Building Resilient Communities: Planning for Natural Hazards Risks in Small and Mid-Sized Municipalities in Alberta, Canada

Lynne Njeri Mbajiorgu
Land-use planning is a vital discipline in the discourse on climate change and disaster risk reduction because of its role as a long-term non-structural mitigation measure. Planners can gather and analyze evidence-based data to influence decision-makers on how to minimize vulnerability via a risk-based approach. The costs of extreme weather events and natural disasters in Canada are on the rise, yet municipalities continue to allow development in high-risk areas such as floodplains,
more » ... an interphase or areas prone to erosion and subsidence. This dissertation is a qualitative study that examined the role of land-use planning in natural hazard mitigation in four small and mid-sized municipalities that experienced major natural disasters (drought, floods, and wildfires) between 2011 and 2016 in the Province of Alberta, Canada. Methods included key informant interviews, focus groups, and content analysis of Municipal Development Plans and land-use bylaws. Results found that small and mid-sized municipalities are using existing legislative planning authorities to implement various resilient actions in land use planning for floods, wildfire and drought risks. However, three critical gaps remain. There are inconsistencies in the application of risk-based approaches -such as risk avoidance-in local plans and bylaws with respect to flood plain management. The study found that although Alberta has an established FireSmart wildfire management program, more adaptive measures can be legislated in land use bylaws to recognize the wildland urban interface as a constraint that requires mitigation. Small and mid-sized municipalities in the study jurisdiction lack stringent legislative or regulatory guidance to reduce floods and drought risk, on private, municipal land. The study concludes that continued development in hazard areas is not a PLANNING FOR NATURAL HAZARDS iii failure of land-use planning, but rather, a reflection of the complexities and dynamics of historical settlement patterns, governance, path dependencies and market demand/lifestyle choices. Recommendations are that small and mid-sized municipalities, as well as higher order governments, must proactively prioritize land-use planning as a natural hazard mitigation measure and as a long-term adaptation strategy, to steer development away from hazard areas. Land-use planners have a profound responsibility to influence, guide and advice decision-makers about risk mitigation measures throughout the land-use development process, starting from bare undeveloped land to the issuance of development permits. Prioritizing public safety and the protection of life and property should always take precedence as a matter of public interest. Therefore, decisions about how and where to build, when considering flood, wildfire or drought risks, must be made within an acceptable level of risk that errs on the reduction of future risk exposure and vulnerability.
doi:10.7939/r3-kmwx-3e22 fatcat:nv565kq6ffgnnbxpoatew72xr4