Transit key to 60-year plan

Blueprint says city has space for 2.3 million

Calgary’s new long-range growth blueprint recommends quadrupling the transit network but no new major roads as the city fits 1.3 million more people within its current boundaries over the next 60 years.

It’s already being decried as an undesirable concrete utopia, but Plan It Calgary’s project manager said it will save taxpayers about$ 8 billion over the sprawling alternative.

“The further you push your roads out, the further you push your pipes out, the more it costs you,” Pat Gordon said Monday after releasing the draft Plan It report.

The plan says the city doesn’t need to annex any further rural land if it accommodates one-third of its population growth in the next 30 years, and half over the next 50. It envisions that more frequent transit with more crosstown routes, a better cycling system and a full Calgary ring road will help get that supersized Calgary moving.

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  1. Lana W. · March 16, 2009

    The Planet Calgary report is underhanded and Calgarians were misinformed of the truth behind the survey. When asked a simple question like “Do you enjoy being stuck in traffic for 45 minutes?” Obviously the answer is “No”. Based on that a 2 million dollar report is requisitioned that tells people “Calgarians don’t like traffic so intensification of residential and commercial properties in the city core and around LRT stations is demanded by its citizens”. That’s a farce. A properly conducted survey asks the question like this: “Would you consider living downtown in a condo if it meant you would not have to drive in traffic for 45 minutes to get to work/ home?” and then the next questions would be “Would your answer be the same if a 1500 sq.ft. condominium for your family was priced from $650,000 and up?” and so on. This whole line of questioning and the completed report was created by the unelected (social) engineers at the city who in my opinion are a group of Self-serving, Sanctimonious, Pompous, Power-hungry Fuckheads who have a grand hallucination of the utopia that is Calgary. This plan undermines taxpaying Calgarians intelligence and basic human rights to choose what’s right for them. Urban sprawl is not a bad word (except to the mayor and certain city officials). How do I know this? Aren’t most Calgarians are living their dream in the suburbs or on an acreage? They haven’t been forced into the suburbs, they choose to be there because they want to have a home that is away from the “hustle and bustle” of their work life. With their house they have yard, a garage, room for their family to grow and more. Calgarians love to be close to amenities, shopping malls, the mountains and parks, yes, even the “Chinese mall”. They don’t want to be forced to walk everywhere like the grocery stores, schools or work because they love their cars, SUV’s and trucks. Houses and vehicles represent the grandest achievements in life, they are an extension of who we are. How do you walk to these places when Calgary is chinooking one day and fraught with snow and wind-chill the next?

    By limiting the land mass of Calgary owning a house will become something that only the rich can afford. The only options that will be available will be in the smaller municipalities surrounding Calgary who will either open their doors to growth and more inexpensive housing options or limit their growth with less houses that are more expensive. I think if politicians really spent some time to review this they would see that this is a political “hot potato” and one that will ultimately become an “Economy killer”.

    If the underlying issue is that we cannot afford the infrastructure that we need or we currently have then other options have to be considered. Do Calgarians expect too much? We all dream of owning a luxury car, living in mansions, wearing designer clothes, having a recreation property and having a million dollars in the bank. What can we afford? Maybe we are living beyond our means? For example how many parks are required, roads, street lights, signal lights, walkways, trees, wide roads, interchanges and so on? Why can’t our communities self regulate themselves? For example, reduce the taxes paid on your home and have the community collect fees to manage their parks, utilities, etc. There are lots of successful examples of this in other much larger cities.

    I guess it comes down to is “what’s right”. The decision to socially engineer my life is up to me! It’s not the right of the engineer at the city who believes it’s his/ her given right to socially plan how I will live. I didn’t elect you and I don’t endorse what you’re doing. I guess the only way to stop this injustice is to find out if the mayor and the Alderman I ELECTED to be my voice at city hall is going to listen to me, or you the engineer.

