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Principles of Planning
There have been many recent examples of neighbourhoods whose hard-won plans are being amended piecemeal, by spot-rezoning (5 units on one single-family lot in a heritage area in Queen Mary Park; a proposal for an 80-storey tower on a park site atop the riverbank instead of in the high-rise zone in The Quarters downtown; a tower that will shade the heritage buildings on Whyte Avenue).
Plans should be respected. What follows is a review of the principles of planning that will circle back to why we should respect plans.
What is planning
From The Canadian Institute of Planners (the central regulatory body for Canada’s professional planning regulators):
“Planning means the scientific, aesthetic, and orderly disposition of land, resources, facilities and services with a view to securing the physical, economic and social efficiency, health and well-being of urban and rural communities.
Responsible planning has always been vital to the sustainability of safe, healthy and secure urban environments. As Canada’s population grows, the planning profession must deal with pressures and impacts of urbanization: for instance, the conversion of land from natural habitats to urban built areas, the maintenance and use of natural resources and habitats, environmental protection and the development and renewal of major infrastructure.
A planner’s activities include designating land use, designing social and community services, managing cultural and heritage resources, creating economic capacity in local communities and addressing transportation and infrastructure.
Planners may work for the public or the private sector—but ultimately their work always touches on public policy. They balance various private interests with the public interest and identify viable options.
Planners work for the public good, taking health, aesthetics, equity and efficiency into consideration. Planning respects the land as a community resource, contributing to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, and promoting healthy communities and improvements to quality of life.
To meet increasingly complex urban challenges, planners need to know about land, air and water resources, employment trends, cultural diversity and associated issues, new technologies, and conflict resolution.
As a planner, you may:
- recommend policy and guidelines on land use, environmental conservation, housing, and transportation;
- prepare reports on demographic, economic, cultural, social and environmental issues;
- review proposals for development to ensure that they follow regulations and generally accepted planning practice;
- prepare plans for developing private lands, providing public spaces and services and maintaining and improving the environment; and consult with landowners, interest groups and citizens.”
Canada has Minimum Standards for Professional Planner Codes of Conduct
Each province must maintain a professional planner regulatory body. The Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) is the parent body that oversees the provinces. The CIP maintains a Professional Planner Code of Conduct, which sets “Minimum Standards for Codes of Professional Conduct.” The CIP Code begins with a section entitled The Planner’s Responsibility to the Public Interest:
1.1 practice in a manner that respects the diversity, needs, values and aspirations of the public and encourages discussion on these matters;
1.2 1.2 provide full, clear and accurate information on planning matters to decision-makers and members of the public, while recognizing the employer or client’s right to confidentiality and the importance of timely reporting;
1.3 acknowledge the inter-related nature of planning decisions and the consequences for natural and human environments; and,
1.4 provide opportunities for meaningful participation and education in the planning process to all interested parties.”
The next section is entitled The Planner’s Responsibility to Clients and Employers:
2.1 provide independent professional opinion to clients, employers, the public, and tribunals; perform work only within their areas of professional competence;
2.2 undertake planning services with diligence and render services with appropriate preparation;
2.3 acknowledge the values held by the client or employer in work performed, unless such values conflict with other aspects of this Code;
2.4 respect the client or employer right to confidentiality of information gathered through a professional relationship, unless such right conflicts with other aspects of this Code;
2.5 inform the client or employer in the event of a conflict between the values or actions of the client or employer and those of this Code in a timely manner;
2.6 ensure timely and full disclosure to a client or employer of a possible conflict of interest arising from the Member’s private or professional activities;
2.7 not offer or accept any financial or other inducements, including prospective employment, that could, or appear to, influence or affect professional opportunities or planning advice;
2.8 not, as an employee of a public agency, give professional planning advice for compensation to a private client or employer within the jurisdiction of the public agency without disclosure to the agency and written consent; and,
2.9 not, as a consultant to a public agency during the period of contract with the agency, give professional planning advice for compensation to others within the jurisdiction of the agency without disclosure to the agency and written consent in situations where there is the possibility of a conflict of interest arising.”
The final section is entitled The Planner’s Responsibility to the Profession and Other Members.
Alberta’s Code of Professional Conduct fails to meet the Canadian minimum standards
All provinces have adopted the CIP Code of Conduct at a minimum. A number of provinces have added a Code of Ethics. Alberta alone has failed to meet the CIP’s standards.
The most glaring deficiency in Alberta’s Code is the complete silence about the public interest in professional planning.
Alberta’s Code is a Schedule to the Professional and Occupational Associations Registration Act, Professional Planner Regulation. The entire Code is as follows (compare to the minimum standards in the CIP Code, above):
“1 A regulated member must conduct himself or herself in a professional, ethical and responsible manner.
2 A regulated member must act in accordance with all applicable legislation and other laws.
3 A regulated member must maintain currency in the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out the practice of planning.
4 A regulated member must report any incompetent, illegal or unethical conduct of any member to the appropriate authority.
