Counting the Cost of Urban Growth

By Margaret McKenzie

“Many cities don’t take cost into account when making long term decisions about their future growth patterns” says Patricia Gordon Director of Sustainable Cities International Cities Network. “We know that compact development costs less and numerous, respected agencies have provided studies to prove the case” explains Gordon, “however, municipalities do not always have the most useful information to hand when making growth management decisions.”

To tackle this challenge Gordon is developing an infrastructure costing guide that can be used by municipalities across the globe. The guide is based on Gordon’s experience in costing alternative growth patterns being proposed for the city of Calgary in Canada. Gordon identified the need for an infrastructure costing exercise to help stakeholders compare alternative growth patterns in a quantifiable way. “The costing exercise revealed that a highly dispersed pattern of growth would cost the city of Calgary CAN $11 billion more over six decades than a more compact growth pattern” says Gordon.

The Calgary costing exercise looked at two main areas of cost: capital cost and annual maintenance costs. In Calgary the capital cost of the dispersed growth scenario was 33% higher than the more compact scenario. The main cost differences resulted from the need for considerably more road, water and waste water infrastructure. Also the long term annual maintenance costs would be 14% higher for the dispersed growth scenario. Again most additional costs resulted from the need to maintain more roads and water pipes.

Calgary, Alberta

“Completing a growth costing exercise is a relatively simply process once cities have developed alternative growth scenarios to compare” explains Gordon. The first step in completing a costing exercise is to identify the key forms of infrastructure that should be included in the exercise. Once those are identified unit costs for the building and maintenance of the infrastructure needs to be established based on current costs of development in the city.

To further test the Calgary experience with cities in other parts of the globe Sustainable Cities International has facilitated costing workshops with Los Cabos in Mexico. Gordon and Eric MacNaughton a transport Engineer from the city of Calgary assisted Los Cabos with implementing infrastructure costing study as part of a process to update the Los Cabos urban development plan for 2040. The infrastructure cost study was a useful tool for municipal authorities to better understand the costs associated with future growth choices in the city. “The study clearly showed the benefits of going after the Vision Scenario” says Horacio Gonzalez, Director for the Planning Institute of Los Cabos. “It clearly exposes how such growth will use economical resources in a more efficient way and will provide great benefits in terms of social issues (quality of life, recreation, education, services, etc.) as well as environmental issues (Protection and creation of green areas, air and water quality, etc).” explained Gonzalez.

“Many cities are experiencing budget cuts and financial challenges in meeting their infrastructure and maintenance requirements” explains Jane McRae Chief Executive Office of Sustainable Cities International. “In Canada alone it is estimated that there is an infrastructure backlog of between CAN$ 200 and CAN$ 300 billion. We believe that this practical guide on infrastructure costing is a significant contribution to the sustainability planning of cities” says McRae.

Cities interested in learning more about how to apply infrastructure costing to their cities should contact Patricia Gordon pgordon@icsc.ca for details on the Sustainable Cities workshops and consulting support to complete a costing exercise. In October 2012 the infrastructure costing guide sponsored by Siemens Canada will be available for download on the Sustainable Cities International website.

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About sustainablecitiesnetwork

Sustainable Cities International is a registered not-for-profit organization based in Vancouver, Canada. Operating since 1993, the mission of Sustainable Cities is to catalyze action on urban sustainability with cities around the world. We work by connecting and mobilizing people through the process of co-creating. We facilitate a thriving, international network of cities that act as urban laboratories: adopting, testing and improving on innovations. Ideas are accelerated through sharing of experience and cities are making transformational change a reality
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