This is how the LEAF (Landscape Enhancement and Appreciation Fund) got started 12 years ago…
- LEAF began with the approval of over 67% of all Hawkwood home owners
- Hawkwood Residents voluntarily water nearby trees help them through dry seasons
- Hawkwood came up with the term LEAF
- The LEAF program enhances our property values
- Support for LEAF is renewed by vote of Community Association Members every 5 years
- The 55 page handbook our LEAF Volunteers wrote has been used by many other Calgary Communities to turn over their own new LEAF
- The City of Calgary Parks Department maintains our flowers and planters
- Urban Forest plants and maintains new trees in Hawkwood
In the winter of 2003 a lonely sign was posted on the Hawkstone Dr. median inviting residents to attend a meeting regarding Hawkwood’s aesthetic downward spiral. After years of neglect and endless Parks budget slashing The City of Calgary was falling short when it came to addressing Hawkwood’s: 9 entrance features, 15 tot lots, 7 green space pathways, 27 medians, 4 nature parks and 2 sports fields. Our community was showing its age and crying for an intervention.
About 9 individuals showed up at that Coop Board Room meeting in December to discuss the possibility of petitioning the entire community to pass a Landscape Enhancement Tax Levy. This type of petition had never been successfully achieved, as the petition process is grueling, requiring a 67% approval by the community. It was not a simple “sign a piece of paper” and it counts as a vote process. It required 1 vote per household and the homeowner whose name was on title at the City had to sign the petition. All signatures on the petition had to be verified by City employees to ensure that each signature matched the signature on the house title records at City Hall. This was to be a daunting task, but the alternative was to watch our neighborhood slip into further neglect.
With an overwhelming abundance of enthusiasm and blind ambition, a committee was formed and jobs were quickly delegated. We amassed a group whose roles entailed:
- Team Leader
- Community Needs Assessment Coordinator
- Marketing and Advertising Coordinator
- Petition Coordinator
- Petition Leaders (6 individuals required)
- Canvassers (77 people)
On May 6 of 2004 the LEAF Committee organized a Town Hall meeting at the Baptist Church that catapulted the issue to the forefront of Hawkwood residents minds. Suffering from Citadel and Hamptons envy, residents saw what a little extra cash infused into the parks could do to a community. The contrast between the communities was dramatic and that was exactly what we needed in order to convince people to answer their doors.
In order to market the concept of why one should pay more taxes we knew that we needed visuals to compare what Hawkwood looked like in comparison to the surrounding communities and what we envisioned for the future. Each canvasser set out to share this vision and request for support with the following cards to convey the LEAF Program’s intention.
The Hawkwood Community Association was a grateful recipient of a $1500 Neighborhood’s Grant from the Calgary Foundation. This money was directed towards a marketing and advertising campaign designed to inspire change and rally the community. The marketing company “Brainstorm” came up with the slogan:
“Help Hawkwood Turn Over a New LEAF!”
LEAF stands for: Landscape Enhancement and Appreciation Fund
This slogan was brilliant as it caught people’s imaginations and highlighted our intention. To this day the City and other Calgary Communities continue to refer to Landscape Enhancement Levy’s as the “LEAF Program”.
In return for the Grant money we received from the Calgary Foundation, Hawkwood was required “to pay it forward” by writing a manual for all other communities wishing to attempt the same feat. This 55-page manual Community Landscape Enhancement Tax Levy: The Petition Process by Susan Johnstone can be access through: The Calgary Foundation, The Federation of Communities and The City of Calgary. Our great success story is repeated throughout the City and has inspired the communities of Royal Oak, Valley Ridge, Discovery Ridge, Mackenzie Lake, Douglas Glen and Patterson Hills to follow our lead.
Being the first established community without caveats on the properties to collectively vote in a Landscape Enhancement Tax Levy had never been achieved until the spring of 2004 in the community of Hawkwood.
The City had strict rules that had to be adhered to in order to ensure that the process was fair and honest. We had exactly 120 days from the moment the petition (a giant binder with every Hawkwood address listed) arrived our Petition Coordinator’s Door. The sheets were quickly divided up into groups and then dispersed amongst 77 volunteers who hit the pavement running. We knew that every signature counted and it had to be the homeowner who signed.
