Is Calgary’s MDP Working?

People still move to Calgary, so change is inevitable. But how the city grows remains a crucial topic.

It’s a doubling that could be troubling. 

By 2076, Calgary is expected to be home to 2.4 million people, roughly twice as many as live here now. 

That rate of growth presents some obvious challenges, but it will happen within an established framework. Growth in Calgary is guided by the Municipal Development Plan (MDP) and the Calgary Transportation Plan (CTP). In the words of The City, these plans are “the basis for all urban planning decisions in our city.”

Among its goals, the MDP seeks to create “a more compact urban form” by balancing growth between established communities and newer areas. By 2039, the plan calls for 1/3 of accumulated population growth to be accommodated in established areas. By 2069, the plans seek a 50-50 split. 

When City Council approved the plans in 2009, it also created a system to evaluate progress toward these goals. The November 2018 contained some eye-opening numbers.

Chief among these was that between 2006 and 2017, the city’s developing areas accommodated 90.3% of the city’s population growth. That means, as The City’s monitoring report points out, to hit that 33% goal by 2039, 47% of annual growth would need to be captured by the Developed Areas — that’s every year for 20 years.

As the blogger Richard White pointed out in an opinion piece for CBC, that will not be easy. And here’s the kicker: the MDP calls for 50% of population growth to be in Developed Areas by 2069. That means an additional 650,000 people will need to find homes in established communities between now and then.

White points out that this a tall order for several reasons, including natural population growth (births minus deaths) and housing affordability. New communities tend to be home to younger families. That means the populations of these areas grow as children are born. Conversely, established areas tend to see their populations shrink as their typically older residents die. As for affordability, White notes, “Most Calgarians today simply can’t afford homes in established communities.”

But while demographic and market forces seem to be working against the goals of the MDP, there is cause for optimism. As Guy Huntingford, CEO of BILD Calgary Region, recently told Live Wire Calgary some of the city’s highest densities outside the core are in areas developed after 2009. 

Huntingford calls these areas, developed in accordance with the MDP, the "third ring.” This distinguishes them from the communities built around the city centre between the 1940s and 1960s (the “first ring") and those built between the 1970s and early 2000s (the “second ring”). In other words, neighbourhoods like Seton, Mahogany and Quarry Park are not your grandparents’ suburbs. They are complete communities that offer walkability and a range of amenities.

They are also proof that urban environments are continually changing. City Council acknowledged this when it adopted the MDP and CTP, calling them “living documents” that would be subject to review and amendments. 

The first big review begins next year and is expected to take until 2021, giving you a chance to share your opinions on how Calgary should grow.

December 3rd, 2018
Updated: December 5th, 2018

How Calgary houses its new residents is key to the city’s future.