Wood Buffalo's Foundation for the Future: Community engaged in the region's new planning process

By Nolan Haukeness - Wednesday, June 1 2011

Wood Buffalo is an area that is best known for an abundance of resources and for being one of the fastest-growing communities in the country. It is also known as having a hard-working population who may not have roots within the community.

However, over the past few years the dynamic of Wood Buffalo has changed. People still come up here to work, but they are now bringing their families with them and they plan to be here long enough to call this their home.

Those are the people the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) is thinking about as it puts together a municipal development plan (MDP).

“A plan like this would usually be revisited every five years, but given the rapid growth of the community, we may want to revisit it every three years,” said Project Co-ordinator Rick Schippling.

The plan will be an outlook for what Wood Buffalo will look like for the next 20 years. Its foundation is the Future Forward guiding document, approved by municipal council in 2007, and the Envision Wood Buffalo sustainability plan. Both will be used in writing the new development plan.

The previous MDP was completed in 2000 and it predicted Wood Buffalo’s population would be 50,000 by 2011. The current population is an estimated 104,000, with a predicted doubling of the population by 2030.

That type of unprecedented growth shows the need for the development plan to be a “plan of action,” says Schippling. The team will include social, environmental, cultural and economic components.

While the MDP is the long-term vision for where the RMWB is going, it will also set short-term goals and a layout of the objectives of municipal council, year by year, based on feedback from the public.

That feedback is perhaps the biggest part of the municipal development plan.

The Municipality launched the creation of the MDP with “What’s the Big Idea Wood Buffalo?”

It was a vision fair held at MacDonald Island which allowed the community to engage in the process and tell the team putting together the plan what they want to see in Wood Buffalo, as well as how they would like to see the community grow.

No idea is too big for the team responsible for the MDP to hear, and that is evident by some of the ideas that were given at the vision fair, including high-speed rail both between Fort McMurray and Edmonton and within the Municipality.

The ideas are coming from people from all walks of life and that is exactly what the team wants, according to Project Manager Amanda Owens.

“People typically talk about their five-year plan for living here, but that is something we want to overcome. We want people to feel engaged, get them thinking long-term, and see that they have a future here with their children,” said Owens.

Open houses are also just one of the ways the team will be getting suggestions from the public on what would make the RMWB a better place to live.

The website, www.bigideawoodbuffalo.ca, has seen plenty of traffic since its inception and residents have been flooding it with their own vision for what they would like to see.

Waterfront development and an outdoor amphitheatre are among some of the “big ideas” Wood Buffalo residents have shared.

Those ideas will also be put into the plan a lot sooner than one might think.

“Typically, a project of this magnitude would take one-and-a-half to three years to complete in most municipalities. We’ve been really lucky in that we have had a couple of years already to revise and revisit a lot of our current plans, like our parks, transportation, or our public transit plans, and essentially what we are doing is taking that information and building on it,” said Owens.

The MDP will have eleven weeks of public consultation in which they hope to get contributions from at least 10,000 people. The team will then have the first draft of the plan completed by the start of summer, with the final version done by the end of summer.

It will then be presented to municipal council, hopefully early in the fall.

If those of us who live in the RMWB have a collective goal to make this a better place to live, then the Municipal Development Plan will be the road map for that.

Mayor Melissa Blake, whose “big idea” happens to be downtown redevelopment, says the MDP is a tremendous opportunity.

“With this plan we can create the kind of community that others will in fact envy.”

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