Calgary’s ambitious approach to creating a more vibrant downtown is gaining international attention, in particular the effort to convert vacant office space into housing.
As remote work becomes more entrenched, cities worldwide are looking for creative ways to ensure their downtowns remain active and welcoming places, as well as engines of economic growth.
Calgary was singled out as a city at the forefront of the office-to-residential conversion trend in North America in a recent article by the BBC headlined: The office spaces transforming to luxury apartments.
“There is, perhaps, no city in the world that has taken on the challenge of converting outdated office stock into residential units as aggressively as Calgary,” it said.
Office-to-residential conversions are a major part of the City of Calgary’s Greater Downtown Plan released in 2021. The Plan sets into motion the transformation of downtown into the economic and cultural heart of a resilient city. It sees Calgary’s downtown as the central hub for business, innovation and creativity.
The City has put in place financial incentives for office conversions and removed red tape for projects.
“Our investment of a quarter billion dollars sent a strong signal to the private sector that we are evolving and focused on our future,” said Mayor Jyoti Gondek. “Creating a welcoming, mixed-use downtown remains a top priority and it is encouraging to see others recognize the great transformation Calgary is currently undergoing.”
Incentivizing more real estate development, including more residential units, is also a key focus of a Government of Alberta initiative to support downtown revitalization in Calgary.
The most recent numbers from Statistics Canada support the trend of greater downtown vibrancy. Calgary ranked among the fastest growing downtown populations in Canadian cities from 2016 to 2021; up 21 per cent, or 8,100 people.
A recent study by real estate firm Avison Young noted that Calgary has one of the strongest recoveries in downtown weekday foot traffic from pre-pandemic levels and ranks fifth among 23 cites in North America.
“A vibrant and populated downtown is critical to the entire city’s economy,” said Brad Parry, President and Chief Executive Officer, Calgary Economic Development. “With one of the fastest growing downtown populations in Canada, the focus on livability and vibrancy will make the heart of our city an even more welcoming, inclusive and accessible public space for everyone to live, work and play.”
Calgary has consistently ranked among the most livable cities in the world by the Economist Intelligence Unit over the last decade. Continuing to build a vibrant, inclusive and connected communities where people can enjoy a high quality of life is a priority in the economic strategy, Calgary in the New Economy.
For more information on Calgary’s economic strategy, visit CalgaryInTheNewEconomy.com.