Calgary ranked No. 1 on environment

Calgary has been ranked the world’s top eco-city, but an environmental group warns urban sprawl is keeping the city from meeting its target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

For a city that introduced curbside recycling just last year, some were surprised by Calgary’s rating.

“There’s a lot of environmental challenges we have in our city,” Ald. Brian Pincott said, adding he hadn’t seen the criteria human resources firm Mercer used in its international comparisons.

While the city’s water and wastewater systems are “the best in the world,” Pincott said, Calgary still has “a long, long way to go.”

“We have one of the largest ecological footprints in the world, we are one of the highest greenhouse emitters in the world,” he said.

“We have a long way to go before we can begin to relax.”

The city officially opened its Pine Creek wastewater treatment plant Tuesday.

Mercer compiles the quality of living index so its clients can properly compensate employees assigned internationally. It looked at 221 cities around the world.

In the eco rating, Honolulu placed second, while Ottawa tied for third with Helsinki, Finland.

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Mercer’s senior researcher, Slagin Parakatil, said in a release that “a city’s eco-status or attitude toward sustainability can have significant impact on the quality of living of its inhabitants.”

In the overall quality of living ranking, Calgary slipped to 28th place in the world from 26th last year. It was one of five Canadian cities in the top 50, with Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal all placing higher than Calgary.

Mercer uses 39 criteria to rate the cities, including schools, hospital services, climate, public transit and recreational and cultural amenities.

Calgary has set a greenhouse gas reduction target of six per cent below 1990 levels.

The city also hoped to cut its emissions in half by 2036. However, between 1990 and 2005, those emissions rose by 40 per cent.

The Pembina Institute released a report Wednesday highlighting the city’s faltering emissions targets and pointed the blame squarely on the growth of low-density housing projects, which require more cars and longer commutes.

“This is a baseline report, so in a few years, we can check back and verify the progress,” said Alison Bailie, the senior technical policy adviser with the institute.

The Cool Cities Summary looked at the challenges to greenhouse gas reduction in six Canadian cities.

It found Calgarians faced, on average, the second longest daily commute after Toronto. More than two-thirds of the city’s residents commute using a private vehicle and only one per cent of the population lives in a high-density area.

“We’re now living with an absence of a forward-looking plan. Most of the growth in the city is happening in the lower-to medium-density fringe,” said Chris Sevenson-Baker, a policy director with the institute.

The institute’s research, which involved talking to city staffers, found that developments on empty stretches of land tended to be approved more quickly than higher-density projects with established infrastructure such as roads, public transit, libraries, recreation centres and police stations.

Bravin Goldade, the president at Westcreek Developments, agreed with this assessment.

“Neighbourhoods react negatively to higher density,” he said. “Density is perceived as devaluing property, which is a misnomer. It doesn’t.”

Ward 6 Alderman and mayoral candidate Joe Connelly said he didn’t put much stock into the Pembina’s research.

“That’s anecdotal evidence. It’s unacceptable for them to throw that around,” he said. “When they have some facts and data, I’d love to comment on it.”

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