The Drake Landing Solar Community: College Essay Examples

The Drake Landing Solar Community (DLSC) is located in Okotoks, Alberta, Canada, roughly 18 km south of Calgary (Okotoks, 2018). Prior to development, the Okotoks area was known for the river crossing used by First Nations peoples. By 1874, the first trading posts were established near the crossing at Sheep River, which developed into the site for the Town of Okotoks. The crossing, later named the Cameron Crossing, was part of the Macleod Trail trade route (Okotoks, 2018). In the 1980s, the Okotoks Town Council put the town’s Legacy Plan into place, to control the direction of the town’s future development, “as well as shape the location of industrial, commercial, and residential sites by imposing limits on the size of the infrastructure allowed in those new development zones” (Yanarella, n.d.). This essay writer has allowed Okotoks to focus its future development on sustainability which has earned the town international recognition and multiple awards for its sustainable practices (Yanarella, n.d.).

Background and Context

            Okotoks has a population of 28,881 residents and today the areas is predominantly residential (Statistics Canada, 2016a). Approximately 75-85% of the zoning throughout the town is labeled as single-detached residential (R1) zoning (OkOnline, 2017). This may account for the high density of the population, which is roughly 1,697 people per square kilometers, which is considered to be high for a Canadian town. The city of Calgary, in comparison, shows a similar population density of 1,671 people per square kilometers, while other towns average much lower populations (Statistics Canada, 2016a). The town of Red Deer, for example, has a density of 868.4 people per square kilometer, while the town of Edmonton has a density of 123 people per square kilometer (Statistics Canada, 2016b; Statistics Canada, 2016c). There are a significant lack of amenities within Drake Landing to provide for the population, which may also be due to the high percentage of residential zoning within the area (Okotoks Pathways, 2018).

Topographic Layout

The town name was derived from the Blackfoot First Nation’s word for rock, okatok, which became the marker for the river crossing. The “rock” that marked the river crossing is recorded as being the world’s largest known glacial erratic, which was transported to the area following the last ice age from the Wisconsin glacier (Okotoks, 2018). Big Rock, as it is now known, is the largest glacier erratic out of the thousands that make up the Foothills Erratic Train, which stretches 644 km (Okotoks, 2018). The Big Rock was recognized in 1978 as “an official Provincial Historic Site under the Alberta Historical Resources Act” and it sits seven kilometers west of the town of Okotoks (Okotoks, 2018).

            Sheep River is a significant aspect of Okotoks’ topography, as are the escarpment areas, the shorelines along the river and the floodplain, all of which have played a substantial role in the overall development of the town. Flooding has been an issue for the town in the past, with the last major flood of Sheep River occurring in 1963 (Okotoks, 2018). Due to this, land development within the flood plain is highly limited and requires strict approval for development to take place. The two escarpment areas are located to the north and south of Sheep River. The escarpments’ features consist of steep slopes and the areas have been preserved within the town as predominantly open spaces (Okotoks, 2016). The shoreline areas and the north and south escarpments are considered environmental reserves by the town and are also protected from development (Okotoks, 2016).

While the area has fewer lakes than surrounding regions, there are a diverse range of water bodies, including rivers, streams, and reservoirs. There are also two types of wetlands in the area, which include both marshes and shallow open water ponds (Riverbend Campground, 2018). Sheep River remains as important to the town as it was when the area was used by the First Nations peoples as a river crossing and throughout Western development of the area as a trading post. Ecologically, Sheep River provides a critical habitat for the Okotoks ecosystem, which is located within an important wildlife corridor for the region (Okotoks Municipal Development Plan, 2018).

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            A large focus of the sustainability plan for the town is focused Okotoks open spaces and public parks, which make up 170 ha of the town, while another 325 ha is reserved for natural areas, which includes the areas of the river valley (Okotoks, 2018). There are 85 km of the towns connected pathway systems, which includes a recreational areas and activities within the towns 99 parks. Protecting the natural environment by maintaining the natural habitat and natural vegetation is considered an important not only to the town’s natural history, but also functions as a method for protecting the town’s natural water filtration system within the water supply (Okotoks, 2018).

