Published on January 4, 2007
Boom and bust cycles of economic growth, as evidenced recently in Alberta and Fort McMurray demonstrate the need to anticipate future development needs and to respond with the supporting critical infrastructure. Other communities face other infrastructure challenges, limits to growth, such as Okotoks. A further challenge is to support this growth, but not at the cost of a community’s current and future ecological capital. The most critical tool a community can have in place to proactively implement sustainable development is integrated community sustainability plans, and in particular, long-term planning.
This case study examines three cities with different approaches to long-term planning. Edmonton has a fiscal approach, considering the costs associated with the replacement of current infrastructure and setting out strategies to manage the replacement over time – this raises the question of how to incorporate a holistic systems approach to sustainable development in the context of a largely economic strategy. Ottawa and Calgary both start from a vision document for the city involving community participation and long-term planning horizons using the principles of Smart Growth as a framework for development (100 years in the case of Calgary and initially 20 years in the case of Ottawa although this is expected to be expanded to a considerably longer period). Calgary additionally uses Triple Bottom Line accounting (Elkington, 1997) to link short-term policies to the overall sustainable development vision.
Sustainable Development Characteristics
Sustainable development is a process of reconciliation of three imperatives—the ecological, the social, and the economic (Dale 2001; Robinson and Tinker 1997). In communities where an ad hoc reactive planning process is the practice, this is hard to achieve as the long-term big picture is difficult to see if decision-makers are focused on individual land units and individual land uses. Consequently, decisions are often made that appear adequate in the short term, and may provide economic and social benefits in the short term, but seldom address long-term development, that is, community sustainability.
The advantages of a long-term planning horizon are that decision-makers within a municipality have a reference document against which decisions are made and against which progress can be measured. The long-term perspective of the planning policy enables planners and decisions-makers to advocate against short-term gains that any given development may offer, if it is likely to act against long-term sustainability, and similarly, anticipate longer-term development needs in an integrated framework. Without these long-term perspectives set in a policy framework, the long term is in danger of being missed in the face of the short-term perspective. This reduces the ability of developers to argue in favour of such short-term development that may, in the short term, provide income, jobs, and development opportunities, but in the long term does not reconcile the three imperatives, putting undue strain on the viability of a community. The long-term holistic approach to planning is better able to provide real and sustainable benefits (Clayton and Radcliffe, 1996).
The approaches to long-term planning described are contrasted with an example of where a lack of long-term planning exists and where past decisions with a short-term focus created problems. The example used in this case is Fort McMurray (The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo). The short-term horizon has led to a shortage of housing, a lack of personnel for essential services and an infrastructure that services neither the business community, the citizens of the town, or ultimately the landscape adequately.
Other comparisons are made in this case. There is an examination of largely economic considerations of infrastructure replacement and management in Edmonton with its goal to ensure that:
“infrastructure assets continue to meet the needs of Edmontonians in the future” Edmonton City Council (2006)
This is considered a weak approach to sustainable development as opposed to the more holistic and systematic approaches taken in Ottawa and Calgary. Ottawa’s approach is based on two documents. The city's visioning process created Ottawa 20/20, supported by a detailed and comprehensive Infrastructure Master Plan. The vision document began with a Smart Growth Summit in 2001 and then used the results of the summit to inform a city-wide citizen’s consultation exercise to produce the strategy. This is supported by detailed and comprehensive Infrastructure, Greenspace and Transportation Master Plans as well as plans for all aspects of service delivery in the city, allowing all imperatives of sustainable development to be considered in an integrated framwork. The Infrastructure Master Plan, for example:
“provides strategic directions and an integrated infrastructure planning and policy framework which will direct the City’s continuing efforts to maximize value, including the role infrastructure plays in protecting the natural environment. The Infrastructure Master Plan plays an action role by presenting those priority short and medium term infrastructure opportunities considered to effect the greatest increases in the value of the services provided.” (City of Ottawa, 2003).
Building on Ottawa 20/20 and the city's conference hosted in 2004 (Choosing our Future: Planning for Long-term Community Sustainability), the City of Ottawa is now in the initial phases of beginning a new project, Beyond 2020: Building a Resilient Sustainable Community. This project blends long-term emergency planning initiatives with the preparation of an integrated sustainability plan to address long-term planning, and will incorporate timeframes ranging from 40 to 100 years.
