Time to grow up: My thoughts on urban sprawl

Last night I watched an episode of 'House Hunters' on HGTV Canada. The hunters in question, pregnant with their first child, and living in a 650 sq. foot 1 bedroom apartment, were looking to buy a new home for their growing family. The number one criteria on their house wish list was to stay in the Old Town district of Alexandria, Virginia. They looked at the requisite three properties. The first one was an older home and needed way too much upgrading to be financially viable for them, the second was a completely renovated 900 square foot row house a 10 minute walk from Old Town that was $15,000 above their budget and the third was a beautiful 1900 sq ft home, $30,ooo below budget, with a huge backyard, but 8 miles (~13 km) away from where they wanted to be. After the suspenseful cut and commercial break, my husband and I were somewhat shocked that in the end they chose the second house, paid the full list price for it and gained a mere 250 more square feet of home. They got exactly what they wanted though and that was to be right in the thick of Old Town Alexandria. Able to walk or take public transit to anywhere they needed to be, shop locally, and enjoy their community as the backyard in which they wish raise their child.


We are in the middle of a civic election in my fair city. And this one is kind of a big deal. Our current Mayor is stepping down and not running for re-election and we have a potential for 7 out of 13 councillor positions up for grabs from newbies. It is an interesting time to be an Edmontonian.

Yeah, that's right, I live in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. We have 6-8 months of winter, 2 months of festivals (summer) and a couple of brown months in between. And according to the most recent census (2011), Edmonton is the second fastest growing metropolis in Canada, just slightly behind our neighbours to the south in Calgary.

Our growth is a good thing. It means more people are wanting to come and live and work and raise their families in our city. It means more businesses want to open up shop in our city and bring good people with them. It means that our reputation is growing in a positive way outside of our city boundaries.

And yes, it also means that these same city "boundaries" are being pushed as well to accommodate our growth. I used to be able to tell you what the farthest most neighbourhoods in our city were and could navigate this city that I knew by heart. Now I have no idea where I am going half the time and I have to rely on Siri to tell me where to turn and when I have FINALLY reached my destination . Every day a new development is being advertised, more farmland is being taken over and we are inching closer and closer to our neighbouring cities and towns. Oh, Edmonton is growing alright, kind of like a 50 year old man with a penchant for a daily dose of A&W Teenburgers, we keep growing OUT and having to loosen up our belts more and more.

I think this is a problem for our city. I think that we are being sold a story of "responsible urban planning" by those who have a vested interest in such development. And I believe that the citizens of Edmonton who have bought into the idea that a home is only a home if you have a backyard and that one can only raise a family and live well in the suburbs are starting to feel the sting of these stories. A lack of infrastructure in these fast-tracked developments leaves city planners scrambling to provide decent public transportation to and from these areas, enough schools and community support for all of these new families and an open door policy for big box stores to accommodate the masses, a practice that inevitably drives out more and more locally-owned small businesses.

I also happen to believe there is a better way and I am not the only one. I think it is time for our city to grow UP as well as OUT. I think we need to take a closer look at different ways to create vibrant, new-ish, communities within our current boundaries. I believe that there are a lot more "House Hunters" out there looking for the same kind of live, play, work, raise-my-family-in-my-community-back-yard, that the couple above was looking for and that our city has a huge potential to develop communities like this within our core. The good news is that it is starting to happen already.

I firmly believe that our new mayor and city council need to take a good hard look at our city and really decide what is best for current and future Edmontonians going forward (and not what is in the best interest of the developers who pad their election campaigns). How can we make living in our city's core more appealing to families coming to Edmonton? How do we develop our city so that the only option for family housing is not a cookie cutter box in the suburbs on the outskirts of the city, with one skinny tree on the front yard and an hour long bus ride for junior to get to his/her school? How can we address higher density housing and building family-friendly communities? What about infill development in mature neighbourhoods? These are the kinds of questions that I am wondering about as we head into this election and this next chapter in Edmonton's history. This is the kind of change and leadership I am looking for from my new mayor and city councillors.


Candidates.... who's up for this? Who wants to make Edmonton not only one of the fastest growing cities in Canada, but also one of the SMARTEST growing cities in Canada?

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P.S. Check out my Twitter timeline from earlier this afternoon for a lively discussion of this and other #yegvote concerns from myself and some other concerned citizens. I should really learn how to Storify these things...

P.P.S. Let's all pretend that I published this 30 minutes ago. This is the August 29th #summerblogchallenge post!

Photo Credit: Darren Kirby on Flickr.