It’s Generational!

The latest buzz-phrase bouncing around the Queen City is “generational opportunity”. Perhaps you’ve heard it referring to the Regina Revitalization Project focused on developing the CP rail yards as well as housing and commercial development in North Central (City of Regina). Now it’s also the guiding principle behind plans for the central RPL branch redevelopment (Leader Post).

On Monday, the “Cultural Centre Redevelopment Project” is going before City Council seeking support. From the report: “The Cultural Centre project presents a generational opportunity for the advancement of a first-rate downtown cultural facility that appeals to the creative class and citizens at large.”

To me the phrase “generational opportunity” already feels cliché and overused. It’s now in the same boat as “sustainability” though at least that one had a good 5-10 year run while this has only recently been used twice.  Both are broad, catchall, non-statements that pretend to say something. Continue reading “It’s Generational!”

Good Urban Planning and Design – Why It Matters

This week the City launched the planning process that will result in the Official Community Plan – a document that will outline the city’s priorities for growth and development over the next 25 years. As Greg mentioned in his post earlier this week there are opportunities for people to come out and discuss the future of our city – What are the priorities? What do citizens want their neighbourhoods and city to look like? What changes do we need to make in the way we plan and build to make Regina a vibrant, healthy, and rewarding city to live in?

I hope that a lot of the conversation focuses on ways to minimize sprawl, increase overall density, and improve neighbourhood and city-wide connectivity (walkability, bikability, transit, etc.). And really, it should focus on these issues. Regina, like many North American cities, has continued to build outwards for many years and the costs of this inefficient style of development (in particular the infrastructure deficit) are starting to catch up with us. It’s time to re-think our city.

In addition to the monetary costs of low-density, car-centric development, there are also very personal costs – things that can impact our health and stress our daily lives. Here are a collection of recent articles and studies to keep in mind as we plan for the Regina we want to see:

1) Bad neighbourhood design can impact your health: Along with lack of access to healthy food, those who live in outlying neighbourhoods with low walkability have poorer physical health (from less exercise) and poorer mental health (from isolation).

“We used to call them ugly, but now social geographers and medical practitioners label the disconnected sections of the city “obesogenic,” meaning environments that promote obesity.” (via Globe and Mail)

2) Long commutes can stress your marriage: A recent Swedish study found a 40% increased risk for divorce amoung people with long commute times. The reasons include increased stress and anxiety, potential gender inequalities in the home, and reduced time spent with loved ones.

“[Commuting is]annoying, especially if you have to do it by car, and a long trip home every night can put someone in a bad mood. It also takes time that could otherwise be spent with a partner or kids, and may put partners on drastically different schedules, which is hard on any union.” (via Jezebel and Grist)

3) Car commutes might be crushing your soul: I’ll let Grist spell out this interesting finding from a recent ‘Urban Mobility Report’

“The UMR also included a “commuter stress index” [PDF]. We wouldn’t put too much stock in this number as a psychological measure — it’s actually just another way of quantifying how bad rush hour really is. But it’s definitely true that being stuck every day in a sluggish line of can’t-drive assclowns wears on you. Using “stress index” as shorthand for “sheer brain-horror of rush hour driving index” just makes sense.”

For contrast– a recent report from the NYC Department of Health showed that people can get a lot of their physical activity just by going about their day using active transportation (walking, biking, even transit):

“The majority of New Yorkers who take transit to work, for example, get eleven minutes of physical activity each day from recreation. But they move for 57 minutes a day just to get around, whether it’s to walk to the bus or run some errands during lunch. New Yorkers who walk or bike to work get slightly more exercise than transit riders as part of their daily routine, while drivers get less than half as much. The city’s compact development and strong transit system are the key to incorporating activities that lower New Yorkers’ risk of diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.” (via StreetsBlog)

Creating an Official Community Plan that promotes a well-connected, well-designed city should be a priority moving forward for all Reginans regardless of whether you want to live in the heart of downtown or a quick bus trip away.

