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Achieving cultural and aesthetic objectives

Cultural objectives relate to the artistic and recreational assets of a community, reflecting its shared values, diverse traditions, customs, heritage, identity, and history. Land use planning can have a significant impact on the culture of a community affecting its attractiveness and how its residents interact. Municipalities are increasingly considering cultural aspects of planning and using a variety of tools to achieve cultural objectives. 


Placemaking is multi-dimensional approach to planning that builds on the virtues of already existing assets to create vibrant, unique, and meaningful places. Arising out of the urban critiques of the 1960s, placemaking prioritizes inclusive, human-scale developments that get people out of their cars and into the streets. Placemaking is about collectively reimagining underused, dangerous, or otherwise unpleasant places to better serve the needs and desires of the community. As “the community” is often made up of different groups of people with different values and priorities, it is important that placemaking initiatives are inclusive, and prioritize conversation and engagement over top-down implementation. While placemaking is often discussed in larger metropolitan contexts, it is equally useful for smaller cities and municipalities to think critically and creatively about making places in their communities. Rather than an end in itself, temporary placemaking experiments can also be used to engage communities around future planning decisions and challenges.

Edmonton’s City Lab unit uses placemaking as a tool to engage communities about key planning decisions. (Photo source: City of Edmonton).

Transfer development credits

Transfer development credits (TDCs) are an emerging tool that can be used to assist in achieving social objectives.  TDCs can be used on a very small scale where a developer owns two or more properties one of which the municipality wishes to see the building, use, or density retained. The municipality agrees to allow a higher density on the other property or properties than is normally allowed and places a caveat or other restrictive instrument on the property it wishes to conserve. The effectiveness of this approach is limited by ownership, market demand, and the ability to restrict development of the remaining property. TDC’s can be also used to protect environmentally sensitive areas and farmland.  More information on TDCs is available in the section on achieving environmental objectives (below) and from the Miistakis Institute.  

Design guidelines

Aesthetic objectives are largely achieved through the application of design standards in land use bylaws and subdivision design. Some municipalities have appointed a design review panel to evaluate and make recommendations on major developments, especially in downtown areas. In a recent and innovative example, the City of Calgary has developed a set of urban design guidelines focusing on commercial development sites outside of the downtown area, where big box stores and sprawling parking lots have become the norm. The guidelines support the planning priorities of Calgary’s Municipal Development Plan (MDP), which calls for more vibrant and walkable commercial areas. Extending best practices of urban design to suburban commercial developments, the City of Calgary’s new design guidelines help re-imagine Calgary’s commercial landscape. Click here for more information on Calgary’s award winning plan.

Historic resources

Municipalities who believe that a land use planning decision may impact historic resources are encouraged to contact Alberta Culture and Tourism.  The department evaluates and coordinates the review of land-based development proposals that potentially impact historic resources, such as archaeological resources, paleontological resources, historic sites or structures, and Aboriginal traditional use site(s) considered as historic resources under the Historical Resources Act

Provincial powers

The Act gives the Minister of Alberta Culture and Tourism the authority for the orderly development, preservation, study, interpretation, and promotion of appreciation for Alberta’s historic resources. The Act provides a means to achieve these goals including requiring developers to conduct studies on potential impacts of their development on historic resources. These studies ensure appropriate consideration of historic resources during land use planning activities for developments within the Province.  The Act applies to all developments in Alberta on both public and private lands, except land under federal authority. Sections 31, 32 and 37(2) within the Act are important for developers.

Municipal powers

The Act also empowers municipalities to designate historic places through the passage of a local bylaw that legally protects designated resources from demolition or alterations that diminish from its heritage value. Before designating a historic place a brief document called a Statement of Significance (SoS) is developed to help guide the management of the site over time.  The Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada provides further guidance for how to make appropriate conservation decisions. Further information is available from Alberta Culture and Tourism

Learn more

In the fall of 2015 AUMA hosted the following webinars to provide municipalities information on the connection between land use planning and historical resources:

Historical Buildings in the City of Lacombe (Photo Source: Lacombe Historical Society)