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Sports and Recreation as a Competitive Advantage

Brad Field

Summer is finally here. It may be short in Calgary, but it’s glorious. Calgarians are out to play. The soccer pitches, baseball diamonds and golf courses are filled. There are traffic jams on bike lanes and running paths. Paddlers and rafters are on the rivers. What does this have to do with business in Calgary? Bear with me.

Calgary is blessed with some of the world’s greatest natural resources. No, not oil and gas reserves. I’m talking about the beauty of the outdoors in and around our city. Every business leader knows competitive advantage comes from controlling something valuable, rare and difficult for competitors to replicate. Calgary’s natural environment – our place – is our ultimate competitive advantage. From the Prairies to the mountains and from the Bow to the Elbow rivers, spanning winter and summer, Calgary offers a remarkable variety of outdoor pursuits. This is an active city.

Why does it matter? Think about what attracts people to Calgary. As we focus on economic diversification, we need to attract the best and brightest from all walks of life to our city. Calgary’s unique value proposition includes world-class hiking, climbing, cycling, mountain biking, skiing, fishing, paddling, skating and more. The surfing may not be world-class, but it does exist, on a standing wave in the Bow River.

The idea that a strong arts and culture scene is essential to a city’s economy is well established. But what about a strong sports, recreation and active living scene? Calgary could do more to leverage its natural assets in this regard.

There is some visioning work to be done. Calgarians value athletics, but last year’s Olympic debate showed we lack alignment about what kind of active city we want to be. Are we a home for high-performance athletes and facilities? Or should parks and recreation facilities promote a healthy, active lifestyle for people in all walks and stages of life? This split has been a pain point, especially to the promoters of Calgary’s professional sports teams. Surely the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

The city has many organizations that work on the business of activity (Sport Calgary, Calgary Economic Development, Tourism Calgary, City of Calgary Sports & Recreation, and many others). All organizations contributing to an active living city should be collectively working toward that bigger vision: a city that attracts the top talent because it’s such an incredible place to live, work and play.

We need a coordinated and integrated strategy to build an active city of the future: one that leverages the natural assets that other cities only dream of, attracts active and diverse talent from around the world and supports an aging population to remain active. Today, we know that creativity and innovation are critical outputs of a healthy economy. We also need to recognize that an active economy drives immense tangible and intangible value.

An active living city is good for both our physical well-being and our entrepreneurial spirit. The Economist defined Calgary as the world’s fourth most livable city in 2018. We have an opportunity to leverage the rich natural environment many of us take for granted. Calgarians in all sectors are embracing an active living mentality, both at home and in business. Let’s make it a citywide priority.