Federal Budget 2016, Sprawling Edmonton, Riverview Name Debate

Here’s the latest entry in my Edmonton Etcetera series, in which I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. Have feedback? Let me know!

Federal Budget 2016

The Government of Canada introduced Budget 2016 today, saying it is “a plan that takes important steps to revitalize the Canadian economy, and delivers real change for the middle class and those working hard to join it.” The budget projects a $29.4 billion deficit. Here’s a video titled Restoring Hope for the Middle Class that highlights some of the budget commitments:

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) called the budget “a big win for Canadians” and says it will “transform the way we build cities and communities and marks a new era of federal-municipal partnership.” They like the investments the government is making in housing, transit, and green infrastructure, as well as the “new cost-sharing funding model” that will have a shorter-term impact while longer-term funding agreements are worked out.

Mayor Don Iveson is the Chair of FCM’s Big City Mayors’ Caucus. Here’s what he had to say:

“This budget and the new, stronger working relationship between the federal government and municipalities really marks a new way of getting things done for Canadians. This introduces a new era of collaboration which will see us build stronger cities and a stronger Canada.”

The budget outlines a five-year, $11.9 billion infrastructure spending plan. There’s a focus on public transit, with $3.4 billion over three years being invested according to each province’s share of national ridership. For Alberta, with 10.28% of Canada’s public transit ridership, that works out to just over $347 million. There’s also an increase in eligible costs for public transit projects up to 50% which is a big improvement. Another $2.3 billion of the infrastructure plan will go to affordable housing over two years, $739 million of which is for investments in housing for First Nations, Inuit, and Norther Communities. About $112 million of the affordable housing allocation is to help cities tackle homelessness.

Budget 2016 extends EI regular benefits by 5 weeks, but only in three of Alberta’s four EI regions – not in Edmonton. That’s because we did not experience a large enough increase in our unemployment rate between March 2015 and February 2016. Provincially the changes could be worth about $380 million.

Like all cities, Edmonton faces major challenges around the maintenance and replacement of aging infrastructure. Budget 2016 includes funding of $50 million for infrastructure management and measurement, which should help cities collect the data required to inform decision-making. Getting a better handle on the project will be a good thing.

Sprawling Edmonton

As mentioned a couple of days ago, Council is revisiting the discussion about sprawl in our city thanks to a report that projects the City will face a $1.4 billion shortfall after building out the three Urban Growth Areas. On top of this, another $8.3 billion in non-residential assessment growth is needed to maintain the current ratio of residential to non-residential tax assessment. That’s the real reason the City is pursuing annexation, though you won’t find it in the “three reasons for annexation”.

Edmonton from Above
Edmonton from Above, photo by Dave Cournoyer

In an editorial this week, the Journal wrote:

“Now is not the time to add to chills in the development industry, but the status quo is not a good option either.”

We need to stop worrying about the development industry and worry instead about Edmonton. Mayor Iveson put it like this in a recent blog post:

“This is a critical conversation happening in cities all across Canada; I intentionally use the word ‘critical’ because Edmonton is simply not financially sustainable under our current growth model.”

The word “sprawl” is carefully avoided in both the editorial and the mayor’s post. But that’s what it is.

Riverview Name Debate

One of the three Urban Growth Areas is Riverview, where planning for neighbourhoods is well underway. Names were proposed for five neighbourhoods, and both the developers and the Naming Committee agreed on two: Grandisle and White Birch. The other three names proposed were “The Uplands”, “Red Willow”, and “River’s Edge” but the Naming Committee went with “Balsam Woods”, “Golden Willow”, and “River Alder” instead. The developers appealed, which is how the issue came before Council today.

Paula Simons wrote about the issue with her signature brand of wit:

“If the developer’s chosen names are poor, the city’s aren’t much better. Balsam Wood sounds like something you use to build model airplanes. River Alder doesn’t trip off the tongue and west Edmonton already has an Aldergrove. It’s hard to take sides in this fight when both sets of names are so depressingly bland.”

We already have The Uplands of Mactaggart too.

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Today, after an amusing debate, Council approved the developers’ proposed names. In discussing the importance of names, Councillor Loken said:

“If someone doesn’t like the name of a neighbourhood, they’re probably not going to live there…But Red Willow, Golden Willow? I don’t know.”

Maybe that’s how we can solve our sprawl problem!

Annexations in Edmonton

The City of Edmonton officially announced today its intention to annex a large area south of our current boundaries (you can listen to the press conference here). The plan would see 120 km2 west of the QEII highway annexed, an area which includes the Edmonton International Airport, and about 36 km2 east of the QEII annexed, which would include most of the area between Edmonton and Beaumont. According to Mayor Mandel, the new space would be used for both residential and industrial development. You can read much more about the news here, and be sure to check out the City’s page on the proposed annexation. It is estimated that the annexation could be completed in as little as two years. You won’t be surprised to hear that I’m less than enthusiastic about the news.

Edmonton’s Annexations

I’ll write more about that specific proposal in the future, but for now I thought it would be useful to take a look at Edmonton’s previous annexations. I have included the proposed annexation in the data below however, to give you a sense of where it fits in (I went with 2015 as the year). There have thus far been 31 annexation events in Edmonton’s history, according to a document prepared by the City’s planning department. That includes the incorporations of both Edmonton and Strathcona, as well as three temporary separations. Most of those annexations were relatively small, with an average annexation area of about 21 km2. Take out the 1982 annexation however, and the average drops to just 10 km2.

Here’s what those annexation events look like on a chart:

As you can see, the annexation in 1982 was unusually large – it doubled the size of our city. The proposed annexation in the south would handily come in as the second largest annexation in Edmonton’s history.

