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Cochrane has become community of disconnected neighbourhoods

Pathway 11 of the Cochrane Sustainability Plan reads as follows: “Wherever you are in Cochrane, you’re close and connected.” This statement, like all 10 that have been presented to date are statements of future desired states for the community.

Pathway 11 of the Cochrane Sustainability Plan reads as follows: “Wherever you are in Cochrane, you’re close and connected.”

This statement, like all 10 that have been presented to date are statements of future desired states for the community. Certainly, this is not a current reality for most of the people who live, work and play here who live in neighbourhood pods, disconnected from the downtown core, from local shopping, schools, churches and recreational facilities.

What were the citizens of Cochrane thinking when they included this pathway in the plan? How did they hope to achieve such a future desired state, and what targets did they set to measure progress towards the goal?

When the drafters of the plan wrote Pathway 11, they knew that it was a dream, not a reality. They spoke of a Cochrane in 2029 where “neighbours know one another and all ages of residents are involved and interacting with one another.” They talked of a “central community space to meet the multiple needs of our community” and a pathway system designed to connect people with one another and the region.

Mostly, they dreamed of places where people “live, work and play in relatively compact, mixed-use neighbourhoods.”

The targets they set to achieve their lofty goal of “close and connected” was to increase density by 25 per cent on the existing footprint; to ensure people were within 400 metre or a five minute walk to a transit stop; and within 400m of some form of public space. These targets reflect deliberate design tactics that planners believe will lead to a more close and connected community. I think they missed the mark.

When Cochrane emerged as a community beside the Bow River, it was connected to other places in the region by three major mobility arteries: the Bow River (by boat); the Canadian Pacific Railway and the old stagecoach road that became the 1A Highway.

Then, the few people who lived and worked in Cochrane and area were tied to the land and significant time was allocated to travel for any sort of community activity and service. That was when travel was primarily east and west: east to the city and west to the mountains.

Two small bridges, one in the downtown area (the old steel bridge) and one on Highway 22 connected anyone who wanted to travel south or north of Cochrane into the ranching communities. Back then, people who called this town their home felt they belonged here-they knew about community because they built it themselves.

If they needed a park, a ball diamond, or a community hall, everyone who associated with Cochrane came to build it; likewise a church, a school, a curling rink, etc.

Our community today is really a community of disconnected neighbourhoods that have been developed by land speculators who have had no real ties to community life.

Some say we have become a disconnected community because we enable sprawl. We have allowed neighbourhoods to be developed on the outskirts, leapfrogging what should be natural expansion, and fragmenting one part of Cochrane from its core. We have demonstrated how aggressive entrepreneurialism can bring down even the most resilient of cultures.