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Alberta Land Use and Sustainability

by BugMan50 (Creative Commons License: Attribution, Non-Commercial)As Albertan land use spirals out of control with massive growth in the oil, gas, residential, commercial and industrial sectors, the rest of the country stands by waiting and watching…

What can we learn about this situation and how can we better protect the environment and livability of those towns we call home? This article in yesterday’s Calgary Herald…

Alberta can’t just keep racing to keep up with the boom, Liberal Leader Kevin Taft says. "It’s just about a free-for-all out there right now, and it’s causing all kinds of problems," Taft says as he travels to Red Deer for a meeting.

"With the economic boom, land use decisions are getting pushed through every day and there’s no long-term strategy. "Clearly, we need rules on who can play in what parts of the sandbox."

Premier Ed Stelmach acknowledges a comprehensive blueprint for land management is needed, and promises to complete one shortly….

The question then becomes, how much of Alberta should be developed?

Official debates on this and other land use questions have so far taken place behind closed doors amongst government officials, municipalities, industry representatives, aboriginals and landowner groups. Next month, average Albertans will get their say in a round of public forums and an online survey.

"I think that Albertans, once they have an opportunity to talk about what they would like to see in the province of Alberta in terms of the rules of development, it may in many ways deal with the kind of pressures between urban-rural, oil and gas, and agriculture and forestry," Stelmach says. "There’s also these questions being raised of how much area we will protect of Alberta in the future?"

At the moment, virtually nothing in the province is off limits to energy development, except national parks.

(via Calgary Herald – Alberta’s land rush chaos)
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Just Like Texas

Will Alberta follow the trend in its Southern Cousin Houston, Texas? Will Alberta end up with 18 lane highways to keep all the gas guzzlers moving?

Between 2003 and 2009, $2.7 billion of state and federal money will have been plowed into expanding 23 miles of Interstate-10 in west Houston to as wide as 18 lanes in some stretches of the city’s main east-west road.

"It is a concrete monstrosity," said Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer in the Texas city who fought the expansion of "I-10" and lost. "It probably shows as much as anything the philosophy of development here."

Texas view on environment is 18 lanes wide-critics – Yahoo! News

Calgary and Edmonton are rich cities undergoing massive economic growth, the people with the money make the decisions, whether developers, oil barons or home purchasers. Houston is five times the size of Calgary, but even equivalent sized cities around the world such as Sydney don’t have excessive car dependence imprinted over the cityscape, the widest road in Sydney is the Harbour Bridge and it’s approaches, built over 75 years ago in a remarkable level of foresight.

What About the Rest of the West?

Calgary and the surrounding regions provide much of the energy and produce that supports our quality of life, should they suffer from their own success while we enjoy the fruits of their labours. I know, I know, lots of people are making good money from their ventures in the west, but the potential damage to the environment and the landscape could be irrepairable. Is that a cost that is acceptable? What do the people living in Alberta think about that?

Its not as though they’ll all be able to move to Vancouver or Florida when things take a turn for the worst.

Here in the Kootenays, even we are feeling the property pressures growing every day, with developers from Vancouver and Calgary seeing potential in many of the cities and towns of this region. Property prices are on the rise, and in general, the cities are under-prepared for the projected growth, both in adequately planning for it, as well as providing essential services for the community. Rural centers are becoming urbanized, facing issues of sprawl and land use planning that they haven’t had to face previously.

This, from a related article…

Not everyone in the southern foothills is fighting against development.

Crowsnest Pass Mayor John Irwin embraces an economic resurgence of the once-thriving coal mining towns in southwestern Alberta.

Mountainside retreats such as Canmore and Banff have become unaffordable to most Calgarians seeking weekend cabins to buy. Instead, their eyes are cast on the Pass, about 250 kilometres southwest of the city. Housing developers sense the shift.

Phrases like "the next Canmore" have been thrown about since plans for a massive European-style alpine village were unveiled last year for Blairmore. The $1.5-billion project will see a 5,000-seat indoor skating rink, a 300-room hotel, a $20-million sports complex, a spa and about 1,200 condominium units rise by a lake.

Eastern Slopes battle looms

You really can’t blame the Mayor for embracing the growth, its just a shame that it is coming due to a lack of affordability elsewhere.

Sustainability in Canada

Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert’s PeakThe problem appears to exist in the Oil and Gas corridor in Alberta, but all in Canada need to take responsibility for the future development of this region. This is a matter of sustainability, one that is not as simple as saying, "It’s not my problem that those Albertans are money hungry!"

Our lives need to become more sustainable, we need to drive less, we need to heat less, and we need to design our communities around these principles, with a focus on ease of walking, cycling or public transport, and massive gains in passive solar design for housing in our existing and new housing stock. If there is any truth in the Peak Oil Debate, this is one issue that we need to start making serious changes over.

Alberta faces its own problems today, but the rest of us have greater sustainability issues to face in the not too distant future.

Have your say, leave me a comment…

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Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.