The highest contour lines of the site are around 1,096 meters, which lie in the far northern side of Drake Landing. The lowest contour line is roughly 1,045 meters on the southeastern side of the site. The largest elevation difference between the north and south (over a distance of 750 meters), is 50 meters with an upward slope of 6.6%. Comparatively, there is only a ten meter elevation difference between the east and west areas of the site (over a distance of 1,600 meters), with a slope of 0.6%. The geological conditions are ideal for a solar community, as there is high porosity and low permeability, which lends itself to a higher heat capacity due to the site’s high water content, as well as promotes thermal conduction. The site is also made up of homogeneous material and has moderate levels of thermal conductivity (Wong, 2008). 

Mobility and Infrastructure Systems

            Drake’s Landing consists of largely residential streets and cul-de-sacs, where the buildings are generally isolated from any major roadways. The two major roads located near the community run the outskirts of Drake’s Landing, connecting to smaller roads and residential streets on the north and west sides of the community. The network of streets within the town are highly-vehicle oriented, but with the focus of the town being on outdoor recreation and activity, the pathways that lace through the town move through individual neighborhoods to encourage walking or biking rather than motor vehicle travel (Okotoks Pathways, 2018). The parks and public spaces throughout the town are located in near high-density residential areas as well, to encourage the outdoor activities year-round within the vicinity of the resident’s homes.

Amenities

            The amenities in Drake Landing are limited, with the only businesses available for the residents within close proximity being a single 7-11 gas station, a liquor store, pet salon, laser hair removal salon, dentist’s office, and a handful of food establishments (Google Maps, 2018). To access necessary amenities, residents have to leave the neighborhood via personal transportation, as most of the town’s shops are located in the south part of town. There are some large commercial stores located within a ten minute drive, such as Costco, Home Depot, Michael’s, Sportcheck, and fast food restaurants, while other shopping areas are located in Cimarron, which is ten to fifteen minutes away by car (Google Maps, 2018).. Cimarron has a Walmart, Sobey’s, and a shopping plaza with miscellaneous stores, and there are additional fast food restaurants in the area. Shopping is limited within the town and residents have to travel to Calgary for more variety. The nearest shopping center is located in Chinook Centre, which is a 30 minute drive away (Google Maps, 2018).. Recreational options are also limited in Drake’s Landing, outside of public parks and outdoor activities. There is a local dog park as well, within walking distance of the community. Outside of a single pub in the community, there is a movie theater located a short drive away and a golf club (Google Maps, 2018)..

Health System

            The Okotoks’ health system is also limited for residents, which could be a significant concern for the aging population within the town. From Drake Landing, the nearest medical center is located approximately 3.5km away (Google Maps, 2018). The nearest emergency hospital is either South Health Campus, located in Southern Calgary, which is located 21 km away, or the High River General Hospital is located 22km away (Google Maps, 2018). With a population over 28,000 in Okotoks, the limited health care facilities within close proximity to residents (particularly with an aging population who have increased health needs) is a concern within the town (Statistics Canada, 2016a).

Transportation Systems

            Despite being focused on sustainability and recreational activity, the town is still predominantly centered around the use of private vehicles for transportation. Within the town, 86.7% of residents report using a personal car/truck/van as their primary mode of transportation (Statistics Canada, 2016a). Approximately 60% of residents report that they commute to a different subdivision, with 54% of residents reporting that their commute is over a half an hour each day (Statistics Canada, 2016a). Reliance on private transportation rather than public transportation may be due to the lack of transportation systems within the town. There is only one public transportation system available, the On-It Regional Transit, which is a service that travels between Okotoks, High River, Cochrane, and Calgary (On-It Regional Transit, 2018).

            The most significant drawback of the transit system is in its days of operations. The system does not operate on the weekends, which eliminates the use of public transit for the residents of the town on days where they may need public transportation for recreational purposes (On-It Regional Transportation, 2018). While the town itself is focused on sustainability, the public transit options are severely limited and show a need for improvement. Higher volumes of personal vehicles contribute to higher greenhouse gas emissions, increased space need for parking of personal vehicles around the town and contribute to traffic and higher rates of noise pollution.

