I have long referred to Calgary as the "biggest small town in the world." It may be one of the largest cities in the country, but it has always had that feeling that everyone knows everyone else. It's a city where you aren't instantly suspicious of others, where you're not always watching your back.
It has always been my belief that this is the result of intranational immigration--the majority of people who live in Calgary aren't actually from Calgary. A prime example would be my own group of close friends. They are all outsiders, from Revelstoke, Banff, Claresholm, even Oyen. The result of all this immigration to the "big city" is the values, attitudes and world view of small town Western Canada survive, even prosper, in our fair city.
This has its drawbacks, such as the somewhat deserved bigoted red neck stereotype Calgarians are forced to endure, however the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.
There seems to be no more than two degrees of separation between anyone, meaning it's very easy for new arrivals to feel welcome and at home. There also tends to be a genuine kindness and a laid back attitude, not the same as you would find in a small prairie town, but much more present than most cities pushing one million people.
This is made all the more remarkable by our city's sprawling nature. One would assume the distance between homes would lead to a greater distance between people.
Sadly, this may not be the case much longer.
The decline of small town Calgary is something that has been coming up more frequently in conversations I've had with the aforementioned imports. The attitudes and behaviours of Calgarians, the very soul of the city, are changing. It seems our growth and our size may have finally started to catch up with us.
The recent drive-by shooting at Olympic Plaza, in the heart of downtown, is just the most recent in a string of events seemingly signaling the end of a good thing. Violence in and around nightclubs has escalated to the point where it's no longer fist fights that are the order of the day, but knifings and shootings.
These effects could be the result of a number of causes.
Perhaps it's due to the fact that Calgary's youth are increasingly "next generation" small towners. People whose parents moved here 20 or 30 years ago, people who haven't known anything but city life and therefore don't have the same values, attitudes and world view I lauded earlier.
Maybe it's the fact that with increased prosperity, increased affluence and increased overall wealth for the city, crime and conflict are the natural by products.
It could even come down to governance and to the attitudes starting at the top with Premier Ralph Klein. The profits and wealth may not trickle down, but seeing the world as a "haves" and " have nots," rich and poor, citizens and burdens might be making their way through society.
Whatever the reason, it seems as though the good times are petering out, and that we should savour these last few years of bliss. Who knows when we'll get the chance again?
Then again, it could just be a matter of the beholder. Perhaps it is nothing more than my being hung up on how it "used to be" and not focusing on how it is now. Maybe we've had these problems all along, and I'm just becoming more aware of them.
After all, people still walk their dogs with a smile on their face and make sure to say hello in my neck of the woods. Maybe I'm just the Chicken Little here and the sky isn't falling after all.