East Calgary – 19th Ave.
An open letter to the City of Calgary,
East Calgary has a prostitution problem. This is not a problem based on the demographics of the area. It’s not a problem because of the community it is in. It’s a problem because it has been largely ignored by everyone who should have been addressing the issue. This has been an issue for a long time – and it started downtown. First, the sex workers walked on 4th avenue next to the Cecil hotel. They were moved out of that location when the Cecil closed and then headed into Inglewood. Now, after being pushed out of Inglewood- they have made their way up the road into East Calgary.
‘They need to tackle this problem, and it shouldn’t have taken a community up in arms to make it happen. ‘
Up until recently in Forest Lawn, there was no real community force. The people of East Calgary didn’t have a voice. Now they do. With the Forest Lawn Community Association, they have someone in their corner who is going to stand up for what is right and what is wrong for our community – and the prostitution being dropped on and left in our streets is unacceptable. The city of Calgary has a responsibility to address the issues of East Calgarians and the chance to create REAL change. They need to tackle this problem, and it shouldn’t have taken a community up in arms to make it happen. East Calgary is a great place to live, a great place to raise a family, and it is as diverse in its culture as it is in its politics. This is why I’m so infuriated by the blatant disregard of this issue. The city truly has the opportunity here to help change the perception of the area. If Mahogany, Auburn Bay, Mount Royal, or Elbow Park were faced with this same problem, surely it would have been dealt with immediately and eradicated in short time.
I write this letter following an incident that brings to light the real intensity of the issue. While driving down the very underlit and overlooked section of East Calgary – 19th Ave SE – With my family in the car, I decided to pull over to take some pictures of just how dark it was. As I pulled over, a woman was walking down the sidewalk. This wouldn’t matter at all in most areas – but here – it was ever so obvious that she was worried that I was mistaking her for a prostitute. I was equally concerned that she thought I was looking to procure a rendezvous. As this woman came closer I could see that she was actually a woman that I knew quite well – she is the Director of Community Engagement on my Board of Directors at the Forest Lawn Community Association. I rolled down the window – further perpetuating the idea that I was looking for something – and I could immediately sense her fear and unease. I called her name, she stopped. I have no doubt that this was an extremely unpleasant, and unfortunately, not uncommon experience for her and other women who live in the community. When she came back to the window, we talked greeted each other and we talked about the perception of this encounter – me in my car, talking to a woman outside my window, on a dark street. In any other neighborhood, no one would think twice – but here, everyone knew what it looked like. Any witness to the encounter would assume the worst because we have all seen it happen.
There are girls on this 1.2km stretch of road known to the police as ‘The Stroll’, that walk up and down all day and all night, waiting for their next job – sometimes as many as 8 working the same territory. Sometimes new faces, but, many times it is the same ones, growing more and more beaten down by life, and drugs every time I see them.
Some of them are new, some of them have been here for years, but they keep coming back, and they keep bringing clients to this area of town – because of the lack of public action. The problem extends beyond the dim and sparsely lit street and the prostitutes. It extends to the perception of the neighborhood, the home values, the pride of the community, and frankly, safety.
The woman that I ran into is in her 30’s, she was walking to the grocery store. When we spoke about the reality of the situation she told me that she felt like someone thought she was a sex trade worker. She thought I was a John, looking for sex. This is not normal. This is not what happens in neighborhoods. This type of situation repeats itself as a daily routine on this stretch of road. This time it was two adults but what happens when it’s our daughters or our sons walking here? What happens when its a 16-year-old girl walking to the store and it’s a stranger’s car that pulls up next to her? Do we have to wait for an event even more egregious than this for action to be taken?
We – East Calgary, We – Forest Lawn – We Deserve better.
Our daughters shouldn’t have to worry when they walk to the bus stop, our wives shouldn’t fear for their safety when they go to the store for milk. Our community shouldn’t feel unsafe. There is no reason to continue to have this happen in our neighborhood and it is time the city steps up to fix this disaster of social responsibility.
As the President of the Forest Lawn Community Association, I recommend the following;
- 1. Remove parking on 19th avenue. This visually opens the street, increasing pedestrian safety.
- 2. Increase lighting. This is a fast and inexpensive retrofit that can be implemented immediately.
- 3. Speed up the process of adding the bike lane destined for 19th. This will increase the positive traffic in the area and help to improve perception.
- 4. Increase police patrols, including the street units from the re-developed 17th Ave SE.
After all of the great development and the large sums of money spent to create a truly fantastic 17th avenue, the city needs to make some changes 2 blocks to the south.
For the safety, the security, and the pride of everyone in East Calgary and Forest Lawn – fix this mess. It’s been too long.
Forest Lawn Community Association