Okotoks has made local transit improvements part of its sustainable growth plan, however, and is working to create a more reliable and convenient public transport system to increase usage throughout the town (Okotoks Transit, 2018).To generate resident interest in the new transit program, the town is increasing rates of public engagement regarding the topic to identify the existing issues with the current transit system and to determine the areas of improvement that would increase interest in the system. The plan is on track to have the new transit system be operational by 2019 (Okotoks Transit, 2018).

Railways

            The railway was a significant part of Okotoks’ history in the early days of the town’s settlement, prior to the automobile and road system being introduced in the town. The first train station in Okotoks was built in 1892 and became a significant aspect of community life. The last passenger train to go through the city was in 1971, however, and the train station was converted into a cultural center in 1981. It currently functions as the Okotoks Art Gallery and the town’s visitor information center. (Okotoks, 2018).

Hydrology Analysis

            Okotoks is split into two main drainage areas, located on the north and south sides of Sheep River. These two areas drain from the town’s higher terrain in the north and south parts of the town to Sheep River, while the drainage patterns of the system are associated with the existing outfalls to the Sheep River, which are made up of fourteen total drainage basins. The storm water conveyance systems within the developed areas of the town are grouped into two categories (SOURCE): The first category consists of the storm water collection system that discharges into detention ponds, prior to being conveyed to the collected flows, at controlled rates, to Sheep River. The second category consists of storm water collection systems that discharge directly, and uncontrolled, into Sheep River (SOURCE).

            The storm water runoff from the upstream areas outside of Okotoks’ boundary are generally conveyed to Sheep River through a series of connected roadway ditches, which are then intercepted into the town’s storm water collection system. Within Drake Landing, storm water is drained to the nearest catchment area in the southeast part of the town. The storm water pipe runs from an elevation of 300 mm and goes up to 1600 mm below ground level. There is a main drainage boundary of the Okotoks which surrounds the Drake Landing community (SOURCE).

Okotoks’ Pathways

            The towns Pathways system remains the most comprehensive infrastructure system within the town. With 85 km of connected outdoor pathways to promote recreational activities and sustainable development, there has been more focus on preserving the natural open spaces within the town than on improving the mobility and infrastructure for the residents (Okotoks, 2018). While this is commendable and provides sustainable measures for the town’s continued success, there are significant concerns regarding the lack of public transportation and necessary infrastructure to support the population’s needs. Overall, Okotoks suffers from similar problems as a suburban neighborhood in the city. Lack of public transportation, a lack of amenities and health care facilities, along with a high dependence on private vehicles reduces the sustainability of the town in the long-term when it comes to meeting the needs of the population.

 Discussion:

            Drake Landing is a neighborhood that is located within Okotoks, a bedroom community or suburb of Calgary. Housing in Drake Landing is approximately 25 percent higher than the housing prices seen in Okotoks, as a whole. However, these housing prices are relatively reasonable given the high household income for area residents. Drake Landing offers many benefits to residents. But, in addition to these benefits, there are also drawbacks — of varying degrees of severity and impact. One of the most significant drawbacks is that amenities and services are not immediately available in the neighborhood. This means that individuals must travel; and, this traveling has both time costs and real environmental impacts. The community is making a concerted effort to address this via a new transportation plan. It is important to highlight the fact that even though these problems are real and serious in Drake Landing, and Okotoks, as a whole, these challenges are not unique to the community. They are seen in suburbs across Canada — and reflect certain realities of suburban living.

Strengths:

  • The community recognizes that these challenges exist and is working hard to incorporate feedback from various external stakeholders to come up with an ideal way to address these challenges. Community cohesion is important for success.
  • Residents of this community have financial resources — and these resources may mitigate some accessibility challenges.

