Marking the centennial of municipal planning

Albertans live in an increasingly urbanized society. Consequently, they are concerned with such things as efficient road systems, convenient shopping areas, a good supply of recreational and cultural amenities and lots of green spaces.

Albertans in rural areas face similar issues with additional concerns such as intensive livestock operations, high voltage power lines and intrusions onto prime farmlands.

It has been proven time and time again that these kinds of issues cannot be dealt with in a haphazard manner. There has to be careful, collaborative planning and clear sets of rules and regulations.

During the 19th century, the industrial revolution and mass urbanization brought chaotic growth. Consequently, two movements emerged to deal with the myriads of issues.

The British “Garden City” movement advocated the creation of carefully balanced residential and industrial areas, separated and surrounded by extensive greenbelts. The American City Beautiful movement looked to careful urban planning and civic beautification initiatives to make cities much more livable.

In the early part of the 20th century, Red Deer began to grow very rapidly. Red Deer had always enjoyed a natural park-like beauty. People became increasingly interested in making sure that this was preserved.

In January 1911, Red Deer Town Council officially voted to create Waskasoo Park consisting of 40 acres of land on the south side of the community. While part of the new parkland was to be used as a recreational area, a decision was also made to leave much of the wooded area in its natural state.

In February of 1911, Horace Seymour arrived in Red Deer to establish a survey and municipal engineering practice in Red Deer. He soon went into partnership with Robert Dawe to create the survey, engineering, and municipal planning firm of Seymour and Dawe.

In the spring of 1911, the Red Deer Horticultural Society was established to promote gardening and the beautification of the community. The Society also organized public meetings to promote the concepts of civic improvement and town planning.

Work soon began on a city centre master plan. There were to be three central blocks devoted to federal, provincial and municipal government facilities. Key people behind this work were A.W.G. Allen of the Horticultural Society, C.A. Julian Sharman, a local architect and Lawrence Gotch of Calgary. The master plan that was developed remains largely intact, with only some modifications over the subsequent decades.

In 1912, Horace Seymour left Red Deer to pursue post-graduate studies.

In 1915, he joined the Town Planning Section of the national Commission of Conservation. He played a major role in the reconstruction of Halifax after the 1917 Explosion. He developed the first comprehensive municipal plan for the City of Vancouver.

In 1929, Seymour was named the Director of Town Planning and Rural Planning for Alberta. His work quickly became the model used by several provinces across Canada. And 1929 was also the year that the first Town Planning Commission was established in Red Deer.

The authority of the Red Deer Town Planning Commission was limited to the City’s boundaries. This increasingly became an issue. In 1952, the Province of Alberta created the Red Deer District Planning Commission, covering both the City and the rural Municipal District of Red Deer.

By 1959, the Planning Commission included 11 municipalities. Its work was admired across western Canada. Eventually, the Commission (renamed the Red Deer Regional Planning Commission) covered 44 municipalities, cities, towns, and counties over an area of 36,750 sq. km.

Unfortunately, all ten regional planning commissions in Alberta were abolished in 1995. Some larger communities created their own planning departments. Fortunately, in Central Alberta, Parkland Community Planning Services was created to help fill the void.

On Tuesday, Nov. 8 at noon, World Planning Day will be celebrated in the Snell Auditorium at the Red Deer Public Library by the local Alberta Professional Planners Institute with special exhibits and a talk by Michael Dawe on the centennial of community planning.