Here’s the list of annexation events:

YEAR DESCRIPTION CUMULATIVE AREA (km2)
1892 Incorporation of Town of Edmonton 8.7
1899 Incorporation of Town of Strathcona 10.8
1904 Incorporation of City of Edmonton 23.0
1907 Incorporation of City of Strathcona 37.9
1908 Buena Vista to Westmount, North Inglewood to Eastwood/Virginia Park 57.3
1911 Highlands, Amalgamation of Edmonton & Strathcona 59.9
1912 Belmont Park 62.9
1912 Kennedale 64.0
1913 Dominion Industrial to Quesnell Heights / Brander Gardens to Parkallen, Bonaventure to Belvedere, Forest Heights to Argyll 103.0
1914 Allendale / Duggan to Coronet / Papaschase 105.6
1917 Calder 106.4
1922 Separation of north Brander Gardens 105.8
1922 Separation of Papaschase 105.3
1947 Pleasantview 105.6
1950 Whitemud Creek 105.9
1951 Separation of part of Duggan 105.6
1954 Capilano / Fulton Place 109.0
1954 Coronet 109.6
1956 Gold Bar 112.1
1958 Davies Industrial 114.0
1959 Terrace Heights / Ottewell 116.3
1959 Terwillegar Park / Riverbend to Strathcona Industrial Park, re-annexation of separations 146.2
1960 Ottewell to Girard Industrial 149.3
1961 Beverly / Clareview to Dickinsfield 177.8
1964 Jasper Place and Southeast Industrial 221.6
1967 Clover Bar Power Plant 221.8
1969 Springfield / Callingwood 226.9
1970 Springfield – north 227.5
1971 Castle Downs / Lake District and Mill Woods 288.3
1972 West Jasper Place 314.4
1974 Kaskitayo 317.5
1976 Northwest Industrial 319.7
1980 Pilot Sound and Twin Brooks 331.1
1982 Northeast, Southeast, Southwest Urban Growth Areas 700.6
2015 Proposed South Annexation 856.6

Municipalities annex land for a variety of reasons – sometimes the goal is to acquire industrial land, other times its to start developing future residential neighbourhoods. Here’s what our land and population growth has looked like over the last 120 years:

The left axis and blue line shows the growth in Edmonton’s population, while the right axis and red line shows the growth in Edmonton’s land area. While our population has risen steadily, annexations have been much less consistent.

Impact on Population Density

When the Town of Edmonton was incorporated in 1892 it consisted of 8.7 km2 of land and was home to about 700 people, giving us a population density of about 81/km2. Today, with a population of nearly 818,000 and a total area of about 700 km2, we have a much higher population density of roughly 1,167/km2. That’s not the highest it has ever been, however. Edmonton’s population density peaked in 1958 at about 2,212 people/km2 and has been falling ever since.

(For comparison purposes, New York City’s population density is 10,430/km2, London’s is 5,206/km2, Toronto’s is 4,149/km2, Vancouver’s is 5,249/km2, and Calgary’s is 1,329/km2. Yes, even sprawling Calgary has a higher population density than us!)

Here’s what our population density looks like on a chart:

There are a couple of key events to point out. The amalgamation of Edmonton and Strathcona in 1912 is noticeable thanks to a jump in the population. The annexations in 1959 of Terrace Heights, Ottewell, Terwillegar Park, and Riverbend marked the start of our population density decline. The jump back up in 1964/1965 was due to the annexation of Jasper Place, which brought about 38,000 residents to Edmonton in addition to more space. The large drop in 1982 is extremely apparent, and while the population density has slowly been creeping back up, you can see that the proposed annexation would cause it to decline once again.

Looking at the Capital Region

I absolutely agree with Mayor Mandel that a strong Edmonton is a strong region, but I don’t necessarily agree that Edmonton needs to acquire more land in order to remain strong. Supporters of annexation may suggest that Edmonton’s declining proportion of the region’s population is proof that buyers are not finding what they’re looking for within the city so they’re going elsewhere.

Here’s a look at the percentage of people in the Edmonton CMA who live within the city limits:

What’s clear is that there has been a decline in the proportion of people living in Edmonton-proper versus the surrounding areas. What’s less clear is why that has happened.

While Edmonton has not annexed any land since 1982, there have been 6 annexations by other municipalities in the region in the last 15 years.

Other Resources

Annexation is a big topic. Here are some additional resources that you may find useful:

Horse Hill ASP: More proof that Edmonton is addicted to sprawl

The proposed Horse Hill Area Structure Plan (ASP) will be debated at a special public hearing on Monday and Tuesday. Known as bylaw 16353, the Horse Hill ASP outlines a development framework for the area east of the Edmonton Energy & Technology Park (EETP). It encompasses roughly 2,806 hectares of land and barely meets the density target of the Capital Region Growth Plan with a proposed density of 31 units per net residential hectare based on a proposed population of about 71,000 people. Proponents would like to see the area developed over the next 30-40 years.

 
Horse Hill ASP, click for a larger version

There are many people opposed to the plan, including over 2100 who have signed an online petition asking Council to “get full information about the true costs and benefits of this current plan and alternative development scenarios”. Some are concerned with the loss of agricultural land, and others are concerned with the unsustainable sprawl of our city. I expect we’ll hear a lot from those perspectives during the public hearing. I wrote about this battle last July and I would encourage you to read or re-read that post for background.

After the public hearing has completed, the bylaw will be ready for first and second reading. Third reading will take place after the Capital Region Board has given its approval of the plan. It’s important to remember where we are in the larger process:

An ASP is a relatively high-level document. It contains more detail than the Municipal Development Plan, but less than the Neighbourhood Structure Plans (NSP). The Horse Hill ASP proposes five neighbourhoods, each of which would require an NSP.

The Horse Hill ASP falls into the Northeast Urban Growth Area, one of three identified in the Municipal Development Plan. Preparation of ASPs for these areas was authorized along with the MDP, but approval was dependent on Council accepting the Growth Coordination Strategy (GCS), the Integrated Infrastructure Management Plan (IIMP), and the City-Wide Food and Agriculture Strategy. Technically all three documents were approved in 2012, but they were not received without criticism. I wrote about some of my concerns with the documents here, here, and here. Furthermore, it’s hard to swallow that the Horse Hill ASP has been developed in adherence with those plans, considering that the Growth Coordination Committee and the Annual Growth Monitoring Report do not yet exist. Both were identified as key methods by which the GCS would be implemented.

At 135 pages, the bylaw, application, and supporting documentation for the Horse Hill ASP contains lots of information (PDF, 15.8 MB). I have slowly been digesting it, and I was particularly interested in the IIMP document that was included as attachment 2c (on pages 113-135). This is the first time such a document has been prepared for Council’s consideration.

From the background section of the IIMP:

The challenges facing the City are to balance development costs with the strategic benefits of sustainable growth, to achieve an appropriate balance of residential to commercial/industrial development. Although the City of Edmonton has achieved some success in diversifying its revenue base, property tax remains the largest component of City revenue.

The IIMP estimates that roughly $2.5 billion worth of infrastructure will need to be built, with developers contributing 66% and the City contributing 34%. The GCS reminds us however that “the City assumes ownership of developer funded infrastructure, generally two years after construction, and is responsible for ongoing maintenance, periodic rehabilitation, and eventual replacement.”

