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Density of Urban Development. What’s best for Alberta?

In Alberta Tomorrow we talk a lot about trade-offs. What are you willing to give up to get something else. Low density urban development may look nice and give the illusion of wide open spaces. There is however a cost. Low density development mean people have to drive farther to get to the grocery store, kids school and sports activities. Driving more means higher greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Larger homes on larger lots mean 2 furnaces/house, more natural gas to heat them, and therefore higher GHGs and costs to the homeowner.

Lower density development means infrastructure, including roads, water and sewage lines need to go farther, resulting in higher costs and therefore higher municipal taxes.

The highest quality soil for growing crops in Alberta can be found in the Calgary-Edmonton corridor. Most of the people in Alberta live within this corridor and these communities show some of the fastest growing populations in the province. Low density development takes more of this prime agriculture land out of food production. Less local food production means more transportation, higher costs to the consumer, and more GHGs emitted into the atmosphere.

Low density development threatens wetlands. We know that wetlands are vitally important for filtering water, absorbing and storing water in wet years, protection from flooding, and are important wildlife habitat. By protecting wetlands, we are lowering the cost required to treat our water in water treatment plants and protecting ourselves from flooding thus reducing taxes.

Everyone loves wildlife, but wildlife doesn’t love people. Lower density developments fragment the landscape. Fragmented landscapes mean more roads, more human activity, and thus poorer quality wildlife habitat. By altering the natural landscape this way we are threatening species that require large tracts of undisturbed land like caribou and grizzly bear. Predators are able to use our roads and trails to find their prey.

We are reaching a breaking point in Alberta where we can’t keep living as we have in the past. That is……we can’t have everything. There are going to be trade-offs, and one trade off to ensure we keep our GHGs low, taxes down, water quality high, and preserve wildlife habitat and wetlands may be to have smaller homes and smaller lots, in other words higher density development.

What we need is a change in our expectations and thoughts on what we need, and what we want for the future of our children. To see the effect of urbanization on wildlife habitat, water quality, fish health, and GHGs or more information, go to Let’s find a healthy balance that will be best for all Albertans, now and in the future.

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