‘Cascade Zoning’ a blog post intro–but check out my full page example of how this system could overhaul development in Edmonton.

The current Edmonton Zoning Bylaw is hundreds of pages long. If you haven’t read it, you are not alone. Most municipalities have similarly large codified regulations. Regulations are good as they allow things to be built in a predictable manner, but the problem is that we are currently over-regulating, and the situation is only getting worse. While zoning is the most important non-emergency services tool that a municipal council has to ensure a good quality life for their residents, many of the existing rules are petty or meaningless.

I speak with the authority of a person who has worked professionally as an urban planner for over a decade, after having acquired a master’s degree in the same field. I am also the Treasurer for the Alberta Profession Planners Institute, the regulating body for all planners in Alberta. I have been to many planning conferences and have kept up to date with emerging planning theories.

A zone is applied to every piece of land in Edmonton, and the regulations within dictate what can be built on each property. Zones end at property lines, but are sometimes contiguous with neighbouring properties. Currently in Edmonton, there are 15 standard zones for residential development, each one providing a different scale of possible residential form, from a detached house to a high-rise. In addition to the standard zones, there are many ‘special areas’ and overlays that contain an additional gambit of regulations. Despite all, the largest offenders are the omnipresent “direct control” zones, which are site-specific. Currently, there are over 1000 of these in the Zoning Bylaw.

In addition to proposing changes to zones, I present a whole new planning framework. My exercise, however, is, by admission, a simplified draft; a draft that will never be finalized by myself, as that is not what I am trying to get out of this. I attempt to show what could occur when the regulations are tamed, and if we think outside of the box.

In Edmonton, I propose that there should be only four residential zones, and everything that is allowed in the first zone should be permitted in the other zones. Everything allowed in the second zone should be allowed in the third and fourth zone, but not in the first zone. This is a major component of the alternative zoning system that I call Cascade Zoning.


Cascade Zoning has 10 principles:


  1. Generally, everything allowed in lower-order zones is allowed in higher-order zones.

  2. Residential zones should transition through orders of magnitude (i.e. R1 and R4 will not be adjacent).

  3. Residential zones should be large, covering whole neighbourhoods (or most parts thereof), with appropriate mixed-use commercial developments permitted within.

  4. Every neighbourhood will have an adaptable Neighbourhood Vision Plan, which is updated often and of consistent format across the city.

  5. The most immediate neighbours to a proposal will be treated as the greatest stakeholders and the Pre-Purchase Feedback form will give direction to speculative purchasers of property.

  6. Based on consent and the Precedent Principle, areas of the City will organically develop in accordance to the will on the ground rather than City-directed initiatives. It is grass-roots in nature.

  7. Its simplicity is one of its main strengths.

  8. It is less of a science, and more of an art. Humans are not robots, and so we should have a system of development that ‘feels right’ for citizens.

  9. It is market-driven and choice oriented.

  10. The built-in concept of ‘101% Servicing Return’ will incentivize good urban design and the use of private dollars to build municipal infrastructure in order to relive the taxpayer from cover much of the costs of development.


Cascade Zoning is a whole system overhaul, not just a simplification of the Zoning Bylaw. It is the equivalent of a ‘planning regime change.’

I recognize that no one person should decide how to repair such an entrenched municipal system as zoning. All such major decisions should be decided through extensive public consultations. Again, I present my ideas here as discussion points, and to show that we could change the current system if we chose to think outside of the box.

If I could implement this in Edmonton by snapping my fingers, I would not. As with many important political decisions, the people should decide. The people should speak up for what they want.



Check out my full page example of how this system could overhaul development in Edmonton

J.D.  #muniYEG