What is the Municipal Development Plan (MDP)?

    The MDP sets out the vision and blueprint for how growth and development will happen in Wood Buffalo over the next 20 years. It provides a comprehensive land use policy framework that outlines a strategic path forward to manage growth across the region. The MDP will be used to guide both short- and long-term decision making by Council and Administration.

    Why is the Municipal Development Plan important?

    The current MDP was completed in 2011, a time when Wood Buffalo was experiencing rapid growth. Projections indicated that Wood Buffalo’s population would more than double by 2030, reaching over 230,000 people. This growth has not happened due to several factors, including the 2013 floods, the 2014 global drop in oil prices and resulting economic downturn, the 2016 Horse River Wildfire and the 2020 floods. 

    In an ever-changing social and economic environment, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is committed to keeping pace with planning for our future. As a result, the Municipality now has an opportunity to reflect today’s conditions through a new MDP. 

    Over the course of the project there are two opportunities for public engagement to provide feedback into the Wood Buffalo MDP, share thoughts and ideas, and ask questions. The feedback gathered will help to formulate the plan and policies that will shape the future of the Region. The first of the two engagement opportunities took place from September to November 1, 2020, and the project is currently in the second phase of engagement.

    What has been done so far?

    The MDP project is currently in Phase 2: Draft Plan Directions. To date, the project team has completed substantial background research and conducted the first phase of engagement. Phase 1 of engagement introduced the project, identified community values, developed a vision and plan priorities, and gathered insights about initial concerns, issues, and opportunities residents have for the region. To do so, the project team employed various engagement tactics including two open houses, an online survey, an interactive mapping platform, an idea sharing platform, and an online discussion forum for public engagement. Phase 1 of the public engagement reached over 550 people, (over 700 including both public and stakeholder participants), providing valuable feedback that informed the development of core plan components. This feedback has led to adoption of an overall “place and community-based approach” to the new MDP, and the major findings directly influenced development of the MDP vision and goals.


    What is the Vision?

    A DIVERSE Region to live, work, play, and STAY, FOREVER.

    The Wood Buffalo of tomorrow will be built on our greatest strengths. Our Region is a place like no other, a place of incredible opportunity and natural wonder. A place of resilient community spirit, cultural diversity, and remarkable Indigenous strength. By focusing and building on what makes Wood Buffalo great, we will pursue the opportunity, together, for all those who call Wood Buffalo home. We will continue to develop a region with a place and community-based approach to reflect local values and make it a forever home. Creating a healthy and sustainable Region for tomorrow is Wood Buffalo’s story to tell, and this is only the beginning.

    What are the goals?

    Placemaking & Belonging

    Wood Buffalo provides a sense of place, safety, and belonging fostered by a community built around meeting the needs of all. Our Region is a place where friends become family and people care about each other as much as they care for this place they call home.

    Connecting to Nature

    Endless opportunities to experience Wood Buffalo’s cherished wilderness, protected natural ecosystems, and lively parks, open space, and waterfront are a hallmark of our Region. Residents enjoy some of the cleanest air and water in the world, and visitors come from near and far to explore the incredible wilderness that is Wood Buffalo’s backyard.

    Responsible Development

    Wood Buffalo’s communities are resilient, connected, and provide for residents’ needs. As a desirable location to live for all who come to our Region, whether temporarily or for a lifetime, Wood Buffalo grows intentionally, with development that makes life better for all.

    Economic Resilience & Innovation

    Economic diversification and development bring resiliency to the local economy and prosperity throughout Wood Buffalo, all while not forgetting our core industry. As a global centre for excellence in industry technology and innovation our Region serves as a global hub for the exchange of knowledge and educational opportunity. 

    Celebrating Cultural Diversity & Inclusion

    Brimming with pride, our region acknowledges its history and is committed to ongoing reconciliation. The celebration of our unique past, vibrant arts, culture, global diversity, and inclusivity not only make Wood Buffalo an amazing place to live, but also contribute to an everyday vitality rarely found anywhere else in the country.

    What is a place and community-based approach?

    The new place and community-based approach to the MDP reflects a people-first focus that considers local values, opportunities, and challenges in an intentional way. This approach is guided by the understanding that development should focus on community and respond to the various social, environmental, and economic contexts that exist throughout the Region. Embracing communities where they are at, will make Wood Buffalo a great place to live.

    What are the overarching big moves?

    The big moves represent the major ways the 2021 MDP differs from the 2011 MDP. These big moves work together to achieve the goals and vision of the 2021 MDP. The nine concepts will be incorporated into the MDP itself as strategic directions and policies.

    Focus on people and community

    A community is both a physical and social environment. and at the heart of all our communities are the people. Through the new place and community-based approach, the MDP will focus on the people and communities of Wood Buffalo first by ensuring residents have access to their daily needs within accessible, safe environments, and are afforded a wealth of social, cultural, recreational, and employment opportunities that support healthy and fulfilling lives. By focusing on the strength of its people and communities, the Region will enhance the high quality of life already offered here. 

    Establish Green and Blue Networks

    Wood Buffalo is a place of untamed boreal forest, expansive pristine river networks, and bountiful flora and fauna. A “Green Network” connecting natural open spaces across the Region will expand and connect existing trails, increase recreation and mobility options, enhance open space, and improve access to natural areas in an environmentally responsible manner. A “Blue Network” of waterfront along Wood Buffalo rivers will use a contextually sensitive approach to create river recreation hubs and improve flood protection, recognizing the historic connection many Wood Buffalo communities have to water. Together, the Green and Blue Networks will balance the need to preserve sensitive landscapes with the desire to access these natural wonders throughout the region for generations to come.  