Calgary is as well extending the boundaries of long-term planning. The basis of long-term planning here is the 100-year horizon of Imagine Calgary. The city's vision document, developed through consultation with over 3,000 Calgarians, is a statement of what the residents of the city would like the city to be like in a mutigenerational timeframe. This document is supported by a series of 30-year target documents towards which it is practical for city operations to work. Budgets and operational activities are tied to a three-year business cycle using the Triple Bottom Line accounting method for budgeting and monitoring. This again provides a holistic framework for the integration of the imperatives of sustainable development.
The questions raised then, are concerned with focus – from Edmonton’s fiscal approach to Calgary and Ottawa’s holistic, inclusive approach. Another is an issue of scale: what is the more effective timeframe for a visioning document – the reactive nature of development in Wood Buffalo to the 100-year multigenerational visioning exercise in Calgary? Another is the question of methods – what are the best tools and operational mechanisms for delivering sustainable development in the long term?
Critical Success Factors
Competent staff – change in management process that is required if long-term visions are adopted, this means municipal staff need to be well trained and supported in the acceptance and adoption of new integrated approaches.
Top down support for grassroots initiatives – while many initiatives are initially developed at the grassroots either within or outside of the municipal organization, they will likely fail if support from a council member is not achieved. The senior individual is then best placed to drive the initiative into the operation of city and ensure it achieves lasting presence within the operational facets of the municipality.
The recognition that energy costs are going to become hugely expensive – this will impose greater strain on unsustainable infrastructure.
Strong links between vision and policy and service delivery.
The sharing and development of best practice across, between and within municipalities.
Community Contact Information
Director, Office of Infrastructure and Funding
Strategy at Edmonton.
Ph: (780) 496-5579,
Manager, Corp. Asset Management
Infrastructure Services (#224)
The City of Calgary
PO Box 2100, Stn M., Calgary, AB, T2P 2M5
Ph: (403) 268-5746
Fax: (403) 268-2066
A significant degree of community participation in the development process. These plans are more robust as they have community support from the start, and as a result it is politically harder for the municipality to adopt contradictory policies and ignore the plan process. Similarly, public support for the tenets of the plan will be greater and as a result programs that are included in the plan have a smoother delivery.
Institutional linkages from decision-makers to grassroots and from policy through programs to projects.
The use of sustainable development tools to provide a guidance framework for infrastructure management and development.
The use of Smart Growth and community planning to guide the visioning process.
Two speed approaches with vision documents linked to planning documents containing practical action steps.
Linking the concept of sustainable development to better provision of services as a communication tool, both for citizens and to service delivery staff.
Leading by example – for instance the adoption of LEED standards for municipal buildings in Calgary, and the creation of pilot and demonstration policies by Ottawa.
What Didn’t Work?
The impact of surrounding municipalities and provincial strategies on the demand and pressure on infrastructure in major urban centres makes adhering to a long-term vision potentially difficult.
Reactive approaches to infrastructure provision make thinking in the long-term impossible and create a provision of infrastructure based on short-term pressures, crisis management, and ultimately create barriers to sustainable development.
Trying to implement new ways of operating, such as Triple Bottom Line, or budget competition and working to long-term strategic documents is not possible without adequate training for staff, and adequate operational linkages between policy and practice.
The language and jargon of sustainable development creates a barrier of understanding for the operational application of principles and policies.
Financial Costs and Funding Sources
In 2005, the capital budget of the City of Ottawa was $612,298 million; the value of residential starts was $1,146,564 million and non-residential starts $553,436 million. If these levels of activity were to continue for fifty years, the capital assets in the City of Ottawa would approach $112 billion. Assuming that half, or even one third, of these capital assets are redeveloped or replaced to create sustainable infrastructure, the price tag of making an Ottawa-sized community sustainable will be in the neighbourhood of $30 to $50 billion in 2005 prices. An effort of this size and its financing can only be done within the confines of a well-thought out long-term plan. It is simply too big for an ad hoc approach.
The City of Edmonton estimates that the lifecycle of its infrastructure is 50-years: Is this an appropriate time frame for long-term planning? It certainly allows for planning strategies to consider the whole life-cycle of current infrastructure.
Table 1 breaks down the asset value of infrastructure in Edmonton, the total of which is $20.2 billion.
Table 1: Value of Edmonton’s infrastructure
Sanitary, storm and combined sewers (includes manholes and catchments), and wastewater treatment.
$ 8.41 billion
Roads (arterial, collectors, local; curbs and gutters), sidewalks, bridges, gates, streetscapes.
$ 6.37 billion
Horticulture, trails, hard surfaces, playgrounds, sports fields, parks and associated infrastructure (climbing gyms, etc.).
$ 1.48 billion
Transit facilities and equipment
LRT system facilities and equipment, transit centres, bus equipment and systems, trolley system.
$ 1.02 billion
Civic offices, public works yards, emergency response and police buildings, and libraries.
$ 0.67 billion
Transit buses, city vehicles and automotive shop equipment.
$ 0.61 billion
Traffic control and lighting
Traffic signals, signs, street lighting and parking meters.
$ 0.54 billion
Non-profit housing, community housing, and seniors’ lodges.
$ 0.22 billion
Arenas, leisure centres, swimming pools, Fort Edmonton, Valley Zoo, etc.
$ 0.53 billion
Waste management facilities
Administrative facilities, transfer stations, processing facilities, landfill operations.
$ 0.19 billion
Servers, networks, all communication equipment.
$ 0.11 billion
Emergency response and police equipment, library contents.
$ 0.09 billion
Total replacement value
$ 20.2 billion
Source: Edmonton City Council’s Infrastructure Strategy, 2006
The annual revenue available to the city for infrastructure rehabilitation or replacement is $260 million – meaning the city would be able to replace 1% of infrastructure each year; this suggests there is a shortfall of 44% of the required funds. These funds either have to come from other sources, or a significant reduction in infrastructure provision is inevitable.
In Calgary, the city manages over $28 billion of infrastructure (City of Calgary, 2005). Maintenance and growth of this infrastructure is projected to cost $10 billion over the next 10 years, although some savings are also projected over this figure by moving towards infill development rather than the construction of new infrastructure to greenfield development. In common with Ottawa and Edmonton, this is not a figure the city can adequately cover without long-term planning and the identification of savings.
The number of cities in Canada for which this is going to become a major consideration is likely to increase significantly as Canadian Municipalities begin to adopt Tangible Capital Assets accounting (see for example the Public Sector Accounting Board’s website), which will provide an increased requirement of municipalities to consider their capital infrastructure and the costs that it imposes upon them. This means that long-term management of infrastructure will increase in importance and that best practices for the development and replacement of infrastructure in a sustainable way needs to be disseminated now. There are two main sources of support for city infrastructure managers in the development of long-term plans – the principles of Smart Growth are widely adopted across Canada, and a substantial source of best practices information is available from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Government of Canada’s InfraGuide website.
This is without considering sustainable development – but a simple replacement of existing infrastructure. The adoption of Smart Growth or other holistic approaches to infrastructure provision and management will alter the degree to which the economic bottom line will drive management decisions. The goal will be that the development of sustainable infrastructure will reduce maintenance costs and, through the use of long-term plans based on sustainable development, these future savings can be costed to offset upfront investment.
Long-term planning allows municipalities to assess current assets, future needs and allow for provisions to be made to set aside resources to move a city in a more sustainable direction over time. Large-scale change is only achievable over time, and planning for this means it is more likely unsustainable growth will be prevented, and change can be initiated. A long-term plan does not automatically lead to sustainable development, and the vision and strategy needs to have some guiding principles – most often in Canada these are Smart Growth strategies and the participation of community groups and residents. The vision also needs to be strongly underpinned with short-term objectives, targets and deliverables that are directed by the strategy and monitored and evaluated accordingly.
Functional city regions make it easier to deliver systemic and holistic sustainable development. While municipalities within regions can clearly work together, where city regions are present the uncertainty and pressure felt, particularly by downtown cores, is reduced and long-term planning for sustainable development stands a greater chance of success. This broader scale focus is also important for smaller communities impacted by fast changes for which they lack the resources to deal with – support for long-term planning for sustainable development must be present at the provincial and federal levels of government – this means both financial resources, and the dissemination of best practices and training.
Training is vital. It helps service delivery personnel get to grips with the often jargon rich and ‘fuzzy’ planning and strategy documents. It is crucial that service delivery personnel, not to mention the wider community, understand the linkages between these long-term strategies and the day-to-day, year-on-year management of infrastructure. Properly resourced and trained operations staff working in the short term is a vital part of delivering long-term strategy, and if adequate links are not made then a strategy will fail. This is also vital for the implementation of interdisciplinary collaboration within the municipality, across departments and with community partners.
Detailed Background Case Description
Calgary is the 1stcertificated municipality in North America, and recently won an award for being the best in environmental achievement of any municipality in the world. There is a policy of excellence in engineering design: new municipal buildings must be of silver standard, and they are trying to for mandatory gold or even platinum design working with the . This legacy has led to a culture of due diligence that has put pressure on the city to maintain their position as world leaders.
