Decisions surrounding land use are inherently political. Individuals and groups may have vastly different ideas about what is best for their community and what good planning looks like. Every planning decision is also a political act that prioritizes certain community members’ goals over others. What looks like an obvious planning choice to some might be offensive to others. It is not surprising, then, that planning decisions often elicit very powerful reactions from both individual residents and community groups. For this reason it is imperative that municipalities listen to residents and try to balance the needs and wishes of community members. A wide variety of tools for meaningful engagement to that end are available, ranging from notices and surveys to intensive in-person consultation sessions and appeal hearings. The practice of engagement is a core component of planning in the 21st century, occurring along a spectrum from informing to transferring power to citizens depending on the decision at hand.
Another important consideration to take into account is that planning does not stop at municipal borders. The actions of municipalities often impact their neighbours. It is important that municipalities work with their neighbours through intermunicipal and regional planning to address how these decisions impact how each other. Given the wide range of issues planning addresses, the creation of regional plans such as Intermunicipal Development Plans or Regional Growth Plans can serve as the foundation for many discussions ranging from cost and revenue sharing agreements, to the establishment of regional service commissions. This aspect of planning has become even more important with amendments to the Municipal Government Act mandating Intermunicipal Collaboration Frameworks and noting collaboration with neighbours as a core municipal purpose.
To learn more, visit the section on Planning with adjacent municipalities.
Environmental planning is vital to the process of ensuring long-term municipal sustainability. Each and every change made by humans has an impact on the natural environment. A core role of municipalities is to ensure that a careful balance is maintained between ecological considerations and the need for development. Amendments to the Municipal Government Act have enshrined the importance of fostering the environment as basic municipal purpose. Ecological issues such as water shortages, air quality concerns, and climate change are catalyzing new methods of development that better integrate environmental, economic, and lifestyle concerns. Ecological considerations are apparent in nearly all planning activities, from the creation of high level statutory plans to the approval of subdivisions and developments.
For more information, see the section on Achieving environmental objectives.
The planning decisions that municipalities make can have a major influence on the local economy. The way that neighbourhoods are planned and subdivisions and developments are regulated can attract investors of many different types. Municipalities have the ability to not only influence where businesses locate, but how they will integrate into the community, the amenities they will have access to, and how many customers will live and work in the vicinity. Given this, economic considerations have risen to the forefront of municipal planning across the country, and have become a key consideration in the pursuit of sustainable development goals.
AUMA has developed an Economic Development Hub that brings together tools to assist municipalities in economic development alongside their planning work, including a Tourism Vitality Alberta Toolkit and Business Vitality Alberta Toolkit created by AUMA.
Municipal planning is a key determinant of many social issues ranging from public health and safety, to housing accessibility, and even to human rights. The way that municipalities choose to regulate land use and plan future growth and development has the power to make communities safer, healthier, and more accessible for all people.
One of the key focus areas in Alberta right now is ensuring that all citizens have access to quality, affordable housing. Although affordable housing is a provincial responsibility, it is not always delivered by the province to the extent required in our communities, and municipalities have taken action to fill the gap and ensure that residents have a safe place to live. In addition to municipal funding for housing in some communities, commonly used tools to meet housing need include zoning bylaw changes that enable affordable suites and density bonusing.
AUMA has created a number of tools to help municipalities address social issues and integrate such concerns into planning practice:
For more information, see the section on Achieving social objectives.
Cultural and aesthetic
Cultural and aesthetic considerations play a key role in municipal planning. Municipalities have a range of tools available to them to enhance and protect cultural and aesthetic assets in their communities. One of the most basic interventions for aesthetic objectives is the application of design standards in the land use bylaw and in subdivision design. By installing fixtures, plants, and public art, municipalities can make areas more appealing and vibrant for visitors and residents alike.
Many municipalities are also playing an active role in preserving historic resources. These actions can also play an important cultural role in “placemaking”, or activities that help to contribute to health, wellbeing, and happiness in specific areas. Through targeted beautification and placemaking campaigns organized through statutory plans, municipalities can also help to revitalize neighbourhoods and increase economic vibrancy.
For more information see the section on Achieving cultural and aesthetic objectives.