Poor Urban Design in Saskatoon & How to Do It Better

Sean Shaw has a great post on the new Holiday Inn in Saskatoon.

How can this type of development be avoided? It will take a conscious effort by City Council to mandate more stringent and enforceable development guidelines, not just for the Warehouse District but all new developments within the city – this hotel would be a poor addition to any street, let alone one where there has been an intent to provide a better interaction between buildings and the street.

These efforts should include a mandate that parking be put underground, that buildings over 3 stories include setbacks from the street to  maintain the human scale, and that a minimal amount of street-level interaction be constructed between the ground-floor and outside traffic (be it through commercial/retail space requirements or better design using more inviting materials). Furthermore, enforceable guidelines are needed to prevent the construction of large blank walls along major thoroughfares. These are not revolutionary ideas by any stretch of the imagination. Many Canadian and North American cities have such development bylaws in place.

While some will argue that putting these development controls in place will increase the cost to private industry, potentially discouraging some development, if done correctly it can instill a sense of pride by developers in the City street-scape. Moreover, the long-term benefits of building areas that are inviting and attractive to people will attract higher through traffic beyond 9-5pm. Finally, as Saskatoon is currently the fastest growing city in the country, we have some latitude to impose expectations on those looking to reap the benefits of investing in our city.

Last week on my way home from work, I was testing out my new Fuji XP 20 camera and I was so dumbstruck by the horrible design that I found myself walking down 22nd Street just take a closer look at the building as I tried to figure out how city planners and city council could allow a hotel placed on top of a parking garage to get the go-ahead, especially right across the street from TCU Place which cries out for the need for street level shopping.

A decade ago I was in Chicago when Mayor Daley decreed that he would freeze all new buildings if architectural guidelines weren’t met.  The developers grumbled but complied.  The same thing would happen here but council doesn’t want to take a stand against new development.  The bigger problem is that the architecture has been so bad in Saskatoon for so long that as citizens we are used to really bad projects going forward (Galaxy Theatre, The Sturdy Stone Centre, Cooperative Building, Radisson Hotel, The Remai Art Gallery of Saskatchewan), what’s another parking lot with suites? 

Great downtowns are built one great building at a time.  Mediocre lifeless downtowns are built pretty much the way Saskatoon’s is created.

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