The citizens of Saskatoon are speaking out for their future.
The growing city’s visioning process continued last week as residents were invited out to Prairieland Park for a city summit. On Sept. 29, noted journalist and Saskatoon radio personality Richard Brown welcomed a crowd of 600 Saskatonians to the evening kick off.
Introducing the history and present state of Saskatoon was Mayor Don Atchison, who highlighted the settlement of First Nations peoples over 8,000 years ago, Chief Whitecap’s and John Lake’s visions of a settlement and, finally, the city’s recent prosperity.
“We are the economic engine of Saskatchewan,” said Atchison, “We need to think to the future”¦. What are we looking for in the future?”
The mayor reflected that the visions of our forebearers should not be lost and we should strive to make Saskatoon “a place that truly does shine.”
City manager Murray Totland gave insight to the city’s current state of affairs emphasizing that we are “more culturally diverse than ever before,” that the city visioning process is about “participating in a process that will mould and shape the future of Saskatoon [with] each of us making a contribution,” and that members of the community should value engagement if Saskatoon wants to be “the city that got it right.”
The chief administrative officer did admit that there is a complex cultural, economic and environmental landscape, particularly with a recent population boom of more than 30,000 new residents since 2001.
Mansbridge on the city
The keynote speaker and main draw to Wednesday’s event was CBC anchorman Peter Mansbridge who lived in Saskatchewan during the ’70s.
The National anchor reminisced about walking along Saskatoon’s east bank with good friend Ray Hnatyshyn and looking over the river to the city centre when they would “try to image what it would look like in the future.” He also shared anecdotes of his interviews around the world, his experiences in Berlin, Beijing and conversations with American President Barack Obama.
Light jokes asides, Mansbridge was frank about the controversy surrounding his appearance at Saskatoon Speaks.
The journalist made it clear he was not an urban planner or expert of the city’s issues but that he supported the idea behind the event because of his strong convictions against “the threat of cynicism” and indifference which he believes run rampant in our nation. This point was driven home by the statistics. The last municipal election saw only 27 per cent of the electorate vote.
The celebrated journalist instead rallied for “healthy skepticism” and posed the question to each citizen, “Have you turned your back on every part of society?”
Panelists provide diversity
The evening’s main affair was a panel of five residents chosen to represent Saskatoon’s diverse community. Local businessman Al Anderson promoted developing the Holiday Park area of Saskatoon into a sports recreational district and asked for better infrastructure to keep newcomers in the city. Vera Pezer, chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan, promoted athleticism and addressed the elephant in the room, the plight of the Traffic Bridge, with tact.
Jacqueline Cook, a commerce student at the U of S, advocated for affordable housing, health care reform, integration of younger people and a white-water park on the South Saskatchewan River.
Amulya Mohan said she was proud to call Saskatoon her home even though as a new immigrant she misses family in India. She had words of praise for the city’s public transportation and felt that immigrant serving agencies should be a priority for the growing community.
Leanne Bellegarde encouraged school boards to meet the increasing demographic with improved programming and content.
Youth voiceless at summit
The kick off event was met with mixed reactions. Nicole Woloshyn and Kailene Thaye from Aden Bowman Collegiate felt underrepresented with no panellist under the voting age of 18. Woloshyn, of Aboriginal descent, felt stereotyped as an at-risk youth whilst Thaye, of non-Aboriginal descent, felt ignored and classified as not-at-risk.
They felt their presence was not valued by the city’s visioning process, even though they will have to deal with the ramifications of decisions made for the future. Grade seven student Erica Pietroniro from Sister O’Brien School also wanted to know, “What will they do for the kids?” but was excited to see Mansbridge in person.
Ward 6 city councillor Charlie Clark felt the message was about participation, that it was important to reflect on the way a city develops and could not remember another time five diverse voices met in one place, particularly when four out of the five were women. Cook was impressed with the turnout and hoped the event “planted seed… to achieve results.”
She also stated Saskatonians must “make sure this isn’t just a platform to talk about dreams but rather put plans into action.”
The city’s visioning process continued over the weekend of Oct. 1 and Oct. 2 where six sub categories were explored. Citizens were encouraged to come out to one of the two day-long events to give opinions on how Saskatoon can improve the city centre, its recreation and culture, its transportation, its economy and its environment.
Issues raised included urban sprawl, promoting infill of existing suburb areas, developing a light rail transit system or separated bus paths along with separate bikeways and walkways. Offering sports to youth in financial need, reducing gangs and developing safe neighbourhoods were also recurrent themes.
All the responses will be mined for ideas by Urban Strategies Inc, the Toronto-based agency managing Saskatoon’s visioning project, and will be presented to the city in the new year.
image: Pete Yee