To estimate revenue and expenditures, the IIMP considers two scenarios. The first uses demographic projections from 2008 and assumes that only 52% of the population is achieved within 50 years. The second uses demographic projections from 2012 and assumes that the full population is achieved within 35 years.

Here’s the revenue vs. expenditures for the first scenario:

Here’s the revenue vs. expenditures for the second scenario:

The first takeaway is that new neighbourhoods do not pay for themselves, even (and especially) in the long-run. The IIMP notes that in comparison those charts “seem to contradict the general theory that a faster build-out time would result in a better cost recovery ratio.” It goes on to attribute this paradox to “the timing of certain large capital assets.”

What follows those two charts is a discussion about the balance of residential and non-residential land throughout the city. The IIMP notes that non-residential assessment makes up approximately 25% of the total tax base of the City.

How does the proposed development affect this balance? Generally, residential neighbourhoods have less than 25% of their assessment base as non-residential, and the proposed Horse Hill Area Structure Plan is projected to have 4.3% of its assessment as non-residential. So as the City grows this and other residential areas, it must also grow its non-residential areas to maintain balanced growth.

Incredibly, the IIMP then provides updated versions of the two charts above that “illustrate the importance of balanced growth and the benefit of maintaining the current non-residential assessment ratio.” The estimated revenue is combined with “off-site commercial assessment” to paint a much rosier picture of how we can afford to build out the plan as proposed.

Here’s the updated chart for the first scenario:

And here’s the updated chart for the second scenario:

The IIMP states:

The premise in these figures is that if the City maintains its current balance of 25% non-residential assessment, by developing commercial areas throughout the City, this additional revenue helps to offset the fiscal imbalance indicated by looking at the Horse Hill ASP by itself.

So we need to continue building commercial areas like the EETP to prevent residential taxes from going up dramatically. But to support those commercial areas we need to build new residential areas like the one proposed by the Horse Hill ASP. But to pay for those new residential neighbourhoods, we need to construct still more commercial areas. It’s a vicious cycle.

In other words, we’re addicted to sprawl.

The worst part is that we know this and yet we continually fail to do anything about it. From the MDP:

The Municipal Development Plan proposes a new direction for growth and it will take time to effect change. The Plan is a long term strategy and will require incremental decisions that support our commitment to saying “yes” to the things we want and need and “no” to the things that do not advance our City Vision and goals.

So far we’ve said “yes” to eight NSPs that were supposed to wait for the GCS and other documents, “yes” to a dramatically scaled back Growth Coordination Strategy, “yes” to a Food & Agriculture Strategy that lacks teeth, and we’ll likely say “yes” to the Horse Hill ASP.

We’re addicted to sprawl and we just can’t seem to say “no”.

We all have skin in the game

I’m registered to speak during tomorrow’s non-statutory public hearing on the Food & Agriculture Strategy. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to share my thoughts with Executive Committee (though I expect we’ll see more than just the five standing members in attendance). I’m yet to hear anyone on Council say they are looking forward to it, however.

“If you own the land and you want to grow berries, go ahead. If you don’t own the land, I would say the same thing, get the heck out of the way. You have no interest. We’re going to have everybody with no interest, financially or otherwise, coming forward supporting something that they really have no skin in the game about, and those that do, are going to suffer the consequences.”

That was what Councillor Caterina said at the September 5 meeting of Executive Committee, voicing his opposition to the public hearing (ultimately he did vote for it along with the rest of the Committee).

No interest? No skin in the game? Councillor Caterina could not be more wrong, and let me tell you why.

First of all, we’re talking about the Food & Agriculture Strategy, not the “What To Do With Land In The Northeast Strategy.” Food is something that touches all of us, and if we’re going to take a position as a City on the importance of food to our community, I want a say in that.

I think we screwed up by attaching the Food & Agriculture Strategy to the specific land issue in the northeast. I want a WinterCity Strategy-like approach to food. There is so much that was left unexplored, and so many people that were not involved that have important, valuable contributions to make, and that’s largely because the discussion was dominated by the northeast.

Secondly, Council is largely responsible for turning this into the “What To Do With Land In The Northeast Strategy.”

I have not seen any concrete evidence to suggest that we can sustain our outward growth, nor have I seen any concrete evidence to suggest we can’t. There’s lots of anecdotal information, and certainly there are dozens of other places we can point to that clearly demonstrate the unsustainability of sprawl, but we need facts and figures for Edmonton. We need to know, for every unit of housing we add into new areas, what that costs the city. We need to know, for every unit of housing we add into existing areas, what that costs the city. Then we can start to determine whether or not we can afford to move ahead with more sprawl. My educated guess is that we can’t.

We should have had those numbers from the Integrated Infrastructure Management Plan (IIMP) and the Growth Coordination Strategy (GCS), but that’s not going to happen. In September, Administration asked for the IIMP to be treated as a “framework” rather than a plan, then provided a meaningless two-page document to serve as the framework. Council let them get away with it.

The GCS is slated to go to Council on November 19. A draft was released in May, but it has been rewritten and was distributed to select stakeholders at the end of the day on Tuesday. The deadline for comments? Tomorrow. And beyond that select group, there has been zero public consultation, and there’s no indication that a public hearing will be held for the GCS. The purpose of the GCS is to “manage future public obligations and growth opportunities” so can you guess what was removed from the latest draft? Anything related to mature areas, transit oriented development, and infill. So much for the “coordination” part of our growth strategy.

As our elected representatives, Council should be the ones asking why. Why do we still lack the information we need to make smart decisions? Why have we rushed these documents? Why haven’t we included the public in their creation?

In short, Council has not provided citizens with confidence that we can grow sustainably, nor have they provided opportunities for citizens to have a say on the plans that will affect where and how we grow. The only opportunity we have is the Food & Agriculture Strategy.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I pay taxes like everyone else. It costs money to provide services to an ever-expanding list of neighbourhoods, and that means there is upward pressure on my taxes. Police stations, libraries, and parks do not build themselves. There are no magic fairies that remove snow in the winter or fix potholes in the summer. Taxes pay for those civic services.

I have an interest in ensuring Edmonton’s food security because food is central to my everyday life. I have an interest in what happens in the northeast because I have an interest in living in a sustainable city. I have “skin in the game” because I pay taxes like everyone else. And above all, I as a citizen of Edmonton, have a right to be involved in decisions that affect me.