Weaknesses:

  • There are certain realities that cannot be changed without massive investments—both on a local and federal level. These challenges are unlikely to be fully addressed in the short- or medium-term.

Opportunities:

  • By addressing transportation and accessibility issues in a timely manner, Okotoks may become an increasingly attractive option for many residents — attracting more money and resources to the community. This may lead to a dramatic improvement in quality of life.

Threats:

  • If these issues cannot be addressed in a meaningful way, the quality of life in the community may suffer, as residents deal with long commutes and environmental pollution issues.
  • Cultural and Spatial Analysis
  •  
  •             The town of Okotoks is a relatively small community in Alberta — with a population that currently numbers approximately 29,000 people. A relatively significant portion of the Okotoks population, 12.7 percent, is made up of immigrants (Statistics Canada: Okotoks, 2016). One of the most surprising statistics that sets Okotoks apart from other communities its size is its relatively high population density of 1,697 people per square kilometer (Statistics Canada: Okotoks, 2016). This figure closely mirrors population density for Calgary and is dramatically higher than figures seen for other communities, such as Edmonton (Statistics Canada: Edmonton, 2016) and Red Deer (Statistics Canada: Red Deer, 2016). This figure is high despite the fact that Okotoks does not have a large number of high density residential apartment buildings — the majority of the town is zoned as residential single family housing (OkOnline, 2017).  This raises the question: What explains this seeming statistical anomaly? In the author’s opinion, it is primarily explained by the fact that the town does not have a large amount of commercial structures/amenities, which bring down population density.
  •             Below, let us consider the specific community of Drake Landing. Drake Landing is made up of numerous local streets and cul-de-sacs. Although two major roads run near the community, they do not bisect the Drake Landing community — this minimizes potential safety issues, as well as noise pollution concerns. The local roads were primarily designed to meet the needs of vehicle traffic. However, there are some paths for walkers and walkers and others interested in an active lifestyle have other outdoor spaces that they can take advantage of (Okotoks Pathways, 2018). On the downside for local residents, amenities in Drake Landing are limited. The only local stores include a 7-Eleven, a liquor store, a dentist office, and a handful of restaurants. This means that residents need to travel to shop for many of their essentials. Nearby options include: Southbank Centre and Cimarron. For more diverse shopping options, a resident would have to travel to Calgary (likely utilizing the Chinook Centre).  Given these facts, coupled with a lack of viable public transportation options, having a car is a necessity for most residents of Okotoks. Commuting is necessary not only for chores and leisure activities, but also for work. More than 50 percent of Drake Landing residents commute over 30 minutes each way to work (Statistics Canada: Okotoks, 2016).  The community does recognize that these long commutes and lack of public transportation options is not sustainable in the long-term — producing high levels of environmental and noise pollution. To address this, the community — with input from a wide range of stakeholders — is working on implementing the Local Transit Implementation Plan (Okotoks Transit, 2018). Ideally, this plan will be functional by 2019.
  •             It is important to note that even though some of the problems highlighted above are unique to Okotoks many of these challenges closely mirror issues that are seen in other similarly sized Canadian towns.
  •             In addition to limited shopping options, there are also a minimal number of recreation options for local residents. There is one movie theater (the Okotoks Cinema) and a recreation centre, which are short drives from Drake Landing. There is also a nearby golf club, Crystal Ridge Golf Club. For people who practice religions other than Christian faiths, they may need to travel to Calgary on a weekly basis.
  •             Two other important issues for many communities are education and public health. Although none of Okotoks’ schools are located in the Drake Landing community, they are accessible to local residents. There is also a transportation system that ensures that all students are able to make it from their home to their designated school (Foothills School Division, 2018). In terms of public health issues, Drake Landing residents can take advantage of the Pinnacle Medical Center which is 3.5 kilometers away from Drake Landing (Google Maps, 2018). This medical centre is easily accessible by car. But, it would be a long (approximately 45 minute) walk. Emergency medical services are even further away. There are two potential options for residents — the South Health Campus (which is a roughly 20 minute drive) and the High River General Hospital (which is just under a 25 minute drive) (Google Maps, 2018). In severe emergencies, patients can be transported via helicopter (Alberta Health: Ground and Air Ambulance Services, 2018).
  •             The Northern Fire Station (Google Maps, 2018) is in very close proximity to Drake Landing. This allows residents to benefit from very fast response times — both for medical and fire emergencies (Okotoks: Ambulance Services, 2018).
  •             One additional issue that should be considered is affordability. The average house in Okotoks costs roughly $420,000 (Statistics Canada: Okotoks, 2016). On the other hand, the prices in Drake Landing are slightly higher at roughly $527,000 (Jordan Lotoski, 2018). However, with average family incomes of upwards of $116,000 per annum, these prices are affordable for the average family (Statistics Canada: 2016). And, it is worth noting that these prices are significantly more affordable than what is seen in other sustainable communities, such as Hammerby Sjostad. 

