Residents of Calgary’s dynamic campus communities benefit from youthful energy and added amenities
Bob Benson fondly recalls many a Bermuda Shorts Day – the University of Calgary’s annual end-of-academic-year celebration – at the Benson home in the northwest community of Varsity.
“We’d host a Bermuda Shorts Day breakfast with ham and pancakes. Kids would congregate at our place at 8:30 a.m. or 9 a.m. and then head over to the university,” said Benson, adding he and his wife moved to Varsity in 1988 with the hope that the community’s proximity to the university would make it easier for his four children to attend. Apparently, it worked – three of Benson’s children studied there.
Varsity is one of several Calgary communities that borders a post-secondary institution. That proximity comes with all the pros, and the occasional con, of living near a large body of students.
“The university itself has been an excellent neighbour,” said Benson, adding the Varsity Community Association – of which he is president – has had nothing but positive interactions with the school. One of their most recent interactions was regarding the University District, a new housing development built on university land adjacent to the existing campus.
This year, Avenue Calgary named Varsity as the city’s “Best Neighbourhood,” an honour Benson believes is, in part, attributable to the community’s proximity to the university, as well as to other appealing amenities, such as the Foothills Hospital and Market Mall.
One obvious impact of living near a campus is that the surrounding neighbourhoods will be primary residence choices for both professors and students.
Kimberly Coutts has lived in Brentwood for nearly a decade. She says the proximity of the campus and the many students who rent in Brentwood throughout the school year “make the community more dynamic.”
“We have a good population mix in Brentwood, with older residents and young people,” she said. “It gives a nice energy to our neighbourhood.”
While Coutts, who works for the University of Calgary at its downtown campus, admits she’s had a few issues regarding noise and partying with a houseful of students a couple of doors down from her, she says she’d rather deal with the occasional problem neighbour than give up the youthful energy the students bring to the community.
“The university itself has been an excellent neighbour.” – Bob Benson, Varsity Community Association president
“You notice the students’ presence in local businesses, too,” she said. “If you go to Safeway, for example, you’ll see lots of young people there.
“The University and the hospitals are huge draws for people to move into this community. I have lots of colleagues who live in Varsity and Brentwood.”
John Alho, the University of Calgary’s associate vice president of government and community engagement, says the university considers itself a community asset. “The university opens itself up to the community,” he said, citing public lectures, art exhibits and access to the university’s athletic facilities among the ways in which residents can interact with the institution.
Benson, for example, says he often takes in University of Calgary Dinos athletic events. Meanwhile, Coutts says she often walks around the university grounds, and she has also attended concerts at the University’s Rozsa Centre and has taken some continuing education courses on campus.
Alho says the University of Calgary often has a presence at community events, such as Stampede breakfasts, in the surrounding neighbourhoods. Students also get involved in experiential learning locally – nursing students spending time in local nursing homes, for example – and through university initiatives like Days of Service, when incoming students volunteer with local community organizations during Orientation Week. The university also meets with its surrounding neighbours in a more official capacity through its membership in the South Shaganappi Area Development Council.
Of course, the university isn’t the only post-secondary institution in town. Mount Royal University and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology are surrounded by several campus communities of their own.
Shirley Williams has lived in the southwest community of Rutland Park for thirty years. She says the impact of nearby Mount Royal University has mainly been felt on neighbourhood streets.
“It seriously affects parking within residential communities,” she said. “One block gets parking restrictions, then the next block is affected and it has to get restrictions, and it just keeps moving, block by block. I don’t know what the limit is for students, how far they’ll walk.”
Parking issues and occasional noise complaints aside, the economic impact of post-secondary institutions on the businesses in surrounding neighbourhoods is undeniable. The University of Calgary, for example, brings together some 30,000 students, faculty and staff.
“Many of them come from somewhere else,” said Alho. “They have to eat, live and work somewhere.”