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Edmonton’s population is booming and one city councillor wonders if we’re ready

Edmonton’s huge population boom over the past two years has one city councillor questioning whether the city is prepared for such a significant influx of people.

More than 100,000 people moved to Edmonton in two years, driving the population up to 1.14 million in 2023 from just over a million in 2021 — a 10 per cent increase, according to Statistics Canada and City of Edmonton projections. 

“That’s way faster than I think anyone was expecting,” Andrew Knack, councillor for Ward Nakota Isga, said in an interview Wednesday. 

“A Red Deer has moved into Edmonton in the last two years.” 

Knack said he is worried about whether the city is ready for more people with its infrastructure and services.

“We need roads, we need utility lines, we need police stations, we need fire halls, we need rec centres, we need libraries,” Knack said in late February. “I just frankly don’t think we’re ready for how quickly things have been growing.” 

He said new neighbourhoods have few amenities and older neighbourhoods with aging facilities are also feeling the need for renewal.

Knack is asking city administration to prepare a breakdown of the city’s infrastructure and amenities so council can assess how to move forward. 

He made an inquiry at a council meeting last month, asking for an assessment of housing, schools, institutions, as well as language and translation services that the city offers to support international newcomers. 

The City of Edmonton is projecting nearly 100,000 more people will move to the city in the next three years, with a 3.6 per cent population increase for 2024, 2.6 per cent in 2025, 2.2 per cent in 2026 and 2.0 in 2027.

Keren Tang, councillor for Ward Karhiio, said communities outside the Anthony Henday ring road in the southeast and southwest are particularly hurting for amenities. 

The emphasis is on maintaining existing infrastructure, she said, rather than adding facilities and services. 

“I’m worried that if we keep waiting for when the timing is right for growth, by the time we get there, we just simply won’t be able to meet the demand because the demand would have grown so much more.” 

Tang said she gets consistent feedback from residents in areas like Walker and Orchards that snow removal isn’t sufficient. 

Others don’t have facilities like community halls, rec centres and libraries.

She said school shortages are also a big issue in her ward and fall under provincial responsibility. 

Population modelling

Sandeep Agrawal, a professor in urban and regional planning at the University of Alberta, agrees Edmonton should look at how prepared it is for the coming three to five years. 

“They’re quite valid,” Agrawal said of Knack’s concerns. “And the city needs to look at this new projection.” 

Agrawal said if the population grows at about 2.5 per cent a year as expected, it may reach 1.5 million people by 2035.

“That is certainly possible based on what we know now,” he said in an interview with CBC News in late February. 

These are projections only, Agrawal emphasized, and several factors like policies on immigration and the federal government’s recent cap on international students will help shape the outcomes. 

Edmonton’s economy is doing well, housing is still relatively affordable compared to Toronto, Vancouver and even Calgary, he said, as reasons people are moving to Edmonton.

Funding deficit

Knack and Tang are also on the board of directors of Alberta Municipalities, which issued a statement last week following the most recent provincial budget, saying funding was insufficient.

The $722 million in funding allocated to the Local Government Fiscal Framework in the 2024-25 budget falls far short of what is needed to address current infrastructure needs, the group said in a news release. 

Alberta’s population growth has been remarkable but it is putting tremendous strain on existing roads, bridges, water and wastewater treatment facilities, energy infrastructure, schools, recreation facilities and hospitals, AB Munis said. 

“A long-range strategic plan for infrastructure (complete with funding), with input from municipalities, is critical to addressing this extraordinary challenge.”

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