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It’s not fair to expect any level of government to plan for the kind of population growth that Blackfalds has experienced in the past decade, any more than you can expect government to plan for an economic depression. Sometimes, events just happen.
When you say it aloud, even five years of steady growth in the town should have raised flags regarding a severe shortage of community services, should the trend continue. But even knowing that, how many times have people looked at growth charts about anything and then laughed at the numbers in the five year-year projection?
If the past five years’ rate of growth in household debt continues through another decade, the entire 99 per cent of us will end up foreclosed and homeless and the one per cent will have it all. Or not.
So here we are, after 10 years of steady growth in the town of Blackfalds the population has more than tripled. That’s what years of five per-cent-plus growth will get you.
There’s little point in blaming planners for waking up after this year’s town census, and discovering the town of 6,767 (this year) will soon require more than 350 kindergarten spaces. And that these spaces will need to be added to schools, year by year, as these kids advance through school.
Who plans for a town with more two-year-olds than the entire age group 65 and up?
All this means is that some front-burner issues need to burn a little hotter. Blackfalds needs more kindergarten and elementary school space, ASAP. A proposal is before Alberta Education for a K-to-6 school right now. It needs a speedy approval, followed by a quick construction project. After that, officials can move at a more bureaucratic pace for a middle school and high school for the town.
But the same mistakes built into not planning for a boom can be made in not planning for the boom to end. This is Alberta; we’ve seen both. Several times.
How did Blackfalds manage to attract such a high density of young families, ready to build their homes and start new families? Why has the demographic trend been so deep and so narrow, compared to the broader kind of growth we’ve seen in other towns within an easy commute of Red Deer?
Demographically, our region has always been younger than the rest of Canada, but the extremes that have occurred in Blackfalds ought to become a research project for planners and economists alike.
What does happen in a town where there’s a baby car seat in nearly every non-oilfield vehicle? What happens when car seats lead to bikes with trainer wheels, then to kids’ bikes and skateboards?
There were 61 new homes built in Blackfalds last year and nearly 100 are under construction now. If these are mostly new families and they decide to have their children soon after moving in, at least they should be able to reduce their costs through garage sales of children’s items in neighbourhoods two or three years older than their own.
But how long does this last in a town with under 10,000 total population? And what if something happens and everyone decides to move?
The premise here is that this phenomenon goes beyond the range of normal municipal planning.
These are uncharted waters, and what we can expect to happen in Blackfalds in the next decade could well be the mirror image of aging and gentrification happening everywhere else in Canada.
We wish our neighbouring community well in their unique situation. And we trust the community’s goodwill in supporting their leadership through infrastructure growth that will not be easy, or cheap.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.