Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Here We Grow Again

It's no secret that Fort McMurray is the fastest growing urban centre in Alberta and, quite likely, in all of Canada. While things cooled downed a little in the early 2000's, the pace of change has quickened again. Currently we sit at about 80 000 residents or so (there is some disagreement between the municipality and the province over the inclusion of our "shadow" population) but this is more or less where we stand at the moment. I've heard talk of the city hitting the 250 000 threshold within the next few years and even projections of a future population of 500 000 if you can believe it. So our city must expand as the economic growth projections I've seen look quite rosy between 2012 and 2019. It must be an infrastructure nightmare for urban planners and I surely don't envy their task. Last summer Lisa and I took a drive over to Timberlea, our newest subdivision and were amazed at the construction going on in Eagle Ridge and Stone Creek, the last two pieces of Timberlea to be filled in. This fall has seen a new high school and a new middle school open over there to try and keep up with the growth. Our subdivision of Thickwood is pretty much as big as it's going to get with about 18 000 residents or so.

Anyhow, I bring this all up because over the long weekend I was doing a little web surfing to see what I could find out in terms of how the city expands from here. Lisa and I were actually discussing it in the van when the topic came up on a local radio station and apparently, the topic is being discussed by local city council as is mentioned by a local blogger over at Fort McMurray Musings. I debated blogging about it since Theresa has been here much longer than we have and her blog has a feel of the pulse of the community. In the end though, Lisa encouraged me say (type) a few words saying she thought it would be a good way to show just how much our city is growing and me blogging about it would make more interesting reading to the casual visitor of this blog than reading the entire development assessment report (which can be found here should you have the time.)

Currently development is underway for Parsons Creek, an area north of Timberlea and Saline Creek on the south side of the Athabasca. I had heard snippets about these new subdivisions every once in awhile and knew that were next in line for development. What really woke me up to just how fast things are moving along was news of another planned subdivision to be called Riverbend across the river near Abasand. This is a forested area I wandered through back in the summer by the Horse River. I blogged about it here and here. If I recall correctly, work on this new development will commence as early as next year. Between Rock Bend, Saline Creek and Parsons Creek subdivision we're looking at space for an additional 50 000 residents and there are still 3 more areas fit for expansion as outlined in the report cited above. So much growth that there are recommendations for a number of new interchanges and, yes, even ring road, through an area west of the city that is currently nothing but boreal forest. It really boggles the mind to think about it. When I first passed through here in 2002, large parts of what is now Timberlea didn't even exist. There is now something close to 40 000 there. Eventually, Fort McMurray will grow across the Clearwater River north of the downtown core. This idea has been around since the '60's as far as I know but the costs involved were prohibitive as it would require yet another bridge, a 4-lane access road and I'm sure an overpass or two. Even now, the cost of this infrastructure would be something in the neighborhood of $200 000 000, a seemingly ridiculous sum. Understandably, this area, known as Forest Heights, will be the last area to be developed. I never thought I'd see this proposed subdivision happen in my lifetime but the fact it is on the drawing board for consideration shows just how much growth potential some are expecting.

For someone who (the university years excluded) grew up and worked in small towns, all this just boggles the mind. And one more shocker for you...the average price for a detached family residence here in 2006 was just over $441 000. Last year it was around $645 000....and the latest figure I've seen.....$727 000 and change.


Matt, Kara, Hunter and Cavan said...

Crazy prices! The average house in Whitehorse is now over $427k. I seems to be following Ft. Mac and I am glad we aren't trying to buy a house in either spot!

Theresa said...

I'm glad you blogged about it! :) The more voices telling our stories the better, I think. I'm excited about the growth of the community but also apprehensive about all the changes Change is always difficult, but in our case inevitable, too. Current expectation is that by 2030 our population will be 250,000 - a staggering growth rate by any standard. Nice blog post!

Way Way Up said...

Thanks for the kind words Theresa. Sometimes there just doesn't seem to be enough superlatives to adequately describe the city and its phenomenal growth over the past 30 years. When my house was built, the city's population was barely 30 000. Just when I think things will slow down a bit, there are new twists and turns.

Kara, I've seen some of the house prices in WH. Pretty crazy but probably not a trend that will slow with all the mining activity I've heard is in the air up there. Funny to think that there are almost as many people here as there are in the 3 northern territories combined.