A thirst for urban growth

By Christian Louden

Water scarcity is quickly becoming one of the top issues in the Calgary region. As growth in and around Calgary continues to sprawl across the region over the coming decades, so too will problems with greenhouse gas emissions, the dwindling of water sources and social isolation.

“We often neglect to look at the environmental and particularly the air pollution impact of our land use planning,” said University of Calgary urban studies director Dr. Byron Miller.

Miller was unconvinced the pattern of development the Calgary region has adopted so far will continue to be sustainable and pointed to water as one of his largest concerns.

“It’s a concern for all development, not just a concern for development in the exurban region, although certainly access to water may well be what determines how much can occur on the edges of the city,” he said. “The Balzac mall is the perfect example.”

The mall–for which 55 kilometers of pipeline is being built from the municipal district of Rocky View–would have possibly collapsed economically if water had not been able to be diverted there, Miller explained. The problem in the Calgary region is not just access to water, but the quantity.

“Many people would argue that this is a huge waste of resources,” he said. “It’s wasteful in terms of the infrastructure investment and it’s wasteful in terms of promoting sprawl.”

However, the impact of land development in the Calgary region goes beyond concerns of pollution and energy consumption, Miller explained. There’s also a concern as commuter communities become more popular, people in the region may become increasingly socially isolated.

“You have to use a vehicle to get where you want to go in most cases,” said Miller. “Not only is that more time-consuming and more energy-consuming, but it’s a private way of existing in the world.”

Following a recent agreement between Calgary and the 18 other members of the Calgary Regional Partnership–a non-profit organization made up of urban and rural municipalities–an effort is being made to ensure the sustainability of the region in the next several decades.

Lead researcher Dr. Danielle Marceau U of C professor is developing land use planning models to cities will look like if they continue in their current growth pattern.

“If they look at their plans together, they can see how the landscape might look in the future and what kind of decision they should make right now to get the landscape and future that they would like,” Marceau said.

So far the CRP have been open about talking about their challenged and have valued input from Marceau and her colleagues, she explained.

As the CRP works together to find potential solutions to the region’s land use problems, City of Calgary coordinator of intermunicipal and regional planning Tim Creelman explained some of its challenges, are not just from the rapid growth of the city and the surrounding region.

“Our rural neighbours around Calgary are growing at a greater rate than the city itself,” he said. “So it’s a challenge for the city–in its role in the region–to try and look after its strategic interests in the face of growing municipalities around Calgary.”

Although the dialogue opened up in the region will help deal with the rapid growth of the city, Creelman admitted there’s nothing to enforce the decisions of the CRP aside from maintaining a partnership in the region.

“On paper, I suppose there’s nothing binding us necessarily,” he said. “But in practice, it’s been really positive where we have had consensus on how to move forward in the region.”

While the CRP doesn’t have a specific plan for land use policy, Creelman views the dialogue and regional collaboration as a step in the right direction.

“We all agreed we want to build on sustainability principles around growth in the region,” he said. “It’s in line with what the province of Alberta sees for the future.”


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