Have you noticed the addiction to urban sprawl in Alberta? It’s not hard to spot. In Calgary, have a look over by Canada Olympic Park. In Edmonton, check out the gargantuan concrete monoliths as you drive into the city on Highway #2.
The current annexation saga which the City of Edmonton thinks is going to solve all its problems illustrates perfectly the problems of urban sprawl, usually defined as the ever-growing edges of a city that do not take into account factors such as the agriculture industry, the environment, sense of community or community aesthetics, but rather focus on ribbon-cuttings and the one group which benefits the most from this problem: developers.
Is it really necessary to make the city’s footprint larger? It certainly allows a major metropolis like Edmonton to instantly absorb high-tax properties and avoid the costs of brownfield development.
What is brownfield development? That’s the rehabilitation of older areas of the city that may have issues like low tax rate, crime and bad roads. It’s not an attractive, high profile activity like a surprise annexation. Brownfield development takes community consultation, partnership with business and lots and lots of planning.
Annexation is sort of like jumping into deep, quick debt. It’s easy to do, but you pay the price later.
Inner city decay and urban decline are buzzwords being thrown around in the United States right now as bad planning, particularly urban sprawl, comes back to haunt those who championed it.
Large cities in the U.S. like San Francisco have watched urban sprawl pop up on the city fringe with shiny new suburbs, encouraging people to move to the outskirts, which increases pollution because more commuting time is required and causes skyrocketing infrastructure budgets as more and more road structure is needed.
Sprawl also contributes to a problem called inner city decay. As people flee the city for suburbs, demand for inner city property drops. As demand drops it takes land value along with it and certain activities that thrive in depressed value neighbourhoods show up, notably crime and pollution. It’s become so nasty in certain downtown areas of Frisco that businesses on those streets leave their doors locked 24 hours a day and customers have to make an appointment to get in.
It behooves not just the large cities like Calgary and Edmonton to embrace practices like brownfield development, but Alberta as a whole must follow suit. Leave the fringe areas and farmland to do what they best and make the most of the areas already inside the cities that are close to communities and have existing road structures and utilities connected to them. Let’s also be careful about residential subdivisions popping up in the middle of agricultural communities and ensure all land inside large cities is redeveloped before sprawl or annexation is mentioned.
That way, Albertans can live in a province devoid of politicians who prefer to turn an urban meat grinder that turns beautiful Alberta land into an ugly wasteland with parking lots and freeway support columns as far as the eye can see.