From the President & CEO’s Desk
The number one threat to the commercial real estate industry is public safety. That message was loud and clear at an October 2022 gathering in Toronto of dozens of BOMAs from across Canada and the United States. If the discussions we’ve been having in Edmonton were any indication, I knew safety and vibrancy would be a big topic of conversation at that Canada-US summit.
Participants in the bilateral gathering did a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis to determine our collective priorities. The exercise was simple: the group wrote down what came to mind in each of the four areas, and then we went around with dots to rank priorities within each one.
As determined by the group, the number one threat for commercial properties in cities across Canada and the US was public safety, which some defined as a rising crime rates in their cities, while others described it more as perceptions of lack of safety and of increases in open drug use, harassment, vandalism, and general social disorder. The issue of public safety was followed by threats of rising costs, talent shortages, and occupancy and space. Participants saw public safety as the most urgent and difficult issue to address in this post-pandemic world.
It was comforting in some ways to know that we are not alone in Edmonton and Alberta. BOMAs across the continent are having similar conversations, and their members are working hard to navigate all the complex issues. We shared best practices and discussed strategies to further support building owners and managers.
Around the same time that I was in Toronto for the gathering of BOMAs, Leger forwarded their research to BOMA Edmonton about perceptions of downtowns in Canada and the United States. We learned that “Canadians are more likely to say the state of the downtown core in the closest major city to where they live have declined (45%) compared to Americans (31%).” So, how do we address both the realities and perceptions? Because, as we know, both matter…
Drilling down to Leger’s Canadian statistics, Albertans are middle range, at 47%, when it comes to seeing decline in major downtown cores. BC is at 54% and Manitoba and Saskatchewan are at 58%, while Ontario is at 45%, Quebec at 39%, and the Atlantic provinces at 37%. Albertans said that we can improve downtowns by addressing homelessness, drug addiction, and crime.
The reality is that we can improve everyone’s lives – and our cities, province, and country – by helping each other out and making sure that those victimizing others are brought to justice and rehabilitated, on the one hand, while we offer social and medical supports to those in need, on the other hand. Yes, this is unquestionably about our downtown cores, but it’s also about much more than one area of our cities. It’s about the entire community and about humanity. We must expect more of ourselves and of each other. Something is amiss and people – from business owners to employees to homeless people – are struggling as a result. We are all struggling, and, yet we are, by comparison to many jurisdictions in the world, quite privileged.
Incidents of vandalism, theft, and disorder have increased in the past couple of years, and, in some pockets, can still be an issue. Overall, however, building owners and managers are seeing headway because more people are stepping up to do something about the problems, or people are going to the office, attending events, and just getting out. According to a fall report by Avison Young, Edmonton is the most successful city in North America when it comes to attracting visitors back to the downtown core. We have more work to do, but there are signs of change and a realization that the issues are bigger than one person or one organization can address.
A lot of the change we have seen is because building owners and managers are making it happen. I commend our building owners and managers, and the businesses and the tenants who bring vibrancy and services to our communities, for their resilience and work to be positive partners in recovery. They have done great work to make their spaces safer and better for tenants and customers returning to work or school.
Here are some best practices that are successful:
If you go to the office, to a game, or out on the town, it won’t feel exactly like it did before, but then again, nothing really does. We are navigating a new normal in most aspects of our lives. We need to keep working towards the kind of city and province that we know we can be. It starts with identifying the issues, and then doing something – big or small – about it every day.
So, what did you do today?
BOMA Safety & Vibrancy Q1 2023 Updates: