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2001 Planning — Co-winner 3

City of Red Deer, Alberta

Protecting natural habitats through ecological profiling

Population: 65,000

The City of Red Deer and its citizens are working together in conjunction with the development industry to ensure a well-defined mix of housing and green space in the area. The city is preserving its natural habitat, while allowing for human growth, through a program designed to evaluate and protect areas of ecological significance. Now a formal component of land-use planning and development in Red Deer, the city's evaluation and ecological profile processes strike a balance between future residential, industrial, and commercial development and the need to preserve natural habitat and biodiversity found in those areas.

Background

Red Deer has a history of working co-operatively with local land developers to preserve the city's natural habitat areas. During the 1980s, it preserved large tracts of land in the river valley within the central Waskasoo Park open space system, despite steady development in the area. The city's intent was to preserve natural spaces for future generations to enjoy. However, as development expanded, it became clear that in order to sustain these spaces Red Deer had to adopt a more formal preservation process.

"Habitat protection was always accomplished somewhat subjectively," said Red Deer Recreation, Parks and Culture Manager Don Batchelor. "Every new potential development was treated on its own merits."

Two Red Deer environmental groups, the Red Deer River Naturalists and the Citizens Action Group on the Environment, appealed to the city's Environmental Advisory Board to develop a strategy that would eliminate this hit-and-miss approach to planning. In the meantime, an entomologist working for the city formed an employee group called the Parks Action Group on the Environment (PAGE). The group located and mapped all habitat sites in the city and the surrounding 194-square-kilometre district. PAGE got written permission from landowners to map privately held areas.

"The group was self-appointed and self-motivated," said Batchelor. "They did this simply because they were interested in locating all our natural areas."

Results

  • Ten ecological profiles have been initiated or completed. These inventories account for about 75 per cent of the city's natural areas not already established as parkland.
  • The design process for new developments has been accelerated by several weeks. In the past, differing opinions among developers, consultants and the city delayed decisions on what should and should not be preserved.
  • By maintaining a scientific approach, the city developed a credible design process that is respected by both environmentalists and land developers.
  • Quality of life and aesthetics in Red Deer's newer neighbourhoods have improved.
  • A new marketing tool has been created for developers. Developers now actively promote their projects by highlighting the benefits of habitat protection.

Lessons Learned

  • Be proactive, not reactive. Getting a policy in place now will avoid years of delay and dissatisfaction among all parties.
  • Develop an ecospace evaluation process in partnership with all potential stakeholders. Finding a consensus that works for everyone is preferable to unilaterally implementing changes.
  • Maintain a scientific approach while developing an ecospace evaluation process. Remove subjectivity to the greatest extent possible.
Page Updated: 21/12/2015