    Leverage existing assets and expertise

    As the economy continues to evolve, Wood Buffalo is poised to face new challenges and opportunities as a global centre for excellence for industrial ingenuity and expertise. With one of the most highly-educated populations in North America and a centre to technological innovation in resource extraction, Wood Buffalo is well-positioned to leverage its existing expertise into innovative, new opportunities. The new MDP will promote the pursuit of local innovation through supporting business incubator spaces, and increased post-secondary education opportunities, and act as a catalyst for partnerships and relationships to support potential economic diversification opportunities. The MDP highlights ways to capitalize on existing assets, such as the natural landscape, to provide increased economic, exploration, and outdoor recreation opportunities. Building on Wood Buffalo’s existing assets and expertise will provide greater economic balance, stability, and opportunity, and a higher quality of life for residents. 

    Simplify the transportation network

    Quality of life and livability throughout Wood Buffalo are directly impacted by how seamlessly people and goods can move throughout the Region. While substantial transportation infrastructure has been developed by the private sector to support industry, more can be done to facilitate the mobility of all Wood Buffalo residents. The MDP aims to simplify and right-size the transportation network to Wood Buffalo’s current reality, optimizing existing transit options, improving efficiency of the roads, and providing more options for mobility throughout the Region.

    Foster the Lower Townsite as the heart of the Region

    As the economic centre of Wood Buffalo, Fort McMurray has developed into the Region’s hub, a place where culture, amenities, education, and nature all intersect. In turn, the Lower Townsite acts as the heart of Fort McMurray. The MDP recognizes that the 2021 Downtown Area Redevelopment Plan is the appropriate vehicle for guiding future development of the Lower Townsite. By reaffirming the Lower Townsite as the heart of the Region, the MDP will emphasize connections to MacDonald Island and grow into an exciting arts, entertainment, and cultural district within the Region. 

    Evidence based approach to work camps

    The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is unique in that it is one of, if not the, largest examples of labour accommodation work camps in the world. The new MDP recognizes that project accommodations will continue to provide housing for those on short-term and contract employment, and that for many workers in more remote operations, project accommodations may be substantially more desirable locations to reside temporarily rather than commuting from Fort McMurray. 

    Despite this, it is a realistic and reasonable expectation that full-time employees of industrial operations in proximity to Fort McMurray should live within the urban service area rather than in project accommodations. The MDP proposes the use of a new, distance-travelled approach to calculating a reasonable commute distance, instead of the existing as-the-crow-flies distance approach, along with additional criteria for implementation to be prepared in collaboration with industry liaison groups. The distance-travelled approach calculates the actual distance a vehicle travels using accessible and existing roads, determining a more realistic and accurate reasonable commute distance calculation for employees. A new approach to project accommodations is necessary and must be co-developed with industry to ensure it can be successfully implemented.

    Increase arts and cultural representation and collaboration

    Wood Buffalo’s cultural identity is rooted in a rich First Nations and Métis heritages, and has expanded with economic prosperity to new residents from across Canada and the around the world. Quality of life for all is enhanced through opportunities to celebrate the unique cultures of the Region. Promotion of and participation in diverse arts and cultural activities provide educational opportunities and brings people together to foster a safe and inclusive sense of community belonging. The new MDP will also focus on increased collaboration with local communities to provide opportunities for people to make their voices heard, express their ideas, and tell their stories. 

    No additional growth areas

    In 2011, projections indicated that Wood Buffalo’s population would more than double by 2030, reaching over 230,000 people. As this growth has not happened due to floods, fires, and changing economic conditions, the Municipality has prepared several new sets of population projections, all of which establish a clear expectation that for the next 20 years the Region’s population will remain largely stable. Equipped with this information, the MDP does not allow the development of additional growth areas until existing areas identified for growth are built. These existing areas are indicated by the “potential” or “future” residential or employment areas in the Urban Service Area and Hamlets generalized land use concepts.

    Wood Buffalo’s development industry has indicated clear support for this approach as it allows existing developments to fully build out without competition from new growth areas that could compromise the Region’s long-term success. This approach also allows the Municipality to focus its efforts and investments on existing communities, allowing the prioritization of enhancing the amenities, sense of place, and communities that already exist. 

    Emphasize rural communities

    Wood Buffalo is one of the largest municipalities in Canada. Due to its size, the MDP incorporates guidance for both urban and rural communities, as well as for the Region as a whole. Through increased collaboration with rural communities, the MDP will emphasize their unique needs and importance within the Region.

    What are the generalized land uses ?

    Established Residential

    Currently existing built-out residential areas. 

    Priority Residential

    Areas where new residential development will be focused.

    Downtown or Community Core

    Downtown or Community Cores are the major centres of community life, activity, and commerce within the Urban Service Area (Downtown) and the Hamlets (Community Cores).

    Neighbourhood Core

    Neighbourhood Cores are minor centres of community life, activity, and commerce. The locations should be developed with careful consideration to their livability, comfort, design, and the mix of uses, promoting their development as local, smaller scale “downtowns”.

    Established Employment

    Existing concentrations of employment and commercial uses, outside the Community Cores, Downtown, or Neighbourhood Cores.

    Priority Employment

    Locations identified for new concentrations of employment uses outside of the the Community Cores, Downtown, or Neighbourhood Cores. 

    Parks and Conservation Areas

    Lands designated for public enjoyment and/or environmental protection.

    Municipal Infrastructure

    Existing and future areas dedicated to municipal infrastructure such as landfills, sewage lagoons, water treatment facilities, and other public service facilities.