“Not far from my hometown of Calgary, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, there is a beautiful little town called Okotoks. About 10 years ago, the folks there decided they were going to live within their local environmental means. Today Okotoks can fairly call itself the greenest community in Canada, maybe the world"...
Prime Minister Stephen Harper
The Town of Okotoks became one of the first municipalities in the world to establish growth targets linked to infrastructure development and environmental carrying capacity (Sheep River) when it adopted a Municipal Development Plan (MDP) in September 1998. The Town, dependent on the Sheep River for its water and its ability to treat and dispose effluent, faced an intersection in its evolution in 1998 - it could continue to "grow without limits" and plan accordingly with access to regional infrastructure, or it could take a "road less traveled" and intentionally choose to live within the carrying capacity of the Sheep River watershed. A community-driven vision - to respond to rather than manipulate the environment that sustains us, chose the latter.
Carrying capacity (ability to draw water, infuse treated effluent based on provincial regulations) was identified as approximately 30,000 people. A build-out municipal boundary was established, with a comprehensive set of targets and initiatives identified to ensure build-out population could be reached in an environmentally, economically, socially, and fiscally healthy way. Hence the articulation of four pillars of Sustainable Okotoks that continue to motivate and drive action: 1) Environmental stewardship; 2) Economic Opportunity; 3) Social Conscience; and 4) Fiscal Responsibility. The pillars work together to mould the community Okotokians have expressed as a desire in three Community Surveys conducted in the past 8 years - a place that is safe and secure, maintains small town atmosphere, has a pristine river valley, has quality schooling, provides housing choice and employment options for young and old alike - a place of modest size and the sense of connectivity to people and place that maintains. It does not wax nostalgic…rather it represents a desire for a 'better' community in the form of a practical working guide to follow on a community development path that epitomizes Robert Frost's "road less traveled".