How well do you know your city? You might be surprised…

It’s time to stop dealing in misperceptions and negative attitudes when it comes to thinking about growth and our city. Let’s see if we can bust a few myths about development in Calgary today.

Myth #1: Calgary’s development footprint is an example of urban sprawl.

Get The Facts:

• Calgary’s built area is much smaller than its municipal boundaries suggest. In fact as of 2010, residents lived within a built area of only 469 sq km while our city limits actually encompassed a total of 848 sq km at that time. Why the large gap?

• The City has a policy of maintaining a 30 year supply of developable land (achieved through annexation), which protects land for orderly contiguous development within our boundaries and actually reduces the sprawling or leapfrogging type of development that characterizes many other metropolitan areas.

• When comparing Calgary’s residential densities to other metropolitan areas, the results are almost always grossly misleading. Why? It is due to dividing our population over the entire area rather than using our actual built form area (as noted above). In 2010, instead of the 1264 people/sq km that would have been reflective of using the total land within our boundary, the more accurate number would be 2289 people/sq km. That’s almost double and much more in line with ‘urban’ standards.

• Did you know that Calgary has many large areas within its boundaries that cannot be developed for residential or other industry/institutional uses? These features include the airport, large parks, water reservoir, sour gas wells, landfill sites and wastewater treatment plants, gravel mining operations and more. Many large cities do not have these features located within their boundaries as they are more typically found in the outlying metropolitan area.

• The numerous parks and green space within our built form contribute to a more dispersed development pattern but these amenities also contribute to a better quality of life for all Calgarians. Did you know that we have over 700 kilometers of urban pathways and bikeways along our rivers, one of the most extensive systems in North America? Or that Fish Creek Park is 3 times the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park?

Myth #2: Calgary continues to build new communities that only provide single family homes and use a lot of land. This type of development discourages density and diversity.

Get The Facts:

• Communities built today use less land than communities built 30 years ago, for the same amount of people.

• Densities in new communities have risen by 54% in the last 15 years, from city policies requiring approximately 11-15 units per hectare to today’s requirements to achieve a range between 21-22 units per hectare.

• In new communities, the housing mix is approximately 67% single family units and 33% multi-family, which includes apartments, townhomes, row houses and semi detached units.

• Density isn’t just about units; it’s also about the number of people living in them. Overall, the new suburbs have an average occupancy rate of 3.0 people per unit, while established areas average 2.49. For housing types, single family units average 2.89 people while multi-family dwelling units have a much lower rate at 1.82 people.

Myth #3: We aren’t growing up or in, only out.

Get The Facts:

• From 2005 to 2010, established areas, inner city communities and the downtown core absorbed 31% of all new housing. This accounted for 25% of all single units built and 75% of multi-family units during that period.

• Between 2006 and 2008, the City received an average of 600 applications per year for new infill dwellings.

• The housing stock in the developed area reached a new high of 363,000 units in 2010.

• The developed area houses 80% of the city’s population in 2010.

• Over 800 residential units have been added per year to the Centre City (including the Beltine area) since 2005.

Hopefully some of these facts have got you thinking a little differently about development in Calgary. We are achieving so many positive things. Let’s celebrate our uniqueness and this incredible place we call home!
Stay tuned for the next installment when we talk about Calgary’s economic drivers, demographics & population diversity and transportation habits.

Source: Facts and figures taken from City of Calgary reports; ‘Calgary Snapshots 2011’ and ‘Developed Areas Growth & Change 2010’ as well as from Calgary Economic Development’s ‘Calgary Advantages’ presentation. All reports are available to the public