The City of Calgary

Positioning a city to step onto the global stage

Calgary is the largest city in Alberta and the third largest in Canada, with a thriving, diversifying energy economy and a growing tech sector. Yet despite its success—or perhaps because of it—perceptions of Calgary hadn’t caught up to reality. Calgarians felt the time had come for the city to claim its place on the global stage, with a world-class culture and amenities to match.

Guided by a long-term economic development strategy, the City of Calgary set out to tell a story that would support its ambitious talent attraction and new business development goals.

Reconciling past and present. Older, out-of-date perceptions of Calgary as little more than a gas and oil boom town, a holdover from the Wild West, or a stopping point on the way to Banff stood in the way. That said, each of these narratives had their adherents and their basis in fact. How, then, to bring the city forward without turning a blind eye to its heritage?

Canada’s most dynamic city. The key, we argued, was to start with not only what what was most distinctive about the city in terms of its character but also most relevant to the audiences it wanted to attract. Drawing on economic realities, and in studied contrast to Canada’s other large, and better known, cities, we repositioned Calgary as the most dynamic city in Canada—a simple, powerful and inescapable starting point for a story very few had heard before. From there, we showed how the city’s past shaped its present and lived on in its day-to-day culture.

The dynamism of Calgary that was once its best kept secret is now widely acknowledged throughout Canada and beyond. Today, Calgary enjoys widespread recognition as a “cultural capital” of Canada and one of the world’s most livable cities*, posting economic successes such as massive job creation and unemployment reduction that its competitors simply can’t claim.

“In Calgary, older images of the city—which still held appeal for many—weren’t suppressed or even superseded, strictly speaking. Instead, they found their place in a  new story that not only accommodated them but also built on them.”

*Economic Intelligence Unit

In association with Gensler