A downhill slide

A downhill slide There are some significant differences between how urban growth was presented to early residents of the city and what residents are confronted with right now. When early residents bought their lots in Riverdale, they had a comprehensive

There are some significant differences between how urban growth was presented to early residents of the city and what residents are confronted with right now.

When early residents bought their lots in Riverdale, they had a comprehensive plan Ð the Whitehorse Metropolitan Plan Ð that told them what to expect. They knew the growth direction for Riverdale for the next 30 years. Several hundred more residences were planned. People knew where those lots were going. They knew what types of dwellings would be built. And they knew where greenbelts would be retained.

They knew that Chadburn Lake Park Reserve was set aside Ð not just for watershed protection that is no longer needed, as the city seems to believe Ð but specifically as parkland, to “ensure” nearby recreational opportunities for local residents “into the future.”

They knew industrial uses were separated from incompatible land uses so that they wouldn’t conflict with the residential quality of life that the plan supported. They didn’t have to fear that a smelter, concrete plant, asphalt plant or ore processing facility would be located nearby. They had more than the commissioner’s word to rely on for that sense of stability.

They weren’t facing several years of spot zoning applications giving rise to more divisive discussions centered around hair-splitting debates over definitions of heavy industrial and quality of life, as we most certainly are if that particular draft policy goes ahead.

And finally, city residents had the chance to vote on whether or not they wanted the city boundaries extended into the Riverdale site: in effect, a public vote on whether the Metropolitan Plan should be implemented. They had other opportunities to vote with each successive extension of Riverdale.

And yet, with all the attention to quality-of-life issues, conservation and a democratic process, the Metropolitan Plan has legitimate claim to a sustainability ethic. It even recommended an “urban-growth-containment boundary” of sorts, calling for a halt to development within a 10-mile radius of the downtown area.

And all that was when a federally appointed commissioner made the decisions.

Planners and municipal politicians would have us believe that the greenbelts they now want to infill are merely leftover, accidental spaces. But they were planned as part of the fabric of the early subdivisions; a regionally appropriate, cost-effective landscape element that helps create a sense of place.

Whitehorse got away with a lot because those types of spaces were deliberately retained. The city has managed to evade, for several decades, the kind of expensive, outdoor public-space amenities in the older subdivisions that other cities have been responsible for, such as streetscaping, and a diverse range of community parks Ð attention to community parks in Whitehorse is a relatively new phenomenon.

The city has had to face little pressure to develop an urban street tree plan. Their sidewalk system remains erratic, and still nonexistent in many areas of the city.

City officials continued to be advised into the early 1970s, by their planners, that the city’s greenbelts were integral to the quality of the urban-suburban environment. That’s the advice that anyone involved with the first zoning bylaw was getting.

Whether this OCP draft is more progressive than land-use planning was in the early 1960s is debatable.

I don’t think it is. The argument can be made that many proposals in the draft OCP violate core planning principles. The proposed industrial policy in particular is going all the way back to the time before any municipal zoning was put in place at all.

The document’s language is so noncommittal for most of its policies that it could go in a completely different direction within a month after it’s passed.

If city council deletes the greenspace referendum bylaw, as the OCP draft is proposing Ð and if the Yukon government continues to ignore its responsibility to the Municipal Act Ð citizens’ democratic rights will continue on their downhill slide, and we’ll have even less of a meaningful voice in land-use planning than early residents of the city had in the bad old days of commissioner’s rule.

And for a democratic society, that’s going backwards.

Marianne Darragh

Whitehorse