Maybe we should have just had a food strategy

When it comes to the Food & Agriculture Strategy, there’s perhaps no organization more deserving of credit for getting us to where we are today than the Greater Edmonton Alliance (GEA). They worked hard during the development of the MDP to ensure that the importance of local food and agricultural land was recognized, and those efforts ultimately led to the creation of the strategy that is now in draft form. But GEA is also largely responsible for tying the development of that strategy to the land in the northeast, which has resulted in a document that fails to adequately address the importance of food to our city.

City Market 2012

Instead of a strategy to transform Edmonton into a world leading food city, the Food & Agriculture Strategy is viewed by most as simply one of the final remaining hurdles to the continuation of urban sprawl that has plagued our city for decades. Whereas the WinterCity Strategy was created to “highlight Edmonton as a leading winter city,” the Food & Agriculture Strategy was created to allow the development of ASPs to move forward.

The Advisory Committee, created to “offer guidance and experience in exploring the development” of the strategy, was doomed to fail from the beginning. Because the land issue was not resolved, it was made up of fifteen members representing very diverse interests, rather than fifteen members all focused on food. It’s no surprise that farmers and developers could not see eye-to-eye on what should happen with the land in the northeast and that the issue dominated discussions.

Think about all of the other advisory committees and task forces that have been created over the last few years. We’ve had groups come together to talk about community safety, homelessness, winter, and dozens of other topics. The makeup of the Food & Agriculture Advisory Committee is like putting people that hate winter on the WinterCity Strategy committee, or people who love crime on the REACH committee, or people who think we should have more homelessness on the Homeless Commission.

So, how did we get here? There are lots of reasons of course, but here are a couple thoughts.

MDP Second Reading

One issue is that GEA’s leaders don’t care about food as much as they care about power. This was made abundantly clear at the ward meeting GEA held on October 9. A significant amount of time was spent discussing the power struggles that take place behind-the-scenes inside and outside City Hall. “One of the tools GEA uses in organizing is the power analysis,” GEA’s Monique Nutter told us. She said that in organizing there are two forms of power: organized money and organized people. The latter is the approach that GEA has taken, and for a while it seemed to work well. They filled City Hall with citizens, and they got the attention of their opponents as well as City Council.

But somewhere along the line, GEA lost the room. Any support they may have had from Council during the MDP deliberations has largely evaporated. Were they too aggressive in their demands, or disrespectful in their communications? Does organized money speak louder than organized people? It doesn’t matter. The fact is, Council is unhappy with GEA right now. That’s a problem for those of us who care about the same issues as GEA but are not associated with them, because I think at least some Councillors now treat GEA and others who feel strongly about food and/or agricultural land as one and the same. Which means that if GEA is being viewed negatively, so are the rest of us.

I don’t mean to suggest that GEA deserves all the blame for the turnaround in support. Certainly Councillor Loken has not done the strategy any favors by “trying to add some reality to the discussions.” He claims his efforts have made him a target on the Advisory Committee. Rather than diffusing an already tense situation, it seems Councillor Loken has actually made things worse.

Food in the City

The second issue is that as far as I can tell, GEA didn’t have any other choice. Tying the development of the land to the creation of the strategy was really the best they could accomplish at the time. There was no support from Council for a stronger stance on urban sprawl, as evidenced by policy 3.1.1.2 in the MDP which establishes that just 25% of city-wide housing unit growth be located in the downtown and mature neighbourhoods.

In an ideal world, a Food & Agriculture Strategy would have been initiated without the need to incorporate a contentious debate over land use (of course, any strategy on food would have included something about the importance of agricultural land, but in broad strokes rather than specifics). Then again in an ideal world, the true cost of sprawl would be known and factor prominently in decisions about how our city should grow. We don’t live in an ideal world.

Untitled

On Friday, City Hall will fill up with citizens eager to have their say on the Food & Agriculture Strategy. We know that Executive Committee is not looking forward to the public hearing, they’ve made that clear. They’re expecting to hear the same thing over and over, and I admit that’s not an enticing prospect. But I think that’s because they’re viewing this strategy through the lens of land, rather than the lens of food. I hope there’s a large turnout on Friday, that at least a few people talk about the importance of food to Edmonton’s future, and that Executive Committee chooses to listen to them.

Why hasn’t there been any public involvement for the Growth Coordination Strategy?

One of the most important sections in The Way We Grow, Edmonton’s Municipal Development Plan, is the one that deals with the Growth Coordination Strategy. It is section 3.1 that earned the document the nickname “The Way We Sprawl” for specifying that just 25% of housing growth should happen in mature neighbourhoods. That shortcoming aside, the section is important because it aims to make land development in Edmonton more sustainable, predictable, and strategic. Section 3.1.1.6 explains the purpose of the Growth Coordination Strategy:

Develop a growth coordination strategy to address timing and phasing of new residential growth in developing and planned neighbourhoods. The strategy will relate to the City’s strategic goals, current and future public infrastructure investment, long term financial sustainability and the amount, location and pace of population and employment growth; and will establish:

  • Expectations for completing developing neighbourhoods
  • Expectations for initiating new Neighbourhood Structure Plans

Another important point is found in section 3.1.1.10:

The Growth Coordination Strategy will address demand for land, housing units, and housing choice at the regional, city-wide and sector level.

You might find the topic kind of dry but make no mistake, ensuring Edmonton can “manage future public obligations and growth opportunities” is of great importance to our city.

Edmonton from Above
Photo by Dave Cournoyer

Despite the importance of the Growth Coordination Strategy, there are just two full-time employees at the City working on it and thus far there has been no official opportunity for public involvement. The first public draft (version 6) of the strategy (PDF) was released in May, but I understand based on conversations with City employees that that is not the same document slated to go to Council in November. A new draft is currently under development that reduces the scope of the strategy, primarily by stripping it of any objective related to infill development. A similar document focused on mature and developing areas would be left to an as yet unplanned and unfunded follow-up project. That means that Council will be considering a document that no citizen has had the opportunity to provide input on, not to mention one that does not seem to meet the requirements specified in the MDP.

No one I talked to knows (or refused to say) why the timeline for this strategy was set so aggressively. There is no doubt in my mind that powerful, well-funded behind-the-scenes lobbying has taken place. After all, without the Growth Coordination Strategy, Food & Ag Strategy, and Integrated Infrastructure Management Plan, new development in Edmonton’s urban growth areas cannot take place. Furthermore, we know from the January 26, 2011 Executive Committee meeting (see this report) that the “discussions began between Administration and Industry on the content of the Growth Coordination Strategy” as early as July 2010.  I think that pressure from “Industry” partially explains why there hasn’t been any public involvement, but it doesn’t explain why the City has put so little funding into the development of this important document.

