City status up to residents

Okotoks: choice to ditch town may be addressed in visioning process

By: Roxanne Blackwell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014 11:28 am

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As the town moves forward with annexation and plans to triple its population size in the next 30 years, some are asking whether its it time for Okotoks make the official change from town to city.

Of Alberta’s 17 cities, six of them have a smaller population than Okotoks, but there are also places like Sherwood Park, which is still classified as a hamlet despite its population of over 60,000.

To qualify for city status in Alberta, a municipality must have a population of at least 10,000, but there is no maximum population number that forces a town to convert to a city.

DeWinton resident Curtis Myers said he thinks being called a town carries some nostalgia with it.

“Town of Okotoks is kind of nice, I think it actually attracts more people simply because they think it’s the ‘town’ of Okotoks and they want to get out of the city,” he said. “So if it changes to a city, they’re getting out of a city and leaving to go to another city.”

Brenna Goodwin moved to Okotoks two years ago for exactly that reason.

“I 100 per cent like the name town. I moved here because it’s not a city,” she said. “I lived in Calgary all my life, moved here 2 years ago for the sole purpose that it’s a town. It has everything of the city but it’s small.”

But on the other hand, resident Angela Corsini said she likes the idea of Okotoks becoming a city and thinks the town is ready to make the change.

“City sounds good. I mean I very rarely use it as ‘town’ of Okotoks, I always just say Okotoks, so city makes it sounds kind of upper class instead of country-ish,” she said.

The decision is something that could be addressed in the coming months as Okotoks embarks on a community visioning process for the next 60 years. Many of the Town’s plans are being rewritten now that the population cap has been removed, and the city-status debate is something that came up the last time a visioning exercise was done.

“The reason we are still a town is because that was the direction the community and the previous councils wanted to go,” said Okotoks sustainability coordinator Dawn Smith. “In 2006, when we adopted out most recent vision that was still expressed.”

Okotoks Communications Coordinator Nancy Weigel said that aside from not having a pressing reason to make the switch, it wasn’t something that residents were keen on.

“There isn't really a financial incentive so to speak whether or not you're a town or a city with provincial grants, and then secondly, and mainly, in our resident surveys there definitely is a feeling that individuals like the word ‘town,’” she said. “the word ‘town’ to them feels friendlier, smaller, more connected than city.”

The community visioning process will involve collecting feedback from residents on how they would like to see as the town expands in the coming years.

Weigel said the visioning process is a chance for residents to voice what kinds of long term goals they would like to see for the city, such as being a leader in sustainability or recreation, but it’s also a chance to express how you’d like the community to feel as a whole.

“The visioning process isn’t so much about what we're going to be called, but what might that look like. What kinds of elements would you like to see into the future?” she said. “Although I’m sure the topic will come up, so it’s not that we're trying to avoid it or anything, but the focus is more on things and feelings, you know what kind of a quality of life would you foresee? Are there elements from other cities that we could transfer here that you'd like to see?”

Smith said that the choice between town and city is a natural conversation as we continue to grow, but it’s more about a decision of what those words mean to residents.

“Perhaps our citizens want us to be perceived as a city instead of a town, or perhaps they want to continue with the previous vision of trying to maintain a small town atmosphere,” Smith said. “Knowing your neighbours, saying hi when you walk down the street, there are lots of different mechanisms behind that. It might not be a tangible thing that they can explain, the question is, is than an important thing to consider and to create that atmosphere what design elements do you need?”

The Town is currently in the process of hiring a consultant who will use different tactics to collect resident feedback, which could range from workshops and open houses to online surveys, and will begin in the coming weeks.


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