Making a City in the Heart of the Oil Sands

Fort McMurray is one of Canada's fastest-growing, wealthiest and most expensive cities...with no downtown.
October 26, 2011, 7am PDT | Michael Dudley
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As the base of operations for the oil sands of northern Alberta, Fort McMurray has experienced such massive growth that little attention has been paid to making it a place worth living in. But its residents are extremely well-paid -- so much so that many of them can afford to live elsewhere and fly in. Now Fort McMurray is trying to turn itself into a real city.

"Fort McMurray is cold. It's remote. It's pricey: Food is 73 per cent more expensive than the Alberta average, while shelter commands an 88 per cent premium. It's a town built on work. Its definition of play has tended to include more drinking and more drugs than other places. Its downtown is, in places, uncomfortably seedy. Its trucks seem to outnumbers its pedestrians.

The municipality has spent $535,000 hiring a cadre of consultants and urban hopes of shaping it into something great. Taken individually, their ideas are hardly breathtaking: a network of river parks and paths. Wider sidewalks and better transit. An Ottawa-like outdoor skating area on the Snye, an arm of the Clearwater River. A downtown civic centre. A public square surrounded by restaurants. An arena fit for a WHL team. A stadium fit for a professional baseball team. An outdoor performance centre. Taken together, though, those ideas point to a place that might sound, to many, attractive."

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Published on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 in The Globe and Mail
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