On July 26, Council will consider the approval of what has been referred to as “new business cases,” “new communities,” “edge growth,” and more commonly, “urban sprawl.”
Five new suburban communities were recommended by City Administration to be brought forward to Council to be considered at the November budget discussions. Instead, several of my colleagues put forward amendments to speed the process up by several months, before we even have a budget in hand.
Further amendments were put forward to have Administration report back in September with the potential outcome of even more communities being approved, against Administration’s recommendation. This is not the first time Council has done this.
I voted against these amendments at committee.
Calgary currently has 39 new communities already in progress. That amounts to between 15 to 21 total years of land supply already approved. The five proposed suburban communities would add two to three years to this supply.
But at what cost? I am not in favour of the three, five, or eight new suburban communities. And I am not in favour of having these new proposed suburban communities bypass the November budget discussions.
To be economically, socially, and environmentally viable, Calgary must grow up, not out.
City Administration has stated that five new suburban communities could be justified as they would make use of already-committed (but not yet paid for) capital costs. Put simply, these fill in the edges of already-approved suburban communities, making use of the new infrastructure that has already been committed to.
Calgary taxpayers are on the hook for the additional operational costs of providing services like transit, roads, utilities and emergency services to these communities. This would cost between two to five million dollars annually. But that is just this budget cycle. After 2027 and into some unnamed future (currently referred to as 2027+), there is still four billion dollars' worth of costs that will need to be spent to complete all of these new communities.
Consider this, Calgary has a geographical footprint the size of New York City, but one-sixth of the population. Every time we build a new community at the edge of the city without committing to growth in the established areas, we stretch resources even further, and there is only one person left holding the bag: you.
You pay for these communities through more of your tax dollars going to the edges of the city, instead of where you live now. You pay for these communities by destroying more of our natural landscapes and prairies. You pay for it in the rising cost of living in established areas. You pay for it, in the middle of the present climate emergency, with a 1% increase in GHG emissions.
With every challenge facing Calgarians today – from homelessness to the climate emergency – my colleagues are committing millions to communities that don’t exist, while we fight for pennies to support the ones that do.
If these were the last cases of edge growth to be approved by Council, I might consider these proposals more closely. However, to my knowledge, no Councillor has expressed a desire to make this the last time Calgary approves more suburban growth. It is just more of the same.
Just because this is how we’ve done it, doesn’t mean that this is how we have to keep doing it.
Especially when every indication points toward the need for a new path forward.
This is a refusal to change in the face of our modern context. This is a mistake.
Calgary’s climate commitments are incompatible with more suburban expansion
The climate impact of these proposed new communities is plainly obvious: “the recommended portfolio of business cases will result in an increase in citywide emissions of approximately 1 per cent at full buildout.”
Calgary declared a Climate Emergency in November 2021. We are already witnessing the effects of climate change manifest in extreme weather events like floods, fires and heat waves. These events are being felt locally but are also affecting billions of people across the globe. Extreme weather events will only worsen as the climate crisis escalates.
We need to commit to policy choices that make lowering our emissions possible. You do not get to a destination without moving—we will not reach the necessary climate targets by 2050 if we do not start now. Carbon pulses we emit now will circulate for a very long time, and it is critical that we draw down our emissions as quickly as possible. Climate adaptation and mitigation already stands to be a formidable challenge, and we do ourselves and future generations no favours by locking in future emissions.