Balancing Conservation and Development Planning Seminar

Yesterday I attended a seminar hosted by Canadian Plains Research Centre (CPRC) at 2 Research Drive on the University of Regina Campus.  The abstract for this seminar (titled “Balancing Conservation and Development Planning in Saskatchewan“) was as follows:

Saskatchewan is booming and major development pressures are arising almost everywhere in the provincial landscape. Sudden prosperity brings risks: how are we to protect and conserve critical natural landscapes as development pressures increase? Can we successfully integrate and balance development and conservation planning?

Three speakers presented on the topic, discussing specific projects, methodologies and theories concerning land-use planning, landscape design and governance, to name a few broad subjects.  

The first speaker was Dr. Douglas Olson, President of O2 Planning and Design Inc. of Calgary.  Dr. Ryan Walker, Chair, Regional and Urban Planning Program at the University of Saskatchewan, followed with Gary Howland, President of the Lumsden Valley Community Association (see RCE Sask for more on LuVCA’s conservation strategy).

Dr. Olson focused his discussion with O2’s work on the Calgary Metropolitan Plan  being produced by the Calgary Regional Partnership.  O2 will provide models for possible growth scenarios using spatial data and mapping results. 

O2 modeled three learning scenarios: the trend, if current growth patterns continue, an Ecological-Cultrual and Nodes and Corridors.

One of the simple and effective arguments against the trend scenario, which would see more than 1200 sq/km more sprawl over the next 50 years, was the huge amount of water and sewer infrastructure it would require.  By articulating the price, administrators understand quickly that such growth patterns are not possible.

 

The Ecological-Cultural model focused on conservation areas, finding them and building patches of contiguous natural vegetation, stepping stones, where patches are split up, corridors and exclusion zones around water bodies to benefit water quality and stream environments.  Development decisions are then made understanding where key environmental areas are and limits are drawn, intensifying development.  The result is 1/4 the area as the trend and almost 1/2 the servicing costs.

In the end, the best option was for a mix of the Nodes and Corridors (to concentrate uses and transportation pathways while creating complete communities) and the Ecological-Cultural focus.  The result is a plan 1/3 the size of the trend’s area of expansion.   

 

Dr. Walker’s talk was primarily focused on the possibilities of Open Space development or Conservation Subdivision design promoted by Randall Arendt (see landchoices.org). 

Taking the example of small New England towns, Arendt promotes a design for rural subdivisions that captures rural character.  Rural character can be described as, the open spaces, views, size of land and quality of life options found in acreage, ranchettes and resort communities on the edge of cities.  This pattern of development, although popular, is difficult for RMs or smaller municipalities to service over time. 

 To achieve a Conservation Subdivison, one studies the environment to highlight amenities (heritage property, prominent tree) or views (lake, valley) that can focus the position of the houses and allow for clustering.  With houses closer by, there are less infrastructure service requirements and more of the land is, potentially, outside human use.

 

In the afternoon session, the floor was opened for a panel discussion where Dr. Olson and Dr. Walker were joined by Andy Jansen, Manager of Agricultural Operations with the Ministry of Agriculture, Barry Braitman Director of Community Planning in the Ministry of Municiple Affairs and Ben Sawa, Habitat Ecologist from the Ministry of Environment.  

Personal preferences and what is offered to the public came up in the group discussion as a concern to changing development patterns.  Even when the public buys in and wants something new, developers and financiers often will lean towards tried and true patterns, avoiding change. 

 

Cities, like Regina, are likely to grow out more over the next years with the strong economy and increasing urban population.  It is very important that these new neighbourhoods are complete communities and that the street pattern and block dimensions promote sustainability. 

Dr. Olson mentioned the above point in the discussion because a low density development should be capable of becoming a medium or high density development in the future.  Flexibility starts with the streets and blocks, those aren’t likely to be changed in once established.  The potential for underground parking or best solar orientation (mentioned recently by Councillor Clipsham) can be won or lost by block size and street orientation.

I’ll leave my wrap up here. There is far too much material to do the seminar justice in one post. Hopefully I can work through other ideas and topics in the future.

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Balancing Conservation and Development Planning Seminar

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