The Calgary Approach

Calgary has a number of similar documents and initiatives underway. One is called Geodemographics but the big one appears to be the Corporate Framework for Growth and Change:

The Corporate Framework for Growth and Change will guide the future sequencing of growth in Calgary to ensure investments in infrastructure and services are within the financial capacity of The City. The Corporate Framework for Growth and Change is an integral part of Calgary’s Municipal Development Plan (MDP) and growth management.

Note both the timeline and frequency of public involvement for the development of that document. It began in February 2011 and the first public involvement opportunities – a series of stakeholder meetings, plus a blog post open to public input – took place in September and October of that year. A series of stakeholder meetings and forums have been hosted throughout 2012. To be fair, Calgary took a different approach, with Council approving a set of principles early on and the rest of the project unfolding in four phases, but the fact remains that a significant amount of public involvement has taken and continues to take place.

Another thing to note about Calgary’s project – there are at least ten individuals working on it:

A team from across City Departments called the Corporate Growth Management Project (CGMP) team, has been assembled to create the Framework for Growth and Change.

Edmonton and Calgary both pay lip service to managing growth, but only Calgary seems willing to back that up with the necessary funding.

Designing New Neighbourhoods

In contrast to the Growth Coordination Strategy, the Designing New Neighbourhoods project has unfolded much more predictably with multiple opportunities for public input. The outcome of that project is a set of guidelines for Edmonton’s new neighbourhoods. Section 4.1 of the MDP directed the creation of these guidelines, but unlike the Growth Coordination Strategy, technically nothing depends on their existence.

The draft guidelines are slated to go to Council “in early 2013” and already a number of public involvement opportunities have taken place. In May, there was a series of blog posts and an IdeaScale site was created to harvest ideas from citizens. The project team also encouraged the use of Twitter to suggest ideas, a positive step for public involvement at the City!

Importantly, the project also has a Design Team that is “made up of a diverse group of about 30 people from the local development, urban design, and home building industries, as well as members of the City’s Administration, the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues, Edmonton’s Schools Boards, and the University of Alberta’s City-Region Studies Centre.” That same post talks about the inclusion of external consultants too.

The City of Edmonton’s page on Public Involvement states:

The City of Edmonton is committed to involving the people affected by the decisions it makes. We seek diverse opinions, experiences and information so that a wide spectrum of information is available to decision makers.

Designing New Neighbourhoods seems to meet that commitment, but unfortunately, the Growth Coordination Strategy does not.

The Ongoing Abatement of Section 3.1 of the MDP

I’m very concerned that the potential impact of Section 3.1 of the MDP has been continually eroded over the last two years. In February 2011, City Council passed a motion (item 6.16) that redefined eight Neighbourhood Structure Plans from “new” to “existing” which means they are no longer subject to the completion of the Growth Coordination Strategy and other documents. Futhermore, it authorized the preparation of six other Neighbourhood Structure Plans.

Only Councillors Henderson, Iveson, and Sloan opposed the motion. In his remarks on the motion, Councillor Henderson said “I really do think this is an undermining of what we passed in the MDP” and that “our tools to deal with how we grow and when we grow in this city – we’re giving them away.”

Why did this happen? It’s not as though Edmonton is running out of places for people to live. Prior to the motion in February 2011, there were 41 Neighbourhood Structure Plans approved (between 1984 and 2010) and at various stages of development. Together, those plans have a planned capacity of 116,000 resident units yet just 19,000 units have been developed. That means 84% of the development in those areas is still outstanding. There should not be such a rush to develop new land.

Again, I think politics are at play. Our current City Council has been good to the development industry, but with a new Mayor and Council slated to take office next fall, there’s no guarantee that will continue. Better to get as much approved now as possible, if you’re in the land development industry. Unfortunately for citizens this means our city continues to sprawl, more or less free of any restrictions. Sooner or later the cost of that sprawl is going to catch up with us.

Despite clear public input, Edmonton’s draft Food & Agriculture Strategy lacks recommendation to preserve agricultural land

The City of Edmonton released the draft of its Food and Urban Agriculture Strategy yesterday. The 94 page document is called “fresh” and is labeled “version 3”. I’ll be digesting it (and the other 8 associated documents) over the next week or so, but I wanted to share something that I noticed right away. Despite clear public input that Edmonton should preserve agricultural land, the strategy makes no such recommendation. Instead, a “framework” is provided to aid City Council in its decision.

As I wrote back in July, the contentious part of the strategy relates to land use and the preservation of agricultural land within city limits, particularly in the northeast. Deciding what to do with municipal land should never be easy – we should be forced to seriously consider options to make the best decision for the city. Ultimately the decision rests with Council, but I’m disappointed that given the clear feedback on this issue from the public, the Advisory Committee responsible for the strategy chose not to make a clear recommendation.

Section 5.9, under the heading “The Complexity of Issues”, reads:

The Direction to Integrate Land for Agriculture was the most difficult the Advisory Committee tackled. The Committee agreed that some prime agricultural land must be protected for future use and generations, identifying that a need exists for food production within Edmonton. At the same time, Committee members agreed that given the diverse interests represented across the Committee, it could not, and should not be the body to determine how much land should be protected versus developed in specific locations in the Urban Growth Areas. These decisions should be made through existing regulated processes by City Council.

A recommendation is very different than a Council vote. There’s no way the Advisory Committee could have been “the body to determine how much land should be protected versus developed.” Its recommendation to “treat food waste as a resource”, for example, does not detail the specific amounts of food waste that should be dealt with, so why would the Advisory Committee be expected to detail the amount of land to be preserved? The rationale for avoiding a clear recommendation on this issue leaves me unsatisfied.

The Advisory Committee was made up of “fourteen citizens from different parts of Edmonton and with different interests in the food and agriculture sector.” I suppose it should be no surprise that farmers and land developers would differ over what to do with a piece of land. Stakeholders and other citizens were much less divided on the issue, however. Let’s take a look at some of the other documents that were released alongside the draft strategy.

First, we have the Public Opinion Survey Report. It outlines the results of the survey the City ran from June 4 to June 23 (a total of 2,269 people participated). In the open comment box in the section on growing and producing food, the feedback was clear:

“…a number of clear themes emerged, the most emphatically expressed being to preserve arable land, particularly in the Northeast corner of the city.”

