CONTROVERSIAL DEVELOPEMENT SPARKS COMMUNITY ACTIVISM FROM JESSE SALUS
Graphic designer Jesse Salus was unhappy to hear of the plan for a ring road to go through the backyard of his Lakeview home in 2009.
To combat this “land hungry piece of infrastructure,” Salus devoted his evenings and weekends to aggregating thousands of provincial documents that he uses to fill his blog, which has grabbed the attention of journalists and politicians alike.
Salus says his home was picture-perfect for him and his growing family when he bought it in 2004. Before the ring road, Salus’ home aligned with every item on his checklist:
- Unaffected by sprawl and over-development
- Full of homegrown, neighbourly hospitality
- Relatively close to downtown and major roadways
- Adjacent to Weaselhead Flats park
- Near schools and amenities.
The ring road—which is seen as necessary by some Calgarians— is a development that Garry Lamb, head of the ring road project, says Calgary needs, especially as another north to south connector.
Not knowing whether or not his home would be demolished or pushed up against a 16-lane road, Salus became absorbed in his community in a way that he didn’t even expect was possible.
He put his self-professed “nerdy obsessions” to use to inform his neighbours and shape how the ring road story was told.
Save Glenmore Park
The proposed project redirects the road through Lakeview, demolishing 500 homes in the process.
The Lakeview Community Association took action and got residents involved in stopping the plan.
Salus, a 34-year-old father with two young children who often play in the Weaselhead Park on weekends, was one of them.
After realizing Salus’ talents in graphic design, the community association utilized his expertise in meetings to design T-shirts and logos. From this, the Save Glenmore Park initiative was created.
Between attending community meetings and Save Glenmore Park events, Salus became less interested in the current state of the road, and more interested in the politics and the history.
“I felt there was something bigger then what I was doing with design,” Salus says. “I got really involved with the story that was going to help myself and my community.”
The Birth of a Blog
The problem for Salus was that the ring road story was exceptionally different from person to person, which made it difficult get a true picture.
Journalists especially, he says, were the best at getting the facts jumbled.
“There were a lot of news articles between 2010 and mid-2011, and one of the things that struck me was that no two articles had the same story about the history of the road or why things were done in certain ways,” Salus says.
So, he started his own research. He looked through old documents, newspaper clippings on his home computer and visited province archives looking for municipal planning reports from decades ago.
When he found an interesting fact, tidbit, or opinion, he took it to his neighbours, whom Salus says were incredibly responsive, and wanted to know more.
“I thought, ‘if my neighbours are interested, what other opportunities are there to get the story out?'”
This was the birth of his blog, The History of a Road—an aggregation of information, both old and new.
The blog receives hundreds of views per day and includes a variety of information:
- A timeline providing the dates of major events that lead up to the ring road’s construction, some dating back to 1877
- The 2009 agreement that discusses the province’s proposal to the Tsuu T’ina, which was rejected in 2009
- The Plan B, which illustrates the province’s plan to go through Lakeview and other surrounding area
- The Stoney Trail which outlines the north sections of the ring road which are currently complete
- Informative blog posts which aim to discuss the history and facts in the most unbiased and diplomatic way possible for a Lakeview resident
As senior graphic designer for RFX Brand and Communication, Salus’ skills were put to use when creating original maps that aimed to put the road in context, which help Calgarians who may not be aware of the ongoing ring road battle.
Influencing the Community
Salus’ blog has been the basis for an entire class on the ring road at Mount Royal University The course looks at political, environmental, aboriginal, and historical backgrounds and developments that have come about from planning the ring road.
Liam Haggarty, professor of the course, Crossroads: The Ring Road Controversy, became friends with Salus after reading his blog.
Salus often visits the class as a guest speaker who offers ideas, lectures about the road and speaks about his involvement with the solution.
He says his informative lectures aim to put the material in context for students so they can understand that the road isn’t just a road—it’s a grey concoction of ancient issues that are encapsulated in a piece of asphalt.
Because of his wealth of knowledge regarding the ring road’s history, Salus has also been a source for journalists and media outlets that want to get the story straight.
He has also helped Linda Johnson, his current MLA. He spoke to her about the history of the road and got her up to speed on documents from decades ago dictating the placement and uses of the road.
He says: “I’ve had conversations with [Linda Johnson] to get her up to speed spending an hour going over the history project—And there were a lot of things she wasn’t aware of.”
Johnson hadn’t seen the historic documents before, like the original city plans from 1959. The overall history of the road and the different routes planned were generally new to her too, Salus adds.
He says he believes “[She] has greater appreciation of how and why Lakeview was designed and built as it was.”
Lamb, who heads the ring road project, has also been in contact with Salus during presentations at MRU, and often exchanges emails about the ring road and its various topics.
“I enjoyed looking at some of the things he has accumulated, some of which I didn’t even know,” Lamb says.
Despite all of his influence, Salus says his goal these days isn’t about changing political minds.
“It’s simply to get people the information that will help be the foundation of future negotiations, talks and planning,” Salus says. “Whether that informs good decision, I don’t know, but that’s what I want to try to do.”
But the biggest influence he’s had on anyone has been on himself. His intense research has changed his own opinion on the road. Salus has moved from activist to informer.
“As a Lakeview resident, of course I don’t want the road going through my community,” Salus says. “But as a taxpayer, Calgary needs the road and Lakeview could very well be most cost-effective option.”