Zoey Duncan is what you might call an engaged citizen. Having showcased her unique commentary on Calgary life through social media and blog zoeywrites.com, it didn’t come as a major surprise when she was chosen as the East Village’s first resident ambassador.
Having now added the ability to survey city life from high above, CREB®Now caught up with Duncan to find out what’s going on in and around Calgary’s “oldest newest neighbourhood.”
CREB®Now: How exactly did you come to have a rent-free condo in the East Village for a year?
Duncan: The Calgary Municipal Land Corp. (the brains behind East Village) began a competition earlier this year in search of an East Village resident ambassador – someone who could see the revitalized neighbourhood through the eyes of a resident and share it with the rest of the world.
The competition started with a short video submission where I’d have to prove why I was the best person for the job. My goal: create a funny, interesting and informative video about East Village that people other than my friends would want to watch and that happened to cram as much Zoey into 30 seconds as possible.
After the video round (which lasted several weeks, during which all competitors were enthusiastically Tweeting and Instagramming on the #evliving hashtag), CMLC cut the competition from about 70 down to 20. Those of us who made the cut faced another challenge. I chose their blogging challenge, writing about my ideal day in the life in East Village. I’d been blogging about the neighbourhood every week of the then months-long competition, so I was all warmed up. I made the cut again and the final six were all interviewed by CMLC. The day I learned I had won, I was speechless and pretty sure I was going to throw up from excitement (I did not).
CREB®Now: Other than living rent-free, what attracted you to the East Village?
Duncan:I’ve had my eye on East Village since around 2007 when the massive redevelopment plans started to take shape. I love the idea of living steps from the Bow River. It’s amazing what a few minutes of watching the water flow does to bring calmness back into my day. Then there’s the RiverWalk, which not every city with a river is lucky enough to have. It’s also a super convenient connection to the hundreds of kilometres of pathways in Calgary. Plus East Village is unbelievably close to neighbourhoods I already love Bridgeland, Inglewood, Victoria Park, Kensington and my newfound haunt Chinatown.
CREB®Now: What’s your favourite thing about living in the area?
Duncan: Even though I’ve lived in the inner city for years, I’m getting to discover and rediscover parts of Calgary that I’ve overlooked before. The sense of discovery is an important part of staying so fond of my hometown. I realized the other day I can walk to several stages for live theatre, or either of two movie theatres, in 15 minutes or less. That doesn’t even count the live music venues nearby. Or brunch!
CREB®Now: What do you think the success of the East Village project says about where and how Calgarians want to live?
Duncan: Boom or bust, there’s always going to be a love in this town for suburban homes with spacious backyards and roomy garages. But it seems to me there’s a significant appetite for homes that are more than their square footage: many Calgarians today care a lot about the community and the public realm they’re living in, too. My backyard is St. Patrick’s Island and I don’t have to mow or shovel it! I think Calgarians are excited to live in this city today and being close to the action is one of the ways to appreciate it.
CREB®Now: How do you feel the perception of downtown has changed?
Duncan: I think East Village is a prime example of how far Calgary has come in a short time. 30 years ago, as the story goes, the city hall municipal complex was built strategically to shield the neighbourhood from Olympic guests. Ten years ago, the neighbourhood was still considered blighted, but was finally on track for something better. And this summer, you couldn’t bike through the neighbourhood without slowing for yoga or babies or croissant line-ups, or smelling food trucks, or watching U-Hauls be unloaded. So many parts of Calgary (neighbourhoods, nightlife, restaurants, etc.) that may have just made us shrug a decade ago are now some of the things we’re most electrified by.
CREB®Now: If you could change one thing about Calgary, what would it be?
duncan I would really like a Plus-15 between my condo’s gym and the Simmons building. I’ll also take more cycle tracks and green space throughout the centre city, pretty please.
CREB®Now: What’s one important aspect to creating a good community?
Duncan: Make like Nike and just do it. Be the change you want to see in your ‘hood. People who feel part of a community are happier. I think if every Calgarian attended one of their community association’s meetings, we’d have a city of even stronger communities. But barring that — because not everybody is such a nerd as I am about hyperlocal politics — I’d encourage everyone who wants to make their community better to simply participate. Show up for a street festival or shopping the group garage sale, or volunteer for the Stampede breakfast. Or maybe even go to one of those community association meetings. They’ve been known to have beer.