Okotoks chooses sprawl over sustainability by annexing more land for development with no plan yet to address a shortage of water.

Okotoks Councillor Laurie Hodson has shared his speaking notes from the historic vote where Okotoks council voted to set aside its internationally-renowned sustainability framework. Hodson voted against the motion, but the motion was passed (see my previous blog post and more official background on the decision here).

Here is a slightly abridged version of his comments at the Town Council meeting:

I’ve read and re-read Eben Fodor’s book “Better Not Bigger[1] and only recently had occasion to review the testaments to his book appearing on the back cover.  One of those testaments is prefaced with the words:   “for those of us who cannot abide more of the schlocky, subsidized, sprawling urban expansionism that so often masquerades as progress on the North American continent.”  And, you know what much of what I’ve heard from my community regarding unchecked growth can be captured with that alliteration:  “schlocky,” “subsidized” and “sprawling.”

I can tell you that many of our community’s residents to whom I have talked, quite literally, are dumbfounded.  The following is an excerpt from a recent letter of MD condemnation that you have all received:

“There are 3,644 square kilometres of land within the MD’s boundaries, yet development is to be concentrated on the few square miles on the perimeter of Okotoks.    I cannot find words to express my disappointment at that course of action … “

The letter’s author continues:

“My wish is that the MD will examine its policies, see how inconsiderate and un-neighbourly it is being, and allow the Town of Okotoks to determine its future without outside influence.

My hope is that the Councillor Hodson’s notice of motion to delay the decision will win the day, giving the MD time to examine its conscience and think in terms of the Golden Rule – ‘treat others as you wish to be treated.’  This in turn might return the principle of self-determination to the Town of Okotoks.”

You have my Notice of Motion in your Council package being a well-defined and thought through “threshold” approach.  And, you know what:  the well thought-through Plan B threshold motion of the previous Council makes eminent sense – and more importantly will be acceptable to our community who treasure their small town ‘feel’.

To directly address Councillor Rockley’s motion, Eben Fodor describes, what has been labeled by the sociologist and political economist Harvey Molotch[2] as the “growth machine”, in the following terms:

“ … a distinct group of well-funded and politically influential interests that tends to form a powerful pro-growth alliance.”

And adds:

“In addition to developers and real estate interests, there are a number of other business and professional interests who may become part of the growth machine.”

He continues with an example of the local newspaper viewing growth as a way to increase circulation and bring new advertisers.  He suggests too that support for the growth machine will often come from professionals whose jobs are directly connected with growth, planners being an example.”

These were the words of a professional community planning consultant (Eben Fodor) who is willing to accept that:

“Clearly all these professionals and business owners are capable of acting in the broader public interest – even when it might adversely impact their own interests.

My question is really this:  Is there not a sense that the pressures for MD urban development on our border have been a direct manifestation of a version of their own growth machine?

It is my opinion that Councillor Rockley’s motion, in its present form, will bring with it the spectre of “unchecked” (unbridled) annexation.  The sense we are provided in Councillor Rockley’s motion is that full and unbridled annexation will somehow inherently enhance Council’s ability to control the future shape and character of our community.  You know what; nothing could be further from the truth.  Consider that the very reason that our community has garnered the high quality and respect for its environment has had everything to do with our finite approach to planning.

I can tell you this:  the reality is that, with Councillor Rockley’s motion, our own ‘growth machine’ will take back control.  Our vested minorities will take back control.  Our legacy:  a Council that took its foot off the brake entirely.  The result (with respect to which Calgary is a classic example):  urban sprawl and a trashing of everything that has made our community the success it is today.

I urge my colleagues to defeat the motion that is before you.  My “threshold” Notice of Motion will be later presented in the hope and expectation of a reasonable compromise.

[1] Eben Fodor. Better, Not Bigger, reverse cover.

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