Paving paradise to put up suburban lots: A nature walk in SE Calgary
Early Saturday morning, we joined about 70 other people on a nature walk along the Bow River, touring an area slated for residential development.
This involved driving down the Deerfoot to the southeastern edge of Calgary, parking in Cranston amid new homes under construction, and walking a short way to reach the banks of the Bow River. This area is known as Ricardo Ranch.
Ricardo Ranch is receiving attention — and deservedly so — after Nathaniel Schmidt posted a Twitter thread about the intact riparian ecosystem here, full of a rich variety of native plants and species. His words and pictures struck a chord with Calgarians and raised questions about what building new neighbourhoods nearby will mean for these thriving wetlands.
When Schmidt wandered around this area, he identified nearly 30 different bird species, from great blue herons and red-tailed hawks to greater yellowlegs, solitary sandpipers and bank swallows.
“How can you look at this and not feel a sense of sadness about its destruction? It's mind boggling that this area is not already protected,” he wrote on Twitter in August.
Schmidt led Saturday morning’s walk, in partnership with the Alberta Wilderness Association, Calgary Climate Hub and CPAWS Southern Alberta.
It was powerful to see the area for ourselves, to stand in the healthy forest, to hear the many birds (and see a few: a pileated woodpecker and starling), to watch the river flow by. And to think that soon this thriving ecosystem will be surrounded by homes.
A fisherman was stationed in the water when we left; nearby is Policeman’s Flats, a premier fly fishing spot.
It’s worth noting this isn’t untouched land. Deerfoot Trail thunders above, and a portion of the area was once used for grazing and agricultural activities. But an intact, healthy and sensitive ecosystem, home to many plants and animals, still exists — at least for now.
An area structure plan was approved by city council in late 2019 and, just last week, council voted to lift the growth management overlay for Ricardo Ranch, which in plain language means developers can move ahead with the communities.
Yes, there are still logistical steps that need to take place before shovels will be in the ground. But with the recent council vote, it seems it’s only a matter of time before thousands of people will live here. (The three communities in Ricardo Ranch will be called Seton Ridge, Logan Landing and Nostalgia and together will be home to 16,000 to 20,000 people.)
The area’s councillor Evan Spencer, who attended the nature walk, told the Calgary Herald that while the developments are approved, there are still conversations to be had about how they fit into the landscape.
This isn’t only about losing a beautiful area and healthy ecosystem. People are questioning why we’re building so near the floodplain, and how on earth these new developments fit in with the city’s climate goals and strategy.
The group Calgary River Valleys raised concerns in this 2021 letter, outlining in detail the significant flood risk of the proposed Seton Ridge development, and highlighting how this new community appears contrary to the city’s own planning policies.
As a former city hall reporter, Annalise can attest to how difficult it is to make people care about topics like how our city grows. Eyes glaze over when the average person hears words like area structure plan or growth management overlay.
Yet people should care about smart growth, especially those that like going outside. Calgary is fortunate to have many natural areas, an extensive pathway system and more hectares of parkland than any other large city in Canada.
These treasured natural spaces exist because of the people who’ve come before us, including politicians who had the foresight to protect areas and keep them from becoming more houses. Take Nose Hill Park, for example, one of the largest urban parks in North America.
Nose Hill was used hundreds of years ago by Indigenous people, including as a lookout spot. The area was slated for residential development in the 1970s, but a group of concerned and vocal Calgarians organized against the developer, holding protests and circulating a petition. Eventually city council voted against rezoning the natural land for development.
Anyone who has spent any time in Nose Hill knows what a shame it would be if this expansive greenspace was instead row upon row of houses.
Just like concerned Calgarians organized against building homes on Nose Hill Park in the ’70s, passionate people like Schmidt are doing all they can to wake Calgarians up to what’s happening in Ricardo Ranch on the city’s southeastern edge.
Yet forethought from our local politicians seems to be absent today. And so we continue to grow relentlessly outward, paying little attention to what we’re destroying along the way.