Calgary is grappling with how to keep many of its young people from leaving in the midst of this year’s 2021 municipal election.
Reports from Calgary Economic Development place Calgary in second for having the youngest median age per city in Canada, 37.6, just above Edmonton’s median age of 37.
However, civic census trends from 2009-2019 also report that the age groupings of 55 and over make up the fastest growing demographic by far. Comparatively the age group of 20-24 did not grow at all, it declined 5.5 percent in the same span of time.
The grouping of ages 25-34 increased, but perhaps not to the extent that one would expect from a city that is also one of the fastest growing in the country.
Christopher Lacher, 28, recently moved from Calgary to Toronto in October 2020, having initiated a job transfer with his employer, Ernst & Young.
Lacher says that he chose to move not only for the new job opportunity but also in search of a change of pace.
“I just felt like overall, I love (Calgary), great outdoorsy city. I could probably end up living there one day again. But while in my 20’s and 30’s I felt like I needed to go try other things.”
While living and working in Calgary as an accountant, most of Lacher’s corporate clients were in the oil and gas sector, so he also saw the industry’s economic downturn firsthand through their financial statements.
“I think a lot of that stems from not having diversified enough, and I think that’s what’s hitting Calgary so hard right now,” he said.
Although he no longer resides in Calgary, Lacher believes that this year’s municipal election will have little to do with whether young people decide to stay or go, citing both the economy and provincial leadership as some of the main reasons young people leave.
“I have a lot of friends who are doctors, and because of all the AHS cuts, they’re like, I’m not – I can’t live in this province anymore. And they’re leaving simply because of jobs,” he said.
“It’s interesting because, we grew up, like 12 years old — everyone was moving to Alberta. And now you’re seeing this exodus of people leaving because it’s not as hot as it once was.”
Project Calgary, an initiative started by local community advocates Romy Garrido and Peter Oliver is trying to tackle these issues “with the vision of focusing the knowledge and ambition of a diverse group of community leaders to build a modern, 21st century Calgary that thrives economically, culturally, environmentally and socially,” their website states.
Among Project Calgary’s various community-oriented campaigns is Calgarians for Transit, aimed at defending the Green Line CTrain project so that it may be built, despite the various delays it has faced.
“Young professionals considering Calgary as their next move are weighing many factors, notably, if they can move around the city easily and affordably, and what their social lives might look like,” writes Farah Kammourieh for the Calgarians for the Transit campaign page.
Calgary, unlike many metropolitan centres, and despite its sprawling size, still does not even have major public transit to the airport says Lacher, and it is something that the city needs to push for to make it more appealing to everyone, not just young people.
Josh Wilson, 28, who currently lives in Calgary working for one of the big four consulting firms, also says that Calgary’s culture and nightlife pales in comparison to cities like Toronto, where he lived previously.
“The city seems to be awake longer. There’s like a lot more hustle and bustle on the street.”
“I just feel like the city life in Toronto is far better, far more rewarding than the city life in Calgary,” said Wilson, who is currently thinking of moving back.
Originally from Barbados, Wilson has also been hard-pressed to find much of his own culture showcased in Calgary, and misses the Caribbean food and festivals that are represented in Toronto.
It’s interesting because, we grew up, like 12 years old — everyone was moving to Alberta. And now you’re seeing this exodus of people leaving because it’s not as hot as it once was. – Christopher Lacher
One candidate who has thrown their hat into the mayoral race this year, Courtney Walcott, tweeted yesterday that “youth are not staying in Calgary, but we need them to.”
Walcott presented his followers with the question of how to make Calgary more attractive to young people. Many answered that they’d like to see more culture, tech, better public transport, a diversified economy, and restaurants, pubs, and clubs that are open later, among other things.
“I think if a government can do things like pumping money into certain sectors, like the art sector, or into the university, it can encourage a lot more young people to go into the city,” said Wilson.
“Or providing ways to make the bar areas in Calgary to be a lot nicer or more developed. I think just small things like that can definitely help it out.”