Town of Okotoks – Alberta

The Town of Okotoks became one of the first municipalities in the
world to establish growth targets linked to infrastructure development
and environmental carrying capacity (Sheep River) when it adopted a
Municipal Development Plan (MDP) in September 1998. The Town, dependent
on the Sheep River for its water and its ability to treat and dispose
effluent, faced an intersection in its evolution in 1998 – it could
continue to “grow without limits” and plan accordingly with access to
regional infrastructure, or it could take a “road less traveled” and
intentionally choose to live within the carrying capacity of the Sheep
River watershed. A community-driven vision – to respond to rather than
manipulate the environment that sustains us, chose the latter.

Carrying
capacity (ability to draw water, infuse treated effluent based on
provincial regulations) was identified as approximately 30,000 people.
A build-out municipal boundary was established, with a comprehensive
set of targets and initiatives identified to ensure build-out
population could be reached in an environmentally, economically,
socially, and fiscally healthy way. Hence the articulation of four
pillars of Sustainable Okotoks that continue to motivate and drive
action: 1) Environmental stewardship; 2) Economic Opportunity; 3)
Social Conscience; and 4) Fiscal Responsibility. The pillars work
together to mould the community Okotokians have expressed as a desire
in three Community Surveys conducted in the past 8 years – a place that
is safe and secure, maintains small town atmosphere, has a pristine
river valley, has quality schooling, provides housing choice and
employment options for young and old alike – a place of modest size and
the sense of connectivity to people and place that maintains. It does
not wax nostalgic…rather it represents a desire for a ‘better’
community in the form of a practical working guide to follow on a
community development path that epitomizes Robert Frost’s “road less
traveled”.

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