Plan It Calgary

I went to one of the staff open houses for Plan It, the City’s new 60-year growth plan which includes a draft development and transportation plan. I have not read the document in detail, but had a good look at the displays (there were a lot!) and heard the 15 min presentation, and I think there is a lot that is good in it. The plan attempts to strike a balance between a totally market dominated strategy, which would like have sprawl covering much of the south half of Alberta by 2070, and rigid limits to growth and intensification, which would be difficult to implement and unpopular. The plan put forward has garnered lukewarm reviews from the media and developers, some describing it as a “social engineering” document, but I think they are missing the point, which is that this document is a policy document, and that is the role of municipal government: to set development objectives and to implement them given the best information available about what the future environment might look like. This is for example exactly what Calgary did in the 1970s when it rejected freeway focused plans and decided instead to build the C-Train. Had that decision not be made, the periphery of downtown, instead of being up and coming communities with condos and restaurants, parks and jogging trails, would be off ramps and parkades – and traffic would be worse, not better. The worst traffic congestion in the United States is in cities like Houston and Dallas where the market dictated planning and every freeway dreamt up got built; higher order transit is non-existent.

I think the main challenge with Plan It, and other plans like the GTA Growth Plan for Greater Toronto, will be in getting the right kind of infill development. Developers are correct to say that few families what to live in condo highrises. Multi-unit low rise development with plenty of green space (I like the idea of courtyards as this safe resident only space for kids etc) would work much better. These types of smaller apartment building used to be commonly built before WW2; it should be reviewed what they are not anymore.

As for transportation, my own main interest, I think the plans builds on Calgary’s solid creditials in transit. However, the city’s current transit modal share is only 9%, which could clearly be improved upon. New LRT lines currently in the planning stages will help this, as will transit-oriented development and station area plans that are also in the plan. Commuter rail, though this would take provincial involvement, is also in there: imagine being able to take a train from Cochrane or Okotoks and be downtown in 15 mins! And for better or worse, the biggest highway project in Calgary history is currently under construction: the ring road. When all is said and done this will probably cost $4 billion or more and push the development of more sprawl and even employment into the suburbs. I do think Calgary needs to make some modest raod improvement; a result of the boom-bust cycle means that the city has an awkwardly truncated road network in some cases – the ring road will help address this, as well as allowing long distance traffic to avoid the city all together. In the central city however, new capacity can and should be addressed through transit, and to a small extent, cycling (though this latter theme has limited year round potential in a city where it can be -35 and pitch black on a January morning).

More discussion to come – if anyone finds this blog, I welcome your comments!

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One Response to “Plan It Calgary”

  1. New Calgarian Says:

    I’m commenting on my own blog…hehe – just wanted to see if it works!

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