I took this photo down the street from my dad’s care home today. Water’s been burbling out of a broken water main there for five or six days now. City crews have been by to set up some barricades, but they’ve yet to fix it. And if you’ve been out at all in the last month, you’ll know that that’s far from the only water main in Regina that’s busted.

With the dry weather we’ve had lately, coming on the heels an 18 month period where we had above average rain and snow, our notoriously finnicky clay soil has been shifting like crazy. In September, CTV News reported, we had 280 water main breaks. That’s triple the number we typically have.

Aside from the problem of our soil, along with prolonged freeze-thaw cycles in the fall and spring which wreak their own kind of havoc on civic infrastructure, another challenge we face in Regina is our low density compared to major cities like Vancouver and Toronto. That means we have fewer taxpayers to build, maintain, and ultimately replace, a given unit of infrastructure. And the fewer taxpayers there are, the greater the per capita cost as reflected in property taxes.

In some of the visioning sessions that have been held over the last few years, city administration and hired consultants have championed increased density as a way to bring that cost  under control. Some positive steps have been taken, but not without a fair bit of push-back from heavy hitters in the development community.

Here’s a link to a Sept. 11 Leader-Post column by Gord Archibald of the Association of Regina Realtors in which he argues that Regina has plenty of land surrounding it and therefore doesn’t have to concern itself with density. Here’s a quote:

Regina is not Vancouver or Toronto. Our city motto is “Infinite Horizons”. It is hard to imagine that land in Regina could be in short supply. Yet a centrepiece theme emerging in policy discussions is densification – the notion of stacking people up, restricting the use of our most plentiful asset, land.

Then in the Sept. 29 Leader-Post Stu Niebergall of the Regina & Regina Home Builders had a column in which he linked government restrictions on greenfield development to rising housing prices. Here’s an excerpt:

Studies show that one of the most pervasive factors impacting the cost of housing in general … is the practice of urban containment through the restriction of Greenfield development (the development of new land on the urban fringe). This is a solution that is offered to combat “urban sprawl” — restricting growth on the city’s urban fringe and concentrating on infill development.

I’m not saying that there isn’t a market preference for the type of single detached home that has been the norm in Regina since the onset of the post WWII boom. But that lifestyle is horrendously expensive. For decades we’ve been mortgaging our future by continually building outward without setting aside funds to replenish our aging infrastructure . Now, with an estimated deficit in the $2.1 billion range, the day of reckoning is here. And what’s the development community’s answer? Business as usual, it seems. In the process, we’re bankrupting our city and curtailing our ability to build the type of amenities like, say, a new sports stadium, or an expanded civic arts centre, or an efficient transit system, that could make Regina a really special place to live.