Calgary evolving into five cities

Over the past week or so I have had several discussions with people about the pros and cons of the City of Calgary's proposed Scenario A and Scenario B changes to the existing 14 Ward boundaries.  Some see the changes as major, others as minor.  Kudos to the city for publishing the two scenarios they think would work best on their website and asking public input. 

Personally, I am thinking the two scenarios are not significantly different and that we should be looking a radical boundary changes that will significantly change how our city is governed in the future.  Here are a few other scenarios that should be considered: 

Scenario C -  The map below illustrate how the City is are monitor growth in our city and where their is land available for both residential and commercial growth.  It is interesting to note from a strategic growth planning perspective the City has created eight sectors based on several common denominators, not 14. Therefore, why not have just 8 Wards with boundaries that match these sectors?  

Scenario D - Perhaps we should even go further and develop just five Wards - Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, Northwest and Centre.  We could have two Councillors for each ward for a total of 10, four less than the current 14.  

Scenario E  - We could be even more radical and have no Wards and just elect 10 Councillors at large. Perhaps this would help remove the urban/suburban split that exists in Council today as all of the members would have city-wide mandates, versus the special interests of their Ward. 

I am thinking a few more scenarios would create much more debate and perhaps result in real change. 

These sectors are based upon general planning, housing markets and servicing criteria. The suburban sectors have strong relationships to future servicing and infrastructure requirements. (City of Calgary, Suburban Residential Growth 2015 - 2019 Report).

Current residential population and employment in each of the City's geomatic sectors. 

In thinking about this issue, I remembered a column I did for the Calgary Herald back in 2011 about "Calgary evolving into five cities." I have reprinted it below as it is no longer available on the Herald's website.  I hope that you will find it thought provoking. 

"A Tale of Five Cities"

By Richard White, Calgary Herald June 11, 2011

One of Calgary’s advantages during the past 50 years has been its ability to annex land and surrounding communities as it grows.  Examples include Forest Lawn and Midnapore in 1961, or Bowness in 1963.

As a result, Calgary has been able to evolve as a single city with a healthy inner city and suburban neighbourhoods, rather than a fragmented urban region such as Edmonton with large, suburban edge cities (OK, Calgary may not be perfect, but it’s better than most.) This is not the case for most North American cities.

Fragmentation of North American cities

In most cases, the original city was surrounded by smaller towns with their own town council, as well as fire, water, safety and school systems. During the past 50 years, these small “edge towns” have mostly become large, independent cities able to offer lower taxes and housing because they didn’t have transit systems, social programs or an aging infrastructure. This resulted in more and more residents and businesses choosing to locate to such places. For example, in 1961, the City of Vancouver’s population was 384,522, with a regional population of 827,000.

Today, the lower mainland of B.C. has a population of 2.5 million divided into 21 municipalities, with Vancouver representing only 23 per cent of the metro population -down from 46 per cent in 1961. On the other hand, Calgary’s population in 1961 was 249,641, or 89 per cent of the regional population of 279,000. Today, the City of Calgary’s population is 1,071,515, or 81 per cent of the regional population.

During the past 50 years, Airdrie has grown to a city of 39,822, Okotoks to 23,201, Cochrane to 15,424 and Strathmore to 12,139 -but they are still, for the most part, bedroom communities of Calgary. In the past, this growth has been mostly residential. However, more and more these edge cities are experiencing retail and industrial growth as a result of no business taxes and lower land costs.

Calgary will not be able to annex these cities as they did in the past, which could lead to fragmented development in the future.  As Calgary has grown, even internally, its residents have begun to think less and less like those of a unified city and more and more like a fragmented one.

One of the unique features of Calgary is that despite living in a city of more than a million, for the most part people live in one of four quadrants. If you divide them into 250,000 people apiece, that’s roughly a city the size of Saskatoon or Victoria for each quadrant.

Many Calgarians living in the northwest never cross the Bow River except to go downtown to work. Similarly, those who live in the southwest also never cross the Bow River except to get to the airport. More and more Calgarians are identifying with the quadrant they live in.

Downtown is an island of skyscrapers in a sea of low rise buildings.  In this photo you can see how the Bow River divides the western half of the city into north and south quadrants. (photo credit Peak Aerials).

A City Divided?

When it comes to new infrastructure, the city is currently very divided. The airport tunnel, though an issue for businesses and residents in the northeast, is a nonissue for the rest of the city. The southeast LRT extension, though a key issue for southeast downtown commuters, isn’t an issue for southeasterners who don’t work downtown -nor for those who live in the city’s other three quadrants. The ring road connection is a key issue for those in the southwest now that they have their LRT connection to downtown, but less so for others.

More and more, Calgary is a city divided. We are now living in a “what about me” (WAM) society. Most 20th century cities -including Calgary -are now dealing with problems based on that century’s downtowncentric model of planning cities.  In other words, downtown was made the focal point for al commercial, cultural and civic activities, as well as roads and transit.

While there are few cities in the world as downtowncentric as Calgary, our downtown struggles to thrive in the evenings and weekends when commuters are back home in the suburbs. And while downtown is still Calgary’s economic engine, other parts of the city are developing their own character, charm and culture.

Another problem is that while downtown remains important to the everyday lives of 20 per cent of Calgarians, for the other 80 per cent, it is not part of their urban experience on a monthly, quarterly, or for some even an annual basis.

