Densification vs. urban Sprawl

The Issue

Do we build outward or up?

With Calgary’s population expected to swell to two million people by 2050, debate is raging about how to house more people into existing communities, rather than continue to expand towards the city limits.

Proponents of densification claim that we should slow down the building of new communities, which require substantial infrastructure investment such as building new roads, community centres, electricity grids and schools. Instead, we should make better use of existing land and often-poorly used infrastructure in the inner city by building upward with multi-family housing. Proponents of urban sprawl want more room per household, with the opportunity to own a backyard at an affordable price outside of the expensive inner city.

The City of Calgary introduced a master planning document in early 2021 to manage future growth in existing neighbourhoods, called The Guidebook For Great Communities. After an uproar by residents of inner-city neighbourhoods, it adopted the Guide for Local Area Planning, which aims to provide best practices on how to integrate new development into a community’s existing fabric.

Critics of the guidebook are worried that city planners are pushing denser housing in established and often affluent communities, which threaten to lower property values. They complain they have not been properly consulted, and that single-family neighbourhoods will lose their character with the introduction of taller, multi-family housing.

Aerial view of condo and apartment buildings in downtown Seattle


Where do you stand on densification vs. urban sprawl?

Candidates on Densification vs. urban sprawl

Additional Resources

Public Poll: where do you stand on densification vs. urban sprawl?