In 1990, Calgary lacked established urbanized (high density) residential areas except for the Beltline, which put the city at a distinct disadvantage when the urban living renaissance took place starting in the mid ’90s. comprehensive.”
By contrast, Vancouver-area municipalities have been collaborating since 1913, which is 40 years earlier than Toronto or Calgary.
The Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board was established in 1949 and identified as early as 1963 that “without intervention, the supply of urban land would be exhausted by the end of the millennium.”
Since 1975, the Livable Region called for a substantial proportion of the region’s growth to be concentrated in “regional town centres” that are transit-oriented, mixed-use and function as focal points for suburban communities.
As for Calgary, the study says the city “has had a robust system of local and regional planning for much of the last half-century. Since the 1970s, Calgary has been more concerned with facilitating growth rather than containing it.”
The report goes on to say “policies are directed at fostering contiguous greenfield development, rather than intensification and encroachment on surrounding rural land.”
The City of Calgary’s plans are based on consumer preference for low-density housing, says the report — and therefore are focused on manipulating the form of greenfield (suburban) development rather than increasing the proportion of total growth through intensification.
I want to point out that in the early ’90s, the City of Calgary developed the Go Plan, which did promote the creation of mini-downtown and urban nodes in the suburbs.
These nodes have now evolved to Transit Oriented Developments (TODs) — the mantra of planners in all major North American cities today.
TODs aim to mix residential and commercial development near things like LRT stations in such a way as to boost density while decreasing the use of vehicles.
For the most part, the findings are pretty much what you would expect — Calgary manages its growth through annexation and suburban development of single-family homes, Vancouver manages its growth through intervention and infill development of existing urban areas, and Toronto manages growth through a combination of both.
What is perhaps more enlightening is the report’s observation that Calgary has had a “robust” and consistent system of regional planning for more than 60 years.
Throughout the report, Calgary’s commitment to planning is compared favourably to Vancouver’s.
I doubt this is the perception held by many Calgary planners, developers or politicians.
It might have been useful for the researchers to have also looked at the political structure and stability of each of the cities to determine what role they played in growth.
Calgary, for better or worse, has had an amazingly stable political leadership since 1950.
City residents elected five long-serving mayors during that period — Donald Mackay (1950 to 1959), Rod Sykes (1969 to 1977), Ralph Klein (1980 to 1989), Al Duerr (1989 to 2001) and Dave Bronconnier (2001 to 2010).
Provincially, three premiers governed Alberta for much of the past 68 years: Ernest Manning (1943 to 1968), Peter Lougheed (1971 to 1985) and Ralph Klein (1992 to 2006).
Neither Vancouver nor Toronto can match that stability.
Structurally too, Calgary is unique in its municipal politics given there is no party system, unlike Vancouver and Toronto.
It means the mayor and aldermen are elected based on their own individual merits and policies, not on party alliances.
As a result, Calgary politicians are more inclined to give voters what they want — and the perception is, right or wrong, that the majority of Calgarians want affordable, singlefamily homes in the suburbs.
Hence, Calgary’s planning and policy favours greenfield, single-family development.
Third, it would have been interesting to study growth patterns from an immigration perspective.
It is my understanding that most of Calgary’s growth from 1991 to 2001 was fuelled by people migrating from small Canadian cities and towns — individuals generally not accustomed to urban multifamily housing.
Vancouver’s and Toronto’s growth, on the other hand, was fuelled much more by new Canadian immigrants, many of whom come from urbanized cities where multi-family housing is common.
The question I ask is: Should government policy and planning dictate growth — or should the desires of citizens dictate government planning and policy?
Perhaps in all three cities, the planning and policy reflects the desired growth of its people.
Not every city should look the same, nor is every city at the same stage in its evolution — and not every city has the same economic, geographic and climatic assets.
In my opinion, the key to building a competitive and viable city is the ability of its citizens to capitalize on its assets and seek to be unique, as opposed to adopting the group think that often happens with politicians, planners and developers.