Historical Buildings

               There are a handful of historic buildings located in the center of Okotoks — dating back to the community’s founding as a sawmilling town. However, most neighborhoods in the community are relatively new and the buildings are of significantly more recent vintage. This is particularly true in the Drake Landing community. There are very few historic buildings. Instead, most of what is seen is recent construction. This means that there are few, if any, historical preservation issues that sometimes occur in other communities. This may make it less concerning or troublesome to implement new development initiatives. As with other issues, further analysis may be needed.

Discussion:

            Drake Landing is a neighborhood that is located within Okotoks, a bedroom community or suburb of Calgary. Housing in Drake Landing is approximately 25 percent higher than the housing prices seen in Okotoks, as a whole. However, these housing prices are relatively reasonable given the high household income for area residents. Drake Landing offers many benefits to residents. But, in addition to these benefits, there are also drawbacks — of varying degrees of severity and impact. One of the most significant drawbacks is that amenities and services are not immediately available in the neighborhood. This means that individuals must travel; and, this traveling has both time costs and real environmental impacts. The community is making a concerted effort to address this via a new transportation plan. It is important to highlight the fact that even though these problems are real and serious in Drake Landing, and Okotoks, as a whole, these challenges are not unique to the community. They are seen in suburbs across Canada — and reflect certain realities of suburban living.

Strengths:

  • The community recognizes that these challenges exist and is working hard to incorporate feedback from various external stakeholders to come up with an ideal way to address these challenges. Community cohesion is important for success.
  • Residents of this community have financial resources — and these resources may mitigate some accessibility challenges.

Weaknesses:

  • There are certain realities that cannot be changed without massive investments—both on a local and federal level. These challenges are unlikely to be fully addressed in the short- or medium-term.

Opportunities:

  • By addressing transportation and accessibility issues in a timely manner, Okotoks may become an increasingly attractive option for many residents — attracting more money and resources to the community. This may lead to a dramatic improvement in quality of life.

Threats:

  • If these issues cannot be addressed in a meaningful way, the quality of life in the community may suffer, as residents deal with long commutes and environmental pollution issues.

References

Alberta Health: Ground and Air Ambulance Service. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.health.alberta.ca/services/EHS-ambulance-services.html 

Foothills School Division. (2018) Retrieved from https://www.fsd38.ab.ca/Route%20Status%20Updates.php 

Google Maps. (2018). Interactive Map [Open Source]. Retrieved from https://www.google.ca/maps 

Google Maps. (2018). Interactive Map [Open Source]. Retrieved from https://www.google.ca/maps 

OkOnline. (2017).  ArcGIS map [Open Source ArcGIS Map]. Retrieved from  http://www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?webmap=5b0473bb1e6c456c99ed6820bf0edf99&extent=-114.0652%2C50.6894%2C-113.853%2C50.7675 

Okotoks (2018). Okotoks. Retrieved from https://www.okotoks.ca/

Okotoks Municipal Development Plan Update. (2018). Parks and Natural Areas. Retrieved from https://www.okotoks.ca/sites/default/files/pdfs/publications/Parks%20Natural%20Areas.pdf