There were some hick ups along the way. The petition was printed out in a numerical order rather than a street naming format thus causing a huge organizational headache for the Petition Coordinator. Volunteers who were unable to complete the job due to illness or absence had to be replaced or duties doubled up. Many homes were rental properties and therefore we needed to arrange meetings with homeowners to sign the petition. We even faxed the petitions overseas in order to get signatures of home rental owners who lived abroad. Language translators were required in order to effective reach all members of our diverse community. And then add to the frustration some residents simply didn’t answer their doors.
After 2 months of tough slogging we finally achieved the 2/3rds signatures required for the petition. Knowing that we had to complete the process in a limited amount of time we worked hard to achieve our numbers early in case signatures didn’t match and we had to pound the pavement again. When the City reported their findings, “That 36 signatures didn’t match”. We were heartbroken. What’s more the City required that we not only to find 36 new votes but an extra 100 on top for insurance, as time was running out.
This was a deep blow to the LEAF Committee. We were drained by this point, but somehow we found the motivation to go back out and continue to door knock until we surpassed the 67% approval rating required. When we handed the petition in we knew that we had exhausted all means and had delivered a successful petition to The City.
By mid August we received the news that the petition had passed and we were the first established community in the City of Calgary to ever achieve this goal. We were elated. The North City Parks Department was also thrilled as they were venturing into a new area of neighborhood rejuvenation and planning that capitalized on their horticultural expertise.
Turning Over A New LEAF
The first year was a whirlwind. 40 giant planters arrived in large trucks from Langley BC and were placed on the boulevard medians throughout the community. Every entrance feature was cleaned up and flowerbeds were created. All the shrub beds in tot lot and green space were cleared of years of dead wood and garbage accumulation. The Parks Department worked hand in hand with Urban Forest to reassess our tree and shrub conditions and replacements were ordered for spring planting. The City’s enthusiasm and effort was impressive and the transformation was amazing.
As the years went by we managed to figure out what horticultural species were best suited for our zone 3 climate conditions up high on the wind swept, winter laden hill we call Hawkwood. We did have some set backs at times. The City Department Leadership changed over the years and management styles changed, but in the end any problems that ensued were rectified with collaboration and open sharing of past experiences and practices.
After 5 years a second vote was required by law in order to continue with LEAF Program. Knowing how difficult it was to get all the signatures our Alderman at the time Gordon Lowe requested that an amendment to the Civic bylaws be added so that the petition process to remove a program such as the Landscape Enhancement Tax Levy required an equal amount of effort. Fearing that a “No vote” against LEAF at a Community Association Meeting could easily undo all our years of hard work, I presented our case at a special City Council meeting. We were aware that there were opponents to the program who could alter the 67% vote we had achieved in one nights ballot vote. Unable to reach quorum at Hawkwood’s Annual General Meeting for a number of years in a row we feared voter apathy could put our whole program at risk. The City council agreed and thus passed a regulation requiring that a “No vote” against any community’s LEAF Program would require the same petition process and 67% approval to remove the Tax Levy. A ballot vote is still required every 5 years in order to affirm that the Community of Hawkwood continues to be actively engaged and supports the program.
Maintaining Value for Hawkwood
Now the Hawkwood Community Association and The City of Calgary’s North Parks Division has 10 years of experience under our belts. I can happily say that our successful team approach to dealing with issues between the City of Calgary North Parks Division and The Hawkwood Community Association has helped us to build the beautiful community we see today. The City crews often tell me they are heart warmed by the kind words of gratitude they receive from residents as they walk past them as they are working. They too feel pride in the work they have achieved over the years.
Please take a look at our “Before and After” pictures that highlight the dramatic changes that we have achieved since 2003. You will see that Hawkwood is a more beautiful community today because of LEAF. It is doing exactly what we intended. It is attracting new homeowners who care about their community to purchase a home in Hawkwood. It reinforces the “The Broken Window Theory” which suggests repairing and enhancing public property will influence home and business owners to do the same, thus maintianing a healthier and happier community on the whole. This has been proven to reduce dilapidation, graffiti and garbage accumulation by lifting us up. It has inspired a Neighborhood Fence painting initiative and soon to be Garbage Dumpster Day. The arrival of the June flowers lifts our spirits and inspires residents to plant their own flowers, take care of their own lawns and water a beloved tree. LEAF’s results prove that beautiful landscapes benefit us all and in so doing are well worth the investment.