THE BLOG

The Dinosaurs of Outer-urbia

04/24/2013 08:01 EDT | Updated 06/24/2013 05:12 EDT

The current scandal surrounding the real estate developers in Calgary and their efforts to influence the October 2013 municipal elections is evidence of an industry feeling entitled to proceed with business as they see fit but unable or unwilling to innovate or think strategically or critically about their direction.

Their bald efforts to influence Calgary city council is just one instance of the industry being more intent on having their way rather than getting things right. Their anxiety is that Mayor Naheed Nenshi's initiatives to encourage downtown living and increase the fees on greenfield development are the start of something that may get out of control and lead city planners to adapt more integrated mixed use neighbourhoods, while the short shelf life of the suburbs is becoming more apparent with each expansion outward.

Whether from a philosophical perspective or from the forgotten, lost gloss on communities like Dalhousie and Hawkwood, the ongoing construction of the suburbs does not seem to be paying off for homeowners.

The constructors' conclusion is that Nenshi's initiatives, and the the presence of other progressive, urbanist aldermen, are steering the city away from this ideal of ongoing construction outward and that a tweak to the balance on city council will prime the pump and ensure that greenfield development gets back on track. The attempt to adjust the thermostat at City Hall for a warmer welcome misses the point that the current city council, under Nenshi's leadership, and with the informed urbanist attitudes of aldermen such as Gian-Carlo Carra and Druh Farrell, has lead the city back toward an approach to urban planning that is more pedestrian-friendly and focused on building and rebuilding communities in a manner that has been evidenced to be healthier and more sustainable than the suburban model which has long passed its peak. Calgary's founders started building the city around the Bow River and communities like Inglewood, not the areas hugging Nose Hill.

The obsession with greenfield construction that provoked Cal Wenzel to refer to aldermen contrary to his ambitions as being from the "dark side" indicates the complete failure of the industry to adapt to changes which are occurring in other cities throughout North America. The effort to avoid innovation and sustain the unsustainable - rather than respond to changes in policy and the reality that the next generations of home buyers would much rather live in more urban and walkable neighbourhoods - are short-sighted and indicate a complete inability to contribute to dialogue on the continued development of Calgary. These emerging realities raise questions about the lifespan of developers with such outdated business plans, the most ham-handed strategies and a habit of cladding the diminishing return on their products with a veneer of faux-luxury.

The construction industry's ambitions to alter the course of the upcoming election by throwing their resources behind "friendly" candidates or incumbents indicates a limited interest or capacity to engage in meaningful discussion about development that can and is occurring closer to the city's core. If they would prefer to establish a speaking society with like-minded politicians they can try as they wish, but city hall must not become a play thing for this spoiled child of an industry.