  2. Tom Howard · March 18, 2009


    Plan It is based largely on the results of the imagineCALGARY survey process, which consulted with over 18,000 Calgarians. It was the largest community consultation program of its kind in the world, and I can assure you it offered more than simple yes or no questions. I can say that imagineCALGARY did allow for several responses to most questions, but keep in mind the scale of the program: it’s not very pragmatic to ask 18,000+ people open ended questions. Then again, if you wanted to provide some in-depth critiques of growth in Calgary you would have been able to do so at the multiple open houses the City has held.

    I was one of many Calgarians involved in imagineCALGARY and I have attended several Plan It workshops, open houses and symposiums. I can assure you that none of the people running them appeared to be sanctimonious, pompous, power-hungry or fuckheaded (nor did any of these people appear to be hallucinating, but then again, you never know). Instead, I saw a team of educated professionals that are attempting to implement sustainable, functional planning ideals in Calgary, a city very much in need of a little vision.

    You say that urban sprawl is not a dirty word, and I vociferously disagree with you on this. Sprawl, in practice, means that Calgarians need to own a car to fulfill basic needs (getting groceries, running children to school, going to a bank). Recently the International Energy Agency, a booster organization for the oil and gas industry, admitted we would hit peak oil before 2020. Oil is only getting more expensive, and urban sprawl is putting pressure on these dwindling reserves. It is also putting downward pressure on Calgarians who cannot afford to drive. On top of this, urban sprawl means the City has to stretch its resources even further to pay for more utilities and service provisions (emergency services, transit, etc.) for these communities. Sprawling development costs the City 10 times as much as development in dense environments: this is money that could be spent on transit or parks and rec. So for me, an urbanite living in a dense community, sprawl is a dirty word, because it means that my tax dollars are subsidising an unsustainable lifestyle choice that produces a high amount of strain on the natural environment. But how are we to continue paying for this increasing strain on infrastructure if we simply decrease taxes as you suggest? You say there are lots of successful examples of communities collecting taxes for their own infrastructure in larger cities: can you think of any, offhand? I can think of lots of cities that have massive disparities in infrastructure and services due to similar policies.

    You say Calgarians should not be forced to walk at the expense of being able to drive. I think that you are missing the point: Plan It isn’t about forcing people to walk, but it is about giving them that option. Do you think Calgary is currently a walkable city? You also say that people won’t walk in winter environments, but Urban CSA studies of winter cities in northern Europe refute this point. Sweden, for example, experiences harsh winter conditions, and yet continues to have vibrant streetscapes through winter. This is what we are striving for, Lana.

    Claiming that densifying development will drive up housing prices is not true: simple supply and demand economics tell us that an increase in the dense, mixed-use housing stock will put a downward pressure on prices. Further to this, mixed-use communities do not require you to own a car. How about that for affordability! You believe that Plan It will be an “economy killer”, but again, I believe it will be the opposite. Calgary’s economy revolves around oil and gas, and that industry may very well decline as markets for “greener” forms of energy increase (the kind of demand the Obama administration is pushing for). At the very least, the resource we have based our economy around is finite: by creating a more interesting urban form we can hopefully prevent a massive ex-migration from the city when that industry reaches its terminus. If you want to see what cities based around sunset industries look like today, look no further than the crumbling urban form of cities in the American “rust belt”: Buffalo, Philadelphia, Cincinatti, Baltimore, and so on. This is what we are trying to avoid.

    Finally (whew), the concept of social engineering. This seems to be the development industry’s latest buzzword, and it seems more than a little disingenuous to me. You think, and I quote, that people at the City want to “socially plan how (you) live”. Tell me, when a developer drafts a plan for a suburb, aren’t they socially planning how residents live? As a city, we need to get over this idea that we are completely unbound in our decisions on housing. We rely on other people for services and infrastructure. Think of all of the most desirable urban places in the world: what do Central Park, Vancouver’s Gastown district, Berlin’s Potsdamerplatz, Picadilly Circus, any walkable streetscape in Europe or even Kensington, right here in Calgary, have in common? If you guessed centralized planning/”social engineering”, you guessed correctly! Now think of the massive host of placeless cookie-cutter suburbs eating up resources at a vastly disproportionate rate across North America (or even right here in Calgary). This is what happens in the absence of a coherent plan for urban growth. You say it’s in demand right now, but I think it’s become pretty clear that neither our natural environment nor our economy can sustain these developments for much longer.

    So yes, it comes down to “what’s right”. Who will be held accountable when oil reaches its peak in 2020 (or sooner) and fewer and fewer people can afford their daily commute? The developer we didn’t elect, or the Alderman we did?

    Tom Howard
    VP Academic, Urban CSA

  3. Andrew Sedor · March 18, 2009

    “Why can’t our communities self regulate themselves? For example, reduce the taxes paid on your home and have the community collect fees to manage their parks, utilities, etc.”

    The amount that the city has to pay in regards to utilities and roads into the new suburbs is quite substantial. The more a city sprawls out the more expensive it is. As Tom stated, it can cost the city over 10x more than an inner city community. If the community had to bear the brunt of that cost, it would probably be too expensive to live in the far out suburbs.

    I don’t think that anyone should tell you that you cannot live on the edge of the city; but you should have to pay a lot more if you are going to do so.

    I do support Plan It’s main message. But I think the best way of limiting “urban sprawl” is through charging higher property taxes on the outskirts of the city, while lowering them in the inner city communities. Now of course it is not as simple as this, because you would need to coordinate with the MD of Rocky View, Airdrie and other municipalities so that people don’t just avoid high property taxes by moving just outside city boundaries. But I believe the shift in Calgary to higher densities won’t be an ideological one, but an economic one. Sprawl is expensive both to taxpayers and the environment, and the price is going to keep going up.

    “This plan undermines taxpaying Calgarians intelligence and basic human rights to choose what’s right for them”

    To be honest Lana, I don’t want to live in a high rise apartment when I’m older either, but I also do not want to live in a suburb at the end of the city. I want to live in a community like Garrison Woods. My parents wanted to buy there… but it was too expensive. Garrison Woods has become extremely expensive due to the high amount of demand and lack of supply of that kind of housing (it was actually originally built as affordable housing).

    30 other students and I went on a field school to Europe last summer to visit some of the most innovative sustainable communities in the world. After witnessing these communities I became upset, upset at the fact that I never had a chance to live in anything close to those innovative European communities. People were not living in these communities because it was more “sustainable” it was because it increased their quality of life. These communities blew Garrison Woods out of the water, and were more affordable.

    For an example check out the “West Harbor Development in Malmo”

    There is a demand in Calgary for more communities like Garrison Woods and the West Harbor Development.

    Calgary is supposed to grow by more than 1.3 million over the next 50-60 years, what do you think we should do Lana?

    – Andrew Sedor

  4. Drew · March 23, 2009

    Excellent rebuttals Tom and Andrew, I think you’ve summed up the wide-ranging arguments in favour of more compact development quite nicely. I just want to address the most glaringly offensive point in Lana’s post: I do not and will not consider my house or car an “extension of who I am”. I am glad that I am able to own a car, but by no stretch of the imagination do I love it. In my current circumstances, I honestly wish I were able to leave it at home more often, or better yet, sell it and be able to rely on transit and car share programs. I do not aspire to wear designer clothes, live in a mansion, drive a luxury car, and have a million dollars in the bank. Most of the people I know don’t have hopes and dreams that revolve around an extravagant lifestyle of conspicuous over-consumption. Many of us have enough awareness about the gross iniquities and environmental devastation ravaging the world to consider such a lifestyle unethical, if not immoral. If materialism really does define your life Lana, good for you. Please do me one little favour though, and don’t assume that all your fellow Calgarians feel the same way.

    Drew Gale

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