This Week At City Hall: Creepier Dechene Edition

I’m back for another installment of TWACH – this week Paul wears a gem sweater just like he’s always wanted to (probably) [Paul, I completely understand if you never trust me with the TWACH column again].

Ok – only a few meetings this week to report on.

Wednesday, March 28

CITY COUNCIL (5:30pm): Council will be looking at a contract zone agreement to sell land just south of the Italian Club for them to use as an outdoor space with some seasonal seating and potentially a play structure. The agreement will include a buy back agreement if the city ever needs it for public uses.

Also on the agenda are reports from various other city committees covering topics such as the RPL 2011 budget and the Housing Incentives Tax Exemption bylaw.

Wednesday, March 30
REGINA PLANNING COMMISSION (4:00pm): Only a couple of things of note this week at the Planning Commission… and they aren’t really groundbreaking, just interesting.

a) The Civic Naming committee has put forward their report containing names that streets, subdivisions, and parks can be called. Basically the committee vets all the applications sent in nominating people who’ve contributed something to the community. Of the names added to the master list in 2010, six are Roughriders (or at least names I recognized as Roughriders… there may be more). That is 16% of the total. So… I guess you could say we like football.

b) An application to remove the “Floor Area Overlay Zone” for the Southland Mall. The mall wants to add three free standing businesses in the parking lot – making it similar in style to box store development in the northwest, east end, and south west… man we really are surrounded aren’t we? This application is to remove the limit on how much the mall can expand to allow the construction of these new free-standing retail structures, and the parking that comes with them.

What I find more interesting about this application is information about the zoning that it seeks to remove. It was initially put in place to limit how much malls could expand with the theory being that downtown should be the primary retail district and that limiting the expansion of suburban malls would keep them from drawing business out of the downtown.

This ideal was scrapped some time ago, as this application notes, based on the thought that suburban shopping centres and downtown shopping centres serve different markets and can co-exist happily. I have my reservations about that being true based on the systematic gutting of North American downtowns over the last 20 years with businesses moving to the fringe. The continued expansion of our own city’s borders to allow more tract housing and cookie cutter box store development is a prime example of that. Meanwhile, the downtown is competing with this ill-conceived pattern of development and trying to reclaim its title as a destination… but I digress.

At least this development is being built on a lot the Southland Mall already occupies and more land doesn’t have to be annexed in order for the expansion. Silver lining?

As always, you can see the agendas and meeting minutes up on the City’s website.

Two Canucks in America: A New Hope

My husband and I have been living in the U.S.A. for seven months now. It’s a great, though sometimes bizarre, experience. We live in a country that can seem so similar to home, and yet so different – particularly with the political climate.

Now to be fair, we are lucky to be somewhat sheltered from the more intense rhetoric that exists here. The type of rhetoric that can make me uncomfortable to be outside of my own country. We live in Vermont – a small, largely rural state in New England (not unlike Saskatchewan actually…but that is for another post). It is mostly represented by the Dems, and it is the only state to ever elect a socialist Senator (go Bernie!).

For us Vermont feels a little closer to home — which makes sense since we are quite close to home, geographically speaking. But today I read something that made it feel a little closer still – Vermont is poised to bring in State-wide single payer health care within the next five years!

I say, let’s just go ahead and adopt them as our 11th Province or 4th Territory right now!

This Week At City Hall: Creepy Dechene Edition

Greetings TWACHers! I’m sitting in for Paul over the next couple of weeks while he is off galavanting and making fabulous martinis (probably). I figured that, in order to minimize trauma to regular readers, I should at least try to look the part. Pretty uncanny, right. Right? (Photoshop and I regret nothing!) Ok, enough with the funny business – let’s get down to TWACH business!

Of note this week is the Waste Plan Regina supplemental report going before the Executive Committee Wednesday (more on that below).