Of the 1388 people that left additional comments, 349 or 25% mentioned the importance of preserving municipal agricultural land, the largest of any theme.

Next we have Stakeholder Group Summary for Round 1 and Round 2. In the first round, there were “differing opinions about land use when it comes to agriculture in the City” with passionate arguments on both sides. The second round was much less ambiguous. “The vast majority of respondents agreed that providing land for growing food was a sound direction for Edmonton.”

Finally, there’s the Citizen Panel Report. The sixty-six panelists settled on ten “best of the best” strategies and in their cover letter encouraged City Council and the Advisory Committee to begin implementing them as recommendations. Their top two both deal with preserving agricultural land:

Strategy 1: Create and/or amend zoning, bylaws, fees, and taxes to prohibit developments on good fertile agricultural land, particularly the northeast farmland.

Strategy 2: Maximize spaces and places within the City of Edmonton for urban growing and food production. Develop systems for permanent and ongoing identification, inventory, and assessment of urban spaces for urban growing. The inventory includes identifying the water and soil suitability for a variety of local crops. Create accountable and objective monitoring.

There was a quite a range of participants on the panel, both in terms of age but also background. As you might expect, there were differing opinions on many issues, but the importance of preserving agricultural land was much less controversial:

Panellists were not always in agreement and throughout the Citizen panel there was in depth discussion, dialogue and areas of disagreement. However, the panellists did agree to put forward the overall strategies as outlined in this document. They also clearly articulated a critical need for political will and leadership on issues related to food and agriculture, and the importance of using municipal policy tools to protect existing agricultural land within Edmonton’s city boundaries. Participants also repeatedly expressed, in the strongest possible terms, their desire to see these recommendations treated as high-priority action items.

From the online survey to the stakeholder groups to the citizen panel, the feedback is clear: preserving agricultural land within the City’s boundaries is important. It’s too bad that a clear recommendation to reflect that is not found in the draft strategy.

The draft strategy will be discussed at a non-statutory public hearing on October 26, and you’re encouraged to provide input before that date. There are two open houses taking place this week, downtown on Wednesday and in Old Strathcona on Thursday, and so far they are the only two opportunities to learn more about the draft strategy. You can provide input at those events, by filling out the online survey, and of course by contacting your Councillor at any time.

Here is some other reaction to the draft strategy that you should read:

Food, agriculture and the battle over Edmonton’s future growth

The City of Edmonton is currently developing a comprehensive City-Wide Food & Agriculture Strategy. On the surface this sounds like a great initiative. Many other cities have recognized the vital importance of food and have developed strategies and policies, and it’s about time that Edmonton follows suit. The project introduction makes a strong case for this work:

We live in a dynamic and rapidly growing metropolitan centre with a geographic location that demands a thorough consideration of what it means to be part of the food and agriculture system. We know that a resilient local food and agriculture system can contribute significantly to the local economy and to the overall cultural, financial, social and environmental sustainability of Edmonton and the Capital Region.

Developing the Food & Agriculture Strategy is an important endeavor for our city, and it deserves the time, care, and attention that any other serious policy might receive. So why are we rushing it?

Food in the City
Councillor Loken speaks at the Food in the City kickoff event in McIntyre Park in May 2011

The timeline is aggressive: the project officially started on May 28th, 2011 and is scheduled to go to public hearing in the fall of this year. Considering that public involvement activities did not get underway until this spring (and are already largely over), the reality is that the City is trying to develop this strategy in just a few short months with very limited input.

Other cities have certainly taken their time with similar projects. In Toronto, the Food Policy Council was created in 1991 but the Toronto Food Charter was not accepted until ten years later. The City is now in the process of developing the Toronto Food Strategy. In Vancouver, City Council got the ball rolling in 2003 by calling for the development of a “just and sustainable food system” for their city. Four years later the Vancouver Food Charter was adopted and in 2009, Council adopted urban agriculture design guidelines.

I know that whatever goes to Council in the fall isn’t the end of the road – the strategy will be further developed over time. But I don’t think that’s a reason to rush things now, especially given the apparent reason for the rush: this strategy is one of the final pieces standing in the way of land development on the edges of our city.

The Food & Agriculture Strategy is an opportunity for us to consider the importance of food in Edmonton. It’s an opportunity to increase access to local food, to reduce our ecological footprint, and to contribute significantly to the local economy. But it’s also an opportunity to consider what happens to the agricultural land surrounding Edmonton, and that is ultimately a question about the kind of city we want Edmonton to be.

The Way We Eat

During the development of our latest Municipal Development Plan (MDP), known as The Way We Grow, an organization called the Greater Edmonton Alliance caused quite a stir. On more than one occasion from 2008 to 2010, they filled City Hall with Edmontonians demanding a “vibrant and sustainable food economy.” They staged The Great Potato Giveaway, an impressive publicity stunt that brought food to the forefront of the discussion in Edmonton.

MDP Second Reading
Edmontonians filled City Hall for the Second Reading of the MDP

Their efforts resulted in a key victory: the inclusion of polices related to food and agricultural land in the MDP (3.2.1.6 through 3.2.1.11). In particular, policy 3.2.1.7 which states:

Preparation of Area Structure Plans is authorized for the Northeast, Southeast and Southwest Urban Growth Areas, and shall only be approved following Council acceptance of, and adherence with the:

  • Growth Coordination Strategy;
  • Integrated Infrastructure Management Plan; and
  • City-Wide Food and Agriculture Strategy.

In other words, they convinced Council that a food and agriculture strategy had to be in place before any further development on the edges of the city could proceed. They convinced Council that high soil quality, particularly in Northeast Edmonton, is valuable and should be considered as part of any planning and development in the area.

For a document that many critics, myself included, said lacked any sort of bite with respect to curbing sprawl, this was a remarkable achievement.

The Future Growth of Edmonton

An Area Structure Plan (ASP) is at the core of creating and developing new communities. You can think of an ASP as the link between the Municipal Development Plan, which directs and shapes Edmonton’s urban form at a high level, and Neighbourhood Structure Plans (NSPs), which get into the details about what new neighbourhoods in the area might look like (then there’s NASPs which are ASPs for a single neighbourhood). Residential ASPs generally cover an area of between 200 hectares and 2000 hectares, and provide general guidelines as to how MDP policies are to be realized within that area.

