So, I went to the Ken Greenberg/Alan Wallace talk last on the 20th of September at the Broadway Theatre. (Yes, I realize that it is October now, be quiet.) Ken Greenberg is a well-known figure in architectural and urban planning; he is a contemporary of Jane Jacobs and an all-around excellent person to read and follow if you’re interested in city-building.

Alan Wallace conveniently gave the exact same presentation as this video. I’m serious. He read it straight off the paper.

My only regret is that I thought of several points to raise only after we started biking home. So, here it is.

To be fair, Mr Wallace had a hard time following up Greenberg’s talk, especially to a reasonably educated audience. Saskatoon doesn’t shine when it comes to sprawl, and Wallace had to defend a growth plan that, even after revisions, puts 70% of new developments on the outskirts. However, Wallace tried to duck responsibility (in my view, and at least one questioner afterwards) by using the “cop-out” of “the market”, as in “the market will decide, we’re just offering people choices and hoping they’ll pick the best.” Hold up. A city operating on free market principles would not: 1. subsidize suburban development by absorbing the full costs of new developments on virgin land; 2. subsidize parking by requiring that all businesses provide (sometimes free) parking space based on the square footage of their premises; 3. have an urban planning department, really. I mean, people will self-regulate their housing arrangements, yes? (Speaking of that, I should really put up a picture of our neighbour’s house. So far, the hole in the side – caused by a speeding driver – has been repaired with a former gas station plexiglas sign, several pieces of lattice fence, a velour tiger blanket and two pieces of vintage chipboard.)

The whole point of city planning is to control what you can do with your property in order to ensure that we can live together without killing each other or ourselves.  (If you think I’m being dramatic, look at your neighbours. Do you really trust them not to go off the deep end if all planning restrictions were removed? Hell, my relatives’ neighbour of 20+ years installed a pond and killed three of my aunt’s trees in the process. The neighbours expressed no remorse.) If you want to see a community planned around the “free market”, visit a small town where there is no planning department or the city admin itself is defunct, like the hamlet near my parents’ farm. To revisit the topic sentence of this paragraph, one guy has bought up several lots and built a stockade with a tower in the middle. Ostensibly it’s for paintball or Airsoft but you’ll never know since the fence is over seven feet high. What I’m trying to say is, zoning prevents stockades and, done well, increases your property values. All filler, less killer. Unless it’s your trees.

Perhaps what the problem is in Saskatoon is not that we have too many rules  concerning growth – perhaps we’re just enforcing the wrong ones. What would Saskatoon look like if we removed the requirements, say, for front lawns to only be decorative (i.e. no vegetables)? Or to even exist at all? What if we stopped providing free storage for personal belongings, such as cars and trailers, on the street? I think a lot of the zoning bylaws we have are aimed at preserving an inefficient facade of gentility, and it might be prudent to take a closer look at why things are the way they are in order to change. We still need the laws to stop people from turning their yards into parking lots, though. Don’t get rid of that.

Returning to the video/Wallace talk, there’s a bit at about the 3:36 mark which is a giant arrow showing the daily influx to the north end for work. When the little diagram showing the new bus rapid transit pops up later in the video, note the lack of bus to the north end – it runs east-west, which is great if you’re in school, or if you have a lovely job downtown or at the university. Where are the subsidies for the large group of people to get to work? I sincerely hope there are plans for a north-south bus line, because frankly, the bus service in the north end is reprehensible. They’ve managed to make the 14 even less convenient than when I used it daily 4-5 years ago, which is staggering. It was crammed full in the mornings then, I wonder how popular it is now. I don’t need to tell you that having a reliable transit system is a godsend for employers as they don’t have to provide as much parking, have employees absent or late due to traffic or car woes, and the employees take home much more of their pay. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy driving. But driving to work every day in this city is not driving, it’s drudgery. I’d rather be on a bus or train, reading or listening to music, than edging up on yet another bumper. I got many a 20 minute nap in on the 14. Don’t look at me that way, I had to be at work at 8 am.

Frankly, the things I am saying here are not surprising. Many, many other think tanks, institutes, planners, developers and other urban advocates have expressed the same ideas. So it’s surprising to hear “let the market decide” from the head of the planning division here in Saskatoon. I can only conclude that we have much further to go when it comes to traffic, poor planning and frustration in this city. Apparently we are nowhere near the tipping point. Also, I did not get to have ANY of the fantastic spread laid out by Bulk Cheese after the Q & A and I am still bitter.

Sorry guys, this wasn’t very funny, and is rather disjointed (you should see all the ranty stuff I cut out before I published this, hoo boy). I  have been reading a lot of Stephen Leacock and Dorothy Parker lately, so I hope that will have some influence. It’s three more weeks to the election, and then another couple of days till we have a full agenda for council! I’m not sure I’m going to make it. So far the election campaign has been rather unremarkable, aside from some minor sniping between the Wolf & Atchison camps. There’s also Mr Mazurkewich, but I’d feel bad making fun of him. I suppose I could take a stab at the gong show down in Regina, but my sanity and hours are precious to me. At any rate we can all agree that the Atchison campaign lawn signs are ridiculous. QR codes? Pictures? The text only takes up 1/4 of the space available and is difficult to read. Also, can we talk about the use of Trajan Pro – that is some weak serif tweaking. Lawn signs have to be simple and bold, easy to read and easy to distinguish from the other candidates’. Mr Atchison’s are definitely different from the competition, but I’m not convinced that they were a good use of resources. If you’re wondering why I’m not ragging on the other signs…we still have three weeks. I do not forgive. I do not forget. Expect me. Especially if you use Trajan Pro. And QR codes. Come on, if you are trying to look “progressive”, using QR codes is like announcing your favourite ice cream is maple walnut, which we all know is code for “geriatric”. You know it’s true. God that felt good to get off my chest.