5 A regulated member must act in the best interests of the client and provide professional services with integrity, objectivity and independence.
6 A regulated member must hold in confidence all client information unless the member is permitted by the client or is required by the Act or any other enactment or by order of a court to disclose the information.
7 A regulated member must continually seek further knowledge in the theory and practice of planning and all other matters that enhance the reputation of the profession and the regulated member.
8 A regulated member must refrain from engaging in any business practices that detract from the professional image of the Association or its members.
9 A regulated member must refrain from serving a client under any terms or conditions that would impair the member’s independence.”
Alberta’s Code has been on the books for a long time – at least since 2011, when it was last updated. However, it likely dates from the time the CIP first required provinces to adopt a Code of Professional Conduct.
C4RD asked the CIP and the Alberta Professional Planner Institute (APPI) for their comments on Alberta’s failure to meet minimum standards.
“In June of 2015 APPI’s Legislative Review Committee and representatives from Professional Governance at Alberta Labour, began meeting to review the Professional Planner Regulation and identify possible amendments.
First and foremost amongst the amendments identified by APPI was the requirement to incorporate within regulation and specifically the Code of Professional Conduct, language that would more clearly articulate the Planner’s duty and responsibility to the public interest.
Both APPI and the Province are aware that this needs to be addressed and are working together to revise the regulation
accordingly on or before June 30, 2018” (the regulation expires on that date).
It is profoundly important to keep the paramountcy of the public interest top of mind, for planners, municipalities, and the public alike. Very likely the APPI and Alberta Labour could and should move more rapidly to adopt the CIP minimum standards into Alberta’s Professional Planner Code of Conduct.
It is the responsibility of professional planners to take on the hard work of educating decision-makers so that the public interest remains paramount in planning.
From the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) (Professional Planner Regulatory Body):
Planning means the scientific, aesthetic, and orderly disposition of land, resources, facilities and services with a view to securing the physical, economic and social efficiency, health and well-being of urban and rural communities.
Responsible planning has always been vital to the sustainability of safe, healthy and secure urban environments.
As Canada’s population grows, the planning profession must deal with pressures and impacts of urbanization: for instance, the conversion of land from natural habitats to urban built areas, the maintenance and use of natural resources and habitats, environmental protection and the development and renewal of major infrastructure.
Professional planners must free the public from ‘regulatory capture.’
Regulatory capture is a well-known phenomenon in which government becomes overly familiar with the interests of representatives of the activity to be regulated. Representatives begin to direct the content of the regulations (Epstein, H. Land-Use Planning: Essentials of Canadian Law. Irwin Law: Toronto, 2017).
In the case of land-use planning, developers tend to enjoy inordinate control of local government’s regulatory decisions regarding regional, municipal, and neighbourhood planning and zoning.
In Edmonton, it would appear as if developers – not the public interest in land use planning – happen to be defining the infill economy, and have captured City Council’s thinking on the matter.
A salient example is the ‘skinny-home’ phenomenon in mature neighbourhoods, which allows the subdivision of one lot to two narrower lots no less than 25 feet wide.
Developers have focused on a few stable, desirable mature neighbourhoods, buying older homes at premium prices, then building two skinny homes priced at close to a million dollars each to recoup investment and make the developer’s desired profit. In Westmount, 32 lots were split; Glenora came a close second with 25. “Fifteen other neighbourhoods saw 10 to 25 lots created. Most neighbourhoods saw only one or two. Neighbourhoods such as McCauley and Parkdale, central neighbourhoods that have been asking for increased market-rate investment, didn’t have any….It’s harder to sell a house that expensive in neighbourhoods that aren’t as hot on the real estate market.”
Rather than do the difficult work of planning the region, city, and neighbourhoods, and implementing financial incentives and disincentives to direct investment where it is needed (see the Sprawl tab on this website), City Council asked developers what they need to be able to continue to build in neighbourhoods of their choice, continue to profit as they like, but produce more affordable dwelling units. The result: “two townhouses facing forward and two back — on one 50-foot (15-metre) lot and get the price down to about $400,000 each.” That was the cost of the original home. We don’t know if any of this was necessary because we did not do any planning.
Council intends to “explain the market and economics to residents….The public will understand if they’re given good information.”
In fact, the public is well aware that Edmonton’s City Council is in a position of regulatory capture.
We remember that the Mayor and Council specifically promised to eliminate developer donations to civic election campaigns.
In 2015, Council unanimously voted in favour of banning corporate donations.
That promise does not seem to have materialized in time for the upcoming election – in part, it seems, because, when asked, municipal leaders agreed with the province that changes would be too difficult to implement in time and would give incumbents an advantage. (The exact nature of the advantage is not stated.)
On the eve of the civic election, the powers and interests of City Council, developers, and voters are distinctly out of balance.
Planning and the Municipal Government Act, Municipal Development Plans, Area Redevelopment Plans, and Direct Control Provisions.