Opinion: Calm down and consider the case for simplified zoning designations in Calgary

Calgary’s rezoning proposal is no panacea, but it will address past development mistakes.

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I’ll begin with a conclusion.

If Calgary relaxes development zoning restrictions, older formerly suburban, now semi-urban communities such as Oakridge, where I live, will without doubt change over a lengthy period of time. But as slow as any resultant change will be, it will increase the city’s overall livability in positive ways.

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I won’t for a moment dismiss some of the concerns being raised by my fellow citizens, but I will admit to having less patience with a numerical minority of the city’s inhabitants who see this issue as potentially apocalyptic and claim the city council is “ramming” it down their throats.

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The fact that many cities in Canada and abroad are relaxing zoning to increase density doesn’t seem to register for some here. I very much doubt that group will derive any value from what I have to say, but the community more broadly might.

With due respect to the majority of our neighbours I want to say that I publicly support the proposed R-CG zoning development designation, which will apply to Oakridge, where I reside. I additionally support the proposed R-G and H-GO rezoning options with a caveat or two. I’ll use Oakridge as an example in listing reasons for my support but consider it representative of a range of plus 50-year-old Calgary communities that ring the city’s core.

  1. There is a housing shortage and an affordability problem. The federal and provincial governments were late to the cause but now, broadly, see the need to act.
  2. Driven by developers, urban sprawl has been the city’s main housing plan for decades, and a travesty in my view. Calgary bleeds across the prairie landscape in three directions, and that must stop. We need more housing, but we need it closer to the centre where citizens can more easily access transit and other services.
  3. Like it or not, and count me among the not, climate disruption is a clear near-term threat to us all. Renewing portions of established communities by replacing 50–60-year-old homes with more energy efficient alternative housing options would be a small but positive step.
  4. These same fifty-plus-year-old communities do now, or will soon, need significant infrastructure repair and replacement both above and below ground, and it makes sense to redevelop housing in concert with these needs.

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In sum, it is far better for a city to add density and renew housing from the inside out rather than the outside in.

The inside lot I own would easily support a backyard suite and or two semi-detached homes of the type common in communities such as Altadore, adjacent to Marda Loop, which has a nice blend of old and new.

It is also important to remind the NIMBY constituency that relaxed zoning will not result in a frenzied construction free-for-all.

It is true that the change would make it much easier to add a backyard or secondary suite, but if I hired a company to more fully convert my home, I would still need planning approval, and city bylaws and building codes would still apply.

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The alternative to inside renewal is to build high-rise towers on the outside edges of existing mature communities. For example, a series of such towers may soon be built in and around Glenmore Landing shopping mall in the southwest and around a new Co-op grocery store in the southwest, which I do not support.

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I personally consider such towers ugly, cold, and characterless, and prefer treed streets with multiple housing styles and options including low-rise apartment buildings on corners.

A series of shorter buildings encircling either Glenmore Landing or Co-op, of say five stories each, would be worse for developers’ bottom lines but a much better choice for the surrounding communities in my view. I call on the city council to entertain that idea more fully.

As I understand the debate around zoning, those opposed or confused by this badly needed initiative fear that their communities will change for the worse, that traffic flow will increase, and that parking will become a greater challenge. Some seem concerned that folks they consider to be different from themselves will move in beside them. Still others more reasonably worry that the relaxed zoning could be applied to parkland that could be given over to new housing: an unlikely outcome.

Let’s be honest here. To make this city better, and address the issues at hand, we all need to trust our neighbours and our city councillors. I sometimes disagree with my neighbours, and I sometimes shake my head over council decisions. But let’s allow that all involved, even that highly vocal sky-is-falling minority I refer to above, are doing what they think is best.

The rezoning proposal is no panacea, but it will address past development mistakes; it will help address a serious need for additional housing in our growing city; it will help with the climate struggle; it will make Calgary a better place to call home.

So calm down, please! By all means ask your questions and make your voices heard, but don’t equate change and catastrophe.

Terry Field is a former professor of journalism at Mount Royal University.

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