Imagine Calgary: A consultation process involving 3,000-4,000 citizens produced a 100-year vision of Calgary as a community. This was then supported by a 30- to 40-year program of targets for each infrastructure sector. The aim is to align legislative policy, the sustainability agenda, and on-the-ground delivery. The delivery process has been designed to remove the budgetary decisions and maintain the long-term perspective severed from the political cycle. This culturally embeds the strategy and vision, making a success delivery more likely. The delivery process is based on competitive tendering of operational units for a share of city budget. The tendering competition is based on the degree to which operations for the next three-year business cycle move infrastructure towards the 30-year targets, and delivers maximum benefits to the triple bottom line of the city. In this way, more expensive short-term investments can be offset against gains in social or ecological capital in the future.
Each infrastructure sector has a 10-year asset management plan and a 3-year business plan. Budgets are not fixed – and this is a recent change brought in to create a mechanism to put sustainability principles into business units in the corporation, unit budget holders compete using value gained across the Triple Bottom Line in the long term.
The process involves a number of assessment stages:
- What are the long range life cycle requirements?
- What is the social impact?
- What is the cost if the investment is not made?
The infrastructure coordinating committee makes the final decision – this is then moved to council and city management for approval. This whole process contains elements of performance measurement, transparency and accountability of the managers to the infrastructure committee, the council and the citizenry.
The process is further strengthened by having a robust process for disseminating ideas and initiatives through the municipal structure. Typically, initiatives are developed at the grassroots, either within or outside of the organization. Ideas are then communicated up the hierarchy – council and senior management support is vital to the success of initiatives as it is they who have the ability to champion proposals and ensure the whole organization is informed and incorporates the ideas. The residents of the city are crucial to the process and there are formal partnerships with the city-wide community associations, which receive operational funding from the city.
Ottawa 20/20 is the City of Ottawa’s long-term, 20-year growth strategy, the first step to achieving a multigenerational vision and strategy akin to that adopted by Calgary. It uses the tenets of Smart Growth as the basis for policy development and involves significant community consultation. This led to a series of guiding principles for the city's long-term development:
- A caring and inclusive city
- A creative city rich in heritage and unique in identity
- A green and environmentally-sensitive city
- A city of distinct and liveable communities
- An innovative city where prosperity is shared among all
- A responsible and responsive city
- A healthy and active city
This vision is supported by a comprehensive official plan, and component infrastructure, greenspace and transportation plans, and a variety of other service delivery master plans for the same period. These plans were developed after the visioning exercise to create solid strategies and short- and medium-term action plans to achieve the vision.
Community participation is important in the plan as the focus on sustainable development requires changes in service provision and community behaviour if it is to be successfully implemented. Community participation in this process enables these changes to be discussed by and with the community and acceptable strategies to manage the change proposed and developed.
Change in behaviour is not restricted to the community; operational changes and the municipal culture also have to change to ensure that the necessary policy integration and collaborative requirements of sustainable development in the long term are implemented. Sustainable development in the long term and across the scale of the city region requires interdisciplinary, collaborative approaches to deliver, within the municipality and between the municipality and community partners. One way in which this change must be manifested is that the city must lead by example and demonstrate possibilities and concepts for others to follow. Of course, all this is set against the need to move the city in the right direction through a process of monitoring and evaluation of short-term projects in the context of their contributions to the long-term goals.
The disadvantage of long-term planning, however, is that strategies are harder to deliver and to break down into short- and medium-term projects, easy to deliver. Longer time horizons are better for sustainable development, but the management process also needs detailed short-term actions. Forman’s paradox of management applies as well to time scales as it does to spatial scales when it comes to the delivery of sustainable development in a city region.
“We are left with the paradox of management. One can more likely cause an effect at a fine [short time] scale, whereas success is more likely to be achieved at a broad [long time] scale.” Forman (1995)
Edmonton’s long-term strategy for infrastructure provides a detailed breakdown of existing assets, their project lifespan, and replacement cost. This approach to sustainable infrastructure is top-down, concerned with asset management. Sustainable development is a policy goal, but in the context of infrastructure in Edmonton seems to be largely concerned with long-term funding. What community involvement is incorporated is largely one-way with the city communicating and informing citizens, rather than with citizens being actively engaged with the city authorities in the development of the plans as in Ottawa and Calgary.
