Calgary versus the car: the city that declared war on urban sprawl
Calgary is like any other Canadian city that grew outwards, not upwards. But led by progressive mayor Naheed Nenshi, the oil-rich, car-friendly city has become an unlikely leader in the battle to limit urban sprawl
Chris Turner in Calgary
Friday 8 July 2016 07.30 BST
But Calgary is no ordinary city. As the corporate home of Canada’s oil and gas industry, it has long been particularly friendly to the car.
Secondary suites, however, present a challenge to the automobile’s supremacy: they increase housing density, and ease the push to expand ever further into the suburbs.
Calgary’s battle against sprawl is duplicated in one way or another in every Canadian city. Blessed with abundant space and cheap fuel, the country’s cities grew mostly outwards instead of upwards as they prospered in the decades after the second world war. The aspirational Canadian lifestyle that emerged in those years was a wholly suburban one – a detached home surrounded by a tidy putting-green lawn on a wide curving avenue, with two cars in the garage to drive down fast-moving freeways to work, school and the mall.
Every Canadian city now wrestles with the outsized cost of providing access to those increasingly distant suburbs. Freeways grow ever-more clogged with traffic, and infrastructure bends and cracks under the strain. In Toronto, a pitched battle has been fought over the future of an elevated waterfront highway, leading to a compromise that pleases almost no one. The city council in nearby Hamilton spent the spring arguing whether or not to accept C$1bn (£600m) in funding from the provincial government for light-rail transit (LRT). Last summer, voters in proudly green Vancouver rejected a proposed tax aimed at expanding the region’s transit system. The progressive new federal government led by Justin Trudeau has promised to invest in urban infrastructure with a zeal not seen in decades, but it seems no Canadian city has quite settled on what’s needed to combat the sprawl that so vexes them.