Okotoks Pathways. (2018). Retrieved from file:///Users/tkmac17/Downloads/2017-Town-of-Okotoks-Pathway-Map.pdf 

Okotoks Transit. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.okotoks.ca/sites/default/files/pdfs/publications/Public-Engagement-Summary_090418.pdf 

On-It Regional Transit. (2018). Retrieved from https://onitregionaltransit.ca/schedules/ 

Riverbend Campground. (2018). Riverbend wetlands. Retrieved from http://riverbendcampground.ca/blog/riverbend-wetlands/

Statistics Canada (2016a). Okotoks Census [Data Set]. Retrieved from https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/prof/details/page.cfm?Lang=E&Geo1=CSD&Code1=4806012&Geo2=PR&Code2=48&Data=Count&SearchText=Okotoks&SearchType=Begins&SearchPR=01&TABID=1&B1=All

Statistics Canada (2016b). Edmonton Census [Data set]. Retrieved from https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/prof/details/page.cfm?B1=All&Code1=4860&Code2=48&Data=Count&Geo1=ER&Geo2=PR&Lang=E&SearchPR=01&SearchText=Edmonton&SearchType=Begins&TABID=1 

Jordan Lotoski: Real Estate. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.jordanlotoski.com/drakelanding-calgary-real-estate.html 

OkOnline. (2017).  ArcGIS map [Open Source ArcGIS Map]. Retrieved from  http://www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?webmap=5b0473bb1e6c456c99ed6820bf0edf99&extent=-114.0652%2C50.6894%2C-113.853%2C50.7675 

Okotoks: Ambulance Services. (2018) Retrieved form https://www.okotoks.ca/town-services/public-safety/ambulance-services 

Okotoks Land Use Bylaw. (2018). Official Document [Data file]. Retrieved from https://www.okotoks.ca/sites/default/files/pdfs/publications/BY40-98%20Update%2033%20-%20Aug%202018.pdf  

Okotoks Pathways. (2018). Retrieved from file:///Users/tkmac17/Downloads/2017-Town-of-Okotoks-Pathway-Map.pdf 

Okotoks Transit. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.okotoks.ca/sites/default/files/pdfs/publications/Public-Engagement-Summary_090418.pdf 

On-It Regional Transit. (2018). Retrieved from https://onitregionaltransit.ca/schedules/ 

Statistics Canada: Edmonton. (2016). Census [Data set]. Retrieved from https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/prof/details/page.cfm?B1=All&Code1=4860&Code2=48&Data=Count&Geo1=ER&Geo2=PR&Lang=E&SearchPR=01&SearchText=Edmonton&SearchType=Begins&TABID=1 

Statistics Canada: Okotoks. (2016). Census [Data Set]. Retrieved from https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/prof/details/page.cfm?Lang=E&Geo1=CSD&Code1=4806012&Geo2=PR&Code2=48&Data=Count&SearchText=Okotoks&SearchType=Begins&SearchPR=01&TABID=1&B1=All 

Statistics Canada (2016c). Red Deer Census [Data Set]. Retrieved from https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/prof/details/page.cfm?B1=All&Code1=830&Code2=48&Data=Count&Geo1=CMACA&Geo2=PR&Lang=E&SearchPR=01&SearchText=Red+Deer&SearchType=Begins&TABID=1 

Statistics Canada: Red Deer. (2016). Census [Data Set]. Retrieved from https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/prof/details/page.cfm?B1=All&Code1=830&Code2=48&Data=Count&Geo1=CMACA&Geo2=PR&Lang=E&SearchPR=01&SearchText=Red+Deer&SearchType=Begins&TABID=1 

Yanerella, E. J. (n.d.). Sustainability Comes to the Canadian Prairie: Lessons and Caveats from the Towns of Okotoks, Alberta. Terrain. Retrieved from https://www.terrain.org/articles/18/yanarella.htm

Wong, B. (2008, July 31). The Drake Landing Solar Community: Seasonal Energy Storage in Action. SAIC Canada. Retrieved from http://www.trca.on.ca/dotAsset/16553.pdf

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