Saskatoon is going through a period of major growth and expansion. That said, the trajectory of our expansion is misdirected and threatens to cause the city more harm than good.
The last decade has seen a population boom in Saskatoon and mass migration into many burgeoning and newly constructed residential neighborhoods — from Stonebridge to Blairmore to Willowgrove and others.
At first glance, this kind of expansion makes perfect sense; it seems necessary to accommodate Saskatoon’s rapidly growing population. Yet, the truth is more disheartening: the nature of our expansion is unsustainable and highly irresponsible in the long run.
Lindsay Herman, a fourth-year regional and urban planning major and former president of the Planning Students’ Association at the University of Saskatchewan, feels that Saskatoon’s current rate of growth is unhealthy.
“Urban sprawl, at least as we know it today, is inherently at odds with the concept of sustainability,” Herman said in an email interview with the Sheaf.
The other side of Saskatoon’s mass expansion is the unpopular truth that the older areas of Saskatoon are either being neglected or forgotten as a result. According to the City of Saskatoon website, the mandate for city planners involves “planning for new neighborhoods” and “revitalizing existing communities.” It doesn’t take much consideration to realize that they’re missing the mark on the latter.
Multi-hour power outages in the summer and bursting water pipes in the winter are annual problems in the city’s older neighborhoods. This summer, the University Bridge is closed for extensive repairs after the concrete was found to be “susceptible to rapid failure and loss of strength.”
Most recently, in mid-May of this year the city issued evacuation alerts to multiple homes in the Nutana area over the immediate threat posed by the ever-shifting riverbank. All of these issues come to mind without even mentioning our roads.
Very simply, a number of our older neighborhoods are in need of extensive revitalization and repair and they aren’t receiving it.
“The demands of growth are pushing many resources into the creation of new residential areas, but if Saskatoon wants to encourage the type of growth that will allow us to thrive in the future, this money needs to be directed at improving the core parts of the city considerably more than we have seen over the past several years,” Herman said.
Making matters worse, the true costs of our previous expansion are only beginning to emerge.
“As we continue to stretch our city outwards, the cost of maintaining these newer areas is beginning to show itself, often at the expense of core-neighborhood residents.”
Of course, Saskatoon cannot reach the goals outlined under the Growth Plan to Half a Million initiative in the upcoming decades without at least some territorial expansion.
Dr. Jill A.E. Gunn, an assistant professor at the U of S in geography and planning suggests that growth within reason is not inherently problematic.
“Some suburban expansion is acceptable if it is done in a measured, thoughtful and progressive fashion, making full use of the principles of good urban design,” Gunn said in an email interview with the Sheaf. “At the same time, it is always important to maintain equal focus on revitalizing and retrofitting older areas of the city.”
With all this in mind, it becomes apparent that while a minor degree of expansion is currently necessary for the city, a heavier focus is still needed both in preserving Saskatoon’s core neighborhoods and in persuading residents to live in them.
“Investing in existing denser neighborhoods and providing a high quality environment through parks, access to essential services and affordable units has the potential to increase the appeal of these core areas,” Herman said. “If Saskatoon wants to sell core neighbourhood living to new residents, these areas need to be well kept for both new and existing home owners/renters.”
While the development of Saskatoon is exciting, we’re going about it the wrong way. We can have the urban without the current degree of sprawl. We can also support a population boom without neglecting the city’s older neighborhoods. As Saskatoon seems to be looking outward, the answer to our problems may be inwards.