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100 Ideas

100 Ideas to Improve Saskatoon: 7. Invest in Wikipedia

During Hurricane Sandy, I spent hours on Wikipedia reading about New York City’s power grid, water supply, and even how their police department is organized.  There are hundreds of pages about how the city works from multiple levels.  I even found out that there are row houses that are actually escape tunnels for the subway.  If you want to know how any major city works, Wikipedia is an indispensable tool to share that knowledge.

Saskatoon isn’t New York City but has some cool things happening from our new water pump house, our award winning super pipes, tunnels under 20th Street and exciting projects at the landfill.  Why not talk more about these things and share that knowledge about the city?  

Wikipedia is largely volunteer driven but organization have spent a lot of time putting up quality information to help with the efforts.  The city could do the same.

Get a couple of students, hire them as summer interns, give them digital cameras, and have them research, visit, and document how our city works.  Start at City Council, drill down through city admin and post everything that they find interesting with Wikipedia.    

Head down to the archives and digitize photos, maps, and information and while you are at it, post a biography on Wikipedia worthy of Cliff Wright‘s legacy. Write about Meewasin Valley, SREDA, the Farmer’s Market, and the flow of water in the river.  Whatever they find interesting, let’s find out more information and share it.

Having researched and posted to Wikipedia in the past, within days people will start filling in the blanks and the end result will be a much more comprehensive look and understanding of how the City of Saskatoon works.  This is an investment that will pay off with a better educated and engaged citizenship who really do understand the complexity of what it makes to build a great city.

100 Ideas to Improve Saskatoon: 6. Do something with Cairns Field

I love Cairns Field.  It seats 5000 people which is small enough to feel cozy yet large enough to feel like an event.  The best part of it is that if you are there, you are watching some pretty good baseball being played by the Saskatoon Yellow Jackets on a warm Saskatoon summer night.

Cairns Field

The bad part about Cairns Field is it’s location.  It’s tucked away between Holiday Park and the South Industrial section.  It’s hard to get to and even hard to find.  I have had more than one person that was going to meet us at the game text and ask, “now where exactly is this Cairns Field”.

Cairns Field represents Saskatoon’s best chance at professional sports.  Professional basketball in Canada is the Toronto Raptors, we aren’t big enough for MLS or even NASL soccer, the CFL won’t put an additional team in Saskatchewan, and those that think that the NHL is coming are delusional (I’ve heard the arguments and they aren’t based in reality).  Minor league baseball (and maybe an AHL team) is the one team that can thrive in Saskatoon but it’s going to be hard if it is stuck back in it’s current location.

So where do you put it?  Well baseball needs to be close to downtown and close to amenities.  That is going to be a challenge anywhere in Saskatoon unless we can put it in the North Downtown redevelopment where the city yards are currently located.  

I am not saying it is ever going to happen but it would be an amazing place to walk down to and have dinner and then watch a game followed by a couple of drinks at a nearby pub.  They have done it in Winnipeg and for 50 nights each summer (plus playoffs) up to 7481 people come downtown to enjoy The Forks and watch a game (and spend money while down there).

A cozy stadium of 5,000 seats in the heart of Saskatoon with affordable ticket prices?  I can see that working.  Especially if we can find a way to up the quality of ball being played to A or AA baseball.

If that fails, maybe the city can build a decent website for the field that makes it clearer that it exists and how to get there.  That would be a good first step.

100 Ideas to Improve Saskatoon: 5. Give up on Gordie Howe Bowl

Gordie Howe Bowl is a terrible stadium and it will be even after the renovations.  I know its home to the Saskatoon Hilltops, the 834 time Canadian Junior Football champions but that doesn’t mean it’s a decent stadium.

Gordie Howe Bowl

The stands are a long ways away from the playing field and the seats are sloped well back.  It’s more a saucer than it is a bowl which means that the stadium is quiet, even with a crowd full of cow bells and air horns.

The concessions are terrible which makes a bad game day experience worse., even if watching the Saskatoon Hilltops is always worth your time and money.  For high school football, the size is too large even for frosh week or rivalry games.  Even when attendance is goodl, half of the stadium is empty.

Proponents of Howe Bowl point out that the improvements (larger dressing rooms that no one uses), concessions, and field turf will make the game better.  Field turf has shredded (63%) more knees (players hate it) and caused more concussions than decent grass ever has.  The medical evidence for keeping players on natural grass is significant, especially since most high school seasons are done before the extreme cold hits (I know there are exceptions, I have played in them).  By upgrading Howe Bowl and making it cheaper to maintain (our city’s m.o.) we are making it less safe for high school athletes.

The solution is to stop the fundraising for the stadium and move the Hilltops to Griffiths Stadium.  As for high school football, construct metal stands on each high school field like they do in almost every other city in North America and have them play there.  Most high school fields are in good shape and the addition of some bleachers means that home field would really mean something.

As for the Hilltops, it isn’t as if this is a big move as the Hilltops play late season games at Griffiths each season after the high school teams have destroyed the turf at the Bowl.  Canadian championships have been won at Griffiths Stadium.  It has history for both the Huskies and Hilltops not to mention city high school games and even the Charity Bowl.

Gordie Howe Bowl has a lot of tradition but there is no need to have a separate field for both the Huskies and Hilltops.  The field is out of date and the upgrades will make it dangerous for players.  It was a poorly conceived idea from the start.

Plus, this commercial makes a lot more sense when a high school actually has a “home field”.

100 Ideas to Improve Saskatoon: 4. WInterize Meeswasin

We all love the Meewasin Valley but its location makes it cold in the winter.  The wind whips through the South Saskatchewan River valley and brings either cold or humidity up onto the paths until it chills our bones.   It’s isn’t that winter friendly.

