By Dafydd Urquhart
Dafydd Urquhart is a born-and-raised Calgarian, father, equipment operator for the roads department and a member of Calgary’s Future, an advocacy group for everyday Calgarians.
Calgary is a sprawling city. We have a larger geographic footprint than New York City and just 1/6th of the population. If you look at an aerial view of Calgary, you’ll see two rivers and roads, roads, and more roads.
Calgary is home to more than 16,000 lane-kilometres of paved roadway (defined as the length of road multiplied by the number of lanes). For more than a decade, it’s been my job to maintain these roads. While Calgarians are tucked in their beds sleeping, I clear our roads of ice and snow, sweep away rocks and debris, and patch potholes.
I love my job. I joined the City’s roads department 15 years ago, after working as a pipefitter and industrial mechanic before that. For 11 years, I’ve been on the night shift. My shift goes until 3:30 a.m. and I love that it’s my job to make Calgarians’ commutes smoother by the time they wake up in the morning. I take immense pride in my work.
Growth at a cost
I see first-hand that all this sprawl comes at a cost. The farther and farther our city stretches out, the more and more asphalt is needed. The money to plow, and to sweep, and to fill potholes on our ever-increasing number of roads has to come from somewhere.
I’m a bit of a political junkie and I find it interesting that while many councillors advocate for lower taxes, they don’t seem to see the connection between all these new roads and the public money needed to maintain them.
I’ve recently seen some posts on social media about the Guidebook for Great Communities.
While I know many people’s eyes may glaze over when they hear about a 131-page planning document, they shouldn’t. This document is about the future of our city and how we want to grow. It’s so connected to the work I do every night in graders and rollers and sweepers (depending on the season) and what I think about while maintaining our roads.
Calgary can’t afford to keep sprawling. We simply can’t.
And no, I’m not writing this from an inner-city perch.
I live in Livingston, a community on Calgary’s northern edge. My family moved here less than a year ago, after decades of renting and a desire for an affordable place of our own (that didn’t need fixing up). I remember when we were considering neighbourhoods, we were so attracted to the fact Livingston will one day be a complete community, a place where my kids can ride their bikes to the main street, walk to a pool and take transit to other parts of the city.
I’m in favour of complete communities
So all that is to say I’m not anti-suburbs. I’d be a hypocrite if I were.
But, I am in favour of complete communities. And my read of the Guidebook is that it will help existing communities be complete communities. It will help all communities become places where people want to live and raise their families. I want my kids to see a future in Calgary. I want them to want to continue to live in Calgary. I don’t want Calgary to end up like Detroit.
I think about our city’s future a lot when I’m operating heavy equipment on near-empty roads every night.
There’s a spot where Metis Trail and Stoney Trail connect, where you can see Calgary from a distance. The airport is in the foreground and Nose Hill, near where I grew up a kid, is in the background.
I look at the city and marvel at its ever-growing footprint. We must grow responsibly if we want a city that my kids and future generations want to call home.