-forward basis, that New York is the model that we could or should pursue the same way that I think that the automobile scaled city that Calgary has done such a great job of delivering is really the sustainable model either. I think the solution lies at more of the neighbourhood level.

CREB®>> Whats would you say is the biggest misconception people have about Calgary or Calgarians?

Carra>> That’s a tough one. I’m always amazed to find out that some people still think of Inglewood as the rough and tumble part of the city. I’m also amazed to find out that Canadians sort of think of Calgary as this redneck place. I think we’re past that and I think the misconception has to do more with how many people haven’t woken up to the new reality.

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