Calgary's proposed 'densification' efforts are a blueprint for '15 minute-cities'

'Eight people on council seem happy that voters won’t have a chance to weigh in on [the citywide rezoning proposal through a plebiscite], but rest assured your vote in October 2025 will still be very important,' writes Calgary City Councillor Dan McLean.

Calgary's proposed 'densification' efforts are a blueprint for '15 minute-cities'
Facebook/ Dan McLean and oasisamuel -
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The City of Calgary will not proceed with a plebiscite next municipal election on its blanket citywide proposal to densify existing neighbourhoods.

Ward 13 City Councillor Dan McLean tabled the motion Wednesday before City Council to provide as many Calgarians with a say as possible. However, his cohort defeated it by the slimmest of margins in an 8-6 vote.

My motion to put a blanket upzoning of the city on the ballot at next year's municipal election failed,” McLean posted to X, formerly Twitter.

“Eight people on council seem happy that voters won’t have a chance to weigh in on this important issue, but rest assured your vote in October 2025 will still be very important,” he writes.

Many who voted against Wednesday’s motion contend a plebiscite is futile, including Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

“What is a yes or no question going to do for Calgarians who wish to share their experiences with us?” she spoke

“It’s not going to allow them to answer anything, never mind that not all Calgarians can participate in the plebiscite and remember that number — 60 people a day or 22,000 a year — some of them are newcomers who are not yet Canadian citizens but, they live here, and they their pay taxes, and they have a right to be heard as well.”

Councillors Courtney Walcott, Raj Dhaliwal, Evan Spencer, Kourtney Penner, Jasmine Mian, Richard Pootmans, and Gian Carlo Carra also voted against the motion.

Among the other detractors include Councillor Sonya Sharp, who supported the motion to ensure as many Calgarians as possible get a say.

“Now, maybe some of you campaigned on increasing density, but none of us — none of you can admit — that you campaigned on removing the public hearing process from increasing density, and we did not ask for a mandate for that from our voters,” she said.

On September 16, the City of Calgary published its housing strategy through 2030, suggesting that rezoning residential communities would “improve choice and affordability.”

It contends that the “evidence is clear” on city-wide rezoning, calling it among the “most powerful actions” Calgary can take to achieve its climate goals. 

“More housing within the existing footprint of the city improves our sustainability,” reads Home is Here, which aims to preserve the natural grassland and agricultural land on the outskirts of the city.

A recent federal housing and climate report endorses the need for less urban sprawl in building the ‘15-minute cities’ of tomorrow.

The Task Force for Housing and Climate issued dozens of recommendations on March 5 to reconcile Canada’s housing crisis with its climate policy. 

In mid-November, the Trudeau Liberals committed $228 million in federal housing dollars to Calgary through the Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF). They intend on building upwards of 35,000 new homes in Calgary over the next decade.

The Blueprint for More and Better Housing urged all levels of government to regulate housing growth in areas at high risk of climate impacts. It contends that densification is the answer.

The blueprint articulates that nationwide implementation could result in 5.8 million new homes by 2030 that are affordable and ‘climate resilient.’ 

“Citywide base zoning also allows new community builders to respond to housing demand efficiently,” reads Home is Hear. “Allowing more people to live in new, more efficient homes.”

It suggests rezoned housing can be upwards of 50% more energy efficient than the older housing it replaces.

“Rowhouses, for example, give Calgarians a type of home that is in high demand at lower price points compared to single and semi-detached houses in the same community. It improves relative affordability compared to if they are not widely available,” reads Home is Here.

Former Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and co-chair of the task force told reporters their case to housing developers is to build within neighbourhoods and make use of existing infrastructure to reduce mass transit. It’s cheaper for cities to build this way, he said.

"Fixing the housing crisis, like the climate crisis, requires every order of government to do its part," said Co-Chair the Honourable Lisa Raitt. "Our Blueprint will help every government take smart steps towards building more and better housing."

To reduce carbon footprints, Better Housing suggests adding bike lanes and legalizing small shops on side streets.

City planners openly defend 15-minute communities, said the report, claiming their aim is to make cities more livable by ensuring all essential services — schools, medical care, and shops — are within the distance of a short walk or bicycle ride.

“Short-term and long-term, density is good for the fiscal efficiency of the city,” added Iveson. “It’s the right thing, and it also happens to be climate positive.”

Calgary’s housing strategy says rezoning the city would decrease travel to work, school and other amenities and transition residents to greener modes of transportation, including public transit.

The City of Calgary has quietly engaged residents and “interested groups” on the proposed rezoning efforts since January that will continue through March.

“My understanding — and I would love some clarity on this — the application we submitted to secure the Housing Accelerator Fund was predicated on certain things we would deliver," said Gondek. “And the federal government liked it and funded us.”

She posed to city administrators Thursday morning that federal housing dollars were a surety regardless of rezoning efforts.

The City of Calgary committed to city-wide rezoning or the densification of residential developments. However, no zoning will change without Council approval.

A public hearing date has been set for April 22, 2024, following the consultations. This is when city administrators will present a recommended approach to citywide rezoning to the Council. 

According to city administrators, Council must vote ‘yes’ to secure the federal funding promised last November.

“If the rezoning did not pass, we would deal with that if and when it arrived,” said an administrator before Council Thursday morning.

“I don’t think we made a firm commitment in the application we submitted that we would do this type of rezoning,” claimed Gondek.

“In the application, we indicated that we would move forward with this process, and that includes a council decision that is to come — that is the commitment we made to CMHC,” replied the city administrator.

“If council made a decision not to [approve city-wide rezoning] there is a chance the funding would be impacted,” he said.

Gondek reiterated her council did not make a promise to advance city-wide rezoning to secure funding for new housing developments. “We made an indication in the application that we would attempt this, and that we would look towards other measures as well,” she said.

“My advice would be to discuss this further in a closed session,” said the administrator. “Rezoning is something the city committed to in advance,” he reiterated.

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