A Legacy of Segregation

Since the early 20th century, communities have used zoning to organize land use and minimize conflicts between different activities to protect public health, safety, and welfare of citizens and the environment. Over time and with social progress, we have learned how zoning has separated more than just land uses—it has also been used to segregate people and disconnect them from places, practices, and production.

Regardless of intention, zoning rules have and can lead to disproportionate impacts for some segments of the population. For this reason, zoning has a dual legacy: of promoting the public good and of exclusion.

Read Edmonton’s zoning history

Embedding Equity

While Edmonton has advanced Zoning Bylaw amendments that support an inclusive and equitable city — more work needs to be done. Renewing Edmonton’s Zoning Bylaw provides an opportunity to advance equity in Edmonton, including but not limited to:

  • Draft regulations based on land use impacts

  • Removing the distinction between different living arrangements to accommodate all housing needs and reflect the desire to ensure adequate housing for all

  • Creating more flexible zones to provide more attainable and affordable types of housing and employment opportunities

  • Providing more flexible regulations to accommodate informal gatherings, recreation, arts, culture and spirituality throughout the city

  • Adjusting any process(es) which fail to take into account the needs and opinions of certain populations, such as privileging property owners over renters for notifications of proposed development

  • Creating a bylaw that is more approachable in its presentation and easy to understand 

Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) and Equity Toolkit

To ensure equity considerations are included in all aspects of the Zoning Bylaw Renewal Initiative, the City is creating a GBA+ and Equity Toolkit to consider the unintended social impacts of our regulations and take thoughtful and decisive action to create Everyone's Edmonton.

The GBA+ and Equity Toolkit will provide City administration with guidance on how best to consider concepts of equity and diversity when drafting zoning rules for the city, including:

  • Acknowledging assumptions and biases at the regulation writing stage
  • Identifying social inequities caused by zoning through a Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+)
  • Listening to community perspectives
  • Exploring equity measures that have been or can be taken

For more information on how the Zoning Bylaw Renewal Initiative is embedding equity, download the ​​ GBA+ and Equity Toolkit and the  Community Conversations , or email questions to zoningbylawrenewal@edmonton.ca.

University of Alberta/Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Study

From January to June of 2021, the City of Edmonton’s Zoning Bylaw Renewal Initiative partnered with the University of Alberta’s School of Urban and Regional Planning on a study funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), to explore the following interrelated questions:

  • What are the inequities created by land-use regulations—both generally, and in the case of Edmonton, specifically?
  • What human rights and equity issues should be considered when drafting land use regulations?
  • How can we apply and promote equity considerations in zoning—both generally, and in the Edmonton case, specifically?

This study consisted of a thorough review of academic literature, best practices, and relevant case law to explore the intersections of equity, human rights, and land use regulation. Key actors—both local stakeholders identified by the City of Edmonton and experts from across Canada—were interviewed in order to gain insight into how equity can be embedded into municipal regulations.

The study focused on Edmonton's Zoning Bylaw, exploring key amendments and parts identified by stakeholders, to ascertain how zoning tools have caused or helped address inequity within the city in the past.

Download the full SSHRC study

Main Findings

The study found that inequities exist not only in Edmonton’s Zoning Bylaw, but also in public consultation and decision-making processes. The City has made strides in bringing equity considerations into the Zoning Bylaw. Some of these measures have had limited effects and others have occurred too recently to provide a robust commentary on their impacts.

The study argues that changes to zoning alone will not be able to solve all equity issues in the city or achieve a key priority of The City Plan—that is, to become an inclusive and compassionate city. Hence, a holistic approach is needed to achieve all of the multiple dimensions of equity. 

The study recommends opportunities specific to the Zoning Bylaw, such as reforms to the discretionary use system, simplification of zones, uses and overlays based land use impacts.

Also proposed are actions to address broader structural and procedural challenges to equity for the City to explore, from diversifying the community consultation process to the creation of an Ombudsman Office and an Office of Public Consultation. These arms-length agencies would collectively work to uphold the City’s goals to create an equitable, inclusive, and compassionate city.