A suburb named Nostalgia? For real, Calgary?

This column is an opinion by Annalise Klingbeil, a Calgary-based communications consultant. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

Picking a name is hard. I know.

I had a baby eight months ago. Settling on a meaningful name with my husband was a lengthy and painstaking process.

When I launched a business in 2019, my co-founder and I spent weeks agonizing over what we should call it.

If anyone is sympathetic to how difficult picking a name is, it’s me. 

But sympathy only goes so far.

When it comes to naming new suburbs, time and time again, developers in Calgary have come up with absolute clunkers.

Just last week, a committee of city councillors discussed a report on eight yet-to-be-approved new suburbs, including a proposed community called “Nostalgia.”

Nostalgia for what, exactly? A time when Calgary’s suburbs didn’t have such terrible names?

I understand that naming entire communities is full of complexities. Just like naming a baby or a business, you’re never going to please everybody.

But come on.

What’s in a (terrible) name?

Tuscany? No offence to residents of this northwest suburb, but it has little in common with the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance.

Walden? Yes, there’s a pond — located a short drive from the McDonald’s, TacoTime and Save-On Foods. I doubt Thoreau would find much solitude.

And don’t get me started on Ambleton, currently under construction at the far north end of the city. As in, you can “amble” past monotonous rows of houses along Ambleside Avenue and Ambleton Street and other future roads with proposed names like Amblefield, Amblehurst and Ambledale. 

This photographer did not specify in our archive system which Calgary neighbourhood this is. It could be Cougar Ridge, Valley Ridge, Discovery Ridge, Rocky Ridge, Saddle Ridge, Castleridge… (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Calgary churns out new suburbs fast. There are more than 150 existing communities, more than a dozen in progress, and even more proposed developments on the way.

Is our never-ending sprawl to blame for the total lack of imagination in naming new neighbourhoods?

A visit to Skyview Ranch or Horizon, both in Calgary’s northeast, makes one wonder, where are the communities in Calgary where you can’t see the sky or horizon?

Some suburb marketers have gone a literal route: Cornerstone is located at the “corner” of Stoney Trail, Seton stands for “Southeast Town,” and Cityscape offers views of the city.

Then there’s the trend of simply naming communities after other (often warmer) locales from Tuscany to Hamptons to Monterey Park, which was re-named in the 1980s (from Burlington) because its homes weren’t selling and developers figured a California theme would do better.

And then there’s what might be the silliest name yet: Nostalgia.

At a time when Calgary is trying to attract talent and quash lingering stereotypes about the city, I’m not sure prospective employees of a fast-paced tech company will love telling friends they live deep in Nostalgia.

These bad names are a shame because Calgary is rich in history and stories. Community names, which will outlast all of us, are a chance to show this off. 

Names ought to represent more than just something developers thought would help sell homes on Calgary’s outskirts.

Thoughtful names occasionally do happen. The northern suburb of Livingston was named in 2015 after agriculture pioneer Sam Livingston. The community’s street names pay tribute to his Métis wife Jane Howse and former newspaper publisher Alexander Lucas. 

And in 2016, following consultation with Blackfoot elders, city council chose Medicine Hill for a development on sacred ceremonial ground next to Canada Olympic Park. The name is the English translation of the area’s Blackfoot name, Aiss ka pooma, and the street names include Na’a (Mother Earth), and Piita (eagle). 

Yet today, the developers at Trinity Group market the community as “Trinity Hills,” not the name council approved.

A city policy named Meh

While developers come up with names for communities, the monikers go through the Calgary Planning Commission before city council gets the final say. 

Calgary has long had a naming policy. Its current version states that community names “should either reflect Calgary’s heritage or local geographic feature(s) including flora and fauna, and/or further a sense of community.”

Yet, somehow, council approved a community named Cityscape, even after a 2013 city report said that name “could imply any part of Calgary,” and can be shortened to “City,” which is plain confusing. 

As the marketing of Medicine Hill demonstrates, there also appears to be a lack of incentive for developers to stick with an approved name. This is unacceptable.

Developers choose the names of Calgary’s new suburban communies, but city council gets to approve or reject them. So if you hate ’em, there is blame to go around. (Jeff McInstosh/The Canadian Press)

With a new council sworn in last October, perhaps this can be the group that either puts a stop to Calgary’s never-ending sprawl (one can dream, right?) or, at least, rejects terrible community names, starting with Nostalgia.

There’s no point creating a new naming policy, or a new process, when it appears the existing one isn’t even being followed. 

I’d love to know how some of these previously approved names “further a sense of community” beyond bringing Calgarians together to rage about how bad they are.


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