Every time I am in an airplane that is landing in a new city, I find myself looking out the window and marvelling at the beauty that comes from proper urban planning. Usually, you see all of the housing neatly spaced out with roads between, commercial districts along arterials, and green spaces scattered throughout. Land use planning is an art form that can set the stage for the vibrant life and culture of the community it is building.
Land use planning is also a very detailed and highly regulated process that comes together to meet not just the superficial look and feel of the community, but also to promote the effective use of resources, ensure environmental protection, and to connect pieces of existing infrastructure to align the old with the new. It is complex and requires study, conversation and consultation along the way.
It isn’t something that most of us think of daily. We excitedly purchase or build our homes in planned or existing neighbourhoods, checking on amenities, square footage and fixtures, among other things. We don’t always contact the municipality, check area structure plans, transportation plans or local bylaws, especially if the move is into an existing neighbourhood where development is seemingly complete. As we’ve seen over the years when neighbourhoods or community members express displeasure over developments, infrastructure upgrades, or plan changes, being as informed as possible about the home, neighbourhood and community you live in is critical.
Each of our neighbourhoods started as a field, full of ground, rocks and trees that were removed and flattened to give way to new development. Each of our lots was measured out, drawn into a plan by a developer, and approved by the council of the day. Every utility line, sidewalk, road, park, and even tree is in a municipal plan, and as our communities grow and change these plans will grow and change with them. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and it isn’t possible to stop it completely. Our city is growing, a fact we should be proud of, and we should be supporting those who work hard to ensure that the growth is planned, economical, and appropriate.
When circumstances beyond your control impact your home or your family, it can be frustrating and scary. Financially, your home is one of your most significant assets, and personally, it’s your sanctuary. Former Morinville Mayor Lloyd Bertschi once told me that the most contentious items a council deals with usually involve children, cats, or church. I’d add homes to that mix as well. We are all a part of the evolution of our community, and we must work to ensure that the tools and plans that are in place are viewed as shields to protect us, rather than swords to harm.
Don’t rely on your neighbours or the news to give you the information. Instead, ask questions, read plans, call council members, ask your realtor, attend open houses and consultations, or search websites. Knowledge truly is power and offers the chance to shape, influence, or change decisions that impact you and your home. We can all work together, residents, business owners, developers, and municipal officials, to ensure that we build a safe, diverse, and properly planned city that offers us all the quality of life that we expect and deserve.
Lisa Holmes is a former Morinville mayor and councillor who lives in St. Albert.