I’m sorry to say that Saskatoon has caught the viral spread of suburbia.
The disease occupies our city’s edge and is replicating one identical house at a time. Should the spread continue, Saskatoon’s heart will slowly rot away. While suburbia is already ubiquitous in some parts of Canada — southern Ontario and Calgary being the most terminally ill — Saskatoon can still avoid the full onset of this plague.
Slowly, people are waking up to the failed experiment of suburbia and are seeing it for what it really is: a misallocation of resources that is entirely unsustainable.
Still, the future looks unpromising for Saskatoon, as we seem to be entering an age of suburbanization.
As of this past April, 2, 354 homes were under construction within the city limits. Of these, over 90 per cent were located on the city’s perimeter. Worse yet, the houses under construction are quintessentially suburban: predictable, replicated cookie-cutter monstrosities with huge garages and wasted backyard space. It is true that Saskatchewan is largely undeveloped and people are justified in thinking “Hey, we live in the middle of nowhere, so what’s the harm in building over all that nothing?” But our vast tracts of untouched land should not be viewed as an empty canvas to cover in asphalt and stucco.
Take, for example, a currently protected area of Saskatoon’s natural grasslands just past the suburb of Silverspring. Out there you will find 34 acres of rare, undisturbed ecosystem. This land represents my favourite thing about Saskatoon: that one can get lost in the wild without even leaving the city limits. But I’m afraid it’s only a matter of time before the land is re-zoned for more development. I dread the day this natural wonder is torn up to break ground for more chain stores selling electronic gizmos and home dÃ©cor shit.
Now, obviously I’m at odds with prospective homeowners, what with me being the broke, degenerate hippie-type. But I’ve also lived my whole life in the suburbs and know the ideology behind living here. First, there’s the perceived security these “communities” offer their residents.
Saskatoon suburbanites have at times been guilty of demonizing the west side. This mindset is made obvious by the fact that recently constructed suburbs (like University Heights, Stonebridge and Willowgrove) are tucked as far away from downtown and the inner-city as possible. “Growing Pains,” a recent report on Saskatoon’s suburban growth, blames the crime coverage on local news for depicting the west side as a center of violence and danger.
Personally, I’ve found the city centre to be at the heart of all happenings. Meanwhile, I feel the suburbs are like cold extremities: spend too much time in them, and you’ll develop gangrene and die.
Unfortunately, most journeys out of the suburbs are by car. While Saskatoon’s suburbs boast extensive public transit, I can’t help but notice the buses are mostly empty out here. Suburbanites either have cars, or don’t want to waste an hour getting into town. It’s faster to bike than bus for goodness sake!
Not that you’d really need to go into town to, say, socialize with your fellow citizens — after all, suburbs are sold as carrying all the goods you really need. This is true, if everything you want can be found in chain stores. Suburbia has to be the single greatest tool in Walmart’s (and their cohorts) crafty monopolization of our economy.
So how do we stop this thing? Let’s go back to Calgary. Recently they have awakened to the ills of suburbia and are aiming to curb their city’s sprawl. The city’s new initiative, entitled “Plan It,” calls for the city to increase density of neighbourhoods by 35 per cent over 60 years.
I believe Saskatoon needs a similar initiative if we plan on maintaining, and building upon, a strong sense of community. Cities should resemble the distinct human beings living within them. By moving away from suburbanization, Saskatoon will be investing in a more sustainable and lively future.
image: Stephanie Hollinger