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Building up community

Concerns about privacy and quality of life may be top of mind for Hawthorne Crescent residents worried about a development in South Riel, but that should not stop St. Albert from meeting its density targets.
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Concerns about privacy and quality of life may be top of mind for Hawthorne Crescent residents worried about a development in South Riel, but that should not stop St. Albert from meeting its residential density targets.

It was a packed house on April 23 as residents came out to oppose a high-density section of Averton's Midtown build. The area of the development closest to Heritage Lakes requires a minimum density of 120 dwelling units per hectare and buildings between six and 12 storeys tall.

It's easy to see how a development of this sort could upset residents who have grown accustomed to the quiet serenity of their back yards and who have thrived in a low-density area – but higher density is the way of the future. The Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board (EMRB) has set standards for minimum densities and communities like St. Albert are obliged to follow those rules.

The aim is to have cities build up instead of out, thus limiting urban sprawl – a laudable goal. For cities like St. Albert, prolonged urban sprawl inevitably swallows up good agricultural land, not to mention how inefficient it is from a city planning perspective – after all, the more spread out a city's residential population is, the more spread out services become. New roads and infrastructure bring new maintenance and repair costs.

In May 2018, Statistics Canada released a report showing how the country has trended toward urbanization since 1861. Between 1861 and 2011, the amount of people living in cities went from 16 per cent of the population to 79.1 per cent. Demographics help to add context to this issue: younger adults are more likely to seek homes in urban areas, partly due to the increased chances of finding a job and partly due to the desire to form relationships. And in wildrose country, the proportion of our population living in urban areas beats the national average.

That's a trend that isn't reversing anytime soon, and cities need to adapt if they are going to prosper.

It is up to the individual cities to densify responsibly, and St. Albert is poised to do just that. More than a year ago, councillors revised St. Albert's land use bylaw to allow for higher-density developments. Now, the city is in the process of rewriting its foundational municipal development plan. We are well on our way to densifying.

The negative effects of urbanization cannot be denied but they can be mitigated. As more people pack into a smaller area, the small-town feel cities like St. Albert pride themselves on becomes threatened and it is up to residents to keep it alive.

Residents can't change the fact St. Albert is densifying, but luckily, they can – and should – weigh in on the municipal development plan. This is their chance to help shape how the city will develop as it inevitably attracts a greater urban population.

A thriving community cannot be built or sustained on residential neighbourhoods alone. Jobs, affordability, an increased tax base and a transportation network all tie in to urbanization. If densification is done correctly, the city will be on the right path for growth.




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