Plan It! That’s not what we meant

“No, no, uh, sorry, we, uh, didn’t mean it. Really.”

The City of Calgary had to fend off criticism last week after a report, paid for by tax payers, was published online suggesting the city avoid “Asian malls” and ethnically-concentrated development.

The recommendations were part of Plan It Calgary’s final 139-page report, an ambitious urban planning project the city has been working on for the last three years.

The passages in question, which were promptly taken off the city’s website, are as follows:

“Avoid the development of Asian malls that cater only to a specific ethnic group. Avoid the concentration of ethnically dependent developments in any specific region or node.”

“An effort must be made to avoid exclusive cultural-specific retail developments as they lead to marginalized ethnic enclaves which can diminish overall community cohesiveness.”

The passages, both in and out of context, sparked an outcry from Calgarians, Asian and non-Asian alike.

Report author and Vancouver-based consultant Tom Leung, of Asian descent himself, said he didn’t blame people for “being up in arms,” noting he wished the suggestions had been better explained. Leung had been referring to economic difficulties faced by suburban Asian-themed developments around Vancouver.

But more importantly, why didn’t these passages raise any red flags at City Hall?

In response, Plan It project manager Patricia Gordon said that because it was an independent report the city does not have control over the content and stressed the recommendations will not be adopted by the city.

The recommendations are embarrassing not just for those involved with Plan It, but for Calgarians who helped pay for the report and are a scar on the otherwise innovative project, which aims to integrate land use and mobility plans over the next 50 years to help curb the sprawling suburbia for which Calgary has become so famous.

Plan It, and the recommendations within it, already have an uphill battle to fight without having to defend itself from careless mistakes. Developers, and the investors behind them, have said the project is creating a market that isn’t there and warns that it is trying to socially engineer the city.

If City Hall is serious about halting Calgary’s sprawl, it needs to do a better job in marketing the report that details how city planners and administrators can go about doing just that. Calgary is a beautiful, growing city and to develop into the future– which will be defined by rising temperatures and energy prices– city leaders should be showing citizens, both current and potential, the benefits of constructing vibrant communities where we can live, work and play– of which Chinatown is a great example.

For more information on Plan It and the next two open houses, to be held Thursday and Friday, visit

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