A Provincial Sustainability Framework for Alberta’s Cities

The recent provincial election gave the Green Party of Alberta the opportunity to raise some pressing sustainability issues with the mayors of our two biggest cities, Calgary and Edmonton. Here are the letters sent by Janet Keeping, Leader of the Green Party of Alberta, to their Worships Naheed Nenshi and Don Iveson.

If you think these letters raise concerns you share, feel free to copy them and send them to the mayor of your city or town.

newsletter

May 20, 2015

Dear Mayor Nenshi,

Re:  Adoption of a provincial Sustainability Framework for Alberta’s cities

It was a pleasure having the chance to talk with you just prior to the provincial election.  As leader of the provincial Green Party, I appreciated the opportunity and thought it might be useful to follow up on that conversation with this letter.

The major policy idea I raised was that it could be very useful to municipalities to have the province enact a sustainability framework, one that requires municipalities to meet sustainability criteria in both social and environmental terms.  It seems appropriate that the provincial government lay down such requirements so that there are consistent standards on such things in place across the province.

I noted at the time that this approach might work well with secondary suites and I see from media reports since that the Ontario government did just this in 2011 by making changes to Ontario’s Planning Act.  It is also relevant to note here that there have been politicians at both the municipal and provincial levels calling for changes to our Municipal Government Act that would give municipalities in Alberta the authority to impose “inclusive zoning.”

But it seems a golden opportunity would be missed if the matter were not considered in a broader way.  As I told you when we met, the idea for a sustainability framework is still very much a work in progress but this excerpt from the Green Party of Alberta’s 2015 platform sets out some of the dimensions of urban sustainability that could usefully be addressed by provincial legislation:

Alberta needs a provincial framework which sets targets to achieve greater sustainability in our cities and towns. For example, the framework could include density targets – which would speak to the possibility of such things as secondary suites – diversity of land-use targets, so we have more vibrant towns and cities, creativity targets, for example, to bring innovative housing forms such as co-housing to fruition and “sense of place” goals, such as walkability;

Alberta also needs a framework for achieving the physical sustainability of towns and cities, for example, requirements for anti-flooding measures, such as minimizing the use of non-porous materials.  [Anti-flooding would include many other things as well, for example, re-establishing and maintaining the health of our watersheds.]

My own thinking has gone further than the GPA platform on the sustainability front.  For example, I am tempted to think it would be a good idea for the provincial government to legislate that new housing cannot be built further than a certain, walkable, distance from an elementary school.  Obviously this sort of requirement cannot work in rural areas but the framework we are thinking about here is one for our cities.

The possibilities for urban agriculture might also be usefully addressed by such a provincial law.  For the time being, that might be a bridge too far but food security is certainly another critical aspect of sustainability that cities should be taking into account in their development decisions.

I am well aware that Alberta’s major municipalities, particularly of course Calgary and Edmonton, want more not less autonomy.  But correctly done, adoption of a provincial sustainability framework need not seriously undermine that ambition.   And of course, greater autonomy does not mean “independence,” although the two have been conflated in some recent media coverage of the on-going secondary suites debate in Calgary.[1]

Alberta’s cities do need greater autonomy in some areas but there is also a need for provincial standards on certain key dimensions of urban sustainability.  Provincial legislation could set minimum standards which the municipalities would meet, and even no doubt sometimes exceed, in the fashion their elected officials, staff and citizens think best.

It seems clear humanity generally can no longer afford – in any sense of the term – our current unsustainable practices.  Something has to give.  And if there is political heat to be taken on a legislated and enforceable commitment to sustainability in Alberta’s urban context, the province could absorb that heat freeing city governments to get on with the job of overseeing the development of vibrant, creative, nurturing and sustainable urban centres.

I would be pleased to discuss these matters further with you at any point and will let you know how the Green Party of Alberta decides to pursue these ideas.

All the very best,

Janet Keeping, Leader, Green Party of Alberta

[1] See for example, “Suite and Sour Debate” an editorial in the Calgary Herald, May 16, 2015.

newsletter

May 20, 2015

Dear Mayor Iveson,

Re:  Adoption of a provincial Sustainability Framework for Alberta’s cities

I had the pleasure of meeting with Mayor Nenshi just prior to the provincial election.  As leader of the provincial Green Party, I appreciated the opportunity.  I followed up on that meeting with a letter that is similar in content to this one.

