Canada's greenest communities

Visit the most eco-happy places in Canada. They'll make you want to pick up and move.

By Susan Hughes

Okotoks, Alberta: Maintaining a green community
Okotoks, Alta.: Staying Within its Limits

At a glance
Major green efforts
• A plan to maintain an eco-friendly community, where growth matches what the environment can sustain.
• The town's water use has plummeted by about one-third and greenhouse gas emissions by almost one-fifth.
• Sewage treatment plant turns waste into compost.
• Many town buildings, including the new community centre, use solar-thermal energy.
Future goals/plans
• Hit the targets in its green plan.
• Continue to assess community support for the town's green aspirations.

Kevin Meyers and his family moved to Okotoks, Alta., from Calgary four years ago. He liked the idea of a smaller town that was only a 15-minute drive from the city. He liked the idea of fresh air. He had family living near there. But there was another compelling attraction: "The population cap of 30,000 people was definitely a selling point for us," he says.

The community is totally dependent on the nearby Sheep River for all its water needs, including drinking water and treating and disposing of effluent. "Thirty thousand people is all that the Sheep River can sustain," says Kevin. The notion of limiting the growth of a community to what the local environment can handle sounds smart, but Okotoks is one of the first municipalities in the world to have taken this green approach to growth.

"A fresh look at the future"
This forward thinking was prompted over 10 years ago when the province of Alberta downloaded responsibilities for planning onto smaller municipalities. The residents of Okotoks decided to take a fresh look at their future. "As a town we asked ourselves, 'What do we want to be when we grow up?' and this was the vision," recalls Rick Quail, the town's municipal manager. "There was extensive community [discussion] with the citizens of Okotoks, and that formed the basis of our plan moving forward."

The initiative Quail is referring to is an official municipal development plan, which the town council created in 1998. It limits the town's boundary and population to what the Sheep River can sustain, which means keeping a close eye on all new development, including housing and infrastructure – from water to sewers to roads to recreation and cultural facilities.

But the plan does much more than that; with the community's approval and support, it also outlines many practical ways to keep the town green and preserve its small-town feel. For example, one goal was to reduce the use of cars within the town. The solution? Provide ways for people to work more easily within their own neighbourhoods, or work at home. So, the town, which used to be mainly made up of single-family dwellings, is slowly increasing the range of housing styles within its neighourhoods, such as multi-family homes and commercial-residential buildings.

Page 1 of 6 -- Learn how the town of Okotoks, Alberta set environmental standards and forced building companies to build thoughtfully on the land.


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