Not too much if we look at its satellite image. It appears like a gray body existing within the green carpet of nature. The five Google images below show that the grayness does not actually fade until one zooms in enough and starts to see the city’s planning grid.
The reason for this grayness is obviously the paved roads, side-walks, shingled roofs, lavish urban set-backs and large facilities like shopping centres, airports and warehouses. Given the rate at which Calgary is sprawling, its mass will swell more. If we consider the level at which people are moving from the non-urban to urban centres, it is quite likely that this gray organism will further experience an increase in size encroaching upon the surrounding natural landscape.
So what is wrong with expanding cities, especially when growth today only signifies greater population mass, desired intensity in supply and demand, and larger economic activity?
If our livelihoods were without detrimental physical and psychological effects, there would not be anything wrong with growing urban centres. But the current state of affairs is far from this. For many cities, stress levels are on the rise, employment requirements defy human integrity, institution of family has broken down, and there is no time to sit back and connect to the one’s real inner core. To satisfy the hungry industry that is the reason for cities to exist, unprecedented levels of environmental crimes are committed. To cite a few, forests are cut down to concentrate tobacco leaves, mountains are dynamited to provide aggregates for concrete construction, and agricultural lands are sucked dry to produce mineral water for the large scale but non-genuine consumptive need. While industry provides commerce and employment, it paradoxically takes place at a huge environmental cost.
Cities today are like parasites living off of mother earth and her resources. Our economic activities are based on exploitation of nature without considering it an extension of our very own selves, and apparently, there does not seem to be a way out from the abyss we have landed ourselves into.
Fortunately enough, Calgary is yet to face the above-mentioned predicaments to the degree faced by other metropolises. While there is time, maybe there is a need to learn lessons from other cities that have addressed their modern dilemmas successfully for a noticeable period of time.
The one thing that comes up time and again in research on sustainability is the sense of belonging and ownership of a place. That is, how a community develops an affinity towards a locale. This kinship also exists on a city scale, for instance, in Portland’s case, the people collectively showed sense of belonging and ownership by pledging that city must live in harmony with nature. It should not selfishly encroach upon the farmlands and the surrounding majestic landscape.
The study of Brazilian city Curitiba demonstrates how people and the city government can work together for a better living environment. It is also a telling example of how to live harmoniously with the local nature. In case of Curitiba, this is not fighting with the annual cycle of floods but by accepting this change in climate, and learn to live with it so that the city, its people and the natural topography survive.
Cuba’s agricultural revolution is an astounding case of attesting to the fact that if one took care of mother earth, she would take care of all. It also shows that our genuine needs are only so many and that best things in the life are ‘free’.
To address the multi-faceted urban issues, cross fertilization of different realms of knowledge is essential. It is possible to achieve sustainability in all spheres of life so that human existence does not cause any environmental degradation. It is good to know that Calgarians realize this, as evidenced by their sensitivity to nature and participation in many environmental initiatives. And given this, one hopes that Calgary, amongst others cities, will be another North American inspiration for sustainable life style.
1-People And Place (course taught at EVDS, University of Calgary by Noel Keough and Mishka Lysac)