Monday, March 21, 2011
CRIME PREVENTION ADVISORY COMMITTEE (12:15pm): Yesterday the Committee looked at the Chairman’s annual report for 2010 and some crime stat comparisons – between December 2009 and December 2010, and a comparison of year-end crime stats over the last 10 years (2001 to 2010). All in all, crime rates are down in the Queen City, but if you want all the juicy details (like the number of bikes worth $1000+ (thanks saskboy) stolen in 2010) you’ll have to go read the full report! Continue reading “This Week At City Hall: Creepy Dechene Edition”

Two Canucks In America: Thanksgiving Differences

As some of you may know, the husband and I moved to the Northeastern U.S. about a month and a half ago.  Since then, we have been immersed in the culture and have been confronted with questions about what it means to be Canadian and what it means to live in America.  We have found ourselves wanting to try and bridge the apparent divide – I say apparent because, not surprisingly, we have realized that many Americans and much of American culture is not that different from Canadian culture.  That said, being away from home gives one the opportunity to identify and assess the little differences.

I would like to assert that Canadian’s don’t know a whole lot about America even though we’d like to think we do.  Sure we’ve all laughed at the ignorant statements made on “Talking to Americans” and like to feel superior because “most Americans” can’t name all of our Provinces.  But really, how many of us can name all 50 States?  Before moving here, neither could I (to be covered in a future post).  As part of our journey in A’murka I want to share a bit about our U.S. education with the hope that we can collectively better understand our neighbours to the south.

To start off my series, “Two Canucks In America”, we will look at Thanksgiving. Continue reading “Two Canucks In America: Thanksgiving Differences”

Health Care: Big Yellow Taxi Edition

I have always been a proponent of universal health care.  I think we in Canada have a pretty good system.  I personally have never experienced difficulties or unnecessary delays and take pride in the fact that although it is not perfect, at least everyone has access to care here.

However, I did not realize how much I valued health care until recently.  My husband and I are planning on moving to the U.S. for him to go to school this fall.  With the move comes visa wrangling, trying to find housing from afar, coordinating travel plans with friends, and working through the emotions that come with leaving family (especially the older members) for extended periods of time.  On top of all of this, we are also in the midst of the quest for health coverage, which so far has seemed the most daunting.  And here’s why:

Continue reading “Health Care: Big Yellow Taxi Edition”

Say It Ain’t So: Scrabble Edition

Today while searching through a vast array of blogs I found a link to this story.

That’s right word-lovers, in the newest version of Scrabble, the use of proper nouns will be permitted.  That means that Shakira, Nike, and Titicaca are all acceptable words to play. 

Given this recent development I feel like it is an appropriate day to mourn the continued loss of our culture, language, and overall standards as a civilzation.  We have come to reduce everything to the lowest common denominator and no longer challenge people to be the best and brightest that they can be.  As a society, we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings so we placate the masses with the idea that you can do anything or be anything if you feel like it (instead of instilling the idea that you can accomplish many great things if you work hard and educate yourself). 

So, instead of challenging people to learn new words and clever game play in order to get a 117 word score, you can simply find a celebrity name, or place name with a few z’s and a q in it and cash in.  The name Zaquir could fetch a pretty number of points – and who is going to question if I just made that name up?  As long as someone somewhere has that name, it is fair game… and a quick google search shows me that some people do have it.  There.  I just got 102 points if I hit a double letter score and triple word score!

So, Scrabble.  I know this may not seem like a big deal, but please, don’t allow us to lower our standards and expectations even further.  We need you to push us to be better, smarter, and not rely on words like Bape to get ahead in life.

Climate science and the people who deny it

As someone whose education is natural science (biology, ecology), and as someone who worked for a local research group which studies climate change on the prairies (PARC), and as a human being who believes in facts, climate change deniers really irk me.  Like, make-me-twitch-and-send-me-into-a-spiral-of-madness irk me.

It bothers me that childish, unfounded, fear mongering, opinions are pitted against peer-reviewed, data-intensive, scientifically-rigourous, objective, research as though they are comparable… and the only thing that bothers me more are people who blindly believe the lies.

Luckily there are smart and thoughtful people who stand up for what is scientifically accepted as fact, who take up the challenge of debunking the “debunkers”.  Take for example Peter Sinclair who posts his climate “crock of the week” videos challenging the claims made by climate change deniers.

Enjoy this, his latest installment: