The controversial subject of suburban development heads to city hall on Monday.
The growth strategy that goes to a city committee on Monday says over the 2023 to 2026 period, Calgary‘s population is expected to grow by 22,000 people annually or an additional 88,000 people in total.
City bureaucrats are now recommending five new communities to help meet demand and three more if “risks around servicing, operating cost efficiency and absorption can be mitigated.”
“It’s really quite appalling what’s before us and I do hope this new council — which has declared a climate emergency — will just reject this outright,” said Noel Keough, co-founder of Sustainable Calgary Society and a retired associate professor of sustainable design at the University of Calgary.
“It’s supposed to be a city-wide growth strategy but really it seems that it’s a suburban growth strategy.”
He says the price of suburban homes may look cheap but there are many other costs associated with them, including infrastructure and environmental.
“I think taxpayers, above all fiscal conservatives, should be most concerned because this is enormous spending that comes from continuing to build a sprawling city — which is a more expensive city,” Keough said.
“We were pretty clear moving forward that we want to review these business cases from a financial perspective but we also want to review them from a climate perspective,” said Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra.
Carra said upgrading infrastructure and using existing roads is cheaper and better for the environment. However, Carra added that it’s not realistic to go “cold turkey” when it comes to building on the outskirts because that will just push people into places like Airdrie and Chestermere.
Carra admits the city’s new climate strategy is at odds with the growth strategy but he says “life is messy” and at least council is talking about the cost of subsidizing urban sprawl.
“Inner-city redevelopment will win every day but we are not there yet. So right now we are having a very difficult conversation about continuing to accommodate growth on the edge,” Carra said.
“It’s frustrating but at least we’re having that conversation publicly.
“The report is also acknowledging that we are still paying money from 2018 and 2020 and they are acknowledging that there’s a big chunk of change that we are paying from previous growth decisions as well.”
The report states that approval of the business cases would increase city-wide greenhouse gas emissions and result in the destruction of over 300 hectares of natural assets.
The committee will decide if administration should include the new communities in the four-year budget plans that will go before council in November.
“We are living in an age of a climate emergency and it’s a rough situation. I’ve spent the last 11 years of my life working to scale up inner-city redevelopment and we’re almost there,” Carra said.
The report states that “approval of new communities will lock in generations of high-energy intensity land use and transportation patterns and eliminate large areas of climate-mitigating natural assets that would make it more difficult to achieve the city’s 2050 net-zero emissions goal.”
“Approval of the recommended portfolio of business cases would result in an increase in city-wide GHG
emissions of approximately one per cent, increase climate risk through additional exposure of developed lands and assets to climate hazards, and result in the destruction of over 300 hectares of natural assets and the ecosystem services they provide.”