There are currently 18 ASPs/NASPs approved in the City of Edmonton, and they contain a total of 86 NSPs (as of December 2011). Of these, 29 are considered completed in terms of land supply as at least 95% of planned low density lots have been registered. Of the 57 remaining, 13 are not yet approved and are at the planned stage, while 44 are under development. This data comes from the Developing and Planned Neighbourhoods Report for 2011, which states:

As of December 2011, the potential low density residential lot supply that is available in approved ASPs is slightly more than 65,000. Based on current absorption rates, Edmonton has an average of 18 years of remaining land supply.

Land supply remaining in the approved Area Structure Plans ranges from a high of 19 years in the Southwest sector to a low of 9 years in the Northeast sector.

The Capital Region Board estimates that by 2040, the population of Edmonton will grow from the current 812,000 to approximately 1.2 million. They project demand for 146,000 new dwelling units by 2039. To put that into perspective, Edmonton currently has a little over 338,000 dwelling units. It’s worth noting that these estimates are based on past trends of larger suburban rather than urban growth. Councillor Iveson wrote at length about this issue during the development of the MDP, which he flippantly called ‘The Way We Sprawl’:

In other words, for fiscal, social and environmental reasons, there is a strong case against conceding to so much peripheral development. Again, I’m not calling for a halt to it, since I don’t see how we could accomplish that under current legislation. I’m calling for greater urbanization within today’s footprint. We’re told that market demand’s not there, that demand is for the suburbs, and that we can’t fight that. But I think we have to work to make urban living more family-friendly – which we’re beginning to do – and we need to make it competitive in terms of affordability. This is work worth doing, even if it’s hard.

So, you can look at those numbers for remaining lot supply and determine than we’d have a shortfall of around 81,000 units but you have to keep in mind that the 65,000 refers only to low density units on the periphery. We also need to consider the medium to high density residential capacity in approved ASPs, which totals 65,100 units, as well as redevelopment projects in the mature and established suburban areas which total an estimated 44,600 units.

MDP Land Use

The alternative is to look at the three “Urban Growth Areas” defined in the MDP (the brown areas on the map above). Rural Southeast, Rural West, and Rural Northeast would together provide an additional 15 years of low density capacity (55,000) units plus additional medium to high density capacity of 24,500 units.

So let’s do the math:

Existing low density capacity in approved growth areas 65,000
Existing medium/high density capacity in approved growth areas 65,100
Mature & established suburban redevelopment capacity 44,600
TOTAL (excluding Urban Growth Areas) 174,700
New low density capacity in Urban Growth Areas 55,000
New medium/high density capacity in Urban Growth Areas 24,500
TOTAL 254,200

As you can see our total capacity is significantly more than anticipated demand of 146,000 units. Even excluding the Urban Growth Areas, we’d have a surplus of 28,700 units. Why would we bother developing the three Urban Growth Areas when we have more than enough capacity in existing, approved areas?

Northeast Edmonton

Of the three Urban Growth Areas, changes for the Northeast seem most imminent. As mentioned above, the Northeast sector of the city has the lowest amount of land supply at an estimated 9 years. It also has the highest forecasted job growth through 2024, with an estimated 12,000 jobs being created over that time. But even with that growth, the area will only represent 2-3% of the city’s total workforce. Wouldn’t extending the LRT further into that area to serve the economic need be a better investment than building new neighbourhoods?

The ASP that is being proposed for the eastern part of the Northeast sector is known as Horse Hill. The name was recently approved by the City’s Naming Committee.

The name Horse Hill comes from the area’s historical association with Fort Edmonton. It was previously used as the home of Fort Edmonton’s horse guard (Blue 1924). During this time, as many as 800 horses were kept here , playing an important role in the maintenance and protection of Fort Edmonton.

The area is approximately 3700 hectares and is bounded by Manning Drive on the west, the North Saskatchewan River on the east, and Anthony Henday Drive on the south (some of the neighbourhoods nearby include McConachie, Gorman, Brintnell, and Kirkness). Development of the ASP is being led by Stantec Consulting and the Stakeholder Advisory Group is made up of landowners, community leagues, residents, and the City. They have already circulated a draft to dozens of departments at the City, even though they know the Food & Agriculture Strategy needs to be in place first. The audacity to move ahead with a draft ASP underscores just how pervasive the business-as-usual mentality really is.

The most unique feature of the Northeast is of course the agricultural land. You’ve probably heard of some of the farms located there: Kuhlmann’s, Norbest Farms, Visser Farms, Horse Hill Berry Farm, and Riverbend Gardens to name just a few. I had the opportunity to tour Riverbend Gardens back in 2010 and found it breathtaking. Their 120 acres of land is pretty much as far as you can go northeast and still be within the boundaries of Edmonton.

Riverbend Gardens
Riverbend Gardens

Roughly 17% of land in Alberta is good for farming, and the majority of that is situated along the Edmonton-to-Calgary corridor. Edmonton is lucky to have Class 1, 2, and 3 agricultural soils within the city limits, but so far we have not done a very good job of preserving it. Since 1982, Edmonton has lost 74% of its Class 1 soils. Still, in 2009 the average net profit per acre in Edmonton was $79.68, more than double any other location in the Capital Region. And in the Northeast? The average net profit per acre was $270.72. The value of the land in the Northeast needs to be recognized.

Directly to the west of this area, across Manning Drive, is the Edmonton Energy and Technology Park. That ASP was approved by Council on June 9, 2010. The intent is to capitalize on the byproducts left over from oil sands production (the area is about 15 kilometers from existing and proposed upgrader sites).

The Edmonton Energy and technology Park provides a vision for a new eco-industrial area for the city of Edmonton. The opportunity for value-added industries and significant economic spin-off activity based on the development of Alberta’s oil sands was the catalyst for the development of this industrial plan. EETP is designed to take advantage of the primary petrochemicals and products from upgrading and refining in the region.

The 4857 hectare-sized area will be developed over the next 40 years with four primary land use precincts: petrochemical, manufacturing, logistics, and research & development. This is where a lot of that job growth is expected to come from.

crb transportation plan

Partially as a result of the expected increase in industrial activity on the west side of Manning Drive, plans currently exist to connect Highway 28A with Highway 21 via an expressway that would cut right through existing farmland and cross the North Saskatchewan River. The Capital Region Board (CRB) scored a victory in December 2011 when the Province agreed to shelve plans for the Regional Ring Road, but it seems that has done little to protect agricultural land in the Northeast. The CRB’s Integrated Regional Transportation Master Plan includes the expressway as a potential high load corridor (subject to further engineering and technical review). Who knows if the road will actually be built, but the draft Horse Hill ASP includes it.

horse hill asp

In anticipation of this development, an awful lot of land has changed hands. Some estimates suggest that just 15% of land in the area is still owned by original owners. Walton International, a land developer (some would say speculator) that has been active in the Edmonton region for many years, is now the largest landowner in the area. They purchase land at a small premium with the expectation that its value will be significantly increased as the opportunity to develop it draws near. There are a number of holdouts however, including Riverbend Gardens. Recently they and others formed the Northeast Edmonton Agricultural Producers association and launched Friends of Farmers to draw attention to the potential loss of agricultural land.

