After years of sprawl and outward growth, Edmonton is finally trying to innovate. It's nice to now see a city administration that wants to take a step back and consider the implications of unchecked growth; or, at the very least, make Edmonton more livable.
City council approved The Way We Green last week, a planning document outlining a vision for a more sustainable city. It's part of The Way Ahead, a series of planning documents the city is putting together to take us up to 2040.
Developers are already decrying The Way We Green, claiming it will halt development in the city, and implying it could turn Edmonton into one big ghost town. It's mostly overblown rhetoric by a formerly powerful lobby used to calling all the shots when it comes to development in the provincial capital.
Council has outlined a vision for the city that, for once, doesn't include massive sprawl and the annexation of surrounding farm land in order to build cheap houses on the outskirts of town.
While a boon to the development community, these fringe communities make it increasingly harder for the city to extend services to all citizens. Everything, from police and fire services to transit, has to be stretched to accommodate new communities that can be almost an hour's commute from the downtown core.
The plan doesn't put a complete stop to development on the outskirts, but it could make the lives of developers a lot more difficult — depending on the interpretation of the document.
The Way We Green outlines a dozen "challenges" for the city moving ahead, from water supply and quality to growth and waste management: goals that every Edmontonian would agree are important. But they'll clash with the development lobby, which realizes it's their bottom dollar that's impacted by the city's new direction.
For instance, when it comes to ecosystems, the planning document says communities should be "full of nature." Again, depending on interpretation, that could mean a lot more headaches for developers intent on cramming houses into the smallest possible lots at the expense of open green space.
Other goals include making Edmonton carbon neutral and generating zero waste. While lofty, they're goals we should be aiming to hit by 2040, which is still a long way off.
Timelines and interpretation will also play a big part of what the goal actually means in practice. Being "waste free" could mean 10 different things to 10 different people. And even if the goal is fairly straightforward — say becoming carbon neutral — there're innumerable ways to achieve it between now and 2040.
The vagueness of the plan will now go to administration to be turned into more concrete, short-term goals which can be debated.
Regardless, The Way We Green is another example of council's recent prioritization of green development and having a livable city over lower taxes and filling potholes. Everything from improving old neighbourhoods and extending the LRT to Century Park to increasing the number of bike paths, makes a better city — essentially an Edmonton we want to live in.
We shouldn't be afraid of these documents and cow to the whining developers concerned about next year's profits. Edmonton is our city, and we should strive to make it a great city, not one in which we reward building endless houses for a quick buck.