The major policy idea I raised with Mayor Nenshi was that it could be very useful to Alberta municipalities to have the province enact a sustainability framework, one that requires municipalities to meet sustainability criteria in both social and environmental terms.  It seems appropriate that the provincial government lay down such requirements so that there are consistent standards on such things in place across the province.

I noted at the time that this approach might work well with secondary suites and I see from media reports since that the Ontario government did just this in 2011 by making changes to Ontario’s Planning Act.  It is also relevant to note here that there have been politicians at both the municipal and provincial levels calling for changes to our Municipal Government Act that would give municipalities in Alberta the authority to impose “inclusive zoning.”

But it seems a golden opportunity would be missed if the matter were not considered in a broader way.  The idea for a sustainability framework is still very much a work in progress but this excerpt from the Green Party of Alberta’s 2015 platform sets out some of the dimensions of urban sustainability that could usefully be addressed by provincial legislation:

Alberta needs a provincial framework which sets targets to achieve greater sustainability in our cities and towns. For example, the framework could include density targets – which would speak to the possibility of such things as secondary suites – diversity of land-use targets, so we have more vibrant towns and cities, creativity targets, for example, to bring innovative housing forms such as co-housing to fruition and “sense of place” goals, such as walkability;

Alberta also needs a framework for achieving the physical sustainability of towns and cities, for example, requirements for anti-flooding measures, such as minimizing the use of non-porous materials.  [Anti-flooding would include many other things as well, for example, re-establishing and maintaining the health of our watersheds.]

My own thinking has gone further than the GPA platform on the sustainability front.  For example, I am tempted to think it would be a good idea for the provincial government to legislate that new housing cannot be built further than a certain, walkable, distance from an elementary school.  Obviously this sort of requirement cannot work in rural areas but the framework we are thinking about here is one for our cities.

The possibilities for urban agriculture might also be usefully addressed by such a provincial law.  For the time being, that might be a bridge too far but food security is certainly another critical aspect of sustainability that cities should be taking into account in their development decisions.

I am well aware that Alberta’s major municipalities, particularly of course Calgary and Edmonton, want more not less autonomy.  But correctly done, adoption of a provincial sustainability framework need not seriously undermine that ambition.   And of course, greater autonomy does not mean “independence,” although the two have been conflated in some recent media coverage of the on-going secondary suites debate in Calgary.[1]

Alberta’s cities do need greater autonomy in some areas but there is also a need for provincial standards on certain key dimensions of urban sustainability.  Provincial legislation could set minimum standards which the municipalities would meet, and even no doubt sometimes exceed, in the fashion their elected officials, staff and citizens think best.

It seems clear humanity generally can no longer afford – in any sense of the term – our current unsustainable practices.  Something has to give.  And if there is political heat to be taken on a legislated and enforceable commitment to sustainability in Alberta’s urban context, the province could absorb that heat freeing city governments to get on with the job of overseeing the development of vibrant, creative, nurturing and sustainable urban centres.

I would be pleased to discuss these matters further with you at any point and will let you know how the Green Party of Alberta decides to pursue these ideas.

All the very best,

Janet Keeping, Leader, Green Party of Alberta

 

[1] See for example, “Suite and Sour Debate” an editorial in the Calgary Herald, May 16, 2015.

Comments 3

  • Hello Janet; good work on the letters to the mayors… the whole issue of sustainability is not only imperative, it is crucial for the survival of the province, country and the earth’s entire eco-systems. One area I would appreciate you addressing within the sustainability framework is the huge problem of waste, garbage, re-cycling, re-using, re-thinking, etc..
    Why can’t ALL plastics be re-cycled instead of tons and tonnes of it being dumped into landfills daily? We absolutely cannot be sustainable if this problem is not addressed and solved.
    Thank you for all your efforts and this opportunity to respond.
    Pete Weddell
    Red Deer

    • Thanks very much for writing, Pete. For sure, the whole question of waste should be included in any careful look at urban sustainability.

  • […] into our orange. Links to Janet’s article on the Green Party of Alberta website, “A provincial sustainability framework for Alberta’s […]

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