Edmonton’s strategy is also very concerned with the impact of 100,000s of commuters coming in from surrounding municipalities, putting pressure on Edmonton’s infrastructure without Edmonton having much control over the future development of these infrastructures. This is in contrast to the situation found in Ottawa and Calgary where amalgamation of the surrounding municipalities into a functional city region seems to have created a critical mass to address infrastructure concerns on a systematic basis.
The primary goals of Edmonton's strategy are:
- Evaluate and report the state of infrastructure needs.
- Implement sustainable infrastructure asset management practices.
- Ensure adequate fiscal tools and resources to fund infrastructure assets.
Although the three imperatives of sustainable development are nominally part of the infrastructure plan, these three main goals suggest the focus is really on the continued management and support of existing infrastructure proposals.
Clearly, the infrastructure strategy does not work in isolation, and is supported by a 10-year Municipal Development Plan. In addition, the infrastructure strategy has a continuous biennial review process attached to it, identifying needs, assets and condition of the infrastructure as it stands. This process is the adaptive component of the strategy and allows for change to the policy in the future based on adequate delivery of infrastructure services.
The Municipal Development Plan links with the infrastructure strategy primarily by addressing the expected rapid growth of the city over 10 years and the demands this will place on that infrastructure. The strategy aims to reduce the impact on infrastructure development in the medium term by encouraging infill development and also provides the necessary intra-municipal linkages between service delivery areas, and inter-municipal linkages providing the opportunity to create more city-region scale development decisions. Sustainable development, however, barely features in the plan. The exception is the section of the plan referring to the delivery of sustainable infrastructure, but how can the infrastructure be sustainable if the plan which it serving is not?
There has been much journalistic reporting in recent times, based on concerns in both the public and private sector, to the effect that Fort McMurray in the Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality is expanding in an unsustainable way as a result of the growth of the oil sand industry. Despite rapid growth and development in the region, the provision of infrastructure has been left to the municipal region and to the private sector wishing to expand operations in the region.
The Premier of Alberta is quoted as stating that:
“government intervention is not an option. The market must prevail. If we tamper with the marketplace, it's hard to undo what's been put in place by legislation or policy.” (Premier Ralph Klein quoted in the Province, Vancouver, BC Aug 29 2006).
This is despite both the private sector and the public sector recognizing that more investment is required to support the planning process.
“Industry needs to play a bigger role in addressing concerns that infrastructure in northern Alberta lags far behind the pace of oilsands development.” (Charlie Fischer CEO of Nexen Inc, quoted in Peace River Block Daily News, July 14 2006)
“I have to come up with $814-million I need over five years for infrastructure. I can tell you it's going to escalate. I can tell you I can collect a certain amount in taxes, but there is definitely a gap that I can't cover. I can't do it on my own.” (Mayor Melissa Blake quoted in National Post Aug 16, 2006)
It is likely fair to say this problem has arisen from the sheer pace of economic development, but the lack of adequate forward planning by all levels of government has created the infrastructure problem. Such problems are more likely to create infrastructure that is not sustainable in the long term as it has been created under pressure, without adequate time to plan, and consequently decisions are likely to have a short term frame of reference.
What is the best scale to enforce strategic planning decisions? Currently the power rests with municipalities yet the system in which they are operating is frequently larger than that. In Edmonton the surrounding municipalities have a significant impact on the city services.
Is the scale of the city authority the best for carrying out this scale of policy? In Ottawa and Calgary, municipalities have amalgamated creating functional city regions allowing a more systematic approach to planning. Does amalgamation make sustainable development more possible?
The scale is also important over time. What is the best time horizon for different levels of detail and strategy? What is the best balance between detail, flexibility and the reality of delivery?
Similarly, the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo is struggling to provide infrastructure in the short term for fast economic growth. Would a long-term strategy have foreseen this fast growth or been able to adequately provide for it. The province is unwilling to support the municipality. What is the best response for the provision of sustainable infrastructure in areas which are affected by external forces? Are they better handled at a higher level of government?
Resources and References
Clayton, A.M.H. and Radcliffe, N.J. 1996. Sustainability: A Systems Approach. London: Earthscan.
Dale, A, 2001. At the edge: sustainable development in the 21st century. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Elkington, J, 1997. Cannibals with forks: The triple bottom line of 21st century business. Chichester: Capstone Publishing.
Forman, R., 1995. Land Mosaics: the ecology of landscape and regions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Robinson, J. and Tinker J, 1997. 'Reconciling Ecological, Economic, and Social Imperatives: a New Conceptual Framework' in Surviving Globalism: Social and Environmental Dimensions, T. Schrecker (ed.). London: Macmillan p 71-94.