While Meewasin Valley does do a good job in keep its trails clear of snow (ahem, City of Saskatoon, it is possible), a walk from the Mendel Art Gallery to the Farmer’s Market is enough to make you question your desire to keep living here.

To steal an idea from Winnipeg, how about some warming huts places along the river.

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Winnipeg’s huts are designed by architects around the world and are a combination of temporary and year after year structures and they go a long way in making it easier to get out and enjoy the winter in Winnipeg.  In Saskatoon it would go a long way in allowing us to connect our downtown from the Mendel all of the way to the Saskatoon Farmer’s Market, even in the dead of winter.

100 Ideas to Improve Saskatoon: 3. Develop Mt. Blackstrap

For us old-timers who call Saskatoon home, we can remember a day when we could “Ski the Strap”.  Mount Blackstrap wasn’t a great ski hill but was good enough to spend a day at and have a really good time without having to drive to North Battleford or Alberta.

Since it has close, I find myself looking at it as I drive to Regina and sighing each time we go past.  

For so long we have seen it has a (unused) ski hill but it can be so much more than that.

As the snow melts each spring in Whistler, snow grooming machines are replaced by shovels who create and groom all sorts of mountain bike trails out of the mountain.  Not only does it create a world class attraction but it brings revenue into the park, something that has always been lacking from Blackstrap which has always been subject to the unpredictable Saskatchewan winters.

While Pike Lake attracts a crowd all summer long, Blackstrap Provincial Park is greatly under-utilized despite it’s proximity to Saskatoon.  Done right it could be a fabulous summer destination of children and parents alike as they have the chance to race downhills all day and then relax by the lake at night.  Other hills like this have offered pickup at local destinations like McDonalds where a lift ticket and bus pass can be purchased (What could go wrong sending your child mountain biking for the day?) and they are taken away for a day of cycling or skiing.

It is going to take a lot of investment and dreams, some of which were expressed last fall.  Hopefully we will see an all-season park at Blackstrap much sooner than later.  It could be a great addition to both summer and winter life here and if done well, bring in people from all over the province.  

100 Ideas to Improve Saskatoon: 2. Convert the Traffic Bridge into a Pedestrian Bridge

When the Traffic Bridge closed a couple of years ago, the city was in a near state of panic.  Idylwyld Bridge was being repaired and traffic was atrocious.  People screamed for a replacement bridge despite a) few people ever used it b) whenever we take one of our bridges offline, Traffic Bridge or not, downtown backs up.  

Now we have a new South Circle Drive Bridge and soon will have a new North Commuter Bridge which will change traffic patterns even more.  Despite that, City Council has decided that we need three bridges within a kilometre of each other and is dedicated to rebuilding what the city administration basically described as a surplus bridge.

There is another alternative and that is to turn it into a pedestrian bridge, something that could strengthen the ties between Nutana and the downtown core/River Landing tremendously.

Take a look at this conceptual rendering by OPEN.

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1.new views  2.public gathering place  3.zip-line  4.enclosed vertical garden  5.separated bike/pedestrian access

As they see it.

This resulted in a ‘new’ bridge, one that retains some glory of its former self but a ‘new’ bridge that sets out to enhance the existing qualities of the river valley. While it maintains its original connection points on either side of the river it also presents new stronger connection to existing conditions. Its reconfigured spans offer new views in all directions including glass portholes that let users see below the deck. The ‘new’ bridge also proposes a zip line as a new form of passage that reconnects the bridge to Rotary Park and adds new adventure for thrill seekers alike. There is ample opportunity for gathering and a separate bicycle lane to ensure safety. It is a hub for artists, theatre groups, musicians, poets, festival and event organizers. And because Saskatchewan is known for its culture of growing, the ‘new’ bridge would provide the infrastructure required to support a vertical community garden that produces food year round.

This story ends with a ‘realized’ project that retains a piece of its past but reinterprets its trajectory to better serve and enhance the existing and future community through a representation of a perceived experience.

As other cities have shown, pedestrian cities bond a community more than a traffic bridge does.  With Saskatoon unable (and unwilling) to even clean it’s bridge decks in a timely fashion, crossing any of Saskatoon’s bridges on a wet or dry dusty day is not the most pleasant experience.  No wonder people prefer to use pedestrian bridges, especially ones that look like the rendering by OPEN.

Especially if there is a zip line.

100 Ideas to Improve Saskatoon: 1. Cut Red Tape

Saskatoon loves to talk about how it is a business friendly city and touts our lower taxes. As other cities have learned, being business friendly means a lot more than lower taxes, it means less red tape.

In 2010 the City of Calgary created the Cut Red Tape program to reduce red tape at The City of Calgary. The focus of the program was to remove red tape and make changes that result in our citizens and businesses seeing visible improvements. Some of those changes were small, constant irritants and others may be larger, fundamental issues in regulations or business processes. The aim is to shift our culture from a regulator perspective to a facilitator. The program has been supported by Council and funded through approved applications to the Council’s Innovation Fund on a project-by-project basis.

There are some real cost savings both to taxpayers and to the city.  Take a look below.

Cut red tape total savings

Cities around the word are hearing from world class businesses that “business friendly” is a lot more than low taxes, it’s about creating a climate where business can be conducted easily.  It’s something that Saskatoon has a way to go on but as Calgary is showing, it is something that can be improved.

100 Ideas to Make Saskatoon a Better City

Lately I have been tossing around a bunch of ideas that would make Saskatoon a better city to invest, work, live, and play in.  I kept them in a Moleskine and was going to put together a website but after thinking about it, I am going to post them here starting tomorrow.  That will make them the longest series I have ever posted (or written). 

Normally I don’t really care that much about comments but if you have some, let me know as i’d love to hear your feedback on this series.