Regional cooperation won’t be easy, but critical for future

It takes a lot of hands to hold up the sky, and the same can be said for building sustainable communities that are interconnected and benefit from each other’s populations and infrastructure.

Clearly, actually achieving this is easier in theory than in practice.

The Capital Region Board (CRB) was created to guide growth in the Edmonton Region and to ensure it doesn’t devolve into endless urban sprawl (ever spent time in the Greater Toronto Area? That’s what we don’t want).

While it’s a sensible goal, a bloated 24-member board covering an area of nearly 12,000 kilometres isn’t the best vehicle to achieve it. A report that came out last month calling for greater regional cooperation seems to confirm this.

Realistically, the Village of Warburg (population 789 as of 2011) does not have the same priorities as the City of Edmonton, or even the City of Fort Saskatchewan. The nine-member Metro Mayors Alliance, consisting of Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, Leduc County, Parkland County, Spruce Grove, St. Albert, Strathcona County and Sturgeon County, makes far more sense.

I often hear representatives of municipalities say they want to grow up, not out, and yet we keep seeing more annexation requests. Consider Edmonton, which at 684 kilometres squared, is a massive, sprawling city. It covers more geographical area than each of Canada’s three most populated cities do individually, not to mention Chicago and Seattle. With an actual city population of only 900,000, it boggles the mind.

And yet, I watched in awe at an annexation merit meeting last summer as the City of Edmonton, seeking to annex lands from Leduc County (and battling the Town of Beaumont over the same land), argued that Beaumont was not entitled to expansion because they’re not currently meeting the CRB’s density target of 25-30 dwelling units per net hectare (while Edmonton builds a massive, spread-out “brewery district” with excessive surface parking).

Meanwhile, Beaumont argued that Edmonton only wanted to grow south so it could be closer to the airport and have more industrial land. It was hardly a harmonious discussion. 

Strathcona County and Fort Saskatchewan are in a similar situation, with the Fort seeking to annex county lands. They recently met to discuss the ongoing process, and appear to agree that an amicable relationship is critical for the region’s future success.

The Fort is making positive moves in densification, with communities such as Southfort and Sherridon achieving the CRB’s density targets at roughly 25 and 27 dwelling units per net hectare. And I must commend Fort Saskatchewan City Council for approving land-use changes at the Fort Station on June 28, which will allow higher buildings and multi-family residential units. This seems like a sensible decision for that development. I’m sure there are ways to mitigate concerns about parking. After all, we want to reduce people’s dependency on their cars, so a mixed-use development with retail and residential close together makes sense.

Going forward, it’s important to recognize when municipalities make smart, sensible decisions to accommodate growth.

It’s one step in being proactive and shaping our future, rather than have it dictated to us.

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