Fish Creek Park divides the communities north and south of this huge provincial park within the city limits. 

Weaselhead Flats and the Glenmore Reservoir serve as a natural dividing line between the inner city and established communities to the south. 

I see Calgary quickly evolving into five distinct “cities,” each with their own economic base, amenities and culture: the Learning City, the Airport City, the Playground City, the Corporate City and the Healthcare/Rail City.

Five Future Cities?

I thought it might be interesting to look at how Calgary might evolve over the next 50 years.

The Learning City

This is primarily the northwest quadrant of the city running from the Bow River to the city’s northern limits, and from Deerfoot Trail to the city’s western limits. Its employment centres are the University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre (teaching hospital), SAIT Polytechnic and Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD). This is where the majority of professors, instructors, doctors, nurses and other staff live, work and play.

It has two major parks: Nose Hill and Bowness Park. Recreationally, it has Canada Olympic Park and Shouldice Athletic Park, as well as several major recreation centres. It has more than five million square feet of retail, including Market Mall, Northland Village mall, North Hill Mall, Brentwood Mall and Crowfoot Power Centre.

It is also home to Calgary’s first urban village - Kensington, with its cafe culture and Plaza Theatre. About 325,000 people live in the Learning City.

University District will become a new urban village on the west side of the University of Calgary campus. (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

SAIT campus (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

University of Calgary campus (photo credit peak aerials) 

Foothill Medical Centre (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

The Airport City

This is basically the northeast quadrant of the city, an area from east of Deerfoot Trail and north of 17th Avenue S.E.

The airport is the key differentiator for this “city.” and the driver for its economy is the almost 40-million square feet of industrial space and six-million square feet of suburban office space surrounding the airport.

It is home to about 230,000 Calgarians, who not only work there but shop (International Avenue, Marborough Mall, Sunridge Mall and CrossIron Mills could be included as part of the Airport City) and play (Rotary Park and Elliston Park) there.

The Airport City could also be called our multicultural city.

Calgary International Airport (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

New suburban residential development at the edge of the city. (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

The Playground City

This is all communities south the City Centre and Mcleod Trail. It is where the majority of corporate Calgary lives and plays. It is home to Chinook Centre, Calgary’s largest shopping centre, as well as IKEA, Southcentre, WestHills and Shawnessy Power Centres -almost 10 million square feet of retail space. It is served by two legs of the LRT.

It is also home to amenities such as the Westside, Southland and Trico recreation centres, as well as Glenmore Reservoir, Weaselhead, Fish Creek and Heritage Parks, along with Spruce Meadows. Surrounded by golf courses at its edges, it also has three private clubs -Calgary Golf and Country Club, Earl Grey, and Canyon Meadows -within its boundaries.

It has two non-retail employment centers -Mount Royal University/Westmount Office Park and Manchester industrial area.

About 400,000 people live in our Playground City.

The Corporate (Centre) City

This is the area from Inglewood to Sunalta, from Crescent Heights to Roxboro (in other words, the Bow/Elbow River Valley.) It overlaps with the Learning City on the north side of the river. Not only is it the economic engine for Calgary and one of the top economic engines for Canada. It is the heart, soul and face of Calgary.

It is home to Calgary's truly urban districts -  Kensington Village, Uptown 17th, Stephen Avenue Walk, Design District, 4th Street and Inglewood Village.

It is also home to more than 60 million square feet of offices, hotels, retail, restaurants, attractions and condos. It is one of the most densely developed areas in North America.

It is Calgary’s corporate, cultural and civic headquarters and home to most of our cultural, festival and sporting events. It is home to Stampede Park, Shaw Millennium Park and Prince’s Island Park, as well as signature recreation facilities such as Talisman Centre, Bankers Hall Club and Eau Claire Y.

More than 150,000 Calgarians come to work here each workday, with about 70,000 calling it home.

Municipal Building with old City Hall (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

Shaw Millennium Park & Mewata Armories (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

New condo in downtown's West End (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

The Healthcare / Railway City

This is Calgary’s newest city. Located in the southeast, it will soon be dominated by the new mega-South Health Campus in Seton.

It is also Calgary’s largest industrial area, with more than 45.9 million square feet of industrial space and more than three million square feet of suburban office space, including the new Quarry Park development.

Existing recreational and park amenities include Calgary Soccer Centre, Fish Creek Park and Carburn Park. It is currently home to about 75,000 people but it is expected to grow to more than 120,000 by 2020.

South Health Campus anchors the new SETON community which will create a new city with in the city complete with its own downtown. (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

Quarry Park office, retail and residential development (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

Fish Creek Library (Peak Aerials)

Conclusion

Cities are a human creation. They are part of the ongoing human adventure. They are a work in progress. We are still experimenting. Calgary needs to rethink the North American city of the 21st century.

We need to stop trying to Europeanize our city and develop a winter/prairie urban model that embraces the car, transit, pedestrians and bikes.

Calgary could be a leader in the development of new urban models, rather than imitating what cities did 100 years ago.

We need to look inward, not outward, and start thinking BIG and planning in terms of how can we foster the development of five distinct sustainable Calgary cities - each with their own quality of life, their own sense of place, and their own mix of employment, residential, retail/restaurant, parks, recreation and cultural centres.

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Calgary Region: An Inland Port

Understanding Calgary's DNA