Business-as-Usual Growth

We cannot afford to grow in the future the way we have in the past. Councillor Iveson highlighted this section of the Growth Coordination Strategy after an initial read:

Although not included in the analysis at this time, operating and maintenance costs in suburban areas represents a significant operational expenditure to the City. Also a large component of capital spending, rehabilitation and replacement of infrastructure is not included in the analysis presented either. Administration is working towards the inclusion of these expenses into future versions of the Growth Coordination Strategy, but at this time the methodology for the gathering and synthesis of the data required for this is not developed sufficiently.

He then stated, “I’m concerned we may not have this full picture before the next Area Structure Plans (for the North East and South West green patches) come up for debate this fall.”

Some land developers will tell you that the City has an obligation to move forward on the three Urban Growth Area ASPs. To them, the City made a promise to develop the land when it annexed the three regions back in 1981. But can we really afford to hold the City of today to decisions that were made over thirty years ago?

I don’t know why the City pursued that annexation in 1981 – I wasn’t yet born – but the answer might be found in Doug Kelly’s book $100,000 An Acre. In Chapter 12 he writes about the development of Campbelltown (now known as Sherwood Park) in the 1950s and in Chapter 14 he elaborates on the City of Edmonton’s opposition to the development. “The city, even then, was concerned about fringe developments and its inability to tax or control development without annexation.” The McNally Report in 1956 and the Hanson Report in 1968 both recommended that Edmonton be allowed to annex St. Albert, Sherwood Park, and the industrial area of Strathcona County. “In all cases, the provincial government knuckled under to the small rural population and disallowed the annexation. It was an injustice to the citizens of Edmonton from which they have never fully recovered.”

SHERWOOD PARK, ALBERTA MAY 8th 1962 PIC 2
Sherwood Park in May of 1962

I wonder if that experience caused the City to become more aggressive about acquiring the surrounding land decades later. Perhaps they realized the situation for cities was not going to improve. When the province eliminated the Planning Act in 1995 and placed all legislation concerning land development into the Municipal Government Act (MGA), it didn’t come without a cost. “Now the rural municipalities can develop to the fringes of urban municipalities, greatly restricting the latter’s ability to expand for future growth,” Kelly wrote.

The relationship between urban municipalities and the province today seems poised for renewal. With the announcement last month that Calgary, Edmonton, and the province have committed to developing a big city charter, there’s hope that positive changes are on the way for Alberta’s big cities and the options they have for dealing with the unique challenges of growth.

Land developers have sunk money into the Urban Growth Areas and the only way they can get it back and make a profit is for the City to continue growing the way it has been. For sprawl to continue unabated. As a result, the City and Council are almost certainly feeling pressured to get these ASPs approved, but there is absolutely no requirement that they do so. All they must do is follow the process established under the MGA and its ASP Terms of Reference.

We must be willing to stand up and declare that the Edmonton of 2012 and beyond will be a more compact, sustainable city than the Edmonton of 1981. Change is hard, but if the will is there it can be done. We need to be willing to say that if you’ve based your business on decisions that were made over three decades ago, too bad; Edmontonians are no longer picking up the tab.

Food & Agriculture

In our haste to continue unnecessarily growing outward, I’m concerned that we’re going to end up with a Food & Agriculture Strategy that reflects the limited time and attention devoted to it. Determining the true value of the land in the Northeast is just one piece of the puzzle, there are so many other aspects to food and agriculture in the Edmonton region that should be considered.

The discussion primer for the project hits all the right notes, of course.

As part of the strategy, a comprehensive inventory of agricultural assets is being undertaken, as well as an assessment of local food business opportunities. The strategy will include a summary of this background information in order to provide a sense of the current state of food and agriculture in the city and what potential exists. Example practices from across North America are also being examined, as mentioned earlier, in order to gather ideas for what might work in Edmonton.

Assessing local food business opportunities, compiling a comprehensive inventory of agricultural assets – these are excellent ideas, but they are not things that can be completed overnight.

Consulting the right people takes time too. I had the opportunity to attend two consultation events, neither of which was very well attended. At the second such event, there was a lot of great discussion about farmers markets, food hubs, educating people about basic food skills, and much more. And yet, we barely scratched the surface.

Let’s use farmers markets as an example. Yes, everyone seems to agree that farmers markets are a great thing, but what good is a strategy if that’s all it says? Do we have the right number of farmers markets in the Edmonton region? What challenges do they face? What could the City do to help address those and other challenges? Do we have enough producers to support all the markets? These questions deserve to be explored in depth.

Highlands Market
Shoppers at one of Edmonton’s newest markets in Highlands

Given the limited time, I’m not confident that the final strategy will be anything more than a collection of high level goals. I’m sure it’ll be a great read, but I doubt it will be so bold as to make any strong recommendations to Council on how to actually achieve the vision of having a resilient food and agriculture system in Edmonton.

I hope I’m wrong, but I fear the Food & Agriculture Strategy will be viewed as nothing more than another box checked on the road to additional sprawl.

Closing Thoughts

Both the Growth Coordination Strategy and the Food & Agriculture Strategy are slated to go to Council sometime this fall. The Horse Hill ASP is also slated to be reviewed toward the end of October. City Council will soon be on summer break until the end of August, and I’d love for them to return to a flood of messages from Edmontonians expressing their thoughts on this issue. They need to know that a significant number of people support their efforts to curb urban sprawl.

The bottom line is that the agricultural land on the edge of Edmonton is some of the best land in the province. With more than enough capacity to support anticipated population growth within existing areas, there’s no good reason to relinquish such a valuable asset, especially before a proper analysis of the land and how it fits into Edmonton’s future is completed and a strategy is approved.

This is not just a battle between land developers and farmers in the city’s Northeast. This is a battle over the kind of City we want Edmonton to be. I want Edmonton to be a economically and environmentally sustainable city that recognizes the importance of food security and the value of a more compact region. How about you?