One of Regina’s biggest planning problems gets an open house and I wasn’t even there
City by Paul Dechene
Another public consultation, another batch of nondescript, place-holder graphics to mull over. This time around, the stacks of consultant-generated, pastel polyhedrons represent a trio of development concepts for the CP rail lands.
Overall, the project is known as the Railyard Renewal Project and it sits upon 17.39 acres on the south side of Dewdney Avenue, between downtown and the Warehouse District. It’s phase two of the Regina Revitalization Initiative.
While redeveloping Regina’s inner-city rail lands has been talked about for decades, it became more than an urban-planner’s pipe dream when council approved purchase of CP’s downtown intermodal facility for $7.5 million. That happened on Oct. 9, 2012, during former mayor Pat Fiacco’s last council meeting. And here we are, almost four years later, in the waning months of mayor Michael Fougere’s first term, and we’re finally getting an idea of what this landmark opportunity to remake the core of the city could look like.
If you missed the public consultation on May 19, the concept sketches are available through the Regina Revitalization Initiative website (reginarevitalization.ca) as part of a survey seeking feedback on the three concepts.
The images the city provides online are… less enlightening than one might hope. About all that can be learned from them is that all three developments will involve some mix of high- and mid-rise buildings, trees and green space will be arranged throughout and parking is to be concentrated on the edges, near the tracks.
According to the accompanying text, each of the designs is built around a theme. The functionally named “Concept A” — which I will dub the “Lively Living Concept” — focuses on residential and features a multi-purpose public market building, parks and a grocery store. Concept B — or, as I like to think of it, the “Shoppers’ Utopia” — includes residential and office buildings along with a cinema, hotel, restaurants and luxury retail.
Concept C — or, the “Highbrow ‘Hood,” as I call it — keeps the residential and hotel but also includes a theatre, concert hall, library and college or university campus.
Across all three concepts, there’s a pedestrian bridge linking the downtown to the new Railyard neighbourhood in the Warehouse District.
The goal of the consultation, though, isn’t to collect votes on the three concept plans and then go ahead with whichever scores the most likes. Rather, it’s to gain feedback on which elements of each design are most favoured, and use that information to develop a composite plan.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the consultation so I reached out to a couple people who did to get their impressions of what the city and their consultants had on offer.
“I thought there were some good ideas and some good plans in there,” says Sandy Doran, executive director of Regina’s Warehouse Business Improvement District, one of the groups who will be most impacted by the Railyard Renewal Project.
On the subject of how the Railyards will integrate into the larger Warehouse District, she notes that it’s still too early to say as the proposals are just concepts for land use. Actual, on-the-ground designs will come later.
“The consultant group has an advisor, a designer/architect person from the city ensuring that the [Warehouse District] area is being respected,” she says.
Overall, Doran’s optimistic about what she saw at the consultation.
“I think there’s really a great combination of mixed use, residential, commercial,” says Doran. “[They’re] not trying to take away from other parts of the city or borrowing from other pieces of the city but to give [the Railyards] its own unique flair.”
Jonathan Pradinuk went to the consultation as an interested citizen but he also happens to be an urban planner by profession.
He says the city’s lead consultant on this project, Urban Strategies, is one of the best urban planning firms in the country.
“You get a sense that they’re going to be trying to hit all the urban design principles that you hear about: walkability, mixed use, public spaces, high density, improved connection to downtown. It’s all great and sorely needed in Regina,” says Pradinuk.
That said, he left the consultation with a lot of questions about the nitty-gritty details of the project.
“Just to focus on the uses, it kind of put less focus or ignored some other [things] like the infrastructure, like the road network. They kind of barely touched on how the street networks in the three designs are different. And uses can change. It’s the infrastructure, the utilities, that’ll be tougher to change.”
Pradinuk also flagged a few challenges that the Railyards will have to overcome such as the environmental remediation of the site, how it will cope with the ongoing railway operations that abut the development, and how it will fit into the larger context of the Warehouse District and North Central.
“Will this be an island within its surroundings or will it integrate well?” he asks.
Pradinuk also wonders how city hall will handle the business end of the project, considering they own the land but aren’t going to develop it directly.
“What kind of policies and incentives are they going to have to facilitate this development and incentivize it? How are they going to roll it out? There are tons of different strategies out there like tax increment financing; you can do a district like Edmonton is doing around their new stadium; you can give breaks on servicing costs. Things like that,” says Pradinuk.
For the next round of consultations (expect them this summer), Urban Strategies will unveil a plan for the Railyards that incorporates the feedback they collected this spring. From there, the plan will worm its way through administration, committees and then finally on to council.
And hopefully, that means we won’t have to wait too much longer before we see some shovels in the ground along Dewdney.
The Railyard Renewal Project is Regina’s largest urban intensification project to date. And considering our Official Community Plan calls for 30 per cent infill development in the city and last year we only managed to hit 12 — and considering our bitterest rival, Saskatoon, set an intensification target of 50/50 infill development versus greenfield — dawdling on the Railyards will just make us look like dopes.